Now is the time to start planning for the color punch that most gardeners want in the upcoming warm summer season.
This weekend will be the first big opportunity to look at the newest and brightest of the summer color when the Garden Extravaganza garden show kicks off March 18 to 20 at the Trade Mart in Jackson. Shows like this give home gardeners the opportunity to look at a lot of plants in one convenient location. More and more summer color is starting to show up in the garden centers, so don't get left behind, having to choose from the leftovers.
I know one group of plants I'm going to be giving a good look is the calibrachoa. Who doesn't like a plant with a common name like Million Bells? These plants look great in containers and hanging baskets.
There will be lots of great-looking selections, but there is one group I really prefer. These plants combine the best of petunias and calibrachoas, so of course they're called Superbells. They are tough plants with good summer heat tolerance. One of the attributes I like about Superbells is that, after a rainstorm, they will recover and perk up faster than many other summer-flowering annuals.
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I'm really impressed with the wide range of colors available in Superbells that will surely fit into every gardener's landscape scheme. Here are a few of my absolute favorites. Cherry Star has flowers that are a bright cherry red with a yellow starburst in the center. Saffron has golden-yellow flowers with red highlights that look almost hand-painted in the center. Of course, this list is not all-inclusive.
A newer selection is called Holy Moly! I think those were my exact words when I first saw this plant. The flowers are kind of a mashup of mottled yellow and cherry-red bicolor.
One of the better performers in my landscape has been Pomegranate Punch. This variety has deep velvet-red petals and an almost black center eye. It is heat tolerant all summer long, which is greatly appreciated in my landscape. It thrives in south Mississippi as the petunias start to fade late in the summer.
These plants will grow up to 10 inches high, and the trailing and spreading growth will hang out over the edges of the container. While these plants can be planted in the landscape, I think they are much better in hanging baskets and containers.
To keep the plants blooming all summer, be sure to feed them with a balanced, controlled-release fertilizer. A tablespoon in the planting hole will get the plants off to a good start. Regular applications of water-soluble fertilizer will maintain the nutrition at optimum levels to keep the foliage dark green and flowering nonstop.
Use sharp scissors at planting and snip the branches sparsely to encourage full-looking growth. During the summer, the plants may open up, so go ahead and give them an overall trim. Superbells are tolerant of this pruning, which will stimulate more growth. In fact, trim any time the plants get a little untidy. Be sure to add fertilizer right after these trimmings.
Gary Bachman is a professor of horticulture at the Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi.