Tag Archive: Annuals

  1. Merry Summer Marigolds

    Marigold Mix

    Mixed marigolds will shine through the warmest days of summer and fall. (image by Jessie Keith)

    Imagine a flowering plant so beautiful and sturdy that it lends equal brightness to elegant flowerbeds, gas station plantings and public parks all over the United States. Leaping nimbly over national borders, it also serves as an important decorative element for festivities associated with the Mexican Day of the Dead and plays a prominent role in all kinds of celebrations on the Indian subcontinent. It repels deer and other varmints, but attracts humans, who use it as a summer garden stalwart, harvest it for indoor arrangements and sometimes even strew it over salads.

    Marigold Doubloon

    The African marigold ‘Doubloon’ is a tall variety that produces loads of lemon-yellow flowers. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    The plant in question is an annual with an interesting Latin name—Tagetes—and a familiar English one—marigold. Blooming in shades of cream, yellow, gold, orange/red, red or maroon, its cheerful disposition and easy-going nature match its sunshiny colors. Some of the most sophisticated gardeners in history, like early twentieth century designer/author Gertrude Jekyll, have taken marigolds to their hearts and into their landscapes. Yet, it has also edged humble vegetable plots, anchored cutting gardens and been used as a natural pest controller. Fragrant and sturdy, the annual marigold is a classic summer bloomer.

    The two most popular species are the African marigold and the French marigold (Tagetes erecta). In keeping with the Latin name, the African erecta varieties are tall, growing between one and four feet. French varieties are shorter, maxing out at 18 inches. I am especially fond of the flashy French variety, ‘Harlequin’, an antique that features petals with alternating gold and mahogany strips. Both erecta marigolds sport pinnate or feathery leaves. Many popular marigold varieties are actually crosses between these two variants, combining the somewhat more compact habit of the French types, with the large flowers of the African marigolds. Though not as widely known, little Tagetes tenuifolia, commonly known as signet marigold, features petite, elegant, single blossoms and works well in containers and edging situations. The single-flowered varieties ‘Tangerine Gem’, ‘Lemon Gem’, and ‘Paprika’ are perfect examples.

    The large-flowered, compact 'Disco Orange' is a French marigold grown for its masses of tangerine-orange flowers. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    The large-flowered, compact ‘Disco Orange’ is a French marigold grown for its masses of tangerine-orange flowers. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    In addition to their many other virtues, marigolds are good travelers. Early Spanish colonists took the plants from their native Mexico, where they were sacred to the Aztec goddess Xochiquetzal, back to the Old World, where they flourished. Their popularity spread quickly to all kinds of places, including France and North Africa. This migration gave rise to the idea that the plants were native to those areas, hence the common names of some species.

    Daisies are the show-horse flowers of summer and marigolds are in the daisy family, Asteraceae. As with other daisies, each flowerhead is actually a mass of tiny flowers. The “eye” features a disk of tiny flowers surrounded by the showy, petal-like ray flowers. The red and gold ‘Scarlet Starlet’, with its golden eye and deep scarlet petals, is a perfect example. “Double-flowered” marigolds, like those of the tall, white-flowered ‘Snowdrift’, are not truly double but instead have only ray flowers. Given their origins in Mexico, it is not surprising that the plants still prefer sunny, open situations and grow best when it is very warm.

    2209Fafard N&O Potting_3D-1cu RESILIENCE front WEBMarigolds are among the easiest plants to grow—perfect for children and beginning gardeners. Most garden centers feature cell packs of starter plants in the spring and summer, but marigolds can easily be started from seed. Sow directly into pots or garden beds and cover with a thin layer of soil or Fafard® Seed Starter Potting Mix with RESiLIENCE®. Fafard® Ultra Potting Mix With Extended Feed and RESILIENCE® is a perfect medium for container-grown specimens.

    Water daily and seedlings should appear within a week or so. Thin the young plants to prevent crowding and once they have leafed out, pinch back the stems to promote bushy growth and abundant flowers. Established marigolds are somewhat drought tolerant, though container-grown specimens may need extra water during dry spells.

    Marigold Double

    (photo by Maureen Gilmer)

    Gardeners tend to either love or hate the strong smell of marigolds’ flowers and foliage, which have earned the plant the old-fashioned nickname, “Stinking Roger”. However, even those who hate the aroma can love the fact that marigolds have the ability to beat back the destructive power of root-knot nematodes, organisms that can damage or destroy the roots of tomatoes and other food crops. Marigolds’ roots secrete a substance called alpha-terthienyl that inhibits the growth of these parasitic nematodes. To use marigolds in this way, it is best to sow them as a cover crop between planting seasons. This inhibiting power, traditionally harnessed in countries like India, may account for the fact that farmers in many places have traditionally planted marigolds around vegetable beds. If nothing else, they brighten up kitchen garden planting schemes.

    Marigolds are a study in contrasts. Their simple flowers have enchanted sophisticated gardeners all over the world, while their down-home demeanor successfully masks a deadly arsenal of anti-nematode weapons. They are at once the stealthiest and most alluring denizens of the summer garden.

  2. Plant Awards and 2016 Award-Winning Plants

    Salvia_SummerJewelLavender-AAS2016-PRIMARY

    Salvia Summer Jewel™ Lavender is a truly beautiful 2016 award winner. (image thanks to the AAS)

    When choosing new plants for 2016, it always pays to know the bestowers of plant awards, so you can easily identify the best-of-the-best edibles and ornamentals for the season.  Plant award programs are numerous and many are distinct in their selection criteria. What they have in common are great garden plants.

    And these programs are reliable. Not only are most based on extensive field trials but they are also driven by third-party entities with the simple goal of promoting outstanding plants for home and garden. So, you can count on award-winners to perform well, if they are recommended for your region. Many are tested and approved for national audiences but others are specifically selected for regions, or by plant societies dedicated to specific plant groups. Here is just a sampling of recommended awards programs and their great plants.

    Candyland Red Tomato (Currant) Color Code: PAS Kieft 2017 Fruit, Seed 08.15 Elburn, Mark Widhalm Candyland01_02.JPG TOM15-19648.JPG

    Candyland Red is a superior currant tomato with big flavor. (image thanks to the AAS)

    The All-America Selections (AAS) is a respected, independent, non-profit organization that promotes terrific plants for North America. Their mission is “To promote new garden varieties with superior garden performance judged in impartial trials in North America.” Their trials are conducted across the US and Canada and focus on high-performing vegetables and annual garden flowers. Each year a handful of award winners are chosen and promoted. The program began in 1933, and lots of “old” award winners, now technically heirlooms, are still grown today. To learn more about the AAS and their selection criteria, click here.

    There are 12 AAS-winning plants for 2016 to include Salvia Summer Jewel™ Lavender, tomato ‘Candyland Red’, and the giant white pumpkin ‘Super Moon F1’.

    The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) program, which highlights plants of great merit for UK growers. Thankfully, many of the selected plants also perform well in North America. Unlike the AAS, this program seeks out all forms of high-performing ornamental include trees, shrubs and perennials. Species and cultivated plants are all fair game.

    Recent additions to the AGM program include Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’, sweet pea ‘Mary Mac’ and carrot ‘Artemis’.

    Geranium_X_catabrigense_Biokova1

    Geranium Biokovo was the 2015 Perennial Plant of the Year. (image care of The Perennial Plant Association)

    The Garden Club of America (GCA) promotes an outstanding North American native plant of the year and bestows upon it the Montine McDaniel Freeman Horticulture Award in honor of longtime member of a New Orleans GCA chapter, Montine McDaniel Freeman. The award-winning native for 2015 is the lofty and beautiful bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa), which is long-lived, tough and statuesque.

    A “Perennial Plant of the Year”, bestowed by the Perennial Plant Association, has been selected since the program began in 1990. Chosen plants must be “suitable for a wide range of growing climates, require low maintenance, have multiple-season interest, and are relatively pest/disease-free.” Novice gardeners seeking to beautify their landscapes with perennials would be wise to start by choosing plants from this list—to include the 2015 selection, Biokovo geranium (Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’).

    andropogon-gerardii-pwin01s.jpg1

    The steely blue Windwalker® big bluestem is a Plant Select® winner. (image care of Plant Select)

    Plant Select® is a popular regional awards program dedicated to ornamental plants—woody and herbaceous—of the North American high plains and intermountain region, but many are good general performers in other parts of the country. One unique feature is that “Plant Select® leverages a uniquely collaborative model and highly-selective cultivation process to find, test and distribute plants that thrive on less water.” So, Plant Select® are water-wise in addition to being high performing and beautiful. Disease resistance and non-invasiveness are two more important selection criteria.

    Notable Plant Select® winners for 2015 are the evergreen Wallowa Mountain desert moss (Arenaria ‘Wallowa Mountain’), perfect for fairy and succulent gardens, Windwalker® Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii ‘PWIN01S’), Coral Baby penstemon (Penstemon ‘Coral Baby’), and the stately Woodward Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum ‘Woodward’).

    Out East, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has been promoting its PHS Gold Medal Plants annually since 1978. The winners represent superior woody plants for the landscape that thrive in USDA Hardiness Zones 5-7. Recent winners include the Rising Sun redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Rising Sun’) and Darts Duke viburnum (Viburnum x rhytidophylloides ‘Darts Duke’).

    Penst_barb_Coral_Baby_Panayoti_Kelaidis__2

    Penstemon ‘Baby Coral’ is a water-wise and long-blooming Plant Select® winner. (image care of Plant Select®)

    There are lots of plant societies offering award-winning selections for home and garden each year. The All-America Roses Selections (AARS) has represented the best from their national rose trials since 1930, but due to a flagging economy this important trial ended in 2014. Fortunately, some have been willing to keep it alive, bringing us several great winners for 2015, which includes the thornless, cerise pink, antique rose ‘Thomas Affleck’ and the fragrant hybrid tea, Deelish®.

    Choose to garden smart this season with a few award winners. Pick a few for the New Year and reap the rewards. Fortify them with top-quality potting soils and amendments from Fafard, and you cannot go wrong.

  3. Five Annual Cut Flowers for Fall

    Nigella JaKMPM

    Love-in-a-mist flowers are airy, colorful and long-lasting. Their pretty puffy seed heads can be dried for winter everlasting arrangements.

    Some of the prettiest flowers for cutting are annuals that grow and bloom fast and thrive in cool weather.  Growing them is a snap. Start them in early August, and you should have lots of pretty flowers for cutting by late September or early October.

    Parks 51138-pk-p1

    ‘Towering Orange’ sulfur coreopsis is a tall variety that is perfect for fall cutting!

    Planting Cut Flowers for Fall

    If you are someone who already plants summer cut flowers, you will likely still have zinnias, tall marigolds, and purple cosmos in the garden, but these tend to lose steam towards the end of the season. Removing declining summer cut flowers and filling in the holes with fresh, cool-season bloomers will pay off. Just be sure to turn, smooth, and clean the ground before planting, and top dress with a good, moisture-holding mix that will allow your new cut flower seeds to germinate easily. Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix is a great choice.

    Once your area is prepared, sprinkle your seeds of choice over the soil, and then lightly cover with some additional mix and gently pat the area down. Annuals with larger seeds, like sweet peas, will need to be planted at least an inch below the soil. Keep newly sown spots evenly moist with daily misting or watering.

    Most annuals germinate quickly, in a week or two. Once new seedlings have emerged, continue providing them with needed moisture, and be sure to remove any weed seedlings. Feed plantlets every two weeks with a little water-soluble flower food. This will help them grow and flower at top speed.

    Five Cut Flowers for Fall

    1) Sweet Peas

    Sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus, 74-85 days from seed) are some of the sweetest smelling cool-season cut flowers, but they require light trellising. This is easily done by securing strong, firm stakes into the ground and lining the spaces between them with trellis netting that the peas can climb up with their tendrils. Renee’s Garden Seeds carries loads of exceptional sweet peas for cutting. The antique ‘Perfume Delight’ is especially fragrant and a little more heat tolerant, which allows them to forge through unexpected warm days.  (Read Renee’s article “All About Sweet Peas” for more information about these pleasing flowers.)

    Johnnys 1017

    The classic bachelor’s button for cutting is the long-stemmed ‘Blue Boy’. (photo care of Johnny’s Selected Seeds)

    2) Bachelor’s Buttons

    Colorful bachelor’s buttons (Centaurea cyanus, 65-75 days from seed) come in shades of richest violet-blue, pink, white, and deepest burgundy. Most agree that the blue flowers are the most remarkable and prettiest in a vase. There are lots of compact varieties, but these have short stems. Long-stemmed selections are the best for cutting, but they must be staked for reliable upright growth. ‘Blue Boy’ is an old-fashioned, large-flowered heirloom with tall stems that are perfect for cutting.

    3) Sulfur Coreopsis

    For fiery color, few cut flowers grow faster than sulfur coreopsis (Coreopsis sulphureus, 50-60 days from seed). The long-stemmed ‘Towering Orange’ produces billows of tangerine orange flowers that will last a long time. These look beautiful in a vase with ‘Blue Boy’ bachelor’s buttons!

    Renees swp-perfume

    Extra fragrant, colorful blooms are the selling point of ‘Perfume Delight’ sweet pea sold by Renee’s Seeds. (photo care of Renee’s Garden Seeds)

    4) Love-in-a-Mist

    Uniquely lacy flowers make love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena, 63-80 days from seed) especially charming in the garden or a vase. The dried seed pots are also visually interesting, allowing them to double as dried flowers. The flowers come in shades of violet-blue, purple, white, and pink. One of the better Nigella mixes is provided by Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

    5) Annual Baby’s Breath

    No flower arrangement is complete without a frothy filler flower to add loft and interest. Annual baby’s breath (Gypsophila elegans, 45-50 days from seed) is the standard choice, and ‘Covent Garden Market’ is a tall, airy variety that will bloom until frost. It is very easy to grow, and its small, white, cup-shaped flowers make more colorful blooms stand out in a vase.

    Cut flowers brighten our gardens and homes, so consider planting some of these traditional beauties in August for fall bloom. You’ll save money at the farmer’s market and impress your guests.

  4. New Flower Introductions for 2015

    The best way to survive winter is to dress warmly and dream of spring. And the best way to dream of spring is to get acquainted with new plant varieties. For maximum spiritual uplift, start with flowering annuals and perennials.

    If you were conjuring up the perfect flowering annual or perennial for 2015, it would possess all the traits that gardeners have come to expect over the last few years. The ideal plant would feature a compact growth habit, making it suitable for both in-ground and container gardening, and it would bloom continuously or rebloom regularly throughout the growing season. On top of all that, the ideal plant would be fragrant, adaptable to varying cultural conditions and resistant to pests and diseases. Shade loving paragons of perfection would feature interesting foliage or conspicuous flowers, or, ideally, both.

    The following are some of the pick of the 2015 introductions crop.

    Annuals

    superbells_cherry_red_imp_mono

    Superbells Cherry Red Improved gets top ratings from Proven Winners customers. (Image by Chris Brown)

    Millions of Petunias: Petunias and their smaller relatives, Calibrachoa, abound among this year’s introductions, with breeders bringing out new colors, forms and expansions of existing lines. Vivid red-and-yellow striped ‘Caloha Double Trouble’ from Cohen Propagation Nurseries features double flowers and a trailing growth habit. Proven Winners adds to the Super Bells series of single-flowered calibrachoa with the vivid cerise ‘Superbells Cherry Red Improved.’

    Foliage Drama: Coleus continues to dominate among annual shade plants. New entries include Ball Seed’s maroon and green ‘Coleosaurus’ and ‘Box Office Bronze.’ Rex begonias also come on strong with the introduction of the Jurassic Series from Ball Ingenuity. The plants feature lobed foliage variegated in shades of green, red, white, bronze, purple and silver.

    dispthumb.aspx

    The impressive Osteospermum ‘Blue-Eyed Beauty’ is a floriferous new introduction from Ball Seed. (Image care of Ball Seed)

    Tougher Impatiens: For those who have given up impatiens because of disease issues, help is at hand in the form of Selecta’s Bounce and Big Bounce series. Bearing flowers in an array of colors, these impatiens are disease-resistant interspecific hybrids that are able, according to marketers to rebound from fungal disease.

    Crazy Daisies: With their colorful petals and blue-tinted centers, floriferous daisy-form osteospermum, native to South Africa, are wonderful for containers and garden beds. New varieties include ‘Blue-Eyed Beauty’ from Ball Seed’s, with golden petals surrounding a blue-purple central eye.

    Perennials

    Uptick in Tickseed: American’s love affair with Coreopsis or tickseed continues unabated with many new varieties of this daisy family member. Veteran breeder Darryl Probst of Walter’s Gardens makes a big noise with his compact Little Bang series, including ‘Enchanted Eve,’ which is yellow with red centers; rosy ‘Red Elf’ and white-petaled ‘Starlight,’ which also features rosy centers.

    The soft colored blooms of 'Candy Love' Hellibore come in shades of pink and primrose yellow. (Image care of Plants Nouveau)

    The soft colored blooms of ‘Candy Love’ Hellebore come in shades of pink and primrose yellow. (Image care of Plants Nouveau)

    On the Rise: Vertical gardening continues to thrive everywhere and this year’s clematis introductions take it to new heights. ‘Fireflame’s red flowers grow as large as 6 to 8 inches, appearing as single or double forms over the course of the growing season. With raspberry-pink petals edged in white, ‘Maria Therese’ is a compact, large-flowered variety introduced from Pride of Place Plants. Planted in containers in-ground, ‘Maria Therese’ combines big visual impact with manageable size.

    Early and Often: Shade-loving hellebores have caught the fancy of many breeders and gardeners, providing bloom and color in late winter and early spring. Color ranges have increased, with breeders also working on new leaf colors and shapes. One of the better varieties from from Plants Nouveau is called ‘Candy Love’ and has blooms in delicate shades of pink and yellow.

    Compact and long-blooming, Geum 'Sun Kissed Lime' is a superb introduction from Terra Nova Nuseries. (Image care of Terra Nova Nurseries)

    Compact and long-blooming, Geum ‘Sun Kissed Lime’ is a superb introduction from Terra Nova Nuseries. (Image care of Terra Nova Nurseries)

    Geum Generosity: Cheerful, low-growing geums have come into their own, because they suit plots or pots and rebloom over the course of the growing season. One of the most vibrant of the geum tribe is the new ‘Sunkissed Lime,’ from Terra Nova. The 9- inch tall plants feature eye-grabbing lime green foliage and vivid orange flowers. ‘Sunkissed Lime’ offers garden smooches in sun or light shade.

    Butterfly Magnets: With plentiful flower spikes that attract butterflies and garden visitors, while repelling deer, ornamental salvias have long been mainstays of the sunny garden. New varieties abound for 2015, including Salvia nemorosa ‘Blue Marvel’ from Ball Seed. The color is similar to old favorite ‘Mainacht,’ but the flowers are larger. The Color Spires series from Proven Winners expands the Salvia nemorosa color range and includes three new varieties: ‘Crystal Blue,’ ‘Violet Riot’ and ‘Pink Dawn.’

    Clematis-hybrid-from-New-Zealand-960x720

    Clematis ‘Maria Therese’ is a spectacular new offering from Pride of Place Plants. (Image care of Pride of Place Plants)

    With daylight on the increase and green thumbs beginning to tingle for another year, get a good start on the gardening season by making lists of interesting, newly-introduced plants that might work in your garden. Stock up on necessary garden components like Fafard Natural and Organic Potting Mix for containers and Fafard Garden Manure Blend to build soil fertility. The last frost date will come sooner than you think.

  5. Annuals for Fantastic Fall Color

    Pennisetum setaceum JaKMPM

    Pennisetum ‘Rubrum’ has reddish foliage and grassy plumes that look great until frost. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    Many gardens lack for fall color – prompting many gardeners to resort to the ubiquitous fall mum.  Often overlooked, however, are the numerous other annuals for autumn display, many of which come into their glory months before chrysanthemum season.  Their beauty, longevity, and relative novelty make them a refreshing and often preferable alternative to what has become a fall garden cliché.

    The dazzling, October-sky-blue flowers of Chinese hound’s tongue (Cynoglossum amabile) give the impression of a tall, out-of-season forget-me-not (Myosotis).  In all respects, however, this biennial outshines its spring-blooming cousin, possessing a much longer, summer-to-fall flowering season, as well as attractive, fuzzy, gray-green basal leaves that persist rather than turning to mush.  Sown directly in the garden in spring, it will bear a late-summer to frost succession of clustered blooms on upright stems.  Plants usually self-sow, but not with the prolific abandon of forget-me-not.  Available as seed or occasionally as plants, Chinese hound’s tongue is typically sold in the form of dwarf varieties such as ‘Firmament’, which top out at about 15 inches.  It reaches its zenith, however, in full-size forms (including ‘Blue Showers’), which can reach 30 inches tall.  This East-Asian native takes well to sunny or partly shaded cottage gardens and mixed borders, partnering beautifully with Japanese anemones, colchicums, and other late-blooming perennials.  Dwarf forms do nicely in containers as well as in the open garden.

    Beautiful red flowers and golden leaves make Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’ a great sage for season’s end.

    There’s nothing dwarf about woodland tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris), a lordly, bold-leaved, delightfully shaggy plant that holds slender silky-white trumpets on lofty stems that look you in the eye.  Blooming alongside (and above) Chinese hound’s tongue from summer to fall, this heat- and sun-loving tender perennial is also a reliable self-sower, with spontaneous seedlings almost always appearing in spring.  Debuting in mid to late summer and continuing in abundance until frost, the flowers cast an intense, intoxicating, musky-sweet perfume that peaks at night, drawing pollinating moths.  Hummingbirds visit during the day.  Plants can be started from seed sown under cover in early spring, or in the garden at tomato-planting time.  Seedlings (which are sometimes available from nurseries) should be planted out after the last frost date.  Fertile, moist soil is best.

    For containers and other niches where something more chrysanthemum-like is desired, butter daisy (Melampodium paludosum) is just the ticket.  Low, mounded, bushy, and brassy-flowered, it envelops itself with petite golden-yellow daisies for many weeks beginning in summer.  Seed catalogs and nurseries sell numerous compact varieties, all of which form tight, 8- to 12-inch hummocks of oval, weakly toothed, mid-green leaves, with flowers appearing about 3 months after sowing.  Given a fertile, not overly dry soil, plants will continue blooming profusely until the first heavy frost.  Native to Mexico and Central America, this annual can take the heat, and will seed itself around in warmer gardens.

    Mexico is also home to several cold-tender, shrubby sages notable for their showy late-season bloom.  Among the best are Salvia greggii and its hybrids, which throw numerous spires of richly hued, hummingbird-thronged flowers from late spring until frost.  Cultivars include compact ‘Ultra Violet’ , with vibrant rose-purple flowers on 18-inch stems, and the fiery-flowered ‘Furman’s Red’, whose cherry-vermillion wands can reach 3 feet tall.  At least a dozen other tender Salvia species are indispensable contributors to the fall (and summer) garden, thriving in any well-drained, reasonably fertile growing medium, preferably in full sun.  Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’ is a gold leaved, red flowered selection with a particularly beautiful fall display. Most of the shrubby salvias perform splendidly in containers as well as in the open garden, and a few will survive USDA Zone 6 winters.

    Beta vulgaris ssp. cicla 'Ruby Red'

    Colorful Swiss chard looks and tastes best in fall.

    The arching, brown-purple leaves of red fountain grass (Pennisetum ‘Rubrum’) make the perfect foil to salvias and other bright summer- and fall-bloomers.  Tawny, purple-tinged, plumed flower spikes arch above the foliage in summer and fall.  Thought to be a hybrid of Pennisetum setaceum (although usually listed as a cultivar of same), ‘Rubrum’ rarely self-sows, unlike its prodigiously fertile parent.  At 3 to 4 feet tall and wide, it works wonderfully in large containers or mixed plantings in full sun or light shade.  Typically grown as an annual, it’s a hardy perennial in USDA Zones 9 and warmer.

    The roster of showy-leaved fall annuals also includes several varieties of chard.  Sow the seeds in summer for a fall display of large, crinkled, often bronze-suffused leaves, with vividly contrasting ribs and veins.  Most named varieties (such as yellow-ribbed ‘Oriole’ and burgundy-ribbed ‘Rhubarb’) feature one contrasting color, but the mix ‘Bright Lights’ contains numerous hues including red, yellow, orange, purple, and creamy white.  Chard’s close cousin, the beet, has also given rise to some showy-leaved varieties.  Among the most notable is ‘Bull’s Blood’, whose deep maroon leaves make for good eating as well as for good ornament.  As with chard, plants mature in fall from a summer sowing. and provide a welcome change of pace from ornamental kale.

  6. 10 Terrific Flowers for Honey Bees

    IMG_0764

    Rudbeckia lacinata ‘Autumn Sun’ is a late-summer bloomer that bees love.

    The decline in honey bees (Apis mellifera) has heightened the popularity of honey bee plants. Many favorite flowers for honey bees, like sweetclover, thistle, alfalfa and dandelion, are Eurasian plants too weedy for flower beds. Thankfully, there are some beautiful summer garden flowers, many being  North American natives, which are also great nectar and pollen plants favored by these Old World native bees. Regional natives are also superb forage plants for regional bees.

    The best honey bee plants provide a good supply of both sugary nectar and protein-rich pollen sought after by these and other long-tongued bees. Lots of beautiful garden flowers provide both in high quantities. Here are our top 10 favorites organized by bloom time. Choose one for each blooming period and you’ll have great bee blooms throughout the growing season! All are sun-loving and grow best in good soils with regular to good drainage. Amend with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend and feed with a fertilizer for flowers, such as Black Gold Rose & Flower Fertilizer, for best results.

    Early Summer Bee Flowers

    Echinacea pallidaPale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida, perennial): An elegant beauty with fine, drooping petals, the pale purple coneflower is a bee favorite that also produces seeds much loved by finches. A native of grasslands and savannahs across the Eastern United States, this tough coneflower will bloom for up to three weeks from June to July. When in bloom, its flowers will feed lots of bees. You might even see a few butterflies on them as well.

     

    Achillea millefolium 'Strawberry Seduction' PP18401Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium, perennial): The bright, flattened heads of common yarrow are covered with tiny daisy flowers that bees really favor. Native to both Eurasia and North America, this plant attracts loads of pollinators no matter where it’s planted. There are many beautiful varieties for the garden; two of the better variants are the rich red ‘Strawberry Seduction’ (image left) and ‘Wonderful Wampee’, which has pink flowers that fade to nearly white. 

    Summer Bee Flowers

    IMG_8181Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus, annual): Nothing attracts and feeds bees like good old sunflowers. Their massive and prolific blooms come in shades of yellow, gold, red and orange and give way to lots of oil-rich seeds enjoyed by seed-eating birds and humans alike. There are literally hundreds of varieties to choose with various flower colors, heights and flower sizes. The dwarf varieties ‘Little Becka‘ (image left; 3-4’ tall with gold and brown flowers) and ‘Big Smile’ (1-2′ tall with classic golden flowers with black centers) are choice selections for any garden.

    Agastache_Blue_Boa_4Blue Giant Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum, perennial): The pretty spires of purple flowers produced by the giant hyssop become simply covered with bees. A native across the northern regions of North America, this fragrant perennial in the mint family it tough and very hardy. The hybrid Agastache ‘Blue Boa’ (image left by Terra Nova Nurseries) is an exceptional variety from Terra Nova Nursery that is exceptionally beautiful.

     

    Monarda punctata and Salvia coccinea JaKMPMHorsemint (Monarda punctata, perennial): Few garden perennials draw bees as efficiently as the long-blooming horsemint. A native of much of the United States, this sun-lover produces tiers of unique pink to white bracted flowers through much of summer and into fall. The blooms of these fragrant plants last a long time and become completely covered with pollinators. Plant in very well-drained soil for best performance.

     

    Echinacea_Dixie_Belle_1Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea, perennial): The popularity of purple coneflowers and their many hybrids serves as a testament to their beauty and resilience. All are a favorite of bees, and like the pale purple coneflower, seed-eating birds enjoy the seedheads that follow. The purple-pink daisy flowers begin blooming in summer and will easily continue into late summer and even fall if the old flowers are removed. Some of the better new variants for big, long-blooming flowers include ‘Dixie Belle’ (left, image by Terra Nova Nurseries) and the super heavy blooming ‘Pica Bella’

    019Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp., annual or perennial): Nothing says summer like a beautiful black-eyed Susan, and bees appreciate their prolific flowers just as much as we do. One to seek out is the heavy blooming dwarf ‘Little Goldstar’ (Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Little Goldstar’).

     

     Late-Summer and Fall Bee Flowers

    Aster oblongifolius 'October Skies'Asters (Symphotrichum spp., perennial): The pinks, blues and purples of late-summer and fall aster flowers are a delight to all bees. There are so many wonderful varieties to choose from it’s hard to know where to start. The classic ‘October Skies’ (image left, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’) is a wonderful late bloomer with lavender-blue flowers and orange centers, and the dusty sky blue ‘Bluebird’  (Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’) is an earlier bloomer with prolific flowers.

     

    Eupatorium purpureum 2Joe-Pye Weeds (Eutrochium spp., perennial): This group of mid-to late-summer bloomers produces big, fuzzy heads of purplish-red flowers filled with nectar and pollen. Native across North America, many of the sun-loving perennials are adapted to moist ground. One of the finest garden varieties is Eutrochium purpureum ‘Little Red’ with its 4′ tall stature and pretty reddish-purple flowers.

     

    SolidagoGoldenrods (Solidago spp., perennial): Lauded as one of the best bee flowers for late summer and fall, goldenrods become a buzzing mass when they open. In fact, goldenrod honey is a delicacy, known to be darker with a distinctive bite. Excellent garden-worthy goldenrods include the dwarf forms ‘Golden Fleece’ (Solidago sphacelata ‘Golden Fleece’) and ‘Baby Gold’ (Solidago ‘Baby Gold’).

    With just a few of these garden beauties, feeding the bees all summer long is easy.