Garden Articles

  1. 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.

  2. 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)

  3. The Best Trees for Bees

    Redbuds are one of the best small landscape trees for feeding bees!

    Are you looking to give your local bees a much-needed boost?  Then why not give them a tree!  Plant any of the trees described below in fall or spring, and they’ll provide a banquet of nectar- and pollen-rich blooms that will have your neighborhood honeybees, bumblebees, and other hymenopterans buzzing with appreciation.  Their attractive foliage and flowers (and other features) will also win plaudits from neighboring humans.  Most trees flower for only 2 or 3 weeks, so you’ll need several different species for a spring-to-fall bee banquet.

    Large Trees for Bees

    Male red maple flowers in March. (Image by Famartin)

    Red Maple

    A native of swamps and forests throughout much of North America, red maple (Acer rubrum, 60-90′) is a veritable bee oasis in late March and early April, when little else is in bloom.  The tight clusters of small, maroon flowers are a stirring sight in the early-spring landscape, especially when displayed against a deep blue sky.  Red maple is also one of the first trees to have foliage color in fall, its three- to five-lobed leaves turning yellow or red as early as mid-September.  Numerous cultivars in a wide range of shapes, sizes, fall coloration, and climatic preferences are available from nurseries.  Although this tough, adaptable tree has few requirements, it is at its best in full sun.

    The dangling white flowers of yellowwood. (Image by Ulf Eliasson)

    Yellowwood

    A showy-flowered member of the pea family, yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea, 30-50′) is breathtaking in late spring when it drapes itself with dangling chains of fragrant white blooms.  Its decorative compound leaves turn a striking butter-yellow in fall, and its smooth, gray, beech-like bark is handsome year-round.  This Mid-Atlantic to Midwest native takes a few years to get going in the garden, eventually forming a large- to medium-sized, low-forking specimen.  Varieties with pale pink flowers are sometimes offered by specialty nurseries.  Yellowwood prefers well-drained soil and full sun, and is hardy from USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 9.

    Sourwood

    Sourwood produces sprays of white summer flowers. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum, 20-50′) is renowned in its native Southeast United States for the honey that derives from its early-summer blooms.  The frothy, cascading clusters of dainty white flowers are one of the highlights of the midseason garden.  Factor in its handsome, glossy leaves, brilliant fall color, scaly gray bark, and conspicuous winter seed capsules, and you’ve got one of the best four-season small trees for USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9.  Full sun and moist, humus-rich, acid soil suit it best.

    Lindens

    Bees of all kinds are attracted to linden flowers.

    Late spring and early summer welcome the bee-thronged, sweet-scented white flowers of the many cultivated species of linden.  European natives including littleleaf linden (Tilia tomentosa, 65-115′) and its hybrid Crimean linden (Tilia x euchlora, 40-60′) are the most commonly planted of the tribe, but many others make excellent garden subjects, including Japanese linden (Tilia japonica, 50-65′) and the shorter Kyushu linden (Tilia kiusiana, 20-30′).  The flowers of silver linden (Tilia tomentosa) are perhaps too pollinator-friendly, exuding an intoxicating nectar that literally sends bees into a drunken feeding frenzy, followed by a narcotic stupor.  All lindens are valued for their attractive, toothed, heart-shaped leaves, although aphids can sometimes be a problem producing dripping honeydew and attracting ants.  The eastern U.S. native basswood (Tilia americana, 60-120′) is suitable for spacious, naturalistic landscapes. Most Tilia are considerably hardy and suitable to temperate landscapes in the US.

    Small Trees for Bees

    Lacy serviceberry flowers (image by Kurt Stuber)

    Serviceberry

    The fleecy white flowers of serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis, 15-40′), a member of the rose family (Rosaceae), decorate woodland edges of eastern North America from early to mid-spring.  Tasty blue-black fruits follow in early summer, but they and the foliage are often marred by pests and diseases.  Consequently, this small, slight, gray-barked tree is best used in naturalistic, peripheral plantings, rather than as a landscape focal point.  Several similar Amelanchier species occur in the wild and in cultivation, these and many other rose family members have bee-loved flowers.  All serviceberries are happiest in humus-rich soil and full to partial sun in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 8.

    Bees of all sorts pollinate redbud flowers.

    Redbud

    Redbud (Cercis canadensis, 20-30′) opens its magenta, pea-flowers in mid-spring, just as flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is coming into bloom.  The broad, heart-shaped leaves unfurl soon thereafter.  A small, often multi-stemmed tree from clearings and margins of central and eastern North America, it takes readily to sunny or lightly shaded gardens in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 9.   Gardeners in the warmer parts of redbud’s hardiness range can opt for the handsome variety texensis, notable for its glossy, leathery, dark-green foliage.  Other options include weeping, variegated, white-flowered, pink-flowered, purple-leaved, and yellow-leaved varieties.

    Seven Son Tree

    Seven son tree in the landscape.

    Arresting, bee-luring sprays of fragrant white flowers are also borne by another late-blooming East Asian native, seven son tree (Heptacodium miconioides, 15-20′).  As the flower petals fade in late summer, the sepals expand and turn deep wine-red, continuing the show into late summer and early fall.  In winter, the shredding, silver-gray bark takes center stage.  This small multi-stemmed tree thrives in sun and any decent soil in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 9. This tree has a less formal habit and may appreciate some pruning and shaping if it is to be grown in a prominent place in the landscape.

    Bee Bee Tree

    Bees love the aptly named bee bee tree.

    Bee bee tree (Tetradium daniellii, 25-30′) earns its common name by covering itself with masses of fragrant white flowers that are abuzz with bees when they open in midsummer.  They give rise to showy clusters of shiny black fruits that ripen in late summer and persist into fall.  The lush, lustrous, compound leaves are remarkably pest- and disease-free.  This East Asian native grows rapidly into a low-branched, gray-barked tree that would add beauty to any garden.  It does well in full sun and most soil types in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9.

    Whichever bee tree you choose for your landscape, you’ll probably have better luck if you start with a relatively small, container-grown plant.  Larger, balled and burlapped trees may look more impressive initially, but they’re slower to establish and more susceptible to pests and diseases.  Dig the planting hole to the same depth as the root ball (or shallower in heavy clay soil), and three (or more) times as wide.  Spread a layer of Fafard Premium Natural and Organic Compost in a wide circle around the newly planted tree, top with 2 to 3 inches of bark mulch, and water well, repeating when necessary (one or two times a week).  Your new tree – and your neighborhood bees – will thank you.

     

    Most members of the rose family, such as this crab apple, have flowers that attract bees.

  4. Managing the Six Worst Garden Animal Pests

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Managing the Worst Garden Animal Pests

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

    Fence ‘Em Out

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

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

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

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

    Groundhogs are destructive and their large burrows are a hazard!

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

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

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

    Repellents

    Voles will damage roots, bulbs, and tubers.

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

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

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

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

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

    Plant Resistant Plants

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

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

    Strategies to Avoid

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

    Read the Fafard disclaimer here.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 10 City Trees for Urban Landscapes and Street Sides

    Littleleaf lindens (Tilia cordata)  are common street trees for urban areas.

    It’s not easy being a tree.  This goes doubly for trees in urban landscapes.  Air pollution, compacted soil, and road salt are just a few of the extra challenges that come with an in-town lifestyle.  Worse still, much of that tainted soil and air is occupied by buildings, streets, sidewalks, power lines, and other structures that leave little space for branches and roots.

    Amazingly, quite a few tree species are tough and compact enough to cope with these special challenges.  Perhaps as remarkably, many of the best of these trees are still relatively rare in urban landscapes.  If you’re looking to grow a tree in Brooklyn (or any other city), the choices range far beyond the ubiquitous littleleaf linden (Tilia cordata) and Norway maple (Acer plantanoides).

    Outstanding Trees for Urban Landscapes

    Chinese fringe-tree (Chionanthus retusus)

    In place of Tilia cordata, you could try its smaller, more refined cousin, Kyushu linden (Tilia kiusiana).  Rather new to American horticulture, this slow-growing 20-footer boasts a dense, teardrop-shaped habit; dainty, heart-shape leaves; and handsome, flaking bark.  Kyushu linden prospers in sun to light shade in USDA Hardiness zones 5b to 8.

    Shantung maple (Acer truncatum) is a well-behaved relative of Norway maple with lobed leaves that become flushed purple in spring, mature to rich green in summer, and turn sunset tints in fall.  Its attractive gray bark provides winter interest.  Height and width is 25 feet; favored conditions are full to part sun in zones 5 to 9.

    American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana)

    American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) has another common name – musclewood – which references its rippled blue-gray bark.  Under whatever name, it’s one of the most picturesque eastern North American trees, with its muscled trunk, sinuously branched crown (to 30 feet tall and wide), and finely serrated leaves that go yellow in fall.

    European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) is a long-time (and larger) urban stalwart, usually seen as the upright-growing ‘Fastigiata’.  It’s less hardy than American hornbeam’s USDA zones 3 to 9.  Full to part sun; salt intolerant.

    Chinese fringe-tree (Chionanthus retusus) is much underused.  How can something this beautiful be this tough?  Spectacular in late spring when covered with fleecy white flowers, Chinese fringe-tree carries its ornamental weight at other seasons with its shredding, cherry-like bark, bold oval leaves, and blue olive-shaped fall fruits. The yellow to rust-red fall color isn’t bad either.  20 to 30 feet tall.  Full sun to light shade; USDA zones 5 to 8.

    Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) fruit

    Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is actually a dogwood, despite its common name.  A must for the urban edible garden, this multi-stemmed small tree is also essential for winter display, thanks to its clusters of acid-yellow flowers that precede those of forsythia.  The cranberry-like fruits ripen in summer, and make for excellent preserves (they’re also good right off the tree).

    Look also for the closely related but rarely offered Japanese Cornel dogwood (Cornus officinalis), which tends to bloom slightly earlier and often has pleasingly mottled bark.  Both species are native to East Asia.  15 to 20 feet tall.  Full sun to light shade; USDA zones 5 to 8; somewhat salt-tolerant.

    American smoke tree, (Cotinus obovatus) has hazy, summer-borne seedheads that are not as showy as those of the much more common European smoke tree. But, the Southeast US native amply compensates with its smoldering fall color and scaly, silvery bark.  Typically multi-stemmed and round-headed, it’s sometimes sold as a single-trunked specimen.  The widely available cultivar ‘Grace’ – a hybrid with European smoke tree – offers equally spectacular fall color but a rather unruly habit.  25 feet tall.  Full sun to light shade; USDA zones 5 to 9.

    Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) fruits do not exist on new all-male varieties.

    Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) is literally as tough as nails (just try hammering a nail into its rock-hard, close-grained wood), but it has never found a place in cultivated landscapes because of its spiny branches and large, messy, knobbly fruits.   Thankfully, that’s all changing with the recent introduction of several lightly armed male cultivars (including ‘White Shield’ and ‘Wichita’).  Now you can have Osage orange’s gleaming dark-green foliage and ironclad constitution without subjecting passersby to concussive fruits and clothes-rending spines.  These cultivars grow quite rapidly to 30 feet or so.  Sun to light shade; USDA zones 5 to 9; relatively salt-tolerant.

    Peking lilac (Syringa pekinensis) is a close relative of the much more widely planted Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulata). Peking lilac surpasses it in its exceptional cold hardiness and its bronze, silver-flecked, often shaggy bark.  Feathery clusters of white flowers deck its oval crown in late spring, and amber-yellow fall color occurs on some forms of this fine multi-stemmed or single-trunked tree lilac.  Sun; USDA zones 3 to 7; relatively salt-tolerant.

    Urban Tree Care

    City trees appreciate a bit of extra coddling.  Where soil is compacted or otherwise compromised, work several inches of topsoil (such as Fafard Premium Topsoil) into as much of the tree’s future root zone as possible.   Although it’s tempting to plant a large balled-and-burlapped specimen with a several-inch-caliper trunk, smaller container-grown plants will establish more readily, and likely attain similar (or greater) stature in 4 or 5 years.  Dig the planting hole to the same depth as the root ball (or shallower in heavy clay soil), and three (or more) times as wide.  Spread a layer of compost in a wide circle around the newly planted tree, top with 2 to 3 inches of bark mulch, and water well, repeating when necessary (one or two times a week).

    With good care, your new tree will repay your efforts by settling in quickly to its new urban home. Any one of these beautiful options will benefit your city landscape or street side, adding diversity and charm as well as welcome greening.

  8. Summer Tree Care

    Summer tree care helps landscape trees look great all season.

    Trees are the ultimate givers, offering summer shade, protection from wind, and cleaner air.  They also beautify our landscapes, often providing food and serving as habitats for wildlife.  But, even in the face of all that generosity, we often ignore them.  Our trees deserve better, and summer is a good time to turn over a new leaf and focus on tree care.

    Summer weather stresses trees.  Drought is hardest on very young or old specimens but ultimately affects them all.  Storms threaten stability and bring weak or diseased limbs crashing to the ground.  Lawn and garden equipment damages tree bark, while untreated pests and diseases can decimate entire communities of once-healthy trees.  Fortunately, it takes only a little observation and a bit of care to help trees withstand those stresses, enabling them to continue giving for decades to come.

    Inspect Your Summer Trees

    Healthy trees will have vibrant foliage, growth, flowers, and fruit.

    Start by taking a good look at all the trees on your property, using binoculars, if necessary, for large trees.  Check for limbs that are dead, cracked or otherwise compromised.  If damaged trees are large or need anything more than minor pruning, call a tree expert to perform the work.  This may seem expensive, but corrective pruning helps trees withstand summer windstorms and prevents potential property damage and personal injury caused by falling limbs.

     Check Trees for Pests and Diseases

    Tent caterpillars on the upper branches of a black cherry tree.

    If you seek expert advice or help with pruning, ask an arborist or tree surgeon to check for pests and diseases.  Pernicious pests like the emerald ash borer and the Asian long horned beetle can wreak wide-scale havoc, killing scores of trees in a single area, if infestations aren’t promptly controlled.  Bag worms, fall webworms, and early season tent caterpillars can cause significant damage to foliage, which stresses trees. Wasting diseases, like verticillium wilt in maples, can sometimes be arrested, if affected trees are treated in time.

    If you don’t have expert help, check with your local cooperative extension agent to find out which pests and diseases are most prevalent in your area. Some municipalities employ professional arborists who can also provide this information. Take a good look at tree bark and foliage for telltale problem signs.  Follow the expert’s advice on treatment or prevention of pest or disease outbreaks.

    Water Summer Trees Wisely

    Summer tree irrigation is especially important for newly planted trees.

    All trees need regular water, though mature specimens, with broad, healthy root systems are best able to tolerate extended droughts.  Young trees are a different story and need water every few days, if rainfall is sparse or nonexistent.  The best way to water tree roots is low and slow irrigation, positioning the water source close to the ground.  This means soaker hoses circling trees’ bases.  For newly planted and very young trees, property owners can also buy “tree bags”, water-holding, heavy-duty plastic bags constructed to wrap around the trunk.  Small holes in the bottoms of the bags allow water to seep slowly to the roots, a process that takes several hours, depending on the size of the bag.  Refilled every day or two during drought spells, the bags can be life savers for immature trees.

    Protect Trees from Mechanical Injury

    Tree rings protect trunks from mechanical injury, but beware “mulch volcanos”!

    Power string trimmers are great garden time savers, allowing landscapers and homeowners to keep bed edges neat and tidy.  But repeated blows to trees from trimmers can penetrate tree bark to the point where young trees may die.  Trimmer injuries may not kill older specimens outright, but create entry points for damaging pests and diseases.

    The best way to separate trimmers and tree trunks is to mulch tree rings around trees, a technique that also conserves soil moisture and keeps weeds under control.  Spread high quality mulch in a circle with a radius of at least 2 feet around the base of the tree.  Keep the depth at about two to three inches and do not let the mulch touch the trunk.  So-called “mulch volcanos”, where large amounts of mulch are hilled up around tree trunks, contributes to the spread of bacterial and fungal diseases.  Always aim to create a moderately deep “mulch doughnut”, rather than a mountainous mulch “volcano”.

    Tree Planting and Fertilization

    Tree planting is also best done in spring or fall, when weather conditions are less likely to stress young saplings.  However, if you must plant in summer’s heat, “water in” the tree by filling the planting hole part way with water before installation.  If the surrounding soil is poor, thin or compacted, fill in around the tree’s root ball with a mix of the removed soil and an equal amount of high-quality, fertile planting material, like Fafard® Premium Topsoil.  Once the tree is planted, remember to water well, especially in hot, dry weather.

    It is best to fertilize trees in the spring, just before the first flush of growth.  This growth slows down in summer, so the season is not optimal for fertilization.

    Sitting under a tall shade tree with friends, family or just a good book, is one of the best ways to spend a summer afternoon.  Timely summer tree care is the best way to ensure that you will continue to enjoy that experience for many years.

    Plant new trees in spring or fall. Spring planted trees need extra care through summer.

  9. 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.

  10. 3 Steps to Growing Great Roses (With No Fuss)

    Strike it Rich® is a glorious grandiflora with exceptional disease resistance. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Got rose problems? Over 20 common pests and diseases plague roses, threatening the beauty of many a rose-filled yard and garden. But, rose growers can take heart. You can have the beauty of roses without the burden of doing constant battle with pests and diseases.  It all comes down to choosing resistant varieties and giving them the right care. Here are the three key steps to growing great roses without the fuss.

    1) Pick a winner.

    This is the most important step! Old roses are often the most fragrant and beautiful, but they are more often maintenance nightmares. Classic Hybrid Tea and Grandiflora (and other) rose varieties were bred for their voluptuous, iconic flowers, with little consideration for the plants’ overall vigor and disease resistance.  Consequently, they’re susceptible to a slew of diseases including blackspot, powdery mildew, and stem cankers.  They’re also easy marks for rose chafers, Japanese beetles, rose slugs, and a host of other insects that prey on roses.

    ‘Carefree Beauty’ is a wonderful shrub rose that will resist many common rose diseases. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    In recent years, breeders have developed and introduced new hybrids that resist diseases and pests.   Most familiar of these are a number of “landscape” roses (such as the Knockout series) noted for their tough shrubby growth and abundant, relatively small, typically scentless flowers.  Rose fanciers who are looking for something with taller stems and larger, more fragrant blooms will also find plenty of low-maintenance roses to choose from, however – including several Hybrid Tea and Grandiflora cultivars that rival anything in their class.  Notable sources – and cultivars – include:

    The German firm Kordes:  Their Grandiflora rose ‘Eliza’ produces a succession of lightly fragrant, double pink blooms on tall stems.  The repeat-blooming climber ‘Moonlight’ carries nicely scented peachy-yellow flowers.  ‘Yankee Doodle’ is a tall, vigorously growing Hybrid Tea with intensely fragrant, double, apricot-pink roses.

    Rosa PINK KNOCK OUT® is a classic, disease-free Knock Out rose planted for its strong disease resistance. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    The Explorers Hybrids from Canada:  This collection of rock-hardy roses includes the Rosa rugosa hybrid ‘Jens Munk’, which bears 2.5-inch, double, medium-pink flowers on shrubby plants.  It also includes several outstanding, repeat-blooming climbers.  ‘William Baffin’ produces several flushes of dark pink flowers beginning in late June, and ‘John Cabot’ covers itself with double, fuchsia-red flowers from early summer to fall.  Both can grow to 10 feet or more.

    The Iowa breeder Griffith Buck:  Among his many outstanding introductions are the pink-flowered Hybrid Tea ‘Earth Song’, and the shrub rose ‘Carefree Beauty’, with large pink flowers.

    Weeks Roses: Many Weeks introductions are graced with fine fragrance, good looks, and remarkable disease resistance. The introduction Strike it Rich®, bred by Tom Carruth, is a testament to their rose-breeding prowess.

    Rosa rugosa ‘Hansa’ is a tough rugosa rose that grows well in coastal gardens. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Anything of Rosa rugosa parentage: These rough and tough roses include the bright pink ‘Hansa’, dark red ‘Linda Campbell’, bright yellow ‘Topaz Jewel’, and the intensely fragrant, white-flowered ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’.

    The French rose breeder Meilland:   ‘Francis Meilland’ is a Hybrid Tea with double, silvery pink roses on tall stems.  The similarly hued double flowers of the Grandiflora ‘Mother of Pearl’ have a light, sprightly scent.  Dark red, heavy-scented, fully double flowers crown the 4- to 5-foot stems of the Hybrid Tea rose‘Traviata’.

    2) Choose the right soil and the site.

    Roses thrive in full sun and rich, healthy, humus-rich soil.  Before you plant your rose, amend the soil with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. It adds rich organic matter for increased water-holding capacity and porosity. Follow up by adding fertilizer formulated for roses. This will encourage strong growth and flowering.

    Ample air circulation helps too.  Plant your prize rose in a hole that’s at least twice as wide as its root ball, and amend the backfill and surrounding soil with compost and organic fertilizer.  Then apply a 1- to 2-inch layer of mulch to keep the roots moist and cool (and keep the soil microorganisms happy!).  Plants should be well spaced to allow air flow.

    3) Maintain!

    If you see rose rosette “witches brooms” remove your roses. There is no cure for this contagious disease. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Prune out all diseased growth in spring and throughout the growing season (dip pruners in a 10% bleach solution to reduce the chance of accidentally spreading disease from rose to rose). Be on particular lookout for the red “witches brooms” that signal the presence of rose rosette disease, a destructive disease for which there is no cure. Roses that have contracted rose rosette disease should be quickly removed from the garden.

    Thin stems in spring and summer to encourage air circulation and discourage diseases.   Tolerate modest insect damage, but treat plants with the appropriate OMRI Listed® insecticide if insects reach high levels.  Rake and remove fallen vegetation, which may harbor disease-causing fungal spores.  Apply rose fertilizer and a layer of compost each spring.  Plant “companion” perennials (such as members of the parsley and daisy families) that harbor beneficial insects.  And remember to water during dry spells!

    The right rose in the right place (with the right maintenance) will provide years of beauty with a minimum of grief.  It will also astonish your acquaintances who think that beautiful roses require lots of care for great looks.

    Rosa ‘Red Cascade’ is a rare old-fashioned miniature climbing rose that is disease resistant and prolific! (Photo by Jessie Keith)