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Annual Vinca (Catharanthus roseus)

One of my favorite summer annuals is vinca.

 

Stop by any nursery this time of year, and you will find flats full of their vibrant blooms, and there are many different colors available.

 

From purples and pinks to bright reds.

Vinca works excellent in containers or when planted in the ground.  They prefer well-drained soil in a warm, sunny area.
 
This warm-season annual enjoys regular watering and does best with some fertilizer, but don’t overdo it.  I usually apply a slow-release fertilizer when planting and follow up with monthly applications of a liquid fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro.  If you want to go organic, then you can just use a mixture of good potting soil mixed with compost.  
 

Now some of you may have had the experience of growing beautiful vinca one year and the next year; you have a terrible time with them. Shortly after planting you notice your vinca beginning to wilt, and no amount of water seems to help.

Has this happened to you? Extra water will not help because the vinca is suffering from a case of ‘Vinca Wilt’.  This is not the scientific term, but for those of you who like long scientific names, your vinca is likely the victim of a Phytophthora fungus, which affects the roots, preventing them from absorbing water – hence the dried out look of the vinca.  
 
This fungus lives in the soil and infects the roots, causing them to rot. It loves moist conditions, and so more water hastens the demise of vinca.  
 
So, what can you do? The fungal spores can last for months or even years in the soil. You can usually rely on one good year of vinca growth, but then the spores start to multiply, and by the next year, they begin to affect your new plants.
 
 
I recommend using vinca for one year and then use something different the next three years. Of course, you can remove all the soil from your containers and sterilize the inside with a bleach water mixture and then add new soil, which can work for a few containers at home, but it is not cost-effective in a larger setting.  For me, it is not worth it either, because there are so many other beautiful summer annuals that you can use. 
 
I hope this solves any mystery surrounding vinca.  They are beautiful and well worth growing – for a year at least.
 

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May has arrived, and you may notice that your container plants aren’t looking to hot right now.  Petunias, pansies and snapdragons usually start to dry out and droop as the weather approaches the century mark. 


It is time to switch out your winter flowering annuals for those that can handle our summer sun and heat.


This is always somewhat bittersweet for me.  I do not like tearing out beautiful flowers.  They have performed so beautifully for me since last October.



But the truth is, is that if I don’t pull them out, the heat will finish them off sooner or later.  Also, it is helpful to plant summer flowers before the heat arrives so that they can have time to establish before dealing with the stress of summer temperatures.  

And so for those reasons, I gritted my teeth and began pulling.


Now, I am ready to start with a clean slate or should I say, clean soil.  

Now, not all of the following photos are particularly beautiful, but are helpful in illustrating how I planted my new summer flowers, which will look great soon.

Now, I couldn’t find my small hand spade this morning, which is probably a result of having four children still living at home.  I am sure one of them knows where it is, but they were at school and so I improvised.


Okay, I realize that those of you who have had the opportunity to come over and eat at my house may never do so again after seeing me use my large serving spoon.  But, it really worked out ideally and I put it in the dishwasher afterwards 😉

First, I dug up the top 6 inches of soil, taking care to remove large clumps of roots.


**I warned you that some of the pictures were not going to be particularly pretty….

The next step was to add 6 inches of compost and mix it in with the existing soil.  Unfortunately, I do not have my own compost pile, so I used bagged compost available at my local nursery.  The brand is not important, just use what your nursery has in stock.

 
I made a single hole for my new plant, which is 1-gallon in size, instead of the smaller sizes – I’ll explain more about that later.  I made sure that I did not add too much soil, because I do not want to deal with soil overflowing whenever I water.


The area my pots are located in faces west and receives afternoon sun in the afternoon.  As a result, I need to use a plant that can withstand the intense sun and heat of summer.  From my experience around golf courses and commercial landscapes, Lantana and Vinca do best.  

Last year, I planted Vinca and so this year, I will use Lantana.  Since it is not always easy to find Lantana in a small size, I just purchased a single 1-gallon Lantana for each container.


Now, I must admit that the picture on the plant tag, does not exactly match the flowers.  But, they have not opened up completely, so we will see what they look like.


Okay, I admit that it does not look too impressive right now.  You may be asking why I am not adding any more to the pot?  Well, first of all, my tastes are somewhat simple.  But, the major reason is that the Lantana will grow rapidly and cover the bare areas very quickly.  

Soon, it will hopefully look like this one….


The last and maybe best reason that I love to use Lantana in containers is that when I dig them up in the fall, (in order to plant winter/spring flowers), is that I can plant the Lantana in my garden and enjoy them year-round.

What summer flowers are you planting in your containers?

Today, I visited our local big box store to buy some summer annuals for my containers.  Each time I visit, I mentally prepare myself ahead of time because I usually get frustrated at the fact that they frequently sell the wrong plants for the wrong time of year.  I have posted about this before, which you can read here if you like.

In the meantime, I thought I would give you a pop-quiz.  I know, I know….no one likes pop quizzes.  In high school, those words would create a sinking feeling in my stomach every time.  But I promise, I will give you the answers and I am an easy grader 😉
 
The following are flowers that were offered for sale today.   Some are summer annuals for our area and some are winter annuals, which will soon die from the coming summer heat.  Are you ready for the quiz?  There are two possible answers for each question – summer or winter flower. 
 Petunias
Winter or Summer Annual?
  
Celosia
 Winter or Summer Flowers?
 
Vinca
Winter or Summer?
 
Lobelia
Winter or Summer Annual?
 
 
Verbena
Winter or Summer Flowers?
 
Alyssum
Winter or Summer?
 
 
Impatiens
Winter or Summer Annual?
 
Red Salvia
Winter or Summer?
 
Begonia
Winter or Summer Flower?
 
Portulaca
Winter or Summer Annual?
 
I told you I would give you the answers, so here they are:
 
Petunias – Winter
Celosia – Summer
Vinca – Summer
Lobelia – Winter
Verbena – Summer
Alyssum – Winter
Impatiens – Winter
Red Salvia – Summer
Begonia – Winter
Portulaca – Summer
 
How did you do?  It is not easy to tell looking at the flowers which one will do well in summer and which ones do best in winter. 
 
I do go to big box stores and buy plants because they are usually inexpensive.  BUT, I DO NOT rely on their advice or the fact that if they are carrying certain plants, that they are appropriate to plant at that time of year.  Shopping at big box store nurseries only works if you do your research ahead of time.  Just because they have a plant on display does not mean that it will survive for long in your garden.
For example, the big box store had winter and summer annual flowers displayed right next to each other (above).  There was no way to know that the one on the right would survive the summer and that the one on the left would soon be dead from the summer heat.
 
If you are uncertain about what plants to purchase, then I recommend doing your own research OR going to a local nursery, where you may pay a little more, but you can receive expert advice on the right type of plant to plant the right time of year.
 
I ended up buying two Radiation lantana for my front containers.  Lantana are great summer flowers and I then transplant them into my garden in the fall.
 
**Butterfly update – the caterpillars are still within their chrysalis.  I am hoping they emerge early next week.  I have had to bring them indoors the past two nights because the temperatures have dropped below 55 degrees.  I will keep you updated 🙂
 
I hope you all have a great weekend!

Geraniums

Last week, on a trip to our local big box store, I was greeted by the pallets loaded with beautiful, red geraniums.  This is a sight that made me angry.
 

You may be wondering why on earth the sight of beautiful flowers made me angry.  Well, I do love flowers, (obviously… I’m a horticulturist) –  so that is not what made me mad.

What if I told you that most of the annual flowers that were on display at the beginning of April, are the same kind of flowers that were for sale in September and October.

Petunias

Now, if you take a minute to consider this, you come to the conclusion that the annual flowers that the big box stores are being offered for sale in early April – just in time for summer.  That doesn’t make much sense does it?

Well, winter annuals are called “winter annuals” for a reason….because they grow in the winter, NOT in the summer.  They cannot handle our hot summers here in the desert.

You may think that this problem does not apply to you if you don’t live in the desert and your summers do not get as hot as ours.  Well, I hate to inform you that this problem occurs all over the US.  

Violas

I love Violas, but these beautiful hanging violas that were hanging outside of the nursery department will be toast, literally, in just a couple of months.  My violas that have been growing beautifully since late October, are starting to show signs of stress with the couple of 80+ days we have experienced last week. 

And so, this is what makes me angry this time of year, when I enter the nursery section of my big box store.  The winter annual flowers are beautifully laid out in order to entice shoppers as they enter.  You can see the shoppers envisioning how beautiful their gardens will be once they add some of these colorful flowers.  

 

Marigolds, Alyssum, and Petunias

 What they do not realize is that in two months, the alyssum and petunias, pictured above, will be dead and their money wasted. **Interestingly, the petunias and alyssum are placed alongside the orange colored marigolds, which usually will do quite well through most of the summer.  

Arizona is different from many parts of the country.  Our mild winters allow us to grow annual flowers that are grown elsewhere in the country in the summer. 

Stock

 
People put their trust in their plant nursery and believe that they would not sell anything that would not thrive in their garden.  They rely on their expertise to sell the right plant for the right time of year.  Sadly, this is not true of all nurseries, especially those at the big box stores.  People begin to believe that they cannot grow flowers or that they have a “black thumb” instead of a green one when their newly planted flowers begin to die soon after planting.
But do not DESPAIR….there is hope!

You can avoid being a victim and the solution is really quite simple….do a little research.  It can be as simple as doing a Google Search and enter the term….summer annuals for (your city or area).  You should be given a long list of plants that should thrive in your area.  
 
**For residents of the Arizona and California desert, I have done the online searching for you.  You can check out the following link for information on what kind of flowers to grow and when.