Time to get cool-season flowers in the ground

If you could ask cool-season flowers when to plant them in Las Vegas, they’d all scream, “In the fall!” Our temperatures are in their favor. As you cruise Las Vegas Boulevard, notice how hotels draw visitors in with cool-season flowers. They’ll brighten our dreary days of winter, and they’re so easy to grow.

Even if we have colder, snowy weather, these workhorses keep blooming. I recall one snowy morning wondering how these cool-season flowers weathered the storm. As I scraped the snow back, their blooms still held. That storm didn’t slow them down one bit.

Here are some flowers to consider this time of year: alyssum, calendula, petunia, hollyhock, viola, sweet pea, stocks and snapdragons. Others not so familiar include bachelor button, calliopsis, candytuft, African daisy, dianthus, larkspur, poppies and Virginia stocks. Get these from seed catalogs.

Warm winter soil is a reason to plant these toughies this fall. Their roots continue to develop to become a sure foundation for additional blooms up top. I once compared fall-, winter- and spring-planted flowers to find out when was the best time to plant them in Las Vegas. The next summer I found fall flowers had massive root systems and many more flowers than spring-planted posies.

Still need a reason to plant this fall? Petunias produce flowers best when temperatures are around 62 degrees. That’s our average high temperature through the winter. It’s just what the doctor ordered for bushy, compact plants with more flowers to enjoy. As temperatures increase and days lengthen, petunias become leggy and produce fewer and smaller flowers.

Ornamental kale and cabbage will make your visitors say “wow.” These flowering vegetables are made for Las Vegas gardens. They’ll stop traffic when in a landscape. Bill Lake, a retired horticulturist, tells of a woman who jumped out of her cab, grabbed a cabbage plant from his Desert Inn display, flipped him $20 and sped off.

Nurseries need to make ornamental kale and cabbage available earlier in the fall. Earlier plantings give these veggies time to develop those gigantic elephant-eared leaves. Then as temperatures cool, colors within the leaves intensify.

The pansy also is a favorite. For its size, it’s amazing how big its blooms become and the colors it produces. Sometimes varieties are solid, while others are blotchy and still others look like a manicurist delicately painted their petals. Some “faces” look like old men with bushy beards and heavy eyebrows.

Stocks are another fall favorite. They come in pastel colors, ranging from cream and pink to shades of lilac. Get trisomic stocks, because they branch profusely and carry double flowers to make a spectacular show and perfume the entire yard.

Snapdragons are certainly winners for your wintry flower stage. Your nursery has a wider assortment of colors that get from six to 36 inches high. You can create a football stadium effect with short snaps upfront and graduating up. All it takes is a wild imagination.

Select plants that are a healthy green and compact. Avoid tall, spindly plants. Cool-season annuals generally come with a few blooms at purchase time, so you know what you are getting.

Planting these toughies in masses makes for a more effective display. Blend in other colors to enhance the beauty and catch the beholder’s eye as these determined annuals burst into bloom.

Soil preparation is the real key to raising stunning bedding plants. You want their fibrous roots to move freely, searching for nutrients for more blooms. Compacted soils inhibit plant growth, resulting in smaller flowers.

Be liberal in adding organic materials to your soil before planting. Also, add in a phosphorus-type fertilizer and soil sulfur and thoroughly mix them into the soil to produce those bushels of blooms.

HOLIDAY DECORATIONS SEMINAR

Learn how to make your own holiday decorations. The Sunset Garden Club is sponsoring “Table Decorations for the Holidays” at noon Tuesday at the Paseo Verde Library, 280 S. Green Valley Parkway in Henderson.

Club designers will show how to design table decorations using fresh and dried vegetation. You’ll have instruction sheets to follow while designers make their decorations, and then you can go home and try it. This event is open to the public.

Linn Mills writes a garden column each Sunday. You can reach him at linn.mills@springspreserve.org or call him at 822-7754.

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