Thursday, August 27, 2015

High Performing Summer Annuals: Petunias

During the spring garden rush this year, I worked at the Dabney Nursery. One of the benefits of working there is that it allows me the opportunity to learn more about the many varieties of plants available. Take, for instance, petunias. I had no idea that there are so many types of petunias available. Just in the Wave series, there is the Wave, the Easy Wave, Tidal Wave, and Shock Wave.  All have a somewhat different growth habit, flower color, etc. Then there are the Supertunias and Surfinias. So this year, I deliberately selected a variety of the types available to see how they compared.  Here are the two that performed best for me.  To show you how they've held up, I took all these pictures in the past few days.

The neighbor down the street swears by the Supertunia 'Bubblegum Vista'. So this year, I tried that one, even though the pink color clashed a little with the brick on our house. He told me that one plant would cover a large area so I planted less densely than I otherwise would have. Here is a single 'Bubblegum Vista' in our mailbox bed.

Supertunia 'Bubblegum Vista'

This bed has only two plants in it. I have not done any pinching back on either of these (except the little bit that the string trimmer provides) and the plants have continued to have a bushy appearance, well-covered with blooms. (And I should also mention that both locations get less direct sun than is recommended for petunias.)

Supertunia 'Bubblegum Vista'

But the winner in the petunia war has to be Tidal Wave. I wanted a white petunia for contrast among the purples so I bought two whites and only later discovered what variety they were. Tidal Wave is suppose to be the most vigorous of the Wave petunias and I'm convinced. The white petunia below is one of the Tidal Waves I purchased. The purples are Easy Wave and they have done well, but are beginning to look a little leggy.

I'll have to admit that I have not cared for my petunias very well. I was not as vigilant about feeding or watering them as I should have been and they have grown well in spite of this. Tidal Wave and some variety of Supertunia will be on my shopping list for next year.  And next year, I'll take better care of them.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

"Keepers": More Late Summer Bloomers

Today, I want to continue talking about garden "keepers", plants that have earned their spot in our garden by providing bloom in late summer and by not requiring too much work from the gardener.

I mentioned in the last post that Jack and I had to remove a number of roses from our rose bed this spring because they appeared to be infected with rose rosette disease.  The old hybrid tea rose, Mr. Lincoln, is one of the roses that survived. If you enjoy cutting rose blooms to bring inside, Mr. Lincoln should be in your garden. He has a beautiful red bloom, a long stem, and wonderful fragrance. Like many roses, he takes a summer hiatus from blooming, resenting the hot, dry weather. But at the first hint of cool-down, he starts producing flower buds again. And he performs without being fussed over--he gets no spraying or fertilizing (except for occasional homemade compost).

Another plant that can be a significant source of bloom this time of year is not one that we normally plant for its bloom--hosta. The hostas that are blooming in August are usually Hosta plantaginea or a plantaginea hybrid. Sometimes called August lillies, plantaginea hostas are prolific bloomers and often have very large fragrant flowers. We have several hostas in our garden that are are of plantaginea parentage and they are all good performers, including 'Guacamole' and 'Fragrant Bouquet'. Both of these bloom earlier in the summer. 'Royal Standard' (below) is a plantaginea blooming in our garden now.

A neighbor down the street has mass plantings of a plantaginea hosta (not sure which kind), and their blooms make a real statement this time of year. See the mailbox planting below.

Last winter, I ran across the plantaginea hosta 'Aphrodite' online and immediately fell in love. It is suppose to have large, white, double blooms. I wanted to try it but I could not find it locally in the garden centers. A search of the mail order nurseries turned up very few places that sold it. But I found it last winter and it was shipped in early spring. The plant I received (from a very reputable nursery) was disappointing in size, only a small crown with a few roots, but I had such a hard time finding it that I kept the plant. It survived and produced a small plant but no flowers. So maybe next year, I'll be able to report on its flowers.

The final plant I want to mention today is the Hydangea paniculata 'Limelight'. Limelight is one of the many paniculata cultivars, which begin blooming in mid-summer. Our Limelight was planted last fall and is still getting established in our garden. Although it looks a bit gangly, it has given me a lot of bloom this year. Since the paniculatas, as a rule, bloom on new wood, I will prune it back a little next spring to encourage a more uniform shape. 

Next time, I will talk about annuals that performed well in our garden this year.

Monday, August 17, 2015

"Keepers": Late Summer Bloomers

I went fishing with my dad all my life until he became physically unable to get out. In addition to how to bait a hook and cast a line, he taught me which fish should be thrown back (too small, too bony, not to his taste, etc.) and which were "keepers". Lately, I've been thinking about my garden plants in this way--those that should be kept and those that should be thrown back (metaphorically, of course). 

What makes a particular plant a keeper varies from one person (and/or garden) to another, but most gardeners value a plant's attractiveness, fragrance, etc. Or it may be a particular function that the plant serves, for instance, to act as a screen or control erosion. Then we consider how much effort the plant requires in return for whatever it offers. When the positives of what the plant gives us outweighs the cost/aggravation/work of growing it, we have a keeper.

One of the things that makes a plant a keeper for me is mid- to late-summer appeal: color and/or bloom. Today I walked around the garden to see what is providing bloom in mid-August. Also, high on my list of criteria for a "keeper" is disease resistance and easy care. While not totally anti-chemical, I generally don't want plants that require frequent spraying or heavy doses of fertilizer. In the next few posts, I'll talk about the plants I'm evaluating as keepers.

I decided that our Drift roses are keepers. We have several that are currently going through a flush of blooms. These have been blooming almost continually since early spring. You may recall that I took out several roses this year that appeared to be infected with rose rosette disease, including several Drift roses. I left the roses that did not appear to be infected and crossed my fingers they would make it. So far so good. I cut back the one shown below after its last bloom flush, and it rewarded me with these flowers. While the foliage in the picture looks great, it is not representative of the entire plant. The older foliage has some black spot but, in my opinion, looks pretty good given that it has not been sprayed at all this year.

Drift Rose 'Peach'

Here's another Drift in bloom, with the black spot more visible.

Drift Rose 'Coral'

Another plant that is blooming now and may be a keeper, at least for another year, is the hardy hibiscus, 'Midnight Marvel'. It is now starting its second flush of bloom this summer with no special care, except for a heavy trimming following the first flush. I like the red bloom, but I bought it for its dark foliage, which has not been dark in our garden. So in the fall, I'm moving it to a sunnier area and trying it for another year. If the foliage is dark next year, I'll keep it. If not, it will be re-homed. 

Hibiscus 'Midnight Marvel'

In the next post, I'll talk about some other plants that performed well for me this summer and are likely to be keepers.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Cutting back the Summer Garden

About a month ago, I trimmed back a few perennial plants that, although still blooming a little, had started to look messy. One in particular was the tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis). It was stunning in June but had just about finished its bloom was was looking a little tired. Also, tall verbena is a prolific re-seeder and I don't need anymore plants so I don't want the seeds to mature. I cut it back drastically to tidy up the bed, not expecting to see anymore blooms this year. 

Verbena bonariensis

But not only is it blooming, the second flush of bloom seems even heavier than the first flush. And the plant has a more compact, fuller look. Normally, this is a back-of-the-border plant. It grows tall (4 feet or more) with an open, airy look; and its graceful blooms accentuate blooms of other plants around it.  But I'm thinking that next year, I might pinch back a few plants before they bloom to try a bushier, more shrub-like look.

The speaker at this week's Master Gardener's monthly meeting, Jason Powell from Petals from the Past nursery in Alabama, spoke quite a bit about cutting back perennials for a longer, more robust blooming season. He made me realize that I have not done a very good job of cutting back to get the most blooms from my perennials. Partly from laziness (keeping up with deadheading and cutting back can take a lot of time) but mostly from ignorance--I'm not well-informed about which plants respond by re-blooming and which just resent the attack. With so much information available on the internet, ignorance is a weak excuse. And Jason's presentation made me realize that I shouldn't be complaining about the summer garden looking old and tired if I haven't taken the steps available to keep it looking good.

So in those long, cold months when we gardeners are wishing for spring, I am going to spend some of my "down time" researching the plants in my garden so that next summer, I'll know what to do to get the most from the plants I have. I'm usually on the internet in those months away, but mostly looking for new plants to add to the garden. Now I realize you don't have to search out those new plants. In this active Memphis gardening community, they somehow find you.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Any Water Gardeners out There?

Jack and I have a water feature in our back yard that has a fairly large pond. Because the pond end of the water feature gets a fair amount of sun and we don't have a lot of water plants, we usually develop an algae problem before the end of the summer. A couple years ago, we discovered that a few water hyacinths (the floating kind) will multiply rapidly and do a good job of shading the pond, which discourages algae growth. They are attractive little plants with a nice bloom and grow with no care at all. 

But, as sometimes happens in gardening (and the rest of life), the very thing that one thinks is desirable can become a nuisance. I love the fact that you can buy a few of these and in two weeks, your pond is nicely covered. But from that point on, watch out! If you want a concrete example of exponential multiplication this is it. You can almost stand by the side of the pond and see them dividing! (Well, that might be a little exaggerated but not much!)  By early summer, these carefree plants require regular maintenance: Jack scoops out dozens of them nearly every week when he takes out the trash.

When Jack and I first moved into our house, this pond had a variety of plants in it that had taken over the pond. Roots had escaped everywhere so we pulled them all out and cleaned out the pond. Now these annual water hyacinths (and a struggling water lily) are the only thing we have in our pond each year. 

Next year, I'd like to have a greater variety of plants and I was hoping you water gardeners out there might have some suggestions. Here are my criteria. The plants must be
  1. Winter hardy
  2. Reasonably easy to care for 
  3. Well-behaved (i.e., not produce a lot of pump-clogging roots)
  4. Not from the floral department at Hobby Lobby or Michael's. 
Any ideas are appreciated.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Summer Phlox at the Dixon Gardens

Last Sunday afternoon, I attended a presentation on phlox at the Dixon Gardens by James Locklear, Director of Conservation at Lauritzen Gardens in Omaha, Nebraska, and author of Phlox: A Natural History and Conservation Guide. After a short tour of the phlox in the Dixon's cutting garden (it was way too hot to spend much time in the sun in the middle of the afternoon!), he gave a very interesting talk on the history of phlox and the large number of species that grow across the United States.

I have a few varieties of phlox in my garden. My favorite is the spring blooming creeping phlox 'Drummond's Pink' (Phlox subulata 'Drummond's Pink'). I like the deep pink bloom on this variety but was particularly drawn to its form when not in bloom. It forms a tight, deep green mass, with needle-like foliage that is very attractive, especially when sprawling over rocks. Here it is this spring planted near our water feature. The little green mass not in bloom is a creeping juniper. The foliage of this is juniper very similar to the phlox.

Phlox subulata 'Drummond's Pink'

I also bought a cultivar of summer phlox last year that is suppose to do well in our heat and humidity (Phlox paniculata 'David').  This year, 'David', a white phlox, has been joined by a pink phlox I do not remember planting. This may be a 'David' offspring, as I've read that hybrid phlox, when allowed to go to seed, often reproduce plants different from the parent.

I like summer phlox but you know how they often get: droopy, tired-looking leaves, usually with powdery mildew. We think of them as sun-loving plants, but our area is at the edge of their zone (some varieties say zone up to 7; others zone 8), and they struggle with our summer heat. Even the ones at the Dixon struggled this year. Suzy Askew, Education and Volunteer coordinator at the Dixon, pointed out to us that their best looking phlox were the ones growing at the edge of the shade. My theory is that phlox perform best in an area with morning sun and shade during the hottest part of the day. Mine are sited in a mostly shaded spot and they bloom but don't perform up to their potential.

If you are interesting in learning more about phlox and how to grow them, you might be interested in attending the munch and learn at the Dixon on Wednesday, August 5.  Phlox and echinacea plants will also be available for sale. Click here for more information.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Spruce Up the School Day at Riverdale

Jack and I spent Thursday morning at Riverdale School helping parent and student volunteers spruce up the campus. I didn’t realize until our grandsons transferred to Riverdale last year that the school campus was certified in 2010 as a Level 1 arboretum. The campus includes several gardens that are maintained mostly by parents, students, and other volunteers, under the direction of Dr. Stacy Stevens, one of the counselors at Riverdale. Stacy also sponsors the Environmental Club, a group of students in grades 3-8 who are interested in environmental issues.

Jack and I worked mostly on cleaning up the breezeway gardens. Here’s Jack pulling vines out of the largest beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) I’ve ever seen. It is loaded with berries (still green and not visible in this picture). I plan to drop by the school when the berries turn blue. I’m sure it will be a sight to behold!

Here’s Stacy (behind the garden rakes) surrounded by an enthusiastic group of Riverdale cheerleaders.

The Environmental Club at Riverdale meets after school once a week while school is in session to work in the gardens, learn about plants and soil, and engage in a host of other “green” activities. Stacy is always looking for adult volunteers to help with these activities or to participate in the three general workdays on the campus (July, October, and April) . If you are a Master Gardener, these volunteer hours would count toward your “community service” requirement. Contact Stacy at for more information if you would like to help.