Tag Archive: summer

  1. Luscious Lilies of Late Summer

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    Tiger lilies (Lilium lancifolium) are spectacular tall bloomers that appear in late summer. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Most gardens can use a visual lift in the dog days of late summer.  This is where late-blooming lilies come in.  When their voluptuous, often deliciously scented blooms make their grand entrance in July and August, it’s like a royal fanfare in the landscape.  Goodbye, garden doldrums.

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    The raspberry-pink-flowered Lilium speciosum is a lovely species lily for the garden. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Thanks to the efforts of breeders, late-blooming lilies flower in a wide spectrum of luscious colors, from white to yellow to pink to red, with all manner of hues in between.  They also come in many sizes, with the smallest measuring only a foot tall and the grandest towering to 6 feet or more.  While the former are useful for containers and bedding schemes, it’s the giant late-blooming hybrids that are the true glory of the dog-day garden.  Their enormous clusters of large, sumptuous blooms on eye-high stems are almost beyond belief (as is the fact that they grow from relatively modest-sized, scaly bulbs).

    Better yet, they’re easily cultivated, with most lilies thriving in full sun and fertile, humus-rich, well-aerated soil in USDA Hardiness zones 5 through 8 (excessively sandy or clay-heavy soil should be amended with a good compost, such as Fafard Premium Natural and Organic Compost).  All bets are off, however, in areas that host the dreaded red lily beetle.  Where this insect abounds (mostly in the Northeast), lilies can be more of a chore than they’re worth, requiring hours of hand-picking of the glossy scarlet adults and their repulsive, excrement-coated larvae.  In other parts of their hardiness range, lilies have few enemies, although viruses and large herbivores (particularly deer) can sometimes cause problems.

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    Oriental Hybrids come into prominence in early August. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    The summer lily season opens in spectacular style with the stately Trumpet Hybrids, renowned for their gigantic, fragrant, funnel-shaped blooms that take after the Chinese native Lilium regale.  The popular Golden Splendor Strain produces 6-foot spires of rich lemon-yellow trumpets with burgundy-stained exteriors, while the equally popular (and showy) Pink Perfection Strain sports rose-pink funnels with gold throats.  Many other splendid Trumpet Hybrids are offered by bulb merchants (including several that specialize in lilies).  Lilium regale itself is well worth growing for its immense white flowers with maroon reverses (pure white forms are also sold).

    Some hybrids in the Trumpet tribe have nodding, mildly scented, “Turks-cap” flowers that evoke the group’s other important ancestor, Lilium henryi.  Among the best and most widely offered of these is ‘Lady Alice’, with white, purple-flecked, gold-starred flowers on 4- to 6-foot stems. There are also several common species worth seeking out.  The classic “tiger lily” (Lilium lancifolium), with its black-spotted blooms of clear orange, is tall, clumping, and looks its best in August.

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    Pink Oriental lilies in a late-summer border at Longwood Gardens. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    The Oriental Hybrids come into prominence in early August, as the Trumpets fade from the scene.  Their freckled, seductively scented flowers with back-curved petals show the influence of their two primary parents: raspberry-pink-flowered Lilium speciosum and white, yellow-banded Lilium auratum var. platyphyllum. Most Oriental Lilies have nodding or out-facing flowers, but exceptions occur, as evidenced by arguably the most famous lily hybrid, ‘Stargazer’.  The glowing crimson-rose, white-edged blooms of this 1974 introduction look up from 3- to 4-foot stems in early August.  Other outstanding and renowned Orientals include white ‘Casa Blanca’; lilac-pink, lemon-striped ‘Tom Pouce’; white, rose-veined ‘Muscadet’; and white, gold-striped ‘Aubade’.  All are of similar stature to ‘Stargazer’.

    Natural and OrganicHybrids between Oriental and Trumpet lilies (known as “Orienpets”) combine the best features of both groups, bearing swarms of large, fragrant flowers on lofty stems.  A winner of the North American Lily Society’s popularity poll, the Orienpet ‘Anastasia’ flaunts white, rose-brushed, heavy-textured flowers on 6-foot stems in early August, giving the effect of a high-rise Lilium speciosum.  The cultivar ‘Scheherazade’ sports a similar look, but with raspberry-red, lemon-edged blooms.  ‘Silk Road’ (also known as ‘Friso’) is more suggestive of a Trumpet Lily, producing white, rose-throated, funnel-shaped flowers with burgundy-flushed exteriors in mid-July.  It’s a four-time popularity poll winner.

    Now is the season not only to savor the beauty of late-blooming lilies, but also to order some of their bulbs to plant this fall.  The payoff next summer will be well worth the investment!

  2. Late-Summer Flower Garden Renewal

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    Hibiscus ‘Disco Belle Pink’ is a reliable late-summer bloomer.

    In August, high summer is well established.  Drought and hot weather have generally taken their toll on gardens and gardeners, both of which may look and feel a little tired.  Caught between the tail end of the daylilies and the beginning of the asters, the holes in the borders begin to fill with crabgrass and other evil weedy entities.  We all want our plantings to look lovely, but when it is 95 degrees F in the shade the usual urge to dig in the dirt or refresh the containers is tempered by a natural reluctance to lift more than two fingers.

    What to do?  A bit of inspiration won’t cool things off, but it may make the garden look better.  The following are a few easy-to-grow and easy-to-love plants that are in bloom now and can improve the look of late summer beds and pots.

    Cheap Annuals

    Petunia 'Madness Red' (MADNESS™ SERIES) JaKMPM

    End-of-season petunias are cheap and will brighten up the late-season garden if given a little TLC. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Most garden centers still have a few summer annuals left, generally lurking on the sale tables or grouped into mixed container arrays.  The garden centers want them out, and as long as the plants are still relatively pretty and healthy, you can use them to refresh your garden plantings.  A few of these plants will be goners, but many simply need liberation from the pots that have housed them since spring, a bit of pruning or pinching back, a judicious amount of liquid plant food, and a fair amount of water. Leggy petunias, sad impatiens, and seemingly spent snapdragons usually take to tender loving care and will respond by bouncing back and blooming nicely until frost.

    Go to the garden center early in the morning, late in the afternoon, or on a cloudy day. Bring your bargain plants home, apply the restorative treatments right away, and pop them in place in the cool of the evening.  Don’t be afraid to disaggregate mixed containers and install the individual plants wherever you need them.  Mixed containers are all marriages of merchandising convenience anyway.

    Now and Later Perennials

    Coreopsis verticillata 'Golden Gain'

    Tickseeds, such as the compact Coreopsis verticillata ‘Golden Gain’, will bloom towards season’s end with a little deadheading and care. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    When you take your cool-of-the-day trip to the garden center, keep an eye out for perennial species and varieties that are in bloom now.  Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia spp.) and their relatives, the ever-increasing coneflower clan (Echinacea spp.), are in bloom at nurseries all over the country and will multi-task when you get them home, supplying color now and the promise of the same thing next year at this time.  Their daisy-family kin, the tickseeds (Coreopsis spp.) are also in bloom and should produce at least one more flush before frost if you deadhead them at planting time. Look for reliable, tried-and-true varieties found at almost any nursery, such as the classic Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’ with its vigorous habit and numerous pale-yellow flowers, and Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ with its large pink flowers with dark cones.

    Less formal perennials of late summer include Joe Pye-Weed (Eupatorium purpureum, 5-7′) a late summer star, especially for informal, cottage-type gardens or native borders.  This lofty perennial may not fit all garden sizes, so those with smaller borders may consider planting the somewhat shorter Joe Pye-weed, Eupatorium dubium ‘Little Joe’, which reaches only 3-4′ in height. All Joe Pye-weeds are stellar butterfly plants. Wand flowers (Gaura spp.) are also great late-summer butterfly plants that are airy, beautiful and generally drought tolerant.  The delicate variety ‘Pink Fountain’ is one of several pink-flowered forms that shine at this time of year. Use them in mid-border or medium-size pots for stature and delicacy.

    Magnificent Mallows

    Echinacea purpurea 'Pink Double Delight' PP18803

    There are so many unique and pretty coneflowers for the garden, such as this Echinacea purpurea ‘Pink Double Delight’. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Late summer is prime time for striking members of the mallow family, including shrubs like rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) and bodacious perennial bloomers like hardy, native, swamp mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos).  Both are widely available at nurseries and garden centers and bear large, prominent hollyhock-like flowers combined with attractive foliage.  Plugging a few mallows into a mostly fallow flower garden will add instant impact.  A container full of ‘Disco Belle Pink’ swamp mallow, with its enormous pink flowers, or large, red-flowered ‘Heartthrob’, will light up even the most uninspired space.

    The large, bushy swamp mallow requires full to partial sun and can be grown either in-ground or in large containers.  If you try growing one in a container, start with a high-quality, moisture-retentive potting medium, like Fafard® Ultra Container Mix With Extended Feed.  Late summer mallows, especially the swamp type, are moisture lovers and the moisture-holding crystals in the Fafard mix will keep the plants happy, even during the inevitable dry spells.

    Planting at the day’s coolest or cloudiest times will help new plants and heat-depleted gardeners stave off stress.  Be sure to water in plants as they are installed and the water daily, if necessary, until the weather starts to cool off.  After that, relax.  Your garden will have inspired the neighbors, even during summer’s dog days, and you will be ready to start thinking about all those bulbs that you ordered while sitting in front of the AC in August.

    Read more summer gardening articles:

    Protect Plants from Summer Heat

    Pruning Summer Flowers

     

  3. Combating Common Vegetable Garden Pests, Organically

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    The author’s daughter picking Colorado potato beetles from potato plants.

    For the past 11 years, I have grown my vegetables in a community garden plot, which has provided a rough, real education in plant pests, diseases, and weeds. Why? Because these mega veggie gardens are pest hot spots, and late summer is the worst time of year for the beasties. Whether it be my beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, or eggplants, the “bad” insects abound–threatening to destroy fruits and foliage and often spreading disease as they munch and crunch along. You just have to keep fighting them with every tool in the toolbox. And, if the bugs beat my crop, I will often start again, if there is time and the season allows. Sometimes beating the pests is just a matter of retooling planting time.

    The five most common vegetable garden pests that I battle in mid- to late-summer are Colorado potato beetles, striped cucumber beetles, eggplant flea beetles, Mexican bean beetles, and harlequin cabbage bugs. Each returns year after year with regularity, but some years are worse than others. The severity of the previous winter usually indicates the severity of my pest problems–the milder the winter, the harsher the pest problem. Last winter was pretty mild, so this summer the pests and rampant. Here are some ways that I have learned to overcome these pests.

    Colorado Potato Beetle

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    Colorado potato beetles mating on top of a potato plant.

    The surest way to attract Colorado potato beetles to your garden is to plant potatoes, but if you don’t have potatoes, they will go for your tomatoes and eggplant secondarily. (Fortunately, they don’t appear to be attracted to my tomatillos.) The fat, striped adult beetles emerge from the soil and nearby forested areas to feed on emerging potatoes and then lay clusters of orange-yellow eggs on leaf undersides. These are followed by highly destructive little orange larvae that eat foliage and grow very quickly. You can kill the insects at any stage, but it’s easiest to pick off the adults and eggs. (Click here to view the full life cycle of these beetles.) The beetles can complete up to three life cycles in a single season, so once you have them, you generally have to fight them all summer.

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    Colorado potato beetle larvae (left) on tomato.

    These insects are highly resistant to insecticides, so it pays to choose organic methods of control. Time and time again, well-timed cultural control and good winter cleanup have proven to be the best means of battling them. Cultural control is essentially “picking”off the adults, eggs, and larvae and/or pruning off egg- and larval-covered leaves and branches. I generally smash picked specimens, but you can also drown them in a bucket of water. Good picking should start early and continue until all signs of these pests are gone.

    (To learn everything there is to know about Colorado Potato Beetles, visit potatobeetle.org.)

    Striped Cucumber Beetle

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    The symptoms of bacterial wilt spread by striped cucumber beetles.

    As their name suggests, these beetles favor cucumbers, but they also attack melon vines. Small, striped cucumber beetles look so cute and innocent, but they are so destructive. Every year my cucumber crop is a crap shoot, even if I choose tough hybrid cucumbers. These beetles cause damage by feeding on the plants and fruits, but the larger problem is the catastrophic bacterial wilt that they spread from plant to plant. Once cucumber vines get cucumber bacterial wilt, there is no turning back. The leaves will start to show droop and eventually whole stems will collapse and the vine will die.

    These pests may have two to three cycles in a season and are next to impossible to control, even with harsh chemical insecticides. Floating row cloth cover can keep them at bay, but it is a hassle and does not allow pollinators to reach the plants. For me, the best course of action is to choose bacterial-wilt-resistant cucumber varieties. Cornell University Extension offers a great list of resistant cucumber varieties to choose from. Of these, I have grown the short-vined slicer ‘Salad Bush‘, which is great for container growing. Two more reliable varieties are ‘Marketmore 80‘ and ‘Dasher II‘.

    (Click here to learn more about striped cucumber beetles.)

    Eggplant Flea Beetle

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    Eggplant flea beetle damage on an eggplant leaf.

    Tiny jet-black eggplant flea beetles are the smallest summer pests in this list, but they can devastate an eggplant in a matter of days. The small but numerous insects leave little pock marks all over a host plant’s leaves. Badly damaged leaves barely photosynthesize, resulting in poor, weak plants that produce puny fruits.

    If you want to grow eggplant, you have to protect them from eggplant flea beetles. There are plenty of insecticides that will kill these insects, but only a few non-chemical cultural practices will stop them. The best method that I have found is protecting plants with summer weight floating row covers that transmit a lot of sunlight while physically keeping insects from the plants. The key is covering plants early and then securing the row covers at the base, so the tiny beetles cannot crawl beneath them. Holding cover edges down with bricks, pins, and even mulch or compost, works. The only caveat is that you may need to hand-pollinate plants for fruit set.

    Good fall cleanup of infested crop plants will also keep populations down from year to year. On average, eggplant flea beetles will complete up to four generations in a single season.

    (Click here to learn more about these pests.)

    Harlequin Cabbage Bug

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    Harlequin bug adults and damage on summer broccoli.

    These ornamental stink bugs are the worst enemy of summer kale, broccoli, and other crucifers. They suck the juices from the leaves causing pock marks all over them. The most striking destruction I have  ever witnessed was with an enormous Portuguese kale that I had nurtured to a bold 2′ height through spring. Once the numerous beetles started to attack in early summer, the plant had no chance. I sprayed organic pesticides on the hundreds of adults that covered the plant to no avail.

    There are a few management practices that will help stop these bugs. Floating row covers can also be used, as was suggested for the eggplant flea beetles, but harlequin cabbage bugs are big enough to pick off by hand, if you have the time and can handle the slightly stinky smell they emit when disturbed. Small nymphs are also susceptible to treatment with insecticidal soap.

    Two to three generations of harlequin cabbage bugs can occur each season. By late summer, they are no longer a problem, so you can plant your fall cabbages and kales with confidence.

    (Click here to learn more about these pests.)

    Mexican Bean Beetle

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    Mexican bean beetle larvae and damage on a bean leaf.

    Like Colorado potato beetles, it’s the larvae to Mexican bean beetles that do the harshest damage to bean plants. The adults emerge in late spring but they rarely cause major problems on bean plants until midsummer. The adults are orange, black-spotted beetles that lay clusters of orange-yellow eggs below the leaves, much like the Colorado potato beetle. The unusual larvae are fuzzy, bright yellow, and skeletonize leaves as they feed along the leaf bottoms.

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    Mexican bean beetle adult on a bean leaf.

    You can control these pests as you would Colorado potato beetles with one exception – destructive harvesting. Destructive harvesting is the harvest and total removal of infested plants from the garden. After picking, infested plants should be pulled, bagged, and taken far from your garden. (Click here to view a YouTube video from the University of Maryland about destructive harvesting.) Beans can be replanted as late as mid August for early fall harvest.

    In general, regular weeding, good plant care, and excellent garden clean up, in summer and fall, will help keep pest populations down. Clean the ground of all leaf litter and weeds, and amend the soil with top-quality amendments for vegetables, such as Fafard®Garden Manure Blend or Natural & Organic Compost, and your plants will be more robust to resist the many garden pests that threaten to destroy them.

  4. Protect Plants from Summer Heat in Four Steps

    A thick layer of straw helps hold moisture around these okra plants while also keeping walkways clean and weed free.

    A thick layer of straw helps keep roots cool while also holding moisture and keeping walkways clean and weed free.

    It’s baking hot and your garden plants are wilting, waning, and altogether looking crummy. What do you do? High heat can take a toll on our vegetable and flower gardens, causing fruit and flowers to drop, buds to shrivel, leaves to wilt, and plants show general stress. It’s bad news, but there are a few protective measures gardeners can take to save their green investments through the worst of the high heat periods. Just four tips can help you turn your over-heated plants around: 1. Plant Smart, 2. Add Water-Holding Amendments, 3. Water Smart, and 4. Provide Mulch and Shade.

    Plant Smart

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    Heat-tolerant Profusion Zinnias buffer the hot edge of a driveway garden.

    This basically means choosing heat-tolerant plants and picking the right locations for your plant choices. Vegetables (read more about heat-tolerant vegetables here and read more about heat-tolerant greens here) and flowers (read more about heat- and drought-tolerant bedding flowers here) that can take the heat generally originate from warmer parts of the world. Choosing a Mexican-native Marigold (Tagetes erecta) over a European Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis) means a world of difference when temperatures heat up. The Mexican Marigold will thrive and the European species will fry.

    Marigold Double

    Choose heat-tolerant plants, such as Mexican marigolds, that will shine all season long.

    More heat-tender plants should be placed in spots where they are protected by midday shade. Those planted alongside pavement need to be tougher because of the reflective heat generated by the concrete or asphalt. Buffering walkway or driveway edges with super tough creeping plants, such as rocky stonecrop (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’), trailing rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’) or Profusion zinnias, will reduce some of the glare and generated heat. Another tip is to place plants so that they are just touching, but not overcrowded. Keeping the sunlight from hitting the ground surrounding plants is cooling. It is also smart to plant from high to low with taller plants shading shorter plants (Wild Senna is an outstanding tall, heat-tolerant perennial you can read about here).

    Add Water-Holding Amendments

    Amend zinnia beds with a fertile amendment like Fafard Natural & Organic Compost Blend.Water keeps soil cooler, so adding water-holding amendments helps reduce heat stress as well as drought stress. Organic matter always holds more water, so it is wise to add fresh compost to beds before planting. Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost is a great choice, but there are other amendments designed specifically to hold water. A sustainable selection is Black Gold Just Coir, which is comprised of 100% all-natural coconut coir and holds water like a dream. Coir comes from processed coconut husks, a byproduct of the coconut industry.

    Water Smart

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    Early morning is a great time to water plants, if the day is going to be a hot one.

    There are several watering techniques that will help you protect your plants from heat a little better (read all about smart watering tips here). First, watering early in the morning or later in the evening will allow plants take in moisture at cooler times of the day to help them withstand the high heat of midday. I like to water in the morning best. Drip hoses also help keep roots cool and water directly at the root zone.

    Provide Mulch & Shade

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    Mulching cools rootzones, which helps keep plants happy during the hottest times of the day.

    Mulches help keep plant roots cool. In the garden, lighter mulches, such as straw, hay, or leaf mulch, make a real difference in keeping plants happy during high-heat windows. Leaf mulch or pine straw are good choices for ornamental gardens. When days are really scorching, vegetables may benefit from floating shade cloth to reduce the sun’s glare. The cloth can either be supported by stakes surrounding beds or floated over rows during the day’s hottest window, from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. Most studies show that the time between 2:00 and 3:00 pm is the hottest time of the day.

    The most scorching days of summer usually don’t last long, but they can do lasting damage, dulling your garden’s looks and reducing yields. Protect them during these times to make the most of your garden for the rest of the season.

  5. Merry Summer Marigolds

    Marigold Mix

    Mixed marigolds will shine through the warmest days of summer and fall. (image by Jessie Keith)

    Imagine a flowering plant so beautiful and sturdy that it lends equal brightness to elegant flowerbeds, gas station plantings and public parks all over the United States. Leaping nimbly over national borders, it also serves as an important decorative element for festivities associated with the Mexican Day of the Dead and plays a prominent role in all kinds of celebrations on the Indian subcontinent. It repels deer and other varmints, but attracts humans, who use it as a summer garden stalwart, harvest it for indoor arrangements and sometimes even strew it over salads.

    Marigold Doubloon

    The African marigold ‘Doubloon’ is a tall variety that produces loads of lemon-yellow flowers. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    The plant in question is an annual with an interesting Latin name—Tagetes—and a familiar English one—marigold. Blooming in shades of cream, yellow, gold, orange/red, red or maroon, its cheerful disposition and easy-going nature match its sunshiny colors. Some of the most sophisticated gardeners in history, like early twentieth century designer/author Gertrude Jekyll, have taken marigolds to their hearts and into their landscapes. Yet, it has also edged humble vegetable plots, anchored cutting gardens and been used as a natural pest controller. Fragrant and sturdy, the annual marigold is a classic summer bloomer.

    The two most popular species are the African marigold and the French marigold (Tagetes erecta). In keeping with the Latin name, the African erecta varieties are tall, growing between one and four feet. French varieties are shorter, maxing out at 18 inches. I am especially fond of the flashy French variety, ‘Harlequin’, an antique that features petals with alternating gold and mahogany strips. Both erecta marigolds sport pinnate or feathery leaves. Many popular marigold varieties are actually crosses between these two variants, combining the somewhat more compact habit of the French types, with the large flowers of the African marigolds. Though not as widely known, little Tagetes tenuifolia, commonly known as signet marigold, features petite, elegant, single blossoms and works well in containers and edging situations. The single-flowered varieties ‘Tangerine Gem’, ‘Lemon Gem’, and ‘Paprika’ are perfect examples.

    The large-flowered, compact 'Disco Orange' is a French marigold grown for its masses of tangerine-orange flowers. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    The large-flowered, compact ‘Disco Orange’ is a French marigold grown for its masses of tangerine-orange flowers. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    In addition to their many other virtues, marigolds are good travelers. Early Spanish colonists took the plants from their native Mexico, where they were sacred to the Aztec goddess Xochiquetzal, back to the Old World, where they flourished. Their popularity spread quickly to all kinds of places, including France and North Africa. This migration gave rise to the idea that the plants were native to those areas, hence the common names of some species.

    Daisies are the show-horse flowers of summer and marigolds are in the daisy family, Asteraceae. As with other daisies, each flowerhead is actually a mass of tiny flowers. The “eye” features a disk of tiny flowers surrounded by the showy, petal-like ray flowers. The red and gold ‘Scarlet Starlet’, with its golden eye and deep scarlet petals, is a perfect example. “Double-flowered” marigolds, like those of the tall, white-flowered ‘Snowdrift’, are not truly double but instead have only ray flowers. Given their origins in Mexico, it is not surprising that the plants still prefer sunny, open situations and grow best when it is very warm.

    2209Fafard N&O Potting_3D-1cu RESILIENCE front WEBMarigolds are among the easiest plants to grow—perfect for children and beginning gardeners. Most garden centers feature cell packs of starter plants in the spring and summer, but marigolds can easily be started from seed. Sow directly into pots or garden beds and cover with a thin layer of soil or Fafard® Seed Starter Potting Mix with RESiLIENCE®. Fafard® Ultra Potting Mix With Extended Feed and RESILIENCE® is a perfect medium for container-grown specimens.

    Water daily and seedlings should appear within a week or so. Thin the young plants to prevent crowding and once they have leafed out, pinch back the stems to promote bushy growth and abundant flowers. Established marigolds are somewhat drought tolerant, though container-grown specimens may need extra water during dry spells.

    Marigold Double

    (photo by Maureen Gilmer)

    Gardeners tend to either love or hate the strong smell of marigolds’ flowers and foliage, which have earned the plant the old-fashioned nickname, “Stinking Roger”. However, even those who hate the aroma can love the fact that marigolds have the ability to beat back the destructive power of root-knot nematodes, organisms that can damage or destroy the roots of tomatoes and other food crops. Marigolds’ roots secrete a substance called alpha-terthienyl that inhibits the growth of these parasitic nematodes. To use marigolds in this way, it is best to sow them as a cover crop between planting seasons. This inhibiting power, traditionally harnessed in countries like India, may account for the fact that farmers in many places have traditionally planted marigolds around vegetable beds. If nothing else, they brighten up kitchen garden planting schemes.

    Marigolds are a study in contrasts. Their simple flowers have enchanted sophisticated gardeners all over the world, while their down-home demeanor successfully masks a deadly arsenal of anti-nematode weapons. They are at once the stealthiest and most alluring denizens of the summer garden.

  6. Colorful Tropical Hibiscus

    Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Chiffon Breeze' (TRADEWINDS™ CHIFFON BREEZE, TRADEWINDS™ BREEZE SERIES) PP17606 JaKMPM

    Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Chiffon Breeze’

    Giant blooms bursting with color—these make Chinese or Hawaiian hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) a floral favorite in sizzling summer gardens. Huge variety is another perk of these tried-and-true tropical shrubs. There are literally hundreds of types that come in many floral color variations and sizes. And, their familiar good looks bring to mind Hawaiian shirts, leis, and landscapes. What’s not to love?

    Native throughout tropical Asia, these hibiscus have been bred for centuries for their big, beautiful flowers. Through woody, they are fast growing and ever blooming, making them ideal for large patio containers and bed plantings. Their lush, deep green foliage creates a perfect foil for the big beautiful flowers. Some leaves are even glossy. These plants are only hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11, which means they will only survive winters in the most southerly regions of the United States. But, they will overwinter well in a sunny, warm indoor location where winters are cold. A bright south-facing window, sun room, or conservatory is perfect.

    Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Baja Breeze' (TRADEWINDS™ BAJA BREEZE, TRADEWINDS™ BREEZE SERIES) PP17607 JaKMPM

    Hibiscus rosa-sinensis TRADEWINDS™ BAJA BREEZE

    The flowers are between 4 and 8″ wide and comprised of five large, open petals. The largest varieties are the size of dessert plates. They come in loads of bright, tropical colors to include all shades of pink, red, orange, yellow, and white. Unusual colors, such as near black, gray, and purplish hues are also common. Many blooms are bicolored and tricolored, with radiating rings of bright color. At the center of each bloom is a protruding pistil lined with colorful stamens, which is attractive and interesting in its own right.

    There are literally hundreds of varieties of Hawaiian hibiscus. The International Hibiscus Society has a full register of every type under the sun. Anyone interested in learning more about these beautiful flowers should have a look. The wide ranging varieties give a complete picture of all this plant has to offer. To get a good look at exciting newer, interesting selections, check out the offerings of specialty growers, such as Charles Black’s Hidden Valley Hibiscus. His amazing hibiscus may be just enough to hook you!

    Garden center varieties are often bred for compact habits and high flower production. The Tradewinds varieties are particularly nice, being developed to produce lots of flowers on tidy plants ideal for container growing. Though the plants are small, they always grow and flower best in large containers that allow their roots to spread and easily access water and nutrients. Large containers also need to be watered less often.

    Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Erin Rachel' JaKMPM

    Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Erin Rachel’

    Grow these beautiful flowers anywhere there is sun. They prefer fertile soil that drains well and perform best with some supplementary fertilizer for flowers. Starting with a fortified potting mix, such as Black Gold’s All-Purpose Potting Soil with RESiLIENCE, is a good idea. Potted plants appreciate large containers and will fill them in quickly, if plants are happy and well-tended. In warmer zones, these shrubs are best planted in garden and shrub borders mixed with other lush, tropical plants loaded with bright color.

  7. The Best Landscape Hydrangeas

    Hydrangea macrophylla 'Harlequin' JaKMPM

    Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Harlequin’ only performs well in USDA zones 6b to 9. (photo by Jessie Keith)

     

    Hydrangeas, circa 1970, were a bit of a bore, represented by a few stodgy standbys such as the Victorian, mophead-flowered PeeGee hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’). Today, however, they’re the epitome of horticultural cool, with numerous new and exciting varieties to choose from.

    Witness, for example, what’s happening in the world of Hydrangea paniculata. Where once there was only ‘Grandiflora’, there now are dozens of seductive cultivars of this East Asian native, in a variety of shapes and colors. Many bear lacy, white steeples in the manner of ‘Tardiva’, an old (and – until recently—neglected) variety that is still unsurpassed for its showy blooms that peak in August and September, weeks later than most other paniculatas. Comprising both large, sterile florets and small, fertile florets, the blossoms possess an airy elegance that eludes ‘Grandiflora’ and other sterile-flowered, mophead forms. Numerous other excellent ‘Tardiva’ types – such as ‘Kyushu’ and ‘Chantilly Lace’ – have recently entered the scene. Most flower in midsummer.

    Hydrangea paniculata 'Tardiva'

    Hydrangea paniculata ‘Tardiva’

    Some recent cultivars come in hues and sizes that are new to the paniculata tribe. The lacy spires of ‘Pink Diamond’ and the early-summer-blooming ‘Quick Fire’ gradually evolve from white to dark pink, passing through a beguiling bicolored phase along the way. In contrast, ‘Limelight’ deepens its snowball blooms to an astonishing chartreuse-green that glows most brightly in partial shade. The dwarf cultivar ‘Little Lime’ does similar things on a smaller scale (4 to 5 feet tall rather than the typical 8 to 12). It exemplifies another welcome paniculata trend: compact cultivars that fit nicely in smaller gardens. White-flowered examples include ‘Little Lamb’ and ‘Bobo’.

    Even the stodgy old PeeGee hydrangea has undergone a makeover, with the introduction of several cultivars (including ‘Unique and ‘Webb’s’) that outdo ‘Grandiflora’ in the size and showiness of their snowball inflorescences.

    Most paniculata cultivars respond well to severe pruning in early spring, which restricts their height, increases their inflorescence size, and slightly delays their bloom. In whatever form, they’re among the hardiest and most adaptable ornamental shrubs, thriving in full to partial sun from USDA hardiness zones 3 to 8.

    Hydrangea quercifolia 'Alice' JaKMPM

    Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Alice’ (photo by Jessie Keith)

    Cold-hardiness is much more of an issue for undoubtedly the most popular hydrangea species. Prized in USDA zones 6b to 9 for its reliable summer display of showy blue, pink, or white blossoms, Hydrangea macrophylla has long been the despair of gardeners in zones 5 to 6a. There, it typically dies to the ground in winter, resulting in a disappointing summer display of lush foliage and few to no blooms. Breeders are hard at work, however, on a new generation of “re-blooming” cultivars that flower on the current year’s growth. Several have made it to market, including the much-hyped blue-flowered mophead ‘Endless Summer’. To date, none of these ballyhooed newcomers are consistent performers in zones 4 and 5, alas. But for gardeners in milder zones, these and other recent introductions make for a larger selection of Hydrangea macrophylla cultivars than ever before.

    Several other highly ornamental East Asian hydrangeas (such as Hydrangea serrata, H. aspera, and H. heteromalla) are increasingly available from American nurseries. All are well worth trying, where hardy.

    Hydrangea quercifolia 'Sikes' Dwarf' qg 62708

    Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Sikes’ Dwarf’

    Two eastern North American species have also seen a significant fashion upgrade in the past few decades. Fifty years ago, Hydrangea arborescens meant one thing: ‘Grandiflora’, commonly known as Hills of Snow. A classic pass-along plant, this suckering, 4-foot shrub formed many a backyard thicket, topped in summer by mildly ornamental , loosely structured, 6-inch globes of dull-white sterile florets.

    Today, ‘Grandiflora’ has numerous successors, most operating on a grander (and floppier) scale. Their queen mother is the ubiquitous ‘Annabelle’, whose foot-wide midsummer domes are notorious for toppling. Her several imitators, such as ‘Incrediball’, also topple, as does the recently introduced pink-flowered snowball, ‘Invincibelle Spirit’.

    Gardeners looking for a sturdier (and more charming) arborescens variety can opt for the ravishing ‘Mary Nell’, which bears showy, stylish, snow-white lacecaps on stout 4-foot stems. Another wonderful option is Hydrangea arborescens ssp. radiata, whose leaves are often lined underneath with a luminous silver-white felting that flashes in the breeze.

    Garden Manure BlendOakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) is yet another eastern U.S. native that offers many more delicious possibilities than ever before, including several pink-flowered and double-flowered varieties. The best (such as ‘Snow Queen’) produce showy spires on strong flop-resistant stems furnished with bold, deeply lobed leaves that turn burgundy-red in fall. Full-size selections grow to 7 or more feet, but gardeners with more limited space can now choose from a bevy of excellent compact-growing cultivars including ‘Munchkin’, ‘PeeWee’, and Sikes Dwarf’. Of particular note is ‘Ruby Slippers’, a compact variety whose flowers age from the usual white to a much less typical deep pink.

    Hydrangeas grow well in a variety of partial shade and sun locations, so long as they have fertile garden soil that drains well. Amending yearly with organic amendments, such as Fafard  Garden Mature Blend, and top dressing with leaf mulch will help support plants and encourage best growth.

  8. Plant Awards and 2016 Award-Winning Plants

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    Salvia Summer Jewel™ Lavender is a truly beautiful 2016 award winner. (image thanks to the AAS)

    When choosing new plants for 2016, it always pays to know the bestowers of plant awards, so you can easily identify the best-of-the-best edibles and ornamentals for the season.  Plant award programs are numerous and many are distinct in their selection criteria. What they have in common are great garden plants.

    And these programs are reliable. Not only are most based on extensive field trials but they are also driven by third-party entities with the simple goal of promoting outstanding plants for home and garden. So, you can count on award-winners to perform well, if they are recommended for your region. Many are tested and approved for national audiences but others are specifically selected for regions, or by plant societies dedicated to specific plant groups. Here is just a sampling of recommended awards programs and their great plants.

    Candyland Red Tomato (Currant) Color Code: PAS Kieft 2017 Fruit, Seed 08.15 Elburn, Mark Widhalm Candyland01_02.JPG TOM15-19648.JPG

    Candyland Red is a superior currant tomato with big flavor. (image thanks to the AAS)

    The All-America Selections (AAS) is a respected, independent, non-profit organization that promotes terrific plants for North America. Their mission is “To promote new garden varieties with superior garden performance judged in impartial trials in North America.” Their trials are conducted across the US and Canada and focus on high-performing vegetables and annual garden flowers. Each year a handful of award winners are chosen and promoted. The program began in 1933, and lots of “old” award winners, now technically heirlooms, are still grown today. To learn more about the AAS and their selection criteria, click here.

    There are 12 AAS-winning plants for 2016 to include Salvia Summer Jewel™ Lavender, tomato ‘Candyland Red’, and the giant white pumpkin ‘Super Moon F1’.

    The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) program, which highlights plants of great merit for UK growers. Thankfully, many of the selected plants also perform well in North America. Unlike the AAS, this program seeks out all forms of high-performing ornamental include trees, shrubs and perennials. Species and cultivated plants are all fair game.

    Recent additions to the AGM program include Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’, sweet pea ‘Mary Mac’ and carrot ‘Artemis’.

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    Geranium Biokovo was the 2015 Perennial Plant of the Year. (image care of The Perennial Plant Association)

    The Garden Club of America (GCA) promotes an outstanding North American native plant of the year and bestows upon it the Montine McDaniel Freeman Horticulture Award in honor of longtime member of a New Orleans GCA chapter, Montine McDaniel Freeman. The award-winning native for 2015 is the lofty and beautiful bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa), which is long-lived, tough and statuesque.

    A “Perennial Plant of the Year”, bestowed by the Perennial Plant Association, has been selected since the program began in 1990. Chosen plants must be “suitable for a wide range of growing climates, require low maintenance, have multiple-season interest, and are relatively pest/disease-free.” Novice gardeners seeking to beautify their landscapes with perennials would be wise to start by choosing plants from this list—to include the 2015 selection, Biokovo geranium (Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’).

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    The steely blue Windwalker® big bluestem is a Plant Select® winner. (image care of Plant Select)

    Plant Select® is a popular regional awards program dedicated to ornamental plants—woody and herbaceous—of the North American high plains and intermountain region, but many are good general performers in other parts of the country. One unique feature is that “Plant Select® leverages a uniquely collaborative model and highly-selective cultivation process to find, test and distribute plants that thrive on less water.” So, Plant Select® are water-wise in addition to being high performing and beautiful. Disease resistance and non-invasiveness are two more important selection criteria.

    Notable Plant Select® winners for 2015 are the evergreen Wallowa Mountain desert moss (Arenaria ‘Wallowa Mountain’), perfect for fairy and succulent gardens, Windwalker® Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii ‘PWIN01S’), Coral Baby penstemon (Penstemon ‘Coral Baby’), and the stately Woodward Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum ‘Woodward’).

    Out East, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has been promoting its PHS Gold Medal Plants annually since 1978. The winners represent superior woody plants for the landscape that thrive in USDA Hardiness Zones 5-7. Recent winners include the Rising Sun redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Rising Sun’) and Darts Duke viburnum (Viburnum x rhytidophylloides ‘Darts Duke’).

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    Penstemon ‘Baby Coral’ is a water-wise and long-blooming Plant Select® winner. (image care of Plant Select®)

    There are lots of plant societies offering award-winning selections for home and garden each year. The All-America Roses Selections (AARS) has represented the best from their national rose trials since 1930, but due to a flagging economy this important trial ended in 2014. Fortunately, some have been willing to keep it alive, bringing us several great winners for 2015, which includes the thornless, cerise pink, antique rose ‘Thomas Affleck’ and the fragrant hybrid tea, Deelish®.

    Choose to garden smart this season with a few award winners. Pick a few for the New Year and reap the rewards. Fortify them with top-quality potting soils and amendments from Fafard, and you cannot go wrong.

  9. Pruning Summer Flowers

    Phlox paniculata 'Nicky' JaKMPM

    Tall phlox are midsummer bloomers that will rebloom if the old flowers are pruned back. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    Timely summer pruning is the key to more flowers – and less flopping – in the perennial (and annual and shrub) border.

    Many annuals and perennials bloom better and longer if their spent flowers are regularly pruned – a practice known as deadheading. In addition to boosting floral display, deadheading also prevents self-sowing by fecund perennials and annuals such as spiderwort (Tradescantia), garden phlox (Phlox suffruticosa), and mulleins (Verbascum).

    Echinacea 'Marmalade'

    Echinaceas produce seeds that are perfect bird forage, so you may rethink pruning their seedheads back.

    Different plants favor different deadheading regimes. Some perennials require minimal deadheading other than a hard pruning back to their basal foliage as their last flowers fade. Among these are columbine (Aquilegia), Delphinium, most catmints (Nepeta) and Salvia, most perennial geraniums, lungwort (Pulmonaria), mountain bluet (Centaurea montana), and lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina). Many of these will send up a second round of flowers later in the season.

    Numerous long-blooming perennials – including bellflowers (Campanula), balloon flower (Platycodon), Jupiter’s beard (Centranthus ruber), Shasta daisy (Chrysanthemum × superbum), bee balm (Monarda), most Veronica, garden phlox, and daylilies (Hemerocallis) – do best with frequent deadheading of individual flowers or flower clusters. In most cases, the cut should be made just above the next bud or leaf below the spent flower(s).

    Similarly, most long-blooming annuals benefit from regular, light deadheading, although heavier pruning may be necessary if growth flags in summer (as sometimes happens with diascias, sweet alyssum, and others).

    Shrubby perennials that flower relatively briefly (e.g., goatsbeard and Cimicfuga) usually require nothing more than a single tip-pruning after they bloom.

    Some plants are better not deadheaded, particularly if their seeds are valued for ornament (as with nigellas and shrubby Clematis), bird forage (e.g., echinaceas and rudbeckias), or self-sowing. Knowing when not to prune is also important!

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    Lamb’s ears always look better when the old bloom stalks are removed.

    Deadheading is not the only type of pruning that benefits perennials. A good early-summer (or late-spring) shearing can do wonders for large, late-blooming species with unruly habits such as asters, Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium), and perennial sunflowers (Helianthus). Left unchecked, the statuesque stems of these perennials topple under the weight of their flowers. A far better solution than trussing them with stakes and string after they flop is to cut them back halfway in June. Shorter, sturdier, swoon-resistant plants will result. Flowers may be a bit later and smaller than those of unpruned plants, but they’ll also be abundant and upright.

    June is also the ideal time to prune lanky early-blooming perennials such as moss phlox (Phlox subulata), Dianthus, and perennial candytuft (Iberis). Sheared back halfway immediately after flowering, they’ll produce fresh basal growth and possibly a few repeat blooms. Straggly stems of lavender, sage, and other woody-based perennials respond well to pruning in early spring, before bloom.

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    Blanketflower will bloom until frost if you keep the seedheads clipped off.

    And then there are shrubs. Weigela, mock-oranges (Philadelphus), Deutzia, and other shrubs of similar growth habit should be cut back hard to vigorous new lateral shoots that break growth as the flowers fade in late spring and early summer. These new shoots will eventually provide next year’s floral display. Unpruned shrubs from this group decline into a lanky mass of leggy stems topped with old, unproductive wood that chokes out new growth.

    Numerous other spring-blooming shrubs (including rhododendrons and lilacs) exhibit a somewhat different growth pattern, bearing relatively short new shoots mostly at their tips. Consequently, they generally do best with a relatively light early summer pruning, with care taken to preserve as much new growth as possible (which will give rise to next year’s flowers).

    Whatever the plant – shrub, perennial, or annual – it will respond well to a post-pruning application of a nutrient-rich compost such as Fafard Natural & Organic Compost. Fertile soil and proper pruning make for happy plants (and gardeners!).

  10. Annual Cut Flowers for Fall

    Nigella JaKMPM

    Love-in-a-mist flowers are airy, colorful and long-lasting. Their pretty puffy seedheads can be dried for winter everlasting arrangements.

    Some of the prettiest flowers for cutting are annuals that grow and bloom fast and thrive in cool weather. Sweet peas, bachelor’s buttons, sulfur coreopsis, love-in-a-mist and annual baby’s breath are some of the best cool-season cut flowers that flower quickly from seed. Growing them is a snap. Start them in early August, and you should have lots of pretty flowers for cutting by late September to early October.

    If you are someone who already plants cut flowers, you will likely still have annual blooms from summer on hand—like summer zinnias, tall marigolds and purple cosmos—but these tend to lose steam towards the end of the season. Removing old plants and filling in the holes with fresh, cool-season flowers will pay off. Just be sure to turn and smooth the clean ground for planting, and topdress with a good, moisture-holding mix that will allow your new cut flower seeds to germinate easily. Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix is a great choice.

    Parks 51138-pk-p1

    Towering orange sulfur coreopsis is a beautiful Park’s Seed exclusive that is perfect for fall cutting! (photo care of Park’s Seed)

    Once your area is prepared, sprinkle your seeds of choice over the soil, sprinkle some additional mix on top and gently pat the area down. Keep newly sown spots evenly moist by with daily misting or watering. Most annuals germinate quickly, in a week or a bit more. Once the new seedlings have emerged, continue providing them with needed moisture and be sure to remove any weed seedlings. Water seedlings/plantlets every two weeks with a little water-soluble flower food. This will help them grow and flower at top speed.

    Sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus, 74-85 days from seed) are some of the sweetest smelling cool cut flowers, but they require light trellising. This is easily done by securing strong, firm stakes into the ground and lining the spaces between them with trellis netting that the peas can climb up with their tendrils. Renee’s Garden Seeds carries loads of exceptional sweet peas for cutting. The antique ‘Perfume Delight’ is especially fragrant and a little more heat-tolerant, which allows them to forge through unexpected fall heat.  (Read Renee’s article “All About Sweet Peas” for more information about these pleasing flowers.)

    Johnnys 1017

    The classic bachelor’s button for cutting is the long-stemmed ‘Blue Boy’. (photo care of Johnny’s Selected Seeds)

    Colorful bachelor’s buttons (Centaurea cyanus, 65-75 days from seed) come in shades of richest violet-blue, pink white and deepest burgundy. Most agree that the blue flowers are the most remarkable and prettiest in a vase. There are lots of tidy dwarf varieties but these have short stems. Long-stemmed selections are the best for cutting, but the weak-stemmed plants require staking for reliable upright growth. ‘Blue Boy’ is an old-fashioned, large-flowered heirloom with tall stems perfect for cutting.

    Sulfur coreopsis (Coreopsis sulphureus, 50-60 days from seed) is one of the fastest cut flowers to bloom from seed. The long-stemmed ‘Towering Orange’ is a Park’s Seed exclusive that produces billows of tangerine orange flowers that will last a long time. (These look beautiful in a vase mixed with ‘Blue Boy’ flowers!)

    Renees swp-perfume

    Extra fragrant, colorful blooms are the selling point of ‘Perfume Delight’ sweet pea sold by Renee’s Seeds. (photo care of Renee’s Garden Seeds)

    Uniquely lacy flowers make love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena, 63-80 days from seed) especially charming in the garden or a vase. The dried seed pots are also visually interesting, allowing them to double as dried flowers. The flowers come in shades of violet-blue, purple, white and pink. One of the better Nigella mixes is provided by Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

    No flower arrangement is complete without a frothy filler flower to add loft and interest. Annual baby’s breath is the standard choice and ‘Covent Garden Market’ is a tall, airy choice that will bloom until frost. It is very easy to grow and its small, white, cup-shaped flowers make more colorful blooms stand out in a vase.

    Cut flowers make gardens and homes more colorful, so consider planting some of these traditional beauties now for fall. You’ll save money at the farmer’s market and impress your guests.