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Sunny Disposition, Shady Needs

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It is always a topic of conversation: What plants work well in sun or in shade? Or both? However, the conversation has taken on a slightly different perspective for 2014.

The plant world has been turned upside down due to a disease that has impacted one of gardeners’ favorite shade plants — Impatiens walleriana. Impatiens are the standard for any annual shade garden, and varieties belonging to this class have died in Europe, the U.K. and now, North America, from a disease called downy mildew (Plasmopara obducens). Infected plants start to drop leaves overnight and only the plant stems remain after a few days. So what can you replace them with to give color in a shaded location? Here are a few suggestions. Ideas for Shade

First, let’s start with impatiens varieties that have shown tolerance to downy mildew. These include: The Impatiens x hybrida SunPatiens series. Superb performers, SunPatiens can be planted in full sun to shade. They are available in compact, spreading and vigorous varieties to fit many garden needs. All have 2-inch blooms. The Compact class has 10 flower colors, grows from 16-28 inches tall and spreads 14-24 inches across. Spreading types include five flower colors and grow from 18-28 inches tall, spreading from 18 to 24 inches across with a mounding habit. There are two variegated leaf selections as well. Vigorous SunPatiens varieties have seven flower colors and grow from 20-35 inches tall with a 24 to 30-inch spread.

New colors for 2014 include: ‘Compact Red’ (Impatiens x hybrida hort ‘SunPatiens Compact’) with a rich, brilliant red flower color; ‘Compact Hot Coral’ (Impatiens x hybrida hort ‘SunPatiens Compact’) with a saturated coral pink color; and ‘Spreading Pink Flash’ (Impatiens x hybrida hort ‘Spreading SunPatiens’) with light pink flowers. Flowers measure 2 inches across.

Impatiens hawkeri Divine series. Introduced several years ago, the Divine series has several new colors for spring. Blue Pearl has lavender blue flowers. Scarlet Bronze Leaf, as the name implies, has scarlet flowers with bronze foliage. Burgundy has a rich burgundy red flower color. White Blush has a white-flowering petal with a pink blush. All varieties grow 10-14 inches tall and spread from 12-14 inches across. Plants prefer morning or late afternoon sun but shade during the brightest time of day.

Again, as a reminder, these two impatiens are not affected by the downy mildew disease and are a suitable alternative to Impatiens walleriana.


A plant class that has seen a resurgence in varieties and tolerance of full sun and/or moderate shade is coleus (Plectranthus scutellariodes). The brightest and broadest range of foliage colors can be found in this class of annuals. Many of the more recently introduced varieties have helped redefine the crop as a whole. Some have such superior performance that they will do well in full sun or where they get shade.

Coleus Mighty Mosaic. This is a new seed-propagated variety for 2014 and the foliage on this selection reminds me of army fatigues — various shades of bright to medium green, splashed with darker colors. Plants grow 14-20 inches tall, spread 14-20 inches, and perform best with morning or late afternoon sun, but protected from direct sun during the middle of the day. The foliage color is more pronounced under these exposures and will not bleach out or flower early.

Coleus Kong Junior series. If you are familiar with the Kong series then you recognize its large-leaved varieties in various foliage colors for shady locations. Kong grows 16-20 inches tall and spreads 16-20 inches across. Kong Junior (a new series for 2014) will do the same. The major difference between the two is that Kong Junior has smaller leaves that allow for less breakage than its cousin. Varieties include Green Halo ‘PAS904508’, Rose ‘PAS904510’, Scarlet ‘PAS905512’ and Lime Vein ‘PAS904506’. On Lime Vein the foliage color is more pronounced in shade. Under bright light, the veining is not as significant.

Here are a few other recent introductions of coleus. The major difference is that these are taller and tolerate full sun to shade.

Henna ‘Balcenna’. Rose and lime green splashed irregularly across each serrated leaf. Plants grow 20-30 inches tall.

Wasabi ‘UF0843’. A lime green (sometimes chartreuse) foliage plant growing 24-36 inches tall. Excellent in full-sun to bright-shade locations, this plant makes a great thriller and tall backdrop in garden beds.

Redhead ‘UF07-10-10’. This brilliant scarlet red selection grows 24-30 inches tall. It’s a stellar performer with consistent upright habit, no flowering, grows equally well in full sun to shade.


Caladiums (Caladium) are often overooked as a garden option, but they can be used in a number of settings with excellent results. Caladiums do not like full or heavy shade. They prefer lit spaces (some can tolerate sun all day) so pick accordingly. A few of the better ones we have tried include the following:

‘Celebration’ is a white-leaved selection with green edges and bright red veins and midrib. Plants grow 18-26 inches tall and work well in morning/afternoon sun and shade during the midday hours. Great as a bedding plant, in containers by itself, or when mixed with other plants.

‘Heart’s Delight’ has a prominent red center to each leaf edged in dark to medium green, sometimes dotted with white. Plants grow 20-26 inches tall in a container but can also be grown in the garden where they tend to be slightly shorter.

‘Raspberry Moon’ is one that we have used as a border plant in front of a large tropical display in our gardens in West Chicago and one of my personal favorites. The leaves are raspberry red to rose, highlighted with cream to white across the entire leaf. The intensity of color is deeper under morning light and afternoon shade. Plants grow 18-20 inches high when planted in the garden and slightly taller when grown in a container on the deck or patio.

Ideas for Sun

While there has been a focus on selecting varieties for shade, that does not mean that sun-loving crops have taken a backseat. The following are just a few of the newer selections for spring.


There have been a number of new celosia (Celosia plumosa) introductions.

Arrabona Red is an intense red-flowered variety on green foliage. Plants grow 12-16 inches tall and are better branched than other selections. It is an excellent garden performer and won’t stall out come late summer.

The First Flame series is between 14 and 18 inches tall in the garden and comes in several colors. My personal favorites are First Flame Red, which has a medium red flower on green foliage, and First Flame Yellow, with its medium-green foliage and bright yellow flowers.


New petunia selections continue to be introduced. For you, dear readers, I’ll focus on some of the unique bicolors that are brand new for 2014.

Flash Mob is a series featuring two morn-type selections. One is ‘Flash Mob Redtastic’ (Petunia ‘Flash Mob Redtastic’), a plant growing 12-14 inches tall with a similar spread. Its blooms are 2-2½ inches in diameter with dark pink to light red flowers and white center.

The other is ‘Flash Mob Bluerific’ (Petunia ‘Flash Mob Bluerific’), equal in flower size and height but a with a light to medium blue flower.

‘Cha-Ching Cherry’ (Petunia ‘Cha-Ching Cherry’) has 2½-inch single blooms that are a bicolor pattern of cherry, rose and cream to white. Mix some Diamond Frost euphorbia (Euphorbia hypericifolia ‘Inneuphe’) or Breathless White euphorbia (Euphorbia hypericifolia) in a basket or pot for a stunning display.


Zahara Sunburst zinnia (Zinnia marylandica ‘Zahara Sunburst’) boasts a unique bicolor of gold and red in a star-shaped flower pattern. It is very drought tolerant and disease resistant. Plants grow 12-16 inches tall with 2½-inch single flowers.


The new Gomphrena ‘Pink Zazzle’ has sure grabbed a lot of attention in our gardens this past summer. While this is a gomphrena, it isn’t one we have ever seen in our gardens since our inception in 1905. It has large 2½-inch flower globes of rosy purple spikes tipped in white. The plants have larger leaves than standard gomphrenas, and they are covered with many fine hairs. Quite a stunner in containers and something unique for your garden.

Ideas for Your Patio

New roses and orchids provide season-long bloom in containers on your deck or patio.

First, the Roses The four new varieties of Sweet

Spot roses, introduced this year by Tesselaar Plants, can’t help but be attention hounds. Unassuming yet beautiful in bud, Sweet Spot roses Calypso, Peach, Ruby and Yellow are compact and as disease resistant as Tesselaar’s Flower Carpet line. The surprise is on the inside where the distinctive spot of deep red-orange-pink resides.

The term “sweet spot” refers not only to the spot in the middle, but the idea that they can be used to color up just about any spot. Perfect for a container or in the ground, they should nevertheless be grown where they can be appreciated at close range. Shades and hues come and go as the flowers age, giving them a multi-colored effect.

Anthony Tesselaar, co-founder and president of Tesselaar Plants, considers them a new class of roses, which he terms The Decorator Rose. “We call them ‘decorator roses’ because of their bold, bright mix of colors – seen everywhere in fashion right now. They are so unique, so distinct; you can use them to, in fact, decorate your garden, patio and containers.”

Four roses will be available in the 2014 market, but there are plans to introduce up to 24 in future years. The smallest, at just 16 inches tall, is Sweet Spot Yellow. Its butter-yellow bud hints at more with its blotch of red near the stem. The single flower opens to show off its red-orange central spot. Sweet Spot Peach and Ruby grow to around 20 inches and each has a deep pinkish-red center. Sweet Spot Peach begins its bloom season earlier than the rest but enjoys the same long season of bloom. Ruby is pink in bud, opening to pinkish-red and yellow with a reddish-pink spot.

The compact spreading habits of these roses make them ideal for containers. Move them around the patio like furniture, only a lot more interesting.

And Then There Are the Orchids Oglesby Plants International,

Inc. in Altha, Fla., has introduced a collection of orchids that can live on your patio for the summer. While most orchids are too delicate to chuck into a pot and leave to fend for themselves, these new hybrids of the genus Spathoglottis positively preen. Considered a terrestrial or ground orchid, these plants have flowers with enough substance and vigor to offer up color throughout the whole season.

Spathoglottis is a genus with more than 40 species. Its palm-like foliage sets the stage for a succession of extremely long-lasting blooms that range in color from purple to yellow to white. It has long been used in landscaping in warm climates but has only recently been considered for container planting in cooler regions. The plants bloom relatively non-stop, provided they have warmth, bright light and good nutrition. Flowers open a few at a time at the top of the spike. Each spike can last for months.

Spathoglottis will grow well under light shade to full sun and should be planted in a well-drained, fibrous peat-based soil mix. To provide the best growth, Oglesby recommends a mix of 60 percent peat, 20 percent perlite and 20 percent bark that should be kept evenly moist. Spathoglottis have a vigorous root system and require standard or extra deep containers. Because they grow fast, they require a good supply of liquid or slow-release fertilizer, or a combination of both. They don’t tolerate freezing but can withstand temps as low as 40 F for short periods.

Availability in the Midwest is hit or miss, but customers are becoming more adventurous, says Chuck Roth, of Chesterton Feed & Garden Center. “We’ve been mixing tropical plants with other annuals in mixed containers,” he says. “The tropicals lend themselves well to that.” As for carrying varieties of Spathoglottis, Roth has been able to find three wholesale sources for the plants, so gardeners can expect to find some of them at the Chesterton, Indiana garden center.

The varieties ‘Grapette’, ‘Snow Angel’ and ‘Cabaret’ have been out the longest, so the chance of availability is good.

– Jean Starr, author of the blog PetalTalk


1. Photo by Annette MaCoy

2. Photo by Ron Capek

3. Photo courtesy of Tesselaar USA

4. Photo courtesy of Oglesby Plants

From Chicagoland Gardening Volume XIX Issue I.



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