Easy or hard way, composting is worth it

Don’t take your fall leaves to the curb. Compost them. Photo by Kathie Rowell

You can do it the easy way.

You can do it the hard way.

But either way, you really should build a compost pile.

It probably won’t surprise you that I choose the easy way. That means I just pile leaves  in a couple of bins and wait. Compost happens whether you help it along or not. It just happens very slowly.

Those who choose to do it the hard way get finished compost much quicker, and they can include weeds or diseased plants into their piles without fear of disastrous results. A well-managed pile generates enough heat to kill weed seeds and disease organisms.

Even though it’s doubtful I’ll change my slothful ways, I learned how to do it the “right” way at a composting talk a few years ago by now-retired LSU AgCenter horticulturist Denyse Cummins. .

Denyse defined composting as the controlled decomposition of plant materials and described herself as a fanatic about keeping what grows in her yard and turning it into garden gold instead of sending it to the dump.

“I don’t ever have to buy anything in a bag from a nursery because I make it myself,” she said. “I’m cheap and I like the idea of using everything.”

So what can be composted?

Anything that was ever alive, Denyse said. That includes leaves, grass clippings and vegetable scraps, but also things like fish heads, crawfish remains and egg shells. Just be aware that adding materials with the potential to smell can attract animals — and really steam the neighbors.

“Anything alive is going back to dust and composting is just controlling it,” she said.

Here are some of Denyse’s tips:

  • Choose a site near a water source and away from trees because their roots will invade the nice, rich soil.
  • Gather your material and plan to use a formula of 4 parts brown stuff to 1 part green stuff. Browns  which supply carbon, can be leaves, twigs, ground bark, shredded paper. Greens, which supplies nitrogen, can be grass clippings, vegetable peelings, weeds, hay or alfalfa pellets.
  • Shred everything to make it easier for the microorganisms that transform the waste to digest it.
  • Build the pile a little at a time. For instance, layer  a lot of brown with a little green, water and then mix together. Keep adding and mixing layers until all material is used.
  • Create a big pile — about 4 feet high. Denyse said the number one reason for failure is the pile is too small. Lacking leaves? Drive around the neighborhood on trash day and grab your neighbors’ castoffs.
  • Create a dent in the top of the pile to divert rain into it.
  • A properly built compost pile should heat up immediately and can reach 130 to 140 degrees in the center, even in winter. After two weeks, stick a piece of metal about one-third of the way into the pile. If it’s hot when you pull it out, the microorganisms are still  happily chowing down. If  the metal comes out cold, knock down the pile, turn the material and rebuild it because the microorganisms have used up the nitrogen and oxygen near them  If it doesn’t heat back up, it could be lack of water (knock it down, wet it and rebuild), lack of nitrogen (knock it down and add more grass clippings or alfalfa pellets) or too much water (just let it drain).

Compost is ready when the large pieces have decomposed and what’s left is dark, crumbly and has an earthy smell. You can use the compost as it makes, or wait until the entire pile is ready. Adding it to your garden beds will add nutrients and improve the structure of your soil.

And it’s free.

So, what will it be? The easy way or the hard way. Either way, your garden wins.

Sweet olives pack powerful fragrance

Plant a sweet olive and your nose will thank you. Photo by Kathie Rowell

My sweet olive is blooming!

Excuse me while I go outside.

I’m convinced that if sweet olive flowers were as beautiful as their fragrance, no yard in the South would be without one. And no yard should be, even if the clusters of tiny flowers are so insignificant you’ll never notice them.

Unlike gardenias, another iconic fragrant Southern plant, sweet olive scent is always soft and elusive, never overpowering. If you’re unfamiliar with the plant, you can stand right beside it and not know the source of the unbelievable smell. It’s been described as similar to ripe peaches, apricots and orange blossoms. I just think it smells like sweet olive.

Osmanthus fragrans, known as sweet olive, tea olive and fragrant olive, is a large evergreen shrub that can be trained into a tree form as it matures. It reaches about 20 feet tall by 10 feet wide so don’t be fooled by its appearance in a pot. I knew how big it would get and still planted it too close to the house so it would be right by the back door and I would never miss a whiff.

It likes sun to part shade and well-drained, slightly acidic soil. Few pests bother it, so there’s simply no reason not to plant one this fall. And you won’t even have to endure that whole delayed gratification thing that usually comes with planting flowering trees. Sweet olive cycles in and out of bloom several times from fall through spring so there will be plenty of chances to go outside and take a deep, sweet breath. Your nose will thank you.

What’s your favorite fragrant plant?

 

Learn about pollinator gardens Saturday

Pollinators are in peril.

A Time magazine story in March cited a Center for Biological Diversity report that indicated more than 700 North American bee species are declining. A United Nations group reported in 2015 that populations are declining for 37 percent of bee species, with 9 percent of butterfly and bee populations facing extinction. Threats include habitat loss, pesticides, climate change and competition/diseases from non-native species.

But there’s more at stake than just losing some of nature’s most fascinating creatures. The monetary value of honey bees alone as commercial pollinators in the United States is estimated at about $15 billion annually with them doing almost 80 percent of all crop pollination.  

The good news is you can easily help – and find out exactly how this weekend at the Gardens of the American Rose Center’s last Green Thumb series of the year.

“Planting and Growing a Pollinator Garden” is the topic for the seminar from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Sept. 30, at the center’s Klima Rose Hall, 8877 Jefferson Paige Road, Shreveport.

Topics/speakers include:

  • “Isn’t Beauty Enough? What’s the Big Deal about Butterflies?” – Mike Livingston, NWLA Master Gardener.
  • “Setting Up a Beehive in Your Garden” – Loice Kendrick Lacey, Mastere Gardener, author and founder of the Haynesville Butterfly Festival.
  • “Monarchs and Milkweed – If You Plant It, They Will Come” – Malcolm Vidrine, biologist, educator, author of the Cajun Prairie Restoration Project.

Admission is free and refreshments will be provided. For more information, call the rose center at 318-938-5402.

Don’t miss this chance to be a friend to the bees and butterflies!

Punch up the garden with fall perennials

Firecracker plant is a fall bloomer that hummingbirds love. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

Firecracker bush is a fall bloomer that hummingbirds love. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

Most of us plant for spring and summer blooms. What about fall? There are wonderful fall-blooming perennials that could help our gardens mark the transition of seasons if we would just plan for it.

Here are recommendations for Louisiana’s Best fall-blooming perennials from retired LSU AgCenter horticulturists Denyse Cummins and Joe White:

  • Hamelia: Also known as firecracker bush, this one will survive mild winters. “It really brings in the hummingbirds while they are trying to stock up for their winter flight home,” Denyse said.
  • Salvia madrensis. Photo courtesy of Denyse Cummins.

    Salvia madrensis. Photo courtesy of Denyse Cummins.

    Salvias: Some salvias, like S. guaranitica varieties ‘Black and Blue’ and ‘Argentine Skies,’ start flowering in summer and save their best bloom for fall. But the best are fall bloomers, Denyse said. “Really outrageous salvias that ONLY bloom in fall are rosebud sage (S. involucrata) and forsythia sage (S. madrensis). They are monstrous big, 5-7 feet, and look best in the back of a planting of large plants.  Forsythia sage blooms can be 10-12 inches long. They can all take half day shade and bloom well.”

  • Agastache: Also known as hyssop, these plants are magnets for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. “There have been many new agastaches introduced in the last few years,” Denyse said.  “I love the large ones, A. aurantiaca ‘Desert Sunrise’ and ‘Apricot Sunrise.’  They start blooming in the heat of summer and just keep going until frost.  They are big and blowsy like Russian sage but give that soft orange color.  I would not overwater them, since they are a Southwestern plant.”
  • Sedum Autumn Joy. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

    Sedum Autumn Joy. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

    Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’:  Succulent leaves and stems are topped with clusters of tiny rosy flowers that mature to copper and brown, perfect for fall.  “We usually get two blooms out of it (early summer and fall) and it will grow in an irrigated bed just fine.  It needs full sun,” Denyse said.

  • Chrysanthemums: Mums were on the list of both Denyse and Dr. White. But if you expect them to come back, make sure you buy the right kind. “Potted florist’s mums, the ones that show up in the stores now, don’t usually perennialize,” Denyse said. “The mums that do are the Korean mums like Ryan’s Pink and Country Girl.  The difference is that the potted mums have a fuzzy leaf that traps moisture and causes them to die of fungal diseases.  The smooth Korean mum’s leaves don’t have that problem and once you’ve got them you’ve got them forever. They are good spreaders and some have to be pulled up when they overtake their allotted space. They can get 2 ½-to-3 feet tall and fall over but I like them best when they are ruthlessly pinched. I do find hand-pinching them in early summer, when the weather is still good, a pleasant Zen activity, but you can also take a weed whacker to them in early and mid-summer and just rake or blow the tops out of the bed.”
  • Hardy asters: Asters cover themselves with hundreds of small, daisy-like flowers that attract butterflies.

Too much love is in the air — and on our cars

Photo of the Day -- Sept. 2

Love may be in the air, but hate is in the hearts of many North Louisiana residents.

The cool, wet summer has contributed to an explosion of lovebugs – you know, those pesky insects that congregate on your porch and smash into your vehicle.

And, you’re right – there are more of them this year.

This is what Dr. Beverly Burden, associate professor and entomologist at Louisiana State University-Shreveport, shared about them:

  • These are the black bugs that appear to have a red/orange neck, usually flying in tandem during copulation.
  • They are flies, not bugs.
  • They do not bite or sting.
  • They are attracted to lighter surfaces.
  • They are attracted to the vibrations and exhaust fumes of vehicles.
  • Their squashed bodies are acidic and may harm the paint of vehicles and they can clog the radiator, therefore wash them off of vehicles.
  • They should be lower in population numbers in a week to 10 days.
  • The eggs are laid in moist soil and eat decayed vegetation so they act as recyclers in the ecosystem.
  • The summer was wetter and cooler (not many days over 100 degrees), which explains the larger than normal population this year.
  • Yes, they are a NUISANCE, but nothing more. Insects control the world and they allow us to live with them.

So, I guess we’ll just have to live with this love/hate relationship for a little while longer.

Time to plant late-summer veggie gardens

Tomato transplants for a fall crop should be available in nurseries now. Photo courtesy of LSU AgCenter.

Tomato transplants for a fall crop should be available in nurseries now. Photo courtesy of LSU AgCenter.

August is a transitional time in the vegetable garden. While cool-season planting begins in earnest next month, some of the more heat-tolerant cool-season vegetables, such as the cole crops, can be planted into the garden now. And because our first frosts generally don’t arrive until late November or early December, we can also plant warm-season vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers for fall production. Visit area nurseries to find out what vegetable transplants and seeds they have available to plant.

It is important to prepare beds properly before planting. Clear the site of all weeds or finished vegetable plants. Turn the soil with a shovel, fork or tiller to a depth of at least 8 inches and spread the tilled soil with a 2-to-4-inch layer of organic matter — leaves, grass clippings, aged manure or compost. This helps maintain a high level of organic matter in the soil, which encourages a strong, healthy root system, improves drainage, retains moisture, provides nutrients and promotes vigorous plant growth.

Fertilizer can be sprinkled on top of the organic matter. Apply general-purpose fertilizer following package directions for rates. Gardeners should consider having their soil tested through their parish LSU AgCenter extension office to learn more about the fertility of their soil and what fertilizer to use. A soil test will also tell you if you need to add lime to the soil.

Mix the organic matter and fertilizer thoroughly into the soil. Turn the soil by digging with a shovel, garden fork or tiller until the added materials are evenly distributed. If you are not gardening in raised beds, form the soil into raised rows about 8 inches high and 2 to 4 feet wide, with narrow walkways between them. If you are gardening in containers, use a quality potting mix, and fertilize with balanced soluble or slow-release fertilizers used according to label directions.

Insects and diseases have had all summer to build up their populations, and insects such as whiteflies, stink bugs, aphids and caterpillars are commonly seen this time of year. Because insect and disease pressures are often greater in late summer and early fall than in spring, watch plants carefully for problems and use appropriate control measures promptly when needed.

Now is the time to plant tomato and bell pepper transplants for fall production. If your pepper plants from the spring are still in reasonably good shape, they will often produce an excellent fall crop once the weather begins to cool down (this also goes for eggplants). Keep them well fertilized and protected from insects and diseases.

Spring-planted tomato plants rarely survive the summer in decent shape, and new transplants are generally used for the fall crop. Tomato cultivars that produce well in fall include Florida 91, Spitfire, Solar Set, Heatwave II, Phoenix, Sunleaper, Sunmaster, Solar Fire or Talladega. Plant several varieties, and see which you like best.

Fall snap beans often produce better than those planted in spring. This is because as the fall snap beans come into production, temperatures begin to cool down, while in spring, the weather gets increasingly hotter as the beans produce their crop. They are one of the easiest and most reliable vegetables and are especially appropriate for children’s gardens. Wait until late August in north Louisiana or early September in south Louisiana to plant so they will come into bloom after the weather has begun to turn cooler, and choose bush types. You may want to plant bush lima beans.

Cole crops to be planted this month from seeds or transplants include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, kale, rape and collards. Cole is the Old English word for cabbage, and these days is used to refer to this group of closely related vegetables (we still use the word when we call cabbage salad coleslaw).

Broccoli is one of the best and easiest to grow of the group. Transplants may be planted now through early October. Seeds can be planted now through early September and may be planted into pots or flats and transplanted into the garden, or direct seeded into the garden where they will grow. Plant transplants 12 to 18 inches apart into well-prepared beds. The closer spacing will produce smaller heads but more total production.

Here’s a list of the vegetables that can be planted into the garden this month:

  • Transplants of tomato, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage.
  • Seeds of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, collards, cucumbers, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, turnips, squash, bush lima beans and bush snap beans and Swiss chard.
  • Sets (small bulbs) of shallots and bunching onions.
  • Small whole Irish potatoes saved from the spring crop.

Contact your parish LSU AgCenter extension office to receive a copy of the LSU AgCenter Vegetable Planting Guide, a free publication that will provide you with information on the year-round planting dates for many vegetables. This publication is also available online. Simply do an internet search for “LSU AgCenter Vegetable Planting Guide.”

Dan Gill can be reached at 225-578-2222 or dgill@agcenter.lsu.edu 

Louisiana’s Best: Summer bulbs

Crinums are classic summer-blooming bulbs. Photo by Kathie Rowell

If you automatically think spring when you hear the word “bulb,” it’s time to broaden your horizons. While it’s true many of the bulbs we are most familiar with bloom in spring, some do their thing after the heat sets in.

Here’s a look at bulbs that perform well in our sultry summers, as recommended by retired LSU AgCenter horticulturist Denyse Cummins:

  • Surprise lilies : Also known as naked ladies because they send up flowering stems before they sprout foliage, these frilly flowers bloom in July. Lycoris squamigera  is a rosy pink and Lycoris incarnata, also called the peppermint lily, has darker pink stripes down each petal. They are related to the red fall spider lily.
  • Philippine lily: Also known as the Formosa lily, this fragrant flower looks like an Easter lily, but blooms in mid- to late summer.  The stalks can reach more than 5 feet tall and produce a dozen or more white, trumpet-shaped flowers. Let it dry in place and the seeds will drop to the ground and sprout, but it will probably take a couple of years for them to bloom.
  • Rain lilies! Photo by Kathie Rowell.

    Rain lilies! Photo by Kathie Rowell.

    Rain lilies: Like their name implies, you won’t see these beautiful star-shaped white, pink or yellow flowers until after a good rain. “They are a terrific choice to edge a bed with because they are fast reproducers and the foliage stays a lovely green year-round,” Denyse said. “They are such a joy because we suffer so much with hot, droughty spells in the South.  Walk outside the day after a rain and you’ll find that rain lilies are celebrating just as much as we are.”

  • Crinums: Known as the queen of the summer garden, crinums come in a multitude of varieties so you’re sure to find one that blooms just about any time from spring to fall. They’re big, tough, beautiful and often fragrant. Local crinum lover Donna Shope fell in love with them after reading a magazine article. “Of course I had seen crinums all my life, but I hadn’t SEEN them,” Donna said. “I started noticing them everywhere.  My cousin Debby dug crinums from our grandmother’s place.  I thought I remembered every inch of that yard but I swear I never noticed the crinums. As to favorites, Powellii Album is a favorite with lovely white trumpets and a long bloom season in the spring. Ellen Bosanquet is a readily available summer bloomer.  Deep pink/red blooms.  Elizabeth Traub is probably a little better since it is similar in color and bloom time but is slightly larger and more likely to rebloom if conditions are good.  By good conditions I mean rain. My most reliable fall bloomer is a digweedii with an open flower and light pink stripe.  … Less easily found favorites would include White Queen and Super Ellen. White Queen is a beautiful spring bloomer with white trumpets that are curled around the edges.  The flowers dangle like bells.   Super Ellen is very large with deep pink/red trumpets. The scapes can be 6 feet though mine have never been over 5 and half feet. It blooms spring, summer and fall when conditions are good.  Again, I mean rain.  Crinums can act very much like rain lilies.”

Interested in adding one or more of these to your garden? Denyse has some advice:

“The most important thing to know about tropical bulbs is that they are not great mail order bulbs,” she said. “They have a pretty short shelf life and are best obtained freshly dug or potted.”

12 houseplants that clean the air

Dracena have been shown to remove pollutants from indoor air. Photo by Kathie Rowell

Dracena have been shown to remove pollutants from indoor air. Photo by Kathie Rowell

Did you know that indoor air is usually more polluted than outdoor air? That’s because many building materials, cleaning products, furnishings and office equipment emit gases or particles into the atmosphere.

Golden pothos.

Golden pothos.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency says indoor pollutant levels can be two to five times – and as much as 100 times – higher than outdoor levels and ranks indoor pollutants as one of the top five environmental risks to public health.

Those of us who live and work in drafty older homes or buildings have less to worry about than those who live or work in newer, energy-efficient homes and offices.  That’s because new buildings are built tighter and largely constructed with man-made materials and finishes that are known to “off-gas” benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene.

But there’s a low-tech way to remove some of these pollutants from the air – and beautify your home or office at the same time.

Grow houseplants.

Red-edged dracena.

Red-edged dracena.

In the 1980s, NASA spent two years studying the effects of houseplants on indoor air quality as a way to purify the air on its space facilities.

If it works in space, surely it will work on earth, right?

Here’s a list 12 of the plants NASA found to be effective. You probably already have one or more of them, because they’re easy to find and easy to grow. Plan to use one potted plant per 100 square feet of living space.

  • Aloe vera
  • Bamboo or reed palm
  • Chinese evergreen
  • English ivy
  • Golden pothos
  • Heartleaf philodendron
  • Peace lily
  • Snake plant
  • Spider plant
  • Red-edged dracena
  • Warneck dracena
  • Weeping fig

Now, aren’t you breathing easier?

Louisiana’s Best heat-tolerant perennials

Hot weather doesn't faze Rudbeckia Goldsturm. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

Hot weather doesn’t faze Rudbeckia Goldsturm. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

It’s hard to find perennials that strut their stuff in the blazing heat of a Louisiana summer, but they do exist.

I asked Denyse Cummins and Dr. Joe White, both retired LSU AgCenter horticulturists,  for their heat-tolerant perennial recommendations. (Don’t run out and plant them now, though. Put them in next spring and come next summer you’ll be sitting pretty.)

Here’s what they said:

  • Goldsturm rudbeckia: A classic black-eyed Susan, this tough plant was named the Perennial Plant of the Year in 1999 and a Louisiana Select Plant in 2000. It bears masses of golden daisies with black cones that look great both in the landscape and in bouquets. Deadhead the flowers to encourage rebloom.
  • Ruellias: Also called Mexican petunias, these lavender flowers come in both dwarf and tall forms. Because they spread by both rhizomes and seeds, they can be invasive, especially in rich soil. The named dwarf form Katie is said to be less aggressive and was named a Texas Super Star. Bonus: Mexican petunias need no deadheading.
  • Salvia Victoria Blue

    Salvia Victoria Blue

    Salvias: Most perennial salvias are native to the Southwest, so heat doesn’t faze them. Colors can range from red to pink to blue to white, depending on the variety. Try autumn sage (Salvia greggii), mealy-cup sage (Salvia farinacea), Black and Blue salvia (Salvia guaranitica) or Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha). All prefer well-drained soil.

  • Agastaches: While these are not yet widely know, Denyse thinks they should be. Their pink, lilac or purple spike flowers lure butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.
  • Lantana

    Lantana

    Lantana: This old favorite makes a mound of foliage set off by clusters of flowers in yellow, white, orange, pink, red and purple, or often a mixture of several colors that change as the flower ages. There are dwarf, medium and huge varieties, so make sure you know which you have before you plant it. Lantanas are also known for attracting flying pretties to your garden.

“All perform very well in high heat from mid-summer into fall,” Denyse said. “A nice trick is to cut back the fading early summer-blooming agastaches, salvias and Goldsturm in midsummer and they’ll all rebloom.”

Louisiana’s Best: Annuals for mid-summer

Cheerful zinnias just keep on blooming. Photos by Kathie Rowell.

Cheerful zinnias just keep on blooming. Photos by Kathie Rowell.

How does your landscape look right now?

Having a beautiful flower bed in spring and early summer isn’t that hard. Like us, flowers look their freshest when temperatures are moderate and rainfall is plentiful.

But when the blast furnace of late summer arrives, most of us wilt. Luckily, there are some plants that can stand up to a summer scorching.

Here’s a list of Louisiana’s Best heat-tolerant annuals, recommended by retired LSU AgCenter area horticulturists Denyse Cummins and Dr. Joe White:

  • Dragonwing begonia.

    Dragonwing begonia.

    Begonias:  Yes, you see them everywhere, but there’s a reason. A reputation for blooming nonstop from April through hard frost deserves plenty of popularity points. Wax begonias, which usually grow about 8 to 12 inches tall, are mostly used as bedding plants and come in shades of red, pink and white, with either green or bronze foliage. They appreciate morning sun and afternoon shade, but the bronze-leafed varieties tend to have more sun tolerance. The popular Dragon Wing begonias, which can grow to 2 feet high or more, are well suited for containers and hanging baskets since their clusters of red or pink blooms cascade down from the foliage. Both varieties need regular water and fertilizer for peak performance. In late summer, when wax begonias begin to look ragged, they can be cut back and fertilized to stimulate new growth and blooms. When branches of Dragon Wings are past their prime, cut or snap off the canes at the base of the plant and fertilize to jumpstart new growth.

  • Caladiums: If you need something to light up the shady areas of your garden, caladiums are up for the challenge from spring to frost – as long as you remember to give them plenty of water. Caladiums offer dazzling color and pattern in their heart-shaped leaves, with contrasting veining and splashes of red, pink, white and green. Because caladiums are grown for their exotic foliage, it’s best to remove the insignificant flowers as soon as they form. Fertilize in mid-summer to keep them pumping out the leaves.
  • Cockscomb: For vivid color in the dead of summer, choose cockscomb, also known as celosia. With flower heads in hot shades of red, orange, yellow and pink, it fits right in. Blooming from summer through frost, cockscomb comes in two varieties: One produces feathery plumes, and the other makes flowers that look like – big surprise here  – cockscombs. Go easy on the fertilizer with these plants. And for the best show, mass plant them.
  • Gomphrena: Here’s another one that can take sun, heat and humidity and put on a show from summer through fall. Gomphrena bears loads of cloverlike blooms in red, pink, purple or white that make good dried flowers. Give it a drink during dry periods and fertilize it about every six weeks.
  • Marigolds: Chances are marigolds were among the first flowers you ever planted. That’s because their easy dispositions make them great for beginning gardeners. And their heat-loving ways make them great candidates to provide color in summer shades of yellow, cream, orange and rust. To keep them blooming, deadhead frequently. If your spring-planted marigolds get tired by mid-summer, plant new ones. Marigolds are among the rare flowers that can be planted from spring through fall.
  • Periwinkles.

    Periwinkles.

    Periwinkles: These plants like heat so much they don’t even want to be planted until about May. Stick their toes in cool soil and they’ll reward your efforts by promptly dying. Ditto for putting them in poorly drained soil. Take care of these details and they’ll cover themselves in pink, white, red, lavender or coral flowers all the way to frost. Be aware, though, that periwinkles are susceptible to a type of aerial blight. Mulching helps deter it because it keeps soil from splashing onto leaves. New, disease-resistant varieties, such as Cora and Nirvana, are being bred as well.

  • Wave petunias: Up until the 1990s, petunias wouldn’t have made this list. They were known for lovely spring blooms and burning up when scorching weather arrived. That changed with the introduction of new varieties, such as the Wave series, bred for better garden performance. Wave petunias look great massed as bedding plants or in containers. Wherever you plant them, make sure they get plenty of sun and feed them about every month.
  • Zinnias: Is there anything more cheerful than a patch of zinnias? Well, maybe a bouquet of them on your desk to brighten up a long work day. Zinnias are tough sun lovers with the bonus of being super easy to grow from seeds. There are short ones perfect for bedding plants and tall ones that make great cut flowers. As a bonus, you can keep sowing zinnia seeds all the way through summer so you’ll always have fresh flowers on the way. Just make sure you put them in well-drained soil because they can’t abide wet feet.  To keep them bringing the blooms, deadhead regularly and feed them about every month.

What plants would you add to this list?