DEAR BRENDA: I need something that blooms all summer, can take both full sun and some shade (at one end of the bed), won't wilt in the heat and doesn't need much maintenance from me. Oh, and that blooms. And it would be nice if it attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. MAYJO
DEAR MAYJO: Wow! You're talking about, pretty much, the "Perfect Plant." Actually, however, I do have a suggestion. How about shrimp plants? They come in both the darker red, pictured above, and the old-fashioned ones that are more coral colored (more like shrimp!). They form thick shrub-like masses, bloom until the first freeze (and mine even beyond). I can't begin to list all the butterflies & hummers they attract.
Best of all, when they get REALLY thirsty, they'll wilt, not just up 'n' die like some inconsiderate plants. But, really, I don't water mine very often.
DEAR BRENDA: Have you ever heard of a cestrum? A friend gave me one and I'm not sure where to put it. East side? West side? SALLY
DEAR SALLY: These are great plants and, Mayjo, you might consider a cestrum too. These become large shrubs that bloom on the ends of upright stalks. So they're great for the back of a garden, say against the fence, or in a corner. The yellow, as you can see, is vibrant and they'll bloom off and on all summer long. They take easily to pruning so if you want yours shorter, just whack off the top. If you want it taller and skinnier, whack off the sides.
If you're looking for a privacy hedge, these are evergreen except in very cold winters. Only catch, they really want to be well-drained. Don't put them where water stands after a rain. The more sun they get, the better they'll bloom. But they will set flowers in partial sun too as long as it's afternoon (which is like full sun in our area).
Speaking of "our" area, the designations they use up north — "plant on the west side" or "plant on the south side" — really don't apply here. We're more interested in 1. what kind of sun does it get? 2. what kind of drainage does it get?
A plant on the west side, if it's shaded all day by the house next door, needs to be a shade loving plant, even though it's on the west side.
DEAR BRENDA: I bought these gorgeous blue hydrangeas. They're growing just fine, but they're blooming sort of bluish pink. How do I make them blue again? T.C.
DEAR T.C. Hydrangea color is determined by the acidity of the soil. The more acidic, the bluer the flower. The more alkaline, the pinker. I've heard there are blue ones that stay blue, but I have never seen any. Dig in some soil acidifier, pine needles, oak leaves, rusty nails or rusty anything around the base of the plant and see if that helps next near.
DEAR BRENDA: I planted the most beautiful pentas recently and they all died. Okay, so the middle of a drought isn't the best time and worse yet, we went out of town for a spell. I want to plant more, but how can I keep them alive? Mo
DEAR MO: When you dig your hole, dig it twice as deep and you would normally. Fill the hole with water. Let it all drain down. Fill it again. Let it all drain down. I'd do it a couple more times too if you have the patience. Then fill back to the depth you need for the plants. Fill it again. Plant.
What you're doing is giving the plant a reservoir of moist soil to encourage the roots to grow downward. What we usually do is plant and then water by hand, or by sprinkler which doesn't stay on long enough. The plant roots grow upward into those top layers of soil. We go away, the soil heats up, the roots dehydrate, the plant dies.
Wonder if there's a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Plants?
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Brenda Beust Smith
www.guidrynews.com (Features > Brenda's Garden)
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