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.
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.
Buxus sempervirens ‘Dee Runk’
Dee Runk boxwood
8’ x 2’
light sun to shade
tolerant for a boxwood
Buxus sempervirens ‘Fastigiata’
8’ x 3’
light sun to shade
dark green foliage
Camellia sasanqua ‘Autumn Rocket’
Autumn Rocket camellia
8-10’ x 3-4’
light sun to shade
white flowers in late fall
Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Fastigiata’
Upright Japanese plum yew
8-10’ x 3-5’
light sun to shade
heat and humidity tolerant
Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Korean Gold’
Korean Gold Japanese plum yew
6-10’ x 3-6’
light sun to shade
Chamaecyparisthyoides ‘Red Star’
Red Star Atlantic white cedar
15-25’ x 6-8’
plum-purple winter foliage
Blue Italian cypress
25-40’ x 4-5’
Cupressus sempervirens ‘Swane’s Golden’
Swane’s Golden Italian cypress
15-20’ x 2-3’
Cupressussempervirens ‘Tiny Tower’
Tiny Tower Italian cypress
25-30’ x 3’
smaller than the species
Euonymusjaponicus ‘Green Spire’
Green Spire euonymus
15’ x 6’
full sun to shade
salt and drought tolerant
Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’
Sky Pencil Japanese holly
6-8’ x 2-3’
full sun to part shade
good for containers
Ilex vomitoria ‘Scarlet’s Peak’
Scarlet’s Peak Yaupon holly
20’ x 3’
full sun to part shade
native, red berries
Ilex vomitoria ‘Will Fleming’
Will Fleming Yaupon holly
8-15’ x 2-3’
full sun to part shade
may need occasional pruning
Juniperus chinensis ‘Spartan’
Spartan Chinese juniper
15-20’ x 4-5’
Juniperus virginiana ‘Brodie’
Brodie eastern red cedar
20-25’ x 6-9’
drought and salt tolerant
Juniperus virginiana ‘Taylor’
Taylor eastern red cedar
15-20’ x 3-4’
dense foliage, very adaptable
Thuja occidentalis ‘Degroot’s Spire’
Degroot’s Spire arborvitae
15-20’ x 2-3’
full sun to part shade
foliage bronzes in winter
Thuja occidentalis ‘Jantar’
6-10’ x 3’
full sun to part shade
bright golden foliage
Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’
12-15’ x 3-4’
full sun to part shade
common and easy to find
Thuja occidentalis ‘Yellow Ribbon’
Yellow Ribbon arborvitae
8-10’ x 2-3’
full sun to part shade
golden yellow foliage
A version of this article appeared a June 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Les Parks.
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 Coreopsisprefer 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
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.
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.
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.
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’)
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.”
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.
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 (Origanummajorana) and oregano (Origanumvulgare).
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 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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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 Hostaand 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 (Piceaglauca‘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 (Cornusspp.). 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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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
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
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
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
Photo courtesy of Melissa Burdick
Perhaps a borderline plant for certain zones but once this puppy has an established root system it can bounce back from near 0 F. Mine is planted near the street and there isn’t another plant I own which generates more “what is that?” than this large shrub. As I mentioned earlier I’m not usually a fan of one-time performances (i.e., blooms but no berries or fall color) but the unique blooms in winter have prompted more than one passerby to ask where I got the ornaments for that plant.
Photo courtesy of Proven Winners (provenwinners.com)
Are you old enough to remember the Russian satellite Sputnik? How about those crazy ceiling lamps that look like a starburst? (The ones that are making a big comeback). That is exactly what I think of when I see the blooms of a buttonbush. Once established this shrub enjoys being cut back pretty hard now and then to rejuvenate itself. A pale yellow fall color is nice but the blooms are the attention getters.
Given the choice, I’m a cool color guy. Not a huge fan of orange unless I’m eating one or it’s mixed with pink and yellow in a glowing sunset. The lavender/blue blooms on a caryopteris fit the bill nicely, especially layered against the pale golden foliage offered on some cultivars.
7. Winterberry holly
Photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries (baileynurseries.com)
Again, not much to these plants other than a showy red berry but what a sight on a fluffy snow kind of day. The mast production of these are not always heavy and you’d better be quick with the camera before the birds find them because they (the berries) will be devoured pronto. Look for varieties that are on the dwarf side unless you have a humongous yard as these can get in the 8-foot range. These plants are dioecious so you have to have fertilized flowers in order to have berries. One male in the vicinity will pollinate several female plants.
8. Blueberry, rabbiteye
Photo courtesy of Allen Owings
Another multi-season masterpiece with fruit that appeals to us humans as well as the birds! There are so many options – species, cultivars, hybrids –and they come in just as many sizes, so be selective and make sure you have more than one for proper cross-pollination. Rabbiteye blueberries are native to the South and are a good choice for southern landscapes.
This shrub’s fall color can rival anything in your garden for late-season interest. If you want to have some blueberries to sprinkle over your granola at breakfast make sure you invest in some bird netting or you’re back to plain grain.
9. Sweet pepper bush
Photo courtesy of Mengmeng Gu
Long after the thrill of spring’s fresh new growth and dazzling flowers has faded, the bottlebrush blooms on this highly fragrant plant emerge. Sweet pepper bush (I resort to calling it clethra) has a nice medium texture with semi-glossy leaves, with the bonus of attracting pollinators. Planted near a screened porch or deck this beauty will nicely bridge the gap between spring and fall for garden interest.
Photo courtesy of Julie Souza
The standard, grandma version – Abelia grandiflora – is delightful through the summer months. Just ask any bee. But there are cultivars such as ‘Edward Goucher’, ‘Mardi Gras’, ‘Francis Mason’, ‘Kaleidoscope’, and more. Semi-evergreen in many areas of the South this shrub makes an excellent hedge or divider when creating your outdoor rooms. Glossy leave provide a solid backdrop to the pinkish white summer blooms. Not super fragrant but I still think its underused and overlooked when plant shopping.
11. Winged sumac
Photo courtesy of Nellie Neal
Anyone who has driven along a road or interstate in the East has seen and probably sloughed off this large shrub/small tree as a “weed.” I know that’s how our DOT surely views it as they happily spray their herbicides willy-nilly every summer. This is a wonderful fall interest plant if you have the room. Winged sumac, smooth sumac (R. glabra), or the high dollar Tiger Eyes sumac (R. typhina ‘Bailtiger’) all add an amazingly colorful layer to our native landscapes. Especially when sandwiched between a mass of native broom sedge (Andropogon virginicus), and eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Again, this isn’t a petite plant so perhaps not owing but merely appreciating its fall display may be the best approach given the size of most gardens.
Photo courtesy of Sid Mullis
Number 12 of our fabulous dozen is hearts-a-bustin or strawberry plant. This is another of those unsung native heroes in my opinion. Not really noticed most of the year but when fall comes with its first hint of cool, this plant flashes on a unique display of fruit which contrast beautifully with its attractive green foliage and stems. This is another one you’ll want to plant in clusters. The orange berries breaking away from their spiny, red seed pods don’t last a terribly long time but sometimes it’s the anticipation of what’s about to be displayed that makes my eyes widen.
The list above is in no particular order so feel free to just throw a dart or three to make your selection(s). Naturally, before you buy or order do your homework and research the cultural requirements for each and see which are a match for your zone, soil, light requirement, and so on. So go out there and fill every garden void you spot with some off the beaten path beauties. Happy Planting!
A version of this article appeared in Tennessee Gardener Volume 16 Number 5.
I love many things in life and two of those things are my cats, Julian and Princeton. No matter the external or internal factors that affect my mood, my cats can always give me a boost. Not only can they make me laugh out loud, but they also may be able to better my health. Some research has shown caring for a cat can reduce stress, risk of stroke, anxiety, depression and lower cholesterol and triglycerides.
Something else that I am very passionate about is gardening. There are not too many other hobbies that directly impact your health as powerfully as gardening – and the benefits reach beyond growing your own food. Vegetable growing encourages healthier eating habits and gardening in general improves your mood, may lower osteoporosis and diabetes risk and can lead to better sleep patterns. According to a 2014 study getting your hands dirty in the garden can also give your immune system a boost.
If caring for cats and gardening both bring me benefits, can I combine the two into one super beneficial hobby?
Removing birdfeeders and only providing birdbaths will help deter cats, but not entirely.
Gardening with cats
Regardless if you personally care for a cat or not, chances are that a cat will cross your garden path. Several years ago the American Feral Cat Coalition estimates that there are approximately 60 million feral and homeless stray cats living in the U.S.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission there are over 77 million pet cats nationwide. Of these, about 56 percent or 43 million cats spend some time outside. That’s over 100 million cats living outside! Cats are becoming a common feature not only of our city streets and parks but also our landscaped backyards.
After speaking with many gardeners I could not find too many that said that there was a direct benefit of having cats in the garden. One told me that he had moved his cat’s food bowl and litter pan closer to a fruit producing tree to deter the squirrels and other wildlife from eating his crop.
Some gardeners believe that outdoor cats receive more exercise, maintain a healthier weight and benefit from the stimulation from the outside world.
Pat O’Shea, a Master Gardener since 1999, currently cares for four felines. In 2007 she started, Kitten Sittin’, a home pet sitting business.
When O’Shea gardens she lets out two of her cats to join her, Smokey and Princess. “I have my eyes on them at all times and they do not leave my yard,” she says. She even takes Smokey for walks around the yard. “I have a harness and a leash and he loves smelling the bushes,” she adds.
O’Shea says if you are lucky enough to have an enclosed pool or lanai the cats would appreciate the fresh air and sunshine. She concludes that since she doesn’t have any kids to send through college she has built her cats an elaborate outdoor “cat condo,” which keeps them and her backyard wildlife safe.
Pat O’Shea’s cat condo keeps the cats safe, but also allows them access to the great outdoors.
The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) says if you are going to garden with your cats you should first ensure that your cat has been seen by a veterinarian and you have discussed their individual healthcare plan including outdoor access. Like O’Shea the AAFP recommends that you supervise your cat when outdoors. They also urge cat owners to bring their cats in once a year for a veterinary check-up and apply the proper vaccinations and parasite screenings and prevention. Cats that have a microchip and collar with a tag are much more likely to be reunited with their family if they were to be frightened and become lost.
Gardening without cats
For many cat owners, like myself, the dangers of having a cat outside outweigh the benefits. In addition to parasites, cats can be injured from a wide range of external factors such as vehicles, domestic and wild animals and toxic plants.
Occasionally a feral or neighborhood cat can turn from a feline friend to a fecal felon. If you have a cat that is using your beds as a litter pan there are a few solutions, although felines are territorial and it can be hard to break the pattern.
After speaking with many gardeners I could not find too many that said that there was a direct benefit of having the cats in the garden. One told me that he had moved his cat’s food bowl and litter pan closer to a fruit producing tree to deter the squirrels and other wildlife from eating his crop.
Decomposing mulch is great for plants; however it is also a kitty litter invitation. Cats prefer sandy or rich humus soil to dig through, prior to going the bathroom. If cats frequent a certain area, you can purchase cat specific products that have tiny triangles protruding upwards which supposedly deter the cats due to the uncomfortable feeling on their paws. This can become expensive and unless a large area is covered the cats may just move to the adjacent location that doesn’t have this product.
Bird netting and chicken wire are less expensive alternatives. To use bird netting lay it on top of the mulch. When the cat comes up to scratch, the mesh prevents them from digging down and the cat will likely move on. Chicken wire is heavy duty and can be covered with mulch to make it visually pleasing. Cut pieces so they fit snuggly up to your plants. This also works for dogs as well.
Underneath decks are great places for cats to hide for protection and to access soft dirt. Although scents that deter such as black pepper oil are only marginally effective, especially after a rain, when placed under a deck they will not have to be replaced as frequently. If the cat problem is happening in your vegetable garden you will not want to use store-bought oil. Placing peels of citrus fruit, placed every few inches will help deter cats due to the smell. It will eventually break down into the ground, giving nutrients to the soil, but also will need to be replaced.
White vinegar can also be used as an invisible deterrent, though you will not want to use it near plants. A new application will need to be applied after each rain, and the good news is that vinegar is inexpensive.
“With modern technology, you could also consider motion detectors that make a noise, produce a light, or set off a sprinkler or water spray action,” Dr. Marcus Brown, DVM, the president of AAFP says.
He adds, “Fencing in your gardens can be very helpful to keep all unwanted visitors out including dogs, cats, rabbits, rodents, raccoons, and deer.”
Gardening for cats
Although some cat caregivers may not give access to the outdoors, that doesn’t mean we can’t designate an area of our garden for them.
“Catnip is a great herb to grow in your garden and bring it in to share with your cats. There are many plants that are toxic to cats so be sure to check-out which ones are safe,” Dr. Brown says.
Here are the top ten herbs that you can grow for your cats.
Will elicit euphoric sensation similar to catnip, for cats who don't respond particularly strong to catnip
Catnip, catswort or catmint
Relives stress and nervousness. Catnip baths can soothe itchy skin. Repels mosquitoes and flies.
Cat's claw, Dandelion root
Uncaria tomentosa and genus Taraxacum
Benefits humans and cats. Contains natural cortisone which will help with allergies.
Chamomile, Calendula, Echinacea
Medicinal properties include reducing skin problems such as itching. Some veterinary herbalists use them as a tincture.
Benefits humans, dogs and cats. Can soothe allergies and help endocrine and digestive problems. May help with arthritis as it has anti-inflammatory properties.
Strong smelling herb is known to relax humans and stimulate cats. Herb energizes slow, lethargic cats into fast furry felines.
(Editor's note- Before you buy or order do your homework and research the cultural requirements for each and see which are a match for your zone, soil, light requirement, and so on.)
Cat caring and gardening will always bring me joy, but for now I will keep the two interests separate. If my cats are going to enjoy my plants from my garden they will do so indoors.
A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 20 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Kenny Coogan and Pat O’Shea.
A “holding area” out back stores her orchids until they bloom.
With their unique beauty and ease of care, it’s easy to see why Palm Beach resident Polly Reed fell in love with epiphytes.
But there’s another reason too. “Truth is,” she says, “I ran out of room years ago, and growing things vertically is the only way I can continue to buy plants and still keep some semblance of order.”
Polly’s pink walls and blue accents make the perfect backdrop for her epiphytes.
Polly’s predicament is a common one. Fortunately, the salmon-pink walls surrounding her front garden provide the perfect foil for the green/gray leaves of tillandsias and other epiphytes. So do Mediterranean blue accents like doors, latticework and decorative tiles. Polly’s epiphytes give a vertical lift to her garden, but they also act as artwork.
Polly’s epiphytes play a dual role as artwork.
More plants are epiphytic than most people realize. We usually think of epiphytes as either bromeliads or orchids, but they’re actually found in every major group of the plant kingdom. About a third of all ferns are epiphytic, as well as many hoyas and cacti.
What is an epiphyte? Simply put, it’s a plant that grows on another plant and derives its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and often, debris accumulation. Epiphytes are not parasitic, and don’t deliberately harm their hosts. Instead, epiphytes and their hosts share what scientists consider a “commensal” relationship.
All this matters little to Polly. From tillandsias to orchids, she just appreciates their beauty. Tillandsias are attractive in their own right, she notes, but their small size also makes them extremely adaptable to so many situations. Google them and you’ll see them used in earrings, bridal bouquets and even living wreaths.
Polly has collected tillandsias for years, but a recent trip to Naples Botanical Garden inspired her to make a tillandsia “curtain” by stringing small ones on fish line. “It’s so easy,” she says, “and a subtle way to separate one area of a garden from another.” Tillandsias need some protection from the sun, but are more sun-tolerant than most people think. “Generally speaking,” she says, “those with stiff, gray leaves require more light and less watering, while those with softer, lush green leaves require less light and more watering.”
Tillandsias can be tucked most anywhere, Polly notes, but when mounting them (or any bromeliad for that matter), don’t use anything containing copper. Most bromeliads are extremely sensitive to it and will quickly succumb. For small plants, use hot glue or liquid nails, trying to keep the adhesive on the root and off the leaves. Larger bromeliads can be held in place with strips of old pantyhose until they attach themselves to trees.
“You can frame succulents as well as epiphytes and hang them anywhere,” she says.
Like other bromeliads, the life cycles of tillandsias end after blooming once at maturity. New pups will form around the base of the mother plant, and they will eventually complete the same cycle in one to three years. Fertilizing tillandsias is usually not necessary, Polly notes, but if you do, go easy and apply at quarter-strength.
The showiest epiphytes in Polly’s collection are her prized orchids, which she displays in several ways. Some grow on trees, others grow in pots attached to latticework, and some even hang from a curtain rod. When attaching them to trees (especially Phalaenopsis) she doesn’t bother using sphagnum moss. “It can keep them too wet,” she says. She keeps many of them in a holding area on her back patio, bringing them out front when they burst into bloom.
Shooting star hoya (H. multiflora) is aptly named, and Polly’s favorite.
Watering epiphytes is a breeze, Polly says. “I basically leave tillandsias to God and nature, but if we do get a prolonged dry spell I just hit them with the hose for a few seconds.” As for her orchids, she makes sure her vandas get watered every day, but only waters cattleyas once a week.
Polly also loves hoyas. Her favorite is shooting stars (H. multiflora), which blooms year-round. Most hoyas are vine-like in nature, but this one has a bushy, upright habit. Like most hoyas, it loves being pot-bound. She grows it in a hanging basket under a large gumbo limbo, which also supports her rotating orchids. “It doesn’t smell,” she notes, “but its beauty more than makes up for it.”
There’s no substitute for experience when growing epiphytes, Polly says. She’s currently experimenting with Medinilla magnifica, commonly referred to as pink lantern. “I could never get it to bloom until someone reminded me that it’s epiphytic in nature, and grows in the crotches of trees in the Philippines. It finally did bloom when there was hardly any soil left in its container.”
No doubt Polly will find a way to elevate even that medinilla one day, not to mention her prized Cochliostema odoratissimum, an epiphytic plant so rare that it doesn’t even have a common name. “Eventually,” she says, “I manage to find just the right spot for everything.”
A curtain Rod? Who knew?
A version of this article appeared in print in Florida Gardening Volume 20 number 3.
Photography courtesy of Tom Hewitt.
This female Asian tiger mosquito is sucking blood from a human host. This species of mosquito can transmit West Nile virus.
There is an ongoing battle in our yards and gardens. The leader of the resistance is a vamp with a taste for blood. But there are some practices gardeners can use to reduce the number of hungry female mosquitoes lurking out there.
Besides ruining a day in the yard, certain mosquitoes can transmit West Nile and other diseases in their quest for the blood needed to produce eggs. In fall, mosquitoes mate and the males die. The females spend the cold months hidden in protected places, such as hollow logs and in the cracks of buildings. So it is a good practice to clean up debris and caulk buildings in fall.
We all know that female mosquitoes need still water to lay eggs. Effectively minimizing standing water by improving natural drainage is the key to controlling mosquitoes. The addition of solar pumps to water features also helps. The circulating water produces rippling, which drowns the pupae. By increasing water flow and decreasing water surface tension, it is also more difficult for the females to lay eggs.
Native fish consume masses of mosquito larvae. Mosquitofish and tilapia should not be introduced into natural bodies of water, but are useful in self-contained water gardens.
Permanent sources of water that contain fish such as ponds, water gardens, and canals usually develop ecosystems that can support a larger, more diverse concentration of natural predators. The Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association states that, under normal circumstances, natural predators eat 95 percent of an adult mosquito’s offspring.
Stephen Tvedten, author of Natural Mosquito Control, (who holds pest control certifications in several states and is head of the Advisory Board for the Natural Pest Control Council) found that using potentially hazardous synthetic pesticides is not the best way to control mosquitoes. In fact their use often creates an abnormal situation by also killing large numbers of natural predators (which are slower to repopulate). When the remaining mosquito larvae hatch in a few days, their numbers steadily increase unchallenged.
Some Basic Practices to Control Mosquitoes
• Install tight screening and weather stripping.
• Use sodium vapor lamps or yellow non-attractant light bulbs outside.
• Empty all standing water and clean roof gutters.
• Keep tall grass and weeds trimmed to allow airflow through the yard.
• Rather than spraying synthetic poisons in breeding areas, using strains of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) such as Bt israeliensis (BTI), or Bacillus sphaericus (Bs) will kill the mosquito larvae by interfering with their ability to digest food. Bt is available in floating discs or as granules.
• As a last resort, add lightweight mineral oil to standing water where fish or dragonflies are NOT present.
Left to right: Lavender (Lavendula spp.), horsemint (Monarda citriodora), and basil (Ocimum basilicum) can be used to make essential oils that can be applied to the skin as repellents.
When working in the garden or just enjoying the outdoors, try some of the many natural repellents on the market. Garlic, cedar, peppermint, lemon oil, or citrus-based sprays are good mosquito repellants, as are herbal essential oils including basil, citronella, eucalyptus, lavender, and lemongrass. Soybean oil-based repellent protects from mosquito bites for 1½ hours. Since mosquitoes are not strong flyers, you can also set up a fan barrier to blow them away from you before they have a chance to bite.
While deet is an effective insect repellent, its potential side effects include memory loss, headache, weakness, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, tremors, and shortness of breath in humans (especially children). Until further studies are done it should be used with caution. A personal non-deet mosquito deterrent that I have found effective is a clip-on battery operated fan using metofluthrin cartridges. It is safe if used as directed.
Mechanical mosquito traps with bait will kill thousands of mosquitoes in your yard, but they can be expensive to purchase and maintain.
Mosquito Traps and Baits
A homemade bait trap containing spinosad, an approved organic substance made with soil bacterium or boric acid, mixed with fermented fruit juice will attract and kill adult mosquitoes. Both are considered safe for humans and other mammals, but be sure to place your bait traps out of the reach of children.
Mechanical mosquito traps – such as Mosquito Magnet – utilize scent-bait, carbon dioxide generation, plus fans and suction to attract, trap, and kill mosquitoes in a 1-acre area. This is a rather pricey solution, but I can testify that it does work.
Biocontrol Methods and Natural Predators
Predatory fish such as mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis), millionfish (Poecilia reticulata), minnows, and certain species of carp – such as goldfish and tilapia – will eat mosquito larvae in stand-alone garden ponds.
Motionless ponds without fish can be treated with Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (an organic bacteria that kills mosquito larvae). Another way to disrupt the breeding cycle is to dust areas where mosquitoes breed with food-grade diatomaceous earth.
Encourage damselflies, dragonflies, and other natural predators such as bats, lizards, frogs, spiders, and native birds including chimney swifts. This free pest control squad will chow down on thousands of mosquitoes without your having to lift a finger.
A version of this article appeared in a June 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Yvonne Bordelon.
Hybridization has produced double blooms with ruffles.
In the 1700s Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus named the daylily Hemerocallis. The name – combining the Greek words for “beauty” and “day” – refers to the fact that a daylily bloom is open for only one day. Although each bloom lasts only one day, each stalk usually has multiple buds that open over several days.
Daylilies have been called the “perfect perennial.” They grow in a variety of hardiness zones, soil types, and pH ranges. Sunlight and adequate drainage are the main requirements for daylily success.
Daylilies have been a source of horticultural study and hybridization in the 20th century with more than 35,000 cultivars on the market today. Daylilies can be found as passalong plants or as collector’s editions.
Daylilies are classified as evergreen, deciduous (also called dormant), or semi-evergreen. I have grown both evergreen and dormant varieties, but evergreen daylilies reportedly grow better in the warm Southern states.
Daylilies come in all colors except true blue.
The golden throat of this daylily bloom is very distinctive.
Common Name: Daylily Botanical Names:Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus (old yellow daylily); H. fulva (orange daylily) Hardiness zones: 3-11 Type: Herbaceous perennial (evergreen, semi-evergreen, or dormant) Light: Full to partial sun Soil: Moist, fertile, well drained (crown will rot if drainage is not adequate) Size: 1-4 feet Spacing: At least 18 inches apart Bloom Time: May to July, with some re-blooming varieties extending into the fall Landscape Use: Excellent in a perennial border. Daylilies have more impact when planted in swaths of the same color.
Plant in swaths of the same color for maximum impact.
When I began growing daylilies, I had two wonderful mentors who grew rows of color-coordinated, named varieties. This was their recipe for success:
Full sun: Eight hours is best. Friable loamy soil: Add decomposed mulched leaves. Plant the crown: No more than 1½ inches below the soil. Mulch to minimize weeds and increase moisture retention. Adequate moisture: At least 1 inch per week or more during the summer. Fertilize: Twice a year with a well-balanced fertilizer (10-10-10, fish emulsion, or composted chicken, cow, or rabbit manure. The first fertilization in spring – increased amount of phosphorus to promote more blooms; then at conclusion of bloom season – increased potassium for root development. Divide: As the plants become crowded, usually every three to five years.
Daylily cultivars in the 12-18 inch category are excellent at the front of a border.
A version of this article appeared in Mississippi Gardener Volume 16 number 5.
Photography courtesy of Denise Pugh.
Normally when you hear the term “cover up,” it refers to something that is either sinister or political in nature. When it comes to cover up in the garden, it is actually a great thing, because we are talking about cover crops. Cover crops are an important component of any home garden. They have multiple benefits including building the soil, controlling erosion, preventing weed infestation and limiting the spread of certain disease and insects. Cover crops are an extremely environmentally friendly practice that allows the garden to “rest” or leave the garden out of production for a short period of time. While cover crops are traditionally planted in the fall, they can also be used in the spring and summer.
Here is an assortment of planted cover crops.
The benefits of cover crops are well known and I personally saw what happens when you do not utilize them. I planted a large summer garden on a new farm tract we purchased several years ago and failed to plant any cover crops that fall. As the summer garden faded and I tilled in the remnants of the crop, my garden looked fresh and well maintained. However, about a week later we had a gully washer of a rainstorm and because of the slight slope I had in my garden area, it looked like a highway system of eroded ruts suddenly appeared the next day. I knew that I made a mistake by not planting some type of cover crop. Even on relatively flat gardens, heavy rains can create havoc on unprotected soils. Every season since then my garden is planted in a fall cover crop, which has become an essential asset to my garden.
When it comes to selecting a cover crop, traditional choices for the fall include wheat, rye, and oats, often mixed with a legume crop such as clover or winter peas. I personally use a mix of winter wheat, oats and crimson clover quite regularly. All of this green material adds valuable nutrition back into the soil once it is tilled in during the spring. The legume crop has the added benefit of providing available nitrogen to the upcoming summer crop. These legume crops fix nitrogen and release it back into the soil once they are tilled in. Summer cover crop selections include seed such as buckwheat, millet or even sunflowers. While on the subject of cover crops, they do not have to be nonedible plants. I have begun planting a mix of cover crops that are both edible and hold the soil. I plant an area of the garden with a broadcast mixture of greens, including mustard, collards, and turnips. I broadcast it out along with fertilizer and allow these to grow in a dense mat on my bare garden soil. I then go in and thin the plants as I harvest to eat accordingly while allowing them to prevent erosion and provide beneficial nutrition later on when they are tilled in.
Here, those cover crops have been tilled in to the soil to add organic matter and nutrition back into the garden.
Cover crops can be established quickly when planted on a well-prepared seedbed. Prepare the bed by removing old vegetable plant material and tilling to a depth of 5-6 inches. Seed or seed mixtures can then be broadcast over the planting area and then lightly dragged or raked in to the soil. It is a good idea to soil test first to determine the pH and fertility needs of your cover crop. Lime and fertilizer can be applied at the time of planting. Take care when planting tiny seeds such as clover as they need exposure to sunlight and should not be covered too deeply. Ideally, they should be just under the soil surface. Seeding rates vary depending on the crop you are planting, but in general 3 pounds of a grass-type cover crop and ¼ pound of clover or peas per 1,000 square feet should get the job done. Legume plants such as clover and peas should be inoculated prior to planting. Inoculation basically means applying an appropriate strain of beneficial bacteria to the seed to assist in breaking down the seed coat. A feed store will help you in the proper selection of the right inoculant. Once cover crops are planted be sure to provide them enough irrigation to germinate and become established. Once established, rainfall will normally keep then thriving and supplemental irrigation is often unnecessary.
Cover crops provide a win-win situation for your garden. They provide benefits at the start by holding the soil and possibly provide an edible harvest as they grow. They also block out weed infestation and other damaging pests. At the end of their cycle, they act as a green manure by providing organic matter and beneficial nutrients to next seasons’ crop. I cannot imagine ever planting a garden again without cover crops.
A version of this article appeared in a November/December print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Bob Westerfield.
‘Trevi Fountain’ lungwort (Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’) is insect and disease resistant and a perfect companion for spring-blooming bulbs.
The secret to growing a healthy, easy care garden is finding the right plant for the right place. And, nowhere is that more important than in a shade garden. The first thing to access is how much sun the plants will actually get. And that can vary in different parts of garden.
In a part-shade garden, the area may get direct sun for a few hours a day and then the sunlight is filtered through leaves for several hours. If the total sunlight equals four hours of sun a day, part shade plants will thrive there. However, if all or part of the garden gets only filtered sun, that area is a true shade garden.
‘Burgundy Lace’ painted fern complements broad-leaf perennials, such as hosta.
Competition for Space and Nutrients
No matter how rich the soil, how well plants are watered and how much they are fertilized, part shade plants will fail to thrive if they don’t get enough sun. Although sun-starved plants may not die in a season, they may not produce flowers and are often plagued with pests, such as slugs, and diseases, such as powdery mildew.
Shade gardens planted with deciduous or evergreen trees have another issue – root competition for water and nutrients. Adding organic material, such as shredded leaves, composted bark fines and compost, to the soil when planting and as mulch will help to hold moisture, as well as feed the soil.
Many plants will adapt to a dry shade garden if care is taken to get them well established the first season. Begin at planting time by watering the garden well a day or two before planting. Soak the roots of plants in water for a few hours prior to planting.
Start With Smaller Plants
Plants in 4½-inch or quart-size containers often are easier to plant in soil where there are a lot of tree roots. In the first year, they will probably need watering weekly and possibly more often when the temperatures reach into the 80s. A good tool to help monitor the soil’s moisture content is a Luster Leaf moisture meter, available in the houseplant section of garden centers. A rain gauge, also available at garden centers, will help to monitor the amount of rainfall the area receives. Dry shade gardens need 1 to 1½ inches of water weekly. However, that amount may increase if planting in sandy soil.
Shade-loving, evergreen hellebores bloom in winter and are deer resistant.
Apply a Natural Mulch
After planting the shade garden, I mulch the surface of the soil with a lasagna layering of organic materials, beginning with ¼ to ½ inch of compost.
Next comes an inch or more of shredded leaves recycled from my yard in fall. I top off the mix with an inch of composted bark fines. If you have fresh wood chips or pine needles available, they will do nicely, too.
Most shade garden plants bloom in spring or early summer. However, the garden can be colored up by planting easy-care annuals, such as begonias (B. spp.), most of which bloom non-stop throughout the season. The large varieties, such as begonia Big and Whopper (B. x benariensis) and Dragon Wing (B. x hybrida) fit in beautifully and adapt well to dry shade.
‘Purple Dragon’ spotted dead nettle brightens a shade garden.
Recommended Shade-Loving Perennials
Here are some plants that do well in shade gardens, and once established, are able to compete successfully with tree roots.
Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)
This tough-as-nails North American native fern thrives in shade and part-shade gardens. Disease and pest free, it’s also resistant to nibbles from deer and other animals. Hardy to Zone 3.
Spotted Dead Nettle (Lamium maculatum)
Used as a ground cover, its green and white foliage, which varies by variety, brightens up shaded gardens almost year around. Newer varieties, such as ‘Purple Dragon’, bloom off and on through the end of summer. Hardy to Zone 3.
‘Patriot’ and other hostas, which have cream or white markings on the leaves, brighten the shade garden. Hostas come in many leaf textures, colors, patterns and sizes.
The classic plant for the part- to full-shade garden, these workhorses come in all sizes and leaf shapes, along with a variety of textures, colors and patterns. Many new varieties produce showy and fragrant flowers. Hardy to Zone 3.
Japanese Painted Ferns (Athyrium niponicum)
These silvery-fringed leaf lovelies thrive in my dry shade garden. Hardy to a frosty Zone 4, they self-sow their spores readily in the humus rich, moss covered soil in my garden. They add season-long color and texture.
Lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.)
The leaves of lungworts may be speckled or splotched or totally frosted with silver white that seems to glow in the shade garden. Lovely pink or blue flowers emerge in spring followed by their delightful leaves that last for three seasons or more. ‘Mrs. Moon’ is a dependable variety and if she takes, you may consider becoming a collector of the many new varieties. Slugs don’t usually bother lungwort. Hardy to Zone 3
Lenten Rose (Helleborus x hybridus)
Flowering as early as December, the blooms on these evergreen perennials last for months in the shade or part-shade garden. Newer varieties are hardy to Zone 4. Colors come in white and shades of pink, coral, green and burgundy. Hellebores are deer resistant.
A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Perennialresource.com, and Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp.
Deadly Rose Rosette Disease Moves Across the Country by Delisa White #Disease #Pests #Roses
Rose gardeners throughout the country need to be vigilant in watching for the symptoms of an increasingly common problem known as rose rosette disease.
Rose rosette disease causes irregular reddening of leaves.
The history and cause
Rose rosette disease (RRD) is fatal, and it has been spreading throughout North America since being first identified in California in the early 1940s. Killing both wild and cultivated roses of most species and cultivars, RRD is considered the most devastating disease of roses. In recent years, hot dry summers have increased the rate of spread and have allowed the disease to move throughout the Midwest.
The causal agent of rose rosette disease is a virus, which may be spread from rose plant to rose plant by any of three methods.
• Roses may become infected if asymptomatic rose buds from stock plants are used in the commercial grafting process, resulting in the production of infected new plants.
• Transmission of RRD is through root grafting, which occurs naturally when roses are growing close together in a bed for several years. The roots will often grow together, or graft to one another, resulting in a shared vascular system through which the RRD virus can pass from plant to plant.
• The most common method of transmission of the virus is by an eriophyid mite (Phyllocoptes fructiphilus). This narrow bodied four-legged mite is three to four times smaller than the more common spider mite, and feeds on new tender growth of rose stems and buds, passing the RRD virus into the vascular system of the plant. Though the mites are flightless, they are blown great distances on upper air currents, to be deposited randomly onto the rose plants of unsuspecting gardeners, resulting in the long-distance movement of the rose rosette virus.
The incidence of rose rosette disease is associated with the spread of its primary host plant, the common and invasive multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora). Multiflora rose was introduced to the United States from Japan in the late 1800s for use as rootstock for cultivated roses. Since that time, multiflora rose has spread uncontrollably and is now considered an invasive species in most states. It is highly susceptible to rose rosette disease.
A large multiflora rose plant may live with the RRD virus for as many as six years, serving as a reservoir for the virus and a host plant for the eriophyid mite until the plant’s eventual death. Initially it was hoped that RRD would wipe out the populations of invasive Rosa multiflora, but this has not occurred. While reducing the population of invasive multiflora rose might be a benefit of RRD, there are certainly no benefits of having RRD in the garden or landscape.
Aberrant growth, usually redder than normal, is a strong indication that your plant has rose rosette disease.
The disease is fatal and plants should be dug up and destroyed.
Rose rosette disease in the garden
All species and cultivars of garden roses are thought to be susceptible to rose rosette disease, and as is the case with many viral diseases, there are no cures or treatments for infected plants.
Additionally, the most common vector of RRD, the eriophyid mite, is very tiny and difficult to detect, so gardeners must learn to recognize the earliest symptoms of RRD in order to prevent its spread throughout rose plantings and landscapes.
What to look for
Symptoms of rose rosette disease may vary slightly depending upon which cultivar of rose is infected, but there are several general symptoms that gardeners must watch for.
General symptoms of RRD first appear in spring, intensifying through the summer. These include distorted leaves and growth. This distorted new growth may include brooming, which is dense clustering of small branches into tufts resembling brooms. These brooms and distorted leaves may look like herbicide damage.
RRD will cause distinct red coloration of distorted tissue, as well as the rapid elongation of new red stems. These newly elongated stems will usually be thicker than the parent canes, and will often contain an excessive number of soft and pliable red thorns. Certain rose cultivars, when infected with RRD, will not bloom, and other cultivars may produce small, deformed flowers with mottled coloration.
Roses with rose rosette disease develop clusters of bright red shoots, called witches’ broom, in spring.
What to do
Since there are no chemical options for dealing with rose rosette disease, careful cultural management of roses is necessary. If possible, eliminate any wild multiflora roses growing in the vicinity of your plantings. It is critical to recognize that rose rosette disease is systemic, meaning that the virus will be present throughout the entire plant even though symptoms may be seen only on just a few canes or stems. For this reason, pruning out symptomatic growth will not cure the plant or rid it of RRD.
Plants showing symptoms must be removed completely, and it is recommended that the rose plants growing adjacent to an infected plant also be removed and destroyed. Plants to be removed should be bagged or covered before digging them out of the garden. Bagging the plants will help to ensure that any mites present will not be inadvertently transferred to nearby healthy plants.
Keep in mind that root systems will contain the RRD virus, so all root fragments should be removed to prevent resprouting of infected plants. The infected plants can be burned, or should remain bagged for curbside garbage collection. This material should not be composted or added to municipal organic waste collection systems, as the RRD virus may not be destroyed in the composting process.
The mite that vectors the rose rosette disease virus is difficult to detect, making chemical control or prevention very challenging and impractical. While there are a few pesticides that could have some impact on the mite populations, chemical control of mites to prevent the spread of rose rosette disease has not be widely successful and is not as effective as early disease detection and cultural control.
Research is underway to develop better management options for rose rosette disease. Additionally, rose companies and universities are undertaking research in an effort to create roses that are naturally resistant to both the eriophyid mite vector, as well as to the rose rosette virus itself.
Rose rosette disease is a reason for concern, but not a reason to stop growing roses. Purchase new roses from a reliable grower or retailer, closely inspect new rose plants, space plants correctly in the garden, and scout often for RRD symptoms. With due diligence, rose enthusiasts can still enjoy growing their favorite plants.
A version of this article appeared in a May/June 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Dawn Dailey O’Brien, James W. Armine Jr., and Mary Ann Hansen.
“Where there is tea, there is hope.”
- Arthur Wing Pinero
Small spaces can be well used for herbs.
Except for water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. Tea is a refreshing beverage that contains no sodium, fat, carbonation or sugar. It is virtually calorie-free and has been shown to have a wide variety of health benefits, including reducing some forms of heart disease and cancers.
The herbs used to brew teas are some of the easiest plants to grow, making a healing tea garden easy, fun and functional. Moreover, a healing tea garden can be as simple as a few containers on a patio or windowsill since herbs don’t require much room or tending.
Lavender hyssop is used here to attract pollinators, necessary for herbs to grow well.
This garden features lemon balm, mint, monarda, roses, fennel, pineapple sage, lavender hyssop, strawberry and chamomile. With the exception of lavender hyssop, which was used for color and pollinator attraction, all of these herbs and plants can be used to create teas for healing purposes.
Naturopathic doctors use herbs routinely in their practice for a variety of uses. For example, chamomile can be used for aiding sleep and can calm fussy infants. Add fennel to a tea and it aids finicky digestive issues. Teas made with lemon balm can calm anxiety and has been shown to be effective as an anti-viral action.
Mint is a popular herb but can be invasive, so make sure you plant in a container to avoid it taking over other parts of your garden. There are many varieties of mint – orange, chocolate, mint julep, mojito and of course, peppermint. This garden featured peppermint. A mint tea can awaken the senses and provide a sharper focus to tasks making it a perfect after lunch beverage for work or home.
A healing garden can also be a beautiful garden full of color! Bee balm (Monarda spp.) is often useful in addressing bladder infections. Bee balm is also a beautiful plant and one that pollinators seek. Like monarda, roses are colorful accents to any garden and rose hip tea can be a cooling relief for hives and are rich in Vitamin C.
Try adding unique herbs to your garden such as pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) for color and interesting foliage and blooms. It also adds a dash of flavor to a tea you make yourself.
Featured in this garden are Meyer lemon (Citrus x meyeri) and Bearss Lime (Citrus latifolia ‘Bearss’). Though not herbs, nor hardy to Zone 6, they make a nice addition to a patio herbal tea garden. When the cold weather arrives, you will want to move these plants indoors, so best keep them near the garden in a container that is easily transported indoors for winter storage.
The Healing Tea Garden features recyclable tumbled glass mulch that adds color and interest
Top Left: Chamomile soothes anxiety and is easy to grow. .
Top Right: Fennell is a natural carminative and aids digestion.
Bottom Left: Rose hip tea is high in vitamin C and can be effective for hives.
Bottom Right: Teas made from mint can increase focus and ease tension.
To make a tea, use 1 tablespoon per one cup of hot water if you are using fresh leaves. You can dry the leaves of herbs on paper toweling before using. Try 1 teaspoon of dry herbs per 1 cup of water or more if you like more flavor.
Tea Fact Sheet, Tea Association of the U.S.A, teause.com
Our Healing Roots, LLC, Naturpoathic Medicine. Katrina Bogdon, ND, FABNO, ourhealingroots.net
A version of this article appeared in a March 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Maurie Traylor.
Shy, the Green Anole is seldom seen on the ground.
Here’s a “green” solution to ridding your home and garden of insects. It’s free, all natural and entertaining to watch. Don’t call the exterminator or reach for that can of toxic insecticide. Instead, encourage and protect Florida’s lizards!
The Anole (uh-nole-lee) is a resident in gardens and yards throughout Florida. These small lizards are leaders in the “Eat-a-Bug Brigade!” Don’t let their relatively small size fool you--they devour tons of insects—even those much larger than the anole, itself. Anoles are great creatures to have in your garden.
Like all lizards, anoles have moveable eyelids and external earholes. Adults shed their skin about once a month—with the old skin coming off in bits and pieces. They have good eyesight and seem to hear well.
An anole will only eat live prey. It’s the movement of the insect that attracts the lizard.
In South Florida, there are a number of lizard immigrants that are becoming more common. While they, too, devour insects, there is concern that these non-native species will compete with or actually prey upon our native anoles. At this time, none of these newcomers seem able to survive the colder winters of Central and North Florida.
There are two types of anoles you will likely find in your garden. Green anoles move slowly amid the leaves of trees and palms, waiting for an unwary insect. Brown anoles are often seen clinging face down from vertical surfaces and staring intently at the ground below—waiting patiently for a savory insect to come into view. Both are true acrobats—capable of performing daring leaps and somersaults in order to capture an insect in mid-flight.
• Anolis carolinensis, our only native anole, is called “green” anole or “Zandolic” in Creole. It is found as far north as the Carolinas and south throughout the Greater Antilles. Some people erroneously call it a “chameleon.” While it has the ability to change color from green to brown or gray (depending on light, mood and temperature), it is not a true chameleon. Shy and solitary, it is rarely found on the ground.
•Anolis sagrei or “brown” or Cuban anole is originally from Cuba and the Bahamas. It is now considered a naturalized species and found throughout the state. Very lively and active, this lizard can be seen just about anywhere. These gregarious creatures love to socialize in groups and hunt on driveways and sidewalks during late afternoons or early evenings. Males can be as long as 8 or 9-inches, with females generally smaller. Females have a cream-colored stripe down their backs.
In captivity, anoles can live as long as eight years; but in the wild, they only live to 18 months. Like most lizards, anoles have autotomic tails that come off easily when grabbed and continue to wiggle distracting the predator and giving the lizard a chance to escape. The tail eventually grows back. Snakes and birds are the anole’s main predators and many are killed by cars, mowers, dogs and cats.
Brown Anoles like to cling, face-down, on vertical surfaces and stare at the ground below. This is a male.
Brown anoles like to hunt a few feet from their “safe zones” of bushes and plant beds. Before mowing, walk around the plant beds. This is often enough to scare them back to their safe zones. If you see groups socializing on sidewalks, move slowly along the street-side of the side walk. That should give them time to get to safety.
Male anoles vigorously defend their territories. This is generally accompanied by a series of lizard “push-ups” and head bobs, while displaying their colorful throat fan called a dewlap. Most of the time, opposing males will back off. However, males sometimes will engage in combat—either over territory or a female—and this can lead to death of the loser. The dewlap is also displayed during courtship.
Anoles breed from March to November and a female will lay single eggs every two weeks. These hard, white miniature versions of a chicken egg can be found in the soil or even in window screen tracks and tree crevices. Should you disturb them, simply leave them where you found them and cover them back up. Eggs will hatch in 4 to 8 weeks. The young are miniature replicas of the adults and begin to hunt immediately.
Anoles can’t survive in your house, in part because they need an accessible source of water. They can’t climb slippery surfaces and can get trapped in sinks, pans, buckets and even your pet’s water bowl. Should anoles come into your house, be humane and gently show them the way out.
Outdoors, anoles rely on moisture from the rain and dew. During dry periods sprinkle leaves and bushes with a hose to allow thirsty anoles to lick up water drops on the leaves. Don’t spray lizards directly as a blast of water from a hose can kill them.
These lizards sleep at night. If you take a flashlight and go outside an hour or so after sunset, you can usually see them stretched out with their eyes closed on the lower branches of shrubs.
Florida doesn’t have a native nocturnal lizard. The lizards you may see on your walls at night are geckoes. Geckoes are so abundant in buildings in South Florida, that they are called “House Lizards.” Geckoes are especially fond of palmetto bugs and other night-flying insects. Unlike anoles, geckoes have suction cups on their feet, and have no problem running across ceilings or over slippery surfaces. They can live quite well indoors. Geckoes hide during the day—preferring to quietly snooze behind picture frames or some other dark, out-of-the-way place. Like the anole, geckoes are completely harmless—unless you happen to be an insect!
Two of the more common types of geckoes are the Mediterranean Gecko, and the Indo-Pacific Gecko--the only species of house gecko with smooth skin and a yellow/orange belly. Both species are extremely vocal. The Mediterranean gecko has a high-pitched, squeaky call that sounds like a bird chirping; the Indo-Pacific gecko emits a series of squeaks and barks.
Go to wildflorida.com for more information about Florida’s native and exotic lizards and other wildlife.
A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 20, Number 2.
Photography courtesy of Karinluise Calasant, and Shane Darby.
This long-time gardener needed to have a garden equal in beauty and ease of care. Here is how she turned a standard patio into a cozy garden oasis.
Left: Seasonal color and texture are integral parts of any garden planting, as is appropriate lighting. Small solar lanterns, which are placed among the tall grasses, ensure adequate lighting year round.
Right: Planters placed in clusters along the wall are filled with annuals and scented herbs. Using planters allows Shirley to “rearrange the garden” to suit her, or the plant’s, needs.
Gardening and downsizing: two words that are rarely, if ever, used in the same sentence. However, Shirley Gibson has taken the transition from a large splendid home with formal cutting, floral and vegetable gardens, groomed orchards with planned fields filled with native plantings, to a smaller villa style “Visiting Garden.” A senior residential community, where homes have limited space for gardens and patios, was where she graciously invited me to interview her.
Succulents in a container look like a mini landscape.
At 94 years of age, Mrs. Gibson is a member of the Garden Club of America, a retired horticultural judge emeritus, and presently is an active member and past president of a local garden club in her town. She still finds the time to work almost daily in her garden. Being socially active as well as having a deep working knowledge of gardening plays a large part in the influence of her choices of plants. Most of her plantings are chosen for their aesthetic qualities. “Sometimes,” Mrs. Gibson told me with a twinkle in her very bright blue eye, “I put them in just because I like them.”
In light of Shirley’s busy lifestyle, she desired a garden equal in beauty and ease of care. Tucked away in a senior living development, Mrs. Gibson took her rather standard patio and made it into a small and cozy garden oasis, which is equally inspiring and inviting. Achieving this level of garden quality may seem as though it might take a great deal of planning; however, anyone with basic plant interest and knowledge could achieve a similarly styled successful garden.
Left: Growing against a warm western-facing brick wall, Mrs. Gibson’s ‘Roma’ and cherry tomatoes produce in abundance and safety away from ground pests and foraging animals.
Right: Nasturtium and parsley spill from this raised planter.
She decided that having a raised-bed garden would reduce her hours of bending over while working in her garden. She also uses planters for smaller plants, such as herbs, which could be moved around throughout the season to the best parts of the garden where growth production would be at its peak. The final result was a smaller container garden where planters burst with fragrant herbs and heirloom tomatoes filled with freshness and flavor. Plants tumble over each other in a waterfall of color over the raised-bed edges while pole beans twine upward toward the clear deep blue sky. Chard grows in deep, lush mounds scattered about the garden. All of this is within arm’s reach and all of it is grown with little daily care and maintenance.
Shirley was quick to remind me that gardening should be pleasurable and relaxing as well as a reflection of who you are.
Left: Japanese anemone (Anemone hupehensis) is an easy-care perennial with personality.
Right: Established pink Knock Out roses planted at the bases of white pine trees provide a dense privacy screen as well as weather and wind protection for the garden. Wave petunias and sweet potato vine set in large planters, with their brilliant contrasting leaves, bring the visitor’s eyes up towards the modern art sculpture.
A version of this article appeared in Ohio Gardener Volume 5, Number 1.
Photography courtesy of Tammy Weiss and Martha Marsh.
Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.
– May Sarton
Creating space for grace is truly the dream of every gardener, even if the gardener never verbalizes such a goal. With every vigorous day of digging, building, designing, and planting, the intrinsic goal of the gardener is to have a spot of earth that is beautiful with an element of functionality whether it be a beauty for beauty’s sake or beauty combined with utility as in an edible landscape, or both.
But what interests and captivates most who appreciate a lovely little area is the feeling, the Ah! Effect … the, “Oh, I wish I could sit there and enjoy a cup of tea” feeling. It is what makes all the backbreaking work worthwhile.
Few quiet moments exist without intentional effort, and the ability to slip away to a special place in the garden to relax, or even snooze a bit, is one of the greatest joys of being a gardener.
Meet the hammock. Hammocks and gardens make a great pair, like peanut butter and jelly, they need each other; hammocks and gardens invite any visitor to sit and reflect, to pause for a deep breath, to say, “Yes, join me for a moment; rest, relax, and just be still.”
Even a picture of a hammock in a lovely setting invites the viewer to long for that place, that snippet of quiet – where grace and peace take over our brain, help fulfill our desire for stillness, and we say when we view the photo, I want to be there, or I want a garden with a hammock.
There are FOUR C’s to a relaxing hammock area:
Create a space where the shade is abundant. Hammocks can be hung between mature trees providing a blanket of shade, or a garden can host a freestanding hammock among emerging trees, or two poles could be installed and with vines planted alongside. Look for an idyllic corner; be like a bird making a nest. Look for the right location and then make that spot an intended destination with a path bordered by leafy ferns and white flowers.
Choose Calm. When choosing plants for a hammock garden, one must tailor the site while factoring in critical requirements like sunlight, water, climate, and soil type. Research plants that are known for their peaceful properties, or select a theme of all white flowers. Try edging your private retreat with large white-blooming shrubs. Delicate fragrances enhance a special hideaway and foster peace.
Plants like sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) make great conversation pieces in the garden. Medieval culture believed this plant calmed nerves and ensured satisfying sleep. With its green whorls of fragrant leaves and little white springtime flowers, it is a good plant for the deep shade and humusy soil at the base of a tree.
Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) is an elegant addition to any shade garden. Many gardeners, who use natural remedies for aging, swear that drying the herb and sewing it in pillow sachets ensures a good night’s sleep, improves disposition, and keeps the body cool.
Add Curiosity. There is nothing like being surprised by beauty and art in a garden. Lie in the hammock and look up. Maybe climb the trees anchoring the hammock and wire artistic garden art, like a butterfly or bird. Whimsy evokes play, which reminds us life should have an element of humor to it. Hide surprises of small garden art that will delight the visitor. It is like you have let them in on a little secret: don’t take life or yourself too seriously. By adding curiosity, you have added humor, which releases endorphins, another great stress buster.
Think comfort. Lying in a hammock should be relaxing – not dangerous from hanging it too high, or too low. Use strong straps that are designed for hanging a hammock. Much like shopping for an easy chair, think about how you like to rest. A lot of space is a good thing. Once you have your lemonade and have gathered your reading material, you want to be able to spread out and feel like you are on your island. Some folks love the ENO brand, and carry them with them and hook up to trees in public parks or college campuses. The breathable, quick-drying nylon is easy to compress and pack. They are very sturdy made of new high technology nylon and weather extremely well.
Many choose a traditional cotton rope, or a thick cotton fabric –the choices can be endless, but choose comfort over looks. After all the plants in the garden capture the beauty of our world and the hammock provides the spot to stop and smell the roses, the herbs, and the fresh air while suspending us in a moment of grace.
Advice on how to have success growing second and third crops
after harvesting your spring vegetables
Make sure to irrigate your heat-stressed crops.
There is nothing I like more than being out in my vegetable garden in late March and April, working my soil in anticipation of a bountiful harvest. Temperatures at that time are usually splendid and I have no problem enjoying one of my favorite pastimes. As I fast-forward several months into the summer, my enthusiasm begins to wane as 90-degree days and high humidity begin to plague me. Not only do I have a problem staying active in such unbearable temperatures, but my plants always seem to be suffering as well. While many gardeners throw in the towel during the hottest part of summer and recline back in their air-conditioned homes, there is still an opportunity and possibility to extend your harvest season all the way until the cooler months of fall.
When talking about hot-temperature gardening, we need to examine what is happening to our plants. Just like you and I perspire more frequently during hot temperatures, plants also sweat in a way by transpiring. As plants move precious water and minerals through their systems, they transpire the moisture through their leaves more frequently as the temperature escalates. This makes it even more critical to keep a careful eye on your vegetable irrigation as we hit temperatures above 85 F. It only takes a day or two of drought or poor water management and you can potentially lose the crop. Pay particular attention to raised-bed gardens; they will dry out more quickly than conventional planting.
Because of the high temperatures, evaporation of the moisture from the soil will be more extreme. For this reason, irrigation should be delivered through soaker hoses or a drip system rather than overhead watering. It is also recommended to irrigate between 9 p.m. up until 9 a.m. During this time period you will experience less evaporation and allow the foliage to dry off. This will lead to fewer instances of disease.
Plants such as okra may love the hot, humid environment, but you will need to keep a close eye on water loving plants such as corn, cucumbers, and squash.
Another way to survive the dog days of summer and produce a healthy crop is to continue staggered new plantings of vegetables every few weeks up through the middle of summer. This gives you fresh, healthy crops while you continue to harvest from your older and possibly exhausted plants.
As a crop fizzles out in the garden, it is important to remove it and perhaps add it to your compost pile. Leaving expired plants in the garden can lead to the introduction of diseases and invasion of possible insects.
Planting new seeds or transplants during the hot temperatures of summer is a bit more challenging. You will need to nurse them along for the first week or two, supplying adequate irrigation. You may even want to consider using some type of screen or shade material to provide them relief in the hot afternoons for a couple of weeks as they acclimate to their new hostile environment.
Spraying for disease, weeds, and insects as season wears on.
You have probably noticed an increase in disease and insect activity in the heat of the summer. While 90 percent of the bugs you see may be beneficial, the bad guys are more likely to show up during the hot months. This is when you need to be scouting your garden frequently for any signs of an outbreak. While I don’t normally recommend preventive insect sprays, you may need to apply a product if you spot existing insect damage. I begin by applying some type of organic insecticide that is more environmentally friendly, but still effective. I prefer to spray insecticide applications late in the day, when there is less chance of hitting beneficial pollinators that are in the garden. Pollinators tend to fly early in the morning on sunny days, so you should avoid spraying at that time.
Insect pressure on tomatoes and other veggies.
Tomatoes are perhaps some of the most difficult to keep alive late in the season because they are so susceptible to problems. In order to extend the life of your current tomato plants, plan on pruning them frequently. I like to eliminate most of the lower branches so that none of the foliage touches the ground. I also pinch out the suckers between the main branches and eliminate some of the non-bearing structure to allow more air and sunlight to penetrate the plants. Just take care not to over prune your tomatoes because the actual fruits benefit from the shade provided by the foliage.
In late summer, mulch is a gardener’s best friend. I use various types of mulch throughout the garden season to help me keep weeds at bay and hold moisture in the soil. Newspaper laid three layers thick can be excellent mulch around your plants. After laying it down, I immediately wet it to keep it in place. I then cover it with an organic mulch of some type of straw or bark to hold it in place and provide an extra layer of protection. Weeds do not mind the heat or humidity at all, and tend to grow rapid during the summer. You might consider using a combination of mulch and hand pulling or tilling to keep them under control. Weeds are always easier to remove when they are young. The drip irrigation we mentioned earlier will also help in your weed management. Drip irrigation applies the water directly to the target plant, and does not water all of the areas between rows like overhead watering does. Remember that overhead watering is watering your plants, but also giving your weeds an energizing drink.
Remember to keep an eye on the fertility needs of your summer garden. While the initial phosphorous and potassium that you applied earlier in the season may still be available, the nitrogen is most likely long exhausted. Continually bearing plants such as tomatoes, squash, peppers, and okra will need additional nitrogen every two or three weeks throughout the growing season. Target the application close to the plants but not right next to the stem. Sprinkle the fertilizer evenly 6-8 inches away from the base of the plant. It makes good sense to irrigate soon after applying the fertility so that the plant may begin to absorb it quickly. Care should be taken when using liquid fertilizers – do not apply too much nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen formulations can be difficult to calibrate and apply correctly. I recommend using them at half the labeled rate. Remember that the amount of time you spray each plant can double or even triple the rate of application.
Harvesting on time keeps plants producing a fresh crop every few weeks.
One final piece of advice is to harvest your garden frequently. Summer vegetables can develop rapidly. If left on the vine too long, that can signal the plant to shut down, because it has accomplished its goal of reproducing seed. By harvesting frequently, we accomplish three things. We trigger the plant into continuing to reproduce; we harvest a vegetable that is more tender and tasty; and by harvesting a young vegetable, we help prevent insect invaders that hone in on older, maturing fruit.
I am a cool weather kind of guy, and I don’t particularly enjoy hot, humid weather. However, my appetite is stronger than my desire to stay cool. I love the taste of fresh vegetables, and I want them all season long. You too can enjoy an extended summer harvest if you can bear a bit of the nasty temperatures and do a few of the preventive measures in this article. And the bonus is that you get to eat the delicious harvest in the comfort of your air-conditioned home.
A version of this article appeared in a June 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Bob Westerfield.
This brood frame shows a pattern of eggs, larvae, pupae, capped brood and baby bees emerging from their cells.
You can try this at home! Growing bee-friendly plants is one way to help increase the bee population. Another way is to actually raise bees.
For Denise Johnston, it started at the county fair. As a child, she’d make a “beeline” to the hive observation frame in the agriculture building, where she would become mesmerized by the bees’ activity. Then, about ten years ago, she met Bob Engle, the man behind the hives, at an antique tractor show.
He asked if she was interested in a class he was teaching. Johnston signed on to a series of five 3-hour classes detailing how to start your own hives. After attending all 15 hours, she ordered her first batch of bees. Now Johnston is secretary/treasurer/newsletter editor of the Northwest Indiana Beekeepers Association, sells her own honey and teaches classes. (nwibeekeepers.com)
“When I joined, we had about 20 people at the first session and ended up with five who completed the entire class,” Johnston says. “Now we have 70 people sign up, and it usually dwindles down to around 20.”
The NWIBA now boasts 190 members, and Johnston credits the increased interest to an awareness of colony collapse disorder, disappearing bee disease and the importance of pollinators. Her first recommendation for bee newbies: get involved with a local club.
Beekeeping associations are treasure troves of knowledge and great networking resources. It’s an ancient art after all, and many members have been keeping honeybees for decades. Beekeepers love to share.
Providing bees for cold climate beekeepers is big business. Before capture, the bees have already been pollinating California almonds, Georgia pecans or Florida cucumbers. Bee suppliers package them up with a queen and a can of food. “A 3-pound package of bees with a queen cost around $110 last year,” Johnston says. “They used to cost $8.”
Other changes to beekeeping can be found in the mechanics of the process, but the product hasn’t changed a bit.
Jim Crawford uses the smoker to calm the bees before he opens the hive.
You’ve never smelled honey until you’ve been to a clover hive that has just been harvested. On a clear sunny day in early October, Jim Crawford had just finished harvesting nearly 100 pounds of honey.
For someone new to beekeeping, Crawford moves with deliberate confidence. It’s a good manner to adopt when surrounded by hundreds of flying insects with stingers. After pulling out the honey-laden frames, he quickly stashes them in his truck. “You don’t want to leave honey out this time of year,” he explains. “It will attract all kinds of bees and even yellow jackets.”
The bees are possessive of their honey in the fall. They need to have enough to live on through the winter months. It’s Crawford’s second year, and he’s been successful due in large part to his mentor George Manning who has kept bees for 65 years.
Jim inspects the brood box to ensure that the queen is laying eggs in a good pattern. The brood box is where the queen lays her eggs and the new bees are hatched and raised. “You should see a nice cluster in the middle of the frame – eggs, larvae, pupae and capped brood (the final stages of the developing bee before it hatches),” Crawford explains. “Normally, if you look close you will actually see the new bees emerging from the cells.”
After harvesting what will turn out to be nearly 100 pounds of honey, Crawford inspects the hives. The brood frame, where baby bees mature, is a mix of eggs, larvae, pupae, capped brood and baby bees emerging from their cells. The frame contains cells with honey for feeding the baby bees and the worker bees. It is only when the brood frames become full of brood and stored honey that the worker bees begin storing excess honey in the upper “honey super” boxes.
Crawford makes use of a screen called a queen excluder to prevent the queen from laying eggs in the portion of the hive where the honey is stored. “The screen has openings large enough for the worker bees to pass through and store honey but too small for the queen,” he says. “You don’t want the queen laying eggs where you will be harvesting honey.”
Hives themselves range in materials and prices. Crawford has two hives – one he purchased, assembled and painted for around $400 and another that he had to assemble and paint himself for $350. He’s glad he had to put it together as it gave him insight into how a hive is built.
Timing the honey harvest helps assure that the bees aren’t overly aggravated. “It should be at least 50 F but ideally 70 F and sunny,” Crawford says. “You want the bees to be out foraging, and when it’s cloudy, cool, and wet, they’ll stay in the hive and get kind of grumpy if you try to take the honey while they’re inside.”
Crawford recommends a spot with maximum sun exposure and minimum north and west wind exposure. Honeybees don’t migrate but stay in the hives through the winter, eat lots of honey and generate heat by clustering and beating their wings.
For buying bees, Crawford recommends contacting a local certified apiary in order to start off with healthy bees.
Jim shows an empty foundation frame (at right) that the bees will build up with honey comb, and (at left) a frame filled with honey that he will process.
A Little Background
According to Purdue University Extension Service, all honeybees belong to the genus Apis and bees in this genus are the only species to store large amounts of honey and exhibit a perennial life cycle. Honeybees represent only a small fraction of the roughly 20,000 known species of bees. Some other types of related bees produce and store honey, but only members of the genus Apis, are true honeybees.
The western honeybee (Apis mellifera) is native to Europe and has since been raised all over the globe. It is the primary honeybee of western civilization, while the eastern honeybee (Apis cerana) is the counterpoint in eastern civilization.
Among the commonly recognized species of Apis, only A. cerana and A. mellifera are kept commercially by man.
What’s in a Starter Kit?
It is recommended to join a local bee organization or find a mentor to offer support and guidance. Attend a meeting or two before investing in a starter kit that includes the basics, including the following:
• Brood chamber or hive body, which is a large box containing eight to 10 removable frames that the bees cover with a wax honeycomb. Each individual cell in the honeycomb is occupied by new bees or filled with honey for the bees’ consumption.
The smoker is used to keep the bees calm during hive inspections.
• Honey supers are additional boxes, usually shorter in depth than the hive body, that are used to store surplus honey that the beekeeper will harvest. The supers also have moveable frames for honeycomb.
• Frames, usually made of pine, hold a beeswax-coated foundation on a molded plastic raised cell sheet to help the bees start drawing the cells.
• Hive tool for opening hives that might be sealed by the bees with a product called propolis, which they manufacture from tree gums, saps and resins.
• Smoker – a metal container with bellows, plus smoker fuel.
• Bee veil is worn to protect the face and neck from stings.
• Gloves are worn to improve grip and protect from stings.
A version of this article appeared in Chicagoland Gardening Volume 22 number 2.
Photography courtesy of Jean Starr and Dadant & Sons, Inc.
A mass planting of the native cultivar Invincibelle Spirit II is stunning in sun or part shade.
This season, you’ll feel extra good about your purchase of the new Invincibelle Spirit II Hydrangea for your garden or to give as a gift. That’s because $1 of every plant sold is donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. More than $730,000 has been raised from the sale of its predecessor.
Invincibelle Spirit II is a notable improvement over the original Invincibelle Spirit. It is a much stronger grower, with sturdier stems, darker green foliage and brighter blooms. Rich pink flowers are produced on new growth from mid-summer until frost, maturing to an attractive shade of green. The dried blooms are lovely in long lasting bouquets. This selection of our native Hydrangea arborescens grows and blooms best in full sun, but will also grow in part shade at the expense of fewer flowers.
Common Name: Smooth hydrangea
Botanical Name: Invincibelle Spirit II (Hydrangea arborescens ‘NCHA2’)
Type of Plant: Shrub
Hardiness Zone: 3-9
Bloom Time: Mid-summer to frost
When to Prune: Pruning back old stems to 6-12 inches in late winter or early spring will not remove flower buds.
Height: 3-4 feet; Spread: 3-5 feet
Exposure: Full sun to part shade
Watering: Average to moist; not drought tolerant
Soil: Adapts to most well-drained soil types; pH does not affect flower color.
When to Fertilize: Apply a controlled release fertilizer in spring, if desired.
A version of this article appeared in Michigan Gardening Magazine Volume 4 number 1.
Photography courtesy of Proven Winners/ColorChoice.
The owner of a small-town shop gave the writer a cutting from a large Hoya that vined throughout the store.
If you have a plant you would like to share with someone or just make more of, now is a good time to take cuttings. In spring, the longer days and increased sunlight awaken our houseplants from their winter slumber. They push new growth, making it the optimal time to take cuttings.
I was in a small town store a couple of years ago and was impressed with the enormous hoya (H. pubicalyx) trailing everywhere through the store. I asked for a cutting (always ask before taking a cutting) and was gifted with one. After I got home, I cut it into smaller pieces, and planted each one.
This process isn’t complicated or expensive. I use empty deli containers to start cuttings and the appropriate soil for the specific type of plant. If the plant being propagated is not a succulent, humidity is a large factor. Close the lid on the deli container or cover with a plastic bag. The humidity helps keep the cutting well hydrated while waiting for new roots to grow.
For succulents, such as the hoya pictured, I used a quick-draining soil formulated for succulents. Dampen the soil before placing the cuttings. I used bent wire to pin the cuttings to the soil. Paper clips work well for this, too. The cuttings must have contact with the soil to be able to grow new roots. Keep the soil moist, but not wet. Wet soil will rot the plants.
This process isn’t something that happens overnight. It may take weeks or months to see growth from the cutting. The plants have roots when you see new growth. At this time, you can transplant the cuttings to their own containers.
Here are step-by-step instructions on how to take cuttings. Although the example is a hoya, the method works for several other houseplants.
Hoya cutting that will be used to grow new roots.
With a sharp knife or clippers, cut the larger piece into several smaller ones, making sure each one has at least one or two leaves.
Here’s an ideal cutting, with two leaves and stems.
Use paper clips or wire to anchor cuttings in the damp soil. Cuttings need to be in good contact with the soil to develop roots.
The cuttings are pinned to the moistened soil, which is in a deli container, complete with lid. Succulent cuttings do not need high humidity to take root, but other houseplants do, and the container lid can be closed to provide the right environment.
Seven months later the cuttings are growing new shoots.
The cuttings were taken two years ago and they are now ready to be rooted into an 8-10 inch container.
The plant is now happily growing three years later in its own container. Other houseplants may not take years to develop for transplanting.
Eventually, the hoya cutting will trail and display a waxy pinkish-white, fragrant flower.
A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Lisa Eldred Steinkopf.
Along with the increased interest in sustainable living and gardening, composting is also regaining popularity. It’s a great way to manage organic matter while creating a valuable resource at the same time. There are many different methods of composting but the key elements they share are the organic materials that go in them: water, oxygen, and the microorganisms that actually do the decomposing.
My favorite type of composting is the three-bin method. This system works well if you have the room and generates a lot of organic matter. With this system, you will have different piles in various stages of “ripeness”: fresh organic matter in one bin; then moved to the second bin when the first is full and the compost is ready to turn; then repeat, turning compost into the third bin, where it finishes.
You can make your own three-bin composting unit out of many different materials. Old pallets wired together are the least expensive, but wire and wood, wood slats, or even cinder blocks can be used to construct the unit. If using the wire and wood or the wooden slats, you will need some basic carpentry skills and tools. Each bin should be roughly 3 feet tall, wide, and deep. I am partial to those that allow air to easily circulate around the pile. All that oxygen keeps the microorganisms in the soil happy and working hard to break down your organic matter.
The first bin is where the fresh organic matter is placed. Place “green” materials like grass clippings or other fresh plant waste with “brown” materials like dried leaves, wood chips, or shredded branches. Green material tends to be high in nitrogen; brown material contains more carbon. If green waste is limited, you can add nitrogen-containing fertilizer to bring the carbon and nitrogen ratio closer to 30/1. If using kitchen scraps, dig a hole in the center of the pile and bury to comply with many city nuisance ordinances (you would hate for a neighbor to complain). A thin layer of garden soil should be applied to introduce the microorganisms that do the composting. Be sure to keep the pile moist. An easy way to tell if your pile has enough moisture is to squeeze a few handfuls of materials. Everything should feel damp, like a wrung-out sponge. If it doesn’t, it’s time to add water. Turn your pile while adding water so everything gets moist. If more than a drop or two of water comes out when squeezed, then your pile is too wet and turning is in order so you can balance moisture and air levels, optimizing conditions for decomposition.
As the pile starts to shrink, you will know that it’s decomposing. It is a good idea to check the temperature of the compost from time to time, ideally with a compost thermometer. Once the temperature starts to drop, it is time to turn. Make sure that the outside, and undigested stuff, gets put into the center. After the middle has reached 140-150 F, turn the pile from the original bin into the adjacent center bin.
Once the second pile is filled, allow this to further decompose, again watching the value decrease. Follow the same steps and transfer to the third bin. While this last bin will still go through some decomposition, it is ready to use at any time the need arises. I find this type of composting super easy to set up and easy to “work.”
A version of this article appeared Carolina Gardener Volume 28 Number 1.
Photography courtesy of Arina P Habich/Shutterstock.com, Cindy Shapton, and Tim Matthews.
These tough, living mulches fill awkward spaces, fight off weeds and offer a lovely grass alternative.
Let’s face it. The term “ground covers” doesn’t inspire a great deal of passion. For generations, ground covers have been regarded as plants for covering exposed soil in places where poor soil conditions, deep shade or steep slopes make it hard, or even impossible, to grow grass. But today, many gardeners recognize ground covers not only for their utility but their striking beauty as well.
Ideally, filling the spaces between plants with more plants instead of mulch provides color and textural contrast, increases habitat and food for beneficial insects and wildlife, beautifies the landscape, gives you ornamental foliage and various growth habits that are particularly attractive during the active growing season and – not surprisingly – might even provide winter interest to boot. If chosen correctly, a yard with established ground covers is a visual treat.
Over the course of my gardening days I have tried a variety of low-growing plants with varying results. I’ve fallen in love with some and have developed some rather nasty thoughts about others.
Here are my favorites, all hardy perennials. They include lovely bloomers, must-haves that are a bit aggressive but not invasive and a few fanciful ground huggers.
At the top of my list is an old-time favorite with versatile modern day use, Japanese spurge (Pachysandra terminalis). Evergreen and self-sustaining once established, it always looks good, and deer and rabbits avoid it. While long, sweeping beds of nothing but Japanese spurge can be monotonous; a well-manicured river swirling around trees, shrubs, large hostas or ferns is a sight to behold.
Growing 6-12 inches in height, pachysandra grows in nearly any well-drained soil, is fairly drought tolerant and spreads quickly to form a thick mat of glossy, coarsely toothed leaves. Small clusters of bottlebrush-shaped white flowers appear in early spring. Compact ‘Green Carpet’ and ‘Green Sheen’ have shinier leaves; ‘Variegata’ exhibits white edges, but all three are slower spreaders than the species.
Not every plant needs to be a show-off to be useful. Take gingers (Asarum spp.) for instance. Both North American wild ginger (A. canadense) and European wild ginger (A. europaeum) will go about their business of carpeting bare soil in damp spots without any coddling. I grow them primarily for their kidney-shaped leaves, since their brown jug-shaped flowers are hidden under the leaves.
Wild ginger, a dapper ground cover that blankets the earth with enthusiasm, has large, (up to 5-inch) wide leaves and a thick sturdy rootstock that forms a dense network of plants in any woodland setting. For me, the one priceless feature of this deciduous plant is that once established, it can fend off garlic mustard, an invasive thug with which I am in constant battle.
Ornamental European ginger, on the other hand, is the captivating heart-throb of the family. The handsome leaves are a shiny rich green; some varieties have exquisite texture while others are adorned with striking silvery patterns. The plants are susceptible to few pests, are quite drought tolerant once established and remain fresh all season long.
For the front of the border, the deceptively delicate dwarf astilbe (Astilbe chinensis ‘Pumila’) forms a compact mound of elegant, lacy leaves topped with wispy, stiffly upright, lavender-rose flower plumes. One of the last astilbes to bloom, it does best in moist soil but is one of the least likely astilbes to fry in hot, dry weather. It is also deer and rabbit resistant. One of the last astilbes to bloom, it does best in moist soil but is one of the least likely astilbes to fry in hot, dry weather.
The sweet-scented, bell-shaped white flowers of lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) can pack a powerful punch despite their diminutive size. Though completely comfortable in deep shade and easily grown under almost any condition, lily-of-the-valley prefers rich loamy soil and ample moisture.
Yes, it’s important to know that it can be invasive. And sited in full sun with no additional moisture, it can look bedraggled during the dog days of summer. But place it correctly, contain its spread with barriers, and you will be rewarded with one of spring’s most captivating ground covers.
As likeable as the common lily-of-the-valley may be, there are less aggressive but charming cultivars that will add additional sparkle and dimension to your garden. Worth seeking out are ‘Albomarginata’ with white-edged leaves, ‘Albostriata’ with cream striping or ‘Aureovariegata’ with yellow. But for me, the less invasive ‘Rosea’ spreading slowly in front of blooming azaleas can totally upstage them, especially when you realize that its flowers are pink.
For some of the cutest ground covers, try hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum cvs.) and stonecrop (Sedum spp). With succulent rosettes available in a painter’s palette of colors or covered with cobweb-like hairs and in a variety of sizes, it’s no wonder that hens-and-chicks are the ubiquitous choice for any gardener with a hot, free-draining spot of soil to fill.
Plants spread when the large rosette in the center (hen) produces offsets at the end of runners (chicks). Baby chicks can be plucked off and planted separately where they will quickly root and produce their own colonies.
Three exceptionally gorgeous sedums, part of the SunSparkler series that tolerates cold as well as heat, are ‘Lime Zinger’ (with bright lime-green leaves edged in cherry-red and pink blossoms), ‘Dazzleberry’ (with unusual smoky-blue foliage and giant raspberry-red flowerheads) and ‘Cherry Tart’ (with small, rounded cerise-red toned leaves and deep pink blooms). Butterfly magnets when in bloom, these deer-resistant plants are just under 6 inches high but quickly fill in an area up to 18 inches wide.
Sunsparkler sedum 'Lime Zinger'
SunSparkler sedum 'Dazzleberry'
If you want a colorful, low-maintenance, long-blooming ground-hugging mat of rounded leaves, look no further than blue star creeper (Isotoma fluviatilis). Compact, 3-inch tall deciduous clumps spread carpets of sky-blue flowers between stepping-stones or bare ground. A deciduous plant that tolerates rather heavy foot traffic, it needs well-drained moist soil.
Blue star creeper
Thyme (Thymus spp.) plants are an immense family, known as much for their culinary properties as ornamental ones. The low-growing, spreading thymes are fabulous ground covers in spots where plants receive only light foot traffic. (Many are incredibly difficult to tell apart without the benefit of a label.) Planted in well draining soil, the 2-inch tall creeping thyme (T. praecox) forms wonderfully thick mats of dark green leaves bearing rounded carpets of pale to dark lavender flowers in summer. Other T. praecox cultivars bloom in white and shades of rosy pink.
Just remember, a flourishing ground cover planting depends not only on careful selection of plant material, but also on proper cultural practices. Selecting the right plant for the right place is the most important step in achieving success.
A version of this article appeared in print in Chicagoland Gardening January/February 2016.
Photography courtesy of Betty Earl, SunSparkler sedums, and Stepables.
Ask any gardener what grows really well in your garden, and you may get an answer you don’t want to hear: POISON IVY. Unfortunately, it thrives in just about any environment.
Poison ivy manages to grow anywhere – on islands, marshy areas, and forests. Sand, good soil, or among acidic pine needles, poison ivy grows. Worst of all it grows in sun or shade, climbing up, over and around most everything.
Gardening books hardly ever mention poison ivy, not even as a warning to be aware when walking or weeding. No one wants to admit it is everywhere. Poison ivy popping up in a private garden is like, well, – mum’s the word.
Poison ivy is contagious by touching leaves or stems, petting an animal in contact with it, and from smoke where brush with poison ivy in it is being burned. If I inadvertently pull some up, I go inside and wash my hands and arms thoroughly with Soft Scrub.
The above information just makes one itch. Many of us are highly allergic to poison ivy. Horrible itchy welts form with relief varying from Vitamin E and over the counter products to ammonia and ice cubes. If I get bad enough I call my doctor for a prescription of some sort. It is one that keeps me awake, yet does give some relief in two days.
To add insult to itch a new study has come out stating that poison ivy is thriving with global warming and harmful emissions.
Your mother was right when she told you, “Three leaves let it be.” Excellent advice.
A version of this article appeared in print in Florida Gardening Volume 20 Issue 2.
Photography courtesy of Gretchen F. Coyle.
Compact vegetable varieties produce a gourmet harvest in a small space.
With garden space and spare time at a premium for most families, gone are the huge backyard plots that once yielded all the vegetables a family could eat. After a move to the city in 2012, my own vegetable garden shrunk from a half acre in the country to a few raised beds. Nonetheless, I’m amazed at the large and varied harvest from my new, much smaller space these last two years.
‘On Deck Hybrid’ is billed as the first sweet corn variety developed especially for container gardening.
Success for me and other small-space gardeners is due in part to plant breeders, who have developed compact veggies to replace some of the space hogs of the past. Many of these new varieties are ideal candidates not only for small beds, but also for containers, which means you can grow a decent harvest even if you have no ground at all.
Take ‘Fairy Tale’, ‘Hansel’ and ‘Gretel’ eggplants, for example. All three of these petite, award-winning varieties produce prolific harvests on compact plants.
A host of small-fruited tomatoes such as ‘Tumbling Tom’ and ‘Red Robin’ make it possible to harvest your fill, even if your only growing space is a few hanging baskets or other small containers.
Sweet baby carrots like round ‘Atlas’ or short and stubby ‘Caracas Hybrid’ are a gourmet treat, perfect for growing in the shallow soil of a container.
Winter squash, a notorious spreader, is now possible to grow in a small garden bed, thanks to space-saving varieties, such as ‘Bush Delicato’ and ‘Early Butternut’.
There are several techniques that also help make today’s small-space gardens successful. Intensive planting works wonders. With no need to save wide rows between crops for the rototiller, you can bunch vegetable plants close together not only to reap a bigger harvest, but also crowd out weeds and conserve moisture. Instead of a single row of green beans, for example, I now plant four rows of seeds only 6 or 8 inches apart to completely fill the 4-foot width of one of my raised beds.
Rich, fertile soil is important when you’re gardening intensively, but fortunately it’s a lot easier to tend to soil building when space is limited. I was always short of homemade compost for my large country garden, but now I have a ready supply for my new raised beds and pots from one large outdoor compost bin, plus an indoor worm factory.
‘Mascotte’ bean produces plentiful, long-slender beans on compact plants.
Containers and Raised Beds
When growing vegetables in containers, I have the best luck with a mix of one-third compost and two-thirds quality potting soil. For the raised beds, we had a load of timber soil delivered. Water collected in a rain barrel attached to a downspout, fortified with regular additions of a liquid organic fertilizer, helps keep my plants healthy and productive.
Growing my veggies in raised beds and pots has solved what would otherwise have been a major problem: the walnut trees that ring my new back yard. Tomatoes and their relatives are particularly sensitive to the juglone that is produced by walnut roots. By growing these crops in soil that doesn’t come into contact with the trees’ roots, I avoid the possibility that my tomato plants will succumb to walnut wilt.
‘Astia’ zucchini is a non-rambling bush variety with glossy-green fruits.
Frequent Sowing and Good Companions
Companion planting and successive sowing keep all available space producing throughout the season. Radishes and broccoli raab are so quick to grow they don’t even need a space of their own. Just sow a few seeds of these cool-weather crops around slower growing summer crops, such as tomatoes and peppers, and they’ll be gone before the later crops need more space.
Leaf lettuce thrives in the partial shade of taller crops. When early crops, such as spinach and peas, languish in summer’s heat, rip out the spent plants and put in new crops, such as green beans and carrots, in the emptied space.
As autumn approaches, plant a second round of cool-season crops like lettuce, turnips and spinach to take the place of frost-sensitive tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.
‘Fanfare’ cucumber produces big fruits on a semi-dwarf plant.
Plants on the Up and Up
Vertical gardening is another good way to make the most of what garden space you have. Use trellises for crops such as peas, pole beans, cucumbers, melons and winter squash or let them climb a chain-link fence. Cage or stake tomatoes not only to save space, but also produce better fruits than possible from plants that are allowed to sprawl on the ground.
In tending my own small plot, I’ve discovered something else: I’m no longer distracted by quantity and can concentrate on quality. No more zucchinis that slip my notice until they’re as big as baseball bats, for example, and no more broccoli ruined by yellow flowers sprouting in the middle of the green heads.
‘Super Bush’ tomato is known for its high yields of heavy fruits with rich tomato flavor.
Best Space-Saving Varieties
Here’s a sampling of vegetables you can grow in a small plot or even in a container.
‘On Deck Hybrid’ sweet corn grows only 4 or 5 feet tall. Unlike most varieties, which require a large number of plants to achieve full ears, ‘On Deck Hybrid’ was bred for better cross-pollination when planted in relatively small quantities. W. Atlee Burpee & Co. recommends planting nine seeds in a 2-foot-wide container. Expect to harvest two to three ears per stalk. ‘Mascotte’ bean is a 2014 All-America Selection winner, which produces plentiful, long, slender pods on compact plants. The root system makes this variety ideal for growing in a container or window box, or for packing a lot of bush bean plants into a small garden bed. ‘Astia’ zucchiniis a French bush variety with non-rambling, compact vines. The harvest of glossy-green fruits begins early and keeps coming. ‘Fanfare’ cucumber produces 8- to 9-inch fruits on semi-dwarf plants. Grow them in a container on a trellis and you’ll be rewarded with a long season of fresh cucumbers in a very small space. This disease-resistant variety is a past All-America Selection. ‘Super Bush’ tomato produces high yields of heavy fruits that have a rich tomato flavor. The compact plants grow only 30-36 inches tall.
The harvest from a single sweetpotato plant completely fills a 24-inch pot with tuberous roots.
A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Jan RiggenBach, Renee’s Garden, W. Atlee Burpee & Co., and All-America Selections.
Here in the 21st century the idea of ecological or “green” gardening is nothing new. As gardeners we have a unique connection to ecology that leads many of us to desire to garden in ways that don’t harm the environment. Most of us approach using chemicals with at least some level of apprehension and concern about both environmental and human health. Scientific research is increasingly confirming suspicions that horticultural and agricultural chemicals are contributing to a wide array of concerns such as cancer, pollinator decline, and poor water quality. Still, much confusion remains about what going green in the garden entails and how practical it is, especially as we age and become less physically able.
The good news is that the biggest challenge in going green is a mental one. Going green won’t necessarily require you to do much differently physically, but it will require you to challenge some of your assumptions about gardening. The following is a list of six things you can do this year to make your garden healthier and more ecofriendly.
We can learn a lot by observing how natural ecosystems contain a wide variety of plants providing different roles and functions.
Most natural landscapes include a plethora of plant species interacting and filling different niches that support wildlife, like pollinators and birds, and environmental functionality, like fertile soils and clean water. The more plant species, especially native, that we bring into our gardens the more potential we have for a healthy ecosystem. Start by taking an inventory of the number and types of plant species you have and then make a list of beneficial plants you could add.
Take Back Your Lawn
The elephant in the room when it comes to a lack of plant diversity in most gardens is the lawn. Our obsession with golf course-like expanses comes with many ecological consequences. Poor water quality, toxic chemical exposure, air pollution, species decline, noise pollution, and habitat loss can all be attributed to the modern lawn. Take stock of how much you actually use your lawn, how it contributes to the design of your garden, and how much you spend to maintain it, and then consider ways to reduce your lawn and replace it with native grasses, flowers, and other beneficial plants. A lawn is essentially an artificially maintained pioneer or newly established ecosystem.
By bringing together many native and useful plants we can mimic natural systems and create beautiful gardens.
Native plants provide beauty, habitat, food, and ecological functionality in the landscape. By observing your local native plants you can begin to see the types of ecosystems you have in your area and the ways in which you can replicate them in your garden. Take an inventory of the origins of the plants you have. You may be surprised to find that you have few plants native to your region. Most states and regions have a native plant society or group that can help you learn about your native plants and the benefits they provide. Many nurseries are offering increasingly more native plants.
These days, organic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are readily available and provide good non-toxic alternatives. Use of organic products will increase the health of both you and your plants, and increase the long-term fertility of your gardens.
Raised beds like these can make gardening more accessible for those with limited mobility.
Grow Your Own
The ecological costs of our industrial-scale agricultural systems are numerous. By growing some of your own food you can help mitigate this situation and assure yourself that you are getting the freshest, tastiest, and healthiest food possible. As we grow older and/or have more limited mobility, it can be challenging to continue to grow food. One of the biggest challenges is being able to work on the ground. Using raised beds or taller containers can help alleviate this problem and make your plants more accessible.
Composting is an easy way to make your gardening more sustainable and reduce waste.
Every day good compostable material is dumped into landfills. You can reduce your need for fertilizers and mulch and reduce your contribution to your community’s waste stream by composting your food scraps. You don’t need a fancy bin or to invest much money into the process. A simple well-built pile only requires a small space in a shady part of your property. For urban dwellers or those with limited mobility, a worm bin can provide a good alternative to make use of your compostable materials.
The environmental legacy of our gardening and landscaping can be one of restoration, protection, and health or one of species extinction, toxic chemical pollutants, and illness. It is up to each of us as gardeners, landscapers, and consumers to decide what kind of legacy we will leave. These six simple steps are a good way to make your garden more ecologically friendly and with some little personal tweaks it can be something you can sustain for a lifetime.
A version of this article appeared in a March 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Adam Sarmiento.
In my opinion, ornamental flowering crabapples are the No.1, small-scale ornamental trees for us here in the Midwest. There is no other tree that gives us so much beauty and interest throughout every season. Ornamental flowering crabapples adorn our gardens with fluffy clouds of white, pink or red flowers in spring, a variety of interesting forms from upright columns and full rounded trees to graceful weepers in summer, rich yellow, gold and orange fall color and brilliant yellow, orange or red jewel-like fruit in fall and winter.
‘Red Peacock’ is one of the very best of crabapples for its excellent disease resistance, which should be the first thing that anyone looks for in a good cultivar. It is resistant to the big five crabapple diseases: Apple scab, cedar-apple rust, fire blight, frog-eye leaf spot and powdery mildew.
Beyond that, it has beautiful white flowers and shiny, small, orange-red fruit that lasts all fall and winter and then in spring. Migrating birds, especially cedar waxwings, eat the trees clean, as they make their way back north. The form of the plant is quite nice, growing somewhat upright, when young. It spreads a bit with age, and exhibits a nice semi-weeping habit at maturity. A fully mature tree at 25 to 30 years will reach about 20-25 feet tall and about 20 feet wide, so it fits quite nicely into residential landscapes.
Flower Color: Coral-pink buds open to soft pink, then white ruffled flowers, 1 to 1 ¼ inch in diameter
Blooming Period: Early to mid-May
Fruit: Orange-red to red pomes, maturing in mid-October, 5/16 to 3/8 inch diameter
Leaves: Dark green, lance-shaped leaf turns yellow to gold in October. Excellent disease resistance.
Type: Small-scale ornamental, deciduous tree
Size: 20-25 feet tall by 20 feet wide
Exposure: Full sun
When to Plant: Bare-root in March or April; balled and burlap March through May, and again in October; or container from April through October
How to Plant: When planting container or bare-root stock, tease apart and spread out main roots and prune any circling roots. With balled and burlapped stock, remove at least top half of wire basket and burlap. With all, pay close attention to depth of planting. The root collar should be level or 1-2 inches above finished grade.
Soil: Best in average well-drained soils. Very drought-tolerant once established.
Watering: First growing season, slow soak with a tricking hose or low flow sprinkler to give about 1 inch per week, until plants are well established. In second and third seasons, water during drought.
When to Prune: Upon planting, prune only broken or diseased branches. Then, structurally prune after one season in the ground. Do major pruning during the dormant season and touch-up water sprouts and root suckers during the summer, as needed.
When to Fertilize: Manure or compost tea in spring if soils are impoverished. No fertilizer is recommended for average or fertile soils.
In Your Landscape: ‘Red Peacock’ flowering crabapple is the perfect tree to anchor a sunny space in your garden. Crabapples are great plants for insect pollinators, a good source of food for small mammals and more than 20 species of birds use them for their fruit, flowers and sap, as well as to nest in. Apparently they love crabapples as much as I do!?
For me, it all started with an unwanted pine tree. After the tree was cut down and the stump dug out, I was left with a fair-sized hole in the ground. Solution? Build a garden pond! Constructing your own garden pond is not difficult, but certain aspects of the job must be done precisely. Here are some guidelines that will help you avoid common mistakes and create the garden pond of your dreams.
First, take stock of the materials already in your landscape design. Do you have mostly natural stonework and gently curving paths? Or do you prefer masonry and straight lines? The final design of your pond should work with the rest of your landscape, or it will look out of place.
Second, consider the location with great care. Most aquatic and bog plants require full sun. Your pond should receive at least six, and preferably eight, hours of daily sunshine. It should be situated in a low-lying location. A pond at the summit of a hill looks completely out of place.
Third, decide if you want a water-circulation system, i.e., fountain, waterfall, filtration, etc. If so, the planning and design become far more complex. In my case, the pond has none of these features.
Most people start a garden pond with too many fish and too few plants, and expect it to remain limpid and unsullied all season long. For an unfiltered pond without water circulation, keep the focus on the plants. They are responsible for taking up nutrients that would otherwise feed algae and bacterial growth. My pond is about 1,500 gallons and is home to two large goldfish, Yin and Yang, year round. In summer, I add a dozen or so small tropical fish from the aquarium shop. The little fish feed on mosquito larvae and help keep the pond insect-free during the heat of summer, then die off with the arrival of winter freezes.
Step 1: It is crucial that the top edge of the pond be level around the entire circumference. Any small deviation will show up when the pond is filled. Installing a row of cinder blocks makes leveling easier than if attempted with soil alone.
Step2: Once the top rim is installed and dead level all around, terraces are constructed to support planting containers later. The pond should be at least 2 feet deep at its deepest point.
Step 3: Once the terraces are completed, with their supporting walls of dry-laid cinder block, the soil used to backfill is firmly compacted. It may be necessary to add more soil in some areas to completely fill the terraces. Low areas will forever trap debris
Step 4: Make sure the rubber liner you purchase is large enough, and allow for at least 1-2 feet of overlap at the top edge. Install underlayment fabric first, then the liner, filling with water to ensure a tight fit. This is best done on a warm, sunny day, when the liner will be more flexible.
Step5: When the pond is full and has settled for a few days, trim the liner and install copingstones around the upper edge. Complete any contouring of the surrounding area at this point, and the pond and its environs are ready for plants.
Step 6: Enjoy! By late spring the plants are thriving and the pond reflects a perfect blue sky.
A version of this article appeared in a March 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of John Tullock.
‘Perpetua’ blueberry is a delicious way to add four-season interest to your garden.
Gardening in 2016 should be inspirational and eclectic and fun! What better plant to add to your garden than one that exhibits four seasons of interest and produces fruit for your cereal bowl! No more boring gardens stuffed with static plants that are not earning their keep – plant a new blueberry to spice it up.
‘Perpetua’ – introduced by Fall Creek Farm & Nursery – is a double-cropping blueberry, meaning that it flowers and produces fruit two times a year – once in spring at the traditional time and again in fall when canning the fruits of the garden and jam making is underway. Berries are small and sweet and produced on 4-5-foot branches, which is the perfect height for easy picking of the harvest. As with all plants in the Ericaceae (heath) family, acidic, well-drained but moist organic-rich soils are best. Full sun is required for best flowering and fruit production. To add to the ornamental charm of this plant, new growth is bright yellow with red stems in winter. Leaves are dark green, curly and shiny in summer and turn to red in autumn. Look for this new introduction and others in the BrazelBerries® series this spring in your local garden center retailer.
Common Name: Perpetua blueberry
Botanical Name:Vaccinium corymbosum ‘Perpetua’
Blooming Period: Two seasons of bloom –spring and late summer
Type: Deciduous shrub
Size: 4-5 feet in height with upright vase shape
Exposure: Full sun
Hardiness Zone: 4-8
When to Plant: Plant in spring or fall
Soil: Acidic soils
Watering: Requires well-drained soil with even amounts of moisture to produce best fruit.
When to Fertilize: Fertilize with acidic fertilizer, such as those formulated for azaleas/Rhododendron.
In Your Landscape: Add to the vegetable garden or shrub border as a fruiting plant with four season of interest.
A version of this article appeared in print in Carolina Gardener Volume 28 Issue 2.
Photography courtesy of Fall Creek Farm & Nursery, Inc./Brazelberries.
‘Blue Glow’ agave shows off its colors when backlit by the sun.
If you’re a fan of plants that provide beautiful structure all year long, you will love ‘Blue Glow’ agave. This is a fairly diminutive agave hybrid, growing into a neat, 2-foot-wide rosette that doesn’t pup (grow baby plants around the mother plant). The bluish green leaves are edged with red, with an inner rib of yellow that glows when backlit by the sun. The leaves have barely detectable spines with a small, sharp terminal point.
This tough plant looks best when used as a focal point in a container or when grouped with two more ‘Blue Glow’ agaves in the ground. It will complement just about any garden style. In my informal garden, ‘Blue Glow’ emerged unscathed from January’s polar vortex!
‘Blue Glow’ makes a nice focal point in a container.
Common Name: ‘Blue Glow’ agave
Botanical Name: Agave ‘Blue Glow’, a hybrid of A. ocahui x A. attenuata
Zone(s): 8-11; most sources say it is winter hardy to 20-25 F.
Color: Bluish green with red margins and a hint of yellow
Blooming Period: Will bloom once every 15 years or so, dying after blooming but leaving rosettes nearby.
Mature Size: 24 inches wide by 18 inches tall
Exposure: Full sun to part shade; I recommend morning sun.
When to Plant: In containers anytime, outdoors in spring
How to Plant: Space 18-24 inches apart or singly in a container.
Soil: Very well drained; amend clay soil with grit or gravel.
Watering: Very drought tolerant but appreciates some water in our hot summers.
When to Fertilize: Not really necessary, but diluted fish emulsion in the summer is appreciated.
In Your Landscape: Use ‘Blue Glow’ as a focal point or grouped with other architectural plants.
A version of this article appeared in print in Florida Gardening Volume 20 Issue 1.
Photography courtesy of Jean McWeeney.
Ants are good guys in the garden, but bad guys in the house. Learn more about these colony-dwelling insects.
Whether it is a lone ant wandering the countertop or a column on a mission, an ant invasion can be unnerving. Landscaping with organic mulches, movement away from broadcast applications of lawn insecticides and recent mild winters seem to have increased the encounters with these unwelcome visitors.
Although ants seldom cause serious damage to home lawns, black field ants may construct unsightly soil mounds.
Ants are Number One
Even though ants primarily live outdoors, they are now the number one indoor pest, displacing cockroaches. Ants are social insects living in colonies usually located near house foundations, and in yards and gardens. When ant workers forage for food for the colony, they often enter houses becoming a nuisance by contaminating food. They are also conspicuous when winged individuals, called swarmers, leave the nest to mate and start new colonies.
Ants invade homes in search of food, moisture and shelter. They are attracted to all foods, especially sweets and grease. Not all food sources are inside, as some ants satisfy their needs by feeding on the sweet honeydew secreted by aphids, scale, mealy bugs and other insects on landscape trees and shrubs.
Common Ants in the Midwest
Several kinds of ants commonly occur in and around homes ranging from the small pavement ant and odorous house ants, to the much larger black field and carpenter ants.
Ant workers, like these odorous house ants, lay down chemical trails as they forage that help direct others to discovered sources of food and water.
The pavement ant is noted for its nest of mounded soil found in pavement cracks, along curb edges and driveways. Pavement ants may forage in the home throughout the year, feeding on most types of food. In winter, nests may be found inside near a heat source, even crawling through ductwork voids.
Odorous house ants can be easily identified because they give off a coconut-like odor when crushed. They nest in mulch, firewood, beneath stones, patio blocks and even in flower pots. Outdoors they especially feed on honeydew secreted by aphids and other insects. Heavy mulch adjacent to foundations has been associated with increased problems with odorous house ants.
Black field ants and carpenter ants are the largest ants found in the Midwest. Black field ants are primarily found in lawns, where they push up large soil mounds, causing unsightly areas and dulling mower blades. Carpenter ants, as the name implies, excavate wood softened by moisture or rot. Unlike termites, they do not eat wood, but remove it to make their nest, sometimes causing structural damage. Piles of sawdust can be telltale signs of a carpenter ant infestation. Correction of high-moisture conditions such as leaking roofs, loose chimney flashing and rotting window sills should be the first step in carpenter ant management. After replacing infested or damaged wood, make a perimeter insecticide spray to protect the home from re-invasion. Since carpenter ants may nest in stumps and firewood, provide a 50-foot buffer for these from the house. Carpenter ants are often accused of killing trees, but likely they have taken advantage of nesting in already rotting wood killed from other causes.
Household Ant Management
A multi-faceted approach is needed for satisfactory ant management. In most cases, ant identification is not needed. The first step is to eliminate sources of food and water attractive to ants. Keep kitchen counters and floors clean and food sealed. Look for other food sources such as garbage “juice” associated with trash cans, and spilled pet food. Dripping faucets and pipes with condensation can be important water sources for invading ants.
Liquid ant bait is commonly the most effective treatment for colony control, but the ant “storming” phase must be tolerated for a few days, especially if the bait is used indoors.
Spraying the foraging ants that you see may bring temporary relief, but it often fails to provide long-term, effective control. The workers you see are just a small portion of the overall colony. It is important to eliminate the entire colony for satisfactory control. The most effective approach is to use a bait. Liquid baits seem to be the most appealing to ants. Baits contain only a small amount of insecticide. The ants feed on the bait and take it back to the colony where the slow-acting toxin is shared with the rest of the colony. Place bait directly on the ant trails away from children and pets, and replenish it often. Avoid any perimeter sprays near baits, as these sprays may deter ants from visiting.
Once bait foraging activity subsides, try to determine where the ants might be entering the home. Apply a protective “barrier” around your home by spraying an insecticide up and around the foundation, especially targeting entry points like utility lines and pipes. These sprays will also control other occasional invaders like spiders and cockroaches. Be sure to control honeydew-producing insects on ornamental trees and shrubs.
On an everyday basis, ants go unnoticed while they live outdoors. However, when they invade our humble abodes, they are no longer out of sight, but are a call for action. Don’t panic and take the action!
Is It a Winged Termite Or an Ant?
There are several kinds of ants that may live in and around homes. For most of their lives, both ants and termites are wingless, but they can certainly be confused when their winged stages swarm to start new colonies. Ants can be easily distinguished from termites by several traits, but a hand lens might be needed:
• Ant bodies are hour-glass-shaped (pinched at the waist); termites have thick bodies.
• Ants have elbowed antennae; termites have straight, bead-like antennae.
• Ant wings are clear or brownish; termite wings are milky-white or grayish and longer than the body.
• Although ants are a nuisance, they are far less damaging than termites.
A version of this article appeared in an March/April 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Douglas Spilker, Gary Graness, and Reiner Pospischil.
Fire ants. Just hearing the words will make most Southern gardeners anxiously check their shoes and the ground where they are standing. These non-native stinging ants are established in portions of 12 southeastern states, and six of these states – Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina – have fire ants from border to border.
A large fire ant mound can contain more than 200,000 workers. That’s a lot of potential stings!
Fire ants prefer treeless grassy areas such as pastures, roadsides, parks and lawns, and densities can reach 50 to 200 mounds per acre in areas where they are not controlled. Fire ant mounds are unsightly, but it is their stings that make them so notorious. Unlike honeybees, fire ants do not have barbs on their stingers, and this means they can sting more than once. A single fire ant sting is painful, but unsuspecting gardeners sometimes sustain dozens or even hundreds of stings as a result of unknowingly stepping in a fire ant mound. The raised white pustules that result usually persist for about a week.
Fire ants reproduce by swarming. Winged male and female fire ants emerge from mounds, fly hundreds of feet into the air, find one another and mate. During this time wind currents can carry these airborne ants several miles. Mated females fall to the ground, shed their wings, and attempt to start a new colony. It takes several months for such a colony to grow large enough to be visible above the grass. Swarming can occur any time of the year, but is most common during warmer months.
The granule of fire ant bait this worker is carrying contains a slow-acting ingredient that does not kill immediately, giving her time to carry the bait back to the mound and share it with other ants.
These brief notes on fire ant biology help answer two of the most common questions about fire ant control. Why do they keep coming back? Because even if you kill every fire ant in the yard, newly mated queens are constantly dropping out of the sky to start new colonies. Why is it that when I kill one mound two or three more pop up to take its place? Because for every large mound you can see, there may be a dozen or more young colonies that are not yet large enough to be seen. Eliminate the foraging competition from the large mound and these small colonies grow faster. This is why attempting to control fire ants by only treating mounds you can see usually produces less than satisfactory results. It’s a lot like playing whack-a-mole.
So what’s the key to successful fire ant control? One of the most effective ways to control fire ants is to hit them with a one-two punch. Use granular fire ant baits as the foundation of your fire ant control program and keep a can of one of the dry fire ant mound treatment products on hand to spot-treat mounds that survive the bait treatments. When used properly, baits will give around 80 to 90 percent control, leaving a lot fewer mounds to spot treat than if you rely on mound treatments alone.
A small, hand-held spreader is the best tool for spreading granular fire ant baits. Application rates are low; you will probably need to use one of the lowest settings.
Granular fire ant baits contain slow-acting insecticides or insect growth regulators that disrupt development of the immature fire ants, active ingredients such as hydramethylnon, methoprene, pyriproxyfen, spinosad or indoxacarb. The key to using baits successfully is to spread them over the entire yard, rather than sprinkling them on top of individual mounds. Application rates are low, only around 1-1.5 pounds per acre, which is only a fraction of an ounce per 1,000 square feet. Foraging worker ants will collect the granules, carry them back to the mound, and feed them to the immature ants. Ultimately, the bait will be spread to all the ants in the colony. It can take two to six weeks to begin seeing control from a fire ant bait treatment, but the end results are devastating to fire ants. The other key to using baits successfully is to apply them preventively about three times per year: spring, summer and fall. Don’t wait until you start seeing more fire ant mounds in your yard to apply that next bait treatment. Remember big fire ant mounds start with a single queen and a few workers, and these young colonies are not readily visible. One of the reasons baits work so well is that they kill the small colonies that are just getting started, as well as the larger colonies.
Dry mound treatments contain active ingredients like acephate, beta-cyfluthrin or deltamethrin. Products containing acephate smell really bad, but they are more effective and work faster than the less odorous products. These treatments are applied directly to the mound; just sprinkle the specified amount evenly over the top of the mound and walk away. Depending on which product you use, it takes a couple of days to a week or so for the mound to die out. For mounds that need to be controlled immediately use a liquid drench containing an active ingredient like carbaryl or permethrin. Dilute in water as indicated on the label and pour the drench over the mound. Liquid drenches kill quickly, but are more messy and time-consuming than dry mound treatments. The key to success with drenches is to use enough liquid to thoroughly soak the mound, about 1-2 gallons.
Your local county extension office can provide more information on fire ants and how to control them, including more detailed information on how to use liquid mound drenches and other effective control methods not discussed here. Fire ants are persistent pests and gardeners must be equally persistent to achieve and maintain acceptable control. But if you learn to use fire ant baits properly and supplement them with individual mound treatments, then yes, you can control fire ants.
Knock Out Fire Ants with a One-Two Punch
1. Use a hand-held spreader to spread granular fire ant bait over your yard three times per year. Use the holidays: Easter, Independence Day, and Labor Day to remind you it is time to apply fire ant bait.
2. Keep a can of one of the dry fire ant mound treatments handy to spot treat mounds that escape the bait treatments.
A version of this article appeared in an April 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Azaleas with variegated or boldly striped flowers like the Glenn Dale azalea ‘Cinderella’ should be planted in locations where people can admire their intricate patterns up close.
Azaleas are more than a harbinger of spring. All across the Southeast, masses of red, white, pink and purple azaleas boldly proclaim that the season has arrived. Many people think azaleas come in just four colors, and some may even criticize their use as commonplace. Discriminating gardeners know better. This article cannot possibly discuss everything about azaleas, but it may foster an appreciation for their amazing diversity while providing some practical advice.
All azaleas are really rhododendrons, and fall into two general categories: evergreen or deciduous. Evergreen azaleas are very common in American gardens but they are not native plants. They all originated in western Asia, primarily Japan and China. North America is home to 17 native azalea species and they are all deciduous shrubs. Surprisingly, most are native to the Southeast! Admired in Europe since the 1800s, they have been woefully underrepresented in our gardens.
In the author’s garden, a 40-year old planting of cream and yellow deciduous azalea hybrids grow tall behind the lower growing white evergreen Glenn Dale azalea ‘Glacier’.
Many azaleas bloom so profusely that the foliage can be completely obscured. That does pose some special landscaping problems. With well over 6,000 named cultivars, designers are often unfamiliar with new varieties but must select colors that will harmonize with other landscape features. Brilliant azaleas attract attention but they can be overpowering at times. They can clash with other colors but liberal use of white can help alleviate design problems. Delicate pastel shades are more forgiving. Azaleas transplant easily, so mistakes are easily corrected with a shovel.
In large landscape plantings, masses of the same azalea variety give the best effect when viewed from a distance. When mature, those plants will grow together creating a single mass appropriate to the scale. Patchworks of mixed colors can be effective in small alcoves.
Subtle flower features like stripes, blotches, multicolored sports, or blossoms with contrasting borders are best appreciated up close. Double and ruffled azaleas or those with unusual flower forms like ‘Koromo Shikibu’ and ‘Wagner’s White Spider’ with their strap-like petals deserve that same close admiration.
Many azaleas are fragrant, and perfect for intimate garden spaces. Every garden should have at least one ‘My Mary’, a very fragrant yellow native azalea hybrid.
For many of us, no man-made garden can possibly compare to the beauty of our native azaleas as they occur in the wild. Early plant explorers considered them among the most impressive flowering plants yet known. Many of us agree, and make annual pilgrimages to the southern Appalachians to witness spectacles like the flowering of yellow, orange and red flame azaleas (Rhododendron calendulaceum), or the multi-colored native azalea stand on the top of Gregory Bald in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
In June, the native flame azaleas (Rhododendron calendulaceum) erupt into bloom along the Appalachian Trail in the Roan Highlands of North Carolina and Tennessee. Nature’s garden is beyond compare.
One rare red native species, R. prunifolium, flowers in July and August. Wild populations in Providence Canyon, Ga., seem unfazed by 100 F temperatures and it is the signature plant of Callaway Gardens. Not all native species are heat tolerant, but the “Maid in the Shade” series from Transplant Nursery and the Aromi hybrids make excellent alternatives.
Flowers only last a few weeks, so always consider a plant’s merits the rest of the year. Some azaleas may have dull foliage but others have very attractive leaves. The glossy, rounded leaves of ‘Glacier’ are legendary, but there are many standouts. Some azaleas have variegated foliage, and the leaves of others may turn dark burgundy during the winter, like a new introduction from Germany called ‘Maraschino’. Some leaves can be small, reminiscent of boxwood, but ‘Segai’ has long, narrow leaves that almost look like blades of grass.
With deciduous azaleas, leaf characteristics vary and many turn brilliant colors in the fall. Planting them among evergreens can disguise their bare winter branches.
This slow growing Satsuki azalea in the U.S. National Arboretum bonsai collection has been in training for over 30 years. The Japanese cultivar, ‘Kyoraku’, has small white flowers bordered in pink.
Large-growing varieties are perfect for screening, creating garden rooms, or providing a backdrop for wildflowers or perennials. The purple ‘Formosa’ and pale pink ‘George Lindley Taber’ are favorites in the South but may have difficulty in colder climates. Many Glenn Dale azaleas are hardier, like the bright pink ‘Dream’ that can easily reach 10 feet high and spread 25 feet across. Dwarf varieties like ‘Kazan’, ‘Sandra’s Dwarf White’, and slow-growing Satsuki azaleas make wonderful rock garden companions or bonsai subjects.
Azalea flowers can range from ½ to 5 inches across depending upon the cultivar. Members of the American Rhododendron Society in the Southeast Region selected a huge, pale lavender-pink developed by Dr. Sandra McDonald called ‘Venus’ Baby’ as their “2015 Azalea of the Year.” Rare cultivars and new releases are often hard to find unless one frequents plant society sales or specialty nurseries.
Re-blooming azaleas are very popular. Buddy Lee developed the Encore azaleas by crossing a Taiwanese species, R. oldhamii, with other azaleas. He has now introduced 29 hybrids, and recently released a double, dark red called Autumn Fire (‘Roblex’).
Planting an azalea in the right location is important, but requirements may differ depending upon the variety. In general, evergreen azaleas do best with dappled to high open shade. Plants can take more sun but the flowers do not last well. Salmon, coral, and orange red flowers are especially prone to sun damage. Evergreen azaleas grown in strong sun do become prone to an insect pest called lace bug. This small insect lives underneath the leaves and sucks out the chlorophyll leaving tiny white dots on the leaf surface. There are sprays to control lace bug, but they also kill beneficial insects that eat those pests.
Unusual flower forms deserve close scrutiny, like ‘Wagner’s White Spider’ (left) with its strap-like petals, or the fully double, ivory colored blossoms of ‘Secret Wish’ (right) that look almost like rose buds unfurling.
Deciduous azaleas require more sunlight than evergreen azaleas, at least three to four hours of direct sun daily to bloom well. In shade, they often survive but grow slowly and rarely bloom.
Azaleas prefer a moist, well-drained, acidic soil rich in organic matter. In heavy soils, consider planting in raised beds. When planting a container plant, break up the root ball to encourage roots to start growing into the surrounding soil. It helps the plant become established. Azaleas are very shallow rooted, so always set the plant at the same level or even slightly higher than the existing soil. Azaleas should be mulched well to maintain soil moisture.
Be careful with fertilizer since the amount azaleas can utilize depends upon light intensity. The stronger the sun, the more fertilizer a plant might need. It is better to apply two weak applications spaced far apart than risk burning delicate roots with excessive fertilizer. Fertilize after blooming, but avoid late summer or fall applications because plants don’t become dormant which can cause winter damage.
Heavy pruning should be done in late winter while plants are still dormant. Don’t remove more than one-third of the branches at a time since it can weaken the plant. General pruning to shape plants is done in the spring and early summer, but avoid pruning after mid-July since azaleas will be forming flower buds. Also avoid fall pruning since it encourages late season growth vulnerable to winter damage.
Try growing some unusual azaleas varieties this year, and find a place for a few native azaleas, too.
Mass plantings of ‘Formosa’ growing near the water’s edge at the Norfolk Botanical Garden provide a strong visual effect in proper scale to the vista.
With so many thousands of named azalea varieties, finding sources for new and rare plants is not always easy. The famous Glenn Dale azaleas were released by Ben Morrison, the first Director of the U.S. National Arboretum, starting in 1941. He eventually introduced 454 cultivars that he selected from the nearly 75,000 seedlings he raised in his breeding project. Nurseries were bewildered with so many choices, and some excellent varieties had very limited distribution. Morrison planted an additional 800 unnamed cultivars at the National Arboretum that he never introduced. They were also excellent selections, and some are arguably better than named forms. When the Arboretum considered removing them in 2011, public outrage saved the original plantings.
White dogwoods complement unnamed Glenn Dale azaleas on Mount Hamilton at the U.S. National Arboretum. Public outcry saved these azaleas from destruction in 2011 when there was talk of removing the original plantings.
The best sources for rare azaleas are specialty nurseries and plant society contacts. A list of commercial azalea sources can be found on the Azalea Society of America website. Many local chapters have public plant sales, but the rarest plants are usually offered at plant society conventions.
Azalea Society of America (ASA):
American Rhododendron Society (ARS): www.rhododendron.org
Little Gem Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)
- Video Transcript, Voiceover by Peter Gallagher, Ph.D.
Little Gem Magnolia, a cultivar of Magnolia grandiflora, is a great option for those more restricted spaces or smaller landscapes, where the traditional Southern Magnolia would be far too large. This cultivar normally reaches a height of only 15 to 20 feet with a spread of 10 to 15 feet. As such, this can fit quite nicely somewhat closer to the home or as part of a border planting along a fence or property line.
Little Gem is fairly tolerant of a wide range of soils, but does prefer a slightly acid, organic soil with a moderate soil moisture. It works well in semi-shaded to mostly sunny sites and is hardy through USDA zones 7-9. With a minimum of 0o Fahrenheit ]. The flowers are large, creamy white, and quite fragrant. Foliage is evergreen, leathery, and deep green on the upper surface with a golden brown pubescence on the underside.
'Gertrude Jekyll' is one of the first roses to start flowering in late spring. Glowing pink blooms are strongly scented, with the quintessential English rose fragrance. It grows to 5 feet tall by 3 1/2 feet wide, or 8-10 feet as a climber. It is hardy in USDA Zone 4.
Plant roses earlier this spring – plus, bring back the historic fragrance and romance of the old roses. Try mail-order bare-root English roses this season.
If you have had your fill of reliable, plain Jane, but popular shrub roses, allow me to introduce you to the English garden rose (Rosa hybrids). Once you’ve seen an English rose, you will easily recognize it.
Can you say exquisitely frilly? Can you say divinely fragrant? Can you say disease resistant? Can you say beautiful for fresh-flower arrangements? How about romantic roses with lots and lots of petals? Yes, those attributes all describe the English garden rose.
English roses can be grown as a standard or a tree form. ‘Winchester Cathedral’, an old rose heirloom, develops a buff center and has an almond and honey scent.
Personally, I’m really not a rose person. In fact, I generally shun thorny plants altogether. But, I do have a little, coral pink shrub rose called Lady Elsie Mae (Rosa ‘ANGelsie’) and a couple of Amber Flower Carpet roses. I had a red Knock Out (R. ‘Radrazz’), but I tore it out last year, mainly because I was tired of it.
Despite not being a rose person, I totally get why they are so popular, and I appreciate them, especially the reblooming shrub roses — they are low maintenance and somewhat disease resistant.
Last spring, I was sent a boxful of bare-root David Austin roses (davidaustinroses.com) to trial. There were more roses than I could plant in my small, mostly shady landscape, so I kept a few and donated others to Master Gardeners in the Midwest to try.
Why buy bare-root roses? Usually the selection is much greater. Most are purchased through online retailers, and are shipped at just the right time for planting. Bare-root roses (as well as other types) are grown on their own rootstock, or they are grafted onto a stronger rootstock. A rose with a bulge or joint atop the root stock is grafted. A rose growing on its own stock does not have the bulge.
“When planting, the fat joint where the stem meets the roots should be positioned at soil surface in warmer areas, or 2-3 inches below surface in Zones colder than USDA Zone 6,” said Michael Marriott, technical manager rosarian for David Austin Roses. For those who choose roses labeled “own root,” which are recommended for colder climates, position the juncture of the main stem and roots at ground level.
English rose 'Darcey Bussell' boasts fully double, deep crimson flowers with a fruity fragrance. A strong, reliable performer, it averages 3-4 feet tall and wide, making it a good candidate for growing in a summer container.
“I was reminded of too much spacing yesterday on the BBC’s ‘Gardeners’ World’ program, when somebody was showing off their roses and they were all planted much too far apart,” Marriott said. “How can people think that acres of bare soil are attractive? Especially, when it can so easily be filled with beautiful roses. And, of course, exposing the soil is the worst thing you can do to the health of the soil and so health of the roses. The most important (things) are careful selection of varieties and good soil preparation.”
‘Golden Celebration’ is a fragrant rose that gets about 4½ feet tall and wide. Hardy in USDA Zone 5.
When it comes to pruning, Marriott said we need not be too concerned about whether we cut at three leaflets or five leaflets. Just cut it back in spring, just as new growth begins, he said.
While American roses are bred for their low maintenance and reliability, English roses are bred for their beauty. Roses with 40 or more petals are classified as “very full” by the American Rose Society (rose.org), and nearly all English roses seem to have at least that many, but usually in the 60 to 100 petal range. The petal count is what gives the English roses that extra frilly look.
It helps to have a degree in English lit or history to know who the roses are named after. There’s ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’, ‘Jude the Obscure’, ‘A Shropshire Lad’, ‘Charles Darwin’, ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’, ‘Thomas a’ Becket’ and ‘Princess Anne’ to name a few. ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ is named for the famous garden designer and ‘Munstead Wood’ is named for her garden in Surry.
Will bare-root roses work for you? You won’t know until you try. Like a lot of woody plants, it may take a couple of years for the roses to become established and provide the flower power you want, said Linda Kimmel, district director of the Illinois-Indiana Rose Society. “The newer ones are more disease resistant. I think they follow the rule of ‘first year sleeper, second year creeper, third year leaper.’”
'The Generous Gardener' climber is a repeat-flowering rose; it also can be grown as a large, rounded shrub with arching stems. It gets about 5 feet tall.
At 4 feet tall and wide, the fragrant, repeat-blooming ‘Grace’ rose works well in a large container. Hardy in USDA Zone 5.
How to Use Roses in the Landscape
• As a hedge or to line a path. Be sure to leave plenty of room between pathways and passersby. Think of the heavenly fragrance of a rose hedge around the patio or deck, or in an area you pass on the way to the mailbox or the garage.
• As an anchor or specimen in a mixed border, with perennials and flowering shrubs.
• As a bed of roses or rose border. Select roses in the same color palette, such as pinks or reds, planted in groupings.
• In a summer container, especially roses that stay in the 4-foot-tall range or shorter. The rose can be the only plant in the pot, or it can have annuals or vines to flow over the edges.
• As a climber. Many shrub roses can be grown against a fence or trellis, even if the plant is not labeled as a climber.
'Charlotte' has upward-facing flowers with an open cup shape and a soft yellow hue, which mixes easily with other colors in the garden. It has a strong, tea rose fragrance. Hardy to USDA Zone 4, it grows to 4 feet tall by 3 feet wide.
Here, the fully-open fragrant flowers of 'The Generous Gardener' are set off beautifully by less mature buds and semi-open flowers. As the more advanced flowers fade, remove them to enjoy the still-maturing flowers.
Tips from Michael Marriott for Cutting Roses for the Vase
•Use sharp, clean snips, and cut the flowers early in the day when they are fully hydrated. Cut flowers that still have tight centers, but with outer petals opened. Select the longest, strongest stems.
•When in the garden, place cut roses immediately in a clean container filled with cool water.
•Once indoors, put the stems under water and snip off another inch.
•Remove lower leaves.
•Add enough cool water to nearly fill a clean vase. Arrange the stems so they are in the water.
Michael Marriott, technical manager rosarian at David Austin Roses, recommends planting the shrubs 2-3 feet apart to give the illusion of one large shrub.
•Add a flower preservative to the water, which Marriott says keeps bacteria growth at bay, improves water flow and helps flowers open and last longer.
•Place the vase in a cool place out of direct sunlight for the longest show.
•Replace the water every day or so to keep it fresh.
•Every few days, lift the flowers from the vase to snip off an inch or so from the stems so they can continue to take up water.
A version of this article appeared in a January/February 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of davidaustinroses.com
Lasagna gardening is a no-dig, no-spray way to start a garden
- Perhaps you should plant to try one this spring.
The first time someone called my office to ask about lasagna gardens, I was certain that they were trying to pull a fast one on me. I’d seen all the April Fools articles about marshmallow bushes and spaghetti trees, and I thought this was another gag. Turns out, though, this is a seriously neat way to start a new garden area without needing to dig up the existing sod or spraying herbicides to kill it.
Lasagna gardening is also known as “sheet composting,” “sheet mulching,” or “no-dig garden beds.” This uncomplicated and easy gardening method is appropriate for everyone (including people who may be physically limited or unable to dig traditional garden beds). It’s also a good way to convert grassy areas to gardens without using herbicides or tillers. The sod is left in place, where it gets converted into soil organic matter. The process can be done at any time and at any scale, even piecemeal as materials are available.
There are several benefits of lasagna gardening over composting. First, you don’t need to buy or build bins, although some gardeners do use lumber or bricks to make a short raised bed and prevent the layers from spilling out. Also, there is no turning or aerating of the pile needed. Earthworms will work their way up through the wet cardboard and materials, and will aerate the bed for you.
Lasagna gardens, over time, create a high-quality soil without any of the drawbacks of tilling the garden. Tilling the soil can bring weed seeds to the surface, increasing your weed problems. If you are gardening on a slope, soil erosion is a concern. Over-tilling (often done with mini-tillers between the rows as a weed-control chore) can break down soil structure, and affect the levels of beneficial bacteria, fungi and earthworms.
The lasagna garden is built up from layers of brown and green organic matter.
Where and When to Start
Lasagna gardens are normally built several months before it’s time to plant to give the materials time to decompose. However, for those of you who want to build one and plant this spring, I’ll include a tip to do that successfully toward the end of this article.
Start by planning where you want to place this garden. A lasagna garden is not the most attractive thing you’ll see in your landscape, so most gardeners tend to hide these in corners. Be sure, however, that the site is conducive to whatever you’re growing (full sun for vegetables for example). Avoid installing the bed over tree roots, septic fields or other utilities.
The bed should be no wider than 4 feet. This way, you can reach the center from either side for planting or harvesting. The lasagna garden will be extremely loose and fluffy, and any walking on it will compress the material and decrease its usefulness.
The first layer of the lasagna garden should be corrugated cardboard. Large boxes from refrigerators or other appliances are ideal, but even smaller pieces can be used if they are overlapped. This layer blocks light from reaching the soil, preventing weed seedlings from penetrating. It also serves as a carbon source. If you can’t get cardboard, use six to 10 sheets of newspaper, being sure to overlap the edges by 4 to 6 inches.
The cardboard needs to be moistened before laying it down; however, hosing down a sheet of cardboard rarely works well, as the water just runs off. Experienced gardeners tell me that filling a barrel or even a wheelbarrow with water and letting the cardboard soak in there will allow the water to penetrate.
Green organic matter can include garden waste, such as these chopped sweetpotato vines.
Next, place a layer of nitrogen-rich “green” yard waste, like grass clippings or fresh vegetable peelings. Compost or rotted manure can also be used. On top of this add a layer of carbon-rich “brown” material, such as dry leaves, sawdust, or straw; you can even use shredded paper, if you have access to large amounts of it. Each layer should be about 3 to 4 inches thick. Continue alternating layers until the bed is as tall as you desire (usually between 18 and 36 inches thick). Be sure to moisten down each layer with your garden hose to encourage decomposition.
Collect roughly twice as much brown organic matter as green organic matter.
When the bed is as high as you want, cover it with burlap, bark chips or sheets of plastic. This will keep the heat in, allowing decomposition to work faster. It also helps prevent the ingredients from blowing around the yard. Even with the covering, lasagna gardening is considered a “cold” decomposition process. The seed-killing temperatures we seek in compost piles (130 to 160 F) won’t be reached in sheet composting. This means you need to be extra careful not to include weeds that have gone to seed when adding to your green layers.
Another item to avoid is any meat scraps, bones, grease or other animal products. As with standard compost piles, these materials draw rats and other vermin, and can become rancid and produce foul odors.
Normally, it would take about six months for this material to decompose well enough to plant in. For gardeners who wish to plant into the lasagna garden immediately, they can add a 2- to 3-inch layer of topsoil mixed with compost as the uppermost layer. Again, since we’re not going to build up high temperatures as we would with a larger compost pile, there should be little risk to young seedlings.
Plant It Up
To plant into the bed, make a planting hole by pulling the layers apart with your hands. Set the plant in the hole, pull the materials back around the roots, and water thoroughly. If you want to plant seeds, spread fine compost or damp peat moss where the seeds are to go. Set the seeds on the surface and sift more fine material to cover them.
Spinach and radish plants thrive in a lasagna garden.
Over the course of the gardening season, the bed will shrink in height as the various materials decompose. This is expected, and is not a big problem. In the fall, rebuild the bed with alternating layers of “greens” and “browns,” and let it decompose over the winter. Be aware, though, that as the various layers break down, there will be temporary deficiencies of mineral nutrients, so be prepared to side-dress your crops with garden fertilizer several times during the season.
Many gardeners will stockpile the raw “ingredients” of their lasagna garden during the off-season, so they don’t have to scramble for it when they’re ready to build the next section. Cardboard can be unfolded and stored flat in a garage or shed. Newspaper can be stacked and tied into neat, easily handled bundles. Dried leaves can be shredded with a lawnmower and stored in yard bags. During the winter, vegetable peelings and other kitchen scraps can be stored in airtight containers outside where it can freeze, but not be accessible to raccoons, rats and other vermin.
I hope you try lasagna gardening this year. Drop us a line and tell us how it worked!
A version of this article appeared in print in Indiana Gardening Volume VI Issue 2.
Photography by Patrick Byers.
Kerry Heafner profiles the loquat (Eriobotrya japonica). Watch as he tells us all about this underused fruit tree that makes an excellent (and delicious) addition to the landscape.
Plant Profile: Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica)
- Video Transcript, Plant Profile by Kerry Heafner.
Home orchards are becoming more and more popular and as folks look for plants that not only produce fruit. They're also looking for plants that are attractive in the landscape.
Loquats are native of Asia, they’re also called Japanese plum but their in the Rose family like plums, pears, and apples, and a lot of other popular fruit. And as you can see from these specimens they can get quite tall of 20 or 30 feet even, or you can keep them pruned down to a moderate height.
Loquats have large leathery leaves that look almost old timey or heirloom like and they’re evergreen so you'll have attractive foliage year round.
Now Loquats are unique among fruit trees here in North America anyway because they flower in the wintertime. Fruit production will occur in late winter or early spring and if the winters are mild enough so pollinators can get to the flowers, when fruit production starts you'll see ripening that will transition from these green little oval shaped fruit, all the way up to these plump yellowish orange fruits that have been described as having taste that range from peach like or banana like or a combination of the two. Either way they're delicious and try them and see for yourself.
Loquat is a perfect example of a plant that can be used for fruit production but also fits into just about any landscape. In this formal situation this specimen is being grown more or less in an espalier type pattern. It's been pruned to fit up against this brick wall and even though it's a little shady here for good fruit production (which you would want full sun for), it fits right in with its large leathery foliage, with other types of shrubs used in a formal situation. Like these sasanqua camellias that line the wall going down the street.
Any well-stocked garden center will have loquat trees available, but if you can find someone with a fully mature tree that's produced fruit and the fruit has produced seeds, then you can propagate some. The fruit have one to several seeds that are about the size of coffee beans and this can be germinated right away and with seeds you get new combinations, maybe even a new variety.
Fully mature loquat trees will set a fruit crop, drop the fruit, and therefore drop the seeds. And when that happens, if we’re lucky, sometimes seedlings will germinate under this mother plant and we can take those seedlings and transplant them elsewhere.
Here are a few seedlings from this large specimen tree. Here's the seedling that's already two or three feet tall and then we have some smaller specimens right here in the ivy and even one out here in this ajuga. When they're this size you can transplant them into your home landscape.
Now here’s a seedling we just found under this large tree and the seed is still attached and there's a root system but it's not huge and this is the perfect size for transplanting into your home orchard or landscape. The roots won’t sustain a lot of damage and the stem is still sturdy enough that you can move the plant around.
So we’re just going to transplant this seedling into some prepared potting mix. I’m going to give the roots plenty of room to grow. And we’ll probably leave it in this pot for the first year and it will be ready to go into the landscape the second year.
So for something unique in your home orchard or landscape try loquats. For State-by-State Gardening, I'm Kerry Heafner.
“Wow, that centerpiece looks good enough to be in a magazine. I wish I could put together something half that beautiful. I usually just plop some hydrangeas in a vase – pretty, but totally unimaginative.” That's what I said to my friend and talented designer, Trace, last spring. It was late February, when buds are swollen on bare branches and hyacinth flowers are only a promise, and I loved how the centerpiece celebrated that feeling of anticipation. Trace replied, “Thanks. It’s not that hard; I could teach you.” Thus began my yearlong training, learning how to create impressive centerpieces and tablescapes for every season.
My first lesson began immediately as Trace discussed this spring-themed centerpiece. “I got the idea when I saw those spectacular lichen- and moss-encrusted logs on the side of the road. The different heights add a sense of movement and excitement to the centerpiece. Place the items casually, as you would see them outside, and continue the outdoor theme by using rustic place mats and simple napkins and dishes.” Most of the items came from outside his door. The hyacinth bulbs and the peat pots were the only purchased items for a total cost of just $10. The first version of this centerpiece included old bird nests collected from a fencerow, but when a bunch of baby spiders started crawling out, the nests were quickly replaced with twine balls.
Recreate your own: Start by arranging interesting logs cut to various lengths. Add young bulbs and peat pots full of spring blossoms. Trace used hyacinth bulbs and Bradford pear flowers, but daffodils and cherry would work equally well. Use what you have. Tuck small branches, pinecones and moss along the edges.
In mid-May, Trace fashioned this stunning centerpiece using flowers cut from my garden. He gave me some pointers while he worked. “Look at what you group together in the garden. If they complement each other there, they’ll look good in a vase. And play with the form of your vase; here I chose an antique cement urn to contrast with the relaxed arrangement of the flowers. I also like how it looks on this concrete table. You can’t go wrong when you match materials; wood on wood, glass on glass … it always works.”
Early summer arrangement
Recreate your own: Soak floral foam in water overnight and center it in the container. Casually arrange branches of native mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia). Cut the lavender blooms of false indigo (Baptisia spp.) slightly longer and add them to the bouquet.
This centerpiece was amazing, and the pictures do not do it justice. However, when I try this on my own, I’ll do it on a much smaller scale, because it was the most time-consuming project of the year. Trace wanted to mimic a country roadside in the fall when the wildflowers make you want to pull the car over and take a walk. We each spent several hours cutting long stems of goldenrod (Solidago spp.), Liatris and asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae); then Trace spent another hour adjusting the lengths and arranging.
Fall wildflower centerpiece
Recreate your own: Laws and ordinances regarding picking roadside flowers vary from state to state, and we’re not suggesting illegal activity, but if you live in an area that allows it, cut what you see. Be a good gardener, however, and don’t weaken a plant by over-cutting. Use an informal container such as this dough bowl, which is lined with plastic wrap and aluminum foil to protect it from the floral foam. Cover the foam with the shortest plants, the asters and grasses, and then add the longer stems of liatris and goldenrod. The trick is to use the same color combinations and height variations, and ideally the same plants that you would see on a ride in the country.
By fall, I knew a lot more about centerpieces, and Trace thought it was time I learned how a centerpiece for a dinner party differs from other centerpieces. He charged tuition for this class – a big pot of chili. “It’s important to keep the arrangement low. There’s nothing worse than having to play peek-a-boo around a tall centerpiece when you want to talk to someone across the table. Keep it narrow so guests don’t feel crowded, and make sure the food is the only fragrant thing on the table. Don’t let anything compete with the centerpiece; it needs to look good with everything else on the table: the dishes, the napkins, the china, the linens … everything.” He used four different, yet similar, china patterns, and when he ran out of placemats, he fashioned his own using grapevine left over from the centerpiece. It was a relaxed gathering and the centerpiece matched the mood.
Fall formal centerpiece
Recreate your own: A crowd of pumpkins with unique textures and colors serves as the backbone of this centerpiece. Varieties such as ‘Rouge Vif d’Etampes’, ‘Galeuse d’Eysines’, the bluish gray ‘Jarrahdale’, or ‘Musquee de Provence’ are good candidates. Or use interesting squash such as ‘Fairy’, ‘Sweet Dumpling’, ‘Turban’ or ‘Potimarron’. Wind dried grapevines around the pumpkins; add red berries, groundsel tree flowers (Baccharis halimifolia) and Eleagnus foliage.
For this, the easiest of the centerpieces, Trace combined logs and branches into a minimalist piece of art, and then transitioned it for Christmas with a few simple additions. He says, “This is the most versatile of the arrangements we’ve done. An attention-grabber inside or out, I use arrangements like this by an entryway or as a fireplace accent.”
Arrangement for winter into holidays
Recreate your own: Hunt for interesting logs and branches then arrange them to suit the space. Absolutely anything, from a large glass vase to an old galvanized bucket, works as a container. Alternatively, you can skip the container completely and just tie the bundle with a natural twine or a strip of burlap.
At Christmas, the everything-must-work-together rule was expanded from just the tabletop to all the decorations. Repeated elements tie things together, but too much repetition is boring. Trace knows how to walk the fine line between the two. He started with a large Noble fir tree where glass ornaments mingle with more natural elements. I recognized the large twine balls from February’s centerpiece. They looked great on the tree, as did the grapevine from the fall centerpiece.
Magnolia leaves and Noble fir branches cut from the bottom of the tree are components of most of Trace’s decorations, but to varying degrees. The three outdoor centerpieces used Noble fir, Loropetalum and cedar, but they were mostly magnolia.
On the dining room table, it was just the opposite, mainly Noble fir with a bit of magnolia mixed in. And whereas outside, the foliage took center stage, naturally shed antlers were the unique focal point in the dining room centerpiece. My favorite Christmas decoration was the little fir tree topped with dried blooms of Hydrangea paniculata. Did you notice those peat pots tucked in the branches? They’re left over from the February centerpiece.
We asked our editor for an extension under the pretense that a New Year’s Eve centerpiece would be a great way to end the article. Actually, we just wanted an excuse for another party. It was a small gathering of good friends, and Trace’s centerpiece was bright and shiny to celebrate the New Year, and yet relaxed and simple to match the mood. I thought the lesson here might be that sometimes it’s OK to break the rules and use an even number of objects, but when I asked Trace about it, he replied, “Well, actually I spray painted five bottles. The last one was drying on the porch when I jumped in the shower. Then I got busy and totally forgot about it.” So the real lessons are start early and don’t worry if things aren’t perfect.
New Year's Eve centerpiece
Recreate your own: Look outside for interesting twigs, branches, roots or other items, and spray paint them metallic silver. If you don’t have mercury glass votives and vases, do what Trace did and make your own. Work outside if possible; you don’t want that smell lingering when guests arrive. Collect glass items and spray the interiors with mirror paint. While they are still wet, squirt with water and either dry upside down or lightly wipe. Use the same technique for the outside of the wine bottles. Arrange small bouquets of white roses and tulips in your hand, re-cut the stems and add the twigs. Create a dense arrangement by grouping things tightly.
I’m sad that my year of training with the master is over. Researching an article has never been so much fun. Hmmm … maybe next year Trace can teach me something else.
• Repeating elements from your centerpiece, create small, coordinating arrangements in bathrooms or tucked into bookshelves.
• Let fallen petals lie.
• Don’t skimp when you are cutting. It usually takes more than you think.
• Press beautiful leaves and use a paint pen to make unique place cards.
• Tie fresh rosemary around napkins to serve as a natural napkin ring.
• Just as you should always plant in odd numbers – 3, 5, 7 – always use odd numbers of elements.
A version of this article appeared in a March 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography by Peggy Hill and Monica Hill.
- Video Transcript, Demonsration by Kerry Heafner.
Crape Myrtles have been fixtures in the landscapes of homes in the United States since at least the 1700s. And more and more we’re seeing crape myrtle show up in the landscapes of urban settings as well and it stands to reason. They're hardy durable trees, they stand up to heat and humidity well and they tolerate a lot of air pollution and have relatively few pest compared to a lot of other ornamental trees. But they are trees and they do get tall and eventually, especially in an urban setting they start to interfere with the power lines, just like this one is doing right here.
This pruning technique leads to something we call crape murder. These plans have been cut off at about head high leaving the wounds open to all types of fungal and insect pest. So the question is how should a crape myrtle be pruned correctly? Today we're gonna look at how to correctly prune crape myrtles.
So crape myrtles are being used more and more in urban landscapes and what we see here is a line of them along this busy highway for beautification purposes. And they do need to be pruned, so let’s walk up here and watch some of our local master gardeners prune these crape myrtles.
So one of the first things we want to look for when we’re pruning on the inside, is any branches that are rubbing, and those will be the first ones pruned out typically. That’s just going to create problems later on as the tree grows and ages. So remove one of the two branches that are rubbing together and that will help open up the inside of the trunks.
What Jennifer is doing now is just trimming off any of these smaller limbs that the tree will put energy to in the spring time. But we’re more interested in the tree growing up right and out in forming a nice canopy. So a lot of these little limbs on the inside are going to get taken out.
You want to keep in mind the four D’s of pruning. Diseased, damaged, decay, and dead, and those are the branches you're going to cut out first.
This is last year's fruit and seed crop, and if we look at these capsules that are just about all of them are completely open. We might still find some of last year’s seeds. Well they’re not going to service the purpose for this year so we want to remove these off of the tree. With an older crape Myrtle like this specimen, we're gonna start with removing the suckers from around the base of it because they won't do anything but zap energy from the main trunks that we want to grow into the tree.
Now some of the final cuts you want to make on a more mature crate Myrtle are going to happen at the top. Maybe take about the first 6 or 8 inches off of the very top and you're good to go.
So now you have some basic tips for how to prune crape myrtles correctly and not committing crape murder. For State By State Gardening, I'm Kerry Heafner.
Two Dozen Cut Flowers You Must Grow in 2016 by Jean Starr
Ageratum ‘Blue Horizon’, Heuchera ‘Autumn Bride’, Hypericum inodorum and variegated Phlox spp. cool off the hot shades of Zinnia spp. The Easy Arranger wire frame makes it easy to shape the bouquet in a wide-mouthed vase.
Grow the best flowers for stunning indoor arrangements
No matter what size your garden, you can have a bouquet in the making if you plant a few key plants. From long-lasting coral bell leaves to daffodils or hellebores, it’s likely you’re already growing some of the best flowers for a stunning indoor arrangement.
Sizeable bouquets benefit from a focal point of large flowers — think Hydrangea spp., Dahlia spp., Paeonia spp. and Lilium spp. As extravagant as these show-offs tend to be, they’re often improved by some smaller flowers and greenery. In addition to the big, show-off flowers, tuck a few of these into your garden for great backdrops in a vase.
Allium carinatum ssp. pulchellum adds life to this bouquet of ornamental oregano, echinacea, lilies, larkspur, hydrangea, bell flowers (Campanulas spp.) and Hypericum spp. The Easy Arranger fitted over the opening of the vase keeps the stems straight.
Some plants most gardeners already have can contribute extra charm to a fresh bouquet. The variegated Phlox ‘Nora Leigh’ should be grown more for its foliage than its flowers; the leaves of Heuchera last for nearly a week in a vase. Bread poppies (Papaver somniferum) can be easily started from seed; the double forms mimic peonies in July. One of the easiest-to-grow American native perennials looks great in a vase: Barbara’s buttons (Marshallia grandiflora). Barbara’s buttons will grow well in partial shade, and their pale pink flowers provide dots of color in any arrangement.
This allium blooms in July on 18-inch stems, making it a great addition to bouquets.
Vase Shapes and Aids for Arrangements
One of the most useful vase shapes has a semi-narrow body with a wider opening. These provide support for stems, allowing them to curve at the top of the arrangement. The wire supports by Easy Arranger (easyarranger.com) are great to use with a variety of vase shapes and sizes, or look for small grouped vases like the Pooley 2 (chive.com/collections/pooley-2). And whether they’re called frogs or forms, aids to design can be found at specialty sites or created inexpensively with clear Scotch tape or chicken wire.
Try these this season
Once only available to florists, gardeners now can grow Hypericum inodorum like this ‘Mystical Beauty’ in their own gardens.
Like peonies in July, double-flowered bread poppies mix with Barbara’s buttons (Marshallia grandiflora), larkspur and roses.
1. Ageratum ‘Blue Horizon’
2. Allium spp.
3. Asters (Symphyotrichum spp.)
4. Astilbe spp.
5. Astrantia spp.
6. Campanula spp.
7. Celosia spp.
8. Cosmos spp.
9. Dahlia spp.
10. Dill (Anethum graveolens)
11. Echinacea spp.
12. Eucomis spp.
13. Euphorbia spp.
14. Heuchera spp.
15. Hypericum inodorum - First Editions series
16. Hydrangea spp.
17. Kniphofia spp.
18. Larkspur (Delphinium consolida)
19. Lilies (Lilium spp.)
20. Marshallia spp.
21. Peonies (Paeonia spp.)
22. Phlox spp.
23. Poppies (Papaver spp.)
24. Zinnias spp.
A version of this article appeared in a January/February 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography by Jean Starr, Bailey Nurseries, and First Editions.
‘Small and boldly patterned hybrids like ‘Amazonica’ and ‘Polly’ are only suitable for Zones 10-11.
They may also be grown as houseplants.
Emerging from the garden like a blast of blaring trumpets with its huge leaves held aloft in celebration, you could hardly call the Alocasia a mere “elephant ear.” Sure, their leaves do resemble those of the related Colocasia and Xanthosomagenera, but an alocasia is more dramatic and architectural in every way; with thick trunklike stems that allow it to grow ever higher, a bold silhouette that commands attention and leaf veins so strong and prominent that they resemble the vaulted ceilings of Renaissance cathedrals.
Sitting beneath enormous backlit leaves, you may feel as if you’re inside a cathedral.
The main selling point of these plants is their size, and some can get downright massive. Alocasia odora and A. macrorrhizos are two of the largest species, reaching 6-8 feet tall. ‘Borneo Giant’ can even exceed 12 feet tall. Some cultivars and hybrids draw attention for reasons other than sheer size. If you don’t want to overwhelm your garden, ‘California’ has small wide leaves and a bushy habit, which make it useful as a ground cover or in small spaces. The leaves of ‘Tiny Dancers’ are so small that they appear almost comical. ‘Stingray’ is notable for its unusual stingray-shaped leaves, while the metallic black A. plumbea nigra stands out for its unusual coloration and sheen.
Alocasia have been favorites of tropical landscape architects the world over, from Bali’s Made Wijaya to Brazil’s Roberto Burle Marx and Florida’s own Raymond Jungles, and now they’ve hit the mainstream with new and exciting cultivars jutting out above the foliage at garden centers all over Florida. They are immensely useful as focal points, accents, container “thrillers,” or even temporary screens. Best of all, these plants captivate and stimulate the imagination.
Alocasia plants are especially suitable for capturing the look of tropical Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and Australia where they are naturally found, and when planted along with lady palms (Rhapis excelsa) and birds nest ferns (Asplenium nidus), they whisk you away to an exotic Balinese spa. They’re especially picturesque when grown at the edge of a pool or water feature, where the reflection of their leaves makes them seem twice as large.
Upright elephant ears have such large and dramatic leaves that they contrast well with the textures of most other plants. Combine with bushy natives like firebush (Hamelia patens) and wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa) to add a touch of the exotic. Or go all-out exotic by pairing it with Cordyline, gingers, bananas (Musa spp.), and bamboo.
‘California’ is also ideal as a large-scale ground cover in large landscapes, such as this one at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
For a “rainforest” look plant elephant ears with a variety of foliage plants such as moisture-loving palm trees like Everglades palm (Acoelorrhaphe wrightii) and needle palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) and an assortment of ferns with different sizes and textures.
While only enjoyed as summer bulbs (rhizomes) up North, upright elephant ears can be grown right in the ground throughout Florida. You can either purchase the rhizomes as-is, or obtain some by dividing established plants. To grow the rhizomes, first plant them sideways in sphagnum moss or coir to prevent rot. Plant the rhizome in the ground after it has grown roots and leaves. While this method is rewarding and affordable, it’s much faster to purchase a plant in a 3-gallon container from the nursery.
In Zones 8 and 9, plant upright elephant ears from spring through summer. Growers in Zone 10 can plant them year round.
Water collects in the leaf axils, providing hydration for wildlife like this green anole.
This clump at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is made even more spectacular by its placement at water’s edge.
Alocasia are very adaptable, but do best with mid-day shade and plenty of moisture. Choose a spot that stays naturally moist, such as in a low area of your property where water puddles after it rains. If you must grow it elsewhere, amend the planting site with compost and irrigate either by hand or with a soaker hose whenever the plant starts to suffer. Even if your plant is looking terrible during a dry spell, it will likely perk back up when rains resume. Plants grown in shade tolerate drought better than those grown in full sun.
With the exception of ‘Amazonica’ and others commonly grown as houseplants, elephant ears can grow throughout the state. While elephant ears are sensitive to frosts and freezes, they quickly rebound to their former stature within a few months, often returning from the stem.
Grow These Other Elephant Ears
These Alocasia relatives are also quite impressive and are also thankfully non-invasive.
Container Elephant ears are even more dramatic and imposing when planted along a path.
Colocasia gigantea ‘Thailand Giant’ – Reaching 9 feet tall with 5-foot-long leaves, this elephant ear is probably the biggest.
Colocasia ‘Black Ripple’ – This one has glossy black leaves and is quite resilient. Great for container combinations.
Xanthosoma aurea ‘Lime Zinger’ – Perfect for brightening up a partly shaded garden with its chartreuse foliage.
Xanthosoma violacea – The purple hue of this large elephant ear is a good fit for gardens with subdued palettes.
Elephant Ears to Avoid
Not all elephant ears are gentle giants. These monsters are categorized as invasive and should not be grown in Florida.
Colocasia esculenta – Commonly grown as a summer bedding plant up North. In peninsular Florida, however, it’s very invasive.
Xanthosoma sagittifolium – It’s also – you guessed it – invasive and should not be planted. Grow ‘Lime Zinger’ instead.
Alocasia ‘California’ is an ideal size for small gardens.
A version of this article appeared in print in Florida Gardening Volume 21 Issue 2.
Photography by Steve Asbell.
Teeny Tiny: Creating a Garden in Miniature by Debbie Clark
Flagstones can instantly create patios, raised beds become hillsides, and flat river pebbles stand in for stepping stones.
Miniature gardens can be fairy gardens, gnome or elf gardens, railroad gardens or simply miniature tableaus. Space isn’t a limitation – but you might need to expand your imagination.
Have you ever wanted a beautiful garden with arbors, water features, furniture and unusual plants? Maybe that garden you dreamed of is not in your budget or you just don’t have the space or time. Why not make that dream come true in a miniature garden? A miniature garden can be planted in a container or in a garden bed. If you are planting in a container, you will need soil and an unusual container for your garden. For both container gardens and in-ground gardens, you will need small-leaved plants, rocks, miniature garden accessories and lots of imagination. Creating a miniature garden in a container can take less than an hour to create. Larger in-ground gardens can take a bit longer, or be an ongoing project, depending on the size. Here is how to create a miniature garden in three easy steps.
Step 1: Design Your Garden
Decide if your garden will be in sun, part shade or shade. Light conditions will determine what plants you can select and grow. If you are planting a garden directly in the ground, select your site and take the time to draw up a design. Since this garden will be bigger and in a permanent location, drawing your garden design on paper will make it easier to see the garden as a finished product. Use your imagination in designing. After you have selected a location and created your design, you can now prepare your bed for planting. If you are planting directly into the ground, amend the soil if needed before planting.
This beautiful miniature garden was constructed in a container. It is complete with a house, plantings and garden tools. This would be a fun project to do with children that would introduce them to gardening.
If you are planting this mini garden in a container, look for a container that is interesting and has good drainage. Containers could be old drawers, wood boxes, bowls, baskets or other items that can hold soil. Fill your container with a good commercial potting soil.
Step 2: Plant Your Garden
Many local nurseries and websites carry small plants for miniature gardens. They can be a little pricey to purchase, but you can find some interesting plants with great color, form and texture. You can also use small boxwood shrubs as trees. They can be pruned and shaped to show off their limbs and bark like a real full-size tree. Plants like miniature hostas, sedums, Irish moss (Sagina subulata), wooly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus), baby tears (Soleirolia soleirolii), creeping golden Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) and small-leaved ground cover plants can all be used in miniature gardening. Plant your garden in a pleasing design like you would a full-size garden using plants in different sizes, shape, colors and textures. Moss can be added to the garden as a ground cover to age the garden and to cover exposed soil.
Step 3: Add Your Garden Accessories
Most large nursery stores carry miniature furniture, fences, houses, garden tools, arbors, birdhouses and other items or you can buy them online. Look around your house for items that can be repurposed for your miniature garden. When selecting accessories, be creative and always remember to work in scale to all the other elements of the garden. Arrange your garden accessories like rocks, fences, fountains, chairs, animals and fairies to form a pleasing and interesting space in your miniature garden.
The store-bought walls, castle and fountain create the hardscapes in this vignette, and dwarf plants stand in as shrubs and trees in a backdrop of pea gravel.
When the end of the growing season comes, remove all of your decorative accessories for winter storage. If you planted a container, move your container to a protected area for the winter.
Growing a miniature garden can be a fun way to garden, and the easy way to have that garden of your dreams.
This miniature railroad garden is located at the Taltree Arboretum and Gardens located in Valparaiso, Indiana.
Thyme, creeping Jenny, sedum, a bonsai tree and other small-leaved plants give the red chairs and wheelbarrow the proper scale.
A version of this article appeared in a Mar/Apr 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Debbie Clark.
‘Dusky’ eggplant is a reliable Florida summer vegetable.
In 1999, a student came from Sri Lanka to the Mid-Florida Research Center in Apopka to study the genetic relationships of Anthuriums. Mostly he spent hours alone in the laboratory testing DNA samples, but during lunchtime, people crowded around him in the break room. He cooked an eggplant recipe that was delicious. Everyone wanted a taste; everyone wanted the recipe; everyone wanted to go home and plant a garden full of eggplant to cook.
If you are an average American, you eat less than one pound of eggplant per year. Most likely, you visit an Italian-style restaurant and enjoy an order of Eggplant Parmesan. You think little about this vegetable beyond that one tasty meal.
On the other side of the world, political, religious and cultural influences favor vegetarian diets. Eggplant is a valuable food commodity in India, where it was first domesticated around 2500 BC.
Buddhist monks introduced eggplant into China around 600 AD. The Chinese called it “Malaysian melon” indicating that the plant had traveled west from India through Southeast Asia before moving north. Economic and agricultural factors in China secured eggplant’s crop value. Today China is the world’s largest producer of eggplant.
Food historian Frederick Simoons refers to an area of the globe between latitudes 20 and 30°N as the “spice belt” because the majority of the world’s spice crops are grown there. Eggplant thrives in these areas too, and it has married almost every spice signature it has met. Its sweet, mild flavor plays well in dishes in the Middle East and Mediterranean. Vegetarian eggplant doesn’t have to be bland; it can be made quite zesty.
‘Ichiban’ is a long, thin variety from Japan.
Florida also lies within these latitudes. Our climate is ideal for raising eggplant in a home garden. In southern Florida, without freezes, eggplant can be grown as a perennial. The ease of cultivation might be your first step to enjoying eggplant.
Variety selection is important. At Eastertime, “egg plants” appear at retail outlets. These are ornamental, potted plant, seasonal novelty eggplants loaded with small white or yellow fruit. They are cute but too bitter to be consumed. I have grown an edible white variety called “Gretel”, but as a traditionalist, I want purple. “Dusky”, “Black Beauty”, “Park’s Whopper Hybrid” and “Ichiban” have all performed well in my Zone 9 garden.
Eggplant is reliable. After all, it’s been cultivated for over 4,000 years now. I start seeds in a hobby greenhouse in February. I sow 8-10 seeds into one 4-inch pot filled with pre-moistened commercial potting mix. I cover the seeds lightly with the same mix and water with a sprinkler nozzle or watering can.
When the seedlings germinate and develop 4 leaves, I separate them, planting one singleton per four-inch pot. I can easily hold them even if they get quite large before transplant into the garden after all chance of freeze has passed in March. In the garden, space transplants 3 feet apart and 3 feet between rows. This may look wide in the beginning, but by May the plants will touch each other. As your plants become ever larger, you may want to stake unruly branches to keep new fruit off the ground. Eggplant skin scratches easily in the sand.
Fertilize initially with a liquid feeding (1 teaspoon 20-20-20 per gallon); after that, side dress with granular 6-8-8 about every 2 weeks. Be sure to wash any granular fertilizer off the leaves to avoid burning them. Eggplant needs full sun 6 to 8 hours per day minimum. Irrigate if rain is insufficient. Eggplant leaves will yellow and drop if subjected to drought. Watch for caterpillars; treat with Bt.
Eggplant thrives in the hottest part of summer. However, when temperatures are consistently above 95°F, eggplant will not bloom or produce fruit. Don’t pull the crop out. Keep up with irrigation and as soon as cool weather returns, flowering and fruiting resumes. Our eggplants produce reliably until late October when overnight temperatures fall into the 40’s. Production slows and our eight-month eggplant season ends.
Eggplant flowers are a beautiful lavender color.
Dayawansa Ranamukhaarachchi shared his Sweet and Sour Garlic Eggplant with everyone he met.
Your second step to enjoying more eggplant might be trying this easy recipe.
-Peel one large eggplant, slice into rounds and lightly fry in oil until brown.
-In a separate pan, combine these ingredients and heat until the sugar dissolves:
•½ cup white wine vinegar
•2 Tablespoons sugar
•2 cloves fresh chopped garlic
•½ teaspoon chili powder
•Salt and pepper to taste
-Add the eggplant to the sweet/ sour sauce and heat together thoroughly. Serve over rice.
A version of this article appeared in print in Florida Gardening Volume 20 Issue 1.
Photography courtesy of Debbie Clark.
There’s a special thrill that comes from saying “I grew it from seed.” Try it and see for yourself.
When I was a child, I spent many lovely, sunny hours in the garden of our neighbor Genevieve. It was a smallish yard, enclosed with a low picket fence, and made to feel private with great pools of annual flowers that bloomed all summer. There were clouds of tall yellow blossoms I recall, and red vining things that spilled over the fence. I remember being drawn to the low patches of pink and blue petunias that spread out over the sidewalk and perfumed the air on still afternoons.
Genevieve planted her flowers from seed each spring, sowing them directly into the prepared soil. This simple, inexpensive way of filling a garden with color seems lost today, but that needn’t be the case. Seeds are readily available, and even the busiest gardener can find time to directly sow a few packets.
Select a spot in your garden to create a bed. Try for a space that gets plenty of sun all day and is accessible with a garden hose. If you have mostly shade, just be careful to choose plants that prefer it. Make sure the space is large enough to accommodate the big splashes of vegetation that will make the effort worthwhile.
Prepare the soil by weeding thoroughly and raking to break up clumps and make it as smooth and finely textured as possible. Don’t work soil when it’s wet, especially if it’s clay-based. I like to prepare planting beds by sitting on the ground and taking my time breaking up the soil, crumbling it with my hands and working in some compost with a small hand rake.
You should not use any pre-emergent weed control products in these beds because they will prevent your seeds from germinating, too. After you have a smooth bed of prepared soil, select your seeds.
Choose seeds that are labeled for sale in the current year and check the package to see that you are not buying something that has a very long germination period. Seeds that take more than 10 to 14 days to germinate may not be the best choice for direct sowing.
Don’t buy too many kinds of plants. Try three to begin, and include plants with varying heights for an appealing display. A few flowers that do very well when direct-sown include larkspur, cosmos, annual vines, zinnia, daisies, poppies, four o’clocks, cleome, sweet peas and nigella.
There is no reason why you cannot plant perennials in situ as well as annuals. But do remember that perennials and biennials generally don’t bloom the first year.
Vegetable gardeners are better versed in planting from seed, but for those who are new to it, some garden plants are better off started under lights or purchased as transplants. Vegetables with taproots such as carrots, beets, radishes and parsnips do not transplant easily, so they are better off sown directly into the garden. The same is true of greens such as lettuce, spinach and kale.
Early-blooming flowers such as poppies and violas can be directly sown very early, in March, but most seeds should wait until the soil warms up and the danger of frost has passed. You may start peas and lettuce early too, in late March. I also like to plant lettuce and spinach in late September for a fall crop of greens.
When you bring your seeds home, examine them before planting. Those that are large and easy to handle, such as beans or nasturtiums, will be planted more deeply than the finer seeds. The smaller the seed, the more light it needs to germinate, so fine seeds should be scattered on the surface and barely scratched into the soil. Soak larger seeds for up to 24 hours in tepid water. This will ensure that they are fully infused with water and won’t dry out as easily. Soaking will also speed germination.
Tiny seeds can be soaked, too. They may then be mixed with sand to make them easier to broadcast over the soil. Many gardeners report that blanketing the bed with a thin layer of bagged seed-starting mix makes a better place for fine seeds to settle in and helps them hold moisture.
By starting your planting with a well-saturated bed and fully moist seeds, you will be able to get through brief periods of drying out without losing your planting. But you will still need to mist the soil daily with a gentle-spray hose wand.
Rain is very helpful, but a hard rain can cause the seeds to float or clump into furrows and low-lying soil pockets. If at all possible, listen to the weather forecast and try not to plant when heavy rains are expected within the next week. If this does happen, just thin the seedlings and try tamping the extras into the empty spots.
One of the joys of direct sowing is the bonus of having repeat plants in following years. Many flowers such as larkspur, four o’clocks, viola and poppies will self sow and come up year after year. I have a stand of blue larkspur that I planted 10 years ago and it still lines my walkway with a mist of blue flowers from May through June. The seeds fall at will and the volunteers move around a bit in the garden, but it is wonderful to find Johnny jump-ups and forget-me-nots popping up here and there among the vegetables and perennials … and the occasional sidewalk crack.
A version of this article appeared in Chicagoland Gardening Volume XX, Number 2.
Photos courtesy of Patsy Bell Hobson, Chuck Eirschele, and Bigstock-Pressmaster.
Who wouldn’t fall in love with star-shaped violet-blue, sweetly-scented flowers of ‘New Love’ clump-forming clematis
Check out these cool new plants for the new gardening season.
Although the frost-free date in your area is probably a couple of weeks off, there is no reason you can’t dream of spring — sun, warmer temperatures, birds chirping, digging in the soil and the smell of earth and rebirth. Of course you look forward to replanting favorites that perform well year after year. But you can’t help but ponder what “new” items you might want to incorporate into your landscape.
Some of the hottest new plant introductions debuted in this year’s New Varieties Showcase at the Farwest Trade Show in Portland, Ore., and they’ll be available soon through your local growers, landscapers, retailers and mail-order nurseries.
Tomato or potato? Have both with ‘Ketchup ‘n Fries’, a sweet cherry plant grafted onto a delicious white potato plant.
Let’s start with some incredible edibles. One of the Plant of Merit award winners was ‘Ketchup ‘n’ Fries’ (Solanum lycopersicum/Solanum tuberosum 'Ketchup 'n' Fries'), a cherry tomato grafted onto a white potato (no, I’m not joking). This crazy, cool duo has been featured on “Good Morning America” and “The Colbert Report.” On this plant you can pick tomatoes throughout the growing season, and then cut the plant off at the base. Wait a couple weeks to season and sweeten the potatoes, and then you can harvest those. You can grow this two-in-one plant in large containers or in the ground.
Purple Pixie grape (Vitis vinifera 'Pinot Meunier Purple'), also sold as Patio Pinot in the HGTV Home Plant Collection, is the first true dwarf grape in the world. It provides clusters of miniature grapes with a sweet, tart flavor. The fruit can be enjoyed fresh or as a garnish. It is best grown in a container, but it can also perform in the landscape. Hardy to USDA Zone 3.
The Brazelberries brand has added a new blueberry to their line called ‘Perpetua’ (Vaccinium corymbosum 'Perpetua'). It is a true double-cropping blueberry that bears a midsummer crop followed by a second crop in the fall. The berries are somewhat small, mild and sweet. The shrub is upright, vase-shaped and hardy to USDA Zone 4. It will reach 4-5 feet tall and wide, and as with all blueberries prefers acidic soil. The new canes are bright yellow and red in the winter providing color against the snow.
For the perennial lover and pollinator provider, consider Butterfly ‘Rainbow Marcella’ coneflower (Echinacea 'Rainbow Marcella'). Unlike other Echinacea spp., this beauty goes through a unique color transformation opening a bright tangerine-orange, and then changing to a deep mauve from the center outwards. Sturdy stems provide a mounded bushy habit reaching 18-24 inches tall and wide; it is hardy to USDA Zone 5. It will perform well in the mixed perennial border or as a focal point with long-lasting color in a mixed container.
Butterfly ‘Rainbow Marcella’ coneflower is like getting two echinacea for the price of one due to its unique color change; bright tangerine-orange blooms change to a deep mauve.
While Digiplexis Illumination ‘Apricot’ of the Southern Living Collection is only hardy to USDA Zone 8, it is a worthy container plant for northern gardens. It is undeniably a pollinator magnet as bees and hummingbirds will simply flock to it. It performs well in full sun to part shade. Digiplexis come in other colors, too, including ‘Flame’, ‘Berry Canary’ and ‘Raspberry’.
Brighten up a container or the landscape bed with the striking chartreuse with green edge foliage of ‘Eversheen’ carex.
If you’re after fine foliage, which provides consistent color all growing season while other plants go in and out of flower, then here are a couple of prime choices. First up is ‘Eversheen’ sedge grass (Carex EverColor 'Eversheen'). Part of the EverColor Series of Carex spp. from breeder Pat Fitzgerald of Ireland, ‘Eversheen’ provides a striking chartreuse foliage with a green edge. Reaching around 16 inches tall, this compact, mounding ornamental grass is ideal in mass plantings, the perennial border or in a mixed container.
Another fine foliage option is ‘Old Fashioned’ smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Old Fashioned'). But don’t let the name fool you; it’s not the Cotinus sp. your Grandma had. This more compact version boasts purple new growth that matures to a eucalyptus-like blue-green color. In autumn, the leaves turn a fluorescent mix of red, pink and orange that will knock your garden boots off. At approximately 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide, it is best used as a specimen in the landscape, but can also be trained into a small tree. An added benefit is that its airy blooms make a great cut flower. Oh, and did I mention it is deer resistant, too?
‘Old Fashioned’ cotinus is a perfect shrub choice for its deer-resistant foliage.
No matter what they say, you can always make room in the yard for another rose or hydrangea. From the breeder of Knock Out roses, Will Radler, comes Peach Lemonade rose (Rosa 'Radpastel'). It provides multiple colors as the blooms begin a pleasing lemon yellow then as they fade, turns to a blush pink. Because it can bloom from summer through fall, you’ll end up with both yellow and pink flowers at the same time. This carefree, disease-resistant rose is hardy to USDA Zone 3 and matures at 3 feet tall and wide.
This multi-colored rose starts out lemon yellow and fades to a blush pink; Peach Lemonade is sweet as the drink.
As gardeners we’re always looking for something to brighten up shady areas. That’s where Back in Black ‘Zebra’ hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla Back in Black 'Zebra') comes in. The bright white flowers contrast against the lush green foliage and black stems (yes, I said black). Each individual bloom on this mophead looks like it was edged with pinking shears. It flowers on both new and old wood reaching 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide.
A truly unique hydrangea, Inspire (Hydrangea macrophylla 'H21-3'), is a mophead but the individual flowers look like stars. The “stars” start as small flowers, and then turn into large, double flowers. It, too, blooms on both old and new wood, but it will get 5-6 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide.
For a ruffled flower look, then ‘Spike’ hydrangea (H. macrophylla 'Spike') is the one for you. The mophead blooms will vary in color depending on soil pH. Its size ranges from 4 feet tall to 3 feet wide.
Any of these hydrangeas are excellent in the landscape in mass plantings, in the shrub border, as a specimen or in larger mixed containers.
If you’re a better-than-average gardener, love tropicals, and don’t mind bringing them inside after the summer season has ended, then try either ‘Little Angel Blush’ brugmansia (Brugmansia × hybrida 'Little Angel Blush'), also an Award of Merit winner or ‘Little Angel Yellow’ brugmansia. Large, fragrant, trumpet-like flowers hang from this subtropical shrub and bloom all summer long with no breaks. These are beautiful in larger containers and can reach 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide. Please note that all parts of a brugmansia plant are toxic, so this may not be a good choice for homes with pets or small children.
Oh, so many new plants to choose from, so little room in the landscape. It reminds me of a line from one of the “Indiana Jones” movies: “Choose wisely.”
The white flowers of Tuxedo weigela (Weigela × 'Velda') give a contrasting pop against its dark foliage.
Digiplexis, such as Illumination ‘Apricot’, while not hardy to our area, are a pollinator magnet for bees and hummingbirds. That makes them a worthwhile seasonal container plant.
Purple Pixie grape is the first true dwarf grapevine. Enjoy it in a container on your patio deck or in the landscape; it is USDA Zone 3 hardy.
A version of this article appeared in a Jan/Feb 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
All Photos Courtesy of the Oregon Association of Nurserymen.
Establishing a lawn is a lot like entering a relationship with someone. You get out of it what you put into it. Fortunately, growing grass is a little less complicated. Here is some expert advice on starting a lawn from seed, patching up a bare spot, laying sod and one option that requires very little mowing.
Be sure to keep newly seeded grass evenly moist. This may mean watering for 10 or 15 minutes twice a day.
When talking lawns, I tell folks to scrimp on the kid’s shoes, but not on lawn seed. Since you’re about to invest considerable time and effort preparing a lawn for seeding, it is important you don’t fall short by purchasing poor quality seed.
Fortunately, there are seed companies out there that do for grass seed what Maytag does for washing machines, including offering a warranty.
When shopping for grass seed, one of the most important things to look for, besides the particular grass seed mixture, is germination date, according to Joseph Rivera, a lawn care expert for the Scotts Co.
“Always check the test date,” Rivera said. “Every year that passes after the initial test date, the germination rate goes down 5 percent.”
Cool Season Grasses
The best seed varieties for Upper Midwest lawns are the cool season grasses: Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) and fescue (Festuca ssp.). Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) is often thrown in a mix because it establishes itself quickly. However, it will eventually die out after the other species have established themselves. Kentucky bluegrass grows well in sunny locations while the fescues grow best in shade.
Reputable seed suppliers, such as Scotts, Pennington and GreenView, sell blends to fit any growing situation. They also offer fertilizer blends with recommended rates and time of application, which are usually spring, summer and fall.
“Our seed is guaranteed to grow anywhere – cool season, warm season – and we offer a product guarantee. If a customer isn’t satisfied with the product they can send in the UPC for a refund,” says Rivera.
Before seeding your lawn have a soil test done. Check with your county cooperative extension agency (csrees.usda.gov/Extension) for where to have this done. A test will not only give you an indication of existing nutrients in the soil, but also the pH. The test results should provide specific recommendations for adding fertilizer and other nutrients.
“I would really recommend a soil test be done, to know where you’re at,” said Paul Hoffman, a 35-year veteran in the turf industry and product expert for Growth Products Ltd., which markets Simple Success brand of natural or organic fertilizers and amendments.
Establishing a Lawn
Despite what you may have heard, starting a new lawn isn’t that difficult. The first step is preparing the soil.
• Remove all large stones and any debris from the area to
• Work the ground with a rototiller when the soil is fairly
dry. Avoid tilling wet soil.
• Rake out any clumps of roots.
• Continue to work the ground until the clumps of soil are busted up pretty good.
• The top 6 inches should be sandy loam; that is, fairly dark, rich soil. If you’re in stubborn clay or even gravel, buy quality topsoil, free of clay, gravel and large quantities of sand, from
a local contractor.
• Finally, take a garden rake to level and smooth out the soil. Flip the rake tines facing up and drag it across the soil.
• Apply a fertilizer before you start seeding. A walk-behind rotating spreader works well. Use the same spreader to apply the seed to the recommended rate per square feet.
Water, Water, Water!
The best times to sow grass seed in the Upper Midwest are spring and early fall. The seed germination period is crucial and can only be accomplished successfully by keeping the seed moist until it begins to sprout. This means you should water the freshly seeded lawn two to three times a day, keeping the seed moist but not saturated, until the grass comes up, Rivera recommended.
After it has sufficiently sprouted, apply at least 1 inch of water twice a week. You can determine how much an inch of water is by placing a container, such as a tuna can, underneath a sprinkler to see how long it takes to fill to an inch. Try to keep the kids and pets off the newly established lawn until it is well established. Mow the new lawn when it’s about 4 inches tall. Remember to keep the lawn at 3 to 3 ½ inches tall.
Bill Carney developed the Proplugger 5-IN-1 tool as a way to transplant plugs of grass and to dig holes for bulb planting.
Repairing Bare Sport
Repairing bare spots in a lawn is similar to establishing a new one, only with less work. Simply work the ground to be seeded with a garden rake, scuffing up the soil. Apply the seed to the loose soil per the recommended rate and water as you would a newly sown lawn. Many companies sell encapsulated seed or blends that include a mixture of mulch. These help retain moisture, requiring less watering.
Another way to repair a bare spot in the lawn is with the Proplugger 5-IN-1 kit. This tool removes good turf, or plugs, from one area of a lawn to transplant to repair a bare spot in another area. Cool season grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, have underground rhizomes that will fill in bare spots, so the plugs need be spaced only about 6 inches apart.
Sod is for those who look for instant gratification
and have a few extra bucks to spend. While establishing sod is a more expensive alternative to seeding, there are many advantages to sodding, according to Bob Hoffman, owner of B & B Hoffman Farms, Inc., in
Elk River, Minnesota.
“The true advantage is it instantly raises the value of your property,” said Hoffman. He pointed to other advantages, including the fact that you can start with a weed-free lawn, no worry about the kids bringing in dirt before a seeded lawn is established, and less chance of losing topsoil to erosion.
“I know of one guy who had to seed his lawn three times due to the seed and soil washing away with the rain,” Hoffman said.
Prepare the area to be sodded the same way you would for seeding, he said. He suggests corralling a few friends or neighbors over on a weekend to help lay the sod or hire a reputable landscaper to do it for you. Water it in initially and continue to water regularly up to about 10 days and then start to cut back. Water it well during dry spells. After about two weeks you can turn the kids loose on a thick carpet of grass!
No-mow lawn seed contains fescue grasses that grow well in shady areas.
Some people are opting out of high maintenance lawns, which require copious quantities of water, fertilizer and countless hours behind a lawn mower. No-mow lawns, which require little to no mowing, may be a good option for folks who want to give up the time-honored, but time-consuming, task of maintaining the perfect lawn. No-mow lawns are a particularly good option for cabin and cottage owners.
“It’s a really great solution in the right situation,” says Neil Diboll, president of Prairie Nursery, in Westfield, Wisconsin. The right situation, according to Diboll, is a well-drained soil with at least 4 inches of good topsoil. He says to avoid planting it in wet clay.
“A lot of people use it for their cottages in northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan,” he said. “Man it’s great. It grows slowly and you don’t have to fertilize it.” Diboll said the last thing he wants to do when he has a weekend at his cottage is mow the lawn. Also, with a no-mow lawn, he doesn’t have to worry about fertilizer going into the lake where he fishes.
The mixture of six fescue grasses that make up no-mow seed is particularly suitable for the cool season climates of the Upper Midwest, and also shady areas. In fact, Diboll formulated this no-mow species in the 1990s after he witnessed the failure of buffalo grass (Bouteloua dactyloides). He recommends sowing it from late August to mid September in the Upper Midwest.
Prepare the seedbed for planting a no-mow lawn as for a regular lawn. It is critical that weeds be removed from the area to be seeded. Diboll says this can be done with an herbicide, by covering the seed bed with a tarp or a season of rototilling. “Make sure any existing vegetation is completely eliminated,” he cautioned.
No-mow blends are best seeded by using a walk-behind rotary spreader. Water for the first three weeks, after which time you can put the hose away for good.
Don’t sell the mower just yet. Some folks like to mow their no-mow lawn once a month throughout the season, while others will opt for a June mowing to clip off the seed heads and then one just before the snow flies, which is a good practice for any lawn where you want to prevent thatch build up.
Sod gives an instant lawn but requires about the same amount of prep work as sowing seed.
The Proplugger 5-IN-1 tool removes good turf, or plugs, from one area of a lawn to transplant to a bare spot in another area. Cool season grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, have underground rhizomes that will fill in bare spots.
(A version of this article appeared in March/April 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening )
Few plants give so much for so little attention. Native to South Africa, Lion's Ear (Leonotisleonurus) is an annual flower that produces a fall display of riotous orange, fuzzy tubular blooms on long velvety stems. In USDA zones 8a and warmer, it is grown as a tender perennial. It successfully overwinters indoors.
The flowers are in compact clusters arranged in whorls around the stem, and are a beacon of nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies. White and apricot flower forms exist, but may be difficult to locate in retail markets. Fertilizing is beneficial, but many plants do well without it.
Deer purportedly avoid it. It's also fairly drought tolerant to boot, making it suitable for xeriscaping. As it can grow at a good rate by root suckers, it's a perfect plant to share with your friends. But who would want to?
It's winter hardy on the Gulf Coast, but persistent hard freezes in the low 20s may kill it. Mulch if temperatures are unusually low, and it may survive. It blooms more densely if cut back in the early spring. In most areas, think of it as an annual set to burst into fiery bloom, and you'll wonder how you ever planted a garden without it.
Botanical Name: Leonotisleonurus
Size: Approximately 4-6 ft. tall x 4 ft. wide
Sun Exposure: Full sun, light shade.
Water Requirements: More in summer, can take drought once established.
Zones: Hardy to Zone 8a. Grown as annual in colder climates.
In early spring the weather is notoriously fickle. There are always a few halcyon days to beguile us, but March, seemingly on a whim, will invariably turn tempestuous. Gardeners, ever impatient for spring, often despair. In March, frustrated but experienced gardeners have learned to bide their time.
To alleviate the gardener's frustration and before the garden becomes labor intensive, may I suggest a walk in the woods? Early spring is the season for spring ephemerals, which are the loveliest most delicate wildflowers found in nature. These wildflowers, as the word ephemeral implies, are usually short-lived, but their beauty will abate your despair.
The spring ephemerals bloom on the forest floor in the leaf litter before the trees completely leaf out. In early spring, as the days lengthen, the sunlight can penetrate through the woods and warm the ground. A walk in the woods in search of these wildflowers is like going on a treasure hunt. But when you come upon these wildflowers, please resist the urge to dig. Wildflowers should never be dug from the wild unless it is a rescue mission. Take your camera and field guide along instead of your trowel.
My Favorite Spring Ephemerals:
Trillium/Little Sweet Betsy - Trillium cuneatum
Trilliums are among the best loved and most sought after wildflowers. One of the most common is Trillium cuneatum. This trillium has lovely mottled green leaves with purplish spots. The erect flowers are a deep maroon.
There are red trilliums, white trilliums, yellow trilliums and even twisted trilliums, and some are very rare indeed.
Virginia Bluebells - Mertensiavirginica
The common name for this wildflower is most descriptive. The clusters of blue flowers are indeed bellshaped, and the five yellow stamens hang down like little clappers. And they are truly blue; however, the buds are pink. Virginia bluebells are the epitome of the word ephemeral. This showy flower will completely disappear without a trace by summer's arrival.
Bloodroot - Sanguinariacanadensis
Whenever I am unduly impatient for spring, I go out and scratch around in the leaves like a towhee to see if the bloodroot is about to emerge. Bloodroot dares to bloom when spring is but a promise. This wildflower has pure white flowers with bright yellow centers, and they shine like stars in the brown woods. The heart-shaped leaves are attractive long after the flower is gone.
Woodland Phlox - Phlox divaricata
If you should venture out for a woodland walk in early spring, a lovely fragrance may waft your way. If so, it will probably be woodland phlox.
Woodland phlox is not only fragrant, but its periwinkle blue flowers are enchanting. This wildflower often colonizes to create a lavender blue carpet on the forest floor.
Dwarf Crested Iris - Iris cristata
Iris cristata, a native plant found growing on wooded slopes, is as beautiful as any commercially grown iris. And this is one wildflower that is not delicate. It is a tough plant and will multiply.
Jacob's Ladder - Polemoniumreptans
This wildflower has celestial blue flowers. The leaves are pinnately compound and do resemble a ladder, which makes for easy identification.
Hepatica/Liver Leaf - Hepatica americana
Peeping through the brown leaves, this charming wildflower was so named because its leaves reminded someone long ago of liver. Even the botanical name, Hepatica, is Latin for liver. Trust me - the name will not deter you from appreciating this enchanting wildflower.
There are many more early spring wildflowers that can be found growing naturally in the woods, and many of these wildflowers will fare very well in the woodland or rock garden at home. These wildflowers are perfect for shade gardens.
There are many spring ephemeral wildflowers that can be ordered from specialty catalogs, but these days, even the most familiar seed catalogs such as Park Seed and Wayside Gardens now sell some of these plants. Again, please purchase these plants from reliable sources - do not dig from the wild.
This spring, I sincerely hope that you will venture out in search of wildflowers. The hike will be invigorating, and once you have seen these spring ephemerals growing in their native habitat, you will become a wildflower devotee. Your passion for wildflowers will not be ephemeral.
Redoing container plantings has always been a recurring task in my garden. Recently, however, I’ve realized that it’s easy to choose plants that look fabulous all year long. Adding year-round potted pleasures to the garden not only makes my work as a gardener easier, it also helps me refine the “bones” of the garden by adding strong focal points and year round color. There’s a perfect plant for every location.
Boxwood (Buxus spp.)
Few plants evoke southern gardening traditions as strongly as boxwood. Boxwood have tiny green leaves that look the same throughout the year. Most cultivars grow slowly and will thrive in full sun or partial shade; they are very low maintenance and generally hardy in Zones 4-9.
Small cultivars, ranging in size from 1-5 feet high and 2-4 feet wide, are perfect choices. Plant them in pots that are at least as tall and wide as the plant and choose a location that provides some protection from harsh winter wind. Boxwood require a loamy potting soil that drains well. They should be watered regularly, especially during hot, dry summer months. Boxwood benefit from the addition of several inches of compost to the top of their potting soil every spring. Since boxwood are shallow rooted, other plants shouldn’t be added to their containers.
Three interesting ones to consider are ‘Glencoe’, a hybrid selected by the Chicago Botanic Garden for use in containers; ‘Green Mound’, a globe-shaped hybrid; and ‘Green Mountain’, a hybrid with a pyramidal shape that adds an interesting sculptural element to the garden.
Boxwood are a traditional choice for containers in most gardens.
If you’re looking for a plant to add architectural interest and drama to a container planting, then Yucca is an excellent choice. Y. filamentosahas upright, sword-shaped leaves that are edged with curly “hairs.” There are both green and bicolored varieties.
Yucca prefer full sun to partial sun and are highly tolerant of heat, humidity, and drought. To avoid root rot in winter, plant them in a loose soil that drains well. Hardiness varies by species and cultivar. Yucca look lovely planted alone in a wide, shallow, bowl-shaped container.
There are several bicolor yuccas that are especially dramatic in containers and are medium sized (2-3 feet tall and equally wide). Both Y. filamentosa ‘Color Guard’ and ‘Wilder’s Wonderful’ have leaves with creamy golden centers and green edges. The leaf edges of ‘Wilder’s Wonderful’ have a bluish tint.
Yucca can add instant architectural interest to the garden.
Small sedum plants are striking when planted in groups of pots.
Sedum are a group of succulents known for their colorful, fleshy foliage and ease of culture. They prefer well-drained soil and full to nearly full sun. They are generally hardy in USDA Zones 4-9. Once established, they require infrequent watering. The low-growing, creeping varieties are perfect for small accent containers and as companion plants in larger pots. Try planting sedum in groups of differently sized hypertufa pots. For more textural interest, add a large pot of moss.
Some Sedum develop interesting coloration during winter. Try S. spurium‘Tricolor’, a low-growing creeper with pale green leaves edged with white. In winter, the leaves become pinkish. S. rupestre‘Angelina' is another creeping variety with chartreuse needle-like foliage that turns orange in winter.
Slow-growing dwarf or miniature conifers are available in a variety of colors and shapes. Pyramids, globes, and irregular weeping forms can be found with green, blue-green, and yellow foliage. Dwarf conifers grow 1-6 inches annually; miniatures grow less than an inch annually. Growth habits range from compact to loose and open. Most dwarf and miniature conifers need moist, well-drained soil with lots of organic matter. They can be grown in sun to partial sun; they should be watered regularly and given some protection during periods of extreme cold. Most are hardy in USDA Zones 4-7 or higher.
Dwarf hinoki cypress can be used to draw attention to entrances.
Dwarf and miniature conifers generally don’t need extensive root space, so they can be planted in wide saucer-shaped bowls or troughs. Containers of conifers are striking when used as a solitary specimen near gates or grouped along a path to highlight different growth habits. Chamaecyporisobtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’ is a dwarf hinoki cypress with an irregular upright habit; C. obtusa‘Ellie B’ is a miniature. Low-maintenance Piceaglaucavar. albertiana‘Conica’ is a dwarf Alberta spruce with a compact, pyramidal growth habit and dense needles. It can be pruned as a topiary. Thujaoccidentalisaurea‘Golden’ has a very small globe shape with golden foliage.
Heucheraare low-growing, mounding plants with ruffled, heart-shaped leaves. They’re grown primarily for their colorful foliage and are available in a variety of colors – purple, burgundy with silver venation, chartreuse, and bronze. Most Heucheraprefer full to partial shade, but some newer caramel-colored cultivars can withstand more exposure to sun. They are hardy in USDA Zones 4-9. Plant Heuchera in rich, well-drained soil.
Heucheracan be used alone in medium-sized pots or as companions with other potted plants. They are excellent choices for adding interesting colors to winter gardens. ‘Paprika’ has bright coral to orange foliage and can withstand full sun. ‘Velvet Night’ changes color with the seasons – red in spring, taupe in summer, and ruby red in fall. It tolerates heat, humidity and some drought. ‘Ginger Peach’ is a rapid grower with large amber ruffled leaves. It tolerates full sun and will quickly fill a container.
There are so many ways to design container combinations that look lovely year round and so many plants to consider. While there’s nothing more traditional or striking than an arrangement of containers of various sizes planted with boxwood near the entrance to a home, don’t forget nontraditional choices. Not interested in conifers or yucca? Then make a simple pot of moss, perhaps the most elegant choice of all. Consider the fleshy, prickly holly fern (Cyrtomiumfalcatum‘Rochfordianum’), maybe even a hardy palm. Experiment and discover the beauty of year round container gardens.
Holly fern is an evergreen variety that combines nicely with pansies for additional color in fall, winter, and spring.
Container size: Choose an attractive container that is large enough to allow for growth and is the right shape. Some plants require deep containers, while others grow well in wide, shallow ones. Drainage is also important, so be sure that the container has drainage holes.
Container durability: Choose containers that can withstand winter cold and summer heat without cracking. Line the inside of the pot with bubble wrap for extra protection for the pot and plant.
Potting soil: Select a potting soil that is appropriate for each plant. Repot the plant and replace the soil after three to four years, if necessary.
Moisture: Container gardens require frequent watering, especially during hot summer months and again during early winter. Continue watering container plants until the soil is frozen.
Plant: Review the growing conditions for the plants you’re considering – full sun, partial sun, shade, etc. Make sure that the plants you choose are hardy in your area. Remember that pots won’t completely protect a plant’s roots from the cold. Avoid selecting a plant that requires a lot of attention. Look for plants that are particularly suitable for growing in pots.
Location: The right plant in the right pot in the best location in the garden. It’s always best to determine the location before filling the pot.
Consider leaving billowing dead grasses in pots all winter; just cut them back in early spring before they break dormancy.
A version of this article appeared in a March 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening. Photography courtesy of Cynthia Wood.
This is the front entrance to the “Meditation Pavilion” that won the 2014 “Project of the Year” Grand Award in the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association Landscape awards program.
This garden designer created her own green space by combining her knowledge of horticulture as well as spiritual principles, sacred geometry, Eastern thinking on healing and other philosophical fundamentals.
Like me, Nancy Drobnick grew up helping her Dad in the nursery business. Unlike me, her husband and partner in Miriam’s River House Designs, Cliff, is a certified public accountant, and a numbers man. The moment I stepped into the garden they have been renovating together since purchasing a 3-acre wooded riverfront property in Bentleyville in 2000, I knew I was entering the most out-of-this-world private garden I’ve ever had the privilege of touring.
You might think that statement is just one woman’s opinion, but you’d be mistaken. The Drobnick’s garden has won numerous design awards from the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association, the Association of Professional Landscape Designers, and most recently was named a 2015 “Best of Houzz” for design.
Nancy has been studying metaphysical principles for more than 40 years, and during that time her passion for it and plants have merged together to come forth in her plantscapes. I believe there is a right place for every plant in the landscape. However, in Nancy’s designs there is also a philosophical logic behind where and how each plant, stone and piece of artwork is placed. Their garden is different because it isn’t just pretty to look at; there is a true rhyme and reason for placement often centered on spiritual principles, sacred geometry, Eastern thinking on healing and other philosophical fundamentals.
Designer-Owner Nancy Drobnick stands at the opening to a small “Stone House Ruin Garden.” It is part of a dynamic garden design that traces the sun’s movement of time throughout the year.
Nancy says, “We believe that everything around us has a story to tell about the Universe’s purpose and our purpose within that framework. That’s what metaphysical design is in a nutshell. It is the combined philosophical concepts of many disciplines all woven into a theme to enhance our journey in conscious awareness. Through the design process we use these concepts in our structures and gardens, weaving them into a tapestry of our client’s journey.”
When conceiving gardens and structures, Nancy sees herself physically in the design and can visualize and interact within the space, even before it is designed or built. She feels that the beauty of metaphysical design is that it evokes curiosity and thoughtfulness both which help to facilitate conscious awareness. For instance, she says that the “Sun and Moon Garden,” just one of their award-winning projects, was created out of an interest in the cosmos and how we all fit into the Universe. She feels it speaks to the balance in life and how interdependent we all are, often upon forces we cannot even see.
Cliff and Nancy love seeing the joy and feeling of peacefulness others get when they interact with their gardens and structural designs. It is not only rewarding from them, but equally so for their lucky visitors. For more information about each of the individual gardens that compromise the Drobnick’s property, visit miriamsriverhousedesigns.com.
This Japanese tea house has been featured and highlighted on Houzz.com numerous times in the past two years for its unique artistic qualities. This design was also named a Gold Award winner in the 2012 Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association Landscape Awards program.
A view from inside the Japanese tea house. Metaphysical design incorporates the importance of inside and outside views enhancing one another.
The designed stone “Inukshuk” communicates to the viewer what lies ahead on the path.
The “Green Arbor” roof comes alive with plant material that complements the horticultural aspects of the surrounding garden. This “Green Arbor”won a 2014 Gold Award in the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association Landscape awards program.
The “Stone House Ruin Garden” hosts the sacred geometrical time clock that was chosen in a national competition to be on the Herb Society of America’s 2013 Calendar Cover. This garden was also named a 2012 Gold Award winner in the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association Landscape Awards.
The front of the Japanese tea house prior to the “River Blessing” ceremony in August 2015.
The “Sun and Moon Garden” inner design documents the solar system and the cosmos. Besides its APLD honor, it was also named a 2014 Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association Gold Award recipient.
The “Stone Arch” entrance to the “Sun and Moon Garden” won a 2014 Gold Award for structural design in the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association Landscape Awards competition.
The completed “Sun and Moon Garden” walkway, which along with the “Stone Arch” and the inner “Sun and Moon Garden” area, won an International Gold Award from Association of Professional Landscape Designers in 2014.
(A version of this article appeared in print in Ohio Gardener, Volume 6, Issue 02. Photography by Maria Zampini)
Members of the genus Plectranthus are such interesting plants. Their soft fuzzy leaves are fun to touch and each has its own unique scent. They’re also among the easiest plants to grow if you give them what they want.
What they mostly want is to be left alone. Most like to dry out between waterings, but people often hasten their demise by overwatering during our long wet summers. Plectranthus need extremely well-draining soils, which is why I choose to grow most of mine in containers.
Vicks plant (P. tomentosa) is a good example. I grow this one as a novelty, since it’s not very pretty as it ages. I keep it compact as long as I can by pinching back, but its base eventually gets woody and its stems get leggy. That’s why I prefer to start new plants from cuttings every few months. If I have a stuffy nose, I break a leaf in half and inhale its aroma. Some people inhale the steam from crushed leaves infused in hot water.
Lobster flower makes a great container subject.
Lobster flower (P. neochilus) lasts longer and stays tidier for me than Vick’s plant. Also known as skunk plant, it makes a nice ground cover for dry areas in partial shade. As its name suggests, it has a very pungent scent when bruised. It also seems impervious to pests, including snails. Cats and dogs won’t go near it, and it’s actually used to deter snakes in parts of Africa. It also makes a nice container plant, as it takes less pinching than Vick’s plant to keep it in bounds. A bank of lobster flower in bloom is a sight to behold, but it’s very cold sensitive and only reliably hardy in USDA Zones 10-11.
One species I can’t resist growing from time to time is silver spurflower (P. argentatus). I put it in my front flowerbed, where its large silvery leaves contrast nicely with blue salvias and others. It grows to 2 feet or so, and produces spikes of white flowers during the summer. Most sources advise you to remove the flowers, since they supposedly detract from their foliage. But I actually find them attractive. Silver spurflower is a short-lived perennial for me, so I keep it going from cuttings.
Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’ has some of the showiest blooms of all.
Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’ is another one I love for its flowers. It’s definitely an accent plant, and not one that mixes well with others. It simply grabs too much attention with its showy spikes of lavender flowers. But it looks great in containers, where it can bloom for months on end in areas that receive bright (but not direct) sunlight. I grow it mainly during the winter, as it rots out easily during our summers.
Cuban oregano, or Mexican mint, (P. amboinicus) makes a great container plant, as long as you remember to pinch it back often enough to keep it compact. Sooner or later it always outgrows my containers and I end up starting over with cuttings. I’ve grown several different varieties, and find variegated ones quite ornamental. Variegated forms of Swedish ivy (P. verticillatus) are also quite attractive, and great fillers for shady containers.
It’s worth noting that many coleus species previously classified in the genus Solenostemon are now classified as Plectranthus. Sun coleus in particular are great for containers. In general, the smaller and darker the leaf, the more drought and sun tolerant they are. Sun coleus live much longer than old-fashioned seed varieties.
One plectranthus I’m currently experimenting with in the Mounts’ butterfly garden is false boldo (Plectranthus). Though it reportedly grows to 5 feet or so in south Florida, it has stayed much shorter so far. If it blooms as well in the garden as it does in the Mounts’ nursery; it just may become my new favorite!
Left: The blooms of false boldo are quite impressive. Right: Lobster flower makes a great container subject.
Most Plectranthus like morning and late afternoon sun, but appreciate a break from the sun during the hottest part of the day. Cuban oregano and sun coleus like more sun than most. Make sure you water early enough to allow leaves to dry before nightfall. In the Mounts’ nursery, we start Vicks plant, Cuban oregano, and lobster flower in 6-inch pots, three cuttings to a pot. We fill pots three-fourths with potting soil, and then top with a 50/50 mix of perlite and peat moss. This allows cuttings to take quickly before they have a chance to rot out.
Vicks plant has a very pleasing fragrance.
Cuban oregano is sometimes known as Mexican mint.
Sun coleus are bred to take more sun than seed varieties.
Left: Swedish ivy is a classic for shady containers. Right: Silver spurflower looks good in the mixed border and has pretty blooms.
A version of this article appeared in print in Florida Gardening Volume XXI Issue I. Photography by Tom Hewitt.
Gardeners normally think of caterpillars as pests that injure plants they are trying to grow, but some caterpillars can actually injure people, stinging or causing skin rashes. However, most caterpillars cannot sting because they are not equipped to do so. Although many caterpillars have spines or hairs on their body that look like they might sting or cause irritation, there is usually no venom associated with these spines or hairs, and they are usually not able to penetrate human skin. Stinging caterpillars have special, sharp spines or hairs that are linked to venom glands. Unlike bees and wasps, caterpillars do not actively sting; rather, the stings occur when an unsuspecting victim accidentally presses an area of skin against the caterpillar.
Severity of caterpillar stings varies considerably depending on species, degree of contact and individual sensitivity. Lightly brushing the back of your hand across an Io moth caterpillar (Automeris io) may only cause a slight prickling sensation, but leaning back against a puss caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis) that has crawled inside your shirt will probably cause much greater pain. Eye or mucous membrane contact is usually more serious than skin contact.
You cannot tell whether a caterpillar can sting just by looking at it. Some of the most dangerous-looking caterpillars are actually quite harmless. The hickory horned devil caterpillar, also known as the royal walnut moth (Citheroniaregalis), is a good example. These large caterpillars are sometimes found in late summer or fall, crawling about in search of a place to pupate. The orange and black spines located on the back may look dangerous, but they are just a bluff. The cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia) is another large caterpillar with wicked-looking, but harmless, spines.
Mature hickory horned devil caterpillar's spines may look formidable, but they are harmless. (5 inches)
The spines on this cecropia caterpillar (Hyalophora cecropia) are not as dangerous as they look. (4 inches)
The horn on the rear of the tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta) is soft and pliable and will not penetrate the skin. It is not a stinger. (3½ inches)
Gulf fritillary larvae (Agraulis vanillae) are covered with spines, but they do not sting. (1¾ inch)
Many people are intimidated by the “horn” on the rear of the tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta), a large, green caterpillar that often defoliates backyard tomato plants. This horn is a distinguishing trait of most sphinx moth caterpillars. It may look a bit like a stinger, but it is flexible and harmless. The spine-covered gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) feed on wild maypops (Passiflora incarnata) and other passionflower vines (Passiflora spp.) in butterfly gardens. They certainly look prickly, but they do not sting. The orange color is to warn potential predators that they are poisonous if eaten.
Io moth caterpillars (Automeris io) look like they can sting and they can. They are heavily armed with sharp, venomous spines. Buck moth caterpillars (Hemileuca maia) are similarly armed. Intense contact with a buck moth caterpillar, such as inadvertently sitting on one while wearing shorts, can even leave a caterpillar shaped scar. Fortunately, buck moths have only one generation per year, but in some regions the wandering prepupal caterpillars can be quite numerous in spring to early summer.
The saddleback caterpillar (Acharia stimulea) is another stinging species. This unusual caterpillar belongs to the group called slug caterpillars, and most slug caterpillars have stinging spines. Crowned slugs (Isa textula) are only about ⅝ inches long, but can cause unpleasant stings if one drops down your shirt collar on a windy fall day. One of our strangest-looking stinging caterpillars is the monkey slug, also known as the hag moth (Probetron pithecium).
Io moth caterpillars (Automeris io) are well armed with stinging spines. (2½ inches)
Buck moth caterpillars (Hemileuca maia) can cause painful stings and can even leave scars. (2½ inches)
Saddleback caterpillars (Acharia stimulea) look like they can sting – and they can. (1 inch)
Crowned slug caterpillars (Isa textula) have a border of stinging spines. (⅝ inch)
One of our most harmless-looking caterpillars causes the most painful stings. Puss caterpillars (Megalopyge opercularis) may look cute and cuddly, but their stings can send people to the hospital. Victims usually report intense pain that radiates through the armpits and across the chest from stings on an arm, or through the groin area from stings on a leg. Even dead caterpillars or shed skins can cause stings. Fortunately, puss caterpillars are not common, but outbreaks occasionally occur on shrubs in home landscapes or public grounds.
Puss caterpillars (Megalopyge opercularis) may look pettable, but their sting can be extremely painful! (1 inch)
Hag moth caterpillars or monkey slugs (Probetron pithecium) have stinging spines at the tips of the tentacles. (1 inch)
Eastern tent caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum) do not have stinging spines, but those hairs can cause an irritating rash. (1¾ inch)
Many hairy caterpillars can cause rashes or dermatitis when they come in close contact with the skin. Symptoms range from mild irritation to an intensely itching rash with reddened, inflamed skin.
Eastern tent caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum) is one species capable of causing skin rashes. This is the caterpillar that builds tents in the forks of wild cherry trees in early spring. There is only one generation per year, but mature larvae sometimes end up dropping down a shirt collar while wandering in search of a pupation site. These hairs can also cause problems if consumed. Of course, people rarely eat caterpillars, but grazing horses sometimes do. Pregnant mares that inadvertently ingest wandering eastern tent caterpillars will often abort their foals, a phenomenon known as mare reproductive loss syndrome.
How do you avoid having unpleasant encounters with stinging caterpillars? Knowing which caterpillars are capable of stinging helps. Teach children to recognize the stinging species most common in your area and teach them to be wary of any spiny or hairy caterpillars. Be especially alert during outbreaks of stinging species. People who live in areas where buck moth caterpillars are common know to look before sitting when these caterpillars are out. Gardeners are more likely to encounter stinging caterpillars than most folks because they spend more time outside working in the yard and garden. One of the best defenses is to wear gloves and long sleeves when pruning, hauling limbs and doing similar chores, especially in the fall when many of these stinging species are most common.
A version of this article appeared in a State-by-State Gardening February 2009 print editon. Photos by Blake Layton.
Our eyes are often bigger than our gardens, and we end up with more plants that we can use or plants unsuitable for our gardens. With a little advance research, you’ll be happier with your purchases in the long run. Here are 10 solid recommendations for you to consider.
Monarch Promise Butterfly Weed (Asclepias hybrid)
For the gardener who has everything, this is a completely novel annual butterfly weed that attracts monarchs and other butterflies, bees and hummingbirds with its brilliant orange-red blooms all summer long. Its variegated foliage is a remarkable mélange of silvery green, cream, pink and orange tones. Monarch Promise looks fantastic as a thriller in combination containers or paired with other colorful annuals and perennials in the landscape. Buy it as soon as you see it. Monarch Promise will be in short supply this year, and will surely sell out quickly this first year. Full sun. 24-30 inches tall. Annual.
Monarch Promise butterfly weed (Asclepias hybrid) offers the total package: dynamite blooms and fantastic foliage. 1
Meteor Shower vervain (Verbena bonariensis)
Meteor Shower verbena quickly rose to the top of everyone’s favorites list during the trials at Proven Winners. This is a shorter, fuller version of the species, with a key improvement being that plants set little seed, so it won’t become invasive in your garden. Butterflies and bees swarm its dainty periwinkle-purple flowers all summer. Use it as a flowering thriller in your containers, sprinkle it liberally throughout your landscape, and be sure to snip a few stems to accent your fresh bouquets. Full sun. 30-36 inches tall. Annual.
Meteor Shower Vervain (Verbena bonariensis) is very easy to grow in any sunny location and blooms all season long. 2
FlameThrower coleus (Plectrantus hybrid)
Loads of new coleuses have made their debut over the past two years and 2016 will yield more, new, must-have varieties. The FlameThrower series, which includes Chili Pepper, Chipotle and Spiced Curry, has incredibly distinctive, lightning rod-shaped leaves, and maintains its bushy habit all season in sun or shade, with very little maintenance. It is very late to flower, which is a desirable trait for coleus. Equally impressive with a similar look is Marquee Special Effects coleus, also debuting in 2016. Sun to shade. 18-24 inches tall. Annual.
The new FlameThrower series of coleus (Plectranthus hybrid) delivers outstanding all-season performance in sun and shade with very little maintenance required. 3
Coleus Flame Thrower Spiced Curry 4
Coleus Flame Thrower Chili Pepper. 5
‘Sandy’ Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
This 2015 All-America Selections award winner has everything you want in a head of lettuce. Sown from seed, you’ll have baby lettuce ready to pick in 30 days, or mature heads in 50 days during the cool growing seasons. Its sweet, dark green, frilly leaves are slow to bolt, even in the heat, and are resistant to powdery mildew, downy mildew and tip burn. ‘Sandy’ is well adapted to grow in containers and raised beds, but can also be grown in the garden. Sun to part sun. Under 10 inches tall. Vegetable.
2015 AAS winner ‘Sandy’ Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is well-adapted to grow in containers and raised beds. 6
SunSparkler Sedoro ‘Blue Elf’ (xSedoro)
A brand new intergeneric cross, this is the world’s first Sedumx Orostachys cross that is hardy to USDA Zone 4, hybridized in West Michigan. In colder zones, this plant can be treated as a tender succulent, and brought indoors for winter. Steel-blue rosettes of tightly packed, succulent leaves form a low, 15-inch wide mound that becomes covered in sweetly fragrant, deep pink flowers, which attract bees and butterflies in late summer and early fall. Excellent for rock gardens, edging sunny pathways, and troughs. Full sun. 3 inches tall. USDA Zones 4-9. Perennial.
SunSparkler ‘Blue Elf’ (x Sedoro) is the world’s first USDA Zone 4 hardy Sedoro. Its steel-blue foliage is blanketed by deep pink flowers from late summer into fall. 7
Take It Easy shrub rose (Rosa ‘WEKyoopedko’)
“Take it Easy is an outstanding new rose that lives up to its name. It raises the bar and establishes a new standard for all roses of its type and class. It is the best new rose to come down the garden path in the last 10 years,” said rosarian Frank Vonn Koss of Ray Wiegand Nursery. This is a worry-free, lightly fragrant, classic red rose, with naturally pest and disease resistant, dark green, shiny foliage. Its excellent vigor and low maintenance mean you can just Take It Easy and enjoy its beautiful blooms. Full sun. 3-4 feet tall. USDA Zones 4-9. Shrub.
Take It Easy rose (Rosa ‘WEKyoopedko’) is the new gold standard in red shrub roses, with naturally disease resistant foliage and lightly scented blooms. 8
A version of this article appeared in a State-by-State Gardening Jan/Feb 2016 print edition.
1 Photo courtesy Hort Couture
2 Photo courtesy Susan Martin
3-5 Photos courtesy Ball Horticultural Co
6 Photo courtesy All-America Selections
7 Photo courtesy Susan Martin
8 Photo courtesy Weeks Roses
Designing Mini-gardens Using Potted Plants by Bill Shores #Containers
Container gardening is so enjoyable because of its possibilities for creative expression. There is an almost endless variety of ways to design and use containers. For example, in a classic design, a container is filled with a pleasing arrangement of plants with differing heights, textures and colors. This method can result in stunning arrangements; however, it does have limitations.
Red and orange ornamental peppers spice up this arrangement, surrounded by yellow French marigolds, red geraniums, Swiss chard and the perennial pink-flowering turtlehead (Chelone).
Why not expand on the classic container method and make a larger ensemble of plants? Something we could call a “mini-garden” made up of any number of potted plants arranged in a pleasing way. These mini-gardens offer the same creative potential as the single classic container but with added advantages: a more natural, cohesive feel, greatly increased visual impact and the option to rearrange the mini-garden as the season progresses.
Another advantage is that plants in a mini-garden have plenty of room to grow in their own container, which allows for larger and lusher growth. In addition, plants that are placed together in a cluster will create their own microclimate, protecting each other from wind and extreme heat or cold.
To make a mini-garden, start by choosing an existing feature to serve as a backdrop. Good features include a wall or corner, a large potted plant such as a tree, a column or perhaps a shelf mounted on a wall. Potted plants of different heights are arranged to form a base or backdrop. Adding potted plants around the base mimics the way that living systems build up in nature around base with features such as ponds, boulders and trees.
Choose plants with different heights, placing the larger plants towards the back with medium plants in the middle and smaller ones along the front. However, avoid rigidity in placing plants by height. Using layered plants of different types will make for a casual, naturalistic arrangement. As needed, add several containers of the same or similar plant for more cohesion and order, and to avoid an overly busy arrangement.
For a more formal look, use deliberate repetition such as a ring of potted specimens of the same plant around a larger pot. If space allows, this formal center could be flanked by more casually placed plants around the sides. Feel free to change it up, move things around or switch out plants as needed until you get the desired effect.
Pay attention to the design and colors of the containers as these will form part of the design. It can be fun to make a mini-garden using pots of the same colors. Plants that have attractive tops but long, leggy stems such as dracaena work well in mini-gardens as mid-sized plants can be placed in the arrangement to hide the bare stem. Another way to provide a pleasing layer is to place some of the mid-to-small size pots on bricks to achieve the desired height.
Be sure to pay attention to light conditions. Generally, it is best to use plants with similar light needs. For example, make a shade mini-garden using a variety of shade-tolerant plants. That said, some of the plants in the back of the mini-garden may be in partial to full shade when they’re part of larger, more complex arrangements that are ostensibly in the full sun.
Once you get started on using container designs, you will discover the many advantages and delights they provide. You may then decide to make mini-gardens a key part of your container gardening toolkit.
With a touch of red against a collection of chartreuse-leaved houseplants, this shady back porch comes alive. The tall striped dracaena ‘Song of India’ anchors the display, surrounded by caladiums, a wood fern, syngonium, calathea and ‘Gartenmeister’, a red-orange blooming fuchsiasu. The ever-invasive mint is kept under control in a blue pot on the left.
A large container grouping needs a large plant as an anchor or center of attention. Here that role is played by the giant banana plant (Musa spp.) that towers over an assortment of red-leaved caladiums, snake plant (Sanseviera spp.) and others.
A collection of cascading greens is transformed into a living sculpture against by a nondescript beige wall, accented by simple rough-hewn stone shelving.
A version of this article appeared in print in Chicagoland Gardening Volume XXII Issue I. Photography by Bill Shores.
Growing Figs in the Midwest Is Hard, but Rewarding by Chris Eirschele
Gardeners who have searched for bold leaves on a tall easy-to-grow plant for their indoor garden are familiar with Ficus by such names as the rubber plant (Ficus elastic) and the fiddleleaf fig (Ficus pandurata). But, it is Ficus carica that goes beyond the endearing foliage to produce a harvest of edible fruit gardeners with stoic green thumbs are sure to enjoy.
It can be said that gardeners who attempt to grow plants on the edge of their hardiness Zone push the proverbial envelope. For Midwest gardeners living in hardiness Zones 5 and 6, growing fig plants outside will be a challenge, albeit worth the fresh fall harvest.
Midwest Strategies for Growing a Fig Tree
Ficus carica produces fruit on a large deciduous shrub or a short tree, ranging from 10 feet to 30 feet tall. Considered a Mediterranean plant, this fig tree likes growing in hot temperatures and is evergreen in Zones 8 to 10. On the other end of the spectrum are hardiness Zones 5 and 6, where fig plants living outside must be heavily protected or brought indoors to survive the winter months. Outside during the growing season, figs should be planted in well-draining sandy soil (not rich soil) and positioned in full sun.
Midwest gardeners will have better success growing fig plants by thinking ahead on plans for winter protection. Locating a fig on the south side of a building will provide that sunny exposure and, at the same time, give it a wind break against harsh winters. Butting the small tree up against a trellis or training the fruit tree into an espalier form against a structure will add stability.
Ficus carica can be grown in a large pot, such as in a whiskey barrel. The tree should be staked and be limbed up or kept pruned to a manageable size for easier moving later to an inside location.
Gardeners start pruning their fig trees when the plant turns dormant. Pinch back stems and cut back limbs to create a strong central trunk and to later prevent issues with snow load, no matter the style of garden or technique used growing a fig.
Fig Trees Bundled Up Against Snowy Winters
Winter protection surrounding fig trees is paramount for survival in hardiness Zones 5 and 6. After the tree is pruned down (to as low as 4 feet tall,) young branches can be folded up against the center and encased along with the lower trunk in burlap. Layers of extra mulch should be placed on the ground under the tree’s canopy.
If a young tree has not already been staked up the center or trellised, install a stake — especially if the fig plant is sited on a windy location. Gardeners may want to encircle a temporary fence around the tree with chicken-wire and fill the inside with straw or leaf mulch.
Fig trees living in containers can be moved indoors to overwinter. A conservatory-like setting, a warm greenhouse or an unheated basement are all reasonable choices. Gardeners will want to add protection depending on the circumstances but reducing the amount and frequency of watering is appropriate as fall turns colder. When the last of the spring frosts are gone, un-layering the protection around a fig tree a little at a time will help acclimate the plant to late spring temperatures.
Fig Plants to Tolerate Colder Climates
Fig trees like ‘Chicago Hardy’, also called Ficus carica ‘Bensonhurst Purple’, fit into small garden designs and will cast a bit of shade in a kitchen garden.1
Fig plants have similar attractive foliage forms. This is Ficus carica ‘Peter’s Honey’, which produces a yellowish-green fruit with amber flesh.1
The fruit of a fig plant is small, but may add an unexpected colorful flair to the edible garden. ‘Chicago Hardy’ fruits evolve from purple to deep brown.
Midwest gardeners should choose cultivars of fig plants that have demonstrated winter hardiness and only need a shorter growing season to produce a harvest.
Cultivars of Ficus carica like ‘Brown Turkey’ and ‘Chicago Hardy,’ which is also called ‘Bensonhurst Purple’, produce small fruits but, more important, they are noted for the good winter hardiness. The ‘Chicago Hardy’ fig develops a dark purplish brown skin.
At a trial planting at Powell Gardens in Western Missouri, ‘Peter’s Honey’, ‘Atreano’ and ‘Mission’ Fig’ produced substantial plants in their Heartland Harvest Garden.
The fig tree has dark green foliage that features large highly defined lobed leaves. The foliage growing on the tree will cast shade across a small area of garden, but the plant is not grown for its flower display. Gardeners working hard to grow figs, though, will be rewarded with fresh fruit.
1. Chris Eirschele
2. Logee's Plants for Home & Garden
The new growth on the dappled willow (Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nishiki’) has a pink hue.1
One of the more popular ornamental trees for the Midwestern landscape is the dappled willow (Salix integra 'Hakuro-nishiki'). It appears to have everything going for it: a weeping appearance and grayish green foliage that is highlighted with streaks of pink and white. It is also fast growing, offering the lure of instant gratification.
Let’s not forget it is also a willow, which as we well know, can get a little unruly. Which is not to say you shouldn’t plant dappled willow, but rather a-gardener-beware warning appears to be in order. Dappled willow sprouts branches and shoots from just about every possible growing point. Despite it having the discipline of a young puppy, it is still a worthwhile plant for the landscape and will withstand the most brutal winter Mother Nature can throw at us. It is also listed as deer resistant.
The Japanese cultivar of dappled willow, ‘Hakuro-nishiki’, has been growing in my backyard for about three years. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t part with it anymore than I’d discard my favorite gardening tool. I just need to accept a few realities about growing this beautiful dappled willow. Following are a few tips.
First, you need a fairly moist soil and a sunny to partially sunny location. Dappled willow will like a spot in your yard where water naturally runs after a rain, including rain gardens. Allow your dappled willow plenty of elbow room. It will grow to 15-20 feet high and just as wide if you don’t keep it pruned. It grows best in fairly moist soil that has been amended with compost. Avoid planting dappled willow in a sandy upland area, where it’s dry. It is best to plant dappled willow in early spring or early fall, while there is still good moisture in the ground.
We’ve got our dappled willow growing in an island bed in a sandy loam soil that never needs watering, even during summer dry spells. We quickly found out that nearby shrubs were planted too close to the willow. Keep shrubs and perennials at least 6 feet away from the trunk of the willow. Like any tree, add mulch around the base of the plant to help maintain moisture and keep weed trimmers and mowers from damaging the trunk. Be sure not to let the mulch touch the trunk of the tree.
Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nishiki’ can be pruned in midsummer after the variegation of the leaves fade. In just three years, this specimen has encroached on its neighboring shrubs, which will have to be moved.2
Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nishiki’ can also be pruned as a shrub or grown as a standard, where all the branches are pruned.
Expect to prune this plant fairly often. Suckering around the base of the plant can be downright problematic, dictating that you prune them once or twice per season.
The other type of pruning required is the type that will keep this tree from getting too tall and wide. Late winter, or in summer after the variegation has faded, are the best times to do this. Use loppers and pruning shears to keep this ornamental tree tamed and contained. If you’re not experienced in pruning you should probably read up on it a little before getting out the snips. What will be required is some thinning of the branches and heading-back the terminal growth. This keeps the tree contained at about 10 feet tall and about 8 feet wide.
Salix integra is a species native to Japan and Korea, and is associated in those countries with streams, seeps and marshes. Harry Van Der Laar, a famed Dutch Hosta breeder, introduced Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nishiki’ to the west in 1979. The species Salix has been associated with basket making throughout the ages, and the bark of certain willows contains aspirin compounds, which have been used by moms and apothecaries alike.
Tips for planting dappled willow:
• Plant in early spring or fall.
• Plant in moist soil and a sunny to partially shady area.
• Water frequently the first year.
• Fertilize once a year in the early spring.
• Be prepared to do some pruning of suckers and the actual branches.
• Salix integra is hardy in USDA Zones 4 through 9.
Small Fruits to try in the Midwestern Landscape by Kate Jerome #Edibles #Fruit
When the summer fruits start appearing in the farmers’ markets, everyone goes into a frenzy. We love the sweetness of strawberries, raspberries and currants, but many of us are daunted when growing our own. The good news is that it’s not very hard, and you can actually incorporate some of them right into the landscape. Most of them are attractive in their own right, so you get the pleasure of a beautiful yard and garden that pleases the eye and palate.
Most small fruits do well in the home garden and are relatively easy to cultivate. All you need is a sunny site, fairly well-drained soil and good air circulation. Once planted, monitor the moisture levels and mulch with a few inches of good organic matter, such as compost. Soon you will be rewarded with a wondrous bounty.
When choosing plants, be sure to select disease-resistant cultivars and purchase certified disease-free plants. This will go a long way to preventing disease and pest problems.
Strawberries (Fragaria spp.)
These luscious fruits make a superb edging for flower and shrub beds, and they also perform well in containers, hanging baskets and window boxes (as annuals). Strawberries are classified according to the time of harvest, so planting more than one type will ensure you will have berries all summer. In general, it takes about 25 plants to supply fresh fruit for a family of four.
June-bearing strawberries produce all their berries in a two-week period in summer, and they are available in early, mid and late-season varieties. Planting some of each will provide berries for four to six weeks. Everbearing strawberries produce two smaller crops, one in June and one in fall. A third type, called day-neutral, produce fruit all season long, although they have fewer berries in total than June-bearing.
Alpine strawberries taste like SweetTarts and make a beautiful border.
Strawberry season seems so fleeting, but you can stretch it with different varieties.
Alpine strawberries (F. vesca)
This petite type of strawberry is also called “fraise des bois,” which means strawberries of the woods. These bear small, intensely flavored berries with a candy-like flavor. They bear spring to frost, do not produce runners and will reseed themselves in the garden. They make a stunning edge to a flower or vegetable garden and will grow in partial shade.
Currants (Ribes spp.)
There’s nothing quite so pretty as strings of red jewels hanging in the sunlight. Currants make a lovely 3-foot-tall hedge or foundation plant with graceful arching stems and soft yellow fall color. Currants come in red, white and black, with reds being slightly tangy, whites being quite sweet and blacks with a musky, strong flavor. One happy side of growing currants is that they can take some shade. They take little care, except annual pruning, and will produce buckets of fruits for the best jelly in the world.
Red and white currants are self-pollinating, so you only need one variety. Black currants need two varieties planted together for pollination.
Gooseberries are closely related to currants, although the fruits are larger. They grow on thorny shrubs with arching stems, and the berries can be picked green for traditional gooseberry tart or jam (they need plenty of sugar!), or with a blush of pink for fresh eating. They are self-pollinating and can also be grown in partial shade.
Gooseberries are traditional British fruits that we can add to our landscapes and pies!
Bramble Fruits (Rubus spp.)
Raspberries are often referred to as the food of the kings and for good reason. The taste of a warm raspberry right off the bush will make you cry. Raspberries come in summer-bearing types, which produce their berries all at once in midsummer, and everbearing, which produce a small crop in midsummer and a larger crop in early autumn.
With each type, the canes that bear the fruit die after they’ve finished bearing, and new canes are produced from the crowns. One thing to be aware of with raspberries is that they produce underground rhizomes so they need to be managed in order to keep them in place.
Raspberries come in red, black, purple and gold. All are delicious! Reds are traditionally cultivated, while blacks (also called blackcaps) are native and found wild all over the Midwest. Purple types are a bit more tart and gold berries are soft and sweet and often hard to find in the market.
Blackberries grow wild in the Midwest, and although the wild berries are small, they have extremely intense flavor. Domesticated blackberries have large berries and a milder flavor.
Blackberries produce fruit on second-year canes, so they need pruning to keep them bearing well. When harvesting, make sure that the berries actually fall into your hand to ensure that they are completely ripe and sweet. Otherwise, they may look ripe, but can be quite sour. Also, they tend to lose their high gloss when ready to pick. Blackberries can spread well outside the original planting site, so take care to keep them inbounds.
For a different take on fruits in the landscape, consider adding an elderberry or serviceberry to your yard. These are native plants that have tasty fruits that feed us and wildlife.
Watching birds hang upside down in a serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) will have you laughing and getting out there to taste what is so good to them. Serviceberries are traditionally used as landscape ornamentals, and they produce lovely dark red to purple berries that are delicious when made into pies, jam and fruit leather.
Elderberries (Sambucus canadensis, S. nigra) produce great clouds of white flowers followed by inky-purple berries that make absolutely wonderful syrup, jam and wine.
At the top of the steps leading to the knot garden, pink muhly, flanked on each side by
Knock Out roses, presents itself as swinging saloon doors.
It stops traffic in our small town. In the middle of fall, cars come to a screeching halt as the drivers see the stand of pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) rimming the upper left curbing of our circle driveway. It must be the unexpectedness of seeing a swath of pink cotton candy backlit by the soft angle of fall’s lower light that causes this reaction. In early mornings, it is often sprinkled with dew or sparkled with frost, giving the appearance of glistening pink diamonds that would have caused even Elizabeth Taylor to feel intense envy. It is a thing of wondrous awe.
Pink muhly grass waves its pink magic wands like no other. Hardy in USDA Zones 5–10, it requires the sharpest of drainage to prosper. In nature, this grass colonizes the sand dunes along the Gulf of Mexico and the Southern Atlantic coast. My eyes were first blessed to see a blanket of pink illuminated by the setting sun while walking along the boardwalk to the ocean’s edge in South Carolina. It was an epiphany of beauty and totally unexpected. The light, the site and the mass of plants packed tightly together made it appear as if one continuous layer of pink fluff had come to rest on the Earth’s surface.
After seeing that first sea of pink on an October afternoon, plants were located, purchased and hauled back home to our garden, then located in Zone 6. The composition of the soil was anything but sandy; it was more like the stuff of brick-making dense red clay. The planting area had the requisite drainage, but the plants did not live through the winter.
We later moved to Houston, TX, where the soil was sandy and the pink muhly grew naturally. It was placed in our new garden so the setting sun would make the pink muhly grass appear aflame in the fall. It was lovely but not nearly as spectacular as the scene at the South Carolina seashore. The grass was a big player in a small garden dominated by pine trees and yaupon hollies (Ilex vomitoria). More massing was needed to achieve the remembered pink haze.
With backlighting, pink muhly grass, shines along the driveway and stops passersby in their tracks.
In April, pink muhly grass begins growing after being cut to the ground in late winter. Planting spring bloomers around the grass will help give interest until it gains momentum over the summer for the big fall show.
Three years later, we moved back to Tennessee, propelled by the birth of our first grandchild there. This time we settled in a small town that was more than 100 miles to the west and south of our former garden in warmer Zone 7. The soil was still shovel-breaking red clay interspersed with rocks (hardly the light and airy environment of sandy shores beloved by a native grass), but determination sometimes overrides logic. The first fall, a couple of pink muhly grasses in 1-gallon pots joined Knock Out roses in the circular bed that jutted into the space of the driveway.
Looking across the driveway stand of Muhlenbergia capillaris, the original planting can be seen in the round bed by the steps leading to the front door.
The color of the rose blossoms was the perfect marriage to the rosy pink of the muhly grass. Together, they turned the fall garden into a magical fairyland. The same plantings were duplicated on either side of the steps at the top of a hill in the backyard with delightful results. After the gravel driveway was paved with concrete, with some of the gravel tossed along the edge of the upper curbing to help with leveling, the only lawn on the entire property was planted to the left of the garage. The mix of bluegrass and tall fescue did well enough, except for the rocky part at the edge where leftover sand had been spread after stucco was applied to the lower cinder block portion of the garage. Years of applying special grass-starting mix, raking rocks, diligent weeding and faithful watering could not grow the desired lawn there. The idea of trying a stand of pink muhly, like we had seen at the beach years earlier, was carried out with divisions taken from the existing plantings of the driveway bed and the top of the hill. In total, 50 plants were nestled closely together in three narrow rows with hardly more than one living sprig per plug. Not only did every piece live, but they grew and flourished quickly in the sandy gravel and clay mixture. After being cut down to ground level each year in late winter, it was top-dressed with soil conditioner to keep weeds from invading until the grass could fill in.
It was somewhat sparse for the first few seasons, but its potential for greatness shone through when the rising and setting sun was positioned just right in the fall. Patience paid its dividends each year as the muhly grass filled in more until it became a writhing serpent of pink. Gentle breezes or violent storms, wind, rain, ice or snow, the pink muhly stand along the driveway is the object of desire for all who see it, whether they are gardeners or not.
Muhlenbergia capillaris requires full sun and excellent drainage for the best results. Winter temperatures should not dip lower than -20 F, although solme garderners have seen it survive in a protected Zone 4 microclimate. The optimum time for moving or dividing is during the cooler months when rainfall or hand-watering can be done in abundance — although pink muhly is extremely drought-tolerant once established, it needs copious amounts of water to get the roots settled in to its liking. Ask your local nursery to carry the pink muhly. And ask your landscaper to install a mass of it on a slope where the autumn sun can bring out the highlights. Or, you can do what I did and buy a couple of pots and patiently divide them until a sweep of pink perfection is achieved.
Pink muhly grass can be planted in a swath or alone as a focal point.
Pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) looks like a waterfall when covered with December snow.
Botanical Name:Muhlenbergia capillaris
Common Name: Pink muhly grass
Hardiness: USDA Zones 5–10
Height: 3 to 6 feet
Spread: 1 to 3 feet
Growth Habit: Clumping
Growth Pace: Moderate
Light: Full sun is best, but part shade is tolerated.
Maintenance: Low; yearly cutting to the ground
Tolerance: Deer tolerant, drought tolerant, salt tolerant
Uses: Beds and borders, containers, naturalizing, specimen plant or focal point; may be grown as an annual
Seasonal Interest: Winter, summer, fall
Growing Conditions: Tolerates a wide variety of soil conditions from moist to dry, acidic to alkaline, sandy to clay. Established plantings will not need supplemental watering, but the grass will get larger with liberal irrigation. In areas where perennial, Muhlenbergia capillaris won’t start growing until mid to late spring. Major growth and flowering happens when the weather is hot. Winter color is light tan, and it will remain standing and attractive until finally collapsing in January. It can be cut down to ground level at that time (or before) if a neater appearance is preferred. Self-seeding occurs best if it is allowed to stand into midwinter. Seedlings will have fine, flat blades with a slightly bluish tint to distinguish them from lawn and other grasses. Babies show up most reliably in gravel paths.
(A version of this article appeared in a State-by-State Gardening April 2014 print edition. Photos by Frances Fairegarden.)
As a horticulture specialist for the University of Georgia, I certainly get my share of frustrated homeowners that want me to help them recover their house from their overgrown landscape. Where they once had a beautiful vista of their backyard or swimming pool, they now suddenly have a blob of green obscuring the view. Many times, they are uncertain whether they should try to prune the bush down a few feet in hope of getting their window back, or go through the arduous task of yanking out the beastly plant altogether. While the best solution would have been to plant the appropriately sized plant to begin with, we do not always have that luxury when we purchase a used home. Renewal pruning, sometimes called rejuvenating pruning, is one option that can help recover a severely overgrown plant or landscape. This radical pruning technique can buy some time and add many years to your existing overgrown plants.
Using a pruning saw, prune the plant to a height of 6-15 inches.
The first year, prune every other branch to 6-8 inches. The following year, prune the branches previously left untouched.
It might be helpful at this point to define exactly what rejuvenating pruning is. In simple terms, it means taking an existing overgrown shrub and pruning it back radically to a height of 6-15 inches. When radically pruning a shrub, you are essentially removing all existing branches as well as any damaged trunks, giving the plant a second chance of being a shapely and attractive shrub. A plant that has been rejuvenated through pruning be reminiscent of a coat rack when you finish the job. However, done properly at the right time of year, the shrub will re-flush within the same season, once again providing a more manageable plant in your landscape. A chemical hormone in the base of the plant triggers a positive response, signaling to the many hidden buds to regenerate and sprout new growth.
When it comes to pruning plants in this radical fashion, the time of year in which you do it means everything. Severe pruning should be done just prior to the new spring growth. In most cases, this means that your rejuvenating pruning should be done anytime from late January through late February. If your plant is an early blooming variety such as an azalea, you will definitely lose the bloom in the upcoming season. However, the reason to employ such a severe pruning is to salvage an overgrown plant that is no longer welcome. Blooming plants will recover and provide a show again the following year.
It is important to consider that not every shrub out there can be radically pruned and rejuvenated. Bearing that in mind, the fortunate fact is that the majority of plants can. On the short list of what not to prune severely would be juniper varieties, boxwoods, pine species, cedars and most hardwood trees. They will not recover well from a hard pruning. That leaves a long list of many plants in the landscape that can be cut back hard in order to bring back new life. Most large-leafed shrubs such as hollies, ligustrums and similar plants recover well from this type of pruning. Even many small-leafed shrubs such as yaupon, azalea or Japanese hollies come back readily when severely pruned for recovery reasons. If you are in doubt about whether the plants you have can be severely pruned, or you aren’t even sure what type of plant you have, take a branch or sample of the plant to your local extension office for identification. This might save a lot of later grief.
This large luster leaf holly should have been cut back closer to the ground to form a totally new plant. As it is, the new emerging branches will be very unproportional to the existing stubs.
Another example of not pruning severe enough. This plant should have been taken down to a height of 8 to 10 inches from the ground.
When it comes to giving our shrubs a crew cut, there are a few techniques that work best. Depending on the diameter of the limbs, your selection of pruning equipment may vary. While a small hand clipper could easily cut back a Knock Out rose or butterfly bush, you need heavier artillery to tackle overgrown hollies and larger stemmed plants. Pruning saws, particularly the razor sharp folding type sold in most nurseries, perform well on larger branched shrubs. In the most severe cases, I sometimes use a small chainsaw to eliminate half or more of the upper half of the plant and then use large lopping shears or a pruning saw to make finishing cuts, 6-8 inches at the base of the plant. Your final cuts should always be as clean as possible and done at a slight angle to allow water to run off. The final result is to have a cleanly cut stump with short stems protruding out on a slight angle. While you may be tempted to use a pruning seal, or paint, on these exposed stems, our research shows that leaving them open to heal is the best method for a speedy recovery and flush of new growth. As the plant begins to shoot out new growth in the spring and summer, you may need to trim it and pinch it back a few times to create a fuller shape.
If the thought of pruning your beloved shrub down to the ground is just too much for you to bear, there is an alternative. You could consider doing what is called a two-year renewal pruning. Basically, the technique is the same, except in this case, you only prune out every other main branch to 6-8 inches. This leaves every other branch untouched to provide a less drastic, early look to your landscape. The following year, prune the branches you previously left untouched, allowing the ones you pruned out earlier to continue to re-flush.
This holly is almost lost in the other shrubs due to its overgrown size. A renewal pruning can salvage the plant for years to come.
The same overgrown holly now taken back severely to encourage a more manageable plant to form from the base.
Within the year this holly has began to sprout up new shoots making it a more manageable size.
Rejuvenating pruning is a great alternative to completely removing overgrown shrubs in your landscape. Rather than going to the expense and trouble of uprooting the old and putting in a new shrub, you may be able to pull a few more years out of the old plant. When done properly, this method of pruning can make an existing landscape go from being completely overgrown and unsightly to nearly new and attractive.
(Photos courtesy of Bob Westerfield. Illustrations courtesy of Virgina Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University.)
New varieties of crapemyrtles (Lagerstroemiaspp.) are currently available in abundance. We could almost say, “Enough is enough.” Yes, it is overwhelming with the numbers of new crapemyrtle varieties. Developers are introducing plants with the goals of smaller growth habits, dark foliage (such as burgundy and black), earlier blooms, and darker flowers (better red, purples, etc.). In one recent evaluation, new crapemyrtles went from fewer than 20 varieties to over 50 varieties in a very short period of time.
Nationally and regionally, we have a perceived “over-abundance of new plants” because all the major wholesale nurseries that sell plants over large sections of the country desire their own line of crapemyrtles, their own line of azaleas, their own line of hydrangeas. This leads to a large number of new variety introductions at the same time and also leads to confusion in the minds of consumers.
Crapemyrtles are the most widely planted summer flowering tree in the southern United States. There are crapemyrtle festivals, crapemyrtle trails, and crapemyrtles are official shrubs and trees of cities and states around the country. There is no doubt as to their current and continued popularity.
With so many new varieties how do you know which to choose? How do you know which are the best? Trials are ongoing at several land grant universities (LSU, Stephen F. Austin State University, University of Florida, Mississippi State University, and others) around the southeastern United States. Before buying, a decision should be made on the desired at mature size and the foliage color (new varieties include many with burgundy and black foliage) that would best enhance your landscape.
For smaller landscapes, consider the Early Bird series. These crapemyrtles grow to only around 6 feet. Early Bird Lavender (‘JD818’) is promoted as a very heavy earlier bloomer and is the earliest-flowering crapemyrtle at LSU trials. Other colors in the group include Early Bird Purple (‘JD827’) and Early Bird White (‘JD900’).
The Princess series are also dwarf varieties. These were developed in Missouri but are being marketed as part of the Garden Debut program by Greenleaf Nursery. This series includes cherry red Holly Ann (‘GA 0701’), magenta pink Kylie (‘GA 0803’), cherry red with cotton candy pink Zoey (‘GA 0702’), lavender Jaden (‘GA 0810’), and rose pink Lyla (‘GA 0804’).
Princess Lyla has nice rose pink blooms and is performing very well in these landscape trial gardens.
Larger flowers and earlier blooms on dwarf plants are characteristic of the Early Bird series.
Darker red flowers are being achieved in crapemyrtles. Miss Frances is a new release that is not yet available at retail garden centers.
(click on photo to enlarge)
Another series of dwarfs is the 4-foot, nicely mounded Razzle Dazzle collection. This includes the fuchsia Berry Dazzle (‘GAMAD VI’), cherry red Cherry Dazzle (‘Gamad I’), Dazzle Me Pink (‘Gamad V’), pure white Diamond Dazzle (‘PIILAG-I’), neon rose Strawberry Dazzle (‘PIILAG-II’), and pink Sweetheart Dazzle (‘GAMAD VII’). These are being used in some states as replacements for mass plantings of Knock Out roses.
The first crapemyrtle with dark foliage to debut was Delta Jazz (‘Chocolate Mocha’). This variety is part of the Southern Living Plant Collection’s Delta series. These are classified as semi-dwarf, which generally indicates heights of 8-12 feet. Four additional varieties have been released: Delta Breeze (‘Deled’), a light lavender; Delta Eclipse, brilliant purple (‘Deleb’); Delta Moonlight, white (‘Delea’); and Delta Flame, dark red (‘Delec’). Delta Fusion (‘Delee’) and Delta Fuchsia (‘Delef’) are new to the group for 2016. Burgundy foliage on these plants stays burgundy from spring through fall.
Delta Jazz was one of the first crapemyrtle varieties with burgundy foliage.
Black foliage of ‘Ebony Embers’ crapemyrtles contrasts nicely in the landscape with red blooms.
Midnight Magic from Bailey Nurseries keeps the dark burgundy foliage color spring through fall.
Delta Fusion has hot pink flowers and is a new release from the Southern Living Plant Collection.
(click on photo to enlarge)
The darker burgundy (usually called black by horticulturists) foliage of the Ebony crapemyrtles was developed by breeder Cecil Pounders at the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service. These are being sold under the Ebony name and also the trademarked Black Diamond name by J. Berry Nursery in Texas. These plants mature at 8-10 feet and, like the Delta crapemyrtles, retain leaf color spring through fall. Flower colors include three shades of red, white, and blush. New releases in the Black Diamond group have pink, magenta, and purple flowers.
For “down on the farm” landscapes, consider planting the Barnyard Favorites from the Gardener’s Confidence Collection. Red Rooster (‘PIILAG III’) is “something to crow about,” Pink Pig (‘GAMAD VIII’) is “something to squeal with delight” about and Purple Cow (‘GAMAD IX’) can be used to create an “udderly majestic garden!” These are medium sized but leaf spot is a problem on these plants in the more coastal south. A plant similar to Red Rooster is Enduring Summer Red (‘PIILAG-V’) from Ball Ornamentals.
The Magic series from Plant Introductions, now part of the First Editions program by Bailey Nurseries, includes ‘Coral Magic’ (salmon pink), ‘Purple Magic’ (dark purple), ‘Plum Magic’ (fuchsia pink), ‘Moonlight Magic’ (white), and ‘Midnight Magic’ (dark pink). Most of these have reddish, plum, or burgundy spring leaves, and some of these varieties retain this color through summer and into fall. Mature height is 8-12 feet.
As you can see, it is easy to be overwhelmed with new crapemyrtles. The mid to late spring months are the time when most new crapemyrtles are added to the landscape. Educate yourself on new varieties and try the ones that are most appealing to you.
Some of My Favorite Traditional Crapemyrtles
‘Natchez’ – upright grower, 30-35 feet, white flowers
• Full-sun location
• Well-drained soil
• Soil pH of 6.0-6.5
• Fertilize late winter/early spring at start of new growth
• Prune crapemyrtles by thinning branches in the winter months – do not top
• Mulch by “going out” not “going up” – avoid piling mulch around the trunk
• Monitor for insects (aphids, crapemyrtle bark scale)
A version of this article appeared in a State-by-State Gardening March 2016 print edition. Photography by Allen Owings.
In a well-planted suburban yard many flowering and fruiting plants provide color, form, and texture as well as food for us and our wildlife friends. However, lurking among these lovelies are plants that can be toxic.
In fact, a few of our favorite fruit trees have leaves, twigs, and seeds that are poisonous if eaten. While some flora can cause skin irritation upon contact, others produce allergens that can cause respiratory distress.
As we move toward sustainability, we must be proactive in identifying and learning about all of the plants in our yards. We should also strive to educate our children about which plants can be eaten and those that are potentially harmful. My mother used to say, “Don’t forage unless you know exactly what you are putting in your mouth.” That is a good rule to live by.
The 10 common landscape plants covered here range in toxicity from somewhat toxic to deadly and represent only a few of the scores of potentially harmful vegetation. If you have small children or pets that frequent your yard, it would be best to not add potentially toxic plants to your landscape.
Although very rare, if poisoning does occur, seek medical attention immediately. Be sure to bring along a sample of the plant that was ingested. Also be prepared to give the name of the plant (if possible), as well as how long ago it was eaten; how much and which parts were eaten; the age of the individual and his/her symptoms.
Ten Potentially Hazardous Landscape Plants
These colorful perennial bulbs naturalize readily and bloom in early spring each year. They are also deer and rodent resistant.
Toxic Parts: The entire plant (but especially the bulb) contains toxic alkaloids.
Symptoms: Care should be taken when handling narcissus because contact with the sap can cause skin irritation. Ingestion causes severe gastric distress, but recovery usually occurs in a few hours. Consuming large amounts may cause trembling, convulsions, and even death.
This attractive plant with flowers in shades of gold, orange, pink, and red is planted in containers, hanging baskets, and butterfly gardens.
Toxic Parts: The green, unripe fruit, which contains lantadene A, is highly toxic. The ripe berries seem to be safe and are eaten by wildlife.
Symptoms: Consuming green berries will result in severe digestive distress, difficulty walking, and vision problems. In severe cases, circulatory collapse and death may occur.
Oleander (Nerium oleander)
Oleander is planted in the landscape for its beautiful flowers and drought tolerance.
Toxic Parts: All parts of the plant are highly toxic and potentially fatal, including the flowers and nectar. Smoke from burning the plant can also be harmful. Eating one leaf can be lethal for humans.
Symptoms: Severe digestive disorders, slowed pulse, irregular heartbeat, dilated pupils, coma, and sometimes respiratory paralysis and death.
Native and imported rhododendrons are hardy shrubs with colorful, fragrant spring flowers making them good foundation plants.
Toxic Parts: The leaves, flowers, and nectar contain poisonous grayanotoxins.
Symptoms: Consuming azalea leaves can cause burning of the mouth, salivation, watery eyes, and runny nose, which may be followed by severe digestive distress, very low blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and paralysis, but is rarely fatal to humans.
It is grown as an ornamental for its striking foliage and rapid growth. In the South it is also grown commercially as a source of castor oil, which is used medically and in industry.
Toxic Parts: The deadly poison ricin is concentrated in the seeds, but lesser amounts are also found in the leaves. The FBI classifies ricin as the third most poisonous substance known. The poison is released when the seed’s hard skin is broken.
Symptoms:Poisoning can occur through either contact or ingestion of broken seeds resulting in severe gastric distress, rapid heartbeat, convulsions, and hemorrhaging. Death from kidney failure may occur up to 12 days after eating the seeds.
Morning glory (Ipomoeaviolaceaand I. tricolor)
The heart-shaped leaves and colorful flowers of the fast-growing vines brighten up trellises, fences, and arbors and attract butterflies and other pollinators.
Toxic Parts: The seeds, which contain amides of lysergic acid (similar to LSD, but not as strong), are hallucinogenic and potentially dangerous, but not fatal.
Symptoms: Eating the seeds can cause nausea and hallucinations.
Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
Digitalis is cultivated as a medicinal plant for treatment of the heart and also as a cool-weather ornamental for its tall spires of purple to white flowers.
Toxic Parts: The entire plant contains potent glycosides (digitalis) that affect the heart muscle.
Symptoms: Overdose can cause pain in the mouth and throat, gastric distress, severe headache, irregular heartbeat and pulse, tremors, and in severe cases, convulsions and death due to cardiac arrest.
Cherries and Plums (Prunusspp.)
All members of the Prunus genus have attractive flowers, tasty fruit, and colorful fall leaves.
Toxic Parts: The leaves, twigs, bark, and seeds (also called stones or pits) contain a cyanide-producing compound called amygdalin.
Symptoms: Consuming the toxic parts can cause anxiety, confusion, dizziness, headache, vomiting, and pulmonary distress. In severe cases convulsions, coma, and death may occur minutes after large doses.
These evergreen needled trees or shrubs with pollen cones (male) and reddish berry-like fruits (female) are used as ornamentals because they lend themselves well to pruning.
Toxic Parts: All parts except the red fleshy aril around the seeds contain derivatives of taxane, including Taxol, which is used in chemotherapy cancer treatment.
Symptoms: Ingesting the plant can result in digestive distress, abdominal pain, irregular heartbeat, dilated pupils, collapse, coma, and convulsions. Fatalities may occur when large amounts are eaten or when the seeds in the fruit are chewed and swallowed.
Trumpet Vine (Campsisradicans)
The flowers of this fast-growing native vine attract hummingbirds and butterflies.
Toxic Parts: Contact with the leaves and flowers can cause skin irritation. All parts, except the fruit, are slightly toxic if ingested.
Symptoms: Consuming the plant can cause gastric irritation and dilated pupils. Contact causes skin redness, swelling, and numbness in the hands.
A version of this article appeared in a Jan/Feb 2016 State-by-State Gardening print edition. Photography courtesy of Yvonne L. Bordelon.
Kylee’s Pumpkin Torte Recipe by Kylee Baumle #Recipes
• 1 yellow cake mix (take out 1 cup)
• 3 eggs • 1¼ cup white sugar
• ¾ cup butter
• ¾ cup evaporated milk
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1 large can pumpkin pie mix
Mix the cake mix (less 1 cup) with one egg and ½ cup butter. Press into the bottom of a greased jelly roll pan (10½ by 15½ by 1 inches).
Mix until smooth: pumpkin pie mix, 2 eggs and evaporated milk. Pour on top of the crust.
Mix 1 cup cake mix, sugar, cinnamon and ¼ cup butter. Sprinkle on top of the pumpkin mixture. Bake at 350° F for 45 to 50 minutes. Cut into squares and serve with whipped cream. Store in the refrigerator. Pumpkin torte may very well become a new favorite at your house! It’s delicious served warm from the oven or after it has been refrigerated.
Leaf Castings Capture the Beauty of Leaves by Sharon Bowen
The first time I saw a leaf casting was in the garden of a friend. It was a heart-shaped hosta leaf preserved forever in concrete. Painted a light blue-green, it had intricate veining and was just deep enough for a birdbath. I knew then and there I had to have one.
Leaf castings capture the beauty of leaves. They're made from leaves fresh from the garden. My own garden didn't have any large-leaf plants. So I added some elephant ears this spring and waited for them to grow. When the leaves were big enough, I made my first casting. Leaf castings can be a bit tricky to make, but even a beginner can turn out a good one.
Concrete leaf castings take about a week to make from start to finish. Once the leaf is cast, it should be left undisturbed for 48 hours to dry. Then, the leaf is removed. Edges are smoothed, and the surface cleaned. Finally, it can be painted and sealed.
Making a leaf casting is messy work. So wear old clothes, and find a spot you can clean up easily. A garage or shop is an ideal workplace. But a covered area outside will work as well.
Weather is a consideration. Choose a time when the weather is cool. You don't want the concrete to dry too quickly. If you work outside, work in the shade and pick a time when rain is not expected for at least two days.
A corrugated box or pan large enough for the leaf
QUIKRETE Concrete Resurfacer
Water in a cup and spray bottle
Acrylic paints and paint brush
Polyurethane or sealer
Plastic container and sturdy spoon or paint stick for mixing the concrete
Thin plastic like a plastic garbage bag (Cut off both side seams so it is one large piece.)
Brush with nylon bristles, paint scraper or metal file
Dust mask (for mixing concrete)
Choose a Leaf
Elephant ears, caladiums and hostas leaves are good choices. But you can use any leaf with well-defined veining and smooth edges. Select leaves without tears or holes. Leaves with a fuzzy back, like fig leaves, are hard to remove and leave a textured surface. Since large leaves require additional support, choose leaves less than 12" wide.
Mound the Sand
Pour the sand into the corrugated box or pan. (While any flat, sturdy surface will work, a box or pan with sides will reduce the mess.) Mound the sand in the middle of the box slightly larger than the leaf. Gently press the front of the leaf into the sand and make a small lip (1/4'') around the leaf. This is the area that will support your casting, The lip helps keep the concrete on the leaf.
Remove the leaf. Spray the sand with water, and pack it down for a smooth, firm surface. Keep in mind that the size and shape of the mound directly affects the casting. The taller the mound, the deeper the casting will be. If you're making a birdbath, you'll want a tall mound of sand.
Cover the sand with plastic leaving enough on both sides to wrap back over the leaf. The plastic keeps the concrete away from the sand, and it keeps in moisture.
Place the leaf on the plastic with the back of the leaf up.
Check to be sure the stem has been cut even with the leaf.
Mix the Concrete
Always wear protective gear when working with concrete. Concrete will irritate the skin, eyes and lungs. Always wear gloves. Use a dust mask and eye protection when mixing or filing concrete.
The amount of concrete you need depends on the size of the leaf. Pour water in the plastic container, and then add the concrete. Stir slowly to avoid air bubbles. Keep adding concrete a little at a time until it's the consistency of toothpaste.
The right consistency is crucial. The mixture should be thin enough to capture the details of the leaf, but thick enough to stay on the leaf and not slide off.
Let the mixture stand for about 10 minutes to thicken before applying it to the leaf. If the concrete seems too dry, add a small amount of water (or spray with water). A little water makes a lot of difference.
Make the Casting
Spread the concrete over the leaf starting at the stem and working towards the edge. Stop about 1/4'' from the edge. Apply the concrete a little at a time building up the center (3/4'' to 1 1/4'') and tapering to the (3/8'' to 1/2''). The larger the leaf, the thicker the casting needs to be.
It is crucial to keep the concrete from sliding over the edge. If it does, it will puddle on the front of the leaf and ruin the texture.
Pat the concrete to remove air bubbles and ensure a good casting. Take a minute to smooth the surface of the concrete, and then fold the plastic back over the casting.
Allow it to dry for 48 hours without moving it. Check it occasionally. If it is drying too fast, then spray it with water. Remove the leaf and clean the edges. Unwrap the plastic and turn the leaf over.
If the front of the leaf doesn't have any concrete on it, simply peel away the leaf. Use a brush with nylon bristles to gently scrub away stubborn leaf parts. Smooth the edges or any rough spots on back with a metal file.
If the front of the leaf has concrete on it, try to remove it. Wearing gloves and safety glasses, try to gently pry off the excess concrete with a paint scraper. If it won't come off, try to blend it in or file it away with a metal file. This is delicate work that often ends with broken leaves.
Let the casting cure for another day.
Paint and Seal
First, clean the casting. Take the leaf outside and pour water on the front and back of the leaf. Gently wash off any concrete dust or particles. But, don't soak it.
If you're an experienced painter, then get started. If not, first practice by painting the back of the leaf.
Start with a wet brush and two or more colors. Add a little water to the paint for a wash. After the first coat dries, add highlights. Use a lighter color and paint the center of the leaf. Let it dry a few minutes, then wipe off the excess paint. Paint the veins another color, if desired. Dabble and play until you get the look you want. If you don't like what you've done, either wipe if off or paint over it.
After the back dries, paint the front of the leaf.
Let the paint dry for a day, then finish with a polyurethane or sealer. Apply at least two coats, and let it cure for a day or more before moving it outside.
Now, find a place for it in your garden and enjoy. (Just remember to move it indoors or turn it over for the winter. Water freezing in it may cause it to break.)
Leaf castings are truly one-of-a-kind creations. Each casting is a learning experience, and the next one is an opportunity to try something different. You may find this creative outlet habit-forming. One thing is for certain. You'll develop an appreciation for the beauty of leaves. I'm already planning to add a large hosta to my garden next year -- one with heart-shaped leaves, prominent veining and delicious texture.
Specially-made wicking beds provide consistent watering and produce healthy plants.
Debby and Ken Rosenbaum have built their garden from the ground up. Literally. Ken was raised on a farm and is a machinist by trade; Debby’s a city girl. They shared a common love of fresh vegetables and grew what they could while raising a family. After their two daughters left home, Debby found she had more time on her hands. Now she has a full-time summer job growing fruits and vegetables.
Throughout the fall she preserves the bounty in hundreds of jars and freezer bags. During the entire year she decides what she will grow next season – the toughest job and also the most fun. She won’t grow ‘German Johnson’ tomatoes again. “They have such huge cores and not much flavor.”
‘Jersey Giant’ is on her list for this season. She likes a tomato that is meaty and flavorful with very few seeds, and the description in the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog ticks all the boxes. Debby’s favorite tomato for canning is ‘Amish Paste’, which is very meaty and large enough for easy processing. So far, her favorite for slicing is ‘Super Sioux’, an improved version of a 1944 variety bred at the University of Nebraska for its tolerance to heat.
‘Oran’s Melon’ will remain the Rosenbaum’s go-to cantaloupe for its flavor and relatively short ripening time. In contrast is ‘Golden Midget’ watermelon, which was “beautiful but flavorless with a ton of seeds.”
While Debby makes the seed list, Ken works up devices to make the mechanics of growing easier and more fun. The most ambitious so far are the 11 raised beds based on a concept developed by Colin Austin, an Australian who established a system called the wicking bed. Essentially underground ponds, the beds are ideal for areas with widely fluctuating rainfall.
One advantage of the wicking bed system is that the plants require no overhead watering. The 4- by 8-foot beds feature two rows of red cedar boards set up over a reservoir that the Rosenbaums fill with water gathered from five rain barrels surrounding the house and garage. When the barrels are full, they fill up a water cart and transfer it to a 550-gallon tank that they use for all of their watering needs.
“The water is clean, contains no salts or extra minerals,” Debby explains. “The plants are healthy because they’re watered from below, using no overhead watering. Ken built the portable tank cart. He made a wooden frame to fit inside the cart and used ratchet straps to hold the tank in place. After mounting a pump on the top, at the rear of the tank, he fit the necessary PVC pieces and hose adapters to enable drawing the water out of, or filling, the tank.”
As there is usually plenty of rain in the spring, the Rosenbaums’ garden has water that sometimes lasts through the season. Each wicking bed is set up with a drainage system in case of excess rain. The beds are numbered, which helps Debby plan second crops and cover crop rotation, planting buckwheat after the final harvest of onions, carrots, strawberries, salad greens and beans.
Another advantage to raised beds is that they provide support for netting and covers. “The netting around the bean bed helps keep the beans from sprawling all over the ground,” says Debby. “And they’re easy to pick by reaching into the top of the enclosure.” The variety Debby grows is ‘Calima’, a French fillet bush bean she prefers to ‘Cantare’.
Two crops of carrots yielded two types of insect challenges, but didn’t result in total loss. The first crop of ‘Kuroda’ met with carrot fly, a problem they prevented in the next crop by using a row cover from planting to harvest. Unfortunately, they had a problem with soil-dwelling nematodes, which caused distorted growth. It took Debra more time to can the carrots, as the gnarly roots were more difficult to peel.
The wicking beds aren’t the only place for plants. Ken devised some heavy-duty tomato cages for the front garden, and potatoes are grown in several large potato grow-bags. The front yard garden started, as many garden projects do, when a huge tree fell. They created raised rows and covered the soil with sheets of 6 ml. clear plastic to help warm it. The area is at the top of a slope and subject to some strong winds. One such wind came through in early August and flattened the ‘Amish Paste’ tomatoes. While Ken shored up the cages and went back to the mental drawing board, the tomatoes kept churning out fruit the rest of the season.
Melons and zucchini sprawl along the slope leading up to the ‘Amish Paste’ tomatoes.
They’ve had great results from potato grow bags, harvesting 80 lbs. of ‘Yukon Gold’ potatoes from 14 bags. “We’ve found the Yukon Gold to be the best keepers,” Debby says. She cures them in the garage before storing them, layered between newspaper in cardboard boxes, a method that assures they’ll last until the next spring.
When Debby decided to try eggplant, she chose a variety called ‘Rosita’, which she grew right by their front door. The plant was as decorative as it was productive, its neon pink fruit an eye-catching embellishment to the healthy foliage. According to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, the variety was developed in Puerto Rico in the 1940s.
With so many crops to juggle, Debby sought out a system. She keeps tablets of notes throughout the season and has found Clyde’s Vegetable Planting Chart (clydesvegetableplantingchart.com) to be helpful when determining what, when, and where to plant.
With Ken’s talents for building and Debby’s knack for organizing planting and harvest, they’ll never lack for fresh vegetables. After the crops are stowed away for the winter, they go over successes and failures and decide what to grow the next year. Last year they ended up with 39 flats of plants clamoring for light in early spring. Ken set up rows of grow light fixtures in their basement over any space they could clear. There is always extra, luckily for their two daughters and their children, who they hope will discover the joys of growing.
Last summer they invited their two 12-year-old grandsons to stay for a week. They were kept quite busy and went home with some new skills.
“We called it ‘life-lesson’ week. They learned how to grill, and each of them made a raised bed for their mothers,” said Ken. “They did absolutely every part of it, using a miter saw, drill, measuring tools. They were so proud.”
At a Glance
• Cost for each wicking bed is $250-300 for red cedar 4-by-8 boards, sand, river rock, pond liner, weed-barrier fabric, PVC pipe, shade cloth, and miscellaneous hardware. Each wicking bed is filled with a 50/50 mixture of compost and topsoil.
• Choosing seeds: look for seed companies with websites that offer reviews of each plant. Pay attention to where each reviewer gardens, as many plants will respond to each region differently.
• Tip for ordering seed: Debby recommends ordering in December for the best availability.
• Learn about potential insect or disease problems with the vegetables you grow and how to mitigate the risk if possible.
• Always rotate crops in order to reduce pests and diseases.
• Use the sturdiest stakes or tomato frames you can find and put them in place at planting time.
A. Most water is on or near the surface, which maximizes the evaporate rates (wastes water) and encourages weeds to germinate. B. Tree roots and couch grass can easily invade the bed.
A. Surface soil is drier as it is further away from the water source. B. Water Rises from the bottom up. C. A Liner prevents tree roots & weeds such as couch from getting in to the bed. D. Water reserve only has to be topped occasionally.
The Rosenbaums’ row of wicking beds shows how they can be fitted out for a variety of crops.
Seeds germinate readily in the raised beds, which can be covered for protection from frost and pests.
Yukon Gold potatoes are planted in potato bags
Debby and Ken Rosenbaum sit amidst the squash and melons in the front garden.
A version of this article appeared in print in Chicagoland Gardening Volume XXII, Issue I. Photography by Jean Starr. Illustrations by John Ditchburn (Ditchy) of Urban Food Garden in Austrailia (urbanfoodgarden.org).
Most people probably think the only way to start seeds in January is to pot them and place them on racks under special lighting in the basement or dining room. However, there is an easier and cheaper method called winter sowing. The snow may be falling, the wind may be blowing and the temperature definitely dropping, but that is the perfect time to winter sow some seeds, put the containers outside and forget about them. (Well, almost.)
Ten years ago my husband and I built our home, and a big, empty yard cried out to be filled. While looking for seed starting methods online, I stumbled upon the website wintersown.org. This method sounded too good to be true: Use freely available recycled containers, grow plants for mere pennies and achieve healthy, hardy seedlings with no damping off. Trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, vegetables and herb seeds planted in the warm indoors patiently wait outside for the right temperature and lighting to germinate.
The USDA describes winter sowing as, “A propagation method used throughout the winter where temperate climate seeds are sown into protective vented containers and placed outdoors to foster a naturally timed, high percentage germination of climate tolerant seedlings.”
After further reading about the method online at the GardenWebWintersown forum, I gathered the supplies and dug in (so to speak).
Most materials for winter sowing can be found around the house.
Constructing the Containers
Search the recycling bin for milk cartons (plastic and cardboard), plastic coffee cans, produce boxes for strawberries and spinach, large soda bottles, cat litter tubs, cottage cheese containers and drinking cups.
The preparation of the container depends on the type used. All containers need a height of at least 5 inches with drainage holes and ventilation slits in the top. For milk cartons, cut small holes or slits in the bottom and cut the container in half, but leave a hinge at the handle corner and remove the top cap. The pouring hole will provide the ventilation and allow for rainwater to enter. For cardboard orange juice containers, cut the box and remove the top portion. To create a top once planted, stand up two wood skewers. Attach the clear plastic bag to the container with tape or clothes pins. The tops of all containers should be clear to translucent.
Planting the Seeds
Unlike indoor seed propagation, there is more wiggle room in the timeline for winter sowing. To get a basic sense of the schedule, January is the perfect month to sow the perennial seeds that need a period of cold stratification, such as rudbeckia, delphinium and milkweed (Asclepias). I start hardy perennials that don’t need the freezing and thawing cycles in February and March, as well as cold hardy vegetables such as lettuce. Summer vegetables and annuals get potted the middle of March through April. Tomatoes are one of my favorite veggies to winter sow; and leeks, which require a long growing season, do wonderfully. Fill the prepared container with 3 inches of good potting soil and water thoroughly.
Sprinkle the seeds, pat down and either cover with soil or leave exposed, depending on the seed requirements.
Secure the lid depending on the type of container used. Cover smaller containers with plastic bags or plastic wrap. Duct tape works well on milk cartons and lasts through the winter.
Label the carton by either writing the name of the plant on duct tape with marker and taping to the bottom (which prevents fading) or on top with a Decocolor Paint Marker (which holds up to the sun).
Set the container into the garden and let nature do her work. If the weather is dry, supplemental water may be necessary. As the seedlings grow, create more ventilation in the lid.
The kitchen garden assortment includes lemon thyme, onions, dill, carrots and oregano.
Transplanting the Seedlings
After providing water and increased ventilation as the weather warms up, plant the seedlings into the ground at the same time greenhouse grown plants would be planted. No need to harden off.
Depending on how thickly the seeds were sown, there are several methods for planting. If thinly sown, gently remove each seedling and plant individually. If thickly sown, either use the Brownie method, removing the soil and seedlings in one clump and cutting the soil into bite-size pieces, or the Hunk-O-Seedlings, scooping out a spoonful of seedlings. Plant the hunk, and let the seedlings fight it out.
Due to some serious procrastination, I transplanted my last jug of leeks July 1st this last year, but had a bountiful harvest for soup, quiche and casserole. Tomatoes have been known to grow through the milk jug lid before I get them planted, yet go on to produce large, meaty fruit.
With winter sowing I’ve been able to grow and experiment with many varieties I would have been hesitant to try. My wintersownPassifloraincarnata climbs on the trellis (although it has yet to flower); Malvasylvestrismauritiana, Digitalis grandfloraand Thalictrumrochebrunianumreach for the sky; hostas help fill the empty spaces; and poppies, Impatiens balfouriiand Lychniscoronaria reseed with wild abandonment.
A version of this article appeared in print in Chicagoland Gardening Volume XXII, Issue I. Photography by Nancy Rosene.
Come on Life ... Give Me Lemons by Rebecca Stoner Kirts
‘French Drop’ lemon marigolds (Tagetespatula ‘French Drop’) show what a pop yellow flowers can add to the lemon herb garden.
Oh ... the clean, fresh smell of lemons, who can resist a tall glass of lemonade? It seems I always have a few lemons on the counter, but inevitably I don’t use them quickly enough and they become shriveled and tasteless. So my alternative to getting that fresh lemon taste is to run out to the herb garden and choose from one of my many lemon herbs.
I have had a long fascination with herbs that carry the scent of lemons. They are so easy to grow – anyone who has grown lemon balm will not refute that fact. Most have beautiful blooms and interesting foliage and their uses are numerous and varied, ranging from culinary to crafting to medicinal.
While my children were in grade school, I would often take baskets of herbs to share with their classmates. The kids loved to crush the leaves and were fascinated by all the aromas. Asking the kids to identify the scents always proved to be interesting. By far, my favorite response was from one particular little boy who was smelling the different lemon herbs. His face lit up and he started jumping up and down proclaiming he knew the answer. He proudly shouted that these herbs smelled like Pledge!
Of all the lemon herbs, the easiest, and probably too easy to grow, is lemon balm. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis, USDA Zones 3-7) seems to be one of the first herbs in many gardens – probably because many gardeners are eager to pass it along due its rambunctious nature. I keep mine quite happy and under control on the side of an outbuilding. It is protected from the hot summer sun and yet seems content to stay within bounds. I trim it back midsummer only to have another flush of growth before winter. It is a very hardy perennial that will without fail die back in the winter and return in the spring.
This herb originated in the Near East and was brought to America by the colonists. Thomas Jefferson grew it in his gardens at Monticello. Its genus name, Melissa, means honeybees, and I can tell you from personal experience that bees love my lemon balm. There is an old wives tale that says, “A grove of lemon balm will hold a beehive together.” My bees have been so strong next to the lemon balm that I believe this is true.
Lemon balm makes a very soothing tea, adds a nice addition to fruit or lettuce salads, and is great on fish, chicken, and vegetable dishes. Be sure to always add the leaves at the very last minute with hot dishes to obtain the most intense flavor. What other herb in the garden tastes so good and helps keep fleas away when stuffed under cushions?
Even though lemon verbena (Aloysiacitriodora, USDA Zones 8-10) is not hardy in my area, no lemon garden should ever be without it. I usually plant it in a pot and bring it in to a protected area during the winter. It usually drops its leaves but rebounds with vigor in the spring. Please check if you are farther south, as it may be hardy in your area. The plant itself tends to be a rather sprawling, whimsical plant. But please don’t judge this plant on its appearance alone; its real beauty is in the heavenly scented leaves. I love it chopped over vegetables or in salads. It can also be used as a replacement for lemon zest in most recipes.
Lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus, USDA Zones 5-8) is a very beautiful perennial in the garden, plus its intense lemon flavor is a great accent on grilled fish or chicken. It forms a beautiful mound in the garden. ‘Archers Gold’ is one variety I have had great luck growing.
Of course no herb garden of mind would be without lemon basil (Ocimumcitriodorum, USDA Zones 2-11). I grow both the smaller leafed lemon basil as well as the larger leaf ‘Mrs. Burns’. This herb grows so easily from seed, but do keep the blossoms cut down until the end of the season to ensure the most intense lemon flavor.
I am particularly fond of the lemon-scented geraniums (Pelargoniumcrispum, USDA Zones 10-11). They are widely known for their insect repellent qualities, but offer so much more. The cultivar ‘Prince Rupert’, sometimes sold as ‘Variegated Prince Rupert’, has beautiful variegation and a stiff upright nature and is a fun addition to lemon drinks. These are not winter-hardy in most areas, but can easily be bought in to overwinter. I often take cuttings and keep them for spring planting. I never discard the fragrant leaves, instead I stuff them in panty hose and hang in closets to repeal moths and mosquitoes or incorporate them into my lemon potpourri.
Lemon grass (Cymbopogoncitratus, Zones USDA 10-11) is the new kid on the lemon block. Don’t be fooled by the small plants available in the nursery in the spring, a 4-inch pot will be a large, attractive grass by fall. The leaves are great dried and may be used in potpourri, teas, and cooking. The white fleshy part of the stem is used extensively in Asian cuisine.
Lemon bergamot, also known as lemon beebalm (Monardacitriodora, USDA Zones 3-10) is another worthy addition to any lemon garden. Its fragrant purple to pink blooms attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
So if life gives you lemons, no worry just pitch them aside and head straight for the garden and use the lemon herbs.
Lemon balm has one of the highest concentrations of lemon oil.
“Thyme” to sit and think how to use all the lemon thyme!
The varying hues of different varieties of lemon thyme provide wonderful contrasts.
‘Archers Gold’ thyme forms greenish gold mounds of goodness.
A version of this article originally appeared in a State-by-State Gardening February 2016 print edition. Photos courtesy of Rebecca Stoner Kirts.
Get The Taste of Tarragon with Mexican Mint Marigold by Tom Bergey #Recipes
The flavor of French tarragon (Artemisiadracunculusvar. sativa) is highly prized by world-famous chefs and weekend culinary gurus alike. True tarragon can be tricky to grow, but gardeners do have a very suitable alternative, Mexican mint marigold. Though not quite as complex as true French tarragon, Mexican mint marigold does possess the same strong, sharp and sweet anise flavor associated with tarragon and shared, to some extent, by other plants such as anise and fennel. It is grown as a perennial in Zones 8 and warmer and grown as an annual in colder climates.
As with most plants, Mexican mint marigold (Tageteslucida) has several common names including sweet mace and Texas tarragon. It should not be confused with the mint family as the common name would imply, but it is in fact a type of marigold though it hardly resembles the common garden flower. The glossy green leaves are long, narrow and pointed, and the golden-yellow, three- to four-petaled flowers are rather small, barely the size of a dime. Mexican mint marigold is not an unattractive plant by any means but is primarily grown for its flavor and aroma and not as an ornamental.
For common use, only one or two plants will be necessary. Plants started from seed will have slightly longer leaves and a more sprawling habit than the stockier upright plants purchased from a nursery. Plants from seed also seem to be slightly stronger and sweeter in flavor.
Dig a large hole for the new plant. Remove the plant from its container and gently spread the roots.
Plant the herb slightly deeper than it was in the pot and water in.
If you lack the time and inclination to start plants from seed, simply transplant from your local greenhouse or favorite herb nursery. When purchasing plants, look for bushy, healthy specimens in 2.5-inch or larger pots. Check under the leaves to make sure there are no pests hiding and gently pinch the leaves. Doing so should release that wonderful aroma of tarragon and ensure that you have the real deal.
Plant Mexican mint marigold in a fairly sunny spot. If you have room in an existing garden that currently grows sun-loving plants, your new herb will be quite happy there. The mature plant will grow to about 2 feet tall and between 12 and 18 inches wide, so plan accordingly. The best measure you can take to ensure success with growing this herb is to provide a loose, well-drained soil. Dig your planting area deep and break up the soil as much as possible. Add some compost and extra nutrients to the planting area if you feel the soil may be weak in this area. A fairly neutral pH between 6 and 7.5 is ideal. Set your new plant in the soil just slightly deeper than it had been growing in the pot. Water it in well and you’re done.
Mexican mint marigold is fairly drought tolerant and will be fine with moderate watering throughout the growing season. During especially dry parts of the year, keep an eye on it and give it a nice slow soaking at the first sign of wilt. If a particularly hard winter is predicted, it may be wise to provide a good straw mulch over your plant. Be patient the following season as Mexican mint marigold is very slow to break dormancy in the spring.
Those with a limited garden area (or those in zones colder than USDA Zone 8) may choose to grow Mexican mint marigold in a container. Provide a good-sized pot for your plant – a 12-inch or larger clay pot or a gallon-sized plastic pot will work well. Again, a good and loose growing medium is required, so don’t skimp on your potting mix for this herb. At the end of the season, you can try moving the potted plant to the garage to overwinter and gradually reintroduce it to the outdoors in the spring.
Simple and basic herb harvesting techniques apply to Mexican mint marigold. A small pair of scissors and a basket or some other container are all that is required. Harvesting can begin anytime after the plants are established in the garden. You may harvest the leaves one at a time if only a few are needed or take 3- to 4-inch sections from the tips of branches if larger amounts are required. Frequent topping of the plant will encourage branching and a bushier and healthier plant, but avoid taking more than half the plant at any one time.
It is recommended that you harvest this and all culinary herbs in the morning before the direct rays of the sun reach the plant. Direct sunlight extracts the oils from the herb, and although herbs harvested in midday will smell wonderful, they will lack much of their flavor in the kitchen.
Once you have harvested your herbs, return to the kitchen and gently submerge the fresh leaves in a bowl of room temperature tap water. Swishing the herbs back and forth in the water will remove any soil, dust, or unwanted pest from the leaves. A nice run through a salad spinner will remove most of the soil moisture from herbs, allowing them to be used immediately or stored in plastic bags in the refrigerator. If you do not have a salad spinner, gently blot the herbs between paper towels. Harvested and stored properly, fresh herbs can be held in the refrigerator for over a week with little loss of flavor or quality. If harvesting Mexican mint marigold during its blooming period, handle the flowers in the same way as the leaves. After you spin dry the plant tops, remove the flowers and store them in plastic containers lined with paper towels. The flowers are edible, possessing the same flavor as the plant and make a wonderful addition to meals either as part of a salad or a colorful garnish for meats and vegetables.
I usually insist that herbs be used fresh but Mexican mint marigold is one of those herbs that will actually maintain much of its flavor and culinary appeal when properly dried.
The dried leaves are used to make a wonderful tea that is popular in Latin America. Additionally, the dried leaves and flowers are perfect additions to potpourri, herbal wreaths and dried flower arrangements.
Cut stem sections to between 6 and 12 inches long. Arrange in small bundles of about four stems each and secure the cut end of the stems with a rubber band wrapped tightly around the stems. Use a paper clip bent away from itself to form a “S” hook with one end attached to the rubber band on your bundle and the other end to hang from a hook or a screen mesh attached to the ceiling. Hang your bundles upside down in this manner either in the garage, a work shed or even in the attic. Use a small fan to provide some air circulation around your bundles. Do not dry the bundles in direct sunlight or areas with high humidity. Utility rooms with washers and dryers, kitchens (particularly in front of the window) and bathrooms are the worst places to dry herb bundles.
After a few weeks, check your bundles. The leaves should be quite brittle and fragile. If they are flexible at all, they are not completely dry. Leave them for another week or so. Once dried, transfer your bundles to a newspaper-covered table and begin stripping the leaves from the stems, and then transfer the dried material to airtight containers for storage. Make sure you label the containers so you know what they are. Dried stems that are going to be used in arrangements or potpourri may be left hanging until needed.
When it comes to using Mexican mint marigold in the kitchen, your only limitation will be your own imagination. Because of its strong, unique and sweet flavor, it can complement practically any food. The fresh leaves can be added to salads or chopped and sprinkled over fresh fruit, steamed vegetables, any type of meat, or baked in bread recipes. A little can be used to add flavor to pasta and pizza sauce or baked in your favorite lasagna dish. It makes tasty herb butter, wonderful herb vinegar, and can be mixed with any combination of other ingredients to make superb sauces and condiments.
If using as a substitute for French tarragon, use the same amount of Mexican mint marigold as called for in the recipe. Remember, the general rule is, if a recipe calls for a tablespoon of dried herb, use three times that amount of the fresh herb. When adding the herb to soups or sauces that are cooked or simmered, add this herb at the very end of the cooking process to avoid flavor loss. With a little experimentation and creativity, you may find that the easy-to-grow and wonderfully tasty Mexican mint marigold is one of your all-time favorite culinary herbs.
• 1/4 cup fresh Mexican mint marigold leaves
• Two cloves garlic
• Three to four small green onions
• 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
• 1/4 cup honey
• Four boneless, skinless chicken breasts
With a knife or food processor, mince the Mexican mint marigold, garlic and onions and scrape all into a small bowl. Add the mustard and honey and blend to make a thick paste.
Cut a pocket lengthwise in the middle of each chicken breast and spoon in one tablespoon of the honey-mustard mixture. Season the breast with salt and pepper and bake at 350° F for 20 minutes, turning once, or grill the breast over hot coals for four minutes on each side. Pour remaining honey-mustard sauce over cooked breast. Serve and enjoy!
A version of this article originally appeared in print in Oklahoma Gardener Volume II Issue V. Top photoby M. Martin Vicente all other photos by Tom Bergey.
Cream of Cauliflower and Chive Soup by Karen Atkins #Recipes
Cream of Cauliflower and Chive Soup
Cream of cauliflower and chive soup. (Sarmis/Dreamstime.com)
This soup is easy, fast, crazy inexpensive and pretty enough to serve to the fussiest dinner party guests. You can make it a few days in advance without the half and half, salt, pepper and chives. Then, just reheat it until it is warmed through, adding the half and half, salt, pepper and chives just before serving. What more could you ask of a soup?
3 tablespoons of butter
2 small heads of cauliflower, chopped, including the stem (about 8 cups)
6 ¾ cups of chicken broth
1 cup of half and half
2 cups chopped chives
2 or 3 whole, long chives per bowl (for garnish)
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven. Toss in the chopped cauliflower head and stems and stir for a few minutes. Add the chicken stock and cook over medium heat until it boils. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the cauliflower is tender, about 20 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool, so that you can handle it easily. Get out a large bowl and set it by the blender. Next blend the soup in batches. When it is completely smooth, transfer from the blender to the bowl. When the entire mixture has been blended, transfer it back into the pot. At this point, you can either reheat the soup or refrigerate it and finish it later. To finish the soup, bring the mixture back up to a simmer, then add the half and half, salt and pepper. At the last minute, stir in the chives. Garnish with a few long chives.
Chive and Bleu Cheese Dressing by Karen Atkins #Recipes
I found this recipe long ago, in Gourmet magazine. It is a keeper. The only difference here is that I’ve doubled it. You will be glad I did, since it keeps for a week in the refrigerator. This dressing is so sharp and alive. It is wonderful on a typical mixed salad. Add bacon and it is off the chain! It also serves as a gorgeous sauce over warm or chilled beef tenderloin, a pretty and elegant sauce. The recipe already contains black pepper, but it really sets the flavor off if you also grind fresh, cracked pepper over top of the sauce just before serving it.
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup mayonnaise
½ teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 small garlic cloves, minced
½ cup fresh parsley leaves
4 tablespoons finely chopped chives
4 ounces crumbled, firm bleu cheese
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
Combine buttermilk, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and garlic in the blender and pulse until smooth. Add parsley and pulse until chopped. Then add the cheese and only pulse a few times. You want the cheese to stay chunky. Stir in the chopped chives and pepper at the last minute, before serving. After pouring dressing, grind fresh, cracked pepper over your dish.
Grains + Fruit = Tasty Granola Recipe by Karen Atkins #Recipes
Oven-toasted granola stays crunchy, even in milk.1
Dried figs have such a beautiful shape when simply halved and mixed with granola.2
Karen Atkins’ friend accuses her of going off the chain for adding banana chips to a recipe already high in calories.3
Toasting coconut concentrates flavor and produces a heady aroma.4
During the winter months, the avalanche of seed and plant catalogs I find in the mailbox reassures me that there will be fresh fruit again next summer. Still, to get these catalogs, I have to trudge through 2 feet of snow. And for too long, in my opinion. So how do I keep the faith? I celebrate dried fruit instead by making mounds of granola.
I have tried countless recipes for homemade granola. Trust me, this is the one my family and friends like the best. It was first inspired by Sarah Chase’s Open House Cookbook. Ina Garten then added more dried fruit to it for the The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.
I took Garten’s adaptation and switched from vegetable oil to walnut oil. It gives the granola twice as much nutty flavor. I also changed up the fruit for more color, crunch and variety. My addition of banana chips drove it right over the top.
There are as many innovations in granola making, as there are permutations. If you are like me and can’t leave good enough alone, use mine as your starting point. Or, to avoid all of the experimentation I had to endure, just go right to the good stuff.
Ingredients (this recipe makes 12 cups):
4 cups rolled oats (not the quick-cooking kind)
2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut
¾ cups walnut oil
½ cup good honey
1 cup small, diced dried apricots
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup quartered figs (Garten likes these finely diced but I love the shape of them halved or quartered.)
1½ cups banana chips
1 cup roasted cashews (Garten likes these unsalted, but I like them salted.)
If, after reading the ingredients, you begin to wonder how granola won its reputation as a healthy food, I’m right there with you. It may be from the association between granola and hiking. After all, hikers need lightweight snacks and extra calories!
Preheat oven to 350 F. Toss the oats, coconut and cashews in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, mix together the oil and honey. Pour the oil and honey mixture over the oat mixture and stir thoroughly. The oil helps the oats crisp up, so you definitely want to ensure that everything is coated. Pour the mix onto a 13-by-18-inch baking sheet. It is smart to use one with sides, because you will be stirring it from time to time while it bakes, and you don’t want it to spill out.
Bake 45 minutes, but depending on the depth of the pan, the timing may be different. Just pull it out and stir it with a spatula every 10 minutes or so. As it begins to brown, you will need to stir it more frequently. Keep a close eye on it, since coconut easily burns.
When the mixture has evenly browned, take it out of the oven and allow it to cool – still stirring it occasionally. If you can, set it on a trivet so it can cool from the bottom, which helps prevent overcooking. After it has cooled completely, mix in the apricots, cranberries, figs, banana chips and cashews. You can store it in an airtight container for a week or two, if you like. Mine never stays around that long, especially if anyone is home to smell the aroma as it bakes.
More Ways to Enjoy Granola
• Top a fruit and yogurt parfait with it.
• Eat it dry by the handful.
• In a bowl with milk
• Layer it (alternately), with pudding and cake several times to make trifle.
• Roll a banana in peanut butter. Then roll it in granola and slice to serve.
• Roll a banana in melted chocolate, coat with granola and freeze.
• Bake an apple with it, drizzled with butter until it is crisp.
• Make gifts by putting granola in a mason jar or simply wrapping it in cellophane.
Brandon Hines incorporates winter rye and hairy vetch cover crops in spring at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, Goldsboro, NC. (Photo courtesy of Jack Horan.)
If you have harvested everything from your vegetable garden and decided not to plant cool-season crops, then now is the time to start a cover crop, which just means planting something to cover up the dirt. Big-time farmers plant cover crops such as clover and rye, and backyard gardeners can reap the same benefits for their dormant gardens during the winter months with a cover crop.
The benefits are many, according to Suzanne O’Connell, a graduate student at N.C. State University who researches cover crops on organic vegetable farms. Growing a cold-weather cover crop reintroduces nutrients to the soil, improves soil quality, can control weeds, breaks the cycles or diseases or pests, attracts insect pollinators and decreases soil erosion for gardens on a slope. “It’s adding work in one sense, but you really are improving your soil and adding nutrients,” O’Connell said.
Leaving your spent vegetable garden’s soil bare through the winter lets rain and snow leach out nutrients such as nitrogen. That nutrient loss is on top of those lost in the summer to vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and corn.
With summer gardens spent, fall is an ideal time to plant a cover crop, since most cover crops require between two and four months to reach their desired stage. Prepare the soil as you would for any other crop, applying lime or fertilizer as needed by a soil test. Broadcast cover crop seeds by hand.
O’Connell recommends five cover crops for all regions of the Southeast. They are easy to germinate and easy to get rid of in the spring when the garden is to be replanted with vegetables.
Soybean (Above photos courtesy of Suzanne O’Connell.)
Crimson and berseem clover (Trifolium incarnatum, T. alexandrinum) –Plant six to eight weeks before the first frost date. Clovers are part of the legume family, which can fix nitrogen in the soil and thus boost nitrogen for next spring’s garden. Mow one or two times when about half of the crop is flowering. Allow the residue to decompose for at least two weeks before planting vegetables.
Cereal/winter rye (Secale cereale) – Plant six to eight weeks before the first frost date. A cold-hardy crop, rye will grow well into the spring. Rye increases soil organic matter as it decomposes. Mow one to two times when at least 12 inches tall, or when half of the crop has immature seed heads. Allow residue to decompose for at least two weeks before planting vegetables.
Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) – Plant in the spring or fall during a two-month period of mild weather. Buckwheat establishes quickly, suppresses weeds and attracts pollinators. Mow one to two times when half the crop is in flower and before hard seeds have formed.
Soybean (Glycine max) – Plant in early to midsummer, between spring and fall crops. Mow before pods have formed or when pods are still green and have not matured. These legume family plants can fix nitrogen in the soil.
Oats (Avena sativa) – Plant eight to 10 weeks before the first frost date. Oats grow during the fall and die when cold weather rolls in. They form a surface mulch, increasing soil organic matter as they decay.
Maintenance for cover crops is minimal other than watering if a long dry spell occurs.
In late winter or early spring, gardeners can blend cover crops – “green manure” – into the soil. First, mow the crop and let it dry out for a week or two. Then work the crop into the soil with a garden tiller or by hand with a shovel or pitchfork. O’Connell said that gardeners can either mix in the entire cover crop or create 1- to 2-foot-wide planting strips, leaving the rest as surface mulches that will decompose over time and serve as walkways. Such strip tillage works well with grain-type cover crops like rye and oats.
Spreading leaves over the garden will increase the amount of soil organic matter and control weeds, but the garden doesn’t benefit from that process as much as it does with a cover crop. Instead, O’Connell recommended composting leaves with other yard and household waste, and then adding the compost to the garden as a soil builder and natural fertilizer.
Cover crops also provide an aesthetic benefit. They add color, texture and blooms to a vegetable garden so that it looks vibrant and productive throughout the year.
Where can I buy cover crops?
Cover crop seeds are available at many garden stores as well as online through seed companies. For a list of cover crop seed sources, visit Noth Carolina State University Cooperative Extension's list of cover crops.
Organic elements, like the fresh greenery, sugar pinecones and sculptural Manzanita branch
seen here, combine with beautiful, earth-toned ornaments for an elegant, yet rustic feel.
How to Bring a Touch of the Garden to Your Holiday Decorations
As a garden and exterior designer, I can’t help but incorporate natural and outdoor elements when decorating for the holidays. And hey, if you think about it, the holiday season is the perfect time to bring the outdoors in. I mean, at what other time of year do we traditionally cut down real trees and put them in our living rooms?! So, as an expansion on this age-old tradition, try bringing some of your garden and the outdoors inside your home when decorating for the holidays this year. Here are some of my favorite techniques.
A simple amaryllis planted with green moss in a small garden container makes the perfect garden-inspired holiday decoration for the top of a piece of furniture.
Using natural items and organic materials is one of the easiest ways to bring the outdoors in for the holidays. Besides the ubiquitous Christmas tree, fresh evergreen wreaths and garland are a great place to start, and they will give your decorations a natural grace and fill your home with wonderful aromas. But also keep in mind the potential of other items such as pinecones, dried or fresh vines and sculptural tree branches. These items can even be gathered right from your own garden (did someone say, “FREE”?) and used in combination with basic greenery … whether it is real or artificial.
As with any occasion, fresh flowers are also the perfect ingredients for your holiday décor. Especially with flowering bulbs such as narcissus and amaryllis, you can introduce a living, growing and natural element to your decorations. Plus, they last for weeks! These bulbs can easily be found at nurseries and garden centers around the holidays and potted in your favorite decorative containers, or you can buy them already planted, as well. Either way fresh, flowering bulbs will fill your holiday home with the colors, scents and liveliness of the garden.
Live narcissus in small garden planters, fresh moss, pinecones and a dusting of artificial snow make the perfect outdoor-inspired centerpiece for the holidays.
We all dream of the perfect white Christmas with freshly fallen snow blanketing the ground and the treetops. Well, regardless of the weather you can create your own white Christmas, and it is actually a great trick for bringing not just the feeling of the outdoors but also the feeling of being outdoors to your holiday decor. By recreating the illusion of fresh snow, you can conjure up a garden-inspired fantasy where the flakes just stopped falling! Simply sprinkle artificial snow on decorations, trees or table arrangements and let it pile up as it would naturally. If you’re afraid of avalanches … no problem: Use spray adhesive along with the artificial snow to add sparkle to items such as branches, pinecones and ornaments.
Here are a few additional tips:
1) Artificial snow is usually sold for use with miniature holiday villages, so look for it near the villages themselves.
2) Some artificial snow is nothing more than shredded plastic bags. Skip this and get the good stuff.
3) Finally, when decorating “let it snow” liberally for the best effect!
In From the Cold
Another great way to add a bit of the garden to your holiday décor is to bring some of your favorite decorative elements (such as a birdbath, statue or planter) in from the cold. For example, pile a bunch of colorful Christmas tree ornaments or naturally beautiful pinecones in a birdbath and place it next to your tree for an unexpected touch. Or, drape a statue with lush greenery and a big, festive bow for a dramatic holiday focal point. And, your smaller garden planters are perfect for potting up those narcissus and amaryllis bulbs. Even larger containers can be put to good use by filling them with fresh evergreens or interesting branches from the garden and grouping them around the Christmas tree, using them to dress up an entryway or placing them in an empty corner.
Additional Photos click on any photo to enlarge
Garden décor, such as this stone finial, can be decorated and brought inside for the holidays to add an unexpected outdoor touch to your décor. Here, fresh greenery, elegantly glittered pinecones and an earth-toned bow combine to create an elegant, understated focal point.
Garden statuary, such as this handsome bust, can be moved indoors during the holidays to create a dramatic and garden-inspired statement.
Establishing an outside influence doesn’t mean your decorations have to be traditional. Here, frosted trees and fresh poinsettias are planted in large, contemporary garden containers for a sleek, sophisticated approach to the holidays.
A variety of evergreens, sandblasted Manzanita branches and miniature pinecones lend an organic contrast to the shiny ornaments, mirrored obelisks and glass lamps in this tabletop arrangement.
On this staircase banister, huge sugar pinecones and pheasant feathers were used instead of traditional ornaments to decorate artificial garland. The result brings the outdoors into this holiday home in a dramatic and unexpected way.
A single narcissus bulb, lichen moss and an architectural branch bring a touch of the holidays and the outdoors to this powder room.
Live narcissus and fresh moss in a festive container bring a touch of the holidays and the outdoors to any room.
Live narcissus and English ivy in a festive container bring a touch of the holidays and the garden to this tabletop.
Evergreen trees potted in garden urns combine with vines, greenery and bright red berries to create a woodsy yet elegant mantle decoration.
Image: ARGARDWEB 12, 2011 (17)
Natural pinecones and fresh Spanish moss were used to add organic beauty to this stairway decoration.
Natural pinecones were combined with greenery and bright red berries to create this organically beautiful centerpiece.
Real pinecones, vines, greenery and moss topiaries were placed along with simple candlesticks and given a “fresh” blanketing of snow to give a garden-inspired grace to this large tabletop.
Pheasant feathers and butterfly ornaments used as a tree topper bring the feeling of the garden into this holiday décor.
This large arrangement holds seven 4-inch plants. The dumb cane (Dieffenbachia spp.) gives height, along with the Norfolk Island pine. The Diamond Frost euphorbia adds the look of dainty white snowflakes. The variegated ivy hangs over the edge of the 14-inch container.
Poinsettias have decorated homes for many years. A single poinsettia can be an awesome sight sitting alone on a table, showing off its striking color, or colors. And their colors are astonishing – from various shades of red, pink, purple, to white or multi-colors. With names such as Monet Early (‘PER2009’), Jingle Bells (‘PER 2110’), ‘Prestige’, ‘Shimmer’, Maren (‘Beckmanns Altrosa’) and ‘Luv U Pink’, there are over 100 varieties of poinsettias. So why combine poinsettias with other plants? Plant combinations take you beyond the ordinary to extraordinary! I enjoy creating combinations that scream “Look at me!” Garden centers have made it easy to do this by having poinsettias in all sizes from teeny tiny to very large ones. The selection of foliage plants to complement the poinsettias also come in various sizes.
The first step is to select your container. The container can be anything that holds enough potting mix to accommodate the number of plants you want to use. To create a tabletop arrangement, you may choose a 10-inch bowl. A bowl of that size would accommodate a 5-inch poinsettia with room for other plants or two 4-inch poinsettias with less room for other plants. The nice thing about having so many sizes of poinsettias to choose from is that you can make a combo in just about anything – from a small ornate container, such as a sleigh, to a huge combo in a ceramic pot. Tabletop urns can transform arrangements into conversation pieces. I am partial to using plastic inserts that I can drop into my decorative container. They come in various sizes as well.
This stunning combination shows off a smaller variety of poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima ‘Tapestry’). It is surrounded by a dark-leaf peperomia (Peperomia caperata ‘Raspberry Ripple’) and a delicate fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’). The sparkle of tiny white flowers come from Diamond Frost euphorbia (E. hypericifolia ‘Inneuphe’).
For a beautiful display, surround a Norfolk Island pine with red and white poinsettias and add a striking trailing pothos (Epipremnum aureum ‘NJoy’).
Drainage is important for the health of your combination. Never leave your container in standing water. If you are using a non-draining container, water lightly and carefully. I use a small watering can with a small spout. This makes it easy to control the direction and amount of water. Your plants’ roots need air along with water.
The potting mix you use should be a soilless mix. It is important to use a medium that is light and fluffy. It helps with drainage.
Be careful and protect the surface where you place your container. A non-draining pot will still damage the surface where it sits. I use surface protectors such as cork with plastic or coasters under my containers. They are thin and not noticeable.
The basic principles for making indoor arrangements are the same as outdoor arrangements. The difference is the plants you use. For some height in my outdoor container, I like to use Sky Pencil holly (Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’). Inside, I would use a Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla).
There are many foliage plants that you can use to pull out the color of your poinsettia. A soft look could be achieved with the addition of ferns. Dracaena lends a bolder style.
These white poinsettias stand out more with the addition of the variegated rubber tree (Ficus elastica ‘Tineke’). Tucked in around the poinsettias are small 3-inch containers of asparagus ferns. Two 4-inch autumn ferns (Dryopteris erythrosora) are added for more texture.
This festive tin is planted with red and white poinsettias. The Norfolk Island pine gives height to the arrangement. The chartreuse color of the spikemoss (Selaginella kraussiana ‘Gold Tips’) adds interest.
I used coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides) a lot last year in my combinations and was very pleased with how they performed indoors. Coleus colors vary from lime green to vibrant red. New varieties are entering the market every spring. I take cuttings of my summer coleus plants and have them to use indoors with my poinsettias. Hopefully, you will find coleus displayed with poinsettias this year. Their decorative foliage adds more interest and creativity. It pulls the color of the poinsettia out even more.
Every holiday season I pull out my festive baskets and create arrangements in them. Some are given away as gifts, while some decorate my home. Placing a drip pan in the bottom of the basket helps the basket last longer and keeps it tidier. I like using a variety of small plants and depending on my basket size, I usually use three different plants. The Norfolk Island pine is one of my favorites. It can be decorated with tiny ornaments or bows. It stands tall while my small poinsettias surround it. Tuck in a small container of ivy to soften the edges. A small African violet (Saintpaulia spp.) can add some color also. Cover the soil with moss for a nice finished look. Keeping plants in their original containers allows you to change it up easily or take it apart after the holidays. Just remove the moss to water the pots individually.
Grouping plants together is another way to create poinsettia arrangements. Clustering is another name for it. With the help of plant stands, you can elevate plants and surround them with plants placed below. Place a tall dracaena on a plant stand and put a large poinsettia at the base. It will hide the plant stand. Tuck in a small container of ivy next to the poinsettia. The pots can be covered with foil or placed in decorated containers. Remember to take the foil off to water.
Poinsettia combinations go beyond the ordinary and give a beautiful plant a whole new exciting look. It can be a small arrangement or one on a grander level.
This year, when you pick out your poinsettia, look around for something exciting to go with it. You will be surprised how a plant that has been around for a very long time can take on a whole new look.
Try these exciting foliage plants with your poinsettias:
From State-by-State Gardening November/December 2013.
Photo credits: Neon photos by Quinn Dombrowski. Pilea by Nagarazoku. Silver lace fern by Forest & Kim Starr. All poinsettia photos by Susan Frakes.
How to Make Compost - Demonstration by Kerry Heafner
You know fall of the year is the perfect time to start rejuvenating your garden beds for next spring, and in this vegetable garden, the perfect thing to do is add compost now so it can settle in and nutrients can be released in time for the spring plant. So, come on back with us and we’ll show you how to set up a compost pile.
Now, setting up a compost pile for your own home garden couldn’t be simpler, and the good news is that the materials needed will come at little to no expense. So, that’s always a plus.
In this case, I’m using some four-foot fence post that I got from the local garden center, and I’m simply going to hammer these into the ground in a circular pattern. Now, when the fence post are in the ground, I’ll wrap some hardware cloth - or really you can use any wire you have available. Two by four wire works perfectly. I’m going to wrap the wire around this, and that will do two things. First, it will keep the material being composted contained. Second of all, it will allow good airflow across the pile because keeping the compost pile oxygenated during the composting process is going to be key.
Now that we have our compost pile blocked off, it’s time to start adding the materials, and the first thing we’re going to add is some finished compost. And, that’s simply because finished compost contains all the microorganisms that will kickstart a new compost and carry on the decomposition process. Now we have some finished compost in there for a good microbial foundation.
The next thing we want to add is some kitchen scraps, and I’m often asked, “Well, what can we compost out of the kitchen.” Well, really anything plant based. What you want to avoid are animal products like meat scraps and bones. Those will be very slow to breakdown and they might invite some uninvited guests to your compost pile and we don’t want that.
What I’m going to put in here now are just simply some kitchen scraps, and you’ll see it’s banana peels, some old leaf petioles off of greens, some carrots tops, some cherry tomatoes that are a little past their peak. And, you’ll also notice some egg shells. A wonderful source of calcium. And, you can find egg shells very readily. So, any of this material would be perfect for the compost pile.
Now, this is going to be kind of a magic ingredient we’ll add to the compost pile. These are coffee grounds, and you can get these from your local coffee shop. They’re often very glad to give them away because all they do with them is throw them away anyway. Coffee grounds are a wonderful source of nitrogen and they will also help improve the soil – workability of the soil – tilth you’ll sometimes hear it called. And, we’ll put this into the compost pile as well. We don’t want too much, but just enough to get the compost pile to heat up. And coffee grounds are a good source of nitrogen.
Now, we’re going to cover this with some type of organic material – leaves, hay, straw anything like that will work. I’m going to use some maple leaves that I’ve raked up out of the yard. And, we’ll put this on top to sort of keep everything under the layer of leaves warm and that’ll start decomposing. There are also insects in these leaves that will start decomposing all this organic matter as well as soil fungi and bacteria. So, we’ll keep the leaves on top of that, and that will allow the compost pile to stay warm so the microbes can start doing their thing breaking all this wonderful organic material down.
Now the last thing to go on the compost pile is some water. We want to keep the compost pile, not saturated, but just moist enough to promote good microbial growth. All of these bacteria and fungi that are going to breakdown this material need moisture. In the process of decomposition, a lot of heat will be generated. It’ll even be possible to come out here on a cold winter day, open up the compost pile and watch steam literally erupt out of the center of the compost pile. So, over a period of months, this material will break down and will have that wonderful black gold material that will be ready to go in the garden in the springtime.
Now, it’s going to be very important to come out periodically and turn the compost pile with a shovel or some time of garden tool. Now once the compost pile has stopped heating up, the compost is finished. And at that point it’s ready to harvest and go into the garden bed.
Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)
- Video Transcript
As a single specimen or planted en masse, muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is dramatic, drought resistant and easy to grow.
Hardy in USDA Zones 5-10, the growing conditions for muhly grass are precise, requiring full sun and excellent drainage for the best results. The optimal time for moving or dividing is during the cooler months, when rainfall or hand watering can be done in abundance – although muhly grass is extremely drought-tolerant once established, it needs copious amounts of water to get the roots settled in to its liking.
Not likely to be noticed in the spring or summer, it puts on quite a show in the autumn landscape. When other ornamental grasses are falling down and showing ragged foliage, muhly grass will be covered with a cloud of wispy flower heads held height above the wiry foliage. This effect is amplified when planted in large masses. By late summer, muhly grass will grow to about 30 inches by 30 inches. The plant will increase in size and flowering capacity each year. Cut back to about 6-8 inches in late winter to allow room for the new season’s growth. Fertilize in early spring. Provide full sun and only minimal irrigation.
This perennial native of the prairies and coastal barrens, ranges from New England to Mexico. It’s becoming increasingly popular as a colorful, low-maintenance, water-conserving, three-season addition to the landscape.
Paths are an essential part to any garden. They help improve access to plants, invite visitors to enter and provide an aesthetic improvement as well. Brick paths can be an elegant addition to any garden, but starting from scratch with new brick can be cost-prohibitive. If you want the elegance of brick without the sticker shock, look into salvaged bricks. They bring both elegance and an historic element to your garden.
In my own garden, I decided I wanted a series of elegant brick walks to divide my front lawn and echo the charming brick columns on the front porch. During my research I feasted my eyes on photos of brick walks with subtle geometric designs. Then I began to look at the price tag for pallets of fresh, identical red brick, and I decided to change direction slightly.
My eyes turned to the bricks I’d gathered from my property and the neighbors’. My new plan became creating a brick-lined, gravel path that connects the driveway to the front walk in a manner perfectly in tune with my historic neighborhood. The final result was a unique and more satisfying walkway than any new materials could have created. And the price tag was perfect: less than $100 in rock and landscape fabric.
Garden designer Frank Hyman has used salvaged brick to create dry-stack walls on his own property as well as to install a Charleston-type garden pathway for a client. For the pathway he used leftover brick from a dismantled chimney at his client’s historic home. One reason he chose salvaged brick was for the patina of age that comes with the older materials. “I just love the color, you can’t beat it,” Hyman said.
With new brick, one can wait years for interesting textures to develop. Salvaged bricks add immediate interest through their rich colors, worn and moss-covered surfaces and unusual stamps. The size, texture, and color of each brick is customary to the manufacturer and the time period in which it was formed and baked. One brick in my walkway is stamped by “Borden Brick & Tile Co.,” a brick manufacturer from the early 20th century. So now what would have been an ordinary brick path is a conversation piece.
Recycling those bricks also saved a trip to the dump and kept them out of the landfill. The EPA estimates there are 1,900 landfills in this country used for construction and demolition materials. I used excess bricks to create a border for the garden beds, unifying the entire landscape. And installation is just as simple with recycled materials.
Collecting the Brick
If you’re looking to collect bricks for a path or a wall, first you need to know the amount of brick you’ll need for your project. Design your path and with stakes or a garden hose mark off the area you want to pave. To create a brick-lined path, measure the length of the path to estimate how much material you will need – a standard brick is 8 inches long, so calculate the length of your path, multiply by 2, and divide by 2/3 for the total number of bricks needed. For a full brick path, you can calculate square footage and use a materials calculator online.
Second, start a treasure hunt. Hunting for the right bricks for your project can require patience. I spent several months collecting bricks, but it was worth it for the price tag. Start with your backyard; what could be more authentic than bricks from your own homestead? Then ask your neighbors for permission to hunt around their yard. Older properties can hide a treasure trove of bricks that served as a foundation, a walkway or a chimney in a former life.
You can also try commercial listings like Craigslist, local businesses under renovation or used building supply companies. These bricks aren’t free, but they’re a better price than new and sometimes it’s the best way to get what you need.
If you collect from multiple sources, you’re bound to end up with bricks of different sizes and shapes. That can make the project tricky, but it also adds variation for those who appreciate an eclectic look.
Building Your Path
Once you have enough brick, gather the necessary materials: rock screenings, gravel and landscape fabric. To determine how much screenings and gravel you will need, multiply the width and length of your project for square footage. You will need about a 2-inch depth of screenings and 2 to 3 inches of gravel. The easiest way to determine how much you need to buy in yards is to use a materials calculator easily found online.
Use a spade to dig out the path to a depth of at least 4 inches, cutting the sides as vertically as possible. Cover the base of trench with landscape fabric. Fill the trench halfway with screenings or coarse sand and rake it even. Tamp the screenings down if the underlying soil is soft.
Lay out bricks along each side of the path. This will require extra care if they are different shapes and sizes. Line up the outer edges of the bricks, rather than the inner edges, for a neater appearance. Any eroded or broken sides should face inward to be filled in with gravel.
If you have bricks of different sizes, use extra screenings where needed to bring thinner bricks up to height. A mallet or board can be used to gently tap out-of-line bricks into place. Be careful, because bricks can be rather brittle and break easily. Finally, fill in the path with gravel and rake.
The extra work of finding salvaged brick is all worth it for the lived-in charm. Through investing a bit of time and patience, you’ve created a beautiful brick path that complements any garden.
With reclaimed brick, you don’t have to wait for weather and nature to produce interesting textures. Salvaged bricks add immediate interest with their rich colors, worn and moss-covered surfaces, and unusual stamps.
A brick-lined path complements the front-porch columns of this historic home. Salvaged brick can also add immediate “lived-in” charm for newer homes.
Reclaimed brick also works well for garden borders. This project made good use of hollow brick deemed unusable for a pathway. Each brick was installed on its side to hide the holes.
Look for interesting stamps and textures for your salvaged brick projects. This stamp from Borden Brick & Tile Co. accents an eclectic collection of bricks of many sizes and colors.
Even busted and broken bricks serve a purpose, adding a whimsical touch to the herb garden.
This gardener collected brick from torn-down buildings and chimneys to construct a series of paths and dry stack walls around her home.
She also incorporated salvaged brick in the steps leading up to her home. The mixture of stone and brick give the garden an eclectic and one-of-a-kind feel.
How to: Select a Fresh Cut Live Christmas Tree - Video Transcript, Demonstration by Kerry Heafner
Today we’re going to show you how to select that perfect live Christmas Tree.
Now the first thing to consider when selecting a live Christmas tree is the height of the tree vs the height of the room it’s going in. Make sure you select a live tree that is going to be proportional to the height of the ceiling in the room the tree is going to be standing in. So, when you go to a Christmas tree farm they’ll often times have these poles marked off at different heights. Now, this tree is approximately 8-feet tall, which means, when you get it in the stand it’s going to be at least a foot taller. So, make sure the room that this tree will go in has a ceiling that’s at least 10-feet tall.
Now, in addition to height, we have to think about the other end of the tree and take some time to lift the bottom branches away and have a look at the trunk. Having a straight trunk on a live Christmas tree is going to be important in terms of setting it up on the stand. Generally, you’ll find that on something like a leyland cypress, the trunk is going to be very straight and uniform. On the other hand, trees like this Carolina sapphire cedar, can often times have a trunk that grows a little crooked throughout the growing season, and that will affect how the tree sits in the stand after its been cut.
Another thing you want to look for when selecting a live Christmas tree is the overall shape. And, we all think of the perfect Christmas tree having a perfect conical shape, and the fact is that they’re pruned to have that shape. The growers come in periodically and prune the trees so that they look like that perfect Christmas tree that we all think of.
Rub your hand across the Christmas tree and feel the needles. The branches should be soft and playable, and the needles should not easily fall away from the tree. You also want to make sure the tree is uniformly green, and every once in awhile you’ll see a tree that will have some dead growth in it. For example, if you look at this leyland cypress, you’ll some a few brown branches mixed in with the green ones. Typically, the grower will have those pruned away so there’s not a hazard if you’re going to use electric lights.
So there you have some basic tips for selecting that perfect live Christmas tree. For State-by-State Gardening, I’m Kerry Heafner.
Maybe it's not a greener thumb you need, but a change in attitude.
Growing plants inside our homes has been done for centuries. The desire to surround ourselves with plants in our very non-natural abodes is a testament to the connection we feel with nature. Even those who don't grow houseplants usually enjoy seeing them in other people's homes and places of business.
So why do some people shun them? If you ask a group of people why they don't have houseplants, the number one reason they'll give is that they kill them. Newsflash: Everyone kills houseplants.
It's true that no one enjoys seeing brown-tinged leaves or yellowing foliage sitting next to them while they’re watching TV, or eating dinner, or especially when they're entertaining guests. A sick or dying houseplant doesn't exactly give off positive vibes about itself or the person who is supposed to be taking care of it.
But all houseplants are not created equal. Some are quite forgiving, and there truly are plants that survive and even thrive in homes where they may not receive optimal care. Fortunately, those plants are readily available in garden centers.
A Different Point of View
It might not seem all that unusual to find plants living with people in homes where gardeners reside. After all, it's just an extension of what they do out in their gardens, and especially in northern latitudes, houseplants are a way to continue enjoying the growing process when the weather outside prevents it.
However, even some of the most active outdoor gardeners shy away from growing plants indoors for various reasons. Perhaps a change in attitude towards the whole houseplant idea is in order.
Consider this: Annual bedding plants are a booming business. Each year, millions of dollars are spent on them, with the spring months garnering the most sales. Petunias, begonias and the like fly out of the garden centers and into flowerbeds, where they'll brighten landscapes for five months, maybe six, weather permitting. And then what? Frost happens. Those lovely flowers that we enjoyed for what is always a too-short summer are reduced to mush. We may mourn the end of summer and fall, and maybe those annual plants, but even as we were putting them in the ground such a short time before, we knew they wouldn't last.
What if we started to view houseplants in a similar way? Most people think nothing of buying a bouquet of fresh flowers for the table when entertaining guests or for special occasions such as Valentine's Day, an anniversary or a birthday. For the same amount of money (and usually less), a beautiful houseplant can enhance the same space for a much longer period of time.
Take an orchid, for instance. Most orchid blooms last two or three months. They aren't particularly expensive, they're easily found in garden centers (and even grocery stores), and they often can last for years and rebloom.
Stop being so hard on yourself, and give yourself permission to kill a houseplant or two. Even if you only get six months out of a particular houseplant, that's six months of enjoyment. Most houseplants will live much longer, decades even, but if they don't, it's a low-cost excuse to try something new.
An Investment with Added Value
Live plants offer more than just aesthetic benefits to our environment. Not only do they look nice, studies have shown that we accomplish more and are happier doing it when live greens are in our midst.
It is a well-known fact that trees and plants provide us with fresh air to breathe by converting carbon dioxide to oxygen and they continue to do that when they're growing inside. In 1989, NASA conducted studies to see if plants could be used to improve the air quality in space, and they found that some plants are especially good at purifying it.
Peace lily (Spathiphyllumspp.), snake plant (Sansevieriaspp.), Philodendronspp. and English ivy (Hedera helix) are just a few of the common houseplants that are known to remove common toxins such as benzene and formaldehyde from the air. Using plants in this way helps avoid sick building syndrome, often found where air is recirculated rather than introducing fresh air through open windows.
Decorate Your Space
It's often the subtle things that add spark and give character to an interior design or a particular style. Throw pillows, a piece of art, or even a strategically placed stack of books can be just the thing that gives a room a finishing touch.
Using houseplants in the same way can change the mood of a specific design by virtue of its architectural form. Many succulents, which are relatively easy plants to care for, have unique forms that work with many different styles.
The containers that are chosen can also shift the vibe for the plants that are grown in them. Textures, colors, shapes, even groupings of several plants in similar containers, can add to the overall effect in a room, often being a focal point.
Tips for Success
Sometimes people sabotage their houseplant-growing efforts without intending to do so. All plants are not created equal, but growing plants inside your house isn't that much different than growing container plants outside. Good drainage is essential, and potting soils are designed to make this easier. Many of them have plant food added that will feed your plants for the first three to six months or so.
If your container doesn't have drainage holes in the bottom, you can always use your container of choice as a cachepot to hold the original plastic pot that does have drainage holes. When it comes time to water, just take the inner container holding the plant out and water it at the sink.
If frequency of watering seems to be an issue for you, remember that most houseplants are killed by overwatering. As a general rule, don't water until the first inch of soil is dry to the touch. When in doubt, it's usually best to err on the side of dryness and hold off a little while longer.
Light requirements may be a little more tricky, but there are plenty of plants available to fit your particular indoor situation. Plants don't necessarily need to be placed in front of a window to do well. Just as light conditions vary outdoors (full sun to full shade), they'll vary in your house too, so take note of that when you're choosing your houseplants.
No one's perfect and it's pretty much guaranteed you will kill a plant or two, but it's also pretty much guaranteed that you'll have success. Just as you gain experience gardening outside over time, you'll learn how to keep your houseplants happy as well. Plants aren't like a piece of furniture designed to last forever, but many plants live long and happy lives in spite of their owners.
Most plants are somewhat forgiving of less-than-ideal conditions (some more than others), so with all the benefits of growing plants inside your home, it's time to give it a go, don't you think?
Air plants (Tillandsiaspp.) are an easy grower, needing no soil and only weekly watering. Because of this, they can be used in a number of ways, here highlighting a grouping of white ceramic vases.
This bromeliad plays well with its container, its mottled foliage echoing the color. Placing it in front of the mirror on this mantle makes the plant look larger and more lush.
A sunny window is an opportunity to group several plants together to create an indoor garden. Plants love company, often growing better en masse due to a higher humidity level, which most plants love. These are kept in their individual containers.
This heavy wooden sphere has nooks and crannies that can hold soil and small plants. It's coated with polyurethane to protect it from rotting.
A ponytail palm (Beaucarnearecurvata) in a cachepot inside this vintage piece of luggage gives life and color to the arrangement on a bedroom dresser.
Are these copper containers (from H. Potter) the focal point, or the plants in them? Both, and notice the art piece that's been added to the mix, creating a lovely vignette in this window corner. When planting several plants together, be sure they have the same light and water requirements.
Snake plant (Sansevieriaspp.) is one of the easiest houseplants to grow. A group of them can form an effective room divider or screen, as seen in this entryway.
Placing a container with drainage holes inside a cachepot allows you to put plants in unlikely locations, such as this open drawer, which provides an opportunity for a little drama with ivy spilling out.
A version of this article appeared in a November/December 2015 print edition of State-by-State by State Gardening. Photography by KyleeBaumle.