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Archive for Sunday, January 3, 1999

THE HOLIDAYS MAY BE PAST, BUT FOR GARDENERS THIS IS THE BEST TIME TO START A WISH LIST.

January 3, 1999

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Gardeners are in for a treat this growing season. Our yen for things colorful and different to grow in our gardens is close at hand. New flowers and vegetables are being featured in 1999 mail-order seed catalogs. Many soon will be available as seed packets or later as bedding plants at garden centers.

The National Garden Bureau has given us the opportunity to take a sneak peek at some of the finest plants being offered this year. During the next several weeks you will have a chance to see award-winning varieties and delightful flowers for the garden. Sun-loving varieties are featured today.

Arguably, one of the easiest flowers to grow in the garden is the marigold. The large seeds germinate and flower within a few weeks of planting and remain in bloom for months. Four main hybrid groups include the African, French, Triploid and Signet marigolds. The African group is generally the tallest and suitable for a formal garden. The others are excellent for the edge of a mixed border or containers.

New this year is Marigold "Bonanza Bolero" 1999 All-America Selection (AAS) Bedding Plant Award Winner. It is an improved dwarf, French marigold named after the twirling, stamping Spanish dance. The plant is distinct because of its irregular gold and red bi-color pattern. Not every flower blossom on this plant is uniform.

The large 2 1/4-inch double flowers are primarily golden yellow with mahogany red petal tips. Plants will attain a height of 8 to 12 inches and a spread of 12 to 24 inches when given adequate moisture and nutrients. However, the plant performs well under adverse growing conditions. "Bonanza Bolero" is relatively disease-resistant, pest-free and drought-tolerant. It produces flowers within two months of sowing.

Developing passion

Everybody loves a daisy and osteospermums are grown for their daisy-like flowers that bloom from late spring to fall. Another 1999 AAS Bedding Plant Award winner is the osteospermum called "Passion Mix." Its common name is African Daisy-Cape Marigold. The most attractive feature is the single, daisy-like flowers with azure blue centers. The single flowers are in shades of pink, rose, purple or pure white. The mixture contains cool colors that blend well with other full-sun annuals.

The compact plant is multi-branched and reaches both a spread and a height of 12 to 18 inches. The flower heads have a span of 2 to 2 1/2 inches. This mid-sized plant flowers all season but superior flower show occurs in the spring and fall. The plants are relatively pest-free and disease- and cold-resistant. Fortunately, they are drought-resistant as well, so buckets of water are not necessary for this plant's vigor.

However, "Passion Mix" may be difficult to grow from seed and is best left to the experienced gardeners or garden centers. Most gardeners will find the plants available in 4- to 6-inch pots. When planting them in your garden, place them in full sun and be sure to avoid heavy soil. Or, if you prefer, plant them in containers with a soil-less mix. Once plants are established "Passion Mix" is undemanding and thrives on little garden care.

Rosy outlook

If you are looking for a slightly easier plant to grow from seed, look no further than portulaca. Its small black seeds are easily collected at the end of one growing season for planting the following year. Typically, portulaca, or moss rose, likes dry sandy soils and blooms best in full sun. The succulent moss-like leaves and cup shaped flowers grace garden edges, window boxes or other containers. Often, the flowers close with nightfall.

New for 1999 is a portulaca called "Sundial Peach." This is the first portulaca to win an AAS Award. The unique, glowing peach color is unmatched and the flower size has been improved to 2 inches. "Sundial Peach" flowers are semi-double, open under warm sunny conditions and resist closing. The small plant reaches a height not more than 8 inches and spreads 8 to 12 inches. It is perfect for strawberry pots and terrace urns. Its vigor and ability to withstand considerable heat make it ideal for garden "hot" spots or blazing sunny patios. Both seeds and bedding plants should be available this spring. Allow about two months for bloom from time of sowing seeds.

A profusion of color

Zinnias are popular garden flowers valued for their solitary daisy-like blooms borne atop long sturdy stems. They make ideal cut flowers and are easily grown in the Midwestern United States in fertile, well-drained soil. Zinnias love full sun and continue to bloom throughout the summer when deadheading is done on the spent flower heads.

Long known for their susceptibility to powdery mildew, zinnias are sometimes banished from the garden to avoid this almost certain unsightly blight. Two new zinnias have won the AAS Gold Medal Award for 1999, partly on the basis of their resistance to disease.

Zinnia "Profusion Cherry," one of the 1999 Gold Medal Winners, exceeded all expectations for a single-flowered, mid-height garden zinnia. Single rose colored blooms 2 to 3 inches in diameter dress up these plants. Once flowering, "Profusion Cherry" continued to flower nonstop all season. The plants will grow 12 to 18 inches tall in the full-sun garden.

Desirable traits such as heat, drought and weather tolerances, as well as its disease resistance, make this zinnia prized. The combination of these superior qualities resulted in its being awarded a gold medal. The plants are also relatively pest free and require no deadheading or pinching to maintain its continuous cherry color. Gardeners can select any sunny garden spot or decorative containers to show off this free blooming zinnia.

Zinnia "Profusion Orange" is the second 1999 Gold Medal Winner. It is free from foliar diseases that normally appear on zinnias in late summer. It has shown tolerance to powdery mildew and bacterial leaf spot. Indeed, "Profusion Orange" has the same disease tolerance and free flowering qualities as its sister plant "Profusion Cherry."

This annual provides nonstop color in the garden or patio containers with blooms that can reach up to 3 inches in a dazzling orange color. The tidy plants cover old blooms with lush green foliage and fresh blooms. The mounded habit shows color in all directions and is similar to that of impatiens. There is no "best side" for planting. Maximum performance is best achieved when plants are massed together, about 10 to 12 plants spaced 12 to 16 inches apart in full sun.

Out of Africa

Gazanias are annuals that are native along the low altitude sands to the alpine meadows in tropical Africa. Their daisy flowers are typically very brightly colored. They make excellent choices for the patio or edges of a mixed bed garden. Gazanias need plenty of water during their growing period.

This year Gazania "Colorado Gold" Hardy (Gazania linearis) is a 1998 Plant Select winner. It is the first perennial Gazania available to wholesalers from seed. Bright yellow flowers bloom on mounds of deep green strap-shaped leaves. The plants are being touted for their flowering the entire growing season and staying green all winter. For best results Gazania "Colorado Gold" should be grown in full sun and receive only moderate watering.

Next week look for the new varieties of flowers that are more suited for shade.

-- Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. You can send e-mail to her at gardenspot@ljworld.com.

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