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Sunny New Annuals for 2024

The sunlit yellow Supertunia® Saffron Finch (forground) is a bright new offering from Proven Winners. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Many fine, new, sun-loving annuals will be available at garden centers or seed catalogs in 2024 (Article: Growing Homegrown Plants from Seed). My top picks have been selected for their bold color, good looks, and easy care. All are sure to bring bright season-long color to your summer garden.

Agastache

The new Agastache Guava Lava produces wands of guava-pink flowers all summer long. (Photo courtesy of Walters Gardens, Inc.)

Agastaches are some of the best flowers for the sun because they bloom nonstop and tolerate heat and moderate drought. The guava-pink spikes of Agastache Guava Lava, newly introduced by Darwin Perennials and Walters Gardens, Inc., will provide continuous color to sunny summer gardens. In some areas of the country, the plant may survive as a short-lived perennial, but in cooler areas, the high-performer will bloom for only one season.

Calibrachoa and Petunias

Superbells® Double Redstone™ has dark orange-red blooms edged in gold. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Proven Winners is offering some outstanding new petunias and calibrachoas sure to provide a cascade of summer color to containers and border edges. The intense yellow flowers of Supertunia® Saffron Finch bloom nonstop on compact, rounded plants and will fit almost anywhere in the garden. The petunia is a charming companion to the equally warm-colored Superbells® Double Redstone with its dark orange-red blooms edged in gold. The mounding calibrachoa appreciates slightly moist soil, while the petunia demands more water, so plant them in complementary side-by-side containers if you choose to pair them in pots.

For electric garden color, try the impressive Crazytunia Mayan Sunset. The hot pink and golden orange flowers are prolific and will sizzle in the summer garden. For a big burst of color, plant them along the edge of a large container on your porch or patio. (Article: Keep Petunias and Calibrachoa Shining All Season)

All of the above petunias are offered as plants. For those interested in growing gorgeous petunias from seed, try the frilly Superbissima Wine Red, offered by Park Seed at the cost of $5.95 for 10 seeds. The wine-red flowers have centers veined with dark purple, and the plants are praised as being robust and ever-blooming. To make planting easier, Park’s has pelleted the small seeds! (Article: Seed Starting on a Budget).

Coleus

The award-winning ‘Coral Candy’ coleus is both seed-grown and bred to thrive in full sun. (Image thanks to AAS Winners)

Most coleus are shade annuals, but more and more varieties, such as ‘Coral Candy’ premium Sun Coleus, have been bred to grow beautifully in the full sun. The 2023 All-America Selections winner has mottled coral-orange leaves with hints of purple and green edges–beautiful! And, because the variety is seed-grown you get more for your money. Fifteen seeds cost $7.95.

Annual Blanket Flower

The pure yellow blooms of Gaillardia ‘Golden Beauty’ are fully round and produced profusely on long, airy stems ideal for cutting. Pollinators cannot get enough of the long-blooming, drought-tolerant annuals. Burpee Seeds offers these drought-tolerant beauties for just $5.95 for 50 seeds! Plant them in a cutting, pollinator, or showy flower garden.

Sunflowers

The 2-2.5′ ‘Desire Red’ Sunflower from Burpee’s has a dark center and truly red petals. (Image thanks to Burpee Seeds)

I adore sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), and several new varieties are available. Johnny’s Selected Seeds offers the 6-7′ foot tall ‘Desert Sun’ a luminous bloomer with 5-7” dark red, gold-edged flowers. The pollenless blooms don’t shed when cut and have long, strong stems. Not to be outdone, Burpee’s dwarf ‘Desire Red’ is a fully red, dark-centered sunflower, with plants reaching only 2-2.5 feet tall.

Sunflowers are a desirable choice for large flower borders, cutting gardens, and the margins of vegetable patches. They thrive in the full, hot sun, attract most pollinators (Article: Sunflowers for Bees), and are easy annuals to grow from seed. Blooming starts ~50-75 days after planting from seed, depending on the variety. After spring frosts, sow seeds outdoors in well-drained soil amended with Black Gold Garden Soil to a depth of 1-2″ or indoors on a sunny windowsill in pots of Black Gold Seedling Mix. Their blooms are long-lasting in a vase, and the seeds feed goldfinches, if you allow the heads to ripen in the warm summer sun.

Growing Sunny Annuals

All of these annuals need full sun and appreciate warm weather and average to fertile soil with good drainage. Amending the soil with Black Gold Garden Soil or Black Gold Garden Compost Blend will help facilitate deep root growth and vigor of most garden-grown annuals. Those planted in containers will thrive in bountiful pots filled with Black Gold All Purpose Planting Mix. Follow all planting and care instructions for the best results.

Fragrant Garden Plants

 

Tall garden phlox are reliably fragrant summer perennials.

For the past couple of years, cold stormy springs blitzed our lilacs, of which we have many.  That heady fragrance was sorely missed around the Keith household. We were spoiled for fragrance.  But we were able to hang on until our other flowers and shrubs bloomed and took up the slack. We did lose some lilacs during that period, but we have had other, more catastrophic losses (dairy cows in the Jerusalem artichokes, for instance or the family dogs making off with the guest of honor on Thanksgiving morning, but leaving the turnips).

When the first spring flowers appear in March, the soil is often too wet and cold to be planted, so like all good things we have to wait. But we can stock up on the wonderful new varieties offered by local and national nurseries.

Bearing the title of this piece in mind, what to buy for a fragrance garden?  See some suggestions below.

Fragrant Shrubs

‘Beauty of Moscow’ is a double-flowered lilac with pale pink and white flowers.
  • In general, lilacs (Syringa species and hybrids, USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8) can reach heights of 10-12 feet. Three especially fragrant varieties are ‘Beauty of Moscow’, ‘Bloomerang Purple’, and ‘Josee’. They are easy to grow so long as there is plenty of sun and the soil is alkaline and well-drained. The double-flowered ‘Beauty of Moscow’ has white blooms rising from pale pink buds. ‘Bloomerang’ lilacs (Zones 3-7) offer a richly fragrant purple lilac that blooms in spring and again in late summer or fall. The compact ‘Josee’ is a pink-flowered lilac that only reaches 4-6 feet.
  • Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii) is a compact shrub up to 6 feet in height. Flowers have an incredibly spicy aroma plus showy pink clusters of flower buds that develop into whiter flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. The fruits are black berries and in fall, the leaves turn scarlet. Some sources consider them invasive, but most do not. Prune one time to remove dead branches or restrict growth, then leave it alone.
The flowers of Korean spice viburnum are some of the most sweetly scented of spring.
  • Roses (Rosa hybrids) epitomize garden fragrance, but there are so many varieties put out by so many growers, a list of the available cultivars would fill a small book. We have been purchasing roses from the David C. Austin Co. since we discovered them. Austin (now deceased) was a British rose breeder and writer. The company offers trademark English roses, and shrub and climbing roses for the garden. ’Rosa Boscobel’ is an English shrub rose of medium height with a heady, complex scent. It produces large, salmon-pink flowers throughout the growing season (Zones 5-9). ‘Rosa Munstead Wood’ is a crimson shrub rose with a rich, fruity aroma. It blooms for most of the growing season (Zones 5-9). They come in light purple, deep purple, and pink.  They are also disease-resistant. Prune this group right after they finish blooming.  Check local nurseries, or go to Proven Winners online.
David Austin roses are bred to flower beautifully and resist diseases.

Annual and Perennial Garden Flowers

Lavender is one of the best garden flowers for fragrance.
  • Lavender (Zones 5-10) These Old World natives are a natural addition to any fragrance garden. A summer bloomer (pink, blue, purple and white) that likes full sun and they are not too fussy about soil. Pollinators love them. (1-3 feet high)
  • Carnations (Dianthus hybrids, Zones 5-9) these well-known perennial flowers will add a welcome spice fragrance to your garden. They bloom in late spring, so you may want to plant another, summer-blooming species as well.  Flowers come in shades of red, pink, and white. They prefer full sun but can tolerate partial shade.  They like alkaline soil, so amend your garden with Black Gold® Natural & Organic Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix. Carnations are said to be toxic to humans, dogs, and cats. (18 inches high).
  • Woodland tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris) is a re-seeding annual. Its moth-attracting flowers are white, long, tubular flowers, and most fragrant in the evening. The summer bloomer will self-seed if the flowers are allowed to go to seed. They like part to full sun and rich, well-drained soil. Bear in mind that this species is very toxic to humans and pets (3-5 feet high).
  • Garden phlox (Phlox paniculata, Zones 4-8) is a tall (2-4 feet), summer-blooming perennial that grows in neat clumps. The flowers come in shades of red, white, pink, and purple. The North American native grows in full to partial sunlight and needs good drainage and average moisture to thrive.
Woodland tobacco is a dramatic annual whose flowers emit enchanting night fragrance.

This is just a sample of the fragrant plants you might choose for your garden. You might also want to plant fragrant herbs as the border. Container plantings could also work well. Some tender species like lavender could be planted in containers and moved indoors when it gets cold.

Black Gold® offers the best in soil amendments and potting mixes for your garden, keep it in mind wherever and whenever you are planning all of your gardening projects.

How to Revive Midsummer Garden Flowers

How to Revive Midsummer Garden Flowers

The neverending summer heat, especially here in the Midwest, stresses garden flowers and potted plants as well as the people that care for them. Formerly vibrant containers of calibrachoa, petunias, marigolds, gaillardia, salvias, zinnias, and other annuals, can start to look pretty drab by August without intervention. Plenty of perennials will also pop back and either rebloom or form attractive foliage.  Some gardeners may think, “Who wants to go out in the nineties and work on plants past their prime?” Don’t make this mistake. If you give certain garden flowers a little reviving boost, they will look great until fall.

Start by Avoiding the Heat

Morning is the coolest time of the day to work in the garden.

Care for your flowers in comfort by avoiding midday temperatures. When you are at ease, so are your garden plants. Go outside from early to mid-morning when it is coolest. Drink a glass of icy water before going out, and keep another on hand outdoors. Decide how long you can stay in the hazy, humid jungle before feeling overheated. For me, this usually turns out to be for an hours from 8:00 to 9:00 AM, and no longer, since this is all I can tolerate at one time. On the hottest days, I also use an ice pack around my neck, which is a big help.  These are easy to find online and well worth the money.

Trimming Back and Deadheading Annuals Midseason

When petunias start to become leggy and flower less, cut stems back by one third to three quarters to encourage a new flush of flowers. (Images by Jessie Keith)

Trim Midseason – Most annuals can be brought back to their former glory with only a little bit of work. Whether in containers or the garden, many need to be cut back, especially calibrachoa and petunias. Cut leggy stems back by one third to three quarters, and they will pop right back. (Click here for a detailed overview of cutting back petunias and calibrachoa.)

The need to trim also holds true for marigolds, zinnias, verbena, salvias, and annual dianthus, as a general rule, only cut these back by one quarter to one third. They should bounce back quickly and look beautiful for the rest of the season. Follow up with selective deadheading as needed.

For taller garden annuals, such as cosmos and amaranths, cut them back by half, and in only one week or two, they start putting out new flower stems. The plants will look bushier and bloom once more.

Deadhead Regularly – For compact marigolds, tall zinnias, dahlias, annual salvias, and flowering geraniums, only remove the spent flowers. Remove larger dead flowers one by one and shear off lots of smaller spent blooms. You may lose a few buds in the shearing process, but you will gain loads more.

Pinch off coleus buds. If you let them flower, the attractive foliage will suffer, and the plants will lose their good looks.

Pinch Buds Regularly – There are foliage plants that also require regular deadheading to keep their leaves looking beautiful. Coleus is the most popular garden annual that suffers from flowering. When plants flower, they put energy towards blooms rather than pretty leaves, and the plants instantly start to lose their good looks. So, remove their flower buds on sight.

Trimming Back and Deadheading Perennials Midseason

When blanket flower goes to seed, it loses its beauty, but it will look beautiful again by simply removing the old flowers and giving it a light trim. (Images by Jessie Keith)

Perennials are a bit different. Quite a few will also rebloom, but some won’t, so it pays to know what will provide more flowers with trimming and deadheading and what won’t. With that said, even perennials that don’t rebloom will respond well to trimming by providing an attractive flush of new foliage, which helps keep gardens looking their best. Here are some reliable rebloomers.

Blanket flower (Gaillardia x grandiflora) has pretty, colorful daisy flowers that turn to round, tan seedheads after blooming. Keep these seedheads cutback. Another method is to wait until they are almost finished blooming and then shear the plant back by one third.

Catmint and perennial salvia (Nepeta hybrids and Salvia hybrids) send out long stems with violet-blue or purple flowers. Over time, those of many varieties tend to sprawl. (One exception is Cat’s Pajamas, which has tidy, upright stems of flowers.) Eventually, catmints stop blooming heavily, and their stems get ratty looking. At this point, cut back to the base clump, and new stems will start growing and flowering in a matter of weeks.

The spent flower stems of catmint should be cut all the way back. The small rosette of fresh green foliage that is left should grow and rebloom, if watered and fertilized. (Images by Jessie Keith)

Coneflowers (Echinacea species and hybrids) respond well to more than one method of pruning. One can wait for them to almost complete flowering and then cut the whole plant cut back–one third for the smaller varieties and one half for the taller ones reaching 3 feet or more. New flower buds should appear in just a couple of weeks. Another method is to selectively deadhead as each flower dies. Towards the end of the season, be sure to allow plenty of flowerheads to dry. Their seeds are an excellent food for finches and other songbirds.

Hardy geraniums (Geranium spp. and hybrids) vary in their ability to rebloom. Newer varieties that rebloom need to be cut back by one third after their flowers start to wane. Common garden varieties, such as blood geranium (Geranium sanguineum), will not rebloom. Still, their old foliage needs to be cut back by three quarters to encourage new growth, which forms a pretty green mound of leaves that turn red to orange-red in fall.

Ox-eye daisy (Heliopsis helianthoides) is a favorite of mine that reaches 5 to 6 feet tall if you let it. But, if you cut the summer bloomer back by half in late spring, it will produce a shorter plant with better branching and more flowers. Mine bloom from July to August. Occasional light deadheading will encourage further blooms. Unlike the closely related black-eyed Susan, which spreads rapidly by seeds, ox-eye daisy does not aggressively self-sow.

Tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata varieties) is another flower that responds well to being cut back by one third after the first flowers of the season start to die away and going to seed. A quick trim will have them producing many bright flowers on new stems in no time.  I have lots of lavender, pink, and white phlox that get up to 3 feet tall.  All reliably rebloom after being cut back.

By removing the brown, spend flower stems of this yarrow ‘Moonshine’, the clump’s silver foliage can shine through, and new flowers emerge. Images by Jessie Keith)

Yarrow (Achillea hybrids) have rosettes of feathery leaves that send up tall stems of blooms in early to midsummer summer.  After the display of flowers stop, cut the plants back by two thirds, and new flowering stems will quickly appear. Newer varieties tend to be the best rebloomers.

Tickseed (Coreopsis species and hybrids) come in lots of varieties, but all produce many daisy flowers of yellow, orange, or rose in summer. Some of the most common are those of threadleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata), which have lacy leaves, lots of small, bright daisies, and do well in full sun. Depending on the variety, plants can reach 12 to 32 inches. By midsummer, they will have gone to seed. Shear them back by one third to produce a new wave of blooms by late summer.

Reblooming daylilies (Hemerocallis hybrids)-  There are many reliable reblooming daylilies on the market. The most reliable for all-summer bloom that I have found is is ‘Happy Returns’.  It has bright yellow flowers and reaches just 2 feet tall. After it has stopped flowering in early to midsummer, either remove all of the spent flower stems and selectively remove any dead or dying foliage, or cut the clump back by 1/3 to encourage new flowers. Either way, they will rebloom and look great in just weeks.

All these perennials are drought tolerant, once established, and loved by butterflies. Aside from tall phlox and daylilies, they are deer resistant as well.

Increase Care After Pruning

All plants, whether in pots or the soil, require regular water, and all need to be fertilized generously with a slow-release fertilizer for the best results. Top-dressing beds and containers with a little Black Gold Garden Compost Blend can increase fertility and soil water-holding capacity, so it also helps. The addition of Black Gold Just Coir to containers will increase their ability to hold water, which can reduce the need to water. Keep the care up, and you will be pleased with the final results. Time to get to work!

We encourage you to watch the following video by my daughter that details how to trim back daylilies, salvia, and more!

Author’s note: Do not cut back Hosta leaves to promote new ones.  Unlike other perennials, the new small leaves that would appear, are next year’s leaves and will weaken the plant for the following spring.

The Best Container Plants for July Heat

The Best Container Plants for July Heat

It is July, and there are so many plants in bloom on my deck that it is like a bonanza of color. It is so relaxing to sit there and be surrounded by containers that are bursting with flowers and watching the hummingbirds aggressively guard their territory.  There are also honeybees and bumblebees, as well as an occasional dragonfly.

In my containers, there are some plants that I always seem to repeat every year because they perform so well, and I don’t want to be without them. My deck receives quite a bit of sun throughout the day, including hot afternoon sun. That means the plants need to tolerate some hot conditions, and I have learned throughout the years which plants perform best.

Bonfire Begonia

Begonia Bonfire® is an outstanding nonstop bloomer. (Image care of Anthony Tesselaar Plants)

While we often think of begonias as being shade-loving plants, Begonia Bonfire® has been an excellent summer-blooming plant for our sunny deck. The summerlong flowers of bright orange fit the name, Bonfire®. Hummingbirds like them, and it has a trailing habit that makes it excellent for hanging baskets and tall containers. I have planted three of these begonias in the center of a pot with white Bacopa (Snowstorm® Snow Globe® Bacopa is a good choice) around the edge. The two make a nice combination.

Two Sweet Salvias

Proven Winners Rockin’® Fuchsia Salvia is a nonstop summer bloomer loved by hummingbirds. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Two salvias from the Proven Winners® brand are on my deck this summer, and they are both outstanding. Rockin’® Fuchsia Salvia (Zones 9-11) is a compact grower (24 to 36 inches) that is excellent for containers. The flowers themselves are dark fuchsia and supported by stems of lighter fuchsia. At the base of each flower is a persistent, beak-like calyx that is dark fuchsia, so when each flower fades and falls, the stems and calyces continue to provide color. The other salvia is Rockin’® Blue Suede Shoes (Zones 9-11), and, as the name implies, it has blue flowers. The stems and calyces on this are very dark, almost black. Hummingbirds seem to like both salvias equally.

Suncredible Sunflower

You can’t go wrong with the 2- to 4-foot Suncredible® Yellow Sunflower. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Another Proven Winners® plant on my deck that is new to me, is the annual Suncredible® Yellow Sunflower, which reaches just 2 to 4 feet. I first saw this in a trial garden last summer and knew that the following year it would be in my garden. It is a new type of sunflower that is very compact, everblooming, sterile, and loves the heat. The plants were in bloom when I bought them in May and have never stopped flowering. Sunflowers offer a bright spot of color, and each plant is covered in blooms.

Candy Corn Plant

Candy corn plant has unusual tubular flowers that are visited by hummingbirds. (Image by Mike Darcy)

If ever there was a bold container plant that was a prolific bloomer, hummingbird magnet, and heat-lover it would be candy corn plant (Cuphea micropetala, Zones 8-11). While not reliably winter hardy here, mine came through our mild winter. Earlier this season, it was scraggly, and a grower friend told me to cut it back halfway, which I did. Usually, they reach up to 3 feet or more, but the result has been a beautiful looking, very compact plant. Because I cut it back so far, it was late to bloom, but it is beautiful now. Its small tubular flowers are orange with yellow tips and held on stems that are almost like spikes. Flowering continues all summer.

Cleopatra Canna

Canna ‘Cleopatra’ is spectacular leaves with purple markings that look great even when there are no flowers. (Image by Mike Darcy)

Cannas are primarily known for their foliage and flowers, but my Canna ‘Cleopatra’ (Zones 8-11) has outstanding leaves–no flowers required. The large leaves have dark maroon markings that appear at random. Some leaves might have maroon stripes, while others might be half maroon. The red and yellow summer flowers are also impressive, and their coloring is as random as the leaves. I like the standard 4- to 6-foot variety in big pots, but gardeners that prefer more compact plants can buy dwarf Canna ‘Cleopatra’, which reaches just 3 feet.

Big Container Bananas

Red banana is a very large container plant that needs an equally large container, but what a show! (Image by Mike Darcy)

I would be remiss without mentioning my three potted red leaf bananas (Musa ensete ‘Maurelii’ (syn. Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’). These are in large pots because they grow so fast and get so big in just one season. They are not winter hardy, so each must be newly planted in spring. This year’s specimens were about three feet tall, and by the end of the summer they will be 8-10 ft tall. The large tropical leaves are tinged with red and have dark red leafstalks. It is an outstanding foliage plant. The large leaves can be shredded by the wind, so keep it in a wind-sheltered area.

Other gardeners certainly have their own lists of the best container plants for July heat, but these are my favorites for our summers in the Pacific Northwest. I enjoy sharing mine with neighborhood gardeners and learning what they are growing as well. Just walking around the neighborhood and looking at hot, sunny garden spots tells me what plants are performing. My list also grows. It is always fun to try something new, and this year the salvias and sunflower were my choices.

Enjoy the height of summer!

When Is It Safe To Plant Summer Annuals?

When Is It Safe To Plant Summer Annuals?

“When is it safe to plant summer annuals? Should I wait until after Mother’s Day to plant my marigolds, petunias, and other annuals?  I live in Central Ohio.” Question from Diane of Newark, Ohio

Answer: Always plant warm-season annuals, like petunias and marigolds, after the threat of frost has passed. To do this, you need to know your last frost date. The Old Farmer’s Almanac provides this data. Every gardener should know both their first and last frost dates for the growing season. Here is the data that is yielded when I search using your Zipcode:

 

Nearest Climate Station Altitude Last Spring Frost First Fall Frost Growing Season
NEWARK WATER WKS, OH 836′ May 4 Oct 6 154 days

 

To be safe, I always plant at least a week after my last frost date–especially if the weather has been temperamental. When planting your flowers, be sure to feed them with a fertilizer formulated for flowering plants, such as Proven Winners® Continuous Release Plant Food, and amend the soil with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend or Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss to improve its structure and fertility

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

How Do I Keep My Coleus Looking Its Best?

“I always grow coleus in containers in the summer.  They are beautiful and usually do wonderfully well. This year I have wide-leaf coleus in my large, rectangular containers.  I have two questions.  1) How often do you recommend fertilizing them?  2) They are producing large purple flowers.  Should I clip the flowers to make the plant grow better, or is it okay to leave the flowers alone to enjoy their beauty?  Many thanks for the help!” Question from Diane of Neward, Ohio

Answer: Coleus are truly foliar plants. Their wands of lavender-blue flowers can be appealing, but if you allow the plants to flower and set seed, the leaves will wane and become smaller and less robust and beautiful. This is because the plants are putting energy into flower and seed production rather than leaf growth. For this reason, gardeners must deadhead coleus plants to keep their foliage looking lush and lovely. Simply pinch off all of the buds as you see them to stop flowering.

Nitrogen is the chief nutrient that encourages healthy foliar growth. To encourage leafier growth, choose a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen, such as Foliage Pro.  Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for feeding, because feeding times differ from product to product. You will also get less flowering if you grow your coleus in full to partial shade.

It also pays to use a quality potting mix or garden amendment that’s rich in organic matter and has a boost of fertilizer. I recommend Black Gold® All Purpose Potting Mix for potted specimens and Black Gold® Garden Soil for in-ground plantings.

I hope that these tips help and keep your coleus looking their best this season! As an aside, the image above is one of my container coleus plants, which has been pinched back and kept in partial shade to encourage super lush foliage!

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Can I Plant Annuals and Vegetables Together?

Can you plant annual flowers and vegetables in the same raised bed? Question from Diane or Newark, Ohio

Answer: Sure! In many cases, annuals can be beneficial to vegetables by warding off pests (click here to read about the protective power of marigolds) and/or attract pollinators. Compact flowers that will not compete for too much sunlight or water are best.  Here are some of my favorite flowers to plant in my vegetable garden for beauty, cut flowers, and to feed pollinators. These sun-lovers are all effortless to grow.

  1. Cosmos (dwarf): The pretty daisy flowers of these annuals are good for cutting and attract bees. Try the compact varieties Sonata Mix (2-feet high) or the fully double pink ‘Rose Bonbon‘ (2 to 3-feet high).
  2. Calendula: These cheerful yellow or orange daisies are grown as herbs as well as flowers because they have edible petals that can be used to make tea or soothing balms.
  3. Dahlias: There are hundreds of amazing dahlias to choose from and all make excellent cut flowers. Bees and butterflies also love them. Choose compact varieties for easier care. Check out Swan Island Dahlias to choose the best dahlia for your taste.
  4. Marigolds: I love tall marigolds in the vegetable garden. The large flowers look pretty through summer, and these Mexican natives just thrive in the heat. ‘Kee’s Orange’ is a brilliant variety with deepest orange flowers.
  5. Compact Sunflowers: There are loads of spectacular sunflowers for the garden, and all are very easy to grow from seed. I suggest choosing compact varieties because they won’t shade out vegetables or fall over in wind. (Click here to learn all about growing sunflowers.)
  6. Zinnias: Any tall or medium-sized zinnia will add color and cut flowers to your garden. Check out the new Zinnia ‘Zinderella Purple’ or  Zinnia ‘Queeny Orange Lime’. Both are beautiful and some of the easiest flowers that you can grow from seed.

Try adding any of these pretty annuals to your vegetable garden this season for functional color.

Happy gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

 

 

I Need Flower Design Help for My Sunny Kentucky Garden

“I have a large area to plant flowers in that gets full sun but I am not sure what design and mixture to use.” Question from Karen of Cannon, Kentucky

Answer: Most garden flowers grow best in fertile soil with excellent drainage. I recommend working up your soil to increase aeration and adding a fertile blend of compost (Black Gold Garden Compost Blend) and peat moss (Black Gold Peat Moss) to ensure they get off to a great start. Adding a slow-release fertilizer formulated for flowers will also help them grow and perform at their best. It may also be wise to get your soil tested for pH. The University of Kentucky does soil testing.

Creating Flower Beds

As far as design, the finest flower gardens edge the periphery of key yard spaces, such as home foundations, fencelines, patios, shrub borders or other signification structural areas of your yard. Flower borders such as these can be designed in straight lines, which provide a classic, formal look, or sweeping curves that give a garden space a more full, curvaceous look.

Finishing Flower Beds

Once you have laid our your bed lines, edge them well. A clean bed edge acts as a frame for your garden. (Click here to read more about different bed edges). A layer of fine mulch will also make your flower garden look professional. (Click here to learn more about different garden mulches.)

Flower Design

I recommend planting taller perennials towards the back or centers of the flower garden while leaving space for ground-covering perennials and colorful annuals towards the front of the beds. It is also essential to consider flower color and bloom time when designing with flowers. Dot the garden with flowers in complementary colors that are pleasing to your aesthetic preferences. Then consider bloom time: choose bulbs and perennials for spring, flowers for early summer, and flowers for late-summer and fall. That way, your garden will never look dull and colorless. Everblooming annuals will extend the floral effect.

Choose flowers that are best suited for the heat of your Kentucky summers. Hellebores and bulbs are great for the early season; salvias, daylilies, baptisia, and perennial geraniums are perfect for early summer; coneflowers, perennial blanket flower, tall phlox, and black-eyed-Susans are great for midsummer; and great fall perennials include goldenrods, asters, and Japanese anemones. (Click here to read more about the best garden asters.) Bold, ornamental, perennial grasses also look great in perennial borders.

I hope that this helps!

Happy gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

 

When Do I Start My Garden Seeds?

“How early can I start seeds in lower Michigan? Question from William of Southgate, Michigan

Answer: It depends on whether you are growing, annuals, perennials, summer vegetables or spring vegetables. Here’s what I suggest for your USDA Hardiness Zone 6 planting area. (These suggestions may also apply to other gardeners, based on their own specific seasonal planting windows.)

Spring Vegetables: I recommend starting cool-season broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, Swiss chard, and spring onion seeds indoors as early as late January, or a month and a half before the spring soil can be worked. Arugula, beets, cilantro, spring carrots, peas, radishes, and turnips should all be starting in-ground as soon as the soil can be worked. Be sure to amend the soil well with compost, label rows, and cover newly planted seeds with a light layer of compost before watering them in. Keep them just moist and they should sprout as the soil gets warmer.

Summer Vegetables: Warm-season vegetables and herbs, like basil, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos, should be started indoors as early as the start of February, or three or more months before planting them outdoors. [Click here for an article about growing tomatoes from seed.] Fast-growing cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and squash can be planted indoors or out. I prefer starting outdoors in well-amended beds after the threat of frost has passed. Beans, corn, okra, and summer beets (click here for a beet-growing video) and carrots can be started by seed outdoors after the threat of frost has passed. (Click here to search for the average frost date in your area.)

Perennials: If growing any perennials from seed, start them as early as January. Once they are ready to plant in late spring, they should be large enough for outdoor planting. Keep in mind that many perennials won’t bloom first year from seed, while others will. [Click here to read an article about easy-to-start perennials that will bloom first year from seed.]

Annuals: Wait until February to start flowering annuals and March or April to start vining annuals, which often grow very quickly and can take over your indoor growing area. To learn more, watch the video below for annual seed-starting tips.

Happy seed starting!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

What is the Difference Between an Annual and Perennial?

“What is the difference between an annual and a perennial?” Question from Christina of Wheeling, Illinois

Answer: These terms refer to the life cycles of non-woody or herbaceous (leafy) plants. Here are detailed explanations of both.

Annuals

Annuals live once a year, meaning they sprout, grow, bloom, set seed and die within one growing season. It’s easy to remember because the word annual means occurring once every year.

Many true annuals flower and set seed over a short period of time. The herb borage (Borago officinalis), is a perfect example of a short-lived annual. It grows in the cool spring, blooms in late spring or early summer and then quickly dies. Other annuals will bloom all season long before finally dying in fall. Common cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) and tall zinnias (Zinnia elegans) are two annuals that bloom through much of the growing season.

Perennials

Perennials live for three seasons or more. The word perennial means continually recurring, and these plants recur for a number of years, some for over 100 years.

Perennials have sturdy root systems that store lots of energy. These plants die to the ground during the winter months (though some, like hellebores (Helleborus spp.), may remain evergreen through winter) and have buds that rest along the soil surface or below the soil. When spring arrives, these buds sprout and new leaves emerge.

Perennial bloom times vary widely. Some may bloom in late winter while others may wait to bloom until the very end of fall. Still, others may bloom through much of the summer. That’s why it is important to know the bloom times of your perennials before planting. Cold hardiness also varies from perennial to perennial, so make sure a plant is hardy to your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone before buying.

Some perennials are short-lived surviving three to four years, while others, like peonies (Paeonia spp.), can live for over 100 years.

I hope this information helps!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist