Garden Articles

  1. Best Bold House Plants: Aroids

    Monstera is a bold tropical aroid that will shine indoors in low light.

    The aroid family (Araceae) contains some of the most beautiful and outlandish plant species in the plant kingdom.  Many make the best bold house plants for all-season color.  When things turn chill and gloomy outside, a bold-leaved, evergreen aroid is a very nice thing to have inside. They clean the air and bring tropical beauty to homes.

    Growing Aroids

    The titan arum is the boldest aroid, but it is best suited to public greenhouses. (Magnus Manske)

    Aroids may be large or small. Few houses (or greenhouses) can accommodate something on the scale of the outrageously gargantuan (and foul-scented) titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), which has flowers that can reach 8 feet high! But, many other Araceae are good fits for warm, humid, indoor locations out of direct sunlight.  Give them freely draining, humus-rich potting soil (such as Fafard Professional Potting Mix), regular watering, a monthly feeding, and periodic misting, and their evergreen foliage will give you a taste of the tropics even in the dead of winter.  A few of them do double ornamental duty by producing colorful, showy jack-in-the-pulpit-like blossoms for much of the year.

    Its these flowers that define aroids. Each aroid blossom actually comprises numerous tiny flowers that cluster on a club-like “spadix”, nestled within a curved, leaf-like “spathe”. The spathe is often white but may also be green, yellow, or various shades of red or pink.

    Bold Leaves

    Alocasias are stunning foliage plants perfect for home growing.

    The swollen, starchy tubers of elephant ears (Colocasia esculenta) have long played a central role in tropical-region cuisines.  Here in the frozen north, we grow colocasias for their broad, long-stalked, heart-shaped leaves, which come in a staggering variety of colors including chartreuse, silver, maroon, purple, and all shades of green.  Some species and cultivars carry splashy contrasting colors on their stalks or leaf blades, further boosting their visual amperage.

    Elephant ears also vary greatly in stature, ranging from petite (1 foot tall, in the case of Colocasia affinis) to truly elephantine (as in the 7-foot-tall ‘Jack’s Giant’).  Average size is around 3 or 4 feet, with 18- to 24-inch-long leaf blades.  Tubers of the more common elephant ear varieties turn up in bulb catalogs and garden center bins in spring for summer gardening. (Learn how to grow outdoor elephant ears here.)  Rarer colocasias are offered year-round by a number of specialty nurseries and greenhouses.

    Two other genera – Alocasia and Xanthosma – share much in common with Colocasia, including its common name.  Alocasian elephant ears typically have long, pointed, arrowhead lobes, and are often etched with a mosaic of bold white veins.  Species include the jewel-like Alocasia cuprea with its glossy, textured leaves and A. x amazonica, which has dark arrowhead-like leaves with pale venation. Popular varieties include the chartreuse ‘Golden Delicious’, black-purple ‘Mark Campbell’, miniature ‘Tiny Dancers’, and statuesque 6-foot-tall ‘Portodora’.

    Xanthosma species and cultivars do much the same thing as alocasias, and are sometimes confused with them (for example,  Alocasia ‘Golden Delicious’ is also known as Xanthosma ‘Lime Zinger’).  Some xanthosmas, though – such as the imposing, purple-stemmed X. violacea –are a thing unto themselves.  Almost all need warm winter conditions (minimum 65 degrees F) to thrive.

    Beautiful Leaves and Flowers

    Peace lilies have subdued white flowers and glossy green leaves.

    Peace lily (Spathiphyllum spp.) perform beautifully indoors in low-light conditions.  Plant snobs may sniff at these commoners, but it’s hard to find fault with their ease of care, verdant lance-shaped leaves, and white spring-to-fall blossoms.  Furthermore, peace lilies come in quite a few relatively uncommon forms, including boldly variegated ‘Domino’, dwarf ‘Viscount’, and the giant 5-foot-tall ‘Sensation’.  Most spathiphyllums grow to about 2 feet, with a greater spread if their rhizomes are allowed to roam.  Less water-demanding than elephant ears, they sulk in overly damp soil.

    The brilliant blooms of flamingo flower will brighten any winter home.

    Flamingo flower (Anthurium spp.) comprises a diverse genus of clumpers and climbers that possess many charms beyond the fiery red blooms of the common flamingo flower (Anthurium scherzerianum).  A. crystallinum and A. claverinum, for example, are prized for their handsome, white-veined leaves, rather than for their unexceptional floral display.  Even those grown for their showy blossoms sometimes depart from the stereotypical flamboyance of common flamingo flower.  For example, the spathes of  A. andreanum ‘Album’ are large and white with a long, pale yellow spadix, while those of ‘Black Love’ are dark maroon.  Almost all anthuriums appreciate an extra-coarse potting mix, amended with composted bark. Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Soil has added bark, making it a great mix choice for these plants.

    Calla Lilies

    Calla lilies are great indoor bloomers.

    Calla lily (Zantedeschia spp.) are the best bloomers in the aroid tribe. Among the many alluring species and hybrids of this South African genus, only one – Zantedeschia aethiopica – takes easily to household culture.  Its large, evergreen, arrow-shaped leaves grow from thick rhizomes that prosper in a moist, fertile, well-drained growing medium.

    In contrast to most other aroidal houseplants, Z. aethiopica prefers partial to full sun and cool winter conditions (a large east-facing windowsill is perfect).  Where happy, it produces iconic, cupped, ivory-white spathes on 2- to 4-foot stalks in spring or early summer.  Cultivars include ‘Green Goddess’, with green-stained spathes; dwarf ‘Childsiana’; and the aptly named ‘White Giant’.  Zantedeschia aethiopica cultivars are available from bulb sellers as bareroot rhizomes in spring, and from specialty growers as containerized plants year-round.

    More Aroid House Plants

    Philodendron of all kinds grow in the toughest indoor conditions.

    Quite a few other evergreen aroids make familiar, handsome house plants, including long-time favorites such as Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema spp.), Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa), and the many species and varieties of Philodendron.

    Many a home has been beautified by the tough and trailing heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron scandens), which looks best grown from a hanging basket or trained along a north-facing window. These hard-to-kill house plants are easily found in almost any greenhouse specializing in house plants.

    Make your winter home a tropical jungle with one or more of these outstanding aroid house plants for year-round indoor color. In late spring, bring them outdoors to light up a sheltered patio and to encourage summer growth.

  2. Bountiful Garden Plants for Birds

    A goldfinch inspects a purple cosmos plant for seeds.

     

    From wrens to cedar waxwings, birds inspire us with their flight and fascinate us with their songs.  We can return those favors by creating bird-friendly environments in our own backyards, even if those “backyards” are terraces or balconies.  All it takes is bountiful garden plants for birds and a small amount of garden care.

    Basic gardening for birds comes down to a few necessities: food, water, shelter and an absence of poisons.  Invest in birds and they will repay you handsomely.

    Fine Dining for Birds

    The scarlet flowers of Monarda didyma are a sure lure for hummingbirds.

    Bird feeders filled with sunflower and thistle seed are an excellent but pricey food source for winged visitors.  Birds also appreciate the more cost-effective approach of planting species that bear nutritious fruits, nectar, and seeds.  A planting scheme that includes at least a few flowering and fruiting species native to your area ensures that the birds will have their choice of familiar foods.

    Flowers for Birds–The current vogue for coneflowers (Echinacea spp. and Rudbeckia spp.) is great for seed lovers like American goldfinches and house finches that feast on the seed heads at the end of the growing season. Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) and purple cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) do the same thing.  (Click here to learn all about growing annual sunflowers!) Tubular red blooms, such as those of scarlet monarda (Monarda didyma) is a sure lure for passing hummingbirds. If you grow in containers, choose compact flowers for birds in Fafard premium potting mix.

    Vines for Birds–Almost every gardener has vertical space that might be perfect for plants like non-invasive, native coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), which bears nectar-rich pink flowers that attract hummingbirds.  Later in the growing season, the honeysuckle’s red berries are likely to catch the fancy of songbirds.  If you have the space, easy-to-grow Virginia creeper (Parthenosissus quinquefolia) can cover almost any structure or support while providing brilliant autumn leaves for humans and blue-black berries for avian friends.

    Crabapples make great winter meals for fruit-eating birds.

    Trees and Shrubs for Birds–Many shrubs and trees produce end-of-season berries, hips, and other fruits some of which persist into the winter, to sustain non-migrating birds like cardinals and waxwings.  Forego deadheading your roses and they will provide you and the local birds with hips that are both attractive and nutritious.  Dogwood trees (Cornus florida) beautify the spring garden with flowers and bear red berries in the fall as do flowering crabapples (Malus spp.).  Deservedly popular and available in many shapes and sizes, Viburnums provide fruits for the likes of robins, cardinals, finches and a host of other common birds.  Shrubs like deciduous winterberry holly (Ilex verticellata), light up the winter garden and help keep birds alive in cold weather as do the copious bright red fruits of ‘Winter King’ hawthorn (Crataegus viridis ‘Winter King’) .

    Be a little untidy and let some leaf litter accumulate in at least a part of the yard or garden.  This “litter” is good for the soil and harbors food for ground feeders like juncos and sparrows.

    Plant Shelter Belts for Birds

    A goldfinch collects thistledown for nest making.

    Planting a mix of densely-branched shrubs and trees of varying heights helps birds of all sizes and habits find shelter and nesting sites.  Evergreens like holly (Ilex spp.) and arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) provide protection from the elements as well as food.  Deciduous trees, including North American service berries (Amelanchier spp.) and crabapples (Malus spp.), feature dense branching, crooks, and hollows that make inviting nest sites.

    And some of those nesting birds, like goldfinches, need the silky down from seeds like milkweed (Asclepias spp.) and thistle (Cirsium spp.) to line their nests.  Gardeners have no need to plant thistles, but milkweeds are great garden flowers that attract butterflies and other insect pollinators.

    Hydration Stations for Birds

    Avian populations appreciate simple birdbaths, ground-level water dishes, or just about any water-filled vessel.  Be sure to refill these backyard oases before they get dry and clean them regularly.  Plants that hold drops of water on their leaf surfaces or in leaf or flower folds, like large-leaved hostas and calla lilies (Zantedeschia spp.), also offer drinks to birds.

    Create Bird Safe Havens

    Limit or completely curtail the use of pesticides and herbicides in your yard and garden to prevent chemical residue from disrupting the food chain and/or injuring birds.  When expanding existing beds or planting new perennials, trees or shrubs, incorporate natural garden products like Fafard® Premium Topsoil, to enhance soil and plant health without posing a threat to wildlife.  And, while it is impossible to stop all predators, you can improve the odds of avian survival by keeping domestic cats indoors.  If feral cats are a problem, deter them with appropriate barriers.

    A chickadee feeds on winterberries.

  3. Hazelnuts for Edible Landscaping

    A bowl of freshly harvested hazelnuts.

    Clusters of autumn hazelnuts look like brown caps surrounded by green, lacy husks. The sweet nuts are a pleasure to pick for drying, roasting, and winter eating, and the attractive trees and shrubs look beautiful in the landscape.

    Hazelnut Basics

    Golden hazelnut catkins appear in early spring.

    Hazelnuts (Corylus spp.) are trees and shrubs that originate from temperate regions across the globe. There are approximately 16 species, but only a few are commonly cultivated. Some varieties are largely ornamental while others are bred exclusively for nut production.

    Female hazelnut flowers are small and reddish.

    Hazelnuts bloom in early spring and their nuts mature by fall. They must be planted in groups of two or more for cross pollination. All are monoecious, meaning a single plant produces separate male and female flowers that are pollinated by wind. The drooping golden male catkins release copious pollen that is caught by the wind to pollinate clusters of small, reddish female flowers. More plantings ensure better cross pollination and fruit production. (Click here for a list of good hazelnuts for pollinizing.)

    Hazelnut Pests and Diseases

    Eastern Filbert Blight—This is the main disease that American hazelnut growers must battle. This deadly systemic fungal disease attacks European hazelnuts and will kill an otherwise healthy tree or shrub in just one or two years.

    Eastern Filbert Blight cankers on a corkscrew hazel.

    It is very easy to identify. Twigs become evenly lined with raised cankers, which look as if a woodpecker pecked along the branches. Diseased branches quickly die, and eventually whole plants will succumb. The best way to beat this blight is to plant resistant hazelnut varieties and species.

    Thankfully, Oregon State University has a hazelnut breeding program geared towards developing Eastern Filbert Blight resistant hazelnuts. American growers interested in growing hazelnuts for fruit should rely on their blight-resistant list when choosing good varieties to grow.

    Kernel Mold—These include several molds that cause rot in the developing nuts of European hazelnuts. The best course of action is to harvest nuts quickly, keep them dry, and choose resistant varieties.

    Filbert Bud Mite—This pest attacks hazelnut flowers in spring—destroying developing nuts. Spraying with an OMRI Listed miticide during flowering time will stop their damage. Some hazelnut varieties are also resistant to this pest.

    More hazelnut pests and diseases exist. Click here for an Oregon State University Hazelnut IPM Guide.

    Types of Hazelnuts

    Common hazelnut trees remain small and manageable.

    Most cultivated hazelnuts for edible landscaping originate from Europe and North America. Common hazelnuts (Corylus avellana) are European shrubs or small trees (10-24 feet) that boast lots of exceptional cultivated varieties for home gardeners. Some are ornamental, but most are bred for nut culture. The best-known is the shrubby corkscrew hazel (Corylus avellana  var. contorta), which has striking curly branches that look lovely in landscapes and cut flower arrangements. Sadly, this exceptional landscape shrub is blight sensitive. Resistant varieties for nuts include the high-yielding ‘Wepster’ and the vigorous ‘Dorris’, which also bears high yields of very flavorful nuts. Common hazelnut hybrids for nuts, such as ‘Eta’ and ‘Delta’, are also recommended.

    Purple-leaf filberts have attractive deep purple foliage.

    The European filbert (Corylus maxima) bears very large nuts. The shrubs or trees (12-33 feet) look great in home landscapes, and there are lots of varieties for ornamental and edible landscaping. The shrubby, purple-leaved ‘Purpurea’ (15 feet) is one of the prettiest. Homeowners interested in more substantial hazelnut trees should grow Turkish hazelnuts (Corylus colurna). The beautiful, large pyramidal trees (40-80 feet) are perfect for home landscapes and produce smaller, sweet nuts in early fall. These blight-sensitive species should be grown in more temperate regions of the American Southwest where Eastern Filbert Blight is not a problem.

    The beaked hazelnut has long, beaked husks.

    The two common North American hazelnut species are both immune to Eastern Filbert Blight. The beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta) is a large mounding shrub to small tree (8-10 feet) naturally existing in forest margins and thickets across the northern US and Canada. It develops brilliant yellow and deep red fall leaf color and tasty fall nuts that are obscured by a beaked papery husk. Over time, beaked hazelnuts may sucker to form thickets, so pruning and thinning is required to keep plants looking tidy. California is home to the western beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta var. californica), which has broader leaves and increased drought tolerance.

    American hazelnuts have small, sweet nuts.

    The American hazelnut (Corylus americana) is an eastern shrub (8-12 feet), which forms mounded thickets that become covered with clusters of small, sweet nuts. These wilder shrubs naturally inhabit upland forests and meadows but require more extensive pruning and maintenance, but they develop equally beautiful gold and red fall color.

    Burnt Ridge Nursery and Stark Brothers are good sources for purchasing hazelnuts.

    Growing Hazelnuts

    Full sun is required for best nut production. Well-drained soils with average fertility and a neutral to slightly alkaline pH are preferred. Plant new trees in spring. Make the hole twice as large as the root ball, and amend the fill dirt with Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost before planting. Keep newly planted trees well irrigated for the first month of growth. Water again in the first season during dry spells. It may take two to five years before hazelnuts begin to produce nuts, depending on size at planting time and type.

    Apply a mulch tree ring around the base of trees to protect them from mower damage, but refrain from mounding mulch around the trunk. Fertilize established trees in spring with food formulated for fruit and nut trees. (Learn more about fertilizing hazelnuts here.)

    Once your plants are productive, you will have lots of fall hazelnuts for baking and eating. You might even want to leave a few for foraging  wildlife.

  4. Spring Bulb Design: Beautiful Pairings

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

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

    The Earliest Spring Bulbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Early to Late Spring Bulbs

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

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

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

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

    Spring Bulb Containers

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

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

    Bulb Care and Planting

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

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

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

     

  5. Native American Roses for Wildscaping

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

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

    Wild roses have pretty fall hips (R. woodsii)

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

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

    Native American Roses

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

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

    Rosa carolina

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

    Rosa virginiana

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

    Rosa blanda (by Cillas)

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

    Rosa woodsii (Image by Doug Waylett)

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

    Rosa palustris

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

    Rosa setigera (Image by Cillas)

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

    Landscaping with Wild Roses

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

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

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

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

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

     

     

     

  6. Pruning Hydrangeas

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

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  7. 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.

  8. 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)

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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