Bitten by the Bloom


Not just another pretty flower.

by Charlie Thigpen   Photography by Chuck St. John

So many people purchase a plant because they are drawn to the beauty of its flower. It might be the bloom size, shape or color that gets their attention, but often the plant is bought before they read the tag or know its growing requirements.  Don’t get bitten by the bloom. If you want success in your garden, read the plant tags or do a little research and know what you’re buying. Impulse buys at the garden shop can lead to dead plants in the garden.

Location, Location, Location

All plants are different. Some prefer shade while others want to bask in the sun. A few plants such as cannas, calla lilies, cardinal flowers and rain lilies will grow in boggy wet areas but most plants prefer a well-drained soil. Study your landscape and know where the sun rises and sets. Exposure to the hot, western late-afternoon sun is intense and quite different than the milder morning sun.

There are also different kinds of shade. High shade, usually called part-shade is filtered light that streams through tall trees and provides dappled sun throughout the day. Plants like azaleas, daylilies, hosta, hydrangeas and camellias thrive in this light.  Low shade, or deep shade areas receive little sunlight and occur under small trees such as dogwood, red buds or Japanese maples.  Only a few plants such as cast iron plant, ferns and ground covers such as mondo or monkey grass will tolerate these low light situations.

Timing is Everything

Last May, the foxgloves were blooming in our flower border. They were three feet tall and beautiful.  A customer saw them and wanted to buy some of the plants.  I advised that they needed to be planted in the fall, but they bought several of them anyway. I’m sure they had only limited success because it quickly got too hot for the cool-season plants.

When planting, always think about the season. Cool season plants such as alyssum, pansies, violas, foxglove, lettuce, kale and chard should be planted in the fall or late winter. Warm season flowering plants such as angelonia, begonias, impatiens and lantana need warm temperatures and soil to perform well.

Fooled by the Foliage

Today, plant breeders are creating plants that sport colorful, eye-catching leaves that are so impressive you may just forget about the blooms.  One of these is coleus and it’s one of my favorite warm-season plants for the garden.  There are many varieties which provide color from spring till fall, but not all have the same requirements.   Some coleus will take full sun while other selections need part-shade to shade.

So be sure that you don’t get bitten by the bloom or fooled by the foliage. Know what plants you’re buying along with their growing conditions, and you’ll experience a bounty of blooms and a flourish of foliage.

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