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Katie Jackson is a freelance writer, who has been writing about gardening, agriculture, the arts, and many other subjects for more than 30 years.

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Enchanted Evenings
by Katie Jackson       #Design   #Misc   #Tech & Gadgets

These vintage lamps give an enchanting look to the evening landscape.
Photo: ©breslavtsev oleg/


Many technological options are available to enhance outdoor lighting – so many in fact that it can be hard to choose one. If you spend a little time deciding what you want to achieve with your lighting scheme you’re bound to find a device or system that works for you.
Photo: Katie Jackson

A moonlit garden is enchanting, but sometimes the moon needs a little help shedding light on a garden’s nighttime beauty. That’s when it’s time to turn to technology.

One of the most helpful developments in the outdoor lighting realm is the increased availability of LED (light-emitting diode) bulb, a technology that has been used for decades in appliances and electronic devices but only recently has become more affordable for the average consumer. While LED lights still cost more than traditional bulbs, they are safer, sturdier, more energy efficient, and longer lasting than halogen and incandescent bulbs, so they easily pay for themselves over time.

LED lights also now come in a broad palette of colors and styles, from basic spotlights to handsome pendants and lanterns and even sparkling party lights.

Those party lights, which typically are decorative strings or ropes that can be draped around patios, pergolas, and in trees and shrubs to charming effect, are among the hottest trends in outdoor lighting. No wonder, since they come in a variety of colors and a plethora of styles such as tiny winking lights, warmly glowing globes, and even novelty bulbs in the shapes of animals, fruits, stars, and the like. Because party lights are usually plug-in systems, they are especially well suited for temporarily lighting outdoor events or holiday decorating, but they can also be used year round.

For those who don’t want to spend hours stringing and linking strands of lights, there’s another technology that has burgeoned in popularity during the last two or three years – laser lights, which use a single plug-in projection device to create a big-picture light show.

Photo: ©bangkokhappiness/ • Photo: ©welcomia/ • Hard-wired, low-voltage lights are easy for almost anyone to install. These make walkways safer and more attractive. Photo: ©bruskov/

Outdoor lights can be controlled with the touch of a finger thanks to electronic timers and kits or hubs that allow you to use your smartphone or tablet to turn lights on and off, dim them, and even change the color and pattern of some. Photo: Katie Jackson

These systems offer both static and moving displays of white or colored lights in beams and patterns that range from firefly-like twinkles to full-fledged extravaganzas complete with music. Though they may not be as elegant as traditional lights, laser lights offer an easy and entertaining option for holiday and special event decorating or to fill large outdoor spaces with light. These can also be left up year round, though using them judiciously is important: Your neighbors may not appreciate a year-long light show and you don’t want to contribute to excessive light pollution!

As wonderful as it is to have all these options, it’s also important to manage them, and technology is helping with that, too. In addition to the hardwired, battery, and solar-powered timers and motion and light sensing devices, you can also find remote-controlled lighting and systems that can be controlled with smartphone or tablet applications to dim, turn lights on and off, change colors and patterns, and even sync lighting to music.

It’s not as easy as downloading an app, though. You have to invest in a hub system that can connect your lights to a remote or cellular device, but the options are plentiful and prices range from affordable to extravagant.

Before you invest in any of these, spend some time exploring your options. You may want to ask a landscape or outdoor lighting specialist for guidance. But whatever you do, find a way to enjoy your enchanted evenings.


A version of this article appeared in a June 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.


Posted: 06/11/18   RSS | Print


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Fill in the Blanks with Shrubby Annuals
by Jan Riggenbach       #Annuals   #Ornamentals   #Shrubs

The scarlet-orange daisies of Mexican sunflower provide a haven for butterflies.

I can’t wait for shrubs to fill the bare spots in a new landscape. So I don’t!  Instead, I plant some select annuals that quickly grow into big, bushy plants that can fill the void in a matter of weeks.

Castor bean
Castor beans (Ricinus communis), for example, turn into a wonderful privacy hedge, growing quickly from big, easy-to-plant seeds. When we moved to a new lot, I planted some purple-leaf castor beans along the side boundary. Neighbors were amazed how big the plants grew in a single season. And by the end of the summer, passers-by were exclaiming over what some called a “beautiful Japanese maple hedge.”

The plants vary in size depending on variety, but most grow at least 6 feet tall and wide, some much taller. In earlier times, their huge fan-like leaves earned them the name palm of Christ. They come in your choice of red or purple leaves, with varying colors of flowers and stems.

One of the most popular morning glories, ‘Heavenly Blue’ is a vigorous, quick-growing vine with blue blossoms.

Castor bean plants are rarely available at garden centers, but that’s no problem. You can buy packets of the big seeds, which are easy to handle and quick to sprout. Plant them directly in the ground in May after danger of the last spring frost, or give the seeds a head start indoors in March if you’re really eager for your new “hedge.”

Some people object to growing annuals because of having to replace the plants every spring, but there’s no extra cost here. You can simply clip dry seed heads from the plants in autumn and save them for replanting the following spring. Sometimes, castor beans even self-sow, if you allow some seeds to fall to the ground. (Beware, though, if you have kids or pets that might be attracted to the seeds: castor beans are poisonous.)

An old-fashioned annual with a charming name, kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate produces arching sprays of pink flowers atop large, heart-shaped leaves.

Plants for cutting
Although the majority of today’s annuals grow in the shape of little mounds, such as Petunia and marigolds (Tagetes spp.), a handful of others offer quick, inexpensive relief for a young landscape.

When the landscape needs some quick bushy “shrubs,” another of my go-to annuals is Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia). These plants grow 4-6 feet tall and about as wide, and are covered with scarlet-orange daisies that are adored by butterflies. The big daisies also make excellent cut flowers. Mexican sunflowers grow well in hot, dry sites and need no coddling.

Tall varieties of annual sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) have plenty to offer in colorful flowers, seeds for birds, and heights up to 5-6 feet. For the most shrub-like shape, choose branching varieties, such as ‘Autumn Beauty’, ‘Moulin Rouge’, or ‘Strawberry Blonde’, rather than single-stem varieties.

Romantic thoughts
I think I’d want to grow kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate (Persicaria orientalis, formerly Polygonum orientale) even if I didn’t love its arching spikes of small pink flowers and its big, heart-shaped leaves. Just the name of this heirloom annual makes me smile. You get the idea: The stately plant shoots right up to 5-6 feet, tall enough to rise above almost any garden gate. And kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate is very good at self-seeding for future years.

Masses of large, airy flowers decorate spider plants.

Prolific bloomer
Spider flower (Cleome hassleriana) is another old-fashioned annual with a shrubby shape. Size varies by variety, of course, but it’s not unusual for this annual to grow 4-5 feet tall. The dramatic plants are covered with masses of large, airy flowers in blends of pink, purple, rose, or white that are a favorite for cutting.

Ornamental tobacco
Woodland tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris) shows off best in the evening. Although the white tubular flowers are droopy by day, at night the blossoms stand at attention, attracting hummingbird moths and emitting their sweet perfume. These bushy plants grow 4-6 feet tall.

Unlike most cockscombs, ‘Cramer’s Amazon grows into an impressive 5- or 6-foot tall plant.

Most cockscombs (Celosia spp.) don’t approach the size of a shrub, but one called ‘Cramer’s Amazon’ (C. argentea) grows an impressive 5-6 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide. The spiky flowers are an almost fluorescent magenta and are excellent for bouquets. Like other cockscomb varieties, it’s easy to grow. Just be sure to allow extra time to search for a source of the sometimes elusive seeds or transplants.

Best of the rest
‘Purple Majesty’ millet (Pennisetum glaucum) is an easy-to-grow annual ornamental grass that grows 4-5 feet tall in one season. It features bright purple leaves and flower stalks.

Lantana (L. camera) has occupied a soft spot in my heart since our first year on an acreage in Iowa. The area was suffering a severe drought, and grasshoppers ate almost everything I planted. But they didn’t touch the scented foliage of the lantanas. Butterflies, on the other hand, flocked to the flowers.

I’ve kept lantanas going ever since, cutting them back every autumn enough to fit into 6-inch pots for wintering indoors under lights. Their mature size varies, but in years with ample moisture, some grow into bushy plants 5 feet tall and wide. Their multi-colored flower clusters are always a delight.

Even some kinds of coleus (Plectranthus scutellariodes) grow big enough to have a real presence in the landscape. Some big, bushy varieties that help fill landscape gaps include ‘Burgundy Sun’, ‘Saturn’, and Colorblaze Marooned.

A Vine Way to Screen the Scene
With the help of a trellis or fence for support, annual vines can provide quick shade or privacy, while you wait for permanent plantings to grow.

Morning glory (Ipomoea spp.) is a quick-growing favorite that reaches 8-20 feet tall and blooms in blue, crimson, lavender, pink, violet, white, or bicolor, depending on which variety you choose. Soak the seeds overnight to soften the hard seed coat before planting in the garden after danger of frost.

Here are a few other annual vines that grow quickly from seed to offer quick cover:

• Purple hyacinth bean (Dolichos lablab) boasts striking lilac-colored blossoms, shiny purple pods, purple-veined leaves, and purple stems.

• Cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) comes in your choice of red or white flowers adorning ferny foliage.

• Climbing nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) varieties, such as ‘Jewels of Africa’ or ‘Spitfire’, perk up the landscape with their bright, sunny colors. The plants thrive in poor soil.

• Moonvine (Ipomoea alba) shows off at night with its huge, white blossoms.


A version of this article appeared in a May/June 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Jan Riggenbach.


Posted: 06/11/18   RSS | Print


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A Kitchen Garden in 5 Easy Steps
by Cindy Shapton       #Design   #Edibles   #Raised Beds

We chose this spot for our kitchen garden – in full sun, already fenced in, water nearby, and not too far from the kitchen door. Perfect!

Do you have a yard full of grass and a longing for fresh produce to feed your family? Why not install a kitchen garden? One that is easy to build and won’t require much maintenance, where you can grow fresh veggies, small fruits, herbs, and maybe even some cut flowers.

Sound too good to be true? Follow these 5 simple steps and you will be growing in no time.

The fence actually adds more gardening space by providing a structure for vining crops to grow vertically. These luffa, or “dishcloth,” gourds bloomed nonstop until frost and produced a pile of sponges while delighting the bumblebees.

Step One: Where and How Big (or small)?
“Location, location, location,” is a term used often in the real estate business, but it also applies to choosing the perfect place yard for a kitchen garden. Use the following criteria to find the best location:

1. Sun – Chose a site that receives full sun six or more hours per day. A level spot is ideal, but a hillside can work, you will just have to do some terracing to keep your garden from running away.
2. Water – A hose bib, rain barrel, or other water source nearby is essential since a productive garden needs approximately 1 inch of water a week.
3. Proximity – Ideally, your kitchen garden should be in a “high-traffic” area close to the kitchen or doors where you see and walk by it daily. This way you won’t forget to water, weed, or harvest on time. You are also more likely to notice any problems in their early stages, when they are much easier to rectify.
4. Call 811 – Know where your utility and gas lines are and don’t plant a garden on top of a septic tank or drainage area.
5. If you have a fence that you can incorporate into your plot, all the better to protect your plants from critters (if that is a problem) and vertical space for vining crops.

Now that you have the perfect location, you need to determine the size. If this is your first garden, start small. Be successful, not overwhelmed. Gardening takes commitment and time, but don’t worry if this is your first foray in food growing – there’s no better way to learn then to just jump in.

One way to think of the garden is in square footage and how much is needed per person. Once that is established, then you can fill in the blanks, so to speak, with plants. Mel Bartholomew, author of Square Foot Gardening, suggests one 4-by-4-square-foot garden per adult to grow salad; another 4-by-4-square-foot garden to grow enough vegetables for supper meals; and a third if you’d like extra veggies for preserving. That is a total of 48 square feet per adult.

A quick and easy garden: Using a 25-by-4-foot-wide roll of landscape fabric and six or eight large wheelbarrows of compost dumped in mounds, I created a cucurbit boarder in a couple of hours that required no glyphosate and no weeding. You could plant any vegetables in mounds and tomatoes and climbing beans would love the fence.

I added cardboard to extend the bed to sidewalk and to reinforce the fabric where I accidently tore it with the wheelbarrow. Then I threw down some old hay, planted seeds for squash, cucumbers, pumpkins, and gourds. I added more straw mulch after the plants emerged.

John Jeavons writes in his book How To Grow More Vegetables that the average person needs 100 square feet for fresh vegetables and another 100 square feet for vegetables to preserve. The square footage will need to be increased in a row-type garden to allow room for paths between rows.

I’ve heard others recommend two 4-by-4-foot raised beds per family member to grow vegetables for fresh use with enough leftover to preserve.

In my kitchen garden, I have three 4-by-8-foot raised beds per person, which is 96 square feet per person. By planting spring, summer, and fall crops I usually have enough to eat fresh with plenty to preserve and share. I also sow seeds in succession throughout the season in order to have a continual harvest using less space.

Step Two: Prepare the Site
Before building beds all you are going to do is cut the grass short (unless its winter) and then cover the entire area with landscape fabric or thick cardboard, being sure to overlap well so no unwanted flora can pop through later. The ground covering will remain as a foundation for raised beds or mounds of soil that will be brought in and placed on top. You may need to use rocks or boards to hold it down until you get everything in place.

We built raised beds using 10-inch wide pine boards. It’s more interesting and fun if the beds are different sizes and shapes.

Step Three: Build the Beds
If you decide to go the DIY route, there are a several ways to actually construct the beds. These are two that are quick and easy using pine boards. You can adjust to your building materials.

For one 4-by-8-foot bed you need three 2” x 10” x 8’ boards. Cut one in half. Using corner brackets (3” x ¾”) on the inside of the box, connect the boards together with screws. For added support, use a 4-foot board in the center of the bed. This is optional, but may keep bed from bowing later. If you don’t have corner brackets, use a 2” x 2” x 10” wooden stake and install several screws from the outside boards into the stake on each corner.

Another fast, easy way to create garden beds that will last is to use treated lumber totally lined (sides and bottom) with heavy black plastic. Place them in a sunny spot (before lining) and they are ready to go. No need for a weed barrier underneath the beds.

What materials should you use to build the beds? There are several options, depending on your desires and pocketbook. You can use wood that hasn’t been chemically treated; pine boards work and are inexpensive, but will have to be replaced about three to five years. Plastic or composite boards may not look as natural and will cost more, but they will not have to be replaced. Treated lumber will last a long time and can be used if you are willing to staple in a heavy plastic liner. Cedar is a good choice – it costs a little more, but is natural and is not prone to rotting quickly.

Stacked stone or brick is pretty and will never rot. Concrete blocks are inexpensive and easy to use plus create nice pockets for perennial herbs, but don’t look as nice.

Raised beds or mounds can be anywhere from 4-12 inches or deeper. Root crops, such as carrots and potatoes, benefit from a deeper bed whereas crops such as salad greens and peppers don’t need deep beds.

We set our wooden beds on top of plastic before filling them. This is composted horse manure we bought in bulk from a local farmer.

This is what it looks like two years later. The plastic is still under the entire area and the space around the beds is covered with wood shavings we got – for free – from a local sawmill. I add fresh shavings every spring.

Step Four: Fill the Beds
Soil is the foundation of your kitchen garden so this is where you really want to spend your time and money. Don’t settle for mediocre when you can have a magnificent productive garden with fewer insect and disease problems.

When it comes to filling the beds or making mounds, you have several choices. You can buy a mix of soil-type products to fill the beds. Mel Bartholomew, author of Square Foot Gardening, recommends equal parts of compost, peat moss, and vermiculite.

A mix of potting soil, topsoil, peat moss, leaf mold, compost, and soil conditioner will give you nutrient-rich fill with great drainage.

How much compost or mix does it take to fill a bed? For a 4-by-8-foot raised bed that is 10 inches deep, it will take 1 cubic yard to fill. For mounds, I dump one large wheelbarrow full per mound.

Now simply enjoy your fresh and organic produce to feed your family … there’s nothing better. Check out these ‘Circus Circus’ carrots we grew! • The border garden provided fresh, organic produce through the summer and we harvested pumpkins, gourds, and winter squashes in the fall. • ‘Lemon’ cucumber is an old-fashioned variety that Grandma grew. The fence was perfect for them to climb up.

Step Five: Plant!
Make a list of the vegetables you actually like to eat. Include one or two that you can’t get at the store – this will motivate you when it’s hot and you’re tired. Since this article is about installing a garden, we’re not going to list every potential vegetable, cultivars, planting times, etc. That’s an entire other article!


A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 30 Number 5.
Photography courtesy of Cindy Shapton.


Posted: 06/11/18   RSS | Print


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The Procrastinator’s Garden
by Carol Michel       #Raised Beds   #Summer   #Vegetables

Once built, a raised bed garden makes it easier to plant earlier in the spring without having to till a garden.

If you are reading this well after Memorial Day, and you are wishing you had planted a vegetable garden this spring, but think now it is too late, you are in luck. It is not too late to plant a vegetable garden and reap an abundant harvest.

With a few adjustments from the traditional approach of planting earlier in the spring when you believe there will be no more frost in the garden, you can enjoy late-planted vegetables.

Here are some tips for a late-planted vegetable garden.

Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash and green beans can all be planted late and still produce a good harvest.

Forget cool-season vegetables
Cool-season vegetables include cabbage (Brassica oleracea), broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica) and cauliflower (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis), plus lettuces (Lactuca sativa), spinaches (Spinacia oleracea), peas (Pisum sativum) and radishes (Raphanus sativus).

Some vegetable varieties, such as ‘Basket Boy’ tomatoes are ideal for growing in containers and can be purchased well into the growing season.

These crops should have been planted well before the last frost, and they will quickly fade out as the days get warmer. Even if you still find plants for these vegetables for sale, don’t be tempted to buy them and plant them late. Just make a note to plant earlier next year. Of course, if you bought plants earlier and just never planted them, go ahead and plant them now. You may still get a small harvest before they bolt and send up a flower stalk.

Check number of days to harvest
Look at the days to harvest on the seed packets. Since you are planting late, you are no longer concerned about the last frost of the spring. You should figure when your first frost is historically likely to happen. Then count back from that date to see how many days are left in the growing season.

Many vegetables, including snap or green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) and summer squash (Cucurbita pepo), need as few as 50 days from seed sowing to produce their first crop. These are good choices for late sowing in the garden. You can also still sow seeds for beets (Beta vulgaris) and carrots (Daucus carota sativus).

Forget the idea of growing vegetables like winter squashes (Cucurpita sp.), muskmelons (Cucumis melo) and pumpkins (Cucurbita maxima), which in some cooler years need every day from the last frost of spring to the first frost of fall to produce a worthwhile crop. For other in-between crops, which usually need 60 or 80 days to harvest such as sweet corn (Zea mays), choose an earlier-ripening variety.


Setting up a stock tank planter takes a bit of time, but it will make it easier to quickly plant in future years.

Raised beds to the rescue
If you never seem to find the opportunity when the weather is good, the soil is dry and you have the time to till up the ground for a vegetable garden, consider building a few raised beds. Once built, raised bed gardens are easy to maintain from year to year. In the spring, the soil in the raised beds warms up faster so it is ready with little prep for you to sow seeds for cool-season crops in late March and plant other crops earlier, too. Just remove overwintering weeds, rake the soil and plant.

Buy bigger plants
Start off with bigger plants of tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum), peppers (Capsicum annuum) and eggplant (Solanum melongena) to plant in the garden. Many of these vegetables are purchased as seedlings in the springtime or started from seeds indoors six weeks or so before they can be planted outside. If you are planting well after Memorial Day, look for plants that have been potted up to grow in bigger containers and plant those in your garden. Avoid seedlings that have been languishing on the garden center shelves in their original small pots. They won’t take off suddenly in your late planted garden.

Containers like SmartPots are ideal for growing vegetables and take little time to fill and plant.

Grow vegetables in large pots
Grow your vegetables in large containers. If you missed what you thought was the window of opportunity to start a vegetable garden because you didn’t have an area tilled up and ready to plant, and still don’t have time to prepare a garden for planting, set up a container garden.

There are many options for container gardens, ranging from large plastic pots to specialty growing pots, such as SmartPots ( These specialty pots are made out of a heavy, breathable fabric that encourages better root growth, which in turn grows a stronger plant.

Or consider something even larger and more permanent using galvanized stock tanks. In areas where the soil is poor but there is plenty of sunlight, these are a good option to consider.

Regardless of which container you use, use a good soil mix to grow the vegetables in, and remember to fertilize and water regularly. Some container-grown vegetables might need to be watered every day during the hottest days of the summer, so put the containers in a location where it is convenient to water them.

Also, look for varieties of vegetables that are labeled as “patio” or otherwise suitable for containers. These are becoming more common in the garden centers each year.


A version of this article appeared in a May/June 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Carol Michel and Court’s Yard and Greenhouse.


Posted: 06/11/18   RSS | Print


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Waterwise Garden Design
by Helen Yoest       #Design   #Sustainability and Self-Sufficiency   #Xeriscaping

The fountain in the author’s garden, “Helen’s Haven.” The fountain is refilled with rainwater collected from the roof. The bed surrounding the water feature is an oasis bed, receiving extra moisture from the splashing water as it spills from one tier to the next.

There was a time when I thought of water as a renewable resource. Deep down, I still want to believe this. Although our water supply is replenished (some years more than others), the distribution of water over my property varies. The gain doesn’t always equal the loss though – some years we take more than nature gives.

Since I come from an area that receives an average of 44 inches of rain a year, you may be surprised to hear me touting waterwise garden design. Out West, this is a way of life. However, on the East Coast, we have experienced long periods of drought in recent years. If Raleigh’s annual rainfall came as 1 inch every week, there would be little need for waterwise design. But it doesn’t. Summers, in particular, can be hot and dry. It wasn’t until we experienced the worst drought in 100 years, with outdoor watering restrictions and no major rain in sight, that I began to take note.

Being waterwise goes beyond plant choices and bed placement.

Think about other garden features as well. A major focal point in my front garden is a 6-foot-tall, three-tiered fountain. It is a fantastic feature – it makes a soothing sound, attracts wildlife and is beautiful to look at. I refill the water with harvested rainwater I capture in a 250-gallon converted food-storage container. These containers are easy to find, since they are intended for one-time use only. After they’ve been used, they either go to the landfill, or clever people find ways to repurpose them. They are great at capturing rain with only slight modifications. My “harvester” sits at the corner of my property, next to the house. The drain spout diverts rainwater into the harvester, with overflow going into an oasis bed. I have a hose hooked up at the bottom of the harvester. When the fountain needs refilling, all I need to do is turn the valve. If I don’t have water, I don’t turn on the fountain. It still provides water for the wildlife when it’s not running. When the fountain is running it’s a signal to all that we are rain rich, for the moment anyway.

Waterwise gardening is not new, but gardeners seem to have drifted away from the benefits and techniques of this design. This strategy is not limited only to gardening in periods of drought, but is a practical and effective way to garden anywhere, while at the same time practicing good environmental stewardship.

One of the major components of waterwise design is grouping plants with similar needs. This design principle has saved me countless hours of watering, plus the cost associated with that. But I soon realized a water-saving design also helped map my garden, thereby simplifying my plant choices.

In the past, before acquiring a plant I would only think of the plant’s sun requirements. If it needed extra water and I loved the plant, I didn’t pay much attention to where I’d plant it. I assumed I would be able to meet its needs. I rarely did, of course. Now when I select a plant, I not only look at its sun requirements, but its water needs as well. I know exactly where the plant will go, based on the map of my waterwise garden. Today, I’ll put a plant back on the shelf if I can’t meet its sun requirements and also find room in the appropriate bed. Although it was hard at first, looking back, I have no regrets. With so many great plants out there, I’ll just keep looking for those that work in my design.

Waterwise design doesn’t limit you to only drought-tolerant plants. It’s a planting scheme that uses all different kinds of plants, from agaves to tropicals, and places them based on their water requirements. The beds in a waterwise garden are divided into three zones: oasis, transitional and xeric.

An oasis zone is an area close to a water source. Sources can be drain spouts, rain barrels or a faucet and hose. The area around your front door is also considered an oasis zone, because you can easily water your container plants with water collected indoors.

Hosta thrive in the oasis bed next to the fountain.

Hardy Begonia edge a transitional zone bordering an oasis bed. It is watered every two weeks.

A transitional zone is an area about midway from the house to the property line. Plantings in this zone should be sustainable, requiring only occasional supplemental water. Typically, these are island beds, alongside driveways or raised beds.

This mixed border at Helen’s Haven is a transitional zone, receiving supplemental water only after six weeks without rain. Even then, only the thirstiest plants are watered with harvested rain.

A xeric zone is at the property’s perimeter. Plants in these zones should be tough and not require supplemental water.

Salvia, lavender (Lavandula spp.) and mugo pine (Pinus mugo) are happy in a xeric zone.

Helen Yoest’s rock garden is a xeric zone with lush plantings among the rocks.

It’s not difficult to be a waterwise gardener. Get a rain gauge to know exactly how much rainfall you receive. Only water when plants need it. Even the thirstiest plants, once established, only need approximately 1 inch of water a week. (However, container gardens may need daily watering in the heat of the summer.) Remember to mulch – its moisture-holding ability is one of your best defenses against drought!

Waterwise doesn’t mean that it can’t be lush. This is a transitional to xeric bed, receiving no supplemental water.

Cleome appear to be happy no matter which zone they’re in.

Tickseed (Coreopsis spp.) makes a great addition to transitional or xeric beds.

A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 26 Number 6.
Photography courtesy of Helen Yoest.


Posted: 06/08/18   RSS | Print


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Gardening Under Your Trees
by Theresa Badurek       #Design   #Shade   #Trees

Gardens under trees often have a mix of sun and shade, which allows for greater plant diversity. 

I am a true Floridian and I often seek out shady spots for relief from the sun. I will even park my car far from an entrance if there is a shady place beneath a tree: Shade before convenience. But shade can be less than convenient in the garden – many plants require sun to thrive, especially for flower and fruit production. If you are fortunate enough to have trees in your landscape, you may have challenging or shady areas to plant. But gardening under trees can be rewarding for several reasons, personal comfort included!

Don’t be afraid, embrace that shade! A shady spot under a tree can become a favorite outdoor garden room. The branches overhead enclose and define space, making a more defined “room.” Follow these tips and enjoy your oasis under the trees.

Understand Your Shade
Some trees, such as pines (Pinus spp.), have a tall canopy and create light dappled shade, while other trees, such as oaks (Quercus spp.), may create densely shaded areas. Shady areas can be very wet or very dry, so you must also know your site’s water situation before planting. Observe the area throughout the year before making decisions. Watch the sun come up and set to see how the shade patterns vary. Be mindful of deciduous trees that let in more light when during the winter.

This is bad pruning (lions-tailing) done to increase light below. This tree is likely to fail in a windstorm.

Respect the Roots
The majority of tree roots are located in the top 18 inches of soil. Be careful when planting under trees and try to avoid disturbing too much of the root zone. Hand dig, avoid cutting large roots, and consider planting in phases rather than digging up the entire area at once if planting a large area. Planting smaller plants is also helpful, and it saves you money! Bonus: Smaller plants are easier to establish with less water and quickly catch up to their larger counterparts.

Color and Contrast Make a Difference
Many plants that thrive under trees do not have colorful, showy flowers. For the greatest impact under trees or in other shady areas, focus on light, bright colors, such as white and yellow. Dark flowers won’t show up in the shade. Other good color choices include light green, white, or yellow foliage to contrast with the darker, shadier greens. Variegated plants also work. Vary leaf textures and sizes for greater visual impact.

This blend of colors and textures makes a shady garden lively. Note the use of color in the building to add interest.

Introduce Color In Creative Ways
Plants aren’t the only things that provide color. If you can’t find a suitable plant for a particular spot, consider a brightly painted bench, pavers, or art to add a splash of color to your shady area. The key is to have one main focal point or feature – don’t clutter the space.

Always Keep Water Needs In Mind
Many (not all) shade plants like moist soil, but don’t let that fool you into overwatering. The shade itself will help keep the soil moist longer than the surrounding landscape. Try to choose plants that only need water during their establishment period. Be sure to match new plants with similar water needs to the tree you are planting under – don’t drown your tree!

Beware Invaders!
Many invasive plants thrive under trees, but don’t plant them! Some clamber up your trees and can cause serious damage; some will spread throughout your yard, making more weeding work. All of them threaten our natural areas and our native wildlife. Some common invaders spotted under Florida trees include tuberous sword fern (Nephrolepis cordifolia); oyster plant (Tradescantia spathacea); nandina (N. domestica); elephant ear (Xanthosoma sagittifolium); and in southern Florida, golden pothos (Epipremnum pinnatum ‘Aureum’).

Check the invasive potential of new plants for your garden – many are still sold in nurseries. The University of Florida/IFAS Extension has a website where you can search plants by common or botanical names to see if they are invasive: There’s also the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (, which also lists plants by both common and botanical names. Both are excellent resources.

These plants are only suggestions. Now that you know what to think about, you can find many more that will suit your garden perfectly. Plants listed as understory trees and shrubs are typically great choices for planting under trees. Generally pines and palms with more dappled shade are more likely to partner with part-shade plants; oaks and other shade trees will likely need full shade plant companions. With careful plant selection and some color and contrast in the design, your garden room under the trees might just become your favorite summer garden sanctuary!


Top to Bottom:
• Holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum)
• Silver saw palmetto (Serenoa repens ‘Silver’)
• Wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa)
• Variegated ginger (Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’)

If you are looking for plants that will bloom well under trees you might consider*:
Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) N/C, native; marlberry (Ardisia escallonioides) C/S, native; azalea (Rhododendron spp.) N/C/S, natives available; camellia (C. japonica, C. sasanqua) N/C; thryallis (Galphimia glauca) C/S; gardenia (G. jasminoides) N/C/S; firebush (Hamelia patens) C/S, native; oakleaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia) N/C/S, native

For plants with fancy foliage you could find inspiration with*:
Copperleaf (Acalypha wilkesiana) C/S; variegated ginger (Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’) C/S; grape holly (Mahonia fortunei N/C; wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa) C/S, native; lady palm (Rhapis excelsa ‘Variegata’) C/S; silver saw palmetto (Serenoa repens ‘Silver’) N/C/S, native; coontie (Zamia pumila) N/C/S, native

Finally, if you have dense tree cover, the following plants will still deliver*:
Southern maidenhair fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris) C/S, native; pipestem (Agarista populifolia) N/C, native; marlberry (Ardisia escallonioides) C/S, native; cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior) N/C/S; holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum) N/C/S, native; needle palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) C/S, native; lady palm (Rhapis excelsa ‘Variegata’) C/S


*N=North FL, C=Central FL, S=South FL


A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 23 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Doris Heitzmann, UF/IFAS Extension, Pinellas County and Theresa Badurek.


Posted: 05/30/18   RSS | Print


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After the Tulips
by Gloria Day       #Design   #Flowers   #Perennials   #Summer

Drifts of Heuchera sp. and Acorus ‘Ogon’ now cover the rock garden where Crocus sp. and daffodils (Narcissus sp.) preceded these perennials.

The glory of the spring was upon us. The first crocus had bloomed, winter aconite made a carpet, the hyacinth crowns were showing, the tips of the daffodils and tulips were emerging and suddenly everything burst into color. Like the finale of a fireworks display, there was much excitement in the garden. Ah, spring.

But a few weeks later, the flowers faded, petals fell to the ground, the stems were bare and there was only leftover foliage to watch wither away. Not so exciting.

It’s often painful for a gardener to wait for nature to take its course. It is tempting to cut back the greens, tie them up neatly or braid them into something tidy. But don’t. Let the foliage die back slowly before removing it or you risk taking the food away from the bulbs and weakening next year’s colorful spring display. Photosynthesis is quietly at work replenishing the strength for the bulbs to produce flowers again.

Clockwise: The strap-like foliage of daffodils is easily hidden by the similar foliage of daylilies. • Plumbago sp. grows thickly to carpet the understory of a tree where a variety of bulbs are planted. • ‘America’ peony strides in to take its place in the next garden layer.

Gardeners can design the next layer to help camouflage the spent spring-blooming bulbs’ greens. While the late blooming Allium spp. are making their show, other perennials emerge and sidestep the bulbs to cover the dying foliage.

The large leaves of a peony grow, seemingly overnight, from a tiny fuchsia tip to a 20-inch full bouquet. Masses of dark green peony leaves will create an arch over the earlier blooming bulbs.

Tall hosta and variegated Solomon’s’ seal will become the featured plants after the daffodils and Virginia bluebells have disappeared. • Allium ‘Globemaster’ and German iris mingle with catmint to camouflage the former tulip bed.

Hosta spp., coral bells (Heuchera spp.), leadwort (Cerastostigma plumbago), daylily (Hemerocallis spp.), Liriope ssp., Nepeta spp. and Iris spp. will create the next layer in the garden, and easily will camouflage the bulb foliage as it dies back completely. Be generous with a variety of perennials until you find what combinations please you and distract your eye from the spent foliage.


A version of this article appeared in a May/June 2018 print edition of State-by-State Gardening Magazine.
Photography courtesy of Gloria Day.


Posted: 05/30/18   RSS | Print


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Avoiding Bad Neighbors
by Diane Beyer       #Advice   #Beneficials   #Vegetables






Keep these plants away from each other







Lettuce and spinach are friendly neighbors and get along with almost everyone. Be careful not to shade these early garden goodies with taller plants.
(Photo courtesy of Barbara Pleasant.)

Everyone has had an experience with a bad neighbor. There are various reasons for considering a neighbor “bad,” but most of them have an element of “chemistry” in them somewhere. Some people just don’t get along. It’s no different in the plant world. Since plants are restricted in place and not able to move away from bad or undesirable neighbors, they must employ other methods. Plant communities use chemistry to repel or subdue those that may pose a threat to a thriving population.

There are several other things to consider when deciding what to plant with what:

• What growing conditions do the plants require? Plants that have different requirements for soil pH level, sun exposure, nutrients, or moisture should not be planted together and expected to thrive. Plants also release varying amounts of nutrients, such as nitrogen and potassium, which can affect the growing conditions of nearby plants by altering proximate pH levels.

• In contrast, do not plant two heavy feeders together, as one will inevitably bully the other by sucking up nutrients needed by both.

• How tall do the plants get? This should be taken into account when planting small annuals or large trees. If plants, such as tomatoes, are planted next to sun-loving plants, such as bush beans, chances are good that the beans will suffer from the shade of the taller, more aggressive tomatoes. It is possible to plant plants of varying heights together if the smaller ones are oriented such that they receive the most sun exposure.

• Plants that require large amounts of water will scavenge water from surrounding soils, harming nearby plants that are not as effective at water consumption.

• Plants that attract similar pests and/or diseases benefit from not being planted in close proximity.

Planting fennel near peppers may cause stunted fruits. The peppers are edible, just not pretty. (Photo courtesy of Diane Beyer.) • Although sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) may affect the growth some veggies, they do provide an excellent nectar source and also distract birds from other plants and fruits. They may also help repel aphids. (Photo courtesy of Jeanne Grunert.)

While the list above is a good start, there is a more complex consideration to be made and it involves chemistry. Many plants release compounds called allelochemicals that repel or inhibit growth of other plant life. Some allelochemicals are non-selective, killing or repelling most other plant life in an effort to maintain survival of the species. Other allelochemicals are more selective, seeming to only inhibit plant life that may compete for the same nutrients, light, or moisture. This biological phenomenon is called allelopathy.

The word allelopathy comes from two Greek words: allelon, which means “of each other” and pathos, which means, “to suffer.” Plants can employ allelopathic tactics in various ways. Some plants contain allelochemicals in their leaves, thus enabling them to repel and inhibit nearby growth through gases expelled through transpiration or through the decomposition of dropped leaves. Other plants contain the repelling chemicals in their roots. As these toxins are released into the soil, roots or nearby plants absorb them and are stunted or killed. Allelochemicals can also affect or hinder seed germination. When used correctly, these chemicals can be a very effective method of weed control.

Studies have been able to show the effectiveness of this chemical warfare in some species. For example, the aggressive, invasive tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) produces ailanthone, a chemical that exhibits non-selective, post-emergent herbicidal activity similar to glyphosate. This explains why, when you see “groves” of tree of heaven along a highway or under a power line, there is NOTHING else growing in that grove. Eventually, is left unchecked, they will overcome any other vegetation in the area, including native trees.

Another example, black walnut tree (Juglans nigra) exudes a chemical compound called juglone from the leaves, stems, and roots. Juglone can damage or even kill susceptible plants, such as solanaceous crops.

So how does all this affect your vegetable garden? There has been much ado about companion planting, but not much about what NOT to plant together. Some of the following is based on science, some on anecdotal evidence – regardless, it might be worth a shot!

Some diseases require two or more hosts to complete their life cycle. Cedar-apple rust is one of these, so planting the eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) near your apple orchard is not a good idea, as the rust disease will infect the fruits causing spotting and possible fruit drop.
(Photo courtesy of Diane Beyer.)


Carrots: Parsnips and carrots are both susceptible to the same soil-borne diseases and carrot flies and so it’s best to plant them away from each other.

Tomatoes: Tomatoes do not like brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, kale, etc.) as they become stunted and crop production is reduced. Brassicas contain glucosinolates, sulfur-containing phytochemicals that are possibly offensive and detrimental to the tomato plants. Even though studies have shown that consumption of brassicas could reduce the risk for multiple types of cancer in humans, tomatoes are not impressed. It is also not advisable to plant corn near tomatoes, as the two plants are prone to similar fungal diseases and may attract the same insects.

Potatoes: Potatoes are somewhat of a garden thug in that they make many enemies. It’s probably a chemical thing. Don’t plant these tasty tubers near asparagus, brassicas, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, squash, tomatoes or sunflowers!

Beans: Avoid planting beans near chives, garlic, onions and leeks. Pole beans can also stunt and be stunted by beets, but bush beans seem to do fine.

Brassicas: Avoid planting veggies from this family near potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, or eggplant, as these four plants like a fairly acidic soil pH around 5.5 to 6.5 whereas broccoli, cabbages, and kales like a more neutral soil.

Squash: Avoid planting near brassicas and potatoes, as they have different growing requirements, and potatoes may employ chemical warfare!

Sunflowers: Although sunflowers provide lots of high protein nectar for pollinators, they also contain allelopathic chemicals that are especially effective on beans and potatoes. Planted around a garden, sunflowers can serve to keep weeds down and also draw well-needed pollinators.

On a positive note, spinach gets along with everyone! You’ll still have to keep in mind that most spinach is shorter than other veggie tops and excessive shading will be detrimental.

Black walnut trees produce juglone to inhibit the growth many plants. Plants most vulnerable to the black walnut’s toxicity include nightshades such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes. Others easily tolerate juglone, including melons, beans and carrots.
(Photo courtesy of Diane Beyer.)

Some vegetables also inhibit cropping of the same species in the same location from year to year. Disease and pest prone broccoli is one of these and the probable reason it will leave behind a deterrent residue after being harvested is to aid in preventing disease and pathogens from overwintering and attacking early spring crops of the same type. Thus, the need for crop rotation.

In the general landscape, be aware that there are other plants containing allelochemicals. If you have issues with plants growing near each other and all other factors check out, there may be chemical warfare afoot. Here are some common offenders:

• Aster and goldenrod (Solidago spp.) inhibit sugar maples (Acer saccharum) and tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera).

• Kentucky bluegrass will inhibit Forsythia and black cherries (Prunus serotina).

• Junipers (Juniperus spp.) inhibit grasses.

Don’t let any of this scare you away from trying different combinations. Good, healthy soil with lots of organisms can break down the toxins into more benign elements. And a well-draining soil may allow the toxins to move below the root zones of nearby plants. On the other hand, some soil microbes can assist with allelopathy. That’s how it goes with neighbors.


A version of this article appeared in a June 2018 print edition of State-by-State Gardening Magazine.


Posted: 05/29/18   RSS | Print


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High and Dry
by Cindy Shapton       #Irrigation   #Summer   #Vegetables






A kitchen garden’s survival during a drought, or periods drier than normal requires planning, preparing and making smart, water-saving decisions along the way.






Eggplant, once established, can handle a dry spell with less water.

Start with the Soil
Add organic matter and compost to your garden soil before sowing seeds or planting veggies. This will help the soil retain more water and to absorb more rainfall when it does come.

Choose the Right Plants
Choose plants that have low to moderate water needs or those that can better handle drought and water restrictions.

Pile it on! Mulch with newspapers, cardboard, leaf mold, grass clippings, straw, etc. My neighbor Jack puts down a heavy layer of leaf mold around his plants in his garden, followed by layers of cardboard, topped with – you got it – more mulch. By doing this, he helps his vegetables survive an unexpected drought without having to provide supplemental water. Evaporation and water runoff are minimized.


Clockwise: Rich organic soil is key to growing vegetables in dry conditions. • Most peppers like it hot, and once fruit is set, will keep on producing in a dry spell. • To extend cool-weather crops or keep warm-season crops cooler, provide some type of shade with row covers. Using an old screen door is a creative way to provide shade cover for spinach, lettuce and mustard while providing a platform for sun-loving cucumbers to roam.

Understand When Water is Essential
Seeds need moisture to germinate, and all plants need consistent water to get established. After that, most vegetables benefit from 1 inch of water per week, at least until fruit set. During extreme temperatures, that amount may need to be increased.

When Watering
Water deeply once every four to six days so roots learn to search for water deeper in the earth. This will help when rainfall is inadequate in mid to late summer.

Drip irrigation is less wasteful, with water going directly to individual plants. Soaker hoses also do a good job of delivering water where it is needed most. Watering at dawn or in the evening at the bases of plants will allow soil to soak up moisture before it can easily evaporate from the heat of the sun. Avoid overhead watering altogether, if possible.

If water for irrigation is unavailable or water restrictions are in effect, invest in rain barrels to collect water to help your garden through dry periods.

Clockwise: Plan ahead to save water with a rain barrel in case of drought or dry periods. • Growing tall plants, such as sunflowers, on the west and south side of the garden helps cool veggies when weather becomes “too hot to handle.” • Purslane is sometimes referred to as a weed, but this tasty plant can take the heat and drought and never skip a beat in the kitchen garden or in a container. Use it like you would okra to thicken soups or eat it raw in salads and on sandwiches.

Mustard greens are growing up under these cowpeas, which produce shade while the heat is too intense for the spicy greens.

Sweetpotatoes need regular watering until they are established, but they would rather have too little than too much moisture. During their last month before harvest, no water is required at all.

Some veggies to consider

Amaranth: Steam young leaves; eat seeds.
Beans: bush and pole
Cowpeas: i.e. purple hull peas
Peppers: chile, banana, jalapeno, habanero, etc.
Swiss chard, spinach (New Zealand and malabar) if in shade

Provide Natural Shade
Plant in blocks rather than rows to create shade for roots and reduce evaporation. Raised beds work well when vegetables are planted close enough for leaves to shade the soil.

Control Competition
It is important to keep your garden weed-free, since weeds will compete with your plants for water. Remove plants that are struggling or have finished their major production, giving young plants easier access to soil moisture.

Keep an Eye on the Thermometer
When daytime temperatures reach 95 F and nighttime temperatures stay 85 F for more than a couple of days, many warm-weather crops, such as peppers, tomatoes and eggplants, will come to a standstill and stop setting fruit; blooms may simply fall off, taking future harvests with them.

Cool Off
When extreme heat is predicted, it is time to provide shade for the kitchen garden. Drape shade cloth over frames or hoops, allowing enough room for air movement around plants. Or, lightweight floating row covers can be placed directly on plants, helping to lower temperatures by about 10-15 degrees and hold some of the moisture in.

Extend Cool Crops
If you are trying to grow cool-season crops, such as lettuce, chard, spinach or other greens, in the warmer season, try growing sunflowers or trellises of climbing beans at the end(s) of the kitchen garden on the south and west sides, providing a cooler climate for them.

Growing vegetables in the heat of a dry summer can be challenging, but so worth it when you bite into a fresh, juicy tomato that you grew yourself in your kitchen garden!


A print version of this article appeared in Kentucky Gardener Volume 11 Number 5.
Photography courtesy of Cindy Shapton.


Posted: 05/29/18   RSS | Print


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Tasty Ways to Support Your Local Farmers
by Jacqueline DiGiovanni       #Advice   #Edibles   #Homesteading

Summer CSA crates include warm-season peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers and fresh herbs.

With scares over contaminated, big-ag produce the last few years, consumers have become more interested in where their food comes from, how it is grown and how far it traveled to get to their tables.

People have become more interested in growing their own vegetables and herbs, or when space and time do not allow for that, they shop at farmers markets. Some consumers take it a step further and partner with a farmer to grow their food through a community supported agriculture program, or CSA.

Tips for Shopping Farmers Markets
If you are new to farmers markets, expect your experience to be educational and fun. Some have musical entertainment, children’s activities and more. There’s a lot of ‘community’ in farmers markets, where regulars recognize and greet each other.

Markets can be under cover, indoors, outdoors or a combination of settings. Many have baked goods and prepared or frozen foods. Some sell seedlings for your garden, such as heirloom tomatoes. Some operate year-round or are seasonal, such as summer or winter markets.

Consider leaving your purse at home or in the car and stowing your ID, keys and cash in a pocket. It’s easier to shop with less to carry, and farmers really don’t want you to set anything on top of their produce.

If you are concerned about accessibility, call ahead and ask about where to park or less busy times. Strollers are usually welcome. Dogs are usually not welcome. Take your own shopping bag. Use small bills: $1s, $5s, $10s. Check with your market to see if credit or debit cards will be accepted.

Understand what’s in season. Walk through the market to see which stalls have the produce you are looking for. Prices may vary from stall to stall. Prices will likely be higher than in grocery stores.

Many farmers markets participate in WIC, Senior Project, Project Fresh, SNAP, Double Up Food Bucks or other programs that make healthful eating more affordable. If food samples are available, try them. Expect to be surprised.

Sweet corn is a popular item at farmers markets and CSAs in mid to late summer. A heavier ear means better sweet corn.

Bulk Up
For most farmers, local means grown within the state. Learn when to buy in bulk. If you want to pickle cucumbers, can tomatoes or put up jams and jellies, ask the farmer when produce will be available in bulk. You can make arrangements to pick up that half bushel when the produce is at peak flavor.

Bulk buying will usually save you money. Ask questions about crops coming in late or early. Ripe has more to do with the weather than the calendar. Some farmers offer suggestions on how to prepare their vegetables. If there is not a line of people waiting, ask for ideas.

Ask Questions
Ask your favorite farmers if they sell at other markets on different days, or if they have a farm stand. Learn the meaning of words: organic, sustainable, pesticide free, naturally grown, local, non-GMO. If this is important to you, investigate markets and growers ahead of time.

Don’t lecture the farmer on growing practices, just move to the next stall. If the farmer has something you would like to grow at home, ask questions about when to plant and when to harvest.

Collect business cards from the farmers who have the produce you love. Learn their names and visit their stalls often. Be sure to introduce yourself and let them know you enjoyed what you bought earlier.

How CSAs Work
You may notice the same farmers at several markets trying to reach enough people to sell the crops they harvested. This need for an expanded customer base has led to Community Supported Agriculture, or CSAs.

With CSAs, there is still a direct connection between farmer and consumer, but the consumer pays in advance for a share of everything the farmer harvests. In good years, consumers get great value for their investment. In not-so-good years, there will be plenty of produce, but less variety. The farmer and subscribers share the risks and rewards.

Farmers markets and CSA crates are stocked with in-season produce and herbs.

Weekly Pickup or Delivery
Usually, CSAs provide a box of produce weekly. The produce varies throughout the season. For instance, snow peas may be in early season boxes and tomatoes won’t show up until mid summer. Ask your farmer for a schedule of what crops mature when. The schedule won’t be exact because Mother Nature has a hand in how things grow.

Before you select a CSA, ask yourself a few serious questions. If a weekly share consists of 15 pounds of vegetables, will your family eat that much? In the fall, there will be rutabagas, collard greens and cabbage. Will your family eat any of it? Also, CSAs are an adventure, best enjoyed with a good vegetable cookbook and great optimism.

CSAs are likely more expensive than buying produce at a grocery store, but you are getting freshly harvested food and you know how it’s grown. Some CSA subscribers split the cost and produce with another family, neighbor or friend. Some farmers offer half-shares. Some farmers have a 12-week season and others a 20-week. There are more year-round CSAs now, thanks to hoop houses, greenhouses and good storage practices.

Selecting a CSA
Ask around for recommendations. You likely will be driving to pick up your weekly basketful of produce, so make sure you can schedule the trip. Some CSAs deliver their products to a central location and subscribers go there to pick up their food. If you might miss a pickup, ask ahead of time what options you have. Don’t expect a refund.

In exchange for a little bit of your time, you can find the farmer who offers exactly what you’re hungry for either at a market or in CSA. This is the year to begin a long-term relationship with a farmer.


A print version of this article appeared in Michigan Gardening Magazine Volume 2 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Natalila Pyzhova/, Jacqueline DiGiovanni, and viki2win/


Posted: 05/29/18   RSS | Print


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Fruit Tree Friends
by Alan Branhagen       #Beneficials   #Fruit   #Trees

Companion planting is the idea that certain plants attract beneficial insects and fix soil nutrients in the edible garden. It’s not a dog-eat-dog world out there; it’s a bug-eat-bug world that forms the food chain that feeds us.


A ground cover of strawberries is below a ‘Saturn’ peach in full bloom.

Fresh fruit picked off your own trees is a hot horticultural pursuit these days. Homeowners envision delectable apples, pears, peaches, plums and cherries dripping from their trees. Well, truth be told, there’s a lot of work that goes into those beautiful fruits. Bumps and blemishes from an army of fruit tree pests are the reality of the orchardist.

Organic gardeners know the first step in pest control is to work with Mother Nature. The majority of bugs in the garden are good guys: beneficial insects that pollinate and form the framework of the web of life. Every time one of these beneficials stops a pest, it is one step towards a productive and healthier garden. Planting plants that attract the good guys is a good leap forward in designing and planting a successful stand of fruit trees. The plants that attract pollinators and protectors and aid in providing soil nutrients and improved vigor are called companion plants.

Much about companion plantings is pure garden lore, unproven by scientific research, or has conflicting results. All of the plants described here are utilized at Powell Gardens’ Heartland Harvest Garden, which is the largest edible landscape in the country.

The first step is to always choose fruit tree varieties hardy and adapted to your specific region and select varieties of proven disease resistance. Even after growing the most recommended varieties for our region, Powell Gardens saw marked pest reductions and healthier trees after they were moved from our nursery in a fescue field to their permanent location in the Heartland Harvest Garden where they were surrounded by companion plantings.


A dwarf ‘Red Delicious’ apple tree thrives with lemon balm (beneath) and chives (foliage in the background) as companions.

Apples | (Malus pumila varieties and hybrids)

Apples suffer from a host of maladies from apple scab to pests like the coddling moth, Oriental fruit moth, flat-headed apple borer and others. Apples are not self-fruitful so they must have pollinating insects (native bees are best) to cross pollinate compatible varieties. “Wild roses” are great shrubby companions to apples because they host predatory insects. Try Illinois prairie rose (Rosa setigera), rugosa roses (Rosa rugosa), short Arkansas prairie rose (Rosa arkansana), apple rose (Rosa villosa formerly  R. pomifera), sweetbrier rose (Rosa eglanteria) as well as a few new single-flowering cultivars such as Rainbow Knock out and ‘Oso Easy Fragrant Spreader’.

Long-blooming, self-sowing anise hyssops (Agastache foeniculum) can attract beneficial insects. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) planted around the trunks of young apple trees protect them from apple borers, prevent apple scab and attract beneficial insects to their flowers. Deadhead chives or you’ll have pernicious seedlings. Mulleins (Verbascum spp.) act as traps for stink bugs that can damage young fruit. Plant perennial Verbascum chaixii, which reblooms if deadheaded and will self-sow lightly. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is another perennial that attracts parasitic insects to control pesky caterpillars, though other members in the carrot family also work.

Ground covers of strawberries (Fragaria x ananassa) serve as host to apple-protecting insects. White “Dutch” clover (Trifolium repens) not only provides nitrogen to the soil but attracts predatory insects like various species of ground beetles. It also blooms early with the apples helping to attract pollinators. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is also a good companion where it can be confined.


Pears | (European Pyrus communis and Asian Pyrus pyrifolia varieties and hybrids)

Pears are close apple relatives and also not self-fruitful. They require pollinating insects to cross-pollinate different cultivars of each species. Pear flowers are malodorous so various native flies, wasps and beetles are the pollinators. Chives also protect the trunks of young pears from borers so plant them around their bases. Three groups of mints are great companion plants. True mints (Mentha spp.) are outstanding companions to pears, but they need to be controlled or in confined spaces. Bergamots and beebalms (Monarda spp.) are good companions, but mountain mints (Pycnanthemum spp.) might be the best. Native perennial mountain mints attract an assortment of flies and wasps when in bloom—and no, they don’t attract house flies and yellow jackets. Fennel is another must near pears. We recommend dark bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’) for color contrast.


Yellow-flowering marigolds, white-flowering garlic chives and the flower stalks of dill going to seed are companions to peach trees in Powell Gardens’ Heartland Harvest Garden.

Peaches and Nectarines | (Prunus persica and var. nectarina or nucipersica and hybrids)

Peaches are self-fruitful but still require pollinating insects like honeybees. Garlic (Allium sativum) and garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) are the two most important companions to peaches as they deter their worst pests, the two species of peach tree borer moths. Plant these around the trunks of the trees. You may grow the garlic as a crop but be sure to deadhead garlic chives because, just like chives, it is a pernicious seeder and difficult to remove once established. Garlic chives’ fall bloom attracts an array of beneficial insects. 

Strawberries are an essential ground cover beneath peaches as they are an alternate host of a parasite that attacks Oriental fruit moths (supported by research). Plant wild strawberries and let them be or plant your favorite cultivars of June-bearing or ever-bearing varieties, which require a bit more seasonal care. Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) is another perennial ground cover companion with ferny leaves and daisy-like flowers. It attracts beneficial insects but does not provide habitat for borers.

The annuals borage (Borago officinalis), dill (Anethum graveolens) and marigolds (Tagetes patula) are companions to peaches. We’ve had good results from all three.


Cherries | (Sweet Prunus avium and pie Prunus cerasus, their varieties and hybrids)

Sweet cherries are mostly self-infertile (‘Lapin’ is an exception) and require a compatible cultivar for cross pollination. Pie or sour cherries are self-fruitful but require pollinators. There are hybrids between the two groups (‘Danube’, ‘Jubilieum’) that have wonderful sweet-tart fruit and are also self-fruitful. Cherries are closely related to peaches and also suffer from the peach tree borer so the use of garlic and garlic chives near the trunks is beneficial. Utilize the same companion plantings as for peaches. 


Plums | (Prunusspecies and their hybrids and varieties)

Plums are mainly self-infertile and need another cultivar for cross pollination. Plums are also closely related to peaches and do better with the same companion plants. The plum curculio weevil is the bane of this plant, so plant white clover, which promotes ground beetles. Weevils are controlled by plants in the Laurel family, which includes our native spicebush (Lindera benzoin), and we’re going to add it as a companion beneath plums. 


Garlic chives bloom in fall and attract many pollinators and beneficial insects. A Viceroy butterfly and other insects are nectaring on the flowers.


A version of this article appeared in a June 2011 edition of the State-by-State Gardening eNewsletter.
Photography courtesy of Alan Branhagen.


Posted: 05/28/18   RSS | Print


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From Drab to Fab: Half-Hardy Salvias for Summer Fun
by Caleb Melchior       #Colorful   #Flowers   #Summer

‘Black and Blue’ azure sage (Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’) mixes well with other warm-weather annuals, blooming from midsummer to frost.

My first garden experiences with tropical sages were a bit drab. Six-packs of mealycup sage (Salvia farinacea) from the grocery store bloomed through the summer with flowers the color of new Levis. The next year, to be fancy, I grew the seed strain ‘Strata’. Its flowers were closer to the color of dirty overalls. Then, of course, there was red Texas sage (Salvia coccinea) and its variety ‘Lady in Red’ — far more elegant in name than in physical reality — plus its bizarre faded pink variant ‘Coral Nymph’.

Yes, they were reliable. They needed little attention, they tolerated heat and drought, and stayed colorful throughout the summer. But they didn’t do anything that a plastic cactus wouldn’t.

Up close, the vibrant blue of ‘Black and Blue’s flowers stands out within its dark navy-black bracts.

Then I met ‘Black and Blue’. ‘Black and Blue’ sage (Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue') has stunning cobalt flowers held in navy-black bracts. Unlike the dinky habits of many old-fashioned salvias, it grows large and luxurious, 24 to 30 inches high in one season, with rich green pebbled foliage. ‘Black and Blue’ spreads 18 to 24 inches wide over one growing season. As long as its roots are protected, it survives the cold as far north as USDA winter hardiness Zone 6. Where winter-hardy, it will slowly spread to 36 inches across. The flowers are produced regularly throughout the hot months, but become especially profuse with the arrival of cool autumn nights. 

Rarer than ‘Black and Blue’, with a lighter habit and flowers in a pale shade of blue, West Texas cobalt sage (Salvia reptans West Texas form) is an extraordinary perennial that’s rarely encountered in gardens or nurseries. Cobalt sage (Salvia reptans) is an indigenous North American salvia species that occurs throughout the western United States. West Texas cobalt sage is a specific form selected from wild populations for its upright habit and cobalt-blue flowers. Throughout the spring and summer, it grows into a 40-inch high mass of bright green, upright stems with small linear leaves. In August, it ripples into a fantastic mass of tiny pale-blue and deep-blue flowers. The narrow stems contort under the weight of the flowers, swaying airily into surrounding plantings. Use it to strew a pale blue veil of fresh flowers through the faded mass of the late summer garden. West Texas cobalt sage is winter hardy through Zone 5. It thrives in well-drained, even gravelly soils.

A rare perennial, West Texas cobalt sage (Salvia reptans West Texas form) self-sows daintily in free-draining soils, making in an excellent filler for garden edges that are forgotten by the gardener.

If your garden is drowning in late-summer blues, plant ‘Wendy’s Wish’ sage (Salvia x ‘Wendy’s Wish’). Its fine flowers, which are the color of ripe raspberries, are carried abundantly on dark purple stems decked out with weirdly scalloped leaves. The leaves are an unusual color as well, about 30 percent gray and 70 percent green, with the purple of the stems leaking into the leaves along their veins in cool weather. While its parentage is unknown, ‘Wendy’s Wish’ is quickly becoming a favorite of gardeners across the country. It blooms off and on throughout the summer, erupting into a giant mass of bright pink flower wands in autumn. Depending on growing conditions, it can reach anywhere from 30 to 48 inches high and wide. It is perennial in USDA Winter Hardiness Zones 8 and warmer. Farther north, include it in your garden schemes as a quick-growing tropical for summer and autumn fun.

Opening just a few flowers at a time, Andean sage (Salvia discolor) has elegant pale gray-green bracts that hold sensational almost-black flowers.

Unlike the three other sages featured here, Andean sage (Salvia discolor) won’t draw your attention from across the garden. Instead, it repays close consideration. One of the oddest little salvias, Andean sage has flowers the color of crushed black velvet, with just a hint of purple to their sheen. Few other flowers have such a deep hue. The sheen of the sage flowers’ surfaces makes them particularly intriguing. Only a few of the “black” irises and ‘Queen of Night’ tulips come close to the same richness and depth. Its leaves are smart as well, felted gray-green on top and white underneath. Andean sage is easy to grow, in sun or part shade, reaching 18 inches high and 24 inches across in most growing seasons. It is also winter hardy to USDA Zone 8, but may return further north with good drainage.

Whether inclined to the subtle or the show-stopping, no gardener could be bored with these four fantastic sages. Their vibrant colors and generous flowering will transform your summer plantings. Say goodbye to drab — welcome these fab four tropical sages into your garden today.


A version of this article appeared in a June 2014 edition of the State-by-State Gardening eNewsletter.
Photography courtesy of Caleb Melchoir.


Posted: 05/28/18   RSS | Print


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Basil in the Kitchen and Beyond
by Marie Harrison       #Edibles   #Herbs

‘Italian Large Leaf’ flowers later in the season and has a tendency to make foliage taste bitter rather than sweet. Prune out flower buds (seen here), as they appear to prevent bloom.
Photo Credit: Andrea Dee

Basil is a favorite herb among cooks. Almost any tomato dish, soup, salad, sauce, or pasta can be enhanced by basil. It blends well with other commonly grown herbs such as parsley, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and sage, as they all add to its flavorful possibilities.

The foliage of purple varieties turns green quickly when grown in a shady site.
Photo Credit: Andrea Dee

Many people grow basil to make pesto. Most recipes call for a couple cups of freshly picked basil, a half-cup of parmesan or Romano cheese, a half-cup of high quality olive oil, a third-cup of pine nuts (or you may substitute walnuts or other favorite nuts), and about three cloves of minced garlic. Simply place the basil leaves and nuts in a food processor and pulse them several times. Add the garlic and cheese and pulse several more times. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the processor before proceeding. Add the olive oil in a slow stream while the processor is running. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Now you’re ready to add your creation to many recipes.

Basil is best used fresh; however, it can be frozen for winter use. Before freezing basil, dry it in a well-ventilated area. If it is not completely dry after three or four days, finish the drying process in an oven that is set on the lowest temperature. Leave the oven door partially open, and check often. Pack the dry herb in plastic freezer bags. Press the bags to remove the air and make sure they seal completely.

Growing Basil
Plant basil in the spring after all danger of frost has past. Prepare a space that receives full sun and has moist, but well-drained soil. Seeds can be sown indoors six weeks before the last frost date and transplanted outside after the soil has warmed. If only a few plants are wanted, purchase seedlings at almost any nursery in the spring. In the sunny South, mulch will help retain soil moisture, and a bit of protection from the hot afternoon sun will help the plants stay strong and hydrated.

The author’s stash of ‘African Blue’ basil is ready to plant in a container or in the garden. Since it does not produce seed, you must propagate by cuttings. All its blue coloration was lost during the winter since it did not receive any direct sun. Once it is planted outside, its attractive colors will return, and it will grow for another season. In the author’s garden, this basil tops out at 3 to 4 feet tall.
Photo Credit: Marie Harrison

Basil is an annual suited to summer weather, or it can be at home in a south-facing window that sun shines through for at least six hours of the day. Growing indoors will give you a year-round supply of this fragrant and flavorful herb. Just be sure to provide a nutrient rich soil that is kept somewhat moist. Fertilize every month or so at half the recommended strength. If sunlight is not possible indoors, basil can be grown under fluorescent lights turned on for ten hours daily.

To keep basil producing young tender leaves, pinch off the center shoot while the plant is young to force side growth. Remove any flowers that develop if you are growing basil for culinary use. Harvest just as buds start to form but before flowers bloom. Use the fresh leaves for your favorite recipes.

Basil roots easily. To keep summer favorites for the following year, place a few stems in water. Roots will form, and you can plant the newly rooted plants in containers for your windowsill or save them for the spring garden.

Other Uses for Basil
My favorite use of basil is as a nectar and pollen source for pollinators. Hundreds of bees and other pollinators buzz around a blooming plant. Many of the plants are beautiful and brighten the garden with colors of purple, red, bright green, and combinations of these. Children are enchanted when offered a leaf of basil to smell, and it is a fragrant addition to a bag of herbal potpourri. Even adult gardeners are seldom able to walk by the basil without running a hand over the plants, which releases a whiff of the distinctive aroma.

All-America Selections winner ‘Siam Queen’, prized for both culinary and ornamental uses.
Photo Credit: All-America Selections

Types of Basil
(Ocium spp. and cvs.)

Many types of basil offer multiple choices for the gardener. It comes in various sizes, colors, scents, and flavors. A few of the author’s favorites include:

1. ‘African Blue’ (O. kilimandscharicum x basilicum ‘Dark Opal’)
Dark green leaves with purple streaks provide the background for pink to purple flowers that pollinators love.

2. Sweet Basil (O. basilicum)
If you grow just one plant for culinary use, sweet basil is probably your best choice. Several cultivars are ‘Genovese’, ‘Italian Large Leaf’, and ‘Lettuce Leaf’.

3. Sweet Thai (O. basilicum var. thyrsiflora)
This one, too, is a great producer of flowers for pollinators. In addition, the purple stems and purple-veined leaves on a dark green background, along with attractive purple flowers clustered at the top of each stem, makes it a standout in the garden.

4. ‘Dark Opal’ (O. basilicum ‘Dark Opal’)
Dark Opal basil adds color to the garden with its bright purple stems and leaves topped by lilac flowers. The strong flavor stands up to cooking and adds a beautiful color to vinegars.

5. ‘Spicy Globe’(O. basilicum ‘Spicy Globe’)
If you want a small type of basil for pots or a compact plant to use as a border, ‘Spicy Globe’ is a good choice. Growing to just 10 inches tall, it has small leaves and a rounded form.

6. Christmas Basil (O. basilicum ‘Christmas’)
Glossy green leaves and purple flowers are gorgeous in the landscape. Use it to add fruity flavor to salads and drinks. Expect it to average 16 to 20 inches tall.

7. Cinnamon Basil (O. basilicum ‘Cinnamon’)
Cinnamon basil enlivens fresh arrangements with its dark purple stems and lilac flowers. Its delightful fragrance and spicy flavor make it particularly desirable in fruit salads and as garnishes. Growing from 25 to 30 inches tall, it provides plenty of stems for cutting.

8. Holy Basil (O. tenuiflorum syn. O. sanctum)
A revered plant in the Hindu religion, Holy basil is also referred to as sacred basil or Tulsi. Its leaves can be used to make tea. It is a beautiful plant in the garden with mottled green and purple leaves and it grows 12 to 14 inches tall.

9. Lemon Basil (Ocimum xafricanum)
Use generously in salads and fish dishes. Place a sprig of this lemon-scented herb in a glass of iced tea for a delightful summer treat. Plants grow 20 to 24 inches tall and bear light green leaves and white flowers.

10. ‘Siam Queen’ (O. basilicum var. thyrsiflora ‘Siam Queen’)
A 1997 All-America Selections winner, ‘Siam Queen’ has a rich but not overwhelming anise flavor and aroma and is especially good with fish and beef dishes. Purple flower clusters bloom on the plant, making it an ornamental garden standout.


A print version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 21 Number 3.


Posted: 05/18/18   RSS | Print


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Gardening for the Birds
by Robin Trott       #Birds

Besides plants, one of the best ways to attract robins and other birds is to provide a source of water for drinking and bathing.

Spring is my favorite time of year, full of new beginnings and teaming with possibilities. I love strolling the aisles of local nurseries and garden centers to see what’s new and what’s different. Although the temptation is great to purchase one of each, I try to limit my purchases to plants that attract birds and butterflies. There are many options to choose from, no matter the size or scope of your garden. Here are a few favorites to include in the yard each year, and some tips for planting and placement.

Under the hummingbird and oriole feeders, plant a container garden with many bird friendly plants, including red cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit), scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus), nasturtiums (Tropaeoplum majus), firecracker plant (Cuphea ignea), a variety of herbs, and sunflowers (Helianthus annuum).

Red cypress vine is an annual that is easily started by seed. A member of the morning glory family, red cypress vine attracts hummingbirds and butterflies with its dainty, trumpet-shaped flowers.

A bird friendly container garden includes (left to right) scarlet runner beans, sweet bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), sage (Salvia officinalis), lemon basil (Ocimum x citriodorum), firecracker plant, nasturtium, and sweet Italian basil (Ocimum basilicum).

Firecracker plant was a new addition to my containers last year. This tropical shrub attracts native pollinators, butterflies, and birds. If planted in a container, you can bring it inside when the nights get cold, and treat it as a houseplant until the days warm again.

Nasturtiums are annuals that start easily from seed, and come in a variety of colors and sizes. Nasturtiums attract hummingbirds and native pollinators, and their spicy, edible flowers and leaves are a nice addition to a summer salad.

A variety of amaranth, including, ‘Red Tails’, ‘Green Tails’, ‘Hot Biscuits’, and ‘Opopeo’ please seed-eating finches and other small birds.

Dramatic amaranth
These annuals can be upright and up to 60 inches tall (Amaranthus cruentus), or trailing (Amaranthus caudatus). They come in a bunch of colors, from the upright brown of ‘Hot Biscuits’ to the trailing red of the traditional ‘Love Lies Bleeding’.

Or, they can also be short – 18-24 inches – and brilliant green (A. hypochondriacus ‘Green Thumb’). Whatever you fancy, there is an amaranth for everyone. For greater selection, start your plants from seed indoors four to six weeks before last frost, and transplant outside when all danger of frost has passed. Amaranth attracts small-seed feeding birds, such as finches, sparrows, buntings, pine siskins, and redpolls.

Fetching phlox
Tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) is a hardy (USDA Zone 4), native perennial that attracts the first butterflies and hummingbirds that arrive in the spring. Phlox prefers full sun and well-drained soil, and will quickly spread to their mature size, 36-42 inches tall and 18-24 inches wide. Dozens of different phlox cultivars will grow in the upper midwest, but many are quite prone to powdery mildew. Their sweet smell, spectacular display, and bird attracting properties make them worth the effort. For best success, look for disease-resistant varieties, such as ‘David’s Lavender’, ‘Bright Eyes’, ‘Laura’, or ‘Nicky’.

Best placement
Place your bird friendly garden within 20 feet of trees that provide protective shelter and a place to perch. Select a variety of plants for season-long blooms. A source of water is an important feature in a bird friendly garden. Birds get most of the water they need from foods, but they will use the shallow open water provided by a birdbath for drinking, bathing, and cooling themselves down in the heat of the summer. Once the birds discover the safety of your lovely garden, you will continue to see them through the season.

Make sure you have your binoculars, bird book, and camera close at hand so you won’t miss a single moment!


A version of this article appeared in May/June 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Jarruda/ and Robin Trott.


Posted: 05/18/18   RSS | Print


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Sorry, We’re Closed
by Rachel Williams       #How to   #Pests   #Wildlife

Two woven wooden plant protectors covering organic cabbages, with kohlrabi to the foreground and orange marigolds acting as companion plants to deter pests to the rear.
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / marilyna

Gardening is harder than it looks … just when we think we know what we’re doing, our beds are attacked by outside forces. How to prevent ultimate defeat? Rather, how to be at war with nature, when you’re trying to be in harmony? Be your garden’s ally – provide adequate reinforcements by instituting an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan using some of these methods. As with insects, our ecosystem is delicate. Please think through your actions carefully – you wouldn’t want to go get your legs waxed and end up leaving with a bald head.

Okay, the bad news first: There’s no such thing as 100 percent pest control. You cannot expect perfection when growing your own vegetables. Taking that into consideration, decide how much damage you – and the plant – can tolerate.

When it comes to growing to vegetables, you must be proactive. Doing things such as planting extra to feed the trespassers or planting trap crops to distract them. The timing of your plantings is important. If a crop is flexible, grow it when pests are less active. Plant seedlings in containers where they can grow stronger and better able to survive infestations or. Select (devote your space to), more hardy plants. Be patient! Sometimes pests will be a bother for a few years, but then move on. Reduce the attractiveness of your garden by staying on top of weed control, trimming overgrown areas, and removing fallen fruit, nuts, birdseed, and foliage. Harvest your crops as early as possible and fill in empty spaces.

Holes in the ground made by a chipmunk.
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / photosampler


When it comes to control, the first step MUST be positively identifying the attacker(s). If you’re not sure exactly what is damaging your crops, your local extension office can help – just put the damaged plant in a sealed bag and take it up there. That said, after properly identifying the offender, it is important to act quickly.

Liquid repellents are best for preventing animals from browsing damage. If a liquid repellent is recommended apply only when temperatures are above 40 F. It’s important to thoroughly spray all parts of the plant, especially the undersides of the leaves. One disadvantage of liquids is that they require frequent re-application, including after every rainfall. Predator urine, such as coyotes and foxes, is said to repel armadillos, deer, domestic cats, gophers, groundhogs, moles, possums, porcupines, rabbits, shrews, voles, and woodchucks.

Granular repellents are best for keeping animals out of areas, such as sprinkling an “invisible fence” around the garden. It may take several applications before the animal will get the hint.

Motion-activated deterrents, especially sprinklers, will frighten away almost any varmint with startling bursts of water.

Fencing, though probably the most expensive solution, is nearly unanimously considered the most effective. To keep deer out, the fence must be at least 8 feet tall; to keep burrowing critters out, it must also be 2-3 feet underground. Adding electric wire gives your garden the ultimate level of protection.

Liquid repellents are best for preventing animals from browsing damage.
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Accessony.

Types of pests, their favorite crops, and how to stop them:

Voles are aboveground herbivores that consume roots and crowns of plants in the ground AND in containers. Moles are underground (therefore easily undetected) insectivores that eat both “good” and “bad bugs.” Their underground tunnels can damage plant roots and leave plants exposed to attack by other animals.

Chives, garlic, leek, onions, and shallots are good repellent crops. Castor oil has a wide array of uses. Thoroughly mix 8 tablespoons of castor oil, 1 tablespoon of liquid dish soap, and 1 gallon of water. Pour this mixture into the mole runs. You can also spray this mixture on plants and in areas they are active.

© Can Stock Photo Inc. /LeniKovaleva

Kitty Keepaway

Hot neighborhood topic: How to keep cats out:

Some have reported success after planting rue, lavender, and pennyroyal.

Laying chicken wire on top of your soil (cut holes for your plants) – cats don’t like walking on it.

Because cats prefer to dig and poop in loose dirt, mulch with sharp-edged pinecones, holly branches, eggshells, or stone mulch.

Water guns, blood meal fertilizer, and fruit peels have also been suggested.

Rabbits eat a wide variety of vegetation, especially when food is scarce elsewhere. Rosemary, sage, thyme, and onions are effective repellents and can be planted along with other crops.

Some gardeners use a hot pepper spray to prevent rabbit munching: Grind jalapeno peppers in a food processor, adding 1 tablespoon of water at a time until it’s liquid. Strain out the pepper pieces with cheesecloth into a jar, add a drop of nontoxic school glue and two to three drops of liquid dish soap. This mixture should be stored out of direct sunlight until you’re ready to use it. Before spraying the plants, mix the concentrated liquid with water at a ratio of 1 part pepper liquid to 10 parts water. Allow at least a week between applying the spray and harvesting your crop.

Squirrels are only active during the day. They nibble on flowers and trees and chew on wooden furniture and homes. If you’re sure your problem is squirrels, try wire fencing, netting, or sheet metal. There are also several commercial repellents available.

Armadillos love to eat grubs and they dig plants up when they are looking for them. Use wood chips around plants and/or fencing at least 1 foot underground.

Birds can be frightened away by placing materials that make a noise around the garden – wind chimes and aluminum pie pans are popular deterrents.


A print version of this article appeared in Alabama Gardener Volume 17 Number 4.


Posted: 05/18/18   RSS | Print


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Short, Tall and In Between
by Helen Yoest       #Advice   #Design

Layers of growth give height at each plane of planting, here with roses, dahlias, euphorbia, salvia and much more all tucked-in tightly so no mulch can be seen.

Each gardener, whether novice or experienced, begins a new garden full of fresh hopes and desires. Desires vary – one gardener may wish to grow fanciful flowers in a cutting garden; others may want a wildlife habitat with diverse plantings to feed birds, bees and butterflies. Another may want to grow a vegetable garden, with an added desire to make it as beautiful as it is functional.

Most gardens start out as either a border or a bed. A border is usually a strip of ground, typically along the edge of the property. This garden might be in front of a fence or hedge, or along the foundation of your home. A bed is often thought of as the same thing as a border, but I think of a bed more as an area that doesn’t have a backdrop – typically an island in the middle of a grassy area. However, the terminology isn’t what’s important, but rather the design of each to best suit its space.

Whether working on a bed or border, planning your garden to provide the best view from any angle will benefit both you and your plants. When designing a border with a backdrop, the general rule is to place the plants with the shorter plants in front, stair-stepping up as you go, ending with the tallest in the back.

A simple planting of cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior) rising above a medium-high variety of mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) provides interest and openness. • Art in the garden can add height when the perfect punctuation point is needed. Adding height at different levels keeps the eyes busy with inspection. • Foundation plantings (those hugging the house) don’t have to be round and green. Adding various heights to be viewed as you come around the corner creates more garden in tight places. The bright, chartreuse of elephant ear plants (Colocasia spp.) color pops in a container the color of the evening sky.

Of course there are always exceptions to these rules, and ultimately your aesthetic will determine the look of your garden. As an example, some plants are “see-through” plants, such as tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis). If sited based on height alone, it would most likely be planted in the back of the border, but since it’s light and airy, many gardeners place it in the middle of the garden. Keep in mind that from a purely practical point of view, it’s not advisable to plant your garden with taller varieties casting shadows on the shorter plants.

When planning a garden bed, such as an island or a circle, plant placement is somewhat different. This garden can be viewed from all sides, so the plantings in the middle of the bed should be taller than those on the outside, gradually getting shorter closer to the edge. Rather than a stair-step, think of the layout more as the lines of a mountain – the highest point in the middle, then decreasing as you move toward the outer edge of the circle.

A sunny spot filled with sedums, roses, grasses, yucca and heuchera keep company with a rustic trellis, which serves up some height and structure.

Plant Labels
Without firsthand knowledge of how a plant will perform in your garden, reading and paying close attention to the plant label will provide you with the most useful information. Labels tell you how tall and wide the plant should get. This guidance can help determine if the plant will meet your design needs. If you’re looking for a plant to serve as a ground cover along your garden border, a plant with an ultimate height of 24 inches will not suit your needs.

The use of a pond gives interest at ground level, also providing movement from the fish to draw the eye in. A diverse planting scheme keeps the rhythm of the bed flowing.

This curbside bed creates drama at the stop sign, but it also makes the passage down the sidewalk a special event.

Most labels also usually recommend how far apart plants should be spaced, generally based on half the distance of a mature plant. I know many gardeners like to plant annuals closer than the recommended spacing for a dense display. This method works well for annuals that will only inhabit the garden for one year, but for trees and shrubs you should heed the label information. They’ll not only be competing for resources, crowding could also potentially spoil your design aesthetic.

When selecting plants for your design, choose a variety – some of each in the low, medium and tall range – to create appropriate scale in your garden. Ideally, the front of a border or sides of a bed should gradually step up in size. Resist the urge of wanting a plant so badly that you get it, even though it doesn’t fit your size requirement, vowing to pinch it back to make it work. The extra effort is not needed, especially since there is such a variety of plants to choose from.

It’s also true that plants can’t read. So even though the labels are a good guideline, sometimes a plant won’t stick to what is listed on the plant tag. The sun, shade and even soil can stunt a plant, or if planted in a certain location where it’s overjoyed, it can take over a spot beyond your desires. That is just part of the fun of gardening – the discovery and learning about plants and the garden you have to grow them. This spring, create your own design to bring beauty through height in your garden. With a gradual slope from short to tall, all of your plants will be noticed.



A print version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 25 Number 4.
Photography courtesy of Helen Yoest.


Posted: 05/18/18   RSS | Print


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Wasps: Garden Friends or Foes?
by Blake Layton       #Beneficials   #Insects   #Pests

Some species, such as the braconid wasp pictured here, are parasitoids. The female wasp lays eggs in a range of hosts such as tomato or tobacco hornworm caterpillars (shown in inset photo). The developing larvae feed inside the unlucky caterpillar before emerging and spinning cocoons. A short time later the wasps will emerge from their cocoons and the weakened caterpillar will die.

When most people think of wasps, they think of paper wasps, and they probably think of them only as pests because of unpleasant past encounters with these stinging insects. However, the world of wasps is much larger and more complex than this!

Our gardens abound with hundreds of species of wasps that vary greatly in size and life habits. Most of the wasps in our gardens are tiny, parasitic species that do not sting people and go largely unnoticed. These are definitely friends because they help control pest insects. There is also a group of wasps known as sawflies whose larvae look like caterpillars and feed on plants. These are usually foes because they damage landscape plants. Two other groups of wasps are the social wasps, such as paper wasps, and the solitary wasps, such as mud daubers and cicada killers. Wasps in both these groups are capable of stinging, and they definitely qualify as foes when they do so, but paper wasps also have a beneficial side.

Most gardeners are familiar with two common types of paper wasps: The small brown and yellow banded wasps, often called guinea wasps, and the larger red and black wasps most gardeners know as red wasps. Actually, there are several different species within each of these types, and to further complicate matters, guinea wasps are often incorrectly called yellowjackets. Yellowjackets belong to a slightly different group of social wasps, and the yellowjackets we have in the South usually build their nests in the ground.

The guinea wasp on the far left has brought home some “caterpillar burger” to feed to the hungry larvae.

The domed white cells of this guinea wasp nest contain maturing pupae, and you can see larvae peering out of some of the open cells. Look closely and you will see a small white egg in the bottom of some of the center cells.

Wasp nests are easiest to control early in the season when there are only a few adult wasps. The aerosol wasp sprays work well, but be careful; there is always a risk of being stung when dealing with wasps.

Paper wasps live in communal nests usually with one reproductive female or queen and dozens of female workers. The papery nests are built of wood pulp the workers collect using their strong mandibles. Paper wasps build their upside-down-umbrella-shaped nests in sites protected from direct rainfall: under eaves, in dense shrubs, in that fertilizer spreader hanging on the back of the tool shed and similar places. These nests do not survive the winter.

Paper wasps overwinter as mated females in protected sites such as hollow trees, attics or wall voids. Overwintered females emerge in the spring and begin building a nest, and successful nests grow larger as the summer progresses. That nest in the fertilizer spreader may contain only one or two adults in April, but by late summer, when it is time for that end of season fertilizer application, it may be as big as Granddad’s straw hat and contain dozens of wasps. What a nasty surprise! “Experienced” gardeners know to check for wasp nests before moving infrequently used equipment, pruning shrubs or working in areas where wasp nests might occur.

Female paper wasps are equipped with venomous stings, which, unlike the stings of honeybees, are not barbed, allowing them to sting repeatedly. Wasps do not go looking for people to sting but will readily attack if they feel their nest is being threatened. Paper wasps have a Jekyll and Hyde personality. When encountered as individuals out foraging for prey or wood pulp, they are not aggressive and rarely sting, but their attitude is much different when their nest is disturbed. Wasp stings hurt, and some people are more sensitive than others. Wasp stings can even be life-threatening to a small percent of people who are hypersensitive.

Both bees and wasps feed on plant nectar, which is loaded with sugary carbohydrates but has little protein. Bees meet their protein needs by collecting pollen, which they carry back to their nests in special pollen baskets on their legs or abdomen. Wasps cannot collect pollen because they do not have these pollen baskets and their bodies are not hairy like bees. This is why paper wasps are not good pollinators. Social wasps meet most of their need for protein by preying on other insects: catching them, chewing them up and carrying these little balls of bug burger back to the nest to feed their young. This is where their beneficial side comes in. Paper wasps are voracious predators of caterpillars and play an important role in the biological control of many caterpillar pests.

As a graduate student at LSU, I was involved in a research project to evaluate the effects of insect-induced defoliation on soybean plants. Our plan was to artificially infest the plants, which were growing in large outdoor pots, with soybean loopers to achieve varying levels of defoliation. This technique had worked quite well in previous greenhouse experiments, but when we placed our young caterpillars on these outdoor plants and came back to check on them the next day, they had all disappeared. We released more caterpillars the following day and waited around to see what was happening to them. Paper wasps appeared by the dozens, methodically searched our plants and removed every caterpillar! In the end, we were forced to place a screen cage over each plant to protect our caterpillars from the paper wasps.

In this case, we viewed the wasps as foes because they were interfering with our research, but most gardeners and farmers consider wasps as friends when they are preying on caterpillar pests. Some organic gardeners and farmers even place special structures in their landscape to encourage wasps to nest there and help control caterpillar pests. Of course, they place these structures in out of the way places where they will not accidentally disturb them during the summer.

In the end, the answer to the question: “Paper wasp, friend or foe?” depends on where you encounter the wasp. Is she away from the nest foraging for prey or on the nest around the tool shed? Wasp nests built in places where people are likely to come in close contact with them are definitely hazards and should be eliminated as soon as possible, preferably while they are small. Most gardeners keep a can of aerosol wasp spray handy for this purpose. It is good to know paper wasps have a beneficial side, but this knowledge will not lessen the pain of their stings.

Happy hour for wasps? This red wasp and yellowjacket are indeed imbibing
the alcoholic flux oozing from this tree wound.


From State-by-State Gardening June 2009.
Braconid wasp photo by John Tann.
All other photos courtesy of Blake Layton.


Posted: 05/18/18   RSS | Print


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Perfect Slices
by Barb Henny       #Fruit   #Plant Profile   #Vines

Delicious seeded and seedless varieties are available.

If you’ve ever grown cucumbers in your garden, you can grow watermelons. Cucumbers and watermelons are in the same plant family and have very similar growing requirements. To grow watermelons, all you need is a little more space for the crop’s vigorous vines to run.

Watermelons need a long, warm growing season. Frost will damage or kill seedlings. Florida’s warm conditions make our state first in the nation in watermelon production, especially in the winter months when Florida becomes the only domestic supplier from December through April.

All Florida zones can plant watermelons in March and all zones can plant a fall crop in August. If you have a luxuriously large garden, you can choose a seedless watermelon variety to grow. Seedless watermelons require two varieties be grown at the same time to ensure pollination. Seeded varieties do not need a pollinating companion and may be a better choice for most home gardens.

Many Florida gardeners still practice direct seeding and bare-ground culture. But starting seeds in small pots will give you a three to four week head start and increase chances for success. Fill a 4-inch plastic pot with potting soil and moisten the soil. Plant two seeds into each pot about 1½-2 inches deep. Seeds take about 10 days to germinate. Seed germination will be slow if soil temperatures are less than 70 F. Some growers allow both seedlings to grow in one pot/hill. Others pinch to one seedling per pot.

Watermelons need space. Allow 5 feet between plants and 10 feet between rows. Mulching is recommended to keep the soil moisture even and keep weeds in check. Black plastic mulch warms the soil, allowing earlier planting. It is true that watermelons can be trellised, but you must provide a sling to tie each fruit as it develops.

Watermelons come in three categories: mini (4-8 pounds); personal (8-12 pounds); and picnic (up to 30 pounds or more). If you’re growing on a trellis, make sure it can handle the weight.

Water the transplants when you set them out, and then water once or twice a week. This crop needs a steady water supply. Not too wet, not too dry.

Fertilize 10 days after transplanting, using your favorite product. Fertilize again – lightly – after the watermelon vines bloom. After this bloom stage it is very important to maintain even moisture in the soil. If your immature watermelons get dry and then a heavy rain event occurs, the sudden uptake of water may cause the rind to split and the crop will be lost.

Weeding can be done with a hoe until the vines fill in. After that, weed by hand to deprive insects and diseases a safe harbor from which to attack your crop. Be on the lookout for caterpillars including armyworm, budworm, earworm, pickleworm, and cabbage looper. Taking care not to twist the central vine, gently roll the developing melons over and look underneath. Caterpillars hide and eat the rind on the underside of the fruit. If needed, treat with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) according to package directions.

Transplant watermelons to ensure a good stand.

Foliage diseases on watermelons (and cucumbers) can get ahead of a gardener very quickly and can be very discouraging. At watermelon planting season, timing is everything for disease control. Plant before the rainy season starts in spring, or plant after the rains stop in the fall. Prevention is the most effective cultural control for leaf diseases.

Depending on the variety, your watermelon should be ready to harvest from seed in 80 to 100 days. It’s oh so easy to tell when cantaloupes (also in the same plant family with watermelons and cucumbers) are ripe … the fruit falls off the vine. With watermelons, the vine will turn brown but does not release the fruit.

Some harvesters are expert at “thumping” the watermelon and detecting a change in the sound. I look at the spot on the bottom of the watermelon where the fruit was laying in the field. An unripe watermelon has a white spot; a ripe and ready watermelon will have a creamy yellow spot.Take your warm, freshly harvested watermelon from the garden to the kitchen sink and wash it under running water. Use a vegetable brush to remove any soil or gritty sand clinging to the rind. Pat dry with a clean terry cloth towel.

Watermelons do not continue to sweeten or develop more color after harvest. If you must store your harvest, place your watermelon in a cool, shaded area between 50-60 F. Storage life is about 14 days for uncut watermelons. Extended time in a refrigerator at temperatures less than 45 F can cause a loss of flavor. Once cut into cubes or slices watermelon has a very short shelf life, so eat your sweet fresh harvest promptly.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of Florida Gardening Volume 21 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Barb Henny.


Posted: 05/11/18   RSS | Print


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Floriferous Floribunda Roses
by Linda Kimmel       #Colorful   #Flowers   #Roses

‘Lady of the Dawn’ tends to have arching canes and can reach 5 feet tall if unchecked. Some preventive spraying is required, as it will develop black spot in humid weather. Hardy to USDA Zone 6b. Although, I see ‘Lady of the Dawn’ in many outdoor gardens looking marvelous, for me, it was more vigorous in a pot that I overwintered in a cold frame. • ‘Kimberlina’ is a blooming machine of shell pink flowers, backdropped with glossy dark green foliage. • ‘Ketchup and Mustard’ flashes an unusual color combination of deep velvety red on one side with a yellow reverse.

Floribunda roses are the result of crossing hybrid tea and polyantha roses. Some believe that nurseryman Peter Lambert, from Trier, Germany, first experimented with crossing hybrid tea roses with polyantha roses as early as 1903. But the first successful cross of this combination that was marketed to the public was made by Dines Poulsen, a Danish hybridizer, who studied and worked several years with Lambert. Poulsen dubbed this new variety of rose a “hybrid polyantha” or “Poulsen roses.” Poulsen’s goals were to create roses that would survive harsh winters, have good disease resistance, and would display the form, beauty and color range of the hybrid tea class along with the repeat bloom profusion of the polyantha roses.

Around 1940, these floriferous varieties became recognized as an official class, categorized “floribunda.” Eugene Boerner, chief hybridizer of Jackson and Perkins, ushered in the floribunda craze in the United States, hybridizing more than 60 floribunda roses during his career, with 14 winning the All-American Rose Selection award.

‘Iceberg’ parades a flurry of clean white blooms. It is disease resistant, can reach 3 to 5 feet tall, and will complement any garden design.

The Floribunda’s Personality
Floribunda rose blooms may appear in clusters or as individual flowers. The varieties that bloom in clusters offer a bouquet atop every stem. Individual flowers can be small (2 inches) to large (5 inches). Bloom shapes can be hybrid tea form (a high-centered flower with a circular outline and petals that spiral outwards from the center) or decorative (absence of a high center and often their most beautiful stage is fully open with stamens showing). Blooms may have only a few petals, such as ‘Playboy’ or ‘Playgirl’ (four to 12 petals); or, they may have several petals, as in ‘Julia Child’ or ‘Heaven on Earth’ (41 petals or more).

There is a full spectrum of floribunda colors, including stripes, as in ‘George Burns’ or ‘Scentimental’. Some floribundas even have reverse coloration: ‘Ketchup and Mustard’ is red on one side and yellow on the other. Regardless of color, size, or shape, floribunda roses are always in bloom, providing a spectacular display throughout the season.

‘Playboy’ holds its petals for a long time, especially considering it is a single (four to 12 petals) and will repeat rapidly. Per the literature, it is disease resistant, but mine will get black spot, so a preventive fungal spray program is recommended.

Floribunda rose plants tend to be shorter and wider than most hybrid teas, ranging in height from 1½ to 5 feet, making them versatile in the garden, perfect for planters, smaller gardens, hedges, or borders. Because of their bushy growth habit, they will blend in nicely with and enliven any existing perennial garden. Don’t let their small size fool you, floribunda roses are tough plants – they are disease resistant and hardy. They can flourish in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 11 and Zone 4 with winter protection.

Although not often acclaimed for their fragrance, the floribunda class does contain several highly-perfumed varieties, including ‘Sheila’s Perfume’, ‘Honey Perfume’, ‘Sunsprite’, and ‘Julia Child’.

When selecting roses for your landscape, consider what kind of gardener you are. What roses do you love? Is fragrance a necessity, or can you live without it (providing the roses have other great attributes, such as vitality and striking colors)? How much work are you willing to invest weekly? Are you mainly interested in an easy-care garden – one where roses flourish with a typical perennial-garden-type care, such as soil preparation, planting, feeding, and watering? Or are you willing to invest a little time doing chores such as cleaning, deadheading, and spraying?

‘Sheila’s Perfume’ has a lovely hybrid tea form, and mostly one bloom per stem, rather than clusters. The yellow blended colors and magnificent fragrance makes this rose a necessity. Hardy to USDA Zone 6b, winter protection is recommended.

Do your homework and select wisely when purchasing any new rose. Most important, start with healthy, disease-resistant, winter-hardy roses. Many local garden centers and big box stores will carry some floribundas, but for the best selection, mail-order them.

No matter your personal preferences, the floribunda class of roses has a rose you can live with and love.

‘Nana Mouskouri’, when fully open, displays an interesting red stigma surrounded by yellow stamens. The sweet fragrance keeps the pollinators attracted and busy.

Easy Care Floribundas
Floribunda rose care, for the most part, is no different than caring for any other roses in your garden. The principles below can be applied to nearly all roses (except for old garden roses and climbers, which may have different recommendations for pruning).

Roses prefer the sunny side of life, requiring at least six to eight hours of sunlight a day. A sunny east-facing garden is ideal. Roses can be planted on the south or west side, just remember to supply additional water, as the site may become hot in midsummer. Pick a location where you can see or visit your roses often, enjoying the brilliant colors, various forms, shapes, and the wonderful fragrance. Frequent visitation also serves in early detection and prevention of disease or insect damage.

Ensure good air circulation. A gentle breeze dries the morning dew on the foliage, promoting health and reducing foliage fungal disease.

‘Blueberry Hill’ is a prolific bloomer with a mild apple fragrance. It is listed as hardy to USDA Zone 5; however, most mauve roses are a bit tender, so I suggest some mulch at the base of the plant for spring freeze protection.

Good soil drainage is a must.
Invest in the soil for a happy, healthy rose now and years to come. For many gardens, a good soil mixture consists of equal parts sand, compost, and existing soil. However, the percentages of these three ingredients may vary, depending upon your individual microclimate and garden conditions. Yet, nearly all soils will benefit from adding compost. All compost, regardless of the source, should be well mixed and aged. Compost can be homemade with leaves, grass clippings, and kitchen vegetable scraps, or composted horse manures, or mushroom compost.

The ideal pH for roses is 6.0 to 6.5, or slightly acidic. Rose roots absorb nutrients in the form of a slurry; the slurry consists of dissolved nutrients blended with water. Soil pH determines how that slurry, and thus nutrients, are absorbed. If pH is out of range, certain life-sustaining nutrients may be blocked from the plant.

If the soil has been properly amended at planting time, other than adding a handful of bone meal in the bottom of the hole, nothing more is needed the first year. The second year, add an organic soil conditioner (or a homemade concoction of alfalfa meal, bone meal, blood meal, fish meal and cottonseed meal) in the early spring (around March or April) and again in midsummer (July or August). A well-balanced granular or slow-release fertilizer may be added annually in the spring, and worked into the top layers of the soil without disturbing the rose roots. Every two to three weeks, provide a liquid supplement of alfalfa tea, manure tea, or use a hose-end sprayer liquid fertilizer with routine watering. Liquid fertilizers provide a pick-me-up for the plant and a quick boost for bloom production.

Falling in love with the color and rich fragrance, ‘Julia Child’ personally selected this rose to bear her name.

Roses are forgiving of a few pruning errors; they will survive a mishap or two. So, relax and get it done.

Spring pruning is done while the plant is still dormant. Start with sharp, clean pruners. Remove old, damaged, diseased or dead canes. Cut away weak, small, or crossing canes, and bottom spindly suckers. Dormant canes should be cut back to healthy tissue, usually indicated by a white crisp center. As a rule of thumb, cut back the remaining canes by about one-third to one-half. If you fail to prune back to healthy wood, the cane may experience dieback. In which case, you will have the opportunity to practice your pruning skills again.

Summer pruning usually consists of deadheading or removing spent blooms. This encourages new flowering, and keeps the garden clean. Also trim the bush for desired shape and style. Stop deadheading after the September flush -- this allows the plant’s metabolism to slow down and harden-off for winter.

Playgirl’ blooms are large, flat, and ruffled. It is the result of a cross between ‘Playboy’ and ‘Angel Face’. Its growth habit and floriferous blooming characteristics are like ‘Playboy’. The mauve color, wonderful fragrance, and winter tenderness (hardy to USDA Zone 6b) is inherited from parent ‘Angel Face’.

Mulch after planting and water routinely. Mulching helps to conserve water and suppresses weeds. One to two shovels of mulch for winter protection may be added for tender varieties.

Inadequate watering of roses is the main reason they fail to thrive, and, weakened roses are vulnerable to disease. If necessary, install a drip system or use soaker hoses. It is said in the rose world, the three most important things about taking care of roses are: first, water; second, water; and third, water.


A version of this article appeared in a May/June 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Linda Kimmel.


Posted: 05/11/18   RSS | Print


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Lazy Daisies & Tired Tulips
by Andrea Dee       #Bulbs   #Perennials   #Propagation   #Pruning

















Older tea roses can be pruned back to a compound leaf with five leaflets.

Have you noticed your obedient plant rebelling into a doughnut shape with an empty hole in the middle? Has ‘Rozanne’ lost her vigor, with less and less flair each year? Are your spring tulips a carpet of green instead of red? Or maybe your friends are dying for a piece of your lungwort? While most flower gardens start out lush and colorful early in the season, late summer and fall often yield a less desirable look. Don’t be afraid to chop on your plants, you won’t hurt them. A little deadheading and dividing can go a long way in the perennial garden.

The rights tool for the job is essential! Check out these garden helpers: garden “sheep” shears

Perennial knife for dividing

Bypass pruners for deadheading

Japanese soil knife (Hori Hori)

Pruning Perennials
On average, perennials bloom three to four weeks, however when deadheaded some can bloom for several months. A plant’s physiological purpose for flowering is to make seed in an effort to reproduce immediately after blooming. As gardeners our interest is not always in seed production, but more in a bounty of blooms. Perennials can be manipulated to bloom most abundantly when deadheaded through the season and fertilized midsummer if necessary.

Some flowers like reblooming daylily (Hemerocallis spp.) and Iris and others that flower atop a long stalk, have stems that can be removed all the way back to the crown after flowering. This practice will encourage new buds to flourish later and keep the foliage clean and orderly. Keep height in mind when planting these types of perennials in the garden. Often the foliar crown is much shorter than the flower stalk so you may want to plan your garden design so that another plant can fill the voided space after pruning. Tall perennial grasses like switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and ‘Karl Foerster’ grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) make nice backdrops to long flower stalk perennials with low-growing foliage.

Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum), bee balm (Monarda spp.), Scabiosa, Geranium and a whole lot of popular perennials are naturally long blooming but with some extra deadheading can keep their show of flowers even longer. Simply pinch back dead blossoms to the first good set of healthy leaves and new buds will generate quickly.

Some plants like coreopsis (C. verticillata) have so many blooms to deadhead it may be difficult with a pair of pruners, midseason hedging a few inches into the canopy is recommended to force out a second show of color. Wait until these perennials are almost done blooming and there are more seed heads than flower buds gracing the foliage canopy before hedging back.

Tools for pruning perennials range from a simple hand to a sharper blade. Deadheading blooms can easily be done by pinching back blooms by hand, or pruning with a pair of scissors, “sheep” shear pruners, or needle-nosed pruners. Pruning of stems and foliage will likely require a pair of heavy-duty pair of bypass garden pruners.

Dividing Perennials
When plants are three to five years old they often need rejuvenation and benefit from division. This is also a great time to expand your garden with all the new starts you will dig up!

When choosing plants to divide remember, perennials that flower between early spring and mid-June are best divided in the fall, and perennials that flower after mid-June are best divided in the spring. However peonies, oriental poppies, and true lilies should infrequently be divided in the fall.

Daylilies can become overcrowded quickly, and sometimes full of weeds like this one. A little attention can give you a whole new garden! • Don’t be afraid to chop at daylilies, they are very tough and quickly re-establish. • Drop a small daylily start in the ground and you’ll have blooms in no time!

It is time to divide bee balm, Astilbe, blanket flower (Gaillardia x grandiflora), Chrysanthemum, garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) and Salvia when clumps start to die out in the middle. If your lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis), bleeding heart, daylily, yarrow (Achillea spp.) or iris become too woody, or start to show yellow leaves, it may be time to divide and replant them as well. Perennials like coneflower (Echinacea spp.), speedwell (Veronica spp.), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.) can overrun a small garden, and should be divided also. Ornamental grasses can be divided in fall, but have so much aesthetic value even while dormant in the winter that most gardeners prefer to leave then until spring for pruning.

Once a plant shows an inch or two of green shoots, use a sharp spade to dig up a large clump for division. You can use an old kitchen knife, a perennial knife, or my favorite a Japanese soil knife called a Hori-Hori to separate vigorous shoots and root. Tough, woody roots from the middle are hard to establish and should be discarded to the compost pile. Replant offsets at the same depth they were originally growing. Water plants to be divided well a few days before digging and again at planting time, and continue to water regularly throughout the next few weeks to re-establish roots.

Bulblets are offshoots that grow from the main bulb underground and can be divided and replanted. These small bulbs can take several years to mature.

Deadheading and Dividing Bulbs
Flowering bulbs too can benefit from division every three to five years. Daffodil (Narcissus spp.), Crocus, bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), grape hyacinth (Muscari spp.) and snow drop (Galanthus spp.) all have a naturalizing habit and do not necessarily need to be divided to thrive. Tulip, Dahlia and iris can be rejuvenated to increase bloom size and bounty every few years.

Whether you plan to divide bulbs or not, deadhead blooms as they die back and leave waning foliage until it’s yellow and collapses. This is a true test of patience for any gardener, but it is important that the foliage continues to photosynthesize and store energy in the bulb for the subsequent season. Some gardeners ease their eyes and tidy their tulip and daffodil beds for summer during this several weeklong natural process by bending and tying browning foliage into bundles with string or a rubber band. If you do plan to divide bulbs, dig after foliage declines and energy is stored. Always dig bulbs instead of pulling to minimize damage of both the bulb and root hairs. Harvest bulblets, which are usually attached to the mother bulb and re-plant. The original mother bulb can also be re-planted and will often be rejuvenated itself.

Hostas are easy to divide with a sharp spade and will re-establish quickly.

Host a Garden Party
Spring and fall are an excellent times to host your family, neighbors and friends for a “dividing” party. There will be plenty of plants to share!


A version of this article appeared in a May 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Andrea Dee.


Posted: 05/11/18   RSS | Print


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The Best Defense
by Ron Strahan       #Pests   #Turf Grass   #Vines


















Pink oxalis should be spot treated with glyphosate.

Gardeners take pride in the appearance of their landscapes. However, nothing detracts from the beauty of flowerbeds like weeds. Along with being aesthetically displeasing, weeds in flowerbeds compete with desirable plants for water, nutrients and light. If weeds are out of control, expect fewer flowers and more headaches. For most people, backbreaking hand removal is relied upon exclusively to remove weed problems. Hand pulling may be successful for a few weeds, but for most weed problems it is only partially effective. Weeds have very effective defense mechanisms that reduce the effectiveness of hand pulling. Annual weeds often break at the stem when pulled, leaving the root or single stem available for potential reestablishment. Perennial weeds like purple nut sedge (Cyperus rotundus) and common Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon) have underground structures that are left in the soil after hand removal. You have probably noticed that these weeds re-infest the beds very quickly. In reality, hand pulling weeds is one of several practices that should be used to optimize weed control in flowerbeds. These additional practices include the use of mulch, preemergence herbicides and, to a limited extent, postemergence herbicides.

I am a big fan of using mulch in flowerbeds. Mulch essentially serves two weed-control purposes: It is a physical barrier to the emerging seedling, and it prevents sunlight from reaching the soil surface. Blocking sunlight is important because some weed seeds, such as crabgrass (Digitaria spp.), need light for germination. Also, sunlight is necessary for the new weed seedling to begin photosynthesis for growth and development.

There are several materials available that are suitable for mulch such as compost, leaf litter, pine bark, pine mulch and pine straw. Even newspapers can be used as a barrier to weed emergence. Mulches must be thick enough to block light to be effective. As a rule, mulch trees to a depth of 3 to 4 inches and shrubs to a depth of 2 to 3 inches.

There’s no doubt that mulch is very beneficial, but mulch alone usually will not hold back most weed infestations. It is important to use mulch in conjunction with hand pulling, preemergence herbicides (prevents weed) and postemergence herbicides (kills emerged weeds).

Mulch such as pine straw is an important weed-control strategy.

Preemergence Herbicides
Wouldn’t it be great to just be able to spray an herbicide in the flowerbed that cured all of your weed problems and caused no harm to your landscape plants? Unfortunately, postemergence herbicide options used to remove existing weed problems are very limited, since plants in flowerbeds can be very injury prone. Less injurious preemergence herbicides are the backbone of weed control in flowerbeds. You are really missing out if you don’t use them regularly in your flowerbeds. Some preemergence herbicide choices available to homeowners include dithiopyr (Hi-Yield Turf & Ornamental Weed Stopper with Dimension and some formulations of Preen), trifluralin (Treflan, Preen and Miracle-Gro Garden Weed Preventer), oryzalin (Surflan) and benefin plus oryzalin (Amaze Grass & Weed Preventer).

Preemergence herbicides work by forming a barrier in the upper 1⁄2 to 1 inch portion of the mulch or soil where most seeds are germinating. These types of herbicides kill weeds as they attempt to emerge from the soil. Since these herbicides have no effect on existing weeds, applications must occur before the weeds germinate. All existing weeds should be removed by hand or carefully spot treated with a non-selective herbicide, such as glyphosate (Roundup or generics), prior to treatment.

Most consumer preemergence herbicides should be applied directly on top of the mulch and existing landscape plants then watered in soon after application to move the herbicides into the zone where weed seeds are germinating. It is always a good idea to rinse off landscape plants to remove herbicide granules. If you are putting down new mulch in the flowerbed, apply the preemergence herbicide on the old mulch before adding the new mulch layer.

In most cases, preemergence herbicides should be applied every two and a half to three months. Consult product labels concerning desirable plant tolerance and application methods. Preemergence herbicides can be effective on several annual weeds including crabgrass, goosegrass (Eleusine indica) common purslane (Portulaca oleracea) and mulberry weed (Fatoua villosa). Most troublesome perennial weeds, such as purple nut sedge and Bermudagrass, are not controlled with preemergence herbicides.

Postemergence Herbicide Options
It is important to control weeds with mulch and preemergence herbicides, because once they have emerged your options become more limited, since there are very few selective postemergence herbicides available, especially for broadleaf weeds. There is good news when it comes to selectively controlling most summer grasses such as crabgrass and Bermudagrass. Summer grasses are controlled with herbicides containing the active ingredients fluazifop (Ortho Grass-B-Gon) or sethoxydim (Vantage, Fertilome Over the Top II, etc.). These types of herbicides only kill grasses and are usually safe over the top of most non-grass landscape plants including shrubs, perennial ground covers and bedding plants. They are even safe for over-the-top applications in grass-like plants such as daylily (Hemerocallis spp.), iris (Iris spp.), monkey grass (Liriope spp.) and mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus).

Sedges, like purple nut sedge, can be controlled by directed sprays of halosulfuron (SedgeHammer, Monterey Nutgrass Killer) or imazaquin (Image Nutsedge Killer). Consult the product labels thoroughly for sedge-killing herbicides before you use them. Additionally, glyphosate (Roundup, etc.) can be carefully spot treated or applied as a wipe (paintbrushes and sponge mops can be used as applicators) for hard to control weeds. Spraying glyphosate is not always safe in landscape plantings due to the potential for drift. I have had some success using a paintbrush or a sponge mop to wipe glyphosate on weeds in my flowerbeds. Glyphosate can be very effective on perennial plants in landscapes, because it is systemic and moves effectively into roots and underground storage organs.

Common Weeds That Infest Flowerbeds

1. Spurge (Chamaesyce spp.)
There are several types of spurges that are common in landscape beds. Spurges are members of the Euphorbiaceae family and are prolific, seed-producing annuals that thrive in hot weather. Under optimum growing conditions, plants can go from a germinating seed to producing their own flowers in only three weeks. Some spurges have a more prostrate growth habit that can form dense mats, whereas many spurge species grow more upright. Spurges emit milky latex from broken stems that can be helpful in distinguishing this plant from other species. The plants are difficult to manage in flowerbeds due to heavy seed production and the inability to be successfully removed by hand. Plants often break at the stem during this process, leaving the root and several buds or a single stem available for potential reestablishment.

Control: Spot-treat existing plants with glyphosate before applying preemergence herbicides. Most preemergence herbicides work well on spurge. However, the problem usually is in the frequency of the application because spurge control starts breaking four to six weeks after the herbicides are applied. Consumer preemergence herbicide options include Preen, Surflan and Amaze.

2. Wood sorrel (Oxalis spp.)
Wood sorrel are members of the Oxalidaceae family and are perennial weeds that produce underground storage organs that make hand removal difficult. The plants are heavy seed producers and possess a very efficient method of seed distribution. Wood sorrel has three heart-shaped leaf components that vary in color from dark green to reddish purple. The plants are often called clovers, but they actually are in a different plant family. There are several species of wood sorrel that are common landscapes. Yellow wood sorrel (O. stricta) grows more upright and produces below-ground storage organs. Yellow wood sorrel produces thousands of seed and has a very effective method of seed dispersal. At maturity, okra-shaped seedpods burst open and expel seed 10 to 12 feet in all directions. Pink wood sorrel (O. crassipes) has very large leaves, pink flowers and commonly infests border “grasses” like mondo and liriope.

Control: Most preemergence herbicides that work on spurge work well on oxalis. Hand removal is difficult because underground storage organs are left in the soil when the top areas are removed. When possible, spot spray or wipe existing plants with glyphosate before applying preemergence herbicides such as Preen, Surflan and Amaze.

3. Mulberry weed (Fatoua villosa)
Native to Asia, mulberry weed is a summer annual that is a member of the Moraceae (mulberry) family. The plant has an upright growth a habit and can grow to a height of 3 to 4 feet. Leaves are triangular, serrated and prominently veined. Plants resemble seedling mulberry. However, mulberry weed has pubescent leaves and stems and is herbaceous. Mulberry weed has unique feathery flowers that first appear purple and then brown as they mature. Plants are prolific seed producers and can forcefully expel seed up to 4 feet. The weed develops quickly — it can go from seed to flower in fewer than two weeks and produce several generations in one growing season.

Control: Hand remove existing plants. Consumer preemergence herbicide options include Preen, Surflan and Amaze.

4. Chamberbitter (Phyllanthus urinaria)
Chamberbitter is an extremely invasive summer annual that is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family. Chamberbitter resembles hemp sesbania (Sesbania exaltata) or mimosa (Acacia baileyana) seedlings. However, the most distinguishing characteristic are the round seed capsules located on the underside of slender branches. Chamberbitter needs temperatures consistently above 75 F, so these plants tend to germinate a little later in the spring than many other flowerbed weeds. Populations of chamberbitter have increased significantly since their introduction from Asia because of their prolific seed production.

Control: Light may be necessary to stimulate chamberbitter germination, so thick mulch is helpful in reducing plant populations. Chamberbitter hand pulls very easily, but frequent germination and high populations will keep you busy. Preemergence herbicides available to homeowners have performed poorly on this weed, so diligent hand removal and mulch will be very important.

5. Florida betony or rattlesnake weed (Stachys floridana)
A square-stemmed perennial weed native to Florida, Florida betony or rattlesnake weed is a serious problem in landscapes during the fall and spring. What makes this weed such a problem is its ability to overtake flowerbeds in a short time and the lack of good control options. There may be more common weed problems, such as nut sedge, but betony is more difficult to remove once it gets established.

Although the plant does produce seed, the weed mainly reproduces by rhizomes and tubers. The tubers resemble the rattle on a rattlesnake’s tail, hence the nickname “rattlesnake weed.” Hand pulling only removes the shoots but leaves the rhizome and tubers. Betony is easily spread from flowerbed to flowerbed when landscape plants are shared or purchased from commercial growers that produce plants in areas where the weed infests. We see this weed most often in the fall and spring. It goes nearly dormant during hot weather and is not noticed as much in the landscape during the summer. I am flooded with calls from landscape maintenance companies and homeowners concerning the control of Florida betony this time of the year. There are no preemergence herbicide options, and weed barrier fabrics have not been effective.

Control: Glyphosate provides control of the weed, so spray or wipe with highly concentrated solutions in sensitive areas. Repeated applications are always needed.

6. Nut sedges (Cyperus spp.)
Purple nut sedge ranks as the number-one weed problem in the world and is the most common weed infesting flowerbeds. Yellow nut sedge (Cyperus esculentus) prefers moist environments and is more common in irrigated beds or during wet growing seasons. Both are grass-like plants with an extensive system of tubers that allow the plants to reproduce rapidly in landscape beds. Homeowners often call nut sedge “coco” or “nut grass,” however, these weeds are sedges and not grasses. In fact, sedges are in a totally different plant family from grasses. Herbicides that kill true grasses, such as Grass-B-Gon, will have no effect on sedges.

Control: Nut sedges are very difficult to manage consistently in landscape beds. Neither purple nor yellow nutsedge can be controlled by hand removal, and mulches are only slightly effective. Preemergence herbicides that are available to homeowners provide no control of nut sedge. However, postemergence herbicides with the active ingredient halosulfuron, such as SedgeHammer, can be an effective option when used as directed in flowerbeds. The herbicide works very slowly and may take as much as a month to kill the sedges. It will not prevent nutsedge re-infestation in the flowerbed. The herbicide will have to be applied periodically as nut sedge plants emerge. Consult product labels for lists of tolerant plants and application techniques.

7. Common Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon)
Common Bermudagrass is the most widespread grass problem infesting flowerbeds. This perennial warm-season grass originated in Africa and grows well in Southern climates. The grass is widely used for lawns, athletic fields and golf courses, but it is very invasive in flowerbeds. Common Bermudagrass is characterized by its dark green color, fine texture and the production of rhizomes (below ground stems) and stolons (above ground stems) that allow the plant to establish quickly in the landscape.

Control: Hand removal is not an effective method for controlling common Bermudagrass infestations in landscape beds. Since the weed mainly reproduces by plant parts (not seed) and creeps into flowerbeds, preemergence herbicides have no effect on the weed. Frequent applications of grass-killing herbicides, such as Ortho Grass-B-Gon and Fertilome Over the Top II, can be effective in managing Bermudagrass in landscape beds.

8. Torpedograss (Panicum repens)
Torpedograss is a perennial rhizomatous grass that is considered one of the most invasive grasses in the world. Although the plant does produce seed, the seeds are not viable. The weedy grass solely reproduces vegetatively by robust rhizomes.

The spread of torpedograss can mainly be attributed to the movement of soils infested with torpedograss from one location to another usually during flowerbed construction. The weed is a very common problem in landscape beds all along the Gulf Coast.

Control: Complete control of torpedograss may not be possible. Grass-killing herbicides normally prescribed for flowerbeds, such as sethoxydim and fluazifop, are just not very effective on torpedograss, although fluazifop is a little better than sethoxydim. Glyphosate is the best herbicide on the weed, but high rates and multiple applications are necessary for control.

9. Bushkiller vine (Cayratia japonica)
Bushkiller vine is a perennial herbaceous vine with compound leaves containing five leaflets. It produces salmon flowers, eventually bearing fruit with two to four seeds. Thankfully, the seed are not thought to be viable. The plant solely reproduces vegetatively. Native to Asia, bushkiller vine gets its name because the vine climbs over desirable plants and kills other plants by blocking out sunlight. Few weeds take over areas as fast as bushkiller vine, which rapidly engulfs landscape shrubs and ground covers. I am seeing infestations of this weed all along the Gulf Coast.

Control: Bushkiller vine can be suppressed with repeated applications of two herbicides, glyphosate and triclopyr (Ortho MAX Poison Ivy & Tough Brush Killer, Hi-Yield Brush Killer), applied as directed sprays. Unfortunately, the vine intertwines in the landscape and makes herbicide applications very difficult. Often, it is necessary to treat freshly cut plants or wipe the weed directly when spraying the herbicide is too risky in the landscape. Don’t expect to get rid of it with one application. Start your bush killer management program in the spring as the vine emerges. Be sure to treat properties nearby, because the weeds will rapidly re-infest treated areas again.

The best defense against weed infestations in flowerbeds is a combination of mulch, periodic hand pulling and an aggressive preemergence herbicide program. When applicable, use postemergence herbicides for emerged sedges and grasses. On really tough existing weed problems, spot apply a non-selective herbicide like glyphosate. In areas where spraying glyphosate is not possible because of drift, wipe the solution on the weeds with a paintbrush or even use a sponge mop as an applicator. The chart on page 29 provides a list of some herbicides available for landscape bed weed control. Consult product labels for tolerant plants, application rates and procedures.


 Preemergence Herbicides

 Active ingredients

Weeds Controlled


 Benefin + oryzalin

Annual grasses and small-seeded broadleaves like spurge, purslane, mulberry weed, etc.

 Hi-Yield Turf & Ornamental Weed
 Stopper with Dimension


Annual grasses and small-seeded broadleaves like spurge, purslane, mulberry weed, etc.


 Dithiopyr or trifluralin

Annual grasses and small-seeded broadleaveslike spurge, purslane, mulberry weed, etc.

 Miracle-Gro Garden Weed


Annual grasses and small-seeded broadleaves like spurge, purslane, etc.



Annual grasses and small-seeded broadleaves like spurge, purslane, mulberry weed, etc.

Postemergence Herbicides

Active Ingredients

Weeds Controlled

 SedgeHammer, Monterey
 Nutgrass Killer


 Nut sedge

 Image Nutsedge Killer


 Nut sedge

 Ortho Grass-B-Gon


 Annual and perennial grasses

 Fertilome Over the Top II,
 Vantage, Poast, Hi-Yield Grass


 Annual and perennial grasses

 Bayer Brush Killer, Ortho MAX
 Poison Ivy & Tough Brush Killer,
 Hi-Yield Brush Killer, Green Light
 Cut Vine & Stump Killer



 Vines and unwanted trees

 Roundup, Eraser, Killzall,
 Razor Pro, etc.


 Most annual and perennial plants



A version of this article appeared in a May 2012 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Ron Strahan.


Posted: 05/11/18   RSS | Print


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Bad Homemade Remedies
by Denise Schreiber       #Advice   #Health and Safety   #Sustainability and Self-Sufficiency

Countertop mix — Blending your own home remedies not only stinks up the kitchen, it can ruin your blender. Plus, these concoctions are not as effective as commercially available solutions.

As gardeners we care for our plants as best we can. We are also sensitive to environmental concerns when using fertilizers and pesticides (and many times we seek the cheapest way to do all this). It has happened to all of us: We buy a product that is “almost as good” as the original product only to discover that it “almost worked.” There are many “cheap and almost as good as” homemade garden remedies, many of them found on the Internet; I am going to explain why you should never try any of them.

I have a science background, pesticide applicator licenses and more than 30 years of experience growing professionally — so I can decide if something is great or not. The first thing to remember is “the label is the law.” Always read and follow the label.

The latest horror story I heard was gardeners using Pam cooking spray to treat plants infested with scale. I wrote to the manufacturer asking them about using their cooking spray on plants, and they informed me that the product is made from vegetable oil and is intended only for use in cooking and for no other applications. Someone apparently thought they could substitute cooking spray for lightweight horticultural oil (which is more expensive, but is registered by the EPA to be used on listed plants that have scale insects). I have used horticultural oil spray over the years, and it does work on scale.

Another horror recipe on Facebook had the headline, “Never use RoundUp again and save money!” The recipe varies, but it combines dish soap, salad vinegar, sometimes vegetable oil, salt (sometimes Epsom salts) and water. This concoction might kill some young weeds, and might remove foliage from some perennial weeds. But what is harmful is the amount of salt used in the recipe — it can harm earthworms and other beneficial soil inhabitants. There is nothing safe or organic about this recipe.

There is another myth that gardeners can use household vinegar as an herbicide. Not true. The vinegar we use for salads and pickling is 5 percent acetic acid vinegar. The horticultural vinegar is 20 percent acetic acid, and it requires eye protection when applying. The horticultural vinegar is registered as an organic weed control product, and it can be purchased by homeowners.

Rabbit — He might look cute, but he can take down your vegetable garden fast.

There is a celebrity “Master Gardener” (and I use that term loosely for him) who touts all sorts of home remedies. These include using ammonia, beer, molasses, multivitamins, bleach, nicotine, and my personal favorite, birth control pills. While there is a drop of truth to be found in some suggestions, I haven’t figured out why you would need birth control pills for the garden. (They are expensive, too!)Another home remedy recommends hanging bags of hair and bars of soap on trees and shrubs to repel deer. Imagine inviting friends over to your garden with your trees and shrubs decorated with those odd ornaments. These “repellents” will lose their scent quickly, and likely will make you the neighborhood weirdo.

One really smelly spray that supposedly repels deer includes rotted eggs, garlic, hot peppers, soap and oil. You combine these ingredients in a blender (with the admonition not to use that blender for anything else) and spray it on plants to keep the deer from eating them. It is likely the deer won’t eat the plants for a couple of days until the smell subsides or it rains. But then your house is likely to smell for more than a few days after making that mixture.

Compost tea is often praised as the end to beat all. It supposedly prevents and cures fungal diseases, is a great fertilizer, adds beneficial microbes to the soil and can repel some insects. I heard it cures baldness, too (joking — don’t try this!). Studies have shown compost tea can add microbes to the soil, which is a good thing, but it doesn’t prevent or cure fungal diseases and really doesn’t have effective fertilizing properties. Compost is made up of rotted plant material and some type of manure. After the plant material and manure have completely composted, water is added to make a tea that must be strained several times to use in a sprayer. The problem is that you cannot accurately reproduce the exact same ingredients each time and have them break down exactly the same way — so replicating a compost tea formula is impossible for the homeowner. Compost tea will add some nitrogen to your soil, but don’t expect miracles. It is also illegal to use compost tea as a fungal spray since it isn’t registered with the EPA. Scientific studies have shown that it is possible to contract E. coli and salmonella in some compost teas; I suggest using it on flowers not vegetables.

Other home remedies include burying banana peels to add potassium to the soil when you plant. This practice is more likely to attract rats and raccoons to dig up your plants to get to the peel. Adding molasses to “feed” microbes or as a sticker for a spray is probably going to attract ants and wasps.

Another remedy that concerns me is one for killing ants made of equal parts of sugar and borax. It is supposed to attract ants, and then they carry the mixture back to their nest where the rest of the ants feed on it. The borax is fatal to them. However, birds, butterflies, cats, dogs and other creatures might also taste or feed on the sweet granules, and it can kill them, too.

The best way to control problems in your garden is to have your soil tested for optimum production, plant healthy, disease-resistant plants and water correctly on a regular basis. With proper cultural practices, you should have fewer problems. And if you do have diseases or pests, and don’t want to use a synthetic chemical or fertilizer, there are plenty of organic products on the market. Plus, they are safe when used according to labeled directions.


A version of this article appeared in a May/June 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Michelle Byrne Walsh.


Posted: 05/11/18   RSS | Print


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Creating a Bee-Friendly Herbal Oasis
by Brenda Lynn       #Beneficials   #Herbs   #Insects















Borage flowers welcome honeybees. The delicate blue petals are not only attractive to pollinators; their refreshing flavor brightens summer beverages.

An herb garden is an oasis of scents, textures, and flavors that add just the right zing to summer meals. But we aren’t the only ones who enjoy a burst of flavor on a hot summer day. Honeybees and other pollinators are drawn to the delicious nectar found in flowering herbs.

Herbs play an important role in sustaining honeybees, as well as myriad of other native bee species. Growing a diverse array of flowering plants is key to their survival. Bees prefer blue and yellow flowers, but visit every hue. They are drawn to tubular-shaped flora, or those with a landing platform, and strongly aromatic herbs, especially those in the mint family, are particularly appealing.

Catnip and basil are multi-purpose herbs in a homestead garden.

Herbs grow in a wide range of soils and need varying degrees of sunlight. This is good news, because it means virtually anyone can grow them. Tuck some thyme between stepping-stones, or plant basil between summer vegetables. Bees love all of these, as long as they are allowed to flower. Not a lot of space? Herbs fit perfectly in pots. Mediterranean herbs, such as thyme, oregano, and sage, are great for starters. They grow best in full-sun, are drought tolerant, and perennial in Zones 5 through 9.Thyme, both leaves and flowers, releases a heavenly fresh scent when lightly tread upon. Purple flowers cover glossy green foliage from late spring to early summer. Once the flowers die back, simply prune sprigs to use fresh or dry them for later use.

Oregano’s trailing foliage looks lovely creeping over a low wall or spilling from a pot. Small clusters of pink/violet flowers appear in mid-July. Look for miniscule native bee species, as well as honeybees, dining on oregano’s sweet nectar. The flowers and leaves are both edible. Dry them by hanging them upside down in a cool area, away from direct sunlight and moisture.

Culinary sage is a delicious choice for a bee-friendly herb garden. It forms a low deciduous shrub that can be pruned back each season. Bees love the range of wild salvias, as well.

Oregano flowers are small and delicate but support a range of native bees and other pollinators.

Herbs That Attract Bees

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum spp.)
Culinary sage (Salvia officinalis)
Thyme (Thymus spp.)

Of all the herb species, mountain mint is perhaps bees’ favorite. It grows easily in part shade or full sun. This shrubby perennial can be aggressive, but it is too attractive to pollinators to live without.

Borage is an Old World herb that fits well in a cottage or kitchen garden. Delicate blue flowers adorn borage well into fall. The flowers have a faint cucumber flavor and are a tasty addition to drinks or salads.

Chives grow in almost any climate and will tolerate a bit of shade. The flowers, as well as the stems, are edible. They offer a colorful complement to meadow plants, where they freely fill empty space (so keep an eye on it in the garden, making sure it isn’t too aggressive).

By now, most of us are familiar with threats to both honeybees and the 4,000 species of native bees we rely on for pollination. Herbs are sometimes subject to unwanted insects, but insecticidal treatments will harm beneficial species, as well. Always use caution when treating lawns and garden. And if it’s pollinators you really want, a clover-filled lawn is about the happiest place a bee can be.


A version of this article appeared in a May 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Cindy Shapton and Katie Copsey.


Posted: 05/10/18   RSS | Print


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How Much Should I Plant?
by Pamela J. Bennett       #Design   #Seeds   #Vegetables

Read and follow the instructions on plant spacing.

Picture this: You are sitting by the fireplace in January and the stack of seed catalogs is next to you. You have a cup of hot cocoa and you are looking forward to digging into the catalogs. You have your Post-It Notes right there, too, because you are going to mark everything that you want to order and plant for the vegetable garden. You place all of your orders, and then all of sudden it's planting time, and you can't quite figure out how you are going to fit all of those seeds (let alone the plants that you just picked up at the garden center) in your garden. Expanding the garden is not an option (at least that's what my husband keeps telling me every year, but somehow it just gets bigger and bigger!).

Does this sound familiar? I used to be really bad at over-purchasing seeds and plants. I figured that since I have room, it would be OK to just let the garden size creep another foot or two. Until this got out of control and I had an epiphany one summer a few years ago: A lot of the produce that I was planting was just going to waste. So I started planning my vegetable garden according to what we would consume.

Put It on Paper

To do it right, a garden plan is essential. Lay out your garden space on graph paper and know exactly how much square footage you have for planting. Then list all of the family favorites and what you think you are going to consume. I also like to try new things each year. Sometimes they become a staple, but others I don't grow again. If you plan on canning or freezing, keep in mind that you will want to plant according to your canning plans.

Refer to resources on vegetable yield amounts. Remember that these are just average amounts and will vary depending on the growing season. Narrow it down to how much you think (guess) your family might need. Keep in mind that the first year that you do this it's going to be a guessing game. You likely have no idea how many pounds of tomatoes you consume in a summer. However, it gets easier the next year because now you have something to track.

Beets spaced in the garden per seed packet directions.

Read the seed label to know how many seeds to plant per row and spacing.

Space It Out

Once you have a list of plants and how much you need of each one, determine how much space the plants are going to take up in square footage. If you have more plants than space, you have to whittle down the list (or expand your garden). Resources that list yields have the optimum spacing recommendations. For instance, 10 cabbage plants should yield 10 heads of cabbage. The spacing for 10 plants is 18-24 inches between plants and 24-36 inches between rows for best production. Figure out spacing needs for the plants and plot this on your graph paper. It is a little challenging to do this the first time you start a garden but take heart, it's not rocket science, and if you don't have enough or you have too much, you can always adjust the next year. I hear some gardeners have this down to a science and figure out every square inch, though I personally don't know of anyone. Most gardeners I know guestimate how much they will plant.

These volunteers use a string to ensure proper spacing and keep rows straight.

Shown here are potatoes that were properly spaced when planted.

Write It Down

10 Popular Vegetables and Their Estimated Yield

Tomatoes – one plant yields 5 pounds
Lettuce eight plants yield one salad per person per week
Peppers  one plant yields 3 pounds 
Beets one plant yields a ¼-pound root
Cucumbers one plant yields 5 pounds
Zucchini one plant yields 10 pounds
Bush beans ¼ pound of seed gives 12 ½ pounds of green beans
Peas ¼ pound of seed yields 10 pounds of pea pods
Corn one to two ears per plant; 2 ounces of seed covers a 50-foot row and yields 50 ears
Potatoes 5 pounds of seed potatoes yield 50 pounds

You can, however, make it easier for next season by maintaining a garden journal. I use a three-ring spiral binder. I am not 100 percent committed to writing everything down, but recording the basics has really helped me grow the right amounts and the specific varieties that we like. The binder is filled with loose-leaf paper, and I make all of my notes, including the layout of the garden on the paper. I have also inserted graph paper when I lay out the garden for the season. By having it in this binder, it allows me to go back to what was planted where last year. This is really important for crop rotation and pest management.

I also fill the binder with empty sheet protectors. I put all of my empty seed packets in these so that I will know which varieties I planted and how much I used. If I had too much for the season, then I know to cut back the next year. If I am going to plant a fall crop of lettuce, I put the half-empty packet in these that I know where it is in August. I use this binder to put all of the tags from any plants that I purchased so that I know what I have, especially if an annual or vegetable turns out to be exceptional. Then I will know what to purchase the next season.

As I said, it has taken me several years to get to the point where I know exactly how much to order, but I still seem to plant more than I need. When this happens, I give produce to family, neighbors, colleagues, the food bank, and of course, some to wildlife (though not willingly). The biggest step is that first year of planning how much — once you take this step, the next year is much easier.

From State-by-State Gardening May/June 2014. Photos by Pam Bennett.


Posted: 05/10/18   RSS | Print


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Windows on the Floating World
by Tom Hewitt       #Environment   #Garden Profile   #Waterscaping





“The miracle of the light pours over the green and brown expanse of saw grass and of water, shining and slow-moving below, the grass and water that is the meaning and the central fact of the Everglades of Florida. It is a river of grass.”

—Marjory Stoneman Douglas






Prickly teaselmallow is a rare member of the hibiscus family.

Nobody understood the beauty and importance of Florida’s wetlands better than author and activist Marjory Stoneman Douglas. She dedicated a large part of her life to restoring the Everglades, and her presence is felt to this day.

There was a time when wetlands were considered by many to be wasted space. Stoneman Douglas changed all that with the publication of her book The Everglades: River of Grass in 1947. We now know that wetlands enhance water quality, control erosion, and provide a home for countless threatened and endangered species. Wood storks and Florida panthers, for example, simply couldn’t survive without them.

Wetlands include coastal tidal salt marshes, mangrove swamps, freshwater marshes, and many other water-related ecosystems. Sadly, Florida has lost some 44 percent of its wetlands since becoming a state. State and federal statutes have been passed over the years to protect them, but encroaching development remains a threat. Because of this, it’s important for all of us understand the significance of Florida’s wetlands and to do what we can to save them. A good place to start is a to visit the new Windows on the Floating World-Blume Tropical Wetland Garden at Mounts Botanical Garden in West Palm Beach. The 13,000-square-foot exhibit is the largest in Mounts’ history. Since opening in June of 2017, it’s already one of the garden’s top attractions.

Clockwise: Two weirs help control water levels in the exhibit. • Curator-Director Rochelle Wolberg refers to the overlook deck as a “perfect niche for quiet reflection.” • The island in Lake Orth forms the backdrop for Windows on the Floating World.

This place is beautifully designed. In fact, its creation was led by Palm Beach County’s Art in Public Places program. It occupies a section of the garden that has long been underutilized. As Mounts curator-director Rochelle Wolberg puts it, “This area was just begging for something like this.”

Every detail was carefully thought out. The 4-foot-wide walkways are composed of polypropylene panels, which allow water, debris, and sunlight to penetrate. This helps give plants the light they need, while protecting them from foot traffic. “Since walkways are so close to the surface,” Wolberg says, “it’s almost like walking on water.”

Pickerelweed is an important component of wetland habitats. • The project is lushly landscaped with dozens of wetland species.

Within the walkways are four “windows,” each planted with aquatic plants in biodegradable containers that can be rotated or changed out with the seasons. The island in Lake Orth forms the backdrop, with a wall of bromeliads and waterfalls cascading over natural stone.

Permeable concrete walkways around the perimeter allow precipitation to pass right through, minimizing runoff and naturally replenishing the exhibit. A recharge pump, along with two weirs (barriers), keeps water at optimal levels for plant growth.

The plants here are the heart of the exhibit. Planted along the upper walkway is the interesting prickly teaselmallow (Wercklea ferox). This rare native of Costa Rica has warty, spiny leaves and reddish buds that open to gold flowers. Like the dozens of other species used in the project, it prefers wet soil.

Water mint (Mentha aquatica) can also be found here. It produces small, lavender pink blooms that attract pollinators. Like all mints, it needs to be restricted in some way.

In addition to purple pickerelweed, pink pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata ‘Pink’) grows here. Pickerelweed is an important player in wetland areas. Its spikes of attractive flowers are loved by bees and butterflies, and its small seeds are a food source for a variety of animals. It’s also good cover for dragonflies and damselflies as they complete their life cycles, and it also helps purify the water by consuming nitrates.

Walkways composed of polypropylene panels allow water and sunlight to penetrate.

Golden canna (Canna flaccida), also colorfully known as bandana-of-the-Everglades, is another pretty native that helps filter and cool the water. Additional color is also provided by the blooms of giant apostle’s iris (Neomarica caerulea ‘Regina’), swamp rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), and swamp hibiscus (H. coccineus). Water bluebell (Ruellia squarrosa) covers an area one side of a walkway.

A favorite spot for visitors is a small landing overlooking Lake Orth, where parents can sit and relax while their children feed the koi. Margaret Blume, longtime Mounts supporter for whom the new garden is named, is excited about the projects future. “There are many words that I hope will be associated with this beautiful, new garden,” she says, “including children, curiosity, creativity, companionship, learning, enjoyment, appreciation, simplicity, and quiet.”

Marjory Stoneman Douglas would no doubt agree.


A version of this article appeared in a print edition of  Florida Gardening Volume 23 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Tom Hewitt.


Posted: 05/01/18   RSS | Print


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Tough Beauty
by Irvin Etienne       #Ornamentals   #Shrubs

The summertime bloom of Phlox paniculata ‘Thai Pink Jade’ is true soft pink with a slightly darker eye. It is very mildew resistant.

Tough plants. My first thought was tough plants are great for beginning gardeners. I think of tough plants as easy plants and a beginner needs some easy plants. It gives them that much-needed success allowing them to grow confident in their gardening skills. Then I thought, “Tough plants are great for all gardeners!” I’ve been in the garden for a lot of years and a lot of hours. I love a tough plant I can sort of just throw in the ground and walk away. It looks good without fuss, so I have time to spend fretting over my delicate plants and playing with my chickens.

What puts a plant in my “tough” category? Well, it should be adaptable about soil conditions. If the soil has a bit too much clay or is a bit dry the plant still makes it. I am not talking about pure clay or sand here, just soil approaching “normal.” A little lack of rain should not kill it in a week. It should come back strong whether we have a very harsh USDA Zone 5 winter or a Zone 7 winter. It should handle some Zone 8 summer conditions too. And I want it to be pretty most of the growing season.

Always remember the adage “right plant, right place.” You can push moisture and sun needs, but within limits. Respect certain basic requirements even with tough plants. Also, tough plants still need a little extra attention until established.

Phlox paniculata ‘Glamour Girl’ stays around 2 feet tall, a little shorter than traditional phlox cultivars. It is a heavy bloomer and very mildew resistant. • A bumblebee digs into the purple flowers of Salvia ‘Amistad’, a hybrid of Salvia guaranitica. • Tiger Eyes sumac has beautiful foliage and fruit.

Garden phlox (P. paniculata) is an old standby. This native has been used in the garden for generations. On average, bloom time is early July through early September providing a long season of color. Garden phlox prefer full sun, but they will tolerate some shade. Garden phlox is available in nearly every color except yellow and true blue. Powdery mildew has always been an issue, but plants are being selected and bred for resistance. Even a mildew-resistant plant can get the disease some years, so don’t throw away a plant for having one bad year.

Some plants have unfortunate common names, like Siberian bugloss. That is why Brunnera macrophylla is often called false forget-me-not. It is related to forget-me-nots, so it makes sense, but I’ll go with brunnera. This early spring bloomer is wonderful in shade. Normal flower color is blue, but you can find whites, and I’m sure hidden somewhere is a pink-flowered form. The major variation though is in the foliage. Great silver forms of brunnera exist that are about as tough as the normal green varieties. Bonus points – the silver forms produce silver seedlings.

The flowers of Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ develop good pink color as they age most years. This photo was a spectacular year for color.

Salvia guaranitica was not supposed to be hardy, but after nearly two decades of coming back, I think it is safe to call it a USDA Zone 5 plant. Known as anise sage, this salvia is a bee and hummingbird magnet. You will be amazed at the numbers visiting your garden. Since anise sage blooms from early summer to hard frost bees and hummingbirds will be visiting a long, long time. Plant in full sun and consider mulching the first winter.

Ferns are certainly a mainstay in the shade garden. Japanese painted fern (Athyrium nipponicum var. pictum) is one of the best. It comes with varying degrees of silver and burgundy depending on the cultivar. It will be happy with morning sun, survive deep dry-ish shade once established, and tolerate everything in between.

Top: Silver foliage helps brighten shady areas of the garden. Brunnera macrophylla ‘Silver Heart’ is one of the best plants for the job.

Far Left: Hosta ‘Dancing Queen’ is bright golden chartreuse and has great leaf texture too.

Left: When you want to draw bees and hummingbirds to your garden, it is hard to beat salvias. In my garden, Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’ feeds the insects and birds all summer.

Carex platyphylla, known as silver or blue satin sedge, is native to most of the eastern United States. It has gorgeous satiny silver-blue foliage, and I would grow it for that alone. It is also super tough, self-sowing into the roots at the base of a red maple, for example. It seeds just enough to give you a few extra plants, so it is not aggressive. Silver sedge is an ideal shade companion for ferns and hostas.

I debated on discussing Hosta spp. and daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.). I feel they get lots of coverage already; but how does one discuss tough plants for the Midwest without considering them? With the hostas, consider the cultivars with good (often fragrant) blooms in addition to foliage. Color on those flowers ranges from purest white to purple. With the daylilies, check out the very tall cultivars for something a bit different. I plant large tropicals in my garden, so I need a 5-foot-tall daylily bloom or I might not see it.

Clockwise: Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey’ is my favorite of all the available oakleaf hydrangeas. Any oakleaf is good, so don’t feel compelled to use a gold leaf one if you don’t like like that foliage color. • Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ makes a big shrub even when pruned regularly. • Plants that give year-round interest are always needed in the garden. Tiger Eyes sumac is one of those. Here its orange fall color shows one more season of beauty.

Hydrangea paniculata is one of my go-to plants. Need a plant that blooms reliably every year? Blooms for months? Grows in sun or shade? Can be pruned to its best size? Isn’t fussy about soil? Hydrangea paniculata is it. Best bloom and growth is in full sun, but it still throws flowers in the shade. Hydrangea paniculata can get big, but smaller cultivars are available.

Two tough plants share the garden space along a street sidewalk. Tiger Eyes sumac and Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’ look great together.

I love chartreuse- and gold-foliaged plants. One of my favorites Tiger Eyes sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’). This plant is beautiful all year long. From the first moment in spring when the bright gold new leaves emerge, though the summer of chartreuse foliage and red-berried fruits, to the fall color of bright oranges, right into the winter with the incredible architecture of the branches, it never stops giving. Only one drawback – it can spread a bit.

Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) is another four-season plant. Great foliage and flowers combined with good winter interest from the peeling bark and dried flowers makes it an ideal garden plant. Best performance is in shade or morning sun. Oakleaf hydrangeas produce their flower buds in summer for bloom the following year. If you must prune, then do it right after blooming so you do not cut off next year’s flowers. Dwarf cultivars are available.

Look at these tough plants as elements in the garden or as a major portion of the garden. They may be there to give you confidence or give you time. They will for sure give you years of tough beauty.


A version of this article appeared in a May/June 2018 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Irvin Etienne.


Posted: 04/30/18   RSS | Print


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Gardening on a Slope
by Helen Newling Lawson       #Design   #Landscaping   #Slopes

Ground covers don’t have to be boring or just green. Snow ‘N Summer Asiatic jasmine sparkles along this stone pathway.

Many landscapes have at least some degree of slope. In certain situations, a slope can be a design asset, allowing you to create interesting features or place certain garden elements at eye level. But steep slopes can create mobility or erosion issues that sometimes require some type of landscaping solution. For walls higher than approximately 1 foot, UGA professor Paul Pugliese advises you seek the advice of a professional. But many slopes can be managed with simple, inexpensive approaches.

Plants that naturalize, such as these daffodils (Narcissus spp.), increase in number every year and create a stunning sweep of color.

Using slopes to your advantage
Love the look of a rock garden? A slope can help make placed boulders look more natural, as if they have emerged through the hillside from natural erosion rather than by design. To get this effect, bury at least one-third of the rock below ground.

A hill can also make a stream or waterfall look like a natural occurrence. Whether you create a dry streambed to direct runoff during rains or install a pump to have a constant flow of water, a tumbling stream doesn’t make sense without a slope.

A steep hillside alongside a driveway at this Atlanta home creates the perfect setting for a waterfall and pond. Boulders, ferns, and Hydrangea help stabilize the slope.

Handling overflow
Installing a rain garden is an attractive and environmentally friendly way to collect runoff from a slope. Not only is a properly designed and planted rain garden a low-maintenance “self-watering” addition to your landscape, rain gardens also limit pollutants from reaching our waterways.


Top: This path helps control erosion and divides a formal terraced area from a more natural area.

Far Left: Millstones create a charming stairway to help visitors navigate a steep slope.

Left: For the ultimate low-maintenance solution to control erosion and improve soil texture, try this with storm-felled trees. In a technique called “sheet composting,” cut them down into shorter lengths and arrange them perpendicular to the slope, where they will slowly decompose in place.

What to plant
The right plants can be useful allies in the battle to conquer your hill. Ground covers are usually the go-to choice. But plants with fibrous roots, such as goldenrod, or those that spread by suckers or self-rooting, such as sweetspire (Itea) and Forsythia, can add interest with varied heights. Low-maintenance, mat-forming plants like sedges (Carex spp.) also work well. Pay attention to the changing moisture conditions along the slope, and pick plants suited to these microclimates. See the sidebar for some top choices for Southern gardens.

If you plan to use plants to control your slope, mulch is essential. It will help hold soil and control weeds while their roots establish. For steep slopes, UGA CAES recommends “either pine straw or finely shredded wood mulches, which tend to stay in place better than other types. Wood chips and pine bark nuggets tend to float away with heavy rains.”

Terracing with a series of stone walls breaks a steep slope into more manageable segments and bring flowers up to eye level. A drain in the flagstone terrace helps manage overflow.

If you still think your site requires a retaining wall but want to tackle it yourself, try installing a series of terraces to keep the height of each wall to a manageable 12 inches. Dry stack construction might be a good option – the lack of mortar can mean better water drainage between levels.

Building steps may be the most straightforward way to navigate a slope, but an indirect route can be more cost effective and pleasurable. Try creating a zigzagging path perpendicular to the slope using a series of gentle switchbacks. Although it will take more steps, it will also require less effort and will offer an opportunity to enjoy a leisurely stroll through the garden – especially if you border the path with fragrant ground covers, such as Gardenia ‘Prostrata’ or sweetbox (Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis).

Southern Slopes
Here’s a short list of great plant choices to try if you’re dealing with a tough slope

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)– Fibrous roots on these native pollinator-friendly plants turn a hillside gold in fall. And no, you aren’t allergic to it – blame ragweed, which blooms at the same time.

Snow ‘N Summer Asiatic jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum ‘HOSNS’)– A moderate growth rate paired with showy pink and white splashed new growth and fragrant white blooms makes this an elegant addition to a high-visibility hill.

Inkberry holly (Ilex glabra)– A native shrub with suckering stems to fill in hillsides and wildlife-friendly berries.

‘Max Freii’ soapwort (Saponaria x lempergii ‘Max Frei’)– A tough site still deserves flowers. This mat-forming selection holds up to heat and humidity, and is deer-resistant, too.

Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens)– The native cousin of Japanese spurge is worth seeking out for a shady site.

Creeping raspberry (Rubus hayata-koidzumii, syn. R. calycinoides)– Attractive scallop-shaped leaves on a shade-tolerant ground cover.

Creeping thyme (Thymus spp.)– A fragrant choice for edging or to drape over a retaining wall.

Sedges (Carex spp.)– A wide variety of grass-like plants, many of which tolerate shade or drought


A version of this article appeared in a May 2018 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Helen Newling Lawson.


Posted: 04/30/18   RSS | Print


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Sculpture in the Garden
by Taimi Anderson       #Decorating   #Design   #Misc

Clockwise: A charming figure of a young woman nestled in among mounded boxwood, creating a lovely scene that carries into the dormant season. • A winged sprite rests comfortably on a stone garden wall, reading on sunny days as well as in wintry weather. This relaxed figure helps us realize the gentle pleasures to be experienced in the garden. • A curious, diminutive figure hidden among shrubs and bold leaves is a small treasure to be discovered along a secluded pathway.

On a spring morning while visiting Magnolia Plantation and Gardens near Charleston, SC, I left the main pathways and walked onto a narrow trail that led among Spanish-moss draped magnolias and bald cypresses. The trail went past an open glade, wild in its tangle of wisteria vines and solitary azalea and camellia blossoms. It had an eerie and deserted look about it, and I was startled by a white figure standing in the far distance like a mirage. When I looked closer, I realized that it was a white marble statue of a woman. Suddenly this abandoned space came alive. It was inhabited by this lovely sculpture, and my eyes focused on the glistening figure standing evocatively among the tangled vegetation.

The entire space was transformed by this poetic presence, stirring the imagination. It dawned on me what an important part sculpture can play in the garden, giving it a magic touch, a focus, a purpose and liveliness.

When introducing sculpture into your garden, give careful consideration before placing it, making sure it’s the most suitable location. As a work of art it should be in harmony with the overall design and become an essential part of the garden.

Classical statuary and urns are most fitting in a formal layout among clipped shrubs. The smooth-flowing or angular shapes of contemporary art give a dramatic focus to an informal setting. Sometimes a garden space is even created around a piece of sculpture to make a contemplative setting. Within a secluded space, sculpture can become a hidden feature, to be discovered by visitors as a delightful surprise, as in the figure at Magnolia Gardens.

Top: An interactive sculptural effect made of common materials — a round basin filled with water and a glass orb floating within. The sky above and the trees and shrubs are reflected in the water, and the orb is blown across by the wind.

Far Left: ‘Moon Fall,’ a finely detailed white marble sculpture by Paris Alexander, is set into the garden among dark green ferns at its base. The russet colors of fall foliage add interest in the background.

Left: In a woodland glade among the shadows of forest trees and ferns, a contemporary figure of a woman gazes beyond the wildflowers, lifting her face to catch a glow of sunlight.

Placing Sculpture
Use trees and shrubs to frame the art. For a background, evergreen shrubs are good to highlight your sculpture. A finely detailed figure or urn will be more distinctive against a fine-textured evergreen backdrop of clipped boxwood. A light-colored sculpture of marble or limestone stands out more clearly against dark, even-textured foliage. The massed shapes and bold outlines of contemporary sculpture are best set off within a surround of bolder, leafy vegetation or billowing grasses.

To enhance sculpture as a focal point, a long vista or an allee of trees draws your eye along the distance to rest at the sculpture at its end point. An example of this is the entrance walk into the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham, NC. Bordered by spring-flowering cherry trees along a straight path, the view leads to the elegant Roney Fountain, the centerpiece of the Rose Garden. The fountain, sculpted with cranes spouting crystalline droplets of water into the pool below, is an irresistible enticement to proceed along the allee to reach this magical garden space.

Another design option is to use a garden arbor to concentrate your focus on a lovely figure or piece of art at its center. The arched opening of a gateway creates a great frame for a sculpture placed nearby. A dramatic impact can be achieved by placing a sculpture or stylish urn in an elevated location so its outline is seen in silhouette against the sky.

Sculpture and water go hand in hand. It’s often an integral part of a water feature, with a fountain spouting out water and spilling into a basin below. Along a decorative pool a figure placed along its edge gives a double image, with its reflection on the fluid surface.

Top: An elegant topiary swan, fashioned out of Japanese holly, glides across a sea of white blossoms at Gale Unterberg’s garden.

Far Left: The arched opening in this brick wall frames a playful sculpture standing on a pedestal. Its reflection is captured in the water of the ornamental pool.

Left: “Jezebel” by Ruth Ellen Brown. The larger-than-life black and yellow garden spider hanging on her intricate web with a hapless, stained-glass butterfly entrapped, brings to the viewer a deeper awareness of the happenings in our own gardens.

Choose Your Style
As an evocation of natural forms, contemporary sculpture echoes structures in nature, opening our eyes and senses to the intricate beauty found in the natural world.

Ruth Ellen Brown’s larger-than-life sculpture of a black and yellow garden spider along its graceful spiraling net brings to us a heightened awareness of the miracles of nature in our own gardens.

Found objects such as driftwood or moss-covered stones and rocks of dramatic shapes and forms can be suitable as sculptural elements in our gardens. Even well-crafted everyday objects can be displayed as examples of artistic expression to enhance a garden space.

You can also create living garden sculpture in the form of topiary. This involves the precise pruning and shaping of slow-growing and small-leaved evergreens, such as boxwood or yew, into geometric forms or various animal shapes. In Gale Unterberg’s garden, a graceful swan glides on a foaming sea of white blossoms. Her careful trimming and shaping of a Japanese holly has produced this fanciful green sculpture.

A comely lass revels among the azalea blossoms, adding liveliness to the spring garden, but her joyful presence also carries through the seasons in the Lowell Hoffman garden.

A sculpture or a well-crafted garden ornament gives your garden liveliness and a touch of excitement that extends throughout the year. When flowers and foliage have faded, your smiling cherub will hold its cheerful demeanor through snow and rain, unruffled by what the weather will bring, and its smile will seem even brighter among the blossoms of your flower border and the green leafiness of the summer garden.

Find the right sculpture or ornament for your garden and place it into the most fitting location to get the desired effect. Enhance the mood of your garden through these man-made or natural objects to give you pleasure and an appreciation of art in nature that enlivens your garden through all the seasons.


A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 24 Number 4.
Photography courtesy of Taimi T. Anderson.


Posted: 04/30/18   RSS | Print


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Begin an Organic Lawn This Spring
by Nancy Szerlag       #Environment   #Landscaping   #Turf Grass


Although lawns have taken it on the chin from environmentalists the past few years, the good news is you can have nice green grass that is chemical free and safe for your kids, cats and dogs to play on. Here are the steps to begin growing an Earth-friendly, sustainable lawn.

Step One
Get a soil test to find out what kind of soil you have and what it needs to grow grass successfully. The test measures the nutrients available in your soil, the pH (acid or alkaline) and the percentage of organic material. Be sure to include lawn as the intended crop and designate organic methods of growing on the soil-test form. The results will include recommendations adapted to the specific needs of your soil.

Most county Cooperative Extension Services offer soil testing or offer links to labs in your state. To find your local extension office, please visit

Core-aerating a lawn loosens soil and encourages grass roots to grow deeper.

Step Two
Aerate the lawn with a core aerator, which cuts 2½-3-inch plugs of turf and soil out of the lawn. Best done in spring or fall, aerating opens compacted soil to allow life-giving oxygen, water and nutrients to penetrate to the roots of the grass. Coring is also recommend to rid the lawn of thatch. If the thatch layer exceeds ½ inch deep, aerating in both spring and fall is recommended. Aeration also is good to do in areas where the lawn gets a lot of foot traffic, which compacts the soil, such as around swing sets.

You may choose to hire a lawn service or rent a machine and do it yourself. For small areas, hand models are available at hardware stores.

Step Three
Set your lawnmower to mow at 3 inches high to produce a healthier, more weed-free lawn. Taller grass shades the soil’s surface, preventing crabgrass and other weed seeds from sprouting. Shaded soil also reduces moisture evaporation, slowing the soil from drying out in hot weather. Longer blades of grass are better able to photosynthesize, which provides more food for the turf. And, longer blades of grass produce a stronger cuticle cover, which is better able to protect turf from pests and diseases.

Research suggests that no more than one-third of the grass blades should be removed at one time to prevent severe plant stress. This is another reason not to use water-soluble high-nitrogen fertilizers that cause excessive lawn growth.

Cut grass high to 3 inches in height to produce a more weed-free lawn.

Step Four
Add organic material to the soil by using a mulching mower and leaving the clippings on the lawn. Recycling lawn clippings in this way mimics Mother Nature’s way of feeding the soil. It provides a much-needed food source for earthworms and other beneficial soil dwellers. A season’s worth of grass clippings is equal to a quarter or more of a lawn’s need for fertilizer, so it’s well worth doing.

Mowing autumn leaves back into the lawn in fall is another excellent way to feed the soil beneath established turf. The shredded leaves also add a thin mulch layer that helps protect the soil over the winter.

Top-dressing with compost in spring or fall is the frosting on the cake. The compost is packed with beneficial organisms, which help bring the soil back to life, and humic acid, which improves its structure and ability to hold moisture. It only takes about ¼ inch of compost to do its magic. Spread it by dumping small piles on the lawn and raking it in with a lawn or bamboo rake.

Step Five
Although television ads and manufactures of water-soluble chemical fertilizers tell us grass must be fertilized as much as four times a year, newer research suggests fewer applications produce a healthier lawn that is more resistant to pests and diseases.

Organic researchers recommend fertilizing with an organic, slow-release fertilizer in spring and again in fall, along with a possible midsummer organic foliar feed as a pick-me-up. That’s all a healthy lawn needs to keep it green and gorgeous throughout the season. As the health of your lawn improves, you can reduce the spring fertilizer application to half and finally do away with it altogether.

Summer fertilizing, especially in warm, dry weather, can do more harm than good to turf, but many homeowners entertain outdoors and want their grass to look good. A light foliar feed using a hose-end sprayer filled with an organic fertilizer, such as a combination of fish emulsion and kelp, will perk up the lawn and help it cope with the stresses of summer weather.

Be sure to read and follow the directions on the fertilizers you use and adjust your spreader or sprayer to the recommended rate. When fertilizing, timing is important. Foliar feeding is best done in the early morning, just as the sun is rising. Never fertilize a lawn when the temperatures rise above 85 F.


A version of this article appeared in a May/June 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of George Weigel.


Posted: 04/30/18   RSS | Print


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Build A Raised Bed – Fast!
by Patsy Bell Hobson    

Have at least four raised beds to set up a schedule for crop rotation. A very helpful step in eliminating soil-borne diseases.

Now that is it time to plant tomatoes, peppers, squash and other warm-season vegetables, you should think about adding a new raised bed. Start a new bed now and have all season to create healthy garden soil at little or no cost.

The best advantage of raised beds is that they drain quickly, giving you earlier access than in-ground traditional gardens. Raised beds warm up sooner in spring and will eventually extend the garden season in the fall. Plus, you will never compact soil by walking in the bed; you can take advantage of the easy access from every side.

You will produce more food in less space with less work and weeding. As one crop is replaced with another, you can work the surrounding mulch into the soil. Replant the space and apply more mulch.

Wood-Framed Raised Beds

To build a 4-by-8-foot raised bed, start with three pieces of lumber 2-by-8 inches by 8 feet long. Choose pine (the least expensive) or cedar (the longest lasting).

To build a 4-by-4-foot raised bed, start with two pieces of 2-by-8-inch boards that are 8 feet long.

For the corners, use 4-by-4-inch post pieces cut to the same depth as the raised bed. Or, use ready-made raised bed corners.

Buy about 30 2 ½-inch exterior screws or decking screws.

Prefabricated corners last forever and can be reused when it's time to replace the lumber frame. Buy the corners once and continue to use them for years. When the wooden borders of the bed show signs of rot, reuse the same corners and replace the wooden frame. Find garden corners online or make your own.

To make your own corners, use a sturdy 4-by-4-inch post to reinforce the corners. Don't skimp on the corners. A big, rectangle or square of heavy, moist garden soil will always be pushing against the frame. Nailed together corners without the 4-by-4-inch post reinforcement will soon pull away from each other.

Add a finished look to beds with these copper toppers found where fencing and decking supplies are in the hardware store.

Ready-made corners are study, dependable, and add a bit of whimsy to the garden. These can be used and reused for many years.

Concrete Block Beds

For a longer-lasting, more rugged raised bed, use concrete building blocks. Use the same guidelines to fill the bed or enrich the garden soil. Starting a new raised bed or replacing an old one is a good time to recharge or amend the soil.

This 4-by-4 foot raised bed built of concrete blocks will certainly outlast a wooden frame. (However, remember that concrete is unforgiving if you trip or stumble.)

To make this 4-foot square raised bed, buy 12 concrete blocks. Make the bed level. It will neaten the appearance, but also contain the soil and keep opportunistic weeds out of the cracks.

If you use concrete blocks, the “tops” are hollow, and you will end up with what amounts to 24 “5-inch mini gardens” along the perimeter. These can be planted up as well as the center of the bed.

Water the squares, and then fill them with potting mix and coir. There will be 24 5-inch square mini gardens. Fill these squares with herbs, or small flowers. Enrich the soil by growing legumes such as beans, peas or clover in the squares. Grow the straightest baby carrots ever – just don't over crowd them.

A friend built one bed every weekend until his design was complete. It was easier on the pocketbook to do a little every week.

Build a longer-lasting raised bed with a dozen concrete blocks. You also get a border of two-dozen 5-inch squares for planting.

For All Raised Beds

When the raised bed is in place, follow the same process to fill all raised beds. If gophers or moles are a problem, line the bottom of the frame with hardware cloth.

On the bottom, before you fill the bed with soil, layer five or six sheets of newspaper in the bed. Overlap paper, making sure no soil remains uncovered. Flattened cardboard boxes can also be used in addition or instead of newspaper. This will kill the grass and reduce the future weeds.

Instant Garden Bed

Garden Tip:

Be vigilant about weeds! Weeding is not just an exercise to make your garden more attractive. Weeds rob the soil of water and nutrients meant for your plants. Planting intensively and mulching regularly will reduce weeds in your raised beds.

If you just can't stand the idea of the slow soil building process, assemble and fill the raised bed in one day. Start by assembling the frame. It is easiest to construct the raised bed frame on a hard flat surface and then place it in the chosen garden spot.

Orient the garden bed with the longest sides facing east and west for maximum sun exposure. Think about access to water or how to irrigate.

Water this work-in-progress as often as the rest of the garden gets watered.

Fill the raised beds with a mix of garden soil, compost, bagged sand, vermiculite, cow manure, grass clippings and shredded leaves. Bringing in topsoil from another site will probably result in additional weeding for some time. Build the water holding capacity by adding coir, peat or compost.

Or Slowly Fill the Beds

Mix in the usual compost pile building materials: depleted garden soil from containers and old root-bound hanging baskets, grass clippings, shredded leaves, kitchen scraps (no meat products.)

Continue to layer organic materials, as you would if you were sheet composting the entire bed. For faster decomposition, chop plant materials into smaller pieces. Top with garden soil and water in each contribution to accelerate the process.

Bury food scraps in the bed. Don't overlook corn husks and cobs, apple cores and peels, nut shells, retired Jack O' Lanterns, food waste from juicers and watermelon rinds.

A carrot box is thriving with carrots and leeks. The leeks will be pulled before the carrots need the space.

Make sure the carrot boxes get plenty of fertilizer and water. There are no nutrients in the light fluffy peat or coir.

Carrot Boxes – The Raised Bed for Raised Beds

While you are in the garden building mode, let’s build some carrot boxes. These wooden boxes are 1 foot square. There are four sides with no top or bottom to the box.

Choose a 2-inch thick board, as opposed to a 1-inch thick board. You will need one 2-by-10-inch board that is 8-feet long. Cut it into four 2-by-10-by-12-inch pieces.

The box doesn't have to be 10 inches deep. You can make the carrot box 8, 10 or 12 inches deep, it is your choice.

The heavier 2-inch thickness of this carrot box adds weight and sturdiness. Plus, it provides more room for drilling and securing the sides together with screws.

To plant your carrot box, loosen the soil in the raised bed and work in a couple of handfuls of organic matter. Set the carrot-growing box down where you worked the soil.

Fill with the light seed starting mix or potting soil available. With all the advantages of a raised bed filled with super light soil, the carrots will grow as pretty as the picture in the seed catalog.

Place the carrot boxes where they will have full sun and access to water. Placing carrot boxes about 8-inches apart creates a protected alley ideal for growing and blanching celery.

Thin carrots, space dwarf baby carrots to at least 1 inch apart and full-sized carrots require at least 2 inches apart. Proper thinning will create the right conditions for the heaviest yields. Since the box sits on top of the soil and can stored indoors, dry and empty in winter, is will last for years.

Carrots do not get their deep orange color and snap until just before harvest time. The carrots you thin will not be bright orange and their taste is mild.

Put the Beds to Bed in the Fall

In the fall, you can plant a cover crop or cover the whole bed with a layer of shredded leaf mulch. You will be way ahead of the crowd next spring. You can expect to see that the soil level will drop over the winter. Work in the top layer of leaf mulch and you are now ready to plant in the new bed.


A version of this article appeared in a May 2014 eNewsletter.
Photography courtesy of Patsy Bell Hobson.


Posted: 04/30/18   RSS | Print


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Tomato: Fruit or Vegetable?
by Bob Polomski       #Fruit   #Misc   #Unusual   #Vegetables


When I want to get a room full of gardeners engaged in a lively debate, I bring up the topic of tomatoes. A question that transforms shy, reserved types into outspoken, opinionated verbal wranglers is this one: “Is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable?”

Botanically speaking, tomato is a fruit. In The American Heritage Dictionary, fruit is defined as the “ripened, seed-bearing part of a plant, esp. when fleshy and edible.”

From a legal standpoint, the tomato is a vegetable. Over 100 years ago this question was litigated in the courts, according to Michael S. Heard in his paper titled “The Tomato: Fruit or Vegetable? A Nonhorticulturist’s Perspective” (July/Sept 1996 issue of HortTechnology).

On Feb. 4, 1887, an importer named Mr. Nixon brought a case against Mr. Hedden, a collector of the port of New York. Mr. Nixon, the plaintiff, wanted to recover the duties he paid on tomatoes he had imported from the West Indies the previous year. Mr. Nixon argued that tomatoes were fruit, thus exempt from a tariff. Mr. Hedden, the defendant, considered tomatoes vegetables and followed the regulations of the 1883 Tariff Act, which imposed a duty on vegetables, but not fruits. So the court had to decide if the tomato was a fruit or vegetable according to the 1883 Tariff Act.

Both parties used dictionaries to prove their cases. Mr. Nix’s counsel read the dictionary definitions of fruit and vegetable. He followed with the definition of tomato, proving that it was a fruit. Mr. Hedden’s counsel countered with dictionary definitions of pea, eggplant, cucumber, squash and pepper. Mr. Nix closed with dictionary definitions of potato, turnip, parsnip, cauliflower, cabbage, carrot and bean.

The court ruled in favor of Mr. Hedden by declaring the tomato a vegetable. Mr. Nix appealed.

In 1893, the higher court defined the case of Nix v. Hedden, 149 U. S. 304, as a “single question … whether tomatoes are to be classed as ‘vegetables’ or as ‘fruits,’ within the meaning of the Tariff Act of 1883.”

Justice Gray delivered the court’s opinion:

“Botanically speaking, tomatoes are the fruit of a vine, just as are cucumbers, squashes, beans, and peas. But in the common language of the people, all these are vegetables, which are grown in kitchen gardens, and which, whether eaten cooked or raw, are like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, and lettuce, usually served at dinner in, with or after the soup, fish or meats which, constitute the principal part of the repast, and not, like fruits generally, as dessert.”

The higher court agreed that dictionaries call the tomato a fruit; however, the dictionary definitions were not admitted as evidence because “in the common language of the people [tomatoes] are vegetables.” The ruling of the court: “Tomatoes are vegetables and not fruit within the meaning of the 1883 Tariff Act.”

Recently I was cornered by a group of truth-seeking gardeners during a lunch break at a symposium, when I was asked if the tomato is a fruit or vegetable. I calmly replied, “Yes,” and quickly ducked out in the direction of the sliced tomatoes, salsa and gazpacho.


A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume XXVI Number IV.
Photography courtesy of Bob Polomski.


So, what do you think – fruit or vegetable? Let us know in the comments below.


Posted: 04/23/18   RSS | Print


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Lights, Camera, Action!
by Bob Byers       #Design   #Misc

Cut! If you can’t mentally picture a garden that inspires you, a script if you will, it’s important to search magazines, seek out gardens to visit when you travel, and look at photos of other gardens to find that perfect inspiration. Then you can get started. Include practical concerns like shade, soil, and moisture that will determine good plant choices.

Once you have a good handle on those, what’s next? Begin with the basics: form, color, line and texture. Cut! What again? Yes, there’s something really important to consider. These characteristics apply to every single item in your garden and interact continuously with each other. Just like in the movies, not every actor can be the star. A well-conceived design has a few key elements, protagonists if you will, and a big supporting cast.

Start by deciding what design elements will be your “stars” in each garden area (color, for instance), letting it really shine while other elements are assigned supporting roles. My favorite way to achieve an elegant, sophisticated look is by keeping color and line consistent, using form subtly as a secondary accent, and really letting texture take center stage.

Top: When thinking about texture, remember that some plants like ferns can have quite large leaves, but they’re so finely dissected that the effect is usually a fine texture. However, the vase-like form of some larger varieties make them fine focal points against typical medium textures in borders or masses of coarse-leaved hostas.

Bottom Left: Containers are a great way to add texture and build that special ambience. Notice how the pot complements this semi-formal planting and the snapdragons echo the raised “buttons” decorating the container while dusty miller ties everything together with its finely cut gray leaves.

Bottom Right Sometimes texture needs to step back and let another design element be the star. The lines of this bridge are too spectacular to distract from them and the fine textures of the Japanese maples are the perfect complement, letting the bridge really shine.

But what exactly does texture mean in garden design? Visual texture is best understood as the relative tactile character and size of parts to one another and their setting. Are leaves and flowers small compared to the overall scene (fine textured, e.g. ferns and mosses), or large (coarse textured, e.g. elephant ears (Colocasia spp.)? Most plants fall somewhere in the middle with medium texture (coneflowers and forsythia). Paving, garden art, fences, arbors and everything else in the hardscape also lend texture to the mix.

This photo is overflowing with texture, most of which is provided by the red coleus, elephant ear (Colocasia ‘Elena’), Papyrus and the deep purple Canna ‘Intrigue’.

Density, fuzzy or smooth surfaces, and solid as opposed to segmented or divided elements affect texture, too. Remember, when choosing which textures to highlight, you only need a few stars that really grab your attention.

Ambience, important in every scene, is easily created with good textural choices. Use lots of very large leaves with upright forms like bananas and taro to set the stage for a luau, with all of the tropical flavor implied. Or, let fine textures and low spreading forms transport you to the quiet contemplation of a Zen garden.

In the process, you create sense of place. It’s your stage, the perfect garden setting for your lifestyle. Traditionally, sense of place speaks to local surroundings, but there’s nothing wrong with creating a character that’s quite different to match your home or tastes. Just do it deliberately.

Do you struggle with a small garden? Trick visitors to make it feel bigger. Garden is theater after all. When details disappear in the distance, it’s a visual clue that those elements are far away. Medium textures in the foreground that transition into a background of fine foliage artificially recreate that effect, making your space feel larger. To make a large space feel more intimate, just reverse things to draw the farthest points nearer.

But most gardeners look to texture to add interest to borders. This is where the notion of a few stars and lots of supporting characters really comes in handy. Good border design depends on many elements, but getting texture right is crucial. The majority of border plants are medium textured, so coarse and fine ones provide great accents.

Sometimes tactile texture can really add interest, even if people just look and don’t touch. The amazingly textured fruit of this milkweed relative (Gymphocarpus physocarpus) is a real showstopper everywhere it’s planted.

For borders focused on color, tone down texture and form to avoid chaos since too many design elements fight for attention. A few bold hostas for interest and patches of tiny-leaved mosses filling edges let your color scheme shine without distraction.

But if you love an elegant monochrome, let textures provide pizazz. Try a bed of delicate Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) with a castor bean (Ricinus communis), a large ceramic pot, or a landscape boulder as a focal point.




Look at things in the ice and you’ll learn a lot about design as it covers everything in lacey tracery and shows how simplicity can create true elegance. Take that lesson to heart and remember to keep it simple for real impact. • These elephant ears are hard to miss with their six-foot leaves. Coarse textured plants like this are among the best ways to create accents in your garden.

Simple guidelines like the rule of thirds help get things right. Divide landscape elements into three textural groups: coarse, medium and fine. Pick one that fits your script such as fine textures for a tranquil, peaceful look. Use delicate beauties in approximately two-thirds of your space (think effect – exact calculations aren’t important). Mix and match coarse and medium texture for the remaining third. In other words, fill the bulk of the design with one base texture while others provide accents and interest. Pair the same color or form with one texture throughout and your design will deliver a real punch.

Setting the Stage with Texture

Texture creates interest and richness when properly applied. In particular, different textures can move elements to the front of your design or send them to the back. Bold textures, especially if coupled with a clear, simple shape, will advance to the foreground in your design. As you might expect, fine textures recede, particularly if dark in color. Use texture to advantage bringing accents to the forefront or adding depth with infill.

Don’t forget a hierarchy of accents. Each garden space should have one thing that clearly takes center stage. Whether an Italian tiered fountain for a formal garden, a spectacular Japanese maple for a woodland garden, or that massive vase floating above a sea of bluestar, it should immediately draw everyone’s attention.

That primary accent piece should be relatively large or different in some way from the rest of the scene. Texture can do this beautifully. Think of the impact you could create with a giant umbrella plant (Darmera peltata) in a mass planting of fine textured ferns. Or, what about a single, cut-leaf sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Tiger Eyes’) among those typical medium textures? Either creates a stunning focal point: Everyone will notice as intended.

For a smaller space or a really clean look, that may be all you need. However, most of us will want some secondary points of interest in each garden as well. And by now, you know what to do! Remember, it’s about choosing your focus and sticking with it. When texture is singing the lead, color, line, and form need to back off into harmony parts and vice versa. The stage is set and it’s time to get started. Action!


A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 27 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Troy B. Marden and Sherre Freeman.


Posted: 04/20/18   RSS | Print


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Growing Garlic in Florida
by Marie Harrison       #Bulbs   #Edibles





Other species of garlic are popular in Florida gardens, such as elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum, sometimes labeled Tahitian garlic) and garlic chives (Allium tuberosum). Garlic chives are flavorful in salads, long lasting in bouquets and floral designs, and the long-blooming clusters of flowers are favorites of bees and other pollinators.

If you think the garlic sold in supermarkets is your only choice, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.

Florida gardeners can grow an exciting array of garlics. Generally speaking, two varieties of garlic are grown nationwide. Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon, or hardneck garlic, is suited for areas with cold winters. Gardeners in Florida and other regions with mild winters will have better luck with Allium sativum var. sativum, or softneck garlic. (See sidebar for recommendations.) Garlic is a perennial that is usually grown as an annual.

This Asiatic type is an example of hardneck garlic. Notice the hard scape protruding from the center of the bulb. Most hardnecks are not well suited to Florida gardens.

Artichoke garlics are softnecks and come in a wide range of flavors. The large, easy-to-grow bulbs are favorites of commercial growers and are recommended for most of Florida, except South Florida.

Growing Garlic
Garlic should be planted in the late fall, or even as late as January in Florida. Garlic will begin growing soon after it is planted and will continue to grow all winter long. With the onset of warm weather, it will begin to mature and bulbs will start to enlarge.

Garlic will grow in almost any soil, but a full-sun location and well-drained soil yields the best results. If your soil is very poorly drained, consider planting in raised beds. Prepare the bed by loosening the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches and adding organic matter such as compost or cow manure if your soil is sandy or heavy clay.

When you are ready to plant, separate the bulb into individual cloves. Do not remove the paper-like skin that covers the cloves. To plant, place the individual garlic cloves about 6 inches apart with their pointed ends up at a depth of 1-1½ inches. Mulch the newly planted bed and water well.

Fertilizer needs are minimal. The organic matter naturally occurring in soil or that was added at planting should be sufficient. Too much nitrogen will result in lush top growth, but the bulbs will be small. Sufficient water is important, so do not let the bed dry out.

Harvest garlic in June or when most of the leaves have turned brown and died down but when six or so of the top leaves are still green. Handle carefully so as not to bruise the bulbs. Place the bulbs in a dry, shady place for curing. After they have dried, store in a dark, cool place with low humidity. A brown paper bag placed in an air-conditioned house will provide appropriate storage for most home gardeners.

Floral designers have learned that flowering garlic scapes dry well and hold their form for an extended time. National Garden Clubs Flower Show School Design Instructor Gina Jogan chose dried hardneck garlic scapes painted black for this plaque design.

Garlics for Florida
All sources recommend Creole garlic – of which there are several cultivars – for all of Florida. As a matter of fact, it is the only type that will thrive in the southern reaches of our state. The farther north one travels, the smaller Creole garlic grows. It is very poorly suited for latitudes farther north where winter temperatures are severe and the sunlight is not strong enough to provide the amount of light needed.

In addition to Creole garlic, the artichoke type is recommended for North Florida. The artichoke garlic cultivars, which are generally large, store well and come in a wide range of flavors from very mild to strong. Sometimes artichoke garlic is called Italian or red garlic, although both names are misnomers since they are neither red nor were they grown in Italy.

Several sources for garlic are listed on the Internet. Check out The site lists several reputable growers from which these gourmet garlics can be purchased online. Do not plant supermarket garlic, which has been irradiated and treated with preservatives to inhibit sprouting.

As you can see, there is a garlic for every Florida garden. You will surely be able to find one or several that will suit your tastes. Why not give it a try?

10 types of garlic (Allium sativum):

1. Rocambole
2. Purple Stripe
3. Marble Purple Stripe
4. Glazed Purple Stripe
5. Porcelain
6. Artichoke
7. Silverskin
8. Asiatic
9. Turban
10. Creole


The only type of garlic that thrives in South Florida is the Creole type. Some specific cultivars are ‘Ajo Rojo’, ‘Burgundy’, and ‘Creole Red’,
but all cultivars may be grown.

The artichoke type is recommended for North Florida. Some cultivars
are ‘Red Toch’, ‘Inchelium Red’, and ‘Lorz Italian’.

Supermarket garlic is often the silverskin or artichoke type.

The Creole types will grow throughout Florida.



A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 21 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Marie Harrison and 


Posted: 04/20/18   RSS | Print


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Peony Power
by Tony Mistretta       #Flowers   #Pink







They are simply the flower of Memorial Day and graduations. Many brides favor them in their late spring bouquets. Peonies are pomp and circumstance, romance and low maintenance.








Peony ‘Felix Crousse’

Peonies are one of the best perennial choices for a garden. The reason is simple: Peonies are hardy and extremely reliable. Once established these beauties are durable and low maintenance. Another admirable aspect of peonies is that, unlike some other perennials, the do not ramble. They come back reliably year after year with little care and produce huge flowers — even enough blooms for cut-flower bouquets.

Peony ‘Gay Paree’.

Peony ‘Salmon Jazz’.

Peony ‘Orchid Anne’.

Peony ‘Guardian of the Monastery’.

Peony Itoh ‘Bartzella’

Rich History
Peonies became popular in Europe in the 1780s after they were introduced from China and Japan, where they had been grown for thousands of years. In the 1800s peonies graced the gardens of Empress Josephine Bonaparte and Thomas Jefferson, who included notations about peonies in his writings. Some of those varieties from the 1800s include ‘Mons Jules Elie’, ‘Festiva Maxima’, ‘Felix Crousse’ and ‘Karl Rosenfield’. These were the first peonies used in the cut flower trade in the 1900s. They are also found in some of the oldest cemeteries and homesteads in the United States.

Throughout history, peonies have enjoyed immense popularity, especially in the United States, when a resurgence of interest spurred the breeding and introductions of new cultivars. Peony pioneers of the early 1900s worth mentioning are Gilbert Wild, Edward Auten, Orville Fay, Myron Bigger, William Bockstoce, Oliver Brand, Lyman Cousins, William Krekler and Charles Klehm. Most of these breeders started out as hobbyists. These and other American breeders opened the door for an explosion of remarkable new peony varieties.

The New Breeders
Don Hollingsworth of Hollingsworth Peonies in Maryville, Mo., introduced ‘Garden Treasure’ a yellow intersectional peony. Roy Klehm, who with his wife Sarah own and operate Klehm’s Song Sparrow Farm in Southern Wisconsin, continues his family’s tradition of introducing new varieties. There are many more breeders today who are constantly hybridizing and ensuring a succession of new introductions. Most of these breeders and propagators have websites—peony enthusiasts can find and order new, beautiful peonies from around the country.

The newest innovation is the crossing of herbaceous and tree peonies. It was achieved by Japanese breeder Toichi Itoh. This breeding breakthrough opened the door for a new generation of peonies with exceptional form and color. I should mention that thousands of crosses are necessary to produce a new peony of superb quality. These herbaceous-tree peony crosses are referred to as Itoh hybrids or intersectional hybrids, and they include ‘May Lilac’, ‘Bartzella’, ‘Scarlet Heaven’, ‘Garden Treasure’ and ‘First Arrival’.

The different varieties of peonies available range from single peonies with their small center of stamens with one or two rows of petals like ‘Squirt’ or the Japanese varieties like ‘Beautiful Senorita’ whose center of stamens are larger, to doubles with huge fluffy blooms like ‘Candy Hearts’ or bomb types that have a tall, full center of petals. All of these are referred to as “herbaceous peonies” and all of their foliage is removed in late summer to fall.

Tree peonies are quite beautiful, and their care is a little different. They enjoy early day sun and shady afternoons. Their blooms are usually very large, and they have a wide range of colors and styles. A good example is ‘Guardian of the Monastery’. Tree peonies have woody stems and must not be cut down. Let foliage fall off on its own. Tree peonies can reach 5 to 6 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. They make quite a statement in the shady-with-morning-sun garden.

As Cut Flowers
Traditionally peonies are remembered as the cut flowers taken to cemeteries in remembrance of loved ones. Today’s brides also realize the beauty of peonies for their bouquets and table decorations. And an increasing number of gardeners simply enjoy bringing cut peony flowers indoors.

Peonies should be cut when their buds are showing color and are soft. They then can be put into vases, and some can be put in the refrigerator for later use. This will extend the cut peony season for several weeks.

1. Peonies should be dug in one large clump. Knock away the soil and rinse the clump clean so you can see the roots, as here.

2. If there is no natural division, insert a knife into the center of the clump to cut it apart.

3. Continue to cut or divide the clump until you have divisions that have four to six eyes each.

4. Each division should have enough fleshy roots to support each four- to six-eye section.


2012 Peony of the Year
Peony ‘Amalia Olson’ has been named 2011 Gold Medal Award winner and 2012 Peony of the Year by the American Peony Society.

The Gold Medal award is made available to one peony cultivar per year. Selection is based upon grower observation and experience of its excellence and performance across the peony growing areas of North America. Cultivars which attain this award typically have been in commerce for multiple decades as is necessary for their record to become widely recognized. ‘Amalia Olson’ is no exception, registration of the name dates to 1959. For more info visit

The Midwest Peony Society can be found at

Dividing Peonies
Another tradition is dividing peonies from a grandparent’s or parent’s family home. It is important to dig peonies in one clump. This can be achieved by inserting the shovel 8 to 10 inches deep at an angle toward the center of the plant. This will ensure an entire clump will be removed at once, rather than breaking apart. After lifting the clump from its hole, the soil around the roots should be removed with a blunt stick. Then wash the roots with a strong stream of water.

If there is not a natural division within the clump, insert a sharp knife to cut it apart. Keep in mind that each division should have sufficient roots for each four- to six-eye division in order for the roots to re-establish faster.

How to Plant a Peony
When planting a new peony or replanting a division, keep these tips in mind. Choose a site that receives at least a half day of sun and has well-drained soil. If your site has heavy clay soil, amend the soil —mix 50 percent of the soil with 50 percent compost. Dig the planting hole deep and wide enough to accommodate your peony division with room to spare on the sides. Create a mound in the center of the hole with amended soil. Place the division (or new plant) so that the eyes of the root are 1 ½ to 2 inches below ground. Press soil between the roots then backfill the hole and water thoroughly. Fertilize in the spring with a balanced fertilizer of 10-10-10 or 10-20-10, keeping the nitrogen number at a lower ratio than the phosphorous and potassium. Throughout the year, water the plant when soil is dry. Once established, peonies rarely need supplemental water.

If you are planning a new perennial garden or are revamping an existing one, consider adding peonies for years of enjoyment. The possibilities are endless.


A version of this article appeared in a March 2012 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Ron Capek,, Hollingsworth Peonies, and Tony Mistretta.


Posted: 04/19/18   RSS | Print


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Chives: Edible, Pretty and Easy to Grow
by Karen Atkins       #Edibles   #Herbs   #Recipes

Chive flowers are gorgeous in mass  plantings, as hedges or borders. They are  also edible and stunning in salads. (Elena Elissiva/

When I was a young, inexperienced gardener, I had the fortune of stumbling upon Martha Stewart’s Gardening. The title was deceptively simple, as the book contained intricate herb gardens and rose gardens, which stretched hundreds of feet. But the book became dog-eared as I shamelessly copied loads of ideas she had.

One of the most beautiful, easy and inexpensive notions she shared in that volume was using chives to edge vegetable gardens. The border looked so lush in her photos, and I learned later that in addition to producing masses of lilac star-shaped, edible flowers, chives repel bad bugs and attract beneficial bees. What more could you ask of an herb?

Cooking with Chives

Chive and Bleu Cheese Dressing

I found this recipe long ago, in Gourmet magazine. It is a keeper. The only difference here is that I’ve doubled it. You will be glad I did, since it keeps for a week in the refrigerator. This dressing is so sharp and alive. It is wonderful on a typical mixed salad. Add bacon and it is off the chain! It also serves as a gorgeous sauce over warm or chilled beef tenderloin, a pretty and elegant sauce. The recipe already contains black pepper, but it really sets the flavor off if you also grind fresh, cracked pepper over top of the sauce just before serving it.


1 cup buttermilk
1 cup mayonnaise
½ teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 small garlic cloves, minced
½ cup fresh parsley leaves
4 tablespoons finely chopped chives
4 ounces crumbled, firm bleu cheese
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper


Combine buttermilk, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and garlic in the blender and pulse until smooth. Add parsley and pulse until chopped. Then add the cheese and only pulse a few times. You want the cheese to stay chunky. Stir in the chopped chives and pepper at the last minute, before serving. After pouring dressing, grind fresh, cracked pepper over your dish.

Cream of Cauliflower and Chive Soup

Cream of cauliflower and chive soup. (Sarmis/

This soup is easy, fast, crazy inexpensive and pretty enough to serve to the fussiest dinner party guests. You can make it a few days in advance without the half and half, salt, pepper and chives. Then, just reheat it until it is warmed through, adding the half and half, salt, pepper and chives just before serving. What more could you ask of a soup?


3 tablespoons of butter
2 small heads of cauliflower, chopped, including the stem (about 8 cups)
6 ¾ cups of chicken broth
1 cup of half and half
2 cups chopped chives
2 or 3 whole, long chives per bowl (for garnish)
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper


Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven. Toss in the chopped cauliflower head and stems and stir for a few minutes. Add the chicken stock and cook over medium heat until it boils. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the cauliflower is tender, about 20 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool, so that you can handle it easily. Get out a large bowl and set it by the blender. Next blend the soup in batches. When it is completely smooth, transfer from the blender to the bowl. When the entire mixture has been blended, transfer it back into the pot. At this point, you can either reheat the soup or refrigerate it and finish it later. To finish the soup, bring the mixture back up to a simmer, then add the half and half, salt and pepper. At the last minute, stir in the chives. Garnish with a few long chives.

Make a chive “broom” by tying a long bunch of chives into a knot. Dunk the ends in warm, melted butter and drag it across fresh lobster or steamed vegetables. Martha Stewart has actually affixed small sticks to make them look like miniature brooms. (Smoczyslaw/

Growing Chives

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) thrive in well-draining, but fertile soil. A mixture of sand and manure or other organic material works well. If your soil is already good, but not particularly well-draining, you can also just mound it up, which will make it drain faster.

Sow seeds ¼ inch deep. (You can also plant transplants from the garden center.) When thinning seedlings, aim for final spacing of 4-6 inches in every direction. Chives can be harvested four times a year and should be cut just an inch or two above the base. The flavor of many herbs intensifies after drying but chives actually lose a lot of flavor. Use them fresh, or freeze them immediately.


A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2015 print editions of State-by-State Gardening.


Posted: 04/19/18   RSS | Print


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Japanese Style in the Garden
by Laura L. Bruner, Ph.D.       #Design   #Themed Gardens   #Unusual

The raked sand in this dry garden suggests water rippling around stone islands. Bloedel Reserve, Japanese Garden on Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Japanese gardens have weathered the test of time.

Principles originating centuries ago still guide and inspire garden designers in search of harmony and beauty. Japanese gardens are often described as beautiful, simple, serene and harmonious. For the aspiring designer, intimidating also comes to mind. Some design principles are consistent across all design disciplines, while others seem new and challenging to a Western-minded gardener. Let’s explore the Japanese garden and discuss a few concepts that make this approach so enduring.

Motomi Oguchi writes in Creating Your Own Japanese Garden: A Practical Guide that Japanese designers create according to the following principles:

1.) Each part of the garden should evoke how nature would present itself.
2.) The garden should be a new, creative design that is mindful of past masters’ works.
3.) Create gardens of harmony that recall beautiful scenes in nature.
4.) Be flexible with site conditions, current needs, desires and self-expression. From a Japanese perspective, the human role in the garden is one of participation rather than conquest.

This stroll garden located in Kyoto, Japan, demonstrates shakkei or “borrowed scenery” by allowing views of mountains in the distance.

Formal design principles such as order, unity and rhythm are utilized in Japanese garden design as they are in any other form of design in any culture. The difference is where the Japanese place emphasis.

Plant materials in Japanese gardens are mostly evergreen. Deciduous trees, such as this weeping cherry tree, provide dramatic accents.


A slab bridge in the Hagiwara Tea Garden in California extends a pathway across a stream.

One emphasis is on combining objects in groups of three, often in triangular form for trees and stones. In such a grouping, the larger object is placed in the middle with the smaller ones to the left and right. The grouping forms a triangle and is asymmetrically balanced by varying the distance of the left and right objects depending on their visual weight. The composition is also staggered, attempting to achieve visual balance from multiple perspectives. Another point of emphasis in Japanese garden design is asymmetry. Asymmetrical visual balance suggests a natural setting and contrasts with the design symmetry found in Western formal gardens.

Other design principles in Japanese gardens are more familiar, but with distinct cultural application. Gardens are typically enclosed with a neutral background that interrupts the line of sight. Traditionally, the interior of a Japanese garden was considered sacred and the outside profane. The enclosure sets the garden space apart visually. In the ancient Shinto religion, gods were nature spirits. Therefore, the Japanese perception of the garden as a place to worship nature is not surprising according to Alvin Horton in Creating Japanese Gardens. Japanese gardens are designed for viewing from verandas or inside the residence, not recreation like Western landscapes. The landscape is often composed like a painting with roof eaves, columns and lower tree limbs framing the views. The sky is minimized by deep overhanging roof eaves and screening. The emphasis is on the horizontal plane, low and wide, rather than the vertical.

Shakkei or “borrowed scenery” is a universal design principle found in Japanese gardens in which distant shapes are echoed in the garden design, trees inside the garden blend with those outside the garden and overall garden design harmonizes with its surroundings.

Miekakure or “hide and reveal” is another common principle in which the garden is revealed to visitors gradually and can’t be seen entirely from one vantage point. The principle of fuzei or “wind feeling” is unique to Japanese design. It is the visual perception conveyed when garden features suggest the effect of natural forces, like wind, on the landscape over time. A shaped pine suggests years of strong coastal winds. A moss-covered stone conveys the patina of age.


Top: A stepping stone pathway leads the garden visitor through a traditional entry gate.

Far Left: Bamboo is a natural choice for enclosing a Japanese garden.

Left: Shaped, rugged pines suggest the effect of wind over time.

Certain elements occur consistently in Japanese garden design. The combination of these, along with guiding design principles, can infuse your landscape with a Japanese feeling. Consider enclosure materials such as stone, wood, evergreen hedges and bamboo. Water, either actual or abstract, is an important component. Constructed waterfalls, streams and ponds echo the surrounding Japanese landscape within the garden walls. Raked sand is used to suggest water in other situations. Decomposed granite particles are used because their angular shape holds the precise raked patterns. The patterns suggest ripples around miniature islands of set stones. Functional bridges extend pathways over water or dry streams in the Japanese garden. Bridges are usually constructed of single slab stones or planks.

Water basins and stone lanterns are common elements found in Japanese gardens. They contrast subtly with the natural surroundings.

Utilitarian and decorative stonework is typically granite and schists in shades of gray and soft colors. No pure white or decorative colors are used in stonework. Water basins made of granite in both natural and cut shapes are found in many Japanese garden styles. Ishi-doro (stone pedestal lanterns) are utilized along pathways or in courtyards. Lanterns were popularized by Zen priests and traditionally incorporated into Japanese tea gardens. Stone lanterns are the most common feature found in Japanese gardens today. Their primary use is to subtly contrast with the surrounding natural elements.

Traditionally, plant material has been flowering and non-flowering broadleaf evergreens, conifers, shaped pines and mounding shrubs. Deciduous trees and moss are also important components, though mostly as accents.

Japanese design requires restraint and simplicity; by adhering to these rules your landscape could honor these ancient traditions and provide a respite from the outside world.



A version of this article appeared in a March 2012 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Loren Madsen.  


Posted: 04/19/18   RSS | Print


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Natural Hardscaping
by Diane Beyer       #Design   #Hardscaping   #Natives

Top: Here, very large boulders have been used to create a waterfall feature that blends seamlessly into the surrounding woodlands

Far Left: Using native stones as borders gives beds a natural look. Native stone can be used in many different landscape styles – formal to rustic.

Left: River rocks are great for dry creek beds that divert heavy runoff away from lawns, driveways, and foundations.

More and more gardeners and landscapers are heading “back to the land.” In addition to self-sufficiency, less pesticide use, growing heirloom vegetable varieties, urban homesteading, hardscaping using natural materials is also becoming more popular. This provides a wealth of natural materials for landscaping and design work.

In the mountainous areas, limestone, granite, and slates have been mined for decades, and used as building materials for prominent sites such as the “Hokie stone” used to build Norris Hall at Virginia Tech, or the buildings in aptly named Rockmart, Georgia, contracted using locally quarried Rockmart slate. Fieldstone is a generic term indicating stone that has been removed fields that have been tilled for agricultural use. Fieldstone is also abundant throughout most of the mountainous areas and is a great material for dry walls, steps, and fire pits. River rock of varying sizes, colors, and shapes found in the rivers of the mountains and Piedmont regions are often used to create dry creek beds in areas where runoff may be an issue It can be used as mulch material around shrubs and trees, allowing rainwater to percolate down into the soil. Since it will not wash away as easily as other organic mulches, replacement cost is low, unlike traditional mulch.

Clockwise: Use small stones to highlight unique plant specimens. • Keep the style of your home in mind when planning hardscape features. Borders of natural stone work well with the home’s foundation. • This fieldstone wall serves not only as a border, but also adds an artistic touch. The craftsman spent weeks choosing just the right stones for the perfect results.

In coastal areas, landscape materials such as oyster shells, driftwood, bluestone, and slate are available. Oyster shells make great mulch, and are a beautiful addition to driveways and paths. Be aware that when using oyster shells around plants, they may leach materials into the ground such as salt and lime, causing the soil to change slightly in salinity and pH values over years. Driftwood is abundant along the coast and is an interesting material to use for fences, arbors, furniture, and planters. Bluestone is mined extensively for use as gravel, and can be used to create pervious driveways, walkways, and patios. Slate is another great material for patios and steps.

The wide variety of available materials allows for diverse hardscape styles – from a “beachy” feel to more formal designs.

Keep in mind the style of your home. Unless you are planning an area where the house won’t be a factor, a formal walled garden might not be right for a beach house or a modern sculpture garden in front of a Victorian house. Nature provides so many textures, colors, and shapes, so use materials that will complement your house and landscape.

Top: This rock wall blends in seamlessly with the rest of the landscape.

Far Left: The trailing plants soften the hard lines of the stones.

Left: Slate is a great material for pathways. It is stable and allows water to percolate into the soil.

When purchasing materials, more is usually better, as natural materials are hard to “match” from lot to lot or place to place. If you finish a product and still have an abundance of material, it should be relatively easy to work into your landscape later, perhaps as steps or other type of accent.

And don’t forget about the plants. Choose plants that work with the style you are trying to create. Plants can soften natural materials such as rock and stone and blend the new elements into the existing landscape.

There are a few things to keep in mind when working with natural materials:

• Will the materials need to be eventually replaced due to weathering or decay? If so, how can that be effectively accomplished?

• Know what will be necessary to maintain the area around your new hardscape. Will you be able to do it yourself or will you need to hire a maintenance service?

• Always keep sustainability and the environment in mind. Does your plan allow for water permeability? If not, is there a plan to accommodate water runoff?


A version of this article appeared in an April 2018 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Diane Beyer.


Posted: 04/19/18   RSS | Print


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Taming Tough and Tiny Spaces
by Helen Yoest       #Disease   #Landscaping   #Shade

Pyracantha prunes well into espalier, creating art on a single plane.

In most gardens there are corners, ells, edges and trees, all of which create areas that are tough to work with. Oftentimes, the smaller the spot the tougher it is to tame. Instead of ignoring those tough, tiny spaces, consider plantings that will enhance your garden by taking advantage of these available spaces.

Side Yards
Side yards, or space created by a new addition or any narrow strip near a building or a wall, can seem like a daunting gardening challenge. It takes acrobatics to dig the soil well, drainage is not always great and sometimes the sun in blocked. Instead of viewing the space as one long length, break up the area into small, intimate spaces with curves, seating arrangements or garden art. It can change tough and tiny into cozy and quaint.

If you’re working in a walled courtyard, often this space traps warmth, raising the hardiness zone with a new micro-climate, causing it to be warmer than out in the open. This gives you an opportunity to plant for the added heat and higher hardiness zone the area creates. Also given the confined space, be sure and consider scent. Planting roses and herbs, gardenias and jessamine gives you a heady aroma.

An arbor covered in Carolina jessamine adds more gardening real estate to a tiny lot.

Vertical Gardening
Even the smallest patch of dirt can support the rise of plants to fill a vacant wall, frame a door or garage, cover an arbor or even train a vine up the ell of the house. Carolina jessamine, Clematis armandii or a fast-growing annual such as cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) works well in these locations. Take advantage of limited planting space by gardening up.

One way to do this is with espalier. When only a dash of dirt is available by an empty wall space in need of a certain something, this ancient technique of training the plant to grow in one plane works well. Espaliered plants are used today for both function and folly. They work great on areas such as a blank side of the house, a brick or cinder-block wall or a retaining wall.

Many plants take well to the pruning techniques required for espalier. Once mature, they become works of art. Pyracantha, loropetulum, camellia, ‘Little Gem’ magnolia, fruit trees, Japanese maple, redbud, quince, fig, forsythia, viburnum and yew all make excellent specimens for espalier.

A hell strip planting in Charleston. This is an example of just how cute an otherwise neglected space can be. Filled with sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) and pansies, it gives spring color to all who walk by.

The Hell Strip
Whether you call the strip of dirt between the sidewalk and the street a tree belt, inferno strip, devil strip, verge or hell strip, this space is notoriously hard for growing plants. A lack of water, trash cans sitting out, dogs doing their business, salt in the winter and trodding people and animals make it challenging. Or perhaps it’s a reluctance due to it being public property maintained by a private property owner. For these reasons and more, gardeners are reluctant to grow a garden along the street. And this is too bad, because these tough little spots are gardens in waiting.

When planting this area, first till and amend the soil. It’s also wise to anticipate where foot traffic will be and where the garbage can will sit each week and provide a landing pad for this specific use. Flagstone works well for this kind of situation.

The best plants for this area are tough, drought-tolerant ones that will thrive in full sun or the dappled sun under city-planted treescapes. As you garden in this space, think beyond trees. Herbs, hellebores, verbenas, bulbs and sedums, as well as prostrate junipers and yews, make ideal low-growing plantings that can take an occasional walk-through by the neighbor’s dog.

Clockwise: A container garden can be used in those tough places where soil doesn’t exist. Keeping the theme of terra-cotta, a variety of plants give warmth and rhythm to a tiny, tough space. • Sylvia Redwine carved garden space out of a patio area. Filled with annuals and a cotoneaster (Cotoneaster apiculatus) standard, the space has become a work of art. • Creeping or climbing fig (Ficus pumila) is easy to grow from a tiny bit of soil as seen here climbing the rise of steps of a private home in Charleston. It’s easy to prune, allowing for a garden to exist where nothing else is likely to grow.

Under Canopies
Mature trees offer value to the landscape, but they leave some challenge in covering the ground beneath the canopy where grass won’t grow. The trees’ roots take up a lot of water, and digging between the roots is difficult at best; plus the canopy hides the sun. Luckily there are a few plants that do well under most canopies, such as hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium), toad lily (Tricyrtis spp.), columbines, foamflowers (Tiarella), Japanese forest grasses (Hakonechloa macra), Japanese painted fern (Athyrium nipponicum var. ‘Pictum’), lungworts (Pulmonaria) and Siberian irises.

It’s important to plant small plants under trees for minimal disturbance between the roots of trees. Also, make sure the plants won’t compete with the trees for water.

The courtyard garden of Lacy and Carol Reaves. A series of garden rooms were created in an area formed by an addition. The narrow space with trapped heat is perfect for roses. The sound of the fountain mentally cools the space with its splash, while keeping Japanese climbing ferns happy. • A rocky wall offers an opportunity for planting.

Mother Nature abhors a vacuum and will fill a void with something – anything – because it is what she does. Most often it’s a weed that fills up neglected areas. Take charge of these tough, tiny crevices such as spots between flagstone steps and plant what you want, satisfying Mother Nature at the same time. For shady areas try maidenhair spleenwort, mosses, fern-leaf corydalis (Corydalis cheilanthefolia) and strawberry begonia (Saxifraga stoloniferi). For sunny areas you can use climbing snapdragon (Maurandella antirrhiniflora), sedums and dianthus.

C.J. Dykes took advantage of a space created when the deck was built, designing a garden lush with a fountain, ferns and aucuba. Now this otherwise vacant space has become a private oasis.

Under the Deck
On hilly sites, upper decks leave space below that is often ignored, but they can be turned into a garden instead of a place to store lawn chairs. These are typically shady spots with the deck as a canopy, so plant it up with ferns, hostas, aucuba and cast-iron plants. Fill with ornaments and even a comfy chair. Adding variegated plants helps brighten this otherwise darkened space.


A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 24 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Helen Yoest.


Posted: 04/10/18   RSS | Print


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by Monica Brandies       #Advice   #Flowers   #Pruning







When you cut roses for bouquets or when you are deadheading, always cut back to just above a five-leaflet leaf and you will get more blooms quicker. Cut farther back if a bit of pruning is needed, too.

“Going to seed” is not usually a pleasant transformation – for plants and people. But it is part of life. Plants bloom not only to look lovely and give us joy, but also to produce seeds to perpetuate the species. When the seedpods are not needed and not attractive, it pays to carry snippers in your pocket every time you go out in the garden. Even if you want to collect some seeds, only a few seedpods are needed.

For plants that bloom constantly or repeatedly, such as crapemyrtles (Lagerstroemia), removing flowers that are past their peak will result in more and quicker new flowers. This is called deadheading, even though the flowers are not truly dead. Deadheading is an easy chore that can greatly improve the beauty of your garden.

Some plants such as this red spiral velvet ginger (Costus barbatus) have flowers (little yellow ones here) that bloom and then fall away. The red parts are bracts (modified leaves) that hold their color for months but they need to be removed after they lose their beauty.


Deadheading these daisies (Above) didn’t take very long and it made a big difference (Below).


(Above) These red geraniums are just doing their job, going to seed. It is nature’s way to keep the species alive. (Below) Now the seeding stems, along with a dry leaf or two, have been removed and the plant will have to make more flowers instead.

On a few plants, such as gold vine (Solandra spp.), flowers and attractive seedpods appear together. The golden raintree (Koelreuteria paniculata) is covered with yellow flowers in September and then a few weeks later, the pinkish/tan seedpod clusters appear and the trees are still beautiful.

Deadheading can and should be used for annuals, perennials, and flowering shrubs. For the most part, this can be done as you walk around your garden checking for new buds or bugs and just enjoying the day. But just a bit of deadheading can make a big difference. If you have daylilies (Hemerocallis) or Iris, for instance, there is nothing lovelier than the new flowers and nothing that spoils the scene like the old ones.

If you are hybridizing or saving seeds for replanting, you don’t want to deadhead some plants, so don’t ever do this in someone else’s garden unless you ask permission.

Picking flowers for bouquets has the same effect with more reward. With annuals, the more you pick, the more you’ll have. Some flowers, such as Pentas and Impatiens, drop their faded flowers and don’t need deadheading.

This butterfly ginger (Hedychium coronarium) looks great today, but tomorrow it may need some deadheading.

There are some flowers that bloom so prolifically that the best approach is to shear them back every several weeks to remove masses of seedpods. Do this for Ageratum, Cosmos, Portulaca, Torenia, and narrow-leafed Zinnia.

If your flowering shrubs are low enough, remove the dead flowers before they produce seeds, unless the seeds are decorative or provide food for birds and wildlife. But don’t worry about what you can’t reach. God didn’t intend nature to look perfect all the time.


A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 22 Number 2.
Photography courtesy of Monica Brandies.    


Posted: 04/10/18   RSS | Print


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How to Build a Living Fence
by Jean McWeeney       #Design   #Hardscaping   #How to

The simple wood and wire pergola of the entrance gate is alive with an ‘Old Blush’ climbing rose. This small courtyard garden is the entrance to the mud room and houses herbs, flowers and a rain barrel covered with the same materials as the fence.

Fences can fill a number of needs in the garden: They can enclose a space and define it, they can keep the dogs in or the neighbor’s cats out, they often tell the gardener where to stop planting. But they can also become part of the planting and design scheme itself. That is, they can support plants and allow their form to be seen in their best light. Of course, the typical cottage garden picket fence does a great job – but construction is not always easy or cheap. There is an alternative though – a wood and wire fence.

It is relatively easy to build, economical, and provides support for vines, flowers and plants – perfect for the rustic, cottage look. If you read my article in last month’s magazine, “A New Kind of Raised Planter,” you’ve probably already thought of how nice a wood and wire fence would go with stock tank planters or ponds. You can even build a stand-alone, mobile wood and wire system to provide a vertical element in the garden and the perfect trellis for vines. Once you see how easy it is to construct a living fence, you’re sure to visit the hardware store soon!


This fence, on a deck overlooking a creek, will be home to potted vines. It will also keep the dogs in the area.

A staple gun is used to attach the wire to the wood.

Tools and Materials:

• Heavy-gauge wire fencing, aka cattle panel, hog panel, etc.

• Posts

• Pressure-treated 1x6 skirt board

• Hammer or staple gun

• Wire cutters or electrician’s pliers

• ¾ inch U-staples

• 2-inch galvanized screws


How to:
Make the fence as high as the fencing is wide. Any higher than 48 inches may require a mid-rail for extra support. Set posts 8 feet apart. Dig a trench to bury the fence if you need to keep animals in/out. Attach rails along top and bottom to posts. Roll fencing along top rail and attach top edge with U-staples, making sure to align the top of the fencing to the top of the rail. Similarly, attach to bottom edge of fencing. Once the end post is reached, cut fencing with wire cutters and use plenty of staples for stability. Optionally, ¾-inch-thick pressure-treated lumber can reinforce the attachment at each post; use galvanized screws. An added skirt board will provide reinforcement along the bottom rail.


A version of this article appeared in an April 2011 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Jean McWeeney and Jennifer Estes.


Posted: 04/09/18   RSS | Print


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Unconstructed Play
by Michelle Reynolds       #Kids   #Misc




By planting native trees and plants in the garden, you’ll create a world of exploration. The tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) tree is a host plant for Eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies. Plant them and they will come. Host plant to Eastern tiger swallowtail and spicebush swallowtails, sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is a good tree for a children’s garden as well. With sassafras, the children can chew on the leaves, make whistles and sassafras tea.

How many times have you been to a child’s birthday party with a bunch of laughing, screaming kids and lots of toys, and what the children end up playing with are the cardboard boxes, ribbons and ties from the gifts, loose parts from one of the toys (and not as they were intended to be used), or a pile of dirt or rocks next door? OK, that proves it – all they really need to play is a dirt pile and a bucket; unstructured play is the secret to happiness.

Children are remarkably imaginative, creative and innovative little souls and are able to find ways to play no matter what the circumstance. It always amazes me to see on the news in the aftermath of disaster (whether from a storm, fire, war, etc.), children playing as if nothing ever happened. Their imaginations and their willingness to work with each other, create games, laugh together, play together and continue on despite the horrors surrounding their community is absolutely amazing. And their resilience and ability to revert to simple games in an ever-changing and modernized world is inspiring.

Clockwise: A large tree in any yard can easily be turned into a play-station. This old hackberry holds a ropes course, a couple of swings, and the tree provides shade for the family’s rustic swing. The whole family can enjoy this space and time together outdoors. • A backyard full of trees is ideal, but even in yards with no trees, a stand-alone multilevel tree house can be built. A ladder, a rope swing and the platforms are all elements for building strength and confidence. • Building forts from branches and brush allow for creative play and also encourages empathy for birds and small animals, and their need for thickets and places to hide.

Elements of a Children’s Garden

Entrance: Build an actual gateway to the children’s garden by constructing an arbor or trellis. Plant butterfly host plants and vines and other wildlife-beneficial plants, a birdbath and feeder, add garden art, and a sign to delineate the space from the rest of the yard. These things will lend the place a feeling of enchantment.

Paths: Gravel, mulch or stone pathways meandering through the garden’s focal points will help lead a child to opportunities for exploration, adventure play, creativity and developing their imagination.

Sensory Planting Area: With the help of the children, plant garden plots with vegetables, flowers, wildlife-beneficial plants and herbs to appeal to sight, smell and taste. Allowing kids to grow their own vegetables is a good way to get them to eat them as well.

Seating and Stepping Logs: Small logs placed along pathways and tree cookies for stepping and sitting encourage balancing, quiet rest and observation of what lives under logs in the forest.

Rock or Dirt Mound: A mound is a more effective version of a sandbox by offering a height advantage as well as excavation possibilities.

Loose Parts: Tree cookies, branches, boards and rocks encourage creativity in building and problem solving.

Fort, Playhouse or Tree House: Incorporate ropes, climbing areas, hammocks, swings or slides into a multi-level play hut to improve hand-eye coordination, and to build strength and confidence.

Modernization is the inevitable path humans have been on for as long as we have walked the Earth. Through cultivation of plants and domestication of animals, we set up permanent settlements and thus began our move away from nature and into a dominion of manufactured living. The gap has grown ever since.

More and more, we are sterilizing our surrounding landscapes, schoolyards and our own properties by displacing nature with fabricated playgrounds. Strict neighborhood covenants and perceived notions of “curb appeal” are dictating what we have in our gardens. Devoid of nature, homogenized landscapes and housing in a land of sameness offer no opportunity for journeys of imagination and discovery. Concrete sidewalks lead us to and from buildings set on asphalt-covered lands across closely clipped lawns and ball fields and back home to sterile yards again. Once back home, it is homework, computers, video games and structured play. We have corralled our children in these small, modern and virtual worlds, leaving little time or space for imagination, creative play or self-discovery. We give our children only limited access to the wonders of the natural world.

Children are born naturalists and have a built-in curiosity and sense of wonder. If we as adults do not do what we can to provide places for children to practice their observational skills, and nurture our own inner child, who are we going to become as a society? It is through our own disconnect that we are separating children from the natural world.

When I was growing up, my family and I would go on hikes most weekends. We had adventures with names – The Railroad Holler Hop, Journey to Bamboo City and the Boulder Crawl to Kidland Canyon. We would stop and play in streambeds, build forts, swing from vines and climb trees. In creeks and in the cattails, we would discover baby fish, frogs and tadpoles, dragonfly nymphs, and other strange creatures. Under rocks, we would find salamanders, beetles, roly polies and ants. We would imagine how the animal and insect world worked and shrink ourselves down to an imagined “Land of the Lost.” Our favorite books were those that reflected our love of nature and sense of adventure and those that encouraged a deeper understanding of the natural world. Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom was our favorite TV show.

We would walk in the woods near our house, look at nature up close and feel a closeness to a larger force. Those treks in the woods were marvelous adventures filled with lessons in geology, history, the natural world, danger and Southern culture. They helped us look at things in a larger context, helped put things into perspective and helped direct the trajectory of my life’s interests; I believe my experiences in nature then and now help me solve problems, create, and conjure up the courage it takes to experiment, tackle new things and live life to its fullest. The music of the woods – the wind through the trees, babbling brooks, chorus of frogs, crickets, cicadas and katydids – is my soundtrack.


Clockwise: Pathways, rocks, logs and fences help delineate spaces and define the garden. Playing and planting is fun in a space the children can call their own. • Children are inherently imaginative and creative. My neighbor came up with the backyard bucket ride to enhance the zipline in her yard. She climbs the tree ladder, gets in the bucket, zips through the yard and makes a soft landing on a gym pad at the end of the ride. • “If you build it they will come,” works well in the natural world. Build a water feature or simple frog pond, and tree frogs will show up and breed. It is amazing to watch the life cycle of frogs – egg mass, tadpole, legs form, tails disappear, and finally, frogs. Once you have frogs, you’ll have beautiful music to enjoy when the family sits on the porch on a summer’s eve. Be sure not to add fish though, because the fish will eat frog eggs.

For most who live in urban areas, a trip to the woods and into nature is a weekend activity. If we do not live by a forest and we long for those weekend visits, we can construct areas in our communities that mimic the wilds to provide informal play areas for our children to explore daily. Fortunately, there are efforts underway, and by many organizations, to change the trends in schoolyards and churchyards. Outdoor classrooms, community gardens, environmental education programs, nature-based summer camps, outdoor after-school programs and other outreach activities are becoming more prevalent in many communities. These programs take the approach of using place-based education and inquiry learning in outdoor miniature habitats by matching the workshops to state core curriculums. By integrating education gardens into schoolyards and curriculums, teachers hope to reconnect children with nature through hands-on and direct experiences with the natural world.

Tree cookies offer places to step and sit as a child plants and takes care of their garden. Native plants and plants with funny names like Mexican hats (Ratibida columnifera), rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) are great combined with herbs such as rosemary, basil and thyme. The combination smells good, looks good, and is sure to bring in the beneficial insects, birds and butterflies that are fun to observe. Harmless roly polies, worms and beetles live underneath the tree cookies and are fun to discover.

We can take it a step further and construct playscapes and naturescapes in our own backyards, where our children will be able to grow into their imaginations. By creating spaces for unconstructed play, we will build pathways that lead children to activities of exploration, adventure play, creativity and imagination, and with these things, come innovation.


A version of this article appeared in an April 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Bob Farley.


Posted: 04/09/18   RSS | Print


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Caterpillar Calamities
by Blake Layton       #Pests   #Vegetables   #Wildlife

Pink-striped oakworm munching on an oak leaf. (2.25 inches)

Every gardener has experienced it, usually more times than they can count. You walk into the garden and discover a plant that’s been defoliated or otherwise damaged by caterpillars. The canna leaves are riddled with holes, the cabbage leaves look like lace, half the tomatoes have worms in the fruit, or the azaleas have been stripped of their leaves. How could this happen so quickly?

Caterpillars are the immature stage of moths and butterflies. Although most gardeners enjoy seeing butterflies and moths in their garden, they feel quite differently about caterpillars. Butterflies and moths are beautiful insects that feed on nectar and do not damage plants, but many caterpillars are voracious pests of vegetable and ornamental plants. Heavy caterpillar infestations can completely defoliate, or even kill, prized plants.

Azalea caterpillars are common defoliators of azaleas, and sometimes blueberries, especially in the more southern areas of the Southeast. (2 inches)

Caterpillars are sometimes characterized as crawling stomachs. From the time they hatch from the egg until they pupate, eating is their primary occupation. They have to take periodic breaks to molt, or shed their skin, but they soon resume feeding. This is why caterpillars are such damaging pests. Depending on species, even one caterpillar can cause a lot of damage, but many moths can lay hundreds of eggs per night.

Fortunately, not all caterpillars are pests. Caterpillars that only feed on weeds or other undesirable plants are not pests and are sometimes considered beneficial. Despite their huge appetites, most caterpillars are picky eaters and will only feed on a relatively narrow range of plants. Tobacco hornworms feed on tomatoes as well as tobacco, peppers and other solanaceous plants, but they won’t eat the leaves of oaks or most other plants. Conversely, pink-striped oakworms love oak leaves but will starve rather than eat tomato leaves. Monarch butterfly caterpillars are one of the few insects that can survive on milkweed, and milkweeds are the only plants they will eat. Secondary chemicals that occur in different groups of plants are one of the key reasons for this host specificity. Compare the odor of crushed tomato leaves to that of broccoli and rosemary and you will get a whiff of some of these chemicals.

Tomato fruitworms usually bore in near the stem end of the tomato. One caterpillar can destroy several fruit, a heartbreaking experience for serious tomato growers. (1.25 inches)

There are a few species of caterpillars that have unusually wide host ranges and these tend to be some of our most important pest species. Tomato fruitworm, Helicoverpa zea, is one of the best examples. This pest actually has three official common names. In tomatoes it is called tomato fruitworm, in cotton it is known as the bollworm, and in corn it is the corn earworm. It is a serious pest of all three crops and also occurs on hundreds of other plants, including many other row crops, vegetable crops, ornamental plants and weeds. These caterpillars can tolerate an amazingly large array of secondary plant chemicals.

Most of our serious caterpillar pests are the larvae of moths rather than butterflies. There are a few butterfly species whose caterpillars are pests, but this list is small. Imported cabbageworm is one example of a pest butterfly species. Black swallowtail butterfly is arguably another, but this depends on whether you are an herb gardener or a butterfly gardener! Would the monarch butterfly caterpillars that defoliated the milkweed plants in the city park butterfly garden be considered pests?

Caterpillars don’t only damage plants by eating leaves; some species cause damage in other ways. Pests such as tomato fruitworms and pickleworms bore directly into the fruit, while pests such as squash vine borers and peach tree borers bore into the stem or trunk. There is even a caterpillar that bores into the trunks of hardwood trees. It is called the carpenterworm.

Newly hatched caterpillars, like these cross-striped cabbageworms, often leave telltale “windowpanes” in leaves where they are feeding. (One-quarter inch)

Gardeners are often surprised by how quickly serious caterpillar damage can occur. “My azaleas looked fine when we were grilling in the backyard Saturday. Now it’s Tuesday, the azaleas don’t have any leaves on them, and we have all these big black and white caterpillars crawling around!” This same phenomenon occurs on many other ornamental and vegetable plants. Small, newly hatched caterpillars eat very little and their feeding often goes unnoticed, but large caterpillars that are almost ready to pupate can eat a lot in a short time. Many caterpillars take in 80 to 90 percent of their total food consumption in the last two or three days of their life – when they become the caterpillar equivalent of teenagers. This is why heavy caterpillar damage often seems to appear overnight.

For an article on how to control damage from these munching machines check out the follow-up article, Control Caterpillar Pests.


A version of this article appeared in an April 2012 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Blake Layton.


Posted: 04/09/18   RSS | Print


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Cantankerous Cankers
by Christopher Starbuck       #Disease   #Pests   #Trees

Fireblight canker on ‘Aristocrat’ pear.

Thyronectria canker on honeylocust

The term “canker” refers to a lesion on a twig, branch or stem, usually caused by a bacterial or fungal pathogen. The appearance of cankers varies, depending on the host and the pathogen. Often, the bark of the affected stem or trunk is sunken and discolored. Fluids may ooze from a canker or fungal fruiting structures may appear on the bark covering or surrounding the lesion. In some cases, lesions remain small and isolated, causing no major problems for the host plant. In other cases, the canker spreads widely, causing death of twigs, branches or even the main trunks of trees. The best known example of the destructive potential of a canker disease is chestnut blight, caused by the fungus Endothia parasitica, which caused the virtual extinction of the American chestnut within 40 years of its accidental introduction to the United States in about 1900.

It should not be surprising that bacterial and fungal pathogens would colonize the bark of a tree or shrub. The sapwood, just under the bark, is a rich source of carbohydrates and minerals. Fortunately, bark provides excellent protection most of the time. However, canker-causing pathogens are opportunistic. Mechanical bark damage from lawn mowers, string trimmers, insects or hail can provide easy access to a pathogen. Damage or stress caused by environmental extremes, such as waterlogging, drought, freezing or high temperature can also reduce a plant’s ability to resist attack by a canker-causing organism. Wrapping the trunk of a newly planted tree with a light-colored material to prevent winter sun scald will greatly reduce the chances of canker development. A wide mulch ring will eliminate damage by mowers and string trimmers. However, mulch should never be more than 1 inch deep right next to the trunk (no volcanoes!).

Black walnuts are showing advanced symptoms of thousand cankers disease in this picture taken Sept. 18, 2009. The tree died the following June.

New Disease Threatens Black Walnut
Thousand cankers disease (TCD) is a recently discovered disorder that has the potential to decimate black walnut trees in the Midwest. Initially recognized in Colorado in 2009, this disease had killed tens of thousands of black walnut trees in Western states. Since then, the disease has been discovered in Tennessee, Virginia and Pennsylvania; all states within the native range of the species. If thousand cankers disease becomes widespread in the Midwest, it will kill millions of trees with an estimated economic impact of more than a billion dollars.

Thousand cankers disease is caused by the fungus Geosmithia morbida, which is spread very effectively by a tiny insect called the walnut twig beetle. Each beetle bores multiple holes through the bark, inoculating the phloem at each location with the fungus and causing a tiny canker. The cankers eventually coalesce, destroying the vascular system of the tree and leading to mortality within three or four years.

The most likely way in which thousand cankers disease will spread within the native walnut range is by movement of firewood or logs. You can help slow the spread by educating your fellow citizens about the dangers of moving these materials around the Midwest. Be on the lookout for walnut trees dying from the top and report them to your local university extension office.

There are thousands of fungal and bacterial organisms capable of causing cankers on woody ornamentals. Fortunately, very few of these cause serious problems, especially if resistant plants are planted and maintained with good cultural practices. Fireblight is a troublesome bacterial canker disease commonly affecting plants in the rose family, especially crabapples and pears. This disease, caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora, usually starts at the shoot tips of a susceptible host. If left unmanaged, it can cause cankers on the main trunk, leading to mortality. Thankfully, most modern crabapple cultivars are highly resistant to fireblight. However, most cultivars of ornamental pear, including ‘Bradford’, ‘Cleveland Select’ and ‘Redspire’ are no longer considered highly resistant. Pruning out the “strikes” on branch tips during dry weather will reduce the chances that the bacterium can spread within the tree. Cut well below the obviously infected tissue and dip the shears in alcohol between cuts.

Canker development around a walnut twig beetle gallery in an English walnut.

Certain species of trees are commonly affected by fungal canker diseases, often after being predisposed by environmental stresses or mechanical damage. Cankers (Thyronectria) commonly develop on trunks of honeylocust trees as a result of transplanting stress or winter injury. Cankers usually remain isolated and trees recover as they become established, but severe infections can lead to dieback. Fast-growing trees such as ‘Lombardy’ poplar are generally short lived due to extreme susceptibility to the fungus Cryptodiaporthe populeum. Dieback of other poplars and of willows is commonly caused by either Leucostoma or Valsa canker. Again, these diseases are most likely to develop when the host tree is predisposed by stress.

We should be thankful that bark is such a good defense against the thousands of organisms poised to take advantage of any chink in the armor of our trees and shrubs. To help our woody friends repel invasion by canker-causing organisms, we should prevent sun scald, mulch to prevent mower and string trimmer injuries, irrigate during drought and avoid late summer fertilization that may lead to winter injury.


A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2012 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Christopher Starbuck and Ned Tisserat, Colorado State University,


Posted: 04/02/18   RSS | Print


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A Canna Renaissance
by Garry McDonald       #New Trends   #Ornamentals   #Plant Profile



















Cannova ‘Bronze Scarlet’ has scarlet red flowers and bronze foliage.

Working on a university campus, I can’t help but notice the changing whims of fashion. Lately, the trend among young men is khaki walking shorts, polo shirts, and white crew socks and white sneakers: exactly what we wore on campus in the early 1980s. Like clothes, plants come into and fall out of fashion. Re-discovering old garden plants is usually the result of breeding improved cultivars or someone taking a fresh look at how plants can be used in the landscape. One such plant is canna.

Canna is certainly not a new plant, being very popular in Victorian gardens and into the 20th-century. The original garden plant, Canna indica, commonly called Indian shot because of the small hard round black seeds resembling shotgun pellets, is native to many areas of the Americas, from South America to Mexico, and the West Indies. This species, one of about 20 naturally occurring, is now naturalized over many parts of the world, including the Gulf Coast of the United States, especially along perennial streams and rivers. Modern cannas are hybrids between many species and were once lumped together as Canna x generalis, although this species name is now considered invalid among the taxonomists. Because of the complex hybridization over the decades, instead of a specific species, canna are placed in cultivated plant groups with similar morphological characteristics, such as those with large colorful foliage or those with showy flowers. Other groups are grouped by geographical origin or by use, including those used as food for humans and livestock. An interesting fact is that canna is an excellent plant to use in bioremediation, especially in constructed wetlands, to filter out runoff sediments, excess nutrients, and heavy metal contaminants.

Once a signature plant of formal Victorian plantings, canna has experienced a revival among gardeners.

I don’t suppose there is any one reason for canna falling out of favor over the years, but several factors probably came into play. Canna was a mainstay of the intensely cultivated and managed Victorian and Edwardian gardens of the late 19th and early 20th century. Two world wars, a worldwide economic depression, and social change ended these types of gardens. Home architecture styles changed along with taste in plants and gardening. Smaller gardens and the desire for low-maintenance landscapes also influenced plant choices. Competition from the leisure industry and modern technology further affected garden tastes during the late 20th century. New pests were also contributing factors, especially viruses, which infected canna stocks, reducing plant vigor and flowering. Since propagation was once limited to divisions of the rhizomes, the number of plants that could be propagated were few and virus-infected plants could not be shipped or sold.

Cannova ‘Lemon’ has creamy yellow flowers and is ideal for mixed containers.

The advent of virus-indexed plants and micropropagation through tissue culture eliminated many roadblocks to growing modern-day canna and recent breeding work has re-invented an old plant for new gardens. Last season we were able to trial a new series of canna called Cannova, which are F1 hybrids bred specifically for mixed container plantings, although they can also be used in traditional flowerbeds. These new cannas range from a creamy yellow to scarlet red with both green and bronze leaves. In containers, they adjust to a smaller pot size with smaller foliage but with heavy flower power that readily rebloom. In the ground, they grow taller and flower just as well, although under our conditions they didn’t grow as large as traditional varieties, which for us was a good thing. Based on one year’s observations, they performed better than the Sunburst series, which was one of the first to be bred for small stature. To be safe, we dug up a set of plants to overwinter in a protected spot while the remainder stayed in the ground to test cold-hardiness. With several nights down around 0 F, we’ll see what comes back in May. I always like to test plants for a couple of seasons for landscape performance so the jury is still out.

The cultivar that kicked off a renewed interest in canna was probably ‘Pretoria’ also known as ‘Bengal Tiger’, which is a better descriptor since the variegated foliage is tiger-striped. The flowers, while orange, were not much to text home about, the plant being grown primarily for the foliage. Another cultivar that has great foliage but less-than-spectacular flowering is ‘Bird of Paradise’. This canna has long strap-like green leaves with a flush of subtle purple striping. The flowers are a soft pink and small. Since ‘Bird of Paradise’ grows taller than wide, it adds structure and bulk to a perennial bed. Canna musifolia is a species-type with large banana-like foliage that is green with purplish red stripes and can reach 10 feet tall, so maybe not the best plant for a small garden, but definitely makes a statement. As mentioned above, the Sunburst series come in a range of colors and only grow to a height of 2 feet, making them ideal for containers and smaller landscapes.

The bold foliage of bronze-leafed cannas makes a statement in the garden even without flowers.

Cannova ‘Rose’ has bright rose flowers and green foliage.

Cannas are easy to grow throughout the South and thrive, even demand, full sun. The only exception is the cultivar ‘Stuttgart’, named for the town in Germany, not Arkansas, which has dramatic foliage with cream to white stripes. In the South, ‘Stuttgart’ will need heavy shade to prevent the foliage from burning in the summer. Canna adapts to any average garden soil and enjoys, moist rich soils and can be grown in wet areas, including along the margins of ponds or wetlands. I’ve even seen them planted in tubs and sunk in water gardens. Cold hardiness varies by cultivar, but most are reliable to USDA Zone 7, although we get away growing them in Zone 6b most years. Mulching heavily after they die back to the ground in fall will help them overwinter. If in doubt, they are easily dug in the fall and can be stored in a cool, dark location in a tray containing dry peat moss or wood shavings. Divide if necessary and replant after the soil has warmed in the spring. Cannas respond to grooming, such as removing spent flower stalks and old tatty foliage and some are even self-cleaning. If grown in containers, grower recommendations are to fertilizer the cannas with a liquid feed every couple of weeks during the summer and water well. Cannas are affected by few diseases and the two main pests are the canna leaf roller, which can devour entire leaves, and the lesser canna leaf roller, which stitches the young leaves before they unfurl and munch in the rolled up leaf causing the leaf to collapse. These cause more of an aesthetic problem rather than killing the plant. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) applied at the first sign of damage usually does a good job of controlling them. If the infestation is too bad, I’ve been known to cut the whole planting back to the ground and let the canna start over. It sets them back a bit, but they don’t seem to mind. It is also recommended to remove all the canna detritus in the fall to eliminate overwintering habitat for the pests. The only other serious pests, in a bad year, are Japanese beetles, which feed on the flowers. I usually employ a seek-and-destroy (stomp) strategy of control.


A version of this article appeared in an April 2018 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Garry McDonald.


Posted: 04/02/18   RSS | Print


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Two for One Tomatoes
by Bob Westerfield       #Edibles   #Propagation   #Vegetables





















An actual grafted tomato in our research garden.

If you took a survey of home gardeners and asked them about their favorite vegetable to grow, most likely the tomato would be at the top of the list. Anyone who has grown tomatoes knows that the quality and flavor of homegrown far surpasses that of a store-bought tomato. Anyone who has spent time growing tomatoes also knows that at times they can be finicky and be a challenge, even for the most experienced gardener. If you happen to cherish the more flavorful heirloom varieties, you face even greater challenges when it comes to disease, insects and cultural problems. While the practice has been around for centuries, grafting has more recently become the rage in growing difficult tomato varieties more successfully. With the difficult task of growing these older varieties, grafting may give you the edge to get the job done in your garden.

A cleft graft on the scion with a tapered wedge cut at dual 45-degree angles.

The correct way to cut a splice graft. Both the rootstock and scion are cut in opposing matching angles.

Rootstock cut using the cleft method of grafting. A ¼-inch cut into the rootstock is made into which the scion wedge cut will be inserted.

Ensure the diameter of the rootstock matches that of the scion. This is on a splice graft.

Connect the rootstock of cleft graft to scion.

Graft held together by a grafting clip.

Vegetable grafting is a centuries-old technique used to improve plant production, reduce disease and improve plant vigor. Asia and Europe have been leaders in vegetable grafting for years but has only become popular in the United States over the past ten years or so. Most garden catalogs now include grafted varieties of tomatoes, eggplants and peppers along with some other varieties. Just look at the price of these plants and you may decide they produce vegetables made of gold. It is not uncommon for small grafted plants to sell between $12 and $16 dollars. The extra cost comes in the production of grafting two different varieties of tomatoes onto one. Purchasing a grafted tomato is certainly one way to go, but the process is really not that difficult once you understand a few basics. By following a few steps you can begin to graft your own varieties, save money and have fun at the same time.

Grafting is simply taking the top portion of a tomato variety, called the scion, and connecting it to the bottom half and root system of another tomato plant, called the rootstock. The top portion of the graft produces the flavorful and desirable tomato that you are after –perhaps one of your heirloom favorites. The rootstock provides protection from tomato viruses, diseases, nematodes and other common problems associated with tomatoes. Commercial nurseries often use a standard rootstock you won’t find in garden centers that provides a hardy base for the top portion of the graft. It is perfectly fine, however, to use the rootstock of favorite hybrid tomato you may like such as ‘Beefsteak’, ‘Better Boy’, ‘Amelia’ or some similar hardy variety. The scion portion, or top, being difficult to grow on its own might be an older variety such as ‘German’, ‘Homestead’ or other heirloom variety. In essence what you are doing is exactly what they do with most fruit trees. You are grafting two plants together to get the best of both worlds.

They key to successfully grafting tomatoes or any other vegetables, is to select rootstock and scion that are very similar in diameter. In order for a successful graft to take place, the cambium (area just under the outer skin) of the rootstock and scion must be aligned and in contact with one another. You can purchase transplants for both your rootstock and scions or you can start them from seed. If you are only going to do one or two grafts it may be easier to buy the plants to start with. If you are doing several trays of grafted plants it would be cheaper to seed them and grow them out yourself. It is best to work in a sterile environment, cleaning off your working surface with a light alcohol-based cleaning solution before starting your grafts. Use a clean, sharp razor blade for your cuts.

There are several different methods of cutting your stock depending on the grafting technique you choose. Cleft grafting, otherwise known as wedge grafting, is a common way to graft tomatoes. It basically involves cutting the root stock section horizontally just under the first set of leaves. You should be left with a root system and stem 1-2 inches long. Make a small ¼-inch vertical incision into the center of the rootstock cut. The scion stem should be similar in diameter to the rootstock and then cut into a wedge shape 1 inch or so below the lowest leaves on the stem. The wedge should be about ¼-inch long and is inserted into the ¼-inch slit of the rootstock. Carefully hold these two together while using a plastic grafting clip or grafting tape to secure the two together.

Another type of grafting is called splice grafting. Both the rootstock and scion of matching diameter are cut at 45-degree angles and clipped together with a grafting clip. Splice grafting is easier to do and faster than cleft grafting. Cleft grating however holds the scion more tightly than splice grafting.

After all of the grafts are complete, use a misting bottle to lightly spray the plants to provide them some moisture. Take a final look to see that all the grafts are tight and properly aligned. Cover the plants with a plastic tent or small plastic bag over each container, keeping the plastic away from touching the foliage of the plant. Spray additional moisture inside the plastic to create a slightly humid environment. Place the plants out of direct sunlight, in a temperature between 65-70 F and allow them to rest for two days. On the third day after grafting, carefully lift the plastic and spray just enough water inside to raise the humidity and close the plastic chamber again. Allow the plants to continue to heal for another day and on the fifth day open the plastic up for 30 minutes and once again spray inside the plastic chamber to create humidity. On the sixth day remove the plastic for one hour and then spray the chamber inside the plastic well and close up tightly. On the seventh day remove the plastic for a period of six to eight hours once again returning it after spraying the inside with water. On the eighth day you will totally remove the plants from their protective plastic cover.

Although the scion and rootstock will begin to establish a connection at approximately seven days, it takes about 14 days for the grafting to fully heal. After you remove the plants from the plastic allow them to rest in a room about 65 to 75 F from one to two days to harden off. Begin to put the plants outside to acclimate them to the outdoors for four to seven days before transplanting. Be sure to provide moisture and don’t allow them to dry out. When transplanting into the field you can remove the grafting clips and use small ¼-inch-diameter sticks to help support he tender developing plant. Be sure when transplanting that the graft union remains above the soil line. If it becomes dirty, the scion will root into the soil and any advantages that would have been provided by rootstock will be nullified. Check the plant regularly and look to see that the rootstock also does not sprout out of the ground. Pinch it off before it begins to develop to allow the scion portion to take over.

I have grafted tomato plants in my research trials with the University of Georgia and have had some pretty good success. While I cannot say that grafting is the silver bullet to prevent all disease and other issues, it does seem to have its place with difficult to grow varieties. If nothing else, grafting is a unique look at how many plants are grown commercially and it is fun to see the science first hand at how it is done. Give grafting a try this season and hopefully you will have a delicious crop for your efforts.


A version of this article appeared in an April 2015 print version of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Bob Westerfield.


Posted: 03/30/18   RSS | Print


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The Perfect Garden Soil
by Gary Bachman       #Soil

















Planting a dianthus in soil that has been amended with the great soil recipe.

The problem most of us have to deal with is a soil that is less than ideal, especially in suburban residential neighborhoods. The lots have been cleared of vegetation and the layer of topsoil has been removed. When the home is finished, the builder brings in not the topsoil that was removed, but some other soil guaranteed to be of lesser quality. Remember, the plant roots do not grow through the soil, but around the soil particles. Without great soil there is little chance of having impressive plant growth.

So what does the homeowner have to do to get that perfect soil and the outstanding plant growth?

To help explain the characteristics of a good garden soil, we need to have a little horticulture history lesson. Englishman John Lindley in the 1840s postulated that physical properties were more important than chemical properties. This is not to imply that pH and fertilization are not important, but just to highlight the need for good physical characteristics of the planting soil. Lindley’s list of the requirements of a good garden soil are:

Typical example of a new home soil profile. The dark layer at the top is from the sod that was installed. The layer below is what the builder brought in to level the lot.

1. Have good water holding capacity so sufficient water is available to the plant.
2. Be well aerated; the roots have a requirement for the movement into and out of the soil of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
3. Possess the ability to retain enough nutrients for plant use.
4. Include good percolation characteristics thus allowing irrigation and rainfall to move through the soil profile without causing a water-logged condition.
5. Have high organic matter which improves the previous four characteristics and encourages a healthy microorganism population in the soil.

The John Innes Horticultural Research Institute in the 1930s set out to try and standardize soil preparation to help the gardening public improve garden growing conditions. A mixture of one part native soil, one part composted organic matter, one part coarse sand and one part peat moss gave the best results and also met Lindley’s requirements.

While the John Innes soil recipe is very good for in-ground and raised-bed growing, because of the native soil component it is not well suited for use in containers and window boxes. The fine structure of the native soil tends to cause drainage problems. I like to keep the garden as simple as possible and do not want to have to mix different growing media for different growing styles.

I like to use a soil recipe that is suitable for use in-ground, in raised beds and in container growing conditions. One recipe, three growing styles. I would like to offer the recipe I use for a great soil:

•  6 parts peat moss
•  4 parts vermiculite or perlite
•  3 parts coarse sand
•  3 parts compost (your choice)

This soil recipe can be incorporated into the current bad soil by applying a 6-inch layer and working or tilling in. It is also great for creating raised beds on top of the less-than-ideal soil; in effect you would be creating a large surface container. And of course, use it in any of your favorite containers or window boxes. One mix, three uses, what could be easier?

Close-up of perlite. As the pumice is heated and expands it creates particles of various sizes that aid in loosening bad soil. • Example of vermiculite. Notice the accordion structure of the mica particles after heating and the various particle sizes. These layers will compress if handled too extensively. • The finished product of mixing a great soil. It is a mixture of peat, sand, compost and perlite/vermiculite.

Characteristics of soil amending materials for creating that perfect garden soil
Peat moss:* Peat moss is partially decomposed plant material that forms in cold, anaerobic bog conditions. A vast majority of peat moss used in the United States is imported from Canada. Peat moss has great water-holding capacity, has a slow rate of decomposition and has longevity of several years.

*Editor’s note: There is some controversy about the use of peat moss and the fact that it’s a mined product that is not quickly renewed. Please read up on peat moss and make an educated decision about whether or not to use this product or one of the many suggested alternatives, such as compost.

Vermiculite: Vermiculite is a natural mica material that is mined out of the earth and is widely available. When heated it expands in layers like an accordion and is able to hold an amazing amount of water between the layers. It helps to maintain water-holding capacity and lightens heavy soils. Handling is important – if the accordion layers are compressed they will not re-expand and any positive characteristics will be lost.

Perlite: Perlite is a natural pumice material that is mined out of the earth. It is subjected to high temperature and “pops.” It is lightweight and is used like vermiculite to loosen tight soils thereby increasing aeration, though has little moisture retention. It tends to be a little gritty and may float to the soil surface in heavy rain events. Perlite particles can be crushed from rough handling.

Coarse, sharp sand:The addition of sand helps to moderate soil particle size and improve drainage.

Compost: Compost is organic materials that have decomposed through microbial actions. It is produced from many different organic waste materials. It can be purchased commercially or produced by the homeowner in the backyard. No matter how it is obtained, compost is very beneficial. Compost increases the populations of microorganisms, acts as a slow-release source of nutrients and helps to loosen tight soils.

Now that you have the perfect garden soil recipe, there are steps to take to protect it. Avoid walking on or compacting the soil because this squeezes out all of the aeration and porosity. Be sure to cultivate or dig only when the soil is dry, never wet, as this encourages the soil to be clumpy and lumpy and not loose and crumbly. Make a yearly amendment of composted materials, as this adds life and nutrients.

Naturally good garden soil may be difficult to find, but with proper preparation and the right recipe, that bad soil can become that perfect garden soil. Remember the golden rule of gardening, “If you treat your soil well, it will treat your plants well.”


A version of this article appeared in an April 2010 print version of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Gary Bachman, Ph.D.


Posted: 03/30/18   RSS | Print


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Creative Containers
by Rebecca Stoner Kirts       #Containers   #Decorating   #Unusual

Whiskey barrels are wonderful as planters.

Repurposing all types of objects into creative and sometimes wacky planters is a major gardening trend so hop aboard and I will give you some of my ideas. I have long been a fan of this idea – whether antiques or something you discover in the attic or barn – repurposing provides a vessel with non-traditional flair. Nothing is out of bounds, often the quirkier it is, the more impact it will have. So let your imagination run wild. Pursue the flea markets, rummage through grandma’s attic, or go picking in farm outbuildings; any object is fair game.

First and foremost you must be able to provide good drainage in the vessel. This may involve drilling some small holes or providing a layering material such as small pebbles or charcoal. Be sure to not ignore this step or your oddball planter will be a soggy mess. Sometimes, I find it is better to plant in a clay pot and then place that in the “found” container. That way you do not have to alter the special container, changing its structural integrity.

Please use a good potting soil. Remember drainage is crucial and a good mix of peat, perlite, and vermiculite will ensure a healthy growing medium for your plants. Choose plants with similar growing requirements. Remember these guys are all in the same pool, so they need to have the same basic requirements.

Although the planters are going to provide a lot of the interest, the plants are the main focus. I look at the shape of the planter and try to make sure the plants provide balance and aren’t out of proportion or in danger of toppling over.

Clockwise: Wait … this is for silverware at a garden party, oh no … succulents fill it up much better. • These orchids are very content in their bamboo log home. • Since my son is too old to love it, let’s make it into a planter.

Many interesting containers have only small areas for growing medium. So out of necessity, I have discovered the wonderful world of succulents. Succulents are great for smaller containers. And they can survive where not many other plants could. Plus, the upsurge in their popularity has made many different varieties widely available. Some are beyond interesting and actually fall in to the weird category.

Since I live in an older house, I particularly love finding ways to use items from old houses.

Wooden shutters: I discovered this unique planter as I was repainting my house. I planted succulents along the top pocket of the vertical slats.

Old wood doors: I have seen doors painted a bright color with an attached window box sitting out in a garden … so interesting.

Old drawers: Repaint or at least weatherproof them and voila – instant planter.

My daughter’s old iron bed now rests in the garden with beautiful annuals growing all over it.


Polly wants to be a planter – planted with baby tears (Soleirolia soleirolii) this old birdcage comes alive. • Baskets always are great vessels for basil. • Old milk crates are perfect planters.

Found in the old barn … now looking great full of marigolds (Tagetes spp.).

Wooden boxes are perfect for all these colorful blooms.

Lastly, how about an old cast-iron sink or bath tub – perfect in the garden filled with colorful plants.

Kitchen items can also serve as planters. Look around your kitchen and you may see many items begging to be repurposed. Old colanders, teapots, glasses, bowls, tea canisters, and old baskets are all perfect candidates.

I also love to raid my children’s old toy closet, especially since my kids have told me they have no interest in all the “valuable objects” I have saved. It is now time to repurpose the old trucks, and Hello Kitty canisters. When I see them out in my garden overflowing with plants, it brings back fond memories of my babies.

Another group of items to repurpose for planters are the ones “Mother Nature” hands us. Take for instance that old fallen over and partially hollowed out log – perfect for a planter. How about a stump from a fallen tree, or even an old tractor or car left to sit by the barn, the possibilities are endless.

I could go on and on but I am hoping these ideas will fire your imaginations and you are going to look around and start envisioning plants growing out of oddball containers. Have fun … the options are endless, so start today “thinking outside of the pot.”



A version of this article appeared in an April 2017 print version of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Rebecca Stoner Kirts.


Posted: 03/30/18   RSS | Print


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by Stacey Arnold       #How to   #Irrigation   #Raised Beds   #Unusual

“Grow a typical garden without irrigation or fertilizer.”  – Paul Wheaton

That’s a pretty big claim from a pretty big guy. Towering at over 6 feet tall, Paul Wheaton, The Duke of Permaculture, is credited with introducing hugelkultur to gardeners on this side of the pond. Translated directly, “hugelkultur” (pronounced “hoogel culture”) is German for “hill culture” and quite simply, it is soil piled over wood that you then plant in.

When I first heard about hugelkultur from Paul Wheaton, it was a true “aha” moment. Why are gardeners working so hard to keep their plants watered during the drought of summer when Mother Nature is doing just fine all by herself? No one is watering the plants in the woods during a drought! If there’s one thing that makes me want to throw in the gardening towel, it’s wrestling with a kinked hose when it’s 95 F and 100 percent humidity outside. Just imagine not having that nightmare to contend with anymore!

Cross section of a 2-year-old hugelkultur bed. Even though this picture represents the tall above-ground beds, the premise is the same for smaller “suburban” beds. Look at those happy roots absorbing all that free moisture!
FAQs about hugelkultur:

Q. Won’t the rotting wood tie up the nitrogen in the soil and make it unavailable to the plants?

While the decomposing wood does require nitrogen, think of it more as a nitrogen pantry than nitrogen sink. The nitrogen will be available to the plants in the future once the decomposition process slows down. Besides, if you’re using wood that is already rotting, it’s probably ready to give back much of the nitrogen that it originally consumed. In the meantime, if you see your plants turning a bit yellow, add an organic nitrogen source such as blood meal to supplement. 

Q. What kind of wood should be used for the beds?

For the most part, it’s any wood that you have access to. You can use pine, oak, maple, hickory, ash … whatever you have a good source of in your area. There are only a few types of wood that won’t work as well as others and they are cedar, black locust and walnut. The cedar and black locust won’t harm your plants but they are so slow to break down that they won’t readily give the water back to your plants as you intended. 

For more information:
Paul Wheaton,

Think of the woods where you live. You may have noticed on a summer hike that even during the worst of droughts, there are rotting logs in the woods that are damp with moisture. Some of us may have kicked those logs just to see how rotten they were. I have always been impressed by how much moisture they contain. There are often ferns and mushrooms growing on and around them, all during a drought. As those logs decompose, they act like sponges absorbing rainfall. That moisture is then available to plants near the rotting logs during times of drought. Pretty nifty, huh?

Now, let’s transfer this observation of nature to your backyard. How can you replicate what you’ve seen in the woods? You can either put your logs directly on top of the ground and add soil and compost on top, or you can bury the logs and then add your soil blend. For your hugelkultur beds, it’s best to use wood that is already absorbing and holding water. If you use wood that has been recently cut, you’ll have to wait a season or two longer to realize the benefits. If you use wood that is falling apart due to rot, your beds will perform beautifully, but they won’t last as long. In a perfect hugelkultur bed, you would want to use wood that is a season past its prime for firewood. During the first year, you may need to keep the beds watered until the decomposition process is well under way. Observe your plants and allow them to get a little dry before watering once they’re established. Just as in a conventional bed, they’ll send their roots deeper in search of moisture, eventually tapping into the moisture reserve below.

How tall should the beds be, you ask? That’s a matter of preference. Sepp Holzer, another permaculture guru, makes his hugelkultur beds 6 feet tall and then walks between his beds, harvesting his bounty without ever having to stoop down. That sounds like a refreshing change for a weary back during harvesting season. The hills can be 6 feet tall if you have the space, or they can be at ground level if you bury the wood first. For suburban gardeners, the latter option may be more appropriate, especially if you live in an area with an HOA or other restrictions. I’ve heard of resourceful gardeners that add hugelkultur beds along property lines that just happen to get a little taller year after year. Before you know it, you have a garden bed that doesn’t require irrigation or fertilizer and acts as a screen from your neighbors.

With the help of a tractor, the beds were excavated to depth of 18 inches. You could make the beds deeper, shallower or just pile the wood on top of the ground if you don’t feel up to digging. Hugelkutur beds, as well as permaculture, can be scaled up or down to accommodate your needs.

The beds were constructed in place to accommodate the rotting logs and soil. The 4”x4” posts were planted 12 inches deep to prevent shifting of the sides as the soil settled.

Rotting logs were added to the beds with the assistance of the tractor. These logs are good and rotten, and already contain a great deal of moisture.

The rotting logs have been placed in the bed. You can use long logs or smaller, more manageable sections of a log; again, it’s really about what you have access to in your area. Now it’s time for the compost!

We added a blend of the excavated topsoil and composted horse manure to the beds to cover the logs. Use a shovel to fill in all of the nooks and crannies around the logs. Finish it off with a good watering or wait for a good drenching rain before planting. Fill in any settled areas with additional compost.

Here’s the finished product: two 4’ x 17’ hugelkultur beds that are ready for planting. Yippee!

What type of plants can you plant in a hugelkultur bed? Anything your gardening heart desires. These beds are the perfect home for trees, shrubs, perennials, bulbs, annuals or vegetables. If you can grow it in your regular garden beds, they can be successfully grown in a hugelkultur bed, just without the fuss of watering them all summer. During the initial decomposition process, the soil is warmer, so you may be able to extend the growing season as well.

What kind of maintenance do hugelkultur beds require? The only difference between these beds and conventional raised beds is that you’ll need to add compost periodically as the beds break down. Remember all of that time you used to spend wrestling with that blankety-blank kinked hose? You can now use it to add a little compost here and there and harvest all of those yummy fruits and veggies.

My family and I partnered with friends, Sean and Anna Taylor, in their vegetable garden to build two hugelkultur beds that reflect a more suburban garden. Even though they have over 5 acres of land, we buried the rotting wood 1 ½ feet deep and added about 2 feet of soil to the top. From the outside, they look like typical raised beds – but on the inside, they are holding moisture and teeming with all kinds of beneficial microbes.

Here is a disclaimer: The wood we used to build the beds was old, pressure-treated horse fencing. To prevent the leaching of the chemicals from the pressure-treated lumber into the garden soil, we lined the beds with plastic strips. In a perfect world, you could use logs, rocks or another natural material to build the sides of the beds to prevent any leaching and skip the plastic since it contains synthetic ingredients.

Fast forward a few months to early June after the peppers and eggplant were planted. These plants thrived with minimal watering and produced loads of eggplants and peppers. Now imagine what you can do in your own garden! Are you tired of watering yet?


A version of this article appeared in a March 2014 print edition of State-by_State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Stacey Arnold. Illustration courtesy of




Posted: 03/30/18   RSS | Print


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by Garry V. McDonald       #Fragrant   #Propagation   #Roses

The first cut is vertical along the rootstock stem about 1 inch in length. Note: Rootstock foliage has been removed for clarity.

Despite their many problems, I still like roses. However, I do insist on having at least a modicum of fragrance and substance. Therein lies the problem. With the exception of a few enlightened rose breeders, the bulk of roses originating over the past several decades have focused on the flower form and color at the expense of fragrance. The newer landscape roses go a long way in their disease resistance and increased flower number, but can lack fragrance and produce flowers with no style; a blaze of eye-searing color perhaps, but in the end not very satisfying. For those of us who think a rose should smell like a rose, it often means seeking out the older, fragrant roses.

Aye, there’s the rub. Because of breeding problems, many of the old-timers, especially hybrid tea roses, don’t root very well – if at all – and if they do root, they have a tendency to be weak. As such, many highly desirable roses are no longer commercially produced or must be mail-ordered from specialty nurseries, often at a high cost. Or, if you’re lucky, a dear friend or relative may grow a rose that is not available in the trade or the name lost so you have no idea how to find the rose.

T-budding a desired rose (the desired plant’s stem cutting is referred to as the scion) onto another rose with a strong root system (the rootstock is the lower, underground portion) can solve this problem. Budding differs from grafting in that a single vegetative bud is used instead of a length of stem with multiple buds. The stock is usually a rose species or cultivar that is easy to root, vigorous and resistant to root pests such as fungi or nematodes. Thornlessness is a particularly desirable trait in rootstock to reduce the incidence of bloody fingers. While many types of grafts require some skill and much practice, T-budding is a relative simple operation that most gardeners can attempt at home with a reasonable chance of success.

The second cut is above and perpendicular to the first cut, resulting in a T-shaped cut.

Steps to T-budding your own roses:

Most rose species are graft compatible meaning that the bud should “take” and grow normally. A vigorous rootstock is important, but might be hard to find. If you know of a rose that has suckered wildly, then chances are the vigorous growth has emerged from the original rootstock and should be suitable. Native or naturalized roses work as well. If these are unavailable, try a landscape shrub-type rose with as few thorns as possible. Cuttings, about the size and length of a #2 pencil can be taken and rooted by various methods. Unfortunately I don’t have the space to elaborate on the finer details of rooting rose cuttings; perhaps in another article. With the exception of the top couple of buds, all the remaining buds should be removed with a knife to prevent suckering. Plants can be T-budded directly in the garden (even on an existing rose), but working with pot-grown rootstock on a bench makes the job easier if you don’t like standing on your head or crawling on the ground while budding.

Materials You Will Need

• Rooted rootstock cuttings about the size of a #2 pencil already potted, established and actively growing (Common rootstock: ‘Fortuniana’, ‘Dr. Huey’, etc.)
• Scion or bud wood of the rose you want: Buds should be well developed.
• Paraffin film, cling film or budding tape
• Sharp pocketknife or budding knife if you have one.
• Large rubber bands (about ¼ inch wide) cut into strips about 4 inches long
• Bandages and first-aid supplies to treat attempted “finger grafts”

Make an upward slice under a well-developed bud being careful not to cut into the bud tissue or into hardwood. The resulting excised bud should be “U” shaped.

Rootstock preparation
Rooted cuttings should be potted up and growing vigorously beforehand. Spring is the time to T-bud since active vegetative growth will allow the bark or cambium to “slip” when cut to insert the bud. Sometimes this means forcing the plant into active growth early indoors. The length of the rootstock stem should be long enough to allow easy manipulation, say about 10 to 12 inches long.

Scion preparation
This is the rose that you want to grow. Choose a stem where the wood is mature, but not old and woody. Canes produced the previous season are ideal. Like the rootstock, a piece about the size of a #2 pencil usually works best. I like to collect the scion wood just before bud break in the spring. The bud of interest will be located in the axil of a leaf and should be plump and healthy. Remove all the foliage, and thorns if you like, before wrapping the scion wood in damp, but not soggy, paper towel and slipping the whole bundle in a food-storage bag will allow storage in a refrigerator for a couple of weeks at least while the rootstock is budding out. Make sure the paper towels remain damp, but not moldy.

T-shaped cut
Using a sharp knife, make a vertical cut about 1 inch long through the bark, but not into the actual wood – about 1⁄16 to 1⁄8 inch deep. Cutting too deeply will cause the stem to snap. Make a second cut horizontally across the other cut, about one-third around the stem and at the same depth. The resulting two cuts should resemble the letter “T”. Carefully insert the tip of the knife into the cut and loosen the bark flaps under the crossbar of the “T”. If the bark is “slipping,” this should be easy. Try not to rip the bark. If this happens, move down the stem a little bit and try again. If you’re a first timer, it’s not a bad idea to try inserting two or three buds along the stem as insurance.

Insert the bud under the flaps of bark from the previous “T” cut. Make sure the rootstock bark flaps cover the bud.

Inserting the bud
Now comes the tricky part. Take a piece of scion wood and look for a nice plump bud that has not yet leafed out. Make a cut about 1⁄2 inch below the bud and cut upward under the bud. The cut should be deep enough to be under the bud (but very important to not slice through the bud), but not deep into the wood and extend about a ½ inch above the bud. A second cut is straight across so when the bud is excised, it resembles a “U” or shield-shape with the “U” at the bottom. Now carefully insert the “U” shaped bud section under the bark flaps of the prepared rootstock. The bud should nestle under the folds of the bark of the rootstock with the top of the bud lining up with the top of the “T” cut. The object is to form a new union between scion and rootstock tissue.

Wrapping the bud
Once the bud has been inserted, it is necessary to wrap to bud to secure it in place and prevent the bud from drying out until the union is healed. Take a rubber band strip, and while leaving the bud itself exposed, wrap the two flaps of bark tightly, extending above and below the inserted bud. Be careful not to dislodge the bud. Next, tightly wrap the rubber band with a piece of paraffin film or plastic cling film. In the old days, melted paraffin was used to dab the rubber band to prevent the bud from drying out. Whatever you use, the idea is to prevent the bud from drying out while the bark heals around the union.

After inserting the bud, tightly wrap the bud with a strip of rubber band. Be careful that the bud is not dislodged. After this stage it is advisable to cover the bud and rubber band with paraffin film or plastic wrap to prevent the bud from drying out.

Growing on
If the bud shrivels to a brown speck after a few days that means the bud didn’t take: Try again. If the bud remains plump and green after two weeks, it means the bud has “taken” and life is good. At this time the top, non-budded part of the rootstock is probably growing like a house afire. Remove the paraffin or plastic wrap but leave the rubber band in place to prevent the bud from dislodging if bumped or jostled. Allow the bud union to heal completely. This might take another two weeks. Now it is time to force the new bud into growth. Forcing new growth is caused by “crippling” the plant by breaking apical dormancy. You “cripple” a plant by breaking the stem of the rootstock above the bud union. You want to bend the stem over until it snaps, but doesn’t break completely off. This allows the bud to be “released” and begin to grow. Once the new bud starts to grow, the hanging stem of the rootstock is removed, leaving only the desired new shoots. The new shoots will still be sensitive to breaking before the new union is completely healed so the plant should be protected and shielded from wind. If the new shoot is too vigorous, it is advisable to prune it back which will force branches to form and reduce the lever action of the stem from ripping the new shoot off. After you are comfortable that the plant is growing, it may be planted out into the garden.


A version of this article appeared in a March 2013 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Garry V. McDonald.


Posted: 03/22/18   RSS | Print


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The Real Dill
by Paige Day       #Herbs   #Plant Profile   #Recipes

The yellow flowers of the dill plant are very beautiful in the garden.

Tall plants may need to be staked to keep them from blowing over. When the seedpods begin to brown, they are ready to harvest.

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme are a great combination, but let’s not forget one herb that’s easy to grow and an extremely versatile addition to the garden: dill.

First and foremost, dill is an herb that gives the grower the benefit of a dual harvest. In the spring you can enjoy dill for its flavorful leaves that traditionally complement fish, cucumbers and potatoes. In the fall the seeds can be gathered to add their potent, celery-like flavor to hearty winter breads and stews, or used in pickling. With its versatility and fresh taste, gardeners just might find themselves adding dill to all of their recipes.

Dating back to biblical times, dill has been used for centuries in the culinary and medicinal worlds. Originating in Eastern Europe, dill surfaced in Russia, Western Africa and Scandinavia as well. The name comes from the Norse word dilla, which means to lull, as it was used to ease in digestion and to treat colic in babies.

Dill’s scientific name, Anethum graveolens, belongs to the Umbelliferae family, whose other members include parsley, cumin and carrots, to name a few. These plants are defined by their aromatic qualities and hollow stems. Because of dill’s close familial relationship to plants and herbs such as fennel and parsley, it is recommended that these not be planted together to avoid cross pollination.

In the Garden
Dill is a hardy annual that can reseed itself in some of the warmer parts of the country. Plant seeds in the spring after the last hard frost. Dill grows easily from seed, but likes to be seeded in cool weather.

Sow the seeds in rich, well-drained soil to a depth of 1/2 inch. Once the seedlings emerge, thin to 6 to 8 inches between each plant. Make sure to keep seedlings regularly watered. The hot sun can damage tender fledglings if they are allowed to get too dry.

Seedlings await transplant at the local feed and seed. Buyers should look for healthy transplants with thick stalks, free of any yellowing of the leaves.

If your window of opportunity for seeding has passed, or you are simply interested in adding dill to a container planting, transplants are readily available at most garden shops. Look for plants with a thick central stem and green, healthy leaves. Try to purchase plants that come in compostable pots, as dill has many fragile roots that can be damaged if handled roughly.

Dill’s wispy leaves make an elegant container planting when used alone, or can add height and interest to a container of thyme and oregano. Most herbs do well in containers, as they require limited amounts of space and thrive in well-drained soil.

Although dill is sold with directions to place in full sun, dill appreciates some afternoon shading in hotter regions. Landlocked gardens in Zone 8 or above would be well-advised to allow for some shade, as the sun can scorch the fragile leaves of the dill plant.

Dill seeds in various stages of ripening

Enjoy the Bounty
Dill leaves can be harvested as soon as the leaves emerge by pinching them between your fingers or snipping what you need with scissors. The leaves will add a fresh, green taste to your dishes, and its delicate flavor works well with subtle flavors such as fish or cream sauces. Try sautéing fresh dill with summer vegetables for a delicious change of pace.

Dill is most flavorful when used as a fresh herb, but it can also be dried for use throughout the winter. When drying dill, clip long stalks and tie together with kitchen twine, making a bouquet. Hang the dill in a cool, dry location until the leaves are dehydrated and brittle when rubbed between your fingers. The dry dill can then be placed in containers and kept for cooking.

To harvest dill seeds, allow the dill to flower and go to seed. The seeds will then be ready to harvest. Just remove the entire seed head and brush the seeds out onto a piece of wax paper. Seeds can be placed in jars for use in dill pickles, dilly beans and salad dressings.



Gravlax with accoutrements makes a beautiful display for a dinner party. This Swedish hor d’oeurves tastes similar to smoked salmon.

In the peak of dill season there is nothing more delicious than the culinary delight, gravlax. Gravlax is essentially cured salmon, and highlights the subtle flavor of dill. Similar in taste to smoked salmon, gravlax is easy to prepare and makes a stylish hors d’oeuvres when sliced thinly and served with bread rounds. Found in many fine dining restaurants, gravlax is easy to prepare at home and is a perfect beginning to a dinner party.

• 1/3 cup kosher salt
• 1/2 cup brown sugar
• 3 teaspoons crushed peppercorn (any color will work, but pink or white are especially nice)
• 3 lb. fresh, high-quality salmon filet, skin removed
• A generous bunch of fresh dill

Mix salt, sugar and peppercorn in a small bowl. Rub the fish with the seasoning, liberally covering all parts of the fish filet. Cover fish with dill sprigs. Wrap the fish in saran wrap and then cover with foil. Refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Fish will be cured and have a jerky-like texture. Slice thinly and serve with bread rounds, chopped hard-boiled egg, capers or finely chopped red onion.


A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 23 Number2.
Photography courtesy of Philip Oliver and Paige Day.


Posted: 03/22/18   RSS | Print


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Smart Gardening
by Dr. Ayanava Majumdar       #Insects   #Pests   #Tools

(Fig. 1) Details of a sticky wing pheromone trap that can be used to monitor insect pests in farm and garden. The top and the replaceable sticky bottom are held in place by wire hangers. Attractant lure is the piece of red rubber seen in the picture.

Integrated pest management or IPM is a smart way of managing insect pests for economic and environmental benefits. IPM starts with the timely detection and correct identification of pests, leading to intervention using multiple control tactics. Insect traps can be used as a tool for timely pest detection and decision-making in home or commercial settings. Pheromone traps (Fig. 1) are devices that attract and hold insects for periodic observations. Pheromone traps are available commercially from many vendors in the United States, and the cost of traps and lures have dropped considerably in the last decade. The advantages of pheromone traps include nontoxicity, environmental friendliness and ability to detect insects at very low densities. However, the problems with pheromone traps are they only capture flying insects and trap counts do not indicate real crop damage. Despite the disadvantages, pheromone traps answer the question often asked by gardeners: What insect should I look for while scouting and when? This article is based on the results of an insect pest monitoring/crop scouting project recently completed in Alabama. Since the new findings correspond to the previous work done in neighboring states, this article should serve as an important reminder for gardeners across the South to follow recommended scouting procedures and insect management tactics.

(Fig. 2) Fall armyworm activity in vegetable farms monitored using pheromone traps, Alabama, 2010. Note the differences in trap catches between organic and conventional farms.

(Fig. 3) Tobacco budworm (moth) activity on vegetable farms monitored using pheromone traps, 2010. Budworm activity was high in conventional as well as organic farms.

(Fig. 4) Season-long activity of squash vine borer on two organic vegetable farms in north (Marshall County) and south Alabama (Dale County), 2010. Note the high pest pressure detected using sticky wing pheromone traps.

Lessons from the Insect Monitoring Project
In 2009 and 2010, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System conducted a season-long insect monitoring project for pests listed in Table 1. About four organic farms also participated in the program, where small farmers were trained in the proper deployment of insect monitoring systems for IPM decision-making. The project also trained several Master Gardener volunteers in pest identification and management. In two years, this special initiative captured over 8,400 moths from 22 vegetable fields and gardens. The numbers in Table 1 provide evidence regarding the basic pest pressures in Alabama that follows trends seen in adjoining states.

Gardeners can conduct season-long monitoring of insect pests and also determine the migration path of major pests using pheromone traps. Some of the major insect pests monitored in this project had earlier-than-usual peak flight or mating in 2010, e.g., the armyworms and the squash vine borer. This was probably due to the extremely dry conditions that prevailed in early and midsummer. Plant stress due to drought conditions makes them attractive to insect pests; for example, armyworm female moths are known to prefer stressed plants for egg laying.

Other major pests of vegetables include the tomato fruitworm and tobacco budworm, beet and fall armyworm, cabbage and soybean looper. These insect pairs are closely related to each other and caterpillars are difficult to identify in the field. The tomato fruitworm, also known as the corn earworm, routinely attacks row crops as well as horticultural crops, causing economic losses. The caterpillars of the tobacco budworm appear fuzzier than the tomato fruitworm caterpillar due to greater number of microspines and hair on the body. The moths of the budworm and fruitworm are easier to distinguish with or without the use of insect traps. Fall armyworm is a dark brown or grayish caterpillar with an inverted Y mark on the head. The beet armyworm is a greenish caterpillar with a pair of black dots behind the head. Since moths are always first to arrive in your vegetable garden for egg laying, there is a lag-period between the detection of moths with traps and the presence of hungry caterpillars on suitable host plants. Thus, pheromone trapping in backyard gardens provides time to react after detection of moths.


Insect 2010 Trap catches No. of sites 2009 Trap catches No. of sites Peak moth activity
Beet armyworm 978 15 606 7 July, August
Fall armyworm 733 15 674 7 July, August
Southern armyworm 46 13 167 4 August
Tomato fruitworm 120 15 290 7 July
Tobacco budworm 150 15 71 7 August
Lesser cornstalk borer 2307 15 715 1 July, August
Cabbage looper 274 15 83 3 August
Soybean looper 181 15 100 1 August
Corn rootworm 65 5 200 6 June, July
Squash vine borer 605 15 - - May, June, July
Tomato pinworm 54 15 4 6 August
TOTAL 5563   2910    


Can Organic Practices Affect Insect Populations?
Organic and sustainable vegetable production methods, incorporating the use of diverse cropping systems, improved crop varieties and crop rotations, can reduce pest pressures significantly. For example:

• Armyworm activity was found to be lower in organic farms compared to a conventionally-managed farm (Fig. 2). Armyworm activity on vegetables depends on the local climatic conditions. Noticeable caterpillar feeding may be seen when 10 or more moths are captured in sticky wing traps per week.

• Tobacco budworms generally occur in mixed populations with the tomato fruitworms; caterpillars of the latter species can be seen feeding with part of the body inside the feeding hole. In 2010, budworm activity was higher in the organic production system than on conventional farms (Fig. 3), meaning that this insect is highly adaptive to different farming practices.

• Squash vine borer is another pest of concern for many gardeners; organic gardens may have a high population of borers in the soil (Fig. 4). Squash vine borers overwinter as larvae or pupae, so soil preparation in the garden is critical to prevent population buildup of this species. Gardeners can monitor vine borer moth activity by using pheromone traps and then using some mechanical tactics such as row covers and manual removal of larvae if vines are infested. General use pesticides do not provide adequate protection against this insect.

Although the research above has been done in Alabama, this information should be encouraging to gardeners in other states. Thus, organic vegetable production can lead to long-term ecological benefits.

Brown stink bug (Euschistus servus) on okra fruit in a vegetable garden. • Squash vine borer • Tobacco budworm moth

How to Correctly Use Pheromone Traps
Gardeners should purchase pheromone traps from reliable sources, e.g., Great Lakes IPM, ARBICO Organics, Scentry Biologicals, Trécé, Suterra, etc. Purchase sticky wing traps and lures as part of a kit containing plastic tops, sticky bottoms and wire hangers. You can purchase trap kits for monitoring some specific pests that routinely invade your vegetable crops. Only one lure should be used per trap; do not attempt to trap multiple pest species with one trap. Place the active traps at a distance from the actual plot and change the lure every week (more frequently if insects are at peak activity). Hang the traps on metal or plastic poles; do not hang the traps from trees in order to avoid attracting birds and rodents to the trap. Plastic wing traps are very easy to assemble and maintain. Make sure to check traps after a major rain or storm event to replace the lure (lure degrades faster in high heat and moisture conditions). Purchase adequate quantities of wing trap sticky bottoms and lures to last you one full season. The sticky trap bottom can be photographed and stored in self-sealing bags for future reference.

Beet armyworm moth

Early detection of pests is critical to successful backyard vegetable production. Pheromone traps can be used to monitor insect pest activity throughout the season and to correctly time control efforts. Stressed plants suffer more from pest attack than normal plants, so be sure to provide the right conditions for your vegetable plants. Gardeners should avoid unnecessary pesticide sprays because chemicals disrupt the activity of beneficial insects and pollinators. Always read the pesticide label before spraying. When in doubt, seek help from extension personnel in your state.


A version of this article appeared in a March 2011 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Dr. Ayanava Majumdar.


Posted: 03/22/18   RSS | Print


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Mission Impossible
by Leslie Hunter       #Flowers   #Shade

Fragrant variegated Solomon’s seal takes on golden hues in fall. -Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

In an ideal world, all planting beds would have well-drained, rich soils and the perfect amount of sun and water. I was in heaven when I moved from red Georgia clay to rich, humusy Iowa soil, but even that has problems to contend with.

Bottom line, nowhere is perfect and no one understands this better than plants, the ultimate compromisers. They have learned to adapt to just about every complicated growing condition, from sun to shade and wet to dry.

Plants need two things to grow, sunlight and water. As long as they have at least one of those things, they find a way to adapt.

One of the hardest spots to garden is the place where they have neither – dry shade. Already dealing with less sun, these plants also have to compete with larger trees and shrubs for moisture. Here are three perennials that have taken on that challenge and own it with style.

In late summer, fruit of Solomon’s seal goes from blue to black. - Ariec/ • Smooth Solomon’s seal’s flowers dangle under the leaves along the stems. - Rebekah D. Wallace/

Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum spp.)
There are several species of Solomon’s seal that are useful in the dry shade garden. Polygonatum biflorum is a native Solomon’s seal of eastern and central North America and is hardy to Zone 3. A rhizomatous herbaceous perennial typically found in wooded areas, smooth Solomon’s seal creates a 1-3 foot mound of arching upright, unbranched stems. Small, yellow bell-shaped flowers dangle under the leaf axils from April to May and are followed by blue-black berries in the fall.

Fragrant Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum ‘Variegatum’) is a native of Europe and Asia and is very much like its cousin. It differs in size, only 18-24 inches tall, and coloration, the light green leaves are edged in white. The flowers also have a sweet scent. The Perennial Plant Association names this the Perennial Plant of the Year in 2013.Solomon’s seal likes part to full shade and is not a fan of hot weather. If you look this plant up, the descriptions will tell you it grows in moist, rich soils. Most shade plants would prefer those conditions but Solomon’s seal has learned to adapt. It preforms marvelously under the shade of nearby trees where the canopy keeps it cool. The leaves turn bright gold in fall.


For best results, plant bigroot geraniums in dry, shady areas. - Emil Ivanov/

Bigroot geranium (Geranium macrorrhizumi)
Bigroot geranium has so many good things going for it you may ask yourself why you have not planted this one yet. A semi-evergreen rhizomatous perennial, Geranium macrorrhizum has fragrant gray-green foliage, beautiful magenta flowers April through July, fall color and no pest problems, not even rabbits. The 12-24 inch mounds will spread over time by rhizomes or self-seeding, which creates an almost weed free barrier. It does well in full sun to part shade and resents wet feet and hot, humid weather. The dry shade garden is a perfect fit for this tough yet lush looking geranium.

There are several cultivars of bigroot geranium available with bloom colors from the deep magenta of ‘Bevan’s Variety’ to the white of ‘Album’. Hardy to Zone 3, tolerant of shade and drought, and four season appeal make this a must for the dry shade area in your garden.

‘Mrs. Moon’ lungwort, known for tolerating dry shade, has been a popular garden choice for decades. -

Lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.)
Named after a diseased organ, lungwort has an unfortunate name for an outstanding plant. Grown for luminous foliage of gray-green and silver, this rhizomatous perennial produces low mounds of long fuzzy elliptical shaped leaves.

Pink bells that fade to blue hang right above the foliage in midspring. Reaching only 12 inches tall and 24 inches wide, lungworts are a nice alternative to hostas in the shade garden. Hardy to Zone 3, they prefer moist well-drained soil in part to full shade and dislike wet feet. They do remarkably well in dry shade once established.

Pulmonaria are in the Boraginaceae family, having cousins like forget-me-nots (Myosotis spp.) and Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginiana). There are several species hailing mainly from Europe, and of course numerous cultivars with variations in the mottling. The white mottling on the leaves are actual air pockets that keep the undersides of the leaves cooler.

‘Silver Bouquet’ has almost silver foliage and ‘Mrs. Moon’ (Pulmonaria saccharta ‘Mrs. Moon’) is an oldie but goody with silver-spotted, dark green leaves.

Dry shade may seem like a frustrating place to try and garden, but before you give up and throw mulch on the problem, give these perennials a chance. Let them show you how tough plants really can be.


A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2018 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.


Posted: 03/22/18   RSS | Print


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Inviting Predators
by Kristi Cook       #Beneficials   #Insects   #Pests







Ladybugs are a favorite of gardeners not only for their aphid-devouring abilities, but also for their simple beauty.

While praying mantids aren’t selective in their meal choices, having a few hanging around is sure to reduce your garden’s pest populations.

If you see a green or brown caterpillar hanging around a group of aphids, it is likely a hover fly larva taking a lunch break.

Plants with clusters of tiny flowers with easily accessible nectar, such as Queen Anne’s lace pictured here, are favorites of pest-eating beneficials.


I don’t know about where you live, but in my neck of the woods fall brings swarms of Asian lady bugs, clinging desperately to my home, vehicles, trees, kids, and even pets. They creep their way into my windows, nestle deep inside every nook and cranny, and crawl in my hair when my path crosses theirs. And while this is, at times, a bit of a nuisance, I remind myself that these little guys are simply trying to find a safe winter hideout until they can venture out again to devour any aphids brave enough to attack my garden. However, ladybugs aren’t the only pest-fighting soldiers out there. Lacewings, hover flies, and parasitic wasps are just a few of the predatory insects worth enticing to your garden.

Of all the beneficial beetles roaming the garden, lady beetles, aka ladybugs, are the most easily recognized garden warriors. Best known as aphid hunters, a single ladybug is capable of cleaning an entire tomato plant of aphids in a single day. Yet the ladybug is just one example of a pest-eating beetle. The large, shiny, black ground beetle is an often-overlooked ally, yet it will happily devour slugs, snails, and caterpillars if left alone. Typically nocturnal hunters, these lumbering beetles prefer to stay cozy under a bed of cool mulch during the hot daytime hours or lounge in the cool shade of a nearby tree until the sun goes down. But don’t worry about planting a shrub or flowers for these guys. Just provide the mulch and refrain from squashing them, and they should stick around.

Dainty lacewings look like tiny green or brown fairies flitting around the garden. And while some species of adult lacewings do enjoy the occasional insect meal, it’s the larvae, aptly named aphid lions, that you really want. These hungry guys devour aphids, mites, thrips, caterpillars, and even the occasional beetle in their quest to reach adulthood. Lacewings are drawn to many of the same delicate flowers as the lady beetles such as fern-leaf yarrow (Achillea filipendulina), common yarrow (A. millefolium), and butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), yet they also enjoy prairie sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani), Cosmos, and tansy (Tanacetum vulgare).

Often mistaken for a tiny bee, the stingless hoverfly is a predatory fly whose larvae enjoy a quick meal of aphids, mealybugs, and other small insects. These babies are so hungry, a single larva is capable of consuming up to 400 aphids in a single day! To attract the nectar-drinking adults, intersperse various plantings of Calendula, Cosmos, Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota), and yarrow (Achillea spp.).

Parasitic wasps
Braconid, ichneumon, and trichogramma wasps are but a few of the parasitic wasps eager to devour garden pests. Some parasitic wasps deposit eggs on the outside of caterpillars while others deposit eggs within the eggs of pests. Regardless of the method, these tiny wasps rarely have stingers, yet offer an abundance of pest control. Adult wasps are attracted to rosemary (Rosmarinus spp.), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), mustard (Brassica spp.), and nectar from a wide variety of flowering plants.

The true beauty of attracting pest-eating beneficial insects is its simplicity. Requiring little more than nectar-rich flowers, a pesticide-free environment, and a few pests to devour, beneficials will happily take up residence in your yard and garden. Many of these predatory insects play another important role in your garden as pollinators – making them even more beneficial!


Send Out Invites!
The greater the variety of nectar producing flowers the better. Most beneficials are attracted to multiple types of flowers with most flowers attracting multiple species of predatory or parasitic insects. Native predators are attracted to native plants, so be sure to also include these in your predator-attracting plan.

A very brief list of plants to attract beneficial predators:
Dill (Anethum graveolens), yellow coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), purple poppy mallow (Callirhoe involucrata), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale,), spike speedwell (Veronica spicata), hairy vetch (Vicia villosa), yellow giant hyssop (Agastache nepetoides)


A version of this article appeared in a March 2018 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Kristi Cook.


Posted: 03/22/18   RSS | Print


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by Monica Brandies       #Colorful   #Flowers   #Plant Profile

These Espicias or trailing violets, would be worth having just for their foliage, but they also bloom. Depending on the variety, flowers may be white, yellow, lavender, pink, or this orange/red.

If you enjoy African violets and do well growing them, you may already have tried some of their lovely cousins. If you have problems with the violets, you may well find the cousins easier to grow.

Many of these Gesneriad plants were started from seeds.

The family Gesneriaceae (ges ner ee AY see ee) includes more than a hundred tropical plants that like temperatures of at least 60-70 F at night and a moist atmosphere. They make colorful houseplants and can also be grown on patios and porches in parts of Florida.

There are many African violet and Gesneriad societies throughout Florida that have annual shows and sales and monthly meetings where visitors are welcome. You can also find them at the State Fair, the Strawberry Festival, and county fairs.

A few years ago I bought some trailing violets (Episcia spp.). These have gorgeous textured foliage in colors of green, bronze, silver, and brown. That would almost be enough, but they also have tubular flowers of white, yellow, lavender, pink, and orange/red. And, for me, they are easier to grow than African violets. There are at least 10 species and many more varieties. They like a spongy soil like the violets and will grow well near any window but will bloom most with some sun. They bloom profusely under artificial lights that are left on 12 to 14 hours a day.

They do best with wick watering since they don’t like water on their leaves. If you go to a show or meeting, ask about this. It is easy to do using items found in most homes and it gives the plants constant and proper amounts of water. Just add liquid fertilizer to the water twice a month. If you put the plants on trays of wet pebbles for humidity, they do even better, but mine grew great even without. They also do well on a porch or patio when temperatures are not too hot or cold, but don’t expose them to rain. They are easy to multiply from cuttings.

This Streptocarpus ’Chorus Line’ leaves have a unique texture and shape. • Gloxinia (Sinningia speciosa) produce large, velvety and brightly colored flowers. • This Streptocarpus ’Chorus Line’ leaves have a unique texture and shape.

I had a cape primrose (Streptocarpus spp.) that bloomed indoors even during the winter. These will grow near any window or under artificial light. While violets usually have one bloom stem per leaf axil, these will produce six to 10 stalks in succession from each leaf so a mature plant has many blooms. They are easy to propagate. Any 2-inch length of leaf will root and can give 20 to 60 plantlets, and each one, potted up, can start to bloom in only one to three months. About every five to six months, repot the plant, dividing it if needed. Remove some of the old soil and root ball, and add fresh soil. These do not like temperatures over 80 F, so don’t put them on the patio.

There are also Chiritas, gloxinia (Sinningia speciosa), lipstick plant (Aeschynanthus spp.), goldfish plant (Nematanthus spp.), and cupid’s bower (Achimenes spp.) and many more. Try some.


A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 20 Number 2.
Photography courtesy of Andrey Korzun, Tony Hisgett, NZfauna, Montrealais, Alcie Maxwell, Hans Hillewaert, and Monica Brandies.


Posted: 03/12/18   RSS | Print


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Color Eggs with Natural Dyes from the Garden
by Cindy Shapton       #Colorful   #Crafts   #Holiday: Easter   #How to

Eggs soaked in dyes from garden plants vary from pastel shades to deeper, more vivid hues. Have fun experimenting with veggies, fruits, spices and herbs to create a rainbow of colors.

Brightly colored eggs were often given as gifts by the ancient Greeks, Persians and Chinese at their annual spring celebrations. Early Christians gave decorated and dyed eggs as a symbol of Jesus’ Resurrection as early as the Middle Ages to friends, family and servants on Easter Sunday.

Our German ancestors then brought this tradition of coloring “Easter eggs” to America and interestingly, it didn’t really take off until after the Civil War.

Hard to imagine but folks in those days couldn’t go to the department store and buy egg coloring kits. So, what did they use to dye their eggs? If you read the title then you guessed it: flowers, leaves and fruits of plants growing nearby or in their gardens.

It is interesting to note that many of the plant materials that were used as dyes often were cool-season crops that were ready about the same time as Easter. Beets, cabbage, carrots, kale, onions and spinach were some of the vegetables chopped and simmered for dyes. Herbs and seasonings that had been dried were steeped into teas, or canned fruits and vegetables from the pantry were available if needed.

Carrots are two dyes in one: Use the tops for a yellow color and the roots for orange. • Chopped beets are an old-time favorite for dying eggs pink. • Kale is readily available in the garden in early spring and makes a lovely green dye.

Here are some suggestions for plant dye materials to get the colors you like for the hot or cold process, but feel free to experiment.

Generally speaking, 4 cups chopped vegetables or fruit and about 3 tablespoons of spices in a quart or so of water with 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar will give the best results.

Blue – Violet blossoms; canned, frozen or fresh blueberries (crushed); chopped red cabbage leaves; purple grape juice
Green – Chopped spinach or kale
Yellow-green – ‘Yellow Delicious’ apple peels from four to six large apples
Yellow – Orange or lemon peels, chopped carrot tops, celery seed, ground cumin, ground turmeric or ½ teaspoon of saffron threads (continue soaking in refrigerator overnight)
Orange – Yellow onion skins (about 12 – this is a good time to make onion soup!), shredded carrots
Pink – Chopped beets, cranberries, raspberries, red grape juice
Salmon – ½ cup of paprika
Burgundy – Red wine used in place of water (add vinegar)
Brown-tan – Strong coffee (about a quart)
Red – Red onion skins (lots – you can save them up ahead of time), cranberry juice (use in place of water but remember the vinegar), canned cherries with syrup

Dyeing eggs with herbs, veggies and fruit is an easy and natural process that the whole family can enjoy. Like the petrochemical dye kits, this can get messy and will stain clothes, countertops, floors, pets and whatever else it comes in contact with, so plan accordingly by wearing old T-shirts and covering the work area with a plastic tablecloth.

There are three basic processes using natural plant materials to color eggs:

1.  A hot process where plant material and eggs are boiled together.
2.  A cold process where plant material and eggs are prepared separately.
3.  Eggs soaked in herb tea.

For the hot method: This is a quick process that boils and dyes eggs at the same time. Place a single layer of white eggs in a non-aluminum pan covered with cold filtered water. Add a splash of white vinegar (about a tablespoon) to set the dye. Add plant material to produce the color you wish. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 10 -15 minutes. Check the color with a slotted spoon periodically.

If the color is good, pour off the hot liquid and rinse eggs until they are cool, then store in refrigerator. If you want a deeper color, strain the hot liquid through a coffee filter and cool while you are rinsing the eggs. Then place the boiled eggs in a glass bowl and cover with the strained, cooled dye liquid and place in refrigerator until desired shade is achieved. It won’t take that long, less than a day or overnight. More than 12 hours will only make colors muddy looking.

Grapes in the form of juice or wine can be used to dye eggs shades of blue to burgundy. • It’s no surprise that cool-season vegetables like red cabbage have a long tradition of egg dying for springtime Easter eggs.

Here are some easy color combinations to try for the cold-dipped process:

Pale yellow – Soak eggs in turmeric dye for 30 minutes.
Orange – Soak eggs in onion skin dye for 30 minutes.
Light brown – Soak eggs in black coffee dye for 30 minutes.
Light pink – Soak eggs in beet dye for 30 minutes.
Light blue – Soak eggs in red cabbage dye for 30 minutes.
Royal blue – Soak eggs in red cabbage dye overnight.
Lavender – Soak eggs in turmeric dye for 30 minutes, then cabbage dye for 30 minutes.
Chartreuse – Soak eggs in turmeric dye for 30 minutes, then beet dye for about five seconds.
Salmon – Soak eggs in turmeric dye for 30 minutes, then beet dye for 30 minutes.

For a mottled look, wrap uncooked eggs with leaves or onion skins followed by a piece of cotton muslin. Gather and tie up tightly with some cotton string. Cover wrapped eggs with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Drain and rinse with cool water before unwrapping.

For the cold-dipped method of natural dye, place natural plant material (about 4 cups) or spices (3 tablespoons) in about a quart of filtered water. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of white vinegar and simmer for about 30 minutes. Cool to room temperature and strain into glass bowls. Place cooled, boiled eggs in dye for about 30 minutes; for a darker hue place in refrigerator overnight. This is another easy method with children. Use the same plant materials as used in the hot method above.

Herb tea can be used to dye eggs naturally. Simply pour boiling water over herbs in a covered non-aluminum pan, quart jar or tea pot. Steep for 10-15 minutes then place cooled, boiled eggs in the tea and soak for 30 minutes. For darker hues, continue soaking eggs in tea overnight in the refrigerator. This gives some interesting soft shades of color and is easy for kids to help with.

Use 1-3 teaspoons of dried herbs for each cup of boiling water (use three times the amount if herbs are fresh). For darker shades, add a little more. I usually make about 3-4 cups of tea for each herb I choose to use. Added vinegar works well for spices but isn’t necessary for herbs.

Steep the flowers of calendula for a natural herb tea dye. • Eggs soaked in lavender tea have a light blue-green color and smell like a warm summer’s day in the garden.


Herb tea egg dye combinations:

Yellow to peach – Calendula flowers
Yellow – Chamomile flowers
Dull green – Dill weed
Sage green – Sage leaves (no surprise here)
Medium green – Green tea
Light pink – Rosehips
Yellow to orange – Safflower petals
Red – Hibiscus flowers
Light brown – Cinnamon
Light blue-green – Lavender buds
Light purple – Blackberry leaves
Brown – Oolong tea
Mottled orange-brown – Rooibos tea

If you plan to eat your naturally dyed eggs, be diligent to refrigerate after the coloring process is complete.

To make dyed eggs that can be used for several years, poke a hole in both ends of fresh eggs with a pin or small nail. Blow the yolks and whites out into a bowl (quiche fixings). Be sure to pierce the yolks so it is easier to blow out without passing out! These beautiful eggs can be displayed by hanging from branches or wreaths on the front door.

It is a good idea to write down what dye or combination works well – I know you think you will remember next year but just in case, go ahead and make a note. Dyeing eggs from natural plant materials is fun for the whole family and makes a great science project for the kids.

Try brown eggs too, I love the different shades they produce.

Make this the year you go “green” and start a new tradition of dyeing Easter eggs the natural way, just like great-great-grandmother did using materials from the kitchen and garden.


A version of this article appeared in a March 2011 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Cindy Shapton.


Posted: 03/12/18   RSS | Print


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The Great Tall Plant Rebellion
by Scott Beuerlein    

This prairie-inspired garden demonstrates the riot of summer colors and textures possible with tall perennials. Although the majority of tall plants stand well on their own, planting them together almost ensures they do not flop.

Sometimes you have to ‘go big or go home.’ Here are several reasons why you should add grand, tall plants to your garden design palette.

There’s a battle raging for the heart and soul of horticulture. Admittedly, this is a little below most people’s radar, but it is real nonetheless. Virtually every new plant that breeders and nurseries bring to market is a downsized version of its former self. For their purpose, which is retailing, these smaller new plants (each with a trademarked name evoking candies or cakes) are perfect. They neatly fit on shelves, scream for attention with their hyper-tinted foliage and flowers, and there is not one shopper entering a garden center who hasn’t got room somewhere in their garden for at least one. But there is a fly in the ointment here. Despite each of these plants being a triumph of skill, despite their breathtaking appeal, and despite the fact that I have allowed breeding company marketers to buy me more than just a few drinks at trade shows, I’ve just got to say it: A garden filled with nothing but compact caricatures of once free-roaming wild plants can only be described as a red hot mess! It’s unnatural. It’s too contrived. It feels weird. It doesn’t work.

Here is where the insurrection rears its head. In complete contradiction to the direction of retailers is the path that many – maybe most – top designers and virtually every public garden is taking. That path is gardens that are chest high in bold sweeps of massed or creatively paired plantings of big, bold perennials and grasses. “Blueberry Caramel Cream Tart heucherella,” if it exists, need not apply.

The inspiration comes from natural landscapes, usually the richness of the American woodlands and prairies, and it is a response to the environmental issues of our day. These plantings are composed largely of close-to-species cultivars or pure species plants – often native but not always – to create communities of flora that fill space with diverse tapestries of foliage, texture and bloom. The resulting gardens not only provide a full menu of environmental services, such as mitigating storm water runoff, reduced irrigation and less mowing and maintenance, they also provide for a diversity of wildlife. Equally important, they are connecting people to nature far more directly than gardens ever have before. And people – even non-gardeners, maybe especially non-gardeners – love it!

Blooms that are at eye level is but one of the many great benefits of tall plants.

Perhaps the best example of this style is the High Line in the meatpacking district of New York City. More than a million people a year, New Yorkers and tourists alike, walk the 1.5 miles of raised railroad beds now converted to garden. The engagement of people to nature is palpable every step of the way. This Piet Oudolf design is not all wild and wooly. There may actually be a handful of “Blueberry Caramel Cream Tart heucherella,” if it exists, littered about along with some vignettes of woodland, but it is the mass plantings of sunny forbs and grasses that dominate. Here, surrounded by skyscrapers and the din of the world’s greatest city, these plantings literally buzz with the activity of insects and birds. Ironically, the visitors who parade through are somewhat hushed with reverence, as though visiting a museum. Nevertheless, most visitors simply cannot resist the impulse to caress a grass, sniff a flower, take a photograph, ponder and perhaps change. This is a garden that impacts people’s lives! And it has economic impact, too. This part of Manhattan was something of a backwater until the High Line was made. Now, it is busy with the construction of new apartments and refurbished office spaces. Wonderfully, copycat gardens are appearing on the rooftops and balconies of many adjacent buildings.

High Line Park is a 1.45 mile-long linear park in Manhattan located on a retired section of elevated railway. You can take a virtual stroll through the park with Google street-view.
Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns  CC BY 2.0

The High Line, of course, is not mining this vein alone. Most other public gardens are right there with them. Many have legacies of formal gardens they admirably maintain and honor. But almost without exception their new efforts are aimed squarely at creating gardens that mix the richness and beauty of natural plants growing in natural spaces. Longwood Gardens, near Philadelphia, is one of our oldest and most prominent of public gardens, and it is a perfect example. Nearby Chanticleer is much younger, but their approach is the same. In these two gardens, letter-perfect formal gardens of the old estates are reverently maintained, but new projects on the outer grounds are brilliant examples of new horticulture. The Meadow Garden at Longwood is something everybody needs to see. Chanticleer’s mastery of plants and spaces in a host of natural settings is awe inspiring.

This new direction of design isn’t solely for public gardens. Many college and corporate campuses are trying their hand as well, and even dirt-poor municipal and county parks are also taking up the mantle. It is, after all, more cost effective to cover ground with plugs or even seed in great sweeps of tall, sometimes aggressive, perennials and grasses than in almost any other manner. Plus, there is the net gain from all those environmental “services.” A growing number of homeowners are jumping on board as well.

True, these gardens are quite different from our traditional view of gardening, and it might be something of an acquired taste. The same is said about two very popular things: coffee and beer. I don’t know anybody who enjoyed the first taste of beer. I didn’t. But I really, really like beer now, and so do most of the people I know. So visit some of these gardens. Try some tall plants. Before long, I guarantee the natural beauty of big plantings of big perennials will turn you into a revolutionary!

Witness how these billowing grasses and perennials at Cincinnati’s Ault Park soften what could be an otherwise runway-like pathway, transforming it from merely a means of getting from here to there into an enjoyable stroll of the senses.

Try This At Home

It’s easy to work tall perennials into the home landscape. Sure, an abundance of space makes using tall plants easier, but it is not a necessity. Tall herbaceous plants look fine planted against a screen or structure of any sort – shrubs or fencing for example. A foreground of midheight perennials such as Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) or ‘Purple Smoke’ false indigo (Baptisia‘Purple Smoke’) will make the design look more natural, and might help support their taller friends and hide their legs. Some tall perennials don’t need support or their legs obscured. Giant coneflower (Rudbeckia maxima) and prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) are two good examples. Neither flops, and both have photogenic legs. Pull them forward, if you’re feeling liberated. If your border needs to eat more turf to accommodate bigger plants, so be it! More plants, less turf! This should be every gardener’s mantra.

Great coneflower (Rudbeckia maxima) is a favorite tall perennial. From powder blue foliage erupts stems that hold bright yellow flowers 6-8 feet above the ground.

Every garden should have an 8-foot clump of Lilium superbum pumping heady fragrance into the twilight garden in early summer.

12 Favorite Tall Perennials

•  Aster tataricus‘Jindai’
•  ‘Gateway’ Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum‘Gateway’)
•  ‘Gold Lace’ swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius)
•  Prairie gayfeather (Liatris spicata)
•  Regal lily (Lilium regale)
•  Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
•  Great coneflower (Rudbeckia maxima)
•  ‘Henry Eilers’ sweet coneflower (Rudbeckia tomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’)
•  ‘Herbstonne’ shining coneflower (Rudbeckia nitida ‘Herbstonne’)
•  Prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum)
•  Cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum)
•  ‘Fascination’ Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Fascination’)

Aster tatarica ‘Jindai’ explodes with an incredible display of bright blue flowers extremely late in the season. Pollinators also love it for the vital energy that will carry them through the winter. 

Any of the Silphium species add height, texture, color and enormous interest to any garden bed.

Eupatorium maculatum ‘Gateway’ and many other tall perennials not only produce amazing flowers that can be enjoyed during the growing season, but their spent seedheads remain through fall and sometimes well into winter providing beauty and forage for birds.

Don’t be afraid to toss in the occasional tall annual. Plants like Tithonia speciosa, Verbena bonariensis, Cosmos spp. and others provide a very long season of bloom and nectar for pollinators as they stretch towards the sun.

From State-by-State Gardening March/April 2015. Photography by Scott Beuerlein unless otherwise noted.


Posted: 03/12/18   RSS | Print


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Mulch Primer
by Ilene Sternberg       #Advice   #Misc   #Soil


These are the ‘Who-What-When-Where-Whys’ of mulch. And you thought mulch was just a pile of stuff on the ground…


A modest layer of mulch year round keeps soil cooler in summer and warmer in winter. Weed beds before applying. Mulched soils warm up slower in spring and cool down slower in fall than unmulched soils.

• Mulch vegetable or flower gardens after soil warms up in the spring. Cool, wet soils slow seed germination and increase decay of seeds and seedlings. Acceptable mulch is cool or warm, never hot, to the touch. Mulch should never smell like vinegar, alcohol or ammonia.

• Winter mulching reduces repeated freezing and thawing, which cause bulbs or shallow-rooted plants to heave out of the ground. After the ground freezes, but before coldest temperatures, apply a loose mulch cover, (such as straw, hay, pine boughs) to insulate plants. By then, rodents looking for warmth should have found other nesting places.

How Much

• More is not better; never apply deeper than 4 inches. Only roses and marginally hardy plants need extra consideration. Good snowcover provides perfect insulation and keeps soil temperature and moisture at adequate levels. Bitter cold with no snowcover offers the biggest threat to plants. Supplement mulch as needed, and remove any protective applications that exceed 4 inches in spring.

• Purchase mulch bagged or bulk. Bulk is cheaper in large volumes. Bagged mulch, usually in 3-cubic-foot bags, is easier to handle.

What NOT to Mulch

• Covering crowns of evergreen plants, shasta daisies, ground covers, sedums, lupines, peonies or iris may bury, not protect, them.

• Piling mulch against tree trunks invites chewing insects, rodents and fungi.


Shredded hardwood bark is decorative and improves the soil.

Cypress bark mulch.

Inorganic mulches don’t enrich soil, but are sometimes inexpensive, recycled or aesthetically appropriate:

• Newspaper—Use black ink only (color dyes may be harmful to soil). Anchor three to four sheets with grass clippings or rocks to prevent them from blowing away.

• Landscape fabrics (“geotextiles” water-permeable weed barriers of tightly woven, spun-bound or meshed polypropylene polymers)—These easily degrade when exposed to ultraviolet light. They often are used under a more decorative product such as shredded bark. Some, however, are coated with carbon black and can be used alone.

• Shredded recycled rubber tires—Available in several colors and are used in parks, schools, highways and industrial sites.

• Stone, pebbles, gravel and crushed brick—These are fire and deer resistant and add color and texture.

Organic mulches must be sufficiently decomposed or they can damage plants. When material is fresh, microorganisms that decompose organic material utilize a lot of nitrogen. Later in the decomposition process, the organisms release nitrogen. This principle applies to many organic mulches, including manure, leaves and sawdust. For loose mulches, such as straw, leaves and evergreen boughs, this is not a concern. Stir mulch periodically to break up unsightly but harmless mold that can form on top, more likely occurring if mulch is too deep.

• Manures, compost and peat moss—Though all are good for soil enrichment, they can mat, shed water, block air flow to soil and encourage weeds. Weed seeds from animal feed in manures are sometimes introduced. A 3- to 4-inch layer of mushroom compost suppresses weeds, encourages worms, provides nitrogen and improves soil texture.

• Composted municipal sludge—Now available as a mulch (some trade names include EarthlifeTM, ComtilTM and TechnaGroTM). In the future we’ll see more composts containing municipal garbage, paper pulp, yard wastes and other by-products.

• Hulls, cobs, shells, cottonseed, peanut or rice hulls, crushed corn cobs, spent hops, licorice root, tobacco stems—These are usually inexpensive but usually only available locally. Cocoa hulls (which are toxic to pets), buckwheat hulls and licorice root make excellent mulch, but are sometimes hard to find and expensive.

• Sphagnum peat moss—This contains long fibers which resist decomposition and is usually quite acidic.

• Pine needles and shredded cones—These make excellent mulch for evergreens and plants that thrive in acidic soils such as rhododendrons and blueberries.

• Straw and hay—These are good winter protection for perennials, strawberries and small plants. If left as permanent, additional nitrogen (1 lb. nitrogen per 1,000 square feet) is suggested, since they decompose readily. Weed seeds can be introduced.

• Lawn clippings—Do not use clippings from lawns treated with herbicides. Layers thicker than 2 to 3 inches tend to compact and rot. Spread immediately to avoid rotting. Add additional layers as clippings decompose. These work wonderfully in the vegetable garden.

• Leaves—Studies suggest that freshly chopped leaves may inhibit the growth of certain crops, so it may be advisable to compost the leaves over winter before spreading 3 to 4 inches deep (slightly more if using dry leaves).

• Shredded, chipped or chunked bark—This is the most popular landscape mulch due to its appearance, serviceability and cost. Shredded hardwood and cypress bark, chipped and chunked pine, fir and eucalyptus bark are decorative and ultimately improve soil condition. Smaller chips are easier to spread, but larger chips last longer. Eventually, shredded hardwood raises soil pH, particularly injurious to acid-loving plants.

• Wood chips, shavings, sawdust or waste wood—These are more wood than bark, decomposing rapidly, and they need supplementing with fertilizer at the rate of 1 lb. nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.

Photo Credits:
Photo 1: VMJONES - istock
Hrdwood bark: Mark Herreil - Istock
Cypress bark: Courtesy of Ilene Sternberg


A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2012 print edition of State-byState Gardening.


Posted: 03/12/18   RSS | Print


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Native Baptisia is Only the Beginning
by Kylee Baumle       #Blue   #Natives   #Plant Profile






The use of native plantings continues to grow in popularity, but here’s one native that fits gardens of all types. Baptisias are sturdy, textural and fuss-free plants.







‘Twilite’ exhibits a unique bicolor bloom in violet and yellow and is a vigorous grower.

If you were to see a bloom from a Baptisia sp., without benefit of seeing the rest of the plant, you might think it’s a type of pea. See the entire plant, and that thought probably wouldn’t occur to you. It is, however, indeed a member of the legume family – Fabaceae to be exact – just like peas.

Native to central and eastern North America, Baptisia australis is an easy grower for those in USDA Zones 3 to 9. It’s not particularly picky about soils, nor moisture, being drought tolerant once established. It even thrives in clay. It grows in full sun to part shade and it’s not bothered by any notable pests or diseases. No doubt these things are what earned it the title of Perennial Plant of the Year in 2010.


‘Solar Flare’ is strongly vase-shaped, with blooms starting out yellow and aging to a beautiful scarlet. • The dried seedpods of baptisia sound like rattles when shaken and are often used in floral arrangements. • Baptisia ‘Starlite’

Native and Hybrid Varieties

‘Midnight’ has a two-fold bloom period, extending the display for a full month.

Baptisia is commonly known as wild indigo or blue false indigo, due to its use as a plant dye. Though not as superior for dyeing as true indigo (Indigofera tinctoria), which is native to tropical climates, it is much more commonly found and is a somewhat suitable substitute. The sap of Baptisia australis turns dark blue when exposed to air.

Though the native baptisia flowers are a deep blue color, in recent years many new cultivars have come on the market, in luscious new shades and combinations of colors. All have the characteristic glaucous foliage, but blooms can be found in hues of yellow, violet, scarlet, blue and varying combinations of these.

From the Chicago Botanic Garden plant breeding program, Dr. Jim Ault has hybridized (and introduced through the Chicagoland Grows program) the Prairieblues series of baptisias, which have been extremely popular.

Like other plants to have come out of the Chicago program, the Prairieblues baptisias are especially well suited to the climate and growing conditions of the Upper Midwest, although they will also grow well in other zone-appropriate areas around the country and the world.

The Decadence series, hybridized by Hans Hansen and introduced by Walters Gardens and Proven Winners, is suited for smaller gardens, with four varieties – ‘Lemon Meringue’, ‘Dutch Chocolate’, ‘Cherries Jubilee’ and ‘Blueberry Sundae’ – having a mature height of 3 feet and a similar spread. Hansen is also responsible for another newer variety, ‘Vanilla Cream’, which has bronze foliage as it emerges in the spring.

Other available cultivars include ‘Purple Smoke’, ‘Carolina Moonlight’, ‘Chocolate Chip’ and ‘Wayne’s World’, a white variety introduced by Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina. Be sure to check plant tags for cold hardiness, because some cultivars are hardier than others.

Typical of many native plants, Baptisia australis has fewer individual blooms than most hybrids.

Companion Plants
Since baptisias tend to have a vase shape, they lend themselves well to low underplantings, such as:

• Pinks (Dianthus spp.)
• Coral bells (Heuchera spp.)
• Small hostas (‘Blue Mouse Ears’ or ‘Maui Buttercups’)
• Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum)
• Coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides)
• Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ or ‘Aureola’)

Online Sources for Baptisia
Proven Winners

Garden Crossings

Plant Delights Nursery

Bluestone Perennials, Inc.

White Flower Farm

Growing Baptisia
Baptisia is a versatile plant, lending itself well to prairie gardens, foundation plantings and as a specimen plant. It’s easily grown from seed and can be winter sown. With its deep and extensive root system, it’s not recommended to move or divide an established mature baptisia.

Consider carefully where you want it, making sure you allow enough room for its full potential growth of 4 feet tall and wide. Remember that most varieties will splay out farther as the season progresses, especially if you allow its seedpods to remain. This can be controlled a bit with the use of peony rings. The plant can also be pruned to about 15-18 inches tall after flowering, which limits the flopping throughout the rest of the season.

If you choose to let the quirky seedpods remain, they will extend this plant’s interest well into the fall season. First appearing as elongated balloon puffs of green on the flowering stems, as the weeks go by seedpods darken and harden into rattling pods. As the plant senesces, the podded stems break away, and the seeds inside fall to the ground.

If you don’t want seedlings the following spring, cut the seedpods before they turn black and hard, but don’t discard them! They can provide marvelous texture to a bouquet, as many florists know.



‘Starlite’ has a more arching habit and is also more compact, topping out at 3 feet in all directions. • Yellow Baptisia ‘Carolina Moonlight’.


Nitrogen Fixation
Because baptisia is a legume, it is a plant that gives back to the soil in that it has nitrogen-fixing properties. Nodules form on the roots and convert nitrogen into a form that the plant itself uses, which also enriches the soil, helps it compete with adjacent plants and lessens the need for any supplemental fertilizing.

With all this going for it, baptisia is one plant that should be in every garden. It asks for little, but gives so much.


A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Chicagoland Grows, Bailey Nurseries, and Kylee Baumle.


Posted: 03/12/18   RSS | Print


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Get to the Point
by Troy B. Marden       #Ornamentals   #Plant Profile   #Xeriscaping







In this Zone 6 garden, Agave americana ssp. protoamericana survived several winters outdoors when it became too large to dig and move in from the garden each fall. A cage filled with dry leaves to keep moisture off of the plant during winter helped in its survival.

Have you ever visited California or the American Southwest and admired the beautiful agaves, or century plants, that dot the hillsides and grace the gardens throughout the region? Their subtle colors and stunning architectural forms are welcome additions to any garden, but being from the desert where dry soil and dry air prevails means taking a few extra steps in order to grow them successfully in the damp and humid South. Proper siting, soil preparation and in colder parts of the South, winter protection, are essential to growing agaves successfully, but the rewards are worth any amount of effort.

Agave parryiis available in several forms. Several are hardy to at least Zone 6b and will perform well in the garden as long as they have excellent winter drainage.

Dasylirion wheeleri has performed extremely well in the garden at UT’s West Tennessee Research and Education Center in Jackson, Tenn. It’s easily hardy to Zone 6 if it is well protected through its first winter or two.


The Cold Hardy Species
Not all agaves are hardy when it comes to surviving cold winter temperatures, especially in the Upper South, but there are a few species whose native habitats are at high elevations, making them very tolerant of cold winter temperatures and even snow! Some of the hardiest species include:

Agave havardiana
Agave lechuguilla
Agave neomexicana
Agave ovatifolia
Agave parryi
Agave parryi
ssp. Huachucensis
Agave toumeyana
Agave toumeyana
var. bella
Agave utahensis
var. kaibabensis

Agave parryi ssp. huachucensis is one of the hardiest of all agaves, surviving easily into Zone 6 as long as the soil is extremely well drained and the plant is protected through its first two winters until it is well established. Gravel mulch helps keep the base of the plant drier in winter.

How to Grow Hardy Agaves
The most important thing to remember when growing hardy agaves is that their cold tolerance is directly related to how dry they can be kept during the winter, especially for the first winter or two after they’re planted. In the South our winter weather patterns are often cold and wet for long periods of time and this combination can mean almost certain death for many species.

Agave ovatifolia is one of the most beautiful of all agaves and has fared better than most in the cold, wet winters of west Tennessee. Given the protection of a cloche for the first winter, the plants have been on their own ever since and are growing beautifully.

Proper soil preparation is extremely important. Jason Reeves, the horticulturist at UT’s West Tennessee Research and Education Center in Jackson, Tennessee has found success with agaves and other plants from the desert Southwest by thoroughly amending the existing garden soil with “turkey grit,” available from most farm and feed stores. Mix your existing soil at least 50/50 with the turkey grit and then apply a “mulch” of pure turkey grit around the base of the plant at least 1-inch deep. Because drainage is so important, you’ll find it beneficial to build low mounds of soil (6 to 8 inches high is sufficient) and to plant your agaves high in the tops of these mounds rather than digging holes and planting your agaves low, where water can gather and freeze around the crown of the plant.

Extra protection from winter rains is very helpful for the first winter or two. If your new agaves are small, this can be achieved by covering them with inexpensive plastic cloches, or bell jars, raised slightly off the ground by using bricks or wood blocks. These miniature “greenhouses” will help keep young agaves nice and dry during the winter until they become established — usually a couple of years. They can be found from several online sources. For larger plants, support rings — the kind often used for peonies and other perennials with gridded tops and three or four legs that can be pushed down into the ground — can be covered with heavy-duty clear plastic and placed over the tops of plants to keep them dry. The sides won’t be covered, but remember you are trying to protect them from rain and winter moisture. Cold temperatures, if you’ve chosen hardy species, shouldn’t be a problem.

One of the most beautiful of all hardy desert plants, Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’ survives all the way to Zone 5, performs exceptionally well in the South and is an excellent choice for adding living architecture to the garden.


Not hardy, but very easy to grow, Agave attenuata ‘Variegata’ makes an excellent container subject and an easy winter houseplant for a well-lit room. It is perfect for a partly shady location in the summer garden, preferring less light than many other agaves.

Not hardy, but so beautiful that it is worth any amount of effort to overwinter it, Furcraea foetida ‘Variegata’ makes an excellent container plant or can be grown in the ground and dug and moved indoors for the winter. Its rubbery, spineless leaves pose less danger to the person whose job it is to move it in and out.

After the first winter or two, cold-hardy agaves should be established well enough to survive the winters without protection as long as the soil has been thoroughly amended and plants have been mulched with turkey grit around the base to help keep the crown of the plant dry.

In addition to thoroughly amending the soil for drainage, choosing the right site from the get-go is also important. Our natural instinct as gardeners is to plant these desert plants in the most open and exposed parts of our yard in full sun, but a protected location near the house, a wall, fence or hedge can also add to your success. Many of the hardy species of agave are found growing in the wild alongside scrub oak and pine, as well as shrubby desert plants that provide a bit of shade during the hottest part of the day.

Non-Hardy Agaves
In addition to the hardy species that are available for us to grow in our gardens, there are many beautiful species and varieties that make excellent subjects for garden containers during the summer months and carefree houseplants during the winter. I grow several species that are not hardy and that spend their winters in pots in front of a south-facing window in a barely heated utility room that stays cold, but doesn’t freeze. My favorite is Agave attenuata ‘Variegata’ because its spines are not as dangerous, making it easier to move in and out of the house and because of its reasonably small size, it can be kept for many years. Another favorite tender species is an agave cousin, Furcraea foetida ‘Variegata’, which also spends its summers outdoors and winters inside. It makes a large plant eventually, so be sure you have room to accommodate it once it’s full grown.

Agave Companions
Many hardy succulents, such as sedums, hens-and-chicks and others make excellent companions for cold-tolerant agaves, but some of my favorite companions — or maybe even substitutes for gardeners who aren’t ready to tackle agaves — are the many beautiful yuccas that are on the market today. Native to a wide range of climates, you can find yuccas of all sizes, shapes and colors that will thrive in gardens from Zone 4 to Zone 10. Some grow in large, ground-level clumps while others are trunk-forming and after some years will rise above the ground on stout stems. Variegated forms add even more interest to the garden throughout the seasons.

Agaves may not be for everyone, but for the adventurous gardener who loves to explore unusual plants, agaves can bring an entirely new dimension to the garden and their architectural form blends beautifully with many popular garden plants. Give them a try!


A version of this article appeared in a May 2011 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Troy B. Marden and Jason Reeves.


Posted: 03/12/18   RSS | Print


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Movement in the Garden
by Helen Yoest       #Design   #Misc   #Ornamentals

Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) bending hello, entering the driveway.

Wind blowing, water flowing, grasses swaying and children playing – movement brings a garden to life.

It seems unimaginable for a garden to be still. Do you often find yourself looking at something moving from the corner of your eye, or do you look to a sound made by the moving wind? Movement engages you in the garden. Movement can be introduced with plants or personality; look around your garden to see how you can add more movement in your garden.

Leaves Rustling
Certain trees hold their leaves throughout the winter. White oak trees will hold on to their leaves, turning brown and dry, until new spring growth pushes out the old. As the wind rises, their leaves rustle. This sound draws the eye to the leaves of the oak tree, shimmering like the grass skirt of a hula dancer.

Certain shrubs, such as the spice bush (Lindera glauca), also hold their leaves when dormant. The dried, spice-colored leaves provide a rattle in the wind during the winter months.

‘Karl Foerster’ grass, Calamagrostis x acutiflora in motion.

Grasses Swaying
Grasses are valued for their form, texture and three solid seasons of visual interest. Their flexibility during each of these seasons also provides movement in the garden. Swaying in the wind, they bend in the breeze like an anemometer for speed – the more the wind, the more the bend. During the winter months, watching the hay colored grasses is mesmerizing, taking the mind to summer days gone by.

A good one to try is the perennial Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, which stands upright and erect until the breeze begins, creating movement in the garden.

Muhlenbergia capillaris colors up pink in the fall, then turns tan for the winter months. Left uncut, the grasses add interest in the winter garden as they move in motion to the seasonal winds.

Native switch grass, Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’, can grow 4 feet tall with nice red tones in the summer, growing darker burgundy as the fall progresses. In the winter ‘Shenandoah’ is blond and bold, ready to bend in the slightest breeze.


Left: While the fountain itself doesn’t move, the water swirling and falling in various directions in this pool creates both movement and sound in the garden. Right: Moving water from the fountain can be heard through the garden.

Water Flowing
Where water flows, wildlife flocks. Seen and heard from afar, the wildlife are attracted to moving water. From four-tiered fountains or recirculating ponds to a gurgling urn with only enough flow to continually coat the sides, moving water will entice birds and other wildlife to sip or dip. This brings a lot of movement to the garden, as birds scurry for seeds and squirrels dig for acorns.

The sound of the water itself is also a benefit. It buffers ambient noise, creating a focal point to be enjoyed in our Carolina gardens throughout the year.

If you have water in your garden you likely also have fish, another good source of movement. Fish move left, move right and circle around. They wiggle and wag looking for little bites to eat and making sure all is well in their water world. Watching fish move through the water is calming and cathartic. During feeding times the fish are fun to watch as the scurry for position, breaking the water to grab little nibbles.

Birds Feeding
Birds actively come and go from the garden creating commotion in their motion. Keeping stalks and seed heads through the season is a good way to invite birds to alight in your garden. And you can’t beat the delightful experience as the seed heads rustle and move in the breeze.

Watching birds feed on the seeds is entertaining from the motion they cause when loosing balance to the stalks moving in the wind. Finches alight on verbena-on-a-stick (Verbena bonarienis), purple coneflowers (Echineaca purpurea) and phlox, resulting in wobbling, in-the-air antics.

A hummingbird hovers contently while sipping from bee balm.

You can also attract birds with man-made feeders. Certain feeders will allow multiple birds to alight at once. It is not unusual to see a mix of bird species feeding on the same feed. Black-oil sunflower seeds will attract the greatest variety of birds to your feeder, including cardinals, nuthatches and finches. For brown thrashers use a ground-level, tray-type feeder.

Put out peanuts and wait for the woodpeckers you probably didn’t even know you had come to feed. Taking seeds, filling their bellies and coming and going from the feeders, brings hours of pleasure watching the birds as they move about.

Hummingbirds are also fun. Catch them during the spring, summer and fall before they migrate south. They will stop in mid-air to sip from nectar rich flowers. Adding nectar feeders filled with clear sugar water will invite hummingbirds to your garden. Use 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. Cannas, Turk’s cap lilies (Malvavisus drummondii), bee balm (Monarda), salvias and many other trumpet shaped flowers will bring hummingbirds to your garden.


Left: The pink-spotted hawkmoth moves at night. Right: Butterflies move in the garden from flower to flower.

Insects Inspecting
Growing plants to attract butterflies will lead to butterfly arrival – flirting, floating and flying from flower to flower. The garden moves with life day and night with moths, bees, wasps, praying mantises and beetles. Zinnias, lantana, Joe-Pye weed and other umbel-shaped flower heads act as a landing pad for the butterflies to alight.

Basils, if left to flower, will also bring in bees, as will salvias, lavender, rosemary, crossvine and many more pollen-producing flower heads.

The American flag ready for a breeze.

Whirligigs, Flags and Wind Chimes
Accents that go round and round, wave in the wind and chime with the breeze all add movement in your garden.

Whirligigs will add motion to your garden, and a lot of charm to boot. Found in as many shapes as there is imagination, whirligigs make the most of the wind.

The American flag is the flag icon for movement and glory in the garden. Hanging on the front porch column, surrounded by germaniums and shrubs, it proudly waves in the wind.

Don’t forget wind chimes. From tiny ones that sound like Tinkerbell’s wand to large ones that chime with deep tones in major winds, chimes are sure to charm.

Invite kids to the garden to add movement.

Children Playing
Backyard play is the American way. Whether in your own yard, a park, at grandma’s house, or a neighbor’s yard, a space to run and be free is what a kid needs.

When kicking a ball, playing tag and chasing fireflies, children’s precious movements bring life to the garden. Give kids a little freedom in your garden and they’ll delight in their ability to roam freely in outdoor spaces.

Locate your movement makers where they can be observed. Place a fountain where it can be seen from the front window. Plant nectar-rich plants near the back porch where you can see the movement they bring while sipping an iced tea. Add grasses along the driveway to bend hello as you come home.

If none of these suit you, just add a whirligig at the front door where you will be sure to readily witness wind in motion.


A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 23 Number 2.
Photography courtesy of Helen Yoest, Troy B. Marden, Frank Leung, and


Posted: 02/28/18   RSS | Print


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Recipe for Roses
by Hugh Conlon    

‘Mr. Lincoln’


Roses (Rosa spp.) contribute beauty and fragrance to any garden. There are many varieties of roses to pick from, many wanting little extra care. To get your roses off to a great start, plant them in the right spot and select the best varieties. Rose breeders continue to introduce varieties that are more resistant to pest and disease problems.

Here is a step-by-step “recipe” for growing roses. Steps one through five are of critical importance if you want to avoid lots of extra care in years to come. Follow steps six through 10 on a timely basis and your roses will flourish.

1. Choose Good Genetics– Buy only the best rose varieties (cultivars). Hybrid teas, floribundas, grandifloras, and shrub roses are the four most popular categories of roses for Southeast gardens. Discussions of other types of roses – such as miniatures, tree standards, and climbers – are not included here. Visit reference rose gardens near where you live to learn the best rose cultivars for your area. See sidebar below.

2. Location, Location, Location– Roses grow and bloom their best in full sun with moist, well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. “Ideal sunlight” is from sunrise through early afternoon. Roses require a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight daily. The more shade, the fewer flowers. Roses desire a slightly acid soil –pH 6.2 to 6.5. Apply ground limestone (either hydrated or dolomitic) to raise soil pH or powdered sulfur to lower pH. Amounts to apply will be indicated on your soil test report. Fall is the best time to apply lime or sulfur, as nutrients will work down into the soil over the winter.

‘Queen Elizabeth’

3. Bed Preparation– Proper siting and soil preparation goes a long way toward disease management. The location should allow good air circulation and not be surrounded by tall landscape plants. If soil drainage is questionable, consider growing roses in raised beds that are at least 6-8 inches tall and sitting atop gravelly soil base.

‘Julia Child’

4. Planting and Planting Depth– Improper planting depth is a common landscape mistake. Do not plant rose plants too deep and avoid over-mulching, which simulates excessive planting depth. Consider planting roses in the fall rather than spring.

5. Never Crowd Roses– The foliage of rose bushes should not touch that of adjacent plants. For disease and insect prevention, good air circulation and capturing all of the sun’s rays are imperative. Better yet, leave at least 10-12 inches between plants. Information on the plant tag regarding height and spread is usually incorrect, generally undersized.

6. Pruning and Deadheading– Develop an open-centered or vase-shaped shrub. Prune in late February or March, reducing plant height and spread by two-thirds on most shrub types. Prune hybrid teas and grandifloras to a height of 18 inches. Prune smaller-growing shrub-types such as Drift and Flower Carpet series less, maybe 25-33 percent growth reduction. Prune again in mid to late July, cutting back one-third the plant’s height. In addition, eliminate some interior older wood on 3-year-old and older roses. Deadheading during the growing season leaves less pruning to perform in late winter and late summer. Roses can provide five to seven nice flowering cycles annually with timely pruning/deadheading.

‘Sweet Drift’

7. Mulching– Organic mulches are best for roses. Maintain a minimum of a 2-3-inch layer of pine straw or pine bark at the start of spring. Over time, pine bark mulch tends to acidify and hardwood mulch raises soil pH. Do not pile mulch around plants. Fine or aged bark and/or wood chips will necessitate extra nitrogen fertilizer to be applied.

‘Home Run’

8. Fertilization– Following late winter pruning, apply a three-month-rated, controlled-release fertilizer at the rate of 1 (established bed) to 2 (new beds) pounds of actual nitrogen (N) per 1,000 square feet of bed area. Higher rates may be needed for new beds and those showing low levels of fertility. Once annually, phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), and magnesium (Mg) levels should be applied to rose beds (amounts determined by soil testing). Fertilize after the late summer pruning at one-half the spring season application rate. An alternative method is to feed with water-soluble fertilizers through the growing season. Roses don’t need fertilizing during June and July. If a soil test report diagnoses magnesium deficiency, use Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate), available at most local pharmacies. Epsom salt will improve leaf color and promote new cane growth around the shrub base.

9. Insect Management– Aphids, Japanese beetles, eriophyid mites, and flower thrips are the major pests of a rose garden early spring through late summer. Consult with your state land grant university website or county extension office for pesticide recommendations. Spinosad, horticultural oil, acephate, and many other contact and systemic insecticides should provide a good management care.

10. Disease Management– In general, modern rose varieties are more disease resistant. In your search for the “perfect rose,” always select varieties that are highly resistant to blackspot and cercospora leaf spot diseases.

‘Double Pink’

The Tough Crowd
Roses highly resistant to blackspot and cercospora leaf spot*

Resistant cultivars
(<2% foliage infected)
Blushing Knock Out (‘Radyod’)
Brite Eyes (‘Radbrite’)
Double Knock Out (‘Radtko’)
Pink Double Knock Out (‘Radtkopink’)
Pink Knock Out (‘Radcon’)
Kashmir (‘BAImir’)
Knock Out (‘Radrazz’)
‘Moje Hammarberg’
My Girl (‘BAIgirl’)
‘White Dawn’
Wildberry Breeze (R. rugosa ‘Jacrulav’)

Moderately resistant
(<10% foliage infected)

Carefree Sunshine (‘Radsun’)
Como Park (‘BAIark’)
Fiesta (‘BAIsta’)
Forty Heroes (‘BAInial’)
Homerun (‘WEKcisbako’)
My Hero (‘BAIhero’)
‘Palmengarten Frankfurt’
Super Hero (‘BAIsuhe’)
Wild Spice (‘JACruwhi’)
‘Wild Thing’

*University of Tennessee Resistance Screening Program Of Garden Roses (2006-2012)

Common Rose Diseases:

Foliar diseases:
Black spot
cercospora leaf spot
downy mildew
powdery mildew

Stem diseases:
Botrytis blight
crown gall

Root diseases:
Phytophthora root rot

Systemic diseases:
rose mosaic virus
rose rosette virus




A version of this article appeared in a March 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Hugh Conlon.


Posted: 02/27/18   RSS | Print


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Starting Veggies Indoors
by Rita Randolph       #Propagation   #Seeds   #Vegetables


Spring is just around the corner and even though I caution folks about planting and seeding too early in the season, truthfully… it’s safe to go ahead and start a few things indoors.

Taking care to read your seed catalogs, choose the varieties that are recommended for your area and be sure to read how long it takes to produce each crop. Some items may not take as long as others. For instance, lettuces can be directly sown into containers and grow quickly in cooler temperatures, yet tomatoes benefit from seeding into one container at a warm temperature, and then transplanted into a larger container to grow a better root system before being put into the ground. Squash, cucumbers and melons are faster crops, and like to be sown later, closer to planting time. Sow multiple seed directly into 3- or 4-inch pots, and then, once developed, directly plant them into the garden.

Reputable seed companies all offer specific information about each type of vegetable or plant they offer. Some companies offer better information than others, and I depend on these as a reference guide. It’s a good idea to check the varieties for how large they grow, for instance; determinate bush tomatoes don’t take as much room as indeterminate vine varieties. Store your seed tightly closed in a refrigerator (not a freezer) when not in use. Many varieties will last for years if stored properly.

This south-facing window is perfect for starting an indoor seeding area.

When wanting to garden indoors or start your plants inside, the first thing to do is dedicate an area just for this purpose. Find a south-facing window if possible because it provides the most light for ensuring healthy starts. If not a south window, select the brightest one you have. You can always move plants away a few feet if it becomes too hot to handle.

You need a sturdy table or two for seeding and related equipment. Anything from a folding card table to a sturdy work bench will do. Cover it with plastic so moisture won’t ruin the surface. Then set up a stand with a fluorescent light fixture or two for your plants after they begin to grow. There are grow lights of all kinds, but fluorescents are cool lights and still provide the wide spectrum necessary to keep seedlings and other plants from stretching. You needn’t turn the lights on yet – wait till right after the seeds germinate. Remember, a leggy plant is not a healthy one, and you might as well purchase new plants or start over if stretching becomes a problem.

Invest in a small sprayer for watering seedlings. You don’t want to pour water from a watering can or it will wash out your soil, cover seeds too much, and cause uneven moisture.

The next thing you need is a heat source under the trays for the root systems to develop. Heating mats made especially for this purpose are available in all sizes and prices. It’s a good investment, especially if you keep your home or growing area cool. The rooting zone of most vegetable and annual seedlings should be 68 to 78 F, and uniform heating is best.

It’s recommended that you begin with a tray that acts as a capturing device for water and does not drain indoors. You can always remove excess water with a sponge if it builds up. This will prevent spills on the floor and furniture and may also help with keeping humidity levels up in the growing area.

Use trays that hold water and place capillary mats in them. Water the capillary mat before placing seeded pots on it. This will help keep humidity levels up and improve drainage.

Place a “capillary mat” in the tray you plan to set your seeded pots in. A capillary mat is a spongy fiber about ¼ inch thick, much like quilt batting. When you water your seeded pots, this mat will wick away excess moisture from some containers while providing it for others. It makes the watering more uniform throughout the system, keeping the plants moist but not wet. Seed that’s germinating will require 100% humidity but don’t like to stay constantly wet. After sowing seeds in your trays, place them on the capillary mat inside the tray that does not have holes in it.  Then water in well with a sprayer or spray bottle. A light spray is best, so you don’t flood or wash seed into each other. If you get tired of pumping a spray bottle, you can use a larger volume one that doesn’t require as much work. A 1-gallon sprayer works great. Be sure to wet the capillary mat too, but not soak it to the point of water pooling anywhere.

Sow seeds thinly in your pots, not too crowded. Many seed companies will specify approximately how many seeds per square inch. Overcrowding will result in stretched, unhealthy seedlings. The more room you give them, the better your plants will turn out. Cover seeds with extra mix, only as deep as the seed is in diameter. Small seeds only need a dusting of mix over them while larger seeds like a little more. Be careful not to bury your seeds or they may not come up at all. Be sure to label your seed as you sow with a waterproof pen. You’d be surprised how fast you’ll forget what you sowed!

Use a specialized “seeding mix” avoiding any media with any fertilizer, as this will inhibit germination. Scatter a few seeds and cover lightly with more mix.

After seeding and watering them in, cover the tray with another tray, preferably black or dark in color, balancing it directly on top of the other like a lid. Most seeds like to germinate in total darkness (just check your varieties), and this tray will hold in humidity and shut out light, as well as keeping the warmth in from your heating mat. At this point, I usually cover the seeded trays with a sheet of plastic to “chamber” the trays. This way I know 100% humidity was held underneath for the seeds to germinate more uniformly, without drying around the edges of the trays. Check your seeds a couple of times a day for moisture, being careful not to let them dry out or remain too wet.

Remove the lids on the trays as soon as the first two leaves appear. Keep checking your trays, and as soon as most seeds have germinated, then turn on the lights. Keep the lights a foot or two away from the young plants so they don’t dry out too quickly. As the plants mature you might want to lower the fixture a little closer, being sure to check frequently for drying out or wilting too much. Try not to water in the evening hours since wet foliage overnight is a disease waiting to happen. This extra light not only helps keep plants short and healthy, but also helps to prevent many water-borne diseases and stem-rots.

Cover seed trays and pots with lids, and then cover the area with a sheet of plastic.

When young seedlings are an inch or two tall it’s time to decide whether they will be planted out into the ground, transplanted into larger pots or hardened off for later. Reducing the average temperatures, withholding some water, and yet still maintaining high light conditions will accomplish this “hardening.” You can do this indoors, or take them outside on good days, placing them in a partial-shade location so they don’t “sunburn.” Be sure to bring them back indoors on chilly nights below 57 F.

Divide and transplant your seedlings before they get too crowded. Continue to grow under lights until ready to out into the garden.


• Select seeds that are best suited for your area (zone) or growing needs.
• Construct a table and lighting system.
• Assemble trays that hold water in addition to growing trays.
• Use capillary mats to improve drainage.
• Use a “seeding” mix, avoid any media with added fertilizer.
• Invest in a sprayer for watering seedlings.
• Check growing conditions for each variety before you start.
• Remove any covering as soon as seeds germinate.
• Check your new plants and mist as needed at least twice daily, but avoid watering in the evening hours.

When transplanting young seedlings, the stem is sometimes buried up to the first set of true leaves. Many plants will root out from the stem creating better development and structure. Be careful not to pack soil mixes too tightly around the necks of these young plants as they might bruise easily. Simply sift the soil up around their necks and water in. At this point I choose a weakened, half-dose of water-soluble fertilizer or root stimulator. An organic, water-soluble solution is also a good choice to add beneficial microelements and get them off to a great start. Keep plants under lights until they go outside, and be sure to stay on top of watering needs until established in the garden.

Record keeping is really important if you ever hope to be successful at growing your own plants. Keeping notes of the date sown, plant variety, how many seeds you sowed and when they matured enough to transplant will really help you with timing your crops each year.


A version of this article appeared in a March 2010 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Rita Randolph.


Posted: 02/27/18   RSS | Print


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Dragonfly Fascination
by Douglas A. Spilker, Ph.D.       #Colorful   #Insects   #Wildlife

The striking azure color of the very common blue dasher only develops as the dragonfly matures.

Dragonflies with their ominous beauty, vivid colors and their spectacular flying maneuvers have provided hours of entertainment for many gardeners. Dragonflies are widespread across the United States and can be enticed to visit most yards. There are more than 450 species found throughout the United States and Canada. They range in color and size from the small eastern amberwing to the very large and brilliantly colored green darner. Although these insects tend to stay close to their birthplace, they are strong fliers that will explore surrounding areas. So if you garden even remotely near fresh water or a wetland, you can lure dragonflies to your yard.


The giant darner is thought to be the largest dragonfly found in the United States, with a wing span of up to 5 inches. Here it is shown during mating.

The eastern amberwing is one of the smaller dragonflies and looks very “wasp-like” in flight.

Their Water World
There is a good reason that you see dragonflies and damselflies around ponds, lakes and streams: They are aquatic insects that spend the majority of their lives developing in these wetland habitats. A dragonfly can have a life span of more than a year, but spends very little of that time as an adult dragonfly. There are three stages of the dragonfly life cycle: the egg, the nymph and the adult dragonfly. Most of the life cycle of a dragonfly is carried out in the nymph stage, which you will not likely notice unless you are attentive when cleaning out the bottom of your pond. Once the dragonfly eggs hatch, the larvae begin as wingless nymphs that look like little alien creatures. These six-legged nymphs live in the water feeding on other aquatic insects and small fish, while they grow and develop into dragonflies.

Dragonfly nymphs live in ponds or marshy areas because the waters are calmer than in a stream or river. When dragonflies are present, it is an indication that the ecosystem is in good shape since they are very sensitive to pollution. Once the nymph is fully grown, and the weather is right, it will complete its metamorphosis into an adult dragonfly by crawling out of the water, up the stem of a plant to shed its skin. Though dragonflies are predators, they themselves are subject to being preyed upon by birds, frogs, spiders, fish, water bugs and even other dragonflies, especially during this vulnerable stage of emergence. Once they become mature adults, their exceptional vision and nimble flight abilities make them a difficult catch.

An eastern pondhawk perched devouring its recent prey.

Voracious Hunters

Dragonflies tend to perch on upright sticks, plant stems and even plant stakes, basking in the sun’s warming rays. This widow skimmer appears to have just avoided being another’s meal!

Dragonflies are predators of anything they can hunt down, especially small insects like mosquitoes, midges, flies, mayflies and even honeybees. They may look menacing but pose no threat to humans. Dragonflies are known as the aerial acrobats of the insect world. Adult dragonflies have two pairs of transparent wings, with each wing having the ability to beat independently, making them capable of flight in all directions. Therefore, dragonflies are highly maneuverable hunters and very adept at intercepting prey in midair. By forming a basket with its legs, a dragonfly can scoop up both flying and perched insects without stopping. No toxins are used, and their prey is usually eaten alive. Some of the larger species, like darners, will just open their mouths and swallow small insects in flight.

Although the nymph stage may last from months to years, the adult stage only lasts about six weeks during midsummer. This is the last stage of a dragonfly’s life, and the stage for reproduction. Females can be seen laying eggs by tapping the tip of their abdomens directly into the mud or on emergent plants in the shallow water at edges of streams or ponds. In addition to searching for prey, males patrol their territories seeking females and driving away rival males. Mating pairs can often be seen flying or perched in tandem.

Eastern amberwing on a water lily flower.

You Ought to Be in Pictures
Dragonflies need water, so installing a pond or pool is an assured way to attract them. Even a small water feature like a half whiskey barrel can be enticing. Dragonflies seem to be more active when they have an opportunity to warm themselves, so place your water feature where it will receive midday sun. Although it is enjoyable to watch dragonflies dart about on a summer’s day, it is even more fascinating to see them up close, maybe capturing a photo of their brilliant colors and intricate wing venation. Dragonflies tend to perch on upright sticks, plant stems and even plant stakes, basking in the sun’s warming rays, or devouring their recent prey. It is best to forego the urge to trim the vegetation right down to the pond’s edge, but rather be sure to leave a fringe of tall grass or weeds as resting places. The dragonflies will likely repay your kindness with some astonishing poses!


A version of this article appeared in a January/February 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Douglas A. Spilker, Ph.D.


Posted: 02/27/18   RSS | Print


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Those “Other” Magnolias
by Scott Beuerlein       #Fragrant   #Flowers   #Trees

‘Yellow Bird’ magnolia is my personal favorite. The abundant and bright flowers in the spring are usually late enough to be unaffected by late frosts.

There are three reasons people don’t plant magnolias anymore: 1) Everybody assumes “magnolia” means only the saucer magnolias (Magnolia x soulangeana) they remember from their youth, which, 2) ate all of Grandma’s front yard, and 3) had its flowers blasted every third year by a frost. Now, listen to me carefully: These reasons are dumb.

First, not every yard is a postage stamp in need of a Lilliputian tree, so let’s stop pretending that they are. And a drop dead gorgeous floral display two years out of three already beats a river birch. In fact, it is on par with the vaunted yellowwood, which only blooms every other year. For those without a calculator, this is also two out of three if you start the count on a good year, but only one of three if you don’t. And, yet, that math works just fine for every snooty horticulturist I know. They all slobber over yellowwoods (and so should you). But all of us should also slobber all over saucer magnolias. For goodness sake, plant them if you have the space. But, if you legitimately haven’t got the room, or if you’re stubborn, you have got some fantastic magnolia options – the “other” magnolias.

Left: The flower of Ashe’s magnolia is almost identical to M. macrophylla. It’s as pretty as any flower out there as it opens. As big as a serving bowl, its lemony fragrance will make your day. Right: Fall color comes in browns and golds for most magnolias, but this should not be underrated for beauty.


The leaves of the umbrella magnolia aren’t as large as the bigleaf magnolia, but they can create a tropical sense of lushness in the landscape. Their flowers are incredibly beautiful, if somewhat malodorous.

Bigleaf-Type Magnolias
Bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) lives up to its name. The big floppy leaves can get up to 3 feet long and 18 inches wide. They are the biggest single leaf in the temperate forest. When they shed their leaves in the fall, you can bet every kid will be carrying one around. The flowers are equally fascinating. Fragrant and massive (12 to 18 inches wide), they appear sporadically over a month or so of spring. In full sun, they’ll grow low and wide, maybe 40 feet high by 40 feet wide, but in shade they stay trim and slim as they stretch for the sun. In nature, their range extends from Louisiana to New York. They are USDA Zone 5 hardy. Woefully underrepresented in nurseries, they are definitely worthy of a persistent search.

Ashe’s magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla subsp. ashei) is a smaller growing, shrubby subspecies of the bigleaf, maybe reaching half the size of its cousin. Its native range is restricted to the panhandle of Florida, but it too is USDA Zone 5 hardy. Leaves and flowers are a bit smaller, befitting its diminutive size, but very much worth the price of admission.

Umbrella magnolia (Magnolia tripetala) is another native bigleaf type that is good for naturalizing. Occasionally you see it for sale. It’s a USDA Zone hardier than M. macrophylla, but I like bigleafs and Ashe’s magnolias better. Umbrella magnolia is a scruffier tree, often with multiple suckering stems, and flowers that, although beautiful, are malodorous. It grows to 30 feet tall and 25 feet wide.

Left: ‘Butterflies’ magnolia has become relatively popular due to its abundant, bright yellow flowers. Right: The height and grandeur of cucumber magnolias is often surprising to those who know only common landscape magnolias.

Yellow-Blooming Magnolias
Cucumber magnolia (Magnolia acuminata) is a native, tall, narrow species that can legitimately be mistaken for an oak from even a short distance. They carry themselves with that exact same stately grandeur. You can see in them the family resemblance between magnolias and tulip poplars. The National Champion, which can be found in Stark County, Ohio, is 96 feet tall, 80 feet wide, and 299 inches in circumference. As magnolias go, their flowers aren’t much to look at. Relatively small, a little drab, and 30 feet up in a tree, this matters little. With a tree this grand, flowers aren’t that important. Except in this case, they are for a surprising reason: This species, and its rarer, little brother, M. acuminata subsp. subcordata, when bred with other species – many of them Asian in origin – provides the yellow blooms of such spectacular cultivars as ‘Butterflies’, ‘Daybreak’, ‘Elizabeth’, ‘Goldfinch’, ‘Gold Star’, ‘Solar Flare’, ‘Sunburst’, ‘Yellow Bird’, and many others. These are all wonderful, relatively new additions to the magnolia menu that sparkle in the spring landscape. Moreover, the cucumber magnolia parentage often produces an upright tree that fits very well in almost any landscape. They bloom later, enough so that frost seldom blasts their blooms. Easy to move and grow, these should be plopped right down in that special place in the garden.

Sweetbay magnolia flowers bloom sporadically for four to six weeks in the spring. Their lemony fragrance is fantastic. Later in the summer come the fruits, which are almost as showy.

Sweetbay and Southern Magnolias
These are by no means rare or difficult to find, but there are some interesting variations to know for northern gardeners. The southern magnolia (M. grandiflora) is listed as USDA Zone 6 hardy, but only some are reliably so. Look for cultivars such as, ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’, ‘D.D. Blanchard’, ‘Edith Bogue’, and ‘Kay Paris’, and provide a sheltered location if you can. Southern magnolias are capable of living almost anywhere and in deep shade.

The variation in sweetbay magnolia (M. virginiana) is surprising, and this offers much potential to select one perfect for your garden. For instance, ‘Henry Hicks’, ‘Green Shadow’, and ‘Northern Belle’ are all upright, tall, and evergreen reaching up to maybe 30 feet in gardens. Most of the other selections, and virtually all of them sold as the species, will be shrubbier and deciduous. The fall color – a collage of yellows, golds, and browns – is uniquely beautiful.

So hunt down some of these plants. Grow them. Enjoy them. Easy and beautiful all year, they offer so much.



A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2018 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Scott Beuerlein.


Posted: 02/27/18   RSS | Print


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Shop Smart
by Helen Newling Lawson       #Misc   #Spring

Take your time to examine all parts of the plant before buying. | Photo courtesy of UGA CAES.

Shopping for new plants is fun, but it can also be costly. Luckily, there are a few simple guidelines that can help you buy wisely and make the most of your plant dollars.

First: Find a reputable nursery. They will do a lot of the work for you by demanding healthy plants from their suppliers, keeping them watered, and watching for signs of diseases.

Don’t be afraid to take the plant out of the pot and examine the roots. Healthy roots are usually white or light brown and should not have any type of unpleasant odor. | Photo by Erika Jensen.

Next, take a bottom-up approach to picking a healthy plant. “The root of the problem,” isn’t just a figure of speech when it comes to plants. This means looking past the colorfully branded pot and bright blooms and tipping the plant out to have a look at the roots before you buy (yes, we promise it’s okay). Healthy roots are generally white or light brown. Dark brown, smelly, or rotten-looking roots are a sure sign of potential problems. Roots that are circled or packed into the pot are not necessarily a problem if you can untangle and spread them before planting. If the roots seem too thick to be straightened, or are too packed into drainage holes to pull the plant out of the pot, move on. On the other hand, if half the soil in the pot falls away, the plant may have just been “moved up” to a larger container and you are paying more without the benefit of a developed root system.

While you’re at it, feel the soil to make sure it’s not excessively dry. A plant stressed by lack of water can take longer to recover. Look for weeds growing in the soil to avoid bringing hitchhikers home.

Don’t overlook obvious problems on leaves, such as yellowing, leaf spot, or wilting. Examine the undersides of leaves and along stems for insects such as scale, whitefly larvae, or leaf miners.

You want woody plants to have even, undamaged branches. Depending on the plant or specific cultivar, look for the desired form, whether it is compact growth, straight trunks, or even a leggy look, such as crapemyrtles (Lagerstroemia indica) or chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus). Legginess is, of course, not always a desirable characteristic; shrubs will rarely fill out at the base.

Learn what common pests look like so you can avoid bringing them home. Scale insects, shown here, don’t crawl or look much like bugs in their adult stage, and some species are brown or gray, making them harder to spot. | Photo by Plutarco Echegoyen,

If you’re in the market for trees, Tim Daly, Agricultural and Natural Resources county extension agent, recommends looking at the caliper ratio, which is the relation of the circumference of the trunk to the height of the tree. He says it can vary by species, but a good rule of thumb is a 4-inch caliper (diameter): 10-14 feet tall. Another good rule of thumb to know is that each inch of trunk thickness needs 10-12 inches of root ball diameter. Measure 6 inches above the soil line.

Finally, thoroughly research before you buy to know the mature size and all growing requirements. The plant tags do have some useful information, but are not your best resource. A healthy plant in the wrong place is still a problem waiting to happen.


A version of this article appeared in a March 2018 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.


Posted: 02/27/18   RSS | Print


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Getting in Shape
by Susan Jasan       #Design   #Hardscaping   #Landscaping

Just one portion of an expansive property with extensive gardens, the owner has utilized the broad curves to facilitate mowing. However, they’ve gone a step further by creating a mowing edge along the beds that not only includes the vertical edge of the bed, but the horizontal mowing strip for the mower wheels, thus eliminating any need for trimming.

A little planning ahead can maximize your enjoyment and minimize headaches when dealing with your landscape – the maintenance in particular. A simple concept, yes; but most often overlooked. This particularly applies to the layout and design of your planting beds.

What could be so hard about that? It isn’t hard actually. In reality, it is quite easy when given some forethought.

Take for example a planting bed with square corners. Yes, they are easily made with straight-edged materials such as landscape timbers or railroad ties. However, typically they’re more time consuming when it comes to mowing and trimming.

Now consider the curved garden shape. Curves are often considered more “organic” or “natural.” And when curved edges are using in a garden border, mowing can be easier – but only if done correctly. This is particularly true when using a riding mower, but it also makes more work when mowing with a push mower. If the radius of the curve is smaller than the turning radius of your lawn mower, you’ve just created a trimming nightmare that will take a lot of the fun out of your mowing.

The grass path through this narrow area was planned to be wide enough for a mower. It keeps maintenance down, while still achieving a meandering pathway through a narrow space. • The broad sweeping curves of this garden allow for easy mowing. The repetition of colors draws the eye from foreground to the background. • This owner very intentionally designed the wide sweeping edge of their garden for easy maintenance.

In the case of a riding mower, be aware of the turning radius of your lawn mower. If you’re not sure what that is, then make as tight a circle as you can with the mower and measure the radius. For those fortunate to have a zero turn radius mower, you still have maneuvering room to consider. In either case, always design your planting beds so that you can mow in a continuous motion without having to stop and start to get into all those tight little turf areas.

A general rule of thumb is to be sure your curves are never tighter than a 6-foot radius. Remember too that the wider the radius, the more sweeping the curves, typically the more pleasing design…not to mention easier care.

Where your garden edge meets pavement, whether it’s the driveway, a sidewalk, or a patio area, the transition to the hardscape can take several forms: The edging simply “T’s” into the hardscape, or the edging curves and seems to disappear into the edge of the hardscape. There are pros and cons to both approaches:

The T Transition:
PRO: The T makes an abrupt clean edge and makes a strong definition for the planting bed.

CON: When mowing, one will have a 90-degree turn to make with this transition.

The Curved Transition:
PRO: It makes mowing very easy as one follows the gentle curved edge as it meets the hardscape edge.

CON: It makes growing plants in the narrow transition area very difficult.

There’s no right or wrong, there’s just a difference in style and choices.

Clockwise: Sometimes straight lines are a must to achieve the intended design, despite the added maintenance. Here the formality of this garden requires the straight bed edges along with the highly manicured plantings. • Here a tree base is mulched, edged, and planted. The circle bed is large enough to make mowing easy by simply mowing around the edge with a radius similar to the typical riding mower. • The irregular shapes of the stones in this patio area are reflected in the irregular shape of the garden border. In this application it works well, particularly as the junipers (Juniperus spp.) creep across the surface.

Remember to keep the above radii in mind when mulching trees. Even small starter trees will grow large, so start by giving them some extra room and mulching around them at the same radius as your mower. If the “bare” mulch area seems too much to you, then plant annuals in the mulched area until the tree grows. With the mulch, you’re also protecting the trunk of the tree from lawn mowers or string trimmers that can damage bark and ultimately kill your young tree.

Probably one of the most common mistakes made by gardeners is lining the edge of the driveway with plant material. What makes this particularly problematic is that most driveways are quite narrow. Typically, driveways are 20 feet wide, allowing two vehicles to be parked side by side. However, this doesn’t allow for the 4-5-foot space required to open a vehicle door and to step out of the vehicle. The result: crushed plants.

The planting bed along this fence line serves a dual purpose. The first, as a screening and accent between the driveway area in the foreground and the pool area beyond. The second purpose is less obvious, but extremely important. The planting bed is planned at 5-foot depth: the standard overhang of the back of a vehicle. Between the 5 feet and the soft plants, should a vehicle back into this area, the plants will soften the blow, and the depth helps prevent any damage to the fencing.

The curved edge of this planting utilizes a steel edge between the pavers and the mulched bed. This helps keep the mulch from washing into the walkway. Note that when using a curved edge for a paver walkway, there are many more cuts required to get the geometrically shaped pavers to fit well along the curve.

If you’re ever tempted to “soften the edge of your driveway” with a border, be sure that your guests won’t be trampling your hard work. If you have an oversized driveway that has extra space for egress from vehicles, then be sure to plant your greenery away from the edge of the concrete.

While we’re talking about sidewalks, remember that it is best to have (at a minimum) a 54-inch-wide sidewalk for the main approach your home. Most residential walkways are 48 inches wide and can be found as narrow as 36 inches. Reality: two people walking comfortably side-by-side typically requires 54 inches. The economics of the cost of concrete may dictate what you can afford, but whenever possible keep the approach to your home grand, and reduce the width of the more utilitarian areas if possible.

And just as you plan for visitors, be sure to avoid narrow turf areas where a mower cannot fit. This too makes for more maintenance, which with a little planning can be easily avoided.

Generally, curves are easier to maintain, the broader more sweeping forms being the easiest. Reserve straight lines for those formal gardens where you fully expect to spend extra time on maintenance. Some of the greatest gardens are built on geometry of angles and lines, so if that’s your style, by all means make the most of it and enjoy!


A version of this article appeared in a February 2018 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Susan Jasan.


Posted: 02/01/18   RSS | Print


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Winter Wakeups
by Leslie Hunter       #Colorful   #Ornamentals   #Winter

‘Jelena’s fragrant flowers fill the winter garden. • Flowers bloom on red twig dogwoods in early summer • Northern bayberry drops its leaves in winter to reveal it’s bluish-gray fruit.

Right now we are in the thick of it. Cold, dark and dreary days of winter are surrounding us with a blanket of plain white, brown, and gray. Depressing to a gardener that longs for shimmers of green and color, any color will do.

Typically we go to the catalogs, books, and internet to find treasures for the coming spring, but there are gems to be found in the winter garden if you plan for it. There are many shrubs, deciduous and evergreen, that fill corners of gardens throughout the year bringing yearlong interest. Here are three shrubs that keep working even when the world goes blah.

The flowers of ‘Arnold Promise’ perfume the winter landscape. • The foliage of ‘Arnold Promise’ witch hazel turns red in fall. • ‘Jelena’ and other witch hazels offer beautiful fall color.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia)
A cross between Japanese witch hazel (H. japonica) and Chinese witch hazel (H. mollis), these hybrids are like rock stars of the winter landscape, emerging with shaggy, fragrant, and vibrant axillary clusters of blooms in the doldrums of February into March.

Medium to large shrubs, hybrid witch hazels are often upright-spreading and loosely branched. They can be pruned in the spring after flowering to retain shape. Ranging from 15-20 feet tall, they make a statement in the shrub border all year long. Like most witch hazels, they prefer well-drained, moist, acidic soil but what they get is usually less than perfect clay type soils, which they tolerate just fine. Full sun is best for flowering, but they will also grow in part shade. Make sure to provide supplemental watering in times of drought to prevent leaf scorch.

‘Arnold Promise’ witch hazel’s fragrant flowers bloom mid- to late winter.

Witch hazels, in general, are known for their four-season appeal. Lovely gray-green foliage in summer is followed by bright yellow-to-red fall colors that drop revealing smooth, gray bark. H. x intermedia cultivars, such as ‘Arnold Promise’ and ‘Jelena’, burst onto the stage in February with much needed cheery yellow-to-deep orange sweetly scented bands of crazy haired flowers that stretch in the sun’s warmth. On cold days the strappy petals will curl in to preserve themselves from freeze damage, thus extending the bloom time.

Plant H. x intermedia near a walkway so you can enjoy not only the cheery colors but also the sweet fragrance of this gray day buster.

The stems of native red twig dogwoods glow in the winter landscape.

Red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea)
Red twig dogwood has a good descriptive name, but it does not do the plant justice. It is more than just “red twigs.” This shrub offers four-season appeal with white flowers in spring, interesting summer foliage, white berries late summer, and beautiful fall colors, but winter is when it really turns heads with its electric red haze.

A native to North America, red twig, or red osier as it is also called, is a medium-sized, loosely branching stoloniferous shrub often found in wetlands and along roadsides and banksides for erosion control. Reaching 6-9 feet tall if left unpruned, this fast growing shrub can make a dramatic statement in the winter scape. Many cultivars introduced, such as ‘Isanti’, are more compact, but all benefit from pruning a third of the branches down to the ground every year or two to maintain the fiery colored stems that appear with new growth.

If you plan on only growing for the winter stems, this shrub can be coppiced (cutting down all branches to the ground) every year or two, but this will sacrifice any flowering or fruiting, which benefit wildlife.

Red twig dogwood should be placed in an area of the garden that can be seen from the warmth of your house, but also an area where it can spread out its feet a little. Against a south facing garage wall will definitely show off its beauty. Full sun to part shade is preferable and it is another shrub that likes moist conditions but is tolerant of most soil conditions.

The fruit of northern bayberry almost glistens in the winter landscape.

Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)
Northern bayberry is a native shrub you may be not be familiar with, but it is worth getting to know, especially for winter interest.

A deciduous medium-sized shrub up to 9 feet tall and wide, bayberry makes an excellent hedge. Don’t plant as a lone specimen, for it needs both male and female plants to produce the attractive grayish-white berries that cover the bare stems.

Gray-green, leathery, oblong aromatic leaves cover this shrub throughout the growing season, creating a handsome screen. Flowers are insignificant in the early summer but once the leaves drop in the fall, the beautiful berries can be seen encasing the branches. The berries are covered in a wax used to make bayberry candles and soaps.

Tolerant of poor growing conditions, such as wet soils, drought, and even salt from roads makes this a versatile shrub in any garden, but added winter interest makes this a real winner. Plant in sun or part shade, once established this shrub is very low maintenance.

Bayberry almost glistens in the winter landscape with the grayish white berries covering the branches like mini snowballs. These gems also bring in colorful birds to feed on the fragrant fruits creating a playful and colorful scene in an otherwise drab landscape.

There are many shrubs that bring appeal to the winter scape whether it is from interesting architecture, colorful stems, interesting fruits or even unexpected flowers. There is no need to feel so gloomy about winter; there is color to be found!



A version of this article appeared in a January/February 2018 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Leslie Hunter and


Posted: 02/01/18   RSS | Print


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Plant Selection Key to Reducing Allergies
by Diana M. Rankin       #Health and Safety   #Spring   #Weather

Common ragweed is one of the most allergenic of all pollen sources, rating a 10 on OPALS. It is an annual weed and should be removed from the garden before it blooms.

Do you or does someone you know suffer from seasonal allergies, hay fever or asthma triggered by pollen? Are you tired of watery itchy eyes, a scratchy throat, a runny nose, sneezing and a stuffy head whenever you venture into your backyard? No, this isn’t a commercial for the newest antihistamine or decongestant miracle drug. Instead, it’s about how to have a garden that is virtually allergy-free.


Change in Ragweed Pollen Season (1995-2013)
This map demonstrates how the ragweed allergy season is increasing from south to north. This seems to be caused by a combination of warmer temperatures, later fall frosts and increased carbon dioxide in the air.


Prevalence of Pollen-Related Allergies
In 2013, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology estimated 16.9 million adults and 6.7 million children were diagnosed with allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever. Seasonal allergic rhinitis is usually caused by sensitivity to tree, grass, weed or other plant pollens.

Common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) alone affects an estimated 26 percent of all Americans. A single ragweed plant can produce up to 1 billion pollen grains in a season and these are carried long distances by the wind. The ragweed season is getting longer in many parts of the country. “Warmer temperatures and later fall frosts allow ragweed plants to produce pollen later into the year, potentially prolonging the allergy season for millions of people,” said a 2014 Environmental Protection Agency report. Furthermore, higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere stimulate plant growth, leading to more overall pollen production. We can look forward to longer, possibly more severe, hay fever seasons triggered by all kinds of wind-borne pollen.

What’s a Gardener to Do?
Avoidance is the key in allergy relief, wrote Thomas Leo Ogren in his book, Allergy-Free Gardening, (Berkeley, TenSpeed Press. 2000). Here are some suggestions:

• Eliminate allergy-causing plants in your yard and avoid exposure to those plants elsewhere.
• Don’t plant allergy-triggering plants near the home or garage entryways.
• Stay away from plants with pollen carried by the wind. This includes ragweed and several tree species.
• Remove ragweed and related weeds, such as pigweed (Amaranthus palmeri) and lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album) before the flowers appear.
• Avoid being outdoors between 5 and 10 a.m., when the air is most saturated with pollen grains.
• Monitor pollen counts using local weather media and online resources, such as, or with a pollen alert app for your smart phone. (For reviews of these apps, visit,
• Avoid being outdoors on windy days, especially when pollen counts are high.
• Wear a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health- or NIOSH- rated, 95-filter mask if pollen counts are high.
• Take medication prior to going outdoors, but only as directed by your allergist.
• Select only garden and landscape plants that will not contribute to pollen allergy symptoms.


‘Boulder Blue’ is a beautiful grass for the perennial border, but blue fescues are rated 9 on OPALS. Do not plant it in your allergy-free garden. • The herb borage has blue flowers, which are a favorite of bumblebees. These are perfect flowers, meaning that both male and female parts are within a single flower. • In the spring, pine trees shed copious amounts of pollen. The OPALS rating, however, is only a 4 because the pollen is waxy and not very irritating to mucous membranes.

Plants for a (Nearly) Allergy-Free Garden
Allergy-Free Gardening is one of the best resources for finding which plants have the greatest allergy potential. Each plant is rated on the Ogren Plant-Allergy Scale, trademarked as OPALS. This scale of 1 to 10 is based on Ogren’s groundbreaking research on the allergy-potential of hundreds of plants, including cultivars of the most allergenic landscape plants. In addition to pollen, the scale considers the potential for contact dermatitis, odor allergy and whether or not a plant is poisonous. A rating of 1 indicates the most allergy-free and 10 the least allergy-free.

There are also some general rules, which Ogren discusses in his book.

• Avoid plants that are pollinated by the wind, rather than insects. Wind-pollinated plants have small, inconspicuous green or brown flowers in dense clusters, and the pollen grains are small, light and dry, so that they can be carried easily by the wind. These include Artemesia species, such as tarragon and wormwood; conifers; spring-blooming deciduous trees; and grasses, especially un-mowed Kentucky bluegrass, zoysia grass, junegrass, timothy and orchard grass.
• Select bright, highly colored, lightly scented flowering plants. These have heavy, sticky pollen that bees and other insects move from flower to flower in the pollination process. Examples are: crab apples (Malus domestica), Petunia, roses (Rosa), Dianthus, daylilies (Hemerocallis hybrids) and Zinnia.







Above: Coralburst Crabapple (Malus ‘Coralcole’)

Right: Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’ is an excellent selection for the allergy-free, perennial border. Tubular pink flowers are insect-pollinated.

Plant Parts and Pollination
Finding out how the male pollen makes its way to the female flower parts is the best way to know a specific plant’s potential for causing allergy symptoms.

• Perfect flowers are those that have both male and female parts inside a single flower. Pollinating insects only need to move the pollen a short distance from flower to flower. Perfect-flowered plants include apples (Malus) and roses.
• Monoecious plants have separate male and female flowers on the same plant. The pollen is transferred from one flower to the other by gravity or by wind. Examples of monoecious plants are corn and oak.
• Dioecious plants are separate-sexed; that is, individual plants in the species are either all male or all female. For pollination to occur, the wind must carry pollen from the male plant to the female. Examples of dioecious plants include ash, willow, poplar, holly and some maples.

Red Sunset is a female red maple selection, thus pollen-free. It was named Iowa Tree of the Year in 2000.

For the allergy-sufferer, perfect-flowered plants are the best choice. Monoecious plants should be avoided along with male dioecious plants. Female dioecious plants are acceptable, but beware that some, such as ginkgo (G. biloba), bear messy or unpleasant fruit. There are also some female-named cultivars, such Red Sunset red maple (Acer rubrum ‘Franksred’), that are excellent choices for the home landscape.

Although it can be challenging to plant a nearly allergy-free garden and landscape, it is definitely possible. You may not be able to plant some of the things you would like to have, but there are many, many others that are good substitutes. As Ogren’s book emphasizes, anyone can have a garden that is very nearly allergy-free through avoidance and careful selection.


A version of this article appeared in a January/February 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of, Diana M. Rankin, Bailey Nurseries, bendicks/, and Van Meuven.


Posted: 02/01/18   RSS | Print


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Little But Mighty
by Kenni Lou Walker       #Garden Profile   #Misc

The bed displays a variety of flowers and interesting elements.

Opportunities abound for beautiful gardens in manufactured housing and condo communities. Zellwood Station, historically a railway station, is a resident-owned 55+ adult community with manufactured homes and many amenities, including a challenging PGA-level golf course. The rolling hills cradle numerous lakes and ponds as well as wooded areas. Each of the 1,040 homes includes a small plot of land, as well as homeowner association guidelines that limit architectural and landscaping options. Examples of what can be accomplished under these circumstances abound within Zellwood Station, including Jeanne Bakkuum’s small space. Jeanne is one of those homeowners who have maximized her small space, transforming it into a beautifully manicured area that provides year-round beauty. She used color, texture, height, and variety to create a head-turning landscape nestled a compact space.

Jeanne hails from Nashville, where her love for gardening was inspired by the fact that where she lived was once a dairy farm, giving her “unbelievably” fertile soil.

A hanging basket of orchids that dangle under the Lagrostrum tree.

Living in Florida, Jeanne was fascinated by the variety of plants that bloomed year round and thus began her decades of experimentation. She persisted through a myriad of successes mixed with a few “learning opportunities.” Though her gardens are now well established, Jeanne continues to try new looks and new plants.

The largest garden began as lawn that was a challenge due to persistent chinch bugs. Jeanne replaced her St Augustine grass with zoysia grass, which is relatively free from pest and disease problems, but not without its challenges. The most common of which is thatch buildup that requires periodic removal. But after several years, the lawn developed into a thick, perfectly plush carpet.

The back side of the garden displays a memorial container, rocks and driftwood.

Jeanne carved out a well-defined garden in a raised bed filled with fertilized soil in full sun surrounded by a dry moat. She used golden trumpet plants (Allamanda cathartica) and Knock Out roses (Rosa cvs.) to anchor the space. She likes the Knock Out roses for their bright color and minimal maintenance – requiring just a bit of rose food and only early spring and late fall pruning. Deadheading prolongs the blooming season for several months. This season, the space also displays red geraniums (Pelargonium spp. and cvs.), purple mophead hydrangeas (H. macrophylla), purple and white Petunia, green and pink polka dot plants (Hypoestes phyllostachya), and Mexican petunias (Ruellia spp.).

The garden is enhanced by two family mementos. “Mary Frances” is a statue of a young girl with a bird perched on her outstretched hand. She was a Mother’s Day gift from her son Gary. A planter from Jeanne’s late husband’s memorial lies on its side, spilling out lavender blue periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus). Look closely and you can see a variety of river rocks, porous airy pumice, and lava rocks that embellish the space.

Surprises are found at every turn, such as this beautiful Plumeria.

Surprises are found everywhere you turn in this garden. Different varieties of yellow, white, pink, and mixed orchids hang gracefully from a tree-form Ligustrum. Asiatic jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum) covers the ground at the base of a tree. More orchids hang from the carport and a collection of succulents – including blue chalksticks (Senecio serpens), Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera truncata), and ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) – is displayed in interesting containers on pedestals of varying heights.

At the end of our visit, Jeanne shared some of her gardening tips:
•  Group plants with similar sun requirements.
•  Don’t be afraid of color.
•  And above all: Be brave!


A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 23 Number 1.
Photography courtesy of Kenni Lou Walker.


Posted: 01/31/18   RSS | Print


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Green Gardening for All
by Adam Sarmiento       #Landscaping   #Natives   #Sustainability and Self-Sufficiency

We can learn a lot by observing how natural ecosystems contain a wide variety of plants providing different roles and functions.

Here in the 21st century the idea of ecological or “green” gardening is nothing new. As gardeners we have a unique connection to ecology that leads many of us to desire to garden in ways that don’t harm the environment. Most of us approach using chemicals with at least some level of apprehension and concern about both environmental and human health. Scientific research is increasingly confirming suspicions that horticultural and agricultural chemicals are contributing to a wide array of concerns such as cancer, pollinator decline, and poor water quality. Still, much confusion remains about what going green in the garden entails and how practical it is, especially as we age and become less physically able.

The good news is that the biggest challenge in going green is a mental one. Going green won’t necessarily require you to do much differently physically, but it will require you to challenge some of your assumptions about gardening. The following is a list of five things you can do this year to make your garden healthier and more ecofriendly.

Embrace Diversity
Most natural landscapes include a plethora of plant species interacting and filling different niches that support wildlife, like pollinators and birds, and environmental functionality, like fertile soils and clean water. The more plant species, especially native, that we bring into our gardens the more potential we have for a healthy ecosystem. Start by taking an inventory of the number and types of plant species you have and then make a list of beneficial plants you could add.

By bringing together many native and useful plants we can mimic natural systems and create beautiful gardens.

Take Back Your Lawn
The elephant in the room when it comes to a lack of plant diversity in most gardens is the lawn. Our obsession with golf course-like expanses comes with many ecological consequences. Poor water quality, toxic chemical exposure, air pollution, species decline, noise pollution, and habitat loss can all be attributed to the modern lawn. Take stock of how much you actually use your lawn, how it contributes to the design of your garden, and how much you spend to maintain it, and then consider ways to reduce your lawn and replace it with native grasses, flowers, and other beneficial plants. A lawn is essentially an artificially maintained pioneer or newly established ecosystem.

Go Organic
These days organic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are readily available and provide good non-toxic alternatives. Use of organic products will increase the health of both you and your plants, and increase the long-term fertility of your gardens.

Raised beds like these can make gardening more accessible for those with limited mobility.

Composting is an easy way to make your gardening more sustainable and reduce waste.

Grow Your Own
The ecological costs of our industrial-scale agricultural systems are numerous. By growing some of your own food you can help mitigate this situation and assure yourself that you are getting the freshest, tastiest, and healthiest food possible. As we grow older and/or have more limited mobility, it can be challenging to continue to grow food. One of the biggest challenges is being able to work on the ground. Using raised beds or taller containers can help alleviate this problem and make your plants more accessible.

Every day good compostable material is dumped into landfills. You can reduce your need for fertilizers and mulch and reduce your contribution to your community’s waste stream by composting your food scraps. You don’t need a fancy bin or to invest much money into the process. A simple well-built pile only requires a small space in a shady part of your property. For urban dwellers or those with limited mobility, a worm bin can provide a good alternative to make use of your compostable materials.

The environmental legacy of our gardening and landscaping can be one of restoration, protection, and health or one of species extinction, toxic chemical pollutants, and illness. It is up to each of us as gardeners, landscapers, and consumers to decide what kind of legacy we will leave. These five simple steps are a good way to make your garden more ecologically friendly and with some little personal tweaks it can be something you can sustain for a lifetime.


A version of this article appeared in a March 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Adam Sarmiento.


Posted: 01/31/18   RSS | Print


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Out There Plants
by Garry V. McDonald       #Misc   #Unusual   #Vegetables

Teosinte is a wild ancestor of modern corn and produces edible grain, although not anything like regular maize. Teosinte flowers late in the summer so it is dicey if the ears will mature before frosts occur in most temperate zones.

At the risk of being a little too outré, I grew some plants that are not the usual garden suspects. These are plants known in the business as “straight species,” and are closer to wild types and not grown in normal suburban gardens. Give these plants a shot once you get tired of the standard garden fare.

(Zea mays var. parviglumis)

Teosinte is a vernacular name given to several Zea species and botanical varieties, all progenitors of modern maize and native to Mexico and Central America. The variety I grew came from the Balsas River Valley in south-central Mexico, which is thought to be the center of corn’s domestication more than 9,000 years ago. I’ll admit the plants weren’t the most ornamental species I’ve ever grown, but they were definitely conversation pieces and I was able to bring samples to one of my classes for show-and-tell (students need to know where their food comes from). This variety is a short-day plant, meaning they did not start flowering until September and can be hard to get ears to ripen if autumn arrives too early. Seed need to be soaked in warm water overnight before sowing to aid germination. To ensure success, I started transplants in May and set out in early June. The plants “tiller,” or throw up multiple stems, forming a dense clump unlike modern corn, which has been reduced to a single stalk and an exact number of ears depending on the cultivar. Unfortunately they had all the usual corn pests, which were a pain. The “ear” on this teosinte is only about 1 inch long with triangular hard kernels. Off the wall maybe, but was fun to grow and interesting to show visitors.

Mt. Pima tobacco is native to the mountains of western Mexico and has beautiful rosy-pink flowers that are fragrant in the evenings. • This native tobacco is used by the Santo Domingo pueblo in New Mexico for rain ceremonies.

(Nicotiana tabacum)

I don’t roll my own or countenance smoking, but I thought it would be interesting to grow tobacco, traditionally used by indigenous people because of the large bold foliage and fragrant night-scented flowers. Ornamental flowering tobacco is commonly a hybrid of Nicotiana alata, N. langsdorfii, or N. sylvestris bred to be so short and compact that there is little character or substance left to make an impact in the garden. I grew two heirloom varieties: one was a selection from the Santo Domingo Pueblo in New Mexico traditionally used in rain ceremonies and the other form used by locals from the Mount Pima area of the western Chihuahua region of northern Mexico. The variety from Mount Pima turned out to be a winner, with beautiful pink-toned flowers produced over a long period over the growing season. I did cut the plants back about midsummer when they started to go to seed and the rejuvenated plants re-flowered until I finally pulled the plants in October. The extract from tobacco leaves is considered a powerful nicotine-based insecticide, which may be true, but I finally pulled the plants because caterpillars kept eating the leaves … go figure. The Santo Domingo variety didn’t perform as well, although the white flowers were beautiful and the evening fragrance was sweet. I went in with transplants in June and they quickly bolted and never produced the large velvety leaves I was expecting. I shall try again next season, possibly direct seeding. Both types produced a zillion seed so I have seed for next year or give to friends.

Small in stature, this chili pepper native to south Texas and Mexico packs a wallop when it comes to heat.

Chiltepin pepper
(Capsicum annuum var. glabrisuculum)

This chili pepper is one I collected years ago growing under a mesquite tree in the Texas Hill Country. The fruit are tiny, but can pack a big wallop, coming in at 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville units, which is chili-head speak for pretty dang hot. Perennial in its native haunts, most of us will have to grow it as an annual. Mine often reseed from year to year and I find they tend to make better plants if left to their own devices. Of course they never come up exactly where I want them, so I always start some transplants to set out. They need warm soil to germinate so I usually break out the heating mat for this one along with the other peppers. The handsome plants are compact with very dark green foliage and ornamental small, round, bright red fruit. Protected in mild areas, they may overwinter and are useful for Christmas decorations. Used in cooking, a little bit goes a long way, but I like them for flavoring soups and chili and also to make a vinegar-pepper sauce. Some folk will even roast them over a mesquite wood fire to give them a smoky flavor. There are many other pepper species that are ornamental as well as useful. My tabasco (Capsicum frutescens) pepper plants grow 4 feet tall and are as pretty as any garden annual or perennial when full of fruit in the fall.

(possibly Petunia axillaris x P. integrifolia)

This unimproved variety of garden petunia has been in my family for several generations.

I have no idea where this particular petunia came from. It’s always been a part of my life and one of the earliest plants I remember. They came up all over my grandmother’s rose beds, possibly originally from my great-grandmother, who I understand was a keen gardener. As a young child I loved the violet-flowering forms and pulled up the white-flowering forms. Over time, I inadvertently and unknowingly selected a line of highly scented violet-flowering forms that would survive mild winters. Time passed and I wasn’t around to thin the herd so the white-flowering forms re-emerged. More time passed and I thought they had died out completely, when a couple of years ago, some long-dormant seed must have gotten exposed and sprouted. Most were pale violet to lilac but still fragrant. I couldn’t find any seed, so I collected cuttings and brought them back and put them out in a petunia trial I have planted at our research center. Last fall I couldn’t find any seed and forgot to get cuttings before an unexpected freeze, so I assumed I’d lost them again. I can’t explain it, but by some quirk of nature, and after some autumnal rain this past season, petunias emerged. Imagine my surprise when I discovered violet flowers along with pure white flowers. So it looks like I’m back in business.

The gardening life is full of surprises. Other plants I’ve grown in the past that are kind of out there but ornamental included maroon and white cotton, purple-leaved sugarcane, and beans spotted like a palomino horse.


A version of this article appeared in a February 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Garry V. McDonald.


Posted: 01/30/18   RSS | Print


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Add a Woodland Garden
by Gene E. Bush       #Natives   #Shade   #Themed Gardens

This mature oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) shelters native wildflowers beneath its large leaves.

My woodland garden is now 30-plus years old. During all those years of reading magazine articles, purchasing gardening books and attending numerous symposiums, two teachers have stood out above all else. I would highly recommend both as your next shade garden gurus. Wisest of all woodland gardening gurus is the forest trail closest to you for frequent visits and observations.

It can and will teach you all you need to know about gardening in the shade. The more you visit and observe forests, the more you are capable of learning. A local wildflower guide will give you names to those plants you see while hiking the trails. Now you know the names of the plants that you find attractive and want to include in your shade garden. Knowing the names means a purchase at your local garden center, or perhaps a mail order, can be made.

Polygonatum sibericumis a bit over 5 feet of stiffly upright, clumping stems. Leaves and stems are blue-green and the small white flowers hang like tassels in the leaf junctions.

Shade garden or woodland garden?
Perhaps the words “shade garden” would fit many gardeners better than “woodland garden.” Many gardeners will not have the opportunity to garden beneath mature trees, but rather will garden in the shade of a building. However, the needs of the two environments are very similar.

Nature has created an environment in our deciduous woodlands that is centered on seasons. Some perennials awaken early in late winter before the leaves appear on trees; quickly bloom, set seed and then go dormant as the canopy closes above. Some plants will not bloom until the last gasp of fall. Foliage will become very important as it will often change colors with the seasons. All have adapted to surviving and thriving at the feet of the tall trees that demand first share of water and nutrients.

There are many levels of growth in a forest that translate into garden design. Tall shade trees, with an overall canopy above that takes first serving of available light, have a root system that all plants below must compete with. Beneath the largest trees are medium trees followed downward in size by shrubs. Finally it is on the forest floor where the perennials, tubers and bulbs are located. Vines begin the journey upward once more from floor to ceiling of the shaded environment.

Soil composition
We gardeners attempt to do what it took nature hundreds, even thousands, of years to accomplish. We want that optimal growing environment of humus-rich garden soil that is well-drained, but retains moisture. Mother Nature accomplished that with falling leaves each November — leaves that eventually crumbled along with the twigs and limbs; sometimes entire trees that fell over and rotted among the carpet of dead foliage. Insects lived and died among the leaves and limbs, adding to the layer we refer to as forest duff. Soil is a living web of fungi, bacteria and living organisms that are both visible and too small to be noticed when we disturb the soil.

Shade distinctions
Shade is nothing more than an obstruction between you and the sun.

Some woodland plants grow at the edge of the forest, some grow in the center where shade is darkest, and others grow in a clearing or thicket. There is a variation in the amount of light some woodland plants need to bloom well and thrive. You will need to determine how much light your garden has to offer so you know where to place your plants.

Mark the boundaries of your garden, and begin to check the area at various times of the day. As the sun moves from east to west the intensity and duration of available light changes from hour to hour. The premium placement for a woodland garden is an eastern exposure, for it is the most gentle of exposures, protected from the hottest part of the day.

A shaft of sunlight shines through dogwood (Cornus sp.) foliage in the center of this shaded garden. A hedge shields the garden from full force of the sun.

Creating by emulating Nature

When beginning a shade garden, the soil should be loosened, usually to a depth of 8 to 12 inches. Since we are disturbing a living web when loosening the soil, I add a good compost, along with organic matter such as aged hardwood mulch to compensate, and mix thoroughly. I always top-dress with chopped leaves or composted hardwood mulch that will decay in a year or two, adding to the top layer as a water-retaining and temperature-regulating blanket.

I am a firm believer in using native plants. Begin with what grows in your region — for nothing encourages more gardening like success. Plants native to your area are already adapted to your climate and soil. Create by emulating what nature is showing by example.

If, at some point in your shade gardening success you wish to expand your horizons, there is another related world to explore. There are shade-loving plants from around the temperate world known as non-native or exotic plants. Many are related to our natives. There is no end of hardy plants available to a shade gardener. Mostly it is a shortage of awareness.

Take that walk, purchase that wildflower guide, and create a bit of nature in your yard.


A version of this article appeared in a November/December 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Gene E. Bush.


Posted: 01/30/18   RSS | Print


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Make More Green
by Gerald Klingaman       #Containers   #How to   #Propagation

As winter approaches, gardeners are faced with a dilemma – keep the plants or the spouse? I suspect more than one marriage has ended over a fundamental disagreement about the need to move the patio jungle into the living room. Good gardeners live on a slippery slope because they want their patio plants to flourish during their respite outside, and before you know it, it’s decision time. Do I save the philodendron or the favorite easy chair?

But there is a way out – propagate the overgrown vegetation and bring in small, manageable plants. Leave the big ones outside to see if they will survive the icy blast of winter. Of course they won’t, but you can appease your conscience by proclaiming their sacrifice to be part of a winter hardiness test you were conducting.

Terminal cuttings of several houseplants ready to stick into the rooting bag.

Cutting Propagation Basics
While there are a number of different methods of plant propagation, here we will concentrate on just one kind – cutting propagation. Cuttings are used to propagate trees and shrubs, herbaceous perennials and a wide array of houseplants.

Because plants vary so much in size and shape, a number of different cutting types are used in propagation. The most basic cutting is called a terminal cutting, consisting of a stem with a few leaves attached. The length of the stem will vary depending on the kind of plant, but 3 to 5 inches is a good range for a wide variety of plants. Usually the cutting will contain four to six leaves. For easily rooted plants, the basal cut can be anywhere on the stem, but for more difficult to root plants, make the cut just below a node. Don’t be greedy and make the cutting too big because large cuttings with lots of leaves loose water quickly. Wilted cuttings quickly turn into dead cuttings. Avoid stems that have flowers. For example, chrysanthemums root easily in the early part of summer before flower buds form, but after the buds appear rooting is much more difficult.

When you try leaf bud cuttings of pothos, crowd as many as possible into the pot. • Each leaf of a vining plant such as pothos is a potential cutting.

Leaf-bud Cuttings
Single-eye or leaf bud cuttings are used to propagate plants with large leaves or those that require lots of growing points to create a full appearance. These cuttings consist of an inch of stem above and below the resting bud and a leaf. The term “single-eye” is usually used to refer to plants that have alternate leaf arrangement such as pothos or nephytis, while “leaf bud” is used for plants with opposite arrangement such as coleus or hydrangea. For leaf bud cuttings with opposite leaves, just trim off one of the leaves. Plants with really large leaves – such as some coleus cultivars, hydrangea cuttings, rubber plant and other similar plants – usually have their leaves cut in half, simply so they don’t take up so much room in propagation.

This new plant started from a fallen leaf of a burro’s tail sedum.

New rhizomes are emerging from this mother-in-law’s tongue, but it took almost eight months for them to appear.

Leaf Cuttings
Some plants have the ability to regenerate new plants directly from leaves using leaf cuttings. Leaf cuttings are used only for houseplant propagation, and if another method of propagation is possible, it is preferred because this is a slow procedure. Relatively few species of plants can be propagated by leaf cuttings with African violets and its kin, succulent leafed plants in the jade plant family, some sedums and hens-and-chicks, many peperomias, the fleshy leafed begonias such as rex and beefsteak begonias, sansevieria, and a few other miscellaneous plants making up the list. Leaf cuttings are unique in the vegetable world in that the plant must not only form new roots, it must form a new shoot. Some plants such as rubber plant and chrysanthemum form roots from a leaf but lack the ability to produce a new vegetative shoot so you are left with a eunuch.

Succulent leaves from sedums and echeverias can be simply scattered on the surface of a pot like so many jellybeans and they will eventually root and form new plants. African violet cuttings are made by removing a mature leaf and petiole and then sticking the petiole in the rooting medium. Rex begonia leaves may either be laid flat on moist media or cut into pie shaped wedges (each wedge must contain a major leaf vein) and inserting the pointed end into the media. Usually eight to ten weeks is required to produce a new growing point using leaf cuttings, so patience is a virtue with this type of propagation.

Moisten the stem and then dip the cuttings in rooting hormone.

Using Rooting Hormones
Most plants have the ability to form roots on their own, but the speed and uniformity of rooting can be increased dramatically by using one of the commercially available rooting hormones. The hormone involved, auxin, occurs naturally in plants. Auxin has many functions including stimulating cell division, which is why flowers turn to face the brightest location in the garden, stems grow upright when tipped over, and why the apical growing point suppresses the growth of buds below it on the stem. Stimulation of rooting, while important to propagators, is a relatively minor role for this important plant hormone.

Rooting hormones are available from most garden centers and home stores under brand names such as Rootone or Dip’N Grow. The first is a powder that contains auxin at a concentration of 1000 parts per million active ingredients; Dip’N Grow is a liquid that is diluted in water and can have a range of concentrations depending on the amount of water added. If stored in a cool, dry location, they maintain their effectiveness for years. The 1000 ppm concentration of the powder is ideal for most houseplants, but a higher concentration is desirable if you get ambitious and attempt to root woody plants.

The rooting powder is applied by first dipping the bottom half inch of the cutting in water and then dipping this portion in the hormone. Tap the cutting to remove any excess powder. To avoid getting moisture and debris in the hormone container, remove a small quantity of the powder before dipping the cutting and then discard any unused material. When liquid hormones are used, the basal 1/2 inch is inserted into the solution for a five second count.

A 6-inch pot, fresh potting soil, a plastic bag and a coat hanger make an ideal rooting environment for many houseplants.

Creating the Right Rooting Environment
The most conspicuous role for roots is water uptake, so obviously cuttings without roots get dry in a hurry. Hence it follows that the most critical environmental requirement for rooting is to provide conditions that keep the plant from wilting. The most obvious way to prevent wilting is to simply stick the cuttings in a vase and allow them to root in standing water. This actually works for a few plants such as pothos, coleus and even African violet leaves, but the roots formed in this low oxygen environment don’t function very well when finally transplanted to soil. Oftentimes a new root system will have to form when the water-rooted cuttings are transplanted to soil, so rooting in soil is much preferred to rooting in water.

Crowd the cuttings in, mixing and matching plants as needed to fill the rooting bag.

Place the finished pot in a location where it receives bright light but not direct sun.

An easy way to prevent wilting is to provide a high humidity environment that prevents excessive water loss. On a small scale this can be accomplished by using a plastic covered rooting pot or, if more cuttings are needed, to build a rooting box. The plastic traps the water vapor released from the reservoir of moist soil, keeping the air at 100 percent humidity, which prevents wilting. I have had plants survive in this terrarium-like environment for two years with absolutely no attention. Because no moisture is lost from the system, they will not dry out. Use any good, high quality potting media for rooting. To ensure you have the proper moisture level in the media, wet the mix the evening before you take your cuttings. Depending on the ease of rooting, roots will begin appearing in three to six weeks for most herbaceous plants and houseplants. You can build a similar setup from a two-liter soft drink container by cutting the jug in half about 4 inches from the base. Put moist soil in place, stick your cuttings in, and then use tape to reattach the top of the container. Rooting containers must never be placed in direct sun or the plants will be roasted, just like they would be if left in the car on a sunny afternoon in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

You can crowd a dozen or more cuttings into the container, mixing and matching a wide assortment of plants. Don’t worry if cuttings touch. If moldy leaves show up in a couple of weeks, open the bag and remove the leaves. Or, if you want to propagate a new favorite plant, the rooting bag can be used to produce a nice full plant in short order. If this is your goal, don’t be stingy with cuttings. To make a nice attractive pothos pot, stick 12 to 15 single eye cuttings in a 6-inch pot. Really crowd them in. Each leaf bud will produce a new shoot and in a few months you will have a full, well-proportioned pot. For cuttings with upright growth such as jade plant, nephytis or aluminum plant, stick three to five terminal cuttings all in one spot in the center of the pot. As the roots form, the plants will begin to grow and in no time you will have an attractive, full plant. If you use only one cutting to start a new plant, you will eventually be able to grow a nice plant but it will take years to do so, not months.

After a month or so, give the plants a gentle tug to see if they have rooted. Once they are rooted, remove the plastic bag and allow the roots to develop a couple weeks longer before transplanting. If you were propagating just one kind of plant in the pot, no transplanting is needed. Make the vow now to go easy on the fertilizer so that this new baby won’t turn into another giant that will overpower your living room when winter rolls around.


A version of this article appeared in an October 2003 print edition of State-by-State Gardening Magazine.
Photography courtesy of Gerald Klingaman.


Posted: 01/17/18   RSS | Print


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Lighten Up
by Tom Hewitt       #Colorful   #Flowers   #Shade

Shade gardens can be surprisingly colorful if you choose the right plants.

With the exception of butterfly gardens, I much prefer shady gardens to sunny ones. Shady gardens are more restful, cooler during the summer, and provide an abundance of green. But they can also present a challenge when it comes to adding color. Fortunately, there are many more options available than most people realize.

That said, it must be noted that precious little blooms in deep shade. That’s why I go to such great lengths to lighten things up. Every year or so I have my trees selectively pruned to let in as much light as possible. This also lets in more rainfall, as heavily shaded gardens tend to be a bit on the dry side.

When designing a garden from scratch, it’s better to pick trees that provide filtered light rather than dense shade. In southern Florida, jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia), tamarind (Tamarindus indica), and false tamarind (Lysiloma latisiliquum) come to mind. I love the dappled shade provided by royal poincianas (Delonix regia), but have issues with their surface roots and brittle nature. With any tree you choose, keep its ultimate size in mind and space trees far enough apart so their canopies don’t compete.

Clockwise: Spiderworts bloom in full sun, but also love the shade. • Mussaendas benefit from shade during the hottest part of the day. • Tropical hydrangeas love partial shade in southern Florida.

Thinning out lower-level vegetation also helps; that will allow more early morning and late afternoon sun to penetrate the interior. This also helps improve air circulation, which is essential to the overall health of any garden. When selectively pruning, make sure you maintain a plant’s natural shape as much as possible.

Light to moderate shade (especially in southern Florida) allows you to grow a number of things normally thought of as sun worshippers, such as Pentas, Hibiscus, Crossandra, tropical sage (Salvia coccinea), Angelonia, and spiderworts (Tradescatia spp.). Leopard plant (Farfugium japonicum) does best in light shade, as do most bromeliads.

Balsam is an impatiens relative that loves shady areas.

I grow shade-loving annuals in pots on my patio. One of my favorite combos is lobelia (Lobelia erinus), Begonia ‘Dragon Wing Pink’ and creeping jenny (Lysimachia nummularia). Other shade lovers include Ageratum, Viola, wishbone flower (Torenia fournieri), balsam (Impatiens balsamina), and Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’. ‘Marguerite’ sweetpotato vine (Ipomoea batatas ‘Marguerite’), golden pothos  (Epipremnum aureum), Ajuga, and polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) make good fillers. Shade actually reduces the stress on many annuals as summer approaches, making them last longer.

Many tropical bulbs prefer varying degrees of shade. Some of my favorites are Amazon lilies (Eucharis grandiflora), blood lilies (Scadoxus spp.), Crinum, and Amaryllis. Blackberry iris (Iris domestica) also appreciates light shade, as do walking iris (Neomarica spp.) and African iris (Dietes spp.).

In deeper shade, however, it is better to rely more on foliage than flowers. Shady-loving annuals and perennials with colorful leaves include Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus), blood leaf (Iresine spp.), stromanthe (Stromanthe sanguinea), Calathea, peacock ginger (Kaempferia pulchra), variegated shell ginger (Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’), ‘Lime Zinger’ elephant ear (Xanthosoma aurea ‘Lime Zinger’), aluminum plant (Pilea cadierei), and Anthurium.

Azaleas (Rhododendron) continue to be my favorite blooming shrubs for shady gardens. But this far south, countless other shrubs appreciate at least some relief from the sun during the day, like tropical hydrangea (Dombeya spp.), Mussaenda (‘Marmalade’ is my absolute favorite), and blue ginger (Dichorisandra thyrsiflora). For deeper shade, plume flowers (Justicia spp.) offer showy blooms in every color imaginable, and are great for “jazzing up” dull areas.

Florida cat whiskers do well in light shade. • Begonia odorata ‘Alba’ tolerates more sun than most begonias, but still prefers some shade. • The leaves of Stromanthe will actually burn in full sun.

Nothing adds class and dignity to an all-green garden like white. Fortunately, two of my favorite white-blooming shrubs also appreciate some shade. Both white candles (Whitfieldia elongata) and Florida cat whiskers (Orthosiphon aristatus) also attract butterflies. There is also a purple-flowering form of cat whiskers, but it never lasts long in my garden and I hesitate to recommend it.

Many shrubs with variegated or colorful leaves also like light to moderate shade, such as caricature plant (Graptophyllum pictum), copperleaf (Acalypha spp.), sanchezia (Sanchezia speciosa), zebra plant (Aphelandra squarrosa), ti plants (Cordyline spp.), and miagos bush (Osmoxylon lineare).

Plants will quickly let you know when they’re getting too much shade. Leaves drop, plants get spindly and refuse to bloom, and you begin to experience pest and disease problems. Firebush (Hamelia patens) and beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) are classic examples. Conversely, plants with scorched leaves are usually begging for more shade. Do your homework and always put the right plant in the right place. With so many options available, why do anything else?