Pansies steal the show in fall, grabbing much of the time, space and money gardeners devote to flowerbeds this time of year. It is hard not to let pansies shine because they are pretty for such a long stretch, lasting deep into spring.
But they are not your only choice for beds and containers this fall.
Snapdragons are another top selection, bringing with them wonderful choices in size and colors.
Perhaps you think snapdragons should be planted in spring, but that isn’t true here. Snapdragons are quite hardy and prosper well through a Piedmont winter. Planted in fall, they develop strong root systems and are prepared to launch into robust growth and fresh bloom in early spring.
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Some snapdragons you see now in garden centers are already in bloom, flowers that will last a long time during the cool days of autumn. Some blooms might even linger into winter before the plants rest for the few, coldest weeks after you trim off the spent, fall flowers. Do not fear that snow or ice will harm the resting plants. The roots and foliage are quite hardy, like chrysanthemums and Lenten roses, though snapdragons are not as long-lived as either of them.
Once the plants wake up and begin to grow in late winter, you may have to do a bit of tidying up of the foliage. But that won’t take much time and effort, and a dose of fertilizer formulated for flowering plants should encourage rapid growth and early blooms.
Like most garden flowers, snapdragons prosper in loose soil that has been improved with the addition of compost and allows roots to develop easily. Sun is important. That is not a problem from mid-autumn to mid-spring, when much of the growth takes place. But since you want the plants to live for at least a second year, try to position them so they will have some sunshine once the trees leaf out.
The color choices are enough to have you shopping for pots or reaching for the shovel to expand the flowerbed. Colors include white, soft to dark pink, yellow, coral and red – just about everything you could want. The flowers appear on upright stalks with the buds opening from the bottom and then upward. The height varies, with short snapdragons, 12 inches or so tall, well suited for the front edge of beds or large containers.
Taller ones, 18 to 24 inches, look great behind pansies used as edging. And the tallest snapdragons, often called rockets, can grow 3 to 4 feet and make a dramatic sight in flowerbeds. The taller ones may require light staking in the windy days of March.
Q. How should I prune my hydrangeas now that the blooms are looking brown?
A. Very gently. Cut off only the spent bloom and the little stem that attaches it to the main stem.