Colorful Additions to the Table
3 Good Plants for November
I need bright colorful flowers or berries in a vase on my table every day of the year - and manage to have some even in November.
Winterberry by the roadside
I almost always have a pair of pruners in my car, so when driving past an uninhabited swampy area recently I stopped to pick some winterberries. These red berries are the fruits of our native holly, Ilex verticillata. Unlike the evergreen varieties with shiny green leaves, winterberry drops its leaves in the fall, but clings to the red berries displayed on the female bushes.
Winterberry is dioecious, meaning that there are male and female bushes, and (remember that lecture you got ever so long ago about the birds and bees?) only the females produce fruit. And only if there are males present. If you buy winterberry plants, a good nursery will be sure to sell you a male to go along with your females. One male for 5 females is adequate.
Winterberry holds its berries better if you spray them with clear lacquer
Winterberry is a very satisfactory
garden plant. It prefers moist soil and will grow in standing water – though I
have seen it succeed in ordinary garden locations, though not in dry, sandy
places. It does best in acidic soil, with a pH of 4.5 to 6.5, so add some
sulfur to the planting hole. It produces the most berries in full sun. Soil
rich in organic matter is a plus.
It is very cold hardy, surviving
temperatures to minus 40 degrees (Zone 3). It is a moderate-sized shrub, rarely
getting much more than 6 to 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide. I’m not sure why I
haven’t planted much of it, as it brightens the winter landscape with its
bright berries standing in contrast to the snow. Next year I will plant some
more. Remind me!
Of my outdoor flowering plants, only
witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is
still in bloom. Its yellow flowers have strap-like curly petals that remind me
ever so slightly of yellow spiders dancing on the branches. The flowers are,
theoretically, fragrant, but I have never noticed such.
Witchhazel will bloom in sun or
shade and prefers moist soil. It has an open, branching habit. It is native to
our area, and I first met it in the fall, hiking through a woods; I was
intrigued to find something blooming after leaf drop, and looked it up. I have
two that I planted, and after 10 years they are about 10 feet tall – but
somewhat wispy. They are considered small trees or large shrubs and will grow
up to 20 feet tall, but can be kept smaller with pruning.
Witchhazel stays well in a vase
My fallback position for color on
the table is to visit my local florist on a regular basis for cut flowers. For
10 to 15 dollars I can get a nice arrangement of flowers that will last up to
two weeks. Ask for flowers that will last a long time in an arrangement. Chrysanthemums
are great, as are alstroemeria and carnations; lisianthus, spray roses, statice
and monkey paws last well, too.
Each fall I also purchase an
orchid. Orchids are thought by some as fussy or temperamental, but if you treat
them right, they will bloom for months – and even come back and bloom the
following year (though that is tougher). The most common orchids sold are
Phalaenopsis orchids. Twenty years ago they were dreadfully expensive, but
growers in Holland and Taiwan now produce them by cloning – producing hundreds
of thousands of them for sale in big box stores.
Phalaenopsis orchids like bright
light, but no direct sunshine. They do not do well with cold temperatures, but
home temperatures are generally fine – even though they come from greenhouses
with temperatures in the 80’s. Don’t place them near radiators, woodstoves or
doors to the outside. And never let the roots sit in water!
When buying an orchid try to find
one that not only has pleasing colors, but also has plenty of buds. The stems
will blossom from bottom to top, but usually you will only get blossoms from
existing buds. I have cut back flower stems part way to the base after
blooming, and gotten side shoots that blossomed, but that is rare.
Because you can buy a Phalaenopsis
orchid for $10 to $15, some people just toss them out after blooming. Not me. I
keep them, watering once a week until summer, when I bring them outdoors onto
my shady deck. They come in pots with no drainage holes and would drown and die
if I left them in those pots, but I lift out the inner pot which is just a
stiff plastic mesh, which allows rain to moisten the roots but not rot them.
This year I have 2 Phalaenopsis
orchids that I bought last year, and one has started a flower stem. It hasn’t
yet started forming buds and I know I will never get it to bloom as
magnificently as it did when I bought it. Still, it will add some color in a
couple of months – and it cost me nothing this year.
Spider mums with winterberry and vines
Most Americans waste money on
unnecessary items from time to time. Me?
I’d rather waste a little money on house plants and cut flowers than
most other things.
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