In the Garden:
Lower South
May, 2012
Regional Report

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Buddleja adds color to the landscape with beautiful, fragrant bloom spikes that also attract butterflies.

Orchestrating a Symphony of Blooms Throughout the Seasons

In spring there are a multitude of beautiful blooming plants to bring a symphony of color to our southern landscapes. Have you noticed that when the really hot weather arrives, most landscapes become a sea of green, and the symphony is now but a single note with a few exceptions here and there? With a little planning we can remedy this lack of diversity and orchestrate a changing blend of colors that continues on throughout the growing season.

There are many ways to color up our southern landscapes throughout the year with annual color plants but changing out large areas of annual color can become quite labor intensive, not to mention expensive. There are a number of herbaceous perennials to provide a sequence of blooms across the growing season but I'll save that for another time.

I'd like to focus on the range of woody ornamental shrubs, trees, and vines that can become a source of evolving color. We often overlook these plants and their bloom times when planning our landscapes. These long lived plants offer annual returns on a one-time investment. Make them the foundation of your landscape design and then sprinkle in some annuals to fill in here and there.

Spring blooming woodies like redbud, dogwood, azalea, spirea, flowering quince, wisteria, Carolina jessamine, and crossvine are great for starting the season off right. As we move into late spring and summer, star jasmine vine and shrubs like Virginia sweetspire and mockorange (English dogwood) move into the spotlight.

Other shrubs also move to center stage including various types of hydrangea, including the Endless Summer collections that will bloom repeatedly on through the summer months. Another early summer star is chaste tree or vitex with its deep blue, white, or light blue bloom spikes, and butterfly bush (buddleja) with fragrant, show-stopping bloom spikes in white, pink, lavender, purple and red. These plants are accompanied in the spring/summer symphony of blooms by the large, colorful blooms of clematis vines.

Warmer temperatures direct the entry crape myrtles, a staple of southern summer color with many colors to offer. Large cultivars are nice for shading a patio or creating a shady spot for shade loving plants to grow beneath their canopy. However my favorites are the smaller statured types that can be added in many places throughout the landscape where space only allows for a small to medium sized shrub.

Many of these plants continue to provide color on through the summer season. As the summer transitions toward fall, flowering senna (Senna corymbosa) enters the symphony like a sudden trumpet blast as its yellow blooms cover the dark green foliage. Sweet autumn clematis vine (Clematis terniflora) joins in with billows of white blooms, and confederate rose hibiscus (Hibiscus mutabilis) shows off with blooms that open from white to pink and turn to red as the day comes to a close.

In early fall the Chinese flame tree (Koelreuteria bipinnata) bears a canopy full of yellow bloom clusters followed by attractive seed pods that start off pink and age to a beautiful salmon color. Chinese flame tree is often confused with its relative, the golden rain tree, whose early summer blooms are followed by tan/brown pods.

Space doesn't allow for discussion of many other great plants for carrying the blooming symphony of spring on through the growing season. There are also a number of tender plants that form shrubs in the southern parts of the Lower South but act as herbaceous perennials in most areas of the region. Examples include duranta, Pride of Barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima), and thryallis.

What are your favorite summer blooming woody ornamentals that I haven't mentioned?

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