Exciting new versions of old stalwarts
By Gary Jones
In just a few weeks, summer’s hot days will be upon us. But it is not too late to fill pots and borders with hot weather flowers that will pump out color all summer. The key to success will be to keep these plants well-watered while they root in. While they become established, they should never be allowed to become completely dry.
Remember to work in an organic planting mix and starter fertilizer at planting time. The mix will improve drainage and help to retain water and nutrients. If planting in containers, use an organic potting soil straight from the bag, along with starter food.
Colorful plants need plenty of nutrients to keep producing blooms. For non-stop color, feed monthly with an organic bloom food. The middle number of the NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium) will be the highest of the three. Phosphorus is what promotes flowering.
Many of the flowers listed below will tolerate drought, but to bloom their best, they will need regular water. They also need well-draining soil — never allow these plants to be in soggy soil. Many stalwarts including geranium, salvia, coneflower and zinnia have exciting new cultivars. Don’t miss them.
First, it is time to give vinca another chance. Many gardeners moved away from it because of disease problems, but the new varieties are disease-free and have extra-large flowers in bright, clear colors.
Daylilies are classic summer flowers and, virtually, carefree. For season-long color, choose reblooming varieties. The latest hybrids have large, wide-petaled flowers in rich colors, from sherbet-toned blends to rich purple, red, pumpkin, near-black and more.
Coneflowers have undergone a remarkable transformation. Just about every color is available now with the exception of blue tones. But you will find pink, pristine white, bright yellow, orange, fire-engine red and, of course, purple. And doubles and pom-pom forms that don’t even look like coneflowers.
Another flower that has undergone a major makeover is gaillardia. Choose from bright yellows, clear oranges, reds, rust tones, apricot and more. Gaillardia Fanfare, with tiny trumpet flowers instead of petals in red, orange and yellow, is sensational.
Cosmos, with its country-simple flowers, are a fool-proof summer bloomer. You get your choice of heights with different varieties. Cosmos can contribute charm to any garden style. Pure white cosmos are often used to fill boxwood parterres in Provence — a sophisticated, yet carefree choice.
Salvias (there seem to be millions) are the quintessential Mediterranean-climate summer bloomer. If you have not already introduced yourself to the world of salvias, do it by growing a stunning one: Amistad. It has sensational spikes of rich, royal-purple flowers with black bracts on a well-behaved, 4-foot plant.
This summer, you should pass on the large flowered zinnias and plant the super Profusion series. These award-winning, mounding plants will be covered with 1 1/2-inch flowers right through our dog days of summer. You won’t find the complete zinnia color range, but there are enough choices to give your garden some pizazz.
With the exception of English types and a few others, lavenders will produce spikes of color summer-into-winter. Look for the Spanish and French kinds with very prominent ears in contrasting colors. Do not overwater them while they become established. If you are not sure, it is better not to water.
Geraniums will never go out of style because they are just fantastic in California gardens. There are terrific new kinds called interspecifics — hybrids of zonal and ivy geraniums. Two series are available: Calliope and Caliente. They have gorgeous foliage, large sturdy blooms and a pleasing, mounding habit.
Lastly, consider the lowly marigold. If you want a jolt of hot-toned color, marigolds simply cannot be beat. For a fresh look, don’t mass them or line a flowerbed with them. Simply plant them in threes or fives in a mixed border. Marigolds make mixed flower borders really zing.
There is no better time than now to try out some new versions of traditional classics and old standbys. You will love seeing the bright blooms all summer long.
—Gary Jones is the Chief Horticulturist at Armstrong Garden Centers, which has locations on Friars Road and Morena Boulevard. Email your drought and gardening questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.