Thinking ahead, or back, necessary for planting success
By Jimmy Williams
Posted: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 8:01 pm
It is a regrettable fact that just when an agreeable and desirable ornamental plant we covet appears on the scene — that is, when it is abloom — most of the time it is at the opposite season from when preparation should be made for its performance.
Take annual poppies, for instance. Every spring when they jump from beds and borders I am asked the best time to plant them. It is now, just about exactly half a year from bloom time. Their show has faded from our memories, and we must be nudged into consciousness of them by someone with a still-functioning memory bank in their brain.
Poppy seeds are tiny. Per ounce they are as costly as some fine metals, but a little goes a long way. Scattered sparsely right on top of the ground, some will sprout quickly and overwinter as wee plants. Others might lie around until early spring before sprouting. Whichever, they will bloom on schedule in May.
I have for a number of years sowed crimson clover on a barren hill of red clay west of our residence lot. Ten pounds of seeds will cover almost an acre thickly enough to crowd out early spring weeds and put on a great show of true crimson, along with some perennial white oxeye daisies and yellow coreopsis in the same area. This easy setup grabs attention all out of proportion to its effort.
It is amazing how thinly the clover seeds can be sown and still get a solid stand. I mix them with sand and broadcast the mixture by hand, more thickly in bald areas and less so in better spots. They sprout with the first rain and carry over as small plants, then run up to bloom when weather warms in spring. A great feature with any legume such as clover is the nitrogen fixing characteristic. A cover of clover will improve any soil. Crimson clover is an annual, unlike white and red clovers, which are perennial. Therefore, my crimson clover regimen must be repeated every fall.
Larkspur is a biennial and the nearest thing we can grow in the hot south to its cousin, delphinium. Again, preparation must be done a half year or more in advance. Larkspur seeds should be sown right on top of the soil. Like poppies, some will sprout immediately and others will wait until spring. They shoot up quickly to 4 feet and bloom in May and June. Neatniks will uproot the plants after bloom, saving seeds to sow in fall or letting them fall right to the ground at the time. They will lie doggo and sprout when weather conditions come to their liking in fall.
All these plants are so called “hardy annuals.” They are capable of overwintering as tiny plants if they sprout in fall. Tender annuals (which includes most of them), on the other hand, won’t do that. If they fall to the ground and sprout now, the first freeze will do them in. However, with extremely fecund species (i.e. impatiens, cleome) the seeds can lie all winter and some will reliably sprout in spring. In fact, the winter freezing causes stratification of seeds, which enhances sprouting.
Cleome and impatiens are the two most common summer annuals in our garden. The reason is simple. They produce many seeds and most are viable. Then too, the areas where they grow are not mulched. A mulch that covers the seeds to even a half-inch will prevent sprouting. Visitors to our garden marvel at the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of impatiens that carry through from June to frost. Cleome and impatiens, in fact, qualify as weeds where they sprout too thickly and must be thinned rigorously, a considerable effort in early summer.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack — A working brain is a great gardening asset.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 10.27.09