Every winter, after the seed catalogues start coming, I look out the windows at the frozen lily ponds, dead leaves blowing around, and go over what did well last summer and what were my favorites. Then I try to decide what I need the coming summer.  Every year I have less shade as the wind or storms break off branches, and old age and fire blight destroy the crabapples.  The April freeze destroyed many of the flower buds and I am hoping it got to the cottonwood’s cotton buds as I saw some come down looking rather sad. Several hundred grackles and starlings are on the neighbor’s lawn pecking and scratching for whatever after he just raked and mowed. I am writing this first week in April when it is too cold to stay out very long but I am setting my pots upright and putting the potting soil and compost back in so it can settle down for May planting.

          LANTANAS are a “Must Have” for sunny areas. They are perennial shrubs down south but annuals here, about 2 ½ to 3 feet tall by fall.  They come in many colors and combinations in the same flower during the fall. They bloom before the asters and the mums. They have many branches, but do not demand much water and don’t mind our July and August heat.  A bloom may be both pink and white, or red and yellow, or pink and yellow that changes as they age.  The flower is actually a cluster of small tubular blossoms that butterflies love.  They do form dark berries that are poisonous making it a good practice of dead heading when the flowers fade. 

          For late fall bloom in the shade the TOAD LILIES are fun.  I can’t see any resemblance to toads unless it is because both of them like damp, shaded soil.  They also have color combinations although most are white to pink with spots on the petals. The rabbits decided they were good food when very young so as soon as they show up I put a cage around until later in the summer.  Natives of Japan and the Philippines, the flowers can be star, funnel, or bell shaped.  I have noticed this spring, the catalogs have some new even odder colors and petal shapes. They belong to the lily family and you can find them as TRICYRTIS sp.  They are usually in bloom when we get our fall frost so I have never been able to save any seed but the clumps which spread slowly can be divided in spring or fall.

          Another shade flower about 6-8 inches tall is CORDALIS LUTEA. Cindy Gabelhouse brought me one from Minnesota a number of years ago and it has seeded itself into damp, shady places but this cold week has it lying flat.  I hope there are some seeds that haven’t started yet. It is a dainty little plant about 8 inches wide with yellow, lacy, ½ inch flowers in dense clusters that bloom all summer until frost.  The foliage is ferny and bluish. Lately I have seen advertised plants with blue flowers that cost much more than the yellow (zone 6-8). I have never heard a “common name” but it resents transplanting unless done very early in spring.

          In the last few years ANGELONIAS have appeared in the nurseries and has become one of my “Must Haves”. They are natives of Brazil and Mexico and hardy only in zones 9 and 10 where they act as sub shrubs. For me they grow in full sun, about 2 to 2 ½ feet tall with long upright chains of blooms 12-18 inches long in pink, lavender, purple, and purple and white that often can get knocked down in a heavy rain. I like them in containers where the chains will weave around other plants or droop down the side.  I have seen them listed as “summer snapdragons’ which will give you some idea of the shape of the individual flowers.

          STAR FLOWERS, also called STAR CLUSTER, and EGYPTIAN STAR CLUSTER (Penta lanceolata) grows between 1 ½ to 2 feet tall and is a pretty plant about as wide as it is tall.  The star name is from the individual flowers with five petals in a star shape.  The flowers are in 3-4 inch across clusters in an almost ball shape, with the stars all facing out.  There are pink, red, lavender, purple and white ones all natives of Africa, Arabia, and Madagascar (zone 10-11). Humming birds like the flowers which last well in a bouquet.  They do like damp soil and fertilizer in full sun.  In their long native season they may grow 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide.

            BLACKEYED SUSANS may seem a strange “Must Have” because they tend to take over, but my patch has been getting shorter and thinner as the neighbors and my trees get bigger and bigger. So this year I am saving some space in the parkway in full sun.  They are such bright yellow when other plants are drooping.

Copyright 2007




          Epsom salts (which is Magnesium Sulfate [MgSO4-7H2O]) can be a good source of magnesium for plants. 2-3 tablespoons around each tomato plant is sufficient. Clematis sometimes gets yellow leaves which looks like iron chlorosis. It may be magnesium chlorosis, or a deficiency of magnesium. 2-3 tablespoons of Epsom salts per plant could help. Gladys adds 2-3 tablespoons of Epsom salts to each rose bush every spring.

          Some fertilizers contain many micronutrients including magnesium. There are 16 elements that are needed for good plant growth. Only nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), sulfur (S), iron (Fe), and zinc (Zn) may need to be added to Nebraska soils. The rest are present in sufficient quantities. 

          One of those other micronutrients is calcium. Many of us have a problem with blossom end rot on our tomatoes. Low calcium transport in a plant appears to be associated with blossom end rot of tomatoes. Most of the time our Nebraska soils have enough calcium available for the plant and the addition of calcium to the soil or sprayed on the plant does not seem to help, as it is the transport of that calcium from the soil into the tomato that is the problem. Research has shown that one of the reasons for the poor transport of the calcium to the fruit is usually irregular watering. That is, we plant the small tomato plants and we forget when we watered, and then over-water. This irregular watering makes the calcium go up into the foliage and not enough to the fruit. Water and fertilize when needed.

Usually only the first tomatoes are affected by blossom end rot. Then with the second flush of tomatoes the plant transports calcium also to the fruit and all the later tomatoes seem to be ok.

Copyright 2007