Annual & Perennial Flowers For Southern Gardens

Annuals and perennials spice the landscape with their colorful flowers and foliage. Beds of color provide brilliant accents against backgrounds of permanent plantings, soften man-made lines, and provide graceful transitions from one outdoor area to another. Flowers can be used to catch the eye, accent a view, frame a door, or just draw attention to their own blooms.

Annual plants are practical in that they are versatile, sturdy, and inexpensive. They quickly yield color for a long season.

Perennial plants return year after year. They fit into many landscapes and can be used in borders, as accents, or as strong focal points. The foliage of many perennials is attractive during nonflowering seasons as well.


Annual Flowering Plants

No other group of flowering plants provides as much color as quickly and economically as annuals. Annual plants sprout from seed, flower, set seed, and die within one season. Many flowers, vegetables, and herbs are planted every year as annuals. Other plants may live longer in their native lands, but do not survive the heat or cold of the mid-south and are best treated as annuals.

Most annuals are planted in spring and are killed by frost in the fall. However, some, including pansies, ornamental cabbage, and dill are tolerant of our winters and are best planted in the fall for color throughout the winter. These are usually killed by the heat of early summer.

Some annuals, such as gomphrena, cosmos, and coreopsis reseed themselves, yielding several years of pleasure with minimal care. Annuals come in a variety of colors, heights, and textures, and their uses are almost unlimited. Unbeatable in masses of solid or mixed colors, annuals are also very effective in small groups or used to soften lines and accent borders.

Many annuals, especially compact varieties, are well suited for containers. Large annuals may be used as specimen or accent plants along the back of a flower or shrub border. Some annuals are vines that may be grown on fences, arbors, porch rails, or trellises.

Annuals are inexpensive, especially when grown from seed. However, they do require soil preparation, fertilization, irrigation, weeding, and pest control. Most are native to semiarid regions of the world and require full sunshine to survive.

Species such as impatiens are native to dark woodland floors and flourish in shady sites, such as covered patios, narrow courtyards, or heavily wooded sites.

Annual gardens are easily established in the smallest and most restrictive of spaces as well as the harsh conditions of a large suburban garden. Their relatively shallow root systems require only a modest amount of soil. Gardeners with sizable yards quickly learn the trick of planting one or two easy-to-grow beds of massed annuals to decorate patios, walks, or pools. Apartment dwellers can achieve a splash of color with a few well-placed pots, wash tubs, or planter boxes of annuals.

Annuals that need full sun, such as periwinkle and marigold, grow and flower best when they receive at least 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. Woodland species perform best under partial to heavy shade.

Prevent root diseases and other problems associated with waterlogged soil by avoiding areas where water stands after a heavy rain. Also avoid areas near large trees and shrubs that may have many greedy, thirsty feeder roots.


Soil Preparation

Soil preparation is the most crucial step in success with annuals. Roots of annuals have to penetrate soils quickly, anchor plants, and absorb water and nutrients in one season, often under adverse conditions. Most Mississippi soils can be improved with cultivation and the addition of other ingredients.

Cultivating wet soils may cause lumping and shallow "pans," which resist air, water, and root penetration. Soil that is ready for cultivation holds its shape when squeezed, but crumbles easily. Power tillers are useful for preparing large areas, but may create a compacted zone in the soil directly under the tilled area. Use a digging fork to help avoid soil compaction.

The first step in preparing a bed for annual plants is to remove any unwanted plants with a hoe and rake or with a nonselective contact herbicide. After weeds have been removed or killed, dig the soil a shovel's depth; deeper soil preparation is normally not necessary. To prevent resprouting, remove grass and weed roots while turning the soil. Break clods and lumps into smaller pieces.

Add 3 to 4 inches of organic material, such as composted leaf and yard litter, pine bark, peat moss, or composted manure. Then add an inch or two of sharp sand if the soil is heavy. Also, if the soil test indicates a need for lime or fertilizer supplements, spread them at the recommended rate over the top at this time. Mix amendments together, blending the organic matter, sand, and fertilizers. Rake the prepared bed smooth when finished.


Seed or Transplants

As with vegetables, there are advantages to setting out some plants as transplants and others from seed. Single-potted annual plants or packs of annuals containing several transplants are more expensive than seed. However, the instant effect created by setting out plants is irresistible to most gardeners.

Sowing seed directly into the garden soil is a time-honored ritual that rewards a little work and patience with great returns. The extra time involved is offset by savings in initial cost. Also, you can get more variety at less expense from seed than from transplants.

Many species of annual flowers have improved varieties, with increased heat tolerance, disease resistance, and other improvements. Instead of relying on the same tried and true varieties each year, look for those that have won the All-America Selection award. In addition to the dozens of varieties found on seed racks, mail-order companies provide gardeners with colorful catalogs full of many exciting annuals, including the newest varieties. Ordering seed through the mail has a peculiar excitement all its own, and the catalogs themselves are a wealth of information on planting and caring for unusual plants.

Annual flowers, whether grown from seed or transplants, are all handled the same in the garden. Summer annuals are planted in the early spring, after soil temperatures have risen and danger of frost has passed. Winter annuals are planted early enough in the fall to allow time for toughening up before frost.

Set plants shallow, with the top of the roots just under the surface of the soil. If transplants are grown in pots made of compressed peat moss, crumble the top edge of the peat pot away from the plant so that it will not act as a wick pulling water away from the roots. Pinching off small flowers on brand-new transplants may be hard to do, but it will promote fast new growth and more flowers sooner.

You can have continual bloom the entire summer through some occasional maintenance. As the flowers begin to fade, remove them before seeds are formed. The plants in turn generate new flowers to try again to produce seed. Annual beds maintained for cut flowers will also send up new flower stems to replace those removed for floral arrangements.


Irrigation, Mulches, Fertilizers, and Weed Control

Mississippi summers are typically dry for weeks. Therefore, be prepared to water annual plantings as needed. To promote deep root growth, water thoroughly and deeply, then let soils get nearly dry before soaking again. Gently water annuals, using the fine spray setting of an adjustable nozzle or a breaker specially designed for watering. Soaker or sprinkler hoses are more convenient than hand watering because they provide a gentle flow of water that seeps into the soil. Trickle or drip irrigation kits conserve water by putting it only at the base of plants, a little at a time, and are best used frequently to keep soil moist. Soakers and drip systems also help keep foliage dry, which can reduce the spread of leaf diseases.

Decorative mulches such as pine straw, shredded bark, composted leaves, or other porous materials that allow air and water exchange help to conserve water and keep the soil cooler. Mulches also prevent many weed seed from sprouting but can hinder reseeding annuals for the same reason. Soaker hoses can be hidden beneath the mulch.

Annual plants often require extra doses of fertilizer during the growing season. Whether you use a granular or a water-soluble fertilizer is used, follow label directions for use. Water-soluble fertilizers give fast, but temporary, effects. Slow-release fertilizers are the most expensive; however, they provide the appropriate amount of fertilizer to the plants throughout the growing season with little effort and waste, which makes them more economical and environmentally safe. Most annuals benefit from an all-purpose fertilizer having an even or nearly even balance between nitrogen, phosphorous, and potash, as indicated by the three numbers on the container. Flowering plants may perform better when you use a fertilizer with a higher middle number (more phosphorous); green or colorful foliage plants such as amaranth, caladium, and basil benefit from higher nitrogen (first number). Remember that fertilizers, like salt, go a long way; a little is a lot better than too much.

The ideal soil pH is between 6.0 and 7.5 for most flower species. A soil test will indicate the need for lime, if any, and the amount for your particular soil type. For soil testing information, contact your county Extension office or use an inexpensive test kit available from a garden center or mail order catalog. Agricultural lime often lasts in Mississippi soils for three or more years; for this reason, it is best to not add lime unless a soil test indicates a need and quantity.

Few things can dampen enthusiasm faster than weeds. To reduce the need for hand-pulling or chopping weeds, there are herbicides that prevent weed seed germination and others that eliminate existing weeds on contact. Some may be used to control grasses without harming flowers. There are precautions and guidelines on the uses of herbicides, making none completely foolproof. Consult with your county Extension agent or local garden center on the selection and use of weed control chemicals, and carefully follow label directions. Mulches shade weed seeds and prevent their germination, thereby eliminating or reducing the need for hand or chemical weed control.


Pest and Disease Control

Choose insect and disease resistant varieties when possible. Keep the garden clean, neat, and weed-free, and be alert for early signs of trouble to reduce the need for pesticides. To prevent the spread of leaf diseases, water in the morning or early enough in the evening so foliage has time to dry before dark. Soapy water or insecticidal soap will control many insect pests. Read all label directions before buying or using any pesticide, and follow all precautions.


Dependable Annuals for Mississippi

The following is a fast-reference list of some common and favorite annual flowers grown in Mississippi, along with selected characteristics. It is not intended to be a comprehensive guide, which may be found in any good gardening book. There are a great many other good annuals that are not included here. Try one or two new varieties at a time for the fun of it.


Selected Annual Flowering Plants For Mississippi Gardens

  Light Height Spacing Remarks
Ageratum
Ageratum houstonianum
Full sun 6-20" 9-12" Edging; tall cultivars make good cut flowers
Alyssum
Lobularia maritima
Sun to part shade 3-4" 6-8" Edging; nice ground cover; heat sensitive
Babies' Breath
Gyposphila elegans
Full sun 1-2' 8-12" Suited for cut flowers; lime lover; excessive growth in rich soil
Bachelor Button
(globe amaranth)

Gomphrena globosa
Full sun 1-3' 6-12" Drought tolerant; popular dry flower; reseeds
Balsam (Touch-me-not)
Impatiens balsamnia
Sun to part shade 15-24" 8-12" Reseeds prolifically
Basil
Ocimum basilicum
Full sun 15-24" 15-18" Fragrant culinary herb; cut for regrowth
Begonia
Begonia semperflorens
Sun to part shade 8-10" 8-12" Group for mass effect; green leaf cultivars more shade tolerant
Black-eyed Susan Vine
Thunbergia alata
Sun to part shade Vine 6-18" Window boxes and hanging baskets
Caladium
Caladium hortulanum
Sun to part shade 1-2' 12-14" Tubers planted when day temperatures reach 70 °F; dig in fall after foliage drops; store dry out of sun
Calendula
(pot marigold)

Calendula officinalis
Full sun 1-2' 12-15" Cut flower; bright flowerbed plantings
Candlestick Plant
Senecio articulatus
Full sun 4-6' 3-5' Accent or screen; unusual form
Castor Bean
Ricinus communus
Full sun 5-7' 2-4' Coarse-textured bronze leaves; seeds poisonous; screen
Chrysanthemum
Chrysanthemum morifolium
Full sun 1-3' 12-14" Many different colors; plants are perennial, but are often planted as annuals
Cleome
Cleome lutea
Full sun 4-5' 18-24" Screen; cut flower; reseeds prolifically
Cockscomb (celosia)
Celosia argentea or cristata
Full sun 1-2' 8-12" Crested or plumed cut flower; heat tolerant; some reseed
Coleus
Coleus blumei
Sun to part shade 2-3' 10-12" Colorful foliage; mass in shade; nice container plant
Coreopsis
Coreopsis lanceolata
Full sun 1-2' 12-18" Native wildflower; reseeds; use as filler or in container
Cornflower
(bachelor's button)

Centaurea cyanus
Full sun 2-3' 6-12" Filler plant; cut flower; sow in fall
Cosmos
Cosmos bipinnatus
Sun to part shade 2-4' 6-12" Heat and drought tolerant; reseeds prolifically
Cypress Vine
Quamoclit pennata
Sun to part shade Vine 6-18" Attracts hummingbirds; reseeds
Dill
Anethum graveolens
Full sun 3-4' 12-18" Culinary herb; fine-textured foliage
Dusty Miller
Senecio cineraria
Full sun 1-2' 8-12" Silver gray foliage; yellow flowers
Feverfew
Chrysanthemum parthenium
Full sun 2-3' 8-12" Filler; cut flower; reseeds
Flowering Cabbage
Brassica oleracea
Full sun 6-12" 12-18" Winter annual, but not hardy in north Miss.; colorful foliage
Flowering Tobacco
Nicotiana alata grandiflora
Sun to part shade 1-2' 9-12" Fragrant cut flowers; borders and beds
Four-o'clocks
Mirabilis jalapa
Full sun 1-3' 8-12" Flowers open in late afternoon; require well-drained soil
Gaillardia
(Indian blanket)

Gaillardia pulchella
Full sun 2-3' 12-18" Cut flower or dried; reseeding wildflower
Geranium
(zonal geranium)

Pelargonium x hortorum
Sun to part shade 12-15" 9-12" Tolerates cool temperatures; good container plant
Gloriosa Daisy
(Black-eyed Susan)

Rudbeckia hirta gloriosa
Sun to part shade 18-30" 12-18" Bold texture; cut flower; reseeds
Hollyhock
Althaea rosea
Full sun 4-6' 12-18" Annual cultivars are available; biennial cultivars, plant in fall; use as screen or background plant
Hyacinth Bean
Dolichos lablab
Full sun Vine 6-12" Fast screen; colorful flowers and pods
Impatiens
Imapatiens wallerana
Part shade 12-24" 8-12" Best annual for shade; some cultivars may reseed
Johnny Jump-up
Viola tricolor
Sun to part shade 6-12" 6-8" Winter annual, plant in fall; long flowering
Joseph's Coat
Amaranthus tricolor
Full sun 6-12" 8-12" Colorful foliage; heat and drought tolerant
Lantana
Lantana camara
Full sun 1-2' 18-24" Fragrant attractive flowers; container plant; great for butterflies
Larkspur
Consolida ambigua
Part shade 2-3' 8-15" Spiked flower form; accent or mass plantings; reseeds; sow in fall
Marigold
Tagetes erecta or patula
Full sun 6-30" 6-12" Mass plantings; good container plants; spider mites a problem
Morningglory
Ipomoea purpurea
Full sun Vine 6-12" Colorful vine; cultivar selections rarely reseed
Moss Rose
Portulaca grandiflora
Full sun 6-9" 6-12" Heat and drought tolerant; summer long color; reseeds well
New Guinea Impatiens
Impatiens hawkeri, I. linearifolia or hybrids
Sun to part shade 8-12" 12-14" Striking foliage; showy blooms; tolerates sun; hanging baskets
Pansy
Viola x wittrockiana
Sun to part shade 6-12" 6-10" Winter annual for fall planting and early spring color; container plant
Pepper (ornamental)
Capsicum annuum
Full sun 9-30" 6-15" Many cultivars; heat tolerant; may reseed
Periwinkle (vinca)
Catharanthus roseus
Full sun 1-2' 8-12" Drought and heat tolerant; container plant; reseeds
Petunia
Petunia x hybrida
Sun to part shade 6-24" 12-15" Many cultivars; mass color; heat tolerant; reseeds
Phlox (annual)
Phlox drummondii
Sun to part shade 8-15" 6-12" Mass color; native wildflower; reseeds
Poppy
Papaver nudicaule or orientale
Full sun 1-2' 6-12" Cutflower; sow in fall; perennial, but mostly annual in Miss.; easy to grow
Purslane (hybrid)
Portulaca x hybrida
Full sun 6-9" 6-12" Heat and drought tolerant; summer long color; hanging baskets; does not reseed
Queen Anne's Lace
Daucus carota
Sun to part shade 3-4' 2-3' Naturalized wildflower; mass color; winter foliage; reseeds
Scarlet Sage
Salvia splendens
Shade to part sun 15-30" 8-12" Attracts hummingbirds; spikes of color; shade during summer
Snapdragon
Antirrhinum majus
Sun 12-36" 10-12" Spikes of color; cut flower; blooms best in cool weather.
Statice
Limonium sinuatim
Full sun 1-2' 9-12" Cutflower; salt tolerant for coastal plantings; readily dried
Strawflower
Helichrysum bracteatum
Full sun 12-36" 12-15" Mass of color; cut or dried flower
Sunflower
Helianthus annuus
Full sun 4-10' 20-24" Thrives in poor soil; temporary screen; attracts goldfinches
Sweetpea
Lathyrus odoratus
Full sun 1-3' 6-8" Sow in fall; soak seed in tepid water one hour before planting
Tithonia
Tithonia rotundifolia
Full sun 4-6' 3-4' Tall, bright, full plants; drought tolerant
Verbena
Verbena hortensis
Full sun 6-12" 10-12" Notably fragrant; planter boxes and baskets
Wishbone Flower
Torenia fournieri
Part shade 6-12" 6-8" Garden borders; pots and hanging baskets
Zinnia
Zinnia sp.
Full sun 1-3' 8-15" Mass color; many cultivars; variable colors; some reseed


Quick Reference List for Annuals

Easy-to-Grow
Ageratum
Begonia
Chrysanthemum
Cleome
Cockscomb
Coreopsis
Cornflower
Cosmos
Dusty Miller
Four-o'clocks
Gomphrena
(bachelor button)
Impatiens
Joseph's Coat
Marigold
Melampodium
Moss Rose
Pansy
Periwinkle
Pepper
Petunia
Poppy
Portulaca
Sunflower
Zinnia

Shade or Semi-Shade
Ageratum
Alyssum
Begonia
Coleus
Impatiens
Nicotiana (flowering tobacco)
Pansy
Salvia
Snapdragon
Wishbone Flower
(torenia)

Hot, Dry Locations
Amaranth
(Joseph's Coat)
Copper Plant
Cornflower
Cosmos
Four-o'clocks
Gomphrena
(bachelor button)
Melampodium
Morning Glory
Moss Rose
Periwinkle
Portulaca
Sunflower
Tithonia
Verbena
Zinnia

Poor Soils
Amaranth
(Joseph's Coat)
Cleome
Cockscomb
Coreopsis
Four-o'clocks
Gomphrena
(bachelor button)
Moss Rose
Periwinkle
Portulaca
Verbena
Annuals To Sow
in Fall
Alyssum
Babies' Breath
Calendula
Cornflower
Cosmos
Dill
Johnny Jump-up
Larkspur
Pansy
Poppy
Queen Anne's Lace
Snapdragon
Sweetpea

May Reseed
Year after Year
Cleome
Coreopsis
Cornflower
Cosmos
Gomphrena
(bachelor button)
Impatiens
Johnny Jump-up
Larkspur
Moss Rose
Periwinkle
Petunia
Zinnia

For Cutflowers
Babies' Breath
Calendula
Cleome
Cockscomb
Cornflower
Cosmos
Gomphrena
(bachelor button)
Larkspur
Marigold
Poppy
Salvia
Snapdragon
Statice
Zinnia

For Colorful Foliage
Amaranth
Basil
(purple-leafed and ruffle-leafed)
Caladium
Castor Bean
Coleus
Copper Plant
Dusty Miller
Joseph's Coat
Ornamental Kale
(flowering cabbage)

For Edging
Ageratum
Alyssum
Begonia
Dusty Miller
Portulaca
Marigold
(dwarf)
Pansy
Petunia
Verbena
Wishbone Flower
(torenia)
Zinnia
(dwarf, and Z. angustifolia)
For Containers
Ageratum
Alyssum
Black-eyed Susan Vine
Begonia
Coleus
Geranium
Impatiens
Marigold
Pansy
Pepper
Periwinkle
Petunia
Portulaca
Verbena
Wishbone Flower
(torenia)

For Backgrounds and Screens
Amaranth
Castor Bean
Cleome
Cockscomb
Copper Plant
Cosmos
Hollyhock
Marigold
(tall)
Sunflower
Tithonia
Zinnia
(tall)

For Groundcovers
Alyssum
Begonia
Moss Rose
Periwinkle
Portulaca
Verbena

Attract Butterflies
Coreopsis
Cosmos
Gaillardia
Gomphrena
(bachelor button)
Marigold
(singles best)
Periwinkle
Queen Anne's Lace
Verbena
Zinnia
(the best)


Perennial Flowering Plants

Perennials are plants that live for several years and often require two or more years from seed to flower. There is a renewed interest in herbaceous perennials because they need less maintenance, less water, and fewer pesticides than annuals. Many gardeners include flowering bulbs and ornamental grasses in this category. Once prominent in many landscapes, these enduring plants are being rediscovered for their dependable seasonal effects.

Unlike trees and woody shrubs, which are also perennials, herbaceous perennials are those that appear to die down part of the year, only to emerge again the following season from underground roots, stems, bulbs, or rhizomes. The simple term "perennial" is commonly used when referring to herbaceous perennials.

Perennials are easily used as ground covers, mixed with annuals, grown in containers, and used as accents or specimen plants. Many perennials are short bloomers and are best mixed with others that bloom at different times or included with other landscape plants as part of an overall design. Other perennial plants, such as ferns and monkey grass, are more noted for their foliage than their flowers. Inclusion of these plants adds interest and creates seasonal color or texture to the landscape.

Favorite perennials, including many herbs and native wildflowers, have long been shared by gardeners and sold through garden centers and mail-order nurseries. Many are treasured by gardeners as heirloom plants and have proven themselves to be hardy enough to withstand our weather and climate extremes, often with little care. Others are exciting new discoveries or hybrids and may take several years to prove themselves in Mississippi gardens. However, there are a good many perennial plants that simply do not survive for more than a year or two in our warm, humid climate, just as some of our favorites will not survive long in colder areas of the United States.

Designing Perennial Plantings

While beds and pots of annuals may be replanted with ease, perennial plantings may live for many years and, therefore, require some planning. Flower beds are usually highly visible and should work well into the total landscape design. Otherwise, large areas of the landscape may be bare part of the year.

Many perennials, like annuals, are effective in mass when they are in bloom, but because of their seasonality, they are better viewed as small clumps of color and texture to accent other plants. You can often build a design to support or accent a favorite plant or group of plants. Use small evergreen shrubs, flowering trees, or such hard features as a fence, stone, bench, birdbath, or garden art to enhance a flower garden and "carry" it through all the seasons.

One of the easiest design "tricks" is to interplant groups of flowers that have contrasting shapes. For example, daylilies can have their large flowers set off well by the spikes of blue salvia and the round flowers of yarrow. The large leaves of canna and sword-like form of iris plants have a dramatic effect when used in groups among other less bold plants.

A natural way to begin planting perennials is to create islands of flowers in an open lawn, but because such beds are easily viewed from many sides, they often require high maintenance to keep them attractive.

Border plantings along a wall, fence, or hedge can soften the transition of landscape structures into the rest of the landscape or can create alleys of color. Rectangular beds lend themselves to a border planting where space is restrictive. When planting a perennial border against a hedge, fence, or wall, leave a little space between it and its backdrop. This allows for better air circulation, more light penetration, and ease of maintenance from the rear of the bed. Perennial borders often are 6 to 8 feet wide, allowing adequate space for at least a combination of six or more species, front to back, yielding a continual bloom.

To prevent turfgrass from growing into the perennial bed and becoming unsightly, use some form of broad edging or separating strip. Bricks laid flat, flagstone, bare ground, or a heavy layer of mulch such as wood chips or bark will help keep out grass.

Perennials may be grouped according to color, intermixing plants that bloom at different intervals for a continual display. Early bulbs may be planted with spring yarrow and iris, which usually fade before daylilies and canna begin their season of color. Fall sunflowers and ornamental grasses complete the season. Select plants that have not only attractive long-lived blooms, but those that have attractive foliage.

Plant height is a major consideration. In border plantings, the tallest plants are usually placed towards the rear to serve as a backdrop with a few moved forward to prevent monotony in the design. In island plantings, they are placed towards the center. Fall-blooming perennials are usually the tallest, making them the best backdrop or accent plants. Most of the middle height perennial plants are summer bloomers and may occupy the majority of the middle space. Spring-blooming perennials are primarily short plants; place them toward the front. Emerging foliage and flowers of later blooming plants can help hide the fading foliage of earlier flowers. Narrow beds with excessively tall plants are usually not effective displays. Whether for borders or island beds, keep the width of a planting about twice the height of the tallest plant.

Site Selection and Soil Preparation

Consider the site before selecting your plants. Although many perennials, such as ferns, tolerate heavy shade, most perennial plants require abundant sunshine. Air circulation is important for avoiding diseases; stagnant, warm, and humid air creates ideal conditions for diseases. Perennial plants also require properly prepared soil, and a few have specific drainage and fertility requirements.

Soil preparation for perennials is similar to soil preparation for annuals. However, you should devote some special attention to perennial bed preparation, because plants may occupy the site for several years with little opportunity to correct any problems. When possible, add sand and organic matter such as bark, peat, or compost to soils well ahead of planting time.

A layer of organic matter 3 or 4 inches deep, worked into the soil a shovel's depth, is usually adequate. Since different types of organic matter work and decompose at different rates in the soil, it is best to use a little of two or three kinds of organic matter than a lot of just one.

Soil testing provides specific recommendations for fertilizer and lime needs. Since lime lasts for several years depending on the type used, never add lime without a soil test. Many fertilizers, such as phosphorus, are best applied and mixed into soils before planting. Perennials need a balance of several nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorous, and potash; most garden supply stores carry a wide variety of fertilizer mixes. Keep in mind that phosphorus, including that found in bone meal, lasts for several years and need not be applied regularly.

Propagation

Though most perennials may take a couple of years to flower from seed, many are as easily started as annuals. The quickest way to have blooming plants, however, is by vegetative propagation, such as by dividing old plants or rooting stem cuttings. Plants produced vegetatively have all of the traits of the "mother" plant. Propagation by division may seem difficult at first, but most gardeners find that dividing crowns and roots and separating bulbs takes very little experience and can be mastered quickly. Try dividing monkey grass for experience; then move on to daylilies, and before long you will have the hang of it.

Perennial plants with shallow roots are easily pulled apart by hand. Long fibrous roots can be pulled apart with a hand fork. Thickly intertwined roots may need more forceful separation or cutting with digging forks. Replant only those segments with strong roots and a few intact leaves or crowns.

In general, it is best to divide perennials during their dormant or "off" season; divide spring bloomers in the fall and fall bloomers in spring. Some perennials may need dividing every 3 or 4 years, or they will slowly crowd themselves into clumps of nonflowering leaves and roots.

Many perennial plants may be propagated from stem cuttings, which does not disturb the plant's roots. Take stem cuttings during the spring or early summer, choosing stems that are mature and firm but not yet hardened and woody. Cut off 4- to 6-inch segments using a sharp knife or shears, and pinch off the succulent tip and any flower buds to force the cuttings to concentrate their energy on producing roots. Remove the lower leaves that will be below the surface of the rooting medium, but leave a few leaves to provide a source of energy for root initiation and growth.

Because of disease or weather conditions, cuttings often will not root directly in garden soils. They may be easily started in a pot containing a porous, well-drained rooting medium, such as a 1:1 mixture of perlite and peat moss. Coarse sand and vermiculite are also used as rooting soils. These mixtures will hold moisture and yet allow drainage for air circulation. Root-stimulating compounds, including those that contain fungicides, are available at most garden centers. Using a blunt stick, pencil, or finger, open a hole in the rooting medium and insert the treated cutting. Firm the medium around the cutting and water in well.

Many commercial growers use a mist bed to keep cuttings from wilting, but this is usually not feasible on a small scale. You may easily construct a humidity tent from plastic film loosely draped over a frame covering the cuttings. Place the tent in bright light, but prevent overheating by making sure the tent is not located in direct sunshine. Keep the plastic loose to allow air circulation. Avoid direct contact between the leaves and the plastic. The tent will serve as a tiny greenhouse and will maintain a good rooting environment with daily light watering. Rooting often occurs within 3 or 4 weeks. By the time new leaves begin to appear on cuttings, roots are usually formed. Remove the plastic tent and water regularly until plants are firmly established.

Transplant newly rooted plants into prepared beds or pots and place in a bright, protected area until you are ready to set them into your garden or share them with others.

Planting

Set perennial plants in their permanent places so their roots are completely covered with prepared soil, but avoid burying the stem or crown. Place container-grown plants the same depth that they were grown; place dormant plants at the depth at which they grew the previous season. To encourage side root growth, make a planting hole twice as wide as deep. With bare-root perennials, spread the roots outward as well as downward. For container-grown plants, loosen encircled roots and shake some of the potting soil into the planting hole. Remember to crumble away the top edges of a peat pot to prevent water loss through wicking. Do not let roots dry out, especially during transplanting.

Water the plants in thoroughly to force out any air pockets and to settle the soil. Mark and label the plantings. Mulch the bed surface with pine straw or bark to keep soil from drying, crusting, and overheating in the summer, and to prevent many weed seeds from germinating.

Care and Maintenance

If you do not mulch your plants, use shallow cultivation in the spring and early summer to break and aerate compacted soils. This also aids in water penetration and makes it easier to incorporate fertilizer. Summer cultivation can damage shallow roots and is more difficult because the plants will be larger. Early in the season, stake tall plants with wire stands or bamboo canes. Use care to avoid root damage.

Apply fertilizers sparingly to plants early in their growing season, after new growth begins to show. If plants are growing well, no additional fertilizer may be needed; otherwise, a second light feeding will be helpful several weeks into the season.

In the fall, cut the old plant stalks to the ground after the leaves have fallen, and mulch to protect crowns and roots from the harsh extremes of our mild weather followed by sudden cold spells. Remove any winter annual weeds that may have germinated before applying mulch. Fall is also a good time to divide many plants that may be encroaching on one another.

Hardy Perennials for Mississippi Gardens

Perennial plants have been long enjoyed for their flowers and foliage and for their ability to return to our gardens for many years with little trouble. Although dozens of perennials have long been shared between gardeners, retail garden centers offer many hardy perennials. By planting only three or four new types of perennials each year, you can quickly build up a showy perennial garden and then divide the plants for your own use or share them with other gardeners.

The following are some common and favorite perennial flowers grown in Mississippi, along with selected characteristics. This is by no means a comprehensive guide. Use this as a general selection guide for getting started with perennials. Try others as your success and confidence grow.

Selected Herbaceous Perennials for Mississippi Gardens

The following are some of the most popular and dependable perennials enjoyed by Mississippi gardeners. Try a few each year, and soon you will enjoy a nice collection of hardy plants. As they grow and multiply, divide and share with other gardeners for more variety. Try others as your confidence grows. (Note: Names are those generally used in the nursery trade and garden books; cultivated varieties are in single quotes.)
  Bloom
Season
Plant
Height
Remarks
Achillea (yarrow)
Achillea filipendulina or millefolium
Spring; summer 1-3' Fernlike winter foliage, flat round heads of spring and summer flowers; excellent cut flowers; good companion to daylilies; pink or white cultivars popular, 'Coronation Gold' suffers on Gulf Coast from heat and humidity.
Amsonia (blue star)
Amsonia tabernaemontana
Spring; summer 2-3' Native, spikes of blue in mid-spring, tolerates wet or dry soils, good cut flower; Clump-former to 3 feet tall
Artemisia
Artemisia ludoviciana
Foliage 2-3' Silvery-gray foliage plant; invasive, but good companion; 'Silver King' and 'Powis Castle'
Asters
Aster sp.
Fall 2-5' Wide range of plant heights depending on type
Banana
Musa acuminata
Foliage 10-15' Foliage giant; trunk needs mulch protection in winter
Butterfly Lily (ginger lily)
Hedychium coronarium
Late summer and fall 4-6' Bamboo-like summer foliage; pure white, fragrant flowers; rhizomes edible as a mild ginger; mulch in winter
Canna
Canna generalis
Summer 3-7' Dependable summer flowers; coarse foliage; tolerates both very dry and very wet soils; dwarf forms popular for landscaping; insects are a problem on foliage, but easily controlled; pruning forces new growth
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia)
Lobelia cardinalis
Late summer and fall 3-4' Native to moist or lightly shaded areas; spikes of red flowers; cut flower; do not mulch in winter or rot may occur
Chives and Garlic Chives
Allium schoenoprasum
Spring 1-2' Edible flowering members of onion family; winter foliage
Coreopsis (Mississippi State Wildflower)
Coreopsis lanceolata
Spring and summer 2-3' Several forms include spring bloomers for cutflowers and invasive, low-growing summer bloomers ('Moonbeam', 'Zargreb' with ferny foliage)
Daisies (mums)
Chrysanthemum sp.
Spring to fall 1-3' Many forms and colors
Ox-eye Daisy
C. leucanthemum
Spring 2-3' Naturalized wildflower 'May Queen' best variety
Shasta Daisy
C. maximum
Spring 2-3' Very popular white daisy
Garden Mum
C. x morifolium
Fall 1-2' Often planted as an annual; needs dividing in spring to prevent rot
Clara Curtis Aster
C. rubellum
(C. zawadskii latilobum)
Fall 2-3' Old garden (favorite; large and pink; often called "Country Girls")
Daylily
Hemerocallis
Summer 1-4' Very popular clump-former with stems of large flowers; tolerates wide range of soils except wet; many improved varieties
Elephant Ear
Alocasia cucullata
Foliage 3-4' Favorite large-leaf foliage plant; corms edible; may be invasive; many other species and hybrids available
Ferns Foliage 1-5' Many kinds, mostly shade; Divide and transplant in winter
Examples 
Adiantum capillus-veneris Southern Maidenhair
Asplenium sp. Spleenworts
Athyrium sp. Lady Ferns
Cyrtomium falcatum Holly Fern (evergreen)
Polystichum sp. Leather Ferns
Pteridium aquilinum Bracken Fern
Four-o'clocks
Mirabilis jalapa
Spring to fall 1-3' Fragrant evening bloomer; easy and fast from seed; tolerant of every poor soils; good for hummingbirds
Hibiscus (rose mallow)
Hibiscus moscheutos
Summer and fall 3-5' Several hardy varieties; do not confuse with Chinese hibiscus; tall plants, 'Disco Belle' series have dinner-plate-sized flowers; insects a problem on foliage
Hosta (plantain lily)
Hosta plantaginea
Summer 10-24" Shade plant with coarse foliage; cut flower; not heat tolerant near Gulf Coast
Iris
Iris sp.
Spring 2-5' Louisiana iris thrives in wet soils; Bearded iris popular, but often rots in heavy soils or if planted deep; Siberian iris more dependable in central and north Mississippi; Dwarf crested iris is a shade-loving groundcover.
Lamb's Ears
Stachys byzantina
Foliage 1-2' Silvery-gray foliage, spikes of yellow flowers in spring; drought-tolerant groundcover; container plant
Lantana
Lantana camara
Spring to fall 2-4' Long-blooming butterfly plant; drought tolerant; attractive berries poisonous; new cultivars may not be hardy in the north
Liatris (blazing star)
Liatris spicata
Summer 2-3' Outstanding native with tall spikes of lavender flowers that bloom from top down; great cut flower
Liriope (monkey grass)
Liriope muscari
Summer 1-2' Tough clump-former with evergreen foliage; variegated varieties available; often overlooked as flowering plant for dry or shady sites
Lythrum (loosestrife)
Lythrum salicaria
Summer and fall 3-5' Tall spikes of pink flowers; butterflies; named cultivars ('Morden's Gleam', etc.) not invasive; tolerates wet soils or water gardens
Mistflower (wild ageratum)
Eupatorium coelestinum
Fall 2-3' Native; blooms in fall with masses of blue flowers
Monarda (bee balm)
Monarda didyma
Summer 2-3' Native to lightly-shaded moist sites; flowers used for herbal tea; good butterfly plant
Mondograss
Ophiopogon japonicus
Summer 4-8" Dwarf lily turf; good ground cover; full sun to part shade
Phlox
Phlox sp.
Spring 1-3' Most kinds native; early spring 'Thrift'; (P. subulata) good for rock gardens and edging; "wild sweet Williams" (P. divaricata) good for ground cover; "summer phlox" (P. paniculata) taller cut flower (suffers from mildew)
Physostegia (obedience)
Physostegia virginiana
Summer and fall 2-4' Invasive native with spikes of cut flowers; 'vivid' pink cultivar
Purple Coneflower
Echinacea purpurea
Summer 2-4' Native summer cut flower; attractive seedheads
Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia)
Kniphofia uvaria
Late spring to summer 2-3' Striking stems of late spring flowers above clumps of thin foliage
Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan)
Rudbeckia fulgida or hirta
Summer 2-4' Traditional native wildflower; R. hirta is a short-lived spring perennial; reseeds readily; R. fulgida 'Goldstrum' is a more dependable, spreading groundcover with many mid-summer flowers on stiff stems. Winter foliage
Salvia
Salvia sp.
Summer 3-4' Several hardy species and cultivars (S. greggii, S. farinaceae, S. guarantitica), mostly blue cut flowers on spikes
Saponaria (soapwort, bouncing bet)
Saponaria officinalis
Spring to fall 8-10" Old-world plant used by pioneers to make soap lather; spreading groundcover with pink and white flowers in clusters; good winter foliage
Sedum
Sedum acre or spectabile
Spring or summer 10-18" Several hardy species include cascading S. acre with yellow spring flowers, and S. spectabile ('Autumn Joy') or house leek; very hardy, easy to root or divide; excellent outdoor pot plants
Stoke's Aster
Stokesia laevis
Spring 18-24" Native, low-growing clump-former with large blue aster-like flowers; tolerates wet soils
Verbena
Verbena x hybrida
Spring to Summer 1-2' Spreading ground covers for sunny, dry areas; garden verbenas are propagated from cuttings, not seed like the annual species; V. rigida and V. tenuisecta (moss verbena) are wild along roadsides and are too invasive for most gardens, but do best in very poor soils; prune in summer to control mites
Violets
Viola williamsii
Late winter and spring 6-10" Woodland natives that also grow in full sun; may become weedy in lawns; winter flowers edible


Other Hardy Perennials Worth Growing in Mississippi Gardens

Note: These are all easily grown. However, many are difficult to locate commercially except through mail order. All are readily found in good perennial reference books for more information. Latin names followed by sp. indicate many different species are available.
Asparagus
Asparagus officinalis
Beard-tongue
Penstemon sp.
Blue-eyed Grass
Sisyrinchium angustifolium
Boltonia
B. asteroides
Bugleweed
Ajuga reptans
Butterfly Weed
Asclepias tuberosa
Candytuft
Iberis sempervirens
Cast-iron Plant
Aspidistra elatior
Comfrey
Symphytum officinale
Coralbells
Heuchera sanguinea
Dianthus 'Telstar' and 'Spring Beauty'
Dianthus sp.
Dwarf Goldenrod
Solidago x hybrida
Gerbera Daisy
Gerbera jamesonii
Hardy Begonia
Begonia grandis
Heliopsis ("cut-and-come-again")
Heliopsis scabra
Helleborus (Lenten rose)
Helleborus orientalis
Hidden Ginger (hidden lily)
Curcuma petiolata
Indian Pinks
Spigelia marilandica
Ironweed
Veronia altissima and V. angustifolia
Joe-Pye Weed
Eupatorium purpureum
Lily (turk's cap, Madonna, tiger, etc.)
Lilium sp.
Mexican or Mint Marigold
Tagetes lucida
Mints
Mentha sp.
Pachysandra
Pachysandra terminalis
Peony ('Festiva Maxima' and other early bloomers only)
Paeonia lactiflora
Peruvian Lily (parrot lily)
Alstroemeria pulchella
Purple Heart
Setcreasea purpurpea
Spiderwort
Tradescantia virginiana
Trillium
Trillium cuneatum
Umbrella Sedge
Cyperus alternifolius
Veronica 'Sunny Border Blue', 'Blue Charm', and 'Goodness Grows'
Veronica spicata


Selected Hardy Bulbs for Mississippi Gardens

Note: These are commonly grown, though they may not be readily available through local garden supply stores. They are available through mail order companies. Many may be found in old gardens and with permission from the owners, can be propagated. Divide bulbs when they are not actively growing. Latin names followed by sp. indicate many different species are available.

Allium (chives, garlic chives) Allium schoenoprasum
Amaryllis (hardy red) Amaryllis belladonna
Calla Lily Zantedeschia aethiopica
Crocosmia ('Lucifer', and the orange montbretia) Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora
Dutch Iris Iris xiphium
Hyacinth Hyacinthus orientalis
Hymenocallis (native white spider lily) Hymenocallis occidentalis
Jacob's Ladder (hardy gladiolus) Gladiolus byzantinus
Ipheion (starflower) Ipheion uniflorum
Leucojum (summer snowflake)
Lilies (garden lily; tiger, Madonna, regal, Easter, etc) Lilium sp.
Lycoris Radiata (red spider lily) Lycoris radiata
L. squamigera (naked ladies) Lycoris squamigera
Milk and Wine Lily Crinum latifolium
Muscari (grape hyacinth)  
Narcissus (daffodil) Narcissus sp.
Several distinct groups have different flower forms; recommended hardy cultivars include 'Ice Follies', 'Carlton', 'Mt. Hood', 'Tete a Tete', 'Minnow', 'Cheerfulness', 'Paperwhite', 'Thalia', 'Fortune', 'Unsurpassable', 'Jonquilla'.
Oxalis (pink woods sorrel) Oxalis adenophylla
Painted Arum Arum italicum
Spanish Squill (woods hyacinth) Scilla hispanica
Star of Bethlehem Ornithogalum nutans
Sternbergia (Autumn crocus) Sternbertia lutea
Society Garlic Tulbaghia violacea
Rain Lily, Atamasco Lily Zephyranthes sp.


Hardy Ornamental Grasses

Broomsedge (native; very invasive) Andropogon virginicus
Carex (short, grass-like plant) Carex sp.
Fountain Grass
Small grass with foxtail flowers; the maroon one is an annual and not hardy.
Pennisetum alopecuriodes
Giant Reed (striped cane) Arundo donax
Miscanthus (maiden grass)
All cultivars excellent: 'Gracillimus' has fine texture to four feet; 'Zebrinus' has yellow stripes across the leaf blades; 'Variegata' holds up well in gardens
Miscanthus sinensis
Pampas Grass (not reliable in North Miss.) Cortaderia selloana
River Oats (shade, good cut flower) Chasmanthium latifolium
Variegated Ribbon Grass
For the shade
Phalaris arundinacea


Quick-Reference List for Perennial Uses

Shade or Part-Shade
Ajuga
Alstroemeria (Peruvian lily)
Aspidistra
Canna (may not bloom, but foliage good for texture)
Ferns
Ginger Lily (Hedychium)
Heuchera (Coral bells)
Hosta
Iris (Dwarf crested, and the old timey "sweet flags")
Liriope
Lobelia (Cardinal flower)
Ophiopogon (mondograss)
Pachysandra (except on Gulf Coast)
Phlox divaricata (wild blue phlox)
Setcreasia (purple heart)
Spigelia (Indian Pink)
Viola (Violets)

Tolerant of Wet Soils
Amsonia (blue star)
Apsidistra
Canna
Cyperus (umbrella sedge)
Ironweed
Joe-Pye Weed
Louisiana Iris
Lobelia (cardinal flower)
Lythrum
Miscanthus (ornamental grass)
Stokesia
Bloom in Late Summer or Fall
Asters
Boltonia
Canna
Daylily
Dwarf Goldenrod
Four-o'clocks
Ironweed
Lantana
Physotegia (obedience)
Purple Coneflower
Mexican Mint Marigold
Ornamental grasses
Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm'
Salvias
Saponaria
Verbena

Attractive to Butterflies
Canna
Coreopsis
Goldenrod
Ironweed
Joe-Pye weed
Lantana (the best)
Liatris
Lythrum
Monarda
Phlox
Purple Coneflower
Rudbeckia
Salvias
Sedums
Stokesia
Verbena
Yarrow

Planting a few perennials and annuals around a hard feature such as a bench, urn, or birdbath gives an interesting all-season scene. Mixing groups of contrasting shapes or textures and planning for a long season of color can make the most dramatic effect.


By Felder Rushing, Area Horticulture Specialist, and Steven E. Newman, Associate Professor of Horticulture