Marigolds provide almost instant gratification.
Question: I am planning to begin a small-space container gardening component within the group-counseling program I run for adolescent teens at Covenant House in Florida. Do you have any suggestions about which plants are likely to give these kids the best chance of success? The goal is fast-growing and low-maintenance plants for the Florida heat. The emotional message is positive connection with life.
Answer: Annuals would be good choices because these plants grow from seed relatively quickly, which allows kids to appreciate the process. Plus, annuals are colorful and they flower all summer. Marigolds, pentas, celosia, coleus, salvias, zinnias, and Florida native beach sunflowers are some annuals that should meet your criteria of quick-growing, low-maintenance container plants able to withstand the Florida heat. With a little more maintenance you could even grow veggies like peppers, okra, bush beans, and sweet potatoes.
For more info on gardening in the Coastal and Tropical South region, check out Regional Editor Nellie Neal's gardening reports at: http://www.garden.org/regional/report/current/16.
For great ideas for youth gardening activities, go to: http://www.kidsgardening.com/.
Question: I live in an area just outside New Haven, Connecticut, near the water where the houses are close together. One of my neighbors has a high deck and a pool, and the noise is very loud. I have a privacy fence but now I need something taller for privacy and to break the noise. I do have an area for planting and I'd like something easy to grow, at least 10 to 12 feet tall, and not spreading because there isn't much room for the plants to fan out.
Answer: There are lots of wonderful trees and shrubs that thrive in New Haven's zone 6 climate. Choose columnar or fastigiate varieties because you don't have much room for horizontal spreading. Some evergreens over 12 feet tall include arborvitae (Thuja spp.), eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Irish juniper (Juniperus communis 'Stricta'), Kashmir cypress (Cupressus cashmeriana), and American holly (Ilex opaca).
If you only need a summer screen, consider columnar varieties of English oak (Quercus robar 'Fastigiata'), European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus 'Fastigiata'), and European beech (Fagus sylvatica).
Either way, early spring is a great time to get new plants in the ground. You can find photos online to help you make a selection. Good luck.