Welcome back avid golfers. Can we all agree that it’s nice to see the month of May! We posted another Jeckell and Hyde winter with a Polar Vortex followed by dry 80-degree highs, followed by snow/sleet, followed by tornados. In summary, it was yet another tough winter on plants and green assets of both clubs and homeowners. Now it’s finally time to let your inner Avid Gardener out. As we say, April showers bring May flowers (and vegetables)!
When it comes to flowers and vegetables, especially summer plants, which ones are the best? We will cover a few basic tips, terms and horticultural facts that can help you make the most out of your home gardening efforts this summer and then, as promised, we will answer May’s most asked superintendent question: what kind of flowers and vegetables do the best in the summer?
Flower Basics: Annuals versus Perennials and Summer (warm season) versus Winter (cool season)
Before we get into the actual varieties and cultivars of summer or warm season flowers, it is important to understand a few basic terms. First, there are annual flowers and perennial flowers. The difference in annual and perennial flowers has to do with their life cycle. Annual flowers germinate from seed, grow and die in one season, and they will not regrow the following season. Whereas perennial flowers grow and flower in one season and then go dormant, but will regrow from the roots the following season and can grow and recover for many years.
There is also a difference between summer or warm season flowers and winter or cool season flowers; the difference is about the timing of optimum growth for the plant. Warm season flowers/plants emerge in spring lasting through the summer and die back at first frost, while winter or cool season flowers thrive in late fall throughout the winter, dying back when the warmer temperatures of spring/summer arrive.
Vegetable plants are also divided by winter and summer varieties. Quite often the best landscapes and floriculture (the science of flower cultivation) include a flower or color rotation that moves on a calendar, rotating between winter and summer plantings, usually planting warm season flowers in late April or May and cool season flowers in late September or October. It is also popular to mix annual and perennial flowers together. Examples of warm season annuals include vinca, begonia and coleus. Examples of warm season perinnials include daylilies, hosta and liriope. Examples of cool season annuals include pansies, violas and ornamental kale/cabbage. Examples of winter flowering perennials include jonquils, tulips, primrose and candytuft. For our purposes in this article, we will be focusing on summer or warm season flowers/vegetables and how to maximize your results and minimize your expenses.
Flower Bed & Garden Basics
Make sure that you give your plants the best growing environment possible. This includes ensuring that your flower beds have quality soils and are well drained. I recommend amending your flower and garden beds with the best soils you can afford. Many commercial potting soils are sterilized and have fertility and wetting agents (helps with drought resistance) pre-mixed in proper ratios. If you are unsure about your soils characteristics, you can have a soil sample tested and know for sure.
Now for the insider tip just like for lawns, you can have a quick soil test done for just $12 by the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service, providing basic soil analysis and recommendations on the crop (be sure to list the main plants on the form) being grown, and for $19.00 you can add micronutrient analysis. You can get all the information about soil testing, including how to take a proper soil sample at their website soiltesting.tamu.edu, so no excuses. The soil report will tell you recommendations of what fertilizer/amendments to use and at what rate to apply to keep your plants/flowers healthy.
Proper Light and Water are Critical to Success
You should also verify the amount of sunlight your flower bed or vegetable garden gets. The Sunseeker phone app is a great tool for this task and, as a general rule, flowers are divided into four groups as related to light requirements. They are Shade (<1 hour of sun), Part-Shade (2 to 4 hours of sun or filtered sun), Part Sun (5 to 7 hours of sun), and Full Sun (8> hours of sun). Vegetables require full sun as a rule, but some varieties can thrive in part sun with proper care. Many times vegetables will grow but not yield much of a harvest if they are in a lower light environment. Finding the exact match for the light requirements of a plant is often a trial-and-error exercise, but these are good starting points.
Make sure that you water your flowers/plants properly. Know the water needs of the plants you cultivate. Remember that cacti use less water than begonias and full sun plants use more water than shade plants. There are inexpensive moisture meters that can tell you when to water, but the old school tip is if you can hold the soil in your hand then squeeze it into a ball and the soil hold its shape, it’s okay; but if the particles feel dry and fall apart, water is needed. If you see the plant wilting or showing loss of color, water is needed. Try to keep a consistent watering schedule, such as watering to field capacity (this is the maximum amount of water that a soil can hold without puddling every two to three rainless days). Do not overwater! Many well-meaning novice gardeners kill their plants with kindness by overwatering. There are more scientific ways to water, such as calculating evapotranspiration, but for the homeowner watching the weather and checking the plant’s general health regularly will work just fine. The daily appearance of an attentive gardener’s shadow can solve most plant problems. Note that vegetables use more water when they actively producing.
Vegetable Garden Basics & Plant Choices
In recent years since Covid-19’s impact, we have seen a revival of vegetable gardening nationwide. The home garden is back, even if it’s a so-called Micro-Garden. I am a Master Gardener, as well as a Master Greenkeeper, so I am thrilled to answer questions about Olericulture (the science of vegetable production). We will save Pomology (the science of fruit production) for another time. Our Garden at the Resort serves the LAW restaurant and has been a hit with diners and chefs alike for over five years now.
The core basics we covered earlier for soils, light and water are always the place to start, but often novice gardeners plant too many plants too close together and end up with weak, poorly producing plants. Try to mix in a few flowers into your vegetable garden for beauty and pollination. You could also use flowers such as marigolds that have pest-deterrent properties alongside your vegetables. Tilling the entire space to be planted is another good tip for vegetables, as they grow quickly, and providing an optimum growing medium can really improve your results. Tomatoes tend to not pollinate well when the temperatures are really high in mid-summer, so it’s not uncommon for the vines to grow well but not produce many tomatoes until the temperatures drop and the blooms can pollinate properly. Vegetables like most plants thrive when you follow the basics, watch for pests and keep fertility and moisture optimum. Home-grown vegetables taste better, have no unknown exposures and provide an amazing stress buster for urban or rural life. Now on to the plant lists.
North Texas is a unique climate for vegetable gardening, but here are some proven winners. Corn (Silver Queen, Yellowstone), Cucumber (Burpee Burpless, Straight Eight), Peppers (Hot – Anaheim, Cheyanne, Cow Horn, Habanero, Hot Banana, Jalapeno, Tabasco, Mild – Bell, Poblano, Sweet Banana), Tomatoes (Cherry/Patio, Better Boy, Big Boy, Beefsteak, Heatmaster), Okra (Clemson Spineless, Emerald), Squash (Zucchini, Strait Neck or Crooked Neck), String Beans (Blue Lake 274), Sugar Peas (Sugar Snap, Lincoln), Black-eyed Peas (Queen Anne, California) and, of course, Water Melon (Georgia Rattlesnake, Black Diamond). Don’t forget the herbs and show plants, such as Basil, Lemon Balm, Lemon Grass, Mint, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage and Sun Flowers. Note that Onion, Garlic, Turnips, Collards, Kale, Mustard Greens and such are winter/early spring vegetables, and that is quite a different subject.
Our Favorite North Texas
Here are some of our favorite North Texas summer flowers/plants. For Annuals in Full Sun, try Dusty Miller, Lantana, Marigold, Vinca and Zinnia. For Perennials in Full Sun, try Day Lilies, Flax Lilies, Lavender, Russian Sage and Purple Heart. For Annuals in Part Sun, try Begonia (Dragon Wing), Coleus, Petunia, Potato Vine, Verbena. For Perennials in Shade, try Ajuga, Dracaena and Hosta. For Annuals in Shade, try Caladiums, Impatiens (New Guinea), Purslane and Wandering Jew. For Ornamental Grasses in Sun to Part Sun, try Muhly Grass, Pampas Grass and Purple Fountain Grass. There are many cultivars of these flowers/plants to choose from and they are available at your local nursery or garden center.
Best of luck in your summer flower and vegetable gardens, and remember to make time to play lots of golf as the days get longer.