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Dog days signal time to plant fall color
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
While the hot muggy dog days of summer make you want to forget gardening and board an Alaskan cruise, it should signal you to get out and plant. The planting I refer to is sowing seeds of some great fall-blooming plants, namely zinnias and marigolds.
In the past, I have tempted you to try the tall, cut flower-type zinnias like the Benary Giants from Germany. Now I would like to urge you to get your tired landscape on a road to beautification for fall and football weather with Dreamland zinnias.
When I think about landscape performance, the first zinnia that comes to mind is the Dreamland. The Dreamland zinnia has been used all over the campus of Mississippi State University in Starkville to add bold color for visitors and students.
These zinnias produce enormous flowers reaching close to 4 inches wide. The bright, colorful flowers are produced on short, stocky plants that reach just 18 inches tall, so they need no staking and will not fall over.
Many of you may be thinking that zinnias get leaf spotting diseases. This is a problem with some varieties, but if you look at the foliage of the Dreamland zinnias, you will quickly notice there is hardly any leaf spotting disease. This makes the series an environmentally-friendly performer in Southern landscapes.
Dreamland zinnias with their bright, colorful, dahlia-like blossoms look good grown as a mixture or in single colors. On campus they have mixes planted with elephant ears to give a tropical look. If you go by North Park Mall in Jackson, you will see them used in single colors with marigolds, Tropicana canna and ornamental sweetpotatoes. Dreamland zinnias are available in colors sure to fit your palette.
When you consider that the colors of fall are oranges, yellows and reds, then the marigold may be the ideal plant. They are loaded with bold colors and bold flowers that range in size from a quarter to a tennis ball. While primarily considered for spring, they are ideal for fall.
Your marigolds may be loaded with spider mites and you have come to hate them. The truth is, spring planted marigolds are susceptible to spider mites, especially as it heats up in the summer. Research in Texas has shown that marigolds planted in August are not nearly so plagued by spider mites because their reproductive rates change as they head into fall.
Large flowered, compact varieties like Antigua, Voyager and Discovery excel in the landscape, as do the slightly larger Inca and Marvel. The smaller, multi-colored, Safari and Bonanza are also knockout performers.
Whether you want Dreamland zinnias or marigolds, prepare your beds by incorporating 3 to 4 inches of organic matter and 2 pounds of a slow release 12-6-6 fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed space. Direct seed or set out transplants that have little to no color showing.
Thin the seedlings to proper spacing for the vigorous growth that is about to occur. Mulch when the seedlings are large enough or after setting out transplants. Side-dress the young plants in six to eight weeks with light applications of the fertilizer.
Both zinnias and marigolds combine nicely with other colorful fall flowers like mums, Mexican bush sage and asters. You will notice they bloom before and after mums, and they are downright inexpensive.