Articles

Native Trees and Shrubs for Oceanside Gardens

Bearberry is a low-growing evergreen shrub for salty ground.

An oceanside garden poses special challenges for plants. The wind-whipped salt-laden air and sandy soil typical of such sites is inhospitable to many sensitive garden favorites, such as border phlox (Phlox paniculata), primroses (Primula spp.), and summersweet (Clethra alnifolia). When faced with these challenging conditions, some gardeners go full denial, erecting barriers to the wind and adding truckloads of humus to the thirsty soil to grow the ungrowable. Such efforts usually end with the realization that defying nature is not a viable gardening strategy.

A more successful approach is to embrace the many rewarding plants that naturally inhabit coastal regions or a streetside garden where winter salt is common. Many of these seaside natives are still not seen in gardens nearly as much as they might be, even in places near the ocean’s roar. They’re also ideally adapted for inland gardens where salt and drought are problems. If sandy soil and salt-happy road crews pose challenges for your garden, coastal natives are among the best answers.

American persimmon fruits are beautiful and delicious when allowed to ripen and added to baked goods.

Trees, shrubs, and shrubby ground covers form the core of any garden, coastal or otherwise. Here we highlight 11 of the best such plants that hail from North American seaside habitats. Most offer the added bonus of being favorites of pollinators and other wildlife. As you’d expect, all are happiest in full sun but will tolerate light shade in some cases. Sandy or otherwise well-drained soil is best, with a light mulch of Fafard Organic Compost to help buffer the soil from extreme conditions.

Salt-Tolerant Native Shrubs

Nantucket Serviceberry (Amelanchier nantucketensis)

The spring flowers of Amelanchier nantucketensis develop into edible summer fruits.
The spring flowers of Nantucket serviceberry develop into edible summer fruits.

Most gardeners know serviceberries as small trees, but this rare East Coast native is a suckering 4-foot-tall shrub. As with most of its tribe, the Nantucket species (Zones 4-8) produces white early-spring flowers followed by edible dark blueish berries that ripen in late spring and early summer. Its close cousin running serviceberry (Amelanchier stolonifera) will also do in a pinch. Both can be hard to find in nurseries. Look for native plants in coastal regions from Nova Scotia to Virginia.

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

Bearberry is evergreen and covers the ground in emerald. (Image by Russell Stafford)

Spreading tufted mats of small rounded evergreen leaves give rise to pinkish urn-shaped flowers in spring, evolving to ornamental red berries in late summer. Even in the poor sandy soils bearberry (USDA Hardiness Zones 2-7) prefers, the groundcover shrub can take a while to settle in, so it’s not for gardeners in a hurry. The natural distribution of the shrub includes the upper latitudes of North America and Eurasia.

Groundsel Bush (Baccharis halimifolia)

Groundsel bush has impressive silvery white seedheads in the fall.

Most hardy members of the aster family are herbaceous perennials, dying back to the ground every winter. Groundsel bush (Zones 5-10) is anything but, forming an upright medium to large shrub – up to 15 feet tall and wide in moist fertile soil. Its growth is relatively restrained in dry sandy conditions. Clad in attractive shiny bright-green foliage from spring until late fall, Baccharis halimifolia takes center stage in late summer, engulfing itself in clouds of small white flowers. Female plants go a step further, producing downy silvery seedheads that glisten in the slanting late-season sunlight. The seeds drift away in late fall, often producing a large crop of progeny – so you and your neighbors will need to be on the lookout for possible unwanted seedlings. The shrub’s native distribution is from Massachusetts to Texas.

Inkberry (Ilex glabra)

Inkberry is a reliable evergreen native shrub. Many good cultivated varieties are offered.

Inkberry (Zones 4-9) has become a staple evergreen shrub for sunny and lightly shaded gardens throughout much of the US. This is largely thanks to the introduction of compact varieties such as ‘Shamrock’, ‘Green Billow’, and ‘Forever Emerald’, which maintain a dense compact habit rather than becoming sparse and rangy like the straight species. The glossy spineless dark-green leaves are joined by small white flowers in spring, and on female plants by little black berries in fall. The cultivar ‘Ivory Queen’ is showier in fruit, bearing pearly white fruit. The native distribution is from Nova Scotia to Louisiana.

Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis)

Rug Juniper is a classic landscape shrub for sea or oceanside landscapes.

Even the most casual gardener is likely to be familiar with this garden workhorse, whose prostrate scaly-leaved evergreen branches provide ground cover in many a sunny garden niche. Plants often turn bronze-green in winter. Numerous varieties of creeping juniper (Zones 3-8) are available, including vigorous blue-tinged ‘Wiltonii’ (commonly known as blue rug juniper), and ground-hugging, fine-textured ‘Bar Harbor’. The native distribution is across temperate North America.

Northern Bayberry (Morella caroliniensis)

In the spring, northern bayberry has inconspicuous flowers followed by waxy bayberries later in the season. (Image by Russell Stafford)

Long prized for its glossy aromatic semi-evergreen foliage and its winter berries, northern bayberry (Zones 3-7) spreads gradually into somewhat sparse 6- to 8-foot thickets that work well as informal hedging. Cedar waxwings, yellow-rumped warblers, and other birds hungrily harvest the berries in late winter. Both male and female plants are required to produce the fruits, which were traditionally used to scent bayberry candles. The shrub exists from Newfoundland to North Carolina.

Beach Plum (Prunus maritima)

Beach plums are delicious and the tough little shrubs make good specimen plants.

The tart, grape-sized fruits of Prunus maritima (Zones 4-8) excel in preserves, syrups, vinegars, and jams. Beach plum fanciers typically harvest them from the wilds of the Atlantic coast when they ripen in late summer. Plant a few female beach plums along with a pollenizing male, and you’ll have a harvest right outside your door. Although a rather scraggly 3- to 5-foot thing in its native dune habitats, beach plum forms a dense, attractive 6- to 10-foot shrub under garden conditions. Swarms of snowy white flowers in spring are a further ornamental feature. Most plants bear irregularly from year to year, so look for selections – such as ‘Snow’ and ‘Jersey Beach Plum’ – that are more consistent producers. Cultivars ‘Nana’ and ‘Ecos’ bear reliable annual crops on more compact 3- to 5-foot-tall plants. You can further enhance beach plum’s productivity and habit by thinning out old, unproductive branches in early spring. Beaches from Maine to Virginia are home to the shrubby plum.

Dwarf Sand Cherry (Prunus pumila)

The bright green foliage of dwarf sand cherry brightens summer landscapes. (Image by Russell Stafford)

Edible fruits are also a feature of the outstanding 2-foot tall ground cover cherry (Zones 3-8), which will quickly cover a sandy bank with its sprawling stems. The summer-ripening fruits are preceded by white flowers in spring. Dwarf sand cherry can be found along coasts from Ontario to Virginia.

Salt-Tolerant Native Trees

American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)

American Persimmon flowers are urn-shaped and appear in spring.

A must for the edible coastal garden, this Connecticut-to-Texas native does indeed bear tasty persimmons (Zones 5-10). Ripening orange in fall, the squat, tennis-ball-sized fruits mellow from astringent to tartly flavorful as they soften. A tree in full fruit gives the appearance of being laden with miniature pumpkins. You’ll need both male and female trees – or a self-pollinating selection such as ‘Meador’ – to get fruit. American persimmon matures into a large picturesque open-branched tree with handsome, plated, charcoal-gray bark and bold, oval, deciduous leaves. Few trees can match it as a four-season ornamental.

American Holly (Ilex opaca)

The fruits of female American holly trees are just as pretty as those of European holly.

If you’re looking for a classic spiny-leaved, conical, tree-sized holly (Zones 5-9), here’s the native for you. Growing slowly to 20 feet or more, it maintains a dense, fully branched habit in sunny sites. Partially shaded specimens are sparser and lankier. With its signature shape and its red berries from fall into winter, American holly makes an arresting feature plant. It also works well as an impenetrable barrier hedge. Selections that depart from the norm in size, fruit or leaf color, or other characteristics are also available. Look for the holly in native lands from Massachusetts to Texas.

Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida)

Mature pitch pines develop artful, windswept branches.

The signature species of pine barrens and other sandy habitats in eastern North America, Pinus rigida (Zone 3 to 8) typically grows as a somewhat gnarled small to medium-sized tree. It can attain considerable height in more fertile habitats. Best for gardens is ‘Sherman Eddy’, a superior dwarf cultivar, which forms a rounded, 12- to 15-foot specimen with densely needled, bottlebrush-like branchlets. Even more dwarf is ‘Sand Beach’, a mounding prostrate selection. Look for the tree from Maine to Georgia.

Fantastically Cool Ferns for Homes

Elkhorn staghorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) is a lovely LARGE tropical fern for container growing.

Most home gardeners likely think of the lush, reliable Boston fern when thinking about ferns as houseplants, but there are many other truly beautiful options for gardeners looking for something unique. Ferns make good houseplants because most prefer lower light levels. Follow their care instructions, and these indoor ferns should provide lasting beauty to your home.

Button Fern

Button ferns are compact and very easy to grow.

Here is one of the easiest ferns you can grow, and it is a little gem. Button fern (Pellaea rotundifolia) reaches 6-12 inches high and has small, button-like pinnae. Grow it in filtered light or medium sunlight and provide even moisture. Mist occasionally to keep the fronds looking their best.

Crested Japanese Birdsnest Fern

Rather than having an airy look like most ferns, Crested Japanese Birdsnest Fern (Asplenium antiquum) has dense fronds with rippled edges. The variety ‘Leslie’ is especially wavy and pretty, and the twisted fronds of ‘Hurricane’ give the plant a twirly windswept look.  It will tolerate partial sunshine or light shade. Mist regularly and water two times weekly in the cool winter months. More water may be required in warmer summer months.

Eyelash Fern

Eyelash ferns are lovely and reach no larger than 8 inches high. (Image courtesy of Logee’s Plants for Home and Garden)

If you are looking for a small, specimen fern, choose the delicate eyelash fern (Actiniopteris australis). When mature the plant only reaches (6-8 inches). The fine, palm-like fronds make the rare fern especially pretty. Most garden centers won’t carry eyelash fern, but specialty several plant vendors sell them online. High humidity is required for eyelash fern, so consider growing yours in a terrarium filled with Black Gold All-Purpose Potting Soil and a layer of decorative sphagnum peat moss on top.

Dragon’s Wing Fern

Dragon’s Wing Fern has impressive feathery fronds. (Image courtesy of Logee’s Plants for Home and Garden)

Be sure to provide plenty of space for a Dragon’s Wing Fern (Microsorum punctatum ‘Dragon’s Wing’), if you choose to grow one. The large fronds have a winged look and happy plants have been known to reach as much as 4′ across in time. A substantial pot and plant stand are required, but the beauty of the fern is worth the effort if you have the space. Provide filtered sunlight, regular water, and ample humidity.

Heart Fern

Heart fern is not a particularly ferny-looking fern. (Image courtesy of Logee’s Plants for Home and Garden)

At first glance, most might not recognize heart fern (Hemionitis arifolia) as a fern at all, but the beautiful specimen plant is truly a fern. The leaves have a leathery texture and distinct heart shape. The plants reach no more than 10 inches when mature. They prefer slightly moist soil and high humidity–making heart fern another potential terrarium specimen.

Staghorn Fern

Staghorn ferns are generally mounted on wood and moss and hung on the wall.

Staghorn ferns (Platycerium spp.) need substantial support, but they are truly beautiful. The large ferns naturally make their home in trees found in the rainforests of Java, New Guinea, and southeastern Australia. Specimens are generally wall-mounted or hung indoors. In warmer climates, they can be grown on trees or patio mounts outdoors. They enjoy warmth, humidity, and regular water–low-mineral spring water is preferred. (Elkhorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) is a particularly pretty and easy-to-find species.)

Growing Ferns

Most ferns grow best in fertile potting mix with a slightly acid pH. Good water-holding ability and drainage are also necessary soil requirements. Both Fafard Professional Potting Mix and Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Mix are good choices. Most ferns prefer to be watered regularly with low-mineral water, or bottled spring water and require pots that drain well. Misting and higher-than-average humidity are also recommended to discourage leaf-tip drying. Some gardeners opt to bring a humidifier into a room with potted ferns.

Best New Flowering Shrubs for 2024

Shrubs from bottom left to right: Juiced® Orange Jessamine (Image thanks to Proven Winners® ), Eau De Parfum™ Berry Rose (Image thanks to Monrovia® ), X Pyracomeles Berry Box™ (Image thanks to Proven Winners® ), and Eclipse® Bigleaf Hydrangea (Image thanks to First Editions® Plants).

Flowering shrubs are garden mainstays for bringing structure and seasonal color to beds, front borders, and large containers. 2024 brings a wealth of new, beautiful flowering shrubs to US gardeners. All selected are colorful and most will flower for months.

Hydrangeas

Proven Winners’ Tuff Stuff Top Fun™ is a good hydrangea for containers or garden edges. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Bailey Nursery and First Editions Plants have outdone themselves with the charming new Big Leaf Hydrangea, Eclipse® bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla, USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9). The ruby red flowers of Eclipse glow in summer against the shrub’s large, dark purple leaves. Fully grown specimens reach 5′ tall and wide and grow in full to partial sunlight.

Two colorful new hydrangeas for more compact gardens include Monrovia’s reblooming Seaside Serenade® Kitty Hawk Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Hokomapfloy’, Zones 5-9), a new 3′ x 4′ selection with starry pale pink flowers and an ability to grow beautifully under tougher conditions. It thrives in full sun to partial shade. The equally cute and resilient Tuff Stuff Top Fun Reblooming Mountain Hydrangea (Hydrangea serrata Tuff Stuff Top Fun™, Zones 4-9) is a recent Proven Winners introduction. The lacecap flowers are profuse and shrubs reach only 3′ x 3′.

Shrub Roses

Champagne Dreams is a beautiful, lightly fragrant new shrub rose from Jackson & Perkins. (Image thanks to Jackson & Perkins)
Monrovia’s Eau De Parfum™ Berry Rose (Rosa ‘Noa11356′) is a new shrub rose with all of the fragrance and old-fashioned romance of an heirloom. The disease-resistant rose reaches just 4′ x 4’ and produces loads of fully double, berry-red flowers from late spring to fall. Their fragrance is strong and outstanding, so plant yours near a patio or bench where their aroma can be enjoyed.

The delicately colored, disease-resistant Champagne Dreams Floribunda Rose (Rosa ‘JACgobesho’, 4 x 3′, USDA Hardiness Zones ) is a Jackson & Perkins exclusive shrub rose for 2024. The floribunda rose becomes laden with double, pale-apricot flowers from late spring to fall. The blooms are produced in clusters and have a light, fruity fragrance.

Other Select Shrubs

Berry Box™ (X Pyracomeles hybrid) is a compact new shrub with delicate spring flowers and bright fruits from fall to winter. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Looking for a truly miniature summer-blooming shrub that has the double bonus of attracting butterflies? Then try Butterfly Candy’s™ New Butterflybush Li’l Lavender™ (Buddleia davidii Li’l Lavender™, Zones 5-10). The 2′ x 3′ shrubs have large flower clusters of lavender. Plant the sun-loving shrub where soil drainage is satisfactory.

Reblooming Encore azaleas changed azalea growing forever. The shrubs truly rebloom in summer and the new Autumn Moonstruck™ Encore Azalea (RhododendronRoblezf‘, Zones 7-10) is a fine addition to the collection. Large, white, semi-double flowers bloom profusely on 4′ x 5’ shrubs with variegated foliage of ivory and green.

Butterflybush Li’l Lavender™ makes a lovely addition to sunny summer gardens. (Image thanks to Butterfly Candy™)
Proven Winners: Juiced® Orange Jessamine (Cestrum corymbosum Juiced® Orange Jessamine, Zones 7-10). Southern gardeners can enjoy the sunny golden orange blooms of the evergreen Juiced® Orange Jessamin. The sun-loving shrubs reach 5′ x 4′ and produce clusters of golden orange, fragrant flowers in the warm summer months. Butterflies are attracted to the flowers.
I had to include Proven Winners Berry Box (X Pyracomeles hybrid, Zones 7-9) because the miniature (3.5′ x 3′) fruitful shrub offers both spring flowers and bright orange-red berries in fall and winter. Berry Box™ will grow beautifully in a large container.

Shrub Planting and Care

Shrubs are a long-term investment, so make certain to know the needs of any shrub before planting. For further information, I recommend reading the invaluable article, How to Plant and Site Trees and Shrubs, by horticulturist Russell Stafford. It will provide all the details for how to choose the best location in your yard for any shrub of interest. Additionally, when planting any in-ground shrubs, I recommend amending the ground soil with Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost. The natural and organic amendment is formulated for organic gardening.

I Need Good Sunny Window Box Plants

“I have full sun for the majority of the day at my home. I’m wanting to put up a window box on the front of my house, but I’m not sure what plants would succeed. Help is appreciated! Thank you!” Question from Melissa of Ludington, Michigan

Answer: There are lots of great plants for sunny window boxes. Good options do not get too tall or wide and grow and flower well in small spaces. For design purposes, plant them in contrasting combinations with bushy and trailing or spilling plants in complementary colors. Annuals are most often favored for window boxes. Here are some that will grow beautifully in Michigan.

Favorite Sunny Window Box Bushy Bloomers

Summer Snapdragon (Angelonia angustifolia hybrids). Choose these heat-lovers for sunny window boxes. They will even take some drought. Some of the newer summer snapdragons, like those in the Angelface® Cascade Series, are a bit more compact, making them better suited for window boxes.

Bidens (Bidens hybrids): These heat-loving annuals generally have yellow or orangish-red daisy-like flowers. Most varieties keep on flowering until fall.

Bedding Geraniums (Pelargonium hybrids): Old-fashioned geraniums need to be deadheaded, but they are classic window box plants that keep looking great until frost. I love cherry-red varieties, but you can also find them with white, pink, salmon, orange, or orange-red blooms.

Petunias and Calibrachoa (Petunia and Calibrachoa hybrids): Go to any garden center, and you will find loads of petunias and calibrachoa. Vista Petunias and Superbells Calibrachoa are my favorites. They bloom beautifully from summer to fall and trail nicely in containers.

Profusion Zinnias (Zinnia Profusion Series): Here is one of the best trailing zinnias for nonstop flowers for the sun. They come in lots of colors, including white, orange, yellow, and red, and they are very easy to grow from seed. (Click here to learn how to grow annuals from seed.)

Favorite Sunny Window Box Spillers

Dichondra Silver Falls (Dichondra argentea Proven Accents® Silver Falls): Here is one of the easiest, prettiest, most drought-tolerant spillers that you can grow. Its trailing stems of pure silver cannot be beaten.

Mexican Hair Grass (Nasella tenuissima): Plant this fine, fountain-shaped, airy grass to add height and spill to containers.

Ornamental Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas ornamental hybrids): There are loads of compact, trailing ornamental sweet potatoes that really light up containers. Two great, compact options are the bright green Sweet Caroline Medusa Green and variegated green, white, and pink Tricolor

Bacopa (Sutera cordata hybrids): These small-leaved, trailing annuals have small, pretty flowers of white or lavender-pink. Of the white-flowered varieties, Snowstorm® Giant Snowflake®  has the largest flowers and a great

From there, we recommend filling your window boxes with a potting mix that has a high water-holding capacity, such as Fafard® Ultra Potting Mix with Extended Feed or Fafard Professional Potting Mix. Then be sure to feed the boxes with slow-release fertilizer and water-soluble fertilizer for consistent strong growth and flowering. We recommend Proven Winners’ brand fertilizers, which are formulated for flowering plants.

I hope that some of these plants appeal to you.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

How Do You Manage Whiteflies Organically?

“What is the best organic way to get rid of whiteflies?” Question from Shawn of Kenosha, Wisconsin

Answer: Whiteflies can become awful pests to manage if the populations become too large, but they are relatively easy to kill if you know what to do. Here is a little more information about them and some organic methods for their management.

What Are Whiteflies?

Whiteflies are sucking insects that remove the juices from plant leaves and stems. Tiny whiteflies can be very destructive when populations are high–causing leaf drop and general plant decline. When plants are badly infested, the undersides of leaves will become covered with clouds of tiny flies that are white and clusters of their small, round, white egg masses.

Whiteflies breed continuously and quickly, which is a big reason why they are so problematic. According to Colorado State University: At 70º F, the greenhouse whitefly life cycle happens fast. “It takes 6-10 days for egg hatch, 3-4 days as a nymph I, 4-5 days as nymph II, 4-5 days as nymph III, 6-10 days for the pupa. Adults can live for 30 to 40 days.” Adults produce lots of eggs for ever-increasing numbers unless challenged.

How to Kill Whiteflies

Start by spraying the plants off with a sharp spray of water from a hose. Focus on the undersides of leaves. Then look beneath the leaves for clusters of clinging, small, white egg masses. Leaves thickly covered with egg masses should be removed, tightly bagged, and thrown away. Next, wipe the egg masses off of the remaining leaves. Make sure no eggs remain. Finally, spray the plants with insecticidal soap, Neem oil, or horticultural oil. (Click here for an overview of horticultural oils for organic insect control.) Continue to check for whiteflies and wipe and spray leaves as needed. It may take a little work, but this method is effective.

I hope that these tips help!

Happy gardening

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

What Are the Benefits of Raised Bed Gardening?

“Are raised beds easy to grow in and maintain? I live in North Carolina. During the winter can I put a tarp-type Greenhouse over them to help protect vegetables from the cold.” Question from Karen of Rougemont, North Carolina

Answer: There are many benefits to growing in raised beds and very few downsides. Here are the pros and cons of raised bed gardening, followed by methods to help maintain your garden through winter.

Pros of Raised Bed Gardening

  1. Deeper, Lighter Soil: If you fill your raised beds with good soil from the start, it helps root crops grow deeper and all plants set deeper roots for higher yields. We recommend using either one-part ground soil to one-part Fafard® Natural & Organic Potting Mix or Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. Be sure to mix it well until uniformly combined. Top off with an amendment yearly.
  2. Easier Weeding: Raised beds are higher, have looser soil, and often cover a smaller area, making them easier to weed.
  3. Easier Harvest: Because they are raised, the beds are easier to harvest and replant. They also make upkeep and harvest cleaner, especially when beds are surrounded by pebble, straw, or cut grass. After a rain, mud is not a problem.
  4. Easy Planning and Rotation: When you have just a few geometric beds, it is easier to design plantings for yearly rotation (Click here to learn more about the importance of rotating crops.)

Cons of Raised Bed Gardening

  1. Initial High Cost: Raised beds are not inexpensive to install, if you start out right.
  2. Less Space for Big Crops: Unless your beds are large and you have trellising, you have less space for large crops like vining pumpkins, squash, and melons or multiple rows of corn.
  3. Replacement: Eventually your beds will need to be replaced. Metal and plastic options last longer. Cedar raised beds are also long-lasting. Never use treated wood to create raised beds because the wood contains heavy metals that can leach into the soil and be taken up by crops.

Raised Bed Covers

Floating hoop covers are the easiest and best-insulating covers to extend growing in raised beds. You also may consider adding a cold frame to your raised-bed plan. They make it easiest to continue growing herbs and greens through winter. (Click here to learn more about cold-frame gardening.)

I hope that this helps!

Happy Gardening,

Jessie Keith

Fafard Horticulturist

What Herbs Repel Deer?

“Are raised beds easy to grow in and maintain? I live in North Carolina. During the winter can I put a tarp-type Greenhouse over them to help protect vegetables from the cold.” Question from Karen of Rougemont, North Carolina

Answer: There are many benefits to growing in raised beds and very few downsides. Here are the pros and cons of raised bed gardening, followed by methods to help maintain your garden through winter.

Pros of Raised Bed Gardening

  1. Deeper, Lighter Soil: If you fill your raised beds with good soil from the start, it helps root crops grow deeper and all plants set deeper roots for higher yields. We recommend using either one-part ground soil to one-part Fafard® Natural & Organic Potting Mix or Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. Be sure to mix it well until uniformly combined. Top off with an amendment yearly.
  2. Easier Weeding: Raised beds are higher, have looser soil, and often cover a smaller area, making them easier to weed.
  3. Easier Harvest: Because they are raised, the beds are easier to harvest and replant. They also make upkeep and harvest cleaner, especially when beds are surrounded by pebble, straw, or cut grass. After a rain, mud is not a problem.
  4. Easy Planning and Rotation: When you have just a few geometric beds, it is easier to design plantings for yearly rotation (Click here to learn more about the importance of rotating crops.)

Cons of Raised Bed Gardening

  1. Initial High Cost: Raised beds are not inexpensive to install, if you start out right.
  2. Less Space for Big Crops: Unless your beds are large and you have trellising, you have less space for large crops like vining pumpkins, squash, and melons or multiple rows of corn.
  3. Replacement: Eventually your beds will need to be replaced. Metal and plastic options last longer. Cedar raised beds are also long-lasting. Never use treated wood to create raised beds because the wood contains heavy metals that can leach into the soil and be taken up by crops.

Raised Bed Covers

Floating hoop covers are the easiest and best-insulating covers to extend growing in raised beds. You also may consider adding a cold frame to your raised-bed plan. They make it easiest to continue growing herbs and greens through winter. (Click here to learn more about cold-frame gardening.)

I hope that this helps!

Happy Gardening,

Jessie Keith

Fafard Horticulturist

 

The Most Fragrant Garden Roses

Many new English shrub roses have both beauty and fragrance!

New roses are being bred with intoxicating fragrance once more, bringing a winning marriage of old-fashioned fragrance and new-rose vigor. Rose fragrances vary a lot, so scents come with lots of pleasing descriptors, such as citrusy, fruity, musky, spicy, and sweet, among others. Here, I have hand-picked newer roses for both their effortless beauty and first-class fragrance, while adding a few beautiful antiques along the way.

New fragrant roses are rooted in the past. Many storied antique roses are the parents of today’s most aromatic new varieties. They are the originals grown for perfumery and flavoring. Those who garden for fragrance can’t be without one or two of these classics, which fill the garden with romance.

Historic Fragrant Roses

The old Bourbon climbing rose ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ has few to no thorns and an outstanding fragrance.

Bourbon roses are old French hybrids of China roses that have unmatched spicy, fruity fragrances. Most are voluptuous doubles that are still grown today (hybridization records go back a couple hundred years or more). They tolerate heat and drought once established and perform well in the South. One that is still popular is the nearly thornless climber ‘Zephirine Drouhin‘ with large, double, deep-pink blooms all summer but does require spraying to stave off fungal diseases. Its flowers have a sweet, fruity fragrance. Plant it along a pergola trellis for summerlong enjoyment. (Click here to see more Bourbons for sale.)

The highly scented Gallica roses were the first to be cultivated in Europe.

The highly fragrant Gallica roses (Rosa gallica hybrids) were the earliest European roses in cultivation. The spreading shrubs originated from central and southern Europe, and many heirloom varieties still exist. One of the oldest is the semi-double, rose-pink Apothecary’s rose or red rose of Lancaster (R. gallica ‘Officinalis’, Zones 4-11, 4 x 4 feet), which has been valued for its traditional wild-rose scent and beauty since Medieval times, possibly earlier. The 1860 Gallica heirloom ‘Reine des Violettes‘ is another heirloom worth growing that has fragrant, fully double flowers of rose-purple. Expect lots of bees to visit the flowers.

Fragrant musk roses are believed to originate from the Himalayas. (Image by Dinesh Valke)

The Asian Musk Rose (Rosa moschata, Zones 6-10, 6-12 feet) has famously fragrant roses with an intense musky scent. The large shrub rose has single-white blooms and attractive grey-green foliage. They bloom once in a season towards late spring or early summer. Bees love them!

Musk and Gallica roses were crossed to produce the powerfully fragrant Damask Rose (Rosa × damascena, Zones 5-11), which is still the predominant rose scent that you will find in perfumery, rose oil, and rose water production. Many old forms are still sold. The double, pink damask ‘La Ville de Bruxelles‘ (Zones 5-11, 5 x 4 feet) from 1849 is one to try. It only blooms once in a season, but its spectacular fruity-scented flowers are divine.

New Fragrant Roses

Pink and Apricot Fragrant Roses

Boscobel has gorgeous coral-pink flowers with a strong, complex fragrance.

Gabriel Oak English shrub rose (Zones 4-11, 4 x 4 feet) has dense, double roses of deepest rose-pink with the strongest fruity fragrance imaginable, according to David Austin Roses. Its flowers are so intensely pink that they are almost magenta.

Boscobel English shrub rose (Zones 5-11, 4 x 4 feet) is an effortless bloomer that has big, coral-pink roses that are fully double and wonderfully scented. David Austin Roses describes them as having a “myrrh fragrance” with “delicious hints of hawthorn, elderflower, pear, and almond.”

Over The Edge (Zones 5-9, 4 x 3 feet) is new in 2022! The Jackson & Perkins floribunda rose introduction has big double blooms of apricot with a dark-pink edge. Each flower has a fruity, spicy, strong scent that will waft through the garden. Its fantastic beauty and high disease resistance have put this all-around winner on my list of must-grow roses.

Red Fragrant Roses

‘Munstead Wood’ has flowers with a strong fruity scent.

The deepest red, cupped, double flowers of ‘Munstead Wood‘ (Zones 5-10, 5-6 feet) English shrub rose have a pungent, antique-rose scent with fruity notes of blackberry, blueberry, and damson plum. The 2007 introduction blooms continuously and commemorates the garden designer Gertrude Jekyll’s home in Surrey, England.

Firefighter® (Zones 5-10, 5-6 feet) is a 2009 introduction whose initial proceeds went to help victims of 9-11 through the “Remember Me” fund. It’s a real beauty of a long-stemmed, velvet red, hybrid tea rose that’s vigorous, disease-resistant, and reblooming. The highly fragrant flowers have a classic rose scent, and the stems have few thorns, which makes them a delight for cutting.

Yellow Fragrant Roses

Ch-Ching is an award-winning yellow rose with outstanding fragrance.

David Austin Roses gives ‘Charles Darwin‘ English shrub rose (Zones 5-11, 4.5 x 4 feet) the best rating for fragrance. The dense, double, yellow blooms (140 petals/bloom) are cupped. The fragrance is “strong, delicious and varying between soft floral tea and pure lemon.” The repeat bloomer is also ideal for cutting.

The citrus-scented ‘Radiant Perfume‘ (Zones 5-10, 5-4 feet) is a long-stemmed Grandiflora rose with big, double blooms of lemon yellow. It flowers continuously and is highly disease resistant. The Jackson & Perkins introduction looks so good, I am hooked and plan to grow one this season!

Ch-Ching!™ (Zones 5-10, 6 x 5 feet) is an everblooming shrub rose with spectacular large, double, golden-yellow flowers that have a strong, sweet rose scent. The 2007 AARS winner is a must-have in the fragrant rose garden.

White Fragrant Roses

Pope John Paul II Hybrid Tea Rose is award-winning and has an exceptional citrus fragrance. (Image by T.Kiya)

The old rugosa rose, ‘Blanc Double de Coubert‘ (Zones 4-9, 4 x 7 feet), is an 1892 heirloom with clear white, semi-double, fragrant roses that are produced all summer long. Later in the season, it bears huge red hips that look pretty and attract birds.

The hybrid tea rose Pope John Paul II (Zones 5-9, 4 x 5 feet) has large, fully double roses of ivory that smell strongly of fresh citrus. The award winner gets top marks for floral form, disease resistance, and performance. It is an excellent variety for cutting.

Planting New Roses

Plant roses in the spring. Full sun is required for most of them to grow and bloom to their fullest. They prefer fertile soil with a slightly acid pH of 6.5 and good drainage. If your garden has poor drainage and fertility, then it’s a good idea to amend it by evenly working Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost or Topsoil into the existing soil before planting. Because good drainage is required, some gardeners choose to build soils up and berm them to facilitate better drainage when planting roses. After planting, be sure to keep your plants lightly moist and fertilized as needed. One of the best all-natural fertilizers for newly-planted roses is alfalfa meal (3-1-2).

For an excellent overview of how to plant and site shrubs, click here. To learn how to grow roses with no fuss, click here.

How to Establish Lawn Grass in The Spring

Spring is a time for new building projects or yard and garden designs. All mean it’s time to establish new lawns, patches of lawn, or rejuvenate old lawns. How you do it and what lawn you choose depends on your yard, where you live, and how you intend to maintain it.

Best Lawn Grasses By Region

First, you need to know what to plant where. For a surefire lush lawn in the first season, you can always plant sod, but it is far less economical than seed. If you choose to seed your lawn, early to mid-spring is a great time to plant. The key is making sure that most of the grass seeds germinate, and the lawn fills in well. Regular irrigation will help the seeds sprout in the absence of rain and will help your new lawn along while it grows.

When lawn grasses have filled in and are actively growing, most recommend they be mowed every 7 to 14 days. I like a low-clipped lawn between 2-3 inches, but most lawn grasses have recommended clipping heights for their best appearance and growth.

Cool-Season Grasses for Northern and Midwestern States

Kentucky bluegrass creates a soft, lush lawn that looks best in cooler regions.

Those living further north should grow lawns of tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea, Zones 3-6, easy-care). The cool-season, sun-loving bunchgrass has broad, coarse, deep green blades that look good all season long. It is easy to grow, adaptable, and disease resistant. Once established it will withstand moderate summer heat and drought as well as high foot traffic. This really grass thrives where summer temperatures stay cooler (60-75 ⁰ F). There are plenty of other lawn fescues that are good but less often planted, such as the low-growing, heat, and drought-tolerant hard fescue (Festuca ovina, Zones 3-7, easy-care), which also requires full sun.

Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis, Zones 3-7, moderate-care) is another cool-season bunchgrass that is most lush in the cooler months. When summer heats up, its growth slows. Plant it in yards with full to partial sun. Its soft feel and bright green color make it a very appealing lawn grass. Many lawngrass mixes combine perennial ryegrass, which can take a little more heat, with Kentucky bluegrass.

Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne, Zones 5-7, low-care) is a cool-season quick fix for spring and fall planting. It is often used in other sun-loving grass seed mixes. When conditions are cool and moist, it can grow into a fully mowable lawn in around 25 days, sometimes less because it is fast to sprout and grow.

Warm-Season Grasses for Southern States

Zoysia grass turns a distinctive tan color while dormant in the winter. Some love the look while others do not.

Many southern homeowners turn to Bermudagrass (Cynodon spp., Zones 7-1-, moderate to high maintenance) for their sunny lawns because it thrives in the heat and moderate drought and will even tolerant the salt spray of coastal regions. It requires regular fertilization, some irrigation, and it grows quickly, which means more frequent mowing. The low-growing, lower-maintenance Pennington Pensacola Bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum, Zones 7-11, easy-care) is another good choice because it grows well in poorer soils, tolerates drought, and withstands hot summers and cold winters. The deep roots of this Mexican and South American native grass are what help it look lush even when growing conditions are harsh.

Another traditional lawn grass of the south is Zoysia (Zoysia spp.), which is heat and drought tolerant and will tolerate limited shade. I hesitate to recommend this grass because it turns tan in the winter, a trait that many homeowners do not like, it spreads quickly by rhizomes, which means it needs to be regularly rogued out of garden beds, and the rhizomes are sharp-tipped. The Southern Living Garden Book calls it “among the South’s best and most popular lawn grasses, ” but I did not enjoy having it as a lawn at my last home in Delaware.

Grasses for Arid States

Buffalo grass is a very tough native grass for dry, western landscapes.

Those living in the more arid regions of the American Southwest that desire a lawn should consider the drought-tolerant  ‘UC Verde’® Buffalograss (Bouteloua dactyloides, Zones 4-8, easy-care). The University of California’s introduction was bred for southern California growing. It is low-growing, native, Waterwise, and attractive. It is so drought-tolerant that it will survive with only 12 inches of water per year, though it looks lusher with more water.

Establishing a Lawn From Seed in Six Steps

When seeding lawn patches, Fafard Premium Topsoil is a great base mix for lawn improvement.

Here are six steps to ensuring your seed takes hold:

  1. Plant fresh, quality seed.
  2. Make sure your soil is smooth, weed-free, and fill holes of top-dress seed with Fafard Premium Topsoil to help germination.
  3. Plant seed with a push broadcast spreader for good coverage.
  4. Lightly rake in seed after spreading and consider using a lawn roller to press it down.
  5. Add a layer of straw overseeded areas to hold moisture and encourage people to stay off.
  6. Water the area lightly until the grass sprouts and starts to look lush.

Refrain from walking on your new lawn until it really begins to grow. Be sure to keep it moist, and fertilize it once it is full.  Once it reaches a few inches, you can mow it to a 3-inch height. Wait until it is totally full to mow it down to 2 inches.

Alternative Lawns and Lawn Flowers for Naturalizing

Clover is good for lawns!

There are lots of unique lawn options, many of which are sustainable and valuable to pollinators. All kinds of lovely clovers and violets can be knitted into lawns to brighten the spring and add texture to the turf. (Click here to read a full article about lawn alternatives.)

Best New Tomatoes of 2022

‘Black Strawberry’ (top left, image from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds), ‘Alice’s Dream (right, Image from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds), ‘Bodacious’ (bottom left, Image from Burpee)

What a great year for new tomatoes! The breeders have been busy. 2022 has so many new tomato introductions that I had trouble fixing on my favorites. The final picks were chosen for beauty, top trial ratings, disease resistance, and MOST OF ALL, taste.

Slicing Tomatoes

‘Enroza’ is a tasty pink slicing tomato with great disease resistance. (Image thanks to High Mowing Organic Seeds)

I am a sucker for beautiful fruits and vegetables, and tasty tomatoes in wild colors are ever-present in my garden. That’s why I’ll be trying the new bi-colored green and red ‘Captain Lucky‘ (75 days, indeterminate) slicing tomato from Johnny’s Select Seeds. Its excellent flavor challenges that of best heirloom tomatoes, and when sliced the fruits are a psychedelic yellow, green, pink, and red. Another for beauty and flavor is the Baker Creek exclusive, ‘Alice’s Dream‘ (80 days, indeterminate) beefsteak tomato, which has an orange-yellow exterior striped with purple and a deep orange-yellow interior that is described as tasting sweet and tropical.

‘Alice’s Dream’ has a delicious tropical fruit flavor. (Image thanks to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds)

Those looking for a classic red slicer must try Burpee’s ‘Bodacious‘ (80-85 days, indeterminate) big slicing tomato. The large, red, tasty tomatoes are aromatic and produced on vines that resist blight. Each plant can produce 40-50 fruits in a season. Another good traditional tomato is ‘Enroza’ (70 days, indeterminate) from High Mowing Organic Seeds. The classic slicer is deep pink, and the vines are super disease resistant. It produces continuously, and the fruits are meaty, flavorful, and juicy. for lovely dark-red, medium-large fruits grow ‘Rubee Prize’ (60-70 days, indeterminate) hybrid tomato. It is a taste-test winner, and the vines resist many diseases.

If you are looking for more really tough, disease-resistant, slicing tomatoes with great flavor, try ‘Tough Boy Gold‘ (75-85 days, indeterminate), which is resistant to blossom end rot as well as several viral diseases. Its sweet, golden fruits are medium-sized, flavorful, and resist cracking on the vine. The deep-red, medium-sized fruits of ‘Loki‘ (70-75 days, indeterminate) are also borne on highly disease-resistant vines. It is high-yielding and its fruits have an old-fashioned, heirloom-tomato flavor.

Cherry, Grape, and Salad Tomatoes

The 2022 AAS winner ‘Purple Zebra’ is a top-notch salad tomato. (Image thanks to AAS Winners)

On the top of my cherry list is ‘Black Strawberry’ (60 days, indeterminate), cherry tomato, which bears lots of fruits in neat trusses. The fruity, super-sweet tomatoes are orange-red with a mottled overlay of purple-black. Their flavor is described as very fruity and almost plum-like.

Sun-Dried Cherry‘ (60-65 days, indeterminate) is a cool new cherry tomato that was developed for sun drying. The sweet fruits easily dry on the stem, and vines yield lots of tomatoes!

‘Sunset Torch’ is another great new AAS winner! (Image thanks to AAS Winners)

The beautiful small/salad tomato ‘Purple Zebra‘ (70 days, indeterminate) is one of several 2022 AAS winners. Its tart-sweet dark-red fruits are striped with dark green, and the prolific vines resist disease. I will be growing this one! The red-striped golden grape tomato ‘Sunset Torch‘ is another of this year’s AAS winners. In addition to having fruity cherry tomatoes in sunset colors, it is disease resistant, productive, and the ripe fruits resist splitting after rain.

Sauce and Paste Tomatoes

‘Marzito’ bears lots and lots of little Roma tomatoes in no time! (Image thanks to BallSeed)

The small-medium, reddish-pink tomatoes of the ‘Rugby‘ (60-65 days, indeterminate) hybrid are meaty, high in beta-carotene, and have a well-balanced flavor. They are great for canning, sauce, and fresh eating. The vines also resist disease. The unique miniature Marzano-type tomato ‘Marzito‘ (50-55 days, indeterminate) is very early to bear and produces lots of small, deep red, sauce tomatoes that are meaty with a balanced flavor. They are also good for fresh eating. Finally, sauce lovers with less space should grow the new compact Roma tomato, ‘Bellatrix‘ (65-70 days, determinate). It grows beautifully in containers, is highly disease resistant, and its delicious fruits are perfect for sauce and salsa making.

Miniature Tomatoes

These are the best tomatoes for containers and hanging baskets. My oldest daughter Franziska fell in love with the heart-shaped miniature tomato, Heartbreaker Dora Red (75-85 days), which just reaches 16 inches high and becomes laden with lots of heart-shaped cherry tomatoes that are flavorful and sweet (9 Brix). Another with a cartoonish name is the ‘Grinch‘ (65 days, determinate) dwarf cherry tomato, which boasts lots of bright yellow-green cherry tomatoes with a mild tart and sweet taste. They are great for snacking. The bushy plants reach 4 feet and may require minimal caging or staking.

Container tomatoes such as these grow beautifully in quality potting mix, such as Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Soil. Choose a large container that drains well, and be sure to feed with a fertilizer formulated for tomatoes.

Any of these amazing tomatoes would be a great addition to your summer vegetable plot! Whether you just garden in containers or have a big vegetable bed, there is a new tomato for you.

More Tomato Resources:

Video: Growing Tomatoes From Seed to Harvest

Beating Tomato Pests and Diseases

Ten Best-Tasting Tomatoes