Plant Exchange: The Best Flowers Of The 2012 South Dakota Drought

July 4, 2013 by  
Filed under Wind Energy Tips

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Standout flowers that bloom well in a drought year may be worth a second look.

Top Performing Annuals (2012)

Star performers at McCrory Gardens in Brookings last growing season included cultivars of coleus, hibiscus, and petunia, according to Dr. David Graper, Director of McCrory Gardens and horticulture professor at South Dakota State University. Trial plants grown as annuals in the gardens last summer were judged on their ability to thrive with moderate maintenance and produce showy flowers in distinct colors for last year’s hot growing season.  

One of Graper’s favorite plants is a sun or shade coleus called Solenostemon ‘Honey Crisp’. “This plant had an overall golden color to the foliage but it was blended with pinks, purples and greens to provide a really stunning plant,” Graper said.

Graper has many flowerbeds of petunias at McCrory Gardens that give continuous color in sunny locations. Many cultivars of petunias were trialed, but Graper mentioned these grown from cuttings. “A few of my favorites this year included ‘Vista Bubblegum’ and ‘Vista Silverberry’. Both of these plants are nicely spreading or cascading plants that are loaded with nice big flowers all season long. We had these in our large containers at McCrory and they were real show-stoppers.”

Another of Graper’s picks is Hibiscus “Mahogany Splendor.”

“While most hibiscus are grown for their large showy flowers, this one is grown for just its great looking foliage. Mahogany Splendor can reach 5 to 6 feet in height in one summer and become a small bush with multiple stems. It is a great background plant or as a large filler in a bed or large container and even as a cut ‘green’ for bouquets. It didn’t seem to mind the heat and drought.”

Graper also likes the silver white foliage of Cyrysocephalum ‘Silver Sunburst.’ “Like the dusty millers, this plant provides a wonderful silver-white color to flower beds and containers. It only grew about 6 inches tall and 12 inches wide, but it provided a wonderful contrast to the typical green plants with their showy flowers.”

Other standouts in their trial beds and gardens that grew well and had additional traits included: Angelonia angustifolia ‘Serene Purple’ for its long bloom, Catharanthus roseus ‘Hotlik White GL’ for its white large flowers, and Cyperus papyrus ‘King Tut’ for its use in mixed containers. Ipomoea batalas ‘Bewiched’ and ‘Raven’ both had nearly black foliage. Pennisetum glaucum ‘Jade Princess’ was chosen for its addition to millets. Among many petunias grown, Petunia ‘Sangria Charm’ was noted for its red purple flowers with dark throats. Sources: “McCrory Gardens News Notes”, March 2013 and McCrory Gardens Trial Results.

See Graper’s McCrory Gardens website for views of their All-America Trial Gardens, Hummingbird Garden, and their specialty gardens of irises, daylilies, peonies, rhododendrons, shrub roses, and others. Visit McCrory Gardens to see plants this season. Gardens are located a few blocks off Interstate 29 in Brookings.  

Amazing Agave

Agaves, sometimes called century plants, seldom bloom but this one appears to now for the first and only time.

“In 36 hours or so the stalk grew about a foot,” said Jay Gurney of Yankton Nurseries. He had marked the wall of the greenhouse to see its progress. The stem or mast nearly reaches the fifteen-foot ceiling inside the greenhouse now.

“It’s been here in this (twelve inch) pot thirty-five years.” He acquired

the perennial about 1978. “It’s been out of the wind and weather in this dry spot,” he said. “It takes little water and is quite root bound by now. In summer it can get up to 120 degrees in here.”

Succulent leaves store energy needed for what appears to be a spectacular single bloom event. Factors that affect when agaves bloom include individual differences among the two hundred agave species. Soil richness and climate are other factors that impact how long before the monocot blooms.

Gurney only noticed the agave mast recently. It has the appearance of a giant asparagus, and both plants are members of the same taxonomic family. On Gurney’s plant, sticky substance is secreted on a three-inch diameter stalk or mast. In nature, an agave may be an insect pollinated plant such as the native yucca. Bats and/or birds may help pollinate the flowers and spread seed found in the fruit it produces.

Gurney says his is a Victoria Regina agave, named after English Queen Victoria. Native to Northeast Mexico, it has become an endangered species in nature, but is widely cultivated in the nursery industry. As a houseplant or container plant for small gardens, its succulent rosette form with sharp spines at the end of each leaf, compact size and slow growth has appeal. Monocarpic, it blooms only once in twenty-forty years.  It has a spectacular bloom, produces seed, and then dies.

Agaves are well suited as low-maintenance container specimen plants. Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden provides gardening tips with desert plants such as agaves. Soil mixture recommended is equal parts native soil, potting soil, and pumice. Agaves grow well in filtered to full sun. If plant surface wrinkles, water may be needed. Agaves grow in spring and fall and require a bit more water then, and during the heat of summer. Some species are susceptible to frost. Little fertilizer is required. Agaves have fibrous roots. Transplanting is only necessary when plant becomes top heavy.

Agaves have few diseases or pests. Their personal space is maintained with sharp barbs. Gurney’s Victoria Regina agave has survived on consistently minimal care and now it is time to celebrate its bloom. Source:


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