Color in Winter

Pansies break up muted landscapes
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The approach of winter and cold weather offers new color possibilities for home landscapes. While garden centers offer a variety of cool-season annuals that will brighten the muted tones, one plant in particular offers a variety of striking colors and minimal maintenance requirements all at a manageable cost.

Pansies, a member of the violet family, can be planted now. These diminutive biennials are typically raised in USDA Hardiness Zone 8 (which includes Tallahassee and surrounding counties) as annuals because they will not survive local summers.   

Most are installed as live plants, but they can be cultivated from seed. They grow well in soil rich in organic matter with the ability to retain moisture.

When using live plants, mulch thoroughly with leaves and/or pine straw. Space the pansies six to 12 inches apart. They will fill in over the winter. Also, proper spacing minimizes the potential for fungal disease.

If planting seeds, cover completely so the sun will not dry the sprouts and kill them. Many gardeners start pansies in seed trays in complete shade. Seeds germinate in 10 to 14 days.

These colorful additions can handle morning and evening light, but not direct midday sun. Filtered light provided by trees and large shrubs is the best option.   

When blooms wilt, remove by clipping before seeds can be produced. The plant will continue to bloom in an attempt to produce seeds.

In the cooling weather, insect pests are few, but depending on environmental factors, they may cause damage. One pest frequently encountered is the aphid.

Mini-vampires

Aphids are tiny, soft-bodied insects that suck juices from a variety of plants. These mini-plant vampires are most active during the warm days of late spring, summer and early autumn. They seek protective recesses under remaining foliage as the weather cools. They are good at hiding since they are vulnerable to attack by a wide variety of insects, spiders and animals.

Tender fall and winter ornamentals are especially tempting as they are one of the few actively growing plants that offer plentiful nourishment. If one is present, many more are likely close by. The injuries they cause to plant surfaces open up the opportunity for disease, especially fungal disease, and transmit the cucumber mosaic virus. Additionally, they leave “honeydew” on the plant’s leaves. This aphid waste product frequently attracts ants. Aphids are easy to control with over-the-counter insecticides, both conventional and organic. Unfortunately, they are rarely noticed until the damage is done.

Crinum and amaryllis bulbs

Late autumn is the time to plant crinum and amaryllis bulbs for next summer’s bloom. Establish new plantings whether bulbs are purchased new or separated from existing beds.

Prepare the beds by blending peat moss with the existing soil. This adds organic matter, which improves water-holding capacity, and it helps acidify the growing bed to assure peak performance.

Bulbs should be installed with only the tip exposed to the surface. Mulch heavily with leaves and/or pine straw. Both add nutrition and organic matter to the soil and maintain the correct acidity level.

With little to no activity above the soil, the bulbs are establishing life-sustaining roots in the enriched soil. When the weather warms, the reward will be colorful blooms.   

Feeding the birds

Autumn is a good time to begin feeding residential and migratory birds. Initially, the feeders will get little use since there are still plenty
of food sources in the wild.

Early visitors to the feeders are likely scouts that assess available resources. The low temperatures of winter increase the caloric requirements needed to survive. As the season progresses and the food supplies diminish, the stopovers by hungry avian visitors will increase dramatically.

Commercially offered seed and seed mixes are popular offerings to attract birds. Suet and chopped fruit will work, too.

Clean water at a bird-safe location is an additional attraction. Birdbaths and waterers in open locations are best. Lurking dangers and ambush predators can be easily avoided if the bird has enough time to react.

Categories: Gardening