In the Garden:
Hardy begonia flowers start out pink, then bloom white in hot weather. It's a reliable bloomer in our climate.
Growing Reliable Plants
Sometimes even the best gardeners fall prey to choosing plants by the book and not by their own experience or that of a friend or neighbor. The plant description may say hardy to USDA zones 6 to 9, and since we're in that range we try it. However, the difference between gardening in zone 6 and zone 9 is tremendous, and even though a plant may survive in this range, it may not thrive. Get local information first before buying too many new plants.
Hardy Begonias and Others
A good example is begonias. They all should grow here, but my experience tells me which do really well in our climate. Tuberous begonias adorn hanging baskets now, but don't survive well long-term in our region. The annual begonias, while cute, don't last forever in our heat either. However, Begonia grandis, or hardy begonia, blooms perpetually with little care.
Another example is marigolds. I truly love tiny French marigolds, but let's face it, they're spider mite hotels. I grow African marigolds instead and don't have to deal with the mites.
More Reliable Southern Plants
Another plant considered a weed by many is 4 o'clocks. However, they're easy to grow from seed and will bloom by Labor Day if planted now, watered well, and fertilized with a soluble formula once a week.
Brugmansia hybrids with all their color variations are popular this year. However, I like the old-fashioned, pure white, angel trumpet brugmansia (Datura) best. And while I love my antique roses, the most consistent bloomers are the mini roses I wrote about last summer. I don't even know their name, but I've added two more from cuttings I'd taken and I just bought a yellow mini rose with no name to add to my collection.
Start With the Soil
No matter what plants you grow, proper soil preparation makes a big difference in performance. A good rule of thumb is to amend your soil annually with organic matter. If you rework annual beds each year, pile on a few inches of leaf mold or compost during the off season and till it under. Sprinkle lime and cottonseed meal lightly over the beds and till again.
For established garden beds of perennials and shrubs, topdress the soil around each plant with compost, work it into the top 1-inch of soil, and top with fresh mulch. This is an excellent task to do in summer since it provides both soil aeration and plant nutrition to rapidly growing perennials and shrubs.
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