GardenSmart :: EPISODES :: 2003 show7
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We visit Tom Rapp, the city horticulturist in Aiken, South Carolina. Tom and Dr. Rick show us step by step how to change, design and install an annual bed. By following these steps you'll be able to have color in your garden most all of the year.

Most seasonal color is attributed to annuals. There are cool season annuals and warm season annuals. As we move from spring to summer we need to get rid of the cool season annuals, even though they may be looking great. As warmer weather hits they will fade. Pansies are a good example. These pansies were chosen because they have a face, they are bicolor, there are two different colors to the petal. They have strong, pure hues. They put on a show up close and they have good appeal from a distance. They are related to vining type plants so it is natural for them to get lanky in late spring.

This bed is raised. It allows for good drainage and better visibility. Tom has plenty of organic matter in the bed so it won't hold a lot of water and it allows for air to be present.

When removing the pansies or other plants remove as much of the root system as possible, yet leave as much soil as possible. Pull them out, bump them against the ground, shake them to remove the soil. It's best not to till the top part of the plant back into the soil particularly if you suspect the presence of disease or pests. If mulch is present from last season, just till it in the mix, it will decompose and add organic matter to the bed. Tom likes Pine Bark Nuggets because they decompose rapidly. One sign that your soil is healthy is the presence of Earthworms. You can't add worms to make healthy soil. Earthworms indicate the soil is very humus, a lot of organic matter and the right amount of moisture and air. Tom and Rick like to use a polyethylene tarp, approximately 8 x 8, to more easily move landscape materials around. Tom uses an organic matter that has ground bark, added lime and sand to make it loose. It will crumble in your hand. If you can crush the material and it breaks into several large pieces, it is good, it's loamy, completely composted. Tom has planted in 8-10 inches of this material, put on top of the soil, and been successful. It is better if you work this organic matter into the soil however. A mini-tiller is an essential tool for gardening. The one Tom uses is lightweight, it can be carried in one hand, it gets into small areas, you don't need a large space for storage, it's two cycle and has a lot of power. The blades of this tiller are like knives, they slice through the ground and do a great job on small roots. When tilling go as deep as possible. Since the bed has been prepared before, all we're doing is breaking up existing soil and evenly distributing the new organic matter. Make sure the old mulch, that was on the top, is thoroughly tilled and blended. Once tilled, the bed needs sculpted, this requires some artistry. Tom uses a rake or trowel and uniformly shapes the bed. He pulls the soil mix away from the edge and smoothes the top of the raised bed keeping it as level as possible. Around the edge he uses a trowel and scoops out the soil, making a trench. This trench will keep the mulch from falling onto the sidewalk. After sculpting Tom fertilizes the bed with a slow release fertilizer, a 14-14-14. 14% Nitrogen, 14% Phosphorus, 14% Potassium, it's a balanced fertilizer and slow release. This fertilizer will last for a season, about 3 or 4 months. He puts it on the bed like pepper on eggs, then plants. By putting on top of the soil the roots grow down into the soil and the fertilizer moves down as well.

Persian Shield, Strobalanthis Dierianis, is a wonderful full sun to light shade plant. It will grow to 3-4 feet tall, doesn't mind pinching, actually gets a flower, although insignificant. It's florescent foliage, purple, vibrant colors are a great addition to your garden or your container.

Tom uses 6 inch plants. This means a 6 inch standard pot that is 6 inches deep and 6 inches across. For this location Tom has chosen Lantana, New Gold which is similar to Gold Mound. Lantana typically doesn't have disease problems. This area gets the hot, baking afternoon sun. On the other side of the building he used Green Leaf Begonias. They get morning sun which isn't as hot. When planting annuals pay attention to sun exposure. Spacing is next addressed. Since these are 6 inch plants they can be spaced further apart. Factors such as a full look or cost are are considered in spacing. Lantana will sprawl and within several weeks will fill in empty spaces. These will grow to about 2 feet tall. Tom wouldn't put a 6 inch plant any more than 2 feet apart. In this case he places them about 14-16 inches apart. When selecting plants, Tom looks for new white root growth at the bottom of the plant. If the roots are spinning around at the bottom, the plant could be overgrown and probably won't do well or will take a long time to establish itself. If the plant is a good one and the roots aren't spinning around, the roots shouldn't need to be broken up at the bottom. When looking at the top of the plant, he looks for insects on the plant. Also check to see if the plant is in full bloom or if buds are present. If not in full bloom the plant hasn't stressed itself putting energy into blooms. Low branching will make for a fuller plant. When placing the plants, if by a sidewalk, he starts at an outer edge, then staggers the second row if a square or rectangular bed. This gives a uniform border. Tom leaves the plants in the container and places them where he thinks they'll look good. By leaving in the pot if he wants to change location, move them around, he can easily do so. When planting he doesn't want the top of the plant to be covered and leaves a little bit exposed. He will come back with mulch and that will cover more of the plant. When planting you may see Rollie Pollie bugs, Saprophyte, they don't do any harm, just leave them alone. Next Tom adds the mulch. He feels this is one of the most important steps. He likes a fine ground mulch for this situation, it goes further, decomposes faster for organic buildup, it doesn't float and adheres to the soil better than bigger, mini nuggets. Rick says research shows that any mulch with different sizes and shapes works best. When applying, just throw the mulch at the area, try to cover the soil. For a consistent look make sure you apply it at least 1 inch thick. This will keep weeds to a minimum and holds moisture, saving water. In extended periods of drought Lantana will stop blooming. Tom doesn't pinch the plants after planting, he feels like the more foliage the better. If over the season the Lantana gets rangy or lanky or gets on a sidewalk or in the way Tom would trim it using a weed eater or sheers. To clean up he sweeps the mulch and soil back into the bed. Once all this is done the plants need watering. During the summer they may need water every other day, if it's very hot and dry possibly every day. Tom has done a beautiful job.

When the sun is at it's peak, during noon time or the mid part of the day a good choice for colors are pure hues. This means no white, no black, just strong colors. The Purple Wave Petunia is a good example. It has a strong hue, it wouldn't be good in low light. For full sun use pure hues.

Seasonal color means plants that do well during one particular growing season. Typically we change out at least twice a year. In spring there are several things to consider. Importantly consider is the plant in sun or shade. For sun consider Star Flower or Pentas, they're heat tolerant, a sun loving plant. Coleus and Salvia are other good choices for the sun. Salvia comes in different colors and is an upright form. Impatiens are a good choice for shade, they come in many different colors and work well with other plants, such as Caladiums. In the fall pansies are a standby. Violas come in a lot of different colors and they don't need to be deadheaded. Snapdragons work in warmer parts of the country. Flowering Cabbage, Kale and Parsley add a bold look. Fall plants that do well in the shade are difficult to find.

If you're looking for color and spice in your garden, don't forget about a seasonal color. The maintenance requirements and the time involved are greater but for the beauty, it's worth it.

Link: The Willcox

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