Search Result For: pear

  1. Homemade Caramel Apple & Pear Fig Honey Butter Recipes

    apple butter on wood background. toning. selective focus

    Caramel apple butter is a delicious holiday treat!

    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

    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

     

    IMG_1391

    Start by peeling and roughly chopping the apples

    IMG_1395

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

    IMG_1401

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

    IMG_1403

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

    IMG_1416

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

    IMG_1449

    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.

    IMG_1442

    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

    FullSizeRender

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

    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.

    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.

    FullSizeRender (2)

    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.

    k5299-1

    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. Spring Bulb Design: Beautiful Pairings

    Tulips, daffodils and smaller bulbs pair well as long as their heights and bloom times are complementary. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Spring-blooming bulbs are one of gardening’s cheapest and easiest thrills.  Not only do they provide loads of flowers at a minimum of cost, they also make splendid partners for other spring-blooming perennials and bulbs.  Here are some beautiful partnerships to consider as you plan (and plant) for spring.

    The Earliest Spring Bulbs

    Snowdrops and winter aconite make great early spring partners in the garden. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) and winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) are clump-forming woodlanders that burst into bloom during the first mild days of the year, often before the last patches of snow have melted.  The strappy leaves and white, green-blotched flowers of snowdrops grow from small, daffodil-like bulbs that repel rodents.  The nobbly underground tubers of winter aconites are also pest-resistant, while their sunny-yellow buttercup blooms attract bees.  Purchased Eranthis tubers are often hopelessly desiccated, so it pays to shop around for a reliable source.  A more sure-fire way of establishing winter aconites is to scatter freshly collected seed in early summer.

    February Gold daffodils are surrounded by small blue Siberian squill and glory-od-the-snow. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Siberian squill (Scilla siberica), glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa spp.), and early daffodils (Narcissus spp.).  Lavish drifts of small blue flowers carpet the ground under spreading branches laden with purple-pink, waterlily blooms.  Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?  Although individually small, Siberian squill and glory of the snow self-sow into large, carefree colonies that flower in tandem with Magnolia × soulangiana and early daffodils such as ‘February Gold’, forming a classic early-spring garden scene.  These little bulbs also partner splendidly with the white flowers of star magnolia (Magnolia kobus var. stellata) and the yellow blooms of early daffodils (including ‘Little Gem’).  They’re at their best in full to partial sun and humus-rich soil.

    Tommy crocus naturalize to create blankets of color that complements early blooming shrubs.

    Tommy crocuses (Crocus tommasinianus), Arnold Promise witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’), and hellebores (Helleborus spp.).  Most crocuses are squirrel fodder.  One notable exception is the Tommy crocus, which not only persists in the garden, but naturally spreads via self-sowing.  It’s also one of the earliest crocuses, opening its silver-blue flowers in late winter, at the same time that the spidery yellow petals of Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ unfurl.  These early-blooming crocus flourish in light shade and humus-rich soil, and glow most brightly when backlit by sun.  ‘Arnold’ grows to 10 to 15 feet tall and wide, so give it room!

    Early to Late Spring Bulbs

    Narcissus ‘Stratosphere’ looks great planted alongside Camassia and grape hyacinth. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Grape hyacinths (Muscari spp.), daffodils (Narcissus spp.), and camass (Camassia spp.).  The chubby, sky-blue, steepled flowers of grape hyacinths are the perfect foil for the cheerful, dancing blooms of daffodils.  This pest-free, sun-loving combo hits its stride in April with the midseason daffodils (such as ‘Minnow’ and ‘Fortissimo’), and continues into May as the Jonquilla hybrids and other late daffs make their entrance.  To keep the blue-and-yellow theme going through mid-May, add some camassias (such as Camassia cusickii or Camassia leichtlinii).

    Tulips and daffodils are one of the best bulb combinations if you choose varieties that bloom together.

    Tulips (Tulipa spp.) and daffodils (Narcissus spp.) are perfect for pairing, as long as the cultivars chosen bloom at the same time (good bulb catalogs will indicate bloom times).  Tulips are anything but pest-free, attracting bulb-eating rodents and bud-munching deer.  One of the best ways of limiting the carnage is to densely interplant them with daffodils, which most pests actively dislike.  Of course, the primary reason for combining the two is that they make such beautiful music together.  Starting in very early spring with the early daffodils and “species tulips”, and continuing until the late double-flowered tulips and Jonquilla hybrids bow out in May, they offer any number of enchanting combinations for sunny sites.

    Spring Bulb Containers

    Pansies are a great compliment to tulip containers. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Another way to protect and combine tulips is to grow them in pots, which can be mixed and matched with containers of other spring-bloomers, such as pansies and small daffodils.  Plant the bulbs an inch or two below the surface in Fafard Ultra Outdoor Potting Mix in late fall or early winter.  When sub-30 temperatures arrive, move the pots to a protected location (such as an attached garage) where temperatures stay mostly between 30 and 50 degrees.  Water lightly whenever the soil appears dry.  For added protection from rodents, place the pots in a critter-proof crate or cover them with hardware cloth (or something equally chew-proof).  Move them to an unprotected location in late winter when low temperatures are no longer dipping into the low 20s.  Once they’ve re-adapted to the outdoors, combine them with other spring-bloomers in a larger container for a custom-designed display.

    Bulb Care and Planting

    Extra-deep planting sometimes works as a tulip-protection strategy.  Rather than the usual 4- or 5-inches deep, plant the bulbs with their tops 8 or more inches below the surface.  Better yet, dig a 10-inch-deep trench, place the bulbs, bury them under a couple inches of soil, and install a barrier of hardware cloth before backfilling.  Mulch the area with leaves or pine needles to mask the freshly disturbed soil from inquisitive squirrels.  It’s a lot of work, but if it allows you to grow and combine tulips such as ‘Queen of the Night’ and ‘Blue Heron’ with impunity, it may be worth it.

    A bit of dreaming and bulb-planting in fall can result in glorious garden displays for many springs to come!

    Tulipa tarda and Muscari latifolium bloom together in beautiful harmony. (Image by Jessie Keith)

     

  4. Native American Roses for Wildscaping

    The pasture rose is one of several native roses suitable for wildscaping.

    What is a Native American rose?  Is it the beach rose (Rosa rugosa) that grows vigorously on the sand dunes of northeastern America,

    Wild roses have pretty fall hips (R. woodsii)

    or the wreath rose (Rosa multiflora) that rampages all over the eastern half of the United States?  Could it be the Cherokee rose (Rosa laevigata), which grows freely in Georgia? The answer is none of the above.  All are prolific, tough species roses, but none are native to North America.

    True native roses, which are both beautiful and useful for wild and not-so-wild landscapes, are a bit harder to find at local nurseries, but they are worth seeking out. They look great in wild landscapes, offering delicate fragrant flowers and colorful hips. Bees and wildlife love them!

    Native American Roses

    Over 20 rose species are native to various parts of North America, but some are rarer than others.  Most bloom only once a year and bear single, pollinator-friendly single flowers in white, pink, or rose.  When the petals fade, native roses develop nutritious scarlet hips that are a treat for birds and animals, not to mention the humans who sometimes forage for them.  Some natives are armed to the teeth with lots of sharp prickles, making them perfect for boundary or privacy hedges.  Species like Rosa blanda, which feature relatively smooth stems, can hold their own in more “civilized” situations.

    The following native roses have the widest North American geographic distribution, making them good candidates for wild gardens.

    Rosa carolina

    Pasture or Carolina Rose (Rosa carolina): Sometimes called the “pasture rose”, fragrant Rosa carolina roams much farther than the boundaries of its namesake state, surviving in dry open meadows and along forest edges.  It is native to the eastern half of North America and succeeds especially well in the southeastern United States.  The prickly plants grow 3-feet tall and wide with pink flowers that bloom in May to June , depending on the location.  As with many species roses, petal color fades to near-white as the blooms age.  The crisp green foliage turns beautiful shades of orange-red in the fall. Though quite shade tolerant, this disease-susceptible rose flowers and performs best in full sun.

    Rosa virginiana

    Virginia Rose (Rosa virginiana): Rosa virginiana is a taller shrub rose (5- to 7-feet tall and 3-feet wide) that is less geographically widespread than Rosa carolina. It sports single, fragrant blooms that may be pink, yellow, or rose-purple and flower from June to August.  It requires full to partial sun and is tolerant to a wide range of soil types, from moist soils to dry. Leaves turn fire orange-red in fall alongside deep red hips.

    Rosa blanda (by Cillas)

    Prairie Rose (Rosa blanda): This sweet thornless rose bears several evocative nicknames, including “prairie rose”, “Hudson’s Bay rose” or “Labrador rose”, for its favored locales.  Cold-hardy and tough, it is native across northeastern North America where it survives in open, dry, sunny prairies and open woods.  Its nearly thornless stems and mounded habit make it a good candidate for use in “wild” planting schemes.  Flower color varies from dark pink to white and blooming may occur from June to August.  It only reaches 4-feet tall and wide, but it tends to spread, so it needs elbow room.  Native plant lovers can rejoice in the fact that the relatively smooth stems make necessary pruning easier.

    Rosa woodsii (Image by Doug Waylett)

    Wood’s Rose (Rosa woodsii): This is one of the better natives for colorful flowers and hips. Pink-flowered Wood’s rose is a westerner by inclination, found in growing wild in the western half of the United States and much of Canada.  It also goes by the name “mountain rose” because it succeeds in challenging high-altitude conditions.  Small, medium-pink flowers appear annually from May to July on upright shrubs adorned with blue-green foliage and a bumper crop of prickles.  Growing up to 5-feet tall, Wood’s rose is extremely cold tolerant.  In addition to the flowers, the shrubs produce loads of bright, teardrop-shaped hips and have fiery fall leaf color.

    Rosa palustris

    Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris): If your wild garden is damp, Rosa palustris may be right for you.  Native to the eastern half of North America, swamp rose is a large shrub (8-12-feet tall) that likes to be sited at the water’s edge, where it can commune with moisture-loving sedges, iris and other, similarly inclined plants.  It will tolerate some shade but it blooms and performs best in full sun. The late spring blooms are lightly scented and may be deep rose pink or pale pink.  The prickles are hooked, which makes pruning a challenge.

    Rosa setigera (Image by Cillas)

    Climbing Prairie Rose (Rosa setigera): This spring-blooming climbing rose offers blooms that range from deep magenta to white. Sometimes known as the “bramble-leafed”, it sends out long, flexible shoots that enable it to scramble up to 15 feet, making it useful as a substitute for non-native climbing roses.  If trained on an arch or trellis and provided full sun and good draining soil, climbing prairie rose can be a show-stopper.  The fragrant pink blooms appear in clusters that develop into showy red hips in fall. Wise gardeners remove the root suckers that inevitable sprout at the base, enabling the plant to shoot skyward without producing a thicket underneath.

    Landscaping with Wild Roses

    Remember that wild landscapes and gardens can be “wild” without looking completely unruly. They are created using native species and emphasize biodiversity, habitat creation, sustainability, and beauty. Plant placement can be naturalistic while also be civilized and pleasing to the eye.

    To use native roses most effectively, provide enough space.  Many, but not all varieties grow tall and relatively wide, with a tendency to form dense thickets if left to their own devices.  They look great planted alongside bold native Adam’s needle (Yucca filamentosa), breezy native bunch grasses like Shenandoah switch grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’), and native purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea).

    Species roses have gotten by on their own for millennia, but they will respond with more flowers and hips if given a good start with a quality soil amendment like Fafard® Premium Topsoil, alfalfa meal natural fertilizer, and regular of water. All bloom and perform better if given open air and full sun. Prune seasonally to keep plants tidy and to promote good airflow, which will dissuade fungal diseases.

    Native roses are not available in big-box stores or even most garden centers.  The best way to locate specific species is to seek out mail order nurseries that specialize in species roses. High Country Roses is one such source.

    Rosa rugosa is a common garden rose found on North American beaches, but they are not native! (Image by Jessie Keith)

     

     

     

  5. Pruning Hydrangeas

    Prune mophead bigleaf hydrangeas in summer just after blooming.

     

    Timing and method are essential when it comes to pruning hydrangeas, and they differ depending on the species being pruned. If done improperly, you may prune off next year’s flower buds or cause your shrubs undue stress. On the other hand, making the right cuts at the right time will help keep them looking great and flowering to perfection.

    Good Pruning Technique

    The right techniques and tools are key to good pruning. Here are the basics.

    The Best Pruning Tools

    Choose sharp loppers, hand pruners, and hand saws for easy pruning.

    For small branch cuts (up to 1 cm thickness), choose a quality set of sharp bypass pruners (avoid anvil pruners, which dull quickly). Bypass pruners are easy to sharpen and long lasting, if you choose a high-performing brand (I like Felcos). For larger branches (up to 4.5 cm thickness), choose sharp bypass loppers. More powerful pruning tools may be needed for large panicle hydrangeas that become tree-like. For larger cuts, opt for a small, sharp pull-stroke pruning saw to cut through tough branches in no time!

    How to Prune

    Making the right cuts to branches will facilitate good plant health. Cuts to small branches should be made 2/3 cm from the adjacent stem. Make them at 45-degree angles. Larger branches should be cut flush to the trunk collar. The collar is the ripple of bark that will slowly and protectively grow over the cut. Cuts made above the collar will not heal properly, leaving plants vulnerable to pests and disease.

    How Much to Prune

    Make 45-degree-angle cuts 2/3 cm from the adjacent stem. Don’t damage lower buds!

    Prune to the desired height, but beware of over pruning. Refrain from pruning over 1/3 of the top growth, especially in smaller shrubs with well-branched woody top growth. Some species, such as smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), are clump forming with stems that can be harshly pruned back, if the clumps are well established and have become overgrown. Others, like panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata), can become tree like and require more selective pruning.

    When to Prune

    Hydrangea pruning time is species specific. Follow the following guide for the top four garden hydrangeas.

    Pruning Bigleaf Hydrangeas

    Mopheads have a rounder more formal growth habit.

    Latin Name: Hydrangea macrophylla

    Best Time to Prune: These hydrangeas bloom on second-year wood, so the best time to prune is in midsummer, just after they bloom. If you prune in later summer or fall, you will cut off next year’s flower heads. Deadwood is common, especially in spring. Dead or dying stems can be removed at any time of year. Old blooms can also be removed at any time, as long as you just remove the flowers and not the buds that have developed below them.

    Pruning bigleaf hydrangea in fall will remove next year’s flower buds causing irregular flowering the following year.

    How to Prune: These hydrangeas can grow too large or develop ungainly stems that have grown too high. Shape plants by cutting wayward or old stems to the ground. Stems can also be trimmed to a desired height, depending on the density of the overall shrub. Refrain from shearing bigleaf hydrangeas if you want to maintain a more naturalistic, appealing appearance.

    Comments: Bigleaf hydrangeas can have either lacecap (Hydrangea macrophylla var. normalis) or mophead flower clusters. Lacecaps have a looser more naturalistic horizontal growth habit and should be pruned less formally. Mopheads tend to have a rounder habit better suited to uniform pruning. In northern zones above USDA Hardiness Zone 6, these shrubs may die to the ground, so they will never flower. Protecting the crowns with Fafard Premium Natural and Organic Compost and straw can help protect their flowering stems from winter cold.

    Lacecaps have a more naturalistic habit and require selective pruning.

    Pruning Oakleaf Hydrangeas

    Standard oakleaf hydrangea are tall, broad shrubs.

    Latin Name: Hydrangea quercifolia

    Best Time to Prune: Oakleaf hydrangeas also bloom on second-year wood and should be pruned just after blooming in midsummer. Once shrubs have leafed out in spring, identify and remove any dead wood from the previous year.

    How to Prune: Some compact oakleaf hydrangeas have rounder, tidier habits but most reach 8-feet in height and develop a broad, naturalistic habit. Remove overgrown or crossing branches. If they overgrow an area, shrubs can be hard-pruned back by half in midsummer. Just be sure to leave plenty of green leafy branches for strong growth, and keep newly pruned shrubs irrigated through dry summer days to encourage new growth and bud set.

    Comments: The pretty flower panicles of oakleaf hydrangea dry nicely and look good in winter gardens. Remove the old blooms in late winter to keep shrubs looking fresh in spring.

    Keep the dry flowerheads of oakleaf hydrangea on plants for winter interest.

    Pruning Panicle Hydrangeas

    Panicle hydrangeas are hardy and best pruned in late winter or early spring.

    Latin Name: Hydrangea paniculata

    Best Time to Prune: These tall, hardy hydrangeas bloom on new wood, so the best time to prune is in late winter or early spring. Remove ungainly or crossing branches and dead wood at this time. Refrain from summer pruning, and avoid removing more than 1/3 of the top growth at pruning time.

    How to Prune: Panicle hydrangeas are variable shrubs that tend to be tall (8-15 feet) and bushy or tree-like, but some cultivars are compact for small-space gardens. Selectively prune bushy varieties, cutting tall branches to the trunk or base of the plant. Cut the large branches of tree-like varieties to the trunk, making sure cuts are flush to the collar.

    Comments: These shrubs revive quickly from pruning. Tree-form plants may develop suckers from the base of the trunk. Keep these pruned off to maintain a single trunk. The dry blooms of panicle hydrangea also look good through winter but should be removed in spring.

     

    Pruning Smooth Hydrangea

    Large-headed smooth hydrangeas, like Incrediball™, should be pruned to 1/3 height in late winter. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

    Latin Name: Hydrangea arborescens

    Best Time to Prune: These easy-to-grow hydrangeas also bloom on new wood and are best pruned in late winter or early spring. They respond well to harsh pruning and can even be pruned to the ground if they outgrow a space. By late spring, they will have grown back with vigor. Refrain from summer pruning.

    How to Prune: Pruned these bushy shrubs uniformly to keep their habit rounded. Large-headed varieties, like Incrediball™, are top heavy and appreciate regular pruning to 1/3 height to keep stems shorter and sturdier. Refrain from pruning large-headed varieties to the ground.

    Comments: The bushy dry flower heads look great in winter but should be removed by spring. These hydrangea root very easily from cuttings. Take any pruned branches, dip them in rooting hormone, stick them in the ground, and keep them evenly moist. They will root in no time!

  6. Mixed Hedges for Beauty and Biodiversity

    Arrowwood is a good flowering shrub that tolerates shearing and hard pruning. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Say “hedges” to most people and they will think of an unbroken line of shrubs—most often evergreens—that hide a foundation, define a boundary, or separate lawn and garden areas.  Tidiness and uniformity are a must and pruning is a constant.

    But, there is no law that decrees that hedges should be monocultures of just one type of shrub.  These days, the old definition of “hedge” has become more inclusive, as gardeners interested in beauty and biodiversity are discovering the art of combining several shrub varieties into a mixed hedge.  Done well, this kind of planting can serve all the same functions as an old-fashioned single-species hedge, while adding a whole new dimension to the garden.

    The compact American cranberry bush is great for wildlife and low, informal hedges.

    Mixed hedges are not new.  In fact they are closely related to hedgerows, the narrow, semi-wild strips that separate traditional farm fields or roadside fences.  Most of these hedgerows occur naturally and contain a variety of native and naturalized species including brambles (berry bushes), vines, deciduous and evergreen shrubs and even small trees.  Hedgerows perform a valuable function in rural ecosystems, providing natural windbreaks while supplying food, cover and nesting places for all kinds of insects, birds and small animals.

    Locating Mixed Hedges

    Mixed hedges can do the same jobs in the more “civilized” confines of home gardens.  They are relatively easy to grow and may require less maintenance than conventional plantings of privet, hollies, or yew that require regular pruning or shearing.

    Spice Baby™ viburnum is a fragrant choice for informal hedges. (Image from Proven Winners)

    How do you start a mixed hedge?  First, think about the area where the hedge will grow, whether they line a foundation planting or delineate a property line. As with any planting, tailor your plant choices to the specific light and soil conditions in the chosen location.  Calculate the available space, and mature shrub sizes, and when you pick plants make sure you choose specimens that will not crowd each other or nearby structures at maturity.

    Large species can be pruned to keep them to a specific height and width, but if reduced maintenance is the goal, it is better to start with shrubs that are naturally “right sized” for the space they inhabit. If space is tight and maintenance time limited, seek out dwarf or miniature varieties of familiar shrubs.

    Shrubs for Mixed Hedges

    The array of shrub choices can be overwhelming, so start with a handful of complementary varieties and repeat them throughout the hedge for a unified planting with a mixture of textures and colors.  To maximize wildlife value, choose plants with desirable flowers and fruits. Aim for three or even four seasons of interest for continued landscape appeal.

    Blue Muffin arrowwood has great fall berries and leaf color. (Image from Proven Winners)

    Many shrubs in the viburnum family fit the bill, featuring showy spring flowers, attractive green foliage that colors in the fall, and glossy fruits in red, blue or black. The compact American cranberry bush (Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’, 5-6′ ) and dwarf Koreanspice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii Spice Baby, 5-6′) are two great choices that remain tidy and beautiful. Blue Muffin™ arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum Blue Muffin ®, 6-7′) is an exceptionally tough hedge-worthy selection that offers blue fall berries in addition to burgundy and orange fall leaves. All three viburnum are cold hardy and wildlife friendly.

    The variegated common elderberry is perfect for edible, informal hedging. (Image from Proven Winners)

    Many eastern native shrubs are ideal for naturalistic hedges. A bold native with good edible fruit is the variegated common elderberry (Sambucus nigra var canadensis Instant Karma®, 6-9′). It is a good choice for damp spots and sports scented summer flowers and edible elderberries to feed homeowners and wild animals.  Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), doesn’t mind light to moderate shade, and bears big summer flowerheads loved by bees, crimson or orange autumn leaves, and exfoliating bark in the winter. There are many cultivars to choose from, including the large-flowered ‘Snow Queen’, which reaches 6-8′. American filbert or hazelnut (Corylus americana, 8-12′) combines showy, dangling spring catkins with edible nuts that appear later in the season.  The toothed, oval leaves often color dramatically in fiery fall shades.

    Bluebeard is a lovely fall blooming shrub that feeds bees. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    If deer or other browsing animals are a problem, mint-family shrubs, like bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis), provide colorful violet-blue flowers for bees and butterflies and aromatic leaves that attract humans and repel critters.  Lavender (Lavendula spp), another plant avoided by deer, works well in a very low hedge, contributing yearlong fragrance, summer flowers, and evergreen foliage.

    For winter interest, mix things up with shrubs like red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), featuring white spring flowers and bright red or yellow new growth that shines in winter.  Proven Winners’ ‘Arctic Fire’ is a wonderful compact variety

    Berry Heavy winterberry can be pruned to create a more formal berried hedge. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    reaching 5′ with fire-red twigs in winter. Deciduous winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) lacks the familiar glossy leaves of its evergreen relatives, but compensates with bright red fruits on bare winter stems. Winterberry Berry Heavy® is a good (to 8′), red-berried winterberry from Proven Winners that should be planted in groups with at least one male Mr Poppins® to ensure fruiting. Shrubs can be formally pruned, and the berries provide forage for winter birds.

    Rhododendron Dandy Man® Pink is a spring-flowering evergreen for bees. (Image from Proven Winners)

    If you love evergreens, there is no need to give them up, but you may want to think outside the evergreen hedge box and include mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) or various types of rhododendrons (such as Proven Winners’ Rhododendron Dandy Man® Pink, 8′) . Both flowering evergreens are good for informal hedges and have pretty flowers that attract bees.

    Planting Hedges

    No matter what combination of shrubs you choose, start them out right by filling planting holes with a mixture of soil and rich compost, like Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost.  Plant your hedge in spring or early fall to ease climatic stress on plants and give root systems a good start.  Remember to water at planting time and regularly thereafter until hedges are well established.

    Finding the right mix of shrubs for your hedge may take a little experimentation, but the end result will be worth it—for you and the birds, butterflies and pollinating insects who stop by to check it out.

  7. Moth and Moon Garden Plants

    A hawk moth pollinates a pink evening primrose flower in the evening light. (Image by Edal Anton Lefterov)

     

    If you spend evenings relaxing on your porch or patio, then consider planting a moon garden nearby. These fragrant late-day gardens glow in the evening light, attracting luminous moths, such as luna moths and sphinx moths, which is why they are also considered “moth gardens”.

    Moth-pollinated plants have several shared floral characteristics. Their blooms stay open and become fragrant late in the day and into the night. They are pale colored, often white, to catch the last evening light and light of the moon. Finally, they are often trumpet shaped and hold lots of nectar for the many long-tongued moths that pollinate them.

    Moth or moon garden plants may be annual, perennial, or woody, and many you may already know or grow. Favorites are are easy to find at garden centers, but few may require a purchase from a specialty seed vendor and grown at home. Those that can be grown from seed should be started indoors in late winter in Black Gold Seedling mix and planted outdoors after the threat of frost has passed. (Click here to learn how to grow flowers from seed.)

    Moon Garden Annuals

    These annuals can be added to any existing garden space for nighttime charm. Some require a good bit of space while others are smaller and tidier.

    Moonflower (Ipomoea alba)

    Moonflower

    Though related to morning glories, moonflower opens in the evening, producing huge 5-6” flowers. One of the great joys of these enormous white flowers is that they open so quickly you can see it in real time. (See a real-time video of an opening moon flower here!). The blooms open in the mid evening and remain open until morning, presenting a strong, sweet fragrance. The large, vigorous, twining vines grow and flower best in full sun and require a strong fence or trellis for support. Flowering occurs from midsummer to frost.

     

    Four-O-Clocks (Mirabilis jalapa)

    ‘Limelight’ four-o-clocks

    Best known for their colorful tubular flowers of orange, white, magenta, or yellow (sometimes in tricolor combinations), four-o-clocks open in late afternoon and stay open until morning. The highly fragrant blooms are produced on bushy plants (to 3’) and attract long-tonged moths. Four-o-clocks are Peruvian natives that first became popular in Victorian times, and are still planted today. The chartreuse-leaved, magenta-flowered ‘Limelight’ is an especially pretty selection (seed source here!). All plant parts are poisonous, so plant them away from children and pets.

     

    Woodland tobacco

    Woodland Tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris)

    Plant these tall (to 3-5’), old-fashioned garden flowers along the back of a partially shaded flower bed or in full sun. Showy clusters of tubular white flowers crown the plants, emitting nighttime fragrance and glowing in the evening light. Remove old, spent flower clusters to keep plants blooming vigorously to frost. All plant parts are toxic.

     

    Angel’s Trumpet (Datura innoxia)

    Angel’s trumpet (image by Jessie Keith)

    Huge, white, trumpet-shaped flowers are the glory of this large (to 2-5’), bushy, tender perennial. Its powerfully fragrant flowers glow at night, feeding hovering long-tongued moths that get drunk on their nectar. Provide angel’s trumpet with lots of space, and be sure to plant it away from pets or children as all parts are poisonous.

     

    Night Phlox (Zaluzianskya capensis)

    Native to South Africa, night phlox produces lacy white flowers (with burgundy outer petals) in summer. The bushy, compact (to 6-12”) plants look best in containers or along border edges. Their delicious, honeyed fragrance will spice the evening air and draw all manner of moths. Try the high-performing cultivar ‘Midnight Candy’ (plant source here).

     

    Evening Stocks (Matthiola longipetala)

    Evening stocks

    Delicate, slightly showy flowers of lavender, pink, and white bedeck this old-fashioned annual when growing conditions are cool and mild, in spring or fall. Gardeners grow evening stocks for their indulgent, sweet fragrance rather than appearance. They reach about 12” in height and are best planted among showier flowers, such as spring bulbs or fall four-o-clocks. Start them from seed indoors in late winter for spring or midsummer for fall (seed source here).

    Moon Garden Perennials

    Missouri Evening Primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa)

    Missouri evening primrose

    There are many species of evening primrose with showy flowers, but many are pretty aggressive spreaders that need a lot of space, such as the beautiful, pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa). Missouri evening primrose is an exception. Its glowing yellow flowers  appear on tidy, compact plants (to 8-10”) and open in the evening, emitting a light fragrance that attracts hawk moths. Native to rocky, limestone landscapes across the Central United States, it is remarkably hardy, surviving in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-7.

     

    Adam’s needle flowers (image by Jessie Keith)

    Adam’s Needle (Yucca filamentosa)

    This bold, evergreen perennial has clusters of sword-like leaves and produces 6-8’ upright panicles of waxy ivory flowers in summer.  The fragrant, pendant, bell-shaped blooms glow in the evening, and are pollinated exclusively by a yucca moth (Tegeticula yuccasella). Plant on sunny high ground, and give the clump plenty of space to grow. ‘Golden Sword’ is a particularly lovely selection with variegated foliage of gold edged in green.

     

     

    Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa)

    Tuberose flowers

    This summer-blooming bulb produces 2-3’ upright stalks of tubular white flowers with spectacular nighttime fragrance. The waxy blooms are delicate and lovely. Tuberose is somewhat tender, surviving up to USDA Hardiness Zone 7. After flowering, it will die back, so plant it among other ornamentals with fuller foliage that will continue to look attractive into fall.

    Moon Garden Shrubs

     

    Night Flowering Jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum)

    Night flowering jasmine

    A tender shrub (to 4’) native to the West Indies, night flowering jasmine produces clusters of long, trumpet-shaped flowers of palest green, ivory, or near yellow. In colder climates, it can be planted as a potted tender perennial in summer containers or grown as a conservatory plant. The blooms produce a heady fragrance in the evening.

    Gardenias (Gardenia spp.)

    ‘Kleim’s Hardy’ gardenia (image by Jessie Keith)

    Gardenias are popular evergreen shrubs with a familiar strong, sweet fragrance. What most don’t know is that they are moth pollinated, which is why their fragrance grows stronger in the evening. Gardenias are considered one of the best southern evergreen shrubs, and the single-flowered ‘Kleim’s Hardyis an exceptional cultivar for the landscape that will reliably survive winters up to USDA Hardiness Zone 7.

    Common Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum)

    The common honeysuckle is a known moth-pollinated woody vine that is both long blooming and high performing. The impressive Proven Winners introduction ‘Scentsation’ has especially fragrant blooms produced on twining, scrambling vines that can reach 20′ or more. The flowers remain open during the day, but like all true moth-pollinated plants, they are most fragrant at night. Common honeysuckle is hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9.

    Honeysuckle ‘Scentsation’ is ideal for evening gardens, offering unmatched scent and good looks. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

  8. Perennial Flowers for Wet Places

    Japanese primrose is a pretty late-spring bloomer for moist ground. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Many perennial flowers sulk in damp soil.  Plant a lavender near a downspout, or a tulip in a boggy hollow, and bad things are sure to follow. On the other hand, some perennials relish soggy sites.  It all comes down to “right plant, right place.”  You can either sentence a dry-land plant to death in that damp garden corner – or you can literally “go with the flow” and plant glorious flowering perennials that revel in a little wetness.

    Swamp rose mallow

    Here’s our choice of some of the best of the latter.  These hardy perennials would be more than happy to settle into that wet garden niche, especially if the soil is not too heavy and standing water is relatively rare.  To lighten heavy clay soil, mix in a few inches of an organic amendment such as Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost, preferably when conditions are relatively dry.  Be sure to consult with conservation authorities if natural wetland areas are nearby.

     

    Spring Flowers for Wet Places

    Marsh marigold is a very early bloomer that attracts bees.

    Even standing water is no problem for the earliest bloomer on our list: marsh marigold (Caltha palustris).  Its cheerful yellow buttercups on foot-tall stems brighten wetlands over much of the temperate Northern Hemisphere as winter turns to spring.  It will happily do the same in your garden in partial shade and any decent, constantly moist soil (no inundation required!).  The bold, serrated, heart-shaped leaves are also rather nice.

    Another spring-blooming beauty from damp woodlands of eastern North America, Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) owes its common name to its tubular, narrow-waisted blooms that open pink and deepen to sky-blue.  They cluster on 18-inch stems above broad, waxy, blue-frosted leaves that die back as flowering ceases in late spring.  Plants that aren’t deadheaded produce numerous seedlings.  Virginia bluebells grows from plump rootstocks that are sometimes dug from the woods by disreputable dealers, so beware of cheap, bare-root plants.

    Virginia bluebells spread, even in moist soil. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Hybrid globe flowers (Trollius × cultorum) open their bright buttercup blooms a few weeks after those of marsh marigold.  The large, deeply cupped, creamy-white to dark orange flowers appear from late spring to early summer on 18- to 32-inch stems, depending on the variety.  They arise from rosettes of deeply lobed leaves that go semi-dormant in July but flush with new growth later in the season.  Trollius hybrids make delicious companions to blue-flowered perennials such as Siberian iris (Iris sibirica) and Texas blue-star (Amsonia tabernaemontana).

    Late spring to early summer is also prime time for the candelabra flower clusters of Japanese primrose (Primula japonica).  Borne on two-foot stems above rosettes of large, tongue-shaped leaves, the flowers come in numerous shades of red and pink, as well as white.  This wet-garden classic thrives in partial shade, but will manage in full sun in constantly damp soil.  It’s especially spectacular when allowed to self-sow into large colonies – but keep in mind that “mongrel” seedlings will produce mixed and diluted flower colors.

    Primula japonica is a natural garden mate for another East Asian native known for its love of moisture and its showy pink to red flowers – Astilbe.  Although their frothy blooms and ferny leaves are a common sight in shady gardens, astilbes are arguably at their lushest in ample sun and damp soil.  Conveniently, their flowering season hits its height in early summer, as the blooms of Japanese primrose are leaving the scene.

     

    Summer Flowers for Wet Places

    Cardinal flower (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Early (and mid) summer is also the height of the flowering season of our native American Rudbeckia, most of which are quite happy with damp feet.  The most ubiquitous and familiar is Rudbeckia fulgida, which usually goes as ‘Goldsturm’ (even though it usually isn’t).  By whatever name, all forms of this butterfly magnet produce a summer-long abundance of golden-yellow, black-eyed daisy-flowers over rapidly expanding clumps of toothed leaves. (It’s also a prolific self-sower).  Height at flowering is 15 to 40 inches, depending on the variety.  Full sun is best.

    Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is another colorful beauty that grows in moist ground and has the added benefit of feeding Monarch butterfly larvae and adults. The hardy perennial reaches 3-5 feet and blooms in midsummer. It will truly thrive in very damp garden spaces, even those that have standing water for periods of time.

    Swamp milkweed (Image by Jessie Keith)

    There are other numerous perennials for summer that are worth including on the list of plants for soggy places, including marsh spurge (Euphorbia palustris), queen of the prairie (Filipendula rubra), swamp rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), ragwort (Ligularia spp.), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica).  All of these will brighten up any damp summer garden.

     

    Late-Season Flowers for Wet Places

    For late-summer and fall color in damp semi-shade, there’s another splendid North American plant: pink turtlehead (Chelone lyonii).  The common name refers to the plump, oblong, lipped flowers that cluster atop the 2- to 4-foot stems of this Southeast native.  Pairs of glossy, dark green leaves clothe the stems below the flowers.  The cultivar ‘Hot Lips’ has rich rose-pink blooms on 30-inch plants that emerge bronze-green in spring.  Red turtlehead (Chelone obliqua) and white turtlehead (Chelone glabra) also make good perennials for moist semi-shade.

    Autumn sun coneflower and Joe-Pye weed are great garden companions.

    Also ideal for the late-summer, damp, sunny garden is the coneflower that goes by the name Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Autumn Sun’ (or ‘Herbstsonne’, for you German-speaking rudbeckias).  Greater in height and less aggressive in root than Rudbeckia fulgida, it hoists green-coned, lemon-yellow daisy-flowers on 5- to 6-foot-tall stems from mid to late summer.  Another tall, golden bloomer for late in the season is the 3-6 foot swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius). It produces copious stems of bright sunflowers against linear leaves. Both the coneflower and swamp sunflower combine well with purple Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum) to make a stately garden statement.

    Don’t let low, moist ground get your gardening spirits down. Damp garden niches offer loads of exciting possibilities when it comes to perennials.

    Pink turtlehead

    Read the Fafard disclaimer here.

  9. 12 Poisonous Garden Plants to Avoid for Kids and Pets

    Some of the most common ornamental plants are the most deadly!

    When I was seven, I found a beautiful plant covered with pretty purple flowers. I picked a bouquet for my mother, and when I gave it to her, she screamed. They were poisonous nightshade blooms! She rushed me to the bathroom to wash my hands, and repeatedly asked whether I’d put my hands in my mouth. It was so frightening, but my mother’s basic knowledge of toxic plants kept me safe.

    Once I had children, I armed myself with the same knowledge and quickly learned that my garden was full of poisonous plants. Lots of garden favorites pose a true threat to humans, pets, and livestock. The worst contain neurotoxins, able to kill if ingested or even handled. Some have even caused intrigue of historical significance.

    Castor beans (Ricinus communis) contain ricin, a poison famously used in the 1978 assassination of Bulgarian dissident novelist Georgi Markov by Bulgarian secret police using a ricin-injected umbrella. Wolf’s bane (Aconitum spp.) contains aconitine, a common deadly poison of the ancient world that appears repeatedly in Greek and eastern mythology and custom. In fact, and Greeks used aconitum-juice-tipped arrows to kill wolves, hence the common name, while the Japanese used tipped arrows to hunt bear. The deadly Indian rosary pea (Abrus precatorius) has pretty scarlet and black seeds grown for jewelry beads, but they are so lethal, jewelry makers have died handling them with pricked fingers.

    Knowledge is power, which is why I created this list of poisonous garden flowers, shrubs, vines, and trees. If you have pets and/or children, protect them from the plants on this list!

     

    Monkshood (Aconitum spp.)

    Monkshood

    Beautiful hooded purple flowers make this a popular garden perennial, but beware the toxic underside of monkshood. Its deadly poison, aconitine, can enter the body from the skin as well as the mouth, so take caution when cutting it back. Never grow monkshood if you have children or pets. The grape purple flowers are too attractive. Gardeners should also be warned before growing it.

     

    Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)

    Horse chestnuts

    Robust horse chestnut trees have beautiful white flower clusters in spring that develop into hulled, smooth brown seeds that look like edible chestnuts. Children love the pretty seeds, which were used by UK children to play a game called conkers, but horse chestnuts are toxic if ingested. They contain aesculin, a poison known to cause unconsciousness, paralysis, and even death in humans, livestock, and pets. If you have a horse chestnut, teach older children about their dangers, and keep the nuts away from young children and pets.

     

    Morning Glory (Ipomoea spp.)

    Morning Glory

    Vining morning glories have beautiful flowers that attract bees, hummingbirds, and moths, but their profuse seeds are poisonous. They contain toxic alkaloids that cause disorientation, nausea, and diarrhea, if consumed. The papery seed capsules rattle and release the angled black seeds when crushed, so they attract kids, and occasionally pets. Morning glory seed packets are also a danger, so keep them out of reach of children if you choose to grow these annual vines.

     

    Angel’s Trumpets (Brugmansia and Datura spp.)

    Angel’s Trumpet

    Never grow angel’s trumpets if you have children or pets. Their impressive, trumpet-shaped flowers have garden appeal, but they are fatally poisonous—with many human deaths attributed to them. The plants and seeds contain toxic alkaloids that can kill if ingested. Wear gloves at pruning time, to avoid their toxic sap, and never put pruned stems on the burn pile as their smoke is poisonous to inhale.

    Gardeners should also look out for the common field weed called jimsonweed (Datura stramonium). It is just as toxic as cultivated forms and can appear in the garden unannounced.

     

    Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis)

    Lily of the Valley

    Who hasn’t picked delicate stems of fragrant, nodding lily-of-the-valley? They are some of the sweetest garden flowers around, but if ingested, the blooms, orange-red fruits, and leaves can cause blurred vision, slowed heartbeat, collapse, and even death. The toxins convallatoxin and convalloside are to blame. This rampant groundcover should be removed with pets or small children around. Older children and adults should also be warned about its dangers.

    Foxglove

     

    Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea)

    Foxgloves are beautiful, old-fashioned garden flowers, but their dangerous toxins can stop the heart. Foxgloves have been reported to kill livestock, pets, and humans. Children have even been poisoned by drinking the vase water from flower arrangements containing foxgloves. The tall spikes of colorful, tubular blooms are very attractive, so don’t grow them with young ones around. Only well-advised adults should handle the plants or pick their flowers.

     

    English Ivy

    English Ivy (Hedera helix)

    This is one of the most common evergreen groundcovers for landscapes and gardens, but the leaves and fruit are toxic. Touching the leaves can cause severe dermatitis in some people, and ingestion of the leaves and berries can cause severe sickness, and even coma. Warn children about the dangers of this vine, and try to make sure pets don’t eat the leaves. Indoor specimens are especially attractive to cats that attack houseplants.

     

     

    Lantana (Lantana camara)

    Lantana

    The bright tropical colors of lantana flowers brighten many a flower border and container, but sadly all plant parts are toxic, especially the berries. There are many reported cases of human and animal poisonings, so take care when planting these in your garden.

     

    Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)

    Black Cherry Flowers

    The pits, foliage, and branches of black cherry contain the deadly poison, cyanide. Foraging livestock are sometimes killed by eating the leaves of this common Native American tree. The profuse, small, black cherry fruits are also attractive to children. If you have a black cherry that you don’t want to cut down, be sure to keep children and pets far from it at fruiting time.

     

    Oleander (Nerium oleander)

    Oleander

    Commonly planted in Southern gardens, oleander is one of the most poisonous plants you can grow due to the poison, oleandrin. Avoid touching the sap when pruning its branches, and refrain from burning cut stems as the smoke will also emit toxins. The colorful flowers and their nectar are also poisonous.

     

    Castor Bean (Ricinis communis)

    Castor Bean

    Bold castor bean is a popular annual garden plant, but both the plants and their seeds contain the deadly toxin, ricin. The bean-like seeds are so toxic, it is a serious liability to grow castor bean. Children are especially at risk. There are other bolder, prettier garden flowers that can be grown in its place, such as red maple leaf hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella).

     

    Yew (Taxus spp.)

    Yew

    This popular landscape evergreen bears juicy, red berries with green centers that look appetizing to kids, but the green centers are poisonous along with all other plant parts. There are reports of animals dying from eating the foliage, so be cautious if you have yews. Keep your children from the berries and pets from the foliage.

    For more information about poisonous plants visit these websites:

    ASPCA Toxic Plants List for Pets

    Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System

    Texas A&M Poisonous Plants List

    The US government’s toll-free Poison Help line, 1-800-222-1222, connects you to your local poison center, in case of plant ingestion.

    Read the Fafard disclaimer here.

  10. Growing Eggplant in the Garden

    Eggplant come in many shapes, sizes, and colors.

    Eggplant is a staple in African, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Asian cuisines, where growing temperatures are hot. Think beyond the standard purple varieties you find at the grocery store. Green, ivory, rose, and magenta types of various shapes and lengths exist, and the best are mild and have few seeds. Some are even ornamental. The biggest challenge to growing them is battling a few common pests. Once these are tackled, plants will reward you with lots of fruits for Szechuan eggplant, eggplant Parmesan, ratatouille, and baba ganoush.

    African Eggplant

    The Indian ‘Petch Siam’ is a round, green eggplant favored for curries.

    There are many unique types of eggplant grown in Africa, most being variants of the African eggplant (Solanum aethiopicum). The ‘Striped Togo’ is an ornamental variety of African eggplant sold in the US, which has small, egg-shaped fruits of electric orange with green stripes. They are edible but have a very strong flavor, so most opt to add stems of the pretty fruits to late summer and fall arrangements. ‘Turkish Orange’ (Solanum aethiopicum ‘Turkish Orange’) is another African variety with fruits that age to brilliant orange red. These are larger and edible when green.

    Several African eggplant varieties are popular in Brazilian cooking and classified as Gilo (or Jiló) eggplant. They are small, bitter, harvested green, and include the small, pear-shaped ‘Comprido Verde Claro’, and round, more bitter ‘Morro Redondo’. Due to limited demand, these unusual eggplant have yet to be adopted by American seed companies, so they are hard to find in the US.

    Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Eggplant

    ‘Black Beauty’ is the most common eggplant variety grown in the US.

    The common eggplant or aubergine (Solanum melongena), is the most familiar eggplant to western palates and gardens. It has been grown and selected for hundreds of years in southerly regions of Europe and throughout the Middle East. One of the best from the Mediterranean is the classic Italian heirloom ‘Rosa Bianca’, with its broad, short, mild fruits covered with thin, lavender and cream skin. The French heirloom ‘Ronde de Valence’ is another unique but delicious eggplant that is deep purple, grapefruit-sized, and almost perfectly round. For a large-fruited, heat-tolerant eggplant, choose the Iraqi variety ‘Aswad’ (meaning “black” in Arabic), a new offering from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed. Its dark, pleated fruits can reach a massive 3 lbs.

    Eggplant ‘Gretel’ (Image by AAS Winners)

    One American eggplant with a classic pear shape and purple-black skin is ‘Black Beauty’. The 1902 heirloom from Burpee has large fruits with good flavor. Two more American varieties include the AAS winners ‘Gretel‘ (2009 winner), which is petite and has white fruits, and the compact ‘Fairy Tale’ (2005 winner) with its small stature and white-striped purple fruits. Both are very productive and good for small-space gardening.

    Asian Eggplant

    ‘Pingtung Long’ eggplant

    Eggplant varieties from Asia are noted for their elongated shape, low seed count, and mild flavor. Many were bred in Southeast Asia and have an unusually high tolerance to heat and drought. The brilliant purple ‘Machiaw‘ is a tender, mild, thin-skinned variety that always produces well. For exceptional heat tolerance, choose ‘Pingtung Long‘ an heirloom from Taiwan that produces loads 16″-18″ long magenta fruits through the hottest days of summer. The dark purple ‘Orient Express‘ is an early, tender variety popular in many gardens. Finally, for something more unusual, try the Indian ‘Petch Siam‘, a small, green, striped eggplant favored for curries.

    Growing and Harvesting Eggplant

    Flea beetle damage on an eggplant leaf.

    Growing eggplant is not too complicated. Provide them with full sun, warm summer days, good soil with adequate drainage, a little vegetable fertilizer, and water, and they will grow well. (Amend their soil with Fafard Garden Manure Blend before planting, and they will grow even better!) The biggest challenge to their success are two common pests: flea beetles and Colorado potato beetles.

    These two pests will destroy plants if given the chance. Flea beetles are tiny, shiny black, and invade in large numbers, hopping from leaf to leaf sucking the juices from the foliage, leaving behind a mass of pock marks. (Read more about these pests here.) To reduce populations, clean old plant debris in fall (where these pests overwinter), till beds in spring, and plant eggplant in late spring to early summer to avoid spring hatches of this pest. Spraying with insecticidal soap or pyrethrin sprays will kill adult beetles and protect plants from summer damage.

    Striped Colorado potato beetles lay masses of yellow eggs on the undersides of eggplant leaves in spring. Brownish orange larvae emerge that aggressively feed on leaves. As they grow larger, they cause more damage and can completely defoliate young eggplants. The best protection is to inspect plants for egg masses and remove them on sight. The beetles and larvae are also easy to remove by hand. (Learn more about these pests here.)

    Most fruits are ready to harvest when they are fully colored and firm to the touch, while giving slightly when pressed with a finger. Fruits that are too old begin to turn yellow. At this point, they are too seedy and strong to eat.

    Eggplant are delicious, easy to grow, and make a great addition to any summer garden. Add them to pasta sauces or your favorite eggplant dishes! They also freeze well for winter storage.

    Orange ‘Striped Togo’ African eggplants in a harvest bowl with tomatoes.