The Beautiful Leaf

This time of year we are all so enamored by flowers that it’s easy to overlook the value of colorful foliage in the garden.   Colored leaves come in many hues, from shades of purple-reds to bright chartreuse greens to shades of orange.  I’m not talking about fall color, here.  These colorful leaves can be enjoyed all summer in their bright hues.  Colorful foliage makes container gardens stand out from the crowd.  In perennial beds, colorful leaves can provide beauty when plants are between bloom cycles.  Colorful trees and shrubs stand out against the customary hues of green, becoming focal points of the garden.

Under the Sea Coleus "Bonefish" is a striking plant with bright chartreuse, serrated edges that add both texture and color.
Under the Sea Coleus “Bonefish” is a striking plant with bright chartreuse, serrated edges that add both texture and color.

Under the Sea Coleus, from Hort Couture Plants,  is a favorite for container gardens.  They come in several color combinations and sizes from tall to small.  Each is unique in the world of coleus.  All perform well in sun to part sun, in our Colorado climate.  Small leaved varieties sail through the heat of summer.  Large leaved cultivars, like “King Crab”  will benefit from some shade in the afternoon.

Most people don’t think about trees being colorful unless it’s fall.  There are, however, quite a few that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Best grown in a semi shaded area, protected from arid winter winds.
Japanese Maple “Shiraz”. Best grown in a semi shaded area, protected from arid winter winds.
Royal Red Norway Maple
Royal Red Norway Maples have large,richly colored, dark burgundy/mahogany leaves. These trees can reach 35′-40′ tall, providing ample shade. They tolerate pollution well, making them a great choice where there is high traffic.
Tricolor Beech have a decidedly pyramid shape while young.  Like many of us, they round out a bit with age.  They reach 25'-35' tall.  They will do best in an eastern or north eastern exposure, in a partial sun area.
Tricolor Beech have a decidedly pyramid shape while young. Like many of us, they round out a bit with age. They reach 25′-35′ tall. They will do best in an eastern or north eastern exposure, in a partial sun area.

If landscapes had a sense of fashion, then dark leaved plants would be the “little black dress”.    They are always in style and every garden should have at least one in the wardrobe.   Japanese maples provide interesting structural form and many have colorful leaves that will turn a shady area into a mystical garden.

Heuchera Blackberry Ice is a staff favorite.  The dark berry colored leaves dress up shady borders. Try using them in shady container gardens too.
Heuchera Blackberry Ice is a staff favorite. The dark berry colored leaves dress up shady borders. Try using them in shady container gardens too.

Heuchera is the coleus of perennials.  Every year, more new cultivars are introduced.  Most are relatively compact, making it easy to add them to existing garden beds or container gardens.

Heuchera Amber Lady shows off it's luscious leaves.  Grow them in shady gardens.
Heuchera Amber Lady shows off it’s luscious leaves. Grow them in shady gardens.

Barberry are among the most versatile, sun-loving shrubs for Colorado.  They come in multiple sizes and shapes.  Most have colorful leaves, ranging from bright red/orange to lemony greens.  Tiny or tall, there’s so many shapes and sizes, it’s difficult to choose.   Their thorns make them less suitable for areas where people may brush against them.  That said, those thorn make them a great choice as a deterrent when planted around a home’s foundation, under windows.  Their berries provide food for birds and their density provides shelter.

Barberry Orange Rocket is a columnar shrub, ideal for creating a hedge in a narrow space.  They can also be used as a centerpiece in container gardens.  Just be sure to plant it in the ground in fall.
Barberry Orange Rocket is a columnar shrub, ideal for creating a hedge in a narrow space. They can also be used as a centerpiece in container gardens. Just be sure to plant it in the ground in fall.
Barberry comes in many colors and sizes.  They dress up sunny garden areas and can be used in borders, as hedges or as accent shrubs.  Few shrubs are as versatile.
Barberry comes in many colors and sizes. They dress up sunny garden areas and can be used in borders, as hedges or as accent shrubs. Few shrubs are as versatile.

Evergreens, in both tree and shrub forms, are hardy additions to Colorado gardens.  They thrive in full sun and manage to look fabulous despite our arid late summer conditions.  They take wild temperature swings in stride, making them ideal in a climate with more than 40 freeze/thaw cycles each year.

Juniper "Sea of Gold" is a dramatic shrub that provides garden color year round.
Juniper “Sea of Gold” is a dramatic shrub that provides garden color year round.

Say the word “juniper” and some people  cringe, thinking of prickly shrubs filled with spider webs.  Today’s junipers come in many textures and sizes.  Some are great for use as low growing shrubs.  Others, like the one pictured, are drama queens, with soft needles and dense branching.

There’s more than one way to enjoy a colorful garden.  So try some colorful leaves in your garden and see how dramatically they change the look of your landscape.

 

Itoh Peonies

Peonies are one of the most adored spring flowers.  There are some recent hybrids that are truly spectacular.  Itoh peonies are named for hybridizer Toichi Itoh.  They are hybrids between tree peonies and herbaceous peonies, a.k.a intersectional hybrids.itoh peony keiko

The best traits of both parent plants come together to give these plants incredible garden performance.  Strong stems are capable of supporting their sizable blooms.  No more nodding flowers that can’t be enjoyed in their full glory.  The strong stems also mean they make fabulous cut flowers.  Itoh peonies have increased vigor, durability, and long life in the garden.  In addition to all those improvements, Itoh peonies produce primary and secondary buds, which means many more flowers, up to 50 on mature plants.

itoh peony mikasa

Like their herbaceous parent, they die back to the ground in winter and often have a light fragrance.   Like all peonies, they should be mulched well in the fall to stabilize the ground temperature during the winter freeze/thaw cycles.

While we’re on the topic of peonies, let’s dispel a common myth.  Peonies do not need ants in order to bloom.  Ants are often seen on peony blooms simply because they are attracted to their sweet nectar secreted by peonies as they bud.  The ants don’t harm the flowers.  They are just after the carbohydrates in the nectar.  If you are concerned about ants on your peonies when you are ready to display them indoors as cut flowers, dip the blooms in water to help rinse away potential hitchhikers.

Hanging Baskets Basics

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16″ hanging basket of lilac petunias, calibrachoa, trailing verbena, and yellow bidens

Hanging baskets can be a quick and easy way to add color and style to a patio or porch, but it’s important to select the right plants for the spot you have chosen. A basket of petunias is never going to be happy in a shady nook, and tuberous begonias will crisp up in the afternoon sun. When choosing plants, you also want to consider how easy it will be to water. If watering the basket is going to be a challenge, you can help compensate by choosing plants that can take dry conditions, or choose larger pots or self-watering pots and soil amendments that will help you maintain moisture around the root zone.

Available sunlight is the starting point for all plant selection, so it’s important to determine the number of hours your plants will receive in the location you plan to plant. Do you have a northern exposure or heavy shade from a tree? It doesn’t matter if “it’s really very bright!”—you will have poor performance from sun lovers like petunias. Our visual perception of light isn’t necessarily an accurate measurement of available light to the plant.

Full sun is 6+ hours of direct sun that will shine on the foliage of your plants, each day. These are going to generally be southern, western, or south-western sides of the house, and not tucked back under an awning. If it’s a spot you want to avoid in the middle of the afternoon, odds are good that it’s the perfect spot for a basket of upright geraniums or calibrachoa.

Easy plants for sunny baskets include petunias, scaevola, calibrachoa, trailing portulaca, lantana, trailing verbena, and bidens. A blend of petunias, verbena, and bidens will provide a mix of both colors and textures with long-blooming flower power. An easy care combo for full sun could include a salmon geranium, 3 ‘Bombay Blue’ scaevolas, and 3 light-yellow calibrachoas.

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Mimulus, best for shade or filtered light areas

Part-Sun is less than 6 hours of sun per day, which typically amounts to morning sun only. These are usually eastern exposures or an area that would have all day sun, if it weren’t for that gorgeous maple planted two owners ago. An area with dappled shade for the full day can be counted as part-sun for planting purposes.

Easy plants for morning sun include New Guinea impatiens, torenia, many begonias, ivy geraniums, and bacopa. Bacopa can sometimes stop blooming at the peak heat of the summer, but the foliage remains as a lovely cascade and will bloom again once the temperatures cool a bit in late summer and fall. Pansies can also be included in this group, but like bacopa (and most of us!), high temperatures induce a resting phase. A quick and lovely part-sun combo might include a few yellow or salmon ‘Mocca Mix’ begonias, a few ‘Gold n Pearls’ bacopa, and a 4-pack of deep blue torenia.

Full Shade is quite literally no direct sun in a day. Common shade zones are under a porch or patio awning, under dense tree shade, or in the shade of buildings.

A basket of shade-loving plants could include pansies, compact or trailing coleus, bacopa, begonias, fuchsia, and traditional impatiens. For a quick combo, try 3 Illumination begonias and 3 white bacopas.

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Calibrachoa, great for sunny hot spaces and easy to grow

With all basket plantings, it is important to monitor the growth of your plants so that you don’t end up with one vigorous plant taking over the entire pot (I’m looking at you, trailing petunias!). Mild, selective pinching and pruning throughout the summer will encourage new growth from the top of the basket and help keep your baskets looking full and fresh.

A word about feeding your plants – Yes! We’re asking our annuals to entertain us with beautiful blooms all summer long, through any sort of weather or challenge that comes their way. They can’t do that without regular fertilization. Try Jack’s Classic Blossom Booster for the majority of your flowering plants, outdoors and indoors. Petunias prefer a special diet, so try Jack’s Classic Petunia Feed. Follow the instructions on any fertilizer you select.

Enjoy!