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It’s time to plant fall flowers

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By Dennis Morgeson

Now that fall is officially here, it’s time to start planting fall flowers such as pansies, mums, and ornamental cabbage and kale. 

My favorite fall flower is the pansy, mainly because it is one of those tough little plants that will actually give you flowers periodically in winter as well as next spring. 

Pansies are not perennials, as they hate hot weather, but do reliably overwinter in Kentucky to give us two seasons of bloom, or three if you count the few flowers that pop up in winter.

Pansies should be planted now through October if you want them to have a chance to get established before cold weather really sets in.  When planting pansies, be sure to mix some slow release fertilizer in to get the plants off to a good start.  

They should be watered well for a few weeks to get established, especially if rain is scarce and it is still warm. 

Also, it is a good idea to put down some weed inhibitor like “Preen” after planting to stop the cool season weeds form germinating. 

By spring, some of these weeds, such as chickweed, can completely smother out pansies.  Pansies, like most all plants, should also be mulched to reduce freezing and thawing and heaving of the pansy plants out of the ground when it really gets cold. 

The mulch along with the weed preventer will also reduce weed pressure.

You should also go ahead and plant mums now to allow them to put on their fall show for you as well.  When buying mums, don’t buy ones in full bloom. Instead, go for ones with buds that are still tight but just starting to show color. 

This way you get the full benefit of the flowers.  Personally, I don’t even try to get mums to come back even though a few of them do.  With the new hybrids, you never know which still has its original hardiness, and actually, the key to getting them to overwinter is the weather anyway. 

Mums need to be watered fully until winter really sets in; yes, that means even watering dry soil in late November. 

If the roots dry out too much, they will die whether the top is growing actively or not.  Also, it is best to leave the dead tops on mums and fill it with leaves or mulch to help protect the root system to try to get them through the winter.

When planting mums, plant them at the same level as they are growing in the nursery container and be sure to water them regularly.  Mums use a lot of water while in flower and are generally very pot bound by the time we buy them in the fall. 

Mums don’t need a lot of fertilizer while in flower, but I like to give them half rate water-soluble fertilizer about once per week to keep the leaves nice and green.

Ornamental cabbage and kale are relatively new to the fall garden scene compared to mums and pansies, but they can be very beautiful if taken care of properly. 

Cabbage and kale should be fertilized well when planting to push out a lot of leaves. 

After all, this is what is putting on the show so to speak. 

I like to use just regular old 10-10-10 on these since they have the exact requirements as garden cabbage and kale.  Usually a tablespoon or so worked in the spot each plant is going is plenty.  Be sure to keep them watered well to keep them growing. 

The larger the plant gets, the prettier display you are going to have when chilly weather moves in.  Cabbage and kale will generally stay looking good until temperatures get down into the low 20’s. However, if the weather gradually gets cold, they can go down into the teens and bounce back. 

The one problem with ornamental cabbage and kale is cabbage looper (the little green worms you get on garden Cole crops).  These worms can eat a plant up in a few days, so keep an eye out or keep them sprayed with sevin or dipel.

I like to use dipel because it is very effective and organic. It also doesn’t leave as much ugly white residue as sevin.

This year while planning your fall decorations, add some of the fall flowers to your plan to accessorize your pumpkins, gourds, scare crows, straw bales and fodder shocks. 

If you have any questions about fall flowers, give me a call at 859-336-7741 or email me at dennis.morgeson@uky.edu. I also wanted to remind you all that there are still openings for the upcoming Wheelbarrow Series Classes including iris and daffodils. 

These classes have supply charges. 

Just give me a call or email for more information.

Happy Gardening!