Last week, for the third time in a row, I had the opportunity to judge the trial gardens at Costa Farms, near Homestead, Florida. At first blush, it seems an easy thing to do—just wander through bed after bed of beautiful flowers on a sunny Florida morning. But, in reality, it’s hard work, evaluating each plant on four important criteria: growth uniformity, foliage appeal, flower power/size, and consumer appeal. Fellow judges included Heather Will-Browne from Disney and Dr. Alan Armitage from the University of Georgia. Here are a few of my favorite picks (left to right, top to bottom) that you should watch for in your garden, this year or next.
- Lobelia ‘Techno Heat, Upright Light Blue’ from Syngenta
- Petunia ‘Blueberry Ice’ from Dummen
- Petunia ‘Littletunia Sweet Pink’ from Ecke
- Argyranthemum ‘Flutterby Yellow’ from Ecke
- Verbena ‘Royal Chambray’ from Proven Winners
- Hollyhock ‘Spring Celebrities Lemon’ from Takii
- Coleus ‘Burgundy Wedding Train’ from Ecke
- Coleus ‘Wasabi’ from Ball Flora Plant
- Viola ‘Sorbet Banana Cream’ from PanAmerican Seed
- Petunia ‘Violet Picotee’ from Ball Flora Plant
- Phlox ‘Phloxy Lady Pink’ from Dummen
- Impatiens ‘Sunpatiens’ (all varieties) from Sakata
- Pansy ‘Blueberry Thrill’ from Sakata
Spider plants are one of my favorite groundcovers. The variegated form looks great as an underplanting around roses or lining the edge of a perennial bed. Although you can purchase spider plants at garden centers or nurseries that stock indoor plants, you can also propagate all that you need by rooting the “babies” at this time of year and carrying them through the winter as houseplants.
With an average first freeze date of October 12 here in Des Moines, it’s time to snip the spiders and start some new plants for next year. I simply stick 3 or 4 of the plantlets into a 4-inch pot filled with potting soil, moisten, and keep watered well until roots form. In just a few weeks I’ll have 40 or 50 rooted plants. For more on how to start plants from cuttings follow this link.
Other tender plants that I root at this time of year include coleus and Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha). Like spider plants, rooted coleus overwinter well as houseplants. The Mexican sage needs brighter light, so it stays in the greenhouse over winter.
This year I’m also starting several flats of Elfin thyme (Thymus serpyllum ‘Minus’), a wonderful low creeper that tolerates some foot traffic. I’ll plant it as an edging around some new beds that I started this year. I guess that you could say that October 1st marks the beginning of the winter gardening season, moving from an outdoor emphasis to indoors, or if you’re lucky, into the greenhouse.
Wondering what this cool plant is? It’s ‘Swallowtail’ coleus — a stunning, extra-easy to grow shade-loving annual. If you fall in love with it as much as we have, you can take cuttings and grow it as a houseplant in a bright window!