Archive: Jul 2018

  1. The Prettiest Garden Lavenders

    Sweeps of hedge lavender add color and fragrance to a patio garden.

    Wands of fragrant purple blooms dance in the wind, feeding bees, and shining cheerfully on even the hottest summer days. These are the flowers of lavender, a plant beloved for its aroma and ability to grow well in tough Mediterranean climates. This aromatic evergreen perennial has been used in perfumes, poultices and potpourris for centuries, giving it high value in the herb garden. And, many diverse varieties exist, so there’s lavender to satisfy almost every gardener.

    There are nearly 50 lavender species, all with lovely flowers that attract bees and butterflies. One of the dividing factors when choosing lavender for your garden is hardiness. Only a few species are truly hardy, and most fare poorly in areas with dense soils and cold, wet winters. This guide will help you choose the best lavender for your needs and plant it correctly to ensure it will survive and thrive.

    Hardy Lavenders

    The pretty English lavender ‘Munstead’ is compact and blooms heavily in summer. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia, 2-4’) is excellent for containers or sunny, raised beds where fragrance and summer color are needed. It is one of the hardiest lavenders surviving in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 8. The shrubby evergreen perennial has a bushy habit and fragrant, linear gray-green leaves that turn fully gray in winter. From early to midsummer, it bears slender stems topped with wands of lavender-blue flowers that are very fragrant.

    White-flowered English lavender is fragrant, and unique. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    The white-flowered variety ‘Alba’ offers a more neutral color option. The compact ‘Munstead’ is also a favorite heavily flowered variety that only reaches 2 to 1.5 feet. And, for seed growers, the 1994 AAS Flower Winner ‘Lady’ is compact English lavender that will bloom first year from seed.

    This lavender is native to Western Europe, so it is more tolerant of moist growing conditions, which is why it is grown in England, but it also thrives in Mediterranean climates. Some stem die back might occur in winter. If this happens, simply prune off the old, haggard stems in spring to keep plants looking nice.

    Hedge lavender is very fragrant, vigorous, and hardy.

    Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia, 2-3’), also called hedge lavender, is a tough plant favored for dry growing areas. It’s very vigorous and will survive in USDA Hardiness Zones 6 to 8, if provided excellent drainage. This popular lavender is a hybrid between hybrid between English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and Portuguese spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia). It is slightly less hardy than English lavender but will withstand a little more heat and drought.

    The foliage and habit is much like that of English lavender, and its summer flowers are very dense and richly aromatic. The wealth of slender stems hold dense clusters of lavender-blue flowers, which are sterile, so their seed cannot be collected. After the first flush of flowers, cut them back to encourage further bloom. The exceptional new cultivar ‘Phenomenal’, bred by Peace Tree Farm, is a little hardier, surviving up to zone 5, and produces loads of lavender blue stems and has little winter die back. ‘Grosso’ is another favorite variety prized for its extra-large, extra-fragrant purple blooms.

    Tender Lavenders

    Fringed lavender has upright flower clusters with small plumes of colorful bracts on top.

    Fringed lavender has unique scalloped leaves.

    Fringed lavender (Lavandula dentata, 1.5-2’) is a sea and hillside perennial Mediterranean native that will survive in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 to 9. It is exceptionally heat and drought tolerant and suited to southerly arid or coastal region. It has delicate green to gray-green leaves with scalloped edges. Unlike the other lavenders mentioned, it has a more mounding, spreading habit and moderately fragrant spikes of fuzzy lavender flowers topped by showy lavender-blue bracts that appear in summer.

    This lavender is perfect for border edges or containers, and will form a spreading mound over time. It also looks great in large containers.

    French lace has long stems for an airy look. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    The everblooming nature of this lavender makes it especially appealing. Airy, fast-growing and aromatic, French lace (Lavandula multifida, 1-2’) is native to the northwestern Mediterranean region where conditions are arid. The open, shrubby perennial is hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 8 to 9 and becomes woody as it matures. Its fragrant, evergreen leaves are gray-green and ferny and long-stemmed flowers are violet-blue and held high above the leaves.

    If plants become too woody, prune them back in spring to encourage new, denser growth, and a tidier habit.

    Fernleaf lavender has ferny silver leaves and long-stemmed flowers with multiple flower clusters at the top.

    Fragrant ferny leaves of silver-green are one of fernleaf lavender’s (Lavandula pinnata, 2-3’) greatest appeals.  This native of the Canary Islands and Madeira requires arid growing conditions and survives to USDA Hardiness Zones 9 to 11, making it the tenderest of the lavenders mentioned.  It is bushy and becomes woody over time. Like French lace, its small, angular spikes of lavender-blue flowers are long-stemmed and everblooming. Keep spent flowers cut back to encourage keep plants looking tidy.

    French lavender is especially fragrant and showy.

    The highly fragrant French lavender (Lavandula stoechas, 1-3’) has some of the showiest flowers of all the lavenders. The Mediterranean native was grown by the Romans for its exceptional scent, and its ability to thrive in hot and dry conditions. It is a bit hardier, surviving to USDA Hardiness Zones 7-10.

    ‘Anouk’ is a showy French lavender exceptional vigor. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    The shrubby perennial spreads as it ages, forming a considerable mound that should be pruned back in spring to keep it looking its best. It has fine, silvery foliage and bears many thin, upright stems holding oval clusters of very dark purple flowers topped with big plumes of bright purple bracts. There are many varieties that may be pale lavender, pink or white. The compact lavender-pink-flowered ‘Madrid Pink’ is one of the better forms, as is ‘Anouk’, which is vigorous, early blooming, and very showy. New flowers will keep appearing, if you remove the old blooms. French lavender also comes in pinkish shades.

    Growing Lavender

    Lavender looks great in any sunny garden situation where drainage is good.

    Full sun and sharply drained soil are essential for success. Moist winter weather can quickly cause stem and root rot, if soil is not perfectly drained. Lavenders generally grow best in more alkaline soils that are raised and gravelly with added organic matter, such as Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. Newly planted lavenders should be watered regularly for a few weeks, until they become established. Once established they generally can take care of themselves, especially those most adapted to arid climates. They tend to grow well in nutrient-poor soils, but the addition of a slow-release fertilize will support good growth and flowering and encourage fuller growth and flowering.

    Container-grown specimens are best planted in large pots filled with fast-draining soil like Fafard® Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix. In areas with cold or wet winters, you can move the pots to a cool, protected porch to keep them away from excess snow and cold. Just don’t let the pots become completely dry.

    Lavenders are semi-woody, and can look ill-kept over time. In spring, once new foliage has begun to emerge, prune old or dead stems back to encourage new, fresh looking foliage.

    If you want to harvest lavender flowers for dried flower arrangements, sachets, or potpourri, cut stems when flowers are still fresh and hang them upside down in a cool, dry place. Once dry, you can display the stems or pull off the aromatic dried buds for use.

    Plant lavender in areas where their wonderful fragrance can best be enjoyed. They make wonderful patio or walkway edgings and give garden spaces a Mediterranean flair.

    Bees and butterflies are especially attracted to lavender.


  2. Patio Peaches

    Do you want to grow your own peaches, but lack a place for a full-sized peach tree? This is not a problem, thanks to a slew of recently introduced peach tree varieties that mature at a shrubby 4- to 6-feet in height.  Ideal for containers, urban gardens, and patios, these dwarf peaches bring big possibilities …

    Read the full article →

  3. Flowers for Coastal Gardens

    Rugosa rose is one of the classic hardy garden plants for coastal gardening.

    The phrase “coastal gardens” evokes a host of memorable images, billowing daisies flanking gray-shingled cottages, bright “dune roses” blooming against an ocean background, or pots of brilliant red geraniums on a wooden pier.  North America has an abundance of coastal areas that are home to a wide array of coastal gardens.

    The rewards of coastal gardening are many.  So are the challenges.  Weather can be dramatic and unpredictable.  Wind is unrelenting in some locations, and occasionally ferocious.  Plants close to the water may be pelted with salt spray.  The soil tends to be either thin, rocky or sandy, with a notable lack of nutrients to support plants.  Despite all that, flower lovers won’t be denied.  The following are a few annual, perennial, and shrub suggestions for common coastal situations:

    Coastal Annuals

    Verbena bonariensis produces tall wands of purple flowers and tolerate high wind.

    In summer, plant drought-tolerant annuals tolerant of salt spray that will provide a steady supply of flowers until the first frost strikes.  Tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis) is perfect for this, with its tall wands of violet flowers, as is red salvia (Salvia coccinea), which has flowers in shades of red, white, or salmon pink. You might also consider colorful geraniums (Pelargonium hybrids) with beautiful foliage and flowers in bright shades that will tolerate coastal salt spray. (In climates with mild winters, Pelargoniums will survive as perennials.)

    Pelargoniums are perfect for coastal gardens.

    Portulaca or moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora) flowers last only one day, but the low-growing plants make up for that by producing new blooms each morning. Like the grandiflora species, ornamental Portulaca oleracea, also called “purslane”, or, less poetically, “little hogweed”, features the same coastal-garden-friendly traits: growing low, spreading, and producing colorful flowers.  Grandifloras have slender, almost needle-like leaves, whereas oleraceas feature rounded, fleshy leaves.

    Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) is another seaside beauty with spreading mounds of sweetly scented flowers that are typically white, but also come in shades of pink, lavender, and apricot. Plant them in containers or alongside taller annuals and perennials.

    Coastal Perennials

    Many Delosperma species thrive in coastal gardens, but their cold hardiness varies.

    Windy sites call for low-growing plants.  Think of flowering alpines or rock garden specimens.  In the spring, perennial creepers like moss pink (Phlox subulata) and small spring bulbs like ‘Minnow’ daffodils (Narcissus ‘Minnow’) and grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum) work well. Those living in warmer climates can rely on African lilies (Agapanthus spp.) with their tall clumps of strap-like green leaves and tall wands of purple, lavender, or white flowers.

    Later in the spring, the aptly named sea thrift (Armeria maritima) provides winsome pink or white flowerheads, and also naturalizes nicely.  It is also cold hardy, a bonus in cold weather climates with daunting winter winds.

    Armeria maritima

    Another mid- to late-spring bloomer available in a range of colors is ice plant (Delosperma spp.), a low grower with daisy-like flowers and creeping succulent foliage.  There are many species with variable hardiness, but most thrive in coastal gardens.

    Midsummer coastal perennials include blanket flower (Gaillardia x grandiflora), with their deep red and yellow blooms. And, if you love purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) and their kin, you are in luck! These summer bloomers will thrive in lean coastal soil and are available in a wide variety of colors and sizes.  They pair well with another drought-tolerant, mid-border plant, yarrow (Achillea millifolium). Colors range from white through to yellow, gold, terra cotta,  pink and red.  The foliage is delicate and fern-like.

    Gaillardia x grandiflora

    Later in summer, Montauk daisies (Nipponathemum nipponicum) keep the daisy show going, bearing big, yellow-centered daisies on 2- to 4-foot plants.  Montauks are mid-border flowers that tend to have ungainly “legs” after the first year, so be sure to prune them back to 1 foot in the spring to maintain bushier growth and denser fall flowering.  Plant lower-growing species in front of them.

    Numerous species and varieties of sedum (Sedum spp.) or stonecrop (Sempervivum spp.), now all the rage in horticultural circles, provide flowers and other visual interest in summer and fall.  Stonecrop flowers are not usually dramatic, but they are attractive as they sprawl along the ground.

    For a taller and showier succulent, try a Hylotelephium, formerly part of the Sedum genus.  The best known is the dusty-rose-flowered ‘Autumn Joy’, which grows about 18 to 24 inches tall and blooms in late summer or fall.  Its flattened flowerheads are also excellent for drying.


    Coastal Flowering Shrubs

    Shrubby cinquefoil is a coastal shrub with golden summer blooms. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Many beautiful garden roses are simply too delicate for coastal situations, however, anyone who has ever vacationed on the Atlantic coast has probably seen the roses people call “dune roses” or “beach roses”.  This tough, reliable rose is Rosa rugosa, which originates from Japan but has naturalized across many North American coastal regions.  Rugosas feature five-petaled blooms in white, pink or dark rose, and wrinkled or “rugose” green leaves.  The stems are extremely prickly.  After the blossoms fade, rugosas develop large, tomato-like hips that are both decorative and edible.  Leaving them on the plants provides additional visual interest and food for birds and small animals.

    Another common coastal shrub is shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa). In summer, it produces loads of yellow flowers on bushy plants that are tolerant of wind and salt. White and orange-flowered cultivars also exist.­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

    Planting Coastal Flowers

    Portulaca grandiflora (Image by Jessie Keith)

    For exposed areas subject to almost constant wind, trees or lines of tall shrubs can act as effective windbreaks to improve gardening  but may be hard to establish.  Another option is a sturdy fence or wall, but these can be inappropriate to a site or vulnerable to weather damage. Your best bet it to look at what other gardeners in your area have successfully established as windbreaks and follow suit.

    When challenged with sandy or rocky coastal soil, amend beds with good soil or amendments, to keep moisture from draining away so quickly.  Start by filling those growing spaces with Fafard Premium Topsoil, which will provide much-needed nourishment to your hungry plants, and finish off with an ample amount of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. Another option is to grow your coastal plants in containers or raised beds filled with Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix.

    Echinacea hybrid (Image by Elisabeth Ginsburg)

    When planting your coastal plants, start with good-size plants and install them in spring, so that they have ample time to acclimate to their surroundings before winter weather sets in.

    There are many other flowers fit for coastal conditions. When it comes to selecting flowering plants for your unique coastal garden, the best advice is to look at nearby properties and see what does well.  Ask managers of local garden centers and nurseries for expert opinions on the flowering plants that sell best in your particular area.  The oldest rule of thumb—“right plant, right place” is especially apt in coastal gardening.

  4. Managing the Six Worst Garden Animal Pests

    Hungry deer will eat practically any garden plant, especially in scarce winters.

    Gardeners beware, the enemy is among us.  Operating by stealth, they wait for opportunities to transform our gardens from points of pride to scenes of devastation.  They eat our cabbages and sweet corn, destroy our hostas, and root up our tulips.  They are ravenously hungry and untroubled by human scruples.

    Raccoons are cute, but they can quickly damage fruit and vegetable crops.

    Who are these enemies of horticulture?  They are the worst animal pests that plague our gardens, and even if they don’t frequent your place yet, they are most likely hard at work in your neighborhood.

    The list of “Six Most Unwanted” may vary a bit, depending on geography, but most gardeners agree that deer are at or near the top.  Rabbits are right up there, followed by groundhogs, and in some locales pocket gophers, squirrels, chipmunks, voles, or raccoons. Here are those that we deem the worst:

    1. Deer: These four-legged eating machines will mow down everything from your hostas to tulips, winter trees and shrubs, and most anything in the vegetable garden. Their size can make management most pricey, often calling for high fencing to keep them from the plants they like to eat.
    2. Groundhogs: Roly poly groundhogs can quickly devastate vegetable gardens, fruit patches,  and their large burrows are a yard and garden nuisance.
    3. Rabbits: Just like Peter in Mr. McGregor’s vegetable patch, these hopping herbivores will nibble on garden flowers as well as vegetables undoing plantings in a blink of an eye.
    4. Voles: Voles are root and tuber eaters that will consumer tulip bulbs in winter and chew on root crops, such as carrots, beets, and radishes in warmer season. They are known to use mole tunnels to consumer roots from below.
    5. Raccoons: Raccoons often raid vegetable gardens and fruit patches, making away with ears of corn, berries, and fruits of all kinds.
    6. Squirrels: Fruits and seed heads may be attacked by squirrels. The tend to do their most garden damage during dry periods, and in fall when they are saving food for winter.

    Managing the Worst Garden Animal Pests

    To keep our gardens beautiful and productive, we gardeners must pit our large brains and opposable thumbs against animal pests driven by constant hunger and a biological imperative.  The battle is sometimes hard fought, but we can at least hold our own by using intelligent management strategies.

    Fence ‘Em Out

    The best way to stop all kinds of critters is with appropriate barriers.  For deer, the barrier must be tall—at least 8 feet—so that the animals can’t jump over it.  Some of the most durable and expensive types are made of metal.  They are quite effective, but may not blend into the landscape.  In suburban areas, local ordinances may prohibit tall fences and the price tag may make them impractical for large gardens. Tall, polypropylene mesh fencing is less obtrusive and expensive, but it is also less durable than metal options.

    Rabbits are most destructive early in the season when plants are small.

    Electrified deer fencing does not have to be as tall, but it can be a problem in high traffic areas, especially where children and pets are likely to be present.  “Invisible” fencing, similar in concept to the type used to contain dogs, works via special electrified posts that can also be baited with favorite deer foods.  Deer that approach the invisible fences get a mild shock that acts as a deterrent.

    If rabbits are the problem, a low, electrified fence, with wires positioned at 2 and 4 inches above the ground may offer a solution.  A non-electrified fence made of chicken wire can also deter Peter Rabbit’s relatives, but it should be 4 1/2 feet tall, with 3 feet above the ground and another 18 inches of fence buried underground to prevent the bunnies from burrowing below.  Before burying the underground portion, bend the bottom 6 inches so the bent strip of fencing forms a 90-degree angle with the upright part of the fence.  The bent strip should project outward from the upright section.

    Groundhogs are destructive and their large burrows are a hazard!

    Groundhog barriers are similar to those for rabbits, but require a 30-inch underground section to deter the burrowing animals.  As with rabbit fencing, bending the bottom and top 6 inches of chicken wire at a 90- degree angle projecting outward from the vertical portion of the fence will likely convince voracious groundhogs to look elsewhere for dinner.

    Barriers will also stop gophers, and should be sunk into the ground to the same depth as groundhog fences, but need only be about 12 inches high.

    Squirrels make distinctive messes in gardens, digging indiscriminately, uprooting plants, and stealing ripe vegetables.  If the garden area is relatively small, enclose it in a secure cage made of chicken wire, hardware cloth and/or bird netting.  This may also stop raccoons, but the furry bandits are both smarter and more dexterous than squirrels.  Any cage arrangement designed to keep hungry raccoons away from your tomatoes and zucchinis should be well secured and sturdy.


    Voles will damage roots, bulbs, and tubers.

    If barriers are impractical, too expensive, or too obtrusive, spray vulnerable plants or areas near them with one of the many repellent formulas on the market.  Most are made with ingredients like egg solids, capsaicin and/or predator urine scent and will often deter many different types of varmints.  Always read the label directions carefully, wear gloves and protective clothing, and stand upwind of the area to which you apply the compound.

    The downside to deterrent sprays is that most must be reapplied after every rainstorm.  Some animals also accustom themselves to the compounds after a time, so it’s a good idea to switch up products on a regular basis.  Noxious smelling mixtures should not be used on parts of edible crops that you intend to eat, such as fruits, but they may help save ornamentals.

    Barriers will not keep squirrels away. Repellents work best. (Image by Tduk)

    Some gardeners use homemade scent deterrents, and recipes for those concoctions are easy to find.  Others swear by the deer repellent properties of scented soap hung from trees or fence posts in affected garden areas.  Bags of human hair can be employed in the same way.

    The presence of a dog or even sometimes a cat may deter pests when the marauders are faced with your pets or the smell of your domestic animals’ distinctive scent signatures.

    Plant Resistant Plants

    Deer resistant plants, like hollies, are good landscape choices where deer are a problem. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    If pest animals are a fact of life in your garden, you probably use a combination of strategies to combat them.  One good one is to grow vulnerable edible or ornamental plants in a single area and cordon it off with barriers.  Use the rest of your garden to grow plants like foxgloves, daffodils, lavenders, and other plants most garden pests don’t like. Many plants that repel deer and other four-footed pests are strong smelling and/or somewhat toxic. Many deer-proof plant lists exist, and they include plants that other animal pests don’t generally include on their menus. One of the best lists is the Deer Resistant Landscape Plants List offered by Rutgers University.

    Strategies to Avoid

    Some frustrated gardeners also use traps (live or lethal), poison, or other physical or chemical means to dispatch animal pests.  Before taking that route, be aware that lethal trapping may be illegal in your area, and poisons can be toxic to pets and desirable wildlife in addition to the intended targets. Children can also be harmed by poison baits, and they may even pose potential harm to the person administering them. So, err on the side of safe and smart when it comes to animal pest management. A yard and garden can be protected without becoming unduly harmful to the environment.

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