Four of my Favorite Plants and Why you’ll Love Them, too!
I recently sent out a survey to my email list and several people replied and told me they enjoy hearing about my favorite plants and why I love them, so I thought I’d do one post today and another next week on my favorite flowering plants, why I love them, and why you might want to give them a try too! Be sure to stay tuned for Part 2 next Tuesday.
Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus)
You *might* have guessed this from my logo (and, yes, I’m cheating a little because sunflowers aren’t perennials. Don’t tell)! I absolutely love sunflowers for their cheery yellow color and how easy they are to care for. There’s just nothing better than driving by an entire field of them when they’re blooming. As a bonus, they give the bees and butterflies lots of pollen when they’re blooming, and the birds (and us!) lots of yummy seeds to eat later.
You can find sunflower varieties that are tiny (only a couple of feet tall) all the way up to the giants that top 12 feet! There are yellow ones and red ones, even some that appear almost purple. Check out this site for some beautiful pictures!
Some Important Warnings
I will warn you that deer LOVE sunflowers! I lost all of my seedlings last year to the furry fiends, so they’re going inside my vegetable garden (with its nice tall fence) this year!
I should also mention that sunflowers can be harmful to the growth of pole beans and potatoes, so be sure to keep them separated should you decide to put them with your vegetables like I’m doing.
Lastly, there are now multiple varieties of pollenless sunflowers available. This is great if you want pretty cut flowers without pollen on them, but not so great for bees and butterflies. Although the flowers still produce nectar, they don’t produce pollen, which the pollinators need as well.
Pollenless sunflowers are sterile, and therefore won’t, on their own, produce seeds, so if you’d like to avoid them, be sure to purchase a variety known for great seeds. Heirloom varieties will, of course, have pollen as well.
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Planting, Fertilizing & Harvest
It’s best to plant your seeds directly in the garden unless your growing season is very short, as sunflowers have deep tap roots. If you must start them inside, put them in individual biodegradable pots that can be planted directly into the garden.
Plant your seeds after all danger of frost is past in well-drained soil (they don’t like to be water-logged, I lost an entire crop one year to soggy soil) to which you’ve added some compost or other organic matter. You don’t want to overfertilize your plants as it can make the stems weak, but some nice compost in the soil before planting will be good for them.
If birds or small furry critters try to eat your planted seeds, lay some netting or fine screen over the soil until they sprout.
Really, that’s it for care, other than to be sure, as with most other plants, they receive about an inch of water a week. You’ll also want to stake any variety that gets over 3 feet tall because once the seed heads get heavy, they can easily snap the stems, especially in wind and rain.
If you’d like to let the birds and squirrels have your seeds, just let things be or even cut the seed heads off and lay them on the ground. If you’d like to end up with some or all of the seeds, put some lightweight garden fleece over the seed heads to protect them.
This is the variety I’m trying this year, I’ll keep you posted!
Peonies (Paeonia spp.)
I’m a total sucker for peonies because they remind me of heirloom English roses. I have a terrible time growing roses because I just don’t have the time to give them enough attention (at least I think that’s the problem), but peonies don’t need much (or any!) attention, so they do just fine.
The fragrance is just amazing! I have some that are very sweet-smelling and delicate, while others have a richer, spicier scent, almost like cloves. The funny thing is, the delicate-smelling ones are lighter in color, while the spicier ones are a very deep, rich magenta. Coincidence? I have no idea!
When we moved into this house, I was cleaning up by our stone wall and discovered a dozen peony plants that had been thoroughly buried in huge weeds for several years. Yes, they had stopped blooming, but were otherwise healthy, and as soon as I moved them to a place where they received the sunshine they needed, they started blooming like crazy and have been doing so ever since (10 years and counting!)
Peonies are very long-lived plants (like, 50+ years long-lived), and they don’t particularly like to be moved (although it is possible, and you’ll want to do it in the fall, if necessary), so it’s best to plant them where you’d like them to stay long-term.
There are several types of peonies, including herbaceous, tree, Itoh (hybrid of herbaceous and tree) and woodland, but I’m familiar with and have grown two of them: herbaceous and tree peonies, so I’ll talk about just these two.
You’re probably most familiar with herbaceous peonies, as these are the commonly grown ones. I’m totally in love with the double and triple-flowered ones. This is one of my favorites, and one I grow in my garden. This may be the one I have with the wonderful clove-like fragrance, although I don’t know for sure because it was one I dug and moved when we first got here, so I never had any knowledge of the variety.
Tree peonies are beautiful as well. As their name suggests, they grow more like trees. This is the one I have. It has yellow flowers and will eventually get 5 feet tall or so, although I’ve only had it a few years, so it’s not that big yet. The flowers are enormous, though!
Peony Care, Feeding & Such
Peonies are, as with sunflowers, very easy to grow and require little care. You’ll want to plant them initially in full sun in soil amended with some well-composted manure. They also benefit from a side-dressing of compost or organic matter each spring.
When you plant, don’t plant too deeply as that will inhibit flowering. Two inches deep in the North and one inch deep in the South is sufficient.
As with other plants, an inch of water a week is good all summer. I haven’t had to give them any supplemental water here in Zone 6b in the 10 years we’ve been here, although I imagine it would be crucial in the South.
Speaking of the South, herbaceous peonies aren’t really hot weather plants, and don’t do well in hardiness zones warmer than the cooler parts of Zone 8 (apparently this is around northern Alabama). They can be grown all the way into Zone 3, though, for my colder climate friends. My warmer weather friends might like to try tree peonies or Itoh peonies, which can be grown successfully into Zone 9.
Peonies are susceptible to Botrytis blight and Phytophthora (not exactly THAT Phytophthora, the one I talked about here, but of the same genus). If your leaves or stems start turning black, give this article a look-see for some good information on what to do. You should, of course, immediately remove and destroy any diseased tissue (DO NOT COMPOST as the spores can survive and infect other plants).
Another much more common disease is powdery mildew. This shows up as a grayish film on the leaves. I see this on my peonies late every summer, but the good news is, it doesn’t seem to affect the health of the plants at all. I don’t treat or worry about it.
Not typically known for their flowers (although some are quite showy), hostas are awesome plants to grow if you love textured and different-colored foliage and need some help with shady spots in your yard. If you’d like a peek at the vast array of varieties available, take a look here.
Again, you might notice a trend with my favorites in that they’re extremely easy to care for. In fact, I have to admit that I plant them and basically forget about them and they do just fine.
Hostas are also great in that, after several years, you can dig them up and divide them and you’ll have lots more plants to either replant or give away. However, they’re not invasive, nor do they spread beyond their own clump, so you don’t have to worry about them taking over, and if you’d rather just leave them alone, they’re okay with that too.
Hostas do best in partial shade, and protection from hot afternoon sun, especially in the South, is a must.
I have hostas in my front garden that were initially in the shade, but then we lost our large, old Japanese Maple tree in an ice storm (not nice!), so those hostas are now in full sun. They haven’t missed a beat, but I think the fact that they were already well-established and we live in Zone 6 might be why they’re still doing well. My flower bed is also well-mulched and planted rather thickly with lots of plants, so their roots are well-shaded and protected.
Hostas will grow in Zones 3 through 9, but again, the farther south you go, the more shade they need.
They benefit from well-drained soil with some organic matter added, as with most plants. They also prefer a little more water than most, with 1 1/2 inches a week in partial shade, and more in more sun, ideal.
I have to admit I don’t water my hostas. This is because we’re on a well and therefore have limited water. The veggie plants require water to produce a harvest, so my other plants don’t get much supplemental water. They really don’t seem to care though.
Wisteria (Wisteria spp.)
Wisteria is an absolutely stunning vining plant with amazing, fragrant purple blooms. There are several varieties, including Chinese (Wisteria sinensis), Japanese (Wisteria floribunda) and American (Wisteria frutescens). Both Chinese and Japanese are nonnative and considered invasive, while the American variety is native to Eastern North America.
Chinese and Japanese wisteria are both strongly, although pleasantly, scented, while American wisteria flowers do not have a scent.
I must admit that my wisteria is either a Chinese or Japanese variety, because I didn’t know about its invasive nature until after I planted it, but I am careful to keep it trimmed.
You absolutely never want to let a nonnative wisteria (or any wisteria really), climb trees or your house. They can smother or break the trees (yes, they’re that strong!) and do damage to your house.
I’ve also found that mine only blooms once every 3 years or so, as the buds aren’t very cold-hardy, and I’ve never seen seed pods on it. I may, at some point, plant an American wisteria, because they’re apparently a bit more cold-hardy, and I’m really addicted to these amazing flowers.
Care of Wisteria
If you’ve ever seen a wisteria or grown one, you know how fast they can grow. I sometimes think I can actually see mine growing!
You’ll need a VERY sturdy structure to grow your wisteria on, as you can see in the picture below. This is the trunk of my 7-year-old wisteria growing up the structure my hubby made. The structure is made with 4×4 lumber and the wisteria has begun to deform it. They’re BIG, STRONG plants!
Your other option is to train your wisteria to become a tree. I did this with the one I had at my old house and it was very pretty. One warning, though, you’ll have to be really diligent in pruning and removing suckers because they do grow so fast. Prune in late winter and leave two to three buds on each branch, then again after flowering and possibly several more times during the summer to keep it under control.
Apparently even American wisteria is a really aggressive grower, so don’t assume you won’t have to worry about pruning if you should go that route.
Wisteria, whether American, Chinese or Japanese, is hardy in Zones 5-9, although as I mentioned, I’ve had rather unreliable flowering here in Zone 6 because a late frost will often zap the buds just before they bloom.
As with many other plants, full sun, well-drained soil with a bit of added organic matter and about 1 inch of water per week will make your plant happy. Again, it’s a very easy to grow plant with not a lot of care required, other than the aforementioned pruning.
NOTE: All parts of the wisteria plant are toxic, particularly the seeds and seed pods. If you have kids or animals frequenting your yard, cutting off and disposing of the seed pods is a very good idea.
ANOTHER NOTE: I want to mention that not all of these plants are native in my area, and some are invasive in certain parts of the country. My aim with this post isn’t to tell you that you should definitely grow every one of these in every area of the country, but rather to share with you my favorites.
You should ALWAYS do your research before planting to make sure anything you put in is compatible with your area and is not listed as invasive. If the particular plant you want is invasive, there are often alternatives you can use, and I’ll mention those when possible.
I hope you’ve enjoyed Part One of my Favorite Flowering Plants. Stay tuned next week for Part Two! As always, you’ll find some pinnable images below. Be sure to pin them to any appropriate boards so you remember to come back later!
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