May 2006
Victoria County Master Gardener Association
Ground rules and tools for May
  For better gardening results, plant flowers that can withstand the ever-present South Texas heat

May 4, 2006
GAIL DENTLER - Victoria County Master Gardener

As a gardener in South Texas, I am conscious of the drought that keeps hovering over us. This has caused me to wonder what I can plant in my garden to maintain and have a beautiful landscape. Specifically, I want to have flowering plants that will tolerate the anticipated lengthy dry season. Hopefully this will also help me to keep a normal and affordable water bill. So I turned to a list of plants that are labeled "drought tolerant." I wanted to use these as borders, splashes of colors in front of the shrubs or as ground cover. I was so excited with what I found. There is a variety of blooming plants out there with characteristics compatible with our drought.

The zinnia linearis, also known as narrow-leaf zinnia, is a great choice. It has small and narrow-leaf green foliage with daisy-like flowers, grows to a maximum height of 12 inches and spreads to 2 feet wide. This plant provides colors of red, orange, white or gold. It likes full sun, and blooms small, single flowers about quarter size in late spring, all through the summer, and into fall. It can be propagated from seed, and you can sow indoors before the last frost or outside after the last frost. Once the plant has bloomed, the seed heads will dry on the plant and you can remove and collect them for next year.

Moss rose is another heat- and drought-tolerant bedding plant. It blooms from late spring until fall. The flowers open in the morning until early afternoon. They come in mixed colors. This is a plant that can be propagated by rooting from stem cuttings. Its maximum height is 6 inches.

Dahlberg daisy adds a yellow color to your borders. The plant has a daisy-like flower. Its foliage is light airy green, and has a maximum height of 8 inches with a 15- to 18-inch spread. These will flower all through the summer heat in full sun. This is a great flower to use as a border.

Another daisy-like plant is gazania. This has colors of yellow, bronze, orange, pink, white, red and many combinations. The plant's foliage is dark green with white fuzzy undersides. Plants can reach 12 inches in height. The flowers bloom in the morning and close at night. These can be used as a border in full sun.

Still another flowering plant to use is cosmos. These plants vary in size, color and height. You can start them from seed to reduce landscaping expenses. They need very little water. They come in orange, pink and mixed (like pink and white). These are considered great color if you have a big area to fill; however, keep in mind, once you plant these flowers they keep coming back for years to come. Pay careful attention to size of these because some can be miniature and others about 4 feet high.

Periwinkles are in this drought-tolerant category. They have glossy, dark green foliage and pink, salmon, lavender or white flowers. The flowers have contrasting centers and are great for borders. Their plant height is 12 inches and a spread mirroring that. Periwinkles reseed prolifically and can be thinned out for best results.

Marigolds also are on this list. These can be found in a wide variety of color and form. Propagation of this plant is from seeds produced once the bloom has dried out. They may be picked and stored for next year. They peak in late spring or early summer and can be used for fall color as well.

Two taller plants for use are the bachelor buttons and the spider flower. Bachelor buttons have globe-like flowers that come in pink, white, lavender, yellow and red. It can be used as a cut flower and a dried flower. This plant reaches a height of 24 inches and a spread of 12 inches. The flowers will retain their color for long periods of time.

The last of the taller plants is the spider flower. It has flowers of pink, lavender or white varieties. It has extended stamens giving it a spider like appearance. It reaches a height of 2-4 feet, and it will re-seed as well.

For a list of heat-tolerant small trees and shrubs, perennials, ground cover and vines, refer to the Master Gardener Web site, http://community.victoriaadvocate.com/groups/VictoriaCountyMasterGardenerAssociation

and click on "Gardeners' Dirt - April through June 2006."

It is now time to go through our garden checklist of what to take care of. Cut off old blossoms on spring flowering annuals. Pinch back the terminal growth on newly planted annual and perennial plants. Continue to fertilize roses every four to six weeks with small amounts of a balanced fertilizer. Allow foliage of spring flowering bulbs to mature and yellow before removing. One can still sow directly into the ground seeds like zinnia, morning glory, cosmos, marigold, periwinkles, cannas and other summer flowering plants and bulbs. Plant caladium tubers, petunias, impatiens, begonias and torenias in well-prepared shady areas. And always replace or replenish mulch in flowerbeds and shrub borders to conserve moisture during this drought.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas Cooperative Extension-Victoria County.