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August 8, 2014

Neil Sperry: Add pops of yellow to the landscape

Bright flowers and foliage bring the sunny side of summer to garden beds and containers

I’ve admitted here before that I’ve developed a fondness for the cooling garden shades of purple and lavender in a hot Texas summer. Nonetheless, I have utmost respect for our many fine yellow annuals — flowers and foliage that seem to reflect the light of the sun. I’ve collected a baker’s dozen of my favorites for discussion today. No doubt there are others that you’d like to add to the list.

• Sunflowers. Every child’s first garden ought to have a few giant sunflowers. They grow to 7 or 8 feet tall, and their flower heads are a foot across. They don’t last more than a week, but kids love how fast they grow and how huge the flowers are. Many other, smaller types of sunflowers bloom for longer periods of time.
• Trailing lantanas. I’m a huge fan of the old variety Gold Mound, but you don’t see it any longer. The outstanding hybrid New Gold grows slightly taller (to 12 inches), but it’s triploid, which means it won’t set seeds. That in turn means that it will stay in flower much more of the time. It’s a great heat-beater for full sun.
• Gold Star esperanza. Introduced after years of study by Texas horticulturists, this Texas Super Star plant produces beautiful lemony yellow bloom spikes all summer long. It’s native to Southwest Texas, but the one we grow with the “Super Star” label is a superior selection. Ask for it by name. It will be perennial in South Texas, and a great container plant or tender perennial in the Metroplex.
• Dahlberg daisy. This is a ferny-looking little border annual with bright yellow blossoms. The foliage has an unusual and pleasant aroma. It’s also a great “filler” flower in large patio pots.
• Moss rose. You rarely see it sold in separate colors — usually as mixes, but there are handsome yellow forms available, and the newer hybrid types stay open much later into the day.
• Hybrid purslane. This sister to moss rose is more trailing, and it’s even more vigorous. Many of us use it as an annual groundcover, and it’s equally well suited tumbling out of patio pots and hanging baskets. As with moss rose, purslane is often sold in mixtures of colors, but you’ll find it in individual shades in spring and through much of the summer. No heat is too intense.
• Ornamental peppers. “Yellow” is usually a color stop along the way as the fruits transition from green through yellow to red or orange. Yet the colors are strong enough that it does qualify as a source of yellow in the summer and fall landscape.
• Brugmansia. Showiest of all the yellow flowers here, this robust tropical grows to 6 to 8 feet tall and wide, and certain types will produce scores of huge yellow blooms, either single or double, depending on the variety. The flowers keep coming for months, yet individual blooms last only one day. No plant in this list looks any more tropical.
• Tropical hibiscus. Nurseries offer both single- and double-flowering forms of this tropical symbol of the Hawaiian Islands. In our area it will grow as an annual shrub or container plant. Since it won’t tolerate even light freezes, you’ll have to bring it indoors into a sunroom or plant room. (Not the cold, dark garage.) Flowers last only a day, but they keep coming from spring until fall. They’re the perfect plant for the poolside. They bloom best in full or nearly full sun, but they’ll need consistently moist soils. Apply nitrogen to keep the plants growing. Flower buds are produced on that new growth.
• Crotons. These are mainstream sources of annual color in Texas landscapes now. Their leaves come in shades of red, orange, white, green and yellow. Some varieties are strictly green and yellow if that’s your desire. Grow them in pots if you intend to bring them through the winter. Put them in full morning or afternoon sun while they’re indoors. Shade in the afternoon will help them in the summer landscape.
• Lemon lollipop. This is yet another tropical, and a very popular one at that. If you’re familiar with shrimp plants, this one has flowers along that same line. They persist for two or three weeks each, and they’re produced from spring until frost. It grows best with a little afternoon shade. Mature height: 24 to 30 inches tall.
• Variegated tapioca. This plant is spectacular! There is no variegated plant that will outshine it. It’s a strong grower that produces screaming yellow leaves all through the season. It’s probably a better match for gardens with other colors. It would almost assuredly clash with most other yellows. As with all of these, it will not survive freezing temperatures.
• Pansies and violas. All of these other plants are summertime sources of bright yellow color, but pansies and their smaller sisters, the violas, are Texans’ favorite source of midwinter flowers in the landscape. They’re sold in many shades, but yellows are certainly among the best sellers. Watch for them coming soon to a nursery near you.

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