In terms of fast-growing foliage plants it's hard to beat Sweet Potato Vine, or Ipomoea. This year we had a great new series in the K-State trials: SolarPower. These plants stayed compact (the plots looked like they had been edged with a string trimmer, but it wasn't necessary!) and were very well-branched. The deeply lobed leaves add a lot of texture to the landscape or container planting.
The Sweet Caroline series has been on the Prairie Star list for a long time, and the new color 'Sweetheart Lime' performs at an appropriately high level. The leaves are a bright green with a very subtle red around the margin that looks sort of like someone outlined it with a pen.
There are many great Sweet Potato colors to choose from on the Prairie Star list, with different growth habits ranging from sprawling to compact. The vining Sweet Caroline 'Sweetheart Red' has young leaves that are green and age to a dark red color. Very striking!
A neat development is the 'FloraMia Nero' cultivar of Sweet Potato that has flowers in addition to the attractive foliage. These plants aren't as vigorous and spreading as others, but they still have a nice presence and work well in combination plantings.
Continuing on with some highlights from the 2015 K-State flower trials...
Petunias are always one of the largest groups of entries in the trials, and there are so many different colors and types out there. Last year one of the best performers was 'Supertunia Morning Glory Charm,' and it is having another stellar year in the container trials. We love the vibrant blue color and it is always packed with blooms. The Supertunia Charms have a more compact habit and smaller blooms, making them great choices for where you want a mound of color. Look for this cultivar on the 2016 Prairie Star list!
Check out how the Supertunia Charms look in the landscape! The new 'Violet Star Charm' has incredible vigor and is impressive with its striped flower display.
A neat new sunset color in the Supertunia line is 'Honey.' This plant is not only uniquely beautiful but also tough. It withstood wet conditions in the field better than many other cultivars.
Another petunia that has garnered interest is 'Sweetunia Johnny Flame.' The velvety flowers look stunning paired with dark-leaved plants like sweet potatoes and grasses.
A vigorous spreading petunia with some serious flower power is 'Tidal Wave Red Velour.' This cultivar is also a 2015 All-America Selections Winner, so it has proved itself in trials throughout North America.
We love the 'Sundenia' Dipladenia series. This is a bush-type cultivar instead of vining, so no trellis is required. It still sends out lots of tendrils and makes a very full pot display. The 'White' is a prolific bloomer and the 'Red' has a beautiful dark color and slightly large flowers (though the blooms did fade at bit in the peak of the summer heat).
For adding color to shady areas it's hard to beat Impatiens. The new 'Lollipop' series has performed very well and were some of the brightest pots in the shade container trials.
The semi-double begonia 'Evi Pink' was also impressive in the shade containers. One of the most prolific bloomers, it was not as affected as some of the other cultivars by the temperature swings from cool to hot.
Check in next week for an update on new Sweet Potato cultivars and more!
Looking out over the flower trial beds now, it's hard to believe we have faced major challenges this year like flooding and soil cracking and invasions from rabbits and weeds. Plants are amazing in their resilience, and much of what has survived has gone on to look fantastic in this August heat!
If you haven't been able to make it to one of the Field Days at the horticulture research center, fear not! We will feature some of the highlights from this year over the next few posts. Some cultivars are new, others have been on the market for a while - but it's always nice to have a reminder of what does well!
There are some excellent Coleus in the shade containers this year. ColorBlaze 'Apple Brandy' provides some interest with bright bi-color leaves. The smaller leaves along the whole stem fill in any gaps, making a really attractive display. The ColorBlaze series is on the Prairie Star list and it looks like this cultivar will be a great addition.
The Main Street series of Coleus has also been very impressive in the shade containers. These plants are very well branched with nice growth habits - the pots looked full without being lanky. They're also very slow to bloom, which is usually a desirable characteristic for a plant that is more focused on the foliage and not the flower.
We'll step away from the shade and see some things that like it hot. Rudbeckia (Black-Eyed Susan) is a good choice for Kansas, and 'Denver Daisy' has had another great performance this year. Hard to beat that eye-catching bloom!
People in this area of Kansas love their Blue Salvia, or Salvia farinacea. One of the best in the trial this year is 'SallyFun Sky Blue.' It's got more flower stalks than other cultivars, and the bright color stands out in the landscape.
For a different look, the Salvia farinacea 'Playin the Blues' offers lush foliage on a bushier plant. The blooms are not as plentiful, but the stalks are longer and display a rich blue color. Both of these are very nice options for landscape plantings and pollinators love them!
Speaking of pollinators, here's a cool new plants - Asclepias 'Monarch Promise.' It's an annual milkweed that butterflies love, plus it provides some very unique variegated foliage. The leaves have a pinkish tint to them, making them quite beautiful. This is a great plant for the gardener who has it all and is looking for something a little new - and wants to provide some pollinator habitat in the process!
The Sedum 'Lemon Coral' is another cultivar that has been on the Prairie Star list for years, but it's nice to be reminded of it's awesomeness! It withstood all the different weather that was thrown at it without ever looking disheveled. The succulent lime-green foliage brightens up small spaces and containers, and mixes well with other species.
Stay tuned for more picks next week!
Reflecting on the last couple of months, we have been through an unpredictable spring full of heavy rains and cool temperatures, followed by an early summer with blazing heat, wind, and the occasional deluge. The plants in the K-State trials are always being challenged -- and that's why it's so interesting to see what does well and what doesn't!
Looking ahead, we always have Field Days at the research center in late July when people are invited to come see for themselves how the various cultivars have performed. This is the best way to see how different plant genetics do in your local area. (Not California, not Florida - Kansas!) For professionals in the floriculture industry, the Field Day is July 21 with an afternoon of education geared toward growers, landscapers, and city parks departments. For home gardeners, the Field Day is July 25. The Johnson County Extension Master Gardeners host a day full of learning on flowers, vegetables, turf and more, with "walk and talks" geared toward the general public.
So put on your sunscreen and join us! You'll be sure to leave feeling more confident about what to plant next year.
It's no secret that flowerbed design is always evolving! Two current trends are incorporating pollinator-friendly plants and intermixing species as opposed to planting in formal rows. In the example below, two seemingly unrelated flowers are featured - Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) 'Silky Formula Mix' and Gomphrena 'Fireworks.' Upon closer inspection they display similar size and vigor, and both have a light and airy stem and flower habit. Mix them together and what a color impact you have!
The Asclepias has the added benefit of being specifically attractive to butterflies. Many Monarchs were observed on the plants at the research trials.
It's a great thing when we can color our world in addition to providing beneficial plants to our insect friends. If you are interested in pollinators, the native Butterfly Weed is a great addition to a perennial garden.
Here in eastern Kansas we have been inundated with rain this spring, making planting the flower trials difficult. You may be wondering whether or not to work your flower beds at home. Unfortunately, right now isn't a good time for the soil structure to be tilled since the ground is so wet. The soil will form large clods which are undesirable and hard to break down later when they start to dry out.
Soil is dry enough to work when poking a finger into a fistful of it makes it crumble. If water comes out or your finger just makes an indention, keep waiting. It will dry out soon.
If you have already planted your garden and are worried about standing water, the plants should be okay if the area drains within 24 hours. For more information on what to do for vegetables, turf, and trees in flooded areas, read the K-State fact sheet on Flooding and Plants.
Shrubs are a great accompaniment to annual flowers, providing some year-long structure to the landscape along with their own color and texture. If you're considering adding some shrubs to your gardens this year, you have an easy reference from K-State on what cultivars will perform well where you live. Two publications are available to download off the K-State Research & Extension Bookstore: Deciduous Shrubs for Kansas and Evergreen Shrubs for Kansas.
These publications are very easy to use for home gardeners. Plants are organized by mature size, with short descriptions on their notable characteristics and the season they provide the most interest in the landscape. Since western, central, and eastern Kansas all have different growing conditions, plants are recommended by region.
There are so many diverse cultivars to choose from! Following are just a few highlights.
The Oakleaf Hydrangea are the best performing kind of hydrangea across the state. They have beautiful big flowers and the oak-shaped leaves provide great fall color.
The bright red bark color of the Red-stemmed Dogwood make it an excellent choice for winter interest. And a pruning tip from the publication: young stems are the brightest red, so you should trim 1/3 of the oldest stems from the base of the plant every year or cut it down to the ground in late winter to ensure a big color display.
An evergreen shrub that does well with some protection and shade is Oregon Grapeholly. It's got it all - yellow spring flowers, glossy attractive foliage, a display of berries in late summer, and winter interest! A neat choice for a small area, as the cultivar 'Compactum' stays 2-3 feet in size.
On the larger side at 10-15 feet tall at maturity is the Common Smoketree. There are many different cultivars available, often displaying purple foliage. The distinctive flowers give the shrub its name, as the fine hairs make a unique smokey look in the landscape.
Check out the latest group of annual flowers to have very high ratings in the K-State trials for two years and are now on the Prairie Star list.
Full plant profiles can be viewed at the Prairie Star website, and don't forget to print out a copy of the publication to take to a garden center when you do your spring shopping!
We run the annual and perennial flower trials for Kansas State University