Nancy Brachey

Fill the blank spots in flowerbeds

A bright yellow tropical hibiscus can easily fill a large blank spot in a flowerbed and give summer color for many months.
A bright yellow tropical hibiscus can easily fill a large blank spot in a flowerbed and give summer color for many months. McClatchy file photo

Most home gardeners look over their flowerbeds now with pride, pleased that summer annuals and perennials are coming along nicely, showing much promise for the weeks ahead. But sometimes an inspection of shrub beds and flower gardens reveals a surprise that must be taken care of, you think, this instant.

It may be a plant that got chewed up by something. Or another wilted and collapsed. Or something else simply hasn’t thrived and grown to your expectations.

These things happen. If this were September, it would be simple to just let the blank spot rest and await fall plantings of pansies, snapdragons and ornamental kale and cabbage.

But it is mid-June, still a good time to deal with the blank spaces caused by lost or flagging plants. Add something fresh and lovely.

Garden centers remain well stocked with annuals and perennials that can easily go into the ground now and should thrive for many months. Many are mature and in bloom so the effect on your flowerbed will be instant. And that’s a great feeling.

Give some thought to several things while making your selections.

First, consider the location. A sunny, hot spot is challenging, but many excellent bedding plants – including scarlet sage, verbena, lantana, sunflowers, zinnias and marigolds – perform very well provided they have good soil and regular water. This is especially important in the early weeks after planting. Some, such as scarlet sage, marigolds and zinnias, are vertical and of varying height. Check plant tags when you are making choices for the middle or back of the flowerbed.

For a largish spot where you need a tall plant, tropical hibiscus makes a great choice. These plants are typically grown in big, decorative pots on decks, patios and steps, but there is no reason not to plant them in a bed. The colors are stunning, and the entire effect is a nice contrast to the smaller, more delicate flowers of most summer annuals and perennials. They will grow tall, however, so place them in the back, where you might put sunflowers.

Others remain shorter and sometimes trail, making them well suited for the front of the bed. Lantana may be mounding or trailing, so it’s important to know this if you require something for the front edge, perhaps where pansies grew through the winter and spring.

In shade, fewer choices exist, but blank spots can be instantly filled with hardy ferns, Lenten roses or hostas, all parts of the landscape that will be with you for years. These are excellent investment plants that thrive in our climate and look beautiful in shade. Begonias and impatiens are annuals that can easily be added now without much trouble. Once they get growing, they will be with you until October.

Setting out such plants in April and May is about as safe as anything can be because the temperature is mild and it usually rains enough. But by mid-June, the temperature is up and rainfall is erratic, so you must pay attention to these plants. Once you set them out, give them a look every day, make sure there is no sign of wilting, and water accordingly early in the morning. They will soon settle in and then require the same amount of watering and fertilizer as the annuals and perennials already established in the flowerbed.

Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. I did not do anything with my amaryllis plant that bloomed at Christmas except water it. The leaves are still green. Is it too late to plant outdoors (like you said to do earlier this year)?

A. It is not too late. Take the plant out of its pot and set it in the ground in a flower bed. Set it so that the area where the leaves emerged is just at ground level. With adequate watering, the leaves will not wilt and turn yellow. You want them to stay green through the summer. They will not bloom outdoors in the winter but should bloom in late spring. Give them a dose of slow-release, balanced fertilizer every couple of months through the growing season.

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