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Plant for a floral banquet

Flowers, foliage and bedding plants abound


Now is the time to plant for the coming abundant harvest.

When savvy gardeners plot, plan and dream during winter’s dark and chill, it’s because they are eager to get back outdoors when the soil and temperatures warm again.

This year, look for annuals reflecting Pantone Color of the Year “Peach Fuzz” alongside lots of new and interesting foliage plants, said Margaret Pickoff, a commercial horticulture educator in the Bucks County office of Penn State Extension in Wrightstown.

Pickoff said the warm peachy pink tones in “Peach Fuzz” play well with other colors, creating options for mixing, matching and contrasting warm cozy colors with different textures.

Coleus are big players in the annual flower market game with newer varieties showcasing different colors, hues, variegated foliage and the ability to better withstand sun exposure.

Because many newer types have been bred to thrive in sunshine, check plant tags and place them in appropriate sun-to-shade conditions, Pickoff advises.

“There is some amazing coleus, which used to be considered a little boring and was really only used as a shade filler plant” in years past, she said. Not anymore.

Look for “Sangria Splash” and “Paprika” as well as the heat-tolerant “Solar” varieties.

The days of relegating coleus to filling in open patches in pots and containers — while they are still great as “fillers” — have grown to include starring roles in containers, too.

Foliage plants

With drama, texture, height and visual interest, foliage plants have become a popular way to create structure and integrate flowering plants in garden beds, pots and the landscape.

“Foliage plants continue to be really popular and breeders are paying attention to consumer demands for adding foliage to their containers and beds,” Pickoff said.

Rex begonia varieties are grown for their whorled leaf shapes, while sweet potato vine and caladium may also be grown for their foliage and colors.

“The coleus and Rex begonias have exploded in the variety of colors and sizes and ornamental features. We all love flowers, but I think using foliage gives you different design opportunities,” Pickoff said.

As foliage plants — both annuals and perennials — continue to add value in the garden, look for varieties that thrive in part shade and shaded spaces.

“If you have done a lot of clearing in your landscape and have planted new shrubs that aren’t big yet, some nice foliage plants can fill that void in until the shrubs grow out,” Pickoff said.

Don’t forget grasses, sedges

Ornamental grasses and sedges are popular and experiencing more demand among consumers.

“We consistently see (them) in the (Penn State) trials,” Pickoff said.

Pickoff said “Feather Falls” is versatile sedge with flower stalks that look more like grasses.

“They are resilient and can be planted in lots of different conditions. Another grass that has done well, Pennisetum “Fountain Grass” boasts tall flowing leaves with soft, feathery flower heads…and has a more dramatic flower stalk,” Pickoff said.

Penstemon, or beardtongue, is another sturdy native plant with flower stalks to consider adding to the garden and landscape.

More about perennials

Perennial shrubs can be used in a variety of ways, adding anchor points to beds and borders as well as color and interest in the landscape.

Pickoff said “Little Joe,” a newer version of Joe Pye Weed, is a dwarf variety with the potential to increase options for versatile perennial in gardens and landscapes.

“‘Little Joe’ scored really high in our trials last year,” Pickoff said.

Another tried-and-true perennial, Echinacea (coneflower) has made impressive gains in flower trials and with consumers. It’s available in a wide range of colors and some types have double flowers “which are impressive.”

Keep in mind that coneflower hybrids are not attractive to insects and wildlife, because they don’t look like native varieties, Pickoff explained.

Rudbeckia is another type of perennial coneflower, commonly known as Black-eyed Susan.

Pickoff recommends sedum varieties and portulaca (purslane) for sun-soaked, dry or rocky areas as these plants can hold up to hot dry summers and are resistant to periods of drought.

Annual flowers blossom

Hallmarks of the annual Penn State Flower Trials are classic garden favorites like begonias, impatiens, petunias and geraniums.

Pickoff is excited about the upcoming trials (June through August) and entries for lantana, which should include colors like mango, orange flame and passion fruit.

“If you are trying to incorporate some of that Pantone color (Peach Fuzz), there are many colors being developed… that are similar to it,” she said.

Calibrachoa “Million Bells” is another top performer, and they are offered “in very color imaginable,” Pickoff said.

For petunia fans calibrachoa is a great second option. Calibrachoa offers a sloping trailing habit and is lower maintenance than petunia varieties.

“Peach grenadine is a pale pink flower with a stark magenta center. There is no deadheading required, and they flower really prolifically,” Pickoff said.

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