‘Tis the season for spectacular light displays in the nighttime skies from exploding fireworks. You can mimic these explosions of color in your garden by growing plants bursting with color-infused foliage and blooms. Several heat-loving annuals and perennial flowers are named for 4th of July fireworks. One of my favorites is ‘Fireworks’ fountaingrass, a new purple pennisetum with pink striped foliage. It makes a perfect partner for the hot pink flowers of ‘Fireworks’ globe amaranth. Other color-laden plants exploding in the summer garden include ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod and ‘Carolina Fireworks’ lantana. All of these beauties put on their peak display during the sun-soaked heat of summer.
It was a hot, sunny weekend and Sunday was particularly breezy here in Des Moines. While the breeze was nice for me to keep that warm air moving, it was really tough on plants — especially containers, which seemed to dry out immediately after watering them.
If watering is the toughest part of keeping your containers looking good, try these tips:
- Mulch. Adding an inch or two of mulch (such as shredded bark or cocoa hulls) over the top of the potting mix will help conserve moisture.
- Don’t Overplant. It’s easy to pack your container garden full of little plants — but keep in mind that as the plants grow, they need more moisture. The fewer plants you have (or the bigger the pot), the less often you’ll need to water.
- Choose the Right Plants. Varieties, such as angelonia, lantana, euphorbia, and cosmos hold up to heat and drought better than calibrachoa, petunia, lobelia, bacopa, and impatiens.
- Provide Shade. If your containers sit in the blazing sun and they’re not too heavy to move, getting them out of direct light during the hottest part of the day will help keep the plants cooler and moister.
- Soak Your Pots. If the potting mix does completely dry out, soak it in a tub of water to help rehydrate it. Most mixes hold water well when they’re moist, but have a hard time soaking up moisture if they dry out. If you water and the mix is too dry, the water will run right down the sides of the pot and out the holes instead of being absorbed.
- Cut Back on the Fertilizer. If the weather forecasts an especially hot week, withholding the fertilizer that week can actually help your plants. Fertilizer pushes lots of growth; the more plants grow, the more water they need. Letting them slow down during hot spells means they’ll use less water.
Our friend Jerry Gorchels from Ball Horticultural paid us a visit here in Des Moines this past week and shared some exciting new plants for 2013, including this cool soft yellow-green petunia from their Sophistica series, Petunia ‘Lime Green’. It’s yellow chiffon with an underlying hints of lime with no veining or fading like traditional yellow petunias. I think it looks right at home in my garden. What do you think?
As a horticulturist, I often find myself recommending plants to people. I feel bad when I get asked for the impossible plants; something like an evergreen that flowers all year long, is hardy in Zone 3, loves deep shade, and deer won’t eat it.
There is one incredible flower that I frequently recommend, though, because it does cover so many bases. I absolutely LOVE it! The plant is called angelonia, and despite how wonderful it is, not a lot of gardeners have heard of it.
What does angelonia have going for it?
- It blooms nonstop all summer long.
- It comes in blues and purples (my favorites), as well as pinks and whites.
- It holds up well in hot spots.
- It handles drought like a champ.
- It can grow in wet soil. I hear (never tried it myself, though), that you can even put it in a water garden.
- It attracts butterflies.
- Some varieties are fragrant.
- Deer and rabbits usually leave it alone.
Because it’s so versatile and wonderful to work with, plant breeders have come out with a number of series. Upright versions like the Angelmist or Carita series can get 2 (or more) feet tall. Spreading varieties, such as Serena and Carita Cascade, are perfect picks for hanging baskets. And new-for-2012 Archangel has exceptionally large blooms that really stand out in containers or the landscape.
There’s a spot for angelonia in virtually every sunny garden. Give it a try and let me know what you think!
Did you know that March 12 is Plant a Flower Day? I don’t need much of an excuse to plant flowers. I already have several dozen types of annual flowers started in the greenhouse, including the All-America Selections winners for this year (see below), and one from last year.
It may be a bit premature to plant perennials here in Des Moines, but I have some on order from High Country Gardens that will expand my collection of Midwest and High Plains native perennials. A few of them are pictured below. They’re scheduled for arrival in mid-April. By then, I’ll be able to plant them directly in the garden.
Which new flowers will you be growing in your yard this year?
Gardening with vegetables and annual flowers is a race against time and the elements. If you jump the gun, spring frost may knock back tender seedlings. If you delay too long, yields may be reduced because plants won’t fully mature before fall freezes arrive or the excessive heat of summer stymies growth. Onions are an example of a plant sensitive to day length. Varieties adapted to the northern U.S. form biggest bulbs during the long days of June and July. Delayed planting results in decreased bulb size because they form during the shorter days of late summer.
In response to this year’s mild winter, I’m betting on an early spring. I seeded onions in the greenhouse in mid-January. The seedlings are up and growing strong, and will soon be ready to transplant into the garden. If you haven’t started onion seeds yet, you can still direct seed them in the garden, purchase transplants from a garden center, or plant onion sets.
This weekend I’ll be starting dozens more vegetables and annual flowers in the greenhouse seed-starting chamber. When seed orders arrive, I file away seed packets by planned start date, storing them in the extra refrigerator in the garage to prolong their viability.
I did a quick inventory of seed packets to start on March 1, and came up with the following list of things that I’ll be planting this weekend.
Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Pink’ (an All-America Selections winner for 2012) and ‘Blue Victoria’;
Dianthus ‘Parfait Raspberry’;
Celosia ‘New Look Red’;
Gomphrena ‘Dwarf Buddy’ and ‘Qis Purple’;
Baby’s breath ‘Gypsy Deep Rose’;
Lavatera ‘Hot Pink’;
Marigold ‘Hero Bee’;
Snapdragon ‘Twinny Rose Shades’;
Lobelia ‘Crystal Palace’
Tomato ‘Lizzano’, ‘Terenzo’ (AAS winners for 2011), ‘German Johnson’, ‘Mortgage Lifter’, ‘Pruden’s Purple’, ‘and ‘Pompeii’;
Pepper ‘Black Olive’, ‘Cayenetta’ (AAS winners for 2012), ‘Odessa Market’, ‘Corno di Toro Giallo’, ‘California Wonder’, ‘Gordo’, ‘Premio’;
Eggplant ‘Black Beauty’;
Basil ‘Queenette’ and ‘Mrs. Burn’s Lemon’;
Broccoli ‘Liberty’, ‘All Season’s Blend’, and ‘Romanesco’;
Chinese cabbage ‘Little Jade’ and Michihli’;
Lettuce ‘Garden Babies Butterhead’;
Beet ‘Bull’s Blood’
I’ll wait several weeks to start quick-growing heat lovers such as zinnias, squash, and ornamental cotton. By then, I’ll move frost-hardy annuals to the covered deck or front porch to acclimate to outdoor growing conditions. They’ll grow slower there than in the greenhouse, but as the adage goes, “slow and steady wins the race”.