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OPINION | JANET B. CARSON: Garden gems

Arkansas Diamonds releases its new list of state-receptive flowers by Janet B. Carson | April 17, 2021 at 1:42 a.m.
Among the plants that are new to the Arkansas Diamonds program for 2021 is Coleus FlameThrower Cajun Spice. (Courtesy of Arkansas Green Industry Association)

It has been a strange year in more ways than one. In 2020, many nurseries had record sales of annual plants, along with perennials, shrubs and trees. This year is already surpassing last year in sales.

If you are planning to plant summer annuals, I suggest you start buying them soon, because plants are selling out quickly and replacements might not be coming along quickly. Besides hurting home gardens, this winter clobbered the growers who supply plants to the market. It is a season unlike any we have seen in the nursery trade, so as with everything else, patience and tolerance are encouraged.

This year could be a throwback to the days when if you didn't buy summer annuals by Mother's Day, you had to come up with other options. Right now, many nurseries still have plenty, and the Arkansas Diamonds program can help you make some great all-season color choices.

The Arkansas Diamonds program is in its seventh year of promoting annual plants that do well in gardens throughout our state and are grown by Arkansas growers.

Gallery: Tough, beautiful Diamonds

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Arkansas Diamonds is a program of the Arkansas Green Industry Association in partnership with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service, local growers and independent garden centers. A committee meets annually to discuss what plants are working and what plants aren't before choosing options that should grow well statewide.

In addition to adding some new summer annual plants to the program this year they have added ideas for fall planting of winter annuals.

New for summer 2021 are Cuphea Honeybells, lemongrass and the FlameThrower series of coleus. For this coming fall, they have added the Cool Wave series of pansies, which we will talk about later this year.

CUPHEA HONEYBELLS

Among the plants that are new to the Arkansas Diamonds program for 2021 is Cuphea Honeybells. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)
Among the plants that are new to the Arkansas Diamonds program for 2021 is Cuphea Honeybells. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

Cuphea is a genus of plants that can take the heat and keep on blooming. Honeybells is a newer form with cigar-shaped blooms on a cascading plant.

Similar to another Arkansas Diamonds cuphea — Vermillionaire — Honeybells produces tubular red blooms tipped in yellow. The Honeybells form adds a weeping growth habit, making it an outstanding hanging basket or spiller plant for a container. Full sun and average moisture will keep it blooming all summer long. The hotter it gets, the better it blooms.

Hummingbirds adore this plant. A nonstop bloomer until a killing frost, this is a winning plant for any sun garden.

If you see it, buy it, because sources tell me it is already selling out at garden centers and nurseries.

LEMONGRASS

The ornamental annual lemongrass is edible and used in Thai recipes. (Courtesy of Arkansas Green Industry Association)
The ornamental annual lemongrass is edible and used in Thai recipes. (Courtesy of Arkansas Green Industry Association)

Lemongrass is considered an annual edible ornamental in Arkansas gardens except in the mildest winter, where it might survive, especially in southern Arkansas.

This clumping grass-like plant will grow in full sun to partial shade, but it loves full sun. It can reach 4 feet tall and wide in one season, so give it room to grow. It does well in the ground or in a container.

Lemongrass is used in many Thai recipes, and the foliage has a strong lemon scent.

FLAMETHROWER COLEUS

Coleus plants continue to gain in popularity. They add a ton of color with a wide array of foliage choices. This year's selection is a series called FlameThrower with nine color options: Cajun Spice, Sriracha, Salsa Roja, Serrano, Salsa Verde, Habanero, Chili Pepper, Chipotle and Spiced Curry.

The series packs a punch of color on compact plants, rarely getting more than 18 inches tall and wide. They will take full sun or shade but do prefer well-drained soil.

SIX YEARS OF WINNERS

The three selections for this season are outstanding, but there are plenty of great plants that have been promoted in the six earlier years of Arkansas Diamonds.

For flowering annuals for full sun, earlier selections include two lantana varieties, Bandana White and Lantana Trailing New Gold, both nonstop bloomers in hot, sunny places. Given a mild winter, they might return in Central and southern Arkansas.

Sunpatiens Compact Royal Magenta are large-flowering impatiens that can stand up to full sun or partial sun. Pachystachys lutea or Golden Shrimp plant has showy yellow and white flowers.

Dragon's Breath celosia, Big or Whopper begonia, Vista Bubblegum pink petunia, Vermillionaire cuphea, Graffiti Red pentas, Cora Cascade Polka Dot vinca, Angelonia Serena Purple and Scaevola Bombay Blue and Scaevola Blue Brilliance are all outstanding summer-flowering annuals for gardens throughout Arkansas.

Foliage plants for full sun include one of the more compact ornamental sweet potato vines, Solar Power Black Heart Ipomoea. Dichondra Silver Falls is a great silver-foliaged groundcover or hanging basket plant.

Coleus continues to rank as a popular foliage plant with varieties for sun and shade. Along with the new FlameThrower series in this year's selection, the program has other coleus varieties. They include Lava Rose, Redhead coleus and Wasabi coleus.

For shade, try Persian Shield, an outstanding foliage plant for the summer garden. The leaves are a combination of green, iridescent purple and silver. Other shade options are Coleus Lava Rose, Bouquet Deep Blue torenia, White Christmas caladium and Velvet Elvis plectranthus.

For morning sun with afternoon shade (partial sun) the program includes Pachystachys lutea or Golden Shrimp plant, Sunpatiens Compact Royal Magenta, Coleus Lava Rose, Dichondra Silver Falls, Wasabi coleus, Bouquet Deep Blue torenia, Big or Whopper begonia, Red Dragonwing begonia, White Christmas caladium, and Velvet Elvis plectranthus.

FOR FALL

Among the plants that are new to the Arkansas Diamonds program for 2021 is the Cool Wave series of pansies, with 14 varieties and three mixes. (Courtesy of Arkansas Green Industry Association)
Among the plants that are new to the Arkansas Diamonds program for 2021 is the Cool Wave series of pansies, with 14 varieties and three mixes. (Courtesy of Arkansas Green Industry Association)

When you think about fall and winter annuals in September, look for the Cool Wave series of pansies, along with the Rose Pink pansies from the Nature series. Foliage plants that will give cool-season color include Glamour Red kale and Bright Lights Swiss chard.

Look for the Arkansas Diamonds logo when shopping, and feel confident that you are supporting local businesses and buying plants that will be successful in your garden.

To find out more about the program you can visit a website (see arkansasonline.com/417green). The website includes a list of retailers participating in the program.

Janet Carson's blog is at arkansasonline.com/planitjanet.

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