Flowers on fire
Firewheel or Indian blanket is familiar to many who have seen its cheerful, yellow and red-orange flowers dotting beach dunes. Gaillardia (gay-LAR-dee-uh), a native North American wildflower that has become naturalized on the North Carolina coast, has been cultivated and hybridized and become a staple in gardens. Treasured for its brightly colored, daisy-like blossoms, hardiness and no-fuss lifestyle, it thrives in sandy, infertile soil and tolerates salt spray. Hardy in growing zones throughout the state, it will flourish most anywhere it is given good drainage and full sun. Growing 1–2 feet tall with an equal-size spread, it is considered a short-lived perennial but often self-sows new offspring. Firewheel will flower the first year from seed. Multiple combinations of bloom color are available in varying combinations of red, yellow and orange. Firewheel makes beautiful, long-lasting cut flowers.
Depending on the variety, firewheel plants can become floppy, but they can tolerate moderate to heavy shearing. The new variety 'Mesa Yellow', which is topped with masses of yellow blossoms, forms neat mounds. It won accolades in the 2010 All-America Selections trials. To find sources of seed, visit www.all-americaselections.org. Other popular firewheel varieties include 'Arizona Sun', 'Fanfare' and 'Goblin'. 'Sundance Bicolor' is a double-flowered offering.
- Plants in the carrot family, including dill, fennel and parsley, are enticing to many beneficial insects. Other favorites include angelica, cilantro, lovage and sweet cicely.
- Eggplants are heat-lovers, so don't plant them too early in spring. Wait until daytime temperatures are consistently above 70 F and nighttime temperatures above 45 F.
- Honeybees are important pollinators and welcome garden visitors. The North Carolina Master Beekeeper Program offers free instruction to any North Carolina resident interested in raising bees, for fun or for profit. For more information, contact your Cooperative Extension office or visit www.cals.ncsu.edu/entomology/apiculture.
- Four ingredients are needed for successful composting: carbon (wood chips, leaves, paper products, etc.), nitrogen (grass clippings, kitchen scraps, manure, coffee grounds, tea bags, etc.), water and air. For basic and advanced composting information and resources in North Carolina, check out www.p2pays.org/compost.
- If you're the type to garden without gloves, scrape your nails gently over a bar of soap to keep out dirt. To remove stubborn dirt stains and grass stains from hands and nails, rinse with hydrogen peroxide.
- Early-maturing lettuce varieties make for sooner spring salads. 'Black Seeded Simpson', 'Green Ice', 'Oak Leaf' and 'Red Sails' are ready in about 45 days from sowing. Salad or "mesclun" mixes contain varieties that can be cut as baby greens.
- The butterfly bush 'Santana' offers more than a summer punch of purple flowers. The variegated foliage—leaves green at the center with yellow margins—starts the show early. It grows to about 6 feet tall with a 5-foot spread.
- Growing plants for competitions, such as for a county fair, can keep children engaged in the summer garden. Give them their own plot, kid-sized tools and a tape measure or scales for tracking progress of a melon, sunflower or other prize hopeful.
- The recipe for nectar for hummingbird feeders is 1 part table sugar to 4 parts water. Boil the sugar water for 1 to 2 minutes and cool it before filling the feeder.
- To work out the kinks in soaker hoses, lay them in the sun for a while before arranging them.
- Pole beans, sweet peas and vining cucumbers are ideal veggies for trellises, but gourds, winter squash, cantaloupes and other small melons may also be trained upward. Extra support for heavy fruit will keep excess weight off the vines—make a hammock out of cloth or pantyhose and tie to the main supports.
- Empty and change water in bird baths, pets' water bowls and potted plant saucers every two to three days to discourage growth of mosquito larvae.