Question from Dan:
We are having company coming in October for my sons wedding. Do you know of any good plants we could plant in pots that will be blooming in mid October? Thanks.
(PS: we live in Temecula…quite a bit warmer and dryer than Del Mar.)
Answer from Pat:
Thanks for your excellent question. In fall, annual flowering plants are winding down from summer color. October and November are the months when we usually begin cutting plants back, and re-planting borders and pots for winter and spring color. Thus we are not usually thinking of plants that you can plant in pots now in August to provide color in October. Having a wedding in October changes all that. Some of the perennials one thinks of as late summer and autumn plants would be in the ground long before this. Nonetheless there are a many possibilities.
The most obvious thought among perennials is the common chrysanthemum, since it is triggered by temperature and day-length to bloom in fall, but—alas—it’s too late to begin from cuttings now. In order to grow chrysanthemum for October bloom you would need to take cuttings in March. So cross that idea off, though you could purchase plants at a nursery or even at a local food market.
It’s too late also for seeds since the very quickest things you could plant from seed and get bloom is about 48 days. If you read seed packets in the nursery you will learn what it takes time-wise to bring things to bloom and usually it takes longer and they are too small to count when they first bloom. Can be done but would be real test of your green thumb in pots.
The least expensive way to go and really the best container-plants here for fall color are all the heat-resistant, warm-season, annual flowers that when planted late and given a little extra care can still be going strong in fall. Nurseries often still sell these plants in fall and the unwary buy them, little realizing that they will decline and die in November. Now in August you can’t blame a nursery for being filled with these summer-loving annual plants—and perennials too—because it’s the height of the summer season. Thus you will find plenty of them in pony packs and gallon cans. You will not be amongst those buyers who don’t know they should have planted sooner. You will be buying them on purpose and you may even be lucky and get them on sale. Before purchasing the plants, gather together the pots and put them in full sun or perhaps a little shade in the middle of the day at this time of year. Be sure to put a piece of broken pottery over the drainage hole in the bottom of each pot—and then fill the pots with a good-quality potting soil.
Now here is a list of summer-blooming, heat-loving annuals and perennials that you can plant in sun: celosia, marigolds, gomphrena, petunias, zinnias, gaillardia, vinca, and rudbeckia. (All these are heat-resistant.) For some specific varieties to look for, Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Hortensia’ comes to mind. It’s good in hot interior zones but may be hard to find. Gaillardia ‘Arizona Sun’ was very long blooming for me. You can often find this variety in gallon size now. (But I grew it from seed planted in fall.) Other heat-resistant plants include Calibrachoa hybrids ‘Superbells’ and ‘Mission Bells’, Gaillardia x grandiflora ‘Yellow Queen’, and various sages (Salvias.) There are many salvias that laugh at sun and heat, but red Salvia splendens will give you the most color. Begonia ‘Dragon Wings’ can take more sun than most and can be mixed in with the sun-lovers. Grow it in big tubs. Buy plenty of pony packs of white sweet alyssum and blue lobelia to stick in around the outside of the pots so they will spill over the edge of the pot to make a pleasant contrast with the hot colors of the summer-blooming, hot-weather annuals.
All the above are for sunny spots. For pots in semi-shade: plant coleus, impatiens, Begonia semperflorens, and Begonia richmondensis. You can also put blue lobelia in shade. Look around the nursery, you may get other ideas—don’t get anything spiky like euphorbia, though, for a wedding—but you may find geraniums. These, however, are unlikely to last through to October, except perhaps ‘Balcon’ and other heat-resistant, small-flowered types. Basically any summer annual you can buy now in your local nursery, for planting in pots should be a good bet for blooming straight through from now to November. If you have few failures, just pull them out and stick in something else. (Also for shade, try heat resistant, fragrant small-flowered cyclamen which arrive in nurseries about the first of September, and unlike the other plants I’ve suggested these would carry on through winter. They would be a good choice for your table tops. The white ones are most fragrant and a few pink ones are also fragrant.)
Make sure you don’t buy root-bound plants that have been in the nursery containers too long and be sure also to loosen up the roots when you plant them. Sun lovers except vinca could perhaps enjoy a little shade in the middle of the day in your hot climate zone. I had a friend who had a large flower border in an interior climate zone. She had lacy trees for shade down the middle of her border. Sun hit the flowers all morning and in the afternoon but they were shaded at midday. Don’t let your plants dry out but don’t over water either. Feel the potting soil with your finger. If an inch or two is dry then it’s time to water. Each time you water, apply enough so water pours out the bottom of the pot to wash out salts. Feed plants with a liquid fertilizer every two weeks and dead head assiduously.
Sometimes people ask me to advise them for planting for a fall wedding but they don’t want to go to this much work. If that is the case, folks should wait until a couple of weeks before the wedding. If they live in San Diego County or close enough to make the trip worthwhile, I always advise them to drive to Weidner’s Gardens in Leucadia and fill a truck with large colorful plants, many of which might be on sale at that time of year. So that’s another way to go for other people reading this blog. (Weidners is located just east of the i-5 freeway at 695 Normandy Road, Encinitas, CA 92024-1897 (760) 436-2194. Tell Evelyn I sent you.)
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