How To Growing Black Eyed Susan Vine

Description and Overview:
Thunbergia alata, or Black-eyed Susan vine, is a frequent sight in hanging baskets at the garden center. As common as they are, most people not only don’t know what they are, they don’t think to grow them. That’s a shame, because Black-eyed Susan vine is as easy care as it is charming. The flowers have an almost pop art look to them, with a solid center surrounded by a ring of clear colored petals.

 

Leaves: The medium green leaves are a little coarse and grow opposite one another. They can be either heart-shaped or a kind of lanced arrowhead shape.
Flowers: The flowers look daisy-like at a distance, but they are actually tubular. Five overlapping petals surround a brownish-purple center tube, masquerading as a center disk. Look at the flower from the side and you’ll see how the center funnels downward.
Flowers are most commonly found in orange, pale yellow or white, but new cultivars are being created with a wider color palette.

Botanical Name:
Thunbergia alata (Pronounced thun-BER-jee-a ah-LAY-tah)

Common Name:
Black-Eyed Susan Vine

Hardiness Zones:
USDA Hardiness Zones 9 – 10. Thunbergia alata is usually grown as an annual, although it has been known to over-winter in cooler climates, during very mild winters.

Sun Exposure
You will get the most flowers and the healthiest plants if you plant your Black-eyed Susan vines in full sun.

In hot climates, growing the plants in partial afternoon shade is recommended.

Mature Size:
In good growing conditions, they can reach 6 – 8 ft. (h) x 12 – 36 inches (w) Mature size depends on variety and growing conditions. Plants grown as annuals may not reach mature size.

Bloom Period
Black-eyed Susan vine repeats blooms from May through Fall.

 

Suggested Varieties:
If you are purchasing plants, you may only find them labeled as “Orange” or “Yellow”. There are more varieties offered from seed.

“Angel Wings” – White flowers with a hint of fragrance

“African Sunset” – Burgundy centers surrounded by red, ivory and darker shades of apricot and salmon

“Spanish Eyes” – Unusual pastel shades of peach and apricot

“Superstar Orange” – Traditional orange petals and dark center

“Susie Mix” Flowers in yellow, orange and white
Pretty Relatives:
Thunbergia grandiflora – Blue Trumpet Vine, Skyflower – Violet-blue trumpet shaped flowers with yellow throats

Thunbergia gregorii – Orange Clock Vine, Orange Trumpet Vine – Brilliant golden-orange trumpet-shaped flowers
Design Suggestions:
Black-eyed Susan vines grow quickly, once the temperature warms up. They will tangle themselves around the nearest support or spill over edges. They are perfect for hanging containers, but flow just as easily over walls and raised beds.

A lattice or link fence makes a good choice for coaxing and weaving your vine into a living wall, but these plants will clamber over just about anything, from the mail box to an old tree stump.

With their quick growth habit and sprawling nature, Black-eyed Susan vines can overtake nearby plants and are often grown as solo performers.

 

However a nice option is to mix the Black-eyed Susan vines with another vine that will intertwine with them. Morning Glories are often used for this purpose, particularly the purple varieties, which make a nice color combo. Purple Hyacinth bean is another good choice.

They look beautiful near shorter purple flowers, like salvia and veronica, too. On the flip side, you can play up their flair with hotter colors, like brilliant red zinnias or canna, for a more tropical look.

Growing Tips:
Soil: Black-eyed Susan vine likes a fairly neural soil pH, of around 6.5 and a soil rich in organic matter. When setting out plants, work several inches of compost into the soil, if it is not sufficiently rich to start with.

Planting: Container grown plants are fairly easy to find, but Black-eyed Susan vine is easy to grow from seed.

[Seeds may seem relatively expensive, but that’s because the seed is difficult to collect.] You can start seed indoors, about 6 – 8 weeks before your last frost date, or direct seed outdoors after danger of frost. Soak the large, hard seeds in water for a day or two, before planting.

Black-eyed Susan vine plants don’t like having their roots disturbed and it helps if you start the seed in peat or paper pots. Plant the seeds about 1/4 – inch deep and expect them to germinate within 2-3 weeks, depending on the temperature.

Maintenance:
Black-eyed Susan vine is quick growing and repeat blooms throughout the summer. That means they will get hungry and will need a light feeding every 4 – 6 weeks, with a complete fertilizer, to keep it growing strong.

Although the vines don’t like sitting in wet soil, they also don’t like being hot and dry. Mulching around the base of the plants will keep the roots cool and moist, without fear of rotting.

Since Black-eyed Susan vines are perennial, you can pot up a plant and bring it indoors for the winter. You’ll probably want to cut it back to a more manageable size when you do. You can also take stem cuttings and make new seedlings. If you’d like to try your hand at saving seeds, Mr. Brownthumb has a nice tutorial.

Pests & Problems:
Black-eyed Susan vine is not prone to many problems, particularly if the vines are kept healthy and have plenty of sun, water and air circulation. Whiteflies and spider mites can be potential problems, especially during hot weather and if brought indoors with dry heat. Keep a keen eye, to catch and treat any outbreaks quickly with insecticidal soap.

 

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Trailing Window Box Flowers

A window box gives gardeners the opportunity to make ample use of delicate trailing flowers that might succumb to mud splatters and insect pests on the ground. While petunias will always be popular, explore unusual trailing flowers like the tropical red chenille plant shown here.

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With the help of a window box exploding with flowers and trailing plants, even an urban garden with no bare soil can be transformed into a stare-worthy garden. To achieve this densely planted look, choose a moss lined wire window box or hayrack planter, and plant top, sides, and bottom with closely spaced pelargoniums. Add a few licorice plants at the bottom for foliage interest.

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Fall Flowering Window Box

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Window Box Care and Maintenance

The prominent position of a window box makes it important to give the flowers a bit of extra TLC. Some flowers, like vinca and profusion zinnias, need little or no deadheading, but petunias always look better with a weekly snipping to remove spent blossoms and to maintain a compact plant. You should also fertilize every other week, and remove yellowing or dead foliage as needed.

Hay Rack Window Box Planters

You may have thought you’d never say the “M” word again if snails and pill bugs make Swiss cheese out of your marigolds year after year, but growing these easy plants away from the ground level will give you a new appreciation for this classic bedding plant. A trio of hayrack planters adds elegance to the monochromatic planting, and provides excellent drainage as well.

 

Starting Seeds in a Window Box

If you’ve hesitated to start flowers from seed in the past, try direct seeding in your window box with a flower that resents transplanting, like the forgiving nasturtium. The large seeds are easy to work with, and some varieties sport bluish (‘Empress of India’) or variegated (‘Alaska’ mix) foliage. As the flowers appear, you won’t be able to resist cracking the window to take a few blossoms for a peppery salad addition, or for a small nosegay bouquet.

 

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Learn More About Container Vegetable Gardening

You don’t need a plot of land to grow fresh vegetables. Many vegetables lend themselves well to container gardening. With some thought to selecting bush or dwarf varieties, almost any vegetable can be adapted to growing in a pot. Even if you want your favorite full-size variety, if you give it a large enough pot and plenty of soil and water, it will grow just fine and reward you with plenty. Vegetables that take up little space, such as carrots, radishes, and lettuce, or crops that bear fruits over a long period of time, such as tomatoes and peppers, are perfect for container vegetable gardens.

What you can grow in a container vegetable garden is limited only by the size of the container and your imagination. How about a Summer Salad container? Plant a tomato, a cucumber and some parsley or chives all in a large (24-30 inch) container. They grow well together and have the same water and sun requirements. By late summer they might not be very pretty, but they’ll keep producing into the fall. This makes a great housewarming present, too.

Since your vegetable plants will be making their containers home for the season, you want to start them off right. Make sure there is enough space for them to grow into and choose your soil and site with care. Here is advice for getting set up and getting started, followed by container growing tips for specific vegetables.

Containers and Pots for Vegetable Gardens
Selecting Containers: Containers for your vegetable gardens can be almost anything: flower pots, pails, buckets, wire baskets, bushel baskets, wooden boxes, nursery flats, window planters, washtubs, strawberry pots, plastic bags, large food cans, or any number of other things.

Drainage: No matter what kind of container you choose for your vegetable garden, it should have holes at the base or in the bottom, to permit drainage of excess water. Vegetable plants will die if left sitting in wet soil.

Color Considerations: You should be careful when using dark colored containers outdoors because they absorb heat which could possibly damage the plant roots.

 

If you do use dark colored pots, try painting them a lighter color or shading just the container, not the plants.

Size: The size of the container is important. For larger vegetables like tomatoes and eggplants, you should use a five-gallon container for each plant. You can grow these plants in two-gallon containers, however, you need to give the plants considerably more water. There’s more on container size under the tips for specific vegetables.

Soil and Fertilizer
You can use soil in your container vegetable garden, but potting mixes are much better. Peat-based mixes, containing peat and vermiculite, are excellent. They are relatively sterile and pH adjusted. They also allow the plants to get enough air and water. Mixing in one part compost to two parts planting mix will improve fertility.

Using a slow release or complete organic fertilizer at planting will keep your vegetables fed for the whole growing season.

Watering
Pots and containers always require more frequent watering than plants in the ground. As the season progresses and your plants mature, their root system will expand and require even more water. Don’t wait until you see the plants wilting. Check your containers daily to judge the need for water.

Wind
Wind can be a real hazard for any container-grown plant, and tall vegetables – like tomatoes or trellised cucumber and squash – become top heavy as they produce fruits. Try to place your containers so that they are not in an overly windy location. A breeze will provide nice air circulation and help prevent fungal diseases, but a strong wind can topple plants and containers and can also shred leaves and dislodge fruits. If you are gardening on a raised deck or a rooftop, it may be necessary to provide some type of wind block.