The elegant spurs of columbine (Aquilegia spp.) trail behind each bloom like the tail of a comet. The spurs are elongated, tubular nectaries filled with sweet nectar to feed a variety of visiting pollinators, from hummingbirds to long-tongued bees to hawkmoths. These beautiful perennials are best planted in fall or early spring.
Aquilegia comes from the Latin name Aquila, which translates to “eagle” and refers directly to the flower’s talon-like spurs. They are unique in that many of the 60+ wild species are just as pretty as the hybrids offered at garden centers. All species hail from the North Temperate regions of the world and most bloom in late spring or early summer. The blooms attract pollinators of one variety or another, but many are specially adapted to certain pollinator groups.
Flower color is the main characteristic that dictates pollinator attraction, though spur length, scent, and nectar sugar levels also play a part. Organizing favorite Aquilegia species by color makes it easier to choose the right plants for your pollinator garden design.
Hummingbirds: Red and Orange Columbine
Native American columbine species with red or orange flowers are specially adapted for hummingbirds. Beautiful wildflowers, such as the eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis, 2 feet) with its tall stems of nodding red flowers with yellow throats, or western red columbine (A. elegantula, 1-3 feet) with its straighter, nodding, comet-shaped flowers of orange-red, are sure to attract hummingbirds in spring and early summer. Hummers flying through western desert regions will likely visit the blooms of the Arizona columbine (A. desertorum, 1-2 feet) with its many small, red flowers with shorter spurs. All of these columbine blooms hold lots of extra sweet nectar to fulfill the needs of visiting hummingbirds.
Hawkmoths & Bees: Violet and Blue Columbine
Columbine species with flowers in combinations of violet-blue and white tend to be most attractive to hawkmoths and native long-tongued bees. (Hawkmoths are easily distinguished by their hummingbird-like hovering flight patterns and long tongues adapted for nectar gathering.) Blue columbine with long spurs, such as the Colorado blue columbine (A. coerulea, 1-3 feet), is most attractive to hawkmoths. Smaller, blue-flowered species, such as the alpine Utah columbine (A. scopulorum, 6-8 inches) and small-flowered columbine (A. brevistyla, 1-3 feet), are better adapted to bee pollinators.
Hawkmoths: Yellow Columbine
Some of the most impressively long spurs are found on columbine with ethereal yellow flowers that glow in the evening light. Most are adapted for hawkmoth pollination. One of the prettiest for the garden is the southwestern golden columbine (A. chrysantha, 3 feet) with its big starry flowers and long, long spurs of gold. From spring to summer the plants literally glow with beautiful blossoms. Another big-spurred beauty from the American Southwest is the long-spurred columbine (A. longissima, 1-3 feet) with its 4-6 inch long spurs. The upward-facing blooms are paler yellow than A chrysantha and bloom from mid to late summer. Both species look delicate but are surprisingly well-adapted to arid weather conditions.
As a rule, columbine grows best in full to partial sun and soil with good to moderate fertility and sharp drainage. Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost is a great soil amendment for these garden flowers. They don’t require heavy fertilization and should be protected from the sun during the hottest times of the day. After flowers, plants often die back or develop a ragged look, so be sure to surround them with other full perennials with attractive foliage and flowers that will fill the visual gaps left by these plants. Good compliments are tall phlox, coneflowers, eastern bluestar, and milkweeds.
More and more large, vertical planters are being designed for big harvests of vegetables and small fruits. Creative gardeners are even coming up with clever ways to create their own mega edible container gardens. Here are some of the better products and ideas, ranging from inexpensive make-your-own containers to state-of-the-art vertical gardens that perform well at a range of costs.
If you like attractive gardens made from natural materials, then this is the vertical planter for you. The Gronomics Vertical Garden (32x45x9) is made in the USA from 100% western cedar and has a footprint of just2 square feet. Simply fill it with a quality potting mix, such as Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Mix, and begin planting. The garden contains its own drip irrigation system for easy watering. Apply a continuous-release fertilizer formulated for vegetables at planting time.
The Gronomics Vertical Garden is best suited for growing greens, herbs, strawberries, and small root vegetables. The top planter is perfect for growing bush beans (as shown in the image).
The Garden Tower® is a dual composter and soil-based vegetable garden tower that can accommodate up to 50 plants in just a 4-square-foot growing space. The system is watered from the top down and features a nutrient-tea drawer at the base, which catches fertile water for redistribution in the system. The Garden Tower has lots of room for root growth, which allows deep-rooting plants, like bush tomatoes, to grow well. Fill it with Fafard N&O. Gardeners growing greens should consider also mixing in some Fafard Garden Manure Blend, which is naturally high in nitrogen. It is made in the USA of high-purity HDPE plastic and has a 5-year manufacturer’s warranty.
Just fill it with soil and plant! It is as easy as that. The modular Greenstalk® Stackable planter allows gardeners to raise it to various heights with its stackable segments. The planter is made in the USA and constructed from thick, UV-resistant polypropylene plastic (BPA, BPS & PVC-free), so it is long-lasting. One nice feature is the trickle-down watering well at the top that allows for easy irrigation and fertilization with a water-soluble fertilizer.
DIY Vertical Gardens
Creative gardeners have come up with economical DIY methods for vertical vegetable gardening. One popular method is creating pallet gardens, which are safe and inexpensive as long as they are constructed from untreated wood. Simply place the pallets upright, or affix them to a wall, fill them with growing media, and plant. Just find out whether the wood is pressure-treated before creating these gardens because treated wood contains heavy metals, which can leach into the soil and be taken up by vegetables. (Click here for a guide for identifying pressure-treated wood.)
Other gardeners transform everything from traditional baskets to hanging baskets and plastic tubs into makeshift vertical gardens. As long as you can provide the with planter good support, it drains well, and it holds enough soil for strong root growth, your vertical garden scheme should work.
So many other materials can be used. Something as simple as a strong, tall tomato cage lined with mulch cloth (or burlap liner) and filled with quality potting mix and compost, such as Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend, can create an outstanding structure for growing vegetables. To learn how to make one, watch this Black Gold video!
When spring is in the air gardeners want to get planting, and there’s nothing like the fast burst of color that spring annuals bring to containers. They boost bulb plantings and spring-flowering shrubs with an extra pop of pizazz. Place them on a porch, patio, or beside your front door to enliven your senses and home’s curb appeal.
As spring container gardening becomes more popular, the variety of pretty flowers for the job grows. Here are eight of the best that thrive in the cool weather of the spring season. Some are old favorites and some are newer types worth trying. Those that can tolerate light frosts are noted. All prefer full to partial sunlight. Plant them in pots of fresh Fafard® Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed, which feeds plants for up to 6 months, for best performance.
Old-fashioned pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis) look a bit like traditional marigolds with their single and double daisies of orange or gold, but unlike classic marigolds, they like cool weather. These flowers are easily started from seed in spring. Plant them indoors (click here to learn how), or simply sprinkle some seeds into an outdoor pot filled with quality potting mix, like Fafard Professional Potting Mix, cover them lightly, keep them moist, and watch them sprout and grow to blooming-size in a flash. The brilliant orange, double-flowered‘Neon’ is a fun choice that reaches 2 feet, and the shorter Kablouna Lemon has frilled, bright yellow flowers.
Commonly called twinspur (Diascia hybrids), this easy annual enjoys cool, spring weather and becomes covered with colorful spurred flowers. The blooms attract bees and hummingbirds and come in shades of pink, apricot, salmon, and rose. The variety My Darling Berryis particularly high performing and has berry-pink blooms and a bushy, low-growing habit that reaches one foot. The delicate ‘Apricot Queen’ has a more trailing habit and soft, apricot-pink blooms. Twinspur is somewhat frost-hardy.
Trailing lobelia (Lobelia erinus) is a classic, heavy flowering annual that thrives in cooler temperatures. The blooms are small and numerous and come in various shades of violet-blue, purple, rose, and white. It does not favor frost, so plant it in mid-spring when the threat has passed. Plant it along container edges to make the most of its cascading habit. The varieties in the Laguna® series, such as the deepest blue-flowered Laguna® Dark Blue, are very high performing. They can continue flowering into summer with good care but must be watered regularly and protected from the full, hot sun.
Nemesias (Nemesia hybrids) are fragrant, big bloomers with low, somewhat trailing habits. They come in a riot of brilliant colors, such as bright orange, pink, red, yellow, and white, that really light up containers. They tend to favor the cooler growing conditions of spring or fall, but those in Proven Winner’s Sunsatia® series can tough it out through summer if protected from the hot afternoon sun and planted in a well-drained mix and given plenty of water. The orange and red Sunsatia® Blood Orange is a real standout as is the award-winning Sunsatia® Aromance™ Pink, which has delicately colored blooms of mauve-pink, white, and yellow.
African daisy hybrids (Osteospermum hybrids) are derived from species that originate from the South African Cape, where weather conditions are mild and comparable to those in the Mediterranean. The plants bloom nonstop in spring and will continue into summer with good care. For a sunny show, add the 14-inch Lemon Symphony to a spring pot. Its large daisies are lemon yellow with a ring of purple around the eye. Lovers of pink should go for the 12-inch-tall Bright Lights™ Berry Rose, which has large daisies of the brightest pink. Plant African daisies after frosts have passed.
Wonderful fragrance and nonstop flowers are the high points of sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima), which thrives in both cool weather and hot. It becomes covered with clusters of tiny, four-petaled flowers of white, purple, or pink that just keep going. It is sold at any garden center in spring, generally in inexpensive four or six packs. Spring classics include the low, spreaders in the Easter Bonnet series, which may have purple, pink, or white flowers. Sweet alyssum is tolerant of light frost and mixes well with just about any container combo.
Classic stocks (Matthiola incana) are made for spring. The powerfully sweet fragrance of their pink, red, purple, white, or yellow flowers make them perfect for door-side pots. The plants thrive in cool weather and can even tolerate some frost, so they can be planted early. Look for these at your favorite garden center. Double-flowered forms are showiest. Once the summer heat hits, stocks tend to fade, but they can be planted again in fall.
Viola and Pansy
Pansies and violas (Viola hybrids) are everyone’s favorite spring annuals for containers and garden edges. They are very tolerant of frosts and bloom endlessly in cool weather with their funny whiskered, flat-faced flowers. Those with the biggest show are smaller-flowered forms, like the violas in the Sorbet series. They produce loads and loads of smaller flowers in many pastel colors that really produce up until early summer. Lovers of large-flowered pansies should look for packs of vigorous Delta pansies with many buds and bushy growth. Pull them once they begin to die back and plant them again in fall containers.
Mix and match these flowers in your front pots for personal enjoyment and to wow your neighbors. They’re the best way to reign in spring.
The beauty of succulent house plants is that they demand little attention. The beauty of little succulents is that they demand little space. When placed in an indoor terrarium or rock garden, they create quaint little easy-care landscapes to enjoy year-round.
Mini cacti and succulents are basically comprised of those that form rosettes, clumps, or gently spread/cascade. Just be sure that you know growth habits–final heights and widths–before creating your planting. Stay with small, slow-growers to avoid fast overgrowth. Some plants may be able to withstand close quarters, but overpacking your pots will eventually smother the least aggressive plants in the group.
When designing your potted succulent garden, include little plants with varying shapes, habits, and colors. Play them against colorful pots, add pebbles, rocks, or shells for interest, and you’re set. You can also use rocks to create varying topographies within the pot to add drama and interest.
Because the design process requires that you know your plant palette, here are a few plants to consider to get your project started.
Some Miniature Succulents
Some aloes are tiny, compared to the common Aloe vera and lack medicinally useful foliage. Aloes are known for their impressive red, coral, orange, or gold spikes of tubular flowers as well as their attractive clumps of foliage. Here are two good small ones that can be found at garden centers or online.
Lace aloe (Aloe aristata) is named for its dark rosettes of foliage decorated with lacy white edges and spots. It reaches just 3 to 5 inches high and 6 inches wide. If given good sunlight indoors, or brought outdoors in summer, it will produce stems of pendulous, coral-orange flowers in midsummer.
Little Gator Aloe™ (Aloe ‘Jimmy’) is a very tiny variety that reaches just 3 to 5 inches. It has silvery foliage with white markings. If provided good, consistent sunlight, it will produce a spike of Creamsicle-orange tubular flowers in summer.
There are hundreds of very small cacti perfect for indoor potted landscapes. Types that are less prickly and/or bloom well inside are good choices.
One for all-round good looks is feather cactus (Mammillaria plumosa), which is tiny (to 4 inches), round, and covered with feathery white plumes that are finger-friendly (no spines). It is cuter than cute, reaches just 3 to 5 inches and produces yellowish-white flowers in spring. Over time, it will form a clumping mound.
Small urchin cacti (various Echinopsis spp.) are also good bloomers, and the little Easter lily sea urchin cactus (E. subdenudata ‘Dominos’) is spectacular when in bloom. The plant stays between 3 and 4 inches high and looks like a green, ribbed sea urchin with sparse tufts of white spines. In spring or summer, huge, white tubular flowers are produced that are very fragrant and bloom at night. (In the wild they attract bat and moth pollinators.) The flowers can reach between 6 and 8 inches long!
A good one that’s just lightly prickly and very textural is the thimble cactus (Mammillaria gracilis var. fragilis). It creates a 2- to 4-inch high mound of many thimble-sized balls with few spines. In late winter, expect a flush of tiny, pale-yellow flowers that are as cute as the plant itself.
Lots of crassulas become quite large, like the common jade plant, but others are tiny and terrarium-worthy. Tom Thumb rosary vine (Crassula rupestris ssp. commutata ‘Tom Thumb’) is one. Its short chains of succulent leaves are bright green and edged in red. Expect it to reach between 6 to 8 inches long.
The impressive miniature spiral jade (Crassula ‘Estagnol’) is even smaller and more visually impressive. It has dense clusters of brilliant green leaves that spiral into beautiful patterns. The maximum height is just 3 to 5 inches. On occasion, it may produce small clusters of white flowers in the fall.
These popular little succulents are largely native to southern Africa, and there are lots of different varieties available. Some look like tiny aloes while others look more like little, rounded hens-n-chicks with translucent leaf markings. Sizes vary, but many stay compact.
Zebra plant (H. fasciata)is one that looks a bit like an aloe. It has dark spiky leaves with knobby white stripes and reaches just 3 to 4 inches high and 4 to 6 inches wide. The variety ‘Super White’ has extra bright stripes. Zebra plant almost never blooms indoors, but if it does, it puts forth delicate stems of white spring flowers.
Star window plant (H. cuspidata)and cathedral window plant (H. planifolia) are both squat, fat-leaved, and have variable, translucent markings at their leaf tips. Both are slow-growing with rosettes that reach 3 to 5 inches. Their flowers are comparable to those of zebra plant and equally uncommon in indoor specimens.
There are several very cute succulent senecios, but most of them are aggressive spreaders. The small and bright mini blue chalk sticks (Senecio serpens ‘Mini Blue’) does spread, but slowly. It has slender, upright, dusty blue stems that reach 3 to 5 inches. Be sure to give it some room to roam.
Purchasing Mini Succulents
Visit any purveyor of succulents to discover lots of other interesting finds, but get informed before you make a purchase. Succulents sold in tiny pots don’t necessarily stay tiny. Some can become very large specimens, so check the plant tag for size parameters, and if the tag doesn’t say, then ask a staff person or look the plant up on your phone.
Mini Succulent Garden Preparation and Care
Start with the right pot and growing mix. Large planting bowls or bonsai pots look most impressive. These may be ceramic, plastic, or fiberglass. Be sure that they have good drainage and a watertight saucer below to catch excess water and protect table surfaces.
When it comes to potting mix, it must drain very well but also have some organic matter. A good recipe for succulents contains three parts Fafard Professional Potting Mix to one part perlite. The addition of crushed granite (Gran-i-Grit) is also recommended to add extra weight and increase drainage.
It’s also smart to top the soil with fine, decorative gravel to keep the surface dry and attractive. Pebbles and gravel for terrariums, potted plants, or fairy gardens come in different sizes, textures, and colors. Those in light or neutral shades let plants stand out without overstatement. A bold shell, geode, or another natural decorative element may also lend the final piece appeal and distinction.
Grow your plantings in bright or indirect sunlight. A south-facing window or sunroom is ideal. Give them once-weekly water in summer and little water from late fall to winter. Even moderate watering in the winter months can cause cacti and succulents to rot. Taking your potted creations outdoors in summer will help with their overall growth and performance.
These little gardens take some time and investment to create but their beauty will reward you through the seasons. Give them good care and clip and divide them as needed, to keep them in bounds. Reserve any leftover pieces as welcome gifts to share with other plant-minded friends.
Aside from COVID-19, it’s the season for colds, flu, and other bugs that bring us down in the chillier months. Despite social distancing, flu shots, good care, vitamins, and other attempts to ward them off, these bugs always arrive, unwelcome, and uninvited. So, how do you treat colds and flu naturally? DIY herbal remedies, of course! (Your favorite chicken soup recipe should be a close second.)
Healing Culinary Herbs
During the summer months, I grow plenty of herbs for teas, salves, soaps, and tinctures that I use in the winter. Some years I also grow medicinal herbs indoors on my sunny kitchen windowsill. They are inexpensive and effective, while also smelling pleasant and tasting good. Even nicer, some of the best grow like weeds, including peppermint, chamomile, garlic, cayenne pepper, lavender, and elderberry. Others, like ginger, are tender plants that can be grown indoors in winter or outdoors in summer. (Click here to learn more about growing ginger indoors.)
Anyone who has grown the classic herbs peppermint and chamomile knows that they’re wild and must be kept in bounds. Nonetheless, their usefulness far outweighs their weediness.
Pretty pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis) produce single or double daisies of orange or gold, and they thrive in cool weather. Their dried petals are used to make teas that are calming and ease the stomach. Combine them with other tea-making herbs that help with cold symptoms and congestion. Calendula is also used to make very effective creams to heal the skin. Let some of your calendula seedheads dry and sprinkle the seeds on the ground to sow themselves year after year.
Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) is a sun-loving herb that generally germinates in summer or fall, remains a low-growing foliage rosette through winter, and blooms in spring, producing a cloud of little white daisies. These choice flowers should be harvested at their prime and quickly dried to make herbal teas or inhalations. (Be cautious about letting them set seed; they can become weedy!)
Orange Chamomile Inhalant or Tea
A combination of dried orange peel and dried chamomile flowers makes a lovely tea or inhalant that will ease the stomach or gently clear the sinuses. Just add one teaspoon of dried or fresh orange peel and three tablespoons of dried chamomile flowers to two cups of boiling water. Steep it for 5 minutes, for tea, or place it in a heat-safe bowl and breathe it in after several minutes. Cover your head with a towel to keep the steam in.
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) has rhizomatous roots that spread like wildfire, so I grow mine in large pots in sunny spots. The summer foliage and flowers are easily harvested and dried for year-round use. Peppermint can be used to make inhalations and compresses as well as head-clearing tea.
Peppery Peppermint Tea Recipe
A good, simple mint tea recipe for colds contains peppermint and a few other ingredients. For one pot fill your infuser with two teaspoons of dried elderberries, two tablespoons of dried peppermint leaves, and a few peppercorns or some cayenne flakes to fire up the spice. Fill your pot with boiling water, steep for 5 minutes, and serve with honey.
Garlic has proven cold-fighting benefits and is truly a plant-it-and-leave-it crop requiring next to no care. Simply plant it in rich, well-drained soil in fall, and let it grow and bulb up in spring and summer. As any garlic grower can tell you, garden-fresh garlic is worlds more flavorful than the store stuff. Still, grocery garlic works just as well as a cold fighter.
Lemon Garlic Tonic
Fresh lemon-garlic tonic is a standby for cold sufferers. Simply add three large (or four small) sliced garlic cloves and the zest and juice of two lemons to three cups of boiling water in a saucepan. (Add some cayenne if your sinuses are troubling you.) Allow the mix to boil for 5 minutes before removing it from the heat and straining. Add a teaspoon of honey to each cup, and you’ll have a truly useful cold treatment.
Nothing clears the head and chest like something spicy. That’s why cayenne and other chilis (Capsicum annuum) are sought after as herbal remedies for cold sufferers. The sun- and heat-loving vegetable is easy as pie to grow during the summer months and just as easy to dry when red and ripe. Crushed cayenne can be added to any simple herbal tea as a stimulant to get the blood flowing. It is believed to help with headache pain and it clears stuffy sinuses.
Lavender (Lavandula spp.) is one of the most beautiful, sun-loving plants, and its dried fragrant flowers and leaves are versatile herbs for health. Not only can they be added to soaps and creams, but they make wonderful cold inhalations.
Lavender Eucalyptus Inhalation
Infuse one tablespoon eucalyptus leaves and two tablespoons of lavender flowers into two cups of boiling water, steep for 5 minutes, and breath in under the cover of a towel. (Keep in mind that eucalyptus cannot be ingested, so do not drink this mix.) The two fragrant botanicals are harmonious partners. In fact, their oils may help to relieve depression, inflammation, and congestion, according to the U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH).
Gardeners with a good bit of space can and should grow elderberries (Sambucus spp.). Not only do they make delicious jam, jelly, and wine, they are also healthful and medicinal. The shrubs grow well in full sun or partial shade, though plants grown in more sun yield more fruits. Umbels of fragrant, yellowish spring flowers give way to dark, edible berries in late summer. Both the flowers and berries can be dried to make teas. The berries also make a delicious syrup that can be used to sweeten and flavor any herbal tea. All are believed to alleviate cough and allergy symptoms.
One warning: Elderberry seeds contain toxic chemicals (glycosides). There are two ways to make them safe. Avoid cracking elderberry seeds when drying them, or cook the fruits. They are rendered safe in the cooking process because the harmful chemicals are broken down.
Elderflower and Apple Tea
Fill your infuser with 2 tablespoons chopped, dried apples, and two tablespoons dried elderflower, and fill the pot with boiling water. Let it steep for 5 minutes and then sweeten with honey or sugar.
Ginger root (Zingiber officinale) is delicious and desirable in more ways than one. Like cayenne, it’s spicy, so it acts as a stimulant that gets the blood flowing and clears the head and sinuses when added to tea or an infusion. It also helps soothe the stomach. Ginger is most easily grown in a pot outdoors in summer or in a sunny window or sunroom in winter. It’s plump, spicy roots can be harvested as needed.
Fresh Ginger & Cinnamon Tea
For delicious fresh ginger tea, boil five large slices of ginger root in three cups of water with a cinnamon stick for 10 minutes, strain, and serve with sugar or honey. (Click here to learn how to grow ginger.)
Though all of these herbal remedies are deemed safe by health experts, but it’s always smart to talk to your doctor before partaking in any herbal remedies. Also, be sure that you have no allergies to these plants before using them. Some planning ahead is required if you want to grow your own herbal remedies, but when the winter sniffles arrive, you will be glad you broke ground and took the time.
Gardeners who have grown Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) have a love-hate relationship with it. The tall, fall-blooming sunflower puts on a big show but spreads aggressively by root and rhizome and sends up 8-10-foot stems that tend to fall over at bloom time. Its delicious edible tubers make up for any bad traits. They have a nutty, potato-like taste and can be eaten roasted, boiled, or in soups. When planted in ironclad raised beds, Jerusalem artichokes can be tamed for good fall eating.
Origins and History
Despite its misleading common name, which is hazy in its inception but has European origins, Jerusalem artichoke is North American and a distant relative of artichokes but nothing like them in habit or flavor. It’s widespread across the whole of the continent, illustrating its prolific nature.
Through summer, this hardy perennial (USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9) forms tall, broad, rangy clumps of deep green, scratchy foliage. The golden blooms, which feed bees and other pollinators, appear in mid-fall atop stems that range from 6-10 feet. Wild populations favor forest margins, roadsides, disturbed ground, and meadows.
Native Americans of the Great Plains were the first to cultivate Jerusalem artichoke for food and shared it with early colonists. By the 17th century, it was brought to England and eventually cultivated across Europe and beyond for food and livestock feed. Recently, American markets have begun to sell the tubers again, which has bosted their culinary popularity once again. There are several cultivated varieties but these are most available to commercial growers.
Jerusalem artichoke is a worthwhile garden plant if you implement management protocols from the beginning. If left to its own devices, it will run rampant and take over a vegetable or flower garden in a jiffy.
Full sun is a must, as is the case with any sunflower. It is remarkably tolerant of a wide range of soils but will not grow in wet ground. Like most garden plants, a little extra fertility helps. Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost is a good amendment if your garden soil is particularly poor.
Plants are typically sold as tubers, though they’ll grow quickly from seed. Sow seed indoors, being sure to follow the packet’s planting instructions. Tubers should be planted several inches down into worked, loose soil in spring after the threat of frost as passed. Each has multiple protuberant eyes; plant them so most face upwards.
If you don’t live in a rural area with wild space–fenceline, grassy meadow, or sprawling bed–grow one plant in a small raised bed, and expect it to fill the whole thing. The raised beds edges should be set at least 6 inches below the soil level to keep spreading roots in check.
By midsummer, cut the rangy plant stems back by two-thirds to encourage a shorter overall height and more flowers. The technique is much like pinching back a chrysanthemum; it encourages more branching and compact growth. Shorter stems also make harvest easier.
Harvest and Storage
Once the stems start to die back in mid to late fall, cut them back nearly to the ground. Then start digging. A long, sharp space is best.
Expect the tubers to extend a foot or more beyond the place where visible stems appear. Dig as deep as 8 to 12 inches to get them all. The bulbous, irregular, ivory tubers feel like potatoes. Dig most of them out, but leave one small clump in the center, if you want a crop the following year. Keep in mind that if you miss just one tiny tuber, it will sprout in spring, so you may have to dig up a few unwanted plants here and there the following season.
Store the tubers in a cool root cellar or vegetable drawer in the refrigerator. They will keep for two to five months, but as they age they will become less plump and their exteriors will turn brown.
Due to their increasing popularity, there are lots of great recipes for Jerusalem artichokes online. Creamy bisque soups are very popular as are roasted, pan-fried, or sauteed dishes.
Grow Jerusalem artichokes, if you dare. With just a little management, they will reward you with lots of tasty roots for winter. The key is keeping them in bounds.
Many of the finest pears (Pyrus communis) for growing and eating are harvested to perfection in the winter months. Their fruits become juicy, even buttery, when fully ripe. By late fall, they should start showing up at orchard stands and farmers markets for fresh eating and cooking, but homegrown fruits are even better, if you have the time and yard space.
Like most popular tree fruits, such as cherries, apples, peaches, and plums, pears are members of the rose family (Rosaceae). They originate from Eurasia where their fruits have been gathered and cultivated since pre-history times. In fact, they are one of the oldest grown fruits, with an estimated 3000-year-old cultivation history. Currently, 3000 cultivated varieties exist coming in different hues, sizes, flavors, and textures, but only a handful are commonly sold at markets and grocery stores. Heirloom varieties are harder to come by.
Popular Winter Pears
Common pear varieties are prized for their high-quality fruit, good growth, high production, and suitability for commercial distribution. Many of these are winter pears, producing their best crops from late fall through to midwinter, depending on where they are grown. These popular pears have familiar names, such as ‘Bosc’ and ‘Comice’, to name a couple. Each has fruit characteristics all of their own.
Bosc is a very old pear variety with Belgian origins and was first grown in the United States in the early 19th century. Also called ‘Buerré Bosc’, its teardrop-shaped, russet-brown fruits develop a very buttery texture along with juicy sweetness and a heady pear fragrance when ripe. The productive trees are popularly grown in the Pacific Northwest where they are harvested from mid-fall through to early spring.
The firm-fleshed ‘Concorde’ is shaped like a ‘Bosc’ but has green skin and distinctly sweet flesh that resists browning. It is an English-bred pear with firmer flesh, which makes it perfect for baking and poaching. Fruits are produced from fall to mid-winter and store well. The exceptionally cold-hardy, disease-resistant trees are recommended for orchardists wishing to grow organically.
The classic ‘Comice’ (aka. ‘Doyenné du Comice’) pear is an old French variety known for its sweet, melting flavor and texture. The stout, fleshy pear has green skin flushed with red, and its white flesh is very soft and juicy when ripe. It is best reserved for fresh eating and first becomes available in early fall, though it is also considered a favorite holiday pear. The fireblight-resistant trees are very productive.
A very old variety that originates from Germany, ‘Forelle’ has very sweet fruit with soft, juicy flesh. It has green skin with distinctive red speckling (“Forelle” means “trout” and refers to the speckling). The fruits are produced in quantity by vigorous trees and are great for fresh eating.
A juicy eating pear with soft, sweet, aromatic flesh and beautiful reddish skin is the American variety ‘Magness’, which was developed in the 1960s. The russet fruits have tougher skin that resists rot and insect damage, and the trees are very disease resistant and productive.
Pear Tree Sizes
toPear trees may be grafted on dwarf rootstock to keep trees smaller in stature, but typically pears trees are moderately sized, upright, pyramidal, deciduous trees that are hardy and native to temperate regions. Unlike some other fruit trees, they are often very long-lived. They produce white blossoms in spring. Varieties may bloom in early-, mid-, or late-spring. It is essential to know when yours will bloom because most pears require a pollinizer (another tree for fruit pollination) to produce fruit. The fragrant, white, five-petaled flowers are attractive to bees. Fruits are ready to eat 90 to 200 days after pollination, depending on the variety, and be produced from midsummer to early winter.
Growing Pear Trees
Pears produce the best fruit in full sun and require good to average soil with ample drainage. Newly planted trees benefit from the soil amendment at planting and the application of mulch around their base. We recommend amending and top dressing with Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost. When choosing a variety, be sure to choose a disease and pest resistant variety, as many are sensitive to ailments, particularly fireblight.
Fall or spring are good times to plant pear trees. Choosing winter varieties will ensure that you will have something sweet to look forward to later in the season when the harvest is waning and holidays are just around the corner.
All ancient festivals relating to Halloween involved the harvest as well as fruits, herbs, trees, and vegetables that were believed to have mystical properties. Plants historically linked to Halloween were most often used to ward off evil, gain good health, or even tell the future. Some classic examples include/d fruits and vegetables carved into Jack ‘O Lanterns as well as apples, elderberries, hazelnuts, and rowan.
The Celtic Feast of Samhain
Halloween is tied to ancient Roman harvest festivals as well as the Celtic feast of Samhain, a festival held at summer’s end. The Celts believed that the dead ascended from their graves on the eve of Samhain and communicated with the living through druid priests. When the Romans conquered the Celts, and Christianity became the dominant religion in Europe, traditions hybridized, and over the centuries culminated into Halloween as we know it today. With each new tradition, a new symbolistic use of plants was employed.
Vegetable Jack ‘O-Lanterns
A combination of Old World and American traditions led to the hugely popular Halloween Jack ‘o-lantern. The Irish legend of Stingy Jack, a character that fooled the devil using devious, unorthodox means, inspired the first Jack ‘o-lanterns. As the story goes, when Jack died, neither God nor the devil wanted him, so they turned him away with nothing more than a burning ember for light. Jack hollowed out a turnip to hold the ember, and Jack of the Lanterns has been wandering the countryside with his glowing turnip ever since.
The Irish, Scots, and English carved faces into turnips, rutabagas, potatoes, and beets, and lit them on All Hallows’ Eve to frighten away Stingy Jack and other evil spirits. This tradition was then brought to the Americas. It was the influence of mid-nineteenth century Irish immigrants that lead to the carving of pumpkins for jack ‘o-lanterns. Pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo) are New World vegetables, so they are true symbols of American Halloween.
Apples on All Hallows’ Eve
Halloween also has roots in the ancient Roman harvest festival, Pomona, named for the Roman goddess of apples and trees. Pomona and her fall fruits symbolized romantic love and fertility.
Most European pagan religions applied important symbolism to the apple. During Samhain festivals, the druids are said to have used apples to foretell the future in divination ceremonies. The ancient practice of using apple peelings for divination was a common Halloween game until the early twentieth-century. The length of the peel and pattern it created when falling were used to determine one’s longevity.
Other age-old apple games are still popular today. The Halloween traditions of bobbing, ducking, or diving for apples, have been American favorites since Victorian times (1830s – 1900). Most of these games are thought to have originated from seventeenth-century Ireland. Apples were put in a tub of water, and those able to bite a bobbing apple hands-free would be blessed with good health and luck for the coming year. Others used it as marriage divination; the first to bite an apple would be the first to marry. A similar game, called snap apple, was played with apples hung from strings.
Rowan, Elderberry, and Hazelnut to Ward off Evil
European rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), elderberry (Sambucus nigra), and hazelnut (Corylus spp.) are three woody plants once believed to ward off witches, evil spirits, and offer protection on All Hallows’ Eve. The ancient Celts believed that rowan berries magically gave good health and that rowan trees planted near gravesites would help the dead sleep. Branches were also used as dowsing rods, and crosses made of rowan twigs were carried for protection on Halloween.
In old Europe, elderberry branches held above doorways were thought to protect homes from malevolent spirits and witches. And, though bonfires are still a part of many European Halloween celebrations, tradition dictates that elderberry should never be burned as this will invite death or the devil.
Hazelnut trees and their nuts were thought to hold equally potent powers on Halloween night. Strands of nuts worn or kept in the home would bring good luck. They were also used in divination practices and carried by young women to ensure fertility for the coming year.
These are just a few of the many plants and fruits with roots in the ancient and interesting holiday of Halloween. Knowing them makes the holiday a little richer and helps us understand the importance and role of seasonal plants in our traditions.
Of course, colorful trees produce the biggest show of fall, but it doesn’t have to end there. Lots of non-woody plants change color and pack just as big of a punch in a smaller package. Here are plants that you need if you want to electrify your waning garden with impressive shocks of perennial leaf color.
Perennials With Colorful Fall Leaves
Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora, USDA Hardiness Zones 5-8) is an attractive, vigorous fern from Asia that develops golden or russet-orange tones in fall. It is ideal for a shaded or partially shaded garden. The variety ‘Brilliance‘ is especially colorful with reliably bright orange fronds.
Autumn fern grows best in fertile, highly organic soil and reaches an average height of 2 feet when fully grown. Consider amending its soil with fertile Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost before planting.
Known for remarkable deer resistance and tolerance to dry shade, deciduous or evergreen barrenworts (Epimedium spp.) offer more than delicate stems of spring flowers and attractive summer foliage. Many have fall leaves that turn the hues of the sunset. These are arguably some of the finest perennials for spectacular fall color. Most color up best if provided partial sun in summer, fertile soil, and average moisture.
The common yellow-flowered barrenwort (Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’, Zones 5-8) produces pale-yellow flowers in spring and punctuates season’s end with orange-red leaves. Another variety with pale flowers of lavender is the compact Aurora barrenwort (Epimedium sempervirens ‘Aurora’, Zones 5-8), which has small, glossy, semi-evergreen leaves. When plants are grown in partial sun, they develop orange-red fall color.
For bright color all season choose red barrenwort (Epimedium x rubrum, Zones 5-9) with its pendulous red and pale yellow flowers and reddish-purple fall leaves. Red Queen barrenwort (Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Red Queen’, Zones 4-8) is another option with large spring flowers of bright rose-red that are further beautified by a mound of very large 4- to 6-inch leaves. In fall, these turn shades of pinkish-orange with some red.
The well-named Thunderbolt barrenwort (Epimedium pinnatum ssp. colchicum ‘Thunderbolt’, Zones 5-8) has sunny yellow spring flowers and somewhat glossy, evergreen leaves. These turn dark purple or deepest mahogany-red with striking contrasting green veins that brighten in fall.
Pink or magenta flowers appear on the bloody geranium (Geranium sanguineum, Zones 4-8), not red ones. Instead, the name comes from its mound of intricate palm-shaped leaves that turn orange-red or blood-red in fall. Plant them in full sun.
One of the better varieties is ‘Max Frei’ with its brilliant magenta flowers that appear in late spring and will rebloom if deadheaded. In fall, the foliage becomes a riot of red. Another is the pale-pink-flowered Striated bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum var. striatum), which develops deep burgundy-red fall color.
Bluestars (Amsonia spp.) are well known for their bright gold or orange fall color, but the elegant Hubricht’s bluestar (A. hubrichtii, Zones 5-9) takes center stage. Its clusters of palest blue, starry, late-spring flowers give way to flowing mounds of fine foliage. Then in fall, the whole large, fluffy plant turns to gold and orange. Plant this among late-blooming asters (Symphyotrichum spp.) for pleasing color contrast. It grows best in full to partial sun and average garden soil.
Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, Zones 5-9), is a rambling, low-growing groundcover with pretty, violet-blue flowers that bloom from summer to fall. As its leaves die back, they turn purple, red, and orange, especially if planted in partial sun.
The less common Chinese Plumbago (Ceratostigma willmottianum, Zones 6-9) forms a bushy, shrubby mound reaching 2 to 3 feet. It has the same beautiful, violet-blue flowers that begin blooming in summer and continue through fall. Its leaves consistently turn shades of deep magenta, crimson, and orange towards the end of the season.
Sedums and Sempervivums
Some evergreen sedums have good fall color that is maintained through winter. Ground-hugging spreaders, such as the golden-orange-hued Sedum ‘Angelina’, which has spruce-like foliage that turns darker in fall and winter, and red-hued Sedum spurium ‘Dragon’s Blood’, which turns deep red in fall, make colorful additions to sunny border edges. Another that spreads to form an attractive mat isSedum ochroleucum ‘Red Wiggle’, which has fine, spruce-like foliage that is red-green in summer and turns bright red in fall. All of these grow well in well-drained sunny spots or rock gardens and are hardy to Zones 4 or 5.
Hens-n-Chicks (Sempervivum spp.) are hardy, succulent, evergreens that form spreading clumps of ground-hugging rosettes. Some turn bright colors in fall. Try any of the red, burgundy, or silver-green varieties. These often darken in winter and remain evergreen and beautiful. Two to try are ‘Red Heart‘, which has large reddish-green rosettes that turn red in winter, and Sempervivum helveticum, which has fuzzy-edged rosettes with red tips. These turn dark burgundy in winter.
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’, Zones 5-9) is a tall, clump-forming grass that reaches 3 to 4 feet. It has intermittent blades of reddish-purple through summer and develops airy seedheads by late summer. Then in fall, the whole clump brightens to red. The foliage then turns tan and maintains an attractive presence through winter. Give it average soil and full sun.
Prairie Winds® ‘Blue Paradise’ Little Bluestem (Schizachyriumscoparium ‘Blue Paradise’) is a tidy, upright, clump-forming grass reaching 4 feet. Its blades are blue-green through summer and turn burgundy-red in fall. Plant it in full sun and well-drained soil.
When your changing trees and garden perennials both show the prettiest fall colors, the garden looks that much better. Consider planting some of these garden beauties for next year’s end-of-season show.
What makes a garden weed the worst? Four attributes make weeds very difficult to manage. These are 1) deep perennial roots, 2) re-sprouting roots, 3) lots of fast-to-germinate seeds, and 4) fast robust growth. Then you have the added bonus of weed nasties that are toxic and prickly. These are the weeds that take a productive garden bed and turn it into an impossible mess fast. If you have any of these in your garden, weekly weeding will be a necessity until they’re eradicated.
Noxious garden weeds vary based on where you live nationally, so those covered are ubiquitous across the whole of the US, though some are more regionally problematic.
If you have a field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) infestation, you are in trouble. This fast-growing vine is one of the most aggressive, difficult perennial weeds to remove, and its little white morning-glory-like flowers produce lots of seeds. The main problem is with its white-rooted runners that spread deep and wide, making it very difficult to dig out. Leave just a piece, and it will resprout. These roots then become mixed up with shrub and perennial roots and are hard to reach. Moreover, weed killers won’t touch it. Managing the weed in a three-step process is the only way to get rid of it.
Methodically dig out the white underground runners. Gently loosen the soil around each with a trowel, following them until the growing points are reached and the roots are fully removed. If you keep even a small piece in the ground, it will regrow.
If the runners are intertwined with perennial roots, dig up the perennials, and remove the bindweed roots in full. (Before replanting, amend the soil with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost for faster re-establishment.)
To keep underground roots from returning in really infested areas, cover the area with mulch cloth and mulch it over. After a season, all parts should be smothered, and you can pull up the mulch cloth and resume gardening as usual.
Burdock (Arctium spp.) is a huge, pesky weed of landscape and garden that has the added annoyance of developing giant burrs that attach to pet fur and are hard to get out. If you let a burdock plant go, it will develop a giant clump of huge leaves supported by a giant taproot that reaches deep into the ground. The flower heads look like little thistles and develop into large barbed burrs. The only way to remove a mature plant is with a long, sharp spade. Be sure to dig the root out in full.
Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) aggressive member of the mint family is a low grower with creeping stems that form a weedy mat over your garden in no time. It also thrives in lawns, so you will need to rely on a broadleaf herbicide for the lawn if you want to truly get rid of it. (Corn gluten is an organic broadleaf herbicide option.)
Thankfully, this weed is very easy to pull, but it seeds in fast, and if you leave even the tiniest piece in the ground it will root and regrow. The best way to manage it is to remove it from garden beds first thing every spring and then apply a good layer of mulch. If some little pieces try to break through, pull them out quickly.
Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) is another of the most notoriously difficult garden weeds. The painfully prickly plants produce copious puffy seeds that get caught in the wind and spread everywhere. Once they become established, a single plant will create a dense colony connected by deep, rooting rhizomes that are impossible to dig out entirely. If you leave just one piece, it will form a whole new plant. Plus, it is resistant to herbicides.
To remove Canada thistle, the best method is smothering plants with weed cloth and mulch until they are gone. This one will also creep into the grass, so try to keep lawn specimens under control with broadleaf herbicide. You also don’t want to let this one go to seed anywhere near your yard or garden.
The pattern with these perennial weeds is that most have underground stems and roots that spread and resprout if one piece is left in the ground, and they all produce tons of seed that gets quickly spread hither and yon. Johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense) does this, too. This tall, tough grass requires a spade to remove, and gardeners must follow the trailing stems to capture all underground parts. The tip of each root is sharp, so beware.
Thankfully, most of its underground runners stay close to the soil surface, so they are easier to remove. You also want to get rid of specimens before they bloom and set seed in summer.
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is another massively aggressive spreader. And, sadly, this plant was brought to the states as a medicinal herb and flavorant for ale. It has since spread across the eastern United States and the whole of Canada.
The plant has a strong, resinous smell and spreads by the most aggressive lateral underground runners ever. Like Johnsongrass, these mostly remain near the soil surface, but they are so numerous that one has to dig extensively to remove the whole underground plant. I suggest a sharp spade and trowel and lots of elbow grease. Manage it as you would field bindweed.
There isn’t a gardener that has not had the “pleasure” of weeding out nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus). This aggressive sedge establishes itself in the garden via copious seeds and fine, spreading roots that develop small, brown nutlet tubers. Leave just one of these tubers in the ground, and they will sprout into a whole new plant. (One side note is that the nutlets can be harvested and eaten.)
This sedge is not herbicide resistant, but its tubers are resistant. For this reason, dig out the plants rather than just pulling or spraying them. In the process, be sure to get all of the tubers. Then mulch the area over and diligently pull any small sedge sprouts as you see them.
Safety and knowledge are needed when removing this toxic, much-feared weed. First, it is important to realize that you can get a poison ivy rash from any “dead” portion of the plant, from stem to root, and dry plant pieces will remain toxic for years. This is because its toxic oil (urushiol) is very chemically stable and remains potent for ages. That’s why you need more than a bottle of herbicide to remove it. Careful removal by hand is surprisingly the safest method, but you have to prepare well and do it carefully.
There are several things you will need to remove poison ivy without putting yourself in danger. Body Coverings: long thick pants, a long thick shirt that covers your wrists and body, long rubber gloves, and closed-hole shoes (rubber gardening boots are perfect). Tools: a sharp spade or trowel, pruners or loppers, and hole-free plastic bags large enough to contain all plant parts.
All plant parts must be removed. For smaller plants, fully dig them up and cover them with a plastic bag. Grab them with bag and enclose them without touching them. For large vines, cut the base with pruners or loppers, and remove as much of the upper part of the vine as you can. Do not pull it for fear it may fall on you. Once again, cover and grab the plant pieces with a plastic bag to reduce contact. Then dig out the roots with a spade and bag the pieces, too. T=Secure and trash all of the bags when finished.
Cleaning Up After Poison Ivy
During the removal process, watch everything that may have come in contact with the plant (tools, clothing, gloves, trashcan lid handle, door handles, etc.) You will need to clean everything properly.
Clean up: Toss the gloves and wash all possibly contaminated tools and surfaces with a coarse cloth and soap. Degreasing spray can be very effective. Remove all contaminated clothes and washcloths and wash them in a hot water cycle with the maximum amount of a strong detergent. (If you are really worried, you can prewash them in a bucket of hot water and detergent.) Lastly, wash and shower up completely using strong soap, a textured washcloth, and lots of friction.(Friction and good, strong soap should remove all the oil from your skin. If you are really sensitive, wash twice.) Technu soap is made to remove poison ivy oil and is a good choice. [Read here for further information from the USDA about rash prevention.]
Two more essential poison ivy warnings: Poison ivy will contaminate compost, so never add it to your pile. And, if burned the toxic oils of poison ivy become airborne, causing an extra dangerous rash on the skin and in the lungs.
Mowing and chemical sprays can cut poison ivy back, but they will not remove it, or its dangers. Take the time to carefully remove your plants, and your yard will be poison ivy free in no time.