Nurseries and garden centers began getting in their stocks of spring-blooming annuals in the last week or so. Temperatures have cooled down enough that it's safe to plant pansies, snapdragons, cyclamen and calendulas.
Just remember that any flowering annuals that you plant this fall will have to survive on whatever rainfall we receive this winter; the city of Fresno has mandated no winter irrigation from December through February.
So place your spring-bloomers in locations where it's easy to throw saved shower water or the dog bowl water (never on edibles) over them.
And before you plant, amend the soil heavily with compost or humus to improve water retention.
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As long as temperatures remain cool, below 55 degrees, well-amended soil should be able to hold enough moisture to keep a few flowering annuals alive through the winter.
Here are a few tricks for taking care of winter and spring bloomers.
Black root rot affects the roots of spring-blooming pansies as well as the roots of summer-blooming vincas, petunias and some dianthus.
The fungus is carried into the soil on the roots of affected transplants and it's a bear to get rid of the fungus in planting beds.
So if last summer's vincas, petunias or dianthus had yellow leaves, did not produce flowers after the first week or so, and had nearly invisible root systems when you pulled them out, it's likely that the transplants carried black root rot. (Keep receipts for these transplants -- reputable nurseries and garden center will replace the plants).
Don't plant pansies in the same locations where vincas, petunias or dianthus died from black root rot.
Plant cyclamen so that the crown or center of the plant is a little higher than soil level. Cyclamen are prone to gray rot when the crown is kept wet.
If the leaves and flowers wilt or if the leaves get slimy, just use a trowel to gently lift the plants and then water around the center, not over it.
Cyclamen flowers will set seed and stop blooming if flower stalks are not removed when the flowers are spent.
Cyclamen plants can live through our hot summers (as can primroses) with little water. Don't be in a hurry to pull them out in spring -- just mulch them well, water when the soil is dry to the touch, and put out iron phosphate snail baits if needed.
Sweet peas started now should have just enough time to germinate and grow a few inches before the first frost arrives in mid- to late November.
Results from using Captan or other fungicidal seed coatings or from scoring or scarring the seeds are not much better than simply planting the seeds into the soil in a spot where they'll get at least six hours of sun or foggy light daily.