Ten Plants To Try This Year
February 23, 2016
There are so many varieties of plants out there, it becomes exciting, and then daunting, to choose what to grow. An even bigger issue I have in my garden, is having the time and space for everything I want to plant. Here’s a short list of five flowers and five vegetables that have been good to me and good to nature in Zone 6a, Saint Louis City. They have performed valiantly in both hot and mild, wet and dry conditions. The garden I grow in is part sun, and most plants in Saint Louis appreciate some afternoon shade in our often scorching, humid summers.
- Liatris pycnostachya (prairie blazing star) – This is a tough native that once established, grows beautiful “sparkler” type flower spikes that flower from top to bottom. As a native, it’s great for pollinators. Seeds can be sown anytime, but prefer winter stratification. Plants can be planted anytime between hard frosts. Perhaps the tallest of the Liatris species, reaching up to 5 feet in height.
- Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed) – One of Missourians for Monarchs top choices to help the rapidly declining monarch butterfly population. This asclepias is not quite as attractive to the monarchs as Asclepias incarnata, but is easier to control and does not set new seed as readily.
- Dahlia – Bedding types with puffy-perfect petals, cactus-flowering, to dinner plate, the choices seem endless. The reason there are sooo many varieties, is that dahlias are octoploids, having eight sets of homologous chromosomes, while most plants have two(!). I’m sure my list of favorites will expand over time as 2015 was just my first year growing dahlias, but the outstanding producer was ‘sierra glow.’ Look out for grasshoppers (that eat the leaves) and cucumber beetles (that eat the flower petals as soon as the buds begin opening). Dahlias may sputter in the heat of mid-summer, but will often resume flowering into the fall all the way until a hard frost.
- Solidago (goldenrod) – Goldenrod gets a bad rap for being the cause of hayfever. It’s not – its cousin ragweed is. The next time you get goldenrod in a flower arrangement, please don’t dump it! Solidago riddellii (Riddell’s goldenrod) is one of many Missouri natives, and my friend Susannah has shown me the delightfully unique Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’.
- Tagetes species (marigolds) – I used to think marigolds were boring bedding plants. Not only do French and Mexican varieties help keep away pests with their strong scent, there are both short and very tall varieties, that can be of benefit to entire areas of the garden. Long-lasting as a cut flower, too. Pluck spent flowers to help encourage continuous blooming from spring to fall. One of my favorites is ‘Spun gold.’
Note: Cucumbers, squash and tomatoes grow great in the Saint Louis area – until (for me) they get beaten down by pests and/or disease (especially heirlooms). In my contained yard, I’m convinced I’ve continuously had disease problems (which, with a weakening plant, can invite pests) because the area does not get enough circulation. After years of other people showing me their bounty, I’ve decided: these wonderful plants just don’t go gangbusters for me, and they are too much work to invest much in them. The diseases these plants get can also sit in the ground for years, even after tilled soil and cold winters. Meh to that. Here are my showstoppers:
- Brassica oleracea (kale cultivars) – There are some recent articles stating kale that give kale a bad rap, on the heels of it being deemed a superfood. I’m content believing that you shouldn’t have too much of a good thing. If this happens – just give some to friends. With kale, I’ve constantly had to do that. Keep kale cut from the lowest (oldest) leaves and it will churn out tons of new leaves in response. Be vigilant looking for cabbage moths (their cabbage worms will follow) and and cabbage loopers (even smaller worms) – the moths are a pretty, pale yellow. The worms are camouflaged, often on the ribs of brassica leaves and sometimes underside. I use a Neem oil solution to help combat them. The toughest cultivar I’ve found to stick it out through the entire summer is ‘Lacinato’ aka ‘Dinosaur’ aka ‘Nero di Toscana‘ but there are many others.
- Phaseolus vulgaris (bush bean cultivars) – You need a nice area to get a big harvest, but bush beans are so easy and fun. Once they begin to ripen, check and pick every 2-3 days to ensure a good crop. My favorites are ‘Blue lake bush 274’ and ‘Dragon tongue.’
- Allium cepa (shallots) – in Saint Louis, we are able to start these from sets in the fall, and seeds or sets in the spring. Since shallots are expensive to purchase, they are a great option for planting in the garden if you’re looking to save money on groceries. They take up very little space, repel critters with their strong scent, and are low maintenance. They also keep for months.
- Capsicum annuum and others (hot peppers) – when our summers seem like torture, the hot peppers are in heaven. They’re generally slower growing than sweet peppers, but late summer and even early fall they’ll continue to churn out bunches of heat. Let the peppers mature (usually to red) on the plant to turn up the heat before picking.
- Daucus carota subsp. sativus (carrots) – Sometimes carrots have an aphid/ant problem but even when they go unchecked in my clay soil, they still give me something. For heavy clay soil, try ‘Parisienne,’ ‘Danvers half-long’ and other medium to short types. There are a number of purple carrots available now that boast additional nutrition (like purple tomatoes).
If you need ideas for your garden space, we can help! We do free consultations, as well as garden plans and installations. And if you think you don’t have space, consider joining a community garden. Gateway Greening is an amazing resource to connect you to local community gardening and garden-related volunteer opportunities.