The Q&A Archives: Perennials for Zone 5A

Question: Want to put perennials into a towering container for summer/fall what would you suggest?

Answer: I believe your choices are limited only by your imagination! The following are some of the toughest summer plants which should be grown in a full sun area:

Purslane: If your planting location is extremely hot, dry and sunny, the best annuals to use are purslane or portulaca. Purslane is available in many colors and produces a mass of color. The large purslane flowers close at 5 p.m., on cloudy days and after watering. Portulaca differs from purslane mainly because it is available only in mixed colors, has a smaller, rose-like bloom and has smaller-leaf foliage.

Verbena: The best perennial verbena is named 'Princess' with 'Blue Princess' being the first in the series. The only way to kill this verbena is to plant it in the shade or keep it too wet. The plants also prosper from periodic abuse -- cut or shred back large plants to remove old blooms and invigorate plants. After such a harsh treatment, the plants may look bad for a couple of weeks. You will reap the rewards of a traffic-stopping bloom display after they regrow and begin to bloom again.

Marigold -Marigolds love hot weather and, except having spider mites occasionally, they are easy to grow. If mites attack, use diazinon, Cygon, Kelthane or disyston to spray the undersides of leaves once a week for three consecutive weeks. One can apply a persistent soil insecticide containing disyston (Systemic Insecticide) after transplanting has occurred to provide prolonged protection. Follow label directions.

Vinca (periwinkle): If full sun conditions exist, vinca is a choice. Vinca thrive in well-drained mixes where liberal amounts of organic material have been added. Water plants during the day and allow them to dry. Water sparingly. If the periwinkle foliage turns yellow, reduce the watering interval and treat plants and soil with iron chelate or iron sulfate.

Lantana: If you want a perennial plant for an extra hot location, try Lantana. The variety named New Gold won't become weed-like as will most of the lantana. New Gold lantana produces sterile flowers that never form seed-bearing berries and continually blooms without shearing. Lantana is also a good plant for a hanging basket in a sunny location. Though Lantana is known as a drought tolerant plant, it requires regular waterings.

Firebush: The Firebush is a perennial used in the same manner as lantana. Tubular, red blooms which hummingbirds for miles around covet cover the plants. When touched by the coolness of fall, the foliage will turn red as the bloom continues. The first hard frost of fall will kill the plants if not protected. Newly established plants seldom grow taller than three feet. Firebush performs best in the hotter-than-possible conditions of a sunny exposure. It will not bloom if shaded at all.

Some of the best shade tolerant annuals are:

Impatiens: Impatiens is one of the favorite shade annuals for its ease of care. Survival rate of transplants in the summer correlates with denseness of shade in which they exist. Impatiens have the characteristics of tolerating some sun (morning sun), preferring a moist but not wet soil, and having flowers that do not need to be removed as they fade therefore lowering maintenance.

Coleus: For something different in the darker shaded areas, try the bright foliage markings and variegations of coleus. Pinch off flower spikes in late summer to insure continuous plant bloom.

Begonia: The begonia is the most adapted and spectacular blooming plant that can tolerate full sun but does best with morning sun?afternoon shade. Many times plants over-winter and provide a second year of bloom. Seed begonias are available in many colors with even different colored foliage (red and green). The Vodka begonia has been the standard of the red-leaved, red-flowered varieties.

Container-grown plants do require more water than plants grown in the ground. The sun beats down on all sides of the container, and the plant is less sheltered from winds. Also, the roots can dry more quickly since the soil is not as deep. The shallow levels of soil in containers cannot retain as much water for the plant as can the deeper soils of a lawn or garden.

Check the surface of the soil frequently, and water when it feels dry to the touch. Place containers on bricks or pieces of wood to aid with air circulation and to be sure that the soil is well-drained.

Frequent watering calls for frequent fertilizing. Use a water soluble plant food every other week at half strength. Assure strong healthy plants by using a potting mix and incorporate the amount of Osmocote slow ?release fertilizer pellets recommended for the container size.

Best wishes with your tower garden!

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