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Neil Moran is a garden writer living in Sault Ste. Marie. Read about his trials and travails gardening in the cold climate: North Country Gardening.

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Dappled Willow Worth Pruning Tasks
by Neil Moran    

The new growth on the dappled willow (Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nishiki’) has a pink hue.1

One of the more popular ornamental trees for the Midwestern landscape is the dappled willow (Salix integra 'Hakuro-nishiki'). It appears to have everything going for it: a weeping appearance and grayish green foliage that is highlighted with streaks of pink and white. It is also fast growing, offering the lure of instant gratification.

Let’s not forget it is also a willow, which as we well know, can get a little unruly. Which is not to say you shouldn’t plant dappled willow, but rather a-gardener-beware warning appears to be in order. Dappled willow sprouts branches and shoots from just about every possible growing point. Despite it having the discipline of a young puppy, it is still a worthwhile plant for the landscape and will withstand the most brutal winter Mother Nature can throw at us. It is also listed as deer resistant.

The Japanese cultivar of dappled willow, ‘Hakuro-nishiki’, has been growing in my backyard for about three years. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t part with it anymore than I’d discard my favorite gardening tool. I just need to accept a few realities about growing this beautiful dappled willow. Following are a few tips.

First, you need a fairly moist soil and a sunny to partially sunny location. Dappled willow will like a spot in your yard where water naturally runs after a rain, including rain gardens. Allow your dappled willow plenty of elbow room. It will grow to 15-20 feet high and just as wide if you don’t keep it pruned. It grows best in fairly moist soil that has been amended with compost. Avoid planting dappled willow in a sandy upland area, where it’s dry. It is best to plant dappled willow in early spring or early fall, while there is still good moisture in the ground.

We’ve got our dappled willow growing in an island bed in a sandy loam soil that never needs watering, even during summer dry spells. We quickly found out that nearby shrubs were planted too close to the willow. Keep shrubs and perennials at least 6 feet away from the trunk of the willow. Like any tree, add mulch around the base of the plant to help maintain moisture and keep weed trimmers and mowers from damaging the trunk. Be sure not to let the mulch touch the trunk of the tree.

Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nishiki’ can be pruned in midsummer after the variegation of the leaves fade. In just three years, this specimen has encroached on its neighboring shrubs, which will have to be moved.2

Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nishiki’ can also be pruned as a shrub or grown as a standard, where all the branches are pruned.

Expect to prune this plant fairly often. Suckering around the base of the plant can be downright problematic, dictating that you prune them once or twice per season.



The other type of pruning required is the type that will keep this tree from getting too tall and wide. Late winter, or in summer after the variegation has faded, are the best times to do this. Use loppers and pruning shears to keep this ornamental tree tamed and contained. If you’re not experienced in pruning you should probably read up on it a little before getting out the snips. What will be required is some thinning of the branches and heading-back the terminal growth. This keeps the tree contained at about 10 feet tall and about 8 feet wide.

Salix integra is a species native to Japan and Korea, and is associated in those countries with streams, seeps and marshes. Harry Van Der Laar, a famed Dutch Hosta breeder, introduced Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nishiki’ to the west in 1979. The species Salix has been associated with basket making throughout the ages, and the bark of certain willows contains aspirin compounds, which have been used by moms and apothecaries alike.  

Tips for planting dappled willow:

•    Plant in early spring or fall.
•    Plant in moist soil and a sunny to partially shady area.
•    Water frequently the first year.
•    Fertilize once a year in the early spring.
•    Be prepared to do some pruning of suckers and the actual branches.
•    Salix integra is hardy in USDA Zones 4 through 9.


1. Photo courtesy of © Blackosaka
2. Photo courtesy of Neil Moran


Posted: 02/11/16   RSS | Print


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Small Fruits to try in the Midwestern Landscape
by Kate Jerome       #Edibles   #Fruit

When the summer fruits start appearing in the farmers’ markets, everyone goes into a frenzy. We love the sweetness of strawberries, raspberries and currants, but many of us are daunted when growing our own. The good news is that it’s not very hard, and you can actually incorporate some of them right into the landscape. Most of them are attractive in their own right, so you get the pleasure of a beautiful yard and garden that pleases the eye and palate.

Most small fruits do well in the home garden and are relatively easy to cultivate. All you need is a sunny site, fairly well-drained soil and good air circulation. Once planted, monitor the moisture levels and mulch with a few inches of good organic matter, such as compost. Soon you will be rewarded with a wondrous bounty.

When choosing plants, be sure to select disease-resistant cultivars and purchase certified disease-free plants. This will go a long way to preventing disease and pest problems.

Strawberries (Fragaria spp.)

These luscious fruits make a superb edging for flower and shrub beds, and they also perform well in containers, hanging baskets and window boxes (as annuals). Strawberries are classified according to the time of harvest, so planting more than one type will ensure you will have berries all summer. In general, it takes about 25 plants to supply fresh fruit for a family of four.

June-bearing strawberries produce all their berries in a two-week period in summer, and they are available in early, mid and late-season varieties. Planting some of each will provide berries for four to six weeks. Everbearing strawberries produce two smaller crops, one in June and one in fall. A third type, called day-neutral, produce fruit all season long, although they have fewer berries in total than June-bearing.

Alpine strawberries taste like SweetTarts and make a beautiful border.

Strawberry season seems so fleeting, but you can stretch it with different varieties.

Alpine strawberries (F. vesca)

This petite type of strawberry is also called “fraise des bois,” which means strawberries of the woods. These bear small, intensely flavored berries with a candy-like flavor. They bear spring to frost, do not produce runners and will reseed themselves in the garden. They make a stunning edge to a flower or vegetable garden and will grow in partial shade.

Currants (Ribes spp.)

There’s nothing quite so pretty as strings of red jewels hanging in the sunlight. Currants make a lovely 3-foot-tall hedge or foundation plant with graceful arching stems and soft yellow fall color. Currants come in red, white and black, with reds being slightly tangy, whites being quite sweet and blacks with a musky, strong flavor. One happy side of growing currants is that they can take some shade. They take little care, except annual pruning, and will produce buckets of fruits for the best jelly in the world.

Red and white currants are self-pollinating, so you only need one variety. Black currants need two varieties planted together for pollination.

White, red and black currants. Photo CC BY SA 2.0 Tatiana Gerus.

Gooseberries (Ribes spp.)

Gooseberries are closely related to currants, although the fruits are larger. They grow on thorny shrubs with arching stems, and the berries can be picked green for traditional gooseberry tart or jam (they need plenty of sugar!), or with a blush of pink for fresh eating. They are self-pollinating and can also be grown in partial shade.

Gooseberries are traditional British fruits that we can add to our landscapes and pies!

Bramble Fruits (Rubus spp.)

Raspberries are often referred to as the food of the kings and for good reason. The taste of a warm raspberry right off the bush will make you cry. Raspberries come in summer-bearing types, which produce their berries all at once in midsummer, and everbearing, which produce a small crop in midsummer and a larger crop in early autumn.

With each type, the canes that bear the fruit die after they’ve finished bearing, and new canes are produced from the crowns. One thing to be aware of with raspberries is that they produce underground rhizomes so they need to be managed in order to keep them in place.

Raspberries come in red, black, purple and gold. All are delicious! Reds are traditionally cultivated, while blacks (also called blackcaps) are native and found wild all over the Midwest. Purple types are a bit more tart and gold berries are soft and sweet and often hard to find in the market.

Blackberries grow wild in the Midwest, and although the wild berries are small, they have extremely intense flavor. Domesticated blackberries have large berries and a milder flavor.

Blackberries produce fruit on second-year canes, so they need pruning to keep them bearing well. When harvesting, make sure that the berries actually fall into your hand to ensure that they are completely ripe and sweet. Otherwise, they may look ripe, but can be quite sour. Also, they tend to lose their high gloss when ready to pick. Blackberries can spread well outside the original planting site, so take care to keep them inbounds.

Native Fruits

For a different take on fruits in the landscape, consider adding an elderberry or serviceberry to your yard. These are native plants that have tasty fruits that feed us and wildlife. 

Watching birds hang upside down in a serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) will have you laughing and getting out there to taste what is so good to them. Serviceberries are traditionally used as landscape ornamentals, and they produce lovely dark red to purple berries that are delicious when made into pies, jam and fruit leather.

Elderberries (Sambucus canadensis, S. nigra) produce great clouds of white flowers followed by inky-purple berries that make absolutely wonderful syrup, jam and wine.

Amelanchier spp. Photo CC BY 2.0 Erich Ferdinand.




A version of this article appeared in print in Wisconsin Gardening Volume II Issue VI. Photos by Kate Jerome unless otherwise noted.



Posted: 02/11/16   RSS | Print


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A Grass for the Masses
by Frances Fairegarden    


At the top of the steps leading to the knot garden, pink muhly, flanked on each side by
Knock Out roses, presents itself as swinging saloon doors.

It stops traffic in our small town. In the middle of fall, cars come to a screeching halt as the drivers see the stand of pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) rimming the upper left curbing of our circle driveway. It must be the unexpectedness of seeing a swath of pink cotton candy backlit by the soft angle of fall’s lower light that causes this reaction. In early mornings, it is often sprinkled with dew or sparkled with frost, giving the appearance of glistening pink diamonds that would have caused even Elizabeth Taylor to feel intense envy. It is a thing of wondrous awe.

Pink muhly grass waves its pink magic wands like no other. Hardy in USDA Zones 5–10, it requires the sharpest of drainage to prosper. In nature, this grass colonizes the sand dunes along the Gulf of Mexico and the Southern Atlantic coast. My eyes were first blessed to see a blanket of pink illuminated by the setting sun while walking along the boardwalk to the ocean’s edge in South Carolina. It was an epiphany of beauty and totally unexpected. The light, the site and the mass of plants packed tightly together made it appear as if one continuous layer of pink fluff had come to rest on the Earth’s surface.

After seeing that first sea of pink on an October afternoon, plants were located, purchased and hauled back home to our garden, then located in Zone 6. The composition of the soil was anything but sandy; it was more like the stuff of brick-making dense red clay. The planting area had the requisite drainage, but the plants did not live through the winter.

We later moved to Houston, TX, where the soil was sandy and the pink muhly grew naturally. It was placed in our new garden so the setting sun would make the pink muhly grass appear aflame in the fall. It was lovely but not nearly as spectacular as the scene at the South Carolina seashore. The grass was a big player in a small garden dominated by pine trees and yaupon hollies (Ilex vomitoria). More massing was needed to achieve the remembered pink haze.

With backlighting, pink muhly grass, shines along the driveway and stops passersby in their tracks.

In April, pink muhly grass begins growing after being cut to the ground in late winter. Planting spring bloomers around the grass will help give interest until it gains momentum over the summer for the big fall show.

Three years later, we moved back to Tennessee, propelled by the birth of our first grandchild there. This time we settled in a small town that was more than 100 miles to the west and south of our former garden in warmer Zone 7. The soil was still shovel-breaking red clay interspersed with rocks (hardly the light and airy environment of sandy shores beloved by a native grass), but determination sometimes overrides logic. The first fall, a couple of pink muhly grasses in 1-gallon pots joined Knock Out roses in the circular bed that jutted into the space of the driveway.

Looking across the driveway stand of Muhlenbergia capillaris, the original planting can be seen in the round bed by the steps leading to the front door.

The color of the rose blossoms was the perfect marriage to the rosy pink of the muhly grass. Together, they turned the fall garden into a magical fairyland. The same plantings were duplicated on either side of the steps at the top of a hill in the backyard with delightful results. After the gravel driveway was paved with concrete, with some of the gravel tossed along the edge of the upper curbing to help with leveling, the only lawn on the entire property was planted to the left of the garage. The mix of bluegrass and tall fescue did well enough, except for the rocky part at the edge where leftover sand had been spread after stucco was applied to the lower cinder block portion of the garage. Years of applying special grass-starting mix, raking rocks, diligent weeding and faithful watering could not grow the desired lawn there. The idea of trying a stand of pink muhly, like we had seen at the beach years earlier, was carried out with divisions taken from the existing plantings of the driveway bed and the top of the hill. In total, 50 plants were nestled closely together in three narrow rows with hardly more than one living sprig per plug. Not only did every piece live, but they grew and flourished quickly in the sandy gravel and clay mixture. After being cut down to ground level each year in late winter, it was top-dressed with soil conditioner to keep weeds from invading until the grass could fill in.

It was somewhat sparse for the first few seasons, but its potential for greatness shone through when the rising and setting sun was positioned just right in the fall. Patience paid its dividends each year as the muhly grass filled in more until it became a writhing serpent of pink. Gentle breezes or violent storms, wind, rain, ice or snow, the pink muhly stand along the driveway is the object of desire for all who see it, whether they are gardeners or not.



Muhlenbergia capillaris requires full sun and excellent drainage for the best results. Winter temperatures should not dip lower than -20 F, although solme garderners have seen it survive in a protected Zone 4 microclimate. The optimum time for moving or dividing is during the cooler months when rainfall or hand-watering can be done in abundance — although pink muhly is extremely drought-tolerant once established, it needs copious amounts of water to get the roots settled in to its liking. Ask your local nursery to carry the pink muhly. And ask your landscaper to install a mass of it on a slope where the autumn sun can bring out the highlights. Or, you can do what I did and buy a couple of pots and patiently divide them until a sweep of pink perfection is achieved.


Pink muhly grass can be planted in a swath or alone as a focal point.

Pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) looks like a waterfall when covered with December snow.

Botanical Name: Muhlenbergia capillaris

Common Name: Pink muhly grass

Hardiness: USDA Zones 5–10

Height: 3 to 6 feet

Spread: 1 to 3 feet

Growth Habit: Clumping

Growth Pace: Moderate

Light: Full sun is best, but part shade is tolerated.

Maintenance: Low; yearly cutting to the ground

Tolerance: Deer tolerant, drought tolerant, salt tolerant

Characteristics: Native, self-seeds, showy flowers, showy foliage, showy seed heads

Bloom Time: Fall

Flower Color: Pink fading to purple and lavender

Uses: Beds and borders, containers, naturalizing, specimen plant or focal point; may be grown as an annual

Seasonal Interest: Winter, summer, fall

Growing Conditions: Tolerates a wide variety of soil conditions from moist to dry, acidic to alkaline, sandy to clay. Established plantings will not need supplemental watering, but the grass will get larger with liberal irrigation. In areas where perennial, Muhlenbergia capillaris won’t start growing until mid to late spring. Major growth and flowering happens when the weather is hot. Winter color is light tan, and it will remain standing and attractive until finally collapsing in January. It can be cut down to ground level at that time (or before) if a neater appearance is preferred. Self-seeding occurs best if it is allowed to stand into midwinter. Seedlings will have fine, flat blades with a slightly bluish tint to distinguish them from lawn and other grasses. Babies show up most reliably in gravel paths.



(A version of this article appeared in a State-by-State Gardening April 2014 print edition. Photos by Frances Fairegarden.)


Posted: 02/10/16   RSS | Print


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Pruning Tips to Salvage an Overgrown Landscape
by Bob Westerfield and Adrianne Todd       #Landscaping   #Pruning   #Shrubs

As a horticulture specialist for the University of Georgia, I certainly get my share of frustrated homeowners that want me to help them recover their house from their overgrown landscape. Where they once had a beautiful vista of their backyard or swimming pool, they now suddenly have a blob of green obscuring the view. Many times, they are uncertain whether they should try to prune the bush down a few feet in hope of getting their window back, or go through the arduous task of yanking out the beastly plant altogether. While the best solution would have been to plant the appropriately sized plant to begin with, we do not always have that luxury when we purchase a used home. Renewal pruning, sometimes called rejuvenating pruning, is one option that can help recover a severely overgrown plant or landscape. This radical pruning technique can buy some time and add many years to your existing overgrown plants.

Extensive Rejuvenation
Using a pruning saw, prune the plant to a height of 6-15 inches.

Unpruned Shrub
Gradual Rejuvenation
The first year, prune every other branch to 6-8 inches. The following year, prune the branches previously left untouched.

It might be helpful at this point to define exactly what rejuvenating pruning is. In simple terms, it means taking an existing overgrown shrub and pruning it back radically to a height of 6-15 inches. When radically pruning a shrub, you are essentially removing all existing branches as well as any damaged trunks, giving the plant a second chance of being a shapely and attractive shrub. A plant that has been rejuvenated through pruning be reminiscent of a coat rack when you finish the job. However, done properly at the right time of year, the shrub will re-flush within the same season, once again providing a more manageable plant in your landscape. A chemical hormone in the base of the plant triggers a positive response, signaling to the many hidden buds to regenerate and sprout new growth.

When it comes to pruning plants in this radical fashion, the time of year in which you do it means everything. Severe pruning should be done just prior to the new spring growth. In most cases, this means that your rejuvenating pruning should be done anytime from late January through late February. If your plant is an early blooming variety such as an azalea, you will definitely lose the bloom in the upcoming season. However, the reason to employ such a severe pruning is to salvage an overgrown plant that is no longer welcome. Blooming plants will recover and provide a show again the following year.

It is important to consider that not every shrub out there can be radically pruned and rejuvenated. Bearing that in mind, the fortunate fact is that the majority of plants can. On the short list of what not to prune severely would be juniper varieties, boxwoods, pine species, cedars and most hardwood trees. They will not recover well from a hard pruning. That leaves a long list of many plants in the landscape that can be cut back hard in order to bring back new life. Most large-leafed shrubs such as hollies, ligustrums and similar plants recover well from this type of pruning. Even many small-leafed shrubs such as yaupon, azalea or Japanese hollies come back readily when severely pruned for recovery reasons. If you are in doubt about whether the plants you have can be severely pruned, or you aren’t even sure what type of plant you have, take a branch or sample of the plant to your local extension office for identification. This might save a lot of later grief.

This large luster leaf holly should have been cut back closer to the ground to form a totally new plant. As it is, the new emerging branches will be very unproportional to the existing stubs.

Another example of not pruning severe enough. This plant should have been taken down to a height of 8 to 10 inches from the ground.

When it comes to giving our shrubs a crew cut, there are a few techniques that work best. Depending on the diameter of the limbs, your selection of pruning equipment may vary. While a small hand clipper could easily cut back a Knock Out rose or butterfly bush, you need heavier artillery to tackle overgrown hollies and larger stemmed plants. Pruning saws, particularly the razor sharp folding type sold in most nurseries, perform well on larger branched shrubs. In the most severe cases, I sometimes use a small chainsaw to eliminate half or more of the upper half of the plant and then use large lopping shears or a pruning saw to make finishing cuts, 6-8 inches at the base of the plant. Your final cuts should always be as clean as possible and done at a slight angle to allow water to run off. The final result is to have a cleanly cut stump with short stems protruding out on a slight angle. While you may be tempted to use a pruning seal, or paint, on these exposed stems, our research shows that leaving them open to heal is the best method for a speedy recovery and flush of new growth. As the plant begins to shoot out new growth in the spring and summer, you may need to trim it and pinch it back a few times to create a fuller shape.



If the thought of pruning your beloved shrub down to the ground is just too much for you to bear, there is an alternative. You could consider doing what is called a two-year renewal pruning. Basically, the technique is the same, except in this case, you only prune out every other main branch to 6-8 inches. This leaves every other branch untouched to provide a less drastic, early look to your landscape. The following year, prune the branches you previously left untouched, allowing the ones you pruned out earlier to continue to re-flush.

This holly is almost lost in the other shrubs due to its overgrown size. A renewal pruning can salvage the plant for years to come.

The same overgrown holly now taken back severely to encourage a more manageable plant to form from the base.

Within the year this holly has began to sprout up new shoots making it a more manageable size.

Rejuvenating pruning is a great alternative to completely removing overgrown shrubs in your landscape. Rather than going to the expense and trouble of uprooting the old and putting in a new shrub, you may be able to pull a few more years out of the old plant. When done properly, this method of pruning can make an existing landscape go from being completely overgrown and unsightly to nearly new and attractive.


(Photos courtesy of Bob Westerfield. Illustrations courtesy of Virgina Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University.)


Posted: 02/10/16   RSS | Print


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Myrtle Mania
by Allen Owings       #Flowers   #Trees

New varieties of crapemyrtles (Lagerstroemia spp.) are currently available in abundance. We could almost say, “Enough is enough.” Yes, it is overwhelming with the numbers of new crapemyrtle varieties. Developers are introducing plants with the goals of smaller growth habits, dark foliage (such as burgundy and black), earlier blooms, and darker flowers (better red, purples, etc.). In one recent evaluation, new crapemyrtles went from fewer than 20 varieties to over 50 varieties in a very short period of time.

Nationally and regionally, we have a perceived “over-abundance of new plants” because all the major wholesale nurseries that sell plants over large sections of the country desire their own line of crapemyrtles, their own line of azaleas, their own line of hydrangeas. This leads to a large number of new variety introductions at the same time and also leads to confusion in the minds of consumers.

Crapemyrtles are the most widely planted summer flowering tree in the southern United States. There are crapemyrtle festivals, crapemyrtle trails, and crapemyrtles are official shrubs and trees of cities and states around the country. There is no doubt as to their current and continued popularity.

With so many new varieties how do you know which to choose? How do you know which are the best? Trials are ongoing at several land grant universities (LSU, Stephen F. Austin State University, University of Florida, Mississippi State University, and others) around the southeastern United States. Before buying, a decision should be made on the desired at mature size and the foliage color (new varieties include many with burgundy and black foliage) that would best enhance your landscape.

For smaller landscapes, consider the Early Bird series. These crapemyrtles grow to only around 6 feet. Early Bird Lavender (‘JD818’) is promoted as a very heavy earlier bloomer and is the earliest-flowering crapemyrtle at LSU trials. Other colors in the group include Early Bird Purple (‘JD827’) and Early Bird White (‘JD900’).

The Princess series are also dwarf varieties. These were developed in Missouri but are being marketed as part of the Garden Debut program by Greenleaf Nursery. This series includes cherry red Holly Ann (‘GA 0701’), magenta pink Kylie (‘GA 0803’), cherry red with cotton candy pink Zoey (‘GA 0702’), lavender Jaden (‘GA 0810’), and rose pink Lyla (‘GA 0804’).


Princess Lyla has nice rose pink blooms and is performing very well in these landscape trial gardens.

Larger flowers and earlier blooms on dwarf plants are characteristic of the Early Bird series.

Darker red flowers are being achieved in crapemyrtles. Miss Frances is a new release that is not yet available at retail garden centers. 

 (click on photo to enlarge)

Another series of dwarfs is the 4-foot, nicely mounded Razzle Dazzle collection. This includes the fuchsia Berry Dazzle (‘GAMAD VI’), cherry red Cherry Dazzle (‘Gamad I’), Dazzle Me Pink (‘Gamad V’), pure white Diamond Dazzle (‘PIILAG-I’), neon rose Strawberry Dazzle (‘PIILAG-II’), and pink Sweetheart Dazzle (‘GAMAD VII’). These are being used in some states as replacements for mass plantings of Knock Out roses.

The first crapemyrtle with dark foliage to debut was Delta Jazz (‘Chocolate Mocha’). This variety is part of the Southern Living Plant Collection’s Delta series. These are classified as semi-dwarf, which generally indicates heights of 8-12 feet. Four additional varieties have been released: Delta Breeze (‘Deled’), a light lavender; Delta Eclipse, brilliant purple (‘Deleb’); Delta Moonlight, white (‘Delea’); and Delta Flame, dark red (‘Delec’). Delta Fusion (‘Delee’) and Delta Fuchsia (‘Delef’) are new to the group for 2016. Burgundy foliage on these plants stays burgundy from spring through fall.


Delta Jazz was one of the first crapemyrtle varieties with burgundy foliage.

Black foliage of ‘Ebony Embers’ crapemyrtles contrasts nicely in the landscape with red blooms.

Midnight Magic from Bailey Nurseries keeps the dark burgundy foliage color spring through fall.

Delta Fusion has hot pink flowers and is a new release from the Southern Living Plant Collection.

(click on photo to enlarge)

The darker burgundy (usually called black by horticulturists) foliage of the Ebony crapemyrtles was developed by breeder Cecil Pounders at the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service. These are being sold under the Ebony name and also the trademarked Black Diamond name by J. Berry Nursery in Texas. These plants mature at 8-10 feet and, like the Delta crapemyrtles, retain leaf color spring through fall. Flower colors include three shades of red, white, and blush. New releases in the Black Diamond group have pink, magenta, and purple flowers.

For “down on the farm” landscapes, consider planting the Barnyard Favorites from the Gardener’s Confidence Collection. Red Rooster (‘PIILAG III’) is “something to crow about,” Pink Pig (‘GAMAD VIII’) is “something to squeal with delight” about and Purple Cow (‘GAMAD IX’) can be used to create an “udderly majestic garden!” These are medium sized but leaf spot is a problem on these plants in the more coastal south. A plant similar to Red Rooster is Enduring Summer Red (‘PIILAG-V’) from Ball Ornamentals.

The Magic series from Plant Introductions, now part of the First Editions program by Bailey Nurseries, includes ‘Coral Magic’ (salmon pink), ‘Purple Magic’ (dark purple), ‘Plum Magic’ (fuchsia pink), ‘Moonlight Magic’ (white), and ‘Midnight Magic’ (dark pink). Most of these have reddish, plum, or burgundy spring leaves, and some of these varieties retain this color through summer and into fall. Mature height is 8-12 feet.

As you can see, it is easy to be overwhelmed with new crapemyrtles. The mid to late spring months are the time when most new crapemyrtles are added to the landscape. Educate yourself on new varieties and try the ones that are most appealing to you.


Some of My Favorite Traditional Crapemyrtles

‘Natchez’ – upright grower, 30-35 feet, white flowers

‘Muskogee’ – tight upright grower, 25-30 feet, lavender flowers

‘Acoma’umbrella-shaped canopy, 12-14 feet, white flowers

‘Tonto’ – upright growing canopy, 16 feet, red flowers

‘Sioux’ – tight upright growing habit, 16 feet, hot pink flowers


Keys to Crapemyrtle Success in the Landscape

•           Full-sun location
•           Well-drained soil
•           Soil pH of 6.0-6.5
•           Fertilize late winter/early spring at start of new growth
•           Prune crapemyrtles by thinning branches in the winter months – do not top
•           Mulch by “going out” not “going up” – avoid piling mulch around the trunk
•           Monitor for insects (aphids, crapemyrtle bark scale)





A version of this article appeared in a State-by-State Gardening March 2016 print edition. Photography by Allen Owings.



Posted: 02/09/16   RSS | Print


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Know Your Landscape
by Yvonne L. Bordelon       #Health and Safety

In a well-planted suburban yard many flowering and fruiting plants provide color, form, and texture as well as food for us and our wildlife friends. However, lurking among these lovelies are plants that can be toxic.

In fact, a few of our favorite fruit trees have leaves, twigs, and seeds that are poisonous if eaten. While some flora can cause skin irritation upon contact, others produce allergens that can cause respiratory distress.

As we move toward sustainability, we must be proactive in identifying and learning about all of the plants in our yards. We should also strive to educate our children about which plants can be eaten and those that are potentially harmful. My mother used to say, “Don’t forage unless you know exactly what you are putting in your mouth.” That is a good rule to live by.

The 10 common landscape plants covered here range in toxicity from somewhat toxic to deadly and represent only a few of the scores of potentially harmful vegetation. If you have small children or pets that frequent your yard, it would be best to not add potentially toxic plants to your landscape.

Although very rare, if poisoning does occur, seek medical attention immediately. Be sure to bring along a sample of the plant that was ingested. Also be prepared to give the name of the plant (if possible), as well as how long ago it was eaten; how much and which parts were eaten; the age of the individual and his/her symptoms.

Ten Potentially Hazardous Landscape Plants

Daffodils (Narcissus spp.)

These colorful perennial bulbs naturalize readily and bloom in early spring each year. They are also deer and rodent resistant.

Toxic Parts: The entire plant (but especially the bulb) contains toxic alkaloids.

Symptoms: Care should be taken when handling narcissus because contact with the sap can cause skin irritation. Ingestion causes severe gastric distress, but recovery usually occurs in a few hours. Consuming large amounts may cause trembling, convulsions, and even death.

Lantana camara

This attractive plant with flowers in shades of gold, orange, pink, and red is planted in containers, hanging baskets, and butterfly gardens.

Toxic Parts: The green, unripe fruit, which contains lantadene A, is highly toxic. The ripe berries seem to be safe and are eaten by wildlife.

Symptoms: Consuming green berries will result in severe digestive distress, difficulty walking, and vision problems. In severe cases, circulatory collapse and death may occur.

Oleander (Nerium oleander)

Oleander is planted in the landscape for its beautiful flowers and drought tolerance.

Toxic Parts: All parts of the plant are highly toxic and potentially fatal, including the flowers and nectar. Smoke from burning the plant can also be harmful. Eating one leaf can be lethal for humans.

Symptoms: Severe digestive disorders, slowed pulse, irregular heartbeat, dilated pupils, coma, and sometimes respiratory paralysis and death.

Azaleas (Rhododendron spp.)

Native and imported rhododendrons are hardy shrubs with colorful, fragrant spring flowers making them good foundation plants.

Toxic Parts: The leaves, flowers, and nectar contain poisonous grayanotoxins.

Symptoms: Consuming azalea leaves can cause burning of the mouth, salivation, watery eyes, and runny nose, which may be followed by severe digestive distress, very low blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and paralysis, but is rarely fatal to humans.

Castor (Ricinus communis)

It is grown as an ornamental for its striking foliage and rapid growth. In the South it is also grown commercially as a source of castor oil, which is used medically and in industry.

Toxic Parts: The deadly poison ricin is concentrated in the seeds, but lesser amounts are also found in the leaves. The FBI classifies ricin as the third most poisonous substance known. The poison is released when the seed’s hard skin is broken.

Symptoms:Poisoning can occur through either contact or ingestion of broken seeds resulting in severe gastric distress, rapid heartbeat, convulsions, and hemorrhaging. Death from kidney failure may occur up to 12 days after eating the seeds.

Morning glory (Ipomoea violacea and I. tricolor)

The heart-shaped leaves and colorful flowers of the fast-growing vines brighten up trellises, fences, and arbors and attract butterflies and other pollinators.

Toxic Parts: The seeds, which contain amides of lysergic acid (similar to LSD, but not as strong), are hallucinogenic and potentially dangerous, but not fatal.

Symptoms: Eating the seeds can cause nausea and hallucinations.

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

Digitalis is cultivated as a medicinal plant for treatment of the heart and also as a cool-weather ornamental for its tall spires of purple to white flowers.

Toxic Parts: The entire plant contains potent glycosides (digitalis) that affect the heart muscle.

Symptoms: Overdose can cause pain in the mouth and throat, gastric distress, severe headache, irregular heartbeat and pulse, tremors, and in severe cases, convulsions and death due to cardiac arrest.


Cherries and Plums (Prunus spp.)

All members of the Prunus genus have attractive flowers, tasty fruit, and colorful fall leaves.

Toxic Parts: The leaves, twigs, bark, and seeds (also called stones or pits) contain a cyanide-producing compound called amygdalin.

Symptoms: Consuming the toxic parts can cause anxiety, confusion, dizziness, headache, vomiting, and pulmonary distress. In severe cases convulsions, coma, and death may occur minutes after large doses.


Yew (Taxus spp.)

These evergreen needled trees or shrubs with pollen cones (male) and reddish berry-like fruits (female) are used as ornamentals because they lend themselves well to pruning.

Toxic Parts: All parts except the red fleshy aril around the seeds contain derivatives of taxane, including Taxol, which is used in chemotherapy cancer treatment.

Symptoms: Ingesting the plant can result in digestive distress, abdominal pain, irregular heartbeat, dilated pupils, collapse, coma, and convulsions. Fatalities may occur when large amounts are eaten or when the seeds in the fruit are chewed and swallowed.


Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans)

The flowers of this fast-growing native vine attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

Toxic Parts: Contact with the leaves and flowers can cause skin irritation. All parts, except the fruit, are slightly toxic if ingested.

Symptoms: Consuming the plant can cause gastric irritation and dilated pupils. Contact causes skin redness, swelling, and numbness in the hands.



A version of this article appeared in a Jan/Feb 2016 State-by-State Gardening print edition. Photography courtesy of Yvonne L. Bordelon.



Posted: 02/08/16   RSS | Print


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Kylee’s Pumpkin Torte Recipe
by Kylee Baumle       #Recipes

•  1 yellow cake mix (take out 1 cup)
•  3 eggs •  1¼ cup white sugar
•  ¾ cup butter
•  ¾ cup evaporated milk
•  1 teaspoon cinnamon
•  1 large can pumpkin pie mix 

Mix the cake mix (less 1 cup) with one egg and ½ cup butter. Press into the bottom of a greased jelly roll pan (10½ by 15½ by 1 inches). 

Mix until smooth: pumpkin pie mix, 2 eggs and evaporated milk. Pour on top of the crust. 

Mix 1 cup cake mix, sugar, cinnamon and ¼ cup butter. Sprinkle on top of the pumpkin mixture. Bake at 350° F for 45 to 50 minutes. Cut into squares and serve with whipped cream. Store in the refrigerator.  Pumpkin torte may very well become a new favorite at your house! It’s delicious served warm from the oven or after it has been refrigerated. 


Posted: 02/01/16   RSS | Print


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Leaf Castings Capture the Beauty of Leaves
by Sharon Bowen    

The first time I saw a leaf casting was in the garden of a friend. It was a heart-shaped hosta leaf preserved forever in concrete. Painted a light blue-green, it had intricate veining and was just deep enough for a birdbath. I knew then and there I had to have one.

Leaf castings capture the beauty of leaves. They're made from leaves fresh from the garden. My own garden didn't have any large-leaf plants. So I added some elephant ears this spring and waited for them to grow. When the leaves were big enough, I made my first casting. Leaf castings can be a bit tricky to make, but even a beginner can turn out a good one.

Plan Ahead

Concrete leaf castings take about a week to make from start to finish. Once the leaf is cast, it should be left undisturbed for 48 hours to dry. Then, the leaf is removed. Edges are smoothed, and the surface cleaned. Finally, it can be painted and sealed.

Making a leaf casting is messy work. So wear old clothes, and find a spot you can clean up easily. A garage or shop is an ideal workplace. But a covered area outside will work as well.

Weather is a consideration. Choose a time when the weather is cool. You don't want the concrete to dry too quickly. If you work outside, work in the shade and pick a time when rain is not expected for at least two days.

Gather Supplies

  • A corrugated box or pan large enough for the leaf
  • QUIKRETE Concrete Resurfacer
  • Play sand
  • Water in a cup and spray bottle
  • Acrylic paints and paint brush
  • Polyurethane or sealer
  • Plastic container and sturdy spoon or paint stick for mixing the concrete
  • Thin plastic like a plastic garbage bag (Cut off both side seams so it is one large piece.)
  • Brush with nylon bristles, paint scraper or metal file
  • Rubber gloves
  • Dust mask (for mixing concrete)
  • Safety goggles

Choose a Leaf

Elephant ears, caladiums and hostas leaves are good choices. But you can use any leaf with well-defined veining and smooth edges. Select leaves without tears or holes. Leaves with a fuzzy back, like fig leaves, are hard to remove and leave a textured surface. Since large leaves require additional support, choose leaves less than 12" wide.



Mound the Sand

Pour the sand into the corrugated box or pan. (While any flat, sturdy surface will work, a box or pan with sides will reduce the mess.) Mound the sand in the middle of the box slightly larger than the leaf. Gently press the front of the leaf into the sand and make a small lip (1/4'') around the leaf. This is the area that will support your casting, The lip helps keep the concrete on the leaf.

Remove the leaf. Spray the sand with water, and pack it down for a smooth, firm surface. Keep in mind that the size and shape of the mound directly affects the casting. The taller the mound, the deeper the casting will be. If you're making a birdbath, you'll want a tall mound of sand.

Cover the sand with plastic leaving enough on both sides to wrap back over the leaf. The plastic keeps the concrete away from the sand, and it keeps in moisture.

Place the leaf on the plastic with the back of the leaf up.

Check to be sure the stem has been cut even with the leaf.




Mix the Concrete

Always wear protective gear when working with concrete. Concrete will irritate the skin, eyes and lungs. Always wear gloves. Use a dust mask and eye protection when mixing or filing concrete.

The amount of concrete you need depends on the size of the leaf. Pour water in the plastic container, and then add the concrete. Stir slowly to avoid air bubbles. Keep adding concrete a little at a time until it's the consistency of toothpaste.

The right consistency is crucial. The mixture should be thin enough to capture the details of the leaf, but thick enough to stay on the leaf and not slide off.

Let the mixture stand for about 10 minutes to thicken before applying it to the leaf. If the concrete seems too dry, add a small amount of water (or spray with water). A little water makes a lot of difference.

Make the Casting

Spread the concrete over the leaf starting at the stem and working towards the edge. Stop about 1/4'' from the edge. Apply the concrete a little at a time building up the center (3/4'' to 1 1/4'') and tapering to the (3/8'' to 1/2''). The larger the leaf, the thicker the casting needs to be.

It is crucial to keep the concrete from sliding over the edge. If it does, it will puddle on the front of the leaf and ruin the texture.

Pat the concrete to remove air bubbles and ensure a good casting. Take a minute to smooth the surface of the concrete, and then fold the plastic back over the casting.

Allow it to dry for 48 hours without moving it. Check it occasionally. If it is drying too fast, then spray it with water. Remove the leaf and clean the edges. Unwrap the plastic and turn the leaf over.

If the front of the leaf doesn't have any concrete on it, simply peel away the leaf. Use a brush with nylon bristles to gently scrub away stubborn leaf parts. Smooth the edges or any rough spots on back with a metal file.

If the front of the leaf has concrete on it, try to remove it. Wearing gloves and safety glasses, try to gently pry off the excess concrete with a paint scraper. If it won't come off, try to blend it in or file it away with a metal file. This is delicate work that often ends with broken leaves.

Let the casting cure for another day.

Paint and Seal

First, clean the casting. Take the leaf outside and pour water on the front and back of the leaf. Gently wash off any concrete dust or particles. But, don't soak it.

If you're an experienced painter, then get started. If not, first practice by painting the back of the leaf.

Start with a wet brush and two or more colors. Add a little water to the paint for a wash. After the first coat dries, add highlights. Use a lighter color and paint the center of the leaf. Let it dry a few minutes, then wipe off the excess paint. Paint the veins another color, if desired. Dabble and play until you get the look you want. If you don't like what you've done, either wipe if off or paint over it.

After the back dries, paint the front of the leaf.

Let the paint dry for a day, then finish with a polyurethane or sealer. Apply at least two coats, and let it cure for a day or more before moving it outside.

Now, find a place for it in your garden and enjoy. (Just remember to move it indoors or turn it over for the winter. Water freezing in it may cause it to break.)

Leaf castings are truly one-of-a-kind creations. Each casting is a learning experience, and the next one is an opportunity to try something different. You may find this creative outlet habit-forming. One thing is for certain. You'll develop an appreciation for the beauty of leaves. I'm already planning to add a large hosta to my garden next year -- one with heart-shaped leaves, prominent veining and delicious texture.





Posted: 01/27/16   RSS | Print


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The Rosenbaums’ Garden
by Jean Starr
Specially-made wicking beds provide consistent watering and produce healthy plants.

Debby and Ken Rosenbaum have built their garden from the ground up. Literally. Ken was raised on a farm and is a machinist by trade; Debby’s a city girl. They shared a common love of fresh vegetables and grew what they could while raising a family. After their two daughters left home, Debby found she had more time on her hands. Now she has a full-time summer job growing fruits and vegetables.

Throughout the fall she preserves the bounty in hundreds of jars and freezer bags. During the entire year she decides what she will grow next season – the toughest job and also the most fun. She won’t grow ‘German Johnson’ tomatoes again. “They have such huge cores and not much flavor.”

‘Jersey Giant’ is on her list for this season. She likes a tomato that is meaty and flavorful with very few seeds, and the description in the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog ticks all the boxes. Debby’s favorite tomato for canning is ‘Amish Paste’, which is very meaty and large enough for easy processing. So far, her favorite for slicing is ‘Super Sioux’, an improved version of a 1944 variety bred at the University of Nebraska for its tolerance to heat.

‘Oran’s Melon’ will remain the Rosenbaum’s go-to cantaloupe for its flavor and relatively short ripening time. In contrast is ‘Golden Midget’ watermelon, which was “beautiful but flavorless with a ton of seeds.”

While Debby makes the seed list, Ken works up devices to make the mechanics of growing easier and more fun. The most ambitious so far are the 11 raised beds based on a concept developed by Colin Austin, an Australian who established a system called the wicking bed. Essentially underground ponds, the beds are ideal for areas with widely fluctuating rainfall.

One advantage of the wicking bed system is that the plants require no overhead watering. The 4- by 8-foot beds feature two rows of red cedar boards set up over a reservoir that the Rosenbaums fill with water gathered from five rain barrels surrounding the house and garage. When the barrels are full, they fill up a water cart and transfer it to a 550-gallon tank that they use for all of their watering needs.

“The water is clean, contains no salts or extra minerals,” Debby explains. “The plants are healthy because they’re watered from below, using no overhead watering. Ken built the portable tank cart. He made a wooden frame to fit inside the cart and used ratchet straps to hold the tank in place.  After mounting a pump on the top, at the rear of the tank, he fit the necessary PVC pieces and hose adapters to enable drawing the water out of, or filling, the tank.”

As there is usually plenty of rain in the spring, the Rosenbaums’ garden has water that sometimes lasts through the season. Each wicking bed is set up with a drainage system in case of excess rain. The beds are numbered, which helps Debby plan second crops and cover crop rotation, planting buckwheat after the final harvest of onions, carrots, strawberries, salad greens and beans.

Another advantage to raised beds is that they provide support for netting and covers. “The netting around the bean bed helps keep the beans from sprawling all over the ground,” says Debby. “And they’re easy to pick by reaching into the top of the enclosure.” The variety Debby grows is ‘Calima’, a French fillet bush bean she prefers to ‘Cantare’.

Two crops of carrots yielded two types of insect challenges, but didn’t result in total loss. The first crop of ‘Kuroda’ met with carrot fly, a problem they prevented in the next crop by using a row cover from planting to harvest. Unfortunately, they had a problem with soil-dwelling nematodes, which caused distorted growth. It took Debra more time to can the carrots, as the gnarly roots were more difficult to peel.

The wicking beds aren’t the only place for plants. Ken devised some heavy-duty tomato cages for the front garden, and potatoes are grown in several large potato grow-bags. The front yard garden started, as many garden projects do, when a huge tree fell. They created raised rows and covered the soil with sheets of 6 ml. clear plastic to help warm it. The area is at the top of a slope and subject to some strong winds. One such wind came through in early August and flattened the ‘Amish Paste’ tomatoes. While Ken shored up the cages and went back to the mental drawing board, the tomatoes kept churning out fruit the rest of the season.

Melons and zucchini sprawl along the slope leading up to the ‘Amish Paste’ tomatoes.

They’ve had great results from potato grow bags, harvesting 80 lbs. of ‘Yukon Gold’ potatoes from 14 bags. “We’ve found the Yukon Gold to be the best keepers,” Debby says. She cures them in the garage before storing them, layered between newspaper in cardboard boxes, a method that assures they’ll last until the next spring.

When Debby decided to try eggplant, she chose a variety called ‘Rosita’, which she grew right by their front door. The plant was as decorative as it was productive, its neon pink fruit an eye-catching embellishment to the healthy foliage. According to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, the variety was developed in Puerto Rico in the 1940s.

With so many crops to juggle, Debby sought out a system. She keeps tablets of notes throughout the season and has found Clyde’s Vegetable Planting Chart ( to be helpful when determining what, when, and where to plant. 

With Ken’s talents for building and Debby’s knack for organizing planting and harvest, they’ll never lack for fresh vegetables. After the crops are stowed away for the winter, they go over successes and failures and decide what to grow the next year. Last year they ended up with 39 flats of plants clamoring for light in early spring. Ken set up rows of grow light fixtures in their basement over any space they could clear. There is always extra, luckily for their two daughters and their children, who they hope will discover the joys of growing.

Last summer they invited their two 12-year-old grandsons to stay for a week. They were kept quite busy and went home with some new skills.

“We called it ‘life-lesson’ week. They learned how to grill, and each of them made a raised bed for their mothers,” said Ken. “They did absolutely every part of it, using a miter saw, drill, measuring tools. They were so proud.”


At a Glance

•  Cost for each wicking bed is $250-300 for red cedar 4-by-8 boards, sand, river rock, pond liner, weed-barrier fabric, PVC pipe, shade cloth, and miscellaneous hardware. Each wicking bed is filled with a 50/50 mixture of compost and topsoil.

•  Choosing seeds: look for seed companies with websites that offer reviews of each plant. Pay attention to where each reviewer gardens, as many plants will respond to each region differently.

•  Tip for ordering seed: Debby recommends ordering in December for the best availability.

•  Learn about potential insect or disease problems with the vegetables you grow and how to mitigate the risk if possible.

•  Always rotate crops in order to reduce pests and diseases.

•  Use the sturdiest stakes or tomato frames you can find and put them in place at planting time.


Typical Design

A. Most water is on or near the surface, which maximizes the evaporate rates (wastes water) and encourages weeds to germinate. B. Tree roots and couch grass can easily invade the bed.


Wicking Design

A. Surface soil is drier as it is further away from the water source. B. Water Rises from the bottom up. C. A Liner prevents tree roots & weeds such as couch from getting in to the bed. D. Water reserve only has to be topped occasionally.


Additional Photos

The Rosenbaums’ row of wicking beds shows how they can be fitted out for a variety of crops.

Seeds germinate readily in the raised beds, which can be covered for protection from frost and pests.

Yukon Gold potatoes are planted in potato bags


Debby and Ken Rosenbaum sit amidst the squash and melons in the front garden.


A version of this article appeared in print in Chicagoland Gardening Volume XXII, Issue I. Photography by Jean Starr. Illustrations by John Ditchburn (Ditchy) of Urban Food Garden in Austrailia (


Posted: 01/25/16   RSS | Print


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Winter Sowing
by Beverly Thevenin    

Most people probably think the only way to start seeds in January is to pot them and place them on racks under special lighting in the basement or dining room. However, there is an easier and cheaper method called winter sowing. The snow may be falling, the wind may be blowing and the temperature definitely dropping, but that is the perfect time to winter sow some seeds, put the containers outside and forget about them. (Well, almost.)

Ten years ago my husband and I built our home, and a big, empty yard cried out to be filled. While looking for seed starting methods online, I stumbled upon the website This method sounded too good to be true: Use freely available recycled containers, grow plants for mere pennies and achieve healthy, hardy seedlings with no damping off. Trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, vegetables and herb seeds planted in the warm indoors patiently wait outside for the right temperature and lighting to germinate.

The USDA describes winter sowing as, “A propagation method used throughout the winter where temperate climate seeds are sown into protective vented containers and placed outdoors to foster a naturally timed, high percentage germination of climate tolerant seedlings.”

After further reading about the method online at the GardenWeb Wintersown forum, I gathered the supplies and dug in (so to speak).

Most materials for winter sowing can be found around the house.

Constructing the Containers

Search the recycling bin for milk cartons (plastic and cardboard), plastic coffee cans, produce boxes for strawberries and spinach, large soda bottles, cat litter tubs, cottage cheese containers and drinking cups.

The preparation of the container depends on the type used. All containers need a height of at least 5 inches with drainage holes and ventilation slits in the top. For milk cartons, cut small holes or slits in the bottom and cut the container in half, but leave a hinge at the handle corner and remove the top cap. The pouring hole will provide the ventilation and allow for rainwater to enter. For cardboard orange juice containers, cut the box and remove the top portion. To create a top once planted, stand up two wood skewers. Attach the clear plastic bag to the container with tape or clothes pins. The tops of all containers should be clear to translucent.

Planting the Seeds

Unlike indoor seed propagation, there is more wiggle room in the timeline for winter sowing. To get a basic sense of the schedule, January is the perfect month to sow the perennial seeds that need a period of cold stratification, such as rudbeckia, delphinium and milkweed (Asclepias). I start hardy perennials that don’t need the freezing and thawing cycles in February and March, as well as cold hardy vegetables such as lettuce. Summer vegetables and annuals get potted the middle of March through April. Tomatoes are one of my favorite veggies to winter sow; and leeks, which require a long growing season, do wonderfully. Fill the prepared container with 3 inches of good potting soil and water thoroughly.

Sprinkle the seeds, pat down and either cover with soil or leave exposed, depending on the seed requirements.

Secure the lid depending on the type of container used. Cover smaller containers with plastic bags or plastic wrap. Duct tape works well on milk cartons and lasts through the winter.

Label the carton by either writing the name of the plant on duct tape with marker and taping to the bottom (which prevents fading) or on top with a Decocolor Paint Marker (which holds up to the sun).

Set the container into the garden and let nature do her work. If the weather is dry, supplemental water may be necessary. As the seedlings grow, create more ventilation in the lid.

The kitchen garden assortment includes lemon thyme, onions, dill, carrots and oregano.

Transplanting the Seedlings

After providing water and increased ventilation as the weather warms up, plant the seedlings into the ground at the same time greenhouse grown plants would be planted. No need to harden off.

Depending on how thickly the seeds were sown, there are several methods for planting. If thinly sown, gently remove each seedling and plant individually. If thickly sown, either use the Brownie method, removing the soil and seedlings in one clump and cutting the soil into bite-size pieces, or the Hunk-O-Seedlings, scooping out a spoonful of seedlings. Plant the hunk, and let the seedlings fight it out. 

Due to some serious procrastination, I transplanted my last jug of leeks July 1st this last year, but had a bountiful harvest for soup, quiche and casserole. Tomatoes have been known to grow through the milk jug lid before I get them planted, yet go on to produce large, meaty fruit.

With winter sowing I’ve been able to grow and experiment with many varieties I would have been hesitant to try. My wintersown Passiflora incarnata climbs on the trellis (although it has yet to flower); Malva sylvestris mauritiana, Digitalis grandflora and Thalictrum rochebrunianum reach for the sky; hostas help fill the empty spaces; and poppies, Impatiens balfourii and Lychnis coronaria reseed with wild abandonment.


A version of this article appeared in print in Chicagoland Gardening Volume XXII, Issue I. Photography by Nancy Rosene.


Posted: 01/25/16   RSS | Print


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Come on Life ... Give Me Lemons
by Rebecca Stoner Kirts    

‘French Drop’ lemon marigolds (Tagetes patula ‘French Drop’) show what a pop yellow flowers can add to the lemon herb garden.

Oh ... the clean, fresh smell of lemons, who can resist a tall glass of lemonade? It seems I always have a few lemons on the counter, but inevitably I don’t use them quickly enough and they become shriveled and tasteless. So my alternative to getting that fresh lemon taste is to run out to the herb garden and choose from one of my many lemon herbs.

I have had a long fascination with herbs that carry the scent of lemons. They are so easy to grow – anyone who has grown lemon balm will not refute that fact. Most have beautiful blooms and interesting foliage and their uses are numerous and varied, ranging from culinary to crafting to medicinal.

While my children were in grade school, I would often take baskets of herbs to share with their classmates. The kids loved to crush the leaves and were fascinated by all the aromas. Asking the kids to identify the scents always proved to be interesting. By far, my favorite response was from one particular little boy who was smelling the different lemon herbs. His face lit up and he started jumping up and down proclaiming he knew the answer. He proudly shouted that these herbs smelled like Pledge!

Of all the lemon herbs, the easiest, and probably too easy to grow, is lemon balm. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis, USDA Zones 3-7) seems to be one of the first herbs in many gardens – probably because many gardeners are eager to pass it along due its rambunctious nature. I keep mine quite happy and under control on the side of an outbuilding. It is protected from the hot summer sun and yet seems content to stay within bounds. I trim it back midsummer only to have another flush of growth before winter. It is a very hardy perennial that will without fail die back in the winter and return in the spring.

This herb originated in the Near East and was brought to America by the colonists. Thomas Jefferson grew it in his gardens at Monticello. Its genus name, Melissa, means honeybees, and I can tell you from personal experience that bees love my lemon balm. There is an old wives tale that says, “A grove of lemon balm will hold a beehive together.” My bees have been so strong next to the lemon balm that I believe this is true.

Lemon balm makes a very soothing tea, adds a nice addition to fruit or lettuce salads, and is great on fish, chicken, and vegetable dishes. Be sure to always add the leaves at the very last minute with hot dishes to obtain the most intense flavor. What other herb in the garden tastes so good and helps keep fleas away when stuffed under cushions?

Even though lemon verbena (Aloysia citriodora, USDA Zones 8-10) is not hardy in my area, no lemon garden should ever be without it. I usually plant it in a pot and bring it in to a protected area during the winter. It usually drops its leaves but rebounds with vigor in the spring. Please check if you are farther south, as it may be hardy in your area. The plant itself tends to be a rather sprawling, whimsical plant. But please don’t judge this plant on its appearance alone; its real beauty is in the heavenly scented leaves. I love it chopped over vegetables or in salads. It can also be used as a replacement for lemon zest in most recipes.

Lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus, USDA Zones 5-8) is a very beautiful perennial in the garden, plus its intense lemon flavor is a great accent on grilled fish or chicken. It forms a beautiful mound in the garden. ‘Archers Gold’ is one variety I have had great luck growing.  

Of course no herb garden of mind would be without lemon basil (Ocimum citriodorum, USDA Zones 2-11). I grow both the smaller leafed lemon basil as well as the larger leaf ‘Mrs. Burns’. This herb grows so easily from seed, but do keep the blossoms cut down until the end of the season to ensure the most intense lemon flavor.

I am particularly fond of the lemon-scented geraniums (Pelargonium crispum, USDA Zones 10-11). They are widely known for their insect repellent qualities, but offer so much more. The cultivar ‘Prince Rupert’, sometimes sold as ‘Variegated Prince Rupert’, has beautiful variegation and a stiff upright nature and is a fun addition to lemon drinks. These are not winter-hardy in most areas, but can easily be bought in to overwinter. I often take cuttings and keep them for spring planting. I never discard the fragrant leaves, instead I stuff them in panty hose and hang in closets to repeal moths and mosquitoes or incorporate them into my lemon potpourri.

Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus, Zones USDA 10-11) is the new kid on the lemon block. Don’t be fooled by the small plants available in the nursery in the spring, a 4-inch pot will be a large, attractive grass by fall. The leaves are great dried and may be used in potpourri, teas, and cooking. The white fleshy part of the stem is used extensively in Asian cuisine.

Lemon bergamot, also known as lemon beebalm (Monarda citriodora, USDA Zones 3-10) is another worthy addition to any lemon garden. Its fragrant purple to pink blooms attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

So if life gives you lemons, no worry just pitch them aside and head straight for the garden and use the lemon herbs.


Lemon balm has one of the highest concentrations of lemon oil.

“Thyme” to sit and think how to use all the lemon thyme!

The varying hues of different varieties of lemon thyme provide wonderful contrasts.

‘Archers Gold’ thyme forms greenish gold mounds of goodness.


A version of this article originally appeared in a State-by-State Gardening February 2016 print edition. Photos courtesy of Rebecca Stoner Kirts.


Posted: 01/19/16   RSS | Print


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Get The Taste of Tarragon with Mexican Mint Marigold
by Tom Bergey    


The flavor of French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa) is highly prized by world-famous chefs and weekend culinary gurus alike. True tarragon can be tricky to grow, but gardeners do have a very suitable alternative, Mexican mint marigold. Though not quite as complex as true French tarragon, Mexican mint marigold does possess the same strong, sharp and sweet anise flavor associated with tarragon and shared, to some extent, by other plants such as anise and fennel. It is grown as a perennial in Zones 8 and warmer and grown as an annual in colder climates.

As with most plants, Mexican mint marigold (Tagetes lucida) has several common names including sweet mace and Texas tarragon. It should not be confused with the mint family as the common name would imply, but it is in fact a type of marigold though it hardly resembles the common garden flower. The glossy green leaves are long, narrow and pointed, and the golden-yellow, three- to four-petaled flowers are rather small, barely the size of a dime. Mexican mint marigold is not an unattractive plant by any means but is primarily grown for its flavor and aroma and not as an ornamental.


For common use, only one or two plants will be necessary. Plants started from seed will have slightly longer leaves and a more sprawling habit than the stockier upright plants purchased from a nursery. Plants from seed also seem to be slightly stronger and sweeter in flavor.

Dig a large hole for the new plant. Remove the plant from its container and gently spread the roots.

Plant the herb slightly deeper than it was in the pot and water in.

If you lack the time and inclination to start plants from seed, simply transplant from your local greenhouse or favorite herb nursery. When purchasing plants, look for bushy, healthy specimens in 2.5-inch or larger pots. Check under the leaves to make sure there are no pests hiding and gently pinch the leaves. Doing so should release that wonderful aroma of tarragon and ensure that you have the real deal.

Plant Mexican mint marigold in a fairly sunny spot. If you have room in an existing garden that currently grows sun-loving plants, your new herb will be quite happy there. The mature plant will grow to about 2 feet tall and between 12 and 18 inches wide, so plan accordingly. The best measure you can take to ensure success with growing this herb is to provide a loose, well-drained soil. Dig your planting area deep and break up the soil as much as possible. Add some compost and extra nutrients to the planting area if you feel the soil may be weak in this area. A fairly neutral pH between 6 and 7.5 is ideal. Set your new plant in the soil just slightly deeper than it had been growing in the pot. Water it in well and you’re done.

Mexican mint marigold is fairly drought tolerant and will be fine with moderate watering throughout the growing season. During especially dry parts of the year, keep an eye on it and give it a nice slow soaking at the first sign of wilt. If a particularly hard winter is predicted, it may be wise to provide a good straw mulch over your plant. Be patient the following season as Mexican mint marigold is very slow to break dormancy in the spring.

Those with a limited garden area (or those in zones colder than USDA Zone 8) may choose to grow Mexican mint marigold in a container. Provide a good-sized pot for your plant – a 12-inch or larger clay pot or a gallon-sized plastic pot will work well. Again, a good and loose growing medium is required, so don’t skimp on your potting mix for this herb. At the end of the season, you can try moving the potted plant to the garage to overwinter and gradually reintroduce it to the outdoors in the spring.



Simple and basic herb harvesting techniques apply to Mexican mint marigold. A small pair of scissors and a basket or some other container are all that is required. Harvesting can begin anytime after the plants are established in the garden. You may harvest the leaves one at a time if only a few are needed or take 3- to 4-inch sections from the tips of branches if larger amounts are required. Frequent topping of the plant will encourage branching and a bushier and healthier plant, but avoid taking more than half the plant at any one time.

It is recommended that you harvest this and all culinary herbs in the morning before the direct rays of the sun reach the plant. Direct sunlight extracts the oils from the herb, and although herbs harvested in midday will smell wonderful, they will lack much of their flavor in the kitchen.

Once you have harvested your herbs, return to the kitchen and gently submerge the fresh leaves in a bowl of room temperature tap water. Swishing the herbs back and forth in the water will remove any soil, dust, or unwanted pest from the leaves. A nice run through a salad spinner will remove most of the soil moisture from herbs, allowing them to be used immediately or stored in plastic bags in the refrigerator. If you do not have a salad spinner, gently blot the herbs between paper towels. Harvested and stored properly, fresh herbs can be held in the refrigerator for over a week with little loss of flavor or quality. If harvesting Mexican mint marigold during its blooming period, handle the flowers in the same way as the leaves. After you spin dry the plant tops, remove the flowers and store them in plastic containers lined with paper towels. The flowers are edible, possessing the same flavor as the plant and make a wonderful addition to meals either as part of a salad or a colorful garnish for meats and vegetables.


I usually insist that herbs be used fresh but Mexican mint marigold is one of those herbs that will actually maintain much of its flavor and culinary appeal when properly dried.

The dried leaves are used to make a wonderful tea that is popular in Latin America. Additionally, the dried leaves and flowers are perfect additions to potpourri, herbal wreaths and dried flower arrangements.

Cut stem sections to between 6 and 12 inches long. Arrange in small bundles of about four stems each and secure the cut end of the stems with a rubber band wrapped tightly around the stems. Use a paper clip bent away from itself to form a “S” hook with one end attached to the rubber band on your bundle and the other end to hang from a hook or a screen mesh attached to the ceiling. Hang your bundles upside down in this manner either in the garage, a work shed or even in the attic. Use a small fan to provide some air circulation around your bundles. Do not dry the bundles in direct sunlight or areas with high humidity. Utility rooms with washers and dryers, kitchens (particularly in front of the window) and bathrooms are the worst places to dry herb bundles.

After a few weeks, check your bundles. The leaves should be quite brittle and fragile. If they are flexible at all, they are not completely dry. Leave them for another week or so. Once dried, transfer your bundles to a newspaper-covered table and begin stripping the leaves from the stems, and then transfer the dried material to airtight containers for storage. Make sure you label the containers so you know what they are. Dried stems that are going to be used in arrangements or potpourri may be left hanging until needed.



When it comes to using Mexican mint marigold in the kitchen, your only limitation will be your own imagination. Because of its strong, unique and sweet flavor, it can complement practically any food. The fresh leaves can be added to salads or chopped and sprinkled over fresh fruit, steamed vegetables, any type of meat, or baked in bread recipes. A little can be used to add flavor to pasta and pizza sauce or baked in your favorite lasagna dish. It makes tasty herb butter, wonderful herb vinegar, and can be mixed with any combination of other ingredients to make superb sauces and condiments.

If using as a substitute for French tarragon, use the same amount of Mexican mint marigold as called for in the recipe. Remember, the general rule is, if a recipe calls for a tablespoon of dried herb, use three times that amount of the fresh herb. When adding the herb to soups or sauces that are cooked or simmered, add this herb at the very end of the cooking process to avoid flavor loss. With a little experimentation and creativity, you may find that the easy-to-grow and wonderfully tasty Mexican mint marigold is one of your all-time favorite culinary herbs.


Marigold Chicken


• 1/4 cup fresh Mexican mint marigold leaves
• Two cloves garlic
• Three to four small green onions
• 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
• 1/4 cup honey
• Four boneless, skinless chicken breasts

With a knife or food processor, mince the Mexican mint marigold, garlic and onions and scrape all into a small bowl. Add the mustard and honey and blend to make a thick paste.

Cut a pocket lengthwise in the middle of each chicken breast and spoon in one tablespoon of the honey-mustard mixture. Season the breast with salt and pepper and bake at 350° F for 20 minutes, turning once, or grill the breast over hot coals for four minutes on each side. Pour remaining honey-mustard sauce over cooked breast. Serve and enjoy!


A version of this article originally appeared in print in Oklahoma Gardener Volume II Issue V. Top photo by M. Martin Vicente all other photos by Tom Bergey.


Posted: 01/15/16   RSS | Print


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Cream of Cauliflower and Chive Soup
by Karen Atkins       #Recipes

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.


Posted: 01/11/16   RSS | Print


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Chive and Bleu Cheese Dressing
by Karen Atkins       #Recipes

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.


Thumbnail photo by A. Pitch CC BY 2.0


Posted: 01/11/16   RSS | Print


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Grains + Fruit = Tasty Granola Recipe
by Karen Atkins    

Oven-toasted granola stays crunchy, even in milk.1

Dried figs have such a beautiful shape when simply halved and mixed with granola.2

Karen Atkins’ friend accuses her of going off the chain for adding banana chips to a recipe already high in calories.3

Toasting coconut concentrates flavor and produces a heady aroma.4

During the winter months, the avalanche of seed and plant catalogs I find in the mailbox reassures me that there will be fresh fruit again next summer. Still, to get these catalogs, I have to trudge through 2 feet of snow. And for too long, in my opinion. So how do I keep the faith? I celebrate dried fruit instead by making mounds of granola.

I have tried countless recipes for homemade granola. Trust me, this is the one my family and friends like the best. It was first inspired by Sarah Chase’s Open House Cookbook. Ina Garten then added more dried fruit to it for the The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.

I took Garten’s adaptation and switched from vegetable oil to walnut oil. It gives the granola twice as much nutty flavor. I also changed up the fruit for more color, crunch and variety. My addition of banana chips drove it right over the top.

There are as many innovations in granola making, as there are permutations. If you are like me and can’t leave good enough alone, use mine as your starting point. Or, to avoid all of the experimentation I had to endure, just go right to the good stuff.

Granola Recipe

Ingredients (this recipe makes 12 cups):

4 cups rolled oats (not the quick-cooking kind)
2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut
¾ cups walnut oil
½ cup good honey
1 cup small, diced dried apricots
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup quartered figs (Garten likes these finely diced but I love the shape of them halved or quartered.)
1½ cups banana chips
1 cup roasted cashews (Garten likes these unsalted, but I like them salted.)

If, after reading the ingredients, you begin to wonder how granola won its reputation as a healthy food, I’m right there with you. It may be from the association between granola and hiking. After all, hikers need lightweight snacks and extra calories! 


Preheat oven to 350 F. Toss the oats, coconut and cashews in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, mix together the oil and honey. Pour the oil and honey mixture over the oat mixture and stir thoroughly. The oil helps the oats crisp up, so you definitely want to ensure that everything is coated. Pour the mix onto a 13-by-18-inch baking sheet. It is smart to use one with sides, because you will be stirring it from time to time while it bakes, and you don’t want it to spill out.

Bake 45 minutes, but depending on the depth of the pan, the timing may be different. Just pull it out and stir it with a spatula every 10 minutes or so. As it begins to brown, you will need to stir it more frequently. Keep a close eye on it, since coconut easily burns.

When the mixture has evenly browned, take it out of the oven and allow it to cool – still stirring it occasionally. If you can, set it on a trivet so it can cool from the bottom, which helps prevent overcooking. After it has cooled completely, mix in the apricots, cranberries, figs, banana chips and cashews. You can store it in an airtight container for a week or two, if you like. Mine never stays around that long, especially if anyone is home to smell the aroma as it bakes.

More Ways to Enjoy Granola

•  Top a fruit and yogurt parfait with it.

•  Eat it dry by the handful.

•  In a bowl with milk

•  Layer it (alternately), with pudding and cake several times to make trifle.

•  Roll a banana in peanut butter. Then roll it in granola and slice to serve. 

•  Roll a banana in melted chocolate, coat with granola and freeze. 

•  Bake an apple with it, drizzled with butter until it is crisp.

•  Make gifts by putting granola in a mason jar or simply wrapping it in cellophane.






From State-by-State Gardening January/February 2014.


Posted: 01/11/16   RSS | Print


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Cover Crops in the Vegetable Garden
by Jack Horan    

Brandon Hines incorporates winter rye and hairy vetch cover crops in spring at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, Goldsboro, NC. (Photo courtesy of Jack Horan.)

If you have harvested everything from your vegetable garden and decided not to plant cool-season crops, then now is the time to start a cover crop, which just means planting something to cover up the dirt. Big-time farmers plant cover crops such as clover and rye, and backyard gardeners can reap the same benefits for their dormant gardens during the winter months with a cover crop.

The benefits are many, according to Suzanne O’Connell, a graduate student at N.C. State University who researches cover crops on organic vegetable farms. Growing a cold-weather cover crop reintroduces nutrients to the soil, improves soil quality, can control weeds, breaks the cycles or diseases or pests, attracts insect pollinators and decreases soil erosion for gardens on a slope. “It’s adding work in one sense, but you really are improving your soil and adding nutrients,” O’Connell said.

Leaving your spent vegetable garden’s soil bare through the winter lets rain and snow leach out nutrients such as nitrogen. That nutrient loss is on top of those lost in the summer to vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and corn.

With summer gardens spent, fall is an ideal time to plant a cover crop, since most cover crops require between two and four months to reach their desired stage. Prepare the soil as you would for any other crop, applying lime or fertilizer as needed by a soil test. Broadcast cover crop seeds by hand.

O’Connell recommends five cover crops for all regions of the Southeast. They are easy to germinate and easy to get rid of in the spring when the garden is to be replanted with vegetables.

Crimson clover


(Above photos courtesy of Suzanne O’Connell.)
  • Crimson and berseem clover (Trifolium incarnatum, T. alexandrinum) – Plant six to eight weeks before the first frost date. Clovers are part of the legume family, which can fix nitrogen in the soil and thus boost nitrogen for next spring’s garden. Mow one or two times when about half of the crop is flowering. Allow the residue to decompose for at least two weeks before planting vegetables.

  • Cereal/winter rye (Secale cereale) –
Plant six to eight weeks before the first frost date. A cold-hardy crop, rye will grow well into the spring. Rye increases soil organic matter as it decomposes. Mow one to two times when at least 12 inches tall, or when half of the crop has immature seed heads. Allow residue to decompose for at least two weeks before planting vegetables.

  • Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) –
Plant in the spring or fall during a two-month period of mild weather. Buckwheat establishes quickly, suppresses weeds and attracts pollinators. Mow one to two times when half the crop is in flower and before hard seeds have formed.

  • Soybean (Glycine max) –
Plant in early to midsummer, between spring and fall crops. Mow before pods have formed or when pods are still green and have not matured. These legume family plants can fix nitrogen in the soil.

  • Oats (Avena sativa) –
Plant eight to 10 weeks before the first frost date. Oats grow during the fall and die when cold weather rolls in. They form a surface mulch, increasing soil organic matter as they decay.


Maintenance for cover crops is minimal other than watering if a long dry spell occurs.

In late winter or early spring, gardeners can blend cover crops – “green manure” – into the soil. First, mow the crop and let it dry out for a week or two. Then work the crop into the soil with a garden tiller or by hand with a shovel or pitchfork. O’Connell said that gardeners can either mix in the entire cover crop or create 1- to 2-foot-wide planting strips, leaving the rest as surface mulches that will decompose over time and serve as walkways. Such strip tillage works well with grain-type cover crops like rye and oats.

Spreading leaves over the garden will increase the amount of soil organic matter and control weeds, but the garden doesn’t benefit from that process as much as it does with a cover crop. Instead, O’Connell recommended composting leaves with other yard and household waste, and then adding the compost to the garden as a soil builder and natural fertilizer.

Cover crops also provide an aesthetic benefit. They add color, texture and blooms to a vegetable garden so that it looks vibrant and productive throughout the year.


Where can I buy cover crops?

Cover crop seeds are available at many garden stores as well as online through seed companies. For a list of cover crop seed sources, visit Noth Carolina State University Cooperative Extension's list of cover crops




Posted: 12/18/15   RSS | Print


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Outside Influence
by Daniel Keeley       #Holiday: Christmas   #Decorating

Organic elements, like the fresh greenery, sugar pinecones and sculptural Manzanita branch
seen here, combine with beautiful, earth-toned ornaments for an elegant, yet rustic feel.

How to Bring a Touch of the Garden to Your Holiday Decorations

As a garden and exterior designer, I can’t help but incorporate natural and outdoor elements when decorating for the holidays. And hey, if you think about it, the holiday season is the perfect time to bring the outdoors in. I mean, at what other time of year do we traditionally cut down real trees and put them in our living rooms?! So, as an expansion on this age-old tradition, try bringing some of your garden and the outdoors inside your home when decorating for the holidays this year. Here are some of my favorite techniques.


Naturally Festive

A simple amaryllis planted with green moss in a small garden container makes the perfect garden-inspired holiday decoration for the top of a piece of furniture.

Using natural items and organic materials is one of the easiest ways to bring the outdoors in for the holidays. Besides the ubiquitous Christmas tree, fresh evergreen wreaths and garland are a great place to start, and they will give your decorations a natural grace and fill your home with wonderful aromas. But also keep in mind the potential of other items such as pinecones, dried or fresh vines and sculptural tree branches. These items can even be gathered right from your own garden (did someone say, “FREE”?) and used in combination with basic greenery … whether it is real or artificial.


Freshly Seasoned

As with any occasion, fresh flowers are also the perfect ingredients for your holiday décor. Especially with flowering bulbs such as narcissus and amaryllis, you can introduce a living, growing and natural element to your decorations. Plus, they last for weeks! These bulbs can easily be found at nurseries and garden centers around the holidays and potted in your favorite decorative containers, or you can buy them already planted, as well. Either way fresh, flowering bulbs will fill your holiday home with the colors, scents and liveliness of the garden.


Winter Wonderland

Live narcissus in small garden planters, fresh moss, pinecones and a dusting of artificial snow make the perfect outdoor-inspired centerpiece for the holidays.

We all dream of the perfect white Christmas with freshly fallen snow blanketing the ground and the treetops. Well, regardless of the weather you can create your own white Christmas, and it is actually a great trick for bringing not just the feeling of the outdoors but also the feeling of being outdoors to your holiday decor. By recreating the illusion of fresh snow, you can conjure up a garden-inspired fantasy where the flakes just stopped falling! Simply sprinkle artificial snow on decorations, trees or table arrangements and let it pile up as it would naturally. If you’re afraid of avalanches … no problem: Use spray adhesive along with the artificial snow to add sparkle to items such as branches, pinecones and ornaments.


Here are a few additional tips:

1) Artificial snow is usually sold for use with miniature holiday villages, so look for it near the villages themselves.

2) Some artificial snow is nothing more than shredded plastic bags. Skip this and get the good stuff.

3) Finally, when decorating “let it snow” liberally for the best effect!


In From the Cold

Another great way to add a bit of the garden to your holiday décor is to bring some of your favorite decorative elements (such as a birdbath, statue or planter) in from the cold. For example, pile a bunch of colorful Christmas tree ornaments or naturally beautiful pinecones in a birdbath and place it next to your tree for an unexpected touch. Or, drape a statue with lush greenery and a big, festive bow for a dramatic holiday focal point. And, your smaller garden planters are perfect for potting up those narcissus and amaryllis bulbs. Even larger containers can be put to good use by filling them with fresh evergreens or interesting branches from the garden and grouping them around the Christmas tree, using them to dress up an entryway or placing them in an empty corner.

Happy Holidays!


Additional Photos
click on any photo to enlarge


Garden décor, such as this stone finial, can be decorated and brought inside for the holidays to add an unexpected outdoor touch to your décor. Here, fresh greenery, elegantly glittered pinecones and an earth-toned bow combine to create an elegant, understated focal point.


Garden statuary, such as this handsome bust, can be moved indoors during the holidays to create a dramatic and garden-inspired statement.


Establishing an outside influence doesn’t mean your decorations have to be traditional. Here, frosted trees and fresh poinsettias are planted in large, contemporary garden containers for a sleek, sophisticated approach to the holidays.


A variety of evergreens, sandblasted Manzanita branches and miniature pinecones lend an organic contrast to the shiny ornaments, mirrored obelisks and glass lamps in this tabletop arrangement.


On this staircase banister, huge sugar pinecones and pheasant feathers were used instead of traditional ornaments to decorate artificial garland. The result brings the outdoors into this holiday home in a dramatic and unexpected way.


A single narcissus bulb, lichen moss and an architectural branch bring a touch of the holidays and the outdoors to this powder room.


Live narcissus and fresh moss in a festive container bring a touch of the holidays and the outdoors to any room.


Live narcissus and English ivy in a festive container bring a touch of the holidays and the garden to this tabletop.


Evergreen trees potted in garden urns combine with vines, greenery and bright red berries to create a woodsy yet elegant mantle decoration.


Image: ARGARDWEB 12, 2011 (17)
Natural pinecones and fresh Spanish moss were used to add organic beauty to this stairway decoration.


Natural pinecones were combined with greenery and bright red berries to create this organically beautiful centerpiece.


Real pinecones, vines, greenery and moss topiaries were placed along with simple candlesticks and given a “fresh” blanketing of snow to give a garden-inspired grace to this large tabletop.


Pheasant feathers and butterfly ornaments used as a tree topper bring the feeling of the garden into this holiday décor.


(Photos courtesy of DK Design)



Posted: 12/18/15   RSS | Print


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Poinsettia Combinations
by Susan Frakes       #Holiday: Christmas

This large arrangement holds seven 4-inch plants. The dumb cane (Dieffenbachia spp.) gives height, along with the Norfolk Island pine. The Diamond Frost euphorbia adds the look of dainty white snowflakes. The variegated ivy hangs over the edge of the 14-inch container.

Poinsettias have decorated homes for many years. A single poinsettia can be an awesome sight sitting alone on a table, showing off its striking color, or colors. And their colors are astonishing – from various shades of red, pink, purple, to white or multi-colors. With names such as Monet Early (‘PER2009’), Jingle Bells (‘PER 2110’), ‘Prestige’, ‘Shimmer’, Maren (‘Beckmanns Altrosa’) and ‘Luv U Pink’, there are over 100 varieties of poinsettias. So why combine poinsettias with other plants? Plant combinations take you beyond the ordinary to extraordinary! I enjoy creating combinations that scream “Look at me!” Garden centers have made it easy to do this by having poinsettias in all sizes from teeny tiny to very large ones. The selection of foliage plants to complement the poinsettias also come in various sizes.

The first step is to select your container. The container can be anything that holds enough potting mix to accommodate the number of plants you want to use. To create a tabletop arrangement, you may choose a 10-inch bowl. A bowl of that size would accommodate a 5-inch poinsettia with room for other plants or two 4-inch poinsettias with less room for other plants. The nice thing about having so many sizes of poinsettias to choose from is that you can make a combo in just about anything – from a small ornate container, such as a sleigh, to a huge combo in a ceramic pot. Tabletop urns can transform arrangements into conversation pieces. I am partial to using plastic inserts that I can drop into my decorative container. They come in various sizes as well.

This stunning combination shows off a smaller variety of poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima ‘Tapestry’). It is surrounded by a dark-leaf peperomia (Peperomia caperata ‘Raspberry Ripple’) and a delicate fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’). The sparkle of tiny white flowers come from Diamond Frost euphorbia (E. hypericifolia ‘Inneuphe’).

For a beautiful display, surround a Norfolk Island pine with red and white poinsettias and add a striking trailing pothos (Epipremnum aureum ‘NJoy’).

Drainage is important for the health of your combination. Never leave your container in standing water. If you are using a non-draining container, water lightly and carefully. I use a small watering can with a small spout. This makes it easy to control the direction and amount of water. Your plants’ roots need air along with water.

The potting mix you use should be a soilless mix. It is important to use a medium that is light and fluffy. It helps with drainage.

Be careful and protect the surface where you place your container. A non-draining pot will still damage the surface where it sits. I use surface protectors such as cork with plastic or coasters under my containers. They are thin and not noticeable.

The basic principles for making indoor arrangements are the same as outdoor arrangements. The difference is the plants you use. For some height in my outdoor container, I like to use Sky Pencil holly (Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’). Inside, I would use a Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla).

There are many foliage plants that you can use to pull out the color of your poinsettia. A soft look could be achieved with the addition of ferns. Dracaena lends a bolder style.

These white poinsettias stand out more with the addition of the variegated rubber tree (Ficus elastica ‘Tineke’). Tucked in around the poinsettias are small 3-inch containers of asparagus ferns. Two 4-inch autumn ferns (Dryopteris erythrosora) are added for more texture.

This festive tin is planted with red and white poinsettias. The Norfolk Island pine gives height to the arrangement. The chartreuse color of the spikemoss (Selaginella kraussiana ‘Gold Tips’) adds interest.

I used coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides) a lot last year in my combinations and was very pleased with how they performed indoors. Coleus colors vary from lime green to vibrant red. New varieties are entering the market every spring. I take cuttings of my summer coleus plants and have them to use indoors with my poinsettias. Hopefully, you will find coleus displayed with poinsettias this year. Their decorative foliage adds more interest and creativity. It pulls the color of the poinsettia out even more.

Every holiday season I pull out my festive baskets and create arrangements in them. Some are given away as gifts, while some decorate my home. Placing a drip pan in the bottom of the basket helps the basket last longer and keeps it tidier. I like using a variety of small plants and depending on my basket size, I usually use three different plants. The Norfolk Island pine is one of my favorites. It can be decorated with tiny ornaments or bows. It stands tall while my small poinsettias surround it. Tuck in a small container of ivy to soften the edges. A small African violet (Saintpaulia spp.) can add some color also. Cover the soil with moss for a nice finished look. Keeping plants in their original containers allows you to change it up easily or take it apart after the holidays. Just remove the moss to water the pots individually.

Grouping plants together is another way to create poinsettia arrangements. Clustering is another name for it. With the help of plant stands, you can elevate plants and surround them with plants placed below. Place a tall dracaena on a plant stand and put a large poinsettia at the base. It will hide the plant stand. Tuck in a small container of ivy next to the poinsettia. The pots can be covered with foil or placed in decorated containers. Remember to take the foil off to water.

Poinsettia combinations go beyond the ordinary and give a beautiful plant a whole new exciting look. It can be a small arrangement or one on a grander level.

This year, when you pick out your poinsettia, look around for something exciting to go with it. You will be surprised how a plant that has been around for a very long time can take on a whole new look.

Poinsettia Partners

Try these exciting foliage plants with your poinsettias:

Neon pothos (Epipremnum pinnatum)

Pilea (Pilea mollis ‘Moon Valley’)

Fittonia (Fittonia argyroneura ‘Mini White’)

Silver lace fern (Pteris ensiformis ‘Evergemiensis’)

From State-by-State Gardening November/December 2013.
Photo credits: Neon photos by Quinn Dombrowski. Pilea by Nagarazoku. Silver lace fern by Forest & Kim Starr. All poinsettia photos by Susan Frakes.


Posted: 12/18/15   RSS | Print


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How to Make Compost
by Kerry Heafner       #Homesteading   #Video

How to Make Compost
- Demonstration by Kerry Heafner

You know fall of the year is the perfect time to start rejuvenating your garden beds for next spring, and in this vegetable garden, the perfect thing to do is add compost now so it can settle in and nutrients can be released in time for the spring plant. So, come on back with us and we’ll show you how to set up a compost pile.

Now, setting up a compost pile for your own home garden couldn’t be simpler, and the good news is that the materials needed will come at little to no expense. So, that’s always a plus.

In this case, I’m using some four-foot fence post that I got from the local garden center, and I’m simply going to hammer these into the ground in a circular pattern. Now, when the fence post are in the ground, I’ll wrap some hardware cloth - or really you can use any wire you have available. Two by four wire works perfectly. I’m going to wrap the wire around this, and that will do two things. First, it will keep the material being composted contained. Second of all, it will allow good airflow across the pile because keeping the compost pile oxygenated during the composting process is going to be key.

Now that we have our compost pile blocked off, it’s time to start adding the materials, and the first thing we’re going to add is some finished compost. And, that’s simply because finished compost contains all the microorganisms that will kickstart a new compost and carry on the decomposition process. Now we have some finished compost in there for a good microbial foundation.

The next thing we want to add is some kitchen scraps, and I’m often asked, “Well, what can we compost out of the kitchen.” Well, really anything plant based. What you want to avoid are animal products like meat scraps and bones. Those will be very slow to breakdown and they might invite some uninvited guests to your compost pile and we don’t want that.

What I’m going to put in here now are just simply some kitchen scraps, and you’ll see it’s banana peels, some old leaf petioles off of greens, some carrots tops, some cherry tomatoes that are a little past their peak. And, you’ll also notice some egg shells. A wonderful source of calcium. And, you can find egg shells very readily. So, any of this material would be perfect for the compost pile.

Now, this is going to be kind of a magic ingredient we’ll add to the compost pile. These are coffee grounds, and you can get these from your local coffee shop. They’re often very glad to give them away because all they do with them is throw them away anyway. Coffee grounds are a wonderful source of nitrogen and they will also help improve the soil – workability of the soil – tilth you’ll sometimes hear it called. And, we’ll put this into the compost pile as well. We don’t want too much, but just enough to get the compost pile to heat up. And coffee grounds are a good source of nitrogen.

Now, we’re going to cover this with some type of organic material – leaves, hay, straw anything like that will work. I’m going to use some maple leaves that I’ve raked up out of the yard. And, we’ll put this on top to sort of keep everything under the layer of leaves warm and that’ll start decomposing. There are also insects in these leaves that will start decomposing all this organic matter as well as soil fungi and bacteria. So, we’ll keep the leaves on top of that, and that will allow the compost pile to stay warm so the microbes can start doing their thing breaking all this wonderful organic material down.  

Now the last thing to go on the compost pile is some water. We want to keep the compost pile, not saturated, but just moist enough to promote good microbial growth.  All of these bacteria and fungi that are going to breakdown this material need moisture. In the process of decomposition, a lot of heat will be generated. It’ll even be possible to come out here on a cold winter day, open up the compost pile and watch steam literally erupt out of the center of the compost pile. So, over a period of months, this material will break down and will have that wonderful black gold material that will be ready to go in the garden in the springtime.

Now, it’s going to be very important to come out periodically and turn the compost pile with a shovel or some time of garden tool. Now once the compost pile has stopped heating up, the compost is finished. And at that point it’s ready to harvest and go into the garden bed.


Posted: 12/16/15   RSS | Print


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Muhly grass
by State-by-State Gardening       #Ornamentals   #Video


Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)
 - Video Transcript

As a single specimen or planted en masse, muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is dramatic, drought resistant and easy to grow.

Hardy in USDA Zones 5-10, the growing conditions for muhly grass are precise, requiring full sun and excellent drainage for the best results. The optimal time for moving or dividing is during the cooler months, when rainfall or hand watering can be done in abundance – although muhly grass is extremely drought-tolerant once established, it needs copious amounts of water to get the roots settled in to its liking.

Not likely to be noticed in the spring or summer, it puts on quite a show in the autumn landscape. When other ornamental grasses are falling down and showing ragged foliage, muhly grass will be covered with a cloud of wispy flower heads held height above the wiry foliage. This effect is amplified when planted in large masses. By late summer, muhly grass will grow to about 30 inches by 30 inches. The plant will increase in size and flowering capacity each year. Cut back to about 6-8 inches in late winter to allow room for the new season’s growth. Fertilize in early spring. Provide full sun and only minimal irrigation.   

This perennial native of the prairies and coastal barrens, ranges from New England to Mexico. It’s becoming increasingly popular as a colorful, low-maintenance, water-conserving, three-season addition to the landscape.


Posted: 12/03/15   RSS | Print


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Reusing Salvaged Brick
by Brandee Gruener    

Paths are an essential part to any garden. They help improve access to plants, invite visitors to enter and provide an aesthetic improvement as well. Brick paths can be an elegant addition to any garden, but starting from scratch with new brick can be cost-prohibitive. If you want the elegance of brick without the sticker shock, look into salvaged bricks. They bring both elegance and an historic element to your garden.


In my own garden, I decided I wanted a series of elegant brick walks to divide my front lawn and echo the charming brick columns on the front porch. During my research I feasted my eyes on photos of brick walks with subtle geometric designs. Then I began to look at the price tag for pallets of fresh, identical red brick, and I decided to change direction slightly.


My eyes turned to the bricks I’d gathered from my property and the neighbors’. My new plan became creating a brick-lined, gravel path that connects the driveway to the front walk in a manner perfectly in tune with my historic neighborhood. The final result was a unique and more satisfying walkway than any new materials could have created. And the price tag was perfect: less than $100 in rock and landscape fabric.


Garden designer Frank Hyman has used salvaged brick to create dry-stack walls on his own property as well as to install a Charleston-type garden pathway for a client. For the pathway he used leftover brick from a dismantled chimney at his client’s historic home. One reason he chose salvaged brick was for the patina of age that comes with the older materials. “I just love the color, you can’t beat it,” Hyman said.


With new brick, one can wait years for interesting textures to develop. Salvaged bricks add immediate interest through their rich colors, worn and moss-covered surfaces and unusual stamps. The size, texture, and color of each brick is customary to the manufacturer and the time period in which it was formed and baked. One brick in my walkway is stamped by “Borden Brick & Tile Co.,” a brick manufacturer from the early 20th century. So now what would have been an ordinary brick path is a conversation piece.


Recycling those bricks also saved a trip to the dump and kept them out of the landfill. The EPA estimates there are 1,900 landfills in this country used for construction and demolition materials. I used excess bricks to create a border for the garden beds, unifying the entire landscape. And installation is just as simple with recycled materials.


Collecting the Brick


If you’re looking to collect bricks for a path or a wall, first you need to know the amount of brick you’ll need for your project. Design your path and with stakes or a garden hose mark off the area you want to pave. To create a brick-lined path, measure the length of the path to estimate how much material you will need – a standard brick is 8 inches long, so calculate the length of your path, multiply by 2, and divide by 2/3 for the total number of bricks needed. For a full brick path, you can calculate square footage and use a materials calculator online.


Second, start a treasure hunt. Hunting for the right bricks for your project can require patience. I spent several months collecting bricks, but it was worth it for the price tag. Start with your backyard; what could be more authentic than bricks from your own homestead? Then ask your neighbors for permission to hunt around their yard. Older properties can hide a treasure trove of bricks that served as a foundation, a walkway or a chimney in a former life.


You can also try commercial listings like Craigslist, local businesses under renovation or used building supply companies. These bricks aren’t free, but they’re a better price than new and sometimes it’s the best way to get what you need.


If you collect from multiple sources, you’re bound to end up with bricks of different sizes and shapes. That can make the project tricky, but it also adds variation for those who appreciate an eclectic look.

Building Your Path


Once you have enough brick, gather the necessary materials: rock screenings, gravel and landscape fabric. To determine how much screenings and gravel you will need, multiply the width and length of your project for square footage. You will need about a 2-inch depth of screenings and 2 to 3 inches of gravel. The easiest way to determine how much you need to buy in yards is to use a materials calculator easily found online.


Use a spade to dig out the path to a depth of at least 4 inches, cutting the sides as vertically as possible. Cover the base of trench with landscape fabric. Fill the trench halfway with screenings or coarse sand and rake it even. Tamp the screenings down if the underlying soil is soft.


Lay out bricks along each side of the path. This will require extra care if they are different shapes and sizes. Line up the outer edges of the bricks, rather than the inner edges, for a neater appearance. Any eroded or broken sides should face inward to be filled in with gravel.


If you have bricks of different sizes, use extra screenings where needed to bring thinner bricks up to height. A mallet or board can be used to gently tap out-of-line bricks into place. Be careful, because bricks can be rather brittle and break easily. Finally, fill in the path with gravel and rake.


The extra work of finding salvaged brick is all worth it for the lived-in charm. Through investing a bit of time and patience, you’ve created a beautiful brick path that complements any garden.


Photo Gallery


With reclaimed brick, you don’t have to wait for weather and nature to produce interesting textures. Salvaged bricks add immediate interest with their rich colors, worn and moss-covered surfaces, and unusual stamps.


A brick-lined path complements the front-porch columns of this historic home. Salvaged brick can also add immediate “lived-in” charm for newer homes.


Reclaimed brick also works well for garden borders. This project made good use of hollow brick deemed unusable for a pathway. Each brick was installed on its side to hide the holes.


Look for interesting stamps and textures for your salvaged brick projects. This stamp from Borden Brick & Tile Co. accents an eclectic collection of bricks of many sizes and colors.


Even busted and broken bricks serve a purpose, adding a whimsical touch to the herb garden.


This gardener collected brick from torn-down buildings and chimneys to construct a series of paths and dry stack walls around her home.


She also incorporated salvaged brick in the steps leading up to her home. The mixture of stone and brick give the garden an eclectic and one-of-a-kind feel.















Posted: 11/30/15   RSS | Print


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How to: Select a Fresh Cut Live Christmas Tree
by State-by-State Gardening       #Holiday: Christmas   #How to   #Video


How to: Select a Fresh Cut Live Christmas Tree
 - Video Transcript, Demonstration by Kerry Heafner

Today we’re going to show you how to select that perfect live Christmas Tree.
Now the first thing to consider when selecting a live Christmas tree is the height of the tree vs the height of the room it’s going in. Make sure you select a live tree that is going to be proportional to the height of the ceiling in the room the tree is going to be standing in. So, when you go to a Christmas tree farm they’ll often times have these poles marked off at different heights. Now, this tree is approximately 8-feet tall, which means, when you get it in the stand it’s going to be at least a foot taller. So, make sure the room that this tree will go in has a ceiling that’s at least 10-feet tall.

Now, in addition to height, we have to think about the other end of the tree and take some time to lift the bottom branches away and have a look at the trunk. Having a straight trunk on a live Christmas tree is going to be important in terms of setting it up on the stand. Generally, you’ll find that on something like a leyland cypress, the trunk is going to be very straight and uniform. On the other hand, trees like this Carolina sapphire cedar, can often times have a trunk that grows a little crooked throughout the growing season, and that will affect how the tree sits in the stand after its been cut.

Another thing you want to look for when selecting a live Christmas tree is the overall shape. And, we all think of the perfect Christmas tree having a perfect conical shape, and the fact is that they’re pruned to have that shape. The growers come in periodically and prune the trees so that they look like that perfect Christmas tree that we all think of.

Rub your hand across the Christmas tree and feel the needles. The branches should be soft and playable, and the needles should not easily fall away from the tree. You also want to make sure the tree is uniformly green, and every once in awhile you’ll see a tree that will have some dead growth in it. For example, if you look at this leyland cypress, you’ll some a few brown branches mixed in with the green ones. Typically, the grower will have those pruned away so there’s not a hazard if you’re going to use electric lights.  

So there you have some basic tips for selecting that perfect live Christmas tree. For State-by-State Gardening, I’m Kerry Heafner.


Posted: 11/27/15   RSS | Print


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Respect Your Houseplants
by Kylee Baumle    

Maybe it's not a greener thumb you need, but a change in attitude. 

Growing plants inside our homes has been done for centuries. The desire to surround ourselves with plants in our very non-natural abodes is a testament to the connection we feel with nature. Even those who don't grow houseplants usually enjoy seeing them in other people's homes and places of business.

So why do some people shun them? If you ask a group of people why they don't have houseplants, the number one reason they'll give is that they kill them. Newsflash: Everyone kills houseplants.

It's true that no one enjoys seeing brown-tinged leaves or yellowing foliage sitting next to them while they’re watching TV, or eating dinner, or especially when they're entertaining guests. A sick or dying houseplant doesn't exactly give off positive vibes about itself or the person who is supposed to be taking care of it.

But all houseplants are not created equal. Some are quite forgiving, and there truly are plants that survive and even thrive in homes where they may not receive optimal care. Fortunately, those plants are readily available in garden centers.

A Different Point of View

It might not seem all that unusual to find plants living with people in homes where gardeners reside. After all, it's just an extension of what they do out in their gardens, and especially in northern latitudes, houseplants are a way to continue enjoying the growing process when the weather outside prevents it.

However, even some of the most active outdoor gardeners shy away from growing plants indoors for various reasons. Perhaps a change in attitude towards the whole houseplant idea is in order.

Consider this: Annual bedding plants are a booming business. Each year, millions of dollars are spent on them, with the spring months garnering the most sales. Petunias, begonias and the like fly out of the garden centers and into flowerbeds, where they'll brighten landscapes for five months, maybe six, weather permitting. And then what? Frost happens. Those lovely flowers that we enjoyed for what is always a too-short summer are reduced to mush. We may mourn the end of summer and fall, and maybe those annual plants, but even as we were putting them in the ground such a short time before, we knew they wouldn't last.

What if we started to view houseplants in a similar way? Most people think nothing of buying a bouquet of fresh flowers for the table when entertaining guests or for special occasions such as Valentine's Day, an anniversary or a birthday. For the same amount of money (and usually less), a beautiful houseplant can enhance the same space for a much longer period of time.

Take an orchid, for instance. Most orchid blooms last two or three months. They aren't particularly expensive, they're easily found in garden centers (and even grocery stores), and they often can last for years and rebloom.

Stop being so hard on yourself, and give yourself permission to kill a houseplant or two. Even if you only get six months out of a particular houseplant, that's six months of enjoyment. Most houseplants will live much longer, decades even, but if they don't, it's a low-cost excuse to try something new.

An Investment with Added Value

Live plants offer more than just aesthetic benefits to our environment. Not only do they look nice, studies have shown that we accomplish more and are happier doing it when live greens are in our midst.

It is a well-known fact that trees and plants provide us with fresh air to breathe by converting carbon dioxide to oxygen and they continue to do that when they're growing inside. In 1989, NASA conducted studies to see if plants could be used to improve the air quality in space, and they found that some plants are especially good at purifying it.

Peace lily (Spathiphyllum spp.), snake plant (Sansevieria spp.), Philodendron spp. and English ivy (Hedera helix) are just a few of the common houseplants that are known to remove common toxins such as benzene and formaldehyde from the air. Using plants in this way helps avoid sick building syndrome, often found where air is recirculated rather than introducing fresh air through open windows.

Decorate Your Space

It's often the subtle things that add spark and give character to an interior design or a particular style. Throw pillows, a piece of art, or even a strategically placed stack of books can be just the thing that gives a room a finishing touch.

Using houseplants in the same way can change the mood of a specific design by virtue of its architectural form. Many succulents, which are relatively easy plants to care for, have unique forms that work with many different styles.

The containers that are chosen can also shift the vibe for the plants that are grown in them. Textures, colors, shapes, even groupings of several plants in similar containers, can add to the overall effect in a room, often being a focal point.

Tips for Success

Sometimes people sabotage their houseplant-growing efforts without intending to do so. All plants are not created equal, but growing plants inside your house isn't that much different than growing container plants outside. Good drainage is essential, and potting soils are designed to make this easier. Many of them have plant food added that will feed your plants for the first three to six months or so.

If your container doesn't have drainage holes in the bottom, you can always use your container of choice as a cachepot to hold the original plastic pot that does have drainage holes. When it comes time to water, just take the inner container holding the plant out and water it at the sink.

If frequency of watering seems to be an issue for you, remember that most houseplants are killed by overwatering. As a general rule, don't water until the first inch of soil is dry to the touch. When in doubt, it's usually best to err on the side of dryness and hold off a little while longer.

Light requirements may be a little more tricky, but there are plenty of plants available to fit your particular indoor situation. Plants don't necessarily need to be placed in front of a window to do well. Just as light conditions vary outdoors (full sun to full shade), they'll vary in your house too, so take note of that when you're choosing your houseplants.

10 Easy Houseplants

•  Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
•  Jade plant (Crassula ovata)
•  Aloe spp.
•  Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
•  Dieffenbachia spp.
•  Rubber tree (Ficus elastica)
•  Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema spp.)
•  Snake plant (Sansevieria spp.)
•  Philodendron spp.
•  Peace lily (Spathiphyllum cochlearispathum)

Remember This

No one's perfect and it's pretty much guaranteed you will kill a plant or two, but it's also pretty much guaranteed that you'll have success. Just as you gain experience gardening outside over time, you'll learn how to keep your houseplants happy as well. Plants aren't like a piece of furniture designed to last forever, but many plants live long and happy lives in spite of their owners.

Most plants are somewhat forgiving of less-than-ideal conditions (some more than others), so with all the benefits of growing plants inside your home, it's time to give it a go, don't you think? 



Photo Gallery


Air plants (Tillandsia spp.) are an easy grower, needing no soil and only weekly watering. Because of this, they can be used in a number of ways, here highlighting a grouping of white ceramic vases.


This bromeliad plays well with its container, its mottled foliage echoing the color. Placing it in front of the mirror on this mantle makes the plant look larger and more lush.


A sunny window is an opportunity to group several plants together to create an indoor garden. Plants love company, often growing better en masse due to a higher humidity level, which most plants love. These are kept in their individual containers.


This heavy wooden sphere has nooks and crannies that can hold soil and small plants. It's coated with polyurethane to protect it from rotting.


A ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) in a cachepot inside this vintage piece of luggage gives life and color to the arrangement on a bedroom dresser.


Are these copper containers (from H. Potter) the focal point, or the plants in them? Both, and notice the art piece that's been added to the mix, creating a lovely vignette in this window corner. When planting several plants together, be sure they have the same light and water requirements.


Snake plant (Sansevieria spp.) is one of the easiest houseplants to grow. A group of them can form an effective room divider or screen, as seen in this entryway.


Placing a container with drainage holes inside a cachepot allows you to put plants in unlikely locations, such as this open drawer, which provides an opportunity for a little drama with ivy spilling out.


A version of this article appeared in a November/December 2015 print edition of State-by-State by State Gardening. Photography by Kylee Baumle.




Posted: 11/25/15   RSS | Print


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Candied Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
by Karen Atkins       #Recipes


1½ pounds Brussels sprouts

2 cups chicken broth

½ cup melted butter

4 tablespoons apricot liqueur *

2 tablespoons Panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

6 slices of crisp cooked bacon, crumbled

½ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper


Simmer Brussels sprouts in chicken stock over medium heat until tender. Drain. Mix sprouts with butter, liqueur, salt and pepper, to taste. Top with Panko and bacon. Broil until golden and crisp. Serve warm.


* You can make your own apricot liqueur with our recipie from Karen Atkins.


Posted: 11/25/15   RSS | Print


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Apricot Blue Cheese Spread
by Karen Atkins       #Recipes



1 pound of softened blue cheese

1 pound of softened butter

½ cup of apricot liqueur *

½ cup of toasted, candied pecans (available in small bags in the salad toppings section of the grocery store)



Vigorously beat blue cheese and butter together until they are completely combined. Add the liqueur and chill. Just before serving, stir in pecans, and then serve on crackers or ham sandwiches.


* You can make your own apricot liqueur with our recipie from Karen Atkins.


Posted: 11/25/15   RSS | Print


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Apricot Liqueur
by Karen Atkins       #Recipes

Making your own fruit liqueurs is easy and inexpensive. In addition to enjoying them on their own, or you can enhance appetizer and entrée recipes with your own custom concoctions. While they make beautiful gifts presented in jars or bottles that have been purchased at a grocery store, I’ve had great luck finding more distinctive gift jars and bottles at Goodwill and the Salvation Army for only a dollar.

The General Process

Select firm, ripe fruit and place it in a crock with a tight fitting lid. Cover the fruit completely in alcohol, allowing none at all to pop up above the spirit chosen. Store in the refrigerator.

Now wait.

You can wait any length of time, from a few days to a few weeks. Just sample it from time to time until you are satisfied with the flavor. Strain the mix by pouring it through a coffee filter placed in a straining cone. Add sugar syrup, and then decant the filtered mixture into sterilized glass containers and cork. Mature for two or three months in a dark cabinet. That’s it! 

This recipe yields a gorgeous amber-colored liqueur with great fragrance. It looks like a jewel in cut glass decanters. Any liqueur can be used in recipes, but try this as a starting point, and then develop you own variations on the theme.



1 pound fresh apricots

3 cups vodka

1 cup sugar syrup *



Remove pits from apricots and slice them in half. Combine the fruit and alcohol in crock. Steep about two weeks in the refrigerator, gently shaking the mixture every few days.  Squeeze the fruit and strain it until the liquid is clear. Add sugar syrup and decant into bottles and cork. Mature in a dark place for two to three months.


* Recipe for Sugar Syrup: Boil 2 cups of sugar in 1 cup of water, then pour the mixture into a clean glass jar. Cover.


Try your homemade apricot liqueur in our recipies for Candied Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Apricot Blue Cheese Spread.


Posted: 11/25/15   RSS | Print


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How to: Make a Succulent Planter Out of a Book
by Sarah Marcheschi       #Containers   #How to   #Video

 How to: Make a Succulent Planter Out of a Book
 - Video Transcript, Demonstration by Sarah Marcheschi

Hi, I'm Sarah! Today I'm going to show you how to use an old hardcover book and turn it into a planter for a little succulent. All you'll need for this project are some old hardcover books, (you can find them at Goodwill or a thrift store), some clamps, some plastic to line the hole (I'm using these plastic bags that a lot of people have at home), a stapler, a hot glue gun, I'm using this wood glue (It's Guerrilla wood glue), and a small paint brush, I have some spar urethane that I'll spray on to coat everything, a drill (and I have a 3-inch hole saw attachment on the drill), some small succulent plants and I have some bowls of gravel, sand, and a succulent cactus potting mix here.  

So, we'll use a clamp like this. To clamp our book to the table, and now we're all set to drill. Now we're ready to start drilling, so position your drill where you want it on the cover of the book. Right about in the center is what I'm going to do, and you'll drill down through the top cover and then through the pages. You're going to have to stop every so often, take a pliers and clean the pages out this hole attachment because it will start to build up, um, as you drill through the book, and then just keep going. Now using the clamp to hold the cover down and hold the pages tightly closed. We're going to apply our wood glue to the inside of the hole, and around the outside of the edges of the pages. Be sure to use plenty of wood glue here because the pages ... the paper will soak it up.

Now after the wood glue dries, We're going to open the top cover and staple our plastic liner in to the hole. So, push this down into the hole like this, and then we'll take our stapler ... now I'm trimming away the excess plastic, and then we're just going to apply some hot glue. Glue it down, and then we're going to glue the front and back covers down as well.

Now once the hot glue is dried, we'll use one of our clamps to hold the book and spray it all around with our clear coat.  Now, you'll want to let the clear coat dry about 24 hours. I did one yesterday, so we already have a dry one to work with here. And then you'll just start planting. So first, I'm going to put a little sand into the hole, and then some of my pebbles (like that so that we have a little drainage area in the bottom), and then we'll put our soil in. And last, but not least, we'll pot up our succulent. So, we'll break up the roots a little bit here. Succulents are very shallow rooted plants, so they don't need a whole lot of depth to make them happy. Just nestle it in there. There goes a little bug from our potting soil. And then just dust away any excess soil.

We've potted up our succulent and if you'd like to dress it up a little bit. Maybe you're going to give it as a Christmas gift or just as a decoration around your own house. I've collected a few little ornaments. I have a little snowman here that we'll just hot glue right to the edge. So, take your hot glue gun, put a little glue right down there. Press it down and let that dry. And you have a nice little succulent planter using an old book.


Posted: 11/05/15   RSS | Print


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Oleander (Nerium oleander)
by Peter Gallagher       #Plant Profile   #Shrubs   #Video

Oleander (Nerium oleander)
 - Video Transcript, Voiceover by Peter Gallagher, Ph.D.

Oleander, also known as Nerium oleander, is a summer-flowering evergreen shrub, native to Asia and the Mediterranean region. It is hardy to about 15° F. This is an excellent plant for tough sites, tolerant of heat, drought and air pollution, drying winds, salt spray and sandy, dry soils. It can be found growing very well in bright exposed sites with no irrigation and minimal maintenance.

Oleander makes a wonderful screening or enclosure plant in sunny areas. It can also form a fine backdrop or integral component of a mixed border. With some 400 varieties available, there is a wide choice of flower, color and size. All parts of this plant are toxic when ingested; therefore it should not be planted near children’s play areas or pet yards.

Place in a protected setting (moist rooting medium, moderate shade, and high humidity) until rooted in a 3-4 week time period.

Oleander reaches a height of 6 to 12 feet with a similar spread. Renewal pruning [removal of the oldest, heaviest canes close to ground level] is a great way to maintain a vigorous and healthy plant.

This could be done at most any time, but generally late winter is a good time to perform such maintenance. Look for plants with multiple stems and even branching. A deep green foliage color is indicative of a healthy plant which will more readily adapt to your new site.

Additional Notes:

Oleander could also be used as a houseplant or containerized summer tropical in cooler climates ... to be moved indoors in winter. Many of the dwarf cultivars seem to be a bit more sensitive to the colder climate winters, so you may want to stick with the full-size cultivars or consider planting in a somewhat protected site, such as near a building, in a courtyard, or in a container that could be moved in on very cold nights.
Plants are fairly easily rooted from cuttings taken in summer or fall.Treatment with a rooting hormone will help with achieving uniform and rapid rooting.

This is a fine plant, but you should use some discretion in selecting an appropriate site.


Posted: 11/02/15   RSS | Print


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How To: Change a Sprinkler Nozzle (Part 2)
by Peter Gallagher       #How to   #Irrigation   #Video

How To: Change a Sprinkler Nozzle (Part 2)
 - Video Transcript, Demonstration by Peter Gallagher

The items that we will be using for today's project include an assortment of nozzles, and then the tool for the appropriate nozzle, and then finally there's a collar. You can find these tools at a local dealership that specializes in irrigation equipment or at someplace like Lowe's or Home Depot.

Alright. So, now we're in the field, and this head has already been installed. So, it's in the ground, and what I need to do is change the nozzle on it because I did have the wrong size nozzle initially. It's probably a number 2 nozzle, and that wouldn't be big enough for a 360 degree radius - which is what we are using. Instead I'm going to put in a number 6 nozzle, so I've selected a nozzle. It's a number 6 nozzle.

And, we are going to go ahead and use the little tool. This happens to be a K-Rain. So, I'm gonna use the tool for picking that up. We'll lift it out of the ground, and in order to make it easier to make that installation, I am going to go ahead and use this collar to hold this in the upright position. So, I'll set it down here, and it's going to drop down to the point where it hits the collar. So, it's going to be hard to see.

So, I'm going to unscrew the little set screw that's in there until it gets to the point where I can remove the nozzle. It feels like it's up high enough. I'll take a quick look at it. I think I'll lift this up. What we do is, we'll grab the nozzle, and then just kind of gently pull it out. So, there's the old nozzle, and we'll take the new one with the little wings up toward the top - the tabs. And, that screw of course has to go in where those tabs are. So, we want to make sure that we put it in so that it kind of lines up with the screw tabs. So, it's right about there, and then we push it in all the way. Such that when we turn the screw in it will hold that in place. I'll turn this around, and then we'll look at it to see that it's going to the right place. Push it in a little further. Okay. I'm going to keep going. Uh, looks like that's down far enough to hold it in place. Shouldn't be any problem. I'll take the collar off and let it pop down.

So, that's the way we adjust the irrigation heads. I'm Peter Gallagher with State-by-State Gardening. 


Posted: 10/30/15   RSS | Print


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How To: Change a Sprinkler Nozzle (Part 1)
by Peter Gallagher       #How to   #Irrigation   #Video

How To: Change a Sprinkler Nozzle (Part 1)
 - Video Transcript, Demonstration by Peter Gallagher

Alright, now once we have installed an irrigation system – especially a turf irrigation system, we have to look at adjusting it and getting it to work correctly.  

The items that we will be using for today's project include an assortment of nozzles, and then the tool for the appropriate nozzle, and then finally there's a collar. You can find these tools at a local dealership that specializes in irrigation equipment or at someplace like Lowe's or Home Depot.

For example, this particular head is a Weathermatic Turbo head, and this is the tool that one would use with that. And, it's specific to that type of head. So, you have to know that. What happens is, uh, this end here is used for lifting it out of the body. And, you can see what it looks like when it's pulled up like that, and then you can drop it back down again. Or, there is this little collar, and that works for some of these as well. Not for all of them, but for this one it does work quite nicely. That collar can be placed in here, and the neat thing about it is it holds this in the open position so you can work with it.

These nozzles are numbered from 1 in this case to 13. Thirteen is a very large nozzle. But the nozzles, the smaller the number the smaller the nozzle. And for the most part, what happens is that the numbers are pretty closely aligned to the number of gallons per minute that come out of the nozzle. So, a small nozzle like 1 will let about 1-gallon per minute come out. And another one maybe a 5 will be about 5 gallons per minute. And, the 13 would be thirteen gallons per minute, for example. What we typically try to do is use a larger nozzle on a head that is set to go like 360 degrees or 270 and a smaller nozzle for those that are set to go only about 45 degrees. So, uh, we want the precipitation rates to match. So, in order to match the precipitation rates, we would have to go, for example, a number 1 on a 90 degree, a number 2 on a 180 degree, number 3 on a 270 degree, and a number 4 on a 360 degree nozzle.

Okay, so let's say that I take one of these nozzles. Choosing the appropriate size for the condition. And, I will be placing it into the head, uh, It has to be pushed in so that these tabs are at the top or these wings are at the top like that. And then it gets pushed in just as far as you can. And it, uh, probably I got it just about as far as it can go, but I want to just make sure because if it's not in all the way, then it's hard to get the screw to go down and it's not going to stay in properly.

Okay. So, I've got it down. It's at an angle. It isn't just straight across. It's at an angle, so that water will squirt upward. Okay. Now I take this tool. So, I turn this it's engaging that screw and putting it down into the nozzle. If you look at it, you may be able to see the screw is actually down here, and it's holding that nozzle in and keeping it from coming up. That same screw can go down a little further and it can block some of the water and spread it out a little bit, but normally we want it to be just above where that hole is for the nozzle. So, then I can take that out and then the nozzle is set and ready to go. Okay, so then I'll take this out.

So, that's the way we adjust the irrigation heads. I'm Peter Gallagher with State-by-State Gardening.


Posted: 10/30/15   RSS | Print


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How to: Dividing Orchids
by Peter Gallagher       #Flowers   #How to   #Ornamentals   #Propagation   #Video


How to: Divide Orchids
 - Video Transcript, Demonsration by Peter Gallagher, Ph.D.

Here's an example of an orchid that has been in the same container for probably about ten years in the greenhouse. It really should have been divided 2 or  3 times in that period of time, but since it was not, we will try to show you what you would do to get that back in better shape.

First of all, I'll take away all of the dead leaves and some of the rhizomes that are not in very good shape. But, it's almost impossible to get this out of the container, so what I'll do is actually break the pot. So, breakup the pot in order to get it out of the container. And then once that is done, then we can start fooling with the plant itself with the roots and rhizomes.

Alright, now there are a lot of roots in here and what we need to do is to separate those and try to divide this and by the way division is a little different from separation. Separation as we did with bulbs is actually just puling them apart. These actually have to be cut. So, division is where you actually take a knife and make some cuts in strategic locations. So, we will take the knife and cut some of these rhizomes or these back bulbs, pseudobulbs back apart. And, as I say the terminology gets a little confusing on these, but basically we're working with stem structures. And, we'll pull some of that apart after we make some cuts. See that is very, very tight in there. And it has needed to be separated or divided up in order to, uh, invigorate the plant so that we can maintain good flowing as well.

Okay, so here we've got this much, uh, here and that still is a little more than we want, but some of these are not good. So, they need to be cut out. So, I will take a clipper and cut some of those away. Ones that are brown are not going to produce anything. They need to just be removed. So, I'll cut those out, and here's another one. And another. Now we're getting down to a little bit more manageable size of plant. This one can just be pulled out completely.

Now as we remove these, it opens up this whole plant structure and it looks a lot better in terms of having exposed roots. The, uh, stems are more, uh, further apart and able to take advantage of the medium in which it's planted and so forth. We can dip it into a clorox solution – a 10% clorox solution, and that will help to prevent fungal diseases with that. And then this as it is or maybe even divided one more time i think i might take one more off of there.

Okay. This is a good size to, uh,  replant into a loose mixture of either pine bark or some other type of fur bark that would be used for the orchid and fertilized of course to invigorate it as well. This probably could be divided into two as well. So, as you'll see from this plant that we had, one plant, we'll probably get one, two, three, four, five, six ... we'll probably get about eight plants off of it, or maybe more, maybe ten. Uh, and they'll each be about this size and then perhaps in a year or two, we'll be able to have some really nice flowering out of these orchids.


Posted: 10/26/15   RSS | Print


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How to Divide a Boston Fern
by Peter Gallagher    

How to: Divide a Boston Fern
 - Video Transcript, Demonstration by Peter Gallagher, Ph.D.

Today we are going to learn how to, uh, divide up a Boston fern. For this, we need a good, sharp knife.

So, we'll take the, uh, Boston fern which is overgrown, and get it out of the pot to begin with. So, we may have to, uh, we may have to actually cut the pot in order to get it out of there. So we take this and pull the pot from it, and take it, the roots out of there. Discard the pot, of course. We will be getting some new pots for it.

And, we have a pretty large cluster of roots and rhizomes in here. So, uh what we'll do is take a knife and it may be a little, uh, you may be a little afraid to do this if you haven't done this before. But, it isn't going to, uh,  be a real problem for the plant. Actually, you'll be doing it a favor by cutting it apart and putting it into another container. Or, into more than one container so that it has much more room to grow. And, you'll end getting a much healthier plant because of it because new growth will develop from that.  

Now, as I pull the plant apart, you'll see that we've already got two pieces from it. Two  large pieces, and I'll go ahead and cut it one more time – each one of those into another piece. And then, we'll actually have four. Four of our, uh, new starts for this fern. So we'll take that, and I will pull it apart. I will leave the foliage on there, so that it will support the new growth. But, you may want to remove some of the dead, uh,  fronds and so forth from there. But, these are all attached to underground rhizomes and it has an established root system. So this, could be potted individually into another container. And, it'll probably take somewhere around, uh, oh 3-4 months before it starts looking like it's filled out and it makes a good containerized specimen.       
Here's another one, of course, that we could use, and then this one we'll divide into two more. So, we'll end up with four, or maybe we could even do more than that. We might get five or six out of that big specimen. But we'll have several new ones to begin with. So, that's Boston fern.


Posted: 10/19/15   RSS | Print


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The Fabulous Four
by Sarah Marcheschi    

For years, I flatly refused to grow houseplants. I really just don’t have the space, I would tell myself. There’s not nearly enough sunlight in here. And think of the time commitment!

The truth is, a couple of spectacular failures early on, (I’m looking at you, Venus flytrap), bruised my ego and diminished what enthusiasm I did have for bringing the garden indoors.

But of course, like many of us who while away the chillier months perusing glossy gardening magazines, I like a project. And eventually the lure of getting my hands in the dirt proved too strong. So after a bit of research and some trial and error, I’ve rounded up a few of the hardiest, least demanding houseplants out there. These guys are almost un-killable.

Epipremnum aureum

If you don’t have a wall of windows bathing your home in golden afternoon light, or even a sunny kitchen windowsill, then pothos (Epipremnum aureum) is for you. Considered by many to be the perfect starter houseplant for its low (almost no) maintenance tendencies, pothos is a leafy vine that does best in bright, indirect or even low light and tolerates infrequent watering. While the plant can reach lengths of 40 feet or more in tropical conditions, simple pruning will keep it to a size better suited to your living room. In addition to being easy-care, pothos also acts as an air purifier, removing pollutants such as formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, and benzene from indoor spaces. Flowering, while possible, is rare, but with a profusion of attractive, glossy, heart-shaped leaves in shades of green and creamy yellow cascading over the edges of your pot or hanging basket, you won’t mind a bit.


As you might expect of a plant native to the humid tropical forests of the Americas and West Indies, philodendrons (Philodendron) like bright, dappled light, warmth, and moisture to thrive. Typically climbers that scale trees in the jungle, (philodendron actually translates to “tree lover”), these houseplants are available in vining and non-vining varieties. If you choose to grow one of the vining varieties, such as the popular heartleaf philodendron, you can let it cascade over a bookshelf or help it climb on a stake or pole. Other varieties, such as the lacy tree philodendron, have a bushy, upright growth habit. While philodendrons will tolerate low light, they should be kept out of direct sun, as foliage is susceptible to burning. Make sure to keep soil evenly moist, but avoid overwatering by letting the top inch of soil dry out between drinks, especially in the winter when plant growth slows down. 

Sansevieria trifasciata

Are you just a tad absent-minded? Always forgetting your keys or whether the electric bill got paid? I have the plant for you. Snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata), so named due to the shape and sharpness of leaves, is popular indoors because of its striking appearance and easy care. With stiff spiked leaves that can stand 3 feet tall, mother-in-law’s tongue will tolerate low light, though it prefers a bright room and requires little in the way of pruning or repotting. Native to West Africa, where the dry season lasts for months, this plant likes dry soil; watering can be as infrequent as once a month or less in winter. Propagation is easy, either by division, or by removing and potting new spikes that shoot up through the soil. And contrary to what the common moniker implies, mother-in-law’s tongue actually makes the atmosphere around your house a little less toxic. These plants also filter out pollutants such as formaldehyde from the air.

Aspidistra eliator

I discovered cast iron plant (Aspidistra eliator) when it kept turning up as a bit of filler in arrangements from my local florist. I loved the contrast of the sleek, dark green leaves against more brightly colored rose and peony blooms and had to learn more about it. In addition to its popularity in the floral industry, aspidistra has been commonly grown as a houseplant for nearly 200 years, and with good reason. A favorite in dimly lit hallways and drawing rooms since its introduction to Victorian England, it earned the nickname cast iron plant because of how well it holds up in the face of adversity. In other words: this is a tough plant to kill. Aspidistra will tolerate extreme temperature fluctuations, low light, pollution, dust and erratic watering. It is relatively free of diseases and pests and, although slow growing, can live for decades, with tales of prized plants being handed down through generations. Choose a location for aspidistra where it will be out of direct sunlight, though bright indirect light is fine, and let soil dry out between watering for best results.

From purifying the air to enhancing interior design, houseplants undeniably make our living spaces better. And these are just a few of the easy-care varieties available to the indoor gardener, so there has never been a better time to abandon your excuses and apprehensions and grow something!


Posted: 10/15/15   RSS | Print


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Egomania in the Universe
by Carolyn Ulrich       #Propagation   #Seeds

What happens to the vibrant dangling bells of fuchsia (Fuchsia hybrida) after they stop blooming? They turn into very interesting seed pods. 

In June I start checking the seedpods of celandine poppy, bloodroot and wild geranium. Already the showoff part of their lives has passed and they are moving on to the next phase – making merry in the plant kingdom. In other words, developing seeds.

All nature wants to reproduce itself. (Talk about egomania.) And when it comes to propagation, my three native woodland spring-bloomers can run amok, tossing their seed hither and yon, no doubt getting a little help from birds and the wind along the way.

Consider the celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum), for example. I started with one plant, a division given to me maybe 15 years ago by my neighbor across the street. Five years ago, on a whim, I decided to count the plants then occupying a shady corner of my backyard. I came up with 60.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) are nearly as prolific, and I never know exactly where they’ll pop up from year to year. As long as I have space for them to show their faces, they’re welcome.

Seed Smarts

Seeds come in all shapes and sizes, each with its own unique strategies for dispersal. Some develop “wings” (think maple tree samara, or “helicopters”) that spiral down on the wind, while others hitch a ride by being super light (think dandelion fluff). Some have hooks so they can latch onto animal fur (Illinois tick trefoil). Others offer tasty treats to ensure they get eaten, then later deposited, by birds (apples and cherries). And the biggest seed of all, the coconut, is dispersed to new locations by floating on ocean currents.

The common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) forms seed pods in September. After ripening for a few weeks, they finally burst open around the end of October. Photo by Ron Capek.

Seeds are housed in a great variety of casings. Common milkweeds produce large protective pods and large seeds. But pinecones are also seed-housing vehicles. Within a second-year cone of a white pine, there are reputedly so many seeds that one cone could populate an entire meadow within a couple of years. And some pines – Jack pine and pitch pine specifically – depend on fire to pop open their cones and release the seeds. A forest fire has the added benefit of clearing debris from the forest floor and making the site suitable for seed germination and growth.

Yew trees don’t produce cones but enclose their seeds within red berries that are eaten and spread by birds. Last fall, while walking in a neighborhood church garden, I realized with a start that I was looking at a 1-inch tall yew seedling. Three years earlier, I had a similar experience in my own backyard when I discovered a 1-inch tall conifer growing amid a flat carpet of Arabis procurrensground cover. Was it a spruce or a juniper? Now that it has survived three winters (including the polar vortex) and has “soared” to an impressive 7 inches, I realize that it’s a juniper.

I have two other seed-grown trees in my yard. One is an American elm (Ulmus americana) growing between my house and that of the neighbors. By the time I first noticed it, the tree was already several feet tall so I just let it keep going. Now it is 3 stories tall, literally as big as the house. Keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn’t succumb to Dutch elm disease! Back by my garage there’s a burr oak I transplanted from a spot in full shade where a squirrel had planted it. Still not an ideal location, but if I have a chance of growing a burr oak, I’m going to jump at it. So the oak will stay where it is, grumbling a bit as it inches slowly upward towards more light.

Seed Collecting

Passively taking advantage of what nature bestows is one thing, but the region is full of people who actively venture forth to collect, exchange and sow seeds. The annual Garden Show sponsored by the Porter County Master Gardeners in Valparaiso, Ind. started as a simple seed exchange. It has since expanded into a multi-faceted destination for winter-weary gardeners but still includes the seed exchange.

One of the Valparaiso stalwarts is Master Gardener Beverly Thevenin who began collecting and trading seeds when she moved into a new home 10 years ago and wondered “How can I fill this yard?” By trading online she acquired seeds for flowering plants such as four o’clocks, nasturtiums, tithonia, sweet William, poppies, hyacinth bean and blackberry lily. She also grows lesser-known annuals such as snow daisy (Tanacetum niveum) and Balfour impatiens (Impatiens balfourii), a Himalayas native sometimes called poor-man’s orchid that grows in the shade and is beloved by hummingbirds. Although her garden is now filled, she keeps collecting seed, mainly to donate to the Valparaiso show.

Another avid northwest Indiana seed collector is Master Gardener Laura Tucker whose interest runs to native plants, particularly milkweeds, the only plants on which monarch butterflies can lay their eggs. She also collects seeds from Joe Pye weed, New England aster, black-eyed Susans, purple coneflower and anise hyssop. Once seeds have been collected, they need to be cleaned, a task that can be tedious when dealing with the fluff of New England aster and milkweed, but Tucker generally finds seed cleaning relaxing. She’s even part of a local seed-cleaning group.

Prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) is an unusual early-blooming prairie plant whose seeds are hard to see and even harder to clean, but definitely worth the effort.

Seed collecting in the prairies and woodlands gets under way as early as June for spring-blooming plants and continues until November, explains Bob Porter, natural areas manager for the Chicago Park District’s North Park Village Nature Center. What happens to the seeds that are collected? At the Nature Center they plant them on site in areas that need more natives. Other groups that collect seed at local prairies and savannas exchange with each other or make donations to schools, garden clubs and community groups that are developing their own gardens and native plantings.

In my garden I always gather seeds of Penstemon digitalis, a handsome white-flowering Illinois native, and larkspur, a purple-flowering native of the Mediterranean. Both are easy to collect. The penstemon seeds are readily visible as green, then brown, balls that turn black when they’re ripe. Larkspur seeds form in 1-inch pods that turn from green to brown as they ripen. Each pod contains several seeds, and when they’re black, I toss them in places where I want them to grow the following year. As for the aforementioned celandine poppy, wild geranium and bloodroot, they clearly need no help from me. They’ve been doing quite well on their own.



A version of this story appeared in print in Chicagoland Gardening Volume XXI Issue V. Milkweed photo by Ron Capek. All other photos by Jeff Rugg.



Posted: 10/12/15   RSS | Print


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Waldorf Salad Recipe
by Karen Atkins       #Recipes

The first Waldorf salad recipe is credited to Oscar Tschirky, a maître d’hotel at the Waldorf Hotel, later named the Waldorf-Astoria. It was introduced in the late 1800s, at which time it did not include nuts. The nuts first appeared in the 1920s and I’ve never been served one without them. Thankfully.

Serves four before dinner, or two for a meal


½ cup sliced grapes
2 chopped apples (I leave the skins on for added color.)
2 large celery stalks, chopped
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons lemon juice and zest from one lemon
1 cup roasted walnuts, chopped
1 head Boston Bibb lettuce
Salt and Pepper to taste


Whisk together mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice and lemon zest. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over a bowl containing the apples, celery and grapes, and toss. Top with toasted walnuts and serve over lettuce beds.

Variations on a theme: For a hearty dinner, add chunks of baked chicken or turkey. Or, as a side for salmon, substitute cranberries for the grapes, and add chopped dill.




Posted: 10/12/15   RSS | Print


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Baked Apples Recipe
by Karen Atkins       #Edibles   #Recipes

Serves four (or make the filling and refrigerate it so you can bake them one at a time, to spoil yourself)


4 apples
¼ cup apple cider
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons raisins
½ teaspoon cinnamon



Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Combine all ingredients except the apple cider until evenly mixed. Using a melon baller, scoop out the center of each apple. Carefully slice the bottom of the apple so that it will sit flat in the pan. Stuff the apples with the filling and place in the pan. Pour the apple cider in the pan, and bake for 45 minutes. Serve warm.


Posted: 10/12/15   RSS | Print


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Holly Fern (Cyrtomium falcatum)
by Peter Gallagher       #Plant Profile   #Video


Holly Fern (Cyrtomium falcatum)
Video Transcript

Holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum) is native to Asia and southern Africa it performs quite nicely in zones 8-10. This one with a minimum temperature of about 10°F. It makes a fine 18-24 inch   ground cover or container specimen. It will typically fail to thrive in wet or poorly drained sites. Holly fern prefers partial shade to deep shade. Try to avoid southern or western exposure. Holly fern is propagated from spores found on the undersurface of mature leaves, but it is usually planted or transplanted as one or two gallon plants.

It prefers a loose organic slightly acid soil. Cyrtomium falcatum can usually be found at most well-stocked nurseries. Alternatively you may be able to get a start from a friend thinning out or dividing an existing clump of ferns. The combination of bright green color, coarse texture, striking form and evergreen foliage makes this an ideal choice for that well drained, shady spot in your landscape.


Posted: 10/02/15   RSS | Print


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Decorating Pumpkins Without a Knife
by Susan Randstrom Bruck       #Crafts   #Decorating   #Fall   #Kids

Customize your Halloween decorations with one-of-a-kind, art pumpkins, kale, ornamental cabbages and fall mums.

Here’s a kid-friendly project that won’t send shivers down your spine.

When autumn winds turn bone-chilling cold and children dream of becoming vampires, parents might want to have some crafty ideas in their bags of tricks. If you don’t feel like getting pumpkin slime all over the kitchen this year, try this DIY project that doesn’t require 30 minutes  just for cleanup.

Black paper cutouts contrast wickedly against orange or white pumpkin-y backgrounds. Reveal the darker side of your pumpkin with  skeletons, rats or other scary cutouts.


Gather natural elements that are plentiful in October, such as colorful leaves or flower petals.

Golden-yellow, petals and green ferns dance around the stem of a ghostly-white pumpkin. Top it off with a stem of bittersweet.

Since decoupage is the art of decorating an object with paper cutouts, I used a pumpkin as my object. Look for cutouts made from thin paper or try flat, natural elements from your backyard. I looked for inspirational cutouts that are easy to find in October such as pre-cut, black paper crows or oak leaves and real foliage or flower petals. Whether you use scary cutouts or natural materials, the cutouts must be thin enough to lie flatly on the pumpkin in the decoupage process. Watch how innocent pumpkins
will reveal their darker side – even without the eerie flicker of candlelight.

Gather your supplies and start the haunting!


•  One small jar of “Outdoor Mod Podge.” This brush-on adhesive triples as a glue, sealer and finish. Crafters often use it for decoupage projects because it is non-toxic, dries quickly and is water-based for an easy cleanup – perfect for children and adults. (It is available at craft stores or online at

•  Look for your favorite paper cutouts on text-weight paper. (Tip: Cutouts won’t adhere and lay flat on a rounded pumpkin if you use thick paper.)

•  Select your favorite orange, white or blue-gray pumpkin or gourd – any size will work. (Tip: Use a smooth-skinned pumpkin because it’s easier to keep the cutouts flat when applying Mod Podge.)

• Find inexpensive, one-inch wide brushes for applying thin coats of Mod Podge.

•  Scissors.

•  Newspaper or plastic to protect table surfaces.

How to:

1.  Thoroughly clean pumpkin with water and pat dry.

2.  Choose the best side of your pumpkin for the front view.

3.  Plan your design with your chosen art elements.

4.  Brush a thin layer of adhesive on the pumpkin (only where you want to place the first cutout). Place cutout on pumpkin and brush on another layer of Mod Podge to seal it. Go over it lightly with a brush to flatten the paper and remove any creases or bubbles.

5.  Continue to add more cutouts or leaves to make any pattern you choose. Repeat process.

6.  Allow Mod Podge to dry approximately 15-20 minutes between each coat. (Adhesive will turn from white to clear when it is dry.) You will want to apply three to four coats over each cutout or leaf before you are finished.

7. When you are finished applying images, brush on a layer of Mod Podge over the entire pumpkin for a continuous, glossy surface.

8.  Allow pumpkin to dry for 24 hours before placing it in a protected outdoor area. Finished pumpkins can be enjoyed indoors too, but they won’t last as long in a warm home (approximately 1-2 weeks). m

Sources for Paper Cutouts

•  Dover Books clipart in book or cd format at

•  Martha Stewart decoupage art is available at craft stores and online at

•  Best of all, make your own designs!


Posted: 10/02/15   RSS | Print


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Hoo Gives a Hoot?
by Kenny Coogan       #Birds

Closing up my potting shed one evening, I heard an eerie, but welcomed, soft neigh originate from a cluster of oak trees in the corner of my yard. Thirty seconds later, I heard a horse-like whinny call in the opposite corner from the 40-foot-tall clumping bamboo. I was surrounded. I quickly went to see if they had moved in the nest box that the previous owners had attached to an oak tree about 15 feet off of the ground – they had not.

A few short weeks later, after the courting had subsided, I saw the two new residents: Mr. and Mrs. Screech Owl. I checked a few weeks for signs of chicks and it appeared that they were unsuccessful. Then one night a fully feathered chick popped its head out of the nest box! The next day two chicks flew the coop.

Hosting and inviting owls to your garden has many advantages. Although not seen as often as diurnal birds, when owls are spotted it is a thrill for all. Their distinct vocalizations often give their locale away, as they fly silently with their fringed feathers hunting for vermin. Having pest control working not only for free, but throughout the night unseen, is an added bonus. Owls are an environmentally safe form of pest control – no harsh chemicals needed. These nocturnal birds will coexist with your songbirds because they are active at different times, so you can still enjoy your passerines. With five distinct owl species in Florida any garden can accommodate these native raptors with a few organic changes to your landscape.


Eastern Screech Owl
Megascops asio

Call: Descending thrill, tremolo or whinny
Height: 6.3-10 inches

Besides the several mature live and laurel oaks on my property providing shelter for owls, another possible attractant is my brush pile. This pile decomposes large bulky items that I do not have the time or resources to make small enough to fit in my two compost bins. While large branches create structure, small twigs, leaves and grass clippings provide nesting material for songbirds and shelter for small animals like reptiles and rodents – the latter being a popular menu item for owls. Adding a bird feeder near the brush pile will invite songbirds to recycle your yard waste into nesting material. Leaving seeds and nuts on the ground will entice rodents, which in turn entice owls.



Burrowing Owl
Athene cunicularia

Call: Series of rattles, clucks, and chatters
Height: 7.5-10 inches

Many burrowing owls can be found in the south from Cape Coral to Fort Lauderdale. These birds, unlike the others on the list, prefer open areas and are active during the day. Fewer trees allow them to monitor aerial predators, such as hawks. Burrowing owls live in 5-6-inch diameter holes in the ground, and unlike their name suggests, prefer to move in pre-dug nests. If you have thick grass, clear a 2-foot circle and dig a burrow at a 45-degree angle. Place the soil in front of the burrow to create a watch post for the owls.


Barn Owls
Tyto alba

Call: Long harsh scream, a few seconds long
Height: 12.5-15.5 inches

Barn owls are found throughout the world. They can take up residence in abandoned sheds, barns and silos. Designating a rustic area of the garden where pruning and maintenance are kept to a minimum will encourage these birds to move in. Reducing widespread exterior lighting such as flood lights will also help.


Barred Owl
Strix varia

Call: Eight or nine notes, described as “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?”
Height: 16–19 inches

While owls get a majority of their water from their diet, the barred owl will especially appreciate ponds, birdbaths and other water features. Barred owls are one of a few owl species that hunt aquatic animals such as snakes, fish, invertebrates and amphibians. These birds can be found naturally in wetland areas and are sometimes called swamp owls.


Great Horned Owl
Bubo virginianus

Call: Deep hoots: hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo
Height: 18-25 inches

Great horned owls are the largest species in Florida and can eat prey items as large as skunks. Leave large, bare branches or snags to encourage nest sites. These roosts will also serve as lookout posts for these perch and pounce predators.


Building a nest box and placing it between 10-30 feet off the ground will invite these pint-sized predators to your garden.


Photo credits: Ccreech owl photo by Milo Anderson; Great horned owl photo ©; All other photos for this article by Kenny Coogan.


A version of this article appeared in print in Florida Gardening, Volume XX Issue V.



Posted: 10/01/15   RSS | Print


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No Room to Grow
by Paula Pettis    

A variety of crops can be grown in raised beds. Raised beds can be 12 inches tall or waist high, it is the preference of the homeowner. These taller beds require very little bending for the harvest and are a beautiful addition to the backyard.

As Audrey Hepburn once said, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” I can safely say that we all believe in tomorrow and love planting gardens. The biggest obstacle that faces many homeowners is the lack of space for a garden. Who wants only one tomato plant? Not me! There are several ways to get the biggest bang for your buck and take advantage of very little space.

Raised garden beds have proven to be a huge success and produce a bounty of vegetables and herbs. Raised beds are made out of a variety of items such as hay bales, treated lumber, cinder blocks, stone, fencing, and pallets. Raised beds can be built up on legs so that no bending down is required and can be as simple or fancy as you may like. A bed that is longer in length and no wider than 4 feet will make harvesting easier by allowing you to sit at the edge of the bed and easily reach the produce rather than having to step into the garden.

The key to the success of any of your gardens is LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION! Gardens that are placed at the very back of your property will be forgotten about. Incorporate your gardens into your outdoor patio areas where they are easily accessible for watering and harvesting. Gardens need sunlight so placement will be subject to the sunniest area. Fence in a small area for raised beds and make it attractive. Vegetables and herbs can be combined with your flowering plants. Container gardening has reached far beyond pretty flowers and now includes vegetables as well. Many homeowners have great success with containers. The beauty of raised beds and containers is that you can control your soil. Many homeowners are plagued by poor soil conditions which results in terrible gardens. Always use a nutrient-rich garden soil when preparing your gardens. This is a great time to use your compost pile!

As with most projects, things can get a little overwhelming at first. If this is your first garden, start small. A lot of vegetables can be grown in a 10-foot square bed. A thick layer of mulch will help conserve moisture in the soil and help keep weeds at bay. Stay on time with the harvest. Picking vegetables when they are ripe allows the plant to redirect its energy toward growing the next crop. As one crop is finished, go ahead and remove the plants and plant another vegetable in its place. Succession plantings will lead to several harvests spread out over several months. Since space in your kitchen garden is at a premium, plant those vegetables that you will want to harvest a little at a time.

Even if you build have a beautiful raised garden bed or containers, pests may become a problem. Ants are a big problem for many homeowners. Sprinkle ground cinnamon where you do not want ants – they will not cross a line of cinnamon. A huge problem with planting a tasty garden is that deer will want to taste it too! Many people build a fence around the garden but it has to be a tall fence. A few other tips are to hang scented dryer sheets from posts, shrubs, or trees; hang bars of soap from trees that surround the garden; last but not least, my grandmother’s tried-and-true method, which is to bag up hair from her local salon and sprinkle it around the garden. Of course, all of these methods will have to be repeated every few weeks but it is worth the effort to keep the deer from eating your crops.

Herbs are a wonderful addition to mixed containers. I have found that many of my clients harvest their herbs more frequently when they are in containers just a few steps away from the door. Upright rosemary and lavender make wonder thriller plants while cilantro, parsley, basil, and chives are great fillers. I have used a wide variety of herbs for spiller plants such as mint, oregano, prostrate rosemary, and thyme. Terra-cotta pots filled with herbs are a great addition to flowerbeds. The pots add texture and height to flowerbeds.

Stepping outside your backdoor to harvest fresh and delicious vegetables to cook and serve; what could be better than that?



This small area of the lawn was transformed into a kitchen garden only a few steps from the back porch. While the garden beds are edged with stone and landscape timbers, the garden is not raised. The harvest from this garden will provide enough vegetables for immediate consumption by a family of four and excess that can be canned or frozen for future use.


A bounty of squash is easily harvested from this raised container garden. Back aches and weeds are a thing of the past.


Adding pots of herbs to the flowerbeds create additional color, height, and texture. This flower garden is planted on the outside perimeter of a fenced garden. Keeping all of the plants to harvest in close proximity of each other will make harvesting easier.


Raised garden beds allow year-round gardening in most areas. As you see, hoops were added to these beds to provide easy protection from the cold. The homeowner can remove the cover as needed.



A version of this article appeared in a State-by-State Gardening print edition in October 2015. Photography by Gary Bachman.



Posted: 09/30/15   RSS | Print


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Plant Your Bulbs in Turf!
by Erik Healy    

Planting bulbs in turf is a great way to enhance your landscape and add a spark of interest to your lawn. Plantings can either be annual or perennial, and you can choose from a wide variety of bulbs. It adds a naturalistic touch to your lawn and provides a little surprise beauty during those times when you’re not mowing as often. Now is a great time to plan and plant your own turf-bulb surprise.

First, choose a bulb that is perennial in your area.

Next, find the area where you want to plant. Remember, you must be willing to not mow the turf until the bulb foliage dies down. Waiting to mow is crucial. Around March gardeners across the South start sharpening their mower blades in anticipation of warm weather, myself included, but for bulbs to perennialize they must be allowed to keep their foliage after flowering so they can store energy for the following year.



Another important factor is irrigation. If bulbs receive too much water during the summer they tend to rot. Turf under trees generally stays drier and is a great place for establishing a perennial bulb planting. Ipheion uniflorum (spring star flower), pictured here with the bicycle, is a great choice for the South.


Ornithogalum umbellatum (star of Bethlehem) is another great bulb that will perennialize in turf. 
This photo was taken at my friend Jenks Farmer’s family home (


In turf areas that are more formal, an annual bulb planting might be a better choice. Instead of having a mass of bulbs, organic flowing lines work well with formal designs.

It’s easy to plant your own formal bulb design in turf. Follow these few simple steps, and you will amaze people with your garden creativity next spring.


Use a can of spray paint to draw the lines of the design you want.
Then use an edger with a metal blade to cut a trench for planting.


In this type of planting, small bulbs work best. Since this is just an annual planting,
space the bulbs close together for maximum effect during the bloom time. 


Make sure the bulbs are just below the turf,
then cover the trench with sand and water-in the bulbs


Crocus vernus
 ’Flower Record’ is a great small bulb for this style of planting. 


In an annual planting, once the bulbs have finished flowering you remove the bulbs from the turf. This makes a clean slate for a new design next year, and also means you don’t have to wait to mow until the foliage dies down. 


For more pictures and information on bulbs in the South, visit Moore Farms Botanical Gardens at


Posted: 09/30/15   RSS | Print


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Zen Gardens
by Claudia C. Swanson    

It seems that now, more than ever, people are trying especially hard to make their busy lives less stressful and more meaningful. Gardening can help in a subtle way that few other activities can manage, and the guiding principles of Zen gardening can lead to the creation of a truly calming, harmonious, and uplifting environment. These gardens are not designed to excite the senses in the way that Western plots do but are places for the spirit to find peace and tranquility in which to grow. Zen Buddhism requires that every task is performed with love – and it is the love and care that is put into them that gives them a serene and kindly atmosphere. Zen means meditation, and gardens that have been designed along Zen principles are places where contemplation, prayer and meditation are possible and encouraged. This type of garden, therefore, is designed to be a soothing and reflective place that will remain visually the same, year after year. The special style of Zen gardens ensures that by using rocks and plantings in both a symbolic and natural way, by devising pathways that require care when walking upon them, the visitor unwittingly follows Zen ways. This concept of gardening deserves serious consideration since it can become a part of our more traditional practices of landscaping.


Only when you have no thing in your mind and no mind in things are you vacant and spiritual, empty and marvelous. – Te-shan/Tokusan, 780–865


The aim of the Zen garden is to create a perfect harmony of yin and yang. Everything in the universe is influenced by these two forces; yin is the feminine, dark, negative, cold aspect of nature, while yang is the masculine, light, positive, active, hot aspect. All things can be divided into either yin or yang, although everything contains an element of the other: neither can exist alone. In a Zen garden, there is water and land. Water is yin, and land is yang. In a dry garden, the raked gravel or sand represents water and the rocks represent islands or mountains. Without understanding the importance and symbolism of sand and rocks in a Zen garden, many discount karesansui, or dry sand and rock gardens. In fact, this type of garden has an emotional and spiritual depth rarely found in gardens today.


Raking patterns hold symbolic meanings. For instance, the rings around the rock may represent water lapping at an island’s edge.


To be enjoyed and fully understood, a karesansui garden requires a very different mental, emotional and even physical approach from that used to appreciate a typical garden. The art of the gardener is to create a garden in which the two elements are in perfect balance. Because the gravel or sand in a dry garden represents water, it is raked into patterns. These patterns are not abstract, but indicate the ripples or waves of water lapping around the island rocks. Those gardens that incorporate shrubs (not all of them do) use azaleas, cut-leaf maples, conifers and bamboos to represent land or yang. Moss is sometimes used as a substitute for yin, water.


Rocks, stones, sand and gravel are the principal components of a karesansui garden. The sizes, shapes, colors and numbers of rocks are important factors to consider. For example, a long vertical rock can be used to symbolize heaven, while a rock placed horizontally may symbolize the earth. In contrast, a rock placed diagonally represents humanity. Three is considered to be an auspicious number, and in this case, the selection of three rocks represents heaven, earth and humanity. Seven and five are also regarded as auspicious and rocks in Zen gardens are arranged with this in mind. To appreciate a grouping of rocks and stones, allowing the imagination and intuition to flow is important. Formations may be composed to resemble mountains or volcanoes, animals or even families.


Zen gardens often use plant material very sparsely. This design principle can focus the viewer’s attention more clearly on the simple beauty of small things.


Karesansui was originally designed with the guiding principle that “less is more.” Dispensing with any plant or rock that is superfluous to the overall design enables viewers to slow down their thinking and sooth their emotions. If one walks quickly past such a garden, nothing is absorbed from it. Sand that is raked adds a powerful element of texture to a garden. As the sun travels its course throughout the day, shadows are cast in the ridges, introducing an added dimension that would not exist if the plot were smooth. Viewing these gardens in moonlight can be especially appealing since the moon can create an ethereal glow when reflected by the sand particles. The manner in which the sand is raked can help determine the emotions that are evoked upon seeing a dry sand garden. The very act of raking the sand creates a feeling of calm purpose. Wavy lines may indicate fluidity, as in water, while straight, narrow bands can add strength and power to the design. Each viewer will interpret the composition in its entirety with the attitude that he or she has towards the world. This will help determine what he or she understands.

Cross patterns are static; can represent conflict or change

Straight lines can represent journey

Wavy lines represent fluidity and motion


When considering a dry sand and rock garden, you must first decide if the garden is primarily for looking at, sitting in, walking around in, or in conjunction with another garden or living space. A karesansui garden can be the perfect solution for forlorn, neglected places or an unused restricted space, viewed from within a house, office or other place. It could even be used to transform a balcony into an inviting oasis, instead of home to a few sad, potted plants. In city areas that are often shaded by other buildings or structures, a raked sand garden can provide a stunning reprieve from the harshness of traffic, etc. Some gardeners may choose to begin with an area of lawn or flowerbeds they have surrendered to weeds.


Although all of this makes the creation of a true Zen garden a challenging task, there is still one more factor to consider. The finished garden must celebrate nature and even transcend it if possible. Understanding this type of garden requires a change of attitude. It challenges one to answer the question, “What is a garden?” The intent is to encourage new ideas, embrace different concepts and “think outside of the box,” but mostly relax, enjoy and be happy. It is an observance of tranquility and evolution. Most gardens (and gardeners) continue to be a work in progress, changing with the seasons, the universe and ourselves. What better way to celebrate the beginning of a new season of gardening than by embracing a practice of simple serenity?


Before you begin, remember...


1. Size of the garden is not as important as location. Will it be for viewing, resting or walking through?

2. A more level area is ideal, but almost any site can be worked.

3. An area free from obtrusive objects works best (no swing sets, dog pens, etc.).

4. Plan on spreading the rock dust, sand or gravel at least 4 inches deep.

5. Choose rocks, stones and boulders carefully. Search for those that have “character” and be sure to vary the sizes. Do not make them too small, though. Remember to choose odd numbers.

6. Proceed slowly, with intent. This is a project that deserves every consideration.

7. The tool that is used to rake the sand or gravel will have impact on the finished effect.  It too, must be chosen carefully.

8. You can later decide to add plants, select statues or a water feature that can be incorporated into the design.

9. Free your mind.


(Photos by Claudia C. Swanson & David Liebman)



Posted: 09/30/15   RSS | Print


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Lilac Chaste Tree
by Peter Gallagher       #Flowers   #Plant Profile   #Video

Lilac chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus)
Video Transcript

Lilac chaste tree also known as Vitex agnus-castus provides a dramatic flower display at a time when spring flowering plants have faded and prior to most of the summer flowering shrubs. In fact it has the potential for reblooming in the heat of summer.

The overall growth habit and twisted multi-stemed truck lend an aged look to the landscape similar to that of ancient olive trees of Italy or old established grape vines. Lilac chaste tree makes a great plant for the zones 7-10. Tolerating a minimum temperature above 0°F. This plant might be found in an older established garden where it performs very well in a dry exposed sunny spot. A loose sandy soil is quite suitable. A fresh layer of mulch is always helpful to avoid extremes of temperature and moisture loss.

The foliage actually adds much to the character and ornamental value of this plant. Opposite, ornately-compound leaves with 5-7 leaflets per leaf. The Lilac chaste tree grows into a wide spreading tall shrub or small tree about 10-15 feet in height and spread. The grey-green flowers and blue flowers combine to add a unique focal point to the landscape.


Posted: 09/28/15   RSS | Print


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How to Turn Compost into Liquid Fertilizer
by Kerry Heafner       #Fertilizing   #Video


How to Turn Compost into Liquid Fertilizer
Video Transcript

Today I'm going to show you how to take compost that you can generate at home and turn it into a liquid biologically active fertilizer that you can use in your home garden.

All you'll need to do this is:
• a bucket or other large container that will hold water

• aquarium pump and an air stone for an oxygen source for our soil microbes. And we'll put that down in the water and let it bubble. We'll also use the oxygen to help dechlorinate the water if you're using city water

• We'll put our compost in a mesh laundry bag which will function like a teabag. We'll measure our compost in a plastic measuring cup, and then we'll provide the soil microbes in the compost tea with a carbohydrate source. And for that, we'll use unsulfured molasses.

We'll start by scooping some of the compost we collected while ago into our laundry bag. Now this is a mesh laundry bag, but you can use whatever you have lying around the house – like an old T-shirt or a sock just any piece of cloth water can permeate through and soak the compost. And for this size of container, I'm going to use four or five good scoops. Some is going to fall through, but that's okay. Now I'm going to tie this up. This is going to act basically like a big teabag. Water will steep through this and over time discolor the water. The water will turn a tea colored brown.

Now the microbes in the compost will need an extra source of carbohydrates while the tea is brewing. For that we're going to use unsulfured molasses. We'll let this brew for 24 hours and we should have compost tea tomorrow morning.

Well it's been 24 hours since we started our batch of compost tea. Before I left yesterday I covered the barrel with some boards to keep all the bubbles, uh, on the inside. So, we'll remove these and see how we did. And I would say, judging from all the bubbles in here, looks like we did pretty well. All these bubbles indicate a lot of oxygen in here. So, that means our soil microbes are really active, and the population in here has increased exponentially.

Now, here's why we call this compost tea. As you can see the liquid is dark or tea colored. And at this point it's ready to use. And because it is a biologically active fertilizer, we have to use it right away.

You can use compost tea just about anywhere in the garden. Even on seedlings that are just getting started. At this critical stage in the plants life, the root system needs to have access to available nutrients, and the microflora in our compost tea will certainly help them. So, we're getting these seedlings off right with a healthy root system. That will mean a healthy plant later on. So, if you're looking for an affordable, easily obtained, organic fertilizer for your garden you can't do any better than compost tea.

For State-by-State Gardening, I'm Kerry Heafner.


Posted: 09/25/15   RSS | Print


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Tree Ivy
by Peter Gallagher       #Plant Profile   #Video

Tree Ivy
Video Transcrpit  
As much as one might appreciate the oddity of tree ivy, or x Fatshedera lizei, this cultivar ‘Angyo Star’ is an even brighter addition to the garden with its variegated white and green foliage. This introduction from Japan was brought to the United States by Ted Stevens and is hardy in zones 7 through 10 with a minimum winter temperature of 0°F. Dr. Michael Dirr made a note of the cultivar Angyo Star a few years ago predicting a successful market, and it looks like that is beginning to happen.

This is a somewhat slow growing plant, but that's not necessarily a drawback. It's not likely to become invasive or to require anything more than an annual shearing to direct growth. Tree ivy would make an excellent plant for a wall or trellis, as an espalier, or as a loose ground cover on a difficult slope. It could also be used quite nicely in a container or planter as part of a mix with annuals or other nonaggressive perennials.

Tree ivy requires routine irrigation during the initial year following transplant and prefers a moderately moist, well-drained soil thereafter. But, avoid wet sites as this would tend to predispose the plant to root diseases.

Since Tree ivy doesn't normally come true from seed,  propagation is limited to vegetative techniques. It can be propagated by layering - that is bringing a branch into contact with the ground, making a small cut in the bark, and covering it with moist loose soil, sand or peat moss until rooted. Soft wood cuttings in early summer or semi-hard wood cuttings in early fall would also work. If you have a shady spot for this plant give it a try. It will make you a new friend.


Posted: 09/25/15   RSS | Print


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How To Start Vegetable Seeds
by Kerry Heafner       #Edibles   #Fall   #Propagation   #Seeds   #Video


How To Start Vegetable Seeds
Video Transcript

Today I'm going to show you how to get your seeds started for your fall vegetables.

You can start vegetable seeds in just about any container you have available. Whether it's an egg carton or the containers from your grocery store delicatessen, even to the flats and six packs you save from your spring and summer flowers that you buy at your garden centers. The only requirement is the bottom of the container allow adequate drainage so we don't have seeds sitting in saturated soil. That'll lead to fungal issues and a condition called damping off as the seeds germinate. What I've done with this flat is line it with paper towels so it'll hold soil and allow adequate drainage at the same time. So, all we have to do is fill this flat with our soil until it's level and then pre-moisten the soil. And again, with compost and a mixture of vermiculite and Pro-Mix, moistening the soil ahead of time won't be a problem.

If the vegetable produces small seeds, it's best to start by broadcasting the seeds over a flat that's already been filled with soil. So, we can just put a thin layer of soil on top and we don't have to worry about planting depth. Lettuces are an excellent example of a vegetable that produces small seeds. So we're just simply going to broadcast the seeds over the surface and water them in. Okay, so what we're going to do is open the seed packet and because these seeds are so small we'll be careful not to have too many seeds in any one place across the surface of the soil. So, we want to distribute them as evenly as we can. And as you can see, these seeds are no not only small, but they're dark colored. So, that means there're going to be difficult to see once they hit the soil. Okay, now the seeds are in, and all we have to do is cover them with a thin layer of soil. Lettuce seeds, celery seeds and other types of fall vegetables might need light for germination, so we don't want to cover them too thick – just enough so they don't wash away when we water them in, and we absolutely will water them in so they can start imbibing water. That will start the germination process.

Swiss chard is basically a beet that doesn't produces the bulbous root. And they're seeds – what we call seeds anyway — that have several small seeds attached to them. So, in effect we are planting a fruit. Now, swiss chard needs to be planted at about 1/4 of an inch deep, and I'm using a craft stick that's been pre-marked against a ruler at 1/4 of an inch. This way I know exactly how deep I'm making the hole and how deep the seed is planted. So, I'll just come in and make the hole. And again, because the stick has been marked, I don't have to worry about planting these seeds too deep. We're planting two because almost inevitably one won't germinate or will be a weaker seedling, and we'll simply pull that seedling out and have the stronger seedling remaining. And now all we have to do is come in with our fingertips and cover these seeds like so, and they're ready to be watered in.

So, starting seeds for your fall vegetable garden — or any time of the year for that matter — can be just as simple as that. For State-by-State Gardening and the LSU Ag Center, I'm Kerry Heafner.



Posted: 09/18/15   RSS | Print


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How to Save Tomato Seeds
by Kerry Heafner       #Edibles   #Propagation   #Seeds   #Video


How to Save Tomato Seeds
video transcript

Well, today I'm going to show you how to save seeds from everybody's favorite crop. Our homegrown tomato. So, lets go back to the kitchen, and I'll show you how to save tomato seeds.

So, we're going to start by simply slicing a tomato open. And you can see how the seeds are kind of embedded in this juice on the inside. Tomatoes are actually berries. They're fleshy, mini-seeded fruits, and we're going to have to get the seeds out by simply squeezing the contents into this bowl.

Now, the next step is simply pouring all the seeds along with the juice and some of the pulp into a mason jar like you might use to make pickles in. The idea now is to allow the contents of the jar to ferment so microorganism can digest away all the pulp and the jelly around the seeds that might impede germination next season. And the way we're going to do that is we're are going to simply cover the top of the jar with a piece of precut cheese cloth. And you can find cheesecloth in any home center or paint store. And we're just simply going to put the lid down over the cheese cloth like that and make sure it's secure. Now, we'll set this in a dark area in the kitchen — say on top of the refrigerator or way back in back the kitchen cabinets and allow it to ferment for a couple of weeks.

So, here we are about two weeks later. and this is our jar of seeds and you'll notice a couple of things. first of all there's the layer of mold growing on top of the liquid. I know it looks gross, but those microorganisms are crucial to this process. They digest away the pieces of the pulp and the jelly like substance that coated the seeds inside the fruit. You'll also notice that some of the seeds have settled to the bottom of the jar, and those will be the viable seeds. The nonviable seeds are still suspended in the solution.

So, to get the seeds out of the bottom of the jar. We are going to take the lid off, remove the cheesecloth   and pour the contents of the jar mold and all (well maybe we'll leave some of the mold in the jar … as much as we can anyway) into this handheld strainer. And now we'll just run this under a stream of water to wash the seeds off.

So, after washing our seeds are now clean, and we're ready to spread them out on some wax paper to dry before we package them up. So, now we're going to pour the clean seeds out of the strainer onto some wax paper, and we're going to use wax paper to prevent the wet seeds from sticking down like they would if we used regular paper. And we're just going to spread these out so they can air dry for a couple days. So, after several days of air drying our seeds are ready to be poured off the wax paper in to some coin envelopes which are available at your local office supply store. And I've precut the wax paper to a smaller size so we can deal with it a lot easer. And I've creased it to make pouring the seeds a lot easier. Some are inevitably going to jump away. So, now our seeds can be stored until next season. All we have to do is label the envelope so we make sure we have the right variety next year.

Good luck saving seeds for your vegetable garden next season. I'm Kerry Heafner with the LSU Ag Center.


Posted: 09/18/15   RSS | Print


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Celery Root Remoulade Recipe
by Deb Terrill       #Edibles   #Recipes

Homemade Gravadlax with Celeriac Remoulade

The tan root is a twisted mass of somewhat hairy skin covering a pale flesh that is riddled with small holes, fissures and spots. Getting past its unfortunate exterior and uncovering the slightly woody stuff inside yields the reward of a concentrated celery flavor in a crisp, non-stringy and less watery form. This flesh gives great flavor to soups and stews, and is pretty good as a salad too, especially in the form of the classic remoulade.

1/3 cup Hellman’s Real mayonnaise
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
2 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
1 tablespoon ketchup
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
Salt to taste
2 cups shredded celery root

Combine all sauce ingredients and mix well. Add celery root and toss to coat.



Photo CC BY 2.0 Becky York.



Posted: 09/03/15   RSS | Print


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Creamy Celery Root Soup Recipe
by Deb Terrill       #Edibles   #Recipes


3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds celery root (Celeriac), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
5 shallots, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ cup dry white wine
5 cups chicken broth
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream

In a heavy-bottomed stock pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the celery root, garlic and shallots, and stir until the shallots are translucent, about 2 minutes.

Sprinkle with salt. Add the white wine and begin scraping the bottom of the pot, loosening any brown bits, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5-7 minutes.

Add the chicken broth, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the celery root is fork tender,
15-20 minutes.

Purée until smooth with an immersion blender or in batches in a standard blender. Return to a clean pot, stir in the cream and simmer gently until the soup reaches a creamy consistency, about 5 minutes. Taste for salt.

For an exceptionally silky soup, strain through a fine wire strainer, return again to a clean pot, and gently reheat again to just a simmer.


Photo CC BY SA 2.0 Ewan Munro.


Posted: 09/03/15   RSS | Print


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Nutty Raisin Rainbow Chard Salad Recipe
by Karen Atkins       #Edibles   #Recipes


This salad is hearty and contains enough protein to call it dinner. Besides being good for you, it is ridiculously pretty. Serves four.

Salad ingredients

4 cups rainbow chard (tender, less mature leaves) chopped

1 onion, sliced

½ cup roasted red bell pepper, chopped finely (jarred roasted red peppers save so much time)

½ cup halved, toasted and salted cashews

½ cup crumbled feta cheese

Dressing ingredients

It can be used in any salad or as a dip for steamed artichokes or other vegetables. Yields 2 cups, so cover what you don’t use, cover tightly and refrigerate.

¾ cup white balsamic vinegar

½ cup raisins

1½ cups grape seed oil. (I know you’ll want to substitute olive oil, and you can, but dressing will be heavier and lack a little brightness.)

4 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon of salt


Step 1: Carmelize the onions.

If you have never carmelized onions you need to start now! After learning you’ll get compliments like I did, “Mrs. Atkins, you make vegetables taste like candy!” I love to be a hero when it isn’t hard.

If you triple the recipe when you make carmelized onions, they’ll get you out of making dinner another night. Just buy small, individual baguettes and deli roast beef and cheese. You can butter the bread, and toast the sandwiches under the broiler until the roast beef and baguettes are warmed through, with the cheese melting all over the onions.

Put a tablespoon or two of butter in a pan over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, drop onion slices in evenly. Every 5 to 10 minutes, stir the onions and space them evenly out again on the pan, being careful to keep the heat low enough that they become translucent, but don’t burn. After about 40 minutes, they will smell and taste amazing.

Step 2: As onions cook down, make the dressing.

Combine vinegar and raisins a pot and bring it to a gentle simmer for a few minutes, so that raisins plump up. Fish the raisins out and set them in a bowl. Poor the vinegar in a blender, and then add honey and oil slowly in a stream, and blend slowly. Finish blending the dressing with a teaspoon of salt. Since this recipe makes so much extra dressing, it is easier to refrigerate it in the blender or in a recycled dressing bottle you can vigorously shake.

Step 3: Assemble the salad.

Toss desired amount of dressing with rainbow chard, onions and peppers and load into bowls. Top with scattered toasted cashews, feta and cracked fresh pepper. For the best contrast, serve the chilled ingredients topped with warmed onions and warm dressing.


A copy of this recipe appeared in a print edition of State-by-State Gardening July/August 2015. Photo © Hojo/


Posted: 07/22/15   RSS | Print


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Wilted Rainbow Chard Recipe
by Karen Atkins       #Edibles   #Recipes


There are many recipes for wilted chard in which the greens are sautéed and then simmered in stock until they are extremely tender. This is not that kind of recipe. To retain the crunch, freshness, and color, just gently warm the chard in oil you’ve infused with flavor. Serves four.


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

6 cups rainbow chard (leaves chopped roughly and stems sliced thinly.)

3 teaspoons red pepper flakes (I use more, so you could too!)

Salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste




Melt butter in olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and allow garlic and simmer gently for a few minutes – browning the garlic but not burning it. Toss in chopped chard and turn repeatedly to cover all of the greens in the oil mixture. Sauté until warmed through and slightly wilted. Serve warm, right away, with salt and pepper to taste.


A copy of this recipe appeared in a print edition of State-by-State Gardening July/August 2015. Photo CC BY ND Stefania Pomponi.


Posted: 07/22/15   RSS | Print


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Recipe for Organic Soil Conditioner that Roses Love
by Linda Kimmel       #Roses   #Soil

‘New Dawn’ climber is extremely vigorous, upright, and it blooms heavily in the spring. Deadheading encourages repeat blooming. Photo by Linda Kimmel.

(Mix by volume)


2 parts alfalfa meal

1 part blood meal

1 part cotton seed meal

1 part fish meal

1 part bone meal


Place the ingredients into a large bin, small wagon or wheel barrow. Since this job can create considerable dust, protect yourself with a dust mask and work in a well-ventilated area. Use a small shovel to mix the ingredients well. Use about 2 cups of the mixture around mature rose bushes, and 1 cup around miniature roses or smaller shrubs. Apply this mix twice a year, once in the early spring (March-April) and again late summer (July-August). A large plastic drinking cup from a fast food restaurant makes a great scoop. Work the organic mix into the topsoil and water well. All of your plants, flowers and turf will love this organic soil conditioner. Share any leftovers with other garden plants, or save the leftovers in a plastic bucket with an air-tight lid for later use.


Posted: 03/23/15   RSS | Print


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Smithsonian Institution Libraries’ Seed Catalogs
by Jill Sell    

The pumpkins on the seed catalog covers were drawn so huge that Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater could have made a house for his wife from one of the pumpkin shells. The pictured giant red strawberries were so voluptuous children could hardly hold them. And the pink roses were flawless, of course, and all prize winners.

The Buist Seed Co. of Philadelphia wanted customers to feel wealthy and successful if they used the company’s products. This cover is from the Buist’s Garden Guide and Almanac, published in 1896.  Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, Washington, D. C.

Welcome to the wonderful world of vintage seed catalogs. Before photography became a vital part of print and online catalogs, artists drew fantastic images of eggplants and green beans, dahlias and daises to entice customers into buying seeds and bulbs. Reality was sketchy. But as every good gardener today knows (as he or she thumbs through the mound of catalogs that come in the mail and online this time of year), it didn’t really matter. Seed companies were selling the dream, not unlike modern times.

Yes, there were exaggerations in both plant appearance and performance as promised by the catalogs. But many professional and amateur art critics and gardeners consider the illustrations to be delightful and endearing. Who can resist pictures of ears of corn with perfect rows of kernels? Or hollyhocks so tall you would need a fireman’s ladder to reach the top blooms?

The Smithsonian Institution (SI) Libraries’ online seed catalog collection is one of the best places to view fabulous art of this kind, without ever having to set foot out into the cold. SI’s trade catalog collection features about 10,000 seed and nursery catalogs published from about 1830 until the present. The catalogs are held in the National Museum of American History Library in Washington, D.C., and viewing them in person is by appointment only. Items do not circulate. But fortunately, gardeners and art lovers can page happily through the catalogs online for free.

However, it isn’t just the pictures of plump peaches and twirling vines of heavenly blue morning glories that make the catalogs so impressive.

“Trade catalogs are important resources,” said Joyce Connolly, a museum specialist with SI’s Archives of American Gardens department. “The catalogs tell us what was going on decades ago in terms of scientific, cultural and artistic trends. If we didn’t have the catalogs, a lot of information would be missing. Catalogs were an important means to sell seeds, but they tell us so much more.”

The core of the collection was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1982 by the renowned Burpee seedmen family and included catalogs from the famous W. Atlee Burpee Co. of Philadelphia, as well as other mail-order companies. Burpee, and later his son, David, developed such classics as the ‘Big Boy’ tomato, ‘Ambrosia’ cantaloupe and ‘Iceberg’ lettuce, as well as scores of flowers with improved color, blooms and health.

The elder Burpee was a pioneer in mail-order seeds, writing most of the information in the catalogs himself. According to SI, by 1915 Burpee was the largest seed company in the world. The company sent out a million catalogs a year and received 10,000 orders a day.

“The Burpee Co. was scrupulous in tracking how effective their ads were in certain magazines, ” said Connelly, adding that SI has a collection of some of the company’s business records, including account books, seed trial results, diaries and of course catalogs. 

Marca Woodhams, a retired Smithsonian Institution Libraries staff member who still volunteers her time there, considers the “real gems” of the total SI seed catalog collection to be those catalogs created between 1830 and the 1930s. She has written that the catalogs give us a look into not only the history of botany and plant introduction in America, but social history and graphic arts in advertising.

Woodhams’ dates make sense. Before there were seed catalogs as we know them, sample books were created by companies to sell their goods. The books were carried from store to store and house to house by salesmen. The illustrations of peonies of epic proportions and whoppers of watermelons were often hand-painted watercolors, stenciled art or engravings.

In the 1830s, mass catalogs were printed using chromolithography that allowed colorization at the printer. The inexpensive method allowed seed catalogs to reach thousands more customers, but the heyday of the charming hand-painted art by amateur artists was mostly lost.

But thanks to the Smithsonian and other botanical libraries, those of us who love to see drawings of pristine, eye-tearing onions and children in straw hats and overalls all looking like cherubs in the garden, some of the art and information has been saved. Some catalogs also offered chickens, plows, trowels, sprinkling cans and “exotic” citrus fruits to grow indoors.

The William Henry Maule Co. of Philadelphia wanted buyers to know that anyone who bought their tomato seeds would be standing knee-deep in tomato plants when harvest season arrived. This is the cover from Maule’s Seed Catalogue for 1887. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, Washington, D. C.

“Old seed catalogs are one of the hottest things in botanical literature right now,” said Gary Esmonde, librarian with the Cleveland Botanical Garden’s Eleanor Squire Library in Cleveland, Ohio. “There are really two reasons. The first is because of the interest in the beautiful, unique art. The second is because botanists and horticulturists are studying the cultivars in the catalogs that are no longer around.”

The Midwest can claim the Burpee dynasty, of course, but there were other important seed companies from the era as well. William Henry Maule expanded his family’s lumber business in Philadelphia and published Maule’s Seed Catalogue for 1887. The cover depicts a jubilant grower standing knee deep in a field and holding a tomato the size of a bowling ball. The company’s mail-order business flourished.

SI holds two catalogs from the Henry F. Michell Co in Philadelphia: Michell’s Highest Quality Seeds (1898) and Michell’s Seeds-Plants-Bulbs-Etc. (1904). The latter’s cover shows a smiling red-cheeked young boy pushing a wheelbarrow full of sweet peas while his dog runs alongside him. Catalogs from the late 1800s by the McGregor Bros. in Springfield, Ohio, show roses that it considered “floral gems.”

J. J. Harrison and Jesse Storrs founded Painesville Nurseries in 1853 in the Ohio city of the same name. But they called their company, which sold ornamental trees, fruit, roses and shrubs, Storrs & Harrison. They were big on roses, too, but an 1898 catalog cover boasts “velvet sod lawn grass” planted in front of a mansion.

The SI holds additional seed catalogs published by Midwestern seed companies, including the George H. Mellen Co. and Samuel Wilson, Seedman.

Some of the most romanticized catalogs came from the Buist Seed Co. of Philadelphia. Wealthy looking women dressed in the latest fashionable long dresses were shown playing lawn games on estates or rowing boats filled with an abundance of vegetables the size of beach balls. Gardening in a long formal dress and petticoats just doesn’t seem to fit modern times, however. But for a vintage catalog, the scene looks perfect.


Editor's Note: To see these and other seed catalogs from the past, visit the Smithsonian Institution website.


Posted: 03/02/15   RSS | Print


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Do Not Touch These Backyard Bugs
by Paula Cochran    

While you are in your garden, you will come across a great variety of bugs and insects. Some look so soft and furry you just want to cuddle them. Others appear downright scary and dangerous and send some running in fear. Yet, when it comes to backyard bugs, looks can be deceiving.

These cute caterpillars have bristles that are poisonous and can cause an allergic reaction
ranging from itching to a serious rash.

Take the adorable hickory tussock moth caterpillar, for example. Rarely will you find a cuter caterpillar with its furry white hair and black markings that make it resemble a smiling cow. Many an admirer has picked up this adorable little creature and let it crawl upon their skin. What they likely didn’t realize before holding this caterpillar is that the hickory tussock moth caterpillar has a few black bristles mixed in with its downy white. These bristles are poisonous, and can cause an allergic reaction ranging from itching to a serious rash. Despite the fact that they will nibble some plants, I let them be — they will eventually turn into beautiful tiger moths.

Another quite beautiful “bug” tends to cause unmerited fear in many — the black and yellow Argiope spider. Its appearance can indeed be intimidating to someone not familiar with this garden friend. They are large spiders; the female’s body is 1 1/2 inches long. Add to their size their large web with a telltale zigzag down the center and eight long legs, six of which are clawed, and they can indeed be intimidating. Like most spiders, they can bite, but it’s unlikely they will do so unless provoked and even then their bite is not considered serious. Like all spiders, they are beneficial in your garden. the black and yellow Argiope spider’s main detriment is their large web — which can just be a nuisance.

LEFT: The main detriment of the black and yellow Argiope spider in your backyard garden
is their large web — which can just be a nuisance. RIGHT: The myth that daddy long legs
have deadly venom is just that – a myth. Even if they did, they cannot bite humans because
their fangs are too short to penetrate skin.

Daddy long legs are found almost everywhere and often times in groups. Though often referred to as spiders they are not. Simply put, spiders spin webs, have a distinct waist and more eyes. A common myth about these harmless bugs is that they are venomous and dangerous, but, the fact is, their fangs and mouth are so small they couldn’t bite a human if they wanted to. What they actually do is eat spiders, aphids, other insects and even bird droppings.

Being pierced by a wheelbug can be described as excruciating.

The wheelbug, a member of the assassin bug family, can stir a different reaction. They are neither scary nor cute in appearance. Rather, they are quite impressive and regal, being up to 2 inches in length, and sporting an armor-like spiny wheel on their back. They also sport a large fang that they use to stab and kill their prey. More than one handler has been stabbed by this fang and its pierce has been described as excruciating. And when they say excruciating, they don’t say for a moment, they say excruciating for days. The wheelbug is, however, considered a beneficial insect, so enjoy viewing your wheelbug, then let it go back to eating stink bugs, caterpillars and aphids.

When threatened, American oil beetles emit a chemical called cantharidin;
the chemical gives them their name as it is oily and causes a nasty blister on human skin.

Another “bug” found browsing about the garden is a beautiful black and bluish fluorescent beetle named the American oil beetle. These beetles hang around the garden munching on leaves and flowers waiting for a bee to land. When the right moment appears, they hitch a ride on the unsuspecting bee and hitchhike back to the hive where they dine on bee larvae. A member of the blister beetle family, these beetles share a unique, and unpleasant, defense mechanism. When threatened they emit a chemical called cantharidin; the chemical gives them their name as it is oily and causes a nasty blister on human skin.

There are literally thousands more bugs, insects and spiders running and flying about. Most serve a purpose, whether considered by humans to be good or bad. With their never-ending array of colors and patterns, they can be tempting to pick up and examine more carefully. There’s nothing wrong with that: Just be sure you know who you should handle and who you should not.


Posted: 02/17/15   RSS | Print


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Savory Okra Pickles Recipe
by Ruth Mason McElvain       #Edibles   #Recipes

For this recipe, you need six very clean wide-mouth pint jars, sterilized as directed by manufacturer, 6 lids and 6 bands separated into a shallow pot of boiling hot water.


2-plus pounds of freshly picked, washed whole okra no more than 3 inches long, tops trimmed close

3 cups white vinegar

3 cups water

¼ cup pickling, kosher or sea salt

1 heaping tablespoon sugar

1 large lemon in 6 slices

6 peeled cloves of fresh garlic

6 grape, scuppernong, or cherry leaves

Spices per jar:

¼ teaspoon each of celery and dill seeds, black peppercorns, and red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon mustard seed


Stir first five ingredients together in a pot until dissolved; bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer.

Remove one jar at a time from the canner, pouring any water in it back into the pot, setting jar on a clean, folded towel. Into the bottom of each jar, put a lemon slice, garlic clove, a leaf, and the spices as specified. Pack okra pods into the jar, alternating upside down and right side up to maximize jar space, with a little less than an inch of jar space left above the packed okra. Using a canning funnel, pour hot brine into jar leaving ¼ inch headspace, running a knife around the inside edges to release bubbles and topping off brine to ¼ inch headspace should it drop. Wipe off jar rim with a clean towel dipped in hot water, retrieve a lid from hot water and place on jar; tighten on a band to just snug, and put jar back into canner. Repeat until all jars are filled. Add boiling water to cover jars 1 inch or dip out water until they’re covered 1 inch. Keep at a low boil for 15 minutes. Remove jars onto to a towel away from any drafts where the popping of lids sealing on the jars will sound as they cool. When completely cool, lids should not give or bounce when pressed. Label contents and date. Will keep for months on pantry shelves. Chill overnight before eating.

As my okra plants may give enough fruit for just a jar at a time, I often process one jar alone: Easy! Pack ‘em, season ‘em, process ‘em in a small pot on the back burner while I surf on my nearby computer!

From Carolina Gardener Issue IX Volume XXVI. Photo courtesy of Ruth Mason McElvain.


Posted: 11/18/14   RSS | Print


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Classic Pepper Sauce Recipe
by Ruth Mason McElvain       #Recipes

Wash and sterilize several saved bottles such as those for soy sauce, beer, small wine bottles, soft drinks, vinegar, Worcestershire and other appropriate bottles saved or bought for pepper sauce. Preferably have pouring spouts with caps, one for each jar. Lids, corks and wine spouts also work.


2-3 pounds fresh picked hot peppers like tabasco (my choice)

‘Poinsettia’ and ‘Cayenne’ peppers, washed, stem popped off, and a slit cut into each pepper (Note: Wear gloves for this step!)


Drop peppers into a bottle in a uniform direction, shaking down as you go until the bottle is filled halfway to the bottle neck, then add ½ teaspoon pickling salt and 1 small peeled garlic clove.

Pour boiling undiluted cider vinegar into the bottle with 1 inch of space left, cap, cool, store; best after a few weeks of curing. Delicious on peas, greens, beans, eggs, tacos, soups, and any food that begs for tangy heat. As the liquid level drops, hot vinegar can be poured in several times more, until the flavor wanes, then shake out the peppers and open a new bottle.

From Carolina Gardener Issue IX Volume XXVI. Photo courtesy of Ruth Mason McElvain.


Posted: 11/18/14   RSS | Print


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Dress for Gardening Success
by Michelle Byrne Walsh    

I am the last person you would ask about the latest ladies’ fashion. Really. I still own sweaters older than my sons. They are in college. But I do know a great bargain when I see it, and I like to look a little spiffy. Plus, I am very into comfort. So maybe you really should ask me what I like to wear in the garden. This year, it is full-skirted dresses of all sorts (on the cheap, too).

It’s a funny story how this all started: Last year on a sunny Saturday afternoon I was working in the front yard. (I live in a subdivision.) I was on my hands and knees weeding (you know how it is). Before an hour had passed, I had greeted both neighbors on either side of us as they left to go to sports events, talked with my friend and her husband, and I must have waved to about five cars filled with acquaintances as they drove past. Then I looked down and realized: I was dressed like a bum. I was wearing my usual gardening “uniform”: my son’s old Led Zeppelin T-shirt (two sizes too large with a hole in the sleeve), old black sweats with fuzzy worn out knees and a White Sox baseball cap. I and I realized something else: I actually don’t like Led Zeppelin or the White Sox that much — I was just reusing the clothes my sons and husband were going to give away to Goodwill or AmVets.

Then and there I decided that I was going to dress up a little to garden outside. All of my friends and neighbors see me outside in the garden, why not look nice?

So I went online and shopped for “garden clothes.” I quickly became rather depressed: some of those outdoor outfits cost more than my “good clothes.” So then I headed out to the resale shops. We donate to AmVets, Cancer Federation Donations and Goodwill when we can; why not check out what the resale stores have to offer?

I was in heaven. Most dresses were $5 or less. At that price who cares if I get them filthy? But most of them washed and dried beautifully with little care.

Your neighbors might think you are pretty fancy if you wear a dress like these in the garden.


This second-hand dress featured bees and a hive — but its shorter length necessitates leggings.

Looking and feeling cool in blue tones (fun resale shop finds, but not the gloves or shoes).

Is the hat a bit too much?

You can still rock the concert T-shirt underneath a denim sheath dress.

My criteria: comfortable, low cost, cute and comfortable.

The clothes had to let me move freely. I recalled that women back in the old days wore full, long-ish skirts when they worked (think about the photos of 1800s’ farm wives or today’s Amish women). This type of dress seemed to be the perfect marriage of function and form. I chose dresses with full skirts made of cotton or a durable, breathable fabric. Some dresses I chose were sleeveless for summer, but I also sought out those with half or three quarter sleeves because I burn easily. I add T-shirts and turtlenecks beneath the sleeveless dresses when the weather is cooler (so I can still use the Zeppelin T-shirt after all).

Dresses with patch pockets became especially prized, as pockets held seed packets, gloves and my cell phone. You could also use aprons to add pockets to these types of outfits.

You might want to choose dresses with straight skirts and shorter hemlines, which are very adorable. However, take heed: if you do “deep bending” in the garden (rump high in the sky) you would be wise to add leggings underneath. Modesty is a good thing.

In addition to my roomy calf-skimming dresses, my other must haves are: nitrile gloves, rubber boots or clogs, and a hat with a large brim to keep my face and neck from getting sunburned. Sunglasses are nice, too. Most of these things are hard to find at the resale shops; you might have to visit a garden center or go online to find them (and, gasp, pay retail).

Nitrile gloves are a wonderful invention: they fit closely so you can pick out tiny seedlings, but the nitrile, which is like a rubber-like coating, is tough and somewhat waterproof. I also found out that they come in the most delightful colors. I buy a few new pairs each spring. They are sold by many companies, including Wells-Lemont, Womanswork and Garden Works as well as at Foxgloves (, although they aren’t lined with nitrile coating, are also durable and close fitting; plus, they look just like dress gloves from the 1950s. Couture for compost!

Although many jobs (such as heavy digging, moving rocks and kicking behinds) will require protective footwear, such as work boots, I often wear old athletic shoes (again these probably made me look like a bum). However, lately I have come to love the rubber/foam/plastic waterproof shoes and boots made by several manufacturers, including Sloggers, Muck Boot Company, Crocs and Ladybug. They slip on and off, are waterproof and offer decent foot protection. Some are cute, too.

Lastly, always don a hat. Wide brimmed hats protect your head, face and neck from sunburn and can be that “certain something” that makes an actual “outfit.” Baseball caps don’t offer much in the way of sun protection for your neck, cheeks and ears, but in early mornings or later afternoons that might be OK. They still hide bad hair. You can score some great deals on hats at resale shops, but I also like those sold at local garden centers by Sloggers, Columbia, Womanswork, online at, and many others.

And then, if you dare, add some fun accessories like red bandanas secured with resale shop or garage sale pins, plastic jewelry and funky earrings (not dangling earrings, though for safety’s sake).

Now when I am in the front yard I look like a crazy garden lady, but at least I don’t look like a bum.




Posted: 11/03/14   RSS | Print


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Growing Wild: Eight Outstanding Wildflowers for Fluctuating Climates
by Gladys J. Richter       #Flowers

Genetic parents of giant, present-day sunflowers, Helianthus are very hardy, care-free garden choices that are a desirable food source for a variety of wildlife.

Weather in the Midwest can take its toll on plants, especially those less suited for its fluctuating conditions. Having an appealing four-season landscape often requires gardening with plants that adapt.

When considering plants for your garden, look to nature. Native perennial plants withstand local soils and climates. For both beauty and brawn consider the following wildflowers to keep your landscape in bloom from spring to fall.


For old-fashioned cottage charm, phlox are an outstanding choice. Two species native to the Midwest that do well in a garden setting are wild sweet William (Phlox divaricata) and perennial phlox (Phlox paniculata). Wild sweet William blooms April through June. Growing 10-18 inches tall, it is a good candidate for the front of borders. Phlox paniculata flowers later between July and October. It is much taller, growing to 24-48 inches tall. Both come in shades of blue, lavender, rose and white. Phlox add color to shady, damp areas, and are butterfly magnets.

Growing tips for success: Keep your soil moist, but not soggy. Replenish soil with a side dressing of organic humus each year. Perennial phlox reproduces via seeds and rootstock and can form dense colonies that may be divided.


Commonly referred to as spiderwort or blue jacket, Tradescantia provides a burst of blue to the home garden. Spiderwort adapts well to a variety of growing conditions, including full sun, partial shade, dry soil and moderate moisture. Its tall, sturdy stems grow up to 36 inches tall. This is a “morning” plant, with its flowers closing by early afternoon. Each tri-petalled flower blooms for only one day before folding into a watery deep blue droplet. The blue-green foliage and vivid blue flowers of spiderwort complement plants that sport bright yellow blossoms.

Growing tips for success: Tradescantia vigorously multiplies in rich soil. Divide mature plants in the fall so they may become established for the spring bloom.

Delicate spiderwort blossoms provide a pop of blue in the garden. Their grass-like foliage adds an additional layer of texture.


Including wild bergamot (Monarda spp.) in your design will help your garden become a hummingbird, butterfly and moth haven. For the Midwest, Monarda bradburiana and Monarda fistulosa are well-adapted and easy to grow. Wild bergamot, often referred to as bee balm, produces pink, rose, white and lavender blossoms. Growing height is between 22-36 inches tall, which makes them good candidates for most home gardens.

Growing tips for success: Wild bergamot tolerates a wide range of growing conditions, but blooms best when planted in well-drained, loamy soils in full sun. Monarda can become prolific. Divide plants every few years to prevent overcrowding. A combination planting of both Monarda bradburiana and Monarda fistulosa will provide a continuous bloom period from April through August.


The Midwest abounds with different Echinacea species and their hybrid crosses. Most are pastel pink to magenta, but one species, Echinacea paradoxa (native to the Ozarks region) is bright yellow. Easy to grow in a variety of soils, coneflowers not only brighten the landscape with color, but also attract bees and butterflies. In autumn, their stems stand tall, topped with rich dark brown seed heads favored by goldfinches and other songbirds.

Growing tips for success: Most coneflowers are very hardy and can tolerate a wide range of soils and moisture conditions. For a deep magenta color, try purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), which sports large, showy flower heads. Echinacea purpurea grows up to 36 inches tall and thrives in moist, rich soil where it can quickly multiply and produce an appealing wildlife oasis.


Just as its common name of butterfly weed suggests, Asclepias tuberosa, is a favorite of butterflies, from the rare regal fritillary to the common yellow sulphur. Butterfly weed pairs well with other wildflowers in an open, sunny garden. It can adapt to nearly any soil type, except extremely rich ones. In nature it can be found in fields, along country roads, and in dry, disturbed soil areas. Asclepias tuberosa blooms at a height of 24-36 inches tall in varying shades of orange from July to September. Rich red and bright yellow varieties are sometimes available.

Growing tips for success: Butterfly weed has a very long taproot, which makes it difficult to transplant. Seeding it directly into the garden or transplanting it while very young increases viability.

Many butterflies, including the regal fritillary, are attracted to Asclepias tuberosa.

Butterfly weed is very hardy and adaptable to a spectrum of growing conditions. It seems to thrive even in rocky soils.


Rain gardens are appealing solutions for wet landscape areas. Lobelia plants, which grow naturally near streams and lakes, require wet soil conditions to thrive and do well in a rain garden setting. Lobelia siphilitica, known as blue lobelia or great lobelia, is a nice autumn- blooming choice for the home gardener. Its five-lipped flowers come in shades of blue, lavender and dark violet. The plants grow between 24-36 inches tall with stems that may be branched or unbranched. If you prefer bright red instead of blue, cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) is the perfect choice.

Growing tips for success: Plant lobelia in a soggy area of your yard, or plan to water regularly. Both Lobelia siphilitica and Lobelia cardinalis self-sow and pair well with other wildflowers that tolerate saturated soils.


For sunny soils such as those found on dry upland prairies and glade areas, blazing star is a hardy beauty. Stems stand straight and tall to meet the sky with their lavender- to rose-purple blossom wands. Liatris pycnostachya is often one of several Liatris species available to home gardeners. Reaching a height up to 5 feet tall, this plant can create dense stands for large-scale sites. It is a good accent plant for smaller gardens where it attracts butterflies and other pollinators.

Growing tips for success: Liatris can thrive on poor soils and are drought-tolerant. Soils that are too rich produce lanky, unsupported plants. Liatris does best when planted in association with other prairie wildflowers and native grasses. When planting in small groups, plan to stake the tall stems to prevent them from toppling during storms.

During their migration, monarch butterflies enjoy sips of late summer nectar from blossoms of blazing star.

Liatris pycnostachya is extremely drought-tolerate and provides both outstanding color and interesting architecture to a native garden setting.


To add height to your garden, try Helianthus spp., the native sunflowers. Bright, ray flowers with large central disks adorn tall branching stems that can reach heights over 12 feet tall. Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) and ashy sunflower (Helianthus mollis) are often available at native plant nurseries in the Midwest.

If Helianthus species are difficult to find for your garden design, Rudbeckia hirta pairs very well with nearly all other wildflowers.

Growing tips for success: Wild sunflowers do best when planted in groups in full sun. Leave the seed heads to mature for wildlife to feed upon.

Rudbeckia, commonly referred to as black-eyed Susan, is a welcome addition to the wildflower garden. This is a good companion plant to many other native wildflowers.


Most wildflowers do best when directly seeded into the garden. There are nurseries that also specialize in native stock in the form of started plants. Below are a few sources located in the Midwest.

Missouri Wildflower Nursery, Jefferson City, Missouri

Naturally Native Nursery, Toledo, Ohio

Pizzo Native Plant Nursery, Leland, Illinois

Cardno JFNew Native Plant Nursery, Walkerton, Indiana

Meadowood Native Plant Nursery, Hummelstown, Pennsylvania

Photos courtesy of Gladys J. Richter


Posted: 10/20/14   RSS | Print


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Facts and Folklore About Late-Blooming Wildflowers
by Jill Sell       #Flowers

In October, we tend to think the native blooming plants’ seasons are completed. But there are a number of beautiful native wildflowers whose blooms, foliage and seedpods add interest to October and late fall woodlands and prairies. Several species adapt to home gardens and can be found in garden centers or ordered from specialty native plant nurseries. Plus, each has an old story to tell.

Black-Eyed Susan and Sweet William

Gardeners who are romantics at heart (aren’t we all?) can’t resist the tale of a dark-eyed woman and her heartbreaking attempt to find her lover, Sweet William, aboard a sailing ship. The story is told in the poem, Black-Eyed Susan, by British poet John Gay. Lines include: “All in the downs the fleet was moored/the streamers waving in the wind/When Black-eyed Susan came aboard:/‘O! Where shall I my true-love find?/Tell me, ye jovial sailors, tell me true/if my Sweet William sails among the crew.’”

Many gardeners plant black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and Sweet William (Dianthus barbarus) together, because of their appearance compatibility without even knowing the tender poem.

The native, black-eyed Susan blooms into late autumn. (Some gardeners say its blooms will last longer if exposed to afternoon shade.) Its bright yellow ray flowers with dark brown centers are 2-3 three inches across and grow on stems up to 2 feet tall. The plant is considered an annual to a short-lived perennial and does well in moist to dry soil.

Black-eyed Susans are common in many rural, suburban and even urban gardens. A number of cultivars have been developed, and dwarf varieties are available. Just be forewarned — black-eyed Susans are also on the menu for deer, rabbits and other wildlife, which have been known to consume the entire plant. Best reason to plant them: Cut flowers will last a week or more indoors.

Maximilian sunflower blooms into October and adds a sunny spot in a home garden where other wildflowers may be fading.

Maximilian Sunflower

The Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) may not have the biggest, showiest head of all sunflowers. But its ability to bloom during late summer and fall and to stay green until very late fall makes it a welcome choice when most other plants have gone to sleep. Maximilian sunflowers can grow to 8 feet tall and are used as living screens in yards to cover outdoor air conditioning units, sheds or utility poles. The plants’ spreading habit is a gift for gardeners who want to fill in a particular area, especially where erosion control is needed. A grouping serves as cover and food for wildlife.

This yellow sunflower prefers moist, clay-like soils. If overfertilized the plants will grow tall and weak and heads will droop or break stems. What it doesn’t like is shade. It is a good choice for native prairie gardens. We can thank Maximilian Alexander Philipp, a German prince who was more interested in botany than royalty and who studied the great American Plains, for the plant’s name. Maximilian sunflowers were also a favorite of Native Americans, who used the plant for food, oil and thread. Best reason to plant them: Sunflowers just make you smile any time, especially late in the season.


Common boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) is a native perennial that was one of the most popular home remedies until aspirin took its place. Herbalists vary as to the origin of the plant’s name. Some say the plant, with its clusters of tiny, flat white flowers, was used by Native Americans and early colonists to treat dengue, a viral infection. The muscle pain from the infection was said to be so intense it felt as if one’s bones were breaking. A bitter tea made from dried leaves was used to treat the fever and colds.

Others look at the plant’s appearance and say that’s the source of its name and use. The leaves do not have individual stems and are attached directly to the main stem of the plant. It looks to some that the stem grows right through the leaf. That gave some herbalists the idea that the plant could be used to set bones. Boneset leaves were wrapped inside bandages around early splints.

Common boneset prefers moist to wet soils and blooms from June into October. It grows to the height of about 4-6 feet. Best reason to plant it: It’s interesting to have such a historical and important native wildflower in a backyard garden.

Another common name for black cohosh is fairy candles, based on the folklore idea that the wildflower looks as if wood sprites could use the white flowers to light their way through a dark woodland.

Black Cohosh and White Baneberry

Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) has many common names, including black bugbane, black snakeroot and black rattle root. But the name “fairy candles” perhaps is the most gentle and imaginative. The fluffy white spikes of tiny white flowers suggest a way for woodland sprites to find their way through the dark forest. The plant’s other common names refer to its seed that rattle in seedpods, which form after the perennial plant ends blooming in late September or early October. Because it was once used as an insect repellant, the name bugbane also became popular.

Black cohosh’s claim to fame came about because of its herbal reputation to treat feminine concerns, including menopause. Studies vary about the plant’s effectiveness for eliminating symptoms. The National Center for Contemporary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) both provide significant information about the plant’s benefits.

Black cohosh (a low-maintenance choice for woodland gardens) features flower stalks that grow to 6 feet tall. The plant prefers moist soil and dappled sun. Propagation is by seed, but that is more difficult to accomplish than by root division. Best reason to plant it: Its seedpods add interest to an autumn garden.

White baneberry is the perfect wildflower to grow in a home woodland garden if the gardener is looking for an unusual fall fruit.

A cousin of black cohosh, white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) blooms only for about two weeks in May and/or June. Its small white flowers are arranged in a rounded cluster that contains about 10 to 25 flowers. It’s a bloom that is delightful, but not showy. But the modest flowers are not the reason gardeners covet the plant in backyard woodland gardens. It’s the dramatic and mysterious fruit that develops in fall.

The waxy, blue-white berries are about a 1/2-inch long and are vertically grooved. Each has a dark purple, dark brown or black dot. The plant is also called “doll’s eyes” because of the fruit’s appearance, a reference to the eyes that were once made for vintage china dolls. The berries are located at the ends of bright red stalks. In the best tradition of Halloween lore, the plant looks to some as if the eyes of deceased individuals have been collected on one plant. Add the fact that the word “bane” is old English for “murderer,” and you have a great spine-tingling story.

But it gets even better for our macabre tale. All parts of this 2-foot tall perennial are toxic. Fortunately, the berries are bitter and most anyone who would attempt to eat them would think twice. The plant also causes external skin reactions, so many gardeners use gloves when handling the plants.

White baneberry is not an easy plant to grow in a residential garden. In the wild, the plant prefers cool woodlands, and duplicating the conditions can be challenging. But propagation is possible, and fresh seeds should be sown in fall. Best reason to plant it: It’s a terrific conversation piece in any woodland garden.

Photos by Jane Rogers


Posted: 10/06/14   RSS | Print


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A Few Native Plants That We Call Weeds
by Pamela Ruch       #Natives

Did you know that many of the weeds we pull from our gardens year in and year out are native plants that offer the same benefits as our much-loved butterfly weeds (Asclepias spp.) and coneflowers (Echinacea spp.)? I didn’t, until I resolved to learn more about the rampant volunteers in my garden community. What’s more, we think of Northeast natives as being mainly perennial forbs, shrubs and trees, but there are quite a few very common native annuals underfoot.

Clearweed (Pilea pumila) is a wind-pollinated annual in the nettle family, and like nettle, it is a favorite larva food of butterflies. Commas, red admirals, question marks and others depend on this non-prickly, low-growing plant with nearly translucent leaves. Clearweed’s roots are shallow, making colonies of this plant very easy for the gardener to eliminate, should he or she choose to do this. The trick is to get it done before the plentiful seeds scatter.

Another native annual that you may have seen clambering wildly through trees at an amazing pace is the bur cucumber (Sicyos angulatus). Its tendrils wind counterclockwise around anything they can grab — petioles, pine needles, even themselves — and given a foothold can create a smothering cover on top of a tall stand of Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria sp.) in about three weeks. I know this for a fact. Turn your back and an abandoned car will literally disappear! Bur cucumber flowers are tiny, but apparently very sweet; they are a favorite pollen source for native bees.

Clearweed typically grows in colonies.

What’s under this pile of bur cucumber? Could be anything!

Wild lettuce (Lactuca spp.) is a fast-growing native annual or biennial that provides pollen for bees and seeds for finches. Some types, such as Canada lettuce, can grow to impressive proportions. And yes, wild lettuces are edible. That goes for the non-native prickly lettuce (Lactuca serriola) — distinguished by the prickles on its leaf midribs — as well. Wild lettuces are the very same species as domesticated lettuce, and have similar flowers. Their seeds can float gently into your garden on the wind, which explains how a weed of such stature can suddenly just appear.

Pilewort (Erechtites hieracifolia) has a look somewhat similar to wild lettuce, though it is a little less colorful. But that does not stop wasps, bees, flies and butterflies from sipping its nectar. It will pop up anywhere — between the cracks of pavement, along chain link fences. It’s as though it bided its time throughout natural history until America industrialized, just so it might offer its services to urban pollinators.

Wild lettuce can reach impressive proportions.

Pilewort often stands alone.

Everyone knows jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) as the plant with the juicy stems that reputedly relieve the itch of a poison ivy rash when crushed. This native annual forms dense colonies along moist roadsides, and is often found in close proximity to poison ivy, which, by the way, is also a wildlife-friendly native. Multitudes of spotted orange flowers dangle from jewelweed’s stems, mostly hidden from view. Close observation, however, may gain you a look at the hummingbirds, bees and butterflies that pollinate the blooms and feed on the nectar. Even more entertaining are the fruits, which are shaped like mini pea pods. The fruits explode to eject the seeds when they are ripe enough (or gently squeezed) in a distribution mode aptly called “ballistic dispersal.” Yes indeed, fun for all ages.

Spotted spurge (Chamaesyce maculata) can be maddening in the garden; its ground-hugging frame goes unnoticed until … surprise! The thousands of inconspicuous flowers on each plant become three-seeded capsules. Pick the floppy weed-mat up and you may notice ants busy at work, carrying off the small white seeds. They drop a few along the way, of course, which explains why tiny stems of spotted spurge peek out at you from every little crack in the patio. To its credit, birds eat the seeds.

Jewelweed, also called Touch-me-not, attracts bees … and daddy long legs too.

Spotted spurge, like other spurges, has milky sap.

So there you have it. Weeds are native plants too. What I have taken away from my limited weed study is a more thoughtful posture toward the landscape. As gardeners, we try to control our environment, weeding out the rampant and the unadorned so that we can plant something “better.” Will I let these native weeds have their way in my garden? I will not! But neither will I forget to appreciate the subtleties of plants that I often thoughtlessly extract — plants that provide for the many creatures, seen and unseen, that live among us.

And certainly their reproductive prowess is deserving of respect.

Photos courtesy of Pamela Ruch.


Posted: 08/25/14   RSS | Print


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Wild Quinine
by Roy Diblik       #Hot Plants

This underused plant has everything going for it: flowers through most of the summer; an upright, beautiful habit; and tremendous fall and winter interest. Wild quinine grows 36-40 inches tall with a spread of 18-24 inches. This architectural plant mixes well with grasses. In summer, the white, flat, mounded clusters of flowers look like summer clouds floating through the garden. In fall, the seedheads, stems and foliage turn dark brown, creating a strong presence going into winter. I especially like it with hardy geranium (Geranium sanguineum) and Moorhexe purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea spp.caerulea ‘Moorhexe’).

Common Name: Wild quinine

Botanical Name: Parthenium integrifolium

Color: Flat-headed clusters of white flowers.

Blooming Period: June through August

Exposure: Full sun

When to Plant: Throughout the growing season as long as you water regularly until established

Soil: Moist to slightly dry

Watering: Keep moist until established. Thereafter, does not need supplemental watering.

When to fertilize: Needs no commercial fertilizer. Nutrients can be provided by mulching with leaf compost every two to three years.

Hardiness Zones: 4 through 8

In Your Landscape: I like to grow it with ornamental grasses, coneflower (Echinacea spp.)andGeranium sanguineum.

From Wisconsin Gardening Volume II Issue VI. Photo courtesy of Roy Diblik.


Posted: 08/15/14   RSS | Print


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Golden Showers Threadleaf Coreopsis
by Roy Diblik       #Hot Plants

Yellow-blooming Golden Showers Coreopsis brightens a perennial planting bed.

If you’ve grown Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’, C. rosea, ‘Limerock Ruby’ or C. grandiflora ‘Sunray’, you might have been disappointed. All are good plants when used within their capabilities, but none are tough, adaptable plants. For that, you need Coreopsis verticillata Golden Showers ‘Gradiflora’. This plant is durable. It’s little used because of the misfortunes of the others.

It’s a plant that’s very tolerant of soil and moisture conditions. It can survive on average rainfall and will tolerate some dry soil. I have grown this coreopsis since 1982 and have successfully planted it in many gardens. In addition to nice, golden yellow flowers from early July into September, this plant has beautiful fall foliage color. The foliage turns a very nice yellow, maturing to dark brown by mid-November.



Common Name: Golden Showers coreopsis or tickseed

Botanical Name: Coreopsis verticillata

Hardiness: USDA Zone: 4 through 9

Blooms: Daisy-like, golden yellow, 1-1   inch diameter, clustered densely at the top of the plant.

Blooming Period: Early July into September

Exposure: Full sun to light shade

Size: 12-24 inches tall and wide

When to Plant: Throughout the growing season

Soil: Average,well-drained soil (can tolerate moister soils).

Watering: Keep moist until established. Thereafter, does not need supplemental watering.

When to fertilize: Needs no commercial fertilizer. Nutrients can be provided by mulching with leaf compost every two to three years.

In Your Landscape: I like to grow it with Echinacea purpurea ‘Rubinglow’ in a 30/70 split, or with Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ in a 40/60 pairing.

From Wisconsin Gardening Volume II Issue IV. Photo courtesy of Roy Diblik.


Posted: 08/08/14   RSS | Print


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Help Your Container Plants Beat the Heat
by Lori Pelkowski       #Advice   #Summer

The Profusion series gives the vigorous habit and unabashed blooming we expect from zinnias in a tight, compact, dainty-looking plant. This tough guy will bloom continuously until frost.

Do your container plantings need a facelift during the dog days of summer? When summer temperatures reach into the 90s for days on end, plants in containers wilt in the heat just like we do. Sprucing up overworked container plants and worn-out soil can help keep them colorful and cheerful even the hottest summer.

Try these pot and basket rejuvenating tips, along with heat and drought tolerant plants, to freshen up your containers during the long hot season.

When your container annuals pass their prime, water them thoroughly and wait a few hours. Then remove them from the container and trim the roots by one third. Cut back straggly plants by one third as well, and don't worry if this includes cutting off flower buds. Cut off all the dead and fully bloomed flowers. This will invigorate the plant.

The dirt in your garden beds may be great for growing plants in the ground, but plants in pots are a different story. When used in a container, even the best garden soil tends to harden to the point of being deadly to plants. Garden soil can also contain insect larvae, weed seeds and harmful spores. Purchase soil that is specially formulated for potted plants to provide the correct levels of aeration, water retention and trace nutrients.

So re-pot your newly trimmed plants with fresh soil mix. Bagged potting soil may be enhanced with plant food and a moisture retainer. These mixes are perfect for outdoor containers. If you can't find them, use regular potting soil and add a time-released plant food like Osmocote and a moisture retainer such as Soil Moist. Follow the package directions for using the correct amounts for the size of your container.

Fill the bottom of extra large containers with gravel or small stones before adding the potting soil to prevent them from toppling. Also do this for any containers that do not have drainage holes. Fill two thirds of the container with potting soil, then water it. Add more soil until the container is three-quarters full. Arrange the plants in the container, making holes to accommodate their roots if necessary. Fill in soil around each plant, and be sure to plant it at the same level it was previously. Water the pot well and add more soil as it settles if needed.

A layer of mulch on top of the potting soil helps protect the planting from losing moisture through evaporation. Shredded hardwood mulch works well, and can be purchased by the bag at a local garden center. Or try decorative mulches such as pebbles or packaged moss. Be creative!

Put newly trimmed and repotted plants in a shady area to prevent them from going into shock. They should look radiant and ready for their permanent spot in a few days.

Water potted plants when the soil just below the surface feels dry. Commit to watering your containers once a day, maybe even twice during the heat of the summer. Plants in a sunny location may need water several times a day. Watering in the morning and early evening will prevent sunscald and water spots on the leaves. When the soil surface is dry but before the plants begin to wilt, water slowly and thoroughly, until water runs out of the bottom of the pot. Shallow window boxes and hanging baskets dry out faster than deep containers. Try not to let any containers dry out completely.

Don’t despair over summer-weary containers. Try these easy tricks to revive them. Or, if your local garden center still has healthy-looking plants, try these pretty annuals that laugh at the heat.

Osteospermumis a tongue twister that means South African daisy. These beautiful plants are smothered with pretty flowers with unique purple eyes, and they love the sun. This is a great choice for the middle of a large container, between the tall focal point and the low trailers. The South African daisy comes in pink, purple, cream, white, yellow and orange, and smiles right through the hot, dry summer.

The South African daisy is stunning on its own, or paired with trailing plants like petunias. Try it with white for a calm effect, or deep purple for some extra punch.

Verbena is a lovely hanging plant whose purple, hot pink, red or white flowers beautify baskets, window boxes, and container edges. They barely notice heat and drought, and revive quickly if they wilt. The purple is almost blue; a large bowl of red, white, and purple verbena makes a patriotic addition to a patio table. Try them in boxes along the railings of a sun-soaked deck, or in simple baskets hung in the perennial border for added height.

Feathery gaura flowers look like butterflies floating over the container. It is shown here with pink verbena and white lobularia. Verbena and lobularia are similar in habit and flower type and can be interchanged to customize the color scheme of the pot.

Everyone is familiar with the marigold, lovingly grown by children in paper cups. The common marigold comes in some very uncommon color combinations, and sizes from mini to pompom. The small and medium flowered marigolds are best in containers. Like the South African daisy and the verbena, marigolds love being deadheaded and will respond well to being cut back if they start getting tired.

Portulaca is a low-growing plant with pointy, succulent leaves and small flowers in colors from magenta to cream. Portulacas are true sun worshippers that love hot, dry conditions. They look lovely hanging over the edges of containers, baskets and window boxes that have the sun beating on them all day. Shear them back to about 3 inches if they get straggly.

Gazania, also known as the treasure flower, has bright daisy-like flowers. They are easy to find in garden centers, and they transplant well. Plant gazania in the hottest, windiest, most exposed site -- they'll love it. The flowers are marvelous, and come in yellows, oranges, pinks, bronzes and reds, with black markings at the base and stripes of contrasting color down each petal.

The Zinnia Profusion series rewards gardeners with hundreds of single, star shaped flowers. Unlike the larger zinnias, Zinnia elegans is a medium-sized plant with tiny leaves. It grows in an elegant globe shape with cream, yellow, orange or red flowers. The orange looks great with purple mealycup sage (Salvia farinacea 'Victoria Blue'). Both will bloom freely even through summer drought, and the color and texture combination can't be beat.

Nasturtium boasts loads of cream, yellow, orange, pink, red or mahogany flowers that are often splotched with contrasting colors. All parts are edible, and add a peppery flavor to otherwise bland green salads. A low growing, trailing plant, the nasturtium has intriguing, heart-shaped leaves. It is a fast-growing annual that seems to thrive on neglect. Nasturtiums are a cheerful presence in containers or hanging basket.

Nasturtiums love to hang, trail and ramble. Use the heart-shaped leaves and pretty flowers to garnish outdoor meals. The entire plant is edible with a subtle peppery nip.

Photos courtesy of Proven Winners.


Posted: 08/07/14   RSS | Print


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Summer Turf Blues
by Bob Westerfield       #Advice   #Summer

As we continue in the blistering dog days of summer the idea of a cold drink and air-conditioned room seem much more appealing than working out in our landscape. The hot sticky days often cause us to neglect some outdoor chores such as giving our turf a good check-up.

Although turf in general, if managed properly, can be one of the toughest plants out there, it does need a little care to make it through the end of summer and get it ready for the cooler months ahead.

Disease problems can certainly be on the rise during the hot humid conditions that exist in late summer. Although there is not enough room to cover all the diseases and details in this article, there are a few generalities that can be made.  Most diseases occur due to some form of mismanagement. Many diseases will manifest themselves when the fertility is poor – either too much fertilizer or not enough. They can also occur due to poor irrigation practices – usually over watering. Soil compaction, heavy shade and improper use of herbicides can also help the on-start of disease.

Disease issues on turf can be severe in the late season if left unchecked.

That being said, it stands to reason that a better maintenance program will go a long way to both preventing and curing diseases.  Although fungicides are available to treat diseases, they are seldom applied correctly and can be expensive to use.

Begin by aerating your turf if it hasn’t been done in a year or more. This involves borrowing or renting a machine called an aerator that will punch small holes in the ground. These holes will allow better infiltration of both water and fertilizer by breaking up the compacted surface. An aerator with hollow tines is much better than one with solid spikes, so look for this when finding equipment.

Core aeration is an important maintenance step to help break up soil compaction, thatch and increase moisture and air flow.

Don’t neglect checking on the fertility of the soil. Chances are that you put out an application of fertilizer this past spring, but then failed to remember to feed your grass throughout the summer. Most grasses respond best to split applications of fertilizer, two to three times per year. August is a good month to put out the final application of fertilizer on warm season grasses such as bermuda, centipede, zoysia and St. Augustine. The best method to determine how much to put out would be to have your local county extension service run a test on a soil sample. Just call the local office and they can explain how to take the sample. The results will also reveal whether or not you need to add lime – an important factor in nutrient management.

Water management is also vital to a healthy, disease free lawn. If you have an automated irrigation system, now is a good time to make sure it is working properly. Set out small plastic drink cups at various locations and run your system for 30 minutes. Check the cups to see how much water has accumulated throughout the different zones. You may be amazed over time how uneven the water distribution really is. This will alert you to the possible need to clean or change outlet heads or perhaps change the direction or how long the system runs. Regardless of whether you use an automated system or single sprinkler and hose, a few standard rules apply. Water established turf less frequently – but more thoroughly to encourage a deep root system. Set the system to deliver either half an inch twice a week or better yet one inch one time per week. Most turf are very drought tolerant and can actually go several weeks without supplemental irrigation before extreme stress sets in. A good way to tell when turf really needs to be irrigated is when the grass blades begin to slightly roll up and the lawn takes on a bluish-grey color. Watering at night is also a great way to better manage your turf. If you water between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m., you will conserve water normally lost to evaporation, and you cut down on disease problems as the turf has time to dry out during the day.

As you walk around accessing your turf’s needs, does the grass feel spongy under your feet? It may need dethatching. Thatch is a layer of dead roots/stems that can continue to build into a thick mat that is unhealthy for the lawn. Grass clippings do not contribute to thatch, so have no fear about not bagging your cuttings. Thatch come again from poor management – over fertilization, too much water and not mowing often enough. You will need a thatch rake for small areas or rent a vertical mower to dethatch larger lawns.

Weeds may also be present in your late summer turf. Most weeds that you see now will be mature and difficult to control with herbicides. Cutting the grass often will prevent most weeds from going to seed. Spot treatments with herbicides may be effective on some easier to control weeds. A preemergent herbicide program will be a better alternative for next year. Early spraying of young emerging weeds is essential for good control in the future.

It is important to keep a handle on turf weeds before they get out of hand. Be sure to select the proper herbicide for the turf type you have.

If managed well, a lawn should give years of enjoyment and allow you more time to spend out of the hot sun doing indoor hobbies. Following these tips will ensure that you have the healthiest and greenest lawn on the block.

Photos courtesy of Bob Westerfield.


Posted: 08/06/14   RSS | Print


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Three Great Fruit Trees for the Midwest Garden
by Patti Marie Travioli       #Edibles   #Fruit   #Trees

As a kid, I didn’t care as much about the holiday meal as much as I looked forward to enjoying the homemade jams and freshly baked desserts. As an adult, I try to create something new for the holiday meal, while still including some traditional recipes.

It’s even better when I harvest the fruit from my yard. I recall my grandfather taking us for tractor rides to harvest apples from old trees near the woods. The fruit may have been imperfect to look at, but the crisp flavors were so tart and sweet. We would take them back to the house and cook them down, then take turns stirring with the wooden pestle, watching the warm apples ooze through the vintage cone-shaped metal sieve, transforming into sauce. If you have room, try growing these three fruit trees, which will provide delicious seasonal freshness all through the winter — apple, pear and tart cherry.

Site Selection

Fruit trees grow best in sunny areas, preferably on high ground in a sandy-loamy soil. Avoid low-lying areas where frost pockets can settle in early spring, damaging flowers and fruit. A south-facing, slightly sloping incline is best.

When to Plant

Early spring, while small trees are still dormant, is the best time. Although autumn will do, research has shown that spring-planted trees establish more quickly. Wrap the trunk with a protective wrap made specifically for trees to deter animals from chewing on the soft bark. This is especially important in the fall.


Provide enough space to allow good airflow for each tree. Most dwarf fruit trees can be planted 10-12 feet apart, but some varieties may need to be 15-20 feet apart. Make sure you know the mature size for the variety you plant.


The best time to prune fruit trees is when they are dormant. I like to prune during our January thaw into February. Pruning is not only a good horticultural practice, but an art form, as well. A general rule is to prune all suckers that grow at the base of the tree and anything crossing or growing vertically. The tree should have several open spaces throughout the branches.

Insects and Diseases

Using integrated pest management, or IPM, practices is the best defense against many insect and disease problems you will encounter while growing fruit trees. Various phases of growth, such as petal fall or size of fruit, are signals to look for certain pests and diseases, or perform certain pruning techniques.

Pears encounter the same problems as apples, and cherries may share some, but have their own, as well. It is important to know how to identify each pest and which ones may pose a problem at what time of year. Identification and timing are the keys.

For example, scale is a problem pest that peaks in mid-May, and is typically not a problem after June, but could peak again in July. To deal with this pest, you would apply horticultural oil in April. If you want to grow these fruits organically, you need to start with varieties that are resistant to the diseases they are most prone to, as well as using approved organic methods for insect and disease control.

Insects and disease found to be the most problematic with apples and pears include the European red mite, apple scab, leaf roller, aphids, powdery mildew, fire blight and plum curculio. For cherries, fruit fly, plum curculio, cherry leaf spot, American brown rot and powdery mildew are issues.


Most apples (Malus spp.)grow well in USDA Zones 3 through 8, depending on the variety. Apples grow best when they have another variety for cross-pollination. Harvest time is August through October. Apples are eaten fresh, sliced and frozen, dried, sauced and frozen or canned, or preserved as apple butter or jam.

Recommended Apple Varieties 

• ‘Braeburn’ - Sweet and crisp; great fresh or baked; USDA Zones 5-8

• ‘Gala’ - Sweet and crunchy; great fresh or baked; USDA Zones 4-9

• ‘Ginger Gold’ - Sweet and spicy; great fresh or baked; USDA Zones 5-9

• ‘Honeycrisp’ - Sweet and juicy; great fresh or baked; USDA Zones 3-6

• ‘McIntosh’ - Sweet, tart and juicy; great fresh or baked; USDA Zones 4-6

European or Asian Pear

European pears (Pyrus communis) are hardy in Zones 4 through 9 and grow best in a sunny space with a well-drained soil. European pear varieties best for the Midwest gardens are ‘Bartlett,’ ‘D’Anjou,’ ‘Harrow Delight,’ ‘Spartlett’ and ‘Harrow Sweet,’ which is said to be more fire-blight resistant. You can eat them fresh or preserve them by canning or making jam. I especially love a spiced pear jam infused with ginger. 

The Asian pear (Pyrus pyrifolia), sometimes called an apple pear because of its apple shape and pear-like skin, grows well in Zones 5 through 9, and is best for fresh eating. Harvest season is August through September.

Tart Cherry

Most tart cherries (Prunus cerasus) are self-pollinating, but planting two varieties may increase fruit quantity. For tart cherries, try growing Balaton (‘Bunched of Újfehértoí’), a newer Hungarian variety that is a little sweeter and matures about a week later than the traditionally grown ‘Montmorency’ or ‘North Star.’ Tart cherries grow well in USDA Zones 4 through 8, depending on variety. Harvest time starts in mid-June.

When tart cherries are harvested at their peak, it is easiest to pit them. Place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and put in the freezer until frozen. Once frozen, place them in a freezer storage container. This method keeps the cherries from freezing together in one big clump. Once thawed, you can use the frozen cherries for pies, muffins or jam. Dried tart cherries are one of my favorite things to add, along with nuts, to my oatmeal.

For more information:

Apples –

Michigan State University Extension –

Enviro-weather –

National Organic Program –

Holistic Orchard Network –

From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue VI. Photo by Patti Marie Travioli.


Posted: 08/06/14   RSS | Print


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Coir competency
by Patsy Bell Hobson       #Fertilizing

Plants in hanging baskets thrive with coir liners as well as coir mixed into the potting soil. Plant: Proven Winners - Superbells® Lemon Slice - Calibrachoa hybrid.

Once considered a waste product, coir is now used as mulch, soil conditioner and as a hydroponic growth medium. This organic fiber is an ideal material for worm composers. It is also used to grow mushrooms. It is bacteria free and will deter slugs.

Coir is a very affordable and a reusable product used for lining hanging baskets.

You may be using it already as hanging basket liners. Coir is also used to make doormats. It is also used as the bristles in brushes.

Coir is often used as a replacement for peat in soil mixes. It will lighten up garden soil in raised beds or containers. Like peat, it holds moisture in the soil and also aides in drainage. Unlike peat, coir is considered a renewable resource. Peat comes out of bogs that are rapidly being depleted. Technically, peat is a renewable resource, but few of us can wait for the the many, many decades it takes to regenerate a peat bog.

This coconut fiber retains more water than Sphagnum peat moss. It is considered a renewable soilless resource. It has been used commercially for years but is only recently marketed to home gardeners.

Coir is being marketed as a replacement for peat and as a soil amendment. I used it to start seeds this spring. I also replaced peat in my potting soil blend.

Coir can be added directly to garden beds to loosen up clay soil. If your soil is sandy, adding coir will help the soil to hold water. Coir is organic, but it takes about 20 years for coir to decompose.

A 1/2-inch disk of coir comes with the Amaryllis kit.

Add water to the disk and fluff to loosen coir.

One 1/2-inch disk makes enough material to fill the pot around the Amaryllis bulb.

What is Coir?

Coir is simply coconut fibers. Coir fibers are extracted from the husk, or outer shell, of a coconut. The coir fibers are then dried and made into bricks for agriculture use.

Together, India and Sri Lanka produce 90 percent of the coir manufactured each year.

Coir is used to make ropes and fishing nets because it is resistant to salt water. It is used in mattresses and upholstered furniture. Coconut fiber is used to control erosion along riverbanks.

Coir can be high in sodium and potassium. So before use as a growing medium it is pre-treated by soaking in a calcium buffering solution. Methods of processing coir vary around the world. Salt is not always washed out. There are a few very vocal opponents to coir — I suspect they have used a grade of coir that is high in salt content.

How Coir Works

Water must be added to loosen the fibers into the fluffy peat-like soil amendment. While these coconut fibers provide good soil aeration, they also retain up to nine times their volume in moisture.

To use the brick, place in the bottom of a bucket. I use a 5-gallon bucket. Add water to see the fibers quickly expand. Allow it to continue to absorb water for at least 15 minutes. Once the coir is loose and moist, it is ready to be used.

If the salt content is a concern, add more water to completely cover the coir. Allow it to soak in the water for a couple of hours or overnight, then drain. Look for coir products labeled for garden use and buy from a trusted source.

If coir is sold as a product not intended for garden use, it may or may not have a high salt content. Better to be on the safe side and soak the coir to leach out salts.

This lightweight brick starts expanding as soon as the water hits the surface. Available in any home improvement stores.

Break up and loosen the wet coir brick.

The finished product is ready to be added to a soilless container or raised bed.

Compost and Soil Mixes

Coir is carbon rich, making it an ideal ingredient to layer in the compost pile with grass clipping and kitchen scraps. If you have access to fresh grass clippings, it is quick and easy to build a compost pile. Just layer grass, then coir and repeat a layer of grass then a layer of coir.

Use coir the same as you would use peat moss. Coir can replace up to 40 percent of potting mix. It tends to have a more neutral pH, wheres peat tends to be slightly more acidic.

Where to Buy It

You can ask for coir at some local garden centers, but you might get some blank stares. Coir is easily found online, and it might be available locally in pet supply stores.

Photos courtesy of Patsy Bell Hobson.


Posted: 08/04/14   RSS | Print


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Weeping Elm
by Joseph Tychonievich       #Hot Plants

In the summer, the weeping elm (Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’) is quite beautiful, with lush green leaves and a graceful, weeping habit. But the full beauty of this tree is really visible when it disrobes in the fall, the leaves dropping away to expose a glorious network of gnarled, curved branches in an intricate, graceful pattern. Slow growing, this tree takes time to reach its full beauty, but eventually it becomes a magnificent presence during the long winter months when a garden most needs something dramatic. Its natural growth habit is almost flat, plants are either grafted onto a tall standard or a young branch can be staked vertically to create a trunk and tree-like form to any desired height.

Common Name:  Weeping elm

Botanical Name: Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’

Color: Green

Blooming Period: Early spring (not showy) 

Type: Small deciduous tree

Size: To 15-plus feet wide, height depends on training

Exposure: Full sun to part shade

When to Plant: Spring or fall

Soil: Any, very adaptable

Watering: Not required once established

Zone: USDA Zones 4 through 7

When to Prune: Avoid pruning to preserve natural growth habit.

When to Fertilize: Not required in average garden conditions

In Your Landscape: Best appreciated from below, so get a high-grafted specimen or stake up a trunk to 10 feet to create a small tree you can stand and sit under.

From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue VI. Photos courtesy of Joseph Tychonievich.


Posted: 08/01/14   RSS | Print


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The Beauty of Lavender
by Karen Atkins    

I have to confess something. I almost gave up on lavender. I would repeatedly bring home plants, only to watch them gradually wither, sicken and die—or worse—thrive until they were shapeless woody shrubs with hardly any leaves or flowers. Is this you? It took a lot of trial and error, but I finally figured it out. Lavender (Lavandula spp.) is the princess of herbs. Like any other perfumed lady, she has her demands.


Most hardy lavender survives in USDA Zones 5 through 7. Where winters are severe, you can also grow it as a short-lived, tender plant in summer.

Full sun is an absolute requirement. Choose a site that gets six hours or more of direct sun each day. There is no way around this.

If you plan to harvest the lavender for wands, sachet or food, avoid using pesticides on the plants.

Regular haircuts

In the first year, or on older, well-maintained specimens, prune back any new growth by about one-third in early spring, after the plant completely greens up. It will take a few weeks for it to green up from the bottom. Just watch it closely, and when you see that the existing stems are completely green and new and tender stalks are beginning, shape it back by one-third. I use scissors for this. Prune artfully to lightly shape the plant to its preferred habit—a loose ball.

In older, woody, misshapen plants you can do one of two things: either touch a match to it and start over (my preference) or, if you get joy from saving things, try cutting it back by half each year after it has fully leafed out. This can either rejuvenate it or kill it. At least you know that ahead of time.

Warm, dry feet

Do not put lavender in your existing beds that you have amended with rich compost and manure. Other plants love this rich soil for it’s moisture retention, but lavender hates that. Think about it: Lavender hails from the Mediterranean, where it may only rain a few times a season. Some of the soil there isn’t soil at all, but loose gravel. If you have any doubts that your soil is too rich, you need to establish a raised bed for lavender.

If you have to have it amidst your fussier perennials, build a little raised bed out of stones, just for the lavender. This raises it up so that it drains faster than the rest of the bed. Or, grow it in a large container with a quick-draining, high-quality soilless potting mix.

Edible and Fragrant

I have always associated the scent of lavender with pampering. So I cut and save it in heady sachets for my houseguests, stuffing it into drawers and in between towels for them. But if I really want to spoil someone rotten, I make lavender shortbread and ice cream. Each can be made up to a week ahead, so I can spend less time fussing over preparation and more time enjoying my friends.

And, like eating warm tomatoes in July or crisp apples in October, savoring lavender while it’s blooming brings you right into the moment.

As Winnie the Pooh said, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.” I haul tables and chairs right out into the garden when serving these desserts. Fair warning: If you serve these treats, they will be requested again.

Lavender Shortbread Cookies(Makes 30)


2 (8 ounce) sticks of butter, at room temperature

1 ½ cups of flour

Pinch of salt

Lavender-infused sugar: ½ cup sugar mixed with ½ cup fresh lavender buds, allowed to sit for at least a few hours.


Preheat the oven to 350 F. Beat together the butter and sugar until creamy. Add the flour, salt and lavender, mixing until combined.

With your hands, bring the dough together into a ball, and shape into a flat disk. Cover and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Once chilled, roll out the dough to   inch thickness. Cut into small rounds or use a cookie cutter. Allow room between cookies when placing on the baking sheet because they will really expand while baking. Sprinkle with extra sugar.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the shortbreads feel sandy on top and have the slightest hint of color on the edges. Do not let them brown or they will taste burned. Also, please resist the urge to remove them from the sheet until they have completely cooled, or they will break.

Lavender Honey Ice Cream


2 cups whole milk

¼  cup dried lavender buds

⅓ cup of honey

5 egg yolks

¼ cup sugar

1 cup heavy cream

½  cup fresh lavender buds (to stir in just before freezing)


In a heavy saucepan, heat milk, dried lavender and honey over medium-high heat until bubbles begin to form around the edge of pan. Please do not boil or scald the milk. Remove from heat; cover, let steep, then let stand until cool. Pour the mixture through a sieve or strainer to remove the lavender.

Add egg yolks to sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix for two to three minutes, until creamy. At the same time, put the milk mixture back on heat until it reaches a low simmer. 

Add half of the milk mixture to the yolk mixture and whisk until combined. Then pour the yolk-milk mixture into the saucepan with the remaining milk. Cook over low heat and stir the entire time until the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and immediately stir in cream.

Place saucepan in refrigerator until cold, about two hours. Mix in some fresh lavender buds; I use about cup. 

Most people pour the mixture into an ice-cream freezer and freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions. I do not have room in my kitchen for one more kitchen appliance so I freeze the ice cream right in the stand mixer bowl. Every thirty minutes, for three hours, I pull it out and give it a quick mix to break up any ice crystals that might try to form, and then return it to the freezer.

You can needlepoint or take naps in between the stirrings, but serve this and they’ll think you slaved all day. (Note: This recipe was adapted from one printed by Martha Stewart Living. I hope my explanations flatten the learning curve for you.)

From State-by-State Gardening May/June 2013. Photos courtesy of


Posted: 07/30/14   RSS | Print


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‘Kingswood Torch’ Coleus
by Susan Martin       #Hot Plants

The striking magenta and red foliage of coleus ‘Kingswood Torch’ heats up sunny and shady gardens alike. 

There are several types of Coleus (Piectranthus scutellarioides) to choose from at garden centers, so here are a few quick tips. Seed-grown varieties are sold in 4- or 6-packs, and those grown from cuttings are sold in larger, usually individual pots. Seed-grown cultivars are less expensive, but are higher maintenance because they typically bloom quickly. Once a coleus blooms, its life cycle is complete, so you’ll need to pinch off the flowers. Some coleus, such as the ColorBlaze series, were created to be very late or non-flowering. Many of the newer cultivars are also more sun tolerant, so they are less maintenance with a great look all season.

ColorBlaze ‘Kingswood Torch’ coleus has blazing red and magenta foliage drenched in saturated color. Use it as a thriller in combination containers or on its own in large containers or in the border. This hot plant sells out quickly, so when you see it at the garden center snatch it up before it’s gone!

For a 16-inch container combination, you’ll need one ‘Kingswood Torch’ coleus, two Diamond Frost euphorbia (E. hypericifolia), and three Surefire Rose begonia (B. benariensis cv.). 

Common Name: Kingswood Torch coleus

Botanical Name: Piectranthus scutellarioides ‘Kingswood Torch’

Type of Plant: Annual

Hardiness Zone: Perennial in USDA Zones 10 and 11.

Bloom Time: Grown for its fantastic foliage.

Size: 3-3  feet; about half that height if grown in containers.

Exposure: Full sun to full shade

Watering: Requires regular watering.

Soil: Use potting soil if growing in containers or enrich the garden soil if planting in the ground.

When to Fertilize: Fertilize regularly or use potting soil already enriched with fertilizer.

When to Prune: Pinch out any flower buds that appear to maintain best foliage appearance.

From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue VI. Photos courtesy of Susan Martin.


Posted: 07/25/14   RSS | Print


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First Aid for Summer Squash
by Bob Westerfield       #Advice   #Disease   #Pests

Old, maturing squash left on the vine too long will attract pesky insects, which in turn can damage your plants. Be sure to harvest frequently before the fruit matures.

As we enter mid-July with August right around the corner, there are some pretty rough-looking summer squash patches that I have visited around the state in my role as a vegetable specialist. From backyard gardens to commercial growers, everyone that has grown summer squash knows the challenges that the late season can dish out. It takes a dedicated and persistent gardener to keep summer squash looking good all summer long until the plants finally play out in the coolness of fall. By being diligent and keeping a very close eye on your plants, it is possible to produce this delicious summer vegetable all season long.

In order to better combat the issues that face your summer squash, it helps to have an understanding of what can actually affect them. Poor gardening practices from the start are the fastest ways to shorten the lifespan of your zucchini and crooked necks. No amount of pesticides or fertilizer will overcome bad gardening management. With that being said, try to grow the healthiest squash you can by fertilizing them properly and maintaining a soil pH of about 6.5-6.8. Proper irrigation is also critical if your squash are to stand a chance against all the summer critters that want your squash as bad as you do.

The best defense against the several insect and disease problems you may encounter with squash is a good offense. Scout your plants frequently from about the time they emerge to the time they stop producing. Diseases such as powdery mildew and downy mildew are very common problems that will cut down on the vigor of your plants and overall lifespan of production. These fugal pathogens appear on the broad leaves of squash plants. Powdery mildew looks almost as if a white talc powder has been sprinkled over the leaves. Downy mildew produces angular white and yellow blotches on the leaves. Both of these diseases can be held to a minimum by avoiding overhead irrigation and spacing plants so they have plenty of room for good air circulation. When needed, spray plants with a labeled organic or synthetic fungicide at the first sign of disease presence. High humidity and heat play a big role in disease formation and unfortunately, you cannot control these. But once again, keeping the plants as healthy as possible will allow them, in many cases, to grow through these diseases if they are encountered.

Powdery mildew is a common disease issue that can weaken squash plants and reduce yield.

Perhaps nothing is more devastating to our summer squash plants over the last few years than the squash vine borer. I am not sure if it is just the increase in more people growing their own squash, but this pest has been an epidemic around the Southeast. The adult moth, which actually more closely resembles a wasp, emerges out of the ground in the spring and begins looking for its host plant squash somewhere between the middle and end of June. Adults continue to fly for several months as they deposit their egg close to the base of vulnerable squash plants. From the single egg, a tiny larva emerges and bores into the stem of the squash plant. Like a child let loose in a candy store, these voracious feeders munch on the inside of the stem, tunneling upward and downward as they go. Most people do not even realize they are there until they see their squash plants suddenly droop over, like they severely need water. By this time, the squash borer may have riddled the plants beyond repair. This is probably one of the hardest insects to control because they stay so well hidden from our eyesight. The best control is accomplished by spraying approved organic or chemical options at the base of your plants soon after they have emerged. You will need to continue to make frequent reapplications every week or so to have any chance at controlling this pest. On occasion, you might see the red-colored adult sitting on the squash leaf, and you should destroy her immediately. Keep a careful eye on the base of your plants and look for any entrance holes and sap oozing from the plants. If you catch it early, you can use a sharp razor blade to vertically slice the stem near the penetration hole. Use your fingers to pull back the hollow stem and look for this beastly caterpillar. You can carefully cut him in half with the razor blade or extract him and exile him to parts unknown. Close up the wound that you created by pinching it back together, and then pile some soil over the wounded area to help in the recovery process. As long as you do not allow the grubs to feed for an excessive amount of time, your squash plant should recover.

Perhaps the worst problem for squash growers is the squash vine borer. Difficult to detect at first, they can take out an entire planting of squash quickly if left unchecked.

Squash bugs are another prolific pest that frequents the summer garden. They can rapidly multiply and cause substantial damage by feeding on both the foliage and maturing crop. Leaf-footed bugs can also invade squash and other vegetables, and they look a lot like squash bugs. While there are other insects that can munch on your plants, these two, along with the squash vine borer, will be your greatest challenges. Organic products such as neem oil and pyrethrin will do a pretty good job of controlling both leaf-footed bugs and squash bugs. There are also a number of manmade products labeled for vegetables that will work well to help control this enemy. Most of these insects have multiple generations, so you need to stay diligent in your defense. It is very important, as well, that you harvest your squash as early as possible and not allow any of the fruits to become over-mature on the vine. Over-mature squash left in the garden will be ringing the dinner bell for all the bad bugs on the block.

With all this talk about controlling diseases and insects, make sure you correctly identify the problem. There are also plenty of beneficial insects out there that help control the bad guys and help perform the task of pollination. Be careful when you spray that you do not wipe out more of the good guys than the bad. Avoiding early morning sprays will help with this.

Squash bugs are one of the most common pests that can invade your plants.

Care should be taken to correctly identify insects to prevent spraying and harming beneficial insects, such as this ladybug.

Squash is certainly a favorite among home gardeners, but I have heard too many gardeners say that they have given up on it because of all the challenges to keep it healthy. One way to help yourself out is to continue to plant successions of new squash every few weeks during the first part of the growing season so that you have different stages of maturity going on in the garden. By spacing your planting times and controlling a few of the more troublesome diseases and insects, you should be able to harvest this delicious table fare all season long.

Photos by Bob Westerfield.


Posted: 07/24/14   RSS | Print


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Create the Look of an English Garden In Your Midwest Landscape
by Susan Martin    

The formal lines of this colorful sunken garden are softened by a monochromatic palette of purple annual flowers, giving it a whimsical, cheerful look.

Clusters of fragrant double roses clambering over white picket fences, fields of wildflowers and cottage gardens filled with lupines and delphiniums — this is what I expected to find when I traveled to London last spring for the first time.

Surely, I am not the only American who imagines English gardens this way. And we aren’t completely off base, because both formal and informal English gardens abound in and around London.

During my weeklong trip, I set out to learn how I could get that “English garden look” in my own Midwest garden. In seven glorious days of strolling through the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, Europe’s largest demonstration garden at Wisley, the 100th anniversary of the Chelsea Flower Show, the formal gardens at Kensington Palace and more, I took more than 1,100 photos, including those you see here. This is what I discovered in my quest.

All English gardens, whether formal or informal in style, contain a few distinct elements. To adopt this look for your own Midwest garden, here is what you’ll need.


Whether you’re going for a formal or informal look, structure is the most essential element. English gardens may be natural looking, but they are actually quite controlled. Straight-edged beds, often cut into geometric patterns, are used instead of the informal curved beds that are common in the Midwest. In addition, natural materials, such as stone or wood, are used to construct walls, arches, trellises, small sheds or other hardscape elements within the garden. The strong, sturdy nature of these structures sets off the soft, billowy plants that surround them.

Structure is an essential element in English gardens. Formal-style gardens consist of straight-edged beds, often arranged in a geometric pattern, anchored by yew or boxwood topiaries.

Lawns and Hedges

“Lawns are important elements in most gardens, and the small strip of turf at the front of the border sets off the plantings,” said Chris Young, author of Take Chelsea Home (Octopus Publishing Group, 2013). Though English gardens often do not contain much lawn compared to the Midwest, the location of the lawn in relation to the garden is quite deliberate. It may be just a narrow strip between the garden and patio, just enough to draw the eye toward the beauty of the border.

Hedges are often planted along the edge of the lawn or used to outline garden rooms to provide a deliberate opening where the gardener wishes visitors to enter. Formal hedges typically consist of tightly clipped yews (Taxus spp.) or boxwoods (Buxus spp.), while informal hedges may be made of tall lavenders, such as ‘Provence’ (Lavandula xintermedia ‘Provence’).


Nearly all English gardens contain at least one piece of prominent sculpture. Formal gardens typically contain high-quality statuary, large urns or modern metalwork. Informal gardens may contain more whimsical statuary, perhaps a bit smaller in scale, but still prominent enough to be easily noticed.

“Look for a ‘natural’ place to set artwork, one that feels right and best creates the effect you are seeking,” said Philip Nash, a gold medal winner at the Chelsea Flower Show for his contemporary designs. “Is your sculpture meant to blend in with its surroundings or is to stand out?”

Formal English gardens prominently feature high-quality statuary, large urns or modern metalwork, such as this abstract sculpture of a woman, pictured here.

Annuals, Perennials, Bulbs and Flowering Shrubs

Both formal and informal English gardens contain a generous mix of annuals, perennials, bulbs, flowering shrubs and ornamental herbs. Formal gardens typically have larger groupings of fewer varieties, while informal ones blend many kinds of plants together in a similar sized space. 

The layered-planting technique is often employed in informal gardens. “The idea behind layered planting in the garden is to repeat the ecological patterns inherent in complex plant communities,” said designer Tom Stuart-Smith, who has garnered three Best of Show awards at Chelsea. “By adapting this natural pattern to a garden, it is possible to have different layers flowering at different times, usually with the lower layers flowering first.”

Informal English gardens contain a generous mix of annuals, perennials, bulbs, flowering shrubs and ornamental herbs repeated along the length of a border. This Hampton Court bed contains catmint (Nepeta x faassenii ‘Blue Wonder’), ornamental onions, columbine (Aquilegia x caerulea) and cushion spurge (Euphorbia polychroma).

The layered planting technique is often used in informal English gardens. Here, tall fritillarias are underplanted with white, orange and red tulips, yellow stock (Matthiola incana) and red and orange primroses.
The Layered Look. When using the layered planting technique in your garden, these kinds of plants will provide the English look:

Annuals: Pansies (Viola x wittrockiana), summer snapdragon (Angelonia angustifolia), stock (Matthiola incana).

Perennials: Tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), primroses (Primula spp.), English daisies (Bellis perennis), cranesbill (Geranium spp.), foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), delphinium (Delphinium elatum), lupines (Lupinus spp.), spike speedwell (Veronica spp.), columbine (Aquilegia spp.), poppies (Papaver orientalis), irises (several Iris species), wisteria (Wisteria frutescens, W. macrostachya), clematis (Clematis spp.).

Flowering Herbs: Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), catmint (Nepeta xfaassenii), bee balm (Monarda spp.).

Bulbs: Ornamental onion (Allium spp.), tulip (Tulipa spp.), fritillaria (Fritillaria imperialis), small camas (Camassia quamash).

Shrubs: Roses (Rosa spp.), azaleas and rhododendrons (Rhododendron spp.), boxwood (Buxus spp.), yew (Taxus spp.), hornbeam (Carpinus betulus).

Temperate Living

Island living is a breeze, so they say, and such is true on the temperate isle of the United Kingdom. Though you may picture England as cold and rainy, London is the equivalent of USDA Hardiness Zone 9. Snow is very rare and winters are very mild compared to the Midwest. As a result, they can grow just about anything in London.

When I visited in springtime, I was surprised to see that just as my lilacs (Syringa vulgaris), rhododendrons and azaleas and tulips were blooming at home, they also were blooming in London.

Blooming camellias (Camellia spp.) the size of trees, palms and other exotic plants we could only dream of growing were also thriving there. Everywhere we went we saw plants we’d never seen before, and new varieties of familiar ones, such as azaleas and primroses.

Although I cannot grow some of the plants I saw in London, it opened my eyes to the magnificent varieties of hardy perennials and shrubs there are in Europe that are not yet readily available in the Midwest. I’ll surely be inquiring about some of them from my favorite retailers next spring!

In temperate England, rhododendrons grow as big as trees!  In the Midwest, we can achieve a similar look with a saucer magnolia tree (Magnolia x soulangeana) underplanted with pink and purple azaleas and white rhododendrons and drumstick primroses (Primula denticulata).

When thinking of how you might incorporate English garden elements into your own Midwest landscape, remember that your garden is an expression of yourself, a home you create. As the 18th century literary genius Goethe exclaimed, “English gardens are not made to a plan, but to a feeling in the head.” If you ever visit London, don’t miss the chance to be inspired by its glorious gardens!

Plan Your Trip! Visit these outstanding London parks and gardens in six days:

Day One:
RHS Wisley Garden — Southwest London. Take the train to West Byfleet and then a taxi to the garden. Visiting this magnificent garden will take the entire day, but it is worth your time. It will set a very high standard for the rest of the gardens you’ll see this week. Be sure to leave enough time to check out the fantastic gift shop before it closes!

Day Two:
Chelsea Flower Show, Kensington Palace Gardens and Hyde Park — Central London. Take a double-decker bus (best views from the upper deck!) to the Royal Hospital Grounds in Chelsea. While at the Chelsea Flower Show, check out the incredible displays in the Great Pavilion — the gardening equivalent of New York City catwalks. When you tire of the crowds, head to the wide-open space of the Kensington Palace Gardens and the adjacent Hyde Park as you walk east, back toward central London.

Day Three:
Buckingham Palace Gardens, Green Park and St. James’s Park — Central London. All roads lead to Buckingham Palace, which lies in the heart of the royal Westminster area. Enjoy the day visiting the palace and the many gardens that surround it. Have a picnic lunch under the giant sycamore trees in St. James’s Park, but don’t feed the pigeons!

Day Four:
London Zoo and Regent’s Park — North Central London. Take the London Underground to Regent’s Park, where the famous London Zoo is set amid iconic British architecture and beautiful gardens. If walking back to Central London, stroll through the medieval village of Marylebone, where you’ll see impressive Georgian-style houses with lovely gardens.

Day Five:
Victoria Embankment Gardens and Hampton Court Palace and Gardens — Central and Southwest London. Before heading to the train station, walk through the Victoria Embankment gardens along the River Thames. Grab lunch there before catching the train to Hampton Court Palace and Gardens. When touring the palace, be sure to look out the windows for the best view of the large formal garden with hundreds of precisely trimmed yew topiaries, which represent soldiers in formation.

Day Six:
Kew Gardens — Southwest London. Take the train to Kew Bridge Station, about an hour outside of central London. Spend the day exploring the small village of Kew and the expansive 300-acre Royal Botanic Garden at Kew. You’ll marvel at the enormous Palm House, Japanese Garden and expansive collection of plants. If you’re not afraid of heights, take the Treetop Walkway through the magnificent canopy of mature trees. Instead of lunching at the crowded Kew cafe, head to the Kew Greenhouse Café just outside the gates for delectable homemade food.

The geometrically shaped formal beds at Kew Gardens are softened with a frothy layered planting of tulips, primroses, English daisies and violas.

From State-by-State Gardening November/December 2013. Photos by Susan Martin.


Posted: 07/23/14   RSS | Print


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Mailbox Gardens
by Patsy Bell Hobson       #Art   #Landscaping

No mowing, no weeding — just prune any winter damage to the rose each spring.

Mail boxes that stand at the end of the driveway are a “good morning sendoff” and the first “welcome home” we receive at the end of the day.

I have heard many people give directions to their homes that end with something along the lines of, “We are the mailbox with blue iris.”

Company and neighborhood walkers will instantly recognize your home by your little mailbox garden. Help first-time visitors or garage sale seekers know they are in the right spot with simple instructions. “We are the house in the middle of the block with the white mailbox and daisies.” Or, “Look for the mailbox with the red Knock Out roses.” As an added bonus, with a mailbox garden lawn weeds and the need to mow around the mailbox posts can be eliminated.

Mailbox art complements the soft color of the roses.

Use your current mailbox or upgrade to a new mailbox that is more up to date. Start your mailbox garden by making sure the mailbox is properly placed. Mailboxes must be placed according to very specific guidelines. Your landscape design must conform to these mailbox requirements. Place the roadside mailbox where a carrier can safely reach inside without leaving the truck. That means positioning it about 41 inches to 45 inches off the ground and back about 6-8 inches from the curb.

The Federal Highway Administration recommends a wooden mailbox support no bigger than 4 inches by 4 inches, or a 2-inch diameter standard steel or aluminum pipe. Bury the post no more than 24 inches deep, so it can give way in an accident.

First, outline or sketch out the area to be landscaped. Then remove any turf or sod by hand with a spade, with a sod cutter or with a weedwhacker. Next, cover that area with either landscape cloth or six to eight layers of overlapping sheets of newspaper. The purpose is to block out weeds and grass.

Then, the landscape cloth area is outlined with predrilled landscape timbers. The timbers are permanently stabilized by pounding in 1-foot rebar lengths through the predrilled timbers. You could also use concrete retaining wall blocks, which are readily available at garden centers or home improvement stores. Finally, finish the area by topping it with mulch or decorative rock.

Add a garage sale planter or a heavy, recycled flower pot to hold colorful annuals. Since this is a public area and the planter may disappear, don't choose a container that is valuable to you.

Two rows of 10 pavers each, two bags of potting soil and two six-packs of marigolds.

Make it is easy to follow the contours at mowing time.

Soon the petunias will tumble over the edges of the galvanized tub. Keep in mind, this container must be watered to keep it blooming all season

Chances are the mailbox garden is the farthest point from a faucet, watering can or hose. Keep your permanent plant selections to a few perennials that easily naturalize and require little or no care.

If you choose perennials, native plant selections or easily naturalized plants are a good choice. Plant iris, roses, daylilies or daffodils, all of which will continue to multiply and will not need regular fertilizer or water. Every three to five years, the little bed will need to be thinned.

You can also change your mailbox garden with the seasons. Dig a hole and drop in an empty liner or old empty plant container. This liner will remain as a permanent place holder for annual containers you can switch out. At the bottom of the hole, add a couple inches of mulch to promote drainage and retain moisture. Then drop in a small container or annuals — perhaps chrysanthemums for the fall, pansies in the spring and summer annuals like petunias for the summer.

Old-fashioned iris will continue to multiply to the driveway, stretching a block of color.

Only grow these sunflowers behind the mailbox and be prepared to prune branches that have gone astray.

Photos by Patsy Bell Hobson


Posted: 07/21/14   RSS | Print


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Midnight Marvel Rose Mallow
by Susan Martin       #Flowers   #Plant Profile   #Red

Midnight Marvel rose mallow is best used as a focal point, adding a flashy splash of color to the garden late in the season, when many other plants are past their prime.

If you’re looking for something to liven up your tired landscape in the dog days of summer when many other plants are past their peak, try the new Midnight Marvel rose mallow(Hibiscus hybrid). This breathtaking beauty will be the highlight of your garden with its dramatic wine-purple foliage and huge 8-9-inch round, deep scarlet red blossoms, which burst open from shiny, near-black buds.

Unlike its tropical cousins, rose mallow is a hardy perennial that is in its prime from summer through fall, going dormant in winter. It emerges late in the spring, often in late May in Michigan, but grows very quickly to form a bushy, shrub-like clump. When shopping for rose mallow, look for indeterminate blooming cultivars, which have buds all the way up the stem. These usually bloom for about three months beginning in mid to late July.

Common Name: Midnight Marvel rose mallow or perennial hibiscus

Botanical Name: Hibiscus ‘Midnight Marvel’

Type of Plant: Hardy perennial in USDA Zones 4-9

Bloom Time: Midsummer into early fall

Flower Color: Scarlet red

Size: 4 feet tall by 4  feet wide

Exposure: Full sun to light shade

Watering: Prefers consistent moisture. Water regularly for best results.

Soil: Any well-drained soil

When to Fertilize: Early summer, if desired

When to Prune: Cut back the woody stems in spring before new growth appears.

In Your Landscape: Leave plenty of space for this large perennial to grow into a beautiful single specimen.

From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue V. Photos courtesy of


Posted: 07/18/14   RSS | Print


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Bottlebrush Buckeye
by Joseph Tychonievich       #Hot Plants

These graceful rounded shrubs have beautiful, large, bold-textured foliage and elegant spikes of white flowers. That is enough to make you love the bottlebrush buckeye right there. Add the fact that it loves shade, resists deer AND blooms in midsummer when most shade gardens are looking a bit dull, and you’ve got yourself an essential plant. Oh, did I mention it is an Eastern U. S. native and has gorgeous yellow fall color? Yeah, you need this shrub. The growth habit is suckering, so it can slowly spread to form a large colony. Or, you can prune to keep it contained if you don’t have the space.


Common Name: Bottlebrush buckeye

Botanical Name: Aesculus parviflora

Color: White

Blooming Period: Late June to July

Type: Deciduous shrub

Size: 5 feet high and 6 to 8 feet wide

Exposure: Part shade to shade

Zone: 4-8

When to Plant: Spring or fall

Watering: Doesn’t require supplemental water once established.

When to Prune: After flowering in late summer or early fall

In Your Landscape: A graceful backdrop for a shade garden to provide summer interest. Bold leaves contrast well with the delicate textures of ferns.

From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue V. Photo by Joseph Tychonievich.


Posted: 07/11/14   RSS | Print


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Private Estate Embraces Nature’s Creative Edge
by Susan Martin       #Garden Profile

Nature’s Creative Edge host and floral designer Bob Friese, AIFD, relaxes in his woodland garden.

Nestled back in the woods of Fruitport, is a truly hidden gem unlike anything you’ve seen. Catch a glimpse just once and you’re sure to remember the experience. It’s called Nature’s Creative Edge, an outdoor exhibit of magical works of floral art woven through 5 acres of groomed woodlands.

The Nature’s Creative Edge event is held at the private, 100-acre estate of Bob Friese, once a prominent Chicago floral designer and professor of floral design. With world-renowned floral designer Hitomi Gilliam, they have taught budding designers how to create one-of-a-kind works of art using only things found in nature.

Dozens of floral designers and mixed media artists from Michigan to as far away as New Mexico make their way to Friese’s estate to assemble and exhibit their natural-made creations every year on the third weekend of September. In 2012, more than 1,000 event goers made their way into the woods to check out the artists’ work.

Each year brings a new theme for the artists, most of whom are members of the prestigious American Institute of Floral Design (AIFD). Past themes have included music, recycled materials, countries and last year’s theme of “Storybooks and Fairytales.” The 2013 theme was “Architectural Expressions,” floral designers’ concepts of a particular form of architecture, an architectural feature or a representation of a particular structure.

Artist Laura Parker, AIFD, interprets Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, including Max’s bedroom, sailboat and a “wild thing” swimming up the creek. 

The artists’ creations come alive in the evening when they are lit by candlelight. This interpretation of Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater is by Natalie, Anna and Eileen Carmolli. 

The floral artists are given the freedom to interpret the theme however they see fit using only all-natural materials, including all kinds of flowers, tropicals, vegetables, mosses, twigs, stones and more. The diversity among the artists is fascinating. In 2012, although some took a literal approach to the storybooks and fairytales theme, others chose to create more abstract works, which required onlookers to view more creatively to understand.

The Nature’s Creative Edge event is strategically open only from late afternoon through evening so the public will view the floral masterpieces as they were designed to be seen. Be sure to arrive while it is still light out and stay as evening falls to watch the exhibit in the woods come to life as thousands of candles are lit along the pathways and scattered amidst the works of art. The setting takes on an entirely different feel from day to night and you won’t want to miss either.

Longtime participant Debbie Strand, AIFD, interprets Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax using colorful mosses and tropical plants.

Arriving in late afternoon will also give you a chance to take a peek at Friese’s woodland garden, which he has been cultivating for the past decade. Enter through the pair of weeping blue junipers (Juniperus scopulorum ‘Tolleson’s Blue Weeping’) near the front porch. Note the healthy Korean dogwoods (Cornus kousa) skirted by hostas and hellebones(Helleborus spp.). Don’t miss Friese’s prize Koi pond, raised vegetable beds and rustic potting shed made from pieces of a disassembled barn. 

You might assume that deer would be a challenge for this woodland gardener, but Friese actually feeds the deer and not with his hostas. He finds that they prefer to stay down by the creek where wild vegetation and water is plentiful. “My philosophy is that if they don’t eat my plants, I won’t eat them,” says Friese. So far, deer have not been on the menu at the Friese household.

The seven dwarfs look on as Snow White faces off with her wicked stepmother in this floral translation by designer Debi Dawson, AIFD.

Nature’s Creative Edge is run by an all-volunteer staff who personify the 2012 event’s theme “Storybooks and Fairytales.” Pictured here is artist Bobbie Eckert (left) and Alice Waterous, AIFD, a Grand Haven, Mich., floral designer. 

Rapunzel, Rapunzel lets down her hair made of individually strung yellow rose petals in this dramatic interpretation by Susie Kostick, AIFD.

From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue IV. Photos by Susan Martin.


Posted: 07/09/14   RSS | Print


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Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’
by Joseph Tychonievich       #Hot Plants

If you know Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), you probably think of it as the weedy shrub that shows up along roadsides. ‘Quicksilver’ is a hybrid relative of that weed, decked out with astonishingly intense silver foliage that is absolutely breathtaking all summer. Like its weedy relative, it is insanely tough, tolerant of cold, heat and drought, the kind of plant you never need to worry about as long as you can give it a little sun. Luckily it is also sterile, so it doesn’t set seeds and never becomes an actual weed. Stick it in a difficult spot, watch it thrive and enjoy how strikingly the bright silver leaves set off the dark foliage and flowers of companion plants around it.

Common Name: Quick Silver russian olive

Botanical Name: Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’

Color: Silver

Type: Shrub

Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 though 9

Size: 6 by 6 feet

Exposure: Sun to part shade

When to Plant: Spring or fall

Soil: Any

Watering: None required once established

In Your Landscape: Silver foliage makes perfect backdrop for neighbors with dark foliage or flowers.

From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue IV. Photo courtesy of Joseph Tychonievich.


Posted: 07/04/14   RSS | Print


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A Plant Collector’s Landscape Design: Three Lessons Learned
by Joseph Tychonievich       #Landscaping

When I bought my last house, there was a half-dead rose bush, some stumps of dead arborvitaes and a lot of ugly fencing. I sold it last year after three and a half years, having created a garden in the front that I was rather pleased with. There are lots of tricks, rules and guidelines to making gardens, but here are three things that I feel helped me the most in creating this garden.

These lessons also will guide others who love and collect plants yet still need to have a respectable looking landscape.

Joseph Tychonievich’s former home (top), before he created garden beds (right).

Lesson One: Have a Nursery Bed

Nursery bed is what I call it, but I know people who call theirs an orphanage or, most poetically, Plopper’s Field. Whatever you call it, it is an out-of-the-way place where you can put plants that don’t have a home. I’m an obsessive plant collector, always buying new things to experiment with and see how they do.

Before, they’d always wind up in my landscape somewhere, creating a random patchwork of one of this and one of that, half of which weren’t really adapted to my climate, and none of which really looked much like a garden. Now when I pick up a plant that I don’t know what to do with or am not sure will actually grow well for me, it goes in the nursery bed, leaving my actual landscaping open for plants that I know will perform and look good together.

Plant lovers should establish a section of their landscape for a nursery bed, Plopper’s Field or other holding area for plants purchased on impulse to trial before moving to their permanent landscape home.

Large, lavender alliums (Allium giganteum) contrast nicely with the texture of the bold-leaf cardoon (Cynara cardunculus). Sprays of bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’) add a bit of froth.

Lesson Two: More is More

The oft-repeated rule is to plant no fewer than three of each plant and it is a good one. My personal variant on it is to plant most things in groups of at least six, and repeat those main plants many times throughout the bed.

In one garden, bold, silver-leaved cardoons; dark, ferny bronze fennel; and sweeps of bulbs are repeated throughout the space, making the garden hang together and look intentional. With the theme of the bed established, clumps of solo plants — a crocosmia here, a bearded iris there — look like well-planned accents, rather than the plant nerd’s impulse purchases they actually are.

Lesson Three: Less is Also More

I’m not a confident designer and the easiest way I’ve found to make a grouping of plants that looks good together is to simply forbid myself certain colors. In this bed, the forbidden colors are yellow and orange (with the exception of the orange tulip ‘Princess Irene’, which I simply love too much to ever forbid from any garden space for any reason) both in flowers and in foliage. The end result is harmonious and feels surprisingly sophisticated, and didn’t require any deep thought or color schemes on my part.

The only orange allowed in the front garden are the ‘Princess Irene’ tulips (Tulipa). Editing color is one way to make a bed cohesive.

The summer garden is a mix of textures and plants, which punctuate the scene, such as the red flowers of Crocosmia.

From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue IV. Photos by Joseph Tychonievich.


Posted: 07/02/14   RSS | Print


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Grow Your Own Cutting Garden in as Little as 32 Square Feet
by Barbara Eaton, M.Ed.       #Advice

If you’re like me, you never tire of having fresh flowers in the house, and the more grand the floral arrangement, the better.

The solution for me has been planting a dedicated cutting garden. In a sunny spot as small as 32 square feet (a space 4 feet by 8 feet), a well-planned cutting garden can produce enough blooms to keep me sated all season long. If you have a spot that is tucked away behind a garage or in a remote corner of your property where it is not highly visible, you can cut away and not spoil your perfect floral landscape.

In August, this 32-square-foot cutting garden features a wide variety of flower shapes, colors and textures of both annuals and perennials.

In late September, the same garden boasts white and deep pink cosmos, pink dahlias, red zinnias. In the center back you can see some feathery asparagus foliage that provides some delicate touches to bouquets.

Don’t underestimate the value of shorter varieties, which can make beautiful “mini-bouquets” that are very attractive for table centerpieces. My mini-bouquets, which feature mint for fragrance, are my best-selling item at farmers’ markets, and are the perfect size for small bathrooms or bedside tables. Herbs of any kind can be added to your bouquets to create a natural air-freshener.

Look for the cultivars listed below at your local garden centers or hire a local greenhouse to start some from your own seeds. I have a greenhouse owner start my snapdragons in late February; ageratum, cosmos, zinnias and sunflowers in April. I direct sow my larkspurs outdoors in fall or early April.

When purchasing annual flower plants, choose plants that are not mature, and have not yet begun blooming. If annuals are already blooming in their small containers they are likely stunted. These plants often never recover to grow as large and lush as they should and remain spindly and small. This is particularly true for snapdragons. Make sure you harden off any plants that have come from a greenhouse, or shade them from the bright sun (with an inverted flower pot or a paper bag) after you put them in the ground for a day or two. I still shade almost everything I plant for at least two days unless the weather is very cloudy and cool.

The basic design rules for ornamental plantings apply. Plant taller cultivars to the north of other plants so they won’t shade the shorter ones. Taller flowers such as sunflowers, cosmos and zinnias will need staking. Planting these flowers against a fence for support or in tomato cages can minimize the need to tie up plants. Even some of the medium-height flowers may need some staking to keep them from being knocked down by heavy rains.

This is a list of many great bloomers, both perennial and annual varieties, all of which I have grown in Zone 5. If you are in warmer zones, you have many more varieties to choose from. Seed catalogs often tell you if a cultivar is a good cutting variety. If they don’t, you can usually find that information with a quick internet search.

  • Zinnia: (Annual) Choose easy-to-grow, time-tested varieties like ‘Cut and Come Again’, ‘Will Rogers’ and ‘Lavender Queen’. For a slightly smaller, shorter zinnia try ‘Lilliput’.
  • Cosmos: (Annual) A mid to late season annual. Best varieties for maximum blooms are ‘Bright Lights’ and ‘Sensation Mixed’. There are many new multi-colored and double flowered varieties.

  • These two fabulous annuals are Burpees' ‘French Vanilla’ marigold and ‘Horizon Blue’ ageratum. Both are easy to grow and will supply an abundance of flowers continuously from July until frost.
    Marigolds (Tagetes spp.): (Annual) Try some of the taller varieties like the pale yellow ‘French Vanilla’ and ‘Red Metamorph’.
  • Branching Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus): (Annual) Good choices include ‘Pan’, ‘Sonja’, ‘Evening Sun’, ‘Lemon Queen’ and ‘Tiger Eye’. Pollen-less varieties are available and are often spectacular, but they rarely produce more than one flower.
  • Coreopsis: (Perennial) I especially love the relatively new pale yellow cultivars that cover themselves with dozens of blooms all summer and into fall.
  • Gaillardias: (Perennial) These are cheery, hardy bloomers are now available in several great colors. This is another flower that keeps on giving over a very long season.
  • Chrysanthemum: (Perennial) This is fall bloomer that will yield a plethora of blooms right up until the hard frosts. If you buy plants in the fall, be sure to get them in the ground early enough while there is still enough warm weather to allow their roosts to get established.
  • Sage or salvia: (Perennial and Annual) ‘May Night’, rose sage (Salvia pachyphylla) and meadow sage (Salvia pratensis) are perennials that will bloom twice and sometimes three times in warmer zones.
  • Buddleia or butterfly bush: (Perennial Shrub) A tall continuous-blooming shrub that is hardy and won't take up a great deal of space. Shorter dwarf varieties are now available.
  • Hydrangeas: (Perennial Shrub) There are many varieties and most thrive in partial shade or a half-day of shade. Varieties that are great in full sun are ‘Tardiva’ and ‘Pink Diamond’. When choosing hydrangeas for cutting, check the cultivar to be sure it is one that will bloom each year on new wood.
  • Lillies (Lilium spp.): (Perennial) Both Asiatic and Oriental species are spectacular cut flowers that will grow from the same bulb year after year.Snapdragons (Antirrhinum spp.): (Annual) The best snapdragons I have found for repeat blooming are the Ribbon series, which are a naturally branching variety. The new Twinny series, although they are short, have a fairly long bloom season and the blooms are large. ‘Black Prince’ is a great rebloomer, too. Snaps do not thrive in hot dry weather, but can be planted in partly shaded locations.
  • Ageratum: (Annual) For beautiful foliage and continuous blooms, Ageratum ‘Blue Horizon’ really delivers. It is a tall variety reaching 30 inches by the end of the season. Its attractive, thick foliage can be used as filler in the vase and to artfully hide the foliage of other flowers when it begins to turn brown. This variety is rarely available at garden centers, but you can buy seeds and start your own. It is easy to grow but needs very warm weather to germinate.
  • Larkspur (Consolida ajacis): (Annual) For a vivid blue-purple, think about the annual ‘Sublime Dark Blue’. Although they have a relatively short bloom time, they are tall, slender plants with fine foliage and they won’t take up much space in your garden. Best of all, they germinate readily if planted in very cool weather and will reseed themselves; so if you learn to recognize the small seedlings and refrain from weeding them, you'll have volunteers year after year.

  • For grand-scale bouquets, dahlias and hydrangeas will deliver. Also, great choices  for large-scale floral design are lilies, peonies and sunflowers.
    Dahlias: (Perennial) Wonders never cease! This family is perhaps the most prolific in its ability to generate new blooms every day. Although not long-lived in the vase, their perfect symmetry is truly inspiring to behold. This flower grows from a tuber, which must be dug up before it freezes and stored dry through winter at temperatures above freezing. Dahlias come in varying heights with small, medium or dinner-plate sized blooms.
  • Peonies: (Perennial) For big, fragrant blooms, peonies can’t be beat. They flower only once in late spring.
  • Ornamental grasses: (Perennial) Most of the ornamental grasses yield interesting feathery flower tops that work well in bouquets. Be sure to check the specifications to be sure the varieties you choose will be perennial in your zone.
  • Ornamental grains: The deep burgundy spikes featured in my small garden are a variety of ornamental amaranth, one of my favorite items to add interest and texture to my bouquets. A relatively small, annual variety that self-seeds is ‘Marvel Bronze’, which is a dark red and very attractive. However, it does droop in very hot weather.
  • For shade, Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis), astilbe, Siberian iris (Iris sibirica) and small hydrangeas, all of which are perennials, will perform well in the vase. 
  • Spring-blooming bulbs: (Perennials) Although it's too late to plant bulbs for this spring, plan now for fall when you can nestle spring-blooming bulbs deep in the soil in places where your annuals have gone to seed. Good cut flower choices are daffodils and other Narcissus spp., alliums, Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica), hyacinths (Hyacinthus spp.) and tulips (Tulipa spp.). Bulbs can be planted very close to perennials and around the base of small shrubs or climbing vines. Even shorter flowers such as grape hyacinths (Muscari spp.) are great for little bouquets.

Now all you need are a few vases, and you will be ready to bring the beauty indoors.

Short varieties can be used to make cheerful mini-bouquets that fit perfectly into a coffee mug. This one features a red dahlia, red zinnias, ‘French Vanilla’ marigolds, ‘Creme Brulee’ coreopsis, and mint for filler and fragrance.

This mini-bouquet contrasts a white hydrangea against the dark red cosmos and spikes of Amaranth ‘Marvel Bronze’.

This bright beautiful bouquet came from the October garden. The tiny lavender floret is Verbena bonariensis, which may be perennial in Zone 6 or in a protected place in Zone 5.

Photos by Barbara Eaton.


Posted: 06/30/14   RSS | Print


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Monarda ‘Pardon My Pink’ and ‘Pardon My Purple’
by Susan Martin       #Hot Plants

The cheerful pink flowers of ‘Pardon My Pink’ bee balm (Monarda didyma) attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

At just under a foot tall, ‘Pardon My Purple’ bee balm (Monarda didyma) is the perfect size for patio containers.

Gardeners have long had a love/hate relationship with bee balm (Monarda spp.). The fragrant perennial herb attracts butterflies and hummingbirds like crazy, but also tends to get powdery mildew and take over the garden. That is, until now. 

There’s a new set of bee balms that offers everything you love and nothing you hate about these pretty summer bloomers. Introducing ‘Pardon My Pink’ and ‘Pardon My Purple’. These dwarf selections stay put in the garden and resist disease with all their might. Although they only grow 12 inches tall, their flowers are as big as those on taller varieties. And these never need staking. 



Common Name: Bee balm or bergamot

Botanical Name: Monarda didyma ‘Pardon My Pink’ and ‘Pardon My Purple’

Type of Plant: Perennial herb

Hardiness Zone: 4 through 9

Bloom Time: Midsummer through late summer

Flower Color: Bright pink, fuchsia purple

Size: 10 to 12 inches tall, 8 to 12 inches wide

Exposure: Full sun to light shade

Watering: Average to consistent moisture required.

Soil: Best in organically enriched soils.

When to Fertilize: Fertilize lightly in early spring.

When to Prune: Not required

In Your Landscape: Adds a cheerful splash of color to the front of the border. Try them in containers or in the garden paired with black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia spp.) and tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata).

From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue IV. Photos courtesy of


Posted: 06/27/14   RSS | Print


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by Laura G. Jull       #Feature

Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’ 1

What other plant captivates your senses and evokes fond memories of springtime more than lilacs? The intense fragrance of their large, beautiful flowers and their relative ease of care, make lilacs treasured throughout the temperate world. They bring us a few weeks of fabulous color and fragrance each year, but their loveliness and charm leave lifetime memories.

Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’ lilac is considered one of the best dwarf lilacs on the market.1

Lilacs (Syringa spp.) come in all different shapes and sizes from dwarf forms only 4 to 5 feet tall, to lilac trees, 25 to 30 feet tall. Lilacs can be mixed in the border with other deciduous shrubs, conifers, herbaceous perennials, bulbs, ground covers and annuals to extend and enhance the season of color.

Tree lilacs make terrific, urban-tolerant street trees, which offer shade on hot summer days. Smaller, slower-growing lilacs are perfect for most residential landscapes. They can be used in shrub beds or as foundation plants. They can also be planted in containers and placed on decks and patios. Lilacs tolerate very cold winters, hot summers, humidity and almost any well-drained soil. They do require full sun for good flower bud set.

Care of Lilacs

Lilacs require at least six hours of direct sunlight a day during the growing season to properly set flower buds for the following spring. The amount of sunlight determines the plant’s appearance and quantity of flowers. Lilacs planted in too much shade will either flower poorly or not at all. Do not crowd lilacs because they will grow tall and leggy with sparse flowering. The planting site should be large enough to accommodate the full-grown root system and the mature height and spread of the plant.

Some lilacs are prone to diseases, especially powdery mildew, which appears as white powder on the leaves. Spores of the fungus are most active when the weather is hot and humid and the air is stagnant. Certain species and cultivars of lilac are more susceptible than others to powdery mildew. It is important when selecting and planting lilacs to choose resistant varieties and plant them in full sun with good air flow to minimize these disease.

Lilacs are tolerant of a wide range of pH and soil conditions, but require good drainage. Poorly drained soil will result in little growth, poor flowering and gradual deterioration. This decline occurs over several years. If the soil is poorly drained, consider improving it with the addition of topsoil or organic matter (peat, composted leaf mulch or compost) to the planting hole or plant in raised beds with good soil.

Water and Fertilizer

Newly planted lilacs should be watered two to three times a week for the first month. After the first month, they should be watered deeply once a week. During periods of hot, dry weather, watering may need to be done more frequently. Most trees and shrubs benefit from 1 inch of water a week during the growing season, but do not over water lilacs because root diseases may develop.

Do not fertilize newly planted lilacs. Plants first need to establish a developed root system to support further growth. After this time, perhaps for two or three years, fertilization may be needed if the plant does not begin to grow more vigorously. A soil test should be performed to determine if phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) are limited. If so, a complete fertilizer such as 5-10-5 or 10-10-10 may be applied at the base of the plant, following labeled application rates. Do not over fertilize or use fertilizers containing high levels of nitrogen (N). This can cause excessive shoot and foliage growth at the expense of flower bud development. Apply any necessary fertilizer after the spring- flowering period.

Add a 2-to-3 inch layer of loose mulch around the base of the plant to help retain the soil moisture, keep the roots cool and suppress weed development. Take care to keep the mulch away from the trunk of the tree or basal portions of shrub stems to enable good air circulation. Otherwise, disease infections, pest infestations and damage by rodents may occur where the mulch is piled to closely to the bark.


Pruning lilacs will depend on bloom period, growth pattern and location. Newly planted lilacs will not need much pruning for the first two to three years. Established lilacs are usually best pruned during the late dormant season, typically March or early April. This time of year allows for ease in pruning because you can see what you are doing, there is less insect and disease activity and pruning wounds close more quickly with the onset of spring growth. However, pruning at this time will sacrifice some display because you are removing flower buds. Pruning can also be done immediately after flowering, if you do not want to sacrifice any blooms. However, if you wait too long into the summer to prune, you will remove next year’s flower buds.

Syringa vulgaris ‘Frederick Law Olmstead’ 1

Lilacs that sucker readily, such as common and early lilacs (S. vulgaris and S. xhyacinthiflora) should receive renewal pruning about every two to three years. Older, larger diameter branches tend to have reduced vigor and produce fewer flowers concentrated mainly at the tops of the branches – too tall to enjoy their beauty or fragrance. Larger branches are also more prone to lilac borer infestation at their base. This insect makes its way into the branch cambium and wood. As the insect eats the wood, the branch becomes weaker, leaves yellow and the branch begins to die. Few, if any, flowers are produced the following years. The best way to control this insect pest is to periodically cut the infested, weakened branches out.

Renewal pruning involves removal of around one-third of the largest diameter branches down to ground level with a pruning saw or loppers. Removal of these larger branches greater than 1  inch in diameter promotes new shoot development at the base of the plant.

Renewal pruning allows the lilac to continue to flower vigorously each year and maintains the size of the plant. Vigorous young growth generally produces larger and more numerous flowers compared to the older, larger diameter branches.

Prompt deadheading of faded blooms will improve a plant’s appearance and help the lilac concentrate its energy into flower bud formation and not on seed production. For smaller lilacs that do not sucker, renewal—pruning is unnecessary, only annual shaping of the plant may be needed.

For those interested in learning more about lilacs, consider joining the International Lilac Society (ILS) at

Sampler of small to medium-sized lilacs for home gardens and containers. Most of these bloom mid- to late May.

Syringax hyacinthiflora: early flowering lilac in early May, suckering, hardy to Zone 3a

‘Declaration’: single dark reddish-purple flowers 7 to 8 ft. tall, 6 to 7 ft. wide, deep burgundy fall color hardy to Zone 4b*
‘Excel’: single, bluish-pink to lilac-lavender flowers; 6 to 8 ft. tall and wide; burgundy-red fall color*
’Sister Justina’: single, pure white flowers; 8 ft. tall and wide*

Syringa oblatavars. dilatata ‘Cheyenne’: early Korean lilac with single, light blue flowers in early May: 6 to 8 ft. tall, 8 to 10 ft. wide; suckering; burgundy-red fall color; hardy to Zone 3a*

Syringa FairytaleSeries®: 4 to 6 ft. tall, 5 to 6 ft. wide; nonsuckering; hardy to Zone 5a and can rebloom sporadically in summer
‘Bailbelle’ Tinkerbelle®: single, deep pink flowers fading to medium pink*
‘Bailina’ Thumbelina®: single, light pink flowers fading to white*
‘Bailming’ Prince Charming®: single, reddish-purple flowers fading to lavender-pink*
‘Bailsugar’ Sugar Plum Fairy®: single, rosy-lilac pink flowers*

‘Josée’ (S. ‘MORjos 060F ‘): single, light lavender pink to deep rose flowers fading to a lighter rose color; can rebloom sporadically in summer; 4 to 6 ft. tall, 5 to 6 ft. wide; non-suckering, hardy to Zone 4a*

Syringax laciniata, cutleaf lilac: single, light lavender flowers; 5 to 6 ft. tall, 8 to 10 ft. wide; suckering; hardy to Zone 4b*

Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’: single, dark pinkish to light purple flowers; can rebloom sporadically in summer; 4 to 5 ft. tall, 5 to 6 ft. wide; nonsuckering; maroon-purple fall color; hardy to Zone 4a*

Syringa pubescens subsp. julianae, Juliana lilac: nonsuckering, hardy to Zone 3b
‘George Eastman’: bright reddish-pink flowers fading to lighter pink, 6 to 8 ft. tall and wide*
‘Hers’: single, lavender to pinkish flowers; semi-weeping form; 5 to 6 ft. tall, 10 to 12 ft. wide*
‘Karen’: single, fragrant, white to soft light pink flowers; 5 to 6 ft. tall and wide*

Syringa pubescens subsp. microphylla ‘Superba’: single, rosy-pink flowers fading to lighter pink flowers; can rebloom sporadically in summer; 5 to 7 ft. tall, 8 to 10 ft. wide; nonsuckering, hardy to Zone 5a*

Syringa pubescens subsp. patula ‘Miss Kim’: single, light lilac-violet to lavender flowers; 6 to 8 ft. tall and wide; nonsuckering; burgundy fall color; hardy to Zone 3b*

Syringa pubescens subsp. patula ‘Miss Kim’ 1

Syringa ‘Red Pixie’: single, dark reddish-pink to magenta flowers fading to light pink; can rebloom sporadically in summer; 4 to 6 ft. tall, 5 to 6 ft. wide; nonsuckering, hardy to Zone 4a*

Syringa vulgaris: common lilac, suckering, all hardy to Zone 3a
‘Albert F. Holden’: single, deep violet to purple flowers; 6 to 8 ft. tall and 8 ft. wide
‘Alvan R. Grant’: single, purple, cupped flowers; 6 to 8 ft. tall and wide
‘Arch McKean’: single, dark reddish-purple to dark magenta flowers; 8 ft. tall and wide; fewer suckers*
‘Fiala Remembrance’: double, satiny, creamy-white flowers; 6 to 8 ft. tall, 8 ft. wide; fewer suckers*
‘Flower City’: single, deep violet-purple, cupped flowers; 8 ft. tall and wide*
‘Frederick Law Olmsted’: single, satiny, white flowers; 5 to 7 ft. tall and wide*
‘Lucie Baltet’: single, light coral pink flowers; 6 to 8 ft. tall, 8 ft. wide*
‘Marie Frances’: single, pink flowers; 6 to 8 ft. tall and wide*
‘Prairie Petite’: smaller, single, lavender-purple flowers; very compact; 3 to 4 ft. tall and wide
‘Rochester’: single, creamy-white, multi-petaled flowers; 6 to 8 ft. tall, 8 to 10 ft. wide*
‘Wedgwood Blue’: single, Wedgwood blue flowers; 8 ft. tall, 6 to 8 ft. wide
‘Wonderblue’, aka ‘Little Boy Blue’: single, sky-blue flowers; 5 to 6 ft. tall and wide*
‘Yankee Doodle’: single, large, very dark purple flowers; 6 to 8 fet tall and wide

vulgaris ‘Yankee Doodle’ 1

Syringa vulgaris ‘Wonderblue’ 2

Syringa (Villosae Group) ‘Minuet’: flowers in late May to early June; single, light lavender-purple flowers; 6 to 7 ft. tall, 4 to 6 ft. wide; nonsuckering, hardy to Zone 3b*

*Indicates resistant to powdery mildew.


1. Photo courtesy of Laura G. Jull.
2. Photo courtesy of Knight Hollow Nursery.

From State-by-State Gardening May/June 2013.


Posted: 06/25/14   RSS | Print


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Double Zahara Fire
by Mark A. Konlock       #Hot Plants

Double Zahara Fire and Cherry zinnias make a winning combination.

Common Name: Double Zahara Fire and Double Zahara Cherry zinnias

Botanical Name: Zinnia marylandica ‘Pas553645’ (Double Zahara Fire and Double Zahara Cherry)

Cultivars to Look For: Also Double Zahara Strawberry ‘Pas553643’

Color: Fire is orange, Cherry is magenta, and Strawberry is magenta with whitish inner petals.

Blooming Period: Early summer into fall

Type: Annual, not winter hardy

Size: 12 to 14 inches tall and 12 inches wide

Exposure: Full sun

When to Plant: Start seeds indoors four to six weeks before the last frost, or directly after. Or buy transplants.

How to Plant: Lightly cover seed, water in, follow seed pack instructions

Soil: Average garden soil

Watering: 1 inch per week including rainfall; fairly drought tolerant

When to Fertilize: Prepare planting bed with 1 inch of compost, or use a slow-release fertilizer per package.

In Your Landscape: Plant in masses, among perennials, in containers or cottage and cutting gardens.

From Wisconsin Gardening Volume II Issue III. Photos courtesy of Mark A. Konlock.


Posted: 06/20/14   RSS | Print


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Selecting Woody Plants for an Edible Landscape
by Patti Marie Travioli       #Feature

With careful selection, your landscape can be beautiful while also providing you with a bountiful harvest. Apples, pears, peaches and plums have their place in the edible landscape, but you may enjoy growing minor fruit crops or newer introductions, as well. Consider your site and growing conditions before adding these common to unusual woody plants to your landscape.


My all-time favorite edible woody plant is the highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum). Hardy in Zones 3 to 7, it has a naturally oval to rounded shape that can grow up to 8 feet tall under ideal conditions. 

The white urn-shaped flowers bloom in spring and look like ringing bells as bees visit them. You need to plant at least two varieties for optimum pollination and fruit set. This antioxidant-rich berry has many cultivars, which produce early, mid and late season. Blueberries are eaten fresh, used in jams, pies and baked goods. 

They are easy to freeze for use in the later winter months. They prefer an acidic soil with a pH ranging from 4.5 to 5.5, so plant them with other acid-loving plants. Amend your soil to reduce pH as necessary. Depending on the variety, the blueberry’s brilliant bright red-orange color makes a bold statement in the autumn landscape.   

Highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) provide brilliant autumn color. 1

Paw paw tree flower. 2


A multistemmed shrub or small tree producing an almost tropical-type fruit is the pawpaw (Asimina triloba). Favored by many, paw paws are native to the eastern United States and are hardy in USDA Zones 5 through 8. 

Naturally growing as an understory tree 15 to 20 feet tall, pawpaw prefers early morning sun, but will tolerate full sun. Inconspicuous maroon-colored flowers appear in spring before the large showy leaves unfold, making this an attractive choice for the landscape. You will need at least two unrelated trees for pollination. In nature pawpaws tend to form colonies in moist soils near rivers. 

Fruits begin to ripen in early fall turning a yellowish-brown black. The flesh resembles a banana with a creamy texture and similar flavor. Eat these fresh because they don’t have much of a shelf life.

Harvesting the whole fruit cluster from this elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) will ensure less damage to fruits. 3


Another native species to grow in your landscape is the elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), which produces a cluster of beautiful, purple fruits high in vitamin C, starting in late August. S. nigra is the European species of elderberry.

These fruits, used fresh or dried, are highly valued by Native Americans for medicinal and food use and to make wine, pies, jams and sauces. Elderberry is considered a small tree or a large shrub growing 5 to 12 feet tall, depending on the species. Elderberry is the 2013 Herb of the Year.

Elderberry is quite winter hardy and have a wide range growing in Zones 3 through 9. Pruning out old canes is the most common task a gardener will need to perform during the dormant season to make elderberry a good border or background shrub. Without pruning, the plant may tend to have a wild look. Do not eat the fruit from Sambucus racemosavarieties, which produces a red berry. This fruit is toxic.

Goji Berry

Newest for the edible landscape is the goji berry (Lycium barbarum). Native to China, it is hardy from Zones 5 to 8, with some cultivars showing promise in Zone 3. This shrub can grow 8 to 10 feet tall and 5 to 7 feet wide. It can be pruned to grow on an arbor or trellis, or planted in a container to keep small and to control growth. 

Some gardeners have had success overwintering these plants left in the container. Goji berry prefers an average soil pH of 7.0 and likes to grow in full sun. Its purple inflorescence easily identifies it as a member of the nightshade (Solanaceae)family.         

The little teardrop-shaped orange berry is about the size of a small pea. It has become one of the most popular “super fruits,” high in antioxidants. The fruit, which has a slight tomato flavor, can be eaten fresh or dried. Look for new introductions from breeders and specialty growers this year if you haven’t seen goji berries in your local garden centers.

Goji berry (Lycium barbarum) flowers are similar to others in the Solanacea, or nightshade family. The small orange fruits of the goji berry (Lycium barbarum) are high in antioxidants. 3

When selecting woody plants for your garden, consider choosing plants that offer an edible option, as well as adding natural beauty to your landscape. Many species that are native to your region already provide edibles that have been gathered and used throughout history. Finding the right plant for your landscape style is the best place to start.

More Edible Woody Plants To Try:

Check with your local garden center, conserv-ation organization or state extension for varieties or cultivars that are best suited for your region. If you can’t find plants locally, explore the Internet for mail-order retailers.

· Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana): Large, 30-foot tall tree; fruits for fresh eating; Zones 4-9.

· Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas): Small tree; fruits eaten fresh or in jams; Zones 2-7.

· Saskatoon serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia): Small tree or large shrub; fruits for jams; Zones 2-7.

· Hardy kiwi (Actinidia arguta): Perennial vine; need male and female plant; Zones 4-8.

Saskatoon bears fruit in summer. 4

Persimmon fruit is frequently used in pie. 5

Hardy kiwi grows on a vine. 6


1. Photo courtesy of Patti Marie Travioli
2. Photo courtesy of Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
3. Photo courtesy of Patti Marie Travioli
4. Photo courtesy of Scott Prokop/Fotolia
5. Photo courtesy of Wasowski Collection/
6. Photo courtesy of Park Seed

From State-by-State Gardening March/April 2013.


Posted: 06/18/14   RSS | Print


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Garden Mailbox
by Patsy Bell Hobson       #Tools

A green mailbox blends right into the garden environment.

The Tiny Tool Shed

Pruners are handy when you just have a small job that is not worth a trip to the garage or garden shed.

Plant a mailbox in the garden and you can keep garden tools in the garden, right where you need them.

When the old mailboxes were replaced in the neighborhood, they were recycled into small “onsite garden storage units.” The garden mailbox is a good gathering place for storing garden tools and accessories. It could save you endless trips to the shed or garage for a garden tool.

As a reference point, the typical mailbox mounting height is between 40-44 inches, according to the United States Post Office. But you can place your mailbox toolbox as high or a low as you choose.

Choose a site for your mailbox post. Then call the utility companies to make sure it is safe to dig in that spot. Find your state's "One Call" number — check online, in the front of a phone book or call 811, the national Call Before You Dig number to call before digging. (See sidebar.)

Multitasking Mailboxes

If the right garden tool is handy, it's more likely that the task will be completed. This time of the year, you should always keep a ball of garden twine and pruners in the mailbox so you can keep control of those unwieldy tomato vines.

Add a hose hanger onto the sturdy mailbox post. Include a cup hook if you drink your morning coffee in the garden. Keep hand tools inside the mailbox and you can lean long handled tools against the post.

Let the mailbox be the sturdy support that tall or wispy flowers will need. Circle the mailbox post with hollyhocks for example. Circle the plants with garden twine and anchor them to the post.

Make the mailbox yours by painting it a favorite color. You can also install a flag holder. Or perhaps you can build a mini raised bed or flower box around the base. Or add a windsock or weather vane to the post. Attach a rain gauge and create your own mini weather station.

Accessorize the mailbox by adding personal touches like this rain gauge.

The little lizard was originally a drawer pull from the hardware store.
Call Before You Dig

Before digging deeply to install your “mailbox mini tool shed,” call the local underground utility locators. One phone call to 811, the national Call Before You Dig number (or visit the websites listed below), will kick off the process and get underground utility lines marked. Local One Call Center personnel will then notify affected utility companies. They will send local crews to mark underground lines for free.

Pennsylvania One Call System, Inc. — 811 or (800) 242-1776,

Ohio Utilities Protection Service —811 or (800) 362-2764,

Missouri One Call System 811 or (800) 344-7483,

Indiana 811 — 811 or (800) 382-5544,

In all other states, visit

Curious about those colorful stripes they spray paint on the yard? Follow this color code translation to learn what is buried underground.

Red – Electric
Orange – Communications, Telephone, Cable TV
Blue – Potable Water
Green – Sewer/Drainage
Yellow – Gas/Petroleum Pipe Line
Purple – Reclaimed Water
White – Premark site of intended excavation

Installing the Post

Materials needed:

Gloves and safety glasses
One pressure treated wood mailbox post (4 by 4 inches)
5-gallon bucket
Measuring pail
Posthole digger
50 pounds of all-purpose gravel
50 pounds of Quikrete fast-setting concrete

1. Dig the posthole about 12 inches wide. The depth of the hole should be 1/3 the post height above ground (for example, a 6-foot-tall post would require a hole depth of at least 2 feet).

2. Add about 6 inches of gravel into the bottom of the hole. Then, compact it to level the gravel.

3. Set the post into the hole. Use a level to position the post perfectly upright.

4. Fill hole (with the post in place) with the 50-pound bag of fast-setting concrete. Fill up to 4 inches below ground level.

5. Pour a gallon of water into the hole. Water will saturate the concrete mix. The post will be set hard in 20 to 40 minutes.

6. Wait for at least 6 hours, (overnight is better) before adding the mailbox to the post.


Photos courtesy of Patsy Bell Hobson.


Posted: 06/16/14   RSS | Print


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Updating an Overgrown Landscape
by Lisa Steinkopf       #Landscaping

The finished job shows off the beauty of the home instead of covering it up.

As some landscapes age, they begin to look overgrown and unattractive. Many times the landscaping was done incorrectly, resulting in the need for a new landscape sooner than would have otherwise been needed.

This Michigan landscape was installed less than 15 years ago. In this instance, the plants were encroaching on each other and the house. When new homes are built, occasionally the builder may landscape the home instead of hiring a professional landscape contractor. This can result in a landscape that may look good in the beginning, but is definitely not attractive a few years later. The wrong plants are used or they are planted too close to the house, a driveway or sidewalk.

Right Plant Right Place

Knowing the mature size of a plant or shrub is a critical part of the landscaping process. At this home, the crabapple tree (Malus spp.) was planted 5   feet from the corner of the house. The mature size is 20 feet wide, so you can see the problem. The homeowner has been fighting a losing battle trying to keep the crabapple off his home.

The junipers(Juniperus spp.) were hiding the windows and had grown together and into the bird’s nest spruce (Picea abies ‘Nidiformis’) next to them. The Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas) tree grew too large for the spot it was planted in and, because it was leaning toward the light, was blocking the sidewalk.

This homeowner wanted a complete redesign, incorporating lots of color and not a lot of maintenance.

The crabapple had overgrown its space.

Get A Plan

The first step was to draw a plan that included removing all the plants and starting with a blank slate. All the plants were pulled out and the bed lines were enlarged and reshaped. Plants were chosen so that when full grown, they would fill in but not overcrowd the area.

The customer chose a Cleveland Select ornamental pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Cleveland Select’, syn. ‘Chanticleer’) as a replacement for the crabapple. The planting bed was enlarged so the tree trunk would be about 12 feet from the house. When full grown, it should not touch the house. The tree is surrounded with Red Drift roses (Rosa ‘Meigalpio’), which are low growing, low maintenance and provide color all summer. A hedge of Winter Gem boxwoods (Buxus microphylla var.japonica ‘Winter Gem’) was added, to tie the two sides of the sidewalk together. These evergreen boxwoods will add some winter interest. We made sure to plant the boxwoods so the hedge would be level. This, quite often, is a problem with installing a hedge. Uneven hedges that undulate up and down ruin an otherwise attractive landscape.

A view from the side shows the hedge curving behind the bed of Red Drift roses surrounding the Cleveland Select ornamental pear.

Incrediball hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Abetwo’) was used behind the hedge under the windows to add some color to the landscape without covering the windows or impeding the view. These hydrangeas are an improved form of the  ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea, having larger flowers and stronger stems to hold them up.

A tree-form Pink Winky hydrangea (H. paniculata ‘Dvppinky’) was used in the area where the Cornelian cherry dogwood was. This will give the clients some privacy on their porch but not completely cover the area.

Rozanne geranium (Geranium ‘Gerwat’) was used under the tree and Knock Out roses were planted behind the hedge for beautiful summer color. A burgundy weeping Japanese maple (Acer palmatum cvr.) will also add color, breaking up the monotony of the green foliage. Japanese forest grass, (Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’) went under the maple to add a bright graceful cascade.

The Japanese maple under planted with the ‘All Gold’ Japanese forest grass.

Another problem that was addressed was the unattractive downspouts in the landscape beds. A trench was dug from the downspout to the outer edge of the bed. We attached drain tile to the downspout. Then, we attached to a pop-up emitter that is flush with the soil. When it rains, the force of the water pushes the top of the emitter up, allowing the water to flow into the grass and not create erosion in the mulched landscape beds. Using this system also directs water away from the house, ensuring water is not collecting near the foundation.

Black plastic edging is a very popular choice for the typical homeowner. As you can see, this is an unattractive and obtrusive edging choice. It can heave out of the ground and most often, does not do the job it was intended to do, which is to keep the soil and mulch in and the grass out of the landscape beds. Using a natural edge is a much more attractive choice. Edging once a year is effective in keeping the grass at bay and the mulch where it belongs.

Landscape fabric is never a good idea. It impedes water from getting to the plant roots and it doesn’t allow air to get to the roots adequately, which can cause soil to become compacted.

Plastic landscaping edging is unattractive and obtrusive.

As you can see, this landscape is much more open and modern. The homeowners are absolutely thrilled with their new landscape. It gave them the color and low maintenance they were looking for. The beauty of the house is revealed and allows more light to come into the home. These photos were actually taken the day the job was finished. With minimal maintenance it will look gorgeous for years to come.

Give Plants A Good Soaking

Soaker hoses were installed so that each plant will receive adequate water.
When installing a new planting, the best way to make sure plants get established is by watering them well. Soaker hoses are one of the best ways to ensure plants get adequate water to their root systems. These hoses are made of recycled rubber, and unlike a normal garden hose, are full of holes. The water seeps out of these holes and slowly soaks into the ground around the root systems, exactly where the plants need it. Lay mulch over the top of the hoses to hide them and to reduce evaporation.

Trying to adjust sprinkler heads to hit every plant can be challenging and quite often wastes water. Attaching the hose to a timer doubles the efficiency of the soaker-hose watering system. The watering is consistent and the homeowner doesn’t have to worry about turning it on and off.

Run the soaker hose twice a week, check to see if your soil has been well hydrated several inches deep and then adjust the time you run them according to your soil conditions.


From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue V. Photos by Lisa Steinkopf.


Posted: 06/16/14   RSS | Print


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Tropicanna Canna
by Mark A. Konlock       #Hot Plants

Red plumes of Amaranthus, leaves and stems echo the burgundy in the foliage of Tropicanna canna.

What better way to dream of the upcoming gardening season than to think about the tropical feel that we can bring to our Wisconsin gardens? Amazingly, plants like cannas and elephant ears can grow to be behemoths, even in our northern growing season. There are a multitude of cultivars to choose from, so check out local garden centers and online suppliers, such as Brent and Becky’s Bulbs and Plant Delights Nursery to find yours.

One canna sure to get the attention of your gardening friends is Tropicanna®. The foliage of this plant is a motley combination of dark green, chocolate, burgundy and pink. When backlit, the hues change like a kaleidoscope, making echoes of color combinations possible. The tangerine orange flowers add another dimension.

Tropicals, such as cannas, look great when grouped together. Grouping is also a good way to keep plants that have a need for a bit more moisture together to lessen the watering chores. Or just plant a large clump in a container for a magical specimen. In the fall, dig up and store the rhizome for next year’s display. For best results, start the tuber indoors in March to transplant outdoors in June.

Common Name:  Tropicanna® canna

Botanical Name: Canna ‘Phasion’

Cultivars to Look For: Tropicanna Black or Gold, ‘Intrigue’ and many others!

Color: Leaves are a striped array of burgundy, pink, dark green and chocolate; flowers are tangerine orange.

Blooming Period: Throughout the summer as plants size up

Type: Tropical, not winter hardy in Wisconsin.

Size: 4 to 6 feet tall and 18 to 24 inches wide

Exposure: Full sun. Tolerates part shade.

When to Plant: In June, once temperatures are consistently above 50 F

How to Plant: Containerized plants can be placed at the same level as they are in the container, overwintered rhizomes can be planted in the ground once temperatures are warm or potted up and grown indoors until that time.

Soil: Medium to wet soil; can also be used in containers, but make sure to provide adequate moisture.

Watering: Thoroughly and frequently

When to Fertilize: Incorporate a well-balanced slow release fertilizer, such as Osmocote 14-14-14 when planting to provide season-long nutrition.

In Your Landscape: Adds a lush, tropical feel to your garden or containers. Plant with color echoing annuals and other tropicals. If possible, position so canna is backlit by setting sun.

From Wisconsin Gardening Volume II Issue II. Photos courtesy of Mark A. Konlock.


Posted: 06/13/14   RSS | Print


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Mercury Rising Tickseed
by Susan Martin       #Hot Plants

At just under 18 inches tall, Mercury Rising fits nicely in the front of the border.

Velvety, wine-red flowers appear all summer long.

Be sure to add this brand new, first of its kind, truly hardy, red flowered coreopsis to your wish list this spring. It’s an absolute dynamo that blooms all summer. The broad mound of bright green foliage becomes covered in gorgeous, velvety, wine-red blossoms. During the hottest part of summer, the petals have lightly “frosted” tips. Like the others in the Big Bang™ series, the flowers on Mercury Rising are sterile, so it blooms continuously for months and won’t reseed around the garden.

It’s said that purple is the new neutral and that certainly holds true for this wine-colored perennial—it goes with everything in the garden. Since it has a finely textured appearance, be sure to plant it near things with a contrasting texture, such as spiky irises, round coneflowers, or strappy, leaved daylilies.

Common Name: Tickseed or Coreopsis

Botanical Name: Coreopsis Mercury Rising (Big Bang™ series)

Type of Plant: Hardy perennial; hardy in USDA Zones 5 through 9

Bloom Time: Early summer through early fall

Flower Color: Velvety wine red

Size: 15 to18 inches tall, 24 to 36 inches wide

Exposure: Full sun

Watering: Low to average moisture; moderately drought tolerant once established.

Soil: Any well-drained soil

When to Fertilize: Not required

When to Prune: May trim back after initial bloom to encourage rebloom

In Your Landscape: Use this plant to add a splash of dramatic color to the middle or front of the border or large containers.


From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue II. Photos courtesy of Walters Gardens, Inc.


Posted: 06/06/14   RSS | Print


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Ground Cover
by Anne Larson       #Feature

Ground covers offer flow to landscape designs, such as this hillside garden designed as a welcome mat at the entrance of the property. Creeping phlox (P. stolonifera), lower right, gives way to Japanese blood grass (Imperata cylindrica), Daubs Frosted juniper (Juniperus  x pfitzeriana ‘Daub’s Frosted’), Pulmonaria and Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans ‘Stairway to Heaven’) under the Japanese maple.

For every garden star, there is a supporting cast, and in most Midwestern gardens, ground covers perform the task admirably. Like their theatrical counterparts, ground covers’ roles may be understated, subtle and sometimes nearly invisible. Take them away and they would be sorely missed.

Ground cover plants are low-growing perennials and shrubs that do just that — cover ground — but also act as foils and accents for taller plants. They are used to transition from one area to the next, hold soil and mulch in place and offer a low-growing, low-maintenance alternative to turf.

A Sampler of Roles

Vigorous spreaders such as golden moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) and sedum Angelina stonecrop (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’) are easy solutions for quickly covering erosion-prone slopes. Gro-Low fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low’) is a low-growing shrub that can accomplish the same thing, with prostrate branches that will sucker and form a thicket, eventually reaching 6 to 8 feet wide. The roots of these plants help keep the soil in place, thus reducing soil and mulch movement.

Many ground covers, such as spotted deadnettle (Lamium maculatum), alpine lady’s mantle (Alchemilla alpina) and the perennial big-root cranesbill (Geranium macrorrhizum), serve to soften and naturalize the edges of pathways and walls. Borders along streets and sidewalks are often prone to exposure to salt during winter months, and fragrant sumac and blue rug juniper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’) are two ground covers that will hold up beautifully under these conditions.

Plants with white or golden foliage, such as the golden moneywort, ‘Caramel’ coral bells (Heuchera ‘Caramel’) and spotted deadnettle, can light up shady patches and offer a background for hosta, rhododendron and other shade-loving plants to shine. These lighter colored plants can also be a delight for gardeners who enjoy their gardens in the late afternoon and nighttime, casting a soft glow from night lighting or moonlight.

Several ground covers offer interest during multiple seasons. Fragrant sumac turns a pleasing muted red in the fall, and Angelina or stonecrop’s gold deepens to coral and orange tones as cooler temperatures approach. Coral bells, many low-growing sedum and perennial geranium maintain their foliage interest during winter months. Fragrant sumac also holds the snow artfully on its mounted branch structure.

Golden moneywort ascades down this gentle slope, forming a river of gold that offsets the burgundy foliage of the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) and dark green of mugo pine (Pinus mugo). Note how the foliage drips off the limestone wall.

These coral bells will eventually knit together, providing a gentle patchwork of color underlying the bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus praviflora). The coral bell closest to the hosta is ‘Caramel’. All prefer part to full shade and moderate moisture.


There are some issues to consider when planting ground covers to ensure success. Bed preparation is key:

  • Make sure to remove weeds.
  • Lightly cultivating the soil also helps ensure success, making it easier for roots to establish themselves. Since most perennial ground covers have shallow root zones, deep tillage isn’t usually needed.
  • Place plants closer together to speed up filling in, which aids in reducing open spaces where weeds can more easily take root. Once established, ground covers tend to shade the ground and can out-compete many weeds. Removing fallen seeds from maple (Acer spp.), oak (Quercus spp.) and redbud (Cercis canadensis) is recommended.
  • Many ground covers will benefit from a light mulching at establishment to reduce soil splashing during watering and rain as well as maintaining soil moisture in the root zone.
  • A light application of a slow-release fertilizer also helps establish the plants. Apply according to label directions.

‘Gro-Low’ fragrant sumac is a strong performer in holding steep slopes, such as the 60 percent slope pictured here. And, because of its tough saline tolerance, it will handle salt splash during the winter without missing a beat.

The three-lobed foliage of fragrant sumac is glossy, turning a pleasing soft red in fall. The foliage, when crushed, gives off a sweet, musky smell that is unpleasant to deer and other mammals.


Woody ground covers such as ‘Gro-Low’ fragrant sumac can be trimmed periodically to maintain height. Others, such as blue rug juniper, naturally hug the ground at about 6 inches and won’t need much pruning. These and other shrubby ground covers can be contained by trimming back the perimeters.

Perennial ground covers need little to no maintenance other than cutting back discolored foliage in the spring. Coral bells and perennial geranium have crowns that sit above the soil line, so trimming above the crown is important to avoid damage to the plant. Low growers, such as golden moneywort and wild ginger, can be rejuvenated by lightly raking out dead foliage.

Ground covers that bloom in spring, such asspotted deadnettle and geranium, can be lightly trimmed after bloom to remove spent seedheads. Spotted deadnettle will often continue to bloom through put the season. Ground covers that spread from rhizomes can usually be contained in a desired area by simply digging clumps and transplanting them back into bare areas in the cover, or discarding.

A light fertilization with a slow-release fertilizer and use of a pre-emergent weed control should help ground covers get off to a good start each season. Read labels carefully, as some pre-emergent controls can inhibit root growth, such as corn gluten-based products.

Ground cover plants are short but mighty. They solve erosion and maintenance problems, tie garden areas together in pleasing ways and serve as background players to taller, more prominent garden plants. Give these and other ground covers a look — they may be waiting to be cast in an important role in your garden!

Low-growing woody plants as well as perennials can be used as ground cover plantings. Here are some suggestions for ground cover plants to use in Upper Midwest gardens:

Alchemilla alpina — (Zones 3-9) A miniature version of the familiar lady’s mantle, this petite performer sports a silver highlight on each leaf edge.

Asaram canadense — (Zones 4-6) Wild ginger is a woodland native that performs nicely in the shade as a carefree spreader.

Geranium macrorrhizum — (Zone 3-8) Ranging from white to pink blooms in early spring, this ground cover also has a spicy apple aroma unpleasant to garden pests.

Heuchera ‘Caramel’ —(Zone 4-8) The golden foliage on this coral bell contrasts nicely with its peachy plum underside.

Lamium maculatum — (Zone 2-9) Popular cultivars ‘White Nancy’ and Pink Chablis (‘Checkin’) deadnettle have silvery foliage that illuminate the shade. Some areas, especially in the Northeast, have found this to be an invasive plant.

Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ (Zone 3-9) Golden moneywort loves some moisture, and performs best in partial sun or shade.

Rhus aromatica — (Zone 3-9) ‘Gro-Low’ fragrant sumac grows 1 to 2 feet tall and colonizes hillsides quite successfully, making it great for controlling soil erosion.

Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ (Zone 3-8) ‘Angelina’ is an easygoing ground cover that will retain some of its gold and peachy highlights even through winter.

From State-by-State Gardening November/December 2013. Photos by Anne Larson.


Posted: 06/04/14   RSS | Print


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Prairie Smoke
by Roy Diblik       #Hot Plants

Geum triflorum makes a great companion for Narcissus ‘Lemon Drop’, grape hyacinth (Muscari spp.), Scilla and other early-blooming bulbs.

Geum triflorum is an early blooming, native perennial that provides months of interest. In early to mid-April, you’ll see red flower buds just above the cut foliage, only 4 to 6 inches tall. The whole plant—foliage and the flowers—elongate over time, growing 12 to 15 inches tall. From late April through May, the nodding pink flowers bloom. The best part comes as the flowers mature and the red stamens elongate up to 2 inches, giving the plant its smoky appearance.

This feathery appearance lasts into mid-June, when the seed heads begin to blow away. Geum triflorum does quite well in gravel and in sandy soils. Too much mulch or irrigation will cause it to decline. It died at Northwind. Our soil is too rich. I always like to see the limits plants can ease into. Well-drained, average to dry soil is the answer! This is an under-appreciated plant that will be used increasingly as we value more how we use our water.

Common Name:  Prairie smoke

Botanical Name:  Geum triflorum

Color:  Nodding pink flowers with darker stamens

Blooming Period: Late April through May

Plant Type: Perennial, hardy Zones 3 through 6

Exposure:  Full sun

Size: 12 to 15 inches tall 

When to Plant:   Throughout the growing season

Soil:  Average to dry, well-drained soil.

Watering:  Keep moist until established. Thereafter, does not need supplemental watering.

When to fertilize:  Needs no commercial fertilizer. Nutrients can be provided by mulching with leaf compost every 2-3 years.

In Your Landscape: I like to grow it with spring bulbs such as Narcissus ‘Lemon Drop’, Scilla, grape hyacinth (Muscari spp.) and species tulips (Tulipa). It also contrasts well with emerging foliage of other perennials, such as Amsonia tabernaemontana var.salicifolia.

Reddish-pink, nodding flowers of Geum triflorum are a welcome sight in early spring.


From Wisconsin Gardening Volume II Issue II. Photos courtesy of Roy Diblik.


Posted: 05/30/14   RSS | Print


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Become a Water-Wise Gardener
by Nancy Szerlag       #Advice   #Feature

Plant madness consumes gardeners in the months of May and June. But before loading that hot new plant on to your garden cart, give some thought as to what it needs in terms of care and how you plan to provide it. Will it be stuck into an empty spot in a perennial bed, with no thought as to its need for water? Or will it spend a couple of months in its pot, requiring daily watering, as it becomes root- bound and struggles?

Gardeners often scan the tags of new plants looking for Zone hardiness and sun requirements, but sadly overlook their water needs. And water is key to a plant’s existence. Plants can struggle along on less than optimal sun. And plants have lived for years without a drop of fertilizer. But too much or too little water can do them in rather quickly.

Xeric plants, those that once established require little or no supplemental water, suffer when sited next to moisture-loving neighbors such as roses and hydrangeas.

This overwatering often results in deadly crown rot and other diseases for these water-wise plants. Tall sedums, such as ‘Autumn Joy’ and ‘Matrona’ spilt apart and flop over, a condition known as lodging, when given too much water. Lavender may thrive in its first season in the garden, but fail to make it through the winter if planted in humus-rich, moisture-holding soil.

Grouping plants according to their moisture needs not only helps them to grow better, it also saves time, possible replacement costs and water—a key element to sustainable gardening.

The technical term for this technique is hydrozoning, which has been practiced in the west for decades. Many western municipalities require landscape designs to include water-conservation materials, drought-tolerant plants and a plan for hydro-zoning.

Hydrozone your garden by separating plants according to their  needs for water. Here, Sedum ‘Matrona’ fronts a stand of lavender (Lavandula) as part of a drought-tolerant perennial planting.1

Including regionally appropriate native plants in the landscape is considered by many to be key to sustainable gardening. But they are only effective as water savers if planted in a hydrozone with other water-wise plants.

How water is applied to the garden is also part of the equation. Watering with a hand-held, hose-end sprayer may be mentally satisfying, but it’s a poor method of watering. Few have the patience to stand for the time it takes to deeply water an area.

Drip irrigation, using soaker hoses or drip emitters, is considered tops for efficiency, effectiveness and conservation when installed properly. Water applied slowly seeps into the ground with a minimum of wasteful runoff.

Shower head nozzles, provide adequate water without washing potting mix from containers. The nozzles allow water to be distributed to the base of plants in the ground, too. To conserve even more, make sure your hose has a shut-off valve for nozzles and other watering accessories.2

An emitter drips water so the soil can soak it up slowly and deeply without a lot of waste due to evaporation.3
More earth friendly tips!

Water moisture-loving plants deeply once a week if Mother Nature doesn’t. 

Deliver water slowly, so it has time to penetrate and avoid runoff.

To avoid water loss through evaporation, don’t use sprinklers when it’s windy.

Use saucers under containers so plants can take up runoff. 

Use rain gauges in sunny and shady gardens. 

Water mature trees at the drip line rather than at the base of the trunk.

Overhead watering with a sprinkler is best for large areas but should be done early in the morning to reduce evaporation and allow leaves to dry before dark, when diseases tend to strike.

Hand-watering with a watering wand is recommended for containers so water can be carefully directed to the surface of the soil. The diffuser breaks up the water flow so as not to wash the soil from the pot.

In the case of drought, a root feeder is an effective and water-wise tool for trees and shrubs.

A 3-inch layer of mulch insulates and protects the soil while holding precious moisture in the ground. Organic materials such as bark, wood chips and leaves provide protection for moisture-loving plants and they enrich the soil as they decompose. Pea gravel, fine crushed stone or pine needles are good choices for xeric gardens.

Less is more when it comes to feeding landscape plants. For moisture- loving plants, humus-rich soil, an organic mulch and a bit of compost is about all they need. Xeric plants thrive in lean soil and Mother Nature takes care of the rest.


1. Photo courtesy of
2. Photo courtesy of Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
3. Photo courtesy of Matevz Likar/Fotolia

From State-by-State Gardening May/June 2013.


Posted: 05/28/14   RSS | Print


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Take a Garden Tour Vacation
by Virginia Terry    

Entering the long corridor of spring blooming tulips, delphinium, columbine and snapdragons at Longwood Gardens is an exciting moment.

If you have a strong desire for traveling and a love of horticulture, you may want to consider visiting some premier gardens on your next trip. Our country has numerous exceptional horticultural gardens that are worth going out of your way to explore. I am going to highlight some of my favorites in the Midwest and on the East Coast, and hopefully you will have the chance to work these gems into your travels this year or in the near future.

Starting in the east, just about an hour north of New York City, outside the small Hudson River Valley town of Cold Springs, is Stonecrop Gardens. Stonecrop was originally the home of Anne and Frank Cabot, and in 1992 became a public garden directed by Caroline Burgess. Stonecrop is not just your typical garden. Here you will find plant collections that include unusual plants such as false anemone (Anemonopsis macrophylla), a rare clump-forming herbaceous perennial originating from Japan with “love at first site” nodding lavender blooms in August through late-September. The display gardens at Stonecrop cover 12 acres and have a diverse collection of gardens and plants including woodland and water gardens, a grass garden, raised alpine stone beds, cliff rock gardens, and an enclosed English-style wall garden. Not only do these gardens show what can be achieved by horticultural enthusiasts, but they also serve as an educational resource. I visited Stonecrop Gardens in the autumn and was thoroughly impressed, but I would recommend going at any time of the year. Spring, I have been told, is particularly stunning. Visit for more information.

Stonecrop Gardens (Photos by Robert Gray.)

Wave Hill in New York is a garden that I have not yet visited but it is definitely on my list of horticultural treasures. A public garden and cultural center in the Bronx overlooking the Hudson River and the Palisades, Wave Hill is a 28-acre space that encompasses horticulture, education and the arts. Visiting the website of Wave Hill alone will quite possibly make your heart skip a beat (, so imagine what emotions an actual visit may evoke. The website allows you to click through photos of all four seasons of its 15 gardens. The collections are a phenomenal mix of unusual plants, designed in a creatively artistic manner. Plantsmanship and aesthetic sensibility are truly achieved in the gardens at Wave Hill, making Wave Hill a horticultural must see!

Wave Hill (Photos by David Berkowitz.)

If you are a garden enthusiast and haven’t been to Longwood Gardens, in Kennett Square, Penn., I suggest it is time! Located just outside of Philadelphia, Longwood Gardens is a world renowned, premier botanical garden founded by Pierre S. du Pontin the early 20th century. Longwood’s rich history is equally as fascinating as the gardens themselves. Anytime of the year is a great time to visit. Even during winter, which is when I visited, the conservatory is bursting with color and interest from an array of exotic plants while the outdoor gardens are filled with tons of winter interest. I also happened to visit again at the beginning of May and was blown away by the expansive display of 5-foot tall foxgloves and continuous beds of tulips, columbine and snapdragons in full bloom. The woodland garden was carpeted with the fragrant white flower spikes of foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) in full bloom. Due to the size and depth of Longwood Gardens, an individual, especially a plant lover, could spend multiple days at the gardens and still not see everything. It was truly a magical experience for both me and my 7-year-old nephew. Visit for more information.

Mass plantings of 6-foot tall foxgloves are just one of the many sites to enjoy in the spring at Longwood Gardens.

The color palette changes to warm colors with the use of columbine, tulips and snapdragons at Longwood.

A large naturalized area in the woodland garden at Longwood is in full bloom with foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia).

There is also fun for children at Longwood Gardens.

The topiary garden at Longwood adds a whimsical element to your visit.

Chanticleer is another amazing garden not too far from Longwood Gardens. It is a much smaller scale garden but equally impressive. Visit

Next on the list of essential gardens to visit is the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Ill., near Chicago. Again, there is so much to be said about this horticultural gem, so a paragraph does not do it justice. Forty years ago the garden opened and has matured into one of the world’s great living museums and conservation science centers. Situated on 385 acres just north of downtown Chicago, the 26 gardens and four natural areas are visited by about a million people each year. The garden is also renowned for its bonsai collection. Intensive plant collections, creative landscape design, and artful seasonal displays attract the plant enthusiast and keep them coming back again and again. I had my second visit to the CBG last June and was re-inspired in my love of horticulture.

While in downtown Chicago, visit Millennium Park’s Lurie Garden. This 5-acre rooftop garden pays homage to the city’s motto “Urbs in Horto” (City in a Garden). It is an urban oasis designed by many talented designers, with the perennial planting design by the influential Dutch garden designer, nurseryman and author Piet Oudolf. The premise of the garden is a focus on sustainability with the majority of the plants being native to North America and some even native to Illinois. My breath was taken away when I stepped foot into the space. Massive drifts of purple and blue Salvia sp., white plumes of knotweed (Persicaria polymorph), white blooming Baptisia sp., numerous varieties of Allium sp., and the towering foxtail lilies (Eremerus sp.) blooms all blended into a wonderful painting of natural beauty.

A formal garden at Chicago Botanic Garden contains wisteria in full bloom and tightly clipped boxwood hedges.

White flowering Baptisia sp. mixes well with Eryngium sp. and several different varieties of Salvia sp. in the Lurie Garden.

Finally, the Missouri Botanical Garden (MoBot), located in St. Louis, has a phenomenal horticultural collection, with emphasis on education and research. Any avid gardener that visits MoBot will find a day isn’t quite enough time to cover everything you would like to see. One of my favorite areas was the Kemper Center for Home Gardening, an 8-acre demonstration garden containing 23 distinct residential-scale gardens that showcase great ideas for gardening with perennials, shrubs, annuals and edibles. Another favorite garden area of mine was the horticultural therapy garden that is designed to be utilized especially by the elderly and those with disabilities. This type of garden has many sensory plants including plants of fragrance and plants with lots of texture for touching. Also, MoBot has many notable plant collections including magnolias, camellias, azaleas and rhododendrons, flowering cherries and orchids. Like the previously mentioned botanical gardens, there is something of interest throughout the entire year.

Blown glass balls float amongst water lilies and water-platters on a pond at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Within the demonstration gardens at MoBot is a hosta collection at the foot of an interesting architectural element.

There are many quiet, restful areas at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

This summer annual display at MoBot includes ornamental peppers with purple foliage (foreground).

This is not an exhaustive list of the many wonderful gardens on the East Coast and Midwest, but it is a sampling of some of my favorite gardens and some of the best known for excellence in horticultural practices and superb plant collections. I think you will be pleased when you visit any of these beautiful living art collections. Happy travels!

Photos courtesy of Virginia Terry unless otherwise noted.


Posted: 05/28/14   RSS | Print


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Cheyenne Spirit Coneflower
by Deb Wiley       #Hot Plants

Grow ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ in a large border for bright impact and for plenty blooms for cutting.

Many gardeners are drawn to perennials because they only need to be planted once. But there are a few caveats. Perennials generally take about three years to reach maturity and may not bloom until then. Often, they cost more to buy as plants and can be difficult to start from seed. Many only bloom for a short time.

A new perennial coneflower hybrid, ‘Cheyenne Spirit’, erases all those problems. Growing in a riotous mix of bright colors, ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ can be grown from inexpensive seed and flowers in its first year from summer to fall.

Even better, this cultivar of our native coneflower can take a beating from wind and weather. Once established, it needs little extra water. Its well-branched habit means you can cut bouquets and still have plenty of color left in the garden.

Common Name: ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ coneflower

Botanical Name: Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit’

Varieties/Cultivars to Look For: PowWow Wildberry (E. purpurea ‘Pas70Z917’), from the same breeder, is hot pink.

Color: Flowers bloom in a mix of purple, pink, red, scarlet, orange, yellow, cream and white.

Blooming Period: Summer to fall

Type: Perennial that blooms its first year from seed

Hardiness: Zones 4 to 9

Size: 18 to 30 inches tall; 3- to 3 -inch blooms

Exposure: Full sun

When to Plant: In spring from seed; potted plants may be planted any time during the growing season.

How to Plant: Plant seeds after all danger of frost has passed. Place plants at the same level of soil as in the pot.

Soil: Requires well-drained soil to survive winters.

Watering: Needs little water; drought tolerant once established.

When to Prune: Remove spent flower heads as desired, but no deadheading is needed.

When to Fertilize: Apply a balanced fertilizer once a month.

In Your Landscape: Blooms attract butterflies, and the dried seedheads attract birds. Plant coneflowers in a large mass for impact and to provide enough to cut for bouquets.


From State-by-State Gardening Volume I Issue IV. Photo courtesy of Deb Wiley.


Posted: 05/23/14   RSS | Print


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To Mat or Not to Mat
by Dawn Seymour       #Advice

To mat or not to mat is a question that has been plaguing well-intentioned gardeners since the creation of the weed mat. Now it is not only to or not to, but also the question of what kind of weed mat (also known as landscape fabric or weed barrier) to use? Let’s see if we can clear up a few basic facts about what types are available and some of the pros and cons of using weed mats.

Bulbs and annuals are another consideration when applying weed mat.1

First, what are some of the best applications for weed mats? Is it beneficial in every garden? I believe that the use of a weed mat should be selective. Selective to the point that you choose it based on the type of garden and plants in that garden, the purpose of the weed mat in the bed, and the lifestyle of the gardener intending to use it. For example, an English-style perennial garden would not benefit from weed mats as the plants themselves would be prohibited from spreading, reseeding and intermingling like the style permits. However, a vegetable garden would benefit to have the weed mat covering the paths and leaving open areas for the vegetables to grow. Additionally, another application where weed mats are beneficial is under stone mulch or under gravel walkways to prevent weeds from growing.

Second, a weed mat does not last indefinitely, so if you choose to use it, it will need to be replaced at some point. This is a serious consideration when it comes to removing whatever is on top of the weed mat to replace the worn-out mat. This is also a consideration when thinking about what is either already growing in the space you want to use it, or what you want to plant in that space.

This Dewitt fabric shows both the application of stone and the staples used to hold it in place.2

Weed mat is semi-permeable and consists of a woven substance, whether that is polypropylene or coco fibers, straw or burlap. The polypropylene is the least permeable choice and can last up to 15 years depending on the weight of the fabric. Weed mat is generally secured in place with staples that are roughly 4 inches long or better. This is an additional item to remember when replacing weed mat — be sure that the staples are all removed.

DeWitt manufactures a great fabric that has a 15-year guarantee on it and it comes in a roll 8 to 15 feet wide and up to 400 feet long. The fabric can be easily cut with a utility knife. I like to cut out a circle at least 2 times the size of the pot or root ball I am planting so that the plant will have plenty of room for water to get to the roots and there is not extra fabric choking the trunk of the trees or shrubs as they grow. Some folks like to cut an “X” where the plant will go and then fold the fabric back or under; however, I have found that this is a problem later on as it is difficult to get enough water to the plants. Then, if you do succeed in watering right at the base to get proper saturation, the soil doesn’t dry out properly and the roots can rot.

Third, weed mat is not a guarantee that you will not ever have weeds. If you choose one of the thin, small rolls of weed mat that are the “homeowner special” you will see some of the pervasive weeds like dock, plantain and even dandelions push their way up through the mat. There will also be the germination of weed seeds that blow in from other yards or gardens or fields and then there are my favorites – bird weeds! These weed seeds (excreted by birds in their droppings) grow on top of the weed mat and will still need to be removed at some point.

Hopefully this will help in your quest to improve the landscape. Look at the guarantee offered on the mat you select. Also read the package to see what applications are suggested. If you are landscaping a temporary space or just want curb appeal so you can sell your house, use a product that can be easily removed. Sometimes weed mats make work easier and other times they make more work.


1. Photo courtesy of Dawn Seymour
2. Photo courtesy of Gardener’s Supply


Posted: 05/22/14   RSS | Print


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Impatiens Disease Spurs A Hunt For Shady Alternatives
by Susan Martin       #Disease   #Feature   #Flowers

Sun Patiens® offers a similar look as bedding impatiens and are unaffected by downy mildew.1

Impatiens—for years they have been your go-to solution for providing brilliant color in the shade. Bedding impatiens is by far one of the most popular annuals for shade. Drive down a shady lane and you’re bound to see these colorful pink, red, salmon, purple and white annuals bordering beds and pathways.

Deadly downy mildew appears on the undersides of leaves of bedding impatiens (I. walleriana). If you see this, tear out the plants, roots and all, and replant with alternatives.2

This summer will be different. Sweeping borders of bedding impatiens will be a rare sight because of a new disease that has totally decimated crops of Impatiens walleriana. It’s called downy mildew (Plasmopara obducens) and currently there is no cure.

This disease quickly kills bedding impatiens, seemingly overnight. The symptoms of downy mildew include chlorotic or stippled leaves, leaves that curl downward, white downy-like growth on the undersides of affected leaves, premature leaf and flower drop and ultimately, total plant collapse. The disease may already be present on the plants you bring home from the nursery or it may develop once they are in your garden.

Impatiens May Not Be Available

Alternatives for Shade
Flowering Annuals
• SunPatiens® series and New Guinea impatiens
Begonias — seed types, Nonstop® series, Dragon Wing®
Wishbone flower (Torenia), such as Summer Wave® or Catalina®
Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata), such as Hummingbird Mix or Perfume series
Fuchsia, dwarf bedding and trailing types, such as Angel Earrings®
Mona Lavender (Plectranthus ‘Plepalia’) 

Interesting Foliage Alternatives
Coleus ColorBlaze® (Solenostemon  scutellarioides ‘Sedona’) or  Under the Sea® series
Caladium — wide variety of pink, red, white and variegated selections
Polka-dot plant (Hypoestes) — light pink, hot pink, red or white 

Other Colorful Alternatives
Rozanne cransbill (Geranium ‘Gerwat’), purple flowers from late spring into fall
Perennial coral bells (Heuchera spp.), wide range of foliage colors 
My Monet® (Weigela florida ‘Verweig’) and My Monet® (W. F. ‘Sunset’)
Tropicals, such as croton (Codiaeum variegatum), Canna, wandering Jew (Tradescantia pallida) and Dracaena

If you suspect your bedding impatiens have downy mildew, there is nothing you can do to treat them effectively. The best thing to do is  promptly remove the entire plants, roots and all, put them in a sealed bag and dispose of them in the trash. DO NOT COMPOST the diseased plants! The disease will persist in the soil, some experts say, for five years. Note the location where the plants were removed and do not plant impatiens there again, or they will likely be infected again. You’ll need to look for alternatives to impatiens for those areas.

As a result of the devastating effects of this disease, many growers and garden centers will not be offering bedding impatiens for sale this year. Those that do will likely be selling them with a disclaimer and will not replace plants that succumb to the disease. If you are one of millions of gardeners who plant impatiens every year, you’re going to need to look for alternatives.

Fortunately, there are many other options for adding color to the shady parts of your garden. Many are listed for you in the sidebar. Though some come close to offering the same look, you may need to rethink the design of your garden where you’ve always planted impatiens.

Impatiens Alternatives

For the most similar look to bedding impatiens, try planting SunPatiens® (Impatiens xhybrida). Fortunately, this beautiful species of impatiens has proven to be totally unaffected by downy mildew. Their flowers are a little larger than bedding impatiens and come in a similar range of colors. SunPatiens® are very easy to grow in sun or shade and will fill in a landscape quickly. Typically, fewer plants are needed to provide the same amount of coverage as bedding impatiens.

Begonias are the next closest alternative. Seed or waxleaf begonias (B. semperflorens) are also sold in flats at a similar cost, though their color range is limited to pink, red and white. Nonstop® tuberous begonias (B. xtuberhybrida) offer larger flowers in more diverse colors than the seed type and Dragon Wing® begonias (B. xhybrida) have a beautiful arching form.

The fantastic foliage of coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) can offer just as much color as bedding impatiens in an even wider range of hues. An extensive range of varieties is available with new introductions coming every year. Look for nonflowering or late-flowering types, such as the ColorBlaze® series. Once coleus blooms, it tends to go downhill, so those that don’t flower will deliver the best garden performance all season.

Copperleaf (Acalypha) has multicolored foliage that works well in shadier locations.3

Wishbone flower (Torenia) is an excellent, short bedding plant with a unique, true-blue color for the front of the border.4

Try Something New

Whichever alternative to impatiens you choose, be sure to read the labels and do your research to learn the individual plant’s cultural requirements. Every plant grows a little differently. It also might take some experimentation to find the best alternative for your particular landscape.

This season, turn a problem into an opportunity to try new things in your garden. You have a free pass to try something different! Who knows? You may just find some new plants you’ll like even better than impatiens.


1. Photo courtesy of Sakata Ornamentals
2. Photo courtesy of Purdue University
3. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners
4. Photo courtesy of Susan Martin

From State-by-State Gardnening May/June 2013.


Posted: 05/21/14   RSS | Print


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Commotion ‘Moxie’ Blanketflower
by Kelly D. Norris       #Hot Plants

All summer long, ‘Moxie’ graces the garden scene with an ample array of flowers.

For years, there was no love lost between me and blanketflowers. Despite their colors, proud garden pennants of my alma mater Iowa State, I just didn’t dig them. So many of the seed strains lack any sort of charm or panache—they melt in the summer, fall apart into a disheveled mess by fall and reseed on top of each other, resembling an unruly mosh pit. Blech.

But then I had an epiphany somewhere around 7,500 feet in the Black Hills of southwestern South Dakota. I encountered Gaillardia aristata, one of the truly perennial species of blanketflowers, growing by the zillions in amber and melon shades. I was hooked. What if blanketflowers could be true perennials, unlike the half-hardy, mother-was-an-annual and daddy-was-a-perennial wannabes I’d previously known? Along about that time a blanketflower with real spunk, named ‘Moxie’ no less, made its way into my garden.

It’s part of the Commotion series,and surely has the potential to cause quite a stir in the garden. ‘Moxie’ is an all-star, regularly flowering in my Iowa garden from mid-May through frost, even without supplemental watering. Though in the heat of summer it may not effuse with the same quantity of flowers it does in spring and fall, its ever-present radiance is hard to deny. Flowering effortlessly in bright exposures and decently draining soils, it’s a fluted charmer, evoking the memory of such popular favorites as ‘Fanfare’, though with more petals, ensuring a longer display. And it’s architecture? Mounded, compact and superb; no flopping or flailing with this one. 


Common Name: Commotion ‘Moxie’ blanketflower

Botanical Name: Gaillardia x grandiflora ‘Moxie’

Hardiness: Zones 5 through 9

Color: Bright, cheery yellow petals encircle an orange center

Blooming Period: Early summer through fall

Type: Perennial

Size: Up to 24 inches high and wide

Exposure: Full sun

When to Plant: Spring or fall

How to Plant: Plant container-grown specimens to label directions.

Soil: Adaptable to a range of soils with good drainage. Great in xeric conditions.

In Your Landscape: Yellow and orange daisies appear abundantly throughout the season on compact plants suitable for beds, borders and containers.


From Iowa Gardener Volume I Issue IV. Photos courtesy of Kelly D. Norris.


Posted: 05/16/14   RSS | Print


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Jewelry for the Lawn
by Karen Atkins       #Art   #Feature

An urn abundantly planted with tulips reigns at the center of a main axis in the garden. Clipped hedges and neatly edged grass provide contrast and perfect symmetry to set it off. 1

Just as a strong necklace can change the look of any outfit, the right lawn ornament can change the mood in any garden. So, the question is, what kind of a mood are you in?


If you like tailored, simple clothing — this might be your category. Formal statues, cast-iron urns, fountains and tuteurs punctuate classic gardens well. For added elegance and harmony, try painting them, as well as your front door, all in a high-gloss black. Birdhouses can be made to look like small pavilions or little Colonial cottages, if this is your style. Neatness counts in classic gardens, so tightly clipped hedges and clean edging around ornaments complete the look.

Animals are living ornaments. Invite wildlife to enjoy food and clean water. 2

A vintage birdcage contains a ceramic bird. It could also hold a candle in the evening. Large shrubs, such as hollies and rhododendrons are excellent for showcasing hanging ornaments with an evergreen background. 3

Fountains delight the ear as well as the eye. Many just require electricity and can be filled by bucket, making installation inexpensive and easy. 4


If you wear big straw hats and flowing summer dresses, adorn your garden with rose swags made from marine rope. Set out benches for garden fairies or hang wind chimes. Architectural salvage yards are “the bomb” for romantics. You can find the most unusual things and the price is always right. Shabby chic porch columns with flaking paint are gorgeous in the garden, and a single section of ornamental fencing makes an ornate trellis. Try making a shelf for potted plants using recycled corbels and a simple board, or hang an old mirror that is losing its silver.

A column lends architecture to a bed of tulips. Salvage yards carry old porch columns that can be used singly, or in rows as a support for rose swags.5

Architectural salvage yards carry sections of fencing, gates or broken benches. All make lovely trellises. 6


Fun and trendy, this group is for gardeners who enjoy an inside joke. When we moved, we found a huge cast-iron bee and sprayed him gold before he landed on our mailbox. Giant chess pieces are playful on grass and concrete checkerboards, or different birdhouses on all of your fence posts could be fun.

Challenge yourself to express something uniquely personal. A car repair shop I know has actual transmissions filled with petunias out front, which I thought was genius.

A collection of pots, filled with Johnny jump ups, roosts on an old ladder. 7



1. Photo courtesy of© Debu55y
2. Photo courtesy of© Ursular
3. Photo courtesy of© Emma98
4. Photo courtesy of© Christopher Rawlins
5. Photo courtesy of© Sergey Ovsyannikov
6. Photo courtesy of© Dallaseventsinc
7. Photo courtesy of© Chris Lofty

From State-by-State Gardening November/December 2013.


Posted: 05/14/14   RSS | Print


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Backyard Grape Growing for the Freshest Wines
by Katie Ketelsen       #Edibles   #Feature

‘Marquette’ has proven to be winter hardy in the Midwest.1

Surely you’ve seen — in envious awe just as I have — fields of grapes sprouting along the Iowa plains and taken mental notes to stop by a winery or two some day. Or maybe you’ve already traveled to the corners of the state, enjoying sips from all our proud vineyards.

You may have even wondered how our fellow Iowans manage to create such a picturesque landscape as if it were flown in from California. There is a sense of romance when daydreaming about carefully plucking grapes from your own backyard or mini-vineyard, only to stomp them with pleasure into the greatest tasting wine ever. A labor of love that could be passed onto generations to come; one that could win you awards at the county fair or get you highlighted in the local newspaper. Truly a labor you have to love.

After speaking with Mike Pence, owner of Heartland Harvest Winery in Fort Madison and Kurt Schade, owner of Schade Creek Vineyard and Winery in Waukee, I quickly learned what I’m calling the three P’s needed to grow grapes:

Patience — The grape seedling you plant today will not produce clusters of fruit for another three to five years. 

Pruning — It can keep your “patient” hands busy, but in reality, correct pruning ensures healthy and bountiful harvests for the future.

Passion — It is the fuel that complements your patience, keeps your pruning diligent and keeps you salivating for that first glass of wine.

Getting Started

Plant Them Right in the Right Space

Grapes do best when planted in the spring, as a bare-root specimen in well-drained soil in an area that faces south, east or southeast. Bare-root is simply a term for when a plant is removed from the soil while dormant (generally late fall) and stored in a cool space until spring.

If your soil isn’t the nutrient-filled, black composition you think it needs to be, send a sample to Iowa State University and have it tested to determine what’s missing. If you’re too impatient to wait the couple weeks for the results, plant away and apply a general fertilizer such as 10-10-10 around the base of plants after planting.

A southern or eastern exposure will allow leaves to absorb as much sunlight as possible and force early-morning dew to evaporate quickly.

Ensure your grapes get off to the right start by digging holes twice the size of the root span, mounding soil in the center of the hole and placing the base of the plant on top of the mound. Allow the roots to drape over the mound. Grape roots grow deep and wide—sometimes up to 40 feet deep reaching for moisture, making them essentially drought tolerant after the third year in the ground. You’d also be wise to fashion a trellis, arbor or espalier to support and manage the sprawling nature of the vine. 

Know Your Grapes

Certain varieties of grapes are good for jellies, jams, wine and straight-off-the-vine eating. A great grape to start with is ‘Concord’. Sometimes called the daylily of grapes (as in you can’t kill a daylily), ‘Concord’ is fairly forgiving. Purchase cold-climate varieties hardy to USDA Zone 4b or minus 20 F.


It takes three to five years before you can take a sip. It is more important for the plant to establish its roots and strong branching. Remember … patience.


Smart Tip from Kurt Schade:

Visit a local vineyard in January or February when vines are being pruned and ask for a few clippings to plant in your garden.

Pruning has to be the single most important task when growing grapes. Expect a single grape plant to grow 8 feet wide and approximately 4 to 5 feet tall, within three to five years. To get there, you must practice strategic pruning to retain the strongest shoots and train them appropriately.

Think of it as survival of the fittest. Between January and February, select a few branches to train for the following year’s growth, while removing all other branches and any poorly developed flower clusters. Work toward establishing two to three horizontal levels of branching. If you’re more of a visual learner, Ohio State University Extension’s Pruning Backyard Grapes in the First Three Years has great diagrams.

In late June, the grapevine’s canopy needs to be combed, which is the removal of horizontal shoots that compete for nutrients and sunlight. By late August, the vines are ready to be completely defoliated. This enables grape clusters to absorb sun, making them ready for harvest come fall.

Additionally, grapes will send out suckers at the base of the plant. Once a year, preferably late summer, prune the sprouts back to the ground to keep the plant tidy.


Protecting your plants from Iowa’s wildlife may become more of a chore than pruning. Deer, raccoon, turkey and even blackbirds all like to hang out among the grapevine.

Pence, who also is president of Iowa Wine Growers Association, suggests making your vine flashy. Anything that might make noise and reflect the sun can help deter most animals. But for the blackbirds, which can devour an entire vineyard in one day, covering your grapes with netting mid-August through harvest is highly suggested. Highly.

Finally! Harvest Time

Or is it? Don’t go stripping all your vines at once. Grapes won’t ripen or improve their taste after they’ve been removed from the vine. Sample a few here and there before plucking them all for consuming.


Q. How many grapes do you have to plant to enjoy a glass of wine - or five - on a hot summer afternoon? 

According to Mike Pence of Heartland Harvest Winery in Fort Madison, one grape plant produces 20 to 30 pounds of grapes and you need approximately 15 to 20 pounds to make one gallon of wine.

Grape-Growing Take Aways

But before you get started ... before you even begin to peruse catalogs of grape varieties and before squaring off space in the backyard, you must visit at least one established vineyard. I suggest three for good measure. By Schade’s own admission, vineyard owners love to talk about themselves — more specifically — about their grapes, their wine and the whole process. Some vineyards might even send you home with a few of their dormant clippings to root in your garden!


Iowa Wine Growers Association:

Iowa Small Fruit and Vegetable Association:

Iowa Wine Directory:

Midwest Wine Press:

Double A Vineyards:

Iowa State University, Viticulture:


From State-by-State Gardening May/June 2013. Photos courtesy of David L. Hansen, University of Minnesota.


Posted: 05/07/14   RSS | Print


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Lawn Care for Minnesota Landscapes
by Diana Rankin       #Advice   #Landscaping

Fertilizing in September and staying on top of weeds are the best ways to keep the lawn green and growing. 1

Deb Brown, garden writer and retired University of Minnesota Extension horticulturist, thinks maybe so. In a newspaper article a while back, she made some very good arguments for having a yard and garden with at least some turfgrass. Here’s her thinking:

  • Having a lawn is less work than maintaining a small prairie in a front yard.
  • The green color of turfgrass complements annual and perennial flowerbeds.
  • Grass can provide logical pathways between and around beds.
  • When it rains, a healthy lawn absorbs pollutants, such as pollen and dust, and prevents runoff and erosion.
  • Grass provides natural air conditioning around a home or other buildings. A lawn on a summer day is 40-60 degrees cooler than a sidewalk or parking lot.

The lawn that Brown and other University of Minnesota Extension Educators have in mind is not the lush, chemically dependent, water thirsty carpet that so many homeowners desire. Instead, they are advocating for a healthy lawn, maintained by low input lawn care practices timed to meet the needs of the Upper Midwest’s cool-season grasses.

Fall Care

Fall is an especially important time for lawn care, no matter how neglected the lawn may have been over the hot summer.

First of all, before the end of September, put down nitrogen fertilizer at the rate of one pound per 1,000 square feet. The grass plant roots are growing now and will readily absorb nitrogen. Research has found that later applications into November, as has been the common practice, are wasted because plants have stopped growing in northern gardens and cannot take up the nitrogen. If using a slow-release organic form of nitrogen fertilizer, apply it at half the rate. 

This is also the best time to control broadleaf perennial weeds, such as plantain and dandelions. These plants are also growing vigorously and storing up nutrients and will actively take up and transport broadleaf weed killer throughout the plant. This should be done by early October. The plants will be killed in the fall, but the difference won’t be noticed until the next spring. Combination nitrogen fertilizer-herbicide granular products can be purchased, but the grass and weeds must be wet when it is applied. This product should not be spread too close to trees and shrubs as the herbicide can make its way through the soil to roots, killing these plants.

A granular fertilizer and a selective post-emergence liquid herbicide can also be purchased and used separately. A selective herbicide is one that will kill only certain plants, not both the broad leaves and the lawn grasses. Probably the best known herbicide, glyphosate, is non-selective and will kill everything herbaceous that it touches. Whenever using an herbicide, always read the label carefully and follow the instructions. There are also cautions about applying products before and after rain, use around water, pets, children, when you can walk on the treated area and more, on the product label

Digging or pulling broadleaf lawn weeds in the fall will greatly reduce a spring crop. This usually is not practical for large, heavily infested areas. Just remember that there is no easy, sure-fire way to rid a lawn of weeds. It may be wise to learn to tolerate a few weeds and use herbicides only when the health of the lawn is threatened.

During September maintain a mowing height of about 2 ½ to 3 inches and then gradually lower the height in October. Longer grass blades in September allow the plants to make more food via photosynthesis. This means the roots will extend deeper into the soil. Developing a strong root system creates a healthier plant. By late October, the height should have been reduced to about 2 to 2 ½ inches. Shorter grass prevents matting and the formation of snow mold the following spring.

Continue watering during dry periods. Even though temperatures are cooler and days are getting shorter, soil will still dry out if there’s no rain. Just be sure to allow the soil to dry slightly before watering again. A well-watered lawn helps prepare the grass plants for a harsh winter.

Finally, this is a great time to seed or reseed areas of the lawn. The soil is still warm and there is usually ample moisture. Another advantage is that the annual weed seeds from crabgrass, yellow foxtail, lambs quarters or common ragweed are no longer germinating. Weeds have stopped growing and are not competing with the grass seed for water and nutrients.

Winter Care

Avoid walking on frozen or frosted lawn. This can damage or break the blades of grass, resulting in brown, trampled lawn in spring.

Spring Care

Homeowners typically begin thinking about lawn care in the spring. It is a great time to seed new lawns or patch up sparse areas. Fine fescues are the most commonly used grasses in our area. They grow vigorously in the spring and fall and slow down during hot, mid-summer when it is likely to be drier. They are fine textured, medium green, drought tolerant and often mixed with Kentucky blue grass in seed mixes. Some mixes are labeled low-maintenance, indicating a reduced need for watering and fertilization.

Fertilization should begin in the spring because most root growth and the initiation of new roots are beginning. How much fertilizer to apply, however, varies with a lawn’s soil type, how much sun it receives, whether it will be irrigated, whether clippings from mowing will be left on the lawn and how much fertilizer was applied in fall.

For example, a lawn that is in full sun, not irrigated, has low soil organic matter and retains the clippings requires one-half pound of 50 percent slow release nitrogen per 1,000 square feet on or about Memorial Day. If the lawn has high soil organic matter, spring fertilization would not be recommended. Irrigated lawns, on the other hand, require more nitrogen, generally 1/2 pound of 20 to 25 percent slow-release nitrogen per 1,000 square feet at the first mowing and 1/2 pound of 50 percent slow-release nitrogen at or about Memorial Day.

Weed control is another spring activity, but only for summer annual broadleaf weeds, such as knotweed, spurge and grassy weeds, such as crabgrass and foxtail. For the broadleaf weeds, apply an herbicide when the soil is moist and weeds are young and actively growing. To control the grasses use a pre-emergence herbicide two to three weeks before weed seeds can be expected to germinate. Whenever using any herbicide, always read and follow the label directions.

The best way to tackle perennial weeds, such as dandelion and plantain in the spring is to dig them out or spot treat with an herbicide.

If the lawn if 50 percent weeds, it’s best to start over. 2

Spot spray or dig weeds rather than treating the whole lawn. 2

Keep the lawn mower blade sharp to reduce irregular tears of the grass blades. Ragged cuts give the lawn an overall brown case and invite insect or disease damage. 3

Begin regular mowing and leave the clippings on the lawn. Over the course of the season the clippings will provide the equivalent of about one fertilizer application annually. Bag the clippings only if a mowing is missed and they clump on the surface of the lawn.

If drought conditions have persisted through the winter and into the early spring, consider watering beginning the first week of May. No matter whether you water in spring, summer or fall, the most important thing to remember is that it should be deep and infrequent. It’s best to water in the morning and long enough to wet the soil to a depth of 5 inches. If watering a newly seeded area, apply ½ inch of water to settle the seed and then to keep the area damp, but not soggy, for three to four weeks.

Summer Care

Grass shoots grow rapidly during the summer, so the most important summer lawn care task is mowing regularly. Mow high, setting the mower’s cutting height to 3 to 3 1/2 inches (or as low as 2 1/2 inches if there has been plenty of rain). Avoid scalping the lawn to prevent moisture loss and heat stress on the grass plants.

June through early July is the best time for applying crabgrass post-emergence herbicide. Perennial weeds such as dandelions and thistles can be spot-treated with herbicide.

Mow the grass to about 3 inches high to prevent scalping and drying out of lawns. 2



Lawns are an important part of our public and private spaces and caring for them sustainably is more complicated than mowing, watering and randomly applying fertilizers and herbicides.



1. Photo courtesy of
2. Photo courtesy of Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
3. Photo courtesy of

From Minnesota Gardener Volume I Issue IV.


Posted: 04/30/14   RSS | Print


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Emerald Ash Borer
by Denise Schreiber       #Advice   #Feature   #Pests

The adult emerald ash borer is about ½ inch long and is a bright metallic green color.1

There are wanted posters out everywhere! Emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire), is an invasive insect native to Asia that has killed tens of millions of ash trees in urban, rural and forested settings. It is known to be a hidden hitchhiker on that firewood you bought the other day to take to your camp because it was a good price. With the U.S. Interstate system, it has easily found its way and invaded many counties and states.

This beetle was first discovered in 2002 in Southeast Michigan and Windsor, Ontario. EAB infestations have now been detected in at least 20 states: Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. In Michigan alone, it has caused almost $12 million dollars’ worth of damage and the toll continues to rise as EAB moves through the states.

A mature ash tree showing signs of infestation. Dieback begins in the top one-third of the canopy and progresses until the tree is bare.2

The emerald ash borer favors all 16 different species of ash trees found in the United States. Ash trees are as important ecologically in the forests of the northeastern U.S. as they are economically important. Ash trees fill gaps in the forest and are highly desirable for urban tree planting, providing shade and habitat. Ash wood is valued for flooring, furniture, sports equipment (such as baseball bats, hockey sticks, oars) and tool handles. Ash trees and wood are also significant to Native American cultures for traditional crafts and ceremonies.

Think of EAB as the bubonic plague of ash trees. While there are some natural controls, they are not effective enough to slow the relentless march of the borer through the forests. According to Dr. Houping Liu, Ph.D., forest entomologist for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, “The effectiveness of EAB parasitoids is still being evaluated; field release of those parasitoids will continue as long as the Feds maintain financial support to the rearing lab in Michigan. We are not expecting large enough numbers of parasitoid offspring in the field just yet, as biological control is a long-term strategy that will take time.” He goes on to say, “Climate has an effect on the parasitoids the same way it has on EAB.” He also makes the not-so-encouraging prediction that it is possible that emerald ash borer will eventually affect every ash tree in the U.S.

The life cycle of EAB starts from mid-May to mid-August when the ash borer lays its eggs on ash bark. From May to August the eggs hatch and tunnel into the tree. From August to October they feed under the bark. From May to June the adults hatch and leave D-shaped exit holes. Adults are roughly 3/8 to 5/8 inches long with metallic-green wings and a coppery red or purple abdomen. They will feed on foliage before laying eggs on the bark of the tree.

The larvae of the EAB are creamy white and legless with flattened, bell-shaped body segments. The terminal segment bears a pair of small appendages. Larval feeding disrupts the tree’s circulation of water and nutrients.4

The larvae feed just under the bark and create S-shaped galleries. Galleries weave back and forth across the wood grain and are packed with frass.3

The first inkling that something is wrong with your ash tree is the crown of the tree gets a little thinner. You may notice a few dead branches. You will also notice little D-shaped holes in the trunk of the tree. These holes can occur anywhere on the tree trunk. If you peel back some bark, you will see galleries made by the larvae of the borer. They look like S-shaped tunnels throughout. As the larvae feed, they can clog up the xylem and phloem, which are the transport systems in a tree, carrying water and nutrients. This is the time to have your tree evaluated by a certified arborist (not the local “landscraper” looking to trim your trees for you). If at least two-thirds of the tree canopy alive and there are no epicormic shoots (side shoots from the base of the tree), it can be treated. Untreated, a large ash tree can die within two to three years.

At this time, there is no organic method to subdue EAB. According to information at, insecticides that can effectively control EAB fall into four categories: first, systemic insecticides that are applied as soil injections or drenches; second, systemic insecticides applied as trunk injections; third, systemic insecticides applied as lower trunk sprays; and last, protective cover sprays that are applied to the trunk, main branches and (depending on the label) foliage.

There are two main treatments currently being used, although other chemicals also are used. One treatment is imidacloprid and the other is a product containing emamectin benzoate. Imidacloprid products are either applied as a soil drench, foliar spray or as a trunk injection. Emamectin benzoate is a trunk injection only treatment. (There are a few more products that have limited success against the borer.) Both of these products are applied by professional pesticide applicators with specialized equipment and protective gear. All treatments have a particular time frame in which they should be applied (which will be on the label). The emamectin benzoate treatment has been most successful so far in treating ash trees and will last at least two years (unlike other treatments). It is suggested that if you have a high-value tree – one that is large and well rounded, historical or has some other value to the community – that you should spend the money on treatment.

If you have missed the initial diagnosis and your ash tree is beyond redemption, you should look to have the tree removed as soon as possible. Affected ashes can topple without warning within a few months of tree death.

So the best thing you can do is be proactive about your ash trees and remember not to move any firewood except into the fireplace.

Woodpeckers Tell the Tale

Another telltale sign of EAB infestation is the hammering of woodpeckers. Although the usual cacophony of the hammering is for mating purposes, the EAB larvae have become a delicacy for the ruby-topped birds that thrive on the insects. As the woodpeckers go after the larvae, which are just under the bark of the tree, they will loosen the bark to get at them and actually remove large portions of bark by chipping at it with their beaks.  5  


1. Photo by Marianne Prue, Ohio Department of Natural Resources - Division of Forestry
2. Photo by Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service
3. Photo by Christopher Asaro, Virginia Department of Forestry
4. Photo by Kenneth R. Law, USDA APHIS PPQ,
5. Photo by Jeff Rugg

From State-by-State Gardening January/February 2014.


Posted: 04/30/14   RSS | Print


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Seven-Son Flower
by John Eustice       #Hot Plants

White flowers emerge on seven-son shrubs in late summer.

Bright red sepals color seven-son flower in fall.

Heptacodium miconioides or seven-son flower is new to most Minnesota gardeners. Sometimes called a crapemyrtle for the north, it is a large shrub with attractive peeling bark and late-summer blooms. When freezing temperatures evade our region until late fall, bright red calyxes develop, which offer further interest. Heptacodium is adaptable, but it prefers a sunny location and well-drained, neutral or acid soil.

Although sometimes listed as hardy only to USDA Zone 5, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in USDA Zone 4 has been growing seven-son flower in an exposed location for several years. Healthy specimens in Duluth, Minn., and reports of plants growing in International Falls, suggest that it is worth trying throughout the state.

Common Name: Seven-son flower

Botanical Name: Heptacodium miconioides

Type: Large shrub

Size: 15 feet high and 10 feet wide.

Soil: Well drained soil. Textures from sand to clay. Neutral to acid pH.

Exposure: Full sun is best. Some shade is tolerated.

Watering: Water regularly until established. Performs well on average rainfall in normal years.

When to fertilize: At time of bud-break in spring.

Hardiness: Worth trialing in USDA Zones 3 and 4.

Planting: Break up root ball at time of planting.

Pruning: Remove broken or dead canes. Training heptacodium as a tree is not recommended.

In your landscape: Heptacodium is excellent in a shrub border or as a focal point in a mixed border. Its late-season flowers and attractive bark provide interest in fall and winter.

From Minnesota Gardener Volume I Issue IV. Photos courtesy of Spring Meadow Nursery.


Posted: 04/25/14   RSS | Print


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Six Reasons to Join a CSA
by Amy McDowell       #Edibles

Most Community Supported Agriculture operations, called CSAs, are organic or nearly organic. Here, growers at Wabi Sabi Farm are planting garlic.

The air is abuzz with springtime chatter. And there’s more to the chatter than birds returning from their southern winter vacations. I hear talk all around me about who is joining which CSA this year and what new CSA opportunities are opening up in our community.

CSAs, short for community supported agriculture, are buy-in programs with local farms. For an annual fee, CSA members share in the harvest, bringing home boxes of produce weekly (or bi-weekly) throughout the growing season. Visit to find the CSAs near you. Why should you join a CSA? Let me detail six great reasons.

1. Welcome fresher produce into your life. The vegetables you get from a CSA are often harvested the day you receive them. Studies have proven that fresh produce is much more nutritious than produce found in grocery stores. The fresher it is when you eat it, the more healthful it is for your body. Even if you don’t eat it quickly, you’ll notice its uber-freshness means it lasts a long time (a really long time) on your countertop or in your refrigerator before it starts to go bad.

2. Shopping locally supports your local economy and farmers near you. You can cut out the middleman. Like farmers’ markets, with a CSA, you are buying directly from the farmer who grows your food. The relationship puts you in touch with the kind of growing season the farmer is experiencing and the joys and challenges of food production. It’s a fantastic way to build a healthy relationship with your food right from its origins.

3. Buying produce through a CSA is better for the environment because your produce doesn’t burn fossil fuels traveling across the country (or around the world) to get to you. Isn’t it fascinating to think about the carbon footprint of the food you consume?

4. Expand your repertoire. You’ll likely find a few unfamiliar vegetables in your CSA box. Not only will you and your family eat more vegetables, you’ll also likely discover new ones and recipes you love along the way. Sometimes you’ll go to a farm to pick up the produce and sometimes a CSA brings it to a central location, where subscribers go to pick it up.

5. SAs couldn’t be easier. Pay one registration fee at the beginning of the season and you get to bring home fresh local produce all season. Joining a CSA is a great way to avoid the labor of maintaining your own garden. It will free up your time for eating, cooking and preserving the harvest. Not to mention summertime vacation, leisure and pursuing all of those other hobbies you love. You can devote your garden space to growing your favorite things that the CSA doesn’t offer and just dabbling in gardening for the sheer joy of it. CSAs also provide fresh produce for apartment or condo dwellers and those with small yards or without a sunny spot for a vegetable garden.

6. Say goodbye to pesticides and chemicals on your food. Although not all CSAs are certified organic (because the paperwork for certification is arduous,) almost all of them are chemical free and avoid the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. It just makes sense environmentally. The diversity of crops on CSA farms means they have an advantage when it comes to attracting beneficial insects and insect predators, and avoiding pests and pesticides.

Harvest season is a joyous time for both the growers and the members.
As an added benefit, some CSAs host workshops or potlucks for members. It's a great opportunity to share recipes for the produce everyone receives.


Photos courtesy of Ben Saunders, Wabi Sabi Farm, Granger, Iowa


Posted: 04/23/14   RSS | Print


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