For nearly 20 years, Delilah Onofrey was an editor for Greenhouse Grower magazine and has extensive knowledge about flower varieties on the market, where they come from and how they are best used. She then joined the Suntory Flowers marketing team last fall, and serves as the director of Flower Power Marketing. Delilah is also the founder of America in Bloom, a national beautification and community revitalization program. We caught up with Delilah, as she shared her expertise on how to make your garden bloom to its full potential.
I’m from Florida, and the climate can be humid and extremely hot. What kind of flowers do you recommend for my area?
There’s no question that when it comes to gardening Florida is not like the rest of the country, especially in Zones 9 and 10. Fortunately, Florida has a very vibrant horticultural community dedicated to helping gardeners choose the right plants. Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association (FNGLA) has a Florida Garden Select program built on professionals in the trade selecting plants of the year. A few of the 2012 selections include Sun Parasol mandevillas, Drift roses and the beach sunflower – Helianthus debilis. Some tried-and-true annuals that have been on the Florida Select list include angelonia, begonia ‘Dragon Wing,’ salvia ‘Indigo Spires,’ Summer Wave torenias and Profusion zinnias. These varieties have definitely proved themselves over time.
Another useful website is Florida Friendly Plants. Here, Riverview Flower Farm has put together a comprehensive database as well as solutions-oriented lists to help gardeners choose plants that will thrive in Florida.
I’m new to gardening. Other than water and fertilizer, how can I care for my outdoor flowers?
The most common mistakes gardeners make are underwatering and not fertilizing plants. After that, the two most critical considerations are light and temperature. Plants that prefer full sun will languish in the shade and produce very few flowers. Likewise, shade-loving plants will wither in full sun. Many of the annuals and perennials on the market prefer full sun but can tolerate shade for part of the day. Most plant tags indicate sun and shade requirements with the sun symbols . Temperature is trickier. Some of the annuals available early in the spring season cannot handle the heat of summer. These include pansies/violas, nemesia, argyranthemum and osteospermum. Some plants can be cut back in the summer for a fresh reblooming later. This is highly recommended for Senetti pericallis, which loves the cool weather of early spring. Plants can be cut back 50 percent in June for a fresh reblooming later, after peak summer heat has passed.
I have a small yard but a large patio. What are some creative ways to plant flowers along the patio and make it look natural?
Small yards and large patios and decks are perfect for the hottest trend – container gardening! If you are going for low-maintenance, go for larger pots which offer more soil volume and are more forgiving if you forget to water. The lower the soil volume, the faster plants will dry out. One approach is monoculture – planting one type of plant in each container and grouping them together. Another is to mix plants within a container. This requires more knowledge of which plants have similar needs for sun, shade and moisture. You also don’t want to plant something that is so aggressive it engulfs the rest of the plants in the container.
This is where knowing a plants’ vigor or growth habit comes in. One method for choosing plants for well-balanced containers is to pick a thriller, filler and a spiller. Thrillers are the upright, taller accent plants. Fillers are more mounding and fill the container. And spillers trail and cascade down from the pot. Suntory Flowers has created a Virtual Combo Designer that allows you to try mixing different plants and see the effects of growth habits.
Patios are also a great place to mix flower and vegetable gardening. More vegetables are being bred to be more compact while still bearing abundant fruit. Herbs add texture, fragrance and interest to both flower and vegetable plantings.
What’s also nice about containers is they can be moved around to different parts of the patio, if the light turns out to be better on one side than the other. If the plants aren’t happy, try moving them. There is no commitment and plenty of room to experiment.