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Best Flowers to Grow

The best flowers for your garden

By: Sandy Feather ©2008
Penn State Extension


It is time for my 2008 Annual Review of the flowering plants in Penn State Extension's Demonstration Gardens in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh.

The North Park Demonstration Garden is located at the intersection of Wildwood Road and Babcock Boulevard, at the Veteran's Monument across from North Park Lake.

The South Park Demonstration Garden is located at the intersection of Corrigan Drive and McConkey Road, just down the road from South Park’s Wave Pool.

Zinnias
Zinnias
  

FLOWER PERFORMANCE INDEX


These two demonstation gardens are planted and maintained by Allegheny County's Penn State Master Gardener volunteers. Their primary purpose is to show home gardeners plants that perform well in local soils and climate with minimal maintenance. We work in the gardens one night a week. Pesticide use is minimal, primarily a little glyphosate (Roundup) to control weeds prior to planting in the spring. No insecticides or fungicides are used. The gardens are planted the first week of June and the spent annuals removed at the end of the season.

The demonstration gardens focus on annual flowering plants because they remain the top selling horticultural crop. Very few perennials offer the season-long bloom that annuals provide. Both gardens also include an assortment of perennial flowers, ornamental grasses, and herbs. Each plant has a sign with its botanical name, common name, cultural information, and the name of the garden center that donated it to the garden. Each plant's status as annual or perennial is indicated by that word in the upper left-hand corner of the sign. The gardens are set up as self-guided tours, and we encourage you to stop in and visit when the gardens are in their glory next summer.

 

Both gardens are exposed to full sun, and are open and unfenced. We do spray the daylily bed at North Park with a deer repellent called Liquid Fence, but otherwise do nothing to control deer damage. We did spray a few plants that were severely damaged right after planting to allow them a chance to get established, but then they were on their own. Plants that are damaged by deer (or other wildlife) for three consecutive years are not planted again. The deer population forces us to try new plants every year, while keeping the tried and true. In the past, deer damage has been much worse in South Park, but in 2008, the North Park Demonstration Garden saw the lion’s share of deer damage. They absolutely destroyed some of the plants we have grown there successfully for many years. The wide variation in Bambi’s tastes makes me very hesitant to call any plant “deer resistant.”

The weather this year played havoc with a lot of plants. The season started off cool and rainy, and then turned hot and very dry in early July. This kind of growing season can adversely impact plants (including trees and shrubs) because the constantly saturated soil early on causes some root rot.  Then plants with reduced root systems were left to cope with the very hot, dry weather that followed. We use a number of plants in the demonstration gardens that are very tolerant of hot, dry weather – they did not really take off and grow until their preferred weather arrived. Even a number plants that were not damaged by deer in North Park did not grow as large as they normally do. That may be due to the fact that we planted that garden in the rain. Working wet soil can cause compaction problems that plants do not recover from.


Outstanding performers
from 2008

Outstanding Performers are those annuals that bloomed all summer with minimal deadheading (removal of spent flowers) and no signs of insect or disease problems, and no animal damage.

There are times when deer damage plants in one garden, but not the other. That will be noted in the individual plant evaluations.

Angelface® Series Angelonia (Angelonia angustifolia Angelface® Series) – long blooming and maintenance free in South Park; did not bloom as long or as well as usual in North Park. Clean attractive foliage. Use in beds, borders and large containers. Good cut flower.

Serena® series Angelonia (Angelonia x Serena® series) – more compact than other varieties of Angelonia. Long blooming and maintenance free in South Park; quit blooming by late summer in North Park. Use in beds, borders and containers.

‘Blue Horizon’ Ageratum (Ageratum houstonianum ‘Blue Horizon’) – at two to three feet tall, ‘Blue Horizon’ provides new uses for a tried and true annual normally used as a small edging plant. Prefers evenly moist, well-drained soil, but came through the summer drought (watered once a week) with flying colors. Good butterfly plant and superb cut flower.

Annual Butterfly Weed (Asclepias curassavica 'Red Butterfly') - trouble free and long blooming; attractive to butterflies and pollinators. Plants did not grow as large as normal, but that is because I got them started indoors too late and they were small when we planted them out. Monarch larvae feed on these plants, but that is a great reason to grow them. Best in beds and borders.


Annual Butterfly Weed

Peter’s Gold Carpet Bidens (Bidens ferulifolia 'Goldteppich') – blooms from planting until season’s end with no deadheading; heat and drought tolerant. Use for edging, massing, or in hanging baskets or containers. Not quite as good as in past years, but still an outstanding plant.

'Black Pearl' Ornamental Peppers (Capsicum annuum 'Black Pearl') - heat & drought tolerant; fruits ripen from purple-black to red – the contrast with the dark foliage is very striking! Fruits can be eaten, but are VERY hot. Use in beds, borders or containers.

Annual Vinca (Catharanthus roseus Pacifica Series Mix)- clean, glossy green foliage and constant bloom. Vigorous heat and drought tolerant plants. Good for massing, edging and containers.

Golden Dewdrop (Duranta erecta ‘Gold Edge’) – Outstanding medium-sized foliage plant; gold leaf variegation does not scorch in full sun. Minor deer damage late in the season did not detract from this beauty. Use in beds, borders and large containers. Striking when planted in combination with ‘Black Pearl’ ornamental peppers.

Bitter Sneezeweed (Helenium amarum ‘Dakota Gold’) free-blooming, very compact relative of our native sneezeweed. Heat and drought tolerant. Problem-free. Attractive to pollinators. Use as an edging plant, en masse in beds, or in containers.

Lantana (Lantana camara Tropical Fruit™, Bandana™ Rose, and Lucky Peach™) - very heat and drought tolerant; non-stop blooming with little or no deadheading. More compact (18 – 24 inches tall) than some of the first lantanas introduced to the market. Use in beds, borders and large containers. Great for attracting butterflies and pollinators. DEER DAMAGE IN SOUTH PARK.

Variegated Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Fireworks') –  outstanding new introduction found as a chance seedling in a tray of purple fountain grass seedlings. We grew it in both gardens and loved it, but the variegation does not seem to be entirely stable. Outstanding in all types of weather. Unfortunately, not winter hardy in our climate. Use in beds, borders and large containers.

Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum') - outstanding in all types of weather. Its only fault is that it is not winter hardy in our climate! Use in beds, borders and large containers.

Purple fountain grass

Castor Bean (Ricinus communis and R. communis 'Carmencita Bright Red') – these huge plants make a great focal point in the garden; problem-free. Tiny white flowers very attractive to pollinators. Did not grow as large as usual in North Park, but were fine in South Park. Beds, borders and very large containers.

Cathedral™ White Mealy Cup Salvia (Salvia farinacea Cathedral™ White) – long blooming; heat and drought tolerant. More compact than ‘Victoria. Attractive to butterflies and pollinators. Flowers dry nicely, too. Requires some deadheading to stay attractive. The flowers of white-flowered forms of Salvia farinacea can get lost in the gray-green foliage. Use in beds, borders and containers.

'Victoria' Mealy-Cup Sage (Salvia farinacea 'Victoria') - Very heat and drought tolerant; long blooming and problem free. Attractive to butterflies and pollinators. Flowers dry nicely, too. Requires some deadheading to stay attractive. Use in beds, borders and containers.

Anise-Scented Salvia (Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue') - tolerates heat and drought; long blooming. Attractive to butterflies, hummingbirds and pollinators. Requires some deadheading, but those electric blue flowers are worth it. Use in beds, borders and containers.

Coleus ‘Inky Fingers’ (Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Inky Fingers’) – mounding, groundcover growth habit, 12- 18 inches tall; great in full sun as well as shade. Does not produce many flower spikes. Use in beds, borders and large containers. NORTH PARK ONLY DUE TO PAST SEVERE DEER DAMAGE IN SOUTH PARK.

‘Bonanza Bolero’ Marigold (Tagetes patula ‘Bonanza Bolero’) – long blooming and problem free. Does require some deadheading, but well worth the effort. One of the best marigolds we have ever grown! Use in beds, borders and containers.

 ‘El Dorado’ Yellow Alder (Turnera ulmifolia ‘El Dorado’) – extremely heat and drought tolerant; bloomed with large yellow flowers all summer with no deadheading or any maintenance beyond watering once a week. Clean foliage and mounded growth habit. Its only problem is that the flowers close in the evening and on cloudy days. Good for massing in beds and borders.

Brazilian Verbena (Verbena bonariensis) – Tall, airy presence in the garden. Very attractive to pollinators and butterflies. Powdery mildew late in the growing season did not detract from its beauty. Self-sows and can be weedy. Use in beds and borders.

 Garden Zinnia (Zinnia elegans) – we grew five different cultivars of this drought-tolerant flowering machine, including the double-flowered ‘Big Tetra,’ ‘Candy Cane,’ ‘County Fair,’ and ‘Thumbelina,’ and the single-flowered Pinwheel Mixed. Very attractive to butterflies and pollinators. Some Japanese beetle damage and minor fungal leaf spot and powdery mildew very late in the growing season did not detract significantly from these beauties. They were not bothered by the season’s extreme growing conditions and grew beautifully in both gardens.


Good performers
from 2008

Good Performers are those that bloomed well but required regular deadheading to keep them looking their best.

Some may have experienced insect or disease problems, or minor animal damage that did not mar their appearance badly or kill them. Others should be staked to keep them from flopping over their neighbors, especially after a storm. Still others bloom too late for us to enjoy them as long as we would like, but are nonetheless beautiful additions to the garden. They include:

Pimpernel (Anagallis x ‘Wildcat Blue’) – electric blue flowers just a shade lighter than Salvia guaranitica. Did not bloom as well as we would have liked, but attractive and relatively problem free (deer walking through the garden broke these plants, but did not appear to eat them). Use for massing or edging in beds and borders.

Pimpernel (Anagallis x ‘Wildcat Orange’) – reddish-orange version of the previous plant. Did not bloom as well as ‘Wildcat Blue.’

Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia x ‘Dr. Suess’ and ‘Charles Grimaldi’) – Tender shrubs grown as annuals in our climate. Plants grow four to twelve feet tall (depending on cultivar and growing conditions) and are a striking presence in the garden. They tend to bloom late in the season (I have one in a container at my house in full bloom right now). Heavenly evening fragrance. Easily overwintered in a cool, frost free area such as an indoor wall in an attached garage – light is not necessary once they are dormant. Water well before storing and not again until you see new growth.

Canna (Canna x generalis) – large leaves add a tropical flare to the garden; red flowers. Use in beds, borders and large containers. Did not grow as large as usual and some Japanese beetle damage. Lift rhizomes in fall and store indoors for the winter. NORTH PARK ONLY DUE TO PAST DEER DAMAGE IN SOUTH PARK.

‘Australia’ Canna (Canna x ‘Australia’) – dark maroon foliage a great foil for deep red flowers. Use in beds, borders and large containers. Did not grow as large as usual and some Japanese beetle damage. Lift rhizomes in fall and store indoors for the winter. NORTH PARK ONLY DUE TO PAST DEER DAMAGE IN SOUTH PARK.

‘Tropicana’ Canna (Canna x ‘Tropicana’) – this canna would be a standout if it never bloomed. Large leaves are striped with red, orange and green. Very showy! Use in beds, borders and large containers. Did not grow as large as usual. Possible virus infection.  Lift rhizomes in fall and store indoors for the winter. NORTH PARK ONLY DUE TO PAST DEER DAMAGE IN SOUTH PARK.

 ‘New Look’ Celosia (Celosia argenta var. plumosa ‘New Look) – old All-America Selections winner that stands the test of time. Bronzy foliage sets off dark red flowers exquisitely! Dries well, too. Use in beds, borders and containers. Deer damage late in season.


Celosia

Yellow Buttons (Chrysocephalum apiculatum ‘Flambe®  Yellow’) – extremely heat and drought tolerant. Suffered during the damp weather at the start of the season, but was absolutely outstanding once the weather turned hot and dry.  Nice contrast between yellow flowers and silver foliage. Use in beds and borders, or as a “spiller” in mixed containers.

Sonata Mixed Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus Sensation Mix) – compact grower that bloomed well all summer. It does take a lot of deadheading to keep them looking fresh and neat. We stop deadheading in late summer so we can enjoy the flocks of goldfinches that perch on the cosmos to eat the ripening seeds.

Miracle Pink' Twinspur (Diascia x 'Miracle Pink') - outstanding plants for edging, massing and containers. Bloomed well early on, but quit blooming by early September. Since this plant is normally outstanding, I blame its lesser performance on growing conditions this year. Problem free.

Piccadilly Basket Orange Twinspur (Diascia x Piccadilly Basket Orange) - outstanding plants for edging, massing and containers. Got leggy and did not bloom as well into fall. Problem free. Nice soft orange color.

Firebush (Kochia scoparia forma trichophylla ‘Childsii’) – grown for red fall color; very susceptible to deer damage, but hidden away on the edge of the monument at North Park . Problem free. NORTH PARK ONLY DUE TO PAST DEER DAMAGE IN SOUTH PARK.

Four O' Clock (Mirabilis jalapa 'Broken Colors' and 'Limelight Rose') - long-blooming heirloom flowers that tolerate hot, dry weather very well. Best in beds and borders. Flowers open late afternoon or early evening. Did not grow as large as usual. NORTH PARK ONLY DUE TO PAST DEER DAMAGE IN SOUTH PARK.

Blood Banana (Musa accuminata sbsp. zebrina) – large red variegated leaves add a tropical flair to any garden. Some deer damage to tips of leaves, and they were absolutely shredded by the remnants of Hurricane Ike. Still a very impressive plant in both North and South Parks. Use in beds and borders, maybe a HUGE container.

Nemesia (Nemesia fruticans ‘Opal innocence’ and ‘Pink Innocence’) – did not bloom as long as usual. Typically long blooming with minimal maintenance. Good plants for edging, massing and containers.

‘Magellanica’ Perilla (Perilla frutescens x ‘Magellanica’) – great foliage plant with dark purple leaves splashed with pink, white and green; does not seed in like the more familiar beefsteak plant. Deer damage later in season. Use in beds, borders and containers.

Cape Leadwort (Plumbago auriculata ) - heat and drought tolerant. Tender shrub grown as an annual in our climate. Sky blue flower color not found in most plants combines with almost any other color. Blooms late, but otherwise problem free. Use in beds, borders and containers. Can be overwintered in doors in a cool, frost free area with bright, indirect light. Water very sparingly (once a month).

White Cape Leadwort (Plumbago auriculata var. alba ) – white flowered version of the above plant.

‘Forest Fire’ Texas Sage (Salvia coccinea ‘Forest Fire’) – much more compact than ‘Lady in Red.’ Did not bloom as long or as heavily, even with regular deadheading. No problems, but not enough flowers. Attractive to butterflies and pollinators.

'Golden Delicious' Pineapple Sage  (Salvia elegans 'Golden Delicious’) – the brilliant red flowers absolutely glow against the fragrant golden foliage. Despite the full sun exposure, ‘Golden Delicious’ had only minimal leaf scorch. The only problem is that it blooms so late – it is just coming into full bloom now.

'Rhea' Mealy-Cup Sage (Salvia farinacea 'Rhea') - very heat and drought tolerant; long blooming and problem free. Attractive to butterflies and pollinators. Flowers dry nicely, too. Requires some deadheading to stay attractive. Use in beds, borders and containers. More compact and less showy than Salvia  farinacea ‘Victoria Blue.’

Scarlet Sage (Salvia splendens 'Flare') –  did not establish well; the plants that survived bloomed well. ‘Flare’ is usually an outstanding performer, although it does take regular deadheading to stay attractive. Attractive to butterflies and pollinators. Use in beds, borders and containers.

Coleus ‘Fingerpainting’ (Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Fingerpainting’) – Upright growth habit, 24 - 30 inches tall; held color well in full sun, but the variegation does not seem to be stable – some stems were lime green, others dark red, stills others variegated.

Use in beds, borders and containers. NORTH PARK ONLY DUE TO PAST SEVERE DEER DAMAGE IN SOUTH PARK.

Coleus ‘Kingswood Torch’ (Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Kingswood Torch’) – Upright growth habit, 18 – 24 inches tall; held color well in full sun. Very minor deer damage, late in season. Use in beds, borders and containers. NORTH PARK ONLY DUE TO PAST SEVERE DEER DAMAGE IN SOUTH PARK.

Coleus ‘Lime Red’ (Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Lime Red’) – Upright growth habit, 18 – 24 inches tall; held color well in full sun. Use in beds, borders and containers. Very minor deer damage, late in season. NORTH PARK ONLY DUE TO PAST SEVERE DEER DAMAGE IN SOUTH PARK.

Superbena® Blue Verbena (Verbena x hybrida Superbena® Blue – did not bloom as heavily as usual; required a fair amount of deadheading to look its best. Attractive to pollinators and butterflies.

‘Lanai Peach’ Verbena (Verbena x hybrida ‘Lanai  Peach’) – better flowering than Superbena® Blue, but still not as good s last summer. Required a fair amount of deadheading to look its best. Attractive to pollinators and butterflies.


Poor performers
from 2008

Some plants performed poorly from the start, perhaps because the weather was so wet immediately after the gardens were planted. Others suffered severe animal damage.

A nibble here or there is one thing, but these plants were destroyed! This year’s “poor” list is much longer than ever before. In addition to the plants noted above, these include:

‘Red Threads’ Alternanthera (Alternanthera ficoidea ‘Red Threads’ – This poor thing was heavily browsed by deer from the day we planted it. Good plant for massing in beds and borders, or spilling over the edge of a container.

Joseph’s Coat (Amaranthus tricolor) - completely defoliated and dead by late summer from a leaf spot disease that started during the wet weather early on; they never recovered. Use in beds and borders.

Mexican Heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia ‘Lavender Lace’) – after the deer destroyed another species of Cuphea that we grew in North Park last year, I should have known that this one was not going to work. Well, I guess it did from Bambi’s point of view. Great little plant for edging, massing or containers. Very heat and drought tolerant.

Double Purple Angel’s Trumpet  (Datura metel ‘Cornucopia’) – this usually outstanding plant succumbed to three-lined potato beetle damage in both gardens. We make a point of not spraying insecticides in the gardens, and handpicking once a week was not enough to keep them in check. Use as specimen or in containers.

Diamond Frost® (Euphorbia x ‘Inneuphdia’) – unfortunately, the deer have discovered this gorgeous plant in a big way. We will not be growing it in the demo gardens again. It is a GREAT plant in places where deer are not an issue; creates a very airy baby’s breath effect. Use in beds, borders and mixed containers.

‘Gartenmeister’ Upright Fuchsia (Fuchsia x ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’) – another very lovely plant that the deer absolutely devoured from the day we planted them out. Much more tolerant of sun than other fuschias as long as they receive ample moisture. Spectacular in containers. Attractive to hummingbirds and pollinators.

Red Pseuderanthemum (Pseuderanthemum atropurpureum ‘Rubrum’) – the deer ate every leaf this lovely foliage plant produced this summer. Nice maroon foliage accent in beds, borders and containers.

Pink Mulla Mulla (Ptilotus exaltatus ‘Joey’) – new plant for us this year turned out to be a disappointment. Feathery, cone shaped flowers bloom from the bottom up – and turn a dirty grayish-brown and die from the bottom up as the blooms age, resulting in a plant that never looks fresh and neat. Wet weather early on did not do this plant any favor.

Stampede™Mix Sage (Salvia greggii x Stampede™ Mix) – compact, with a shrubby growth habit; nice glossy, dark green foliage. No problems, but they do not flower enough to be worth the space they take in the garden.

salvia
Salvia

‘New Wonder’ and ‘Whirlwind White’ Fan Flower (Scaevola aemula) – severe deer damage in both North and South Parks – we will not be planting fan flower again. Excellent plant for massing in beds and borders, hanging baskets or spilling over the edge of a container.

Coleus ‘Fishnet Stockings’ (Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Fishnet Stockings’) – Upright growth habit – hard to say how tall it would grow because the deer browsed it all summer while not bothering the other coleus varieties until late summer. Go figure! Seemed to hold color well in full sun. NORTH PARK ONLY DUE TO PAST SEVERE DEER DAMAGE IN SOUTH PARK.

Coleus ‘Freckles’ (Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Freckles’) – Upright growth habit, 18 – 24 inches tall. Color faded in the full sun; some deer damage late in season. NORTH PARK ONLY DUE TO PAST SEVERE DEER DAMAGE IN SOUTH PARK.

Coleus ‘Pineapple’ (Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Pineapple’) – Upright growth habit, 12 - 18 inches tall. Golden foliage scorched badly in full sun – this plant would be much better in the shade. NORTH PARK ONLY DUE TO PAST SEVERE DEER DAMAGE IN SOUTH PARK.

Coleus ‘Sedona’ (Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Sedona’) – Upright growth habit, 18 – 24 inches tall. Color faded in the full sun; some deer damage late in season. NORTH PARK ONLY DUE TO PAST SEVERE DEER DAMAGE IN SOUTH PARK.

Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyeranus) – yet another plant that the deer herd in North Park developed a taste for in 2008; we have not been able to grow it in South Park for a number of years for that reason. Persian Shield’s pink and silver variegation makes a nice foil for pink and purple flowers, Use in beds, borders and containers.

Jewels of Opar (Talinum paniculata) – interesting plant grown for airy panicles of tiny pink flowers that mature into tiny red fruits; the deer browsed this from the day we planted it. I intend to give this a try in containers at my house – the succulent foliage and airy flowers are striking contrast to each other. I want to see if those little dry, red fruits dry well for use in arrangements.

Alaska Mix and Double Dwarf Jewel Mix Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) – deer have caught on to the fact that nasturtiums are edible flowers – we have not been able to grow them in South Park for years. Now the North Park deer herd has discovered them, too. Use flowers and tender young leaves to add a peppery taste to salads.


CREDITS

These gardens could not exist without the support of our partners from Allegheny County's Parks and Public Works departments. I also want to thank the local garden centers that donate seeds, plants, fertilizer and mulch to the Penn State Cooperative Extension Demonstration Gardens: Best Feeds Garden Centers, North Park; Eichner's Farm Market & Greenhouse, Wexford; Englert Nursery & Landscaping, Bethel Park; LMS Greenhouse & Nursery, Allison Park; Quality Gardens, Mars; Reilly's Summer Seat Farms, Ohio Township; Soergel's Greenhouses, Wexford; Sugar Run Nursery, Venetia; and Trax Farms, Inc., Finleyville.


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