By LSU AgCenter Horticulturists Dan Gill, Kyle Huffstickler and Allen Owings
Itís mid-March, and spring bedding-plant time is here for most of us. We have been eager to plant flowers this spring with our warm winter weather and the early arrival of springlike conditions in the landscape.
The vast majority of our warm-season bedding plants are best planted in full sun. One thing that home gardeners want is flowers that bloom from planting time in spring until first killing frost in late fall or early winter. That is a lot to ask for – but it can be achieved by selecting the correct plants and following the correct management practices.
We can start off with two Louisiana Super Plants from spring 2011 – Butterfly pentas and Serena angelonias. Both of these are great and perform best when planted in April after the weather warms up a little more. Both plants attract butterflies in large numbers.
Butterfly and other series of pentas will bloom until fall and are available in white, pink, lavender, blush, rose and red. A great flower color palette is available in this plant.
The colors are more limited in angelonias. The Serena series is the most popular and best landscape performer – colors are white, lavender, and pink with shades of these. Blue is the new Serena angelonia color for 2012.
Salvia coccinea is actually one of the perennial sages, but we usually treat it as an annual bedding plant in Louisiana. Lady in Red is the older variety that is very good, but two new varieties for planting now are Summer Jewel Red and Summer Jewel Pink. These are smaller and more compact than the older varieties and bloom from the time you plant them in spring until first frost. Blooms are dark and colorful and hold up well in heat and adverse weather conditions. Both of these are All-America Selection winners and are available from seed if you desire to sow you own.
Begonias are available in many shapes, sizes and flower colors. Foliage colors include green, bronze and red. Begonias with red foliage usually perform slightly better in full sun. The Cocktail series (Rum, Whiskey, and Vodka) is long popular and performs well. The Dragon Wing series is great, too. It is mostly sold in hanging baskets and container plantings. It is not as adapted to full sun though as it is promoted. Baby Wing White and Baby Wing Pink begonias will be Louisiana Super Plants this spring.
Begonias bloom "forever." They seldom cycle in and out of flower. They also hold up well in heat and humidity. You need to check specific planting guidelines for each begonia variety. Some do best in a little more sun while others do best in a little more shade. Begonias are low-maintenance and care-free and bloom spring through fall.
Fireworks is a new variety of gomphrenas that is catching the gardening world by storm. This is not like your older gomphrenas, which we sometimes commonly called bachelor buttons. Some people also call these globe amaranth. They are an old garden standby.
Fireworks is very tall (3-4 feet) and has pink flowers with light sprinkles of purple while other traditional gomphrenas have light purple, lavender, white, dark purple and pink flowers. Plants can be from 6 inches to 4 feet tall depending on which variety you plant. Full sun is best for these, and they require limited irrigation. Select the Audray, All Around or Las Vegas series if you want smaller-growing ones rather than the taller Fireworks.
Possibly the most-planted summer bedding plant in Louisiana is the vinca or periwinkle. Plant vinca later in the spring, limit irrigation, locate plants in full sun and allow it to do its thing. Flowers are abundant all summer and fall. Numerous flower colors are available – older varieties are pink, rose, white, blush and rose with new colors being lavenders, light blues, light to medium reds and combinations of these colors. Great series to plant include the Titans, Coras, Nirvanas, Coolers and Pacificas.
Zinnias love heat and dry weather. They are more spring-through-summer or summer-through-fall performers. If it is a dry growing season, they will last much longer in the landscape. Limit irrigation. Plant zinnias several times during the year. You may plant from late March through early May and in late summer through early fall.
Profusion and Zahara zinnias are the most planted and recommended these days. Flowers are available in white, cherry, pink, rose, yellow, fire and apricot. These are smaller-growing zinnias with smaller flowers. Plants reach only 14-16 inches tall. No deadheading is needed on these zinnias, unlike the older, larger-growing varieties.