Tag Archive: Elisabeth Ginsburg

  1. Beating Tomato Pests and Diseases

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

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

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

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

    So who are these enemies of the tomato?

    Tomato Fungal Diseases

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

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

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

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

    Tomato Bacterial and Viral Diseases

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

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

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

    Tomato Pests

    Tomato hornworms are one of the most voracious tomato pests!

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

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

    Other Tomato Problems

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

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

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

    So…What Can You Do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  2. Flowers for Coastal Gardens

    Rugosa rose is one of the classic hardy garden plants for coastal gardening.

    The phrase “coastal gardens” evokes a host of memorable images, billowing daisies flanking gray-shingled cottages, bright “dune roses” blooming against an ocean background, or pots of brilliant red geraniums on a wooden pier.  North America has an abundance of coastal areas that are home to a wide array of coastal gardens.

    The rewards of coastal gardening are many.  So are the challenges.  Weather can be dramatic and unpredictable.  Wind is unrelenting in some locations, and occasionally ferocious.  Plants close to the water may be pelted with salt spray.  The soil tends to be either thin, rocky or sandy, with a notable lack of nutrients to support plants.  Despite all that, flower lovers won’t be denied.  The following are a few annual, perennial, and shrub suggestions for common coastal situations:

    Coastal Annuals

    Verbena bonariensis produces tall wands of purple flowers and tolerate high wind.

    In summer, plant drought-tolerant annuals tolerant of salt spray that will provide a steady supply of flowers until the first frost strikes.  Tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis) is perfect for this, with its tall wands of violet flowers, as is red salvia (Salvia coccinea), which has flowers in shades of red, white, or salmon pink. You might also consider colorful geraniums (Pelargonium hybrids) with beautiful foliage and flowers in bright shades that will tolerate coastal salt spray. (In climates with mild winters, Pelargoniums will survive as perennials.)

    Pelargoniums are perfect for coastal gardens.

    Portulaca or moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora) flowers last only one day, but the low-growing plants make up for that by producing new blooms each morning. Like the grandiflora species, ornamental Portulaca oleracea, also called “purslane”, or, less poetically, “little hogweed”, features the same coastal-garden-friendly traits: growing low, spreading, and producing colorful flowers.  Grandifloras have slender, almost needle-like leaves, whereas oleraceas feature rounded, fleshy leaves.

    Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) is another seaside beauty with spreading mounds of sweetly scented flowers that are typically white, but also come in shades of pink, lavender, and apricot. Plant them in containers or alongside taller annuals and perennials.

    Coastal Perennials

    Many Delosperma species thrive in coastal gardens, but their cold hardiness varies.

    Windy sites call for low-growing plants.  Think of flowering alpines or rock garden specimens.  In the spring, perennial creepers like moss pink (Phlox subulata) and small spring bulbs like ‘Minnow’ daffodils (Narcissus ‘Minnow’) and grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum) work well. Those living in warmer climates can rely on African lilies (Agapanthus spp.) with their tall clumps of strap-like green leaves and tall wands of purple, lavender, or white flowers.

    Later in the spring, the aptly named sea thrift (Armeria maritima) provides winsome pink or white flowerheads, and also naturalizes nicely.  It is also cold hardy, a bonus in cold weather climates with daunting winter winds.

    Armeria maritima

    Another mid- to late-spring bloomer available in a range of colors is ice plant (Delosperma spp.), a low grower with daisy-like flowers and creeping succulent foliage.  There are many species with variable hardiness, but most thrive in coastal gardens.

    Midsummer coastal perennials include blanket flower (Gaillardia x grandiflora), with their deep red and yellow blooms. And, if you love purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) and their kin, you are in luck! These summer bloomers will thrive in lean coastal soil and are available in a wide variety of colors and sizes.  They pair well with another drought-tolerant, mid-border plant, yarrow (Achillea millifolium). Colors range from white through to yellow, gold, terra cotta,  pink and red.  The foliage is delicate and fern-like.

    Gaillardia x grandiflora

    Later in summer, Montauk daisies (Nipponathemum nipponicum) keep the daisy show going, bearing big, yellow-centered daisies on 2- to 4-foot plants.  Montauks are mid-border flowers that tend to have ungainly “legs” after the first year, so be sure to prune them back to 1 foot in the spring to maintain bushier growth and denser fall flowering.  Plant lower-growing species in front of them.

    Numerous species and varieties of sedum (Sedum spp.) or stonecrop (Sempervivum spp.), now all the rage in horticultural circles, provide flowers and other visual interest in summer and fall.  Stonecrop flowers are not usually dramatic, but they are attractive as they sprawl along the ground.

    For a taller and showier succulent, try a Hylotelephium, formerly part of the Sedum genus.  The best known is the dusty-rose-flowered ‘Autumn Joy’, which grows about 18 to 24 inches tall and blooms in late summer or fall.  Its flattened flowerheads are also excellent for drying.

     

    Coastal Flowering Shrubs

    Shrubby cinquefoil is a coastal shrub with golden summer blooms. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Many beautiful garden roses are simply too delicate for coastal situations, however, anyone who has ever vacationed on the Atlantic coast has probably seen the roses people call “dune roses” or “beach roses”.  This tough, reliable rose is Rosa rugosa, which originates from Japan but has naturalized across many North American coastal regions.  Rugosas feature five-petaled blooms in white, pink or dark rose, and wrinkled or “rugose” green leaves.  The stems are extremely prickly.  After the blossoms fade, rugosas develop large, tomato-like hips that are both decorative and edible.  Leaving them on the plants provides additional visual interest and food for birds and small animals.

    Another common coastal shrub is shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa). In summer, it produces loads of yellow flowers on bushy plants that are tolerant of wind and salt. White and orange-flowered cultivars also exist.­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

    Planting Coastal Flowers

    Portulaca grandiflora (Image by Jessie Keith)

    For exposed areas subject to almost constant wind, trees or lines of tall shrubs can act as effective windbreaks to improve gardening  but may be hard to establish.  Another option is a sturdy fence or wall, but these can be inappropriate to a site or vulnerable to weather damage. Your best bet it to look at what other gardeners in your area have successfully established as windbreaks and follow suit.

    When challenged with sandy or rocky coastal soil, amend beds with good soil or amendments, to keep moisture from draining away so quickly.  Start by filling those growing spaces with Fafard Premium Topsoil, which will provide much-needed nourishment to your hungry plants, and finish off with an ample amount of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. Another option is to grow your coastal plants in containers or raised beds filled with Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix.

    Echinacea hybrid (Image by Elisabeth Ginsburg)

    When planting your coastal plants, start with good-size plants and install them in spring, so that they have ample time to acclimate to their surroundings before winter weather sets in.

    There are many other flowers fit for coastal conditions. When it comes to selecting flowering plants for your unique coastal garden, the best advice is to look at nearby properties and see what does well.  Ask managers of local garden centers and nurseries for expert opinions on the flowering plants that sell best in your particular area.  The oldest rule of thumb—“right plant, right place” is especially apt in coastal gardening.

  3. Managing the Six Worst Garden Animal Pests

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Managing the Worst Garden Animal Pests

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

    Fence ‘Em Out

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

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

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

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

    Groundhogs are destructive and their large burrows are a hazard!

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

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

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

    Repellents

    Voles will damage roots, bulbs, and tubers.

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

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

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

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

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

    Plant Resistant Plants

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

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

    Strategies to Avoid

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

    Read the Fafard disclaimer here.

  4. Gardening Tips for Dog Owners

    Garden borders and paths can make it easier to teach dogs to stay out of beds.

    You love your dog.  You love your garden.  Sometimes, though, your dog and garden just don’t get along, and it is harder to feel the love.  The dog follows his instincts and digs, pulls up plants, romps over delicate specimens and relieves himself in the wrong places.  You follow your instincts and get frustrated.

    What can you do?

    As with all things related to gardening, a little planning can prevent a lot of mayhem.  Make a few adjustments to accommodate dog and animal priorities, and you can transform the garden into a place where both the resident gardener and the resident canine can feel comfortable.

    Paths

    Create garden paths or raised bed borders to keep straying humans and dogs out of beds and borders.  Paved walkways are the best way to prevent muddy paws, but fine gravel or mulch will also work.  Avoid cocoa bean mulch, which can be toxic to dogs.

    Training

    Dogs are diggers, so train them early to avoid garden digging.

    Famed dog trainer, Barbara Woodhouse, famously said, “Dogs aren’t born knowing what or what not to do; they only learn like children.”  Invest in proper training for your four-legged “child” so that the two of you can work together to set boundaries—literally and figuratively—for garden behavior.  Training works best when you start on a puppy, but even older dogs can benefit, especially from a skilled trainer.

    Training does not have to be expensive.  A wide array of available books, videos and apps can guide you through gentle, effective ways of training your dog.  No matter what method you choose, the cost of training beats the trouble and expense of repairing your landscape when your furry friend misbehaves.

    Planting

    Some plants are more attractive to dogs than others, so choose canine-proof plantings.

    Use tough plants along paths and other canine traffic areas and plant densely, because bare earth invites canine curiosity, mischief and digging.  Enrich the soil every time you plant by using a quality amendment like Fafard® Garden Manure Blend to encourage thick, leafy growth.

    Ornamental grasses, compact shrub varieties, and even sturdy, clump-forming perennials like big-root geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum) can withstand the occasional trampling or the occasional exuberant full-body roll and survive intact.  Low boundary fencing may also help separate pets from plants.

    Avoid planting species and varieties with sharp prickles or spines, and keep toxic plants confined to areas that are off limits to your dog.  For a list of toxic indoor and outdoor plants, go to the ASPCA website on toxic plants (click here to view) or read our article about the 12 Most Poisonous Plants to Avoid for Kids and Pets.

    Relief

    Dogs also need places to relieve themselves.  If you don’t set aside those dedicated spaces and train the dog to use them, dog waste will harm your lawn and garden.

    Distractions

    Keeping dogs distracted and well exercised will help them lose interest in your beds.

    A bored canine is an unhappy canine.  Keep some favorite dog toys in your garden basket or cart and use them to entertain the dog while you plant, weed, and water.  Taking a moment to give your dog a chewy toy or throw a ball is much better than watching him munch the stems of your prize coneflowers and daisies.

    Exercise

    The author’s dog, Brodie, romping in a dense, practically dog-proof bed of loosestrife.

    Humans get flabby and unhappy without sufficient exercise, and dogs are no different.  Walk your dog at least forty-five minutes every day, or hire someone else to do so when time is at a premium.  Space permitting; install an enclosed dog run in a corner of your yard, with a latched gate and appropriate shelter for dogs that stay outside for long periods.  A dog that gets regular exercise is less likely to tear up the iris bed or uproot the tomatoes.

    One of the most celebrated gardener/dog lovers was the late English plantsman, Christopher Lloyd, who rarely set foot in his garden at Great Dixter without his faithful dachshunds.  Less famous gardeners agree that canine companionship is good for the psyche and may also deter plant predators like rabbits, groundhogs and deer.  Even if your dog only wags his tail at rabbits and groundhogs, if he is happy, chances are you will be happy, and the garden will be a better place all the way around.

  5. Technicolor Gardening: Vibrant Garden Flowers

    Colorful Benary’s Dreamland Zinnias are lined with deepest blue edging lobelia.

    Sometimes gardening life is just a little too pastel and predictable.  A day dawns when all those pale pinks, powdery blues, and dreamy pale yellows look washed out, and you yearn for exuberant flowers that pop out of beds and containers with bursts of bright color.  By adding a few “technicolor” flowers with deep, saturated colors, you can create explosions in the garden without scaring the neighbors. (Those same neighbors will probably also enjoy the bees, butterflies, and other pollinators drawn to your vibrant blooms.)

    Adding technicolor flowers is easy.  In each season, chose a few of your favorite flower types—coneflowers, pansies, dahlias, chrysanthemums, or zinnias.  Search garden centers and mail order vendors for the brightest varieties of those favorite plants.  Insert new flashy specimens into existing planting schemes or create new borders or container arrangements devoted to bright colors.

    Colorful Spring Flowers

    ‘Flaming Parrot’ tulips add big color to spring gardens. (Image by American Meadows)

    Start the technicolor spring parade by using the brightest tulips in expected—and unexpected—places.  Red and orange flowers or mixes of red-orange and yellow, make for garden excitement, especially against the fresh greens of plants that are just leafing out.  Think about the brilliant orange tulip, ‘Orange Emperor’ or the red-orange/yellow sparkler ‘Banja Luka’, a giant Darwin hybrid.  ‘Flaming Parrot’, with bright yellow petals striped in red, is stunning.

    Violas in the Sorbet series come in lots of saturated colors. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    For containers, border fronts and other smaller spaces, search out orange pansies and violas and pair them with darkest purple varieties.  ‘Jolly Joker’ features the orange/purple combination in a single blossom, making flower selection that much easier.  Single pots of extremely showy varieties, like the yellow and black-striped Viola ‘Tiger Eye’ also provide a colorful thrill. And, any of the violas in the Sorbet Series are sure to add big color to spring containers.

    Another low-growing, cool-season container annual that’s big on color are nemesias. Those in the Sunsatia® series are more heat tolerant than most and will continue looking good into summer. For vibrant color, try Nemesia Sunsatia® Blood Orange, with its masses of deep orange-red blooms, or the deepest red Sunsatia® Cranberry.

    Colorful Summer Flowers

    Mexican sunflower is a tall summer annual with bold color.

    Strong summer sunlight favors vivid colors and the possibilities are endless.  Instead of plain yellow or orange marigolds, try something a little different, like Marigold “Harlequin’, with striking red and yellow petals. Marigolds offered in new color combinations of rose, apricot and yellow, like the new French marigold ‘Strawberry Blonde‘, are also unusually colorful.

    The arresting Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) grows up to 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide, throwing out scores of intense orange blooms.  Pair it with ‘Black and Blue’ salvia for an eye-catching color experience.

    Tall zinnias of all kinds lend bright color to garden borders.

    If you normally grow zinnias, dial up the brightness with Benary’s Giant tall zinnia (Zinnia elegans) varieties that feature a host of saturated colors and large blooms that banish boredom in the garden or the vase. The bold plants reach up to 4 feet, so be sure to give them plenty of space. If you want something a little shorter, the equally colorful zinnias in Benary’s Dreamland Series only reach 1 foot. These are complemented with an edge of vibrant blue edging lobelia (Lobelia erinus Laguna® Dark Blue).

    Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) are another old summer favorite that can ignite horticultural flames.  The Candy Showers mixed snapdragons cascade, making them perfect for hanging baskets, and they bloom in bright yellow, orange and red.  The butterfly snapdragon mix Chantilly Summer Flame are also uncommonly vibrant with their open flowers of dark apricot, deep orange and vermilion red. Use them singly or mix the varieties for a technicolor blast. But, any old tall snapdragon variety will add big color and height to the summer garden.

    Red coneflowers like ‘Hot Lava’ make the summer garden a little hotter.

    Coneflower (Echinacea spp.) lovers can now choose from a wide range of colors, including vivid purples, acid greens, incandescent oranges, and saturated reds.  The most colorful include ‘Colorburst Orange’, with fluffy double flowers that are green at the center; torrid ‘Hot Lava’, boasting big, red-orange blooms; and ‘Dixie Belle’, with bright pink petals.  Perennial coneflowers have many virtues, including the ability to bloom more than once in a growing season, and they attract bees and butterflies.

    What about shade?  Don’t miss out on dramatic color just because your garden or container array sits in partial shade.  Big New Guinea impatiens can rescue a boring landscape with repeated flower production in magenta, red and orange.  Team these large impatiens with chartreuse-leafed coleus varieties for color impact.

    Colorful Fall Flowers

    The brilliant dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ blooms best in fall.

    There is a lot of color available from early September through first frost.  Dahlias come into their own as the season winds down and the number of technicolor varieties is large.  Try the classic red-flowered ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, which also features contrasting dark stems and leaves.  Varieties bred from ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ and sometimes labeled “Bishop’s Children”, combine the trademark dark foliage with vibrant petal colors.  For something a bit larger, the huge, red-orange dahlia ‘Caliente’ is as hot as its name, and it makes a dramatic duo with the likes of the orange/yellow ‘Flamethrower’.

    Garden mums, which are reliably hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 5-9, are another foolproof source of saturated color.  The red and yellow ‘Matchsticks’ with spoon-type petals, works well planted at the feet of dwarf goldenrod, like ‘Little Lemon’ (Solidago ‘Little Lemon’).  ‘Cheerleader’, a large-flowered “football” mum, features bright orange-amber petals.  Pair it with dark purple ‘Grape Queen’ and round out the fall season on a high, clear, bright note.

    Brightly colored New Guinea impatiens will bloom beautifully until frost.

  6. Growing Scented Geraniums

    Citronella-scented geranium deters mosquitoes.

    In the centuries before sewers and daily bathing were common, rank odors were everywhere.  That is probably why Europeans were so excited when scented geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) first arrived from their native South Africa in the early 17th century. With aromatic leaves exuding the fragrance of roses, citrus, or spice, the plants were immediately pressed into service as weapons in the ongoing battle against undesirable smells.

    Scented Geranium History

    Some of the earliest scented geranium specimens were shipped to Holland by the Dutch East India Company and found their way into the hands of Dutch plant breeders, who propagated and cross bred them.  Rose-scented types, especially the intensely fragrant Pelargonium graveolens ‘Attar of Roses’, were eventually produced in mass quantities for the perfume industry.  By the Victorian era, the number of varieties had exploded, and the fragrant plants had become garden and conservatory staples.  After a dip in popularity in the 20th century, the attractive and intoxicating plants are enjoying a renaissance, with 80 or more varieties available from specialty nurseries, like Mountain Valley Growers.

    Scented Geranium Types

    Apple scented geranium has a delightful scent good for potpourri.

    Scented geraniums are members of the Pelargonium genus, just like the common backyard and window box flowers that gardeners have loved for generations.  In the case of fragrant types, tiny hairs on leaves and stems produce the various characteristic scents.

    The plants are loosely grouped into five fragrance categories, including: rose, citrus, mint, spice and “pungent” (with overtones of camphor, eucalyptus, or other strong, woodsy or medicinal aromas).  The rose, citrus, and mint fragrances seem to be the strongest, with others like apricot and chocolate, registering more subtly.  A fifth category, oak-leaf, comprises varieties bred from the Pelargonium quercifolium species, featuring oak-like leaves that bear distinctive, sometimes citrusy, or pungent scents.  In all cases, the scents are most noticeable when you rub leaves between your fingers, or brush by the plants on a sunny day.

    While common geraniums are grown for their big, showy flowerheads, scented types feature smaller blooms and rely largely on the allure of sweet-smelling leaves.  Those leaves vary from small and deeply dissected, like those of the classic lemon-scented P. crispum , to the scalloped and almost tomato-like foliage of the heavenly-smelling P. graveolens ‘Rober’s Lemon Rose’.  Plants can be relatively slender and erect, or short and squat, and some varieties may sport variegated leaves.  A few, like P. x fragrans ‘Logeei’, feature a cascading habit that works well in hanging baskets.  The unscented flowers bloom in shades of cream, pink, red and purple, with bi-colored varieties marked with contrasting blotches.

    Some of the most popular scented varieties include: Pelargonium graveolens ‘Lady Plymouth’, with large, cream-edged leaves and a rose fragrance; P. ‘Citronella’, with a lemon scent that is reputed to repel mosquitoes; P. graveolens ‘Old Fashioned Rose’, with purple flowers and an intense rose fragrance; P. fragrans ‘Old Spice’, reminiscent of the famous men’s cologne, and ‘Apple’, with a distinctive fruity aroma.

    Growing Scented Geraniums

    Pelargonium graveolens comes in rose-scented varieties.

    Scented geraniums are easy to grow and can get along well in a sunny window in cold winter climates.  Most appreciate a summer vacation outdoors—either in containers or garden beds– beginning when night temperatures rise above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

    To grow these fragrant plants, start with a good potting mix, like Fafard® Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed, lightened with an equal amount of Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost.  Unglazed clay pots work better than plastic ones, allowing the soil to dry out more quickly.  Water only when the top of the soil feels dry.  Fertilize bi-weekly with 1/2 teaspoon of water soluble fertilizer per gallon of water.  In winter, when plant growth slows, discontinue fertilizing.  Prune plants periodically to maintain fuller growth.

    The Victorians found that fresh rose or lemon geranium leaves added distinction to foods.  The flavors are not overwhelming, but lend delicate notes to cakes, custards and other baked goods.  Bury leaves in a closed sugar container for a few days and then use the flavored sugar to enhance the taste of teas or cold beverages.  Elsewhere in the household, dry the leaves until crumbly to hold their scents in sachets and potpourris.

    As landscape plants, scented geraniums work especially well in herb gardens, containers, and raised beds.  For maximum enjoyment, position them close to paths or entry areas, where visitors can brush the leaves and liberate their unique fragrances.

    It is thought that geraniums’ scented leaves evolved as a defense against plant predators.  Many centuries later, they attract plant lovers.

  7. Starting School Gardens

    Children harvest vegetables in a Delaware school garden.

    What do famed chef, Alice Waters, celebrated anthropologist Jane Goodall, and actress Meryl Streep have in common? All support school gardening initiatives that not only teach children how to grow food, but serve as outdoor learning centers and launch pads for lessons in everything from math to creative writing. From the Julien Elementary School Garden in Turlock, California, to Matty’s Garden at the Matthew Whaley Elementary School in Williamsburg, Virginia, the Edible Schoolyard movement is spreading like summer crabgrass. School gardens of every size, shape and composition are springing up in urban, suburban, and rural school districts all over the country.

    Celebrity endorsers and patrons are nice but not necessary to start a successful school gardening program. The critical components are adult vision, student involvement, and the ability to muster enough resources to establish and sustain the garden. If you think you can combine those elements, you are ready to get started.

    It Takes a Village

    School gardens are one of the best teaching tools for kids.

    School gardens often start with a single person: a parent, teacher or administrator with a passion for gardening. But, no one—especially not a successful school garden organizer—gardens alone. Start by engaging others, including school personnel, parents, and students. Work on refining the garden idea.  Listen to everyone. Define the purpose of the garden and what kinds of crops you want to grow. Successful school gardens often combine food and ornamental crops, with the ornamentals providing visual appeal and attracting essential pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. (Click here to learn how to create a butterfly garden.) Use some of the many online school gardening resources to help in the planning process.

    Choosing a Site

    A good school garden site should have quality soil.

    Gardeners and gardening educators know that location is everything. Pick a sunny space on school property and make sure that space is reasonably close to a reliable water supply. If the soil in the designated spot is extremely compacted or contaminated, amend the soil with a quality amendment, like Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. You might also think about using raised beds or containers filled with high-quality planting mix like Fafard® Natural & Organic Potting Soil. Large, well-watered containers will also work beautifully if the only available site is covered in asphalt.

    Plan and Permission

    Vegetables thrive in a school garden.

    Before seeking approval from school authorities, your team should develop a clear, logical plan that includes as much of the stakeholders’ feedback as possible, plus practical and logistical considerations.  The plan should also include a mission statement and information about the garden’s purpose, goals, size, and proposed location.  Create estimates of the necessary resources—financial and human—needed for set-up and ongoing operation.  Focus on maintenance, making sure to include provisions for watering and upkeep during periods when school is not in session.  (It may help to recruit a team of volunteers to help with upkeep.) Your goals may be lofty, but keep the overall plan simple and present it in a positive way with as many stakeholders present as possible.  Be responsive to school authorities’ concerns and be prepared to make plan revisions.

    Funding

    You are going to need funding for garden supplies and seeds or starter plants.  Many school gardens start with a contribution from the PTA or other parent organization.  Local businesses may also be willing to donate supplies or at least provide discounts. Dedicated, well-publicized fundraisers are another possible funding avenue.

    You can also seek out grant opportunities, some of the best being offered by Kids Gardening. This exceptional kids’ gardening program also offers additional educational resources to help educators and parents start school gardens.

    With all of these pieces in place, you should be able to start a thriving school gardening program. There’s no better way to help kids learn and get them outdoors.

  8. Eight Hard-to-Kill House Plants

    Cast iron plant is one of the toughest house plants available.

    The best house plants add a lot to life without adding extra hours to the day because they require as little fuss as possible. Their benefits are most notable in winter when the need for green, living things is the greatest. Only plastic plants are completely un-killable, but the following “hard-to-kill eight” need little, give a lot and thrive under normal household conditions.

    Aloe vera

    Aloe vera is tough and grows best in full sun.

    A cut Aloe vera leaf exudes a substance that soothes minor burns, a quality that has made this succulent plant a longtime kitchen staple. Its other virtues include an attractive clump of erect, grey-green leaves with serrated margins that are complemented in summer by tall spikes of tubular yellow flowers. Aloes increase freely by offsets or “pups”, creating new plants that can be separated from the mother plants and given away to friends and family. Best of all, the plants accomplish all that on a minimum of water and care.

    Place your aloe in bright, direct sunlight (at least 6-hours a day) and water only when the soil surface is dry. Plants can withstand partial sun, but they will perform poorly in shade. When moving aloes outdoors in summer, slowly acclimate them to full sun conditions to avoid leaf scald.

    Spider Plant

    Spider plant is reliably beautiful and can take a beating.

    A favorite since Victorian times, spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) works well on tall plant stands or in hanging baskets that allow the perky “spiders” (offshoots of plantlets) to cascade over the sides. The long, slender leaves, which also help purify indoor air, may be all green or striped with white or yellow and arch gracefully outward. Tiny white summer flowers are a nice bonus, as are the stems of young spider-like plantlets that form at the flowering nodes.

    Detach and pot separately when the plantlets reach about 2-inches across, or keep them tethered to the parent plant and place each “spider” atop a small pot filled with soil-free mix.  It will root readily.  Spider plants thrive in bright, indirect light.  Water regularly but do not allow their soil to become too wet.

    Christmas Cactus

    Christmas cactus is tough but requires good care for flowering.

    The familiar Christmas or holiday cactus (Schlumbergera spp.) is sometimes also called “crab cactus” for its spreading growth habit.  An epiphytic (tree-dwelling plant) cactus with arching, segmented leaves, it produces claw-like flowers of vivid red, pink, orange, cream, or purple at the ends of the stems in late fall to midwinter.  These are true cacti, though they lack sharp spines.

    Holiday cactus will flourish as long as they receive bright light and their yearly watering schedule is met. After flowering, plants should be watered very minimally for a period of three months. Then from mid-spring to summer, water them regularly when the soil feels dry down to 2-inches depth; in this time they will put on a new flush of foliage. In early fall, place them in a cool place and reduce watering once more, until you see flower buds develop on the plants. Then keep them regularly irrigated again until flowering ceases.

    Sansevieria

    When snake plants become too root bound, divide them.

    You may call it “snake plant” or even “mother-in-law’s tongue”, but whatever the common name, Sansevieria trifasciata is an indoor standby.  Its bold, lance-shaped foliage stands erect, generally reaching about 2-feet tall in sunny indoor situations.  If your snake plant summers outdoors, place the container in full sun to light shade.  The leaf markings that inspired the “snake” nickname are gray-green against a lighter green background.  Though it rarely happens indoors, sansevieria produces greenish white flowers in spring, followed by orange berries later.  The plants appreciate regular watering from spring to fall, but reduce watering significantly in winter.

    English Ivy

    Variegated forms of English ivy are extra pretty and just as tough.

    Outdoors, English ivy (Hedera helix) can be lovely, but virtually uncontrollable. Grown indoors in containers, it has better manners. Numerous cultivars, including many with interesting variegation and smaller leaves, are available from garden centers. Because of its expansive nature, ivy works well as filler for large containers or in hanging baskets.  As with many other houseplants, it prefers bright indirect light.  Watering should be regular and the potting mixture should not be allowed to dry out.  When the ivy becomes too unruly, simply trim it to shape. Vines need to grow to a great height to flower and fruit, so indoor specimens never flower.

    Jade Plant

    Jade plants perform best in full to partial sun.

    The jade plant (Crassula ovata), sometimes called “jade tree” because of its gray trunk-like stems, is actually a branching, succulent shrub from southern Africa. The plump, glossy, oval-shaped leaves are its chief glory, and sometimes have a slight reddish tinge. Indoor jades will occasionally produce small, starry, pinkish-white flowers as well. Container grown specimens may reach up to 30 inches tall and prefer bright light indoors and partial shade outside. Water when the soil feels dry down to a finger-length depth.

    Golden Pothos

    Vining golden pothos is very hard to kill.

    Golden pothos (Epipremnum aureum) is a striking foliage plant with big, heart-shaped leaves, marbled in golden-green.  In the wild, it is a vigorous climbing vine, but as a civilized houseplant, it grows no more than 6- to 8-feet tall.  If you want it even smaller, it can also be kept in check by periodic trimming.  Because of its good looks and vining nature, the big-leafed plant is useful for hanging baskets, plant stands, and large containers.  Bright indirect light, evenly moist soil, and occasional stem pinching will keep it full and healthy.

    Cast Iron Plant

    True to its tough nickname, cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior) can survive shade, neglect, and climate conditions that would send many other plants into fatal swoons. Like spider plant, it was beloved by Victorians and is still a hit today. With green or variegated lance-shaped leaves that sprout on long petioles or leaf stems, mature aspidistra may grow to 2 t0 3 feet tall and wide. The plants grow slowly and flower infrequently indoors.  If flowers appear, they are purple and lurk near the plant’s base.  Aspidistras grow best with regular watering but will survive with little moisture.

    Care and Feeding

    Hard-to-kill houseplants need little help to look great, if you start with good care.  Average house plants require a  high-quality mix like, Fafard® Professional Potting Mix or Fafard® Ultra Potting Mix with Extended Feed, to ensure good growth and success.  Established plants should be fed intermittantly with a diluted all-purpose fertilizer.  More succulent house plants, like aloe, snake plant, jade, and Christmas cactus require mix with excellent drainage, so lighten consider lightening the potting mix with equal amounts of perlite or bark.  Succulents are accustomed to lean rations and need little additional fertilizer.

  9. 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.

  10. 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)