As an unabashed plant enthusiast who’s been experimenting with new plant introductions (some not really “new”, just new to me) in his own landscape, and his parent’s yard before that (sorry guys for the ‘Charmed Wine’ Oxalis that now pops up unwanted every spring) for nearly two decades now, at this point I’m pretty hard to impress. However, last year Andrea Schnapp, a UF/IFAS Walton County Master Gardener, introduced me to a newish plant that has since changed the way I choose plants to color shady pots and planting beds, a little native of tropical South America called Bush Violet (Browallia spp.), specifically the hybrid ‘Endless Illumination’.
Browallia ‘Endless Illumination’ on the author’s back porch.
For decades, the standard bedding plant for color in the shade in the Deep South has been Impatiens walleriana. However, in the last few years, a new disease called Impatiens Downy Mildew has wreaked habit on the bedding plant species, virtually eliminating it as a serious player in the horticulture industry. Fortunately, the fine folks at Proven Winners introduced ‘Endless Illumination’ a couple of years ago to fill the niche formerly occupied by old-fashioned Impatiens. And boy, is ‘Endless Illumination’ aptly named. The unending masses of star shaped flowers are an absolutely brilliant purple hue that does indeed light up shady areas in the landscape. I’ve encountered few plants put forth such a proliferous display of flowers for as long of a time as this Browallia selection has, and it doesn’t even require deadheading!
Browallia ‘Endless Illumination’ flowers.
In addition to having one of the more striking color displays of any bedding plant, Browallia happens to be a vigorous grower with an extremely hardy constitution. I’ve found ‘Endless Illumination’s mature size as listed on the sales tag as being a little conservative, instead of the 16” tall x 14” wide stated, my samples have consistently grown more than the 16” listed in height and doubled the width, no complaints here as this just means more flowers! And though my experience with Browallia has strictly been in containers so far, it has weathered heat and bounced back from drought like a champ. It’s not super important to know that the container it occupies is sited under my back porch roof and therefore is subjected to human induced drought by my forgetting to water it, good performance in droughty conditions is good performance in droughty conditions! Finally, Browallia requires the bare minimum of fertilizer to thrive. A good topdressing of a slow-release fertilizer (rates according to the product’s label, of course) at planting and an identical refresher dose mid-summer have induced great performance and no noticeable nutrient deficiencies.
Browallia ‘Endless Illumination’ flowers
A quick note before we adjourn, when perusing nurseries next spring for Browallia, you’ll likely encounter the sister cultivar of ‘Endless Illumination’ with white flowers, named ‘Endless Flirtation’. I’d encourage you to stick with the purple flowers of ‘Endless Illumination’ as I’ve found, through personal growing experience and anecdotes from other growers, ‘Endless Flirtation’ to be noticeably fussier than and not nearly as attractive as its sister plant.
Sometimes, the misfortunes of one plant are a merely an opportunity for another plant to claim its place in the flower bed. Browallia ‘Endless Illumination’ has taken the spot occupied by Impatiens walleriana and quickly become a garden favorite. Look for this awesome little annual in garden centers next spring! And remember, if you have any questions about this newly introduced plant or any other horticultural topic, please contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office! Happy gardening!
My obsession with plants started with the purchase of my first house in Waverly, Alabama in the late 90s. I bought a house with seven acres and of that about 1.5 acres was a fenced yard. The landscape was not very appealing, so I was on a mission to make it beautiful yet functional for my dogs. The only problem was, as a new homeowner, I had very little expendable income for my burgeoning plant habit. This dilemma forced me to be a resourceful gardener.
Shop the discount rack at garden centers
- Many retail garden centers (especially mixed use stores with limited plant space) will discount plants simply because they are no longer flowering. Plants look perfectly healthy but are just not considered “retail ready” anymore, so rather than hold them over until they bloom again and appeal to most shoppers the stores tend to mark them down.
- Plants are either growing or they are dead, so it is common to find some outgrowing their container and are getting “potbound” which means the root system is outgrowing the pot. Potbound plants are hard to keep watered without wilting and the solutions are to transition to a larger pot or plant in the ground. Most garden centers are not equipped to pot up overgrown plants to larger containers, so the easier solution is to sell them quickly. If you purchase a plant with circling roots be sure to trim the bottom and score (slice) the root ball to encourage roots to spread laterally.
- Avoid plants that appear diseased (leaf spots, brown stems, mushy parts, rotting odor) or have active feeding insect activity.
Compliment other gardeners’ plants
- When you get gardeners together, they inevitably start swapping plants. I really don’t have an explanation for this other that good old southern hospitality, but I’ve noticed over the years that when you express appreciation of plants to other people they tend to end up in your own yard. Ask if you can take a pinch (for cuttings) or offer to divide a clump of crowded perennials and you are on your way to a trunk full of plant babies.
- I can’t recommend this for multiple safety reasons, but I have been known to photographs plants in my travels then strike up a conversation with a homeowner who insisted I take one home.
Experiment with basic propagation techniques
- Grow flowers from seed. Either purchase seeds (usually under $2/pack) or collect seed heads from spent flowers in your own garden. After flowers fade, allow them to set seed then either crush and distribute in other parts of your garden or store in a cool, dry place until you can swap with friends.
- Division – clumping perennials such as daylilies, cast iron plant, iris or liriope can be dug up and cut into smaller pieces with a shovel or machete. You only need to be sure to have buds on top and roots on the bottom to make a new plant. Other plants create offshoots that can be removed from the parent plant. Examples of these are agave, cycads, and yucca.
- Cuttings – the list of plants that can be propagated from stem cuttings is endless but a few that are very easy are crape myrtle, hydrangea, and coleus.
- Patented plants can not be propagated.
For more information read Plant Propagation Techniques for the Florida Gardener or contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.
Walking around my yard I’m always on the lookout for changes – both good and bad. I look to see which plants are leafing out or flowering. I scout for plant disease symptoms, insect damage, and weeds. I’ve learned over the years that when I spot a plant out-of-place before condemning it as a weed, I need to make sure it isn’t really a bonus plant!
This spring my yard has really changed. After losing numerous mature trees the sun is shining in new spots. Last fall I also had a bit of unexpected seed and vegetation dispersal to say the least, so I’m getting lots of surprises in the landscape. A few bonus plants I’m seeing and leaving alone are oak seedlings, black-eyed Susan, sunflowers, Angelina sedum, dotted horsemint, and verbena.
These plants might not be exactly where I would have placed them, but if they are not located somewhere that will be a maintenance problem, they can stay where they landed. Many of these plants are taking advantage of dry, non-irrigated sites and providing welcome vegetative groundcover that will help prevent erosion. The bonus is that they all provide food or shelter for birds and/or bugs!
How do you tell the difference between a weed and a plant you would like to keep? The key is to pay attention to plant features other than flowers. Start looking at foliage shape, texture, color, growth habit, and how leaves are arranged on the plant. Other characteristics are stem color and shape – some plants have square stems, others have ridges we refer to as “wings” in horticulture terms, tendrils on vines, all of these can be distinctive and recognizable before the obvious flowers form. Keep notes with pictures of plants at different life stages until you commit them to memory. Eventually you’ll be able to walk through your landscape and quickly note the differences which will help conserve those bonus plants and get weeds under control before they get too prolific.
Below are links to sites that might be outside your regular bookmarks. These resources show more than just the pretty flowers and have detailed information on life cycle and growing conditions.
Each week, the editors scour the world wide web to find unique and informative content. This week’s selection is a video by Tennessee State University Extension Agent Joellen Dimond, in which she explains how to create a backyard butterfly garden!
Now is the time, get to it !
Florida is known for many things, however sweeping vistas of hillsides covered in the orange, red, and yellow foliage of fall is not one of them. Our long, hot summers and short, cool (not cold) winters, and lack of anything of substance resembling a season in between, precludes the fall color show our neighbors to the north enjoy. Don’t settle for synthetic Halloween decorations or faux painted leaves to add festivity to the autumn landscape design. When football season kicks off and summer blooming annuals begin to fade, it’s time to reach into the horticultural toolbox and pull out a couple fall-y Florida Friendly annual foliage species, perfect for the balmy Panhandle “autumn”: ‘Alabama Sunset’ coleus and ‘Petra’ croton.
‘Alabama Sunset’ Coleus in mixed container – Photo Courtesy Andrea Schnapp
The first plant to consider when looking for outstanding heat tolerant foliage is the common coleus (Solenostemon scuttellarioides), particularly the cultivar ‘Alabama Sunset’. As the name indicates, ‘Alabama Sunset’ offers leaves in shades of red and yellow, perfect for designing fall containers or mixing into planting beds. This popular summer annual is known for its ability to add interesting color and texture to shady areas.
Recently with the arrival of the ‘sun coleus’ series (to which ‘Alabama Sunset’ belongs), coleus is permissible in situations with greater sunlight. Coleus is incredibly easy to grow and easy to find since nearly every nursery stocks at least a few cultivars. What’s more, these plants are generally free of pests and disease problems! Even sun coleus does appreciate a little protection from the hot afternoon sun and occasional deadheading of flowers.
‘Petra’ Croton. Photo courtesy Daniel Leonard.
The second plant in the fall foliage arsenal is ‘Petra croton’ (Codiaeum variegatum ‘Petra’). Primarily known as a tropical foliage or indoor houseplant, Petra croton is criminally underused in fall landscape and container design. Petra croton sports bold magnolia-sized leaves striped with colors of yellow, red, orange, and black. A great Halloween plant to complement those front-porch Jack-O-Lanterns!
Like coleus, Petra croton is extremely easy to grow either in a container or in the ground. It should be located in either in full sun or partial shade and watered through establishment. Otherwise, this species is quite drought tolerant and can be killed with kindness if watered too frequently!
Although croton is a perennial shrub in the tropics, in Northwest Florida it may be killed by frost and best treated as an annual. Croton can be expected to reach 30-36” in height in a single season, its size and the boldly colored foliage make it a true focal point in the autumn landscape!
Appalachian-grade fall color may be unattainable in the Panhandle in the literal sense, but with these novel plant selections the autumn mood may be present even as the emerald waves hit the sugar white sand. By using annual foliage plants that possess traditional fall colors throughout their life cycle, anyone can add a splash of Autumn to their mixed containers or landscape beds. ‘Alabama Sunset’ coleus and ‘Petra’ croton are the perfect match for this time of year, pairing ease of culture with bold, seasonal color. Plant a couple today!
Too often, would be gardeners travel to exotic locales, become intoxicated with the beautiful floral display of Plumeria, Jatropha, Bird of Paradise and Bougainvillea, and come home with visions of homemade leis picked from the garden dancing in their heads. As anyone who has attempted to grow any of the aforementioned plants in the Panhandle will tell you though, fulfilling those visions in the landscape are easier said than done! However, not all is lost for the gardener wanting to bring the tropics home. A tropical feel in the landscape can be achieved, you just have to look beyond the aforementioned flowering plants that will have long since succumbed to winter frost by the time they mature and begin flowering and instead to tropical foliage plants that can be enjoyed for a season and easily (cheaply too!) replaced the following spring. Of all the tropical foliage options available for Panhandle landscapes, my favorite is the Ti Plant, sometimes called Hawaiian Ti.
Ti Plant foliage
Even if you have never heard of Ti, you have probably seen it. The strap like, 12-18” long, purple and pink striped leaves are hard to miss and add an unmistakable tropical flair in the landscape! Ti Plants grow generally in single, unbranched stalks, though most commercial growers combine several plants into a single pot to give a bushy, multi trunked appearance that looks more appealing on a retail nursery bench. These plants will easily reach 4-6’ in height in a single warm season, providing a powerful punch of pink/purple all summer long. In addition to its considerable attractiveness, Ti boasts a cosmopolitan constitution, as it will grow in sun or shade, outside or inside. Of course, some cultural do’s apply to Ti broadly, regardless of where it is grown, as well as a few don’ts.
In general, Ti will be more colorful in brighter light. Though it grows well in shade, its leaves tend to lose their luster and fade to a dull purple in full shade. Similarly, though it will survive in full, all day sun, Ti’s foliage tends to bleach a bit in these conditions and can turn a whitish gray. It is best to shoot for somewhere in the middle for the most vivid foliage color. If growing indoors, give Ti as much light as you can. If growing outdoors, full sun through midafternoon is appropriate, as is bright shade throughout the day. Be sure to give Ti plants consistent moisture, as they will readily wilt down under prolonged drought conditions. As with watering, Ti prefers a consistently fertile soil and will appreciate a topdressing of a complete, slow release fertilizer (made by Osmocote, Harrell’s and others) at planting, with a follow up application 60-90 days later (possibly more frequently depending on temperature and frequency of watering).
Ti plant in a mixed container – Photo Courtesy Daniel Leonard
Though Ti performs well planted in the ground in Northwest Florida as an annual specimen to brighten a border (think of it like a supersized Coleus), it really gets to shine in large, mixed containers. Ti’s upright growth habit and traffic stopping color make it the perfect thriller in the widely used “thriller, filler, spiller” container design. Because Ti can grow quite large relative to other common container plants, a large 20-45 gallon container is necessary to facilitate optimum root growth and plant development. If a smaller container is chosen, water management will become an issue as the Ti plant’s root mass will quickly crowd the container. I prefer glazed ceramic or concrete containers as these are often painted in bright colors that complement Ti’s foliage, do not allow as much air exchange as terra cotta planters (soil in terra cotta containers dry very quickly in hot, dry weather), and are heavy enough that tall Ti plants won’t cause them to blow over in windy conditions. Mix smaller, mounding filler plants and trailing spiller plants under and around Ti in containers. For a striking contrast in color, choose companion plants in white, yellow, orange or chartreuse (remember, plants don’t have to flower to be colorful, vivid foliage plants like coleus or caladium work too!).
Regardless of how you use Ti Plant, you’ll find it to be one of the most high value color plants in the landscape. Plant one today and happy gardening!