Summer is coming, go out and plant | Home & Garden

Amy Dixon Special Correspondent

We gardeners always seem to have our eyes on the sky and keep an eye on the local weather report. This hobby and our livelihood depend heavily on the temperatures, rainfall, and the four seasons of the year that we are fortunate to have in North Carolina.

Now that our chilly spring has finally given way to consistently warm weather, it’s officially time to plant all those tender things. I’m sure many of you have already planted annuals and summer vegetables, but I’m happy to wait until around May 1st so the ground can warm up a bit. I’ve found that peppers, okra, and basil don’t take off very quickly when the ground is cool, so keeping my horses simple until temperatures get hot enough to make me sweat works best for me.

I’m very interested in adding more bulbs and annual colors each summer these days because I’d like to see what grows best in which locations. And because of the abundance of shade in my home garden, I’m always experimenting with plants to test their sun exposure limits. I’ve found I can grow beautiful wavy petunias in the morning sun, but dahlia bulbs get leggy and offer very few blooms.

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One thing I encourage everyone to do more of is mix in a healthy dose of annuals with your perennials and shrubs. Whether that means using Torenia, Impatiens or Coleus in shady spots or using shades of red, yellow and pink in full sun locations, annuals can really add color and interest to established beds. And as an added bonus, many annuals are pollinator magnets, providing an abundance of food for hummingbirds, butterflies and bees.

Last year I planted giant zinnias, cuphea, pentas, gomphrena, lantana, tropical milkweed and Asiatic lilies in my pollinator bed – all of which have dramatically changed the dynamic of this garden area. I saw more variety in the butterflies visiting me, and my neighbors’ bees tended the flowers throughout the summer and fall.

I have a few tips when it comes to meddling annuals in established areas – be aware of how large they get, how quickly they can spread, and how some of them can reseed themselves.

When working with annuals, bulbs and tubers, be sure to plant them according to their mature size. You don’t want fast-growing annuals to overtake established perennials or exceed their limits. A few years ago I made the mistake of overplanting Tithonia rotundifolia in a pollinator bed, thinking it wouldn’t grow as tall as it did. Well, these Mexican sunflowers ate nearby fennel and dill, leaving them very little sunlight. I would also recommend using simple plant supports with certain annuals (e.g. Cosmos) that can easily fall onto nearby plants.

As temperatures have warmed, I’ve seen many of last year’s annuals reappear – but not in a good way. Cleome is always a bad seed to reseed, one I’ve been struggling with for several seasons now. A cardinal vine topiary was at work front and center in one of my seasonal beds—and it’s magically reappeared over the past week.

Morning glory is such a wonderful plant and I have grown it in many different gardens over the years. But they tend to hang around and sprout from year to year where I just don’t want them. Other weedy annuals include cuphea, tassel flower, amaranth, nicotiana, and celosia. I’ve found that certain herbs and vegetables can also self-seed, like tomatoes and arugula. A gardener friend mentioned that Malabar spinach and salsify are also aggressive self-seeders.

If I haven’t given this a thought, consider planting more bulbs every spring and fall. Mid to late spring is the perfect time to keep the promise of lots of summer color by digging a few holes and dropping a bulb or tuber in. Gladioli add both height and nostalgia to a garden and make excellent cut flowers. Oriental and Asiatic lilies are spectacular, most of which have a pleasant fragrance.

Crocosmia, Cannas, Lycoris and Dahlias are also now readily available and each will add a different dynamic to your summer garden. Dahlia bulbs are particularly beautiful as they can provide a spectacular color palette for floral arrangements. From plates to pom poms, dahlias have that wow factor we’re all looking for.

An excellent opportunity to get your hands on healthy dahlias is about to present itself. The Central Carolina Dahlia Society is holding its first bulb sale at 10:00 am on May 14 at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Home and Garden Building at 414 Deacon Blvd., Winston-Salem.

The sale includes tagged tubers, potted tubers, dahlia seedlings and some mystery tubers.

CCDS President Jimmy Speas has been growing award-winning dahlias for years and encourages all gardeners to plant a few in their gardens.

“Dahlias are a must-have for the home garden because they’re easy to grow, low in pests, produce flowers in every color except true blue, and the size of the flowers and plant sizes can fill any gardener’s wish list,” Speas said.

The CCDS was founded and organized last year and is on the rise. All dahlias for sale were grown, stocked and donated by members, which helps fund CCDS educational programs. I can guarantee they have the best selection of tubers available, all grown locally. And as with all of our native plant sales, get there early for the best selection.

Now that it feels like summer is officially on the horizon, get out there and plant. I’ve fully opened the floodgates of my summer planting this past week and it’s so energizing. Have fun and enjoy this glorious planting weather.

Amy Dixon is an assistant gardener at Wake Forest University’s Reynolda Gardens. Gardening questions or story ideas can be sent to her at or with “gardening” in the subject line. Or write to Amy Dixon at Care of Features, Winston-Salem Journal, 418 N. Marshall St., Winston-Salem, NC 27101.


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