Four Tips for Growing Outstanding Fall Color

Nothing says fall like flats and flats of pansies. Photo by Morgan McBride

If you haven’t already done so, right now is a great time to plant your fall color. If you have been to a garden center lately you probably knew this. Every garden center that I visit is covered in pansies, snap dragons and kale; and with good reason. These cool season crops grow really well here, they look great in the landscape, they brighten up the gloomy days to come and they can take just about the worst that a Texas winter has to throw at them. In addition, if properly cared for, they will continue to bloom right up until your spring annuals begin to flower and take over.

The secret to success with your fall planted annuals lies in your soil. While these crops will all survive in a wide range of varying soil types, they will thrive in a well prepared bed. Every year I hear different people give tips about what you should add to your soil to properly prepare it for planting these fall annuals. Since I hear the same tips year after year, the advice must be sound. Listed below are the top 4 organic soil amendments that you can add to make sure your fall annual plantings thrive.

Kale and other brassicas are excellent for the fall color bed. Here is a curly purple variety that will compliment the yellow pansies in the prexious picture. Photo by Morgan McBride

Organic Material-Good soil is full of organic material. Organic material, or compost, makes the soil more arable, increases its ability to hold water and nutrients and feeds the microorganisms in the soil that convert the stored nutrients in compost into a form that is usable by the plant. Certain types of compost do have small amounts of NPK that are instantly available to the plant. However, it takes time for nature to convert the majority of the nutrients in the compost into a form that the plant uses. So, truly healthy soil is amended twice a year, every year.

Blood Meal- Blood meal is a by-product of the beef industry. It is basically dried and powdered cow’s blood. Blood meal is one of the highest non-synthetic sources of nitrogen. In fact, it is equivalent to an application of a 13.25% commercial nitrogen fertilizer. It also contains a trace amount of phosphorous and potassium. In addition to being a great source of readily available nitrogen for plants, it also activates many of the microbes that are feeding on the organic material.

Pansies are one of the most planted flowers in America. Photo by Morgan McBride

Bone Meal-Another by-product of the slaughter industry, bone meal is an organic source of phosphorous. Ground bone meal works as a slow release treatment. This is fine since most soils are better at holding phosphorous and potassium than nitrogen. Bone meal contains roughly 12% phosphorous and 4% nitrogen. Calcium is another essential nutrient for plants and bone meal is an excellent source of this.

Peat Moss-Peat, as Peat Moss is often called, is a dried form of moss. It is an excellent soil conditioner and provides nitrogen to the soil as it breaks down. However, the reason most people recommend adding peat to your beds is because of its amazing water holding capabilities. Peat can hold up to 20 times its own weight in water. This is very important to us in the arid southwestern part of the U.S.  By adding peat your will improve your soil and reduce your water bill.