Nancy Brachey

Don’t let your flowerpots remain empty this winter

This beautiful pot of pansies would be enhanced by a selection of tulips to bloom in spring.
This beautiful pot of pansies would be enhanced by a selection of tulips to bloom in spring. Observer file photo

People who enjoyed gardening in pots stationed on their decks, patios or steps should not sign off once the summer flowers disappear under autumn’s frost. You have an opportunity to keep your containers blooming through the winter and into spring.

This is a project – really a treat – not to be overlooked during the next few weeks. This is when planting of pansies and violas as well as flowering bulbs moves into full gear.

Why let a nice pot sit bare all winter when you could make it bloom?

For gardeners planting flower beds, it is sometimes simply a matter of using the excess to fill their pots. But for townhouse and apartment gardeners without flower beds, pots are the priority.

Over the years, people have expressed surprise that they can have both bulbs and pansies or violas in the same pot. But this is a well-established technique that works especially well with tulips that produce a tall, skinny flower stem and smallish leaves. It also works well with the taller daffodils. The goal is for the tulips or daffodils to rise and bloom above the pansies/violas planted on top.

Of course, you must plant the bulbs first – and rather deep in the container. A pot that is at least 10 inches tall will have enough space for the bulbs to go at least 6 inches down with room for root development below and for the pansies or violas above.

Tulip bulbs take up less space than daffodil bulbs. But aim to plant half the number of the plant’s diameter to avoid swamping the pansies/violas with bulb foliage. Aim for an odd number. For example, five bulbs in an 8-inch pot. This is fewer than you would put in the pot if the tulips or daffodils were going solo.

Fill the pot about one-third of the way with potting soil, making sure the drainage hole is covered with small pieces of broken pottery. This lets out excess water and reduces the amount of soil washed out. Set the bulbs gently onto the soil so they are close but not touching. Then fill the pot about two-thirds full and set out the pansies and violas. Set the little plants close together for best effect.

Then fill the pot with soil, shaking it occasionally to make sure the soil settles well and does not leave pockets of air. Watering the pot will further help the soil settle. Make sure it covers the roots of the young plants. For pots left in the open, rainfall will be sufficient to keep the soil moist after your initial watering.

Don’t stress about color selection; just follow your inclination. Flower colors all go well together. Daffodils are white, yellow or pink, but tulips come in many colors from white and pastels to vibrant reds and purples. Pansies and violas also come in a huge range, pastels to vivids.

Do not worry about making a mistake about color – because you won’t if the color combination pleases you.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. My crape myrtles are very tall, gangly and bloom poorly. I hope that if I prune them, they might bloom better. When can I do this?

A. Pruning of crape myrtles is best done in late winter, just ahead of the growing season. Thin the limbs selectively. Do not top the trunks to the same, low height – a practice called “crape murder.” Whether this pruning will solve the blooming problem depends on how much sun the plant gets. Sun is required to produce flower buds on the fresh growth next year.

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