September Master Gardener Column

This summer I’ve received a few inquiries about an annual I grow, so I decided to write about a few common, yet uncommon plants. They are common in the sense one can easily find them as seeds or transplants, but uncommon in that few people grow them.

The first, an annual and the source of the questions, is Cleome. What a great plant! It looks good in the back row of a mixed bed, nestled in a large container, or as a single specimen plant out in the open. A rounded bloom of pink, purple or white tops the end of each branch all summer long. Some flower clusters are two-toned. Start seeds in the house or wait and direct sow outside once it warms up in spring. After the first year, you will probably have volunteer plants show up on their own the following spring. Cleome’s common name is spider flower, not to be confused with the houseplant named spider plant.

Another wonderful annual is Lantana. It spreads sideways so works great in pots peeking through the other plants in the container. The blooms are long-lasting, and the plant continues to put out new all summer. I recommend buying the newer varieties as a transplant from one of the companies that trademark their plants. There are lot of new colors from which to choose.

A third annual, Mandevilla is a tropical vine that never disappoints. It too blooms all season showing 3 to 4-inch pink blooms against glossy green leaves. It quickly climbs a trellis and keeps going higher if given string support attached to the second story of your house. For continuous blooms, give lots of water and fertilizer. Mandevilla is more expensive than the first two annuals mentioned, but it can be over-wintered in the house. Cut it back to the main stems on the original trellis and keep it in a cool, sun-lit room. Supply just enough water to keep it alive.

For a perennial ground cover that few homeowners grow, I like Iberis, with the common name candytuft. It is evergreen all year except toward the end of the harshest winters. When Iberis blooms in late spring, it is a solid carpet of white, so thick it chokes out weeds.

Solidago, common name goldenrod, grows wild along roads and at the edge of woods, but you rarely see it in yards, perhaps because of its erroneous reputation of contributing to hay fever in late summer. Goldenrod has heavy pollen that doesn’t travel far on the wind, unlike ragweed that produces copious amounts of light, easily blown pollen – the real culprit of fall allergies. If you aren’t partial to the big blowsy blooms of common goldenrod, there are newer varieties. I like ‘Fireworks’. It isn’t as tall but has multiple arching flower spikes reminiscent of its namesake. It loves full sun.

Call University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners of Edgar County for any of your gardening or landscaping questions at 217-465-8585.