The calendar says its fall, even if the weather says otherwise. But at local garden centers and nurseries, two of our favorite flowers are arriving and ready to go. Though quite different in form and uses, pansies and mums help to extend the color season for local gardeners if you purchase good plants and care for plants correctly.
As always use care when you purchase mums. Many box stores and large landscape outlets purchase plants in full bloom. These are impressive but for extended bloom time at home look for plants that have not been forced into early bloom.
Often small local nurseries or greenhouses grow plants that are in sequence with recent hot temperatures and they allowed plants to bloom in response to natural temperature and day length decline in late summer before sale. Look for plants with lots of buds, good foliage color and just a few flowers opening. Various cultivars of mums will bloom at different times; some early while others might be 2-3 weeks later in the season, which allows you to extend your bloom season by using different cultivars.
Inspect the plants closely for sucking insects on or under the leaves, signs of lower leaf scorch from under-watering and general shape and appearance before you purchase them.
Home care should include daily inspection for insect or disease problems and watering as needed. Since many purchased plants might have outgrown their container, it is often wise to upsize the plants into larger containers with additional growing mix before you place them on your doorstep in full sun all day. Upsizing to larger containers can cut your watering time down and help you avoid wilted plants when you forget to water for an extra day.
Use a good soil-less growing mix and containers with bottom drainage for repotting. Most mums are fertilized on a regular basis in the growing stage, so using a liquid fertilizer once or twice per week when you water. Light feeding with one of many liquid fertilizer blends will maintain foliage color and good bloom development, but don't over-fertilize.
Our other fall flowers are pansies. Actually, if you put them where deer cannot get to them they can be fall, winter and spring flowers in our area. If you want them to survive winter and bloom again in spring, then get them in the ground or containers soon so they develop good roots before freezing temperatures arrive. They can be placed in soil in beds, but amend the soil with organic matter or compost when planting. They do well in large pots and hanging basket, too. If you give them time to develop good roots, and water and lightly fertilize regularly, they will amaze you when they tolerate ice and freezes to bloom again next spring.
During very severe freezing weather you can protect pansies if move you hanging baskets or containers into more protected locations from the wind and cold for a few days.
Both plants used together can add color to Halloween or Thanksgiving pumpkin and flower displays. Clemson Bulletins, HGIC 1161 Chrysanthemum and HGIC 1169 Pansies & Johnny-Jump-Ups provide additional growing and cultivar information at Clemson University's Home and Garden webpage, clemson.edu/extension/hgic.
For questions, stop by our office on East Cambridge Avenue of call 864-223-3264.
James Hodges is a Clemson Extension agent in Greenwood County. He can be reached at 864-223-3264.