Garden Talk: February 3, 2005

From NGA Editors

New Fragrant Coneflowers

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Coneflowers are well loved as wildflowers, perennial garden flowers, and medicinal herbs. Now you can add "fragrant cut flowers" to their list of assets.

Echinacea 'Sunrise' and Echinacea 'Sunset' are two new crosses of Echinacea purpurea and E. paradoxa that feature sweetly fragrant flowers and pencil-thick stems that are great for cutting.

'Sunrise' grows 18 to 24 inches tall, producing 5-inch-diameter, deep yellow flowers. 'Sunset' grows 30 inches tall and produces 4-inch-diameter, brilliant orange blooms.

Both varieties of echinacea are hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9. They are available at mail-order nurseries, such as Wayside Gardens (www.waysidegardens.com).

Exciting New Annual Flowers

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While we all love to come upon a totally new plant we've never seen before, new variations on old favorites -- such as these six new flower introductions -- can be just as tempting.

'Magellan Coral' is the newest of the Magellan series of annual Zinnia elegans, which feature double flowers with exceptional color on 18-inch-tall, beefy plants. The coral color expands the lineup of varieties with pink, scarlet, orange, and yellow flowers, and is a 2005 All-America Selections winner.

Gaillardia 'Arizona Sun' is a dwarf (12 inches tall), mounded form of annual Gaillardia aristata that thrives in hot, dry conditions and produces 3-inch-diameter, yellow-tipped flowers the first year from planting and all season long. Not surprisingly, it's a 2005 All-America Selections winner.

'Kong Rose' is the latest introduction in the large-leaved (4 to 5 inches wide) Kong series of coleus, growing 14 to 16 inches tall with bright green leaf edges and rose-colored centers. Plant it in containers so you can enjoy it indoors for the winter.

Annual and perennial black-eyed Susans are easy-care, dependable plants, and they just got even better. Rudbeckia 'Maya' is the first dwarf, double-flowered rudbeckia, growing only 18 to 20 inches tall. Its sturdy stems hold up masses of 3- to 4-inch-wide, bright yellow flowers.

Check mail-order nurseries and local garden centers for these new annuals.

New Tomato Varieties for 2005

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Tomato is the king of the vegetable garden. There are hundreds of varieties available, and no matter how many you grow, there's always the temptation to try one more. Here are some of the latest tomato varieties available for this year's garden.

The 2005 All-America Selections-winning 'Sugary' is a semi-indeterminate cherry tomato that touts a very sweet taste. Reddish pink fruits are produced in grapelike clusters 60 days after transplanting.

For a tamer cherry tomato vine, try 'Marcellino'. This determinate plant produces 20 to 25 fruits per cluster 75 days after transplanting. You don't have to rush to eat them because they maintain their freshness up to one month after picking. 'Sugary' and 'Marcellino' are available from Park Seed Company (www.parkseed.com).

Recently breeders have been crossing heirlooms with modern varieties to produce hybrids with heirloom tomato traits. A new variety in this vein is 'Tomande', which looks like an old-fashioned beefsteak type. It has a flattened shape and ribbed shoulders that ripen after the rest of the fruit. Tomato breeders say a tomato with green shoulders that ripen last has a sweeter taste than one that ripens uniformly red all at once. Disease-resistant 'Tomande' has a sweet flavor and uniformly large size, and the indeterminate vines produce fruits 68 days after transplanting. It's available from Tomato Grower Supply Company (www.tomatogrowers.com)

Finally a Japanese heirloom tomato is making it to the United States. 'Momotaro' is Japan's most popular tomato variety. The indeterminate plants produce 6- to 8-ounce, crack-tolerant pink fruits that hold their quality well after picking. 'Momotaro' is available from Nichols Garden Nursery (www.nicholsgardennursery.com)

Earthworm Castings Repel Insects

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It's widely known that earthworm castings (droppings) are a great fertilizer (especially for container plants) and can suppress soil diseases. Now, research from Germany has found that not only do earthworm castings prevent soilborne diseases, they actually help repel aboveground insects as well.

Researchers found that plants with worm castings added to their growing medium had higher nitrogen content in their leaves than control plants, but fewer aphids feeding on the leaves. They speculated that the earthworm castings altered the plant sap chemistry, making it less appealing to the aphids.

For more information on this research, go to the article in the Journal of Chemical Ecology at: http://www.kluweronline.com/article.asp?PIPS=484398&PDF=1

 
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