Fall Planting Yields Spring Color

By Dr. William C. Welch
Professor and Landscape Horticulturist
Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

The first cooling rains and winds of fall are a signal for vigorous gardening activity in the South. Spring-flowering perennials are best set out or divided now so they will have time to be well established when they begin flowering. Among the most dependable are oxeye and Shasta daisies, Louisiana and bearded irises, Louisiana phlox, and daylilies.

Prepare the soil well by adding large quantities of compost (about one-third by volume) and mixing well with existing soil. Incorporate a balanced fertilizer according to label instructions. Four to six pounds of cottonseed meal per 100 square feet provides a fairly long-lasting source of nitrogen. Arrange perennials in 'drifts', which are elongated masses of 5 or more plants, spaced so that they can fill in nicely by spring. Prepare beds for annuals such as pansies, sweet peas, violas, ornamental kale, cabbage, alyssums, poppies, snapdragons, and other cool-season favorites, but wait until November, or when the soil and air have cooled significantly, before setting out transplants. Poppies and larkspurs should be direct-seeded for best results, since they are not easily transplanted.

Consider adding fragrance to your garden with heirloom shrubs such as sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans), banana shrub (Michelia figo), or mock orange (Philadelphus sp.). All three of these mature into large shrubs (10 to 15 feet tall), and add their distinctive fragrances during winter or spring.