Summer color plants make a great show

This has been a really unusual summer with our mild temperatures, amazing number of days of rain and the actual record setting amount of rain. Usually we would be spending time watering and fighting hot temperature problems like red spider mites. Instead we have had to do limited watering the last 6 weeks and have been battling fungus and disease problems instead of insect problems. Some plants in high areas or well drained soil look the best anyone can remember and are covered with flowers while some plants in low areas or poorly drained soils have died from rot or disease problems or are struggling for survival. Plants need moisture to their roots but they also need oxygen to the roots and if the soil stays flooded or saturated for too long the plants can get too much water and literally suffocate some roots or even the whole plant for lack of needed oxygen to the roots.

Now that the temperatures are rising to more normal summer temperatures and we have had much less moisture over the last week the soil will rapidly dry out. Soon we will need to start doing our normal summer watering and it would be a good time to mulch the surface of your flowerbeds and container gardens with a two or three-inch layer of cotton seed hulls, pecan hulls, bark chips or other natural mulch. Don’t forget to deadhead or cut off the spent or bloomed out flowers from your blooming plants like roses and geraniums to help divert energy from making unwanted seed heads towards additional flowers. With all the rain many geranium plants were damaged by a fungus called Botrytis and look bad. If you will pick off the dead or damaged flowers and leaves the plant will send out more new flowers. If your color plants have too many yellow leaves you can speed up new growth by picking off the yellow leaves before the plant spends more energy on them. If your plants are too stretched and lanky or have some stems that are weak or barren cut the whole plant back or at least the weak stems to stimulate new growth from lower on the plant below your cut or pinch. This will ultimately make your plant stronger and fuller.

You can still select and plant most all container grown trees, shrubs, vines, groundcovers, annual and perennial color plants in your flowerbeds or container gardens. There are thousands of varieties of plants available for you to select for your own personal yard and many plants make a great show in our Oklahoma summer. The following ten plants are some of my favorite summer color plants for Oklahoma in no particular order. I love crepe myrtle shrubs that produce a unique bark year round and gorgeous and impressive clusters of flowers through the summer heat. New varieties, including many bred by Dr. Carl Whitcomb of Stillwater add new colors and are more winter hardy as they come back year after year to provide summer color. Two plants that remind me of my grandmother Ball and were stars in her garden but just get better and better over the years are the easy to grow daylilies available in literally thousands of varieties spread across virtually ever color you can imagine and the canna bulbs grown into confident spikes of summer color. You can see how beautiful cannas are in front of homes or businesses. Imagine the splash of acres of cannas at Horn canna farm, the largest canna farm in the country out by Carnegie, Oklahoma. Two plants I remember growing as a young boy with my father are Penta and Lantana and these remain two of my favorite sun plants that thrive in the Oklahoma heat. Pentas grow a nice mound eight to eighteen inches tall and have colorful clusters of flowers made up of many star shaped flowers in many tones of red, pink, white, rose and lavender. I remember taking cuttings of the pentas and lantanas just before frost each year rooting them and growing them through the winter to have them ready for customers the next spring. It was fun to see people excited about taking home and growing these plants we had cultivated all winter. The lantana also blooms in clusters and thrives in the summer heat. Although available in many colors and creeping and bush styles, I love the bush or mound styles with clusters of flowers in combinations of orange and yellow. Two summer perennials I always enjoy are the many varieties of coreopsis and the bold Rudebeekias. I love a beautiful yellow coreopsis as the center of a large container garden or even more in a mass planting of the delightful yellow covered mounds, which always reminds me of massive fields of yellow wildflowers, which are a related variety of coreopsis. Now there are also thread leaf varieties available in several colors. Rudebeekia with their bright yellow or orange flower petals always stand out with the bold “black eye” at the center of the flower and although pretty as a single plant are most impressive in mass or group plantings like those currently in bloom by the parking areas at Will Rogers Airport that almost take your breath away and make you want to pull out the camera to capture the color. When I was a lad growing up we used to think of begonias as a shade plant but there are many great bronze leaf and specialty varieties that can thrive even in full sun in addition to many that still do best in the shade. Some varieties are grown mainly for the foliage but the most popular varieties offer pretty foliage and delicate flowers in such numbers to make an impressive show.

Two of my favorite shade annuals are the many varieties of coleus, grown for their colorful and imaginative foliage and the many varieties of impatiens. I remember a trip as a boy to College Station, Texas with my Dad to collect cuttings and plants of the Texas A & M hybrid coleus and their impressive combinations of colorful foliage with good vigor and upright growth habits. Some of the new varieties are descendants of those A & M hybrids and they work great in pots, scattered in flowerbeds or in mass plantings.  Some of the new varieties can even tolerate the sun. There are hundreds of varieties of impatiens and they make a great show in shade or part shade in hanging baskets, container gardens or I love them in mass plantings of a single color or combinations of the many tones of colors available.    

Get outside and water your existing plants when needed, plant a few more trees and plants to green up your world and select your own favorite summer color plants.

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