Carolina Gardener Web Articles
Linda Kimmel is a certified American Rose Society horticulture judge and a consulting rosarian. She grows about 300 roses, and has a passion for shrubs and old garden roses.



Recipe for Organic Soil Conditioner that Roses Love
by Linda Kimmel    

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

(Mix by volume)


2 parts alfalfa meal

1 part blood meal

1 part cotton seed meal

1 part fish meal

1 part bone meal


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


Posted: 03/23/15   RSS | Print


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Smithsonian Institution Libraries’ Seed Catalogs
by Jill Sell    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 03/02/15   RSS | Print


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Do Not Touch These Backyard Bugs
by Paula Cochran    

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being pierced by a wheelbug can be described as excruciating.

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

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

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

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


Posted: 02/17/15   RSS | Print


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Savory Okra Pickles
by Ruth Mason McElvain       #Recipes

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


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

3 cups white vinegar

3 cups water

¼ cup pickling, kosher or sea salt

1 heaping tablespoon sugar

1 large lemon in 6 slices

6 peeled cloves of fresh garlic

6 grape, scuppernong, or cherry leaves

Spices per jar:

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

1 teaspoon mustard seed


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

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

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

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


Posted: 11/18/14   RSS | Print


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Classic Pepper Sauce
by Ruth Mason McElvain       #Recipes

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


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

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


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

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

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


Posted: 11/18/14   RSS | Print


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Dress for Gardening Success
by Michelle Byrne Walsh    

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Is the hat a bit too much?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Posted: 11/03/14   RSS | Print


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Missouri Wildflower Nursery, Jefferson City, Missouri

Naturally Native Nursery, Toledo, Ohio

Pizzo Native Plant Nursery, Leland, Illinois

Cardno JFNew Native Plant Nursery, Walkerton, Indiana

Meadowood Native Plant Nursery, Hummelstown, Pennsylvania

Photos courtesy of Gladys J. Richter


Posted: 10/20/14   RSS | Print


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

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

Black-Eyed Susan and Sweet William

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

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

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

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

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

Maximilian Sunflower

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

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


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

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

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

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

Black Cohosh and White Baneberry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos by Jane Rogers


Posted: 10/06/14   RSS | Print


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

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

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

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

Clearweed typically grows in colonies.

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

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

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

Wild lettuce can reach impressive proportions.

Pilewort often stands alone.

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

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

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

Spotted spurge, like other spurges, has milky sap.

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

And certainly their reproductive prowess is deserving of respect.

Photos courtesy of Pamela Ruch.


Posted: 08/25/14   RSS | Print


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Wild Quinine
by Roy Diblik       #Hot Plants

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

Common Name: Wild quinine

Botanical Name: Parthenium integrifolium

Color: Flat-headed clusters of white flowers.

Blooming Period: June through August

Exposure: Full sun

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

Soil: Moist to slightly dry

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

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

Hardiness Zones: 4 through 8

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

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


Posted: 08/15/14   RSS | Print


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Golden Showers Threadleaf Coreopsis
by Roy Diblik       #Hot Plants

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

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

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



Common Name: Golden Showers coreopsis or tickseed

Botanical Name: Coreopsis verticillata

Hardiness: USDA Zone: 4 through 9

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

Blooming Period: Early July into September

Exposure: Full sun to light shade

Size: 12-24 inches tall and wide

When to Plant: Throughout the growing season

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

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

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

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

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


Posted: 08/08/14   RSS | Print


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The South African daisy is stunning on its own, or paired with trailing plants like petunias. Try it with white for a calm effect, or deep purple for some extra punch.

Verbena is a lovely hanging plant whose purple, hot pink, red or white flowers beautify baskets, window boxes, and container edges. They barely notice heat and drought, and revive quickly if they wilt. The purple is almost blue; a large bowl of red, white, and purple verbena makes a patriotic addition to a patio table. Try them in boxes along the railings of a sun-soaked deck, or in simple baskets hung in the perennial border for added height.

Feathery gaura flowers look like butterflies floating over the container. It is shown here with pink verbena and white lobularia. Verbena and lobularia are similar in habit and flower type and can be interchanged to customize the color scheme of the pot.

Everyone is familiar with the marigold, lovingly grown by children in paper cups. The common marigold comes in some very uncommon color combinations, and sizes from mini to pompom. The small and medium flowered marigolds are best in containers. Like the South African daisy and the verbena, marigolds love being deadheaded and will respond well to being cut back if they start getting tired.

Portulaca is a low-growing plant with pointy, succulent leaves and small flowers in colors from magenta to cream. Portulacas are true sun worshippers that love hot, dry conditions. They look lovely hanging over the edges of containers, baskets and window boxes that have the sun beating on them all day. Shear them back to about 3 inches if they get straggly.

Gazania, also known as the treasure flower, has bright daisy-like flowers. They are easy to find in garden centers, and they transplant well. Plant gazania in the hottest, windiest, most exposed site -- they'll love it. The flowers are marvelous, and come in yellows, oranges, pinks, bronzes and reds, with black markings at the base and stripes of contrasting color down each petal.

The Zinnia Profusion series rewards gardeners with hundreds of single, star shaped flowers. Unlike the larger zinnias, Zinnia elegans is a medium-sized plant with tiny leaves. It grows in an elegant globe shape with cream, yellow, orange or red flowers. The orange looks great with purple mealycup sage (Salvia farinacea 'Victoria Blue'). Both will bloom freely even through summer drought, and the color and texture combination can't be beat.

Nasturtium boasts loads of cream, yellow, orange, pink, red or mahogany flowers that are often splotched with contrasting colors. All parts are edible, and add a peppery flavor to otherwise bland green salads. A low growing, trailing plant, the nasturtium has intriguing, heart-shaped leaves. It is a fast-growing annual that seems to thrive on neglect. Nasturtiums are a cheerful presence in containers or hanging basket.

Nasturtiums love to hang, trail and ramble. Use the heart-shaped leaves and pretty flowers to garnish outdoor meals. The entire plant is edible with a subtle peppery nip.

Photos courtesy of Proven Winners.


Posted: 08/07/14   RSS | Print


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Summer Turf Blues
by Bob Westerfield       #Advice   #Summer

As we continue in the blistering dog days of summer the idea of a cold drink and air-conditioned room seem much more appealing than working out in our landscape. The hot sticky days often cause us to neglect some outdoor chores such as giving our turf a good check-up.

Although turf in general, if managed properly, can be one of the toughest plants out there, it does need a little care to make it through the end of summer and get it ready for the cooler months ahead.

Disease problems can certainly be on the rise during the hot humid conditions that exist in late summer. Although there is not enough room to cover all the diseases and details in this article, there are a few generalities that can be made.  Most diseases occur due to some form of mismanagement. Many diseases will manifest themselves when the fertility is poor – either too much fertilizer or not enough. They can also occur due to poor irrigation practices – usually over watering. Soil compaction, heavy shade and improper use of herbicides can also help the on-start of disease.

Disease issues on turf can be severe in the late season if left unchecked.

That being said, it stands to reason that a better maintenance program will go a long way to both preventing and curing diseases.  Although fungicides are available to treat diseases, they are seldom applied correctly and can be expensive to use.

Begin by aerating your turf if it hasn’t been done in a year or more. This involves borrowing or renting a machine called an aerator that will punch small holes in the ground. These holes will allow better infiltration of both water and fertilizer by breaking up the compacted surface. An aerator with hollow tines is much better than one with solid spikes, so look for this when finding equipment.

Core aeration is an important maintenance step to help break up soil compaction, thatch and increase moisture and air flow.

Don’t neglect checking on the fertility of the soil. Chances are that you put out an application of fertilizer this past spring, but then failed to remember to feed your grass throughout the summer. Most grasses respond best to split applications of fertilizer, two to three times per year. August is a good month to put out the final application of fertilizer on warm season grasses such as bermuda, centipede, zoysia and St. Augustine. The best method to determine how much to put out would be to have your local county extension service run a test on a soil sample. Just call the local office and they can explain how to take the sample. The results will also reveal whether or not you need to add lime – an important factor in nutrient management.

Water management is also vital to a healthy, disease free lawn. If you have an automated irrigation system, now is a good time to make sure it is working properly. Set out small plastic drink cups at various locations and run your system for 30 minutes. Check the cups to see how much water has accumulated throughout the different zones. You may be amazed over time how uneven the water distribution really is. This will alert you to the possible need to clean or change outlet heads or perhaps change the direction or how long the system runs. Regardless of whether you use an automated system or single sprinkler and hose, a few standard rules apply. Water established turf less frequently – but more thoroughly to encourage a deep root system. Set the system to deliver either half an inch twice a week or better yet one inch one time per week. Most turf are very drought tolerant and can actually go several weeks without supplemental irrigation before extreme stress sets in. A good way to tell when turf really needs to be irrigated is when the grass blades begin to slightly roll up and the lawn takes on a bluish-grey color. Watering at night is also a great way to better manage your turf. If you water between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m., you will conserve water normally lost to evaporation, and you cut down on disease problems as the turf has time to dry out during the day.

As you walk around accessing your turf’s needs, does the grass feel spongy under your feet? It may need dethatching. Thatch is a layer of dead roots/stems that can continue to build into a thick mat that is unhealthy for the lawn. Grass clippings do not contribute to thatch, so have no fear about not bagging your cuttings. Thatch come again from poor management – over fertilization, too much water and not mowing often enough. You will need a thatch rake for small areas or rent a vertical mower to dethatch larger lawns.

Weeds may also be present in your late summer turf. Most weeds that you see now will be mature and difficult to control with herbicides. Cutting the grass often will prevent most weeds from going to seed. Spot treatments with herbicides may be effective on some easier to control weeds. A preemergent herbicide program will be a better alternative for next year. Early spraying of young emerging weeds is essential for good control in the future.

It is important to keep a handle on turf weeds before they get out of hand. Be sure to select the proper herbicide for the turf type you have.

If managed well, a lawn should give years of enjoyment and allow you more time to spend out of the hot sun doing indoor hobbies. Following these tips will ensure that you have the healthiest and greenest lawn on the block.

Photos courtesy of Bob Westerfield.


Posted: 08/06/14   RSS | Print


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Three Great Fruit Trees for the Midwest Garden
by Patti Marie Travioli       #Trees

As a kid, I didn’t care as much about the holiday meal as much as I looked forward to enjoying the homemade jams and freshly baked desserts. As an adult, I try to create something new for the holiday meal, while still including some traditional recipes.

It’s even better when I harvest the fruit from my yard. I recall my grandfather taking us for tractor rides to harvest apples from old trees near the woods. The fruit may have been imperfect to look at, but the crisp flavors were so tart and sweet. We would take them back to the house and cook them down, then take turns stirring with the wooden pestle, watching the warm apples ooze through the vintage cone-shaped metal sieve, transforming into sauce. If you have room, try growing these three fruit trees, which will provide delicious seasonal freshness all through the winter — apple, pear and tart cherry.

Site Selection

Fruit trees grow best in sunny areas, preferably on high ground in a sandy-loamy soil. Avoid low-lying areas where frost pockets can settle in early spring, damaging flowers and fruit. A south-facing, slightly sloping incline is best.

When to Plant

Early spring, while small trees are still dormant, is the best time. Although autumn will do, research has shown that spring-planted trees establish more quickly. Wrap the trunk with a protective wrap made specifically for trees to deter animals from chewing on the soft bark. This is especially important in the fall.


Provide enough space to allow good airflow for each tree. Most dwarf fruit trees can be planted 10-12 feet apart, but some varieties may need to be 15-20 feet apart. Make sure you know the mature size for the variety you plant.


The best time to prune fruit trees is when they are dormant. I like to prune during our January thaw into February. Pruning is not only a good horticultural practice, but an art form, as well. A general rule is to prune all suckers that grow at the base of the tree and anything crossing or growing vertically. The tree should have several open spaces throughout the branches.

Insects and Diseases

Using integrated pest management, or IPM, practices is the best defense against many insect and disease problems you will encounter while growing fruit trees. Various phases of growth, such as petal fall or size of fruit, are signals to look for certain pests and diseases, or perform certain pruning techniques.

Pears encounter the same problems as apples, and cherries may share some, but have their own, as well. It is important to know how to identify each pest and which ones may pose a problem at what time of year. Identification and timing are the keys.

For example, scale is a problem pest that peaks in mid-May, and is typically not a problem after June, but could peak again in July. To deal with this pest, you would apply horticultural oil in April. If you want to grow these fruits organically, you need to start with varieties that are resistant to the diseases they are most prone to, as well as using approved organic methods for insect and disease control.

Insects and disease found to be the most problematic with apples and pears include the European red mite, apple scab, leaf roller, aphids, powdery mildew, fire blight and plum curculio. For cherries, fruit fly, plum curculio, cherry leaf spot, American brown rot and powdery mildew are issues.


Most apples (Malus spp.)grow well in USDA Zones 3 through 8, depending on the variety. Apples grow best when they have another variety for cross-pollination. Harvest time is August through October. Apples are eaten fresh, sliced and frozen, dried, sauced and frozen or canned, or preserved as apple butter or jam.

Recommended Apple Varieties 

• ‘Braeburn’ - Sweet and crisp; great fresh or baked; USDA Zones 5-8

• ‘Gala’ - Sweet and crunchy; great fresh or baked; USDA Zones 4-9

• ‘Ginger Gold’ - Sweet and spicy; great fresh or baked; USDA Zones 5-9

• ‘Honeycrisp’ - Sweet and juicy; great fresh or baked; USDA Zones 3-6

• ‘McIntosh’ - Sweet, tart and juicy; great fresh or baked; USDA Zones 4-6

European or Asian Pear

European pears (Pyrus communis) are hardy in Zones 4 through 9 and grow best in a sunny space with a well-drained soil. European pear varieties best for the Midwest gardens are ‘Bartlett,’ ‘D’Anjou,’ ‘Harrow Delight,’ ‘Spartlett’ and ‘Harrow Sweet,’ which is said to be more fire-blight resistant. You can eat them fresh or preserve them by canning or making jam. I especially love a spiced pear jam infused with ginger. 

The Asian pear (Pyrus pyrifolia), sometimes called an apple pear because of its apple shape and pear-like skin, grows well in Zones 5 through 9, and is best for fresh eating. Harvest season is August through September.

Tart Cherry

Most tart cherries (Prunus cerasus) are self-pollinating, but planting two varieties may increase fruit quantity. For tart cherries, try growing Balaton (‘Bunched of Újfehértoí’), a newer Hungarian variety that is a little sweeter and matures about a week later than the traditionally grown ‘Montmorency’ or ‘North Star.’ Tart cherries grow well in USDA Zones 4 through 8, depending on variety. Harvest time starts in mid-June.

When tart cherries are harvested at their peak, it is easiest to pit them. Place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and put in the freezer until frozen. Once frozen, place them in a freezer storage container. This method keeps the cherries from freezing together in one big clump. Once thawed, you can use the frozen cherries for pies, muffins or jam. Dried tart cherries are one of my favorite things to add, along with nuts, to my oatmeal.

For more information:

Apples –

Michigan State University Extension –

Enviro-weather –

National Organic Program –

Holistic Orchard Network –

From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue VI. Photo by Patti Marie Travioli.


Posted: 08/06/14   RSS | Print


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Coir competency
by Patsy Bell Hobson       #Fertilizing

Plants in hanging baskets thrive with coir liners as well as coir mixed into the potting soil. Plant: Proven Winners - Superbells® Lemon Slice - Calibrachoa hybrid.

Once considered a waste product, coir is now used as mulch, soil conditioner and as a hydroponic growth medium. This organic fiber is an ideal material for worm composers. It is also used to grow mushrooms. It is bacteria free and will deter slugs.

Coir is a very affordable and a reusable product used for lining hanging baskets.

You may be using it already as hanging basket liners. Coir is also used to make doormats. It is also used as the bristles in brushes.

Coir is often used as a replacement for peat in soil mixes. It will lighten up garden soil in raised beds or containers. Like peat, it holds moisture in the soil and also aides in drainage. Unlike peat, coir is considered a renewable resource. Peat comes out of bogs that are rapidly being depleted. Technically, peat is a renewable resource, but few of us can wait for the the many, many decades it takes to regenerate a peat bog.

This coconut fiber retains more water than Sphagnum peat moss. It is considered a renewable soilless resource. It has been used commercially for years but is only recently marketed to home gardeners.

Coir is being marketed as a replacement for peat and as a soil amendment. I used it to start seeds this spring. I also replaced peat in my potting soil blend.

Coir can be added directly to garden beds to loosen up clay soil. If your soil is sandy, adding coir will help the soil to hold water. Coir is organic, but it takes about 20 years for coir to decompose.

A 1/2-inch disk of coir comes with the Amaryllis kit.

Add water to the disk and fluff to loosen coir.

One 1/2-inch disk makes enough material to fill the pot around the Amaryllis bulb.

What is Coir?

Coir is simply coconut fibers. Coir fibers are extracted from the husk, or outer shell, of a coconut. The coir fibers are then dried and made into bricks for agriculture use.

Together, India and Sri Lanka produce 90 percent of the coir manufactured each year.

Coir is used to make ropes and fishing nets because it is resistant to salt water. It is used in mattresses and upholstered furniture. Coconut fiber is used to control erosion along riverbanks.

Coir can be high in sodium and potassium. So before use as a growing medium it is pre-treated by soaking in a calcium buffering solution. Methods of processing coir vary around the world. Salt is not always washed out. There are a few very vocal opponents to coir — I suspect they have used a grade of coir that is high in salt content.

How Coir Works

Water must be added to loosen the fibers into the fluffy peat-like soil amendment. While these coconut fibers provide good soil aeration, they also retain up to nine times their volume in moisture.

To use the brick, place in the bottom of a bucket. I use a 5-gallon bucket. Add water to see the fibers quickly expand. Allow it to continue to absorb water for at least 15 minutes. Once the coir is loose and moist, it is ready to be used.

If the salt content is a concern, add more water to completely cover the coir. Allow it to soak in the water for a couple of hours or overnight, then drain. Look for coir products labeled for garden use and buy from a trusted source.

If coir is sold as a product not intended for garden use, it may or may not have a high salt content. Better to be on the safe side and soak the coir to leach out salts.

This lightweight brick starts expanding as soon as the water hits the surface. Available in any home improvement stores.

Break up and loosen the wet coir brick.

The finished product is ready to be added to a soilless container or raised bed.

Compost and Soil Mixes

Coir is carbon rich, making it an ideal ingredient to layer in the compost pile with grass clipping and kitchen scraps. If you have access to fresh grass clippings, it is quick and easy to build a compost pile. Just layer grass, then coir and repeat a layer of grass then a layer of coir.

Use coir the same as you would use peat moss. Coir can replace up to 40 percent of potting mix. It tends to have a more neutral pH, wheres peat tends to be slightly more acidic.

Where to Buy It

You can ask for coir at some local garden centers, but you might get some blank stares. Coir is easily found online, and it might be available locally in pet supply stores.

Photos courtesy of Patsy Bell Hobson.


Posted: 08/04/14   RSS | Print


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Weeping Elm
by Joseph Tychonievich       #Hot Plants

In the summer, the weeping elm (Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’) is quite beautiful, with lush green leaves and a graceful, weeping habit. But the full beauty of this tree is really visible when it disrobes in the fall, the leaves dropping away to expose a glorious network of gnarled, curved branches in an intricate, graceful pattern. Slow growing, this tree takes time to reach its full beauty, but eventually it becomes a magnificent presence during the long winter months when a garden most needs something dramatic. Its natural growth habit is almost flat, plants are either grafted onto a tall standard or a young branch can be staked vertically to create a trunk and tree-like form to any desired height.

Common Name:  Weeping elm

Botanical Name: Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’

Color: Green

Blooming Period: Early spring (not showy) 

Type: Small deciduous tree

Size: To 15-plus feet wide, height depends on training

Exposure: Full sun to part shade

When to Plant: Spring or fall

Soil: Any, very adaptable

Watering: Not required once established

Zone: USDA Zones 4 through 7

When to Prune: Avoid pruning to preserve natural growth habit.

When to Fertilize: Not required in average garden conditions

In Your Landscape: Best appreciated from below, so get a high-grafted specimen or stake up a trunk to 10 feet to create a small tree you can stand and sit under.

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


Posted: 08/01/14   RSS | Print


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The Beauty of Lavender
by Karen Atkins    

I have to confess something. I almost gave up on lavender. I would repeatedly bring home plants, only to watch them gradually wither, sicken and die—or worse—thrive until they were shapeless woody shrubs with hardly any leaves or flowers. Is this you? It took a lot of trial and error, but I finally figured it out. Lavender (Lavandula spp.) is the princess of herbs. Like any other perfumed lady, she has her demands.


Most hardy lavender survives in USDA Zones 5 through 7. Where winters are severe, you can also grow it as a short-lived, tender plant in summer.

Full sun is an absolute requirement. Choose a site that gets six hours or more of direct sun each day. There is no way around this.

If you plan to harvest the lavender for wands, sachet or food, avoid using pesticides on the plants.

Regular haircuts

In the first year, or on older, well-maintained specimens, prune back any new growth by about one-third in early spring, after the plant completely greens up. It will take a few weeks for it to green up from the bottom. Just watch it closely, and when you see that the existing stems are completely green and new and tender stalks are beginning, shape it back by one-third. I use scissors for this. Prune artfully to lightly shape the plant to its preferred habit—a loose ball.

In older, woody, misshapen plants you can do one of two things: either touch a match to it and start over (my preference) or, if you get joy from saving things, try cutting it back by half each year after it has fully leafed out. This can either rejuvenate it or kill it. At least you know that ahead of time.

Warm, dry feet

Do not put lavender in your existing beds that you have amended with rich compost and manure. Other plants love this rich soil for it’s moisture retention, but lavender hates that. Think about it: Lavender hails from the Mediterranean, where it may only rain a few times a season. Some of the soil there isn’t soil at all, but loose gravel. If you have any doubts that your soil is too rich, you need to establish a raised bed for lavender.

If you have to have it amidst your fussier perennials, build a little raised bed out of stones, just for the lavender. This raises it up so that it drains faster than the rest of the bed. Or, grow it in a large container with a quick-draining, high-quality soilless potting mix.

Edible and Fragrant

I have always associated the scent of lavender with pampering. So I cut and save it in heady sachets for my houseguests, stuffing it into drawers and in between towels for them. But if I really want to spoil someone rotten, I make lavender shortbread and ice cream. Each can be made up to a week ahead, so I can spend less time fussing over preparation and more time enjoying my friends.

And, like eating warm tomatoes in July or crisp apples in October, savoring lavender while it’s blooming brings you right into the moment.

As Winnie the Pooh said, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.” I haul tables and chairs right out into the garden when serving these desserts. Fair warning: If you serve these treats, they will be requested again.

Lavender Shortbread Cookies(Makes 30)


2 (8 ounce) sticks of butter, at room temperature

1 ½ cups of flour

Pinch of salt

Lavender-infused sugar: ½ cup sugar mixed with ½ cup fresh lavender buds, allowed to sit for at least a few hours.


Preheat the oven to 350 F. Beat together the butter and sugar until creamy. Add the flour, salt and lavender, mixing until combined.

With your hands, bring the dough together into a ball, and shape into a flat disk. Cover and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Once chilled, roll out the dough to   inch thickness. Cut into small rounds or use a cookie cutter. Allow room between cookies when placing on the baking sheet because they will really expand while baking. Sprinkle with extra sugar.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the shortbreads feel sandy on top and have the slightest hint of color on the edges. Do not let them brown or they will taste burned. Also, please resist the urge to remove them from the sheet until they have completely cooled, or they will break.

Lavender Honey Ice Cream


2 cups whole milk

¼  cup dried lavender buds

⅓ cup of honey

5 egg yolks

¼ cup sugar

1 cup heavy cream

½  cup fresh lavender buds (to stir in just before freezing)


In a heavy saucepan, heat milk, dried lavender and honey over medium-high heat until bubbles begin to form around the edge of pan. Please do not boil or scald the milk. Remove from heat; cover, let steep, then let stand until cool. Pour the mixture through a sieve or strainer to remove the lavender.

Add egg yolks to sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix for two to three minutes, until creamy. At the same time, put the milk mixture back on heat until it reaches a low simmer. 

Add half of the milk mixture to the yolk mixture and whisk until combined. Then pour the yolk-milk mixture into the saucepan with the remaining milk. Cook over low heat and stir the entire time until the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and immediately stir in cream.

Place saucepan in refrigerator until cold, about two hours. Mix in some fresh lavender buds; I use about cup. 

Most people pour the mixture into an ice-cream freezer and freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions. I do not have room in my kitchen for one more kitchen appliance so I freeze the ice cream right in the stand mixer bowl. Every thirty minutes, for three hours, I pull it out and give it a quick mix to break up any ice crystals that might try to form, and then return it to the freezer.

You can needlepoint or take naps in between the stirrings, but serve this and they’ll think you slaved all day. (Note: This recipe was adapted from one printed by Martha Stewart Living. I hope my explanations flatten the learning curve for you.)

From State-by-State Gardening May/June 2013. Photos courtesy of


Posted: 07/30/14   RSS | Print


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‘Kingswood Torch’ Coleus
by Susan Martin       #Hot Plants

The striking magenta and red foliage of coleus ‘Kingswood Torch’ heats up sunny and shady gardens alike. 

There are several types of Coleus (Piectranthus scutellarioides) to choose from at garden centers, so here are a few quick tips. Seed-grown varieties are sold in 4- or 6-packs, and those grown from cuttings are sold in larger, usually individual pots. Seed-grown cultivars are less expensive, but are higher maintenance because they typically bloom quickly. Once a coleus blooms, its life cycle is complete, so you’ll need to pinch off the flowers. Some coleus, such as the ColorBlaze series, were created to be very late or non-flowering. Many of the newer cultivars are also more sun tolerant, so they are less maintenance with a great look all season.

ColorBlaze ‘Kingswood Torch’ coleus has blazing red and magenta foliage drenched in saturated color. Use it as a thriller in combination containers or on its own in large containers or in the border. This hot plant sells out quickly, so when you see it at the garden center snatch it up before it’s gone!

For a 16-inch container combination, you’ll need one ‘Kingswood Torch’ coleus, two Diamond Frost euphorbia (E. hypericifolia), and three Surefire Rose begonia (B. benariensis cv.). 

Common Name: Kingswood Torch coleus

Botanical Name: Piectranthus scutellarioides ‘Kingswood Torch’

Type of Plant: Annual

Hardiness Zone: Perennial in USDA Zones 10 and 11.

Bloom Time: Grown for its fantastic foliage.

Size: 3-3  feet; about half that height if grown in containers.

Exposure: Full sun to full shade

Watering: Requires regular watering.

Soil: Use potting soil if growing in containers or enrich the garden soil if planting in the ground.

When to Fertilize: Fertilize regularly or use potting soil already enriched with fertilizer.

When to Prune: Pinch out any flower buds that appear to maintain best foliage appearance.

From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue VI. Photos courtesy of Susan Martin.


Posted: 07/25/14   RSS | Print


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First Aid for Summer Squash
by Bob Westerfield       #Advice   #Disease   #Pests

Old, maturing squash left on the vine too long will attract pesky insects, which in turn can damage your plants. Be sure to harvest frequently before the fruit matures.

As we enter mid-July with August right around the corner, there are some pretty rough-looking summer squash patches that I have visited around the state in my role as a vegetable specialist. From backyard gardens to commercial growers, everyone that has grown summer squash knows the challenges that the late season can dish out. It takes a dedicated and persistent gardener to keep summer squash looking good all summer long until the plants finally play out in the coolness of fall. By being diligent and keeping a very close eye on your plants, it is possible to produce this delicious summer vegetable all season long.

In order to better combat the issues that face your summer squash, it helps to have an understanding of what can actually affect them. Poor gardening practices from the start are the fastest ways to shorten the lifespan of your zucchini and crooked necks. No amount of pesticides or fertilizer will overcome bad gardening management. With that being said, try to grow the healthiest squash you can by fertilizing them properly and maintaining a soil pH of about 6.5-6.8. Proper irrigation is also critical if your squash are to stand a chance against all the summer critters that want your squash as bad as you do.

The best defense against the several insect and disease problems you may encounter with squash is a good offense. Scout your plants frequently from about the time they emerge to the time they stop producing. Diseases such as powdery mildew and downy mildew are very common problems that will cut down on the vigor of your plants and overall lifespan of production. These fugal pathogens appear on the broad leaves of squash plants. Powdery mildew looks almost as if a white talc powder has been sprinkled over the leaves. Downy mildew produces angular white and yellow blotches on the leaves. Both of these diseases can be held to a minimum by avoiding overhead irrigation and spacing plants so they have plenty of room for good air circulation. When needed, spray plants with a labeled organic or synthetic fungicide at the first sign of disease presence. High humidity and heat play a big role in disease formation and unfortunately, you cannot control these. But once again, keeping the plants as healthy as possible will allow them, in many cases, to grow through these diseases if they are encountered.

Powdery mildew is a common disease issue that can weaken squash plants and reduce yield.

Perhaps nothing is more devastating to our summer squash plants over the last few years than the squash vine borer. I am not sure if it is just the increase in more people growing their own squash, but this pest has been an epidemic around the Southeast. The adult moth, which actually more closely resembles a wasp, emerges out of the ground in the spring and begins looking for its host plant squash somewhere between the middle and end of June. Adults continue to fly for several months as they deposit their egg close to the base of vulnerable squash plants. From the single egg, a tiny larva emerges and bores into the stem of the squash plant. Like a child let loose in a candy store, these voracious feeders munch on the inside of the stem, tunneling upward and downward as they go. Most people do not even realize they are there until they see their squash plants suddenly droop over, like they severely need water. By this time, the squash borer may have riddled the plants beyond repair. This is probably one of the hardest insects to control because they stay so well hidden from our eyesight. The best control is accomplished by spraying approved organic or chemical options at the base of your plants soon after they have emerged. You will need to continue to make frequent reapplications every week or so to have any chance at controlling this pest. On occasion, you might see the red-colored adult sitting on the squash leaf, and you should destroy her immediately. Keep a careful eye on the base of your plants and look for any entrance holes and sap oozing from the plants. If you catch it early, you can use a sharp razor blade to vertically slice the stem near the penetration hole. Use your fingers to pull back the hollow stem and look for this beastly caterpillar. You can carefully cut him in half with the razor blade or extract him and exile him to parts unknown. Close up the wound that you created by pinching it back together, and then pile some soil over the wounded area to help in the recovery process. As long as you do not allow the grubs to feed for an excessive amount of time, your squash plant should recover.

Perhaps the worst problem for squash growers is the squash vine borer. Difficult to detect at first, they can take out an entire planting of squash quickly if left unchecked.

Squash bugs are another prolific pest that frequents the summer garden. They can rapidly multiply and cause substantial damage by feeding on both the foliage and maturing crop. Leaf-footed bugs can also invade squash and other vegetables, and they look a lot like squash bugs. While there are other insects that can munch on your plants, these two, along with the squash vine borer, will be your greatest challenges. Organic products such as neem oil and pyrethrin will do a pretty good job of controlling both leaf-footed bugs and squash bugs. There are also a number of manmade products labeled for vegetables that will work well to help control this enemy. Most of these insects have multiple generations, so you need to stay diligent in your defense. It is very important, as well, that you harvest your squash as early as possible and not allow any of the fruits to become over-mature on the vine. Over-mature squash left in the garden will be ringing the dinner bell for all the bad bugs on the block.

With all this talk about controlling diseases and insects, make sure you correctly identify the problem. There are also plenty of beneficial insects out there that help control the bad guys and help perform the task of pollination. Be careful when you spray that you do not wipe out more of the good guys than the bad. Avoiding early morning sprays will help with this.

Squash bugs are one of the most common pests that can invade your plants.

Care should be taken to correctly identify insects to prevent spraying and harming beneficial insects, such as this ladybug.

Squash is certainly a favorite among home gardeners, but I have heard too many gardeners say that they have given up on it because of all the challenges to keep it healthy. One way to help yourself out is to continue to plant successions of new squash every few weeks during the first part of the growing season so that you have different stages of maturity going on in the garden. By spacing your planting times and controlling a few of the more troublesome diseases and insects, you should be able to harvest this delicious table fare all season long.

Photos by Bob Westerfield.


Posted: 07/24/14   RSS | Print


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Create the Look of an English Garden In Your Midwest Landscape
by Susan Martin    

The formal lines of this colorful sunken garden are softened by a monochromatic palette of purple annual flowers, giving it a whimsical, cheerful look.

Clusters of fragrant double roses clambering over white picket fences, fields of wildflowers and cottage gardens filled with lupines and delphiniums — this is what I expected to find when I traveled to London last spring for the first time.

Surely, I am not the only American who imagines English gardens this way. And we aren’t completely off base, because both formal and informal English gardens abound in and around London.

During my weeklong trip, I set out to learn how I could get that “English garden look” in my own Midwest garden. In seven glorious days of strolling through the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, Europe’s largest demonstration garden at Wisley, the 100th anniversary of the Chelsea Flower Show, the formal gardens at Kensington Palace and more, I took more than 1,100 photos, including those you see here. This is what I discovered in my quest.

All English gardens, whether formal or informal in style, contain a few distinct elements. To adopt this look for your own Midwest garden, here is what you’ll need.


Whether you’re going for a formal or informal look, structure is the most essential element. English gardens may be natural looking, but they are actually quite controlled. Straight-edged beds, often cut into geometric patterns, are used instead of the informal curved beds that are common in the Midwest. In addition, natural materials, such as stone or wood, are used to construct walls, arches, trellises, small sheds or other hardscape elements within the garden. The strong, sturdy nature of these structures sets off the soft, billowy plants that surround them.

Structure is an essential element in English gardens. Formal-style gardens consist of straight-edged beds, often arranged in a geometric pattern, anchored by yew or boxwood topiaries.

Lawns and Hedges

“Lawns are important elements in most gardens, and the small strip of turf at the front of the border sets off the plantings,” said Chris Young, author of Take Chelsea Home (Octopus Publishing Group, 2013). Though English gardens often do not contain much lawn compared to the Midwest, the location of the lawn in relation to the garden is quite deliberate. It may be just a narrow strip between the garden and patio, just enough to draw the eye toward the beauty of the border.

Hedges are often planted along the edge of the lawn or used to outline garden rooms to provide a deliberate opening where the gardener wishes visitors to enter. Formal hedges typically consist of tightly clipped yews (Taxus spp.) or boxwoods (Buxus spp.), while informal hedges may be made of tall lavenders, such as ‘Provence’ (Lavandula xintermedia ‘Provence’).


Nearly all English gardens contain at least one piece of prominent sculpture. Formal gardens typically contain high-quality statuary, large urns or modern metalwork. Informal gardens may contain more whimsical statuary, perhaps a bit smaller in scale, but still prominent enough to be easily noticed.

“Look for a ‘natural’ place to set artwork, one that feels right and best creates the effect you are seeking,” said Philip Nash, a gold medal winner at the Chelsea Flower Show for his contemporary designs. “Is your sculpture meant to blend in with its surroundings or is to stand out?”

Formal English gardens prominently feature high-quality statuary, large urns or modern metalwork, such as this abstract sculpture of a woman, pictured here.

Annuals, Perennials, Bulbs and Flowering Shrubs

Both formal and informal English gardens contain a generous mix of annuals, perennials, bulbs, flowering shrubs and ornamental herbs. Formal gardens typically have larger groupings of fewer varieties, while informal ones blend many kinds of plants together in a similar sized space. 

The layered-planting technique is often employed in informal gardens. “The idea behind layered planting in the garden is to repeat the ecological patterns inherent in complex plant communities,” said designer Tom Stuart-Smith, who has garnered three Best of Show awards at Chelsea. “By adapting this natural pattern to a garden, it is possible to have different layers flowering at different times, usually with the lower layers flowering first.”

Informal English gardens contain a generous mix of annuals, perennials, bulbs, flowering shrubs and ornamental herbs repeated along the length of a border. This Hampton Court bed contains catmint (Nepeta x faassenii ‘Blue Wonder’), ornamental onions, columbine (Aquilegia x caerulea) and cushion spurge (Euphorbia polychroma).

The layered planting technique is often used in informal English gardens. Here, tall fritillarias are underplanted with white, orange and red tulips, yellow stock (Matthiola incana) and red and orange primroses.
The Layered Look. When using the layered planting technique in your garden, these kinds of plants will provide the English look:

Annuals: Pansies (Viola x wittrockiana), summer snapdragon (Angelonia angustifolia), stock (Matthiola incana).

Perennials: Tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), primroses (Primula spp.), English daisies (Bellis perennis), cranesbill (Geranium spp.), foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), delphinium (Delphinium elatum), lupines (Lupinus spp.), spike speedwell (Veronica spp.), columbine (Aquilegia spp.), poppies (Papaver orientalis), irises (several Iris species), wisteria (Wisteria frutescens, W. macrostachya), clematis (Clematis spp.).

Flowering Herbs: Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), catmint (Nepeta xfaassenii), bee balm (Monarda spp.).

Bulbs: Ornamental onion (Allium spp.), tulip (Tulipa spp.), fritillaria (Fritillaria imperialis), small camas (Camassia quamash).

Shrubs: Roses (Rosa spp.), azaleas and rhododendrons (Rhododendron spp.), boxwood (Buxus spp.), yew (Taxus spp.), hornbeam (Carpinus betulus).

Temperate Living

Island living is a breeze, so they say, and such is true on the temperate isle of the United Kingdom. Though you may picture England as cold and rainy, London is the equivalent of USDA Hardiness Zone 9. Snow is very rare and winters are very mild compared to the Midwest. As a result, they can grow just about anything in London.

When I visited in springtime, I was surprised to see that just as my lilacs (Syringa vulgaris), rhododendrons and azaleas and tulips were blooming at home, they also were blooming in London.

Blooming camellias (Camellia spp.) the size of trees, palms and other exotic plants we could only dream of growing were also thriving there. Everywhere we went we saw plants we’d never seen before, and new varieties of familiar ones, such as azaleas and primroses.

Although I cannot grow some of the plants I saw in London, it opened my eyes to the magnificent varieties of hardy perennials and shrubs there are in Europe that are not yet readily available in the Midwest. I’ll surely be inquiring about some of them from my favorite retailers next spring!

In temperate England, rhododendrons grow as big as trees!  In the Midwest, we can achieve a similar look with a saucer magnolia tree (Magnolia x soulangeana) underplanted with pink and purple azaleas and white rhododendrons and drumstick primroses (Primula denticulata).

When thinking of how you might incorporate English garden elements into your own Midwest landscape, remember that your garden is an expression of yourself, a home you create. As the 18th century literary genius Goethe exclaimed, “English gardens are not made to a plan, but to a feeling in the head.” If you ever visit London, don’t miss the chance to be inspired by its glorious gardens!

Plan Your Trip! Visit these outstanding London parks and gardens in six days:

Day One:
RHS Wisley Garden — Southwest London. Take the train to West Byfleet and then a taxi to the garden. Visiting this magnificent garden will take the entire day, but it is worth your time. It will set a very high standard for the rest of the gardens you’ll see this week. Be sure to leave enough time to check out the fantastic gift shop before it closes!

Day Two:
Chelsea Flower Show, Kensington Palace Gardens and Hyde Park — Central London. Take a double-decker bus (best views from the upper deck!) to the Royal Hospital Grounds in Chelsea. While at the Chelsea Flower Show, check out the incredible displays in the Great Pavilion — the gardening equivalent of New York City catwalks. When you tire of the crowds, head to the wide-open space of the Kensington Palace Gardens and the adjacent Hyde Park as you walk east, back toward central London.

Day Three:
Buckingham Palace Gardens, Green Park and St. James’s Park — Central London. All roads lead to Buckingham Palace, which lies in the heart of the royal Westminster area. Enjoy the day visiting the palace and the many gardens that surround it. Have a picnic lunch under the giant sycamore trees in St. James’s Park, but don’t feed the pigeons!

Day Four:
London Zoo and Regent’s Park — North Central London. Take the London Underground to Regent’s Park, where the famous London Zoo is set amid iconic British architecture and beautiful gardens. If walking back to Central London, stroll through the medieval village of Marylebone, where you’ll see impressive Georgian-style houses with lovely gardens.

Day Five:
Victoria Embankment Gardens and Hampton Court Palace and Gardens — Central and Southwest London. Before heading to the train station, walk through the Victoria Embankment gardens along the River Thames. Grab lunch there before catching the train to Hampton Court Palace and Gardens. When touring the palace, be sure to look out the windows for the best view of the large formal garden with hundreds of precisely trimmed yew topiaries, which represent soldiers in formation.

Day Six:
Kew Gardens — Southwest London. Take the train to Kew Bridge Station, about an hour outside of central London. Spend the day exploring the small village of Kew and the expansive 300-acre Royal Botanic Garden at Kew. You’ll marvel at the enormous Palm House, Japanese Garden and expansive collection of plants. If you’re not afraid of heights, take the Treetop Walkway through the magnificent canopy of mature trees. Instead of lunching at the crowded Kew cafe, head to the Kew Greenhouse Café just outside the gates for delectable homemade food.

The geometrically shaped formal beds at Kew Gardens are softened with a frothy layered planting of tulips, primroses, English daisies and violas.

From State-by-State Gardening November/December 2013. Photos by Susan Martin.


Posted: 07/23/14   RSS | Print


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Mailbox Gardens
by Patsy Bell Hobson       #Art   #Landscaping

No mowing, no weeding — just prune any winter damage to the rose each spring.

Mail boxes that stand at the end of the driveway are a “good morning sendoff” and the first “welcome home” we receive at the end of the day.

I have heard many people give directions to their homes that end with something along the lines of, “We are the mailbox with blue iris.”

Company and neighborhood walkers will instantly recognize your home by your little mailbox garden. Help first-time visitors or garage sale seekers know they are in the right spot with simple instructions. “We are the house in the middle of the block with the white mailbox and daisies.” Or, “Look for the mailbox with the red Knock Out roses.” As an added bonus, with a mailbox garden lawn weeds and the need to mow around the mailbox posts can be eliminated.

Mailbox art complements the soft color of the roses.

Use your current mailbox or upgrade to a new mailbox that is more up to date. Start your mailbox garden by making sure the mailbox is properly placed. Mailboxes must be placed according to very specific guidelines. Your landscape design must conform to these mailbox requirements. Place the roadside mailbox where a carrier can safely reach inside without leaving the truck. That means positioning it about 41 inches to 45 inches off the ground and back about 6-8 inches from the curb.

The Federal Highway Administration recommends a wooden mailbox support no bigger than 4 inches by 4 inches, or a 2-inch diameter standard steel or aluminum pipe. Bury the post no more than 24 inches deep, so it can give way in an accident.

First, outline or sketch out the area to be landscaped. Then remove any turf or sod by hand with a spade, with a sod cutter or with a weedwhacker. Next, cover that area with either landscape cloth or six to eight layers of overlapping sheets of newspaper. The purpose is to block out weeds and grass.

Then, the landscape cloth area is outlined with predrilled landscape timbers. The timbers are permanently stabilized by pounding in 1-foot rebar lengths through the predrilled timbers. You could also use concrete retaining wall blocks, which are readily available at garden centers or home improvement stores. Finally, finish the area by topping it with mulch or decorative rock.

Add a garage sale planter or a heavy, recycled flower pot to hold colorful annuals. Since this is a public area and the planter may disappear, don't choose a container that is valuable to you.

Two rows of 10 pavers each, two bags of potting soil and two six-packs of marigolds.

Make it is easy to follow the contours at mowing time.

Soon the petunias will tumble over the edges of the galvanized tub. Keep in mind, this container must be watered to keep it blooming all season

Chances are the mailbox garden is the farthest point from a faucet, watering can or hose. Keep your permanent plant selections to a few perennials that easily naturalize and require little or no care.

If you choose perennials, native plant selections or easily naturalized plants are a good choice. Plant iris, roses, daylilies or daffodils, all of which will continue to multiply and will not need regular fertilizer or water. Every three to five years, the little bed will need to be thinned.

You can also change your mailbox garden with the seasons. Dig a hole and drop in an empty liner or old empty plant container. This liner will remain as a permanent place holder for annual containers you can switch out. At the bottom of the hole, add a couple inches of mulch to promote drainage and retain moisture. Then drop in a small container or annuals — perhaps chrysanthemums for the fall, pansies in the spring and summer annuals like petunias for the summer.

Old-fashioned iris will continue to multiply to the driveway, stretching a block of color.

Only grow these sunflowers behind the mailbox and be prepared to prune branches that have gone astray.

Photos by Patsy Bell Hobson


Posted: 07/21/14   RSS | Print


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Midnight Marvel Rose Mallow
by Susan Martin       #Hot Plants

Midnight Marvel rose mallow is best used as a focal point, adding a flashy splash of color to the garden late in the season, when many other plants are past their prime.

If you’re looking for something to liven up your tired landscape in the dog days of summer when many other plants are past their peak, try the new Midnight Marvel rose mallow(Hibiscus hybrid). This breathtaking beauty will be the highlight of your garden with its dramatic wine-purple foliage and huge 8-9-inch round, deep scarlet red blossoms, which burst open from shiny, near-black buds.

Unlike its tropical cousins, rose mallow is a hardy perennial that is in its prime from summer through fall, going dormant in winter. It emerges late in the spring, often in late May in Michigan, but grows very quickly to form a bushy, shrub-like clump. When shopping for rose mallow, look for indeterminate blooming cultivars, which have buds all the way up the stem. These usually bloom for about three months beginning in mid to late July.

Common Name: Midnight Marvel rose mallow or perennial hibiscus

Botanical Name: Hibiscus ‘Midnight Marvel’

Type of Plant: Hardy perennial in USDA Zones 4-9

Bloom Time: Midsummer into early fall

Flower Color: Scarlet red

Size: 4 feet tall by 4  feet wide

Exposure: Full sun to light shade

Watering: Prefers consistent moisture. Water regularly for best results.

Soil: Any well-drained soil

When to Fertilize: Early summer, if desired

When to Prune: Cut back the woody stems in spring before new growth appears.

In Your Landscape: Leave plenty of space for this large perennial to grow into a beautiful single specimen.

From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue V. Photos courtesy of


Posted: 07/18/14   RSS | Print


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Bottlebrush Buckeye
by Joseph Tychonievich       #Hot Plants

These graceful rounded shrubs have beautiful, large, bold-textured foliage and elegant spikes of white flowers. That is enough to make you love the bottlebrush buckeye right there. Add the fact that it loves shade, resists deer AND blooms in midsummer when most shade gardens are looking a bit dull, and you’ve got yourself an essential plant. Oh, did I mention it is an Eastern U. S. native and has gorgeous yellow fall color? Yeah, you need this shrub. The growth habit is suckering, so it can slowly spread to form a large colony. Or, you can prune to keep it contained if you don’t have the space.


Common Name: Bottlebrush buckeye

Botanical Name: Aesculus parviflora

Color: White

Blooming Period: Late June to July

Type: Deciduous shrub

Size: 5 feet high and 6 to 8 feet wide

Exposure: Part shade to shade

Zone: 4-8

When to Plant: Spring or fall

Watering: Doesn’t require supplemental water once established.

When to Prune: After flowering in late summer or early fall

In Your Landscape: A graceful backdrop for a shade garden to provide summer interest. Bold leaves contrast well with the delicate textures of ferns.

From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue V. Photo by Joseph Tychonievich.


Posted: 07/11/14   RSS | Print


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Private Estate Embraces Nature’s Creative Edge
by Susan Martin       #Garden Profile

Nature’s Creative Edge host and floral designer Bob Friese, AIFD, relaxes in his woodland garden.

Nestled back in the woods of Fruitport, is a truly hidden gem unlike anything you’ve seen. Catch a glimpse just once and you’re sure to remember the experience. It’s called Nature’s Creative Edge, an outdoor exhibit of magical works of floral art woven through 5 acres of groomed woodlands.

The Nature’s Creative Edge event is held at the private, 100-acre estate of Bob Friese, once a prominent Chicago floral designer and professor of floral design. With world-renowned floral designer Hitomi Gilliam, they have taught budding designers how to create one-of-a-kind works of art using only things found in nature.

Dozens of floral designers and mixed media artists from Michigan to as far away as New Mexico make their way to Friese’s estate to assemble and exhibit their natural-made creations every year on the third weekend of September. In 2012, more than 1,000 event goers made their way into the woods to check out the artists’ work.

Each year brings a new theme for the artists, most of whom are members of the prestigious American Institute of Floral Design (AIFD). Past themes have included music, recycled materials, countries and last year’s theme of “Storybooks and Fairytales.” The 2013 theme was “Architectural Expressions,” floral designers’ concepts of a particular form of architecture, an architectural feature or a representation of a particular structure.

Artist Laura Parker, AIFD, interprets Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, including Max’s bedroom, sailboat and a “wild thing” swimming up the creek. 

The artists’ creations come alive in the evening when they are lit by candlelight. This interpretation of Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater is by Natalie, Anna and Eileen Carmolli. 

The floral artists are given the freedom to interpret the theme however they see fit using only all-natural materials, including all kinds of flowers, tropicals, vegetables, mosses, twigs, stones and more. The diversity among the artists is fascinating. In 2012, although some took a literal approach to the storybooks and fairytales theme, others chose to create more abstract works, which required onlookers to view more creatively to understand.

The Nature’s Creative Edge event is strategically open only from late afternoon through evening so the public will view the floral masterpieces as they were designed to be seen. Be sure to arrive while it is still light out and stay as evening falls to watch the exhibit in the woods come to life as thousands of candles are lit along the pathways and scattered amidst the works of art. The setting takes on an entirely different feel from day to night and you won’t want to miss either.

Longtime participant Debbie Strand, AIFD, interprets Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax using colorful mosses and tropical plants.

Arriving in late afternoon will also give you a chance to take a peek at Friese’s woodland garden, which he has been cultivating for the past decade. Enter through the pair of weeping blue junipers (Juniperus scopulorum ‘Tolleson’s Blue Weeping’) near the front porch. Note the healthy Korean dogwoods (Cornus kousa) skirted by hostas and hellebones(Helleborus spp.). Don’t miss Friese’s prize Koi pond, raised vegetable beds and rustic potting shed made from pieces of a disassembled barn. 

You might assume that deer would be a challenge for this woodland gardener, but Friese actually feeds the deer and not with his hostas. He finds that they prefer to stay down by the creek where wild vegetation and water is plentiful. “My philosophy is that if they don’t eat my plants, I won’t eat them,” says Friese. So far, deer have not been on the menu at the Friese household.

The seven dwarfs look on as Snow White faces off with her wicked stepmother in this floral translation by designer Debi Dawson, AIFD.

Nature’s Creative Edge is run by an all-volunteer staff who personify the 2012 event’s theme “Storybooks and Fairytales.” Pictured here is artist Bobbie Eckert (left) and Alice Waterous, AIFD, a Grand Haven, Mich., floral designer. 

Rapunzel, Rapunzel lets down her hair made of individually strung yellow rose petals in this dramatic interpretation by Susie Kostick, AIFD.

From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue IV. Photos by Susan Martin.


Posted: 07/09/14   RSS | Print


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Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’
by Joseph Tychonievich       #Hot Plants

If you know Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), you probably think of it as the weedy shrub that shows up along roadsides. ‘Quicksilver’ is a hybrid relative of that weed, decked out with astonishingly intense silver foliage that is absolutely breathtaking all summer. Like its weedy relative, it is insanely tough, tolerant of cold, heat and drought, the kind of plant you never need to worry about as long as you can give it a little sun. Luckily it is also sterile, so it doesn’t set seeds and never becomes an actual weed. Stick it in a difficult spot, watch it thrive and enjoy how strikingly the bright silver leaves set off the dark foliage and flowers of companion plants around it.

Common Name: Quick Silver russian olive

Botanical Name: Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’

Color: Silver

Type: Shrub

Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 though 9

Size: 6 by 6 feet

Exposure: Sun to part shade

When to Plant: Spring or fall

Soil: Any

Watering: None required once established

In Your Landscape: Silver foliage makes perfect backdrop for neighbors with dark foliage or flowers.

From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue IV. Photo courtesy of Joseph Tychonievich.


Posted: 07/04/14   RSS | Print


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A Plant Collector’s Landscape Design: Three Lessons Learned
by Joseph Tychonievich       #Landscaping

When I bought my last house, there was a half-dead rose bush, some stumps of dead arborvitaes and a lot of ugly fencing. I sold it last year after three and a half years, having created a garden in the front that I was rather pleased with. There are lots of tricks, rules and guidelines to making gardens, but here are three things that I feel helped me the most in creating this garden.

These lessons also will guide others who love and collect plants yet still need to have a respectable looking landscape.

Joseph Tychonievich’s former home (top), before he created garden beds (right).

Lesson One: Have a Nursery Bed

Nursery bed is what I call it, but I know people who call theirs an orphanage or, most poetically, Plopper’s Field. Whatever you call it, it is an out-of-the-way place where you can put plants that don’t have a home. I’m an obsessive plant collector, always buying new things to experiment with and see how they do.

Before, they’d always wind up in my landscape somewhere, creating a random patchwork of one of this and one of that, half of which weren’t really adapted to my climate, and none of which really looked much like a garden. Now when I pick up a plant that I don’t know what to do with or am not sure will actually grow well for me, it goes in the nursery bed, leaving my actual landscaping open for plants that I know will perform and look good together.

Plant lovers should establish a section of their landscape for a nursery bed, Plopper’s Field or other holding area for plants purchased on impulse to trial before moving to their permanent landscape home.

Large, lavender alliums (Allium giganteum) contrast nicely with the texture of the bold-leaf cardoon (Cynara cardunculus). Sprays of bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’) add a bit of froth.

Lesson Two: More is More

The oft-repeated rule is to plant no fewer than three of each plant and it is a good one. My personal variant on it is to plant most things in groups of at least six, and repeat those main plants many times throughout the bed.

In one garden, bold, silver-leaved cardoons; dark, ferny bronze fennel; and sweeps of bulbs are repeated throughout the space, making the garden hang together and look intentional. With the theme of the bed established, clumps of solo plants — a crocosmia here, a bearded iris there — look like well-planned accents, rather than the plant nerd’s impulse purchases they actually are.

Lesson Three: Less is Also More

I’m not a confident designer and the easiest way I’ve found to make a grouping of plants that looks good together is to simply forbid myself certain colors. In this bed, the forbidden colors are yellow and orange (with the exception of the orange tulip ‘Princess Irene’, which I simply love too much to ever forbid from any garden space for any reason) both in flowers and in foliage. The end result is harmonious and feels surprisingly sophisticated, and didn’t require any deep thought or color schemes on my part.

The only orange allowed in the front garden are the ‘Princess Irene’ tulips (Tulipa). Editing color is one way to make a bed cohesive.

The summer garden is a mix of textures and plants, which punctuate the scene, such as the red flowers of Crocosmia.

From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue IV. Photos by Joseph Tychonievich.


Posted: 07/02/14   RSS | Print


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Grow Your Own Cutting Garden in as Little as 32 Square Feet
by Barbara Eaton, M.Ed.       #Advice

If you’re like me, you never tire of having fresh flowers in the house, and the more grand the floral arrangement, the better.

The solution for me has been planting a dedicated cutting garden. In a sunny spot as small as 32 square feet (a space 4 feet by 8 feet), a well-planned cutting garden can produce enough blooms to keep me sated all season long. If you have a spot that is tucked away behind a garage or in a remote corner of your property where it is not highly visible, you can cut away and not spoil your perfect floral landscape.

In August, this 32-square-foot cutting garden features a wide variety of flower shapes, colors and textures of both annuals and perennials.

In late September, the same garden boasts white and deep pink cosmos, pink dahlias, red zinnias. In the center back you can see some feathery asparagus foliage that provides some delicate touches to bouquets.

Don’t underestimate the value of shorter varieties, which can make beautiful “mini-bouquets” that are very attractive for table centerpieces. My mini-bouquets, which feature mint for fragrance, are my best-selling item at farmers’ markets, and are the perfect size for small bathrooms or bedside tables. Herbs of any kind can be added to your bouquets to create a natural air-freshener.

Look for the cultivars listed below at your local garden centers or hire a local greenhouse to start some from your own seeds. I have a greenhouse owner start my snapdragons in late February; ageratum, cosmos, zinnias and sunflowers in April. I direct sow my larkspurs outdoors in fall or early April.

When purchasing annual flower plants, choose plants that are not mature, and have not yet begun blooming. If annuals are already blooming in their small containers they are likely stunted. These plants often never recover to grow as large and lush as they should and remain spindly and small. This is particularly true for snapdragons. Make sure you harden off any plants that have come from a greenhouse, or shade them from the bright sun (with an inverted flower pot or a paper bag) after you put them in the ground for a day or two. I still shade almost everything I plant for at least two days unless the weather is very cloudy and cool.

The basic design rules for ornamental plantings apply. Plant taller cultivars to the north of other plants so they won’t shade the shorter ones. Taller flowers such as sunflowers, cosmos and zinnias will need staking. Planting these flowers against a fence for support or in tomato cages can minimize the need to tie up plants. Even some of the medium-height flowers may need some staking to keep them from being knocked down by heavy rains.

This is a list of many great bloomers, both perennial and annual varieties, all of which I have grown in Zone 5. If you are in warmer zones, you have many more varieties to choose from. Seed catalogs often tell you if a cultivar is a good cutting variety. If they don’t, you can usually find that information with a quick internet search.

  • Zinnia: (Annual) Choose easy-to-grow, time-tested varieties like ‘Cut and Come Again’, ‘Will Rogers’ and ‘Lavender Queen’. For a slightly smaller, shorter zinnia try ‘Lilliput’.
  • Cosmos: (Annual) A mid to late season annual. Best varieties for maximum blooms are ‘Bright Lights’ and ‘Sensation Mixed’. There are many new multi-colored and double flowered varieties.

  • These two fabulous annuals are Burpees' ‘French Vanilla’ marigold and ‘Horizon Blue’ ageratum. Both are easy to grow and will supply an abundance of flowers continuously from July until frost.
    Marigolds (Tagetes spp.): (Annual) Try some of the taller varieties like the pale yellow ‘French Vanilla’ and ‘Red Metamorph’.
  • Branching Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus): (Annual) Good choices include ‘Pan’, ‘Sonja’, ‘Evening Sun’, ‘Lemon Queen’ and ‘Tiger Eye’. Pollen-less varieties are available and are often spectacular, but they rarely produce more than one flower.
  • Coreopsis: (Perennial) I especially love the relatively new pale yellow cultivars that cover themselves with dozens of blooms all summer and into fall.
  • Gaillardias: (Perennial) These are cheery, hardy bloomers are now available in several great colors. This is another flower that keeps on giving over a very long season.
  • Chrysanthemum: (Perennial) This is fall bloomer that will yield a plethora of blooms right up until the hard frosts. If you buy plants in the fall, be sure to get them in the ground early enough while there is still enough warm weather to allow their roosts to get established.
  • Sage or salvia: (Perennial and Annual) ‘May Night’, rose sage (Salvia pachyphylla) and meadow sage (Salvia pratensis) are perennials that will bloom twice and sometimes three times in warmer zones.
  • Buddleia or butterfly bush: (Perennial Shrub) A tall continuous-blooming shrub that is hardy and won't take up a great deal of space. Shorter dwarf varieties are now available.
  • Hydrangeas: (Perennial Shrub) There are many varieties and most thrive in partial shade or a half-day of shade. Varieties that are great in full sun are ‘Tardiva’ and ‘Pink Diamond’. When choosing hydrangeas for cutting, check the cultivar to be sure it is one that will bloom each year on new wood.
  • Lillies (Lilium spp.): (Perennial) Both Asiatic and Oriental species are spectacular cut flowers that will grow from the same bulb year after year.Snapdragons (Antirrhinum spp.): (Annual) The best snapdragons I have found for repeat blooming are the Ribbon series, which are a naturally branching variety. The new Twinny series, although they are short, have a fairly long bloom season and the blooms are large. ‘Black Prince’ is a great rebloomer, too. Snaps do not thrive in hot dry weather, but can be planted in partly shaded locations.
  • Ageratum: (Annual) For beautiful foliage and continuous blooms, Ageratum ‘Blue Horizon’ really delivers. It is a tall variety reaching 30 inches by the end of the season. Its attractive, thick foliage can be used as filler in the vase and to artfully hide the foliage of other flowers when it begins to turn brown. This variety is rarely available at garden centers, but you can buy seeds and start your own. It is easy to grow but needs very warm weather to germinate.
  • Larkspur (Consolida ajacis): (Annual) For a vivid blue-purple, think about the annual ‘Sublime Dark Blue’. Although they have a relatively short bloom time, they are tall, slender plants with fine foliage and they won’t take up much space in your garden. Best of all, they germinate readily if planted in very cool weather and will reseed themselves; so if you learn to recognize the small seedlings and refrain from weeding them, you'll have volunteers year after year.

  • For grand-scale bouquets, dahlias and hydrangeas will deliver. Also, great choices  for large-scale floral design are lilies, peonies and sunflowers.
    Dahlias: (Perennial) Wonders never cease! This family is perhaps the most prolific in its ability to generate new blooms every day. Although not long-lived in the vase, their perfect symmetry is truly inspiring to behold. This flower grows from a tuber, which must be dug up before it freezes and stored dry through winter at temperatures above freezing. Dahlias come in varying heights with small, medium or dinner-plate sized blooms.
  • Peonies: (Perennial) For big, fragrant blooms, peonies can’t be beat. They flower only once in late spring.
  • Ornamental grasses: (Perennial) Most of the ornamental grasses yield interesting feathery flower tops that work well in bouquets. Be sure to check the specifications to be sure the varieties you choose will be perennial in your zone.
  • Ornamental grains: The deep burgundy spikes featured in my small garden are a variety of ornamental amaranth, one of my favorite items to add interest and texture to my bouquets. A relatively small, annual variety that self-seeds is ‘Marvel Bronze’, which is a dark red and very attractive. However, it does droop in very hot weather.
  • For shade, Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis), astilbe, Siberian iris (Iris sibirica) and small hydrangeas, all of which are perennials, will perform well in the vase. 
  • Spring-blooming bulbs: (Perennials) Although it's too late to plant bulbs for this spring, plan now for fall when you can nestle spring-blooming bulbs deep in the soil in places where your annuals have gone to seed. Good cut flower choices are daffodils and other Narcissus spp., alliums, Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica), hyacinths (Hyacinthus spp.) and tulips (Tulipa spp.). Bulbs can be planted very close to perennials and around the base of small shrubs or climbing vines. Even shorter flowers such as grape hyacinths (Muscari spp.) are great for little bouquets.

Now all you need are a few vases, and you will be ready to bring the beauty indoors.

Short varieties can be used to make cheerful mini-bouquets that fit perfectly into a coffee mug. This one features a red dahlia, red zinnias, ‘French Vanilla’ marigolds, ‘Creme Brulee’ coreopsis, and mint for filler and fragrance.

This mini-bouquet contrasts a white hydrangea against the dark red cosmos and spikes of Amaranth ‘Marvel Bronze’.

This bright beautiful bouquet came from the October garden. The tiny lavender floret is Verbena bonariensis, which may be perennial in Zone 6 or in a protected place in Zone 5.

Photos by Barbara Eaton.


Posted: 06/30/14   RSS | Print


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Monarda ‘Pardon My Pink’ and ‘Pardon My Purple’
by Susan Martin       #Hot Plants

The cheerful pink flowers of ‘Pardon My Pink’ bee balm (Monarda didyma) attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

At just under a foot tall, ‘Pardon My Purple’ bee balm (Monarda didyma) is the perfect size for patio containers.

Gardeners have long had a love/hate relationship with bee balm (Monarda spp.). The fragrant perennial herb attracts butterflies and hummingbirds like crazy, but also tends to get powdery mildew and take over the garden. That is, until now. 

There’s a new set of bee balms that offers everything you love and nothing you hate about these pretty summer bloomers. Introducing ‘Pardon My Pink’ and ‘Pardon My Purple’. These dwarf selections stay put in the garden and resist disease with all their might. Although they only grow 12 inches tall, their flowers are as big as those on taller varieties. And these never need staking. 



Common Name: Bee balm or bergamot

Botanical Name: Monarda didyma ‘Pardon My Pink’ and ‘Pardon My Purple’

Type of Plant: Perennial herb

Hardiness Zone: 4 through 9

Bloom Time: Midsummer through late summer

Flower Color: Bright pink, fuchsia purple

Size: 10 to 12 inches tall, 8 to 12 inches wide

Exposure: Full sun to light shade

Watering: Average to consistent moisture required.

Soil: Best in organically enriched soils.

When to Fertilize: Fertilize lightly in early spring.

When to Prune: Not required

In Your Landscape: Adds a cheerful splash of color to the front of the border. Try them in containers or in the garden paired with black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia spp.) and tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata).

From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue IV. Photos courtesy of


Posted: 06/27/14   RSS | Print


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by Laura G. Jull       #Feature

Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’ 1

What other plant captivates your senses and evokes fond memories of springtime more than lilacs? The intense fragrance of their large, beautiful flowers and their relative ease of care, make lilacs treasured throughout the temperate world. They bring us a few weeks of fabulous color and fragrance each year, but their loveliness and charm leave lifetime memories.

Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’ lilac is considered one of the best dwarf lilacs on the market.1

Lilacs (Syringa spp.) come in all different shapes and sizes from dwarf forms only 4 to 5 feet tall, to lilac trees, 25 to 30 feet tall. Lilacs can be mixed in the border with other deciduous shrubs, conifers, herbaceous perennials, bulbs, ground covers and annuals to extend and enhance the season of color.

Tree lilacs make terrific, urban-tolerant street trees, which offer shade on hot summer days. Smaller, slower-growing lilacs are perfect for most residential landscapes. They can be used in shrub beds or as foundation plants. They can also be planted in containers and placed on decks and patios. Lilacs tolerate very cold winters, hot summers, humidity and almost any well-drained soil. They do require full sun for good flower bud set.

Care of Lilacs

Lilacs require at least six hours of direct sunlight a day during the growing season to properly set flower buds for the following spring. The amount of sunlight determines the plant’s appearance and quantity of flowers. Lilacs planted in too much shade will either flower poorly or not at all. Do not crowd lilacs because they will grow tall and leggy with sparse flowering. The planting site should be large enough to accommodate the full-grown root system and the mature height and spread of the plant.

Some lilacs are prone to diseases, especially powdery mildew, which appears as white powder on the leaves. Spores of the fungus are most active when the weather is hot and humid and the air is stagnant. Certain species and cultivars of lilac are more susceptible than others to powdery mildew. It is important when selecting and planting lilacs to choose resistant varieties and plant them in full sun with good air flow to minimize these disease.

Lilacs are tolerant of a wide range of pH and soil conditions, but require good drainage. Poorly drained soil will result in little growth, poor flowering and gradual deterioration. This decline occurs over several years. If the soil is poorly drained, consider improving it with the addition of topsoil or organic matter (peat, composted leaf mulch or compost) to the planting hole or plant in raised beds with good soil.

Water and Fertilizer

Newly planted lilacs should be watered two to three times a week for the first month. After the first month, they should be watered deeply once a week. During periods of hot, dry weather, watering may need to be done more frequently. Most trees and shrubs benefit from 1 inch of water a week during the growing season, but do not over water lilacs because root diseases may develop.

Do not fertilize newly planted lilacs. Plants first need to establish a developed root system to support further growth. After this time, perhaps for two or three years, fertilization may be needed if the plant does not begin to grow more vigorously. A soil test should be performed to determine if phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) are limited. If so, a complete fertilizer such as 5-10-5 or 10-10-10 may be applied at the base of the plant, following labeled application rates. Do not over fertilize or use fertilizers containing high levels of nitrogen (N). This can cause excessive shoot and foliage growth at the expense of flower bud development. Apply any necessary fertilizer after the spring- flowering period.

Add a 2-to-3 inch layer of loose mulch around the base of the plant to help retain the soil moisture, keep the roots cool and suppress weed development. Take care to keep the mulch away from the trunk of the tree or basal portions of shrub stems to enable good air circulation. Otherwise, disease infections, pest infestations and damage by rodents may occur where the mulch is piled to closely to the bark.


Pruning lilacs will depend on bloom period, growth pattern and location. Newly planted lilacs will not need much pruning for the first two to three years. Established lilacs are usually best pruned during the late dormant season, typically March or early April. This time of year allows for ease in pruning because you can see what you are doing, there is less insect and disease activity and pruning wounds close more quickly with the onset of spring growth. However, pruning at this time will sacrifice some display because you are removing flower buds. Pruning can also be done immediately after flowering, if you do not want to sacrifice any blooms. However, if you wait too long into the summer to prune, you will remove next year’s flower buds.

Syringa vulgaris ‘Frederick Law Olmstead’ 1

Lilacs that sucker readily, such as common and early lilacs (S. vulgaris and S. xhyacinthiflora) should receive renewal pruning about every two to three years. Older, larger diameter branches tend to have reduced vigor and produce fewer flowers concentrated mainly at the tops of the branches – too tall to enjoy their beauty or fragrance. Larger branches are also more prone to lilac borer infestation at their base. This insect makes its way into the branch cambium and wood. As the insect eats the wood, the branch becomes weaker, leaves yellow and the branch begins to die. Few, if any, flowers are produced the following years. The best way to control this insect pest is to periodically cut the infested, weakened branches out.

Renewal pruning involves removal of around one-third of the largest diameter branches down to ground level with a pruning saw or loppers. Removal of these larger branches greater than 1  inch in diameter promotes new shoot development at the base of the plant.

Renewal pruning allows the lilac to continue to flower vigorously each year and maintains the size of the plant. Vigorous young growth generally produces larger and more numerous flowers compared to the older, larger diameter branches.

Prompt deadheading of faded blooms will improve a plant’s appearance and help the lilac concentrate its energy into flower bud formation and not on seed production. For smaller lilacs that do not sucker, renewal—pruning is unnecessary, only annual shaping of the plant may be needed.

For those interested in learning more about lilacs, consider joining the International Lilac Society (ILS) at

Sampler of small to medium-sized lilacs for home gardens and containers. Most of these bloom mid- to late May.

Syringax hyacinthiflora: early flowering lilac in early May, suckering, hardy to Zone 3a

‘Declaration’: single dark reddish-purple flowers 7 to 8 ft. tall, 6 to 7 ft. wide, deep burgundy fall color hardy to Zone 4b*
‘Excel’: single, bluish-pink to lilac-lavender flowers; 6 to 8 ft. tall and wide; burgundy-red fall color*
’Sister Justina’: single, pure white flowers; 8 ft. tall and wide*

Syringa oblatavars. dilatata ‘Cheyenne’: early Korean lilac with single, light blue flowers in early May: 6 to 8 ft. tall, 8 to 10 ft. wide; suckering; burgundy-red fall color; hardy to Zone 3a*

Syringa FairytaleSeries®: 4 to 6 ft. tall, 5 to 6 ft. wide; nonsuckering; hardy to Zone 5a and can rebloom sporadically in summer
‘Bailbelle’ Tinkerbelle®: single, deep pink flowers fading to medium pink*
‘Bailina’ Thumbelina®: single, light pink flowers fading to white*
‘Bailming’ Prince Charming®: single, reddish-purple flowers fading to lavender-pink*
‘Bailsugar’ Sugar Plum Fairy®: single, rosy-lilac pink flowers*

‘Josée’ (S. ‘MORjos 060F ‘): single, light lavender pink to deep rose flowers fading to a lighter rose color; can rebloom sporadically in summer; 4 to 6 ft. tall, 5 to 6 ft. wide; non-suckering, hardy to Zone 4a*

Syringax laciniata, cutleaf lilac: single, light lavender flowers; 5 to 6 ft. tall, 8 to 10 ft. wide; suckering; hardy to Zone 4b*

Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’: single, dark pinkish to light purple flowers; can rebloom sporadically in summer; 4 to 5 ft. tall, 5 to 6 ft. wide; nonsuckering; maroon-purple fall color; hardy to Zone 4a*

Syringa pubescens subsp. julianae, Juliana lilac: nonsuckering, hardy to Zone 3b
‘George Eastman’: bright reddish-pink flowers fading to lighter pink, 6 to 8 ft. tall and wide*
‘Hers’: single, lavender to pinkish flowers; semi-weeping form; 5 to 6 ft. tall, 10 to 12 ft. wide*
‘Karen’: single, fragrant, white to soft light pink flowers; 5 to 6 ft. tall and wide*

Syringa pubescens subsp. microphylla ‘Superba’: single, rosy-pink flowers fading to lighter pink flowers; can rebloom sporadically in summer; 5 to 7 ft. tall, 8 to 10 ft. wide; nonsuckering, hardy to Zone 5a*

Syringa pubescens subsp. patula ‘Miss Kim’: single, light lilac-violet to lavender flowers; 6 to 8 ft. tall and wide; nonsuckering; burgundy fall color; hardy to Zone 3b*

Syringa pubescens subsp. patula ‘Miss Kim’ 1

Syringa ‘Red Pixie’: single, dark reddish-pink to magenta flowers fading to light pink; can rebloom sporadically in summer; 4 to 6 ft. tall, 5 to 6 ft. wide; nonsuckering, hardy to Zone 4a*

Syringa vulgaris: common lilac, suckering, all hardy to Zone 3a
‘Albert F. Holden’: single, deep violet to purple flowers; 6 to 8 ft. tall and 8 ft. wide
‘Alvan R. Grant’: single, purple, cupped flowers; 6 to 8 ft. tall and wide
‘Arch McKean’: single, dark reddish-purple to dark magenta flowers; 8 ft. tall and wide; fewer suckers*
‘Fiala Remembrance’: double, satiny, creamy-white flowers; 6 to 8 ft. tall, 8 ft. wide; fewer suckers*
‘Flower City’: single, deep violet-purple, cupped flowers; 8 ft. tall and wide*
‘Frederick Law Olmsted’: single, satiny, white flowers; 5 to 7 ft. tall and wide*
‘Lucie Baltet’: single, light coral pink flowers; 6 to 8 ft. tall, 8 ft. wide*
‘Marie Frances’: single, pink flowers; 6 to 8 ft. tall and wide*
‘Prairie Petite’: smaller, single, lavender-purple flowers; very compact; 3 to 4 ft. tall and wide
‘Rochester’: single, creamy-white, multi-petaled flowers; 6 to 8 ft. tall, 8 to 10 ft. wide*
‘Wedgwood Blue’: single, Wedgwood blue flowers; 8 ft. tall, 6 to 8 ft. wide
‘Wonderblue’, aka ‘Little Boy Blue’: single, sky-blue flowers; 5 to 6 ft. tall and wide*
‘Yankee Doodle’: single, large, very dark purple flowers; 6 to 8 fet tall and wide

vulgaris ‘Yankee Doodle’ 1

Syringa vulgaris ‘Wonderblue’ 2

Syringa (Villosae Group) ‘Minuet’: flowers in late May to early June; single, light lavender-purple flowers; 6 to 7 ft. tall, 4 to 6 ft. wide; nonsuckering, hardy to Zone 3b*

*Indicates resistant to powdery mildew.


1. Photo courtesy of Laura G. Jull.
2. Photo courtesy of Knight Hollow Nursery.

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


Posted: 06/25/14   RSS | Print


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Double Zahara Fire
by Mark A. Konlock       #Hot Plants

Double Zahara Fire and Cherry zinnias make a winning combination.

Common Name: Double Zahara Fire and Double Zahara Cherry zinnias

Botanical Name: Zinnia marylandica ‘Pas553645’ (Double Zahara Fire and Double Zahara Cherry)

Cultivars to Look For: Also Double Zahara Strawberry ‘Pas553643’

Color: Fire is orange, Cherry is magenta, and Strawberry is magenta with whitish inner petals.

Blooming Period: Early summer into fall

Type: Annual, not winter hardy

Size: 12 to 14 inches tall and 12 inches wide

Exposure: Full sun

When to Plant: Start seeds indoors four to six weeks before the last frost, or directly after. Or buy transplants.

How to Plant: Lightly cover seed, water in, follow seed pack instructions

Soil: Average garden soil

Watering: 1 inch per week including rainfall; fairly drought tolerant

When to Fertilize: Prepare planting bed with 1 inch of compost, or use a slow-release fertilizer per package.

In Your Landscape: Plant in masses, among perennials, in containers or cottage and cutting gardens.

From Wisconsin Gardening Volume II Issue III. Photos courtesy of Mark A. Konlock.


Posted: 06/20/14   RSS | Print


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Selecting Woody Plants for an Edible Landscape
by Patti Marie Travioli       #Feature

With careful selection, your landscape can be beautiful while also providing you with a bountiful harvest. Apples, pears, peaches and plums have their place in the edible landscape, but you may enjoy growing minor fruit crops or newer introductions, as well. Consider your site and growing conditions before adding these common to unusual woody plants to your landscape.


My all-time favorite edible woody plant is the highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum). Hardy in Zones 3 to 7, it has a naturally oval to rounded shape that can grow up to 8 feet tall under ideal conditions. 

The white urn-shaped flowers bloom in spring and look like ringing bells as bees visit them. You need to plant at least two varieties for optimum pollination and fruit set. This antioxidant-rich berry has many cultivars, which produce early, mid and late season. Blueberries are eaten fresh, used in jams, pies and baked goods. 

They are easy to freeze for use in the later winter months. They prefer an acidic soil with a pH ranging from 4.5 to 5.5, so plant them with other acid-loving plants. Amend your soil to reduce pH as necessary. Depending on the variety, the blueberry’s brilliant bright red-orange color makes a bold statement in the autumn landscape.   

Highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) provide brilliant autumn color. 1

Paw paw tree flower. 2


A multistemmed shrub or small tree producing an almost tropical-type fruit is the pawpaw (Asimina triloba). Favored by many, paw paws are native to the eastern United States and are hardy in USDA Zones 5 through 8. 

Naturally growing as an understory tree 15 to 20 feet tall, pawpaw prefers early morning sun, but will tolerate full sun. Inconspicuous maroon-colored flowers appear in spring before the large showy leaves unfold, making this an attractive choice for the landscape. You will need at least two unrelated trees for pollination. In nature pawpaws tend to form colonies in moist soils near rivers. 

Fruits begin to ripen in early fall turning a yellowish-brown black. The flesh resembles a banana with a creamy texture and similar flavor. Eat these fresh because they don’t have much of a shelf life.

Harvesting the whole fruit cluster from this elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) will ensure less damage to fruits. 3


Another native species to grow in your landscape is the elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), which produces a cluster of beautiful, purple fruits high in vitamin C, starting in late August. S. nigra is the European species of elderberry.

These fruits, used fresh or dried, are highly valued by Native Americans for medicinal and food use and to make wine, pies, jams and sauces. Elderberry is considered a small tree or a large shrub growing 5 to 12 feet tall, depending on the species. Elderberry is the 2013 Herb of the Year.

Elderberry is quite winter hardy and have a wide range growing in Zones 3 through 9. Pruning out old canes is the most common task a gardener will need to perform during the dormant season to make elderberry a good border or background shrub. Without pruning, the plant may tend to have a wild look. Do not eat the fruit from Sambucus racemosavarieties, which produces a red berry. This fruit is toxic.

Goji Berry

Newest for the edible landscape is the goji berry (Lycium barbarum). Native to China, it is hardy from Zones 5 to 8, with some cultivars showing promise in Zone 3. This shrub can grow 8 to 10 feet tall and 5 to 7 feet wide. It can be pruned to grow on an arbor or trellis, or planted in a container to keep small and to control growth. 

Some gardeners have had success overwintering these plants left in the container. Goji berry prefers an average soil pH of 7.0 and likes to grow in full sun. Its purple inflorescence easily identifies it as a member of the nightshade (Solanaceae)family.         

The little teardrop-shaped orange berry is about the size of a small pea. It has become one of the most popular “super fruits,” high in antioxidants. The fruit, which has a slight tomato flavor, can be eaten fresh or dried. Look for new introductions from breeders and specialty growers this year if you haven’t seen goji berries in your local garden centers.

Goji berry (Lycium barbarum) flowers are similar to others in the Solanacea, or nightshade family. The small orange fruits of the goji berry (Lycium barbarum) are high in antioxidants. 3

When selecting woody plants for your garden, consider choosing plants that offer an edible option, as well as adding natural beauty to your landscape. Many species that are native to your region already provide edibles that have been gathered and used throughout history. Finding the right plant for your landscape style is the best place to start.

More Edible Woody Plants To Try:

Check with your local garden center, conserv-ation organization or state extension for varieties or cultivars that are best suited for your region. If you can’t find plants locally, explore the Internet for mail-order retailers.

· Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana): Large, 30-foot tall tree; fruits for fresh eating; Zones 4-9.

· Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas): Small tree; fruits eaten fresh or in jams; Zones 2-7.

· Saskatoon serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia): Small tree or large shrub; fruits for jams; Zones 2-7.

· Hardy kiwi (Actinidia arguta): Perennial vine; need male and female plant; Zones 4-8.

Saskatoon bears fruit in summer. 4

Persimmon fruit is frequently used in pie. 5

Hardy kiwi grows on a vine. 6


1. Photo courtesy of Patti Marie Travioli
2. Photo courtesy of Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
3. Photo courtesy of Patti Marie Travioli
4. Photo courtesy of Scott Prokop/Fotolia
5. Photo courtesy of Wasowski Collection/
6. Photo courtesy of Park Seed

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


Posted: 06/18/14   RSS | Print


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Updating an Overgrown Landscape
by Lisa Steinkopf       #Landscaping

The finished job shows off the beauty of the home instead of covering it up.

As some landscapes age, they begin to look overgrown and unattractive. Many times the landscaping was done incorrectly, resulting in the need for a new landscape sooner than would have otherwise been needed.

This Michigan landscape was installed less than 15 years ago. In this instance, the plants were encroaching on each other and the house. When new homes are built, occasionally the builder may landscape the home instead of hiring a professional landscape contractor. This can result in a landscape that may look good in the beginning, but is definitely not attractive a few years later. The wrong plants are used or they are planted too close to the house, a driveway or sidewalk.

Right Plant Right Place

Knowing the mature size of a plant or shrub is a critical part of the landscaping process. At this home, the crabapple tree (Malus spp.) was planted 5   feet from the corner of the house. The mature size is 20 feet wide, so you can see the problem. The homeowner has been fighting a losing battle trying to keep the crabapple off his home.

The junipers(Juniperus spp.) were hiding the windows and had grown together and into the bird’s nest spruce (Picea abies ‘Nidiformis’) next to them. The Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas) tree grew too large for the spot it was planted in and, because it was leaning toward the light, was blocking the sidewalk.

This homeowner wanted a complete redesign, incorporating lots of color and not a lot of maintenance.

The crabapple had overgrown its space.

Get A Plan

The first step was to draw a plan that included removing all the plants and starting with a blank slate. All the plants were pulled out and the bed lines were enlarged and reshaped. Plants were chosen so that when full grown, they would fill in but not overcrowd the area.

The customer chose a Cleveland Select ornamental pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Cleveland Select’, syn. ‘Chanticleer’) as a replacement for the crabapple. The planting bed was enlarged so the tree trunk would be about 12 feet from the house. When full grown, it should not touch the house. The tree is surrounded with Red Drift roses (Rosa ‘Meigalpio’), which are low growing, low maintenance and provide color all summer. A hedge of Winter Gem boxwoods (Buxus microphylla var.japonica ‘Winter Gem’) was added, to tie the two sides of the sidewalk together. These evergreen boxwoods will add some winter interest. We made sure to plant the boxwoods so the hedge would be level. This, quite often, is a problem with installing a hedge. Uneven hedges that undulate up and down ruin an otherwise attractive landscape.

A view from the side shows the hedge curving behind the bed of Red Drift roses surrounding the Cleveland Select ornamental pear.

Incrediball hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Abetwo’) was used behind the hedge under the windows to add some color to the landscape without covering the windows or impeding the view. These hydrangeas are an improved form of the  ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea, having larger flowers and stronger stems to hold them up.

A tree-form Pink Winky hydrangea (H. paniculata ‘Dvppinky’) was used in the area where the Cornelian cherry dogwood was. This will give the clients some privacy on their porch but not completely cover the area.

Rozanne geranium (Geranium ‘Gerwat’) was used under the tree and Knock Out roses were planted behind the hedge for beautiful summer color. A burgundy weeping Japanese maple (Acer palmatum cvr.) will also add color, breaking up the monotony of the green foliage. Japanese forest grass, (Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’) went under the maple to add a bright graceful cascade.

The Japanese maple under planted with the ‘All Gold’ Japanese forest grass.

Another problem that was addressed was the unattractive downspouts in the landscape beds. A trench was dug from the downspout to the outer edge of the bed. We attached drain tile to the downspout. Then, we attached to a pop-up emitter that is flush with the soil. When it rains, the force of the water pushes the top of the emitter up, allowing the water to flow into the grass and not create erosion in the mulched landscape beds. Using this system also directs water away from the house, ensuring water is not collecting near the foundation.

Black plastic edging is a very popular choice for the typical homeowner. As you can see, this is an unattractive and obtrusive edging choice. It can heave out of the ground and most often, does not do the job it was intended to do, which is to keep the soil and mulch in and the grass out of the landscape beds. Using a natural edge is a much more attractive choice. Edging once a year is effective in keeping the grass at bay and the mulch where it belongs.

Landscape fabric is never a good idea. It impedes water from getting to the plant roots and it doesn’t allow air to get to the roots adequately, which can cause soil to become compacted.

Plastic landscaping edging is unattractive and obtrusive.

As you can see, this landscape is much more open and modern. The homeowners are absolutely thrilled with their new landscape. It gave them the color and low maintenance they were looking for. The beauty of the house is revealed and allows more light to come into the home. These photos were actually taken the day the job was finished. With minimal maintenance it will look gorgeous for years to come.

Give Plants A Good Soaking

Soaker hoses were installed so that each plant will receive adequate water.
When installing a new planting, the best way to make sure plants get established is by watering them well. Soaker hoses are one of the best ways to ensure plants get adequate water to their root systems. These hoses are made of recycled rubber, and unlike a normal garden hose, are full of holes. The water seeps out of these holes and slowly soaks into the ground around the root systems, exactly where the plants need it. Lay mulch over the top of the hoses to hide them and to reduce evaporation.

Trying to adjust sprinkler heads to hit every plant can be challenging and quite often wastes water. Attaching the hose to a timer doubles the efficiency of the soaker-hose watering system. The watering is consistent and the homeowner doesn’t have to worry about turning it on and off.

Run the soaker hose twice a week, check to see if your soil has been well hydrated several inches deep and then adjust the time you run them according to your soil conditions.


From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue V. Photos by Lisa Steinkopf.


Posted: 06/16/14   RSS | Print


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Garden Mailbox
by Patsy Bell Hobson       #Tools

A green mailbox blends right into the garden environment.

The Tiny Tool Shed

Pruners are handy when you just have a small job that is not worth a trip to the garage or garden shed.

Plant a mailbox in the garden and you can keep garden tools in the garden, right where you need them.

When the old mailboxes were replaced in the neighborhood, they were recycled into small “onsite garden storage units.” The garden mailbox is a good gathering place for storing garden tools and accessories. It could save you endless trips to the shed or garage for a garden tool.

As a reference point, the typical mailbox mounting height is between 40-44 inches, according to the United States Post Office. But you can place your mailbox toolbox as high or a low as you choose.

Choose a site for your mailbox post. Then call the utility companies to make sure it is safe to dig in that spot. Find your state's "One Call" number — check online, in the front of a phone book or call 811, the national Call Before You Dig number to call before digging. (See sidebar.)

Multitasking Mailboxes

If the right garden tool is handy, it's more likely that the task will be completed. This time of the year, you should always keep a ball of garden twine and pruners in the mailbox so you can keep control of those unwieldy tomato vines.

Add a hose hanger onto the sturdy mailbox post. Include a cup hook if you drink your morning coffee in the garden. Keep hand tools inside the mailbox and you can lean long handled tools against the post.

Let the mailbox be the sturdy support that tall or wispy flowers will need. Circle the mailbox post with hollyhocks for example. Circle the plants with garden twine and anchor them to the post.

Make the mailbox yours by painting it a favorite color. You can also install a flag holder. Or perhaps you can build a mini raised bed or flower box around the base. Or add a windsock or weather vane to the post. Attach a rain gauge and create your own mini weather station.

Accessorize the mailbox by adding personal touches like this rain gauge.

The little lizard was originally a drawer pull from the hardware store.
Call Before You Dig

Before digging deeply to install your “mailbox mini tool shed,” call the local underground utility locators. One phone call to 811, the national Call Before You Dig number (or visit the websites listed below), will kick off the process and get underground utility lines marked. Local One Call Center personnel will then notify affected utility companies. They will send local crews to mark underground lines for free.

Pennsylvania One Call System, Inc. — 811 or (800) 242-1776,

Ohio Utilities Protection Service —811 or (800) 362-2764,

Missouri One Call System 811 or (800) 344-7483,

Indiana 811 — 811 or (800) 382-5544,

In all other states, visit

Curious about those colorful stripes they spray paint on the yard? Follow this color code translation to learn what is buried underground.

Red – Electric
Orange – Communications, Telephone, Cable TV
Blue – Potable Water
Green – Sewer/Drainage
Yellow – Gas/Petroleum Pipe Line
Purple – Reclaimed Water
White – Premark site of intended excavation

Installing the Post

Materials needed:

Gloves and safety glasses
One pressure treated wood mailbox post (4 by 4 inches)
5-gallon bucket
Measuring pail
Posthole digger
50 pounds of all-purpose gravel
50 pounds of Quikrete fast-setting concrete

1. Dig the posthole about 12 inches wide. The depth of the hole should be 1/3 the post height above ground (for example, a 6-foot-tall post would require a hole depth of at least 2 feet).

2. Add about 6 inches of gravel into the bottom of the hole. Then, compact it to level the gravel.

3. Set the post into the hole. Use a level to position the post perfectly upright.

4. Fill hole (with the post in place) with the 50-pound bag of fast-setting concrete. Fill up to 4 inches below ground level.

5. Pour a gallon of water into the hole. Water will saturate the concrete mix. The post will be set hard in 20 to 40 minutes.

6. Wait for at least 6 hours, (overnight is better) before adding the mailbox to the post.


Photos courtesy of Patsy Bell Hobson.


Posted: 06/16/14   RSS | Print


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Tropicanna Canna
by Mark A. Konlock       #Hot Plants

Red plumes of Amaranthus, leaves and stems echo the burgundy in the foliage of Tropicanna canna.

What better way to dream of the upcoming gardening season than to think about the tropical feel that we can bring to our Wisconsin gardens? Amazingly, plants like cannas and elephant ears can grow to be behemoths, even in our northern growing season. There are a multitude of cultivars to choose from, so check out local garden centers and online suppliers, such as Brent and Becky’s Bulbs and Plant Delights Nursery to find yours.

One canna sure to get the attention of your gardening friends is Tropicanna®. The foliage of this plant is a motley combination of dark green, chocolate, burgundy and pink. When backlit, the hues change like a kaleidoscope, making echoes of color combinations possible. The tangerine orange flowers add another dimension.

Tropicals, such as cannas, look great when grouped together. Grouping is also a good way to keep plants that have a need for a bit more moisture together to lessen the watering chores. Or just plant a large clump in a container for a magical specimen. In the fall, dig up and store the rhizome for next year’s display. For best results, start the tuber indoors in March to transplant outdoors in June.

Common Name:  Tropicanna® canna

Botanical Name: Canna ‘Phasion’

Cultivars to Look For: Tropicanna Black or Gold, ‘Intrigue’ and many others!

Color: Leaves are a striped array of burgundy, pink, dark green and chocolate; flowers are tangerine orange.

Blooming Period: Throughout the summer as plants size up

Type: Tropical, not winter hardy in Wisconsin.

Size: 4 to 6 feet tall and 18 to 24 inches wide

Exposure: Full sun. Tolerates part shade.

When to Plant: In June, once temperatures are consistently above 50 F

How to Plant: Containerized plants can be placed at the same level as they are in the container, overwintered rhizomes can be planted in the ground once temperatures are warm or potted up and grown indoors until that time.

Soil: Medium to wet soil; can also be used in containers, but make sure to provide adequate moisture.

Watering: Thoroughly and frequently

When to Fertilize: Incorporate a well-balanced slow release fertilizer, such as Osmocote 14-14-14 when planting to provide season-long nutrition.

In Your Landscape: Adds a lush, tropical feel to your garden or containers. Plant with color echoing annuals and other tropicals. If possible, position so canna is backlit by setting sun.

From Wisconsin Gardening Volume II Issue II. Photos courtesy of Mark A. Konlock.


Posted: 06/13/14   RSS | Print


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Mercury Rising Tickseed
by Susan Martin       #Hot Plants

At just under 18 inches tall, Mercury Rising fits nicely in the front of the border.

Velvety, wine-red flowers appear all summer long.

Be sure to add this brand new, first of its kind, truly hardy, red flowered coreopsis to your wish list this spring. It’s an absolute dynamo that blooms all summer. The broad mound of bright green foliage becomes covered in gorgeous, velvety, wine-red blossoms. During the hottest part of summer, the petals have lightly “frosted” tips. Like the others in the Big Bang™ series, the flowers on Mercury Rising are sterile, so it blooms continuously for months and won’t reseed around the garden.

It’s said that purple is the new neutral and that certainly holds true for this wine-colored perennial—it goes with everything in the garden. Since it has a finely textured appearance, be sure to plant it near things with a contrasting texture, such as spiky irises, round coneflowers, or strappy, leaved daylilies.

Common Name: Tickseed or Coreopsis

Botanical Name: Coreopsis Mercury Rising (Big Bang™ series)

Type of Plant: Hardy perennial; hardy in USDA Zones 5 through 9

Bloom Time: Early summer through early fall

Flower Color: Velvety wine red

Size: 15 to18 inches tall, 24 to 36 inches wide

Exposure: Full sun

Watering: Low to average moisture; moderately drought tolerant once established.

Soil: Any well-drained soil

When to Fertilize: Not required

When to Prune: May trim back after initial bloom to encourage rebloom

In Your Landscape: Use this plant to add a splash of dramatic color to the middle or front of the border or large containers.


From Michigan Gardening Volume I Issue II. Photos courtesy of Walters Gardens, Inc.


Posted: 06/06/14   RSS | Print


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Ground Cover
by Anne Larson       #Feature

Ground covers offer flow to landscape designs, such as this hillside garden designed as a welcome mat at the entrance of the property. Creeping phlox (P. stolonifera), lower right, gives way to Japanese blood grass (Imperata cylindrica), Daubs Frosted juniper (Juniperus  x pfitzeriana ‘Daub’s Frosted’), Pulmonaria and Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans ‘Stairway to Heaven’) under the Japanese maple.

For every garden star, there is a supporting cast, and in most Midwestern gardens, ground covers perform the task admirably. Like their theatrical counterparts, ground covers’ roles may be understated, subtle and sometimes nearly invisible. Take them away and they would be sorely missed.

Ground cover plants are low-growing perennials and shrubs that do just that — cover ground — but also act as foils and accents for taller plants. They are used to transition from one area to the next, hold soil and mulch in place and offer a low-growing, low-maintenance alternative to turf.

A Sampler of Roles

Vigorous spreaders such as golden moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) and sedum Angelina stonecrop (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’) are easy solutions for quickly covering erosion-prone slopes. Gro-Low fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low’) is a low-growing shrub that can accomplish the same thing, with prostrate branches that will sucker and form a thicket, eventually reaching 6 to 8 feet wide. The roots of these plants help keep the soil in place, thus reducing soil and mulch movement.

Many ground covers, such as spotted deadnettle (Lamium maculatum), alpine lady’s mantle (Alchemilla alpina) and the perennial big-root cranesbill (Geranium macrorrhizum), serve to soften and naturalize the edges of pathways and walls. Borders along streets and sidewalks are often prone to exposure to salt during winter months, and fragrant sumac and blue rug juniper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’) are two ground covers that will hold up beautifully under these conditions.

Plants with white or golden foliage, such as the golden moneywort, ‘Caramel’ coral bells (Heuchera ‘Caramel’) and spotted deadnettle, can light up shady patches and offer a background for hosta, rhododendron and other shade-loving plants to shine. These lighter colored plants can also be a delight for gardeners who enjoy their gardens in the late afternoon and nighttime, casting a soft glow from night lighting or moonlight.

Several ground covers offer interest during multiple seasons. Fragrant sumac turns a pleasing muted red in the fall, and Angelina or stonecrop’s gold deepens to coral and orange tones as cooler temperatures approach. Coral bells, many low-growing sedum and perennial geranium maintain their foliage interest during winter months. Fragrant sumac also holds the snow artfully on its mounted branch structure.

Golden moneywort ascades down this gentle slope, forming a river of gold that offsets the burgundy foliage of the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) and dark green of mugo pine (Pinus mugo). Note how the foliage drips off the limestone wall.

These coral bells will eventually knit together, providing a gentle patchwork of color underlying the bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus praviflora). The coral bell closest to the hosta is ‘Caramel’. All prefer part to full shade and moderate moisture.


There are some issues to consider when planting ground covers to ensure success. Bed preparation is key:

  • Make sure to remove weeds.
  • Lightly cultivating the soil also helps ensure success, making it easier for roots to establish themselves. Since most perennial ground covers have shallow root zones, deep tillage isn’t usually needed.
  • Place plants closer together to speed up filling in, which aids in reducing open spaces where weeds can more easily take root. Once established, ground covers tend to shade the ground and can out-compete many weeds. Removing fallen seeds from maple (Acer spp.), oak (Quercus spp.) and redbud (Cercis canadensis) is recommended.
  • Many ground covers will benefit from a light mulching at establishment to reduce soil splashing during watering and rain as well as maintaining soil moisture in the root zone.
  • A light application of a slow-release fertilizer also helps establish the plants. Apply according to label directions.

‘Gro-Low’ fragrant sumac is a strong performer in holding steep slopes, such as the 60 percent slope pictured here. And, because of its tough saline tolerance, it will handle salt splash during the winter without missing a beat.

The three-lobed foliage of fragrant sumac is glossy, turning a pleasing soft red in fall. The foliage, when crushed, gives off a sweet, musky smell that is unpleasant to deer and other mammals.


Woody ground covers such as ‘Gro-Low’ fragrant sumac can be trimmed periodically to maintain height. Others, such as blue rug juniper, naturally hug the ground at about 6 inches and won’t need much pruning. These and other shrubby ground covers can be contained by trimming back the perimeters.

Perennial ground covers need little to no maintenance other than cutting back discolored foliage in the spring. Coral bells and perennial geranium have crowns that sit above the soil line, so trimming above the crown is important to avoid damage to the plant. Low growers, such as golden moneywort and wild ginger, can be rejuvenated by lightly raking out dead foliage.

Ground covers that bloom in spring, such asspotted deadnettle and geranium, can be lightly trimmed after bloom to remove spent seedheads. Spotted deadnettle will often continue to bloom through put the season. Ground covers that spread from rhizomes can usually be contained in a desired area by simply digging clumps and transplanting them back into bare areas in the cover, or discarding.

A light fertilization with a slow-release fertilizer and use of a pre-emergent weed control should help ground covers get off to a good start each season. Read labels carefully, as some pre-emergent controls can inhibit root growth, such as corn gluten-based products.

Ground cover plants are short but mighty. They solve erosion and maintenance problems, tie garden areas together in pleasing ways and serve as background players to taller, more prominent garden plants. Give these and other ground covers a look — they may be waiting to be cast in an important role in your garden!

Low-growing woody plants as well as perennials can be used as ground cover plantings. Here are some suggestions for ground cover plants to use in Upper Midwest gardens:

Alchemilla alpina — (Zones 3-9) A miniature version of the familiar lady’s mantle, this petite performer sports a silver highlight on each leaf edge.

Asaram canadense — (Zones 4-6) Wild ginger is a woodland native that performs nicely in the shade as a carefree spreader.

Geranium macrorrhizum — (Zone 3-8) Ranging from white to pink blooms in early spring, this ground cover also has a spicy apple aroma unpleasant to garden pests.

Heuchera ‘Caramel’ —(Zone 4-8) The golden foliage on this coral bell contrasts nicely with its peachy plum underside.

Lamium maculatum — (Zone 2-9) Popular cultivars ‘White Nancy’ and Pink Chablis (‘Checkin’) deadnettle have silvery foliage that illuminate the shade. Some areas, especially in the Northeast, have found this to be an invasive plant.

Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ (Zone 3-9) Golden moneywort loves some moisture, and performs best in partial sun or shade.

Rhus aromatica — (Zone 3-9) ‘Gro-Low’ fragrant sumac grows 1 to 2 feet tall and colonizes hillsides quite successfully, making it great for controlling soil erosion.

Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ (Zone 3-8) ‘Angelina’ is an easygoing ground cover that will retain some of its gold and peachy highlights even through winter.

From State-by-State Gardening November/December 2013. Photos by Anne Larson.


Posted: 06/04/14   RSS | Print


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Prairie Smoke
by Roy Diblik       #Hot Plants

Geum triflorum makes a great companion for Narcissus ‘Lemon Drop’, grape hyacinth (Muscari spp.), Scilla and other early-blooming bulbs.

Geum triflorum is an early blooming, native perennial that provides months of interest. In early to mid-April, you’ll see red flower buds just above the cut foliage, only 4 to 6 inches tall. The whole plant—foliage and the flowers—elongate over time, growing 12 to 15 inches tall. From late April through May, the nodding pink flowers bloom. The best part comes as the flowers mature and the red stamens elongate up to 2 inches, giving the plant its smoky appearance.

This feathery appearance lasts into mid-June, when the seed heads begin to blow away. Geum triflorum does quite well in gravel and in sandy soils. Too much mulch or irrigation will cause it to decline. It died at Northwind. Our soil is too rich. I always like to see the limits plants can ease into. Well-drained, average to dry soil is the answer! This is an under-appreciated plant that will be used increasingly as we value more how we use our water.

Common Name:  Prairie smoke

Botanical Name:  Geum triflorum

Color:  Nodding pink flowers with darker stamens

Blooming Period: Late April through May

Plant Type: Perennial, hardy Zones 3 through 6

Exposure:  Full sun

Size: 12 to 15 inches tall 

When to Plant:   Throughout the growing season

Soil:  Average to dry, well-drained soil.

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

When to fertilize:  Needs no commercial fertilizer. Nutrients can be provided by mulching with leaf compost every 2-3 years.

In Your Landscape: I like to grow it with spring bulbs such as Narcissus ‘Lemon Drop’, Scilla, grape hyacinth (Muscari spp.) and species tulips (Tulipa). It also contrasts well with emerging foliage of other perennials, such as Amsonia tabernaemontana var.salicifolia.

Reddish-pink, nodding flowers of Geum triflorum are a welcome sight in early spring.


From Wisconsin Gardening Volume II Issue II. Photos courtesy of Roy Diblik.


Posted: 05/30/14   RSS | Print


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Become a Water-Wise Gardener
by Nancy Szerlag       #Advice   #Feature

Plant madness consumes gardeners in the months of May and June. But before loading that hot new plant on to your garden cart, give some thought as to what it needs in terms of care and how you plan to provide it. Will it be stuck into an empty spot in a perennial bed, with no thought as to its need for water? Or will it spend a couple of months in its pot, requiring daily watering, as it becomes root- bound and struggles?

Gardeners often scan the tags of new plants looking for Zone hardiness and sun requirements, but sadly overlook their water needs. And water is key to a plant’s existence. Plants can struggle along on less than optimal sun. And plants have lived for years without a drop of fertilizer. But too much or too little water can do them in rather quickly.

Xeric plants, those that once established require little or no supplemental water, suffer when sited next to moisture-loving neighbors such as roses and hydrangeas.

This overwatering often results in deadly crown rot and other diseases for these water-wise plants. Tall sedums, such as ‘Autumn Joy’ and ‘Matrona’ spilt apart and flop over, a condition known as lodging, when given too much water. Lavender may thrive in its first season in the garden, but fail to make it through the winter if planted in humus-rich, moisture-holding soil.

Grouping plants according to their moisture needs not only helps them to grow better, it also saves time, possible replacement costs and water—a key element to sustainable gardening.

The technical term for this technique is hydrozoning, which has been practiced in the west for decades. Many western municipalities require landscape designs to include water-conservation materials, drought-tolerant plants and a plan for hydro-zoning.

Hydrozone your garden by separating plants according to their  needs for water. Here, Sedum ‘Matrona’ fronts a stand of lavender (Lavandula) as part of a drought-tolerant perennial planting.1

Including regionally appropriate native plants in the landscape is considered by many to be key to sustainable gardening. But they are only effective as water savers if planted in a hydrozone with other water-wise plants.

How water is applied to the garden is also part of the equation. Watering with a hand-held, hose-end sprayer may be mentally satisfying, but it’s a poor method of watering. Few have the patience to stand for the time it takes to deeply water an area.

Drip irrigation, using soaker hoses or drip emitters, is considered tops for efficiency, effectiveness and conservation when installed properly. Water applied slowly seeps into the ground with a minimum of wasteful runoff.

Shower head nozzles, provide adequate water without washing potting mix from containers. The nozzles allow water to be distributed to the base of plants in the ground, too. To conserve even more, make sure your hose has a shut-off valve for nozzles and other watering accessories.2

An emitter drips water so the soil can soak it up slowly and deeply without a lot of waste due to evaporation.3
More earth friendly tips!

Water moisture-loving plants deeply once a week if Mother Nature doesn’t. 

Deliver water slowly, so it has time to penetrate and avoid runoff.

To avoid water loss through evaporation, don’t use sprinklers when it’s windy.

Use saucers under containers so plants can take up runoff. 

Use rain gauges in sunny and shady gardens. 

Water mature trees at the drip line rather than at the base of the trunk.

Overhead watering with a sprinkler is best for large areas but should be done early in the morning to reduce evaporation and allow leaves to dry before dark, when diseases tend to strike.

Hand-watering with a watering wand is recommended for containers so water can be carefully directed to the surface of the soil. The diffuser breaks up the water flow so as not to wash the soil from the pot.

In the case of drought, a root feeder is an effective and water-wise tool for trees and shrubs.

A 3-inch layer of mulch insulates and protects the soil while holding precious moisture in the ground. Organic materials such as bark, wood chips and leaves provide protection for moisture-loving plants and they enrich the soil as they decompose. Pea gravel, fine crushed stone or pine needles are good choices for xeric gardens.

Less is more when it comes to feeding landscape plants. For moisture- loving plants, humus-rich soil, an organic mulch and a bit of compost is about all they need. Xeric plants thrive in lean soil and Mother Nature takes care of the rest.


1. Photo courtesy of
2. Photo courtesy of Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
3. Photo courtesy of Matevz Likar/Fotolia

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


Posted: 05/28/14   RSS | Print


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Take a Garden Tour Vacation
by Virginia Terry    

Entering the long corridor of spring blooming tulips, delphinium, columbine and snapdragons at Longwood Gardens is an exciting moment.

If you have a strong desire for traveling and a love of horticulture, you may want to consider visiting some premier gardens on your next trip. Our country has numerous exceptional horticultural gardens that are worth going out of your way to explore. I am going to highlight some of my favorites in the Midwest and on the East Coast, and hopefully you will have the chance to work these gems into your travels this year or in the near future.

Starting in the east, just about an hour north of New York City, outside the small Hudson River Valley town of Cold Springs, is Stonecrop Gardens. Stonecrop was originally the home of Anne and Frank Cabot, and in 1992 became a public garden directed by Caroline Burgess. Stonecrop is not just your typical garden. Here you will find plant collections that include unusual plants such as false anemone (Anemonopsis macrophylla), a rare clump-forming herbaceous perennial originating from Japan with “love at first site” nodding lavender blooms in August through late-September. The display gardens at Stonecrop cover 12 acres and have a diverse collection of gardens and plants including woodland and water gardens, a grass garden, raised alpine stone beds, cliff rock gardens, and an enclosed English-style wall garden. Not only do these gardens show what can be achieved by horticultural enthusiasts, but they also serve as an educational resource. I visited Stonecrop Gardens in the autumn and was thoroughly impressed, but I would recommend going at any time of the year. Spring, I have been told, is particularly stunning. Visit for more information.

Stonecrop Gardens (Photos by Robert Gray.)

Wave Hill in New York is a garden that I have not yet visited but it is definitely on my list of horticultural treasures. A public garden and cultural center in the Bronx overlooking the Hudson River and the Palisades, Wave Hill is a 28-acre space that encompasses horticulture, education and the arts. Visiting the website of Wave Hill alone will quite possibly make your heart skip a beat (, so imagine what emotions an actual visit may evoke. The website allows you to click through photos of all four seasons of its 15 gardens. The collections are a phenomenal mix of unusual plants, designed in a creatively artistic manner. Plantsmanship and aesthetic sensibility are truly achieved in the gardens at Wave Hill, making Wave Hill a horticultural must see!

Wave Hill (Photos by David Berkowitz.)

If you are a garden enthusiast and haven’t been to Longwood Gardens, in Kennett Square, Penn., I suggest it is time! Located just outside of Philadelphia, Longwood Gardens is a world renowned, premier botanical garden founded by Pierre S. du Pontin the early 20th century. Longwood’s rich history is equally as fascinating as the gardens themselves. Anytime of the year is a great time to visit. Even during winter, which is when I visited, the conservatory is bursting with color and interest from an array of exotic plants while the outdoor gardens are filled with tons of winter interest. I also happened to visit again at the beginning of May and was blown away by the expansive display of 5-foot tall foxgloves and continuous beds of tulips, columbine and snapdragons in full bloom. The woodland garden was carpeted with the fragrant white flower spikes of foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) in full bloom. Due to the size and depth of Longwood Gardens, an individual, especially a plant lover, could spend multiple days at the gardens and still not see everything. It was truly a magical experience for both me and my 7-year-old nephew. Visit for more information.

Mass plantings of 6-foot tall foxgloves are just one of the many sites to enjoy in the spring at Longwood Gardens.

The color palette changes to warm colors with the use of columbine, tulips and snapdragons at Longwood.

A large naturalized area in the woodland garden at Longwood is in full bloom with foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia).

There is also fun for children at Longwood Gardens.

The topiary garden at Longwood adds a whimsical element to your visit.

Chanticleer is another amazing garden not too far from Longwood Gardens. It is a much smaller scale garden but equally impressive. Visit

Next on the list of essential gardens to visit is the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Ill., near Chicago. Again, there is so much to be said about this horticultural gem, so a paragraph does not do it justice. Forty years ago the garden opened and has matured into one of the world’s great living museums and conservation science centers. Situated on 385 acres just north of downtown Chicago, the 26 gardens and four natural areas are visited by about a million people each year. The garden is also renowned for its bonsai collection. Intensive plant collections, creative landscape design, and artful seasonal displays attract the plant enthusiast and keep them coming back again and again. I had my second visit to the CBG last June and was re-inspired in my love of horticulture.

While in downtown Chicago, visit Millennium Park’s Lurie Garden. This 5-acre rooftop garden pays homage to the city’s motto “Urbs in Horto” (City in a Garden). It is an urban oasis designed by many talented designers, with the perennial planting design by the influential Dutch garden designer, nurseryman and author Piet Oudolf. The premise of the garden is a focus on sustainability with the majority of the plants being native to North America and some even native to Illinois. My breath was taken away when I stepped foot into the space. Massive drifts of purple and blue Salvia sp., white plumes of knotweed (Persicaria polymorph), white blooming Baptisia sp., numerous varieties of Allium sp., and the towering foxtail lilies (Eremerus sp.) blooms all blended into a wonderful painting of natural beauty.

A formal garden at Chicago Botanic Garden contains wisteria in full bloom and tightly clipped boxwood hedges.

White flowering Baptisia sp. mixes well with Eryngium sp. and several different varieties of Salvia sp. in the Lurie Garden.

Finally, the Missouri Botanical Garden (MoBot), located in St. Louis, has a phenomenal horticultural collection, with emphasis on education and research. Any avid gardener that visits MoBot will find a day isn’t quite enough time to cover everything you would like to see. One of my favorite areas was the Kemper Center for Home Gardening, an 8-acre demonstration garden containing 23 distinct residential-scale gardens that showcase great ideas for gardening with perennials, shrubs, annuals and edibles. Another favorite garden area of mine was the horticultural therapy garden that is designed to be utilized especially by the elderly and those with disabilities. This type of garden has many sensory plants including plants of fragrance and plants with lots of texture for touching. Also, MoBot has many notable plant collections including magnolias, camellias, azaleas and rhododendrons, flowering cherries and orchids. Like the previously mentioned botanical gardens, there is something of interest throughout the entire year.

Blown glass balls float amongst water lilies and water-platters on a pond at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Within the demonstration gardens at MoBot is a hosta collection at the foot of an interesting architectural element.

There are many quiet, restful areas at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

This summer annual display at MoBot includes ornamental peppers with purple foliage (foreground).

This is not an exhaustive list of the many wonderful gardens on the East Coast and Midwest, but it is a sampling of some of my favorite gardens and some of the best known for excellence in horticultural practices and superb plant collections. I think you will be pleased when you visit any of these beautiful living art collections. Happy travels!

Photos courtesy of Virginia Terry unless otherwise noted.


Posted: 05/28/14   RSS | Print


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Cheyenne Spirit Coneflower
by Deb Wiley       #Hot Plants

Grow ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ in a large border for bright impact and for plenty blooms for cutting.

Many gardeners are drawn to perennials because they only need to be planted once. But there are a few caveats. Perennials generally take about three years to reach maturity and may not bloom until then. Often, they cost more to buy as plants and can be difficult to start from seed. Many only bloom for a short time.

A new perennial coneflower hybrid, ‘Cheyenne Spirit’, erases all those problems. Growing in a riotous mix of bright colors, ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ can be grown from inexpensive seed and flowers in its first year from summer to fall.

Even better, this cultivar of our native coneflower can take a beating from wind and weather. Once established, it needs little extra water. Its well-branched habit means you can cut bouquets and still have plenty of color left in the garden.

Common Name: ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ coneflower

Botanical Name: Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit’

Varieties/Cultivars to Look For: PowWow Wildberry (E. purpurea ‘Pas70Z917’), from the same breeder, is hot pink.

Color: Flowers bloom in a mix of purple, pink, red, scarlet, orange, yellow, cream and white.

Blooming Period: Summer to fall

Type: Perennial that blooms its first year from seed

Hardiness: Zones 4 to 9

Size: 18 to 30 inches tall; 3- to 3 -inch blooms

Exposure: Full sun

When to Plant: In spring from seed; potted plants may be planted any time during the growing season.

How to Plant: Plant seeds after all danger of frost has passed. Place plants at the same level of soil as in the pot.

Soil: Requires well-drained soil to survive winters.

Watering: Needs little water; drought tolerant once established.

When to Prune: Remove spent flower heads as desired, but no deadheading is needed.

When to Fertilize: Apply a balanced fertilizer once a month.

In Your Landscape: Blooms attract butterflies, and the dried seedheads attract birds. Plant coneflowers in a large mass for impact and to provide enough to cut for bouquets.


From State-by-State Gardening Volume I Issue IV. Photo courtesy of Deb Wiley.


Posted: 05/23/14   RSS | Print


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To Mat or Not to Mat
by Dawn Seymour       #Advice

To mat or not to mat is a question that has been plaguing well-intentioned gardeners since the creation of the weed mat. Now it is not only to or not to, but also the question of what kind of weed mat (also known as landscape fabric or weed barrier) to use? Let’s see if we can clear up a few basic facts about what types are available and some of the pros and cons of using weed mats.

Bulbs and annuals are another consideration when applying weed mat.1

First, what are some of the best applications for weed mats? Is it beneficial in every garden? I believe that the use of a weed mat should be selective. Selective to the point that you choose it based on the type of garden and plants in that garden, the purpose of the weed mat in the bed, and the lifestyle of the gardener intending to use it. For example, an English-style perennial garden would not benefit from weed mats as the plants themselves would be prohibited from spreading, reseeding and intermingling like the style permits. However, a vegetable garden would benefit to have the weed mat covering the paths and leaving open areas for the vegetables to grow. Additionally, another application where weed mats are beneficial is under stone mulch or under gravel walkways to prevent weeds from growing.

Second, a weed mat does not last indefinitely, so if you choose to use it, it will need to be replaced at some point. This is a serious consideration when it comes to removing whatever is on top of the weed mat to replace the worn-out mat. This is also a consideration when thinking about what is either already growing in the space you want to use it, or what you want to plant in that space.

This Dewitt fabric shows both the application of stone and the staples used to hold it in place.2

Weed mat is semi-permeable and consists of a woven substance, whether that is polypropylene or coco fibers, straw or burlap. The polypropylene is the least permeable choice and can last up to 15 years depending on the weight of the fabric. Weed mat is generally secured in place with staples that are roughly 4 inches long or better. This is an additional item to remember when replacing weed mat — be sure that the staples are all removed.

DeWitt manufactures a great fabric that has a 15-year guarantee on it and it comes in a roll 8 to 15 feet wide and up to 400 feet long. The fabric can be easily cut with a utility knife. I like to cut out a circle at least 2 times the size of the pot or root ball I am planting so that the plant will have plenty of room for water to get to the roots and there is not extra fabric choking the trunk of the trees or shrubs as they grow. Some folks like to cut an “X” where the plant will go and then fold the fabric back or under; however, I have found that this is a problem later on as it is difficult to get enough water to the plants. Then, if you do succeed in watering right at the base to get proper saturation, the soil doesn’t dry out properly and the roots can rot.

Third, weed mat is not a guarantee that you will not ever have weeds. If you choose one of the thin, small rolls of weed mat that are the “homeowner special” you will see some of the pervasive weeds like dock, plantain and even dandelions push their way up through the mat. There will also be the germination of weed seeds that blow in from other yards or gardens or fields and then there are my favorites – bird weeds! These weed seeds (excreted by birds in their droppings) grow on top of the weed mat and will still need to be removed at some point.

Hopefully this will help in your quest to improve the landscape. Look at the guarantee offered on the mat you select. Also read the package to see what applications are suggested. If you are landscaping a temporary space or just want curb appeal so you can sell your house, use a product that can be easily removed. Sometimes weed mats make work easier and other times they make more work.


1. Photo courtesy of Dawn Seymour
2. Photo courtesy of Gardener’s Supply


Posted: 05/22/14   RSS | Print


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Impatiens Disease Spurs A Hunt For Shady Alternatives
by Susan Martin       #Edibles   #Feature

Sun Patiens® offers a similar look as bedding impatiens and are unaffected by downy mildew.1

Impatiens—for years they have been your go-to solution for providing brilliant color in the shade. Bedding impatiens is by far one of the most popular annuals for shade. Drive down a shady lane and you’re bound to see these colorful pink, red, salmon, purple and white annuals bordering beds and pathways.

Deadly downy mildew appears on the undersides of leaves of bedding impatiens (I. walleriana). If you see this, tear out the plants, roots and all, and replant with alternatives.2

This summer will be different. Sweeping borders of bedding impatiens will be a rare sight because of a new disease that has totally decimated crops of Impatiens walleriana. It’s called downy mildew (Plasmopara obducens) and currently there is no cure.

This disease quickly kills bedding impatiens, seemingly overnight. The symptoms of downy mildew include chlorotic or stippled leaves, leaves that curl downward, white downy-like growth on the undersides of affected leaves, premature leaf and flower drop and ultimately, total plant collapse. The disease may already be present on the plants you bring home from the nursery or it may develop once they are in your garden.

Impatiens May Not Be Available

Alternatives for Shade
Flowering Annuals
• SunPatiens® series and New Guinea impatiens
Begonias — seed types, Nonstop® series, Dragon Wing®
Wishbone flower (Torenia), such as Summer Wave® or Catalina®
Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata), such as Hummingbird Mix or Perfume series
Fuchsia, dwarf bedding and trailing types, such as Angel Earrings®
Mona Lavender (Plectranthus ‘Plepalia’) 

Interesting Foliage Alternatives
Coleus ColorBlaze® (Solenostemon  scutellarioides ‘Sedona’) or  Under the Sea® series
Caladium — wide variety of pink, red, white and variegated selections
Polka-dot plant (Hypoestes) — light pink, hot pink, red or white 

Other Colorful Alternatives
Rozanne cransbill (Geranium ‘Gerwat’), purple flowers from late spring into fall
Perennial coral bells (Heuchera spp.), wide range of foliage colors 
My Monet® (Weigela florida ‘Verweig’) and My Monet® (W. F. ‘Sunset’)
Tropicals, such as croton (Codiaeum variegatum), Canna, wandering Jew (Tradescantia pallida) and Dracaena

If you suspect your bedding impatiens have downy mildew, there is nothing you can do to treat them effectively. The best thing to do is  promptly remove the entire plants, roots and all, put them in a sealed bag and dispose of them in the trash. DO NOT COMPOST the diseased plants! The disease will persist in the soil, some experts say, for five years. Note the location where the plants were removed and do not plant impatiens there again, or they will likely be infected again. You’ll need to look for alternatives to impatiens for those areas.

As a result of the devastating effects of this disease, many growers and garden centers will not be offering bedding impatiens for sale this year. Those that do will likely be selling them with a disclaimer and will not replace plants that succumb to the disease. If you are one of millions of gardeners who plant impatiens every year, you’re going to need to look for alternatives.

Fortunately, there are many other options for adding color to the shady parts of your garden. Many are listed for you in the sidebar. Though some come close to offering the same look, you may need to rethink the design of your garden where you’ve always planted impatiens.

Impatiens Alternatives

For the most similar look to bedding impatiens, try planting SunPatiens® (Impatiens xhybrida). Fortunately, this beautiful species of impatiens has proven to be totally unaffected by downy mildew. Their flowers are a little larger than bedding impatiens and come in a similar range of colors. SunPatiens® are very easy to grow in sun or shade and will fill in a landscape quickly. Typically, fewer plants are needed to provide the same amount of coverage as bedding impatiens.

Begonias are the next closest alternative. Seed or waxleaf begonias (B. semperflorens) are also sold in flats at a similar cost, though their color range is limited to pink, red and white. Nonstop® tuberous begonias (B. xtuberhybrida) offer larger flowers in more diverse colors than the seed type and Dragon Wing® begonias (B. xhybrida) have a beautiful arching form.

The fantastic foliage of coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) can offer just as much color as bedding impatiens in an even wider range of hues. An extensive range of varieties is available with new introductions coming every year. Look for nonflowering or late-flowering types, such as the ColorBlaze® series. Once coleus blooms, it tends to go downhill, so those that don’t flower will deliver the best garden performance all season.

Copperleaf (Acalypha) has multicolored foliage that works well in shadier locations.3

Wishbone flower (Torenia) is an excellent, short bedding plant with a unique, true-blue color for the front of the border.4

Try Something New

Whichever alternative to impatiens you choose, be sure to read the labels and do your research to learn the individual plant’s cultural requirements. Every plant grows a little differently. It also might take some experimentation to find the best alternative for your particular landscape.

This season, turn a problem into an opportunity to try new things in your garden. You have a free pass to try something different! Who knows? You may just find some new plants you’ll like even better than impatiens.


1. Photo courtesy of Sakata Ornamentals
2. Photo courtesy of Purdue University
3. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners
4. Photo courtesy of Susan Martin

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


Posted: 05/21/14   RSS | Print


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Commotion ‘Moxie’ Blanketflower
by Kelly D. Norris       #Hot Plants

All summer long, ‘Moxie’ graces the garden scene with an ample array of flowers.

For years, there was no love lost between me and blanketflowers. Despite their colors, proud garden pennants of my alma mater Iowa State, I just didn’t dig them. So many of the seed strains lack any sort of charm or panache—they melt in the summer, fall apart into a disheveled mess by fall and reseed on top of each other, resembling an unruly mosh pit. Blech.

But then I had an epiphany somewhere around 7,500 feet in the Black Hills of southwestern South Dakota. I encountered Gaillardia aristata, one of the truly perennial species of blanketflowers, growing by the zillions in amber and melon shades. I was hooked. What if blanketflowers could be true perennials, unlike the half-hardy, mother-was-an-annual and daddy-was-a-perennial wannabes I’d previously known? Along about that time a blanketflower with real spunk, named ‘Moxie’ no less, made its way into my garden.

It’s part of the Commotion series,and surely has the potential to cause quite a stir in the garden. ‘Moxie’ is an all-star, regularly flowering in my Iowa garden from mid-May through frost, even without supplemental watering. Though in the heat of summer it may not effuse with the same quantity of flowers it does in spring and fall, its ever-present radiance is hard to deny. Flowering effortlessly in bright exposures and decently draining soils, it’s a fluted charmer, evoking the memory of such popular favorites as ‘Fanfare’, though with more petals, ensuring a longer display. And it’s architecture? Mounded, compact and superb; no flopping or flailing with this one. 


Common Name: Commotion ‘Moxie’ blanketflower

Botanical Name: Gaillardia x grandiflora ‘Moxie’

Hardiness: Zones 5 through 9

Color: Bright, cheery yellow petals encircle an orange center

Blooming Period: Early summer through fall

Type: Perennial

Size: Up to 24 inches high and wide

Exposure: Full sun

When to Plant: Spring or fall

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

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

In Your Landscape: Yellow and orange daisies appear abundantly throughout the season on compact plants suitable for beds, borders and containers.


From Iowa Gardener Volume I Issue IV. Photos courtesy of Kelly D. Norris.


Posted: 05/16/14   RSS | Print


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Jewelry for the Lawn
by Karen Atkins       #Art   #Feature

An urn abundantly planted with tulips reigns at the center of a main axis in the garden. Clipped hedges and neatly edged grass provide contrast and perfect symmetry to set it off. 1

Just as a strong necklace can change the look of any outfit, the right lawn ornament can change the mood in any garden. So, the question is, what kind of a mood are you in?


If you like tailored, simple clothing — this might be your category. Formal statues, cast-iron urns, fountains and tuteurs punctuate classic gardens well. For added elegance and harmony, try painting them, as well as your front door, all in a high-gloss black. Birdhouses can be made to look like small pavilions or little Colonial cottages, if this is your style. Neatness counts in classic gardens, so tightly clipped hedges and clean edging around ornaments complete the look.

Animals are living ornaments. Invite wildlife to enjoy food and clean water. 2

A vintage birdcage contains a ceramic bird. It could also hold a candle in the evening. Large shrubs, such as hollies and rhododendrons are excellent for showcasing hanging ornaments with an evergreen background. 3

Fountains delight the ear as well as the eye. Many just require electricity and can be filled by bucket, making installation inexpensive and easy. 4


If you wear big straw hats and flowing summer dresses, adorn your garden with rose swags made from marine rope. Set out benches for garden fairies or hang wind chimes. Architectural salvage yards are “the bomb” for romantics. You can find the most unusual things and the price is always right. Shabby chic porch columns with flaking paint are gorgeous in the garden, and a single section of ornamental fencing makes an ornate trellis. Try making a shelf for potted plants using recycled corbels and a simple board, or hang an old mirror that is losing its silver.

A column lends architecture to a bed of tulips. Salvage yards carry old porch columns that can be used singly, or in rows as a support for rose swags.5

Architectural salvage yards carry sections of fencing, gates or broken benches. All make lovely trellises. 6


Fun and trendy, this group is for gardeners who enjoy an inside joke. When we moved, we found a huge cast-iron bee and sprayed him gold before he landed on our mailbox. Giant chess pieces are playful on grass and concrete checkerboards, or different birdhouses on all of your fence posts could be fun.

Challenge yourself to express something uniquely personal. A car repair shop I know has actual transmissions filled with petunias out front, which I thought was genius.

A collection of pots, filled with Johnny jump ups, roosts on an old ladder. 7



1. Photo courtesy of© Debu55y
2. Photo courtesy of© Ursular
3. Photo courtesy of© Emma98
4. Photo courtesy of© Christopher Rawlins
5. Photo courtesy of© Sergey Ovsyannikov
6. Photo courtesy of© Dallaseventsinc
7. Photo courtesy of© Chris Lofty

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


Posted: 05/14/14   RSS | Print


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Backyard Grape Growing for the Freshest Wines
by Katie Ketelsen       #Edibles   #Feature

‘Marquette’ has proven to be winter hardy in the Midwest.1

Surely you’ve seen — in envious awe just as I have — fields of grapes sprouting along the Iowa plains and taken mental notes to stop by a winery or two some day. Or maybe you’ve already traveled to the corners of the state, enjoying sips from all our proud vineyards.

You may have even wondered how our fellow Iowans manage to create such a picturesque landscape as if it were flown in from California. There is a sense of romance when daydreaming about carefully plucking grapes from your own backyard or mini-vineyard, only to stomp them with pleasure into the greatest tasting wine ever. A labor of love that could be passed onto generations to come; one that could win you awards at the county fair or get you highlighted in the local newspaper. Truly a labor you have to love.

After speaking with Mike Pence, owner of Heartland Harvest Winery in Fort Madison and Kurt Schade, owner of Schade Creek Vineyard and Winery in Waukee, I quickly learned what I’m calling the three P’s needed to grow grapes:

Patience — The grape seedling you plant today will not produce clusters of fruit for another three to five years. 

Pruning — It can keep your “patient” hands busy, but in reality, correct pruning ensures healthy and bountiful harvests for the future.

Passion — It is the fuel that complements your patience, keeps your pruning diligent and keeps you salivating for that first glass of wine.

Getting Started

Plant Them Right in the Right Space

Grapes do best when planted in the spring, as a bare-root specimen in well-drained soil in an area that faces south, east or southeast. Bare-root is simply a term for when a plant is removed from the soil while dormant (generally late fall) and stored in a cool space until spring.

If your soil isn’t the nutrient-filled, black composition you think it needs to be, send a sample to Iowa State University and have it tested to determine what’s missing. If you’re too impatient to wait the couple weeks for the results, plant away and apply a general fertilizer such as 10-10-10 around the base of plants after planting.

A southern or eastern exposure will allow leaves to absorb as much sunlight as possible and force early-morning dew to evaporate quickly.

Ensure your grapes get off to the right start by digging holes twice the size of the root span, mounding soil in the center of the hole and placing the base of the plant on top of the mound. Allow the roots to drape over the mound. Grape roots grow deep and wide—sometimes up to 40 feet deep reaching for moisture, making them essentially drought tolerant after the third year in the ground. You’d also be wise to fashion a trellis, arbor or espalier to support and manage the sprawling nature of the vine. 

Know Your Grapes

Certain varieties of grapes are good for jellies, jams, wine and straight-off-the-vine eating. A great grape to start with is ‘Concord’. Sometimes called the daylily of grapes (as in you can’t kill a daylily), ‘Concord’ is fairly forgiving. Purchase cold-climate varieties hardy to USDA Zone 4b or minus 20 F.


It takes three to five years before you can take a sip. It is more important for the plant to establish its roots and strong branching. Remember … patience.


Smart Tip from Kurt Schade:

Visit a local vineyard in January or February when vines are being pruned and ask for a few clippings to plant in your garden.

Pruning has to be the single most important task when growing grapes. Expect a single grape plant to grow 8 feet wide and approximately 4 to 5 feet tall, within three to five years. To get there, you must practice strategic pruning to retain the strongest shoots and train them appropriately.

Think of it as survival of the fittest. Between January and February, select a few branches to train for the following year’s growth, while removing all other branches and any poorly developed flower clusters. Work toward establishing two to three horizontal levels of branching. If you’re more of a visual learner, Ohio State University Extension’s Pruning Backyard Grapes in the First Three Years has great diagrams.

In late June, the grapevine’s canopy needs to be combed, which is the removal of horizontal shoots that compete for nutrients and sunlight. By late August, the vines are ready to be completely defoliated. This enables grape clusters to absorb sun, making them ready for harvest come fall.

Additionally, grapes will send out suckers at the base of the plant. Once a year, preferably late summer, prune the sprouts back to the ground to keep the plant tidy.


Protecting your plants from Iowa’s wildlife may become more of a chore than pruning. Deer, raccoon, turkey and even blackbirds all like to hang out among the grapevine.

Pence, who also is president of Iowa Wine Growers Association, suggests making your vine flashy. Anything that might make noise and reflect the sun can help deter most animals. But for the blackbirds, which can devour an entire vineyard in one day, covering your grapes with netting mid-August through harvest is highly suggested. Highly.

Finally! Harvest Time

Or is it? Don’t go stripping all your vines at once. Grapes won’t ripen or improve their taste after they’ve been removed from the vine. Sample a few here and there before plucking them all for consuming.


Q. How many grapes do you have to plant to enjoy a glass of wine - or five - on a hot summer afternoon? 

According to Mike Pence of Heartland Harvest Winery in Fort Madison, one grape plant produces 20 to 30 pounds of grapes and you need approximately 15 to 20 pounds to make one gallon of wine.

Grape-Growing Take Aways

But before you get started ... before you even begin to peruse catalogs of grape varieties and before squaring off space in the backyard, you must visit at least one established vineyard. I suggest three for good measure. By Schade’s own admission, vineyard owners love to talk about themselves — more specifically — about their grapes, their wine and the whole process. Some vineyards might even send you home with a few of their dormant clippings to root in your garden!


Iowa Wine Growers Association:

Iowa Small Fruit and Vegetable Association:

Iowa Wine Directory:

Midwest Wine Press:

Double A Vineyards:

Iowa State University, Viticulture:


From State-by-State Gardening May/June 2013. Photos courtesy of David L. Hansen, University of Minnesota.


Posted: 05/07/14   RSS | Print


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Emerald Ash Borer
by Denise Schreiber       #Advice   #Feature   #Pests

The adult emerald ash borer is about ½ inch long and is a bright metallic green color.1

There are wanted posters out everywhere! Emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire), is an invasive insect native to Asia that has killed tens of millions of ash trees in urban, rural and forested settings. It is known to be a hidden hitchhiker on that firewood you bought the other day to take to your camp because it was a good price. With the U.S. Interstate system, it has easily found its way and invaded many counties and states.

This beetle was first discovered in 2002 in Southeast Michigan and Windsor, Ontario. EAB infestations have now been detected in at least 20 states: Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. In Michigan alone, it has caused almost $12 million dollars’ worth of damage and the toll continues to rise as EAB moves through the states.

A mature ash tree showing signs of infestation. Dieback begins in the top one-third of the canopy and progresses until the tree is bare.2

The emerald ash borer favors all 16 different species of ash trees found in the United States. Ash trees are as important ecologically in the forests of the northeastern U.S. as they are economically important. Ash trees fill gaps in the forest and are highly desirable for urban tree planting, providing shade and habitat. Ash wood is valued for flooring, furniture, sports equipment (such as baseball bats, hockey sticks, oars) and tool handles. Ash trees and wood are also significant to Native American cultures for traditional crafts and ceremonies.

Think of EAB as the bubonic plague of ash trees. While there are some natural controls, they are not effective enough to slow the relentless march of the borer through the forests. According to Dr. Houping Liu, Ph.D., forest entomologist for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, “The effectiveness of EAB parasitoids is still being evaluated; field release of those parasitoids will continue as long as the Feds maintain financial support to the rearing lab in Michigan. We are not expecting large enough numbers of parasitoid offspring in the field just yet, as biological control is a long-term strategy that will take time.” He goes on to say, “Climate has an effect on the parasitoids the same way it has on EAB.” He also makes the not-so-encouraging prediction that it is possible that emerald ash borer will eventually affect every ash tree in the U.S.

The life cycle of EAB starts from mid-May to mid-August when the ash borer lays its eggs on ash bark. From May to August the eggs hatch and tunnel into the tree. From August to October they feed under the bark. From May to June the adults hatch and leave D-shaped exit holes. Adults are roughly 3/8 to 5/8 inches long with metallic-green wings and a coppery red or purple abdomen. They will feed on foliage before laying eggs on the bark of the tree.

The larvae of the EAB are creamy white and legless with flattened, bell-shaped body segments. The terminal segment bears a pair of small appendages. Larval feeding disrupts the tree’s circulation of water and nutrients.4

The larvae feed just under the bark and create S-shaped galleries. Galleries weave back and forth across the wood grain and are packed with frass.3

The first inkling that something is wrong with your ash tree is the crown of the tree gets a little thinner. You may notice a few dead branches. You will also notice little D-shaped holes in the trunk of the tree. These holes can occur anywhere on the tree trunk. If you peel back some bark, you will see galleries made by the larvae of the borer. They look like S-shaped tunnels throughout. As the larvae feed, they can clog up the xylem and phloem, which are the transport systems in a tree, carrying water and nutrients. This is the time to have your tree evaluated by a certified arborist (not the local “landscraper” looking to trim your trees for you). If at least two-thirds of the tree canopy alive and there are no epicormic shoots (side shoots from the base of the tree), it can be treated. Untreated, a large ash tree can die within two to three years.

At this time, there is no organic method to subdue EAB. According to information at, insecticides that can effectively control EAB fall into four categories: first, systemic insecticides that are applied as soil injections or drenches; second, systemic insecticides applied as trunk injections; third, systemic insecticides applied as lower trunk sprays; and last, protective cover sprays that are applied to the trunk, main branches and (depending on the label) foliage.

There are two main treatments currently being used, although other chemicals also are used. One treatment is imidacloprid and the other is a product containing emamectin benzoate. Imidacloprid products are either applied as a soil drench, foliar spray or as a trunk injection. Emamectin benzoate is a trunk injection only treatment. (There are a few more products that have limited success against the borer.) Both of these products are applied by professional pesticide applicators with specialized equipment and protective gear. All treatments have a particular time frame in which they should be applied (which will be on the label). The emamectin benzoate treatment has been most successful so far in treating ash trees and will last at least two years (unlike other treatments). It is suggested that if you have a high-value tree – one that is large and well rounded, historical or has some other value to the community – that you should spend the money on treatment.

If you have missed the initial diagnosis and your ash tree is beyond redemption, you should look to have the tree removed as soon as possible. Affected ashes can topple without warning within a few months of tree death.

So the best thing you can do is be proactive about your ash trees and remember not to move any firewood except into the fireplace.

Woodpeckers Tell the Tale

Another telltale sign of EAB infestation is the hammering of woodpeckers. Although the usual cacophony of the hammering is for mating purposes, the EAB larvae have become a delicacy for the ruby-topped birds that thrive on the insects. As the woodpeckers go after the larvae, which are just under the bark of the tree, they will loosen the bark to get at them and actually remove large portions of bark by chipping at it with their beaks.  5  


1. Photo by Marianne Prue, Ohio Department of Natural Resources - Division of Forestry
2. Photo by Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service
3. Photo by Christopher Asaro, Virginia Department of Forestry
4. Photo by Kenneth R. Law, USDA APHIS PPQ,
5. Photo by Jeff Rugg

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


Posted: 04/30/14   RSS | Print


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Lawn Care for Minnesota Landscapes
by Diana Rankin       #Advice   #Landscaping

Fertilizing in September and staying on top of weeds are the best ways to keep the lawn green and growing. 1

Deb Brown, garden writer and retired University of Minnesota Extension horticulturist, thinks maybe so. In a newspaper article a while back, she made some very good arguments for having a yard and garden with at least some turfgrass. Here’s her thinking:

  • Having a lawn is less work than maintaining a small prairie in a front yard.
  • The green color of turfgrass complements annual and perennial flowerbeds.
  • Grass can provide logical pathways between and around beds.
  • When it rains, a healthy lawn absorbs pollutants, such as pollen and dust, and prevents runoff and erosion.
  • Grass provides natural air conditioning around a home or other buildings. A lawn on a summer day is 40-60 degrees cooler than a sidewalk or parking lot.

The lawn that Brown and other University of Minnesota Extension Educators have in mind is not the lush, chemically dependent, water thirsty carpet that so many homeowners desire. Instead, they are advocating for a healthy lawn, maintained by low input lawn care practices timed to meet the needs of the Upper Midwest’s cool-season grasses.

Fall Care

Fall is an especially important time for lawn care, no matter how neglected the lawn may have been over the hot summer.

First of all, before the end of September, put down nitrogen fertilizer at the rate of one pound per 1,000 square feet. The grass plant roots are growing now and will readily absorb nitrogen. Research has found that later applications into November, as has been the common practice, are wasted because plants have stopped growing in northern gardens and cannot take up the nitrogen. If using a slow-release organic form of nitrogen fertilizer, apply it at half the rate. 

This is also the best time to control broadleaf perennial weeds, such as plantain and dandelions. These plants are also growing vigorously and storing up nutrients and will actively take up and transport broadleaf weed killer throughout the plant. This should be done by early October. The plants will be killed in the fall, but the difference won’t be noticed until the next spring. Combination nitrogen fertilizer-herbicide granular products can be purchased, but the grass and weeds must be wet when it is applied. This product should not be spread too close to trees and shrubs as the herbicide can make its way through the soil to roots, killing these plants.

A granular fertilizer and a selective post-emergence liquid herbicide can also be purchased and used separately. A selective herbicide is one that will kill only certain plants, not both the broad leaves and the lawn grasses. Probably the best known herbicide, glyphosate, is non-selective and will kill everything herbaceous that it touches. Whenever using an herbicide, always read the label carefully and follow the instructions. There are also cautions about applying products before and after rain, use around water, pets, children, when you can walk on the treated area and more, on the product label

Digging or pulling broadleaf lawn weeds in the fall will greatly reduce a spring crop. This usually is not practical for large, heavily infested areas. Just remember that there is no easy, sure-fire way to rid a lawn of weeds. It may be wise to learn to tolerate a few weeds and use herbicides only when the health of the lawn is threatened.

During September maintain a mowing height of about 2 ½ to 3 inches and then gradually lower the height in October. Longer grass blades in September allow the plants to make more food via photosynthesis. This means the roots will extend deeper into the soil. Developing a strong root system creates a healthier plant. By late October, the height should have been reduced to about 2 to 2 ½ inches. Shorter grass prevents matting and the formation of snow mold the following spring.

Continue watering during dry periods. Even though temperatures are cooler and days are getting shorter, soil will still dry out if there’s no rain. Just be sure to allow the soil to dry slightly before watering again. A well-watered lawn helps prepare the grass plants for a harsh winter.

Finally, this is a great time to seed or reseed areas of the lawn. The soil is still warm and there is usually ample moisture. Another advantage is that the annual weed seeds from crabgrass, yellow foxtail, lambs quarters or common ragweed are no longer germinating. Weeds have stopped growing and are not competing with the grass seed for water and nutrients.

Winter Care

Avoid walking on frozen or frosted lawn. This can damage or break the blades of grass, resulting in brown, trampled lawn in spring.

Spring Care

Homeowners typically begin thinking about lawn care in the spring. It is a great time to seed new lawns or patch up sparse areas. Fine fescues are the most commonly used grasses in our area. They grow vigorously in the spring and fall and slow down during hot, mid-summer when it is likely to be drier. They are fine textured, medium green, drought tolerant and often mixed with Kentucky blue grass in seed mixes. Some mixes are labeled low-maintenance, indicating a reduced need for watering and fertilization.

Fertilization should begin in the spring because most root growth and the initiation of new roots are beginning. How much fertilizer to apply, however, varies with a lawn’s soil type, how much sun it receives, whether it will be irrigated, whether clippings from mowing will be left on the lawn and how much fertilizer was applied in fall.

For example, a lawn that is in full sun, not irrigated, has low soil organic matter and retains the clippings requires one-half pound of 50 percent slow release nitrogen per 1,000 square feet on or about Memorial Day. If the lawn has high soil organic matter, spring fertilization would not be recommended. Irrigated lawns, on the other hand, require more nitrogen, generally 1/2 pound of 20 to 25 percent slow-release nitrogen per 1,000 square feet at the first mowing and 1/2 pound of 50 percent slow-release nitrogen at or about Memorial Day.

Weed control is another spring activity, but only for summer annual broadleaf weeds, such as knotweed, spurge and grassy weeds, such as crabgrass and foxtail. For the broadleaf weeds, apply an herbicide when the soil is moist and weeds are young and actively growing. To control the grasses use a pre-emergence herbicide two to three weeks before weed seeds can be expected to germinate. Whenever using any herbicide, always read and follow the label directions.

The best way to tackle perennial weeds, such as dandelion and plantain in the spring is to dig them out or spot treat with an herbicide.

If the lawn if 50 percent weeds, it’s best to start over. 2

Spot spray or dig weeds rather than treating the whole lawn. 2

Keep the lawn mower blade sharp to reduce irregular tears of the grass blades. Ragged cuts give the lawn an overall brown case and invite insect or disease damage. 3

Begin regular mowing and leave the clippings on the lawn. Over the course of the season the clippings will provide the equivalent of about one fertilizer application annually. Bag the clippings only if a mowing is missed and they clump on the surface of the lawn.

If drought conditions have persisted through the winter and into the early spring, consider watering beginning the first week of May. No matter whether you water in spring, summer or fall, the most important thing to remember is that it should be deep and infrequent. It’s best to water in the morning and long enough to wet the soil to a depth of 5 inches. If watering a newly seeded area, apply ½ inch of water to settle the seed and then to keep the area damp, but not soggy, for three to four weeks.

Summer Care

Grass shoots grow rapidly during the summer, so the most important summer lawn care task is mowing regularly. Mow high, setting the mower’s cutting height to 3 to 3 1/2 inches (or as low as 2 1/2 inches if there has been plenty of rain). Avoid scalping the lawn to prevent moisture loss and heat stress on the grass plants.

June through early July is the best time for applying crabgrass post-emergence herbicide. Perennial weeds such as dandelions and thistles can be spot-treated with herbicide.

Mow the grass to about 3 inches high to prevent scalping and drying out of lawns. 2



Lawns are an important part of our public and private spaces and caring for them sustainably is more complicated than mowing, watering and randomly applying fertilizers and herbicides.



1. Photo courtesy of
2. Photo courtesy of Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
3. Photo courtesy of

From Minnesota Gardener Volume I Issue IV.


Posted: 04/30/14   RSS | Print


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Seven-Son Flower
by John Eustice       #Hot Plants

White flowers emerge on seven-son shrubs in late summer.

Bright red sepals color seven-son flower in fall.

Heptacodium miconioides or seven-son flower is new to most Minnesota gardeners. Sometimes called a crapemyrtle for the north, it is a large shrub with attractive peeling bark and late-summer blooms. When freezing temperatures evade our region until late fall, bright red calyxes develop, which offer further interest. Heptacodium is adaptable, but it prefers a sunny location and well-drained, neutral or acid soil.

Although sometimes listed as hardy only to USDA Zone 5, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in USDA Zone 4 has been growing seven-son flower in an exposed location for several years. Healthy specimens in Duluth, Minn., and reports of plants growing in International Falls, suggest that it is worth trying throughout the state.

Common Name: Seven-son flower

Botanical Name: Heptacodium miconioides

Type: Large shrub

Size: 15 feet high and 10 feet wide.

Soil: Well drained soil. Textures from sand to clay. Neutral to acid pH.

Exposure: Full sun is best. Some shade is tolerated.

Watering: Water regularly until established. Performs well on average rainfall in normal years.

When to fertilize: At time of bud-break in spring.

Hardiness: Worth trialing in USDA Zones 3 and 4.

Planting: Break up root ball at time of planting.

Pruning: Remove broken or dead canes. Training heptacodium as a tree is not recommended.

In your landscape: Heptacodium is excellent in a shrub border or as a focal point in a mixed border. Its late-season flowers and attractive bark provide interest in fall and winter.

From Minnesota Gardener Volume I Issue IV. Photos courtesy of Spring Meadow Nursery.


Posted: 04/25/14   RSS | Print


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Six Reasons to Join a CSA
by Amy McDowell       #Edibles

Most Community Supported Agriculture operations, called CSAs, are organic or nearly organic. Here, growers at Wabi Sabi Farm are planting garlic.

The air is abuzz with springtime chatter. And there’s more to the chatter than birds returning from their southern winter vacations. I hear talk all around me about who is joining which CSA this year and what new CSA opportunities are opening up in our community.

CSAs, short for community supported agriculture, are buy-in programs with local farms. For an annual fee, CSA members share in the harvest, bringing home boxes of produce weekly (or bi-weekly) throughout the growing season. Visit to find the CSAs near you. Why should you join a CSA? Let me detail six great reasons.

1. Welcome fresher produce into your life. The vegetables you get from a CSA are often harvested the day you receive them. Studies have proven that fresh produce is much more nutritious than produce found in grocery stores. The fresher it is when you eat it, the more healthful it is for your body. Even if you don’t eat it quickly, you’ll notice its uber-freshness means it lasts a long time (a really long time) on your countertop or in your refrigerator before it starts to go bad.

2. Shopping locally supports your local economy and farmers near you. You can cut out the middleman. Like farmers’ markets, with a CSA, you are buying directly from the farmer who grows your food. The relationship puts you in touch with the kind of growing season the farmer is experiencing and the joys and challenges of food production. It’s a fantastic way to build a healthy relationship with your food right from its origins.

3. Buying produce through a CSA is better for the environment because your produce doesn’t burn fossil fuels traveling across the country (or around the world) to get to you. Isn’t it fascinating to think about the carbon footprint of the food you consume?

4. Expand your repertoire. You’ll likely find a few unfamiliar vegetables in your CSA box. Not only will you and your family eat more vegetables, you’ll also likely discover new ones and recipes you love along the way. Sometimes you’ll go to a farm to pick up the produce and sometimes a CSA brings it to a central location, where subscribers go to pick it up.

5. SAs couldn’t be easier. Pay one registration fee at the beginning of the season and you get to bring home fresh local produce all season. Joining a CSA is a great way to avoid the labor of maintaining your own garden. It will free up your time for eating, cooking and preserving the harvest. Not to mention summertime vacation, leisure and pursuing all of those other hobbies you love. You can devote your garden space to growing your favorite things that the CSA doesn’t offer and just dabbling in gardening for the sheer joy of it. CSAs also provide fresh produce for apartment or condo dwellers and those with small yards or without a sunny spot for a vegetable garden.

6. Say goodbye to pesticides and chemicals on your food. Although not all CSAs are certified organic (because the paperwork for certification is arduous,) almost all of them are chemical free and avoid the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. It just makes sense environmentally. The diversity of crops on CSA farms means they have an advantage when it comes to attracting beneficial insects and insect predators, and avoiding pests and pesticides.

Harvest season is a joyous time for both the growers and the members.
As an added benefit, some CSAs host workshops or potlucks for members. It's a great opportunity to share recipes for the produce everyone receives.


Photos courtesy of Ben Saunders, Wabi Sabi Farm, Granger, Iowa


Posted: 04/23/14   RSS | Print


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Growing Good Taste
by Karen Weir-Jimerson    

Most herbs are native to the Mediterranean region of Europe, but Iowa’s hot summers are ideal for growing some of the most flavorful varieties. Imagine pizzas with fresh basil, tacos with cilantro leaves and chicken soup with sprigs of lemon thyme. No matter what your culinary preference, herbs make nearly everything taste better and fresher.

Following are five top herbs that will excel in your Iowa garden:

Small leafed basil (Ocimum x. africanum ‘Spicy Globe’)  varieties, such as ‘Spicy Globe’, make  attractive container plants.

1. Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

Italian and Thai recipes use lots of basil. This plant is an annual and grows prolifically once the weather is really hot. Harvest leaves by snipping them off the top of the plant. This will keep the plant from setting seed and also help keep the plants bushy and leafy.

Types: Try ‘Boxwood’, a variety that has an upright growth habit and is great in containers. The basil of choice for pesto is ‘Genovese’.

How to Use: Snip off fresh leaves and drop directly into salad, use on sandwiches (or better yet, panini) to add flavor, sauté in olive oil with garlic and tomatoes to make a quick fresh sauce for pasta. Make pesto.

Storage: Use fresh basil while it lasts. You can also freeze it in pesto form. When you freeze whole leaves, they retain their taste, but they become limp.

2. Thyme (Thymus spp.)

This small-leaved, low-growing perennial herb is as beautiful in the garden as it is in recipes. Use it in an herb garden as a fragrant ground cover, or tuck it at the edges of containers or window boxes.

Types: There are lots of different thymes, but if you plan to cook with it, choose the culinary kinds, such as English and French thyme. Add a lemony sparkle to chicken and pasta dishes with lemon thyme.

How to Use: Thyme is a great herb for spicing up light meals such as egg, chicken and fish dishes. It is also a component of herbs de Provence, a French herb mixture that is added to stews and sauces. Use whole stems when roasting meats.

Storage: Fresh thyme lasts a long time in the refrigerator. Wrap harvested stems in a wet paper towel and store. Thyme is easily air dried for later use.

Parsley with swallowtail larva

3. Parsley (Petroselinum)

Frequently used as a garnish, this fresh herb has a mild, fresh taste. Parsley forms verdant mounds of green leaves, which makes it an ideal edging plant. It also looks great in containers and window boxes. Plant a little extra for food for butterfly larvae. The yellow, white and black-striped swallowtail larvae love the leaves.

Types: There are two kinds of parsley: curly (P. crispum) and flat-leaf (P. crispum var. neapolitanum). Both are very easy to grow. Curly parsley is especially cold hardy and can frequently be harvested for Thanksgiving dinner.

How to Use: Chop it up and add it to pasta dishes for fresh flavor and a deep green color. It’s also delicious dropped into soups and stews. You can even grind the leaves into pesto.

Storage: Fresh parsley is delicious and lasts a long time in the refrigerator. You can also dry parsley to use in winter dishes.

Herbs can grow vertically! Pack herbs into a brightly colored planting frame.

4. Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)

The thin, green leaves of this annual herb are used in Mexican and Asian dishes. The leaves have a pungent, distinctive taste that people seem to either love or hate. One plant actually produces two different herbs: the fresh, green leaves are called cilantro and the dried seeds are called coriander. Cilantro and coriander have very different flavors.

Types: Cilantro blooms in hot weather, called bolting. If you use the leaves primarily, try the variety ‘Jantar’ for a slow-to-bolt option. Or, sow seeds every few weeks to extend the harvest. 

How to Use: Chop fresh cilantro leaves into soups, salsas and guacamole. Grind the leaves into pesto. Coriander seeds can be added to Indian dishes or used in pickling recipes. Or, grind this pungent herb into a dry marinade for roasted meats.

Storage: Use cilantro fresh, or dry the leaves to use later. To harvest the seeds, hang the plants upside down to air dry. Store dried seeds in an airtight container

5. Sage (Salvia officinalis)

One of the staples of the Thanksgiving table, sage is delicious in stuffing, as well as added to roasted vegetable mixes. It’s also a delight in the garden. This perennial herb produces mounds of gray-green leaves. It makes a lovely border in an herb garden, and can be tucked into containers as well.

Types: Culinary sage is primarily gray-green. Nonculinary sage comes in several showy colors: Tri-color is variegated with pink, green and white leaves.

How to Use: This flavorful herb adds its culinary charms to pastas, eggs, fish and chicken. For a fast evening meal, sauté sage leaves in butter and pour over pasta.

Storage: Use sage leaves fresh or air dry to use all winter.

Mix Herbs and Veggies  

Sun-loving herbs are excellent mixers in vegetable beds or container gardens. Interplant fast-growing herbs, such as dill or cilantro, with lettuce greens. You can harvest both at the same time to make a fresh salad with fresh herb dressing!

From Iowa Gardener Volume I Issue III. Photos by Karen Weir-Jimerson.


Posted: 04/23/14   RSS | Print


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Recycled Projects for the Garden
by Debbie Clark       #Design   #Feature

When you say “recycling,” most people think of plastic, paper and metals items. They clean and separate these items each week for trash pickup or take them to a recycling center. But what do you do with those items that you need to discard that you cannot easily recycle or may be too big for trash pickup? Why not get creative and give those items a new life in the garden? You can reuse or repurpose them. Here are four easy to make projects for your garden that can be made from those unwanted items.

A garden door can become a wonderful focal point in any garden.

A Garden Door

A garden door can become a wonderful focal point in any garden. This whimsical garden door marks the entrance to a “secret garden.” It invites garden visitors to open it and explore what lies beyond. It was created out of cut tree branches, an old garden trowel, a used clay flower pot, wood and lots of imagination. I made a garden door similar to this one for my garden. The cedar wood for my door was recycled from a house that was being remodeled.

This door marks the entrance into Cathy Plump’s secret garden. The door was made by her husband, Steve.

A Vertical Garden Form

One of the newest trends is reusing wood shipping pallets in the garden. Take a used shipping pallet and stain or paint it. Cover the bottom and back of the pallet with several layers of weed barrier. The weed barrier on the pallet in the picture was made from recycled pop bottles. You will need to use heavy-duty staples to attach the weed barrier to the pallet. Make sure that you use lots of staples to attach the weed barrier firmly on the pallet. After the pallet is covered with weed barrier, lie it flat on the ground and fill it full of a good commercial potting soil. Stuff that dirt into the pallet and behind the slats tightly.

Now all you need to do is plant your pallet and water it. You can use sedums, flowering annuals or other types of plants for your pallet garden. Make sure that you keep the pallet flat or upright and slightly tilted back for a period of time to allow the plants to establish and root into the pallet before you sit it upright.

An old wooden pallet makes a great vertical garden for growing plants. This pallet garden has been planted with sun-loving sedums.

An old wooden pallet makes a great vertical garden for growing plants.

A solar light planter is a great way to light up the garden after dark.

An old table, cabinet doors and scrap wood becomes a great potting table for the garden.

A Solar Light Planter

A solar light planter is a great way to light up the garden after dark. If you have a sunny location in your garden and you need some light after dark, this is the project for you. The container is a black plastic nursery pot that had been used for a tree. The 4-by-4-foot posts were leftover pieces from a deck project and one piece is a recycled fence post. The pieces were placed into the container and then the soil was added. A hole was drilled into the top of each post about 2 inches deep and a solar light was inserted into each of the holes. Use a bit of silicone caulk to hold the lights in place. Add some colorful plants in your container and place it in a sunny location. Now you have a great planter that lights up that dark garden path at night, saves money on electricity and keeps those black nursery pots out of the landfills.

This solar light planter is made to light up the night.

A Potting Table

Here is a great idea for creating a potting table for the garden. The bottom of this potting table was an old wood table that a neighbor was putting out for trash pickup. Some scrap wood was added under the table to form a large shelf for storing flower pots. The top of the potting table was made from leftover scrap wood and hardware found in and about the garage. The two panels on both sides of the upper part are old kitchen cabinet doors. Leftover ceramic tiles were added to the top for a little decoration. After everything was assembled, the completed potting table was painted and placed into the garden. 

An old table, cabinet doors and scrap wood becomes a great potting table for the garden.

Reusing and repurposing items can be fun and a great way to create some wonderful projects for your garden. The next time you see that wood pallet, old flower pot, table, chair or other household items, before you trash them, think about how you could repurpose them for your garden. Use your imagination, get creative and recycle!

From State-by-State Gardening January/February 2014. Photos by Debbie Clark.


Posted: 04/23/14   RSS | Print


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Be on the Lookout for Oak Wilt Disease
by Denise Schreiber    

Leaves of this oak affected by oak wilt look drought stressed.1

It starts off with a whimper. Perhaps you decide to prune a branch or two off of your pin oak because they are too close to the house. You found some dried green leaves laying in the yard and thought it was just drought and it’s only June. Or Mother Nature decides to show her force with a violent thunderstorm and knock some branches off your oak trees. The next year you notice that the crown of the tree has some open spots and some dead branches. The year after that most of the crown, if not all, is dead and bark is sloughing off the tree. And your prized oak now looks like it is destined for the fireplace. It might be oak wilt disease, which is caused by the fungus Ceratocystis fagacearum.

Oak leaves showing symptoms of oak wilt.3

Leaves from an oak-wilt-infested tree litter the lawn in summer.5

Once a tree is infected with oak wilt the only cure is pruning at soil height. If you missed the joke, it means cutting the tree down. It affects members of the red oak family such as pin oaks but can also affect members of the white oak family as well. There are a number of ways the tree is infected. One is root grafts where the roots of two or more trees become intermingled much like putting your fingers together and spreading them out. When damage to an infected tree occurs, it sends out a shockwave through the root system and sends the disease to the next oak tree. The only time this doesn’t happen is when the tree is completely dormant.

The fungus Ceratocystis fagacearum creates a fungal mat beneath the bark.2

If an infected tree is pruned during active growth, it gives off an odor similar to stale beer that attracts sap- and bark-feeding beetles. There are fungal mats that develop under the bark and as they enlarge, they crack the bark open and the odor attracts sap-feeding beetles called Nitidulids. They feed off the spore mats and the fungal spores cling to the insects’ bodies. As they fly off to feed on healthy oaks, they infect the new trees.

There are also oak bark beetles that can also spread the fungus. The adults breed under the bark of infected trees, lay their eggs and fly off to infect more trees. When the eggs hatch and become adults they are also covered with the oak wilt spores and spread more infection. The fungus can be spread up to a mile by the insects. There have been studies (but it has not been proven conclusively) that suggest other insects that may occasionally feed on oaks can transmit the disease through passive movement.

So how do you prevent your trees from becoming victims of oak wilt? First, think of your choice of tree. Is it the right tree for your property? Oaks are one of the majestic trees of the forest and aren’t necessarily suited for the average homeowner’s postage-stamp lot. However if you have one already growing, you should take care of the tree by properly watering and fertilizing the tree. Do not prune when the tree is growing so as not to attract the beetles during their active season.

If you suspect that your tree is infected, call a certified arborist to confirm a diagnosis. An arborist can make the recommendations of how to deal with the situation. If you have a couple of oak trees that probably have grafted root systems, the root graft must be broken by either a trencher or a vibrating plow. This is best left to experts and shouldn’t be attempted by homeowners since it requires going 2-4 feet deep to break the graft. Again this should be done during the dormant period.

Through root grafts like these oak wilt disease can be spread from one tree to the next.4

If the tree is sloughing off bark, all the bark and spore mats should be collected and put in the garbage. Do not compost them or put them through a shredder. Burn or bury them if possible. The wood can be used as firewood but it should not be transported out of the area.

The disease affects primarily oaks, but it has been known to also infect plantation-grown Chinese chestnuts and European chestnuts. It does not affect other trees such as maples.

As a matter of good horticulture practice, clean your tools after each use and in between plants with a 10 percent bleach solution. 



1. Photo by Paul A. Mistretta, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.or
2. Photo by Fred Baker, Utah State University,
3. Photo by J. Hunt  Symptoms Photo by D. W. French, University of Minnesota
4. Photo by Ronald F. Billings Organization: Texas Forest Service
5. Photo by Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service,



Posted: 04/21/14   RSS | Print


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Canadian Wild Ginger
by Pam Potter       #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


Posted: 04/18/14   RSS | Print


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Adding Individuality to the Garden
by Elizabeth Schumacher       #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.


Posted: 04/16/14   RSS | Print


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Plant for a Year Full of Beauty
by Anne Larson       #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


Posted: 04/09/14   RSS | Print


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Putting Perennials in Their Place: Integrating Them into the Garden
by Stephanie Cohen       #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.


Posted: 04/07/14   RSS | Print


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Shining Silvers
by Caleb Melchior       #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.


Posted: 04/07/14   RSS | Print


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New and Unusual Plants to Grow
by Jim Long       #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.


Posted: 04/02/14   RSS | Print


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Plant the Right Tree the Right Way for Long-Lasting Beauty
by Jonathan Heaton       #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.


Posted: 04/02/14   RSS | Print


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‘Blonde Ambition’
by Kelly D. Norris       #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.


Posted: 03/28/14   RSS | Print


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Trees With Ornamental Bark for Winter Interest
by Scott A. Zanon       #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.


Posted: 03/26/14   RSS | Print


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A Battle with Emerald Ash Borer is in Your Future
by Jonathan Heaton       #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.


Posted: 03/24/14   RSS | Print


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All-America Selections Winners Take All
by Denise Schreiber       #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.


Posted: 03/24/14   RSS | Print


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Eastern bee balm
by By Roy Diblik       #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.


Posted: 03/21/14   RSS | Print


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The Right Tool For The Right Job
by Nancy Szerlag       #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.


Posted: 03/19/14   RSS | Print


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Make the Most of Your Patio
by Joe VanDerZanden       #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.


Posted: 03/12/14   RSS | Print


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Sunny Disposition, Shady Needs
by Jim Nau       #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.


Posted: 03/12/14   RSS | Print


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Oh No! It’s Going to Freeze Tonight!
by Betsy Lyman    

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.


Posted: 03/10/14   RSS | Print


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New and Unusual Varieties to Try
by Carol Michel       #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.


Posted: 03/05/14   RSS | Print


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Turn A Drainage Ditch Into A Dandy Display
by Patrice Peltier    

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.


Posted: 03/05/14   RSS | Print


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ZZ Plant
by Chris Baker       #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.


Posted: 02/28/14   RSS | Print


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Summer School for Teacher
by Rob Zimmer    

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.


Posted: 02/26/14   RSS | Print


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Seed Starting 101
by Charlotte Kidd       #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


Posted: 02/24/14   RSS | Print


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Dwarf Mondo Grass
by Ann McCulloh       #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.


Posted: 02/21/14   RSS | Print


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Growing Microgreens
by Carol Michel       #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.


Posted: 02/19/14   RSS | Print


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Thought for Food: Planning Perfect Produce
by Jan Riggenbach       #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.


Posted: 02/14/14   RSS | Print


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Ivy Leaved Cyclamen
by Joseph Tychonievich       #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.


Posted: 02/14/14   RSS | Print


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Standing Up to Salt
by Deb Terrill       #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.


Posted: 02/12/14   RSS | Print


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Prevent Mint From Taking Over the Garden
by Trish Joseph       #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


Posted: 02/12/14   RSS | Print


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The Growing, Thriving Permaculture Movement
by Amy McDowell       #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


Posted: 02/11/14   RSS | Print


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Spring Ahead
by Betsy Lyman       #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.


Posted: 02/10/14   RSS | Print


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‘Biokovo’ Geranium
by Charlotte Kidd       #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.


Posted: 02/07/14   RSS | Print


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Henderson’s Daphne
by Joseph Tychonievich       #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


Posted: 02/07/14   RSS | Print


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Saving Kitty (and Your Sanity)
by Susan Randstrom Bruck       #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.


Posted: 02/05/14   RSS | Print


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Ideas for the Taking at the Arboretum
by Bill Johnson    

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.


Posted: 02/05/14   RSS | Print


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Wild for Wisteria
by Kathleen Hennessy       #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.


Posted: 01/31/14   RSS | Print


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Limelight Panicle Hydrangea
by Susan Martin       #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.


Posted: 01/24/14   RSS | Print


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Weed Wondering
by Douglas A. Spilker, Ph.D.    

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.


Posted: 01/22/14   RSS | Print


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Two for One: Making More of Your Space
by Bobbie Schwartz, FAPLD    

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.


Posted: 01/15/14   RSS | Print


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Millstones: Symbols of Harvest in Today’s Gardens
by Teresa Woodard    

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.


Posted: 01/08/14   RSS | Print


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From the Mediterranean to Midwestern Gardens
by Caleb Melchior    

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.


Posted: 01/01/14   RSS | Print


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Tips for Winter Tree & Shrub Care
by Jonathan Heaton    

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.


Posted: 01/01/14   RSS | Print


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Growing Orchids Indoors
by Maureen Hirthler    

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.


Posted: 12/30/13   RSS | Print


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Don’t Cry for Me
by Deb Terrill    

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


Posted: 12/27/13   RSS | Print


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