In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
February, 2002
Regional Report

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Red, white and blue flowers create a patriotic color bowl.

Patriotic Flowers

My plant addiction needed feeding, so I went nursery cruising yesterday. I spotted a ranunculus with a gorgeous "true red" flower that temporarily quelled my habit. But one plant is seldom enough, so I decided to combine it with white and blue flowers in a patriotic color bowl reflecting the times we live in. It can also be brought indoors as a centerpiece for the upcoming Presidents Day holiday.

The delicate clusters of white candytuft contrasted nicely with the ranunculus, but I didn't find much in the way of "true blue" flowers. I chose petunias with a deep, deep purple coloring that appears blue, especially when planted next to the red and white flowers.

Buying Bedding Plants

Small plants in 6-packs or 3-inch pots work best when planting color bowls, which are usually not very deep. Small plants are easy to work with and suffer less transplant shock than larger ones, and they quickly catch up in size. If you can wait, choosing plants that are not yet in bloom is also a good idea. They are not expending energy on flowers, so can devote it to expanding the root system. Of course, our senses prefer a quick blast of color and sometimes it's important to see how the colors will combine in one pot.

Avoid Rootbound Plants

Check to make sure the plant is not rootbound. Roots should be spreading vertically, not wrapping around themselves at the base. If you do get home with a rootbound plant, gently spread the roots out with your fingers. If they are really thick, cut through them and clip off any dangling excess.

Soil Mix

I suggest mixing pumice, a volcanic rock material, into your soil mix. It's incredibly lightweight. Pumice absorbs water and slowly releases it, maintaining more consistent soil moisture. I use about one-third pumice and two-thirds potting soil and mix in an organic fertilizer.

Care

Most cool-season annuals take 6 to 8 hours of full sun daily. Maintain consistent soil moisture - like that of a damp sponge. Water should penetrate through the entire root system and drain out the bottom. This will leach out the salts that would otherwise accumulate. Fertilizing regularly is important as the plants will quickly use up the nutrients and can't grow out into surrounding soil the way landscape plants do.


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