Friday, May 25, 2018

To grow robust annual flowers, fertilize early and often

Brightly colored annual flowers are popping up around the metro area. Annuals are an easy way to provide color with little care, but you'll get the most from your plants if you give them a little attention. Here is what you need to know to achieve maximum results.

Know how buds form

Annuals have a limited time to flower before frost puts an end to the color. The goal is to get as many flowers as possible in that short period of time. Breeders have been working hard to simplify the process, but the plants still need assistance.

Blooms form at the end of a healthy, vigorous vegetative shoot. The biggest, most robust plants are those that produce a lot of new green growth in which the flowers form. So your goal is to produce more of that green growth, which means feeding your plants consistently and often.

Many times annuals underperform because they are not fed enough to push the growth. The secret to fertilizing annuals is to keep it up all season long.

Start at planting. This application helps the plants get established. To keep them growing strong, feed them monthly through September.

More nitrogen, less phosphorus

Marketers of plant fertilizers have not always based their information on sound horticulture research. Many flower fertilizers have higher amounts of phosphorus and lower levels of nitrogen. With names like "bloom buster," these products miss the research-based point that flowers are produced from new green growth.

While phosphorus is important, it is associated with root development, not flower bud formation. Look for the three numbers on the product label. If the middle (second) number of the three is the highest, then put it back on the shelf. The first number in the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium ratio is the most important: Nitrogen is responsible for green shoot development.

Fertilizers labeled for flowers are not always properly formulated or easy to use, and they may not provide the best results.

How to fertilize

The problem for many gardeners is fertilization involves math and soil chemistry. Most of us just want simple, clear directions. If you have not had a proper soil test, which provides all the information you need, here is the recipe for flower fertilization for dummies.

Once a month evenly spread a fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or something similar at the rate of 1 pound, about 2 cups per 100 square feet of bed area. Estimate your square footage by multiplying length times width. For small plantings of five or six annuals, sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons of fertilizer over the area. Be sure to water it in after the application. This recipe is easy to follow and inexpensive.

That's it, all you need to know for a colorful summer of flowering annuals.

Monday, April 23, 2018

New annuals will light up containers and flower beds

Once the calendar flips to May, gardeners head to local nurseries in search of annuals that provide season-long color and interest in containers and flower beds.

A group of Penn State Master Gardeners visited their favorite nurseries and talked to local owners and growers about plants they are particularly excited about this year. If you see a plant that interests you, ask about it at your local nursery. Most will be available locally, and some can be purchased as seeds.

Here are some of our new favorite annuals:

'Purple Knight' Alternanthera (Alternanthera dentata) brings a splash of glossy plum-burgundy foliage to beds and containers. Spreading 24 inches wide and 18 inches tall, it is heat tolerant, will thrive in full to part sun and looks terrific on its own or with pink, silver and white flowers.

'Rise Up' Begonia (Begonia x tuberhybrida) blooms non-stop in both sun and shade. The medium-sized, single or double flowers "rise up" above the foliage and face upright for maximum impact. Available in warm shades of coral, orange and pink, these begonias are perfect fillers for hanging baskets and planters, with a mounding habit and strong trailing branches. They are mildew resistant and prefer to dry out between waterings.

'Waterfalls Encanto Orange' trailing begonia (Begonia boliviensis) is well-branched with narrow, toothed green leaves topped with cascading bright orange flowers. The Waterfalls series also includes red, salmon and white flowers on plants that grow 12-24 inches tall and wide and prefer well-drained soil in part shade. It flowers profusely over a long period and attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to hanging baskets and elevated containers.

'Electric Pink' Cordyline (Cordyline banksii) adds pizzazz with 2- to 4-foot-tall maroon leaves edged in brilliant pink. Its color shows best in full sun, but it will also perform well in light shade. It's a perfect "thriller" for a large container.

'Fireworks' Gomphrena (Gomphrena globosa) is a cottage annual that stands tall but also works as a see-through plant, adding a fun dimension to containers or flower beds. With 1-inch hot pink puffs perched atop 3- to 4-foot stems, these plants are drought tolerant and prefer full sun.

Garvinea series Gerbera daisies bloom from April through October and one plant can provide up to 100 flowers in a single season, reblooming quickly after cutting. It is 18 inches tall, does best in full to part sun and is resistant to pests and disease.

'Calliope Large Salmon' geraniums (Pelargonium interspecific) are a cross between zonal and ivy varieties and are known for vibrant colors and semi-double flowers. These tough geraniums work best in beds or large planters and prefer full sun to part shade and rich, moist, well-drained soil.

'Fireball' French marigold (Tagetes patula) has red flowers that turn a fiery bronze and then mellow to gold as they mature. 'Strawberry Blond' features unique shades ranging from yellow-pink to rose-plum. Both plants are a bushy, compact 8-12 inches tall and perfect for edging and containers in full sun.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Attleboro Arts Museum's annual Flower Show offers 'celestial' appeal

ATTLEBORO -- As the area grabs its shovels and revs up its snowblowers to deal with the aftermath of the latest nor'easter, could there be a better time for a flower show?

That's what organizers of the Attleboro Arts Museum Flower Show are hoping. The 22nd annual event opens Thursday, March 22, and runs through Sunday, March 25, at the downtown venue.

This year's theme is "Blast Off — Celestial Gardens," and aims to "launch visitors into the beauty of a galaxy composed of bold landscapes and striking floral arrangements," the museum says.

There will also be horticulture and artistic floral arranging, gardening presentations and demonstrations, special events for all ages, and a nature-themed exhibition of original artwork throughout the museum.

Nine exhibitors have been working on displays that dovetail with the "celestial theme" and in some way represent a planet or night sky phenomena.

"The Flower Show committee brainstorms a selection of options once the previous year's show has ended," museum Executive Director Mim Fawcett said via email, explaining how the theme was chosen. "We try to head in a new direction, so that all exhibitors can catch the fever and be inspired by a fresh set of potential colors, materials and concepts"

The "outer space" theme was a hit with the committee from the start, she said.

"There's always a great deal of whimsy during the Flower Show," Fawcett added. "After a long and difficult winter we all need to laugh a bit. This year for sure."

Flower Show committee members are Sarah Mott and Joanne Stevenson (co-chairs), Amy Rhilinger, Sherry Scholl, Marion Volterra and Belinda Gabryl.

This year's displays are provided by Art Set, Attleboro; Attleboro Farms, North Attleboro; Briggs Nursery, North Attleboro; Bristol County Agricultural High School, Dighton; Flowers by the Station, Attleboro; Helping Hands Florist, Plainville; Nolan's Flowers and Gifts, North Attleboro; Oracle Landscape & Lindsey Epstein Pottery, Tiverton, R.I.; and Rosebud Florist Inc. of Pawtucket, which is making its first show appearance.

"The exhibitors have really embraced the theme," Fawcett said. "Attleboro Farms selected the planet Venus as their inspiration. They have incorporated a replica of the Venus de Milo sculpture into a lush garden.

"Art Set has viewers traveling to Mercury and celebrates the planet's rich hues of blue and dramatic surface details. Flowers by the Station shines a spotlight on the Milky Way by creating a swirling force of live flowers and dried materials."

‘One Small Step'

Along with the major garden installations, this year's floral artists will be creating a shoe, boot or other footwear design for a competition titled "One Small Step," a salute to Neil Armstrong's famous words upon landing on the Moon. The floral statements will be on the lower level of the museum.

The show also offers demonstrations from naturalists, hands-on creative activities for children and families, live music, raffles, a plant sale from Attleboro High School, cut flowers in a variety of colors, and a collection of gifts in the expanded museum gift shop.

Artist Alice Benvie Gebhart's kiln-fired glass designs will be featured in the show's Big Dipper Café's boutique on the lower level. (Elevator service is available.)

"Our popular Sponsor Wall features the work of local artists Sarah Mott, Belinda Gabryl, Sally Cobb and Angus Schaefer," Fawcett said. "They have designed and created a variety of original ‘Celestial Garden-themed' ceramic items so that Flower Show sponsors can take home a gift of thanks for their donation."

The show's Benefit Preview, "Star Gazing — A Night Beneath the Stars," was postponed from Wednesday night to Thursday night because of the snowstorm. It will feature pianist Mark Taber and demonstrations by Attleboro-based floral and event designer Michelle Pupa of Belle Flora. Gebhart will also be on hand. Tickets are $15 for museum members, $17 for non-members; includes wine, beer and light hors d'oeuvres.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Pilbara Plants: wet season flowers defy heat

I was fortunate to have some excellent mentors in my early Pilbara botanical years, one of whom was a passionate botanist, Kaye Glennon.

During the 1980s she contributed a regular article highlighting native plants to what was then the Hamersley News and later the Karratha Guardian.

When she left town in the late 1980s I said I would continue her column. It has taken me 30 years to do so but "a voice from the spinifex" is talking plants again.

It's 41C outside and I wonder how any plant, let alone any flower, can survive. Yet on the Yaburara Heritage Trail this morning I saw my favourite Bonamia media (summer hillslope bonamia).

This ground plant has tiny protective whitish hairs on its small spear-shaped leaves and stems, usually no more than 10-15cm, that bear beautiful pale blue funnel-shaped flowers with five petals.

I love this tiny plant that lies flat on the searing rocks but flowers throughout the hottest summer months. It is one of the Convolvulaceae family (from the Latin convolvo, to twine).

This plant is too small to twine but its closest relatives, the morning glory vines, do. One of these is rock morning glory (Ipomoea costata).

As you drive to Dampier or Hearson's Cove, its large purple trumpet-shaped flowers are obvious.

Their somewhat woody tubers are the well-known "bush potato", a favourite of Aboriginal people.