Hyacinth

March 24, 2011

One of the plants that has appeared out in my yard this week is the Hyacinth. Though they have an interesting appearance, this is one of the few plants that I grow just for their wonderful scent. I have a hard time resisting when I smell Hyacinths already blooming in the store, which is probably why I have so many growing in my yard right now.

Hyacinth is a genus in the family Hyacinthaceae which contains three species or fewer. Depending on who you ask, two of the species belong somewhere else, leaving Hyacinth orientalis as the only one. Also known as Common, Garden or Dutch Hyacinth, these flowers are native to the Eastern Mediterranean region and have been cultivated for more than 400 years.

A Greek myth explains the origin of the name.  Hyacinthus was a beautiful boy, much loved by the god Apollo and also the West Wind, Zephyr. One day, Apollo and Hyacinthus were taking turns throwing a discus. After Apollo’s throw, Hyacinthus ran to catch it, but it bounced off the ground and hit him, killing him. Zephyr, jealous of Apollo, had made the wind blow the discus off course. Apollo tried all he could to revive Hyacinthus, but was not successful. Apollo refused to let Hyacinthus be taken by Hades. As his tears of sorrow flowed onto the ground and mixed with Hyacinthus’s blood, a new flower was created.

Hyacinth is hardy in zones 4-8 and possibly even zone 3. They should be planted in well drained, light, sandy soil in a sunny area. Too much moisture will cause the bulbs to rot. Hyacinth look very attractive when planted in groups, rather than alone. Plant them in September or October, in a hole 6 inches deep. The bulbs contain oxalic acid which can bother sensitive skin, so wear your gloves.

Hyacinth bloom in March or April, producing a single spike of colorful, highly fragrant flowers. Flowers come in a wide range of colors, from red, white and blue to yellow, peach and lavender. The blooms last for 2-3 weeks and are 8-12 inches tall. After flowers are spent, cut back the stem to prevent seed from being formed. Leave the foliage until it turns yellow because the plant is storing energy for next season.

Hyacinths are good for forcing to bloom early and also make good houseplants. When planted outside, they will grow thinner and smaller each year. For the best show, buy new bulbs each fall. I’m told that larger bulbs produce larger blooms.  Bulbs can also be divided every 2-3 years to produce more plants and reduce crowding. The original bulb will produce smaller bulblets which can be removed and planted. It can be difficult to find the bulbs in the fall after the foliage is gone. Luckily, bulbs can be divided in the spring, even when plant is blooming.

Crabapple

March 11, 2011

What is a Crabapple? You might be surprised to learn that a Crabapple tree is just an Apple tree that bears fruit smaller than 2 inches in diameter. Both belong to the same genus, Malus, in the family Rosaceae.  Grown mainly as ornamental trees, Crabapples are low maintenance, fairly drought tolerant  and extremely popular for planting near schools, parks, highways and homes.

The 30-35 species of Crabapple are mostly deciduous trees and shrubs. Growing anywhere from 6 feet to 50 feet tall, most fall in the 15-25 foot range. Crabapple trees are popular in the Northern  and Midwest areas of the United States. They tolerate the cold winters and heavy soil well, growing as far north as zone 4. With over 700 cultivated varieties, a Crabapple tree can be found to fit just about any area. In addition to the wide range of sizes, trees also can be found in many different shapes, with different colors of flowers and fruit.

Crabapple trees flower in the spring, anywhere from late April to mid-May. Flowers come in 3 types, single, semi-double and double, depending on how many petals they have. Single has 5, semi-double has 6-10 and double has more than 10. White, pinks and red are the most common colors, but some can also be found with salmon or coral flowers. Sometimes the bud is colored differently than the flowers, which gives the tree 2 different looks during blooming season.

The fruit of Crabapple trees is rarely eaten raw because it is sour, bitter or woody. Crabapples can be used to make jams and jellies or added to apple cider to kick up the flavor. The Chestnut Crabapple is an exception, having sweet fruit with a good texture. Crabapples are mainly red, but can also be green, orange, yellow, or purple and range in size from ¼ inch to 2 inches. Some types of trees drop their apples in Autumn and others have apples which hang on the trees through the winter, feeding the birds.

Crabapples trees do not require much maintenance. They can be planted in any spot that has well drained soil and receives at least 8 hours of sun per day. Pruning is necessary only to remove dead limbs and keep the shape of the tree. Make sure you prune before early June. Starting mid-June and continuing to July, the tree is forming buds for next year. Crabapple trees cannot pollinate themselves, they require another apple tree and also insects to carry pollen between them. Usually this job is done by bees, who are interested in getting nectar from the Crabapples.

In the past Crabapple trees have had a bad reputation because they are plagued by many insects and diseases. Newer varieties are much more resistant, but not perfect. Before you buy one, I’d recommend you do a little research to learn what you can expect. I didn’t have that chance with our first Crabapple tree which was already full grown when we bought our house. It has dark pink buds which open to medium pink, single flowers. Some years, it is very beautiful and other years it has few flowers. It seems to have fewer apples each year. Several years ago, we planted another Crabapple, a dwarf variety. It is only about 6 or 7 feet tall, has medium pink buds which become pale pink flowers, and it does not  produce any apples. When it blooms, it is covered with flowers and looks wonderful.

Crocus

February 17, 2011

Crocus are one of the first plants to appear in the spring, sometimes popping up through the snow. The leaves and flowers have a waxy covering called a cuticle that protects them from snow or frost. Bright colors, drought tolerance and early blooming make them popular garden flowers. In my yard they seem to appear suddenly, a sign that winter may soon be over.

Crocus belong to the family Iridaceae and the genus Crocus. There are 80 species, but only about 30 of them are cultivated. The rest grow wild in woodlands, brush and meadows.  Native to Europe and parts of Asia, Crocus were cultivated as early as the 1560’s. A perennial flowering plant, their flowers come in a wide variety of colors with lilac, lavender, yellow and white being the most common. Bi- and tri-color blooms are also quite abundant. Full grown, Crocus are only 2-6 inches tall and wide. Leaves are grass-like and often have a thin white stripe.

Though they are sometimes classified as bulbs, Crocus grow from corms. Corms are a fleshy, compressed stem that stores the energy the plant needs to grow and bloom. Corms are planted just as a bulb would be. As the plant grows and blooms, a new corm is formed and the old one is used up. If your Crocus get too dense, they can be divided after the foliage turns brown.

Crocus can be planted in any sunny spot with well drained soil, and are often recommended for naturalizing. Basically, that is planting large numbers of bulbs (or corms) in such a way that it looks as if they grew there naturally. Over time, they will increase in number. You can naturalize Crocus in your lawn, among the grass, if you like. Just remember to look for a species that spreads freely. Another item to keep in mind is that you must let the foliage die down before mowing the grass in the spring. The plant needs that time, as much as 6 weeks, to store energy for next year.

Crocus grow best in zones 5-7 and will not grow at all in areas that are too hot because they need a period of cold in order to grow properly.  Plant spring blooming Crocus in the fall, and fall blooming types in the spring. Fall crocus? Yes, not all Crocus are early spring bloomers, some flower in the fall. Insects and diseases don’t really bother Crocus, but squirrels and mice do. To keep squirrels from snacking on your corms, lay chicken wire on top. The flowers will grow right through. You can also bury the corms in wire cages to keep them safe.

There are a couple flowers called Crocus that are not related, not even distant cousins. One is Pasque Flower, which is also known as Prairie Crocus. Though it looks similar, it belongs to a completely different family, Ranunculaceae. Another is Colchicum, or Autumn Crocus, which truly does bloom in the fall, but is not really a crocus, as it is part of the Liliaceae family.

Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, by weight. It is made from Crocus sativus, a fall blooming crocus. It takes thousands of Crocus flowers to make 1 ounce of saffron, which is used as a seasoning and a coloring. The name Crocus is thought to be derived from a word that means yellow, or saffron yellow.

Rose

February 3, 2011

Roses are one of the most well known flowers in the world, and one of the oldest. Fossils have been found that show roses have existed for more than 35 million years! Most species are native to Asia, and the Chinese are believed to have started cultivating them more than 5,000 years ago.  Today, the rose is more widely grown than any other flower and there are over 30,000 varieties.

The genus Rosa, in the Rosaceae family,  includes approximately 150 species of roses.  They are perennials and most take the form of a shrub, though there are also climbing and trailing plants. Grown mainly for their large, showy flowers, roses are also popular for their fragrance and sometimes their foliage. Plants range in size from miniature to more than 20 feet and can produce flowers ½ inch in diameter up to 7 inches. The fruit of a rose is called a rose hip. Rose hips are a source of Vitamin C and are used in jams, jellies and teas.

Until the late 18th century, roses in Europe only bloomed once per season. Around that time, repeat-blooming roses were introduced from China. Europeans were eager to cross breed these new types with the varieties already available. Most of the roses we know today can be traced back to those imported from China. Until 1900, roses were limited in color to white and a range of pinks. A French man named Joseph Permet-Ducher discovered a yellow rose that could be cross bred. This led to roses in a wide range of colors, including apricot, salmon, copper and gold. Today, many more colors are available such as red, purple and near-black.

I always thought that roses and thorns were kind of like salt and pepper, night and day or hot and cold. There are so many stories and clichés that I was kind of disappointed to learn that roses do not really have thorns. In fact, the sharp points jutting from a rose stem are officially called prickles. Thorns are modified stems, deeply attached to the plant. Prickles are outgrowths of the outer layer of tissue on the stem, easily broken off. Roses and prickles? It just doesn’t sound the same to me.

Roses are hardy in zones 5-9 and sometimes zone 4. Be careful where you plant your new rose bush. They prefer well drained, rich soil that receives several hours of sun a day. There are a few climbing varieties that tolerate some shade, but almost all roses  want lots of sun. The plants will be dormant in winter and flower beginning in May.

Deadheading is important for roses. Removing the spent flowers encourages the plant to rebloom, keeping it healthier and more attractive. It also saves the plant from spending energy forming a seed pod (rose hip).  Always use sharp pruning shears to cut the stem at an angle. Some sources say to cut just above the first group of 5 leaves, and others say just above the top set of leaves. I’ll leave that decision to you. Also, if your roses are of the type that only bloom once, deadheading is not necessary unless you want to prevent rose hips from forming.

Pruning is also an important part of rose care. Regular pruning will remove dead wood, encourage new growth, and increase air circulation. The majority of pruning is done in the spring, but the type of rose you grow will dictate when to prune. One factor to consider is whether the plant blooms on new growth or the growth from last year. It’s worth your time to do a little research and find out when to prune and how much. Even if you are new to pruning, it’s better for the plant than just letting it grow wild.

Unfortunately, the only rose I have in my yard right now is a miniature rose with peach colored flowers. Since it is buried under a lot of snow, only time will tell if it will come back this year. I have never seen a rose I didn’t like and I would love to plant a lot of them, but my space is limited. Maybe someday…

Orchid

November 18, 2010

Orchids have fascinated people around the world for a very long time. Records have been found from as far back as the 3rd Century B.C. that mention Orchids. Today, there are millions of people devoted to Orchids in all their variety. Even though they are known for being high maintenance, and picky about their growing conditions, many people are drawn to their beautiful flowers.

The family Orchidaceae is the 2nd largest family of flowering plants (after Asteraceae). It includes as many as 26,000 species in 880 genera. Orchids account for around 10% of all seed plants and they can be found in almost every habitat from deserts to the Arctic Circle. Of all those genera, only about 25 are found in North America. The enormous number of Orchids continues to grow. Since the 19th century, horticulturists have developed over 100,000 hybrids and cultivars.

I have to say, I learned a lot of new terms while I was researching Orchids. They have 5 traits that make them different from other plants:
1. They are bilaterally symmetrical, or zygomorphic. This means that they can be divided in only one way to produce mirror images.(this is external only)
2. One petal is not like the others. Orchids generally have 3 petals and 3 sepals. The middle petal is called the labellum, or lip, and it is much different than the other petals.
3. The female and male reproductive parts are fused into a single column.
4. Orchids may resupinate. This has to do with the labellum. It starts out at the top of a developing flower bud, but as it grows, the stem twists until the labellum is pointing down when the flower opens.
5. The seeds are extremely tiny.

Orchids can grow in two different ways:
1. Monopodial – A single stem grows from the center of the plant. Each year, it gets longer as leaves are added to the new growth
2. Sympodial- As you might have guessed, these have more than one stem. Shoots grow out, bloom and then more shoots grow from their base. This type grows laterally, not vertically.

Growing everywhere from mountains to swamps, from deserts to tropical forests, Orchids have adapted to conditions all over the world. Their colors and shapes are highly varied also, as is their fragrance. Scents range from pleasing to rancid, a means to attract the insects which pollinate the plant.

Here’s one last list for you. Orchids can be divided into 3 groups based on where they grow:
1. Terrestrial – plants are rooted in soil.
2. Ephiphyte – plants grow on other plants, usually branches, high in the air. They collect nutrients from the air, the rain and decaying vegetation.
3. Lithophytic – plants that grow on rocky or stony ground. These types survive mostly by gathering nutrients from decaying moss.

Hydrangea

November 4, 2010

Hydrangeas are beautiful ornamental plants, grown as shrubs, with large flower heads of white, pink, blue or purple. They will tolerate a wide range of soil, sun and moisture conditions.  Hydrangeas are native to Eastern and Southern Asia, and North and South America. The genus Hydrangea contains about 80 species of flowering plants, but only 5 of those are commonly available to buy in the United States.

1. Hydrangea paniculata is a native of Asia. It is the most cold hardy of the Hydrangeas, recommended for zones 4-7. It grows about 10-15 feet tall and is sometimes pruned into a tree shape. From late summer to early fall, it bears cone-shaped panicles of white flowers, up to 18 inches long. These are made up of small, fertile flowers and larger sterile flowers which gradually turn pink.

2. Hydrangea quercifolia is also known as the Oakleaf Hydrangea. It’s one of only 2 species native to the United States. Mostly found in moist woodlands, it grows 6 feet tall, and is recommended for zones 5-9.  Oakleaf has panicles of flowers similar to paniculata but smaller, about 10 inches long. They are white also, with the large sterile flowers turning pink as they age. Oakleaf also blooms a little earlier in the summer. This is also the only Hydrangea which displays fall color. The leaves, which resemble oak leaves, turn a bronze color in the fall. Some say that this plant is prized more for the foliage than the blooms.

3. Hydrangea arborescens, the only other United States native, is commonly called the Smooth Hydrangea. It is fairly cold hardy, and is found mostly in the Eastern side of the country. It can be grown in zones 4-9. Reaching 3-5 feet tall and wide, it blooms in mid-summer. The flowers are globe shaped, with dense, dull white flowers. As they age, the flowers turn to pale green. Some cultivars may have enormous flower heads, up to 1 foot wide. This type looks great when planted in a mass of the same kind.

4. Hydrangea anomala is different than the others. It’s a true clinging vine. Growing in zones 4-7, it can climb trees or structures up to 80’ tall. White lacecap flowers, up to 10 inches across appear in early to mid-summer. It’s probably not a good idea to grow this on a building, the aerial roots leave a residue that is difficult to remove.

5. Hydrangea macrophylla is, by far, the most widely used Hydrangea. A native of Japan, hardy to zone 6, there are more than 600 known cultivars. Macrophylla is also known as Bigleaf Hydrangea, French Hydrangea, Florist’s Hydrangea, and Garden Hydrangea.  Native to Japan, it has flowers that are white, but also can be pink, red, blue or purple. The flower heads of Macrophylla come in 2 different shapes. One is Mophead, which looks like what it sounds like; rounded, pom pom made up of larger sterile flowers, with smaller fertile flowers hidden in the middle. The other is Lacecap, which is flatter, with tiny fertile flowers in the center, and the showy sterile flowers around the edge. Plants grow 4-6 feet tall and wide, and bloom in early summer. The color of the flowers can be influenced by the pH of the soil. Acid soil will make the flowers blue, neutral will lead to cream flowers and pink or purple flowers will result from alkaline soil.

Fall Color

October 28, 2010

We are lucky to live in Michigan, where there is a definite change in seasons. One of my favorite times of the year is fall, when it cools down and the leaves change to yellow, orange and red. We enjoy the beautiful colors, but mostly take them for granted and don’t think too much about why it happens. I’m sure we all learned about the leaf changing process in school, but I can’t say I remember. In case you don’t either, keep reading.

Plants take water from the ground and carbon dioxide from the air. A chemical called chlorophyll absorbs sunlight to create energy to change that water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and glucose. This changing process is called photosynthesis. The oxygen is released into the atmosphere. Glucose is used by the plant for food and as fuel for growth. There is not enough light in the winter for photosynthesis, so the tree stores glucose during the summer to help it survive during the winter.

Chlorphyll happens to be green, and when the leaves are full of it, they are also green. As fall nears, the days get shorter and this signals the tree that winter is coming. The tree produces less chlorophyll and then stops completely. Once the chlorophyll is gone, other colors that were hidden by the green chlorophyll can show. These are called carotenoids and they are pigments that are always present in the leaves, but are usually covered by the chlorophyll. Leaves containing carotenoids are yellow, gold, orange and brown. These colors are not affected by temperature or weather, so they remain fairly similar from year to year.

Red leaves are created by a different process. When the tree starts to shut down chlorophyll production for the winter, the veins that connect the leaves to the tree start to narrow. Glucose that is trapped in the leaves is broken down by sunlight to create another group of pigments called anthocyanins. The more anthocyanins are present, the more red, crimson and purple color in the leaves.

As the tree is shutting down for the winter, a layer of cells grows between the leaf stem and the tree. When it is finished, the leaf is barely attached to the tree and will eventually fall to the ground.( Unless it is an oak tree, whose leaves do not totally detach and often remain through the winter.) Leaves are dropped by the tree because they are the most vulnerable portion of the tree. The trunk and branches can withstand freezing temperatures without damage, but leaves could not. They would freeze and in turn cause damage to the tree, so the tree protects itself by losing the leaves.

Yellow and orange leaves are pretty, but I don’t think you can argue that the more red leaves, the better. Some weather and temperature conditions can affect the colorful display. If there is a drought in the late spring or summer, the fall color may be delayed. A very warm fall can also delay the colors. For the most spectacular color, you need a warm, wet spring, a normal summer, sunny fall days and cool fall nights.

Cardinal Flower

October 21, 2010

Matthias de Lobel was a Belgian physician and botanist who died in 1616. He was the first person to try and classify plants according to their characteristics, rather than how they were used medicinally. In honor of his efforts, the genus Lobelia was named after him. Lobelia includes 400 or more species of flowering plants. Today, the genus Lobelia belongs to the family Campanulaceae, or the family Lobelioideae. The group in charge of such matters has not made a final decision, so either family is technically correct.

One species of Lobelia, Lobelia cardinalis, is commonly known as the Cardinal Flower. It is native to North and South America and has bright red flowers on upright flower spikes. A wildflower, Cardinal Flower grows in wet places such as swamps and the banks of streams. It is a perennial, but may only live 7-10 years. Cardinal flower grows in zones 3-8 and blooms mid-summer to mid-fall. It is pollinated by hummingbirds and attracts butterflies, but has no scent. In part shade to full sun, it grows 1-3 feet tall. The seeds are very small and are distributed by wind and rain. I had assumed that the “Cardinal” referred to the red bird, but that is not so. Introduced in Europe in the 1600’s, these flowers were nicknamed Cardinal Flowers because they were red like the headgear worn by Roman Catholic Cardinals.

Lobelia siphilitica is another species of Lobelia, commonly known as Great Blue Lobelia. This one grows a little taller and has blue-violet flowers. It is also a native perennial, blooming late summer to fall. It will tolerate more sun and drier conditions than the Cardinal Flower. It appears in zones 3-9 and also has no scent.

The reason I mention these two species in particular is that I have two plants in my yard called Cardinal Flower, but the scientific name is Lobelia speciosa. My plants are hybrids which resulted from crossing L. cardinalis and L. siphilitica. They have bright red flowers like the cardinalis, but live longer. They are also more tolerant of different soil types and moisture conditions than the two parent plants. They only do well in zones 5-8, but they don’t need wetlands or deadheading, and the blooming period is longer. My specific plants are a type called Fan Scarlet, but there are other similar hybrids that are pink, blue, purple, and many shades of red.

To create a hybrid plant is very time consuming. First, 2 plants with desirable characteristics are identified. These plants are hand pollinated. Once they are grown and set seed, the seed is collected and planted. When the resulting plants are finished growing, they may or may not have the desired traits. It takes many years of testing, research and trials to get the correct combination. Hybrids are created to try and improve color, bloom time, tolerance to weather, and disease resistance. In the case of my Lobelia speciosa, crossing the two parents created a new, improved version.

Hollyhocks

October 14, 2010

Hollyhocks are an impressive plant, standing up to 8 feet tall, with attractive foliage and many flowers along the central stem.  A wildflower, originally from Southwest and Central Asia, they are a popular ornamental plant in gardens. Hollyhocks will grow in zones 2-10 and look great in the back of a border. Flowers are 4-5 inches wide and appear for up to 2 months in midsummer. The wildflower types are usually pink or yellow. Nursery cultivars come in red, white and a purple that is so dark it’s almost black.

The genus Alcea, in the family Malvaceae, includes some 60 species of Hollyhocks. I found it rather confusing because there is a lot of conflicting information on this genus name. Some sources use Althaea instead. Althaea is Greek and means healing or curing. Alcea means approximately the same thing in Latin. Depending on who you believe, they are interchangeable, one has replaced the other, or they mean something entirely different. I can’t tell you who to believe. We’ll just agree that Hollyhocks belong in the genus Alcea.

Hollyhocks should be planted in full sun, in rich, well-drained soil. They are quite drought tolerant and will grow in spots that are too dry or too hot for other plants. It is also important to space them far enough apart to provide good circulation of air in between plants. Though they grow very tall, the plant itself is only 1-2 feet wide. Hollyhocks have a long taproot and do not like to be transplanted. Staking is not necessary unless there is an unusual amount of wind or rain. Once they are finished flowering, cut back the stem to 8 inches from the ground.

A biennial is a plant that produces leaves the first year it is planted, and flowers the second year, dying after that. Hollyhocks are mostly biennial, but some survive longer than two years and so become short-lived perennials. Even though Hollyhocks are biennial, that doesn’t mean you can’t have lots of them for many years. They produce large, flat seeds which grow very easily. If you let them go to seed, you will have plenty of new seedlings each spring. If you don’t want any new seedlings, make sure you deadhead the spent flowers until they are all finished. Deadheading is a good idea anyway, it encourages the plant to bloom some more. To grow new plants from seed, scatter the seeds outdoors anytime from late spring to early August. Plants grown in this way will bloom the following summer. Or, you can start seeds indoors in February and you’ll have plants that will bloom this summer.

Of course, such a beautiful flower has to be plagued by an ugly disease. Rust is a fungal disease that frequently infects Hollyhocks. All green parts of the plant can be infected and it spreads rapidly from leaf to leaf, and from plant to plant. Rust usually does not kill the plant, but it causes the leaves to yellow and fall off. It can survive through the winter, if not controlled. In the spring, spores are spread by the wind to infect new plants. Infected leaves should be removed and burned right away. Infected stalks should also be destroyed when the flowers are finished. Good air circulation may help slow the spread of rust, along with chemicals.

Bridge View Park

October 8, 2010

Sometimes, we get in the car and drive an hour or two to visit a garden. This is fun, but it’s even more better to find a garden when you’re not looking for one. When you drive across the Mackinac Bridge to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, there is a park on the west side of the highway, appropriately named Bridge View Park. The first time I went there, I was thrilled to see a garden that surrounds most of the building. There were a lot of unusual flowers, things you don’t see everyday. Of course, I have pictures and have been able to identify some I did not recognize. Many of them are annuals, and can be grown from seed. Now that I know what they are I might try a few of these in my own yard.

This spiky purple flower is Agastache foeniculum, otherwise known as anise hyssop, elk mint, giant hyssop and about 8 other names. It is a perennial, native to the United States. Growing 3-5 feet tall, it blooms from June to August. The flowers and leaves are edible and are used in salads and teas. The seeds are also used for baking into cakes and muffins. Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are attracted to this plant, but not deer. It can be grown from seed, and reseeds easily.

Sometimes called Pot Marigold, this is not considered a “true” Marigold. It’s a type of Calendula, though I’m not sure exactly which. An annual, it flowers all summer and is very easy to grow from seed. The flowers are edible and are used to flavor soups and make colorful salads. They make good cut flowers but do not have an especially pleasing scent. To read a little more about Pot Marigold, visit my previous post here.

Dianthus, or Pinks, are very common in Michigan and an easy perennial to grow. To read more about these, see my blog here.

Dwarf Sunflower is a type of Helianthus. Native to the western United States, it grows about 3 feet tall. Flowers appear from summer to early fall and they are quite large, 5 or more inches across. Bees and birds are attracted to sunflowers, as are squirrels and other animals. Sunflowers are easily grown from seed, but chipmunks, rabbits, squirrels and mice will eat the seeds you have planted, or the seedling itself, if you don’t protect it in some way. Sunflowers are annuals, but will reseed if you allow the seedheads to dry on the plant. When the animals eat the seeds, some will fall to the ground to grow next year.

Salpiglossis sinuata has several interesting common names, including Painted Tongue, Velvet Trumpet Flower and, my favorite, Scalloped Tube Tongue. Growing about 2 feet tall and 12 inches wide, this is a cool weather annual and does not tolerate excessive heat. You can grow it from seed, but I’m told starting the seeds indoors works best. Once the plants are large enough, and frost danger is past, they can be planted outside. These come in many wonderful colors and bloom from late spring to first frost. They also make a great cut flowers.

Zinnias have always been one of my favorites. They are a colorful annual and are easy to grow from seed. If you missed my blog discussing them, read it here.

Nicandra physaloides is native to Peru, which explains one common name, Apple of Peru. Sounds edible, but I wouldn’t eat it, all parts of this plant are poisonous, it’s a member of the nightshade family. It’s also said to be a natural insect repellent, which explains another common name ShooFly Plant. This annual plant grows about 2-5 feet tall and blooms from late summer to early fall. It is resistant to deer. Nicandra forms seed pods with papery husks as in the photo below. Be careful where you plant it, this one will self seed and can become invasive.