Carolina Gardener Web Articles
Pam Potter is a University of Minnesota Extension master gardener, landscaper and writer. Pam admits to and embraces her addiction to perennial gardening, buying new varieties of plants whenever she can find them. She shares her life with a very understanding husband, their four children and gardens full of everything but spirea.



Canadian Wild Ginger
by Pam Potter - posted 04/18/14     #Hot Plants

Canadian wild ginger is an evergreen ground cover throughout most of the Eastern United States.

The flower of Canadian wild ginger is hidden under the plant’s heart-shaped leaves.

Asarum canadense or Canadian wild ginger is an unknown plant to most Minnesota gardens. A different species of ginger than the culinary one most people think of, Canadian wild ginger was eaten fresh or dried by the early settlers as a ginger substitute. It has a pleasant ginger-like smell when brushed up against and makes a beautiful ground cover.

Asarum canadense is a slow to moderate grower and will not be aggressive or invasive. Heart-shaped evergreen leaves form a pleasant mound in any shade garden. This low-maintenance plant needs moist, well-drained soil in part to full shade. Canadian wild ginger has interesting flowers hidden at the base of the plant that are for the most part overlooked. Because they are so close to the ground, the flowers depend on crawling, rather than flying, insects for pollination.

Common Name: Canadian wild ginger

Botanical Name: Asarum canadense

Color: Evergreen Hardiness: USDA Zones 3-8

Blooming Period: Spring

Type: Perennial groundcover

Size:  6 to 10 inches tall, spreading 12 to 24 inches wide

Exposure: Part to full shade; full shade is best.

When to plant: Divide in spring; container-grown plants anytime.

How to Plant: Divisions or transplants

Soil: Moist, well drained

Watering: Water regularly until established, then during dry periods.

When to Prune: Tidy up any winter-damaged leaves in spring and you can check out the close-to-the-ground flowers.

When to Fertilize: None needed

In your landscape:  A beautiful ground cover, but it is a slow grower, so have patience with new plantings.

From Minnesota Gardener Volume I Issue V. Photos courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture/NRCS/Plants Database


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Adding Individuality to the Garden
by Elizabeth Schumacher - posted 04/16/14     #Design   #Feature

“A garden is a result of an arrangement of natural materials according to aesthetic laws; interwoven throughout are the artist’s outlook on life, his past experiences, his affections, his attempts, his mistakes and his successes.”  – Robert Burle Max

A garden contains a collection of plants chosen for the location and the role they are to play, but a garden can be much more. It can become an expression of shared memories created over a lifetime – a picture of things that have been important to you. Most residential gardens are obviously personal. However, it can be fun and constructive to review how your garden has evolved and consider what personal touches you might add. These are some ideas from our 1-acre garden, which has evolved over four decades from a barren, steep hillside to an all-season, award-winning delight.

1. After years of planning and developing our garden, I decided we needed a focal point beyond the entrance, on the slope to the left. I chose a wrought-iron piece by a Canadian artist, Richard Kramer, called The Partners. It sits in front of a privet hedge, backed by a Himalayan pine (Pinus wallichiana) and surrounded by creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Plumosa’) and lesser periwinkle (Vinca minor). The Partners reminds us both that the garden is a product of our mutual, whole-hearted commitment to the ongoing effort and evolution. We do love it.
2. Before we came to Philadelphia, we lived in Boston, fairly close to the Arnold Arboretum. On an outing to the arboretum, we stuck our 1½-year-old daughter on the branch of an interesting tree. My husband recorded the name of the tree – a Cercidiphyllum japonicum,or katsura – so he could label the photo. Once living in Pennsylvania, we decided we needed a tree for some shade. The Memory of the tree in Boston prompted the selection of this specimen. Now there is so much shade, we had to put in a brick patio since the grass wouldn’t grow. We now love the patio. This is a beautiful tree with heart-shaped leaves, great fall color and no diseases.
3. Our daughters loved this jungle gym. Once they outgrew it, it was repurposed as a frame for vines until the grandchildren came along. Now you see another reincarnation with trumpet honeyscukle (Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’) happily attracting hummingbirds. I enjoy the shape and the contrasting periwinkle-color of the jungle gym. We’ve also added sculptures of our granddaughters as toddlers to remind us of this evolution. In the background, you can see a wood-chip path cut out of the ivy, inviting exploration up the hillside.
4. My husband is a University of Pennsylvania professor, and he has often taught in other countries. On an early trip we spotted this carved stone lion in a pawn shop just off the Zocalo in Mexico City. It was our first acquisition of an accent for the garden. He sits surrounded by Sargent juniper (Juniperus chinensis var. sargentii).
5. The Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha, hardy to Zone 5, only with protection) arching over the path from the right pays homage to Philadelphia’s rich gardening history. John Bartram brought this plant from North Carolina – where it is no longer found in the wild – and named it after his friend, Benjamin Franklin. Allegra, a happy sculpture by Barbara Chen, acts as a focal point at the end of the path.
6. The backlit foliage of the Franklinia is a late season delight – not to mention the great late-summer flowers.
7. When I was a child, I lived in Japan for five years, very close to the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. I still remember how my sister and I used to play in the gardens and wander around the beautiful wooden buildings. When we decided we wanted a peaceful resting spot on an upper level in the garden, I designed a natural cedar building with a curved roof, benches and moon window – things I remembered from my childhood.  
8. From our kitchen window, we see two things that remind us of our mothers. The dwarf weeping Texas redbud (Cercis canadensis var. texensis‘Traveller’) was chosen in remembrance of my mother, a barely 5-foot-tall, world traveler who retired to Texas. The bird feeder, a major attraction for a variety of birds, was inspired by a bird-identification book given to me by my mother-in-law. On the left, a Cercis canadenis‘Forest Pansy’ blooms at the same time as the ‘Traveller’.

From State-by-State Gardening January/February 2014. Photos by Rob Cardillo.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Plant for a Year Full of Beauty
by Anne Larson - posted 04/09/14     #Fall   #Spring   #Summer   #Winter

Upper Midwest gardeners know the preciousness of growing things. They typically have five to seven months to cram in as much green and growing things as they can. A well-planned landscape can ensure that beyond the prime growing season, landscapes are filled with beautiful flowers, leaves, bark and structure.

Trees, shrubs and perennials with multiple seasons of interest are essential in northern gardens to provide drama, contrast and focal points throughout the year. Including the following plants in your landscape are paths to colorful falls, frosty winter vignettes and peeks at beauty to come in early spring.


Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry
(Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’) (Zones 4-9)

This understory tree is a year-round performer, starting with its beautiful cylindrical buds, followed by racemes of white flowers. Red berries, 1/4-to 1/3-inch diameter, not only delight birds, but are also known as a pioneer staple for jams and pies. If you plan to use the berries, you’ll have to time your harvest to beat the birds. The medium green leaves color to brilliant red in the fall, leaving the vase-like architecture and smooth grey bark for winter interest. Full or part sun is suitable.

‘Prairifire’ Crabapple 
(Malus x ‘Prairifire’) (Zones 4-8)

Although the choices of attractive crabapple trees seem endless, ‘Prairifire’ crabapple is a reliable selection due to its resistance to apple scab disease and its persistent red fruit that shines through the winter. Birds will clean off the bright berries when they migrate in spring. Add to that its attractive foliage, with a blush of purple on the underside, and its dark burgundy bark, and you have an easy-to-grow tree that has beauty all year. The flowers are dark pink in bud, opening to a light pink blush. Topping out at 15 to 20 feet, this crabapple is great as a focal point or as a boulevard planting. Full sun provides the best fall coloration, leading to its ‘fiery’ name.

One of the  best features of  ‘Prairifire’ crabapple (Malus x ‘Prairifire’) is its persistent, bright red fruit. The fruit will be picked clean in the spring, often  by robins or  Bohemian  waxwings.1

‘Vanderwolf’s Pyramid’ Limber Pine 
(Pinus flexilis) (Zones 2-7)     

Evergreens with snow-laden branches can be an awesome accent to winter landscapes, as well as providing a foil for flowering plants during summer. ‘Vanderwolf’s Pyramid’ limber pine is a slow-growing tree, topping out at 25 feet and ideal for an intermixed border or specimen tree. The needles are a stunning blue green and sometimes slightly twisted. The densely bunched needles, neat pyramidal shape and its reputation for adaptability to tough conditions make this pine suitable throughout Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Best in full sun and soil with good drainage.


Redtwig and Yellowtwig Red Osier Dogwood
(Cornus sericea and C. sericea ‘Flaviramea’) (Zones 2-8)

The 7- to 9-foot Red Osier dogwood offers all one could want in a four-season plant—stunning stem color (red or yellow), attractive white blooms in early summer, clumps of white fruit attractive to birds and clean green foliage turning reddish purple in fall. The ‘Flaviramea’ cultivar has yellow stems. Both varieties benefit from pruning older, often cankered and discolored, stems to maximize color intensity. This dogwood can also withstand moist conditions, although it is adaptable to a variety of soils. Full to partial sun is best.

Red Osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) is in full glory in winter. As temperatures cool, the stems intensify their red coloration. Pruning discolored, cankered stems will help keep the plant healthy and colorful.2

Diabolo® Ninebark 
(Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Monlo’) (Zones 2-7)

Colored foliage is always a plus in the summer landscape and Diabolo® ninebark steps up in spades with its dark burgundy, almost black, leaves. Spring brings white or pinkish 1/4-to-1/3-inch balls, called corymbs. Bright red fruit follows and, if the shrub is left untrimmed, will darken to nearly jet black. The ninebarks can be sizeable, 6 to 12 foot tall, so providing adequate space is important. If left intact, the bark on mature stems eventually develope beautiful dark and light brown exfoliations, offering excellent winter interest. Diabolo® ninebark tolerates full or part sun.

Diabolo® ninebark (Physocarpus opufolius ‘Monlo’) is a tough customer, enduring a variety of soil and  moisture conditions. The white-to-pink flowers contrast beautifully against the dark burgundy foliage. In winter, exfoliating bark is the main attraction.1

Russian Cypress 
(Microbiota decussata) (Zones 3-7)

Subtlety is also an asset in the landscape, and Russian cypress is a low (1 foot high) and spreading (6 feet wide) evergreen ground cover that provides a tough background for showier plants in summer. When cool weather begins in fall, the bright green foliage will move toward a burgundy green, which puts on an attractive show winter. Well-drained sites full to part sun are best for this evergreen shrub.

Russian cypress (Microbiota decussata) is a sturdy evergreen ground cover that turns a purplish brown during winter months.1


‘Angelina’ Stonecrop 
(Sedum rupestre) (Zones 3-9)

When it comes to a colorful, durable ground cover that serves all year, nothing compares to ‘Angelina’ stonecrop. The brilliant chartreuse foliage tops out at about 6 inches. The feathery, spiky leaflets are succulent, but the texture overall is fine. ‘Angelina’ is drought resistant and evergreen, taking on a pinkish orange tinge when temperatures turn cold. There’s nothing better than seeing this bright performer peeking out as the snows recede in spring. Full to partial sun is best for this sedum.

The bright hues of ‘Angelina’ sedum (S. rupestre) is lovely all year round. As cool temperatures descend, pink and orange  highlights  appear,  increasing the sturdy ground cover’s interest.1

Giant Sea Holly 
(Eryngium giganteum) (Zones 3-9)

Giant sea holly, sometimes called Miss Willmott’s ghost, steals the show as a textural focal point, with its spiky blooms and eerie gray-green foliage on plants that reach 30 to 35 inches tall. Growing as a biennial, the plant will reseed, but is usually well behaved, and it won’t become a problem child. Although the frosty hue is surprising in the summer garden, snow and frost on the foliage offer extra interest during winter months. Named after a mythical English plantswoman, it was believed Miss Willmott sowed the plant in gardens she visited. Giant sea holly tolerates acid to alkaline soils and a breadth of soil conditions. Grow in full sun.

Giant sea holly offers in spiky interest summer, fall and winter. The 30 to 36 inch tall plant is a ghostly contrast to darker greens during warmer months, and offers an interesting structure for snow and frost to decorate during winter months.1

Blue False Indigo 
(Baptisia australis) (Zones 2-9)

False indigo is a native legume growing to about 4 feet tall with blue, pea-like blooms and gray-green foliage that stays clean all summer. Bloom is in late spring and flowers can be cut for arrangements. The 4-to-6-inch pods, that form after the blooms turn dark over the summer, are an attractive accent in the winter landscape, often rattling in the wind. A number of hybrids have been developed, but none has the northern range of the native B. australis. This is an easy-care plant that likes full sun.

False indigo (Baptisia australis) is a native  perennial that handles a variety of growing conditions, thanks to its nitrogen-fixing root system. The early summer blooms, clean green foliage in summer and rattling black seed pods in winter offer intertest throughout the year.1


1. Photo courtesy of Horticopia photos
2. Photo courtesy of Dreamstime photos.

From State-by-State Gardening May/June 2013


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Putting Perennials in Their Place: Integrating Them into the Garden
by Stephanie Cohen - posted 04/07/14     #Advice

Where do perennials belong in your garden? The answer for me is everywhere. First of all I am known as “The Perennial Diva,” and I practice what I preach.

You know about beds and borders so will cover them last. My favorite spot for perennials is containers, because they not only add color, texture and form, but they have the advantage of staying in a frost-free pot for the entire winter. Annuals or tropicals bite the dust and need to be dumped into the compost pile or potted up to be taken into the house, and then many of them die.

In the fall, if the perennials have outgrown the pot you can divide them and put half of the division in the garden and half back into the pot. This is an economical way to gain extra plants. Most perennials need only 6 weeks to establish roots. Just make sure the pots are deep enough to fit the roots without bending or squishing them in. The same thing can be done with window boxes, but you need much smaller plants that have smaller roots. This may sound odd to you, but I planted about 20 perennials from pots in early fall into the garden.

If I want to use the same plants in pots I divide them in the spring. Most of my pots are large and glazed and I would hate to see them crack. Too many cracked pots are a disaster, in more ways than one.

Another great way to use perennials is in your foundation panting. Many gardeners just have evergreens. This look reminds me of plastic flowers because it never changes. To make matters worse, some gardeners pile mulch in vast quantities around them. The mulch volcano look is definitely bad for the shrubs and it is out of style. Here is a dandy place to put flowering perennials or ground covers. If you choose your perennials to flower from spring to fall, you have color throughout the seasons. If you like the ground cover idea, choose low-growing perennials that provide texture and color to form a tapestry of ground covers. If you mulch between these plants 2 inches is plenty. Don’t get the mulch in the crowns of the perennials, as it tends to rot the plants. This approach also gives you a choice of lots of plants for both shade and sun. If you are a professional, remember there is more to life than ivy and pachysandra!

For those of you with small gardens, the newest thing is to put hardy perennial herbs right into the border. They need the same light, soil and water requirements. The advantage of this is many herbs have beautiful colors and scents. The other advantage is herbs with fragrance or hairy leaves tend to keep the deer away. This also allows children, who often want something to pick, to cut and harvest the herbs.

Rock gardens and troughs use hardy alpine perennials and small perennials in a charming way. I use lots of miniature sedums and small creeping plants in exactly this way. If you get into this style of gardening, you will find many perennials leading double lives, because many of these plants are good for the front of the perennial border.

Generally most people want the long English borders they see in books and magazines. Don’t try this unless you have lots of time or gardeners. Start small, because you can always expand. Another way is to cut out sections of turf and make island beds. The advantage of this is you can plant, weed and water from all sides.

Here are some good rules for jumping into perennial gardening. Look for plants that have a long season of bloom. Don’t be tempted by one-week wonders unless they have great foliage. Some perennials rebloom, and that gives you more than one season of color. Look for plants that tend to be known as disease and pest free. Look for plants that are not thugs and will run around your garden with impunity. Beware of neighbors or friends who tell you to take something because it grew too fast or they have so much of it. Ask questions from your local nursery or professional help about which plants are easy to grow. Most perennials take a season or two to reach their maximum size. Be patient and they will get bigger.

If you kill something, don’t panic or quit. I personally subscribe to the baseball theory of perennial gardening — three strikes and you’re out. Anything that I have killed three times is banished from my garden. I do not look at this as a failure, but as a golden opportunity to get more plants.

Photos courtesy of Stephanie Cohen.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Shining Silvers
by Caleb Melchior - posted 04/07/14     #Feature   #Landscaping

When the summer sun blazes down, we humans turn into shriveled lobsters, scuttling to hide beneath beach umbrellas and lurking in the far reaches of the basement. Plants don’t have these options. Instead, over the millennia, they have adapted their physical characteristics (morphology) to deal with harsh conditions. Different species have adapted in different ways.

Many plants from the hottest, driest regions have shimmering silver foliage that reflects, rather than absorbs, the sunlight. This reflection allows the leaves to stay cool by slowing down evapotranspiration. So, when Shasta daisies have turned to toast and your hydrangeas are sadly shriveled, silver-leaved plants will be basking in the sun’s radiance.

A. ‘Dewey Blue’ switch grass, B. ‘Powis Castle’ artemisia, C. ‘Blue Dune’ grass, D. ‘Shimmer’ evening primrose, E. Cider gum eucalyptus.

The five silver-leaved plants in this flowerbed have a variety of leaf shapes and plant forms creating interest throughout the year. A few produce showy flowers for seasonal change. The two grasses, ‘Dewey Blue’ switch grass (Panicum amarum‘Dewey Blue’) and ‘Blue Dune’ grass (Leymus arenarius‘Blue Dune’), will provide a base of soft bluish-green throughout the growing season. They will also provide upright forms during the winter. The lower ‘Powis Castle’ artemisia (Artemisia‘Powis Castle’) is a full, mounding sub-shrub, which is also evergreen in mild climates. It has shimmering filigree foliage and an elegant rounded habit. The slowly-spreading evening primrose ‘Shimmer’ (Oenothera fremontii‘Shimmer’) bears flowers, like yellow tissue, above mats of long silver needles. For a contrast of shape, the tender perennial cider gum eucalyptus (Eucalyptus gunnii) can be strategically used as an upright foliage accent with strange circular leaves on stems that stick out.

All five plants perform best in full sun, with well-drained soil, where they’ll shine through the garden’s hottest days and gleam in the light of the muggiest moonlit nights.

‘Dewey Blue’ switch grass

Cider gum eucalyptus

‘Shimmer’ evening primrose

‘Powis Castle’ artemisia

From State-by-State Gardening January/February 2014. Photos courtesy of Caleb Melchoir.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

New and Unusual Plants to Grow
by Jim Long - posted 04/02/14     #Advice   #Edibles

Raspberry Shortcake Dwarf Thornless Red Raspberry2

It’s not too early to start thinking about plants you might want to grow next season. If you look out over this year’s garden area, consider what did well and what you might like to do differently. Most seed catalogs have already gone to print and you’ll start receiving the first ones right after Christmas. Here are a few unusual or so-called “new” plants you might want to try. I’ve had experience growing all of them in Missouri, and I can recommend each one as worthy of including in the garden.

Raspberry Shortcake Dwarf Thornless Red Raspberry (Rubus idaeus ‘NR7’)

Plant breeders have developed a dwarf, thornless red raspberry you can grow right on your deck. It produces a good crop of berries the second year and is carefree and easy. Look for it in local garden centers and nurseries under the tradename Raspberry Shortcake from the BrazelBerries collection. Already fruiting-sized plants in 2-or 3-gallon pots will cost around $20. The plants are hardy and will give you years of berry production right on your patio or deck.

Scorzonera or Black Salsify (Scorzonera hispanica)

Black salsify is similar to the white salsify I grew up eating from my parents’ garden in Central Missouri. Also known as oyster plant or vegetable oyster, this slender parsnip-like root crop can be planted from seed in early spring for a summer or fall harvest. It prefers deep, sandy soil but it even grows well in my rocky Ozarks garden and easily produces an abundance of tasty roots for any dish where you would use oysters or parsnips. White salsify requires a longer growing season, but the black Spanish scorzonera can be harvested in about four months from planting and will remain good in the ground all winter.

Black salsify1

Wasabi Arugula (Eruca sativa ssp. vesicaria ‘Wasabi’)

Wasabi arugula is a great seasoning herb that is excellent freshly chopped and sprinkled over any dish where you want a wasabi kick. I’m not fond of arugula as a salad green, but the wasabi version is outstanding. Plant it from seed at the same time you plant lettuce in the spring and continue to harvest through the summer for a continuous supply.

Bulbing fennel1

Bulbing Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum)

There are two main kinds of fennel: bulbing fennel, which is also referred to as finocchio or Florence fennel, and leaf fennel. Bulbing fennel plants are somewhat shorter and smaller than their leafy cousins. The swollen base of the plant, known as the “bulb” is eaten as a vegetable (steamed or roasted). To grow good fennel bulbs, start the plants from seed indoors in early spring about six weeks before your last frost date. Transplant the seedlings into average garden soil and keep their area weed free. In about two months, when the bulbs are as large across as your hand, they are ready to harvest. Select a variety such as ‘Di Firenze’, ‘Zefa Fino’ or ‘Orion’. The bulbs should be harvested before the plants begin to flower; after flowering they will become tough and lose their flavor. You can also harvest the bulbs and keep them refrigerated for several weeks.

Green Malabar Vining Spinach (Basella alba)

There is a red Malabar spinach (Basella rubra) with red stems that’s easy to grow, but I’ve never enjoyed the flavor. Green Malabar, sometimes called Ceylon spinach, has better flavor and produces an abundance of leaves and young vine tips for cooking. The flavor is best if you don’t overcook the plant. If you cook it too long, it gets gummy. The seed is slow to germinate, taking up to three weeks, so start it indoors in March for transplanting into the garden when you plant tomatoes. You can also easily start this from cuttings if you know someone who has the plant. While this is a heat-hardy tropical vine, the best flavor is achieved by growing it in the ground and keeping the young growing tips and leaves clipped for use. If you don’t have room to do that, it vines easily and withstands difficult summer heat and drought.

Green Malabar vining spinach1

Yellow Radishes (Raphanus sativus cultivars)

I often have difficulty growing radishes in my garden in spring. It’s a bit embarrassing since radishes are about the easiest crops anyone can grow. Even children are successful with this vegetable! But either climate issues or micronutrients cause my radishes to get blazingly hot before they’re big enough to pull. No matter which variety I’ve tried – and I have tried everything on the market – my radishes fail every year. That was until I found the old heirloom variety, ‘Yellow Radish’. Large or small, planted in March or May, these give me a reliable crop of sweet, tasty radishes every year. A yellow radish called ‘Helios’ is sold by Baker Creek Seeds in Mansfield.

Yellow radishes1
Plant Sources:

Bulb fennel
•  Johnny’s Selected Seeds (
•  Baker Creek Seeds (
•  Nichols Garden Nursery (

Malabar green spinach (Basella alba)
•  Kitazawa Seed (

Raspberry Shortcake dwarf thornless red raspberry 
•  Local nurseries and garden centers
•  Monrovia (

Wasabi arugula
•  Renee’s Garden (

Yellow radishes
•  Baker Creek Seeds (




1. Photo by Jim Long
2. Photo courtesy of Monrovia

From Missouri Gardener Volume IV Issue I.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Plant the Right Tree the Right Way for Long-Lasting Beauty
by Jonathan Heaton - posted 04/02/14     #Trees

Spring is here and you may be getting ready to plant a new tree. As the saying goes: The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the next best time is now.

Trees are a long-term investment. They take a long time to establish and provide benefits we enjoy. Proper planting practices will help get your trees off to a good start, enhancing your landscape for years to come.

Right Plant / Right Place

The first step to long-term tree success is to evaluate the location for the tree and determine the best tree for the space. Start with testing the soil to determine pH and nutrient levels.

Remember: right tree, right place. Select a tree that will do well in the soil you have, or plan on making the appropriate amendments. Check the texture of the soil and the expected water availability at the site. Too much or too little water can be a big problem for some species.

Watch the planting space over the course of a few days to see how much sunlight the plant will get.

Finally, look at your goals for the tree. Do you want shade, color, nice flowers, etc? Also, keep in mind the mature height and width of the tree in relation to the space available.

Plant Selection

Once you have determined the species, go to the nursery and choose a plant that is in good condition. Beware of good deals and sales—often these are trees that have been exposed to harsh conditions and are less likely to do well.

Choose a plant that has good color and structure. Avoid plants with wounds on the trunk or with severe infestations of mites, whiteflies and other pests. I prefer to buy container-grown trees as opposed to balled-and- burlapped. They are not available as large as balled-and-burlapped, but they tend to establish quicker and have fewer problems.

Prepare Planting Hole

A good rule for planting: “If you plant a $10 tree, dig a $40 hole.” The way you put the tree in the ground makes a big difference. The most common problem I see with planting (even among professional landscapers) is failing to uncover the root flare and planting the tree too deep. This tends to lead to rot in the trunk and girdling roots, which can kill a tree just as it gets large enough to provide significant benefits.

The root flare is the area where the trunk or stem transitions to the roots. It is usually flared like the end of a trumpet. Because of the way trees are grown in a nursery, the root flare is almost always covered by several inches of soil. Before digging the hole, remove all of the soil that is above the root flare. Leave about 1 to 2 inches of the root flare exposed. This determines the depth of the hole.

Dig the hole deep enough so that the bottom of the root flare will be about an inch above grade and two to three times wider than the root ball or container. This helps to create a better space for the new roots to grow and establish. 


After digging, remove the container and carefully put the tree in the hole to avoid tearing roots. If the tree is balled-and-burlapped, put the tree in the hole first, check that it is at the correct depth and remove all rope, burlap and wire. Check to make sure that the tree is straight and at the proper depth. Gently, but firmly, backfill the hole and tamp down the soil. It is important to avoid large air pockets in the planting hole. These dry out roots or cause the tree to shift as the pockets settle.

It helps to use some water as you are filling the hole. In general, it is not recommended to add anything to the soil at the time of planting. However, if the pH is off or if the soil is low in organic matter, I like to mix in pH amendments or compost before filling in the hole. There is no benefit to applying fertilizer at this time.

If the tree is larger and exposed to wind, it is beneficial to stake it in one or two places using a soft, broad material that will not damage the trunk. Don’t leave the stakes on the tree for more than a year. Trees need to be free to develop natural strength to deal with the wind as they mature. Apply 2 to 4 inches of mulch over the planting area for the new tree. Do not put any mulch against the trunk.

Photo courtesy of Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp.

Apply a 2 to 4 inch deep layer of mulch over the planting area. Be sure to keep the mulch a few inches away from the trunk.

After Planting

After the tree is in the ground, follow-up care will help prevent problems. Regular watering is the most important the first three years and during drought and excessive heat spells. Trees benefit the most from infrequent, deep watering. Lawn sprinklers don’t work well for this. Instead, soak the area thoroughly once or twice a week to ensure that the soil is moist 6 to 8 inches deep.

Slow-release watering bags are great for this, but keep in mind that they block the root zone from rainfall, so you need to fill them even when it rains.           

Protect the tree from animals and sunscald by wrapping the trunk with soft cloth or with a wire cage, if needed. In areas that have problems with ambrosia beetles (generally USDA Zone 5 and warmer), I recommend preventative applications of insecticide to the trunk. Ambrosia beetles will lead to quick death. Monitor for other pests such as mites, aphids, scales and leaf-feeding beetles and caterpillars, and treat as needed. New trees need all their energy to get established, so keeping pests to a minimum is helpful.

Simple Steps for Planting Balled-And-Burlapped Trees 

STEP 1 - Use a spade handle or other tool to measure the depth and width of the root ball so you know how big to dig the planting hole.

STEP 2 - The hole should be at least two times (preferably three times) as wide as the root ball and about the same depth.

STEP 3 - Remove any wire or twine around the root ball.

STEP 4 - Carefully place the tree in the planting hole. This is the time to adjust the proper planting height, make sure the tree is straight and level, with the best side showing.

STEP 5 - After the tree is in the hole, remove all burlap. It’s best to wait until the tree is in the hole because the burlap helps hold the root ball together.

STEP 6 - Look for the root flare—where the tree root forms at the base of the trunk. The root flare should be at, or preferably slightly above, the soil surface. It should never be below the soil surface.

STEP 7 - Backfill with the soil that was dug from the hole. Gently tamp the soil down as you backfill, watering you go to make sure there are no air pockets.
Planting Container-Grown Trees Made Easy

STEP 1 - Remove the tree from the container and loosen or chop off the bottom part of the root ball.

STEP 2 - Score the side of a container-grown root ball to prevent roots from girdling.

STEP 3 - Place the tree in the hole. Adjust the planting depth as needed, making sure the root flare is at, or slightly above, the soil surface.

STEP 4 - Backfill with the soil that was dug from the hole. Gently tamp the soil down as you backfill, watering in as you go to make sure there are no air pockets.


From State-by-State Gardening May/June 2013.
Photos courtesy of David Boone, Arborist Representative with Bartlett Tree Experts unless otherwise noted.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

‘Blonde Ambition’
by Kelly D. Norris - posted 03/28/14     #Hot Plants

By mid autumn, clouds of blonde brushes hover above the ground up to 36 inches high. The best time to plant ‘Blonde Ambition’ (Bouteloua gracilis) and many other ornamental grasses is in spring.

It may seem odd to talk about a late-summer flowering grass in late spring, but the fact is you’re going to want to rush out and nab this soon enough to get it planted instead of waiting another season. Blue grama grass is one of the essential components of the short-grass prairie found abundantly on the High Plains, garnering its common name from the leaves and its bluish haze. 

But despite its Western association, blue grama grass is equally at home in Iowa’s Loess Hills and elsewhere. Brilliantly adapted to drought and lackluster soil, a new cultivar of this hip-high grass does more for Jessica Simpson’s star power than the movie of the same name.

‘Blonde Ambition’ is arguably one of the finest newer ornamental grasses on the market and a lot more than a pretty face. It’s a thriving choice for scree, rock and gravel gardens, and would brighten up many urban spots where turf has long given up. Its name derives from the cloud of blonde bristle brushes that adorn the plant from mid-August through fall, a floral display that lasts long after the anthers have faded and seems only to get better, right up until the winter winds blow. Discovered by High Country Gardens proprietor David Salman, Blonde Ambition was recognized as a 2011 Plant Select winner for something completely different on the national gardening scene.

Common Name: Blonde Ambition blue grama grass

Botanical Name: Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’

Color: Blonde

Blooming Period: Late summer through fall

Type: Perennial; hardy in USDA Zones 4 through 9.

Size: Up to 36 inches high and 24 inches wide

Exposure: Full sun

When to Plant: Spring

How to Plant: Plant container-grown specimens according to label directions.

Soil: Adaptable to a range of soils with good drainage. Great in xeric conditions.

In Your Landscape: Clouds of blonde-colored flowers thrive in dry, tough conditions in beds and borders. 

From Iowa Gardener Volume I Issue III. Photo courtesy of Kelly D. Norris.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Trees With Ornamental Bark for Winter Interest
by Scott A. Zanon - posted 03/26/14     #Feature

Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum)

Long after the seasons of spring, summer and autumn have passed, you can still enjoy the trees in your landscape. After the leaves fall, some trees stand out in the garden with their unique bark. Some have bark with interesting texture, while others provide striking colors. An often overlooked feature in the garden, bark is most important in the winter. Trees continue to exude their beauty even in the bleakest of winters.

It is the form, not the function, that catches the eye of the gardener. During winter, bark can take center stage with its beauty and interest. What a treat to have trees that provide gardeners a show during their “down time” of the year. Now is a great time to plan your own winter garden.

Consider the bark of various trees as an interesting focal point in the garden. It may be thin, thick, smooth, colorful, textured or a pleasing combination of all. Either way, bark characteristics can provide an interesting view not normally noticed during the other seasons of the year.

Here is a list of my tree recommendations to consider. Many also have features that merit use year round in the garden. Experiment and have fun, for your plantings will provide some solace and joy from Old Man Winter during the short dreary days of January and February.

1. Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum)

Zones: 4 to 8

Size: 20-30 feet tall by 15 feet wide

A true specimen, this small ornamental tree has unrivaled aesthetic qualities. It is somewhat expensive, but worth it for its year-round splendor. The peeling and exfoliating cinnamon-colored bark is visually striking, plus the late red fall color is outstanding. Have patience with its slow growth, the reward will be outstanding.

2. Striped Maple (aka Snake Bark Maple, Moosewood) (Acer pensylvanicum)

Zones: 3 to 7

Size: 15-25 feet tall and wide

A lovely small tree that should be pruned as needed to show off the beautiful bark. It does not tolerate afternoon sun, typical of an understory tree. The young branches are green with conspicuously long, vertical white stripes and the clear yellow to golden fall color is satisfying. Recommended cultivars include ‘Erythrocladum’, which has twigs that have a beautiful bright coral-red winter color and ‘White Tigress’, which has green bark with pronounced white striations and is more heat tolerant.

3. River Birch (Betula nigra)

Zones: 4 to 9

Size: 40-60 feet tall by 40 feet wide

This large, fine-textured shade tree is also considered an ornamental because of its exfoliating papery sheets of bark in shades of white, black, cinnamon and cream. Some chlorosis may occur in high pH soils. Available as a multi-trunked form of three to five trunks, this fine specimen tree is perfect for areas along streams or ponds. It is a medium-fast grower and provides solid yellow fall color. Recommended cultivars include ‘Cully’ (aka Heritage), which is larger leaved with more exfoliation and has outstanding bark color; ‘Little King’ (aka Fox Valley), which is 10 feet tall by 12 feet wide with a dense compact oval growth habit; and ‘Whit XXV’ (aka City Slicker), which has darker green leaves and shows superior drought and cold tolerance

Striped Maple (aka Snake Bark Maple, Moosewood) (Acer pensylvanicum)

River Birch (Betula nigra)

4. European Beech (Fagus sylvatica)

Zones: 4 to 7

Size: 50 to 60 feet tall and 35 to 45 feet wide

It would be difficult to find a finer specimen tree. This large, graceful four-season shade tree is more tolerant of compacted soils than American beech (F. grandifolia), although there may be some surface roots with age. It naturally branches close to the ground and has few problems. Its smooth gray bark is outstanding and is darker than American beech. Fall color is a golden bronze. Recommended cultivars include ‘Asplenifolia’, which is a fine-textured form with cut leaves that turn golden brown in fall, and ‘Tricolor’, which has outstanding purple foliage with irregular cream and rose-colored borders, but does tend to lose its color as season goes on.

5. Seven-Son Flower (Heptacodium miconioides)

Zones: 5 to 8

Size: 15-20 feet tall and 10 feet wide

Introduced to this country by the Arnold Arboretum and U.S. National Arboretum from China, this is a beautiful multi-stemmed shrub or small tree. Its tan bark exfoliates to reveal an attractive brown inner bark, reminding me of an old honeysuckle plant. In late summer the white flowers open with a lovely fragrance. In fall, the ornamental calyx turns bright purple-red and lasts until the first hard frost.

European Beech (Fagus sylvatica)

Seven-Son Flower (Heptacodium miconioides)

6. Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)

Zones: 5 to 8

Size: 70 feet tall by 25 feet wide

This large, stately deciduous conifer exhibits a distinct conical form. It is a lovely specimen and ornamental tree excelling in groves and along streams and lakes. It also makes a very effective screen. Plant it in an area large enough to accommodate its size. The bark is red-brown in youth, then becoming darker, fissured and exfoliating in narrow strips. It has a medium-fast growth rate with cinnamon-brown fall color. Recommended cultivars include ‘Ogon’ and ‘Gold Rush’, which have yellow leaves with burnt orange fall color and fast growth, and ‘Raven’ (aka Shaw’s Legacy), which has a uniform pyramidal shape with dark green needles and deep, furrowed bark.

7. Persian Parrotia (aka Persian Ironwood) (Parrotia persica)

Zones: 4 to 8

Size: 30 feet tall by 20 feet wide

This is one of the best specimen trees known for foliage, bark and pest resistance. This is an outstanding small ornamental tree with few rivals. It is typically low branched, but there are tree forms. Bark exfoliates on older trunks exposing a mosaic of gray, brown, white and green. Fall colors of yellow to orange to scarlet are outstanding. Recommended cultivars include: ‘Biltmore’, which has a low-branching, rounded form with fabulous bark, and ‘Vanessa’, which has an upright, columnar form with vivid yellow fall color.

Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)

Persian Parrotia (aka Persian Ironwood) (Parrotia persica)

8. Lacebark Pine (Pinus bungeana)

Zones: 4 to 7

Size: 30-40 feet tall by 20-30 feet wide

Though a slow grower, this specimen tree is valued for its showy, striking bark. It must be steadily limbed up from a young age for its trunk and larger branches to receive proper sunlight, which develops the handsome mottled bark of exfoliating patches of green, white, gray, orange and brown. Beware that some damage may occur under heavy snowfall and ice loads.

9. Japanese Stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia)

Zones: 5 to 7

Size: 25-40 feet tall and 10-20 feet wide

One of the nicest multi-season ornamental trees for the garden, Japanese stewartia offers magnificent camouflage-hued exfoliating bark with flaky, but smooth, patches of gray, brown and rust. Additionally it has beautiful orange-red fall color along with the lovely white flowers in midsummer. Avoid placing this Japanese native in hot spots because it prefers morning sun. It performs best in light shade, especially in the hottest part of summer.

Lacebark Pine (Pinus bungeana)

Japanese Stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia)

10. Chinese Tree Lilac (aka Pekin Lilac or Peking Lilac) (Syringa pekinensis)

Zones: 3 to 7

Size: 15-20 feet tall and 10-15 feet wide

A small tree-form lilac for the landscape, this exhibites greater heat tolerance, flowers earlier and has a finer texture because of smaller leaves and stems than the Japanese tree lilac (S. reticulata). It exhibits a very nice smooth and copper-colored bark that peels and flakes in sheets. Cherry-like prominent horizontal lenticels add to the ornamental value, as do the fragrant creamy white long panicles in early summer. Recommended cultivars include ‘Morton’ (aka China Snow), which is an upright single-stemmed form with exfoliating cherry-like bark, and ‘Sun Dak’ (aka Copper Curls), which shows coppery-orange exfoliating bark, is multi-trunked and has improved winter hardiness.

11. Common Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)

Zones: 4 to 9

Size: 50-70 feet tall by 20-30 feet wide

This large deciduous conifer is an upright, stately pyramidal tree. Use as a focal point or specimen. It is superb in exceptionally moist areas but showing its versatility, it is also dry-site capable. Some chlorosis may occur in high-pH soils. Bark is red-brown with some exfoliation and the fall color has shades of russet, orange and bronze. Recommended cultivars include ‘Michelson’ (aka Shawnee Brave), which is a narrow, fastigiate form with blue-green foliage, and ‘Peve Minaret’, which is a compact, dwarf, pyramidal form that is 8-10 feet tall by 3 feet wide with a thick trunk.

Chinese Tree Lilac (aka Pekin Lilac or Peking Lilac) (Syringa pekinensis)

Common Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)

12. Lacebark Elm (Ulmus parvifolia

Zones: 5 to 9

Size: 40-50 feet tall and wide

This is a durable, large, shade, street or specimen tree. Arguably, it is the best all-around elm because of its combination of foliage, fall color, ornamental bark and resistance to Dutch elm disease. The branch strength of this tree is sometimes questioned because ice and wind storms may cause damage. Its bark is a magnificent mottled and exfoliating combination of green, gray, orange and brown. Fall color is yellow to red-purple in early to mid-November. Recommended cultivars include ‘Emerald Isle’ or ‘Emer I’ (aka Athena), which is rounded and may be the hardiest selection; ‘Ohio’, which is a U.S. National Arboretum introduction with reddish fall color; and ‘Small Frye’, a selection by plant guru Michael Dirr, it is a small tree with a mushroom-shaped top.

13. Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrata

Zones: 5 to 8

Size: 60 feet tall and wide

Here is a handsome large shade tree with a vase-like shape, rapid growth and stately looks. Other ornamental assets include the foliage, fine texture and attractive bark. Bark is red-brown and cherry-like in youth, turning gray-brown with some exfoliation at maturity. Fall color is yellow-orange-brown with occasional hues of red-purple. It is also very tolerant of urban conditions. Give it room to grow. Recommended cultivars include ‘Green Vase’, which has a vase shape with vigorous upward arching branches; ‘Ogon’, which exhibits yellow spring leaves that turn yellow-green by midsummer and amber gold stems that are striking in winter; and ‘Village Green’, which is oval and has wine-red fall color.

Lacebark Elm (Ulmus parvifolia)
Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrata)

From State-by-State Gardening January/February 2014. Photos by Scott A. Zanon.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

A Battle with Emerald Ash Borer is in Your Future
by Jonathan Heaton - posted 03/24/14     #Advice   #Feature   #Insects   #Invasives

Close-up view of adult emerald ash borer. 1

Emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) is an invasive beetle that has killed tens of millions of ash trees in the Midwest since first discovered in Michigan in 2002. If you haven’t already dealt with this serious problem, you, your neighborhood and community will face it in the not-too-distant future.

No species of ash (Fraxinus) is immune from attack by this Asian import that does not have any natural predators in this country. It’s just a matter of time for most of us, as the insect spreads far and wide.

Although a complicated issue, you can help by understanding a few things about emerald ash borer (frequently called EAB), how it works and options for management.

It is frequently incorrectly reported that nothing can be done to save ash trees, which account for 10 to 40 percent of urban trees in the Midwest. Fortunately, there are options for saving important trees and managing the impact and spread of EAB.

Identify Ash Trees

The first step to managing EAB is learning to identify ash trees. They have unique bark, leaves and branching habits. I think the best way to learn how to identify a tree is to ask another person with experience to show you, or visit an arboretum, public park or other place that has trees labeled. Online resources ( and guidebooks are good, but a picture is no substitute for a live tree.

Adult EAB beetles lay eggs on the bark of ash trees. The larvae tunnel into the tree and eat the portion of the wood responsible for transporting water, nutrients and sugars through the tree. Each year the larvae grow into adult beetles, which emerge from the tree and lay more eggs, increasing the population exponentially. In as little as three years, the damage becomes severe enough to kill the tree.

Infested trees begin dying at the top and will usually grow numerous sprouts from the lower trunk. When the adult beetles emerge, they leave a characteristic D-shaped hole, about the size of a pencil eraser, in the bark. Many inspectors find that the easiest way to spot infested trees is to look for extensive, irregular missing patches of bark caused by woodpeckers feeding on the larvae. There are other problems that can cause similar symptoms, so, if you have an ash tree that you suspect is infested, contact a certified arborist.

Missing patches of bark caused by woodpeckers feeding on EAB larvae. 2

Infested trees die from the top down. They will often grow thick water sprouts from the trunk. 3

Management Options

You may or may not have ash trees on your property. Either way, you’ll want to know about options for management. Your community likely has a fair number of ash trees, which like most trees, have a significant impact on the quality and character of your neighborhood, such as shading sidewalks, storm water absorption and helping clean the air.

In my opinion, far too many municipalities have taken an approach heavily weighted toward removal, based on the misconception that nothing else can be done. The only way to change this is if informed and involved citizens fight to save trees where it makes sense.

Options for managing ash trees include:

•  Preemptive removal and possibly replacement trees

•  Removing infested trees as they become hazardous

•  Insecticide treatments to protect trees

•  Efforts to slow and limit the spread, including quarantines and biological control

If you have ash trees on your property, you will need to weigh the cost of removal against the cost of treatment with the benefits they provide. Take into consideration the size and condition of the tree. A small tree is easy to replace. Trees that are in poor health or too close to other trees or structures may need to be removed anyway and are not worth treating. In some cases, the ash tree may not be important enough to warrant treatment. (If the decision is to remove problematic trees, do so before they are infested. Infested or dead trees are weaker, which makes them more difficult and expensive to remove.)

If you decide to keep the tree, insecticide treatments need to be done before it is infested. A good guideline is to begin treatments when an EAB infestation is within 15 miles of your tree.

Insecticide and Applications

There is a wide range of opinions regarding products and application methods for protecting ash. Several universities are conducting research to learn more about the best methods, so current recommendations may change. At this point, research is showing the best control with a product called Tree-age, especially for trees with a diameter greater than 20 inches. This needs to be applied by a licensed, certified applicator every other year. The disadvantage of Tree-age is that it requires drilling holes into the trunk to inject the product, which is why it is important to hire a professional applicator with a good reputation. It is important that Tree-age is injected correctly, so that it is effective and to minimize damage from drilling.

For trees under 20-inch diameter, products containing imidacloprid (brand names include Bayer Advance and Optrol) can be poured around the trunk in a soil drench. This has been reasonably effective. Imidacloprid tends to stick to organic matter such as mulch, so it is important to dig a small trench down to bare soil around the trunk. Water the tree well for one to two weeks after you apply the chemical to help the tree absorb it through the roots. Many commercial applicators will use a soil probe with a pump to inject the product beneath the surface so that they don’t need to dig a trench. Watering is just as important, even if you hire someone to do the soil treatment for you. Soil treatments need to be done every year.

There are several efforts on a local and national level to help monitor and slow the spread of EAB. 

  • You may have seen purple boxes hanging in trees. These are traps that help arborists and researchers know where EAB has spread, but they do not directly limit the population. There are some new programs that we hope will help to limit the spread.
  • A pilot program in Minnesota is using dogs to sniff out wood that is infested with EAB. This can help to find wood that needs to be disposed of in a way that kills the larvae. 
  • Researchers have found wasps from EAB’s natural habitat in Asia that parasitize EAB larvae. They are currently testing the wasps to see how far they fly and if they can survive in cold climates. Results are promising. 
  • Many people have participated in ash identification programs, such as Neighbors Against Bad Bugs in Indiana. Citizens tag public ash trees and raise awareness of the impact that the loss of these will have. In some cases, the tags list the annual benefits in dollars each tree provides to further encourage saving trees. Some have joined with their neighbors to cover the cost of treating public trees if the government will agree not to cut them down.

Organize to Fight EAB

Don’t Do Battle Alone

Take Advantage of These Helpful Resources:

•    To find a certified arborist, visit the International Society of Arboriculture’s website,

• is a cooperative venture including Michigan, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Ontario and Quebec to share the latest information about emerald ash borer. 

•  University of Minnesota,

•  Iowa State University,

•  University of Wisconsin,

•  State of Michigan,

You can get involved in several ways to help combat EAB on a larger level. First and foremost, you should not move any firewood and you should discourage others. People moving firewood is the prime way EAB has spread so quickly throughout the Midwest and Eastern United States, the two most heavily infested regions. Always obey quarantines.

Become involved with your local government to help shape the way officials handle ash trees along streets, parks and other public spaces. You can get involved by attending city meetings and contacting public officials to advocate saving healthy trees instead of wholesale removal.

Many cities have essentially given up when faced with an EAB infestation. The perception seems to be that treatments are not effective or are too expensive, making removal the only option. It doesn’t help that many federal grants only cover removal or replacement.    

Treatments are reasonably effective and not expensive, especially when the monetary benefits of mature street trees are taken into account. For example, a single mature tree can capture several hundred gallons of storm water in a year, reducing the strain on municipal sewer systems and the need for expensive upgrades.

In my opinion a balanced approach, with a complete understanding of the benefits of trees, needs to be taken. Trees under 10 to 15 inches in diameter, or with structural defects and declining health should be removed and replaced. Larger trees in good condition should be treated wherever it is practical.

While emerald ash borer may seem like a staggering or insurmountable problem, it is possible to fight. Our experiences with EAB will also help us gain valuable knowledge for other invasive pests that will inevitably threaten our forests in the future. With education, involvement and a balanced approach, many ash trees can be saved and the spread of this devastating pest can be reduced.


1. Photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources - Forestry Archive,
2. Photo courtesy of Jim Tresouthick, Village of Homewood,
3. Photo courtesy of Daniel Herms, The Ohio State University,

From State-by-State Gardening March/April 2013.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

All-America Selections Winners Take All
by Denise Schreiber - posted 03/24/14     #Edibles   #Flowers

This is the time of year that dedicated gardeners sort through their catalogs picking out their seeds for the upcoming planting season. I’m sure that you have noticed a little identifying mark on a seed packet that says “AAS.” That means it is an All-America Selection that has been grown in more than 30 trial gardens all over the United State and Canada. All-America Selections (AAS, is a non-profit organization that was started by W. Ray Hastings in 1932. He noticed that there were only a few companies doing seed testing, and usually it was just in one area and there was no national clearinghouse. He proposed a national clearinghouse program and took it to the Southern Seedsman’s Association; they approved the idea and they donated money to begin the All-America Selections.

‘Straight Eight’ cucumber

The seeds trialed can be flowers and vegetables. Seeds are donated by the various seed companies who want to know how the plants grow in the North America before selling the seed to the public.

These are seeds that have never been sold before and are judged by professionals. They are grown side-by-side with currently available plants in a one-on-one comparison for characteristics such as fruit size, flowers, earliness or growth habit. Meticulous records are kept then submitted to the All-America Selections organization, which tallies up the scores for each plant then picks the winners. Only plants showing superior qualities are chosen as an AAS winner. There are the Gold Medal winners that go back as far as 1933, including ‘Asgrow Stringless Green Pod’ snap bean, ‘Fresh Look Red’ celosia (2004), ‘Straight Eight’ cucumber (1935), ‘Salad Bowl’ lettuce, (1952), ‘Sugar Snap’ pea (1979) and two of the hottest plants today,  and ‘Profusion Orange’ zinnias, which both won the gold medal in 1999.

‘Profusion Cherry’ zinnias

‘Profusion Orange’ zinnias

One of the Bedding Plant winners for 2014 is ‘African Sunset’ petunia. With deep shades of orange, this petunia is going to be a stunner in the garden. Mix it with white flowers or purple to make it stand out in the flower beds. Another National Bedding plant winner is ‘Sparkle White’ guara. It is a perennial that blooms the first year but can be used as an annual as well. The flowers have a blush of pink on them, making them delicate looking but tough in the garden. Grouping several guara together gives the illusions of hundreds of flowers floating in the wind.

‘African Sunset’ petunia

‘Sparkle White’ guara

There are also AAS regional winners that are also selected because they will do well in a particular region such as the Deep South, where heat and humidity can take its toll on a plant that thrives in Pennsylvania and vice versa. This year’s regional winner for the Northeast is ‘Patio Baby’ an early and very productive eggplant. With its compact habit, it is a good choice for those with limited space in the garden or for container. It has deep purple, egg-shaped fruit that should be harvested at baby size, about 2 to 3 inches. Recommendations for use include dips and roasting. It is thornless and will continue to produce all summer long. For more information on all of the All-America selections, you can check out the links below.

A complete list of trial grounds and judges can be found here:

A complete list of all AAS Winners since 1932 can be found here:

Photos courtesy of Denise Schreiber.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Eastern bee balm
by By Roy Diblik - posted 03/21/14     #Hot Plants   #Summer

Here eastern bee balm is painted with moor grass (Midinia caerulea) and lesser calamint (Calamintha nepta; syn. Clinopodium nepeta).

Common Name: Eastern bee balm

Botanical Name: Monarda bradburiana

Type of Plant: Perennial, hardy in USDA Zones 5 through 8

Color: Lavender pink

Blooming Period: Early June through mid-July

Exposure: Full sun to part shade

Size: 12 to 24 inches tall and wide

When to Plant: Throughout the growing season

Soil: Average to slightly dry soil; I planted this in my gravel garden, where it is doing well.

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: Grow it with prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), Salvia ‘Wesuwe’, Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’ and blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis).

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


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

The Right Tool For The Right Job
by Nancy Szerlag - posted 03/19/14     #Advice   #Feature   #Pruning

Planting and caring for trees and shrubs is one the best things you can do for the environment. Trees are critical tools in nature’s control of water and air pollution. They cast shade on hot sidewalks and reduce heat and air conditioning needs in homes and offices. Trees and shrubs provide food for pollinating insects, birds and people while beautifying the views.

It might surprise you to know that regular pruning helps keep trees and shrubs healthy, as well as looking good. And early spring is prime time for pruning.

Just like any job, pruning demands the right tool for the job. When buying pruning tools, choose a quality tool designed for the job, which not only makes the work easier, it’s also kinder to the plants.

Cutting blades made of poor-quality metals quickly loose their edge, become dull and often are permanently damaged. Pruning with a dull blade damages stems and branches by crushing or splitting, which take a long time to heal. These wounds become magnets for pests and diseases. Clean cuts, made with sharp blades, do little damage, heal quickly and look better. 

Hand pruners are the most-often used tool in garden cleanup, so it makes sense to buy good quality.

Just like kitchen knives, when it comes to pruning tools there is no such thing as one size or style fits all. There are two styles of hand pruners and homeowners should own one of each, since they are designed to do different jobs.

Hand pruners

Aids, such as ratchets in anvil pruners, multiply the cutting strength and   reduce hand fatigue. 1

Hand pruners cut stems and branches that range up to ½ to ¾ inch in diameter. There are dozens on the market, but they come in two basic styles. 

  • Bypass pruners, with scissor-like cutting action, allow you to make clean, quick, healing cuts on roses, shrubs, small trees and plants.
  • Anvil pruners use a single sharp straight-edged blade that hits a wide, flat anvil blade to cut dry, dead and dense woody growth.
  • When making your selection, be sure the handle fits the expanded width of your hand to avoid excessive fatigue.

Ergonomic handles, which curve to fit comfortably in your hand and have curved blades, reduce excessive wrist movement. Metal handles are often coated with cushioning materials that reduce friction, thereby reducig the chance of callusing or blisters. The bottom line is it should feel comfortable in your hand when cutting.


Loppers are essentially pruners with longer handles for cutting larger branches. They also get into tight spaces and the centers of plants. Good quality steel or stainless-steel blades are essential. Weight is also an important consideration, especially for folks who only do occasional pruning and have not built up the muscles in their forearms. Fatigue can also result in poor-quality cuts that damage plants, as well as accidents that could be avoided.

When choosing pruning tools, take into consideration the diameter of the branch or stem to be cut. Most loppers will safely cut a branch with a diameter up to 1 ½  inches to 2 inches. Trying to cut an overly large branch may stress the blade assembly, leaving it permanently misaligned, which causes crushed stems and branches. For larger branches, a tree saw is recommended.


Always keep blades sharp to ensure healthy cuts. A couple of swipes of the blades with a sharpener before use usually does the job.

Manufacturers of quality pruners offer replacement blades and other parts, which allow you to keep the tools in tip-top condition at all times. A long-term or lifetime warranty on a tool is another indication of quality. Today, space-age materials, such as titanium and strong, high-density plastics, may also be used in construction, so don’t overlook them. Toolmakers are constantly developing new designs that improve their products.

1.The 62-inch Fiskars Pruning Stik’s head rotates to make it easier to trim lower branches of trees without a ladder and to reach into tight, dense shrubs.  2

2. FELCO makes several sizes of pruners to accommodate the smallest and the largest hands. One way to reduce fatigue is to use pruners that are comfortable in your hand, even when the handles are expanded. 3

3. Fiskars PowerGear Bypass Pruners are ergonomically designed to make pruning easier. Ergonomic features include gears, ratchets and the padding on handles. 2

4. Loppers, such as the FELCO 200A, work well for pruning in the center of shrubs and other tight spaces. Make sure the loppers have bumper pads that control how the handles close. Without the pads, you will smash your fingers when you cut branches and close the handles. 3

To get an idea of what pruning tools are available, peruse catalogs or check out the websites of high quality toolmakers.

Good-quality pruning tools are a wise investment in the maintenance of healthy trees and shrubs, the environment and your pocketbook.


1. Photo courtesy of Corona Tool USA.
2. Photo courtesy of Fiskars.
3. Photo courtesy of FELCO USA.

From State-by-State Gardening March/April 2013.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Make the Most of Your Patio
by Joe VanDerZanden - posted 03/12/14     #Advice   #Design

According to landscape architect David John, a well-designed garden is just the beginning of the story. In order to truly enjoy a residential landscape, John contends that homeowners should consider a total outdoor living space that allows them to enjoy the oasis that they took the time and effort to create.

“Patios present the perfect solution,” says John, a landscape design consultant and partner at Landscapes by Design, a design-build firm based in Slater, Iowa. “When designed properly, a precast paver patio will produce a space to which a family will gravitate, no matter the season and no matter the reason.”

Develop a “Lifestyle Roadmap”

The first step in the design process is conducting a thorough evaluation of your habits and routines as they pertain to an outdoor lifestyle.  John makes sure to query his clients about when, and in what manner, they envision themselves spending time outside.

“Some see themselves enjoying a morning cup of coffee with the paper on the patio, soaking up the morning sun,” he says. “Others might be keen on a season of weekend cook-outs in the shade or relaxing with family around a crackling fire pit in the evening.”

The salient point here is to design the patio for its  intended use: outdoor entertaining, privacy, weekends with the family, or whatever you have in mind. An appropriate design goal will add value to a patio because you will use it more frequently.

Private patios can also serve as a warm welcome. The design intent here was to create an inviting entryway while still providing a space for enjoying evening hours on the shady front porch.

In this suburban Iowa backyard, columns and a seat wall help define the fire pit area while providing plenty of space for a large gathering of friends and family.

Indulge your taste

Modern precast concrete pavers and even natural stone are available in an astounding variety of colors, shapes and textures. With such a wide palette of product from which to choose, patios can be designed and constructed to fit any taste.

“I encourage my clients to take full advantage of what our manufacturers offer,” says John. “We can do installations that use a boldly colored soldier course against a neutral field or others that incorporate the vintage feel of Old World cobblestone.”

With so many options to work with in terms of color, shape, texture and pattern, the design options are almost limitless. Use these options as design tools and make the most of your investment.

Native plantings, boulders and natural stone all work together with a precast paver “circle kit” to create a simple, yet elegant, backyard getaway.

Stick with the plan

A show-stopping paver patio fits with the architecture of the house and enhances the enjoyment of the garden. Listen to your landscape designer and be sure that the size and style of your proposed paver patio fits the style of your home.  Plant designers often refer to the rule “pick the right plant for the right spot.” The same can be said for patio design. Paver patios should be an appropriate size, have an agreeable exposure and fit with the design of the house and garden.

“Nobody wants to see their patio stick out like sore thumb,” cautions John.

Sometimes the best place for patios is away from the house; in this case limestone steps and flagstone lead the way to a garden retreat.
Concrete pavers and regionally quarried Iowa buff limestone solve a tricky problem of how to create a below grade patio.

Consider the options

“In a perfect world, the patio is more than just a place to park the grill,” says John. After designing hundreds of outdoor spaces he continues to encourage clients to incorporate features that will add value, comfort and utility to their patios. Among the most popular patio features is an outdoor fireplace or fire pit, which provides a pleasant place to gather in the evening hours. John also has seen a recent up tick in interest in outdoor kitchens complete with cooktops, beverage coolers, ovens and even prep sinks.

More-private paver patios are also a perfect spot for a water feature, such as a bubbling fountain or a nearby stream. The tranquil sound of water trickling through stones can add a relaxing, spa like quality to a homeowner’s outdoor retreat.

Outdoor kitchens can be as simple as a countertop and beverage cooler. Note the power source at the bar which allows easy hook-ups for food warmers, crockpots and blenders!

Be prepared

Perhaps the most important tip that will make the most of the patio design experience is to be prepared. Before the initial design meeting, John encourages his clients to plan ahead in two ways. First, he suggests collecting a selection of pictures, drawings or any other ideas that you find appealing. “Good ideas turn into good designs” is John’s mantra.

Secondly, he asks homeowners to think about the financial resources they are willing to devote to a new patio.

“Clients are sometimes apprehensive to give a budget number,” says John. “But the reality is that budget is a critical design tool.” Without knowing what a homeowner is able to commit to a project, the designer is unable to determine what options are available. John is quick to point out that there is a paver patio that can fit any budget and certainly add value, comfort and enjoyment to the home.

From Iowa Gardener Volume I Issue I. Photos by Landscapes by Design, Inc.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Sunny Disposition, Shady Needs
by Jim Nau - posted 03/12/14     #Advice   #Flowers

Impatiens infected with downy mildew (Plasmopara obducens)1


It is always a topic of conversation: What plants work well in sun or in shade? Or both? However, the conversation has taken on a slightly different perspective for 2014.

The plant world has been turned upside down due to a disease that has impacted one of gardeners’ favorite shade plants — Impatiens walleriana. Impatiens are the standard for any annual shade garden, and varieties belonging to this class have died in Europe, the U.K. and now, North America, from a disease called downy mildew (Plasmopara obducens). Infected plants start to drop leaves overnight and only the plant stems remain after a few days. So what can you replace them with to give color in a shaded location? Here are a few suggestions.

Ideas for Shade


SunPatiens Spreading Pink Flash 2

First, let’s start with impatiens varieties that have shown tolerance to downy mildew. These include: The Impatiens x hybrida SunPatiens series. Superb performers, SunPatiens can be planted in full sun to shade. They are available in compact, spreading and vigorous varieties to fit many garden needs. All have 2-inch blooms. The Compact class has 10 flower colors, grows from 16-28 inches tall and spreads 14-24 inches across. Spreading types include five flower colors and grow from 18-28 inches tall, spreading from 18 to 24 inches across with a mounding habit. There are two variegated leaf selections as well. Vigorous SunPatiens varieties have seven flower colors and grow from 20-35 inches tall with a 24 to 30-inch spread.

New colors for 2014 include: ‘Compact Red’ (Impatiens x hybrida hort ‘SunPatiens Compact’) with a rich, brilliant red flower color; ‘Compact Hot Coral’ (Impatiens x hybrida hort ‘SunPatiens Compact’) with a saturated coral pink color; and ‘Spreading Pink Flash’ (Impatiens x hybrida hort ‘Spreading SunPatiens’)  with light pink flowers. Flowers measure 2 inches across.

Impatiens hawkeri Divine series. Introduced several years ago, the Divine series has several new colors for spring. Blue Pearl has lavender blue flowers. Scarlet Bronze Leaf, as the name implies, has scarlet flowers with bronze foliage. Burgundy has a rich burgundy red flower color. White Blush has a white-flowering petal with a pink blush. All varieties grow 10-14 inches tall and spread from 12-14 inches across. Plants prefer morning or late afternoon sun but shade during the brightest time of day.

Again, as a reminder, these two impatiens are not affected by the downy mildew disease and are a suitable alternative to Impatiens walleriana.

Impatiens hawkeri Divine Burgundy

Impatiens hawkeri Divine Scarlet Bronze Leaf


A plant class that has seen a resurgence in varieties and tolerance of full sun and/or moderate shade is coleus (Plectranthus scutellariodes). The brightest and broadest range of foliage colors can be found in this class of annuals. Many of the more recently introduced varieties have helped redefine the crop as a whole. Some have such superior performance that they will do well in full sun or where they get shade.

Coleus Mighty Mosaic. This is a new seed-propagated variety for 2014 and the foliage on this selection reminds me of army fatigues — various shades of bright to medium green, splashed with darker colors. Plants grow 14-20 inches tall, spread 14-20 inches, and perform best with morning or late afternoon sun, but protected from direct sun during the middle of the day. The foliage color is more pronounced under these exposures and will not bleach out or flower early.

Coleus Kong Junior series. If you are familiar with the Kong series then you recognize its large-leaved varieties in various foliage colors for shady locations. Kong grows 16-20 inches tall and spreads 16-20 inches across. Kong Junior (a new series for 2014) will do the same. The major difference between the two is that Kong Junior has smaller leaves that allow for less breakage than its cousin. Varieties include Green Halo ‘PAS904508’, Rose ‘PAS904510’, Scarlet ‘PAS905512’ and Lime Vein ‘PAS904506’. On Lime Vein the foliage color is more pronounced in shade. Under bright light, the veining is not as significant.

Here are a few other recent introductions of coleus. The major difference is that these are taller and tolerate full sun to shade.

Henna ‘Balcenna’. Rose and lime green splashed irregularly across each serrated leaf. Plants grow 20-30 inches tall.

Wasabi ‘UF0843’. A lime green (sometimes chartreuse) foliage plant growing 24-36 inches tall. Excellent in full-sun to bright-shade locations, this plant makes a great thriller and tall backdrop in garden beds.

Redhead ‘UF07-10-10’. This brilliant scarlet red selection grows 24-30 inches tall. It’s a stellar performer with consistent upright habit, no flowering, grows equally well in full sun to shade.

Coleus Mighty Mosaic 2

Coleus Wasabi 2


Caladiums (Caladium) are often overooked as a garden option, but they can be used in a number of settings with excellent results. Caladiums do not like full or heavy shade. They prefer lit spaces (some can tolerate sun all day) so pick accordingly. A few of the better ones we have tried include the following:

‘Celebration’ is a white-leaved selection with green edges and bright red veins and midrib. Plants grow 18-26 inches tall and work well in morning/afternoon sun and shade during the midday hours. Great as a bedding plant, in containers by itself, or when mixed with other plants.

‘Heart’s Delight’ has a prominent red center to each leaf edged in dark to medium green, sometimes dotted with white. Plants grow 20-26 inches tall in a container but can also be grown in the garden where they tend to be slightly shorter.

‘Raspberry Moon’ is one that we have used as a border plant in front of a large tropical display in our gardens in West Chicago and one of my personal favorites. The leaves are raspberry red to rose, highlighted with cream to white across the entire leaf. The intensity of color is deeper under morning light and afternoon shade. Plants grow 18-20 inches high when planted in the garden and slightly taller when grown in a container on the deck or patio.

Caladium ‘Celebration’ 2

Ideas for Sun

While there has been a focus on selecting varieties for shade, that does not mean that sun-loving crops have taken a backseat. The following are just a few of the newer selections for spring.


Celosia ‘Arrabona Red’ 2

There have been a number of new celosia (Celosia plumosa) introductions.

Arrabona Red is an intense red-flowered variety on green foliage. Plants grow 12-16 inches tall  and are better branched than other selections. It is an excellent garden performer and won’t stall out come late summer.

The First Flame series is between 14 and 18 inches tall in the garden and comes in several colors. My personal favorites are First Flame Red, which has a medium red flower on green foliage, and First Flame Yellow, with its medium-green foliage and bright yellow flowers.

Celosia First Flame Red 2

Celosia First Flame Yellow 2


Petunia ‘Redtastic’ 2

New petunia selections continue to be introduced. For you, dear readers, I’ll focus on some of the unique bicolors that are brand new for 2014.

Flash Mob is a series featuring two morn-type selections. One is ‘Flash Mob Redtastic’ (Petunia ‘Flash Mob Redtastic’), a plant growing 12-14 inches tall with a similar spread. Its blooms are 2-2½ inches in diameter with dark pink to light red flowers and white center.

The other is ‘Flash Mob Bluerific’ (Petunia ‘Flash Mob Bluerific’), equal in flower size and height but a with a light to medium blue flower.

‘Cha-Ching Cherry’ (Petunia ‘Cha-Ching Cherry’) has 2½-inch single blooms that are a bicolor pattern of cherry, rose and cream to white. Mix some Diamond Frost euphorbia (Euphorbia hypericifolia ‘Inneuphe’) or Breathless White euphorbia (Euphorbia hypericifolia) in a basket or pot for a stunning display.

Petunia Flash Mob ‘Bluerific’ 2

Petunia ‘Cha-Ching Cherry’ 2

Gomphrena ‘Pink Zazzle’ 2


Zahara Sunburst zinnia (Zinnia marylandica ‘Zahara Sunburst’) boasts a unique bicolor of gold and red in a star-shaped flower pattern. It is very drought tolerant and disease resistant. Plants grow 12-16 inches tall with 2½-inch single flowers.


The new Gomphrena ‘Pink Zazzle’ has sure grabbed a lot of attention in our gardens this past summer. While this is a gomphrena, it isn’t one we have ever seen in our gardens since our inception in 1905. It has large 2½-inch flower globes of rosy purple spikes tipped in white. The plants have larger leaves than standard gomphrenas, and they are covered with many fine hairs. Quite a stunner in containers and something unique for your garden.

Ideas for Your Patio

New roses and orchids provide season-long bloom in containers on your deck or patio.

First, the Roses

Sweet Spot Decorator Rose Calypso 3
The four new varieties of Sweet Spot roses, introduced this year by Tesselaar Plants, can’t help but be attention hounds. Unassuming yet beautiful in bud, Sweet Spot roses Calypso, Peach, Ruby and Yellow are compact and as disease resistant as Tesselaar’s Flower Carpet line. The surprise is on the inside where the distinctive spot of deep red-orange-pink resides.

The term “sweet spot” refers not only to the spot in the middle, but the idea that they can be used to color up just about any spot. Perfect for a container or in the ground, they should nevertheless be grown where they can be appreciated at close range. Shades and hues come and go as the flowers age, giving them a multi-colored effect.

Anthony Tesselaar, co-founder and president of Tesselaar Plants, considers them a new class of roses, which he terms The Decorator Rose. “We call them ‘decorator roses’ because of their bold, bright mix of colors – seen everywhere in fashion right now. They are so unique, so distinct; you can use them to, in fact, decorate your garden, patio and containers.”

Four roses will be available in the 2014 market, but there are plans to introduce up to 24 in future years. The smallest, at just 16 inches tall, is Sweet Spot Yellow. Its butter-yellow bud hints at more with its blotch of red near the stem. The single flower opens to show off its red-orange central spot. Sweet Spot Peach and Ruby grow to around 20 inches and each has a deep pinkish-red center. Sweet Spot Peach begins its bloom season earlier than the rest but enjoys the same long season of bloom. Ruby is pink in bud, opening to pinkish-red and yellow with a reddish-pink spot. 

The compact spreading habits of these roses make them ideal for containers. Move them around the patio like furniture, only a lot more interesting. 

And Then There Are the Orchids

Spathoglottis ‘Mellow Yellow’ 4
Oglesby Plants International, Inc. in Altha, Fla., has introduced a collection of orchids that can live on your patio for the summer. While most orchids are too delicate to chuck into a pot and leave to fend for themselves, these new hybrids of the genus Spathoglottis positively preen. Considered a terrestrial or ground orchid, these plants have flowers with enough substance and vigor to offer up color throughout the whole season.

Spathoglottis is a genus with more than 40 species. Its palm-like foliage sets the stage for a succession of extremely long-lasting blooms that range in color from purple to yellow to white. It has long been used in landscaping in warm climates but has only recently been considered for container planting in cooler regions. The plants bloom relatively non-stop, provided they have warmth, bright light and good nutrition. Flowers open a few at a time at the top of the spike. Each spike can last for months.

Spathoglottis will grow well under light shade to full sun and should be planted in a well-drained, fibrous peat-based soil mix. To provide the best growth, Oglesby recommends a mix of 60 percent peat, 20 percent perlite and 20 percent bark that should be kept evenly moist. Spathoglottis have a vigorous root system and require standard or extra deep containers. Because they grow fast, they require a good supply of liquid or slow-release fertilizer, or a combination of both. They don’t tolerate freezing but can withstand temps as low as 40 F for short periods.

Availability in the Midwest is hit or miss, but customers are becoming more adventurous, says Chuck Roth, of Chesterton Feed & Garden Center. “We’ve been mixing tropical plants with other annuals in mixed containers,” he says. “The tropicals lend themselves well to that.” As for carrying varieties of Spathoglottis, Roth has been able to find three wholesale sources for the plants, so gardeners can expect to find some of them at the Chesterton, Indiana garden center.

The varieties ‘Grapette’, ‘Snow Angel’ and ‘Cabaret’ have been out the longest, so the chance of availability is good.

– Jean Starr, author of the blog PetalTalk


1. Photo by Annette MaCoy
2. Photo by Ron Capek
3. Photo courtesy of Tesselaar USA
4. Photo courtesy of Oglesby Plants

From Chicagoland Gardening Volume XIX Issue I.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Oh No! It’s Going to Freeze Tonight!
by Betsy Lyman - posted 03/10/14  

When late spring temperatures drop below freezing, it’s time for your plants to take cover.

Few things strike terror in the heart of a gardener more than a forecast for a late spring freeze. And let’s face it, with this year’s rollercoaster ride of temperatures it is hard to know what’s around the corner. But I think you’d agree that if this year’s wacky weather patterns continue, chances are good that a late spring frost could be in your garden’s future. To avoid being caught off guard, here are some tips to help you prepare.

Get Ready ‘Cause Here it Comes

The best time to get ready for an overnight freeze is weeks before it happens (like now). Why? If you’re like me, you have been guilty of doing the old last minute frost scramble. Trouble is that if you wait until the day before the frost to prepare it is often difficult to find all the coverings you need. By gathering up the materials ahead of time and storing them all together, when the time comes to cover your plants all you’ll need to do is grab and go.

What’s in and What’s Out  

The first step in preparing for a spring frost is to figure out which plants you’ll need to cover. While every year is different, if you’ve gardened in the same spot for a few years, you may be familiar with your garden’s sequence of spring-blooming plants. Garden journals from previous years and photos with date stamps can be helpful reminders. But even if this is your first garden, there are plants that often need spring frost protection such as young vegetable and flower seedlings, flowering fruit trees and shrubs, spring-blooming bulbs and containers of mixed season plants.

Crocuses are cold-hardy plants that don’t require frost protection. They are among the first flowers to bloom in spring so they often experience freezing temperatures.

However, not all flower and garden plants have to be covered. There are several kinds of cold-tolerant plants that can survive brief bouts of mid-20 F temperatures. A few examples are crocuses, tulips, narcissus, grape hyacinths, pansies, nemesia, diascia, snapdragons and osteospermum as well as collards, cabbage, spinach, kale, peas, radish and leeks. If you are in doubt about a plant’s ability to withstand temperatures below 32 F, call your county extension service or check reference books or online sources.

Once you’ve identified the plants that need to be covered, the next step is to determine the size each covering should be so that it can adequately protect your plant. Sometimes the height and width of a tree, shrub or a planting bed is hard to judge in an outdoor setting, so a tape measure is helpful to get the correct measurements.

Size Matters

Why measure your plants? To be effective, a cover needs to be large enough to drape over the plant on all sides to trap warm air rising from the ground and to prevent the outside cold air from getting to the plant. Anything that creates a dead air space between the ground and the plant will do the trick. For trees, shrubs or large plants you may need to sew or pin together several old bed sheets, while for small seedlings a plastic container will work. Almost any type of covering from cloth to cardboard boxes to plastic milk jugs will do.

Avoid any covering that is too heavy or too small so that it crushes or breaks your plant’s stems. Some gardeners have saved plants from freezing only to lose them from being crushed under heavy covers.

A bonnet of wire fencing held aloft with a wooden stake creates a framework for plastic sheeting over a raised vegetable garden bed. The sheeting will cover all sides of the bed to create a protective shield for the plants from freezing temperatures.

Just remember that if you use sheets of plastic, they need to be elevated above and around the plants. Why? If frost forms on the outside of the plastic it transfers that cold to any place it touches the plant. There are several ways to create a framework around your plants to hold the sheeting. Some gardeners use pieces of lawn furniture such as chairs, tables or a chaise lounge. Others create a bonnet effect over the plants with hoops of wire fencing. Plastic plumbing pipe, wooden stakes, tomato cages, overturned carts and wheelbarrows can also work. Plastic is often preferred for protecting plants during a windy night, so if those are the conditions you face, double up and cover the framework with plastic along with a blanket to increase the amount of insulation.

Now, with your list of plants and the sizes of covers that you will need, you can gather the right types of materials. You might already have many of these items on hand or you can get them from friends and neighbors or pick up at yard sales. By preparing early you’ll have time to modify the coverings or sew them together to make large wraps. You’ll also have time to save the right size and number of plastic containers you’ll need. If you use milk or soda bottles as coverings, cut off the bottoms of the containers but save the screw-on tops to make them air tight over the plants.

Here are a few frost covering options:

Soft and Lightweight Fabrics
Old sheets, tablecloths, lightweight blankets, bedspreads, curtains, pillowcases, towels, commercial row covers and plant fabric covers

Vinyl or Plastic Material
Tarps, clear plastic sheets, commercial plant covers, garbage bags, buckets, liquid containers (milk, soda and water), food containers (cottage cheese, deli and yogurt), flower and nursery containers (be sure to cover the holes on the bottoms of the overturned plastic pots)

Cardboard boxes (can be collapsed and stored), newspapers, garbage cans, large glass jars, terra-cotta pots

Make it Easy on Yourself

Storing all your plant protection supplies together will save you time when a spring frost is looming. A rolling garbage can makes it easy to transport your materials around the yard and garden.

A great way to store your frost protection materials is to stash them in one or more rolling garbage cans. Keep the cans tucked away in the back corner of your garage or basement. That way you won’t be tempted to use your designated frost coverings for other projects. Remember, we want to avoid the frantic frost scramble! When the time comes that you need them, just roll the cans around the yard to transport the covers to the plants. The rolling containers also make it easier to pick up the coverings the next day.

A Few More Tips

With your materials stored away, you can relax knowing that if a frost is predicted, you’ll be ready. As you watch your local weather forecast, remember that a TV station’s predicted low temperatures are often based on where they are located, not in your garden, so adjust accordingly. There are online weather sites that let you put in your address and find a weather reporting station closer to home. However, anytime a forecast for your region is going to be near 32 F, it is time to spring into action.

Shelter your plants before the sun sets so you can capture as much warmth from the soil as possible. And remember that cold air is more dense than warm air, so it sinks to the lowest point. Low-lying areas of the garden can be several degrees colder than other areas. Consequently, frost may occur in these areas when there is no frost evident anywhere else in the garden.

Water Then Cover

As odd as it may sound, an important line of defense in protecting your plants from frost is to water the soil around them. Studies have shown that moist soil holds much more heat than dry soil so you can enhance the soil’s ability to capture warmth during the day and deliver it to your plant during a cold snap by making sure it has consistent moisture. However, watering alone will not provide all the needed protection from a freeze, but watering combined with covering your plants can make the difference between a plant’s survival or its demise.

Turn up the Heat

Adding other sources of heat under your frost coverings may also help protect special plants. Fill plastic jugs with water and then leave them in the sun to absorb the warmth. When they are placed next to the plant under the wraps, the water will release its heat through the night.

Watch Out for Wind

Few things are more frustrating than to go to all the work of covering your plants only to have the wind or even a light breeze blow them off during the night. To keep that from happening, secure your coverings to the ground. Gardeners often use stakes, U-shaped wire pins, boards, bricks, rocks or soil.

Wait for the Light

The next morning, don't remove the frost covers if it is still dark; preferably, don’t remove them until late in the morning. Some of the coldest temperatures are just after sunrise. The timing of removing the covers might not coincide with your work schedule, but be aware that taking the coverings off too soon may make the plants vulnerable to frost, or leaving them on too long could cause the plants to overheat. And if the weather calls for more than one night of frost, don’t leave the plants covered during the day unless daytime temperatures remain below freezing.

Photos courtesy of Betsy Lyman.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

New and Unusual Varieties to Try
by Carol Michel - posted 03/05/14     #Edibles

Does the thought of growing the same vegetable varieties you grew last year leave you a bit bored and complacent about your vegetable garden? Are you ready to try some new varieties of veggies this spring? If so, you need to start planning now so when spring arrives, you’ll be ready to try something in your garden.

My suggestions for some uncommon veggies include:

For something different, try a round summer squash such as ‘Cue Ball’.

Squash ‘Cue Ball’

Everyone knows what summer or zucchini squash looks like. Those club-shaped squashes with dark green, yellow or even light green skin are recognizable to everyone. But if you hand someone a round summer squash, you are likely to be asked what it is. The most common round, summer squash is ‘Cue Ball’ (Cucurbita pepo ‘Cue Ball’), which has light green skin. Other varieties of round squash include ‘Eight Ball’, which is dark green skinned, and ‘One Ball’, which is yellow skinned. Grow these squash varieties as you would other summer squash by planting a few seeds in a small hill of soil in a sunny location in the garden. Like other types of squashes, they will start producing squash in about a month and continue to produce for a long period of time. Pick the round squash when it is slightly larger than a billiard ball and use it as you would other summer squash.

Edamame is packed with vitamins and nutrients.

Edamame ‘Envy’

Though surrounded by fields of soybeans in Indiana, few gardeners think about growing soybeans in their vegetable gardens. But you should think about doing so because the immature soybeans, which are usually called by the Japanese word “edamame,” are packed full of vitamins and nutrients. Choose a variety such as ‘Envy’ (Glycine max ‘Envy’), which produces in about 75 days, versus 95 days for many other edamame varieties. Grow edamame like you grow green beans by planting in rows in a sunny location. Edamame is ready to pick when the pods are still green and you can see the shape of the bean inside the pod. An easy way to prepare edamame is to blanch the pods in boiling water for five minutes, then immerse them in ice water. Remove the blanched soybeans from the pods by hand. Edamame can be used in salads and stir-fry dishes. 

Tiny currant tomatoes can be used in salads or as a healthy snack.

Tomato ‘Red Currant’

Smaller than a cherry tomato, currant-type tomatoes such as ‘Red Currant’ (Lycopersicon pimpinellifolium ‘Red Currant’) are another fun vegetable to grow in the garden. You will need to do some extra planning to grow currant tomatoes because most garden centers do not have plants for sale in the spring. You can start your own plants from seeds inside in the early spring, about six weeks before your frost-free date. Grow them as you would other tomatoes, especially cherry tomatoes. Consider using strong tomatoes cages rather than staking them for support, because you will get more tomatoes when some of the side shoots are encouraged to grow. You will only need one or two currant tomato plants to have enough tiny tomatoes to garnish salads from midsummer until frost.

Okra has beautiful flowers in addition to its edible pods.

Okra ‘Emerald’

If you have never grown okra, but have tasted it fresh, consider adding it to your garden. Even if you decide you don’t like okra after tasting fresh okra, you can still enjoy the large, yellow hibiscus-like flowers and let the pods dry to use in fall flower arrangements. Okra prefers hot weather, so in far north Indiana you may want to start plants indoors to give them a head start. A good variety is ‘Emerald’ (Abelmoschus esculentus ‘Emerald’). Pick the pods when they are about the size of your thumb. Overripe pods tend to be stringy and gummy. Okra is a treat when sliced, coated with cornmeal and fried.

Plan Ahead

To grow these and other unusual or different varieties of vegetables, you don’t need any advanced gardening skills. You just need to plan ahead a bit and do some research to find the seeds. Look online or in seed catalogs. Or stop by your local garden center in the quiet winter days to find out what they are going to have on hand in the spring and let them know what you are looking for.

Spending time now finding sources for something different to grow in the garden will open up a whole new world of vegetable varieties. Some of them may even become your new “tried and true” vegetables to grow every year.

Plan to Rotate Your Crops

When planning your garden for spring, plan to rotate your crops by planting them in a different section of the garden each year. This helps prevent soil-borne diseases and insects that overwinter from attacking crops that are in the same spot each year. For example, plant green beans where tomatoes grew the previous year, plant squash where beans grew, and grow tomatoes were squash grew. Keep in mind plant families, too. For example, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplant are all in the same plant family, so avoid planting them where any member of that family grew the year before.

From Indiana Gardening Volume III Issue I. Photos by Carol Michel.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Turn A Drainage Ditch Into A Dandy Display
by Patrice Peltier - posted 03/05/14  

Once a weedy mess, this drainage easement now includes a rock and boulder lined ditch flanked by shade-tolerant plants, as well as a stone path for strolling. 1

Leave it to a gardener to turn an eyesore into an amenity. That’s exactly what Judy Schmidt did with the overgrown, weed-infested drainage easement that runs through her backyard.

Forty feet wide and 140 feet long, the easement is a substantial part of her -acre property, and it was filled with invasives, such as buckthorn (Rhamnus spp.), honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.) box elder (Acer negundo) and grapevine (Vitis spp.).

“It was a jungle back there,” Schmidt says. And she was afraid her husband would get killed mowing a very steep slope. People pay good money to have a water feature like she had running through the backyard. She wondered, “Why can’t I do something with that?” Regulatory issues, erosion and water quality concerns will likely be challenges when converting a ditch into a garden, no matter where you live in the Midwest. For anyone contemplating such a project, Schmidt passes along these lessons learned.

Get permission

In winter, it’s easier to see the how Judy Schmidt used rocks and boulders to line the ditch and help control erosion. 2

Even though it’s on your property, you don’t necessarily have authority over drainage easements and many other bodies of water. In many states, they are regulated — often by both state and local authorities.

“I had heard horror stories about the DNR (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources) making people undo projects if they didn’t have permission,” Schmidt says, so she went to the DNR first.

A representative visited her yard and discussed the list of do’s and don’ts. The don’ts included building a bridge. Armed with a letter from the DNR confirming that the easement did not include a navigable waterway (in Wisconsin, if a boat can float in the waterway for even one day a year, it is considered navigable), Schmidt met with officials in the City of Franklin, Wis.

Initially, city officials told Schmidt she couldn’t even remove fallen trees from the easement. However once her project had the DNR’s approval, local officials gave her the go-ahead, as well.

Work with the right people

Schmidt met with six landscape contractors before finding one who shared her vision. “It was so ugly, everyone wanted to plant on the near side to block the view,” she recalls.

Eventually, she found a contractor to remove the invasive plants and bring 30 tons of river rocks and boulders from central Wisconsin. Carefully placed to look as if nature had put them there, the boulders help slow the water and prevent erosion.

The contractor added a stone path, three clumps of river birches (Betula nigra) and shrubs, including ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea (H. arborescens), vernal witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis) and redtwig dogwood (Cornus sericea). Schmidt, an active member of University of Wisconsin Extension Southeast Wisconsin Master Gardener Volunteers and the Daylily Society of Southeast Wisconsin, did the rest.

Judy Schmidt planted the top of the bank with Hosta, Heuchera, Astilbe and sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum). She tucked daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.) into sunnier spots and added annuals for pops of season-long color. Her husband, Earl Feltyberger, is in charge of the lawn which, she says, “brings all sorts of nice things out in my garden.” 1

Put the right plants to work

On the far side of the easement, Schmidt planted shade-tolerant yews to create a green fence, which fades into the landscape in summer and provides interest all winter.

Along the slope, she planted several hosta, whose dense root system would help hold the soil, while their many foliage colors and patterns would brighten the shade. She also made liberal use of soil-holding ground covers like purple-leaf wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei 'Coloratus’), sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) and Lamium to provide color and out-compete weeds.

Today, what was once an eyesore is now a shady haven, where a stone path meanders through annuals, perennials and artwork. The sprawling garden attracts wildlife, admirers and small children, says Schmidt, a retired high school physics teacher, with good humor. “It’s a magnet.”

Judy Schmidt often over winters her coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) inside to get a head start on color for the growing season. In the background, mums (Chrysanthemum spp.) bud in preparation for late-season color. ” 1

Tropicanna® canna lilies (Canna ‘Phaison’) offer striking contrasts in foliage color and texture with a variegated Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’). This combination gives the garden a tropical feel. 1

Whimsical touches, such as this fairy, add a sense of discovery to the garden. Judy Schmidt likes pairing heucheras (Heuchera spp.) for contrasting foliage color. Here, she combines ‘Peach Flambe’ (in front of fairy) and ‘Caramel’. 1

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) provides a nice backdrop for vertical accents of variegated Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriforum ‘Variegatum’) and blue flag (Iris virginica) and yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus) iris. Judy Schmidt planted the blue and yellow flag irises on the bank and closer to the water because these perennials don’t mind getting their feet wet. 1


1. Photo courtesy of Patti Peltier.
2. Photo courtesy of Judy Schmidt.

From State-by-State Gardening May/June 2013.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

ZZ Plant
by Chris Baker - posted 02/28/14     #Hot Plants

The genus Zamioculcas has but one species,Zamioculcas zamiifolia. Say that 10 times quickly! To make things easy, everyone else just calls it ZZ plant. And there couldn’t be an easier plant to grow, either. This almost indestructible plant, with its shiny, leathery, succulent fronds, will grow in the darkest corner of your living room or on a bright sunny porch. The only way to kill it is to overwater it. ZZ plants grow from a potato-like tuber similar to its cousins, caladiums and elephant ears (Caladiumspp. and Colocasiaspp.). The bloom is a typically unexciting aroid flower, hidden at the base of the leaves. Although not a fast grower, a ZZ can get large over time, up to 4 feet. There is one cultivar, the much smaller ‘Zamicro’.

Common Name: ZZ plant, eternity plant

Botanical Name: Zamioculcas zamiifolia 

Varieties/Cultivars to Look For:  ‘Zamicro’

Color: Rich deep green

Blooming Period: Rarely

Type: Tropical houseplant

Size: 16-48 inches

Exposure: Just about anywhere except full sun

How to Plant: Potted houseplant

Soil: Well-drained soil

Watering: Water when soil is dry, never on a schedule.

When to Prune: Divide when needed; share with friends.

When to Fertilize: Sparingly in spring and summer only

In Your Landscape: Use in containers as a tropical.


From Ohio Gardener Volume IV Issue I. Left photo by Rusty Clark. Right photo by Chris Baker.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Summer School for Teacher
by Rob Zimmer - posted 02/26/14  

Stands of mature, pink trumpet lilies tower over the display gardens during July. Bremer’s interest in the Lilium genus added vertical flare to his long-time passion for daylilies and peonies.  He now grows well over 100 different varieties of lilies, along with thousands of daylilies.

Throughout much of the year, Nate Bremer teaches science at Madison Middle School in Appleton. When school lets out each June, Bremer’s life kicks into high gear. That’s because Bremer owns Solaris Farms, a 20-acre perennial lover’s paradise located just north of Reedsville in northeast Wisconsin.

 One of Bremer’s own creations, this fiery hybrid daylily blazes in the morning sunshine. Only the best and brightest of thousands of seedlings grown annually make the cut and pass into Bremer’s trial beds.  

A sea of colorful daylilies, along with over 100 varieties of lilies and hundreds of peonies fill Bremer’s garden beds with color from spring until late summer.

Specializing in the hybridization and display of the latest, modern daylily (Hemerocallis) cultivars for Northern gardeners, Bremer’s display gardens are unique in that visitors walk among acres and acres of plantings packed with colorful daylilies.

Over the past several years, Bremer has expanded his hybridizing program and plant interests to peony offerings, including fern-leaf, herbaceous and tree types, as well as a large selection of the newest varieties of true lilies (Lilium) and  and winter-blooming hellebores (Helleborus).

Many backyard gardeners are not familiar with the modern daylily hybrids since most varieties sold at garden centers are 30- to 40-year-old cultivars. Much has changed in the world of daylily hybridization over just the past decade, and Bremer’s garden is one of the few locations where one can get a glimpse into the fascinating creations. Solaris Farms is recognized as an official display garden of the American Hemerocallis Society.

The modern daylily is a mighty plant, with flowering stalks, called scapes, that can be an inch thick and withstand any of Mother Nature’s winds. Foliage is thick and lush, not strappy and withery like old fashioned daylilies we may be used  to seeing. The flowers themselves are tremendous in size and substance, often reaching 7 to 10 inches across and having a firm, waxy texture. The colors span the rainbow.

Focusing on daylily cultivars that grow well in Wisconsin was Bremer’s primary focus. As a top-name hybridizer, he was aware that many beautiful daylilies produced in the South were not hardy in our climate. Nonetheless, they are sold regularly at area garden centers and discount stores and consumers are frequently disappointed when the plant doesn’t return the following year.

“My father gifted me four daylilies from his garden in 1987,” Bremer says. The gift was the genesis of his interest in daylily hybridization. “They were not expensive cultivars, but also were not the typical plants you see at a local garden center. I believe they were ‘Wild One’, ‘Treasure Room’, ‘Barbara Mitchell’ and ‘Spirit of Paris’.” Bremer’s fascination grew and grew, and after a few years he began to experiment with hybridizing his own plants.

His secret to growing the best plants possible? Do absolutely nothing! As part of his hybridization program, Bremer tests plant hardiness and reliability in our Northern climate by simply letting them grow naturally in the garden beds and fields. No mulching, no special fertilizers only a good regular watering and constant weeding.

Purple petunias and clematis flow over an old cement mixer, used with beautiful results as an anchor piece in one of Bremer’s display beds.

Along with perennials, lilies and assorted specimen trees and shrubs, the billowy blooms of hydrangeas fill the gardens from spring through fall.

Garden art, including antique farm outbuildings, corn cribs and other unique architectural pieces, provide the hardscaping in Bremer’s award-winning display beds. Featuring daylilies, as well as many unusual and unique trees, shrubs and perennials, the gardens take visitors several hours to fully enjoy.

A cloud of peonies blooms against the early summer sky. Rows and rows of peonies, many of his own creation, decorate Bremer’s gardens in early summer. Peonies of all types, fern-leaf, herbaceous and tree, have quickly become a favorite plant of Bremer’s for hybridization. Bremer completes peony grafting himself, usually in early September, for immediate planting.

Summer means phlox and lots of it. The display gardens along the main barn are filled with masses of colorful, sweet-scented phlox. The summer gardens also include roses, hollyhocks, lilies, milkweeds, coneflowers and many unique and rare clematis.

From Wisconsin Gardening Volume II Issue I. Photos by Rob Zimmer.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Seed Starting 101
by Charlotte Kidd - posted 02/24/14     #Advice

Take a tip from the experts. Each professionally grown 'Twinkle' eggplant seedling has its own pot and label.1

A friend was helping me tidy my apartment. She noticed oat grass and penstemon seedheads in vases in the living room. "No dead things allowed," she said, shaking her head. "That's bad feng shui."

"Those aren't dead. Seeds are living things," I pointed out. "They are dormant embryos."

The germinating green pea has its first white root. The two beige cotelydons (half pieces of the pea) hold the endosperm with nutrients.2

Seeds are actually quite miraculous. Think of each seed as a kind of botanical equivalent of an egg. Both have a protective, hard coating. Each seed has a seedcoat, each egg has its shell. Inside is an embryo surrounded by just enough food to get the chick or plant started. The liquid yolk is food for the forming chick. Seeds have endosperm, a plant's first food. Take apart a plump, sprouting pea seed. Inside are two small, hard, half-round cotyledons with endosperm. There's also a tiny root tip.

Each cotyledon holds endosperm — a nutritious combination of starches, fats, oils, proteins and sucrose — which feeds the seed's first root and shoot. The cotyledon shrivels as nutrients leave it to fuel the emerging root and the green shoot.

As gardeners, our part is to provide conditions for the seed to break dormancy, germinate and grow. Germination involves moisture and oxygen, soil temperature, darkness or light.

First step. The seed needs water and oxygen to activate the embryo. Most vegetable and flower seedcoats are water permeable. Moisten them and water and air make their way through the seedcoat to the embryo. Voilà! The seed germinates.

Often seeds with a hard or thick seedcoat require special conditions such as scarification or stratification to break dormancy. Scarification is scratching, notching or gently abrading the seed coat so moisture and air can enter. Stratification involves moist-chilling the seed.Many seeds from trees and shrubs need to be stratified.

For some seeds, hot water scarification is helpful but not necessary. Take New Zealand spinach, the Brassica family, celery, coriander and parsley, for example. Dropping their seeds in hot water, letting the water cool, and leaving seeds to swell for a few hours or overnight hastens germination. Plant them immediately, though.

Water absorption activates germination. The seeds swells. The seed coat splits. Oxygen joins water in a chemical reaction (respiration) to start using the endosperm nutrients.

The embryo root grows down for more water and nutrients. The green shoot pushes upward to the light for photosynthesis.

Water and oxygen are universal for all seed germination. Darkness or light and soil temperature vary according to plant species. Many seeds, such as beans, squash, tomato, eggplant, cabbage, broccoli and basil germinate in the dark. Plant them at the depth indicated on the seed packet.

Other seeds need light to germinate. Lettuces, petunias, daisies, foxgloves and impatiens, for example. Look to the seed packet for plant-specific instructions. Press light-preferring seeds into the seed-starting mix or lightly sprinkle them with mix.

Why should you start seeds indoors? To get a headstart on our favorite summer vegetables. Maybe we want unusual varieties not likely to be sold at garden centers. I grow impossible-to-find, Mexican sunflower (Tithonia spp.) seedlings for my clients' gardens. Maybe we want large quantities. I can never get enough basil so I start lots of seeds.

Tips from Renee

Renee Shepherd of Renee's Garden (, which sells heirloom vegetable, herb and flower seeds, notes it is important to read the seed packet . Learn when to plant the transplants. Does the plant need sun or shade? What is the plant’s size at maturity? How deep should you sow the seeds? How many days will it take to germinate? How many days until first vegetable, fruit and flower? What type of soil?

Be selective about which seeds to start indoors for summer transplant. For example, Renee advises, don't start annual flowers indoors. Sow annual flower seeds directly in the garden according to the package directions when the weather is warm. They're best sown directly in the garden at the right time.

Definitely start tomato, pepper, eggplant and melon seeds indoors in early spring. Transplant seedlings into the garden in early summer when night temperatures routinely warm to the 50s F. In addition, it's fine to start seeds from the Brassica family (cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower) indoors for early spring planting in the garden.

Be aware of timing; don't be in a hurry. "People tend to start things too early," observes Renee. "Sometimes a month before they should."

A healthy seedling has a thick and strong stem, lots of roots and lush green leaves.1

What's wrong with planting too early? The seedlings get leggy — they have spindly, weak stems. Then people are eager to transplant seedlings before the soil and the air are warm enough for them to thrive.

March is soon enough to start most seedlings indoors to be garden-planted in early May or later. That gives seedlings six to seven weeks to grow indoors under grow lights before going into warming garden soil.

Renee calculates garden planting by the nighttime temperature. When do the nighttime temperatures hold steady in the 50 F range? That's garden planting time for many vegetable seedlings.

So for indoor seed-sowing, we gardeners should calculate six to seven weeks before our area's night temperatures regularly hover in the 50s F.

Renee also suggests having a fluorescent shop light or other grow light ready. “The seeds need light immediately as soon as they germinate," she says.

After seeds germinate and you see the first set of leaves, water with liquid, diluted organic fertilizer at half the recommended strength. One tablespoon of liquid kelp and 1 tablespoon fish emulsion per gallon of water is good too.

As seedlings grow, keep the soil lightly moist. “Most people keep the soil too wet,” notes Renee. Wet soil encourages damping off fungus, fungus gnats and root rot.

Once seedlings begin to become large enough to handle, thin them out. Thin seedlings to leave only one healthy plant per pot. “It very, very important to thin out the seedlings early and according to the package directions," Renee urges. "This gives the remaining seedlings space to grow, access to food, and reduces possibility of damping off (the fungus that kills seedlings)."

Seed-Starting Supplies

Large cell packs sit in a plastic tray on an electric heating mat. The tray holds water for bottom watering.1
Sterile, soilless, seed-starting mix. Always use sterile, soilless, seed starting mix. Plant seeds according to package directions. Keep mix evenly moist, not wet.

Sterile cell-packs and trays. The larger the plastic cell packs and planting pots, the more room for roots. And the mix stays moist longer. Place cell packs in trays. Fill cell packs with soilless mix. Plant seeds according to package directions. Water from below by pouring water into the trays. The soilless mix will absorb the water for seedling roots.

Milled sphagnum moss. Sprinkle milled sphagnum moss on top of the mix after seed planting. This sterile, fine moss help prevent the damping off fungus that kills seedlings.

Half-strength liquid organic fertilizer or 1 tablespoon liquid kelp and 1 tablespoon fish emulsion per gallon of water. Watering with a diluted solution of organic fertilizer feeds the growing seedlings. Sterile, soilless mix usually has no nutrients.

Heating mat. A heating mat designed especially for starting seeds provides just enough bottom heat to warm the soilless mix and support germination.

Grow light.
A good grow light system provides light for seedlings to photosynthesize and grow healthy enough to transplant after six weeks or more.

Sturdy plastic or wood labels. Seedlings can look so much alike. Make at least one durable label with plant name and seed planting date for each cell pack. 

Indelible marker.
Use a permanent marker so you can transfer labels to the garden when transplanting.


1. Photo Courtesy of Territorial Seed Company
2. Photo by Charlotte Kidd


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Dwarf Mondo Grass
by Ann McCulloh - posted 02/21/14     #Hot Plants

Dwarf mondo grass excels as an edging for this stone path in Cleveland Botanical Garden’s Japanese Garden.

Dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nana’) is not really grass! It’s a miniature member of the lily family, sometimes used as a turf substitute in the Southern states. In Ohio, it serves best as a dense, evergreen, sun- and shade-tolerant ground cover. It is a classic element in traditional Japanese gardens and looks wonderful in formal or modern landscapes as well.

Dwarf mondo grass spreads slowly, and is planted as small clumps or divisions about 5 to 6 inches apart. Perfect for planting between pavers and edging paths, it also crowds out weeds and prevents erosion once established. Deer and rabbits leave it alone. It is often sold in 1-gallon pots, which can be gently divided into smaller clumps to cover a larger planting area.

It is too shady for turfgrass beneath a mature European purple beech (Fagus sylvatica cv.), but just right for dwarf mondo grass.

Common Name: Dwarf mondo grass 

Botanical Name:  Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nana’

Other Varieties/Cultivars to Look For: ‘Nana’, ‘Gyoku Ryu’

Color: Deep green

Blooming Period: Summer, but it rarely blooms

Type: Evergreen perennial ground cover

Size: 2-4 inches high, slowly spreading

Exposure: Part sun to part shade

When to Plant: Spring to fall

How to Plant: Bare-root sprigs or small divisions 5-6 inches apart

Soil: pH 5.5 to 7.5

Watering: 1 inch per week or less

When to Fertilize: A light application of granular 10-10-10 in late fall or early spring. 

In Your Landscape:  Wonderful between paving stones, and as edging for patios or walks – no trimming required

From Ohio Gardener Volume III Issue I. Photos by Ann McCulloh.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Growing Microgreens
by Carol Michel - posted 02/19/14     #Advice   #Winter

Photo by Danielle Scott

If you are looking for a winter crop that is easy to grow indoors and adds freshness and nutrition to many dishes, grow microgreens. Microgreens are the seedlings of many of the greens and other vegetables we commonly grow in the garden, harvested when the plants have grown just one set of true leaves.

Many chefs use them to add a little zip and freshness to salads and sandwiches or provide a bit of color as a garnish. In spite of their small size, microgreens are flavorful, so a little of some types can add a lot of flavor to a dish. Plus, they are nutrient rich. Researchers are just beginning to study the nutritional value of microgreens and are finding that the seed leaves of microgreens have a higher concentration of nutrients when compared to the mature leaves of the same varieties.

The Difference Between Sprouts and Microgreens

Are microgreens the same as sprouts? No. Sprouts are seedlings grown in water in special containers or glass jars rather than soil, and they require less light than microgreens. Sprouts can be ready to eat in as few as three to five days from starting them. We usually eat the entire sprout seedling, including roots, and do not wait until the seedlings develop the first set of true leaves to harvest them. If you decide to grow sprouts, buy seeds that are specifically labeled to be grown as sprouts and follow the package instructions for growing them safely. 

Seeds for Microgreens

Seeds for microgreens are generally sold in mixes. Depending on the varieties included in the mix, the microgreens can have a mild or spicy taste. Some seed companies also sell individual varieties of vegetables to grow as microgreens that can be used when a specific flavor, such as cilantro or basil, is desired. Choose seeds that are specifically packaged to grow as microgreens. This helps ensure you will be buying seeds that have not been treated with any fungicides, and you will only get seedlings that are edible. 

Some of the vegetables that are commonly included in microgreen mixes include beets, radishes, mustard, Swiss chard, cabbage, kohlrabi and arugula. Herbs such as cilantro and basil can also be easily started from seed and then harvested as microgreens when the first seed leaves appear.

How to Grow Microgreens

Microgreens have two basic requirements for growth. They need a bright light source and sufficient moisture to keep them from drying out while the seeds are germinating. The light can either be from a brightly lit window or from fluorescent lights, the same lights that many gardeners use for starting seeds indoors in the spring.

Microgreens are usually grown in a shallow container, such as a clay saucer or a plastic seed flat. Be sure the container has been cleaned if used previously and then fill it with a sterile potting mix or seed starting mix. A sterile soil mix should be used because like other seedlings, microgreens can be killed by damping off, a soil-borne disease that causes young seedlings to suddenly die off.

Wet down the soil mix before sowing the seeds. Many seed-starting mixes are peat-based so it takes some time for them to initially absorb water. 

Sow the seeds for the microgreens according to the directions on the seed packet and press them gently into the soil to ensure they make good contact. Then sprinkle a little bit of the soil mix over the seeds so they are barely covered and water them in with a mist or light spray. Cover the container with a plastic lid or plastic wrap to ensure the soil doesn’t dry out before the seeds germinate.

Once the seeds begin to germinate, remove the plastic cover and keep the seedlings in a well-lit location. In their shallow container, the seedlings can dry out quickly so check them daily and water as needed. Because the microgreens are harvested as seedlings, it is not necessary to fertilize them. The seeds contain enough nutrients to grow their seed leaves and a set of true leaves.

Microgreens at day one, day three and day five.

When to Harvest Microgreens

The microgreens will initially grow seed leaves, which are generally round looking. Within a week to 14 days, they will grow their first set of true leaves. At this point, they are ready to harvest.

Harvest the microgreens by cutting them off at soil level with scissors. Wash them thoroughly and pick off any seed hulls that may still be clinging to the seed leaves. Carefully dry the microgreens and then use them to add color and freshness to salads, sandwiches and other dishes. Microgreens are somewhat fragile so use them as soon as possible after harvesting. If you cannot use them right away, keep them refrigerated.

Microgreens that are ready to harvest and enjoy.

Grow Them Year Round

Microgreens are a great winter crop, but once you see how easy they are to grow and how many ways they can be used to enhance a variety of dishes, you may decide to grow them year round. If you have the space and the light, you can practice succession planting by sowing a new container of microgreens every few days. Then you will have fresh microgreens whenever you want them.

From Indiana Gardening Volume III Issue VI. Photos by Carol Micheal unless otherwise noted.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Thought for Food: Planning Perfect Produce
by Jan Riggenbach - posted 02/14/14     #Advice   #Edibles

A disease-resistant tomato such as ‘Celebrity’ ensures a good crop in any weather.

Winter in Iowa is tailor-made for solving problems in the vegetable garden – before they begin. Our long cold nights are perfect for curling up in your favorite chair with garden books, magazines and the new crop of seed catalogs. Start by choosing troublefree varieties. You’ll find many tomato varieties, for example, that are resistant to fusarium and verticillium wilt. Some also tolerate other problems such as early or late blight, tobacco mosaic virus or nematode damage.  After losing many tomato plants to disease one year, I now include a tried-and-true, disease-resistant variety such as ‘Celebrity’ or ‘Early Girl’ along with whatever other varieties I decide to grow. Both have also been dependable producers when high temperatures keep blossoms of big-fruited varieties from setting like they did last summer.

‘Yukon Gold’ potatoes are my favorites for taste, and they are also the best storage potatoes I’ve ever grown. Nevertheless, I also like to plant some ‘Kennebec’ potatoes because they tolerate drought and resist late blight. If you’ve had trouble with scab, a fungus disease that produces brown, corky patches on potatoes, consider planting scab-resistant ‘Red Norland’.

Squash vine borers are a serious pest in Iowa, often bringing death in July to the vines of zucchini, acorn squash, and pumpkins. If you grow butternut squash, though, you won’t have to worry. The adult moths avoid laying their eggs on butternut stems.

If the summer weather is too hot or too cold, pepper varieties that yield big, blocky fruits sometimes fail to produce. As a hedge against the weather, a small-fruited variety like ‘Gypsy’ or a dependable Italian roasting pepper such as ‘Carmen’ will keep you in peppers even if bell peppers fail.

Iceberg lettuce is difficult to grow in Iowa, often rotting before it’s mature. But a type of lettuce called summer crisp, or Batavian, is a good solution. It’s as easy to grow here as leaf lettuce, is as crisp as iceberg and the most flavorful of all. Cauliflower is also iffy in Iowa, although you’ll have some chance of success if you shoot for a fall crop. For a spring crop, the best bet is a purple variety like ‘Purple Queen’, actually part cauliflower, part broccoli.

‘Carmen’ Italian roasting pepper produces a prolific and dependable crop.

A type of lettuce called summer crisp, or Batavian, is much more successful in Iowa gardens than iceberg lettuce.

Gardeners frequently complain that their onions don’t keep well in storage. The secret is planting not only a variety that will provide sweet slices for your hamburgers, but also a storage variety like ‘Copra’, which should keep all winter without sprouting or rotting. Although storage varieties start out pungent, they become milder and more flavorful when stored or cooked.

Besides planning what to grow, plan ahead where to grow it. You can save yourself a lot of garden grief simply by not planting a crop and its close relatives in the same part of the garden every year. The most important groups to rotate include 1) vine crops such as melons, cucumbers and squash; 2) the cabbage family, including also broccoli, turnips, kale, cauliflower and brussels sprouts; 3) peas and beans; 4) tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and peppers; and (5) corn.

If there’s a walnut tree growing near your garden, plant tomatoes and their relatives in pots to avoid the toxic effect of juglone produced by walnuts. A standard-size tomato requires an 18-inch-deep container, while a small patio-type variety will grow in an 8-inch-deep pot.

Despite the fun of winter garden planning, Iowa gardeners can’t help longing for spring on dreary days. Luckily, winter seems to vanish on the February day you get out some seeds and recycled pots to get an early indoor start on the gardening season. If it’s time to start seedlings, can spring be far behind?

Mid-February is the ideal time for Iowa gardeners to start pepper, broccoli, cabbage and Romaine lettuce seeds indoors. Wait until March to start tomato, eggplant and basil seeds indoors.

There are lots of good reasons for growing your own seedlings. I particularly like the wider choice of varieties available when you’re willing to start with seeds. It also saves money and gives you control over the care your plants get from the beginning. Besides, it’s fun!

Here’s all you need to raise seedlings successfully:

  • A porous, soilless potting mix formulated especially for seedlings, such as Mosser Lee NoDampOff or Espoma Organic Seed Starter Mix.
  • Small pots with drainage holes. If you want to recycle leftover pots, simply sterilize them first by washing them in a solution of nine parts water and one part chlorine bleach.
  • Bright light. You can use a sunny window, provided you rotate the containers regularly. Or suspend a grow light a few inches above the pots, raising it as the seedlings grow.

Sites for Sowers’ Eyes

Whether you prefer to browse print catalogs or shop online, here are a few vegetable specialists ready to help you plan your best-ever vegetable garden: 

Johnny’s Selected Seeds
(877) 564-6697

Harris Seeds
(800) 544-7938

Seed Savers
(563) 382-5990 

Seeds of Change
(888) 762-7333 

Stokes Seeds
(800) 396-9238

Territorial Seed Company
(800) 626-0866 

Tomato Growers Supply Company
(888) 478-7333

From Iowa Gardener Volume I Issue I. Photos by Jan Riggenbach.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Ivy Leaved Cyclamen
by Joseph Tychonievich - posted 02/14/14     #Hot Plants

Each Cyclamen hederifolium has leaves with a different mix of silver and green, all of which are lovely.

Cyclamen hederifolium’s growth is the exact opposite of everything else in your garden. It wakes up and blooms in the fall, then the leaves come up and look amazing until next summer. Masses of brilliant pink and white flowers contrast wonderfully with the usual red-orange-yellow tones of fall, and the brilliant silver-and-green patterned foliage is invaluable during a January thaw when the rest of the garden is just mud. That ability to look gorgeous when not much else does, on top of being totally winter hardy and drought and shade tolerant — well, this is a plant no shade garden should really be without.

Common Name: Ivy leaved cyclamen

Botanical name: Cyclamen hederifolium

Zones: 4–8

Color: Pink or white flowers, silver patterned foliage

Bloom Period: August-September

Type: Bulb Size: 3-4 inches tall, eventually a foot or more across

Exposure: Shade

How to plant: Purchase plants growing in pots.

Soil: Somewhat dry in the summer is best, but not picky.

Watering: Requires no supplemental water.

In your landscape: Perfect for difficult, dry shade. Great interplanted with perennials such as hosta, since its leaves are up when theirs are down and vice versa.

The graceful flowers of a white-flowered Cyclamen hederifolium.

From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue I.  Photos courtesy of Joseph Tychonievich.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Standing Up to Salt
by Deb Terrill - posted 02/12/14     #Advice

Northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) can stand up to winter salt, but there are also many other options.

It’s no accident that a list of salt-tolerant plants reads a bit like a list of seaside plants. Without even looking at lists of such plants compiled by arboretums and universities, I can begin my own list from memory. Past walks along the coast of Cape Cod provide me with a mental image of plants that live in constant sea spray.

Rosa rugosa, the rugged wild rose, bayberry, with its waxy white berries and white oak are the first to come to mind. No temperate-zone beach seems to be without these ubiquitous natives. Black locust, yucca, Montauk daisies, pitch pine and black pine abound in the cottage gardens.

Here in the Midwest, we don’t get a lot of sea spray, but we surely do get our share of salt. When the roads begin to ice up in late fall, the salt trucks are out, and the white residue can be seen everywhere – on our cars, on our dark-colored coats and on the roadways. It builds over the winter, and plants along busy, fast-moving roads get coated repeatedly. Anyone who has ever followed a semi-truck down the highway knows that whatever is on the road gets blasted into the air with each vehicle that passes.

This airborne salt spray has a toxic effect on certain plants, causing the cells to break down and dry out. Sometimes, as in the case of deciduous trees, this airborne salt does little to harm the plant, and in other cases, like that of white pine, it can ruin the appearance of the plant and even kill it. But airborne salt is only half of the problem.

When the snow melts in the spring, all of the salt on the surface percolates down into the soil, where it is comes into contact with plant roots. This is actually more harmful to many plants than the airborne spray. Soil salt can burn roots, become toxic to plants and render them unable to take up water. Homeowners on the quietest of streets may experience damage from soil salt when plowed snow from streets and salted sidewalks melts into their landscapes.

Plants break dormancy early in the spring, around March, and road salting may still take place throughout that month and even into April. When plants become active and salt is still being applied, it is a recipe for distress.

How to Know

It is not always easy to recognize salt injury. It may be evident on evergreens when the side of the plant exposed to salt spray turns brown, but soil salt can also cause bud and shoot death all over evergreens, or on certain seemingly random branches.

In deciduous plants, repeated salt injury can cause everything from failure to flower, dieback at the ends of branches and leaves that begin to look burned in the late summer, when soil moisture is low, and the salt is concentrated.

What to Do

While there is little you can do to remedy salt damage in large expanses of plantings along busy roadways, homeowners can take some remedial action. We can limit the amount of salt we use on porches, steps, sidewalks and driveways, opting for sand or birdseed instead.

We can also flood the soil with water from the hose soon after it has thawed, thereby diluting the salt concentration in the soil. This is especially important after March 1, when salt is applied after plants have broken dormancy.

Selecting for Prevention

Perhaps the best prevention, whenever possible, is to select plants that are salt-tolerant. We can do this in new plantings and when we replace plants that have died or become disfigured. I have found that various organizations provide lists that are somewhat different, but there is a good number of plants that they all have in common. 

 Feather Reed Grass ( Calmagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’)

Salt-Tolerant Perennials

Sea thrift (Armeria maritima)
Feather reed grass (Calmagrostis x. acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’)
Helen Allwood pinks (Dianthus pulminarius x allwoodii)
Blue lyme grass (Elymus arenarius)
Sea lavender (Limonium latifolium)
Fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides)

Perennials With Moderate Tolerance

Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum)
Powis Castle Artemisia (Artemisia  ‘Powis Castle’)
Silver Mound artemisia (Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Silver Mound’)
Elijah Blue fescue (Festuca glauca  ‘Elijah Blue’)
Stella de Oro daylily (Hemerocallis ‘Stella de Oro’)
Palace Purple coral bells (Heuchera villosa ‘Palace Purple’)
Hosta (Hosta plantaginea cvs.)
Lilyturf (Liriope spicata)
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Autumn Joy sedum (Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’)

Salt-Tolerant Evergreens

Evergreens are the most susceptible to injury since their foliage is present throughout winter and their roots get saturated by salt in the spring thaws. These are the most tolerant evergreens:

Junipers, most varieties and species
Norway spruce (Picea abies) – tolerant of airborne spray and soil salt
White spruce (Picea glauca) – tolerant only of airborne salt spray
Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens)  – tolerant only of airborne salt spray
Mugo pine (Pinus mugo) all cultivars
Black pine (Pinus nigra)
Pitch pine (Pinus rigida)

Mugo pine (Pinus mugo)

Salt-Tolerant Deciduous Trees

Norway maple (Acer platanoides)
Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) – tolerant only of airborne salt spray
Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia)
White ash (Fraxinus americana)
Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos)
Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
White oak (Quercus alba)
Swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor)
Bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) – less tolerant of soil salt
Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)
Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulate)
Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)

Honeyrose honeysuckle (Lonicera ‘Honeyrose’)

Salt-Tolerant Shrubs

Barberry (Berberis spp.)
Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster cvs.)
Forsythia (Forsythia cvs.)
Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)
Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low’ and R. typhina)
Alpine currant (Ribes alpinum)
Rosa rugosa and an array of rugosa-related landscape roses
Dwarf Korean lilac (Syringa ‘Palabin’ and  ‘Miss Kim’) 

Dwarf Korean lilac (Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’)


From Chicagoland Gardening Volume XXI Issue IV. Photos courtesy of Bailey Nurseries.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Prevent Mint From Taking Over the Garden
by Trish Joseph - posted 02/12/14     #Advice   #Invasives

Mint is remarkably easy to grow under most conditions. It thrives in moist, well-drained soil, in sun or partial shade. The drier the soil, the more shade it prefers. Mint is incredibly vigorous and drought resistant. It can die back after blooming in the hot dry summer and reappear lush and thriving in the fall.

The problem gardeners usually have with mint is “too much of a good thing.” Gardeners with regularly irrigated lawns or consistently moist soil should not grow mint directly in the ground. Mint will take advantage of those growing conditions, invade the lawn and overpower nearby plants, if not your neighbor’s yard. Gardeners with manicured plots of land or close neighbors should take steps to isolate their mint.

Spearmint and peppermint are the most popular mints (Mentha spp.).

Mint Physiology

The mint plant (Mentha) has no way to expel wastes, so it stores unneeded minerals in its tissues. The delicious aroma of mint comes from those compounds in the leaves. Mint must renew itself by producing fresh tissue and seeking new spaces to grow. It develops runners, or vigorous underground stems, to clone itself where it roots. Runners quickly tunnel through the soil and cover surprising distances. Needless to say, that can be very frustrating for gardeners who want to grow a little mint for tea, jellies and other culinary purposes.

Mint Meanders

Gardeners are often advised to grow mint in a generously sized container. Many people sink the container into the ground thinking the pot will restrict the mint’s ability to wander. This temporary solution only works until the runners escape through a drainage hole, which they inevitably will.

One way to outsmart mint runners is to force them to become visible before they have the opportunity to root. Growing mint in a large container accomplishes this and allows the plant enough room to provide a plentiful harvest.


Raise the container up on blocks above an impermeable surface. This will force the runners that escape the container to come into view where you can deal with them. 

Trim off and discard the runners and or root them to create a duplicate plant if needed. The accompanying diagram illustrates the hazards of mint as well as tips on how to keep it in check.

Water mint regularly to keep the soil moist, but not waterlogged. Containers in partial shade will suffer less from summer heat and drought.

Blooms Slow Leaf Development

Mint is a flowering plant and will produce blooms in midsummer. The flowers are pink, lavender or white, depending on the variety. The flowers are very attractive to pollinators, including bees, tiny wasps and butterflies. The flowers, however, tend to signal a pause in new leaf growth. Although mint does not need to rely on seeds for propagation (the runners are much more efficient), many varieties do produce seeds. Trim off the blooms to reduce or eliminate self-sowing.

Snip off the flowers of mint before they set seed to keep the herb from self-sowing throughout the garden.


Aboveground stems of mint are capable of growing new roots and plants wherever a node comes in contact with either water or soil. Trim off trailing stems before they reach the ground or they will root in place.

Keep live mint out of the compost heap. Mint is very resilient. It can sprout just about anywhere, even from stems or runners that have already suffered from drought. Pulling it up and drying out it is not going to ensure that it doesn’t travel from the compost pile to another location. Mint should be “toasted” in a black plastic bag in hot sun for a week or two to be sure it’s really dead.

A Pinch a Week

Harvest mint a little bit every week to keep the plant tidy.

Harvest your mint frequently throughout the season. This encourages the plant to spend most of its energy in leaf growth, making it branch and grow bushy and attractive. Harvesting a little bit of mint each week will keep you aware of any developing problems or potential runaways.

Mints produce best when they are relatively young. The original plant of container-grown mint will need to be replaced every so often. This task should be undertaken during cool weather in the spring or fall. Use cuttings, underground stems or buy a new plant to replace old mints.

Mint is grown for beauty, fragrance and, of course, kitchen use. Choose a place free from pesticides and where nearby plants are either edible or harmless. Suggested companions for mint include edible flowers such as violets, pansies, calendulas, nasturtiums and marigolds. After harvesting, be sure to inspect your mint for foreign (non-mint) plant parts and rinse in cold water before using.

From State-by-State Gardening. Illustration by Trish Joseph and photos courtesy of


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

The Growing, Thriving Permaculture Movement
by Amy McDowell - posted 02/11/14     #Advice

My friend Masha lived in Russia for several years when the grocery store shelves were completely bare of food for several years. Everyone, she said, rode public transportation into the countryside to tend his or her own small plot of land. They boarded the busses together, tools in hand. And on the ride home, they carried bags of produce. They grew and preserved everything they needed to feed their families.

“The good thing about cities here in the United States is that so many people live in homes with yards,” she said. “And I know from experience, that those yards are big enough to grow food for the family living in that home for the whole year.”

The permaculture movement in the United States has been around for a few decades and is gaining momentum, thanks to rising public awareness of the sources of our food, environmental concerns and the ever-present belt-tightening due to the ongoing recession. In many ways, permaculture is a return to gardening practices common long ago.

Permaculture gardens – such as roof gardens – are productive, sustainable and demand less input then a turfgrass lawn. 1

What is Permaculture?

The word permaculture is a combination of the words permanent and agriculture. It is an effort to capture the idea of permanently sustainable agriculture. It incorporates a basic three-facet philosophy:

  1. Care for the earth.
  2. Care for the people.
  3. Return the surplus (recycling any excess materials back into the system).

Permaculture is larger and more all encompassing than just gardening. It is a lifestyle, creatively incorporating organic gardening with home design. Almost anything can be included. Practioners look at everything from design, heating and electricity usage, use of rainwater, harvesting, gray-water recycling, and the list goes on. It’s about thinking bigger and smaller at the same time, from the design and layout of your home and landscape, down to the tiny mycorrhizae and other bacteria in the soil. 

How to Begin

Chances are you’re already somewhere along the permaculture path. And that’s a good thing. It’s a journey toward self-sufficiency with numerous opportunities. Choose and implement whatever works in your life. You are bound to discover a life of abundance.

  • Capture and reuse water on site with a rain barrel to make your home and garden sustainable.
    Go organic. Swear off chemicals in the garden and inside your home.
  • Add a vegetable garden, or expand your garden with a goal of growing everything your family can consume in a year. You will save money at the grocery store, eat healthier and feel the empowerment of food independence.
  • Learn to preserve your harvest through canning, dehydrating, freezing and root cellaring.
  • Compost fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds with paper filters and eggshells. Your soil benefits from every bit of organic matter you can pile on. If your neighbor still bags leaves in the fall and puts them on the curb for pickup, snag ‘em.
  • Garden without tilling. Use sheet mulching, which mimics the nutrient-rich layers of organic matter on the forest floor.
  • Use rain barrels on your downspouts to capture rain.
  • Collect or re-route gray water from your washer or shower for use in the garden. If possible, re-plumb to permanently direct gray water into a series of treatment ponds in your garden.
  • Design smaller. When building or moving to a new home, choose something smaller.
  • Use a clothesline. And if your neighbors see it, be proud that you’re making better choices for the environment.
  • Leave your grass clippings on the lawn.
  • Reduce the size of your lawn by sheet mulching and planting edibles, such as nut and fruit trees, berry bushes and strawberry ground covers.
  • Consider raising chickens or ducks for eggs. Look into the benefits and simplicity of a chicken tractor.
  • Research permaculture more deeply to see what other pieces fit into your life. 

    Tending a few chickens is rewarding and fun. They provide eggs and fertilizer in exchange for table scraps. A chicken tractor makes it easier to move the birds from one part of the landscape to another.

For more details about permaculture:



1. © Photo courtesy of Andrea Meuller
2. © Photo courtesy of Susan Smead
3. © Photo courtesy of Cindy Shapton


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Spring Ahead
by Betsy Lyman - posted 02/10/14     #Advice

Spring is coming and with it one of the busiest times in the garden. Even though your last frost date may be weeks away, there are some key things you can do now so when the season kicks into high gear, you’ll feel like you’re ready. 

Tune-up Your Tools

Since the line at the small engine service shop only gets longer from now until the end of summer, this is the ideal time to take your gas-engine-driven garden equipment (mowers, string trimmers, blowers and tillers, for example) in for a checkup. It’s better to find out sooner than later if any repairs are needed. Some dealers offer a discount for bringing in your equipment during the off season. General maintenance can include sharpening and balancing the mower blades, carburetor adjustment, as well as changing the oil, fuel and air filters.    

Cleaning and organizing your hand tools is a great project for a late winter day. If they are dirty, use a putty knife or steel wool pad (wear gloves) to remove any dirt or rust. An easy way to keep them clean until you are ready to use them is to fill a bucket that’s wide enough for your shovel with clean sand. With a hand trowel mix some lubricating oil (I use WD40) with the sand until it is moist. Push the clean tools into the bucket. The sand acts as an abrasive to remove dirt and the oil helps prevent rust.

This is also the time to take an inventory of your gardening supplies such as soil, mulch, fertilizers and such. Make a shopping list of the items you will need for spring. Use the list to do some price comparison and to take advantage of preseason sales.

Mix lubricating oil with a hand trowel in a bucket of sand.

Keep hand tools clean and ready to use by storing them in a bucket of sand mixed with lubricating oil.

Snoop Around

Let’s face it, when it is cold and dark outside, the garden can seem like a faraway place. So now that the daylight hours are increasing, it’s time to get reacquainted with your yard. Grab a hot beverage and take a stroll outdoors to see how your garden has fared over the winter. Depending on the severity of the weather in your area, you may find broken branches, deer damage or frost heaving.

Frost heaving isn’t something we’ve had to worry about too much with the last few years of mild temperatures. This winter’s freezing and thawing cycles may have pushed some of your plants right out of the ground. If you have shallow-rooted plants such as sedums, strawberries, coral bells (Heuchera spp.), pincushion flower (Scabiosa spp.) and daisies (Leucanthemum spp.), give them a closer look. They are especially susceptible to frost heaving. If you find any of your plants in this condition, cover the exposed roots with soil. Sometimes you can lightly tamp the plants back into the ground. Once the roots are covered, add several inches of mulch around the plant to insulate the soil and protect it from further damage.

Lop and Crop

Another thing to look for in your yard is the condition of your trees and shrubs. Before the leaves reappear it is easier to see a plant’s form and decide what needs to be pruned. The best time to reshape and trim woody plants is after the severest cold has passed but before new growth begins. Pruning wounds will heal quickly and the new vegetation will cover the areas that have been trimmed.

Identify the branch collar before cutting limbs from trees. Look for the slightly swollen area at the base of the limb and trim just outside the collar.

Before you make a cut on a tree, identify where the branch collar is located. Look for the slightly swollen area at the base of the branch that sometimes has a bark ridge. This area contains a substance that protects the trunk from decay. If the collar of the branch is removed during pruning, the plant may become infected with fungal or bacterial diseases. So make your cut just outside the branch collar.

Start pruning by removing dead and broken branches and then cut away the smaller stem of any cross-over limbs. Next remove branches that are interfering with the plant’s natural shape. Go easy with this. As you trim away a branch or two, stand back and reassess the plant’s form before making your next cut. The rule of thumb is to leave at least two-thirds of the plant so it has enough energy to regenerate. Sometimes, particularly for older woody plants, several years of pruning may be needed before it looks its best. Avoid leaving stubs. The goal is to allow the plant to look natural and healthy.

There are some trees known as “bleeders” because of the amount of sap that is produced when they are pruned in late winter. Maple, birch, dogwood and walnut trees are in this category. Pruning won’t hurt the trees, but if it is in a prominent location you may want to wait until summer.

Get All the Dirt

Improving your soil is one of the best ways to save time. Great soil means a good root system, and healthy roots mean vigorous plants. So this may be the year to test your soil. Testing is usually recommended if you are starting a new garden or if it has been more than 3 years since you’ve had a test. Depending on the test you use, the results will tell you the soil’s pH, lime requirements, total organic matter and the amounts of phosphorus and potassium. With that information, you can tell whether or not you will need to apply lime or sulfur to adjust the acidity of your soil, and if your soil is high or low in the essential nutrients plants need most.

There are different ways you can have your soil tested. Many gardeners contact their county’s extension service and request a soil testing kit. Others call the extension and ask for a list of approved soil testing organizations. Another option is to buy your own soil test kit at a local nursery or garden supply store. Make sure you are provided information on how to interpret the results so you can determine application rates.

Oil as Needed

Early pest control using horticultural oil sprays is another way to get a jumpstart on spring. To be clear, this should be done in very late winter when temperatures stay above freezing. As gardeners with fruit trees know, horticultural oils are a safe and effective way to deal with aphids, caterpillar eggs, leafhoppers, mealybugs, mites, scale, spider mites, thrips or whiteflies. If your plants have been bothered by these pests, treating them before the growing season begins will keep plants from becoming stressed and weakened. Some gardeners also find horticultural oils useful in controlling powdery mildew and preventing the spread of plant viruses transmitted by aphids.

As always when working with any gardening product, read the label’s instructions. Different plants might require different concentrations. The horticultural oil works by smothering the insects or their eggs, poisoning them, or disrupting the way they feed. The pests or eggs must be thoroughly coated with the oil for it to be effective. The product is inactive after it dries on the plant.

Keeping a garden journal helps you plan ahead based on results from past years

Note Your Progress

Keeping notes about your garden is worth the effort. If you start now, it will be easier to keep it going when things get busy in the spring. Many gardeners find a garden journal to be a useful way to recall temperatures, rainfall, planting dates, plant varieties, fertilizer applications and pest control measures from year to year. Being able to look back on this information will help you figure out reasons for both your gardening successes and failures. A journal is also helpful in planning outdoor events so you can anticipate what will be blooming at the time, or recall when certain plants put on their best show.

Social media and blogs provide an easy online way to post information and pictures about your garden. Just be sure to occasionally print off the pages in case you lose access to the record. Other gardeners prefer jotting things down in a notebook. Whatever works for you is the right choice. Keep your garden journal next to a favorite chair so that every night when you sit down to relax, you can enter the day's activities and observations. Next year when you’re planning your garden, you many discover that keeping a journal is one of your best gardening tools.

Photos courtesy of Betsy Lyman.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

‘Biokovo’ Geranium
by Charlotte Kidd - posted 02/07/14     #Hot Plants   #Spring

‘Biokovo’ geraniums form a beautiful shade ground cover.

Dry and partly sunny conditions don’t hamper the ‘Biokovo’ geranium’s growth under an old, gnarled cherry tree.

Do you enjoy gardening among refreshing scents? Fascinating spring flowers? Plants with round, lobed, semi-evergreen leaves that turn orange-red-copper in autumn? Do you want an easy care, four-season perennial that spreads by rhizomes?

The ‘Biokovo’ cranesbill (Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’) is a beautiful, versatile, deer-resistant, year-round must-have. The white to pink flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds. A strong spring bloomer, ‘Biokovo’ may have occasional flowers through summer into fall.

‘Biokovo’ likes moisture, yet after established, it tolerates drought. It thrives in shade and part shade, but it will be fine in a sunny location if watered enough. Be prepared to share divisions with your neighbors. ‘Biokovo’ geranium expands generously and gently into a textural, colorful ground cover.

Common Name: ‘Biokovo’ geranium

Botanical Name: Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’

Color: In spring, white flowers with pink veins and stamens bloom above fragrant, semi-evergreen foliage. Scarlet-orange-copper foliage in fall.

Type: Perennial

Size: Up to 8 inches tall, 12-inch spread

Exposure: Shade, part shade, sun (with moist soil)

Zones: 4 to 8

When to Plant: Autumn, early spring

How to Plant: Space 1 foot apart 

Soil: Average, moist

Fertilize: Use a slow-release fertilizer in spring according to directions.

Watering: Water regularly during the first season. It is drought-tolerant after established.

When to Prune: Clip off winter-damaged foliage in spring.

In Your Landscape: Use at the front of the border, as drifts of ground cover, in containers or as erosion control on a slope.

From Pennsylvania Gardener Volume III Issue I. Photo by Charlotte Kidd.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Henderson’s Daphne
by Joseph Tychonievich - posted 02/07/14     #Flowers   #Hot Plants   #Shrubs   #Spring   #Summer

Fragrant, pink, trumpet-shaped flowers adorn Henderson’s daphne in spring and again in late summer.

See Daphne x hendersonii in the garden and first, you fall in love with the dense, gorgeous, glossy, dark, evergreen foliage. Already in love with the leaves, you’ll faint when spring comes and the shrub covers itself with lush clusters of rich pink flowers. Bend down for a closer look and catch a whiff of that incredible fragrance and you’re a goner. Even better? Come late summer it blooms again, just as profusely and fragrantly.

Deer and insect resistant, the only key to growing this and other daphnes is excellent drainage. Plant them in sandy soil. If you have clay, stick them in a raised bed or large container full of sand, and then just don’t water them.

Common Name: Henderson’s Daphne

Botanical Name: Daphne x hendersonii

Color: Pink

Blooming Period: May and July/August

Type: Evergreen shrub, hardy in USDA Zones 5 though 8

Size: 8 inches tall, up to 18 inches wide

Exposure: Sun to part shade

When to Plant: Spring

Soil: Extremely well drained

Watering: Water when you plant, then leave them alone! Wet will kill them.

In Your Landscape: Place daphne in raised beds and troughs to bring those fragrant flowers closer to your nose. 

Daphne x hendersonii

From Michigan Gardening Magazine Volume I Issue 2. Photos by Joseph Tychonievich


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Saving Kitty (and Your Sanity)
by Susan Randstrom Bruck - posted 02/05/14     #Advice   #Health and Safety   #Poisonous Plants

With delicate noses in the air, some persnickety cats wouldn’t even think about nibbling on a leaf, while other “grazing” felines make it impossible to allow both plant and puss into the same room. Why can’t a cat-loving scientist discover a test that would identify the PN (plant nibbler) gene in kittens? Early detection might let you  know what you’re up against. Since there is still no test available, I continue to work on my two-pronged attack: The Deterrent and the Disguise.

First, deter the cat’s desire to nip at favorite houseplants by providing a container of homegrown, edible “greens.” Next, follow up with tactics that will make your houseplants less attractive – even to the most persistent kitty. Finally, to avoid vet bills or worse, choose indoor plants that are not toxic to your animals. If you want to stay a cat-loving gardener, try a few of these options below.

Create a Deterrent

  1. Plant wheat, rye or alfalfa seeds in a cat-friendly container. (Keep the young seedlings out of the cat’s reach so the sprouts can mature.) Now cats can chew and nibble their own fresh grass when they get a taste for foliage.
  2. Homegrown herbs such as parsley or thyme also give cats something safe to eat. Simply snip off a stem or two of these fragrant herbs and let the cat smell and chew without reprimand. The more you snip, the more herbs you’ll be able to share between cat and cook.
  3. Organic catnip is another tempting natural treat that can be a decoy for your favorite houseplants. Grow fresh or buy dried catnip to stuff into cat toys or old socks. Catnip is also safe for cats to eat, snuggle with and bat around. You might see some frenetic cat behavior at first, but they will mellow out and find a relaxing spot to chill. Unfortunately, catnip doesn’t have an effect on all cats.
  4. Spritzing your furry offender with water from a spray bottle can also be an effective deterrent if used consistently. They find this method very humiliating.

Choose a Disguise

  1. Yuck! Rub hot pepper sauce or Bitter Apple (available at pet stores) on plants (or other surfaces). The bitter taste discourages cats from putting the plant in their mouths.
  2. Most importantly, make your favorite plants inaccessible to kitty. Place your favorite or dangerous plants in hanging containers or incorporate them into inaccessible wall units. Make it impossible for the most acrobatic cats to reach these tempting “toys.” Don’t put off the inevitable by placing them on tables where a cat can easily hop from chair to plant. Look for interesting hanging container options. No need to rely on macramé projects from the ‘60s.
  3. Do not set a booby trap for your cat. (Keep in mind, I was very frustrated.) One of my cats, Nicolai, loved to use a container of a large weeping fig as his own tropical island and litter box. I poked many shish kebab sticks into the potting soil. My intention was to warn him – not impale him. This experiment proved to be a failure on many levels. The cat continued to jump into the pot and I ended up feeling really horrible and stupid.
  4. Here’s a better idea. If your cats are digging in your pots, buy a few sheets of plastic needlepoint canvas. Trace the size of the top of the pot, cut a slit in it and then cut a hole in the center of the canvas for the plant. Rest it on top of the soil. Now, your cat will find it difficult to dig.

The healthiest way to coexist with plants and cats is to choose indoor plants that are not toxic to them. If the cat does nip or chew it, at least, the results won’t be dire. However, there might be pesticide residue on newly purchased plants, which is not good for them, either. Wash leaves gently with tepid water to remove pesticides or fertilizer. If you refer to the partial list of safe, indoor plants below and keep away from the poisonous ones, everyone will be much happier. Nirvana – where feline, plants and humans coexist – can be yours!

Common Houseplants that Can Coexist With Cats 

Phalaenopsis orchid1

These plants aren’t fatal to your cat but might cause stomach or mouth irritation. However, it is always better to offer him/her oat or wheat grass for munching. Homegrown catnip from your garden is a real treat, too.

Indoor Blooming Houseplants

Persian Violet (Exacum affine)
Gloxinia (Gloxinia speciosa)
Jasmine (Jasminum cvs.)
Miniature roses (Rosa cvs.) 
African violet (Saintpaulia ionantha)

Foliage Only

Zebra plant (Aphelandra squarrosa)
Begonia (Begonia spp.) 
Cacti (real cacti, not just any succulent. Cacti usually can  protect themselves!) 
Peacock plant (Calathea mokoyana)
Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Ice plant (Delosperma cooperi)
Blue echeveria (Echeveria imbricata)
Ferns (Boston, button, carrot, parsley, Christmas dagger, rabbit’s foot, king and queen, sword)
Silver nerve plant (Fittonia cvs.)
Hoya (Hoya cvs.)
Pink polka-dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya)
Living stones (Lithops spp.)
Prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura)
Banana tree (Musa spp.)
Palms: kentia, paradise, lady, parlor Radiator plant (Peperomia cvs.)
Swedish ivy (Plectranthus verticillatus)
Burro’s tail (Sedum morganianum)
Hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum tectorum)
Baby’s tears (Soleirolia soleirollii)
Coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides)

For a more detailed list, visit While some plants are just mildly toxic, others like the sago palm, kill many pets every year. The  recommendation is to learn what plants you have and whether or not they are poisonous. The ASPCA Poison Control Center, which can be located through the main ASPCA website is an excellent reference for both toxic and non-toxic plants.

Poisonous Plants 

Primrose (Primula eliator)2

These plants range from causing only irritation to being fatal to your cat – depending on the amount that is consumed. If you need a professional opinion or emergency help, call your vet or the ASPCA 24-hour emergency hotline at 1-888-426-4435. (fee may apply) For more details, visit

Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum)3 

Blooming Houseplants

Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum cvs.)
Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum)*
Crown of thorns (Euphorbia milii)
Kalanchoe (Kalanchoe cvs.)*
Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum spp.)
Mock orange (Philadelphus cvs.)
Primrose (Primula cvs.)
Peace lily (Spathiphyllum cvs.)*

Foliage Houseplants

Asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus  cv. sprengeri)
Elephant ear (Colocasia cvs.)
Croton (Croton cvs.)
Sago palm (Cycas revoluta)*
Lucky bamboo (Dracaena braunii)
Corn plant (Dracaena fragrans)
Dragon tree (Dracaena fragrans)
Pothos (Epipremnum)*
Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina)
Indian rubber plant (Ficus elastica)
Fiddle-leaf fig (Fius lyrata) Ivy (Hedera cvs.)*
Panda plant (Kalanchoe tomentosa)
Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica)
Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum)
Philodendron (Philodendron cvs.)
Mother-in-law’s tongue or snake plant (Sansevieria cvs.)
Umbrella plant (Schefflera cvs.)*
String of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus)

Common Indoor Holiday Plants

Chrysanthemum cvs.*
Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus cvs.)
Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) – irritation but not fatal
Amaryllis (Hippeastrum cvs.)*
Hydrangea (Hydrangea cvs.)
Holly (Ilex opaca)*
Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum)*
Azalea (Rhodendron cvs.)*
Mistletoe (Viscum album)*

Toxic Flowers Found in Floral Arrangements

Caladium (Caladium bicolor)
American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens)
Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum cvs.)*
Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis)*
Delphinium, larkspur (Delphinium cvs.)
Foxglove (Digitalis spp.)*
Gladiolus (Gladiolus cvs.)
Baby’s breath (Gypsophila spp.)
Daylily (Hemerocallis cvs.)*
Hyacinth (Hyacinthus cvs.) Iris (Iris cvs.)
Lilies (Lilium spp.)*
Daffodil (Narcissus cvs.)*
Peony (Paeonia cvs.)
Azalea (Rhodendron cvs.)*
Bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae)
Tulip (Tulipa cvs.)*
Calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica


Onion (Allium cepa) Mushrooms* 
Peach (pits and leaves) (Prunus persica)*
Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum)*
Tomato plant (green fruit, stem and leaves) (Solanum lycopersicum)*
Eggplant (Solanum melongena)*
Potato (Solanum tuberosum)

* = very toxic to cats


1. Photo by Michelle Byrne Walsh
2. Photo by Gene Bush
3. Photo by ©Undine Freund - Fotolia

From Chicagoland Gardening Volume XXI Issue IV.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Ideas for the Taking at the Arboretum
by Bill Johnson - posted 02/05/14  

Staring out the window at a snow-covered garden, it’s easy for most gardeners to envision green grass and flowers erupting from the ground. Looking forward to spring, the experience is enhanced by a trip to one of the best and largest arboretums in the Midwest.

The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum ( is located about 25 miles west of Minneapolis in Chaska, Minn. The arboretum also houses the Anderson Library, known throughout the horticulture world for its holdings.

Affiliated with the University of Minnesota, its 1,000-plus acres are open all year. Thousands of annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs surround walking trails and paths. The paths and trails allow visitors to experience the quiet, more private areas of the garden.

A three-mile drive takes visitors through the property and past numerous plant collections. Pull off areas for parking let visitors stop and walk through many landscaping options. The drive is closed to vehicles during the winter, but the grounds remain open for hiking and cross-country skiing. Or take a tram ride with a driver who gives a guided tour and history of the collections.

Springtime is peak flowering time for the fruit trees as well as additional sweeps of color being provided by many bulb collections.

Spring-blooming daffodils have naturalized along a hillside at the arboretum.

Muscari armeniacum ‘Blue Spike’ and Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Gold Spangle’ perfectly complement each other for the spring beauty.

Plant collections include lilacs (Syringa), roses (Rosa), clematis, nut trees, viburnums, shrubs, ornamental grasses, hedge options, azaleas and rhododendrons, crabapples (Malus) and many varieties of fruit trees. Specific areas of the garden feature annuals with color schemes that change throughout they year.

The prairie area and the bog walk feature native plants, enabling visitors to envision what can be done with low-maintenance plantings that provide year-round beauty in their own landscapes.

The affiliation with the University of Minnesota includes the testing of plants being developed for USDA Zones 3 to 5, which includes the upper Midwest. The arboretum has been responsible for many plants that are now commercially available in garden centers here and elsewhere in the Midwest. One of the most spectacular is the ‘Northern Lights’ series of azaleas (Rhododendron).

The visitor center houses a bookstore, library, classrooms, a gift shop and cafeteria. Winter season includes indoor displays of artwork  and orchids.

Never-ending color is enhanced by seasonal plantings that start with tulips, crocus and daffodils and expand with new plantings throughout the growing season. A visit to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is probably one of the best public garden experiences one could wish for.

Tulips greet spring visitors.

From Minnesota Gardener Volume I Issue I. Photos by Bill Johnson.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Wild for Wisteria
by Kathleen Hennessy - posted 01/31/14     #Flowers   #Hot Plants   #Summer

First Editions® Summer Cascade wisteria creates a fragrant cover for an arbor, fence or pergola.

Summer Cascade wisteria features large, showy blooms.

Imagine spending a lazy afternoon under a beautiful, fragrant canopy. Creating that beautiful space is now easier for gardeners in the North, thanks to new varieties of cold-hardy wisteria.

One new variety, discovered in White Bear Lake, Minn., will be available at garden centers for the first time this spring. First Editions® Summer Cascade wisteria blooms on new growth, covering the plant with beautiful flowers beginning in June. It’s a perfect choice for covering an arbor or pergola, adding shade, fragrance and ambiance to your outdoor space.

Summer Cascade’s long, showy flowers open a deep blue-lavender then fade as the season progresses. In late summer, the plant produces seed pods that add interest throughout the fall.

Research at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum found Summer Cascade to be more reliably cold hardy than other varieties.

Common Name: First Editions® Summer Cascade wisteria

Botanical Name: Wisteria macrostachya ‘Betty Mathews’ 

Flowers: Lavender, fragrant

Soil: Fertile, well drained

Size: 15 to 25-feet

Exposure: Full sun

Watering: Keep soil evenly moist.

When to Fertilize: One application in the spring

Pruning: Prune in late fall or winter, making sure to remove any dead branches. Cut side branches back to about a foot from the main trunk.

In Your Landscape: Summer Cascade needs a strong support structure. Train this wisteria on a trellis, arbor or pergola.

From Minnesota Gardener Volume I Issue I. Photos courtesy of Bailey Nurseries.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Limelight Panicle Hydrangea
by Susan Martin - posted 01/24/14     #Hot Plants

Its large flower panicles take on beautiful rose tones in fall.
Photo courtesy of Proven Winners® Color Choice®.

Of all the shrubs in my diverse landscape, the one my neighbors ask me about every year is Limelight Hydrangea paniculata. It dutifully screens my view of the neighbor’s house until it bursts into bloom, becoming the showpiece of my garden in mid to late summer. Elegant, plump panicles of creamy white to soft green flowers appear at the tips of arched stems lined with green foliage. In early fall, the flowers take on beautiful rose-pink tones.

Although it only receives part sun in my garden, Limelight rewards me every year with a breathtaking display of blooms. If it is planted in full sun, it blooms even heavier. In my garden, it has been pruned into a small tree, happily underplanted with hostas, toad lilies (Tricyrtis) and foamflowers (Tiarella).

Common Name: Hardy panicle hydrangea

Botanical Name: Hydrangea paniculata Limelight

Zones: 3–8

Type of Plant: Large shrub or small tree

Bloom Time: Midsummer through midfall; blooms on new growth

Flower Color: Cream to light green flowers age to rose in fall and tan in winter

Size: 6 to 8 feet tall by 7 to 8 feet wide

Exposure: Full sun to part shade

Watering: Average moisture; moderately drought tolerant once established

Soil: Well-drained soil enriched with compost

When to Fertilize: Early spring with tree/shrub fertilizer

When to Prune: Late winter or early spring

In Your Landscape: Use in borders, as a specimen, screen or hedge. Terrific cut or dried flower.

‘Limelight’ Hydrangea can be grown as a large shrub or small tree.

From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue I. Photo courtesy of Susan Martin unless otherwise noted.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Weed Wondering
by Douglas A. Spilker, Ph.D. - posted 01/22/14  

The presence of certain lawn weeds can be an indicator of specific environmental and soil conditions. Here’s how to ‘read’ your weeds.

If you keep your eyes open, you can uncover clues as to why certain things happen. Keeping track of your weed problems can do just that. The end of the year is a good time to reflect on the problems you encountered and make plans to fix them in the coming year.

The presence of certain lawn weeds can be an indicator of what is going on down below. Weeds are opportunistic, especially in areas where soil conditions are not conducive to the monoculture of turf-type grasses. Most lawns in the Midwest are cool-season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass or tall fescue. These types of grasses flourish best with plenty of moisture, balanced nutrition and well-drained soils. Dense, well-maintained lawns discourage weed encroachment because weed seeds cannot get started between the grass plants. So what happens if ideal conditions for grass growing are not met? Weeds fill in the gaps.

Broadleaf Banes

Clover is a common malady that creeps in when soil nutrition is low, so if you are combating clover, reflect on your fertilization program. Increasing fertility will not necessarily get rid of the clover, but the combination of improving soil fertility and a treatment or two of broadleaf herbicide will set your lawn on a course of being clover free.

Although some homeowners do not mind white clover, it tends to grow in patches and will crowd out the grass in those areas.

Dandelions are a different story. The source of the seeds may not just be from your negligent neighbor, but potentially from “yards” or even miles away. The fluffy seeds seem to be able to sprout and grab a foothold even in well maintained lawns. The trick to dandelions is to be ever vigilant and control them with spot treatments as they come up. Broadcast applications of herbicides are rarely needed. Using a weed digger for individual plants may provide immediate gratification, but just be ready to do it again in a week or two.

Since dandelion seeds are windblown, they can show up even in the most well maintained lawns.

Soggy Soils 

Other weeds like yellow and purple nutsedge (nutgrass) tend to infest poorly drained areas, especially where water stands after rain or irrigation. Nutsedge infestations can be quite maddening. It seems to sprout up from nowhere. The presence of nutsedge, in addition to its lighter green color, produces a ragged appearance because it grows faster than the grass and disrupts the uniform appearance of a manicured lawn. In late June and July, nutlets (tubers) form on tips of rhizomes. Most nutsedge plants come from these nutlets that may have been lying dormant for years in the soil or from nutlets brought in by contaminated sod. Very little nutsedge is produced from seed. It can take several  years to get rid of this weed, as new plants are continuously produced from the nutlets left in the soil. If the nutsedge problem is minimal, improving drainage and simple hand weeding may be effective, but herbicide treatments are required for larger infestations.

The difficult-to-control ground ivy (aka creeping Charlie) is characterized by its coin-shaped leaves with scalloped edges and square stems. This perennial weed spreads by aboveground runners, which root at each node and can quickly take over large areas. A combination of shade, wet soil and poor fertility favors ground ivy over the turf. Correcting these conditions will allow the turf to compete better with the ground ivy. Herbicide applications will not be effective unless the growing conditions that initially encouraged the infestation are improved. Combining good maintenance practices with multiple herbicide applications provides the best hope for combating this lawn invader.

Nutsedge has triangular stems and leaves with a strong midrib.

Ground ivy or creeping Charlie is an aggressive, low-growing perennial weed that runs along the soil surface. It is mildly aromatic, particularly after mowing.

Hard Knocks

Some weeds are indicators of poor soil structure, that is, how the soil particles fit together. Do you have some areas where you cannot get grass to grow, but prostrate knotweed or spurge does just fine? These weeds do very well in areas of poorly draining, compacted soil. The first step is to dig down and figure out what might be wrong. Is the soil leftover clay from digging the home’s foundation? Is it a high-traffic area compacted by a path to the garden or play area? Consider aerification (coring) to reduce compaction, or improve soil structure by adding organic matter before reseeding. Although herbicides can be used, relieving soil compaction is the key to improving turf vigor and limiting future populations of prostrate knotweed and spotted spurge.

Spotted spurge has tiny oval leaves and is commonly associated with highly compacted soils in mulched beds or like this area along a driveway.

As with many turfgrass problems, the long-term approach to managing weeds begins with a critical evaluation of the growing conditions for the desirable turf. The best defense against common weeds is a thick, healthy lawn. Remember to stop, look and listen. The weeds may be telling you their sad story!

From State-by-State Gardening November/December 2013. Photos by Douglas A. Spilker, Ph.D.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Two for One: Making More of Your Space
by Bobbie Schwartz, FAPLD - posted 01/15/14  

Everyone loves a bargain – and if it’s a two-fer, even better. Gardeners never have enough space, but I have developed some strategies that double my space – using bulbs with shrubs, grasses or perennials. Thus I have color in my garden, sometimes in February and definitely in March, long before spring has actually arrived.


1. Use the space under woody plants that don’t leaf out until late March or early April, and, if they bloom, do not perform until May or June. Masses of small bulbs like Galanthus spp., Eranthis spp., Crocus spp., dwarf Narcissus spp., and Scilla siberica provide a welcome mass of color when skies are still gray.

2. Many years ago, I planted Narcissus spp. and Scilla siberica between my warm-season grasses (Pennisetum spp., Panicum spp., and Miscanthus spp.) that I cut back no later than mid-March or early April. By the time the bulb foliage is dying, the new grass shoots fill the space.

3. I’m very fond of the evergreen perennial ground cover variegated mountain rockcress (Arabis caucasica ‘Variegata’), with its green-and-white foliage and white April blooms. I have interplanted it with the tiny and delicate Anemone blanda ‘White Splendour’.

4. There are many underused small bulbs. Grape hyacinth (Muscari spp.) blooms long before any Sedum.

5. Allium unifolium  and Allium roseum are both 12 inches high and have a semi-mounded head that I plant in the semi-evergreen Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’. The bright pink geranium strengthens the pink theme that begins with the soft lavender pink Allium unifolium.

6. I plant the 2-foot, June-blooming, maroon Allium atropurpureum between Geranium psilostemon, which sports its magenta flowers at the same time, and poker plant (Kniphofia spp.), which makes its splash in July.

7. The short but large pale lavender balls of Allium christophii steal the scene in late May when planted between masterwort (Astrantia spp.) that does not bloom until June.

8. Everyone comments on giant allium (Allium giganteum), but the foliage looks like it is dying at least two weeks before the bulbs bloom. Therefore, I place it behind the lush foliage of Geranium psilostemon.

9. My last strategy is layering bulbs on top of each other. I frequently plant large bulbs such as Narcissus spp., Fritillaria imperialis, the larger Allium spp., and Lilium spp. 6 to 8 inches deep, cover them with 3 to 4 inches of soil, and then plant the smaller bulbs on top of them. Usually the smaller bulbs bloom first and then the foliage of the larger bulbs covers them as they fade away. If you choose carefully, some bulbs will bloom together, such as Chionodoxa luciliae, contrasting nicely with a somewhat larger bulb like Tulipa ‘Waterlily’. This works best with species tulips that live more than one year.

Aren’t you glad you can now plant twice the plants without increasing the amount of space?

From State-by-State Gardening November/December 2013. Photos by Bobbie Schwartz, FAPLD.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Millstones: Symbols of Harvest in Today’s Gardens
by Teresa Woodard - posted 01/08/14  

Grinding stones are repurposed here along a garden path.1

Inset in a brick patio, this millstone features the quarter dress cut – a traditional furrow-cut pattern. Another popular cut is the sickle dress cut with a pinwheel-like pattern.2

When it comes to collecting millstones, the maxim “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” rings true. In the late 1880s, large urban mill operators started dumping these grain and corn crushers out back as a new roller technology made them obsolete and eventually put the smaller rural mills out of business. When propped alongside an old mill, the granite wheels’ interesting patterns began to attract attention for their ornamental appeal. Others were put to use as stepping stones along a path or a stoop for the back door.

Today, these centuries-old millstones ranging from 24 to 60 inches in diameter and weighing as much as 3,800 pounds have steadily increased in value – many worth thousands of dollars – as homeowners find new uses for these storied stones in their gardens.

According to Jon Sass in The Versatile Millstone, early colonists equipped their mills with imported European millstones, especially French burrs (or buhrs) of white granite from a Paris quarry. By the mid-18th century, North American quarries began producing millstones of granite and pink- and gray-colored conglomerates. Today, Meadow Mills of North Carolina continues to manufacture millstones for historic and specialty mills and for garden ornamentation.

Henry Hine of Atlanta began collecting millstones 20 years ago as a hobby and has since turned his hobby into a business that sources millstones for landscapes and custom-designed millstone fountains for clients as far as California and the Caribbean. When shopping for millstones, Hine advises searching in colonial states’ towns along rivers. He says millstones claiming the highest price are the larger ones, those made of more obscure stones such as marble, millstones found in pairs and ones with more pristine faces.

Visit Lanterman’s Mill in Youngstown, Ohio, to see millstones grinding corn and wheat just as they did in the 1800s. A collection of other millstones are displayed outside.3

Seventy-six millstones are on display at the reconstructed McHargue’s Mill at Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park in London, Ky.4

A fountain made from a large millstone quarried at the Constitution Stone Company near Marietta, Ohio, is the centerpiece of the woodland garden at the Governor’s Residence and Heritage Gardens in Columbus, Ohio.5

Do-it-yourselfer Dottie Baltz of Clay, N.Y., makes hypertufa millstones from a pizza-pan mold. See her online instructions at
Learn More:

•  Discover the history of old mills or find one to visit (; Society for the Preservation of Old Mills).

•  Purchase old and new millstones (;;; and

•  Visit millstone collections at The Hermitage Museum and Gardens in Norfolk, Va.  ( and McHargue’s Mill at Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park ( ) in London, Ky.


1. Photo by Jane Rogers
2. Photo courtesy of Hermitage Museum
3. Photo courtesy of Millcreek Parks
4. Photo courtesy of Levi Jackson State Park
5. Photo by Teresa Woodard
6. Photo by Dottie Baltz

From State-by-State Gardening November/December 2013.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

From the Mediterranean to Midwestern Gardens
by Caleb Melchior - posted 01/01/14  

Italian gardens, both small and large, often are primarily composed for effects of light and shade, with flowers adding welcome transient color, such as these yellow tulips at Villa d’Este.

When I opened the shutters on the kitchen window and saw the giant magnolia, which filled most of the neighbors’ garden, I knew that everything was going to be all right.

We had arrived in Rome only that morning, groggy after a 12-hour flight, and boarded a bus through the rain toward Orvieto, a tiny hilltop town in Umbria. The sky had wept with joy ever since we arrived, but the soggy trek from bus station to apartment left me damp in body and spirit. Our landlady’s threats, given in a broken combination of Chinese, Italian and English, regarding the terrible punishments which would await us (“you will be fined 300 euro”) if we failed to sort the recycling into its appropriate bins for each of the five days of collection, did nothing to brighten my disposition. But, opening the kitchen window and seeing that giant arboreal reminder of home, I knew that the gods had smiled upon me in my wanderings. Many of us gardeners are also compulsive travelers. Our love of place makes us passionate about exploring and observing, searching for strange new wildflowers or secret mountain overlooks. We go, and when we return, our gardens are waiting to welcome us home.

Others travel through their gardens, growing plants from exotic places they will never experience. Living in Umbria, I was amazed to discover how many of the wild and cultivated plants growing there could also thrive in my Midwest garden. Given Umbria’s continental climate, it receives colder winters and warmer summers than many of the more popularized regions of Italy. While the oranges of Sorrento would wither in our cold winters and the geraniums beloved around Lake Como would steam-bake in our humid summers, the Umbrian flora can translate easily to a continental American garden.

I arrived in Umbria at the end of January, when the cyclamen were covering the hillsides with mottled deep green and silver leaves. In spring, some species, including Cyclamen coum and Cyclamen persicum, kindle the slopes with their brilliant magenta flowers. During the summer, their aboveground growth dies off and the bulbs rest underground. Cyclamen hederifolium and Cyclamen purpurascens bloom in late summer or early autumn. Most species bring out fresh crops of foliage when cool weather returns in autumn.

American gardeners, especially in the Midwest, often neglect the potential of bulbs to create long-season garden interest. Both Cyclamen coum and Cyclamen hederifolium grow well throughout the Midwest. Your local nursery may not stock them, making it essential to rely on specialist nurseries – they are incredibly easy to grow once established. Since cyclamen do most of their growing in the colder months of the year, they need little moisture during the summer and thrive in dry shade where few plants survive.

Perennial cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) erupt in smoldering magenta flowers in spring, at the Park of the Monsters in Bomarzo.

During the winter, cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) foliage carpets the ground, while its corms rest underground until they are eaten by the wild boar that snuffle along the forest floor.

As the spring sun arose, a proliferation of wildflowers emerged in the hedgerows and verges of highways. In Umbria, the grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum) sprouts up to 6 inches with deep cobalt flowers. This Mediterranean variant’s flower heads are looser, with longer stems than are often seen in American strains. In American gardens, I often see grape hyacinth placed at the front of garden beds, where their floppy foliage is evident throughout the growing season. Along Italian roadsides, they grow mixed in with long grasses which disguise the grape hyacinth leaves. A suitable combination might be to plug some grape hyacinth bulbs in between masses of Korean feather reed grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) at the back of a shady area. The grape hyacinths will be highly evident in spring, while the grasses fill in with glossy green foliage through the summer and explode into clouds of flower in autumn.

As spring starts to round into summer, the tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) come into bloom. While herbaceous peonies are the most popular in American gardens, the shrubby varieties of tree peonies are most common in Umbrian gardens. At the gardens of Villa d’Este in Tivoli, with its giant fountains and ancient cypresses, the tree peonies are one of the great treasures. Their large, overblown flowers seem to be made of living fabric, as they wave soft satin petals washed lavender and rose.

Even in a dooryard garden, tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) bring delightful fragrance and color.

In an Orvietian dooryard garden, I saw a tree peony with full pink flowers, their stems bent with the weight of the giant blooms. Any American gardener can grow these fantastic flowers, given a little shade and some patience while waiting for the plants to settle in.

Another plant for the patient, at least if flower production is considered, the Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis), is frequently grown in Italy. The bright lavender-blue flowers glow against the golden stone of tufa walls in Umbrian hill towns such as Orvieto.

Perhaps not as rampant in growth as they are in the United States, the wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) becomes a fantastic waterfall of bloom in early summer.

Down the street from our apartment, spreading over an archway and the adjacent garden wall, a giant wisteria erupted into a cascade of lilac-colored flowers. As I sat drawing the flowers, the sparrow-eyed old woman who owned the wisteria wandered out and peered over my shoulder. She took a great puff on her cigarette, fixed her eyes on me as she exhaled, and confidently told me that the plant – which in Italian is called “glicine” – was 200 years old. How she knew its age, I am still unsure.

All I can say for certain is that, in much of the United States, wisteria is delicate in appearance but the complete opposite in habit. I know of one wisteria growing in a Midwest garden whose owner claims that they cut the plant back by 3 feet every two weeks in the summer. Both Chinese (Wisteria sinensis) and Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) should only be planted where their vigorous growth can be fully supported. Before planting, check with a local gardening expert or your university extension office to ensure that wisteria is not invasive in your area. The native American species (Wisteria frutescens) is slower growing, eventually reaching 12 to 15 feet, but its flowers are smaller, chunkier, and with a less flowery fragrance.

While nothing can compare to the Italian countryside, with its profusion of color and aroma, Midwestern gardeners can capture a souvenir of its beauty by growing Umbrian plants. When the cyclamen ripple over the ground with their silver-marbled leaves and the wisteria permeates the spring air with its ecstatic perfume, you will be transported to the Italian garden of your dreams. After all, what are gardens for, if not for collections of memories and desires?

Form State-by-State Gardening November/December 2013. Photography By Caleb Melchior.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Tips for Winter Tree & Shrub Care
by Jonathan Heaton - posted 01/01/14  

Narrow angles at branch unions will develop into weak branches when mature.

Winter can be a difficult time for our trees and shrubs. Cold weather, snow, wind and more threaten their health. I’ve seen too many trees and shrubs lost that could have been saved with the right care. By caring for the roots, stem and crown you can maintain healthy and attractive plants through the most trying season of the year.


A healthy root system and good soil to live in is the critical foundation for plant health. Preventative care during the growing season will help to protect the root system during winter. (If you missed it last year, put it on your to-do list for the coming season.)

Good soil has pore space, which means it is not compacted and has pockets of air, organic matter and plenty of nutrients. I always order a full soil analysis to test for macro and micro nutrients, pH, organic matter, and, if I suspect it’s a problem, salt levels.

Protect the root zone with a 2 to 4 inch layer of mulch. Keep mulch a few inches away from the stems or branches of shrubs and the trunks of trees. Mulch improves moisture retention during the growing season and helps keep the roots from freezing in the winter. Mulch also adds organic matter over time. Adding a thin layer of compost over your yard each year will improve the soil significantly.

Avoid any kind of plastic or fabric over the root zone. Water regularly when there is no rain, as late into the season as possible. Trees prefer a slow, deep soaking equivalent to at least 1 inch of rain a week — or 5 gallons per square yard. Automatic sprinklers usually don’t provide enough water.

If nutrients are low, you can apply the appropriate fertilizer to the soil surface, but it’s best to mix it in water and inject the solution beneath the surface. You’ll need a professional service for this. If the pH is too high or alkaline, apply sulfur, or if too low or acidic, apply lime, in small amounts several times during the year. Trees have good natural defenses, but they need the right growing environment to take up the nutrients they need to stay healthy.

Winter chemical threats

This time of year a big threat to the roots is salt from deicing products. High levels of sodium will dry out plants even when water is plentiful. Don’t use more salt than you need to melt the ice, and mix salt with abrasives, such as sand.     Where possible, drain salted areas away from plants. You can also purchase deicers, such as calcium chloride, which are not sodium based. Plant salt-tolerant species near roadways or put up barriers to protect from salt spray. If an area has been exposed to a lot of salt, apply gypsum and irrigate in the spring.


Animals, such as voles and rabbits, like to chew on stems of many plants. Protect stems by wrapping them with soft fabric or paper. This also helps to prevent frost cracking on thin-barked species, such as maple. Be sure to remove any wrap on the trunk in the spring.

You can also put up a wire fence around plants that need protection. Bury the fence a few inches underground and make sure it will be 1 to 2 feet higher than the snow. Repellants with thiram can be sprayed on the trunk, branches and foliage in cases where other protection is not practical or desirable.

Protect your plants from snow removal equipment by marking the edges of areas being plowed with stakes. Designate where snow should be pushed away from plants. Avoid aiming your snow blower directly at the trunks of trees, as snow and ice can be very abrasive.


Winter is a great time to care for the crown with pruning. Focus on developing a strong central leader, good branch spacing and removing branches with weak or narrow attachments. Dense branches can be thinned to reduce the amount of wind, snow and ice they will catch. Dead branches can also be removed. If you find them hard to spot when the leaves are gone focus on the buds—dead branches won’t have any.

In cases where pruning cannot correct weak limbs, structural support can be installed. In large trees, high-strength steel cable is attached to bolts that go completely through the limb. Cabling should be left to professionals.

Crimp and washer (newly installed) are used for a wire support system between weak branches.

Side view of wire support system.
Side view of wire support system.

Evergreens can catch large amounts of snow, causing limbs to break. Gently brush off the snow. Some evergreens, such as arborvitae (Thuja spp.) splay easily. These can be wrapped tightly with twine or burlap to keep the branches intact.

Evergreens can also be sensitive to winter burn. This is caused when it is warm enough for the needles to lose moisture, but the soil is too cold for the plant to absorb water. The dried out needles turn brown. Minimize moisture loss by wrapping with burlap or protecting the windward side of the plant with a barrier.

Despite the challenges of winter, diligent care can help to ensure you will enjoy them year round.

From State-by-State Gardening January/February 2013. Photos by Jonathan Heaton.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Growing Orchids Indoors
by Maureen Hirthler - posted 12/30/13  

David Bird with Paphiopedilum malipoense x hangianum, a rare hybrid of two species from Vietnam.

At Bird’s Botanicals in Kansas City, Mo., 6,000 orchids grow on stainless steel benches in a warm, bright and humid 10,000-square-foot greenhouse. Although the setting is tropical, there is no natural light, and the breezes are generated by industrial-sized fans. Bird’s Botanicals is 100 feet underground in the Interstate Underground Warehouse east of Interstate 435.

Owner David Bird says that the caves meet two requirements for orchid culture: high humidity and steady temperatures. “If I had a greenhouse this size, I’d have to live in it to monitor the conditions,” he says, referring to the Midwest’s hot 100 F summers with heavy, windy storms and the cold 10 F winters with unpredictable snow. “If the generator dies, I could lose everything.”

During a recent visit, Bird and I discussed his tips for growing orchids entirely indoors. The right plant in the right place is essential. Bird focuses on medium to low-light orchid species and hybrids such as Phalaenopsis, Paphiopedilium and Phragmipedium. “These are the best ones to grow indoors, with an eastern or southern exposure,” he says. “They like house temperatures: 70s F during the day and 60s F at night.” There should be at least a 10 F degree difference between day and night temperatures to promote blooming.

The Paphiopedilum malipoense x hangianum orchid is remarkable for its size and lacy red coloration.

This is a “bulldog” type Paphiopedilum. These have two times the number of chromosomes, making them genetically complex.

The next concern is humidity, especially when the air is artificially heated or cooled. Bird recommends humidity trays, which can be as simple as an aluminum cake pan filled with pebbles. There are also sturdy plastic trays available to purchase. “Fill them every day. They will create a humid microclimate around grouped plants. And don’t forget good air movement — a ceiling fan works.”

Inside Bird’s Botanicals, the reflective walls help to maintain the temperature. The display features Phalaenopsis, Phragmidium, Paphiopedillium, and Cattelya hybrids.

Neophyte orchid growers are often overly concerned with watering their plants. Bird has strong feelings on this issue. “Never use ice cubes. These are tropical plants that don’t like their roots cold.” He advises placing the plants in a sink and adding lukewarm water until the roots are thoroughly flushed. Let them rest for a few minutes, and then do it again. This is also the time to add a high-quality orchid food, at one-half the recommended concentration, for three out of four waterings. Watering should be done when the pots feel light, about every 10 days. “Underwatering is safer that overwatering, so don’t obsess,” says Bird.

Controlling the environment is especially important when raising miniature orchids such as Masdevallia and Pleurothallis. Bird discussed the adaptation of the Victorian-era Wardian case for these orchids. A tray of pebbles and sphagnum moss in the bottom of a 20-gallon long aquarium with LED lighting maintains an excellent environment. A 12-volt, 6-inch computer fan provides circulation, and a wireless thermo/humidistat monitors the conditions. Humidity and temperature vary consistently, and the length of “daylight” is controlled by a timer. “The more closely you can simulate the native environment of the orchid, the better your results will be,” says Bird.

This orchidarium is a climate-controlled home for miniature orchids.

Pests infrequently attack indoor orchids, but occasionally mealybugs, aphids and spider mites make an appearance. Infested plants should be isolated and treated with organic control measures. After the plant is thoroughly washed, rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab can be touched to scale colonies, or a solution of 1 teaspoon dish soap and 1 teaspoon vegetable oil in a quart spray bottle can be applied to the entire plant. Fungi and viruses are more difficult to eradicate, and often diseased plants need to be sacrificed to prevent the spread of disease.

On the day of my visit, Bird was busy repotting orchids. “Most orchids need repotting yearly,” he says. “The organic medium breaks down and doesn’t hold water as well.” Repotting should be done as soon as new green root tips are seen. All old bark and moss should be removed and dead roots excised with clean, sterilized scissors. I prefer Rand’s Aircone pots (, which are clear plastic pots with a center cone that helps to aerate the center of the root ball.” Bird has his own special potting mix, but most commercial mixes are adequate. Styrofoam peanuts or pebbles should be placed in the bottom of the pot and damp medium should be worked gently around the roots. A few good taps on the potting table will help settle the medium.

Bird is confident that anyone can successfully grow orchids indoors by following his suggestions. “Then you’ll be hooked — no one has just one orchid!”

Photo courtesy of Maureen Hirthler.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Don’t Cry for Me
by Deb Terrill - posted 12/27/13  

We use a catchall term, weeping trees, to describe trees that are pendulous in nature. But so many other adjectives can be used to describe them. Some cascade; some drop like a curtain of rain, straight to the earth; others puddle and leapfrog along the ground; and a few stretch out as if they have wings and look as though they could take flight. People seem to either love them or hate them. The latter find them sad looking or depressing while the former find grace and elegance in their forms. I have always loved them and my first crush was the elusive weeping katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Pendula’). I met the tree during a walk with my dendrology professor at the Indiana-Purdue Universities campus in Fort Wayne, Ind., and it was love at first sight.

The katsura was old enough to have branched out and begun the cascading effect reserved only for older specimens. The bluish green leaves had a luminous quality and fell like rain from the arching branches. I tried to find one for myself but alas, this tree was much more difficult to find in the early 80s, so I settled instead for a weeping mulberry.

Since then I have planted or worked with many a weeping tree and become familiar with their habits, contributions, and yes, their faults. If I were to plant a weeping tree today, the katsura would still be at the top of my list, and the mulberry would somewhere near the bottom. Read on to learn why.

Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’1

Choose Wisely

Weeping trees, whether deciduous or evergreen, are most often used as specimen trees. It makes sense to use them singly so that they can grow to a natural size and shape and be viewed without competition from other plants. That is not to say that a homeowner could not use a pair of them to flank a formal drive, ring one side of a pond with weeping willows or group a mass of skinny conifers such as weeping Serbian spruce to create privacy. But a grand weeping cherry, or a mature weeping hemlock is going to display best standing alone against a blank wall or on a lawn.

Select the site before you select the plant. This is difficult for most of us because gardeners tend to be impulsive, bringing plants home and then worrying about where to place them. But the space you have will dictate the appropriate kind of weeper.

An open lawn could accommodate about anything from a huge, mature weeping beech to the lumbering “hills” of a weeping spruce. A small lawn or tight space, however, needs a smaller specimen, perhaps a cherry or magnolia. A wall would be perfect for trees that send out arching branches as they mature and begin to cascade like a fireworks display. Naturally, you will need to consider the soil type and exposure just as you would for any plant.

How They Grow

When it comes to maintenance, it helps to understand how they grow. There are two kinds of weeping trees — those that form pools and mounds along the ground and those that are grafted onto tall, straight trunks called standards. If you are looking for plants that arch and creep along the ground, then you will want naturally weeping or pendulous plants that are growing on their own roots. Dozens of weeping forms of evergreens suit this purpose. But if you want something that stands vertically and weeps down around a single trunk, you need a grafted tree.

Trees weep due to a genetic mutation that causes the branches and stems to be soft, more pliable and able to hang down. To elevate the weeping stems, many trees are grafted onto a related, upright rootstock. Because the mutation is not always stable, some plants will revert to the standard form and send up perfectly strong branches that stretch upward. These must be pruned out annually. Occasionally graft incompatibility can cause a tree trunk to outgrow the weeping top or vice versa. When this happens, the tree must be removed.

Some weeping trees that are grafted onto standards are so vigorous that they put out too much top growth and need constant pruning to keep them from looking like an inverted umbrella. And this brings us back to that mulberry. I’m sure the tree has its cheerleaders, but it is the most vigorous of this group and does need constant attention. The weeping birches and willows run a close second in vigorous stem production.

Plan on waiting a while for your weeping tree to come into its beauty. Most can be a bit awkward when they are young, and some growth spurts may make them look a bit too asymmetrical until they fill in and mature. I planted a small 5-gallon ‘Elizabeth Lustgarten’ kousa dogwood about four years ago. It is just now beginning to fill out a bit and bloom well. I am a big believer in planting small trees because they grow so well and eventually outpace their large, balled and burlapped counterparts, so the wait is worth it to me.

Snow Fountains® weeping cherry2


Weeping cherries are extremely popular but unhappily, one of the most difficult to grow successfully. The two problems most often encountered with these heartbreakers are overwatering and planting too deeply. They need good drainage and will not tolerate wet soil, and because they are top heavy, gardeners often plant them too deeply or mound soil up around them to keep them from leaning, thus exacerbating the water issue. That being said, they do need supplemental watering during periods of drought, especially when they’re young.

Cherries are also susceptible to an astonishing array of pests, including leaf blight, tent caterpillars, cankers and Japanese beetles. Good cultural practices are critical, such as cleaning up around the trees regularly, watering deeply, but never allowing standing water. Plant the tree high, with the root flare exposed.

Standard-sized weeping cherries such as Higan (Prunus x subhirtella ‘Pendula Rosea’) and P. serullata ‘Kwanzan’, which get quite large, will grow branches straight up from the crown. These large cherry trees, should be allowed to grow, only removing stems that appear below the graft. These upright branches will eventually arch and fountain down but may look awkward when the tree is young. Only the smaller-statured trees such as ‘Snow Fountain’ should be relieved of any upright branches.


The term weeping, when applied to many of the conifers, is misleading. Most of the spruce, hemlock and especially pines that are called weeping are more undulating, eventually growing into large hummocks of foliage that lumber or spread along the ground.  They may seem like small, more or less upright plants in the nursery, but they will need some real estate as they mature.


Pruning a weeping tree can seem daunting, but just keep a few principles in mind. Always remove each stem or branch all the way back to its point of origin. Don’t leave any stubs or clip the ends off any branches. Trees have a hard time healing from this.

Keep the ultimate shape of the tree in mind as you view it and remove the stems that are going in the wrong direction of your vision. Keep stems that arch upward and outward like a cascade, and remove any that point inward toward the trunk, shoot straight up or straight outward.

Thinning is important for vigorous growers. Get in underneath the tree and remove crowded stems from the crown. Always follow the stem you are about to cut with your fingers to make sure you are removing the right one. I have another person give each branch a shake before cutting so I can stand back and see what we are removing and how it will look.

Weeping tree branches do not need to be cut when they reach the ground. With the exception of mulberries, they will stop growing when they touch the ground. With low, mounding evergreens, touching the ground will make the stem arch back up, forming the desired mounds of growth.

Grafted trees will have a graft scar just below the weeping branches. Remove any new stems that sprout below the graft scar as soon as they appear. Suckers at the base of the tree must be removed annually as well. Weeping cherries should be pruned just after they bloom in the spring. The branches will fork into two stems wherever they are cut, so keep this in mind when selecting which branches to cut.

A Few Favorites

Evergreen Weepers

Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Pendula’
Large and draping, with outstretched branches and curtain-like foliage. Dark green, best in mostly sun with some hot afternoon shade. Will not do well in very windy exposures. 

Picea omorika ‘Pendula’
The weeping Serbian spruce is the loveliest of all weeping evergreens. It is slim, elegant and slow-growing. 

Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’
Although the weeping Atlas cedar is rated hardy to only Zone 6,  I have seen specimens of this undulating, hill-forming, spectacular blue plant in southern Michigan, on the north side of Chicago and in La Porte, Ind. Well worth a try.

Flowering Weepers

Cornus kousa ‘Elizabeth Lustgarten’
A smaller tree, forming rather tight, shorter, pendulous branches. Blooms well with age and needs mostly sun with some afternoon shade.
Note: ‘Lustgarten’ and ‘Elizabeth Lustgarten’ are two different cultivars, with ‘Lustgarten’ being the better of the two, but totally unavailable today.

Lavender Twist® redbud (Cercis canadensis)3

Prunus serrulata ‘Kwanzan’ 
Large, double pink flowers; needs full sun and good drainage. Larger cherry tree.

Prunus subhirtella ‘Pendula Rosea’ and ’Pendula Purpurea’
Double or single, pink or white flowers, full sun and good  drainage. The largest weeping cherry tree. Snow Fountains® weeping cherry White flowers on lax branches that fall straight down like rain. Full sun and good drainage. Small tree.

Malus x ‘Red Jade’
Still one of the best weeping crabapples. White flowers are followed by highly ornamental red fruit. The trunk twists as the tree matures, creating interest beyond the hanging branches. Prune to show the trunk as the tree grows.

Lavender Twist® redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Weeping redbud is a great choice for small gardens.


Morus alba ‘Chapparel’ 
Male clone white mulberry, grafted to a standard. No fruit, many pendulous stems.

Morus alba ‘Pendula’
Female white mulberry, grafted to a standard, white fruit follows insignificant flowers. Good for wildlife plantings.

Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Pendula’ 
Weeping katsura is the gold standard among weeping trees, with minute red flowers along the bark in spring, heart-shaped blue-green leaves and yellow, cinnamon-scented foliage in fall.

Tilia cordata ‘Petiolaris’
Weeping silver linden may be hard to find but well worth seeking out. It is a tough, relatively trouble free tree with lovely foliage and wonderful fragrance in June.

Fagus sylvatica f. ‘Pendula’
Weeping European beech will eventually become quite large, so give this one plenty of room to grow and become the legacy tree that is a hallmark of the best public gardens in America.

Acer palmatum ‘Crimson Queen
Still a great choice, this cascading maple is lovely in all seasons.

Morus alba ‘Chapparel’1


1. Photo by Ed Lyon
2. Photo by Maria Zampini
3. Photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries

From Chicagoland Gardening Volume XVIII Issue IX


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

American Persimmon
by Ann McCulloh - posted 12/20/13     #Hot Plants

Diospyros virginiana in October holds its leaves and unripened fruit.

Tree ripened fruit of Diospyros virginiana ‘Meader’ takes on a purplish tinge and becomes quite soft and succulent.

American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is a native fruit tree that grows in clearings and open woods from Connecticut to Florida with naturally occurring populations in the southern half of Ohio. A slow-growing, ornamental tree with attractive foliage, fall color and bark, it is adaptable to a range of soils and has few pest or disease problems. It is also described as being tolerant of air pollution. In wild populations it usually bears male or female flowers on separate trees. Many self-fertile cultivars have been developed for the gardener who wants fruit, but has limited space, including ‘Meader’, ‘Ruby’, ‘Yates’ and hybrids ‘Nikita’s Gift’ and ‘Rosseyanka’.

The apricot-sized fruit ripens in fall. It is astringent when green, but becomes sweet when fully ripe. The most widespread and popular persimmon recipes are for puddings, but they are also featured in breads, cookies, pies, cakes, ice cream, candies, sauces, smoothies and fruit leather. Ripe fruits are too soft to ship or keep in stores, so growing your own may be your best opportunity to taste this traditional American fruit.

Common Name: American persimmon

Botanical Name: Diospyros virginiana 

Cultivars: ‘Meader’, ‘Prok’, ‘Yates’, ‘Szukis’, ‘Morris Burton’, ‘Wabash’, ‘Nikita’s Gift’ (hybrid)

Color: White, pale yellow, warm and cool pinks

Blooming Period: Late spring

Type: Native tree

Size: Up to 30 feet tall by 20 feet wide

Exposure: Full sun to part shade

When to Plant: Spring or fall

Soil: Tolerates poor, clay or rocky soils; best in slightly moist, sandy soils.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 to 9

Watering: Once a week during establishment period

When to Prune: Cut back in early spring; remove suckers in summer.

When to Fertilize: Topdress with 1 inch of mature compost in spring.

In Your Landscape: An ornamental, fruiting specimen tree

From Ohio Gardener Volume III Issue VI. Photos by Ann McCulloh.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Out of the Ordinary: New Choices for Your Garden
by Kylee Baumle - posted 12/18/13  

Variety is the spice of life. Why not step outside your comfort zone and grow something unusual in your garden? Here are some extraordinary suggestions.We gardeners have our favorite plants and we grow them as staples in our gardens. We can’t imagine not growing them. For me, these include peonies, roses, daffodils and hostas. But we also are drawn to the unusual and the less commonly available plants.

We gardeners have our favorite plants and we grow them as staples in our gardens. We can’t imagine not growing them. For me, these include peonies, roses, daffodils and hostas. But we also are drawn to the unusual and the less commonly available plants.

“Unique” can mean different things to different people, of course. For example, people living here in Ohio are not likely to think of agaves as commonplace. Yet, in the Southwest they grow wild along the roadsides. I personally love them because we rarely see them here and strategically placed in a garden, they can lend a beautiful architectural aspect.

Easy Bulbs for Your Northern Garden

Tropical bulbs can add some aesthetic interest to a garden as well. Luckily, several varieties are easily found and are not expensive. Many of us are familiar with amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp.), commonly grown in a pot in the winter here, but there’s a wide assortment of tropical bulbs we can grow in the ground or in containers during the summer months:

Peruvian daffodils (Hymenocallis spp.) are one of my personal favorites. They like the same conditions as many bulbs – not too wet, full to part sun, and since they grow on fairly tall stems, they’ll benefit from being grown in a location with some protection from wind.

Aztec lilies (Sprekelia spp.) are not true lilies, but their deep red blooms and flower form somewhat resemble that of a lily.

Coral drops (Bessera elegans) are miniature flowers that pack a big punch of detail when you get up close and personal with their blooms. The flowers do hang down, so it takes some effort to have a look at the inside of them, but when grown in a clump of a dozen or so bulbs, their delicate beauty adds subtle interest to the garden.

Amazon lily (Eucharis spp.) is another non-lily, and because it prefers shade, it makes a lovely houseplant. When it rewards you with its gorgeous white-and-green blooms, you’ll wonder why you didn’t grow it sooner. It has large, shiny, dark green leaves, so even if it never bloomed, it would still be worth growing.

Peruvian daffodil: With its frilly white blooms, the Peruvian daffodil (Hymenocallis spp.) lends an air of elegance to the garden.

The Aztec lily (Sprekelia spp.) isn’t a true lily, but its deep red blooms, atop 18 to-24-inch stems are reminiscent of them.
Coral drops (Bessera elegans) are dainty bloomers with an interesting pattern to their petals. The  stamens are a deep shade of violet.

Remember that these are tropical bulbs and they must be dug in the fall and stored over the winter. If planted in a container, just bring them in, container and all. It’s possible for some tropical bulbs to continue as houseplants through the winter until they can go outside again in spring. Others will go dormant and should be kept in a cool, dry location.

Perennial Garden Options

For those who prefer perennials, there are a number of less common varieties that can find a place in your garden. Sometimes they’re just fun to grow because they function as a conversation piece. 

Edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum), for instance, always elicits a comment and a smile when a visitor notices it in my own garden. It can be short-lived as a perennial, although I had it for four summers in my own garden. Last year’s drought proved to be too much for it, in spite of it being an alpine plant that dislikes too much water.

• The long-lasting blooms of the Princess lily (Alstroemeria spp.) are popular in grocery store bouquets, but you can grow your own year round in Zone 5 or 6 gardens, if you provide a protective covering of mulch in the winter. ‘Mauve Majesty’, ‘Tangerine Tango’ and ‘Sweet Laura’ are varieties to look for.

• An easy to grow perennial that also happens to be on the endangered list is Short’s goldenrod (Solidago shortii ‘Solar Cascade’). Found naturally in only a couple of locations in southwestern Ohio and northern Kentucky, the goldenrod was once thought to be extinct. Efforts to bolster its population have now been extended to home gardens, so not only do you have the opportunity to grow a beautiful, arching goldenrod, you can help preserve this native plant.

Well known to most of us because of the musical, “The Sound of Music,” edelweiss (Leontopodium spp.) is an easy perennial in most Ohio gardens. 

Though most princess lilies (Alstroemeria spp.) are tender in our northern climates, in recent years, hardy versions have become available.
Short’s goldenrod (Solidago shortii ‘Solar Cascade’) is slowly making a comeback from near extinction. When the cotton boll splits and you can see the white cotton peeking through, it’s ready for harvest.

Long-Season Growers

But It’s Not Hardy…

Tip: Remember that almost any plant that isn’t winter hardy in our northern growing zones can be grown in the ground in the summer. Treat it as you would an annual, knowing that you may have the added bonus of being able to continue growing it as a houseplant through the winter. 

Sources for Bulbs, Plants and Seeds

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs:
Plant Delights Nursery:
Logee’s Greenhouses:
Southern Exposure Seed Company:

Some of the things we maybe would like to grow in our gardens, we mistakenly think can’t be grown here in the North due to their need for a long growing season. But there are several interesting plants that do just fine if you get them planted early enough.

Cotton (Gossypium spp.) is a gorgeous plant that has equally pretty blooms that eventually form attractive bolls. By the time fall comes around, those bolls will burst open and you’ll see the familiar puff of cotton. There are several varieties to be grown and ‘Red Foliated White’ has deep bronze-green foliage that is especially eye-catching.

Another plant that requires a fairly long growing season is the Peanut (Arachis hypogaea). This one is fun for kids, although it will take a bit of patience on their part because it will take every bit of our northern growing season to produce the underground pods. Peanuts are a legume and have the characteristic pea blossoms, in a glorious shade of golden yellow. An added benefit of growing peanuts is their ability to fix nitrogen in the soil, enriching it for the next crop you grow in that location.

When the cotton boll splits and you can see the white cotton peeking through, it’s ready for harvest.

Peanuts grow underground as a result of “pegging” by the plants after blooming, whereby the fruiting part of the plant digs into the soil below.

Just Grow It

If you are feeling a little bit of trepidation about trying something new or unfamiliar, think of it this way. For just a small amount of money, you can add to both the beauty of your garden and your knowledge of growing plants. I think you’ll find that the rewards are worth the risk and you’ll gain some confidence in stepping outside your comfort zone, while discovering an astounding array of plants you never dreamed would grow in your garden.

From Ohio Gardener Volume III Issue V. Photos by Kylee Baumle.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

The View from Here
by Michelle Byrne Walsh - posted 12/16/13  

Looking out the window is not just for daydreamers. The view is kind of a big deal, especially in December. It is vital to plan your indoor views as you create your garden and landscape.

The views of your garden from your windows serve several functions. Usually people think of the aesthetics when they think of views to the outside. But safety, screening and lighting are also important issues. You might need to be able to watch your children as they play outside or see out to the driveway. You might want to screen certain views out the windows, such as air conditioners or a neighbor's house. Also, how does the sunlight shine into the room? What is the exposure: north, south, east or west? Would you like the change the intensity of this light?

These are some things to keep in mind as you gaze out the window and try to decide what projects to tackle next spring. 

Favorite Rooms, Familiar Views

One of first things to consider is where you spend most of your time at home. Which window? What time of day? Most of the time you are probably in the kitchen and family or living room. You also might have a home office from which you often gaze outdoors. Start at these windows and look carefully. What do you see? What would you rather see?

The view from the dining table should be “appetizing.”2

All Year Long

French doors that open onto a lushly planted patio area and water feature invite the sounds and colors of the outdoors in.2

You want to put something in the landscape that draws your eye — and it can be shrubs, perennials, water features, statues and many other things. Your eye wants to move to something in the landscape that is interesting or desirable.

If you want a beautiful vignette all year, plan a four-season planting. Texture, foliage and color all play roles in a good four-season planting. Think of not just spring and summer, but fall and winter as well.

Fall gardens shine when their foliage changes colors and the dried seedpods of many perennials add to the structure of beds and borders. In that vein, forego the fall clean up. Don't cut perennials to the ground in late fall. Leave them standing. The snow and ice that fall on them can be exquisite.

Winter gardens consist of plants with interesting forms, bark and snow-holding capabilities. For instance, ornamental grasses such as switch grass (Panicum virgatum), Miscanthus spp. grasses and prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) catch snow and frost and glisten in the sunlight. They also move in the wind gracefully. Broadleaf evergreens like boxwoods and hollies keep their shape and hold their own, and conifers are evergreen and lend “bones” to a bed or border.

Hardscapes are also the bones of the garden. Well-placed fountains, water features or statuary offer year-round points of interest.

In spring, the ornamental grasses and perennial stalks should be cut back before the spring bulbs bloom. For spring interest, try adding naturalizing bulbs like daffodils (Narcissus sp.), crocus, muscari, camassia and other bulbs in spots were the bright color will be visible from indoors.

In summer you might want to group annual plantings or containers where you can see them from indoors (remember it will be 95 F one day and you will be again “stuck” inside).


If watching children or pets from the house is important, be sure to frame views of the play areas. Maybe you need to see visitors in the driveway. Ask yourself a lot of questions to help you focus on your needs. Where is the kids' playset? Do they play basketball in the driveway? Do they play in the street? How do they walk to the bus stop? Do you enjoy watching the school bus or the neighbors come and go? Frame the views accordingly.

Pools, hot tubs and fire pits also need to be viewed from the house for safety. You will want a line of sight to them from the kitchen and family room.

Screening or Enhancing Views

But sometimes there are situations where you want a little more privacy through the windows. You might want to use a small multi-stemmed tree, such as a crabapple (Malus spp.), serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.), redbud (Cercis canadensis cultivars) or a dwarf river birch like Fox Valley (Betula nigra ‘Little King’) in front of a large window at the front of the house where you dine or watch television at night. With deciduous multi-stemmed trees like these, you can feel “invisible,” yet you can often see through them from inside of the house to the lawn or street.

And sometimes the existing view out the window is plain ugly. It might be the neighbor's garage, trash cans or the dog run. Or you might be looking directly into your neighbor's windows. In these cases, screening is the answer, and better still if you can create a planting or trellis that showcases beauty on your side. Fences can be used, but they typically are limited to 6 feet tall. Trellises and wall panels can go higher — from 8 to 12 feet tall. But plants are probably your best bet. Columnar or fastigiate cultivars of sugar maples, oaks, arborvitae, juniper, false cypress and other trees can grow relatively tall but stay somewhat narrow. Do your research to choose the right tree for your yard.

A winter scene through leaded glass still offers interesting opportunities for garden vignettes.1

Exposure and Light

Another way to "view your view" is by watching the way the light comes into your home.

Consider which direction the most-used rooms face — north, south, east or west — and how the sun shines into that room. This will help you figure out what you need to accomplish outside the window. For instance, a sunny southern exposure might benefit from a shade tree near the window. A northern-facing room might require removal or pruning of existing foliage from trees and shrubs let more light into the room. (Or you might enjoy the light levels just the way they are now.)

Poet Walt Whitman wrote, “A morning glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books.” Whatever your situations, or unique needs, design parts of your garden with "The View" in mind and find your own "morning glory."


1. Photo by Michelle Byrne Walsh
2. Photo by Robert Hursthouse


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Less-Stressed Veggies = More Nutrition for Us
by Charlotte Kidd - posted 12/11/13  

Being well fed and healthy helps ensure we humans are at our best. Same goes for growing choice vegetables. Stress-free vegetables are more nutritious than struggling plants.

“Vegetables grown under stressful conditions – whether it is a lack of water, lack of nutrients or being attacked by insects or diseases – are not going to be as robust or have the nutritional value as good, healthy vegetables that have all that they require to reach their genetic potential as far as yield or nutritional value,” said Dr. William J. Lamont Jr., professor in the department of horticulture at Pennsylvania State University. Lamont draws on 31-plus years of hands-on, in the field experience as a researcher and extension professional with vegetable crops.

“It’s basic botany,” explained Horticulture Educator Steven M. Bogash of the Pennsylvania State University Extension in Franklin County. “Plants take up the nutrients through the root hairs, into the xylem, through the leaves and settle them out into the fruit.”

Water and minerals move from plant roots up to plant leaves through xylem — tubular-like vessels and cells. “If you are feeding what the plant needs,” and watering it, and it’s receiving enough sunlight, “it would make sense that the nutrients (mineral content) would move through the xylem stream. The fruit would be fed better,” Bogash says.

Bogash specializes in tomatoes. For several decades, he has done soil testing and plant tissue analysis on tomato crops. He works with commercial tomato growers to help them adjust growing conditions for the best-tasting, easiest to transport tomatoes.

They do the science. They test soil and apply nutrients to the soil. They test plant (leaf) tissue for nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, sulfur, magnesium and micronutrients. They rebalance deficiencies by supplying nutrients and watering sufficiently. They test plant tissue two weeks later. 

Philadelphia’s Blaine School Community Garden students harvest pest-free midsummer vegetables.1

In Our Vegetable Gardens

A smart veggie gardener can make the most of his or her efforts, said Dr. Wesley Kline, agriculture agent for the Rutgers University Cooperative Extension in Cumberland County, New Jersey. Choose vitamin-packed vegetables you enjoy. Grow them in the best possible conditions. Store and prepare them with nutrition in mind.

First, select vegetables you and your family like. If the veggies aren’t appealing enough to eat, you’ll definitely not benefit from their vitamins, minerals and fiber. After deciding your favorites, look at which ones have the most nutritional value. “If you like them and they’re nutritious, you have a winner!” said Kline.

Growing vegetables in the best possible conditions – with enough space, food and water – allows them to reach their prime. Conscientious gardeners can tip the odds for plant health and yield. “Do everything you can do to manage diseases and insects. That reduces stress on the plant,” urged Kline. Take advantage of resources such as state agricultural extension service staff and websites for gardening, landscaping, farming and integrated pest management.

In Kline’s decades of advising, he’s found that most problems stem from poor water management and weed control. Watering too frequently or not long enough encourages vegetable plants roots to stay near the soil surface, where they’ll quickly dry out. Shallowly-rooted weeds thrive near the soil surface as well. The best practice is to water deeply, once a week, so the roots grow downward into the moist, cool soil.

Tips for Nutrition-Packed Plants

Raised beds provide better drainage than flat ground, especially helpful for tomatoes and peppers.

Space plants far enough apart so air circulates freely. This allows the soil and plant parts to dry out. Why is that important? Most plant diseases, such as powdery and downy mildew, thrive in a moist environment.

Remove weeds pronto! Weeds cause disease problems by competing with vegetables for nutrients, water and light.

Apply plastic mulch or 1-2 inches of organic mulch, such as compost, shredded leaves or newspaper, to reduce the time and frequency of watering.

Don’t automatically apply fertilizer. Most long-used gardens are overfertilized from years of added fast-acting fertilizers, said Kline. First, test garden soil for phosphorous, potassium, calcium, magnesium and pH. A good soil-test report will note deficiencies and recommend adjustments. Compost and organic fertilizers release nutrients slowly and add microbe-rich organic matter. Commercial fertilizers pack more immediately available nutrients, but they don’t enrich the soil over time.

It is important to provide ample space between vegetable plants.2

How to Water

Mulch and deeply water new transplants to suppress weeds and keep roots and soil moist.2

Generously water the roots (not the plants’ vegetation) weekly at soil level. Roots absorb nutrients via water. Soaker hoses are great for small gardens; drip irrigation for larger gardens.

Water 1 inch per week for heavier, clay soil. Apply 1½ inches per week for sandy soil.

To measure rain and drip irrigation, put several empty tuna-fish cans on a grid in a line. See how long they take to fill. Have a soaker hose? Put cans under the soaker hose to measure water flow.

Overhead watering is the last resort – water during the day so plants are dry by nightfall. Be forewarned: Plant diseases, especially on peppers, tomatoes and fruits, can develop overnight on wet plant leaves.

Community Gardens’ Top Veggies

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) distributed vegetable plants in May to gardeners at 115 Philadelphia community gardens. Strawberry, kale, collards, broccoli and cabbage plants are favorites, said Lisa Mosca, PHS’s City Harvest food systems specialist.

With the public health concern about diabetes, PHS offers sweetpotato slips too. Sweetpotatoes are packed with vitamins A, C and B6, dietary fiber, potassium and iron. Studies show sweetpotatoes have a low-glycemic index. That is, they release glucose slowly, which means no diabetic sugar spikes.

Ripe peppers – red, orange and yellow – have up to twice the vitamin C content of unripe green peppers, noted Mosca. Red ripe tomatoes are full of the natural antioxidant lycopene.


1. Photo courtesy of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
2. Photo courtesy of Charlotte Kidd

From State-by-State Gardening September/October 2013.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Edible Fig
by Charlotte Kidd - posted 12/06/13  

A ‘Brown Turkey’ fig tree in mid-July in a Philadelphia garden.

Though we wouldn’t plant a fig tree (Ficus carica) outdoors with winter coming, we certainly can buy one to grow indoors then plant outside in the spring. With global climate change and the USDA Planting Zone adjustments, some fig varieties will thrive where before they’d likely have died in temperatures below 10 F.

Choose a self-pollinating variety. Three tasty favorites will grow in formerly Zone 5, now Zone 6 landscapes. The long-popular ‘Brown Turkey’ fig tree produces sweet and tender, medium-to-large-sized, purplish-brown figs with pink flesh. We often see them on the East Coast, especially in cities with warm microclimates.

The bushy ‘Italian Everbearing’ fig tree sets two prolific seasonal crops of large reddish brown figs with pink, sweet flesh. Fruits are excellent fresh or dried.

The ‘Mission’ fig hails from a Franciscan missionary, who is said to have planted the first fig in a San Diego  Calif. mission. The very sweet, purplish black fruits, borne all summer, are yummy fresh or dried.

About 10 years ago, we planted the rooting branch of a ‘Brown Turkey’ fig in a semi-protected city yard. Now the canopy exceeds 20 feet, which means spring pruning back for size. For eight snowy, sometimes icy winters (until 2011) we triple-wrapped the branches in polythermal fabric and burlap. To protect the roots, we heaped oak leaves 3 to 4 feet high up the trunk and around the base. It hasn’t noticed that we’ve stopped wrapping. New transplants elsewhere have done well with no branch protection.

Common Name: Common edible fig

Botanical Name: Ficus carica

Varieties or Cultivars to Look for: ‘Brown Turkey’, ‘Italian Everbearing’, ‘Mission’

Color: Large, lobed green leaves drop after a hard freeze.

Blooming Period: Flowers are inside the fig. Produces figs from late spring into fall, depending on the variety.

Type: Deciduous shrub/tree in USDA Zones 7 to 10. Tolerates temperatures to 10 F. In colder winters, mulch root area and cover branches. Size: Average 15 to 20 feet wide and tall

Exposure: Full sun

When to Plant: Spring or fall

How to Plant: 15 to 20 feet on center 

Soil: Slightly alkaline, well-drained soil; Mulch root area with oak leaves.

Watering: Water weekly through its first hot summer; drought tolerant after established.

When to Prune: If needed in spring to reduce size and remove dead branches

When to Fertilize: Sprinkle soil with dolomite limestone in fall to achieve pH 6.0 to 6.5.

In Your Landscape: As a specimen, in a planter


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

5 Design Mistakes Home Gardeners Make (and How to Avoid Them)
by Carol Chernega - posted 12/03/13  

Garden design and gardening are not necessarily the same thing. Here are the most common design errors, why they are ‘bad’ and how to change your ways.

Here are the top five mistakes I see most often in my work as a professional gardener. They’re easy to fix!

1. Shearing shrubs into balls. This not only looks boring, but it also leads to unhealthy plants. Shearing promotes dense outer growth, which blocks sunlight. Inner leaves fall off, leaving bare (sometimes dead) branches in the middle of the plant. Later, if you want to reduce the size of the shrub, you can’t do it because you’d be left with bare branches. 

Solution: Hand-prune one branch at a time, going down into the plant so you open it up and allow light inside. Only topiary and boxwood should be sheared, and even they will benefit from hand-pruning. Become familiar with the natural growth habit of shrubs and allow them to grow into that shape.

Shearing everything into the same shape creates a boring landscape.

This spirea has been pruned with its natural shape in mind, rather than tightly sheared.

2. Planting too closely together, or siting plants too close to your home or sidewalk. When shrubs start growing into each other, it looks like the landscape is engulfing the house. When they hang over the sidewalk or driveway, they reduce the usefulness of those paths. 

Solution: Plan for future growth. Read the plant tag. If the shrub has a mature width of 3-5 feet, then place it at least 3 feet away from the house, sidewalk and other shrubs. Also, when you first plant shrubs, fill in the bare spots with perennials, rocks or ornaments that can be easily moved as the shrub grows.

Shrubs too close to the house and to each other will need hours of pruning to get them under control.

3. Fighting nature. How many times have  you said, “The deer are eating my hosta!” Yep, they’re  deer candy.

Have you ever bought a plant that wants shade even though your garden has full sun? “I’ll water it a lot,”  you think. 

Are you planning to install a French drain because your lawn is soggy?

All of these scenarios have a common theme — you’re trying to fight nature. Experienced gardeners know nature will always win.

Solution: Work with nature instead of against it. If the deer keep eating your hosta, stop planting hosta! There are many plants deer won’t eat. Research them.  Follow the recommendations on plant tags. Shade-loving plants may survive in full sun, but they won’t thrive.  Create a bog garden instead of installing a French drain. Plants that love wet spots will be happy there.

4. Improper scale. Most people err on the side of too small rather than too big. Picture these: Pots or garden accessories that are so small they’re not even noticeable, or 12 daffodils rather than 100.

Solution: Think big! Plant sweeps of bulbs, perennials or annuals. Have one big container by the front door instead of three small ones. Invest in one stunning garden accessory instead of many small ones scattered around the garden.

Improper scale — the two pots flanking the front door look tiny compared to the size of the home.

5. Lack of a focal point. This is the biggest design mistake I see. The garden is neat and tidy, but it looks like every other landscape in the neighborhood.

Solution: A focal point is what takes a garden from nice to wow! A formal garden should have a focal point at the end of a straight path. An informal garden should have curves with the focal point around the bend, so there’s something to surprise you. The focal point can be a sculpture, birdbath, bench, urn, water feature or an element that reflects your personality or interests.

Left: These pots and their plants match the scale of this front entry. Right: These Victorian forcing pots create a simple yet interesting focal point, and reflect the owner’s interest in antiques. This photo also illustrates proper scale — one pot would be lost, whereas multiple pots really draw your eye.

Follow these guidelines and your garden will be the focal point of the neighborhood!

From State-by-State Gardening September/October 2013. Photos courtesy of Carol Chernega.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Try Something New
by Patsy Bell Hobson - posted 12/02/13  

Now that 2013 is drawing to a close, it is time to think about next year. New plants and new varieties are introduced every year. The new versions may be more disease resistant, cold tolerant, have bigger fruit or even flowers in a new color. 

Try These in 2014     

Look for this new Clematis 'Sweet Summer Love' from Proven Winners. Wouldn't it be great if sweet autumn clematis flowered sooner and longer and came in other colors? Now it does! This new plant offers interesting  flowers, fragrance, ease of growth and cranberry-violet blooms that start blooming more than a month earlier than others — starting in July in the Midwest and Northeast, and continue until mid-September.

Cabin fever cures 

If, sometime in February, you start to go a little nuts, it may be cabin fever. About this time every year, real gardeners are so desperate to see something, anything grow, that they will even adopt chia pets and name them. 

Another option is to dust off the seed starting equipment and start some slow growing herbs and flowers.

Three flowers for the cure:
Dianthus (Sweet William)
Digitalis (Foxglove)
Datura (Angel's Trumpet)

Start these seed 12 weeks before the last frost date. There are several places to order seed on line or buy these locally.  

Three vegetable and herb cures: 
If you are looking for a cure in the herb or vegetable garden, start celery, leeks, parsley. These three plants are slow starters and must be sown 10 to 12 weeks before last frost date. 

Here are a few seed sources that have theses seed to get you started:
Johnny's Selected Seed
Baker Creek
Park Seed 

Resist the temptation to start tomatoes, peppers and eggplants until 8 weeks before the last frost date. If you start these vegetable seeds too early, they will become leggy.

These new Lo & Behold butterfly bushes (Buddleia sp.) are the smallest in the bunch. Only 18 to 24 inches tall, ‘Ice Chip’ (white), ‘Lilac Chip’ (lilac) and ‘Blue Chip Jr.’ (purple) can even be grown as container plants. These smaller plants are great for edging, in a mixed perennial bed or, as a ground cover. Everybody loves these fragrant, continuously flowering butterfly bushes. The Lo & Behold buddleias prefer well-drained soils and full sun. They do not require deadheading. You have one maintenance task: prune these shrubs to the ground in late winter/early spring. Flowers will bloom on new wood.

If you are a fan of the Profusion series zinnias there is a new kid in the family. Zinnia 'Profusion Double Hot Cherry' has blooms of rich rose, double petal blooms. This 2013 All-America Selections Bedding Plant Award Winner has little flowers about 2.5 inches in diameter. The plants grow just over 1 foot tall and can spread as much as 24 inches wide. Profusion zinnias are self-cleaning, meaning no deadheading is needed. Zinnia 'Profusion Double Hot Cherry' is disease resistant, easy to grow and tolerates both heat and cold. You can find starter plants this spring, but zinnia seed are easy to find and grow. Choose for borders, to fill blank spots in landscape or in containers. Butterflies love this hot color.

Green Bean 'Mascotte' is a fast-growing, prolific, compact bush bean that produces long, skinny pods that stick up above the foliage. The lofty ivory blooms are quite ornamental. ‘Mascotte’ produces slender 5-inch-long pods that stay above the foliage for easy harvest. These dwarf green beans are ideal for containers or small space gardens. Continuously producing plants are compact enough to plant in hanging baskets. Beans are tender and crisp. Seeds are easy to find. This bean is a 2014 AAS Vegetable Award Winner. When everyone else discovers these new green beans, you might be glad you ordered seed early. Beans prefer well-drained soil and full sun.

Dianthus has been around for hundreds of years. I think they are an often overlooked. This isn't the flower your grandma called pinks. These days, in addition to pale and bright pink, this collection offers lavender and white flowers in the mix. The new ‘Lace Perfume’ dianthus (Dianthus hybridus ‘Lace Perfume’) won't allow you to overlook it because of the heady fragrance. ‘Lace Perfume’ is a fringed flower that is worth taking the time to start indoors 8 weeks before last frost date.

Fragrant Dianthus ‘Lace Perfume’ grows on sturdy stems about 18 inches tall. Start these from seed for the most amazing fragrance.1

‘Aloha Mix’ nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus ‘Aloha Mix’) are listed as great companion plant for everything from cabbages and cucumbers to tomatoes. Regardless of whether they help in the vegetable garden, nasturtiums are beautiful. Renee's Garden Seed is offering ‘Aloha Mix’ nasturtiums, which can be poked into empty space in the vegetable garden or flowerbed. They tumble over the edge of raised beds, perk up any container, and will make you smile no matter where they pop up. The packet is a mix of pastel colors.

Nasturtium ‘Aloha Mix’ are loaded with pastel flowers. Poke a few seeds in several different locations to tie your garden design together. 1

Catalina Grape-O-Licious wishbone flower (Torenia hybrid) by Proven Winners is made for the shade. This little continuous blooming annual likes shade or part shade. Hummingbirds like this plant that stands just10 inches tall in a part shade. This plant is a standout because it's hard to find nonstop blooming plants for the shade. The plant tag recommends regular fertilization of plants in pots for the best possible performance.

Catalina Grape-O-Licious wishbone flowers provide vivid color for shaded spots. 2


1. Photo courtesy of Renee's Garden Seeds
2. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

‘Ogon’ Spirea
by June Hutson - posted 11/29/13     #Hot Plants

Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’ is a dense, twiggy, upright, multi-stemmed deciduous shrub with wiry, outward-arching branching. It typically grows 3 to 5 feet tall and as wide, often becoming somewhat open and leggy over time. ‘Ogon’ is a golden-leaved variety. Narrow, linear-lanceolate, sparsely-toothed leaves (to 1½ inch long) emerge golden yellow in spring, mature to bright green in summer and finally turn interesting shades of orange in fall. Leaves have a willow-like appearance. Golden spring foliage color gives way to chartreuse green if plants are sited in part-shade conditions. Tiny, five-petaled white flowers (each ⅓ inch in diameter) in three- to five-flowered umbellate clusters bloom in early spring before the foliage emerges. The specific epithet honors Carl Peter Thunberg (1743-1828), a Swedish plant explorer, who introduced species plants to Europe.

Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’ has no serious insect or disease problems. It is, however, susceptible to many of the diseases and insects that attack other rose family members, including leaf spot, fire blight, powdery mildew, root rot, aphids, leaf roller and scale.

It can be easily grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun. Best golden foliage occurs in full sun. This plant tolerates light shade, a wide range of soils and some drought. Prune as needed immediately after flowering to maintain shape.

Common Name: Ogon’ spirea

Botanical Name: Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’

Type: Deciduous shrub 

Zones: 4 to 8 

Size: 3 to 5 feet tall and wide

Bloom Time: April  Bloom

Color: White 

Sun: Full sun 

Water: Medium 

Maintenance: Low 

Flowers: Showy flowers 

Leaves: Colorful, good fall color 

Wildlife: Attracts butterflies. 

Tolerates: Deer 

Uses: Hedges, foundations, borders, sunny woodland margins; interesting specimen plant.

From Missouri Gardener Volume III Issue VI.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Damaged Trees
by Ilene Sternberg - posted 11/27/13  

Storms, wind, cold temperatures, the freeze-thaw cycle — all of these can injure trees and shrubs. What’s a gardener to do?

Types of Tree Injuries

Broken branches – these should be cleanly pruned back to the collar of the larger branch or trunk to which they are attached. This protects the tree from decaying fungus that can infect an improperly pruned wound. Get a good manual, take pruning lessons or hire an arborist to fix the damage. (He’ll also dispose of all cut branches and debris and may even chip them into lovely mulch for you to use!)

Branches that are bent by heavy, wet snow or ice – don’t try to knock it off the tree. Let ice melt and allow the tree to slowly reclaim its natural shape. Most young trees, including evergreens, have flexible stems and may easily recover from the bending.

Winterburn – this is seen as browning or scorched leaf tips on evergreen foliage, usually from needle tips downward, and it is usually attributed to loss of water through leaf transpiration. Winter sun and winds dry needles. Applying an antidesiccant helps reduce transpiration and minimizes damage. At least two applications per season, one in December and another in February, will provide protection all winter.

Frost cracks and sunscald on the south or southwest sides of trees is caused by temperature extremes and are generally cosmetic and do little harm to the tree. To prevent sunscald, you can wrap the tree from trunk to first branch in winter, removing the wrap in spring, or plant evergreen shrubs near enough to shade the tree trunk in winter.

Root tissues, especially on shallowly rooted plants, can be severely injured by soil temperatures below 15 F.

Lightning strikes, trees being uprooted, flood and tornado damage may require professional help. 

Hiring Help

There is a profound difference between a licensed arborist and a “guy with a chainsaw.” There are national and state associations for arborists. One widely accepted certification in the tree care industry is that granted by the International Association of Arboriculture, often referred to as “ISA Certified.” (Visit the International Society of Arboriculture at Arborists should be certified, insured and capable of diagnosing disease, fungus or insect problems. Some tree care professionals are only qualified to remove trees, not to prune or detect and treat specific maladies. Inquire before you hire. Ask to see evidence of the individuals or company’s insurance for personal and property damage and workers’ compensation.

Ask for and check local references or past clients. Obtain cost estimates from several arborists. Ask for a written estimate listing all work to be done. Don’t pay for the job until everything agreed upon is completed. Be patient and be prepared to wait to get the work completed by a qualified arborist, especially after a storm.


Trees with Exceptional Storm Resistance

Arborvitae, Western red cedar (Thuja plicata)
Carolina beech (Carpinus caroliniana)
Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)
False cypress (Chamaecyparis spp.)
Fir (Abies spp.)
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
Hemlock (Tsuga spp.)
Horsechestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)
Incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens)
Eastern hop hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana)
Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus)
Littleleaf linden (Tilia cordata)
Several Oaks (Quercus spp.)
Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra)
Paperbark maple (Acer griseum)
Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata)
Silver linden (Tilia tomentosa)
Spruce (Picea spp.)
Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
Vine maple (Acer circinatum)
Black walnut (Juglans nigra)
Yew (Taxus spp.)

Select hardy species and cultivars. When planting, stake and tie trees loosely so stems can bend in the wind. Slacken and eventually remove the ties after root systems are well established (usually five to seven years).

Proper pruning is essential.

When snow or ice is expected, tie up the branches of upright evergreens, such as ‘Skyrocket’ juniper (Juniperus scopulorum ‘Skyrocket’), to keep them close to the tree.

Occasionally, trees may be cabled to support them from breakage during storms, but this is usually reserved for special, historic or otherwise revered specimens, as the procedure is expensive and must be maintained annually.

To prepare trees for winter, avoid late-summer fertilization or pruning, which might stimulate new growth. Water trees and shrubs, especially evergreens, during dry periods until the ground freezes. Mulch to conserve soil moisture and insulate the roots from cold temperatures. Do not mound mulch against tree trunks! This is a terrible practice in all seasons as it can rot the bark and smother the root systems and in the winter, mice and rabbits will feed on the bark and girdle the trees, especially in prolonged heavy snow cover. Rabbits feed on the bark above the snow, while mice feed near ground level. Mouse damage is usually more severe when trees are surrounded by thick grass, weeds or heavy mulch, so maintain an area free of grass or weeds 1-2 feet out away from the base of trees. 

Protect evergreens from wind and salt spray with burlap screens. Apply antidesiccant (such as Wilt-Pruf™ or Vapor Gard™), to trees and shrubs in late fall. Wrap trunks and major branches of newly planted trees with burlap or commercially available tree wrap products; remove in the spring.

Trees that Could Topple

The following trees grow big enough to sustain or cause serious damage and are also prone to falling in high winds due to their weak wood or poor branching structure.

American linden (Tilia americana)
Black cherry (Prunus serotina)

Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)
Box elder (Acer negundo)
Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’)
Cottonwood (Populus deltoides)
Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)
Elms (Ulmus spp.)
Green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica)
Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)
Hickories (Carya spp.)
Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos)
Pecan (Carya illinoinensis)
Laurel oak (Quercus laurifolia)
Poplars (Populus spp.)
Red cedar (Juniperus virginiana)
Red maple (Acer rubrum)
River birch (Betula nigra)
Silver maple (Acer saccharinum)
Tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Water oak (Quercus nigra)
White pine (Pinus strobus)
Willows (Salix spp.)

From State-by-State Gardening September/October 2013.
Photos courtesy of The Davey Tree Expert Company.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Cypress ‘Blue Ice’
by Alice Longfellow - posted 11/22/13     #Hot Plants

Blue Ice’ cypress is a compact, pyramidal evergreen with a unique silver-blue coloring

An evergreen that offers a unique color and texture for the winter landscape is the ‘Blue Ice’ cypress, or Cupressus arizonica var. glabra ‘Blue Ice’. The lacey texture of the silver-blue scaly needles is one of the main features of this small evergreen tree. Because of its unique color, ‘Blue Ice’ cypress can be used as a focal point. Other plants with rich shades of green will blend nicely with this icy blue tree.

Like most evergreens, this cypress prefers well-drained soils and sunny sites. It is deer resistant. This variety grows 20 to 25 feet tall, 10 to 12 feet wide, and is pyramidal in shape. Cypress grows densely, so it serves well as cover for birds. It also makes a nice windbreak or privacy hedge.

Common Name: Blue cypress

Botanical Name: Cupressus arizonica var. glabra

Varieties: ‘Blue Ice’ Foliage

Color: Blue-gray

Type: Evergreen tree

Size: 20 to 25 feet tall, 10 to 12 feet wide

Watering: Occasionally, once  established

Exposure: Full sun

Pruning: Shear annually as needed in winter

Landscape Use: The blue cypress is a good accent plant, especially for the winter landscape. It can be sheared into topiary and spiral shapes for a striking focal point.

The lacy pattern of these needles are appropriately named ‘Blue Ice’ for this variety of Cupressus arizonica var. glabra.

From Missouri Gardener Volume III Issue VI. Photos courtesy of Alice Longfellow.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Best Bulbs for Soggy Spots
by Bobbie Schwartz, FAPLD - posted 11/20/13  

Most spring-blooming bulbs rot in soggy soils.  But some bulbs actually thrive.  Here are several spring-blooming bulbs you can plant now to brighten up your boggy areas.

Gardeners with very moist or wet soil often despair, resigning themselves to being “bulbless.” I am happy to report that some bulbs actually like wet places and will not rot.

A few species of daffodils (Narcissus spp.), much beloved for their cheery spring color, do quite well in damp spots. Known since 1750, Narcissus jonquilla simplex, hardy in Zones 5 to 9, is a 10- to 12-inch, late-April-flowering, fragrant species with reed-like foliage and numerous golden-yellow flowers on each stem. Grow it in part to full shade.

Narcissus odorus flore pleno, a variable double form, is an early bloomer, 10 to 12 inches high, very fragrant and a reliable perennial in Zones 4 to 9. In cultivation since 1601, it will grow in full sun to part shade.

Fritillaria meleagris is the antithesis of its large and imposing cousin Fritillaria imperialis. This diminutive species (only 10 to 12 inches), also known as snake’s-head or Guinea-hen flower, is a native of Great Britain where bulbs usually grow and naturalize in damp meadows and pastures. It can be found with either checkered purple or pure white flowers that bloom in April to May. It prefers full sun to  partial shade and rich, neutral to alkaline soil and does best when the plants are left undisturbed. The most important condition required for successful naturalization is moisture during spring and summer. 

This small daffodil, Narcissus odorus flore pleno, is a golden yellow double that often resembles a yellow rose; at other times, only the cup is doubled.1

Fritillaria meleagris is noted for its unusual checkered pattern. It proliferates in sites that are constantly moist.2

At first glance, summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum), a European native, looks like very tall snowdrops (Galanthus spp.). Indeed both belong to the same botanical family, Amaryllidaceae. 

Years ago, I planted them in my own garden in a partially shaded, slightly moist spot. Their pendulous white bells, in clusters of three to five on each 12- to 18-inch stem, used to bloom from early May well into June, but now they start blooming in early April and last into May. The Leucojum aestivum cultivar ‘Gravetye Giant’ grows even taller at 20 to 24 inches.

The foliage remains green until midsummer and tends to smother anything in its way. I lost several plants before I realized this; I started interplanting the Leucojum with ‘Tojen’ toad lily (Tricyrtis ‘Tojen’). The Tricyrtis’ 3 foot height and large leaves allow them to compete and flourish with the Leucojum; other cultivars do not work as well.

This snowdrop look-alike, Leucojum aestivum, is a wonderful addition to the part-shade, moist garden. The flowers last for at least a month.3

The pale blue stars of Camassia cusickii open from the bottom up and illuminate partially shaded sites. The foliage is somewhat lax.3

Quamash (Camassia spp.) is an American native that naturalizes in Zones 3 to 8, has a very natural appearance and looks great between perennials, in borders and among ground covers.

Quamash have long, upright, swordlike foliage and produce an abundance of flowers, with up to 100 star-shaped little flowers on each clustered spike. All species thrive in full sun to partial shade. Three species are widely available. Camassia quamash (syn. C. esculenta), with deep-blue flowers that bloom in June and July, grows 14 to 16 inches tall. ‘Blue Melody’ is much shorter, growing only 8 to 10 inches tall, and has variegated foliage.

Camassia cusickii has light blue flowers that bloom in May and June and grows 24 to 32 inches tall.

Camassia leichtlinii boasts creamy white flowers that  bloom in May and June and grows to an average height of 24 to 40 inches. C. l. ‘Alba’, is pure white; C.l. ‘Caerulea’ has light blue flowers; and C.l. ‘Blue Danube’ has dark blue flowers. C. l. ‘Sacajawea’ has white flowers and foliage with a cream edge. A bonus for those of you gardening in wet soil is that none of these bulbs are deer fodder. So, don’t despair; plant these this fall!


1. Photo courtesy of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs
2. Photo by Van Meuwen
3. Photo by Bobbie Schwartz

From State-by-State Gardening September/December 2013.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

‘Ruby Falls’ Redbud
by Bob Hill - posted 11/15/13     #Hot Plants

‘Ruby Falls’ weeping redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Ruby Falls’)

‘Ruby Falls’ has pinkish flowers in spring.

The weeping purple-burgundy foliage lasts a long time.

Gardeners hungry for great plants in small spaces will quickly welcome the ‘Ruby Falls’ weeping redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Ruby Falls’) into their landscapes.

‘Ruby Falls’, bred at North Carolina State University from other purple-leafed redbuds ‘Covey’ and ‘Forest Pansy’, has the strong pink flowers of its parents – and their deep purple to shiny burgundy leaves that fade  to green. 

Then there’s the added attraction of a compact tree that can top out at 8 to 10 feet tall with tightly weeping limbs that can limit it to 6 feet wide – thus providing great ornamental interest all winter.

It’s the perfect tree as a specimen for a small patio area, or underplanted with a tight circle of perennials or ground cover. It offers a case, for a change, where small matters.

Common Name: ‘Ruby Falls’ weeping redbud

Botanical Name: Cercis canadensis ‘Ruby Falls’

Flowers: Frothy pink in spring

Foliage: Spring burgundy-to-purple fades to green

Size: 6 to 8 feet tall, 4 to 6 feet wide

Exposure: Full sun to part shade

Soil: Moist, well drained

Watering: Normal

Pruning: Trim carefully in late fall or early spring.

In Your Landscape: Place where you will see it every day of the year.

From Indiana Gardening Volume III Issue VI. Top and bottom right photos: Bob Hill; Left photo courtesy of PlantHaven International, Inc.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

You Can Eat Your Roses!
by Denise Schreiber - posted 11/13/13  

And your daylilies, pansies, nasturtiums … there are several beautiful common flowers in your ornamental garden that can add flavor to your food and add color as a garnish. Here’s where to start.

Did you know that roses are red and edible too? Well not all roses are red, but they are edible and most definitely delicious too. I didn’t know that until I took a trip to England and Wales in 1999 with two girlfriends on a whirlwind tour of English and Welsh gardens.

We went from the more well-known gardens, such as Sissinghurst, Barnsley and Stourhead, to the little ones, such as The Priory at Kemerton, a small private garden. But after touring the English countryside for several days, we stopped at Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire, administered by the National Trust. The abbey, which dates back to the beginning of the 11th century, has been occupied by monks to the very rich and sometimes famous. Visitors have included Rex Whistler who painted a trompe l’oeil piece in the house and Ian Fleming of James Bond fame. But its gardening claim to fame is the walled rose garden designed by Graham Stuart Thomas. In 1971, he had the opportunity to establish the rose garden as a home for his vast collections of old roses. It includes gallicas, damasks, centifolias, Chinas, musks and many more.

The tour of Mottisfont Abbey gardens was a wonderful visit, and like so many public gardens, there was a little kiosk with tea and scones. There was also something else – rose petal ice cream. I adore ice cream. I consider it one of the major food groups, so while my friends had their tea and scones, I had rose petal ice cream. You know the comment “it smelled good enough to eat”? Well it did smell good enough to eat, and I thought I had reached Nirvana. It was the fragrance and flavor of the rose that enveloped my mouth. It’s a good thing we couldn’t stay or I would have eaten all of their ice cream.

When I came back to the U. S., I started investigating recipes using edible flowers and it opened up a whole new world for me. I knew that pansies were edible, as well as nasturtiums, but the list grew incredibly long as I started doing more research. Monarda, lavender (Lavandula spp.), daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.), yucca, dianthus, chive blossoms (Allium schoenoprasum), tulips (Tulipa spp.), lilacs (Syringa spp.) and a lot more are all edible. Many vegetable and herb flowers are edible too.

Hermerocallis spp.
Edible Flowers

Anise hyssop (Agastache  foeniculum)
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Bee balm (Monarda spp.)
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla)
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
Chrysanthemum (Leucanthemum spp.)
Dianthus spp.
Dandelion (Taraxacum spp.)
Daylily buds (Hemerocallis spp.)
Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Johnny jump-ups (Viola tricolor)
Lavender (English) (Lavandula angustifolia)
Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris)
Signet marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia)
Mint (Mentha spp.)
Nasturtium Pansies (Viola spp.)
Garden peas (Pisum sativum)
Roses (Rosa spp.)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Scented geraniums (Pelgoranum spp.)
Squash blossoms (Cucurbita spp.)
Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Tulips (Tulipa spp.)
Viola spp.
Violets (Viola spp.)
Yucca spp.

The first rule of eating edible flowers is to make sure they are edible. I know that sounds redundant, but there is a lot of misinformation on the Internet, including websites that say snapdragons are edible. Snapdragons (Antirrhinum spp.) are fragrant but they aren’t edible. While we eat the fruit of the tomato, the flowers aren’t edible either. It is best to check university websites for a definitive answer. The accompanying list (see sidebar) is based on university websites. It is also important to make sure your flowers haven’t been sprayed with pesticides unless they are organic and the label says it is OK to eat on edible plants.

A general rule of thumb for eating edible flowers is the more fragrant the flower, the better the flavor. With daylilies, the lighter-colored flowers are better than the darker ones. Start in the morning by harvesting your flowers after the dew has dried but before the sun gets hot. A cloudy day is ideal. Don’t wash the flowers unless they are dirty or have insects on them. The essential oils, which give the petals their flavor. You can store most flowers in the refrigerator in a plastic bag with a damp, not wet, paper towel. They will keep for a couple of days. Flowers that hold up well in refrigeration include roses, monarda, dianthus, chive blossoms, yucca flowers, tulips (on a stem in water), lilacs, nasturtium flowers and leaves and pansies (Viola spp., also violets and violas). Daylily blossoms that are open should be harvested right before serving. The daylily buds are edible when sautéed in a little butter but can be held in the refrigerator for a few hours prior to cooking. Roses, lavender, monarda and dianthus can also be dried. When drying flowers for cooking or baking, place them in glass jar after drying to keep out moisture.

Viola spp.

Borage (Borago officinalis)

Signet marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia)

Rules for Edible Flowers

1. Eat flowers only when you are positive they are edible.
2. Just because it is served with food, does not mean a flower is edible.
3. Do not eat flowers from florists, nurseries or garden centers because they have probably been sprayed with pesticides.
4. Eat only from flowers that have been grown organically, without sprays.
5. If you have hay fever, asthma or severe allergies, you should avoid eating members of the daisy family because they could trigger an allergic reaction.
6. Children under the age of 4 should not eat flowers because of possible reactions.
7. Remove pistils and stamens from flowers before eating. Eat only the petals.
8. Do not eat flowers picked from the side of a road. Besides exhaust emissions on the plants, you don’t know whose dog was there before you.
9. There are many varieties of any one flower. Flowers taste different when grown in different locations.
10. Introduce flowers slowly into your diet in the way you would any new foods.
11. Remember, not all flowers are edible. Some are poisonous.

Edible flowers aren’t limited to just your flower beds. Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) flowers are edible with a fresh garden pea flavor, apple and crabapple (Malus spp.) blossoms have a wonderful light, floral taste, herb flowers mimic the flavor of the leaves, and let’s not forget vegetable flowers and florets. Cauliflower and broccoli (Brassica oleracea varieties) are florets but if you forget to harvest them in the garden they may flower and the flowers are also edible. And just about everyone knows that squash (Cucurbita spp.) flowers are edible. Stuffed with a little goat cheese, garlic and ground walnuts, dipped in batter and deep fried they make a wonderful appetizer. Garden pea (Pisum sativum) flowers and radish (Raphanus sativus) flowers are edible and add a nice flavor to a green salad.

Growing edible flowers is easy enough. They require the same care as any other flower in your garden except they shouldn’t be sprayed with pesticides. Organic and natural fertilizers are best, but you will be fine if you just want to use the “blue stuff.”

Once you harvest your edible flowers, what to do with them? Besides ice cream, you can add fresh rose petals (minus the little white part at the base of the petal, which can be bitter) to a fruit salad or candy them by dipping them in egg white then sugar as a decoration on a cake. You can also make a simple syrup of 1 cup of water to 1 cup of granulated sugar, bring to a boil and reduce to 1 cup and add 1 cup of packed rose petals and let steep overnight. Strain the next day and use the rose syrup within a week. You can add it to tea, hot or cold, lemonade, brush it on baked goods or brush it over a chicken breast before baking.

Edible Flower Butters

Butters are an easy way to add floral accents to the food without a lot of fuss. The flower should match the food you are serving. Feel free to experiment. Always start off with the lowest amount of flower since some can be quite strong. Use them on toast, on meat and fish, or incorporate it into your baking if the recipe calls for butter and the flavor would match. Lavender butter in a sugar cookie recipe would be a lovely match. Melted lavender butter could be drizzled over a smoked pork chop. Chive-flower butter on toast topped with a poached egg is a great twist on an old and sometimes bland dish.

Keep flower butters refrigerated after blending and use within a week.

Simply combine a stick of real butter, softened, with one of the following:

2 tablespoons fresh minced rose petals (white heels removed), or 1 tablespoon dried rose petals finely crumbled

1 tablespoon of fresh lavender flowers and finely minced leaves or ¼ tablespoon dried lavender

1½ tablespoons fresh minced nasturtiums including flowers and leaves

1 tablespoon fresh monarda minced or 1 teaspoon crumbled dried monarda

1 floret of fresh chives, minced

1 teaspoon thyme, basil or oregano flowers

1 teaspoon finely minced lemon verbena flowers and leaves

1 teaspoon finely minced pineapple sage

Rosa spp.

Fresh Salsa with Crushed Pineapple and Nasturtiums

15 nasturtium leaves and flowers washed and chopped
4 to 6 large fresh tomatoes, peeled, chopped and seeded
4 jalapeno or Serrano peppers, tops removed, chopped and seeded (If you like, you can add a mixture of peppers. You can also roast them first.)
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 red pepper, chopped and seeded
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 small can crushed pineapple, very well drained (press out moisture if necessary)
1½ tablespoons lime juice
Sea salt or kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

You can make this up to several hours before needed to let the flavors blend together. Combine tomatoes, peppers, onion, garlic, pineapple and nasturtiums in a bowl. Make sure tomatoes are well drained. Toss with lime juice and salt and pepper. Chill until serving. Serve with tortilla chips and sour cream or as a topping for meats and poultry.


Nasturtium Bundles

Freshly washed and dried nasturtium leaves
¼ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and patted dry
½ pound chevre (mild goats cheese) 
½ cup chopped pine nuts
3 tablespoons chopped lime basil
Chive stems
Salt and pepper

You need one leaf and chive stem per person. Chop approximately 1 cup flowers  and leaves. In a bowl, combine cheese, nuts, basil and tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste. Place 1 teaspoon onto back of nasturtium leaf. Roll up and secure with chive stem.

Editor’s Note: State-By-State Gardening does not advocate eating plants from the wild unless you are 100 percent sure of the plant; that if necessary you seek physician’s advice; and we recommend becoming familiar with known poisonous plants in your area. State-By-State Gardening will not be held responsible for any negative effects of consuming anything considered “ornamental.”

From State-by-State Gardening September/October 2013. Photos courtesy of Denise Schreiber.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Ficus benjamina as a Bonsai Plant
by Lynda Heavrin - posted 11/08/13     #Hot Plants

A newly planted and wired forest of Ficus benjamina.

Ficus benjamina‘Variegata’

Bonsai (pronounced BONE-sigh) plants are one of the fastest selling items in our Botanical Conservatory’s Gift Shop. The plants make great gifts and are small enough that they will fit into any brightly lit space. The bonsai are created by members of the local Bonsai Club who volunteer at our greenhouse. Ficus benjamina is the plant they use for most of their bonsai and recommend for first-timers. Creating a bonsai is considered an art, and the plants require more care than the average houseplant, but with minimal input you will be successful.

Botanical Name: Ficus benjamina

Common Name: Weeping fig

Type: Tropical

Light: In summer, after danger of frost, plants can be grown outside in a part-sun location, preferably morning sun. The rest of the year, they should be in bright, direct light, such as in a south-facing window or under grow lights.

Soil: The soil mix used by the club members is a professional growing mix to which they add Turface (a clay-based soil conditioner) and perlite to increase drainage.

Water: Water daily if outside, three to four times per week if inside, but not less than once per week even through winter. The type of pot used also affects water needs. The soil in clay or unglazed ceramic will dry out much faster than in plastic and glazed ceramic pots.

Fertilize: Since there is very little soil in bonsai pots, it is necessary to fertilize more often than normal. Fertilize with a liquid fertilizer, mixed at half-strength, every time you water spring through summer. Fertilize in fall and winter with the same strength once per month.

Repotting: Check the roots once per year to trim large roots and remove circling roots. It is necessary to change the soil every two years. 

Pruning: Check the plant once a month to expose the main stems and trunk. Prune any crossing branches to open up the inside of the plant.

From Indiana Gardening Volume III Issue VI. Photos by Lynda Heavirn.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

How to Build a Cold Frame
by Michelle Byrne Walsh - posted 11/04/13  

A cold frame can help you harden off spring transplants, get a head start on the growing season, and lengthen the fall season for cold-tolerant edibles such as lettuce, kale, radishes and herbs by one to three months. Here’s how to make one from a window and some lumber.

You have probably heard this a hundred times: "Harden off seedling plants two weeks before transplanting by moving them to a protected area outdoors or by placing them in a cold frame." But you don't have a cold frame, and perhaps never thought you needed one.

Do you need a cold frame?

In the Midwest, a cold frame can help you harden off transplants, get a head start on the growing season, and lengthen the fall season for cold-tolerant edibles such as lettuce, kale, radishes and herbs by one to three months. Some gardeners even use their cold frames to force bulbs, store root vegetables and propagate hardwood cuttings.

In its purest sense, a cold frame is a structure that provides warmth and light from the sun and blocks the wind. The sun's rays enter through a transparent cover, creating a greenhouse effect that heats the interior. A cold frame outfitted with a heating system, like heating cables, light bulbs or even heat-producing rotting manure, is called a hot bed.

Beyond this basic definition, a cold frame can be constructed from many different materials. The most inexpensive cold frame can be made with four bales of hay and an old window, sheet of plastic or Plexiglas. You assemble the hay bales to create a rectangular hole in the center and place the window or plastic on top.

Kits to create tiny hoop houses or even mini greenhouses can be purchased from garden centers or online retailers. These will act like cold frames, too. To make a miniature hoop house, for example, you can place bent rods over a raised bed, secure the rods into the soil, and cover them with plastic sheeting. There are numerous types and thicknesses of plastic sheeting, most measured in "mils" such as 4 mil or 6 mil (one mil equals one thousandth of an inch). Some mini greenhouse kits feature a series of steel frames with hard plastic sides and a transparent top that opens and closes for access and ventilation.

That's another feature cold frames should have — a means to let overly warm air escape. Even though the air temperature outdoors can be in the 40s and 50s F, the interior temperature of a cold frame can get too hot for the plants. Having a way to ventilate the space will ensure plants and seedlings don't bake. Some cold frames have hinged coverings or windows or cut outs in the plastic sheeting that you have to manually open and close. Others feature temperature-triggered vents or hinges that automatically open and close to let out excess heat at a certain temperature.

Most "permanent" cold frames are built with wood and some type of glass or plastic top. These are desirable because they can withstand years of sun and weather. So that's what I wanted to build. To keep it as inexpensive as possible, I chose to make it from plywood and an old double-paned window that measured 29 by 33 inches. (Believe it or not I actually had an old replacement window in the basement (in case of emergency, aka baseballs). If you don't have windows lying around, you can buy Plexiglas sheets or shop for discontinued or "seconds" windows. You can also visit websites like or to look for cheap or free materials. Several online greenhouse suppliers sell sheets of double-walled, triple-walled or quad-walled polycarbonate or high-density polyethylene, which you can cut to fit.

Using a window will force you to adhere to a smaller size--probably between 2 to 4 feet. I liked the size my window required us to stick to — 29 by 33 inches — big enough for a couple flats and some pots, small enough to be portable and fit inside the raised beds as well as the tool shed. Portable cold frames allow you to move the frame as the seasons change. I hoped to use it to protect lettuce in my raised beds during the late fall as well as to harden off seedlings in the spring.

When assembled and in use, ideally, cold frames should be located against a south or east wall near the building foundation to take advantage of its heat.     If you prefer, you can turn a cold frame into a hot bed by adding heating cables. The bottom heat of a hot bed encourages root growth in plants. Hot beds are useful for seedlings that require constantly warm soil temperatures to germinate. 

Step by Step

  1. Assemble materials. Our list included: one double-pane window, two large sheets plywood, two small door hinges, 1 inch pipe foam insulation, door and window insulation tape, stainless steel wood screws, wood glue (or other weather-resistant glue, we used Gorilla Glue) and exterior paint. The tools you will need are a saw, saw horses, drill, screwdriver, measuring tape, pencil and eye and ear protection for the power tools.
  2. Decide the dimensions of the box. Because our window measured 29 by 33 inches, we made the box those dimensions. And because the window should slope southward to take advantage of the low angled sunlight, we made the front of the box 6 inches tall and the rear wall 18 inches tall.
  3. Measure and trace the shape of your pieces on the plywood. Templates or patterns might be helpful. And do the math for the sloped sides! Because your window will rest on the top of all four walls, be sure the sloped sides are the same length of the window (the bottom of the side walls' measurements will be different).
  4. Cut the wood walls.
  5. Glue and screw the walls together. We chose butt joints, but if you are a skilled woodworker and are using solid wood boards (versus plywood), other types of joints might be desirable.
  6. Remove the window's existing hardware, if needed. Attach the window to the frame using door hinges. Here we reused the existing hardware holes drilled into the window's frame.
  7. Paint the box. You can choose a color to match your house, as done here, but be sure to paint the interior of the box white for maximum light diffusion.
  8. Attach pipe insulation to bottom of frame--this will protect the wood from the soil and help "seal" the frame to the ground. If needed, attach peel-and-stick door/window insulation to areas where window doesn't seal tightly.
  9. Fashion a sturdy prop stick. I used scrap wood and covered the top with left over insulation foam.







Extension websites with how-to instructions:

Photos courtesy of Michelle Byrne Walsh.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Thrift Shop Chic
by Teresa Woodard - posted 10/30/13  

The more outlandish the styles the better when it comes to choosing shoes to pot up.

Thrift-store shopping is no longer just frugal but also fashionable, especially when it comes to upcycling second-hand treasures as garden containers. Think vintage handbags, rugged cowboy boots, seldom-worn children’s dress shoes and discarded toy trucks — all vessels ready to fill with plants.

Easy-care succulents are a good choice for these repurposed containers, since they don’t need much soil or water.

Lou Killilea, owner of DeMoyne’s Greenhouse in Columbus, Ohio, and her daughter Kathy Killilea, have been creating these stylishly “green” containers for the past three years, and their lipstick cases filled with succulents were one of the hottest-selling items at this spring’s Central Ohio Home and Garden Show.

She says it all started when her husband, Jerry, brought some old shoes to the greenhouse and asked his wife to pot them up. Today, customers purchase these repurposed garden gems as gifts for baby showers, graduations, Mother’s Day and even retirement. Lou says, “The card reads ‘Retire Your Heels’.”

To make these upcycled container gardens, Lou says to shop second-hand stores, garage sales and even your own attic for shoes, toys and handbags to repurpose. The containers don’t need any special liner but some, such as rubber boots, will need a few holes in the bottom for drainage and a foundation layer of gravel to keep them from tipping over. Next, fill the “containers” with potting soil; then add plants. Lou says succulents, such as hens and chicks (Sempervivum spp.), are an ideal plant choice for these containers. She also uses herbs and annuals like petunias and million bells (Calibrachoa spp.).

Planted children’s shoes make darling gifts or centerpieces for baby showers.

Vintage lipstick cases are a fun find for planting succulents such as these hens and chicks (Sempervivum spp.).

These work boots look charming tucked in a flower bed.

Rubber boots are easily repurposed as garden containers. Just remember to add holes in the bottom for drainage and a foundation layer of gravel to keep them from tipping over.
Vintage handbags and stilettos gain a second life as eye-catching table centerpieces.

From State-by-State Gardening July/August 2013. Photos by Teresa Woodard.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

50 Ways to Leave Your Water
by George Weigel - posted 10/23/13  

Learn this new tune and change the way you water your garden. With apologies to musician Paul Simon, there must be 50 ways to leave your water. Just slip out the back, door; make a new plan, man; you don’t need to drag hose, Boz, just listen to me.

Gardeners in the parched Southwest are used to the fact-of-life struggle of growing a decent landscape with limited water. If climatologists are right, gardeners in traditionally wetter parts of the country should get familiar with what Texans, Coloradans and New Mexicans already know.

Even in “normal” years, spotty dry spells can happen anywhere, leaving gardeners to spend more summer quality time with their hose than their spouse. So with apologies to musician Paul Simon, here are 50 ways to leave your water:

In the Landscape

1. Break up clay soil before planting. Incorporate 1 or 2 inches of compost or fine gravel into the loosened top 10 to 12 inches of existing soil. Ambler Arboretum of Temple University Director Jenny Rose Carey recommends chicken grit.

2. Improve the water-holding ability of sandy soil by amending it with compost or chopped leaves.

3. When planting new trees and shrubs, make a mulch basin around the perimeter to direct water to the roots.

4. Plant more trees and ground covers. Trees cool and shade the soil. Low underplantings of tough species can eventually reduce watering to near zero. Examples: Russian cypress (Microbiota decussata), spreading yew (Taxus baccata ‘Repandens’), periwinkle (Vinca minor), creeping St. Johnswort (Hypericum calycinum) and American pachysandra (Pachysandra procumbens) and Japanese pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis).

5. Consider “hydrozoning” — grouping plants by their water needs. By clustering plants with high-water needs, you can water only them and not drought-tolerant neighbors that really don’t need it.

6. Better yet, use more drought-tolerant plants. Examples: juniper (Juniperus spp.), native grasses, Spiraea spp., lilac (Syringa spp.), Sedum spp., Penstemon spp., coneflower (Echinacea spp.), catmint (Nepeta spp.), daylily (Hemerocallis spp.), Coreopsis spp., Liatris spp. and Euphorbia spp.

7. Add windbreak plantings along the west and southwest borders of your garden. Dense plants there can block hot summer winds that dry out smaller plants faster.

Mulch slows moisture loss due to evaporation loss.

8. Mulch all bare soil: one or 2 inches around flowers is enough; 2 or 3 inches over tree and shrub beds is good. Bark mulch, wood chips, coarse gravel, pine needles or leaves mixed with bark or wood chips are good choices.

9. Control weeds. They compete with your plants for moisture.

10. Consider terracing and planting on slopes.

11. Watch your plants for early signs of water stress, such as leaves curling down, loss of color, wilting and browning around the leaf edges. Give stressed plants and high-cost new plantings watering priority.

12. Go light with the fertilizer, especially during dry conditions. Most fertilizers add salt to the soil in addition to nutrients. Use only what’s needed. Salty soil can reduce a plant’s water uptake.

13. Use recycled water from the dehumidifier, air conditioner, cooking and the sink to water pots. Use only clean recycled water (no human contact, no pollutants and no cleaners) on anything edible.

14. Slow water loss from moss baskets by lining the inside with plastic before adding soil. Line only the sides, not the bottom, so excess water can drain.

15. Add water-absorbing polymer crystals to container mixes.

On the Lawn

16. Skip watering the lawn in summer. Healthy grass can easily survive four to  six weeks even after it goes brown and dormant during a summer dry spell.

17. If your lawn is brown for more than six weeks, give it ¼ inch of water — enough to keep the crowns alive but not enough to bring it out of protective dormancy.

Mow grass to 3 or even 4 inches tall.

18. Mow tall. Blades cut at 3 to 4 inches better shade and cool the soil.

19. Aerate compacted lawns in fall. The loosened soil encourages deeper rooting.

20. Top-dress the lawn in fall with a 1/4 inch of compost, and limit pesticide use. Both encourage earthworm and biological activity that aids root growth and drought resistance.

21. Reduce the size of the lawn by replacing some of it with native grasses and wildflowers or more trees and drought-tough ground covers.

22. Think twice before replacing lawn with stones on top of landscape fabric. This can lead to less absorption of rain water (and more runoff). Heat-absorbing rock on the west and south sides of a house can increase temperatures.

23. When seeding a new lawn, consider turf-type tall fescue, a species that’s both traffic and drought tolerant. Kentucky bluegrass is also reasonably drought resistant.

Block-planted vegetables shade more soil than ones planted in single rows.

In the Vegetable Garden

24. Encourage quick and deep rooting by annually improving the soil with 1 or 2 inches of compost. The end of the season is an ideal time.

25. Don’t overdo it with manure or manure-based products, which can be high in salt. Use no more than 1 inch per year at the end of the season.

26. Mulch the veggie garden in summer. Chopped leaves, straw, dried untreated grass clippings and bark mulch are good choices.

27. Plant in blocks instead of rows. Leaves shade more of the soil that way. Block planting also gives higher yield. 

28. Adjust watering by plant needs. In general, more water is needed when seeds are germinating, shortly after young plants emerge or are transplanted, and when plants are flowering and producing fruits.

Water Aids

29. Add a rain barrel — or two or three. Captured air-temperature rain water is an excellent hose substitute.

30. Redirect downspouts and add perforated drain pipes to disperse water onto your lawn and gardens.

31. Consider a drip-irrigation system (also called “micro-watering”). Place under mulch and run only when the soil needs it; these plastic tubular networks that drip water from emitters can reduce water use by up to 50 percent versus hose watering.

32. If you have an automatic irrigation system, make sure that it’s running efficiently and that it’s not running when not necessary. Can you scale it back?

33. Check all sprinkler heads. You’re not shooting water against fences or watering the sidewalk, are you?

34. Check sprinkler output by setting out rain gauges to prevent overwatering. Empty tuna cans work great.

35. Watch those sprinklers on a slope. Too much water at once will just become wasteful runoff.

36. Fix leaky hoses and fittings.

37. Turn off the water supply when you’re not watering.

38. Consider tree bags or basins that water gradually around new trees and shrubs. They deliver water without runoff and also “tell you” when they are empty.

Drip irrigation systems can cut watering by 50 percent.

Make sure you’re not wasting water by sprinkling water on concrete.

Smarter Watering

39. Water only when needed! Let the dampness of your soil be your guide, not the calendar. Your index finger stuck a couple of inches into the soil is an excellent soil-moisture gauge.

40. Don’t base your watering decisions on weather forecasts or regional reports. Go with what actually happens in your yard.

41. Adjust watering based on current conditions. Water demand goes up in hot, sunny and windy weather. It goes down when it’s cooler, cloudier and still.

42. Water deeply to moisten the soil to the bottom of the plants’ roots. Frequent, shallow watering doesn’t encourage deep rooting.

43. Water slowly. If water is running off, you’re applying it too fast. Think trickle, not gush.

44. Wet and re-wet. It’s common for mulches to crust over and repel water once their surface dries. Wet gradually until the surface tension allows the water to soak in.

45. Cultivate crusty mulch once or twice during the season so rain soaks in faster.

46. Water early in the morning. Evaporation is lower than during midday, and the leaves will dry quickly to minimize disease.

47. The second best time to water is early evening. Evaporation loss is also lower and leaves will have a chance to dry before dark.

48. The worst times to water: middle of the day (highest evaporation loss), windy days (also higher loss) and after dark (encourages leaf disease).

49. Spot-water in zones. Better to do a thorough job in each zone than to try to get the whole yard watered quickly in a single shot.

50. Not all parts of the yard have equal water needs. North and northeast exposures, for example, are typically cooler and need less water.

From State-by-State Gardening July/August 2013. Photos by George Weigel.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Follow the Shade
by Sue Speichert - posted 10/21/13  

Now that the hot summer weather is behind us, this is a good time to make a promise to yourself: no more working in the heat. Ever. Again. The saying “work smarter, not harder” applies — here is a great idea to avoid broiling in the sun next year.

My late husband grew up in northern Minnesota. He had strawberry blond hair and a light complexion. For him, the heat and sunlight of high summer made gardening in full sun an almost deadly combination.

He had a simple solution. He developed his gardening duties so that he was always in a part of the garden that wasn’t in the sun. Many years later, I still adhere to his sound advice to “follow the shade” in the middle of summer. I especially avoid working in a part of the garden that bakes in the hot afternoon sun. This means that before noon I work in the back garden where the trees create shade from the midday sun. In the afternoon, I concentrate on the garden along the front of the house that’s shaded by the tall trees and house itself. I have become better at gauging which part of the garden will have a cool afternoon breeze and which one will have at least filtered sunlight.

Sunny flower border.

Shaded flower border.

I was surprised the first time I realized how much cooler it was in the shade, even in the hottest part of the afternoon. Weeding was no longer a chore. Watering was something I actually looked forward to doing. Even digging a hole to plant a 5-gallon potted shrub was tolerable.

Back in the day when we had our garden plant store, we would take his advice one step further. If there wasn’t shade in an area where we had to work, we created our own shade. One year, we bought a small square canopy with a light-colored shade cloth material. We moved it all over the gardens all summer long. When it was at the hottest in mid-August, we even added a mister to the hose, so that we could walk through a light spray of water when we felt like we were overheating.

We never did anything so extravagant as buy a full-sized pool. We did have kiddie pools for the water plants though, and I’ll admit that there were times I purposely waded into the pool to get a plant just to cool off my feet, even for just a few minutes.

I have garden friends who are convinced that the best garden is one that’s always in full sun. Surely there are many perennials and shrubs that grow best with lots of sunlight, but even my hardiest perennials can benefit from at least a few hours of shade, especially during those few hot weeks in August that we always seem to have. I consider myself fortunate that there are so many parts of the current garden that have some shade every day, and that there are other parts that are shaded almost all day long.

Rose garden in the shade.

I think if I had an area in the garden now that was always in full sun, I would probably buy one of those wonderful market umbrellas with a stand, and simply move it about as I needed it for protection from the hot summer sun. I might try to figure out how to put it on wheels to make it easier to move around. You’d probably see me tying old sheets to poles stuck in the ground so that I could have my own temporary canopy. I would also probably plant a tree, or two or three, so that the shade would eventually be there throughout the summer, even if I might no longer be in the garden by the time the tree was large enough to provide ample shade.

It strikes me that this advice to follow the shade is a sound one for life just as it is for gardening. I remember all too well the times I got the proverbial sunburn from standing out too long in a situation when I should have stepped back into the shade. This does not mean to follow the path of least resistance or to shrink away from adversity. Rather it means to candidly assess the situation and acknowledge the path and direction that will allow us to sow the most good in life without undue or unnecessary pain or suffering, either for ourselves or others. It means that we should always remember that there are days when we need to give ourselves, and each other, the benefit of cool, quiet shade, especially during those times that seem the hottest and the hardest in our lives.

Photos courtesy of Sue Speichert


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Graft is Good
by Carol Michel - posted 10/16/13  

Grafted tomatoes will produce a stronger root system and a larger plant overall.

Are you disappointed in the number of tomatoes you are harvesting from your heirloom variety tomato plants? Heirloom tomatoes, like ‘Brandywine’, ‘Mortgage Lifter’ and ‘Black Krim’, are some of the best-tasting tomatoes to grow, but often the number of tomatoes you get from an heirloom tomato plant doesn’t seem to be worth the effort. This is because many heirloom tomato plants are less vigorous and more prone to disease than hybrid tomatoes.

Hybrid tomatoes, on the other hand, are often bred to be disease resistant and to produce more fruit, but they may not taste quite as good as heirloom tomatoes.

We seem to be stuck with two choices. Should we grow a better-tasting tomato, but get fewer tomatoes overall from each plant? Or should we grow a tomato variety that produces more tomatoes per plant, but isn’t as flavorful?

How about a third choice? How about growing an heirloom variety that has a better taste on a plant that is more vigorous and disease resistant? With the introduction of grafted tomatoes for home gardeners, this third choice is now an option.


While grafted tomatoes seem like a new trend in the United States, growers have been grafting tomatoes and other vegetable plants, including watermelon and eggplant, for decades. According to researchers at Washington State University, there is mention of self-grafted watermelon plants in China as far back as the 5th century, but it was not until the early 20th century that growers in Japan experimented with grafting watermelon plants onto squash rootstocks to increase the vigor of the watermelon vines. Today most of the commercial growers of tomatoes in Asia, Canada and Mexico use grafted tomato plants.

Why Graft Plants?

The reasons for grafting plants are the same whether it is a fruit tree, a rose or a vegetable. A plant bred for better fruit or flowers may not be a strong, disease-resistant plant. Grafting that plant onto the rootstock of another plant that is a strong, disease-resistant variety will result in a plant with the best qualities of both — disease resistance and better fruit or flowers.

There are several techniques for grafting, but all involve the same basic principle. A scion, the upper portion of a plant that was selected for superior fruit, is cut from its roots and grafted onto a rootstock that was selected for its vigor and disease resistance.

Grafted tomatoes produce more tomatoes on stronger plants. On the left is a grafted tomato growing next to the same variety grown from seed.

After grafting, the seedling needs to be kept in a healing chamber for at least a week until the graft heals and the rootstock can support the scion.

For tomatoes, the rootstock is generally from a nearly wild tomato, according to Scott Mozingo, product manager for Burpee Home Gardens, who has been trialing grafted tomatoes for several years. Mozingo noted that what is needed for a successful tomato graft is to have a scion and rootstock that are the same diameter. Once the plants are joined together, and held together using a variety of techniques, they are placed in a healing chamber. The healing chamber is a sterile, low-light, high-humidity, temperature-controlled environment that helps to keep the scion alive until the graft with the rootstock takes hold and the scion can begin to receive water through the rootstock.

Growing Grafted Tomatoes

Tomato plants should be planted so the graft union is at least 1 inch above ground.

When grown in the home garden, the grafted tomato will have better roots than other heirloom tomatoes, so they will require more fertilizer and water through the growing season. The general rule of thumb for most vegetable gardens is to ensure the garden gets at least 1 inch of water a week, from either rain or supplemental watering. Fertilize the tomato plants regularly, especially once they begin to bloom.

The grafted tomato plant will have more growth than an heirloom tomato plant grown from seed, so provide strong support for the vines. Depending on your preference, the tomato plants can either be staked or caged. Suckering, the removal of shoots that appear between the leaf axils and the main stem, is also a matter of preference. Because of the size of the grafted tomato plants and the more extensive root system, they will not grow well in containers.

Grafted tomatoes should be planted so that the graft union is about 1 inch above the soil line. As the tomato grows, watch for suckers or side shoots that come up from the base of the plant and remove these, whether they come from above or below the graft union. These side shoots use up water and nutrients and can result in a less vigorous main plant.

Are They Worth the Higher Price?

Because there is labor involved in grafting, grafted tomato plants will cost more than the same variety of tomato grown from seed. Are they worth the extra cost? Grafted tomatoes have improved disease resistance, so in areas where fusarium wilt or verticillium wilt are a problem, they are a good alternative. Grafted tomato plants have also been shown to produce more fruit when grown side by side with seed-grown plants, which may also offset the higher cost.

According to Burpee Home Gardens’ Mozingo, grafted tomatoes grown in the Midwest have also shown more environmental tolerance, growing better in drier, hotter summers than seed-grown tomatoes. The stronger roots of the grafted tomatoes run deeper and farther, which provides the plants with more water. In addition, the grafted tomatoes often produced fruit five to 10 days earlier than the same variety grown from seed.

Is it possible for gardeners to graft their own tomatoes to save money? The answer is “probably not.” Though techniques for grafting tomatoes and other vegetables have been refined over many decades so they can be mass produced, the average gardener would need to find a source for the rootstock and time the growth of the rootstock seedlings with that of the scion seedlings so they are the same diameter when grafted. A gardener would also have to build a healing chamber to control the temperature, humidity and light while the graft heals.

Buying grafted tomatoes is like buying an insurance policy, notes Mozingo. They may be your best hope for enjoying more heirloom tomatoes, regardless of the soil-borne diseases or weather extremes that may afflict your garden.

From State-by-State Gardening July/August 2013. Photos Courtesy of Burpee Home Gardens.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

ColorBlaze Keystone Kopper Coleus
by Alice Longfellow - posted 10/11/13     #Hot Plants

The new growth on both ColorBlaze Sedona and Keystone Kopper coleus is touched with purple tones, which is accentuated when planted near other purple flowers or foliage.

The perfect annual for fall gardens, ColorBlaze Keystone Kopper coleus has unique coloring that blends well with many different plant combinations. It looks great with orange, gold, bronze and salmon, yet the purple highlights on the new growth tips contrast nicely with the copper-colored foliage. Use in fall container combinations or as an accent plant in flowerbeds and borders.

Most sun-loving coleus varieties actually peak in September and October. They grow all summer into large bushes, and with the cooling temperatures of autumn, the foliage colors intensify drawing attention to this easy to grow annual.

The ColorBlaze series of coleus bloom very late in the season, perfect for gardeners that would normally spend the summer picking off the blooms. Coleus is deer resistant  and attracts hummingbirds when  in bloom.

Common Name: ColorBlaze Keystone Kopper coleus

Latin Name: Plectranthus scutellarioides

Flower: Lavender purple

Foliage Color: Coppery with purple tips

Type: Annual

Size: 24 to 36 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide

Watering: Average

Exposure: Sun or shade

When to Plant: Spring or fall

Landscape Use: Coleus Keystone Kopper is best used in the landscape or in container plantings. Its unique coloring makes it a very intriguing plant to use in combination with other flowering annuals.

Mix ColorBlaze Keystone Kopper coleus with other sun-loving annuals, such as lantana, petunia and sweetpotato vine (Ipomoea batatas). 

From Missouri Gardener Volume III Issue V. Photos courtesy of Proven Winners.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

A Go-To Plant
by Patrice Peltier - posted 10/09/13  

Sesleria autumnalis

Is there something in your wardrobe, a go-to outfit that you throw on when you need to look good and don’t have time to put a lot of thought into it? I’d be lost without those reliable clothes in my closet. In my garden, that role is filled by Sesleria autumnalis. This grass is commonly called autumn moor grass. I call it “friend.”

Years ago, I became a fan of tall, stately ornamental grasses. I loved the way ‘Karl Foerster’ and ‘Overdam’ feather reed grass (Calamagrastis x acutiflora) created vertical accents in my garden and the architectural quality of the statuesque Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’ and the larger-than-life grasses, such as Miscanthus floridulus.

As people started promoting the smaller ornamental grasses, however, my reaction was “eh.” Why plant a 2-foot tall green blob when you could have something with a colorful flower? Sesleria autumnalis changed my mind, but I admit it wasn’t love at first sight.

I kept seeing the sesleria in display gardens and hearing plantsmen praise its versatility. Eventually I started to see their point. I tried it in my own garden, and here’s what I discovered: It’s just like my go-to outfit.

True, it doesn’t have a brightly colored flower like an iris or a daisy or a rose. But it adds form and texture in a way that makes all the other plants look good. You can use it to create a visual resting space between plants, to prop up wobbly neighbors, or to create rhythm by repeating it throughout your planting. It’s attractive when planted in masses as a ground cover, in groups of three or five, or even as a specimen in a small space.

I had seen sesleria used effectively as an edging plant along a walk. I didn’t have a walk, so I tried using it in the front of a perennial border surrounded by lawn. That was a mistake. My husband was never sure which grass he was supposed to mow and which he wasn’t. Need I say more?

A cool-season grass that holds its color into January, Seslaria autumnalis has narrow, fine-textured leaves that are blue on the top surface and green underneath. It grows in a tidy mound 1 foot or more tall and wide. In five years, that mound might spread to 15 inches wide, but this is a polite plant that stays where you put it and doesn’t go flinging seeds around, messing up your garden plan.

Like a go-to outfit, sesleria is adaptable to many cultural conditions. Originally from the rocky, windswept moors of Europe, this plant is tough. It grows in full sun as well as part shade, so you can mix it with salvias and with hostas. It isn’t fussy about soil, it can handle moist conditions and, once established, it’s fairly drought tolerant.

And it actually does have attractive flowers if your taste runs to understated elegance. In late August, the plant sends up flower stalks about 18 inches tall, creating a see-through effect. The flower spikes start out greenish white, turning light brown as we move into fall.

Since I’m as lazy about tending my garden as I am about planning my wardrobe, I love how low maintenance this plant is. There’s no staking, no deadheading. You’re not even supposed to cut it back until spring — and then not all the way to the ground — because it dies if you do that. Sometimes I don’t bother to cut it back at all. I just let the new foliage grow up through the old stuff.  Oh, and if you’re going to divide sesleria, it’s recommended to do so in spring. Because of its semi-evergreen foliage, dividing it in fall can stress it as it goes into winter.

Whether your taste runs to a little black dress or a comfy pair of jeans, when it comes to a plant that will make your garden look good without a lot of muss and fuss, try my go-to plant: Sesleria autumnalis.

From Chicagoland Volume XIX Issue IV. Photo courtesy of Roy Diblik.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Moldy Trees? Or Is It Something Else?
by Nikky Witkowski - posted 10/07/13  

“What do I do about my tree? It’s molding!” This has recently become a very common question I hear from gardeners in Northern Indiana, but is most likely a “problem” across the Midwest. Many individuals are seeing this “moldy” growth on the bark of trees or on branches that appear to be dead or dying back. It can be green or white; sometimes it might have yellowish tones. Usually it lies pretty flat against the tree, but occasionally it sticks out up to 1/2 inch from the trunk. The good news: it is common and it is a fungus. The bad news: it’s also an alga, and not hurting the tree. It is called lichen.

How could lichen be a fungus and an alga? Think back to high school biology and symbiotic relationships. There are relationships where two things can hurt each other, like parasites (for example: people and ticks or mosquitoes). However, there are beneficial relationships that can be formed as well. You might argue it’s like a man and his dog, but a closer comparison is legume plants to the fungi called mycorrhizae. The mycorrhizal fungus, which makes nodes in the roots, provides the plants with nitrogen while the plant provides carbohydrates for the fungus. They benefit each other. This is exactly how lichens are with a fungus and alga.

Now, you might wonder what the tree’s role in the process is. It is simply somewhere the lichen grows. Lichens could grow on rocks or bare soil as well, but we can find them on trees and shrubs. They interact such as paint on a wall. They make the trunk colorful and decorate it without harming it. There was a study done to see if lichens were an indicator of plant health. The results showed that while more lichens were present on sick trees, it did not prove that trees with lots of lichen growths were sick or dying.

So the stance is that lichens are a complex of two things, and they don’t harm trees. The question then is: what do they do or why are we seeing them? While there may be some conflicting reports on this, most resources seem to believe that lichens are an indicator of our environmental status. Seeing more of them could mean that air pollution is lower or there are less heavy metals in the area that could be harming the environment. The other theory I wonder about is this: Perhaps lichen are being noticed more because we have a lot a trees that are sick or being killed by emerald ash borer and everyone sees the lichen more due to canopy loss on trees. Both of these theories could have valid truth, and both could be easily wrong depending on individual situations. If you are very vigilant over your trees and shrubs and notice more lichen, maybe it is an environmental improvement. If you noticed your trees or shrub thinning and then saw them, maybe they were always there hidden under the foliage.

My take on these interesting organisms is this: We all like to make our house a home. Lichens can be nature’s way of making plain trunks and branches look beautiful or interesting — just like I would paint a wall or hang up pictures. I have personally seen some lichen structures that make me think, “Wow, that is so cool! And no one had to do a thing to make it that way. Nature did it all itself.”

So when you are walking around your garden, take the time to get close to examine the lichens, not just smell the roses.

Photo courtesy of Nikky Witkowski.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Blue Sedge
by June Hutson - posted 10/04/13     #Hot Plants

This carex is easily grown in medium to wet soils. Ideal light is shade to part shade. Many members of the genus share the common name of rush or sedge. The cultivar ‘Blue Zinger’ refers to the bright blue color of the leaves, which endures winter in all but the coldest temperatures.

Green and white blooms occur in July to August but the flowers are inconspicuous. Mature height is 1 to 1½ feet with the same width.

Ideally, landscape use would require wet soil such as in a rain garden. However, average garden soils are acceptable and it also exhibits some drought tolerance once established. For best results, rid the plant of all foliage in late winter for a flush of new vigorous growth.

Common Name: Blue sedge

Botanical Name: Carex glauca ‘Blue Zinger’

Hardiness: Zones 5 to 9

Flowers: Green and white, inconspicuous

Soil: Average to wet, some drought tolerance

Size: 1 to 1½ feet in height and width

Exposure: Part shade to shade

Watering: Wet to average

Fertilizer: None

Planting: Fall or spring

Diseases: None known

In Your Landscape: Use in wet areas, such as a rain garden, or in beds and borders with average garden soils.

From Missouri Gardener Volume III Issue V. Photo courtesy of Plant Delights Nursery, Inc.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Festive Fall and Winter Containers
by Rita Randolph - posted 10/02/13     #Containers   #Design   #Fall   #Ornamentals

Just because it’s fall and the temperatures drop, it doesn’t mean that gardening has to stop and you throw in the towel. Our plant palette changes with the seasons, and that means selecting the proper plants for this time of year, yet still fulfilling our desire for color and texture.

I start my fall and winter containers at the same time, because some gardeners may not want to plant their pots twice. Fall containers sing of grasses and mums, while winter containers are mostly comprised of colorful evergreens and conifers with a few persistent perennials mixed in.

Fine Foliage

Grasses and sedges are favorites for providing fine foliage that separates and complements other plants. Carex ‘Evergold’ is probably one of the prettiest evergreen variegated grass-like plants, maintaining its brilliant variegation all winter long in cascading clumps. Carex testacea (orange hair sedge) has lovely copper foliage, its color is a gorgeous complement to fall pansies and mums. Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ is an evergreen sweet flag. ‘Ogon’ has small fan-shaped growth with leaves that stand vertical then dip a little on the ends with petite elegance. Ophiopogon ‘Nigrescens’ (black mondo grass) is another dwarf grower for those smaller pots where you need just a spot of color from a plant that won’t get very large. Festuca glauca (blue fescue) is an easy-to-grow evergreen, or shall I say “everblue,” frosty-colored grass with beautiful, soft cascading foliage. There are surely too many more wonderful grasses to mention. 

This miniature Chrysanthemum ‘Seizan’ is instantly amplified by the thrilling lemon grass and colorful pumpkins surrounding it.

This small container sits next to my steps. The tapestry of foliage, flowers and grass-like plants remain beautiful all winter long and into the next year.

Juniper ‘Gold Cone’, Buxus sempervirens ‘Variegata’ and Carex ‘Evergold’ make a perfect trio in this low bowl. The pot is top-dressed with native mosses to keep the soil from splashing out and to hold in moisture.

At first what might seem to be unlikely partners, white pumpkins decorate the feet of variegated ivy, ferns and ornamental grass. This arrangement looked great even after the fall season was ending. 

Medium Height Fillers

Heucheras, especially the H. villosum hybrids, are among my favorite plants for showy fall and winter color, yet I can enjoy these frost tolerant plants twelve months out of the year. Shades of earth-tone bronze are found in ‘Southern Comfort’ and ‘Caramel’ while ‘Citronelle’ is brilliant chartreuse. H. ‘Mocha’ and ‘Brownies’ are just as chocolaty as they sound, mixing well with yellow and orange violas. ‘Plum Pudding’ and ‘Purple Petticoats’ will complement combinations with violet or pink tones.

It’s sad that one of my favorite plants has a pest named after it, (euonymus scale) but Euonymus fortunei (wintercreeper) and numerous other dwarf of spreading varieties adorn my winter pots with their brilliant variegation and gold foliage. One variety is E. ‘Butterscotch’, that only grows an inch or two a year, making it perfect for alpine pots and miniature fairy gardens.

A series of small, young plants all together in close quarters make for a perfect centerpiece. The container can be enjoyed for a while then moved up into a larger pot.

Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ is a vigorous evergreen mounding plant. They like extremely well-drained soil yet regular watering. Their native habitat is rocky slopes in part sun, so they adapt exceedingly well to growing in containers.
A variety of small, compact yet bushy little evergreens make up this alpine trough.

Reaching Up

To give me height in containers, I usually turn to taller sturdy grasses, hollies, conifers and berried shrubs. Pyracantha looks great all year with its twisty branches, persistent foliage and brilliant fruit that last until the birds pick them off! P. ‘Orange Glow’ or one of the yellow forms will mix with fall colors, while I use the red berried ‘Red Column’ in later containers for Christmas and beyond.   

Juniperus virginiana (Eastern red cedar) and other junipers are perfect for winter containers. Sometimes columnar, sometimes pruned and trained into topiary shapes and spirals, many junipers are sturdy, heat tolerant plants too, thus making my containers last for a year or two before changing them out. When these shrubs and small trees are underplanted with complementary foliaged plants, they are an alpine dream come true. When the right plants are gathered together, shades of green take on a lush look, even during the coldest winter months.  When I want a formal look, I’ll add simply blue or white pansies and violas. When a brighter more casual theme is desired, we add brighter mixed colors.

Panicum ‘North Wind’ softens a  pyracantha in full fruit. Carex testacea, Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ and  orange violas ring the container.

A Juniper virginiana stands above Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’, Heuchera ‘Citronelle’, Liriope ‘Peedee Ingot’ and white violas.
I love to play with small conifers and evergreens. Their shapes an form are as individual as us! Each one is a plant of its own, some fatter than others, some not so full. It just makes life more interesting if you mix them that way.

Bringing the season indoors

As we get closer to the holidays, you can bring a little contrast to seasonal flowers by adding more colorful foliage with houseplant collections. A number of tropical houseplants look great with poinsettias and forced bulbs. Blooming holiday annuals such as begonias can add dimension to otherwise predictable arrangements.

Winter is a good time to do a little trimming on your evergreens, using them for seasonal arrangements. Don’t be afraid to take a little here and there, shaping up your branches. Magnolia, Arizona cypress, cedar and boxwood are all long-lasting greens for the holidays. Wire up a few pinecones and you have yourself a beautiful homemade arrangement.

During the fall months, collecting a basket full of assorted plants to bring indoors is always made easier when you add a little grass and a pumpkin or two.

A ‘Strawberries and Cream’ poinsettia is added to a mixed basket of begonias, Dianella, ivy and mosses to make a unique gift.

From Tennessee Gardener Volume VII Issue IX. Photos courtesy of Rita Randolph.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Korean Chrysanthemum
by Ann McCulloh - posted 09/27/13     #Hot Plants

The pink and gold flowers of Dendranthema zawadskii ‘Hillside Sheffield Pink’ open over a period of four to six weeks.

The warm, soft tints of Korean chrysanthemum (Dendranthema zawadsii) flowers create a color counterpoint to fall foliage in the October garden. Korean chrysanthemums are later-booming and have a softer form than typical garden mums. The foliage of Korean mums forms an attractive mounding shape all season long, even before the plant covers itself in daisy-like autumn blooms. The plants also tend to be pest and disease resistant and long lived. Such a reliably hardy, late-blooming perennial should be much better known. Its relative obscurity may be due to the fact that it blooms at a time of year when most gardeners are not actively shopping for plants, and so overlook it.

Common Name: Korean chrysanthemum

Botanical Name: Dendranthema zawadskii

Varieties/Cultivars to Look for: ‘Hillside Sheffield Pink’, ‘Clara Curtis’

Color: White, pale yellow, warm and cool pink

Blooming Period: Fall to late fall

Type: Hardy perennial

Size: 24 inches tall by 24 inches wide

Exposure: Full sun

When to Plant: Transplant in spring or plant container-grown plants spring through fall. 

Soil: Rich, well-drained

Hardiness: Zone 5

Watering: Once a week during establishment period, 1/2 to 1 inch per week in summer.

When to Prune: Cut back in early spring

When to Fertilize: Topdress with 1 inch of mature compost in spring.

In Your Landscape: A specimen or rhythmic accent in the mixed border

A close-up view of Dendranthema zawadskii ‘Clara Curtis’

Dendranthema zawadskii ‘Clara Curtis’ (Lower right-hand corner) stands out against a tapestry of apricot and burgundy fall foliage provided.

From Ohio Gardener Volume III Issue V. Photos by Ann McCulloh.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Have You Ever Seen a Frost Flower?
by Patsy Bell Hobson - posted 09/23/13  

Look, don't touch. Frost flowers will break or disappear if disturbed.

Seeing a frost flower first hand is a privilege afforded only to the early riser. Once exposed to the morning sun, they quickly disappear. Touch them and they shatter.

A frost flower is really neither "frost" nor "flower," but layers of ice squeezed from the stem of a plant.

You may be growing a few crystallofolia in your native wildflower garden. Frost flowers are so rare, it is possible that you don't even know they are growing in your garden. Late September is the perfect time to scout out some potential frost flower spots.

Sometimes these delicate sculptures are called ribbon ice or rabbit frost.

Find frost flowers in autumn or early winter, before the ground freezes.

Water continues to be drawn up the plant’s stem while the ground remains unfrozen.

Fall weather and temperature conditions must combine perfectly to encourage the “blooming” of frost flowers. You cannot pick frost flowers or gather a bouquet. The only way to capture them is on camera.

Rarely in September, usually in October, and possibly in November you can hunt for frost flowers. Find these elusive blooms by tagging along with an early morning deer hunter this season. Pictures are the only way to prove your frost flower prowess to late risers.

Before the ground freezes for the winter, but after plants are exposed to a hard frost, frost flowers happen. As plant sap or water freezes, it expands. That creates tiny fissures in the plant stems. As the liquid freezes and expands, it is forced out of the cracks or tears in the plant stalks.

The moisture is drawn through the cracks on the plant stems by capillary action. That sap freezes when it oozes out the stem and into the air, forming elaborate “petals.” This extrusion creates beautiful frozen petioles that are never the same.

A frost flower is created from the stems of plants or sometimes, wood. The elaborate patterns that curl and fold into flower-like-forms are where the frost flower got its name. It is also called frost castles, ice castles, ice blossoms, crystallofolia, feather frost and frost ribbons.

Late-blooming native wildflowers like yellow ironweed (Verbesina alternifolia) and white crownbeard (Verbesina virginica) can create frost flowers. White crownbeard is also known as frost beard. American dittany (Cunila origanoides) and longbranch frostweed (Helianthemum canadense) can also create delicate frost flowers.

Want to see them for yourself? Before that freeze, scout out the woods or along the creeks and look for ironweed. Then, you will be ready to return when the conditions are right for frost flowers.   

While the ground remains unfrozen, water is drawn up the plant’s stem. Once it reaches the split, the water oozes slowly out and it freezes. Once the ground freezes, the plants can no longer draw moisture upwards and out through the broken stems. Frost flower season is over.

To learn more:

Missouri Department of Conservation —

National Weather Service —

My World of Ice, Dr. James R. Carter, Professor Emeritus —

Photos by Bill Roussel


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Morgan Oriental Arborvitae
by Bob Hill - posted 09/20/13     #Hot Plants

The very rare, “nearly perfect” plant in the landscape, the compact Morgan Oriental arborvitae (Thuja orientalis ‘Morgan’) is slow-growing to 3 to 4 feet and offers shimmering lime-green foliage in the summer. Foliage turns to an attractive burgundy-orange color in the fall — beginning in September and October in northern areas.

Morgan is the answer to the eternal homeowner’s dilemma of needing a tough, interesting, four-season coniferous plant in a small area near a back deck, below any window or even as a low border. 

Better yet, it tolerates a mix of landscape conditions from moist to dry, takes full to part sun and requires minimal pruning, care or feeding. Morgan is best used in a more sheltered site in Northern Indiana. Hardy to Zone 5.

Common Name: Morgan Oriental arborvitae

Botanical Name: Thuja orientalis ’Morgan’

Color: Lime-yellow to purple-burgundy

Blooming Period: None

Type: Shrub

Size: 3 to 5 feet

Exposure: Full to part sun; some shelter required.

When to Plant: Spring

How to Plant: Specimen or on 4-to-5-foot centers

Soil: Takes wet to average soil.

Watering: Will take dry sites once established.

When to Prune: Spring; minimal pruning required.

When to Fertilize: Fall

In Your Landscape: An Australian native, it’s a great plant for smaller areas where you want some interesting or dramatic color all year. Keep out of drying winds.

From Indiana Gardening Volume III Issue V. Photo by Bob Hill.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Dangers in the Garden
by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp - posted 09/18/13  

There are many ways to injure yourself while working in the garden. Here is a safety primer that just might prevent a trip to the ER.

The Centers for Disease Control says about 36,000 people seek emergency help because of injuries from chain saws, mostly to arms, legs and hands.1

If you are traveling to the backyard this summer, you better make sure you’ve had your shots! You also need eye and ear protection, gloves, hard-toed shoes, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants, a hat, sunscreen and insect repellent.

Lawn and garden equipment caused 338,092 injuries nationwide in 2012, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. Nearly 17,000 of the injuries were children under age 19.

Emergency room visits are due to lower back pain, puncture wounds, lacerations, sunburns and allergic reactions to plant exposure — such as poison ivy or insect bites and stings — according to Dr. Stephen Meldon, director of emergency departments at the Cleveland Clinic.

The most severe, though, are amputation of body parts by improper use of power equipment, Meldon said. “These are common injuries.” 

Eye injuries also bring people into the hospital, “where they’ve scratched the cornea or have an abrasion on the surface of the eye,” he said. He recommends wearing eye and ear protection when using power equipment.

Some hazards may seem minor. We all know the dangers of stepping on a rusty nail, but what about the prick of a rose thorn, a splinter from a wood gate or an abrasion caused by a clumsy move?

The result can be infection by Tetanus, a common bacteria that most of us were inoculated against when we were children, with boosters periodically through adulthood.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 30 percent of injuries that resulted in tetanus came from garden or farm-related activities. During 2001 through 2008, the last years reported, 233 tetanus cases were reported, including 25 that were fatal. The victims skewed older — 49 percent were 50 years of age or older, and male, 59 percent.

That could be because older adults either did not have the primary series of immunizations or have not kept up with their booster shots.

Beware of wounds from splinters, rusty nails or abrasions from stone or wood. These injuries are some of the ways tetanus and other serious infections may be contracted.2

The prick of a rose thorn may expose you to tetanus, so make sure your vaccinations are up to date.3

Wearing eye protection is a good idea when using power tools.4

Be sure to follow the safety instructions on mowers and other power equipment to avoid reducing the number of your fingers and toes, or worse.3
Keep It Safe

•  Make sure your tetanus vaccination is up to date.

•  Wear substantial shoes, long pants and close-fitting clothes.

•  Wear eye protection, heavy gloves (protects hands when changing, sharpening or cleaning blades) and hearing protection, such as earplugs, when using motor-driven equipment.

•  Make sure equipment is in good operating order. This includes sharpening blades, which makes for safer operation than with dull blades.

•  Clear the area of people, pets, stones, sticks and other objects. Keep children and pets indoors. Turn off equipment if a child or pet enters the area.

•  Unplug electric tools and disconnect spark plug wires on gasoline-powered tools before making adjustments or clearing jams near moving parts.

•  Be sure power tools are turned off and inoperable if they must be left unattended to prevent use by children.

•  Never fill gasoline tanks while machinery is on or when equipment is still hot. Wipe up spills. Store gas in an approved container away from the house. Never smoke or have any type of flame around gasoline or any gasoline-powered equipment.

•  Never work with electric power tools in wet or damp conditions. For protection against electrocution, use a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). GFCIs come in several models, including a portable plug-in type.

•  Be sure that extension cords are in good condition, are rated for outdoor use and are the proper gauge for the electrical current capacity of the tool.

Source: Consumer Products Safety Commission


1. Photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo Inc./liveslow
2. Photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo Inc./trevorb
3. Photo by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
4. Photo by © Can Stock Photo Inc./dragon_fang

From State-by-State Gardening July/August 2013


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

by Lynda Heavrin - posted 09/13/13     #Hot Plants

Purple Pearls™ beautyberry (Callicarpa ‘NCCX1’) is a new hybrid beautyberry that is a cross between Callicarpa dichotoma x kwantungensis.

No plant has given me so much pleasure spring through fall as beautyberry (Callicarpa spp.), with its tiny pink flowers in early summer, the arching branches that protect my pink sweet woodruff through the summer and the glowing purple berries in the fall that persist into early winter. 

The non-native purple beautyberry, (Callicarpa dichotoma) is reported to be very invasive and the birds will not eat the berries. I grow C. dichotoma and have never had a problem with it being invasive. However, I have not seen many birds eating the berries. So if you are interested in feeding the birds, plant the native beautyberry (Callicarpa americana).

Callicarpa americana is hardy to Zone 7, sometimes Zone 6, and the non-native species are hardy to at least Zone 6, sometimes Zone 5, where they may die to the ground but will rebound nicely. Even though the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone map has my garden listed as Zone 6, we have still had cold enough winters to consider ourselves in Zone 5; about every other year my purple beautyberry dies to the ground. 

Many beautyberry cultivars are available that produce more berries or more brilliantly colored berries. 

Common Names: American beautyberry, purple beautyberry, Japanese beautyberry

Botanical Names: Callicarpa americana, C. dichotoma, C. japonica 

Cultivars: Many cultivars available 

Hardiness: Zones 5 to 7

Color: Pink to pink-lavender flowers followed by brilliant purple berries. Some species have white fruit. Fall color is a soft yellow.

Type: Shrub

Size: Callicarpa americana can reach to 8 feet tall; C. dichotoma and C. japonica are about 6 feet tall.

Light: Sun to part shade

Soil: Average garden soil; amend heavy clay with compost.

Watering: 1 inch per week upon planting. Once established, requires little additional watering.

Fertilizer: Granular fertilizer at planting in the spring. If planting in the fall, use a low-nitrogen fertilizer.

Uses: Massed in a mixed border, planted with perennials or as a specimen plant

From Indiana Gradening Volume III Issue V. Photo courtesy of proven winners.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Vegetable Seed Saving Simplified
by Laura Mathews - posted 09/11/13  

There are numerous reasons to save seeds. One benefit is cost savings, but there are other perks, including being able to save seeds from your healthiest, tastiest plants.

I used to think that when a gardener starts to save his or her own seed, it is akin to embarking on a doctorate program in backyard food production. I found it pretty intimidating. 

Then I heard horticulturist Christopher Wallen, from Dillsburg, Pa., begin a talk on seed saving with this: “Saving seed is so simple even a caveman could do it.”

As Wallen intended, it reminded me that between nature and the early gatherers in our tribes, seed has persisted without complication for uncountable years. Gathering seed for next year’s planting was part of the routine of growing food since there has been cultivation. For example, archeologists have found that nearly 10,000 years ago, Mesoamericans were not only collecting and saving seeds, but they were able to select teosinte (a grassy annual plant) seeds and over time, develop the food staple that we now know as corn. These ancient practices were passed down through generations and the cultural knowledge made the activity seem simple.

“Take seeds out of the fruit or pod. Let them dry and store. It’s that simple. Anything else is a detail,” said Wallen.

For kitchen gardeners, there are numerous reasons to save seeds. An obvious benefit is cost savings, but there are other perks that are actually more important. One overlooked advantage is the natural selection and adaptation process. Key to good seed saving is harvesting seeds from your healthiest and tastiest plants. Seeds from those plants will have the characteristics of their parent plants and over time, while the vegetables will be true  to type, a strain personalized to your taste, region, soil and climate, will be developed. Regionally grown seeds are adapted to the area’s specific cultural conditions.

While there are exceptions, many hybrid seeds will not reproduce true to type. Seed-saving enthusiasts generally recommend starting with open-pollinated, heirloom seeds. These plants will produce seeds that closely resemble their parent plants — with a caveat having to do with pollination — which is one of the details referred to by Wallen.

The basic process involves cutting open the fruit or pods, scooping out the seeds and allowing them to thoroughly dry. With some fruits, such as tomatoes and squash, the seeds are allowed to ferment in their own juices for a period of days and then repeatedly rinsed before drying. The fermentation breaks down a chemical coating on the seed that would prevent germination. Dry the seed on a towel in an open area.

For pod-seed harvest, for vegetables such as beans, the seeds need to stay on the plant until they are brown and drying, generally four to six weeks after the pods would have been harvested for eating. Simply remove the seed and allow to fully dry.

All seeds to be saved should be placed in an airtight container, such as a glass jar or envelope, and stored in a cool place.

For leafy veggies, herbs and some brassicas, the vegetables are allowed to fully flower. Once pollinated, the seed will begin to form in pods. Harvest the pods when dry.

Make sure your seed is thoroughly dry before storing. Seeds should be brittle before putting them into an airtight container.1
Many enthusiasts use envelops, small sealable bags, baby food jars or any glass jars available. If properly stored, airtight, you can add years to the length of time seed will be viable if you freeze it or refrigerate it.1
Common Seed Saving Slip-Ups

Avoid these simple mistakes, which can hurt the viability of your homegrown seed. 

•  Make Sure Seeds are Completely Dry. If the seed isn’t thoroughly dry when placed in an airtight container, it could mold. Seed should be brittle and break or crush easily before storing. 

•  Harvest Seed from Fruit that’s Fully Mature. Many of our vegetables are eaten before they are fully mature. Green beans and melons are examples of this. When growing for seed, err on the side of overripe. For squash, Jere Gettle of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, in Mansfield, Mo., suggests letting squash develop fully on the vine and allowing it to cure inside for two weeks before harvesting the seed. 

•  Keep Pests or Mice from Invading Your Seed. If you’re drying large amounts of seed, you can attract mice and insects. Monitor for this. Horticulturist Christopher Wallen, from Dillsburg, Pa., suggests that instead of wasting the seed if you do see critters, place the seed in a freezer to kill any insects present. 

•  Always Label Seed. Very different seeds can appear to be similar. Keep your seeds labeled throughout the entire process. 

•  Don’t Allow Seeds to Ferment too Long. Allowing seeds to sit in their pulp for a few days creates the mechanism for germination. Too much soaking can rot the seed or cause it to germinate. 

•  Don’t Force the Drying Process. It may be tempting to dry seed with low heat in an oven. If the seeds are overheated, the seed will lose viability. Baked tomatoes are good. Baked tomato seeds — not so good.

The tricky aspect to seed saving (perhaps similar to Ph.D. study) is the possibility of cross-pollination. Many crops, such as wind-pollinated corn or insect-pollinated squash and melons, can be very easily “contaminated” by another variety within their type. If you want to save seeds from these groups, you need to separate them by great distances. Squash within the same species need to be separated hundreds of feet. Wind-pollinated crops, such as corn can be cross-pollinated by crops as far as a mile or more away. Serious seed savers go as far as to cover all the blossoms or tassels with bags and then hand pollinate. Growers can also isolate crops in greenhouses or create other barriers to prevent wind pollination, such as caging or using closed, high tunnels.

For the home gardener, growing just one variety of a vegetable vulnerable to cross-pollination each season is a way to avoid this issue. Even if there is an unwanted crossing from neighboring gardens, you might end up with a happy accident. A crossed squash is still an edible squash.

Lucky for gardeners, many of our favorite vegetables are actually self-pollinating — the flowers pollinate themselves — and starting to save seeds of those plants keeps the process simple enough for a caveman. Jere Gettle, founder of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, in Mansfield, Mo., suggests beginning with tomatoes, common beans, eggplant, lettuces and cowpeas.

If your favorite vegetable is the tomato, you won’t need as much advanced study to save seed. However, if your favorite green is kale, saving seeds from kale — or any biennial vegetable —might take at least a master’s class. A biennial veggie is one that requires two years to flower. Plants have to overwinter and then be nurtured through a second growing season in order to coerce them to flower. Many cool-season vegetables and many root veggies are biennials.

Harvesting seeds from tomatoes is as easy as squeezing the fruit.2

With several vegetables, including tomatoes, allowing the seed to ferment in the natural juices causes a chemical reaction that improves seed germination.2

Saving seed, using some of the suggestions here, is simple. But be warned. If you start on this path, you might just find yourself paying close attention to the details and earning yourself a doctorate degree in pollination and seed production.


1. Photo courtesy of Laura Matthews
2. Photo courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

From State-by-State Gardening July/August 2013.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Planting Spring Flowering Bulbs
by TC Conner - posted 09/09/13  

Crocus chrysanthus ‘Advance’ blooms in late winter/early spring.

Daffodils, crocus, tulips, alliums and hyacinths are my top five picks for spring-flowering bulbs. A yard full of daffodils, tulips and hyacinths epitomizes the beauty of spring. So why not do yourself (and all who glance at your landscape) a favor and plant more than your fair share of these glorious spring-flowering bulbs?

If you have your bulbs now, planting begins soon. But if you didn’t order new ones yet, it might be too late to receive them before it is time to plant. Consider visiting your local garden center or home improvement store — and hurry! When should you plant your spring-flowering bulbs? In the fall of course, but here are four different benchmarks you can use that will help you pinpoint a better time for planting.

•    About six weeks before the ground freezes, or… 
•    When soil temperature dips below 60 F (No soil thermometer? No problem, see below.)
•    After the first hard frost. And you’ll know a hard frost when you see one on the morning it occurs — your car windshield will be frosted over, roofs on houses look white, and you can see your breath as you walk to the car. So, you’re not up that early? Okay, use this last tip to know when to plant...
•    Four to eight weeks after you start seeing bulbs for sale in local nurseries and greenhouses.

‘Ivory Floradale’ tulips are perfect for use in spring bouquets.

Brent and Becky's Bulbs takes pride in claiming ‘Sweet Smiles’ as “one of our very own seedling” daffodils.

It’s probably too late to order from gardening catalogs now, but you can always try contacting your favorite bulb catalog company and ask about their shipping dates. McClure and Zimmerman, in Friesland, Wis., offers spring and fall bulbs, give them a call at 1-800-546-4053 or visit Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, Va. also offers a large selection of spring- and summer-flowering bulbs, call 877-661-2852 or visit for more info on when they ship.

Now that you have an idea about when to plant bulbs, how deep should you plant spring-flowering bulbs? Generally speaking, tulips are planted 5 inches deep, smaller bulbs are planted 2 to 3 inches deep, and anything larger than tulip bulbs are planted 8 inches deep. Bulb gardening guru Doug Green says: “I’ve planted tulips from 3 inches to 3 feet deep to see what would happen. They all bloomed well the first year but the shallow-planted ones didn’t last as long as the more-deeply planted ones.” His reasoning behind that: “Something ate them the second season because they were just at vole and chipmunk level.”

When considering where to plant your bulbs, there’s more than one method you can use. If you’re starting a new flower bed specifically for spring-flowering bulbs you’ll want to prepare the spot now. Remove sod if necessary, amend your soil (with recommendations from a soil test), and choose bulbs that will enhance your spring garden. Know how much sun the new area receives and know what the light requirements are for the new plants you’ll be using, and their growth and flowering habits. All of this information is vital before you put that first bulb in the ground, regardless of planting method.

For areas around the yard that need spring color — such as a spot between two ornamental trees or shrubs for example — you can use a method of planting that only requires peeling back the sod. Use a sharp spade to cut and peel back the sod, loosen the soil to the desired planting depth (about two to three times the height of the bulbs), plant the bulbs, and then lay the sod back down like a carpet. This method can be used in just about any area of the yard. Come spring, watch the area to see which plants do the best.

You also can plant spring-flowering bulbs in containers, if you’re short on space. You simply plant the bulbs in your favorite pot. Be sure to use containers made from material that can take freezing weather: Styrofoam, polyurethane, wood, hypertufa or concrete are good choices. Then place the pot where you want more spring color. Bulbs planted this way will get their required dormancy period just as they would if they were planted directly in the soil.

In the book The Garden Primer Barbara Damrosch writes: “Spring bulbs must surely have been invented by some divine marketing expert to make life easier for beginning gardeners. A bulb is like a prepackaged kit, complete with its own stored food.” Plant it in fall and do nothing more until spring. Use a digging tool that you’re comfortable with, drop the bulb or bulbs into the hole, cover, tamp, and you’re done. That’s really all there is to it. Don’t make gardening any more complicated than what the weeds make it!

Photos courtesy of Brent and Becky's Bulbs


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Narrow-Leaf Ironweed
by Barrett Wilson - posted 09/06/13     #Hot Plants

Flowering occurs at the tips of the compact mounds. The star-like flowers attract many kinds of beneficial insects.

With its profusion of small purple flowers and tolerance of heat and drought, narrow-leaf ironweed (Vernonia lettermannii) is a standout in the late-season perennial border in USDA Zones 4 to 9. Native to dry, rocky flood plains in Arkansas and Oklahoma, narrow-leaf ironweed thrives in almost all soil types, except soggy, heavy soils. In fact, supplemental fertilizers and excessive watering are discouraged in the garden setting. 

Narrow-leaf ironweed matures to form a compact mound around 3 feet tall, with finely textured foliage reminiscent of the popular threadleaf blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii). The flowers and nectar are highly attractive to butterflies and many species of beneficial insects. The cultivar ‘Iron Butterfly’ is widely available and has a more compact habit.

Common Name: Ironweed, narrow-leaf ironweed

Botanical Name: Vernonia lettermannii

Flowers: Purple, late summer through early fall

Foliage: Narrow, finely textured

Size: 3 feet tall and wide

Exposure: Full sun

Soil: Most types, except heavy wet soils

Watering: Keep soil moist until established.

Pruning: Late spring, if more compactness is desired

In Your Landscape: Perennial borders, masses, meadows

From Pennsylvania Gardener Volume III Issue V. Photos by Barrett Wilson.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

What’s All the Buzz About?
by Douglas A. Spilker, Ph.D. - posted 09/04/13  

Wasps and bees are beneficial insects, but they get a bad reputation because they can sting. Here’s how to tell who is who and avoid getting stung.

Not everything that buzzes in your garden is a “bee.” One of the biggest concerns for many is whether these insects will sting. Being stung is most likely when you disturb their nests or make an extra effort to provoke them. Stinging insect identification is actually relatively easy. There are both visual and behavioral cues that can help you determine who is buzzing in your garden! 

Wasps and bees are beneficial insects, but have a bad reputation because of their ability to sting. Honeybees play a vital role in pollination for all kinds of fruits and vegetables, including commercial agriculture. Wasps and hornets may be a nuisance when nesting around homes, but they feed abundantly on all sorts of insect pests.

‘Bee’ Careful!

Tips to Avoid Bee and Wasp Stings

•  Don’t smell or look like a flower — avoid using scented products or wearing floral prints while working in the garden.

•  Take care when eating outdoors — sugary foods and drinks attract bees and wasps. Move trash cans away from eating areas, and delay serving your picnic until ready to eat.

•  Don’t walk barefoot — bees may be visiting clover blossoms in your lawn, and some stinging insects nest in the ground.

•  Rinse and keep garbage or recycling containers covered — wasps are especially attracted to empty beverage containers and fruit scraps. 

•  Watch out for them — wait for them to move on before  dead-heading or doing other gardening tasks. Enjoy them from a distance!

Honeybees are hairy, with black and yellowish-brown coloration. Since they gather and feed on flower pollen and nectar, they commonly are not aggressive and are unlikely to be the bothersome culprits at picnics. 

Bumblebees are much larger than honeybees, and can be quite colorful with their black and yellow bodies. Like honeybees, they are excellent pollinators and spend most of their lives visiting flowers and usually show no interest in humans or their food. However, bumblebees can sting, but rarely do so unless provoked. 

Carpenter bees are often confused with bumblebees, but they have shiny, hairless black abdomens instead of furry ones. While bumblebees tend to live underground, carpenter bees drill almost perfectly round holes for their nests in wood walls, doors and window frames. Bumblebees keep to the flowers, but male (drone) carpenter bees are well known to buzz around your head if you get too close to their nest. This is annoying, but not dangerous, since male bees have no stingers. Only the female has a stinger, and she stays with the nest, only stinging if threatened.

Bodies of honeybees are hairy, making them good pollinators.
Bumblebees are much larger than honeybees, and quite colorful with their black and yellow bodies.
Carpenterbees look very similar to bumble bees but have shiny hairless black abdomens instead of furry ones.

Wasps Can Be Annoying 

Bald-faced hornets are black with white markings. They are one of the largest wasps and can be quite aggressive when their nests are disturbed.

In late summer and early fall, yellow jackets are attracted to sugary odors such as this rotting pear.

In general, wasps can be distinguished from bees by their slender smooth bodies and narrow waists. In flight, the legs of a wasp tend to trail down behind it. There are many different kinds of wasps, with differing appearances and habits. Many are predators and are considered beneficial because they feed on common garden pests, such as caterpillars. Yellow jackets, bald-faced hornets and paper wasps are the most common types of wasps encountered by people, and make their nests from a papery pulp comprised of chewed-up wood fibers mixed with saliva. Their nests are usually in quiet, out-of-the-way places. Unfortunately, in the home setting this may conflict with people and their activities.

The most common wasps are yellow jackets, accounting for the majority of stinging incidents. Often mistaken for honeybees, yellow jackets have smooth bodies with distinctive bands of bright yellow and black. With bees, you may see yellow pollen sacks on their back legs, but not on yellow jackets. Yellow jackets fly rapidly side to side prior to landing. Their preferred food is other insects, such as caterpillars, and fruit. However, when these natural food sources begin to decrease in late summer and fall, they become a nuisance pest. They are attracted to meaty or sugary odors, and are an annoyance around uncovered garbage cans and at outdoor gatherings. Unlike bees, yellow jackets are aggressive and are free to sting you as many times as they want without injury to themselves.  

Paper wasps construct the familiar, open-celled paper nests we often see suspended from eaves or porch ceilings. Though paper wasps are beneficial insects, they tend to nest in close proximity to people, putting us at risk for stings. If a nest is near an entrance to your home, or on a porch or deck, you may need to control paper wasps to minimize such risk. Wait until evening, when the wasps have settled in for the night, to treat or remove the nest. Spray the nest with commercial wasp spray, but never stand directly under it while applying — the wasps may drop from the nest and you also risk getting exposed to the pesticide. Removal of large nests or nests inside homes or structures should be handled by professionals.

It is best to tolerate or avoid these familiar insects, since bees provide a valuable service as pollinators, and wasps as voracious predators of garden pests. Most wasps, like bees, are social insects and will vigorously defend their homes if disturbed. However, if they are bothersome to you and your family due to the location of their nest, removal or treatment might be necessary. Just “bee” careful!

From State-by-State Gardening July/August 2013. Photography By Douglas A. Spilker, Ph.D.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Support for Big Tomatoes
by Patsy Bell Hobson - posted 08/28/13  

This sounds like a vegetable self-help group, but it is really all about keeping tomatoes off the ground.

Long-time gardeners have usually tried several tomato trellising systems in search of a heavy-duty solution. 

Determinate Vs. Indeterminate Tomatoes

Tomatoes are determinate if they eventually form a flower cluster at the terminal growing point, causing the plant to stop growing in height. ‘Celebrity’ and ‘Roma’ tomatoes are determinate. Tomato plants that never set terminal flower clusters — only lateral ones and continue to grow taller, indefinitely — are called indeterminate. Most of the older varieties are indeterminate, including ‘Early Girl’, ‘Brandywine’ and ‘Supersteak’.

Determinate tomato varieties require less support than indeterminate varieties that can continue growing right up  until frost. Simple staking or tomato pens are usually adequate for determinate tomatoes. Paste tomatoes are determinate or semi-determinate. Their tomatoes ripen in one flush, a short but heavy production period. 

Most heirloom tomatoes grow on huge, indeterminate vines with fast-growing, often unwieldy branches. These are the plants that can produce 1 and 2 pound tomatoes. Long, heavy vines with super-sized fruits require sturdy support. 

One way to prevent vines from snapping off is by reducing the load. Thinning or removing some of the green tomatoes will lighten the stress on the vines. Those thinned green tomatoes are the original source of fried green tomatoes. 

The heavy vines of heirloom tomatoes will grow up and over the top of this arch. Use ties to connect the arch in the middle (optional). To create the arch, bend the construction panel at 6 feet, using a 2-by-4 as a guide. Place panels 4 feet apart to create the arch effect.

But for heavy vines with big fruit, consider making your own heavy-duty tomato support system. These supports will last forever and do not require storage space. This support system can also be used for vertical crops like cucumbers, squash and pole beans. 

Use cattle panels or construction panels supported by fence posts for an affordable, sturdy and easy-to-install tomato trellis. Although these are very sturdy, they can also be moved to different locations for crop rotation each year. It is a one-time investment in construction panels, which are 8 feet by 20 feet, and two metal fence posts. It won’t blow over in summer storms or collapse under the weight of a heavy harvest. 

Install the panel system before planting tomatoes. 

At the end of the season, move the tomato fence to another part of the garden to rotate the crop. Now your fence is ready and waiting for the next season. 

Plus, in early spring, you can sow peas along the fence before the weather gets warm enough to plant tomatoes. Nitrogen-fixing peas are a cool-season crop. Follow snow peas, sugar snaps or shell peas with warm-season tomato plants.

Tie One On

Cool-season peas use the trellis support well before the warm-season tomatoes are planted.
Start weaving tomato vines into the trellis early in the season — this will go a long way to support a tomato vine. Sooner or later the plant is going to grow too big and too fast for this method alone. So you will have to tie the vines up.

•  Ties such as Velcro® tape and vinyl ribbon come on spools, rolls or precut lengths.
•  Foam-covered wire is soft but sturdy in precut lengths or on  a roll. It’s easy to use, reusable and the foam is soft against plant stems.
•  Paper or plastic twist ties, precut or on a roll, are also an option.
•  Organic materials like jute, kitchen twine or cotton rag strips can go directly in the compost pile with the old tomato plants at cleanup time. 

When choosing plant ties, a deciding factor is: Can the tomato plant be safely tied up without cutting off plant circulation? Another consideration is whether or not you want to conduct a search-and-rescue mission to retrieve reusable ties.

In a week or two, you won’t see the plant ties. These 8-inch soft foam covered wire tomato and plant ties are reusable.

Vinyl ribbon or tape comes in a roll. It gently stretches as the tomato vine grows heavier, never cutting off plant circulation.

From State-by-State Gardening May/June 2013. Photos by Patsy Bell Hobson.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Taking Care of Irises
by Carole Howell - posted 08/23/13     #Flowers   #Ornamentals

Sometimes called the poor man’s orchid, the bearded iris, with its myriad of colors, puts a new box of crayons to shame. These diverse, drought-resistant garden beauties provide an elegant centerpiece for many Southern gardens, with their magnificent spring blooms. But the plants are great in the garden even after the blooms have faded, thanks to their lush green stalks.

While spring is when we usually think of irises, now is actually the time when work needs to be done to ensure a beautiful flowering next season. Shirley Spoon Knox of Lawndale, N.C., is well known for her beautiful irises and loves to share her knowledge, much of it passed along from her mother. Knox recommends dividing irises every four to five years, even if you don’t plan to replant them. July, August and September, when irises are dormant, are the prime months for dividing them to ensure a brilliant spring with multiple blooms. Without regular division, the clump of irises will bloom less and not thrive.

The root of an iris is called a rhizome. From year to year, the primary rhizome grows several increases of younger, fresher rhizomes that encircle the mother rhizome. These are what you will divide and can replant in your own garden or share with friends and neighbors.

The best time to divide is early in the morning before the sun gets fierce. To divide a whole clump, insert a wide garden fork about 6 inches from the perimeter of the circle and lift the clump to the side.

As you trace the rhizome with your finger, you will feel a small indention that indicates the node’s connection to the mother plant. You can easily snap off the rhizomes or use a sharp knife to slice the node from the mother plant and lay it aside. If you use a knife, some experts advise dipping it in a diluted mixture of chlorine bleach: 10 parts water to 1 part bleach. Don’t forget to label your rhizomes, at least by color and height and possibly by cultivar name.

Wash off excess soil and soak the rhizomes for 10 minutes in a 10:1 water-chlorine solution and then rinse in a clear water bath. Air dry for 30 minutes in the shade. Choose the plumpest, healthiest ones for replanting, inspecting them for signs of disease or rot, or damage by borers.

Some gardeners trim the leaf fan and roots so they’re easier to handle and replant. Knox recommends leaving both intact in order to give the new plant a good start in its new setting. She does, however, snip off any brown tips or damaged leaves.

Lilla Spoon’s Fertilizer Recipe 

5 gallons of dry sphagnum peat moss
3-4 shovels of Black Cow compost
1 quart powdered dolomitic lime
1 pint wettable sulphur (discourages fungus and insects)
1 ½ quarts Triple Super Phosphate (for blooms)
1 quart 10-10-10 fertilizer

Knox likes to replant her irises the same day in a previously prepared raised bed, 2-3 inches deep and wide enough to accept the roots. Irises prefer morning and midday sun and well-drained soil. To prepare her soil for planting, Knox swears by the soil and fertilizer recipe passed down to her from her mother (see sidebar). She mixes ½ cup into the hole and then waters it in.

“Irises don’t like crowds,” Knox says, which is one reason why they need to be divided. When planting, place them 18-25 inches apart. Place the rhizome straight down, spreading the roots around. The top third of the horizontal part of the rhizome should rise slightly above the soil line. Cover with soil and pack it firmly with your hand. Scratch in another ½ cup of soil mixture around the plant. Water once more and continue to water lightly for the next two weeks if the weather is dry.

Irises should be lightly fertilized twice a year with a 10-10-10 fertilizer. Do this once in March, just before blooming, and again in June, just after blooming has finished. Reblooming iris, which can bloom up to four times a year, should get an extra dose of fertilizer in August, as well as plenty of water.

Weeds are always a problem for gardeners, and you will find them in your irises since weeds like fertilizer too. Knox not only pulls weeds regularly, but she also plants phlox, thrift, herbs and lilies among her irises to keep the beds colorful long after the iris blooms have faded.

“Irises feed the human desire to create, perpetuate and inspire beauty,” Knox says. Caring for them draws us out to the sunshine and fresh air and provides us with the feel of soil and water as well as the healing power of exercise. Sharing them gives us the opportunity to meet with old friends and cultivate new ones. Irises are truly a grounding influence for our souls … no pun intended.

Photos courtesy of Carole Howell


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Rock On
by Ron Kushner - posted 08/21/13  

Want to create a new kind of small-space garden that is the perfect venue in which to try a new palette of plants? Start a rock garden! Here’s how.

Rock gardens can be created easily and are ideal for gardeners with limited space. Exposure should be full sun for at least five hours but partial shade, especially in the afternoon, is fine. The size of the garden can vary from a few square feet to a maximum of 1,000 square feet. Any larger area would require more maintenance than the average home gardener could normally provide.

Traditionally, rock gardens were created to imitate alpine areas throughout the world, generally above timberline, where native plants survived naturally in harsh conditions.

Rock Garden Basics

The soil should contain a fair amount of gravel material so as to provide good aeration with excellent drainage. The lack of sufficient drainage is the number one killer of most rock garden plants. The soil mixture can consist of an even mixture of top soil, “forest products” and a soil amendment containing natural ceramic or shale material (heated to extremely high temperatures forming a lightweight mixture) to assist in drainage. A rich soil composition is not recommended. Unlike perennial and shrub beds, rock-garden soil should allow the plants to struggle a bit. In soil high in organic matter, the most aggressive plant will flourish and take over, requiring an excessive amount of vigilance and maintenance.

Establish the rock garden so that a small hill, or berm above the ground, is created with all sides sloping gently downward. This design forms a kind of raised bed that the plants will thrive in. Rock-garden plants will adapt to a variety of pH levels but 6.6 to 7.0 will accommodate a wide range of available plants.

The design can vary greatly and does not need to follow a particular plan. Some broad guidelines would include the placement of rocks throughout the garden in a manner that “pleases the eye.” Once they are arranged, each rock should be buried by at least one-third of its depth to provide stability and to give it a natural look. The type of stone can also vary, but it should match any existing stone formations in the surrounding landscape as closely as possible. A local quarry or stone yard should be able to supply the appropriate stone in a variety of sizes and shapes. Ultimately, plants will creep around and over the stones so that only portions will be visible.

Another guideline would be to create the look of a scree. A scree develops in nature as stone tumbles down from higher elevations: Larger rocks first, then pebbles and finally dust-like particles. This condition can be created artificially by variously sized rocks plus the use of a stone mulch consisting of stone particles about 3/8 inches throughout the entire garden.

The selection of plants and their placement is the next step in the design process. First, make sure that the plants are not crowded. At least a 4-square-foot space for each plant is a good general rule. This calculation will determine  the amount of plants that can initially  be installed. Flower color and bloom time, mature height and spread, light requirements, foliage, winter interest and hardiness should all be considered. If catalogs are being used for plant selection, check the description and cultural requirements carefully.

A view from the deck in April shows the textures and colors. Rock gardens can look appealing even from a distance when viewed from any angle. 1

Plants for the Rock Garden

Frequently the term “alpine” is used to determine a rock-garden plant. An alpine plant refers to one that grows naturally in an actual mountain setting and was originally named for the Alps in Europe. A “rock plant” or “rock-garden plant” is one that may include alpine plants but would also include any plant of the proper size and characteristics suitable for planting in a rock garden.

When selecting plants, scale must  be considered — the ultimate size of  the plants in conjunction with the size of the rocks. Tiny, prostrate plants and large boulders normally are out of scale as would be fist-sized stones and plants the size of dwarf trees. Once the plants grow and fill out, they tend to blend together in what appears to be more of a woven tapestry than a grouping of different plants.

Members of the stonecrop family (Crassulaceae) are a good choice for rock gardens. There are more than 600 species of Sedum found throughout the northern hemisphere. They have a diverse habit, from creeping to upright, and are hardy in Zones 5, 6 and 7. 

Other suitable plants include Dianthus spp., Armeria spp., Geranium spp. and Thymus spp. Thyme is native to Europe, with a creeping habit forming a ground cover with flowers of red, pink or white in summer. Excellent in hot, dry locations with poor soil.

Plants for the Rock Garden

Firewitch cheddar pinks (Dianthus ‘Feuerhexe’.2
•  ‘Snow Fix’ wall cress (Arabis caucasica ‘Snow Fix’)
•  ‘Pink Lusitanica’ sea thrift/sea pink (Armeria maritima ‘Pink Lusitanica’)
•  Dwarf Hinoki false cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa  ‘Nana Gracillis’)
•  Dwarf Sawara false cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Tsukumo’)
•  Firewitch cheddar pink (Dianthus ‘Feuerhexe’)
•  Myrtle spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites)
•  Bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum)
•  Soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides)
•  ‘Blue Spruce’ stonecrop (Sedum reflexum ‘Blue Spruce’)
•  October daphne stonecrop (Sedum sieboldii)
•  Two-row stonecrop (Sedum spurium)
•  Common houseleek (Sempervivum tectorum)
•  Creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum)

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Tsukumo’ is a miniature, dwarf Sawara false cypress, a curly and thick plant growing only 1 inch a year.1

Dwarf green Hinoki false cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’) is a conical plant that looks  good in any rock garden.1

Sedum sieboldii is native to Japan, and its blooms are rose-pink from late summer to fall. The common name is October daphne stonecrop.2

Geranium sanguineum ‘Max Frei’ is a low, prostrate plant with red flowers in early spring. It tolerates full sun, even in hot, dry summers.1

Sedum spurium ‘Summer Glory’2

Creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum ‘Magic Carpet’)2

Maintenance Considerations

The maintenance of a rock garden is considerably easier than traditional perennial or shrub beds and especially easier than caring for edibles.

Regular watering is still required the first year after planting until the plants become well established. From the second growing season on, supplementary water is needed only during periods of excessive drought.

In early spring, remove any brown foliage, dead stems and leaf litter when new growth begins to show. This is also a good time to fertilize; however, never use high-nitrogen fertilizer. A fish emulsion or other fertilizer such as 2-4-1, is all that is required. Rock-garden plants need no fertilizer once established.

Weeds will sprout, especially where mulch is thin, and need to be teased out throughout the growing season. Some plants will require deadheading when their blossoms are spent.

This is the rock garden after “spring cleaning,” now ready for fresh stone mulch and new plantings.1

Insects and other pests are of  little concern in rock gardens — most damage is minimal and there is no need for pesticides.

Fall cleanup includes removing dropped leaves and stems since this debris can potentially harbor fungus throughout the winter. Wait until new growth is showing in spring before pruning any plants.

The beauty of rock gardens is that plants can be added, removed or relocated with little cost or effort. One can feel more relaxed, enjoying gardening on a smaller scale.


1) Photo by Ron Kushner
2) Photo Courtesy of Walter’s Garden, Inc.

From State-by-State Gardening May/June 2013.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Oh, Bother Leave Me Alone
by Douglas A. Spilker, Ph.D. - posted 08/16/13  

There are ‘garden pests’ and then there are pests that bother you in the garden. Here’s what to do about biting, stinging and troublesome insects.

Most pests in the home garden can be managed, but I don’t like it when they bother me! Insects may bite or sting — but they don’t do it to be mean. Biting and stinging behaviors are survival mechanisms for many insects and arthropods, and are generally related to obtaining food or for defense.

Be sure to frequently change the water in bird baths, not only for the birds, but to keep them from becoming mosquito breeding sites.

Take, for instance, the bite of a mosquito. The female mosquito needs a blood meal before it can lay eggs. Mosquito bites can be painful and in large numbers can limit pleasurable outdoor activities. Although adult mosquitoes are very evident, their tiny eggs are laid in standing water developing into larval “wigglers.” Mosquitoes do not commonly fly very far, so elimination of mosquito breeding sites helps reduce mosquito problems around the home. Remove water-catching vessels, like old tires and pots, frequently change water in bird baths and clean out gutters holding stagnant water. Consider putting mosquito dunks (which contain Bacillus thuringiensis) in ponds to kill mosquito larvae. Although mosquitoes can bite at any time of the day, they tend to be more voracious at dawn and dusk. 

Don’t Give Them a Biting Chance

After a walk in the woods, not only do a “tick check” of yourself, but your pet, too. Ticks like the soft skin inside dogs’ ears and between their toes.

Take care, especially when deadheading flowers and picking up dropped fruit. Bees and wasps tend to hide when foraging.

American dog ticks, black-legged (deer) ticks and lone star ticks all can pose a threat, not only from their blood-feeding, but also because they may be a vector for diseases such as Lyme disease. Understanding tick behavior can help you avoid being bitten. The tick waits for a suitable host by perching on tips of vegetation. To evade ticks, stay away from overhanging brush and tall grass, especially at edges of woody areas and along trails. Prompt, careful inspection and removal of ticks is an important method of preventing disease. Don’t forget to check your pets, too.

No other pest bite causes more misery for its size than the tiny chigger (aka jigger). Bites of the common chigger, a mite, result in small, reddish welts that begin itching intensely within 24 hours. Chigger larvae crawl from tips of leaves onto people and feed especially where the skin is thin, such as ankles, armpits and backs of knees. They are most prevalent in early summer when grass and weeds get tall and dense. Unlike ticks and mosquitoes, chiggers are not known to transmit disease pathogens. If you think you have gotten into chiggers, take a hot bath and launder clothes in hot soapy water. 

With social insects like honey bees and wasps, the sting functions for defense. The key to avoiding bee stings is to make sure the bees don’t feel threatened. When working in the yard, don’t smell or look like a flower. Bees detect and follow strong scents. Wearing perfumes or bright-colored clothing, especially floral prints, attract nectar-seeking bees and wasps to investigate. Be careful when working in the flower garden, or you might put your hand into something that won’t like you. 

Sweat bees can be really bothersome if you like to work in the heat of the day. These small black, brown, red or metallic green bees lick salt from sweaty skin. Their attraction to sweat makes them a nuisance, and they sting if squeezed or squashed against your skin. It’s best just to brush them away. 

Bites from the oak leaf itch mite occur when raking infested pin oak leaves. Wear long sleeves and gloves if raking before a killing frost.

Bothersome Pests Continue as Summer Ends

Need a reason not to rake leaves, especially oak leaves? The tiny oak leaf itch mite is almost invisible to the naked eye and can produce an itchy rash. Most bites occur when raking infested pin oak leaves. Control of the itch mite isn’t easy, since tree sprays do not penetrate their leaf galls. Repellents are not known to be very effective. A killing frost seems to end the problem. So if you have oaks, consider postponing your raking chores until a hard frost, wear long sleeves and gloves or just wait until they blow into someone else’s yard.


Prevention and Treatment

Don’t Breathe, It’s the Main Attraction

Bees may follow perfumes and seek out the salt in your perspiration, but blood-feeding pests follow the trail of carbon dioxide to find us. You know — CO2 — what we exhale when we breathe. Mosquitoes and ticks are attracted to increased levels of carbon dioxide to find their prey. Larger people tend to give off more carbon dioxide, which is why mosquitoes typically prefer adults to small children. Movement and body heat also attract mosquitoes. Therefore, you’re better off if you slow down, stop to smell the roses and don’t sweat the little things.

Wearing light-colored clothing allows you to spot ticks more easily and tucking your pant legs into your socks helps deter both ticks and chiggers. Repellents are useful in preventing  mosquito, tick and chigger bites. Apply the repellent to clothing around the ankles, waist and arms. Using an insect repellent that contains DEET (diethyl toluamide) on your skin protects you because it interferes with the pest’s ability to locate you. Another repellent called permethrin, which is best used on clothing, actually kills ticks, mosquitoes and chiggers. Always read and follow label instructions.

Since most of these pests like thick vegetation, keeping lawns mowed and trimming border areas will reduce desirable habitat. Applying a pesticide treatment where the lawn meets woody areas can also reduce exposure to ticks and chiggers. Be prepared, and don’t let these pests ruin your quality time outside.

From State-by-State Gardening May/June 2013. Photography By Douglas A. Spilker, Ph.D.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Bodacious Basil: The Sumptuous Taste of Summer
by Sylvia Forbes - posted 08/12/13  

In the middle of summer, when temperatures soar, that's when sun-loving basil is at its best. This tropical annual herb loves heat and as long as it has adequate water and good soil, it will thrive to produce a culinary bounty.

When early cooks searched to find a flavor fit for a king, they didn't have to look far. Basil is native to the Middle East, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and South America. With its robust, bold taste, basil has enough flavor to satisfy anyone's palate, including royalty. In keeping with its revered status, gardeners in Italy reserved their most beautiful pots for growing basil. Its powerful flavor inspired a botanist to give it the scientific name of Ocimum basilicum, where Ocimum comes from Greek, and means “smell,” while basilicum comes from Latin and means “king.” 

Types of Basil

Basil 'Pesto Perpetuo' is a variegated basil. This is one of the newer varieties, introduced in 2006. The photo was taken at Powell Gardens in Missouri.

There are between 30 and 150 species of basil, depending on the expert you're asking, and numerous varieties. All botanically belong to the mint family, whose members have the common characteristics of square stems and leaves that grow opposite each other on the stem.

Basils can be grouped into six general categories:

Sweet basils. The sweet basils are some of the most commonly grown basils, and have medium-sized leaves and a strong flavor.

The bush basils. Bush basils are upright plants with tiny leaves, and grow in a compact form. They are some of the best choices for growing in pots, or growing indoors.

Purple basils. These have a great flavor, but are most often grown for their striking color, both in the garden and in culinary dishes. They're often added to herbal vinegars.

Lettuce-leaf basils. These have the mildest flavor of the basils, but grow to be the largest plants. Because of their large leaves, they are often grown by cooks who need to use a large quantity of basil. The leaves can be used to wrap foods like fish, or to create a layer in a quiche or lasagna.

Scented basils. These basils have recognizable scents of other plants, such as lemon, cinnamon and anise, in addition to the basil scent. They may be paired with specific foods for extra flavor, like using lemon basil on fish, or cinnamon basil in fruit dishes.

Outliers. These are basils which don't fit into the other categories; they differ from the typical basils in some way. For example, camphor basil has a strong, medicinal scent, and holy basil has leaves that are fuzzy.

Three compounds, which are present in all basils in varying amounts, give basils their characteristic fragrance. Linalool gives a light floral scent; methyl chavicol gives an anise-like scent; and eugenol gives a clove-like scent. There may be additional compounds present to create a more complex scent, but these three provide the basic scent signature for the genus.

‘Eat’ Your Medicine

Scientific research has found that basil doesn't just taste good; it has many beneficial health properties. One compound in basil, cinnamic acid, has been found to improve circulation, stabilize blood sugar and improve respiration. Another compound, beta-caryophyllene, is a natural anti-inflammatory. The natural antioxidants in basil are thought to help to prevent cellular aging, help guard against skin ailments and cancer, and boost the immune system. Eating basil might even help to fight bacterial and viral infections, such as the flu.

A dwarf bush basil

Growing Basil

Basil grows best in warm temperatures, so wait until late spring, when nighttime temperatures are above 60 F., to sow seeds outdoors. If growing seeds indoors, optimal germination temperatures are around 75 F. Since the seeds are tiny, they should be planted only 1/8 inch deep. Germination occurs in about three days for most basil species.

Garden centers might still have basil transplants now, so you could plant or pot up a couple plants and still have some time to grow it on before the first frost.

Although a fertile soil is important, do not overfertilize. Too much nitrogen will cause excessive leaf growth, resulting in a low oil content, and therefore less flavor.

If planting seedlings, plant them at least 12 inches apart. Larger varieties such as lettuce-leaf varieties may need to be planted up to 18 inches apart. Choose a location where the plants get at least six hours of sun; a full-sun location is even better.

Water at the base of the plant. Leaves that get wet may develop blackspot.

Pinch back the stems frequently to encourage branching, which results in more basil to harvest per plant. Be sure to keep flowers pinched off the stem; flowering triggers the plant to use its energy to start producing seeds rather than producing leaves. Flowers are edible, too, so add any you pinch off to your harvest for use in the kitchen.

The best time to harvest basil is usually from 9 to 11 in the morning, after the dew is off, but before it gets too hot.

Basil in the Kitchen

Basil is such a versatile herb, it can be added to perk up almost any type of dish, from soups and stews, to meats, breads, salads, sauces and even desserts. Perhaps the most iconic dish, which people think of when talking about basil, is pesto.


The “classic” pesto recipe, which is thought to be more than 2,000 years old, combines basil (1 cup), garlic (2 cloves), Parmesan cheese (¼ cup), pine nuts (¼ cup), and olive oil (¼ cup), all pounded and mixed together with a mortar and pestle, to create a green paste, which is then drizzled over pasta. However, there are dozens of versions; some use walnuts instead of pine nuts, some add cream to the mixture, some substitute other types of cheese, while still others use additional herbs such as parsley. Today, the blender has replaced the mortar and pestle, speeding up the mixing process.

Try making herbal vinegar with opal basil, one of the common purple varieties.

Herbal Vinegars

Flavored vinegars add a little extra zing to homemade salad dressings, and also look beautiful on the shelf. They are simple to make and great to give as gifts. Basil is an excellent choice for making herbal vinegar. They not only add to the taste, but the color of the purple basils adds an attractive look to the vinegars.

First, sterilize the jars you plan to use by boiling them in water for at least 10 minutes, and then let them cool and dry.

Wash and pat dry the basil and any other herbs you plan to use. Place them in the bottle, and then bruise the leaves with a spoon, so that the flavors are easily extracted. Next, choose a vinegar to use — there are many types, so have fun experimenting! Heat the vinegar to boiling in a non-metal pan, then pour the vinegar into the jar, covering the herbs. Taste the vinegar every couple of days, until you like the flavor. Then strain out the herbs. Get another clean, sterilized jar with a good lid, and add a few herbs for looks. Then pour in the herbal vinegar and cap. For more flavor, you can add other ingredients to your vinegars such as fruits (raspberry and blueberry work well), peppercorns, shallots or lemon peel.

This is a cutting of sweet basil, which is then used in the chicken dish.

Garlic Basil Chicken

Many cultures add basil to meat dishes for extra flavor. This easy dish only takes a few minutes to prepare, then an hour to bake.

Put two boneless chicken breasts in a shallow baking pan and sprinkle lightly with cinnamon. Add a small handful of baby carrots and a few quartered red potatoes. Quarter one onion and place in pan. Separate one head of garlic and scatter the cloves throughout the pan. Top with 3 tablespoons of diced basil. Drizzle a small amount of oil over everything. Bake uncovered at 350 F until chicken is done, about one hour. 

Garlic basil baked chicken

The Perfect Pair

Basil and tomato seem to be a perfect flavor combination, no matter how they're fixed. Make bruschetta by slicing a baguette of bread into slices, topping each bread with a slice of tomato, a couple of leaves of basil and some mozzarella or feta cheese. Drizzle with olive oil, then broil until warmed. Or add both tomato and basil into your favorite quiche recipe. Try adding chopped basil to a creamy tomato soup. Or add tomato and basil to a fresh mesclun lettuce salad.

Or try making your own creations. One idea will inspire the next great way to use basil.

Photos by Sylvia Forbes


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Scented Geranium
by Lynda Heavrin - posted 08/09/13     #Hot Plants

A mixed container of ‘Atomic Snowflake’, ‘Chocolate Mint’, ‘Fair Ellen’, ‘Lemon Kiss’, ‘Spanish Lavender’ and ‘Variegata’.

It is summer and we reach for the bug spray, citronella oil or a candle to burn to keep the mosquitos at bay while we enjoy the beautiful evening. As you may know, citronella oil is obtained from citronella-scented geranium (Pelargonium citrosum). However, did you know that there are approximately 150 varieties of scented geranium that are not only beautiful garden plants, but can be used for potpourri and as flavoring in cooking?

The variegated varieties seem to be the most popular for specimen plants, but for my garden I prefer ‘Lemon Kiss’ for the finely cut leaves and the intoxicating lemon fragrance. Do not grow scented geraniums for the flowers, as they bloom very sporadically. In fact, I have not seen flowers on most of the 30 varieties we grow in the greenhouse. However, you will have no trouble finding a scented geranium to meet your needs whether as a decorative plant or to create a culinary delight.

Common Name: Scented geranium

Botanical Name: Pelargonium spp.

Color: Mostly lavenders, pinks and whites

Type: Annual or tropical

Size: Depending on the variety, can be prostrate or grow up to 4 feet

Light: Full sun

Soil: Any lightweight garden soil, without too much peat

Watering: Water well then allow to dry slightly.

Fertilizer: Light fertilization every few weeks throughout the year will keep plants healthy.

Uses: Specimen plant in the garden, houseplant, culinary herb

Propagation: Cuttings of non-patented cultivars; very few scented geraniums are true from seed.

The beautiful variegated leaves of ‘Frosted’.

A rare flowering variety, ‘Lavender Lad’.

From Indiana Gardening Volume III Issue IV. Photos courtesy of Lynda Heavrin.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Mulches for the Vegetable Garden
by Tom Butzler - posted 08/07/13  

Mulch inhibits weeds and conserves soil moisture. However, many gardeners don’t use mulch in their vegetable beds. Here’s the lowdown on which mulches to use and how to use them.

Nobody likes dirty pumpkins, so growing them on a rye mulch keeps the fruit nice and clean.

When you mention mulch, the first thought that comes to most minds is the aesthetic look of it in the landscape. A nice, dark bark mulch makes the plants in the bed standout a bit more, but mulch is more than looks. Mulch also inhibits weed growth and conserves soil moisture. While aesthetics are not as big of a concern in the vegetable garden, the other benefits are equally or more important to backyard vegetable growers.

Grass Clippings

Almost anything could be used to mulch your vegetable plants and many choose whatever is readily available. One that is easily at hand for me is grass clippings. I apply a 3-inch layer of grass clippings around my plants and it soon mats down to create a nice barrier for weeds. It does smell a bit at times as it decomposes. A word of caution here, do not use grass clippings that have been treated with an herbicide (and that includes lawn fertilizers that have herbicides incorporated into the fertilizer). There are several products that can carry over onto the clippings and affect your vegetable plants. 


I live in an area that is heavily wooded and contains a number of sawmills that cater to forest landowners. Sawdust is readily available at times and can be cheap. A 2-inch layer of sawdust can give good weed control and keep moisture in the ground. Be aware that microorganisms that start breaking down the sawdust need nitrogen to complete the process and will take it out of the soil (and away from vegetable plants). Since this mulch contains a lot of carbon and very little nitrogen, a little bit of extra nitrogen should be added to help those microbes in the decomposition process.

Plant-Based Mulches

In addition, if straw is readily available and cheap, it serves as excellent mulch for vegetable plants. Other plant-based mulching options could include leaves (be sure to avoid black walnut leaves), bark and woodchips. 


Maybe you don’t have a big enough lawn to produce large amounts of grass clippings or any nearby sawmills with excess sawdust — you still have access to a very cheap and readily available mulching material: newspapers. Newspaper is allowed in organic operations as long as you stay away from the colored inks and glossy prints. Newspapers can be picked up from neighbors and friends who are looking to getting it recycled. Something will have to be placed on top of the newspapers to prevent them from blowing away.


Some technology that is used in commercial vegetable production is making its way into backyard gardens. For the past several decades, commercial growers have utilized black plastic mulches to gain moisture-saving advantages and weed control. In addition, the plastic generates warmer soil temperatures, which allows for a bit earlier planting. These advantages have led to larger yields, earlier harvests and cleaner fruit (fruit no longer sits on bare soil).

Researchers, in the past several years, have looked at crop response to different colored mulches and how growers (both commercial and backyard) can use this to their advantage. Different colored mulches affect the soil temperature a bit but they also reflect different wavelengths of light back into the plant canopy, which in turn alters plant growth and development. At Penn State’s Center for Plasticulture, they looked extensively at numerous colors of plastic and the plants’ responses.

Yield increased by about 12 percent with Solanaceous crops such as eggplants and tomatoes when grown on red plastic compared to black plastic. In addition, earliness of yield is also increased on tomatoes. One interesting response by tomatoes to the red mulch is that it had the least amount of foliage compared to other mulches (silver, white and black). This might be helpful in disease management in that less foliage means better air circulation and drier leaves. Many of our tomato diseases such as early blight and septoria leaf spot need that humid, wet environment commonly found in a densely foliated tomato plant.

While tomatoes performed well under red mulch, cucurbits such as summer squash, cucumber and cantaloupe yielded 20, 30 and 35 percent more fruit respectively when grown on dark blue mulch than on standard black plastic.

Clear plastic is generally not recommended as it allows light to penetrate and promotes weed seedling germination under the plastic. Note the weed that is growing under the clear plastic, between the two eggplants.

While some gardeners may not like the idea of using plastic because of disposal issues (commercial growers face the same problem since it costs $25 to $100 an acre for labor and disposal of plastic mulch) there is an effort to create biodegradable mulch that acts like plastic mulch. These mulches are mostly made of corn and wheat starches that will break down in carbon dioxide and water from soil microorganisms. Keep your eyes open for this stuff in the near future.

Cover Crops

Some ambitious gardeners are using cover crops to help minimize weed pressure and conserve soil moisture. This mulching system is ambitious because the mulch is actually put in place the year before vegetables are transplanted into the garden. Winter annual crops, such as rye, are planted in late summer or early fall and allowed to grow into the following spring. At that time, the cover crop is killed by undercutting, mowing or spraying with an herbicide. It is then rolled or flattened to create a mat on the soil surface. Vegetables are then transplanted into the field. Although this mulch will break down during the summer, it will give the vegetables a huge head start over weeds and allow the vegetables to out-compete weeds for light and nutrients.

Rows of snap beans planted in a rye crop that was killed and rolled to create a mulch on the soil surface.

The use of mulch in your garden is too advantageous to ignore. You can relieve moisture stress, increase yield and earliness, have cleaner fruit, and yes — even have an aesthetically pleasing garden. Your only limitation is deciding which mulch you want to use.

 From State-by-State Gardening July/August 2013. Photos by Tom Butzler.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Blue Star
by Bob Hill - posted 08/02/13     #Hot Plants

Easy to grow, providing three seasons of strong interest and serving as an airy focal point in the perennial border, or in a great mass, the blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii) should be used more often in Midwestern gardens.

First found growing in the wild in Arkansas in the 1940s, blue star’s name comes from its flowers — powdery blue with a hint of silver glaze. In summer, its upright, feathery green foliage will grow to 3 feet; you’ll want to reach over and pet it. Then in autumn, the foliage turns a brilliant gold, adding to the seasonal charm.

All blue star requires is average soil and full to part sun. Cut it back to the ground in early spring and watch it rise again. 

Common name: Blue star, Arkansas amsonia

Botanical name: Amsonia hubrichtii

Flowers: Powdery blue; star shaped

Foliage: Upright feathery, bright feathery green

Size: 2 to 3 feet tall; will spread as wide in time

Exposure: Full to part sun; foliage will flop in shade.

Soil: Average, well drained

Watering: Average needs

Pruning: Cut back to ground in late fall or early spring.

In Your Landscape: Perennial border, open areas

From Indiana Gardening Volume III Issue IV. Top right and bottom photos courtesy of Walter’s Gardens; Top left photo Courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

The Dog Days Are Over: Summer Blues to Turn Down the Heat
by Caleb Melchior - posted 08/02/13  

My garden always starts to look tired in August. The roses have long since faded and given up. The daylilies are done screaming “orange!” in the corners. Even the annuals, the proud cheerleaders of color, have exhausted themselves in the heat.

But on those first August mornings, when the Caryopteris and Perovskia start to flower, everything changes. The dog days are over, washed away by floods of flowing, flowering blue. 

Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Heavenly Blue’ offers powder-blue foliage with a wispy appeal in late summer.

Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Worchester Gold’ looks fantastic throughout the growing season, with its beautiful chartreuse foliage.

Caryopteris spp.

Late summer begins for me when the first pale blue flowers start to trickle out on the caryopteris. The caryopteris, also known as blue mist shrub, is a shrublet, or woody perennial, which — depending on the selection — can grow anywhere from 3 to 6 feet high and wide. As much as I hate to bandy botanical names, the common names for these plants are highly confused and nowhere near standardized.

The most widely grown hybrids are in the group of hybrids under the name Caryopteris x clandonensis, bred from Caryopteris incana, which is native to Eastern Asia, and Caryopteris mongholica, which grows in Western China and parts of Mongolia. While neither of the parent forms are widely grown, the hybrids are beloved of discerning gardeners in the U.S. and Britain.

Among the Caryopteris x clandonensis hybrids, ‘Dark Knight’, ‘Heavenly Blue’ and ‘Longwood Blue’ (hardy from Zones 5 through 9) are three of the most common. ‘Dark Knight’ has strong deep-blue flowers, not quite navy, more a fuzzy cobalt. ‘Heavenly Blue’ and ‘Longwood Blue’ are lighter in hue, with frothy pale blue flowers. One of my garden favorites for several years, ‘Worchester Gold’, glows throughout the growing season with pale chartreuse leaves and powder blue flowers.

Over the past five years, several new forms with more compact habits have been released. ‘Petit Bleu’ is a dwarf variety with extra-large flower clusters in rich blue. ‘Gold Giant, Hint of Gold™ and Lil’ Miss Sunshine™ have gold foliage. Their texture is coarser than that of ‘Worchester Gold’, giving them a chunkier, bolder appearance. ‘Sterling Silver’ has shining silver foliage. There is also a clear white variegated form, ‘White Surprise’.

Given all these varieties, it is surprising that Caryopteris are not more widely used. They look fantastic throughout the growing season, with their colorful foliage, and erupt into masses of blue flowers in late summer. Perhaps their limited use occurs because they’re timid plants, waiting to leaf out until spring has definitely rounded the corner and there’s no risk of frost before leafing out. Anxious gardeners often pull them out, thinking they’re dead, when they’re actually just waiting for warmer weather. Come August, they’ll be glorious.

Caryopteris ‘Snow Fairy’ (middle, foreground) glows with cream-edged foliage within the rough and tumble of a perennial border.

Perovskia spp.

Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) manages to appear icy cool in the midst of a sweltering Missouri afternoon.

Up close, the flowers of Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) reveal their fuzzy texture, which helps them reflect heat rather than absorbing it.

When I think of plants to overwhelm the dog days of summer with refreshing blue, my brain turns to the iciest of them all. While we’re sticking with botanical Latin, Perovskia atriplicifolia has a genuinely chilling name that echoes back to its homes on the steppes of Russia and Afghanistan. Under the common name of Russian sage, it was the poster-child plant for late 1990s garden style. Anybody who gardened in those giddy days of early perennial infatuation did not dare to make a garden without it, most often combined with gold yarrow (Achillea x ‘Moonshine’) and huge clumps of maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis). Past overuse, however, is no reason to ignore a perfectly good plant. Today, we appreciate that Russian sage’s frosted foliage and silvery blue flowers that make a perfect foil for drifts of diffuse perennials — low-flying clouds of ‘Starry Night’ white shrub roses (Rosa x ‘Starry Night’) and huge mauve billows of Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum).

Forms of Russian sage are confused in the trade, with plants varying in their silveriness of foliage and overall plant and foliage texture. Plants sold as ‘Filigran’ tend to have more dissected leaves, while those sold as ‘Longin’ are supposed to be smaller with less finely cut foliage. ‘Little Spire’ is a compact cultivar, growing to only 2 feet high. ‘Lacy Blue’ is a new compact variety with exceptionally large flowers.

Your history with Russian sage may be limited to grocery store parking lots and seductive magazine dream gardens left over from the 1990s, but don’t hesitate to clear space in your border for a few of these brilliant “cooling” clouds of flower and foliage. All that Russian sage requires is a bit of breathing room. When crowded, it rots, goes leggy, and — eventually — dies.

The steamy nights of late summer still have a few weeks of fight in them before they give up and let the sweater evenings come crashing in. Given that most of the garden is probably looking worn, clear out some of the overgrowth to make way for the icy blues of Caryopteris and Perovskia. With their clouds of blue flowers and pale foliage, they’ll bring the temperature of the garden down to something bearable.

Photos courtesy of Caleb Melchior


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

The Power of the Edit
by Scott Beuerlein - posted 07/31/13  

From a design perspective, at times we need to reacquaint ourselves with the notion that — sometimes — less is more.

In this scene, no garden art, no variegated plants, no colored foliage, no weepers, nothing contorted and not a bloom in sight. All plants growing just as they do in the wild. Yet, a stunningly designed garden space that soothingly connects us to nature.

As gardeners, we know and value the importance of diversity. It’s a good thing, too. Each year, new varieties of everything flood the market, and we are encouraged to try them all. We want to try them all. Moreover, when these purchases don’t exactly live up to their promise, or when they grow 20 feet taller than we were expecting, we are loath to remove them. I’ve lived that. However, from strictly a design perspective, we sometimes need to reacquaint ourselves with the notion that — sometimes — less is more.

Here are some clues that it might be time for you to clean house: Visitors to your garden spin helplessly in circles and then weep; the last few times you showed your garden to visitors, someone tripped over a piece of garden art, fell into a bed and could not be found.

Another sign you need a garden edit, and a bad one, would be when the ratio of gazing balls, garden gnomes, tribute stones, stepping stones, wind chimes, banners, flags, containers, broken containers on their side spilling annuals, broken wheelbarrows on their side spilling annuals, bottle trees, wagon wheels, tiki torches, totem poles, pinwheels, birdbaths, and other artifacts exceed one to the square yard. I have literally fled gardens and sought refuge in a nearby casino where the flashing lights, ringing bells and Elvis imitators brought respite to my over-stimulated senses.

A great way to see your garden with “new eyes” is to take photos. If, when you look at them later, the only good photos are close-ups, you have a problem. New visitors to your garden don’t see it as a progression of close-ups. They walk in and take in an overview. Then they see it view by view as they stroll along. Individual plants and elements come later. A “view” is basically this: From wherever a natural viewing point of the garden is — whether it is 5 feet from the garden or 100 feet — a visitor can only see so much of it before they look elsewhere. A single view needs to make sense. It can have layers horizontally and vertically (foregrounds, backgrounds and tiers of canopy), it can have a lot of plants, but it should have a focal point. It should not have elements fighting for attention, clutter or the infrastructure of the garden in plain sight.

Masses of one color complemented by a richness of textures allows the eye to flow with ease and comfort through this beautiful scene at Ball Flora’s Display Garden outside Chicago.

The Vitex negundo (above) was rare, cool and deer-proof, but it was also poorly suited for this site. Removal improves the garden immediately (below) and provides a great location for something choice.

Once you have identified that certain beds suffer from too much of too much, you need to take action. Yes, it hurts to remove expensive garden art and thriving plants, but this is what artists do. The masters know which ideas to include and which to leave out. Hopefully, what is excess in one bed is the needed final touch in another, but, in the end, if something needs to go, let it go!

What needs to go? Remove dead and diseased stuff first. “Almost dead” qualifies. Overgrown material? Decide whether to prune it back or remove it, always mindful of the feasibility of keeping it in check. Got ugly plants? They go to heaven where their inner beauty is appreciated. Then, out with the disappointing — that heuchera that’s never once looked like the photo in the catalog, for instance. What about those two different weeping, red-foliaged species of rare shrub on standards side by side? They’re like two divas sharing the stage, each trying to upstage the other. You’re the director — pick a diva.

Garden art? Impose a limit of one per every other view. Maximum.

Hardscapes? Cohesiveness is the key. Too many different materials are like a fishmonger’s stew — less than the sum of its parts.

Remove all detritus — unneeded plant labels, tools, pots, that little bullpen of plants still in pots that we’ve all got, anything left behind in plain view from laziness or habit. Hide those things that detract from the beds you’ve carefully crafted. Get vines over fences. Conceal that old shed with evergreens.

Once you’ve taken these actions, the difference in your garden will be remarkable.

From State-by-State Gardening May/June 2013. Photos courtesy of Scott Beuerlein.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

‘Vanderwolf’s Pyramid’ Limber Pine
by June Hutson - posted 07/26/13     #Hot Plants

Pinus flexilis ‘Vanderwolf’s Pyramid’, a Plant of Merit selection for 2013, is a needled evergreen. The species is native to Southwestern Canada through the Western U.S. to Mexico and is found primarily in the Rocky Mountains at elevations of 5,000 to 12,000 feet. The species name refers to the flexible branchlets and twigs. It has adapted to the St. Louis climate but is not recommended for planting south of USDA Zone 7.

The mature habit of ‘Vanderwolf’s Pyramid’ is rounded and reaches about 25 to 30 feet tall in cultivation. It has beautiful, long, twisted, silver-blue needles. It is considered to be an adaptable low-maintenance conifer with few problems. It is susceptible to white pine blister rust, which is a bark disease, but this is uncommon in Missouri. Aphids, weevils, spider mites and scale are more common pests.

Common name: ‘Vanderwolf’s Pyramid’ limber pine

Botanical Name: Pinus flexilis ‘Vanderwolf’s Pyramid’

Hardiness: Zones 4 to 7

Flowers: Nonflowering (has separate male and female cones on the same plant).

Soil: Moist, well-drained

Size: 25 to 30 feet tall by 15 to 35 feet wide

Exposure: Sun to part-shade

Watering: Adaptable for rocky slopes.

Fertilizer: Minimal 

Planting: Balled and burlapped plants transplant well.

From Missouri Gardener Volume III Issue IV. Photo courtesy of June Hutson.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Create a Focal Point in a Day
by Karen Atkins - posted 07/24/13  

The color of the bridge heightens its value as an element of surprise and contrast.

Gardening is usually an exercise in patience. Everything takes time. But here are a few ways to get instant gratification by creating some ‘pop’ in the landscape with new focal points.

We gardeners revel in a pastime that is all about the long game. We are used to waiting and the sport truly does reward us for our patience. It is reassuringly democratic, too. Even Prince Charles has to wait for his topiary yews to settle in, branch out and get fat and happy. But creating a focal point is at least one way in which gardeners can achieve instant gratification. You don’t need to be a designer to do it. You can spend as much or as little as you like, and you can do it in a day. Do I have your attention? I thought so. Breaking a subject down always helps to demystify it, so let’s consider what establishes a focal point — what it is, what it does and where to put it.

What Is a Focal Point?

Think of it as a critical player among the other “bones” of the garden. Like the rest of the “bones,” a focal point is something that doesn’t go away in winter, because it is made up of something unyielding to the seasons — stone, wood, cast iron or something evergreen. Even a shape cut into existing turf with a sharp edger can serve as a focal point. Ideally, it is an object that harmonizes with the garden and sharply brings into relief some of what makes you and the garden unique.

Above: A circular flowerbed, made simply with an edging tool, punctuates a lawn.

Right: A wooden gate, painted vibrant red, draws the eye and visitors’ steps, towards a stretch of green living fence.

What It Does

Simply put, a focal point brings the eye to rest amid a sea of unrest. I enjoyed Deborah Needleman’s definition. As the editor of Domino Magazine, she was referring to interior accents. Nevertheless, the concept is the same. She says that “as our eyes flit around the room, they alight on and are delighted by those bright spots.” Additionally, she describes them as “bright points of punctuation breaking up the long run-on sentence that is your home.” In the landscape, a focal point provides contrast to the abundant, sprawling, continually changing bits of the garden. An outdoor version of a dining room centerpiece, it commands attention. It is there to fill you with delight. 

Where to Put It

In a formal garden, center it on a critical axis, or the window above your kitchen sink. Flank both sides of a door, pathway or bench. Center it on a large blank exterior wall, or at the end of a path. In a less formal garden, place it asymmetrically, amid the tallest of perennials. In either case, if it is especially cherished or beautiful, lift it up on a plinth. One fact is often ignored, even among designers: A properly placed focal point will not just direct the eye, but also a visitor’s actual steps. When you see a new guest turn and walk toward your focal point, you’ll know you placed it well.

Left: Stone statuary beckons from the end of a formal lawn, providing sharp contrast with the color of the yew hedge and the sprawling habit of the lady’s mantle.

Top, left: Ordinary terra-cotta flower pots anchor a bench, forming a focal point in a naturalized landscape.

Above: A small planter, strategically placed on a plain brick wall, adds interest.

I was visiting a dear friend, a cottage gardener, this winter and noticed she had an elegant crane sculpture, sitting low in the middle of a miscellaneous perennial bed. It was such a pretty piece, and getting lost there, so I decided to promote it from its lowly station. Spying a boxwood hedge along her front walk, I found her hedge trimmers and pruned the hedge until it looked like a giant pat of butter. Next, I poached a large flat stone from her pasture and gently worked it between two of the shrubs and set the crane on top. Voila! The crane was then 5 feet tall, and appeared as though it was floating on the boxwood. The entire operation took less than 15 minutes, which should either encourage you, or teach you never to leave your friends alone in your garden for too long. But she loved it.

From State-by-State Gardening May/June 2013. Photos courtesy


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Bottlebrush Buckeye
by Ann McCulloh - posted 07/19/13     #Hot Plants

Aesculus parviflora flowers begin to open from the base of the 8- to 12-inch panicle, revealing reddish stamens.

Leaves turn a clear light yellow in October.

Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) is a shade-tolerant native American shrub with ornamental features all year round. Rather slow-growing at first, it produces classic deep green hand-shaped foliage the first couple of years after planting. The plant becomes quite broad and spreading. It will colonize by suckers in an ideal location. Unique, feathery white blossoms begin to appear in the plant’s third or fourth summer in July. These are followed by sparse, knobby fruits containing shiny brown “buckeyes.” The leaves turn a clear lemon yellow in autumn, really illuminating a shady corner. The evenly spaced silver branches resemble deer antlers in wintertime. Bottlebrush buckeye is not browsed by deer, and is relatively unaffected by pests and diseases.

Common Name: Bottlebrush buckeye

Botanical Name: Aesculus parviflora

Color: White flowers

Blooming Period: Midsummer

Type: Hardy deciduous shrub

Size: Slowly reaches 10 feet tall by 12 feet wide

Exposure: Part shade to shade

When to Plant: Transplant (as balled-and-burlapped or from container) in spring or fall

Soil: Moist, well-drained organic soil

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5

Watering: Once a week during establishment period, no extra water thereafter.

When to Prune: Winter to late winter

When to Fertilize: Not necessary

In Your Landscape: Specimen or massed border; lovely planted under a tall shade tree, at least 5 feet from the tree’s trunk

From Ohio Gardener Volume III Issue IV. Photos courtesy of Ann McCulloh.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Mysterious Mosses
by Gene Bush - posted 07/17/13  

Soft, green, lush, touchable, ancient-looking — mosses are beautiful and fascinating additions to nearly any shade garden. And did you know that they have no root systems? Learn more about these underused undergrowths.

Sedum ternatum happily growing on a moss-covered stone. In the background is Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra).

I have long been aware of moss gardens from my enjoyment of Japanese gardens. I can close my eyes and visualize those gardens of simplicity. There are, of course, large expanses of cool emerald-green moss. Perhaps a single cutleaf Japanese maple casts darker green shadows upon the moss. There are dimpled stepping stones with a misting of fresh morning dew creating miniature pools in each stone. Perhaps a rotted log is slowly being painted into the scene as moss begins to creep up and over it. On occasion there will be clipped azalea shrubs in bloom.

Perhaps, as appreciative as I am of moss growing in Japanese gardens, I should have made the transition to gardening with moss in my own garden much sooner. Living and gardening on the north side of a hill, it was inevitable that I would eventually garden using moss. While I do appreciate the Japanese form of design using mosses, I have found my own preferences for use of this plant in my garden. 

Species of Moss

According to the research project “A Checklist of Mosses”, there are about 12,800 recognized species around the world. Many of those would require collecting and studying under a microscope to identify. For the average shade gardener, perhaps a basic selection of three species would be easily identifiable. 

Most easily found in woods is sheet moss (Hypnum spp.), which also happens to have the best survival rate when transplanted. Cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) is easily recognized since it forms perfectly round mounds of bright green in miniature. Rock cap moss (Dicranum spp.) can be found growing on stone and reminds me of masses of bright green miniature feathers. 

Cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) is seen here covering a brick.
Photos courtesy of Moss Acres

Rock cap moss (Dicranum spp.) covers these boulders and is dotted with ferns.

Mosses Have No Root Systems

When considering use of mosses in the garden, one’s thinking of plants has to be shifted a bit. For example, ferns are responsive to the presence or lack of moisture. Even when dried and brown they are only awaiting water and quickly respond, returning to green. Mosses are not vascular like perennials are, meaning mosses have no root systems. Moisture and nutrients are collected from dust and rain or mist in the air. Having no feeder roots is what gives mosses the ability to grow on rocks and logs.

Growing Conditions

Moss spores are almost everywhere. If conditions are right for their growth, they move in and establish. Different species have different needs, but generally they want neutral to slightly acidic soil pH. Usually hard clay is not a deterrent to mosses. Eastern U.S. woodlands supply enough moisture for them to proliferate. Because they are not vascular they do have a preference for stream-side locations where humidity stays high. Some species grow well in heavy shade, while others do best in more light. Match your garden location to that of your local woods.

The best time to transplant from one location to another would be when humidity and moisture levels are highest and most consistent. Late winter, early spring and fall going into winter works best.

These cast-iron crows sit by a waterfall lined with moss-covered stones.

Helping Things Along

Moss blooming on a stone during March makes a gorgeous vignette.

Mosses are rather slow to establish and spread in the garden. Anytime gardeners encounter a slow-growing plant they try to speed things up. This is why several methods of establishing and speeding up moss growth have been trialed in my gardens.

I moved a carving of limestone into my garden and wanted to age it to soften the stark white of new stone. I was advised to spray it with flat beer to attract mosses. I would consider that a waste of good beer. The carving did turn yellowish for a few months, but years later I still do not see moss growing on it.

Buttermilk sprays have been used several times to attract moss. Moss cannot be mentioned or searched on the Internet without the word “buttermilk” coming up. I have used it on soil, logs and stone and to this date the only result is my wife asking me to stay out of her cooking supplies in the fridge.

Moss shakes, where you make a slurry of existing moss and water, which you then spray or spread on soil or stone, is a workable method to establish moss.

Creating a Moss Garden

Creating your own garden of moss could not be easier. Mark off the area to become your new moss garden and make sure all weeds are removed. A mix of sand and peat moss makes a great growing medium and can be spread over existing soil. Transplanting plugs or divisions on 12-inch centers is the quickest method. Be sure and tamp the transplants in firmly. Or, a gardener can use a mix of moss-and-water slurry to sprinkle or spray on to the new area. Protect with a cheese cloth and water consistently every week to 10 days. Fertilizer is not necessary, but a weak manure tea does encourage mosses. Use caution when applying chemical fertilizer they can, and will, easily burn and kill mosses.

Keep debris and leaves from collecting on moss. If animals dig holes (leaving your moss garden looking like they practiced teeing off for several rounds of golf) simply push the sods back into place and water.

Starts can be obtained from friends who have moss growing in unwanted locations. With permission, moss can be collected from the wild if care is exercised in removing only a very small amount from the edge of an established drift. You only need a very small amount. Better yet, mosses for your garden can be ordered from specialty nurseries. 

Walking fern and moss on a somewhat hollow log filled with potting medium.

My Moss Garden Designs 

My preference for using moss in my shade garden is using the tiny tufts as accents as opposed to larger drifts. I enjoy it most when mimicking nature. The first two uses would be imitating nurse logs and ageless stone. Nurse logs are fallen dead trees that have rested on the forest floor long enough to have begun decaying and new life such as ferns, mosses and immature trees use them as a growing medium. I settle logs into my gardens, fill the cavities with potting medium and transplant ferns and mosses, adding almost instant aging. I could not imagine my water feature without the moss-covered stones that line its path.

Small containers of aged stone or hypertufa with mosses are easily maintained with a minimum of attention and look great snuggled among larger stones along a path.


In my eyes, the stones and logs mosses have chosen to grow on make the best companions. My eyes want to keep the serenity and coolness of moss from being distracted by too much color.

If you care to add ferns, my preferences are for smaller ferns such as maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes), or perhaps the somewhat larger Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides). These ferns look great with mosses since they are often found growing together.

When considering color, I like to stay with smaller plants that form tight clumps. Common primrose (Primula vulgaris) with all its hybrids and color forms, along with cowslip (Primula veris), come to mind. Small bulbs used as underplantings work well as moss will not prevent them from emerging.

From State-by-State Gardening May/June 2013. Photos courtesy of Gene Bush unless otherwise noted.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Buzz Off, Mosquito
by Michelle Byrne Walsh - posted 07/15/13  

It’s hard to wax poetic over the lowly mosquito—especially with West Nile virus. But mosquitoes deserve to be understood. (Then you can swat them.)

It was a perfect Sunday morning. I had a huge cup of coffee in one hand and the fat Sunday paper in the other. I went outside to sit on the deck and watch the sunrise.

Then, with both hands occupied, a mosquito landed on my arm. I put down the paper, swatted the beast, and picked up the paper again. But before I could even get the comics out, another mosquito landed on my leg. This time I put down the coffee cup and smashed him, too. Then a Kamikaze mosquito began buzzing my ear. I flailed at him and spilled my coffee all over.

A minute later, I was sitting at the kitchen table.

Mosquitoes have always been bothersome to gardeners because we are outdoor people. When not working in the garden we tend to be taking walks, manning the barbeque or enjoying a leisurely cup of morning coffee — these activities usually take place during peak mosquito-biting times: dawn and dusk. Granted any mosquito bite is itchy and bothersome. But here in the Midwest, thoughts of mosquito-borne diseases—including deadly diseases such as malaria, yellow fever and dengue fever — seldom crossed our minds.

That is until 2002, when West Nile virus first appeared in the Midwest. These days a mosquito bite doesn’t seem quite so inconsequential. However, with diligent mosquito bite prevention, mosquito control techniques, and a bit of knowledge about West Nile virus, gardeners can stop worrying (if just a little).

The Secret Life of a Mosquito

According to the American Mosquito Control Association in North Brunswick, New Jersey, there are more than 3,000 species of mosquitoes throughout the world; about 176 species occur in the United States. The AMCA notes mosquitoes are insects belonging to the order Diptera, the “true flies.” Like all true flies, they have two wings, but mosquitoes’ wings have scales. Female mosquitoes’ mouthparts form a long piercing-sucking proboscis. Males differ from females in that they have feathery antennae and their mouthparts are not suitable for piercing skin. Males also do not feed on blood; they eat only nectar.

When a female bites you, she injects salivary fluid into your skin, which produces the swelling, irritation and familiar itch. Many mosquitoes also inject microorganisms, which can transmit diseases — including malaria, encephalitis and canine heartworm. 

Mosquitoes have four distinct life stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. The entire lifecycle — from the laying of eggs to a mature adult mosquito — is completed in about 10 to 14 days.

Egg—female mosquitoes lay their eggs in water or on moist substrates. Many mosquitoes, including Culex spp., lay their eggs in floating clumps called “rafts.”  

Larva—Eggs hatch into larvae, or “wrigglers,” which live in the water and feed on organic matter. They go through a number of “instars” or growth stages. Mosquito larvae are eaten by fish and other insects. 

Pupa—A larva develops into pupa. After two days, an adult mosquito emerges from the pupa. The new adult rests on the water’s surface until its body dries and its exoskeleton hardens. 

Adult—Female mosquitoes require a blood meal before they can lay eggs, so only female mosquitoes bite. They bite animals (warm or cold blooded) and birds every few days during their adult lives, which may last several weeks. Both male and female mosquitoes feed on nectar. 

A female mosquito Credit: Joseph Berger,

Sidebar sources: USDA National Pest Alert, American Mosquito Control Association, University of Illinois Extension

History of West Nile Virus

Look back in recent history and you’ll realize West Nile virus is not the first encephalitis-type disease to affect Midwest residents. In 1975, St. Louis encephalitis spread through the area. Since the 1970s, scattered cases or outbreaks of St. Louis encephalitis have been reported. And the reason this is important is this: St. Louis encephalitis and West Nile virus are “sister” diseases — similar in several ways. Therefore, we can and will learn to live with West Nile virus, just as we learned to live with St. Louis encephalitis. Both West Nile virus and St. Louis encephalitis are “arboviruses” (arthropod-borne viruses, which are transmitted between susceptible vertebrate hosts by blood-feeding arthropods like mosquitoes and ticks). There are several kinds of arboviruses, including La Crosse encephalitis, western equine encephalitis and eastern equine encephalitis.     

West Nile virus, like St. Louis encephalitis, is carried by birds (the hosts), then spread to humans, horses and other animals. Mosquitoes bite the birds with the virus, and then the mosquitoes transmit the virus by biting other animals, including us. West Nile virus is transmitted by several species of mosquitoes, most often the Culex pipiens mosquito (aka the northern house mosquito).

Other mosquitoes carry maladies that are usually not a problem in the Midwest. The Aedes genus is responsible for the spread of yellow fever and dengue; the Anopheles genus transmits malaria.

In 1999, the mosquito-borne West Nile virus first appeared in the United States. Previously it had been in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, including Israel and Egypt. But in 1999, 62 human cases and seven deaths were reported on the East Coast of the U.S., according to the Centers of Disease Control. By 2002, the disease had spread through the East, Midwest, Southeast, Plains states and Texas and California.

What Are the Symptoms?

In 2012, there were 5,674 cases of West Nile virus reported to the Centers of Disease Control nationwide and 286 deaths from West Nile virus.

According to the CDC, most people (about 70 to 80 percent) who become infected with West Nile virus do not develop any symptoms. If a person does develop symptoms, they are similar to the flu, including a moderate to high fever, headache, sore throat, stiff neck, rash, swollen lymph nodes and muscle weakness. The CDC states, “Most people with this type of West Nile virus disease recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months.” Severe symptoms might show up in a few people. The CDC notes, “Less than 1 percent of people who are infected will develop a serious neurologic illness such as encephalitis or meningitis (inflammation of the brain or surrounding tissues). The symptoms of neurologic illness can include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, seizures, or paralysis. Recovery from severe disease may take several weeks or months. Some of the neurologic effects may be permanent. About 10 percent of people who develop neurologic infection due to West Nile virus will die.”

A northern house mosquito (Culex pipiens) Credit: Susan Ellis,

Which Mosquito?

Although several types of mosquitoes can carry West Nile virus, the northern house mosquito (Culex pipiens) is the most likely vector. Culex mosquitoes are often out around dawn and dusk throughout the warm season, but are most numerous from mid-June into fall.

Culex mosquitoes like to lay their eggs in stagnant, stinky water like in clogged gutters. Abandoned pools, junk yards, and discarded tires — anything with greenish water — are a breeding ground for the Culex mosquito.

Smart Mosquito Control

So what is a gardener to do?

Mosquito control truly starts at home — ridding the yard of stagnant water and taking precautions when venturing outdoors during peak biting times. In addition, many cities and towns spray adulticides (which kill flying adult mosquitoes) to knock down mosquito populations.

Protect yourself from mosquito bites:

  • Apply DEET-containing insect repellent sparingly to exposed skin. The more DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) a repellent contains the longer time it can protect you from mosquito bites. A higher percentage of DEET in a repellent does not mean that your protection is better — just that it will last longer. Follow the manufacturer's directions. When using repellent on a child, apply it to your own hands and then rub them on the child. Avoid children's eyes, mouths and hands. (Children may put their hands in their mouths.)
  • When possible, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants outdoors.— Place mosquito netting over infants in carriers.
  • Consider staying indoors at dawn, dusk, and in the early evening, which are peak mosquito biting times.
  • Install or repair window and door screens so mosquitoes cannot get indoors.

Reduce the number of areas in which mosquitoes can breed:

  • Drain sources of standing water in your yard. At least once or twice a week, empty standing water from flower pots, pet water dishes, birdbaths, swimming pool covers, buckets, barrels and cans. Do not allow swimming pool water to become stagnant or untreated. Check for clogged rain gutters and clean them out.
  • Add mosquito-eating fish (such as goldfish, fathead minnows, mosquitofish and golden shiners) or a fountain or waterfall, to your water feature.
  • Use Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) “donuts” in ponds without fish or other areas of standing water. 

Save your money — ineffective mosquito products:

  • Bug zappers
  • Light traps
  • Mosquito-repelling plants (they repel mosquitoes only within inches of the plant)
  • Citronella candles and lamp oils (not enough area coverage)
  • Electronic emitters


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

by Chris Baker - posted 07/12/13     #Hot Plants

Lantana Bandana Red is a heavy bloomer.

Lantana ‘Anne Marie’ flowers are a rainbow of colors.

There are some gardeners, myself included, who regard the smell of lantana foliage as stinky. There are others who describe it as fragrant. Regardless, all can agree that they are flowering powerhouses. Lantanas are covered with 2- to 3-inch clustered blossoms all summer. As the individual flowers age, they often change color, giving the blossoms a bicolor effect. The foliage can be mildly poisonous to some animals, including deer, ensuring lantana’s exemption from being grazed upon. The berries, slightly poisonous when green, ripen to a metallic navy blue and are then edible. Birds love these berries and butterflies love the flowers. In addition to the myriad of new introductions, reliable older varieties include ‘Confetti’ and ‘Dallas Red’. And best of all, they love it hot and dry.

Common Name: Lantana, Spanish flag

Botanical Name: Lantana camara 

Varieties/Cultivars to Look for: Bandana series, Patriot series, Luscious series, ‘Anne Marie’, ‘Confetti’, ‘Dallas Red’

Color: White, orange, yellow, red, pink and lavender

Blooming Period: All summer

Type: Annual

Size: 12 to 30 inches

Exposure: Full sun

How to Plant: In beds 12 inches apart, or in pots

Soil: Well-drained soil

Watering: Average moisture

When to Prune: As needed for shaping

When to Fertilize: Monthly 

In Your Landscape: Beds or pots

From Ohio Gardener Volume III Issue IV. Photos by Chris Baker.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

No More Rose Divas
by Linda Kimmel - posted 07/10/13  

The rose, queen of all flowers, has a rather haughty reputation: difficult to grow, prone to diseases and pests, and dies after a few years. There are still a few divas around, but many rose varieties are not obstinate or impossible to grow.

In the words of Peter Schneider, author of Right Rose, Right Place, “If you can grow a marigold, you can grow a rose.” The rose is one of the most decorative and adaptable of all flowers. Today’s roses have a wide variety of brilliant colors, repeat bloom cycles, various shapes, luscious fragrances, disease and pest resistance and winter-hardy characteristics. Why waste time humoring and pampering a few rose divas? There are just too many good rose varieties on the market to waste time and money on the frail and demanding.

Busy gardeners with busy lifestyles demand low-maintenance roses. As much as we love our gardens, there is simply less time for spraying, pruning and laboring in the garden. We want the garden to be a beautiful, tranquil place to visit, not a place that enslaves us with work, and ultimately frustration. You can have a beautiful rose garden without the fuss. There are many rose cultivars that require simple, routine garden care. Rose hybridizers, such as Dr. Griffith Buck (in Iowa) and Kordes Söhne (in Germany) had the foresight to recognize the changing times in the rose industry, hybridizing roses with the fabulous low-maintenance characteristics we desire.

The sensational hit, the Knock Out™ rose (R. ‘RADrazz’) (introduced in 2000), and the Knock Out™ family of roses Pink (Rosa ‘RADcon’), Rainbow (R. ‘RADcor’), Sunny (R. ‘RADsunny’) and Blushing (R. ‘RADyod’), hybridized by William Radler (in Wisconsin), have been the most successful family of roses on the market in years. These roses are great, no doubt. Nevertheless, I have grown a little bored with them — small, single blooms (with four to five petals) and no fragrance. Beyond Knock Out™ roses, Bill Radler’s hybridizing program is evolving; he is producing some new fantastic roses with heavier petal counts, strong fragrance and the hardiness of the Knock Out family.

The dark green glossy foliage of Golden Fairy Tale™ (R. ‘KORquelda’) provides a lovely backdrop for the bright yellow sprays of blooms. Supports or cages can be helpful in supporting the canes, keeping the sprays upright and showy.

The Fairy Tale™ family of roses are the new kids in the garden, but splashed on the scene like rock stars. They are hybridized by Kordes Söhne of Germany, and described on their website as “charmingly robust” as well as “new, enchanting  varieties with charisma and charm.” Although some retail  nurseries could be accused of fiction writing when describing their roses, this description accurately portrays these lovely romantic-looking roses.

There is so much to offer your garden palette: brilliant colors, bi-colors, blends, full and heavy blooms with countless petals, and that “to die for” fragrance. Wonderful heady rose perfume wafting in the air adds that extra delicious dimension to your garden experience.

Growing Roses: Tips for Success

A mix of Old Garden Roses and shrubs, including ‘Pink Grootendorst’ (left), apothecary’s rose (R. gallica officinalis) (front-center) and ‘F.J. Grootendorst’ surround the entrance with a welcoming fragrance.

Do your homework. Choose a foolproof rose to start. Select a plant that has the size and shape that works best for your area of the garden. That may seem obvious, but some of my worst mistakes have been choosing a large rose for a small space or vice versa. Choose a great location. Roses like morning sun. Give your roses at least eight hours of sun daily. Although some roses will tolerate light shade or dappled light, most do better in full sun; plants are bigger, stronger, healthier and more floriferous with plentiful sunlight. Six hours of sun may be sufficient in areas of more intense summer heat.

Roses like fresh air. Give your roses enough space to grow to their full potential and to allow good airflow through the foliage. Good air circulation prevents diseases that thrive in moist environments, such as black spot and powdery mildew.

Choose own-root roses. Own-root roses are grown by slips or leaf cuttings of the desired variety. For best selection of varieties, own-root roses may need to be purchased via mail-order, and will arrive in small banded containers or liners. Although they will appear disappointingly small and scrawny to start, own-root roses will catch up quickly with their budded counterparts, and are more winter hardy and vigorous. The aboveground portion of the rose can die back completely in winter; new spring growth from the root will be true to the variety. Besides winter hardiness, the roses tend to be healthier and develop into fuller shapelier bushes. Bud unions of grafted roses can be vulnerable and easily damaged by a cold winter, and often require protection to survive. Suckers are often undesirable growth from the rootstock and should be removed.

Planting own-root roses is similar to planting any other container grown plant. Keep the soil and roots intact, and plant about 1/2 inch deeper than it is in the container. For a banded-size rose, the hole needs to be about 10 inches by 12 inches deep. Use native soil and mix in a little organic matter in the bottom of the hole, such as bonemeal, rock phosphate or bulb booster. Because the surrounding soil has microorganisms and microfauna maintained in a delicate balance, there is no reason to disturb it.

Check the pH. Depending on your  soil type, you may need to make some minor pH adjustments. The soil should be slightly acidic. An acceptable pH range is 6.0 to 6.9, with 6.5 being ideal. How do  you know the soil pH? Test it with an inexpensive meter, or through your local extension office.

No fertilizer in the first year. During the second and subsequent years, you may mix organic fertilizers into the topsoil surrounding the rose bush. Apply twice yearly, once in the spring and again midsummer. In addition, a general all-purpose fertilizer or a slow-release fertilizer, such as 12-12-12 may be applied. No special fertilizer is necessary; buy whatever is on sale at your local nursery or hardware store, and use sparingly.

Hate to spray? Spraying roses is my least favorite job in the garden. Some rose varieties are much more prone to fungal diseases, so start with disease-resistant varieties, and skip the spray routine. Be willing to tolerate a small degree of pests or diseases. Skip the insecticides altogether. Encourage beneficial insects and birds to help maintain a balanced ecosystem. Good horticultural practices (such as plenty of sun, fresh air, applying mulch, stripping lower leaves from the bush, watering in the morning and keeping the garden clean of debris) all prevent diseases.

A mix of roses and perennials in various shades of pink makes a striking border.

Plant companion plants. A monoculture, or concentration of roses, allows pests and diseases to multiple rapidly. A mixed culture of roses and companion plants is beautiful, as well as helpful preventing disease and insect problems.

Prune established roses in the spring. Remove any dead wood. Shape plant as desired.

Deadhead. Removing spent blooms will encourage reblooming. Stop deadheading in late summer or early fall, allowing plants to harden off for winter.

Apply mulch. Organic mulch helps to prevent weeds, conserves moisture, improves the fertility and conditioning of the soil and provides winter protection for the roots. It also helps to inhibit soil-borne diseases by preventing fungal spores from splashing onto the plant during watering. Plus, mulch just looks pretty, adding that finished, elegant look to the garden.

Top 10 Low-Maintenance Roses

There are literally hundreds of great rose cultivars — making a “Top 10 List” is difficult. I will only recommend roses that I have had firsthand, personal experience growing. Every rose grower could create their own “Top 10 List,” with an endless mix of varieties, depending upon the microclimates of your garden, preferences, likes and dislikes. Below are just a few of my favorite low-maintenance roses. All of the roses listed are repeat bloomers, disease resistant, winter hardy and most are fragrant.

1. ‘Quietness’ has lovely blushing-pink blooms, is heavily petaled and has a sweet fragrance. 

2. ‘Sombreuil’ has creamy white blooms with many petals and an intoxicating scent. 

3. Golden Fairy Tale™ has blooms that are bright yellow with pink edging and is deliciously fragrant.

4. Lion’s Fairy Tale™ has blooms that are light apricot-pinkish in color, fully double and sweetly fragrant.

5. Carmella Fairy Tale™displays striking apricot-colored blooms with a mild scent.

6. ‘Orchid Romance’ is very heavily petaled (up to 75 petals) with a button eye reminiscent of Old Garden Roses. Blooms are pink with lavender undertones and give off a strong fragrance. 

7. ‘Dainty Bess’ is the only hybrid tea to make the list, with four to eight light-pink petals with maroon  stamens and a spicy fragrance.

8. Carefree Spirit shows off with scarlet single blooms, which have a white throat and vivid yellow stamens. It is a blooming machine.

9. Peggy Martin™ is a large-flowering climber that needs a lot of room to spread; it is best covering a fence  or large trellis. 

10. Colette® is an apricot-pink large-flowering climber, with very full double blooms that are quartered and emit a strong tea fragrance.

‘Sombreuil’ was originally hybridized in 1880, and introduced in the U.S. in 1959 as a “climbing tea,” but reclassed by ARS in 2006 as a large-flowering climber. In my garden, ‘Sombreuil’ grows more like a large shrub, reaching a height of 5 to 6 feet. It’s creamy white blooms repeat all summer long, with an intoxicating fragrance.

'Orchid Romance' rose

‘Dainty Bess’ was introduced in 1925, and is still going strong in the rose market. Blooms are unusual and beautiful, typically 4 to 5 inches across. The shrub blooms in prolific sprays, all the while flaunting a mild, yet spicy fragrance. The bush is upright, grows to 3 to 4 feet in height with green leathery foliage.

Carefree Spirit (R. 'MElzmea') is a blooming machine, a great landscape shurb that grows about 4 to 5 feet in height and 4 feet wide. Dark green glossy foliage provides a backdrop for large scarlet sprays.

From State-by-State Gardening May/June 2013. Photos by Linda Kimmel.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Hairy Wood Mint
by Thomas G. Barnes - posted 07/05/13     #Hot Plants   #Natives   #Ornamentals

Hairy wood mint (Blephilia hirsuta) is a wonderful native plant that can be grown in a rock garden or in light dappled shade at the edge of the woodland garden. Like most mints, it is fragrant, and the small, tubular flowers are dotted with purple at the edge of the lip. It has unusually hairy stems, opposite leaves and whorls of small flowers. It is closely related to the downy wood mint (Blephilia ciliata), a more forested species — but the two are easy to tell apart, because the hairy wood mint is really hairy, versus slightly hairy, and the leaves of hairy wood mint have short stems or petioles. Its primary pollinators are bees — honeybees, carpenter bees, bumblebees, mason bees, leaf-cutter bees, miner bees and cuckoo bees. The genus Blephilia is Greek for eyelash, which refers to the hairy fringes on the flower bracts. This species is fairly resistant to deer browsing, but it is susceptible to powdery mildew and insects.


Common Name: Hairy wood mint

Botanical Name: Blephilia hirsuta

Color: Mauve to lavender and white flowers

Blooming Period: Late spring to early summer

Type: Perennial wildflower

Size: Can grow to be 12 to 18 inches tall

Zone: 4–9

Exposure: Sun

Soil: Well-drained, neutral soil

Watering: Water frequently until well established.

When to Plant: Early spring

When to Fertilize: None required

In Your Landscape: Since it does not spread, you will need to plant in a cluster or drift for maximum appeal.


From Kentucky Gardener Volume X Issue VI. Photos Photos courtesy of Thomas G. Barnes.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Smooth Oxeye
by Barrett Wilson - posted 07/05/13     #Hot Plants

The daisy-like flowers of ‘Sommersonne’ are 2 to 3 inches across.

The cultivar ‘Summer Nights’ forms a heavily flowering clump.

Smooth oxeye, also called false sunflower or early sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides var. scabra) is an herbaceous, clumping perennial native to much of Eastern North America. Found naturally in dry to moist open woods, smooth oxeye is especially known for its long-flowering duration (June through September). The cheery, daisy-like flowers are comprised of yellow to orange-yellow rays surrounding a cone-shaped central disk. Flowers reach 2 to 3 inches across and are set atop stiff, upright stems 3 to 5 feet tall. Individual clumps eventually achieve a width of 2 to 4 feet.

Smooth oxeye thrives with minimal maintenance. Plant it in full sun and remove spent flowers to prolong peak bloom and divide clumps every few years to maintain vigorous plants. If given too much shade, stems can flop and will require staking. Use smooth oxeye in native plant gardens, meadows or in the back of the perennial border. Many cultivars are available with improved flowering characteristics. ‘Sommersonne’ is more compact (2 to 3 feet) and has orange-yellow centers on occasionally double flowers. The flowers of ‘Summer Nights’ have brown centers and bloom profusely upon tall, dark red stems.

Common Name: Smooth oxeye, false sunflower, early sunflower

Botanical Name: Heliopsis helianthoides var. scabra

Flowers: Daisy-like, yellow to orange-yellow

Foliage: Dark green, roughly serrate

Size: 3 to 5 feet tall, 2 to 4 feet wide

Exposure: Full sun

Soil: Dry to moist, well-drained

Watering: Does better with supplemental water.

Pruning: Cut back spent flowers to prolong flowering.

In Your Landscape: Native plant gardens,  perennial borders, meadows

From Pennsylvania Gardener Volume III Issue I. Photos by Barrett Wilson.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Is THIS Poison Ivy?
by Charlotte Kidd - posted 07/01/13  

Several weeks ago, poison ivy horticulturist Umar Mycka and I were driving to Longwood Gardens to do training about poison ivy. “Look at that,” said Mycka, pointing to the right. I saw a tall privet hedge overhanging a public sidewalk by half. He'd spotted huge leaves of poison ivy waving from deep inside the shrub.

The woman hurrying by might well have gotten a swipe of urushiol, poison ivy oil, as her left arm brushed against the leaves. I imagined her a day later, mystified by an outbreak of a red, itchy rash and oozing blisters. She would probably lament, “What is THIS? And how DID I get it?” It's poison ivy dermatitis, aka Toxicodendron dermatitis.

When was the last time you got the poison ivy rash? Did you see it coming? If not, read on. If you maybe recognized it, read on for what to do when you've been exposed.

This poison ivy seedling blends in well with the vinca in a Philadelphia garden.

The standard warning — Leaves of three, let it be- still holds true. There's much more though, explained Mycka at the first 2013 Philadelphia Poison Ivy Conference in late March. Overall, the most common poison ivy is the species and a subspecies of the robust, ubiquitous Eastern climbing poison ivy. On the East Coast and in the South we're way too familiar with this Eastern species (Toxicodendron radicans ssp. radicans). Low-growing Rydberg's poison ivy (Toxicodendron rydbergii) makes its home westward and up north. Experts talk about a new natural hybrid in New England — a cross between Eastern and Rydberg's. They won't be sure until those plants are DNA-tested.

Photo by Umar Mycka
By autumn, these Eastern climbing poison ivy leaves are as large as a hand.

Also, poison ivy leaves look different depending on their age and species, Mycka explains. Most are leaflets of three. Very mature vines can have leaflets of five and seven, he adds. Some leaflet edges are notched. Others are smooth. Some are ovate-shaped. Others are lobed. Some have a dull surface. Others are shiny! During summer, the leaves can be light green, dark green or in between. In the fall, they turn a come-hither orange, copper or scarlet. Beware! They're just as toxic to touch then.

It's no wonder we're confused. “But the poison ivy you showed us yesterday didn't look like that,” my gardening staff complains all season long. “You're right,” I agree. “Poison ivy takes lots of forms. Just stay away from anything with three leaves. And tell the rest of us so we'll steer clear too.”

If I have a can of red paint, I spray around the leaves to mark the spot. If it's a small spot, I'll apply an herbicide. A month later I'll return wearing latex gloves and carrying plastic bags with lots of newspaper to carefully pull out dead but still potent leaves, stems and roots. Plant parts go in plastic bags for disposal in landfill garbage (not yard waste).

Call professional poison ivy removers if you feel daunted, there's an abundance or if you get the poison ivy rash easily.


Poison ivy sprouts from a seed likely eaten by a bird. Easy-to-remove seedlings have a red stem. Sometimes young leaves are reddish.

The poison ivy leaf has three leaflets that join at a node. Two small leaflets connect opposite each other. The large leaflet with a long stalk (petiole) joins them at a right angle. Young poison ivy leaflets can have notched, jagged edges. Older leaves tend to be smooth-edged, Mycka has found. The leaf variations sparked his curiosity at the age of 8. He's studied poison ivy since, educating people about identification and removing it by hand without using herbicides.

In late March, this Eastern climbing poison ivy thrives on the top of a wall on a cemetery path.

Anyone walking on the sidewalk by this tree could brush against this young Eastern climbing poison ivy vine.


About 75 to 85 percent of North Americans have an allergic reaction to urushiol, the poison ivy oil, which is in all plant parts. Urushiol begins to penetrate the skin within minutes after it touches our skin. By 8 hours, the oil binds completely to the skin. Poison ivy dermatitis — skin inflammation — sets in. Unbearable itching, a red rash, blistering, oozing and scaling can occur. The misery can linger from a week to a month.

This Eastern climbing poison ivy root contains urushiol too.

Photo by Umar Mycka
Don't be deceived by poison ivy's brightly colored autumn leaves. They have urushiol too.


Prevention is the first defense, experts agree. Pay attention to the plants around you and avoid those that look anything like poison ivy.

Act fast if your skin touches poison ivy. Gently swab skin with alcohol. Or wash the area with dish or laundry detergent or shampoo and lots of water. Wash and rinse several times to remove as much oil as possible, advises Eric Boman, Department of Emergency Medicine, York Hospital, and doctor of wilderness medicine in York, Pa.

Launder exposed clothing, gloves, hats and shoes with an effective detergent. Clean tools including handles with alcohol or detergent and water.

Treating the rash is a medical problem. For a serious rash, contact your doctor immediately. For a small limited inflammation, several experts recommended the over-the-counter product Zanfel™. Bowman says Zanfel seems to have ingredients that slough off and wash away some urushiol-bound skin. “Benedryl may help with itch,” he adds. “Expect the rash to last several days.”


To help with poison ivy plant identification, biologist Tara Johnson's iPhone app Rash Plants is available for $.99 at iTunes.

In early June Umar Mycka organized Poison Ivy Identification Week. All sorts of details and information about poison ivy are on his website is

For clever, common-sense information to help identify and share stories about poison ivy, see Jon Sach's website

Photos by Charlotte Kidd unless otherwise noted.


RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Bringing Natives into Your Landscape
by Bob Hill - posted 07/01/13  

Incorporating native plants into your garden doesn’t mean that the space will look wild and messy. Here are some neat natives to add for a sophisticated pop of color and texture.

Too often, lost in the growing passion to use native plants in the garden, is the fact that they are also perfectly at home blended in with other ornamental plants in the landscape.

In fact, natives often add color, texture, multi-season charm and toughness to places our more domesticated plants can’t.

They’re best used to “anchor” specific areas, serving as stable focal points as the endless new cultivars of grasses, perennials, trees and shrubs bid for recognition alongside time-proven natives.

Lists of native plants are everywhere: magazines, books and online. Some gardeners will prefer the straight species while others will add the cultivars that inevitably — if not literally — crop up. There’s an all-encompassing list of natives offered by the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society.

Just think carefully about which plants would work best in your environment: wet, dry, sun or full shade. But when you do choose, seek out the more unusual, the least known and the most fun.

Here’s a random sampling of what has worked well in our Southern Indiana garden — all of them totally hardy to Zones 5 and 6.


Downy Serviceberry

Leading off our early spring parade is the downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea). In shrub or tree form its brief, but brilliant, burst of white pendulous flowers offer much-needed proof that winter never lasts forever.

The serviceberry’s white flowers give way to bright red edible fruit — if you can beat the birds to them — and its leaf color in fall will flow from yellow to orange to red. The winter bark is a lovely gray; the serviceberry never takes a day off.

To best display downy serviceberry in your landscape, plant it in front of some dark green arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis), which is another useful native, and underp