Summer Color by Mike Darcy

With the cool and rainy wet spring that we had here in the Pacific Northwest, most plants seemed to be about two weeks behind what would have been their ‘normal’ schedule. The weather delayed many gardeners from doing what would be some of their early spring chores. Not only was the weather not conducive for working in the garden, but the soil was too wet and muddy from all the rain.  Then in May, spring arrived with warm sunny days, and it was as if plants exploded with growth and bloom. Suddenly plants were no longer two weeks behind schedule but were on schedule.

As I walk around my own garden, as well as other gardens that I have recently visited, I am in awe of all the color that I see. Most gardeners always have room for another plant and the following are some of my favorites for summer color. Many of the plants that I use for color are in containers and I have found that adding a mulch across the top of the soil is a benefit to helping the plants thrive. Black Gold Natural & Organic Garden Compost Blend is an ideal mulch to help retain moisture. Another option is Black Gold Natural & Organic Just Coir which has excellent water holding capacity.

Hardy fuchsias would have to be near the top of the list for summer color. There is such a wide variety to choose from with size and color of the flower and the growth habit of the plant. Some will get quite tall, often up to six feet or more in one season, while the height of many stays in a three-foot range. Some varieties will even hug the ground and grow as a ground cover. Plant tags will often say sun to shade exposure, I have found they do best with some protection from the hot afternoon sun. One of my favorites is Fuchsia ‘Debron’s Smokey Blues’.

The flowers on Abutilon ‘Red Tiger’ do not look real but look like a fine stained glass art piece. This is a shrub and in a mild northwest winter, it will survive. A large plant in full bloom is stunning.

If there was ever a plant that was a work horse for blooming, I think it would have to be the dahlia. Most dahlias will begin flowering in June and there will be non-stop bloom until frost. The color range is vast and there is almost every color except blue. The flowers are also variable in their shape as is evident by the photos. These pictures were taken last summer in the trial garden of the Portland, (OR), Dahlia Society which is located on the ground of Swan Island Dahlias in Canby, OR. These photos give a good example of the wide range of color and shape of flowers. Dahlias also make excellent cut flowers.

Our summer deck would not be complete without several containers of Salvia. Keep the flower stems picked when the blooms are gone, and many will bloom throughout the summer. Two of my favorites are Salvia ‘Black & Blue’ and Salvia ‘Amistad’. The flowers on ‘Black & Blue’ tend to be cobalt blue and ‘Amistad’ has flowers that are deep purple. Both are magnets for butterflies and hummingbirds,

Sometimes, I think it is fun to grow plants that are known not to be winter hardy, but nevertheless will perform well during the summer. The Princess Flower, (Tibouchina), is one such flower. It will bloom with purple flowers all summer and into the fall. It will not survive our winters outside and so mentally; I consider it an annual. It is fast growing and flowering can be profuse. Excellent for growing in a container.

I realize that I have barely touched the list of plants for summer color, but the above-mentioned ones should all be readily available and easy to grow. Perhaps one is new to you, and you will give it a try. Most gardeners are always trying something new. Who knows, it might just become a favorite!

About Mike Darcy

Mike lives and gardens in a suburb of Portland, Oregon where he has resided since 1969. He grew in up Tucson, Arizona where he worked at a small retail nursery during his high school and college years. He received his formal education at the University of Arizona where he was awarded a Bachelor of Science Degree in Horticulture, and though he values his formal education, he values his field-experience more. It is hard to beat the ‘hands on’ experience of actually gardening, visiting gardens, and sharing information with other gardeners. Mike has been involved with gardening communications throughout his adult life. In addition to garden writing, he has done television gardening shows in Portland, and for over 30 years he hosted a Saturday radio talk show in Portland. Now he writes, speaks, gardens and continues to share his love of gardening. To be connected to the gardening industry is a bonus in life for Mike. He has found gardeners to be among the friendliest and most caring, generous people. Consequently, many of his friends he has met through gardening.

Nonstop Fuchsias For Fall Gardens and Hummingbirds

With summer winding down here in the Pacific Northwest, as I walk through my garden it is the fuchsias I notice. They have bloomed nonstop all summer, and on this September day, their blooms continue. Not only have they not stopped blooming, but they will flower through to October and beyond until we have had frost. It is just what the migrating hummingbirds need at this time of year!

Growing Fuchsias

Large, hefty containers require less water and support better fuchsia growth.

If growing fuchsias is new to you, I recommend talking with other gardeners that grow them in your area. Longtime growers should be able to suggest the best performers for your zone and climate. Generally, fuchsias need porous, water-retentive soil that is rich in organic matter. Black Gold Natural & Organic Ultra Coir is an ideal mix to use when planting them in hanging baskets or containers. I suggest choosing large containers. Keep plants evenly moist during the summer months. Fuchsias bloom on new growth and a regular fertilizer program will increase bloom. Any all-purpose fertilizer formulated for flowering plants will work well. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

I suggest a few winter-hardy varieties in this piece. To increase winter hardiness, choose large planters, and plant your fuchsias 2 to 3 inches deeper than average. You can’t do this with most potted plants, but fuchsias will tolerate it. If you live further north, consider bringing your fuchsias indoors to enjoy as winter house plants. We always recommend cleaning up house plants when moving them from the outdoors in fall to warm indoor locations. Cleaning them stops potential pests from making their way inside. (Click here to learn how to clean house plants.)

My Favorite Fuchsias

Hardy fuchsia forms a pleasing shrub with lots of beautiful little blooms for hummingbirds.

The selection of fuchsias that are now available is immense and can be somewhat overwhelming to a novice gardener, especially in the early spring season when new shipments of plants are arriving at garden centers. The floral color selection is large and varied. Usually, the flowers are bicolor with sepals (top “petals” that flare back) and inner true petals in contrasting shades. Some flowers are all the same color, but all are bright and colorful to attract their primary pollinators, hummingbirds.

The winter hardiness varies among varieties, and while hardy or hummingbird fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica, Zones 6-9) does not have the largest flowers, the Andean Mountain native shrub is certainly the most cold-tolerant. I have had a hummingbird fuchsia in my garden for years, and this year it reached a height of over 7 feet. It has literally been covered with flowers all summer, and like all fuchsias, it is a hummingbird magnet. When we have had heavy frosts, it has died back almost to the ground, but the roots always survive and bounce back in spring.

Within this variety, there are also some wonderful foliage colors from which to choose. ‘Aurea’ has golden-yellow leaves and has been very hardy in my garden with no winter protection. ‘Tricolor’ has leaves that are a mix of green, pink, and white, so even without flowers, it provides color in the garden. For extra pretty flowers, choose ‘Grand Cape Horn‘, which has purple and magenta blooms, or ‘Alba‘ whose palest-pink to white flowers really glow. For even brighter white blooms, grow ‘Hawkshead‘, a Dan Hinkley Introduction.

Most fuchsias sold in garden centers are Fuchsia hybrids labeled simply as fuchsias. While many of these are touted as being tolerant of full sun, I have found that my plants do much better with some protection from the hot afternoon summer sun. In my garden, I have fuchsias both in the ground as well as in pots on our deck. I do move the pots up against our house in the winter for some added warmth in winter, and I put a layer of mulch on the soil to insulate their roots further from the cold weather.

Hardy fuchsias make lovely landscape specimens.

Visitors to our garden will often ask if I have a favorite fuchsia, and my response is that my favorite changes on a yearly basis. At this moment, I would have to say that my favorites are two particularly outstanding varieties I recently planted, ‘DebRon’s Smokey Blue’ and ‘Tom West’. ‘Tom West’ (Zones 7-9) has small magenta and purple blooms, pretty variegated foliage, and a trailing habit with stems that spill over the edge of the pot. The equally hardy ‘DebRon’s Smokey Blue’ (Zones 7-9) has large flowers with deep rose-colored sepals and fluffy deep purple corollas. If planted in the garden as a shrubby specimen, it reaches 2.5 feet.

This is a good time to visit other gardens and observe what fuchsias have thrived through our very hot summer. This past summer season has certainly been a good test for heat tolerance. Adding fuchsias to your landscape will give your garden color for a long period of time, and it will keep the hummingbirds happy.

Favorite Shade-Loving Flowering Shrubs and Perennials for Fall

Reblooming hydrangeas, yellow waxbells, and fuchsias are three reliable bloomers that flower into fall.

We’ve had a long hot and dry summer here in the Pacific Northwest, so those plants that relish the sun and take drought have performed beautifully. In turn, shade lovers, that thrive in cool, moist environments have needed extra care. In my garden, we have a mix of areas with blazing afternoon sun, almost total shade, and both sun and shade. I have banked on a large selection of shade plants to provide color in the form of foliage as well as flowers in my full and partially shady areas, and as summer wanes, I count on certain fall bloomers to keep my shade gardens looking sharp.

Reblooming Hydrangeas

Let’s Dance® Rhythmic Blue®is an excellent reblooming hydrangea. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Reblooming hydrangeas are the first group of plants that come to mind for late-summer and fall color in the shade garden. While many will tolerant some sun, I think they look their best, and the flowers last much longer if the plants are grown in afternoon shade. Bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla, Zones 6-9) and mountain hydrangea (Hydrangea serrata, Zones 5-9) are some of the best adapted to shade, and rebloomers flower the most reliably into fall. One excellent selection to try is the large-panicled Let’s Dance® Rhythmic Blue® reblooming hydrangea, which reaches 4 feet by 4 feet and produces big violet-blue (or pink in more alkaline soils) flower clusters well from midsummer to fall. Another is the very compact 3-foot Tuff Stuff Ah-Ha®  reblooming mountain hydrangea with its lacy pale-blue flowers. It grows well in-ground or in well-drained containers filled with a quality mix, like Natural & Organic Black Gold Flower & Vegetable Soil.

Good water is essential. If the plants become stressed for moisture, often the flowers will turn crisp, especially when in the hot sun. Despite our tough summer, hydrangeas have thrived when given adequate moisture and some protection from the sun. When I walk around my neighborhood, I see gorgeous hydrangea flowers on those plants that have been given the right care. This is where a good mulch will also help keep the plants hydrated and happy. Black Gold Garden Compost Blend is an ideal water-holding soil amendment as well as mulch.


The flowers of ‘DebRon’s Smokey Blue’ are large and deep fuchsia and purple. (Image by Mike Darcy)

Another popular and well-known flower for partial shade is fuchsia (Fuchsia hybrids, Zones 9-11). ‘DebRon’s Smokey Blue‘, with its dark rose and purple flowers, is a personal favorite. Mine have been blooming all summer and will continue well into the fall. We have fuchsia plants in containers on our deck that are covered with flowers and have many buds yet to open. While the flowering will not be as prolific as it is now, they should continue to bloom until frost. Some fuchsias have the addition of colorful variegated foliage, so the plants can be colorful even without flowers. With their brightly colored flowers and foliage, fuchsias provide quite a show in the autumn shade garden.

Hardy fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica, 6-10 feet, Zones 6-9) is an Argentinian shrub that blooms from summer to fall with many small, red and pink, pendulous flowers that feed migrating hummingbirds. While many of the hardy fuchsias will grow in the sun, I’ve found that they perform better without the hot afternoon summer sun. It is wise to place hardy fuchsia near the home or protective stone walls to provide it extra winter protection.

Palm-Leaf Begonia

The amazing palm-leaf begonia produces white and yellow flowers into fall and has spectacular leaves. Bring it indoors before the first frost of the season. (Image by Dedarot)

A new plant for me this year is palm leaf begonia (Begonia luxurians, Zones 9-11). The leaves are very tropical looking, and it has been in bloom during the past month with clusters of white and yellow flowers. I have my plant in a container with Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix. It’s in an area where it only gets filtered sunlight because of overhead trees. It was about 12 inches tall when I bought it in early June and has now grown to 4 feet. Technically a perennial, it would be treated as a summer annual here or could be brought indoors as a house plant in a sunroom or greenhouse. It would not survive our winters outdoors.

Yellow Wax Bells

My yellow wax bells are just coming into bloom.

Yellow wax bells (Kirengeshoma palmata, Zones 5-8) is a perennial in the hydrangea family that is native to eastern Asia. It is quite a mouthful to say in Latin as well as to remember. While the common name, yellow wax bells, is much easier to remember and say, it is not well known and would be hard to find in most garden centers under that name. I rarely see it in local gardens, and I don’t know why. It grows beautifully for me. A plant was gifted to me many years ago. I have it in a shady location, and it thrives.

The plant itself is about 4 ft tall and wide and is coming into bloom now. Its waxy yellow flowers are very pretty and look attractive against its large, bold, palm-shaped leaves. It likes shade and moisture and is winter hardy. I mulch it regularly with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend.

This is just a sampling of plants that give late summer color to shaded gardens. To add to the list, I have written about fall anemones (click here to read), dahlias, some other favorite fall-flower picks (click here to read). Check out your local garden center, and you may be surprised at the large selection of blooming plants that are still available.

What are the Best Plants for Mother’s Day?

“What are the Best Plants for Mother’s Day?” Question from Catherine of St. Louis, Missouri

Answer: Well, it really depends on what your mother likes in terms of flowers, but there are several standby flowers and flowering shrubs that are pretty, sweetly scented, and bloom all summer. These are good qualities in a Mother’s Day plant. Here are five great choices that are recommended and easy to find at any garden center.

  1. Roses: Not all roses are equal. Ask your garden center specialist for one that is colorful, everblooming, and disease resistant. Some excellent roses include Gertrude Jekyll®, a rich double pink David Austin rose with outstanding fragrance and disease resistance, the uncommonly beautiful double pink ‘Geoff Hamilton‘, and golden ‘Buttercup‘. (Click here to read our article about organic rose care.)
  2. Reblooming Azaleas: There are several reblooming azaleas that perform well and are pretty. Bloom-A-Thon® Pink Double is a good choice with bubblegum pink flowers that will bloom in spring and again in late summer and fall.
  3. Reblooming Lilacs: Everyone loves the looks and smell of lilac flowers and Bloomerang® Dwarf Pink lilac grows to just 3-4 feet and has bright pink flowers that will appear all season long.
  4. Carnations: There are several super fragrant perennial carnations that bloom over a very long time over summer. Try one in the Fruit Punch® series. The coral-pink ‘Classic Coral‘ and raspberry pink and white ‘Raspberry Ruffles‘ are both winners.
  5. Fuchsia: There is nothing more beautiful than a big basket of blooming fuchsia. The flowers feed hummingbirds and are a delight all summer. Pick any fuchsia at your local garden center. All are worth the effort!

Have fun choosing the best for your mother!

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith


How Do I Overwinter My Fuchsia Baskets?

“How do I overwinter my fuchsia baskets?” Sherry from Camas, Washington

Answer: What a great question! Large, happy fuchsias are expensive, so it pays to overwinter them. You have two overwintering options:

Bring Your Fuchsia Indoors

Clean your fuchsia before bringing them indoors (click here to read how), and maintain them as house plants through winter. Place your baskets in a location with bright, filtered sunlight. Water the plants when the soil begins to dry in the upper 2 inches. If your home is cool, they will likely need less frequent watering. They are best fed with a slow-release fertilizer.

Fuchsias grow best in rooms with high humidity, so refrain from growing them near heating vents that will quickly dry their foliage and soil. Prune back any dead or dying branches, and keep a watch out for pests, such as white flies and spider mites. Treat them with insecticidal soap if they develop any pests (click here to learn more about house plant pest control).

Induce Dormancy or Semi-Dormancy

Most hybrid fuchsias are not cold hardy, aside from the reasonably hardy hummingbird fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica), which survives to USDA Hardiness Zones 7-9. More tender varieties will go semi-dormant if maintained under temperatures between 36 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit–never lower. This is the most trouble-free way to store them through winter. Cut back the dead foliage in spring, and give them good care before taking them outdoors again. Spring is also the best time to upgrade them into new pots with fresh potting mix, such as Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix.

Happy gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist