Add vertical elements for garden excitement

Published 6:51 pm Monday, February 14, 2022

By Gary R. Bachman
MSU Extension Service

On this bright, sunny morning, even though it was 30 when I got out of bed, I know for a fact that spring is almost here. That means it’s time to get serious about what I’m going to plant in my home garden and landscape this year.

For sure, I’m going to take advantage of various flowering annuals and use them to create colorful carpets.

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I have my favorites, from spreading annual vinca to the heat-tolerant purslane to the colorful ornamental sweet potato vines. I think seeing horizontal mats of floral color can be as relaxing as looking out on a calm pond.

But, as enjoyable as the floral carpets can be, to have a really great planting bed, you need some excitement.

That’s where adding spikes of vertical color comes in. These vertical plants break up the mats of horizontal color, and vertical lines add excitement and interest.

My first choice for vertical color is salvia, and not just any salvia. I would pick either Mystic Spires or Indigo Spires salvia.

Indigo Spires is vigorous and produces 12- to 15-inch-long, twisting spikes of dark-violet flowers. These plants have an open growth habit and can reach 4 feet tall. These are nonstop bloomers, especially when you deadhead the flower spikes as they begin to fade.

Mystic Spires, also a nonstop bloomer, has a more dense, bushy growth habit. These plants grow 18 to 30 inches tall.

Another of my favorite warm-season annuals that produces vertical flower spikes is Angelonia.

Angelonia was chosen as a Mississippi Medallion Plant twice: Serena in 2007 and Serenita in 2016. Serena Angelonias come in four colors and reach only 10 to 12 inches tall, but they spread 12 to 14 inches wide. Flower colors include blue, pink, violet and white.

Serenita Angelonia has a more compact growth habit compared to its bigger cousin, Serena. These plants grow to 1 foot by 1 foot. They are tough, low-maintenance plants in the landscape or in containers, as they are heat-, drought-, deer- and rabbit-resistant.

Always plant Angelonia selections in well-drained garden soils. Never plant them in any soils resembling the tight clay, cement-like soils commonly found across Mississippi. These compacted soils have very little air space.

Foliage plants also serve to break up horizontal color.

There are several great options, but one of the best, in my opinion, is Red Star cordyline. The purple-red leaves are sword-like, reaching straight up to about 3 feet tall. For the best color development, plant Red Star cordyline in full sun and water consistently.

All these plants work well in containers or landscape beds.

Even though temperatures are still low, I’m seeing warm-season plants starting to arrive at garden centers. So, get out in your landscape and start planning. If you see that perfect plant, don’t hesitate to make it yours.