The South’s Most Iconic Flowers
Roses are beautiful, but roses climbing a rustic wooden fence are the ultimate. Climbing roses gracefully add height, dimension, and color to every space in the garden that might need a little softening. Antique roses have been the glory of Southern gardens for decades. They require minimal care, are resilient, and relatively bug free.
The dogwood has been called the most beautiful native tree of North America. Its blossom is the state flower of North Carolina and Virginia. It blooms profusely in mid spring before leaves expand, almost covering itself with small flower clusters. Flowering dogwood grows fine in full sun if planted in deep, fertile soil that retains moisture.
These shrubs and vines are a fan favorite in the South. They bloom in late spring or summer and flowers can last for months. Perhaps the most popular variety, French Hydrangea or Bigleaf Hydrangea, can be spotted in shady yards across the South. Their iconic blooms look like colorful snowballs and can be manipulated to change color. Oakleaf Hydrangea are also popular in the Southeast and are characterized by large, lobed leaves resembling those of oaks and elongated clusters of white flowers. Hydrangeas need to be watered regularly and should be planted somewhere that receives morning light and afternoon shade.
When the sweet fragrance of magnolia fills the air, you know you’re in the South. To many people, the word “magnolia” is synonymous with our native Magnolia grandiflora, the classic Southern magnolia with large, glossy leaves, and huge, fragrant white blossoms—the state flower of Mississippi and Louisiana. Sweet bay (M. virginiana), a smaller tree, is easier to fit into most gardens. Though mostly deciduous in the Upper and Middle South, it’s evergreen in the Lower and Coastal South and more cold hardy than M. grandiflora. For any magnolia, pick planting site carefully. Virtually all types are hard to move once established and many grow quite large. The best soil for magnolias is fairly rich, well drained, and neutral to slightly acid; if necessary, add generous amounts of organic matter when planting. Southern magnolia (M. grandiflora) is good for planting at the beach, though not on dunes. Sweet bay (M. virginiana) tolerates wet soil.
The South is the heart of camellia country—common camellia (Camellia japonica) is even the state flower of Alabama. This beautiful, flowering shrub has a long blooming season and loves the Southern climate. More than 3,000 names kinds of camellias exists in a wide range of colors, forms, and sizes. Spring planting is better in the Upper South, where the root system needs time to get established before onset of cold weather. In general, camellias grow and bloom better in partial shade, with shelter from hot afternoon sun. Young plants thrive under the shade of tall trees of when grown on the north side of a house.
Easy Flower Arranging with Rebecca Lang
Southern Living contributor and cookbook author Rebecca Lang makes floral arrangements, like this bright centerpiece, even simpler with her tips on putting together a beautiful bouquet.
No plant rivals the azalea in Southern popularity, and no plant is more misused and abused. To get the best performance, buy in bloom. Most people have a particular color in mind when they buy azaleas. Buying a flowering plant will ensure you get the right color. To get the most impact, set out blocks or sweeps of the same selection. A scattering of different types across your yard will look chaotic. Like hydrangeas, azaleas like plenty of morning light and minimal (or no) afternoon sun.
The South’s love affair with crepe myrtles is undeniable—and for good reason. Few plants can match their combination of spectacular summer flowers, colorful autumn foliage, and handsome sculptural trunks. Crepe myrtles range in size from dwarf selections that grow less than 3 feet tall to several that reach upwards of 30 feet. Be sure to choose the right size for your needs. Planted together, they make a large deciduous hedge or screen. A single tree can create a distinctive focal point, while a pair framing a front door greets visitors with a warm Southern welcome. Plant in late fall to early spring and water well before putting it in the ground. Mulch to conserve moisture and keep down weeds.
Hibiscus are among the showiest plants in Southern gardens. The many species offer an astonishing range of flower colors, and most bloom over a long season. Colors range from white through pink to red, from yellow and apricot to orange. Individual flowers usually last only a day or two, but the plant blooms continuously in spring and fall.
Daffodils are arguably the finest and most valuable spring bulbs for the South. They are long lived, increasing naturally from year to year; they stand up to cold and heat; they have many garden uses; and they offer a fascinating array of flower forms, sizes, and colors. Given minimal care at planting, all thrive with virtually no further attention. Flowers usually face the sun so be sure to keep this in mind when choosing a planting spot. Use them under high-branching trees and flowering shrubs, among ground cover plantings, in woodland and rock gardens, in borders, or in containers. They make fine cut flowers, though they should have a vase of their own; freshly cut stems release a substance that causes other cut flowers to wilt.