Brock: Make fall/winter plant beds more attractive

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 7, 2019

Shorter days? Check. Cooler weather? Check. Turning clocks back? Check. …So it must be fall now. While spring always brings folks out to beautify landscapes, don’t overlook the colors you can add to your landscape now. Up north they may be covered in snow shortly, but we can enjoy our year-round growing season in The Gulf South.

We can keep fall and winter color in our beds starting now. What you’ll probably experience is a nice show early on, then the blooms peter off as plant growth slows in winter. Early spring, then, will have an even more spectacular display. The fall-planted annuals will last until hot weather or until you pull them up to make room for warm-season flowers.

As with any plant bed you’ll want well-drained, fertile, loose soil. While River Parish soil is usually quite fertile, you probably don’t enjoy well drained or loose around here. Raised beds are an excellent option. Weeds are less problematic and there are limitless ways to build them. Many can be quite attractive.

Select the location of your bed knowing most flowering plants prefer full sun. But check the tag. Some prefer partial or dappled shade. You may have an “envie” for a particular plant and can put the bed where you want it. But wherever the bed is, you can find plants that fit well in that situation.

If you’re taking the raised bed route, you’ll want to use treated lumber or some other material (bricks, plastic, etc.) that will not rot. Build the bed at least 6 to 8 inches tall and fill with bagged potting soil or bulk soil. Fill the bed with enough room to add a layer of mulch / compost on top after you’ve planted.

If you’re planting in the ground, add a few inches of mulch or compost on top, then till it in. This will help retain level soil moisture and to improve “tilth,” which describes how well a shovel (or roots) can penetrate. Work in a scattering of 13-13-13 in the ground or raised bed to help start the plants along.

Dianthus plants work better when planted about a foot apart.

When shopping for annuals, choose plants that have not yet begun to bloom if possible. No, they won’t look as good as their more-mature brethren. But they will also establish more readily, grow more, and let you enjoy the blooms longer. Any blooms already on the plant will drop soon so won’t do you much good.

Before you head to the nursery, plan out your bed. Many annuals like snapdragons and pansies can be planted 6 to 8 inches apart. Larger plants like Amazon Dianthus and ornamental cabbage will do better spaced up to a foot apart. Measure, space, and count how many you will need.

Most people grab a flat or two at the nursery and then try to jam it all into the existing space when they get home. The result is a bed that looks great on day 1 but becomes overcrowded. Besides aesthetics, plants in this situation will not reach their full potential and may be stressed enough to have worse disease and insect problems.

Your initial reaction when looking at the finished product should actually be, “I paid all that at the nursery and dug in the ground all day for this?!” Don’t worry; they’ll fill in quickly and look great for months to come.

If you want to know more about gardening, landscaping, or anything else horticultural, contact the St. John, St. James, & St. Charles Parishes County Agent André Brock at Also, the LSU Ag Center’s website can be accessed at with lots of user-friendly information, including this article.

Click to report corrections.