This is the season for planting any of your favorite flowers. I have certain ones that I always plant because they are easy to grow and put on a long flower show, but I also enjoy trying new things to keep my garden ever-changing.
A must for my border are lots of coneflowers, especially the selection Goldsturm. They start blooming in mid-June and often have flowers until September. Several years ago, I decided to try out the variety of different colors of coneflowers. The Cheyenne series of these flowers has a vast array of warm hues and does well in our climate. Of course, the common purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) thrives in Alabama, and it now adds even more color with its many variations of pink and purple. Make sure the plants are placed in a fertile, well-drained location with full sun. I have to water mine throughout the dry periods. After the first flush of flowers, I always cut the stems back to allow for a second set of flowers that are generally smaller than the first blooms.
I think every garden needs some blue and gray hues to help multi-colors blend together. Mexican sage, which is a salvia, has always been a favorite in my garden. I love its silvery under foliage and early fall, deep purplish flowers. In the past few years, however, I have branched out with some new salvia types and have been so pleased with the results. Perennial Victoria Blue Salvia, Black and Blue Salvia, and the annual just called Blue Salvia have all given me the blue hues that I consider essential for my flower border. They are easy to grow in well-drained soil with full sun.
One thing I have found more difficult is finding gray foliage plants that grow tall enough to help with the color blending of the taller flowers in my garden. Silver Mound Artemisia and Russian Sage are beautiful, but I have had a tough time growing both of these. Instead, I have had better results with the common dusty miller, as well as with some of the upright types of rosemary, which is actually a shrub. And when I need to add some low-growing gray foliage plants, I like to use the perennial lamb’s ear.
Many years ago, I discovered perennial garden pinks, also known by the genus name of Dianthus. They thrive in well-drained, sunny locations and, once established, can survive some dry periods. Bath’s Pink is the runaway favorite in this area, but there are many silver foliage types with different flower colors that work well in our gardens. I have found that the ones with the smaller flowers do better in my garden.
I also like to plant shrubs this time of year. The main problem in selecting a woody plant is not realizing how big the plant will grow. Be aware that the horticultural term ‘dwarf’ on the label means smaller than the parent. A good example is dwarf yaupons, which can easily be five or more feet tall and wide in our area. Just take a look at the ones in the Japanese Garden at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. They are severely sheared back every few years to control their size, and yet they still are big. The best thing to do when shopping for shrubs is to Google the mature size of the plant you are interested in to ensure it will not outgrow your space. If it is too large, see if the same plant has a smaller sister or look for another plant you like that works for your space.
No matter what plants you choose for your garden, always read up on the sun or shade requirements. For example, if the label says part shade, that means high, bright filtered shade all day or morning sun and shade to some degree in the afternoon. I always offer a little more shade than suggested just to be safe. By following the recommendations provided, you are sure to enjoy a garden full of color in the months ahead.
Floyd’s To-Do List: May/June
Plant your okra seeds now that the soil has warmed up. I put my seeds in a bowl, pour hot water over them, and wait at least an hour before planting. Plant according to label directions, but do not let the soil get completely dry while the seeds are germinating. Clemson Spineless is the standard, but the long green pod types and the red fruit types do not get as tough as quickly as Clemson Spineless. I prefer these in my own garden. Remember that okra loves hot sun and does well in our summer conditions.
Lawn Fertilizer Late May or early June is the ideal time to put down a second application of fertilizer on warm-season grasses. This application, with its high level of nitrogen, makes the lawn an asset to your landscape if watered-in correctly and when needed. There are some new types that alleviate the worry of burning the turf. The bag does not have to say turf fertilizer, but if you have concerns, buy a name brand that says turf fertilizer for your type of grass. Just remember that nitrogen is the first number on the bag, so be sure that it is the highest number of the ingredients listed. And always follow the label directions closely.
The best time to cut flowers in your garden is early in the day. Place the cut flowers in a container of tepid water up to the neck of the bloom if possible and wait a few hours before arranging them. Re-cut the stems when arranging to maximize the flower’s vase life.
Prune Hydrangeas Once the florist or mop-head type hydrangeas have put out their foliage, there are always dead branches and tips that were killed by the cold in winter. Now is the time to remove the dead wood, being careful not to cut back any green growing stems. These stems are forming buds for the beautiful flowers we enjoy all summer.
Roses Knockout roses are giving way to many of the all-season blooming shrub roses. While many types grow well in our area and produce beautiful blooms, the foliage can often be rather ugly. Help prevent foliage problems with an application of an all-in-one rose care. These products handle the control of insects and diseases while also providing an application of fertilizer. I only prune my roses to shape them or to cut for flowers.
All About Indoor Displays
Don’t miss the “Lunch & Learn” session with Deborah Stone at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens on May 29. Deborah will be sharing tips on how to grow and arrange blooms for indoor displays.
The session is from 11:30am-12:30pm and is free to the public. Bring your own lunch; drinks and desserts will be provided. Visit bbgardens.org for more information on this session and other “Lunch & Learn” programs.
John Floyd has been gardening in the Birmingham area for more than 30 years. In addition to his day-to-day experience, John has degrees in horticulture from Auburn and Clemson Universities and was editor-in-chief of Southern Living. For daily tips and more garden
information, visit birminghamgardeningtoday.com.