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Archive for Thursday, September 27, 2007

Here comes the sun

The brighter the better for these showy plants

Zinnias are colorful and showy from June to fall.

Zinnias are colorful and showy from June to fall.

September 27, 2007

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It's planting season, which means it's also the perfect time to go outside, look around and assess your landscape. Do you need to create a new bed, or make over an existing one?

A couple of weeks ago I talked about great plants for the shade in Kansas. Today I thought it would be wise to address some of the most prolific performers that tolerate blazing hot days in the Kansas sun. So put on your sunscreen, a big hat and some oversized sunglasses - today we are basking in the brightness.

I consulted some local experts, avid gardeners and the "Plants of Merit," which is a list of plants compiled by the University of Missouri Extension program and Powell Gardens that have proven to be outstanding performers for three or more years in Midwest.

Ann Peuser, owner of Clinton Parkway Nursery, 4900 Clinton Parkway, bases her favorites on which plants grow well for her customers.

"The Knockout roses do great, whether in pink or red," she says. "A wonderful companion plant for them is Russian sage."

Karl Foerster is a great ornamental grass that stands tall, with plumes that appear in June, she says, and it looks fabulous paired with black-eyed Susans.

"As for trees, serviceberry is a great underused tree in these parts. The birds love it, and it has a stunning orange color in the fall," she says. "Royal Raindrops crabapple has reddish leaves in the spring and red blooms; it has berries in the fall and a magnificent orange autumn color."

Downy serviceberry has won a spot on the "Plants of Merit" list. It's the most tree-like of the native serviceberries, typically growing 15 to 25 feet tall. Five-petaled white flowers emerge in the spring, followed by edible blueberry-like fruits in June, the list says. "The dark green leaves of summer turn to an orange-red in the fall, giving this small deciduous tree multi-season beauty and interest."

Another plant of merit in the same family as Peuser's Royal Raindrops crabapple is the Mary Potter crabapple, described as, "A compact, low-branched, broad-spreading crabapple that matures to be around 10 to 15 feet tall. With a profuse show of spring flowers, dark-green summer foliage and abundant production of bright-red crabapples in autumn, this is a great addition to the landscape."

Colorful, hearty

Beth Bloss, assistant manager at Earl May Nursery and Garden Center, 3200 Iowa, says an old standby still does the trick.

"Coneflowers right now are very popular because of their wide array of colors - white, orange, yellow and the usual purple," she says. "They do very well in Kansas and adapt to our climate. Sedums are also a wonderful sun plant; Autumn Joy has a beautiful pink bloom that attracts butterflies."

Judy Billings, a Douglas County Master Gardener and director of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, loves zinnias because they're colorful, hearty and showy from June to fall.

"I can bring them into the house as well as the office to friends who need cheering up," she says. "I also like crepe myrtle; it is showy late in the summer when many other flowers have faded. Native grasses are also great for a sunny location."

A native grass that is a plant of merit is prairie dropseed, a clump-forming prairie grass with fine, hairlike, medium-green leaves that grow in arching foliage mounds to 15 inches tall. "Foliage turns copper-gold in the fall; late-summer flowers bloom in airy panicles above the foliage and are noted for their corianderlike fragrance," the list says.

Asters and ninebark

Cyndi Mona, a Lawrence gardener, recommends Canadian chokecherry, which has purple foliage with new leaves that appear green and turn to purple as they mature.

"They have small white flowers in clusters around May. Plus the birds love the reddish-purple fruits," she says. "Diablo ninebark is another favorite, with its beautiful deep burgundy-colored leaves. Then it blooms either pink or white. The birds, bees and butterflies all love it as well." The ninebark also is a "Plant of Merit."

Asters grow well in the Kansas sun, too, and are described by the "Plants of Merit" folks as native to limestone glades and dry prairies.

"Asters produce an often profuse late-summer to fall bloom of 1-inch diameter daisylike flowers with purple rays and yellow centers. This is an excellent selection for wildflower gardens, naturalized areas, foundations or borders."

Lastly I'll mention the purple poppy mallow, another distinguished "Plant of Merit," described as "a low-growing perennial featuring cup-shaped, poppylike, bright magenta flowers and lobed dark-green leaves on stems that scramble along the ground to 3 feet wide. Flowers bloom from late spring to mid-summer, with some continued bloom into fall. An excellent, airy, flowering ground cover."

So, there you are. Surely there are a couple of suggestions here that would bolster your bright garden spot. They're all likely to flourish in these unpredictable Kansas conditions, brightening up even the sunniest of gardens.

- Jennifer Oldridge, a Kansas University graduate, is an avid gardener who previously operated a landscaping business.

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