As spring turns into summer, new opportunities arise for color in our gardens. Observe some of the plants that can be purchased and increased, providing an abundance of extra plants for filling in open spaces where cool season annual, bulbs and perennials have completed their cycles. Below are some tips about propagating them from cuttings, seeds or division.
By now, pansies, violas, snapdragons and stock are finishing up because they cannot tolerate the approaching heat. The season can be prolonged a few weeks by removing spent flowers and cutting them back a bit, but it will soon be time to pull them up and replace them with more heat tolerant choices. Begin by working in several inches of compost, pine bark or similar organics to aerate the soil and add water-holding capacity for the dry times ahead. The addition of five pounds of alfalfa or cottonseed meal or a time release commercial fertilizer will also pay big dividends.
Shady or partially shaded sites are ideal for fibrous rooted begonias, fancy leaf caladiums, impatiens and coleus. Coleus is available in a variety of colors and additional plantings can be added by direct sticking the cuttings. Sweet potato vine, which roots almost overnight, can be combined for added color. A frugal gardener can purchase a hanging basket of the sweet potato vine and take a couple dozen ¾” cuttings for an easy, economical way to provide lots of color. For more variety, incorporate pots of setcreasea (Wandering Jew); it can also be added in masses within the broad sweeps of sweet potato vine. The plantings will continue until the first hard frost in the fall.
Other possibilities for easy summer color include zinnias. The ‘Profusion’ series are compact single flowers in a rainbow of beautiful colors. Some people prefer the large, double flowering types like ‘Cut and Come Again’. They are a joy as cut flowers and attract hordes of butterflies. The flowers of “Bachelor’s Button,” another heirloom choice that seems to get better and better, can be dried in bouquets each fall then shredded in the spring and used for the “new crop.”
Celosias are available in spike and crested forms. The crested forms are sometimes called “cockscombs.” The old red/purple form is hard to beat but they are now available in pinks, yellows and whites. They all thrive in the summer heat but do appreciate occasional watering. Shake a few mature flowers over an open paper envelope and enough hard, shiny small seeds will be collected to create next year’s flower bed.
Torenias or wish bone flowers are another old fashion favorite. They appreciate a little afternoon shade and come in a variety of pleasing colors. Angelonias are drawing more interest now. First thought to be a little heat sensitive newer ones are proving very useful. One common name is “summer snapdragons” because they do resemble snaps. Purslane and portulaca are old standbys for heat tolerant, sunny areas. If you find a color you are pleased with, take 3 to 4 inch cuttings and stick them in pots or beds. They will quickly spread and bloom till frost.
Succulents are becoming increasingly popular because of their low water requirements and interesting foliage. They are especially nice in containers. Look for tried-and-true varieties of some of the unusual and common types at a local garden center that are easy to propagate and require little management. Mixtures of succulents with rain lilies, purslane and portulacas can be easy.
Beautiful pottery makes these combinations valuable as accessories in the garden. It is easy to propagate succulents, as usually a gardener can snap off “heads” that have grown too long, and simply poke them into newly prepared containers of good potting soil mixed with sand. They will be rooted in no time.
For more information about these topics, contact the A&M AgriLife Extension office of Clay County at (940) 538-5042.