Blooming bushes that are perfect for local climate
Two weeks ago I cut down a very large globe willow in my front yard. Under the shade of the tree there were raised beds containing beautiful, lush flower gardens. With the willow gone I was worried that the plants would not do well without the tree's protective shade. Well, guess what? The flowers look better than ever.
Now, I know that during the growing season most sun-loving flowering shrubs, perennials, and annuals require at least 5-6 hours of sun each day. I also know that plants require sun to produce the sugars necessary to form each flower and that more sun results in more flowers with better color. However, I never thought that so much more sun would make such a noticeable difference in those plants. Even experienced gardeners can be reminded of basic growing principles - right in their own raised beds.
There are two classic high mountain sun-loving shrubs that have been blooming throughout our area for at least a month. Luckily, both of these hardy plants will continue blooming through the fall. One is the Russian sage; the other is the butterfly bush. Although Russian sage was named after a Russian general, this member of the mint family is a native of Pakistan. A pretty, 4-foot high shrub, it is covered with lavender-colored flower spikes that make me think of super-sized lavender. With its gray-green foliage and attractive flower spikes, it makes an eye-catching accent in the herb garden or perennial border.
Russian sage should be cut back in winter to keep it from getting too leggy and top-heavy. I cut mine back to about knee-high in January, being careful not to cut it back too hard, because new growth comes from second-year wood. Although Russian sage is one of my recommended drought-hardy plants for our area, superior performance comes by putting the plant on a drip system and watering it once a week with about five gallons of water during summer.
A butterfly bush isn't an evergreen, but it's one of the last bushes to drop its foliage before cold weather and one of the first to put on new leaves late winter to early spring. The classic Arizona blue-green leaves mix well in chaparral areas with juniper and pinion pine. Like the Russian sage, this plant is a low-to-moderate water user and does well
when put on the same drip schedule as the sage. I have grown this plant with great success through all of Yavapai County. From the clay soil in Prescott Valley, the silt of Skull Valley and the granite of Prescott, this plant is a real winner. I just counted four different kinds of butterfly bushes at the garden center, each bush type with different-colored blooms.
For a sizzling contrast to either Russian sage or butterfly bush, try planting white perennials at their bases. Some that need care similar to sage and butterfly bush are nierembergia, dusty miller and gypsophila. These plants are attractive on their own, but really make striking companions to Russian sage and the colors of a butterfly bush.
If your plants don't have good color right now, try feeding them with a good dose of fertilome's Start-N-Grow. This is the perfect food for those plants that are showing yellow leaves or just are not performing the way they should. This easy-to-use granular slow-release food works well on any plant that appears to be struggling. Over the next three months it will release its nutrients, promoting thicker foliage and more flowers. For really great water-saving, put it on now and allow the monsoon rains to do a thorough distribution for you.
Each week, about 3,800 local gardeners receive my emails with timely garden information and advice for gardening in our area. If you crave local gardening news, how-to advice and garden alerts, you should be on my mailing list. Go to www.wattersonline.com, click on the 'Personal Gardener Newsletter' link, and add your name to the address book.
I like knowing your concerns, questions and thoughts about future topics for this column. Mail them to me at Watters Garden Center, 1815 Iron Springs Road, Prescott, AZ 86305, or through my website, www.wattersonline.com. Just click on the 'Ask a Question' link, enter your contributions and hit "submit."
Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.
Ken Lain, owner of Watters Garden Center in Prescott, is a master gardener and certified nursery professional who has gardened extensively throughout Yavapai County.