Bright color is sometimes hard to come by in landscapes, especially in those areas where not much likes to grow. In particularly sandy areas along our coastlines, it can be a challenge to find plants that can both tolerate extremely dry conditions with heavy salt spray and provide an aesthetic boost. Luckily, there is at least one flower out there that goes above and beyond when it comes to beauty.
Gaillardia pulchella, or blanket flower, Indian blanket flower, firewheel, or sundance is a relatively low growing (up to 1.5 feet tall) plant that favors conditions that would make most plants wither. It grows as an annual or short-lived perennial and though it goes dormant in the winter, during warm weather, it’s bright and colorful! It is native to the United States, but probably never spread farther east than Texas until assisted by humans. It grows well throughout Florida, and can often be seen along roadsides.
Spreading to around two feet wide, each individual plant may not blanket the ground, but it readily produces seed which is easy to germinate. Flowers are produced throughout the growing season. Varieties are available with different appearances, though all tend to be some combination of bright yellow and dusky red. The blossoms can be used as cut flowers, or left in the landscape to attract pollinators.
Blanket flower prefers well-drained soil, even growing out into beach dunes. As stated previously, it may be propagated easily by seed; either let dried seed heads remain on the plant long enough to drop seeds or harvest them to plant elsewhere. Sow seeds in the spring and enjoy low-maintenance color for months after!
Since Ponce de Leon first set foot in Florida around Easter in 1513 and gave the state its name – he called it La Florida, which loosely translates to flowery in English – Florida has been known for its amazing native wildflower displays. Florida’s primary native flower shows do indeed occur in the spring (the one observed by Ponce de Leon) and fall, but my favorite Florida “wild” flower is neither a native nor does it bloom in April or October. Rather, the Philippine Lily (Lilium formosanum) does its thing each year in the heat of the summer, when not much else wildflower-wise is blooming.
Hailing from Taiwan and the Philippines but naturalized throughout the Panhandle, the Philippine Lily is easy to spot. Often confused with Easter Lily (Lilium longiflorum), which blooms much earlier in the year, Philippine Lily blooms mid-July to August and sports classic lily-type flowers held high on study stems that may reach 7’ or higher. Emerging from the drab green of the surrounding summer landscape, Philippine Lily’s very large (10” or more), very fragrant, trumpet-shaped, creamy-white flowers are showstoppers. The propensity of the flowers to appear in elegant, “nodding” clusters of a dozen or more also adds to the effect. Admired by gardeners and other passersby during the day, at night these wonderfully scented flowers become a whirring site for evening pollinators, particularly the enormous Hummingbird, or Sphinx Moth.
In addition to being a beautiful surprise in natural areas, Philippine Lily is among the easiest and most versatile of landscape plants to grow. The species prefers partial shade, but the thousands growing along roadsides in full sun speak to its adaptability. It is also right at home in our often dry, sandy Panhandle soils, and no special soil amendments are needed for the species to thrive. To get plants started, one may use either seeds or transplants from existing stands. If using seeds, simply sow them in your desired garden location into loosened garden soil, cover lightly, and water – the same seed sowing method can be used in pots for transplanting or sharing with friends later. Alternatively, you can dig or pull bulbs from natural areas where Philippine Lily already exists – assuming you have permission from the property owner. These newly dug and planted Lilies will need babying with regular water for several weeks to reduce transplant shock and improve survival.
Philippine Lily is probably best sited in the back of landscape beds to take advantage of the plant’s height and display its flowers over lower growing perennials. Siting in the back also allows pre and post bloom Philippine Lily stalks to hide amongst other plants as they don’t add much aesthetically when not in flower. Philippine Lily pairs very well with other low-maintenance summer-blooming perennials like Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata), Milkweed (Asclepias spp.), and others.
While not a native wildflower, Philippine Lily certainly adds to North Florida’s reputation as La Florida! They are among the easiest to grow, highest impact “wild” flowers Panhandle gardeners have at their disposal. Enjoy them this summer in natural areas and consider adding a few to your landscape! For more information on Philippine Lily or any other horticultural topic, contact us at the UF/IFAS Calhoun County Extension Office. Happy gardening.
Begonias have long had a reputation of being either boring workhorses in annual planting beds and container gardens, like Wax Begonias, or finicky, greenhouse specialty types unsuitable for most people and landscapes, like Rhizomatous Begonias. However, in 2008, Benary Seeds introduced a new early flowering landscape/container Begonia series, all with huge, showy flowers and robust growth habits. They named the series ‘Big’ and changed Begonia’s negative narrative forever.
The first attribute that’s obviously different about ‘Big’ Begonias is that they are, in fact, much bigger than “normal” bedding begonias in every conceivable way. ‘Big’ grows to 18” high with a similar spread, roughly twice as large as conventional wax begonias. ‘Big’ also sports massive (for a Begonia) 1.5-2” flowers that don’t stop until the first fall frost ends the show. And since Begonia flowers appear in clusters, the combined effect of these much larger flowers grouped together is nothing short of spectacular. Even individual leaves are larger on ‘Big’, often hand-sized and coming in various shades of green and bronze, depending on the cultivar.
Speaking of cultivars, the ‘Big’ series has now expanded to include eight different selections, each with slightly different leaf/flower attribute combinations. For example, the ‘Big’ that I am growing this year is named ‘BIG Rose Bronze Leaf’. As you might expect, the plant has dark, bronzish-colored leaves and vivid, rose-pink flowers that together make for a striking combination. Others in the series include such creative names as ‘BIG Red Green Leaf’ and ‘BIG White Bronze Leaf’. Though the names of these cultivars leave much to be desired (come on Benary, step up your name game!), they are all outstanding plants.
Fortunately, growing difficulty doesn’t also increase with plant/flower size and all the plants in the ‘Big’ series are extremely easy to cultivate. ‘Big’ selections, like most other Begonias, prefer partial shade and consistently moist soil, though they can tolerate the occasional dry period due to their waxy leaves. The ‘Big’ cultivars with bronze-colored leaves can even tolerate full sun, which the ‘BIG Rose Bronze Leaf’ sited in a sunny area on my deck can confirm. As with most other long-season flowering annuals, I apply a slow-release, complete fertilizer at planting and then supplement throughout the season with liquid fertilizer to keep them looking their best!
If you’ve avoided Begonias in the past like I did because they just didn’t offer the “wow” factor of other annuals, it’s time to think again. Bigger and truly better in every way than most other begonias, the selections in the ‘Big’ series are definitely worthy of a spot on your patio or in your landscape – plant one today and enjoy eye-catching Begonia blooms all summer long. For more information on Begonias, flowering annual plants, or any other horticultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office. Happy Gardening!
Since 2005, multiple varieties of Diascia have added to the U.S. fall market of winter flowering plants. Its delicate flowers are far from being ordinary though. In the early part of the last century most British gardening encyclopedias listed just one diascia – Diascia barberae – derived from seed collected by Col. J. H. Bowker and sent by Mrs. Barber to Kew Gardens, England, in 1870. Annual and perennial diascias had, of course, already been discovered and classified by several botanists visiting South Africa much earlier. The dainty, little annual, Diascia barberae, is not a very showy flower, but one which will appeal to the true flower lover. The flowers are rosy pink with yellow-green spots in the throat. The flowers are lipped, being related to the Snapdragons, but have two spurs on the lower lips, and are sometimes called twinspur.
It was not until John Kelly was given a plant called Diascia cordata by Edrom Nurseries in 1971 that anything notable happened to diascias again. He took pollen from his Diascia cordata and applied it to one flower of Diascia barberae. Of the nine seeds he obtained, just one was worthy of attention. He named it Diascia ‘Ruby Field’ (not for the color of the flowers, but for a lady who devoted her live to the long-term care of deprived children). Despite the popularity of this new, hardy hybrid, little more happened with diascias for yet another decade.
The boom in the diascia trade began only recently. Today’s diascia offers larger flowers, larger plants with a more open growth habit and colors ranging from scarlet through salmon and coral into pink. They bloom throughout the cooler weather and may behave as a perennial in warmer sites. But, the uniqueness of their flower structure and ecological role are as fascinating as the flower is beautiful. The common name of twinspur refers to the two downwardly pointing spurs found on the back of the flower. The spurs contain an oil which is collected in the South Africa wild by Rediviva bees. The female bees have unusually long, hairy forelegs that are used to collect the oil to feed her larvae. However, the Greek origin of the Diascia name doesn’t refer to the spurs, but rather the two sacs found in the upper part of the corolla. The flower petals help the bees to orientate themselves to the oil glands of the spurs. While North Florida isn’t home to the Rediviva bee, we can grow Diascia and it is a wonderful opportunity to show the unique connection insects and plants can have. Look for other specialized flower structures and you will find other animals that fit them perfectly, even within the species found in the Panhandle.
Weeds are basically unwanted plants or plants growing out of place. Proper identification and some understanding of how and why weeds are present in a lawn are important when selecting the best management tactics. All turf weeds can be grouped into one of three life cycles: annual, biennial, or perennial.
Annual: Produces seeds during one season only
Biennial: Produces seeds during two back-to-back seasons
Perennial: Produces seeds over many seasons
Knowing the types of weed previously present in an area also can help one to be better prepared and what control measures to employ in the future.
Weeds may appear in multiple categories, either broadleaf, grass, or Sedges/rushes.
Broadleaves, or dicotyledonous plants, have two cotyledons (seed leaves) when the weed seed germinates.
Appearance: Broad, flat leaves with net-like veins and usually have showy flowers.
Common types: Clover, ground ivy, dandelions, chickweed, plantain, henbit, beggarweed.
Grasses are monocotyledonous plants that have only one cotyledon, or seed leaf, present when seedlings emerge from the soil.
Appearance: Narrow leaves with parallel veins in their true leaves. Hollow rounded stems.
Common types: crabgrass, goosegrass, crowfoot grass, bull grass, annual bluegrass, alexander grass, cogon grass, torpedo grass, and smut grass.
Sedges/rushes. Both favor a moist habitat. Appearance: triangular-shaped, solid stems, while rush stems are round and solid.
Common types: yellow and purple nutsedge and, to some degree, globe, Texas, annual, and water sedge.
One of the first steps in managing weeds is to have a healthy dense lawn/ turf to provide shade that prevents seed germination. Having a healthy lawn depends on turf species selected – making sure you put the right plant and right place. Other factors that influence a heathy turf and a reduced amount of weeds include proper cultural control, fertilizing regularly, mowing at the appropriate height, watering deeply, reducing traffic, pest control, and sanitation. If you only have a few bothersome weeds in your lawn, you may be able to dig them up by hand—but if your lawn is overrun with weeds, you may need to start from scratch. If you decide to start from the beginning, you have a choice ahead of you. Do you want to lay down seed or sod? There are pros and cons to each.
Pros: Less expensive, more variety
Cons: Takes longer to germinate, can only lay at certain times of year depending on grass type
Pros: Instant grass, can lay any time of year, requires little maintenance
Cons: More costly, less variety in grass can mean less healthy lawn overall
To prepare the soil after either method, make sure you till it down to roughly 6 to 8 inches.
I wish I had a nickel for every time in my Extension career that I’ve heard someone ask me what they can plant in a container or flower bed that will give them no-maintenance color. They just want to plant something, forget about it, and be able to enjoy flowers for months on end. My answer, every single time, is Annual Vinca (Catharanthus roseus), specifically any selection from the newish ‘Cora’ Series.
Often called Periwinkle in the Deep South, this native of Madagascar is the perfect warm weather flowering plant for the Panhandle for a couple of reasons. First, the flowering. Coming in a wide range of colors from white to purple to pink and all shades in between, there is a Vinca to match every garden’s look. These aren’t a one flowering flush and done type plant either, Vinca blooms nonstop. What’s more, gardeners don’t need to remove spent flowers (also called deadheading), as plants are self-cleaning and flower freely from the first warm days in April until frost ends the show. There are even several new selections in the Cora series that have a trailing habit, perfect for creating a continuous cascade of flowers from a hanging basket or tall container!
Also, as promised, the ‘Cora’ Vinca series is adaptable and nearly no-maintenance. It never outgrows its bounds, reaching only 12-18” in height and spreading about as wide. It is exceptionally drought and heat tolerant, taking 100-degree days and liking it. It has no major insect or disease pests to be concerned about if sited correctly in full sun and well-drained soil. Bottom line, the new ‘Cora’ Vinca varieties are close to bulletproof. Plant some today!