Much like the fashion world, where styles come and go, plants are subject to the same sort of forces. Designers demand new colors, heights and textures. Growers are always trying to figure out which plants they need to grow, because the designers used it. Unlike the fashion world that is so fickle it has to change every 6 months, trends in plants change at a slower pace. But, they do change. Unfortunately it is not always for the better. We are recommending that gardeners take a second look at some oldies that are rock solid performers. Convincing the growers to turn back the clock, has not always been easy. Close to 20 years ago, I repeatedly requested that a local grower put Purple Heart Wandering Jew (Tradescantia pallida) into production. I was always being asked if we had some for sale. The grower laughed and said “No one wants that weed” and “Everyone grows that”. I asked several growers and kept getting similar responses…or was looked at, like I was daft. Finally someone listened and started growing it again. It is a great plant!
Death of a begonia
We know that home owners and landscapers get bored using the same things year after year. When we put our efforts and money into plants that fail, we vow never use it again. Then we go hunting for something better. Sometimes great plants fail, because of something WE did. A common victim of this situation, is the wax leaf begonia. Begonias are really tough and very drought tolerant. Since begonias have thick leaves and fleshy stems, they are very susceptible to staying too wet. If they are not allowed to dry out in between watering, begonias simply rot away. In years past, we sold hundreds of flats of begonias, because they worked in the sun or shade, if you planted the right variety. When growers stopped producing the “Scarletta” variety, sales of begonias took a dive. Houston was the only area of the country that wanted “Scarletta” and the seed growers were not willing to invest time and money into such a small market. They substituted other great varieties, but the market has not recovered. The “Cocktail” series does just as well as “Scarletta” and comes in 3 colors. Reconsider begonias, we think they are well worth the investment and are easy to grow.
A few other plants to reconsider are:
- Nandina’s are not your grandmother’s nandina any more. They come in many different heights and several new colors and forms. Some form tight balls others are cheery ground covers. Drive around an older neighborhood and you will see beautiful nandina in yards where everything else is dead.
- Aspidistra…stop groaning! This is the original house plant, from Victorian times. Evergreen, super drought and freeze tolerant, plus you only clean out or prune them once a year…how easy can a plant get?
- Elephant Ears offer a tropical look and are great space fillers. Perennial, drought and freeze tolerant plus easy to grow, need we say more?
- Canna lilies can’t be beat for their stunning color. Whether it comes from the flower or the foliage, they can be eye-popping. What about those worms they get, you ask? Canna leaf rollers are a major pest, but are easily controlled with Liquid Bt or Dipel Dust. Canna’s give you a huge bang for your buck and newer varieties, with their striking foliage, are coming out all the time.
This next group might surprise you!
- Camellias…yup, I said it! Camellias are surprisingly drought tolerant. Most people think that camellias are high maintenance and should only be attempted by experienced gardeners. We disagree! Yes, they like some shade and a well prepared bed (what plant doesn’t). But they also are evergreen, bloom in the winter and need less water than azaleas. Most summers we only water the potted camellias every other day, this year was different. They seem to do better with little to no mulch and come in lots of colors and forms. Some are even fragrant!
- Azaleas, don’t run for the smelling salts yet! So, your azaleas took a hit this year. A few of mine are looking poorly, but I planted them in April of this year (what was I thinking?). My George Tabor that has been in the full sun for 4 years looks great and I’m guessing that I watered it 20 times all summer. It got water only when I watered the grass (14 times) and when I saw it was beginning to wilt. My new ones, I watered a lot more…and they look rough. We are bringing back some old varieties that bloom twice a year (or more). Consider the blood-red “Midnight Flare”,with a nice compact habit and shiny leaves, they are stunning. “Summer Rose” is similar color to “Red Ruffles”, but is a little taller and has better foliage. “Jennifer” is similar to “Fashion” with much better foliage or “Hardy Gardenia” which has a confusing name but has beautiful, white flowers twice a year. The biggest mistake we see, with azaleas, is too much mulch. Yes, they like mulch, but not touching the plant itself.
- Althea are our hardiest type of hibiscus. Here at the nursery, they drive me nuts! They never look that good in a pot. It makes it hard to look a customer in the eye and to say “This is what you need”… and we still tend to over water them. Then there is the issue of aphids, who love althea. The best way to stop the aphids, is to use Dominion in February. Dominion is a systemic insecticide that lasts for 8 to 9 months (the bottle says up to a year, but we have such a long growing season). Dominion works like a charm for aphids on crape myrtles too. But, once they are in the ground, althea’s start to put on the show. Their pastel colored flowers are a favorite of butterflies and hummingbirds.
Next time your out and about, drive through some older neighborhoods. You’ll be able to spot many varieties of plants that have fallen from the spotlight. Yet, they still going strong in the city, where many of the upstarts have faded away. Remember, your grandma just might have been right about a thing or two.