The Garden Guru: Trusty candidates will get the job done

Posted Friday, May. 24, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The job application reads, “Wanted: Plants that can survive drought, 110-degree days and baking Texas sun, and still come out smiling. Candidates should make themselves known at a local garden center.”

Since this opening has been there as long as there have been gardeners tending soils here in Texas, let’s look at the most successful applicants from prior years. These are the plants you might want to add into your plantings for the four months ahead. They’ll serve you quite well. These are my favorites.

For flowers

Moss rose. Portulaca hybrids have come a very long way in the past 25 years. We have outstanding selections of large-flowering types that will be open to greet you when you come home from work. Full sun. Drought-tolerant. Grow to 6 inches tall and a foot wide.

Hybrid purslane. Trailing sister to moss rose. Same sherbet-bright flower colors. Good in baskets, pots and beds. Grows to 6 inches tall and 12-18 inches wide.

Trailing lantana. “New Gold” is the most popular yellow. Trailing lavender is a fast-growing, soft lavender type. Full sun. Drought-tolerant. Shrubby types are good in backgrounds of beds.

Pentas. Dwarf types (to 12-15 inches) predominate. Flower clusters range from red to pink, lavender and white. Hummingbird favorites. Good in large pots and beds. Benefit from midafternoon shade and consistently moist soils.

Dahlberg daisy. Lacy foliage and quarter-size, bright yellow daisylike blooms all summer and fall. Grows to 8 inches tall and wide. Use in pots or bed borders. Good in full sun.

Firebush. Bronze foliage and orange tubular flowers that hummingbirds love. Grows to 18-24 inches tall and wide. Use in the middle of beds or in large pots mixed with yellow trailing plants. Full sun. Drought-tolerant.

“Gold Star” esperanza: Clear yellow tubular flowers atop dark green foliage. Especially effective in large patio pots. Grows to 36-45 inches tall and 30 inches wide. Hummingbirds love it. Full sun.

Dragon wing begonias. Tall, showy begonia to 18 inches tall and wide. Tolerates morning sun. A favorite at local public gardens, both in beds and large containers. Foliage has a bronze cast.

Wax begonias. Traditional compact bordering annual that’s also good in pots and baskets. Bronze-leafed types take morning sun and afternoon shade. Green types need shade. Flowers are red, pink or white. Grows to 10-12 inches tall and wide.

“Cora” periwinkles. Phytophthora fungal stem rot has ruined almost all other periwinkle varieties over the years, but this series was bred for resistance. To 12 inches in height and width. Flowers in red, pink, white and others. Full sun and perfectly draining soils.

Mandevilla. This tropical vine produces large pink tubular blooms all summer. Give it good support. It’s best not to try to overwinter it in the house. Just start with a new plant next year.

For foliar color

Copper plant. The longtime Texas favorite now comes in about a dozen variations. Most showcase the plants’ mottled coppery-red leaves. Plants grow to 24-32 inches tall and wide. Full sun. Pinch out growing tips to keep plants compact.

Purple fountaingrass. The annual grass is grown for its deep maroon-purple foliage and floral plumes. Used with spilling plants, it makes a great center plant for a patio pot. Full sun. Drought-tolerant, but grows best with moisture.

Crotons. These are tropical variegated shrubs that we grow as colorful houseplants. The best color comes from morning sun and afternoon shade. Grow to 3-6 feet tall and wide, but are often kept shorter due to pot size.

Sun-tolerant coleus. More and more varieties have been introduced that can stand up to the Texas summer sun. Shade in the afternoon will help them, however. Rich foliar color.

Purple basil. I’ve never included this plant in such a list, but I always use it in my own landscape, and it’s always lovely. There are several selections, most of them growing to 15-18 inches tall and wide. Pinch flower buds out to keep new leaves coming.

Sedums. My goodness, what a wealth of great-looking and colorful sedums we have available to us now. Few are grown for flowers, but they provide such a variety of colors and textures that every landscape has room for several. They’re especially good as trailing plants over the edges of rustic pots. Heights vary from 1 inch to 8 inches, and spreads will cover 8-15 inches.

Hyacinth bean. This heirloom is grown for its maroon foliage and, later in the season, maroon flowers and bean pods. It requires a trellis or fence. It grows to 8 feet tall and 4 or 5 feet wide. For best growth and color, give it full sun or limited afternoon shade.

Caladiums. Longtime Southern stars of the summer, there are many new types on the market this year. You can still plant them from tubers if you find them, but potted transplants are widely available. Morning sun is best for some varieties. A few will tolerate almost full sun all day. Let your nursery professional advise you.

Neil Sperry publishes “Gardens” magazine and hosts “Texas Gardening” from 8 to 11 a.m. Sundays on WBAP AM/FM. Reach him during those hours at 800-288-9227 or 214-787-1820.

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