Chrysanthe-Mum Is The Word

51021Only a few decades ago, when horticulture was taken more seriously, potted blooming plants like chrysanthemums, orchids, azaleas, hydrangeas, lilies and even poinsettias, got the respect that they really deserve. Now they are more commonly purchased in full bloom, enjoyed only as long as their bloom lasts, and then discarded as their blooms deteriorate.

Some get put outside, but often die before they actually get repotted or planted into the garden. Many of those that do get planted, die when their sensitive greenhouse-grown foliage gets scorched by real sun exposure. Others succumb to desiccation before they can disperse their roots. Only orchids want to stay in their original pots for a while, but they rarely get the attention and regular watering that they crave.

Chrysanthemums happen to be in season now, both as potted plants for the interior of the home, and as autumn annuals in the garden. Yet, they are quite sustainable as perennials that can live for quite a few years. They only need to be groomed accordingly so that they can bloom in season, and new stems can replace the old. When they get planted into the garden, multiple plants in a single pot should be separated.

Many chrysanthemums get tall enough to require staking. If left to perform naturally, they bloom profusely. Hobbyists who want to grow larger flowers remove axillary flower buds (sideshoots) to concentrate resources into single terminal (top) flowers that most effectively display their distinctive colors, textures and forms. Sadly, many of the most impressive chrysanthemums have become rare as more profuse bloomers have become more popular.

The Chrysanthemum Society, which can be found on Facebook, is one of the most reliable resources for anyone wanting to grow some of the rare but really fancy exhibition types of Chrysanthemums. The internet makes it possible to get involved with regional chapters well beyond their designated regions. Chrysanthemum fanatics are more than happy to show off and talk about their favorite flowers.

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Autumn Is For Planting – Especially Bulbs

81024thumbAutumn is for planting. Cliche? Yes; but true. Autumn is when most plants are beginning dormancy, and are therefore not so bothered by the discomforts associated with transplant. The weather is cooler and wetter, so that even if they are bothered, such discomforts are not as discomforting as they would be in summer. Once in the ground, plants have a few months to recover before spring.

The two main exceptions to the rule that ‘autumn is for planting’ are plants that are sensitive to frost, and bare root plants. Plants that are sensitive to frost should obviously be planted after the last frost date, at the far end of winter. Bare roots plants do not wait that long, but should wait until they are completely dormant in mid winter before being dug, separated from their soil, and relocated.

Dormant bulbs and bulb like plants, including corms, rhizomes, tubers and tuberous roots, epitomize the autumn planting rule. They must be planted while dormant in autumn or winter. They arrive in nurseries about the same time that they should be planted into the garden. Spring blooming bulbs become available and should be planted earliest. Summer bulbs become available a bit later.

Daffodil, narcissus, tulip, crocus, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, freesia, anemone, ranunculus, montbretia, crocosmia, most lily and some types of iris will all want to get into the ground when the rain starts. Rain leaching through the soil around them, as well as cooler temperatures through winter, tell them what time of year it is, so that they will be ready to bloom when weather warms in spring.

Each type of bulb prefers to be planted at a particular depth. Bearded iris rhizomes want to be buried horizontally, just below the soil surface. As long as the latest get planted within their respective planting season, some types of bulbs can be planted in phases every week or two, so that a later phase starts to bloom as an earlier phase finishes. Daffodil, narcissus and especially grape hyacinth have the potential to naturalize and bloom annually. Montbretia and crocosmia can be downright invasive.

Fall For Spring Bulbs Now

61019thumbThey are certainly not much to look at now. They are even less interesting once buried out of sight in the garden. The big and colorful pictures on the boxes that they arrive in are probably a bit more spectacular than the flowers expected early next spring will actually be. Nonetheless, it will be amazing to see such flashy bloom emerge from seemingly lifeless bulbs that get planted now.

Dormant bulbs are so easy to plants precisely because they are dormant, and therefore lacking any foliage, bloom or roots that can be damaged in the process of planting. They only want to be planted at the right depth, and preferably in the correct orientation (with their tops up and their bottoms down). They like to be planted now, so that they can slowly chill through cool winter weather.

Chill through winter is important to convince dormant bulbs that it really is winter. In such a mild climate, some plants might wonder about that. Cool winter weather either initiates the development of blooms within dormant bulbs, or stimulates bloom as weather subsequently warms. Many tulip, hyacinth, anemone and ranunculus might not get enough chill here to bloom after their first year.

Daffodil, narcissus, grape hyacinth and some iris are not so discriminating. They are likely to bloom even better in their second spring, and can naturalize in good soil with occasional watering. Freesia and crocus might also naturalize, but want more water. Crocosmia and montbretia can actually be invasive. Dahlia and gladiola are summer bulbs, so will be available for planting later.

All bulbs, as well as the corms, rhizomes, tubers and tuberous roots that are commonly known as bulbs, become available in nurseries when it is time for them to be planted, for obvious reasons. Some will be available for quite a while, so can be planted in phases every two week or so, like vegetable plants. Each subsequent phase starts to bloom as each previous phase finishes bloom.

Phasing only works for certain bulbs that are on a tight schedule, and only for the first season. By the second year, they will be synchronized. Iris, anemone and ranunculus tend to bloom together, when the weather is right, regardless of when they were phased. Plants with aggressive roots might not bother bulbs in their first season, but can smother bulbs that might otherwise naturalize.

The Right Bulbs Save Energy

51014thumbAfter working so hard to bloom so impressively in spring or summer, bulbs redirect their efforts into saving up their energy for winter dormancy. That is why their fading foliage lingers after faded flowers get pruned away. The foliage eventually dries and deteriorates, leaving plumped dormant bulbs to overwinter underground. It is all their natural life cycle.

However, to bloom well the following spring, many bulbs need to be chilled while dormant. Such bulbs are from cooler climates. The chill convinces them that it really is winter, and that it will be safe to bloom when weather gets warmer in spring. They can get rather confused without adequate chill. Some may never bloom as well as they did their first spring.

Tulip, hyacinth, lily, anemone and ranunculus are probably the best examples of the worst perennial bulbs. Technically, they are perennials. Where winters are cooler, they may naturalize and bloom every spring. Here, winters are just too mild. They bloom very impressively in their first spring, but rarely bloom as well the second spring, and only if pampered.

Narcissus, daffodil, grape hyacinth and bearded iris are much more reliable. Crocus and freesia are a bit more demanding, but can be reliable if they get what they want. Montbretia and crocosmia are reliable enough to become invasive. Gladiola and dahlia, which are not quite as reliable as crocus, are summer bulbs, so get planted a bit later.

Of course not all bulbs are true bulbs. Some are corms, rhizomes, tubers or tuberous roots. Some get planted deeply. Bearded iris and a few others get planted shallowly. A few others do best in pots. In their first year, some bulbs can be planted in phases so that they bloom in phases the following spring. However, all bulbs of each type will synchronize by their second year.

Anemone, ranunculus and bearded iris bloom too synchronously to be phased. No matter when they get planted, each type blooms at the same time. However, some bearded iris bloom as early as the earliest of daffodil, and others bloom late. Some even bloom twice!

Cool Season Annuals Are Next

81017thumbGardening is not always fun. After diligently tending to warm season vegetables through spring and summer, it eventually becomes necessary to pull them up to relinquish space for cool season vegetables that grow through autumn and winter. It likely would be less unpleasant to wait for them to succumb to frost, but by that time, it would be getting late for the incoming vegetable plants.

Removing warm season annuals and bedding plants is just as necessary, and might be just as unpleasant. The only consolation is that the incoming cool season annuals and bedding plants are likely to be blooming well as they get installed. Even though they take a while to mature, there is no time without at least some degree of color. Warm season annuals may be tired by now anyway.

Just like cool season vegetable plants, the various cool season annuals and bedding plants appreciate an early start so that they can begin to disperse roots while the soil is still somewhat warm. Only those that dislike warmth should wait. Cyclamen and flowering cabbage and kale can be planted as late as winter. Flowering cabbage and kale might even bolt if they get too warm too soon.

Pansy, viola, sweet William, stock, Iceland poppy, calendula and various primroses are all seasonable now. They should be happy to bloom until they too need to be replaced by annuals for the following season, several months later. Chrysanthemum, marigold and a few other autumn annuals are short term annuals that bloom excellently through autumn, but are not likely to bloom later.

Just like most of the cool season vegetables, most of the cool season annuals should be planted as small seedlings in cell pack. Chrysanthemum and many of the primroses, as well as cyclamen and flowering cabbage and kale that come later, should actually be planted as four inch potted plants. Needless to say, some of these are expensive relative to their respectively limited bloom seasons. Seed for nasturtium and alyssum can be sown directly into the garden. Nasturtiums seedlings in cell packs are expensive and do not transplant well.

Vegetables Come And Vegetables Go

61012thumbVegetables are annuals too, just like the flowering bedding plants that get replaced seasonally. Some are technically biennials, and a few might even have the potential to be short term perennials if they ever got the chance. Yet, for the purposes of home vegetable gardens, the warm season vegetables that produced through summer should now get replaced with cool season vegetables.

Yes, pulling up tomato plants to make room for cabbage is the same dilemma as pulling up petunias to make room for pansies. No one wants to do it while the plants are still productive. Tomato plants might continue to make a few more tomatoes until frost. Yet, planting cool season vegetables should not be delayed for too long. They want to disperse their roots while the soil is still warm.

Just like warm season vegetables, many of the cool season vegetables are more efficiently grown from seed sown directly into the garden. Root vegetables like beet, carrot, radish and turnip do not recover well from transplanting. Besides, cell packs do not contain many seedlings, even if multiple seedlings within individual cells are divided. It is more practical to sow seed evenly in rows.

Baby greens can also be grown from seed because so many small plants are wanted. Unlike heading lettuce that get harvested as individual mature plants, baby greens get plucked as they develop, from plants that may never reach maturity. Chard, kale and collard greens grow well from seed, or can optionally be grown from cell pack seedlings if fewer larger leaves are preferred.

Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprout are more typically grown from cell pack seedlings because only a few individual plants are desired. One or two six packs of cabbage might be more than one garden needs, and do not cost much more than a packet of seed. They mature at different rates, so larger ones can be harvested first, while smaller ones get more time to mature.

The root vegetables work the same way, maturing somewhat variably through a few weeks. However, secondary phases planted a few weeks after primary phases can start to mature as the primary phases get depleted. ‘Cole’ crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, consume the same resources, so perform best in small groups with a bit of separation.

Winter Dormancy Begins In Autumn

50923thumbAutumn is for planting . . . but not much else. While it is important to get certain new plants into the garden before cool and rainy weather, other gardening chores will not be necessary while plants are becoming less active before winter dormancy. Raking falling leaves is probably the biggest of the new chores that are specific to autumn.

Formal hedges that have been getting shorn regularly since spring may not need to be shorn again until next spring. They simply will not grow much between now and then. If possible, pittosporum and photinia should not be shorn once the weather gets rainy. Their freshly cut stems are more susceptible to certain diseases while wet than during dry weather.

Citrus and tropical plants should not be pruned late because pruning stimulates fresh new growth that will be susceptible to frost later in winter. Even if tender new foliage does not get frozen, it can get discolored and disfigured by cold weather. Cool weather inhibits vascular activity necessary to sustain the development of healthy new foliage anyway.

For the same few reasons, fertilizer will not be necessary later in autumn. Fertilizer can potentially stimulate new growth when it is not necessarily wanted. Also, some nutrients in fertilizer are less soluble (or chemically unavailable) while the weather is cool. Only plants that grow through winter, like cool season annuals, vegetables and grasses, will want fertilizer.

Planting is done in autumn because plants are either dormant or less active than they had been during warmer weather. They can take their time to disperse their roots into comfortably cool and damp soil. Evergreen plants do not draw as much moisture from their roots while foliage is cool and damp. Deciduous plants draw even less moisture without foliage.

Spring blooming bulbs get planted in autumn not only so that they can disperse their roots leisurely, but also because they need to get chilled to bloom well. Bulbs can be phased, so that those planted earlier will bloom before those of the same kind planted later. However, if planted too late, they may not get sufficient chill.

Take It Slowly In Autumn

81010thumbNo more fertilizer! . . . almost. The main exception is turf that might need a bit of fertilizer if it must stay green through the coldest part of winter, but that is another topic for later. Otherwise, most plants start to go dormant through autumn, and should be as dormant as they get by the middle of winter. Fertilizer later than now could be as logical as espresso just before trying to get to sleep.

Keeping marginally frost sensitive plants up past their bedtime can have serious consequences. Lemon trees are not often damaged by frost in the mild winter weather here. That is because they stop growing through late summer, and the last of their new foliage matures before autumn. Fertilizer applied too late can stimulate late new growth, which is more likely to be damaged by frost.

Plants that like a last application of fertilizer as late as the end of September, such as roses, use it for their last minute preparations for dormancy. It actually takes a bit of effort to abscise (shed) foliage. Besides, healthy foliage is easier to abscise than distressed foliage is. Well fed roots, although significantly subdued by dormancy, work later into winter, and get an earlier start in spring.

Roses are, of course, not as likely to be damaged by late application of fertilizer as lemon trees are. They know better than lemon trees do about what to do when the weather gets cool. They just go dormant. Much of the extra nutrients get ignored as they leach through the soil with winter rain. Many of the nutrients become insoluble and unavailable to plants as winter weather gets cooler.

Autumn is the season for allowing most plants to slow down and get ready for winter dormancy. Trying to get them to be as green and productive as they were in spring can do more harm than good. Only plants that are active through winter, such as cool season vegetables, cool season annuals, and some types of turf, might appreciate moderate applications of fertilizer. If newly installed plants want fertilizer, they should get only enough to keep them happy until they get more next spring.

Fireblight Kills Pears And Apples

61005thumbBunches of blackened leaves hanging from blackened stems in otherwise healthy pear trees really are as serious as they look. They probably appeared as new growth was developing in spring, and are still as dead now as they were then. As surrounding foliage colors and falls, the blackened foliage will remain until it gets knocked out by rain and wind in winter, or until it gets pruned out.

Because these dead bits seem to have been scorched by fire, the bacterial infection that causes them is known as ‘fireblight’. Pear, flowering pear and evergreen pear are most susceptible to it. Apple, flowering crabapple, quince, flowering quince, hawthorn, loquat, cotoneaster, pyracantha and photinia are also very susceptible. Some cultivars are more resistant to fireblight than others. Few other members of the ‘rose family’ are rarely infected.

At the base of each dead bit (or toward the supporting limb from dead bits that do not stand upright) is a lesion where the bacteria that cause fireblight infected the stem. These infections not only obstruct vascular activity and kill the distal (outward) portion of the infected stems, but they also spread proximally (inward) to more important limbs, branch unions and even main trunks and roots.

Fireblight is transmitted mostly by bees, and also by other insects, birds, rain and wind, while trees are blooming in spring. It most often infects through flowers, and can also infect where infected debris, particularly falling flower parts, get caught in branch unions. If it infects root suckers, it can infect the roots right away, and kill an entire tree. Root suckers should be pruned away anyway.

There is no remedy for fireblight. Because it is very contagious, all infection should be pruned out. Because infection extends inward from obvious lesions, infected stems should be pruned back at least a foot and a half below (inward from) obvious infection. Sadly, this often disfigures infected trees, sometimes severely. Pruning scraps should be removed from around susceptible trees.

Some say that fireblight should be pruned out in summer. Others say that winter is best. Really though, the only bad time is spring, while weather is warm but still damp, and the trees that are so susceptible to fireblight are active and blooming. The reason for pruning it out in winter is that the disease is inactive while cold. However, it does not get cold enough here to slow it down much.

Annuals Change With The Seasons

50930thumbLike it or not, the warm season annuals that were so flashy all through spring and summer will eventually need to be replaced with cool season annuals to provide color through winter. It is always unpleasant to pull up the annuals of a previous season while they are still blooming, even if they are already getting scruffy and discolored. It is actually easier if they got roasted by recent warmth.

Some warm season annuals last longer than others. Many are actually perennials that can be overplanted with new cool season annuals as they get cut back or go dormant through their ‘off’ season. Some cur back perennials may not survive through winter; but those that do can regenerate next spring, just as the cool season annuals that obscured them all winter are finishing.

Wax begonias, for example, are warm season annuals that can continue to bloom until they get frosted. Where sheltered from frost, they only need to be cut back because partial defoliation exposes knobby bare stems. If they can be hidden by pansies or violas through their bare phase, they never need to be removed, and some will be happy to regenerate in spring.

Conversely, cyclamen, sweet William, chrysanthemum and some primroses are cool season annuals that have the potential to survive under the lush growth of warm season annuals next summer; but that is a topic for later. (Some people are allergic to primroses like poison oak.) Iceland poppy and ornamental cabbage and kale are not so perennial, but are quite colorful through winter.

Alyssum and nasturtium really are annuals that do not survive much more than one year. However, they can perform through summer where sheltered from heat, or through winter where sheltered from cold. In ideal situations, their self sown seedling replace deteriorating older plants, so that they can perform throughout the year. Nasturtium should be planted as seed, not from cell packs.

Calendula is a popular cool season annual early in the season, but may not last through the end of winter. Yet it is popular because it is so excellent through autumn. Chrysanthemums are even flashier, although they are often replaced as soon their first bloom phase finishes.