Million Bells

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Million Bells look like small petunias.

Its name may be something of an exaggeration, but million bells, or Calibrachoa, certainly is profuse. However, although it is potentially perennial, it is usually grown as a warm season annual, so it  only has a few months from spring to autumn in which to bloom with a million flowers. Many plants combined might be up to the task.

The tiny flowers resemble petunias more than bells. Actually, the entire plant grows something like very compact petunias, which they are obviously closely related to. The stems are too limber to stand half a foot tall as they spread to about a foot wide. The small and unremarkably hazy green leaves are adequate backdrop for bloom.

The bloom is the remarkable part, displaying all sorts of shades and hues of red, yellow, blue, purple, orange, pink and white. There are not many colors left out. Just like petunia, million bells cascades nicely from pots. Unlike petunia, it does not benefit from deadheading (removal of deteriorating flowers). What is good for petunia is generally good for million bells, although a slight bit of shade is somewhat more tolerable. They want rich soil, regular watering and regular application of fertilizer. (Monthly application of common slow release fertilizer is probably as good as anything fancy.)

Pots Make More Out Of Less

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Half barrels are a bit elevated, and seem to show off their flowers better.

With conservation of water being so important right now, annuals are not a priority. Many of us are trying to use as little water as possible, and only to keep the more significant trees, shrubbery and perennials alive until winter. Lawn and annuals are usually the first to succumb, mainly because they use more water than anything else.

They are also somewhat expendable. Lawn is certainly expensive, but realistically, can be replaced as soon as water becomes available. Hopefully, new lawns will be more conservative with water, like they should have been since the last “drought” (and the one before that). Annuals are planted annually (duh), so they get replaced anyway.

Annuals as bedding plants over large areas were already somewhat passé before the last few dry winters. Even the more indulgent landscapes used annuals merely as relatively modest borders around or in front of more substantial, but less consumptive, perennials and shrubbery. Pots and planters are already more appropriate.

Some of the trendiest big pots are so ornate that they do not need flowers to provide more color. Besides, with a few striking perennials for colorful foliage or form, there is not much space left for annuals. What matters with annuals is that fewer in a pot can be flashier than more in the ground. Fewer annuals mean less water is required.

Elevated planters may not be as ornate, but display flashy annuals just as effectively. Petunia, million bells, lobelia and alyssum can cascade over the edges, to be colorful both on top and on the sides. Marigold, zinnia, celosia and any interesting foliar or sculptural perennials get a bit more height. It all helps to get a bit more out of less.

Pots and planters are not necessarily less work. They just need less water than larger beds, because they are smaller. Relative to their area, they actually need more water, and must be watered very regularly to sustain the confined roots within. Hanging pots need the most water. All confined plants benefit from fertilizer.

Zinnia

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zinnia

The lineage of modern zinnias is too complicated to describe. Most are still known as Zinnia elegans, even though they have been bred extensively with several other specie to produce an impressive variety of flower forms and colors. The shortest varieties get only a few inches tall. Big varieties get about two and a half feet tall.

The two to five inch wide flowers, which bloom in phases from spring until autumn, can be yellow, orange, red, purple, pink, salmon, peach, chartreuse or bronzy brown. Some are striped or freckled.

Some flowers look like colorful daisies, with big petals (ray florets) neatly and flatly arranged around prominent centers (disc florets). The overly abundant petals of pom-pom types make rounded blooms with nearly obscured centers. Most are fuller than the daisy types, but not as plump as pom-poms.

Zinnias are warm season annuals that like good exposure and rich soil. The paired leaves are slightly raspy, like kitten tongues, and can be susceptible to powdery mildew. Deteriorating flowers should be deadheaded, although a few can be left for seed.

Bedding Plants That Defy Seasons

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Some seasonal annuals are really perennials.

Bedding plants that go into the garden in spring are generally warm season or summer annuals. They should perform through summer until the weather gets too cool for them the following autumn. Bedding plants that go into the garden in autumn are generally cool season or winter annuals. They should perform through winter until the weather gets too warm for them late the following spring.

That sounds simple enough. Each type of bedding plant performs best within a specified season. Since they are annuals, they complete their life cycles within a single season within a single year. Of course, it is not so simple here where seasons are as unique as they are. Winter is mild. Summer is arid. Some bedding plants that are annuals in harsher climates may survive as perennials.

For example, busy Lizzie and wax begonia are warm season annuals in most climates. They succumb to frost as weather cools in autumn. Locally, they can survive through winter if sheltered from mild frost. Any that survived through last winter can regenerate now. As bedding plants, they will not be as uniform as they were last year. However, their variability would be fine for mixed bedding.

If sheltered and warm enough, wax begonias may actually continue to perform right through winter. If they dislike the aridity of summer, they can even perform slightly better through winter than they do through summer. Their best performance is often about now and again in autumn, between the two extremes of summer and winter. They challenge their designation as a warm season annual.

Even some of the bedding plants that really are annuals may not behave as such. Alyssum and nasturtium can disperse seed to replace themselves before they finish. They are not true to type, so their progeny eventually revert. Nonetheless, simple yellow and orange nasturtium and white alyssum are splendid for many relaxed gardens. Nasturtium might perform better in summer or winter.

Bedding plants usually know more about what they should be doing than those who are managing and manipulating them.

Forget-Me-Not

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Blue like this is worth remembering.

Alaska, the biggest state in America, claims one of the most diminutive state flowers; their native alpine forget-me-not, Myosotis alpestris. Common woodland forget-me-not, Myosotis sylvatica, is the more familiar species here. It is not as common as the name implies though. Where naturalized, it stays within riparian or coastal situations, where the soil does not stay too dry for too long.

Forget-me-not is not notably popular in home gardens nowadays either. Of course, that only means that it is not often planted intentionally. Like violets and alyssum, it can proliferate where it gets a bit of water. Those who recognize it as more than a weed often leave it to provide delightful sky blue bloom until it succumbs to the warmth of summer. It is pleased to toss seed for the next year.

Common woodland forget-me-not is an annual, or at most, a biennial. Self sown seed starts to germinate through autumn, and grows into plants that can bloom before the end of winter. Manually sown seed wants to be in the garden early too, even if it grows slowly. New plants are too delicate to be commonly available in nurseries. Mature plants are less than a foot tall and two feet broad.

Not So Annual

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These primrose look as good as they did last year.

Among cattle, a cow is a female who has calved. Prior to that, she was a heifer. A bull is an adult male. A bullock is a juvenile male or castrated bull. Most cattle are males who were castrated while young, and are known as steers. Yet, cattle are commonly known collectively as ‘cows’.

Similarly, bedding plants are commonly known collectively as ‘annuals’. Many really are annuals. However, some are biennials; an even more are, to some degree, perennials.

Replacing annuals annually make sense. They grow, bloom and die within one year. Some sow seed to regenerate if and when they get the chance. In the prominent spots of our gardens, not many are likely to get such a chance before they are replaced by other annuals for more immediate gratification within the next season.

The same applies to bedding plants that have potential to perform as perennials. They too get replaced during their off season. Since most are inexpensive, their untimely collective demise is not considered to be too terribly wasteful.

There are a few that are not so easy to part with. Cyclamen will be a topic for next week because it is a cool season perennial that is too expensive to be deprived of its potential to regenerate and bloom next autumn and winter.

These English primrose from last winter were afforded an opportunity to stay in their landscape while they were somewhat dormant through the warmth of last summer, so that they could regenerate last autumn and bloom through this winter. A few from around the edges were moved inward to replace a few that did not survive. Impatiens were planted in front for summer.

The results are not exemplary only because of the shade, but are worth the effort of not putting effort into replacement.

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Two seasons for the price of one.

Some Annuals Are Not Annual

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Some summer annuals can survive winter.

So many annuals are actually perennials. They just get dug and replaced because they are not pretty enough during their off season. For warm season annuals, winter is the off season. For cool season annuals, summer is the off season. However, if left alone, many annuals that are actually perennials go dormant so that they can survive through their off season to regenerate and perform again for another season, or several seasons

Cyclamen and various primroses are cool season annuals that are in season now. Cyclamen will go dormant and defoliate as the weather gets warm in summer. Primroses do not defoliate, but get rather runty through warm weather. If planted with other light duty warm season perennials that take over for them, no one notices. For example, primroses are colorful enough now to distract from tired fleabane. By the time primroses fade, the fleabane takes over.

Chrysanthemums are among the flashiest of perennial annuals, but also have a short season. They typically get planted while blooming in autumn, but finish their bloom cycle before winter. After all the rain and cool weather . . . and then a bit of warm weather, some are already dying back to the ground; but closer examination might reveal new growth already emerging from the roots!

Nasturtiums can obscure regenerating chrysanthemums nicely. If the frost sets them back, they recovery quickly. They will bloom more colorfully by spring, and continue until summer gets too warm. By that time, the chrysanthemums should be filling out nicely to bloom by autumn. As the chrysanthemums finish, the nasturtiums will have sown their seeds, so that the process can start over again. Neither chrysanthemum nor nasturtium need to be removed while out of season. They only need to be pruned back and groomed accordingly.

Coleus, impatiens, fibrous begonias and maybe even polka dot plant that were only moderately damaged by frost might be salvageable if they can stay put long enough. That is the advantage of growing them in pots with other small perennials that will cover for them when they die back or need to be pruned back.

Fairy Primrose

41224The simple pink and white of ‘good & plenty’ candy is what fairy primrose, Primula malacoides, is known for. Pastel purple is also popular. Rosy reddish pink and deeper pinkish purple are somewhat rare. The small flowers are arranged in circular trusses that stand as tall as one foot, just above the softly mounding light green foliage. The rounded leaves are slightly fuzzy. All parts of fairy primrose are toxic, and to those who happen to be allergic to it, can be as severely irritating to the skin as poison oak!

Because they take quite a while to mature and bloom if grown from seed, fairy primrose are typically purchased as cool season bedding plants that are already blooming. Bloom continues through winter and into early spring. If not replaced by warm season annuals, some of the healthier plants can survive through summer to bloom again the following winter as short term perennials. When they do not get enough water from rain, they want to be watered regularly. Fairy primrose can tolerate significant shade.

Why Cyclamen Are So Popular

41224thumbCyclamen are everywhere! Some nurseries have more cyclamen than all other cool season annuals combined. Not all cyclamen are represented though. Almost all are white or simple red. Pink, salmon and other shades of red are noticeable scarce because they are not traditional colors of Christmas. The plants are mostly of impeccable quality, and outfitted with abundant flowers. While there is not much else blooming, the popularity of cyclamen is impossible to ignore.

The problem with cyclamen is the expense. Relative to other cool season annuals, they are large plants that are only available in four inch and larger pots, so naturally cost more. They can not be purchased in less expensive cell packs. Even though they are perennials that can last for many years, they are almost always used as disposable cool season annuals that get replaced when warm season annuals come into season. It can be difficult to justify such an expense for something that lasts only a few months.

The advantage to cyclamen is that they look good instantly, even if they do not perform as reliably during the next few months. This is something that the other cool season annuals have difficulty with. Only larger and more expensive annuals in four inch pots are so immediately colorful, and even they need some time to fluff out and get established in the garden. They just do not grow as fast now as they did earlier in autumn. The weather is now cooler. The days are now shorter.

This is why it was important to replace warm season annuals with cool season annuals earlier instead of later, even if some of the warm season annuals had still been blooming somewhat well. It gave the cool season annuals some time to mature before winter really slowed everything down. Even though they do not grow as actively now, they are already big enough to bloom impressively.

Pansy, viola, stock, Iceland poppy, nemesia, various primroses and ornamental cabbage and kale can certainly get planted now, but will grow a bit slower than they would have if they had been planted earlier in autumn. If necessary, it might be worth planting them a bit more densely than typical, or planting larger plants from four inch pots.

Six on Saturday: Moss Rose

Moss rose has something in common with fern pine and cabbage palm. ‘It is neither this nor that’. Fern pine is neither a fern nor a pine. Cabbage palm is neither a cabbage nor a palm. Well, moss rose is neither a moss nor a rose. It is Portulaca grandiflora. It is a somewhat uncommon warm season annual that blooms until frost, with potential to toss a few seed for next year.

Ours were planted a bit late, after English daisies that were where they are now succumbed unexpectedly to rust. Because they are in three small planter boxes, where annuals get replaced regularly, they will not be able to naturalize. I suppose I could collect some of the seed to toss about nearby, or in a sunnier place where they would be happier. It really is that time of year.

These six picture show six of the colors of our moss rose. There might have been a seventh color that was very pale pink. It was omitted because it was so similar to the white that I am still not certain that it was not white. Peach #3 is more distinct from orange #4 than it seems to be in these pictures. Red, which is common among moss rose, is strangely lacking from our mix.

Flowers are somewhat variable. Pink #1 seems to be a bit fluffier than the others. Yellow #5 has a bit of red around the center. Rose #2 seems to have a very slight bit of white at the center. I only guessed on the names of the colors ‘rose’ for #2 and ‘peach’ for #3.

1. pinkP91019

2. roseP91019+

3. peachP91019++

4. orangeP91019+++

5. yellowP91019++++

6. whiteP91019+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/