How to care for fall favorites and winter wonders

How to care for fall favorites and winter wonders
Spring is often thought of as the prettiest time of the year for flowers—but fall and winter are full of beauties too, including the hardy chrysanthemum and the vibrant poinsettia.

Mums

Fall-blooming mums can enliven October gardens with an array of pinks, apricots, reds, purples and yellows. These enduring plants are a delight both in the garden and as long-lasting cut flowers.

Mark Viette, a horticulturalist in Augusta County, warns shoppers to be aware that most mums purchased in the fall are not winter-hardy in colder regions. “It’s important to ask someone at a good garden center whether or not the mums they sell are winter-hardy,” he explained. “You may be able to tell by looking at the label. If it doesn’t give hardiness information, it probably isn’t a hardy variety.”
Another way to tell is to look for basal shoots, or stolons, at the base of the plant. “If you see these young shoots, then it is probably a hardier variety,” Viette added.

Hardy mums prefer full sun or light shade and well-drained soil. “Poorly drained, wet soil is fatal to these perennials, especially during the winter,” Viette explained. It is important to maintain 2 to 3 inches of mulch around the plants to protect the crown.

“If you can, it’s always best to plant mums early, before the first frost,” Viette suggested. “Keep them well watered after planting, and do not allow them to dry out!”

To keep the plants nice and compact with lots of blooms, shear or pinch them back by about one-third when they reach about 6 inches tall, and again when new growth reaches 3 to 5 inches; do not pinch back after mid-July.

Once frost finally kills the last blossoms, shear the flowers off, but allow the old foliage to remain over the winter to protect the crown. Cut this foliage back in the spring, being careful not to disturb any new growth.

Poinsettias

Native to Central America and Mexico, the poinsettia was introduced to the United States in 1830 by Joel Roberts Poinsett.

The brilliant red "petals" of the poinsettia are not flower petals at all but modified leaves called bracts. The bracts surround the true flowers, which are small and yellow. Recent hybridizing has produced a multitude of variations on the traditional red poinsettia. Plants are now available in white, pink, peach, yellow, marbled and speckled varieties. Choose plants with dense, plentiful foliage all the way down the stem, Viette suggested.

The poinsettia plant thrives on indirect, natural daylight. At least six hours of sun exposure daily are recommended, but be sure to avoid direct sunlight, as this can fade the bract color. 
To prolong the bright color of the poinsettia bracts, daytime temperatures should not exceed 70 degrees. “Avoid placing the plants near drafts, excessive heat or the dry air from appliances, fireplaces or ventilating ducts,” Viette added.

Poinsettias require moderately moist soil and should be watered enough to completely saturate the soil—but not so much that the plant is in standing water.

While it is not necessary to fertilize a poinsettia when it is in bloom, a balanced, all-purpose household plant fertilizer may help maintain rich, green foliage and promote new growth after the holidays. Keep plants healthy and growing in a bright location. Cut them back to about 8 inches in late March, and put them outside when night temperatures exceed 55 degrees.



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