Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Newbie List

My co-worker asked me a simple question today: “I have a small bed in my front yard and I want some pretty plants. What should I plant? Those pink flowers (snapdragons) out back of the office are really pretty . . . “ I think I scared the woman with my exuberance. “Nooo!!! That is a winter annual! It will totally die in a few months, no matter what you do!” As I rattled off some names of this and that to get and this and that to avoid, her eyes got wider and wider. She was never going to remember any of it. “Never mind,” I told her, “I’ll email you a list.”

All the way home I thought about it, because this is a question a Garden Geek like me lives for. This woman is not a gardener. She isn’t going to read up on a plant or seek out info online. She just wants to have a small garden bed look good with as little money and work as possible. So here are my criteria for a Newbie Plant List for Central Florida:

1. Simple basic plants that you can find anywhere. Go into any big box store, ask any random clerk where this plant is located, and chances are they’ll be able to find it for you. They also have to be cheap, with bonus points if they reproduce easily. (Sorry Gunnera)

2. They can stand the extreme heat Florida often has. They can take a drought, a flood, and a drought again without a lot of babying. They will look good most of the summer with minimal work. Bonus points if they can take a frost too. (Impatiens - that means you’re out)

3. They have to have pretty flowers. There plenty of really attractive grasses and shrubs out there, but for the newbie, they are kind of boring. I will make the exception for plants with leaves so colorful, they might as well be flowers. (Mondo grass - you’re great but dull as dishwater.)

So here’s my Newbie list:

African Iris: This plant has grass-like leaves with white flowers. It has done very well during the freezes and can take both droughts and floods well. Blooms year round. Clumps will get larger over the years and you can divide them for more plants.

Daylilies: This plant did well with the recent frosts, and I’m very excited to stock up on them this year. They are grass-like, with flowers that range in color from white to deep purple, although yellow, red and orange are most common. Blooms from mid-April to mid-June.

Pentas: Butterfly and hummingbird magnets. Look nice all summer. Might die back during frosts, but during relatively mild winters (like ones with no snow,) they will come back for another year. They bloom all year and come in white, pink, hot pink and purple.

Coleus: This plant is grown for its very colorful leaves. They come in kinds of colors, deep purple, red, lime green and my favorite, hot pink. Very easy to grow from cuttings. They will die in the winter.

Vinca: Downside: These are true summer annuals that only good from April to about October and tend to fade if we get too much rain. They will die in the winter. Upside: They do well in a drought. They multiply like rabbits from cuttings and seeds. One sturdy plant can fill a garden bed by the end of a season.

Persian Shield: No flowers, but purple and silver leaves I really love. Propagates well from cuttings. It will die to the ground, but in snow-less winters it will come back. Jury is still out if mine made it through the winter, but if it didn’t, I will be buying more.

Salvia: This plant comes a wide variety of colors and types. They come in colors ranging from purple to blue to red and pink. Mine come back year after year from seeds.

Avoid winter annuals: Snapdragons, Petunias and Pansies. Plant them in October.

There is my highly subjective, totally incomplete Newbie list. What should I add?

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