A southern summer garden staple
Story and Photos by Susan Jasan
As temperatures begin to warm, it’s really easy to get the spring fever. It’s time to start visiting local garden centers, nurseries and home improvement stores to check out what’s new for the garden. Annuals are starting to really fill in and will be showing off their bloom in no time at all.
As you begin to plan your annual plantings for the new year, think about not only the annuals you want to use, but consider adding tropical plants, summer bulbs, ornamental vegetables, or perennials to the mix. With the combination you’ll have a longer run of color from early spring through late fall. Annuals are the core of the summer garden when the heat is at its max. Annuals are a great transition when some of the early perennials are struggling to keep up with the dog days of summer.
When you consider your annual plantings, remember not only to consider the blooms, but keep in mind there are many annual plants with spectacular foliage. Foliage and texture can have a huge impact on a garden whether as the showstopper or in a supporting role. One of the best annuals for foliage is coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides, syn. Solenostemon scutellarioides), which has evolved to hundreds of varieties. You can find almost any color combination. There are both sun-loving coleus as well as the better-known shade loving coleus. You’ll have the benefit of their color and texture until you have a hard frost in the fall.
Too often we use just the annuals that are in the 6-packs, but what about mixing in tropical plants? The tropical plants love the summer heat, as the summer heat is usually a great fit for the temperatures the tropical plants prefer. You can even dig up your tropical plants at the end of the summer, pot them, and over-winter them inside, reusing them in the garden next year.
If you get behind and don’t get your small bedding plants in as early as you’d like, you can always purchase a few hanging baskets and bury them in the ground for “instant” color. The technique is effective and is one of the “secrets” in the commercial landscape industry on how to create an effective, colorful impact immediately.
As some of your annuals seem to get leggy in mid-summer, don’t be afraid to cut them back, as much as in half. As long as you provide plenty of water and nutrients, they’ll surprise you with a burst of growth again in late summer and early fall and give you the burst of color you’re looking for.
A few tried and true, tough, nearly foolproof, easy-care, warm-season annuals to consider:
Million bells (Calibrachoa)
Spider flower (Cleome hassleriana)
Fiber optic grass (Isolepis cernua)
Flowering kale (Brassica oleracea)
Joseph’s coat (Alternanthera)
Marigold (Tagetes patula)
Ornamental pepper (Capsicum spp., cvs.)
Fan flower (Scaevola aemula)
Great Tropicals To Mix into an Annual Planting
Banana plants (Musa spp.)
Split-leaf philodendron (Monstera deliciosa)
Zebra plant (Aphelandra squarrosa)