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Growing Fragrant Eucalyptus Indoors

Growing Fragrant Eucalyptus Indoors Featured Image

What do American gardeners have in common with the cute and cuddly Australian koala?  Both animals and humans appreciate the aromatic leaves of the eucalyptus or gum tree (Eucalyptus spp.).  Eucalyptus trees are primarily Australian natives, so Koalas have no trouble finding their tasty leaves that comprise their entire diet. But, Americans, especially those in cold winter climates, have to look farther afield to find eucalyptus leaves and branches for winter decorating, crafts, and herbal remedies. 

Some indoor gardeners shorten the trip by growing eucalyptus trees at home in containers. Since the trees are normally fast growers, pruning is a must, but that just means more aromatic material with no need for a trip to the craft store.

About Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus branches
Eucalyptus branches can be used fresh or dried.

A member of the myrtle family (Myrtaceae), most eucalyptus species are from Australia, with a few others native to Malaysia and the Philippines.  Many lose their leaves during the cold or dry season, but some are evergreen. Depending on which source you consult, there are between 500 and 700 eucalyptus shrub and tree species.  The characteristic menthol- or camphor-like fragrance comes from many essential oils present in all parts of the plant. While koalas can digest the leaves, they are toxic to humans and other animals. Eucalyptus has long been used for decoration, woodworking, and medicines.

If you live in a warmer US zone it is nice to know that some eucalyptus trees sport silvery gray bark that peels or exfoliates.  The green, gray-green, or blue-green rounded leaves, most commonly used by crafters, are generally the juvenile shoots of the plants. Older leaves are elongated or sickle-shaped but retain the characteristic eucalyptus fragrance. While eucalyptus generally bears small, fragrant white flowers when grown in the ground, it is unusual for container-grown plants to bloom.

Eucalyptus for Indoor Growing

Child watering a potted eucalyptus plant

Nurseries, garden centers, and mail-order vendors carry a number of species that are suitable for container culture.  Among them are:

  • Lemon Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora (syn. Corymbia citriodora)): As the name suggests, this eucalyptus features leaves with an overlay of lemony or citrusy fragrance. Left to its own devices, lemon eucalyptus may reach 6 to 10 feet tall and 2 to 4 feet wide, but a containerized specimen can be kept much smaller.  The bark is smooth and gray, and the evergreen leaves are elongated. It is easily grown from seed and grows very quickly.
  • White-Leaved Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus albida, Zones 8-10): The young shoots of this shrubby, white-leaved eucalyptus are actually bright grayish blue, eventually growing longer and turning green. It is relatively slow-growing and easy to prune to shape. Outdoor specimens can reach 4 to 9 feet tall if left unpruned.
  • Cider Gum (Eucalyptus gunnii, Zones 9-11): Native to Tasmania cider gum has several compact varieties good for indoor growing. ‘Silver Drop’ is a compact variety (2 to 3 feet high and 1 to 1.5 feet wide) perfect for pots, with small, silvery leaves. It is also easily grown from seed. Steel Tower is another vigorous gunnii variety of similar dimensions.

Caring for Eucalyptus

Silvery Eucalyptus
Silvery Eucalyptus pots look just at home indoors in winter.

Some garden centers and big box stores carry young eucalyptus trees and shrubs, especially during the growing season. Alternately, you can start eucalyptus from cuttings, which will root readily in water, or from seed.  Start seeds, cuttings or young specimens in large pots, because the plants dislike being repotted. 

Sun: A full-sun exposure (at least six to eight hours per day) is necessary to keep eucalypts growing to their fullest. It helps to take containers outdoors in summer when the weather is warm. During the cold months, position eucalyptus in the sunniest available space, preferably near a south-facing window. Turn plants to keep them growing evenly if light is one-sided.

Fafard Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed and RESiLIENCE pack

Soil and Fertilizer: Plant in large, fast-draining pots filled with well-drained soil, and fertilize regularly with all-purpose plant food. It helps to give them a leg up with an enriched potting mix, like Fafard Ultra Container Mix With Extended Feed

Water: Water regularly when the top few inches of soil feel dry.  Reduce watering significantly when you bring pots indoors during winter.

Pruning: To keep growth in check, promote fullness, and ensure an ongoing supply of young branches, the most important thing you can do is pinch off older growth and prune and shape the plant regularly. 

Drying Eucalyptus

Dried Eucalyptus wreath
Dried Eucalyptus makes long-lasting dried wreaths.

The most common way to preserve eucalyptus is by drying—hanging branches upside down in bunches, or spreading them on a screen placed in a cool, dry location. 

For applications like wreaths, where a more natural look is desirable, it is best to treat stems with glycerin to keep them more pliable and long-lasting. Cut fresh, 12-inch stems, and crush 2 inches at the base of the cuts. Place the branches in jars filled with two parts water to one part glycerin (heat water to 180°F, add glycerin, stir well, and let cool). Allow the branches to cure in the solution for two to six weeks. Refresh the solution as needed within this time.

Using Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus in a bedroom
A little dried Eucalyptus will add soothing fragrance to any room.

Eucalyptus oil should never be taken internally or rubbed directly on the skin, but many books and online resources supply directions for making infusions, ointments, and other aromatic remedies.  Insect pests don’t care for the scent of eucalyptus, especially lemon eucalyptus, so it makes a good repellent when tucked into sachets or included in potpourri.

Most of us will only experience koalas via nature shows or zoos, but we can channel their sunny Australian homeland by growing beautiful and fragrant eucalyptus indoors.

Pretty Pink House Plants for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Pretty Pink House Plants for Breast Cancer Awareness Month Featured Image
Pink Stripe Spiderwort is one of the easiest Pink House Plants for Breast Cancer Awareness.

The color pink represents warmth and hope, like the rosy pink clouds of a summer sunset.  It is also the color chosen to symbolize breast cancer research, awareness, and support. Some gardeners may be planting Pink Ribbon spring bulbs or Pink Invincibelle III hydrangeas to commemorate October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But it is the time for indoor gardening, so planting or sharing pretty pink house plants is another way to recognize friends and loved ones that have survived or passed from breast cancer. 

If gifting one or more of these beautiful house plants, it is also nice to make a donation to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the highest-rated charity dedicated to finding a cure for breast cancer.

Pink-Stripe Spiderwort

One of the easiest plants that you can grow indoors is Pink Stripe spiderwort (Tradescantia spathacea ‘Tricolor’). It’s a popular plant to find at local greenhouses and even big-box stores and it grows well in pots or hanging baskets. The Mexican native is colorful, drought-tolerant, sun-loving, and grows beautifully indoors and out. The leaves are green striped with pink variegation. They grow best with bright indoor light and lightly moist soil with good drainage. Purplish flowers appear throughout the year, but the leaves are the real attraction.

Pink Rex Begonias

Terra Nova's T REX™ Dancing Peacock
Terra Nova’s T REX™ Dancing Peacock is a spectacular Rex begonia with a range of pink hues.

Rex begonias (Begonia rex-cultorum) are longtime house or parlor-plant favorites grown for their colorful, flashy foliage. They combine an array of interesting colors and textures, featuring long, pointed, or rounded leaves that may be ruffled or curled in a way that resembles a snail shell. The leaves are often marked with two or more colors, which can include light or dark pink, depending on the variety. 

Those in Terra Nova’s high-performing T REX™ Series have pleasing splashes of rose and pink. The silvery-pink-leaved ‘Andrea’ and the pink-and-green leaved ‘Regal Minuet’ are two more exceptional commercially available varieties with pink in the color mix. Though flowers are not the main attraction of Rex begonias, the blooms may be pink as well. 

Provide high humidity, a free-draining soil mix, like Fafard Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed, and bright indirect light for the best results. Since begonias dislike wet feet, allow the soil to become somewhat dry between watering.

Pink Nerve Plant

Pink nerve plant
Pink nerve plant is a low-grower with impressive color.

Mosaic or nerve plant (Fittonia albivensis) features oval green leaves accented with a network of rose-pink veins. The miniature ‘Autumn Flame‘ is a particularly pretty form with pink and reddish venation. It reaches a few inches but spreads further. Standard forms reach 6 x 12 inches.

Though nerve plant hails from the tropics, direct sunlight will burn the leaves, so place it in a spot with bright, indirect light. Choose well-drained soil and place containers on beds of pebbles in water-filled saucers or trays to help raise humidity levels. Mist regularly in winter and feed in spring and summer with a balanced fertilizer, applied according to package directions. Another option for small Fittonia plants is to grow them in terrariums, which provide more consistent humidity. 

Rose-Painted Calathea

Calathea 'Rosy' (Image thanks to Steve's Leaves)
Calathea ‘Rosy’ has true pinks in spades. (Image thanks to Steve’s Leaves)

Rose-painted Calathea (Calathea roseopicta) lives up to its name, with fabulous eye-catching foliage painted with rose. One variety, ‘Rosy‘, features large, oval leaves with rose-pink and ivory centers edged in dark green and reaches just 8-inches high with a broader spread. The leaf undersides are pure pink, which is especially evident when the plant furls its leaves together at the end of the day. 

On average, rose-painted Calathea is a medium-tall, upright plant that grows 2 to 3 feet high with a 1-foot spread. It is perfect for a warm corner with bright, indirect sunlight. High humidity is a must, so consider a pebble tray or spritz for this plant as well. Allow its soil to become slightly dry between watering. Growth slows down in the winter, so hold off feeding until spring, when active growth restarts.

Pink Echeveria

Echeveria ‘Perle Von Nürnberg’
Echeveria ‘Perle Von Nürnberg’ has lots of pink it its rosettes.

Many of the most popular succulents also feature pink-tinted or accented leaves.  Among the prettiest are the rosette-forming echeverias (Echeveria spp.). Two excellent choices are ‘Perle von Nürnberg’ (‘Pearl of Nüremberg’), which has plump gray leaves accented in pink, and the comparable ‘Rainbow’, with its striped variegated leaves of pink, yellow, and green. 

If you often forget to water houseplants, succulents like echeveria are a perfect fit.  Plant them in Fafard® Professional Potting Mix leavened with a 1/3 amount of perlite or fine gravel so that water drains freely.  Water infrequently and only when the soil is dry. In winter, water monthly.

Silver Urn Plant

The pink bromeliad flowers of Aechmea fasciata
The pink bromeliad flowers of Aechmea fasciata are brilliant.

The silver vase or urn plant (Aechmea fasciata) is a bromeliad with dramatic pink, petal-like leaves (bracts) that resemble flowers and surround the much smaller, electric-purple true blooms.  The plants have no stems, but stand erect (up to 3 x 2 feet) because the sturdy, strap-like leaves grow upward into an urn shape with a hollow central cup. Those leaves may also be variegated with streaks of silver. Unlike other house plants, bromeliads are watered by filling the central cup whenever it is empty. Reduce the amount of water in the winter but be sure to mist plants regularly to keep leaf edges from browning.

Silver vase plants perform best in bright indirect light.  Each plant blooms only once, but the pink bracts may last a month and a half or more.  Once the blooms fade, the parent plant dies, but a healthy plant will produce offshoots or “pups” from the side of the parent plant, which can be transplanted when they reach 6 inches tall, ensuring another generation of silver vases filled with bright pink flowers. 

Woolly Bears in the Garden: Lore and Ecology

Wooly Bears in the Garden: Lore and Ecology Featured Image

The banded woolly bear caterpillar is only about 1.5 to 2 inches long, but it carries a lot of weight on its small form. Since colonial times, folk wisdom has claimed that even before the caterpillar is old enough to metamorphose into a tiger moth, it has the power to predict winter weather. That is a big responsibility. The gentle caterpillars are also loved by kids and make great teaching tools to explain insect hibernation, insect life cycles, and regional folklore.

It’s All in the Woolly Bear Wool

Woolly Bear

Woolly bear caterpillars, also known as woolly worms, are the larval form of the Isabella tiger moth (Pyrrharctia isabella).  The source of their alleged superpower is the dense coat of bristly hair that covers the thirteen segments of the caterpillar’s body, which helps them hibernate through winter.  This “wool” is most often black at both ends and rusty brown in the middle, and its various bands of color supposedly predict winter severity.  For example, a longer brown segment augurs a mild winter; a shorter one means that the area is likely to have a more severe cold spell. (See more below)

Weather prediction aside, the woolly bear has other distinctive traits.  Native to the United States, Canada, and northern Mexico, the Isabella tiger moth may produce one to two generations of caterpillars per season, the first in May and the second in August. Woolly bears are most prolific in the fall when the caterpillars are on the move–crossing roads and sidewalks in search of food and winter shelter.  If you disturb a woolly bear, it will curl up into a woolly ball and “play dead” until danger is past.

What Do Isabella Tiger Moths Pollinate?

Isabella tiger moth (Image by Steve Jurvetson)
Isabella tiger moth (Image by Steve Jurvetson)

The Isabella tiger moth is not a pollinator. The pretty orange moths don’t eat and survive for only a few days after pupation. The adults emerge in spring, mate, lay eggs on the surface of a food plant, and die. The eggs hatch in June or July, and the little caterpillars feed on the leaves of various plants to become fully mature and hibernation-ready. On occasion, two life cycles can be completed in a single season. (Note: The nocturnal moths are attracted to light, so give them a fighting chance by minimizing outdoor lighting in the garden.)

Tasty Leaves for Woolly Bears

Woolly bear climbing on a fall chrysanthemum
A woolly bear climbs across a fall chrysanthemum.

Moths as a group have gotten a bad rap because of the harmful actions of some destructive species, like Gypsy moths.  But, the larvae of many, including the Isabella tiger moth, do little damage, feed wildlife, and are cute garden friends.  Your garden is probably home to plants with leaves that woolly bears relish, including old-fashioned beauties like sunflowers and asters, not to mention wilder plants like violets, clover, plantain, lambs quarters, and nettles.  Though they prefer herbaceous plants, the caterpillars will occasionally snack on the low-tannin leaves of birches, maples, and elms. Unlike the gypsy moths, gentle Isabella tiger moths are not a threat to the survival of any of their host or food plants.

Helping Woolly Bears Overwinter in the Garden

Black woolly bear
All black or rusty woolly bears do exist, but they are less common. (Image from Prairie Sky Sanctuary)

When woolly bears start rambling around in fall, they are looking for the right shelter to help them survive winter. (Humans like a comfy bed and so do woolly bears!) They seek winter shelter under leaves or logs and may also spend the cold months in rock cavities.  Keep a corner of your garden a little less tidy in the fall, and you will make it more attractive to woolly bears in search of a quiet, protected spot for their long winter’s nap. Your kids might even help direct them to the best hibernation spot in the yard.

Woolly bears freeze solid in winter. They survive because they have tissues that contain a cryoprotectant, which protects their soft bodies from freezing damage. In spring, the caterpillars thaw with no internal injury.

Do Woolly Bears Predict Winter Weather?

Woolly bear on a wooden structure
Some suggest that the black segments of the woolly bear’s coat lengthen as the caterpillars age, making older bears more likely to “predict” mild winter

The folklore about woolly bears and winter weather forecasting got a big assist from a mid-century American entomologist, who collected the caterpillars at Bear Mountain State Park, north of New York City, over a nine-year period beginning in 1948.  The scientist found that in years when the brown band was longer, winters tended to be milder than normal.  Experts point out that while the results were tantalizing, the sample size was small and limited to one area.  That fact has done nothing to dampen the woolly bear’s reputation. Other sources suggest that the black segments of the woolly bear’s coat lengthen as the worms age, making older caterpillars more likely to “predict” harsh winters. 

Six Ways to Read a Woolly Bear

Woolly bear on a twig
How would you read this woolly bear?

The caterpillars have 13 body segments said to correspond to the 13 weeks of winter in some parts of the country. Here are six ways to read them.

  1. Broad Rusty Band = milder winter
  2. Large Black Band = more severe winter
  3. Fuller Wool= more severe winter
  4. Long Black Head and Tail = severe winter at the beginning and end
  5. All Brown =very mild winter
  6. All Black = very severe winter

And, if you have woolly bears with lots of different color variants, it’s anyone’s guess. Whatever the truth, the presence of these distinctive insects in your garden is a good indicator that you have a healthy garden ecosystem. If you have them, help nurture their yearly return.

Everblooming Summer Vines for Gardens

Everblooming Summer Vines for Gardens Featured Image
Common (pink and purple) and blue morning glories are two everblooming summer vines.
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Savvy gardeners know that flowering vines do more than just hang around. No matter how thick their stems, vines are masters at pulling their weight in the garden, brightening vertical spaces, and providing small-space gardeners with a larger plant canvas.

Everblooming or nearly everblooming annual vines give the most colorful bang for the gardener’s buck and also delight the pollinators that flutter and fly to them.  The range of choices is large, from the intricate blooms of climbing nasturtium (Tropaeolum Group) to the old fashioned charm of annual morning glories (Ipomoea purpurea).  Most annual vines climb and twine with their own steam. All the gardener needs to provide is support in the form of a trellis, pergola, tuteur, or fence.

To give your vine the greatest chance of success, consider the amount of available vertical space, as well as sun and shade levels. Most flowering vines need full sunlight to look their best. At planting time, whether planting seeds or seedlings, amend the soil with Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix, to increase fertility, in addition to a slow-release fertilizer formulated for flowering plants.

Vines with Old-Fashioned Charm

'Heavenly Blue' morning glory
Arguably, the best blue morning glory variety is the classic ‘Heavenly Blue’.

The cheerful common morning glory (Ipomoea-purpurea) and blue morning glory (I. tricolor) are probably the best-known annual vines.  These familiar cottage-garden favorites feature funnel-shaped flowers that bloom from mid to late summer through frost, with new blooms opening each day against a backdrop of medium green, heart-shaped leaves. Common types bloom earlier than blue and come in a range of colors from white to red, pink, and purple, with some bi-colored varieties.  Flower throats may be white, yellow, or even pink, like those of the white-flowered ‘Dolce Vita’. The heirloom variety, ‘Grandpa Ott’s’, features purple petals accented with brighter red-purple star-shaped markings.  Blue morning glories have larger flowers that start blooming later and come in shades of sky blue and white. The impressive ‘Flying Saucers’ is splashed with blue and white stripes.

'Grandpa Ott's' morning glory
The heirloom common morning glory ‘Grandpa Ott’s’ features purple petals with red star-shaped markings.

Grow morning glories to full sun and with well-drained soil provided with average moisture.  The large seeds are easy to sow directly into the garden right after your area’s last frost date. Nick and soak them the day before for faster sprouting. The plants are liberal self-seeders, so one package of morning glory seeds may give you many years’ worth of climbing displays.

If you live with children or pets, it is wise to remember that morning glory seeds are toxic if ingested.

Vines with Drama at Dusk

Moonflower (Ipomoea alba)
Moonflower (Ipomoea alba) has huge, fragrant white flowers that unfurl at night.

Moonflower (Ipomoea alba) is morning glory’s night owl cousin, with huge ivory funnels that glow and become fragrant at night. Pollinated by nocturnal moths, the blooms open at dusk and close up the following morning.  Though they are night bloomers, moonflowers need full sun in the daytime, along with good soil and irrigation. Twining up a trellis, moonflower can climb 10 to 15 feet during the growing season.  Like other members of the Ipomoea clan, it may also self-sow but less aggressively.

Vines with Tropical Flash

Blooming nasturtium climbing on an old weathered wooden fence
Blooming nasturtium climbing on an old weathered wooden fence

The heirlooms in Jewel of Africa mix are climbing garden nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus).  Over the course of summer, the vines can reach up to 8 feet tall, covering a fence or trellis with distinctive flowers of ivory, yellow, orange, and red.  Some are exuberantly bi-colored.  And the flowers are not the only part of the show.  The leaves, which look like scalloped saucers, feature white marbling.  For a more classic looking climbing nasturtium, try the 4 to 6 foot ‘Spitfire‘ that features lots of tangerine orange flowers.

If your drains well and is on the lean side, nasturtiums will not mind. Rich soils yield more vigorous vines with more lush foliage, while those with less fertility yield less robust growth but more flowers. These natives of the Andes mountains do not favor high heat, but once established in sunny spots, they can tolerant some drought.  Nasturtiums are champion multi-taskers too. If you can bear to pluck them off the plants, the flowers are edible, adding a peppery note to summer salads.

Black-eyed-Susan
Black-eyed-Susan are vigorous climbers that can cover trellises in no time.

Another eager climber is black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata), which grows three to 8 feet tall at maturity.  The most common variety boasts five-petaled, tubular flowers that glow in golden orange with black centers, a combination reminiscent of its namesake, perennial black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta).  If you are planting several black-eyed Susan vines and want some color contrast, pick a seed mix that includes varieties with flowers in cream, orange-red, and yellow.  All have the same dark centers.  A large container with two or more varieties trained up a small trellis makes an excellent summer display. The elongated triangular leaves are toothed and somewhat coarser in appearance than those of morning glory or nasturtium, but black-eyed Susan vines compensate with an abundance of flowers.  Grow them in partial to full sun, with regular watering and feeding.

Firecracker vine blooms
No flowering vine has blooms quite as remarkable as firecracker vine.

Firecracker vine (Ipomoea lobata) is another flashy performer for full sun that can climb up to up to 15 feet during its late summer to fall flowering season. The stems are adorned with green leaves shaped like elongated hearts. The flowers are tubular and borne on arching stems. Like any good fireworks display, firecracker vine is full of surprises. Its blooms are color changers, morphing from red to softer yellow over the life of each flower.  This changeable nature means that firecracker vines look different from day to day, with a multi-colored effect that draws the eye and holds it.

Collectible, Colorful Coleus for Containers and Beds

Collectible, Colorful Coleus for Containers and Beds Featured Image
The colorful coleus ‘Henna’ is so pretty that it is a stand-alone container plant. (Image by Jessie Keith)

If coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides) did not already exist, it would be necessary for gardeners to invent it. Its virtues are numerous—beautiful, easy to grow and propagate, repellent to varmints, available in endless varieties, and lovely from early spring through the first hard frost. You can even overwinter plants that you are especially fond of in the house. As if those qualities were not enough, it is also shade-loving, equally at home in beds, borders, containers, and window boxes.   

Coleus Offers More for Less

Coleus cuttings in glass vases
Coleus cuttings can root in water in just a week to two week’s time! (Be sure not to propagate patented varieties.)

When I was a beginning gardener, high on ambition and low on cash, I would pick one or two of the most beautiful or unusual coleus at the beginning of each gardening season. The minute I got the plants home, I took as many cuttings as possible and rooted them in glasses of water. Coleus is a rooting superstar; after a week to ten days, cuttings sprout roots.  After another week they can be potted up. 

I repeated the process through the first couple of months of the gardening season. Before the arrival of mid-summer, I had all the coleus that I needed for my containers and borders. By the time fall arrived, I had a coleus surplus that I could give away or overwinter. By overwintering and picking new varieties each year I developed a very handsome coleus collection.

Now that I am slightly more solvent, I revel in the annual cavalcade of dramatic colors, leaf shapes, and other innovations. Plant breeders have even come up with sun-tolerant coleus, like the plants in the ‘Stained Glass’ series, which is a boon for those of us who have beds that are sunny at one end and shady at the other.

Coleus Madness

Coleus in bowl containers
Coleus was first popularized in the Victorian era.

So how did this plant-world prodigy find its way to our shores?  Hailing from tropical areas in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Australia, coleus made its first appearance in the United States in 1851, during the Victorian era. Then as now, gardeners were mad for colorful plants, and coleus caught on. By the end of the nineteenth-century, gardeners could choose from over 150 different varieties. The colorful leaves were especially desirable for the popular carpet bedding planting schemes, where annuals were massed in designs reminiscent of the patterns found on oriental carpets.

Coleus went in and out of fashion in the twentieth century, but it is definitely back in vogue now.  Like the Victorians, we are spoiled for choice.

Coleus with Shapely Leaves

Fancy Feathers Copper
The name Fancy Feathers Copper says it all. (Image thanks to Terra Nova Nurseries)

As card-carrying members of the mint family, all coleus have stems that are square in cross-section and leaves that grow opposite each other on the stems.  Many varieties bear toothed or serrated leaves that are shaped like elongated ovals or shields.  But breeders have gone out of their way to make sometimes dramatic changes in leaf configuration.  Some varieties, like ‘Inky Fingers’, feature maroon and bright green leaves with deeply dissected edges. Going even further, Terra Nova’s Fancy Feathers™ Copper and similar types, produced leaves that are long, narrow, and form mounding mops of leaves. New in 2020, Hort Couture’s Under The Sea™ Fishnet Gold has the benefit of undulating leaves with dissected edges that are gold with brilliant red venation (wow).

Coleus in Fancy Forms

Freckled leaves
Freckles has large leaves that look like a splash of sunshine. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

With coleus, color is king and leaves come in practically every color except blue.  Monochromatic varieties, like lime green Terra Nova® Green Lantern or burgundy ‘Beale Street’ can be used in subtle ways or combined with contrasting colors to make splashy containers or border plantings.  But subtlety goes out the window when it comes to fancy-leafed varieties that may combine two, three, or even four colors on a single leaf.  For a one-plant-planter that looks like a party, invest in the brilliant orange and yellow Freckles Coleus by Proven Winners or the equally gaudy Under The Sea™ ‘Electric Eel’, which combines splashes of bright magenta with darker red and a wavy chartreuse edge.

Coleus Sizes

Terra Nova® 'Macaw' (Image thanks to Terra Nova)
The tiny Terra Nova® ‘Macaw’ just reaches 4 to 8 inches. (Image thanks to Terra Nova)

Coleus plants can be relatively tall, sprouting to 36 inches or more, or petite enough to tuck into tight corners.  Tiny, showy Terra Nova® ‘Macaw’, with its pointy, maroon and cream leaves rises to only 4 to 8 inches.  A little bigger, at 8 to 10 inches, ferocious ‘Yellow Dragon’ would wake up any container or window box.  On the opposite end of the height scale, the appropriately named Coleosaurus reaches for the sky at up to 24 to 36 inches tall.  Mid-range plants, like the green and yellow ‘Butter Creme’, stand 18 to 26 inches tall. And sometimes it is not the height that makes plants giants. The 2 to 3 foot Kong Red coleus has giant leaves of red, green, and burgundy that really stand out in the shade garden.

Coleus Growth Habits

Colorblaze Chocolate Drop coleus spills from the container below a purple Pennisetum. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)
Colorblaze Chocolate Drop coleus spills from the container below a purple Pennisetum. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Many coleus plants have a mounding habit, while others tend to sprawl or even trail.  Trailers, like green-edged ‘Burgundy Wedding Train’ or Proven Winners’ ColorBlaze® Chocolate Drop, are especially good for hanging baskets, and containers positioned on plant stands or plinths. They also make good “spillers” for the edges of large, mixed container plantings that also feature tall “thriller” plants and mid-size “filler” specimens.

Coleus Growing

Healthy coleus
Remove coleus buds and flowers to keep energy invested in beautiful leaves rather than “meh” flowers.
Fafard Professional Potting Mix with RESiLIENCE pack

Coleus, like many of its mint family relations, is ridiculously easy to grow.  Unlike some other mint species, it is not thuggish or invasive. Plant starter specimens in well-drained, fertile soil, like Fafard Professional Potting Mix, and provide consistent moisture. The coleus will grow rapidly in warm weather and partial to full shade. Feed regularly with a balanced fertilizer and pinch back stems to remove any oncoming flower buds or encourage bushy growth. The removal of flower buds is essential because coleus will invest energy in flowers and seeds rather than pretty foliage, which will negatively impact the plant’s looks quickly.

If you neglect your plant and it becomes “leggy” with long stems and fewer leaves, simply cut it back by two thirds. It will look better almost immediately and be completely revitalized within several weeks.

Coleus Vendors

Coleus in garden beds
Adding coleus to garden beds always boosts color in a big way!

Many mail-order coleus vendors are sold out by June, but garden centers and big box stores generally have a good supply.  Proven Winners and Rosy Dawn Gardens are two good vendors. If you can’t find named varieties like the ones above, you can usually find specimens with similar colors and shapes.  Part of the fun of coleus hunting is discovering wild new combinations amid the tried and true

Creative Four-Ingredient Edible Gardens

Creative Four-Ingredient Edible Gardens Featured Image
Creative Four-Ingredient Edible Gardens

Now that spring is well underway, it’s time to think about interesting ideas for simple, productive gardening.  Even the most efficient gardeners tend to glaze over when confronted with a long plant list, but most of us can cope with cleverly devised, four-plant gardens. 

Below are “recipes” for three different themed planting combinations containing edible and ornamental elements that can be contained or planted in gardens as space permits. The end results combine garden multi-tasking with great flavors and high ornamental value. And, if you want more options, you can create your own!

Herbal Tea Garden

Herbal tea ingredients: Rugosa Rose, Lemon Balm, Pineapple Mint, Lady Godiva Pot Marigold
These herbal tea ingredients add a twist to the classics.

Ingredients:

  1. Variegated Pineapple Mint (Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’, USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9)
  2. Everblooming Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis
    Lady Godiva® Orange)
  3. Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis, Zones 3-7)
  4. Rugosa Rose (Rosa rugosa, Zones 2-7)

Turn leaves or flowers of these easy-to-grow plants into tasty teas.  The requirements are simple: full sun (at least six hours per day for roses) and well-drained, average soil.  Make sure to avoid spraying the plants with any product not formulated for use on edible crops.

If you have a bit of space, create a dedicated four-ingredient tea garden with a rose at the center, surrounded by lemon balm, pot marigolds, and variegated pineapple mint. Container gardeners can grow the ingredients in separate pots, or mixed in a large container or two.

Rugosa roses are fragrant enough for their petals to be of value in teas, but their hips are the most common herbal tea ingredient. They will not form if the roses are cut, so let the flowers set fruit. Rugosas are noted for their large hips, which resemble cherry tomatoes. Mature hips will be bright orange-red and give slightly when pressed.

Among the best hip producers are those of fragrant hybrids, like the pink-flowered ‘Fru Dagmar Hastrup’ or the double white ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’.  They also bear thorny stems, so harvest carefully.  Use the hips fresh or dry until brittle in a slow oven (110 degrees Fahrenheit) or dehydrator.  Drying time varies depending on the size and quantity of hips.

Lemon balm and pineapple mint are vigorous members of the mint family, but both are wonderfully fragrant with leaves that maintain their flavor when dry. Lemon balm has been known to self-sow and escape garden confinement if neglected, so shear off its tiny blooms as they appear. Likewise, pineapple mint spreads by rooting stems, so it is best contained in a pot. Fortunately, the variegated form is more ornamental and less aggressive. Harvest pineapple mint and lemon balm leaves before the flowers form and air dry by arranging the leaves on trays and setting them aside for several days until dry and crumbly. 

Pot marigold is the only annual in the garden, so it will need to be planted yearly. Standard types set lots of seed and tend to self-sow, but Lady Godiva® does not. As a result, it is not messy, and it blooms all summer long, unlike the others. Gather fresh pot marigold flowers for tea. Dry them as you would balm and mint leaves.

Marinara Garden

Roma Tomatoes, Bush Basil, Greek Oregano, Flatleaf Parsley
Plant these to make fresh marinara. Just add garlic–to the sauce or your garden.

Ingredients:

  1.  Bush Basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Spicy Bush’)
  2. Greek Oregano (Origanum vulgare ssp. hirtum)
  3. Italian Flatleaf Parsley (Petroselinum crispum var. neapolitanum)
  4. Roma Plum Tomatoes (Lycopersicum esculentum Roma varieties)

Put an Italian accent in your garden and kitchen with these four plants.  Start with the tomatoes. Bush-type (determinate) Roma tomatoes are squat, meaty, and full of flavor for sauces and paste. Provide them with at least eight hours of sunlight per day. Choose quality varieties, such as the high-yielding ‘Paisano‘ or tasty golden ‘Sunrise Sauce‘. A spacious half whiskey barrel filled with a rich potting mix, like Fafard® Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix, and a caged tomato plant in the center is a great starting point. Install the low-growing herbs around the outside edges of the barrel. Be sure to feed with a fertilizer formulated for vegetables and herbs. (Click here to learn more about growing tomatoes in pots.)

Rich, aromatic annual basil is probably the best-known herb for flavoring tomato sauce and the easiest to grow, given full sun and good soil. There are many available basils, but compact sweet basils, such as ‘Spicy Bush‘, are best for container growing.  (Click here to learn more about growing basil in containers.) Use them as an exuberant edging around tomato plants, either alone or alternating with other herbs. Pinch off the flowers before they bloom to encourage foliage, and harvest leaves regularly for best taste. Macerate them in olive oil and freeze to store.

A low-grower with good heat and drought tolerance, Greek oregano is another indispensable marinara ingredient. Grow it along with basil and parsley in beds or containers by the kitchen door, or alternate with basil and parsley in a dedicated tomato bed. Its leaves are best dried for longterm use.

Low-growing flat-leaf parsley is the fourth member of the marinara quartet. With its fresh flavor, it can stand up to the bold tastes of basil, oregano, and tomatoes. It can also stand with them in plantings, brightening up a window box or planted in a large container alongside basil and oregano. Versatile and full of vitamins, flat-leaf parsley is also a champion seasonal edging plant. Preserve it as you would basil.

Summer Fruit Salad Garden

Compact Raspberries, Compact Blueberries, Compact Melon, Everbearing Strawberries

Ingredients:

  1. Everbearing Strawberry (Fragaria x ananasa ‘Tristar’)
  2. Compact Cantaloupe (Cucumis melo ‘Green Machine’)
  3. Compact Raspberries (Rubus idaeus Raspberry Shortcake®)
  4. Compact Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum Jelly Bean®)

You don’t have to own an orchard—or even a garden plot—to grow your own fruit.  A mixed planting of blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries will provide snacks and desserts through much of the summer. 

Blueberries bushes feature pink or white, bell-like flowers in spring, followed by tasty berries in July and lovely red leaves in the fall.  Use a compact variety, like Jelly Bean® (1-2 feet), along with a petite raspberry bush-like Raspberry Shortcake® (2-3 feet) as the centerpieces of your sunny planting scheme. The little shrubs will flourish in garden situations or large containers. Surround them with smaller pots or edge with strawberries, like the everbearing ‘Tristar’, which provides lots of berries in June and then a consistent flow of berries until fall.

A short-vined, small-fruited melon, such as the “ice cream” muskmelon ‘Green Machine’, will provide you with delectable melons in a small garden space or pot. Give them full sun and great garden soil amended with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost or potting mix, and the vines will give you sweet melons that are just the right size for a scoop of ice cream. (Click here to learn more about how to grow edibles in containers.)

Your fruitful garden will need consistent moisture throughout the growing season.  Investing in netting or other protection to keep away hungry birds and guarantee you a taste of the sweet fruits of your labors.

5 Fast Cool Season Vegetables for Instant Gratification

Crunchy baby carrots grow quickly and taste the sweetest.

“Patience is a virtue,” says the old adage, but sometimes even the most virtuous gardeners long for a little instant gratification. Succulent tomatoes and winter squash are a great reward for a season of waiting, but not all edible plants require a long growing period. In the cool growing season of early to mid spring and fall, you can have your salad and eat it too—sometimes in as little as 30 days—as long as you choose the right varieties and provide them with a bit of sunny space. 

Always check the seed packets of various varieties for specific directions and the approximate number of days to harvest.  Quick-growing veggies can generally be harvested in less than 55 days from sowing.  The following is a list of five of the tastiest and most popular instant gratification crops.

Mesclun Mix

Mesclun mix and mache are very fast growing, especially if harvested as microgreens.

This widely-marketed greens seed mix usually contains an assortment of early lettuces and other fast greens.  Depending on the seed producer, mesclun is sometimes also labeled “early spring mix” or “mixed baby greens”. Some vendors offer a variety of mesclun mixes to suit different tastes and seasons. No matter what the mix, the tiny seeds produce a crop of tasty small leaves in about 30 days, which is lightening-fast by garden standards.

Mesclun is easy to grow in containers, raised beds, or conventional garden beds.  Sprinkle the seeds over moist soil, and do not cover because lettuce seeds need light to germinate.  Water deeply using gentle spray.  Sprouting should occur relatively quickly.  The young greens can be harvested when the leaves are 4 to 6 inches long.  Succession planting every two weeks in spring and fall ensures a continuous crop.

Relish the Radish

Radishes are ready to harvest in no time!

Radishes add a peppery bite to salads, sandwiches or all by themselves with a little sweet butter and salt.  Radish lovers can rejoice in the fact that they are also quick to grow.  For fast growth, select extra-early varieties, like ‘Rover’ or Easter Egg Mix.  Sprinkle seeds over the soil and cover thinly with soil or mix.  When the sprouts reach about 2 inches tall, thin to 3 inches apart.  The young radishes should be ready in about 30 days.  The best way to detect readiness is to pull one, wash it, and taste it. As with mesclun, succession sowing will provide you with a consistent radish supply.

Baby Carrots

Kids love to harvest baby carrots. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Veggie lovers know that the “baby carrots” you buy in bags at the supermarket were actually sculpted from regular-size carrots at a processing plant.  In-a-hurry gardeners can have the genuine article—real diminutive carrots—in about 55 days from sowing.  Little carrots are excellent choices for container growing as well.  Pick a small-size carrot variety, like ‘Caracas Hybrid’ or ‘Adelaide‘, and sow thinly in loose soil to which compost has been added.  A product like Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost is perfect for this, providing the carrots with the lightened growing medium they need to produce straight roots. When seedlings emerge, thin to one inch apart.  Water consistently whenever the top of the soil feels dry.  At the 55-day point, or even a little earlier, pull one of the carrots.  If it seems big enough, you are ready for harvest.

Spinach

Picking spinach
Spinach is a very fast-growing spring green, especially when harvested in baby-leaf form.

Popeye may have eaten his spinach straight from the can, but he knew that the leafy greens are tasty and exceptionally good for you.  Spinach is also a boon for impatient gardeners.  Like other fast-growing veggies, it is also perfect for container growing, which should be music to the ears of those afflicted with deer, rabbits or other garden varmints.  For container success, pick a smaller spinach variety, like ‘Melody’ or ‘Red Kitten’.  Sow seeds about one inch apart in a planting medium that is pH neutral and enriched with plenty of compost.  When the seedlings emerge, thin to two to three inches apart.  The spinach harvest should be ready in about 40 days, depending on the variety.

Bok Choy

Mature bok choi ready for harvest. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Sometimes also known as pak choi, this Asian member of the cabbage family has become increasingly popular for home gardeners, who use the mild-flavored leaves in everything from stir-fries to salads.  For speedy results and/or container growing, choose dwarf varieties that can be harvested after about 40 days, when they are less than 10 inches tall.  As with other fast growers, sow seeds about two inches apart, cover with a thin layer of soil and keep uniformly moist.  Dwarf varieties can be thinned to three inches apart.  Harvest the entire head, as you would a cabbage.
Fast-growing vegetables are a great way to hit the ground running in spring, but most have a tendency to “bolt” as the weather warms, flowering and sprouting bitter leaves when summer’s heat sets in.  Save leftover seed for the second cool season in the fall, when you can rejoice in baby greens and radishes all over again.

Growing Serviceberry for Fruit and Beauty

Growing Serviceberry for Fruit and Beauty Featured Image
The summer fruits of serviceberry are tart and sweet.

Well-loved plants tend to collect lots of descriptive common names.  Serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.) have amassed quite a few, including Juneberry, shadbush, shadblow, May cherry, servicetree, and sarvisberry.  No matter what you call them, trees and shrubs of the Amelanchier species deserve attention and appreciation from home gardeners. It is hard to beat them for hardiness, adaptability, four-season interest, and fruits, which are appreciated by both wildlife and people.

Serviceberry Species

Evening grosbeak eating serviceberries
An evening grosbeak messily eats ripe serviceberries.

One of the many useful and beautiful landscape plants in the vast rose family (Rosaceae), Amelanchier is a genus of 20 or so north-temperate species of trees and shrubs. In general, they offer showy white spring flowers, edible summer berries of purplish-red or black, festive fall leaves of red, yellow, and orange, and attractive bark and branches in winter.

Most serviceberries are native to North America, and some, like Saskatoon serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia, USDA Hardiness Zones 4-7) and Allegheny serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis, Zones 4-8) are unique to these specific geographic areas. Two species, downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea, Zones 4-9) and Canadian serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis, Zones 3-7) are the most widely available commercially and quite a few cultivated varieties and hybrids have been bred. Both are native to the eastern United States and naturally interbreed. In fact, the hybrid apple serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora, Zones 4-9) is a natural cross between the two.

Downy serviceberry can be grown as a large, multistemmed shrub, but is normally available as a small to medium tree. At maturity it grows 15 to 25 feet tall, with an equally wide, rounded crown. Canadian serviceberry has a shrubbier natural habit than downy, and if allowed, it will spread by root suckers to form a thicket. Nurseries usually sell it in tree form, and it will top out at 25 to 30 feet tall, with a crown that spreads 15 to 25 feet. 

Spring Blooms

White spring flowers
The leaves of downy serviceberry emerge alongside its clusters of white spring flowers.

As American novelist and playwright Gertrude Stein said, “A rose is a rose is a rose.”  The rose family resemblance is evident in the abundant flowers that appear in early to mid-spring on serviceberries. (The bloom time gave rise to nicknames like shadblow, because shad fish swim upstream to spawn at roughly the same time.)  Like single roses, each serviceberry flower has five petals, which are slightly more rounded on Canadian serviceberry than on the downy species. The blooms are white and borne in drooping racemes or flower clusters. To some noses, serviceberry flowers are lightly fragrant. To others, like that of woody plant guru, Michael Dirr, they are “weakly malodorous.” 

Sources may disagree on fragrance, but agree on beauty.  Like many spring-flowering trees and shrubs, the Amelanchier bloom period is relatively short—generally about a week, depending on the weather—but reliable.

Summer Berries

Summer Serviceberries
Serviceberries ripen from pinkish-red to purplish-blue on a branch in the garden.

Birds, small animals, and humans all relish the sweet taste of serviceberry fruits, which develop after the flowers have faded. The berries start out green, gradually redden, and eventually become purplish-black to reddish-black when ripe. Though they are not as popular as the blueberries that they resemble, serviceberries have long been made into jams and pies. Would-be pie makers generally have to move faster than the birds in the race for the ripe fruit.

Fall Leaves

Fall leaves of serviceberry
The fall leaves of serviceberry turn shades of yellow, orange, and red.

Amelanchier leaves are grayish-green, lightly toothed, and may be covered with fine, wooly hairs when they emerge in spring.  By the time summer arrives, the leaves are medium green and smooth. Fall provides serviceberry with the second season of glory when the foliage turns shades of yellow, orange, and red. Though the leaves drop earlier than those of some other trees, they make up for it with a brilliant show.

Winter Grace

A shadbush (Amelanchier laevis) covered with snow
A shadbush (Amelanchier laevis) looks elegant covered with snow in winter.

With leaves departed, serviceberry still retains its good looks through the winter. Its smooth gray bark is striped with reddish fissures or shallow vertical cracks that develop into ridges as the trees age. The striking bark, combined with the branches’ graceful habit, makes serviceberry stand out even in the dark months.

Superb Serviceberry Varieties

Serviceberry in different seasons
When choosing a serviceberry variety, consider its overall habit and fall color. Most fruit and flower well.

Plant breeders have long appreciated the virtues of various Amelanchier species, varieties and hybrids.  ‘Autumn Brilliance’ (Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’) is a widely available apple serviceberry noted for its dramatic red fall color. Another hybrid, ‘Rubescens’ (Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Rubescens”), features dark pink flower buds and light pink blooms. Lovers of weeping forms can try to find the rare ‘Silver Fountain’ (Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Silver Fountain’), and those who prefer a narrow, columnar specimen have the option of selecting Rainbow Pillar® (Amelanchier canadensis Rainbow Pillar®), which also has gold and red fall color.

Serviceberry Care

Serviceberry in spring
A serviceberry blooms in a spring landscape.

Serviceberries are adaptable but do best in open sunny sites with good drainage and moderate moisture. When you bring your new tree home from the nursery, give it a good start by amending the soil from the planting hole with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. (Click here for tree and shrub planting guidelines.) Once established, the trees can withstand pollution, moderate drought, and variations in weather.  If you want to maintain the erect, tree-like habit, remove all branches that sprout below the main trunk and remove emerging root suckers.

Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend pack

Serviceberries make excellent specimen trees and can blend nicely with mixed perennial and shrub borders. They also work well at the edges of woodland gardens, streams or water features.  Given their native plant status and tasty fruits, they are great for native plant landscapes and habitat gardens.

Wherever you put them, serviceberries bring joy to two-legged, four-legged, and winged garden visitors.  They are the ultimate multi-taskers.

Japanese Flowering Cherries for Every Yard and Garden

A Historic Spring Gift

Best Japanese Flowering Cherry Trees Featured Image

In 1912, the people of Japan donated over 3,000 flowering cherry trees to the people of the United States as a gift of enduring friendship. Planted around and near the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., the trees delighted visitors and gave birth to a festive seasonal tradition. It is no surprise that home gardeners clamored for Japanese cherry trees.

Most of us don’t have room for the kind of large-scale cherry tree plantings that wow Washington visitors, but even a single tree can put on a glorious garden show. Some dwarf varieties will even flourish in large containers, a boon to gardeners with limited space.

Flowering Cherry Basics

'Kwanzan' cherry trees
The double flowers of ‘Kwanzan’ cherries often bloom in late April or May.

Cherry trees belong to the genus Prunus, which is part of the rose family, Rosaceae.  Some are commercially important for fruit production, but the famous Japanese cherry trees are just grown for their flowers. These include several species native to Japan, and other areas of Asia, that produce glorious single or double spring blooms in shades of pink, rose, and white. 

Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend pack

Which Japanese flowering cherries are best for your garden?  Size, growth habit (upright or weeping), flowering time, and blossom color or configuration are the most frequent criteria for tree selection. All flowering cherries have similar cultural needs, which include sunny locations, well-drained soil and (preferably) shelter from damaging winds. No matter which cherry you choose, give it a good start by filling the planting hole with soil amended with Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost. (Click here for a full tutorial on how to plant trees and shrubs.) Young trees also need regular watering while they establish root systems  and may require support to keep them upright during the first year.

The following are among the loveliest and most popular flowering cherry choices.

Sargent’s cherry (Prunus sargentii, Zones 4-7, 20-30 feet)

Sargent's cherry trees
Sargent’s cherry has pretty pink spring flowers and glowing fall leaf color.

Sargent cherry is famed for providing multi-season interest. Its bark is remarkable—a rich, lustrous shade of reddish-brown, marked by horizontal striations. The mid-spring blooms are usually soft pink to deep rose and may be single or semi-double on trees with rounded crowns. When the flowers fade, toothed, oval leaves appear in a shade of shiny dark green. In fall, those leaves turn bronze to red. 

The Sargent cherry hybrid ‘Accolade’, is a popular variety with rose-pink buds that open to soft pink, semi-double flowers. Its fall leaves turn shades of orange and yellow.

Japanese flowering cherry (Prunus serrulata, Zones 5-8, 15-35 feet)

Prunus serrulata cherry tree
Prunus serrulata is the latest of the flowering cherries to bloom.

Among the most popular Japanese cherries, Prunus serrulata is not usually sold in species form. Instead, merchants offer grafted or non-grafted varieties, like the extremely popular, double-flowered ‘Kwanzan’.  Mature trees generally have a rounded or vase-shaped habit. While the mid- to late-spring flowers are the main attraction, the foliage is also appealing, with a reddish cast in spring, followed by glossy green summer leaves that turn red to bronze in autumn. The variety, ‘Amanogawa’, features a space-saving columnar habit and fragrant, shell-pink flowers. ‘Shirofugen’ is another fragrant variety with near-white double flowers. ‘Shirotae’, sometimes known as ‘Mt. Fuji’, is also popular and widely available.  Its flowers are palest pink to white, semi-double, and fragrant.

Higan cherry (Prunus subhirtella, Zones 4-8, 20-30 feet)

Higan cherry trees
Higan cherry has white or pale-pink flowers that bloom quite early.

Higan or spring cherry is rarely available in species form. One of the best-known varieties is ‘Autumnalis Rosea’, which produces double pink flowers in early to mid-spring and a smaller number of blooms in the fall, leading some people to think the tree is suffering from seasonal confusion! Tree guru Dr. Michael Dirr, Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia, characterizes Prunus subhirtella as “among the most cold-,  heat-, and stress-tolerant [of the] ornamental cherries.”

Weeping Higan cherry (Prunus pendula, Zones 5-8, 15-25 feet)

Weeping cherry trees
Clouds of pretty flowers appear on weeping cherries early in the season.

Characterized by its distinctly weeping habit and early spring flowers, Prunus pendula has also been known to cause confusion among experts, who sometimes characterize it as a variety of Prunus subhirtella. What matters most is not the name but the habit, which is graceful and cascading or weeping. Clusters of white or pink flowers appear on trees in early spring. Available weeping varieties include ‘Pendula Rosea’, with pink blooms, ‘Pendula Rubra’, sporting darker rose flowers, and Extraordinaire™, with double pale-pink blossoms and fall leaves of burgundy.

Compact Japanese Flowering Cherries

The tiny Fuji cherry Zuzu® (Image thanks to Proven Winners)
The tiny Fuji cherry Zuzu® is a good selection for small gardens. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Choose the right varieties, and you can have all the beauty and drama of traditional Japanese cherry trees in a compact form. The hybrid ‘Snow Fountains’ is a weeping, white-flowered type that grows only 8 to 15 feet tall. Reaching only 7 to 8 feet tall and wide, ‘Kojo-No-Mai’, a variety of Fuji cherry (Prunus incisa, Zones 5-9), is perfect for containers. The pale pink, bell-like flowers are a little different in shape than those of other flowering cherries but equally beautiful. Elongated leaves are green during the growing season but turn flame red in the fall.  Another exceptional tiny Fuji cherry is Proven Winner’s Zuzu®, which reaches just 5 feet and has fully double pink flowers. To maintain a tree shape, trim off any shoots or branches that appear below the crown.

The Best Shrubs for Container Gardens

The Best Shrubs for Container Gardens Featured Image

There are lots of reasons to grow shrubs in containers.  You may have a small garden or no garden at all.  The only sunny spot on your property may be covered with concrete, or your soil may be so poor that even poison ivy fails to thrive.  Then again, your “garden” space may be a porch, terrace or balcony.  Perhaps you have acres of space but want distinctive potted garden accents.  Whatever the reason, container gardening is in vogue, with the selection of beautiful, small shrubs and landscape pots at an all-time high.

Why Compact Shrubs?

Trolley with 'compact' shrubs
When choosing “compact” shrubs for containers make sure that they will stay compact.

Breeders are riding the container-gardening trend, producing compact versions of many of the most popular shrubs. But, don’t assume that words like “compact”, “miniature” or “dwarf” are synonymous with a “manageable size.”  The compact version of an 8-foot shrub may still be 5 feet tall—too big for many containers.  Always check plant tags and reference sources for the mature size of any plant before purchase.

Most small shrubs can flourish in containers that are between 18 and 24 inches wide and equally deep.  If you live in a cold-weather climate, and the containers are going to stay out all winter, avoid thin ceramic or terra cotta pots, which will crack in very cold weather.  Heavy, high-fired, glazed ceramic pots as well as metal, plastic, and resin containers won’t crack.  (Click here to learn more about the best containers to overwinter outdoors.)

So, commit to container-grown shrubs.  Pick your favorite shrub species, and do a little research to find small varieties.  Attention to cultural requirements—sun or shade, drought-tolerant or moisture-loving—will prepare you to enter the universe of compact shrubs for containers.  The following are a few of the better shrub options for the task.

Compact Evergreen Shrubs

Anna’s Magic Ball® arborvitae and Oso Easy® Lemon Zest rose (Image thanks to Proven Winners®)
Anna’s Magic Ball® arborvitae and Oso Easy® Lemon Zest rose are perfect for containers. (Image thanks to Proven Winners®)

For lovely rounded shape, it is hard to beat Anna’s Magic Ball arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis Anna’s Magic Ball®, USDA Hardiness Zones 3-7, 10-15 inches).  Thriving in sunny spots, the Proven Winners’ plant boasts soft, almost ferny evergreen foliage that holds its color through the winter.  At maturity, it tops out at around a foot tall and wide. Another rounded specimen, Wee Willie Korean boxwood (Buxus sinica var. insularis Wee Willie®, Zones 5-9, 2 feet tall and wide), has all the boxwood virtues—neat rounded appearance and fine green leaves, plus manageable dimensions. A pair of potted Korean boxwoods look wonderful framing an sunny or partially sunny entrance.  For something a little less formal and a little bluer, try the sun-loving Blue Star juniper (Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’, Zones 4-8, 2-3 feet tall by 3-4 feet wide).  Another sun lover, it has textural foliage of dusty blue-green.

Cavatine andromeda (Pieris japonica ‘Cavatine’, Zones 5-8, 2-3 feet tall and wide) combines small size with a floriferous habit and evergreen nature.  The prolific spring bloomer covers itself with honey-scented bells and performs well in light shade.

Compact Shrubs Full of Flowers

Buddleia Lo & Behold® Blue Chip Jr. (Image thanks to Proven Winners®)
Buddleia Lo & Behold® Blue Chip Jr. is the perfect butterfly bush for containers. (Image thanks to Proven Winners®)

Flowering shrubs grown in containers give great garden value, and it’s easy to find old favorites in smaller sizes.  Rhododendron lovers can rejoice in Ginny Gee rhododendron(Rhododendron ‘Ginny Gee’, Zones 5-8, 1-2 feet tall and wide), a pink-and-white flowered beauty perfect for containers.  The leaves are dark green and small, and the habit is dense.  Like most rhodies, ‘Ginnie Gee’ flourishes in light shade.

Hydrangea breeders have extended the range of offerings of this popular shrub and one of the best is Invincibelle® Wee White hydrangea(Hydrangea arborescens Invincibelle® Wee White, Zones 3-9, 1-2.5 feet tall and wide ).  This early summer bloomer pumps out pink, globe-shaped flowerheads that age to white.  Unlike older hydrangea varieties, Invincibelle® Wee White also flowers on new woods, so blooms appear throughout the growing season. Give it full sun to partial shade, good potting soil, and regular moisture.

Simple potted boxwoods (shown with potted Boston ferns)
Simple potted boxwoods (shown with potted Boston ferns) add a formal flare to garden spaces.

There are plenty of little butterfly bushes (Buddleia hybrids) to attract all kinds of garden pollinators, whether the shrubs are in-ground or in containers. Lo & Behold® Blue Chip Jr. butterfly bush (Buddleia Lo & Behold® Blue Chip Jr., Zones 5-9, 1.5-2.5 feet tall and wide ) features deep blue-purple flowers that bloom in mid-summer and beyond. All Junior requires is a sunny spot and don’t self-sow prolifically, like standard buddleia.

Roses

Compact English patio roses
Compact English patio roses stay small but don’t have miniature flowers.

Container gardeners can also cultivate wonderful rose gardens full of color and scent.  Patio roses boast all the winning qualities of their larger relatives in smaller packages. Some of the newest and best are all of the colorful, compact landscape roses in the Oso Easy ® Series. The double-pink-flowered Oso Easy® Strawberry Crush (Zones 4-9, 2-3 feet ) and yellow-double-flowered Oso Easy® Lemon Zest (Zones 4-9, 2-3 feet) are both effortlessly beautiful high performers.

Or you could consider an English patio rose. The rose-red, repeat flowering Sophy’s Rose (Zones 5-11, 4 feet) is the largest size one would consider for a container rose. James L. Austin (Zones 5-11, 4 feet), with its large, fully double flowers of fuchsia pink, is another good choice. Those wanting a less demanding color should consider the highly fragrant, palest yellow, double rose Vanessa Bell (Zones 5-11, 3 feet).

Colorful Leaves for Extended Interest

Dwarf variegated aucuba
Dwarf variegated aucuba looks good year-round with good care.

Container-grown shrubs, like their in-ground relations, can be the workhorses of the garden, providing interest in multiple seasons.  The leaves of the southern favorite dwarf variegated aucuba (Aucuba japonica ‘Variegata Nana’, Zones 6-10, 4 feet tall and 2-4 feet wide) are dark green splashed with gold, lighting up the garden.  This shrub is best in a large pot placed in partial shade to full sun.

Lil Miss Sunshine® Bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis L’il Miss Sunshine, Zones 5-9, 2-3 feet) is a stunner, sporting golden-green leaves and azure blue flowers in late summer.  Grown in full sun, this sunshiny plant will provide interest throughout the growing season.

Bearing Fruit

Raspberry Shortcake® (Image thanks to Bushel and Berry®)
Raspberry Shortcake® stays small and performs beautifully in containers. (Image thanks to Bushel and Berry®)

Compact fruit-bearing shrubs are also gaining momentum, and the little blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries in the Bushel and Berry® series have quite a following. One to try is Bushel and Berry® Peach Sorbet blueberry (Vaccinium Bushel and Berry® Peach Sorbet, Zones 5-10, 1.5 feet tall and 2 feet wide ). The leaves attract attention, ripening from peachy-pink to green and eventually turning red in the fall. Bell-shaped white flowers appear in spring, followed by blueberries in early summer. Supply full to partial sun, fertile acidic soil, regular water, fertilize and blueberry harvests are guaranteed.

Raspberry lovers can rejoice in Bushel and Berry® Raspberry Shortcake® (Rubus Raspberry Shortcake®, Zones 4-9, 2-3 feet tall and wide).  Single, white, spring flowers give way to big red raspberries.  The canes are also thornless, which will please raspberry pickers.  Like most other fruiting plants, Raspberry Shortcake ® produces best in full sun.

A Few Words About Culture

Pulled out plant with pot-bound roots
If the plant’s roots are pot-bound, be sure to loosen them before planting.

Success with shrubs in containers starts with the right pot.  Make sure it is three times wider than the plant’s root ball and contains drainage holes at the bottom and a saucer to catch water. When you have matched a shrub to a container, fill the container with a quality potting mix, like Fafard® Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed that feeds plants for up to 6 months. The addition of a continuous-release fertilizer will help plants grow their best.

Fafard Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed and RESiLIENCE pack

At planting time, make sure the plant’s roots are not pot bound and intertwined when you remove it from the container. If they are, gently loosen them. Make sure the final soil level is 2 inches below the rim of the container, and firm the soil around the new shrub, making sure there are no air pockets. The top space will allow plenty of room for water. Water thoroughly until it percolates through to the bottom of the container.  Potted plants require more water than those grown in-ground, and that often means daily watering while the plant establishes roots, as well as in dry seasons.  In general, water when the top three inches of soil feel dry to the touch.