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Changes - why flowers don't always look the same



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Most people have had the experience of buying a plant, only to discover the flower does not look like the picture- wrong color, different size. Sometimes this is misleading pictures, but sometimes it isn't. Sometimes it's just a tag that got moved. Sometimes the flowers can change their looks after being in your yard for years, or during a single season! What causes this to happen?

     Probably the most dramatic color change is the reaction of certain hydrangeas to soil pH. Take a 'Nikko Blue' hydrangea and put it in alkaline soil, and you'll get pink flowers. Put sulfur in the soil to acidify it, and it'll turn back to blue, like living litmus paper.

     The amount of sun the plant gets can affect the flowers- and foliage- too. Astilbe flowers do best in semi-shade- in full sun the color washes out, and the blooms don't last as long. Hostas, despite being shade-loving, develop better variegation- more yellow and white- with some sun. Many of the 'black' roses sunburn in full sun, turning an unpleasant brown.

     Phosphorus plays a major role in flower development. Lack of this element can lead to plants that grow leaves nicely, but don't have many blooms. This nutrient is the second number on the fertilizer bag- for flowering plants, try to have that number at least as high as the first one (nitrogen). And while you're at it, give the roses some magnesium (Epsom salts) and boron (borated gypsum). The flowers will be larger and more intensely colored.

     The temperature makes a difference, too. In hot weather, some flowers will lose color. 'Sweet Chariot', a bright purple-y mini rose, turns almost pastel in the heat. So do Profusion zinnias. Extremely high temperatures cause a plants bloom cycle to go faster- a perennial that normally blooms for 4 weeks at 75 may only flower for 2 weeks at 90. Conversely, cool weather can delay bloom- all of my roses started blooming later this year than last.

     The ultimate change is 'sporting'. This is where a branch or flower mutates. For instance, many of the climbing Hybrid Teas are sports of regular bush forms. 'Mme Isaac Pereiere', a deep, raspberry- pink rose, sported a lighter pink branch, and thus was born 'Mme Ernst Calvert'. The repeat blooming climber 'New Dawn' was a sport of a once-blooming rambler. These changes are stable- cuttings made from this mutated branch grow into adults with that branches characteristics.      The exception is variegated foliage- this varies in stability.

     Sometimes you never figure out what causes changes. This year, many of my roses have shown large amounts of red in them. 'Rise 'n' Shine', a yellow mini, has been showing orange centers. 'Alchymist', a yellow/apricot blend, has been almost bright pink at times. 'X-Rated', white with a blush edge, is nearly all neon pink. What is causing this? Some of these roses are outside, in the ground, some in the greenhouse. They aren't fertilized or watered the same, and don't receive the same amount of light. They haven't all sported at the same time. Nature is always giving us something new to look at.

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Laurie Brown

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