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Mother Nature Shows Beauty Along Highways
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
When the heat and humidity have taken their toll on our psyche and our gardens, we start thinking about how nice an early freeze in mid-September would be. But just about this same time each year Mother Nature shows us her beauty.
Many wildflowers have found a place in the flowerbed and even more importantly, the garden center. These include purple cone flowers, Black-eyed Susans and liatris. Others like goldenrods and ironweeds, which are particularly pretty now, haven't been so lucky.
You can find them in some cottage gardens or in an occasional garden center. Generally, those who are more inclined to give them a shot of a potent herbicide scorn those of us who tout their virtues.
One showy wildflower along Mississippi highways is the wild ageratum, or mistflower. I have wondered why the mistflower hasn't found a more prominent position here as in other states. This attractive and carefree perennial gives weeks of blue ageratum color on tall plants at a time when our hybrid ageratums are in decline.
Mistflowers do best in full sun but tolerate a little shade. They get tall on roadsides but can be cut back in the spring and summer and still produce an outstanding show of color for late summer and fall.
These plants spread by rhizomes and can multiply quickly in luxuriant soils. In other words, they can become a little invasive. Tight soils can keep their aggressiveness in check. Mistflowers look great in areas where they are allowed to spread and naturalize, but I don't mind weeding unwanted plants. Butterflies find them to their liking. They work well with ornamental grasses and for sure yellow and orange plants like lantanas, marigolds and chrysanthemums.
Last week while taping an episode of Southern Gardening in Mynelle Gardens, I spotted a patch of cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) blooming. I pointed it out to the producer since I had just done a radio program on the flower. While we were admiring the patch, a hummingbird dived in on one with laser speed and unparalleled acrobatics to feed upon the flower nectar. This plant is definitely one of the ultimate hummingbird plants.
The cardinal flower is spectacular along our roadsides right now. They have scarlet red flowers and can easily be spotted, even when you are driving 60 miles per hour. Pay attention and you will notice their preferred habitat is moist, ditch-type areas.
We can grow cardinal flowers in similar areas of our garden. In nature, you will notice they work well with ferns. In the landscape, I like them combined with liriope which serves as a shorter green plant showing off the brilliance of the tall red spikes.
Don't start hoping for a freeze while there are plenty of wildflowers to enjoy on the roadsides or to establish in gardens. September is one of our best wildflower planting months.