Hort Q&A: What to plant

Carla Smith, horticulture educator
Pottawatomie County Extension Service
Each year a set of plants is chosen by horticulturists that will help consumers choose plants appropriate for Oklahoma gardens.
Each year a set of plants is chosen by horticulturists that will help consumers choose plants appropriate for Oklahoma gardens.

I often have clients ask, “what should I plant?”

With a summer season ahead of us, if you are considering new landscape plants, here are some selections to consider. Each year a set of plants is chosen by horticulturists that will help consumers choose plants appropriate for Oklahoma gardens. The program began in 1999 by selecting a tree, shrub, perennial and annual worthy of Oklahoma landscapes. Now in its 23rd year, there are many plants to choose from. To see all the plants recommended by the Oklahoma Proven Plant Selection Program, visit our web site at http://oklahomaproven.org/. I will feature one plant per month to let you all see some of these recommended varieties selected for 2021 in more detail. This one is great to attract hummingbirds and pollinators!

Annual – Cuphea (species and cultivars)

Cuphea is a genus of about 260 plants native to the warm temperate and tropical regions of the Americas. Depending on the species and cultivar, they go by several common names such as firecracker plant, cigar flower, Mexican-heather, bat flower, bunny ears, candy corn plant, and false heather. Cuphea is a tender perennial grown as an annual in Oklahoma. It is low maintenance and continues to gain popularity throughout the country particularly for its tolerance to heat and drought. Plant foliage is bright green to blue-green and typically glossy. Although the flowers are small, they are abundant and provide a spectacular show all summer long with no need to deadhead. Plants come in a variety of forms with a variety of flower colors and forms that are vivid and produce a sweet nectar that attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators. Breeders have produced more compact plants with showier flowers that fit just about anywhere in the landscape or garden and they can be used as a houseplant.

Some of the more popular types include firecracker plant (Cuphea ignea), Mexican-heather (C. hyssopifolia), bat-faced cuphea (C. llavea), and candy corn plant (C. micropetala) along with many hybrids. Flowers of the firecracker types are tubular, bright red with black and white lips giving the appearance of a lit cigar. Mexican-heather is a nice compact plant that grows 1 to 2 feet high and about as wide with horizontal branching, bright green leaves, and bright lavender, trumpet shaped flowers. Bat-faced types (also called tiny mice or bunny ears) grow as rounded, bushy plants to 20 to 30 inches high and wide. Flowers are tubular with a purple calyx and a pair of red ear-like petals that resemble the face of a bat. Candy corn plant is considered the most cold-hardy of the cupheas and grows 1 to 3 feet high and wide producing yellow and orange bicolored flowers resembling the candy we enjoy in the fall. Cultivars and forms of these species offer flower colors from warm and spicy reds and oranges to cool pink, lavender, and purple tones. Cultivars with pure white blooms are also available.

Exposure: Full sun

Soil: Moist, well-drained soil; tolerates drier soil after establishment

Hardiness: Use as an annual

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