Flower Gardening

  1. 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)

  2. Delicious Gardening with Edible and Ornamental Plants

    Variegated pineapple sage and golden marjoram will brighten up any landscape while also adding valuable flavor to dishes. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Gardening with edible and ornamental plants makes gardening a little tastier and more valuable. Not many of us have the time and space for immense ornamental landscapes any more, but lots of us take great pride in our shrubs, perennials, and annuals.  At the same time, we want to eat better, fresher food, and that urge has led us back to the garden.  Limited space means that we have to grow ornamentals and edibles side-by-side.  Fortunately, it is easy to do, and the results can be just as beautiful as an ornamental-only landscape.

    For most of horticultural history, average people grew food from necessity, with little thought to purely ornamental plants.  Inevitably, though, some gardeners noticed that certain edible plants and herbs sported lovely flowers or foliage that added a dimension to the vegetable garden.  Others even transplanted flowering specimens from the wild into corners of their home vegetable plots.  Eventually, as great civilizations (Egyptians, Ancient Persians and Greeks) grew wealthy, ornamental gardening came into its own, with immense ornamental landscapes designed, constructed, and documented in detail by artists and writers. Gardeners today are able to take the best from both worlds, mixing the edible and ornamental for increased garden value.

     

    Feathery fennel is beautiful and tasty. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Add Ornamental Vegetables

    The vegetable gardener’s mantra—“Grow what you like to eat”—is a good place to start if you have decided to take the plunge and mix some edibles among your ornamental plants.  The feathery fronds of bronze or green fennel make a lovely addition to any garden and also attract swallowtail butterflies, but if you don’t like fennel, growing it may waste space that is better used for other plants.

    Just about everyone loves fresh tomatoes and peppers, which are easy to grow and come in many varieties.  They also thrive under the same conditions as horticultural divas like roses—at least 8 hours of sunlight per day, rich soil and fairly consistent moisture.  The problem is that most tomato plants—especially indeterminate types that keep growing and producing all season–need some kind of support.  Typical wire tomato cages are not the loveliest addition to an ornamental garden.  Solve the tomato problem by training the plants up a simple bamboo stake or decorative tuteur or trellis that can hold its own among the flowering plants.

    This technique not only makes a virtue out of a necessity, but it works for other vining plants like beans, cucumbers, and even squash.  For a lovely garden backdrop, try scarlet runner beans trained up a trellis.  The flowers are a brilliant red and the beans are delicious either raw or cooked.

    Pots of tomatoes and peppers show off the beauty of these valuable garden vegetables.

    For a successful edible/ornamental combination, don’t neglect adequate plant nutrition.  Give both types of plants a good start by enriching your garden soil with a rich soil amendment like Fafard® Garden Manure Blend. Not only will it add needed organic matter for better water-holding capacity, it will also enrich the soil for better overall performance.

    Add Beautiful Fruits

    If fruit is your idea of the perfect edible crop, and you want a beautiful ornamental plant, try growing blueberries (Vaccinium spp. and cultivars).  These shrubs feature lovely pinkish-white, bell-shaped flowers in the spring, followed by neat, green oval-shaped leaves.  The tasty blue fruits appear in early summer and scarlet leaves announce the arrival of fall.  Blueberries like the same acid soil as rhododendrons and azaleas and would complement them well in a mixed shrub or shrub/perennial border.  Smaller varieties can even be grown in containers and can hold their own among the pots of geraniums and snapdragons on a porch or terrace.  The same holds true of strawberries, with their white flowers and brilliant red fruits, grown in the pockets of decorative ceramic or terra cotta strawberry pots.

    Blueberries are attractive, fruitful garden shrubs. Their fall foliage turns scarlet for a late-season show!

     

    Add Ornamental Herbs

    Herbs have long been used as ornamentals.  Purple basil makes a dramatic edging plant at the front of a border and would provide a perfect complement to red/orange marigolds or late summer dahlias.  The strong aroma of the basil also helps deter garden varmints like rabbits and deer.  Pineapple sage, with its variegated leaves makes a lovely filler for a pot of flowering annuals.  The leaves are also the perfect enhancement for a glass of lemonade.

    Purple-flowered cinnamon basil is a dramatic beauty that looks pretty in edible and ornamental borders. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    If your ornamental landscape is mature and already filled with plants, look for “holes” where you can install a few ‘Bright Lights’ chard plants or fill in with low-growing herbs like thyme.  Start small, with a few edibles and then, when the “grow your own” bug bites, increase the number of edibles.  You will be amazed at how well it all fits together.

    Bright Lights chard mingles with Profusion zinnias in this edible and floral border. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

  3. Creative Upcycled Planting Containers

    A pair of old boots make campy and unusual strawberry planters.

    If gardening is the great equalizer, enabling people of all ages and conditions to grow food, flowers, herbs and other plants; then container gardening is a super equalizer.  Making a “portable garden” means that you don’t need to own land, large tools or even significant space.  And, you don’t have to buy fancy containers to make your plants happy; just “upcycle” something you already have.  The only limits are your imagination and foraging abilities.

    An old shoe makes a fun, unexpected container for New Guinea Impatiens.

    Upcycled planting containers make gardening more fun, and they cost nothing. All you need, in fact, is something that holds soil, good potting mix, seeds or plants, sunshine, water, and you have an instant container.  Plant some zinnias in an old dishpan or grow a mess of tomatoes in a repurposed bathtub.  One restaurant reuses commercial-size olive oil cans to house billowing basil plants whose leaves are ultimately harvested and used in various dishes.  Irish gardener/garden writer Helen Dillon uses dustbins—trash cans—to hold plants in her Dublin garden.  Spackle buckets work well, and more than one gardener has pressed an old pair of boots into service as a sturdy container.  The list of recycling opportunities is endless.  In fact, almost anything that will hold soil can be converted to a planter.  People have been recycling old tires and wine barrels to make planters/raised beds for decades.

    Upcycled Container Rules

    An old sink gets painted and planted into a fun container garden.

    There are only a few rules when it comes to recycled containers.  The first is fitting the container to the plant.  A large hibiscus might need the ample space provided by an old wicker laundry basket, while a small herb plant or a succulent can grow well in a cut-off plastic detergent bottle.  When choosing a container to recycle, think about the amount of space the chosen plant might take up if it were in a garden bed.  Make sure the container is deep enough to accommodate the plant’s root system and as wide as the plant’s mature diameter.  Plant tags should provide you with this information.

    The recycled container should be clean, since residue from its original contents might be harmful to plants.  A thorough cleaning with a 10% (1:10) solution of household bleach and water, plus a good rinse should be fine for most would-be planters.

    Container Care

    A weathered trough gets a face lift when filled with beautiful mixed bedding plants.

    Container-grown plants also have some specialized nutritional, water, and drainage needs.  Make sure your repurposed containers have drainage holes at the bottom.  If making holes is impossible, fill the bottom quarter of the container with coarse pebbles topped by a layer of charcoal (available in garden centers).  Provide good nutrition from the beginning by investing in high-quality potting media, like Fafard® Ultra Potting Mix with Extended Feed or Fafard® Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed.

    Pay attention to your chosen plants’ light requirements and position the containers accordingly.  Remember that “full sun” means six or more hours per day of direct sunlight, and even plants labeled as “good for shade” need a continuous supply of indirect or filtered light.

    Mixed petunias and bright lavender paint add charm to an old claw foot tub. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Overwatering is the number one cause of container-grown plant death.  Check plant tags or internet resources for water requirements.  Many plants only need water when the soil is dry an inch or two below the surface, but some, like primroses or hydrangeas, prefer evenly moist soil at all times, especially when weather is hot and dry.  Plants that are outdoors during drought periods may need water every day and should be checked frequently.

    Check Recycling Day

    Clever gardener/recyclers are always on the lookout for potential planters.  If your town has a “bulk pick-up day”, when larger discarded items are picked up for disposal, the perfect plant container may be waiting on a curb in your neighborhood.  Check your garage and attic.  A forgotten corner may harbor a perfect plant container.  The supermarket is also full of future plant pots, especially if you buy items like oil, condiments or canned goods in large sizes.  Look for promising shapes and sizes first, as many recyclable containers can be painted or embellished to suit your indoor or outdoor décor.

    Most of all, have fun.  The perfect recycled planter is probably closer than you think!

    An out-of-service toilet can make a humorous but effective planting “pot”. (image by Jessie Keith)

  4. “Cannatainers” or Cannas for Container Gardening

    Canna ‘Striata’ graces the center of an impressive patio pot. (Image by Mike Darcy)

    Cannas emerge from dormancy and hit the horticultural market in late winter and spring, so now is the time to get the show started. Numerous varieties are available from on line and local nurseries, either as potted plants or as bare-root rhizomes (the technical name for the thickened underground stems that give rise to all that splendiferous summer growth).

    Newly purchased plants should be grown indoors in a suitable potting mix until danger of frost has passed, such as Fafard Professional Potting Mix.  Ten- to twelve-inch plastic pots and a two-inch planting depth work well for this initial, indoor growth phase.  For their outdoor, summer home, cannas need containers of a grander and more massive order planted in a water-holding mix, such as Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix.  An 18-inch-plus clay or ceramic pot (or something in the way of a cast iron urn) is ideal.  Large wooden or terra cotta planters also work well.  Simply knock the plants out of their temporary, indoor containers and place them at the same depth in their outdoor quarters.  Then stand back and watch the fireworks happen (making sure to water liberally and fertilize regularly through summer).

    Although spectacular on their own, containerized cannas make an even more extravagant statement if combined with other heat-loving plants.  For example, the flowers and foliage of gold- and red-hued Coleus provide a striking foil for the sunset foliar tones of Canna ‘Phaison’ (right).  The possibilities are practically limitless, given cannas’ wide range of floral and foliage colors.

    When choosing cannas for container gardening, the sky’s the limit. For a lavish summer display on a less colossal scale, use a “dwarf” canna cultivar such as ‘Pink Sunset’, which offers dazzlingly variegated leaves and soft pink flowers on 3-foot (rather than the usual 5- to 10-foot) plants.  Or you can go the other direction and opt for something outrageously gargantuan such as the banana canna, ‘Musaefolia’, a Victorian-age behemoth that towers to 14 feet.  A bathtub of a container (and lots of water) is recommended.

    Cannas slow their pace in fall, requiring reduced water as they gradually die back to their rhizomes.  Dormant plants can be moved indoors, pot and all, for the winter, or the rhizomes can be lifted and stored in paper bags in a well-ventilated location.  Either way, cool temperatures (below 60 degrees F) are best for storage.

    In early spring, move containerized cannas to a warmer niche and water sparingly until growth resumes.  Split overwintered bare-root rhizomes into divisions of 3 or more “eyes” (the red, swollen growth points spaced along the rhizomes), and plant them in containers (as described above).   And start planning this year’s summer spectacular.

    An orange-flowered ‘Wyoming’ Canna looks in the back of a pot of tall red cannas and elephant ear. (Image by Pam Beck)

  5. Miniature Water Lily Pots for the Patio

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    The white pygmy water lily is tiny and perfect for container culture.

    Nothing is more cooling in summer than a water garden filled with water lilies. Lack of space and resources for a garden pond keep most gardeners from growing these beautiful aquatic flowers, but what if a pond isn’t needed? Spacious troughs or large pots without drainage holes can be converted into small water gardens for miniature water lily varieties. If you have a partially sunny patio, deck, or flat garden space that can take the weight of a water-filled pot, you are set!

    Choosing a Container

    stone pot with leaves of water lilies

    Any deep, spacious, water-tight pot will hold miniature water lilies.

    Water lily pots have to be large and spacious, so start with choosing a container that’s at least 15-18 inches deep and 24-40 inches wide. This will give you enough water-holding space for your lilies and their roots.

    Pots must be water tight. Specialty “no hole” pots designed for aquascaping are sold, but you can also fill line large pots with pond liner, which is often the cheaper option. Simply cut the liner to a round that will fit in your pot and fit it snugly along the inner lip of the pot. Its helps to apply a strong, non-toxic adhesive along the edge to keep it in place.

    Choosing Miniature Waterlilies

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    The yellow water lily ‘Helvola’ is a classic compact variety that grows beautifully in containers.

    True miniature water lilies are so tiny that some even have flowers the size of a quarter. Many are pygmy waterlily (Nymphaea tetragona) variants, which are very hardy—surviving winters as cold as USDA Hardiness Zones 4-11, with good protection. They come in a suite of colors that include ivory, pale yellow, pink, and red. The best for home gardens are easy to find online or in specialty stores.

    One of the tiniest miniatures is the white pygmy water lily (Nymphaea tetragona ‘Alba’). The hardy plants reach 18 to 24 inches across and sport tiny white flowers that float alongside teensie white flowers. Another beautiful white-flowered variety with much bigger, tulip-shaped flowers but a small growth habit is ‘Hermine’.

    The peach-pink-flowered ‘Berit Strawn’ (Nymphaea ‘Berit Strawn’) has larger flowers (3 to 4 inches) and pads of deep green with some reddish mottling. The tiny plant is perfect for container growing, is very hardy, and will bloom nonstop from early summer to fall. Plants will spread between 24 and 30 inches.

    white lotus flower in pots

    ‘Hermine’ is a stunning, white-flowered miniature water lily.

    One of the smallest red-flowered miniatures is ‘Perry Baby Red’ (Nymphaea ‘Perry Baby Red’). Its rosy red flowers compliment dark green pads. Plants spread 12 to 36 inches.

    An old classic mini water lily is the hardy ‘Indiana’ (Nymphaea ‘Indiana’). Its tricolored, 2- to 3-inch flowers are in shades of rose-red, yellow, and orange. The diminutive plants have a spread of 12 to 28 inches and small green pads with reddish spots.

    One of the best yellow-flowered water lilies is the cheerful ‘Yellow Pygmy’ (Nymphaea ‘Helvola’). Flowers are only a couple of inches across, but they are bright and pretty. Plants reach 18 to 36 inches across.

    There are lots of great sources for miniature water lilies. Lilypons and Texas Water Lilies are good sources that offer quality selections.

    Planting Waterlilies

    Nymphaea 'Pygmaea Helvola' JaKMPM

    Water lily ‘Helvola’ in full bloom. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Water lilies grow from fleshy tubers that must be grounded in smaller pots sunk below the surface of your water container. Choose a wide, shallow plastic pot that will fit in the bottom of your container while providing plenty of head space. Planting depth can be 5 to 24 inches from the water surface. Pots should be placed where they can get 6 hours of sun per day or more.

    Line the pots with porous but tight-knit plastic burlap. The base soil should consist of a 3:1 mixture of heavy loam and Black Gold Garden Compost Blend. The compost and soil must be well combined before planting. Finally, add a small amount of a slow-release, all-purpose fertilizer to the mix. Over fertilization can cause algal bloom.

    Sink the tuber into the soil, so the top of the plant meets the soil line. Once it is planted, line the top 2 inches of the pot with pea gravel to help keep the soil and plant in place. Place the pot on the bottom on the container and stabilize a flat, 1 to 2 inch thick rock along one side of the pot, so it sits at an angle; this helps with gas exchange for healthy root growth. Gently fill the pot with clean tap water to a depth a couple of inches below the lip of the pot.

    Maintaining Potted Waterlilies

    Lotus and lotus leaf background.

    Clean, fresh water is important to the health of potted water lilies.

    Keeping the water clean in your water lily pot is important. Remove any debris that falls in the water, and cut old leaves from your water lilies. Refresh the water regularly as it recedes. Small- to medium-sized water pots don’t need aeration filters.

    Water-filled containers cannot be allowed to freeze in winter, even if your water lily is hardy. Freezing and thawing can also cause containers to crack. The best course of action is to drain the container before the first freeze of the season, remove the lily pot (being sure to cut back the leaves), and store it in a water-filled bucket in a cool place. Water lily tubers should be divided every two to three years.

    Water lily pots are colorful, impressive, and will brighten any summer garden spot. If you want the tranquil beauty of a pond without all the work and hassle, plant one this season.

  6. “Bad” (Invasive) Garden Perennials and Safe Substitutes

    Lythrum salicaria JaKMPM

    Purple lythrum looks pretty in the garden but beware this dangerous invasive flower. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Some perennials have major territorial issues.  Give them an inch, and they’ll take a yard – or at least a good chunk of it.  Allow them a toehold, and their rampant root systems or prolific seedlings will likely haunt your garden for years to come.

    Of course, such perennials don’t limit their thuggery to the garden; they also can spread (usually by seed) into nearby natural areas, out-muscling native vegetation.  For the scoop on the worst offenders in your region, check your state’s list of banned invasive species.  But keep in mind that many species with serious boundary issues don’t appear on most state banned lists.  Even if it’s not listed by your state (as is probably true of the species described below), the perennial that’s captured your heart might have designs on taking over your garden.

    Lysimachia punctata JaKMPM

    Yellow loosestrife is pretty but a garden thug. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Baptisia sphaerocarpa 'Screamin' Yellow'

    Yellow wild indigo has characteristics similar to yellow loosestrife, but it is tame. (Image by Russell Stafford)

    Just about any list (state or otherwise) of takeover perennials is likely to include a few that go by the common name “loosestrife.”  Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) – the perennial that ate the Northeast (as well as several other regions) – is the textbook example.  Close behind, however, are several species in the genus Lysimachia.  Many a gardener has regretted falling under the spell of the arching white spires of gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides).  Lovely in bouquets, this East-Asian native is a rambunctious bully in the garden, spreading rapidly via fleshy white underground shoots (known as rhizomes).  A far wiser (and better behaved) choice for perennial borders is milky loosestrife (Lysimachia ephemerum), which forms 3-foot-tall, gray-leaved clumps surmounted in summer by candles of frothy white flowers.

    Also too vigorous for most gardens are yellow loosestrife, Lysimachia punctata, and fringed loosestrife, Lysimachia ciliata (usually grown in its purple-leaved form, ‘Firecracker’).  Both make good candidates for damp, isolated niches where they have room to romp.  Yellow wild indigo (Baptisia sphaerocarpa) and its hybrids (including ‘Carolina Moonlight’) would be a better choice for situations where good manners and 3-foot-spires of bright yellow, early-summer flowers are desired.

    Rudbeckia laciniata JaKMPM

    Rudbeckia laciniata is pretty but aggressive. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Quite a few other yellow-flowered aggressors are commonly grown (and virtually ineradicable) in gardens.  Almost all perennial sunflowers (Helianthus), for example, are rapid colonizers with tenacious questing rhizomes.  If the mellow yellow blooms of Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ beguile you, you might want to opt instead for Silphium mohrii, which produces summer daisy-flowers of an even softer pastel-yellow, but on 4-foot-tall plants that stay in place.  Another popular splashy yellow summer-bloomer to avoid is the double-flowered Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Golden Globe’ (also known as ‘Hortensia’).  Take a pass on this common pass-along plant (there’s always plenty of it to share thanks to its romping rhizomes), and seek out its mannerly look-alike, ‘Goldquelle’.  Also often passed along are some of the more assertive yellow-flowered members of the evening primrose tribe (including Oenothera fruticosa and Oenothera tetragona).  These might best be passed by in favor of arguably the largest-flowered and loveliest hardy Oenothera, Missouri primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa).

    Missouri Evening Primrose is not fast spreading.In contrast, goldenrods (Solidago) often get tagged with the “invasive” label, even though many of them are model citizens with arresting late-summer flowers.  Stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida) holds dense, flat heads of lemon-yellow flowers above handsome clumps of gray-green foliage, while the equally fetching showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) carries steeples of bright yellow blooms on burgundy-red stems.  As for the canard that goldenrods cause hay fever: they don’t.

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    Physostegia virginiana ‘Miss Manners’ is tidy and clump forming unlike the spreading species. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    The common name of Physostegia virginiana – obedient plant – also gives the appearance of a canard, given the relentless rhizomes of this Central U.S. native.  The moniker, however, refers to the mauve-purple, turtlehead-shaped flowers that line its 3-foot-tall spikes in late summer.  Push an individual flower into a new position, and it compliantly stays put.  The white-flowered cultivar ‘Miss Manners’ departs from other physostegias in possessing obedient flowers AND rhizomes.  Its flower color is also more compatible.

    The domed flower heads of garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) share the adaptable, milk-white coloration of ‘Miss Manners’.  This prolific ornamental onion isn’t so good at sharing space, however.  Neglect to deadhead its late-summer blooms, and it will populate much of your garden with seedlings.  The somewhat earlier blooming Allium ramosum also bears showy (and sweet-scented) heads of white flowers atop 18-inch stems, but without the resulting seedling swarm.

    Three more invasive perennials to steer clear of (and suggested substitutes) include:

    1. Plants sold under the botanical name Adenophora, which almost always are the fiendish, tuberous-rooted Campanula rapunculoides.  Use peach-leaf bellflower (Campanula persicifolia) or great bellflower (Campanula latifolia) instead.
    2. Yellow archangel, Lamium galeobdelon.  Rather than unleashing the garden-variety species on your yard, substitute its cultivar ‘Herman’s Pride’, which offers even handsomer silver-splashed foliage, sans the infinite spread.
    3. Butterbur (Petasites).  Yes, the romping colonies of immense, heart-shaped leaves are captivating, but the thick rhizomes will not stop until they’ve occupied every square millimeter of available soil.  A Ligularia or Rodgersia will give the same foliage effect without commandeering the whole neighborhood.
    Petasites hybridus

    Butterbur will take over a shade garden in no time. (Image by Russell Stafford)

    Whenever you plant a mannerly perennial in your yard, be sure you know its soil needs. Fortifying soil with needed amendments will result in better overall performance. We suggest Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost, for starters. Although these and quite a few other perennials are too rampant for most garden areas, they might work in an isolated niche (such as a driveway island) where nothing else will grow, or in an informal planting (such as a cottage garden) that features plants that can fend for themselves.  “Right plant, right place” is a garden maxim that never goes out of style.

  7. New Garden Flowers for 2017

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    Cosmos ‘Cupcakes’ is a hot new introductions for 2016. (Image care of Fleuroselect)

    People who believe there is nothing new under the sun have never looked at spring garden catalogs.  Every year plant retailers bombard gardeners with pages of the new and different—or at least the slightly new and the somewhat improved.  2017 is no exception.

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    Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ (image care of Fleuroselect)

    Familiar themes abound—color is king, with variegated or uniquely colored foliage augmenting floral displays.  Rebloom leads the roster of “most desirable traits” for both perennials and annuals.  Old standbys have shrunk into compact sizes that are perfect for containers and smaller garden spaces. Stalwarts, like cosmos and sunflowers, appear in new blossom shapes and colors, allowing plant lovers to set off a few garden fireworks without burning down the establishment.

    New Flower Forms

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    Echinacea PUFF™ Vanilla (Image care of Terra Nova Nurseries)

    Fleuroselect, the international organization for the ornamental plants industry, dubbed 2016-2017  “The Year of the Cosmos”.  Several of these come in brazen new forms. Of these, the double white Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Mini Click White’ won the coveted Fleuroselect Novelty award for 2017. Even more striking is Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Cupcakes’, which has cupped petals that resemble cupcake papers of white and pale pink.  The seed-grown ‘Cupcakes’ have variable flowers that sometimes have an extra row of smaller inner petals. Another unique Cosmos for the market is the Fleuroselect Gold Medal winner ‘Xanthos’, which not only has uniquely colored pale-yellow flowers but a compact habit and good performance.

    The familiar perennial coneflower takes on a new floral appearance with the domed, fully double Echinacea PUFF™ Vanilla, a ivory-flowered hybrid new for 2017 that blooms throughout summer with double anemone-type blooms. The Terra Nova Nurseries introduction also boasts a compact habit.

    New Compact Flowers

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    Agastache Acapulco Deluxe® Rose (Image care of GreenFuse Botanicals)

    Agastache, or hummingbird mint, has proved to be a favorite perennial for attracting hummingbirds to its colorful, reblooming flowers.  Many good varieties have appeared on the market, but diminutive cultivars in the Acapulco Deluxe® series stand out, with the brightest being Acapulco Deluxe® Rose. It offers vibrant flowers of deepest rose (orange in bud) on fragrant, compact, container-friendly plants reaching 12 inches tall and wide. The plants are also heat and drought tolerant!

    Another tough perennial now available in a more manageable size is Blue Jean Baby Russian sage (Perovskia atricplicifolia ‘Blue Jean Baby’) features gray-green, aromatic, deer-resistant foliage and relatively short stature (2 feet), which can be further controlled by cutting plants back after they bloom.

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    Dianthus Supra Pink F1 (Image care of AAS Winners)

    This year introduces a true reblooming fragrant Dianthus for 2017, Dianthus Interspecific Supra Pink F1! The compact bloomer reaches 10-12 inches and blooms nonstop from spring to fall, no deadheading required. Its outstanding performance awarded it a coveted AAS award for 2017!

    If you decide to grow any of the new, compact annual or perennial varieties in containers, start them off right by filling those pots, window boxes and troughs with quality potting mixes, like Fafard® Ultra Potting Mix with Extended Feed or moisture retentive Fafard® Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed.

    New Flower Colors

    Plant breeders continue to love bi-colored flowers and peach shades.  A perfect example is Tagetes ‘Strawberry Blonde’, a marigold with the familiar pompom shape and petals blushed salmon pink, with golden overtones.  Like all marigolds, it reblooms throughout the growing season and works equally well in containers and garden spaces of all sizes.  Another peachy bloomer is Viola ‘Mariposa Peach Shades’, an annual pansy adorned with ruffled flowers in the yellow/orange range.  It provides early and late season color that is welcome in climates with cool springs and falls.

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    Echinacea Butterfly™ Rainbow Marcella (Image thanks to Plants Nouveau)

    The past ten years have seen a stampede of new perennial coneflower introductions.  This year, with peach tones in the ascendant, one of the best is the Plants Nouveau introduction, Echinacea Butterfly™ Rainbow Marcella. Its colorful single flowers have brown cones surrounded by pinkish-peach petals.

    Zinnias have exploded in both popularity and petal count.  One of the most unusual of the new zinnias are those on the Queen Lime Series. The Johnny’s Selected Seeds exclusive Zinnia ‘Queen Lime with Blush’, sports pale pink and lime green petals and a central blotch of maroon.  Like all tall zinnias, it is easy to grow, and reaches 30 to 40 inches tall.

    Lisianthus ‘Roseanne II’ (image care of Sakata Seed)

    Lisianthus ‘Roseanne II’ (image care of Sakata Seed)

    The Rose-like lisianthus usually comes in shades of violet-purple  and white but the unusual Eustoma grandiflorum ‘Roseanne Deep Brown’ is a remarkable rich purple-brown.  The complex color complements the sun-loving plants that reach 32 inches in height and have great stems for cutting.

    Breeders have had a field day with perennial coreopsis or tickseed in recent years, creating versions of this low-growing perennial that boast larger flowers, more repeat blooms and a wider color range.  The traditional yellow has been augmented by eye-catching pinks, reds and bi-colors.  The new Uptick™ Series by Darwin Perennials, features three varieties.  ‘Cream’, ‘Yellow and Red’, and ‘Gold and Bronze’.  The last two bear yellow or gold petals with darker red or bronze eye zones.  Shearing after bloom speeds the rebloom cycle for all varieties.

    Annual sunflowers play their own parts in the joyful bi-colored act.  Among them, Helianthus annuus ‘Florenza’ stands out, with pale to medium yellow petal tips giving way to rings or eye zones of dark red that surround the black flower centers.  The stems are short, topping out at about 32 inches tall and the flowers refuse to droop.

    Celosia Asian Garden (image care of AAS Winners)

    Celosia Asian Garden (image care of AAS Winners)

    The unusually bushy  feather Celosia ‘Asian Garden’ is another fabulous performer with impressive color that is listed as a 2017 AAS winner. Bred by the Japanese breeding company Murakami Seed, it produces endless plumes of purple-red above purple-leaved plants all summer long, even in the worst heat. Perfect for cutting gardens, it is also drought tolerant.

    New Shade Flowers

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    Dicentra ‘Amore Pink’ (Image care of Terra Nova Nurseries)

    Shade gardeners sometimes feel slighted because so many flowering plants love sun. This year there is reason to rejoice, as revitalized versions of reliable shade plants strut their stuff in new colors, shapes and sizes.  Ajuga or bugleweed, a perennial favorite groundcover, loves shade, doesn’t mind being stepped on and spreads effectively to cover hard-to-cultivate areas.  Breeders have taken ajuga and turned its traditional blue flowers into Ajuga ‘Pink Lightening’, a Sunny Border Nurseries introduction.  Variegated leaves steal the show even after flowers have faded.

    Bleeding heart, or Dicentra, is another spring shade lover, with pendulous heart-shaped flowers and deeply dissected leaves.  Newcomer Dicentra ‘Amore Pink’ has blue-green foliage and large pink “hearts”.  It is also compact–nine inches in height and only 12 inches tall.

    And in the new flower celebration, gardeners should never forget hellebores, which have been all the rage for at least a decade. ‘Dark and Handsome’, a Helleborus orientalis hybrid from the Wedding Party™ Series, offers both unusual color—near black—and numerous large, semi-double flowers.  With consistent moisture and a shady site, these dark-cloaked newcomers will establish themselves as stars of the spring garden party.

  8. Smart Vegetable Garden Resolutions—6 Steps to Success

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    A well-planned, well-tended vegetable garden will give the best yields and most satisfaction.

    Vegetable gardening woes can be rectified with good planning and smart garden resolutions. Last year the weeds took over, you didn’t feed or water enough, you didn’t mulch that bed, or start that new raised bed you’ve been dreaming of for years. Never fear! It’s a New Year! Time to troubleshoot and plan to make this year’s veggie patch better than ever.

    When it comes to smart garden planning and success, experience is everything. Being a part of a large, bountiful community garden for the past 12 years has given me the opportunity to watch new and seasoned gardeners in motion. Not surprisingly, the seasoned gardeners always have well-planning, productive, weed-free plots, while new gardeners haphazardly start their plots in spring and end up with weed patches by midsummer.  In time, novices committed to success learn to turn their beds around through guidance from the old timers and pros. Here are a few of pro tricks to add to the resolution list. Commit to these, and you can’t go wrong!

    1) Plan

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    Good planning, spacing, and crop succession are essential for vegetable garden success.

    Truly productive beds are planned in advance with the seasons in mind. A good planning strategy starts with knowing when plants bloom and produce, and timing your garden to sequentially bloom and remain productive and pretty through the year, if possible.

    IMG_5948 (1)For vegetable growing, you must learn your cool season and warm season vegetables to correctly plan your beds. Knowing the window of productivity and days to harvest (number of days it takes for plants to be harvestable from seed) for a given plant is essential. Here are basic tables showing some of the most common cool season vegetables, warm season vegetables, and their average days to harvest. Use these when plotting spring, summer, and fall vegetable patches. Warm-season vegetable must be planted after the threat of spring frost has past. The Old Farmers Almanac frost dates are standard. (Keep in mind that many crops can be grown all season where summer temperatures are cooler. Fast-producing crops with few harvest days can be grown repeatedly throughout the growing season, if temperatures allow.)

    Click for table of Cool Season Crops for Spring and Fall and Warm Season Crops for Summer

    2) Design & Plot

    Freeman Garden raised beds for Darcy

    Raised beds make planning and care easy.

    The best vegetable gardens are designed and planned each year to consider space, light, succession cropping, and rotation. Choose a full-sun location, decide what you want to grow, and plot your beds to allow enough space to meet your gardening goals. Investing in raised beds can make the process easier, otherwise, establish your bed lines and pathways and maintain these yearly.

    Next, determine where crops will be planted incrementally in spring, summer, and fall. Designing and planning your garden for the full growing season will help you stay in budget, time seeding and planting (Click here to view Johnny’s Seeds handy seed-starting date calculator.), and plan for harvest, preservation, and storage. When designing your beds, consider the space needed for crops, their overall heights, and include space to add cages and trellises, as needed.

    Crop succession is another essential practice. Some crops must be rotated yearly, so consider what crops will succeed the next. For example, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potatoes are heavy feeders that commonly harbor soil-borne pests and diseases, so they must be succeeded by fortifying crops, such as peas or beans, the following year. Legumes, like peas and beans, replenish essential soil nitrogen.

    3) Feed Your Soil

    Garden Manure BlendHappy plants must have good soil. Organic matter is the number one addition sure to increase crop yields. Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost and nitrogen-rich Garden Manure Blend are two top-quality amendments to increase soil health and improve plant production. The addition of an OMRI Listed all-purpose fertilizer approved for organic gardening will also increase plant vigor, yields, and keep common nutrient deficiencies, such as leaf chlorosis or blossom end rot in peppers and tomatoes, from appearing.

    For raised beds, we recommend the addition of OMRI Listed Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Soil, which contains RESiLIENCE, an all-natural, water-soluble silicon additive for plants that encourages better root growth, earlier flowering, increased stem diameter, and longer time before wilting. Mix this soilless medium in with quality topsoil at a 1:2 ratio for reliable vegetable performance.

    4) Manage Weeds

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    Grass clippings are free and make excellent natural mulch for vegetables.

    Save yourself major weeding time by applying thick organic mulch for weed control. Compost is a great choice for vegetable garden mulch in addition to seed-free hay, grass clippings, and leaf mulch. Compost should be applied directly around plants while coarser organic mulches are better for walkways and melon and squash beds.

    Organic pre-emergents are also recommended to stop weed seeds from sprouting in the first place. Just be sure not to sprinkle them where you plan to direct sow seed. Corn gluten, the most common of the natural pre-emergents, works by inhibiting root growth in newly sprouted seeds.

    When calculating amendment needed for a particular area, use the following formula:

    Amendment Application Formula

    ([area to cover] ft2 x [depth in inches desired] x 0.0031 = ___ yd3).

    Example: If you wanted to cover a 20 square foot area with 2 inches of compost, the result would be: 20 ft2 x 2 inches of compost x 0.0031 = 2.48 yd3.

    Of course, nothing beats regular hoeing and hand weeding for effective weed control. Monitoring and scratching and digging weeds weekly is the best way to keep them in check, and good tools make the job easy.

    5) Invest in Good Tools

    Good tools are a must for all garden tasks, whether you are weeding, digging, or pruning. Quality tools may cost a bit more up front, but they will last much longer and perform better.

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    Garden knives are great all-around gardening tools. (image from Gardeners Supply Company)

    For hand weeding, nothing beats the classic ho-mi (hoe-mee), also called the Korean hand plow or cultivator. This sharp, downward-facing tool can get to the base of a dandelion root in seconds with a quick chop, chop, chop. It also pays to invest in a trusty garden knife (also called a soil knife or Japanese hori-hori). These can cut into the soil to deep roots below and saw through the bases of tough plants. They are even useful for harvesting greens and digging root crops. One side of the knife is sharp for slicing and the other is serrated for sawing. The classic Cobrahead hand weeder and cultivator it also a nice, effective, well-made weeding tool. It has a sharp, curved head for fast digging and hand hoeing.

    A heavy duty hoe is a necessity for larger weeding jobs. The Prohoes by Rogue are great tools that are so well made, they will last for years. And, for digging and planting, a good spade is a must. Of these, the sharp, all-steel King of Spades pro nursery spades is so tough it will last a lifetime.

    Most established gardens will tell you that Felco makes the best pruners and loppers on the market. Pruning and harvesting is fast and easy with these sharp, Swiss-made bypass pruners.

    Keep your tools clean and sharp for best performance. A 5-gallon shop bucket filled with moistened sand is recommended for dipping tools in for easy cleaning. Handy garden tool sharpeners are also on the market. At the end of the season, apply mineral oil to clean tools to prevent corrosion.

    6) Commit to a Time Schedule

    Gardens need committed care. Regular scheduling of tasks is required for gardening success. Plan to harvest, weed, and water at least twice weekly. (Click here for good watering tips!) During hot and dry periods and high-growth windows, plan to add more time to assess water and plant needs. In no time, your schedule will become habit, your garden will become your passion, and you find yourself there whenever time allows.

    One trick to making any garden a pleasurable oasis is to create a spot where you can sit, sip a drink between weeding. Pick up a cheap patio table and chairs, add a sun umbrella, and make space for them in your garden.

    Renewed hopes and fresh ideas for the New Year offer new chances to make your garden amazing. In most parts of the country, gardeners have a plenty of time to reshape their garden plans and set their resolutions in motion before the weather warms up. So grab your seed catalogs, and get planning.

    (Click here to get more garden planning tips!)

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    Place a table and chairs in your vegetable garden for a place to sit and rest between tasks.

  9. Houseplant Reboot

    Begonia 'Irene Nuss' (Superba Group)

    Some houseplants, such as this Begonia ‘Irene Nuss’, will continue to bloom through winter with good care.

    Images by Jessie Keith

    If your houseplants could talk, they would tell you that they like natural daylight—the kind you get outdoors—better than artificial light of any kind.  They might also say that the winter-time humidity level in your house is too low.  They hope that the compensatory misting you give them does something good for you, because it doesn’t help them very much.  Neither does the overwatering that they get from time to time.  In the midst of saying those things, some of them might yawn, as winter is a time when many houseplants’ growth cycle slows.

    What do your plants want in the winter?  The following will help keep them in good shape until spring sets in and growth cycles start anew.

    Tidying Up

    Anthurium 'A4' (PACORA™) PP11728

    Wipe down the leaves of large-leaved plants, such as this Anthurium, if they become dingy or dusty.

    Your plants, especially those that have summered outside, probably could use a little TLC.  Prune out weak stems, and cut back those that are too gangly.  If the plant has glossy leaves, like a gardenia, gently wipe the foliage with a damp cloth to eliminate pore-clogging dust.  Check stems, leaves, root ball for pests.  Many can be dislodged with a stream of water or application of insecticidal soap. If the plant is pot bound, repot with fresh media, like Fafard® Professional Potting Mix, in a clean container that is about one third larger than its predecessor.  Winter will not bring much growth, but it won’t bring strangulation either.

    Light

    Clivia

    Clivia are midwinter bloomers that need bright indirect light for good flowering.

    If you are blessed with a lighted greenhouse, all you have to do is find appropriate spaces for houseplants that prefer a bit of shade.  But if you, like many gardeners, have to rely on windowsills, try to put most of your plants in south-facing ones.  This may be too much for some popular indoor varieties, like African violets or fancy-leaf begonias.  Save areas with bright indirect light, like north-facing windows for them. Be sure to rotate your houseplants regularly to even out light exposure and avoid lopsided growth.

    Fertilizer

    In general, fertilize plants when they are in active growth.  For most plants this means little or no feeding in late fall and winter.  The caveat is that you should know your plant.  If it is a winter bloomer, it may need fertilizer during the colder months.  A little research on individual species will ensure that you fertilize properly for winter blooms.

    Humidity

    Calathea lancifolia

    Low humidity caused the leaf edges of this Calathea lancifolia to turn brown and dry.

    Houseplants like higher humidity—generally 40-50 percent— than the average indoor environment provides in winter.  If all your plants are in a single room, think about investing in a humidifier.  The added moisture in the air will be good for you, the plants and any wooden furniture in the immediate area.  If a humidifier is not an option, fill deep plant saucers with pebbles and water and stand the plants on them, making sure that the bottoms of the pots are not standing in water.  Replenish the water around the pebbles every few days or as needed.  If plants are grouped together and each stands on a bed of pebbles and water, the humidity level around them will be comfortably high.

    Watering

    Agave victoriae-reginae 'Variegata'

    Succulents, such as this variegated Agave, need very little water in the winter months.

    Overwatering is the most frequent cause of houseplant death.  Fortunately, it is also the most preventable.  Before you water, take a look at the plant.  Is the top inch of the soil dry to the touch?  If you pick up the container, does it feel relatively heavy or light?  If the specimen in question is a succulent, it is best to water them very sparingly in winter. If your plant appears to be too dry, gently feel a leaf or two.  Thirsty succulents tend to have slightly flaccid leaves.

    If the plant is dry, water thoroughly, until water flows out of the holes in the bottom.  Deep watering once or twice a week in the winter is much better for overall health than adding a little water every day. Some houseplants, such as African violets and Streptocarpus, need to be watered from the bottom to keep their leaves from getting wet; moisture on the leaves causes spotting and damage.

    Temperature

    Pilea cadierei JaKMPM

    Tropical plants like this Pilea need warm temperatures to grow well indoors.

    The majority of popular houseplants like the same indoor temperatures as the majority of humans. Like us, they also prefer to avoid extremes.  An ambient temperature around 70 degrees F are generally good. If you house your plants on windowsills, don’t let leaves touch the cold glass panes.  Avoid positioning them over radiators too.  Intermittent cold drafts from doors, windows or vents can also be harmful.

    Languishing

    Kalanchoe blossfeldiana JaKMPM

    Flowering potted plants may languish when you first bring them indoors for winter. Give them good care and they should revive.

    In late fall or early winter, houseplants that have spent the summer and early fall outdoors often languish while adjusting to lower light, less humidity and fewer daylight hours.  If the plant is in the right light situation and receiving adequate water, it will adapt and recover after a few weeks.  That does not mean that your plumbago or oleander or prize geranium will behave like the blooming fool that it was in the summer.  It means that it will live to dazzle you again when warm weather returns.  The same may hold true with houseplants that you purchase from a nursery, garden center or other retailer.  Many have been raised under near-ideal conditions and will need adjustment time as they get used to your particular indoor environment.

    1760FF Pro Potting Mix 2cu RESILIENCE FrontHouseplant care follows the same rules as care of any other kind of plant.  If you are observant, the plant will generally tell you what it needs.  Watch for signals and respond accordingly.  If the soil is too wet, cut back on watering.  If leaves appear burned around the edges, move the plant to a place with less light.  About the time you are feeling droopy due to winter blues, your plants may be similarly afflicted.  If you have given them good care, both you and the plants will recover as the hours of daylight increase.

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    Streptocarpus are houseplants that should be watered from the bottom and kept just moist in winter, never wet.

  10. Ornamental Seed Heads for Winter Garden Interest

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    The seedheads of Rudbeckia fulgida stay looking pretty into winter and will even hold the snow. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Winter is the garden’s quiet time, when its subtler charms hold sway.  It’s the season of the three B’s – eye-catching bark, colorful berries, and architectural branching – and of evergreen foliage.  And it’s also the time to appreciate the marvelous and often beautiful diversity of seed heads.

    Miscanthus sinensis ssp. condensatus 'Cabaret' JaKMPM

    Miscanthus sinensis var. condensatus ‘Cabaret’ (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    No plants better exemplify this beauty than grasses.  Many produce large, elaborate flower heads that reach their full glory in fall and winter as the seeds ripen and scatter.  Doubtless the best known of the bunch (at least in eastern North American gardens) is Chinese maiden grass, Miscanthus sinensis.  This variable East Asian native produces huge, plumy, silvery flower heads in late summer on 5- to 8-foot talks that erupt from fountain-like clumps of arching leaves.  The ripening blooms gleam in the slanting fall and winter light, glowing most brightly when backlit by the sun.  Among the many outstanding varieties of Chinese maiden grass are the longtime favorite ‘Gracillimus’ and its descendants, all of which feature narrow leaves with silvery midribs.  Broad, yellow, widely spaced bands mark the leaves of ‘Zebrinus’, which is floppier in habit than the similar ‘Strictus’.  The broad-bladed, variegated Miscanthus sinensis var. condensatus ‘Cabaret’, has cream-striped leaves and reddish plumes that dry to silvery tan in fall.  Compact cultivars such as the 40-inch-tall ‘Adagio’ make a good choice for tighter spaces.  This (and other) grass species may self-sow, particularly in warmer parts of its USDA Zones 5 to 9 hardiness range.

    Other notable grasses of winter interest (and of similar hardiness range) include:

    The North American native Panicum virgatum (commonly known as switch grass), which produces hazy clouds of dainty pale flowers that darken as they ripen in fall.  Most varieties grow to 4 feet or more.

    Cortaderia selloana 'Silver Comet'

    Cortaderia selloana ‘Silver Comet’

    Fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides), instantly recognizable by its large foxtail-like flower heads on 3-to 4-foot stems above finely textured mounds of narrow leaves.  Several dwarf cultivars (including ‘Little Bunny’) are available.

    The upright, tassel-flowered Calamagrostis acutiflorus (feather reed grass), with bronzy blooms that mature to beige tones as they mature in late summer and fall.

    Cortaderia selloana (pampas grass) is an imposing tender grass surviving in USDA hardiness zones 8-10. The tall plumes reach 8-12 feet and appear late in the season. It can seed freely, so be cautious where you plant it.

    Panicum virgatum 'Prairie Sky' JaKMPM

    Panicum virgatum ‘Prairie Sky’ in winter (Image by Jessie Keith)

    These and most other ornamental grasses flourish in relatively fertile, not overly dry soil and full sun.  A good nitrogen-rich soil amendment (such as Fafard Garden Manure Blend) will help bring heavy or sandy soils up to snuff.

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    Purple coneflower seedheads eventually shatter as their seeds are eaten by birds, but they do offer pleasing winter interest. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Like grasses, many broadleaf perennials have attractive seed heads that make a pleasing sight in winter (particularly when displayed against a blanket of snow).  Among the best perennials for winter interest are species in the aster family that bear persistent conical heads of dark seeds.  The near-black central cones of perennial garden favorite Rudbeckia fulgida remain long after the last golden-yellow petals of its summer-to-fall ray-flowers have dropped.  Usually sold under the name ‘Goldsturm’, it’s one of a tribe of similar ‘black-eyed Susans” from the central and eastern United States.  All are easy-care sun-lovers, are hardy from zones 4 to 10, and have a penchant for self-sowing.  Rudbeckia nitida, by contrast, has greenish cones (with yellow petals) on stately, 4- to 6-foot stems, and is a less enthusiastic self-sower.

    Also hailing from prairies and meadows of central and eastern North America are several species of purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea and others).  The large brown “cones” protrude pleasingly from the snow on 2- to 4-foot stems, and also look nice in summer when fringed with purple-pink ray-flowers.  Hybrids and selections of purple coneflower come in a host of flower colors, from white to red to yellow.

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    Tall sedums continue to look attractive in the garden well into winter. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    The North American prairies are home to several other perennials that make great winter garden ornaments.  The silver-white, spherical flower heads of rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) ripen into spiky globes that resemble some sort of miniature medieval weaponry.  They cluster atop 3-foot stems that arise from rosettes of fleshy, spiny, yucca-like leaves.  False indigo (Baptisia australis) and its kin are big bushy legumes that produce blue, white, or yellow pea-flowers in late spring and early summer, followed by peapods that become leathery and brown-black as the seeds mature in fall.  All make wonderful low-maintenance perennials with spring-to-winter interest.

    Attractive seedpods are also a feature of the many butterfly weeds (Asclepias spp.) that dot the prairies and fields of eastern and central North America.  The pods split in fall to release seeds that float away on tufts of white down.  Orange-flowered Asclepias tuberosa is one of the best, as is Asclepias purpurascens, which has rose to purple blooms. Tall Sedums (Sedum spp.) of all types also grace the winter with seedheads that can remain attractive through winter.

    Garden Manure BlendSweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora) is one of numerous Clematis species (including many shrubby and vining perennials native to central and eastern North America) that bear seeds with plumy, silver-white appendages that continue to draw onlookers long after their flowers have fallen.   Heavy-blooming plants appear to be enveloped with a feathery froth as the seeds (and their plumes) mature.  As with all of the above (as well as the scores of other perennials, shrubs, vines, and trees with ornamental seeds), they’re essential elements of the winter garden, and splendid accents for fall and winter flower arrangements.