Nancy Brachey

Plant poppies and more in fall for a colorful spring surprise

Red poppies rank among the prettiest flowers of late spring and are easy to grow from seeds sown in the fall.
Red poppies rank among the prettiest flowers of late spring and are easy to grow from seeds sown in the fall. Observer file photo

While pansies, violas and mums grab out attention these cool days, they are not the only flowers that benefit from fall planting. Lots of wonderful flowers can be sown from seeds or set out as young plants to brighten beds next year.

This is an aspect of fall planting often overlooked when lawns, bulbs, pansies, perennials, shrubs and trees demand our attention through November.

Flowers that benefit from fall planting are hardy souls that survive our winters as seedlings, then begin to grow as soon as days lengthen in the cool days of late winter. Some of you already know how well snapdragons perform when plants are set out in October and develop good root systems through the winter. They bloom earlier and better than ones not set out until spring. But others can be enjoyed in this way because they simply like it cool.

Larkspur is one of them. Many times over the years people have complained to me that their larkspur seeds simply did not produce good plants. But they were planted in the spring, and it was soon too hot for them to prosper. But larkspur seeds sown in autumn have the time to sprout in cool weather, grow a bit, then rest through the winter until early spring. It makes all the difference.

Sweet peas also benefit from fall sowing so they can get an early start in late winter. They are not harmed by winter weather. However, they are tempting to bunnies, especially as young, tender plants. So an animal repellant or protective net may be needed. Sweet peas are such lovely, unusual flowers that it is worth the effort to protect them and to give them the trellis they require to climb.

Annual poppies are the distinctive red flowers we see a lot of along the highways in May. These require little attention once planted and produce such a sight. These are European poppies – the famous flowers of Flanders Fields – and distinctly different from the perennial poppies that are taller, with bigger blooms, come in a range of colors and are set out as young plants.

It is easy to save some of the multitude of black seeds borne by the annual poppies. They also resow in place. Success with them may lead you to the perennial forms sold in garden centers.

All of these require a well-dug bed where the seeds can lodge. Follow instructions on the seed envelope as to depth of planting. For example, red poppy seeds should be scattered on top of the soil, not covered. Sweet peas require deeper planting, about 2 inches.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. I bought several potted tulips last year. After they bloomed I replanted them in clay pots. Do you think they will rebloom?

A. I think it is unlikely. Sorry. Those bulbs were forced into early bloom, which saps their strength, and limited space and fertilizer in the pot didn’t help them recover. Keep watch but try not to be disappointed. And you can certainly plant fresh bulbs to enjoy next spring.

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