What’s in your basket?

April 6, 2013

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Children find candy, dyed eggs and chocolate bunnies in their brightly decorated Easter baskets. As adults, our containers might hold colorful flowers. While not as tasty as Milk Duds or peanut butter cups, lovely bouquets definitely have merit.

Seasonal collections typically include spring-blooming annuals, bulbs and perennials. Other additions might be trailing vines, succulents or grasses. Many of these selections may be admired as packaged for several weeks. Others might be enjoyed for several seasons when planted in the ground or in containers. Plants in gift baskets often include:

TULIPS

Tulips come in flower colors that range from pale pastels to vibrant primary tones. Some species sport large, robust blooms, while others have dainty flowers. Many small species fare well in Southern gardens, whereas most other types perform best in regions that receive a long winter chill. Even in the best conditions, tulips are short lived. Since you are unlikely to know the genetics of a gift, you may opt to toss the plants when they stop blooming. Or you can plant the bulbs and enjoy them while they last.

Always plant tulips in fast-draining soil. Do not site them in an area where water pools because bulbs will rot if they are in wet soil. Tulips require a full sun site, particularly when they are in bloom. They may be planted beneath deciduous trees since the tree leaves won’t appear until after the tulips bloom. Place bulbs 2-3 times as deep as they are wide. Encourage next year’s flowering by allowing the foliage to turn yellow and die before removing.

HYACINTHS

These bulbs feature lovely, fragrant clusters of bell-shaped flowers, which rise from a clump of narrow, bright green leaves. The common hyacinth has blossom spikes that are tightly packed. Flower color is white, pink, blue, red or purple. The size of the flower spike is directly related to the size of the bulb. Set larger bulbs about 6 inches deep and 5 inches apart. Set smaller bulbs 4 inches deep and 4-5 inches apart. Fertilize the plants just as the blooms fade, then remove spent spikes and water until the foliage yellows and dies. Just as with tulips, you may plant the bulbs (in similar conditions) and hope for a repeat performance.

PANSIES

Members of the violet family are generally compact growers with scented flowers. Most pansy flowers have distinct markings, which is why they are said to have faces. In North Central Texas, pansies and their viola cousins are mostly treated as annuals that persist in moderate winters and die back as hot weather sets in. They prefer rich garden soil and flourish in full sun to partial shade. Plant pansies in the ground or in containers and enjoy them until about Memorial Day. Remove spent blooms to encourage repeat bloom.

DIANTHUS

Also known as “pinks,” “carnations” or “sweet Williams,” these flowers are available in both perennial and annual forms. Most dianthus cultivars form either attractive foliage mats or tufts of grass-like blue-green or grey-green leaves. They produce single, semi-double or double flowers in white, pink, red, yellow and orange. Petals have toothed edges. Most flowers have a pleasant spicy fragrance. These flowers bloom through spring, then fade in hot weather.

CALLA LILIES

These perennials are grown from rhizomes and cultivated for their striking flowers. Most types have lance-shaped or heart-shaped leaves. Some sport leaves with white markings. Flowers colors are white, cream, yellow or pink. Transplant calla lilies into rich, somewhat moist garden soil in full sun to partial shade. Some cultivars will live happily as bog plants, but these should be container grown and moved to shelter in cold weather. Callas prefer acidic soil, so amending the planting area with peat moss is advised; flowers may not rebloom if planted in heavy alkaline soils. Set the rhizomes in the dirt 2”-6” deep and 8”-12” apart. Withhold water when the plants are dormant.

PETUNIAS

This popular plant comes in many forms, including those that are tolerant of heat and humidity. For example, the cultivars labeled “Wave,” “Supertunia,” or “VIP” reputedly perform better in Texas. Petunias are generally low growing, bushy to spreading plants with thick, broad leaves that are slightly sticky to the touch. Flowers are funnel shaped with single, double or heavily ruffled petals. The flower color range is extensive from white to purple and bicolored.

Plant petunias in shade or part sun, depending upon type. They need a site with good air circulation to avoid disease. Provide them with loose, well-drained soil and plant them no deeper than they were growing in their containers. For best growth, feed pansies monthly with a well-balanced fertilizer. “Pinch back” established plants by about a third to encourage compact growth and better bloom. Some petunias cultivars spread and trail beautifully from containers.

Resources: The American Horticulture Society, Southern Living Garden Book

For answers to horticulture questions, call the Texas AgriLife Extension, Hood County at 817-579-3280 or visit the website at hoodcountymastergardeners.org.

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Category: Horticulture Archived