Create colorful medleys of warm-season annuals by mixing zinnias (pictured), cosmos, Mexican sunflowers (also called tithonias), portulacas, and celosias. This combo gives many weeks of heat-resistant performance with plenty of flowers for display and cutting for quick bouquets. Select a sunny spot with good drainage, and mix in 3 to 5 inches of organic material such as compost, pine bark, or peat along with a slow-release fertilizer. Celosias come in spiky or crested forms. Contrast these with rounded masses of dwarf zinnias or portulacas.
Veggies―As soil temperatures warm in your area, set out vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Consider old standby tomatoes such as ‘Carnival,’ ‘Celebrity,’ and ‘Patio,’ as well as heirlooms such as ‘Cherokee Purple,’ ‘Yellow Pear,’ and ‘Red Pear.’ Many of the smaller types, including ‘Sun Gold’, are so tempting they are often eaten in the garden! There are lots of selections of eggplants and hot and mild peppers.
North & East
Native shrub―Oakleaf hydrangeas thrive in partial shade and prefer acid soil. They grow 4 to 6 feet tall, and masses of spiked flowers appear in late spring. Blooms start green, turn white, and fade to pink and are useful in dried arrangements. The stems have cinnamon brown, peeling bark. ‘Snowflake’ and ‘Snow Queen’ are two of the best selections.
For the birds―Bluebirds will come to your garden if you are able to provide the correct type of house and a long flight path to the nest. Keep vegetation away from the box and its post, and offer nearby places to perch. (Bluebirds like boxes on fenceposts rather than in shrubs or trees.) A good height is 4 to 5 feet. Look for bluebird houses at your local hardware store, garden center, or retail outlets of Wild Birds Unlimited. If there is not a retail shop near you, check out the online selection at www.shopwbu.com.
Central, West & South
Perennial choices―Brighten your landscape with eye-catching daylilies. Set off their large, funnel-shaped flowers with masses of perennial salvias such as Mexican bush sage, ‘Hot Lips’ salvia (red and white), or autumn sage hybrids. Spiky flowers of salvias ‘Henry Duelberg’ (blue-violet) or ‘Augusta Duelberg’ (white) also make a nice contrast and provide many months of color.
Tropical flowers―Chinese hibiscus have large blossoms and offer months of continuous blooms with very little attention. Both double- and single-flowering types are available in yellow, pink, orange, red, and white. Some of the single-flowering types have contrasting “eyes” that add to their appeal. Plant them in full sun for maximum bloom, and feed regularly. They work well planted en masse or in containers.