The staples of a summer garden aren’t what they used to be, according to grower Steve Murphy, of Kenner’s Sunrise Trading Co., a wholesaler to garden shops and contractors.
“Vinca for the sun and impatiens for the shade have become just too susceptible to diseases for you to be able to count on them anymore,” he said. “But there are plenty of others that you can use instead.”
Murphy will review his recommended list of summer stalwarts when he speaks at the Parkway Partners’ “Second Saturday” event in two weeks, but gardeners don’t need to wait until then to add color to their tired-looking beds.
A good plant to start with, Murphy says, is pentas.
Low maintenance and available in colors including white, pink, purple and shades of red, they bloom reliably and attract butterflies.
“In New Orleans, they can overwinter like a true perennial, except when we get a freeze like we did this past winter,” Murphy said. “The same is true for hibiscus. I’ve heard people say they are reluctant to replant them because they died in that freeze, but if the hibiscus performed well without care for 8 years before the freeze, I call that a darn good bang for your buck.”
Angelonia, sometimes called “Summer Snapdragon,” is another bedding plant that Murphy says can take the double whammy of heat and humidity and just keep blooming. The bushy plants put out tall spikes of blooms and can reach up to three feet in height. Available in shades of white, violet and purple, angelonia add drama to a summer bed without requiring much care. And like pentas, they may make it through a mild winter.
Blue daze is a colorful and dependable color bedding plant that can be added to a garden now, even at the height of summer heat. A low-grower with fuzzy leaves, the plant provides contrast with the lemony hues of another summer workhorse, melampodium.
Begonia “Whooper” and Dragon Wing begonias, purslane and portulaca all bloom consistently and should be added to the summer planting list.
“Even hybrids like the New Guinea impatiens are safe to plant because it has been bred for resistance to the downy mildew that has impacted them and the regular impatiens,” Murphy said. But he likes to remind gardeners that not all summer color needs to come from flowering plants.
“I’m a fan of caladiums and coleus, both of which come with lots of variety in foliage color,” he said. “Even if you prefer flowers, give these a try for a little diversity in your garden.”
Because Murphy got his start in the gardening business selling cacti and succulents at the flea market in the French Quarter, he grows a wide variety of them at his Kenner location and offers them, as wells as herbs, for retail sale.
“It’s great because both succulents and cacti have become a hot ticket item in the past few years, so there’s a lot of interest in them,” he said. “Except for a very few, they are best grown in pots. As for herbs, you can plant thyme and oregano now and have them do well.”
Murphy said it’s a myth that anything planted mid-summer is bound to fail.
“As long as you do your homework and know what to plant, you’ll do fine,” he said.
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about houses and gardens. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @rstephaniebruno