Pansies, violas great options for semi-shade autumn color

Pansies, violas great options for semi-shade autumn color

Tracey FitzgibbonQ: Earlier I wrote to you asking to identify a “holly” which you correctly taught us is a plant called mahonia (Oregon grape holly). One is doing well and I plan on planting another in our Gallup yard. Thanks for that! My question this time: I love a pot full of flowers and a bed the same way. We have used petunias in the pots in sunny locations and they overflow the pots as intended, but struggle in the pots that are placed under our flowering plum tree. What are good options for these shadier locations? – M.D., Gallup

A: This time of year you’ll be hard-pressed to find a grand selection of semi-shade lovers to fill your pots except for pansies and violas. The season for planting these remarkably colorful, quite sturdy, cool weather lovers is coming, so that’s what I’m going to suggest you plant for the autumn/winter season.

It is just a smidgen early to find a grand selection of pansies available, but the selection will do nothing but improve as summer time fades.

Is there a nursery in Gallup? If not you’ll probably find pansies and violas available in any home improvement store soon, if not already.

Since the plum will drop all of its leaves going into winter, the pots will certainly get enough sun for a healthy planting of pansies. You can intersperse them in the beds also for even more color to take you through the gloom of winter.

You will have the responsibility of making sure the plantings stay watered though. Allowed to dry out anything you have planted will fail. I know it’s cooler in Gallup that here in the Metro area, so you might want to offer additional protection to the pots if it’s going to get wickedly cold. An overturned garbage can or a large enough cardboard box snuggled over the pots nightly could go a long way to protecting your winter color-makers. Just remember to uncover daily.

Also, consider underplanting gobs of spring blooming bulbs so they pop up as things start to awaken after their winter slumber.

Now, you don’t mention the size of the pots you’re employing beneath the plum, but I’m envisioning fairly large ones. Next spring, as the season begins you have a myriad of plants to choose from for those semi-shaded pots.

I prefer annual plants for pots because they are known to be more “continually in bloom” for the whole of the growing season. Especially if you make it a habit of pinching back, also referred to as dead-heading, the spent blooms.

For a carpet of color consider alyssum. Nowadays you can find alyssum offerings in bright white, shades of pinks and even some with several purple shades. Very pretty and easy to grow.

Then tuck in several begonia plants. Here you can find offerings of dark reds, pink and, again, bright white-colored flowers. Another advantage of the begonia is the foliage. Some have a copper cast to the foliage. A nifty accent.

You could also consider ajuga. They’ll throw up spikes of blue flowers and, again, some of the foliage choices are a visual marvel. Or, you could use impatiens. With them there are lots of color choices. Maybe even plant the perennial vinca (periwinkle) to cascade out of the pots. They’ll offer pale lavender-blooms.

For something “spiky” consider liriope. This grassy looking plant will produce bloom spikes of blue-lavender or white flowers. Heuchera (coral bells) offers pinky-red blooms and some even offer spectacular foliage colors.

You have lots of choices to fill your semi-shaded pots. Here’s to having them settle in with lots of autumn color now by planting violas and pansies, then looking forward to next years’ season of color.

Dear readers: Several issues ago in the Albuquerque Journal there was a cautionary tale about mosquitoes and West Nile virus. On the note I’m reminding you that it’s time to take stock of your surroundings.

Your goal is to eliminate any places where mosquitoes could breed. With all of precipitation we’ve been blessed with there is the threat of these nasty bugs taking advantage of the extra places to thrive.

How you can defend you and yours is to peruse your landscaping looking for containers that will hold standing water. Things like a glass that has been abandoned from a social gathering. Maybe pails that children left in a sandy area while playing. Perhaps a collection of plant saucers or pots that don’t drain. I have a few aged-out litter boxes that I employ to collect weeds and whatnot while working in the yard, that left upright, would collect enough water to make a great home for breeding mosquitoes.

Remember to empty and set things upside down when storing for future use. It might amaze you as to just how little the puddle needs to be in order for mosquitoes to successfully breed.

Also, if there are spots on the patio or sidewalks that tend to puddle, get out there and broom them off. Another place to aim to eradicate would be tall stands of weeds and weedy grasses. The soil stays so moist that mosquitoes think places like that are perfect for them.

So, get out there and give your surroundings a good look-see!

Happy Diggin’ In!

Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to


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