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William “Jack” Rowe is a horticultural entomologist and arborist specializing in community forestry and tree preservation. His past experiences are in research, landscape maintenance, horticulture consulting, regulatory pest management consulting, urban forestry and arboriculture. He currently works for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and the ALA-TOM RC&D as a regional extension agent and as a community forester for 15 rural municipalities.

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What Are Champion Trees?
by William “Jack” Rowe       #Trees

The sycamore Champion of Alabama (Platanus occidentalis) is almost 5 feet in diameter, 115 feet tall, with a canopy 102 feet wide.

You may hear people speak of them reverently. You might catch word of a “big tree,” an important tree, a “Champion Tree.” But trees don’t compete for titles; they grow their own crowns and are made into trophies instead of receiving them. Trees do compete though. Rooting space, water, light, pollinators, producing many seeds, and so on are the prizes trees, by their nature, seek. It’s the winners of these competitions that we humans notice and some of these winners are named Champion Trees.

In 1940, American Forests, a Washington, D.C.-based, non-profit forest conservation group, began a program called the National Register of Big Trees. The biggest trees on that list are declared Champion Trees. Every year they post a list of the national champions by species. Almost every state in the union has its own Champion Tree program from which the National Register of Big Trees draws the national champions.

At only 22 inches in diameter and 38 feet tall, you’d think this wasn’t a Champion Tree. However, for a dogwood, this tree is magnificent and very long lived in a time when dogwood anthracnose is decimating dogwood populations.

To be considered a “big” tree or Champion, someone has to nominate it. The nominator takes measurements and sends them to the local program coordinator. The coordinator then comes out to certify the measurements and compares the tree to other Champions by species and region. There are several reasons for this. Success for the tree is making use of its resources and reproducing. A live oak that is 70 feet tall and 4 feet in diameter requires several decades of growth to reach this size. A water oak might achieve this size in just 40 to 60 years (if it survives to that age). Other nomination considerations are the natural range and environment for that species. The southern live oak is unlikely to be long-lived and large north of USDA Zone 7, but the water oak ranges much farther north, and is more able to withstand winter and dryer weather. Go even farther north though, and the water oak becomes a short-lived runt compared to other more northerly adapted trees such as willow oaks or red oaks.

At 5 feet in diameter and 52 feet tall, this is a colossal redcedar. Older redecedars have beautiful, crenellated trunks and their thin, tight bark allows the observer to view every ripple of the underlying wood.

Champion status is decided by measuring three basic parts of the tree: trunk circumference, canopy width and overall height. These measurements are scored using a point system. One point for every inch of trunk circumference, one point for every foot of height and one point for every one-quarter of the average crown spread. This process sounds difficult but is actually easy. The formula for scoring a tree is: trunk circumference (in inches) + height (in feet) + one-quarter of the crown spread (in feet) = total points. If a tree’s score qualifies for Champion status the state coordinator will come to the tree and certify the measurements. Once qualified for Champion status, a tree is awarded a plaque and bragging rights on the state Champion Tree register and is automatically considered for national status by American Forests.

Anyone can participate in the program through their local Champion Tree Coordinator. Each year the list of Champions grows and changes. The locations of these trees will often surprise you, as they tend to be hidden in plain sight. Very often, these trees have histories or stories attached to them making them even more special.


Left: The Helen Keller Water Oak is a large and long-lasting specimen of a generally short-lived species of oak.

Right Top: Described in settlers’ diaries as the “Big ol’ Oak,” the Big Live Oak predates the signing of the Constitution and has been a meeting site for much of its existence, before colonization and after.

Right Bottom: The historic description of the scene of General Andrew Jackson in the tree graced with silvery hanging moss seems like it could be today. The Andrew Jackson Live Oak and its surroundings are protected by an elevated boardwalk and fence to prolong its life.


Since Champion Trees represent some of the more successful trees of their species and within their regions, they are also important as a source of improved tree stock. If a Champion Tree still displays good characteristics, i.e. strong structure, successfully coping with damage, disease resistance, beauty, etc., they become a valuable resource of genes for our future forests and landscapes. Some nurseries and states support Champion Tree seedling programs to share these particular trees with the public.

Learn more about the National Big Tree program at the American Forests website: www.americanforests.org.


A version of this article appeared in Alabama Gardener Volume 13 Number 7.
Photography courtesy of Brian Hendricks, William “Jack” Rowe, and Danny McWilliams.


Posted: 04/21/17   RSS | Print


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Be a Weirdo
by Steve Asbell       #Trees   #Unusual

The largest tree in this photo is a baobab, which stands out for its swollen trunk. Baobabs are native to Africa, where they are revered as sacred.

There’s something rebellious and exciting about growing unusual perennials in your garden, especially with the diverse choices we have here in Florida. Still, why stop there? Anyone can stash a few odd potted succulents on their patio, but only the most ambitious of gardeners dares to let their  freak flag fly by planting a weird tree in their yard. Here’s an introduction to some of the most peculiar species our state has to offer.

First, one weird tree that you shouldn’t plant. Northerners are familiar with Norfolk Island “pines” (Araucaria heterophylla) as houseplants and living Christmas trees, but in coastal South Florida they rise up to dizzying heights beside high-rise condos like random toilet brushes in the sky. Even if that’s the look you’re after, be advised that they’re among the first trees to get struck by lightning or fall during hurricanes.

Instead, choose a smaller tree like the flying dragon citrus (Poncirus trifoliata, Zones 6-11). If you’re willing to sacrifice the palatable fruit of normal citrus trees for something more wicked, this cold-hardy tree will stop visitors in their tracks with its twisted corkscrew branches and its long, recurved thorns. The native persimmon (Diospyros virginiana, Zones 4-9) isn’t that weird, but its cherry-sized fruits are only ready to eat when they’ve nearly rotted. One of the native persimmon’s relatives is the black sapote (Diospyros digyna, Zones 10-11), and its disgusting-looking overripe fruit tastes and feels like chocolate pudding. Jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora, Zones 9b-11) has the bizarre distinction of developing flowers and shiny black fruits on its limbs and trunks. It takes 30 years to do so, but is a great tree in the meantime.


Left: The pond apple’s primitive flowers bear a passing resemblance to those of its distant relatives in the Magnoliales order.

Right: Even though the jaboticaba doesn’t produce these spectacular cauliflorous fruits until it’s at least 30 years old, its manageable size and other attractive features are reason enough to plant one.


The custard apple family (Annonaceae) has its share of oddities. The native pawpaw (Asimina triloba, Zones 5-9) produces a custard-textured fruit with a flavor reminiscent of bananas and tropical punch. Even weirder is the pond apple (Annona glabra, Zones 10-11), which develops gnarly, buttressed trunks to help it “breathe” in swamps and relies on wild boar and alligators to disperse its seeds. Rollinia deliciosa (Zones 10b-11) is known as “snotfruit” for the phlegmy consistency and texture of the fruit’s flesh, yet it tastes like lemon merengue.

The bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla, Zones 6-9) is a deciduous temperate tree with huge, tropical-looking 12-36-inch long leaves. Clusia rosea (Zones 10b-11) goes by the name “autograph tree” because if you etch your autograph on the leathery paddle-shaped leaves, it will stay embossed until the leaf falls away. You might point and laugh at the native gumbo limbo (Bursera simaruba, Zones 9b-11) for its flaky and peeling red trunk, but it’s a great tree that should be planted more for its drought and hurricane tolerance.

Some trees may have personality, but others seem to take on a life of their own. Banyans (Ficus benghalensis, Zones 10-11) are known for sprouting in the canopy of other trees, putting down snaky roots and eventually wrapping around a host until it becomes a behemoth with numerous muscular trunks. Our native strangler figs (Ficus aurea, Zones 9-11) aren’t as destructive as the introduced banyans, but you probably won’t be inviting one into your garden any time soon. If you can’t resist that wild banyan look, choose the less invasive native shortleaf fig (Ficus citrifolia, Zones 10-11) instead.


Left: Strangler figs and banyans have adventitious roots that hang down and eventually become new trunks. When a tree is mature, they can take up city blocks.

Middle: The shaving brush tree’s manageable size and drought tolerance make it suitable for the home landscape. If you can’t provide the good drainage it requires, it also makes a good container plant or bonsai.

Right: The rose of Venezuela (Brownea grandiceps, zones 9b-11) isn’t a member of the Bombacaceae family, but does have explosive blooms.

Our next group of odd trees are members the Bombacaceae family and are related to hibiscus, okra, and cotton. The silk floss tree (Chorisia speciosa, Zones 10-11) and its close cousin the silk cotton tree (Bombax ceiba, Zones 10-11) both have extraterrestrial-looking prickly trunks, spectacular flower displays and seed pods that open up to reveal silky tufts of cotton. Both are often called “kapok” trees, but the true kapok (Ceiba pentandra, Zones 9b-11) is an enormous rainforest tree that produces the kapok fiber of commerce.

The Bombacaceae family has some other odd trees worth seeking out. Baobab trees (Adansonia spp.) are known for their massive swollen trunks, and the shaving brush tree’s (Pseudobombax ellipticum, Zones 9b-11) bare limbs fill with cigar-like flower buds that open to reveal a fiber-optic display of pink or white stamens.

The rainbow gum (Eucalyptus deglupta, Zones 9-11) is the only eucalyptus in the Northern Hemisphere and has rainbow-hued strips of peeling bark along its trunk. Though it has recently made its way into garden centers, be advised that it reaches well over 200 feet tall in its native habitat.

When choosing a tree, just remember that if a plant is rarely grown, there might be a reason. It could simply be new or hard to propagate, or it might just not be a good fit for most gardens. Do your research and make sure that you can accommodate the tree’s needs before you take it home.


A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 21 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Steve Asbell.


Posted: 04/20/17   RSS | Print


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Native Trees for the Landscape
by Scott A. Zanon       #Natives   #Trees

American Yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea or C. flava)

So what is a “native” tree? It can be any tree from a state or region. The deciduous trees considered for this article are native to North America, and once established, should grow and survive in their planted areas. Most are tough trees rarely affected by urban life and environmental issues.

Some gardeners seem highly interested and motivated to plant native trees. Native trees appear to adapt better to landscape environments compared to alternative species, and they help protect and restore biodiversity. Natives are effective for use in urban, suburban and rural developed landscapes.

Below are 15 trees to consider for your landscape or property with important notes and descriptions about each. I hope you carefully study these and consider planting a few in your property. They are durable yet functional native tree choices.


Serviceberry, Juneberry, Sarvisberry, Saskatoon, Shadblow, Shadbush
(Amelanchier spp.)
Zones: 4 to 9
Size: 6-30 feet tall by 4-10 feet wide; cultivars are 12 feet tall by 10 feet wide

One of the best four-season small-medium ornamental trees that is available either multi- or single-trunked. It functions well in a naturalistic setting or as a specimen. There are many species and cultivars to choose from (I prefer A. laevis, but all are wonderful).

Common Pawpaw, Custard Apple
(Asimina triloba)
Zones: 5 to 9
Size: 15-20 feet tall and wide

This is a small tree that has the largest edible fruit native to North America. The pawpaw is native to shady, rich bottom lands, where it often forms dense undergrowth (thicket) in the forest. It is a native understory tree that needs regular watering during the growing season and does not tolerate heavy, wet, alkaline soils. Fall color is a translucent yellow.



Common Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum)



Common Baldcypress
(Taxodium distichum)

Zones: 4 to 9
Size: 50-70 feet tall by 20-30 feet wide

This large, deciduous conifer is an upright, stately pyramidal tree with russet brown fall color. Use as a focal point or specimen. It is superb in exceptionally moist areas where the infamous “knees” form if roots are submerged. Versatile, it is also dry site capable. Some chlorosis may occur in high pH soils.

River Birch
(Betula nigra)
Zones: 4 to 9
Size: 40-60 feet tall by 40 feet wide

This large, fine-textured shade tree is also considered an ornamental because of its peeling bark (I like the cultivar ‘Heritage’). Some chlorosis problems may occur in high-pH soils. Available as a multi-trunked form of three to five trunks, this fine specimen tree is perfect for areas along streams or ponds. It does prefer moist soils.

Sugar Maple, Hard Maple, Rock Maple
(Acer saccharum)

Zones: 3 to 8
Size: 60-80 feet tall by 40 feet wide

This stately large shade tree is one of the best. It may be used as a specimen or autumn accent tree and is a landscape standout. Many cultivars are available, and its brilliant, long-lasting fall foliage is often spectacular.



Cucumbertree Magnolia
(Magnolia acuminata)

Zones: 4 to 8
Size: 50-70 feet tall and wide

This is an excellent large shade tree that provides great character for larger properties. It is the hardiest of the native Magnolia species. Nursery-grown cultivars have showy yellow flowers and are becoming easier to find. These make fine specimen trees for the landscape.

Cucumbertree Magnolia (Magnolia acuminata)


American Hornbeam, Musclewood,
Blue Beech

(Carpinus caroliniana)

Zones: 3 to 9
Size: 25 feet tall and wide

This is a small understory tree tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions. Typically found along streams and rivers, and it is good in naturalized areas as it will tolerate periodic flooding. It is also tolerant of pruning and can be used as a hedge or screen. This tree is not drought tolerant.

Black Tupelo, Black Gum, Sour Gum
(Nyssa sylvatica)

Zones: 4 to 9
Size: 30-50 feet tall by 20-30 feet wide

An excellent large shade tree mainly used as a specimen. This is one of the best and most consistent native trees for fall colors of red (and occasionally yellow), but should not be planted in alkaline soils as it prefers acidic soils. It has lustrous dark green summer foliage with consistent striking autumn color. There are a number of great cultivars available in the trade.


Shingle Oak, Laurel Oak (Quercus imbricaria)



Shingle Oak, Laurel Oak
(Quercus imbricaria)

Zones: 4 to 7
Size: 60 feet tall and 70 feet wide

This is a large, spreading shade tree that performs well in dry sites and features lobe-less glossy dark green oblong leaves. The leaves shine like laurel. This tree is also very cold hardy and urban tolerant. It is a good tree for street and park uses, and is an oak that is relatively easy to transplant.

Kentucky Coffeetree
(Gymnocladus dioicus)

Zones: 4 to 8
Size: 60-75 feet tall by 40-50 feet wide

This is a choice large tree with semi-filtered shade and a beautiful bold winter canopy. Older trees are majestic and handsome. It can get somewhat dirty with the pods and leaflets. Prune only in winter or early spring. This tree is dioecious, so the males do not fruit. It is tolerant to heat, drought and cold. Male (fruitless) cultivars available.

American Hornbeam, Ironwood
(Ostrya virginiana)

Zones: 4 to 9
Size: 25-40 feet tall by 25 feet wide

An attractive small-to-medium understory tree that is a slow grower. It does well on dry sites and once established, grows very well. It is not tolerant of salt so avoid roadside plantings. Use in naturalized areas. This tree can be difficult to find in the nursery trade, but it is worth the search.

Yellow Buckeye
(Aesculus octandra or A. flava)

Zones: 4 to 8
Size: 60-75 feet tall by 40 feet wide

A handsome large shade tree that is preferable to Ohio buckeye (A. glabra), because it is less susceptible to leaf scorch. It features large showy yellow flowers in April with attractive dark green palmate leaves that change to a beautiful pumpkin color in fall. Considered to be the best large buckeye tree.

Eastern Redbud
(Cercis canadensis)

Zones: 4 to 9
Size: 15-25 feet tall and wide

This is a popular, small ornamental tree with showy spring flowers. Eastern redbud is a strikingly conspicuous tree in the spring because it flowers before other tree leaves form. Best for naturalized, woodland (understory) settings. There is a plethora of superb cultivars now readily available.


Common Sassafras
(Sassafras albidum)

Zones: 4 to 8
Size: 30-60 feet tall by 25-40 feet wide

This attractive medium native ornamental tree has spectacular autumn color. It makes a fine specimen or it is excellent as a thicket in a naturalized setting. Found as single or multi-trunked forms. It is practically impossible to transplant, and thus must be container grown.


American Yellowwood
(Cladrastis kentukea or C. flava)

Zones: 4 to 8
Size: 30-50 feet tall and wide

This choice medium ornamental shade tree is excellent as a specimen or in groupings. Gray beech-like bark on its vase-shaped form coupled with a nice yellow fall color makes this an attractive choice. Flowers attract bees. Prune only in the summer, as it is a profuse bleeder.


Common Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)


A version of this article appeared in an May/June 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Scott A. Zanon.


Posted: 04/20/17   RSS | Print


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Abiotic Disorders in the Landscape
by Wayne Porter       #Trees

Circling roots can eventually girdle the trunk or other roots of this Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia). Small roots like these can be safely removed.

Plants are often subjected to stresses in the environment that are not results of insects or diseases. These stresses are referred to as “abiotic” diseases. These abiotic disorders result in the plant being less vigorous and in many cases dying. The majority of these stress situations are the result of human activities.

Abiotic problems often involve multiple factors. A plant’s response to these factors can be subtle in nature and accumulate over time making them difficult to diagnose. It can be even harder explaining to a homeowner how they harmed their plant by something they did years ago.

Typical symptoms of abiotic problems include very slow growth, poor foliage color, leaf scorching, the presence of lichen, limb dieback, or plant death. Following is a discussion of some of the more common abiotic problems that occur in the landscape

This live oak (Quercus virginiana) died because it was planted too deep.


Proper Tree Planting

•  Determine where the root flare is located.
•  Dig the planting hole two to three times wider than the root ball, but no deeper.
•  Gently place the tree in the planting hole with root flare at or slightly above grade.
•  Backfill planting hole with excavated soil and water to eliminate air pockets.
•  Apply 2-4 inches of organic mulch. Keep away from trunk.
•  Stake only if necessary with wide webbing. Tree must be able to move in the wind.
•  Water throughout growing season with 1 inch per week.
•  Remove stakes and ties within one year.

Planting Too Deep
One of the most common and serious problems associated with tree planting is planting too deep. Many trees and shrubs are set too deep at the time of planting, or they settle over time. A planting depth of only 1 inch too deep can cause eventual problems. It is not uncommon to see trees planted as much as 3 or more inches too deep. If a tree looks like a telephone pole going into the ground, then it is planted too deep.

Various symptoms point to excessively deep planting. New growth may develop each spring, but dieback of branch tips occurs during the stress of summer. Advanced symptoms of depth-related stress are cankers and deep cracking of the bark.

Making sure the root flare of a tree is at or slightly above grade when a tree is planted easily prevents this problem. (See tree planting sidebar)

This tree suffered damage when a string-trimmer was used to cut basal watersprouts.

Mechanical Damage
Mechanical damage leaves tree and shrubs vulnerable to disease organisms. Damage comes from vehicles, string trimmers, lawn mowers, construction equipment, garden tools, animals, or other human activities. String-trimmer injury is particularly harmful for trees and shrubs with thin bark. Repeatedly bumping into the same area of a trunk without cutting the bark can damage or kill the growing point under the bark and result in reduced growth. Creating a machine-free zone around trees and shrubs with mulch will greatly reduce mechanical injury.

Improper Mulching
Mulch is used around plants to help conserve soil moisture, moderate soil temperature, reduce weeds, and keep equipment away from plant trunks. The recommended depth is 2-3 inches for most organic mulches. Many gardeners, believing more is better create mulch “volcanoes.” When mulch is piled up against the trunks of trees and shrubs, the bark stays too wet and decay can occur and the entire plant may die. Keep mulch several inches away from the trunk to prevent this scenario.

Mulch “volcanoes” create an ideal environment for disease organisms. Keep mulch 2-3 inches away from the trunk.

Girdling Roots
A girdling root is a root that circles around the trunk or other roots at or below the soil line, gradually cutting off the flow of nutrients. Some trees, such as maples, elms, and birches, are particularly prone to their formation. Trees and shrubs that are container grown and have become pot-bound frequently develop girdling roots. It is important to spread or cut circling roots at planting time to prevent future problems.

Mechanical Root Damage
Most of the feeder roots of trees or shrubs are within the upper 6 inches of the soil. Any digging, trenching or roto-tilling within the root area of established trees or shrubs will cause harm. Damage usually occurs when establishing a new flowerbed, planting shrubs under trees, installing a sprinkler system, or paving a driveway or patio area. The degree of damage depends on the depth of the digging and the amount of ground covered. Root damage may haunt the plant months or even years later, depending on the environmental stresses that occur after the damage.

This huge live oak is showing dieback of branches due construction damage that cut feeder roots.

Construction Damage
Construction damage impacts trees and shrubs in numerous ways. There is severe root loss or injury, compacted soils, loss of leaf area, and grade changes. The impact on trees can be short term, but it usually sets the tree up for a gradual decline or death that takes several years. Anytime the soil grade is lowered or raised even a few inches, existing shrubs and trees become predisposed to various stresses. Keep construction equipment and building materials outside the drip line of trees.

Humans unknowingly inflict these abiotic stresses on trees and shrubs in the landscape. It is amazing how forgiving plants can be, considering all the pressures we humans put on them. Only further education about landscape maintenance will reduce these human-caused disorders.


A version of this article appeared in a January/February 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Wayne Porter and istockphoto.com/eurobanks.


Posted: 04/19/17   RSS | Print


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What? Me Worry?
by Jonathan Heaton       #Disease   #Pests   #Trees

Insects form galls on the leaves of trees and shrubs, including elm (Ulmus spp.).

As an arborist, I work with a lot of people who care deeply about their trees and shrubs. Almost once a week, I will get a call from someone who is alarmed that something new they’ve noticed on their tree might be a major problem. Sometimes it is a problem that needs help, but often it is something that looks bad, but isn’t. Here are some of the common issues that arise.

Leaf and Twig Galls
Some insects, wasps and mites use a chemical to lay eggs inside of leaves or twigs that causes a swollen area, called a gall, to form. This provides a nice place for the egg to grow into an adult. Most of the time these are not significant enough to harm the tree and no treatment is needed. However, treatment may be warranted if the majority of the leaves are heavily damaged, or if a lot of branches and twigs are dying.

Seasonal Evergreen Needle Drop
Evergreens shed their leaves, just like deciduous trees. Although deciduous tree leaves last one season, evergreen leaves, called needles, last for two to seven years, then turn yellow and fall. This can look pretty alarming, especially on white pine (Pinus strobus), but it is normal. It is still worth taking a close look because there are several fungal diseases that will cause early needle loss. Normal needle loss will have needles that are uniformly yellow, whereas diseased needles will have black spots and uneven coloration.

White pine and many other conifers normally shed needles in fall.

Dead Branches
Trees naturally shed branches, and some species are more prone to this than others. Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis), ash (Fraxinus spp.), pin oak (Quercus palustris) and birch (Betula spp.) are examples of trees that shed branches. As long as the leaves have normal color, size and density, there is no issue. Be on the lookout for several branches dying from the tip back, because this is a sign of a problem.

Moss and Lichens
Trees provide habit for many other organisms, including mosses and lichens that grow on the trunk and branches. These are not causing any harm.

These harmless holes in the trunk of an Austrian pine (Pinus nigra) have been made by a sapsucker.

Sapsucker Damage
A sapsucker is a type of woodpecker that drills lines of holes on the trunk to feed on the sap and the bugs it attracts. Most of the time a healthy tree can deal with the damage. 

There are enough bugs in the world to keep entomologists busy for several lifetimes. Watch for damage to the plants, and become familiar with the common culprits for plant damage in your area, but realize that most bugs you see are harmless.

‘Harmless fungi form a condition called smooth patch on a bur oak.

Smooth Patch
This is found especially on bur oaks (Quercus macrocarpa). Fungi feed on the rough, dead outer bark of the tree leaving smooth patches. This doesn’t cause any harm to the tree.

Anthracnose and Leaf Spot
Anthracnose and leaf spot are generic terms for fungi that damage the leaves of plants. Oaks and ashes are the most common trees to see anthracnose. Look for distorted and curled leaves with black and brown dead spots. Leaves affected by anthracnose will fall from the tree in late spring to early summer. Unless the tree has lost a majority of its leaves, or is severely impacted for more than one year, treatment is not generally warranted. Treatments are available for severe cases, or where aesthetic impact is important. Most of the time, the best defense is good general care, such as water and mulch. Fertilizer if a soil test shows that it is needed.

Many people would disagree that squirrels, the insatiable chewers that they are, are not a serious problem. At least for the trees, they are not. Squirrels make nests out of plant material. Sometimes they will pick a tree to harvest twigs from and will chew off the tips of dozens of branches, leaving a carpet of branch tips on the ground. It is alarming, but won’t cause serious issues for the tree.

Fall Webworm
These caterpillars eat foliage from trees and build silky tents around the branches. Except in severe cases, they are not a problem for the tree and treatment is not needed. To help keep the population under control, clip out the tents and throw them in the trash.

This bug feeds on plants and covers itself in a substance that looks like spit. It does not cause severe damage. If the population is becoming large enough to be a nuisance, treat them with the spray of a hose, insecticidal soap or horticulture oil.

The spittlebug covers itself with a harmless, spit-like substance, which gives the insect its name.

Carpenter Ants
I’m listing this with the caveat that they are a serious problem for your home and can be a sign of a serious problem in a tree. However, with trees, ants are not the cause of the problem. These large black ants eat wood that is already dead. Carpenter ants signal there is dead wood in the tree. Dead wood, or decay, can be a structural weakness for the tree that the ants can make worse. If the ants are present, I recommend having an arborist inspect the tree.

Thin-skinned trees, such as a young red maple (A. rubrum), frequently develop a crack in the bark as a result of growth.

Ash Flower Gall
These tiny eriophyid mites attack the flowers of ash trees, making them distorted and black. It is unsightly, but doesn’t cause any harm. I don’t recommend treatment for this pest, unless you absolutely cannot live with the way it looks.

Bark Cracking on Maples
Many smooth-barked trees, especially maples (Acer spp.), have vertical cracks that appear in the trunk. This is because of the way that trees grow, not any kind of weakness or problem. A situation that can look similar that is a problem is when the bark is damaged during the winter, due to rapid heating from the sun. The difference is that there will be dead wood and peeling bark in the area damaged. Wrapping the trunk of thin-barked species with fabric during the winter can prevent this.

Ultimately, I’m always happy to take these calls, because it means that people are paying close attention to their trees. I encourage you to pay attention throughout the year. If you’re in doubt about something you see, do a little research or check with a local expert to be sure. If nothing else, you will gain a greater appreciation for the many nuances and complexities of nature.


A version of this article appeared in a January/February 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Jonathan Heaton and Bartlett Tree Experts.


Posted: 04/19/17   RSS | Print


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The Lore of Big Old Trees
by William J. Rowe II       #Landscaping   #Trees

We’re lucky in the Southeast. We have more trees in our towns and landscapes than most other parts of the United States. It probably goes back to the time when air-conditioning wasn’t even thought of yet and comfort, let alone just breathing, during the summer was dependent on having large shade trees.

This situation does have drawbacks. Arborist bills for instance. Having someone take care of that branch 40 feet up is pricey. Then there are all those roots, the shade, and fall leaves complicating lawn maintenance. If that sounds strange to you, hang around the extension office sometime and count the calls about thin grass and surface tree roots. Dense shade also changes the species of plant life usable in the parts of a landscape under trees. Often, nursery stock, particularly from the big-box stores, hasn’t been selected for shade and tree root competition.

That said, nearly everyone wants a big old tree. New ones are fine and dandy and full of promise, but it’s the large and aged that we enjoy most. These trees give us a sense of history, anchoring our homes and towns to a place in time and memory. Large trees are also amazing providers – from actual monetary value to physical, mental, and social health. The list of benefits, mainly from mature trees, is long and well researched. If you are unaware of just how important trees are and how well documented it is, try out Dr. Kathleen L. Wolf’s wonderful collection of work at The Human Dimensions of Urban Forestry and Urban Greening: thenaturewithin.info, it’s a great place to learn more.

There are some important differences between young and old trees that any gardener needs to know. It’s impossible to overstate how easy it is to fatally damage a big tree. Another interesting thing is that a big tree won’t show you that it has begun to die for years. The problems usually show up long after the action that pushed the tree over the edge, leaving you shaking your head as you write a big check to an arborist.

Massive old tree in lot obviously filling all the space.

Trees’ lives are complicated by 4 important things
Trees strive for balance, always. The balance we’re talking about is one in which resources are balanced between growth and maintenance. Growth and health of trees depends on resources being taken up by roots (mostly water), sugar being made by leaves, and pathways through the tree’s system for it all to be moved around. Old trees, even in a good situation, generally grow slowly. The cause of the slowdown is how much more tree the trees’ systems have to maintain and defend. Large, older trees have usually occupied all of their environment that they are able to. Their roots are spread out far and wide and the canopy is extended to its maximum. Removing branches or roots, or otherwise damaging the tree’s system will result in a loss a large older tree can’t balance out. Which brings us to problem number 2.

Most of the tree is already dead.
The interior parts of a tree are mostly dead and often aren’t even functioning other than as a sort of support pole and dumping ground for compounds the tree makes that it doesn’t want near the living parts. A big beautiful tree is actually a thin layer of living tree wrapped around its mostly dead interior. That mostly dead interior is also something the tree must vigorously defend. The bark over everything is generally that first defense. Once the outer layer of the tree is opened up, whether by pruning cuts, storms, or just accidents, that interior is now open to whole realms of nature that really want a chance at that interior. Since there is no life without injury, the tree develops defense systems to handle invasion by the outside world. Which brings us to the next big fact about trees.

Healing wound in trunk.

Trees can’t heal.
Not the way we do. An arborist will often say, “Trees don’t heal, they seal.” An injury to a tree is forever. After all, the tree is mostly dead with a dressing of living tree over it. Breaking through the bark leaves only the living layers around the edges of the wound to deal with injury. Trees typically do this by walling off the wound by plugging the cells with toxic compounds and then growing over the wound from the edges. The damage remains, hopefully sealed off forever. It is extremely common for older trees to be coping with numerous wounds and hollows caused by pruning, abrasion, tears, and breaks both above and below ground. Maintaining these compartmentalized pockets take up resources, further slowing growth. The extra resources needed to handle a new problem could be the resources the tree needs to grow enough to live. Which leads us to the fourth issue.

Trees have to grow.
It’s growth or death. Every year, a new ring on the trunk, new leaves, new flowers, new fruit, new stems, new bark, new roots. To stop growing is to die. Even when trees are obviously dying, growth is taking place wherever the tree can make it happen.

Large live oak shading lawn and home.

So living with your big old tree means keeping its needs in mind. Think of it as a really wonderful older pet out in your landscape. You don’t purposely injure a pet. You wouldn’t let just anyone cut it. You wouldn’t take away things it needs to live. We often make exceptions and rearrange our lives for our dogs and cats, why not our trees?

Garden With Big Trees

Trenching in lawn near a tree.

First, Do No Harm
The number-one killer of trees of any age is people – usually the very people who care about them. There are two kinds of damage that nearly every gardener does to their tree. The first is mower and string trimmer damage. Constant damage to trunks and structural roots by lawn equipment create more injury for the tree to wall off and maintain. For big trees, damaging structural roots could lead to destabilization.

The second is root cutting. Removal of tree roots is particularly devastating to trees. All trees need a constant flow of water from their root system to live. Removing a root, say an inch in diameter or larger (or just cutting through one) effectively removes miles of root system from the tree. This has the effect of putting the tree into a drought, even if it’s raining. The tree is now unbalanced. It has big water demands and now no way to satisfy them. Decline begins. Also, damage to large roots can allow decay to creep in. Many a hollow tree became so because of root damage.

Once a tree is mature, big structural changes to its canopy are usually not needed or recommended except when our lives and property are threatened by the tree. Pruning of large and older trees should be limited to crown cleaning, which is the removal of dead or damaged limbs from the canopy. If you fear for the structural integrity of an older tree’s canopy, discuss cabling and bracing with an ISA certified arborist.

Kill Some Grass
The effort many gardeners put into growing grass under the canopies of trees is amazing. If you garden WITH your older tree, remove the competition by killing off grass and mulching. This mimics the natural environments that trees evolved in, forests. Your tree will do much better and you won’t be slaving over and spending so much on turf.


Big old declining tree with dead branches

Embrace The Shade
Too often, we try to raise plants that can’t get along with trees, especially in the shade under the canopy. Read up on woodland gardening and select shrubs and perennials and even some annuals that get on well in the understory of forests.

Don’t Fertilize Your Tree To Death
Fertilizer is not the answer to everything, particularly trees. For older trees the problem is giving them lots of nitrogen, which boosts stem and foliar growth. This new burst of growth can actually create demand for water that the root system may not have access to. Be sure to have your soil tested and have your tree’s condition assessed by an ISA certified arborist before spreading lots of fertilizer around. If you want to fertilize plantings around an older tree, try the trick of foliar fertilization. Use one-eighth-strength liquid fertilizer and spray it onto the foliage of the plants you want to receive the extra nutrition. This will save you time, spare the tree, and save some money on fertilizer too.


A version of this article appeared in an April 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of William J. Rowe II.


Posted: 04/19/17   RSS | Print


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History of the Rose
by Martin Stone, Ph.D.       #Flowers   #Roses

The simple flower shape, blush pink petals, and large clusters of flowers throughout the summer have made ‘Ballerina’ a favorite for decades.

Roses are more than prickly garden plants with exquisite flowers. They are much more than roots and leaves, stems and petals. They are the ultimate symbol of beauty, displaying perfection and romance. But beyond this, they are metaphors of society and us throughout history, as well as today.

Aristocracy and the Rose
In medieval Europe, roses in the garden were symbols of aristocracy. There were only a few elite ruling families of the day, and there were just a few elite rose families, too.

Any aristocrat of the day would tell you that peasants were not capable of appreciating beauty for its own sake. Peasants could not discern the hint of pink in the petal of a rose no more than they could discern the subtle scents of fruit and musk from wine.

After laboring in the fields all day, it is unlikely that a peasant would have had the time or energy to return home and cultivate a bed of roses. There were meals to prepare, and they did not like to get out in the night air for fear of contracting a disease.

Napoleon and Josephine’s Contribution

In the early part of the 19th century, roses and much of the world underwent a dramatic revolution. Turbulence was especially high in France where Napoleon was scrambling to the pinnacle of his government. Josephine apparently did not share her husband’s ambitions and grew weary of the pretentiousness of the courts, endless social events and her husband’s infidelities. She found refuge in Malmaison, her mansion nine miles west of Paris. From Malmaison, she devoted the remainder of her life to amassing the single largest collection of roses the world had ever seen.

In a few short years, her garden equaled her aspirations; roses grew side by side from China, Egypt, the Near East and anywhere Napoleon’s army marched. Though he was estranged from his beloved Josephine, he continued to support her garden habit by sending her living specimens. The genetically and geographically diverse roses were allowed to hybridize, and the new combinations still echo throughout our gardens to this day.

Introducing the Hybrid Tea
A second seminal event in rose history, perhaps the most important, happened a few decades after Josephine’s garden reached its zenith. In 1867, a French rose breeder crossed ‘Madame Victor Verdier’, a hybrid perpetual, with ‘Madame Bravy’, a tender tea rose. The result was the first hybrid tea aptly named ‘La France’.

The appearance of ‘La France’ began a lengthy love affair between hybrid tea roses and the gardening public. These new roses had a suite of favorable characteristics that the rising middle class loved. Their greatest attraction was cold hardiness combined with a remontant, or reblooming habit. They remain the most popular garden roses today.


The white petals of the Cherokee rose represent the tribal mother’s tears, and the golden center, the gold taken from their native lands when they were forced to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.


Native or Not?
Closer to home, roses played an important role during the Civil War. The Cherokee rose (Rosa laevigata) is a prickly-stemmed rambler that is graced with pretty, simple, single white flowers. It was commonly planted on the graves of fallen soldiers to assist families in grieving and in part to mark the site.

The Cherokee rose was long thought to be a native of the southern and eastern United States. Indeed, its range was similar to the geographical distribution of the tribe’s original location before they were forced along the Trail of Tears. But despite public opinion, it is an import from China. The mystery remains as to when it arrived, how it made the journey, and why it naturalized so rapidly.

Though the leaves show wear and tear from summer, nutritious rose hips are a great food for wildlife. This hip has already been sampled.

Black Sheep Of The Family
Though a few roses are native to North America, none have made the jump into the mainstream. Even the wildling you might encounter hiking through a field or forest is likely to be R. multiflora, a native of Japan. Introduced into this country as a durable and hardy rootstock for grafted roses, its vigor has served it well in its adopted home. Once sold as a living fence, R. multiflora is now known as an invasive plant and an outlaw in several states.

The Yellow Rose Of New York City
The “Yellow Rose of Texas” was made famous when it was compared to a beautiful woman in song. While the flowers are indeed yellow, it is not native nor is it from Texas. According to Thomas Christopher in In Search of Lost Roses, this rose is known today as ‘Harrison’s Yellow’ which originated as a chance seedling in New York City and proved to be extremely tough. The dense thorns repelled cattle and its drought and cold tolerance provided excellent survival skills. Turns out that it was the rose planted along the Oregon Trail across the west.

‘Summer Wind’ is an exceptional rose from famous rose breeder Griffith Buck. Buck roses are known for their hardiness, fragrance and beauty.

A Nation Divided
In our country today, roses are a metaphor of our divided society. Some rosarians are great fans of the hybrid teas while others are lovers of old-fashioned roses. Their philosophies are so dissimilar that we might use the red state-blue state analogies that simplify the demographics of presidential politics.

On one side of the aisle are gardeners who espouse old-fashioned roses, those roses that appeared before the first hybrid tea, ‘La France’. They seek the simpler structure of flowers and cherish the flat blooms with just a few delicately colored petals. For many admirers it is the scent of the old-fashioned flowers that is so attractive. From spicy to musky sweet, it is the fragrance that has galvanized their allegiance to these old roses.

The other side of the aisle embraces the hybrid teas. Repeat blooming is more highly prized to them than to expend a year’s flowers in one glorious blaze of color. They seek perfection in a single bud perched on a long stem. The latest garden center offering is exciting each spring and they likely will purchase a rose because it is named after a popular person. In recent years, big sellers have been ‘Dolly Parton’, ‘Reba McIntire’ and ‘Diana, Princess of Wales.’

Knock Out rose combines high disease resistance and prolific repeat blooming.

A miniature rose growing to a couple of feet tall, ‘Sweet Chariot’ features large, pink-purple flowers that smell like pepper. The fragrance is enhanced during the warmth of midday.

Centuries Of Cultivation
If roses in our gardens were indicative of society in the past, it remains true today. Consider the wildly popular hybrid tea rose, an amalgam of plant parts fused by humans to create a being far superior than the sum of its parts. Hybrid tea roses are composed of a rootstock and a beautiful grafted top portion.

The top of the rose produces its raison d’etre, the slender-tipped flower buds that open to reveal nature’s perfection. The buds appear in a brilliance of colors and demand our attention from across the garden or a crowded room.

Roses are beautiful garden plants, and yet, they are so much more. Though we have innocently cultivated them for centuries, they have been a barometer of social status and change. So, the next time you visit a friend’s garden or plant a rose in yours, remember, your choice has a long history of social prominence. Choose with your heart, and you may learn something about yourself, too.


A version of this article appeared in a May 2005 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Martin Stone, Ph.D.


Posted: 04/10/17   RSS | Print


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Sustainable Fertilization
by Kathy Fitzgerald       #Fertilizing   #Permascaping   #Soil

“Feed the soil, not the plant.” I experienced this pivotal epiphany when my husband and I attended Plant Delights Nursery’s class, “The World of Soil.” For the first time I really got it that good dirt is alive, and – this is the really important part – the more alive the dirt, the healthier the plants are in it.

Shortly thereafter I read Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis, a layman’s guide to soil science. Lowenfels and Lewis illuminated the ecosystem of living soil in a powerful way. I became a true believer.

A History of Fertilizer
Before World War I, farmers everywhere used only composted manures, kitchen and garden wastes and seaweed to amend their fields, because that’s all there was. When hostilities ceased in 1918, armaments manufacturers faced severe profit cuts. They figured out that the same ingredients used to make firearms – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium – also enhance crop performance. An aggressive marketing campaign launched the commercial fertilizer industry.

Crop yields rose dramatically, but so did pest problems and soil depletion. The new, “synthetic” plant foods came in the form of chemical salts, which had to break down in the presence of water before their nutrients became available to the plants. The salty byproducts of this reaction didn’t magically disappear from the soil, they accumulated. Exposure to salt causes soil microbiota to dehydrate and die. That’s why, once you start using synthetics, you have to keep on using them. Their mode of action essentially renders the fertilized soil sterile.

The Espoma Company’s Organic Traditions line of products includes single-element fertilizers as well as their familiar Plant-Tone, Holly-Tone and Rose-Tone, all with non-burning, low N-P-K numbers.

A Cautionary Tale
When I worked at a garden center, a customer once special-ordered 75 flats of centipede-grass plugs. Because the plugs looked a bit peaked on arrival, the owner asked another employee to sprinkle them with a little 8-0-24 fertilizer. The hapless girl spread an entire 50-pound bag on the 6 by 12 foot area. Even though we watered and watered, trying to leach the stuff out, the shock proved too much for the plugs. They all died from an extreme case of root burn.

This same death-by-fertilizer can happen in your own garden. Avoid it by learning to work with your soil instead of against it. Fertilizers labeled “organic” have dramatically lower N-P-K numbers than synthesized formulas. For example, compare Espoma’s Plant-Tone’s analysis is 5-3-3 to Osmocote’s 18-6-12. Lower numbers mean root and foliar burning are simply not possible.

Nature’s Way
In nature, fungi and bacteria consume and excrete nutrients in the soil. Protozoa, worms and arthropods consume and excrete the microbiota. Birds, reptiles, amphibians and small mammals consume and excrete the protozoa, worms and arthropods, in turn providing food for fungi and bacteria. This is the nutrient delivery system Mother Nature devised, devoid of human intervention. When you consider undisturbed habitats like forests, grasslands and rainforests, you have to admit Mother Nature knows what she’s doing.

We make a top-dress for our planting areas with generous helpings of a mixture of 1 16-ounce cup of kelp meal and 6 16-ounce cups of Holly-Tone to each 50-pound bag of Black Kow. (I opened the Holly-Tone from the bottom. Sorry.)

We can make our own gardens sustainable by replicating natural processes. The best way to do that is to treat your soil with annual topdressings of composted organic matter, either purchased or homemade. Incorporating compost into the soil improves drainage in heavy soils and increases moisture retention in sandy ones, but most importantly it attracts and feeds the bacteria and fungi at the base of the nutrient chain.

N-P-K Explained

The three primary elements plants need to get out of the soil around them are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). For a very simple explanation, nitrogen produces lush, green foliage; phosphorus, in the oxide form of P2O5 or phosphate, encourages blooming; and potassium, as potash or K2O, aids in growing healthy roots.

Also known as the “guaranteed analysis,” the three digits emblazoned on most fertilizer packages refer to the percentage by weight of each primary element per bag of mixture. For example, a 40-pound bag of 10-10-10 works out to 10 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphorus, 10 percent potassium and 70 percent of inert ingredients. In this particular case, the inert ingredients are 28 pounds of itty-bitty rocks.

Commercial fertilizers aren’t entirely counterproductive. Self-contained systems, like pots, benefit from their use. Most potting mixes are soilless, and therefore sterile, meaning there’s no microbiota to kill. Both houseplants and outdoor seasonal containers appreciate occasional applications of either granular or water-based nutrition. Whatever you use, always follow label directions. When it comes to fertilization, more is absolutely not better.

In my own garden, I trundle out the wheelbarrow every spring and combine 1 16-ounce cup kelp meal, 6 16-ounce cups of Holly-Tone (Plant-Tone if your soil is already acidic) and a 50-pound bag of Black Kow or other composted product. I distribute it liberally right on top of the mulch (mine is shredded leaves). Some may rake back their mulch first, but that’s too much work for me, I just go back and ruffle the mixture in with a garden claw. Either way, the idea is to get the composted material in contact with the soil.

The 2,700 square feet of planting space in my yard takes about 25 bags of Black Kow, or roughly one amended wheelbarrow load per 100 square feet. Come July, I usually toss around another dose of Plant-Tone and kelp, without the Black Kow, depending on the weather.

A New Mindset
Once you realize it’s the soil that needs feeding instead of the plants, understanding fertilizer becomes easier. By mimicking nature and limiting synthetic inputs, we become facilitators of the vital interconnectedness that living soil represents, to the better health of our plants, our planet and ourselves.



A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Jeffrey Heyden-Kaye (www.istockphoto.com/heydenkaye) and Kathy Fitgerald.


Posted: 04/10/17   RSS | Print


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Clematis 101
by Ilene Sternberg       #Flowers   #Plant Profile   #Vines

Clematis ‘Étoile Violette’

Virtually all clematis books are British. I think it’s some kind of law. According to those books, you may pronounce it “klem-a-tiss,” “kli-mah-tiss,” “klem-at-iss” or “klem-ay-tiss.” The plants are fabulous, and will respond no matter how you address them. Most Americans only spiral one up their mailbox post, but the Brits have been exploring the potential of almost 300 species and even more varieties and cultivars, using them far more imaginatively in their gardens for eons.

Clematis can reach 30 feet or be shorter than 2 feet. Flowers can be 10 inches across, or tiny stars, flat, cupped, turk’s cap-, bell-, urn- or tubular-shaped; sometimes delightfully scented, with fluffy, silky seedheads; and boast a broad spectrum of colors. In addition to greeting you while you peruse your junk mail, they can grace a container, clamber up a fence, ramble over rocks, climb trees, lace through shrubs and scamper across the ground. These buttercup relatives can also be alpine plants or little shrubs, not vines at all.

Susan Austin of Completely Clematis Specialty Nursery in Ipswich, Mass. (www.clematisnursery.com), has some pretty avant garde ideas about how to grow clematis. She uses cinnamon as a bactericide and fungicide. To battle periods of drought that can stunt growth and flower size, she recommends (in addition to deep planting, thorough watering once a week and heavy mulching) stuffing pre-moistened hydrogel (Soil-Moist or Terrasorb) into 6-inch-deep holes dug every 12 inches around each plant. Her trick is to soak the polymer beads in warm water prior to use. She says effects last as long as three years, by which time plants should be well established.

Avant-garde (C. ‘Evip033’)

Clematis have been customarily classified according to their pruning requirements. In Trouble-Free Clematis: The Viticellas (Garden Art Press, 1998), John Howells regroups them into 12 categories in order of their progression of bloom, dwelling more on the characteristics of the types and claiming the newer format is more useful and easily understood. Frankly, while I find attempts to systematize this mind-boggling array truly admirable, I am equally confused by both methods of organization. But, what do I know? I can’t sort socks, let alone clematis.

Clematis ‘Piilu’

Culture is more or less similar for all 12 groups. Like poppies, they should have their crowns sunk several inches below soil level when planted. Clematis fare best in good, neutral soil. Dan Long of Brushwood Nursery (www.gardenvines.com) in Athens, Ga., says, “Amend soil with organic matter and consider some bonemeal, too. Plant clematis at a 45-degree angle – actually lean it over in the hole – to promote more shoots from the base sooner.”

“Never tease the roots of C. orientalis, C. alpina, C. macropetala or other fibrous-rooted types when planting,” Austin cautions. Taunting those temperamental roots can trigger sudden death. This sensitivity also makes transplanting difficult.

Most clematis can be pruned in early spring or late winter down to the first pair of buds, but leave pruning of early blooming kinds for after flowering or you’ll lose the spring show. Unless they’re tangled, you may leave them alone altogether. Broken stems, though, can invite a fungus, Phoma clematidina, that causes a stem rot and leaf spot disease where stems unexpectedly collapse in a melodramatic faint, which mainly affects large-flowered clematis hybrids. Species clematis, their cultivars and small-flowered hybrids are much less susceptible. Cut affected stems to ground level and the plant often recovers, usually the same season. Don’t be so quick to remove “dead” clematis. Sometimes dead-looking stems have perfectly fine growth at the top, and plants often resurrect magically after having been gone for years. Clematis sometimes lose their lower leaves as the season progresses. Underplanting with shallow-rooted, noninvasive plants can provide cover for this shameless nudity.

Clematis viticellas and its cultivars are easy to grow. I can’t say enough good things about the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Gold Medal winner ‘Betty Corning’. Little lavender-blue fairy hats abound continuously from early spring until frost. Her leaves are pristine and never turn black. Stems are plentiful and sturdy. ‘Etoile Violette’ is no prima donna either; she is vigorous, floriferous and nearly indestructible. Dan Long, smitten with yellow C. tangutica ‘Lambton Park’, says, “Small-flowered clematis combined with disease-resistant roses are hot these days. People want performance in the garden without trouble or chemicals to get there.”

‘Prince Charles’ and ‘Margaret Hunt’ are two of Susan Austin’s recommendations for prodigious bloom. Beautiful Baltic cultivars are now the rage in Britain. Susan also is smitten with C. integrifolia ‘Aljonushka’, with strawberry colored blossoms.




Top Left: Clematis ‘Duchess of Edinburgh’

Bottom Left: Josephine (C. ‘Evijohill’)

Right: Clematis ‘Rooguchi’

While most clematis prefer having their heads in sun, Blue Moon (C. ‘Evirin’) and ‘Silver Moon’ show their true colors (pale lavender, almost gray) in shady settings. My latest crush is the enticing C. integrifolia x ‘Rooguchi’, bearing nonstop 2½-inch deep-purple open-bell-shaped flowers with recurved sepals, and a loose, sprawling habit. It blooms even in shade from May through September.

Three reliable, virtually infallible large-flowering types are white ‘Henryi’, purple ‘The President’ and blue ‘Ramona’.

I’m working my way through Christopher Grey-Wilson’s book Clematis: The Genus (Timber Press, 2000). According to that, I still have 661 other clematis I haven’t tried.

Clematis terniflora


A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Ilene Sternberg.


Posted: 04/10/17   RSS | Print


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Foodie Favorites
by Pamela Ruch       #Edibles   #Vegetables

Start hybrid broccoli and onion seeds about eight weeks before the last spring frost.

You’ve grown heirloom tomatoes. You know what it means to cook with superior ingredients. So take it to the next level. Enjoy roasted salad turnips with the slightly piquant base of the greens still attached, sweet baby broccoli tossed in garlic butter, tender mini beets, and grilled radicchio. If you can grow tomatoes, then there’s no reason you can’t grow gourmet delicacies in your backyard garden as well.

Or Just Harvest Them When Small

Growing gourmet vegetables can be as simple as harvesting the vegetables at a small and tender size.

Summer squash can be plucked with the flower still clinging to the baby fruit, stuffed with ricotta, rolled in egg and then breadcrumbs, and gently fried.

Beets, harvested at a tender 1-inch diameter and roasted, go beautifully with salad greens and goat cheese.

Baby greens can be planted in wide rows and cut at about 5 inches. Harvest the tender greens three, or even four times, in succession.

For an attractive and tasty salad, grow short rows of textured greens, such as lettuce, mizuna, arugula, and red mustard.

Baby broccoli
Hybrids of gai lan (Brassica oleracea var. alboglabra, aka Chinese broccoli) and traditional broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica) have the advantage of producing mini heads over a long period of time. You might encounter relatively new hybrids and cultivars as well, including broccolini (Brassica oleracea italica xalboglabra), ‘Aspabroc’, and ‘Brokali Atlantis’ and ‘Brokali Apollo’. By any name they are tender and sweet.

Grow: Plant seedlings 15 to 18 inches apart a couple of weeks before the last frost date. Harvest frequently, and be sure to plant flowers nearby to attract beneficial insects.

Eat: Simpler is better. Blanch the stems and heads for 2 minutes and then toss them in butter and garlic. A squeeze of lemon juice will amp up the flavor.

Try growing onions (Allium cepa) from seed. Cipollini and torpedo type onions, seed-grown shallots (Allium cepa var. aggregatum), and leeks (Allium ampeloprasum Leek Group) are worth the extra effort. Start them at least eight weeks before the last spring frost or buy transplants, offered online by some seed companies and specialty growers. Cipollinis and shallots are sweet and mild, and wonderful roasted. Torpedo onions are excellent raw.

Grow: Plant onion and shallot seedlings 3 to 4 inches apart in the garden, leeks at least 6 inches. Once plants are well established, weed the rows and mulch with straw. Most gardeners pull onions when the tops fall, but they can be harvested at any stage.

Eat: Melt a couple of tablespoons of butter in a skillet, add skinned onions and shallots and a teaspoon of sugar, and toss them over medium heat until they start to brown. Add some water or wine, lower the heat, and cover. Twenty minutes later remove the lid and reduce the liquid to a glaze.

Also known as corn salad, mache (Valerianella locusta) is a welcome cold-weather treat; with a little protection it will persist into spring. The flavor is mild and slightly nutty.

Grow: Sow mache seeds about 1 inch apart in late summer or early fall. It will not germinate in heat, so wait for a cool spell. If it is not up to size in fall, protect it with straw or a cold frame, and harvest in early spring.

Eat: Serve mache French-style, with beets and walnuts and a red wine vinaigrette, or use it as a salad green.

Radicchio and salad turnips are problem free in the garden.

The chicory clan is a varied group that includes endives and escarole. They have in common a distinctive bitterness, which some gourmands love, others, not so much. An understated chicory, radicchio (Cichorium intybus var. foliosum Radicchio Group) is mild in taste and beautiful in the garden – a real pleasure to grow and eat.

Grow: Start seeds indoors as you would broccoli, and plant seedlings about 12 inches apart a week or two before the last frost date.

Eat: Cut radicchio heads into wedges. Rinse with water, drizzle with olive oil, and roast at 400 F on one side for about 10 minutes until wilted, then turn to roast the other side. Then season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with balsamic vinegar.

Salad turnips
Also known as Hakurei turnips (Brassica rapa), these mini turnips are the size and color of ping-pong balls, and so sweet they can be eaten raw. They are quick to mature, and the greens are not just edible, they are truly delicious.

Grow: Sow seeds about 1 inch apart from early spring through early summer, and again in late summer. Harvest the row continuously as the turnips grow to size.

Eat: Slice thin and use raw in salads, or cut them in half, leaving about an inch of green, and roast at 400 F with an assortment of other vegetables.

Tatsoi can be grown easily in a container.

You might recognize tatsoi (Brassica narinosa) as the Asian green from supermarket salad mixes. Sweet and mild, it can be cut leaf-by-leaf for salads, or harvested whole for braising. Not only is it delicious, it is packed with vitamin C and calcium.

Grow: Scatter seeds in a wide (about 8 inches) row or container, so that seeds fall about an inch apart. When plants develop their mature leaves, cut them individually, or wait and harvest whole rosettes.

Eat: Use in salads, or lightly sauté until wilted as you would spinach. Tatsoi is also excellent in soups, added at the very end.


A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Pamela Ruch.


Posted: 04/10/17   RSS | Print


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Extreme Makeover
by Tom Hewitt       #Themed Gardens   #Xeriscaping

In an arid garden, pay special attention to texture and form.

Whenever someone asks me about the easiest plants to grow, I always direct them to the Garden of Extremes at Mounts Botanical Garden in West Palm Beach. More often than not, they’re amazed at just how beautiful an arid garden can be.

The new Garden of Extremes at Mounts is really a makeover and expansion of the old Sun Garden. Designed by Mounts’ horticulturist Joel Crippen, it’s now four times its previous size, featuring an even wider array of plants that thrive under full sun, dryness, high winds, low fertility, and other adverse conditions.

Arid gardens don’t have to be boring, Crippen notes. Describing this one as “a desert in perpetual bloom,” he’s allowed Madagascar periwinkles (Catharanthus roseus) and Coreopsis to naturalize. No matter what time of year you visit, there is always plenty in bloom.



Left: Crippen spent more than a year designing and installing the garden.

Top Right: Winding pathways take you to all corners of the garden.

Bottom Right: Something is always in bloom, any time of the year.

The project wasn’t easy. Because of heavier soils in this particular area, Crippen found it necessary to make raised beds and mound soil to facilitate drainage. But this also allowed for more interesting topography, which includes a walkway and steps that ultimately lead to the garden’s highest point.

Things aren’t always as they seem. “What the viewer doesn’t consciously notice,” Crippen says, “is that the rocks in the beds are smaller than those used in the walkways, which are also two different sizes. This optical illusion tricks the senses into feeling that the space is much larger than it is.”

To elevate beds, excess soil was brought in from other areas of the garden. But since it lacked uniformity, it was amended with perlite, coarse sand, and peat moss to improve percolation. After plants were installed, white drain rock and pea gravel were used as ground cover, which further improved drainage. This also helped reflect more light, compensating for shade cast by trees on the opposite side of the walkway.

A huge mousetrap tree is one of the most popular plants in the garden.

Several large ponytail palms (Beaucarnea recurvata) already on site were repositioned to create a “forest effect.” Ponytail palms, Crippen notes, are not true palms. They are members of the Agavaceae family and often used as houseplants. But they make good landscape specimens in Florida gardens (Zones 9-11) if given good drainage.

Turk’s cap is one of several Caribbean cacti in the garden.

Most people think of cacti as desert dwellers, but there are actually many species native to the tropics. Crippen included several Caribbean species in the garden, and hopes to collect more. Dwarf Turk’s cap (Melocactus matanzanus) is especially showy, forming a red bristly cone from which colorful red flowers and seeds emerge.

Turk’s cap can be hard to grow, but not ladyfingers (Mammillaria elongata). Its cylindrical stems are matted with golden spines. Crippen thinks the abundance of spines on Caribbean cactus may actually help shed excess water. Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) also grows here. Endemic to Mexico, it’s rare and critically endangered in the wild.

When people think of Florida cactus, prickly pears (Opuntia spp.) come to mind. Florida boasts nine native species, and several large specimens are in the garden. Crippen hopes to include many cacti native to the Keys. Several Florida cacti remain endangered, including Simpson’s applecactus (Harrisia simpsonii), mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis baccifera), and Key tree-cactus (Pilosocereus robinii).

Kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos spp.) also draw attention when they bloom. These natives of Australia love dry, sandy soils, and usually behave as short-lived perennials in Florida. The trick is to keep them dry enough during our summers. Their orange, tuberous flowers are covered with hairs, giving them a velvety appearance.

An Australian import, kangaroo paws is a showstopper when it blooms.

One of the most popular plants in the garden is a huge mousetrap tree (Uncarina grandidieri), which sports yellow, petunia-like flowers most of the year. Even when not in bloom, it boasts beautiful form. Mousetrap tree gets its common name from its thorny fruit that forms a trap “not even a mouse can escape from.”

Other unusual plants in the garden include desert fig (Ficus petiolaris), desert orchid (Eulophia petersii), and Cape rush (Chondropetalum tectorum). Cape rush was chosen, Crippen says, “to suggest the persistent survivors of an extinct riverbed.” Other creative touches include using pools of blue-green glass to mimic a mirage, stone statuary, and huge pots in earth tones.

Crippen eventually wants to include members of almost every plant family “just to keep things interesting.” Many herbs that like it on the dry side can also be found here, including rue (Ruta graveolens), thyme (Thymus), Artemisia, rosemary (Rosmarinus), and lavender (Lavendula). Anything planted here must get by on rainfall alone, since there is no supplemental irrigation.

Crippen keeps a close eye on the garden, but says he only needs to weed about once a month. That’s another benefit of extreme gardening. In an age when time is money, arid gardens more than earn their keep.


A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 22 Number 2.
Photography courtesy of Tom Hewitt.    


Posted: 04/10/17   RSS | Print


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Side by Side
by Mary K. Stickley_Godinez       #Advice   #Design   #Hardscaping

This walk meanders through a narrow side yard, but all along the way visitors are presented with lush plantings and featured pots.

It’s a forgotten spot, a space we pass through without thought, or where we hide things like trashcans, woodpiles, or composters. And in most of them you truly want to just shut your eyes and run through it as quickly as possible. But why would you want to have any spot in your yard that is ugly or unbeautiful? Use every scrap of soil you have. Even those narrow side yards can be part of the wonderful adventure of your home landscape.

There wasn’t a lot of room for plants in this garden. But the area was perfect to display the owner’s collection of hypertufa pots.

There are so many good reasons to make these spaces part of your garden. Keep in mind – most people that visit your garden come through the side yard in order to reach the cookout. I want my guests to be welcomed with something incredible from the first steps out of their car. This is also an area where you can be incredibly creative. The smaller size means you can incorporate some really fun paving details without a lot of expense. And this is a great place to feature some really interesting plants, as they will be seen up close and personal.

The side yard is often a microclimate too. So for you plant nerds out there, this spot is usually warmer and protected from cold winds. Meaning, you can put less hardy plants in these areas. And in my book, bragging rights are everything!

And, honestly, these areas are great spots for storage. After all, the heat pump has to sit somewhere. But don’t settle for ugly. Use that creative spark lurking in your innermost soul to put together some really cool screening and plantings.

A long narrow space tends to lend itself as the spot for a walkway just because of its shape. But nothing makes a long narrow space look longer and narrower than a straight-as-an-arrow path. Instead, make the walkway meander or zigzag through the area. Then fill the undulations with interesting plantings or art to encourage visitors to slow down.

Another method to make the walk seem shorter is to make it narrower in the middle, much like an hourglass. You are walking through a more open area, and then you pass through a narrow archway or a thick planting of trees and shrubs, only to emerge back into a wider space, which, in a few more steps, leads to your backyard.

Make an ENTRANCE, something that really says, “You have arrived!”

However you design the walk, don’t be timid. Make the walkway an adventure, stuffed full of wonderful things to slow your step make you dawdle a bit. This is the place to impress your visitors. So give it lots of wow factor!

You may need to store wood or hide the heat pump. But use something creative like these two doors repurposed into a trellis for an annual vine.

If you have a wider area, an intimate little garden room with an entrance on each end and a wide spot in the middle can be the perfect solution. The entrances can be archways, gates, or posts. I’ve even seen an actual screen door that had to be opened to walk through. The wider spot in the middle can contain a small patio, a tiny lawn space, or a simple bench surrounded by interesting pots and planters. A caution about any garden seating, make sure if you sit in it, that there is something interesting to look at and not a blank wall of a house. The point again is to create a space where you stop and take notice rather than rush right through.

And the result of that intimate garden room? You will find this will become the spot where you linger when you need some garden therapy, a quiet evening glass of wine, or a snuggle with your partner.

So you see this space really isn’t the “no man’s land” of the garden. It is an important area that prepares visitors for the wonders of what they are about to see and experience in the rest of your garden. So make it great.




A version of this article appeared in an April 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Mary K. Stickley-Godinez.        


Posted: 04/10/17   RSS | Print


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Control Caterpillar Pests
by Blake Layton       #Advice   #Insects   #Pests

Large tobacco hornworms can quickly strip leaves from backyard tomato plants. Prevent heavy damage by controlling caterpillars while they are still small. This one is 3 inches long.

Caterpillars are vexing pests to many of the plants we grow in our home landscapes and vegetable gardens. There are numerous different species of pest caterpillars, most of which specialize in feeding on a particular group of plants: azalea caterpillars sometimes defoliate whole plantings of azaleas; heavy infestations of bagworms destroy arborvitae trees; tobacco hornworms strip the leaves from homegrown tomatoes; squash borers kill squash and pumpkin vines. And the list goes on.

What is the best way to control caterpillar pests and keep them from causing so much damage? The key to successful caterpillar control is to treat while they are small. Newly hatched caterpillars are much easier to kill than caterpillars that are an inch or more in length and almost ready to pupate. More importantly, by controlling the critters while they are small, you avoid most of the damage they would otherwise cause. Most caterpillar pests do about 80 percent of their feeding in their last few days as a caterpillar. Wait too late to treat an outbreak of caterpillars, and you may get revenge — but you won’t prevent most of the damage.

Squash vine borers kill squash and pumpkins by boring into the stem of the plant. Successful control requires treatment before newly hatched caterpillars bore into the plant. This one is 1 inch long.

The problem is that small caterpillars are tough to spot. So how do you know when it is time to treat? With some crops you have to treat preventively based on plant development or time of year. Tomatoes are a good example. Unless you treat preventively once your plants begin setting fruit, you could be disappointed at harvest. “Oh, no, this tomato has been ruined by fruitworms, so has this one, and here’s another!” Preventive treatments are also necessary to control pests such as squash vine borers and peach tree borers. Because such pests are safe from insecticide sprays once they are inside the plant, it is necessary to treat before newly hatched caterpillars have bored in — you need to have the insecticide residue on the plant before the eggs hatch so hatching caterpillars have to crawl over treated surfaces. With peach tree borer, this can be accomplished with a couple of well-timed treatments applied to the lower trunk after harvest is over, but preventing squash vine borers requires spraying plants weekly once plants begin to bloom.

Fall webworms build unsightly webs in pecan and other trees, but it is not always safe and practical to spray large trees in urban settings.

Fortunately, preventive treatment is not necessary for all caterpillar pests. In many cases, it is possible to take a more reactive approach and wait until you see early warning signs of a caterpillar infestation before spraying. Newly hatched leaf-feeding caterpillars often begin by feeding on the undersides of leaves without chewing through the clear upper epidermis. This results in small windowpane-like spots that should alert observant gardeners to potential caterpillar infestations. Watch for these windowpanes or other early feeding signs; check the undersides of the leaves to verify the presence of caterpillars, and treat if necessary. This approach works best for leaf-feeding caterpillars in vegetable crops, ornamental shrubs and annuals.

There are also situations where the “do nothing” approach may be the best plan. Hardwood trees can be attacked by a variety of different caterpillars, and heavy outbreaks may sometimes cause severe defoliation. But most home gardeners do not have the equipment to treat a 60-foot tree and, even if you hire a commercial applicator, there are still drift and liability issues to consider. Fortunately, mature hardwood trees can tolerate a single heavy defoliation without suffering serious long-term consequences. Is it really worth the time and expense to spray large shade trees for an outbreak of defoliating caterpillars? By the time the problem is noticed, it’s likely that the caterpillars are almost fully grown and nearly ready to pupate. Small, recently planted trees are a different matter. If a tree is still small enough, you can treat it safely and effectively; if you can detect and treat an infestation in time to prevent severe defoliation, it is usually worth doing so. This will keep the young tree growing and protect it from unnecessary stress.

Newly hatched caterpillars, like these cross-striped cabbageworms, often leave telltale “windowpanes” on leaves where they feed, an early sign of caterpillar infestation. This one is a quarter-inch long.

Bagworms only have one generation per year. Insecticide sprays must be applied while caterpillars are active, before they have pupated for the year. This one is 2 inches long.

What insecticides work best for caterpillar control? One of the most effective active ingredients available to home gardeners today is spinosad. Spinosad is sold under many different brand names, and products containing spinosad are readily available in local lawn and garden centers. Spinosad is labeled for use on most vegetable crops and ornamental plants, and some formulations are even approved for organic gardening. Primarily for caterpillar pests, spinosad also controls thrips and some leaf-feeding beetles, but it is not effective on sucking insects like stink bugs and aphids. Organic gardeners may wonder what happened to the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) products. Bt products are still available, but they are not nearly as effective as spinosad.

Pyrethroid insecticides, with active ingredients like bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, permethrin, and lambda-cyhalothrin, are also very effective on most caterpillar pests. Pyrethroids are broad-spectrum insecticides that control a wide range of insect pests, but they also have the potential to trigger outbreaks of pests such as spider mites, whiteflies or aphids. This happens because these three groups of pests tend to be less susceptible to pyrethroids than the beneficial insects that help control them. Use pyrethroids when you need to control multiple pests, but don’t count on them to control mites, whiteflies or aphids. For example, pyrethroids are a good choice for treating tomatoes for tomato fruitworms, because they work well on fruitworms and will also control stink bugs and hornworms. Spinosad is a better choice for treating arborvitae for bagworms, because it is less likely to trigger a mite outbreak.


A version of this article appeared in an April 2012 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Blake Layton.


Posted: 03/31/17   RSS | Print


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Springtime Tips to Spruce Up Your Lawn
by Kathleen Hennessy       #Landscaping   #Spring   #Turf Grass

Be sure your mower blade is sharp. Dull blades can give a ragged cut and leave grass blades dull and brown.

Step outside and take a deep breath. That new season smell may have you itching to get started on yard-care tasks, but the best advice is to be patient.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to lawn care to starting too early. Raking and mowing when the grass is wet can actually do more harm than good. Early in the season, when the ground is wet, the roots of your grass can easily be pulled out of the soil. So, wait until the ground dries out.

Raking is the best way to help fight the effects of winter snow cover. It reduces matting caused by snow, allowing air, sunlight and fertilizer to reach more of the plants and roots.

Lucky or not? Clover is a common perennial weed.


Dandelion is a perennial weed that is best treated in the fall with a postemergent herbicide.

Weedy Intervention
Spring is also a good time to begin the war on weeds. Different weeds require different treatments, so the first step is to determine what type of weed you are dealing with. There are two basic types of weeds. Annual weeds, such as crabgrass, sprout early in the season from seed. Perennial weeds, such as dandelions, survive season to season.

If you have a small weed problem, the best way to tackle the situation is by hand weeding. If the problem is larger in scale, chemical herbicides can help. Spring is the best time to treat annual weeds.

“Annual weeds are best controlled with herbicides called pre-emergents,” says Van Cline, senior agronomist at The Toro Company. “Pre-emergents nip the new weed seedlings at germination, preventing them from maturing.” Pre-emergent herbicides can be found in liquid or granular form, and can also be an ingredient in spring fertilizers.

Iowa State University researchers say corn gluten has proven to be an effective, natural pre-emergent herbicide.

Perennial weeds are best treated either by hand weeding or with postemergent herbicides. Fall is actually the best time to treat perennial weeds, but if you have a crop of dandelions already growing in your yard, spot treatment with a post-emergent or broadleaf herbicide will do the trick.

The best defense to control weeds is a healthy, thick lawn. Remember to mow high (3-4 inches tall) and follow other good horticulture practices.

When it comes to fertilizing your lawn, experts say waiting until the fall works best. Feeding your lawn in the spring can create a lot of top growth, which may look nice, but can develop grass that is weaker and less able to handle periods of stress, such as drought or summer heat. Put fertilizing on your late-August, early September to-do list.

Don’t forget to tune-up your mower before the season starts, and make sure you have fresh gas in the tank.

Get Mowing

Once your grass gets growing, you can turn your attention to your mower. A little spring maintenance can help your machine run smoothly throughout the season.

Fresh Fuel
Be sure to use fresh gas and oil. Gas that is older than 30 days can break down, causing engine trouble.

Nothing over E10
Choose the correct formula for your machine. Most outdoor power equipment is not designed to run on fuel blends containing more than 10 percent ethanol. Using E15 may affect performance, damage the engine, and cause problems that may not be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.

Sharpen your blade
Dull blades can literally give you lawn a bad haircut, leaving the grass ragged. If you haven’t had it professionally sharpened in a while, take it to your local outdoor power equipment dealer.

Make sure to keep the mower blade sharpened for a clean cut and to reduce damage to grass.



A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2014 edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Sleven/Morguefile.com, craetive/iStockphoto, Kathleen Hennessy, The Toro Company/Toro.com


Posted: 03/31/17   RSS | Print


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Potting Sheds: A Gardener’s Haven
by Sharon Thompson       #Design   #Misc   #Tools


Gardening requires gear, and gear requires storage. But gardeners’ gear is often relegated to nooks and crannies in garages where it soon collides with cars and the paraphernalia of other family pursuits. We often spend half our gardening time looking for the tools of our trade.

A place to play with plants and to store stuff is the dream of many gardeners. But where to put that horticultural hideaway? What should it look like? How should it function? Following are two examples to give you inspiration for building your own potting shed.

A Useful Bench
For Millie Headrick of Lexington, S.C., a secluded spot in a side yard became the perfect place to pot and play.

Like many of us, she stowed her gardening gear in the garage, but had no designated work area. She relied on two saw horses and an old door set up in the driveway when she needed a flat work surface. At the end of the day, this “portable” table had to be dismantled and put away.


Tired of hauling her table and sundry potting supplies in and out of the garage, she decided to create her own work station.  “I went to Lowe’s and walked around looking for inspiration. It had to be easy for me to put together – I wasn’t interested in nailing, hammering or sawing.”

She chose 2 by 6 treated lumber in the longest length she could find – 12 feet – for the top, and cinder blocks for the foundation. “I used three boards laid next to each other for the top surface since they fit perfectly on top of the block – no carpentry skills involved.”

Tucked into a service area behind a privacy fence, the bench shares a wall with her husband’s workshop. The back of the workshop already had an extended roofline where mowers and wheelbarrows were stored, so her husband built two storage cabinets to link the spaces together. One cabinet is outfitted with shelves for short items with rectangular wire bins attached to the door to hold small tools – trowels, gloves, pruners.  The other cabinet is designed for storing long-handled tools – shovels, rakes and hoes.

Headrick’s “do-it-herself” potting bench shares a wall with her husband’s workshop. The generously proportioned bench provides ample work space and the storage cabinet keeps long-handled tools organized and accessible. The adjacent cabinet provides shelf and bin storage for smaller items.

A watering station at the end of the bench nestles in a corner made by the privacy fence and workshop wall. Outfitted with large J-hooks, the fence provides tangle-free storage for hoses. Millie uses pots to soften the functional arrangements of water connections.

Before constructing her potting bench, Millie leveled the footprint and paved the area with square, cement patio pavers, eventually expanding the adjacent floor surface with bricks. This previously unused space is now her nursery area, where sick plants are nurtured and out-of-season plants wait their turn in one of her container creations.

“My potting bench is something I threw together years ago out of desperation. Now that my husband is retired, he wants to build me the “ultimate potting bench.” If the bench was in a more visible area of the yard I would opt for something more attractive, but I’m happy with the old one. It’s not pretty, but it’s functional.”


Kathy and Steve Aiello turned a gazebo located in the middle of their garden into this charming and functional potting shed.


Inside the compact potting shed, tools, potting supplies and a work surface share space efficiently.

A Conversion Shed
Drenched in the shade of a giant oak tree, Kathy and Steve Aiello’s West Columbia, S.C., garden is an inspired arrangement of horticulture and hospitality. Brick paths wander past huge containers billowing with specimen plants, while several water features and seating areas encourage guests to linger. Located in the middle of it all is Kathy’s potting shed.

Before the shed took shape, Kathy stored a burgeoning ceramic container collection and gardening equipment in the garage, using an old table for her potting chores. Seven years ago, when she decided she needed a potting shed, Steve agreed. “I figured if her gardening stuff was somewhere else, I would have more room in my garage workshop.”

So Steve converted a gazebo which sat in the middle of their garden into a potting shed. The original 6 by 6 footprint became the foundation for a charming structure complete with a glass door, metal roof and outdoor shower.

The Aiello’s use architectural pieces and old farm implements from family tobacco farms to personalize their garden, and the potting shed is no exception.  Its push-out windows came from her grandparent’s house, as did the mule collar and metal tractor seat that decorate the back wall.

Inside, a stainless steel counter provides quick clean-up, recycled cabinets provide drawer storage and a garbage can stores potting soil. Shovels and rakes hang in the corners, while pegboard above the counter organizes hand tools.

Light filtering through an antique stained glass window, one of many in Kathy’s extensive collection, adds an artful touch. Although the shed has no sink, there’s a hose bib just outside the door that is part of an outdoor shower arrangement.

Kathy’s favorite part of the shed is its convenience. “I love having everything right at hand, plus its size is a good scale with the rest of the garden. If it was any bigger, it would be stuffed with more containers,” Kathy said.

As these gardeners discovered, with a little imagination and a bit of sweat equity, a horticultural play station is easy to create.



A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 23 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Sharon Thompson.


Posted: 03/31/17   RSS | Print


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Hey Good Lookin’
by Tom Hewitt       #Design   #Natives   #Shrubs

‘Schillings Dwarf’ is a dwarf form of yaupon holly that responds well to tight shearing.

Native shrubs are often overlooked because they’re considered nondescript, lack year-round interest, or are difficult to shape. It’s true that the majority of native shrubs look best in informal landscapes, but I’ve found several over the years that work well in formal gardens as well.

Every native shrub has its place, but those used in formal settings are held to a higher standard. To begin with, they should have attractive foliage year round, offer pretty, non-messy flowers or fruit, grow slowly, and respond well to shearing. Consider their mature size also, as you don’t want to keep hacking them back to keep them in scale.

This is especially important with shrubs used for foundation plantings, as there is great variability in the heights of many natives. In time, most shrubs get bigger than we think they will, so it’s best to use smaller cultivars when available.

Dahoon holly (Ilex cassine) eventually reaches 25 feet or so, but can be kept much shorter. Its narrow form makes it a great choice for a small tree incorporated into a foundation planting. Female trees produce bright red berries loved by birds. (Make sure you plant a male tree in the vicinity to ensure maximum fruit set.) Zones 8-10.



Top Left: The berries of Dahoon holly and other natives are loved by wildlife.

Bottom Left: Firebush blooms year round in southern Florida.

Right: Jamaican capers produce fragrant flowers, followed by colorful fruit.  

Dwarf yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria ‘Schilling’s Dwarf’) is just perfect for training into little 3-foot balls. It doesn’t produce red berries, but new growth has a reddish tint. It makes a nice accent or low hedging material, and even works well in large containers. Zones 8-10.

Firebush (Hamelia patens) blooms year round in southern Florida with orange-red tubular flowers loved by butterflies (especially zebra longwings) and hummingbirds. It reacts well to shearing, so it can be trained into just about any shape you want. Songbirds love its blackish berries. I have one in heavy shade, but it really prefers full sun to light shade to look and bloom its best. Zones 10-11.

Jamaican caper (Capparis cynophallophora) is one of my favorite vertical accents for the corner of a house. If left untrimmed, it can reach 20 feet, but I keep mine at 8 feet or so. April through June it produces sweet-smelling flowers loved by bees, followed by colorful seedpods. I have one in deep shade, though it prefers full sun to partial shade. Zones 10-11.

Lignum vitae (Guaiacum sanctum) can also get pretty tall, but is incredibly slow growing. Make sure you give it plenty of room to grow, so it can ultimately develop its picturesque form. Its blue flowers are followed by yellow seedpods that split to expose red seeds. Zones 10-11




Top Left: The seedpods of lignum vitae are extremely ornamental.

Bottom Left: Natives used in formal gardens should have naturally tidy shapes.

Right: Simpson’s stopper (L), Jamaican caper (C), and white indigoberry (R) make a great native combo for a formal landscape.


Simpson’s stopper (Myrcianthes fragrans) is one of my favorite native shrubs. In time it makes a handsome small tree, but I keep them between 4-5 feet. It has small, fragrant leaves, as well as fragrant white flowers followed by orange fruit favored by birds. I have several in deep shade, though they prefer full sun to medium shade. Smaller cultivars are on the market, including ‘Compacta’ and ‘Geode’. Zones 9-11.

Dahoon hollies are good small trees in foundation plantings.

Walter’s viburnum (Viburnum obovatum) has small dark green leaves and a naturally rounded shape. It blooms profusely in the spring, and then on and off throughout the year. Though it will perform in deep shade, it’s much happier with at least some sun. Though its size is extremely variable, I have no trouble keeping mine at 3 feet or so. There are several dwarf cultivars on the market, including ‘Reifler’s Dwarf’ and ‘Mrs. Schiller’s Delight’. It does have a tendency to produce suckers, so I simply take a spade around them every so often to remove them. Zones 8-10.

White indigoberry (Randia aculeata) is also highly variable, though I keep mine at 4 feet or so. Its stiff branches and spines at the base of its leaves can be irritating, so I use gloves when trimming it. It produces fragrant white flowers much of the year, followed by white fruit with purplish to almost black pulp. Both male and female plants flower, but only females produce fruit. It prefers full sun to light shade. Zones 9-11.

So there you have it: several native shrubs that look not only look good, but behave themselves as well. Just be careful when using them outside their natural range, as they may lose their evergreen status during winter. Although areas next to a house offer more protection, you don’t want any shrubs used in foundation plantings to drop all their leaves or get kicked back annually by freezes.


A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 22 Number 2.
Photography courtesy of Tom Hewitt.


Posted: 03/30/17   RSS | Print


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Poison Ivy Primer
by Ilene Sternberg       #Health and Safety   #Poisonous Plants   #Vines

Leaves can be glossy or dull, dark or pale green, and hairy or not.

Itching to get out in the garden? Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans aka Rhus radicans) includes several subspecies, and is only one of multiple sumacs, many of which are also rash-producing, and the one you’re most likely to tangle with in your own backyard. It belongs to the Anacardiaceae family along with mangoes, cashews, smoke tree (Cotinus sp.), and other desirable relatives, which, likewise, may produce severe allergic reactions.

Our North American “brand” spreads from coast to coast, from Canada through Mexico, Asia to Guatemala, Europe and Australia. Only primates are sensitive to urushiol (the plant’s toxic substance). Cats, dogs, goats, and deer are immune, but they can transfer the problem to humans via their fur.

The rash can also spread through airborne soot and ash, so never burn the plant. People inadvertently use poison ivy twigs for firewood. (Inhaling urushiol particles can cause asthma and swollen eyes.) Once the stricken victim has bathed, the rash is not contagious to others. Many people don’t exhibit symptoms with their first encounter. About 80 to 90 percent of people are susceptible to poison-ivy-induced rashes. People have gotten rashes from 20-year-old herbarium specimens and garden tools they haven’t used for years. We expect problems in spring and summer, when sap and pollen are plentiful, but in winter, dormant plants are equally dangerous.

The axiom “leaves of three” does apply to poison ivy, but the plants can have four, five or seven
leaves as well.


Poison ivy can take the form of a ground cover, a vine, or a shrub. It adheres to trees with hairy roots.

Identifying poison ivy

The familiar “three” leaflets can be four, five, or seven smooth-edged, lobed, or toothed, tiny or large, glossy or dull, dark or pale green, hairy or not, and can form a small deciduous plant, long vine, or huge shrub. Juveniles form ground covers and spread by runners until they find a climbable support structure (such as trees, walls, telephone poles). Mature plants can reach 100 feet with a 6-inch trunk diameter.

Once you’ve had a close encounter of the blistery kind, you’ll soon be able to recognize it in its many sinister disguises. But, even if you never set foot outdoors, handling clothing or any object that has brushed against the plant can bring the poison ivy experience to you firsthand. The oil attaches to skin and cell proteins, causing our immune systems to react. The fluid emanating from blisters is mostly white blood cells and serum produced by our bodies. Almost all body parts are vulnerable to the sticky urushiol that produces the characteristic rash. Places where skin is tender, between fingers for example, are most sensitive.

Killing the rash

Cleansing within 10 minutes of contact may arrest the initial outbreak, and this can help prevent further spread. The rash may appear within a few hours to a week or more after exposure, and most rashes disappear within three weeks or sooner. Water alone can dilute the oil.

Home remedies for poison ivy rashes abound. Success has been reported using various soaps, chlorinated water, Aloe vera, vitamin C, tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia), iodine, vinegar, sassafras leaves, plantain leaves, salicylic acid, even honey or banana peels.

Once a rash develops, aluminum acetate (Burrows solution), baking soda, colloidal or oatmeal baths, aluminum hydroxide gel, calamine, kaolin, zinc acetate, zinc carbonate, or zinc oxide applied to the skin can help, as can corticosteroids and antihistamines used both topically and internally. Menthol, benzocaine, and pramoxine sprays often can numb the itch.


Poison ivy can have red fall color and white berries.

Nevertheless, even “evil” poison ivy has beautiful fall color, and provides a source of cover and food for wildlife. Bees visit the flowers, deer browse the fruits and foliage, and cottontail rabbits feed on the twigs and bark. Its white berries are savory to at least 60 species of birds.

Killing the weed

But you probably don’t want poison ivy in your garden. Using proper personal protection (such as long sleeves and pants, gloves, and eye protection) cut vines and pull them away from trees. Dig up roots. Mow or cut young shoots until the plant dies. Supposedly environmentally friendly herbicides, such as a citrus-based weed killer, and those formulated from soap-based fatty acids can rid large garden areas of poison ivy. Non-selective herbicides with the active ingredient glyphosate, and selective herbicides containing triclopyr also can do the trick. Or enlist one of the lucky 15 percent of the populace who seem to be immune to poison ivy’s charms to weed the plants out for you.

Or rent a goat – they can eat poison ivy with no ill effects.


A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Joseph LaForest/bugwood.com and U.S. Department of Agriculture.


Posted: 03/29/17   RSS | Print


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Aprils Remembered
by Troy B. Marden       #Colorful   #Flowers   #Spring










About 15 years ago, I finally learned the secret to growing great foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) in the South. Easy to start from seed in August, I plant new plants each autumn to flower the following spring.


As I was scanning my photo library, considering the many garden plants I could write about for this article, I came across a file of photos, all taken during the month of April – not all in the same year, but all in April – gardens ranging from Jackson, Miss., to Louisville, Ky. It reminded me just how abundant the garden is this time of year. This is the season when gardening seems effortless. Well, almost. The weeds are as high-spirited as the annuals and perennials, so diligence in their control is necessary; but still, the garden is lush and growing rapidly, and the vibrant green of spring radiates from its very heart. There is a certain pristine quality about all of the plants emerging fresh and new.

Denizens of the shade appear early to take advantage of the available light before the trees are in full, leafy dress. Native wildflowers mingle with their counterparts from across the sea. Exbury hybrid azaleas in flamboyant shades of gold and orange command attention from across the garden, while subtle ephemerals such as lords-and-ladies (Arum maculatum) catch the eye of the more astute and curious. By midsummer, their foliage will have faded, leaving behind spires of berries that will eventually ripen to sensual shades of red.

Left: One of the Exbury hybrid azaleas, Rhododendron ‘Gibraltar’ commands attention from across the garden with its flaming orange flowers borne in large clusters on bare stems. Middle: The white flowering form of the Japanese roof iris (Iris tectorum ‘Alba’) makes itself at home at the edge of a woodland garden with morning sun and light afternoon shade. Right: ‘Heavens to Betsy’ is a form of our native woodland geranium (Geranium maculatum), selected and named for its very large and glossy foliage that remains attractive throughout the summer. Its pink blooms are an added spring bonus.


On the eastern edge of a friend’s garden in Memphis, where morning sun streams in under the high limbs of the resident oaks, white Japanese roof iris (Iris tectorum ‘Alba’) unfold their silky petals – a plant whose delicate appearance belies its rather tough and vigorous nature – and Saruma henryi, a distant and unusual Japanese cousin of some of our native gingers, bears its soft yellow, though fleeting, three-petaled blooms. Rather than creeping along the ground, it forms an upright clump with its flowers appearing at the top of its stems rather than ground level.

In my garden, April means anticipating the yearly flowering of a native woodland geranium I selected and named almost 15 years ago, Geranium maculatum ‘Heavens to Betsy’. In bloom, its typically pink flowers may not stand out as anything special or unusual, but the plant was really selected for its foliage, growing to nearly double the size of typical G. maculatum and taking on a glossy, polished sheen. Long after its flowers have gone, the foliage remains beautiful and provides welcomed texture against the broad, pointed leaves of Hosta and the lacy fronds of a dozen or so species of fern. It almost reminds me of a miniature mayapple (Podophyllum).

In the sunny garden, life is stirring, too. Shrubs such as Weigela florida ‘Rubidor’ are practically throwing a temper tantrum with deep, red blooms set off by newly unfurled leaves of screaming gold, demanding your attention. Wildflowers bloom here as well, and one of which I will never tire – Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) – takes center stage now with its pale, powder blue flowers. One of the few perennials that offer good fall color, its foliage turns a luminous shade of gold in the garden.

Top Left: Weigela florida ‘Rubidor’ is not for the faint of heart with screaming, new gold growth playing the gaudy and great foil for its red flowers. The foliage remains bright gold throughout the summer. Bottom Left: Saruma henryiis an unusual Chinese cousin of our native wild gingers. Growing upright, rather than creeping along the ground, its soft yellow flowers appear at the top of each stem in midspring. Right: Iris ‘Flying Solo’ has quickly become a garden favorite. Known as a “median bearded” iris, its slightly smaller and fragrant flowers are borne in great profusion in mid-April.

As April comes to an end, the bearded irises begin to flower, and their show will continue well into the first weeks of May. One of the first to appear is ‘Flying Solo’, an iris known as a “median bearded” variety because of its slightly smaller flowers, borne in great profusion. Given to me by my friend Kelly Norris of Rainbow Iris Farm in Bedford, Iowa (www.rainbowfarms.net), it has grown astoundingly fast and even as a small clump, afforded me nearly three weeks of bloom its first full season in the garden. It is a winner in my book! It will be followed later by a tall bearded iris lovingly known as ‘Back Door’, a plant raised from seed by a gardener in my hometown in the 1960s who has long since passed on and who grew it by the “back door” where most visitors came and went. It was passed on to me more than 30 years ago and in 2010, I was able to locate one plant that still remained. It will flower for the first time in my garden this year.

Alongside the iris and helping carry late April’s show well into the month of May are the foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea). Many years ago, I finally learned how to grow these most successfully. Even though their seeds are tiny, they are not difficult to grow. I start them in early August in small trays, keeping them warm and evenly moist, and wait the two to three weeks it takes for them to germinate. Sow them as thinly as possible in the tray so the plants have room to grow for a few weeks after they sprout. Once plants have three to four leaves and are ¾ of an inch or so tall, I transplant them to individual 4-inch pots where they will continue growing until it is time to plant them outside in late October. By then, they should fill their pots completely with lush, green leaves and be ready to go out into the garden. They will overwinter, despite cold weather, as green mounds of leaves. Growth will begin again in late March and continue through April, with the rosettes expanding to nearly 2 feet wide before sending up their 4-to-6-foot towers of blooms near April’s end.


Left: Lords-and-ladies (Arum maculatum) appear in spring and their foliage lasts until late summer, followed by foot-tall spires of red-orange berries. Right: Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii), a tough native wildflower, puts on a multi-season show with pale blue spring flowers, feathery summer foliage and spectacular golden fall color.

April continues my love affair with the spring season. Its abundance of blooms and the exuberant growth that comes with plentiful rain renews my soul and my gardening spirit. Each day brings a new discovery, a new bloom and a renewed sense of optimism for the season ahead. I hope it does the same for you.


A version of this article appeared in an April 2013 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Troy B. Marden.


Posted: 03/29/17   RSS | Print


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Lighting Enhances Landscape Use and Beauty at Night
by Joe VanDerZanden       #Design   #Health and Safety   #Tech & Gadgets

Dramatic path lighting and uplights create a welcoming entryway and show off architectural details.

When designed and installed correctly, landscape lighting is perhaps the most dramatic enhancement the homeowner can add to the landscape. Unlike many other exterior improvements that may solve a single problem or achieve a singular goal, illuminating the landscape has multiple benefits. Adding landscape lighting not only makes your home more appealing at night, it adds security and safety while illuminating all sorts of outdoor activities long after dark.

“Wow” Factor“
For the money, landscape lighting is about the most dramatic aesthetic improvement you can make to the exterior of your home,” said Matt Diemer, Outdoor Lighting Specialist at Landscapes by Design located in Slater, Iowa. “It is just such a great finishing touch. When done right, outdoor lighting showcases all the best architectural details of the house and the landscaping which complements it.”

Nighttime curb appeal is a result of sound design principles and quality products, he said. When first meeting with clients, Diemer generally has two design priorities that he always discusses.

“First, I want to use lights to create a distinct entrance to the home,” he said. “It should be clear where a visitor should go – and it should look really welcoming and dramatic.”

Just a team player in the landscape during the day, a specimen tree along a stream becomes a major focal point at night when featured with up lighting. The stream also has underwater lighting.

The second design objective he tries to achieve is the creation of a focal point. “Many of my clients already have a focal point in the garden or on the house that goes unnoticed at night,” he said. Whenever possible, Diemer likes to see these features become star attractions at night. Such features might include fountains, specimen plants, statuary or even a beautiful front door.

As with many professionals, Diemer works almost exclusively with LED bulbs. The quality of light is better and bulbs last longer than incandescent or halogen. LED fixtures will cost more up front, but will eventually pay for themselves in longevity and energy savings.

A Safe and Secure Home
Whether new or old, the extent of outdoor lighting in many landscapes is a floodlight attached to the front of the house, some glaring porch sconces next to the front door and maybe a bright light post next to the driveway. This type of high-intensity lighting tends to leave areas of the property in total darkness and does little to add beauty or intrigue to the landscape.

Although a motion-activated halogen light over the garage provides certain functionality, using numerous, smaller fixtures that produce a lower intensity light will illuminate a larger portion of the property and provide greater visibility at night.

Not only does it appear dramatic, low-intensity lighting placed all around a home creates a secure environment with no dark spots.

Different from security is lighting that addresses safety needs in the outdoor landscape. One of the things that Diemer is always sure to address on any lighting design project is the need for safe passage through the property.

“I like to walk the landscape with the homeowner and inventory those areas that could be potential hazards at night,” Diemer said. Tricky garden paths, steps, stairs and deck areas all should be appropriately lit to prevent trips and falls. Diemer also considers other factors when it comes to safety lighting. He wants to know if the homeowners have mobility issues, young children or pets. “Safety should really come first,” Diemer urged. “The upshot is that there are so many terrific-looking fixtures available in so many styles, that safety lighting can also be quite attractive.”

Good lighting design, including strategic downlighting, can contribute to the mood and atmosphere in outdoor entertaining areas.

Practical Applications
Interior lighting designers make important design decisions based on the function of a space. It is clear that a busy family kitchen has different lighting requirements than a media room. The same principle applies to outdoor lighting.

For instance, decks and patios equipped with down-lighting fixtures will create a natural, subdued and romantic atmosphere. When designing and installing lights for outdoor entertaining spaces, Diemer thinks “less is more.” He wants to provide adequate light so guests are comfortable, but not distracted by high-intensity spotlights. “You should have just enough light to discern the salsa from the guacamole – but not much more.”

Other entertaining areas require different lighting. Outdoor cooking areas may require task lighting, similar to what is used inside the home.

With the addition of lighting, a beautiful garden can be enjoyed long after the sun goes down.

Go With a Pro
Landscape lighting can improve the appearance of the home and provide other benefits, all of which create a safe, comfortable and relaxing atmosphere. Because design choices, styles and product types are many, consulting with an experienced outdoor lighting specialist can be a tremendous advantage. As with any large-scale outdoor project, talk with a professional before considering taking a landscape lighting project on yourself.

A professional installer will have access to much higher-quality products and a greater selection. Manufactured to meet the rugged climate of the Midwest, these fixtures provide enjoyment longer than products found elsewhere.

Installation may require some disruption to your landscape. A professional installer will have the experience and equipment needed to bury wire and install fixtures causing the least amount of damage to your property. Installation also may require the services of a licensed electrician to relocate outlets or power supply.

An experienced outdoor lighting expert will be able to address your lighting needs by matching the appropriate design solution and products to your project.

There are many of types of lighting fixtures and bulbs. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Your lighting designer will be able to recommend the best fit for your project.


A version of this article appeared in Iowa Gardener Volume 2, Number 1.
Photography courtesy of Kichler Lighting.


Posted: 03/19/17   RSS | Print


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Hoo Gives a Hoot
by Kenny Coogan       #Beneficials   #Environment   #Wildlife

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

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

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

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

Eastern Screech Owl
Megascops asio
Call: Descending trill, tremolo or whinny
Height: 6.3-10 inches

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

Barn Owls
Tyto alba
Call: Long harsh scream, a few seconds long
Height: 12.5-15.5 inches

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





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

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


Great Horned Owl
Bubo virginianus
Call: Deep hoots: hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo
Height: 18-25 inches

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






A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 20 Number 2.
Screech owl photo by Milo Anderson; great horned owl photo ©iStockphoto.com/JillLang; all other photos for this article by Kenny Coogan.


Posted: 03/19/17   RSS | Print


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Some Enchanted Evening
by Troy B. Marden       #Fragrant   #Flowers   #Themed Gardens   #White

After a long day at work, nothing is more relaxing to me than an evening stroll through the garden. The colors are more saturated in the sunset light than any other time of day, and after dark, the garden takes on a life of its own. In an attempt to attract nighttime pollinators, flowers often unleash intoxicating fragrances that permeate the damp, evening air. Some even open in time-lapse fashion, and I find myself mesmerized watching their petals unfurl. Many of these plants are easy to find and to grow, which makes them all the more appealing. If I had to narrow the list down to just a few of my top favorites that make my garden come to life every night, the list might look something like this:

Brugmansia, or angel’s trumpet, is a popular specimen for containers and also thrives in the ground. Its spectacular blooms are borne most profusely in late summer and autumn.

Angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia spp.):
This outstanding tropical offers bold foliage and spectacular pendant-like blossoms ranging from pure white to soft pink to pale yellow. It is an outstanding specimen for large containers but is also perfectly at home planted in the ground, where it can be underplanted with smaller companions. Planted in the garden, it is occasionally perennial in Zone 6b and will be fully hardy farther south, though it may not sprout until very late spring when the soil has warmed thoroughly. After sunset, the flowers release a powerful fragrance that attracts pollinators to the blooms.

‘Athens’ sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus ‘Athens’):
The yellow-flowered form of one of our most popular native shrubs, ‘Athens’ sweetshrub has soft, greenish yellow flowers with an intense fragrance that I can only liken to that of fruity bubblegum. This fragrance is most noticeable during the evening hours, and I love to plant them near a screened-in porch or patio area that is frequently used for dinner or entertaining after dark.

Calycanthus floridus ‘Athens’ is a perfect selection for the evening garden. Its fragrance permeates the air after sunset.

Moonflower (Datura inoxia):
Sometimes called moonflower because of its enormous, pure white blooms that truly glow in the dark on a moonlit night, Datura can be found growing in pastures and along roadsides under the most difficult conditions. It is just as tough in the garden, where it is unbothered by pests of any kind and opens its nighttime blooms from midsummer to frost. Note: The seeds of Datura (and of its close cousin Brugmansia) are poisonous. Plant them far away from the curious fingers and mouths of young children, as well as pets.

‘Tahitian Flame’ ginger lily (Hedychium ‘Tahitian Flame’):
With its architectural form and highly variegated green and white leaves, ‘Tahitian Flame’ is a welcome addition to the evening garden. Perhaps more important than its foliage is the warm, spicy fragrance that the flowers emit. While the flowers are fragrant throughout the day, the air hangs heavily with its exotic perfume after dark.


Left: Datura stramonium is often found growing wild in pastures and along roadsides. Its 6-inch wide, pure white flowers open at dusk and attract nighttime pollinators to the garden. Middle: Hedychium‘Tahitian Flame’ has heavily variegated green and white leaves that light up the evening garden. The intoxicating fragrance from its flowers intensifies as the sun goes down. Right: Even in winter, evening can be one of the most beautiful times in the garden. Helleborus niger ‘Josef Lemper’ has pure white blooms that shine in the moonlight on a clear winter night.

‘Josef Lemper’ Christmas rose (Helleborus niger ‘Josef Lemper’):
Summer is not the only season when I love my garden after dark. Planted near my front door, Helleborus niger ‘Josef Lemper’ shines on cold, moonlit nights in winter, and it flowers from late November through early March. Growing just 12 inches tall and about twice as wide, it is the perfect companion to hosta, ferns, heuchera and other shade lovers. Its evergreen foliage is also a welcome addition to the winter landscape.

‘Hyperion’ daylily (Hemerocallis ‘Hyperion’):
I have grown the popular ‘Hyperion’ daylily in my garden for more than 30 years — it’s one of the longest-lived perennials I know. My first plant came from my great aunt, who was an accomplished gardener. That original plant has resided in my parents’ garden for three decades and divisions from it have recently found their way into my current garden in Tennessee. Its sweetly scented, lemon yellow flowers open in late afternoon or early evening and emit their fragrance throughout the night before closing in midafternoon the following day.


Left: Hemerocallis ‘Hyperion’ is an old-fashioned favorite whose fragrant, lemon yellow blossoms open each evening and remain open through the following afternoon. Middle: ‘Annabelle’ smooth hydrangea is one of our most popular garden shrubs. Its large, white blooms are perfect additions to moon gardens or other areas of the landscape lit by moonlight or landscape lighting. Right: Moon vine (Ipomoea alba) opens its flowers at dusk and attracts nighttime pollinators such as sphinx moths, sometimes called “hummingbird” moths. Its flowers will remain open through midmorning the following day.

‘Annabelle’ smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’):
This most popular of garden shrubs really needs no introduction. Its huge blooms glow like white orbs after the sun goes down. On a moonlit night, I can see them in the garden from several hundred yards away as I approach my driveway and from the screened-in porch. They have an almost otherworldly appeal as they appear to float in midair.

Towering spires of creamy white blooms on the white martagon lily stand like ghostly sentries in the garden after sunset.

Four o’clock opens in late afternoon each day from early summer until frost. Their strong, sweet fragrance permeates the evening air and is carried on the slightest breeze to the farthest reaches of the yard.

Moon vine (Ipomoea alba):
Closely related to morning glory, moon vine opens its enormous, pure white flowers at sunset and flowers until sunrise the following day. Moon vine is a vigorous, fast-growing annual vine. Seeds can be sown directly in the garden around the first of May, and you will have your first flowers in midsummer. Moon vine can climb 15 to 20 feet in a season, so be sure to provide it with a sturdy trellis, fence post or tree trunk to climb on. The sphinx or “hummingbird” moth is its primary pollinator and can be seen drinking nectar from the enormous flowers each night.

Martagon lily (Lilium martagon var. album):
The white martagon lily towers above its neighbors and offers drama and a strong element of architecture to the evening garden. Thriving in rich, well-drained soil in part sun, this plant is sure to impress garden visitors at any time of day or night. Growing from a bulb about the size of a tennis ball, well-grown plants can have more than 50 buds per stalk and will bloom over a period of weeks in early summer.

Four o’clock (Mirabilis spp.):
This is another old passalong plant that I have grown since childhood. Their flowers open in late afternoon and unfurl so quickly that you can actually watch them open, if you catch them at just the right time. Their sweet fragrance perfumes the garden throughout the night, attracting moths and other pollinators to their blooms.

‘Missouri’ water lily (Nymphaea ‘Missouri’):
If you are fortunate enough to have a pond or water garden large enough to accommodate it, ‘Missouri’ is one of the most beautiful of all water lilies. Its pristine, white blooms are nearly the size of a dinner plate. It begins blooming in midsummer and continues each night through late fall. As a tropical water lily, it needs warm water temperatures to thrive — a perfect choice for Southern climates.

If you are fortunate enough to have a large pond or water feature and enjoy growing water lilies, one of the most spectacular is Nymphaea ‘Missouri’. Its pure white, 10-inch wide flowers open after dark and remain open until about midmorning the following day.


A version of this article appeared in a June 2012 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Troy B. Marden, Hugh and Carol Nourse, and Leandra Hill.


Posted: 03/19/17   RSS | Print


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Fire in the Landscape
by Kelly Bledsoe       #Design   #Misc   #Summer










An above-ground fire pit is a permanent garden element, handsome and useful whether or not there is a fire going. If topped by a wide ledge it provides a perfect perch for roasting marshmallows.


Earth, wind, water and fire – yes, fire in the landscape. The glow of a flickering flame invites guests to relax, and it’s a great way to create an interactive environment in your garden. Fire lures guests in and provides a connection with the garden that’s enjoyed both physically and visually. Fire adds a mesmerizing element of mystique and magic to your landscape.

A well-designed fireplace or fire pit can also provide a beautiful focal point in your yard. They have become quite popular in recent years, especially for those who do not like to limit time spent outdoors to summertime.


The traditional fireplace is the kind of design most people associate with fire. Most of these traditional outdoor fireplaces are pre-fabricated and come with spark-protection screens. They can be built into a wall or be free standing.

When searching for the right outdoor fireplace, there are a few things to consider. First, before beginning you should always check with your city and county building inspectors to verify established ordinances, permits and licenses.

Bowl-shaped burners are often called fire pits or fire bowls. This type of outdoor fireplace usually has an open fire design, is portable, and most come with handles and wheels. This is a less expensive option, but keep in mind it has poor ventilation, resulting in improper burning of firewood and smokier output.

Chimineas, originally from Mexico, are easily identifiable by their chimney, which provides great air ventilation promoting a cross draft to allow fuel to burn properly. The traditional chimineas are rounded in shape and made of clay. Modern versions vary in shape and size and may be made out of cast aluminum, cast iron or copper.

Fire baskets are the newest rage in outdoor living. Larger ones, placed strategically in the landscape or poolside, provide a romantic ambience.



Then choose the location. Fireplaces or pits should be located a safe distance from your house and other structures. It should be clear of trees and overhanging vines and branches. Start with a level surface to aid in construction, and if you plan to build your structure on an existing deck, make sure the deck can support the weight and is heatproof.

Finally, research the different options and choose the one that fits your landscape design. With those cool autumn nights upon us, take the initiative to implement the element of fire into your landscape. The hot cocoa, marshmallows, laughter and stars are all waiting for you!


A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 22, Number 8.
Photography courtesy of Kelly Bledsoe.


Posted: 03/18/17   RSS | Print


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Making a Moon-Moth Garden
by Dr. Charles Allen       #Flowers   #Insects   #White

Hummingbird moth on moonflower

Many people enjoy their gardens during the daylight hours and head indoors as the sun starts to set. But if you install a moon-moth garden, you’ll find yourself anticipating the approach of late afternoon and early evening when you’ll be able to watch the flowers open followed by the night insect visitors (mostly moths).

Jimson weed flower

Blossoms of the night-blooming or angled loofah

Did you know that “vespertine” refers to plants with flowers that open at night? In biology, we use the word “niche” to mean the function that an organism performs in the community, and butterflies, bees and hummingbirds fill the niche of pollinating during the daylight hours while moths take over that niche when the sun goes down. All three of these insects (bees, butterflies and moths) and hummingbirds are attracted to flowers not to pollinate them, but to gather nectar for their own food directly or, in the case of the bees, to be made into honey. The transfer of pollen from one flower to another (pollination) is a secondary spin-off of nectar gathering. With darkness, moths have a more difficult time finding their nectar sources, so those night-pollinated flowers are usually light colored – white, light yellow, etc. – and they often have a strong fragrance. There are a number of moth species that fill the niche of night pollinators but the most spectacular and noticeable are the generic group of hummingbird moths. Some of these are technically called sphinx moths or hawk moths but I call them all hummingbird moths because they look, fly and hover like hummingbirds. They also have a long proboscis similar to the long beak of a hummingbird. My first exposure to hummingbird moths was as a kid – I noticed what I called hummingbirds visiting the four o’clock (Mirabilis jalapa) flowers near our front porch; it was not until many years later when I learned about hummingbird moths that I realized those hummingbirds that I thought I saw as a kid were actually hummingbird moths.

Over the past few years, I have spent many evenings outside around my moon-moth garden and almost always I am rewarded with a visit by one or more hummingbird moths. I have also witnessed my cat trying to catch one!

As mentioned earlier, four o’clocks are good hummingbird moth-attracting flowers, no matter what their color. These flowers also seem to be the first to open as the daylight hours disappear, and have the strongest odor of my moon-moth plants.

Allen Acres Moon-Moth Garden with desert thorn apple (large white flowers) in foreground, jimson weed (right rear) and night-blooming loofah on trellis in background.  

Desert thorn apple or devil’s trumpet (Datura metel) is another good plant. It has very large, pure white flowers that the hummingbird moths seem to really like. Perhaps there is more nectar in large flowers. The only drawback to this plant is that it cannot sustain the production of these flowers for a long period of time. The related jimson weed, Datura stramonium, is also an attractant. The flowers are smaller but the moths will still visit these flowers as well. I have observed that the moths seem to shy away from the dark-flowered varieties of daturas. Other species of datura will also work as long as the flowers are white or very light colored.

I like to add moth-attracting flowers through the use of vines, and the best for that is moonflower (Ipomoea alba). Another vine that will attract hummingbird moths is the night-blooming or angled loofah (Luffa acutangula); it is also called ridged loofah, vegetable gourd, silk squash and vine okra. The flowers are yellow and open at night and the fruit is long and narrow and can be eaten when young. There is another species of loofah, Luffa aegyptiaca, that also has yellow flowers but they open in the morning; the fruit is short and develops the fibers early, and thus is not edible but better suited as a “sponge.”

Allen Acres’ quarter moon-shaped moon-moth garden

Hummingbird moth and its long proboscis in a four o’clock bloom

Four o’clocks, datura, moonflower and loofah are the four varieties that I have used in my moon-moth garden, but I have also observed hummingbird moths at a white spider flower (Cleome hasslerana). An interesting vine is the largeroot morning glory (Ipomoea macrorhiza), a lavender night-opening vine that is native to south Florida. This is a great hummingbird moth nectar plant but it is very picky in soil requirements; it only grows in very sandy soils.  

To enhance my moon-moth garden, I have created one planting area in the shape of a quarter moon and placed the daturas and four o’clocks in this bed. Nearby and just to the north and west of the quarter moon-shaped bed, I placed another L-shaped bed with a trellis. In this bed, I plant moonflowers and the ridged loofah. These two vines bloom later than the daturas so I have a staggered flowering period for the moths. I created other beds nearby and populate them with more daturas, four o’clocks and white spider flowers. I also have larger plants of other moth-attracting plants, including gardenia or cape jasmine (Gardenia jasminoides), almond verbena (Aloysia virgata) and night-blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum). I see lots of hummingbird moths visiting porterweed (Stachytarpheta urticifolia) just before daylight, when these flowers open, getting their share of the nectar before the bees and butterflies visit it during the daylight hours.

So plant a moon-moth garden. You’ll extend your enjoyment of your outside spaces and help provide nectar to not just the day insects, but the nighttime ones as well.


A version of this article appeared in a September 2011 edition of the State-by-State Gardening enewsletter.
Photography courtesy of Dr. Charles Allen.


Posted: 03/18/17   RSS | Print


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The Ecological Benefits of Bats
by Alison McCartney       #Beneficials   #Environment   #Wildlife






The eastern pipistrelle (Pipistrellus subflavus) can be found all over the eastern half of the United States from Canada down to Central America.


Bats are an incredibly diverse and ecologically beneficial group of animals. Worldwide there are nearly 1,000 bat species representing almost a quarter of all mammal species. They are the second largest order of mammals in number of species (second only to rodents), and can occupy virtually every habitat worldwide except in the most extreme desert and polar regions. There are forty-five bat species native to the United States. Nearly 40 percent of these species are threatened or endangered, and around the world, many more are declining at alarming rates. Six U.S. species are listed as endangered and 20 are considered species of special concern by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Declines have been primarily attributed in the past to human impacts such as habitat destruction, direct killing, disturbance of hibernating and maternity colonies, cave vandalism and use of pesticides and other chemical toxins. Negative human perceptions of bats can have a huge detrimental effect on their conservation. More recently, declines have been primarily attributed to a disease called white-nose syndrome. This disease was first discovered in January 2007 and has caused huge bat mortalities among hibernating cave-dwelling bats. Extensive research is currently being done to try and determine causes and possible cures for this disease.

Big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) provide the ecological benefit of consuming large quantities of agricultural pests.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding bats and bat behavior that have given this group of animals an undeserving negative reputation. One common misconception regarding bat behavior is that they are hostile or aggressive animals. Bats are not aggressive and in general, will do their best to avoid people. People are much more of a threat to bats than bats are to people. Another common misconception is that all bats carry rabies and other diseases. In actuality, less than 0.5 percent of bats have rabies. The chance of contracting rabies from bats is even further diminished if you simply never pick one up. Although the likelihood of contracting rabies from bats is very small, because rabies is a serious and fatal disease you should never pick up a bat, and you should contact your local health department if you have been bitten by a bat.

Bats are actually very beneficial. Most bats are insectivores and therefore provide the ecological benefit of acting as a natural pest control. An individual little brown bat or gray bat, for example, can consume over 1,000 mosquitoes in one hour. With increased fatalities occurring from West Nile virus, bats can be thought of as a natural source for controlling mosquito populations and therefore reducing occurrences of the virus. Bats also help to control agricultural pests. Big brown bats, for example, are predators of several agricultural pests such as June bugs, moths and beetles. Mexican free-tailed bats consume huge quantities of the corn earworm moth, which causes over $1 billion in crop damage a year.* Many farmers in the U.S. have installed bat houses on their farms to try and encourage the growth of bat populations. Large bat colonies on farms can greatly reduce insect populations and therefore reduce the need for pesticides.

Bat houses can aid in the conservation of bats by providing artificial roosts for bats whose natural habitat is declining. Hundreds to thousands of bats can occupy a single bat house. These relatively cheap houses have been found to be very successful in providing shelter for many bat species and reducing insect abundance in the immediate area. If you are interested in controlling insect populations on your property and aiding in the conservation of bats, you might consider putting up a bat house.


Left: Rafinesque’s big-eared bat (Corynorhinus rafinesquii) is a rare bat species found in the Southeastern United States. Right: Bat houses have been found to be very successful in providing shelter for many bat species and reducing insect abundance in the immediate area.


Besides being beneficial as a natural pest control, bats in the western U.S. also provide the ecological benefit of pollinating many plants. The agave plant, for example, which is used to produce tequila, is pollinated by bats. Other plants that rely on bats for pollination include bananas, peaches and cashews. There are many species of fruit bats or flying foxes in other countries that solely eat fruit and provide the benefit of seed dispersal. Through their droppings they will disperse seeds and have been known to reforest entire areas. Fruit-eating bats have played a major role in regenerating rainforests in areas that have been cleared.*

If you would like to learn more about bats or become involved in bat conservation, visit the Bat Conservation International website to find out more: www.batcon.org.


*editor's note: The range of these bat species is limited within the US. Research bats in your area before trying to attract a specific species.

A version of this article appeared in a February 2011 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of istockphoto.com/jollyphoto and AlisonMcCartney.


Posted: 03/17/17   RSS | Print


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Nighttime and Evening Gardens
by Alan Branhagen       #Fragrant   #Flowers   #Themed Gardens   #White

Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’

Many of us work all day and by the time we get home to garden or relax in the garden, dusk is upon us. In the evening, the bright colors of the day recede and disappear and the creams, silvers and whites begin to glow with the fading light. We need some time to de-stress, relax and unwind from the day and we’re usually not in the mood for some energizing red colors anyway! A garden designed for evening and the night is the perfect match for many of us.

There are other great reasons for an evening garden. Many gardeners really like the classic white and silver flowers or other whitened hues like pink, cream, sky blue and silver. These are colors of the evening garden because they show up nicely in low light — often appearing to glow. With night lighting, they can simply shine!

Most white flowers also emit intoxicating fragrances that enrich the evening garden and soothe our senses. I can think of no finer time than sitting on my back deck when the scents of the jasmine, gardenia, lilies, flowering-tobaccos and magnolias start to tickle my olfactory nerves. These flowers are not fragrant for our enjoyment but to attract pollinators, mainly moths. Yes, thank the underappreciated moths for many of our fragrant plants. Most are beneficial, and at dusk, the hummingbird-like sphinx moths enliven the garden experience with their blur of fast-beating wings.

Smooth hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens) including the cultivar ‘Annabelle’ have immense flower heads of gorgeous white in midsummer.

A premier evening garden should have a complete mix of plant types from evergreens and small trees to shrubs, vines, perennials, bulbs, annuals and tropicals. Using this complete pyramid of plant types ensures a beautiful space and a structured design, as well as incorporating the best evening garden players. Use an evergreen to block an unsightly view or prevailing wind, a couple (or a few) small trees or pruned-up large shrubs to create a delightful “human-scale” feel by a favorite chair or surrounding an intimate seating area. Shrubs can be used as screens and backdrops, while a mix of herbaceous perennials, bulbs and annuals can create beautiful borders, ground covers or fill containers. Tropical plants really add polish to the most exquisite of evening gardens.

‘Golden Ghost’ Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora ‘Golden Ghost’) can be really striking, especially with reflected night lighting.

Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana).

Evening garden evergreens are those with variegation and whitened needles that give many “blue” needles. Chalky blue varieties of blue spruce (Picea pungens ‘Koster’) or Korean pine (Pinus koraiensis ‘Silveray’), Swiss stone pine (Pinus cembra) and the variegated pines like Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora ‘Golden Ghost’) can be really striking, especially with reflected night lighting. In Zone 6, the hardy Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’) shines with polished leaves that reflect moonlight and white, intensely fragrant flowers.

Some superior small trees for the evening garden begin with the sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), whose lustrous leaves are whitened underneath and reflect light wonderfully while the small white flowers emit a lemony fragrance that can perfume an entire garden. Many of the larger panicle hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’, ‘Tardiva’, ‘Unique’ and others) can be trained up as little trees and their huge white, mid to late-summertime flowers create a spectacle to enjoy as you spend time outside at night. ‘Harvest Gold’ crabapple (Malus ‘Harvest Gold’) is also a phenomenal evening garden tree with white fragrant flowers in spring and soft yellow fruit in fall that are shockingly luminescent with night lighting.

Many of our native azaleas (Rhododendron arborescens, R. atlanticum and R. viscosum) and their hybrids excel as evening garden plants and bloom from midspring to midsummer depending on the variety. Other classic plants of the evening garden are the smooth hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens) with the cultivars ‘Annabelle’ and Incrediball™ having the most immense flower heads of gorgeous white in midsummer. Nearly everblooming roses (Rosa sp.) are also stars including the classic grandiflora rose ‘Iceberg’ but my favorite evening garden rose is the David Austin rose ‘Heritage’ with blush-pink flowers with incredible fragrance. Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) also is an underutilized shrub with new varieties like Vanilla Spice™, ‘Sweet Sixteen’ and Sugartina™ Crystalina glowing with spires of fragrant white flowers later in summer.


Left: Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)  Right: ‘White Lights’ azalea

Some favorite vines of the evening garden include annual moonvine (Ipomoea alba), white-flowering native wisterias (Wisteria frutescens) such as ‘Clara Mack’ and honeysuckles. Do not plant the sweet Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) as it is an invasive exotic, but try selections of woodbine honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenoides) like ‘Graham Thomas’ for evening fragrance.

Perennials in my evening garden are structured around various white-flowering cultivars of garden phlox (Phlox paniculata hybrids) starting with early blooming varieties like ‘Minnie Pearl’ to later varieties like ‘David’. White-flowering cultivars of daylilies (Hemerocallis ‘Gentle Shepherd’, ‘Limefrost’ and ‘Sunday Gloves’) also put on a show with some lighter yellow varieties like ‘Going Bananas’ and late-blooming ‘August Frost’. White-flowering coneflowers Echinacea purpurea also are evening favorites with ‘Fragrant Angel’ and ‘Pow Wow White’. There are many others, but these three groups provide a great sturdy backbone and all are lightly fragrant too.

Formosa lily (L. formosanum)

No evening garden could be without the lilies: their fragrance is unsurpassed! Try hardy varieties of Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum) and regal lilies (Lilium regale) for earliest bloom followed by Oriental hybrid lilies like ‘Casa Blanca’ and simply magnificent hybrid Orienpet lilies like ‘Silk Road’ and ‘Triumphator’ for spectacular towers of flowers. Later species lilies such as Formosa lily (L. formosanum) and Lilium speciosum will give you a whole summer of blooms.

Classic evening garden annuals begin with the Datura species whose huge white trumpets open after the sun sets, often with a waiting honeybee to gather a snack before bedtime. These flowers are a delight for anyone to watch as they unfurl right before your eyes. The flowering tobaccos (Nicotiana alata and N. sylvestris) are king of the fragrant evening annuals with white flowers that open up and emit intoxicating scents to lure the delightful sphinx moths. Four o’clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) are another evening garden beauty that don’t open until their namesake time but remain so through the night.

Gardenia jasminoides

And what evening garden in our Zones would be without some containers filled with tropical plants — a real gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides) exudes the most phenomenal scent of any plant and can’t be manufactured or mimicked. Jasmines (Jasminum spp.) and angel’s trumpets (Brugmansia spp.) are others with spectacular and fragrant flowers that shine for evening display.

So plan and plant an evening garden around your favorite outdoor summertime space; you will create a beautiful, relaxing and enjoyable place for you to spend your end of the day or for you to entertain in. It also allows you to savor the moderated temperatures beyond the daytime’s heat and explore a sweet range of plants that really shine at that time. These classic plants look great at any time but really are stars of the nighttime garden.

Other Stars of the Evening Garden:

Small Trees and Large Shrubs:
Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora)
Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida)
Rose-of-Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus ‘Diana’)
Ashe magnolia (Magnolia ashei)
Star magnolia (Magnolia stellate)
Mock orange (Philadelphus ‘Snow Velvet’)
Seven sons (Heptacodium miconioides)

Azaleas (‘White Lights’, ‘Northern Hi-Lights’ and ‘Viscosepala’)
Flowering quince (Chaenomeles ‘Jet Trail’, ‘O-Yashima’)
Fothergilla (Fothergilla spp.)
Oakleaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia)
Lilacs (Syringa ‘Angel White’ and ‘Betsy Ross’)
Koreanspice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii)

Hardy Bulbs:
Hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis white and cream cultivars)
Daffodils (Narcissus ‘Cheerfulness’, ‘Mount Hood’, ‘Stainless’,‘Thalia’)

Acidanthera (Gladiolus calianthus)
Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima ‘Snow Princess’)
Euphorbia Diamond Frost®
Old-fashioned climbing petunia (P. x hybrida)

White bleeding hearts
(Dicentra (Lamprocapnos) spectabilis ‘Alba’)
Hardy hibiscus cultivars with white flowers
Hostas (Hosta plantaginea and others with white variegation or white flowers)
Miscanthus grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’‘Variegata’ and others)
Variegated sweetflag (Acorus calamus ‘Variegata’)
Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)

Sweet or tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans)
Japanese pittosporum (P. japonicum variegated cultivars)
White mandevilla (M. x amabilis white-flowering cultivars)


A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2012 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Alan Branhagen.


Posted: 03/17/17   RSS | Print


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Best Bang for your Buck
by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp       #Flowers   #Propagation   #Shrubs

Above: Nigella, or love-in-a-mist, graces the spring and early summer garden with subtle shades of blue, pink or white flowers.

Left: Rudbeckia hirta ‘Indian Summer’

Gardeners like plants that are easy to grow and those that multiply without a lot of effort, especially if they have a lot of ground to cover.

Some perennials and annuals self-sow, casting their seeds to the wind to root some place else in the landscape. These can be transplanted to desirable locations or shared with others. Neatnik gardeners may be less enthused about self-sowing plants, so be selective about which ones you introduce to the landscape.

Some shrubs spread by suckering, sending up stems to form what’s called a colony. Winterberry holly is an example. Still others sprout new plants from branches that root where they touch the ground, a process called layering. Hydrangeas are very easy to propagate this way.

Here’s a sampler of plants that keep on giving:

Self-Sowing Annuals
Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) has blue, pink or white flowers and fine, ferny foliage in spring and early summer. It does best in full sun, but tolerates light shade. It gets about 12 inches tall. Nigella makes a lovely cut flower and the seeds are edible.

Chinese forget-me-not (Cynoglossum amabile) has tiny blue flowers in spring and early summer. It does best in full sun to part shade and makes a good companion for spring-blooming bulbs. If given adequate moisture, it will produce flowers off and on through summer. It can be used as a cut flower. Don’t confuse this annual with the perennials Myosotis sylvatica or Brunnera sp., which also are called forget-me-nots.

Gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia hirta) comes in lots of colors, from orange and yellow to red. This native plant does best in full sun and well-drained, average soil. Gloriosa daisy is a great cut flower. The seed heads also are a source of food for birds. Some rudbeckias are perennial or biennial.



Far Left: Purple coneflower 

Left and Above Middle: The native columbine blends nicely with ‘May Night’ salvia and a Knock out ™ Red rose in late spring.

Right: False sunflower


Self-Sowing Perennials
Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) readily scatters seeds throughout the garden to create new plants. This native plant does best in full sun to light shade in average, well-drained soil. It gets about 2 feet tall and is a long-lasting cut flower. The dark brown seed heads are attractive in the winter landscape and they serve as a food source for finches all year. Hummingbirds visit this plant in summer.

Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is a short-lived perennial that makes up for its fast life by sowing its seeds throughout the garden. This is another native plant that is almost evergreen, frequently holding on to its green foliage through the winter. It does best in full sun to part shade in average soil. There are several hybrids, such as the McKana series, which also self-sow a bit. Columbine is a beautiful cut flower. Hummingbirds like it, too.

False sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), sometimes called ox-eye daisy, gets up to 5 feet tall with great branching characteristics, which produce many yellow daisy-like flowers that are great for cutting. A native plant, it does best in full sun and average soil.


Left: ‘Winter Red’ is a cultivar of a native holly introduced by Simpson Nursery in Vincennes, Ind., in 1977. Middle: Ilex verticillata‘ Jim Dandy’ Right: ‘Brilliantissima’ is a red chokeberry that spreads by suckers to offer four seasons of interest.

Shrubs that Colonize
Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) is dioecious, which means it needs a male and female plant to produce berries. And it’s the bright red berries in winter that make this shrub worthy of a spot in the medium to large garden. This native plant does best in average soil that is a bit on the wet side in full sun to part shade. If it’s happy, the species will get up to 9 feet tall and will colonize to cover a 10-foot area. This is a deciduous holly, so it drops its leaves in fall. There are many cultivars worthy of smaller gardens, including the female ‘Winter Red’ and male ‘Southern Gentleman’, which were introduced by Robert Simpson of Simpson Nursery in Vincennes, Ind. Winterberry holly is a food source for birds in winter, but the berries are poisonous for humans. It has great fall color and small, insignificant flowers in early summer.

Chokeberry (Aronia sp.) comes in black (A. melanocarpa) and red (A. arbutifolia) and will spread by suckers or self-sowing. The native species gets about 8 feet tall and wide. It adapts to wet or dry areas in full sun to part shade. ‘Autumn Magic’, ‘Morton’ and ‘Viking’ are good black chokeberry cultivars. ‘Brilliantissima’ is a nice red one. Although these suckering shrubs produce showy berries, the fruit is at the bottom of the menu for birds. They will eat the berries only after the fruits have gone through several freezes and thaws. Chokeberry has small flowers in early summer and beautiful fall color. (Some sources might list this plant under its new botanical names: Photinia pyrifolia for the red and P. melanocarpa for the black.)

Layering is simple to do.

A Sampler of Shrubs to Layer:

Fothergilla sp. Lilac (Syringa sp.) Viburnum sp.
Hydrangea sp. Magnolia sp. Weigela sp.
  Smokebush (Cotinus sp.)  

Shrubs for Layering
The easiest way to propagate some shrubs is by soil layering. Here’s how:

• In spring, select a flexible branch that will bend to the ground.
• Remove all side branches from the branch.
• About 12 inches from the tip of the branch, make a slanted cut on the under side.
• Make a slight depression in the soil where the cut side of the branch touches the ground. Fill the depression with high quality potting mix or rich organic matter. The cutis where the roots will form.
• Anchor the branch to the soil with lawn staples, bent wire or a stone.
• Apply a mound of soil about 1 inch deep and 6 inches long on top of the branch at the cut area.
• The cut section of the branch should root in eight to 10 weeks. Tug gently on the branch to see if it has rooted. There also might be new growth, which is the surest sign of a well-rooted branch.
• With a spade, snips or other tool, sever the new branch between the mother shrub and the newly formed rooted portion.
• Transplant to the shrub’s new location.



A version of this article appeared in a May/June 2011 print edition of State-by-State Gardening Magazine.
Photography courtesy of Ron Capek, John Herbst, All-America Selections, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, and Bailey Nurseries. Illustration courtesy of Gardening Techniques, Alan Titchmarch.


Posted: 03/13/17   RSS | Print


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Here Comes the Sun
by Erika Jensen       #Bulbs   #Seeds   #Tech & Gadgets

Snapdragons are among the plants that benefit from an early start under lights.

If you've ever tried to grow seedlings in a south-facing window, you know why supplemental light is necessary. Tall, spindly seedlings with floppy stems and pale green leaves are a good indicator that your plants are not getting enough light. Although some gardening books and online sources say that seedlings can be grown in your windowsill, I've never had this work successfully. It could be that in some sunny southern states it actually does work, but here in the Upper Midwest, the natural light from a window just isn't enough. Even a south window will provide only a few hours of direct sunlight and a couple of hours of indirect sunlight, and that's just not enough to grow good plants.

Enter the light cart. I have mine set up in my living room, in a south-facing window where my plants will get a little outdoor light plus artificial light. I'm a thrifty gardener, and plants are expected to pay their own way around here. For this reason, I skipped the expensive light sets advertised in gardening catalogs and purchased a plastic shelving unit at Menards. Because watering is one of my biggest challenges indoors, I turned the shelving unit upside down, which provided a pan-shaped area that catches any overflow from my flats. I use regular 48-inch shop-light fixtures, plugged in to a power strip, which is plugged into a three-prong grounded outlet. Making your own light cart is so ridiculously easy. Here are a few more ways to make sure you get the best seedlings that no money can buy.

The writer uses an inexpensive plastic shelving unit for a light cart.

Light Basics
One of the most affordable options for lighting is also just fine for producing healthy seedlings. Forget about the expensive grow-light bulbs (the violet-tinted ones). They might be better for flowering plants such as African violets, but are not needed for seedlings that are vegetative or leafy. Fluorescent bulbs come in several options, including warm-white (a pinkish or tan color) and cool-white (bluish white color). It's a little better to use one cool-white and one warm-white lightbulb, because they provide a wider spectrum of light. Fluorescent lights come very close to duplicating natural light from the sun. Don't use incandescent lights, which are mostly red light and produce a great deal of heat in proportion to their light output.

In order to fool your plants into thinking it's spring, you'll need to leave your lights on for 14 to 16 hours daily. This duplicates the light levels that they'd get during May and June. I turn my light set on as soon as I wake up in the morning, calling out “wake up little guys,” and turn it off when I go to bed at night. If you're the forgetful type, you can purchase a timer for the lights. Nothing terrible will happen if you forget to turn them off, but the plants will appreciate a rest period while they go through important metabolic processes.

Light levels are highest close to the bulbs, so keep them just a few inches away from the plants. Fluorescent lights are cool, so little, if any, damage will occur to the plants should a leaf accidentally touch them. Your lights will function best if they are clean (dust yearly), limit the number of times you turn them off and on, and don't let the ambient room temperature go too low (keep it above 50 F).

T12, T8 and T5 Fluorescent Bulbs
It turns out that fluorescent bulbs come in a range of options, like everything else these days. T12 bulb is the older-style bulb, the kind that's been around for a long time. Although cutting edge in its day, it is being replaced by the T8 bulb. This is much more energy efficient, as well as brighter, and is easily spotted because it is skinnier than the regular T12. A T8 bulb will work in a regular light fixture and can be purchased at most hardware stores.

The T5 bulb goes one step further in efficiency. It uses about the same amount of watts per foot as the old T12 bulb, but is approximately twice as bright. The bad news is that for now, T5 requires a special fixture and is not available in longer lengths at your local hardware store. Online, find them by searching for “GE Starcoat T5 HO Fluorescent Lamps.” I’ve noticed that some seed catalogs, which also sell equipment, offer T5 bulbs as part of their grow-light set-ups.

Keep the fluorescent lights a couple of inches away from the plants. Move the lights up as the plants grow.

Over the years, watering has been one of my biggest stumbling blocks. Watering cans tend to distribute water evenly over all surfaces, including ones that shouldn’t get wet. That might not be a big deal if your light cart is in the basement on a concrete floor, but since mine's in my living room, I can't spill very much before I have a huge mess. Bottom watering is a good option, but don't let your plants sit in water for very long, or you'll have problems with root rot. The other option is to remove the flats to a sink or bathtub and water them there. Either way, it's a bit of a hassle.

Root Pruning
Professional growers sometimes talk about "air pruning" their roots. This just means that they allow some airflow underneath their flats. The roots will stop growing when they encounter the air gap. This prevents the well-known problem where roots grow out of their containers and form a mass hanging at the bottom of the plant. Ripping off these roots during the transplanting process can be hard on the plant. To create an air gap, you can support your flats using PVC rails or another building material such as wire screens.

Joe Schmitt, a professional flower grower in Madison Wis., uses a large-scale grow-light setup in his basement. He produces thousands of seedlings annually.

Rotating Flats
While you're checking and watering your plants, it's not a bad idea to rotate them. If the light from your fluorescent lightbulbs is a little uneven, you frequently end up with plants leaning in toward the center of the light fixture. By rotating the flats, you can achieve more even growth. This also gives you a chance to notice any problems and address them right away.

Of course, the best reason to start plants from seed under lights is that it’s fun. Watching young plants grow is a good way to chase your winter blues away and welcome the season.


A version of this article appeared in a March 2014 edition of the State-by-State Gardening eNewsletter.
Photography courtesy of Erika Jensen and Joe Schmitt.


Posted: 03/09/17   RSS | Print


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Give Your Vegetable Garden a Makeover
by Karen Atkins       #Ornamentals   #Vegetables

Left: Fence the garden in permanently. Most vegetable gardens are small enough that you need to set less than a dozen posts. Doing this once is easier than struggling with marauding rabbits and temporary fencing year after year. Middle: I compelled my children to let me relocate their play house as a focal point for a new vegetable garden. The best site for a proper vegetable garden is in full sun, as close as possible to the kitchen. Level the area for raised beds, and allow room to push a wheelbarrow when planning pathways. Right: Add accents to your garden. Here, cast iron rabbit finials add interest.


Plants themselves can be ornamental. Why grow regular dark green kale when you could instead grow ‘Rainbow’ kale?


Tomatoes don’t have to be fastened to wooden stakes in rows. Here a circular tuteur supports tomatoes “tied” by ‘Grandpa Ott’ morning glories (Ipomoea purpurea ‘Grandpa Ott’).


A National Gardening Association survey calculated that 25 percent of all U.S. households had vegetable gardens in 2011. Now more and more of us know what goes into and onto our food. These gardens give us so much. Is it greedy then to ask that the gardens also be pretty?

Of course not. Americans have had gorgeous vegetable gardens ever since Colonial times. A tour of the John Blair garden in Colonial Williamsburg will convince you of this, and provides many lessons. Since early Americans could not survive without homegrown produce, they invested a little more time in the beginning just setting them up properly. Where we typically banish vegetable gardens to some sunny corner of the yard, colonists put them in a prominent place, usually as close as possible to the kitchen. Rather than just tilling up a patch of dirt with no regard to slope, they completely leveled the area and built raised beds to permit proper drainage and soil cultivation. And these beds were not just simple squares thrown together with no further thought. There was a pleasing symmetry to the designs of the beds and the pathways. Ornamentals were tucked in between fruits and vegetables.

Espalier is just a fancy word for training. I’m coaxing this apple tree into a candelabra shape.

It was during the rush to establish Victory Gardens after World War II that we lost our way. It was admirable to want the commercially farmed and canned produce to go to the troops. But it was then, in our hurry to establish these utilitarian gardens, that we stopped requiring our vegetable gardens to also be beautiful. Now that’s a trend worth reversing.


A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2013 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Karen Atkins and The National Garden Bureau.


Posted: 03/07/17   RSS | Print


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Accessorizing Your Fence
by Loretta Gillespie       #Decorating   #Vines

Top: By staggering these ceramic pots, an interesting vignette was formed along a weathered board fence. These pots are pretty, even unplanted. These particular pots have been fired, so it is safe to leave them outdoors year round.

Above: A rectangular wall fountain in the shape of a sweet cherub fits perfectly on this brick wall, its jet of water spilling into a koi pond below. A moss window box filled with begonias, hosta and ‘Plum Pudding’ heuchera makes a lovely counterpoint to the fountain by echoing its shape. Companion plantings include canna and variegated ginger.

Top: A row of birdhouses with copper roofs perch along the top of a fence, giving it a symmetrical look, while providing a place for birds to nest. Left: An outdoor fireplace mantle made of brick can also be decorated just like your fence or the mantle in your home. Just treat it as if it were the same. Here, a mirror was added to create light behind the stained-glass panel. Plants, a rustic bluebird house and a vintage-style lantern were used as accessories. Right: This garden features a fence used as a backdrop for a metal trellis. Climbing vines, like this Clematis, add color where you need it

Accessorizing your fence not only adds interest, it gives the eye a contrast to the green plant material, resulting in both of them looking better.

You can use practically any type of weatherproof material, including glass, ceramic, plaster, aluminum, metal, wood, concrete or plastic. You might have something that needs painting – don’t be afraid to try something new and different like red or bright orange. You can always repaint or rearrange it!

Start by thinking of the fence as a backdrop. You will use your plants to give the area texture, but you’ll want something to make visitors say “Wow! Why didn’t I think of that?” Browse consignment stores for unusual finds to fit your garden décor or theme. Look around your garage, attic, basement or barn. Check out decorating magazines to see how decorators pull objects together. Use items that will withstand the weather, like an old picture frame or vintage shutters.

Look in your kitchen; there are lots of waterproof items that will make great garden wall vignettes. Chipped coffee cups make great little planters, as do cracked or damaged plates and bowls.


Left: Sometimes we have a gate even with no fence! Here a metal basket was added to the gate. A black-eyed Susan vine, has escaped from the confines of the container and scrambled all over the fence, giving it a carefree, inviting look. Middle: Hanging mirrors in a garden give the impression that you are looking through a portal into another garden. Right: Accessorizing a fence or wall doesn’t have to be complicated; something as simple as this stone bowl atop a wall gives it a lot of character.

What if you have a gate with no fence? Accessorizing it will give it a carefree, inviting look. Think baskets or metal wall pockets.

Accessorizing a fence or wall doesn’t have to be complicated; even something as simple as a stone bowl sitting on top of a wall adds character. Don’t have a bowl? Use the basin of a birdbath, instead.

We know that adding mirrors to our homes brightens up dark corners, reflecting light back into the room and giving it a feeling of depth. Hanging them outside does the same thing by giving the viewer the impression that he/she is looking through a portal into another garden.

Use climbing vines, like Clematis, to add color where you need it. This gives you several options. It isn’t necessary to attach everything to the fence itself. Stone, brick or weathered wood brings out the vibrant color of the blooms, while allowing the lines of your artwork or statuary to be shown to their best advantage.


Top Left: While more pricey than some other options, statuary is always a good choice. Without this dog, the view of this area would be rather monotonous and without focus. Statuary defines it. Bottom Left: By outlining the shape of the fountain with metal half-baskets in much the same way a mat emphasizes a painting, you can enhance the look of both the fountain and the baskets. Planted with begonias, these cheerful additions to a fence can bring color to eye level, making it a focal point for visitors who stroll along the flagstone path below. Right: This garden wall is covered with creeping fig, making it a living backdrop for an interesting statue.

While more pricey than some other options for accessorizing a wall or fence, statuary is always an excellent option. Utilizing statuary keeps a woodland or city landscape from being monotonous and without focus. Statuary defines it, giving the viewer a focal point by incorporating the surrounding landscape to create a beautiful scene.

If you love the look of a decorated wall or fence, start collecting your favorite things and have fun giving them a new purpose.


A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 20 Number 2.
Photography courtesy of Loretta Gillespie.


Posted: 03/06/17   RSS | Print


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Blue Ribbon Gardening
by Jessica Pierson       #Advice   #Edibles   #Misc   #Vegetables

Growing and exhibiting vegetables is an exciting way to get more than food from your vegetable patch. In addition to possibly winning a ribbon and a small amount of prize money, you’ll get the thrill of competing, the opportunity to learn about new varieties and inspiration for the future.

Typically, a county or state fair’s horticulture category includes commonly grown vegetables such as tomatoes, corn and beans. Categories such as chili peppers, leafy greens and kohlrabi may be included. Many fairs also have just-for-fun categories such as longest cucumber, garden freaks and oddest root vegetables.

Almost any gardener can participate. Few supplies are required, and you can grow in containers, raised beds or traditional gardens. The key to success lies in following the four P’s of exhibiting: Plan, Prepare, Proceed and Place.

To get a premium book with entry categories and rules, find your county fair online (for example, www.willcountyfair.org) and look for “Fair Book” on the home page. Winners actually win money, although not very much.

Choose your venue. Garden clubs sometimes have judged shows, but also consider the county or state fair. Most counties have a “premium book,” available online, that lists the different departments and entry categories. Vegetables are typically in the horticulture or home economics department. For example, the listing in the Will County premium book lists three bean categories: Beans, green (20); Beans, yellow (20); and Lima Beans (20). The number means 20 beans for each entry.

The premium book also lets you know the rules. The rules are very important, says James Schmidt, an Illinois State Fair judge and University of Illinois Extension staff member. “Get a show book,” he advises. “Look at the classes and see if there’s something interesting to enter.” He notes that it can be “heartbreaking” as a judge to see an excellent entry that has a mistake that could have been prevented by reading and following the rules. He also warns against assuming the premium book will be the same from venue to venue – careful reading is a must!

Once you know which vegetables you would like to grow, begin searching for suitable varieties. Hybrids are often suggested because they have some disease resistance and offer consistency among fruits. With tomatoes, for example, hybrids have been developed that offer resistance to some or all of five common diseases: verticillium, fusarium wilt, nematodes, tobacco mosaic virus and alternaria stem cankers.  Choosing ‘Big Beef VFFNTA Hybrid’, for example, would give you resistance to all five pathogens.

Another reason hybrids are encouraged is that they will produce fruits with greater uniformity and consistency than open-pollinated or heirloom varieties. Whether you generally root for the hybrid or non-hybrid team, for exhibition purposes, hybrids will give you the visual appeal sought by many judges. Look for the word “hybrid” or “F1” to denote hybrid status.

A final planning consideration is timing. If you have decided, for example, to enter the corn category and the fair is on August 1, you need to find a variety that will be at its peak color and flavor a few days before that time. Corn takes anywhere from 58 days (‘Earlivee’) to 92 days (‘BiQueen’). Taking into account Northern Illinois’ fickle spring weather and an average annual last hard frost date of April 20, a variety that can be planted in late May would be ideal, giving the crop approximately 75 days to mature. Two varieties that meet those conditions are ‘Ambrosia’ (a sweet white corn) and ‘Sugar and Gold’ (a sweet bicolor corn).

Armed with your seeds, premium book, and dreams of summer, now consider how to best prepare your seeds and media for a blue-ribbon crop. Proper soil analysis is the first step. Learning the pH of your soil and the fertilizer requirements will help your plants more closely resemble the picture on the front of the seed package. A pH chart for vegetables can tell you what pH they need. Your soil test will also help you better understand what nutrients may be deficient in your soil. (North Carolina State University Extension has a helpful pH chart at www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/quickref/soil/pHplants.html).

Also decide whether to start your seeds indoors or wait to direct sow. Since you will need to have your vegetables ready for exhibition by a certain date, starting seeds indoors gives you a head start as well as a more controlled environment. Some varieties, such as leafy greens, root vegetables and beans, do not transplant well, however. Checking with a reliable source, such as Extension material or a trusted friend, can help you decide.

With a prepared seedbed, now turn your attention to planting your seeds. Sow your first crop a few days before you expect to have ideal conditions. The next crop should go in a few days after you think conditions are ideal. Plant a final crop a week after germination or transplanting has been successful. Planting in sequence will help ensure a ready crop of vegetables to choose from when it is time to show your vegetables later in the season.

During the growing season, follow a regimen of weeding, watering and watching. Be on the lookout for the following:

•  Signs of disease or pests. Identify the disease and begin a treatment program right away: Check with the University of Illinois Extensions webpage web.extension.illinois.edu/vegguide/problem_disease.cfm for identification and treatment recommendations.

•  Drastic changes in environmental conditions, such as available light, wind and precipitation. Try to provide ideal growing conditions.

•  Splashing liquids on the plant leaf during watering. Fungal diseases and leaf scorching can result from not watering at the soil level.

•  Cuts, bruises and other defects. You may need to trim off stems that rub on a developing fruit, watch for abnormal growth patterns, and keep developing fruits off of the ground when possible.

Another technique used by experienced exhibitors is to train the vegetable plant to grow in a certain way by “stopping,” disbudding or thinning the plant. Cucumbers can be stopped by taking off the terminal bud (the leaf bud at the top of the stem). This encourages the plant to produce stronger and bushier side growth. Disbudding is the process of removing lateral or side flower buds from a plant to encourage erect upward growth. Tomatoes respond well to disbudding, which can encourage better fruiting. A final technique, thinning, involves selectively removing some of the fruit or entire plants to encourage the remaining fruits or plants to grow larger.

When the big day draws near, it’s time to put your exhibition game into high gear. The most important step as you prepare your entry is to read the premium book and take your time. The premium book tells you exactly what your entry should include, from the type of display plate to size and quantity of items allowed. Knowing how many specimens and their size is important before you head out to the garden armed with your clippers.

The timing of when to pick is important as well. Varieties such as sweet corn and leafy greens do not hold well. Root vegetables and squashes are less perishable and therefore can be picked earlier. Generally, it’s best to pick just before the peak of ripeness as some ripening will occur while your product is on display.

When you go to the garden to make your selections, Schmidt offers the following advice:

•  Don’t fall for “biggest is best.” Larger vegetables can be woodier and/or less flavorful than normal-sized counterparts. A uniform exhibit is crucial to success.

•  Stick with one variety per entry. Don’t include ‘Blue Lake’, ‘Derby’ and ‘Top Crop’ bush beans in the same entry. Though it can be tempting to choose the best-looking among the three, judges want to see only one variety in an entry.

•  Choose vegetables that are nearly all the same in size, color, size and maturity.

•  Use your seed catalog or other horticultural guides to determine the fruits that are most “true to type.” The photographs in a seed catalog most often portray ideal shape, color, size and texture.

•  Use your premium book as a guide to select the best candidates. For example, if onion tops need to be 8 inches long, choose only the ones that meet that standard, even if there are more attractive ones with 6½-inch tops.

•  Don’t panic if you can’t find all perfect vegetables. Schmidt says that “there may be minor imperfections to the vegetables, but if they’ve been cleaned, washed and trimmed well, they make a good appearance.”

•  Don’t be afraid to ask fellow exhibitors and friends their opinion before you pick your vegetables. Their objectivity and experience can help you see things you might have overlooked, such as the ideal shade for an eggplant.


Vegetables are judged by a variety of criteria. The rutabaga (top) won its blue ribbon for being the largest one in the competition. Uniformity, color and shape are also important.

When you’ve chosen your specimens, remember to cut the stem according to the premium rules. Cut or dig carefully to prevent bruising or damaging delicate plant parts. Post-harvest produce should be kept in the refrigerator in a closed container. Some varieties do best with a dampened paper towel in the container, especially fresh herbs such as basil and cilantro. More do’s and don’ts can be found in Schmidt’s article, “Exhibiting Vegetables” at web.extension.illinois.edu/bdo/downloads/4268.pdf.

The final step is to prepare your entry. Depending on the variety, dirt can be washed off with a soft brush or cloth, or by washing gently in the sink. Wipe dry to discourage fungal growth. Wrap in newspaper or cloths for transport and place in a sturdy container such as a laundry basket or bushel basket. Pack a few extras, too, as “insurance.” Remember to fill out your entry card properly and bring the required size/color/material plate and other required props for exhibition.

Once you arrive at the fair, you are ready to set up your display. Place the required number of specimens on the plate in an attractive arrangement. Double check to make sure everything is the correct length and, as Schmidt strongly suggests, recount your specimens. He notes a common beginner mistake is usually something simple “like putting the wrong number [on the entry card]” or “not making a last counting before you step away.” Now it’s time for the judges. Schmidt says that he loves being a judge because he gets to see gardeners show off their talents and take pride in the competition. He also really enjoys interacting with the exhibitors and developing relationships with them (Hint: talk to your judges; they are people, too!) During judging, the horticulture building is usually closed for a few hours. Once the judging is over, you are welcome to take a peek for a blue, red or white ribbon bedecking your labors of love.

One more encouraging piece of advice from Schmidt is specifically for beginners. “It’s fun to see new people become interested in exhibiting at fairs and watch them grow in their skills as gardeners and exhibitors.  It’s fun to see the faces of novices when they get that blue ribbon or even better – best of show for that crop.” Remembering those 4 P’s – planning, preparing, proceeding, and placing – can carry you and your veggies all the way to the top!


A version of this article appeared in Chicagoland Gardening Volume 20 Number 2.
Photography courtesy of Jessica Pierson.


Posted: 03/05/17   RSS | Print


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Fresh Foundations
by Helen Newling Lawson       #Advice   #Design   #Ornamentals   #Shrubs

The foliage of ‘Sunshine’ ligustrum adds a vibrant accent to your landscape. In this landscape, moving it away from the perimeter of the house created a brightly lit entryway path.
Credit: Courtesy of Southern Living Plant Collection

Foundation plantings – usually evergreen shrubs – have always had a reputation for being boring. To make matters worse, many of the South’s go-to choices are now also suffering from a host of disease and insect problems.

Luckily, there are several new introductions that make fantastic, low-maintenance substitutions with similar growth habits. Some even offer a fresh twist with colorful foliage or flowers that can add some pizzazz to your plantings.

What’s the trouble?
If your foundation plantings are failing, one of these could be the reason why:

Boxwood blight – Caused by a fungus, this disease was first seen in the Southeast in Virginia in 2011 and had spread south to Georgia by 2013. It causes brown leaf spots and defoliation of boxwood shrubs (Buxus spp.) and can also affect Pachysandra and sweetbox (Sarcococca). It spreads by contact, so buy plants from a nursery that participates in a boxwood blight management program. There is no cure – fungicides can only be used as a preventive.

Leaf spotEntomosporium maculatum, the same fungus responsible for taking out red tip Photinia, has now claimed numerous Indian hawthorns (Rhaphiolepis spp.) as its victims. Tiny red spots on both sides of the leaves are the first sign of trouble. These can progress into large gray spots with maroon edges, then leaf drop, and eventually death of the plant when leaf drop is severe. Moisture encourages spread of this disease, so clean up diseased leaves quickly (bagging, not composting) and try to keep the upper branches dry by irrigating at the soil level.

Distylium (shown here: Blue Cascade ‘PIIDIST-II’) is a tougher, disease-resistant alternative to cherry laurels, junipers, hollies, Indian hawthorn, and boxwood.
Credit: Courtesy of GardenersConfidence.com


Shot hole disease – Although it may look as though an insect is munching holes in your English laurel (Prunus laurocerasus ‘Otto Luyken’) leaves, it is actually a sign of a bacterial disease. Wet leaves also enable this disease to spread, so avoid overhead watering and give your shrubs enough space to dry quickly.

Scale insects – These insects spend their adulthood attached to branches of numerous shrubs – including juniper, Euonymus, and Cleyera – feeding on their sap. If your plants are yellowing or declining, look for white, gray, or brown “bumps” lining the branches. You may also notice ants or black sooty “mold” (actually a fungus), both results of the sap secretions. Treatment depends on the species of scale and their life stage (active “crawler” or attached adult), so call your local extension office for help.

Just plain ugly – This may not hurt the plant, but it can be hard on the eyes. Eleagnus (sometimes called “ugly Agnes”) and Euonymus are two commonly planted-but-often-loathed shrubs. (Former Southern Living editor Steve Bender, writing as the “Grumpy Gardener,” described golden euonymus as “the awfulest of the awful” things you can plant in front of your house.)And sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with the shrub other than the fact that it’s just too big to serve as a foundation plant.

Shades of Pink viburnum has glossy, dark green leaves and pink flowers and is a great substitute for Indian hawthorn.
Credit: Courtesy of Greenleaf Nursery


Our builder installed five Loropetalum shrubs in a 10-foot-square area below our dining room window. They were a fairly new introduction at the time – our house was built 15 years ago – so maybe they didn’t realize each one would ultimately grow to at least 15 feet tall and wide, or more likely, they just didn’t care. (Since then, a number of dwarf varieties of Loropetalum have come onto the market much better suited for foundation plantings.)

I ripped out four of the five to allow one enough space. Instead of constantly pruning the one remaining, I tried to limb it up into a small tree. However, it has refused to accept its new identity, so rather than wasting time pruning, I keep cutting back sprouts from the base of the trunk. I’ve decided it’s time to part, and will replace it with an actual small tree.

Love the look of a tidy row of clipped shrubs but hate shearing? Micron holly maintains its low, mounded shape without pruning and is a great substitute for boxwood.
Credit: Courtesy of Greenleaf Nursery

What’s fresh?
New introductions offer many different options. Most of these recommendations have a compact, tidy growth habit, saving you the tiresome maintenance of pruning. Be sure to check the expected mature size to make sure you’re choosing an option that best fits your space and remember, “dwarf” just means smaller than the species.

Whether they burst into bloom, have a “first flush” of color on their new growth, or have a unique hue all year, most of these choices add the excitement of color to their reliable nature.

No “bad seeds.” Plants such as Ligustrum and barberry (Berberis spp.) had a well-deserved bad reputation for invasiveness. Newer varieties have been bred to be sterile, keeping them only where you want them.

Above all, each of these has exceptional resistance to disease, drought, insects, deer, or all of the above. Each offers a significant improvement over its predecessors.

Some promising new stars
Distylium – This evergreen, low-growing shrub is billed as resistant to insect, disease, and deer problems – a resistance “home run” that can replace problem-prone ‘Otto Luyken’ laurel as a reliable foundation or backbone planting, with layered branches that provide texture and require little to no pruning.

October Magic Ruby camellia (C. sasanqua ‘Green 02-003’) – Imagine a tidy evergreen hedge of glossy, deep green leaves that bursts into flower every fall with striking, fully double red flowers. Who said foundation shrubs were boring?

Eureka Gold dwarf yaupon (Ilex vomitoria ‘HOGY’) is another option for bringing bright yellow-green foliage into your plant palette. Dense, bushy plants grow 4-5 feet tall.
Credit: Courtesy of Greenleaf Nursery


Ligustrum sinense ‘Sunshine’ – Spread a little ‘Sunshine’ to add the trendiest color in gardening today, golden yellow, to your landscape. If you’re up on your botanical names, you know that we’re talking about privet, which comes with its own bad reputation for invasiveness, so rest assured this variety is sterile and will not reseed. (Note: In Tennessee, by law, L. sinense – including sterile cultivars – cannot be propagated, sold, offered for sale, or released within the state. – Ed.)

Moonlit Lace viburnum (Viburnum x ‘sPg-3-024’) – A cross between V. tinus and V. davidii, this shrub has glossy, textured, evergreen leaves with showy, rounded clusters of white flowers that appear in spring, making it a drought-tolerant, similarly sized replacement for Indian hawthorn. Shades of Pink (V. tinus ‘Lisa Rosa’) is another lovely choice, but can reach up to 5 feet tall if unpruned.

Mojo pittosporum (P. tobira ‘CNI Three’) has variegated, shade-tolerant foliage and a delightful springtime fragrance. Yet it’s tough enough to handle even salt spray in coastal areas.
Credit: Courtesy of Southern Living Plant Collection

Pittosporum – Another Indian hawthorn substitution. As a bonus, its small flowers bring a wonderful fragrance in spring, perfect for an entryway.

Micron holly (Ilex vomitoria ‘Gremicr’) – Want the traditional look of neatly clipped shrubs with no shearing? This slow-growing, very compact dwarf variety has a “very interesting texture” and a tidy, mounded shape.

To give your new stars their best chance to shine, take the time to plant them right.

First, amend the soil with organic matter, such as compost. If poor drainage contributed to past problems, you should definitely pay attention to this step.

Next, plan your placement. While it may look sparse (especially if you are replacing overgrown shrubs), make sure to space them to allow for their mature size. And even though they’re called foundation shrubs, don’t cram them too close to the house. They’ll look better, stay healthier, and attract fewer bugs to your home if you give them some breathing space.

Or, instead of using them to line the foundation of your house, make them the foundation of a standalone planting bed. These evergreen workhorses are a great way to add structure and backbone to any area. I recently used a curving row of ‘Sunshine’ ligustrum to add a bold sweep of unifying color through the center of my perennial bed.

Finally, take the time to dig good holes. This means wider, not deeper, than their containers. Water well when planting and during their first year to get them established. Read up on their particular care requirements to see when and how to fertilize.


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


Posted: 03/04/17   RSS | Print


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A Helping Hand From the Birds and Bees
by Alan Pulley       #Birds   #Insects   #Wildlife

Baby chipping sparrows nesting in my evergreen hollies. Fledglings need food every few minutes. So when birds nest in your yard, they consume a lot of nearby insects, providing organic pest control.

I watched one summer day as a male northern cardinal hopped from one tomato cage to the other, each time peeking into the tomato plants as if he were looking for something. This continued for a few minutes until he finally came out from under one of the plants with his prize – a big, fat, juicy hornworm.

Those familiar with growing tomatoes know the type of damage that these worms can cause if left to run free on your tomato plants. Once the cardinal knew where the food was, he returned throughout the summer, keeping my tomato plants pest-free.

When it comes to gardening, many think of wildlife as problematic, when, in most cases, just the opposite is true. As most gardeners can attest, there is a lot that goes into managing a garden. No matter the size, there’s always something to do – like soil prepping, weeding, watering, planting – you get the idea.

With all that we do to help improve our chances for success, we’re not the only ones in control. Believe it or not, there are other busy workers out and about giving us a helping hand, and their presence could determine the success or failure of our efforts – and no one does this better than our native wildlife, especially the birds and bees.



Left: Keep flowers in and around your vegetable garden to attract more pollinators to your yard. I’ve also added a snag (dead tree) to the center of this flower garden. As it decays, it will attract insect eating woodpeckers and makes for a nice climbing feature for native vines, like virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana). Right: Leaving some areas intentionally messy, like this winter brush pile, will enhance habitat for birds and other wildlife.

Attracting birds to our gardens provides a great natural benefit beyond just watching them in the backyard. Birds are willing assistants that help maintain a natural balance between plants and pests. Most birds eat a variety of insects, including caterpillars, aphids, mosquitoes and other critters that may not be welcome in the garden. Fortunately, they go to work for us at just the right time. In order to feed their young the protein they need, birds that eat seeds and berries in the fall and winter switch to a more protein-based diet consisting of insects and other bugs in the spring and summer. Fledglings are insatiable and need food every few minutes. So when birds nest in your yard, they consume a lot of nearby insects, providing organic pest control and helping to eliminating the need for chemical insecticides. In addition, finches, sparrows and towhees consume countless quantities of weed seeds, making them useful landscapers – helping control unwanted plants. Hummingbirds, orioles and other birds that sip nectar are efficient pollinators of garden flowers. This can give flowerbeds an added color boost from extra blooms, which will in turn attract even more pollinators. Get the point?

If you live in an open area, consider adding a birdhouse made for purple martins. Purple martins consume a lot of insects and are a joy to watch.

For a quick start, consider adding a basic birdfeeder filled with black-oil sunflower seeds. A birdfeeder will attract a variety of birds to your backyard in no time. Pay special attention to native plants and trees that already grow in your area. Native species establish quickly and are more recognizable to birds and other wildlife. Consider adding a small water source at ground level to not only attract birds, but to invite toads as well. Toads are a great asset to the garden and, like birds, help keep the insect population under control.

A typical mason bee house attached to my garden shed. Mason bees are extremely effective pollinators.

Simple Mason BeeHouse Construction

•  Obtain a 4-by-4-inch piece of wood (untreated) approximately 8 inches long. On one of the sides drill holes that are 3-1/4 inches deep with a 5/16th drill bit. Do not drill all the way through the block.

•  Add a ½-inch piece of plywood on top of the 4-by-4 that overhangs a little to help provide some protection from the weather.

•  Securely place the bee house on a building, fence posts or tree. Try and place it on the south side if possible.

•  Scatter a few of these houses throughout your yard and community.

•  In late fall, move the little bee house into a shed or garage (cool dry area) for the winter months; however, be sure to put it back out in early spring prior to the larva emerging.

Over the years I have developed a greater appreciation for all the butterflies, wasps, bees, flies and other bugs that buzz around our gardens. Without them, many of the fruits and vegetables that we know and love could not reproduce. Did you know that a bumblebee hovering over a tomato flower can create a vibration that will improve pollination much more efficiently than we ever could do by shaking the plant ourselves? Nature is full of amazing pollinators.

We’ve heard and talked about the ongoing loss of the honeybee population. It is still a mystery as to why these bees are disappearing, but we are starting to tap into the use of other types of pollinators, such as our very own native bees. Native bees deserve more credit for producing the foods that we enjoy each day, and are actually more adapted to pollinate our native plants more efficiently than that of the European honeybees. One of these pollinators is the solitary bee, or mason bee (aka orchard bee).

Mason bees may not provide us with honey, but they are extremely effective pollinators, and in a one-on-one battle can outperform her honeybee cousin. Unlike social bees that live in colonies, mason bees nest alone in natural holes creating individual cells for their brood that are separated by mud dividers. They cannot drill their own holes but will often use holes created by carpenter bees or any other small hole or crevice found in nature. Mason bees build their nests in spring, when the redbuds bloom and the eggs and larva winter over and hatch the following spring. They are great pollinators to have in and around the garden. We can help attract mason bees to our own gardens by purchasing or making special housing for them to nest in. Consider adding one to your own garden.

These are just a few ways that we as gardeners can help and improve our situation for a healthier sustainable garden. Evaluate your own backyard and ask yourself what can be done to help keep a natural balance in your landscape. The benefits of plants and animals go far beyond what we could ever imagine. And believe me, I need all the help I can get!


A version of this article appeared in a March 2015 print version of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Alan Pulley.


Posted: 02/28/17   RSS | Print


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The Top 10 Reasons Your Tomatoes Fail
by Bob Westerfield       #Advice   #Edibles   #Fruit   #Vegetables

Heavy soils and overwatering can lead to fruit cracking as the plants pull in too much water.

If you took a survey of the millions of gardeners in America asking which vegetable is the most popular, no doubt tomatoes would either win the contest or be at the top of the list. Anyone who has ever grown a backyard tomato knows that there is no comparison to the flavor and quality of a freshly grown tomato compared to one purchased at the supermarket. While tomatoes are arguably the king of the vegetable garden, they can be challenging at times because this tropical fruit can be finicky. As one of the state vegetable specialists for the University of Georgia, I receive hundreds of questions each season regarding various vegetable issues. By far, tomato problems exceed those of any other vegetable. Whether that is because they just have more problems or because of how popular they are, they are definitely not easy to grow. Here I will outline what I see as the top 10 issues that can lead to tomato failure in the garden.

Planting too early
A frequent sight in late February after an unusual warm front – Bonnie plant trucks traveling down the road, delivering healthy transplants of tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables to garden centers throughout the South. A few warm days in February or March will send gardeners into a frenzy of buying plants and getting them into the ground. Tomatoes are tropical in nature, and planting them too early can lead to a number of problems. Tomatoes need to be planted based on soil temperatures and not necessarily air temperature. In the South, we can have air temperatures as high as 70 F, and yet the soil will remain quite cool. I prefer to let the soil warm up to a steady 60 to 65 F before I set out tomato plants. Using a soil thermometer, determine the soil temperature before purchasing your tomato transplants. Setting tomatoes out too early has no advantage, and doing so will more than likely lead to some problems. Stunting, tomato leaf curl and catfacing are some common disorders that occur when tomatoes get too cool.

Wrong soil pH
It probably goes without saying, but the pH of your soil is one of the most vital issues to be addressed. The pH directly correlates to the alkalinity or acidity of the soil and greatly affects how well your tomato will be able to absorb nutrients and grow. Typically, I see problems with a low pH more often than a high pH, but neither is conducive to proper growing. Tomatoes do best in a slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.2 to 6.8. Soil testing at least every other year is imperative to get an accurate handle on your pH level. The pH can be adjusted by adding the proper amount of agricultural lime if it is low or adding sulfur if the pH is too high. Test and adjust your pH several months before the growing season begins to give amendments enough time to affect the soil.

Strong cages or some other form of sturdy support is important to prevent heavy branches from breaking.

Too much nitrogen
I wish I had a dollar for every time someone called and said they have a 10-foot-tall tomato plant that looks great, but with no blooms. I typically respond that they must be using a liquid fertilizer and 99 percent of the time I am correct. The liquid fertilizer itself is not the problem, the high concentration of nitrogen is. While nitrogen is an essential nutrient for growing healthy tomatoes, too much of a good thing can be damaging. Nitrogen’s primary function is to encourage new green growth on a plant, and excessive amounts can “over-encourage” this. Liquid fertilizers are usually high in nitrogen and difficult to calibrate. People tend to use more than necessary, resulting in a lush green plant with no blooms, and therefore, no tomatoes. Fertilize your tomatoes at planting time and don’t fertilize again until the plants have small baby tomatoes, about the size of a dime. You can then feed the plant additional nitrogen without fear of losing the crop.

Improper support for the vine
Many folks growing tomatoes for the first time don’t realize how large they can get as the vines begin to sprawl out in every different direction. Tomatoes, even under normal conditions, can easily reach 4-6 feet tall. When they put out a heavy set of fruit, this adds additional weight to the viny branches. Adequate support in the form of a cage, trellis or some type of string system, must be provided to prevent the tomato from toppling over. Some of the tiny little cages I have seen for sale are just not adequate enough to hold up the weight of a heavy-bearing tomato plant. I prefer to use strong cages made out of hog wire with 4-inch square holes. I pin them into the ground with metal tent stakes to keep them secure. Tomatoes that are not well supported will bend over and break, which will eventually lead to the demise of the entire plant.

Improper watering
In order to produce a successful tomato crop, they must receive sufficient water. Tomatoes do best when the soil is kept evenly moist, neither too dry nor too soggy. Overhead irrigation should be avoided to help prevent potential disease problems that may occur if the foliage stays wet, as well as to avoid watering non-target areas. Hand watering at the base of the plants, soaker hoses or drip irrigation are the best methods to irrigate your plants. Depending on the type of soil you have and how much rainfall received, you may need to irrigate your tomatoes two to four times a week.

Weed competition
Any time you till the soil or dig into it to plant your vegetables, you are more than likely pulling up millions of weed seeds as well. Weeds compete for nutrients and moisture while also looking unsightly in the garden. No matter how you look at it, there is nothing good about a weed and they should be kept out of your tomato garden. Heavy competition from weeds can cause tomatoes to appear lethargic and greatly decrease their yield. Control weeds by using mulch, landscape fabric or labeled herbicides. Keeping weeds out is easier than removing them once they have emerged.

Warm, humid environments are the ideal place for diseases to thrive, so crops in some areas must be watched carefully.

Failure to control diseases
Anyone who grows tomatoes in the South will undoubtedly have to battle an array of diseases that can attack tomatoes. The list of potential diseases is a long one, but failure to pay attention can result in complete failure of the crop. Disease probably takes out more tomatoes each season than anything else. To combat diseases, begin by selecting resistant cultivars. Plant your tomatoes with adequate space around each plant to ensure optimal airflow. At the first sign of disease symptoms, pick off and remove affected foliage. Virus-ridden plants should be completely removed from the garden site. Depending on the disease, chemical controls may be necessary to help stop the spread of the problem.

Failure to control insects
Very similar to diseases, insects love the South almost as much as the people who live here. While the majority of bugs you see in the garden are probably beneficial, there are a small handful of guys that can wreak havoc in the garden. The best way to control insects is to be out in the garden regularly and on the lookout for any signs of attack. Depending on the type of insect, control can include anything from handpicking to organic or chemical options.

Poor soil drainage
Depending on where you live, you may be blessed with dark, loamy soil and no drainage problems. However, many of us have to deal with heavy clay soils that drain slowly and can hold moisture for days. Continuous excess moisture around tomato roots can lead to root rot and other potential diseases. If you are dealing with heavy soils, combat poor drainage by adding a minimum of 4 inches of good topsoil into the mix. Better yet, consider using raised beds – 6-8 inches or higher – to grow your tomatoes.

A lack of calcium in the soil or a calcium deficiency caused by uneven watering can result in blossom-end rot.

Lack of calcium in the soil
If you grow tomatoes, you may experience a physiological problem known as blossom-end rot. Blossom-end rot is due to a lack of calcium, either not enough in the soil or if adequate moisture is not provided, the roots aren’t able to absorb the calcium needed. This causes a black, leathery sunken spot on the blossom side of the tomato, rendering it inedible. It is a fairly common problem and worth mentioning.

There are certainly many more problems a gardener may have when growing tomatoes, but these are the most likely. The good news is that all of these can be prevented or cured to some extent, and by following the advice I have given, you should have plenty of tomatoes for your table, as well as some to give away to your friends.


A version of this article appeared in a March 2014 print version of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Bob Westerfield.


Posted: 02/28/17   RSS | Print


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Dahlias for Smiles, Not for Show
by Caleb Melchior       #Colorful   #Flowers   #Ornamentals

‘Kelvin Floodlight’

My grandfather’s neighbor grew dahlias – giant things, with huge, coarse leaves. Their stems were trussed to stout bamboo poles, held captive to protect the hope of a flower. He’d pinch out most of the flower buds, trampling them into the ground, squeezing the plant’s energy into one tremendous effort of bloom. Then the day would come when the flower finally broke open. It would hang heavy, its stem weak from bondage to the pole. He’d cut the flower from the plant and carry it off for prizes in a local show (like you would a cow or a giant turnip). I don’t grow those dahlias.

My dahlias are the blobs of color that smile in the background of paintings by Van Gogh and Monet. Their flowers are of all different sizes and shapes. Some are tiny, carried in loads of pompom bloom. A few are large, even the size of a Frisbee. Their heavy heads hang down to make a one-flower bouquet, glowing when the summer light gets low. I can cut as many as I want for bouquets, knowing that there will always be more in the garden.


To grow dahlias as I do, it’s important to take several things into consideration. Dahlias are tropical plants, originating in Mexico and the Central American Peninsula. While often treated as annuals in the northern U.S., dahlias are perennial geophytes that regrow from underground tubers. If you decide to grow more unusual varieties unavailable from local nurseries, it will be necessary to order tubers in early spring. Pot the tubers in rich potting mix, water them in well and grow them on for a few weeks in a cold frame or greenhouse until the nights warm and all danger of frost has passed. Otherwise, wait until it’s warm and find the stockiest plants you can at your local nursery.

Dahlias require rich soil, high in organic matter, to thrive. They need regular moisture, but are highly sensitive to overwatering early in their growth season. Later on, once summer heats up, they may require daily watering. At least six hours of direct sun per day are essential for them to thrive. Afternoon shade can help prevent the flowers of brighter varieties from fading.

Once your dahlias have settled into their various situations, they will grow primarily in leaf and plant mass for much of the summer. Smaller varieties can flower heavily throughout the summer, since they put less energy into growing. Larger varieties put their effort into growing strong stalks and massive plants throughout the summer, occasionally dropping hints of their coming autumn glory, but not doing much until the nights cool.

While some of the smaller dahlias run little risk of falling over, even when full of flowers, it is essential to incorporate supplemental support systems for the larger-flowered varieties. Different growers utilize various methods for supporting their dahlias. I have experimented with different systems of stout posts and twine for the larger varieties. However, repurposed tomato cages also yield excellent results. Stout cages are often the best option, supporting the structure of the plants without constraining their growth.

Dahlias take up space. It is essential to consider their size at maturity. Consider your selections’ eventual sizes before giving them dainty neighbors.

Collectors and dahlia aficionados have elaborate systems for categorizing dahlias. The American Dahlia Society’s classification website lists more than 40 different classifications. For most gardeners, however, the biggest differences occur in plant size and flower shape. To start, consider these five top performing varieties: ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, ‘Fireworks Mixed’, Mystic Spirit, ‘Edinburgh’ and ‘Kelvin Floodlight’.

‘Fireworks Mixed’, ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, Mystic Spirit

‘Fireworks Mixed’ is a seed strain with flowers striated in a range of citrus colors – lemon, orange, scarlet and magenta. Its flower form is single, like ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, but the plant has bright green foliage. ‘Fireworks Mixed’ was originally promoted for its ability to bloom heavily in its first year when grown from seed. It is an excellent bushy plant with abundant flowering throughout the season.

‘Bishop of Llandaff’ appeals even before its first scarlet flowers burst open. Its foliage is nearly black and finely dissected, making an excellent background for the bright flowers. Far removed from the massive blooms of the dinner-plate varieties, ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ is continually arrayed with a myriad of glowing scarlet flowers. Seedlings with similar dark foliage but variously colored flowers are often sold as ‘Bishop’s Children’.

Mystic Spirit (‘Best Bett’) is another clonal selection with dark foliage. The leaves are less finely dissected than those of ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, with strong purple tones. Its flowers are also single, with eight apricot petals. Again, they are carried in abundance on a bushy and easy to grow plant.

‘Edinburgh’ is a larger variety, growing to 4 feet high and wide, with flowers between 4-6 inches across. Unlike the three previous varieties, ‘Edinburgh’ has fully double flowers, in what is classified as the “Decorative” style. Each of its mulberry petals appears to have been dipped in white paint, giving it a striking appearance. ‘Edinburgh’ is one of the most abundantly flowering dahlias, particularly when the nights cool off in the fall.

‘Kelvin Floodlight’ will give the impression that you have gardening superpowers. It is a giant, with pale gold flowers that can reach 10-12 inches across. ‘Kelvin Floodlight’ is a little later to bloom than the smaller-flowered varieties, but will always have a few flowers once it begins. Because each of these enormous flowers requires so much energy from the plant, it rarely produces more than two or three flowers at a one time.

These five dahlias are only a few out of the vast array of dahlia cultivars available to gardeners. They might not help you win a flower show, but they will make you smile every day with their brilliant colors and fantastic blooms. If prizes are what you value, concentrate on turnips.


A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2014 print version of State-by-State Gardening
Photography courtesy of Caleb Melchior and Jim Kochevar.


Posted: 02/24/17   RSS | Print


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Spring Garden Cleanup Yields Happy, Healthy Plants
by Anne Larson       #Fertilizing   #Landscaping   #Spring

Many weeds can germinate under the snow during the winter, so a thorough spring weeding reduces headaches throughout the gardening season.
(Photo courtesy of Agnieszka Pastuszak - Maksim, Dreamstime.com.)

As the last significant snow of the season nears, thoughts turn toward getting your ornamental gardens ready for the year. The tasks that need to be done include:

• Raking leaves, sticks and other garden debris out of garden beds.
• Cutting back old foliage on perennials and some shrubs.
• Digging any weeds that have begun growing over the winter.
• Pruning branches on small trees and shrubs, as needed.
• Fertilizing perennials and trees and, if desired, applying a pre-emergent weed treatment.
• Mulching and freshening your beds’ edges, as needed.
• Tools you’ll need include a fan rake, pruners or shears, tarp or organic debris bags, weeder, wheelbarrow, garden or mulch rake, spade or sidewalk edger. Debris can be composted.

A good weeding, cutting back foliage and fertilization paves the way for a colorful spring and a succession of bloom throughout the garden season.
(Photo courtesy of Barbara Helgason, Dreamstime.com)

The first order of business is cutting and removing stems and stalks left behind from last year’s perennials. For most, cutting back to the base will be best. For perennials with “crowns” from which new foliage appears (e.g. Astilbe, Alchemilla, Heuchera, Geranium and Sedum), use caution. You do not want to cut into the crown. Rather, remove any winter-damaged leaves that may remain on the plants.

Ornamental grasses should be cut to 4 to 6 inches high. Siberian iris (I. siberica) is cut the same way. In both cases, watch for dead spots, which may appear in the center of the clump. That is a sign that the plant needs to be divided. Lift the plant and slice off the edges and transplant those. Discard the dead center.

Remove matted leaves, which may have accumulated in the garden over the winter. If not removed, the leaves can inhibit growth, as well as harbor insects or diseases.

Cleaning out dead limbs and leaves from shrubs is another important chore. If it is hard to get your hand into the center of the shrub to pull out leaves, a weeder can be helpful. The other important task for shrubs such as Spiraea spp., burning bush (Euonymous alata), lilac (Syringa spp.) and dogwood (Cornus stolonifera, C. sericea, C. racemosa, C. alba), is to take out old or diseased branches. This makes room for new, more productive shoots and also promotes good air circulation through the plant. This is best done when snow cover has receded but the plant is still dormant.

A good way to deal with extremely dense spirea (except weeping varieties, such as S. thumbergii) is to shear the shrub to the size of a large basketball, then gently lean on the remaining branches. The ones that snap are dead and should be raked out of the center. In the case of lilac and dogwood, remove no more than a third of larger or discolored canes each year to encourage more flowering.

Organic mulch, such as wood, compost or pine needles can really make your plant colors pop while retaining soil moisture, moderating soil temperature and reducing weeds.
(Photo courtesy of Oocoskun, Dreamstime.com.)


Fertilizers and Weeds
Once the perennials and shrubs have been trimmed back and cleaned up, provide fertilizer and nutrients to help the plants grow, and some type of weed control.

For insect control, hands-on weeding and scouting for bugs are effective. For weeds, there are several products on the market that suppress seed germination or root growth. Ask your local garden center what works best in your area. In all cases, make sure to read the labels and apply as recommended.

Apply fertilizer to encourage growth in perennials and shrubs. A fertilizer with balanced amounts of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) is typically recommended, such as 12-12-12. Natural, organic fertilizers and compost will have different ratios, such as 18-0-3 or 5-2-0.

If your beds have rock mulch, your work is done. If you use wood or other organic mulches, apply after putting down your fertilizer and weed control. If your gardens have natural edges (garden bed abutting lawn), recut the edge with a spade or sidewalk edger and remove excess dirt and grass.

A thorough spring cleanup ensures that your garden gets off to a good start when rainfall is more available. It also provides a head start controlling weeds and insects. Lastly, a clean garden allows spring-blooming bulbs to have their own show.


A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2013 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Agnieszka Pastuszak - Maksim, Dreamstime.com, Oocoskun, Dreamstime.com, Barbara Helgason, Dreamstime.com.


Posted: 02/24/17   RSS | Print


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Shishito Peppers
by Cynthia Wood       #Edibles   #Fruit   #Vegetables

Sautéed shishitos are the perfect cocktail snack or accompaniment to a light meal.

While on a food and native plant pilgrimage to Austin, Texas, I was offered a small plate of charred, wrinkly green peppers sprinkled with sea salt. The waiter said that the peppers were called shishitos and that they were native to Japan. I was told to eat them like candy – everything but the stem. The flavor was mild with an undertone of smoke and a subtle hint of spiciness. Most of the peppers were mild, but occasionally I would bite into one that was hot, but not mind-numbingly so. Within a few minutes, I had devoured the entire plateful and was clamoring for more. These odd looking little peppers were seriously addictive.

Shishitos are prolific and can produce 30 or more peppers per plant at one time.

Within the next few months, I found the peppers at fine restaurants from Texas to Maine and even in specialty supermarkets. Unfortunately, this chef’s darling is pricy and not always available. The solution, however, is simple: Grow them at home. If you can grow bell peppers and jalapenos, then growing shishitos (Capsicum annuum) will be easy. They can be grown from seeds or small plants can be purchased at many nurseries – ‘Mellow Star’ is a popular variety.

Shishito plants can become leggy and benefit from metal cages to support them.

Left on the vine, shishitos turn bright red, but don’t become hotter.

When working with seeds, plant them indoors approximately six to eight weeks before the last frost. Provide a source of heat under your container to encourage germination. After all danger of frost is past and the soil is uniformly warm, transplant young plants to the garden. Be sure to harden off the plants first. They can be grown successfully in the ground or in large containers, such as half whiskey barrels. Choose a location in full sun with well-drained, rich soil high in organic matter. If necessary, amend the soil with compost. Space the shishito plants approximately 3 feet apart as they can become quite large and tall – up to 4 feet high and several feet wide. You may want to grow them with some type of support, such as wire cages, that will keep the plants from toppling over and breaking while also making harvesting the peppers easier.

After the shishito plants begin to flower, feed them regularly with a balanced fertilizer, such as 5-10-10. Applying fertilizer earlier tends to make plants produce more foliage and fewer peppers.

Although shishitos are a hot weather crop, they tend to drop their blooms when temperatures are consistently above 90 F. Be patient and provide the plants with a regular supply of water. At the end of the summer, harvest shishito peppers when they’re 2-3 inches long and still green. It’s not unusual to find 20 to 30 peppers on a single plant. If you miss some and they turn red, no matter. They’re still quite tasty. According to shishito lore, most of the peppers are mild, but approximately 1 in 10 can be spicier. Not fiery hot, but noticeably hotter than their counterparts. They’re a culinary surprise and that’s part of the fun of eating them.

Shishito peppers are tough plants and easy to grow; they’re quite tolerant of benign neglect. They have few pests, just occasional aphids and slugs that can usually be dealt with by hand picking or a blast of water from the garden hose. The most persistent pest that you’ll have to deal with when growing shishitos is your best friend or neighbor. Once they realize that you have a steady supply of these treats in your garden, they’ll expect a bagful on a regular basis.

Shishitos should be sautéed over high heat until they are charred but still crunchy.


A version of this article appeared in a March 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Cynthia Wood.



Posted: 02/24/17   RSS | Print


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Old-Fashioned Plants
by Norman Winter       #Colorful   #Flowers


Summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum)

There is something special about old-fashioned plants, the ones we sometimes label as “heirloom.” They are the first ones spoken for at plant swaps and the ones that ring the cash registers at those special plant sales. They are found at many garden centers in the spring or fall depending on season but not in quantities you can rely on. In other words, you better be the first one there when they hit the shelves.

Summer Snowflake
One such plant is the summer snowflake. This persevering little trooper of the lily family, known botanically as Leucojum aestivum, doesn’t really receive the accolades it deserves. First, consider that it is a rock-solid perennial, cold hardy from Zones 4 through 9. This means that just about the entire United States can grow it. The bulbs multiply freely, giving you many more to add to your garden. In fact, they appreciate being divided about every three to five years and planted in the fall.

They are native to the Mediterranean region – North Africa – and have been in cultivation since the 1500s. You see them flourishing in old cemeteries, and almost like an archaeological beacon, they will point out where old farmhouses once stood.

The little bell-shaped flowers have a slight fragrance and are comprised of three sepals and petals (tepals) that look quite similar, each bearing a green, jewel-like dot at the tip. Each stalk or scape usually bears two to six flowers.

If you are blessed with an abundance of rocks, you will have quite a companion for growing in the adjacent streams of soil, or you can plant it in beds with jonquils and spring-blooming shrubs.


Larkspur (Consolida ajacis)

Once May arrives, the rural roads in the South are like a giant painting of cottage gardens, thanks to the larkspur, Consolida ajacis. The spiky 2-4-foot blossoms come in shades of blue, pink, white and even two-toned. Though they are considered annuals in the South, their reseeding capability makes them one of the most persevering plants in the garden – returning for years. You’ll find them in the cracks of the sidewalks and in places you never dreamed. This means you will want to do a little larkspur management.

This is a rare plant in the garden center and to have those incredible blossoms in May is an issue of timing. Larkspurs should be seed-sown in the fall. Lightly sow the seeds on top of loosened, well-drained soil and tamp with a garden hoe. The seeds will germinate with the cool rains of fall, forming small plants. Seedlings can be transplanted in late winter if handled with care.

Plant yours in bold drifts with Knock Out roses (Rosa ‘Radrazz’), Coreopsis and our next old-fashioned plant, the ox-eye daisy.

Ox-eye Daisy

Ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)


Rose campion (Silene coronaria)

There is just something about fresh, springtime white. Daisies are the flowers young ladies seem to find most enchanting. Perhaps it is because they are among the most favored wedding flowers. Known botanically as Leucanthemum vulgare, it is native to Eurasia and is tough as nails.

It is so tough it can be grown along the roadside or in medians. While it is not a repeat bloomer, you are just about guaranteed that it will be back next year. You can also count on your patch being a little larger than before. This is where it sometimes gets a bad rap, as it spreads by underground rhizomes and can reseed as well.

The ox-eye is like a Shasta with a wildflower appearance. Many consider it a “Shasta extender.” In other words, it blooms first, ending just as the Shasta begins. This could cause your neighbors to think you have a super-green thumb with daisies blooming for so long.

The ox-eye seems to be a perfect match for Early Sunrise coreopsis (Coreopsis grandiflora ‘Early Sunrise’), ‘Homestead Purple’ Verbena, yarrow (Achillea spp.) and the glorious larkspurs mentioned above and our partner below, rose campion.

Rose Campion

Rose campion is native to northern Africa and southern Europe, but seems most at home in our cottage gardens. The felt-like leaves were once used for lamp wicks. The old botanical name we grew up with was Lychnis from the Greek word for lamps. The new name, however, is Silene coronaria. It is considered a biennial or short-lived perennial, yet it always seems to reseed, meaning those wonderful iridescent, rose-colored blooms and showy silver foliage is always present in the garden.

The flower show starts in May with flowers opening one at a time, lasting only a day. But the bloom period lasts into summer. Keep the mulch to a minimum, which allows the most opportunity for reseeding.

The plants will reach about 3 feet tall; allow for one of the most incredible drifts of color in any garden. In addition to the partners mentioned above, consider it an absolutely heavenly companion with other gray-leafed plants, such as Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’.

Garden Phlox

Left: Garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) Right: Peacock phlox

Phlox is treasured by gardeners across the country. But it is also one of dozens of plants that are passed over because they are typically not in bloom come shopping time.

The phlox I am referring to is called summer phlox, or garden phlox, Phlox paniculata. It is native to the U.S. – over a large area – and you more than likely will buy one of more than 100 varieties available.

Most get fairly tall, 3-4 feet, and would look great planted at the rear of a perennial garden. Taller selections may require some support to keep their large blooms from falling over. There are great new compact selections such as the Peacock series.

To really create a dazzling display, give yourself plenty of room. Make your beds large enough to plant in informal drifts. Combine with other summer perennials such as Coreopsis, daisies, Rudbeckia and various salvias. By combining with other perennials, you may not have to give the taller varieties support – or if you do, it will be hidden.


Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana)

Obedient Plant

When August arrives, any blooms are welcome, and the obedient plant, one of the most persevering native perennials provides a bounty. Physostegia virginiana is native to 39 states and Canada.

Feeding bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, it’s perfect for the backyard wildlife habitat. The spiky texture is incredible with its pink to purple blooms rising 2-4 feet. The tubular flowers align vertically in columns along the stem. The lower flowers open first with the bloom proceeding upward over time. The obedient plant is in the mint family and is aggressive. The plant name actually comes from the way the flowers, when bent, will maintain the position, obediently, for quite some time. But that is where any obedience ends.

One of my favorite combinations is to partner it with the old-fashioned yellow-flowered tansy (Tanecetum vulgare). The yellow flowers, borne on 3-4-feet tall plants, form an idyllic, late-summer complementary color scheme. An informal drift of flowers would look quite at home against a white picket fence, completing a cottage garden setting.

Country Girl Chrysanthemum

Country Girl chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum x rubellum)

The Clara Curtis or Country Girl chrysanthemum is not only an heirloom, but it is still in major production. Unrivaled fall displays of large rose pink flowers on plants that return year after year is the reason. Known botanically as Chrysanthemum x rubellum, it is one mum that will indeed be a long-term perennial.

Whether you call it ‘Clara Curtis’ or ‘Country Girl’, do your part to ensure that your children can grow up with this flower. Plant them in full sun to produce the most floriferous, compact plants. A little afternoon shade is tolerated. The soil must be fertile, organic, rich, moist, but very well drained. Drainage may indeed be the key to winter survival.

One of the prettiest displays I have seen of ‘Clara Curtis’ was growing with tall, purple Gomphrena. The pink flowers also combine wonderfully with purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) and muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris). Grow with burgundy-leafed coleus selections. The fall bloom cycle also works well in the perennial garden with the Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) and Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’.

We live in an age of great new plant development, but there will always be room for these old-fashioned plants that have stood the test of time.


A version of this article appeared in Georgia Gardening Volume 12, Number 1.
Photography courtesy of Norman Winter.


Posted: 02/02/17   RSS | Print


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Space-Saving Herbs
by Kenny Coogan       #Herbs   #Ornamentals   #Variegated

Place herbs adjacent to grills and food prep areas, which are all small, underutilized locations that will encourage you to use them.

If you could only grow one group of edibles, herbs should be at the top of your list, due to their versatility in the kitchen. They are also easy to grow, due to their forgiving nature and generally not picky on their soil conditions.

When you consider that purchasing a cut bunch of herbs is the same price or more than a small potted plant, it just makes sense to grow them yourself.

We all have small areas that we pass by every day that we overlook. We should stop thinking of an herb garden as a dedicated garden bed for herbs, and start integrating our herbs into our existing landscapes. It is true that some can be used as ground cover, but they do not have to be given that much space. Place them pots in between your flowers or other edibles. Exhibit them near small, underutilized locations such as on front steps, windowsills, back porches, in your kitchen, adjacent to grills and food prep areas and you will be encouraged to use them often.

Garlic and chives planted in blocks make use of an otherwise useless space. By having herbs along the walkway, cooks have it easy.

Indoor Herb Options:

Basil (Ocimum species)
Chives (Allium species)
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
Mint (Mentha species)
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Shade Tolerant Herb Options:

Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
Mint (Mentha species)
Shiso (Perilla frutescens)
Thyme (Thymus species)
Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

Sage advice
Herbs are great for not only cooking, but also for adding textures, scents and visual appeal to your garden. Luckily for us, herbs will grow in just about anything. They are easy to grow in containers for yearlong supply or for those with limited space. Herbs don’t need to be fussed over. Aside from starting with a high quality organic soil that contains trace minerals, I do not fertilize my herbs. If you find that your plants are lighter green or have mottled leaves you can add a diluted liquid fertilizer that contains nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and a small amount of trace elements every two weeks.

Investing in a loose potting soil that maintains moisture is ideal. Herbs generally have small root systems and don’t mind drying out in-between waterings. Thyme and oregano will not be as flavorful if they get a lot of water. Oregano will even grow in poor soil.

Far left: Variegated Cuban oregano hanging from a small basket makes use of a small space by going vertical.

Top: Sage (Salvia officinalis) can grow quite large. Some cultivars are more compact such as Yugoslavian cutleaf, dwarf common and germander sage.

Left: Rosemary planted in a decorative pot by the backdoor makes it easy to incorporate the herb into any Mediterranean dish.

By regularly harvesting, you will get bushy herbs. Pinch terminal growth every few days to keep plants looking full.  The more you harvest the more you get. During the growing season, you could use the “cut and come again” approach to use them in the kitchen every day. You must use them or you will lose them. Harvest before they set flowers.

Most herbs will require plenty of sun, typically six or more hours. For herbs grown indoors, a south- or east-facing window is best. Herbs that are labeled as full sun elsewhere may do best in partial shade in the South. Not many herbs can be grown in full shade, but many can grow in lightly shaded areas.

Small pots, like those seen in many magazines which show 2-3 inch terracotta pots with herbs growing in them, in reality dry out very quickly. If I cut a large part off for cooking, I try to root the stem. If even a small portion of the cuttings make it, I am happy. I can’t have enough herbs. I do use small pots for newly rooted cuttings. Some herbs, you may not want to ever plant in your garden, like mint, due to its spreading properties.

Left: Genovese basil, a cultivar of Ocimum basilicum, is an Italian variety that can get up to 2-feet tall. Middle: I didn’t always like Cuban oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus), likely because I ate it raw the first few times.Grow this plant as an annual. Right: Toothache plant (Spilanthes acmella) may enhance the immune system, improve digestion and help nausea. The name comes from the numbing properties it has when the leaves and flowers are chewed.Grow this plant as an annual.

The more soil mass you have, the more flexibility you will get. By using larger pots you will not have to be married to your plants. You can leave them for a few days and the soil mass will allow for the correct moisture retention.

Thyme’s a wastin’
Now that you are familiar with some herb basics, try it yourself. Kick off the summer with some of these flavorful combinations.

10 Container Combos — Create flavorful fares in one pot

Theme Thriller Filler Spiller
Appe-Thai-zing Tiny Thai Pepper Thai Basil


Baked & Loaded Garlic Chives Oregano


Herbes de Provence with American Twist Lavender/Rosemary Marjoram/Savory



Indian Fusion Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) Curry (Helichrysum italicum)


Momma Mia Flat-leaf Parsley Box Basil

Hot & Spicy Oregano

Powerful Pesto African Blue Basil Cinnamon Basil Dwarf Nasturtium
Pucker Up Lemon Verbena Lemon Balm Lemon Thyme
Soupofficial Stew Tarragon Sage Lemon Thyme
Tea Time Chamomile Lemon Balm Peppermint/Spearmint
Tex-Mex Flat-leaf Parsley Cultantro (Eryngium foetidum) Cuban Oregano


A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 21, Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Kenny Coogan.



Posted: 02/02/17   RSS | Print


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Boost Your Curb Appeal
by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp       #Decorating   #Landscaping   #Ornamentals

Shrubs and small trees provide multi-season interest with geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) adding spot color for the summer. The curved patch of grass helps show off the plants and soften an area near the walkway.


Keep shrubs and trees from blocking walkways. When shrubs get this big, it’s usually best to take them out.

Make sure the edges of landscape beds are crisp, neat and weed free.

Whether you are planning to sell your home or just update the look, there are a few things you can do in the landscape to boost your property’s curb appeal.

“Stand in front of the house and look at it with fresh eyes,” said Glen Kemery, a real estate broker with Snyder Strategy Realty, Inc., in Indianapolis. “Pay attention to the details.”

Is the paint cracked, peeling or faded? Is the trim crisp and clean? Are the shrubs pruned properly? Consider taking some of them completely out, especially the overgrown, misshapen ones, he said.

Consumers value properties with an attractive landscape about 11 percent above the base price, according to Smart Money magazine. Several studies show a well-designed landscape adds 15 to 20 percent to the value of the home.

You want to make sure your yard looks good, without a lot of weeds, and that your grass is green. When potential buyers look at that, they think, “wow, if the outside looks this good, the inside must look good, too,” Kemery said.

Whether selling the house or just spiffing it up, people are interested in low-maintenance landscapes, said Judy DePue, a landscape designer for 35 years and owner of New Vistas Landscaping in Goshen. DePue is a certified fellow of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers.

A lot of old-fashioned evergreens, such as yews (Taxus spp.) and junipers (Juniperus spp.), need regular pruning to keep the size in check, she said. “The newer look is not everything is filled with all greens.”

DePue said one of the color trends is burgundy and other wine-colored hues, such as the USDA Zone 3-hardy Little Devil ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Donna May’). It has an upright habit, is somewhat resistant to powdery mildew and is 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. Pink flowers pop against the deep burgundy foliage in spring. Many landscape designers and homeowners use this shrub as an alternative to Japanese barberry (Berberis thubergii), which is on some states' invasive species list.

Little Devil ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Donna May’) is a low-maintenance shrub with trendy burgundy foliage.

Dwarf plants don’t usually need a lot of pruning, she said. Among DePue’s favorites is ‘Green Gem’ dwarf boxwood (Buxus x ‘Green Gem’). This slow-grower will get about 3 to 4 feet tall and wide, but keeps its lush, evergreen mound with little or no pruning.

Preferring low-maintenance tree and shrub plantings, DePue shuns annuals, perennials and containers for spot color, emphasizing that many require more work, such as watering and deadheading, or planting every year.

For an instant, fresh new look, paint the trim around the door a contrasting color.

Add a new light and stylish, decorative house numbers to spruce up the porch.

Besides replacing plants, another way to give your home a facelift is to paint the trim or add other coordinated, complementary color schemes, said Betty Schelle of Indigo Gardens and Design in South Bend. Schelle, a former stay-at-home mom, founded her business three years ago.

“Pick an accent color and refresh the paint on the window trim or the front door, and repeat it again in the landscape with flowers or pot color,” she said. “The color theme repeated makes the house look clean and uncluttered.”

Add the color to the mailbox and enlarge the house numbers to an Art Deco or another appropriate style, said Schelle, also a member of APLD.

If your house sits back from the road, go with specimen plants with bold foliage. Fine-textured plants will not catch the eyes of passersby, if your house sits 50 feet away from the road, she said.

Replace outdated metal awnings with more fashionable eyebrow pergolas above windows or an arbor over a door. Adorn the fixture with perennial vines, such as Clematis spp., Kentucky wisteria (Wisteria macrostachya), American wisteria (W. frutescens) or honeysuckle (Lonicerea spp.), which will also provide some cover over porches and doorways. Climbing black-eyed Susan (Thunbergia alata), hyacinth bean (Lablab purpurea), scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus) and morning glories (Ipomoea purpurea) are good selections for annual vines.

If changing foundation plantings, make sure to plant the new shrubs 3 to 4 feet away from the house to allow for a maintenance alley for washing windows or painting, Schelle said. Widen narrow borders around the house and plant shrubs and small trees for textural and seasonal interest.

Lastly, she said, plant annuals. Whether trying to sell your house or perk up the look of the landscape, a $60 investment in three flats of bedding plants goes a long way in adding color, sass and eye appeal, she said.


A version of this article appeared in Indiana Gardening Volume 6, Number 2.
Photography courtesy of Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, elanathewise/istockphoto.com, Bailey Nurseries, jlende/istockphoto.com, seeman/morguefile.com.


Posted: 02/02/17   RSS | Print


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Where Are They Now?
by Steve Frank       #Insects   #Pests   #Winter

Cercropia moth caterpillar feeding on cherry leaves.

People don’t often think about insects in winter. Frankly, most people don’t think about insects at all except when they are being tormented by mosquitoes in the summer. As gardeners, though, we tend to consider insects and the natural world more frequently than other people. We notice tomato hornworms nibbling tomato leaves and spiders scurrying from under squash leaves. In the flower garden we notice the praying mantis waiting patiently for prey and butterflies visiting flowers we planted just for them. In winter though, insects seem to disappear. What happens to the pests that drive us crazy and the other bugs that fascinate us during warmer months?

Contrary to popular belief, a cold winter won’t eradicate garden pests. Insects didn’t become so successful by dying out each winter. They have evolved many different ways to cope with the lethal cold that befalls much of the country each year. Many insects, like birds, just get out of town and migrate south to Florida or Central America. A well-known example of this is monarch butterflies, which migrate thousands of miles each fall to southern California and Mexico, only to return each spring. This is also the strategy of potato leafhoppers, which migrate north from the Gulf Coast each spring to feed on squash, maples and many other plants.

The majority of insects have found ways to survive the winter without transcontinental migration. Scarab beetles such as Japanese and June beetles, spend the winter underground where temperatures remain fairly constant. To achieve this, adult beetles lay eggs in the summer from which grubs hatch. The grubs burrow into the ground, feeding on plant roots. As they become larger they burrow deeper and spend the winter 12 inches or more below the surface.

Japanese beetle grub with parasitic Tiphia wasp larvae attached to thorax (note lump behind legs), which feeds on grub fluids.

Perhaps more interesting than the grubs are the parasitoid wasps that use the grubs as food and a free ride below ground for the winter. Adult wasps in the genus Tiphia are 1/2 an inch long and feed on nectar. Female wasps burrow into the ground following the scent of their preferred grub species. They sting the grub to paralyze it long enough to attach an egg to the grub’s body. The wasp larva is a parasite of the live grub piercing its skin and drinking its juices. While the grub moves down the wasp larva is carried deep in the ground where, in its final stage, the wasp larva eats the entire grub and spins a silk cocoon in which to spend the winter.

Other insects, which spend the winter exposed to freezing temperatures, have physiological ways to cope. Spending the winter in a non-feeding life stage is one way to cope with extended periods of cold weather and inactivity. Eggs are a non-feeding life stage of most insects and a common way to spend the winter.

Praying mantids exemplify this behavior. The insect has one generation per year that begins and ends with a large brown egg mass. In the fall, adult female mantids release brown foam that hardens around a twig or a stalk of grass. Each foamy mass contains hundreds of eggs that will remain dormant all winter and hatch in the spring. Look for these when cleaning up the garden in fall. Although the pest control benefit of mantids is mixed – they consume pests but also spiders, butterflies, bees and other beneficials – they are one of the most interesting insects to watch and a favorite for classroom show-and-tell.

Praying mantis egg case deposited on the dried stalk of ornamental switchgrass.

Another insect that spends the winter as eggs in a foam-like mass is the eastern tent caterpillar. You can easily spot the oval masses on cherry twigs in winter when leaves have fallen. Each contains hundreds of caterpillar eggs. Prune them off to avoid dealing with big silk tents in the spring.

Butterflies and moths often spend the winter as a pupa, commonly known as a cocoon. You may find silken cocoons stuck in sheltered locations such as under tree bark or on the ground under leaf litter or mulch. The cecropia moth caterpillar spins its cocoon attached to a tree branch. Caterpillars are 3 to 4 inches long with spiny red, blue and yellow tubercles. Caterpillars feed on cherry, maple, apple and other trees all summer. In the fall they spin a large brown cocoon with a tough outer layer to protect them from predators.

Most insects and spiders will remain in your yard and garden throughout the winter. Research has found that leaf litter and mulch will help preserve predatory insect abundance in winter, and reduce pest problems in spring.

Many gardeners work hard to plant the correct flowers to attract and feed butterflies and other beneficial insects in the summer. Allow stalks of perennial flowers and grasses to remain in the garden through the winter to provide shelter for many insects and preserve the eggs and pupae of butterflies and other insects that may be attached to them. Considering the needs of butterflies and other insects when winterizing your garden could increase their abundance in spring and help conserve some threatened insect species.


A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 22, Number 9.
Photography courtesy of Steve Frank.


Posted: 02/02/17   RSS | Print


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Winter Planning for the Spring Garden
by Ruth Mason McElvain       #Design   #Spring   #Winter

A little planning now will help you enjoy a lush, prosperous garden when summer comes.

Whether you are a veteran victory gardener or an eager beginner with a few pots, experts agree that a little advance scheming makes for a better garden, saving time, money and wear and tear on your own momentum. February, with its frigid air, freezing rain and slumbering garden, is a perfect time for planning.

A good place to start is to read gardening books. From the great offerings in the State-by-State Gardening Bookstore to the many different websites and blogs, winter reading helps you visualize your garden. There is plenty of historical and modern inspiration out there just waiting to fire up your imagination.

Once you have done your research, you are ready to plan. The looming choices you have to make are location, size, soil preparation and plants.

Graph paper works great to map out the dimensions of your garden, and even plan wwhere you will plant them, giving each one appropriate spacing.

First things first – when it comes to having a successful garden, location is key. For a vegetable garden, the best spot is a sunny location with at least six to eight hours of full sun, away from shade trees, shrubs and underground septic tanks, but conveniently located near a water source. It is an added bonus if your garden is visible from a window, delighting your eye with its green sprawl and luring you out for a few minutes a day for garden tending.

Knowing how much water each type of vegetable needs can help you figure out where to place them in your garden, so you do not have plants that like wet feet beside plants that need a little dryness.

Size and Soil Preparation
Make your garden a realistic size, tailored to your experience, lifestyle, motivation and physical capabilities. Plan your garden dimensions to ensure that you enjoy pleasant industry in the greenery and insect hum, but not so big that you begin to dread unmanageable chores.

Once you map the perimeter of your garden, investigate good soil preparation in order to prime this essential element for healthy garden growth. It is never too late to perform a soil test, available through the cooperative extension service. While it might be too cold to plant anything just yet, it is a great time to take advantage of some of our warmer days to get outside, turn over your soil and add compost or other necessary amendments.

Vegetable Choice
Researching which plants to put in your garden might just be the most fun part of this process. This is where you get to peruse gardening catalogs and magazines, dreaming about what you are going to plant this spring. Make sure they will fit your garden’s hardiness zone and conditions, as well as your own personal taste. If your vegetables’ growing habits match your garden and your fork returns eagerly to them on your plate, you are bound to enjoy your garden more with fewer disappointing harvests.

Make sure to order your seeds early, not only so you will have them when planting time arrives, but also to ensure the best selection from the distributors.

Mapping it Out
Start with rough sketches on graph paper so you have a good to-scale garden layout. Remember to include 24-inch-wide footpaths. This is an optimal distance to conserve as much growing space as possible, but still give reasonable access outside the beds so you do not compact the soil. It also leaves room for working tools such as wheelbarrows. Establishing 4-foot-wide beds allows an average gardener’s reach from either side into the middle for comfortable planting, staking, weeding and harvesting. Include room in your plan for present or future garden ornaments, water features, abodes for beneficial garden creatures and a nearby work counter with a water station.

When it is time to pick exactly what you want to plant, consider planting dates, water requirements and good companions. Then, create a simple chart, reducing important references for each plant to a single line. A 10-row table allows a space for the vegetable name, planting date, planting distances, mature size, watering ratio of 1- inch/per frequency in days, notes or tips, yield per plant, companions and enemies, days to harvest and harvesting guides. This chart conveniently compares planting information, and correct vegetable layout ensures the best harvest.

Drawing your plan out on loose-leaf graph paper gives it some portability so you can take it right out with you to the garden when it is time to plant.

It is helpful to research companion plants that work well together. For example, this information may prompt you to place sweet potatoes with pole beans in the same bed because roots and legumes are often mutually beneficial. But if you are using your table, you will notice that the sweet potatoes prefer watering at three weeks while the beans crave a deep drink every five days. Each deserves neighbors with comparable needs. Making these arrangements and rearrangements on paper first is a good reason for planning.

Once you have chosen your vegetables, charted their information, and planned your garden dimensions and design, it is much simpler to populate each bed with appropriate citizens. Make another graph with the planting distances drawn to scale to determine how many of each vegetable your garden can support. Your own loose-leaf garden journal can bring this portable mini-library right out to the garden at planting time.

A realistic garden plan also helps you order seeds appropriately. You know ahead of time that you will need cool-weather, seeds such as garden peas and beets, early. Slow growers such as peppers and tomato seeds need to have six to eight weeks before the first frost, so you can start them indoors and transplant in late spring. Your plan will alert you to the proper ordering time to get the seeds and plants in hand when needed, or better yet, avoid missing out on some craved vegetable because you did not order before they sold out.

Making a chart with the specifics for each plant can help put all the information you need right at your fingertips.

High-Tech Planning
To polish your garden plans even more, take a spin with some of the excellent, online, interactive planning tools such as the “Grow Planner” iTunes app, featured on Motherearthnews.com. This one enables you to draw the dimensions and shapes of your beds and drop in vegetable shapes from an extensive list. The program automatically spaces vegetables correctly, creating a list as you go that you can access later and print with planting dates, quantities, spacing and seed sources. It is just one more tool in your arsenal to help you hone your gardening skills.

February is a great time for the savvy gardener to plan and be a jump ahead of the good garden weather that is just a few weeks away. Your garden can burst into life when the scribbles on a February graph emerge in summer as a happy green jungle of juicy delights, right in your backyard. Most of all, it is just more gardening fun until we can get back in the dirt.

A version of this article originally appeared in a February 2013 State-by-State Gardening E-newsletter.
Photography courtesy of Ruth Mason McElvain.


Posted: 02/01/17   RSS | Print


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Celebrate With a Bouquet
by Melinda Myers       #Fragrant   #Flowers   #Roses


The holiday of love is just around the corner, and the most popular presents are bouquets of tulips, roses, and other cut flowers. Throw in a bottle of Champagne or a lovely dinner, and the evening will be yours. Remember, too, that both women and men appreciate a beautiful bouquet!

To give the perfect Valentine’s Day bouquet, select the freshest flowers, protect them from the cold when transporting, and provide proper care.

Whether you purchase your flowers from a florist, winter farmer’s market, garden center or grocery store, look for bouquets with lots of buds that are just starting to open. These will continue to open over time extending the beauty of the bouquet.

Avoid flowers that are fully opened or with loose pollen. This indicates they are past their prime.


Tall varieties of lisianthus (Eustoma spp.) can sometimes be purchased at florists or bucket shops, or you can grow them in the garden. Look for seeds from online retailers.

Flowers from shops
Make sure to wrap the purchase before leaving the store. A plastic or paper wrapper will protect the flowers from cold weather.

Once home, remove any of the foliage on the bottom of the stems. Submerged greenery decays and rots, releasing fungi and bacteria in the water. This plugs the vascular system of the cut flowers, preventing them from absorbing needed water.

Remove the bottom inch or two of the stem just prior to placing in the water. Cut the stems at a 45-degree angle with a sharp knife. Cutting on an angle prevents the stems from sitting flat on the bottom of the vase, providing maximum exposure of the water absorbing vessels.

Place freshly cut flowers in a clean vase with warm, about 100 F, water that contains floral preservative. The warm water speeds the uptake of water by the flowers while the floral preservative feeds the flowers and prevents fungi and bacteria from forming.

Keep the vase filled with the preservative and water mix. Recut stems every few days to keep the flowers fresh. Remove faded flowers and rearrange the remaining blossoms to maximize enjoyment.

Further extend the life of Valentine bouquets by displaying them in a cool location away from direct sunlight, hot spots, and drafts inside the home.


Make a fresh cut on the stems of roses before arranging them in a vase.

Droopy roses
Roses, especially red, are a favorite Valentine’s flower. There is nothing more disappointing than when the stem just below the blossom bends, ruining the bouquet. Fortunately there is an easy cure. Remove the roses from their vase. Recut the stems and submerge the whole rose – stem, leaves, flowers, and all – in a sink or tub of warm water. Leave the roses submerged for 20 to 60 minutes until they revive.

In the meantime clean and refill the vase with fresh water and floral preservative. Recut the stems on a slant, under water if possible and arrange the roses back in the vase. The now perky roses will last for a week or more.


Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) are easy to grow and are appreciated in the garden by bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. We humans enjoy them as cut flowers indoors.


Grow your own annuals
Don’t limit cut flowers to special holidays. Consider growing a few of your own to enjoy fresh throughout the growing season and in dried arrangements year-round.

Select a variety of annuals and perennials that bloom at different times. The choices are many and you may be surprised to find you already have many candidates already growing in your landscape. Here are just a few to consider.

Annuals are an easy group of flowers to start with. They bloom all season long providing an ongoing source of flowers to enjoy. Zinnias are heat and drought tolerant and look great in the garden or vase. Select disease resistant ones for maximum beauty and minimal care.

Grow a few dwarf sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) from seed for late summer and fall bouquets. Consider pollen-free varieties, such as ‘Chocolate Cheery’, ‘Pro-Cut’, and ‘Sunrich’, which are less messy and last longer as cut flowers.

Include cockscomb (Celosia spp.) varieties with crested, plumed, or wheat-type flowers. They are heat and drought tolerant. Just be sure to rinse away any insects that may be hiding in the blossoms before moving them indoors.

Increase the wow factor in bouquets with lisianthus (Eustoma spp.) also known as prairie gentian. It may be hard to find in the garden center but are commonplace in the florist’s cooler. The delicate flowers are one of the longest lasting cuts you can grow in the garden. Grow in full sun with consistently moist soil. Taller varieties will need staking in the garden but the extra work will be rewarded with beautiful bouquets. Look for seeds for tall varieties at online retailers.


There’s nothing quite as fragrant as a bouquet of fresh-cut peonies (Paeonia spp.). Many florists will have these in season, or grow your own for years of pleasure.

Grow your own perennials
Add a few perennials to the list. Include spring, summer, and fall bloomers for months of enjoyment. Peonies (Paeonia spp.) have long been grown for their spring blossoms in the garden and for the flower vase. Many varieties are fragrant, adding to their appeal. Grow these long-lived plants in a sunny location with moist, well-drained soil.

Irises come in a rainbow of colors and make great additions to spring bouquets. Purchase plants in spring or rhizomes in late summer. Follow planting directions on the tag for best results.

Harvest a few roses (Rosa spp.) to display in a vase or combine with annual or perennial flowers. Harvest a few of the rose hips for winter arrangements and displays.

Plant a few coneflowers (Echinacea spp.) for the bees and butterflies to enjoy and to use as cut flowers. And once the petals fade the remaining seed head, cone, looks great in dried arrangements.

Liatris, also known as gayfeather, is a popular perennial with florists and gardeners. The spikes of white or purple flowers are long lasting. Use these for a bit of vertical interest in the garden and arrangements.

Grow a few hardy mums (Chrysanthemum spp.) for fall bouquets. This last splash of color makes the perfect fall bouquet. Select from the many flower sizes, shapes and colors for the season finale.

And don’t overlook bulbs and herbs. The early blossoms of spring flowering bulbs provide a bit of winter relief. The fragrant flowers and foliage of herbs make them nice fillers in bouquets. And harvest a few evergreen sprigs, hosta leaves and lady’s mantle (Alchemilla spp.) for greenery. Force a few flowering shrub branches to add form and color to your spring bouquets.

Flowers from the garden
Extend the beauty of cut flowers from the garden with proper harvesting and conditioning. Harvest the flowers early in the morning when the plants are crisp and full of water. Use sharp shears to make the cut.

Collect flowers with buds that are just starting to open. When back in the house remove the bottom leaves, cut the stem and place in warm water for several hours or better yet overnight. Recut the stems before creating the arrangement.

Bottom line, if it is blooming in the garden it is worth trying a in a vase. You just might be surprised.


A version of this article appeared in a January/February 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Pixabay.com, assy/Pixabay.com, Nile/Pixabay.com, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, elm98/canstockphoto.com.


Posted: 02/01/17   RSS | Print


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Versatile Winter Squash: Stuffed or Gratin
by Kate Jerome       #Recipes   #Vegetables   #Winter

Winter squashes come in all sizes and shapes.

A cold winter evening is just the right kind of weather to fire up the oven and bake the fruits of fall and winter, savory winter squash (and that includes pumpkins). The aroma that drifts through the house will make even the pickiest eater hungry. Best of all, because they store so well, you can usually purchase all types through the winter months.

Most winter squash is Cucurbita moschata; pumpkin is sometimes C. mixta, and sometimes C. pepo or C. maxima.

Winter squash is a long-season plant, and should not be sown outdoors until the soil is quite warm. It needs full sun, plenty of moisture as it ripens the fruits, and fertile soil. It’s important to watch for squash vine borer throughout the season, but otherwise squashes are fairly easy to grow. Just give them plenty of room. If you don’t want to grow your own, shop farmers markets for winter squashes.

Begin harvest in late summer-fall
Winter squash begins ripening in August and continues into October. Although most winter squash can be harvested when young and used like zucchini, the point to growing winter squash is usually to keep them over the winter. Winter squash is ready for harvest when the rind is hard enough so that you cannot make a dent in it with your fingernail. This means it has cured enough to store well. By the time the first frost arrives, the squash should all be ready to harvest.

To control fungal problems in storage, wash squashes well with soap and water. For extra protection, you can dip them in a mixture of one part bleach to six parts water, making sure to get the stem end. Then, they are best stored on wire racks or someplace with good circulation and cool conditions, such as the basement. Squashes should ideally be stored at 50-55° F, and if your basement is warmer than that, be sure to check them periodically for rotting.

New varieties for small spaces
Some newer varieties that are becoming quite popular are dwarf and semi-dwarf forms of the traditional squashes. These produce shorter vines and smaller fruit, making them easier to handle in tight spaces, and easier to cook for two people. Pumpkin is the king of winter squash. We usually connect them with Halloween because of the jack-o-lantern, but they are also really tasty to eat.

Pumpkins, especially small pie pumpkins, make a delicious winter meal.

Pumpkin pie made from fresh pumpkin is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted, and pumpkin is also very good when baked and mashed like potatoes.

For years, the most popular winter squash was acorn squash, mostly because it was commonly available year-round. This baseball-sized green ribbed squash has bright orange flesh. But there are so many others available now that there’s no need to limit yourself. Delicata squash, which is oblong, cream to yellow with dark green stripes, and Sweet Dumplin’ are some of the sweetest squash you’ll ever eat. They have rich orange flesh like a butternut, but are infinitely sweeter. There are hundreds of types of winter squash out there, from buttercup and blue Hubbard to spaghetti and butternut squash.


Stuffed Squash
Acorn, Delicata, or any small squash

2 oblong or round squashes, cut into 1-inch thick slices, seeds and membrane removed
6 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
1½ tablespoons curry powder
2 apples, diced
23 cup apple juice
½ cup cranberries, fresh or frozen

Sauté onion in butter, add the curry and cook for one minute. Add the rest of ingredients and sauté until liquid evaporates. Place squash rings in a shallow baking pan, fill with sauté mixture and bake at 350°F for 40 minutes.




How to prepare
All it takes to bake most winter squash is to cut them in half and invert them on a rimmed cookie sheet. Remove the seeds before baking, especially if you want to toast them, or you can bake with the seeds intact and remove them after baking. They will come out easier this way.

Bake for an hour or so, depending on the size of the squash, at 350° F and serve with butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, or stuffed with whatever sounds luscious. Flesh should be soft when pierced with a fork. All winter squashes are cooked the same way, and can be interchanged in almost any recipe.

The cooked flesh freezes well, and if you measure it in one-cup batches and place it into freezer bags, it’s ready to pull out for use whenever the mood hits to make muffins or squash bread.

Spaghetti squash is a little different, in that when it is cooked, you can separate the flesh into strands, which really do resemble spaghetti. The “spaghetti” is delicious with a little butter and Parmesan or even spaghetti sauce. And it doesn’t have the high calories of pasta.


Butternut Squash or Pumpkin Gratin

3 cups torn day-old bread
2 cups cooked squash (any with rich orange color)
2 tablespoons olive oil
12 cup chopped onion
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup ricotta cheese
14 cup Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
34 teaspoon salt
14 teaspoon pepper
Fresh bread crumbs or panko


Cover bread with hot water and let stand until softened, 3-5 minutes. Drain and set aside. Sauté onion and garlic in oil until tender. Mix bread, squash, and rest of ingredients in large bowl. Add onions and garlic. Spread in oiled, 2-quart casserole and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Bake at 350°F, uncovered 35 minutes, until slightly puffed and beginning to brown.


A version of this article appeared in a January February 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of MSPhotographic/iStockphoto and Kate Jerome.


Posted: 12/28/16   RSS | Print


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2017 New Varieties
by Lori Pelkowski       #Fruit   #New Trends   #Vegetables


Okra ‘Candle Fire’ offers bright red fruits for eating or floral displays.

It’s that time of year again. The 2017 winners of the coveted All-America Selections Vegetable Awards, which recognizes only the tastiest, easiest-to-grow vegetables, have been announced. The AAS’s mission is “to promote new garden seed varieties with superior garden performance judged in impartial trials in North America.” I am growing these new varieties this year because, although they may be short in stature, they are heavy on harvest and big on flavor.

Pea ‘Patio Pride’ (Pisum sp.)
Pea ‘Patio Pride’ only needs 40 days to maturity, making it perfect for succession plantings. Sow the seeds directly into a container or in the ground about 8 inches apart in full sun in early spring, and then again at two week intervals to keep the peas coming throughout the spring and early summer. The plants are so pretty, I will plant some in a container on the patio in early spring with colorful pansies for a combination ornamental and edible display. ‘Patio Pride’ will grow to about 2 feet tall – no staking needed – and will reward you with a consistent harvest over many weeks. Pick the pods of ‘Patio Pride’ early for best flavor and tenderness. I will sow seeds again in midsummer for an early fall harvest, keeping the young plants watered and shaded from the worst of the summer sun as they grow.

Squash ‘Honeybaby’ (Cucurbita sp.)
‘Honeybaby’ F1 is a productive variety of winter squash that produces a lot of fruit on a compact plant. These shorter vines grow 2 to 3 feet tall with a vigorous, bushy habit that results in healthier plants that resist powdery mildew later in the season. Even though the vines are shorter than other butternut-type winter squash vines, stake ‘Honeybaby’ vines to help support the blocky, wide fruit. You can expect eight or nine 1⁄2-pound fruits per plant. Sow seeds in full sun about 10 inches apart as soon as soil temperatures reach 65 F to ensure maturity in about 90 days. I will plant them as the centerpieces of two large containers with purple sweet potato vines trailing over the edge The dark-purple leaves should make a nice complement to the deep orange fruit.‘Honeybaby’ is sweet and nutty, and meatier than similar winter squash varieties. Enjoy ‘Honeybaby’ baked, steamed, or cooked in soups, sauces, and stews.


‘Mini Love’ is a red and juicy little watermelon with few seeds.

Watermelon ‘Mini Love’ (Citrullus Sp.)
‘Mini Love’ F1 is a personal-sized Asian watermelon, perfect for smaller families, or smaller gardens. The 3- to 4-foot vines produce up to six fruits per plant and can be grown in large containers. This deep-red fleshed watermelon has a thin but strong rind that can be carved for fruit salad presentations. ‘Mini Love’ has a high sugar content, making it sweet, crisp, refreshing, and juicy with few seeds – a true summer delight for watermelon lovers. Sow seeds indoors one month before the last frost date (around May 15 in our area) for transplants, or directly in the ground in full sun once the soil has warmed in spring. Space the plants 3 to 4 feet apart, and keep the soil moist for the first weeks. You can expect up to five light-green striped fruits per plant, each weighing 7 to 9 pounds. I will grow these in my small garden where tomatoes grew the previous year, and add lots of compost to the soil to make up for the nutrients depleted by the tomato plants.


A Golden Oldie

Cucumber ‘Straight-8’, the AAS Vegetable Award Winner for the year 1935, remains a favorite with home gardeners because of its reliable production and great taste. A dual purpose cucumber, ‘Straight-8’s sweet and mild flavor makes it good for either eating fresh or pickling. Plant ‘Straight-8’ seeds about 1⁄2-inch deep in full sun about 6 inches apart, or plant groups of five seeds set about 4 or 5 feet apart. The plants are short, about 3 feet tall. Harvest the fruit when they reach about 8 inches long and 2 inches in diameter for best flavor.

Okra ‘Candle Fire’ (Hibiscus Sp.)
Okra ‘Candle Fire’ F1 is a unique red okra with rounded pods that are a brighter red color than the other reddish okras available. ‘Candle Fire’ received high marks from the AAS judges for productivity, taste, texture, and tenderness as well as for the ornamental value of red pods on red stems. ‘Candle Fire’ thrives in the heat, and is disease resistant even during the hottest, most humid days of summer.

Sow seeds 18 inches apart in full sun after soaking them in water overnight for best results. Expect up to 30 fruits per plant in two months from sowing seeds or one month from transplants. It is maintenance free, except for the frequent harvesting. Enjoy okra ‘Candle Fire’ fresh or boiled. I will grow these in the garden so in the fall I can use the dried fruits in flower arrangements.

Try Something New
I have grown many AAS Vegetable Award Winners in the past, with great results. This year’s crop looks very promising, and I am looking forward to a long gardening season with lovely, prolific plants in the garden and containers, and delicious fruits and vegetables in the kitchen.


A version of this article appeared in Pennsylvania Gardener Volume 7 Number 1.
Photography courtesy of All-American Selections.


Posted: 12/28/16   RSS | Print


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Gardening With a Purpose
by Kenny Coogan       #Environment   #Homesteading   #Permascaping   #Sustainability and Self-Sufficiency


My frizzle chicken using the stepping stones to patrol for pests within my purposeful garden.

Recently I picked up the Bill Nye book Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World. The science guru suggests that in order to be long term residents on this planet we need to start making small, impactful changes to our daily life. Using different forms of energy, like solar panels, and growing our own food were some of his suggestions.

Edibles in the Landscape
Three years ago when I purchased my 1-acre homestead, I was not given a blank canvas. The yard had more than 20 large oak (Quercus) trees, a pool, and grass. The grass was a mix of invasive species and the medium- to high-maintenance St. Augustine grass. Grass lawns are good for children and dogs to play on, high foot traffic areas, swales, and a place for the occasional vehicle to park on. However, if your lawn area doesn’t serve a purpose, you might consider a lower-maintenance ground cover instead. Asiatic jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum), perennial peanut (Arachis glabrata), beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis), sunshine mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa), ornamental sweetpotato vine (Ipomoea batatas), or mulch are all great alternatives to a water-guzzling, fertilizer-demanding grass yard. My front yard is still a mix of grasses, but my backyard now has mulched pathways with edible and ornamental plants in loosely defined beds surrounding the large oaks.

To me, who wanted to garden purposefully everywhere in my yard, the oaks presented a few problems. I want to grow large amounts of tropical fruits and seasonal vegetables. Since the oaks shaded much of my yard, I focused on plants that could handle moderate amounts of shade. After some experimenting, I discovered that many vegetables do quite well with some shade here in the sizzling Sunshine State.

I understand that the oaks are purposeful. They provide much needed shade in the summer and leaves, which are composted, in the fall and winter. Their roots also help with soil erosion on my steep incline of a homestead. To make them more useful I planted various edibles at their base. Now passion fruits (Passiflora edulis), luffas, and other gourds scramble up their trunks to reach the sun. Visitors are quite impressed when they see oak trees “producing” fruits.

Passion fruit now falls from the oak trees in my yard.

In addition to my seasonal vegetable garden, I have interplanted edible plants between the oaks. Edibles that I keep as shrubs include katuk (Sauropus androgynus), cranberry hibiscus (H. acetosella), moringa (Moringa oleifera), and chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius). I also have some specimen fruit trees such as jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), miracle fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum), white sapote (Casimiroa edulis), and loquat (Eriobotrya japonica).

Bees making their home in a screech owl nest box.

Attracting pollinators
To increase my yields, I encourage various forms of pollinators. After a pair of screech owls raised two owlets, honeybees moved into the next box. On hot days, the hive, which is 15 feet off the ground, is covered by bees cooling their hive by flapping their delicate wings.

In addition to being attractive, the passionfruit vines, which have a very small footprint, attract bees and butterflies. Rather than having one designated butterfly garden, milkweed (Asclepias spp.) is dispersed haphazardly throughout the yard to promote the flow of pollinators.

Currently I am growing two varieties of luffa. Luffa acutangular, which blooms at night, and L. aegyptiaca, which blooms during the day. These attract different pollinators such as butterflies and moths. When harvested, the luffas are used to scrub chicken food bowls, birdbaths, and plant pots.

To increase the purposefulness of the yard, I am slowly replacing pure ornamentals with specimens that are both useful for humans beyond aesthetics, and attractive to pollinators. Natives such as beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) are attractive, feed wildlife, and can also be used to make a palatable jelly.

Pinecone ginger or shampoo ginger (Zingiber zerumbet) is also scattered throughout my homestead. I can definitely make space for a plant that is colorful, vigorous, and used as a natural soap/shampoo in my yard.


Mulch and leaves help with weed suppression.

Close to one of my banana circles is a good-sized compost bin I easily made using four pallets. Garden scraps are recycled there and feed the bananas (Musa spp.). When the leftovers have decomposed to fine rich compost they are returned to the very gardens they originated from. By actively composting, we are encouraging nature’s natural way of recycling.

In addition to my pallet compost bin, I have a smaller plastic bin near another vegetable garden and a brush pile in the far back discrete corner of my yard. The brush pile is more of a passive compost area, where large branches and logs provide homes for native wildlife such as reptiles and birds.

Since the backyard is comprised of mulched pathways and stepping stones, there is no need to rake the oak leaves as they fall. The leaves provide nutrients to the plants and impede weed growth. Mowing over the leaves will break them apart and allow decomposition to happen more quickly.

Raising animals
As a person who is childless by choice, I do not have the joy of raking leaves into giant piles for a child to destroy by jumping and running through. Instead, I happily have a flock of domestic ducks and chickens to patrol my yard for pests and yes, play in the leaves. The backyard poultry eat leaf-destroying slugs and harmful beetles. All of which is done without the use of chemicals. As an added bonus, the birds provide a great number of eggs weekly, which I do not see human children contributing.

One of my chickens crossing one of my many mulched pathways.

Sustainable features
Incorporating sustainable features into the design such as rain gardens, bioswales, and ways to harvest rainwater is a must if you want every inch of your yard to be purposeful. A rain garden is a low section of the landscape planted with plants that like to get their “feet” wet. The garden collects rainwater, giving it a chance to “strain” out impurities before draining into the aquifer.

Due to my yard being at such an incline, I have four cypress trees (Taxodium distichum) planted at the bottom of my property where an ephemeral pond occurs during the rainy season. This seasonal pond is surrounded by edibles including watercress, water chestnuts, and various types of bananas. According to IFAS, good flowering plants for rain gardens include blue flag iris (Iris versicolor), goldenrod (Solidago spp.), swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius), spider lily (Hymenocallis liriosme), and milkweed. Many of these are native and will attract butterflies and other wildlife.

Bioswales, which are often seen in parking lots, reduce runoff water and increases groundwater recharge. In addition to bucketing water from the ephemeral pond to water my vegetables I also have several rain barrels. Unfortunately, these barrels are filled within a day or two of heavy August rains and are used quickly when the rains stop in the fall. In-ground cisterns may be a better option for those who truly want to be sustainable as Florida presents two opposing seasons: dry and flooding.

How do you utilize every inch of your garden? Send me a message to share your ideas. We would love to hear from you.


My front yard is still a mix of grasses but my backyard now has mulched pathways with edible and ornamental plants in loosely defined beds surrounding the two dozen large oaks.



A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardener Volume 22 Number 1.
Photography courtesy of Kenny Coogan.



Posted: 12/28/16   RSS | Print


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The Harmonious Garden
by Kelly Bledsoe       #Advice   #Decorating   #Misc

left: The Woodstock Emperor gong is a dynamic addition to the garden. The bronze gong catches and reflects the sunlight brightening your garden while the subtle tones evoke a sense of peace. right: The lyrical ring of delicate garden bells brings wonderful music to a quiet garden.

Step into your garden, close your eyes and listen. What do you hear? Does your garden sound as pretty as it looks? Along with texture, color and fragrance, sounds help create a unique environment in your garden. Enhancing and manipulating these sounds make you the backyard conductor of your own garden orchestra. Composing a garden symphony is easy, just start with what you already have and build on it. So grab your wand (trowel) and begin.

The gentle hum of Mother Nature’s beauty is a great foundation. The sound of running water, the rustling of foliage, the call of birds and the buzz of bees create the underscore of your garden. Preserving and enhancing these garden sounds is a priority. Providing birdhouses, and nesting areas for wildlife will ensure a steady supply of natural sounds. Planting flowers that attract insects and bees will help keep these natural musicians in your garden.


left: An outdoor water fountain enriches the garden with mesmerizing water sounds while also providing visual stimulation. top right: A large fountain makes a grand statement in the garden. It can block out unwanted background noises while adding a distinct element of elegance. bottom right: A gently cascading waterfall is the most soothing of all sounds in a garden. Stacking flat stones is a perfect method of imitating the natural flow of water while enhancing the visual appeal of your garden.

Consider a fountain, brook or waterfall as the string section of your symphony. Rustling leaves murmuring in the wind add harmony. And when creating your garden’s design, choose plants that not only look good but “sound” good as well. Bamboo shoots braying side by side create rhythm. These are the woodwinds. Trees such as beech and oak cling to their leaves long into the winter where the whipping winds create soulful sounds. Soft hemlocks and pines can help mute unwanted noises by providing a green sound barrier while crescendos of dropping acorns add the element of surprise.

Metal gongs and silver wind chimes make up the brass section. Chimes, gongs and bells fill the air with a variety of sound. The addition of hand-tuned musical metal brings healing sounds to your patio or garden. The tranquil melodies of these outdoor musical instruments, powered by nature’s gentle breezes add to the harmony of your garden. Their physical movement contributes to the overall intrigue of the composition.


left: Rain chains and bells softly contribute to the sounds in the garden. Placing a rain barrel underneath enhances the sound of the falling rain while also conserving water. center: Wind chimes come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials and are one of the most common sources of garden sounds. right: A garden bell hung near an entryway or gate is said to attract luck. Just another reason to include one in your garden.

Sometimes, the natural world brings an element of sound to brighten up your garden. Big fuzzy bees like these create a soothing hum as they go about finding nectar and spreading pollen.

Bullfrogs and cicadas are the percussion in the symphonic garden. Lush plants and secluded ponds foster habitats that will encourage these natives to keep the beat. Raindrops hitting the surface of a birdbath or dripping from a gutter chain also help keep time in the garden. Wind socks, wind spinners and flags crack and thrash in the current adding their voice to the garden song.

When creating your garden symphony leave no stone unturned. Consider walkways, wind chimes, flags, plants and fountains as your instruments. Their movements should harmonize with each other while creating distinctive sounds of their own. The most interesting garden symphonies combine a wide array of sounds. A well-balanced garden symphony will combine natures beauty with man made accessories to create a melodious paradise restorative to the soul.


A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 22 Number 9.
Photography courtesy of Kelly Bledsoe.


Posted: 12/20/16   RSS | Print


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Contained Expression
by Daniel Keeley       #Advice   #Containers   #Design


A pair of lipstick-red planters, planted with dome-shaped boxwood, adds height, color and a bold sense of style to this outdoor living space, while also creating a cozy nook for the sofa and framing the view to the green space beyond. The rectangular planters are planted with sheared boxwood hedges and help divide this space from another adjacent seating area, lending intimacy to both rooms.

The practice of container gardening has been around for hundreds, even thousands of years, with containers traditionally being used to house rare and exotic plant specimens, to allow tropical or cold-sensitive plants to be moved indoors for the winter, or to display arrangements of brightly colored, botanical overachievers. In any case, the plants they contained tended to be the emphasis rather than the containers themselves. In today’s modern gardening world, however, there are all kinds of different and exciting options when it comes to containers. Modern materials combine with bright colors and new, inventive designs to give us garden containers that can truly make a statement on their own, regardless of what is planted in them. This rising trend of using bold, architectural planters is the perfect way to express yourself and to add a stimulating new dimension to your garden and outdoor living spaces.

The texture and unique shape of this tall planter, along with a dramatic yucca plant, are the perfect finishing touches for the empty corner of an outdoor living space.

Pick It
The first step is to choose the perfect container. As with any project in the garden, I recommend first considering your home’s style and choosing a container to complement it. That is not to say that your planter selection necessarily has to match the style of your house. By design, modern-day architectural containers tend to be on the contemporary side, but they can still be right at home in a traditional setting. In fact, some of the most compelling design statements are made by contrasting different styles, for example, a sleek, brightly colored planter in an otherwise subdued, formal setting. In addition to complementing the style of your house, your container should also complement your own personal style and personality. After all, it is your statement we are making here!

Next, consider the size, shape and color of your container. In terms of size, you should err on the side of larger versus smaller since objects tend to appear smaller outdoors. Plus, a larger planter will be easier to keep watered, will give plants more room to grow and will make a bolder statement, and that is what we are trying to achieve! As a practical matter, you should also consider where your container will be located and choose one that is appropriately sized.

The same reasoning applies to choosing a particular shape. First and foremost, your planter should fit into the space it will occupy. Some other shape guidelines to keep in mind are that tall planters will add drama to a space and are good for flanking an entrance or framing a distant view. By contrast, shorter containers may allow for an uninterrupted view of something desirable and evoke a feeling of serenity. Similarly, planters with hard lines and sharp angles can make a particularly strong statement and are good for defining spaces, while round or curved containers may be more versatile and seem more inviting.

This sleek, oxblood red planter and variegated yucca plant add color, texture and excitement to a white-walled modern entry that is otherwise devoid of color.

When it comes to color, the matter is mostly one of personal preference, but also keep in mind any surrounding elements, such as flowering plants and building materials, and avoid any colors that might clash. To make a more powerful statement, pass on muted colors and earth tones and instead go for more powerful hues, such as primary colors, black or white. You might also consider the lightness or darkness of where your container will go. For example, a bright yellow planter will stand out and lighten up a dark, shady area, whereas a black or dark blue container may have little to no impact there.

Finally, think about the material choices available for your container. From resin and fiberglass, to modern metals, to stone and stone aggregates such as terrazzo, the material your container is made of will affect its texture, weight and durability in the face of exposure to the elements, as well as normal wear and tear.

Bronze-colored jars add to this home’s main entry. The metallic finish and waffle texture propel the jars’ impact beyond their relatively subtle color. Creeping juniper add an understated touch of greenery.

Place It
Closely connected to the process of choosing the perfect container is the process of determining where it will go and, therefore, where you will make your grand statement. The most important factor to remember here is prominence. To have the proper impact, your planter needs to be in a prominent location where it will not be overlooked. Some of my favorite ways to use architectural containers include the following:

Entryway: A pair or grouping of containers is a great way to add interest and a sense of importance to any entry, whether it is to your home, office or garden. You can even create an instant point of entry simply by placing a pair of matching containers at the outer edge of any given space.Focal Point: It is hard to get much more prominent than a singular focal point, and a compelling container makes a great one indeed. For the most impact, place yours in the middle of a space, at the end of a walkway or in line with a strong line of site from within your home.


Boundary: To be appealing and to function properly, every space needs boundaries, and architectural planters (particularly squares and rectangles) are perfect for defining spaces.


A series of strong-lined rectangular planters helps define a patio boundary, drawing a distinct line between living space and landscape. The contrast of the planters’ form to the rolling hills of the pastoral scene beyond adds to their impact.


A sleek, bowl-shaped planter filled with a sculptural yucca and seasonal flowers reinforces the architectural statement made by this home’s pergola-covered entry.

Plant It
Many of you are avid plant lovers, I know, and are probably saying, “Can we get to the plant in planter already?” Well, don’t worry; we are here! And not to burst your bubble, but one of the best things about bold, architectural containers is that almost doesn’t matter what plant or plants you choose, since the container makes such a statement all by itself. But this also means that you can choose any number of plants that might interest you and the impact your container has will be just as powerful regardless of your area’s climate or gardening zone. Here are just a few things to keep in mind: As always, choose plants that are appropriate for the amount of sunlight or shade to which they will be exposed. Also consider a plant’s form and decide whether you want to ramp up the drama of your architectural planter with an equally structural planting or tone it down with something soft and subtle. Finally, go back to the color you chose for your container and pick plants that will be complementary.


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


Posted: 12/19/16   RSS | Print


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Exotic Flavors
by John Tullock       #Edibles   #Fruit   #Herbs   #Unusual


Saffron, the bright red stigmas of Crocus sativus, is frequently overlooked as a candidate for the home herb garden.

If, like many of us, you have been trying to eat more locally produced food lately, no doubt you have already learned how to keep the produce bin stocked with beans, tomatoes, lettuce and corn by growing them at home or visiting the local farmers’ market. Nothing beats local produce for flavor and nutrition, and eating close to home helps conserve the fuel that would have been used to transport the food across the country. But what about those wonderful, exotic flavors like ginger? They will always have to come from far away, right?

Not necessarily. Spotting a basket of really high quality organic ginger labeled “Product of Alabama” in a local store suggested to me that many tropical and subtropical seasoning plants might not be that out of reach for the average gardener. In October 2010, the Knoxville News-Sentinel published a story about Roger Kane, a Knoxvillian who successfully grows bananas, figs, citrus fruits, even pomegranates, in pots that he moves into his garage for the winter. That cinched it.

This year, with a little luck, my ginger will come from the garden, along with some other flavors most gardeners seldom consider. If you want to try growing your own, here are some tips and techniques.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) grows from the fleshy rhizome sold in grocery markets as “ginger root.”  Choose a plump, healthy looking specimen with numerous “eyes” like potatoes. The best time to plant is in spring, but you can grow ginger any time if you can protect it from frost. Purchase the rhizomes in quantity when they are on sale and store them dry and cool until you need them. Soak the rhizome in a bowl of lukewarm water overnight before planting if it has become shriveled.

A ginger rhizome is ready to plant when the eyes begin to show signs of development.

Select a container at least four times larger than the piece of rhizome you are planting. A 12-14 inch azalea pot works well. This will allow for the development of an extensive root system. Fill the container three quarters full with a good, well-drained potting mix containing plenty of compost. Place the soaked rhizome on top of the mix with the eyes pointing upward. Cover with more potting mix and water well. Place the container in a plastic bag in indirect light until green shoots appear. Then remove the bag and water well. Keep the plant in bright, indirect light and never allow the soil to dry out. Growing plants need protection from wind and should be brought indoors any time the temperature is headed below 50 F. The ideal growing temperature is 75 F to 85 F.

It can take as long as a year for a container-grown ginger plant to reach its mature height of 2 to 4 feet. Plants started indoors in February will nevertheless produce a harvestable crop by the following September. You can achieve more robust growth by transplanting a container-grown specimen to the garden when nighttime temperatures are reliably above 50 F. Select a spot with good drainage, partial sun and rich soil. Dig in plenty of compost and sand if your soil is heavy clay. After transplanting, feed the plants every three weeks with a soluble organic fertilizer, such as fish emulsion or liquefied seaweed. Ginger thrives in hot, humid weather and thus adapts quite well to muggy Southern summers. If you are the impatient type, you can carefully harvest a few tender shoots from the outside edge of the clump for use during the summer months. This “baby” ginger is not as pungent as the later mature crop will become.

When the leaves begin to turn yellow late in the season, it is time to harvest. Dig up the rhizomes, and immediately replant the ones you want to grow next season. If you keep the containers cool and dry, they probably will not sprout again until mid winter.

Fresh ginger freezes well. Just peel, chop and place in suitable containers. You can also store chunks or slices of fresh ginger in a jar, covered with brandy. Either way, the fresh ginger taste is preserved.

Lemon grass grows rapidly in full sun and rich, moist soil.

Lemon grass
Essential to Thai, Vietnamese and other Asian cuisines, and a good source of lemon flavor, lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) is a tropical perennial that can be grown outdoors in very mild winter regions, but must be wintered indoors or started anew each season in most parts of the South. Because it needs a large container for its prodigious root system, starting over each year is the best technique. Visit the grocery store in early spring to buy new starts. Lemon grass is sold in bunches of several stems with most of the foliage removed. Each stem has a bulbous base. You may see tiny roots or root buds sticking out from the base. When planted, the basal portion quickly roots and grows into a clump a yard or more in height and about as wide. Insert the stem about an inch into a small pot of damp soil mix, and roots will quickly form. When new roots protrude from the drain hole in the pot, you are ready to transplant outside, but wait until all danger of frost has passed and the weather is warm.

If sited in full sun and rich, moist soil, lemon grass grows with amazing rapidity. Plants should be fertilized regularly. Add compost to the bottom of the planting hole, and side dress monthly with additional compost, fish emulsion or seaweed extract. The ideal growing temperature is 75 F during the day and 60 F at night.

The leaves of lemon grass have sharp, serrated edges that can deliver a nasty cut. Wear heavy gloves and a long-sleeved shirt when working with them. To harvest, select stems with bases is about half an inch in diameter. Remove foliage with clippers, and trim to 8 or 10 inches in length. Stems will keep well under refrigeration for a week or two, or you can chop and freeze them. Lemon grass can also be dried and used to season herbal teas. Lemon grass grown outdoors often takes on a reddish cast, enhancing its decorative value in the landscape. You could even use it as a protective, although temporary, hedge.


Lemon tree in a terra-cotta container.

Citrus Fruits
Citrus trees have a lot to offer: lustrous green foliage, richly fragrant flowers, and of course, their delicious fruits. Unfortunately, they are not hardy and must be grown in containers in all but the frost-free areas of the country. Choosing appropriate cultivars for container culture, however, will enable anyone to grow citrus, if you can provide them with a cool, well-lighted space during the coldest weather. Fruit production begins in the second year after transplanting, and increases as the tree gets larger. Therefore, as the tree grows, choose the largest pot that you consider portable enough to be moved inside when necessary. Younger trees, however, should not be “overpotted.”Any good potting mixture is suitable for citrus trees, as long as it drains well, although commercial mixes intended specifically for citrus are widely available and recommended. Several authorities suggest avoiding both peat moss and pine bark in mixes intended for citrus. Water when the top 1 inch of growing mix feels dry. Feed once when the plants move outdoors, and again about three months later, using a good, balanced organic fertilizer. Glossy, dark green leaves indicate that the plant is receiving adequate nutrition. Err on the side of less food and less water. Too much of either will result in leggy, unsightly growth and poor fruit production.

Commercially-produced citrus tree cultivars are grafted to one of two rootstocks: sour orange or trifoliate orange. Try to locate stock grafted to trifoliate orange, as this rootstock is both smaller and more cold tolerant than the sour orange. The smaller size will adapt better to a container, and greater cold tolerance means you can wait longer to bring plants inside in autumn and take them back outdoors earlier in spring.

Nothing is quite like the unique, indescribable flavor of saffron. The dried stigmas of an autumn crocus, Crocus sativus, saffron is seldom considered a choice for the home herb garden. Nevertheless, saffron crocus is as easy to grow as its spring-blooming cousins, and will repay your efforts many times. A few pinches of dried saffron can set you back 10 dollars in the grocery store.

Saffron grows well in Zones 6 through 9, and prefers good, well-drained soil in full sun. A patch of 10 square feet, enough to accommodate about 50 corms, will provide an increasing abundance of spice as the plants mature and multiply. Set them out in summer, while they are dormant, 6 inches apart and 3 inches deep. You can overplant, if you wish, with annual flowers or summer herbs such as basil. Pull up the annuals when the weather turns cold, or when you see the new green shoots of saffron poking through the soil in autumn. When the lovely lavender-blue flowers open a few weeks later, harvest by picking the bright red stigmas by hand. You can use them immediately in such Mediterranean dishes as paella, bouillabaisse and risotto, or dry them for a few days before storing in an airtight container for later use.

With a little ingenuity and close attention to choosing the proper cultivars, gardeners anywhere can enjoy exotic flavors from a backyard plot.


A version of this article appeared in a February 2011 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of istockphoto.com/askintulayover, John Tullock, istockphoto.com/szefei, istockphoto.com/romaoslo.


Posted: 12/19/16   RSS | Print


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11 Plants that Love the Cold
by Ben Futa       #Colorful   #Feature   #Winter

As the Director of the Allen Centennial Garden, a public garden on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I’m always on the lookout for plants that extend the season of interest for our visitors. Plants that are hardy, easy to grow and dependable rank high on this list of some of our favorites.


Those That Linger
Plants in this category push the boundaries of what’s possible in the face of hard frosts. These plants thrive in cool temperatures and reward you for keeping them around, despite winter’s imminent arrival.


Left: #1 Pansies, Center: #2 Snapdragons Top-Right: #3 Kale Bottom-Right: #4 Forget-Me-Nots


1. Pansies
Most commonly used as an early spring bedding plant, pansies perform just as well (if not better) in autumn through the frosts and light snowfall of early winter. While not a guarantee, fall-planted pansies have a chance to overwinter and start blooming all the earlier the following spring.

2. Snapdragons
Typically thought of as champions of the summer garden, snapdragons are a powerhouse when it comes to delivering color late into the season. The key to their continued flowering is constant deadheading. If the plants are allowed to set seed, they’ll cease flowering. However, this might be desirable in your garden, as snapdragons can reliably reseed for many years in the right space. At the Allen Centennial Garden, we have a red snapdragon that has come back reliably and repeatedly for many years in our rock garden.

3. Kale
A standby of traditional fall bedding plants, kale varieties give some of the best displays when temperatures begin to fall. Both ornamental and edible kales are durable through frost; however, the ornamental varieties tend to be the go-to choice as their purple, red, and white pigments intensify with each cool day. I’ve used ornamental kale in container arrangements through December. Combined with evergreens, Osage orange fruits, golden dogwood stems and a few twinkle lights, kale can make an amazing holiday display.

4. Forget-me-nots and Poppies
The blue forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica) and most poppies (Papaver spp.), with the exception of Oriental poppies (Papaver orientalis), are cool-season annuals. Cool season annuals can be direct sown in fall for a jumpstart on an early spring display. These plants will form a tight rosette of growth in fall similar to a mini head of lettuce and then erupt into flower when the garden begins to come alive in mid-April and May. Any of these plants can be sown indoors in February and March and treated as true annuals; however, plants that are fall sown will produce a much more impressive display.


Those That Punch through Snow
Plants in this list don’t waste any time in late winter and early spring – they can’t wait to get up and get growing. Some even create their own heat to melt the snow around them!

Top-Left: #7 Witch Hazel Bottom-Left: #5 Winter Aconite Center: #6 Skunk Cabbage Right: #8 Hellebores


5. Winter Aconite

Without question, winter aconite is my favorite plant in this list. The charming Eranthis hyemalis is one of the earliest harbingers of spring, often pushing up through pockets of melting snow in mid- to late February. Growing only a few inches tall, on warm and sunny days the cheerful yellow buttercup flowers open up and exude a mild and charming honey-like aroma. Growing from small rhizomes that, when dormant, could easily be mistaken for a clod of soil, winter aconite easily naturalizes throughout a garden by reseeding. Seeds mature by mid-May to early June, and with a little help from a gardener, they fall and germinate at the soil surface. Within one to two seasons, these new plants will be blooming and producing seed of their own. After the plant sets seeds, the foliage withers away until the following spring. Winter aconite thrives in a woodland garden or mixed perennial border, and it doesn’t require many rhizomes to start your own colony. Before you know it, you could have a golden ground cover in February that honeybees and other pollinators adore.

6. Skunk Cabbage
Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is one plant that literally forces its way up through snow and ice. A native plant along swamps, streams and ponds, skunk cabbage is a fascinating plant with an ability to create and regulate its own internal heat, much like any mammal. Maintaining an average temperature of 36 F, it produces this warmth as it metabolizes oxygen and starches stored in its roots. True to its name, skunk cabbage produces a potent odor to attract pollinating flies that are normally attracted to decaying meat. The flowers resemble a sort of mottled purple, red and brown hooded cap. Big, tropical-like leaves emerge following the flower and remain through mid-summer when the plants go dormant until the following spring. While skunk cabbage requires specific growing conditions, its sheer intrigue and unique adaptations make it worth growing to beat the winter blues.

Other Plants that Love the Cold

Iris reticulate

Helleborus foetidus


7. Witch Hazel
If skunk cabbage is the “stinker” of the spring garden, then witch hazel is its sweet, sultry and spicy counterpoint. A deciduous shrub native to North America, Hamamelis vernalis is a truly marvelous plant. Clusters of spider-like flowers cover the stems and bloom January to March. On warm days (30 to 40 F), witch hazel emits a powerful and intoxicating fragrance. The sweet, spicy and sometimes fruity aroma has been compared to baked goods and fruits like concord grapes. Flower color ranges from a strong and pure golden yellow to burnt orange and a deep pinkish red. These multi-stem shrubs appreciate regular moisture throughout the growing season and can tolerate full sun to part shade, making them a great choice for rain gardens and low-lying areas.

8. Hellebores
One of the classic early spring plants, hellebores come in a range of different colors and bloom types, with new varieties introduced each season. Hellebores straddle two categories on this list – those that push through snow and those that are evergreen. The deep green, palmate, serrated leaves of the hellebore retain their color through winter and into early spring. Each season, new flower buds and leaves emerge from the plant crown, making the old leaves redundant. It’s a personal preference whether or not to remove the old leaves in spring – it won’t do any significant harm or good to the plant beyond vanity. The only real challenge with hellebores is that, despite the incredible diversity and beauty of their flowers, the flowers face downward. If possible, planting them along a shaded wall or raised area will allow you to enjoy the flowers more fully. They also make tremendous cut flowers, allowing you to enjoy them right at eye level on the kitchen table.


Those That Are Always Around
When talking about winter interest and evergreen plants, most of us instinctively gravitate to conifers. Conifers certainly perform an important function in the winter landscape and have earned their rightful place in this category, but there are a number of evergreen plants that can add a new punch.

Left: #9 Oregon Grape Holly Center: #10 Carex 'Ice Dance' Right: #11 White Willow

9. Oregon Grape Holly
A colony-forming shrub, Oregon grape holly (Mahonia aquifolium) truly is a plant for all seasons. Big, bold, glossy, holly-like leaves are evergreen throughout winter and great for use in wreath making around the holidays. Best planted in part to full shade in organic, acidic soil, Oregon grape holly will deliver a show throughout the year. Huge panicles of showy yellow flowers dance on top the stately leaves in spring, followed by clusters of jewel-like, edible blue-black berries in late summer. Plant at least two to three plants in a small colony to encourage optimum fruit set. Single plants likely will not fruit well, if at all.

10. Carex ‘Ice Dance’
Sedges are a rich and diverse genus of plants, and C. ‘Ice Dance’ is a stand out performer for its wide bold leaves, up to 24 inches tall, outlined in white. When planted close together, several carex plants will quickly form a ground cover – a great alternative to traditional ground covers such as winter creeper (Euonymous fortunei). Leaves of this carex are evergreen throughout the winter, and in fact, the plant can suffer (or at least look pretty bad) if cut back in fall or spring. Adaptable to shade and part sun, ‘Ice Dance’ is a versatile and durable plant.

11. White Willow
The common name of this plant really doesn’t do it justice, as the winter stems of this willow are anything but white. A range of cultivars of Salix alba are available; however Salix alba var. vitellina is a standout in the winter garden. Gradation of color from golden yellow to orange to deep red cascade from the base of each stem to the tip. I prefer them to shrub dogwood for this reason as most dogwoods are a single, solid color and lack such a striking color gradient. During the growing season, these plants are fairly unassuming with regular simple green leaves. Winter is when they really “come alive.” For the best display, cutting the stems back to the ground no later than early spring will force a flush of new growth. This not only helps keep the plant under control (willows are notorious for being aggressive); it also provides a great source of material for winter containers, wreath making and more.


A version of this article appeared in Chicagoland Gardening Volume 22 Number 6.
Photography courtesy of Pan American Seeds (photo 1), Ben Futa (photos 2 & 5), Joe Desousa (photo 3), Joshua Mayer (photo 4), Ron Capek (photos 6 & 8), Christopher Tildrick (photo 7), Andrey Zharkikh (photo 9), Midwest Groundcovers (photo 10), and D. Brown (photo 11).


Posted: 11/28/16   RSS | Print


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by Tom Hewitt       #Edibles   #Flowers   #Pink


The flowers of true roselle start off pale yellow and age to pink.


People are often confused when it comes to roselles. That’s understandable, since true roselle and false roselle do look alike. But since both are used for different purposes, it’s important to know the difference.

True roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is the more famous of the two. Also known as Florida cranberry, its calyces (collective term for the sepals of a flower) were used by early Floridians to make a substitute for cranberry sauce. Roselle calyces, and products containing them, were once a popular commercial export in Florida. But due to freezes and other factors, the trade died out following World War II. Now roselles are back, thanks to a renewed interest in Florida heritage plants.

The calyces of true roselle are harvested while they’re still tender, crisp, and plump.

Jamaican Sorrel Drink

1tsp. whole cloves
5 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp. allspice
4 cups fresh calyces
1 large piece of ginger, smashed
1 gal. water

Boil all ingredients for 20 minutes and remove from stove. Cool in refrigerator overnight. Strain, then add honey or sugar to taste, along with a splash of rum.

Dried true roselle calyces can be found in specialty markets.

False roselles resemble Japanese maples.

True roselle has never been out of favor in the Caribbean. Known as sorrel, its “fruits” are harvested some 10 days after flowering, while still tender, crisp, and plump. These are used to make a drink that’s very popular at Christmas-time. Various recipes add rum, ginger, and sugar. In Africa they are frequently cooked as a side dish, eaten with pulverized peanuts. Closer to home, true roselle is also one of the main ingredients in Red Zinger tea!

The calyces of true roselle produce their own pectin, so none needs to be added when making jams and jellies. Roselle fruit combined with pineapple chunks, raisins, and nuts makes a nice conserve. The juice of true roselle is also used to treat medical ailments in many parts of the world. Roselle tea is very high in vitamin C, and delicious hot or cold.

The flowers of true roselle are especially pretty, opening a pale yellow, then fading to pink. Like most hibiscus species, they only last a day. Young leaves are used as a spinach substitute in some parts of the world, though I find the leaves of green false roselle far more palatable. The University of Florida IFAS Extension lists ‘Victor’ as a particularly good variety of true roselle for south Florida.

False roselle (H. acetosella), or maroon mallow, looks more like a Japanese maple. Its claim to fame is its tart leaves that can be added raw to salads or cooked as a vegetable. They’re a great source of vitamin C and antioxidants. Its flowers are also occasionally used in teas and other drinks, where they offer more color than flavor. The calyces of false roselle are not fleshy, however, and are generally not eaten.

False roselle is very ornamental in the mixed border.

Roselle Tea

Bring cup of water to a boil, and then add 3-4 fresh or dried calyces. Reduce heat and simmer until water is bright red (8-10 minutes). The longer you steep it, the brighter the color and stronger the flavor. Sweeten as desired, and serve either hot or cold.

The short-lived flowers of ‘Red Shield’ are very showy.

Some false roselles show considerable variation in their leaves.

Even today, roselles continue to be grown more for ornamental purposes than consumption in Florida. Nonetheless, they are attracting the attention of food and beverage manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies who feel they may show promise as a natural alternative to synthetic dyes.

‘Red Shield’ is the most common form of false roselle. Trouble is, it self-sows everywhere. But its burgundy foliage and deep pink flowers make it well worth growing. Many cultivars of false roselle are available, including ‘Mahogany Splendor’ with deeply serrated leaves, ‘Haight Ashbury’ with tonal varieties of cream, pink and burgundy, and ‘Panama Bronze’ with dark green leaves tinged with bronze. Dark-leaved varieties of false roselle need full sun to bring out their rich colors.

Most people treat roselles as annuals, though they often perform as short-lived perennials in my garden. I grow them for show, but some folks grow them as a food crop like tomatoes or okra (to which they’re related). False roselle looks great in the mixed border, where it offers great contrast in color and form.

Though we sell roselles year round in the Mounts nursery, most are started in late spring, since calyces require some four months to mature. Roselles are photoperiodic, meaning they do not begin to flower until the days become shorter in the fall. Calyces ripen progressively from the lowest to the highest, and are easier to break off in the morning than at the end of the day.

Roselles are usually started from seed, but may also be started by cuttings. If left on the bush, pods will eventually turn brown, split open, and release their seed. In fact, the easiest method to collect seed is just to let a few flowers dry naturally. Seed contains irritating little hairs, however, so wear gloves when collecting it. If you prefer to start plants from cuttings, use a soilless mix for optimal success.


Roselles at a Glance

Hardiness: Zones 9-11, Zone 8 with winter protection
Height: 4-5 feet
Light: Full sun to partial shade
Habit: Annual or short-lived perennial
Blooms: Late fall through winter


A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardener Volume 20 Number 6.
Photography courtesy of Tom Hewitt.


Posted: 11/23/16   RSS | Print


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Poinsettias — How a Christmas Tradition was Born
by Carol Chernega       #Holiday: Christmas   #History   #Red


Poinsettia ‘Silver Star’

It has long been a custom in Mexico to place flowers around church mangers on Christmas Eve. Folklore tells the tale of a poor young child who could not afford flowers. An angel appeared to him and told him to pick some weeds by the side of the road, and place them on the manger. When he did, the weeds turned into beautiful red flowers that the Mexicans called Flor de la Noche Buena, or the Flower of the Holy Night.

How did Flor de la Noche Buena become one of the most popular potted plants in the U.S.?

That story starts in the early 19th century, when Joel Poinset was named the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico. During a trip in 1828 he discovered an unusual tree called Cuetlaxochitl. The Aztecs had distilled the red bracts of this plant to make dye, and used the milky sap as a treatment for fever.

Poinset loved the vibrant color of the plant and sent home cuttings to be given to friends and botanists. Gradually, it became available for sale under the name Euphorbia pulcherrima, Latin for “the most beautiful Euphorbia.”


Poinsettia ‘Plum Pudding'

Facts and Myths

The colored parts of the poinsettia are actually modified leaves called bracts. The true flowers are in the center of the bracts and are usually yellow and white.

It’s a myth that poinsettias are poisonous. Studies have shown that even if a 50 pound child ate 500 bracts, it would not kill her. But the plant can cause stomach upset in pets and humans, so it’s best to avoid eating it. The milky sap can also cause skin irritation.


Buy the Best

Here’s what to look for when buying a poinsettia. First, the foliage should be dark green. Avoid foliage that has brown spots that indicate poinsettia scab. The colored bracts should not have green around the edges. Don’t purchase plants that are drooping or wilting, especially if the soil is wet. This can be a sign of root rot. Don’t buy plants with fallen or yellowed leaves, or that have yellow pollen starting to fall from the flowers. This is an indication that it’s past its prime. White spots the size of a dime indicate powdery mildew.

Before leaving the store, make sure the plant is completely covered. Even a few minutes at temperatures below 50 F can damage the leaves, shortening its life. Put it inside the car with you, not in the trunk.


Poinsettia ‘Strawberries and Cream’


Placement in Your Home

Once you’re home, place the plant near (but not touching) a sunny window, in a room that has temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees. Poinsettias don’t like changes in temperature, so don’t place it near heat vents or fireplaces, or near outside doors that are constantly opened and closed.


Poinsettia ‘Twilight Monet’


Check the soil daily and water it when it starts to get dry. When watering, remove the foil that usually surrounds the pot and allow the water to drain away completely. Fertilizer isn’t necessary while the plant is blooming.



You can get your poinsettia to bloom again next Christmas by following these steps.

In early spring, cut the plant back to about 8 inches. Continue watering regularly, and fertilize with a balanced houseplant fertilizer twice a month.

Once all danger of frost has passed, you can place it outside in a shady spot. Avoid full sun. Continue to water and fertilize. By early summer, it should start to get bushy. Prune it back to keep it compact.

Once the nights start getting colder, take the poinsettia back inside. 

Now comes the crucial part. Starting in early October, the plant will need 14 continuous hours of darkness. Put it in a closet or cover it with a large box for 14 hours every night. The room should have an even temperature of between 60 and 70 degrees at night. During the day, bring it out into a sunny room for up to 10 hours. 

Continue to water and fertilize.


If you’re lucky, you should have Flor de la Noche Buena by December 12, National Poinsettia Day.


Poinsettia 'Carousel'


A version of this article originally appeared in a December 2013 State-by-State Gardening E-newsletter.
Photography courtesy of Ron Capek.


Posted: 11/21/16   RSS | Print


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How to Force Bulbs
by Jennifer Williams       #Bulbs   #Flowers   #How to   #Winter


Bring spring early to your home with a stunning display of spring bulbs indoors. Hint: For a longer flower show, bring bulbs out of chilling at one- or two-week intervals.

Are you looking for a way to brighten up the long winter days? Forcing spring bulbs is simple and fun and brings some color to the gray of winter. While not a very intensive activity, it does require some planning. Start by gathering the following supplies:

• Potting medium and soil scoop or small trowel
• A variety of containers
• Watering can or access to a water source
• Spring-blooming bulbs
• Metal or plastic plant labels and writing utensil
• Cold storage location and plastic bags or wrap if using a refrigerator

Step 1: Choosing Your Bulbs

For the best results, purchase high quality bulbs. Smaller bulbs will be easier for beginners. Inspect your bulbs to ensure they are dry, firm, and free of mold or decay. There are countless online suppliers that will ship bulbs out in the autumn, but my first stop is always to my local nursery to see what they have in stock. Some great choices for beginners include crocus, small daffodils, grape hyacinths, snowdrops, miniature iris, and tulips.

Step 2: Potting the Bulbs

Planting bulbs outdoors requires little effort – simply dig to the proper depth, drop the bulb in, backfill the soil, and forget about it. Forcing bulbs takes a little more precision for best results, but isn’t much more difficult.

• Begin with clean, sterile pots (a 1:10 bleach solution will clean your used pots and allow you to get more wear out of your summer annual pots). It is important to consider where you will be chilling your bulbs before choosing pots to ensure you have enough space.
• Loosely fill the container with soil with a minimum of 1 inch on the bottom, but allowing room for the bulbs (according to the chart below).
• Place bulbs into the pot as close together as you can without them touching. Do not push the bulbs down into the soil.
• Lightly fill around the bulbs with potting medium, leaving about ¼ inch from the top of the container for watering.
• Water the container until the soil is evenly moist.


For a fun twist, mix up your bulbs in the pot to create a miniature garden in a container. Make sure to pay attention to the individual planting depth requirements.

Step 3: Chilling Out

The key to success is giving your bulbs adequate time to chill in temperatures of 35-48 F (40 F is ideal). Depending on your fall and winter climate, there are several options: a north-facing shaded area outdoors will keep your bulbs cool without the sun heating containers above ambient temperatures. If outside is not an option, unheated attics, cellars, or garages will also work.

Finally, if you have some room in your refrigerator, that will keep temperatures the most stable for your bulbs. (See chart for chilling requirements.) Outdoor storage generally does not require extra watering, but those kept in covered or indoor locations need to have regular watering to keep soil moist (covering with plastic wrap or placing in a bag with vents cut will help reduce water needs).


If you are fortunate enough to have an extra refrigerator, or even an extra crisper drawer, to chill your bulbs, go for it! It will maintain the ideal temperature, but make sure to store your apples elsewhere to eliminate exposure to ethylene gas, which will spoil the bulbs.

Step 4: Forcing the Bulbs

When you have reached the required chilling time, it is time to start bringing your pots out into the sun. In the home, the ideal location is a cool spot that receives bright, indirect sunlight. It is important to transition your plants slowly by keeping their temperatures at 50-60 F for the first week. Your bulbs will begin to grow and bloom within two to three weeks.



Daffodils (Narcissus)
Tulips (Tulipa)
Crocus and grape hyacinth (Muscari)
Iris reticulate
Snowdrop (Galanthus)
Hyacinth (Hyacinthus)

Planting Depth

Half the bulb should show above the soil line
Only the tip of bulb should be above the soil line
Cover bulbs with 1 inch of soil
Cover bulbs with 1 inch of soil
Cover bulbs with 1 inch of soil
Cover bulbs with 1 inch of soil

Chill Time

12-15 wks 
10-16 wks 
8-15 wks 
13-15 wks 
15 wks 
12-15 wks 


A version of this article appeared in November/December 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Jennifer Williams.


Posted: 11/21/16   RSS | Print


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Create a Space-Saving Herb Garden for your Wall
by Kathleen Hennessy       #Containers   #Herbs   #How to


I really enjoy cooking with fresh herbs, but buying the packaged variety at the grocery store can really add up. So, this winter I’m growing my own indoors. We created a space-saving herb garden to hang on our kitchen wall. The design keeps herbs handy without taking up limited shelf or counter space.



• Clean glass jars
• Hose clamps
• Board
• Small rocks
• Potting mix
• Mending plates
• Picture wire and d-hooks
• Plants


 Step 1

Select a sunny space on the wall or under a bright light. Measure the area where you’re going to hang the herb garden, then cut the backing board to size. We chose a scrap piece of cedar and sanded the board. We left ours natural, but you could easily paint or stain the wood to match your décor.

 Step 2

Attach clamps to the jars to make sure they’ll fit snuggly. We used simple duct clamps purchased at a home center. Then, remove the clamps from the jars.

Step 3

Lay the jars out on the board. If you’re stacking them, make sure to leave enough growing room for the plant. Make a mark where the clamp will attach to the board.


 Step 4

Attach the clamps to the board, using mending plates to hold the clamps in place.

 Step 5

Line the bottom of the jars with rocks for better drainage.

 Step 6

Add a good potting mix and insert the plants. Pack soil around the plant, lightly tamp it down, and add a little water.



 Step 7

Attach heavy-duty picture frame hooks and wire to the back of the board.

 Step 8

Attach the jars to the board, tightening the clamps.

 Step 9

The final step is to hang your finished project on the wall.



A version of this article appeared in a January/February 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Kathleen Hennessy.


Posted: 11/17/16   RSS | Print


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A Room With a View
by Vicki O'Neal       #Decorating   #Design   #Landscaping


An existing deck is transformed into an outdoor room with the addition of a new arbor and gracious set of stairs to the backyard.


“Outdoor room” has become quite a buzz phrase. But what does it really mean? You won’t find it in the dictionary, because there is no true definition. An internet search, however, will bring you all sorts of interesting results. An outdoor room is really any exterior space that is furnished or outfitted around a specific function. It’s a room with a purpose and a view!

Did you know that statistically, the average person spends in excess of 90 percent of their time indoors? For that reason I like to approach the design of outdoor spaces and rooms from the inside out, so to speak. Designs that integrate while capitalizing on views, circulation paths and functional relationships create a sense of cohesiveness and flow from the interior to the exterior, inviting us outdoors.

Planning and Design
Some outdoor rooms are truly rooms, with walls and ceilings that enclose them. These might be a breezy sunroom with lots of high windows and skylights, a conservatory, screened porch or veranda. Other designs might include decks or patios with columns, planters, benches, retaining walls or other architectural and landscape elements. Open and freeform layouts can create an implied sense of enclosure with the use of a more limited palette of design features. A change of material underfoot, for instance, along with nice furnishings and container plantings can define an area. For transitioning a steep slope, the use of multi-level terracing inherently solves challenging site conditions while creating found spaces for outdoor rooms. In any case, a well-designed outdoor room brings the best of both worlds together – our indoor comforts blended with a wonderful connection to nature.

Overhead structures give a strong sense of enclosure, whether they are solid construction or an alternative design. Imagine an arbor with the romance of a flowering vine wrapping through it, an architecturally built roof with columns, the flexibility of a retractable awning or of course, the open sky. Choosing a particular style or motif for architectural features and accents can set a strong design theme or lend a sense of exotic, faraway places. As always, the styles you choose will greatly impact the character of the completed design.

Lighting for outdoor rooms can have a conventional approach or may be avant-garde with fixtures hung from tree limbs, mounted to columns, posts, walls or in unexpected places. Light fixtures may be integrated into stairways or retaining walls for safety and interest. Lighting plays an important role in establishing a mood and creating visual movement. Accenting blooms and foliage of perennials, annuals and vines are just a few of the possible horticultural effects. Various design elements, although very nice during the day, take on a bit of magic when illuminated in the night. Your eye is always drawn to the light, and in turn to the specific features chosen for accentuation.

The arbor provides a structure for vines to climb, supplies shade and creates a lovely setting for colorful containers and hanging plants.

Outfitting Your Outdoor Room
Furniture options for outdoor rooms are continually being updated and expanded. One of my favorites is the double chaise lounge that has separate backs for flexibility so that one person can be sitting while the other is lying down. Sophisticated choices in outdoor furnishings and accessories have transformed the design of exterior spaces to a level that rivals the refinement of a well-appointed interior. The limitations of outdoor furnishings of the past have given way to stylish offerings in synthetic wicker, wrought and cast aluminum, teak and other sustainably harvested woods. Twig furniture lends a country and rustic feeling to a scene.

Furniture and fabrics have been re-engineered for durability and colorfastness. Exterior rugs now visually mimic their interior counterparts and offer new options in design. The use of color and pattern for visual pop, the addition of statuary or sculpture, perhaps the drama of billowing draperies – all of these elements add to the excitement and endless possibilities for creating an outdoor room. Let your imagination roam!

Many outdoor rooms incorporate the convenience of an al fresco kitchen. These kitchens can be outfitted with components that raise the bar for cooking and entertaining. Infrared grilling systems, power burners, built-in refrigerators, sinks and storage units offer flexibility in configuration and functionality. Often these units are integrated into low  masonry walls faced with natural stone, faux stone or brick. Stainless steel and decay-resistant wood cabinetry are options for freestanding units. If budget permits, combining the kitchen with a fireplace, overhead canopy or bar seating creates a high-styled solution with substance. Countertops may be of natural stone, solid surface materials, granite or concrete. The materials and finishes should be chosen for durability and to coordinate and complement other outdoor features and style.


The newly created setting provides a beautiful and functional outdoor room while transforming the aesthetics of the entire backyard.


A favorite annual flowering vine is Ipomoea alba, or moonflower. The immense pure white flowers and lush deep green, large foliage complement the white arbor and railings. Moonflower is the nocturnal cousin of the common morning glory. Flowers open at dusk and are quite fragrant.


A water lily sits peacefully in this container that has been made into a small fountain. On the right is Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’).

The Featured Project
The starting point for the creation of this entertaining, dining and relaxation space was a large existing deck which had serious limitations for enjoyment. The original deck almost spanned the width of the home, but the only outside access was from the driveway on the far end of the deck. Equally problematic, from the back door of the house the rear yard could only be accessed by walking across the deck to the driveway and around. The flow was cumbersome and awkward. Even the family dog could not gain easy entry to the rear yard.

The first design priority was to modify the circulation by installing a new set of stairs from the deck into the backyard.  The stairs were positioned directly across from the center of the home and the exterior door. This area was also identified as the natural placement for the dining table due to its appropriate size, convenience and great visibility from the yard and interior of the home. A new arbor creates three-dimensional definition and complements the architecture of the home. The arbor supplies shade and a lovely habitat for colorful containers, hanging plants and a structure for vines to climb. The newly created setting provides a beautiful and functional outdoor room while transforming the aesthetics of the entire backyard.

One of the final touches included installing a cleverly positioned plant shelf around the outside perimeter of the deck for display of an impressive collection of bonsai and other plants. The shelf elevated the plants out of harm’s way and simplified access for maintenance.

Our outdoor spaces and rooms come alive when we join the scene. These spaces are created and intended, after all, to allow us to gain full enjoyment of all our surroundings, and to support and enhance our lifestyles. They are a backdrop for our lives. These spaces draw us to the fresh air, become the setting for celebrations and provide us with peaceful havens for retreat.


Nighttime brings its special magic for outdoor dining.


A version of this article appeared in Virginia Gardener Volume 8 Number 9.
Photography courtesy of Vicki O’Neal.



Posted: 11/17/16   RSS | Print


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Soup-er Farmer’s Market Feast
by Kathleen Hennessy       #Fall   #Recipes   #Holiday: Thanksgiving   #Vegetables

Your local farmer’s market is loaded with all the ingredients for your fall feast.


In my mind, there is no better time to be in the kitchen than right now. The cooler temperatures cry out for warm, hearty meals that bring everyone together.

Normally I’m the only one in our house who will eat squash. But, there is something about this creamy, slightly spicy, butternut squash soup that makes it pass the test. Paired with a second season greens salad and a loaf of fresh bread – all purchased at the farmers market – it’s perfect for a fall lunch or dinner.


2 medium butternut squash
4 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups chicken broth
½ teaspoon dried marjoram
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼  teaspoon sea salt
18 teaspoon ground cayenne
¼ teaspoon Sriracha sauce
8 ounces cream cheese, softened (you can use light or regular cream cheese)

Roasted butternut squash is ready to be added to the soup


An immersion blender creates a smooth
and creamy soup.

Garnish the soup with a little fresh rosemary,
add sea salt and ground pepper to taste,
and you’re ready to eat.



Cut the butternut squash in half and clean out the seeds. Place the squash on a jellyroll pan and roast in the 350 F for an hour or until soft.

While the squash is roasting, heat olive oil over medium heat in the bottom of a large soup pot. Add the butter and heat until it is melted. Add the chopped onions and cook just until they’re translucent. Add the broth and spices to the onion and heat to a boil.

Lower the heat. Remove the squash from the oven and scrape the flesh from the skin and put in the soup pot. Discard the peels.

Add the cream cheese and mix everything together with an immersion blender. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can process the squash and the cream cheese separately in a food processor or blender, then add to the soup.

Heat the soup through, making sure it doesn’t boil.


A version of this article appeared in a November/December 2016 print edition of
State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Kathleen Hennessy.


Posted: 11/02/16   RSS | Print


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4 Great Garden Getaways
by Steven Royer    



Even gardeners need a place to refresh, garner new ideas, and simply enjoy another garden and see new plants. There are many places in South Florida to explore and enjoy, however, there are four gems that stand out in my mind. Each has a unique story and inspiration to touch a gardener’s soul.


1. Naples Botanical Garden

At the heart of the garden, the cool pools filled with exotic water lilies are a modern reminder of Monet’s water lilies. Adjacent to an outdoor concert venue it is a perfect setting to relax and enjoy music.


Visitors are welcomed by the cool tropical lushness of Kathryn’s Garden. Aroids, ferns, and other shade-loving plants thrive around a refreshing water feature.


Naples Botanical Garden is the newest gem in the crown of South Florida. While NBG was founded in 1993, the garden as it is today completed the First Master Plan phase and opened in 2014.

Each of the gardens that emerged treat the visitor with modern designs using stunning specimens found in the tropical/sub-tropical regions. The moment you enter, Kathryn’s Garden, with a lush, shady jungle pool, greets you. The next area, Irma’s Garden, treats the senses with some of the most charismatic and unusual plants. That is just the beginning of the experience. Each subsequent garden promises something more and never disappoints.

There are more than 12 distinct garden plantings so far, including a children’s garden, orchid garden, and water garden. These are arranged to not just educate about the pants themselves, but to inspire through arrangement and aesthetics. The new Karen and Robert Scott Florida Garden will highlight vistas into the natural area (restored wetland) in the garden. Showcasing natives then inviting visitors to explore the true nature of the state.


Several of the gardens were designed by landscape architect Raymond Jungles. As the director Brian Holley emphasized, “We had the opportunity in designing the garden to incorporate plants in landscapes rather than focus on taxonomic collection displays.” The result is a must-see series of landscapes.


Left: No matter where you turn in the garden there is a vast array of colors, textures, and variety of plant material. Right: The Lea Asian Garden features a Javanese temple ruin with bamboo, edibles, and other exotic Asian plants. The garden features old and new design elements representing the plants and culture of the Asian tropics.


2. Bok Tower Gardens

The new welcome center.
Gentle plantings surrounding a water feature set the serene mood for the gardens to come.


Bok Tower Gardens is nestled in Lake Whales and began as a vision and gift to the community by Edward W. Bok, an immigrant from the Netherlands. The garden itself sits at 298 feet above sea level and highlights the unique structure of the Singing Tower carillon. This historic garden is considered one of the greatest of the famous landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmstead, Jr.

Rolling pathways lined by delightful plantings give cause for reflection and enjoying the
day in the garden.

The Singing Tower carillon can be seen from nearly everywhere in the garden and in season its melodies entrance visitors.

Treasures to be discovered in the new
Children’s Garden.


The original gardens were not focused on flashy color and exotic plants but designed to enhance the peace and tranquility offered by the bells in the tower. Lush green landscapes with gentle presentations of color still earmark the style of the garden today. Walking the old garden plantings instills a visitor with a sense of place and quiet reflection, as evident in the reflecting pools under the towers mirroring the beautiful structure.

In 2012 Bok Tower Gardens initiated construction of a master plan, the first additions to the gardens in 87 years. The new gardens gently mirror and contrast the old with a style that blends to the theme of peace and reflection. The newer gardens include a pollinator and edible garden complete with outdoor kitchen to entertain and educate. The garden is also christening its Children’s Garden with areas for the smaller gardeners to both learn, have fun, and burn off some of that extra energy.




3. McKee Botanical Gardens

The original stone bridge was rediscovered and now is a highlight to the garden.

McKee Botanical Garden brings us to Vero Beach on the east coast. McKee is a special place, dating back to the 1930s, making it one of Florida’s first tourist attractions. Originally 80 acres of tropical hammock, the original developers hired William Lyman Phillips, from the Frederick Law Olmstead firm, to design the basic infrastructure of streams, ponds, and trails. Collections of waterlilies and orchids accented the native flora, giving it an exotic, jungle ambiance. As time passed, it became neglected and forgotten until the 1970s, when the land started being developed. All but 18 acres were developed and in 2001, McKee Botanical Garden was dedicated.













Left Top: The new additions to the garden blend into the feeling of old Florida, using natural materials and dense plantings to give a coherent look. Right: Attention to detail adds to the feeling of old Florida that made McKee famous. Left Bottom: Winding paths and waterways make the exploration of this jungle paradise special. There are vistas and plants to discover at every bend.

Now visitors are treated to that feeling of “old Florida” in both the jungle atmosphere and the historical features of the garden – including the world’s largest solid mahogany table. Trails meander through the rediscovered waterways and there are treasures to be discovered in every corner. One of my favorite plant groups is the ferns and there are many to be found among the winding trails. The garden is definitely a revisiting of that subtropical woodland it was known for in its heyday.


4. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Some of the newer underplantings accent the palms and trees adding interest to the landscape.

The tropical greenhouse has been renovated and displays some more sensitive tropical plants. The adjoining butterfly house showcases some of the colorful fauna from the tropics.

Fairchild displays an expansive variety of plants, from diverse tropical and subtropical environments. Their efforts to explore and collect new species will undoubtedly add even more interesting things to discover.

The Baily Palm Glade, like many of the garden rooms, overlooks a tropical lake and highlights the many varieties of palms in the garden.


Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is found in the lower east coast near Miami, in Coral Gables. Originally the home of the famous plant explorer David Fairchild, in 1938 the garden opened as the continuation of his dream to explore, display, and share plants from around the world.

The extraordinary collections focused greatly on palms, cycads, and tropical flowering trees. In more recent years the gardens have expanded their displays, adding understory plantings to highlight and enhance the collections.

Recently Dr. Chad Husby has been exploring tropical regions, focusing on Asia and the surrounding regions, looking for new plants to bring back. These plants are making their way into the garden and in time, given performances, will potentially find their way into our plant palettes.

This is of course not an exhaustive list of gardens to explore. There is a myriad of small and worthy gardens to find – the University of Southern Florida’s small but lush garden pops into mind. Botanic gardens have inspired and encouraged gardeners since the first one – Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia – opened in 1730. Today they continue to provoke the imagination and provide places of refection and information for gardeners to enhance their own spaces. I encourage gardeners to take advantage of these institutions. Whether learning what and where to plant or to simply enjoy the world of plants they are invaluable spaces.


When You Go
Keep in mind, even Florida has seasons. Many of the gardens look the most spectacular in the summer (prepare appropriately) but there is something to be seen in all seasons, especially with the tourism industry and the desire to wow visitors year round. The gardens also have annual events that can be wonderful for learning or simply enjoying an enhanced experience. Check their websites for dates and other information that will help you plan and make the most of your visit.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden- fairchildgarden.org
Naples Botanical Garden- naplesgarden.org
Bok Tower Gardens- boktowergardens.org
McKee Botanical Garden- mckeegarden.org





A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardener Volume 21 Number 6.
Photography courtesy of Steven J. Royer.


Posted: 11/02/16   RSS | Print


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Antique Roses Never Went Out of Fashion
by Linda Kimmel       #Fragrant   #Roses


“I feel as if I had opened a book and found roses of yesterday, sweet and fragrant, between its leaves.” – L.M. Montgomery, Anne of the Island (1915).


R. spinosissima ‘Altaica’ — Cream to white blooms with yellow stamens. Flowers form along the entire stem (instead of at the ends). Blooms early in the spring season and will cover the entire bush, resembling a mound of snow. The plant is upright, bushy, prickly and will reach 4 to 6 feet.


What is an antique rose? Sometimes antique roses are called heirloom, heritage, vintage or old garden roses. Whatever your preference of terminology, they are a wonderful class of roses whose date of introduction precedes 1867. They are extremely fragrant, grow without chemicals, and are adaptable in a wide variety of growing conditions. They can create a mood of romance, or nostalgia, stirring up sentimental memories of your grandmother’s yard with sprawling roses on the fence or trellis.

‘Alba Maxima’, also known as the “the great double white,” can be grown as a climber, reaching 8 to 10 feet high. Being disease resistant, hardy and beautiful, it is a lovely addition to any garden.

‘Königin von Dänemark’ is one my favorites. Beautiful, light pink, very double blooms that are fragrant. The bush is disease free and winter hardy.


Antique roses are a delightful piece of living history. They have endured the trials of time—found growing in old cemeteries or abandoned homesteads, surviving decades without human care or maintenance. While momentarily forgotten or replaced by newer remontant varieties, antique roses have prevailed.

As we move towards a “greener” earth, antique roses are making a strong comeback in modern gardens. They are easy to care for, resistant to disease, winter hardy with nice floral performance and fit comfortably in borders and perennial beds without seeming out of place.

There is great diversity in the antique rose classes: Understanding their personalities will help you choose the right rose for your garden. All rose recommendations are well known and suitable in USDA Zones 5 and 6. In addition, they all can be planted in the early fall.

Old Roses: Species (wild or native) and their hybrid counterparts
Species are wild flowering shrubs. Generally, they have a simple flower form of four to eight petals and drench themselves in blooms from late spring to early summer. Environmentally friendly, the flower provides pollen for bees and their prickly stems provide safe havens for the birds to build a nest. Rose hips (seed pods) produced after flowering provide winter interest for landscapers and a healthy food source for various wildlife. Because of their role in the food chain, species roses are often included in food forest and land restoration projects.


R. gallica versicolor ‘Rosa Mundi’ is an eye-catcher in the garden with semi-double pink flowers, striped with white. The bush is compact and suitable for smaller gardens. It is a sport or a mutation of the R. gallica officinalis ‘Apothecary’s Rose’.

‘La Belle Sultane’ is less known than some other Gallica roses, but provides a striking color contrast of violet to deep-crimson blooms. Long canes and attractive foliage provide movement and contrast in a mixed perennial border.


Gallica roses
Gallica roses (Rosa gallica) are native to southern and central Europe, being one of the oldest classes of garden roses. They were cultivated by the Greeks and Romans for their medicinal benefits and were used to treat nearly everything from war injuries to common headaches. Empress Josephine, Napoleon’s first wife (in the early 1800s), managed a magnificent rose garden at her Chateau de Malmaison. The empress collected roses from around the world with two-thirds being Rosa gallica.

Gallica roses tend to be smaller shrubs, 2 to 4 feet tall, and once blooming. They are semidouble to very heavily petaled (100 petals), pink to brilliant purple and wonderfully fragrant. They are extremely winter hardy and actually prefer cooler climates over temperate Zones. They are easy to grow in poor or gravely soil and full sun.

Damask roses
Dating back to biblical times, Damask roses (Rosa × damascena) are the queen of fragrance. With their delectable perfume, it is no surprise Damask roses are regarded as symbols of love and beauty. Flowers are utilized by the perfume and cosmetic industries for their “attar” or essential oils. In Eastern cultures, they are often used as culinary spices, herbal teas, jams or desserts. Because of their remarkable qualities, Damask roses have been used extensively in hybridization programs and have given rise to thousands of new rose varieties.

Damask roses in the right climate may grow 7 feet tall — definitely much taller than Gallica roses, but are just as hardy. Their growth habit is sprawling with open airy branches and small clusters of blooms. Their colors range from shades of light to medium pink, with a few light reds. A few varieties will bloom twice a year with the first flush being the most spectacular.

Alba roses
Alba roses (Rosa hybrid) are a small class of antique roses, dating back to the Roman Empire. Alba roses are the easiest to grow, even tolerating some dappled shade. They are very winter hardy, have good disease resistance and are deliciously fragrant. They are vigorous, growing 5 to 8 feet in one season. Their canes can be lanky. As their name implies, Albas are mostly white to very pale pink.

‘Fantin-Latour’ is an outstanding “cabbage rose” or centifolia. It captured the hearts of the Dutch Master painters, displaying large, light pink and heavily petaled blooms. Blooming in the spring on a hardy bush with few prickles, it emits a lovely fruity fragrance.


Centifolia roses
Centifolia roses (Rosa × centifolia) are closely related to the Damask roses, Intensely fragrant, but not nearly as old. They are thought to be the product of Dutch breeders in the 17th and early 18th century. Resembling peonies, these antique roses have about 100 petals. Much revered for their beauty, Centifolia roses were found in the paintings and art works of the Dutch Masters. Typically appearing in various shades of pink, the blooms tend to be heavy, globular or cup-shaped. Having a rather lanky growth, their canes will arch and flower heads may nod. A little support with a peony cage will help keep them off the ground, especially if it rains.

Moss roses
Moss roses (Rosa hybrid), not to be confused with the annual plant rose moss (Portulaca grandiflora), are thought to be mutations or sported Centifolia or Damask roses. They display a fuzzy growth (moss-like) on their sepals, calyx and a portion of the stems. The reason for the genetic mutations is a mystery. This fascinating characteristic was then crossed and bred into new varieties. A Moss rose in the garden is destined to become a conversation piece.

The original five
These five types are the original antique roses. They have some color limitations, with only a few yellow and no orange varieties. However, their calming array of pink colors and relaxed growth habit allows them to blend easily into most modern gardens. Some claim it is a disadvantage that most of these original antique roses only bloom once per season. They provide a lot of bloom all at once for three to four weeks in the spring, strutting a spectacular display. We don’t ask, nor expect more, from our rhododendrons or viburnums.


Beautiful antique roses used as a hedge give privacy, versatility and striking nostalgic charm.

My favorite antique roses

Rosa rugosa— an extremely hardy shrub, tolerant of sandy dry soils and cold winters. Blooms are single petaled, pink to deep red and will repeat throughout the season.

R. rugosa ‘Alba’

R. spinosissima ‘Altaica’

Gallica roses
R. gallica versicolor ‘Rosa Mundi’

R. gallica officinalis ‘Apothecary’s Rose’ — blooms are a semi-double deep pink to fuchsia with a strong fragrance.

Damask roses
‘Leda’ — has pink buds, opens to fully double white with pink tipped blooms. All of the Damask roses have an intoxicating fragrance.

‘Celsiana’ — is a semi-double light pink with bright yellow stamens.

‘Madame Hardy’ — is a classic Damask, very double, pure white with a green button-eye center.

Centifolia roses

Alba roses
‘Königin von Dänemark’

‘Madame Plantier’ — blooms are white, very double with a green eye. Resembling ‘Madame Hardy’ in color and center, except the flowers are smaller and tend to cluster.

Moss roses
‘Salet’ — is one of the best Moss roses on the market. It is fully double, bright pink with strong fragrance and will repeat bloom. A sweet compact shrub that is suitable for smaller gardens.

Antique rose care
Antique roses are easy to grow. Some old garden roses have survived for years with complete neglect. However, the more you put into the rose plant, the more you can expect to get back. Antiques or modern roses all perform better in full sun (a minimum of six hours, with eight hours or more preferred). They love morning sun, but will do well in southern and western exposures. When picking a garden site, avoid nearby trees, shrubs or aggressive plants, whose roots may become invasive and compete with the rose for water and nutrients.

Antique roses can be planted in the early fall or spring. Whether bare-root or potted, the same principles apply. Preparing the garden beds in advance is recommended, but not required. Add a generous supply of organic matter, such as compost, well-rotted horse manure, shredded leaves or grass clippings. Almost any soil type will benefit from adding organic matter. Roses prefer well-drained soils. By preparing beds in the fall, the soil and added amendments have a chance to blend, while beneficial soil microbes have time to mature. Fall planting is perfectly acceptable and preferred by many rose growers. Plant early, about six weeks before the first frost, so the roots have ample time to get anchored. Provide a little extra winter mulch for protection.

Budded or grafted roses should be planted at the union, just below the surface of the soil. For an own-root potted rose, the rose should be carefully removed from the pot with as much root and soil intact as possible. The soil line of the potted rose should be even with the natural soil line of the garden bed.

Mulch after planting. A 3 to 4 inch layer of mulch is recommended. Mulch will help to suppress weeds, reduce the spread of fungal diseases and retain soil moisture. Organic mulches (such as hardwood fines, pine straw, compost or shredded bark) will break down over time, adding humus and nutrients to the soil.

Antique roses require minimal pruning. Most antique roses bloom on second-year growth. Thus, pruning should be done shortly after the spring bloom, otherwise you will cut off next year’s roses. Of course, dead or nonproductive stems can be removed anytime.


A version of this article appeared in a September/October 2016 edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Linda Kimmel, Teresa Byington, and Carol Tumbas.


Posted: 10/26/16   RSS | Print


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Gardening for the Birds
by Michelle Reynolds    


Cedar waxwings show up in the early spring to devour every berry in sight, often getting drunk from the fermented fruit. These birds act like canaries when they show up in groups, hanging upside down and snatching fruit from the hackberry tree.


It is a sad fact — habitat for birds and other wildlife is becoming more fragmented and wildlife populations are suffering due to the harm we as humans cause by moving our home and business developments farther and farther out from city centers. Ultimately, we are throwing the balance of nature out of whack. If we turn this alarming trend around and work toward becoming more ecologically responsible land stewards, would our personal actions help to restore the balance of nature? I want to be optimistic and say yes. As we cultivate our own yards and those of our communities, we should take responsibility upon ourselves to put nature back into the landscape and then encourage others to do the same. If we do what it takes to restore nature in our own yards, then we will be rewarded by the joy and wonder of nature on a daily basis, making us happier, healthier and wiser. I think the birds would be happier as well!

Creating a bird-friendly yard is a good way to start the process of becoming a “Conscientious Gardener.” If you consider your yard an extension of the nearest wild space or bird flyway, and provide some of the same essential elements of natural habitat, then you will be helping to bridge the gaps of the forest caused by sprawl, you’ll gain a better understanding of the needs of migrating and resident birds, and you will be rewarded by the nature that comes to your back door.


A bluebird gobbles up berries from the hackberry tree. Other favorite foods for bluebirds are berries from various sumac shrubs (species include smooth, winged and fragrant).


To create a bird-friendly environment, you must provide food, water, shelter and places for birds to rear their young. Birdhouses, birdbaths and brush piles are the easy ones to check off the list, but to provide a fine-dining smorgasbord for your feathered friends, you need to consider building several types of habitats by creating variety in plant groups in the areas you cultivate.

A meadow of native grasses, purple coneflower, evening primrose, standing cypress and tickseed will surely bring in the goldfinches.


Meadows – made up of native grasses and flowers – will attract pollinating insects, insects that feed on the plants and will give space for the birds to flutter about. Flowers and grasses will provide many seeds for species of finches, sparrows, buntings, grosbeaks and warblers. You may also plant nectar-producing plants for hummingbirds to share the space. Meadows do not have to be large or messy. Border a meadow with a neatly cut lawn, fence or a formal border to balance the look.

If you are starting from scratch, or underneath existing large trees, a woodland habitat should be built from the ground up and start at the forest floor. A good layer of leaf litter, compost and pine straw combined will invite microorganisms, worms, grubs and insects. Robins, towhees, flickers and juncos will scratch and poke about to find the food. Above the floor should be seasonal wildflowers and small plants, then shrubs, and understory trees – all planted in layers underneath the taller trees. Native plants and trees will attract the right insects and produce safer fruit for birds to eat. An increasing number of studies show that fruit produced by non-native plant species isn’t as healthy for the birds as fruit produced by native plants and they may sometimes actually be harmful. Plant plenty of plants that produce nectar, seeds and fruit, and don’t be so quick to deadhead or prune the birds’ food source. Add a brush pile amongst the bases of thicket-forming shrubs for brown thrashers, wrens, catbirds and sparrows.



Chances are you will have several woodpeckers show up if you leave a snag or two for the birds. This red-headed woodpecker hopped from branch to branch searching for the perfect hiding spot for the acorn.

Leave low-hanging limbs on the trees for birds to perch on as they search for food. Rose-breasted grosbeaks are fun to watch as they migrate through in
late spring.

Cooper’s hawks will nest in tall pine or oak trees in suburban neighborhoods as long as there are stands of larger trees. Songbirds are on the menu for these babies but the parent hawks also bring them snakes, rabbits and mice.


A diversity of tall trees in groups will mimic the forest and will provide nesting sites, elevated views and protection from predators. Food sources abound from trees. Nectar from the flowers of tulip poplar attracts orioles. Tiny seeds from pinecones attract warblers, kinglets, pine siskins, titmice and crossbills. Oak leaves are larval host to many butterflies and moths, which are important food sources for breeding birds especially. Hackberry trees provide fruit for bluebirds, cedar waxwings and robins. Tall trees are also excellent structures for species such as nuthatches, robins and warblers. If there are enough tall trees in your neighborhood to form a good canopy, species of owls and Cooper’s, sharp-shinned and red-shouldered hawks will take up residence and build nests, or will use the trees for roosting.

Don’t forget to leave a few snags, or dead trees. If there’s no danger of the dead or dying tree falling on your house, leave it for the birds. Woodpeckers and nuthatches will excavate cavities for nesting and will forage for beetles and ants in the bark. Brown creepers, wrens, titmice, chickadees and small owls will also use cavities in dead wood to nest.


Plant, discover, watch, observe, map out your yard and report your findings to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Yard Map (content.yardmap.org).

Count the birds and participate in the National Audubon’s Great Backyard Bird Count and Hummingbirds at Home (www.audubon.org/citizenscience).

Have fun!




My favorite bird-friendly plants for seeds, fruit and nectar:


Seeds:  Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), wild asters (Symphyotrichum spp.), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), sunflowers (Helianthus spp.), goldenrod (Solidago spp.), lyreleaf sage (Salvia lyrata), evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra, Zone 6 and up only), tickseed (Coreopsis spp.), sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), pine (Pinus spp.)

Fruit:  partridgeberry (Mitchella repens), American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), strawberry bush (Euonymus americanus), Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), grape (Vitis spp.), dogwood (Cornus spp.), grancy greybeard (Chionanthus virginicus), possumhaw (Ilex decidua), rusty blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum), waxberry (Morella cerifera, Zone 7 only), elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), winged sumac (Rhus copallinum), smooth sumac (Rhus glabra), fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica), serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), red mulberry (Morus rubra), blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica), black cherry (Prunus serotina), hackberry (Celtis laevigata)

Nectar: standing cypress, bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), red bee balm (Monarda didyma), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), native azaleas (Rhododendron spp.), scarlet buckeye (Aesculus pavia), tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)


A version of this article appeared in an October 2013 edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Bob Farley.



Posted: 10/25/16   RSS | Print


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Now You Don’t
by June Mays       #Design   #Hardscaping


Woven stick panel is inexpensive and is easily removed for access.


Over the past 30 years I have been snapping images of the ways gardeners hide the necessary evils – pool equipment, meters, propane tanks, air conditioners, and electric boxes. In this photo essay, I refer to all of them as the catchall term “the air conditioner.” Solutions fall into three basic groups – plants, enclosures, and walls/screens.

Left: Front and back of a wooden fence covered in ivy that hides pool equipment.
Right: Front and back, an upright boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Fastigiata’) hides pool equipment.

Here is a three-sided trellis box. The lid lifts off.

I use the three-part hinged wooden screen in almost every garden I design. It can be easily removed for access to meters, electric boxes, generators, or air conditioners. It can be painted, stained, or left natural.

Two-sided wooden can corral with hinged doors.

Wooden enclosure with hinged doors for garbage cans. Note ramped curb for wheeling garbage bins.



Broadleaf evergreens like holly (Ilex spp.), boxwood (Buxus spp.), Aucuba, Indian hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica), and leucothoe (Agarista populifolia) are effective solutions, as are conifers like arborvitae (Thuja spp.). Evergreen climbing plants like Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) and ivy (Hedera spp.) have also been successful.

[Editor's Note: Aucuba, Indian Hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica), leucothoe (Agarista populifolia), and Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) are not hardy below Zone 7.]

All of these plants are widely available and are the least expensive way to hide equipment.

Enclosures were made from fencing, stone, and trellis. Finishing details like capstones, feet that raised wooden enclosures above the soil, and attractive hardware made a difference between solutions that looked amateur and those that looked professional. One clever solution was a can enclosure that shared a wall with delivery bays for landscaping materials.

Walls and screens I saw were as simple as woven sticks and complicated as artistically stacked stone. They are useful if your guests will be viewing from only the front. My favorite solution is the three-paneled hinged screen that can be quickly removed for access to equipment.

In my own garden, I have taken an idea from Helen Yoest and thrown camouflage netting over an electric box and over a propane tank.

I hope some of these ideas will work for you.


A version of this article appeared in a
March 2016 edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of June Mays.


Posted: 10/21/16   RSS | Print


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It’s All About the Berries
by Susan Crawford       #Fall   #Fruit   #Shrubs


Callicarpa dichotoma

If you have ever seen a beautyberry in fruit, you are not likely to forget it. The brilliant, iridescent purple berries that cluster along the stems of Callicarpa dichotoma and C. japonica in late summer and fall will stop you in your tracks. I can’t think of another plant that sports such an arresting, audacious color. Carolyn Ulrich, editor of Chicagoland Gardening magazine, saw a beautyberry in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, at Thanksgiving a few years ago, and wondered, “What is that?” To her surprise (and delight) she learned that it grows in Zones 5 and 6. An enterprising landscaper has installed a couple in my city neighborhood. I have to have some.

Ichang viburnum


Easy Does It

Care of shrubs is pretty simple.

•  Most flowering and fruiting shrubs prefer evenly moist, well-drained soil and full sun.
That said, most will do fine in part sun.
Aronias tolerate wet and poor soil.

•  Fertilizing isn’t usually necessary, but an occasional or even an annual scattering of a low-nitrogen feed can be beneficial.

•  Water shrubs well and regularly in their first season. After that, water as you do the rest of the garden.

•  Callicarpas should be pruned hard in March or April every year. Some experts say prune to the ground; others prefer to leave 5 to 6 inches. In the warmer microclimates at Fernwood, Bornell prunes back only to live buds, resulting in a larger specimen.

•  Viburnums can be kept smaller and more shapely by judicious pruning of longer stems in early spring.

Berry Happy Together
While a few shrubs, such as most hollies, require a male plant amongst the berry-producing females to assure fruit, many others, callicarpa included, wish for companions rather than lovers. Alone, they fruit sporadically but produce the most berries when a pollinator is planted in close proximity. The best pollinator is of the same species but of a different variety or cultivar. Bloom times should also match for best berry set.

Callicarpa Choices
Kunso Kim, head of collections and curator of The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill., doesn’t hesitate to name Callicarpa dichotoma among his favorites. The most root-hardy callicarpa, it can die back near the ground in winter and still survive. “It has a graceful habit,” says Kim. “The leaves are smaller than the other beautyberries, and the stems are slender, so that when they are covered with fruit, they tend to hang down. Very attractive.” He favors the C. dichotoma cultivar ‘Issai’. Its Japanese name translates into “Second Year.” It produces berries a year or so ahead of other callicarpas. ‘Issai’ and ‘Early Amethyst’ fruit most heavily of all the group. The two are attractive and prolific planted together.

Steve Bornell, manager of plant collections at Fernwood Botanical Gardens & Nature Preserve in Niles, Michigan, adds an endorsement for another C. dichotoma. “This is our first spring with ‘Spring Gold’, which is showing striking green and gold new foliage right now.”

C. japonica can get a bit leggy, but it appreciates being cut back hard in the spring so height and legginess problems can be controlled. Bornell offers this suggestion. “A mixed planting of C. j. ‘Leucocarpa’ and C. d. ‘Issai’ complement each other.”

C. mollis and C. bodinieri var. giraldii are not as hardy as dichotoma and japonica, don’t fruit as heavily and the leaves are larger and tend to obscure the berries. C. americana, native to our South, is not reliably hardy here.

The spring flowers and fall coloring of callicarpas are pleasant though not extraordinary. It’s the berries that are to die for.

Berries and flowers of Blue Muffin™ (Viburnum dentatum)

Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus)


Blue Bombshells
Eye-popping purple isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but fall berries come in so many colors and shades that there should be one for every taste. If you lean toward bright blueberry with a lustrous glow, southern arrowwood Blue Muffin™ (Viburnum dentatum ‘Christum’) is for you. It’s a compact beauty, growing 4 by 4 feet, with splendid white spring flowers, glossy foliage, handsome fall coloring and a profusion of berries that birds adore.

How about pink followed by turquoise? The tall (10- to 15-foot) blackhaw (Viburnum prunifolum) and rusty blackhaw (V. rufidulum) also flower beautifully and provide fall fireworks of bright red glossy foliage from which the blue berries (actually drupes) protrude. Ed Lyon, director of the Allen Centennial Garden on the University of Wisconsin- Madison campus, thinks the underused V. prunifolium is tough as nails, with great fruit and excellent fall color. In his part of Wisconsin the callicarpas need a protected site, but the viburnums, especially the haws, scoff at below-zero temperatures.

Lyon urges us also to consider the possumhaw (V. nudum), especially the 6-foot cultivar ‘Winterthur’ that features the same magnificent all-season displays as the other haws, plus huge 4-inch fruits. Kunso Kim loves the possumhaw Brandywine™ (V. nudum ‘Bulk’). “It has glossy leaves that turn rich burgundy in autumn and a breathtaking fruit display. The green drupes change to bright pink, then to bright blue and wild grape.” Brandywine is a fine cross-pollinator for ‘Winterthur’. Most haws will pollinate each other, and all attract bees and butterflies that do the job.

The native fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) and the Chinese species (C. retusus) can barely be considered shrubs at 12 to 20 feet tall. But they bloom so ecstatically and produce such a surfeit of “bloomy” medium-blue fruits beloved of birds that they make a grand addition to a middle-sized or large garden. Since they are dioecious like hollies, only the females produce fruit and require a male in the vicinity to do so. C. virginicus is the hardier of the two, the one suitable for Wisconsin, says Ed Lyon.


Left: Tea Viburnum (Viburnum segiterum) Middle: Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) Right: Viburnum dilatum 'Erie'

Red Riot
Red fall berries are archetypal — beacons in October, standouts against the snow in winter like little drops of blood. Luckily, our area supports many shrubs that provide them. Hollies are rivaled by viburnums and some lesser-known plants. Boyce Tankersley, director of living plant documentation at the Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe, Ill., thinks no one should be without a highbush cranberry viburnum Redwing® (V. trilobum ‘J.N. Select’). He describes it as “growing thicker than most with a tighter bunching habit, simply lovely blooms, bright red autumn foliage and ruby berries that, as they mature, become translucent. With the sun behind them on a fall day, they are a glorious sight.” Redwing® grows up to 10 feet tall, but one can easily control its size by cutting back the longest stems.

Viburnum Cardinal Candy™

Redwing® American Cranberrybush
(Viburnum trilobum ‘J. N. Select’)

The Linden viburnum Cardinal Candy™ (V. dilatatum ‘Henneke’) inspires Kunso Kim to poetic flights. “It’s like manna to bees and butterflies. It’s a nice height, 5 to 6 feet, that can be maintained shorter with pruning, and produces abundant bright red fruits in late summer that still cling to the shrub the next spring when flocks of cedar waxwings come to nibble away. And it gives a good fruit set without cross pollination.”

Steve Bornell praises the Viburnum dilatatum ‘Erie’ growing at Fernwood for its fantastic coral red fruit and adds, “We also have an 8-foot Cotoneaster multiflorus, which sports red berries over red fall foliage ­— a show stopper along our entry drive.”

For the smaller garden that might be overwhelmed by the statuesque beauties mentioned above, the smaller, sprawling cotoneasters C. horizontalis and C. hessei are great choices. Kunso Kim describes them as having a “fishbone structure,” refined and graceful, just right for spreading over a wall or bank. Their small, dense shiny leaves support and show off the bright red berries.

And the easy-to-grow native aronia or chokeberry should not be overlooked, though Ed Lyon claims that its rock-hardiness causes its overuse in Wisconsin. Says Kunso Kim, “Aronia arbutifolia ‘Brilliantissima’ is a shrub that has it all: fruit for the birds; nectar for insects; cover for wildlife and multiseason beauty from its nectar-loaded white to pinkish flowers; dense clusters of glossy red fruit that persists through winter; and brilliant red foliage in autumn.” Cultivars of black chokeberry (A. melanocarpa), especially ‘Morton’ and ‘Iroquois Beauty’, have shiny black berries. “With profuse small white flowers, chokeberry is gorgeous in spring and again in fall with wine-red foliage,” Kim declares. Nothing improves a garden more and gives it better bones than planting shrubs. Add some of these season-prolonging fruiting charmers, many of which have berries that persist through the winter.


A version of this article appeared in Chicagoland Gardening Volume 17 Number 5.
Photography courtesy of Ron Capek, Proven Winners, and Bailey Nurseries.


Posted: 10/18/16   RSS | Print


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A Wonderland of Color
by Stephanie Knipper       #Colorful   #Flowers   #Winter


The cool tones of the white and purple viola complement the blue fescue, as well as the ajuga in the background.


Adding color to your garden in winter can be a challenge. For many gardeners, barren beds are something we learn to live with until spring. After all, our winters can be harsh with temperatures frequently dipping below freezing. Most flowering plants do not survive in these conditions. However, there are some that flourish, and even thrive, in cooler temperatures. Brightening a winter garden doesn’t have to be difficult, you just need to pick the right plants for your conditions.

Bedding plants are the answer for many of us. While you won’t find flats of petunias and impatiens available at your garden center in November, there are plants that will brighten a bleak winter landscape. The plants listed below will provide you with a colorful garden even when everything else seems gray.


Beyond Pansies, Cabbage and Kale
When I say bedding plants for winter, most people think of pansies, cabbage and kale. While these are wonderful plants for your cold weather landscape, pansies and ornamental cabbages are not the only winter bedding plants available to Southern gardeners. In spite of our sometimes difficult winters, we have a nice variety of plants that can bring a little color to the landscape when we need it most. Go ahead and plant pansies and cabbages, but while you’re doing so, add some of the plants mentioned below and transform your garden from basic to beautiful.

Snapdragons 1


Antirrhinum majus (Snapdragons)

Antirrhinum majus has long been a favorite of gardeners everywhere. Many of us played with these plants as a child, pinching the bloom to make the “mouth” open and shut. Whether it’s the bit of whimsy they bring to the landscape, or the fact that they bloom when few other plants do, snapdragons have been cherished for years. Easy to grow and available in a variety of colors from bright bold tones to soft pastels, they brighten any landscape well after the weather turns chilly.

A tender perennial in warmer zones, in Zones 5 and 6 Antirrhinum majus is grown as a hardy annual. However, there is the possibility that they will reseed and survive until spring. They are available in sizes from 10 inches to more than 36 inches tall, and bloom in late fall and early spring. Regular deadheading promotes a longer bloom time. Snapdragons make great companions for other cool-season plants such as pansies and kale.

Primula aricula 2


Primula auricula (Primroses)

Like Antirrhinum majus, Primula auricula is an old-time favorite. The bright flowers conjure up memories of gardens from years ago. Primula blooms in very early spring, around March, and produces neat compact flowers that come in a variety of colors. They are beautiful in mass plantings or in moist woodland settings. Primula thrives on moist, rich soil and some of the polyanthus hybrids (P. x polyantha) can easily be grown from seed. Because they love moist soil, watch out for slugs.

Primula is available in heights up to 2 feet tall. They do not form loose clumps like pansies, so Primula’s neat compact design is perfect for a more structured or formal garden.

Hellebores, Helleborus spp., are a great winter-blooming perennial that also provide foliage year round in the shade garden…and they’re deer resistant too!



Helleborus (Lenten Rose)

There is something mysterious about Helleborus. Blooming when the ground is still sleeping, these seemingly delicate flowers are a delight to tuck into containers and beds. Sometimes, Helleborus will even push its way through a blanket of snow to bloom, its single rose-shaped face nodding toward the ground. Most varieties grow about 2 feet tall and 15 inches wide. They need well-drained soil, otherwise, soggy roots can kill the plant.

Helleborus are best planted next to a porch or patio, anywhere their understated elegance can be appreciated. One word of warning, all parts of the plant are toxic and should be kept away from children and pets.

This yellow and purple Rebelina series viola delights in the fall garden and is in constant bloom in spring until heat and humidity set in.




Viola tricolor (Johnny-jump-ups)

For such a delicate plant, violas are wonderfully hardy. Only 6 to 8 inches high, and available in a wide variety of colors, tiny violas are perfect for cool-season beds and planters. They poke through the soil in early spring and remain blooming long after other flowers have stopped. Violas prefer cool conditions and rich, moist, well-drained soil. Deadhead for a longer bloom time. Plant violas en masse and you will transform your barren winter garden into a wonderland of color.

Winter doesn’t have to be an off-season for gardens or gardeners. Yes, it is a time to slow down, to reflect on the past season’s work and to plan for the next year. But with the right plants, your garden can still be colorful even when everything else is wintery gray. This year, move beyond pansies, cabbage and kale. Experiment with some of the flowers mentioned here and your winter will be much more colorful. Even in the “off” season.

Don’t Forget Ground Covers

While I’ve focused on flowering plants, a splash of green against the gray winter sky can have an enormous impact. A ground cover that keeps its color in winter can liven up almost any landscape. Luckily, there are several that will flourish in our area.

Some ground covers to consider are: Hedera helix (English ivy,) Brunnera (Siberian bugloss) and Vinca minor (periwinkle). Planted along borders and in beds, using these vines as ground covers can brighten your garden even in winter. Add some of the flowering plants listed above, and enjoy even more winter color.

One word of caution, some vines can be aggressive and extremely invasive. If you decide to add them to your landscaping, make sure you keep an eye on their growth, trimming them back as needed.


A version of this article appeared in Kentucky Gardener Volume 8 Number 9.
Photography courtesy of 1©iStockphoto.com/brento, 2©iStockphoto.com/hsvrs, and Susan Jasan.


Posted: 10/18/16   RSS | Print


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Have Shovel, Will Travel
by Jen Nathan Orris       #Garden Profile   #Trees

The garden’s brick pathways lead viewers through the garden.


When Ralph Coffey decided to move his garden from Lake Norman to Asheville, N.C., he knew the 100-mile journey was a risk. He spent years cultivating his collection of unusual plants and he couldn’t imagine leaving them behind.

He was lured to western North Carolina by the opportunity to establish The WhiteGate Inn and Cottage in a historic home built in Asheville in 1889. The stately bed and breakfast is now surrounded by a lush garden marked by large Japanese maples, magnolias, conifers, and perennials.

Some gardeners would leave their precious plants behind or gift them to a friend or neighbor. Instead, Coffey brought along approximately 450 of his favorite perennials, shrubs, and trees with him to the mountains.


The gardens surrounding WhiteGate Inn’s historic home welcome visitors.

left: Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) grows near the greenhouse, which contains approximately 1,500 orchids and tropical plants. middle: Various maple trees bring fall color to the WhiteGate Inn’s porch.
right: Stone gargoyles stand guard along the garden’s steps.


The process of transplanting a massive garden can be daunting, but for Coffey it was all about timing. He started the transition a full year before the move, digging around the roots of the trees every two or three weeks to ready them for their journey. When the plants were dormant in late November, he made his move. “I didn’t lose a single thing,” says Coffey. “And I moved some fairly large Japanese maples here.”

In the months leading up to the move, he gradually pruned the trees’ canopies to compensate for the loss of roots. Giving them relief from supporting too much weight helped to avoid placing excessive stress on the plants. He moved a prized magnolia when it was 10 feet tall. It now towers over the garden at a full 25 feet, bringing with it fragrant flowers in the spring and year-round interest.

Starting with mature plants gave his new garden an established look from the beginning. “I transplanted so many of these plants that it created an instant effect,” he remarks.


left: Wooden and metal sculptures punctuate the garden’s wooded areas. right: Water features weave around the garden’s natural growth


Entering the garden feels like slipping into a hidden cove full of deep greens and subdued colors. Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) reveal their vibrancy each fall before the evergreens take center stage. A robust, well-established garden mirrors the feel of the historic inn, creating an enticing oasis for passersby.

The gardens are primarily for the inn’s guests, but anyone can visit with advanced notice, says Coffey. It’s been 16 years since his initial move, but he’s still finding the ideal layout for his garden. Simplicity guides his process, which relies heavily on self-seeded plants that emerge each year. “When you have self-seeded plants it creates a wilder effect,” he says. “I like the idea that every year is different. You don’t know where these things are going to pop up.”


left: Ivy (Hedera) grows throughout the historic inn’s garden. middle: ‘Flying Dragon’ hardy citrus (Poncirus trifoliate ‘Flying Dragon’ is an unusual garden addition. right: Found objects like this antique radiator add visual interest to the grounds.


As his garden evolves, so does Coffey. “Now I spend more time moving things around, relocating things and pulling things out than I do planting things,” he says.

Gone are the days when he’d buy a dozen flats of annuals each spring. Now he spends his days tending to the plants he already knows and loves, always ready with a shovel to give them a new home just a few feet down the path.


A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 27 Number 9.
Photography courtesy of Jen Nathan Orris.


Posted: 09/19/16   RSS | Print


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The Tall and Skinny
by Les Parks       #Landscaping   #Trees

Fern-filled urns, clipped boxwood (Buxus spp.), and attractive brick paving combine with varying sizes of ‘Degroot’s Spire’ arborvitae to let visitors know they have arrived at the front door of this stately home.


It is no secret that plants come in many shapes, sizes, and growth habits. For those of us who are fortunate enough to know the joys of gardening, we get to take advantage of this great variety when creating our own personal Eden. Two nearly identical groups of plants that are both fun to work with and practical, are columnar and fastigiate evergreens. While these two terms are often considered interchangeable, there is indeed a slight difference, but only by a matter of degrees. This difference is so small that it really does not affect the ways these plants can be used. What these forms have in common are dense upright growth and an inability to develop broad, spreading, side branches. This results in skinny plants that reach for the sky, yet ask only for just a little space in your garden to do so.

Blue Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens ‘Glauca’) frames this ancient brick wall and gate without obstructing its architectural details. Unfortunately, the aggressive Wisteria climbing on top will not be so kind once it breaks dormancy.


One of the most practical ways to use these evergreens is to create tall, yet narrow, screens or hedges. This is especially useful for people who garden in today’s smaller spaces and want to create a sense of privacy without sacrificing precious garden real estate. Additionally, these plants will not make anyone a slave to pruning, unlike many traditional hedge choices. For those that want a bit of height in these same small gardens, a single tall, narrow specimen will give them what they want without requiring the space and sunlight that a larger tree would.

Unfortunately, many shortsighted builders leave narrow strips of nearly useless garden space wedged between walls and paving sections. These spaces barely have enough room to grow a few annuals, let alone a tree or a shrub. However, they may have room enough for something tall and skinny. When space is not an issue, these plants can also be used in informal, thoughtfully spaced groupings, and a more natural feel can be obtained by selecting distinctly staggered sizes of the same plant.

Tall narrow plants are often used to accentuate the features of a building, whether to frame an entrance, line a walkway, soften corners, or to enhance vertical architectural elements. For taller buildings, these plants are one way to add a layer, or a bridge if you will, between the height of the structure and the garden that surrounds it.

Dense narrow evergreens can be added as “thriller” to container designs. ‘Sky Pencil’ holly (Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’) has been used to great effect in these combinations.


Speaking of structure, planting tight narrow evergreens is one way to add this design element to looser, more free form gardens that may need it. Used this way and repeated, a sense of rhythm can be created in the process.

Contrast is another design element that can be added to gardens by combining these evergreens with more rounded, open, or sprawling plant forms. You can achieve this same contrast in container gardens by adding a tall vertical element for a bit of drama. This is especially useful in winter containers, as many of these plants can easily withstand lower temperatures.

Whether columnar and fastigiate plants are used artistically or practically, there is a small place in gardens of all sizes for these “exclamation points” to be used as punctuation.


Tall narrow evergreens are an excellent choice for privacy screening, and to create a sense of enclosure. Here a tightly planted row of ‘Degroot’s Spire’ arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ’Degroot’s Spire’) does that well, but also leads the eye towards the distant red mobile.


Botanical Name

Common Name


Light Conditions

Zones Notes
Buxus sempervirens ‘Dee Runk’ Dee Runk boxwood 8’ x 2’ light sun to shade 5-8 tolerant for a boxwood
Buxus sempervirens ‘Fastigiata’ Fastigiata boxwood 8’ x 3’ light sun to shade 5-8 dark green foliage
Camellia sasanqua ‘Autumn Rocket’

Autumn Rocket camellia

8-10’ x 3-4’ light sun to shade 7b-9 white flowers in late fall
Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Fastigiata’ Upright Japanese plum yew 8-10’ x 3-5’ light sun to shade 6-9 heat and humidity tolerant
Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Korean Gold’ Korean Gold Japanese plum yew 6-10’ x 3-6’ light sun to shade 6-9 golden foliage
Chamaecyparis thyoides ‘Red Star’ Red Star Atlantic white cedar 15-25’ x 6-8’ full sun 4-8 plum-purple winter foliage
Cupressus sempervirens ‘Glauca’ Blue Italian cypress 25-40’ x 4-5’ full sun 7-10 blue-green foliage
Cupressus sempervirens ‘Swane’s Golden’ Swane’s Golden Italian cypress 15-20’ x 2-3’ full sun 7-9 golden foliage
Cupressus sempervirens ‘Tiny Tower’ Tiny Tower Italian cypress 25-30’ x 3’ full sun 7-10 smaller than the species
Euonymus japonicus ‘Green Spire’ Green Spire euonymus 15’ x 6’ full sun to shade 6-9 salt and drought tolerant
Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’ Sky Pencil Japanese holly 6-8’ x 2-3’ full sun to part shade 6-8 good for containers
Ilex vomitoria ‘Scarlet’s Peak’ Scarlet’s Peak Yaupon holly 20’ x 3’ full sun to part shade 7-10 native, red berries
Ilex vomitoria ‘Will Fleming’ Will Fleming Yaupon holly 8-15’ x 2-3’ full sun to part shade 7-10 may need occasional pruning
Juniperus chinensis ‘Spartan’ Spartan Chinese juniper 15-20’ x 4-5’ full sun 4-9 drought tolerant
Juniperus virginiana ‘Brodie’ Brodie eastern red cedar 20-25’ x 6-9’ full sun 6-9 drought and salt tolerant
Juniperus virginiana ‘Taylor’ Taylor eastern red cedar 15-20’ x 3-4’ full sun 4-9 dense foliage, very adaptable
Thuja occidentalis ‘Degroot’s Spire’ Degroot’s Spire arborvitae 15-20’ x 2-3’ full sun to part shade 3-8 foliage bronzes in winter
Thuja occidentalis ‘Jantar’ Jantar arborvitae 6-10’ x 3’ full sun to part shade 4-8 bright golden foliage
Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’ Emerald arborvitae 12-15’ x 3-4’ full sun to part shade 4-8 common and easy to find
Thuja occidentalis ‘Yellow Ribbon’ Yellow Ribbon arborvitae 8-10’ x 2-3’ full sun to part shade 3-7

golden yellow foliage



A version of this article appeared in a June 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Les Parks.


Posted: 09/19/16   RSS | Print


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by Peggy Hill       #Flowers   #Hot Plants   #Natives   #Yellow

Sadly underutilized, C. palustris ‘Summer Sunshine’ was the highest-rated perennial coreopsis in Mt. Cuba Center’s trial. Vigorous plants grew to a height of 30 inches and bloomed for six weeks starting in late September.


Interest in native plants, such as Coreopsis, continues to surge as gardeners realize their benefits. Breeders respond with a dizzying array of new cultivars, but which one is right for you? A research report issued in December 2015 by Mt. Cuba Center can help you decide. They trialed 67 different varieties of perennial coreopsis over a three-year period, and after speaking with George Coombs, research horticulturist at Mt. Cuba Center, it’s clear that only the toughest survived.

None of the plants were coddled, because the average gardener doesn’t have time for that. They weren’t staked, sprayed, or fertilized. Winter hardiness was an issue; not because of temperature, but because Coreopsis prefer a sandy, well-drained soil, and the soil at Mt. Cuba is loamy clay. Mostly, it was the clumping types that perished; the rhizomatous ones were more adaptable. Another source of causalities was a wet summer – 12 inches of rain in June – that caused widespread root rot followed by disease.

The top four varieties that not only survived, but thrived, under these adverse conditions are listed in the quick facts or the photo captions. You can read the entire report on Mt. Cuba’s website, mtcubacenter.org. And if you have well-drained soil, consider some of the varieties that scored well, but didn’t survive a winter. For instance, ‘Mercury Rising’ died in Mt. Cuba’s trials, but it’s a winner in my garden. It’s all about your soil and picking the Coreopsis that’s right for you.


C. verticillata ‘Zagreb’ garnered fourth place at the trials.
Beginning in June, bright yellow flowers carpeted the 20-inch tall plants.






Common Name: Tickseed

Botanical Name: Coreopsis

Cultivars to Look For: Coreopsis tripteris ‘Flower Tower’ took second place in the trial. In August, sturdy, 8-inch-tall stems are topped with cheerful yellow flowers that measure 2½ inches across, the largest flower in the trial. C. tripteris ‘Gold Standard’ took third place, but many not be available at nurseries for several years.

Zones: Vary for different species, often 4-9

Type: Some are annual, but this article focuses on perennial Coreopsis.

Exposure: Full sun for all but C. latifolia, which prefers shade or part shade.

Soil: Well-drained soil is best, but rhizomatous types adapt to clay soils.

Watering: After their first year, trial plants survived on rainfall alone.

When to Prune: In late winter, cut to the ground.

In Your Landscape: Plant a pollinator garden with a variety of Coreopsis to extend the bloom season and support a great diversity of pollinators.


A version of this article appeared in Alabama Gardener Volume 15 Number 4.
Photography courtesy of Mt. Cuba Center.


Posted: 09/19/16   RSS | Print


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Spider Mites
by Douglas A. Spilker Ph.D.       #Insects   #Pests

Two-spotted spider mite feeding results in yellow or white flecking on upper leaf surfaces, usually the first sign of an infestation.


The thought of spider mites can bring chills to an avid gardener, rekindling memories of the damage inflicted to a favorite plant by tiny creatures you can hardly see. Of all the pests in the urban landscape, spider mites are probably the most difficult to manage. They are periodic pests of an extensive list of trees, shrubs, and flowers, attacking both evergreen and deciduous plants. They are not insects but are more closely related to spiders; therefore, management options by homeowners are limited. Their common name is derived from the ability of most species to produce silken webs on host plants. Because mite populations tend to be explosive, infestations often go unnoticed until plants are already showing significant damage. The two-spotted spider mite and spruce spider mite are the most common pests.

Spider Mites Are Very Tiny — Period

Spider mites are very tiny, about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Mites have needle-like mouthparts for penetrating plant tissues, and are found primarily on the undersides of leaves. Their feeding results in yellow or white flecking on upper leaf surfaces, usually the first sign of an infestation. With heavy mite feeding, the foliage takes on a silvery or bronzed cast. Web-producing spider mites can smother the foliage with a fine silk, which collects dust and makes the plant look dirty. Under favorable conditions, spider mite populations quickly build, causing premature leaf drop, poor plant growth and potentially the death of infested plants. Under optimum conditions some mites can complete a generation in as little as a week.

Spider mite species seem to be warm-weather- or cool-weather-active pests. The two-spotted spider mite is a “warm-season” mite, doing best in the dry, hot summer weather. It is most commonly found damaging winged euonymus and viburnum species, as well as perennial and annual flowers. The spruce spider mite is a common “cool-season” mite, thriving best in cool spring or fall weather. This pest infests all types of conifers, especially spruce and pine trees, junipers and arborvitae shrubs. Conifers often react slowly to mite feeding. Yellowing and bronzing of the needles may not be seen until summer, even though the damage may have occurred the previous spring.


As spider mite infestations expand, it is not uncommon to see silken webs enveloping plants — especially perennial plants such as these columbines.

Managing Spider Mites

Spider mites threaten the health and appearance of your plants. Early detection of spider mites, before damage occurs, is important. To check for spider mites, hold a sheet of white paper under a branch and tap the branch sharply. If present, mites will fall off and be seen as tiny specks crawling over the paper. If crushed, most plant-feeding mites will produce a green streak.

Before selecting a pesticide option, try to reduce your mite problem by hosing down your plants with a steady stream of water every day for a week or so. In addition to physically dislodging mites by “syringing,” populations are less explosive under these moist conditions that promote a fungal disease of the mites. Of course, wetting foliage in this manner also increases the potential for plant disease. If you still find large numbers of mites on your plants, reduce spider mite problems and conserve natural enemies in the home garden by using the least toxic materials available. The natural enemies in your home garden are your most important weapons against spider mites.

Chemical Control Using ‘Soft Pesticides’

If a treatment is necessary, use insecticidal/miticidal oils and soaps. Both petroleum-based horticultural oils and plant-based oils such as neem, canola or cottonseed are available to homeowners. These can be used on perennial and woody ornamentals during the summer but avoid spraying flowers, which can be damaged. Do not apply soaps or oils on water-stressed plants or when temperatures exceed 90 F. Since soaps and oils work by contact only, thorough coverage of the upper and lower leaf surfaces is necessary for good control. For control of heavy mite infestations, especially on high-value plants, you may want to consider hiring a professional applicator since they have access to more specific miticides than is available to homeowners.


Spider mite populations can easily spread down a row of susceptible shrubs
such as burning bushes (Euonymus alatus).


Two-Spotted Spider Mites

The two-spotted spider mite is often introduced on infested bedding and houseplants, so the first principle of spider mite management is prevention. When purchasing new plants, carefully inspect the lower leaf surface for any signs of pests, especially mite webbing. It is always best to quarantine new plants for a few days until you are sure that no mites are present.

With a little knowledge and vigilance, keep mites away; no one likes to recall the nightmares that spider mites can cause.



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



Posted: 09/19/16   RSS | Print


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Perfect Scents
by Tom Hewitt       #Crafts   #Fragrant   #Pruning

Most any small flowers from your garden make colorful filler for potpourri.


One of my favorite duties in the nursery at Mounts Botanical Garden is pruning the herbs. Every week I make my rounds, pinching things back and trimming as needed. Needless to say, I end up with a lot of material. By the end of the day, visitors have snatched up most, but what’s left gets stuffed in a bag, and I bring it home to make potpourri.

Vetiver root makes a great fixative for potpourri.

Even in my own garden I never throw herb clippings away. I unceremoniously dump them in a crystal bowl in the living room, where they perfume the air as they dry. When the bowl is full I scrunch the leaves, and the good stuff falls to the bottom. Then I use the leftovers for mulch.

“Potpourri” means “rotten pot” in French. In the 17th century, they would layer fresh herbs and flowers with coarse salt, which acted as a preservative and drying agent. Fortunately things are a bit easier today. In fact, making your own potpourri is so easy that I’m amazed more people don’t do it.

There are more complicated methods for making potpourri. But I like to keep things simple and love how each batch smells a bit different from the one before. If the process intimidates you, you can always find recipes online. But it’s much more fun to invent your own.

Potpourri is composed of three elements: filler, fixative and fragrance. I like using bits of orange peel and dried flowers for filler. The petals of strawflowers (Xerochrysum bracteatum), Gomphrena and marigolds (Tagetes spp.) work especially well. For a fixative, I use patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) leaves or vetiver root (Vetiveria zizanioides), both of which grow well down here. Fixatives help reduce the evaporation rate, which keeps your potpourri smelling good longer.


Use your imagination and make your own special blends.


‘Louis Philippe’ rose petals retain their color
long after they dry.

The leaves of pineapple sage make a great
aromatic filler for potpourri.

Remember, lemon balm isn’t just for tea.
Use its leaves for potpourri!

Scrunching herbs after they dry makes the
“good stuff” fall to the bottom.

Thankfully, we’re past the days of tucking sachets into clothing to disguise odors, or strewing them on floors to deter pests. But potpourris still have their place. I fill small bags (available at craft stores) with potpourri and put them in dresser drawers to keep things fresh. Herbal sachets also make great housewarming gifts. I once gave them to guests at a garden party, attaching each one to an herb. Remember to buy “see-thru” bags if you want to show off their contents.

I like using the petals of ‘Louis Philippe’ (the “cracker rose”) in potpourri, because they hold their color for a long time and have a nice fragrance. Some herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and lavender, retain their aroma much longer than others. But when it comes to potpourri, anything from mints to sage can be used.

The best time to gather leaves for potpourri is in the morning, after the dew dries, but before the sun starts stressing leaves. Always gather four times what you need, as everything shrinks considerably after it dries. If you’re making potpourri for display purposes, scrunch leaves slightly or not at all after they dry. Then add larger items, like pinecones, spiraled orange peel or cinnamon sticks.

Most herbs take about a week to completely dry. I dry large batches on baking trays in air conditioning, but window screens work well in non-air conditioned areas, since they afford good ventilation. Remember to dry only a single layer at a time. Otherwise, some herbs with high moisture content may actually mold before they get a chance to dry.

A good combo to promote sleep is chamomile flowers, lavender buds and lemon balm leaves. You can even make an easy herb “pillow” by filling a wine bag with potpourri and sewing up the end. I make Christmas sachets with balsam needles and attach them to Christmas gifts. Balsam sachets are great for sock drawers.

Lavender flowers are about the only blooms that hold their fragrance when dried, but just about any small flower from your garden can be used in potpourri as filler. I use the leaves of lavender as well as the flowers, as they still offer considerable fragrance.

Some people add a few drops of scented oil to intensify the fragrance of potpourri, but I’ve never found this necessary. Oils are great for adding to older mixes, but I find crunching them up a bit is usually all that’s necessary to restore their fragrance. Depending on the herbs used, some combos remain fragrant for two years or more. Keeping them sealed until needed makes them last even longer.

*Editor's note: The author lives and works in Florida. The general information in this article can be used to a variety of effects; however, specific plants mentioned may have trouble growing in different zones.





A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardener Volume 19 Number 5.
Photography courtesy of Tom Hewitt.


Posted: 09/19/16   RSS | Print


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Blessed Are the Aggressive
by Scott Beuerlein       #Advice   #How to   #Invasives

Wooly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus) (foreground), yellow corydalis (Corydalis lutea) (center), Kenilworth ivy (Cymbalaria muralis) (background) and sedum (below) all do their parts to cover the ground. The corydalis has a lovely habit of seeding into the most interesting location and forming a rolling carpet on top of open ground. It blooms for nearly the full season.

Ideally, good, aggressive garden plants are tough, spread nicely and can be controlled easily by pulling, cultivation or herbicides. The thicker and taller they are, the better they suppress weeds. But what exactly are ‘good’ aggressive plants?

Yellow corydalis (Corydalis lutea)

“The difference between you and me,” snarls the villain to the hero, “is not so great.” It’s a classic moment in action movies that forces us to process in our minds the sometimes razor-thin, but important, differences between good aggression and evil domination. In the garden, knowing the difference between good and appreciated vigorous plants versus bedeviling invasive ones can mean the difference between a bountiful and vibrant garden or a disgusting mess.

While no one could or should understate the woeful impact invasive plants have had on our ecosystems, I sometimes worry that a lot of ground has become merely a showcase for mulch rather than a place for diverse and beneficial plant life simply because people have become fearful of aggressive plants. Remember, ecologically turf is always better than asphalt or mulch and richly planted gardens are always — if maintained — better than turf.

Two tough competitors tumble over a wall in a battle for space. Snow in summer (Cerastium tomentosum) in the foreground and cranesbill geranium (Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokova’) in the background are both spectacular in bloom and provide rich carpets of foliage the rest of the season.


Aggressive or Invasive —Define Please

There’s no way around it. Any mention of “aggressive plants” will stomp all over the thin ice of the native-versus-exotic debate. So let’s define some terms.

Invasive Plant: An exotic plant that can jump spatial barriers, escape into wild places and grow in large enough numbers to create monocultures or near monocultures. A native plant cannot be “invasive.” It can be weedy and not something you want in your garden, but it cannot be “invasive.”

Monoculture: A situation where a plant is aggressive to the point it excludes a significant percentage of indigenous plant life in the wild.

Regionality: A plant that is very desirable in one region may turn out to be invasive in another. If in doubt, check with your local extension agents or expert nursery staff before introducing potentially invasive plants in your garden.

Stylistically, filling the voids between plants with more plants helps increase multi-season interest, provides color and textural contrast, increases habitat and food for beneficial insects and wildlife, increases repetition and is simply good design. Functionally, vegetation performs all the roles we would typically assign to mulch better than mulch. Growing more plants is a win-win.

Just because plants used for such purposes are often called “filler” or “ground cover” doesn’t mean they must be banal! A swath of black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida) in midsummer bloom is a show stopper. A carpet of plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) in bloom and fall color in late September is a sight to behold. A river of hardy geranium (Geranium cantabrigiense ‘Biokova’) flowing between blooming azaleas is capable of upstaging them.



Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) gradually becomes a big, sturdy plant. If you move seedlings or plant it in sizeable numbers as in here at The Scott Arboretum in Swarthmore, Pa., you can cover large amounts of real estate with beautiful, beneficial plant life.


Cranesbill geranium (Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokova’)

Ideally, good, aggressive garden plants are tough, spread nicely either by seed or vegetative growth, can be controlled easily by pulling, cultivation or by glyphosate or pre-emergents. The thicker and taller they are, the better they suppress weeds. Filler plants can be any height, but they should not exceed one-third the height of your nearby specimen plants. Needless to say, such plants can go a long way towards allowing you to garden more on a small budget.

So don’t be afraid. Don’t be shy. Put some rambunctious things in your garden, spur your horse, and ride off into the sunset.



Examples of Good, Aggressive “Filler” Plants

Japanese anemone (Anemone hupehensis ‘September Charm’) Spreads
Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) Seeds
‘Birch Hybrid’ bellflower (Campanula ‘Birch Hybrid’) Spreads
Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) Spreads
Snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum) Spreads
Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) Spreads
Yellow corydalis (Corydalis lutea) Seeds
Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) Spreads
‘Biokova’ hardy geranium (Geranium cantabrigiense ‘Biokova’) Spreads
Hellebore (Helleborus x orientalis) Move seedlings
Dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata) Spreads
Creeping mazus (Mazus reptans) Spreads
Phlox (Phlox subulata) Spreads
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida) Seeds
‘Goldsturm’ black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’) Seeds
Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba) Seeds
Sedum (Sedum spp.) Spreads
Thyme (Thymus spp.) Spreads
Veronica or speedwell (Veronica spp.) Spreads



A version of this article appeared in the January/February 2013 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Scott Beuerlein.


Posted: 09/01/16   RSS | Print


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The Next Generation
by Rebecca Stoner Kirts       #Advice   #Kids


Picking time with Grandpa.


“Every child is born a naturalist.
His eyes are, by nature, open to the glories of the stars, the beauty of the flowers, and the mystery of life.”

Ritu Ghatourey


So how do we tap into this and keep kids connected to gardening? As a young child I remember watching my mother work in her iris beds arranging the blooms for entry into competitions. I was so proud that I was able to share this garden time with my mother. It was my special connection to her. With six brothers and sisters, one-on-one time was cherished. Lovingly my mother set me in motion down the path of an unstoppable passion for gardening. I love this quote by Alice Walker, “In search of my mothers garden, I found my own.”

My father, who was a very involved corporate businessman, always found the time to pick apples with us or gather sticks from the yard. Working with him was not a chore; it was a privilege that continued the nurturing of my soul. My father would spend hours transplanting black-eyed Susan or violets, believing everything in nature deserved a place to thrive. All six of us loved learning about gardening and nature from Dad.

My parents’ love of gardening is forever ingrained into me. From continuing the tradition of planting hundreds of daffodil bulbs, to keeping bees, to moving violets, all that was important to both my parents and is now so very important to me.

How do I continue to keep that love of gardening alive and moving forward through the generations? As I said before, I do believe the love of nature and gardening is born in each of us. However, if the seed is not nurtured, it will not grow. Exposure to nature is the key. It does not necessarily have to be a children’s garden, it can simply be your own backyard or a near by park.

We are blessed to have many garden areas designed just for children. I recently spent a delightful afternoon in Lexington at the University of Kentucky Children’s Garden with my grandchildren. I am not sure who had more fun. The garden has many great areas to explore including a wading creek with pocket gardens along its banks. Since the temperature was in the high 90s it was the place to be!

To me nothing is more fun than having the grandsons in the backyard. Events such as spotting the red cherries on the trees and crawling around the strawberry patch to pluck out the sweet berries are both great for hours of entertainment and garden nurturing. As the summer progresses, there are veggies to pick and taste. My goal is for each of them to eventually have their own garden patch. The boys will get to decide what they what to plant. Being 4 and 5 years old, this is just the beginning of what I hope will be a lifelong love of growing their own food or at least knowing where food comes from.

Even if you don’t have a big space, you can have a garden. Pots on the back porch can hold bright red cherry tomatoes or sweet smelling herbs. The Children’s Garden at University of Kentucky has a pizza garden with all the plants needed for a great pizza pie. It also has a color-coded garden and a horse garden where oats, carrots, and timothy grass grow. These are all plants horses love to eat. Taking a theme that your child can relate to and planting a garden focusing on that theme is not only fun, but also educational. Believe me your kids will love it



Nothing attracts kids like water. As children, my kids loved helping with the watering can, spraying the hose, or manipulating the sprinkler. On hot days this will always be a hit – plus it helps children learn the importance of water in the garden.

What child does not love to touch or pet another living creature? As a young child my daughter would sit out in the garden and dig in the dirt to find worms. She loved the worms and would softly talk to them. Because we had read books about their importance in a garden, she would carefully place the worms back in the earth to do their job. To this day, at 32, she still has a very soft caring heart for all living creatures.

Sometimes ladders are just not tall enough.

The sight of butterflies flitting across the top of the oregano or bees buzzing on the squash blossoms adds much excitement and energy to a garden for kids. I will never forget the squeal of delight as my grandson, Thatcher, saw his first firefly emerging out of the ground.

Do you know any child that is not thrilled with finding treasures? The love of things “found” such as stones, sticks, and stems can become children’s favorite playthings. Natural treasures open avenues of imagination and fuel the process of make-believe. We once lived in a house that was wonderfully tucked into the woods. My son would build forts and secret hideouts out of branches and thick shrubs. These were very special spots and hours would be spent tending and caring for his house and the gardens he pretended were surrounding them.

Many children’s gardens have living “teepees” covered with peas, or beans, or gourds. The plants vine and encircle the structure, providing a unique hiding place.

Maybe the answer to the question on how to raise a gardener is incorporating all of the above and making a space that the teacher and the student enjoy together. I have raised one generation of nature-loving gardeners, hopefully will that will continue. I will keep working on it. Passion is contagious and when coupled with love, patience, and sharing.



Picking cherries requires teamwork.

Rainy or too cold?
You can explore the garden through great books, of which there are so many. Here are a few of my favorites:

Books for little ones:
Two Little Gardeners, Margaret Wise Brown
How Did That Get In My Lunchbox?,
Chris Butterworth
Weeds Find A Way, Cindy Jenson-Elliott
Bee & Me, Elle J. McGuinness
Oh Say Can You Seed?, Bonnie Worth
Linnea In Monet’s Garden, Christina Bjork and Lena Anderson

Books for adults:
Let’s Garden, Carla Lidstrom and
Anya Karin Nyberg
Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots, Sharon Lovejoy
A Child’s Garden, Molly Dannenmaier



A version of this article appeared in the September 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.


Posted: 08/26/16   RSS | Print


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Great Containers
by Anita Joggerst       #Containers   #Decorating

Showcase houseplants on an attractive plant stand on the patio. The outdoor air benefits the houseplants and the plants benefit the patio design. Included in the display are rose- and lemon-scented geranium, ‘Dragon Wing’ begonia, angel wing begonia, Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus) and an amaryllis (Hippeastrum sp.).


For every puzzling garden area, a great container or two (or three) might provide the ideal solution. Containers enhance patios, decks, porches and other places with no soil. Do not limit yourself to those areas — containers work well throughout the yard and garden.

Great containers can fit everywhere or anywhere and can serve any garden purpose. They can: add color, height and interest; be a single container that becomes the focal point in a location; become a grouping of multiple containers; create a monocolor group or a multicolor group; coordinate colors or contrast colors; and conceal flaws (such as a container hiding a utility box).

A single container can make a statement with a bright bold color, its size, and its unique shape or design. Several containers can fill a space, display a vignette, create a mood and hold holiday decorations.

Size it up
Match the size of the container to the size of the garden area. A large container or a group of large containers balance a large space. Small containers tuck easily into a small area. So select containers that fit the space. A white or light-colored container adds light to a dark space, for example. Then select plants that fit the container size and space. Large containers can handle large plants and small containers look balanced with smaller plants. Select plants that coordinate with or match the color of the container.

On the patio
A plain concrete patio begs for the personality of well-planned brightly colored containers. The height of taller pots placed around the edge of the patio defines the space. Select vivid red, blue or yellow pots and fill these containers with equally bright flowers and vines. Plant flowers that fill out nicely such as Begonia spp. and vines that drape over the sides such as the native Passiflora incarnata and ornamental sweetpotato vine (Ipomoea batatas) ‘Tricolor’ or ‘Marguerite’. A patio is also a good location to showcase houseplants arranged on an attractive plant stand. Most houseplants benefit from a summer outdoors in a location with afternoon shade.

On the deck
Decks look a bit bare without planters. Attached containers will enhance deck railings. Fill the containers with gracefully flowing plants to add color and depth. Locate large containers at the corners of the deck and plant lantana (Lantana camara) or hardy Hibiscus spp. The yellow, pink and red clusters of lantana and the huge pinkish blooms of Hibiscus ‘Kopper King’ and ‘Turn of the Century’ will keep the color coming all summer. Both varieties grow 3 or 4 feet tall. The size and color of the containers and the fullness of the plants create a garden room on the deck.


Create a whimsical dish garden filled with miniature succulents and lunch plates. Plants include Sedum ‘Blue Spruce’ and hens and chicks (Sempervivum tectorum).


On the porch
Colorful pots will add pizzazz to a plain porch. For shady porches, think of the traditional Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata) overflowing in white wicker hanging baskets and white wicker urns. Add red blooming geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) and locate them strategically throughout the porch. For sunny porches, use more substantial containers such as terra-cotta or ceramic, and fill them with plants that like sun such as pink or red Petunia spp. and coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides). Coleus plants are available in many pretty foliage colors: red, orange, yellow, lime green, burgundy and pink. Coleus also feature various shapes: ovate, long, small and frilly.

A porch is the perfect location for seasonal containers as well. Great containers filled with red, white and blue petunias or Calibrachoa spp. signal Fourth of July celebrations. Red Christmas containers could feature red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) stems, holly (Ilex) and other evergreens.

Containers can conceal flaws
Containers can conceal areas that do not enhance a garden design. For example, air conditioning units deserve covering up. Place tall planters in front of the unit, allowing an air circulation space of a foot or two between the unit and the planters. If the unit is in a dark corner, use darker containers, but lighter flowers such as pink, white and green Caladium spp. For a unit that is along the side of the house in plain sight, build a whole garden of containers around it, making sure to build in a path for maintenance. You can build a trellis fence around the unit as camouflage, but how much more interesting it would be to install a grouping of containers of various heights in front of the trellis. Use a monocolor pot theme with multicolored plants, such as Zinnia spp., for example.

A sunny spot is also a good place for an herb container garden with pots of basil (Ocimum basilicum), mint (Mentha spp.), thyme (Thymus spp.), marjoram (Origanum majorana) and oregano (Origanum vulgare).

Maybe a fence is just not as pretty as it could be. Hang containers overflowing with colorful plants on the fence or place containers in front of the fence. Even if the fence is very nice, unusual containers will enhance it.


A hanging basket overflowing with bright pink petunias, violet pansies (Viola x wittrockiana), lime green ‘Marguerite’ ornamental sweetpotato vine and pink geranium (Pelargonium sp.) adds color and interest to a plain fence.

An unusual terra-cotta planter with a section for each hen and chicks plant adds interest to a fence. Hen and chicks require very little moisture and grow well in a vertical container. The planter is firmly attached to the fence for safety.


Add whimsy
Add whimsy to any garden with containers. Containers shaped like giant frogs or cats bring smiles from visitors. Miniature container gardens or fairy container gardens also add whimsy.

Include garden art in the container among plants to add color or seasonal interest. Use art pieces that fit the size of the container — try placing small garden art pieces in smaller containers and larger art in larger containers. Tuck in statues of little gnomes, frogs, kittens, puppies or rabbits. You might also add miniature garden furniture, garden fairies, Christmas ornaments or Easter eggs. Stick to a theme with garden art, as too many different kinds of unrelated garden art might look junky. For example, the theme could be gnomes, and all the garden art pieces are all gnomes peeking around corners. Or the theme might be rabbits, and all art pieces are stone rabbits hiding under large leaves.


Even a little red wagon serves as a great container in a yard or on a patio. This wagon is home to violets (Viola sp.), basil and playful garden art.


A small cat planter filled with lavender (Lavandula × intermedia ‘Provence’)adds whimsy to a small deck or a patio table and brings smiles.

Create a tiny hypertufa container that is just perfect for a small space. Plant succulent string of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus) and watch them grow right over the edge of the container.

Greet visitors with a pair of blue garden clogs planted with bright lime green sedum. Both container and plants bring color to the porch.


Create a hypertufa container. Then plant dwarf conifers such as Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star.’Add small decorative rocks, whimsical toadstools and other garden art.



Tips for great containers

Follow these container and plant selection tips to create a balanced garden design.

•  Containers should fit the size and features of the area (large containers or groups of containers in large spaces, smaller containers tucked into smaller spots).
•  Plants should fit the container size (large plants in large pots, smaller plants for smaller pots).
•  Ensure the plants in the container work together (similar moisture and light needs).
•  The plants should be right for the container’s location (sun, part sun or shade).
•  Ensure both containers and plants enhance the space with color and interest



A version of this article appeared in
Missouri Gardener Volume 6 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Anita Joggerst.


Posted: 08/24/16   RSS | Print


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The Garden Backbone
by Miriam Jabour       #Design   #Garden Profile   #Hardscaping   #Waterscaping

Under the canopy of a large oak, colorful daylilies (Hemerocallis) and Knock Out rose (Rosa ‘Radrazz’) dominate the curvy flowerbed. Both are low maintenance, provide excellent color and can tolerate some shade. Beyond the bed is undeveloped land with a potting shed nearby for easy access to tools and
gardening supplies.


Many gardeners dream of a backyard that is both aesthetically attractive as well as functional. Jeff and Terri Melby of Vicksburg, Miss., transformed a grassy subdivision backyard into a retreat where they can entertain family and friends as well as enjoy quiet evenings together. Jeff, a coastal engineer, designed the hardscape elements while Terri, the master gardener, added plantings that soften the impact of stone and concrete while adding color to the landscape.

The Melby home is a two-story house with a screened-in back porch and detached carport. A large swimming pool occupies a strip of land beyond the carport with a lattice fence and landscaped flowerbeds surrounding the pool. It was always a popular spot for outdoor gatherings when their children were teens, but a part-time job in a garden-themed gift shop piqued Terri’s interest and Jeff’s creativity, which started them on a journey that changed their backyard into an exciting landscape.

A glazed ceramic urn crafted in Vietnam inspired the small water feature that Jeff made for Terri as a Christmas gift. It became a fountain and dramatic focal point that trickles water into a small reflecting pool. Constructed over a weekend, Melby used a pond kit purchased from a local nursery and stacked stones to camouflage the thick flexible liner. Terri added various plantings including moss that soften the stone ledge and nearby area.


The size, color, and shape of the ceramic urn catches the eye of all who enter the backyard area. Used for its evergreen foliage and shade tolerance, a mat of chartreuse creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) is the predominant plant near this water feature. Iris sibirica boasts intense purple blue spring blooms with small linear foliage in contrast to the low round Hosta and Heuchera. A Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) provides height and color in the background.


Water creates a relaxing atmosphere in a garden. Gold fish swim beneath water lily pads (Nymphaea), both hardy and tropical types that grow in pots on a shelf in this reflecting pool. A filter system with an ultraviolet light developed for ponds reduces algae growth.


The fountain was such a success that a larger pond was added. Jeff and their teenage sons hand dug the pond along the exterior of their screened-in back porch. Another flexible liner was used with a re-circulating submersible pump to keep the water oxygenated for the fish that reside in the 18-inch deep, 1,000-gallon pond. Strangely, no fish were ever purchased by the Melbys. They speculate that eggs must have been in the soil of one of the tropical water lilies they bought and hatched in their pool. The original three goldfish are now 22. Stacked stone was repeated around the perimeter plus flagstone and pebbles were added to enlarge and add interest to the feature as well as provide better access for maintenance.

The addition of a large patio housing a pergola and freestanding fireplace was their next project. Again, their family provided the labor. The flooring is mortared flagstone with a redwood stain used on the wooden pergola that blends well with the coloration in the flagstone. An outdoor furniture grouping near the fireplace encourages year-round enjoyment and a coordinating arbor they call “The mini me” repeats the style and color of the pergola. Containers are used here and throughout the landscape with seasonal plantings.


Lattice stained to match the pergola was added over the structure to adjust the amount of sunlight that filters through the pergola. Containers of climbing ‘Peggy Martin’ roses add color and interest to this
outdoor room.


The outdoor kitchen can be easily accessed from the swimming pool deck or the pergola topped patio. ‘Mermaid’, a very vigorous climbing rose, grows on the lattice fence near the pool and repeats the color of the umbrella beautifully when it is in bloom.


Last year an outdoor kitchen was added between the swimming pool deck and the patio incorporating the same flagstone around the sides of the bar area but utilizing a lovely turquoise blue stained concrete top that repeats the color of the water in the swimming pool.

Hardscape is defined as anything that is not a plant in a landscape design. It functions as the backbone of the design and helps gardeners to create attractive and functional garden rooms or spaces as the Melbys have done. Plants are added to soften, enhance, accent, unify and to add personality, warmth and tranquility to outdoor spaces.


A version of this article appeared in Mississippi Gardener Volume 16 Number 5.
Photography courtesy of Miriam Jabour.


Posted: 08/24/16   RSS | Print


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Parsley Hawthorne
by Yvonne L. Bordelon       #Hot Plants   #Natives

Parsley hawthorns are handsome, hardy large shrubs or small trees with attractive bark and lacy parsley-like foliage that turns orange and gold in autumn. The thorn-tipped branches are covered with white flowers (sporting red anthers) that attract pollinators in spring. The red fall fruits are eaten by mammals and birds. Parsley hawthorn is also the larval plant of the gray hairstreak butterfly.

In the wild it is found along rivers, in floodplains, and in wet woodlands. Companion plants include flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), Sassafras albidum, wild blueberry (Vaccinium), American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), and strawberry bush (Euonymus americanus).





Common Names: Parsley haw or parsley hawthorn

Botanical Name: Crataegus marshallii

Zone(s): 4-9

Color: White flowers and red oblong fruit

Blooming Period: Blooms March to May, fruits in early fall

Type: Native deciduous large shrub or small tree

Mature Size: 15-20 feet

Exposure: Sun to part-shade

When to Plant: Best in fall

How to Plant: Space trees about 20 feet apart in part shade. Prefers rich, moist well-drained, acid soil, but will tolerate poor soil and seasonal flooding. Propagate by stratified seed.

In Your Landscape: A relative of the mayhaw, this small tree can be used in group plantings making it an excellent addition to the sustainable landscape.


Parsley hawthorn flowers have a musky sweet fragrance and are important to native pollinators. The oblong red fruit provides winter color and food for wildlife.


A version of this article appeared in Louisiana Gardening Volume 18 Number 2.
Photography courtesy of Yvonne L. Bordelon




Posted: 08/23/16   RSS | Print


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by Peter Gallagher       #Plant Profile   #Shade   #Video

Fatsia (Fatsia japonica)
 - Voiceover by Peter Gallagher, Ph.D.


Posted: 08/09/16   RSS | Print


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Shakespeare’s Flowers
by Garry V. McDonald       #Flowers   #History   #Themed Gardens

This modern recreation of an English wildflower meadow at Kew Gardens contains many plant species common in Tudor times.


Here’s flowers for you;
Hot lavender, mints, savory, marjoram;
The marigold, that goes to bed with the sun,
And with him rises weeping; these are flowers
Of middle summer, and, I think they are given
To men of middle age….

A Winter’s Tale
Act IV Scene III


William Shakespeare not only knew his human nature, he also knew his plants. Visual imagery played a prominent role in much of Shakespeare’s work and no more so than his descriptions of plants that would have been instantly recognized by original theatergoers to the Globe Theater in London. Many of our common and beloved garden flowers have been mentioned by Shakespeare in works ranging from comedies to tragedies with so many being listed by name that whole gardens devoted to Shakespeare’s flowers have been built worldwide.

While poets and writers mentioned flowers earlier than Shakespeare, what was it about his writings that brought to light so many of the flowers of his time? Like much in his work, it was a reflection of the times in which he lived. A product of the Tudor period, having lived through much of Queen Elizabeth I’s rein, he experienced the blossoming of English Renaissance and its emergence from a backward, insular island nation to a world power fueled by exploration and trade. Trade and the wealth it generated, along with a greater sense of security following years of war and intrigue created an environment in which English arts thrived. As medieval life gave way to a new prosperity, gardens expanded from strictly food production or herbal medicinal plantings to “pleasure” gardens where flowers were grown for beauty.


Mentioned as furze or broom in Shakespeare’s plays, gorse (Ullex sp) is a heavily scented legume common to English and Scottish moors.


A daisy that Shakespeare would have encountered growing wild on his trips from his home at New Place to London.


As famous as Shakespeare’s works are, very little is known about the man, although he was reputed to been a keen gardener. Unfortunately, most of this gardening reputation is based only on his references to plants and the fact that he was able to retire permanently to his country home in Stratford–upon-Avon in 1613, only three years before his death at age 52. Still, I like to think that anyone who can vividly describe the sight and fragrance of such flowers had to have had a more than a casual acquaintance with those plants.

Tudor gardens during the reins of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I can’t be compared to today’s English flowing perennial borders or naturalistic park-like settings developed by the great 18th century garden designers, but they were a great leap forward from the bare utilitarian monastic cloister gardens or the simple vegetable patches. Tudor gardens were formal, even stiff, in design and contained far fewer plant species than would be found in a typical garden today. The designs were often small square or rectangular plots or “knots” outlined in boxwood (Buxus sp) or some other tightly trimmed evergreen shrub such as the native yew (Taxus sp) with the center of these intimate spacing’s containing some type of objet d’ art such as a sundial or even a wellhead for watering the garden. The middle of the knotted areas were filled with either flowering plants or brightly colored gravel or chipped stone. Bowling greens, fountains, summer bowers, and pleached alleys were also popular. Lead planters or urns were filled with flowering plants. Lead, native to England, resisted the English weather better than Italian stone or terra cotta. I can’t image those lead urns blowing over in the equinoctial gales coming off the North Sea. Of course this was centuries before lead poisoning became a concern.

Shakespeare mentioned specific plants in a variety of ways in his plays. Twenty-nine separate scenes take place in a garden. Rose, an important plant during that period although differing greatly from what we know as modern roses, was mentioned often and used symbolically in Shakespeare’s plays to represent the Houses of York and Lancaster as these two dynasties battled for control of the English throne. The House of York, represented by a white rose, was ultimately defeated by the House of Lancaster, which was represented by a red rose, which in time became associated with the red Tudor rose, a symbol still prominent in decorative carvings of many Tudor buildings.


Shakespeare often mentions roses in his plays. Fragrant rose varieties such as these specimens growing on a Tudor-era building at Windsor Castle would have been familiar to Shakespeare’s audiences.


“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” is arguably the most famous quote associated with a rose and was spoken by Juliet to Romeo. It would be interesting to know which rose Juliet had in mind, although my money is on the sweetbriar or eglantine (Rosa rubiginosa), which smells like fresh apples when the foliage is crushed and is native to Northern Europe.

Shakespeare’s mention of the apothecary shop in Romeo and Juliet shows his familiarity with the herbal pharmacopeia of the time. The late 16th and early 17th centuries were early in the days of plant exploration and introduction, and while the potato might have just been gaining a foothold in England, supposedly introduced by that old sea dog Sir Francis Drake, many other exotic plants such as oriental lilies from Asia or flowering annuals from the New World, were not well known at this time, which may explain why Shakespeare mentions so many commonly grown wildflowers or herbs.

So if you have a hankering to plant after the Bard, what plants should you include in your Tudor garden? The square or rectangular bones or “knots” could be something along the lines of boxwood or maybe a native equivalent like yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), which lends itself to tight shearing but is more adapted to our climate. Some of the plants most commonly mentioned in Shakespeare’s works include wood’s violet (Viola sp), roses (the previously mentioned eglantine rose, but also musk and damask roses), Pansy, lily (Lilium spp.), poppy (Papaver spp.) and sweet broom (Ulex gallii also referred to by Shakespeare as furz or gorse) a legume shrub with a sweet heady perfume. Also mentioned is cowslip (Primula), found growing in cow pastures from which the common name is derived. Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), of course, was well known as a soothing tea ingredient even in those days. Marigold is curious because the marigold we know today is from Mexico and wouldn’t have been around during Shakespeare’s day. Shakespeare’s knew what we call pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) and not Tagetes; the old story of common names being carried over to newly discovered species. Daffodil (Narcissus) and carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus) also called gillyflower are both mentioned in A Winter’s Tale. Herbs include hyssop, rosemary, leeks, mint, and oddly enough, garlic. Fruits mentioned include strawberry, blackberry, pomegranate, mulberry, cherry and fig. So as Ophelia said in Hamlet: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.” Remember these when sitting in the garden.


A pocket park in central London is reminiscent of a Tudor knot garden with rectangular beds outlined in tightly clipped boxwood filled with a variety of plants and other garden features such as a stone urn.


A version of this article appeared in an April 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.


Posted: 08/09/16   RSS | Print


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Popcorn Cassia
by Kenny Coogan       #Edibles   #Hot Plants   #Yellow

Grown ornamentally worldwide, this “popping” yellow flower from tropical central and eastern Africa is a calorie-free treat that you should add to any one of your gardens. In warm climates such as ours, it can reach 6-10 feet in height. The bright yellow orange blooms arise from contrasting black buds making it quite attractive. A member of the Fabaceae family, this legume has been used as a cover crop or green manure in some areas.  

I first saw this plant at a popular amusement park in Florida and thought it was named because the buttery yellow blooms looked like they were popping. I smelled the flowers but they didn’t have much of a scent. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that the foliage smells like buttered popcorn to some. Others interpret the smell to things less appealing such as mice or wet dogs. Although, of the reviews I have read and the people I have talked to, they purposely put these plants near doorways or garden entrances because they enjoy the fragrance, especially on a breezy summer day. 

The smell and flower color is also attractive to many garden visitors such as pollinating bees and butterflies. This plant blooms spring through fall, but does best when the temperature is warm and the humidity is high. The flower spikes can reach up to 1 foot tall. The erect racemes have as many as 30 rounded flower buds, with each unopened bud enclosed by a black bract that opens to five petals. After flowering is complete, the plant produces bean-like pods that can grow up to 5 inches. Each flat brown pod contains up to 16 seeds. These seeds can be used, but these plants are offered for sale as rooted cuttings.  

A gardener in St. Petersburg said that he bought three 8-inch rooted cuttings from a friend down his street. He planted them in full sun, about 3 feet apart in sandy soil. Regularly watering the seedlings three times a week, these plants grew into shrubs six months later. In that time they had reached 3 feet diameter and 4 feet tall. This gardener planted it in beds near the house to increase his curb appeal. Other options include planting as a specimen plant in a container or surrounding it with colorful annuals such as pink Cosmos and orange Dahlia. I like the idea of planting yellow Zinnia, marigolds (Tagetes spp.), and snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) for a monochromatic look. In some very warm parts of Africa this semi-deciduous, multi-branching shrub can reach up to 25 feet. Now that would really make your garden pop.





Common Names: Popcorn cassia, African senna, popcorn senna, candelabra tree, peanut butter cassia

Botanical Name: Senna didymobotrya

Bloom Characteristics: Attractive to bees, butterflies, and birds

Bloom Color: Gold, yellow orange

Bloom Time: Late summer/early fall

Foliage: Evergreen

Hardiness Zones: 9-11 

Height: 8-10 feet

Seed Collecting: Allow pods to dry on plant; break open to collect seeds.

Spacing: 6-8 feet

Soil pH Requirements: 6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)

Sun Exposure: Full sun

Propagation Methods: Woody stem cuttings, seed

Water requirements: Average


A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 21 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Kenny Coogan.


Posted: 07/27/16   RSS | Print


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A Do-It-Yourselfer’s Garden
by Peggy Hill       #Design   #Garden Profile   #Hardscaping

The garden is a mixture of formal and fun elements. The checkerboard, composed of white marble stones and mondo grass anchored in the center by a dogwood tree, playfully contrasts with the formality of the boxwood parterre.

Most people spend their first weekend in a new home unpacking and settling in, but not Jane Brown. When she and her three boys – ages 8, 14, and 16 – moved into their home in 1999, they spent their first weekend replacing boring, foundation plants. In the weeks before her move, Jane made no decisions on draperies or interior paint colors. Instead, she purchased a myriad of azaleas, hydrangeas, and crapemyrtles. Her first priority was getting them planted. She says, “I think the neighbors thought we were crazy, and they felt sorry for my boys. They kept bringing us food!”  

Soon after moving in, Jane fell in love with her current husband, Mike. After marrying in 2001, their first garden project was building a shed to house Mike’s enormous collection of tools, spare parts, and building materials. They finished it in just three months. Mike is an engineer, and they both laugh at what’s in the well-organized shed. “The neighbors know that if they need a sprinkler head or a piece of PVC pipe, they don’t have to go to Lowe’s. They just call Mike.”  

At that time, the backyard was a disaster. Poor planning when the subdivision was developed resulted in a large holding pond in Jane and her neighbor’s backyards. Two-thirds of the backyard was a swamp full of marsh grasses, scrawny trees, mosquitoes, snakes, beer cans, milk jugs, and whatever other debris washed down from nearby Green Mountain. Somehow, Jane saw potential. Together, the newlyweds embarked on a quest to correct the drainage issues. Although it took several years, their persistence paid off. The city placed large culverts for drainage; the swamp vanished, and they had a blank canvas in their new backyard.  

As pretty as the white-blooming Begonia and ‘Limelight’ hydrangeas (H. paniculata ‘Limelight’) are, it’s the arbor that commands the backyard. Covered in vines it frames the angel statue perfectly.

All of Mike’s tools and their do-it-yourself attitude were about to come in handy as they dug into their next project, creating a backyard oasis. The plan called for deep, raised beds along the perimeter of the yard. Jane carefully stacked each and every one of the 12 tons of rock, while Mike installed irrigation and lighting. When it came time to lay sod, Jane kept it to a minimum. She says, “I knew that I would be going to the local nurseries and falling in love with homeless shrubs and flowers. We left large beds empty for my garden to grow, and over the years, we slowly filled them.”  

The garden was taking shape, but it lacked a strong focal point, and they thought their angel statue needed a frame. The arbor, added in 2006, solved both problems. They worked together on the design. Jane searched Pinterest, other online resources, and gardening magazines, and Mike turned their ideas into reality. What he built was exactly what the garden needed. When you have a busy garden with a lot going on, you want one thing that grabs your attention the moment you enter the space, one thing that is grander than anything else. That’s Jane’s arbor.  

Like any good do-it-yourselfers, Jane and Mike will never be “finished” working on the garden. Last year they expanded the deck, which now includes a stone fireplace and a pizza oven. Mike knows that in the spring of every year, Jane gets restless. She starts looking at gardening magazines, and he knows that soon she will be saying something like, “Honey, how hard would it be to build me a potting shed?”

The newly expanded deck has plenty of room for entertaining.

How to Build an Arbor
By Mike Brown 


Eight 6”x6”x12’ treated posts 
Twelve 2”x8”x10’ treated boards 
Eighteen 15’ 7” long x 3/8” diameter painted steel rods 
Nine 9’ x 3/8” diameter painted steel rods 
250 feet of #12 insulated copper wire
2 pounds of 3” deck screws 
2 pounds 2½” deck screws



• Set two rows of four posts on 9-foot centers into holes backfilled with concrete. (Editor's note- Check our local building codes for the proper depth of support posts.)

• Cut posts so that all of the tops are level and 9 feet above ground.

• Attach a set of boards horizontally along the outside tops of the post rows with 3-inch deck screws.

• Using 2½-inch deck screws, attach another set of 2”x8” boards face to face with the first set but between the posts in each row, creating 3-inch wide beams along the tops of the rows of posts on the outside. There are no boards connecting the two rows.

• To support the rods used for the top of the arbor, drill eighteen 3⁄8" diameter holes 4 inches deep into the top of the beams, six between each pair of posts.

• Using eighteen 15’ 7” long rods, mark each rod at the center and 39 inches either side of the center. Place one end of each rod into matching holes in each beam to create the semi-circular top of the arbor.

• To tie the centers of the 18 semi-circular rods together, attach three 9-foot-long rods, to the previously marked centers of the semi-circular rods with wire, overlapping the ends of these rods and tying the ends together.

• Using two sets of three 9-foot-long rods, tie the semi-circular rods together at the 39-inch offset marks.

• Run wire diagonally between the intersections of the rods and the ends of the rods at the beams to provide diagonal support to the top of the arbor.

• Add trim to the top and bottom of posts.

Photo Gallery

The Chinese snowball viburnum (Viburnum macrocephalum) on the left of the photo is one of Jane’s favorites. It goes crazy in spring when it’s covered with fat, white blooms. Behind the viburnum are Endless Summer (‘Bailmer’) hydrangeas, variegated lacecap hydrangeas that bloom white and blue, and the taller shrubs are oakleaf hydrangeas. The bed running along the front fence looks different every year. Jane plants pansies and cabbages in fall. Then in spring, she replants it with whatever catches her eye at the nursery.

When it comes to DIY skills, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. This dragonfly was a Mother’s Day present that Jane’s son, Matthew, fashioned from bedposts for the body, ceiling fan blades for wings, and tub drains for eyes. Not to be outdone, Mike used his engineering skills to create longer-lasting dragonflies for Jane out of wooden posts for the body, painted aluminum for wings, and cabinet knobs for eyes.

The width of the beds surrounding the backyard varies. Here in the corner, it’s broad enough to accommodate a bench and a planting of oakleaf hydrangeas and it still has room for an edging of Hosta and creeping phlox (P. stolonifera).

Is there anything better than spending time in the garden with your children and grandchildren? Jane and Mike don’t think so. Here they sit between son, Matthew Odle, on the right and daughter-in-law, Amanda Odle; son, David Odle; and grandson, Sebastian on the left. Jane holds Missy, the family dog.

Formal elements, such as the statues flanking this swing, the conical shaped dwarf Alberta spruces (Picea glauca ‘Conica’) planted just behind them and the ‘Green Velvet’ boxwood (Buxus ‘Green Velvet’) in Grecian stone pots, blend easily with more casual elements, such as the oakleaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia) and dogwood trees (Cornus spp.). This arbor was another of the couple’s do-it-yourself projects.


A version of this article appeared in Alabama Gardener Volume 15 Number 5.
Photography courtesy of Andrew Lecher.


Posted: 07/27/16   RSS | Print


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One Cool Table
by Kathleen Hennessy       #Crafts   #How to

If you have ever received a shipment of steaks or seafood, you may have wondered if there was another use for the Styrofoam cooler the product was shipped in. Not wanting to send it to the landfill, we’ve had one sitting in the rafters of our garage for a while. It’s now getting a new use as a cooler table. 

The design of this table is a basic box with legs. We used inexpensive 1x4 inch and 1x6 inch pine boards and gold, triple-coated deck screws. Because you design the table to fit around your cooler, you can use any type of cooler you have on hand.



1. Measure your cooler to determine the box width, length, and height. Add 6 inches to the length side and three inches to the width side to allow room for the cooler.

2. Measure the boards for the legs, sides, front and back of the table. Our legs measure 26 inches. The front is 28 inches and sides are 21 inches.

3. Cut each of the boards to length.

4. Assemble the legs using a nail gun.

5. Screw the front and back boards to the inside of the legs.

6. Attach the sides, front and back together.

7. Screw in 1x2 inch boards to create a base for the bottom of the table.

8. Place the boards on top of the base and secure with screws.

9. We attached 1x3 inch trim pieces with a nail gun for a more styled look.


10. Create the tabletop using 1x4 inch boards to create a frame. Drill pocket holes into 1x4 inch boards. Fill in the frame by attaching the boards with screws. Attach the top with hinges.

11. The completed table features handles on the sides and a bottle opener on the front.

12. Filled with your favorite beverages this cooler table is ready for entertaining.


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


Posted: 07/26/16   RSS | Print


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Up in the Air
by Jeff Rugg       #Epiphytes   #How to   #Plant Profile

There’s a reason why tillandsias are called air plants. Just don’t call them airheads.

You may have seen an air plant hanging in an open-faced glass vase or hanging from a seashell at your local garden center. They are becoming popular. Air plants are easy to grow if you follow a few rules – and easy to kill if you don’t. Air plants may be sold with the hype that they live on nothing but air, but this is not the case. 

First, what is an air plant? Air plants are in the bromeliad family. The air plant genus Tillandsia (tih-LAND-zee-ah) is the largest in the bromeliad family. The names tillandsia and air plant are often used synonymously and many affectionately call them Tillys. There are a couple of major differences between tillandsias and the other bromeliads. Most bromeliads have tightly fitting leaves that hold water in a reservoir at the center of the plant. Many tillandsias also have this “rosette” shape, but care must be taken because if water is retained too long in the center of the plant, it can cause the plant to rot and die. 

Most bromeliads grow as “normal” plants with water-absorbing roots in the ground or on a host. Tillys use their holdfast roots to anchor themselves in place, water is absorbed: through their leaves, not their roots, with few exceptions.  

Air plants are epiphytes like many bromeliads, tropical ferns, orchids and Christmas cacti. An epiphyte is a plant that is anchored to another plant or object that is called the host. The host only supplies a perch, but no nutrients. Spanish moss is a tillandsia that is common in the Southern states and is often seen hanging from host trees, telephone wires, fences and the occasional light pole.  

You can successfully grow air plants in your house without roots. They can be attached to bark, rocks or other household decorations with wire, glue or Velcro. Or you can set one down in a sunny place where you think it looks best. 

Tillandsias are native to the warm and temperate areas from the southeastern United States through Mexico and down through all of South America. There are different species that are native from coastal areas all the way up to mountainous elevations more than 9,000 feet high. Some are native to forests, and many grow among cacti and on rocks or on sand in deserts. 

The air plant leaf is covered in scales or hairs called trichomes that act as sponges to quickly absorb water when it becomes available. For the species exposed to more sunlight, the trichomes also reflect up to 70 percent of the sunlight that strikes the leaves. Tillandsias that are native to drier xeric climates have larger, denser and often feathery trichomes covering the leaves. Tilly leaves in wetter mesic climates are often smooth and look transparent, but they are still covered with trichomes.  

Most tillandsias follow the same basic form, having leaves that emanate from a central axis and then gradually tapering to a point. However, some leaves can be short and spikey while others can be long and curly. Some are bright green while others are covered with the white, fuzzy trichomes. Many look a lot like the leafy top of a pineapple plant, which is no surprise when you know that both air plants and pineapples are types of bromeliads. They range in mature size from just 1 inch to more than 3 feet across. 

When many tillandsias bloom, the leaves turn red or pink to attract hummingbirds, their natural pollinators. They send out a flower stalk that can be two to three times the length of the leaves. The stalk is usually brightly colored. The tube-shaped flowers attract hummingbirds. Some tillandsia flowers are very fragrant and attract moths or butterflies. The colored leaves and inflorescences can last for weeks. Each flower generally lasts for a day but a number of tillandsia inflorescences produce many flowers over a month or two. 

Tillandsias are easy to hybridize. Rainforest Flora, Inc. from Southern California has created several hundred over the years. But the main way they reproduce for most of us is by producing offsets, or pups, after blooming. As the pups reach about half the size of the mother plant, they can be separated. However, by leaving them together, they will eventually grow into a gorgeous clump that will have multiple inflorescences at the same time. 

How to Grow Tillandsias 

Paul Isley III, president of Rainforest Flora, says, “Indoors, place them close to a sunny window, but make sure that they only get direct light for an hour or two at a time. Southern exposure is great, but watch the amount of direct sunlight they get. Xeric (drier growing) tillandsias that usually have stiffer, harder leaves and a more pronounced covering of white trichomes will do better with more sun than the softer, greener leaved tillandsias.” 

Outdoors in the summer, bright shade is best. A little direct sunlight is usually fine. When the weather begins to turn, bring your air plants indoors. The best times are those few weeks when you don’t have to use either the air conditioner or the furnace. 

Indoor watering is normally easy, according to Isley. “Using a container that has a lid, collect rain water. Submerge the air plant every week for several seconds, take it out and turn it upside down for a few seconds so water can’t collect in the base, which can cause the plant to rot, and put it back. If the tilly is getting good light, that should be enough unless the air is unusually dry, as it often is when central heating or air conditioning is used. In this case, try to have some other plants or other water source around to add a bit to the humidity. If the leaf edges ever begin to curl up toward each other more than normal, this is a sign of dehydration – the plants wasn’t receiving enough water frequently enough. The solution is to submerge the plant in the “good” water overnight. This will cause it to completely rehydrate if it hasn’t dried out too much.” 

Keep water for your tillys in a tub with a lid to prevent it from getting dusty and evaporating. You can use this same water until it runs out. I like using a gallon plastic ice cream container for my smaller tillandsias and a 15-gallon storage containerfor the bigger plants that are mounted on large pieces of wood or bark. I collect snow in the winter but, of course, I don’t use it until the water has warmed to room temperature. If the plant is blooming, don’t dunk the flowers under water. 

Outdoors, tillandsias just need a quick spray from the hose. Once the leaf is wet, more water isn’t needed. Just be careful not to water the xeric tillandsias too often since they don’t need it. 


Isley says, “Fertilizing tillandsias is also easy. In fact, if you put a quarter teaspoon/gallon ratio of Epiphytes Delight or Miracle Gro in your dipping/soaking tub, your fertilizing task is done! You can use other fertilizers but the key is to make sure that the nitrogen component has ammoniacal and nitrate nitrogen. The urea-based nitrogen in most commercial fertilizers needs bacteria in soil to break it down so that plants can use it. Tillandsias don’t have soil, so the urea nitrogen isn’t broken down and is wasted.” 


Tillandsias make beautiful architectural accents anywhere in the house. No matter where they are normally placed for best growth, they can be easily moved to a new location for decorating purposes. “In normal conditions, you can put a tillandsia pretty much wherever you want for a month or so with no permanent harm to the plant, but eventually they want to receive bright light and sufficient water,” Isley says. “Many people rotate their plants on a monthly basis so that they can have them where they will look the best but not necessarily grow the best.” 

Additional Resources  

The most definitive book on tillandsias is Tillandsia II by Paul T. Isley III. This coffee table-sized book is filled with hundreds of color photos and covers the biographical history of how tillandsias were discovered and propagated.  

Also from Paul T. Isley III, “The Genus Tillandsia” is a fact-filled 28-page booklet with many gorgeous color photos for those who would like an introduction to these remarkable plants. 

Air Plants by Zenaida Sengo is not just a book about growing tillandsias. It covers many beautiful ways to incorporate them into the design of your indoor landscape, including several craft ideas, such as Christmas wreaths.


A version of this article appeared in Chicagoland Gardening Volume 22 Number 2.
Photography courtesy of Jeff Rugg.


Posted: 07/26/16   RSS | Print


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The Unusual Suspects
by Garry Menendez       #Natives   #Shrubs   #Unusual

“And now for something completely different.” It’s time to play a little bit of classic comedy movie trivia. From which movie did the following line become famous: “We want a shrubbery”? If you’re my age or have ever in your life encountered the classic Monty Python skits you would know that this line is from the hilarious bridge scene as the Knights of the Round Table attempt to correctly answer the pun posed by the Knights that say “Ni!” to gain access across the guarded bridge in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  

Yes, shrubbery. It’s just a fun word to interject into any conversation. But what exactly may be considered a “shrub”? In any landscape or garden there are maybe three or four layers of plant material. Working from the top down, you first find the dominant canopy. The big ones, what I call “legacy” trees –those species that will outlast your grandchildren. Next is the sub-canopy. In the Southeast this may be comprised of dogwood (Cornus spp.), redbud (Cercis spp.), serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) and such. Below or intermingled with these are, yes, shrubs or shrubbery. Finally, completing our multi-layered landscape cake comes the ground covers, perennials, and what I call landscape details. 

But back to shrubs. This component of your garden may be hugely diverse, with plants ranging from 18 inches tall to those that are as tall as any visitor. Similar to trees, the two major categories of shrubs are evergreen and deciduous. While I love the sense of stability and permanence evergreen plants play in the garden composition, I can also find these on the verge of mundane; that is unless these also flower or fruit. In my mind or at least in my garden if a plant doesn’t do double or triple duty I haven’t the real estate to offer. In other words, I like to select plants that are treasured for not just a 10-day bloom once a year but those that may also have appealing fall color, winter textural interest, and also feed me or some wildlife to boot. 

Here’s a question: Do you think there would be a stampede of tourists when the Louvre opens most days making their way to the Mona Lisa if there were three of them? I doubt it. So too are those “specimen” shrubs in your garden. It’s unlikely that any of us have a mass of globe blue spruce or lace leaf Japanese maple. Some plants are really so unique that they deserve to be the only representative of that species in the garden. There are others that require a quorum in order that their vote is heard. A mass of coralberry in the fall and winter can put on a striking display. The same may be said of winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), ‘Midwinter Fire’ dogwood (Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’), and Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica).  

Now for another thing to consider, native or non? While this article possesses a somewhat unrelated title, I do feel compelled to at least address the tip of this iceberg. In full disclosure I must let it be known that I teach a university course on native plants so I do love them! In a world of homogenous architectural design, our native flora are about the only thing left to create a true sense of place. I saw a design recently proposed to “beautify” some of our interstate interchanges and nearly had a mini-stroke when I saw that the plant palette consisted of holly, blue something juniper, crapemyrtle, and daylilies. “Where is your creativity?” I wanted to scream (but held my tongue until the appropriate time). Let’s show the millions who drive by these public parcels some of our exquisite native plant communities. OK, with all of that being said, I will also confess that in my garden there exists a multitude of plant material that was not born in the USA. The absolutely number-one thing is do NOT plant any invasive non-native plant material. Don’t buy them. Don’t plant them. Period. 

So, true to form and just like the classes I teach, it may appear to some that I’m rambling so let’s return to our story. What you will find below are but a few of the shrubs I would wholeheartedly endorse for anyone who desires to stray from the horticultural crowd a smidge without having to go through the hassle of searching the Eastern Seaboard. What you won’t find on this list are hollies, juniper, yew, or laurel. This is not to say those species are irrelevant but for the sake of space I’ve focused mainly on slightly less common plants.


1. Coral berry 
(Symphoricarpos orbiculatus)

Photo courtesy of Proven Winners (provenwinners.com)

I first discovered this plant as I began teaching my native plants course. This species has a beautiful display of fruit beginning in late fall and lasting most of the winter, at least in my garden. I either feed my feathered friends too well or they don’t find the berries all that appetizing. Using a mass of this plant can add some winter interest to an otherwise unnoticed place of your garden. With a bit of an evergreen backdrop (see, I DO find some evergreens necessary) the fruit will display even more so. 


2. Virginia sweetspire 
(Itea virginica)

Photo courtesy of Proven Winners (provenwinners.com)

This is a multi-seasonal showpiece. Mid-spring cascading bloom in addition to some outstanding fall color (given enough sun) makes this plant a fine addition to any garden. Best used in mass and again, consider that all-important word in any design – contrast. Place as a front layer before some evergreens to bring out the best characteristics. 


3. Winter daphne 
(Daphne odora)

Photo courtesy of Phillip Oliver

I’m a sucker for fragrance. This evergreen produces some of the finest smells this side of Lilacville. It prefers a fairly rich, moist soil, and does best with a little bit of shade and good drainage. For several years I just didn’t trust winters so I had mine in a container and moved it into the house every February to disguise the stale, trapped air. I finally got brave this year and stuck it in the ground. (Actually, the blasted thing just got to be too heavy to drag in and out). 


4. Paper bush 
(Edgeworthia chrysantha)