Time to grow cool season bedding plants

November is a great time to remove summer bedding plants and add cool-season bedding plants to your flowerbeds.

Cool-season bedding plants thrive in the mild days and chilly nights we have here during fall, winter and spring. Most will easily tolerate temperatures in the low 20s or even teens with little or no damage. They will bloom in fall and winter, produce a tremendous display in the spring then finally fade out in May as the weather gets hot. Fall-planted, cool-season bedding plants generally produce more spectacular displays in the spring than spring-planted, cool-season bedding plants.

Select cool-season bedding plants so the colors are harmonious. Colors should be grouped together in masses, and try not to use too many different colors in the same bed. The visual display in an area where a few massed colors have been used is generally more effective than a sprinkling of many colors, especially if the bed is viewed from a distance.

Cool-season flowers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from the ground-hugging alyssum and lobelia to the towering hollyhocks and delphiniums. Plant height also should be considered when selecting and placing bedding plants into the landscape.

Cool-season bedding plants will bloom best in well-drained locations that receive six hours or more of direct sun each day. Generally, the more sun they receive, the more they will bloom and grow. Pansy, viola, forget-me-not, foxglove and nicotiana are probably the best choices for partially shady areas. Even they will not perform well in heavy shade and do best where they get at least a few hours of direct sun every day. Primroses and cyclamens will bloom well with little or no direct sun.

Do a good job of bed preparation because this makes a tremendous difference in plants’ performance. Remove any weeds in the bed and turn the soil to a depth of at least 8 inches. Spread a 2- to 4-inch layer of organic matter (compost, peat moss or aged manure), evenly sprinkle a light application of a general-purpose fertilizer over the bed and thoroughly mix them into the soil. Rake the bed smooth, and you’re ready to plant.

Because they are quick, easy and give instant results, most gardeners favor transplants. Plant transplants into a well-prepared bed, being careful to plant them at the same depth they were growing in the cellpack or pot. Space them properly. If you plant them too close together, they will be crowded and unhealthy. But planted too far apart, they won’t fill the bed. When you water newly planted transplants, include soluble fertilizer to get them off to a good start.

As they grow, fertilize bedding plants occasionally following the directions of the fertilizer you are using.

Mulch your beds to prevent weeds, conserve moisture and provide some protection against freezing temperatures. Any mulch would be beneficial. Leaves, pine straw and pine bark are all suitable and attractive.

Although mulch will conserve moisture, additional water may be needed during dry periods. This will become increasingly important as the weather becomes warmer next spring. When you water, irrigate slowly over a long period to ensure a thorough job is done and the water penetrates deeply into the soil. Soaker hoses work great because they avoid wetting the flowers and foliage, but sprinklers work well.

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