Tag Archive: summer

  1. Creative Upcycled Planting Containers

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

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

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

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

    Upcycled Container Rules

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

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

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

    Container Care

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

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

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

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

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

    Check Recycling Day

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

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

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

  2. “Cannatainers” or Cannas for Container Gardening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  3. The Best Vegetables to Grow with Your Kids

    My daughter after picking her first carrot from the garden!

    I remember the first time I pulled a carrot from the ground as a child. It was like magic. A simple carrot became a hidden golden-orange gem in the Earth that I could pull and eat! I’d wander the garden, plucking a cherry tomato here, a lettuce leaf there, or snapping off a bean to nibble. It was enjoyable, and I learned to love vegetables in the process. This is why I grow delicious, interesting vegetables with my own children. I’m spreading the garden fun and veggie appreciation.

    There were two things I cared about with vegetables as a child: 1. Is it fun to eat? 2. Is it fun to harvest? These are the criteria used for this list. As an added bonus for parents, these vegetables are also easy to grow.

     

    Fun, Yummy Vegetables to Eat and Pick

    Cherry Tomatoes:  There are so many cool cherry tomatoes to try now, and the smaller, sweeter, and more colorful, the better. I recommend ‘Minibel’, which produces sweet red tomatoes on tiny plants, ‘Sun Gold’, which produces loads of super sweet, golden-orange cherry tomatoes, the unusual ‘Blue Cream Berries’ with its pale yellow and blue fruits, and the classic ‘Sweet Million’ which literally produces hundreds of sweet red cherry tomatoes on large vines. Kids also love super tiny ‘Sweet Pea‘ currant tomatoes and ‘Gold Rush’ currant tomatoes, which literally pop with flavor in the mouth. Caging your plants makes harvesting easier—especially for little ones

    French Bush Beans: My children love French haricot vert bush beans because they are super thin, stringless, and sweet. The best varieties for kids are produced on small, bushy plants. Try the classic green ‘Rolande’ or the golden yellow ‘Pauldor’.

    Asian Long Beans: These beans look like spaghetti noodles! They are vining, so trellising is required, but they love hot summer weather, and kids love to pick and eat them. ‘Thai Red-Seeded’ is a great Asian long bean for kids because it grows so well, and the super long beans double as green hair or green bean rope.

    Beit Alpha Cucumbers: These crisp, sweet cucumbers are skinless, practically seedless, and taste great right from the vine. Bring a little water for rinsing, and a little ranch dressing for dipping, and they have an instant garden snack. The new AAS-Winning variety ‘Diva’ is my favorite because it is disease resistant and produces lots of cucumbers.

    Miniature Carrots: Mini carrots are easier for kids to pull from the ground, so they get all the fun with no root breakage. Tiny round ‘Romeo’ carrots and the small conical ‘Short Stuff’ are great selections for a kid’s vegetable garden. Both also grow well in containers.

    Yum Yum Mini Bell Peppers: The name says it all! These yummy, sweet, mini bell peppers look like Christmas lights and come in shades of red, yellow, and orange! The peppers are high in vitamin C and fun to pick. Just be sure to plant your Yum Yum mini bell peppers away from any hot peppers you may be growing!

    Small Pumpkins: Kids love to harvest and decorate their very own pumpkins in fall! The little guys, like ‘Baby Bear‘ and ‘Baby Pam‘ are just the right size for kids. Extras can be processed to make Thanksgiving pumpkin pies. Be sure to give the vines plenty of sun and space and you will be rewarded with lots of fall pumpkins.

    Strawberry Popcorn: Kids can believe these cute, deep red ears actually pop up to make tasty popcorn! Strawberry popcorn is produced on smaller 4-foot plants and the ears are small too. They are decorative when dry and can be popped up in winter as a happy reminder of warmer summer days.

    Growing Your Vegetables

    Organic gardening is a must, especially when growing vegetables for children. Successful vegetables start with good bed prep and summer-long care. Choose a sunny spot, work up your garden soil, and add a healthy amount of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost and Fafard Garden Manure Blend before planting. Keep your vegetable watered and watch them do their summer magic!

    When children grow their own vegetables, they eat their vegetables. They look forward to the harvest, and enjoy preparing what they have picked. Let them help snap the beans for a salad or clean the carrots before trimming and peeling them for snacking. There’s no better way to enjoy time with your kids while instilling good lifelong habits in the process.

    Picking and eating sweet ‘Sun Gold’ cherry tomatoes is always fun for kids!

  4. Miniature Water Lily Pots for the Patio

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

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

    Choosing a Container

    stone pot with leaves of water lilies

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

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

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

    Choosing Miniature Waterlilies

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

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

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

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

    white lotus flower in pots

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

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

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

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

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

    Planting Waterlilies

    Nymphaea 'Pygmaea Helvola' JaKMPM

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

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

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

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

    Maintaining Potted Waterlilies

    Lotus and lotus leaf background.

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

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

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

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

  5. 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!

  6. Late-Summer Flower Garden Renewal

    swamp mallow (2)

    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

     

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.