Care of Flowers in Winter

William Hogan  |  10/14/2011 6:28:02 PM

Be Careful with “Weed and Feed” Products
“Weed and Feed” products are a combination of an herbicide for weed control and fertilizer for enhanced plant growth. They are not all the same combinations. Before applying to your lawn, be sure to read the label for restrictions. If the label says to not apply in the root zone of desirable shrubs and ornamental plants, that is what it means. Some herbicides can cause injury to certain desirable garden plants. I have seen this many times. Always read the label of any material containing a pesticide before using it. Follow its instructions. These materials can work well for you, but you have to follow the directions.

Two of the most popular ornamental plants in our part of the state are caladiums and Louisiana irises. Irises are among the first plants to bloom in the spring. Through the summer, they provide green foliage as a background for summer blooming plants in a well-planned garden. Caladiums give summer-long color in shaded places. However, by early fall, both species look pretty shabby. To refresh both these plants and provide for good results next spring and summer, take time to give each proper preparation at this time of year.

Lift and Store Caladium Tubers
Caladiums produce their bright colored foliage from tubers, the fleshy stems that grow under the soil’s surface. Now is the time to decide how you want to handle these tubers for next year. You have three choices: leave them through the winter and hope for resprouting next spring, dig the tubers up and save them for replanting or forget them all together and buy new tubers for next year’s crop. If the caladiums are planted in a well-drained bed, you can leave them. The problem is that we don’t have many well drained plant beds in southwest Louisiana. Leaving these fleshy tubers in a wet soil during our warm winters is an invitation for soil-borne fungi to attack. The fungi will consume the tubers over the winter to the point that there is nothing left to resprout in the spring. It is generally best to dig the tubers and store them for replanting.

Digging can begin when the foliage begins to droop and look faded. That is about this time of year. The foliage will eventually die and disappear. Don’t wait for this before digging. If you do, you will have a difficult time finding the tubers. Using a shovel or a garden fork, lift the tubers gently and avoid injuring them. Injured tubers don’t store very well. Make a complete circle around the base of the caladium plant by pushing the shovel or fork straight down. Leave plenty of room between the plant’s base and the area that is disturbed by the garden implement. Pry the entire plant out of the ground. Leave the foliage attached to the plant and shake as much of the soil from the tubers as possible. Place the dug plants in a cool, shaded place that has good air circulation and that is sheltered from rainfall.

After the foliage is dried to a tan, papery appearance remove the foliage from the tubers. Be careful to not injure the tubers. Discard any obviously soft or rotten tubers at this time. They won’t survive storage. Place the defoliated tubers in a mesh sack, onion sack or old nylon stocking. These containers allow for air circulation through the winter and lessen the chance for rot. A large cardboard box may be used for storage if the tubers aren’t piled too densely. Remember that air circulation is necessary. Make sure that the tubers are stored in a dry place that has temperatures of 70 degrees F or above until the next spring.

In spite of these precautions, you will probably lose some of the tubers. In which case, you can go to the third option: buy fresh tubers and plant them next spring.

Divide Louisiana Irises
Louisiana irises are in their most dormant stage in the late summer and fall. This makes late September and October the ideal time to divide them. That is what the book says. Personal experience has shown that the Louisiana iris is pretty hardy to division at most times of the year in our climate. Begin your divisions by lifting out a clump with a shovel or garden fork. Be careful not to damage the rhizomes (another type of underground stem). The young, vigorous rhizomes will have green growth on their tips. Cut these rhizomes away from the old, large rhizomes. Replant the young and discard the old rhizomes.

When clumps are lifted, refresh the bed by adding and digging in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost into the bed. It is also good to add one pound of 15-5-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed. The young rhizomes should be planted horizontally with the foliage facing the direction that you want the plant to grow. Place these rhizomes 8-12 inches apart and cover all the roots with soil. The top of the rhizome should show above the soil surface. Finally, mulch the bed with three inches of good, organic matter. Water the bed thoroughly.

Periodically refreshing the iris bed is necessary for continued blooms and healthy foliage. Old undivided beds will eventually cease to bloom abundantly. Without regular, refreshing division and thinning of plants the iris bed will become a mass of foliage and few, if any, blooms.

Vegetables to Plant
There are still time to plant certain vegetables for a winter garden. In late October we can plant cabbage, broccoli transplants, mustard seed, turnip seed, collards, parsley, shallot bulbs and sets, radishes, onions, Swiss chard, garlic and carrots. I hope that we have better weather for the winter gardens than we had for the summer gardens.

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