Monday, October 20, 2008

The Autumn Garden: Four O'Clocks

There comes a time when it cannot be put off any longer. The radio warns of a killing frost coming in the night, and you must say good-by to the garden. You dread it, as you dread saying good-by to any good friend; but the garden waits with its last gifts, and you must go with a bushel basket or big buckets to receive them. ~Rachel Peden

Today we are discussing Four O'Clocks, a wonderful old fashioned heirloom flower. My website visitors send in questions and I answer either with my own experiences or I do a little research. What I love about my readers during these last 5 years is that they always share THEIR experiences even if they differ from mine. I LOVE learning new things, so this is a treat for me, and I hope you as I share in this blog.

What is the best way to store the roots from Four O'Clocks? Some years they *make it* through winter storage and sometimes they don't. I really like planting previous year's roots because you get more robust plants that bloom much earlier than starting from seed. ~Debbie

I've always grown my Four O'Clocks from seed, so this is a neat thing to try. Four-O'Clock, Marvel of Peru, Mirabilis Jalapa, is a perennial in warm climates, but it can't handle the frost. As Debbie mentioned, those of us in colder climates, can dig up the tubers can store them until fall. They should be stored in a dark, dry location either in peat moss or sand-but don't use plastic or any type of container that is closed because they can rot. Use cardboard boxes, and store the tubers between layers of paper. A basement should work fine for storage.

I live in zone 6 in Pennsylvania. My Four O'Clocks have sprung up from seed every year, but only close to the south side of my house. I never bother mulching either. My guess is that the Four O'Clock seeds would survive even in other locations IF you apply a mulch layer over that area (I would try 12 inches of straw).

I thought that I would pass along that we found a package of Four O'Clock seeds from my great grandmother's garden (They had to be at least 25-30 years old) that we planted in Colorado(Zone 4 or 5) and they not only grew, but came back every year with very little(almost none) care. The only thing we ever did was clip off the top of the plants after they had died. Between the seeds and the roots, they came back every year. I think it's wonderful having a piece of living history in the garden. ~Melissa

I have been so proud of the four o' clock seeds I brought from Missouri to southeast Alabama. They started in my cousin's garden in Illinois. After she moved to Arizona, I sent her some seeds and she grew them in her new garden. Mine have been coming back every summer for over 25 years. ~Rose

Four O' Clocks were one of my father's favorites. I live in the Midwest and they grow as annuals. The great thing about them is that you can take the little black seeds off the plant to plant the following year. Each year you will get more and more plants from the seeds. They are a bushy type of plant growing about a foot or more tall. They come in red, pink, white, and yellow. They look great when mixed. The flowers open and close, depending on the time of day. They grow almost in any kind of soil and are pretty hardy. They are worth a try if you never planted them. Put them on your seed list for next year. ~Mrs. B

~Enjoy your fall garden. ~Brenda

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