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Annuals/Plants for front of house.

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Question
Hello,

I live in Raleigh, North Carolina.  I'm wondering if you could please suggest what type of plants I could use, that would compliment the front of our house?  

I love Hydrangeas and Azaleas, but I realize they do not stay in bloom long.  However, when they are in bloom, they're beautiful.

Basically, what I am wanting to do is rip out the old bushes that look horrible, all along the front of our house, and plant something with lots of vibrant, and different color.  I have zero experience with planting and maintaining bushes.  But I'm willing to learn and if you suggest a particular plant, I will read up on it.  I do love color though.

But since most plants do not bloom "all year long" I am also torn between planting color, vs. planting just small, plain bushes, that can be easily maintained by periodical trimming.  

Thank you so much for your help!  I appreciate your time and I WILL do my homework, should you suggest a certain plant!

Beth Wilson
Raleigh, NC

Answer
The weather in Raleigh is ideal in so many ways.  You can grow most of the best plants that money can buy.

First, and most important thing to look at:  Sunlight.  This is by far the biggest factor in what you are going to be able to grow.  At this time of year, everything looks sunny, because there are no leaves growing on anything.  But that will completely change during the summer.  And you cannot break this rule.

So go out there to the front of the yard and ask yourself:  What side of the house am I on?  When I stand in front of the house and look toward the front door where I want my plants to grow, am I looking on the North, South, East or West side?

If your answer is "North" you can assume you have a shady exposure.  If your answer is "South" you are half way to a full sun exposure.

Next, look at the trees.  How tall?  Deciduous?  Where are they?  If you have trees that are taller than the house growing nearby, they will take a significant amount of sun from anything you want to grow.  Think of those rays of sun as streams of water.  The trees will take all the water and you will be helpless to do anything about it.  You cannot make up in fertilizer or watering what you lack in sunlight.

If you have sun or part sun, plant yourself one of the beautiful new Hydrangeas leaving lots of space so it/they can grow to their heart's content.  These are too easy and too beautiful and too blue not to grow.  You can also grow Peonies (which need full sun and grow slowly) and Viburnums and Mockorange (which have a beautiful fragrance).  All this in the rear of what you call "The Border."  I would stay away from perennials -- those plants that come back every year but bloom only a few weeks -- and plant something from your local garden center, at least one of which is likely to be one of the newer hybrids of Petunias.  I recommend large-flowered Yellow Marigolds, which bring out the color in everything else.

Shade is a fact of life and you will have to accommodate it with plants that do not require full sun.  These are less colorful than the selections you find in the Sun column.  Most people pick Impatiens for these situations, although the colors may be a bit muted for your taste.  Hostas and Azaleas are additional options; they thrive in low light situations and brighten areas where nothing else will endure the limitations.  Azaleas are vividly colored but bloom in spring, as you know, and only for a few weeks.

Almost all the bulbs I know of require sun, or I would recommend those for shade.  If you are lucky to have the sun, however, I would absolutely plant Dahlias with any Petunias; the Dahlias will not bloom until July, but they will generate the color riot you crave in summer.  If you plant them as "tubers" instead of buying plants, they are reasonably priced, and will surprise you with how easy they are to grow.  Don't worry about selection; these are all beautiful.

In any case, Honeysuckle -- technically a weed, but not one you will ever regret.  The 10 days it blooms every summer will sweep you off your feet, even after the sun goes down.

I would avoid roses; most are high maintenance and low output, and you have much to learn before tackling these.

Do not fertilize.  Sprinkle an organic earthworm compost or other "top dressing" around the plants to keep them well fed.

Any questions?

L.I.G.

Annuals

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Long Island Gardener

Expertise

Decisions, decisions... If you can't make up your mind which Annuals to grow, you're not alone. Problem with your new flowering Annuals flats? I`ve been there, done that. Petunias, Sweet Alyssum, Larkspur, Marine Blue Lobelia -- they all grow here at my house on Garden Street on Long Island, N.Y.. Cutting and Cottage Gardens, Sun and Shade Gardens, White Gardens and Night Gardens, I`ve done them all. Annuals are the perfect summer flower, bursting with color June through fall's first frost. I can`t speak on Cactus or tender Tropical Plants -- they don`t grow outside in my Zone 7. I`m no Farmer, so I cannot guide you on Fruits and Vegetables. But whether it`s an Annual you want to start from seed, mail-order or pick up at your local garden center, I can help you grow amazing blooms this Summer. Yes, together, we can turn your neighbors green with envy.

Experience

I have a lifetime of gardening behind me here on the North Shore of Long Island. While I have degrees in related fields, there's nothing like hands-on work to build real knowledge. I stay on top of current science -- there's a boom in research, and Kingdom Plantae is filled with surprises. By the way, I really do live on Garden Street.

Publications
Gannett newspapers, The New York Times, and hundreds of others - but not on Annuals.

Education/Credentials
B.A., botany; graduate credits in European Intellectual History and Political Science; minor coursework in related fields, docent training at our local botanical gardens (required for volunteers). I'm currently working on an advanced biochemistry degree.

Awards and Honors
I could tell you, but then you'd know who I am.

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