What to do this week
By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening” on 970WFLA
Flowering Perennials for full Sun Gardens
If you are tired of looking at the same-old flowering plants that every homeowner seems to grow because you cannot find plants that will sustain our hot summers, or you just do not know where to look, then you need to check out a few of the suggestions I am going to recommend to you here. Perennials offer a wide complement of colors and shapes for any landscape. Because perennials continue to grow year after year, I am sure you will like at least a few of the selections I have had good success with. All the selections covered here will grow in the full sun. Let’s get started.
Agapanthus africanus, or Lily of the Nile is an excellent choice, especially when planted close together in a large clump. As they grow, they will fill in a larger area, but the best part is when they go into bloom in the summertime. Their long stalks of either purple or white flowers are very attractive, and their foliage is dark green. Agapanthus likes to be fertilized regularly with a blooming fertilizer to produce longer stalks and wide leaves. I saw a mass planting of these flowers at the EPCOT center in Orlando, which was absolutely beautiful. Be sure to water regularly if we are not getting enough rain to ensure a long bloom cycle.
Angelonia angustifolia is another favorite of mine because of its low-maintenance requirements. This plant produces white or blue flowers, which are borne on spathes and seem to jump out of the tops of the plants. I also like to plant Angelonia in groupings of four or five starters to give me that full look. They will spread out over time and of course, fertilizer will help them tremendously. Once the blooms are spent, you should trim the plants back lightly to produce more flowers.
Evolvulus glomerata or Blue Daze is a great plant to use in the full sun around specimen trees or as a border planting. With regular feeding, Blue Daze will grow and spread laterally to three feet in diameter and grow to one-foot high. Once the plant reaches maturity, you will notice mounds of lovely one-inch blue/white flowers that will be produced throughout the summer. This plant will grow great in sandy soil with little problems, but take care not to plant it in areas that hold standing water. Too much water or saturated soils can cause this plant to decline.
Bulbine Frutescens is a fast growing perennial great for uses in front of fence posts or as a border plant. Bulbine is a clumping plant and will eventually grow to a height of eighteen inches before long stalks appear in late spring through the fall. These stalks will bloom with many deep orange flowers that sport yellow stamens, very stunning. Sow individual starter plants about three feet apart to allow them to spread by rhizomes or underground runners. Once established in the garden, Bulbine requires little if any additional watering throughout the summer. This plant is ideal for rock gardens too!
Because many of us live along the beach, I have a great suggestion for you to grow, Helianthus debilus, or the Beach Sunflower. Beach sunflowers are an excellent choice for those of you looking for a low-growing plant that can withstand our summer heat and poor soil conditions. Best of all, once this plant establishes itself; it will spread laterally covering an area up to eight feet in circumference. A little fertilizer twice a year will keep the plant going, giving it the ability spread and bloom profusely. Summer rains also help the plants to grow and produce seeds, which will produce new plants. Like the name suggests, small one-inch sunflowers are produced throughout the summer. Some maintenance will be required every couple of years to pull up exhausted plants, allowing seeds to regrow and fill in the bare areas.
If you like my suggestions above, then I have a daisy you will really love, the Gerbera jamesonii, or Gerbera Daisy. Gerbera daisies are a clump-forming plant which loves the full sun but prefers to be planted in soil, which has been improved with organic matter. I like to add at least two inches of peat to the soil before planting them. I also add mulch to conserve water. As the plants grow in a clump to a height of twelve inches, flower blooms emerge on six-inch stems. Three-inch flowers are produced on these stems and the diversity of colors available is immense. The best part about growing these daisies is that the flowers can be cut and displayed indoors. Cut flowers can last for several days. Water and fertilize regularly for best results. Over time, Gerberas tend to pull themselves into the ground which prevents blooming and can cause crown rot. I recommend that every two years you should pull plants up, divide them, and then reset them into improved soil.
Another great flowering ground cover you need to try is called Verbena speciosa. Verbena is a spreading plant that performs great even in the hottest locations. Sow new starts directly in our native soils. Verbena requires little care other than watering when rains do not come during the summer. Light applications of an 8-10-10 fertilizer every other month will ensure good flower production from April through October. Clusters of blossoms the size of tennis balls, develop on stalks extending from the base of the plant. Look for the cultivar “Imagination” which performs exceptionally well in our area. During the summer, you may have to cut back spent blossoms to encourage additional flowering. Some people will cut the entire plant back by one-fourth to ensure a second mass bloom in about a month.
Turnera ulmifolia, or Yellow Buttercups is a favorite of bees and butterflies. This drought- tolerant plant can grow to a height of thirty-six inches, but I like to keep it trimmed back to eighteen inches. The bright yellow blossoms resemble periwinkles and continue to bloom throughout the summer months with little care. Once the flowers fade, a seed pod is produced which you can collect the seeds from to plant in other bare areas around the home. I have grown this plant for many years and have never had an insect problem. Although this plant likes the full sun, it will also grow in part-shade without affecting the blooming. Fertilize only occasionally as this plant requires little care.
The last plant I want to tell you about is called Neomarica spp., or the walking iris. The walking iris is an interesting plant because first of all it grows like a fan with tall sword-shaped leaves. Some people have even called this plant the poor man’s orchid based on the beautiful flowers it produces, but its real name comes from the plant’s propagation habit of forming new plantlets at the top of the flower stalks. As these new plantlets grow, they fall over and root into the ground. This is how the plant spreads in the garden. There are many colors to choose from, but I like the blue variety the best. The blue cultivar does not “walk” as other irises do. Just let the clump grow, when it reaches maturity, you can divide them very easily. Lightly fertilize every few months and enjoy the blooms over the summer.
I have grown each of the perennials I have listed above and all of them will do well right here in central Florida. Little care is needed to grow these flowering plants. Just light applications of fertilizer every few months can give you a care-free garden of color even in your hottest, sunniest locations. Best of all, you do not have to purchase dozens of starter plants. All of these selections are fast growers and propagate very easily. All you have to do is divide the plants over time to fill in large areas. Try a few of my selections for yourself and enjoy the cool weather inside while watching your garden grow and flower for you! Good Luck and remember, without plants, we would not be here!