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Georgia consumer: Colorful mums make a big splash in fall gardens

POSTED: February 7, 2008 5:03 a.m.

Question: I recently received a gift of beautiful purple, planted mums. But I don’t know how to care for them. How much sunlight do they need? How big do they get? Can I transplant? Outdoor or indoor? Watering? I live in northern Georgia.

Answer: Mums are a wonderful fall perennial. Since the ground has already frozen, you will need to plant them inside right now (or until the ground freezes). They do well in a sunny location. Water immediately after planting and then at least once a week. After they finish blooming, you can either deadhead them (cut them back) or wait until spring to prune them. They will re-bloom for you next fall and, if treated correctly, for several years to come.

Q: What flowers other than mums can I use to make a colorful winter garden?

A: Mums aren’t the only word in fall gardens and landscapes. Here are some other wonderful plants that can add splashes of color to your fall:

Asters (Aster spp.) are autumn-flowering, old-time favorites with blooms ranging from pale pink to deep purple. They’re in the same family as garden mums, so the blooms are similar. Unlike mums, however, asters are dependable and easy-to-care-for perennials.

Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) are reliable and often quite spectacular perennials. They start flowering in midsummer and keep going well into fall.

Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) flowers in late summer and can keep blooming until frost. With silver-gray foliage, the plants can easily reach three feet or more in height. They’re topped by spectacular spikes of violet-purple and white.

Goldenrod (Solidago) is a reliable, drought-tolerant perennial flower, and many species are native to the Southeast. Lemon-yellow to butter-yellow, nectar-bearing blooms appear in summer to fall on plants two to five feet tall (depending on the species and cultivar).

Sedum (Sedum spp.) species are drought-tolerant, fleshy plants with a wide range of habits, leaf shapes and colors. Many varieties bloom from late summer through fall in rich, deep pinks and magentas.

Purple heart (Setcreasea pallida) has a spreading growth habit with deep purple foliage reaching about one foot tall. It has small, pink flowers. This drought-tolerant plant has become a staple for tough-as-nails foliage color. Purple heart is a tender perennial, but it’s hardy to zone eight. The top dies back at about 25 degrees Fahrenheit, but the roots are reportedly hardy to 15 degrees.

Cigar plant (Cuphea micropetala) has two-inch-long, tubular flowers in shades of red-orange, yellow and green. The flowers begin appearing in midsummer, and the plant is in full bloom in late summer to fall. It’s hardy to zone eight. As with purple heart, the top dies back at about 25 degrees, but the roots are said to be hardy down to 15.

Q: We are studying honey bees. What are the major sources of nectar and pollen in Georgia?

A: The Sourwood, a small to medium-size tree, is reputed to be the finest honey in the eastern United States and eastern Georgia is one of the main producing areas. Also the Gallberry, a small shrub that is a member of the Holly family is a major source of honey in Georgia. The Saw Palmetto, a species of the low pinelands is most important as a nectar source in south Georgia.

If you have questions or problems with services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture you may write the Office of Public Affairs, 19 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Room 226, Atlanta, GA 30334 or call (800) 282-5852. This column appears Sundays.



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