Tag Archive: Russell Stafford

  1. Swallowtail Butterfly Gardening

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

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

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

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

    Swallowtail Caterpillar Host Plants

    Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

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

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

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

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

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

    Eastern Black Swallowtail

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

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

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

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

    Spicebush Swallowtail

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

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

    Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar (Image by Greg Schechter)

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

    Pipevine Swallowtail

    The pipevine swallowtail has showy blue lower wings.

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

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

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

    Eastern Giant Swallowtail

    Citrus are the favorite host plant of eastern giant swallowtail.

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

    The eastern giant swallowtail caterpillar.

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

    [Click here to get great butterfly garden designs!]

     

  2. Four Hardy Fruiting Vines for Edible Landscaping

    Concord grapes are an old-standard hardy grape.

    Hardy fruiting vines bring together two of the hottest trends in horticulture: edible landscaping and vertical gardening.  They are the perfect choice for grow-it-yourself gardeners with limited square footage and a tasty way to clothe a pergola or trellis or provide rapid aerial cover.

    Although many hardy fruiting vines will ramble for 30 feet or more if left untamed, with proper training they will fit (and fruit) quite nicely on a 10-by-10-foot trellis.  A few even make excellent subjects for large containers.  If you’re looking to add something vertical and edible to your garden, consider one of the following winter-hardy vines, all of which thrive in full sun and humus-rich soil.  They also benefit from a spring top-dressing of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost and Garden Manure Blend.

    Maypop

    Maypop fruits turn yellowish orange as they ripen.

    Native to the Southeast United States, this hardy passionflower brings a tropical look to the edible garden.  A suckering, herbaceous vine, it returns from the ground in spring and rapidly climbs to 20 feet or more via coiling, clasping tendrils.  Large, showy, lavender-blue flowers appear in summer. Each bloom is fringed with frilly, thread-like segments that surround a central array of large, club-shaped pistils and anthers.   Pale-green, egg-shaped fruits with gloppy, tart-flavored flesh ripen in late summer and early fall. They are best used to make tasty jam or jelly.

    Maypop needs a long growing season to fully ripen its fruits.  It thus requires a warm microclimate or other coddling to bring it to harvest in the northern fringes of its hardiness range (USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 10).  Where the growing season is impossibly short, grow it in a large container (as described below for Actinidia kolomikta).  Move the container from winter protection to a warm sunny frost-free location in April, and place it outside in full sun after the final frost date.

    Hardy Grapes

    A variety of red grape varieties are uncommonly hardy. (Image by Patrick Tregenza)

    Time was when tasty table grapes (Vitis spp.) were a near-impossibility in regions such as the Northeast and Midwest United States.  No longer.  Beyond old-fashioned ‘Concord’ grapes (USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9), numerous outstanding hardy varieties have entered horticulture in the past few decades, including ‘Swenson Red’, whose seeded fruits are large and sweet with hints of strawberry; and ‘Somerset Seedless’, which bears small, juicy, flavorful grapes that ripen orange-red in late summer.  Both are reliably hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8.

    For optimum production (and compact growth), allow your grape vine to develop only one or two main stems, pruning out any other shoots that develop from the base.  Remove all weak, congested, or out-of-bounds side-growth that develops from these main stems, leaving only a well-spaced framework of branches.  This maximizes the space, light, and energy available for flowers and fruits, which are borne on the previous year’s growth on short spurs known as “canes”.

    Hardy Kiwis

    The fruits of hardy kiwi are smooth, green, and delicious.

    Believe it or not, several close relatives of the familiar, but frost tender, supermarket kiwi (Actinidia deliciosa) produce delicious fruits of their own on twining vines that are hardy up to USDA Hardiness Zone 4.  The most widely cultivated of these is hardy kiwi (Actinidia arguta), a rambunctious climber that rapidly ascends to 30 feet or more.  The vines are dioecious, meaning vines may be male or female. Female vines produce eye-catching clusters of dime-sized, saucer-shaped white flowers open in spring, followed by inch-long fruits that resemble miniature, smooth-skinned tropical kiwis that are good for fresh eating.  A pollenizing male companion is required for fruit set, except in the case of self-fruitful cultivars such as ‘Issai’.  Hardy kiwi requires either ample room in which to romp, or frequent pruning to keep it in bounds.  Its architecture and pruning regimen is similar to that of grapes, with flowers and fruits occurring on the previous year’s growth.

    ‘Arctic Beauty’ is the most common variegated hardy kiwi vines. (Image by Russell Stafford)

    A better behaved but equally hardy cousin of hardy kiwi is variegated-leaf hardy kiwi (Actinidia kolomikta), which is usually represented in gardens by ornamental male cultivars such as ‘Arctic Beauty’, whose leaves are showily daubed with splashes of pink and silver variegation.  Female selections are drabber in leaf, but compensate by producing a late-summer crop of tasty, spherical, pale-orange fruits (provided a male pollenizer is nearby).  All Actinidia kolomikta cultivars can be grown in large containers, creating all sorts of portable garden possibilities.  A coarse potting mix such as Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix works best.  In USDA Hardiness Zones 5 and below, move containerized actinidias to a cold frame or other protected location for the winter.

    Actinidia polygama fruits have inner orange flesh. (Image by Russell Stafford)

    Showy, edible, pale-orange fruits and silver-variegated leaves (on male plants) are also among the horticulturally significant features of a third hardy kiwi vine, silver kiwi vine (Actinidia polygama).  It ranks somewhere between the above two species in vigor. The exterior of the fruit resembles that of standard kiwi, but the inner flesh is orange.

     

    Chocolate Vine

    Chocolate vine flowers are attractive, but the vines are aggressive. (Image by Jeff Delonge)

    Impossibly invasive (and widely banned) in milder sectors of its hardiness range (USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9), this vigorous , semi-evergreen vine is well worth growing in colder regions such as the American Northeast and Midwest.  Chocolate vine (Akebia quinata) will rapidly ascend to 20 feet or more if left unpruned, the twining stems with elegant, hand-shaped leaves are laced with clusters of small, delightfully fragrant, maroon-purple flowers in spring.  White-flowered cultivars (e.g., ‘Shiro Bana’) are also available.  Large, sausage-shaped fruits expand in summer, deepening to purple as they mature.  Fully ripened fruits split open to reveal the seedy, gelatinous flesh, which has a melon- or guava-like flavor when ripe.  Plant two or more cultivars for a good crop.

  3. The Best Reblooming Shrubs for Summer

    Panicle hydrangea blooms through much of the summer.

    Flowering shrubs do lots of good things in the garden, but their length of bloom often disappoints.  Exceptions do occur, with hybrid roses being the most obvious and ubiquitous example.  They’re not the only shrubs that bloom long and well, though.  Here are seven of the best of the rest.  Their individual flowers may not be as voluptuous as those of a hybrid tea rose, but in other respects – including habit, foliage, and disease-resistance – they more than hold their own.

     

    Littleleaf Lilac and Hybrids

    Littleleaf lilac has smaller blooms that rebloom in midsummer.

    Almost all lilacs are one-and-done bloomers.  Not so with littleleaf lilac ‘Superba’ (Syringa pubescens ssp. microphylla ‘Superba’).  Abundant clusters of sweet-scented, pale lilac-pink flowers open from reddish buds in mid-spring, a few days after those of common lilac.  Then, in midsummer, a miracle occurs, with a second flush of blooms developing on the current season’s growth.  Littleleaf lilac is also attractive out of bloom, forming a dense, rounded, 8-foot specimen clad in dainty, privet-like leaves.  Plant breeders have crossed ‘Superba’ with other lilacs to produce several repeat-blooming cultivars, including those in the Bloomerang® Series.   For maximum rebloom, plant ‘Superba’ and its offspring in full sun and fertile, loamy, near-neutral soil.  A spring top-dressing of Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost is all to the good.  These lilacs do best in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 8.

     

    Summer Snowflake Doublefile Viburnum

    Summer snowflake is a reblooming doublefile viburnum. (Image by Russell Stafford)

    Viburnums, like lilacs, typically flower for only a couple of weeks per year.  One of the few exceptions is the remarkable ‘Summer Snowflake’ (Viburnum plicatum ‘Summer Snowflake’), whose terraced branches are frosted with flat clusters of white flowers from mid-spring to early fall.  It also differs from other doublefile viburnums in its relatively compact, narrow habit (5 to 7 feet tall and wide).  Although lacking the wide-sweeping drama of full-sized doublefile cultivars, such as ‘Mariesii’ and ‘Shasta’, ‘Summer Snowflake’ literally makes a better fit for foundation plantings and other niches where space is limited.  The leaves take on smoky maroon tones in fall.  All doublefile viburnums perform best in sun to light shade and humus-rich soil, in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9.

     

    Weigela Sonic Bloom® Series

    Weigela Sonic Bloom® Pink offers bright color through summer. (Image by Proven Winners)

    Many weigelas throw a few flowers now and then in the months following their main late-spring display.  This has inspired plant breeders to develop new Weigela (Weigela hybrids) cultivars that rebloom not demurely, but with abandon.  Those in the Sonic Bloom® Series are reputed to produce several good flushes of showy, trumpet-shaped blooms not just in late spring, but throughout summer and early fall.  Sonic Bloom® weigelas flower in pink, purple, or white, depending on the variety.  These relatively recent introductions have yet to prove their mettle in many parts of the U.S. – but they’re well worth a try in a sunny spot in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 8.  At 4 to 5 feet high and wide, they won’t take much space while you’re putting them through their paces.

     

    Caucasian Daphne

    A parent of the variegated, briefly blooming Daphne × burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’, Caucasian daphne (Daphne × transatlantica) is in most ways superior to its popular offspring.  Where it particularly outdistances ‘Carol’ is in its repeat, spring-to-fall display of tubular, white, sweet-scented blooms.  The dainty, oval, semi-evergreen leaves are also attractive and are strikingly variegated in forms such as ‘Summer Ice’.  Most varieties of this outstanding daphne top out at about 3 feet tall, with their branches splaying with age (or with heavy snow).  It does well in sun to light shade in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 8.

     

    Panicle Hydrangea

    The flowers of ‘Pinky Winky’ panicle hydrangea darken in color as they age. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Not many years ago, panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) was represented in gardens almost exclusively by the mop-headed cultivar ‘Grandiflora’ (more commonly known as peegee hydrangea).  Today, numerous outstanding varieties of this exceptionally hardy species (USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 9) have found their way into horticulture, including many with lacy, conical flower clusters rather than weighty mops.  Most Hydrangea paniculata cultivars bear white-flowered panicles from mid to late summer, but other flowering times and colors also occur.  Look for ‘Limelight’, with full flower-heads that age to chartreuse-green; ‘Pinky Winky’, an early- to late-summer bloomer that evolves from white to rose-pink; and the late-blooming (and magnificent) ‘Tardiva’, with large lacy spires of white flowers from late summer to frost.  These large shrubs can be cut back severely in early spring to keep them in bounds.  Dwarf varieties such as ‘Little Lamb’ require no size control.

     

    Butterfly Bush

    Sterile, seed-free butterfly bushes are just as pretty but don’t self sow.

    How can we not mention the ever-popular, somewhat cold-tender butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) and its many hybrids, which draw in butterflies over much of summer with their steeples of fragrant blooms in a variety of colors?  Recent developments in the butterfly bush universe include the introduction of several compact, sterile cultivars with especially prolonged bloom and no pesky seedlings.  These include ‘Ice Chip’, ‘Lavender Chip’, and ‘Purple Haze’.  Buddleia davidii and its hybrids do best in full sun in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9, and usually benefit from a hard early-spring pruning, even in areas where they don’t die back.

     

    Flowering Abelia

    Flowering abelia is a long bloomer that will flower up until frost.

    Popular in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S., flowering abelia (Abelia × grandiflora and kin) are small to medium shrubs that could be used much more in the northern fringes of their USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9 hardiness range.  Their dainty, fragrant bells – in various shades of pink or white – cluster on arching stems from midsummer into fall.  Small, oval leaves add to the delicate, fine-textured feel of these quietly attractive plants.  Most flowering abelias are evergreen to semi-evergreen into USDA Hardiness Zone 6.   In zones 5 and 6, flowering abelias often work well as winter die-back shrubs, resprouting in spring and flowering in late summer and fall.  In all hardiness zones they benefit from early-spring pruning of snarled or winter-killed stems.

  4. The Best Maples for Maple Sugaring

    The best time to tap sugar maples is in late winter.

    It’s sugaring season across much of southern Canada and the northern United States.  The sun is climbing higher, temperatures are moderating, and maple sap is starting to flow.

    You don’t need sugar maples to make good maple sugar, however.  Purists may blanch at the thought, but several other maple species have sweet-flavored sap that flows on mild winter days and that boils down into delicious maple syrup (and other byproducts).  For example, some of the best Vermont syrup is produced by farms that depend on red maple (Acer rubrum) for much of their sap.  This is a good thing, given that Acer saccharum is in decline throughout most of its eastern Canada to Southeast U.S. range.

    Sugar Maple

    Sugar maple

    As its very name proclaims, sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is the traditional source of this arboreal nectar.  It’s also a Currier and Ives icon of the Northland, holding sap buckets in late winter and producing five-pointed leaves in spring that turn fiery hues in fall.  Mature, scaly-barked sugar maples line the streets of many old New England towns, as much a fixture as the clapboard colonial houses.

    Red Maple

    Red maple

    Red maple has a lot going for it as a sap source – especially for do-it-yourselfers who want to grow and tap their own trees.  Its sap is only slightly less sweet than sugar maple’s, with about 50 gallons (rather than 40) required to produce a gallon of syrup.  Moreover, red maple thrives in a much wider range of conditions, and attains tappable size (10 inches diameter at breast height) more rapidly.  Plant a sugar maple in a fertile, humus rich soil in sun or light shade, and its trunk will broaden perhaps a third of an inch per year.  A red maple under the same conditions will likely grow at twice that rate.

    Red maple also more than holds its own as an ornamental plant, typically forming an oval-crowned, 40- to 50-foot tree with attractive smooth gray bark that becomes furrowed and scaly with age.  The three-lobed leaves flush red in spring, deepen to lustrous dark-green in summer, and turn brilliant shades of red and orange in early fall.  Conspicuous clusters of maroon-red flowers festoon the naked branches in late winter, providing pollen for early-emerging bees.

    Numerous red maple cultivars are available from nurseries and garden centers, differing in characteristics such as size, habit, seed production, fall color, and cold-hardiness – so it’s likely there’s one that’s a good fit for your yard.  In nature, it’s found over much of central and eastern North America.

    Silver Maple

    Silver maple (image by Famartin)

    Red maple’s close relative silver maple (Acer saccharinum) is its equal as a maple syrup source, yielding sap of similar sweetness.  Its massive mature size, invasive roots, and susceptibility to storm damage disqualify it as a yard tree, unless a yard is of park-like dimensions.  On the other hand, if silver maple is available for the tapping, its sap is well worth the effort.

    Box Elder

    Box elder

    The same goes for another rather weedy, weak-wooded maple, box elder (Acer negundo).  Its common name and poison-ivy-like leaves notwithstanding, it is indeed a maple, and it does indeed yield sap that boils down into delicious syrup.  Although the sap is only half as sweet as sugar maple’s, it’s produced at more than twice the rate, resulting in higher syrup yield per tree.  Additionally, box elders are ready for tapping at a much younger age (within 5 years or so of planting) and smaller size (6 inches in diameter).  Box elder is also hardier and tougher than sugar maple, as evidenced by its coast-to-coast geographic range.

    Box elder has minimal ornamental value.  Nonetheless, it has given rise to several spectacular variegated and gold-leaved cultivars, which are well worth planting.  Look for ‘Flamingo’, with white-streaked leaves that emerge shrimp-pink in spring.  If you’re considering growing ‘Flamingo’ for its sap as well as for its flamboyant foliage, keep in mind that it grows more slowly than the wild type.

    Bigleaf Maple

    Bigleaf maple

    The sugaring season continues sporadically from late fall to spring in the relatively mild climes of upland California and the Pacific Northwest.  Here, the native species to tap is bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum).  Its sap has slightly lower sugar content than that of sugar maple, and flows most freely after relatively chilly nights.

    Norway Maple

    Norway maple

    Just about any residential district in the U.S. is likely to host Norway maple (Acer platanoides).  Formerly widely planted for its rapid growth and tolerance of city conditions, this Eurasian native has become a noxious weed in many areas of the U.S., invading native woodlands with its seedlings.  It’s easily distinguished from sugar maple by its furrowed bark, plump egg-shaped terminal buds, and erect flower clusters, as well as by the thick milky sap that oozes from severed leaf stems. Its winter sap, on the other hand, runs clear, and boils down into surprisingly palatable syrup.

    Black Maple

    Black maple (image by Daderot)

    Of course, if you’re fortunate enough to have some healthy sugar maples to tap, Acer saccharum remains the maple sugar tree par excellence – with the possible exception of its near-twin, black maple (Acer nigrum).  Black maple differs from sugar maple in its yellower fall color; hairier leaf stems with droopy leaf blades; and more furrowed bark.  Its sap, though, is equally sweet and delectable.  In areas of the North-Central U.S. where it outnumbers sugar maple, black maple reigns as the most important sugaring tree.

    Processing Maple Sap

    Fresh maple syrup

    You need a number of maples to tap for syrup. Each mature tree can produce between 10 to 20 gallons of sap per tree. It takes 40 gallons of sap to boil down to one gallon of syrup, so you need at least three trees to produce one gallon of maple syrup. Maple sugar houses require large sugaring pans to produce syrup. To learn more about how to process sap into maple syrup, read this article from Penn State Extension about Maple Syrup Production for the Beginner.

    The best time to plant your own maple is in spring or early fall.  Make sure the planting hole is the same depth as the root ball (or shallower in heavy clay soil), and at least three times as wide.  Backfill with unamended soil, and mulch the area around the newly planted tree with an inch of Fafard Natural Premium & Organic Compost, topped with 2 to 3 inches of bark mulch.  Water thoroughly, repeating when necessary (one or two times a week).

  5. Non-Invasive, Native Evergreen Groundcovers

    Many native evergreen groundcovers, such as moss phlox (white flowers), are non-invasive natives. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    It’s time for American gardeners to move beyond Japanese spurge (Pachysandra terminalis), English ivy (Hedera helix), and periwinkle (Vinca minor).  It’s true that these ubiquitous landscape plants make excellent evergreen groundcovers, rapidly forming dense swaths of handsome foliage.  But, in addition to being tiresomely common in American gardens, they’re a nuisance outside of cultivation, invading natural areas and out-muscling native plants with their aggressive growth. (English ivy and periwinkle appear on invasive plant lists over much of the southeastern and far-western U.S.).

    Many U.S natives possess the same virtues as the ubiquitous three, with none of the liabilities.  Here are several lovely native, evergreen options to replace tiresome invasive spreaders.

    Allegheny Spurge

    Bottlebrush spikes of white flowers appear just before new spring leaves unfurl. (Photo by Zen Sutherland)

    Japanese spurge’s more alluring, better-behaved relative from Appalachia is Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens).  Its broad, coarsely toothed leaves are similar in shape to those of its Japanese cousin, but they do much more in the way of color.  Fresh grassy-green when emerging in early spring, the foliage becomes gray-suffused and darker over the growing season, developing silvery flecking as fall approaches. Low, bottlebrush spikes of white flowers put on a charming display just before the new leaves expand.  This clump-former thrives in rich, well-drained soil and partial shade, gradually spreading into dense 2- to 3-foot-wide hummocks.  It’s hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9, and reliably evergreen in USDA Zones 6b and warmer.

    Fetterbush

    Fetterbush (Leucothoe axillaris spp.) is a handsome evergreen groundcover for partial shade.

    Another Southeast U.S. native that makes a handsome evergreen groundcover for partial shade, fetterbush (Leucothoe axillaris spp.) bears glossy, oval, dark green leaves on arching, 2- to 4-foot-tall stems that sucker into thickets.  For a traditional ground-hugging groundcover, choose the compact Leucothoe fontanesiana Scarletta, which forms billowing 2-foot-tall mounds with bright red new leaves, clusters of ivory flowers in spring, and maroon-red winter color.  Or you can go full fetterbush and use a regular-sized Leucothoe axillaris as a tall groundcover.  All forms produce white, bell-shaped flowers in spring.  Fetterbush does well in moist humus-rich soil in USDA Zones 5 to 9, but is prone to leaf spot in poorly aerated sites.

    Canby’s Mountain Lover

    Canby’s mountain lover (Paxistima canbyi) becomes a bold, textural evergreen groundcover. (Image by Daniel)

    No evergreen groundcover for partial shade is finer – literally and figuratively – than Canby’s mountain lover (Paxistima canbyi).  In the wild, it’s a rare, often gaunt inhabitant of rocky uplands from southern Pennsylvania to North Carolina.  In favorable garden sites, however, it’s anything but shy and scraggly, spreading into low, thick, 3- to 5-foot-wide thatches of narrow, petite, deep green leaves.  They provide a splendid textural contrast with bold-leaved evergreens such as rhododendrons and Pieris.  Well-drained, humus-rich soil and partial to full sun seem to bring out the best in this beautiful Appalachian native, which is hardy from USDA Zones 4 to 8. Bronzing sometimes occurs in harsh winters.

    Creeping Phlox

    Creeping phlox ‘Sherwood Purple’ becomes blanketed in spring flowers. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Quite a few native species offer eye-catching flowers in addition to ground-covering evergreen foliage.  Creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera) earns its name via its ever-expanding carpets of spoon-shaped leaves that give rise in mid-spring to 8-inch spikes of proportionately large, showy flowers.  Several cultivars are available, varying in their flower color and vigor.  Perhaps the best colonizer (and the best as a groundcover) is ‘Sherwood Purple’, with violet-blue blooms.  Although creeping phlox is happiest in partial shade and woodsy soil, it will also flourish in rich moist soil in full sun.

    Moss Phlox

    Moss phlox creates a mat of fine green foliage that becomes covered with flowers in spring. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Full-on sun is the preferred habitat of moss phlox (Phlox subulata).  Sometimes scorned because of its association with median strips, whiskey barrels, and other lowbrow landscape features, it’s near the top of the list of tough, attractive groundcovers for hot sandy slopes and other difficult sites.  The dense, ever-spreading, needle-like foliage is handsome and weed-suppressing, and the early spring flowers come in many colors besides the bubble-gum-purple shades disdained by plant snobs.  Additionally, this Midwestern to eastern U.S. native is rock-hardy and adaptable, flourishing in well-drained soil in USDA Zones 3 to 9.

    Other Native Evergreen Groundcovers

    Christmas fern brightens shady gardens in summer and winter. (Image by Wasp32)

    Blooming at the same time as creeping phlox (and making a knockout companion for blue-flowered cultivars such as ‘Sherwood Purple’), gold-star (Chrysogonum virginianum) mats the ground with fuzzy, toothed leaves that recall those of other members of the aster family such as Rudbeckia.  The fully evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) is another woodland groundcover for shade. Golden-yellow, five-parted star-flowers with fringed rays open in May and repeat sporadically until fall if conditions are not too hot and dry.  Gold-star shares much the same cultural preferences and hardiness range (USDA Zones 4 to 9) as creeping phlox.

    Toughness and adaptability are among the virtues of another often-scorned eastern and central U.S. native, robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus).  Two selections of this fuzzy-leaved meadow-dweller are excellent choices for challenging niches such as dry shade or sunny slopes.  The cultivar ‘Lynnhaven Carpet’ has beefy rosettes of large, flat, tongue-shaped leaves that smother everything in their vigorously expanding path.  In contrast, ‘Meadow Muffin’ produces congested, relatively slowly proliferating rosettes of smaller, crinkled leaves.  Both cultivars send up pale lavender daisy-flowers on 10- to 15-inch stems in mid to late spring.  Plants are evergreen through much of their USDA Zone 5 to 9 hardiness range, but may go leafless in relatively harsh winters.

    Hardy evergreen sedums, such as Oregon stonecrop (Sedum oreganum), create fully evergreen cover for raised sunny beds or rock gardens. This species creates a spreading 2 to 3-inch mat of bead-like foliage that turns from green to reddish bronze in winter. Small, starry, yellow flowers grace the plants in summer.

    Most newly planted groundcovers appreciate the addition of soil amendment, such as Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend, at planting time. This organic-rich mix encourages root growth and holds needed moisture to help plants thrive. Water new plantings every few days for at least two weeks. In no time, your native groundcovers should be rambling effortlessly through your garden.

    Dozens of other native species work wonderfully as evergreen groundcovers, but those offered in this article are reliable and attractive through all seasons.

    Leucothoe Scarletta is a low-growing shrub evergreen that makes a great groundcover for shade. (Image by Russell Stafford)

  6. Growing Tropical Fruits Indoors

    Dwarf calamondins are super tropical fruits for indoor growing.

    Growing tropical fruits in Toledo (or Toronto or Trenton) may seem like the stuff of fantasy. It’s perfectly doable, though, thanks to the numerous dwarf tropical fruit trees that take well to containers and flower and fruit at a young age. A warm sunny outdoor location in summer, an equally sunny indoor niche in winter, a suitable watering and fertilizing regime, and a well-drained growing medium (such as Fafard Professional Potting Mix) will keep them happy and fruitful.

    Indoor Citrus

    The genus Citrus is particularly well endowed with container-friendly plants. Kumquats (Citrus japonica, aka Fortunella) are a stellar example. Visit your local supermarket during the winter holiday season, and you’re likely to find the orange-yellow, tart, bite-sized fruits of the popular kumquat variety ‘Nagami’. A number of other, lesser-known kumquats are well worth eating (and growing). The cultivar ‘Meiwa’ bears round, orange, 1¼ -inch fruits that are comparatively sweet and seed-free. Large, thin-skinned, orange kumquats deck the branches of another relatively sweet-flavored variety, ‘Fukushu’. In contrast, ‘Hong Kong’ produces numerous showy, scarlet, ¾-inch fruits with large seeds and scanty pulp. They’re great for ornament but not as good for eating.

    Kumquat ‘Nagami’

    Ripening in early winter, kumquat fruits typically remain on the branches until spring, providing decoration and snack possibilities well beyond the holidays. Small, starry white flowers perfume the air in late spring and early summer, and the lustrous, verdant, evergreen leaves are handsome year-round.

    Calamondin (Citrus mitis) is what happened when a kumquat hybridized with a mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata). The result is a compact, repeat-blooming evergreen shrub that carries fragrant white flowers and small, chubby, tasty “oranges” throughout much of the year, with production peaking in winter. The fruits can be eaten fresh and make excellent preserves. Splashy cream-yellow markings adorn the leaves and immature fruit of the calamondin ‘Variegata’.

    Meyer lemon (Citrus limon ‘Meyer’) is yet another citrus with admirable qualities. A small evergreen tree that can be easily maintained at 3 feet tall in a container, it produces several flushes of flowers and fruits throughout the year, peaking in winter and early spring. The 2- to 3-inch lemons have thin, golden-yellow rinds and relatively sweet, juicy, flavorful flesh that goes well in salads, stews, and preserves.  They also make a zingy snack.

    Among the other edible citrus for containers are Key lime (Citrus aurantifolia), myrtle leaf orange (Citrus myrtifolia), and Rangpur lime (Citrus limon ‘Otaheite’). The takeaway (particularly if you have lots of container-gardening space) is that you don’t have to live in the tropics to enjoy a year-long harvest of lemons, oranges, and kumquats.

    Growing Citrus

    Citrus prefer ample sunlight, medium to high humidity, 40° to 60° F minimum temperatures, and moderate watering and feeding from spring to fall (with lower amounts in winter).

    Prune off unwanted growth immediately after the fruiting season, in early spring.  Common indoor pests can be a problem. Watch for mealybugs, scale, whiteflies, and other common Citrus pests, particularly on stressed or over-fertilized plants. Cleaning plants up with a insecticidal soap before bringing them back indoors in fall can help ward off these pests.

    Indoor Guava

    Pineapple guava flowers (Image by C T Johansson)

    Guavas are another group of tropical New World evergreens renowned for their aromatic flowers and fruits, and several can be grown beautifully indoors.

    Native to uplands of central South America, pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana, aka Acca sellowiana) works wonderfully as a container plant. Lustrous, leathery, silver-backed leaves clothe the upright, gray-barked stems of this handsome small tree. Sweet-scented, pale purple flowers with starbursts of maroon stamens open in late spring and early summer, followed by waxy, blue-green, egg-shaped fruits that cast an intoxicating fragrance as they mature in fall. Their pineapple-flavored fruits (with undertones of mint and apple) are at their best for only a few days after they fully ripen.

    Pineapple guava plants require cool winter conditions (40° to 50° F minimum) and at least one cross-pollenizing companion plant for maximum flowering and fruiting. As with all the guavas described here, they appreciate a monthly application of organic fertilizer in spring and summer. Plants can be kept at 4 to 6 feet by removing overgrown stems in late summer.

    Dwarf guava (Image by Logee’s)

    Common guava (Psidium guajava) also takes readily to container culture, fruiting reliably and repeatedly in warm, humid, sunny conditions (60 degrees Fahrenheit minimum). For home growing, choose the true dwarf guava (Psidium guajava var. nana). The fragrant white flowers with bottlebrush stamens recur throughout the year, giving way to pale green-skinned fruits that have delicious, musky-scented, deep pink flesh when ripe.

    A vicious weed in many tropical regions outside its native Brazil, strawberry guava (Psidium cattleianum) is an exemplary container plant for colder latitudes, provided it’s spared from temperatures below 50° F. Small, spherical, red-skinned fruits with tangy, pale flesh appear in late summer and continue through winter in favorable locations. The fruits are preceded by fuzzy, white, sweet-scented flowers.  The variety lucidum (commonly known as lemon guava) has yellow-skinned, relatively tart flavored fruits. A small tree in the wild, Psidium cattleianum grows much more compactly in containers, typically topping out at 4 or 5 feet.

    Other Indoor Tropical Fruits

    Avocado ‘Day’ (Image by Logee’s)

    There’s a lot to explore in container-friendly tropical fruit trees beyond citrus and guavas, including loquat (Eriobotrya japonica), dwarf mango ( Mangifera ‘Pickering’), star fruit (Averrhoa carambola), and the ‘Tainung’ papaya (Carica papaya ‘Tainung’ ), which will begin fruiting on 2-foot plants. Many dwarf common-fig cultivars (Ficus carica), such as the super tiny ‘Petite Negra’ that starts fruiting on 12-inch plants, also grow well in a warm winter sun room or conservatory. There are even mangoes, such as the golden mango ‘Nam Doc Mai’, that will grow well in large indoor pots.

    Another favorite that’s easy to grow is the dwarf banana ‘Extra Dwarf Cavendesh’ (Musa ‘Extra Dwarf Cavendesh’). Once they reach 3-feet high, they will produce small trusses of delicious bananas year round, if given high light, regular water, and warmth.

    Banana ‘Extra Dwarf Cavendesh’

    Then there are avocados (Persea americana). Many home growers will opt to start their own trees from pits, but this will result in large trees unfit for indoor growing. Instead, choose a dwarf tree such as the avocado ‘Day’. This compact selection and will produce small avocados from July to September. Bring them indoors in a brightly lit location through winter.

    These fruits are best purchased as plants, but most are not readily available at your neighborhood nursery. To find them search for a specialty online plant source, such as Logee’s Plants for Home and Garden. Good online nurseries such as this offer a wide selection of compact tropical plants ideal for indoor container culture.

    Potting Indoor Tropical Fruits

    Most of these small trees sold in 4- to 6-inch pots, so plants are small at purchase time. Plant them in a slightly larger pot using Fafard Professional Potting Mix, and provide them with good light. Pots should have drainage holes and bottom saucers. Try to maintain even moisture and high humidity, and feed them with a tropical fruit tree fertilizer, as directed.

    When the plants begin to outgrow their pots, upgrade them as needed for ample root growth. Those that are fruiting size, usually 4 to 5 feet, require relatively large pots.

    Pot your tropical fruits now, and in a year or two, you will be harvesting your own home-grown tastes of the tropics.

    Even mangoes come in dwarf forms!

     

  7. Best Bold House Plants: Aroids

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

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

    Growing Aroids

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

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

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

    Bold Leaves

    Alocasias are stunning foliage plants perfect for home growing.

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

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

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

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

    Beautiful Leaves and Flowers

    Peace lilies have subdued white flowers and glossy green leaves.

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

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

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

    Calla Lilies

    Calla lilies are great indoor bloomers.

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

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

    More Aroid House Plants

    Philodendron of all kinds grow in the toughest indoor conditions.

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

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

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

  8. Spring Bulb Design: Beautiful Pairings

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

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

    The Earliest Spring Bulbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Early to Late Spring Bulbs

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

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

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

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

    Spring Bulb Containers

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

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

    Bulb Care and Planting

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

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

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

     

  9. The Best Trees for Bees

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

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

    Large Trees for Bees

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

    Red Maple

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

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

    Yellowwood

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

    Sourwood

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

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

    Lindens

    Bees of all kinds are attracted to linden flowers.

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

    Small Trees for Bees

    Lacy serviceberry flowers (image by Kurt Stuber)

    Serviceberry

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

    Bees of all sorts pollinate redbud flowers.

    Redbud

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

    Seven Son Tree

    Seven son tree in the landscape.

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

    Bee Bee Tree

    Bees love the aptly named bee bee tree.

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

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

     

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

  10. Perennial Flowers for Wet Places

    Japanese primrose is a pretty late-spring bloomer for moist ground. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Many perennial flowers sulk in damp soil.  Plant a lavender near a downspout, or a tulip in a boggy hollow, and bad things are sure to follow. On the other hand, some perennials relish soggy sites.  It all comes down to “right plant, right place.”  You can either sentence a dry-land plant to death in that damp garden corner – or you can literally “go with the flow” and plant glorious flowering perennials that revel in a little wetness.

    Swamp rose mallow

    Here’s our choice of some of the best of the latter.  These hardy perennials would be more than happy to settle into that wet garden niche, especially if the soil is not too heavy and standing water is relatively rare.  To lighten heavy clay soil, mix in a few inches of an organic amendment such as Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost, preferably when conditions are relatively dry.  Be sure to consult with conservation authorities if natural wetland areas are nearby.

     

    Spring Flowers for Wet Places

    Marsh marigold is a very early bloomer that attracts bees.

    Even standing water is no problem for the earliest bloomer on our list: marsh marigold (Caltha palustris).  Its cheerful yellow buttercups on foot-tall stems brighten wetlands over much of the temperate Northern Hemisphere as winter turns to spring.  It will happily do the same in your garden in partial shade and any decent, constantly moist soil (no inundation required!).  The bold, serrated, heart-shaped leaves are also rather nice.

    Another spring-blooming beauty from damp woodlands of eastern North America, Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) owes its common name to its tubular, narrow-waisted blooms that open pink and deepen to sky-blue.  They cluster on 18-inch stems above broad, waxy, blue-frosted leaves that die back as flowering ceases in late spring.  Plants that aren’t deadheaded produce numerous seedlings.  Virginia bluebells grows from plump rootstocks that are sometimes dug from the woods by disreputable dealers, so beware of cheap, bare-root plants.

    Virginia bluebells spread, even in moist soil. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Hybrid globe flowers (Trollius × cultorum) open their bright buttercup blooms a few weeks after those of marsh marigold.  The large, deeply cupped, creamy-white to dark orange flowers appear from late spring to early summer on 18- to 32-inch stems, depending on the variety.  They arise from rosettes of deeply lobed leaves that go semi-dormant in July but flush with new growth later in the season.  Trollius hybrids make delicious companions to blue-flowered perennials such as Siberian iris (Iris sibirica) and Texas blue-star (Amsonia tabernaemontana).

    Late spring to early summer is also prime time for the candelabra flower clusters of Japanese primrose (Primula japonica).  Borne on two-foot stems above rosettes of large, tongue-shaped leaves, the flowers come in numerous shades of red and pink, as well as white.  This wet-garden classic thrives in partial shade, but will manage in full sun in constantly damp soil.  It’s especially spectacular when allowed to self-sow into large colonies – but keep in mind that “mongrel” seedlings will produce mixed and diluted flower colors.

    Primula japonica is a natural garden mate for another East Asian native known for its love of moisture and its showy pink to red flowers – Astilbe.  Although their frothy blooms and ferny leaves are a common sight in shady gardens, astilbes are arguably at their lushest in ample sun and damp soil.  Conveniently, their flowering season hits its height in early summer, as the blooms of Japanese primrose are leaving the scene.

     

    Summer Flowers for Wet Places

    Cardinal flower (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Early (and mid) summer is also the height of the flowering season of our native American Rudbeckia, most of which are quite happy with damp feet.  The most ubiquitous and familiar is Rudbeckia fulgida, which usually goes as ‘Goldsturm’ (even though it usually isn’t).  By whatever name, all forms of this butterfly magnet produce a summer-long abundance of golden-yellow, black-eyed daisy-flowers over rapidly expanding clumps of toothed leaves. (It’s also a prolific self-sower).  Height at flowering is 15 to 40 inches, depending on the variety.  Full sun is best.

    Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is another colorful beauty that grows in moist ground and has the added benefit of feeding Monarch butterfly larvae and adults. The hardy perennial reaches 3-5 feet and blooms in midsummer. It will truly thrive in very damp garden spaces, even those that have standing water for periods of time.

    Swamp milkweed (Image by Jessie Keith)

    There are other numerous perennials for summer that are worth including on the list of plants for soggy places, including marsh spurge (Euphorbia palustris), queen of the prairie (Filipendula rubra), swamp rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), ragwort (Ligularia spp.), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica).  All of these will brighten up any damp summer garden.

     

    Late-Season Flowers for Wet Places

    For late-summer and fall color in damp semi-shade, there’s another splendid North American plant: pink turtlehead (Chelone lyonii).  The common name refers to the plump, oblong, lipped flowers that cluster atop the 2- to 4-foot stems of this Southeast native.  Pairs of glossy, dark green leaves clothe the stems below the flowers.  The cultivar ‘Hot Lips’ has rich rose-pink blooms on 30-inch plants that emerge bronze-green in spring.  Red turtlehead (Chelone obliqua) and white turtlehead (Chelone glabra) also make good perennials for moist semi-shade.

    Autumn sun coneflower and Joe-Pye weed are great garden companions.

    Also ideal for the late-summer, damp, sunny garden is the coneflower that goes by the name Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Autumn Sun’ (or ‘Herbstsonne’, for you German-speaking rudbeckias).  Greater in height and less aggressive in root than Rudbeckia fulgida, it hoists green-coned, lemon-yellow daisy-flowers on 5- to 6-foot-tall stems from mid to late summer.  Another tall, golden bloomer for late in the season is the 3-6 foot swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius). It produces copious stems of bright sunflowers against linear leaves. Both the coneflower and swamp sunflower combine well with purple Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum) to make a stately garden statement.

    Don’t let low, moist ground get your gardening spirits down. Damp garden niches offer loads of exciting possibilities when it comes to perennials.

    Pink turtlehead

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