Five colorful flowers you can enjoy this fall
By Jennifer Miko
With fall weather approaching, cooler conditions welcome new opportunities to brighten up your landscaping. There are many wonderful plants to consider that thrive after the summer months. Annuals are versatile and can be planted from a seed or transplant, or grown in a container. They’re perfect for window boxes, lining a sidewalk or adding new life to a perennial garden.
Essentially, annual plants fulfill their life cycle of germination, flowering, and death within a season or a year. They’re the plant kingdom’s version of the circle of life. With the variety of annuals available, Houstonians can enjoy blooms year -round. However, it is necessary to do some research before planting something just because it’s pretty. Understanding the growing environment before selecting any plants saves time and money.
There are basic factors to consider when choosing which annuals to plant and where. Some thrive in a dry or wet soil, and others prefer a rocky terrain. And although the sun is not as strong in the fall, it’s important to select plants that can tolerate full sun, or choose plants that need more shade. Depending on the species, some plants must be watered daily or less frequently. After the environmental conditions for the local annuals have been determined, gardeners are still left with a large variety of blooming plants to choose from in our growing region. Annuals can be chosen for their specific color, or if the area can accommodate short, tall or climbing plants.
1. HOUSTONIANS WHO PLANT ANNUAL PHLOX CAN HAVE “TEXAS PRIDE”
“Drummond’s Phlox” is one of the many nicknames for a hardy annual that can enrich your garden’s appearance this fall. Phlox actually comes from the Greek word for flame, and fittingly describes some of the bright pink and red varieties. These lovely small flowers grow in clusters and have five petals with an ornamental star design in the center. Their tubular shape even attracts the long bills of hummingbirds. The Phlox plant hails from Texas and was discovered in 1835.
Breeders have helped this wildflower adapt to distinctly different environments and climates. Over the years, the phlox has responded well to cultivation, and now more than 200 varieties exist.
These annuals can grow anywhere from 6 to 18 inches tall and prosper in well-drained, sandy soil. Phlox require full sun and need continuous moisture during the growing season. Gardeners can plant their seeds in flower beds, or as borders, or in a decorative container. After young phlox plants get their footing, they should be pinched back to promote branching and bushiness. To prolong the blooming period of the phlox, it’s important to deadhead the flowers.
2. A DELIGHTFUL PAYOFF FROM PRIMROSE
The primrose is another one of the hardiest annuals to plant in Houston in the fall. Their multicolored blooms feature a yellow center and can be enjoyed from November to May. The German or English Primrose can tolerate temperatures as low as 15 degrees, so their delightful colors will brighten up the grayer winter months. For the best results, plant primrose in a moist, organically enriched, well-draining soil, in bright shade or filtered sun. They’re resilient and can be a wonderful addition to flower boxes or to border the lawn with a rainbow of color.
The primrose has also proven to be useful indoors. Both the flowers and leaves of the primrose are edible, having a flavor between mild lettuce and more bitter salad greens. The leaves have also been used for tea, and the young flowers can be made into primrose wine.
Many species of primrose have evolved over the years, and their unique characteristics allow them to survive different climates and planting periods. The wild yellow primrose plant, from which most of the cultivated varieties have been bred, is actually protected in the United Kingdom. The species there was being depleted due to over-collection, so it now is illegal to pick the wild yellow primrose flowers or dig up the plants.
Most annuals are available in a multitude of colors, and some even come in a wide range of sizes. Groups of unique annuals can be combined to create a formal garden when plants of different heights and styles are arranged together. Dwarf snapdragons, for example, make a great border because they are low to the ground, whereas the tall spike of the Rocket snapdragons can reach a height of 3 feet. They are naturally better situated in the back of a garden to add depth.
3. SNAPDRAGONS ARE STUNNING ANNUALS PERFECT FOR THE HOUSTON AREA
They thrive in the full or partial sun, and reveal vibrant flowers throughout the fall, winter and spring. They are cold-hardy to about 25 degrees, and are disease-resistant. For best results, the snapdragons should be planted in well-draining soil to prevent the roots from rotting.
4. MUCH TO LIKE ABOUT LOBELIA
If you’re looking for an easy-to-grow, cool weather annual, consider the lobelia. The seeds are tiny, and should be sown indoors about 12 weeks before planting outdoors. Seedling growth is slow and they need to be monitored to prevent damping off – developing a fungus-caused ailment that can kill seeds or seedlings.
Once they have been transplanted, lobelia can reach their beautiful full potential. Their environment should consist of fertile, moist, well-draining soil, with part sun or bright shade. Lobelia blooms can be found in white, pink, red and violet-blue, the latter being the most popular. Trailing varieties of lobelia will cascade impressively from hanging baskets or window boxes. And the more compact, bedding types will reach about 6 inches in height.
During the cooler fall months in Houston, lobelia will do well in full sun and moist, rich soil. Since they are half-hardy plants, lobelia plants need to be protected if the temperature drops below 30 degrees. Their bright summertime blooms can last until the first frost.
For some people, the lobelia plant simply creates exciting effects in the garden; for others, the lobelia herb has medicinal applications. Today herbal extracts are sold as homeopathic remedies for respiratory conditions like asthma, bronchitis or pneumonia. In addition, lobelia extracts are used as an expectorant.
5. DON’T OVERLOOK ALYSSUM
Another easy-to-grow annual that creates a brilliant border is the alyssum. Growing to about 8 inches tall, the alyssum brightens any yard with an explosion of flowers. The sprawling blooms are available in pink, violet, purple and lavender, but white is the most popular. Alyssum can also be planted in small openings in a rock garden to add a splash of color.
Alyssum plants are grown from seed, and can be placed in the flower garden, or seeded indoors to be transplanted later. They like full or partial sun and tolerate average or dry soil conditions. The alyssum plant does well during the fall months, but it is highly susceptible to frost damage.
So plant those seeds, or visit the local nurseries to choose flats of hardy annuals. Remember to follow the detailed instructions to plant them in the best environment: appropriate soil and sun exposure, and access to sufficient water. With proper care, your annuals will reward you with striking blooms that will make a Texan proud.