Category Archives: Landscape Plants

Easy Annuals to Grow from Seed

In January we start thinking about the upcoming gardening season and what flowers we would like to see in our flower beds. If you enjoy starting flowers from seeds you are no doubt poring over the latest seed catalogues and gardening sites.

Many annual flowers are easy to start, not requiring any special equipment or expertise on your part. Others are a little trickier and will put you through their paces. Then there are flower seeds that are best planted directly into the ground in the spring, as they highly resent transplanting.

There is no shortage of flower varieties to grow and I’ve chosen a few to suggest that are generally sure to be successful most of the time. These varieties are easy to start from seed and also transplant well into your garden later in the spring. Some are for sunny spots and others are for shade. Most require only average garden soil fertility and average water requirements.

Marigolds

These are early blooming and almost indestructible plants. Traditionally in bright colors of orange yellow and mahogany they are now available in a soft creamy white called ‘Vanilla’. They can be dwarf, medium or tall, have single blooms or large pom pom styled flowers. Marigolds can be directly planted outdoors but you will enjoy earlier flowers if seeded indoors 6 weeks early.

Nicotiana

If you want great scent, plant an old fashioned species of nicotiana. With branching sprays of pure white, sweetly perfumed flowers, transplant into a bed close to a sitting area where you can enjoy their evening fragrance.

Viola

Pansies are easy to buy as starter plants in the early summer but for greater choice of colors tones and combinations check out the seed packages. Pansies are great for using in pots and deadheading will encourage more blooms. Pansies prefer cooler temperatures and may go slightly dormant in the heat of the summer but will return to bloom again in the fall.

Annual Grass Pennisetum ‘purple majesty’

Commonly known as Millet, this tall plant makes a striking accent plant. At 3 to 4 feet high when mature it produces deep purple foliage, stems and cattail-like plumes. Start indoors 8-10 weeks before planting out.

Salvia

There are several types of annual salvias to pant, but for excitement try ‘St.John’s Fire’. This salvia is a compact plant which blooms early with bright scarlet red plumes. Quite a show stopper and can be used both in the garden and in containers.

If you are new to seed planting, keep it simple to start to guarantee yourself rewarding results. By starting your annuals by seed you save yourself a lot of money and stretch that gardening budget further. Once you’ve had success with the easier seed types, you can then tackle others that are a little more fussy about their starting conditions.

How to Grow Elephant Ear Plants

How to Grow Elephant Ear Plants

Elephant ear plants are very unique plants that can add interest and variety to any garden. Whether used as a backdrop to show off other plants or as a stand-alone as the center of attention, these colorful and showy garden plants have a place in any garden. If you would like to find out more about these plants and learn how to grow elephant ear plants in a southern area like Baton Rouge, as well as in more northern regions of the country, please keep reading.

elephant ear plantsColocasia esculenta, more commonly known as the elephant ear plant are grown as perennials in warmer climates, while in colder regions of the country, they are grown as annuals.

Historically, certain species of elephant ear plants were cultivated as a food crop in many warm regions around the world. All parts of the plant are edible as long as they are either steamed thoroughly or boiled first. For instance, for many years in Hawaii, the corms were mashed and served as poi and the cooked leaves were used in luaus. Although these plants are still grown for food, many new ornamental varieties have also been developed in recent years.

Elephant ear plants are easy to grow, in fact so easy that they are considered an invasive plant in wetland areas along the Gulf Coast, as they can take over huge areas in a short time period and totally wipe out native plant species in the process.

how to grow elephant ear plantsAs you might expect with a name like elephant ear, this plant has very large leaves, which are highly decorative in appearance. Elephant ear plants are primarily selected for their unusual leaf characteristics. This includes color as well as shapes and textures.

Although they are most often emerald green, leaf colors range from gold right through to black with most varieties having a matte finish. Prominent veins are also evident on many leaves and their color ranges from ivory to purple.

For a truly dramatic effect in your garden, you can choose variegated cultivars. In elephant ear plants, this variegation is in the form of splotches or flecks of different colors on the surface of the leaves. So you may see splashes of yellow or purple on a green leaf, or green flecks on a purple leaf.

Some of the most sought after elephant ears are those which are either purple or black leaved, as they provide a wonderful contrast in a big way in a garden.

Although elephant ear plants are not grown for their flowers, they do produce them although they are generally hidden from view beneath the canopy of leaves. The flowers, referred to as inflorescences are large, similar in appearance to a calla lily and can be quite fragrant.

When you hear a name like elephant ears, you may expect something huge but that is not always the case. In fact, one of the smallest varieties, Colocasia heterochroma measures only 8″ tall. But there are many large varieties. One of the largest, Colocasia gigantea can grow to a height of 9′.  For the most part, though, elephant ear plants reach heights of between 3 and 5 feet.

Generally, the larger the plant, the larger the leaves will be. But several factors can determine just how large the leaves become. If you’re aiming to grow giant leaves on your plant, try to place the bulb in a protected area.  The longer it grows in the same location, the more mature the bulb becomes and when conditions are optimum, these are the bulbs that can produce huge elephant ear leaves on your plants.

Growing Conditions for Elephant Ear Plants

How to grow elephant ear plants

Elephant Ears and Caladiums

Elephant ear plants are wetland plants so that means that they like a lot of moisture. If you have low lying areas in your yard which tend to remain wet, this could be a great spot to plant them. In fact, some species can even be grown directly in a pond if you have one.

They grow best in humus-rich, organic, slightly acidic compost or soil which is kept evenly and thoroughly moist. Adding a layer of compost to the existing soil several times a year will encourage growth.

Once planted, it will be beneficial to the elephant ears to add a layer of mulch several inches thick as a way of maintaining moisture and replenishing organic matter in the soil. When first planted, mulching the area can keep weeds from growing and competing for nutrients and moisture.

These unique garden plants are heavy feeders and to get the most out of them, organic fertilizer should be used regularly. Since it is mainly the foliage which is the appeal with these plants, a fertilizer with a high nitrogen content can be quite beneficial.

Elephant ear plants are tropical and so they love heat and humidity and will flourish under these conditions. But at the same time, they prefer full to partial shade which are conditions that are similar to that of a tropical jungle which is their natural habitat.

In northern climates, elephant ears can tolerate some sun, but even so, full sun is not recommended. If you are unable to provide a shady enough area but would still like to try growing elephant ears, you’ll have more success growing those with green leaves, as these can withstand more sun than those with dark leaves.

Planting Elephant Ear Plants

Prepare the soil in the area where you are planting, by working compost into the soil and removing any weeds. The hole should be 3 or 4 times the size of the corm. When planted, the corms should be placed at a depth of between 2 and 4 inches.

You’ll want to plant the corms with the top facing up. The top will look pointy while the bottom will appear a little blunt. But honestly, sometimes it’s almost impossible to tell which side is the top and which is the bottom. If in doubt, it’s best to plant the corms sideways.

Cover the corms with soil and water thoroughly. Be sure to mark the spot where you’ve planted the bulbs as it may be several weeks or longer before you notice any growth appear, depending on the soil temperature.

If you are transplanting a potted elephant plant, place it in the ground a little deeper than the level it was planted in its container.

Be sure to allow lots of room (at least 5 or 6 feet for an average sized elephant ear plant) between each individual plant so there is enough space for its large leaves to develop and spread out.

Propagating and Dividing Elephant Ear Plants

Propagation of elephant ears is best done by dividing the bulbs in the spring. Use a sharp knife to divide the bulbs into several pieces. Each piece can be planted individually. If the pieces are small though, you could plant several together in one hole. Generally, the larger the bulb is when planted, the larger the plant itself will be when it grows.

Winter Care for Elephant Ear Plants

If you live in planting zone 8 or higher, you can leave your elephant ears in the ground year round. But it’s a good idea to mulch around the base of the plants to protect the bulbs from the cold.

In other regions, you’ll have better success if you dig out the bulbs before the cold weather hits. When the ground freezes, the bulbs will freeze as well, killing them off. To save the bulbs for replanting in the spring, it’s best to dig them out. Trim off the foliage but leave a short stalk. Cover with vermiculite or peat moss and store them in a cool dry place for the winter. Replant in spring, when all danger of frost is over and the soil has begun to warm up.

Some northern gardeners grow their elephant ear plants in pots so they can move them inside when the cold weather approaches. If you do this, be sure to take the time to harden off the plants before fully committing them to life outdoors again the following spring.

Warnings

The bulbs and other parts of some elephant ear plants can be poisonous if ingested, so you may want to keep an eye on children and pets when they are in the vicinity.

During the growing season, as new leaves come on and older leaves die off, you may want to remove some of these dead leaves to keep the garden area looking neat. Be aware that the juices of cut elephant ear stems contain calcium oxalate which can cause eye or skin irritation. So, you may want to wear gloves when handling these leaves. At the very least be sure to wash your hands immediately after contact.

Possible Problems with Elephant Ear Plants

Check plants for mite infestation during hot dry weather in the summer. Control the problem by applying a weak mixture of insecticidal soap and water. This should be sprayed on both top and bottom leaf surfaces. But do test the soap in a small area before spraying fully to be sure it doesn’t harm the plants.

Elephant ear plants can suffer from leaf blight because of the moist growing environment. This can cause brown spots to appear on the leaves. To minimize the risk of blight, water only at the base of the plant and avoid getting water on the leaves directly as much as possible. If blight appears, you can get rid of it by treating the plant with a fungicide. Exercise caution when using a fungicide and test a small area of the plant before it applying fully.

If the roots are allowed to dry out, the plant can be affected by dehydration. The stress will show up in the leaves of the plant which will curl up, wilt, or turn yellow and drop off. Water more often and more deeply if this occurs.

As stated, elephant ears are heavy feeders. If they aren’t given enough nutrients, the plant will suffer. Some signs of insufficient feeding include stunted development of both the foliage and the corm, and leaves which turn yellow or are pale green.

Elephant ears can be damaged by strong winds as the stems are relatively weak. Providing some protection from the wind can help prevent this.

Final Thoughts on Elephant Ear Plants

There is a huge selection of elephant ear plants available in many sizes ranging from dwarf to giant varieties, and in many hues, colors and textures. The best plan is to choose the variety that will fit in the space you have, bearing in mind that in the hot southern regions particularly, these plants prefer shade to sun.

elephant ears

 

Daylilies in July

Stella de Oro DaylilyIf there was ever a plant that belonged to the month of July it’s the daylily, or more properly named hemerocallis. True to it’s name each daylily bloom lasts just one day, opening up in the early morning hours and folding down in the evening, never to rise again.

However, each daylily plant will have many flowering scapes or stems, each of which has many branches which in turn have many flower buds. The end result is a garden plant that has a blooming period of several weeks.

I must confess that daylily plants are my passion. If I were allowed to grow only one plant it would be the daylily. And I am not alone, there are daylily enthusiasts  all over the world, madly collecting their favorites only to discover they have even more favorites.

It is a well organized group of gardeners who have formed many societies, the American Hemerocallis Society being the queen bee. Hybridizers work endlessly to produce bigger and better blooms, there now being over 70,000 cultivars registered with the AHS.

The daylily plant comes in all heights, bloom sizes, colors and color combinations. There are frills on the edges, eyes, throats, fragrance, patterns, unusual forms and spiders. In the last few years we now have edges with shark’s teeth, hooks, horns and crimps.

Your daylily might even be diamond dusted, sparkling in the sun. This is actually tiny crystals in the flowers cells which reflect light, especially in direct sunlight. All this makes for stunning flowers.

As if it couldn’t get better, planting daylilies is very easy. They have no special requirements other than well drained soil. To leave them in soggy soil is to loose them to rot.  Plant daylilies in soil of average fertility, supply average sun, average water and your daylilies will perform for years. Few diseases and even fewer pests, what more could you want for your garden?

If you find yourself bitten by the daylily bug, you will quickly realize that your friendly local garden nursery is probably not the best place to acquire your precious treasures. Most likely  you will only find a few basic cultivars that will repeat themselves each season. Your best source is specialty nurseries or even better growers and farmers who specialize in the daylily plant.

On the web you will find many great sources for mail order plants, and because daylilies ship so well as bare root plants they will be delivered right to your door. Your choices will be almost endless, the only thing holding you back will be your budget.

Should you decide to take a peak into the daylily world, a word of caution your way. Daylilies can become addictive.

How to Grow Banana Plants

Banana Plants

Banana Plants

If you want to have almost instant success as a gardener, then the banana plant may be perfect for you. They are among the easiest and fastest growing of all garden plants. In fact, given steamy conditions and moderately high temperatures, some cultivars can reach heights of 17 feet or even more, in the space of only a few months. That’s not really surprising when you consider that at the height of the summer, banana plants have been known to grow a full foot in a single week.

Bananas are native to Southeast Asia, but over the years have spread throughout many tropic and sub-tropic areas of the world where they continue to thrive today. Despite the fact that banana plants are found primarily in tropical regions, it is possible to cultivate them in many parts of the United States, although there are some special requirements. Keep reading to find out how to grow banana plants in your area.

Banana plants are tropical herbaceous perennials which grow from underground rhizomes. They are highly prized for the tropical feel they give to their surroundings, although you may want to choose a dwarf variety that is limited in height for certain areas around your yard.

Although all banana plants produce fruit, most grown in the US are not like the bananas that you purchase at the grocery store. Some decorative varieties have fruit which is not edible. These are grown for their striking foliage and unique flowers. Banana plants that grow in Baton Rouge, for instance, are primarily ornamental although there are some varieties of edible bananas which can be grown.

An entire banana plant is referred to as a mat. It consists of the trunk part which is called a pseudostem, the rhizome which is located underground, and the fibrous root system. Although the pseudostem looks like a trunk, which is why banana plants are sometimes mistakenly thought to be trees, it is actually layer upon layer of tightly packed leaf sheaths. It supports the leaves, flowers and fruit.

Banana Plant Site Selection and Soil

When choosing a location for your banana plants, there are a few important factors to take into consideration.

For the best results, they need full or almost full sun. On excessively hot days where temperatures hover in the high 90s, your banana plants will appreciate some afternoon shade. But too much shade may delay or even stunt the growth of both the plants and the fruit.

And it’s important to plant bananas in a protected area of the garden to prevent wind damage from occurring, and to shield plants from cold weather. A southern or southeastern orientation is best.

Potted Banana Plants

Potted Banana Plants

Since banana plants need constant warmth, planting them beside a building or near a paved area can moderate temperatures during cooler evenings and provide your plants with some extra protection.

It’s important to get the soil right. Although banana plants will grow in a variety of soil conditions, they thrive in compost-rich, nutrition-filled soil. To keep weeds from competing with your plants for water and nutrients, and to better hold in moisture in the soil, mulch your plants thickly and continually. As the mulch breaks down it will continue to deliver nutrients to the root system.

Regardless of your soil type, banana plants absolutely need soil which drains well. If your soil tends to be heavy or drains poorly, it may be beneficial to plant them in raised beds. But be sure to build the beds deep enough so that the root system stays above the bottom layer of soil which may remain wet long after the rest of the soil has dried out. The main purpose of the raised bed system in this case, is to remove excess water to prevent root rot.

Climate and Temperature

Banana plants like heat and humidity, as those conditions mimic their natural environment. But you may be surprised to learn that bananas don’t need the extremely high temperatures found in tropical regions to flourish. In fact, they seem to grow best in temperatures which range from the low 80’s to the low 90’s with nighttime temperatures in the mid 70’s.

As bananas are tropical, they are quickly affected by temperatures which fall below their optimum level and will not survive freezing temperatures for more than a short time.

Banana Plants in Pot

Banana Plants in Pot

When temperatures dips below 60°F, plant growth begins to slow and below 50°F, growth pretty much stops. At or slightly below the freezing mark, freeze damage will certainly damage and may even kill plants right to ground level. It is possible to protect the underground rhizomes though, so new growth will sprout in the spring.

If you live in a colder region of the country, you may want to opt for a cold hardy variety, such as the Japanese Fiber or the Chinese Yellow. Both will produce fast growing tropical banana plants with beautiful foliage, striking flowers and ornamental fruit.

Watering Banana Plants

Banana plants require a lot of water to keep their large leaves in good condition and to produce fruit which is sweet. And it’s important they not be allowed to dry out, as this will reduce fruit size and yield, but can also affect the size and appearance of leaves.

But at the same time, you don’t want to over-water to the point where the soil is over saturated and not draining. When roots are continually sitting in wet soil, plant growth can be stunted, leaves can begin to yellow and fruit yields can be reduced. The worst case scenario is root rot which can destroy the plant.

If you’re growing banana plants in Baton Rouge for instance, you’ll want to thoroughly water at least every second or third day if it doesn’t rain. In other areas a good rule of thumb is to water deeply and slowly whenever the top half inch to inch of soil dries out.

Spacing Banana Plants

If you have a spectacular looking banana plant, you’ll probably want to show it off. But in general, it’s best to plant bananas in clumps or blocks, to replicate their natural environment, especially if you are growing them for the fruit.

Spacing varies depending on the variety. For dwarf varieties, it’s suggested that they be planted no closer than about 8 feet apart. Larger varieties need at least 12 feet left between plants.

Banana Plant Propagation

Bananas do not grow from seed. Instead, they are grown from suckers, tissue cultures, or rhizomes.

Although there are 3 different types of suckers (sword, water and peepers) the best type to use for propagation are the sword suckers.  Generally, sword suckers can be anywhere between 1 foot and 5 feet in height.

If you are cutting these suckers yourself, use a sharp spade to separate the sucker from the main plant. It’s a good idea to trim off most or all of the leaves to reduce evaporation until you get it planted. This won’t delay or inhibit the growth of your banana plant as growth is at the bottom of a banana plant and the leaves will quickly grow back.

Banana plants which are propagated commercially from tissue cultures are a relatively new development. These are available through nurseries or online sources of plants. As with any new development these come with both advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage is that these plants tend to be uniform in size and free from nematodes and disease.

They are smaller than the usual suckers and availability may be limited, especially if you want to buy from a local nursery. The other disadvantage is that they tend to be smaller to start with so it will take longer to develop and bear fruit.

If you purchase from a nursery or order online, rhizomes are often what you will receive. Rhizomes, or corms, are the underground stems which have the meristems or growing points coming from them. At the base of each plant is a large corm. The main stem of a banana plant (pseudostem) grows from the corm and then suckers branch out from the main plant.  If the rhizome or corm is very large, it can be cut into several pieces and each piece can then be planted separately.

Planting Banana Plants

Once you’ve selected your site and decided whether or not to use a raised bed, it’s time to plant. The size of the hole will depend upon whether you are starting with a sucker or with a rhizome.

Start by working the soil in an area that will be about 3 times deeper and wider than the sucker or rhizome. This loosens up the soil in all directions making it easier for the roots to expand and take hold both down and around.

If you’re planting a banana sucker, plant no deeper than it was in the ground or in the container it came in. Before planting, remove any broken or damaged leaves.

Before planting a rhizome, snip off any damaged roots and dark tissue. Rhizomes are planted upright and should be covered with at least ½ inch of soil. Tamp the soil down lightly around the root area. New leaves should start to appear within 10 days.

Be sure to water thoroughly and apply a thick layer of mulch around each sucker to maintain moisture and keep weeds at bay.

Fertilizing Banana Plants

Bananas are heavy feeders, so even organic gardeners may have to supplement organic materials with fertilizer, during the growing season, especially if you want to produce fruit. It’s best to fertilize lightly once a week or so using a balanced fertilizer and water right after fertilizing. Fortunately there are a number of good quality organic fertilizers available, if you’d rather not use a chemical fertilizer.

Pruning Banana Plants

Pruning is the best way to ensure that you will get high quality fruit. The best option is to allow only one pseudostem from each rhizome to flower and bear fruit, so remove all other shoots as soon as they appear. If other pseudostems are allowed to grow from a single mat, it takes longer for the plant to go from flowering to harvest, fruit tends to be smaller and of inferior quality, and the plant may be more susceptible to disease.

Banana Plant Flowers and Fruit

Note – The most common banana and the one we are most familiar with is the Cavendish banana. But there are other varieties which are referred to as plantains or cooking bananas. If you are able to successfully grow fruit on your banana plants, you would likely want to grow a variety like the Cavendish.

If you’ve done as suggested, you have only a single stalk growing from each mat. But when the main stalk of your banana plant is between 6 to 8 months old, allow one new sucker to develop. This will become the pseudostem the following year.

A banana stalk (pseudostem) only produces fruit once. Once the bananas are harvested, the pseudostem should be cut off at the base, then chopped up and left to be used as mulch.

It can take anywhere from six months to as much as fifteen months before flowers will appear, depending upon many different factors such as temperature, weather, and the type of cultivar planted.  Once the flower petals drop off they are replaced by a hand or bunch of bananas. It can take an additional three to six months before the fruit is ready to pick.

If you do manage to get fruit from your banana plants, you’ll want to support the plant as the fruit develops. Banana plants have a shallow root base and can be easily uprooted and toppled over, especially as the bunches of bananas add extra weight.

The lengthy time period with specific temperature and weather conditions required is the reason why it’s difficult for most areas in the country to actually get fruit from their banana plants. But even so, it’s worth the effort required to grow banana plants for the beauty of the plant alone.

Winter Care for Banana Plants

In most regions of the United States where these tropical plants can even be grown, the leaves and pseudostems rarely survive the cold temperatures. But it is possible to leave the rhizomes in the ground by protecting them with a thick layer of mulch.

However, some gardeners choose to dig up the entire plant including the rhizomes, remove the leaves and store the plant in a warm area over the winter. But it may be more practical to dig and pot smaller suckers for overwintering indoors.

Pests and Diseases That May Affect Your Banana Plants

This varies widely depending upon the region you live in as well as the type of banana cultivar you are planting.

There are a couple of common fungal diseases which can affect the banana plant in many areas.

Panama disease attacks the root system and moves up into the pseudostem weakening the plant and causing it to collapse. Try planting a different variety to combat this disease.

Sigatoka disease attacks and kills the leaves of the banana plant, weakening the plant and reducing or even eliminating fruit production. This disease may be more prevalent during extremely rainy seasons.

Corm rot or soft rot is caused by damage to the corm or rhizome and will eventually destroy the entire plant. Avoid excessive moisture when storing rhizomes before planting and be sure that roots are not sitting in wet soil when planted.

Several common pests that can cause serious damage to banana plants include the banana weevil, melon aphids and nematodes.

Weevils tunnel and burrow into the root system and stems, causing the roots to rot and die and the plant to weaken. Mulch placed at the base of the plant can prevent weevils from finding a place for the female to lay her eggs.

Melon aphids damage the plants by sucking the liquid from leaves and buds which creates a perfect environment for the growth of sooty mold. Aphids can also transmit disease from one plant to another. You can try removing aphids by hand. Spray with a chemical only if the plants become heavily infested

Nematodes are minute worms which burrow into a banana plant’s root system, eating the roots and keeping nutrients and water from moving through to the rest of the plant. If your banana plant is infested with nematodes, the leaves turn brown and then wilt. You can cut down on the number of nematodes by turning the soil over several times thoroughly, before planting your rhizomes.

Banana Plants

Banana Plants

Some Final Words

Whether you’re growing banana plants for the fruit or simply to enjoy the beauty of the foliage and flowers, it’s like having a touch of the tropics in your yard. And with the availability of cold hardy banana plants, virtually anyone can grow a banana “tree”. Just add a cold beverage and a hammock and you’ll feel like you’re in your own tropical paradise.

If you’re looking for the best place to buy banana plants in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, call Mike Stokes at Sowing Seeds Gardens. Phone (two-two-five) 366-073one.

How to Grow Hibiscus Plants

Hibiscus Tropical Peach Double Flowered

Hibiscus Tropical Peach Double Flowered

The hibiscus is one of the most beautiful and versatile flowering garden plants you can grow. With several hundred different varieties, the hibiscus is a species that includes annual and perennial plants, woody shrubs and small trees depending on the type you are cultivating. It brooms profusely producing stunning flowers, in many different hues and colors. In this article we will look at how to grow hibiscus in detail.

Although we usually think of the hibiscus as being lush and tropical, not all varieties are. Some can be quite resilient to the cold, and in fact there are native hibiscus species on every continent with the exception of Antarctica.

Hibiscus plants can be raised indoors, but many varieties thrive in tropical or near tropical settings outdoors, blooming almost year round. Then there are the varieties which shed their leaves in the winter and emerge again in spring to bloom in late summer or early autumn.

In most climates, the best flowering time is in summer and autumn, but even those varieties that do bloom year round will experience a slow down during winter, as well as during periods of extreme heat. Flowers usually last longer and are at their best in autumn where the combination of shorter days and cooler weather can produce an explosion of color.

Because of the range in the size of these garden plants, there will be an ideal hibiscus plant for any location in your garden. You can choose from small plants right up to shrubs and small trees. Hibiscus do best when they aren’t forced to compete with other shrubs for food, water and sun, so if possible set aside an area in your garden that will contain primarily hibiscus and other smaller plants.

Choosing A Location for Your Hibiscus

Hibiscuses are plants of great beauty, so choose a location where they can stand out and enhance their surroundings. Different varieties have different growing habits.

Some require more sun than others, but in general hibiscus should be planted so that they get at least 6 to 8 hours of sun every day. The time of year when they bloom will also vary. There are varieties that will need some protection from excessive wind. These are all factors you will need to look at when you are selecting plants.

As the size of different types of hibiscus vary considerably, be sure to leave enough space both below and above ground for them to fully develop. Roots need room to spread out. If they are cramped, plant growth will be affected.

Place shrub-like hibiscus behind shorter plants and be sure they are not planted too closely together. For well-shaped shrubs, it’s best to leave enough space for the top and sides of each shrub to spread out and develop. Some varieties have a tendency to grow tall and compact, while others will grow closer to the ground and sprawl out in a wider arc.

Smaller varieties also need adequate space to grow. You have to decide whether you want the look that will come with a mass showing of hibiscus or if you prefer to set plants so that each one has its own stage.

Soil Preparation for Your Hibiscus

If you’re planting your hibiscus directly into the ground, proper soil preparation is essential to ensure that plants remain healthy and vigorous. Before planting, thoroughly weed the site. Then add a layer of compost or other organic matter and mix this into the existing soil. The goal is to have light fertile soil that drains well.

But if your soil tends to be heavy, you can still have success with hibiscus, as long as you provide good drainage. One way to do this is to build up your soil level higher. Raised beds work beautifully for this.   Proper drainage is essential as the roots of hibiscus plants will rot easily if left in soggy soil. Although adequate watering is important, it’s recommended that the soil be allowed to dry out slightly before watering again.

Planting Your Hibiscus

Hibiscus, as with most garden plants, should generally be planted in spring, at the beginning of the growing season. But in mild climates, you may be able to get away with planting later on in the winter and even right through until autumn.

If you’re bringing hibiscus plants home from a nursery, give them a chance to get used to their surroundings before you transplant them into the ground. Try to put them in the ground on a warm, partially overcast day and if possible provide some shade during the hottest part of the day for the first few days.

Once you have the site prepared and the soil ready, it’s time to do the actual planting.

Hardy Hibiscus Hedge

Hardy Hibiscus Hedge

1. You should dig a hole that is slightly deeper and larger than the original container they came in. This oversize hole gives the roots lots of room to take hold and become well established.

2. Carefully, remove the hibiscus plant from its container or pot by holding the stem gently while tapping on the sides of the container to loosen it. Be careful not to bruise or damage the foliage in any way and handle the roots very gently.

3. Place the hibiscus in the hole no deeper than it was in the original container. Carefully place soil all around the plant. Be sure to firm the soil around the root ball to stabilize the plant in the ground.

4. Next add a layer of mulch around the plant, but don’t allow the mulch to actually touch the plant. This will help to prevent the growth of fungus. Mulch also works to reduce weeds and keep the plant uniformly moist while aiding in adequate aeration; a necessity for healthy roots.

5. Finish off by watering your hibiscus thoroughly. It’s best to use either a drip hose or sprinkler to keep the soil around the root base from washing away and exposing the roots.

6. By the way, once planted, it’s best to avoid digging in the soil at the base of the trunk to avoid damaging the shallow root system.

General Care and Tips for Growing Hibiscus

Watering Hibiscus – Hibiscus thrive in humid conditions, but you can grow them successfully in drier regions, as long as watering is done regularly and thoroughly, so roots stay moist.

Avoid frequent light sprinklings which don’t soak into the ground.  If rain is infrequent, be sure to mist or gently hose off the foliage occasionally. But in general, it’s best to direct the water to the root area and keep it off of the blooms.

Fertilizing Hibiscus – Planting hibiscus in good quality, nutrient rich loamy soil, and adding aged compost and organic matter like well-rotted manure, will provide many of the nutrients these beautiful flowering plants require.

It helps greatly if this organic matter is replenished throughout the growing season, as hibiscus feed heavily, particularly while blooming. One way to do that is by regularly adding compost to the surface area around the plants.

Other types of organic matter can also be used to supplement the nutrients the plants receive from compost. For instance, materials containing potassium will promote exceptional blooms, bright colors and profuse flowering.

As a general rule, the healthiest hibiscus will be those which are fed slowly and infrequently.

Staking Hibiscus – The shallow root system of hibiscus plants is not deeply anchored. It usually has several main roots and a mass of smaller roots close to the surface. Because of this, the plants can be easily uprooted or blown over by a strong wind. Uprooting can injure the root system and if the damage is severe enough this can result in root rot.

So if they are located in an open or windy area, you may want to consider staking taller plants to avoid this problem. Hardwood or bamboo stakes are good choices. Pound them into the ground far enough that they embedded solidly. Then use soft ties to attach the stem to the stake.

Pruning Hibiscus – There are a few reasons why pruning is done. Since hibiscus will flower on new shoots, pruning stimulates budding. It also keeps plants nicely shaped and at a manageable size, and removes old, diseased or dead wood.

If or when to prune, depends on the type of hibiscus.

Rose of Sharon Dark Pink with Red Throat

Rose of Sharon Dark Pink with Red Throat

The time to heavily prune tropical hibiscus is generally in spring. Since pruning will encourage new growth, be sure not to do it too early if there is any possibility of frost in your area, as cold weather will damage this new growth. But you can also do some selective pruning if necessary, during the growing season.

Little pruning is going to be required for hardy hibiscus, as they die down to ground level each winter. But it’s a good idea to prune back dead material in the fall. On new shoots which appear in spring, any pruning is going to be limited to controlling the size of the plant if it outgrows its location.

Rose of Sharon can be pruned, usually in late winter or early spring, to remove the previous year’s growth. Doing this will produce bigger blooms. Since it is a multi-stemmed plant, it can be cut back to a single stem. This is what is done to create the Rose of Sharon tree. As these plants can also be used as a hedge, pruning is done in this case to shape them accordingly.

Problems with Hibiscus – Hibiscus require more care than many other garden plants, to prevent problems. Many of their problems are caused by pests or disease, but others are the result of factors which affect growing conditions.

Two common problems which may be caused by growing conditions are the yellowing of leaves and bud drop. Both can be resolved fairly easily once you determine the cause.

Before becoming overly concerned with yellow leaves, be aware that hibiscus bushes naturally shed their older leaves a few times during the course of a year. Before shedding, these leaves turn yellow. This usually occurs around the bottom of the shrub.

However, if yellowing and dropping of leaves works its way up towards the top of the shrub, there may be another reason. There could be several culprits in this case, ranging from a cold snap or an unexpectedly hot day, to excessive moisture or too much fertilizer being used around the root area. If the roots are disturbed for some reason, the plant may react by dropping leaves.

In most cases, your plant will recover in time. If there are things you can correct, like how often you water or feed, that may speed the recovery.

The other common problem is bud drop. Buds are extremely sensitive and practically any type of stress to the plant will cause buds to drop off before they have a chance to open. Certain varieties, but especially some doubles, have a greater tendency towards bud drop than others and are affected by nutritional deficiencies as well as environmental conditions.

One common stressor is providing either too little or too much water. Excessive temperature changes, and if you use a fertilizer to feed, over- fertilizing can cause blossoms to fall off prematurely, as well. Buds may also fall off if the plant is suffering from an infestation of insects. Thrips, gail midges, as well as a variety of other small insects are common culprits.

Pests That May Visit Your Hibiscus – There are a large number of insects, both large and small that can play havoc with your hibiscus plants. In general, larger insects chew foliage or blossoms, while smaller insects suck juices from the plant.

Larger pests like cabbage loopers, caterpillars, grasshoppers, or the aptly named hibiscus beetle can decimate a plant in short order, so if you notice a severe problem, you’ll want to address the issue in short order. Some of these pests can be hand-picked, but it may be necessary in extreme cases where the destruction is widespread, to take more drastic action and use an insecticide or pesticide to get the problem under control.

Smaller insects do their damage differently. Thrips are tiny insects which feed on the buds of the hibiscus causing them to drop off before blooming. Gail midges lay their eggs inside buds, causing them to turn yellow and eventually drop off. An organic insecticide, used weekly should alleviate the problem of both thrips and midges.  But it will also be helpful to open up fallen buds to check for midge larvae. If you do find them, remove other yellowed buds and dispose of them away from the hibiscus plant.

Other smaller insect pests that can infest your hibiscus include aphids, whiteflies and mealy bugs. Insects like these can be controlled by spraying plants with a soap spray made by adding a tablespoon of liquid soap to a gallon of water. You can also remove most insects by spraying the underside of leaves with your hose. Spraying horticultural oil on hibiscus leaves is a good way to control aphids, mealy bugs and whiteflies as well.

Diseases That Affect Visit Your Hibiscus – Unfortunately, the hibiscus is susceptible to a number of viral and fungal diseases.

Viral Disease in Hibiscus

When your hibiscus plants are infected with a viral disease, the primary site of the problem will be in the foliage. Leaves may be cupped or deformed in appearance and they may appear to be mottled.  There is little that can be done to treat viral infections. If you prune infected areas, be sure to clean off your pruning sheers with a weak mixture of bleach and water before using on other plants, to prevent the spread of infection.

Fungal Disease in Hibiscus

A couple of common fungal diseases are leaf spot, and root and collar rot.

If your plants are afflicted with a fungal disease, the leaves may have brown, black, or irregularly shaped spots on them. The best way of dealing with leaf spot is to remove and burn infected leaves and then use a fungicide on the infected plants. A less serious disorder is black mould which appears on the top surface of infected leaves. Black mould grows on plants that are attacked by the small sucking insects mentioned preciously. You can rid of this form of mold by getting rid of the insects.

Other types of fungus cause roots and at times even stems, to rot. Afflicted plants will wilt as if they need to be watered. But in fact, root and collar rot are caused by overly wet conditions. This could be the result of poor drainage, over watering or a combination of the two. The best thing to do is to try to eliminate the cause of the wet conditions. Applying a fungicide to the soil around the plant can also help.

Types of Hibiscus

The hibiscus can be divided into three main types.

The one we tend to think of when we think about showy hibiscus blooms is probably the tropical hibiscus. This is a very popular variety but should only be planted directly in the ground in truly tropical climate areas like southern Florida or Hawaii.

The most common variety that is typically grown outdoors is the hardy hibiscus. If you plan to grow hibiscus in Baton Rouge, this is the kind to plant, as hardy hibiscus will do well in zones 4 to 9.

The third type of hibiscus is the Rose of Sharon which is a multi-stemmed flowering shrub. You may have also heard this variety referred to as Rose of Sharon trees. By pruning during the first couple of seasons, you can eliminate all but one main stem. When this is done, your shrub takes on the appearance of a tree. Rose of Sharon will grow in zones 5 to 9.

Tropical Hibiscus

The tropical hibiscus belongs to the rosa-sinensis family. There are literally hundreds of different varieties of tropical hibiscus, all of which are evergreen. They come in three designated size classifications. Tall are between 6’ and 10’; medium are 3’ to 6’ and low are under 3’.

Tropical Hibiscus Peach Double Flowered

Tropical Hibiscus

Tropical hibiscus have deep green glossy leaves with blooms of red, pink, orange, yellow, lavender, scarlet, and white, mixed and matched with a multitude of different shades and color variations, often with more than a single color on a bloom.

Tropical hibiscus plants bloom profusely, but the flowers only last a day or two, and are then replaced by more. The cycle repeats, creating an extravagant explosion of color as long as they continue to blossom.

Flowers on these ornamental plants are generally unscented. They more than make up for that with the showy display of single, double, or semi double, five petal flowers. These blooms come in many different shapes and textures, ranging in size from about 2” to 12” in diameter.

These tropical plants need to be planted in a warm section of the garden, free from cold drafts and in a spot where they will receive sun all day long. It can be a challenge to grow these plants in cooler areas of the country. Plant them in protected areas as much as possible, for optimum results, or use containers.

Tropical Hibiscus Plants in Winter

Tropical hibiscus plants are very delicate and do not tolerate the cold well. They can be left in the ground year round, only if you live in an area with little or no danger of frost in the winter. Otherwise, they should be grown in pots or moveable containers, so they can be brought inside during cold weather.

So what’s too cold? Pots should be taken indoors if you live in Zone 8 or north of it. It’s safe to leave potted hibiscus outside in Zones 9 or 10, but plants should be covered if frost is possible. It’s best to use straw or a thick layer of mulch which will provide adequate protection. To protect all parts of your hibiscus, lay pots on their side so the entire plant can be covered.

Hardy Hibiscus

The hardy hibiscus is native to Florida and other parts of the southeastern United States. These plants are much more resistant to both the cold and drought than are tropical hibiscus plants. They can be grown successfully in Zones 4 to 9.

Hardy hibiscus, sometimes referred to as rose mallows or swamp mallows, typically bloom from midsummer right through to early autumn or until frost hits your area. What distinguishes them from their tropical counterpart is their ability to survive freezing temperatures.

Hardy Hibiscus

Hardy Hibiscus

With more than 10 species and just as many hybrids, the hardy hibiscus produces a stunning display of enormous flowers primarily in various shades of pink or red, as well as white, with some flowers being bi-colored. It’s not unusual to see blooms of 6’ to 12’ in diameter.

Even though these hibiscus are not tropical, their flowers most definitely have the tropical look about them. Blooms only live for a day or two, but new ones soon come on to take their place. Although it’s not necessary to deadhead spent blooms, plants looks better if you do.

Plant sizes range from between 2 and 8 feet in height to between 2 and 6 feet wide at maturity. You can find a variety that will fit in with existing perennials in your garden or plant them on their own.

Hardy perennial hibiscus are rarely grown from seed. The usual course of action is to pick out plants at a nursery. But they are easy to grow and will be around for years once they are established in a garden.

Choose a sunny location that has some protection from the wind when planting, as they need at least six hours of sun every day and do not tolerate shade well. It’s best to plant them in rich soil with plenty of organic matter added, but they will grow in average soil conditions better than tropical hibiscus does.

This type of hibiscus needs a regular supply of water to perform at their best. They will tolerate more moisture than tropical hibiscus, and in fact wild swamp mallows are planted in marshy, very wet areas and thrive. When planting, it’s wise to space them about 2 or 3 feet apart to allow for growth and air circulation.

Hardy Hibiscus Plants in Winter

These herbaceous perennials require little care over the winter, as they die down to ground level. In late autumn after a killing frost has hit, cut back stems to about 3 to 4 inches above the ground. You can cover them with a thick layer of mulch to help protect the root ball over the winter, but it’s probably not strictly necessary, unless you are in a lower numbered zone.

As they are so late to re-appear in spring, you may want to put markers where they have been planted, so you don’t forget and dig around and damage the roots. In fact, they may not start to sprout until soil temperatures approach the 70 degree mark, so be prepared to be patient. Once it does begin though, growth will happen rapidly.

Rose of Sharon

The Rose of Sharon is another type of hibiscus. It belongs to the Hibiscus syriacus family. As a deciduous flowering shrub, it loses its leaves in the winter. Rose of Sharon bushes can be massive, with some growing as tall as 8 to 12 feet with a spread of 4 to 6 feet. Other varieties can grow to the more manageable height of 5 to 8 feet.

Rose of Sharon Amplissimus

Rose of Sharon Amplissimus

Flowers on the Rose of Sharon are beautiful with some varieties having single blooms and others double, with blooms varying in size but generally about 2-1/2 to 4 inches in diameter. The colors displayed are eye-catching, and range from white to red with various shades of light blue or lavender also in evidence. As with other types of hibiscus, blooms are short-lived but plentiful with fresh ones appearing daily, at its peak.

The climate in zones 5-9 is the most favorable for growing Rose of Sharon, allowing these regions to enjoy the beauty of the hibiscus in areas which experience freezing temperatures in winter. But Rose of Sharon is also prized by gardeners in the southeastern part of the U.S. because they can withstand the crushing heat of the summer and still produce abundant blooms.

Like other hibiscus, they thrive if planted in rich, well-drained soil that has lots of organic matter mixed in, but will tolerate less than ideal soil. Rose of Sharon plants really need to be planted in full sun. If grown in an only partially sunny area, there is the possibility of the shrub falling prey to fungal damage.

The Rose of Sharon is often used as a hedge, although they will only be useful for privacy in summer and early fall. But they are also very showy when used as a stand-alone shrub, or as background against a fence or other structure. Placing them behind smaller bushes or plants can hide the flowerless and leafless stalk.

One of the main appeals of these shrubs is the fact that they bloom so late in the growing season. Although late to come to leaf in spring, they are still going to be blooming profusely when most other flowering shrubs have long finished.

Rose of Sharon in Winter

Blooming stops when frost hits. Unlike many other deciduous shrubs, its foliage does not change color before it drops off.

You really have to do very little to Rose of Sharon in preparation for the winter if you are in the recommended zones. If your shrub is located in a very open windy location, you can wrap burlap around the bush and mulch with leaves around the base. But even this is not usually necessary, unless you find that your Rose of Sharon shrubs are not surviving the winter well.

Rose of Sharon Pink with Red Throat

Rose of Sharon Pink with Red Throat

 

 

How to Grow Sword Ferns

sword fern

Young Sword Fern

Sword ferns are lush, evergreen plants which can be used as ground cover, or for ornamental purposes to add texture and interest to a garden, or as background for showier plants. They are known for their distinctive long, sword shaped fronds which are bright green in color and can grow from three to five feet in length, sprouting directly from the ground.

There are several varieties of ferns that are referred to as sword ferns. The primary species grown in many parts of the U.S. is known botanically as Polystichum munitum and this is the variety that most gardeners plant because of its versatility and striking foliage.

However, if you live in Zones 9 or higher, avoid the tuberous sword ferns known botanically as Nephrolepis cordifolia. This has been officially designated as an invasive species in Florida, where, due to its rapid and almost unstoppable spread, it takes over and completely crowds out native vegetation.

To learn how to grow sword ferns and care for them, please read on.

How to Plant Sword Ferns

Garden plants like sword ferns grow best in moist shady areas with rich soil. But one reason for their popularity is that they can also grow in poor soil, as long as there is adequate drainage, and in full sun, when given plenty of water.

Before planting sword ferns, it’s a good idea to spend some time on the soil. It’s probable that plants will remain in the same spot for many years, so you will want to optimize the condition of the soil as much as possible before planting.

Start by working three to four inches of rich organic matter into the existing soil, in the form of compost, well-rotted manure and chopped leaves. The pH level is not as important, as sword ferns will tolerate a pH ranging from 5.1 which is strongly acidic to 6.5 which is mildly alkaline.

If you are planting a number of these ferns in an area, be sure to space them about two to three feet apart, to allow room for them to spread.

Ferns should be planted or transplanted in early spring or fall. Whether you are planting a potted sword fern or a rhizome, dig a hole twice as large as the root system.

For a fern in a container, remove the plant from the pot and use a sharp knife to carefully make several cuts lengthwise along the root ball to break up the mass of fibrous roots. Then place the plant in the hole so it sits at the same level as it was growing in the pot.

Bare root ferns with creeping rhizomes should be set close to ground level. The last step is to backfill the hole using a mixture of top soil, compost, peat moss and well-rotted manure and water thoroughly.

Sword Ferns

New Growth Sword Ferns

Once you have sword ferns placed in an area of your garden, you won’t need to replant them there again. They will spread quickly through the rhizomes but they’ll also reproduce through the release of spores from spore cases which are found on the underside of the fronds. These cases are green in the summer, but turn to an orangey brown just before spores are released in the fall.

Spores can travel a fair distance on wind currents, so you may find new sword ferns far away from where they were originally planted.

If you decide you’d like to take matters into your own hands, you can easily dig up and divide ferns. This can be done in the fall or in early spring. Dig about 6 inches away from the plant and deep enough to prevent damage to the roots.

After lifting the sword fern from the ground, divide it into several smaller plants. Use a knife to separate it if necessary. Be sure each piece has at least a few fronds and a healthy root system. Replant in the new location just as you would for a potted fern.

How to Care for Sword Ferns

Ferns in general are easy to grow and sword ferns are no exception.

Once they are established in your garden, the sword fern requires little care. Since they are resistant to drought, they don’t require a great deal of water. The only exception to this is in the first year they’ve been planted when they need to be kept uniformly moist.

The nice part about growing sword ferns in Baton Rouge or other southern areas is that they provide a spot of greenery in a winter garden, as they don’t lose their foliage. When spring rolls around, it won’t be long before your ferns begin to sprout. New growth will appear as bright green coils which uncurl and stretch into new fronds.

After new growth appears, trim off any dead or brown foliage. You may also want to tidy up the appearance of these unique garden plants by cutting away any broken or bent fronds, or those that don’t fit in with the symmetrical appearance of the plant. Trim as close to the fern’s base as possible for best results. .

It’s a good idea to mulch your ferns with bark or shredded leaves to conserve moisture and control the growth of weeds. An easy way to do this annually is in the spring; remove fall leaves from the bed, then shred and return them to the fern bed. By allowing this mulch to rot and enrich the soil, you won’t even need to add fertilizer. (But be sure to clear leaves out of the bed with care so emerging fiddleheads, which are the new fronds, aren’t damaged.)

Where To Plant Sword Ferns

Many gardeners use sword ferns primarily for ground cover, to fill in empty spots in shaded areas or open areas in a garden.

When used for this purpose, you will find that you have little weeding to do once the ferns fill in an area, as they will choke out other growth. Of course, the other side of this coin is that left unchecked, sword ferns will take over an entire space, making it difficult for any other plants to survive.

Sword ferns are very useful in preventing erosion. When planted on sloping ground, their fibrous, root system spreads out to keep the soil intact.

But sword ferns can be planted practically anywhere you’d like some greenery; beside fences, around trees, or next to your house or shed. They look great in containers or in hanging baskets on a deck or porch too.

Growing sword ferns is easy. The hard part is choosing a location where you can keep them under control since they spread so rapidly.

If you’re looking for sword ferns in Baton Rouge, call Mike Stokes at (two-two-five) 329-498nine

If you have any questions or comments about how to grow sword ferns, or how to care for sword ferns, please fill in the comment box below.

 

How to Grow Cannas

CannaFor an avid gardener, the challenge often comes with trying to find the space for a colorful display of flowering plants. If you’re looking for a plant that can provide both vibrant or muted color and beautiful foliage, look no farther than cannas. Cannas are among the showiest of the many summer bulbs that you can plant. And the best part is that learning how to grow cannas is easy.

Cannas (sometimes called “canna lilies”, although they are not in the lily family) are easy to plant, easy to grow and easy to care for. Cannas will grow and do well in most areas of the United States, but they really thrive in the South where it is hot and sunny.

By planting cannas, you are assured of having spectacular displays of color that are only limited by the variety that you plant. Cannas bloom from early in the summer up to the first frost, with big beautiful flowers in reds, oranges, yellows and pinks.

But while the flowers are stunning in their own right, some gardeners plant cannas strictly for their foliage. Their large banana-like leaves come in many hues and patterns from rich purple, bronzes or blue greens, to leaves with stripes and unique variegations.

The combination is unbeatable with tall flower stalks rising out of the thick, beautiful foliage. Choose from dwarf varieties that do well in containers or smaller areas, to varieties that can grow to more than six or seven feet in height and serve as a stunning backdrop at the back of a border, or clustered in groupings.

Depending on the cultivar (type of canna), cannas come in three sizes –

Red Canna

Red Canna

Dwarf – 3 feet tall

Medium – 4 feet tall

Tall – 6 to 7 feet tall

(Sizes are approximate and can depend on factors such as soil fertility and how many hours of sunlight the plants receive daily.)

Since these perennials originated in South America and the West Indies, you can understand why they are considered to be tropical plants. When we think tropical we think lush and exotic, and cannas do not disappoint on either score.

Cannas are as “tropical” looking as a plant can be, yet they are very hardy. They will tolerate a wide range of growing conditions from dry and sunny to shaded aquatic beds.

Cannas

My Cannas

(I have to admit that I have a canna bed in my yard that I neglected for years, never watered or fertilized it a single time, and I’ve even mowed it down several years with my lawn mower, and it comes back strong every year… And this is the bed that finally made me fall in love with the plant.)

Once you get started planting you’ll soon have a spectacular display of these beautiful tropical flowering plants in your garden, to complement your other garden plants.

When to Plant Cannas

You can plant cannas (either rhyzomes or growing plants) outside after the danger of frost has passed. (See the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to determine the last frost date for your area.)

Here in Baton Rouge we are in zone 8b, the last frost date is March 18, so the best time to plant cannas in Baton Rouge is say March 15 – April 15. (You could safely plant cannas in Baton Rouge from late March through August, but if might not flower the first year if you plant it too late.)

If you have a soil thermometer, you would want the soil to be 60 degrees or warmer. (I don’t have one, I just make sure the days are warm.)

Where to Plant Cannas

Ideally, you would want to plant cannas in loose, fertile soil that drains well. However, the fact is that cannas will grow in just about any soil you plant it in.

Cannas are heavy feeders, so adding organic matter such as compost or manure to your soil will really be beneficial.

For best flowering, plant your cannas where they will get at least six hours of direct sunlight daily.

How to Plant Cannas

Planting cannas is easy. They grow best when planted in well drained, humus rich soil, but once established will grow in less than ideal soil conditions. Plant the bulbs, commonly referred to as rhizomes, between about 12 to 24 inches apart, depending on the type of display you want.

How to Grow Cannas

My Canna Bed

Start by laying the long part of the rhizome flat, with the eyes, if they’re visible, facing up. But if you can’t see the eyes, don’t be too concerned as they’ll grow regardless of which way they are placed in the ground. Cover with 2 to 4 inches of soil.

When newly planting, be sure that the rhizomes are kept moist, but at the same time the soil should not too wet. As new growth appears, cannas can better tolerate wetter soil.

And once they are fully established, your cannas will flourish in even wet heavier soil, as long as it contains lots of natural organic matter. Be aware though that poor soil may result in smaller plants and duller flowers.

Because they are tropical, cannas thrive when they get lots of sun and plenty of heat. The importance of being planted in areas where they will receive full sun can’t be emphasized enough. At minimum, cannas need 6 hours of direct sun daily, but more is better. If they don’t receive enough sun, their growth may be stunted or they may even fail to bloom.

Growing Cannas from Seed

Although you can start cannas from seed, most gardeners plant bulbs for an earlier bloom. But if you want the satisfaction of doing it all, follow these steps.

Canna seeds have a hard outer shell. Before planting, nick this shell so that the inner white layer is just visible. Give the seeds a head start by soaking them in warm water for a day or two. After that, sow the seeds in a moist soilless mixture and place them in a warm area until they germinate. Be sure the medium does not dry out.

Seedlings should appear within a couple of weeks at which time you’ll transfer them into 4 to 6 inch pots. Once they are established, it’s time to plant them outside in a nice sunny location. You can expect cannas grown from seed to bloom during their first season, in most cases.

Growing Cannas in Containers

Dwarf cultivars of cannas in containers are great for bringing a bright tropical look to your patio or deck.

You can use any good potting medium, here’s how I do mine:

First of all, I’ll use a fairly good size pot so I don’t have to transfer the canna later in the season.

I’ll fill the bottom of the pot, just about to the level that the bottom of the canna will go, with some sort of compost – either compost from my own compost bins mixed with cow manure, or compost that I’ve purchased, either cow manure or a blend of cow manure and alfalfa humate.

(I do this for several reasons… One, it provides good drainage; two, it provides great nutrients when the roots grow down there; and three, it is much less expensive than the potting soil I will fill the pot up with.)

How to Care for Cannas

It’s important to water cannas thoroughly, at least once weekly, by soaking the ground around the roots. Cannas do not do well in dry conditions, so be especially vigilant as the temperature rises.

Mulching can help to hold in moisture and keep weeds from developing. And don’t be concerned if there is an excessive amount of rainfall, as cannas aren’t bothered by the wet.

When growing cannas, it’s important to note that they are heavy feeders. Your cannas will thank you with exceptional growth and dazzling flowers if you fertilize them monthly.

Problems You May Encounter with Cannas

Cannas are not really prone to many major problems. Because their leaves are coated with a waxy substance, water is repelled providing a natural barrier against fungus.

Insufficient watering can cause cracking or tearing of leaves. If you notice this, water more often and more deeply.

Occasionally, check leaves for damage from insects like caterpillars or Japanese beetles. Some are large enough to be seen easily and removed by hand.

A caterpillar called the canna leaf-roller is the most annoying pest you may encounter. They will chew the canna leaves and cause new growth to be deformed. If leaf-rollers attack your cannas, apply a systemic insecticide weekly until the problem is eradicated.

Maintaining Your Cannas

Orange Canna Wyoming

Orange Canna Wyoming

With adequate sun, water and fertilizer, cannas will bloom repeatedly throughout the summer. But you can encourage more prolific blooming by deadheading spent flowers along with seed pods.

In zones where the ground doesn’t freeze (like here in Baton Rouge), the rhyzomes (bulbs) can be left in the ground over the winter. So, at the end of the growing season, simply cut the stalks down close to ground level. Then cover the entire clump with 6 to 12 inches of leaves, compost, grass clippings and other organic materials. This combination will protect the rhyzomes (roots) and enrich the soil in readiness for the spring.

Like many other garden plants and bulbs, cannas multiply. For every bulb planted, between three to five bulbs will be produced. Every second spring, it’s a good idea to thin out these clumps. You can do that by digging them up, separating the bulbs and then replanting them. Remember to space the bulbs about a foot or so apart.

Now that you’ve learned how to grow cannas, your only problem will be deciding where and how many to plant. But with so many different varieties available, you’re sure to be happy with your selection.

If you’d like more information about growing cannas in Baton Rouge (or any place else for that matter), please let us know by conntacting us throught the comment form below.

Daylilies Are an American Garden Staple

Daylilies

DaylilyDaylilies are perennial plants that can lift any garden out of the doldrums. Their sought-after beauty lasts only 24 hours when blooming, but the flowers are quickly replaced by another bloom on the stem. The scientific name of the daylily, Hemerocallis, is Greek for “beautiful for a day.”

Even though these beautiful blooms only last a day, there are many new buds on the stalk that open each day, making them a constantly flowering addition to your garden for weeks. Easy-to-grow and able to adapt to many conditions, daylilies will adorn your garden for many years to come.

Daylilies are mostly free from any adverse conditions including pests and mildew. Most local nurseries carry some of the most popular varieties of daylilies, including the orange-flowered “Europa” but you can find other hybrids in a vast color range through a mail order nursery.

These new hybrids vary in size, color and ability to flower. Some flowers bloom in coveted blue colors, which add interest to any garden. A daylily’s foliage tends to be brilliant green, growing from 12 to 24 inches and sprout from the crown of the plant.

Flowers appear on flower stalks which begin from the crown of the plant and rise to a height of one to six feet tall. Flowers can also grow from branches at the top of the stem. Some smaller versions of daylilies are perfect for a garden border and will always have the foliage even when the flowers are gone.

Landscaping with daylilies is easy and fun. You can plant them en masse for a showy section of your landscape and to control erosion, since they spread swiftly. Daylilies have been the recipients of many awards and prizes by the American Hemerocallis Society and are considered excellent choices for home landscaping.

Daylily Stella D'Oro Daylilies prefer soil that drains well, such as sandy loam and like full sun or partial shade, but will thrive in other conditions. In fact, they’re known for their ability to do well even when they’re neglected.

But, if you want to carry your daylily plants to the full extent of their beauty, you should prepare the soil before planting by deep tilling and add organic matter. If the soil is too rich, it might force a daylily’s foliage to grow and the blooms will be sporadic.

You may fertilize, but do so in moderation. Some fertilizers tend to cause daylilies’ foliage to turn yellowish if it contains too much nitrogen – and it may also tend to cause daylily flowers to bloom sparingly.

Water your daylilies enough to keep them moist, but don’t allow them to become water-logged. If your area goes through a prolonged drought period, water them deeply about once a week.

Check with your local nursery for other information about planting and growing daylilies.

Heucheras Are Low Maintenance and Drought Tolerant Plants

Heucheras

If you’re looking into hardy plants for your garden which are also drought-tolerant and pest-resistant, consider heucheras. Heucheras also do well in sun or shade and produce long-blooming flowers in a wide range of colors.

Heucheras are perennials that can add beautiful foliage colors and dramatic backdrop to any garden. Bronze foliage creates interest in a patch of green plants and a wide variety of new flowers and colors such as silver, black and purple will bloom four to eight weeks beginning in late spring and into early summer.

You’ll be amazed at the variety of “looks” that heucheras have. Some are evergreen, but sport delicate blooms and beautiful foliage. The popular variety called “Coral Bells” is a North American variety of heuchera that grows about 18 inches tall and even taller when you count their flower spikes.

A garden spot that receives part shade is perfect for the heuchera plant and they also prefer a rich, fertile soil that stays moist, but easily drained. Plant them where you need a focal point in your garden or as the edging around a flower bed.

Powdery mildew can be a problem for heucheras, but pests and diseases are rare. They do best in mild climates and don’t react well to heavy freezes. If you do expect a freeze, mulch around them to keep the heat in the soil.

Heucheras can be propagated easily and seeds can be obtained from a mail order nursery. You can also divide heucheras by using a sharp tool to cut away a section that has sprouted from the center of the crown.

Be sure to plant new heucheras with the crown just above the soil line. It’s also best to water new plants heavily during the fall months so that their roots can establish themselves before the first freeze.

Southern states grow the heuchera as an evergreen, but northern climates usually have to grow them in containers and bring them out of hard freezes in the winter in order to enjoy them year-round.

Local nurseries can likely provide you with a wide array of heuchera varieties, but a mail order nursery can also give you a selection of the perfect foliage and flowers for your garden. Local backyard nurseries are also be prime places to find heuchera plants.

Some well established and hardy heucheras include ‘Crimson Curls,’ ‘Lime Rickey,’ ‘Marmalade,’ and ‘Hollywood.’ These species sport gorgeous leaves and long-blooming flowers each year. The oldest heuchera hybrid is ‘Palace Purple,’ a plant with lovely purple and green leaves which go well with ferns and other green garden plants such as hostas.

There are over 55 species of the beautiful heuchera plant – and you’re sure to find one or many that’s perfect for your garden spot.


Hostas Are Our Favorite Shade Plant

Hostas

HostaThe beautiful and wide variation of hosta plants has made it a favorite among gardeners who want to show off their shade areas. In fact, hostas are now the most popular shade perennial. Many varieties can be found at your local nursery, but you can also purchase them from a mail order nursery or online garden plant nursery.

Hostas come in a rainbow of colors from chartreuse (Abba Dabba Do), blue, green and variegated to stunning metallic gold. Their sizes range from tiny to gargantuan. They’re extremely easy to grow and, just like a fine wine, they grow even better as they age.

Each year, the American Hosta Growers Association announces the ‘Hosta of the Year,’ and these new varieties can be expensive. But, you can find top quality and easy-to-grow classics such as ‘Royal Standard’ and ‘Wide Brim,’ which are also beautiful and very affordable.

Hostas do well in shade, but some do require a bit of sun each day. Ideal conditions occur for hostas when they receive morning sun and filtered sunlight in the afternoons. The variety, ‘Regal Splendor,’ develops excellent leaf color in light shade as do many of the gold and green varieties.

Other varieties such as blue-leafed hostas do best in the part of the garden that receives the most shade and lots of moisture. If they get too much sun, the leaf colors fade and are prone to turn brown during the hottest months of summer.

hosta bedSome species of hosta plants also flower, usually producing blooms that range from white to light pink. The most attractive flowers can be produced from the hosta variety, ‘Royal Standard’ and ‘Aphrodite.’ Their flowers are shaped like trumpets and some, such as August Lily,’ have a distinct fragrance that permeates the home when you bring them inside.

If you don’t have a shady spot in your garden, consider growing hostas in containers. They make great color splashes on patios, decks or porches. Be sure that the potting soil is rich in humus and has good draining qualities.

Hostas can range from about four inches to those that have a width of up to five feet. Use the smaller varieties along a shaded path and the larger ones as background or dramatic accent accessories to your garden plan.

Hostas are not fast growers, and can take as much as three years to reach its ultimate size. Pests aren’t usually a threat to hostas, but beware of slugs that can severely damage the leaves.

hosta bedIn Japan, some species of hostas are prepared and eaten by a large part of the population. Edible parts of the plants include the shoots, parts of the leaf and the entire leaf.

When ordering plants by mail, be sure you order from a reputable company and one that offers a guarantee that stands behind their plants. You can find some mail order nurseries that will ship free of charge.

A quick online search will quickly reveal where to buy hostas – either from your local nurseries or a mail order nursery. Prepare to be dazzled by these amazing and versatile shade plants.