Search Result For: pear

  1. Homemade Caramel Apple & Pear Fig Honey Butter Recipes

    Tart, spicy, fragrant fruit butters are great winter treats that can be canned and shared as holiday gifts. Apples and winter pears are in season, so there are no better fruits for making dessert-quality spreads perfect for spreading on buttery toast, dipping with salty pretzels, or dolloping onto spice cookies. If you have your own apple and pear trees, even better! [Click here to learn how to grow your own winter pears!}

    These butters are simple to make but require some patience. The key to their deliciousness is perfect caramelization and thickness, so be sure they are perfectly cooked before canning! As pre-preparation, be sure to have sterile canning jars on hand. Well-cooked spreads such as these are perfect for those just learning to can at home (canning instructions are below). Place a pretty label on the jar, top it with a bow, and bring a few jars to your next holiday party!

    Caramel Apple Butter

    apple butter on wood background. toning. selective focus

    Caramel apple butter is a delicious holiday treat!

    Tart apples are rounded by the milky sweetness of caramel. Sweet/tart sauce apples like ‘Gravenstein’, ‘Jonathan’, ‘Cortland’ and ‘McIntosh’ make excellent butter. A touch of salt is crucial for flavor. Can this yummy spread for holiday gift giving or personal enjoyment. It’s decadent stuff!

    Ingredients

    • 3 lbs. apples (about 9 medium apples) – peeled, cored and roughly chopped
    • ½ cup water
    • ¾ cups light brown sugar
    • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
    • ½ teaspoon allspice
    • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 15 caramels

    Directions

    1. Add the apples and ½ cup of water to a large, sturdy sauce pan. Cover and simmer until the apples are soft but intact (15–20 minutes).
    2. Allow the apples to cool, and then strain them in a colander to remove any excess liquid.
    3. Transfer the apples into a food processor and puree them until smooth.
    4. Place the apple puree back in the pot and set the stove to medium-low heat. Reduce the heat to low if it starts to bubble.
    5. Add the sugar, caramels, and salt, then simmer, stirring occasionally.
    6. After 3–4 hours the butter should be thick and caramel-colored.
    7. Use the dab test to check if the butter is ready. Dab a bit onto a plate; if no residual liquid oozes from the edge, and the butter remains mounded, it’s ready.
    8. Add the spices  and stir. Keep the butter on low heat until you’re ready to can it.

    This recipe makes around four 4-oz. jars of butter that can be canned or stored in airtight containers for freezing or refrigeration.

    Apple Butter Sm

    Caramel Apple Butter Ingredients

     

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    Start by peeling and roughly chopping the apples

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    Cook the apples are soft but intact (15–20 minutes).

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    Puree the softened apples and then return them to the pot.

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    Add the caramels, brown sugar, and salt, and cook the butter down on low heat for 2-3 hours.

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    Do the dab test. The butter on the right is fully caramelized and ready. The butter on the left is still watery and underdone.

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    Can and label your finished butter using the instructions below.

    Pear Fig Honey Butter

    This decadent fruit butter tastes great on morning toast or dolloped between crisp butter cookies.

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    Honey, Fig, Pear Butter ingredients

    Ingredients

    • 9 soft Bosc or Comice pears – peeled, cored and chopped
    • 1/2 cup raw, wildflower honey
    • 1 cup chopped dried figs
    • the juice of one lemon
    • Pinch of salt to taste

    Directions

    1. Puree pears and figs in a food processor until smooth.
    2. Place the puree in a sturdy, large pot and set the stove to medium-low heat. (Reduce to low if it starts to bubble).
    3. Add the honey and salt, and mix until blended.
    4. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the butter becomes reduced by half. This should take around 2-3 hours (sometimes more).
    5. The finished butter should be fully caramelized, thickened and ready to can.

    This recipe makes around four 4-oz. jars of butter. Enjoy!

    Canning Instructions

    Materials:

    Canning Pot with Jar Rack
    Four 4-oz or two 8-oz jars for canning
    Canning Jar Lifter
    Canning Lids and Screw Bands (new)
    Labels and Permanent Marker
    Ladle
    Wide-mouthed Jar Funnel

    Steps:

    1. Wash your hands and work space before starting.
    1. Sterilize jars by filling a large pot with water to a depth that will cover them. Submerge the jars, screw bands, and lids into the hot water. Bring the water to a rolling boil, and boil for 10 minutes. Remove the hot jars with clean tongs while gently pouring the hot water out before removal. Place the jars upside down on a clean towel. Only touch the jar exteriors (Keep the canning pot with hot lids simmering.)
    1. Using a clean ladle and wide-mouthed funnel, fill the jars with hot, prepared fruit butter. Fill until there is an inch of head space at the top of the jar. Wipe messy jar rims with a clean cloth.
    1. Remove the sterilized lids and screw bands from the hot water and place them on the jars–being sure not to touch the inner lids. Make sure the lids are firmly down and screw bands lightly tightened. Manufacturer’s instructions may vary so follow those on the box.
    1. Place the jars on the jar rack and lower them into the pot of hot canning water, if you have no rack lower the jars in with a canning jar lifter being sure to keep jars from touching. Cover the canning pot and keep at a low boil for 10 minutes.
    1. Remove the jars from the pot and place them on towels to cool. Fully tighten the screw bands. Once cool, dry the outsides thoroughly and apply labels. Include the butter type and date.
    1. After jars have set for 12 hours, check for success.  If the lids are tight, air free and cannot be pressed down, they’re fine. If they pop down, they are improperly sealed, but don’t throw them away. You can either put them in the refrigerator for immediate use or try to re-cap them using steps 4 through 6. As a general rule, canned food is best used in the first year. Store your butters in a cool dry place.

     

  2. Growing Winter Pears

    Many of the finest pears (Pyrus communis) for growing and eating are harvested to perfection in the winter months. The fruits of the best become juicy, even buttery when fully ripe. Soon they will be showing up at orchard stands and farmers markets for fresh eating and cooking, but the trees are just as easily grown at home if you have the time and space to commit. In just a few years, a good sized tree will begin producing fruits.

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    ‘Bosc’ is a very old variety with French/Belgian origins.

    Like most popular tree fruits, such as cherries, apples, peaches and plums, pears are members of the rose family (Rosaceae). They originate from to Eurasia where their fruits have been gathered and cultivated since pre-history times. In fact, they are one of the oldest grown fruits with an estimated 3000-year-old cultivation history. Currently, 3000 cultivated varieties exist—offering fruits of different colors, sizes, flavors and textures, but only a handful are common in cultivation.

    Popular pear varieties are prized for good growth and quality fruit production suited for commercial distribution. And, many are winter pears, producing their best crops from late fall through to midwinter, depending on where they are grown. These popular pears have familiar names, such as ‘Bosc’, ‘Seckle’ and ‘Comice’ (aka. ‘Doyenné du Comice’), to name a few; these and other top winter varieties are easily purchased from quality nursery vendors. The characteristics that make them special are embodied by their fruit.

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    A mix of winter pears

    Bosc is a very old pear variety with French/Belgian origins that was first grown in the US in the early nineteenth century. Also called ‘Buerré Bosc’, its teardrop-shaped russet-brown fruit develops a very buttery texture along with juicy sweetness and heady pear fragrance when ripe. The fruits are popularly grown in the Pacific Northwest were they are harvested from mid fall through to early spring. The trees are known to be very productive.

    The firm-fleshed ‘Concorde’ is shaped like a ‘Bosc’ but has green skin and distinctly sweet flesh that resists browning. Its firmer flesh makes it perfect for baking and poaching. A popular pear produced from fall to mid-winter, it is a newer hybrid cross of two classic pear varieties, ‘Conference’ and ‘Comice’. The disease-resistant trees are recommended for growers wishing to grow organically.

    The classic ‘Comice’ pear is an old French variety known for its sweet, melting flavor and texture when ripe. This stout, fleshy pear has green skin flushed with red and its white flesh is very soft and juicy when ripe. It is best reserved for fresh eating and first becomes available in early fall, though it is also considered a favorite holiday pear. The fireblight resistant trees are productive and bear fruit very late in the season.

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    Winter pears are the latest to produce fruit. (photo care of the USDA, ARS)

    A very old variety that originates from Germany, ‘Forelle’ has very sweet fruit with soft, juicy flesh and green fruit with distinctive red speckling (“Forelle” means “trout” and refers to the speckling). The fruits are produced in quantity by the vigorous trees and are great for fresh eating.

    A juicy eating pear with soft flesh and beautiful reddish skin, ‘Magness’ is an American variety developed in the 1960s. The trees are very disease resistant and productive.

    Pear trees may be grafted on dwarf root stock to keep trees smaller in stature, but typically pears trees are moderately sized, upright, pyramidal, deciduous trees that are hardy and native to temperate regions. Unlike some other fruit trees, they are often very long lived. The trees produce white blossoms in spring. Varieties may bloom in early-, late- or mid-season. It is essential to know when yours will bloom because most pears require a pollinizer (another tree for fruit pollination) to produce fruit. The fragrant, white, five-petaled are attractive to bees. Fruits are ready to eat 90 to 200 days after pollination, depending on the type. Fruit may be produced from midsummer to early winter, depending on the variety.

    Natural and Organic

    Before planting a pear tree, amend with compost and add a little extra for top dressing.

    Pears grow fruit best in full sun and require good to average soil with ample drainage. Newly planted trees benefit from soil amendment at planting and the application of mulch around their base. We recommend amending and top dressing with Fafard Compost Blend. When choosing a variety, be sure to choose a disease and pest resistant variety, as many are sensitive to ailments, particularly fireblight.

    The holidays are the best time to enjoy winter pears, whether fresh or cooked. USA Pears has the best collection of pear recipes to be found. For the holiday season, I recommend checking out their Bread Stuffing with Pears, Bacon and Caramelized Onions, Almond Pear Tart (gluten free), Pear and Arugula Pesto Stuffed Chicken, or Mache, Pear, and Wild Mushroom Salad.

    Fall or spring are the best time to plant pear trees. Choosing winter varieties will ensure that you will have something sweet to look forward to in the later months of the season when the harvest is waning and holidays are just around the corner.

  3. Hardy Terrestrial Orchids for the Garden

    If you love orchids and outdoor gardening, then it’s time to welcome some beautiful hardy orchids into your garden this season! There are a surprising number of garden-grown orchids available at garden centers and specialty nurseries these days and many are surprisingly easy to grow. Once they put forth their first delicate blooms of the season, you’ll be hooked.
    Read the full article »

  4. Bananas for Indoor Growing

    Banana plants (Musa spp.) are tropical, tree-like perennials that produce some of the world’s best-loved fruits.  In their native regions, they often soar high into the sky, crowned by giant paddle-shaped leaves, which can be 6- to 10-feet long, and pendulous bunches of fruit.  A mature plant bearing a bumper banana crop is an inspiring sight.

    But, bananas don’t have to reach the stratosphere or live in the tropics.  Dwarf and compact favorites can also do star turns as dramatic house plants, even in limited indoor spaces.  All you need to do is choose the right banana, the right spot, and provide a modest amount of care and feeding.  You may or may not harvest fruit, but you will have a fast-growing specimen that will bring a touch of the exotic to your indoor environment.

    Choose Your Indoor Banana

    The 4-6-foot pink velvet banana (Musa velutina ‘Pink Velvet’) grows well in large, indoor or outdoor pots.

    Some of the best bananas for indoor culture are varieties or hybrids of the Cavendish banana (Musa acuminata).  These are also the most likely to produce edible fruit if provided with optimal growing conditions.  In the wild, the species can reach 20 feet tall, but popular varieties like ‘Super Dwarf Cavendish’ and ‘Dwarf Lady Finger’ top out at 3 to 6 feet, respectively.

    If you are buying your banana for beautiful foliage, the range of choices is larger.  Japanese fiber banana (Musa basjoo), can survive outside in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5  to 10, but it is also happy grown as an indoor plant.  The large green leaves have the characteristic elongated profile, sprouting from thick stalks that can grow up to 8 feet tall indoors.  If your indoor space has high ceilings, Musa basjoo might be just right.

    Scarlet banana (Musa coccinea) has brilliant red ornamental spikes.

    The hybrid banana known as Musa ‘Dwarf Red’, ‘Dwarf Jamaican’ or ‘Macaboo’ bears green leaves with pink to red midribs.  The plant’s “trunk”, which is actually a thickened stem, is a dramatic dark red.  Confined to an indoor container, ‘Dwarf Red’ may reach up to 6 feet in height.

    On the smaller end of the banana spectrum is another hybrid, Musa ‘Truly Tiny’, which tops out at just 2 to 4 feet tall.  The plant makes up for its small size with big green leaves, occasionally splashed with red.  It is perfect for a corner, pedestal, or even a table accent.

    Scarlet banana (Musa coccinea) is another low grower that reaches about 4.5 feet tall, with large green leaves.  The “scarlet” in its name comes from the brilliant petal-like bracts that enclose the small, true flowers and provide maximum visual interest. Another compact beauty with red color is the 4- to 6-foot pink velvet banana (Musa velutina ‘Pink Velvet’), which quickly bears pinkish-red bananas. The fruits are very sweet but contain large, tough seeds.

    Growing Indoor Bananas

    Bananas need bright light to grow their best indoors.

    Like most other plants, bananas do best in conditions that match their native habitats.  Indoors a greenhouse is probably the best situation.  In the absence of a greenhouse, you can still grow banana plants in comfortable living situations with bright light.

    Start with cozy temperatures.  Bananas thrive at temperatures that are equally congenial to humans, 60 degrees Fahrenheit and above, but the warmer, the better, especially in the daytime.  High humidity is also helpful.  Place the plants in saucers filled with pebbles and water, or position shallow pans of water near the plant.  Mist regularly.

    Choose the right pot for your banana.  Online vendors often sell young plants in four-inch containers.  Transplant to a six or eight-inch container and watch for signs that the plant is becoming root-bound (roots emerging from drainage hole).  Installing your new banana in a very large container immediately is not a good idea, because the large amount of potting soil will retain water and potentially cause root rot.  Instead, increase the container width by two inches each time you repot.  Eventually your banana will need a roomy container—at least five gallon capacity and possibly larger for taller specimens–in order to thrive.

    Fill containers with a quality potting mix, like Fafard® Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed or Fafard® Natural & Organic Potting Soil combined with perlite in a ratio of four parts soil to one part perlite.  If you use a potting mix without built-in fertilizer, feed your banana every month with a balanced fertilizer following package directions.  Stop fertilizing in the winter months when the shorter days and somewhat cooler temperatures slow growth.

    Indoors, bananas need as much light as possible, and will do best in a south, east or west-facing window.  Position the plant away from drafts and rotate the container on a regular basis for even growth.  Water thoroughly whenever the top of the soil is dry to the touch.

    Bananas appreciate a summer vacation outside, provided the container is not too heavy or awkward to move.  Be sure to return the plant to its indoor home when night temperatures fall below 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Getting Indoor Bananas to Fruit

    This ‘Super Dwarf Cavendish’ banana has produced a nice bunch of bananas indoors.

    Bananas grow fast, but fruiting is slow.  If you choose one of the varieties that produce edible fruit, you may have to wait two or three years for the pendulous flower stalk to appear.  When flowering happens, don’t worry about pollination.  Bananas don’t require pollination to set fruit.  The fruit bunches will not be as large or plentiful as those that hang from outdoor banana trees, but they will be a source of much greater satisfaction.

    And if you never get any fruit from your banana, take pleasure in its elegant leaves and the fact that with the addition of only one plant, you have established a little corner of the tropics in the temperate confines of your home.

  5. Growing Succulents and Cacti from Cuttings

    Got succulents and cacti? Then share them with your friends! These fleshy plants are some of the easiest to propagate from cuttings. So, if you have a special succulent house plant or garden succulent you want to propagate to swap or share, it’s easy to do.

    Plants from deserts and other arid lands rarely experience reproduction from seed because water is not plentiful. One common arid plant adaptation is quick rooting of stems and leaves as a means of spreading and reproducing without the need for seeds. For this reason, many dryland plants root quickly from leaf, stem, or tip cuttings. Here are some easy methods for propagating different succulent and cactus types at home.

    Leaf Cuttings

    These jade plant leaf cuttings show the progression of rooting and plantlet development.

    Common succulents with large leaves, such as aonium (Aeonium arboreum), jade plants (Crassula spp.), and kalanchoe (Kalanchoe  spp.), are all easily propagated from single leaves. The process is simple, and the needed materials are few. Here is what you will need and what to do:

    Materials

    1. Succulent leaf cuttings
    2. Sharp knife
    3. Shallow pots with bottom saucers/tray
    4. Perlite or porous growing mix
    5. Grow lights or a bright window
    6. Rooting hormone with an anti-fungal additive (optional)

    Method

    Succulents with large, fleshy leaves are perfect for leaf-cutting propagation.

    Use a sharp knife to gently cut healthy leaves from the stem. Dip the bases of the leaves into rooting hormone; rooting hormone hastens the rooting process and reduces rot but is not necessary. gently moisten the perlite or potting mix and nestle the bases of the leaves into the mix, making sure the bases are partially covered. Place the pots in a spot with bright, filtered light and keep the perlite or mix lightly moist to almost dry. Over a matter of weeks, the bases will root and small plantlets will appear. You can pot them up once they have several leaflets.

    Pups

    This Orostachys has developed stems of pups that can be cut from the mother plant and rooted.

    Many succulents with rosettes, like Agave, aloes (Aloe spp.), Dudleya, tender stonecrop (Echeveria spp.), Gasteria spp., Orostachys, and hens & chicks (Sempervivum spp.), reproduce by sending out stems of new rosettes, called “pups”. These are very easy to snip from the stem and root in fresh, porous mix. In this case, no rooting hormone is needed. Just a small pot of mix will do. Nestle the base of each pup in the mix, and keep the mix lightly moist to dry, and the pup will root in no time.  [Click here to read an article about starting agave pups.]

    Stem and Tip Cuttings

    The cut paddle stems of prickly pear will quickly root into whole new plants.

    Succulents with smaller leaves, like sedums, or no leaves, like cacti, are best propagated by tip or stem cuttings. Tip and stem cuttings require most of the same materials as leaf cuttings. With tip cuttings, you remove the very tip of a growing point. Simply cut or snip off the tip, remove several of the bottom leaves, dip in rooting hormone and nestle it in perlite or potting mix. Stem cuttings are comparable but you cut a larger stem for a larger, more robust start.

    When taking cuttings from cacti, always wear thick gloves. Cut a candle, side stem, or pad from the cactus, dip the cut base in rooting hormone and nestle it in a pot of perlite, which is faster draining and better for cactus starts. In a matter of weeks it should root.

    Potting Cacti and Succulent Starts

    Once your cuttings have rooted, you can transplant them into their own pots of mix.

    When your cuttings have set root and begun to grow, it’s time to plant them. Choose small pots that are the right size for each plant, and fill them with Black Gold Cactus Mix, or Fafard Professional Potting Mix amended with a 2:1 ratio of perlite. Both mixes are perfect for growing cactus and succulents. Cover the roots of your new starts, water them in, and keep them just moist to dry. During the winter months, water them very little to none to avoid root rot.

    Once you learn how to propagate succulents, swap them with other succulent lovers to add new, exciting plants to your collection. These easy-to-grow house plants are always welcome to any plant lover.

  6. The Best Hardy Camellias for the Landscape

    Camellias have been known to trigger acute plant envy in Northern U.S. gardeners.  If only those voluptuous blooms came on hardier shrubs that could withstand sub-zero temperatures.

    As a matter of fact, in some cases they do.  Although most camellias trace their origins to mild subtropical and maritime areas of East Asia, a few hail from chillier regions.  These cold-hardy camellias have contributed their genes to the development of new varieties that are as happy in Newport, Rhode Island as they are in Newport News, Virginia.

    Hardy Camellia Origins

    The hardiest spring-blooming camellias can even take snow flurries.

    Many of these winter-ready camellias owe their toughness to arguably the hardiest species in the genus, Camellia oleifera.  Widely cultivated in China for its seed oil, it occurs in the wild as far north as Shaanxi Province, where winter temperatures resemble those in south-coastal New England and the upper Mid-Atlantic.  In American gardens, it’s grown chiefly for its fragrant, white, 2- to 3-inch-flowers, borne in fall on large, shrubby plants furnished with oval, evergreen leaves that taper at the tips.  The handsome gray-brown bark makes an eye-catching winter feature.

    Camellia oleifera proved its hardiness in a series of bitterly cold winters that clobbered the eastern U.S. in the late 1970s.  Of hundreds of decades-old camellias at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., only a dozen or so survived – including several selections and hybrids of this rugged species. Subsequently, horticulturists have used Camellia oleifera to produce a number of comely cultivars that flourish into USDA Zone 6 (0 to minus 10 degrees F minimum temperatures).  Most of them produce pink or white, 3-inch-wide, single to double flowers in early to mid-fall (the earlier the better, so as to escape damage from Arctic spells).

    Recent introductions of Camellia japonica (shown) from Korea and northern Japan are very hardy. (Image by PumpkinSky)

    Camellia oleifera and its progeny are not the only hardy camellias on the block, however.  Recent introductions of Camellia japonica from Korea and northern Japan are also blessed with USDA Zone 6 hardiness.  Handsome year-round, they typically form dense 6- to 12-foot shrubs with lustrous, leathery, evergreen leaves and early-spring flushes of rich-red, 2- to 3-inch-wide flowers accented with yellow stamens.

    Thanks to these two species, gardeners in Zone 6 can now do the formerly unthinkable: enjoy a fall and spring garden display of showy camellias.

    Fall-Blooming Hardy Camellias

    The flowers of Camellia ‘Snow Flurry’ appear in mid to late autumn.

    Camellia ‘Autumn Spirit’

    Combining the showy flowers of the cold-tender Camellia sasanqua with the Zone 6 hardiness of Camellia oleifera, this highly prized hybrid bears zingy, double rose-pink flowers in early to mid-autumn, well before freezing weather threatens.  They’re lovely planted in combination with Colchicum ‘Waterlily’.  The dense, 8-foot plants have relatively small, dark green leaves.

    Camellia ‘Snow Flurry’

    Two of the hardiest white-flowered camellias (‘Plain Jane’ and ‘Frost Princess’) teamed up to produce this beautiful, tough-as-nails cultivar.  Frilly white pompons appear in early to mid-autumn on a fast-growing shrub that takes well to early spring pruning and winters reliably through Zone 6.  Combine it with Anemone japonica ‘Whirlwind’ and Ilex glabra ‘Ivory Queen’ for a fall symphony in white.

    Camellia ‘Survivor’

    Single white flowers open in mid-fall on vigorous 10- to 20-foot plants.  A hybrid of Camellia oleifera, it lives up to its name by consistently showing superior hardiness in cold-winter climates (to USDA Zone 6).

    Camellia ‘Winter’s Star’

    Named for the shape of its single, lavender-pink flowers, ‘Winter’s Star’ actually commences bloom in October, well before the onset of winter weather in Zone 6 (where it’s perfectly hardy).  It forms an open, conical, 10- to 12-foot shrub.

    Spring-Blooming Hardy Camellias

    The flowers of Camellia japonica ‘Bloomfield’ appear in late winter to early spring.

    Camellia japonica ‘April Remembered’

    No cold-climate camellia produces anything more luscious than the 5-inch-wide, semi-double, creamy-pink flowers of this remarkably hardy 1996 introduction from Camellia Forest Nursery.  It rapidly forms a vigorous, 6- to 10-foot shrub with large rich-green leaves.  If you garden in USDA Zone 6 but want bodacious Southern belle camellias, ‘April Remembered’ is the place to start.  And yes – it does bloom during the first warm days of April, or sometimes March.

    Camellia japonica ‘Bloomfield’

    Brilliant red flowers, lush foliage, and a large, dense, rounded habit make for one of best all-around camellias for Zone 6 gardens.  The single, 3-inch-wide blooms occur in flushes during mild spells in late winter and early spring.  The original plant – grown from Korean seed at Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia – is more than 12 feet tall and 6 feet wide.

    Camellia japonica ‘Korean Fire’

    Smoldering-red, six-petaled, 2-inch-wide flowers repeat from late winter through early spring, weather permitting.  Perhaps the hardiest camellia variety introduced to date, ‘Korean Fire’ is well worth trying in favorable microclimates into USDA Zone 5.  Plants grow to 10 feet tall and 6 feet wide.

    Growing Camellias

    All camellias grow best in acid, friable, humus-rich soil, with protection from north winds and strong sunlight. If you garden in sandy or heavy soil, give your camellia an extra-wide planting hole (at least 3 times wider than the root ball), and amend the backfill with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost.  Spring planting and a yearly application of an inch or two of compost are also advisable, whatever the soil.

  7. Clivia for Glorious Winter Flowers

    From the last week of November through the first of the New Year, many of us are surrounded by colorful seasonal decorations.  But then January arrives and all that glitters is gone.  To stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder, or at least help tide you over until the first crocuses push up through the cold earth, invest in house plants that bloom naturally during the winter months.  Clivia miniata, occasionally called “Natal lily” or “fire lily”, but most often known as just plain “clivia”, is one of the best.

    With bold orange or yellow clusters of trumpet flowers blooming atop tall (18-24”) stalks and strappy green leaves, clivia is reminiscent of other well-loved Amaryllis family members, like Nerine and Crinum.  It is a perennial, but is only winter hardy in USDA Zones 9-11.  The upward-facing clivia trumpets are somewhat smaller than those of another relative, the showy amaryllis (Hippeastrum app.), but each cluster contains more flowers.  Clivia colors are dramatic—bright orange is the most common—but it is not hard to find pale or bright yellow varieties.

    Clivia History

    Clivia is winter hardy in USDA Zones 9-11, but it is also a popular house plant.

    The genus was named in honor of an Englishwoman, Lady Charlotte Florentia Clive, wife of an early nineteenth century Duke of Northumberland.  Clivia is native to coastal areas in the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa, where the orange-flowered form was discovered by English plant hunters in the early 1820’s.  The first plants to bloom in England did so in 1827 in a greenhouse at Syon House, one of the Northumberlands’ residences.  Much later, in 1888, a rarer, yellow-flowered clivia was discovered, also in the Natal.

    The colorful flowers were a hit and clivia became a “must have” for wealthy Victorian plant collectors.  As the nineteenth century progressed, the cheerful orange blooms made frequent appearances in conservatories and greenhouses.  Fast forward nearly 100 years, to the second half of the twentieth century, and breeders in the United States, Australia and elsewhere were hard at work enlarging the number of forms and colors, especially in the yellow range.  Hybridization has also resulted in peach, pink and red-flowered forms, though they are quite expensive.  While clivia hybridizing is not difficult, it takes many plant generations to produce strong, reliable new strains that come true from seed.

    Clivia Sources

    These days, orange and yellow clivia are available at reasonable prices from many traditional and online outlets.  For instant color, buy blooming specimens, which are the most expensive.  However, if you are willing to be patient and play the long game, you can get a smaller plant for relatively little and nurture it to blooming size.  Remember that the pictures you see online or in catalogs are probably photos of mature plants.  Your clivia may not have as many blooms, especially in its first year or two of flowering.

    Clivia Care

    This deepest orange-red clivia is a real show stopper.

    Whether your clivia is mature or somewhat smaller, pot it up using a high-quality potting mixture, like Fafard® Professional Potting Mix.  The size of the decorative pot should only be a little larger than the nursery pot.  Clivia is fond of close quarters.

    The care regimen is reasonably easy.  If yours is already in bloom, position the pot where you can see the flowers best, water when the top of the soil feels dry, and enjoy the show for up to a month.  Afterwards, place in a sunny window and continue to water and feed once a month with a balanced fertilizer diluted according to package directions.  If you can do so, let your clivia have a summer vacation outside in a lightly shaded location that is protected from wind and other weather-related disturbances.

    If you live in a cold-winter area, bring the plant indoors before the first frost.  To stimulate winter bloom, stop watering around October 1, and put the clivia in a cool place, ideally with a temperature between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, for at least five weeks and preferably a bit longer.  When the dormancy period is over, bring the plant back into the warmth and light and begin watering again.  Flower stalks should appear after a few weeks.  Keep up this routine for a few years, and you will most likely see more flowers every year.  When repotting, which should only happen after several years, do not increase the pot size dramatically or flowering may be affected.

    Unlike some other decorative plants, clivia is an excellent long-term investment.  It is well worth it to see some floral light at the end of the mid-winter tunnel.

  8. 10 Best Trees for Year-Round Interest

    Lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana)

    Everyday trees provide beauty, shade, air purification and windbreaks, not to mention food and shelter for birds and animals. In spite of all that, we gardeners sometimes ask for even more—four seasons of interest.

    The following 10 trees are great landscape performers, adding something special to the landscape in every season, including varying combinations of significant flowers, fruit, colorful leaves, and interesting bark. All are great garden investments that guarantee years of good horticultural returns.

    Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.)

    Serviceberry (Amelanchier lamarckii)

    These small deciduous trees are also known as serviceberry, Juneberry and shadbush. Whatever you call them, they are especially useful in small- to mid-size gardens. In spring, fragrant white flowers bloom in drooping clusters just before the leaves appear. The leaves are dark green by summer, setting off the small blueberry-like fruits that ripen gradually to dark-reddish-purple. Birds love them and humans have been known to harvest them for pies, jams, and other treats. When fall rolls around, the leaves turn shades of yellow, orange and red before dropping. Smooth gray bark, which is marked with reddish fissures, shines in the winter light.

    Japanese Stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia)

    Japanese stewartia flower

    Best known for its gorgeous flowers, Japanese stewartia also has spectacular bark. As the Latin name suggests, its flowers look like camellia blooms, with pure white petals and golden anthers. Unlike many flowering ornamental trees, Japanese stewartia flowers in early summer. Topping out at between 12 and 40 feet, this member of the tea family features oval-shaped green leaves that turn dark red, gold, and orange in the fall. Winter light reveals the smooth exfoliating bark that peels away to reveal dappled patterns of tawny brown and gray.

    Lacebark Pine (Pinus bungeana)

    This distinctive pine has all the landscape virtues associated with evergreens. Holding its needles through even the harshest weather, the large tree can be grown as a spreading, multi-stemmed specimen or trimmed into a single-stemmed tree that assumes a conical shape at maturity. What makes the lacebark pine distinctive is its exfoliating bark, which showcases patches of silvery-white, olive, and pale gray. Lacebark is an investment evergreen that will begin exfoliating at about the ten-year mark. By the time the tree reaches its mature size of 30 to 50 feet, the exposed portions of the bark will be gleaming white.

    Coral Bark Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)

    Coral Bark Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’)

    Japanese maples in the coral bark group, like ‘Sango-kaku’, feature palm-shaped foliage characteristic of these ornamental members of the maple clan. Growing to a maximum height of 25 feet, the trees are distinctive for their vibrant pink or red bark, which is brightest on young growth and most prominent in the winter. When leaves emerge in spring, they are light green with eye-catching reddish edges. The red gives way to darker green in summer, followed by brilliant yellow fall color.

    Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica)

    Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica) fall foliage

    Tree guru Dr. Michael Dirr calls Persian ironwood , “one of the most beautiful trees for foliage effect”. As temperatures cool in the fall, the small tree’s lustrous green summer leaves turn vivid yellow, orange, and red. The effect is magnified by the leaves’ relatively large size—each one is up to five inches long. When the foliage has disappeared, ironwood’s exfoliating bark reveals a camouflage-like array of gray, green, white and brown. The beauty of that bark is complemented in spring when ironwood trees sprout curious flowers reminiscent of those of their other relatives in the witch hazel family. Though the flowers lack true petals, showy red stamens add visual interest, while the leaves wait in the wings.

    Sargent Cherry (Prunus sargentii)

    Sargent Cherry (Prunus sargentii) spring flowers

    Once you have seen the bark of the Sargent cherry in winter, you will never forget it. It is the color of highly polished mahogany, interspersed with lighter brown lateral striations. But glorious bark is only one of the small tree’s attractions. The rounded, lightly toothed leaves are bronze-purple as they unfold, turning to green in summer, and dark red in fall. Like many ornamental cherry trees, Sargent types cover themselves with masses of single pink blooms in mid-spring. These are followed by nearly-black fruits, beloved of birds.

    Green Hawthorne (Crataegus viridis)

    Green Hawthorne (Crataegus viridis) fruits

    Native to central to southeastern North America, green hawthorne is a handsome tree, growing 25 to 30 feet tall at maturity with a rounded crown. It begins the growing season covered in clusters of fragrant white flowers. These are succeeded by toothed, slightly lobed leaves that are green in summer and red-purple in fall. Hawthorne fruits, sometimes known as “haws”, are bright red, assuming that color in early fall and persisting through the winter. Trunks of mature green hawthorns exfoliate to reveal tawny brown inner bark. ‘Winter King’ is a favorite selection because of its numerous fruits and scarce thorns.

    Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa)

    Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) fruits

    The dogwood clan is full of beautiful trees, but the kousa dogwood stands out. Kousas are relatively small, topping out at about 30 feet tall. Blooming in spring, the trees feature characteristic dogwood “flowers”, each of which consists of a cluster of small, true flowers surrounded by four large, petal-like bracts that are pointed at the tips. The bracts start out white, but turn dusty pink as they age. Kousa dogwoods produce unusual, decorative fruits that resemble small pinkish golf balls. The oval leaves are dark green in summer, turning red or red-purple in fall. Afterwards, the exfoliating bark takes center stage in shades of gray, brown and tan.

    Hybrid Holly (Ilex hybrid)

    Hybrid holly berries

    Of the hundreds of available hybrid hollies, evergreen ‘Nellie R. Stevens’, a hybrid of English and Chinese holly species, is a standout for hardiness, beauty, and four-season interest. Rising between 15 and 25 feet at maturity, ‘Nellie’ has a pleasing conical shape and abundant, shiny green leaves on densely branched trees. If you look carefully in April, you will notice small, greenish-white flowers. These give way to quantities of bright red holly berries that persist through the winter.

    Chinese Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata subsp. pekinensis)

    Chinese Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata subsp. pekinensis)

    If you love the shape and fragrance of lilac flowers, Chinese tree lilac is the four-season tree for you. The  small, deciduous tree lilacs grows to about 15 feet tall and produces masses of creamy white, fragrant flower clusters in late spring or early summer, in addition to the dark green leaves typical of the lilac family. The brown seed capsules that come after the flowers persist through the winter, when trees also reveal furrowed, reddish brown bark that often exfoliates.

    Tree Planting Instructions

    To make the most of any four-season tree, plant in spring or early fall in well-drained soil in full sun or light shade. Before choosing a location for your young tree, make sure that there is ample space to accommodate its mature dimensions. When planting, remove burlap or other covering on the tree’s root ball. Give your specimen a good start by amending the soil from the planting hole with equal parts of a quality amendment, like Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost. Water in thoroughly while planting and water regularly while the tree is establishing its root system. Apply at least two inches of mulch in a three-foot circle around the tree to conserve soil moisture, but do not allow mulch to touch the trunk.

  9. Landscape Shrubs that Tolerate Salt

    Pink Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’)

    Salt can be a winter lifesaver for cars and pedestrians.  It can also be murder on the garden, sometimes literally.  Most de-icing salt contains sodium, which is toxic to many plant species.  Even when used sparingly, it can find its way onto the leaves and roots of nearby plants, disfiguring or killing them.

    One of the best ways to prevent salt damage to your garden is to use plant species that can handle some sodium.  The five shrubs described below are a great place to start. They’re perfect for framing and sheltering gardens in salt-exposed sites, such as roadsides and seashores.

    Chokeberries (Aronia spp.)

    Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia, image by Abrahami)

    Brilliant foliage in fall, attractive clusters of white flowers in spring, and adaptability to a wide range of soil conditions are among the many merits of these handsome, disease-resistant shrubs from wetlands and uplands of central and eastern North America.  Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) doubles down on the fall color by covering itself with bright red berry-like fruits that persist into winter.  Happiest in moist soil, it slowly expands into suckering, 8- to 10-foot-tall clumps that are at their most luxuriant in full sun.  Its abundantly fruiting cultivar ‘Brilliantissima’ is particularly showy.  Smaller in size and less flashy in fruit, black chokeberry (Aronia  melanocarpa)  typically forms a thicketing, 3- to 5-foot shrub with glossy, rich-green leaves and edible black fruits.   Varieties of this exceptionally drought-tolerant shrub include the compact growers, ‘Autumn Magic’ and ‘Iroquois Beauty’, as well as ‘Viking’, which is cultivated for its relatively large, tasty fruit that’s excellent for juices, preserves, and baked goods.  The fruits of all chokeberries are favorites of birds.  Aronia arbutifolia is hardy to USDA Hardiness Zone 4; A. melanocarpa to Zone 3.

    Sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia)

    The suckering, upright, 3- to 8-foot-tall stems of this eastern North American native are lined with lustrous, serrated, dark green leaves and topped in midsummer with fuzzy steeples of white or pinkish, root-beer-scented flowers.  The leaves turn bright yellow in fall, and the persistent, peppercorn-like fruits make a pleasant winter garden feature.  Sweet pepperbush comes in numerous varieties, including low-growing ‘Hummingbird’, pink-flowered ‘Ruby Spice’, and late-summer-blooming ‘September Beauty’.  All forms do best in moist soil and full to partial sun in USDA Zones 5 to 8.

    Inkberry (Ilex glabra)

    Female Inkberry (Ilex glabra, Image by David Stang)

    Its leathery, salt-tolerant, evergreen leaves and rounded habit would recommend inkberry for eastern North American gardens, even if it weren’t native to much of the region.  Most varieties become leggy 6- to 8-footers with age, so you might want to opt for a compact, densely leaved cultivar such as the 4-foot-tall ‘Shamrock’.  Female inkberries produce small, black, relatively inconspicuous fruits in fall, although white-fruited ‘Ivory Queen’ is a notable exception.  All cultivars are hardy in USDA Zones 5 through 8.

    Bayberry (Morella pensylvanica)

    Female Bayberry (Morella pensylvanica, Image by Jessie Keith)

    Recently redubbed Morella pensylvanica, bayberry will no doubt continue to be known to gardeners under its former botanical name, Myrica pensylvanica.  A signature species of salt-sprayed coasts from the Maritimes to the Carolinas, it’s literally a natural for salt-tolerant plantings in the eastern U.S. (and an excellent choice for other locations in USDA Zones 3 to 7).  All of its parts – from the leathery, deciduous or semi-evergreen leaves to the waxy berries (on female plants) – possess a silver-gray cast and a pleasingly pungent fragrance, made famous by the candles that bear its essence and its name.  Mockingbirds, yellow-rumped warblers, and other songbirds feed on the fruits in winter.

    Lilac (Syringa spp.)

    Common lilac (Syringa vulgaris, image by Jessie Keith)

    Almost all Syringa species boast moderate to high salt tolerance, reflecting their origins in arid regions of Asia and eastern Europe.  Although best known in the form of the ever-popular common lilac (Syringa vulgaris), the genus includes numerous other garden-worthy species and hybrids, many of which are relatively scarce in gardens.  Among the best of these for hedging and screening are littleleaf lilac (Syringa pubescens ssp. microphylla ‘Superba’), well worth growing for its aromatic, pale pink flowers that appear in late spring and summer on dense, dainty-leaved, 6-to 8-foot plants; cutleaf lilac (Syringa protolaciniata), distinguished by its deeply lobed leaves, compact arching habit, and pale lilac-purple spring flowers; and Chinese lilac (Syringa × chinensis), which in its best forms (such as ‘Lilac Sunday’) weights its stems with armloads of pale purple flowers in mid-spring, a few days before common lilac hits its stride.  Any of the above would make an excellent screen or hedge in a sunny site in USDA Zones 5 to 8.

    Whatever their salt-tolerance, all your plants will do better if you take measures to build their soil and to reduce their exposure to sodium.  Apply an inch or two of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost or several inches of shredded leaves in fall or spring to boost and maintain the levels of sodium-neutralizing organic matter in your soil.  In addition to its many other benefits, mulch also lessens surface evaporation, thereby increasing soil moisture and lowering salt concentrations.

    You can reduce the amount of incoming salt by screening planting areas with structures and salt-tolerant plants, by grading the soil to divert salt-laden surface water, and by using sodium-free de-icers, such as magnesium chloride, on your driveway and paths.  The right plants and the right care can go a long way toward making your garden safe from salt.

  10. Rustic Harvest Décor from the Garden

    Festive red rowan fruits sit among a nest of fallen leaves.

    After the leaves have fallen, the well-fortified garden is filled with a wealth of late-season branches, berries, hips, dried grasses and flower heads for rustic fall décor. Early fall is when they are at their brightest and most beautiful for indoor and outdoor decorating.

    Spring and fall are the best times to plant ornamentals that remain pretty through winter. Crinkly dried hydrangea flowers, puffy grass seed heads, berried and hipped branches of hollies and roses, and colorful twigs and greens all look seasonal and appealing when arranged for display. Gather them for Thanksgiving or winter holiday table displays, or place them in pots outdoors to keep your home looking festive.

    Here are some of our favorites to plant and enjoy for harvest décor.

    Grass Heads

    Simple containers of dried grasses and wildflowers look elegant and earthy indoors.

    Broom Corn (Sorghum bicolor): As the name suggests, the canes from this annual ornamental grass are used for broom making, but their glossy, pendulous seed heads of burgundy brown are also very showy. Start broom corn in spring for fall harvest. Outdoor displays of these seed heads will also feed winter birds.

    Pearl Millet (Pennisetum glaucum): This is the common millet that’s grown for pet store birds, but its bold, upright heads of grain look equally attractive in the garden and arrangements. The warm-season annual grass must be planted in spring, after the threat of frost has passed. The eye-catching purple variety ‘Purple Baron’ looks especially pretty in the garden. If used in outdoor displays, expect birds to pick away at the seeds.

    Perennial Grasses: There are many perennial grasses with seed heads that are slow to shatter in winter. Airier grass heads include switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and maidengrass (Miscanthus sinensis; this grass is invasive, so choose a non-to-low-seeding variety like ‘Hinjo’ or ‘Silberpfeil’ (aka. ‘Silver Arrow)). The foxtail stems of perennial fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) are also especially pretty when dry.

    Flower Heads

    Dried flower heads look pretty when arranged with evergreen branches.

    Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.) and Celosia (Celosia spp.): These closely related plants bear everlasting flowers that hold their color and looks for a long time, especially when harvested in fall and hung to dry. Purple amaranth (Amaranthus hypochondriacus), Cockscomb (Celosia argentea var. cristata), and spike celosia (Celosia spicata) are some of the best types for drying.

    Hydrangea (Hydrangea spp.): By fall, hydrangea blooms are papery and ready to harvest. Clip the stems for any indoor or outdoor bouquet.

    Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera): Stems of lotus seedheads are sold for top dollar at craft stores, but if you have a large, water-holding pot, you can grow them at home and collect and seed heads in fall for arranging. Start lotus in late spring; fill the bottom of your pot with a 1:2 mixture of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost and heavy topsoil to a depth of 4-6 inches. Nestle a lotus rhizome in the mix, and then add 12-15 inches of water to the pot. As the weather warms, your lotus will quickly grow and bloom. Add fresh water as needed, and divide the rhizomes at the end of the season, if they outgrow the pot.

    Dried Wildflowers:  Collect common roadside wildflower seed heads along public thoroughfares. Choice options include the heads of teasel (Dipsacus fullonum), goldenrod (Solidago spp.) and milkweed pods (Asclepias spp.). These look wild and wonderful gathered in rustic containers beside ornamental squash and greens.

    Berries

    A simple vase of winterberry is all you need to brighten an indoor table.

    Choose any bare-branched, bright berries or hips for fall and winter displays. Those wishing to grow their own should consider growing pretty berried trees, like rowan (Sorbus spp.) and hawthorn (Crataegus viridis ‘Winter King’); winter birds will flock to their branches, too. Shrubs with lasting berries include winterberry (Ilex verticillata, read more about growing winterberry here), firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea), and shrub roses with bright hips (Rosa spp.).

    Branches

    Even the most rustic, impromptu arrangements of dried stems look appealing in fall.

    Colorful and textural twigs add vertical interest to any bouquet or pot. The most brightest are red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea, click here to read more about growing red twig dogwood), which hold their color of red, orange, or yellow-green. Twisty branches, like curly willow and contorted filbert, are also texturally appealing alone or with berries and blooms. Evergreen branches of all kinds will add substance to your holiday displays.

    Arranging

    These outdoor pots filled with greens, broom corn, curly willow, and red twig dogwood are placed according to height, color, and texture. (Image by Jessie Keith; Newfields, Indianapolis, IN)

    The key to a good mixed vase or potted arrangement is choosing a suite of plant materials with different colors, textures, and heights. Considering the piece’s overall form before starting (click here for a more detailed DIY outdoor holiday arrangement how-to). Or, your can take a more simplistic, modern approach and fill a container with a single grass, branch, or floral element. Design your containers to fit your personal style, and you will always be pleased with the result.