Louisiana Gardener Web Articles
Timothy J. Malinich teaches and writes on many topics including nursery and greenhouse production, propagation and pesticide safety. He has worked in the horticulture industry for over 40 years.

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Cactus Collecting
by Timothy J. Malinich       #Plant Profile   #Xeriscaping

Several species of Mammillaria will not only flower every year, but may also reward you with brightly colored fruit.

Cacti (singular cactus) catch the eye of many hobbyists. They are easy and rewarding to grow, fun to display, and readily available. People are often hesitant to grow them because they fear the reputation of these desert denizens. Here are a few tips that will hopefully de-mystify the collecting of cacti.

Names given to cacti tend to create confusion for the collector. Common names used by hobbyists often include entire groups of related plants. For instance, the genus Gymnocalycium has about 71 species, but they are all referred to as “chin cactus” for the dimple between each cluster of spines on the rib.

Each cactus does have its own scientific name, listed as Genus species, where the genus is general and the species more specific. Even that has gotten confusing as taxonomists (people who identify, describe, and name plants) have reclassified hundreds of cactus species. Growers, collectors, and suppliers may or may not adopt those changes, so you may find two or three scientific names referring to the same plant. When you research plants, look for synonyms of the name in the listing.

Some easy-to-grow cacti, such as Gymnocalycium, will also flower on a regular basis if provided the correct balance of light, water, fertilizer, and winter rest.

Plant Collections
Cactus hobbyists quickly run out of room for their collection. Consider the size of the plants as your interest sharpens; think of how it might fit into your home or greenhouse. Many of the globose plants, such as Gymnocalycium, will remain small their entire life. A 30-year-old G. horstii can still be less than 10 inches tall and 6 inches wide. Columnar cacti, such as Cephalocereus or Cereus, however, can reach heights of 50 feet and will outgrow a typical indoor ceiling within 10 years.

Cleistocactus and Oreocereus are also tall columnar cacti, but more manageable in size. In cultivation, they may reach several feet in height; difficult to manage, but still possible. Clump-forming plants, such as Opuntia (prickly pear, bunny ears) or Mammillaria, are manageable as far as height, but will need room to spread as they mature.

Growing Cacti
Cacti prefer very well-drained soil. They have a limited root system that cannot handle large amounts of moisture. A small root system in a large pot and a soil mix that holds plenty of moisture will create ideal conditions for root rot. Choose a pot that seems too small for the cactus you are planting. A pot that is only 2 inches wider than a globose (short and round) plant is large enough. If you want to plant a group of cactus plants, keep each one in its individual pot and use filler, such as stone, between the pots in the planter.

Most terrestrial cacti prefer a well-drained, gritty substrate. In habitat, cacti such as this small Coryphantha, thrive in a rocky environment.

Use pots that have drainage holes. Either clay or plastic are fine. Clay is more forgiving of overwatering, as it will dry out faster; if you tend to overwater, go with clay pots. Plastic is cheaper, cleaner, and can help hobbyists that might not be able to keep up with watering. As your plants grow taller, you will notice that they become top-heavy and tip over easily. Clay pots can add more weight to the base for top-heavy plants.

Choose the planting medium carefully; even those listed as cactus soil might not have enough grit to provide good drainage. You can make improve a mix by adding perlite, grit, coarse sand, or pumice to improve its drainage. A mixture of 3 parts good potting soil and 1 part extra drainage material is a good place to start. In nature, cacti grow in a mixture of rock, grit, silt, and some organic matter. After planting you may have to use stakes or rocks to hold the plant upright until it roots into the new pot.

Fertilizer and Water
There is this misunderstanding that cacti like to be starved and dry. They are desert plants, but they do have a season during which they grow and reproduce. The goal of the grower is to keep them dry and dormant in the off-season, but provide ample water and nutrients during their growing season.

If you don’t have a greenhouse, this means gradually moving the plants outside in the spring after the danger of frost. Cacti will do just fine with regular watering and fertilizing during the growing season. Use a water-soluble fertilizer mixed just under full-strength. Slow-release fertilizers are even better, but put them down early in the season according to label directions.

As fall approaches, gradually let the plant dry and move it to its overwintering location. During the winter, only water enough to keep the cactus from shriveling; depending on conditions, this could mean a small drink every few weeks – never soak the roots during dormancy.

Spines add texture and interest. The long and thick Thelocactus lophothele spines make this plant both dangerous and attractive. Handled with care, it can be grown without too much pain or loss of blood. • Spine-proof gloves, paper collars, tongs, and smart handling will keep you and your plant safe during regular maintenance. Note that the roots are a spine-free zone to hold during transplanting.

Spines provide the texture and interest that attracts a collector to a plant. But no matter how careful you are, you will likely get an occasional puncture from your plants; many punctures if you are not careful.

Spines grow from the same area that would normally produce leaves. They grow from their base (like your fingernails) and push new spine outward from the base. If you look closely at a large spine you can see the growth ridges running across the spine.

Cacti are not as indestructible as people think. In nature they often get their start under a nurse plant, which provides shade and shelter from the wind. This clump of Echinocereus will eventually outcompete the nurse plant that has sheltered it since it was young.

Barrel cactus (Ferocactus) grows a thick coat of large spines, making them unapproachable from any angle. Each spine is capable of inflicting a deep puncture wound. Mammillaria have a central spine with a hook on the end. They are fairly flexible and won’t readily pierce skin but will hook onto clothing or hair. Opuntia produce thousands of glochids – clusters of very small spines that break off and stick to skin. Their small size makes them difficult to remove and they can be very irritating, as hundreds can bury themselves in your flesh at the lightest touch.

Tools for handling cacti vary from grower to grower. Several layers of folded newspaper can be wrapped around a cactus without damaging the spines too much; corrugated cardboard also works. There are also reinforced gloves made for working with thorny plants.

There are many great resources available to the cactus hobbyist that provide much more detailed information about individual plants and cultivation than this article has room for. If you have an interest in cacti or succulents, join one of the many associations across the country.

The Cactus & Succulent Society of America (CSSA) publishes a great journal for hobbyists. Their website, cssainc.org, has a list of state and international affiliates.

With a little research and understanding, it is easy to quickly develop a great cacti collection. This is the year to get hooked by cacti.


A version of this article appeared in a September/October 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Timothy J. Malinich.


Posted: 09/18/18   RSS | Print


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Fall Gardening Strategies
by Randel A. Agrella       #Fall   #Seeds   #Winter

Many hardy veggie types lend themselves to winter sowing – seeding in very late fall, just before the ground freezes, for super-early sprouts the following spring.

The summer garden is largely finished and your fall crops are growing nicely, but there’s still plenty to do: Winter is on its way and doing the right work now can really put you ahead next spring. The life in your garden may slow down during winter, but never absolutely ceases. So why not use your garden’s downtime to your advantage? You can, with a range of fall gardening strategies.

It’s best to do any garden cleanup promptly, but most of us own a backlog by season’s end. Now’s the time to make amends. Pull up spent veggie plants and weeds. Most such debris is fodder for the compost pile, but never compost diseased material – burn or otherwise dispose of it instead. You don’t want to chance harboring pathogens and spreading them next season. Healthy material from disease-prone crops, such as tomatoes or squash, should be composted separately and the compost reserved for the flowerbeds. As for the rest, into the pile it goes, shredded first if you can manage it.

In certain situations it’s better to leave the ground bare, such as when the presence of insect pests is suspected or on low ground, which dries out slowly in spring.


To Mulch or Not to Mulch?

Often, under a thick layer of mulch is the best way for your garden to pass the winter. Chopped alfalfa, shown here, is a fabulous mulch that enriches the soil.

That is the question. A good mulch slowly feeds next year’s soil as it decomposes. Mulch protects overwintering plants, supports soil microbial life, and prevents weed seeds from germinating in the meantime. Literally, any organic matter will work, but each material has its unique composition, so select something that’s appropriate as well as readily available. Use a coarse fibrous mulch, such as straw, if the goal is to slow runoff and keep soil in place. Or select something extra nutritious, like beet pulp or alfalfa hay or meal, to beef up fertility.

Clean cultivation (meaning leaving the ground bare) has its value as well. Exposed soil is subject to wider temperature extremes, and may get colder during deep winter, possibly destroying overwintering insect pests. I recommend clean cultivation after squash, cucumber, and melon crops, since these are especially prone to insect depredation. I also suggest it for any patch that had an unusual pest outbreak. It’s no magic bullet, but one can hope. That’s part of what makes us gardeners!

‘Tom Thumb’ lettuce sprouting immediately after the snow melted, weeks before this ground could be worked for spring planting.

Plant a Cover Crop
An alternative to mulching is planting a cover crop. Seeded in autumn, cover crops make slow growth until winter shuts the plants down; they then remain in suspended animation all winter, maybe making a little growth during mild spells. The plants take up soluble nutrients that might otherwise leach away in winter precipitation, holding them in their own tissues. These stored nutrients are released back into the soil when the cover crop is incorporated (dug back into the soil). Leguminous cover crops, such as winter pea, hairy vetch or clovers, will actually increase net soil fertility by their nitrogen-fixing action.

An enormous added benefit is the organic matter cover crops supply. This can be substantial when the cover crop is allowed to make some spring growth prior to incorporation. I like to mow a cover crop before tilling it in, which makes the work of incorporating it easier.

A cover crop can even segue into next year’s no-till bed with a little planning. A dense planting of winter wheat or rye, for example, can be knocked down in spring with a weed-whacker, leaving fresh mulch (that you didn’t have to load, unload, tote, and spread!) into which you then plant the next crop. It takes some fine-tuning, but it can be very useful indeed.

Winter-sown peas not a month after the snow has gone.

Winter Sowing
If you can plant a cover crop to overwinter, why couldn’t you plant some actual veggie crops and do the same? You can. You can sow seeds for next spring’s crops into well-worked and properly amended soil in fall. The seeds wait patiently for the soil to warm, sprouting in due course. From winter-sown seed you’ll often see sprouts far earlier in spring than you could ever plant them, so it’s a great technique to obtain the earliest possible spring crops. It’s best suited for hardy vegetables, such as lettuce, spinach, arugula, and parsnip. But a range of slightly less hardy crops work as well, such as beets, carrots, and turnips.

The trick is timing the plantings correctly. In most cases, you want to sow the seeds in late autumn, after the soil temperature is low enough to prevent immediate germination, say, below 40 F. You want the seeds to remain dormant until winter begins to wane – many types would of winterkill as plants but will sail right through as seeds. The result is the earliest possible seedlings to usher in the new gardening season, early harvests as well.

Consider your fall gardening options carefully, make a plan, and plunge in. You’ll be ready to hit the ground running, next spring, and your garden will be ahead of the game.


A version of this article appeared in a September/October 2018 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Randel A. Agrella.


Posted: 09/18/18   RSS | Print


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The Joys of Garden Journaling
by Pam Ruch       #Fall   #Misc   #Tools


The Journaling Life

Journaling is a practice, and it is an awakening of the mind. When you begin the practice of active observation, you will feel yourself changing. If you are naturally inquisitive, you will become more so. You may also find that drawing elements of nature — the bark of a tree, a flower, a cicada shell — serves as a meditative, and therefore restorative, experience.

Once the explosion that is summer comes to a screeching halt, gardeners are susceptible to “garden fatigue.” Ah, but fall is for reflection — on the successes and failures of the year’s garden, on the “bones” of the landscape, on the cyclical nature of life. It is a time for slowing down, observing, writing snippets of poetry. It is the perfect time to start a garden journal.

Journaling may take various forms. One person’s journal might be a recording of bloom times; another’s might be filled with drawings and notes on vegetable varieties. Regardless of how you journal, you’ll find that developing the habit of acute observation will bring surprising discoveries.

Put together a kit and you’ll be ready to journal at a moment’s notice.

Step 1: The Kit
A journaling kit should be simple and lightweight. The essentials:

• A shoulder bag or backpack.
• A journal. Choose one that is spiral-bound, so it opens flat. You will find yourself transfixed by the head of a sunflower, a bark pattern, or some other wonder, and your arm may be the only available ledge.
• Drawing pen. Fine-point drawing pens are excellent for outlining the shape of a leaf, or jotting down notes. I prefer sepia to black, as it creates a softer, more natural image.
• Pencils. Inexpensive mechanical pencils (such as BIC brand) stay sharp. Also carry a soft lead pencil, such as an ebony pencil or a 4B, for shadows.
• Colored pencils. Rather than carrying a whole set, choose the few that you are most likely to use. Or, take color notes and add hues later at home.
• A camera. Shots of insects can be enlarged and identified later.
• A hat. Not only does a brimmed hat offer sun protection, it keeps insects from aggravating you as you write or draw.
• Insect repellent. Spray your hat and clothing.
• A magnifier. An inexpensive 10x lens can be attached to a string and worn around your neck.
• Optional: Binoculars and field guides.



April 5 • April 20 • May 20
Spirea leafs out around a praying mantis egg sac

Step 2: Journaling Rules
Of course there are no real rules — your journal is yours to use however you wish. That being said, I will share the practices that have been valuable to me.
• Give yourself the gift of time, that is, turn yourself over to your journal completely for an hour or two, with no expectation other than to discover what there is to discover.
• Start each page by writing the date, the time, the place, and a note on the weather. This will help bring the experience back as you review your journal.
• Turn off the cell phone. If you are to become immersed in the experience, you will not want to be distracted.
• Turn on your curiosity. There are mysteries everywhere. Open your mind to them.

Step 3: A Few Journaling Exercises

Curious about what’s inside a goldenrod stem gall? Open it up and see.

If you’ve never journaled before, try these exercises:
• Hold a leaf in one hand. Very slowly, with your other hand, draw its outline, looking only at the leaf, and not at your paper. Follow every serration or wave of its edge with your pen.
• Take 10 to 15 minutes to just listen. Write down every detail of sound — the cawing of crows, the rustling of leaves, highway sounds. Create a haiku, a three-line poem with 5-7-5 syllables per line, respectively, if you wish.
• Observe a specific spot on successive days or weeks, and document the changes with drawings, words or photos.
• Collect seedpods. Examine their architecture. Describe or draw them.
• Find something in your landscape that puzzles you — a weed you don’t know by name, a gall or an egg mass. Document it with a drawing, and then try to solve the mystery.


A version of this article appeared in a September/October 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography and Illustrations courtesy of Pam Ruch.


Posted: 09/17/18   RSS | Print


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Harvesting and Storing Veggies and Fruits
by Charlotte Kidd    

It’s helpful to label the jars with the date and ingredients.

My neighbor, we call him “Farmer Mel,” does something I find baffling. He practices serious delayed gratification. Throughout summer and into fall, he freezes about 50 quarts of homegrown, luscious, sweet, red, ripe raspberries. He, his wife, grown kids and grandkids enjoy them all winter.

Fascinating! When I start plucking my ever-bearing raspberries, one nibble leads to another … and another. I’m red-tongued and empty-handed long before reaching the kitchen! Scrumptious berries are immediately irresistible. I’m fine freezing chunks of butternut squash for winter cooking though.

Yes, I admire Mel and his like. Here’s to those with the patience, fortitude and foresight to preserve their yummy, excess garden bounty for leaner days.

Farmer Mel freezes his raspberries, peaches and sweet potato fries.

Let’s count the ways we store vegetables and fruits. Doris Stahl, retired Pennsylvania State University Extension educator, goes down the list: canning, dehydrating, fermenting, freezing, freeze-drying, pickling, preserving as jams, jellies or fruit strips. Gardeners can also store produce in a root cellar, in the ground or in a cold frame.

Canning: Hot Water or Pressure
Canning is a way of preserving vegetables and fruits by cooking and vacuum-sealing them in glass bottles to kill bacteria. Hot-water canning involves processing the fruit or vegetable in hot water and vacuum-sealing the jar airtight. Pressure-canning is processing and vacuum-sealing in a specialized pressure cooker.

Hot-water canning is making a creative comeback. Pressure-canning is more complicated so it’s less popular.

Canning and processing food safely is fun and serious business. Botulism or food poisoning can occur when bacteria survive despite the cooking. See the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Library information at fnic.nal.usda.gov/consumers/all-about-food/food-storage-and-preservation.The National Center for Home Food Preservation offers a free, self-paced, online course about home canning and preservation. This course, “History, Science and Current Practice in Home Food Preservation” webinar is offered at nchfp.uga.edu.

Also visit the Purdue University website extension.purdue.edu/usdacanning.

Dehydrating and Air-Drying
Dehydrating and air-drying removes water from fruits, herbs and vegetables.

Beans (Limas, soybeans, favas, peas, cow peas) – Let bean pods dry on the plant. Pop open the pods. Take out the seeds. Dry totally. Store in a glass jar with an airtight screw-top lid.

Hot Peppers – Hot peppers dry better than sweet peppers, says Stahl. Cut the peppers in half. Put well-dried halves in a single layer on a rimmed cookie-baking sheet. Slide the baking sheet into a gas oven with a pilot light. No need to turn on the heat. Let them dry for several weeks. Check every few days. When the peppers are dry, grind them up to store in an airtight container out of the light. Reconstitute in water.

Sally McCabe demonstrates how to lift a jar from the hot-water canning pot.

Herbs – Dehydrate woody-stemmed herbs such as oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage and savory in the oven or microwave. Or air-dry by tying stems and hanging bunches upside down in low light or spreading stems on trays to dry. Freeze herbs with tender leaves such as basil, dill and chives in olive oil for sautés and sauces.

Pickling is preserving vegetables in vinegar, spices and hot or cold water in air-tight jars. We pickle vegetables such as beets, radishes and members of the cucurbit and cruciferous families to eat right away or to hot-water can. One pickling technique involves refrigerating the pickled vegetables for a short time, a week or two. Hot-water pickling (canning) preserves vegetables for months.

Ethnic favorites include the Pennsylvania Dutch Chow Chow mix of solid vegetables – carrots, cauliflower, peppers, celery, corn – in a sweet-sour brine. Pickled summer squash is a contemporary dish. Pickled watermelon rind is a long-standing tradition. For pickling details, visit extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening/osu-extension-has-guide-pickling-vegetables.

“Fermentation is a big thing in epicurean cooking,” Stahl notes. Fermenting involves adding salt or sugar to activate the good bacteria and lactic acid. Yogurt, cheese and olives are fermented. Fermenting cabbage makes German sauerkraut or the hot, spicy Korean staple kim chi. It is science – so do your research, starting with this website, foodsafetynews.com/2014/03/fermenting-veggies-at-home-follow-food-safety-abcs.


Sasha Gettle holds the ‘Purple Top White Globe’ turnip, an excellent winter keeper.

Freezing is easy and convenient, says Stahl. Peppers, celery, beans, corn, berries, peaches, apricots, tomatoes are freezable. Techniques vary according to the type of produce. To parboil or not? Check a reputable source such as this USDA link for important specifics: fnic.nal.usda.gov/consumers/all-about-food/food-storage-and-preservation.

Though frozen fruits stay flavorful, many lose their texture. Stahl likes frozen raspberries and apricots for sauces, purees and baking. Farmer Mel spoons his raspberries on breakfast yogurt and ice cream. He turns frozen whole peaches into peach cobbler and peach-berry buckle. His favorite partially baked-and-frozen sweet potato fries crisp up in the toaster oven before becoming dinner.

Preservation by Alcohol
Do this preferably with vodka or gin, though rum, tequila or brandy will do, too. “The best thing is German Rumtopf,” Stahl explains. As each fruit comes into season, pick the ripest. Layer each type in a large clay pot or glass jar with a lid or cover. Pour vodka or another liquor on the fruits. Keep adding fruit and liquor until the winter holidays. Then spoon the Rumtopf over holiday cake or ice cream. The alcohol preserves the fruit and keeps it solid, says Stahl.

‘Squash Honey Boat Delicata’ is a winter squash that stores well.

Storing Vegetables for the Winter
Randel A. Agrella takes a pragmatic approach to storing winter vegetables – easy, efficient and effective. He is a manager and horticulturist for Comstock, Ferre and Company in Wetherfeld, Conn., but Agrella brings gardening experience from his Missouri home. “I like to encourage people to eat more seasonally,” Agrella says. He extends his carrot crop into winter by mulching with a few inches of hay (without seeds), straw and sawdust. Missouri winters are mild so the soil doesn’t freeze deeply, he explains. He and his family dig up carrots through spring.

In colder states, mulching with 5-7 inches of salt hay can keep carrots and Daikon radishes dormant and edible until early spring, adds Stahl. “If not frozen, they’ll last into February or March. It’s the freezing-and-thawing cycle kills them.” She also suggests placing a cold frame over in-ground root crops. Putting hay bales or sandbags on the cold frame’s plate-glass top can stop the soil below from freezing and thawing.

Winter squash, onions and sweet potatoes are best kept in what Agrella calls “pantry conditions” – a fairly dry, low-humidity environment at about 60 F. A cold bedroom will do, he says. “Most winter squash store well for two to three months.” Ensure good air circulation, he adds.

“A lot of root crops – rutabagas, turnips, carrots, fall radishes – and head cabbage can be stored cold at 34 to 38 F in high humidity,” Agrella explains. Those are typical root cellar conditions that can be adapted to many basements. Gardeners can simulate a root cellar, he continues. “Informally close off a corner of the basement. That will automatically maintain a cool temperature.” How? Hang a plastic drop to isolate a small, cold storage “room.” Leave the vegetables open to the air. Look through the produce twice a month for spoilage, sprouting and dehydration. The “one rotten apple spoils the barrel” theory is true, Agrella says.



A version of this article appeared in a September/October 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Charlotte Kidd and Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.



Posted: 09/17/18   RSS | Print


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Organize a Plant Swap
by Martha Walsworth    

Plant swaps are a fun, organized way to share an abundance of plants. It is also a good way to make sure you have new varieties of plants that you want without having to buy them.

Here are some suggested guidelines for organizing a plant swap.

Choose a location.

A good site is one that is easily accessible, has ample parking space, does not require a long hike to and from the car, has plenty of space to display plants and room to mill, and yes, has bathroom facilities. For summer swaps, consider a shaded area for the benefit of both the plants and the people. Be sure to have a “just-in-case” location in the event of inclement weather.

Some options include private homes, public parks, community centers, schools or churches. Most places will donate space for free. (Be sure to ask permission!)

Pick a date and time.

Have two or three dates in mind and poll the participants to determine the best time for the majority. Good times are spring and fall; you are either opening or closing a growing season. Usually allow two to four hours for the swap.

Resources needed

You will need tables, chairs, pens, boxes, bags, blank labels, table coverings and cleanup supplies.

Decide on how many and who to invite.

A garden club, your neighborhood, a church group, etc. Ten to 25 is a good number to invite. A group larger than this is not as conducive to an intimate and friendly atmosphere. Large, really large plant swaps have been successful, but if you are just starting out, perhaps a limited number is advisable.

Form committees

•  To receive plants and number them.

•  To set up tables.

•  To be responsible for name tags for participants.

•  To clean up.

•  To be in charge of food if you choose to have a simple meal. A sign-up sheet works well for a potluck. Be sure someone is assigned to plates, cups, napkins, etc. Make sure there is sufficient seating for everyone. It might be wise to have each participant bring his or her own chair.

Establish rules in advance. Make them known to everyone.

•  Set up a one-for-one ticket system. For every plant you bring, you can take one.

•  Have lists of available plants to give out.

•  Decide if vegetable plants will be acceptable. Herbs? Annuals and/or perennials? Bulbs?

•  Bring only healthy plants.

•  Label plants with both the common and botanical name. Include your name too.

•  Pass along any specific care information.

•  Do not trade plants contaminated with noxious weeds or nuisance plants.

•  Do not bring nuisance plants to trade.

•  Decide if you will accept seeds as a trade for a plant or if you will have a “seed swap” table only. If you do have a seed swap table, determine what the seed packets will be like. They should be marked clearly and with the name of the plant (common and botanical), the color, growing tips, number of seeds in the packet, whether or not it is open-pollinated or hybridized. (Heirloom seeds – usually open pollinated – will give consistent returns each year and keep a diverse gene pool.) Discourage commercial packets of seeds from participants.

Decide on the actual method of the swap.

One way is to number each plant as it arrives. Then slips of paper go into a hat, each slip with a number. There should be the same number of slips as there are plants to be swapped. After all of this is completed, the drawing is done. At the conclusion of the drawing people often beg pieces of a plant they want to try, or give away plants they don’t want. This, of course, is not the only way to conduct a plant swap, but it might be the simplest way to start out.


After your plant swap is done, evaluate it. What worked? What didn’t? Write it all down while it is still fresh in your mind. Put your notes, receipts, photos, invitations and mailing lists, list of participants, etc., in a file in the event you want to host another one. If not, maybe it would be helpful to someone else.


•  Some gardeners will bring extra plants. What will you do with them?

•  Ask for donations from area nurseries. They may have a surplus to give away as advertising for their store.

•  Have a door prize plant.

•  Have a plant ID book on hand.

•  Use a donation jar to help with expenses.

•  Take pictures. Write an article, and submit it to your local newspaper.

Remember: Good planning is essential, however, as the poet Robert Burns said, “The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry.”

Expect a certain amount of chaos, and don’t get discouraged. Have fun!


From State-by-State Gardening September 2007


Posted: 09/17/18   RSS | Print


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It’s All the Buzz: Basic Beekeeping
by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins       #Beneficials   #How to   #Insects

Hands-on experience is the key to successfully learning how to keep bees.

Spurred by worldwide honeybee declines, more gardeners are learning how to keep honeybees. Overuse of pesticides, diseases and disappearing habitat have all contributed to honeybees’ record losses since 2006, when historically-stable U.S. honeybee populations first plummeted.

It is estimated that honeybee pollination contributes $25 billion in increased value to U.S. agriculture. One of out every three bites of food we eat is pollinated by honeybees.

Clockwise: More homeowners are adding bees to their gardens to help pollinate plants and crops. • Beginning beekeepers start by purchasing a nucleus colony from bee suppliers, which are half the size of regular hives. Bee sellers focus on pulling bee colonies through winter so they can be split and sold to beginning beekeepers. • Honeybees may be a specific breed or a genetic combination bred for traits such as gentleness, hygienic behavior and honey production. Local bees are best since they are acclimated to local conditions.

Hobby beekeepers start by attending basic beekeeping classes. Most classes focus on teaching what beekeepers need to know to help honeybees through their first winter including bee biology, the basics of a hive and bee behavior.

Local beekeeping clubs can supplement classes. Club meetings offer an opportunity to meet other beekeepers and to learn from each other.

Clockwise: Honeybees are responsible for pollinating one third of food crops, including pears. • Municipal ordinances vary across the Midwest about whether hives can be kept within city limits. • Beginning beekeepers learn bee biology and behavior through observing bees on hive frames. • Beginning beekeepers invest about $500 in basic beekeeping equipment, not counting hives and bees.

Hives can be simply painted or become works of art by a children’s art class. Concrete blocks and bricks are popular weights to keep hive lids from blowing off.

Bees are available for pickup and delivery March through May. Beginning beekeepers get ready by either making their own equipment or ordering pre-made hives that still require some treatment, such as painting, prior to occupancy.

Bee clubs make the process easier by reviewing how to place hives, how to build frames and how to install bee packages and nucleus, or nursery, colonies. Learning about local conditions contributes to successfully hosting these European imports.

Honeybees will fly 2-5 miles from their hives. They do best in gardens with plants blooming throughout the year, and they have a penchant for yellow, blue and white flowers with short stamens so they can easily pack pollen.

Beekeeping advice varies because beekeepers keep bees for different reasons; pollination, honey production and the sale of bees have different practices and techniques. Regardless of why someone keeps bees, scientific studies have proven that successfully hosting honeybees is also good for native bee species and other pollinators.


A version of this article appeared in a September/October 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Charlotte Ekker Wiggins and Cheryl Hinchman.


Posted: 09/05/18   RSS | Print


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Get Your Green Fix
by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf    

Visit a locally owned garden center near you to find healthy, well-maintained houseplants.

Dieffenbachia has beautiful foliage and is a good medium-light plant.

Now that fall has arrived and there are fewer garden chores, you may be wondering what to do now. If you miss taking care of plants, purchase a houseplant to get your green fix inside. Houseplants not only add some green, but some believe that houseplants may improve your mood.

Don’t run out and buy the first plant you see, though. First determine the best plant for the desired location. Do you have a bright room with several windows or a room that doesn’t receive any direct sunlight? Choosing the right plant for the spot is the key to success. In addition to the amount of light a plant requires, you need to know the plant’s mature size to make sure it won’t outgrow your space.

How do you determine the amount of light you have to offer a prospective plant roommate? Is its potential location facing north, south, east, or west? Is sunlight blocked by trees, awnings, or adjacent buildings? An east-facing window supports many plants, as it provides morning light – a soft, medium light level. A north-facing window usually only provides enough light for non-flowering plants; opt for dark, large-leaved plants, such as Dieffenbachia and Philodendron. Another option is a plant that is newer to the market, but relatively easy to find – the ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia). These sturdy plants have shiny green leaves and are drought tolerant because of their fleshy roots. If you’ve killed your share of houseplants, this one may be for you. Do not overwater it, as that is the biggest killer of this plant (and many other plants).

Clockwise: African violets have a reputation as “grandma plants,” but they can’t be beat for their flowering power. Place them in a medium-light location, such as an east-facing window, and they will bloom almost constantly. • Chinese evergreens (Aglaonema) are beautiful, easy houseplants. They are great for medium-light situations. • Pothos are easy to care for and don’t require much light, with the exception of variegated varieties. If they don’t receive enough the light, they will revert to all green.

ZZ plant is one of the easiest-to-care-for houseplants.

A spot with southern exposure provides the most light, giving you many options, including cacti and succulents. But this is a harsh, bright light that can burn plants such as African violets (Saintpaulia), Begonia, and ferns. If you have a specific plant in mind that requires a low-light location, but you only have a south-facing area, a sheer curtain will provide enough protection to prevent burning. West-facing locations can also support a wide variety of plants.

If you want a vining plant that will do well in low light, consider the heart-leafed philodendron (P. hederaceum) or pothos (Epipremnum spp.).

If you have an east- or west-facing window, consider flowering plants such as peace lily (Spathiphyllum), African violet, or a Phalaenopsis orchid. An eastern exposure is also perfect for ferns and begonias.

After you’ve done a bit of research and have a list of potential plants it’s time to go shopping. Before purchasing a plant, examine it to make sure it is healthy and free of any pests or disease issues. Check under the leaves, in the axils (where the leaf meets the stem), and along the stems. Do you see anything moving? Are there any holes in the leaves? If you see white cottony patches on the plant, it may be infested with mealybugs. Brown or white bumps on the plant that shouldn’t be there could indicate a scale infestation. Are there yellow or brown leaves? If so the plant may have been over- or underwatered. If you see symptoms of any potential problems, look for a different plant. It is important to start out your plant parenthood with a healthy, pest-free plant. If it is cold outside, make sure your plant is wrapped in a paper sleeve before leaving the store to protect it from the elements.

Air plants (Tillandsia) require very little maintenance. Give them plenty of light and a good soaking once a week. • These Calathea are healthy and beautiful. They are great plants for spots that receive only low to medium light. They do prefer a bit more humidity, so place them on pebble trays with water.

Look closely at the plant you are buying. If you see white cottony material in the axils of the leaves or on the leaves, such as pictured here, move on. These are mealybugs.

Odds are, your plant will be in the ubiquitous green or black plastic nursery pot and you’ll more than likely prefer something more attractive. It’s perfectly fine to move the plant into two different containers, just make sure the new container is approximately the same size; you don’t want to move it to a larger container until it is actively growing in the spring. However, if it appears to be rootbound and needs water more than once a week, go ahead and use a larger container, but water it carefully throughout the winter. Your new plant won’t need any fertilizing until you see new growth in the spring.

Enjoy your plant this winter and if it doesn’t look as good by the time spring arrives, it is okay to put it on the compost pile. Don’t feel guilty – there is always next fall.


A version of this article appeared in a September 2018 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Lisa Eldred Steinkopf and Peggy Hill.


Posted: 09/05/18   RSS | Print


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High Tunnels and Low Tunnels
by Patrick Byers    

By building high or low tunnels, you can extend the gardening season throughout the fall and begin spring planting earlier. Here’s how.


These raised beds are covered with low tunnels constructed with plastic hoops. Netting stretched over the hoops protects the vegetables from deer and birds.

My vegetable garden is a place of exercise and relaxation, but my ultimategoal is to grow food. Unfortunately, inclement weather, spring and fall frosts, insects, bird pests and deer reduce my garden’s productivity. Through the use of inexpensive and easily-built high and low tunnels, I can address these challenges that face all vegetable gardeners in the Midwest.

What is a tunnel? Basically, a support system, anchored to the ground, that holds a protective covering above the vegetables. High tunnels are often a semi-permanent part of the garden, covering a larger area and allowing the gardener to work within the tunnel. Low tunnels generally cover a single row or bed, and are easily placed and removed as needed.

The design of the support system for a high or low tunnel is determined by cost, application, and the ingenuity ofthe gardener. With high tunnels, especially those that are permanent and must stand up to wind and snow load, supports should be strong and durable. Welded wire fencing panels, commonly 50 inches by 16 feet, can be bent into a support shape. Plastic PVC pipe, generally 1-1½-inches in diameter, can make effective bows. Durable high tunnels can be built using metal pipe, such as the top rail from chain link fence, bent to the proper shape. Low tunnels are supported by a wide range of materials, including light metal pipe bent to shape, heavy wire hoops and plastic pipe.


Permanent and semi-permanent tunnels are often anchored to the ground using baseboards of a rot-resistant wood. The baseboards are attached to metal stakes or anchors that are driven into the soil. Metal or PVC high tunnel hoops can be set inside larger diameter pieces of pipe that are driven into the soil, or set in concrete. The metal or wire hoops for low tunnels are generally pressed into the soil. Tunnels can be further stabilized with ropes stretched over the tunnel and attached to stakes driven in the soil or hooks on the baseboard.

Protective Coverings

A wide range of protective coverings are available; choose the covering that meets the need. Greenhouse-grade 4-mil polyethylene plastic film will give several years of use for tunnels intended to extend the gardening season. Heavyweight spunbonded row cover will provide similar cold weather protection, particularly when several layers are placed over a high or low tunnel. Lightweight row cover or fine netting provides protection from insects. Larger mesh netting excludes birds and deer.

A word about ventilation with plastic film-covered tunnels — the temperature inside a sealed tunnel warms rapidly on sunny days to a point thatplants are damaged, and ventilation is needed to remove this heat. Ventilation is provided by sides that roll up or down, as well as ends that open. What this means, of course, is maintenance — the gardener opens and closes the tunnel to provide needed ventilation. Ventilation is usually not as much of a concern with row covers, which allow excess heat to escape through the fabric.

Two Designs: High and Low

I’d like to discuss two easily constructed tunnel designs.

The first is a high tunnel that uses fence panels for support. A baseboard frame is built of 2-by-6-inch lumber, 8 feet wide and 21 feet long, attached on the outside face to metal stakes driven into the soil. Fencing panels are bent into a “U” shape and placed inside the frame. The fence panelsare connected with plastic zip ties, and the ends are attached to the baseboard with a board strip. Five panels are needed for this dimension; larger tunnels are easily constructed using additional panels. The panels were covered with a single layer of plastic film, which is attached to the baseboard with furring strips. The end walls were constructed of plywood, with a ventilated door that is opened when needed. The high tunnel has about 6½ feet of headroom and plenty of growing space.

The second design is a semi-permanent low tunnel, which uses ¾-inch metal pipe that is 10 feet long for support. The pipe is bent into the desired hoop shape using a template, allowing for coverage over a 4-foot-wide bed. The hoops are placed 3 feet apart over the bed, pressed into the soil, and connected with a purlin, using duct tape. A 2-by-4-inch baseboard is attached at ground level along the upwind side of the hoops, using a screw through each hoop. A wiggle wire channel is attached along the upper face of the baseboard, and the covering is attached with the wiggle wire. The covering is stretched over the hoops, and secured on the other side with sand bags. The covering ends are bundled together, tied, and secured to a stake driven into the ground. This tunnel is intended to provide for winter vegetable production and for protection from insect pests during the remainder of the growing season.


Low Tunnel Construction

A low tunnel is easily constructed using metal bows bent to the proper shape.


Pressed into the soil over the bed and stabilized with a purlin.


Connected with a baseboard that also serves to anchor one side of the covering with wiggle wire.


And a covering secured with sand bags.



A version of this article appeared in a September/October 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Patrick Byers.



Posted: 09/05/18   RSS | Print


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Plant an Awesome Autumn: Trees for Fall Color
by Scott A. Zanon       #Fall   #Orange   #Trees

Trident Maple

‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.’
- Chinese Proverb

Autumn is the time for football and to relish the most beautiful of our four seasons. Many trees have been waiting to show off their foliage. One of the great things about living where we do is the ever-changing seasons. For a few weeks, nature puts on one of its most spectacular displays as trees complete the growing season in a brilliant display of fall colors.

Fall color is controlled by both the plant’s genetic factors and the environment, not Jack Frost. Carotene and xanthophyll (carotenoids) are yellow pigments produced in foliage all year along with chlorophyll, the green pigment. In autumn, when short days and cool temperatures slow down the production of chlorophyll, the remaining chlorophyll breaks down and disappears. The yellow pigments that have been masked by chlorophyll then show up and give certain trees their yellow and golden colors.

Some plants produce anthocyanins (red and purple pigments) that may mask the yellow pigments. Anthocyanin production increases with increased sugars in the leaves. A fall season with sunny days and cool nights increases the sugar content of the leaves and intensifies autumn red hues.

The combination of carotenoid and anthocyanin pigments produces the orange colors in trees.

The tans and browns of oaks are caused by tannins, which accumulate as the chlorophyll disappears. Fall color starts in September and ends in November. Frost and freezing temperatures will stop the coloration process and blacken the leaves.

Some of you may ask, “Why are tree fall colors more intense some years?” Cool night temperatures for an extended period below 45 F but above freezing helps develop more anthocyanins in the leaves, bringing out more intense fall colors in trees. Sunny days allow the leaves to trap the sugars from the dwindling chlorophyll, thus creating the spectacle of fall colors. Calm days help enhance the viewing time and duration of fall foliage.

Here is a list of my recommendations of trees with great fall color to consider. Many also have features that merit use year round in the garden. Some are common, others are not, but all are worth the search for that autumnal glow.

Trident maple (Acer buergerianum)
Zones: 5-9
Size: 20-30 feet tall and wide
Fall Color: Yellow-orange-red, but late and at times variable
Recommended Cultivar: Aeryn (‘ABMTF’)

Paperbark maple (A. griseum)
Zones: 4-8
Size: 20-30 feet tall by 15 feet wide
Fall Color: Bronze-red; late, often October and November

Paperbark Maple

Red maple (aka swamp maple) (A. rubrum)
Zones: 3-9
Size: 70 feet tall by 40 feet wide; cultivars are smaller
Fall Color: Green-yellow to yellow to red; cultivars are best for dazzling orange-red fall color
Recommended Cultivars: Autumn Flame (‘Pete’s Red’), ‘Autumn Spire’, Red Sunset (‘Franksred’), ‘October Glory’ and ‘Red Rocket’ 

Sugar maple (aka hard maple; rock maple) (A. saccharum)
Zones: 3-8
Size: 60-80 feet tall by 40 feet wide
Fall Color: Yellow-orange-red and striking
Recommended Cultivars: Adirondack (‘Adirzam’), Fall Fiesta (‘Bailsta’) and ‘Green Mountain’

Serviceberry (aka juneberry, sarvisberry, saskatoon, shadblow, shadbush) (Amelanchier spp.)
Zones: 4-9
Size: 6-30 feet tall by 4-10 feet wide; cultivars 12 feet tall by 10 feet wide
Fall Color: Yellow to orange to red in October often in spectacular fashion
Recommended Cultivars/Species: Rainbow Pillar (A. canadensis ‘Glen Form’), A. x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’, A. laevis ‘Cumulus’ and juneberry (A. lamarckii)

Common pawpaw (aka custard apple) (Asimina triloba)
Zones: 5-9
Size: 15-20 feet tall and wide
Fall Color: Yellow

Katsuratree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum)
Zones: 4-8
Size: 40-50 feet tall and wide
Fall Color: Varying from yellow to apricot to occasionally orange-red; leaves release a warm and spicy fragrance, reminiscent of cotton candy
Recommended Cultivars: ‘Morioka Weeping’ and Red Fox (‘Rotfuchs’)

Kousa dogwood (aka Chinese dogwood) (Cornus kousa)
Zones: 5-8
Size: 20-25 feet tall and wide
Fall Color: Burgundy in late autumn
Recommended Cultivars: Samaritan (‘Samzam’) and ‘Wolf Eyes’

Ginkgo (aka maidenhair tree) (Ginkgo biloba)
Zones: 4-9
Size: 60-80 feet tall by 40-60 feet wide
Fall Color: Golden yellow in November
Recommended Cultivars: ‘Autumn Gold’ and Presidential Gold (‘The President’)



American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
Zones: 5-9
Size: 60-75 feet tall by 40 feet wide
Fall Color: Yellow-orange-red-purple
Note: I am not a fan of this tree, other than its excellent fall color, because of the messy fruit

Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)
Zones: 5-8
Size: 70 feet tall by 25 feet wide
Fall Color: Cinnamon brown
Recommended Cultivars: ‘Ogon’, synonyms ‘Golden Oji’ and ‘Gold Rush’

Black tupelo (aka black gum, sour gum) (Nyssa sylvatica)
Zones: 4-9
Size: 30-50 feet tall by 20-30 feet wide
Fall Color: Outstanding fluorescent yellow, orange, scarlet and purple
Recommended cultivars: ‘Tupelo Tower’ and ‘Wildfire’

Black Tupelo

Sourwood (aka lily-of-the-valley tree; sorrel tree) (Oxydendrum arboreum)
Zones: 5-9
Size: 25 feet tall and 20 feet wide; 50 to 75 feet in the wild
Fall Color: Yellow-orange and red-purple


Persian parrotia (aka Persian ironwood) (Parrotia persica)
Zones: 4-8
Size: 30 feet tall by 20 feet wide
Fall Color: Beautiful yellow to orange to scarlet colors when exposed to full sun

Sawtooth oak (Quercus acutissima)
Zones: 5-8
Size: 40-50 feet tall and wide
Fall Color: Clear yellow to golden yellow in November

Shumard oak (Q. shumardii)
Zones: 5-9
Size: 50 feet tall and wide; 100 feet tall in nature
Fall Color: Russet red to red; sometimes outstanding

Common sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
Zones: 4-8
Size: 30-60 feet tall by 25-40 feet wide
Fall Color: Yellow-orange-red in October; spectacular

Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia)
Zones: 5-7
Size: 25-40 feet tall and 10-20 feet wide
Fall Color: Orange to red with occasional hues of red-purple

Common baldcypress (Taxodium distichum)
Zones: 4-9
Size: 50-70 feet tall by 20-30 feet wide
Fall Color: Russet-orange-bronze

‘Frontier’ elm (Ulmus‘Frontier’)
Zones: 5-8
Size: 40 feet tall by 30 feet wide
Fall Color: Red-purple-burgundy 

Frontier Elm


A version of this article appeared in a September/October 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Scott A. Zanon.


Posted: 09/05/18   RSS | Print


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Shrubs for Summer
by Bill Johnson       #Ornamentals   #Shrubs   #Summer

‘White Moth’ maintains its white flowers throughout the growing season. • Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Gold’ has a unique color variation of orange berries and is one of the taller cultivars, reaching 8 feet tall. • Emerging Spring leaves of ‘Center Glow’ show the warm reddish-yellow colors that will last throughout the year.

When it comes to shrubs for the home garden, there are quite a few varieties to choose from. I recommend that before purchasing a shrub or two, a basic question should be asked – do you have room for something that can grow anywhere from 5 to 15 feet tall? Some gardeners have lots of room and some might not, so it’s a point I believe that needs to be considered. However, if you do have the room, one good thing about shrubs is once they’re established, they require very little maintenance.

There are five shrubs that I really like that can be grown successfully in Zones 3-6:

• Smokebush (Cotinus coggygria)

• Panicle hydrangea (H. paniculata)

• Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

• Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)

• Viburnum (V. cassinoides), (V. dentatum), (V. rafinesquianum), and (V. sieboldii)

‘Velvet Cloak’ is a striking cultivar with deep red leaves and burgundy plumes. • Cotinus ‘Grace’ has large oval leaves that make this cultivar stand out. • Golden Spirit is one of my favorite varieties, very unique with yellow leaves and white plumes.

Smokebush cultivars are large, deciduous shrubs that are best used toward the back of the garden, as they reach 10-15 feet tall. Their showiness comes not from the flowers, which are actually quite small, but from the large airy flower plumes that appear in late spring and last throughout the summer, changing from pink to pinkish purple. From a distance they give the plant a “smoky” look, thus the common name. Complementing the plumes are the very striking leaves. In some cultivars they are dark red to purple, which will last throughout the growing season. For the ones that begin with green leaves, that color will change to scarlet to gold in the fall adding a lot of color to the landscape.

A few cultivars I recommend are:

• Golden Spirit (‘Ancot’) – bright yellow leaves, 8-15 feet, Zones 4-9

• ‘Velvet Cloak’ – purplish red leaves, large dark red plumes, 10-15 feet, Zones 5-9

• ‘Royal Purple’ – large maroon leaves, 8-15 feet, Zones 4-9

• ‘Grace’ – large oval magenta purple leaves, 8-15 feet, Zones 5-9

Clockwise: Ilex verticillata ‘Afterglow’ is one of the taller winterberry cultivars, up to 6 feet. • Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red’ is a very popular cultivar • Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’ creates a copious amount of red berries that will satisfy birds as well as brighten a landscape summer through winter.

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a deciduous holly native to North America. It’s best known for its profusion of berries, which are a great food source for birds and can last on the branches throughout the winter into spring, thus the common name. In areas where there is winter snow cover, the brightly colored berries are quite striking against the white snow. This species is dioecious, meaning there are separate male and female plants. The berries only form on female plants, which requires a male pollinator nearby. When purchasing these, make sure you are selecting the appropriate cultivars for your situation.

A few female cultivars I recommend are:

• ‘Afterglow’ – red berries, up to 6 feet tall, Zones 4-8

• Red Sprite (‘Nana’) – red berries, 3-4 feet tall, Zones 3-8‘

• Winter Red’ – bright red berries, 3-5 feet, Zones 3-9

• ‘Winter Gold’ – yellow/orange berries, 5-8 feet, Zones 3-9

The cultivars ‘Jim Dandy’ or Mr. Poppins (‘FARROWMRP’) are needed nearby to pollinate ‘Afterglow’, ‘Winter Red’, and Red Sprite. ‘Southern Gentleman’ is required for ‘Winter Gold’.

Clockwise: The striking yellow leaves of ‘Dart’s Gold’ provide the perfect background for the white flower clusters. • The leaves of Coppertina turn a darker copper as they age. • Little Devil is a dwarf variety, reaching only 4 feet tall. Its pinkish white flower clusters attract many pollinators.

One of my favorite seasons is fall because of all the amazing leaf colors. If you’re looking for incredible, year-round color, look no further than ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius). Ninebark is a deciduous shrub, 5-10 feet in height and similar spread, with foliage similar to that of maples (Acer spp.). The leaf colors range from burgundy to yellowish gold to cinnamon throughout the year. In late spring, clusters of white flowers will emerge, attracting pollinators.

A few cultivars I highly recommend include:

• ‘Center Glow’ – red/golden yellow foliage, up to 8 feet, Zones 2-8

• Coppertina (‘Mindia’) – coppery orange with pink flowers, up to 8 feet, Zones 3-7

• Diabolo (‘Monlo’) – dark brown to burgundy foliage, up to 6 feet, Zones 3-7

• ‘Dart’s Gold’ – golden yellow/lime green foliage, up to 6 feet, Zones 3-7

• Little Devil (‘Donna May’) – dwarf cultivar, burgundy foliage, 3-4 feet, Zones 3-7

Clockwise: American cranberry bush cultivars, such as ‘Wentworth’ have the largest berries. These are must-haves for birders. • The berry clusters of Ironclad age from red to black. • Downy arrowwood has some of the larger berries, ranging from deep blue to black. • Viburnum cassinoides has berries that turn from pink to blue, creating an amazing visual for the garden. • Viburnum dentatum ‘Red Regal’ • Viburnum dentatum ‘Christom’ Blue Muffin • Viburnum dentatum ‘Ralph Senior’

If you’re a serious birder, I recommend several species and cultivars of Viburnum. The berries are a great source of food for many bird species, especially late in the year after other food sources are gone.

Some to consider include:

• Witherod viburnum (V. cassinoides) – pink, blue, red, and black berries, 5-12 feet, Zones 3-8

• Arrowwood viburnum (V. dentatum)

• Blue Muffin (‘Christom’) – 5-10 feet, Zones 3-8

• ‘Perle Bleu’ – heavy blue fruit display, 5-10 feet, Zones 3-8

• ‘Ralph Senior’ – blue to black fruit – 5-10 feet, Zones 4-8

• Red Regal (‘KLMseven’) – 5-10 feet, Zones 3-8

• Downy arrowwood (V. rafinesquianum), Zones 3-8

• Siebold viburnum (V. sieboldii)

• Ironclad (‘KLMfour’) – large 5-inch veined leaves with reddish black fruits, 10-15 feet, Zones 4-8

• American cranberry bush (V. trilobum) – ‘Wentworth’ – scarlet red fruit clusters, 5-10 feet, Zones 3-8

Pinky Winky is a recent introduction with upright flower clusters that turn deep pink as they age. • The flowers of Vanilla Strawberry transform from white to pink to red. • ‘Limelight’ has upright flower clusters that begin greenish white, turning pink in the fall.

Panicle hydrangea (H. paniculata) is becoming more popular as more new and amazing cultivars are introduced. It’s a rapidly growing, upright deciduous shrub that can reach 4-8 feet tall. Several have pure white flower clusters, but many of the newer cultivars sport blooms that emerge white but as they age, they take on shades of pink and red.

A few of my favorites:

• Great Star (‘Le Vasterival’) –  4-8 feet with fragrant flowers, Zones 3-9

• ‘Limelight’ – 4-8 feet with chartreuse to pink flowers, Zones 3-9

• Pink Diamond (‘Interhydia’) – 4-8 feet with white to pink flowers, Zones 3-8

• Pinky Winky (‘DVP Pinky’) – 4-8 feet with white to pink flowers, Zones 3-9

• Vanilla Strawberry (‘Renhy’) – 4-8 feet, flowers changing from white to pink to red, Zones 3-8

• ‘White Moth’ – 4-8 feet, flowers white throughout the season, Zones 3-8

If you have the space, adding some of these shrubs will definitely enhance the look of your garden.


A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2018 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Bill Johnson.


Posted: 08/02/18   RSS | Print


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A Buffet of Choices
by Maureen Heffernan       #Decorating   #Ornamentals   #Vegetables

Rainbow-colored carrots in a glass vase filled with water makes the top arrangement of carrot tops with cilantro stems seem “rooted.” The cilantro stems also add fragrance and texture.
Arrangement and Photo by Julie Walker.


Last spring I attended a floral arrangement demonstration program at Myriad Botanical Gardens that changed the way I look at creating floral arrangements. The instructor, Dundee Butcher of Russian River Flower School in Healdsburg, California, created arrangements that were simple, yet sophisticated and beautiful, using edibles – from puckered dark green kale to cauliflower to purple carrots to eggplants, these arrangements were unique and lovely. Since that class, when I go to the grocery store or farmers’ market, I see not only what to make for dinner, but also what I could use to make the centerpiece.

The colors and fragrances of vegetables, fruits, and herbs rival those of floral arrangements and add a unique twist to table arrangements. Their shapes are as fascinating and gorgeous as their rich colors in all shades of the rainbow.

Your summer garden is filled with exactly what you need to make easy, delicious arrangements – either formal or casual. Once you see your vegetable and/or herb garden in this light, endless creative options await!  Produce becomes works of art and your appreciation for their beauty and their taste is taken to a new level. They can be used alone or mixed with flowers and ornamental foliage for captivating results.

Before you actually start arranging, it’s best to gather all your materials and tools. You’ll need some type of vase or other vessel – anything from pitchers, to bowls or glasses can be used – and pruners or scissors. Other items you may want to add to your toolbox include floral foam that holds water and stems in place; a flower frog, a weighted piece to place at the bottom of a container that holds stems in place; floral tape to hold foliage and flower stems in place; and chicken wire that can be bunched up to fit the container or cut, placed flat, and taped across the container opening. All of these items support stems to keep them upright or gently angled so they don’t flop over.

A lower, rounded arrangement with a large purple eggplant, Queen’s Anne’s lace, orange roses, collard greens, and sweetpotato vine.
Arrangement by Roberta Rowland. Photo by Leslie Spears.


How to start? Start with the same principles of floral arrangements.

Autumn sage adds a touch of red to this small arrangement of kale, broccoli, and yellow marigolds.
Arrangement by Roberta Rowland. Photo by Leslie Spears.

A vertical informal arrangement of yellow Coreopsis with wispy sprays of Mexican feather grass, lyme grass, and stems of cilantro for fragrance.
Arrangement by Roberta Rowland. Photo by Leslie Spears.

• If you choose to start with the container, allow its height, shape, color, etc. to help you determine the look of the arrangement. If you are starting with plant material, select a suitable container.

• A general rule of thumb is that your arrangement should be about one and half times as tall as your container for balance.

• Fill the container at least three-fourths full with water before you start arranging.

• Always cut the stems before placing them in water so they will be better able to absorb water and therefore last longer.

• Next, decide if you want your arrangement to be vertical, horizontal, or triangular. There are many other options, but these are the most common.

• Start building your arrangement using your greens/foliage first. They will be the foundation or frame of the arrangement.

• Think of putting your arrangement together like designing a garden. Plant the trees first, then smaller shrubs, and finally add accents of flower color. Select varying heights, colors, and textures that complement each other.

• Next add your secondary items. If you have made your frame using chard leaves for example, you may want to fill in the rest of the arrangement using lighter, lacier carrot tops or cilantro stems. Long stems can be upright or allowed to gently arch. You could also use a larger edible, such as an eggplant or zucchini, as the focal point.

• To finish, add your color accents – these are the “frosting” on the piece. Think red radish, purple basil, Queen’s Anne’s lace, nasturtium, or any other flower or smaller vegetable or fruit. A bunch of grapes or cherry tomatoes can look beautiful especially hanging over the edge of a low bowl. Add sprigs of curly parsley throughout add more green texture.

Try colorful carrots placed upside down or small colorful peppers. Simply play around with the arrangement until you’re pleased with the overall balance, form, and color.

This couldn’t be easier: Filling a cylindrical glass vase with bright red radishes and their foliage floating in water.
Arrangement by Maureen Heffernan. Photo by Leslie Spears.
Baby bok choy makes beautiful centerpieces by just adding sunflowers and radishes with red autumn sage (Salvia greggii) and pink waxflower (Chamelaucium uncinatum) for a pop of color. The arrangement is sitting on a “plate” of collard greens.
Arrangement and Photo by Julie Walker.
Ornamental millet contrasts beautifully with a simple, cream-colored pitcher.
Arrangement and Photo by Julie Walker.

Fast and Easy
For the easiest and quickest arrangements, just use one or two items. For example, in a smaller container, add bunches of thyme with yellow nasturtium flowers. Or mix dark green kale leaves with sunflowers or bright red grapes for a beautiful contrast and informal summer appeal. Even easier, fill a tall glass cylindrical vase with radishes or cherry tomatoes and line them down your table.

Next time you go grocery shopping or visit a farmers’ market, look at the produce section the same as you would as a floral shop – with so much potential arrangement material!


A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2018 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.


Posted: 08/02/18   RSS | Print


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by Derek Fell       #Edibles   #Plant Profile   #Vegetables

Pods of the dwarf hybrid okra variety ‘Annie Oakley’ showing correct size that pods should be harvested for good flavor and tenderness.


Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is a staple of many Florida gardens. This native of North Africa is related to tropical hibiscus and enjoys our hot, humid weather. Indeed, okra is an important commercial crop for Florida, mostly centered on Dade County, estimated at 1,500 acres.

A fast-growing, self-pollinating annual, it produces white, hibiscus-like flowers followed by succulent, edible pods. The more you pick the pods, the more the plant continues to produce, eventually reaching a height of 8 feet. However, the pods must be picked before they exceed 4 inches in length, otherwise they turn fibrous and eventually dry into a horn shape.

Popular in Southern and Indian cuisine, okra is frequently used in gumbo and as a side dish with Indian curries, either boiled, steamed, fried, or roasted. Okra pods also make delicious pickles. The glutinous substance in okra pods is used to thicken soups.

Edible pods begin to appear within 60 days of direct seeding. The flowers last only a day, but dozens of flowers will form all along the stalk. Pick the pods by cutting the stem with a sharp knife close to the base of the pod. If left to mature, the pod turns woody and brittle and the seeds will turn brown and get hard as a bullet.

Before sowing, soak the seed overnight in lukewarm water to hasten germination. Wait until the soil has warmed and there is no danger of frost. Plant 1⁄2 inch deep, spacing plants 6 inches apart in rows 3 feet wide. Alternatively, start seed indoors three weeks before outdoor planting to gain healthy transplants. Choose a sunny location and a fertile soil that drains well. Sandy soils suit okra just fine, providing the soil pH is close to neutral. Adding compost and general-purpose, slow-release organic 10-10-10 fertilizer will improve yields. While okra is famously drought tolerant and heat resistant, do not let a week go by without watering.

Avoid planting in soil with nematodes, as these tiny worm-like creatures will invade the roots. Other pests include mites, whiteflies, caterpillars, and stinkbugs, most of which can be controlled with an organic pyrethrum spray or insecticidal soap. Where nematode infestations are a problem, consider growing okra in a raised bed using sterilized topsoil or potting soil. Okra will tolerate crowding and in raised beds or containers can be spaced 3-4 inches apart.

Quick Facts

• Of all varieties available to home gardeners, ‘Annie Oakley’ is especially noteworthy since it is a dwarf hybrid and begins cropping several days earlier than other non-hybrids, when the plants are still short and stocky. Choose this one if you wish to grow in containers.
• Okra makes delicious pickles simply by packing them nose-to-toe in glass jars and pouring in a store-bought pickling spice combined with cider vinegar. Pack in 4-pint canning jars.
• For long storage okra also freezes.
• The flowers are edible with a lettuce-like flavor and the petals can be added to salads. You could also float them in shallow dishes of water as a table decoration.

Okra ‘Burgundy’ pods turn green when cooked.

Okra ‘Clemson Spineless’, developed by Clemson University, is the most popular among home gardeners.

In southern Florida (Zones 10 and 11) okra can be harvested 10 months of the year by staggering plantings March through May. To maintain a warm soil temperature and to deter weeds, consider planting your okra through black plastic.

The pods can be green or burgundy depending on the variety. Recommended green varieties include ‘Clemson Spineless’ (an All-America award winner), ‘Annie Oakley’ (a hybrid dwarf selection), ‘Cajun Delight’, and ‘Emerald’. Two burgundy varieties are ‘Alabama Red’ and ‘Burgundy’, both of which turn green when cooked and can be used as an ornamental in mixed flower borders. Even when not in bloom or fruit, the burgundy plants are decorative.

Heirloom varieties tend to be extremely thorny along the stems and sharp enough to snag clothing. While modern varieties are mostly spineless, a few thorns may still occur and so gloves should be worn to harvest the tender pods.


A version of this article appeared in a print edition of Florida Gardening Volume 21 Number 4.
Photography courtesy of Derek Fell.


Posted: 08/02/18   RSS | Print


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Odd Tools for Odd Jobs
by Bob Westerfield       #Summer   #Tools   #Unusual


By the time we hit the hot months of July and August, most folks would rather be sipping cold tea in their air-conditioned homes rather than working out in their gardens or mowing their lawns. By this time, garden chores such as mowing grass, weeding flowerbeds and tending to our vegetable garden have been a major part of our schedules throughout the spring and early summer months. While most gardeners are usually equipped with the proper tools to accomplish necessary tasks, there are a few oddball tools out there that may be worth taking a look at. Many of these tools are designed to accomplish specific jobs that would otherwise be very time consuming and much more frustrating. The right tools can definitely make the job easier and more enjoyable. Here is a quick look at some of the equipment out there and how to decide what you really need.

The first rule of thumb is not to set out to stock up on all of these more obscure implements before you have the basics. Once that’s done, you can begin collecting specialty gardening tools. While there are about as many tools out there as there are gardening chores, some are practical choices that you will use often. We will cover the basics, as well as some of the more niche and “luxury” tools out there.

Instead of buying separate string trimmers, tillers and pruners, you may want to look at buying a combo unit. You simply switch out different attachments for many odd jobs.

We all have had issues with garden pests and plant diseases at some point. This makes a pump sprayer an obvious first choice. They are versatile because they can be used for various purposes, such as treating plants with insecticidal soap or feeding them with a nutritious mist of plant food or fertilizer. Handheld sprayers are great for a beginner since they are lightweight and easy to use. These are ideal for smaller jobs.

The next step-up would be a backpack sprayer that can hold up to four times the amount of liquid that a handheld sprayer can. Both types work virtually the same. There are even models of sprayers that are either battery powered or gas powered with small motors that handle the chore of pumping the tank to build pressure. If you do a lot of spraying, these can come in handy.

Saw-toothed shovels are designed to penetrate hard or rocky soils.

With pests under control, it is time to plant new plants or transplant existing ones. This can be done easily with the right tools. Although a basic hand shovel is fine, there are tools available to make the job more efficient. Hand cultivators or small tillers make planting larger areas easier because they loosen the soil quickly and efficiently. If you have confined flowerbeds, a poacher’s spade might be more useful than a regular spade or shovel. A cross between the two, it is great for use in smaller areas.

If bulbs are your passion, the next tool that might find its way into your garden shed is a bulb planter. These oddly shaped tools are designed to remove a plug of dirt, making a perfect hole for planting a bulb. A dibbler is a tapered tool that pokes holes in the soil much the same way, but they can also come in handy when dealing with seedlings and transplants.

Trenching shovels are designed in a way that allows you to dig narrow, horizontal ditches. This is a handy tool for installing irrigation or electric wires in your landscape.

Most backyard gardeners own a basic garden or spading fork. These are great for many jobs, but you might find yourself in need of a hand fork, which is just a smaller version that is useful for transplanting. A square-mouthed shovel is also a great addition to your collection of “scooping” tools, and is often used to clear gravel, soil, sand or other material from driveways, patios, etc.If lawn care is your top priority, there are many tools from which to choose. Beyond the lawnmower, you will want to purchase a combination string-trimmer-edger-tiller. These combo units use the same power head, but have detachable ends where you can put the various tools in place. If you desire a clean edge for your beds, driveway and walkways, use the edger attachment. If you need to trim around the fence or another area, attach the string trimmer head. The model I have also runs a small chain saw pole pruner to remove small branches, as well as a tiller attachment for tilling up small beds.

The size of your yard and your budget will determine which route you might take. If you have an endless budget, you might consider purchasing a robotic mower. These have been on the market for a while now, and the prices have dropped a bit. They are still quite expensive and can be tricky to put to use in yards that are not level; plus, they usually only cover an area of up to 3⁄4 of an acre. This luxury would be equivalent to having a full-time gardener on staff. These machines are quiet and energy efficient, which adds to their appeal.

The WOLF-Garten® Draw Hoe is ergonomically designed for comfort and features an extra sharp blade to break up soil and weeds in one effortless motion.

In addition to lawn mowing, there is also the job of aerating. While this is not an every-season job, it is something that should be periodically done in order to maintain a healthy lawn. A spiking fork is a specialty fork used to aerate lawns. If you have a small yard, you can purchase a handheld fork; you might even want to purchase aerating sandals. You can find these in garden catalogs as sort of a novelty, but tromping around your yard wearing those actually gets the job done! For larger areas, it is generally recommended that you rent a professional aerator.

There are also specialty tools for trimming, such as shears, which come in many different sizes, shapes and varieties. Some gardeners even own sheep shears, which are great for trimming grass low to the ground where that’s needed. A lot of shears serve multiple purposes, but some are very specialized, such as deadheading shears, fruit and flower shears, or thinning shears. Start with a multipurpose style and decide from there if you need something more specialized. You can now purchase pruning clippers with ratcheting action or special grips for those that might have issues with hand strength or arthritis. If you are a serious gardener and have gotten into grafting, you might want to purchase a grafting kit. These often come with grafting wax and several specialized grafting tools, made solely for this job.

There are many unique tools available to help control weeds. The Weed Popper uses strong spikes that are pushed under the weed, which is then “popped” out when your foot presses down on the lever.

When it comes to digging, there are so many new shovel designs out there designed for specialty jobs. Traditional spade shovels now can be purchased with a toothed edge to penetrate hard or clay soils. Trenching shovels are specialty digging tools that remove soil horizontally; those come in handy when installing underground irrigation or wires. You may also want to consider a long narrow transplant shovel, designed to lift out root systems of plants you need to move.

With everything trimmed, pruned and edged, it is time to think about watering. Many watering options are available with different types of hoses, sprinklers and hose attachments. There are some interesting options on the market now that make this job easier, and sometimes entertaining. Traveling sprinklers are an easy way to reach many areas of your yard without the trouble of dragging your sprinkler from place to place. I even came across a sprinkler that doubles as a pest deterrent. When it senses a yard pest (bigger than an insect, of course), it turns on and runs for a while. Think of the giggles coming from your kids when a squirrel gets scared away when the water turns on.

Now that your shed houses not only the basics, but also your new collection of toys, I mean specialized tools, you can sit back and know that your summer gardening chores will be much easier and maybe even a little fun! But make sure to relax and grill up a burger or two.


A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Spitfire at en.wikipedia, Bob Westerfield, and BlueStoneGarden.com.


Posted: 08/01/18   RSS | Print


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Biochar to the Rescue!
by Scott Burrell       #Environment   #Fertilizing   #Sustainability and Self-Sufficiency

Watching and waiting. Once the “jet engine” noise of inner barrel low oxygen charring and volatile gas consumption begins, the smoke becomes minimal. If enough oxygen were available one would see complete combustion with only ashes produced. Former Vice President and 2007 Nobel Prize recipient Al Gore noted, “One of the most exciting new strategies for restoring carbon to depleted soils and sequestering significant amounts of CO2 for 1,000 years and more, is the use of biochar.”

Biochar – you may have never heard of it, but in many research circles, and in a few select backyard lots, biochar is the stuff dreams are made of, particularly given our need for better soils, better air, better plants, and better climates. Biochar is a type of charcoal very unlike the grill’s charcoal briquettes, which are a mixture of powdered devolatilized coal, a small portion of raw or carbonized sawdust, and intentional ash additives. Biochar is the result of heating biomass under the exclusion of air – a process known as pyrolysis. Renewable lignin-based resources from nut shells to manures to wood, switchgrass, wheat straw, corn shucks and other green materials, can be the fuel used to create a very stable, very porous carbon rich product that can last hundreds of years. Biochar’s primary use is for soil enrichment, but it can do much more than that.

In the 1950s, Dutch soil scientist Wim Sombroek discovered dark, carbon-rich soils in the Amazon basin that supported productive farms in areas – many of them typically unproductive jungle cutovers – that previously had poor, even toxic soils. These dark soils known as terra preta, or black earth, had been “cultured” sometimes over hundreds, sometimes even thousands of years by the addition of biochar, by accident (wildfire mainly), or by intention, allowing the soil to retain vital organic matter, plant nutrients and moisture, essential for good plant growth. Unlike other raw materials we’re more familiar with, such as fertilizers, additives, composts or manures, biochar is not assimilated, transformed, or broken down, but is thought to remain unaltered in the soil through successive generations of biomass. Still enriched hundreds of years after they were amended, these dark soils have generated great interest in using biochar not only to improve soils but to sequester carbon by tying up the carbon in solid stable form from otherwise unused biomass as well as increasing plant growth, which consumes greater amounts of CO2 in the process then slower-growing plants. Thus, potentially, mankind could reduce – if done on a massive scale – the greenhouse effect of elevated carbon (CO2) levels currently in the atmosphere. And consider this, increased plant growth could also result in increased oxygen production at a time when oxygen levels in our atmosphere are falling. Wow, that’s big picture thinking for a gardener just wanting a better backyard!

A homemade biochar maker. Note the drilled air holes at the top and bottom of the 55-gallon metal barrel. Also note the removable metal seal rim attached to the removable smokestack/cover combo. The seal allows for lower oxygen ingress once the burning process is well along. Commercial production of biochar uses a number of alternative processes including kilns and gasifiers to achieve the same end product.

Biochar and compost mix three weeks after initial combustion. Some impoverished nations use urine to complete the preparation of biochar for use in the soil. Whether compost or urine, the aim is to stabilize it. This initial one time application will ensure the biochar does not compete for nutrients while setting up a good environment for the future microbe/nutrient/water/carbon matrix.

Just a wee bit more science. Why is it so stable? Mainly because the aromatic rings that make up the structurally altered carbon in biochar are so difficult to break. Voila, a long lasting, incredibly stable, soil amendment. If biochar is indeed the same product found in terra preta soils, which have also been discovered on other continents (for instance, Japan has a long history of using charcoal in soil), it is the realization of what gardeners and environmentalists dream of: It maintains balanced moisture levels during wide climate changes; it improves air permeability in otherwise dense clays soils; like humus and clay minerals it increases cation exchange capacity thus increasing soil fertility; it decreases leaching of essential nutrients making them available for microbial use while its pores provide a great habitat for microbes; and all the while it increases the buffering capacity and doesn’t itself deteriorate and have to be annually amended like fertilizers, which is all too good to be true. But, there is more: Like activated carbons, some biochars have activity levels high enough to act as detoxifiers of poisoned, sterile or dying soils. Imagine if we’d had biochar reclamation following the dustbowl years in the 1930s!

Let’s move beyond the science to the practical. How do we make it, how do we use it? Since we are talking about combustion, the material used needs to be reasonably dry (20-30 percent water weight or less). At Reynolds Community College in Goochland, Virginia, where I worked, one of my very capable volunteers, Bill Swanson, built a simple two-barrel “retort,” basically a stove of sorts. Ours was made of two metal drums dedicated to the pyrolysis, i.e., low oxygen burning, of dry wood and other dry biomass to make biochar. Ours used twigs and short pieces of excess untreated lumber up to 2 inches thick that we packed into the open end of a 30-gallon metal barrel. Wood chips or sawdust will not work well in this design as they pack too tightly and not enough heat is developed. There are other suitable designs such as kilns, pits, and gasifiers. Our 55-gallon open-end empty drum was inverted and placed over the open end of the 30-gallon wood -filled drum. The two barrels, now one unit, were turned over and the space between the two barrels was filled with dried wood. Air holes – cut or drilled – around the base as well as just below the upper rim of the 55-gallon barrel allowed for limited O2 access. Once the wood between the barrels was ignited and vigorously burning the outer barrel lid, complete with a stovepipe was seated to retain heat and make the process more efficient. The heat from this burning wood chars the wood in the inner oxygen-restricted barrel (if there was too much oxygen it would burn to ash), which gives off volatile gases while drawing in oxygen through the space where the barrels meet at the bottom. Once that charring process really gets started you’ll hear what sounds like a jet engine rushing sound of exiting hot gases and water vapor heading out the smoke stack with virtually no smoke. In the space of 90 minutes burn time you’ve created biochar! When the process is complete and cooled, remove the lid and dump out the inner barrel of biochar. If it’s been “cooked” right it will have a clinking sound, almost glassy when dropped or shaken.

Properly carbonized wood forms a rigid, easily crushed material lacking any pockets of undercarbonized material. The biochar will not feel greasy and the black dust will wash off one’s hands with just water – no soap necessary unless it was incomplete charring.

To prepare our biochar for garden use, we wrapped it in a tarp and ran over it repeatedly with the truck to crush it into 1⁄2-inch or so pieces. Fresh biochar needs to be further prepped by mixing it with compost (in some countries urine is used to stabilize the biochar) or a balanced fertilizer. We mixed it with compost and let it sit for three weeks. The biochar will attract and hold nutrients and microbes from the compost. This only needs to be done once to prevent competition with plants for nutrients.

The study and refinement of biochars for reintroduction of endangered or threatened coastal plant species to coastal barren habitat in Massachusetts is just one of the many ongoing biochar initiatives. The biochar we made at the college was introduced to the new educational vineyard recently established. Who knows, the results may well lead to stronger plants with less need for chemical controls. Who yet knows the full promise of biochar?



A version of this article appeared in a September 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Scott Burrell.


Posted: 08/01/18   RSS | Print


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Make it Last
by Richelle Stafne       #Edibles   #Fruit   #Recipes

Items to gather to prepare for freezing fruits and vegetables: freezer pens, canning labels, resealable freezer bags, vacuum-sealable bags, plastic freezer containers, canning jars, etc. To save time, gather items in advance to be sure you have everything needed for specific produce.

There is a fine line in a productive summer garden where the harvest goes from plentiful to growing “out your ears.” Of course, you can give extra produce away or donate it to a local soup kitchen, but another option is to freeze the abundant harvest. I grew up on a rural farm where food preservation was a way of life. From snapping green beans for canning to washing blackberries for freezing, we learned to help from a young age. Here are tips to help you get started with freezing produce at home.


Selecting Produce

Be sure fruits, vegetables and herbs are harvested at the right time (morning is best) and picked at the peak of ripeness. Freezing will not improve quality. Those to be frozen should be prepared as quickly as possible. In other words, waiting to see how much food is left at the end of the week and hurriedly deciding to throw it in the freezer is not the best way to go. Choose fruit and veggies without disease or insect damage. Rinse produce thoroughly, sort and dry. Pulling out a bag of tomatoes from the freezer only to find a tomato hornworm hitched a ride into the bag is a good way have an entire bag end up in the compost. Though freezing food may change the texture, most of the flavor and nutritive value will remain after thawing.


Freezer burn is the name for dry,
tough surfaces that sometimes form on frozen food. Prevent with moisture/vapor-proof containers and remove all air from packages.

Prevent ice crystal
by freezing
produce quickly, only a few pounds
at a time, and by using quality freezer

Beverage tip!
Freeze whole, rinsed berries in ice cube trays filled with water to add frozen festivity to cocktails, lemonades and iced teas.

Herbs for freezing:
• Clip fresh, young leaves in morning
• Clean the leaves
• Dry them
• Place in sealed plastic bags (remove the air) or airtight container Try these herbs: basil, borage, chives, dill, lemongrass, mint, oregano, sage, savory, sorrel, sweet woodruff, tarragon, thyme


Choosing the Right Container

Containers for freezing foods should be airtight, moisture/vapor resistant, capable of withstanding freezing and thawing, and should be able to be labeled. The particular container chosen depends on what is being frozen and what you plan to do with it after freezing. Containers could be glass canning jars (wide mouth is best), plastic bowls with lids or sealable, plastic freezer bags, which includes durable bags used with food preservation vacuum-sealing machines.


Gathering the Necessary Tools

•  Washed, cleaned and dried freezable containers

•  Freezer-compatible labeling markers and label tape

•  Freezer paper (used in some circumstances)

•  Clean and sanitized work space

•  Hair net and gloves are advisable but clean hands are fine

•  Colander

•  Knives and cutting board; avoid iron and galvanized cooking utensils and equipment

•  For vegetables, a deep pot for blanching and another container or sink basin for ice water bath


Preparation of the Fruit or Vegetable

How to Freeze Okra
1.    Select fresh pods less than 3 inches in length.
2.    Wash and trim pods, leaving cap whole.
3.    Label and date freezer bags/containers.
4.    Blanch okra in small batches for four minutes.
5.    Prepare ice water bath in a large container or sink basin.
6.    Emerge blanched okra into ice water for 5 minutes, until cooled.
7.    Remove and drain okra.
8.    Pack okra pods (whole or sliced) into clean, freezer bags, squeeze out air and seal.
9.    Repeat using the same blanching water and ice water bath.
10.    Freeze up to one year at 32 F or below.
11.    Enjoy deep-fried or add to gumbos, vegetable soup, stir-fry, etc.

Prepare fruit as it will be used – peeled, chopped, pitted, etc. Food that will darken or degrade rapidly should be prepared in small batches so as it is prepared, it is put into containers and frozen. Four types of fruit packing are used: dry pack, sugar pack, syrup pack and unsweetened pack. Sugars and syrups are often used to improve texture and flavor after food is thawed, but is not essential. Berries can be frozen in a single layer on a tray, then transferred frozen to freezer bags. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) can be added according to package directions to prevent fruit discoloration. Most vegetables (except onions and peppers) should be blanched (briefly heat treated by boiling or steaming) before freezing. Blanch and immediately follow with ice water cooling. Vegetable type and size determine blanching time.


Why Blanch Vegetables?

Improperly frozen grapes covered with ice crystals. Avoid by using quality freezer bags and freezing smaller batches at one time to ensure rapid freezing.

•  Stops enzymatic reactions within produce

•  Seals in flavor, color, nutrients, and preserves quality and texture

•  Destroys bacteria and insects

•  Removes dirt


Darren Scott, food scientist and sensory specialist at the Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center at Oklahoma State University, says the quality of frozen food depends on the treatment the food receives prior to freezing, how the food is frozen, and the post-freezing storage conditions. He further states that “freezing does not stop enzymatic action and will not kill bacteria.” Mr. Scott adds that self-defrosting freezers that go through a warm-up phase each day may allow partial thawing of foods. This is important because some bacteria are capable of growth at temperatures just slightly above freezing, and he cautions “bacteria are capable of rapid growth.”



A general rule of thumb for properly frozen food is that it will last six months to a year. Vacuum-sealed foods usually last longer depending on the food product.


Strawberry Kiwi Freezer Jam (uncooked)
Makes 5, 8-ounce jars

This recipe uses freezer jam pectin, which means the recipe uses less sugar
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 pouch (1.59 ounces) freezer jam pectin
  • 2 cups crushed, hulled (cap removed) strawberries (or raspberries)
  • 2 cups diced, peeled kiwi fruit (or mashed banana)

In a medium bowl, combine sugar and pectin, stirring until well blended. Add fruit. Stir for 3 minutes. Ladle into freezer jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Apply lids tightly. Let stand at room temperature until thickened (about 30 minutes). Freeze up to one year (or enjoy immediately). Thaw before use.


A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2011 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Richelle Stafne.



Posted: 08/01/18   RSS | Print


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Create a Tiny Plant World Under Glass
by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf       #Containers   #Crafts   #Terrariums




The finished terrarium is covered with a glass plate to increase the humidity. It is very important to keep an eye on your newly planted terrarium for a few weeks. There is a fine line between too much moisture and not enough. If your terrarium steams up excessively, remove the cover to let it air out a bit. Then return the cover.


As the saying goes, “What is old is new again.” This can definitely be said about terrariums. They were popular in Victorian times, all the rage in the ’70s, and are having an amazing resurgence. Garden centers offer classes on making terrariums and little plants being hybridized are endless.

Let’s talk a little bit about how terrariums came to be. Like a lot of discoveries, it was by accident. Dr. Nathaniel Ward put a cocoon into a jar with some soil. He never saw it become a moth, but was surprised by the appearance of a fern. He left it to grow, and it did just that for four years, until the cap of the jar rusted.

Controlled climate
This accidental discovery changed plant exploration forever. Ward made what was called the Wardian case, a small portable greenhouse. This spurred the successful movement of plants from faraway lands back to England and other northern countries. Plants enclosed in Wardian cases were safe from salt water on ship voyages, and because they were enclosed, they did not require the precious fresh water needed for the sailors.

Even though we aren’t moving our plants on ships, the concept of a terrarium is still useful today. It can grow plants we would otherwise have a very hard time cultivating in our homes. It keeps humidity-loving plants happy and healthy. If you keep your house a little on the cool side, a terrarium keeps your plants warm.

Plant selection
Most plants that are appropriate for terrariums require medium light. Place a terrarium in a bright area, but out of direct sun, because that may cook the plants. If your plants suffer from your sporadic watering practices, terrariums are almost self-sufficient, once they are established.

Making a terrarium can be fun, and the possibilities and themes are limited only by your imagination. This is also a lot of fun to do with children. I made a small terrarium for my niece for her 6th birthday and she loved it! Take a cue from the Victorians and the ’70s and create a plant world that has come and gone in style, but has stood the test of time.


Select a glass container. The larger the container, the greater your plant selection. Make sure it is a clear container, because colored glass does not allow enough light in. This was found at a garage sale.

Make sure the glass is sparkling clean before you begin.

Gather your materials, including the soil and miniature houseplants. Keep in mind the mature size and growth rate of your plant as you make your selections.



Many different items can be used as decorations in your terrarium. Here I’ve gathered a sampling of things I might use: shells, glass pieces, cork bark, figurines, decorative rocks, moss, lichens, and wood pieces.

I use E-6000 glue to affix small nails to the bottom of figurines. This makes sure they don’t fall over in the terrarium.

If you choose a container that is tall and has a small opening, making terrarium tools is a must. I tied bamboo stakes to ordinary kitchen utensils and a cork to make long planting tools.


Add soil to your container, making the depth at the rear of the container deeper than the front. This allows all the plants to be seen and adds interest to the planting. I do not add drainage material. I would rather have more soil room for the plants. If you need to shorten the root ball of your plant, cut it half way up the middle and spread the root ball out. This will not hurt your plant, and keeps more roots on the plant.

All the plants have been added along with some decorative items. At this point, carefully add water to settle the soil and hydrate the plants. Clean the sides if water or soil splashes on the glass.

After planting and decorating the terrarium, add a soil cover. In this case, I used orchid bark. Moss or pebbles could also be used.



A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Lisa Eldred Steinkopf.


Posted: 07/16/18   RSS | Print


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Crazy Crawlers
by Blake Layton       #Insects   #Pests

Tersa sphinx caterpillars occasionally devour pentas growing in butterfly gardens.

Where there are plants there are caterpillars. As an avid gardener, you are probably familiar with several species of caterpillars, particularly those that damage some of your favorite plants, such as tobacco hornworms, cabbage loopers, and tomato fruitworms. But our gardens and landscapes are host to hundreds of other caterpillar species. Many of these are so small and inconspicuous they are rarely seen. Others are large and even colorful, but because they occur sporadically or do not usually damage prized plants, they are less familiar. We see them occasionally, but we don’t really know much about them. Let’s become more familiar with a few of these caterpillars. The species discussed here are all moths as adults and most are rarely serious pests, though there are some exceptions. You probably won’t see all of these caterpillars during any given growing season, but you are likely to encounter most of these during your gardening career.

Tersa sphinx
These striking caterpillars vary from brown to green, but the spots and other markings are fairly consistent. The “horn” on the rear identifies this as one of the sphinx moth caterpillars, the same family as the tobacco hornworms that plague backyard tomato growers. Because they have a fairly narrow host range, tersa sphinx caterpillars are not especially common, but they are fond of Pentas, and can severely defoliate those planted in landscape beds. This can present a minor moral dilemma for butterfly gardeners. Do you control these caterpillars in order to have more pentas blooms for visiting butterflies, or do you let the caterpillars have the pentas so they can develop into moths? Tersa sphinx moths are quite sporty looking, with a streamlined appearance and approximately 3-inch wingspan, but like most moths, they only fly at night, which makes them harder to observe. An insecticide that contains the active ingredient spinosad, applied according to label directions, is a good option if you choose to protect the pentas.

Walnut caterpillars often leave large hairy clumps of shed skins stuck to the trunks of pecan or walnut trees.

Walnut caterpillar
Walnut caterpillars undergo a significant change in appearance as they grow. Young caterpillars are red with longitudinal yellow stripes, while older caterpillars that are nearing time to pupate are black with long, fine white hairs. These caterpillars specialize in feeding on walnut (Juglans spp.) and pecan (Carya illinoinensis) trees where they cause a rather unusual defoliation pattern. Often they will strip all the leaves from a particular limb without affecting the rest of the tree. This is because the eggs are laid in masses and walnut caterpillars like to remain near their siblings when feeding. All caterpillars molt, or shed their skin, several times as they grow. When it is time for walnut caterpillars to molt, the entire family group crawls to the trunk or a large limb, clusters together, sheds their skins, and then moves away, leaving a hairy mass of shed caterpillar skins behind. Gardeners are sometimes perplexed to discover what appears from a distance to be the skin of a dead possum or some other small mammal stuck to the trunk of their tree.

Saltmarsh caterpillars are quite hairy, but they are not “stinging caterpillars.”

Saltmarsh caterpillar
These hairy caterpillars do not sting, but they occasionally occur in outbreak numbers and can damage field crops, vegetables, and tender ornamental plants. They are an exception to the rule that caterpillars do not normally feed when in the wandering phase. Larger saltmarsh caterpillars actively move around on low-growing vegetation in search of food. Outbreaks usually begin in crop fields or weedy areas, but wandering caterpillars will occasionally appear in managed landscapes. Saltmarsh caterpillars vary in color, from light tan to black, and fully mature caterpillars are about 2 inches long. Adults are medium-sized, heavy-bodied moths with white forewings speckled with black.

Giant leopard moth caterpillars overwinter as large caterpillars and complete their development the following spring.

Giant leopard moth
Most gardeners encounter this insect in fall or winter when they move an item that has been lying about for a while and discover a big, hairy caterpillar curled underneath. These caterpillars seek out protected sites to overwinter but remain as larvae until the following spring. Despite those stiff black hairs, this is not a “stinging caterpillar.” Look past the hairs and you will notice narrow red bands on the skin. Mature caterpillars are about 3 inches long; young caterpillars are black with orange bands and the hairs are not as thick. Giant leopard moth caterpillars have a fairly wide host range, including some ornamental and vegetable plants, but they are rarely numerous enough to cause serious damage. The heavy-bodied moths have white wings covered with large black spots. Often there are a few blue spots on the thorax and the upper surface of the abdomen is covered with iridescent blue and orange markings.

Forest tent caterpillars occasionally occur in huge outbreaks that can totally defoliate thousands of acres of hardwood forest, as well as urban shade trees.

Forest tent caterpillar
Despite their name, forest tent caterpillars do not build tents; they spin inconspicuous silk mats on the bark of their host tree where they molt and rest when not feeding. At feeding time, all the caterpillars move out together, following trails of silk to the leaves and returning, again all together, along the same trails. Populations of forest tent caterpillars vary greatly from year to year. During heavy outbreak years, these caterpillars can be so numerous that they totally defoliate oaks (Quercus spp.) and other hardwood trees. This can include individual trees in home landscapes, as well as thousands of acres in large forests. Fortunately, trees defoliated this early in the year will produce new leaves and suffer little long-term adverse effect. Most trees can survive several successive years of such defoliation, though there may be a reduction in trunk growth rate. During heavy outbreaks the large numbers of wandering caterpillars, combined with their fecal droppings and severe defoliation of shade trees, can be quite disconcerting to homeowners and landscape managers. Fortunately this is a short-lived phenomenon, so control measures are generally not recommended. There is only one generation per year and this occurs in early spring, with eggs hatching shortly after trees leaf out. The caterpillars pupate in late spring and emerge as moths 10 to 14 days later to mate and lay eggs. Eggs are deposited in a mass that encircles twigs of host trees and these eggs hatch the following spring.

Cecropia moth caterpillars grow up to become one of the largest moths in North America, with wingspans up to 6 inches.

Cecropia moth caterpillar
Cecropia moths belong to a group known as the “giant silkworm moths,” which also includes polyphemus and luna moths, along with several other species. As large and colorful as cecropia caterpillars are, you might wonder why you don’t see them more often. It’s because they spend their lives feeding overhead on the leaves of trees such as maples (Acer spp.), birch (Betula spp.), and wild cherry (Prunus spp.). Mature caterpillars are over 4 inches long and form their cocoons on twigs and leaves in the tree canopy. Big caterpillars grow up to be big moths, and cecropia moths are some of the largest moths in the country, with wingspans up to 6 inches. You might not think a moth that’s primarily marked with various shades of brown could be described as colorful – until you see one!

Greenstriped mapleworm: Their name describes them and indicates their favorite host. The adults are called rosy maple moths and this name is equally descriptive.

Greenstriped mapleworm
This descriptively named caterpillar feeds primarily on maple trees. Most years they go largely unnoticed, but in years when populations are unusually high, they can cause heavy or complete defoliation. Fortunately, trees usually recover with little long-term effect. In Southern states there are two or three generations each year. Mature caterpillars pupate in the soil underneath their host tree. The surprisingly beautiful adults are called rosy maple moths.

Banded woolly bear caterpillars can’t really predict severe winters, but they are very good at surviving them.

Banded woolly bear
You have probably seen banded woolly bears crawling across a road or driveway, and you are probably familiar with the folk tale that the width of the rust-colored middle band foretells the severity of the coming winter. Banded woolly bears are not really good at predicting severe winters, but they are very good at surviving them. They have special compounds in their blood that help them survive being frozen, even when ice crystals form inside their bodies, and even when exposed to repeated cycles of freezing and thawing. Like the giant leopard moth, banded woolly bears overwinter as nearly grown caterpillars and pupate the following spring. Mature caterpillars are about 2 inches long and the width of the rust-colored band is quite variable. Although these insects complete two or three generations each year, they are most commonly seen in late fall when they are in search of a place to overwinter. Banded woolly bears have a wide host range, feeding mostly on herbaceous plants and weeds, but rarely damage ornamental plants. This is another hairy caterpillar that is not a stinging caterpillar.


A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Blake Layton.


Posted: 07/16/18   RSS | Print


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Press On
by Cindy Shapton       #Crafts   #Decorating   #Flowers

Pick your favorite herbs and flowers to press after the dew is dried.

Spray adhesive on the back side of pressed fern foliage then apply to thick card stock or textured paper to make a fern botanical picture in a jiffy.


Pressing botanicals is just one more way for plant lovers to get their fix while feeding the artist within. Just pick a basketful of your favorite flowers, herbs, leaves, seedpods, or whatnot to place between papers in a press and forget about it until the process is finished.

This is such a fun project …  and educational as well. Once a plant or parts of a plant are pressed, it is easy to see the details that might otherwise be missed. The shape and texture of leaves, the way the flower(s) are attached to the stem, unique variations and leaf proportions, seed formations, and lots of other intricate elements suddenly come to life.

People have been pressing plant material for hundreds of years. The oldest examples were found in an Egyptian tomb dating back to about 300 B.C. Before cameras, botanicals were pressed for collections and herbariums around the world as a way for botanists to record their finds. Although pressed botanicals were used in art long ago, it was the Victorians who really brought botanical pressed designs into fashion.

Isn’t there something so romantic about opening an old book in an antique store and pressed flowers fall out? Or going through a box of your grandmother’s books where you find a posy flattened on the page of her favorite poem. Those botanicals tell a story.

Flower pressing is a great way to get children (of all ages) outside – away from electronics – opening up their senses and imaginations. Not to mention this activity gives you “two to one,” the pressing and then later, the creative process that turns it into a work of art.

The good news is you don’t need expensive equipment to become a plant presser. Let’s break it down and get started:

An overview of plant materials.


Create an herb-themed picture; use a pencil to write the plant names.

The Press
There are many items that can be used for a press, such as old telephone books, and how about those encyclopedia sets? Check out thrift stores for large heavy books without glossy pages.

I sometimes use scraps of plywood cut into squares about 15 by 15 inches. This size can vary depending on the size of the paper you use to separate plants that will go between the plywood squares. Newspaper is what I use (8½ x 11 inches) as blotting paper between the plywood along with various cardboard pieces added to the stack to make the press more substantial. The order of the stack is plywood on the bottom, newsprint, plant material, newsprint, and cardboard, repeating until the stack is the height you want then add the top square of plywood.

Don’t scrimp on the blotting newsprint paper – use 10-20 each time. I usually build my stacks 12-18 inches tall.

Add a cement block or a couple of heavy bricks to sit on top of your makeshift press or books to do the actual pressing and you are in business. Store your press in a warm or cool, humidity-free spot for a month to complete the process.

Of course you can buy an actual flower press or make a flower press using any of the many ideas online. They are prettier and handy if you want a portable press; these are nice for children as well.

Plant Material
Harvest only the best blooms at the peak of their perfection; some discolored or bug-eaten leaves are okay if real is what you are going for, but blooms need to be at their best. Pick mid-morning after the dew has dried or early evening before dew sets in. Of course you can prune away a bad leaf on a plant before pressing if it is not essential or discard later.

If a complete botanical, including the roots, is your objective, carefully remove as much soil as possible from roots, gently run water over roots until clean, blot with paper towels, and then proceed with pressing the whole plant.

Experiment with plants to press – thinner material dries easier, but thicker plants, such as sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) or Zinnias can be done with extra sheets of blotting paper. Sometimes you will want to cut the stem away from the flower or leaves so they will lay flat. They can be put back together on paper.

You probably already have most supplies for making pressed botanical pictures.

Using a toothpick, place drops of clear-drying glue to the backs of pressed leaves and flowers to hold in place on a background.

Start with the long stemmed pressed plants along with a few leaves.

Making a Picture

1. Use card stock, watercolor paper, handmade paper, or whatever you wish as long as its acid free and sturdy. Cut to the size needed for the frame you use.

2. Arrange your picture with the pressed plant materials.

3. Carefully add drops of glue (Elmer’s white or clear, rubber cement, and tacky glue are some I have used) to the backside of each leaf, stem, and flower with a toothpick. Just make sure the glue you use dries clear. I have found that the spray adhesive glue works great for large fern leaves.

4. Using a number two pencil, label botanicals and sign your name and date if you wish.

5. Place your finished picture in the frame and voilà – you have a beautiful art piece to help bring a little nature indoors.

Supply list:
• Telephone or other large book with non-glossy pages
• Newsprint newspaper for blotting-drying
• Scape plywood
• Flat cardboard pieces
• Cement block or heavy bricks
• Tweezers
• Glue – white, rubber cement, tacky, or spray adhesive
• Toothpicks and a small paper plate to put glue on for dipping
• Acid-free card stock, watercolor paper, handmade paper, etc.
• Number two pencil
• Scissors
• Various sized frames with glass – check thrift store or yard sales

Add leaves with different shapes and textures and a few more stems to create a layered, multidimensional look. • Place in glass frame and you have a botanical masterpiece.

Add pressed cosmos, top with matting, place into frame and viola.

A few of my favorite botanicals
Annual and perennials: sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima), Aster, bachelor’s button (Centaurea montana), pansy (Viola x wittrockiana), Vinca, ‘Victoria Blue’ salvia (S. farinacea ‘Victoria Blue’), ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), ferns, Hydrangea (separate flowers), Dianthus, Cosmos, roses (Rosa spp.), Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), ornamental grasses, dusty miller (Senecio cineraria), Geranium, Celosia

Herbs: Cilantro, dill, sage (Salvia officinalis), lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina), thyme (Thymus spp.), tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), fleabane (Erigeron spp.), lavender (Lavandula spp.), mints (Mentha spp.), chicory (Cichorium intybus), comfrey (Symphytum officinale), borage (Borago officinalis), parsley (Petroselinum crispum), milk thistle (Silybum), bee balm (Monarda spp.), pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), Mexican sage (S. leucantha), papalo (Porophyllum ruderale), hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum).

Once the pressing is finished, very carefully lift the plant material from the blotting paper or book pages. A pair of tweezers is helpful. Unused materials need to be kept in a covered container (I use a small plastic tub with a tight cover) out of humidity.


A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2018 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Cindy Shapton.


Posted: 07/16/18   RSS | Print


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Botanical Names
by Louise Roesser    

Do botanical names cause you confusion, get you tongue-tied or seem unnecessary? There actually are reasons for the scientific mumble jumble. In addition to gaining an understanding of the scientific names of plants, knowing just a little “Latinese” will place you a step higher in the gardening world.

Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707 to 1778) revolutionized the plant classification system during the 18th century when Latin was the most widely used international language of science and scholarship. Known as the “father of modern plant and animal classification,” he based his system on structural (morphological) similarities and differences, particularly regarding the reproductive organs, which are least likely to change over time. Linnaeus began his classification system by separating the plant kingdom into major divisions, based on evolution.

The example below shows how the pink flowering dogwood is classified.

Kingdom: Plantae (the plant kingdom)

Division: Trachaeophyta (vascular plants)

Class: Angiospermae (angiosperm – a flowering plant or one that produces seed in ovaries)

Subclass: Dicotyledonae (dicot – a plant having two cotyledons: the first leaflike structures that form at the first node on a stem)

Order: Cornales

Family: Cornaceae

Genus: Cornus

Specific epithet or species: Cornus florida (flowering dogwood)

Variety: Cornus florida var. rubra (pink flowering dogwood)      

If we look beyond the intimidating Latin names (often incorporating Greek), we begin to see a very simple classification system. The naming of plants is based on a latin two-word “binomial” system – bi meaning two, nomen meaning name. The genus (plural – genera) is listed first, always capitalized and consisting of a group of one or more plants that share one or more characteristics. For example, all plants in the genus Acer are types of maples and are found in the Aceraceae family. A generic name is either a noun or a word treated as such with a masculine (ends in -us, -er, -is or -r), feminine (ends in -a, -ra, -is or -ris) or neutral (ends in -um, -rum, -is or -re) gender. Exceptions are plants with endings that are the same for all three genders (-ans, -ens, -x and -or).

‘Audray Bicolor Rose’ globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa ‘Audray Bicolor Rose’)

‘Luxuriant’ bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia ‘Luxuriant’)

Epithet, Species

The specific epithet, also known as the species, is a group of plants within the genus that possess certain differences but are capable of possible interbreeding. Written as the second part of a scientific name and always lowercase, the species can often convey to us more specific information about a particular plant, such as size (usually relative to other species of the genus), growth habit, color or habitat. Acer rubrum is a red maple (rubrum meaning red), and Acer saccharum is a sugar maple (saccharum refers to sugar). Species that contain proper names usually indicate the collector or someone who has studied a particular plant. In the case of chinkapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii), the species name honors Gotthilf Henry Ernest Muhlenberg (1753-1815), a Lutheran minister and botanist from Pennsylvania. The species name can also indicate the origin of a plant, as with Camellia japonica (of Japan) and Cercis canadensis (the redbud), indicating it is from Canada.


The variety is a subgroup name for a plant that differs only slightly from the species. It further delineates a specific plant and follows the genus and species. Varieties are indicated by “var.,” as in Rosa gallica var. officinalis. A botanical variety will sexually breed true to form in nature.


Dragon Wing begonia (Begonia x hybrida ‘Bepared’)

Cultivars (a combination of the words cultivated and variety) are plants that are bred for their desirable characteristics and must be maintained by humans through controlled sexual (seeds) or asexual propagation. Cultivar names are either English or Latinized and are indicated by an enclosure in single quotes as in Acer rubrum ‘October Glory’. Like the species, the cultivar may offer descriptive information that may help gardeners when choosing a particular plant.

A cross between two or more species is a hybrid and is denoted with an “x” as in Abelia x grandiflora. (Hint: This Abelia species has larger flowers than others.) Did you guess that? If so, you are catching on.

The naming of plants is based on a set of rules by the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN), which was first published in 1930. Botanists make plant name changes only when necessary to conform to the code.

What Do Those Words Mean?

Descriptive Prefixes          

albi-, leuco- – white
alterni- – alternate
angusti- – narrow
brevi- – short
grandi- – large
hetero- – differing
lati- – broad
longi- – long
micro- – small
macro- – large, long
rotundi- – round
semper- – always

Designating Plant Habitat             

aquaticus – water
arvensis – in fields
maritimus – by the sea
palustris – in swamps
pratensis – in meadows
sativus – cultivated

Designating Plant Appearance

gracilis – graceful, slender
humilus – low
procumbens – trailing
pubescens – downy hair surface
pumilus, nanus – dwarf
repans, reptans – creeping
tuberosus – forming tubers

Designating Plant Parts

caulis – stem
carpus – fruit
florus, anthos – flower
folium, phyllon – leaf

Designating Plant Geography

americanus – Americas
australis – southern
borealis – northern
canadensis – Canada
carolinianus – Carolinas
chinensis, sinensis – China
occidentalis – western
orientalis – eastern
virginianus – Virginias

Designating Color

albus – white
atropurpureus – dark purple
aureus – golden
bicolor – of two colors
coccineus – scarlet
concolor – same color both sides
discolor – different color each side
flavus, luteus – yellow
glaucus – whitish with a bloom
niger – black
ruber – red
sanguineus – blood red
variegatus – variegated
viridis – green

Designating Plant Attributes

annuus – annual
communis, vulgaris – common
officinalis – medicinal
perennis – perennial
pulchellus – beautiful
rugosus – wrinkled
setaceus – bristle-like
spectabilis – showy, handsome
vernus – spring flowering

Why Not Keep It Simple?

So why not just use common or vernacular names? They are usually much easier to remember and pronounce, but there are problems associated with them. A plant may have several common names, depending on the country it is grown in, section of the country or even among different garden clubs. Without botanical names, it would be impossible to keep plants in order, to tell one from the other or even to order your favorite from a catalog. Also, if you are inquiring about a plant in another country, the botanical name is the same all over the world.

When it comes to selecting and purchasing plants for your home and landscape, how can botanical names be useful? Begin by becoming familiar with genera of common landscape plants such as Ilex (hollies), Quercus (oaks) and Juniperus (junipers) to name a few. Next, familiarize yourself with descriptive species names.

Gold-edged winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’)

One of my favorite winter-blooming shrubs is Daphne odora (winter daphne). With its fragrant purple-pink flowers, winter daphne clearly lives up to its specific epithet. The cultivar Daphne odora ‘Alba’ bears white to creamy white flowers. Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ bears leaves with narrow, irregular yellow margins and pink flower buds that open to pale pink or white.

If you are looking for an accent tree or shrub for your landscape, you might want to try Juniperus chinensis ‘Torulosa’ (origin – China; torulosa meaning twisted). Looking for a colorful evergreen dwarf shrub? Nandina domestica ‘Nana Purpurea’ (dwarf purple) might be just the right cultivar for you.

Although gardeners still use common names every day, occasionally there is a real need to use a little “Latinese.”


Dictionary of Plant Names - Allen J. Coombes

Stearn’s Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners - William T. Stearn

The American Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants - Christopher Brickell and Judith D. Zuk

Making Sense of Botanical Names - R.P. Madsen and A. McDaniel


A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2005 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Louise Roesser.


Posted: 07/16/18   RSS | Print


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Cut and Come Again
by Kristi Cook       #Edibles   #Pruning   #Vegetables

Loose leafed lettuces like this black seeded lettuce and any variety of spinach perform very well as cut and come again choices.

One of the many joys of growing your own food is the nearly constant supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. Freshly picked tomatoes, cucumbers, berries, and squash are some of the most delightful summer treasures. Yet many crops, such as lettuce, onions, and Swiss chard, tend to be thought of as single-harvest vegetables, making it necessary to provide enough space for large plantings as well as a keen attention to succession planting in order to receive several weeks worth of these single harvest crops. Many of these vegetables, however, are capable of producing multiple harvests if you provide just a little extra attention to the harvesting methods and give them a bit of time to recover from each picking.

Swiss chard is another good cut and come again performer with fast regrowth.

Be Picky
Leafy vegetables are among the easiest to coax into producing more than one picking and take advantage of two different approaches to continuous harvests. For instance, if you enjoy salads loaded with tender baby leaves select a cut and come again lettuce mix. These mixes are often labeled as mild, spicy, or a blend of both to suit a variety of taste preferences. Simply prepare the seedbed and broadcast seeds across several feet rather than making neat and tidy rows. Spacing between seeds is not critical as these blends will be harvested while still in the smaller stages of growth. After seedlings sprout and leaves reach a few inches in height, you can start harvesting leaves as you need them.

Perhaps the easiest method for gathering these small leaves is to grab a handful of plants by the tops and snip about an inch or two above the crown. Cut as many handfuls from your growing patch as your family needs for a day or two and leave the rest for the next cutting. Depending on your climate and the varieties chosen, these freshly cut lettuces will produce new leaves from the crown and will be ready for cutting again within a couple of weeks.

This Swiss chard already has edible baby leaves within a week of the initial cutting. However, resist the temptation to cut all of the baby leaves in a single cutting as the plants do need the leaves temporarily to help regenerate it’s energy stores.

Alternatively, if you prefer the larger, crunchier leaves of more mature lettuces, opt for the loose leaf varieties and larger leafed spinaches. Plant the seeds or transplants at the recommended distance and allow the outer leaves to mature to the stage that you prefer. Once the preferred size is reached, break or cut the outer two to three layers of leaves close to the bottom of the plant and leave the central portion intact. Over the next couple of weeks the central leaves will become the outer leaves and will continue to lengthen in size. Repeat this cutting and regrowing cycle until the plant’s regrowth slows. Once it has slowed significantly or shows signs of bolting (or going to seed), pull the entire plant and enjoy as a final meal.

Succession planting every one to two weeks for four to six weeks total works very well with these larger lettuces as well as the baby lettuces to allow for harvesting of some of the plants while the freshly cut ones rest and produce new leaves.

When cutting Swiss chard, try to avoid cutting into the new growth hidden within the center of the stalks to allow the new leaves time to grow and replenish the plant’s energy stores.

Cut ‘em Down
Other cut and come again choices include Swiss chard, green onions, chives, and garlic. These tasty treats add variety to salads and other meals and shouldn’t be overlooked. All of these vegetables continuously produce their growing leaves from a central point. Once the leaves of each of these plants reach a usable size, simply cut them above their growing point. Swiss chard and chives should be left with 2”-3” of growth across the entire plant while green onions and garlic should be cut just above the beginning of the white portion of the stalks to allow for regrowth. The one thing to remember with these cut and come again choices are that each cycle typically produces somewhat smaller new growth. I have found it best to limit the number of cuttings to no more than three times with two cuttings generally producing the best results.

One added advantage to the cut and come again talent of most lettuces, onions, scallions, and garlic is the ability to grow these vegetables in containers in late summer and early fall that can later be brought indoors to continue their regrowth cycle for a while longer. However, because these particular vegetables are dependent on the amount of daylight they receive to continue growing, you will need to provide supplemental lighting during the shorter days of winter to delay the drive to go dormant.

Cut and come again vegetables are an easy way to harvest extra tasty veggies time and time again from crops that are typically harvested only a single time. With just a little attention to growing habits and provided enough time to recover, a single planting can provide several weeks of fresh produce.


A version of this article appeared in a July 2018 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Kristi Cook.


Posted: 07/03/18   RSS | Print


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Refresh Summer Perennials
by Gloria Day       #Advice   #Pruning   #Summer

Drumstick allium is one of the most reliably perennial ornamental onions for central United States. It blends well with other flowers in the garden and in vases. • Phlox is one perennial that truly benefits from deadheading all season long, re-blooming until the frost nips. • Helleborus needs winter leaves removed just in time to reveal the showy blooms, often peeking through a late winter snow.

Keeping a garden at its best requires planning and a little effort. Spring through fall, here are a few tips for refreshing your perennials.

Echinacea can be deadheaded early in the season and the flowers can be left later in the season to provide seed for overwintering birds.

Start deadheading daffodils (Narcissus spp.) and tulips (Tulipa spp.) in early May, taking care to pinch off the flower heads and cut the stems, never the nourishing leaves.

Allium seed heads can be left on the plant to provide interest or cut, whichever you prefer. They can be quite interesting spray-painted for dried arrangements.

After Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum x superbum) bloom and fade, the labor-intensive task of deadheading begins. Although time consuming to cut each stalk back to the next bud, it is worth the effort when it produces a second or third bloom.

The method of deadheading Rudbeckia is similar to that for Shasta daisy, cutting the stem back to the next new bud. In fall, leave the seeds for wildlife.

Buddleia, whether dwarf or 10 feet tall, should be deadheaded frequently. Some varieties can be considered invasive due to self-seeding. The number of seedlings can be controlled by deadheading, both an environmental friendly task to prevent unwanted seedlings and to encourage continuous blooms. Cut the stem back to the next “V” junction on the branch. You will have larger flowers throughout the season, which translates into more butterflies visiting the garden.

Aster and Chrysanthemum flowers can be snipped off after the bloom fades and will give the plant a face-lift.

Sedum can be deadheaded after it flowers and dries, particularly the ground cover types. The dried flowers of taller sedum, such as ‘Autumn Fire’ or ‘Autumn Joy’, may be left on to provide winter interest if the stems are strong and the plant remains upright.


Salvia is another mainstay perennial that needs to be consistently deadheaded. It becomes unsightly after it blooms and dries. A quick snip at the tips will extend the life of the plant until frost.

The spent flowers of Dianthus should be trimmed above the mounding foliage.

Perennial Geranium needs a midseason haircut in order to rebloom. Cut back the top one-third of the plant.

Coreopsis can be treated the same way, using sharp hedge shears to expedite the task.

As the season progresses, keep up with deadheading and you will see a tremendous increase of both vigor and blooms.





A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2018 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Caleb Melchior and Gloria Day.


Posted: 07/03/18   RSS | Print


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Friends or Foes?
by Bill Pitts       #Advice   #Sustainability and Self-Sufficiency   #Vegetables

While I consider French marigolds (Tagetes patula) an essential potager plant, some gardeners believe it is a bad companion for vegetables because it can attract pests, such as spider mites.

The “Three Sisters” is one of the most famous examples of companion planting. Pole beans, corn, and pumpkins are grown together on hills, and each of the plants helps the others. The corn gives the beans something to climb, while the pumpkins serve as a living mulch, keeping the roots cool and moist.

I find the three sisters get along best when I stick to varieties closest to those the Native Americans would have used. An heirloom field corn provides a sturdy support for beans, but when I tried a finicky modern sweet corn, the whole planting came tumbling down in a tangled mess, and these famously good companions became bad ones.

I have found that vegetables and herbs of different families make great companions, but bad ones if you are practicing crop rotation over a period of years.

Some plants will always make bad companions. I once saw roses (Rosa spp.) interplanted with Agave. These plants had completely different cultural requirements. The gardener could not keep the roses happy without making the agaves miserable, and vice versa. In the end, both suffered.

But usually I find the question of whether plants will make good companions more complicated. In the spring, a row of trellised tomatoes can provide shade for an underplanting of lettuce, preventing them from bolting as quickly, therefore extending the harvest. They make good companions. But the same relationship turns bad in late fall and winter, when the days are short. The lettuce needs all the sun they can get. That problem can be fixed easily enough: Plant lettuce south of the tomatoes in the fall.

If you practice crop rotation, mixing lettuce and tomatoes can create complications. Basically, crop rotation is planting to avoid growing vegetables and herbs of the same family in the same spot season after season. It’s a great way to reduce problems with pests, diseases, and nutrient deficiencies. But to practice crop rotation any length of time in a small home garden usually involves arranging plants according to family. If you pair lettuces with tomatoes, you have devoted that spot to both the nightshade family and the aster family. If you add carrots to the mix on the grounds that “carrots love tomatoes,” you’ve got a third family. It is easy to imagine how any crop rotation scheme could become muddled in just a year or two. Plants of the same family would wind up in the same spot one season after the next. Problems would ensue, and the lettuces and tomatoes would no longer seem such good companions after all.


Clockwise: Artichokes take up a lot of space, attract all sorts of pests, and don’t produce much, making them an all-round bad companion in the vegetable garden, but in my mind, they are still 100 percent worth it. • Artichokes take up a lot of space, attract all sorts of pests, and don’t produce much, making them an all-round bad companion in the vegetable garden, but in my mind, they are still 100 percent worth it. • I am still uncertain whether this foxtail millet made a good companion to my tomatoes, or for that matter anything else in the garden, but the birds enjoyed eating the seeds.

Perhaps try planting lettuce with sunflowers (Helianthus annuus). They belong to the same family, so the rotation scheme stays neat. The sunflowers will provide some shade in late spring. The following season the bed could be planted with vegetables of any other family, though gardeners who are serious about crop rotation believe that certain sequences are better than others.

Huauzontle, a delicious Mexican vegetable, introduced me to the technique of trap cropping and, through it, the discovery of many bad companions in the garden.

I once planted a bed of spinach, Swiss chard, and huauzontle, a delicious Mexican vegetable, because all belong to the family Amaranthaceae. I expected the chard to be devoured by worms, as it usually is in my garden. I expected the huauzontle to thrive because it is a vigorous half-wild plant, very similar to lamb’s quarters. But I was wrong. The worms all went to the huauzontle. They preferred it to the spinach and even the chard. I did not know it at the time, but I had stumbled upon a companion planting technique called “trap cropping.” Basically you protect one vegetable (the chard) by pairing it with something the bugs like even better (the huauzontle).

This experience led me to try other trap crops, and I soon learned that good companions can become bad ones in this area too.

For several years, stinkbugs were worse than usual. They would suck the juice from tomatoes, making hard discolored spots, which would eventually rot, ruining the fruit. Remembering the huauzontle, I turned to trap cropping as a solution. My plan was to lure the stinkbugs away from the tomatoes with things they like even more.

I read all I could on the subject and learned that stinkbugs love okra, sunflowers, and certain grains, such as sorghum. If I planted enough of these, the stinkbugs would leave the tomatoes alone. That was the theory. I told a gardening friend what I was up to and she gave me a stern warning: “You’re only going to attract even more bugs, and your tomatoes will be worse off than ever.”

Whether okra makes good companions for tomatoes may depend on the planting arrangement.

She was right. That spring the garden swarmed with stinkbugs. They feasted on everything indiscriminately, including the tomatoes. Wondering where I had gone wrong, I turned to a university specialist in trap cropping. He told me I should have planted a ring of sunflowers, sorghum, and other trap crops around my entire yard, with the tomatoes in the middle. I have not tried this yet.

Recently, I have been growing vegetables in containers, and one of the things I love about this way of gardening is that it gives me the freedom to mix things up. There is little need for crop rotation because some or all of the potting medium is replaced from season to season. I have found that when I plant all sorts of vegetables together, mixing up species and families, they find a harmony I could have never planned. The kale shades the lettuce, and both protect the even more delicate corn salad, and for whatever reason the kale is happier, too, suffering from fewer aphids than in the past.


A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 23 Number 4.
Photography courtesy of Bill Pitts.


Posted: 07/03/18   RSS | Print


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Gardening Questions You Never Really Thought to Ask
by Douglas A. Spilker, Ph.D.       #Misc   #Pests   #Uncategorized   #Vines

Oaks typically alternate years of heavy acorn production, just like fruit trees.

Often when pulling weeds or mowing the grass, my mind drifts to some of the challenges in the world. I don’t mean solving world hunger or anything, but just considering some of those gardening questions not discussed on radio shows. This happens in a “stream of consciousness” where one thought or question runs into another and another and so on.

As I mow, I often wish that I could quit mowing my grass and let the seedheads develop. Would this fill in the bare spots? I know my neighbors wouldn’t like it, but I also know there are cultural reasons that this doesn’t work. Most perennial grasses, like Kentucky bluegrass and fescues, are hybrids; they commonly do not produce viable seeds. Better keep mowing and avoid nasty letters from the homeowners’ association.

Nutsedge tubers (nutlets) can persist for years in the soil waiting to appear in lawn bare spots.

Mowing has its own hazards. Last year my oak tree was raining acorns, and mowing was like skating on marbles. It was driving me nuts — why were there so many this year? Oaks typically alternate heavy acorn production years. It takes a lot of energy to produce the fruit (nuts), and therefore less goes into making the flower buds for the next season. I think “off” years can also occur when a late spring frost blights the flowers, reducing nut development.

Although they don’t produce real nuts, I don’t recall having any nutsedge (also known as nutgrass) in my yard last year, but there it is. Where did it come from? It may have been hiding there for a while. It is not uncommon for their persistent tubers (nutlets) to be trucked in with the top soil used during yard grading. Watch also for infested soil with nursery stock that might introduce nutsedge into landscape beds.

Although nutsedge is a challenge in lawns, the common yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta), known by many names including sour clover (taste it and see why), is nearly impossible to eradicate in flowerbeds. Does it spread by spontaneous generation? It is important to remove plants before seedpods develop, because when ripe, they explode at the slightest touch, launching seeds as far as 10 feet. I am convinced this is how it spreads.

Speaking of explosions, why do earthworm masses try to commit suicide after a heavy rain? There are several theories as to why earthworms surface when it rains. I always assumed it was to keep from drowning in waterlogged soils, but earthworms thrive in moist environments. Some say it is easier for them to migrate to another location or to find mates. However, I like the theory that they scatter because raindrops cause soil vibrations that scare them into thinking a mole is coming. (Sounds more exciting to me.)

Murphy’s Law?

I’m convinced that Murphy was a gardener. Take for instance my iris bed. I started with a nice assortment of bearded irises. Over the years, I lost a few for various reasons, but some always came back. Finally one year, one color took over — guess which one? The ugly purple-brown ones. And don’t even mention my favorite yellow pear tomatoes. I searched all over town looking for transplants, and found the very last one in a local nursery. I was so happy to get it planted in time for the next rain. Not more than a week later a big storm came through. The only damage in the whole garden was the broken stem of my sole pear tomato. Murphy did it again!

Earthworms aren’t the only soil-borne critters we seldom see. Why don’t we see cicadas more often? Cicadas live most of their lives underground, within 2 feet of the surface, feeding on tree roots. After 13 to 17 years, cicada nymphs emerge synchronously and in tremendous numbers. Within two months of their emergence, eggs have been laid and the cicadas have returned underground chewing on roots for another 13 to 17 years.

Squirrels don’t chew on roots, but they can chew through anything that is not metal, but that doesn’t mean they don’t chew on metal. But why do they have to gnaw on our new patio furniture? The front teeth of squirrels, just like beavers, continue growing throughout their lives. To keep them trimmed, they chew on “stuff.” If they run out of nuts, they chew on your house, your property or anything else to keep their teeth trimmed.


Squirrels might not eat the metal, but they can do plenty of damage to patio furniture. • Vines (like this Mandevilla sp.) twine according to their genetics, not due to the hemisphere they live in. • Rabbits are not my friends.

If you don’t trim vines, they undoubtedly will twine around any support. What causes vines to wrap one way or the other? Most vines twine counter-clockwise, though about 10 percent go clockwise. Some do it both ways. Unlike swirling water down the sink, the twining direction of vines is not dependent on whether the plant grows north or south of the equator. Simply, twining direction is genetic; some species go one way, while others go the other way.

There are many mysteries in the gardening universe, some which will never be solved like: “Why do rabbits go for vegetable seedlings when they must cross yards of lush green grass to get there,” and, “Do cutworms have a mean streak by felling a seedling with one bite then moving on to the next?” I’m sure you have many of your own gardening mysteries that also keep your mind flowing like a stream (of consciousness).


A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Douglas A. Spilker, Ph.D.


Posted: 07/03/18   RSS | Print


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How to Make Potpourri
by Denise Schreiber       #Fragrant   #How to   #Misc

The original French term for potpourri meant “rotten pot,” referring to the moist method of pickling flowers and leaves. More common now is the dry method using flowers and leaves that are picked just as they reach maturity full of fragrance and color. It also incorporates seeds, spices, dried leaves and flowers, berries, dried fruit slices, barks, seedheads and cones to add a variety of textures to the mixture. The best potpourris have a subtle, natural scent that comes from the combination of all natural ingredients. Different ingredients contribute aroma, texture, color and bulk. Many herbs contribute fragrance as well as color and texture.

Start collecting your flowers and herbs for drying early in the day, after the dew has dried and before the sun becomes too hot. This way they retain their fragrance and color. They can be hung upside down in a dark area or where there is a breeze. They can also be placed on a cookie sheet lined with foil or parchment paper in the same area. When they are completely dried, you can store them in a glass mason jar with a tight-fitting lid to keep out moisture. (Plastic allows some moisture to get into the flowers.) Store away from light until you are ready to make your mixture.

Flowers from top left: roses, dried lavender, bee balm (red petals) and mixed dried flower petals.

What to Use
Some plants you can use for potpourri include roses and rose buds, lavender, any member of the mint family, calendula, pansies, violets, lemon verbena, strawflowers, larkspur, scented geranium flowers and leaves, rosemary flowers and leaves, thyme flowers and leaves, angelica, gomphrena and statice — just to name a few. You can also use balsam needles, cones from evergreens, juniper berries, citrus peels (without the white pith), cloves, cinnamon sticks, star anise, allspice, cardamom and vanilla pods.

This large dish contains chopped orris root, and the small dish has powdered orris root and vanilla oil fragrance.

Birch bark

Combine the flowers and other ingredients together and mix by gently tossing. Make sure the fragrances complement each other.

Consider the effects of each ingredient. A citrusy scent including orange peel and lemon verbena or a mint to stimulate and refresh, or florals such as lavender and rose are soothing. Camphors like eucalyptus and balsam will cool, while spices like cloves, cinnamon and vanilla add warmth. Woods and barks (like cedar and birch) complement other scents while adding bulk, and fruits such as dried apple slices, rosehips and juniper berries add visual appeal.

I also like to add a few drops of an essential oil and a fixative, which can be purchased from a craft store or herb shop. A fixative keeps the scent from fading. Fixatives include orris root, gum benzoin, oak moss and vanilla beans. It’s fine to put more than one fixative to work in a potpourri; use at least 20 percent total fixative by weight. I like to use about 1 tablespoon of orris root to 1 cup of flowers and leaves. Gum benzoin has a sweet vanilla scent, but I use only ½ ounce to 4-6 cups of flowers.

After mixing up the potpourri, store in a jar for about six weeks in a warm, dark dry place to allow it to cure. You can add a drop of essential oil once a week and stir it in until you obtain the desired fragrance.

When the potpourri is finished, place it in an open decorative bowl and enjoy. You will probably have to refresh it with essential oil from time to time, but it should last several months for your enjoyment.

You can play around with the ingredients to suit your own personal taste. You can also make sachets of potpourri to give as gifts or to scent closets or drawers. Small organza bags are ideal for this and are available at craft stores.



A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Denise Schreiber.


Posted: 07/03/18   RSS | Print


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Planting for the Future
by Dawn Seymour    

This pine has been reprimanded over the years to conform to the elements where it lives. Branching short and stiff, trunk curved and needles clinging as if refusing to fall to the floor below littered with evidence of life gone on before.

An intimate part of the human race is connected to the existence of trees. We track our lineage with a “Family Tree.” We reference our health and well-being with the “Tree of Life” and the very first man and woman on earth ate the forbidden fruit from the “Tree of Knowledge” in the Garden of Eden.

Trees are a mark of history. We look at the number of rings to determine the age of a tree. We look at the characteristics of the rings, such as how thick or thin they are, their color and other attributes to determine the types of years that have affected the growth of the trees and other living organisms. We can see drought, earthquakes, forest fires, fast or slow growth, pressure points from another tree, damage from construction and so forth reflected in the historical replication of the rings. They even clean the air and water for us without as much as a rustle. There are songs written about them, people and treasure buried near them and a cherry tree has even led the juvenile tirades of a President.

The installation of trees in the landscape gives height, color, food, shelter, sometimes fragrance, structure, shade, a cooling effect for our homes, a place to hang a swing and a sense of permanence. Some people plant trees to mark an anniversary, or a holiday, or even the birth of a child and it is done as a ritual as well as an act of hope that generations to come will know the “specialness” of that particular tree. When we are looking to plant a tree we should look at it as a permanent structure and make the best choice for that particular variety.

What gives us the right to take for granted the growth and future of one of these magnificent creations? I am always dismayed when someone refuses to acknowledge the proper way to add a tree to their landscape and instead gives an indifferent shrug and says, “It won’t be my problem! Let the next guy worry about it.” So, let’s look at some key points for choosing the right tree for the right location.


How much room is there for a tree? Know the height and width.

Does anything interfere with the installation of a tree? Look for potential issues with power lines, septic systems, foundations, sidewalks, driveways and other trees.

Ask yourself “What do I want a tree for?” Is it for food, a wind break, shade, decoration, flowers or structure?

Ask yourself “What type of growing area do I have for a tree?” For example, is the area boggy, dry, rocky, clay, loam, sheltered, exposed, sunny, shady, windy?

This oak is beautiful in any season, but without the leaves there is clear evidence that it has been maintained intelligently through the years. This tree was lovingly developed around without interrupting its existence.


Do some research. Go and look at the tree you think you want to install in a proper application so you have a good grasp on what this tree will grow up to be. It is difficult to look at a 10 gallon tree at a garden center and picture it 25 feet tall and 20 feet wide. A great place to look at trees as they mature would be an arboretum. They place trees in locations that are nurturing and that allow that tree to grow into what it is supposed to be. Often they have planted them several years previously and it will give you a great idea what that tree will look like in 25 or 30 years. The research will also help you decide exactly what variety of tree you want so you won’t deviate from your choice unless the alternative is comparable.

Set a budget. How much do you want to spend on a tree? The larger the tree you start with, often the more it will cost. However, ornamental trees can be very small in comparison to a woodland type tree and be three times the price. That has lots to do with how long it takes for a variety to reach the size it currently is and how much maintenance goes into growing it.

Get professional assistance. Ask a garden designer or garden center employee to help you select the best tree. Each variety has different characteristics of growth that will ensure a strong end result. Maples should have upright, rounded branching and a straight trunk, for example, whereas a Japanese maple may have slight curvature in the trunk and more lateral, open branching. Make sure the tree is not loose in the container or that the root ball is broken apart.

These pears were placed with good forethought. There is plenty of space for them to grow to maturity and they grace the entrance of this home without overwhelming it.


Notice how the unscrupulous stripping of the branches on this tree have caused uneven growth as the weight of the tree falls heavily to one side.

Dig the hole 2 ½ times larger than the root ball or container and mix in 1 part compost, 1 part peat moss, and 2 parts original soil. This creates a healthy space for your tree to grow in with loose soil and nutrients.

Water the tree in well. There are Treegator® watering bags that you can purchase that hold 15 to 25 gallons of water and have little weep holes which the water slowly escapes through. This waters the tree deeply without you having to stand there with a hose for an hour or carry buckets back and forth.

Mulch well. Mulching does not mean having a perfect circle around the tree but rather covering the virgin dirt with grass clippings, wood chips, sod or other materials (depending on the location of the tree installation, of course. We don’t want sod in the flower beds after all.)

Only stake if necessary. If your new tree is in a location that gets prevailing winds, stake the tree loosely so that it won’t blow down but it has a little room to move to establish “standing on its own two feet.” Do not leave any stakes attached to the tree that may have come with it as those are usually only there for shipping purposes.

A well placed tree will dress up even the simplest abode or make secret a favorite spot. Responsible tree ownership is part of taking care of the space we’ve been given. Select your trees carefully, install them responsibly and enjoy them enthusiastically.

A version of this article appeared in a July 2012 State-by-State Gardening eNewsletter
Photography courtesy of Dawn Seymour.


Posted: 07/03/18   RSS | Print


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5 Must Have Herbs for Summer
by Patti Travioli       #Annuals   #Herbs   #Summer

Tulsi, or holy basil, should be harvested before the flowers develop. You can dry the leaves for tea or make a tincture. You can also incorporate the leaves into stir-fries, soups, or sauces. A sacred plant of the Hindus and used in Ayurveda medicine.

I can recall being a new gardener going to my local greenhouse to find some annuals for the front yard. My mother was a gardener, always planting several flats of double Impatiens, Begonia, and marigolds (Tagetes spp.). On my way to the colorful flowers, I stopped to look at the herbs. They smelled so fresh, some even reminiscent of lemons. How adorable those with tiny variegated gold and green leaves were. Some were fuzzy and gray. I decided to plant some herbs along with my annuals. That was the summer I broke free from my mother’s way of gardening and went out on my own. The fragrance and flavors of the herbs were more powerful to me than the colors brought by the annuals. In the years that followed, I learned how to grow, harvest, and preserve herbs.

Anise hyssop is a hardy perennial to Zone 4. It grows straight and tall with several branches, creating a very full plant. The lavender flowers and leaves can be harvested and dried to be used as a tea, which has a slight black licorice flavor. Anise hyssop also makes a good cut flower in a mixed bouquet. Look for the native species or newer cultivars.

Following are my five must haves for any garden:

1. Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Number one, hands down, my favorite – visually and as an edible. The secret of growing basil is that it likes the HEAT. Don’t plant this until two weeks after your last frost date. You can start it indoors, buy a transplant at the garden center, or sow seeds. I pinch off the tips of the stems and leaves all summer long, and at the end of the season I harvest the whole plant to make pesto. You can grow green or purple varieties. If you already grow basil, think about adding Tulsi, also called holy basil (O. tenuiflorum). Harvest and dry the leaves before flowering for a heavenly, good-for-you tea. Allow a few plants to flower. The bees love this plant.

Basic Summer Pesto

6 cups freshly harvested basil leaves, washed and dried
¼-½ cup olive oil
½ cup Parmesan cheese
¼ cup pine nuts or walnuts
2 or more garlic cloves
Pinch of salt

Place basil in a food processor and pulse just enough to chop up. Add olive oil and pulse a few more times to mix. Add remaining ingredients. Pulse until texture is chopped small, but not so small that it turns into a paste. Adjust ingredients to your preference. Serve over pasta, with bread, or on chicken. Freezes well.

2. Mint (Mentha spp.)
There are many types of mints, not just spearmint (M. spicata) and peppermint (M. xpiperita); I include anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), sometimes called licorice mint. Not only do the lavender flowers look great in the perennial garden, those with leaves can be dried and steeped into a black licorice flavored tea. A perennial in Zones 4-9, it can grow up to 3 feet tall. It will not spread as rampant as other mints, but it can re-seed. The bees love this North American native.

3. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Parsley is a biennial, which means that it will grow leaves only the first year, and flower the second year. You can start from seed, but with sporadic germination you may want to purchase a plant to transplant. Harvest in bunches by cutting the stems to the ground. Parsley prefers full sun and can grow up to 1 foot tall.

4. Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Dill is a wonderful addition to the garden that also supports beneficial insects when in flower. Don’t bother wasting your money with a transplant; dill prefers to be directly sown into the garden. A must-have summer flavor for any fermented vegetables, not just cucumbers. Grilled salmon with a squeeze of fresh lemon and sprinkling of freshly harvested dill is a real summer treat. When selecting dill to grow, pay attention to the variety. Do you want the leaves or the seed head?  The variety ‘Fernleaf’ is an AAS winner that is very slow to bolt (flower) and produces a lot of leaves. It stays pretty short and makes a great container plant.

5. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Not only does it smell great, bees love it and the flower buds can be added to make delightful lavender shortbread cookies. A perennial for Zones 5-8, this plant loves the full sun and needs well-drained soil. It doesn’t like soggy roots or leaves! At my farm, it grows in sand and I rarely water it. Harvest the buds then allow to dry and save for making salves, soaps, or just put in a bag to enjoy the fragrance year round.

The flowers of this lavender plant have opened too much to harvest for culinary purposes, but this is perfect timing for this honeybee. Once the flowers are spent, remove them, which will allow the plant to bloom again later in the summer.

Summers spent in the garden should be experienced by all of our senses. Who said herbs don’t offer a visual appeal? How many shades of green are there? Gray and purple foliage are gorgeous! Not only will you enjoy them over the summer, but if you preserve them, you can enjoy them all winter. Nothing reminds me of the summer garden as much as opening a container of pesto, mixing it with some olive oil, and soaking it up with some bread or adding it to pasta. If you don’t have an herb garden, tuck some additional textures and smells into your annual beds, you may be converted, just as I was.


A version of this article appeared in Michigan Gardening Magazine Volume 6 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Patti Travioli.


Posted: 06/20/18   RSS | Print


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The Way of the Weave
by Kristi Cook       #Advice   #Edibles   #Vegetables

I grow my tomatoes in double rows, which provides plenty of shade for the roots and soil once the plants fill out. • Secure twine tightly at each end post and in-line post to ensure twine doesn’t slip as plants grow heavier and taller. • The Florida weave method keeps plants upright and off the ground as they grow.

Here’s a single plant up close. As the plant grows it will fill out the spaces, making the twine less visible.

When looking down on top of the plants, you should see a row of twine running down each side.

I don’t know about you, but I there’s one thing about growing tomatoes that I don’t care for – caging them. No matter what type of caging system I’ve tried, be it the classic flimsy tomato cage, the sturdier cattle-panel version, or the whole tying the plant to a stake (kind of like a witch-burning), no caging method has worked. Before summer is halfway over, both tomatoes and plants are on the ground with the first heavy rainstorm or windy day. And forget about trying to get those giant plants back into their homes! However, all these troubles disappeared the summer I discovered the Florida weave trellising system. Also known as the basketweave system, weaving tomato plants between stakes and twine is economical, simple, and a major time saver – something all of us gardeners can use!

To get started, all you need are a few sturdy stakes and twine. For stakes, nearly anything sturdy and rot-resistant will work, provided it is tall enough to set at least 8 inches into the ground and reach the top of the tomato plants. Some use thick wooden stakes, others use rebar, and still others use T-posts, each with benefits and drawbacks. Wooden stakes, for instance, are inexpensive. However, because it’s best to use untreated lumber around food crops, the wood will usually rot enough during the first season that it won’t be usable the following year. Another drawback is that it can snap under heavy loads and windy conditions more readily than the other options. Rebar and T-posts are quite durable under heavy loads, won’t rot, and are easily set into the ground without breakage. The downside is the higher initial cost. Yet, because rebar and T-posts won’t rot and don’t break easily, you’ll get many years’ use out of them making them much less expensive in the long run.

You can use any strong, non-stretching twine. Many gardeners use jute or sisal, but I have found these can stretch too much after a heavy rain when my plants are full and pushing against it, causing the entire system to fail. Over time, I’ve switched to synthetic baling twine that I recycle from my horses’ hay bales and have had no failures so far. As with all things, though, it’s best to use what you have on hand and experiment with your particular setup to see which materials you prefer.

Now for the easy part. First determine where you want your tomato plants to go and set a post at each end of the row. Plant tomato plants as you normally would, every 2-3 feet. If the rows are on the shorter side, space posts every 2-3 plants. If rows are on the longer side, place a post between every plant to provide extra support.

Once the plants reach 8 inches, start weaving. Tie twine to an end post at 6-8 inches off the ground and secure tightly. I like to wrap it a couple of times and hook it under the teeth of the T-post, which I find helps keep slippage to a minimum. Bring twine to the next post, placing twine against each plant. Make sure to keep the twine snug, otherwise growing plants will push the twine out and the system won’t work as well. Securely wrap twine at the next post, and continue down the length of the row. Once you reach the row end, wrap again, and repeat down the other side.

When finished, the plants will be sandwiched between the two rows of twine. Check at least once a week, adding a new row of twine for every 6-8 inches of new growth.

The Florida weave trellising system is an economical, timesaving, and highly effective method for keeping tomatoes off the ground. And while many claim this system is best for determinate varieties, I’ve found it works just as well for my indeterminate ones, despite the fact that I don’t prune. So grab a few stakes, a bit of twine, your tomato plants, and give weaving a try.


A version of this article appeared in a June 2018 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Kristi Cook.


Posted: 06/20/18   RSS | Print


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Warming Up With a Fire Feature
by Debbie Clark       #Decorating   #Hardscaping   #Misc

Imagine sitting around a naturalistic rock fire pit, such as this one, enjoying hot dogs and s’mores with your family.

Imagine yourself sitting around a warm fire. Can you hear the snapping and crackling of the wood? Do you feel the warmth of the fire on your hands and face? Can you hear and see your family and friends talking and laughing as they sit around the fire, toasting marshmallows? That could be your backyard, if you had a fire feature.


This natural gas fire feature is a combination of fire and water. It is decorative, functional and an eye-catcher in any garden or patio. • This gas fire feature is made of a concrete pillar and a copper bowl. It heats up those cold fall days, yet it is also a decorative element for any garden or patio. • This Chiminea is made of wrought iron and copper. It is small, portable, inexpensive and available in most retail hardware stores. It is a fire feature that a homeowner can add to their landscape without expertise knowledge or help.

Fire features come in all sizes, shapes and styles and there is one for every budget. If you have been considering adding a fire feature to your landscape, take the time to do your homework. Here are several things to consider:

This is another fire feature that is easy to build from precast concrete block. This one is fueled with natural gas and features lava stones and metal decorative logs.

• How much do you want to spend? An outdoor fireplace can be expensive to design and build, but a portable fire pit can be inexpensive and purchased from a local hardware store.

• Where do you want to locate the fire feature? How far away from your home should it be to be safely located?

• A fire feature is a focal point of your landscape. Will it complement your property and house architecture? Will it add value to your property?

• What type of building materials do you want to use?

• Do you want natural gas, propane or a wood-burning fire feature?

• Will you need to have a gas line installed?

• Do you have local and state laws restricting outdoor burning or seasonal restrictions?

• Do you have neighborhood or association restrictions?

• Will you need construction permits?

If you have been thinking about adding a fire feature to your landscape, start with a budget. Then shop around for the best choice for your family. A fire feature makes a great focal point in any outdoor living space, and it creates a warm, wonderful place to entertain family and friends all year round.


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


Posted: 06/20/18   RSS | Print


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The Perfect Plants
by Mary K. Stickley       #Irrigation   #Succulents   #Xeriscaping

Euphorbias can be a little “spread-y” and self-seed easily, but the interest they add to a garden is worth the extra weeding. Be careful, though, as some people may be allergic to their sap.

Saving water is such an important aspect of gardening these days. But, for me, saving maintenance time is just as important. I want a beautiful garden, but I don’t have the time or energy to work hard to make it that way. So, while I do have some special babies that need lots of tender loving care, I’m always on the lookout for great filler plants that look really good — even when I ignore them.

One category of plants that fits this bill perfectly are succulents. These plants are best characterized by thick, fleshy leaves or stems with a heavy skin, all of which are designed to hold and conserve water. In general, these plants really want nasty soils and little water. They thrive on neglect. So much so, that when my guilt gets the better of me and I give them a little treat of water or fertilizer, they usually repay my kindness by dying.

Don’t be afraid to bring non-hardy succulents out to the garden in the summer. These can add spectacular seasonal texture and interest to the space. • Sempervivum doesn’t flower often but when it does, it produces this wonderful, star-shaped display. • Sedum ternatum, ‘Gray Ghost’ sempervivum and Sempervivum arachnoideum are plants that thrive with little water and terrible soil.

Some of my favorite plants are the many species of Sedum. These plants come in so many shapes, sizes, colors, textures and growing habits, that I could create a beautiful garden with year-round interest using only these. There is the ubiquitous ‘Autumn Joy’, with its pale green foliage and pink flowers that turn maroon later in the season. But I also have an upright variety called ‘Postman’s Pride’. It has deep purple foliage all year long. Add the pale, pink flowers in late summer, and the combination is perfect.

Another type of succulent that I love is Sempervivum. When I was growing up, we had a strawberry pot with hens and chicks (Sempervivum tectorum) stuffed in all the holes. I was rather bored with their plain green coloring back then, but I recently found some of the other varieties that are available, such as S. arachnoideum that has a tiny web of hairs connecting the tips of each leaf. ‘Atropurpureum’ has large leaves that turn a dark purplish red in winter, and ‘Grey Ghost’ stays smoky blue all year long. ‘Ann Christy’ has narrow, red leaves edged in green fringe, and S. cantabricum produces chicks that look like the 1970s bric-a-brac pompoms that lined the inside roofs of Mexican taxis. They all love to be tucked in between the cracks in rocks, and the only care they want is a bit of weeding to be sure they aren’t overrun by faster-growing plants.

Clockwise: Wonderful combinations can be created with many shapes, sizes, textures and colors. This ‘Blackie’ sempervivum mixes nicely with Sedum pachyclados. • Prickly pear cactus loves to be ignored, and yet it rewards you by covering itself with yellow flowers that later transform to red fruits. • Mix succulents into your perennial gardens. A fun look is to set hypertufa pots into the space. These pots are perfect for succulents.

I also really love Euphorbia. These plants have a very bad reputation because they tend to seed themselves all over the place if they are happy. They also have a thick, sticky, white sap that many people are allergic to. But what foliage colors and patterns! Donkey’s tail (E. myrsinites) is a pale sky blue with little spiky leaves that surround the stem and hang down perfectly over rocks and boulders. Snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata) is an annual with green and white leaves that always grabs the spotlight when it matures in August.

There are also cacti you can use in your garden. The only cactus native where I live in Virginia is the prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa), and most others are not hardy in winter. But I place a number of aloes, agaves and other cacti in the garden in summer and bring them back inside for winter. In doing this, I can add ever-changing seasonal interest to my garden while giving my “inside kids” a summer vacation.

All of these plants are wonderful to use in the landscape. They are easy to grow and create a lot of interest. They have few pest or disease problems. So put a few in your own garden, and you will also agree — they are truly the perfect plants.


A version of this article appeared in a May 2012 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Mary K. Stickley.


Posted: 06/20/18   RSS | Print


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Using the Olla to Beat the Summer Heat
by Brandee Gruener       #How to   #Irrigation   #Sustainability and Self-Sufficiency

You can make an olla out of an unglazed clay pot, a matching saucer and a tube of silicone caulk.

Keeping the vegetable garden hydrated during the heat of the summer is a challenge when the sun beats down for weeks, the rain barrels run dry and even heat-loving crops wilt under summer’s fiery breath. Water restrictions have even become commonplace in many parts of the country, making watering the garden even more difficult.

Water-efficient systems such as drip-line irrigation can make a big difference. But gardener Scott Belan found a cheaper and simpler solution by building an olla out of a humble clay pot. This watering solution satisfied Belan’s personal philosophy in gardening: Look to the cultures and climates that make the most sense for your surroundings.

Ancient Mediterranean people buried ollas, or unglazed clay vessels, to slowly seep water into crop soils. Spanish settlers first introduced the idea of irrigating with ollas (pronounced oy-yahs) to the Americas. The concept is regaining popularity among environmentally minded gardeners.

Every gardener frets over keeping summer crops irrigated, but Belan, a member of The Nature Conservancy’s international climate change team, probably spends more time thinking about it than most.

“I think water is probably the biggest issue related to climate change that we’re going to deal with in the next 10 to 15 years,” Belan said.

He is constantly experimenting with ways to conserve every drop of water he can. Belan has five rain barrels that hold 300 gallons of water, a downspout that irrigates a backyard bog garden and now the ollas.


Making and Installing an Olla

Belan keeps pests out of his ollas with old brass finials he found around the house.

Ollas can be purchased from suppliers like Urban Homestead Supply (peddlerswagon.com), or you can make your own with an unglazed clay pot, a matching saucer and silicone caulk. Shorter pots work well for plants with a shallow root zone, while taller ones are more beneficial for deep-rooted plants. A narrower vessel takes up less space in the garden.

Place a saucer on the top opening of each pot like a lid. Use silicone caulk to seal the vessels. After the caulk has cured, bury the pots upside down in the garden, leaving the drainage hole exposed. Keep the pot filled with water, and because the clay is unglazed, the water will seep out slowly, keeping nearby plants well watered.

Belan uses whatever is handy to keep pests out of his ollas, including brass finials, wine corks and rocks.


The Results

Red okra in Belan’s garden grew significantly taller due to irrigation by the olla.

The first year, Belan planted cayenne peppers, rainbow Swiss chard and red okra in two raised beds irrigated by ollas. As a test, he irrigated only one side of his okra bed. Plants directly surrounding the ollas gained the most benefit and grew significantly taller.

During hot spells, the water would sweat out every two or three days. That’s less frequent than the daily watering that many vegetables require in summer. Water is often wasted while hand-watering large areas, with even more water lost through evaporation at the soil surface. As an additional benefit, ollas don’t get foliage wet, which can attract disease.

Since discovering that his ollas have a limited range, Belan has decided to use them this summer for vegetables that are traditionally planted closely together in a hill. “I'll be planting a small cucumber called ‘Silor Mini’ in one olla bed this year, and basic heirloom patty pan squash in the other,” Belan said.

Belan also believes strongly in using plants that adapt well to the climate. Because of that and his culinary interests, he plants a variety of Asian greens he can cook up in stir-fries through the summer.

Being immersed in the science of climate change has led him to think about gardening in different ways. Ollas have helped him survive the hardest part about gardening in the South – the summer.


Tips for Using an Olla:

-Use unglazed clay vessels so that water can wick into the soil. Clay pots work well, but a jug with a narrow neck will take up less of your valuable planting space.

-Seal the open end of each clay pot with a saucer and silicone caulk. Once you install the olla, almost anything can serve as a cap – a handy stone or even brass finials and wine corks.

-The olla benefits plants growing directly around it. Plant seeds in a circle around the vessel.

-Vegetables traditionally planted in a hill, such as squash, melons or cucumbers, lend themselves to this type of irrigation.


A version of this article appeared in a July 2011 State-by-State eNewsletter.
Photography courtesy of Brandee Gruener.


Posted: 06/20/18   RSS | Print


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 06/11/18   RSS | Print


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Masses of large, airy flowers decorate spider plants.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 06/11/18   RSS | Print


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 06/11/18   RSS | Print


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 06/11/18   RSS | Print


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

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

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

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

Being waterwise goes beyond plant choices and bed placement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hosta thrive in the oasis bed next to the fountain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted: 06/08/18   RSS | Print


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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


Posted: 05/30/18   RSS | Print


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 05/30/18   RSS | Print


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






Keep these plants away from each other







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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Junipers (Juniperus spp.) inhibit grasses.

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


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


Posted: 05/29/18   RSS | Print


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






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






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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some veggies to consider

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 05/29/18   RSS | Print


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 05/29/18   RSS | Print


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Apples | (Malus pumila varieties and hybrids)

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Plums | (Prunusspecies and their hybrids and varieties)

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


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


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


Posted: 05/28/18   RSS | Print


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 05/28/18   RSS | Print


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Types of Basil
(Ocium spp. and cvs.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 05/18/18   RSS | Print


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Gardening for the Birds
by Robin Trott       #Birds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 05/18/18   RSS | Print


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Can Stock Photo Inc. /LeniKovaleva

Kitty Keepaway

Hot neighborhood topic: How to keep cats out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 05/18/18   RSS | Print


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


Posted: 05/18/18   RSS | Print


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 05/18/18   RSS | Print


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

Delicious seeded and seedless varieties are available.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transplant watermelons to ensure a good stand.

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 05/11/18   RSS | Print


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 05/11/18   RSS | Print


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

















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

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

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

Perennial knife for dividing

Bypass pruners for deadheading

Japanese soil knife (Hori Hori)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 05/11/18   RSS | Print


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


















Pink oxalis should be spot treated with glyphosate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Weeds That Infest Flowerbeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 Preemergence Herbicides

 Active ingredients

Weeds Controlled


 Benefin + oryzalin

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

 Hi-Yield Turf & Ornamental Weed
 Stopper with Dimension


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


 Dithiopyr or trifluralin

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

 Miracle-Gro Garden Weed


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



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

Postemergence Herbicides

Active Ingredients

Weeds Controlled

 SedgeHammer, Monterey
 Nutgrass Killer


 Nut sedge

 Image Nutsedge Killer


 Nut sedge

 Ortho Grass-B-Gon


 Annual and perennial grasses

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


 Annual and perennial grasses

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



 Vines and unwanted trees

 Roundup, Eraser, Killzall,
 Razor Pro, etc.


 Most annual and perennial plants



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


Posted: 05/11/18   RSS | Print


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 05/11/18   RSS | Print


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















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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herbs That Attract Bees

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

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 05/10/18   RSS | Print


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

Read and follow the instructions on plant spacing.

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

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

Put It on Paper

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

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

Beets spaced in the garden per seed packet directions.

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

Space It Out

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

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

Shown here are potatoes that were properly spaced when planted.

Write It Down

10 Popular Vegetables and Their Estimated Yield

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

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

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

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

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


Posted: 05/10/18   RSS | Print


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





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

—Marjory Stoneman Douglas






Prickly teaselmallow is a rare member of the hibiscus family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marjory Stoneman Douglas would no doubt agree.


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


Posted: 05/01/18   RSS | Print


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Tough Beauty
by Irvin Etienne       #Ornamentals   #Shrubs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 04/30/18   RSS | Print


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 04/30/18   RSS | Print


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 04/30/18   RSS | Print


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 04/30/18   RSS | Print


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Build A Raised Bed – Fast!
by Patsy Bell Hobson    

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

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

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

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

Wood-Framed Raised Beds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concrete Block Beds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For All Raised Beds

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

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

Instant Garden Bed

Garden Tip:

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

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

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

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

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

Or Slowly Fill the Beds

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

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

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

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

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

Carrot Boxes – The Raised Bed for Raised Beds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Put the Beds to Bed in the Fall

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


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


Posted: 04/30/18   RSS | Print


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justice Gray delivered the court’s opinion:

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

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

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


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


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


Posted: 04/23/18   RSS | Print


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

Setting the Stage with Texture

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 04/20/18   RSS | Print


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Growing Garlic in Florida
by Marie Harrison       #Bulbs   #Edibles





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 types of garlic (Allium sativum):

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


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

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

Supermarket garlic is often the silverskin or artichoke type.

The Creole types will grow throughout Florida.



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


Posted: 04/20/18   RSS | Print


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Peony Power
by Tony Mistretta       #Flowers   #Pink







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








Peony ‘Felix Crousse’

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

Peony ‘Gay Paree’.

Peony ‘Salmon Jazz’.

Peony ‘Orchid Anne’.

Peony ‘Guardian of the Monastery’.

Peony Itoh ‘Bartzella’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The Midwest Peony Society can be found at www.midwestpeony.com.

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 04/19/18   RSS | Print


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

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

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

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

Cooking with Chives

Chive and Bleu Cheese Dressing

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


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


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

Cream of Cauliflower and Chive Soup

Cream of cauliflower and chive soup. (Sarmis/Dreamstime.com)

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


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


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

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

Growing Chives

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

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


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


Posted: 04/19/18   RSS | Print


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

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

Japanese gardens have weathered the test of time.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


Posted: 04/19/18   RSS | Print


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Natural Hardscaping
by Diane Beyer       #Design   #Hardscaping   #Natives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Posted: 04/19/18   RSS | Print


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many plants take well to the pruning techniques required for espalier. Once mature, they become works of art. Pyracantha, loropetulum, camellia, ‘Little Gem’ magnolia, fruit trees, Japanese maple, redbud, quince, fig, forsythia, viburnum and yew all make excellent specimens for espalier.

A hell strip planting in Charleston. This is an example of just how cute an otherwise neglected space can be. Filled with sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) and pansies, it gives spring color to all who walk by.

The Hell Strip
Whether you call the strip of dirt between the sidewalk and the street a tree belt, inferno strip, devil strip, verge or hell strip, this space is notoriously hard for growing plants. A lack of water, trash cans sitting out, dogs doing their business, salt in the winter and trodding people and animals make it challenging. Or perhaps it’s a reluctance due to it being public property maintained by a private property owner. For these reasons and more, gardeners are reluctant to grow a garden along the street. And this is too bad, because these tough little spots are gardens in waiting.

When planting this area, first till and amend the soil. It’s also wise to anticipate where foot traffic will be and where the garbage can will sit each week and provide a landing pad for this specific use. Flagstone works well for this kind of situation.

The best plants for this area are tough, drought-tolerant ones that will thrive in full sun or the dappled sun under city-planted treescapes. As you garden in this space, think beyond trees. Herbs, hellebores, verbenas, bulbs and sedums, as well as prostrate junipers and yews, make ideal low-growing plantings that can take an occasional walk-through by the neighbor’s dog.

Clockwise: A container garden can be used in those tough places where soil doesn’t exist. Keeping the theme of terra-cotta, a variety of plants give warmth and rhythm to a tiny, tough space. • Sylvia Redwine carved garden space out of a patio area. Filled with annuals and a cotoneaster (Cotoneaster apiculatus) standard, the space has become a work of art. • Creeping or climbing fig (Ficus pumila) is easy to grow from a tiny bit of soil as seen here climbing the rise of steps of a private home in Charleston. It’s easy to prune, allowing for a garden to exist where nothing else is likely to grow.

Under Canopies
Mature trees offer value to the landscape, but they leave some challenge in covering the ground beneath the canopy where grass won’t grow. The trees’ roots take up a lot of water, and digging between the roots is difficult at best; plus the canopy hides the sun. Luckily there are a few plants that do well under most canopies, such as hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium), toad lily (Tricyrtis spp.), columbines, foamflowers (Tiarella), Japanese forest grasses (Hakonechloa macra), Japanese painted fern (Athyrium nipponicum var. ‘Pictum’), lungworts (Pulmonaria) and Siberian irises.

It’s important to plant small plants under trees for minimal disturbance between the roots of trees. Also, make sure the plants won’t compete with the trees for water.

The courtyard garden of Lacy and Carol Reaves. A series of garden rooms were created in an area formed by an addition. The narrow space with trapped heat is perfect for roses. The sound of the fountain mentally cools the space with its splash, while keeping Japanese climbing ferns happy. • A rocky wall offers an opportunity for planting.

Mother Nature abhors a vacuum and will fill a void with something – anything – because it is what she does. Most often it’s a weed that fills up neglected areas. Take charge of these tough, tiny crevices such as spots between flagstone steps and plant what you want, satisfying Mother Nature at the same time. For shady areas try maidenhair spleenwort, mosses, fern-leaf corydalis (Corydalis cheilanthefolia) and strawberry begonia (Saxifraga stoloniferi). For sunny areas you can use climbing snapdragon (Maurandella antirrhiniflora), sedums and dianthus.

C.J. Dykes took advantage of a space created when the deck was built, designing a garden lush with a fountain, ferns and aucuba. Now this otherwise vacant space has become a private oasis.

Under the Deck
On hilly sites, upper decks leave space below that is often ignored, but they can be turned into a garden instead of a place to store lawn chairs. These are typically shady spots with the deck as a canopy, so plant it up with ferns, hostas, aucuba and cast-iron plants. Fill with ornaments and even a comfy chair. Adding variegated plants helps brighten this otherwise darkened space.


A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 24 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Helen Yoest.


Posted: 04/10/18   RSS | Print


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by Monica Brandies       #Advice   #Flowers   #Pruning







When you cut roses for bouquets or when you are deadheading, always cut back to just above a five-leaflet leaf and you will get more blooms quicker. Cut farther back if a bit of pruning is needed, too.

“Going to seed” is not usually a pleasant transformation – for plants and people. But it is part of life. Plants bloom not only to look lovely and give us joy, but also to produce seeds to perpetuate the species. When the seedpods are not needed and not attractive, it pays to carry snippers in your pocket every time you go out in the garden. Even if you want to collect some seeds, only a few seedpods are needed.

For plants that bloom constantly or repeatedly, such as crapemyrtles (Lagerstroemia), removing flowers that are past their peak will result in more and quicker new flowers. This is called deadheading, even though the flowers are not truly dead. Deadheading is an easy chore that can greatly improve the beauty of your garden.

Some plants such as this red spiral velvet ginger (Costus barbatus) have flowers (little yellow ones here) that bloom and then fall away. The red parts are bracts (modified leaves) that hold their color for months but they need to be removed after they lose their beauty.


Deadheading these daisies (Above) didn’t take very long and it made a big difference (Below).


(Above) These red geraniums are just doing their job, going to seed. It is nature’s way to keep the species alive. (Below) Now the seeding stems, along with a dry leaf or two, have been removed and the plant will have to make more flowers instead.

On a few plants, such as gold vine (Solandra spp.), flowers and attractive seedpods appear together. The golden raintree (Koelreuteria paniculata) is covered with yellow flowers in September and then a few weeks later, the pinkish/tan seedpod clusters appear and the trees are still beautiful.

Deadheading can and should be used for annuals, perennials, and flowering shrubs. For the most part, this can be done as you walk around your garden checking for new buds or bugs and just enjoying the day. But just a bit of deadheading can make a big difference. If you have daylilies (Hemerocallis) or Iris, for instance, there is nothing lovelier than the new flowers and nothing that spoils the scene like the old ones.

If you are hybridizing or saving seeds for replanting, you don’t want to deadhead some plants, so don’t ever do this in someone else’s garden unless you ask permission.

Picking flowers for bouquets has the same effect with more reward. With annuals, the more you pick, the more you’ll have. Some flowers, such as Pentas and Impatiens, drop their faded flowers and don’t need deadheading.

This butterfly ginger (Hedychium coronarium) looks great today, but tomorrow it may need some deadheading.

There are some flowers that bloom so prolifically that the best approach is to shear them back every several weeks to remove masses of seedpods. Do this for Ageratum, Cosmos, Portulaca, Torenia, and narrow-leafed Zinnia.

If your flowering shrubs are low enough, remove the dead flowers before they produce seeds, unless the seeds are decorative or provide food for birds and wildlife. But don’t worry about what you can’t reach. God didn’t intend nature to look perfect all the time.


A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 22 Number 2.
Photography courtesy of Monica Brandies.    


Posted: 04/10/18   RSS | Print


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How to Build a Living Fence
by Jean McWeeney       #Design   #Hardscaping   #How to

The simple wood and wire pergola of the entrance gate is alive with an ‘Old Blush’ climbing rose. This small courtyard garden is the entrance to the mud room and houses herbs, flowers and a rain barrel covered with the same materials as the fence.

Fences can fill a number of needs in the garden: They can enclose a space and define it, they can keep the dogs in or the neighbor’s cats out, they often tell the gardener where to stop planting. But they can also become part of the planting and design scheme itself. That is, they can support plants and allow their form to be seen in their best light. Of course, the typical cottage garden picket fence does a great job – but construction is not always easy or cheap. There is an alternative though – a wood and wire fence.

It is relatively easy to build, economical, and provides support for vines, flowers and plants – perfect for the rustic, cottage look. If you read my article in last month’s magazine, “A New Kind of Raised Planter,” you’ve probably already thought of how nice a wood and wire fence would go with stock tank planters or ponds. You can even build a stand-alone, mobile wood and wire system to provide a vertical element in the garden and the perfect trellis for vines. Once you see how easy it is to construct a living fence, you’re sure to visit the hardware store soon!


This fence, on a deck overlooking a creek, will be home to potted vines. It will also keep the dogs in the area.

A staple gun is used to attach the wire to the wood.

Tools and Materials:

• Heavy-gauge wire fencing, aka cattle panel, hog panel, etc.

• Posts

• Pressure-treated 1x6 skirt board

• Hammer or staple gun

• Wire cutters or electrician’s pliers

• ¾ inch U-staples

• 2-inch galvanized screws


How to:
Make the fence as high as the fencing is wide. Any higher than 48 inches may require a mid-rail for extra support. Set posts 8 feet apart. Dig a trench to bury the fence if you need to keep animals in/out. Attach rails along top and bottom to posts. Roll fencing along top rail and attach top edge with U-staples, making sure to align the top of the fencing to the top of the rail. Similarly, attach to bottom edge of fencing. Once the end post is reached, cut fencing with wire cutters and use plenty of staples for stability. Optionally, ¾-inch-thick pressure-treated lumber can reinforce the attachment at each post; use galvanized screws. An added skirt board will provide reinforcement along the bottom rail.


A version of this article appeared in an April 2011 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Jean McWeeney and Jennifer Estes.


Posted: 04/09/18   RSS | Print


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Unconstructed Play
by Michelle Reynolds       #Kids   #Misc




By planting native trees and plants in the garden, you’ll create a world of exploration. The tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) tree is a host plant for Eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies. Plant them and they will come. Host plant to Eastern tiger swallowtail and spicebush swallowtails, sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is a good tree for a children’s garden as well. With sassafras, the children can chew on the leaves, make whistles and sassafras tea.

How many times have you been to a child’s birthday party with a bunch of laughing, screaming kids and lots of toys, and what the children end up playing with are the cardboard boxes, ribbons and ties from the gifts, loose parts from one of the toys (and not as they were intended to be used), or a pile of dirt or rocks next door? OK, that proves it – all they really need to play is a dirt pile and a bucket; unstructured play is the secret to happiness.

Children are remarkably imaginative, creative and innovative little souls and are able to find ways to play no matter what the circumstance. It always amazes me to see on the news in the aftermath of disaster (whether from a storm, fire, war, etc.), children playing as if nothing ever happened. Their imaginations and their willingness to work with each other, create games, laugh together, play together and continue on despite the horrors surrounding their community is absolutely amazing. And their resilience and ability to revert to simple games in an ever-changing and modernized world is inspiring.

Clockwise: A large tree in any yard can easily be turned into a play-station. This old hackberry holds a ropes course, a couple of swings, and the tree provides shade for the family’s rustic swing. The whole family can enjoy this space and time together outdoors. • A backyard full of trees is ideal, but even in yards with no trees, a stand-alone multilevel tree house can be built. A ladder, a rope swing and the platforms are all elements for building strength and confidence. • Building forts from branches and brush allow for creative play and also encourages empathy for birds and small animals, and their need for thickets and places to hide.

Elements of a Children’s Garden

Entrance: Build an actual gateway to the children’s garden by constructing an arbor or trellis. Plant butterfly host plants and vines and other wildlife-beneficial plants, a birdbath and feeder, add garden art, and a sign to delineate the space from the rest of the yard. These things will lend the place a feeling of enchantment.

Paths: Gravel, mulch or stone pathways meandering through the garden’s focal points will help lead a child to opportunities for exploration, adventure play, creativity and developing their imagination.

Sensory Planting Area: With the help of the children, plant garden plots with vegetables, flowers, wildlife-beneficial plants and herbs to appeal to sight, smell and taste. Allowing kids to grow their own vegetables is a good way to get them to eat them as well.

Seating and Stepping Logs: Small logs placed along pathways and tree cookies for stepping and sitting encourage balancing, quiet rest and observation of what lives under logs in the forest.

Rock or Dirt Mound: A mound is a more effective version of a sandbox by offering a height advantage as well as excavation possibilities.

Loose Parts: Tree cookies, branches, boards and rocks encourage creativity in building and problem solving.

Fort, Playhouse or Tree House: Incorporate ropes, climbing areas, hammocks, swings or slides into a multi-level play hut to improve hand-eye coordination, and to build strength and confidence.

Modernization is the inevitable path humans have been on for as long as we have walked the Earth. Through cultivation of plants and domestication of animals, we set up permanent settlements and thus began our move away from nature and into a dominion of manufactured living. The gap has grown ever since.

More and more, we are sterilizing our surrounding landscapes, schoolyards and our own properties by displacing nature with fabricated playgrounds. Strict neighborhood covenants and perceived notions of “curb appeal” are dictating what we have in our gardens. Devoid of nature, homogenized landscapes and housing in a land of sameness offer no opportunity for journeys of imagination and discovery. Concrete sidewalks lead us to and from buildings set on asphalt-covered lands across closely clipped lawns and ball fields and back home to sterile yards again. Once back home, it is homework, computers, video games and structured play. We have corralled our children in these small, modern and virtual worlds, leaving little time or space for imagination, creative play or self-discovery. We give our children only limited access to the wonders of the natural world.

Children are born naturalists and have a built-in curiosity and sense of wonder. If we as adults do not do what we can to provide places for children to practice their observational skills, and nurture our own inner child, who are we going to become as a society? It is through our own disconnect that we are separating children from the natural world.

When I was growing up, my family and I would go on hikes most weekends. We had adventures with names – The Railroad Holler Hop, Journey to Bamboo City and the Boulder Crawl to Kidland Canyon. We would stop and play in streambeds, build forts, swing from vines and climb trees. In creeks and in the cattails, we would discover baby fish, frogs and tadpoles, dragonfly nymphs, and other strange creatures. Under rocks, we would find salamanders, beetles, roly polies and ants. We would imagine how the animal and insect world worked and shrink ourselves down to an imagined “Land of the Lost.” Our favorite books were those that reflected our love of nature and sense of adventure and those that encouraged a deeper understanding of the natural world. Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom was our favorite TV show.

We would walk in the woods near our house, look at nature up close and feel a closeness to a larger force. Those treks in the woods were marvelous adventures filled with lessons in geology, history, the natural world, danger and Southern culture. They helped us look at things in a larger context, helped put things into perspective and helped direct the trajectory of my life’s interests; I believe my experiences in nature then and now help me solve problems, create, and conjure up the courage it takes to experiment, tackle new things and live life to its fullest. The music of the woods – the wind through the trees, babbling brooks, chorus of frogs, crickets, cicadas and katydids – is my soundtrack.


Clockwise: Pathways, rocks, logs and fences help delineate spaces and define the garden. Playing and planting is fun in a space the children can call their own. • Children are inherently imaginative and creative. My neighbor came up with the backyard bucket ride to enhance the zipline in her yard. She climbs the tree ladder, gets in the bucket, zips through the yard and makes a soft landing on a gym pad at the end of the ride. • “If you build it they will come,” works well in the natural world. Build a water feature or simple frog pond, and tree frogs will show up and breed. It is amazing to watch the life cycle of frogs – egg mass, tadpole, legs form, tails disappear, and finally, frogs. Once you have frogs, you’ll have beautiful music to enjoy when the family sits on the porch on a summer’s eve. Be sure not to add fish though, because the fish will eat frog eggs.

For most who live in urban areas, a trip to the woods and into nature is a weekend activity. If we do not live by a forest and we long for those weekend visits, we can construct areas in our communities that mimic the wilds to provide informal play areas for our children to explore daily. Fortunately, there are efforts underway, and by many organizations, to change the trends in schoolyards and churchyards. Outdoor classrooms, community gardens, environmental education programs, nature-based summer camps, outdoor after-school programs and other outreach activities are becoming more prevalent in many communities. These programs take the approach of using place-based education and inquiry learning in outdoor miniature habitats by matching the workshops to state core curriculums. By integrating education gardens into schoolyards and curriculums, teachers hope to reconnect children with nature through hands-on and direct experiences with the natural world.

Tree cookies offer places to step and sit as a child plants and takes care of their garden. Native plants and plants with funny names like Mexican hats (Ratibida columnifera), rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) are great combined with herbs such as rosemary, basil and thyme. The combination smells good, looks good, and is sure to bring in the beneficial insects, birds and butterflies that are fun to observe. Harmless roly polies, worms and beetles live underneath the tree cookies and are fun to discover.

We can take it a step further and construct playscapes and naturescapes in our own backyards, where our children will be able to grow into their imaginations. By creating spaces for unconstructed play, we will build pathways that lead children to activities of exploration, adventure play, creativity and imagination, and with these things, come innovation.


A version of this article appeared in an April 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Bob Farley.


Posted: 04/09/18   RSS | Print


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Caterpillar Calamities
by Blake Layton       #Pests   #Vegetables   #Wildlife

Pink-striped oakworm munching on an oak leaf. (2.25 inches)

Every gardener has experienced it, usually more times than they can count. You walk into the garden and discover a plant that’s been defoliated or otherwise damaged by caterpillars. The canna leaves are riddled with holes, the cabbage leaves look like lace, half the tomatoes have worms in the fruit, or the azaleas have been stripped of their leaves. How could this happen so quickly?

Caterpillars are the immature stage of moths and butterflies. Although most gardeners enjoy seeing butterflies and moths in their garden, they feel quite differently about caterpillars. Butterflies and moths are beautiful insects that feed on nectar and do not damage plants, but many caterpillars are voracious pests of vegetable and ornamental plants. Heavy caterpillar infestations can completely defoliate, or even kill, prized plants.

Azalea caterpillars are common defoliators of azaleas, and sometimes blueberries, especially in the more southern areas of the Southeast. (2 inches)

Caterpillars are sometimes characterized as crawling stomachs. From the time they hatch from the egg until they pupate, eating is their primary occupation. They have to take periodic breaks to molt, or shed their skin, but they soon resume feeding. This is why caterpillars are such damaging pests. Depending on species, even one caterpillar can cause a lot of damage, but many moths can lay hundreds of eggs per night.

Fortunately, not all caterpillars are pests. Caterpillars that only feed on weeds or other undesirable plants are not pests and are sometimes considered beneficial. Despite their huge appetites, most caterpillars are picky eaters and will only feed on a relatively narrow range of plants. Tobacco hornworms feed on tomatoes as well as tobacco, peppers and other solanaceous plants, but they won’t eat the leaves of oaks or most other plants. Conversely, pink-striped oakworms love oak leaves but will starve rather than eat tomato leaves. Monarch butterfly caterpillars are one of the few insects that can survive on milkweed, and milkweeds are the only plants they will eat. Secondary chemicals that occur in different groups of plants are one of the key reasons for this host specificity. Compare the odor of crushed tomato leaves to that of broccoli and rosemary and you will get a whiff of some of these chemicals.

Tomato fruitworms usually bore in near the stem end of the tomato. One caterpillar can destroy several fruit, a heartbreaking experience for serious tomato growers. (1.25 inches)

There are a few species of caterpillars that have unusually wide host ranges and these tend to be some of our most important pest species. Tomato fruitworm, Helicoverpa zea, is one of the best examples. This pest actually has three official common names. In tomatoes it is called tomato fruitworm, in cotton it is known as the bollworm, and in corn it is the corn earworm. It is a serious pest of all three crops and also occurs on hundreds of other plants, including many other row crops, vegetable crops, ornamental plants and weeds. These caterpillars can tolerate an amazingly large array of secondary plant chemicals.

Most of our serious caterpillar pests are the larvae of moths rather than butterflies. There are a few butterfly species whose caterpillars are pests, but this list is small. Imported cabbageworm is one example of a pest butterfly species. Black swallowtail butterfly is arguably another, but this depends on whether you are an herb gardener or a butterfly gardener! Would the monarch butterfly caterpillars that defoliated the milkweed plants in the city park butterfly garden be considered pests?

Caterpillars don’t only damage plants by eating leaves; some species cause damage in other ways. Pests such as tomato fruitworms and pickleworms bore directly into the fruit, while pests such as squash vine borers and peach tree borers bore into the stem or trunk. There is even a caterpillar that bores into the trunks of hardwood trees. It is called the carpenterworm.

Newly hatched caterpillars, like these cross-striped cabbageworms, often leave telltale “windowpanes” in leaves where they are feeding. (One-quarter inch)

Gardeners are often surprised by how quickly serious caterpillar damage can occur. “My azaleas looked fine when we were grilling in the backyard Saturday. Now it’s Tuesday, the azaleas don’t have any leaves on them, and we have all these big black and white caterpillars crawling around!” This same phenomenon occurs on many other ornamental and vegetable plants. Small, newly hatched caterpillars eat very little and their feeding often goes unnoticed, but large caterpillars that are almost ready to pupate can eat a lot in a short time. Many caterpillars take in 80 to 90 percent of their total food consumption in the last two or three days of their life – when they become the caterpillar equivalent of teenagers. This is why heavy caterpillar damage often seems to appear overnight.

For an article on how to control damage from these munching machines check out the follow-up article, Control Caterpillar Pests.


A version of this article appeared in an April 2012 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Blake Layton.


Posted: 04/09/18   RSS | Print


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Cantankerous Cankers
by Christopher Starbuck       #Disease   #Pests   #Trees

Fireblight canker on ‘Aristocrat’ pear.

Thyronectria canker on honeylocust

The term “canker” refers to a lesion on a twig, branch or stem, usually caused by a bacterial or fungal pathogen. The appearance of cankers varies, depending on the host and the pathogen. Often, the bark of the affected stem or trunk is sunken and discolored. Fluids may ooze from a canker or fungal fruiting structures may appear on the bark covering or surrounding the lesion. In some cases, lesions remain small and isolated, causing no major problems for the host plant. In other cases, the canker spreads widely, causing death of twigs, branches or even the main trunks of trees. The best known example of the destructive potential of a canker disease is chestnut blight, caused by the fungus Endothia parasitica, which caused the virtual extinction of the American chestnut within 40 years of its accidental introduction to the United States in about 1900.

It should not be surprising that bacterial and fungal pathogens would colonize the bark of a tree or shrub. The sapwood, just under the bark, is a rich source of carbohydrates and minerals. Fortunately, bark provides excellent protection most of the time. However, canker-causing pathogens are opportunistic. Mechanical bark damage from lawn mowers, string trimmers, insects or hail can provide easy access to a pathogen. Damage or stress caused by environmental extremes, such as waterlogging, drought, freezing or high temperature can also reduce a plant’s ability to resist attack by a canker-causing organism. Wrapping the trunk of a newly planted tree with a light-colored material to prevent winter sun scald will greatly reduce the chances of canker development. A wide mulch ring will eliminate damage by mowers and string trimmers. However, mulch should never be more than 1 inch deep right next to the trunk (no volcanoes!).

Black walnuts are showing advanced symptoms of thousand cankers disease in this picture taken Sept. 18, 2009. The tree died the following June.

New Disease Threatens Black Walnut
Thousand cankers disease (TCD) is a recently discovered disorder that has the potential to decimate black walnut trees in the Midwest. Initially recognized in Colorado in 2009, this disease had killed tens of thousands of black walnut trees in Western states. Since then, the disease has been discovered in Tennessee, Virginia and Pennsylvania; all states within the native range of the species. If thousand cankers disease becomes widespread in the Midwest, it will kill millions of trees with an estimated economic impact of more than a billion dollars.

Thousand cankers disease is caused by the fungus Geosmithia morbida, which is spread very effectively by a tiny insect called the walnut twig beetle. Each beetle bores multiple holes through the bark, inoculating the phloem at each location with the fungus and causing a tiny canker. The cankers eventually coalesce, destroying the vascular system of the tree and leading to mortality within three or four years.

The most likely way in which thousand cankers disease will spread within the native walnut range is by movement of firewood or logs. You can help slow the spread by educating your fellow citizens about the dangers of moving these materials around the Midwest. Be on the lookout for walnut trees dying from the top and report them to your local university extension office.

There are thousands of fungal and bacterial organisms capable of causing cankers on woody ornamentals. Fortunately, very few of these cause serious problems, especially if resistant plants are planted and maintained with good cultural practices. Fireblight is a troublesome bacterial canker disease commonly affecting plants in the rose family, especially crabapples and pears. This disease, caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora, usually starts at the shoot tips of a susceptible host. If left unmanaged, it can cause cankers on the main trunk, leading to mortality. Thankfully, most modern crabapple cultivars are highly resistant to fireblight. However, most cultivars of ornamental pear, including ‘Bradford’, ‘Cleveland Select’ and ‘Redspire’ are no longer considered highly resistant. Pruning out the “strikes” on branch tips during dry weather will reduce the chances that the bacterium can spread within the tree. Cut well below the obviously infected tissue and dip the shears in alcohol between cuts.

Canker development around a walnut twig beetle gallery in an English walnut.

Certain species of trees are commonly affected by fungal canker diseases, often after being predisposed by environmental stresses or mechanical damage. Cankers (Thyronectria) commonly develop on trunks of honeylocust trees as a result of transplanting stress or winter injury. Cankers usually remain isolated and trees recover as they become established, but severe infections can lead to dieback. Fast-growing trees such as ‘Lombardy’ poplar are generally short lived due to extreme susceptibility to the fungus Cryptodiaporthe populeum. Dieback of other poplars and of willows is commonly caused by either Leucostoma or Valsa canker. Again, these diseases are most likely to develop when the host tree is predisposed by stress.

We should be thankful that bark is such a good defense against the thousands of organisms poised to take advantage of any chink in the armor of our trees and shrubs. To help our woody friends repel invasion by canker-causing organisms, we should prevent sun scald, mulch to prevent mower and string trimmer injuries, irrigate during drought and avoid late summer fertilization that may lead to winter injury.


A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2012 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Christopher Starbuck and Ned Tisserat, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org.


Posted: 04/02/18   RSS | Print


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A Canna Renaissance
by Garry McDonald       #New Trends   #Ornamentals   #Plant Profile



















Cannova ‘Bronze Scarlet’ has scarlet red flowers and bronze foliage.

Working on a university campus, I can’t help but notice the changing whims of fashion. Lately, the trend among young men is khaki walking shorts, polo shirts, and white crew socks and white sneakers: exactly what we wore on campus in the early 1980s. Like clothes, plants come into and fall out of fashion. Re-discovering old garden plants is usually the result of breeding improved cultivars or someone taking a fresh look at how plants can be used in the landscape. One such plant is canna.

Canna is certainly not a new plant, being very popular in Victorian gardens and into the 20th-century. The original garden plant, Canna indica, commonly called Indian shot because of the small hard round black seeds resembling shotgun pellets, is native to many areas of the Americas, from South America to Mexico, and the West Indies. This species, one of about 20 naturally occurring, is now naturalized over many parts of the world, including the Gulf Coast of the United States, especially along perennial streams and rivers. Modern cannas are hybrids between many species and were once lumped together as Canna x generalis, although this species name is now considered invalid among the taxonomists. Because of the complex hybridization over the decades, instead of a specific species, canna are placed in cultivated plant groups with similar morphological characteristics, such as those with large colorful foliage or those with showy flowers. Other groups are grouped by geographical origin or by use, including those used as food for humans and livestock. An interesting fact is that canna is an excellent plant to use in bioremediation, especially in constructed wetlands, to filter out runoff sediments, excess nutrients, and heavy metal contaminants.

Once a signature plant of formal Victorian plantings, canna has experienced a revival among gardeners.

I don’t suppose there is any one reason for canna falling out of favor over the years, but several factors probably came into play. Canna was a mainstay of the intensely cultivated and managed Victorian and Edwardian gardens of the late 19th and early 20th century. Two world wars, a worldwide economic depression, and social change ended these types of gardens. Home architecture styles changed along with taste in plants and gardening. Smaller gardens and the desire for low-maintenance landscapes also influenced plant choices. Competition from the leisure industry and modern technology further affected garden tastes during the late 20th century. New pests were also contributing factors, especially viruses, which infected canna stocks, reducing plant vigor and flowering. Since propagation was once limited to divisions of the rhizomes, the number of plants that could be propagated were few and virus-infected plants could not be shipped or sold.

Cannova ‘Lemon’ has creamy yellow flowers and is ideal for mixed containers.

The advent of virus-indexed plants and micropropagation through tissue culture eliminated many roadblocks to growing modern-day canna and recent breeding work has re-invented an old plant for new gardens. Last season we were able to trial a new series of canna called Cannova, which are F1 hybrids bred specifically for mixed container plantings, although they can also be used in traditional flowerbeds. These new cannas range from a creamy yellow to scarlet red with both green and bronze leaves. In containers, they adjust to a smaller pot size with smaller foliage but with heavy flower power that readily rebloom. In the ground, they grow taller and flower just as well, although under our conditions they didn’t grow as large as traditional varieties, which for us was a good thing. Based on one year’s observations, they performed better than the Sunburst series, which was one of the first to be bred for small stature. To be safe, we dug up a set of plants to overwinter in a protected spot while the remainder stayed in the ground to test cold-hardiness. With several nights down around 0 F, we’ll see what comes back in May. I always like to test plants for a couple of seasons for landscape performance so the jury is still out.

The cultivar that kicked off a renewed interest in canna was probably ‘Pretoria’ also known as ‘Bengal Tiger’, which is a better descriptor since the variegated foliage is tiger-striped. The flowers, while orange, were not much to text home about, the plant being grown primarily for the foliage. Another cultivar that has great foliage but less-than-spectacular flowering is ‘Bird of Paradise’. This canna has long strap-like green leaves with a flush of subtle purple striping. The flowers are a soft pink and small. Since ‘Bird of Paradise’ grows taller than wide, it adds structure and bulk to a perennial bed. Canna musifolia is a species-type with large banana-like foliage that is green with purplish red stripes and can reach 10 feet tall, so maybe not the best plant for a small garden, but definitely makes a statement. As mentioned above, the Sunburst series come in a range of colors and only grow to a height of 2 feet, making them ideal for containers and smaller landscapes.

The bold foliage of bronze-leafed cannas makes a statement in the garden even without flowers.

Cannova ‘Rose’ has bright rose flowers and green foliage.

Cannas are easy to grow throughout the South and thrive, even demand, full sun. The only exception is the cultivar ‘Stuttgart’, named for the town in Germany, not Arkansas, which has dramatic foliage with cream to white stripes. In the South, ‘Stuttgart’ will need heavy shade to prevent the foliage from burning in the summer. Canna adapts to any average garden soil and enjoys, moist rich soils and can be grown in wet areas, including along the margins of ponds or wetlands. I’ve even seen them planted in tubs and sunk in water gardens. Cold hardiness varies by cultivar, but most are reliable to USDA Zone 7, although we get away growing them in Zone 6b most years. Mulching heavily after they die back to the ground in fall will help them overwinter. If in doubt, they are easily dug in the fall and can be stored in a cool, dark location in a tray containing dry peat moss or wood shavings. Divide if necessary and replant after the soil has warmed in the spring. Cannas respond to grooming, such as removing spent flower stalks and old tatty foliage and some are even self-cleaning. If grown in containers, grower recommendations are to fertilizer the cannas with a liquid feed every couple of weeks during the summer and water well. Cannas are affected by few diseases and the two main pests are the canna leaf roller, which can devour entire leaves, and the lesser canna leaf roller, which stitches the young leaves before they unfurl and munch in the rolled up leaf causing the leaf to collapse. These cause more of an aesthetic problem rather than killing the plant. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) applied at the first sign of damage usually does a good job of controlling them. If the infestation is too bad, I’ve been known to cut the whole planting back to the ground and let the canna start over. It sets them back a bit, but they don’t seem to mind. It is also recommended to remove all the canna detritus in the fall to eliminate overwintering habitat for the pests. The only other serious pests, in a bad year, are Japanese beetles, which feed on the flowers. I usually employ a seek-and-destroy (stomp) strategy of control.


A version of this article appeared in an April 2018 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Garry McDonald.


Posted: 04/02/18   RSS | Print


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Two for One Tomatoes
by Bob Westerfield       #Edibles   #Propagation   #Vegetables





















An actual grafted tomato in our research garden.

If you took a survey of home gardeners and asked them about their favorite vegetable to grow, most likely the tomato would be at the top of the list. Anyone who has grown tomatoes knows that the quality and flavor of homegrown far surpasses that of a store-bought tomato. Anyone who has spent time growing tomatoes also knows that at times they can be finicky and be a challenge, even for the most experienced gardener. If you happen to cherish the more flavorful heirloom varieties, you face even greater challenges when it comes to disease, insects and cultural problems. While the practice has been around for centuries, grafting has more recently become the rage in growing difficult tomato varieties more successfully. With the difficult task of growing these older varieties, grafting may give you the edge to get the job done in your garden.

A cleft graft on the scion with a tapered wedge cut at dual 45-degree angles.

The correct way to cut a splice graft. Both the rootstock and scion are cut in opposing matching angles.

Rootstock cut using the cleft method of grafting. A ¼-inch cut into the rootstock is made into which the scion wedge cut will be inserted.

Ensure the diameter of the rootstock matches that of the scion. This is on a splice graft.

Connect the rootstock of cleft graft to scion.

Graft held together by a grafting clip.

Vegetable grafting is a centuries-old technique used to improve plant production, reduce disease and improve plant vigor. Asia and Europe have been leaders in vegetable grafting for years but has only become popular in the United States over the past ten years or so. Most garden catalogs now include grafted varieties of tomatoes, eggplants and peppers along with some other varieties. Just look at the price of these plants and you may decide they produce vegetables made of gold. It is not uncommon for small grafted plants to sell between $12 and $16 dollars. The extra cost comes in the production of grafting two different varieties of tomatoes onto one. Purchasing a grafted tomato is certainly one way to go, but the process is really not that difficult once you understand a few basics. By following a few steps you can begin to graft your own varieties, save money and have fun at the same time.

Grafting is simply taking the top portion of a tomato variety, called the scion, and connecting it to the bottom half and root system of another tomato plant, called the rootstock. The top portion of the graft produces the flavorful and desirable tomato that you are after –perhaps one of your heirloom favorites. The rootstock provides protection from tomato viruses, diseases, nematodes and other common problems associated with tomatoes. Commercial nurseries often use a standard rootstock you won’t find in garden centers that provides a hardy base for the top portion of the graft. It is perfectly fine, however, to use the rootstock of favorite hybrid tomato you may like such as ‘Beefsteak’, ‘Better Boy’, ‘Amelia’ or some similar hardy variety. The scion portion, or top, being difficult to grow on its own might be an older variety such as ‘German’, ‘Homestead’ or other heirloom variety. In essence what you are doing is exactly what they do with most fruit trees. You are grafting two plants together to get the best of both worlds.

They key to successfully grafting tomatoes or any other vegetables, is to select rootstock and scion that are very similar in diameter. In order for a successful graft to take place, the cambium (area just under the outer skin) of the rootstock and scion must be aligned and in contact with one another. You can purchase transplants for both your rootstock and scions or you can start them from seed. If you are only going to do one or two grafts it may be easier to buy the plants to start with. If you are doing several trays of grafted plants it would be cheaper to seed them and grow them out yourself. It is best to work in a sterile environment, cleaning off your working surface with a light alcohol-based cleaning solution before starting your grafts. Use a clean, sharp razor blade for your cuts.

There are several different methods of cutting your stock depending on the grafting technique you choose. Cleft grafting, otherwise known as wedge grafting, is a common way to graft tomatoes. It basically involves cutting the root stock section horizontally just under the first set of leaves. You should be left with a root system and stem 1-2 inches long. Make a small ¼-inch vertical incision into the center of the rootstock cut. The scion stem should be similar in diameter to the rootstock and then cut into a wedge shape 1 inch or so below the lowest leaves on the stem. The wedge should be about ¼-inch long and is inserted into the ¼-inch slit of the rootstock. Carefully hold these two together while using a plastic grafting clip or grafting tape to secure the two together.

Another type of grafting is called splice grafting. Both the rootstock and scion of matching diameter are cut at 45-degree angles and clipped together with a grafting clip. Splice grafting is easier to do and faster than cleft grafting. Cleft grating however holds the scion more tightly than splice grafting.

After all of the grafts are complete, use a misting bottle to lightly spray the plants to provide them some moisture. Take a final look to see that all the grafts are tight and properly aligned. Cover the plants with a plastic tent or small plastic bag over each container, keeping the plastic away from touching the foliage of the plant. Spray additional moisture inside the plastic to create a slightly humid environment. Place the plants out of direct sunlight, in a temperature between 65-70 F and allow them to rest for two days. On the third day after grafting, carefully lift the plastic and spray just enough water inside to raise the humidity and close the plastic chamber again. Allow the plants to continue to heal for another day and on the fifth day open the plastic up for 30 minutes and once again spray inside the plastic chamber to create humidity. On the sixth day remove the plastic for one hour and then spray the chamber inside the plastic well and close up tightly. On the seventh day remove the plastic for a period of six to eight hours once again returning it after spraying the inside with water. On the eighth day you will totally remove the plants from their protective plastic cover.

Although the scion and rootstock will begin to establish a connection at approximately seven days, it takes about 14 days for the grafting to fully heal. After you remove the plants from the plastic allow them to rest in a room about 65 to 75 F from one to two days to harden off. Begin to put the plants outside to acclimate them to the outdoors for four to seven days before transplanting. Be sure to provide moisture and don’t allow them to dry out. When transplanting into the field you can remove the grafting clips and use small ¼-inch-diameter sticks to help support he tender developing plant. Be sure when transplanting that the graft union remains above the soil line. If it becomes dirty, the scion will root into the soil and any advantages that would have been provided by rootstock will be nullified. Check the plant regularly and look to see that the rootstock also does not sprout out of the ground. Pinch it off before it begins to develop to allow the scion portion to take over.

I have grafted tomato plants in my research trials with the University of Georgia and have had some pretty good success. While I cannot say that grafting is the silver bullet to prevent all disease and other issues, it does seem to have its place with difficult to grow varieties. If nothing else, grafting is a unique look at how many plants are grown commercially and it is fun to see the science first hand at how it is done. Give grafting a try this season and hopefully you will have a delicious crop for your efforts.


A version of this article appeared in an April 2015 print version of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Bob Westerfield.


Posted: 03/30/18   RSS | Print


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The Perfect Garden Soil
by Gary Bachman       #Soil

















Planting a dianthus in soil that has been amended with the great soil recipe.

The problem most of us have to deal with is a soil that is less than ideal, especially in suburban residential neighborhoods. The lots have been cleared of vegetation and the layer of topsoil has been removed. When the home is finished, the builder brings in not the topsoil that was removed, but some other soil guaranteed to be of lesser quality. Remember, the plant roots do not grow through the soil, but around the soil particles. Without great soil there is little chance of having impressive plant growth.

So what does the homeowner have to do to get that perfect soil and the outstanding plant growth?

To help explain the characteristics of a good garden soil, we need to have a little horticulture history lesson. Englishman John Lindley in the 1840s postulated that physical properties were more important than chemical properties. This is not to imply that pH and fertilization are not important, but just to highlight the need for good physical characteristics of the planting soil. Lindley’s list of the requirements of a good garden soil are:

Typical example of a new home soil profile. The dark layer at the top is from the sod that was installed. The layer below is what the builder brought in to level the lot.

1. Have good water holding capacity so sufficient water is available to the plant.
2. Be well aerated; the roots have a requirement for the movement into and out of the soil of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
3. Possess the ability to retain enough nutrients for plant use.
4. Include good percolation characteristics thus allowing irrigation and rainfall to move through the soil profile without causing a water-logged condition.
5. Have high organic matter which improves the previous four characteristics and encourages a healthy microorganism population in the soil.

The John Innes Horticultural Research Institute in the 1930s set out to try and standardize soil preparation to help the gardening public improve garden growing conditions. A mixture of one part native soil, one part composted organic matter, one part coarse sand and one part peat moss gave the best results and also met Lindley’s requirements.

While the John Innes soil recipe is very good for in-ground and raised-bed growing, because of the native soil component it is not well suited for use in containers and window boxes. The fine structure of the native soil tends to cause drainage problems. I like to keep the garden as simple as possible and do not want to have to mix different growing media for different growing styles.

I like to use a soil recipe that is suitable for use in-ground, in raised beds and in container growing conditions. One recipe, three growing styles. I would like to offer the recipe I use for a great soil:

•  6 parts peat moss
•  4 parts vermiculite or perlite
•  3 parts coarse sand
•  3 parts compost (your choice)

This soil recipe can be incorporated into the current bad soil by applying a 6-inch layer and working or tilling in. It is also great for creating raised beds on top of the less-than-ideal soil; in effect you would be creating a large surface container. And of course, use it in any of your favorite containers or window boxes. One mix, three uses, what could be easier?

Close-up of perlite. As the pumice is heated and expands it creates particles of various sizes that aid in loosening bad soil. • Example of vermiculite. Notice the accordion structure of the mica particles after heating and the various particle sizes. These layers will compress if handled too extensively. • The finished product of mixing a great soil. It is a mixture of peat, sand, compost and perlite/vermiculite.

Characteristics of soil amending materials for creating that perfect garden soil
Peat moss:* Peat moss is partially decomposed plant material that forms in cold, anaerobic bog conditions. A vast majority of peat moss used in the United States is imported from Canada. Peat moss has great water-holding capacity, has a slow rate of decomposition and has longevity of several years.

*Editor’s note: There is some controversy about the use of peat moss and the fact that it’s a mined product that is not quickly renewed. Please read up on peat moss and make an educated decision about whether or not to use this product or one of the many suggested alternatives, such as compost.

Vermiculite: Vermiculite is a natural mica material that is mined out of the earth and is widely available. When heated it expands in layers like an accordion and is able to hold an amazing amount of water between the layers. It helps to maintain water-holding capacity and lightens heavy soils. Handling is important – if the accordion layers are compressed they will not re-expand and any positive characteristics will be lost.

Perlite: Perlite is a natural pumice material that is mined out of the earth. It is subjected to high temperature and “pops.” It is lightweight and is used like vermiculite to loosen tight soils thereby increasing aeration, though has little moisture retention. It tends to be a little gritty and may float to the soil surface in heavy rain events. Perlite particles can be crushed from rough handling.

Coarse, sharp sand:The addition of sand helps to moderate soil particle size and improve drainage.

Compost: Compost is organic materials that have decomposed through microbial actions. It is produced from many different organic waste materials. It can be purchased commercially or produced by the homeowner in the backyard. No matter how it is obtained, compost is very beneficial. Compost increases the populations of microorganisms, acts as a slow-release source of nutrients and helps to loosen tight soils.

Now that you have the perfect garden soil recipe, there are steps to take to protect it. Avoid walking on or compacting the soil because this squeezes out all of the aeration and porosity. Be sure to cultivate or dig only when the soil is dry, never wet, as this encourages the soil to be clumpy and lumpy and not loose and crumbly. Make a yearly amendment of composted materials, as this adds life and nutrients.

Naturally good garden soil may be difficult to find, but with proper preparation and the right recipe, that bad soil can become that perfect garden soil. Remember the golden rule of gardening, “If you treat your soil well, it will treat your plants well.”


A version of this article appeared in an April 2010 print version of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Gary Bachman, Ph.D.


Posted: 03/30/18   RSS | Print


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Creative Containers
by Rebecca Stoner Kirts       #Containers   #Decorating   #Unusual

Whiskey barrels are wonderful as planters.

Repurposing all types of objects into creative and sometimes wacky planters is a major gardening trend so hop aboard and I will give you some of my ideas. I have long been a fan of this idea – whether antiques or something you discover in the attic or barn – repurposing provides a vessel with non-traditional flair. Nothing is out of bounds, often the quirkier it is, the more impact it will have. So let your imagination run wild. Pursue the flea markets, rummage through grandma’s attic, or go picking in farm outbuildings; any object is fair game.

First and foremost you must be able to provide good drainage in the vessel. This may involve drilling some small holes or providing a layering material such as small pebbles or charcoal. Be sure to not ignore this step or your oddball planter will be a soggy mess. Sometimes, I find it is better to plant in a clay pot and then place that in the “found” container. That way you do not have to alter the special container, changing its structural integrity.

Please use a good potting soil. Remember drainage is crucial and a good mix of peat, perlite, and vermiculite will ensure a healthy growing medium for your plants. Choose plants with similar growing requirements. Remember these guys are all in the same pool, so they need to have the same basic requirements.

Although the planters are going to provide a lot of the interest, the plants are the main focus. I look at the shape of the planter and try to make sure the plants provide balance and aren’t out of proportion or in danger of toppling over.