There are a number of plants that I must have each year. This article is about some of them. The first one is under a window on the south side of my house. Several years ago I set out some Lantana plants. I had tried to get them started from seeds but never was very successful. That year they took and for the first time I had Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds zipping about like big bees. They floated in the air above the flowers that are a cluster of very small tubular blossoms of various colors. Sometimes there are two colors in one blossom. The Hummingbirds moved swiftly from one flower to another, drinking the nectar with that long beak. So every summer since then I have needed Lantanas as the Hummers remember where they found nectar. For me the plants get almost 3 feet tall, well branched, very sturdy stemmed plants. In the south they are considered shrubs, heat lovers, and always covered with many Butterflies.  Since seeds are so difficult, most of our plants here are from cuttings so they are much more expensive than Petunias.  They are also one of the first plants to drop dead at the first hard frost.

          Since blue is my favorite color and is also one of the least used colors in blooming plants, I look around for blue ones.  Larkspur (Consolida ambigua) has blue, pink, and white and the last few years I have found red seed.  I try to save most of my seeds from the blue blue ones, and only a few of the light blue and dark blue colors. Larkspur are annuals that produce many, many seeds so they can take care of themselves covering larger areas each year. They love full sun but do quite good in high shade. They resemble Delphiniums only much smaller, less likely to flop in wind or rain. They like soil just a little on the alkaline side so my 7.2 pH Lincoln soil suits them fine. Larkspur do not like very hot weather and tend to go to seed.  They may come up in the fall and remain green all winter. Do not try to transplant them as not many will survive.  The seeds and leaves are poisonous if eaten.

          Another annual that takes care of itself that I like for background (4-5 feet tall) and sometimes the center of a large bed surrounded by  shorter plants is the Cleome (Cleome hassleriana).  It comes in pink, purple, or white heads of loose blossoms with long stamens hanging out.  Once you have them you will not need to buy plants again as that head develops long pods filled with many seeds. The plants that come up over a large space are fairly easy to transplant if you do it early before the roots get very widespread.  Planted fairly close together those big heads put on a show! After the first show, one can cut the entire plant down about half way to get a second shorter bloom show. In the fall after the first good frost I find them quite easy to pull up.  The stems are prickly and sometimes almost thorny.

          Growing up in Colorado we did not have the average rainfall that Eastern Nebraska has, so our choice of easy to grow flowers was more limited, but nearly everyone had Hollyhocks (Althaea rosea). We had the biennial ones that flowered, dropped their seeds that came up at once, giving their first year a start.  I have mixed success in Lincoln. Rust coming from the Hawthorne trees was my first surprise and ruined my first crop. Now both plants get the same fungal spray.  They are not picky about soil, neutral to slightly acid, but well drained, in full sun.  They get 5 feet tall with flowers of almost any color about 4 inches across that make lovely doll dresses for old fashioned clothes pins. Some plants act as perennials and may return for 3 to 5 years.  I like them as a background against my front fence.  A few years ago I found a smaller plant with smaller striped blooms (purple and white) called Zebrina. They are sometimes called a dwarf Hollyhock. As with any plants in the Mallow family in my yard they must be protected from Rabbits from the time they come up until they are too tough to eat! I vary what I use from Blood Meal to Liquid Fence to any of the repellants available.

          When the Pansies begin to wilt and droop from the heat I like to replace them with either ornamental Kale or ornamental Cabbage. They like cooler weather and survive with new growth that looks like a huge Rose and lasts until Thanksgiving.  The plants are closely related but Cabbage has a flattened head and broad leaves while the Kale is heavily frilled. The leaves start out green and as it gets cooler they will turn red, purple, pink, or white. I plan on only 3 or 4 to fill a large 20 inch pot that held a dozen Pansies.  The little Cabbage Butterflies like these plants as well as any Cabbage so you need to watch out for the Caterpillars and use Dipel (wettable powder), Thuricide (liquid spray), or any Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) product (dust, wettable powder or liquid spray) to destroy them as they can eat a lot in one Day.

          Bacillus thuringiensis is one of about 30 different bacteria diseases that infects, poisons, or kills insect pests with different varieties infecting different and very specific pests.  Most often Bt is used to kill caterpillars. Read the label and follow the manufactures recommendations!

Copyright 2013