by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
No flower can lift someone’s spirits quite like sunflowers. They are bright and cheery, and as warm and inviting as the sweet summer sun. With brilliant yellow petals, also known as “rays,” sunflowers have an unmistakable sun-like appearance that has made them a crowd favorite, especially in the summer months.
Sunflowers come in a number of varieties—ranging from small to very large, from having yellow petals to red. However, there is more to sunflowers than meets the eye. While they are stunningly beautiful, they also are rich in history and meaning.
Sunflowers symbolize adoration, loyalty and longevity. Much of the meaning of sunflowers stems from its namesake, the sun itself. These flowers are unique in that they have the ability to provide energy in the form of nourishment and vibrancy—attributes which mirror the sun and the energy provided by its heat and light. Sunflowers are known for being “happy” flowers, making them the perfect gift to bring joy to someone’s (or your) day.
Who can resist the cheery sunflower in the landscape!
Sunflowers originated in the Americas in 1,000 B.C. and were then cultivated as a valuable food source for centuries. With the European exploration of the New World, the flower’s popularity spread, as the rest of the world began to appreciate its beauty and sustenance.
Today, sunflowers remain a highly recognized flower, admired for their sunny charm and delightful disposition. These beauties are also still sourced for their seeds, as well as oils used for cooking and skin emollients. For a flower that reflects so many of the sun’s positive characteristics, it isn’t surprising that people enjoy basking in the sunflower’s warming glow so much.
With bright blooms that go all summer, sunflowers are heat-tolerant, resistant to pests, and attractive to pollinators and birds. They make beautiful cut flowers and their seeds (and oil) are a source of food for birds and people!
The sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is an annual plant with a large daisy-like flower face. Its scientific name comes from the Greek words helios (“sun”) and anthos (“flower”). The flowers come in many colors (yellow, red, orange, maroon, brown), but they are commonly bright yellow with brown centers that ripen into heavy heads filled with seeds.
Sunflowers are heliotropic, which means that they turn their flowers to follow the movement of the Sun across the sky east to west, and then returns at night to face the east, ready again for the morning sun. Heliotropism happens during the earlier stages before the flower grows heavy with seeds.
There are tons of varieties of sunflowers available today, so there’s bound to be one that fits your garden. Choose between those with branching stems or single stems, those that produce ample pollen for pollinators or are pollen-free (best for bouquets), those that stay small or tower above the rest of the garden, or those that produce edible seeds!
A fairly fast-growing flower for their size, most sunflower varieties mature in only 80 to 95 days. The largest sunflower varieties grow to over 16 feet in height, while smaller varieties have been developed for small spaces and containers and rarely grow larger than a foot tall! The flower heads can reach over 12 inches in diameter within the large seeded varieties.
'Mammoth' is the traditional giant sunflower, sometimes growing to more than 12 feet tall.
When planting sunflowers, first and foremost, find a sunny spot! Sunflowers grow best in locations with direct sunlight (6 to 8 hours per day); they require long, warm summers to flower well.
Choose a location with well-draining soil. The planting spot shouldn’t pool with water after it rains. Otherwise, sunflowers aren’t too picky about soil, but for the best results, it shouldn’t be too compacted. They have long tap roots that need to stretch out; in preparing a bed, dig down 2 feet in depth and about 3 feet across. Sunflowers are heavy feeders, however, so the soil needs to be nutrient-rich with organic matter or composted (aged) manure. Or, work in a slow release granular fertilizer 8 inches deep into your soil. If possible, plant sunflowers in a spot that is sheltered from strong winds, perhaps along a fence or near a building. Larger varieties may become top-heavy and a strong wind can be devastating.
Sunflowers are a diverse bunch! Here are a few varieties you may want to try:
The towering ‘Mammoth’ variety is the traditional giant sunflower, sometimes growing to more than 12 feet tall. Its seeds are excellent for snacks and for feeding the birds, too.
‘Autumn Beauty’: One of the most spectacular cultivars, the ‘Autumn Beauty’ has many 6-inch flowers in shades of yellow, bronze, and mahogany on branching stems up to 7 feet tall.
‘Sunrich Gold’: A great flower for bouquets and arrangements, this sunflower grows to be about 5 feet tall and produces a single 4- to 6-inch flower. The big, no-mess, pollenless flowers have rich, golden-yellow rays and green-yellow centers.
‘Teddy Bear’: Just 2 to 3 feet tall, this small sunflower is perfect for small gardens and containers. The fluffy, deep-gold, 5-inch blossoms last for days in a vase.
Sunflowers make wonderful bouquets, but here are a few tips: 1) For indoor bouquets, cut the main stem just before its flower bud has a chance to open to encourage side blooms. 2) Cut stems early in the morning. Harvesting flowers during middle of the day may lead to flower wilting. 3) Handle sunflowers gently. The flowers should last at least a week in water at room temperature. 4) Arrange sunflowers in tall containers that provide good support for their heavy heads, and change the water every day to keep them fresh.
Fall is a prime time for sunflowers; enjoy them to the fullest!
Autumn Beauty has many 6 inch flowers in bronze and mahogany.
by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
Oklahomans definitely have a love affair with our crape myrtles; in many areas you can see them on practically every street. And why not? Few plants can match the crape myrtle’s spectacular summer flowers, colorful autumn foliage and attractive sculptured wood. Known as the “lilac of the South” they are truly versatile plants; here are some tips if you are thinking about adding a crape myrtle to your landscape.
Crape myrtles, Lagerstroemia indica, have many landscape uses: planted together, they make a great hedge or screen for your yard, while a single plant can create a distinctive focal point in a garden bed. Crape myrtles also make wonderful foundation plants around your house.
Summer is a great time to buy crape myrtles because it is easy to see bloom color. However, pay careful attention to the tag on the plant to make sure it is the right size for your garden. These plants range from less than 3 feet tall to cultivars that may reach 30 feet!
Choose the right size plant for your needs, avoiding buildings and power lines if you plant larger types. Medium selections from 12 to 14 feet are perfect for a small courtyard, and dwarf selections look lovely in containers or perennial beds. When you plant, remember that crape myrtles love sun and will not bloom without plentiful sunshine.
For planting, early spring through September are optimum times, because these plants love heat. In our hot summer soils, they will respond by growing vigorous roots. However, as the soil cools in the fall, root development dramatically slows. If you plant crape myrtles after early October, they may dehydrate and die during the winter. When planting, water your crape myrtle well before you place it in the ground, and keep it watered during hot periods. Mulch to conserve moisture and reduce weeds, and apply a general fertilizer; make sure you follow the recommended directions for use that are marked on the container.
If you already have established crape myrtles in your landscape, you may be wondering about how to prune them. Some gardeners don’t prune them at all, but many do prune after the plants have bloomed. After crape myrtles bloom, they set seed and the small round seed pods may look unsightly or weigh the limbs down. You certainly can trim these pods just below the clusters using sharp clippers. You may even get new shoots of growth and a second bloom before frost after pruning! You may also want to remove the shoots from the base of the plant, especially if you want a tree-like appearance.
Crape myrtle seed pods may be pruned to improve appearance, byt they may also be left on the plant.
Powdery mildew is the main disease concern of crape myrtles, but there are many disease-resistant cultivars available, thanks to the efforts of the National Arboretum breeding program and the research of Dr. Carl Whitcomb. Dr Whitcomb has also created hybrids with new and enhanced colors, drought tolerance and cold hardiness, including the ever-popular, bright red Dynamite. If you do develop powdery mildew on your plants, you can spray the foliage with a fungicide like Fertilome for this purpose. There are several fungicides available at your local garden center.
The Dynamite crape myrtle, developed by Dr Carl Whitcomb, is one of the most popular because of its deep red color and disease resistance.
Crape myrtles are lovely in our gardens and they are relatively low maintenance and disease-resistant. For that deep red beauty in summer, try Dynamite or Red Rocket, and for a burgundy red, try Siren Red! All these varieties are medium-sized cultivars that grow from 10 to 15 feet. For beautiful pinks, try Rhapsody in Pink or Pink Velour, also medium sized plants. There are many, many other varieties and colors available, so plan to add one of these lovelies to your garden this year! You will be so glad you did!
The Pink Velour variety sports brilliant pink blooms that develop all summer.
by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
Have you had trouble keeping your plants alive throughout the summer growing season? Gardening in Oklahoma can be challenging in the summer months, for sure; bugs, heat, low rain, etc. all are factors that can severely affect your plants. Here are ten low maintenance plants you cannot kill! All of them are suited to our frost zone 7. Although the season is winding down now, plan ahead for next year!
Marigolds are one of the hardiest flowers that you can plant in your garden, which is why they are seen at nearly every home in the country. In fact, they are well known by gardeners to be a drought tolerant plant that can handle a lot of heat. Marigolds are annual flowers, so when the first frost hits, their growing period ends.
If you are looking for a plant to brighten your garden, the daylily is a great option that comes in a plethora of colors. These blooms will only last for a day, but they will continue to appear throughout the summer in our zone. These plants grow best in full sun, and they are able to tolerate drought conditions, which means that even if you forget to water these plants, they will continue to do well.
One of the most low-maintenance plants that you can consider for your garden is cosmos. These hardy plants are so easy to grow that they can seed themselves and grow with very little care in the warmer areas of the country. They do best in full sun, but they will also grow in partial shade, which means they can be planted anywhere in your garden.
Cosmos are hardy plants that reseed themselves and require very little care.
Begonias are colorful flowers that grow well in Oklahoma, but remember they are sensitive to frost, so will not last past our first cold snap. This is a plant that loves the shade, so if you do not have a sunny garden, this plant will thrive here. It can also tolerate drought conditions and a lot of sun, so regardless of where you plant it, the begonias will grow. This is a great option for a garden that does not get a lot of sun.
Hostas are very adaptable plants that grow in shade to part shade, and this is a plant that does not mind cooler temperatures. When the weather is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, this plant will go dormant through the winter and reappear again in the spring. They tend to do well in partial sun, especially the golden varieties with foliage that turns yellow in direct sunlight.
Goldenrod is a plant that is mostly known in its wildflower form, but it will also make a great addition to any garden because it will basically grow on its own. Their tiny yellow blooms add brightness to your garden, and they will attract butterflies and bees as well. These plants can handle full or partial sun, and they are drought-tolerant, deer-resistant plants that can easily grow to be eight feet in height.
The tiny yellow blooms of goldenrod add brightness to your garden, and they will attract butterflies and bees as well.
Are you looking for a bright pink, purple, or crimson flower to attract butterflies, bees, and birds to your garden? The coneflower grows up to five feet in height, which is perfect for adding depth to your garden. These plants grow well in Oklahoma; they prefer full sun, but they can grow in shady conditions as well. Their blooming period begins in early summer and continues until or through the first frost of the year.
If you are looking for a lot of ground cover in your garden, yarrow is a plant that spreads quite rapidly. Growing up to four feet tall, yarrow can handle a lot of heat, and it is also drought-resistant, so if you forget to water it, it will still survive. Yarrow comes in yellow, white, pink, and red blooms, and will continue throughout the entire summer, especially if you deadhead the plant.
Zinnias are very adaptable plants that can grow to be up to three feet in height. They prefer full sun, though they will grow in the shade as well. These are drought tolerant plants that will attract butterflies to your garden. The blooms from this plant last all summer, and they can be red, pink, orange, purple, yellow, and white in color.
Zinnias are very adaptable plants that can grow to be up to three feet in height and come in a huge variety of colors!
Finally, if you have a garden full of poor soil, then coreopsis is a great plant to consider. It can thrive in dry, hot, and humid conditions without a lot of care from you. This plant is often seen as a wildflower, but they can add some lovely orange, yellow, and red blooms to your garden environment. They will also attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators to your garden.
There are several other plants that will thrive in Oklahoma during the summer, all available at local nurseries. Try some of these beauties for colorful plants that will last all summer!
by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
Are your hibiscus blooming? They are beginning to show their glorious color in our neighborhoods? Everyone loves the large, flamboyant blooms of the hibiscus plant, which add bright color to any yard. There are two types of hibiscus that we enjoy in Oklahoma: tropical hibiscus and hardy hibiscus, and both grow well in Oklahoma as shrubs or potted plants in a sunny spot in your garden.
Often referred to as rose mallow, the hardy hibiscus is unlike any other flower in the garden, offering blooms that are both delicate and huge. Flowers range from 3 - 4 inches across to a gigantic 12 inches in diameter. Hardy hibiscus plants are grown as woody shrubs and can grow up to five feet tall and three feet wide. They are hardy down to -30 degrees F, and prefer full sun and fertile, well-drained soil. The foliage of the plant is very attractive, with heart-shaped leaves. Most hibiscus shrubs tend to leaf out late in the spring, and they will hold their green colored leaves late into the fall.
Hardy hibiscus come in a variety of colors, varying from red, white, lavender, purple, pink, and magenta. They leaf out very late in spring, so don't think they're dead and chop them down. Be patient, and in a few weeks you'll have attractive foliage (often finely cut, and sometimes copper colored) and soon a summer full of spectacular blooms. They begin blooming in mid-summer and will often continue to produce flowers until fall. Many hardy hibiscus blooms grow to the size of dinner plates! They definitely add stunning drama and color to any landscape.
Hardy hibiscus blooms comes in many stunning colors.
There are several plants that are beautiful companions to hardy hibiscus in your garden. Tickseed, or coreopsis, are slightly smaller than hibiscus and bloom in yellow shades which are very complimentary. Try a mixture of other easy-to-grow companion plants, such as Shasta daisies, daylilies, delphinium, allium, poppies, peonies and bearded iris. They all grow well in the same soil conditions, light and water requirements as the hardy hibiscus. For a great example of the combination of hibiscus and Shasta daisies, visit the Cleveland County Master Gardeners Demonstration Gardens, located west of the gravel parking lot at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds. These beauties are in Bed 2, Easy Perennials.
The hardy hibiscus bloom is stunning when planted with Shasta daisies, and blooms can reach the size of dinner plates.
Tropical hibiscus should be grown in a container or planter in our area, as they will not survive our cold winters. They will winter over in your garage or house, so long as they are protected from freezing temperatures. Their foliage resembles the hydrangea, with long graceful leaves; they also come in a variety of colors, ranging from white, red, yellow, pink, and orange. They, too, prefer full sun, but can tolerate some shade, as long as they get at least 6 hours of sun a day.
Tropical hibiscus blooms are generally smaller than hardy hibiscus, and often come with double petals like “Apricot Brandy” pictured here.
Maintenance of hibiscus is not complicated. Pruning plants is a common way to keep your plants compact, but it isn’t necessary. Do not fertilize your hardy hibiscus after June, as flower production may suffer from the excess nitrogen in the fertilizer; however, tropical hibiscus should be fertilized frequently, since their pots do not retain nutrients. For hardy hibiscus, winter mulching is not necessary, and they are not usually bothered by pests. However, tropical hibiscus are susceptible to a variety of insect pests including aphids, scale, mealybugs, thrips and mites, but most plants are resilient enough to withstand pests and continue to thrive and grow. Also, there are many products such as insecticidal soap available in your local garden center to treat these pests.
Hibiscus plants are a magnet for hummingbirds and butterflies, and provide a vital source of nectar for these creatures. Bees also love the hibiscus, and attracting bees to your yard will help to pollinate your other plants. Add hibiscus to your yard this year for a colorful and beneficial addition to your garden.
by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
Have you noticed hummingbirds have arrived back in our landscapes recently? Hummingbirds are fascinating creatures, delightful to watch and always welcome visitors in our yards. If you don’t have hummingbirds, there are many things you can do to make your garden a haven for hummers.
Three species of hummingbirds are regularly found in Oklahoma; two species, the Ruby-throated and the Black-chinned, nest in our state and are here during the summer months. The third species, the Rufous Hummingbird, does not nest in Oklahoma, but migrates through our state during the spring and fall.
Measuring 3-3/4 inches and weighing only 2.5 to 3.5 grams, the ruby-throated is Oklahoma’s smallest bird. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in character. Its flying agility is matched by no other in the animal kingdom and its chief competitor for food is not other birds, but nectar-loving insects.
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the most common hummer found in Oklahoma.
It is also interesting to note that the hummingbird’s metabolic rate (the rate at which it uses energy) is the highest of any warm-blooded vertebrate except the shrew. They must consume over half their weight in sugars each day to fuel this high metabolism. In fact, a hyper hummer’s wings beat 70 times a second while hovering and up to 200 times a second during the diving, erratic flights of courtship. So they do need to eat often!
Hummingbird feeders are a great way to entice these beautiful little flyers to your neighborhood; feeders are plentiful in local stores and nurseries, and they are generally inexpensive. You can hang them anywhere, on eaves of your roof, on a shepherd’s hook in your garden, or even from a tree. You don’t have to buy special nectar to fill them – just mix 1 part sugar to four parts water (one cup sugar to 4 cups water, for example) in a pan and bring to a boil to dissolve all the sugar. No red food coloring is necessary – simply cool the liquid, fill your feeder, hang it in the yard and enjoy the show.
You should place your feeders out in mid-April (think tax time!) and maintain them until late October (think Halloween!) Nearly all hummingbirds have migrated south by the first of October, but occasionally stragglers, especially young birds, may be seen throughout October and these birds benefit from the energy boost you provide by keeping hummingbird feeders.
Hummingbird feeders are inexpensive and provide a good source of energy for hummingbirds in your garden.
Invite hummingbirds into your yard by creating an environment of flowers that they love. If you have a small yard, you can still attract hummingbirds to it by using containers of their favorite flowers. A wonderful combination to put in a pot for your patio includes two colors of Superbells, calibrachoa, Grape Punch and Miss Lilac, and some sweet potato vine for foliage. Plant this combination in a 12-inch pot and place it in full sun. Another combination of plants includes Summer Snapdragon, angelonia, blue or purple variety, and Superbells, calibrachoa, Dreamsicle, a peach color. Add some purple petunias and some lime green coleus for foliage, and you have a gorgeous assortment of plants hummingbirds will not be able to resist. This combination of plants should be put in a 16-18 inch pot and placed in the sun.
Hummingbirds will stay around until at least late September and they need lots of nectar to survive, so help them out – plant their favorite flowers, put out some feeders and enjoy the display!
Bee balm is easy to grow in Oklahoma and a favorite flower of hummingbirds.
by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
It’s Memorial Day weekend, and a great time to think about decorating your landscape for weekend visitors. One way to brighten up your garden or patio as a salute to Memorial Day is to create a patriotic salute to those who fought for America. Why not show your patriotism with a festive red, white and blue container for your table or patio? Or better yet, plant a patriotic flower bed with red, white and blue flowers that will brighten up any landscape for Memorial Day!
Assembling a patriotic container is very easy and inexpensive as well; here are some step-by-step instructions for creating a lovely patriotic pot. First, find a large container with good drainage holes that is at least 18 inches wide. It doesn’t have to be a fancy pot – anything left over in your garden can be festive. If your pot is deep and you don’t want to spend a fortune in potting soil, fill the bottom third of your pot with crushed Styrofoam or empty plastic soda bottles (lids on). This will also help to keep the weight of the finished pot to a manageable level so it can be moved. Next, add a layer of potting soil, leaving room at the top for your plants.
Choosing red, white, and blue plants and adding an American flag to a container creates a stunning display for your patio or picnic table.
Choosing red, white and blue plants for your container is not difficult; there are many plants that will work just fine and create a lovely patriotic display. For red plants, try geraniums, petunias, annual salvia, verbena, pentas or celosia for sun, or begonias and impatiens for shade. White flowers are readily available as well, including petunias, zinnias, geraniums, phlox and cosmos for sun, and begonias and impatiens for shade. Finding blue flowers is a bit more challenging, but blue daze, ageratum and salvia, all sun-loving, come closest. One really true blue flower you might want to try is the balloon flower! You can also use deep purple petunias and verbena as well as lobelia (heat-loving variety) for a close-to-blue option. For a nice contrast, you can use green leafed plants like coleus and dusty miller for fillers and insert your red, white and blue flowers into the pot with them. Finally, decide how you want to arrange your plants, place them on top of the soil in the pot and fill in with more soil around the plants. Water your pot thoroughly after planting and place in a sunny or shady spot in your garden, or use your pot as a centerpiece for your picnic table.
Here's an easy way to create centerpieces - use water dyed blue and combine with red and white flowers and American flag - stunning!
There are many other possibilities to create a patriotic atmosphere. Choose vessels that are red and blue and plant them with only white flowers. Tie a red, white and blue ribbon around your pots to further emphasize the colors. Insert a flag in your pots for an added touch; small flags are readily available at local craft or dollar stores and they are usually inexpensive. In fact, if you have other pots arranged in your yard or patio, place small flags or colorful, patriotic pinwheels in the pots for a striking display. With this option, it doesn’t matter what colors of plants and flowers you have in your pots, as the flags or pinwheels give a patriotic flair. For all your containers, remember to check them for water; plants in pots dry out faster and will need frequent watering on hot days.
Use festive pinwheels to decorate any pot or vase!
If you want to create a striking landscape for our patriotic holidays, try planting a patriotic garden bed instead of a planter. You can plant your patriotic colored plants in rows or sections, depending on your preference. Try these combinations: 1) Red Sweet William, White Angelonia (summer snapdragon) and Blue Daze, all heat-tolerant and sun-loving; 2) Red Tropical Sage, White Vinca and Blue Trailing Lobelia is another good combination, although lobelia may be difficult to find this late in the season; 3) Choose Red Penta, White Lantana and Blue Sage for another striking grouping in a garden bed. Patriotic garden beds can be a stunning addition to any home!
Show your American pride by creating a patriotic container or garden bed to place in a conspicuous spot in your landscape. You’ll be delighted with the results!
by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
Hellebores are some of the first flowers to pop-up in spring. Not only is this perennial easy to grow but they come in a surprising array of new colors!
There’s a lot happening in the world of hellebores. Recent breeding has introduced new colors, never-before-seen shapes and even longer bloom times for these nearly perfect perennials. Perhaps all this renewed interest in hellebores is because they’re so easy to grow. Perhaps it’s because they bloom way before anything else — allowing you fresh-picked bouquets even in winter. Or perhaps it’s simply because gardeners find their jewel tones so gosh-darn hard to resist. “Their allure certainly arises from their precocious bloom time,” says C. Colston Burrell, author of Hellebores: A Comprehensive Guide. “Gardeners yearn for year-round bloom, and hellebores deliver a dose of spring in the winter months. The flowers are colorful and borne in profusion. They are also long-lasting. Because the showy parts of the flowers are sepals, not petals, they do not fade and shrivel like petals would. The color may persist for several months, carrying the bloom period well into spring.”
Hellebores is often called the rose of winter. The most commonly grown type of hellebore is the diverse group of part shade-loving hybrids known as the Lenten or winter rose. Breeding has produced a wide range of intriguing hellebores. The flowers tend to nod downward (to protect the pollen) and are up to 3 inches across, typically in shades of white, rose, green or purple. Newer hellebore hybrids now have spotted flowers and pointed petals; others are double-flowered or bicolors or even streaked. New leaves emerge at bloom time, and plants grow into an excellent glossy evergreen ground cover.
'Mother of the Bride' hellebore (Helleborus x hybridus) is a perennial with a double apricot flowers with a light pink picotee edge. It needs part to full shade, and grows 18 to 24 in tall and wide. It is cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9.
In the landscape Hellebores provide contrast in almost any companion planting. That’s because they set the stage for later-blooming tulips and daffodils, but the hellebore’s sturdy foliage remains to camouflage the dying foliage of the spring-blooming bulbs. Try planting hellebores on a slope, hillside, or in a raised bed where their blossoms are better appreciated. “Since hellebores generally nod,” Colston explains, “planting them on a slope allows you to see the inside of the flowers, which are more alluring in color and pattern than the backs of the flowers. The reason the flowers nod is to protect the reproductive structures — stamens and pistils — from frost damage.” Throughout most of North America, hellebores wait until the worst of winter is over to begin blooming around February and March, when the snow has melted or is just beginning to melt. All the more reason you should want to have plenty of hellebores on hand to properly herald spring’s long-awaited arrival.
Garden Gate offers some tips for growing hellebores: If you want to divide your hellebores or need to transplant, do so in the fall. Dig up the whole plant, wash off the soil, then divide with a sharp knife between growth buds. Leave at least three of these dormant little shoots on each of the divisions. Hellebores frequently seed in large numbers around a parent plant, which can be dug up and transplanted. However, these hybrids will not be the same as the parent in color and form.
'Golden Sunrise' hellebore (Helleborus x hybridus) is a perennial with single pale-to deep golden-yellow flowers with contrasting red starburst centers. It needs part to full shade, and grows 18 to 22 in tall, 20 to 24 in wide. It is cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8.
Hellebores appreciate plenty of sunlight during the winter when they are beginning their growing season, so site your plants in dappled shade or beneath trees that drop their leaves in autumn. Also, be careful not to plant hellebores too deeply. This can hinder flower production, so make sure the crown of the plant is just below the soil surface.
All parts of the hellebore plant are toxic. That means deer and rabbit typically do not bother them. People who are sensitive to the alkaloids in the leaves should wear garden gloves to avoid developing a mild skin irritation after handling.
Find a new hellebore for your garden. American breeders started bringing home garden-worthy hellebores in the 1980s. Today’s spectacular hybrids in shades of purple-black, plum, burgundy, lime-green, shell-pink and white are the result of hybridization of multiple species. Most of the best hybrids available in North America today are seed strains, some developed by making controlled crosses each season, while others come more or less from open-pollinated plants. Check out the gallery below to meet some of the more recent introductions from breeders here in the United States.
'Confetti Cake' hellebore (Helleborus x hybridus) is a perennial that blooms with double white flowers with burgundy speckling concentrated toward the centers. It needs part to full shade and grows 18 to 24 in tall and wide. It is cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9.
I hope you will try this beautiful variety of plants in your landscape. They will reward you in early spring with gorgeous blooms that will stay around for several months.
by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
Spring is here and your local garden center has new perennial plants for you! Choosing plants from rows and rows of the same type of perennial can be daunting, especially when you want to pick the very best one to take home. Which plant do you pick when some have buds, some are blooming, and others only have foliage? Here are some selection tips to make your shopping trip easier.
First, do you choose plants in full bloom? Not really, since they have already bloomed and the blooms may not last much longer. Pick instead the plant that has buds or the beginnings of flower spikes as your best option. A plant like this is best, because you can see just enough of the flower to be sure you are getting the cultivar and the bloom color you want. Remember that plants do get rearranged by customers, so the sign in front of plants may not necessarily reflect what is there! Tags in pots also get moved around, so seeing the beginnings of the bloom will tell you what you are buying.
Next, size definitely does matter. Most often, the largest plant is your best option unless it is leggy. Also, look at the root system to ensure the plant isn’t root bound; a root bound plant (one with a dense mass of roots) can recover, but it will take time. A medium sized plant could root faster with healthier looking foliage after being transplanted, but it might not grow much more this year. Never buy the smallest one if it is the same price as the others, as you will overpay.
Here's an example of a plant that has been root bound in a pot. Avoid these when purchasing perennials unless you are getting a deep discount.
There are some perennials that you should always buy bigger because they are slow-growing; plants like false indigo, Russian sage and peonies fall into this category. Buying the largest plant you can find of these varieties means you will get a bigger impact sooner. With peonies in particular, look into the crown for the plant with most eyes or stems; since peonies are so slow to take off, the more stems, the better. Finally, if you are simply looking for a great deal, choose a plant that is spilling out of its pot, because it can easily be divided into several plants for the price of one.
When purchasing perennials like these peonies, buy larger plants with more stems.
If you see plants that are deeply discounted because of damage, or you see a plant you think you might be able to revive, those can be difficult to pass up. However, carefully examine the plant first before you decide to spend your money. It will not hurt a plant to look at its roots; simply straddle stems with your fingers and gently tip the top.
Here are some things to look for if you are considering buying a damaged or deeply discounted plant. Avoid a plant that has been newly transplanted, with roots that don’t fill the pot. Although it is okay to buy if you get a really good discount, remember that it will be a long time before it takes off in your garden. Second, look for pest damage – lacelike holes in discolored foliage – most likely caused by Japanese beetles. These insects can mark plants for others to find later, so skip insect-damaged plants. If you see shriveled brown or pale leaves, the plant has not gotten enough water or protection from strong sun. If foliage looks really stressed, this plant will rarely bounce back, so leave this one on the shelf. Finally, avoid plants with dead crowns or roots that are easy to pick off; these are signs of overwatering. Since rotted roots never recover, do not buy overwatered plants.
Plants for sale which demonstrate insect damage like this one should not be purchased, even at a discount.
If you follow the tips when you choose your perennials, you should bring home plants that will flourish in your garden. And to see many examples of all kinds of plants, visit the Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds, southwest corner adjacent to the gravel parking lot.
by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
Mother Nature is all over the map with our weather this year! However, there is a solution for any type of weather we encounter – container gardening! Containers are great for flowers or vegetables; they are versatile, colorful, and have great utility, and best of all, they can be moved inside or under cover if we expect bad weather. In short, they are a perfect all-weather solution!
Containers are ideal for any environment; they can adorn patios, porches, sidewalks, decks, and balconies. They are portable and can be moved to follow the sun or shade, depending on the plant requirements. Containers can avoid soil, insect and fertilization problems, and they can add a spot of color to any area where you want a lift, or provide delicious herbs or vegetables for your recipes. They are ideal if you love plants and gardening.
There are many types of containers available – clay, plastic, metal, ceramic, wood, fiberglass – all are good choices; just adjust watering and fertilizer to suit what type you use. You can use anything you have available…an old wheelbarrow, or even a pair of cowboy boots! Make sure there are drain holes in the bottom, because good drainage is essential. You can put a coffee filter over the drain holes to prevent the soil from spilling. Size is important because you need to make sure there is enough room for the types of plants you use – at least 16 inches in diameter is ideal. Additionally, you should allow at least 6 – 8 inches of depth, again depending on the plant size.
You can use all sorts of items as planters, even a pair of cowboy boots!
Soil is important, and any good lightweight soil mix designed for potting is preferable – just look for the words “potting soil” on the label. Do not use soil from the garden or yard, as it is too heavy to work in containers. Fill your container with damp soil mix to within 1 to 2 inches from the top; soil should be moist, but not dripping wet. You can plant seeds or transplants from your local garden center, and most any plant, flower or vegetable, can grow in a container. Be sure to loosen the roots a bit to stimulate them to grow into the soil.
Arranging plants in your containers depends on whether you are creating a flower arrangement or growing vegetables. A general rule of thumb for flowers is to use “thrillers, fillers and spillers”. Start with something tall or spiky, like grass or tall flower - this is your thriller - and place it in the center of the container, or towards the back. Next, add mass with a plant that has a round, full shape – this is your filler. Finally, soften the edges with a trailing or cascading plant that will spill over the edge of your container – this is your spiller. Choose a combination of complementing colors or textures, and choose plants that you like! This combination will provide you with an attractive and interesting container.
Here is a container with the cordyline as thriller, orange impatiens and coleus as fillers, and super bells as spillers, all which make a lovely decoration on your patio.
It is perfectly acceptable to grow your vegetables in pots, too, and sometimes, this is a better solution, especially if you don’t have much room in your yard. A container with vegetables like tomatoes, peppers or squash that is placed in a sunny spot on your patio or deck can produce a wonderful crop of tasty vegetables if you give them water and fertilizer. Make sure you have enough depth and width in your container to handle your chosen vegetables, and be sure to feed often.
You will also need to water your containers more often than your garden beds, usually every two or three days, and more often when it is very hot. Fertilize your containers frequently, usually every two or three weeks, as containers need more nutrients since there is limited soil and increased watering. Use either water-soluble or slow release fertilizer – both are good – or combine the two types.
Combine several pots in one area for a very attractive display, or group your plants by color or size. If bad weather is expected, you can easily move your containers to a more sheltered area to protect them from the elements. Containers are indeed the perfect all-weather solution!
This container is also a mix of veggies and flowers, for an attractive display that is also tasty!
by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
Lavender (Lavendula spp.) is a well-known and fragrant perennial plant with gray-green foliage, upright flower spikes, and a compact shrub form. It's native to Europe and can be planted in the spring after the risk of frost has passed and the soil has warmed up. It will grow at a moderate pace, often adding a few inches to its size each year.
In the garden, lavender makes an excellent companion plant for almost anything from roses to cabbage. It is one of those aromatic, gray herbs that deer avoid, making it a great choice as a decoy in your beds. Lavender can be toxic to pets like dogs and cats.
Lavender makes an excellent companion plant for almost anything, and it is one of those aromatic, gray herbs that deer avoid.
As with most plants, your success in growing lavender will depend both on what kind of growing conditions you provide and which varieties you select to grow. Lavender plants will tolerate many growing conditions, but they thrive best in warm, well-draining soil and full sun.
Most lavenders are labeled hardy in USDA zones 5a through 9a, but this is not a plant that is dependable enough to use as a hedge. Realistically, you can expect plants to do well when the weather cooperates, but be prepared to experience the occasional loss of a plant or two after a severe winter or a wet, humid summer.
Even if you do everything right and your lavender plants appear happy, the genus is generally not long-lived and most lavender plants begin to decline in 10 years or less. Keep starting new plants to ensure you have a bountiful harvest for years to come. Lavender plants are fairly trouble-free, but leaf spots and root rot can occur if the soil is too wet. Additionally, many plants will perish if their soil gets too wet over the winter months.
Lavender plants thrive in full sunlight, which is the best way to guarantee a lot of buds and big, full bushes. They don't tolerate much (if any) shade, so don't plant them in a spot where they'll be overshadowed by trees or other large plants.
Lean soil will encourage a higher concentration of oils (and good smells), so go easy on the organic matter and fertilizer. Lavender plants prefer well-drained soil that is on the drier side, so if you're using a traditional potting mix, be sure to add in some sand for drainage. An alkaline or especially chalky soil will enhance your lavender's fragrance, while any pH below about 6.5 will likely cause lavender plants to be very short-lived.
Lavender is a resilient plant that is extremely drought-tolerant once established. When first starting your lavender plants, keep them regularly watered during their first growing season. After that, they can handle extended periods of drought—in fact, too much water can lead to fungal disease and root rot.
Lavender can withstand a range of temperatures, and it's usually dampness more than the cold that's responsible for killing lavender plants. Dampness can come in the form of wet roots during the winter months or high humidity in the summer. If humidity is a problem, make sure you have plenty of space between your plants for airflow, and always plant your bushes in a sunny location. Protect lavender plants from harsh winter winds by planting them next to a stone or brick wall to provide additional heat and protection. If you live in an area where the ground routinely freezes and thaws throughout the winter, your lavender plants will benefit from a layer of mulch applied after the ground initially freezes to protect the roots.
It's a good idea to add a handful of compost into the hole when you are first starting lavender plants. Beyond that, feeding is not needed with these plants and can detract from the overall potency of your lavender.
Although lavender plants get regularly pruned simply by harvesting the flowers, a bit of spring pruning is recommended to keep your plant well-shaped and to encourage new growth. Taller lavender varieties can be cut back by approximately one-third of their height, while lower growing varieties can either be pruned back by a couple of inches or cut down to new growth.
If your lavender suffers winter die-back, don't prune your plants until you see new green growth at the base of the plant. If you disturb the plants too soon in the season, they're unlikely to develop new growth.
A major reason lavender is so prized is that its flowers keep their fragrance once dried. For best drying results, harvest the flowers as the buds first begin to open. Hang them in small bunches upside-down in a warm spot with good air circulation until dried. Besides being beautiful and aromatic, lavender flowers are also edible. They can be used raw in salads, added to soups and stews, used as a seasoning, baked into cookies, and brewed into tea. Use sparingly; a little lavender flavor goes a long way.
For best drying results, harvest the flowers as the buds first begin to open. Hang them in small bunches upside-down in a warm spot with good air circulation until dried.
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