Hooray for fall flowers

By glenda strickbine

When gardeners in other parts of the country are putting away their tools until spring, we are bringing ours out for fall. One truly wondrous thing about the Sonoran Desert is that right now you can plant flowers and enjoy them for months to come without worrying about frost or freezing temperatures. A flower is the quintessential example of strength and beauty, and the desert provides a stunning backdrop to the profusion of color that flowers provide.

You can, of course, plant a flower garden or flower borders, but I love to plant flowers in containers that can brighten any space that needs some beauty. By creating and strategically placing some hanging and non-hanging flowers in containers, you can make your fall colorful and inspiring.

I spent most of my life thinking a pansy was a beautiful delicate flower. I was right about the beautiful part, but delicate – not so fast. Pansies are so much fun to grow. The color palette of the pansy ranges from purple velvet to buttercup yellow and all the colors in between. In containers, they are superb and are a definite favorite. If you deadhead pansies regularly (that is, remove spent blossoms), they will respond by blooming profusely for months and months. To remove fading blossoms, simply pinch off the flower stalk with your thumb and index finger at the first set of leaves.

Hard to decide which beautiful color to buy? My personal favorites are yellow and purple. Sometimes just by focusing on limited colors you are able to make a much stronger statement.

Geraniums, with their dark green foliage, are pungently gorgeous. They are a bit more limited in color palette, but they redefine the colors of red and fuchsia. They are another example of a bloomer that responds in spades to deadheading. The blooms of geraniums are big and bold, so deadheading here gives you, of course, lots of big and bold blossoms which last a long while.

One mainstay for beautiful hanging flower baskets and beds is the ever-ready petunia. Petunias grow rapidly, giving you a quick expanse of color; however, they require care to keep them from becoming shabby looking. After the first bloom, pinch back each stem to about four inches above the ground. In a few short weeks, you will have plenty of blooms again. I have never underestimated the power of the petunia, after having seen a stately planter at a Southern plantation done simply in orchid petunias. It was a breathtaking lavender cloud!

The soil for your flower beds must be enriched with nitrate, potassium and potash. You should also add compost and work your ground to provide proper drainage, which is critical to potted flowers as well.

Your containers should be potting soil mixed with garden soil. Compost is good here as well, and I use some rocks in the bottom to help drainage. Remember, containers require more water since they dry out more quickly, and that also applies to fertilizer.

Once you have your various plants, pots and necessary soil, you are ready to create your fall flower gardens with style. Remember, geraniums are superstars in containers, so let them be the center of attention. Surround them with cascading white petunias and add a tall spike dracaena to give your container height.

Another advantage you have growing flowers in containers is that you can utilize profuse bloomers that are possibly invasive plants – for example, the lovely verbena and the extremely hardy, multiplying lantana. You may not want them actually planted in your ground due to their invasiveness, but in containers, they can be your best friend. Take advantage of “wave” petunias that can give a lovely cascading effect.

Create beauty that only living art can achieve.