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!


    • 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


    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



    Start by peeling and roughly chopping the apples


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


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


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


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


    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.


    Honey, Fig, Pear Butter 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


    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


    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
    Wide-mouthed Jar Funnel


    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


    ‘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.

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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.


    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. Top 10 Tough Fast-Growing Shade Trees

    Red maples are very fast growing and spectacular in fall.

    What makes a fast-growing shade tree exceptional? First, it must be strong-wooded and long lived. Second, it must be attractive, providing desirable seasonal characteristics to make your yard look great. Those that are native, disease resistant, and well-adapted to a given region are also optimal. Finally, they should have minimal messy fruits to reduce the hassle of seasonal clean up.

    Bad Fast-Growing Shade Trees

    Many popular fast-growing shade trees have serious problems, especially dangerous branch droppers that are weak wooded and split and drop branches (large and small) during wind or ice storms. Silver maple (Acer saccharinum), Callery Pear (Pyrus calleryana), and poplars (Populus species), are some of the worst of the branch dropping shade trees, making them both dangerous and expensive.

    Others are terribly messy. For example, sweet gums (Liquidambar styraciflua) are elegant, fast-growing native trees with outstanding fall color, but the copious “gum balls” they drop are too messy for most homeowners. There are options for sweet gum lovers though, the cultivar ‘Rotundiloba’ has beautiful gold and burgundy fall color and no fruits. So, in some cases it’s just a matter of searching for the right variety.

    Good Fast-Growing Shade Trees

    Our top 10 list of fast-growing shade trees contains trees with good attributes, so homeowners can feel confident planting one or more in their yard. With good care, each of these trees can grow more than 24 inches each year, if climate allows. They come in a suite of sizes to fit different landscape settings, but each is strong and beautiful in its own right.

    Freeman’s maple is attractive and fast-growing. (Image by Famartin)

    Freeman Maple (Acer x freemanii): With a mature height of 40 to 55 feet and USDA Hardiness Zone range of 3 to 8, Freeman maple is an adaptable shade tree with a broad, spreading canopy and outstanding fall color in various shades of red. It is a cross between the troublesome silver maple and strong-wooded red maple (A. saccharinum x A. rubrum), but has all the good traits of the latter. Try the vibrant cultivar Autumn Blaze®, which turns scarlet-red in fall.

    Red Maple (Acer rubrum): This tall, resilient native of eastern North America can reach 40 to 70 feet and survive in Zones 3 to 9. It’s smooth, gray bark looks handsome in winter, and its three-lobed leaves turn shades of red, orange, and gold in fall. For an exceptionally hardy variety (Zone 3) try ‘Northwood’, which sports a rounded canopy and consistent orange-red fall color. Redpointe® is another choice variety with pure red fall color. Red maple is adaptable to moist or dry soils.

    Bald cypress are not just for moist areas but grow well in regular home landscapes.

    Bald Cypress (Taxodium disticum): Though often thought of as a wetland tree, bald cypress also thrives in uplands and average landscape soil. This eastern US native has fast growth, strong wood, and exceptional beauty, making it a winning tree for many homeowners. It’s soft, feathery needles are bright green through the growing season and turn coppery red in fall, forming a natural mulch around the tree’s base. Standard forms can reach 50 to 70 feet and are hardy to Zones 4 to 9, but many shorter cultivated varieties exist for smaller yards, such as the weeping ‘Cascade Falls’ that only reaches 20 feet.

    Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus ‘Espresso’): The open, architectural branching of this large, Midwest-native tree lends an elegant look in large landscapes, and grass easily grows beneath it. The tree’s attractive compound leaves turn golden yellow in fall. Each specimen may have male or female flowers, and females produce large, leathery seed pods that can be messy. Thankfully, the male ‘Espresso’ is seedless and has an elegant vase-shaped canopy. Prairie Titan™ is another seedless form with a spreading canopy. This tree will tolerate moist or dry soils and survives in Zones 3 to 8.

    The fast-growing thornless honeylocust has pretty yellow fall color.

    Thornless Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos forma inermis): Wild forms of this widespread North American tree have vicious thorns that radiate from the trunk, but inermis is completely thorn-free. Mature height ranges from 30 to 70 feet, and Zones range from 4 to 10. Trees may have male or female flowers. Female forms develop drooping strands of white, fragrant, bee-pollinated flowers followed by undulating, brown, seed-filled pods. These are messy, so several seedless male forms have been selected, including ‘Suncole’, which has yellow spring and fall foliage, and ‘Moraine’, which has dark green summer leaves that turn gold in fall.

    The leaves of this fast-growing, fire-resistant oak turn yellow and orange in fall.

    California White Oak (Quercus lobata): The rounded canopy and fast-growing nature of this grand white oak makes it an excellent choice for western landscapes. Mature specimens can reach up to 70 feet and survive in Zones 7 to 11. In fall its deep green turn shades of yellow and orange. This fire-resistant oak is also remarkably drought tolerant and an essential wildlife tree popular for restoration plantings.

    English walnuts develop attractive rounded canopies with age.

    Carpathian English Walnut (Juglans regia ‘Carpathian’): This unusually fast-growing walnut  reaches 40–60 feet at maturity and has the advantage of bearing delicious English walnuts in the fall. It is hardy to Zones 5 to 9 and develops a large, rounded canopy with age. Plant two or more trees for best nut production. Nuts may be produced in 4 to 8 years after planting.

    Massive golden summer blooms make this fast-growing tree especially welcome in home landscapes.

    Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata): Maturing to a sizable 40 feet, golden rain tree offers some of the most spectacular flowers of midsummer. The branches of this East Asian native become covered with large sprays of golden flowers followed by papery seed capsules that look like Japanese lanterns. The fall leaves turn pale yellow. It survives in Zones 5 to 8, but may suffer during periods of high summer heat. Summerburst® is a vigorous selection that is more tolerant of summer heat and has extra glossy leaves.

    Bruce Marlin

    Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrata): This elm relative from East Asia is prized for its adaptability and lovely vase-shaped canopy. It is hardy in Zones 5 to 8 and can reach up to 80 feet when mature. It’s finely toothed leaves turn from deep green to orange yellow in fall. Japanese zelkova will tolerate some drought and grows well in urban settings.

    Chinese scholar tree is an elegant, spreading tree with beautiful summer flowers.

    Chinese Scholar Tree (Sophora japonicum): Maturing to a stately height of 50 to 75 feet, Chinese scholar tree is a real beauty that bears drooping clusters of fragrant white flowers in summer that attract bees. Small, beaded pods follow, which are easy to clean. In fall, its compound leaves turn a pleasing shade of yellow. The cultivar Regent® is even faster growing and reaches a more manageable height of 45 feet.

    Tree Planting

    These hardy trees can be planted in spring or fall and may be purchased from nurseries as smaller container-grown plants or larger balled and burlapped specimens. Larger trees initially look better, but they can be slower to establish.

    When planting your new tree, dig a planting hole to the same depth as the root ball and three (or more) times as wide. Place the dug backfill on a large tarp or in a wheelbarrow to keep your lawn tidy. (If you have heavy clay soil, you may want to dig the hole a bit deeper for more deep-down amendment, and then bring it back up to the rootball’s depth before planting.)

    Amend the back fill with a 1:2 ratio of Fafard Premium Natural and Organic Compost, and mix it in well. Sprinkle in an all-purpose tree fertilizer, using the manufacturer’s recommendations regarding quantity.

    Place the tree in the center of the hole, making sure the top of the rootball meets the soil line of your yard and the tree is straight (first-year staking may be required). Then fill in with the amended backfill. Push the fill in around the edges to make sure there are no air pockets. Water deeply after planting and then add 2 to 3 inches of bark mulch in a circle around the newly planted tree, being sure to keep mulch away from the trunk.

    Water your newly planted tree one or two times a week for at least two months.  During dry spells, your tree will need supplemental water for at least a year after planting. Then watch it grow and change yearly until it has become the perfect shade-tree for your home’s landscape.

  4. Rose Rosette Disease Solutions

    Rose rosette symptoms on an old-fashioned climbing rose.

    Few rose diseases are more dreaded than rose rosette disease. This disfiguring, deadly pathogen can take a perfectly lovely rose from glory to ruin in just a season or two. It’s very easy to identify, but trickier to manage. Thankfully, there are solutions for ardent rose growers.

    Sometimes the best way to learn about a plant disease is to see it for the first time in person. While passing a neighbor’s rose, I noticed it had the most irregular tip growth imaginable. The unusually reddish leaves were dense, fine and the growth reminded me of a stunted witch’s broom (a physiological abnormality caused by various diseases). I took a couple of photos of the strange shoots and leaves, took them home and quickly identified the problem, Rose Rosette Disease (RRD).

    This disease, which is caused by a virus spread by a microscopic eriophyid mite (Phyllocoptes fructiphilus), has only been widely troublesome to cultivated roses for the past couple of decades. It was originally found in 1940 on the invasive Eurasian multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), and to this species it is deadly. But over time it proved itself to be equally as deadly to many garden roses. As with most plant viral diseases, there is no cure for RRD, but steps can be taken to protect your roses. Rose breeders are also hard at work to create RRD-resistant roses and a couple are already available.

    Identifying Rose Rosette Disease

    This rose stem has all the symptoms of RRD.

    Sadly, many favorite garden roses are highly susceptible to RRD, particularly the widely planted Knock Out® roses. Fortunately, it’s a very easy disease to identify. Rose stem tips develop multi-stemmed rosettes with foliage that turns deep red and adopts an almost feathery appearance. Any flowers that bloom from these stems are contorted and small. Stems can also develop excessive thorns, and become elongated and thick. Dieback will eventually occur.

    Once a rose has RRD, there is no cure. The best course of action is to immediately remove it and dispose of all parts (far from the garden). Also be sure to sanitize any cutting tools you used in the process. Hand washing them and then spraying them with an anti-viral cleaning spray works.

    Protection Against Rose Rosette Disease

    Some rose, like Knock Out® roses, are very susceptible to RRD.

    Managing Eriophyid Mites: The mites overwinter on stems and dead leaf material, and live on the summer leaves and stems. Here are some ways to keep them away.

    1. Prune your roses heavily in late winter (remove all clippings)
    2. Clean all fallen leaf material in fall
    3. Apply dormant oil spray on plants in late winter
    4. Apply summer oil spray on plants during the growing months.

    Managing Roses: There are several things you can do to help protect your rose plants from infection.

    1. Space specimen roses apart, to avoid cross-infection
    2. When you purchase new roses, be sure you buy them from a respected growers that ensure they are RRD free
    3. Monitor your roses for symptoms
    4. Keep roses well-pruned and clean fallen leaf material

    Managing RRD Roses: If you visit a garden with infected roses or find that one of your roses has symptoms, take caution. The mites can travel on clothing (though they can only survive off of rose plants for 8 hours), so be sure to avoid infected roses. As soon as you have determined you have a rose with RRD, take the following steps.

    1. Spray nearby plants with summer oil spray
    2. Remove the diseased plant completely and dispose of it in a trash bag
    3. Clean the area where the rose was planted
    4. Plant something new in the spot because RRD will remain in any root tissue remaining in the soil

    RRD Resistant Roses

    Virginia rose is one of several pretty wild roses resistant to RRD.

    Many species roses are highly resistant to RRD. These include some garden-worthy types, including the European burnet rose (Rosa spinosissima), which boasts single or semi-double white flowers followed by large, near-black hips that appear on spreading bushy plants. The North American the pink Virginia shrub rose (Rosa virginiana) is also reportedly resistant, along with several other pretty American wild roses. (Read more about growing wild American roses here.)

    Currently Top Gun® is the most RRD-resistant rose known. (Photo thanks to Weeks Roses)

    Some lovely hybrid roses are also proving to be remarkably RRD resistant. Of these, the 2018 Weeks Rose introduction Top Gun® was the top RRD survivor in numerous rose rosette disease trials that included hundreds of other rose varieties. The shrubby rose grows to 3′ to 4′ tall, and its flowers are semi-double, burnished red, and moderately fragrant.

    Many RRD resources are available at This organization is dedicated to controlling the disease and encourages early detection and reporting of RRD. It’s the best online resource available for information and help!

  5. Luscious Lilies of Late Summer


    Tiger lilies (Lilium lancifolium) are spectacular tall bloomers that appear in late summer. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Most gardens can use a visual lift in the dog days of late summer.  This is where late-blooming lilies come in.  When their voluptuous, often deliciously scented blooms make their grand entrance in July and August, it’s like a royal fanfare in the landscape.  Goodbye, garden doldrums.

    About Late-Summer Lilies

    The raspberry-pink-flowered Lilium speciosum is a lovely species lily for the garden. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Thanks to the efforts of breeders, late-blooming lilies flower in a wide spectrum of luscious colors, from white to yellow to pink to red, with all manner of hues in between.  They also come in many sizes, with the smallest measuring only a foot tall and the grandest towering to 6 feet or more.  While the former are useful for containers and bedding schemes, it’s the giant late-blooming hybrids that are the true glory of the dog-day garden.  Their enormous clusters of large, sumptuous blooms on eye-high stems are almost beyond belief (as is the fact that they grow from relatively modest-sized, scaly bulbs).Natural and Organic

    Better yet, they’re easily cultivated, with most lilies thriving in full sun and fertile, humus-rich, well-aerated soil in USDA Hardiness zones 5 through 8 (excessively sandy or clay-heavy soil should be amended with a good compost, such as Fafard Premium Natural and Organic Compost).  All bets are off, however, in areas that host the dreaded red lily beetle.  Where this insect abounds (mostly in the Northeast), lilies can be more of a chore than they’re worth, requiring hours of hand-picking of the glossy scarlet adults and their repulsive, excrement-coated larvae.  In other parts of their hardiness range, lilies have few enemies, although viruses and large herbivores (particularly deer) can sometimes cause problems.

    Trumpet Hybrids

    Oriental Hybrids come into prominence in early August. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    The summer lily season opens in spectacular style with the stately Trumpet Hybrids, renowned for their gigantic, fragrant, funnel-shaped blooms that take after the Chinese native Lilium regale.  The popular Golden Splendor Strain produces 6-foot spires of rich lemon-yellow trumpets with burgundy-stained exteriors, while the equally popular (and showy) Pink Perfection Strain sports rose-pink funnels with gold throats.  Many other splendid Trumpet Hybrids are offered by bulb merchants (including several that specialize in lilies).  Lilium regale itself is well worth growing for its immense white flowers with maroon reverses (pure white forms are also sold).

    Some hybrids in the Trumpet tribe have nodding, mildly scented, “Turks-cap” flowers that evoke the group’s other important ancestor, Lilium henryi.  Among the best and most widely offered of these is ‘Lady Alice’, with white, purple-flecked, gold-starred flowers on 4- to 6-foot stems. There are also several common species worth seeking out.  The classic “tiger lily” (Lilium lancifolium), with its black-spotted blooms of clear orange, is tall, clumping, and looks its best in August.

    Oriental Hybrids

    Pink Oriental lilies in a late-summer border at Longwood Gardens. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    The Oriental Hybrids come into prominence in early August, as the Trumpets fade from the scene.  Their freckled, seductively scented flowers with back-curved petals show the influence of their two primary parents: raspberry-pink-flowered Lilium speciosum and white, yellow-banded Lilium auratum var. platyphyllum. Most Oriental Lilies have nodding or out-facing flowers, but exceptions occur, as evidenced by arguably the most famous lily hybrid, ‘Stargazer’.  The glowing crimson-rose, white-edged blooms of this 1974 introduction look up from 3- to 4-foot stems in early August.  Other outstanding and renowned Orientals include white ‘Casa Blanca’; lilac-pink, lemon-striped ‘Tom Pouce’; white, rose-veined ‘Muscadet’; and white, gold-striped ‘Aubade’.  All are of similar stature to ‘Stargazer’.

    Orienpet Hybrids

    Orienpets tend to be large-flowered and voluptuous. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Hybrids between Oriental and Trumpet lilies (known as “Orienpets”) combine the best features of both groups, bearing swarms of large, fragrant flowers on lofty stems.  A winner of the North American Lily Society’s popularity poll, the Orienpet ‘Anastasia’ flaunts white, rose-brushed, heavy-textured flowers on 6-foot stems in early August, giving the effect of a high-rise Lilium speciosum.  The cultivar ‘Scheherazade’ sports a similar look, but with raspberry-red, lemon-edged blooms.  ‘Silk Road’ (also known as ‘Friso’) is more suggestive of a Trumpet Lily, producing white, rose-throated, funnel-shaped flowers with burgundy-flushed exteriors in mid-July.  It’s a four-time popularity poll winner.

    Now is the season not only to savor the beauty of late-blooming lilies, but also to order some of their bulbs to plant this fall.  The payoff next summer will be well worth the investment!

  6. Beating Tomato Pests and Diseases

    Nothing’s better than a happy, fruitful tomato, but keeping pests and diseases at bay can be a challenge.

    All winter long, tomato lovers suffer, eating supermarket fruit with the taste and texture of foam packing peanuts.  Finally summer arrives, bringing a harvest of tart, sweet, sunshiny tomatoes.  You can buy these edible jewels at the local farmers’ market, but there is something incredibly satisfying about growing your own.  A just-picked tomato, still warm from the sun is nirvana in a red wrapper.

    But the path to that nirvana can be strewn with obstacles.  Tomato plants are subject to a host of pests and diseases.  Bacteria, viruses and fungi attack stalks, leaves and fruit, while insects make every attempt to rob gardeners of hard-won harvests.  Even the best-regulated vegetable garden is not immune to tomato maladies.

    Knowing the enemy, whether it is a pest, disease or disorder, is the first line of defense.  Following good cultural practices is the second, and learning effective treatments for specific problems is the third.

    So who are these enemies of the tomato?

    Tomato Fungal Diseases

    Early blight is a common tomato disease that puts a damper on plant health and productivity.

    Fungi thrive in humid weather and poor air circulation.  Several different types afflict tomatoes, most often manifesting themselves in the form of brown or black leaf spots.

    Early blight generally starts on older foliage and shows up as small brown spots.  Left untreated it can defoliate plants and rot fruit. Leaves also drop in the case of septoria leaf drop and leaf mold, both of which cause brown leaf spots.  Buckeye rot and anthracnose show up on fruit, with brown spots in the case of buckeye rot and spots with salmon-colored spores in the case of anthracnose.  Fusarium wilt kills the entire plant, with leaves losing color as the infection progresses.  Southern blight also kills the entire plant and is distinguished by brown lesions on the lowest part of the stem.

    Possibly the worst tomato disease is late blight, which not only kills entire plants, but is highly contagious, with spores that spread by wind.  Caused by the Phytophthora infestans fungus, the disease manifests itself in the form of bullseye-type spots on leaves.  If you suspect late blight, get a positive identification from the nearest cooperative extension agent.  Once the identification is made, all infected plants should be destroyed (not composted).  If neighbors raise tomatoes or potatoes, it is helpful to notify them as well.  Keep vigilant for signs of the disease on unaffected plants.

    Tomato Bacterial and Viral Diseases

    Tomato spotted wilt virus is a disease spread by small insects called thrips.

    Tomatoes can also be stopped in their tracks by bacterial and viral diseases.  One of them is bacterial wilt, which causes a generalized decline of affected plants.  Another is bacterial spot, which produces brown leaf spots and scabby patches on fruits.

    Spread by thrips, tomato spotted wilt virus shows up in the forms of spotted leaves and discolored fruits that fail to ripen properly.  Whiteflies harbor tomato yellow leaf curl virus, which results in curled, misshapen leaves, sudden blossom drop and stunted fruit.  Tobacco mosaic virus causes mottled, misshapen leaves and plant weakness.

    Tomato Pests

    Tomato hornworms are one of the most voracious tomato pests!

    Insect predators of tomato include aphids, which attach themselves to stems and leaves and suck out the plant’s juices.  Tomato fruitworm larva develop inside fruits, making them inedible, and large, ugly tomato hornworms dine voraciously on stems and leaves, before taking on fruits.

    Colorado potato beetles are another pest that will go for tomatoes when potatoes are not available. The striped yellow and brown beetles lay clusters of golden-orange eggs below leaves and orange and black larvae quickly emerge–both will eat tomato leaves and fruit.

    Other Tomato Problems

    Blossom end rot can be fixed by feeding tomatoes with calcium-rich tomato fertilizer.

    Tomatoes can also be afflicted by blossom end rot, which causes rot that begins at the bases of fruits. It is caused by calcium deficiency, so feeding your tomatoes well will stop this common physiological problem.

    Tomatoes with growth cracks and catfaced tomatoes with abnormal bulges and cavities are not diseased. Instead it’s environmental factors that mar the appearance and viability of the fruit. Water cracking is also a problem that occurs on fully developed fruits after heavy rain. Excess water fills the fruits and causes them to crack on the vine. And if defoliation occurs on plants, tomatoes are susceptible to being marred by sun scald, which causes fruits to develop light watery spots in high sun exposure.

    So…What Can You Do?

    The first line of defense against pests and diseases is extremely cheap and relatively easy—good cultural practices.  Start with the tomato seeds or visibly strong, healthy plants and choose disease resistant varieties.  Remember that not all varieties are resistant to all diseases.  Local cooperative extension or nursery personnel can help with questions about tomato diseases prevalent in your area and which varieties are most resistant to those diseases.

    Once you choose your tomatoes, plant them in good soil, enriched with a high-quality amendment like Fafard® Garden Manure Blend.  Space plants so that they have plenty of air circulation (15-24 inches apart) and use tomato cages or other supports to get plants and fruits up off the ground.  Water regularly, especially during dry periods, and prevent the spread of spore-borne diseases by using soaker hoses to water at ground level.

    Water cracking happens to ripe tomatoes on the vine after a heavy rain.

    Be alert for signs of fungal diseases and if they appear, remove and destroy affected plant parts.  Do not compost them.  At the end of the growing season, remove all plant parts and debris, so that spores do not overwinter in the soil.  From year to year, practice crop rotation to discourage pathogens.  If you are growing tomatoes in containers, start each season with fresh soil, after washing containers with a solution of one part household bleach to nine parts water.

    Anti-fungal solutions, including organic mixtures, are available at nurseries and garden centers.  Depending on the compound, the anti-fungal remedy can be used as a preventive measure or to stop the spread of fungus on affected plants.  Either way, follow manufacturers’ directions carefully.

    Some people swear by homemade fungal deterrent sprays, including one made with one tablespoon of cider vinegar per gallon of water.  Apply every few days to stems as well as tops and bottoms of leaves.  Another popular kitchen-based fungal remedy calls for one tablespoon of baking soda per gallon of water, augmented with two tablespoons of vegetable oil and a few drops of dishwashing liquid.  Shake the mixture will and apply with a spray bottle every few days and after rainstorms.

    Dispatch aphids with a strong spray from a hose, or spray plants with insecticidal soap, following package directions.  Watch for tomato fruitworms and hornworms on plants.  Check for holes in leaves or fruit and destroy any that show signs of damage.  Hand pick the worms and drop them into containers of soapy water.  Wear gloves for this job.  If you are squeamish about handling these wriggly creatures, remember that when it comes to beating pests and diseases, the end justifies the means.  The taste of a sweet summer tomato will make you forget all about worms and wilts.

  7. The Prettiest Garden Lavenders

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

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

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

    Hardy Lavenders

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

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

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

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

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

    Hedge lavender is very fragrant, vigorous, and hardy.

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

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

    Tender Lavenders

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

    Fringed lavender has unique scalloped leaves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    French lavender is especially fragrant and showy.

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

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

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

    Growing Lavender

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Bees and butterflies are especially attracted to lavender.


  8. Patio Peaches

    Bonfire is the most popular patio peach with its maroon-purple leaves, small size, and sweet little peaches.

    Do you want to grow your own peaches, but lack a place for a full-sized peach tree? This is not a problem, thanks to a slew of recently introduced peach tree varieties that mature at a shrubby 4- to 6-feet in height.  Ideal for containers, urban gardens, and patios, these dwarf peaches bring big possibilities to the small (or large) garden.  They’re available from a number of specialty growers, both in their natural shrubby form and as short-trunked, grafted mini-trees.

    Growing Patio Peaches

    Patio peaches – like their full-sized kin – appreciate full sun; fertile, well-drained, moderately moist soil; and shelter from bud-damaging early-spring frosts.  Where they literally break new ground is in their adaptability to containers, which puts them in play in gardens that were formerly too small, too cold, or otherwise ill-suited for home-grown peaches.  Give your dwarf peach a large (10- to 20-gallon) container and coarse, humus-rich potting mix, such as Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Soil, and you’re good to go.  When winter (or a spring cold snap) arrives, simply carry or wheel the container to a cool, frost-free location indoors.  After favorable weather returns, move it back outdoors for an early spring display of showy pink flowers and a summer crop of sweet, juicy peaches.

    Dwarf peaches also makes a first-rate garden plants, where winter-hardy.  If you garden in sandy or clay soil, work several inches of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost into the plant’s future root zone before planting.  The planting hole should be as deep and several times as wide as the root ball.

    Chilling Hours

    Peaches, like all fruit trees from temperate regions, need to remain dormant a certain period of time in winter produce flowers and fruit, so before choosing any peach, you must determine the number of “chilling hours” it needs. Chilling hours are essentially the number of hours between 32-45 degrees Fahrenheit in a winter season (hours exceeding 60 degrees Fahrenheit are subtracted from the chilling hour total). If the chilling hour quota for a tree is not met, it will not yield.

    Patio Peach Varieties

    Many patio peaches bear plentiful sweet fruit.

    Bonanza Peach

    Noted for its productivity and vigor, ‘Bonanza’ yields bumper crops of red-blushed, yellow-fleshed, freestone peaches on dense, 6-foot shrubby plants.  The early-ripening fruits are ready for harvest in late spring or early summer, about 3 months after the pale pink flowers appear.  This peach typically requires 400 chilling hours.

    Bonfire Peach

    If your dwarf peach is the variety Bonfire (also known as ‘Tom Thumb’), you’re also undoubtedly growing it for its maroon leaves suffused with glowing coppery highlights.  The smoldering tones of the bold, lance-shaped foliage make a striking complement to the fiery blooms of crocosmias, rudbeckias, and red salvias, as well as to rosy- and pink-flowered plants such as purple coneflowers and pink mallows.  In addition to its arresting leafage, this 1993 introduction from the University of Arkansas produces tasty, apricot-sized peaches (but watch out for the large pits!).  It’s also among the hardiest dwarf peach varieties, wintering in the ground into USDA Zone 5. (Specimens in containers are considerably less cold-hardy, requiring winter cover as outlined above.)

    Empress Peach

    Most other dwarf peaches are grown primarily for their fruits and flowers (although their bold green leaves are also attractive).  Cultivars for colder areas of the United States include ‘Empress’, whose mid-pink flowers are followed by a midsummer crop of rosy-pink, clingstone peaches with juicy yellow flesh.  Maturing at 5 feet tall and wide, this 1965 introduction is slightly hardier than Bonfire (USDA Zone 5).  It requires at least 850 hours per winter of sub-45-degree temperatures to trigger flower and fruit production.

    Golden Glory Peach

    Introduced a year before ‘Empress’, ‘Golden Glory’ bears deep yellow, pink-tinged, yellow-fleshed peaches on 5-foot plants.  The freestone fruits are preceded by clusters of rich-pink flowers.  Another good candidate for cold-climate gardens, it needs 750 chilling hours and is winter-hardy into USDA Zone 6.

    Flory Peach

    Gardeners in mild-winter areas (Zones 7 and warmer) have numerous garden-hardy dwarf peaches to choose from.  Many descend from ‘Flory’, a 5-foot-tall, heirloom variety introduced to the United States from China in 1939.  One of the showiest peaches in bloom, it’s still well worth growing for its double rose-red flowers and rose-blushed, freestone peaches.  The white flesh is relatively bland.  Chilling requirement is 450 hours.

    More Patio Peaches to Try

    Among the many other dwarf peach cultivars requiring approximately 400 chilling hours are ‘Eldorado’, ‘Garden Gold’, ‘Garden Sun’, and ‘Pix Zee’.  Gardeners who can offer only 250 chilling hours also have several varieties to choose from, including ‘Southern Flame’, ‘Southern Rose’, and ‘Southern Sweet’.  They make good choices for areas with especially mild winters –and for containers that spend the winter in relatively mild conditions.

    A couple of large pots, some good mix, and one or two patio peaches will afford even the smallest sunny garden space with fresh peaches. So, try planting a couple this season!

    A Bonfire peach in full flower.

  9. Swallowtail Butterfly Gardening

    Lilacs are one of the many plants on the menu for eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies.

    Gardeners tend to have a thing for swallowtail butterflies.  Likewise, swallowtails tend to have a thing for certain plants – and certain gardens. The more you incorporate their favorites into your garden, the more they will favor you with their flighty visits.

    Adult swallowtails of all species (including the half-dozen or so species native to eastern North America) share similar tastes in nectar.  A border brimming with coneflowers and sages and butterfly weeds and their relatives will have them all aflutter, as will a planting of shrubby favorites such as rhododendrons and buddleias.  Swallowtail caterpillars, on the other hand, are much fussier eaters, with each species following a specialized diet restricted to a narrow menu of plants.  As a result, swallowtails are particularly keen on gardens that include their favorite larval foods.

    Most swallowtail caterpillars confine their munching to species from one or two plant families.  Some swallowtail species thrive on both introduced and indigenous plants, whereas others require natives-only fare to thrive.  Know their preferred larval food sources, and you’ll know what to plant in your yard to transform it into a swallowtail haven.   You’ll also know which plants to examine for the large colorful caterpillars, which in their early stages resemble animated bird droppings.  Some leaf damage may also be noticeable, but it’s a modest price to pay to become the neighborhood’s most desirable swallowtail destination.

    Swallowtail Caterpillar Host Plants

    Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

    Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly feeding on pentas. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Many native and exotic trees and shrubs from the olive, rose, laurel, birch, and magnolia families host the large green caterpillars of tiger swallowtail, which sport two prominent eye-spots.  Before pupating, the caterpillars turn from green to brown. Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), lilacs (Syringa spp.), river birch (Betula nigra), and sassafras (Sassafras albidum) are among the outstanding ornamental plants on the menu, as are:

    Eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar before pupation. (Image by Scott Robinson)

    Sweet bay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana).  Native to eastern North America, this small, elegant, gray-barked tree has glossy-green, deciduous or evergreen leaves with silvery undersides.  Scatterings of cupped, sweet-scented white flowers sporadically appear from late spring through summer.

    Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus).  Clouds of fragrant, fleecy white flowers veil the spreading branches of this large shrub or small tree in late spring.  Conspicuous blue fruits ripen in late summer on some plants (particularly if a pollenizing companion fringetree is nearby).

    Eastern Black Swallowtail

    Female eastern black swallowtail lays her eggs on plants in the parsley family. (Image

    Showy, yellow-and-black-banded caterpillars feed almost exclusively on plants from the parsley family, including dill (Anethum graveolens), parsley (Petroselinum crispum), carrot (Daucus carota ssp. sativus), and fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) .   Bronze-leaved forms of fennel  are especially effective

    An eastern black swallowtail feeding on fennel. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    ornamentals, their dark, filigreed leaves making a smoky contrast to bright-flowered annuals and perennials.  Also outstanding for foliage effect are the various species of Peucedanum such as giant milk parsley (Peucedanum verticillare).  This short-lived perennial forms large lush hummocks of deeply divided foliage, which give rise to towering, purple-stemmed sprays of lacy white flower clusters.  Most Peucedanum expire soon after flowering, but they usually self-sow (so be sure to leave some seed heads!).

    Spicebush Swallowtail

    Spicebush swallowtail larvae feed just on spicebush. (Image by Magnus Manske)

    A dark-hued butterfly that somewhat resembles black swallowtail, spicebush swallowtail is one of several reasons to grow the shrub after which it’s named.  So, too, are the boldly eye-spotted, green to orange-yellow larvae that browse spicebush’s fruity-scented foliage in summer.   One of the earliest-blooming native plants, spicebush (Lindera benzoin) decks its branches with tufts of acid-yellow flowers

    Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar (Image by Greg Schechter)

    in late winter and early spring, before the leaves emerge.   Bright red fruits and brilliant yellow fall foliage bring the growing season to a colorful close.  Spicebush swallowtail’s other favorite host is sassafras – the only eastern North American representative of the laurel family (Lauraceae) other than Lindera benzoin.

    Pipevine Swallowtail

    The pipevine swallowtail has showy blue lower wings.

    If outlandish black caterpillars with orange spikes and centipede-like “legs” appear on your Dutchman’s pipe vine (Aristolochia spp.), you have the honor of a visit from this singular swallowtail species.  With luck you’ll also witness the adults, whose blue, iridescent wings are among the showiest in the butterfly tribe.  The larvae thrive only on North American species of Aristolochia, dwindling away if raised on exotic Dutchman’s pipes such as Aristolochia elegans.  Two twining North American natives – Aristolochia macrophylla and A. tomentosa –make excellent climbers for locations where their

    A pipevine swallowtail caterpillar feeding on pipevine. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    wide-ranging roots have room to spread (both are hardy from USDA zones 5 to 9).  Their rapidly ascending stems with heart-shaped leaves emerge from the ground in spring and lengthen to 20 or 30 feet within a few weeks.  Curious, contorted, tubular flowers with flared tips appear in the leaf axils in early summer.  Most other North American Aristolochia species are lower growing perennials that spread underground to form large clumps.  Virginia snakeroot (Aristolochia serpentaria) functions nicely as a deciduous groundcover for informal garden areas in sun to light shade.

    Eastern Giant Swallowtail

    Citrus are the favorite host plant of eastern giant swallowtail.

    Native or exotic species from the citrus and rue family (Rutaceae) entice this enormous, black, yellow-banded butterfly, whose wingspan can reach 6 inches.  Gardens that are too cold for the likes of lemons (Citrus limon) and oranges (Citrus aurantiaca) can opt instead for one of the several cold-hardy Rutaceae species that host the blotchy, black and white larvae.  These include hop tree (Ptelea trifoliata), a medium to large shrub from central and eastern North America with handsome, three-parted leaves and small, fragrant, late-spring flowers.  Rounded, wafer-like fruits develop in late

    The eastern giant swallowtail caterpillar.

    summer.  Its cultivar ‘Aurea’ – with glossy, chartreuse-yellow leaves – is one of the most striking foliage plants for temperate gardens.   Swallowtail hosts for the perennial border include gas plant (Dictamnus albus), which bears showy spires of white or purple flowers in late spring on bushy, 3-foot-tall mounds of leathery, rich-green foliage.  Native to Eurasia, it lives to 50 years or more in gardens.  Warning: contact with plants in the rue family can trigger severe dermatitis in susceptible individuals, although such cases are rare.

    [Click here to get great butterfly garden designs!]


  10. Grow a Mexican Herb Garden

    The delicate white flowers of cilantro develop into coriander seeds. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Several key herbs and peppers create the foundation of Mexican cuisine. Everyone knows and loves cilantro and chile peppers, but have you ever tried epazote, Mexican oregano, or Mexican mint marigold? Add some authenticity and good flavor to your Mexican dishes this season with these herbs and spices!

    Mexican Herbs

    Some of the herbs essential to Mexican cooking originate from the Old World, such are cilantro, cumin and Mexican thyme. But, most are regional natives that have been used to flavor the traditional foods of indigenous peoples for thousands of years.


    Tropical annatto can be grown in containers and overwintered indoors.

    Annatto (Bixa orellana, 20–33 feet, USDA Hardiness Zones 10-12), also called lipstick tree or achiote, is a tender tropical tree or shrub, but it can be grown and trained as a container specimen in cold-winter zones. It is native to the tropical Americas where its seeds have been used to impart sweet, peppery flavor and bright orange-red color to food for centuries. Southern Native American tribes also used it to color their skin and hair.

    Gardeners in temperate areas can grow annatto in containers that can be brought outdoors in summer and overwintered in a sunny indoor location. They grow best in slightly acid soil that is evenly moist and fertile. Fafard® Professional Potting Mix is a good potting mix choice. Plant them in a large pot, and keep them well pruned. In a couple of years, the evergreen shrubs will begin producing clusters of pretty, five-petaled pink flowers followed by hairy brownish orange pods. These pods are filled with orange seeds that can be dried and enjoyed for cooking.


    The aromatic leaves of epazote (Dysphania ambrosioides, 2-3 feet, USDA Hardiness Zones 8-11) have a distinctive fennel taste when raw and develop a citrusy taste when cooked. The leaves are commonly used in moles and soups. The rangy plants are not attractive, so surround them with prettier herbs, if garden appearance is important to you. The seeds are toxic, so cut back the flower heads to keep plants from setting seed. The leaves can also be a skin irritant for some.


    The leaves of cilantro taste best in cool weather.

    The flavorful leaves of cilantro (Coriandrum sativum, 18-24 inches) are common in many Mexican dishes and salsas, and the seeds are ground to make the spice, coriander. Cilantro is a cool-season annual herb that grows best in spring and fall. It prefers full sun and well-drained, fertile soil. It’s frilly white flowers set round seed heads that readily self-sow, so don’t be afraid to sprinkle some of its seeds on the ground after it has bolted.


    Cumin leaves are edible and their seeds are ground for spice.

    Cumin (Cuminum cyminum, 12-15 inches) is a warm-season, drought-tolerant annual that has feathery, aromatic leaves that can be added to salads. Its flower heads look like delicate Queen-Anne’s-lace blooms. Once the heads have set seed, collect the seeds and grind them to make the spice, cumin. Grow it as you would cilantro, and give the plants at least three months to produce seed. Cumin is a key component of taco seasoning but also has a place in more traditional Mexican dishes.

    Mexican Oregano

    Mexican oregano is pretty and has a lemony oregano flavor.

    Native to the American Southwest down to Central America, Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens, 2-4 feet, USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11) tastes a bit like oregano but has a distinctive lemony flavor. The leaves are used to season meats, beans, and vegetables. Mexican oregano is a small, open shrub that bears clusters of pretty white summer flowers (similar to the blooms of Lantana camara), which are pollinated by butterflies. Its leaves can be used dried or fresh.

    Mexican Thyme

    The succulent leaves of Mexican thyme can be used dried or fresh.

    This semi-succulent African herb was brought to Mexico by the Spanish. Mexican thyme (Plectranthus amboinicus, 12-24 inches, USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11), also called Cuban oregano, has a strong oregano-like flavor and can be used fresh or dried to flavor meats. It grows best in partial sun and produces spikes of pretty lavender flowers during the growing months. This tender herb can be brought indoors in winter as a potted plant and is easy to propagate from cuttings. It likes well-drained potting soil, like OMRI Listed Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Mix.

    Mexican Mint Marigold 

    Mexican marigold (Tagetes lucida, 18-24 inches, USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10) is a native of Mexico and Central America, so it will tolerate high heat and drought. The slender, fragrant leaves of this herbal marigold are used to flavor pork, chicken, and vegetables. The shrubby tender perennial bears pretty yellow flowers in summer that attract bees. Grow it in full sun and average soil with good drainage.

    Mexican Peppers

    Peppers are New World plants native from southern North America to northern South America. Many different varieties are used to flavor food in Mexico, but several are more common in traditional foods.

    Plant all peppers in full sun and provide them with well-drained soil fortified with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. They will also grow better if fed with a tomato and vegetable fertilizer. Their small white flowers are bee pollinated, so be sure to avoid using insecticides on them. Most peppers require staking or caging to support their heavy fruits. (Click here for our video about pepper growing.)  Here are three essential peppers for Mexican cooking.


    Jalapeño mature to red but are most often eaten green.

    Favored for spicing up salsas, jalapeño peppers (Capsicum annuum, 24-30 inches) are most commonly harvested green, though they will mature to a deep red color. Like all peppers, they are warm-season veggies that thrive in heat and will tolerate drought. Jalapeños have medium heat (3,500 to 8,000 Scoville Heat Units).

    Poblano (Ancho) Chile

    Poblano peppers are most productive in late summer.

    The poblano chile (Capsicum annuum, 2.5-4 feet) has mild heat (1000-1500 Scoville Heat Units), and its origin is attributed to Puebla, Mexico. The peppers mature to a purplish brown, and when dried are called ancho chiles. The tall plants must be supported with a sturdy cage. These are the classic peppers used for chiles rellenos, and when dried they are used to flavor moles.

    Serrano Chile

    Serrano chiles turn from green to bright red.

    Spicy serrano chiles (Capsicum annuum, 24 feet) are generally harvested red and added to fresh salsas. They are spicy (10,000–23,000 Scoville Heat Units), very flavorful, and sweet when fully mature. One plant will produce a wealth of peppers.

    Any one of these herbs or peppers will spice up your garden and cooking, so consider planting your own Mexican herb garden this season!