Now is the time of year to make the switch to cold-hardy plants that will bloom throughout the coming winter months. While making your choices, why not consider including a container or two filled with colorful flowers spilling over the sides. This is especially picturesque when hung from the pergola, patio, carport, or main entry.
Among old favorites are Petunia, Lobelia, Ageratum, Sweet Alyssum, Mint, and Asparagus Fern. These plants can tolerate low temperatures down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of modern hybridizing, it is possible to select just about any color you wish. Most of these annuals also add a soft sweetness to the air, especially appreciated near the front door or on the patio.
A fairly new species, Million Bells (Calibrachoa), is a dazzling little plant with hundreds of small, bell-like flowers resembling miniature petunias. Its trailing habit makes it perfect for use in hanging baskets. This tender perennial produces mounds of foliage growing 3 to 9 inches tall with trailing stems and flowers in shades of blue, pink, violet, red, magenta, bronze, yellow and white. A prolific bloomer, it prefers moist, well-drained, rich soil in full sun. However, with a little shade, the flowering plants will survive longer into the hot summer months.
Plant now and, by spring, vibrant longtime favorite Geraniums (Pelargonium) will have filled a hanging basket to overflowing. For tumbling over the container sides, it is hard to beat the many scented or ivy geranium varieties. Among other colorful perennials that will cascade over the container edge are Dwarf Cup Flower (Nierembergia), a multi-branching, mounding plant with small violet-blue flowers.
Although not as cold hardy as some, Hearts and Flowers (Aptenia) is a succulent shrubby perennial with trailing stems to 2 feet long. Its small apple-red flowers are a nice contrast to the fleshy, bright green, heart-shaped leaves. Although easy to raise, be aware that the succulent leaves are a “moisture magnet” for birds, rabbits, and nocturnal mice.
To fill a container, it is suggested to purchase cell packs with 6 to 8 plants per pack. Individual plants will have small root balls, allowing more plants to be put into a pot. Crowding stimulates establishment and heavier flowering. Angle the young plants out over the container edge to encourage stems to spill down over the sides.
Locate pots of cascading flowers in full sun, preferably on the south or west sides. Here the increased heat will stimulate root growth and increase blooming during the cool season. Six hours of sun daily is best. Keep soil evenly moist. Cool weather slows evaporation so the plants need less water because they lose less into the air. However, do not allow soil to dry out between waterings.
Mary Kidnocker is a University of Arizona Master Gardener who lives in the Green Valley area. Her articles are featured weekly.