Dirt on Gardening

In the height of summer, I enjoy checking out plantings of every sort for plants that “pop.” These are the shrubs, vines, flowers or foliage that are eye-catching, making me stop and look again.

An annual in the Ozarks, but a plant with spectacular leaves is Manihot esculenta “Variegata,” commonly referred to as “Variegated Tapioca.” Yes, this cassava plant is a variation on the tropical cassava shrub. This variegated plant reaches about four feet tall and wide. Each leaf has five distinct lobes with white centers and dark green edges. Setting off the striking leaves are brilliant red stems.

Also a tropical plant, but a little more common are the plants commonly known as “Elephant Ears.” These plants vary in color and size and are known as three botanical genera—Colocasia, Alocasia and Xanthosoma. These bulbous plants have large, colorful leaves that like full sun. Although they are tropical, they will even grow well in the summer in Northern climates.

Finding new favor among colored foliage lovers is the “Calico plant,” a plant that was made popular during Victorian times. Alternanthera spp. has a new “Party” series that will grow in full sun to shade. Some species of calico plants can be used as groundcover while some reach a foot in height. “Party Time” has red and green variegated leaves. “Crème de Menthe” has white and green variegated foliage.

Most gardeners are familiar with the Hibiscus spp. and its dinner plate sized flowers. However, there are several hibiscuses that have foliage that provides excellent color throughout the summer. Hibiscus acetosella “Panama Red” is one such plant. Although this plant will not flower in our region, it will grow six to eight feet tall with delicate, maroon red leaves that look similar to those found on some type of Japanese maple.

Who hasn’t had their eye caught by an ornamental sweet potato? Ipomoea batatas has been used as an annual in containers and beds for many years. The most commonly used color of sweet potato vine is a vine with chartreuse colored leaves. “Blackie” and “Tricolor” provide additional colors. Recently introduced is “Bewitched” which is a deep bronze color.

The “Rex Begonia Vine,” Cissus discolor is a rapidly growing, vine with silver colored leaves with a deep green center. This vine will grow about 10 feet in one season. Setting off the two-colored leaves are dark red vines. It does require some shade, but it will rapidly grow up a trellis or trail from a hanging basket.

As you take in the vibrant colors of summer, see how many new plants make you stop for second look.

Questions or comments related to gardening? Contact Joleen at missourigardener@hotmail.com

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