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Awesome summer can mean splendid fall color
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
This has been an awesome summer from the standpoint of temperature and moisture. Landscapes are looking great, and it is pleasant to get out and dig in the dirt. I'm sure my agronomy professor just rolled his eyes because we were taught never to call it dirt, but soil.
Nevertheless, this is the time to consider planting for some of our best fall color. Garden mums are ready, and there are some huge advantages to making those purchases now. One is that selection is best this early in the season.
In the past couple o years, Yoder Brothers have brought us loads of new mum varieties. Some that have caught my eye are the multicolored varieties like Stacy (purple and white) and Roxanne (rose, white and yellow). There is sure to be a new selection or two available where you shop.
Planting now has a lot of merit. You will get full value for the dollars spent because the plant's first buds will open in your landscape rather than the garden center. Rain is plentiful, but should it turn dry, you will want to keep your mums well watered to ensure you will have glorious fall color for weeks.
By choosing types according to bloom season, it is possible to have mums blooming until November. Some of my personal favorites are lavender Champagne and Debonair, white Frolic, pink Naomi and the old standard Yellow Jacket.
There is certainly nothing wrong with buying some later with color starting to show. I do that every year for decorating around my porch and patio. Mums are readily available in 4-inch, 6-inch and 1-gallon containers, with some tremendous 2- and 3-gallon selections that will have hundreds of flowers. You will be most happy by mass planting single colors in the landscape.
Another great fall bloomer to plant now is the marigold. Its bold colors and striking flowers are perfect for fall displays. Depending on the variety, the blooms cover the plants and may range from the size of a quarter to a tennis ball. These plants will bloom until the first frost.
Garden mums and marigolds prefer full sun in well-drained beds rich in organic matter. Prepare beds with 3 to 4 inches of organic matter and till to a depth of 8 to 10 inches. Make your first application of fertilizer for mums with the emergence of new spring growth. For marigolds and other fall annuals, mix two pounds of a slow release 12-6-6 fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed space when creating the bed, and side dress every six to eight weeks.
Mulching mums should be a no-brainer. If the plants dry severely, many buds will fail to open. Mulch marigolds when the seedlings are large enough or after setting out transplants. Deadhead to keep a tidy appearance and to encourage more blooms.
One of the big advantages to fall-planted marigolds is the reduced threat of spider mites. The reproductive rate of these joy-stealing sapsuckers diminishes as cooler weather arrives.
As with mums, we have good choices in marigolds like the large-flowered, compact varieties Antigua and Discovery that excel in the landscape, and the slightly larger Inca and Marvel. The smaller, multi-colored flowers of Safari and Bonanza are also well worth using.
Chrysanthemums and marigolds combine well with other fall bloomers like the Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) and Indigo Spires salvia.
Another great fall and winter plant that is much underused is the calendula or pot marigold. These plants thrive in cooler weather and produce huge, flat, orange or yellow flowers. Mild temperatures like we've had the past two winters would most likely have found them blooming for months. Zinnias and celosias are also easy to grow from seeds or transplants and provide months of fall color.
Rejoice in the weather we have had thus far and do a little digging and planting this weekend. We could be in store for our best fall in many years.