August and September in the Lowcountry are the most difficult times for gardens. They are looking fairly tired right now in the heat and drought. Perennials that have “given their all” are now “resting” until cooler weather. But, take heart – what about annuals? There are some that are still available as plants and you can always plant seeds.
Annuals, known in the UK as “bedding plants,” usually last for one season. They bloom profusely, set seed, and then having accomplished what they set out to do (reproduce), they die. Remember that both perennials and annuals are wanton little tarts. Those flowers are there for one reason – to allow the plants to reproduce by attracting pollinators and/or to produce seed to be scattered. Well, I am over simplifying the process, but I don’t want to do a class in Botany. Trust me, flowers are very sexual entities.
Now, back to annuals and their place in your garden right now. One small pack of Zinnia seeds can give a tremendous boost to your garden for little money. Zinnias are originally from Mexico so they thrive in the heat. Check the height on the packet because the tall ones can tend to flop. Make sure to thin them out because Zinnias are susceptible to fungal diseases, but for the most part they are carefree. You can plant them right now for fall color. Mine germinated in three days.
Another Mexican import is the lowly Marigold (Tagetes patula and erecta). This plant is almost considered a cliché since it was used in the past so often in flower beds. There is a reason for this. They are extremely tough in the heat and planted as a border, they can repel insect pests. Even deer do not like their strong scent. Vegetable gardeners often plant them next to tomato plants or on the perimeter of their gardens. Marigolds reseed readily and I have had them in the Pollinator Garden that I manage and I have never planted them. Save the flower heads and you will have plenty of seeds.
And then there is one of my very favorite plants for butterflies – Mexican sunflower or Tithonia rotundifolia. I sense a theme here. Is it time for a Margarita? They grow quite tall – 5-6 feet if not trimmed. The bright orange flowers are butterfly magnets. The foliage is sage colored and attractive. Mine fell over last year after the hurricane, but this year I am keeping them trimmed by cutting back certain leggy flower buds so they are shorter and more upright. One tiny packet of seeds will give you flowers until January.
I have never seen Tithonia plants for sale, but the seeds are readily available and so easy to grow. You can get Marigold plants now as well as zinnias, but buy one packet of seeds and you can have a ton of plants. I purchase my seeds from an employee owned company in Maine – Johnny’s Seeds http://www.Johnnyseeds.com
Ferry Morse or Burpees seeds are just fine and are available right now at the big box stores. Do not wait until the fall though because they will be donating the seeds to organizations since they will be almost out of date.
What is on the agenda for next week? (after my Margarita) Rocks. That’s right, rocks, or the lack of them in the Lowcountry. In the meantime, stay cool, stay safe, and hope that the Sahara dust keeps the hurricane out of our path.