Category Archives: Tropicals

Tropicals That Steal The Show – Plumbago and Thryallis

Thryallis, coleus and pentas…

May and June are prime months for tropical plants to enter the garden picture, as  temperatures during the day (and night) are finally warm enough for these tender flowering beauties.

The most common and widely grown is a native of South Africa, Plumbago auriculata,  a shrubby white or blue bloomer that’s typically used in container plantings in sun to part sun.  If you haven’t tried it and prefer either color in your garden or planters, it’s a lovely and tough addition. An occasional light clip and fertilizer to keep new growth and buds coming are all it requires.

Another of my favorites  of the last few years in container plantings, and pictured here, is Thryallis, Galphimia glauca, a floriferous yellow tropical that also blooms through the summer and is quite carefree. A native of tropical areas extending from Mexico to Guatemala in Central America, it likes it hot and soil that’s not soggy but well drained; take care to not overwater.

Since it will get quite robust by the end of the season, place it in a large container or bed and let it go. It will be at its best in full, hot sun, ideally in a spot that’s protected from a lot of wind. Finally some good  news for any of you that deal with deer issues – they don’t like it and won’t touch it  (Though we won’t  make any promises!).

We have plumbago and thryallis in stock now if you’d like either of these tropical beauties to brighten your summer garden. They won’t disappoint!

By Kris Blevons

 

 

A Guide…Plants Used In The “Better Late Than Never Garden” A Butterfly, Bee, And Hummingbird Haven

View From the street...Hyacinth Bean Vine on the Arbor

View From the street…Hyacinth Bean Vine on the Arbor

So many folks have stopped me, asking for a plant list of flowers in the “Better Late Than Never” garden, that I decided it was high time I posted this for those of you who’d like to have something similar next year.  Obviously our garden is sited in full, daylong sun, so plants were chosen with this in mind. You’ll need to provide at least 4-6 hours of sun, with regular watering and deadheading, to maintain your flower garden next year  too.

Indian Summer rudbeckia - "Better Late Than Never" garden

Rudbeckia ‘Indian Summer’ foreground. On arbor, moonvine and red mandevilla…

Any good garden begins with good soil, and, with previous vegetable garden plantings, ours had been amended with soil conditioner, compost and added topsoil. This past season we also added bags of PlantTone as well, raking it in lightly. No tilling was done since that tends to turn up weed seeds, and, once they hit the light, they all sprout, turning the garden into a weedy mess!

The tithonia came on strong, late summer...

The tithonia came on strong, late summer…

 

 

 

 

 

In a previous post I mentioned how late the garden was planted (not until the end of June!), so it was incredibly hot when the sunflowers and zinnias were planted by seed.  This is actually very good, since they need very warm soil to germinate and grow happily and consistent watering as well. I know many of you thought we were a little crazy to be planting in the incredible summer heat, though. (This is a good time to remind all of you to wear a hat if you’re out in the heat and sun and be sure to provide water for yourself too!)  Here’s a post highlighting how much the garden had grown by late summer. So many of you talk about how it seemed to explode overnight. Actually, it was steadily growing each day!

Here, then, is the plant list for a flower garden to attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds in Birmingham, Alabama, and surrounding areas with tips on planting and maintenance:

 

The sunflowers, planted from seed, towered over the garden...

The sunflowers, planted from seed, towered over the garden…

Sunflowers – We raided our Botanical Interests seed rack and planted a mix of sunflowers from Lemon Queen, mixed packs, and solid reds and yellows directly into the ground, then waited, impatiently, checking them every day – and watering each day – until they sprouted. Watching them grow and seeing folks taking pictures made all the effort worthwhile for these towering beauties.

Tithonia...

Tithonia…

 

 

 

 

 

Tithonia, Mexican Sunflower ‘Torch’  – These also were planted from seed at the same time as the sunflowers. At first the sunflowers eclipsed them, but, by the very end of summer after the sunflowers had played out, the Tithonia took over, and everyone was asking about it. It boasts never-ending orange flowers that attract yellow sulphur, skipper, painted lady, and, finally, at the end of the season, monarch butterflies. A must for any sunny flower garden. I kept it deadheaded and staked but left some to lean and sprawl since the stems got quite large.

Tall cutting zinnias – The zinnias were also planted at the same time as the sunflowers and Tithonia. Again, we used Botanical Interests seed leftovers on the seed rack – all mixes of tall varieties. We also had a few green ‘Envy’ zinnia plants in cell packs left over from spring. These I cut back by half and planted in the front two beds while we waited for the zinnia seeds to come up. As seedlings came up I pinched them back to promote branching, and they  were kept deadheaded to promote more blooms so everyone could enjoy the flower display.

Asclepias curassavica, Annual Milkweed – This milkweed was planted for the Monarch butterflies in hope that they would find it and lay their eggs on it for another generation of these beautiful butterflies. It was placed near the tithonia, and, by summer’s end, the monarch butterflies were all over the garden and on the tithonia in particular.  This milkweed should happily reseed itself in the garden next year. I tried to capture what it was like with this butterfly post from late summer.

Variegated hibiscus with the tall pink gomphrena growing through it...

Variegated hibiscus with the tall pink gomphrena growing through it…

Hibiscus – There were two hibiscus varieties planted in the garden. Unlike fancy big-blooming hibiscus you may be more familiar with, these were planted for their foliage appeal, with blooms being secondary. The first is an ornamental red leaf hibiscus, and one of these was planted on each side of the back arbor. By the middle of October, they had each grown to enormous proportions, adding another depth of color to the garden, growing up through the tithonia and moonvine.

Zinnias and gomphrena...moonvine and red leaf hibiscus...

Zinnias and gomphrena…moonvine and red leaf hibiscus…

I kept them clipped periodically to keep them in check and in proportion to the rest of the surrounding plants. The second was a variegated ornamental hibiscus. One of these was planted on each side of the front arbor and had pink gomphrena and tall cutting zinnias growing through it. They were not as vigorous as the red leaf but still added another leaf variation in the garden.

Gomphrena – A plant I wouldn’t be without in the flower garden. It never looks like much in a pot, but in the garden its globe-like flowers add a completely different silhouette among all the daisy-like blooms. And it is tough! We planted transplants of tall purple, red, and pink gomphrena and also added a short variety in all four beds. Here’s another post that features gomphrena.

Purslane, red bat face Cuphea and purple gomphrena edge the beds...

Purslane, red bat face Cuphea and purple gomphrena edge the beds…

Purslane – This low-growing, succulent-like annual is an amazing bee magnet. We had literally hundreds of honeybees each morning on the bright yellow, orange, and red blooming plants. They are best planted along the edge of hot, sunny beds. The flowers close late in the day, but that’s hardly noticeable if you provide other flowers to look at! Be sure to take a look at the video of the honeybees on our YouTube page.

Cleome - Spider Flower...

Cleome – Spider Flower…

 

 

 

 

 

Cleome (Spider Flower) – We had a flat of scraggly looking cleome left over from spring that needed a home…and what a home it got! I cut them back by half so they would branch and be fuller, and were they ever! Don’t hesitate to cut back stems of these flowers through the summer. When you see numerous seed pods hanging down the length of the bloom, it’s time to cut them back. Don’t worry; they’ll continue to bloom and will probably reseed next year for you. Old fashioned flowers, they attract butterflies and bees too.

Porterweed and Sunflowers...

Porterweed and Sunflowers…

Porterweed – An interesting plant that sends out long bloom spikes with blossoms the hummingbirds and sulphur butterflies adore. I would plant it again for that reason alone! I was also impressed that it never seemed to be bothered by insect pests.

Cuphea llavea, Red bat face cuphea  – You may not have noticed this plant right away, but the hummingbirds sure did! Planted along the front of the sunflowers and under the tithonia, it added a shot of red along the ground. Extremely tough and virtually carefree, it flourished with less than optimal sun, as it eventually  was shaded out by the towering sunflowers. Even so, it was one of the last things removed at the end of October.

Cuphea ignea, cigar plant – Another planted for the hummingbirds. This one sports orangey tubular flowers on a rangy plant that I put right in the middle of the zinnias. This post tells you more about this unusual plant.

Hyacinth bean vine, sillouhetted against a blue sky...

Hyacinth bean vine, sillouhetted against a blue sky…

Hyacinth Bean Vine – We started the hyacinth bean vine from seed, planting them all along one side of the front arbor, then waited and waited for it to come up. It finally did, but the leaves were being chewed to pieces and it didn’t look happy at all. Since the garden is pesticide free, the offending leaves were removed and it was given liberal doses of Annie Haven’s Authentic Brand Manure Tea. Gradually it grew stronger, whatever was chewing it moved on, and buds began to form. By September everyone was asking what the beautiful purple flowering vine was.

The back side - Moonvine on the arbor with the red leaf hibiscus on either side...

The back side – Moonvine on the arbor with the red leaf hibiscus on either side…

 

Moon Vine – The moonvine was planted on the back arbor and was the last one we had in stock from spring (They’re easily grown from seed too.). For the longest time, it seemed to be all leaves until buds began to form late in the summer.  Just about the time it threatened to engulf the arbor and everything around it, the fragrant nighttime blooms began to open each evening and were still open each morning.

Late summer - the moonvine and red leaf hibiscus have grown together...

Late summer – the moonvine and red leaf hibiscus have grown together…

Mandevilla Vine – A red mandevilla was planted on one arbor on the other side of the moonvine, and a pink mandevilla was planted on the arbor on the other side of the hyacinth bean vine.  The pink mandevilla was still growing strong at the end of October. The red mandevilla was swallowed up by the moonvine! Both are heat-loving vines and quite beautiful and carefree.

Cuphea hyssopifolia, Mexican heather – Yes, yet another Cuphea and one for the  bees.  This one is a mounding annual that’s just right for filling in spots toward the front of a flower bed. Bees love it, and it’s virtually maintenance free.

Otomeria – A plant I’ve never grown before this summer but that was very impressive in the garden! There were only two, and you may not have noticed them. They love our heat and hopefully will be available for you to try next summer. The two in the garden were planted in August and bloomed until the end of October, when they were finally pulled out. They offered clean white blooms on sturdy mounding plants.

Malabar spinach vine

Malabar spinach vine

Malabar Spinach – Not spinach at all, but an edible and heat loving vine with pretty purple flowers. Like the otomeria, this was another fun plant to try that was also new to me. It did extremely well, planted late, growing up each arbor and up the very ugly 2 hour parking sign. If you’d like to learn more about this fascinating plant, click HERE.

One of the many sunflowers in the garden...

One of the many sunflowers in the garden…

 

 

 

 

 

Rudbeckia ‘Indian Summer‘ – A sturdy annual Black-eyed Susan with large blooms, I’m going to leave these in the ground in hope that they’ll come back next year. We shall see!

Lantana – A couple of lantana were placed at the back of the sunflowers where they’d get the most sun. They were planted quite late (August) so didn’t have much time to develop. I’m going to leave them in those spots to see if they’ll return next year. They might if the winter is mild enough.

Cactus zinnia...

Cactus zinnia…

And the rest….

Assorted tip cuttings of succulents were placed at the front corner by the sign and began to really take hold by the end of the summer.  A rosemary plant was left in from the previous garden and a perennial Cardoon was placed on the end of one bed for its spiny, silvery foliage. A few dwarf purple ruellia, Mexican petunia,  were added by the back rose arbor. Finally, a couple of shade-loving torenia were planted under the sunflowers (They were just right to see from a child’s perspective!).

Dwarfed by the sunflowers...

Dwarfed by the sunflowers…

So, there’s your plant list if you’d like to have a similar summer garden next year. Please don’t feel tied to just these plants, though.  So much of the  joy of gardening involves trying new things and discovering how they work in your landscape. Meanwhile, for now, our winter garden is being planted gradually and offers an entirely different set of possibilities, again some from seed, others from transplants. I hope you enjoy the view!

By Kris Blevons

 

 

 

 

 

 

Color With Caladiums, Zinnias, and More…Trough Planting 2014

These three  horse troughs are lined up along the sidewalk...

These three horse troughs are lined up along the sidewalk…

The three horse troughs that are planted each year at Dyron’s restaurant next door finally got their summer makeover the other day.  Last year’s troughs  were planted with a variety of herbs and annuals, and you can see them if you click on the link above.

This year’s planting utilizes the  tropical shrub, thryallis. It’s bright yellow flowers provide continuous color through our summer heat and will show off well in this spot. These planters get very hot afternoon sun,  and I’ve found that brighter colors really work best here.

Thryallis, 'Red Flash' caladiums, Acalypha 'Tahitian Gold'While all caladiums appreciate heat and shade, there are some that can also handle sun, including ‘Red Flash’, the one shown here. These deep red leaves will mingle with the other foliage and flowers, including a copper plant, Acalypha ‘Tahitian Gold’. It was chosen for its yellow foliage to echo the yellow blooms of the thryallis.  The acalypha and a red fountain grass will grow up tall, providing a nice backdrop to this composition.

Little Leaf Coleus 'Ruby Red', Profusion Zinnias - Trough PlantersSince it is a restaurant, after all, and ornamental peppers were plentiful in the nursery, those were placed next, just in front of red Dragonwing begonias. Eventually the peppers might be enveloped by the other plants, but until then they’ll contribute their small white flowers and ornamental purple peppers  to the mix,

Next up, some zinnias – the Profusion series perform beautifully in our heat and humidity and add  white blooms with yellow centers all season. A tiny leaved coleus, Ruby Gold,  will fill in the center.  Finally, to trail, some potato vine, a chartreuse-leaved variety in the Sweet Georgia series. These are not quite as rambunctious as the old standby, ‘Margarite’.

Thryallis, Ornamental Peppers, Profusion Zinnias, 'Red Flash' caladium, Coleus Last, a silver trailing plant. Usually I use silver dichondra for this color because it holds up extremely well in our heat and humidity where so many other silver plants fail. This year, though, I’ve decided to try a new plant…a selection of one that I haven’t had good luck with, but this is supposed to be an improved variety, so we’ll see. It’s a licorice vine, Helichrysum ‘Silver Star’. We’ll keep an eye on this one and hope for the best. It scored high marks  in the University of Georgia Athens trial gardens, so I have high hopes!

Maintenance, as always, will involve consistent watering, as well as  grooming to remove any yellowing leaves and caladium seed pods. I’ll also be clipping back the ‘Dragonwing’ begonias to keep them in bounds,  deadheading and clipping the zinnias, and cutting back the acalypha if it grows out of proportion.  Correct maintenance is the most important aspect of keeping container gardens beautiful!

 

 

 

Staghorn Ferns – An Easy Fern To Grow

There are many unusual varieties of staghorn ferns, but the most common, and the one you’ll see most often, is Platycerium bifurcatum.

image

When the basal leaves completely cover the wood board, it will
be remounted on a larger piece, as it will become quite heavy.

Staghorn ferns in their natural habitat grow in trees as epiphytes, getting their nutrients from tropical rains that wash nutrients onto their growing base. They’re native to the Philippines, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Northern Australia, and Africa…and there’s one rare species in South America.

An unusual looking fern, they actually have two quite different types of leaves. The first is the basal leaf that doesn’t look much like a leaf; it’s the part of the plant that grows onto the branch or piece of wood that they’re commonly mounted on. The second  is the fertile foliar leaf, the one that looks like a staghorn, and, of course, is where the name comes from. Both types of leaves are covered with hairs that help conserve moisture and give them their silvery cast.

Because stagorn ferns can grow quite large, they are usually grown attached to wooden planks using sphagnum moss as a base for the basal leaves to attach themselves to. They can also be placed in wire baskets, also using sphagnum, and this method allows the new leaves, or pups, to grow through the basket, eventually growing into a ball. Quite the conversation piece!

A customer, who grew up in Florida, told me she remembers growing them in strawberry jars – as they got larger,  the fern would slowly encompass the jar…we’re going to try this!

Attaching a stagjhorn fern to a piece of cork wood using sphagnum moss and fishing line

Attaching a stagjhorn fern to a piece of cork wood using sphagnum moss and fishing line

Caring for your staghorn fern is quite easy. The most important thing to remember is not to overwater; allow your staghorn fern to go completely dry between watering.

If you’re not sure whether to water, leave it alone until the leaves slightly wilt. An overwatered fern will suffer and possibly die, where one that’s allowed to dry completely will quickly recover once watered well.

If a staghorn fern has been overwatered it may develop a fungus appearing as black spots on fronds, which can spread rapidly and kill the plant. Older plants, with many layers of spongy old shield fronds will be able to go drier than younger plants.

Chartreuse reindeer moss and air plants add color to this staghorn fern...

Chartreuse reindeer moss and air plants add color to this staghorn fern…

Fertilize with a 20-20-20 fertilizer once a month from spring through summer and every other month from fall through winter. Generally pest free, mealy bugs and scale can be problems, and may appear during winter months when the air is drier and the plant may be more stressed.

A bright room indoors is ideal, and, through the summer, place your staghorn fern outside under a shade tree or on a sheltered porch where they can enjoy the extra humidity outdoors.  Eventually, if it’s happy, your staghorn fern will grow to a very large size. They can be very impressive!

 

 

 

 

Bromeliads – Colorful And Easy Tropicals For Your Home…

IMG1376You’re no doubt familiar with the brightly colored bracts and strap-like leaves of bromeliads. Extremely long lasting and colorful alternatives to orchids and other flowers,  they can’t be beat for a touch of tropical beauty and their ease of care in our homes and offices.

bromeliads brighten the greenhouse...

bromeliads brighten the greenhouse…

 

 

 

 

These bright plants are distinguished by their rosettes of leaves – the most famous of the bromeliads is the pineapple. Bromeliads can be found growing in the wild from Florida and the West Indies to Mexico, through Central and South America. They’ve adapted to a wide range of growing conditions, though, from tropical rainforests to elevations as high as 11,500 feet in the Andes Mountains.

cryptanthus and succulents...

cryptanthus and succulents…

 

 

The majority of bromeliads are epiphytic, meaning they grow on trees but don’t take nutrients from the tree itself, rather from the moisture in the air – the tree is just a means of support. Another member of the bromeliad family we carry is cryptanthus.  It is a terrestrial, growing on barren, rocky soil.  Cryptanthus are found in the cloud forests of Ecuador, surviving on the moisture from the clouds that envelope them. The dark leaved and  silver/gray  bromeliad-like plant we’ve had all summer is a cryptanthus called ‘Black Mystic’, and it is beautiful and easy to grow!

bromeliads make great gifts...

bromeliads make great gifts…

 

It’s fascinating to find out the native habitat of many of the plants we use in our homes and offices – but understanding where these plants come from originally can also help us better understand how to take care of them.

 

 

 

 

bromeliads, cryptanthus and succulents in a pretty blue bowl...

bromeliads, cryptanthus and succulents in a pretty blue bowl…

 

We hose down our  bromeliads in the greenhouse when they’re very dry… if you’d like to more closely mimic the natural conditions of the bromeliad in your home (minus the hose!), let tap water sit for a few days so the chlorine and fluorine dissipate. Pour into the “cup” of the bromeliad and freshen the water periodically, allowing  the water to flow over the cup and into the soil. Now that you understand  the natural growth of  bromeliads, you can see why it’s important not to overwater them.

Allow them bright light inside or place them outside on a patio or porch through the summer to  enjoy these bright beauties!

 

A Look At The Nursery – Come See!

We’re at the beginning of the new planting season and thought it would be nice to give you a glimpse of the nursery…for those of you familiar with us, you know things come in and go out just as fast – if you see something you think you could use, it’s really best to make up your mind quickly! Of course, we’re always happy to take your name and number and call you if we’re out of something that can be reordered.

Beautiful pots of 'Tuscan Blue' rosemary...

Beautiful pots of ‘Tuscan Blue’ rosemary…

 

The rosemary has been beautiful – this is one herb that does so well for us here in the Birmingham area…it’s happy in the ground and in containers.  It’s just a big,  beautiful, edible shrub!  Plant it in full to at least half day of sun and give it excellent drainage and you’ll have a winner on your hands.

The tables under the lath house are filling up with bedding plants...

The tables under the lath house are filling up with bedding plants…

 

We’re beginning to get serious about stocking bedding plants. While our last average frost date here is mid-April, we are pretty much there, though many of you are just now seeing the pansies at their peak. Enjoy them, and when they’ve given out in the heat, replant with your summer bedding plants. Container plantings are usually the first to suffer as a result of higher temperatures, especially if they dry out at all. We’re beginning to get in everything you’ll need for pots, hayracks and more…shipments come in just about every day but Monday!

The nursery is divided into distinct areas. All of the shrubs are against the fence on the inside of the lath house  and on the end toward the alley.

Annuals and tropicals are out front on the tables and steps, and also in the middle area under the lath house on tables.

Perennials and groundcovers are against the greenhouse on tables and on the ground.

Herbs and veggies are on the end toward the street and side garden. The fresh fruits and vegetables are on the red tables as you enter toward the greenhouse door…and the U-Pot-It bench is against the greenhouse as well. We know it can get very overwhelming to come in and see so much in a relatively small area, so hope this helps…

Happy Spring!