Its been quite a while since I  last posted, but I have been traveling.  I just returned from Australia and New Zealand and had a wonderful time!  I will share many of the pictures I took in various gardens in future posts.  Meanwhile back at home, I missed a warm winter here!  Now I am in the throngs of weeding and working on my winter containers which brings me to my discussion  of today’s post.

CONTAINER PRUNING

To keep your containers looking their best, you need to be actively tending to them; not just watering and fertilizing.   Since most containers are planted with annuals, especially those planted in the fall for winter/spring containers, they need a little up keep.  Some plants became selfish, taking over the entire container so that others are hidden under their growth; other plants may need a boost because they have over reached their potential and too much of the plant has passed.  When I water (I never put my containers on irrigation) I examine my containers and with the hose in one hand, I dead head or prune off the expired flower with the other.  However, there comes a time when I must do an overhaul and I admit that sometimes it can hurt my feelings when I have to be so harsh and cut my containers back especially when they look so “good”.  But you don’t want “good” you want FABULOUS.  I know all my plants’ growing habits and their potential.  I buy wisely with the idea that each plant will be as wonderful in the spring as it was in the fall when I first planted it.  Its a lot to expect, but plants are not cheap and I want to get all I can from each one.

Diascia ‘Romeo’ Pink click to enlarge

Remember this container?  This is diascia.  I discussed it in my last post.  It is one of my favorites, which I’ve mentioned to you just a few times 😉 .

She now looks like this:

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Not bad!  I understand that many people would not really object to the container in this photo, it still looks pretty and healthy, however, to me its only “good”.  There is a long spring ahead and I want it to look FABULOUS for the upcoming months!   Therefore, it is important that I give this container a good pruning NOW.

Before I begin pruning, I take a good look at what is going on with the container.  I check for:   needed dead heading of spent blooms and dead wood;  infestations (usually mealy bug) and general condition of each plant in the container.

SPENT BLOOMS AND DEAD WOOD

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Spent blooms means seed setting.  Dead heading stops the plant from producing seed.  If you let the plant produce seed, you will not get any flowers.  The plant uses a lot of energy in producing seed when it should putting the same energy into producing flowers.  Dead heading is necessary for optimum flowering.  However, WHERE to cut the spent flower stem is vital.  Please refer to Knowing Your Plant’s Growing Habits section below.

Many plants as they mature can become woody.  Annuals plants, however, look their best with fresh green growth.  Dead wood is just browning of the stems and some of the foliage.  You should always remove any brown stems.  Removing brown stems tells the plant to step it up a notch and grow more green. Dead wood also weakens the plant defenses and the plant becomes susceptible to insects and diseases, like mealy bug and powdery mildew, which are problems in our neck of the woods.  Also the plant just looks bad!  Fresh healthy foliage is a must for your container plants.  Most dead wood is seen under the the fresh foliage or in the middle of the plant, as seen in this photo.

Infestations of insects and/or diseases are an issue with containers no matter what time of year.  Its a nice micro-climate for either to exist.  Mealy bug is a HUGE problem for me and I really won’t tolerate it in my containers.  If I have a plant that has become a cafeteria for this insect, I simply get rid of its food, by either cutting the plant back, no matter how it great it looks,  and quarantining the container or getting rid of the plant altogether so it will not attack other containers.   I give the container a very hard spray of water as well.  Mealy bugs can lie anywhere in the container so I find that insecticides really aren’t effective; just get rid of their food source.  For other insects here in northern Florida, we have anole lizards.  I am fortunate to have at least one living in each container.  They are nature’s insecticide and they won’t hurt you!   If you get mushrooms, it is not a big deal, it’s part of the decomposing material in your plant medium.  You can either leave them or removed them.  Another issue is powdery mildew

Knowing your plant’s growing habits  and how they flower is a must so you know where to dead head.   Some plants flower on big stalks and some on small stalks; some grow one large head (like gerber daisies, geraniums, etc.) and some grow in a rosette (like some salvias).  Understanding their growth habits makes it easier to understand how to prune.  You want to make sure you prune the right part of the plant so it will reflower.  I always see people pinching off the head of a flower (like petunias) without taking the stem.  You must remove the stem!  Cut it back to the first set of leaves (like the petunia) or to the base of the plant (like diascia), depending on its growth habit.  If you cut off just the flower and not the stem you end up with dead plant material that will have to be removed eventually and may compromise the growth of a new flower.  Understanding your plant’s growth and flower potential just makes the plant happier, and you as well.

PRUNING CORRECTLY

Simply cut the dead wood back to the base of the plant where there is green.  I use pruning scissors or small pruners, not the big clunky ones you use for shrubs or perennials.  Even household scissors work best as you can get into the plant without harming new growth.  You want to make sure its a nice sharp cut.  You can pinch off with your fingernails, but make sure you don’t rip.  Flowers on diascia and many like it, grow a stem for flowers where the stem keeps lengthen from the top (like snapdragons and digitalis)  and it simply grows new flowers buds along it, giving it a leggy appearance.  Once this stem has exhausted its flowering potential, it dies, but remains on the plant.  It needs to be removed. Note the brown foliage below:

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After I prune the container, I add slow release fertilizer, like Osmocote, then water thoroughly and give it the growing conditions it likes.  Remember as we move into spring, the sun’s direction is changing and if your container requires full sun, it may not be getting it now as the sun moves north.  Many of my containers were getting half shade by the time I returned, but they all need full sun.

Here is what the container looks now that I have cleaned it up:

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I know, right?  Sad.  But better things are coming!  I will post this picture in one month and you will see how great it looks.  If you don’t want this container to be seen in your “public places” (front yard), just move it to another area where it won’t be seen until it starts to reflower and your happy with it.

Below is a container with multiple plants.  Notice the over crowding, the browning of plant material and just the plain lack of prettiness?

 

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After severe pruning here is how it looks now:

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I didn’t severely prune this container because it seemed to be a little stressed (I don’t think it got the TLC I give it while I was away).  Anyway the yellow nemesia is struggling so I pruned out most of the dead wood but a lot of green was still growing from it and if I removed all of it I am afraid that it would not rebound.  This makes an important point:  DO NOT CUT BACK YOUR PLANT BY REMOVING ALL THE GREEN.  The plant is still photosynthesizing and needs the green to continue to feed itself.

Notice how I moved the container around so that the prettier side is showing.

Thats all there is to pruning your containers.  Remember, you are helping your plant maintain its health by dead heading and cutting back dead wood.  After all, we all like FABULOUS, don’t we?

WHAT I AM EXCITED ABOUT……’

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I have spoken about this plant in a previous post.  This is Supercal Petchoa, from Monrovia.  I bought it last April and look at it today!  I cannot tell you how exciting this is for me.  I have tried literally every calibrochoa on the market and they never survive and petunias don’t fare any better.  This petchoa, however, is going strong after a year!  I recently went to Lowe’s and they had more!  Not this color but yellow flowers that turn  pink with age, a dusty pink and a raspberry.  They are not from Monrovia but from Lowe’s contracted nursery (could be Costa).  I kind of question if they really are Petchoa because the leaves are larger, but I bought some anyway and I will give them a try.  I’ll let you know.

WHAT I AM DISAPPOINTED IN (AND BUMMED)…..

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My pansies and violas in containers did not do well at all this winter.  The picture top was taken some years ago; it was just one plant.  The plant below it, from this year, is just plain awful. It has never prospered, and now has powdery mildew that is effecting its comeback.  I have tried to get to recover, but it just won’t.  My pansies all but died within a month or so of planting and I was not willing to replace them (I already did once).   I have my suspicions as to what has happened and it comes down to one thing:  tainted potting soil.  I know a lot of scientific experiments have been done questioning the use of “used” potting soil and the conclusion is that it doesn’t matter if you reuse the soil from season to the next.  Well, for now, I disagree.  Many of these pots had caladiums in them and may have left a fungus in the soil.  Its too late this year, but next year I will compost my summer potting soil and refresh my pots with new potting soil.  I am also using a new potting soil, which I will discuss in a future post.

 

Thanks for your support everyone!  Happy Gardening!

 

 

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