Instant Color & Instant Wildlife Attraction with Garden Mums and Others

San Antonio Express News
GARDENING, Etc.
Sunday, October 2, 2005

By Dr. Jerry Parsons

Photo: Colorado State University

Garden mums or chrysanthemums don’t bloom until fall because they’re light sensitive-when days get shorter and nights longer in September, the vegetation stops growing and they begin flowering. However, if you wait until fall to plant, plants will bloom when too small.

The best way to have a beautiful chrysanthemum display is to buy them already “finished” at local nurseries. The plants are dirt-cheap so you will be able to buy many picture-perfect plants of any color you want. For instance, one of my favorite nurseries is selling them for $2 per six inch pot or 10 for $19. So for a $20 bill, you can have a professional planting of these flowers which are available in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors that make a dazzling display. Then simply “plant” or sink the plants still in the pots into your planting bed and you have a spectacular bloom display in a matter of minutes. If you want immediate color, choose the plants with blooms fully open. If you want the color spike to be in a week or so, choose plants with buds just beginning to swell into full bloom. When you water, use a water wand so you won’t damage the flowers. Be sure to water each pot below the flower canopy. The pots will not dry as fast when they are surrounded by the planting bed soil and mulch.

Nothing lasts forever so after about two weeks of beautiful bloom (depending on heat and growing conditions), the blooms will fade. What should you do? If your reputation as the best mum grower in the state is to continue, I recommend you replace these specimens with budding-and-soon-to-be-in-full-bloom plants. This process should continue well pass Thanksgiving.

The major dilemma occurs about what to do with the out-of-bloom mums. The best answer is to use them and lose them-throw them away as described in the “Parsons-when-he-had-hair” videos listed on the web-version of this column on PLANTanswers.com. But that sort of talk is blasphemous to the Plant’s Rights folks and sentimental plant people-not to mention the frugal gardeners. So for those folks who never want to throw away any plant, see the second column in the October listing at: http://www.plantanswers.com/garden_columns.htm for further instructions.

Chrysanthemums are not the only plants which can be slam-dunked into the landscape to beautify the fall gardens. You should think about doing the same with plants which attract and feed migrating butterflies and hummingbirds. Some of the plants which are listed at the website: http://www.plantanswers.com/hummingbird_plants.htm, include summer favorites which can now be found in full bloom in nurseries. They include Autumn Sage, Cherry Sage, Firebush, Firecracker Plant, Firespike, Lantana , Mexican Cigar, Mexican Bush Sage, Milkweed, Butterfly Weed, Pentas, Petunia, Pride of Barbados, Salvia, Shrimp Plant, Turk’s Cap, Verbena, and Yellow Bells and Esperanza. You don’t have to keep refilling the hummingbird and butterfly feeder—-just put Nature’s best feeders in your own back yard.

This is the month when butterflies and hummingbirds begin their migrations through this area. In celebration of the Monarch butterflies’ journey through the Texas Hill Country en route to Mexico, Wildseed Farms of Fredericksburg, Texas is hosting the 2nd annual Monarch Celebration on October 8th and 9th, 2005. Monarchs will be “tagged” and released throughout the United States as part of a large scale mark and recapture program to aid in the study and research of their migration. Tagging consist of placing a tiny official Monarch Watch self adhesive tag on the butterfly’s wings. Wildseed Farms’ Monarch Celebration tagging and release event will be held on Saturday, October 8th at l1:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., and again on Sunday, October 9th at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Visitors can observe Monarch tagging and release demonstrations and see graceful butterflies surrounded by the plants they use for nectar and as host plants.

There is no charge to Wildseed Farms’ Monarch Celebration, which includes tagging demonstrations, other than the standard admission fee (see butterfly haus website) charged for entrance to the Meadows, which includes the live butterfly exhibit. The Butterfly Haus is open April through October, weather permitting. For additional information on the Butterfly Haus, see: http://www.wildseedfarms.com/butterfly_haus.htm, or call them locally at (830) 990 8080, toll free at (800) 848 0078.

The Wildseed Farms Butterfly Haus is now the only butterfly exhibit within 200 miles since a horrible thing happened to the original butterfly house at the San Antonio Zoo. During the night of September 23, 2005, a 45-foot red oak tree fell onto and destroyed the San Antonio Zoo’s butterfly exhibit. Butterflies! Caterpillar Flight School opened three years ago and was a huge tented structure which housed 350 or more South and Central American butterflies. The Zoo will evaluate and determine if it will rebuild the exhibit that would cost approximately $30,000 to rebuild. The Butterfly Exhibit was funded by the generosity of Capital Group/American Funds, G.A.C. Halff Foundation, Boeing Company and San Antonio Water System.

Luckily, the Wildseed Farms butterfly exhibit is fashioned after the one which was at the San Antonio Zoo. The Wildseed Farm’s exhibit is much larger and beautifully landscaped with a waterfall and bridges. There is also a hummingbird observation window so hummingbirds and butterflies can be observed from the same structure. You can watch the hummingbirds feed while you are being swarmed by hundreds of butterflies.

For more information about hummingbirds and the butterfly events plus images, see the second column in the October listing at: http://www.plantanswers.com/garden_columns.htm If you just love to look at beautiful butterfly images, see the butterfly gallery at: http://aggie horticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/butterflies/ Don’t miss an opportunity to be a part of this year’s hummingbird and butterfly migration -IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD!

Dr. Jerry Parsons is a Professor for Texas A&M University and a Texas Cooperative Extension Horticulturist for over 30 years in South Central Texas. For more information on this or other horticulture topics, go to www.plantanswers.com and our County Extension website at https://bexar-tx.tamu.edu.

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