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Marvelous May Plant Color

Marvelous May Plant Color

By James Kilkelly

Many plants vie for my attention during the month of May. Here are four of my favorites.

Kolkwitzia amablis “Pink Cloud"

pink cloudKolkwitzia amablis “Pink Cloud is commonly known as the “Beauty bush”. This fast growing deciduous shrub is a native of China and grows to an ultimate height of 3 meters (9ft); with a spread of approx 2.5 meters (7 to 8 ft). Because of this size and it’s slightly old fashioned mounded look it is not a shrub I see planted in many new gardens. This is unfortunate as the “Beauty bush” lives up to its name whilst in flower. For at least the 3 weeks you can expect to see showy masses of bell shaped pink flowers with a yellow throat. These flowers are held amongst its small oval grey-green leaves on slightly arching branches. Kolkwitzia amablis “Pink Cloud requires a position that receives upwards of 4 hours sunlight a day in a soil that is limey or alkaline.

If you are looking for a specimen shrub or a larger shrub for the rear of a bed then do not over-look this old time stalwart.

Ribes Sanguineum

redflowerRibes sanguineum commonly known as the “Flowering Currant”. This large deciduous shrub can have ultimate height of 3 meters (9ft); with a spread of approx 3 meters (9ft). A native to the United States, it is frost hardy and right now is laden down with pendulous reddish pink flowers. These flowers which resemble miniature bunches of grapes are held amongst light green leaves from mid to late spring. Both the flowers and leaves are scented, the leaves especially so when bruised or crushed. The “Flowering Currant” is mostly used in the mixed border as a showy specimen plant although I have also used it in whip planting schemes to good effect. If you would like to cut some flowering stems to bring indoors, they will last approx 6 to 10 days. To ensure quick growth plant in a position with full to partial sun and an adequate supply of water. I would highly recommend this shrub if you have a problem growing plants due to air pollution as it is very resistant to exhaust fumes etc.

Two varieties to look out for are “Pulborough Scarlet” and “King Edward VII”

Cornus alternifolia “Argenta”

cornusCornus alternifolia “Argenta” is commonly known as the “Variegated pagoda dogwood”. Originating in Asia, its common name relates to its shape which resembles a sacred tower in China. This large deciduous shrub or small tree can have ultimate height of 3 meters (9ft); with a spread of approx 2 meters (6ft). Within the next week its layers of slim branches are dotted with clusters of star shaped yellowish-white flowers, followed by blue-black fruits. A special mention for the bright green leaves edged yellow which turn reddish-purple in autumn. You can use the “Variegated pagoda dogwood” as a large specimen shrub or as a small tree simply by removing any lower branches as they appear, this will create a clear stem and a showy canopy. To ensure quickest growth you must position this plant in full sun. I would highly recommend this dogwood if you have limited space and require a tree that will not over-power you garden.

Many garden centers may not have it in stock but it is only a phone-call to their suppliers away, and well worth waiting for.

Alyssum Saxitile

basket of goldThe clump forming perennial Alyssum saxitile is commonly known as the “Basket of gold”. This native of Europe is evergreen and grows no higher than 20 cm (8 inches); it has a spread of approx 30cm (1ft). Because of its size and its ability to tolerate drought it is ideal for planting in cracks in your paving, crevices in your walls and of course in the rockery. For at least the next 4 weeks you can expect to see clusters of tiny vibrant yellow flowers above its grey-green leaves. Alyssum saxitile requires a position which drains freely and receives upwards of 4 hours sunlight a day.

If you would like to attract some butterflies to your garden then plant clusters of Alyssum throughout, sit back and watch as the yellow flowers draw them in.

James Kilkelly runs a professional garden design service in Galway, Ireland. He has a regular gardening column in an Irish regional newspaper. Visit his website at He also regularly posts his expert advice on a gardening forum at

Article's original location: Marvelous May Plant Color

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Taking Care of Your Holiday Plants

Taking Care of Your Holiday Plants

By Donna Evans

With the approaching of the holidays many people will be bringing home brightly colored plants to add to the festive atmosphere. Taking proper care of the plants will help to keep them looking good throughout the holiday season and with proper care your plants can last for several weeks or even a few months.

A plant that has been a traditional holiday favorite for years is the Poinsettia. They are now available in various leaf and flower colors. Make sure you start out right by buying a healthy plant. Select a poinsettia that has dark green foliage. If you choose a plant that has lots of color it will not develop much additional color after it leaves the store. The yellow flowers in the center of the colored bracts should be small and bright. Make sure to look carefully for any signs of insects and avoid any plants that have spotting on the leaves. Once you bring the plant home they need strong sunlight to develop their deep color. Blooming plants will maintain their color if in strong, indirect light.

Keep the plant evenly moist, but there should not be standing water in the plant’s saucer. This might require watering two to three times a week. Water the plant thoroughly and after 15 minutes empty any water that is standing in the saucer. Poinsettias prefer temperatures in the range of 60 to 70 degrees once their color has developed, but they do not like drafty areas. Once the flowers start blooming give them a liquid fertilizer once very two weeks.

One thing to know is that poinsettias are not poisonous. This is a folk tale that has been around for over 70 years. The plants are not meant to be eaten, but studies show they are not poisonous to humans or animals. Another mistaken belief is that the red leaves of the plant are the flowers. These are actually brightly colored leaves and the rather insignificant yellow buds in the center of the plant are the actual flowers.

Another plant that can add some color for the holiday is an Amaryllis. This plant is typically bought as a bulb. The bulb should be planted in a pot that is just slightly bigger than the bulb, just make sure that the pot has good drainage. Use a good potting soil, but only cover about 1/3 of the bulb. Once planted make sure you water thoroughly. Once the plant starts to actually grow place it in a sunny window. Water whenever the soil is dry to the touch. After the plant has bloomed, cut back the flower stalk, but not the leaves. You can then continue to grow the plant as you would any other house plant.

Paperwhite Narcissus is also a holiday plant that starts out as a bulb. Narcissus bulbs should be planted in a pot with good drainage. The bulbs should be placed close together with their pointed end up. Leave the top half of the bulbs uncovered. Once planted, water the bulbs thoroughly. Place the pot in a well lit, but cool room. Once the shoots are about an inch tall the plant can be moved to a warmer room.

Christmas cactus
For a different twist on a holiday plant try a Christmas cactus. These plants are easy to care for and can have flower colors that are shades of pink, yellow, salmon or white. The cactus can adapt to low levels of light, however, it will bloom more in higher light levels. Christmas cactus is not a true cactus and is not quite as drought tolerate as other cactus plants. The plant should be watered thoroughly when the top half of the soil is dry. Feed the plant every two to three weeks. Plants that are exposed to drafts, over watering or are too close to a heat source may drop their buds.

Christmas tree
And a note about the most traditional of holiday plants, the Christmas tree. When bringing home a freshly field cut tree it should have a new cut about one inch from the old base. Having a fresh cut will remove any clogged wood that may not readily absorb water. Depending on the size of the tree, it may absorb up to a gallon of water the first day you have its in the tree stand. Always make sure there is plenty of water in the tree stand. To keep the needles fresh longer you may want to consider spraying the tree with Wilt-Pruf or another type of antiranspirant. These are clear films which slow water loss from the needles. Insects can hitch a ride on your tree. To prevent bugs from coming into your home, shake the tree and bounce it on the pavement a few times before bringing it indoors. If you see signs of insects, spray the tree with a insecticide containing pyrethrins before bringing it indoors.

Plants add color, texture, and smells to your holiday festivities. Spending time to get to know what your plants need will add to your enjoyment throughout the holiday season.

Donna Evans is co-owner of Gizmo Creations LLC, a landscape design and website design firm. Gizmo Creations has designed landscapes throughout the midwest and on the west coast. Anyone with questions on plants or landscaping should check out the landscape design forum at

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What are Annuals and Biennials?

What are Annuals and Biennials?

By Michael Russell

annualsTrue annuals are plants that will complete their life cycle within twelve months of sowing. Biennials require two growing seasons to do so and are usually sown in summer to flower during the following spring and summer.

Many other plants that botanists would define as perennial can be treated as annuals, although some are half-hardy and, while able to flower well for a single season, are not hardy enough to be used for more than one year. Half-hardy annuals are generally raised in a greenhouse, then 'pricked out' (transplanted, a few centimeters apart in larger boxes) and grown under protection before being planted out.

The winter hardiness of biennials depends on the district where they are to be grown. But there are significant advantages in planting out in late summer or autumn for all those hardy enough to winter well. For example Canterbury Bells that are planted outside as transplants in the autumn will flower well the following summer, but if planted out in the spring they tend not to flower until twelve months later!! Sweet Williams behave in a similar way.

Biennials are usually sown in a seedbed in the open, or in boxes in a frame or greenhouse, and transplanted as seedlings. They are then put in their final quarters in late autumn, as in the case of Wallflowers which do best in cool regions. It is quite important to plant out forget-me-nots and cinerarias in the autumn, as both of these flower early and therefore need to be planted out well ahead of flowering time.

Cinerarias are suitable only for areas free from frost but in such areas they are very showy and they are particularly useful for shady gardens. There are short, medium and tall types and the color range is wide. Especially good are the rich blue shades.

Plants that are not frost hardy include Begonia semperflorens, coleus and impatiens. The latter have become extremely popular plants. They are available in both short and taller varieties and also in numerous double flowered cultivars, which are mainly propagated by cuttings. Impatiens grow well in full sun if watered or in shade and are popular container plants for patios.

Hardy biennials are plants that are sown the year before they are expected to flower. They are raised in a seedbed outdoors or in a cool, shady frame and may be thinned out or transplanted when large enough. For best results planting out should be done in the autumn. If they are bought from the garden center in punnets or seedling trays, plant them out early in the season. Even in areas where the winters are mild, planting at that colder time will result in small flowering plants, except perhaps with pansies and violas.

Annuals that can be sown directly in well prepared flowerbeds and which come quickly into flower are bound to be popular if they are capable of sustaining flowering for a lengthy period of time. There are numerous suitable varieties to choose from and in most cases they may be sown in boxes and transplanted. Before sowing time, prepare the growing site. If the soil is lumpy and heavy, compost should be worked in and planting mix applied to the surface. Then choose a dry day, apply a little general fertilizer and rake it in. Seed can be broadcast or it can be sown in shallow drills.

Some seedlings can be safely transplanted but the following do not transplant easily: clarkia, eschscholzia, godetia, gypsophila, linaria, nigella and poppies.

Half hardy annuals must be raised in a frame or greenhouse or in a few cases sown outside after the danger of frost has passed.

Germination time varies, and most kinds require pricking out into boxes or pots of potting compost. Some of the seeds such as lobelia, begonias and petunias are very small and need to be sown carefully and kept out of direct sunlight.

Nowadays the numerous garden centers often do all this work for you offering a good range of these plants n punnets ready for planting. But it may be that you want to use seed collected from your own garden, or wish to grown varieties unavailable in punnets. In any case you will find that raising your own seedlings can add a great deal of interest to your garden.

Michael Russell

Your Independent guide to Gardening

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