Underutilized Plants

Tom Holm, Greenhouse Manager

As I work in the gardens each day, I admire the many stunning plants that put on a great show of color.  It got me thinking about the many plants that people don’t often use, but should consider trying because they grow and bloom nicely, and often do well in difficult locations or situations.  Here are just a few of those plants for you to try.

Tithonia   Also known as Mexican Sunflower.  The variety we grow in the Garden is “Torch.”  When it’s hot and sunny, this plant really goes to town with lots of big orange blooms.  The plant gets quite tall so you will need to give it lots of room—try it in the center of a large bed or in front of a fence.  An added benefit for Tithonia is that Monarch butterflies love this plant!  We usually have Monarchs visiting this patch of plants throughout the day. 

Portulaca    Also known as Moss Rose, these plants come in many great and bright colors.  Portulaca has been around for a long time, but there are many good new varieties to try.  If you have a sunny and dry area, such as next to a sidewalk where you need a short plant, try the Moss Roses.  An added benefit is they often reseed so you many have them come right back next year.  There are also varieties grown from cuttings that do well in hanging baskets and planters too.

Scaevola   Speaking of plants that do well in containers, try Scaevola for something different.  Though you can use them just by themselves, you may want to use them in combination with other plants.  In a container, the scaevola will fill the spiller (trailing) role so pair them with more upright plants.  I think the reason most people do not try scaevola is they like the heat, so in the spring when we are putting our planters together, they are just so-so.  However, when it gets warm and sunny, these plants really bloom well.  They come in blue, pink, and white, but I think the blue is the most vigorous.  They also can take lots of heat and wind so if you get lots of wind at your location, give scaevola a try. 

Tahitian Bridal Veil   This is a plant that has been around for many, many years – our grandparents probably had this plant, too.  For as delicate as it looks, this plant is tough as nails.  If you have a shady or semi-shady location, try Tahitian Bridal Veil.  We used to have an employee at our greenhouse who would plant Tahitian Bridal Veil into a  hanging basket on the east side of her house.  By the end of the season, that basket was three feet long and three feet wide just filled with Bridal Veil.  It is a very vigorous grower!  You can put it into combinations with other plants, but by the end of summer, expect the Bridal Veil will likely take over and choke out the other plants unless you keep trimming it off to give the other plants a fighting chance.  If you have a basket or planter in a shady location (north, east, or under a tree), try Tahitian Bridal Veil.

Dakota Gold Helenium   Though it may be hard to find, this plant is a blooming powerhouse.  The plants are short (about 8-10 inches), but they bloom all summer long.  It is easy to see why they were an All-America Selections winner some years back.  I have used them to line beds in front of taller plants, and they take the heat, sun, and wind right out in the open.  They also reseed themselves so you can enjoy them year after year.

Flowering Kale/Cabbage   For something different and pretty in the fall, consider using flowering kale or cabbage as your other plants are shutting down for the season.  Like their regular cousin cabbages, these plants can take a light frost but get more color the cooler it gets so you can add lots of interest to your fall beds and containers. 

Some things to think about as you are planning for next year – happy gardening!