Tag: annuals

Money Plant

I have subscribed to your newsletter for quite a while now and I love it. I have a question for you. I have recently been given some seeds for a very old plant called money plant. It produces paper-like flowers that look like silver dollars. I’m not sure how to plant these and would appreciate any help to grow these plants that I remember from my childhood. Thanks for your help.

I, too, am a big fan of money plant or Lunaria annua. Also known as honesty and silver dollar plant the seed pods have an oval shape and translucent quality that gives the appearance of miniature full moons hanging from the stems, hence the name lunaria. These disks are prized by floral arrangers for using in dried bouquets and wreaths.

Sow lunaria seeds in spring after the last frost date in your area. They should be planted about 2 inches apart and covered with a thin layer of soil, about 1/4 inch. Lunaria will thrive in both sunny and partially shaded locations. They prefer fertile, moist but well-drained soil.

Lunaria is a biennial so don’t expect much the first year. However in the following year the plants will take off producing sweet smelling, purple blooms in the early summer followed by their illuminated seed pods in fall. Be sure to leave a few of the seed pods on the plants and you will discover that lunaria will reseed itself freely in your garden.

Lion’s Tail

Could you help me find lion’s tail seeds? It seems no one knows of this plant and I cannot find the seeds anywhere.

Leonotis, or lion’s tail or lion’s ear, is a summer blooming annual with a noble yet curious stature, growing as tall as 5 feet or more. In the past I’ve planted some in my garden along a picket fence with one of the tallest old-fashioned daylilies, ‘Hyperion,’ as a bedfellow. The yellow daylilies were a good match for the orange leonotis blooms and the heights of the 2 plants were compatible.

Leonotis is native to South Africa and was valued for its medicinal qualities. This plant requires full sun and is drought tolerant but benefits from deep soakings on occasion. In cooler climates leonotis can be started indoors by seed and set out after the first frost.

One source that I am familiar with that sells leonotis is Nichols Garden Nursery. You can find them on the web at www.nicholsgardennursery.com.

Iboza Vine

I have several iboza vines planted along side my garage. On the tag that came with the plants it does not say what should be done to protect them in winter. I need to know if I should cover them or just leave them. They are too pretty to lose. Please let me know. R. Clark

I believe the plant you are referring to is Plectranthus madagascariensis, commonly known as mintleaf. It’s a vining plant with square brown stems and round, scalloped leaves that a have a fleshy texture. A common variety is ‘Variegated Mintleaf’, which has green and white variegated leaves. Because of the common names basket iboza and iboza vine it is often confused with the shrubby, tropical Iboza riparia. This plant is bushy and upright with slightly hairy leaves and a pungent aroma. Unlike mintleaf, Iboza riparia produces very showy, spires of blooms.

Unless you are located in a tropical region, neither of these plants will survive a cold winter. Mintleaf is best planted in partial shade or dappled sun areas with even moisture, and humus rich, well-drained soil. There are no serious insect or disease problems, however watch for mealy bugs, scale and mites. Mintleaf is primarily grown for its attractive foliage and can be planted in ground in zones 10 and 11 where it is winter hardy. In areas where it is not hardy it is best to treat it like an annual or plant in containers that can be moved indoors for winter.

Inside the home place mintleaf in a bright, sunny area and give it the same care as you would any other houseplant. You can also take cuttings to propagate new plants for next year.

Hyacinth Bean Vine

A couple of weeks ago I saw one of your shows on TV and you were standing in front of some beans on a trellis that had purple-red hulls. I would love to find out what kind of bean they are and where I can get them. I hope that you can answer this for me.

The plant you saw is a hyacinth bean vine. It is originally from the tropics and was introduced to American gardens around 1800. Sometimes in old seed catalogs it’s called the Thomas Jefferson vine because it is believed he grew this vine at his home, Monticello. While the “beans” are edible, this vine is mainly grown for its attractive pea-like blooms and purple pods.

Hyacinth bean vine is easy to grow and most garden centers offer it in the spring as seed, although I have sometimes seen young seedlings available as well. You can direct sow the seeds in the garden once the soil temperature has warmed up. I recommend that you soak them in water overnight before planting them. This will improve the rate of germination.

What is amazing about this vine is that it can reach incredible heights with unbridled growth from a single seed in a single season.

In late summer it sets robust seedpods that hang in clusters. This fruit-of-the-vine is as striking to me as the blooms and wonderful in flower arrangements. The pods are the same claret color of the stems and stalks and so polished they glisten in the sunlight.

The seeds ripen in the pods and should be collected in late fall, before the first hard freeze. This allows them to dry completely before storing and will keep them free of mold. Then next spring you will have plenty to plant in your garden and share with friends.

Luffa Gourds

A few days ago I saw you on The Weather Channel talking about a gourd vine that grows thick and quite rapid. Also, it has edible fruit that resemble zucchini squash. What is the name of this plant?

I have received a huge response to the luffa gourd report that broadcast on The Weather Channel several weeks ago! It always delights me when a plant is such a big hit!

Luffa gourds are elongated and look somewhat like zucchini. They are best known as the bath sponge gourd. You’ve probably seen their fibrous skeletons for sale in fancy bath shops.

A lot of people think these sponges come from the ocean, but it’s actually a gourd you can grow in your own garden.

Luffas should be planted in the late spring after the soil temperatures have warmed. You can get a jump-start by sowing the seeds indoors a few weeks before your target transplant date. To speed up the germination soak the seeds in warm water for 24 to 48 hours.

If you decide to grow some you will want to give them plenty of room. They can easily grow up to 20 feet. To control the growth I either weave them back into the trellis or trim the excess vines.

The gourds are ready to harvest when the skins are dry and the stems turn yellow. If you garden in a region where the summer season is short, there may not be enough time for your gourds to fully ripen. Fruits that are still green, even though they are full-sized, will produce wispy sponges that don’t last very long.

To make a sponge, soak the gourd in water overnight. This will make it easier to peel the skin off. Some people soak the gourds for several days to make it even easier.

Once the skin is removed wash the sponge part to remove any seeds and pulp. Then place the sponge in the sun for about a week to dry.

To brighten the color soak the clean, dry sponge in a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water for thirty minutes.

You can purchase luffa gourd seeds from your favorite local garden center in early spring or order them through a mail order source.

Dry Hanging Geraniums for Winter

Had an uncle that would hang geranium plants upside-down near a window in his basement in the late fall. In Spring he would prepare them to come back from looking dead and they would grow beautifully. Can you tell me more about this process? I was fairly small child when he was doing this, and did not pay real good attn. I would appreciate a response as I have tried, in vane to find out more about this process of keeping them till the next Spring. Thank you so much. Margie

Hanging your plants to dry is the old-fashioned way to overwinter your geraniums. Before the first frost, remove your plants from the garden. Clean any soil off the roots and hang upside down in a cool, moist area. The plants will need plenty of humidity and temperatures that do not drop below 35 degrees. A basement is ideal. Occasionally, you will need to check the plants to see if the are too dry. If this is the case, take them down and soak the roots in water for an afternoon. After the last frost date in your area, take the plants down, cut back 1/2 to 3/4 of the plant’s height, and replant outdoors.

Great Geraniums

When Americans think about adding a splash of color to their garden they frequently reach for that old fashioned favorite the geranium. There’s good reason this plant consistently ranks among the top ten annuals chosen for summer plantings. Long blooming and easy to grow, geraniums are a reliable classic for adorning porches, containers, window boxes or even using in the flower garden.

While geraniums have been red traditionally, plant breeders have done a lot of work in recent years to improve the color, size and shape of the blooms. You can now find geranium varieties in white, pink, salmon and purple.

You may have noticed a band, or zone, of color on the leaves of some geraniums. Plant breeders have also expanded the size and pattern of that zone in lots of interesting ways.

Even if you thought geraniums were a bit old-fashioned for your garden, I recommend that you take a second look at this summer beauty. You’ll find lots of exciting new varieties available in garden centers.

Caring for Geraniums
Potted Geraniums
Over the years I’ve discovered certain methods of caring for geraniums that improve their performance. When it comes to feeding, particularly in containers, I use a liquid fertilizer that’s high in phosphorous, such as 15-30-15, to help promote blooming. (Phosphorous is the middle number on the fertilizer label.) Since constant watering leaches nutrients out of the soil, I feed my geraniums regularly, at least every 2 weeks or so during the growing season. This encourages them to set plenty of flower buds.

I’ve also found that geraniums prefer cooler temperatures, so I give mine only morning light and protection from the hot afternoon sun. Too much heat robs them of vigor and keeps them from flowering. You’ll also want to remember to remove all of the faded flowers so that your plants will continue producing a lot of showy color.


I sowed foxglove seeds in my garden last year and although the plants look healthy, I see no signs of blooms. A friend told me that they wouldn’t bloom until next year. Is this true?

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is a biennial, meaning that it takes two years for the plant to complete its life cycle. If you plant the seed this year, it will be two years before they flower, produce new seeds and then die back.

I like foxgloves because they add a tall and graceful element to my garden. They also tolerate partial shade, which works out well in my garden since I have plenty of dappled light areas. They perform best in rich, loose garden soil that’s well drained.

Now, if you can’t wait for two years to enjoy the flowers, there are foxglove varieties that will bloom the first year from seed, such as ‘Foxy’. The only drawback with ‘Foxy’ is that doesn’t get as tall as the biennials like ‘Giant Shirley’ and ‘Excelsior Hybrids’, but it rarely requires staking and it is a great little plant for containers. Camelot™ is another foxglove that will bloom the first year from seed and it does grow to an impressive height of 30 to 38-inches tall. This is the variety I often use for flower borders. In addition to pale lavender and deep rose, Camelot&trade is available as a white flowering foxglove, which is nice for all white gardens or evening gardens.

Another great thing about foxglove is that they will readily come back as volunteers from seed produced in the fall. Simply allow your plants to form seed heads and then shake them throughout garden for the next generation of plants. Just be sure you can identify the young seedlings the following spring so you don’t pull them up as weeds.

Clever Cleome

Proven Winners Spirit Appleblossom Cleome“What’s that unusual plant?” is a question that almost always indicates someone has just spied the cleomes blooming in my garden. I enjoy watching their eyes widen when I tell them they are “spider flowers.” Cleome’s common name captures how the whiskery blooms seem to explode from the top of the stems. I can always count on these fanciful flowers to add an element of surprise to my garden.

If you want an easy source of big, beautiful swaths of color, cleomes are a fast way to get there. A few years ago, most cleomes were found growing in the back of the border to accommodate their tall and lanky (5-6 feet) height. But these days, there are several new varieties that are more compact in form. These newcomers are sporting a host of fresh colors creating a renewed interest in these old fashioned annuals.

Coming in about a foot or two shorter and with more branches than their taller cousins, the Spirit™ series of cleomes require little to no staking. That’s a real time saver for me.  I’ve planted the pure white Spirit™ Frost, as well as several of the cool pastels in the series. This year I’m trying the Spirit™ Appleblossom. The airy flower clusters are abundant, long-lasting, and large – 6 to 8 inches in diameter. They seem undaunted by hot, dry summer days.

Proven Winners Senorita Rosalita Cleome One of the newest cleomes to make its debut is Senorita Rosalita®. Along with a memorable name, this annual is out to prove that less is more. While many of the other cleomes share a list of common traits: spiny stems, foliage with a pungent aroma and flowers that ripen into seedpods that freely reseed themselves; Senorita Rosalita® (2-3 feet), is odorless with sterile flowers that don’t produce seeds, and has no thorns; all qualities that add to its appeal for many gardeners. Senorita Rosalita’s purple-lavender blossoms are smaller than most cleome and unlike other varieties, are produced all along the stem, not just at the top.

And for a truly diminutive cleome, there’s ‘Linde Armstrong’ with rosy pink flowers atop 12-18 inch plants. This cleome is also thornless and noted for its heat and drought tolerance.

With so many new cleomes to choose from, you’re sure to find one that’s perfect in your garden.

Cleome – Planting and Care
•    Cleomes are at their finest growing in a full sun (6 hours) location, in fertile, well-draining soil, but are tolerant of a wide range of soil types.
•    Plant in spring after all danger of frost has passed. Space 1 to 2 feet apart in groups of 5 or more.
•    Keep soil moist, especially in hot weather to help them get established.
•    Stake tall varieties (4-6’) and those located in windy or shady sites to prevent flopping.
•    Fertilize every six to eight weeks, or work in a slow-release fertilizer (or plenty of compost) at planting time.
•    Remove spent blossoms to encourage the plants to rebloom. Regular deadheading also prevents reseeding.
•    Cleomes will flower from summer through frost. For a fresh set of plants, reseed in August.

Celosia spicata

Can you tell me the name of the plant that was seen growing around the teacup bird feed featured in your show P. Allen Smith Gardens? The plants had a reddish plume-like bloom and seeded themselves yearly.

The plant in question is Celosia spicata. This is indeed a delightful plant. It produces cylindrical flower spikes that resemble wheat – hence the common name wheat celosia.

Aside from C. spicata there are 2 common groups of celosia: C. cristata, also known as cockscomb, and C. plumosa. C. cristata celosia produces a crested bloom and C. plumosa celosia blooms are fluffy and plume-like.

Celosia is an annual that is easily grown from seed, which makes it a great seed saving and pass along plant.

You can sow celosia seeds directly in the garden in late spring or early summer after the soil has warmed up and the last frost date has passed. If need be, you can start the seeds indoors 4 to 5 weeks ahead of time. However, celosia resents being transplanted so extra care is required when moving the young seedlings to their permanent home outdoors.

Celosia grows best in full sun and soil that is humus rich. While these plants can be somewhat drought tolerant, they prefer consistent moisture and suffer if allowed to wilt.

For better flowering, pinch back the first few blooms that appear. This will promote more branching of the stems, which means more flowers.

Celosia is a great flower for drying. Simply bundle 5 to 10 stems with a rubber band and hang upside down in a cool, dry room with good ventilation. Be sure to place a piece of newspaper under the bundles to collect the falling seeds.