Nancy Brachey

Don’t miss snapdragons for fall planting

Pansies will grab our attention in October, and rightfully so. They bring long-lasting, dependable color to flowerbeds and pots for many months. But they are not your only choice for planting as fall takes hold and we look to refresh the gardens.

Snapdragons have an important place and many choices in size and color are in garden centers now.

Planted in early autumn, they should bloom for many weeks. Then they are likely to rest during the coldest weeks of winter before a fresh surge of growth and bloom occurs as days warm in late winter and early spring.

Perhaps you are among those who think of snapdragons as flowers that should be planted only in spring. It is true that many people do this. However, there are significant reasons to set out young plants in early autumn.

First, they are quite hardy in the Piedmont. Even when we have the occasional cold winter, the tops of plants may be hurt a bit, but they should revive nicely.

With fall planting, the root development is excellent, and that makes for strong plants ready for robust growth once winter ebbs. Blooms, also quite hardy and resistant to spring frosts, will emerge surprisingly early. They may need a bit of tidying up with the removal of damaged foliage, but do not despair. They will be fine with a dose of fertilizer and time to get going, which they will do.

Fall planting makes for a much longer season of bloom than if you set out snapdragons in March or April with the rest of the spring bedding plants.

Snapdragons actually fear the heat of early summer more than the chill of a Piedmont winter. Sometimes early summer weather is mild enough to keep them going a while, but that is not guaranteed in this climate.

Snapdragons, like pansies, benefit from good, fertile soil improved by compost and very loose to allow maximum root development. They require sun, but happily this is not the problem that many gardeners will face. Trees will shed their leaves and allow light to reach plants from November until about mid-April. However, since snapdragons have the potential to last well into summer, weather willing, give them a spot where they will get some sunshine after the leaves come out about mid-April. Exposure to the hottest summer afternoon sun will shorten the bloom life. Even so, you will have had a good show.

The color choices are wonderful, with white, soft to dark pink, yellow, coral and red – just about everything but blue. They appear on upright stalks and their buds open starting at the bottom, then work their way upwards. Wonderful choices in height are available. Some varieties are just 12 inches tall and tend to make a bushy plant well-suited for the edges of flower beds or containers. Medium heights of 18 to 24 inches go well behind pansies. The tallest snapdragons, three to four feet, are magnificent sights. These may require light staking to prevent damage in those wild and windy days of March we often get.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

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