The November Polar Express put a lot of good gardening folks in a funk. Consider, many of us had virtually had no frost, then the front swooped down dropping temperatures to a bone-chilling 22 degrees in West Georgia. So, if you are in a funk or simply found yourself behind in cool-season color then reach for a flat or two of ColorMax violas. I promise this will be a pick me up that no doctor could prescribe.
I had a Facebook message the other day asking if we could still plant pansies and violas now and the answer is, ‘absolutely.’ If you typically plant in the fall in your region then do it this week. One of my favorite growers in Savannah posted a video recently, that showed a greenhouse full of dazzling one-gallon ColorMax violas just perfect for planting. There is a good probability the growers and retailers in your area still have plenty of cool-season colors too.
ColorMax is still so new, many of you may be unaware of this series coming to us from Sakata Seed. They come in 10 colors and 4 mixes and are perfectly named. They are large-flowered violas that perform long into the spring giving landscape color to the max. By long into the spring I’m talking April and even late May. Now, your dilemma is choosing when to switch to warm-season color. This is a great problem to have, but the fact is, if you plant now in the south you’ll enjoy 4- to -5 months of sensational color.
I am the ultimate pansy and viola lover, almost to the point of saying that I have never seen one I didn’t like. I love clear ones, those with blotches, those with whiskers, and I relish their fragrance. To me, there is nothing not to love about pansies and violas. While ColorMax flowers are larger than many other viola selections, the quantity of blossoms is also amazing. As you might expect, the plants reach 6 to 8 inches tall with a spread of about 10 inches. They are very cold-tolerant and transplant to the garden with ease.
To grow yours, select a site in full sun or partial shade with organically-rich soil. If organic, rich and fertile doesn’t sound like your soil, don’t fret. Over the last 20 years, most gardeners I have talked to are plagued with a tight clay or heavy soil. Clay particles are the smallest of all soils. Because of their small size, they are easier to compact, keeping out not only water but also air. So, we have choices, such as going with a landscape mix like the commercial landscaper does or simply working in organic matter.
Your flower success starts at ground level. By incorporating organic matter like humus, compost or peat into the native soil, good things start to happen. Organic matter helps to loosen the soil for better water penetration and aeration, leading to good root development. Know also that pansies and violas are heavy feeders so even though it might be cold don’t mistake this as a sign they aren’t hungry.
The Garden Guy is growing ColorMax Clear Yellow and ColorMax Icy Blue in partnership with Goldilocks lysimachia and Rockin’ Red dianthus and I couldn’t be happier. They are all so appealing, ColorMax Berry Pie and the new mix, so aptly named, Lemonberry Pie will dazzle for months in the landscape.
No matter where you live, there is a season for planting pansies and violas. In the South, we can still plant with great success. As you shop, keep your eyes open for ColorMax, the most exciting new viola series in years.
(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of, “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.” Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)
(c)2019 Norman Winter
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Maybe you have been invited to a holiday luncheon or caroling party. Or perhaps a sit-down dinner, greening party or gingerbread house decorating event.
No matter what the occasion, don’t go empty handed! A small but thoughtful gift will say “thank you” and let your host know that you appreciated his/her holiday hospitality.
But what should you bring? If your host is a gardener the following gift ideas are likely to delight.
Poinsettias are the most popular holiday gift plant and a mainstay when it comes to holiday decorations. They are native to Mexico and other parts of Central America and were brought to the United States by U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett.
The beautiful red flowers for which the poinsettia is known are not really flowers at all, but modified leaves called bracts. The true flowers are the small cup-shaped structures at the center of the red bracts called cyathia. In contradiction to commonly held beliefs, there is no evidence that the plant is poisonous when ingested
When selecting a poinsettia, look for plants with dense green leaves down the entire stem, fully colored bracts but unopened cyathia. If the true flowers are tight, green or red-tipped, the bloom will “hold” longer than if open and covered by yellow pollen.
Be aware that although new and unusual colors have come onto the market, plain red poinsettias are still the favorite. Reserve the more unique varieties for the host who will appreciate them.
Because exposure to low temperatures even for a few minutes can damage the bracts and flowers, protect your poinsettia from cold temperatures and wind on the ride to its new home, but remove any plastic wrap once you get there.
To keep a poinsettia looking its best, place it in bright, indirect light away from warm or cold drafts from radiators, air registers or open doors. Do not overwater or let the plant sit in water. If the plant is in a decorative wrap, punch holes in the wrap so water can drain out. Do not fertilize poinsettias when in bloom.
Christmas cactuses are a favorite gift plant, known for their abundant brightly colored flowers. They are long-lived succulents, often handed down from generation to generation, and are native to mountainous rain forests of South America.
When selecting a Christmas cactus look for a plant with full leaves and an even, green color. Avoid plants with leaves that have yellow spots and those that appear purple, tan or soft as these may be indicators of disease.
To make sure your host gets to enjoy blooms during the holidays, select a plant with buds and opening blossoms rather than those in full bloom.
To keep a Christmas cactus looking its best, place it in bright, indirect light with temperatures on the cool side. Avoid spaces subject to cold drafts or close to a heat source.
Place a blooming cactus where you want it and leave it there until it is through flowering. Moving it around can induce the blossoms to drop prematurely.
Water the plant when the soil is dry to the touch. Do not fertilize while it is in bloom.
Amaryllises are grown from bulbs that are native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas but have been highly hybridized. They produce strap-like leaves and large trumpet-shaped flowers at the end of long stalks.
Popular varieties have flowers that are solid red, white, red with white stripes and white with narrow red stripes. More exotic varieties are available online.
Most amaryllises are sold as a kit that includes a bulb, pot and soil. Because the pots often lack drainage holes and are light weight (and predisposed to tipping as the plant grows), you might want to purchase the bulb separately from the pot in which it is to be planted.
When selecting an amaryllis, be aware that the bigger the bulb the more blossoms it is likely to produce. Avoid purchasing a bulb with signs of mold, decay or injury. A healthy bulb will be firm, light greenish-white with a brown outer layer.
Given the frantic nature of the holidays, it would be good to plant the bulb before presenting to your host. Note: Some retails shops sell amaryllises already in decorative pots.
Plant the bulb in good potting soil (or the soil provided in the kit) so that the top one-third to one-half of the bulb is above the soil line. Water the pot thoroughly; do not water again until the soil dries out or foliage appears.
For best results, the pot should be placed in a warm, sunny spot. As the plant grows, rotate the pot so that the leaves and flower stalk grow straight.
Move the plant to a cool, shaded room when it is in bloom. Remove the flowers as they fade and cut the flower stalk to about two inches above the nose of the bulb after all flowers are spent.
With proper care, amaryllises as well as poinsettias and Christmas cactuses will survive the holidays; consult online sources for advice on ongoing care.
Fearful that your host already has enough plants? Then consider giving a gift that will “keep on giving” after the holiday season: The Master Gardener Foundation 2020 Garden Calendar.
Designed by local Master Gardeners, the calendar includes gorgeous seasonal garden photos, monthly gardening tips specific to Clallam County and reminders of upcoming gardening events, workshops and talks.
Master Gardener Foundation calendars are available for $5 each at the WSU Extension Office at the courthouse in Port Angeles. Proceeds go toward Master Gardener educational programs in Sequim and Port Angeles.
Say “thank you” to your holiday host with a gift that will be enjoyed long after the guests have departed.
Happy Holidays from Clallam County Master Gardeners.
Jeanette Stehr-Green is a holiday gift plant enthusiast and WSU-certified Clallam County Master Gardener.
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The winter season in Florida is one of the many things we can brag about to our relatives and friends up North. The mild temperatures make it the ideal time for outdoor entertaining, recreation, and, of course, gardening.
With the right selections and care, you can have vegetables, fruits and flowers that bloom full force all season long. Eager to dig in but need some inspiration to get your growing? Look to the suggestions below for winter gardening inspiration.
If you are lucky enough to have a raised bed or are short on garden space, container gardens are an excellent way to efficiently grow a variety of vegetables and herbs. Using a garden soil that is rich in organic materials and checking regularly for pests and disease, will ensure that many favorites will grow well into spring. Classic greens such as collards, kale and mustards are star performers in raised beds and can be planted from December to February. If fruit is more your passion, strawberries are another container garden treat that we can enjoy all winter long.
Those longing for traditional seasonal fare will be thrilled to know that familiar favorites like beets, turnips, and winter squash can all be planted successfully in winter. Herbs such as rosemary, basil, dill and thyme thrive all winter long and are crucial for seasoning holiday meals. They also serve as perfect partners for seasonally themed cocktails for your holiday entertaining. Pear and thyme martinis, anyone? (scroll down to see our recipe for a pear and thyme martini.)
Color is in abundance all winter long and many favorites from Northern states, such as mums and geraniums, brighten up green spaces. Camellias and azaleas dazzle throughout February and can easily handle nights of cooler temperatures. Impatiens, petunias and snapdragons can blend right in with even the most tropical of landscape beds while violas and sweet alyssum make stunning container garden or window box displays. Many of our native shrubs and trees such as magnolia, yaupon holly and simpson stopper provide natural pops of green foliage and red berries and are natural way to decorate for the winter holidays. Foliage, berries, vines and even moss can make lovely table centerpieces and decorative wreaths perfect for dressing up your home or gifting.
Winter is also a great time for planning and projects. Now is the time to clean out garden beds, transfer sensitive tropical plants indoors and perhaps lay down fresh mulch. If a freeze is in the forecast, you might want to consider covering sensitive outdoor plants like palms, fruit trees and tropical shrubs.
January and February are ideal months to prune roses and other flowering shrubs such as crape myrtle. Deciduous fruit trees like peaches and plums can also be pruned back. Water needs vary depending on how mild our winter is here, so be sure to keep an eye on both your plants and your irrigation system.
As much as we might wish, pests do not take a winter holiday so keep up the practice of scouting for harboring insects, especially on the undersides of leaves. It is never too early to start planning for the transition to spring gardening. A little bit of prep and planning now means a year of gardening success. This winter, make a New Year’s resolution to enjoy the bountiful blooms of your Florida garden in 2020!
Sydney Park Brown and Thomas H. Yeager. (2009). Cold Protection of Landscape Plants. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
Florida Fruit & Vegetable Gardening: Plant, Grow, and Harvest the Best Edibles (Fruit & Vegetable Gardening Guides). Robert Bowden. 2015.
Photography by Harmony Lynn Goodson
Makes: 1 Cocktail
- 2.5 oz pear vodka
- 1.5 oz dry vermouth
- 1 slice pear
- Sprigs of fresh thyme
- Stir vodka, dry vermouth and ice together in a cocktail shaker and strain into a chilled martini glass.
- Garnish with a slice of pear and sprigs of thyme.
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