Southern Gardening from 2015
Foxglove can create a dramatic effect with its tall spires of flowers but is an underused plant in Mississippi, especially in the southern counties.
Foxglove, known botanically as Digitalis, is a member of a somewhat curious group of plants called biennials. These plants typically take two years to complete their lifecycles. After germination, the plants only grow vegetatively (leaves, stems and roots), usually forming a low-growing rosette.
With all of the annual flowering plants being displayed in garden centers, you might be distracted and pass right by the gorgeous foliage colors of caladium. And this makes the caladiums feel bad.
Caladiums are among the most misunderstood plants in landscapes and gardens. Do you plant them in the sun, shade or some kind of mixed sun and shade? The answer will be revealed later.
Tropical plants, like elephant ears, just scream for attention and attract interest in any landscape. Most gardeners love elephant ears because they are easy-to-grow tropical plants that make a big impact.
There are three species commonly found in Mississippi landscapes: Alocasia, Colocasia and Xanthosoma. Colocasia is my favorite elephant ear variety and the focus of this column. Most Colocasia plants feature big leaves and big texture, but they’re not all green. In fact, there are Colocasia varieties with black leaves.
Our gardens and landscapes are heating up, and for hot summer color, you just can’t beat the annual vinca.
In my opinion, vinca is one of those perfect landscape plants. It produces loads of color and handles the high heat and dry conditions of our Mississippi summers.
Some of the very best vinca plantings I have seen were growing in raised beds. But in some years, entire planting beds of vincas seemed to fail almost overnight. A common characteristic of these failures is wet soil. Vinca plants do not like to grow with their feet wet.
Most gardeners have favorite landscape plants they use every year, and I’m no different. But I also like to try new plants I see in garden centers or learn about from perusing winter catalogs.
This week, I want to tell you about some of the plants that are so far performing well in my landscape.
One plant I like to grow each summer is Blue Daze evolvulus, because this is an easy-to-care-for plant that needs minimal attention. Blue Daze has been around for a long time and was one of the first plants chosen as a Mississippi Medallion winner in 1996.
I’m like most home gardeners when it comes to working in and maintaining my garden and landscape. My philosophy to garden chores can be summed up by the catchphrase of a friend of mine who is a home improvement expert: “I’m all about easy.”
This philosophy is especially true during the heat and humidity of the summer.
But despite my desire to do things the easy way, there are important summer garden activities required to keep some flowering plants looking good. Deadheading is one of these maintenance chores that often gets overlooked.
It’s pretty easy to grow plants when water is plentiful, and that’s the situation much of the time in Mississippi. But sooner or later, the weather gets hot and dry, and Mississippi gardeners know that we need plants that can thrive in the summer heat.
Mississippi gardeners also must know how to keep themselves safe while working in the heat. Working outdoors for any length of time in the hot sun can take a toll on even the hardiest gardener.
A long road trip I’m currently on made me realize that our climates may be significantly different, but our plants are often very similar.
This week, I’m participating in the National Agricultural County Agents Association conference in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. As I was driving north of Omaha, Nebraska, on I-29, I observed and enjoyed the blazing orange flower clusters of Asclepias tuberosa, commonly called butterfly weed.
Having a color scheme is a landscape design technique gardeners have used for a long time.
A couple of weeks ago, a social media friend was asking what people thought about planting their landscapes in the color scheme of their favorite athletic team. I think we’ve all seen the branding associated with ornamental plants in garden centers and nurseries. Can you imagine the branding possibilities with planting your favorite team’s plants?
One of the most frequent calls I get in the summer concerns lawns and ground covers under trees, where sunlight is limited. Most callers want grass in these areas and realize the limitations presented by the shade.
My go-to answer is an unwavering: “Why not plant liriope?” Liriope is a versatile groundcover that is very effective under large trees with reduced light or mass-planted on slopes. It also creates soft borders and edging for paved areas and foundations.
During the annual dog days of summer, it’s a really good thing to have reliable plants in the garden and landscape. One of my hot summer go-to plants is the lantana with its nonstop color.
Lantanas are versatile plants that will thrive in the heat and humidity, like the 118-degree heat index we had in Ocean springs this past week. Whew! There are many great lantana selections available for our gardens, from 4-foot specimens to sprawling ground-cover choices, which come in too many colors to list.
A little planning and planting early in the season can really pay off with big color during the dog days of summer that we’re “enjoying” right now. One of my newest favorite groups of plants for hot summer and fall -- yes, I said fall -- are ornamental peppers.
Ornamental peppers begin setting fruit as the temperature rises, and they keep producing through fall. These peppers are quite versatile garden performers and work well in combination containers or massed planted in the landscape.
One of my goals for this column has always been to promote the planting of ornamental varieties -- and to some extent vegetable varieties -- in our Mississippi landscapes and gardens. Sometimes, these plants are tried and true favorites of mine; other times, they are new to market and deserve a chance to shine and be enjoyed.
Where did the summer go? I know it’s still hot and will be for the next month or so, but September starts next week, and that means fall will officially begin.
What prompted me to start thinking about the season change was a weekend visit to the garden center. I noticed there were some new additions to the colorful benches. There were lots of the yellows, oranges and rusty reds of one of my long-time summer favorites, marigolds. Marigold colors are earthy and warm -- just what is needed for a harvest display.
One the benefits of being a gardener is that most of the time, I’m paying attention to what’s going on in the landscape and beyond. I’ve found that Mother Nature gives us clues, especially around the seasonal transitions.
There are subtle clues that summer is ending and fall is beginning. Red maples start to show tinges of reds and oranges. Each tree is different, but there is one red maple in my neighborhood that always starts to change before any others.
Another change in the landscape color palette is the arrival of mums in the nurseries and garden centers.
Last week, I had the opportunity to speak to the Hattiesburg Area Daylily Society and had a great time doing some garden-sharing. Afterward, I was thinking about the daylilies in my landscape and how gorgeous they’ll be next year.
Daylilies are easy landscape plants guaranteed to please.
When I was visiting Natchez looking for locations to film the TV version of Southern Gardening this past week, I had a great time enjoying the historic homes and gardens, but the sights that had me doing double takes were all the “naked ladies” parading around town.
Now, you may be thinking that I’ve been listening to too much Ray Stevens, but this is not a reference to “The Streak.” The naked or nekkid (I think this version is more fun to say) ladies I’m referring to are fabulous landscape plants that belong to the genus Lycoris.
In my position with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, I tend to look at myself as a problem solver. I recently had the opportunity to evaluate some less-than-optimal tree pruning.
The question at hand was whether the pruned trees were irreparably damaged or if some corrective actions were needed. In my opinion, while the pruning in this case was sloppily performed, the trees will survive and should be OK.
The weather could not have better for the Fall Flower and Garden Fest in Crystal Springs this year. Thousands of people attending the Oct. 16-17 event enjoyed clear, blue skies and bright sunshine. The fall-like temperature felt great as I talked with fellow gardeners.
Many people asked me about pansies. Most of the plant vendors had gorgeous pansies for sale, and home gardeners wondered if it was a good time to plant pansies. My answer to every one of them was a resounding, YES! Mid-October is the perfect time to plant pansies in your Mississippi landscape.
I talked last week about how pansies are perfect bedding plants for the cool season in our Mississippi landscapes and gardens. This week, I want to draw attention to the viola, another favorite cool-season bedding plant that is closely related to the pansy.
Most gardeners I know call violas by their common name, Johnny jump ups. They get this name because they are prolific seed producers. It seems wherever I have planted them in my yard, they continue to reappear for at least a couple more years.