Tag Archives: gomphrena

In Appreciation Of Pollinator Gardens…Large and Small

This summer’s “Better Late Than Never” pollinator garden is coming along and, as in years past, will get even more colorful as the end of summer approaches. I’m happy to see that private and public gardens and gardening for wildlife is a growing trend across the country.

I recently returned from a trip back to my home state of Wisconsin, where I  visited a couple of county parks my late father helped make possible many years ago near the beginning of this movement in public gardening. My mother, sister, and I are certain he’d have been very pleased with the progress of this prairie reclamation in the middle of southern Wisconsin farm land.

At Dorothy Carnes County Park & Rose Lake State Natural Area we watched as dozens and dozens of purple martins flew back and forth to houses set up for them, butterflies soared through prairie plantings, and a group of special needs children returned from a morning hike.

 

 

The next day we visited Korth County Park  on Rock Lake and hiked down to a bench overlooking the water. Visitors can hike or bike along paths skirting the lake, and both parks have shelters used for picnicking. I feel so lucky to have visited these lovely and well maintained public spaces.

Our pollinator garden is tiny in comparison but there’s so much life in it too. This year I had trouble finding the peach porterweed that the butterflies adore, but a few weeks ago noticed that a number of them had reseeded from the previous summer’s garden. These volunteer surprises make this garden extra special.

Other “volunteers” this year are red gomphrena, rudbeckias with huge blooms, many zinnias, celosia, sunflowers, cosmos, hyacinth bean and moonflower vines on the arbor, cleome where the compost bin had been, and a lone dill plant. It’s truly an old fashioned cottage garden for the pollinators and the enjoyment of anyone who stops to look!

 

 

We also added a few new plants this year. Verbena ‘Lollipop’ and pentas for butterflies, cigar plant, pineapple  and Mexican sage for hummingbirds, African blue basil and purslane for the honeybees,  and red ruellia too.

The Mexican sunflowers, tithonia, are also slowly getting larger and will add their bright orange blooms that the butterflies love as the summer wanes. The annual milkweed is in bloom now too.

Perennials that return are always welcome in the garden!  The butterfly weed, purple coneflower, and salvia greggii are old friends.

A woman approached me the other day as I was watering to say thank you and said she’s created a pollinator garden of her own after following the progress of this small space in the middle of Crestline Village.

Talking with her and others has been so gratifying. I hope my Dad is watching from wherever he is and smiling at our efforts to create a beautiful space for community and nature too. If you’re in Crestline Village, I hope you’ll take time to stop and appreciate this little slice of pollinator heaven!

By Kris Blevons

 

 

It’s Blooming! The ‘Better Late Than Never’ Pollinator Garden

Kris - Better Late Than Never Garden Summer Prep 2016

Preparing the beds…

The pretty but very shy bright yellow goldfinches that have found the ‘Better Late Than Never’ Pollinator Garden across from the shop were still coming to the last of the bachelor buttons, larkspur, and some sunflowers that had seeded from last year’s plants when Bert and I began prepping the four beds for a new season mid-June.Better Late Than Never Garden - Early Summer Prep

So, rather than pull every bachelor button and larkspur out to make way for new, I left what had been the prettiest colors of both, including a lovely lavender larkspur. Who knows, maybe some seeds of it will return in next year’s spring garden…Kris - Better Late Than Never Garden Summer Prep 2016

The beds needed some additional organic matter, and we added bag after bag of topsoil, soil conditioner, and PlantTone to each.

Better Late Than Never Garden

Front beds, early July

Bert and I took turns with my heavy pick axe, each strike of the tool working the amendments in without turning the soil, since that would only turn up buried weed seeds to the light where they’d happily germinate and grow. Then I took a garden fork and loosened it even more.Better Late Than Never Garden

Any good garden begins with this all important work. Remember this in your own and always add more  to your soil before replanting for the new season. We usually have bags of soil conditioner and topsoil in stock, and the PlantTone is a great organic amendment that adds nutrients too.

Tall Marigolds and Zinnias - 'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator Garden

Finally the beds were ready for planting. After raking the beds smooth, it was time to sow the zinnia seeds in the two front beds. I also added lots of plants.

Malabar Spinach Vine - 'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator Garden

Malabar Spinach…

'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator Garden Summer 2016Tall cutting marigolds from a small grower north of Birmingham, tall purple and red gomphrena, a beautiful deep purple salvia and peach porterweed for the hummingbirds, angelonia, pentas, purslane, ornamental okra just for fun, pink mandevilla and malabar spinach vines on the two arbors, as well as seeds of moonvine and hyacinth bean to climb them too.

A few weeks later the last of the bachelor buttons and larkspur were pulled out, and the back two beds were planted with lots of sunflowers and tithonia, the orange flower the monarchs loved last year.  Annual milkweed that had returned from seed was already blooming, and I noticed that a yellow lantana and perennial butterflyweed  had come back from last year too.Annual Milkweed - 'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator Garden

Cleome and Zinnias 'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator GardenOf course the old fashioned Cleome, or spiderflowerhad reseeded, but I also added another, shorter variety and a few more perennials this year, including coneflowers and caryopteris on each corner of the two back beds.

Coneflowers...

Coneflowers…

 

 

 

'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator Garden - Looking Through The Arbor

 

 

 

 

Just as plantings change and evolve with the years, so do structures in the garden. Pinkie painted the back fencing white this year, and we added a trellis piece painted a beautiful blue. I think we should try to grow sweet peas on it this fall, though I’ll have to tie string onto it for them to climb on.

The days have passed. It’s now August and the true heat has settled in; the zinnias love it and are in a riot of bloom: California Giants, Cactus, Peppermint Stripe, Northern Lights – beauties every one.Zinnia Collage

Watering, pulling stray weeds, and deadheading are the important chores on hot summer days, but sometimes I have to stop and simply watch. I see tiny skipper butterflies, bees, and even a garden spider weaving its web near the arbor and bench.

Garden Spider - 'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator GardenThe sunflowers and tithonia will be blooming soon. They were planted a few weeks after the zinnias. I look forward to these towering bee and goldfinch magnets, in every color from pale yellow to deep red, and the brilliant orange flowers of the tithonia too. And, just the other day I threw out some seed of tall yellow cosmos, another butterfly flower.image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunflowers and Zinnias - 'Better Late Than Never' Pollinator GardenThe garden will reach its exuberant crescendo in the coming month before beginning a slow descent into fall. The zinnias will most certainly get mildewed leaves, and the heavy sunflower seed heads will droop on sturdy stems. But for now, it’s summer, and the garden is glorious.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Flower Garden – Look How It’s Grown!

Our “Better Late Than Never” flower garden, planted in late June, is proving that any time is the right time to plant a garden! The response from the community has been quite gratifying as well.

Photo courtesy Dean Veren

Photo courtesy Dean Veren

A couple of examples: A  gentleman walking by, headphones on, crosses the street away from the garden, then pauses. Taking off his headphones and turning around,  he walks back across the street just to tell me what pleasure the garden gives him each morning on his daily walk. Another woman stops to say she and her sister walk by once a week and really enjoy watching the changes as flowers bud and then bloom. My favorite might well be the little girl calling out from a car driving by, “Your garden is really pretty!”

For all of us who plant a garden, it’s also exciting to see how quickly plants grow. One morning the sunflowers are just beginning to come up on wobbly, thin stems, and then, almost overnight it seems, they’re over 5′ tall and reaching for the sun. Zinnias, those stalwarts of any sunny, summer garden, have been the stars so far, and we keep planting more. The tall purple and pink gomphrena, cigar plant, peach porter weed, gloriosa daisies, tithonia, milkweed, cleome,  and, of course, the sunflowers aren’t far behind in star power though. A garden changes daily, and this one is no exception!

Pink and white spider flowers, (cleome) in full bloom...

Pink and white spider flowers, (cleome) in full bloom…

The honeybees have found it too. Each morning the large, colorful patches of the low-growing, succulent purslane are host to hundreds of them. There’s no need to be frightened; they’re just going about their business, pollinating and returning to their hives each day. The sunflowers are beginning to show off now. And, like gluttons needing more food, we’ve planted another group of them around the very perimeter of the garden. This way, we reason, when the first of them have finally played themselves out, there will be more to look forward to.

The bees, butterflies and hummingbirds appreciate the flower garden...

The bees, butterflies and hummingbirds appreciate the flower garden…

Yes, that is why we garden; isn’t it? Planting, tending, and watering aren’t chores when the end result is so gratifying, and we know the next day will bring something new in bloom. Sure, not everything works out. Some of the zinnias didn’t make it, the moonvine seems to be all leaves, the hyacinth bean vine is chewed to bits; but we filled in where the zinnias pooped out,  the moonvine leaves are a beautiful green, and, after a few doses of  Haven Brand Natural Moo Poo Tea, the hyacinth bean vine is coming along.

A parting thought…Anyone can plant a garden. It can be as small as a few pots of marigolds this fall or as big as you want it to be. There will be great successes and, yes, some failures too; but that’s true of anything in life. Cliché as it sounds, the  greatest pleasure is the joy it brings others…and that is priceless.

These Annuals Handle Our Summer Heat And Have Plenty Of Flower Power Too!

Finding flowers that will perform in Birmingham’s brutal summer heat and humidity is an ongoing challenge. Fortunately, we’ve found many that will do well…and thrive if given the right care. In a post from last summer, I highlighted a few summer annuals, and here’s an update.

A white penta in the garden...

A white penta in the garden…

Have you tried pentas? They are flower dynamos and butterfly magnets. I make sure to add them to my garden each year, knowing that, come the dog days of August, they’ll be hitting their stride. All they ask for is periodic deadheading to keep blooms coming and supplemental water if we go through summer dry spells. Available in a wide range of colors – white, red, pinks and lavenders –  they add a rounded, star-cluster flower form to the garden.

Tall purple gomphrena

Tall purple gomphrena

In last year’s post I highlighted gomphrena, and it’s getting an encore mention this year because I like it so much. The tall ones are my favorite, though they’ve been hard to come by this year. I’ve finally been able to find a tall purple one, though, and will be putting it in planters and recommending it to everyone for sunny, hot spots in the garden. The tall stems with rounded globe-like flowers, like the pentas, add another interesting flower shape to any flower bed.

Fanflower...

Fanflower…

Finally, here are two low-growing plants that can be used to spill out of containers or as a groundcover in garden beds. First, one I use all the time in containers and in the ground is scaevola, or fan flower (See the “fans”?).  You’ve probably seen the blue/purple selections, but there is also a white form shown here, as well as pink, a purple and white, and a yellow.

It’s interesting fan-shaped flowers are held on stems that in containers get quite long. Because of this, it will benefit from being cut back at times through the summer. You can either cut the whole plant back when it gets leggy, or you might choose to just cut a few of the longest stems back here and there. This won’t hurt it at all, so don’t be afraid to do this!

Purslane, just beginning to bloom...

Purslane, just beginning to bloom…

Last, but definitely not least, as far as heat tolerance and toughness, and loved by honeybees too,  is purslane. This little flowering succulent has been improved upon by hybridizers over the years. These improved varieties offer vivid colors from white to many shades of oranges, pinks, and reds. The flowers will close in the late afternoon, but do they make up for it the rest of the day!

New varieties have larger blooms on heat and drought tolerant plants, making them a definite winner in my book. Try them either mixed with other succulents in a container, trailing from a hanging basket, or in the ground, perhaps along a hot sidewalk or driveway.

So, while we struggle through the summer heat and humidity of the south, it’s nice to know our gardens and containers don’t have to. It’s all in finding the right plants for your tough spots and knowing what to do to keep them looking their best!

 

 

Want More Butterflies? Plant Butterfly Weed!

imageButterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, is the pretty orange flower, shown in the picture on the right  in my very hot and sunny front border. It’s right at home with other butterfly attractors including salvias,  trailing white lantana, purple and red gomphrena, zinnias, mexican heather, other heat loving annuals and, shown in the picture with the butterfly weed, a yellow hypericum shrub. It also is happy with other perennials.  To be successful in atracting butterflies, you need to have sources of nectar, sources for them to lay their eggs on,  and plants for the caterpillars to feed on…monarch butterflies like to lay their eggs on this asclepias, so it’s a very good butterfly plant to have!

Butterfly weed in my friend Carole Barton's garden...

Butterfly weed in my friend Carole Barton’s garden…

It’s the flowering star right now in my garden and in my friend and wholesale grower  Carole Barton’s garden also. Her very impressive stand of it in the picture to the left must be heaven for butterflies!  Even for those folks opposed to orange flowers, I hope you will try to find a spot for this one anyway…in addition to attracting butterflies it also is a magnet for other beneficial insects including lady beetles and bees.

Since it has a long tap root, take care in transplanting this perennial butterfly weed. It can be difficult to find, but we have these plants available now, if there’s a sunny spot in your garden and you’d like to try it for yourself.  The long tap root also makes it tolerant of drought once established – a huge plus in my book!  It will benefit from deadheading (cutting off the old blooms) after it’s through flowering – if you don’t get this done it may reseed, which might not be a bad thing depending on where you want it! It also reappears quite late in the spring – I worry each and every year that I’ve lost it and then, happy surprise, it reappears…

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

The Heat Is On…These Annuals Can Take It!

Gomphrena, zinnias, red cuphea, mexican heather, vinca…have you tried one or more of these in your garden or planters? If you haven’t, you should!

Gomphrena & narrow leaf zinnias in a hot, sunny bed

Gomphrena & narrow leaf zinnias in a hot, sunny bed

Gomphrena is one  that you might not look at twice in its little pot on a table at a nursery…but it is one of the toughest plants – and the prettiest, come the dog days of August. In fact, the heat seems to bring on more blooms, and the more sun the better. It is more difficult to find, but we have gotten some in recently. The taller varieties are particularly nice in the garden, and they come in purple, red and sometimes pink and white.  If you have a tough, hard to deal with spot in your garden, gomphrena is one to try.

bat face cuphea

bat face cuphea

Red cuphea, or batface cuphea, is another underused but tough plant for our summer heat. If you’ve ever noticed the bright red blooms in our sign planter at the shop in the middle of summer, you’ve seen bat face cuphea in all its glory. While butterflies flutter and land on the gomphrena, you’ll see the hummingbirds feeding on the cuphea – they love it! With its trailing habit, it works quite well in planters.

Profusion zinnias

Profusion zinnias

 

 

 

 

Zinnias are another go-to flower that can’t be beat – the best for disease resistance (no ugly leaves) are the narrow leaf zinnias, the Profusion and Zahara zinnias. You’ll find narrowleaf zinnias in yellow, white, orange and a mix of these three colors. Both Profusion and Zahara types have larger bloom and come in some pink colors too.

image

 

Finally, vinca is one of the most drought tolerant and forgiving plants out there…in fact, overwatering is the main culprit if plants don’t make it – how great is that? The clear, pretty colors of vinca and both upright and trailing habits make them the perfect candidate for beds and planters alike.

So, it’s the middle of summer and you say you need a little color? These are the annuals that can take the heat!

Annuals And Perennials – What’s The Difference?

Annual…Perennial…It’s okay if you can’t seem to remember which is which – that’s our job! So, for all of you that are perennially (haha) confused and would like to finally get it straight, here’s the scoop:

Screen Shot 2013-01-14 at 3.54.53 PM

annual bedding plants…

Annual: one of those go-to plants that you put out each year – for example in your planters – (annually) a geranium, or begonia perhaps. Annuals give you a lot of bang for your buck in one fell swoop – but, when they’ve exhausted their blooming period, they are finished, kaput, done. This also applies to fall plants such as pansies and violas. We call them cool season annuals because their blooming period – (before they’re finished, kaput, done,) is the cool season, or winter. Cool season annuals just can’t take the heat, so when they’ve given it up we plant out summer annuals – think zinnias, begonias, caladiums, coleus, fan flower…all the pretty plants we buy in our frenzy of spring fever.

So, maybe that helps a little bit? Put another way, you plant annuals in the Birmingham area annually (each year – spring and fall.) Some annuals for spring/summer planting become available early in the spring and others show up a bit later and really need the heat turned up to do well. Annuals also provide lasting color – useful for the long summer season…typically, annuals in the Birmingham area begin to play out and look “tired” by mid-August though, even with the best of care. August is one tough month!

Caladiums...

Caladiums…

Caladium 'Aaron', a great choice for sun or shade

Caladium ‘Aaron’, a great choice for sun or shade

Here’s a small sampling of some great annuals for Birmingham and surrounding areas – this is just the tip of the iceburg, however. For more inspiration, check out our Facebook page too, or better yet, stop in!

Dragonwing begonias – sun or shade, with adequate water they get huge!
Caladiums – traditional shade plant, now many selections are available for sun too. Pretty mixed with asparagus or other ferns, begonias, Sunpatiens, torenia or any other flowering annual that compliments the color of their leaves. They’ll do best if you wait to plant in garden beds until the ground is warm, usually by May.

Coleus – beautiful colors! Another that used to play only in the shade, now many varieties are used in full sun plantings. Very useful as an accent foliage in beds or containers, they can get very large! It’s quite easy to keep them at whatever size you’d like, though. Simply pinch when young or cut them back if they get out of hand! Check the tag for sun tolerance.

Gomphrena – This one may not be familiar to you. A heat lover, it has globes of purple, orange or sometimes pink flowers, and is long lasting and tough. It never looks like much in a pot so you’ll have to trust us on this one – but if you do, you won’t be sorry …and they’ll still look good in August!

narrow leaf zinnias come in white, yellow, orange and a mix...

narrow leaf zinnias come in white, yellow, orange and a mix…

Gomphrena & narrow leaf zinnias in a hot, sunny bed

Gomphrena & narrow leaf zinnias in a hot, sunny bed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zinnias – There are many varieties of zinnia from the tiny flowered narrow leaf zinnia to the more open Profusion and Zahara zinnias, and they all love the heat. Don’t be afraid to cut them back if they become rangy mid-summer. If you do, they’ll also still be looking good in the latter part of the season.

Vinca – this one is the absolute easiest, most fool proof annual to use for a lot of color in hot spots. Plant them and don’t baby them with too much water. They’ll reward you with loads of pretty blooms in clear colors. There’s also a trailing vinca as well. As with caladiums, don’t plant too early in the ground.

Sunpatiens and New Guinea impatiens – these are the types of impatiens that are resistant to downy mildew which is affecting bedding plant and double impatiens in our area. They are only available in larger pots, but you don’t need as many of them since you can space them further apart in your beds. In containers they make quite a show too!

white pentas still looking fresh in this late summer photo

white pentas still looking fresh in this late summer photo

Pentas – the butterflies love pentas and these come in so many colors. Bright red, white, light and dark pink, lilac – there’s a color for everyone! To maintain pentas, you need only keep them deadheaded – keeping the old blooms cut off. If you haven’t tried these, you’re in for a treat!

Lantana – The old stand-by for sun and heat. There are many good selections of lantana now and growth habit varies – some will get enormous, (tall and wide) while others will stay more mounding and compact, so always check the tag for size. Particularly nice for planters are the trailing varieties which come in bright yellow, white and lavender. They take a while to take off, but once the heat sets in they spread like crazy!

heat loving lantana...

heat loving lantana…

 

 

 

 

 

 

This hanging basket for sun includes a sun loving caladium, angelonia, pink fan flower, trailing silver dichondra, and an airy white euphorbia...

This hanging basket for sun includes a sun loving caladium, angelonia, pink fan flower, trailing silver dichondra, and an airy white euphorbia…

 

Angelonia – Sometimes called summer snapdragon because of the shape of the bloom, angelonia is a good choice to add some height in beds and containers. Strongly upright in growth, but loose enough to not look stiff, it’s a welcome addition to our summer plant palette. Hybridizers have been working overtime improving color, bloom size and heat tolerance, making these beauties one of the newer go-to plants for summer plantings, adding shades of purple, pink, lilac and white.

Persian shield...

Persian shield…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strobilanthes/Persian Shield – This foliage plant is an excellent annual, like the caladium, that is useful as a foliage accent in plantings. In the ground or in pots, it is gorgeous!

Rex begonias...

Rex begonias…

Rex Begonias – Another great foliage accent in many leaf patterns. Good for shade planters primarily. Technically a houseplant, but I couldn’t resist putting another foliage option in this post!

We’ll discuss perennials (they’re the ones that come back if they’re in their happy spot.) in a future post. Meantime, maybe there are one or two annuals on this list you haven’t tried – maybe it’s time!

 

 

 

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

 

 

Promise In A Packet…Seeds!

If you’ve been in recently you may have noticed the colorful seed display behind the counters.


Oh the promise of seeds – those tantalizing pictures and mouthwatering descriptions of vegetables, flowers and herbs…all in a magical seed packet.

Maybe you’ve never tried to grow anything from seed. That’s ok, there’s a first time for everything!  Here are some easy flowers to grow by direct sowing them right where you want them to come up  in your garden: zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos, marigolds, tithonia (Mexican sunflower) and gomphrena are a few.

It's planted with lots of help but...

Seed planting is a fun project for the little ones!

Since you will be sowing these directly into the ground, you need to be sure the soil is warm enough for them, May is the perfect month to plant these. Here you can see Billy planting seeds in the garden with some little helpers in the community garden across the street last spring. Below you can see we have veggie seeds too – and plenty to choose from as you plan your summer garden!

Warm season vegetable seeds...eggplant, peppers, melons and more!

Warm season vegetable seeds…eggplant, peppers, melons and more!