Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Summer Salsa

With the chill of winter fresh in our memories, it may seem like summer with its shimmering heat is taking forever to arrive. May and June will soon be upon us, though, ushering in the seasonal craving for brightly colored flowers that seems ingrained in us all. Garden centers will soon be selling everything in bloom as fast as they can set it out, and landscape contractors will have their hands full filling beds, borders, containers and window boxes with foliage and flowers.

After the grays and browns of winter, not to mention the mud-spattered, once-white snow, all a plant needs to sell itself is color, color, color. Take advantage of this seasonal madness by heating up the color palette in your plant installation and design. Crank up the heat with vivid scarlet, flaming orange and glowing yellows, whether you focus on annuals or perennials, and whether you are working in beds or containers.

Perennial flowers tend to have a short bloom period but they also have the benefit of returning year after year. Annuals offer a longer period of continuous bloom, but they need to be replaced every year. On the plus side, the ephemeral aspect of annuals encourages creativity in plant combinations and color schemes, because if it doesn't work this year, you can always try something new next year. Annuals also grow quickly and flower the first year, while biennials flower the second year and perennials may take even longer to become fully established. For a bloom period that is long-lasting throughout the season and from year to year, plant a combination of bulbs, annuals, biennials and perennials, including ground covers and climbers and plants of all sizes in between.

To kick off the summer in style, go for a salsa effect with zesty, hot color combinations and bright, exotic foliage. While red, gold, orange and yellow are traditionally the hottest colors, accenting these colors with deep purple or bold hot pinks can take it to another level of interest. Foliage or flowers in white, silver or blue tones can act as a foil to keep the hotter colors from becoming overpowering, while ornamental grasses can provide an eyecatching contrast in texture without taking away from the color impact.

Another alternative would be to use very dark foliage -- purple, black or bronze -- to set off the hotter colors. Black elephant ears (Colocasia esculenta 'Black Magic') or 'Blackie' sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatus) are popular examples. There are also new sweet potato vine cultivars such as 'Black Heart' and 'Sweet Caroline' series 'Sweet Heart Purple' and 'Sweet Caroline' Red and Purple. Exotic looking 'Australia', Tropicana or 'Bengal Tiger' canna lilies would also work well with a hot color scheme.

It's easy to find annuals that will add a zing of salsa color to a design. Petunia hybrids such as 'Supertunia Red' or 'Surfina Red' are examples, as well as Calibrachoa hybrids such as 'Superbells Tequila Sunrise' and 'Million Bells Red', 'Terra Cotta' and 'Crackling Fire'. Cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus) is easy to grow from flats or from seed and cultivars such as 'Sun Up Orange', 'Sun Up Red' and 'Sun Up Yellow'. Zinnia 'Banana Treats' and 'Orange Treats' as well as snapdragons (Antirrhinum spp.) like 'Snappy Dark Red' are reliable performers in hot summer sun. African daisies (Arctotis hybrids) can spice up a container or window box planting, especially 'Bumble Bee', 'Peachy Mango', 'Pumpkin Pie' and 'Sun Spot'. Osteospermum hybrids such as 'Sunny Dark Florence',, 'Lemon Symphony' or 'Orange Symphony' are good choices for a hot color design, as are verbena hybrids such as 'Tukana Scarlet Imp' and 'Deep Red' and 'Babylon Red'.

Blanket flower (Gaillardia spp.) would be a good choice for a hot color scheme, especially Gaillairdia aristata 'Oranges and Lemons' or G. X grandiflora 'Fanfare'. Lance coreopsis such as Coreopsis grandiflora 'Sunfire', and threadleaf coreopsis such as C. verticillata 'Zagreb' or 'Sterntaler' also provide sunny color. Try 'Trays Gold' plectranthus (Plectranthus ciliatis) for drought tolerance in a low-growing plant, or add deer resistance to heat and drought tolerance by including bidens (Bidens ferulifolia) in forms such as 'Peters Gold Carpet' or 'Solaire'. Lantanas come in many varieties of hot colors, including 'Citrus Blend', 'New Gold', 'Patriot Classic Desert Sunset' and 'Patriot Classic Firewagon'. Sun loving cuphea (Cuphea llavea) comes in exciting forms such as 'Flamenco Samba' and 'Flamenco Rumba'.

For vivid foliage try new sun-tolerant forms of coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) such as 'JoDonna', ''Rustic Orange', 'Twist and Twirl' and 'Texas Parking Lot'. Add interesting foliage plus attractive flowers with sages such as 'Golden Delicious' pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) or Salvia coccinea 'Spanish Dancer'. Mix these with colorful dahlias, daylilies and daisy-flowering flowers to season your design with that south of the border flavor.


Originally published in The Landscape Contractor magazine, April 2007