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Add red, white, blue to garden for patriotic display

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Posted: Saturday, June 30, 2012 12:00 pm

By Candy Mullen

Special to the Daily Herald

Since it is close to our nation's birthday, I thought about a red, white and blue garden to honor our nation and our troops. I started researching and came up with some selections that are easy to grow in Central Texas.

For red, try the firecracker plant (Russelia equisetiformis), which started as an indoor plant but migrated to the outdoors as a tender annual. You could try to overwinter it with protection. Firecracker plants form a bushy shrub up to a foot high with an equal or greater spread. Its compact mounding form is heavily covered with tiny, red flowers that appear at all the leaf axils. Its slender, tubular flowers of bright red have a contrasting black band at the tip. Leaves are long and narrow. The Mexico native got its name from the way the blooms seem to blast up and out in all directions from the base plant.

Grow the firecracker plant in full sun and average, but well-drained soil. Use it as edging plants for borders or in rock gardens. It also is a good container plant, with growth flowing over the edges of hanging baskets, window boxes or other planters. Branches can be cut and used in flower arrangements. Firecracker also makes good ground cover as it blooms from late spring to early fall. The plants are butterfly and hummingbird magnets. It has won the title of the best Fourth of July Flower and thrives in the hot Texas sun.

To add white, consider the sweet autumn clematis (Clematis paniculata). It is covered with incredible numbers of small, highly fragrant, white, star-shaped flowers, like the stars in our flag, and it has a lovely scent. The hummingbirds and butterflies love sweet autumn and it continues to bloom through the summer into the late fall. It offers valuable late season nectar for bees, butterflies and other pollinators.

Zone hardiness is 4-9 and it prefers full sun to partial shade. Growth rate is rapid and although it can reach 30 feet in height, it is easily pruned and trained in a variety of styles. Flowers are borne on new wood, so an early spring pruning will control size. It will form a white fleece-like blanket that drapes beautifully over large rocks, chain-link fences, arbors or pergolas.

Now let's add the blue. One great selection is the Plumbago auriculata (Cape Leadwort, Blue/Cape Plumbago, Skyflower). If you love blue flowers and butterflies, this is an easy-to-care-for, true blue plant and a must-have. It is a vigorous grower and a nonstop profuse bloomer. It flowers best in full sun, but also likes semi-shade. It is reasonably drought tolerant and doesn't like wet feet, so don't overwater. If you're a nature lover, try mass planting Plumbago in your garden to attract birds and butterflies. It also is the larval host plant and nectar source for several kinds of butterflies. There also is a white blooming variety; both respond well to pruning and bear their flowers on new wood.

Try these plants together in your flowerbed for a patriotic display as a showstopper with butterflies galore. You won't be sorry.

Have any questions about gardening in Central Texas? Email ask.bcmga@gmail.com.

Be a Master Gardener

Apply for the next Bell County Master Gardeners class, which starts in January. Download an application at http://txmg.org/bell/ or get on at the AgriLife Extension Office, 1605 N. Main, Belton. For more information, call (254) 933-5305. The all-inclusive fee is $250.

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