Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern Coasts
May, 2004
Regional Report

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Guara starts as a neat clump, then springs to life with nodding flower stems.

Neat and Nifty Perennials

Labels and encyclopedia descriptions claim to know how tall and wide a plant will get. But the information is general, national, and often unknowingly just wrong for our region. Grab some local references, like the new edition of the Southern Living Garden Book, but keep in mind that most everything we grow gets bigger than predicted if we take good care of it. If a label indicates that a perennial will be 8 to 10 inches tall by 12 inches wide, it will likely grow to at least 12 by 12 inches. The advice here is not to plant perennials much farther apart, but rather to stagger the clumps to make more room.

Daylilies described as 18 to 24 inches tall can easily reach 3 feet high. Planted on 18-inch centers in a zigzag pattern, they can fill a bed easily, but they would be too tall for the front of the bed. Save that space for truly small daylilies, like 'Stella d'Oro' and 'Bitsy'.

Mixed Family Reputation
Some perennials have neater habits than others and deserve attention in small gardens or combination beds of perennials and annuals. In those mixed beds, fast-growing and spreading perennials soon take over the space intended for annual color. Perennials that fill their space each year and don't send rhizomes or seedlings everywhere will compliment the petunias, vinca, and ornamental sweet potatoes and their annual, winter counterparts.

But selecting perennials can be confusing. They're not tomatoes; no one cultural regime works for entire families. For example, the salvia family offers as many potential bullies as friendly neighbors. Bog sage (Salvia uliginosa) and forsythia sage (S. madrensis) can outgrow their space in a year or two, while S. 'Indigo Spires' and Mexican bush sage (S. leucantha), though large, will be more reliable and just as beautiful in bloom.

More to Love
When rowdy rudbeckias and the like aren't allowed to run and reseed everywhere, there's room for more and different plants in that bed. Make room for fountain grass (Pennisetum) where maiden grass (Miscanthus) might take over. Take a look at french hollyhock (Malva sylvestris) if there's not room for an althea bush or confederate rose (Hibiscus). Make the time to look over perennial selections; there's at least one to suit the space.

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