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Growing Winter Pears

Growing Winter Pears Featured Image

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 Pear

'Bosc' pears
‘Bosc’ is a very old pear variety with Belgian origins.

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.

Concorde Pear

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.

Comice Pear

Comice pears
Comice pears are prized in France for their sweet flavor and melting texture.

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.

Forelle Pear

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.

Magness

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

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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

Pear tree
Pear trees come in many different sizes depending on their rootstock. (Image by Alborzagros)

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.

Enjoying Winter Pears

Pears
Choose pears that are just on the cusp of being soft. They will continue to ripen at home.

The holidays are the best time to enjoy winter pears, whether fresh or cooked. USA Pears has the best collection of pear recipes to be found. For the holiday season, I recommend checking out their Bread Stuffing with Pears, Bacon and Caramelized Onions, Almond Pear Tart (gluten free), Pear and Arugula Pesto Stuffed Chicken, or Mache, Pear, and Wild Mushroom Salad.

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.

Halloween Plant Lore

Halloween Plant Lore Featured Image
Jack ‘o-lanterns originated from the traditions of mid-nineteenth century Irish immigrants.

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

Pumpkins
Pumpkins are the ultimate symbol of Halloween in North America.

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

Apples
Apples are ancient fruits that have been long associated with Halloween traditions.

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

Rowan twigs and berries
Long ago, crosses made of rowan twigs were carried for protection on Halloween.

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.

Elderberry
It was once believed that burning elder invited death and evil.

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.

Perennials with Brilliant Fall Foliage Color

Perennials with Colorful Fall Leaves Featured Image
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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

Autumn fern
Autumn fern is a good colorful selection for shadier gardens.

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.

Barrenwort

Epimedium x rubrum leaves
The leaves of Epimedium x rubrum can turn very bright fall shades.

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.

'Thunderbolt' barrenworts
Many barrenworts have leaf color that is brilliant in summer and fall. ‘Thunderbolt’ is one.

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.

Bloody Geranium

Bloody geranium
Bloody geranium has impressive red fall color. (Image by Wikiwand CC BY-SA 4.0)

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.

Bluestar

Golden Hubricht's bluestar behind an aster. (Image by Jessie Keith)
Golden Hubricht’s bluestar shines behind an aster. (Image by Jessie Keith)

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

Chinese plumbago
Chinese plumbago turns some of the brightest shades of all!

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

Sedum 'Angelina'
The low, spreading Sedum ‘Angelina’ is gold and turns more russet shades in fall.

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 is Sedum 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.

Sempervivum helveticum (Image by Mountain Crest Gardens)

Sempervivum helveticum turns dark burgundy in fall and winter(Image by Mountain Crest Gardens)

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.

Grasses

Shenandoah switchgrass
Shenandoah switchgrass is renowned for its brilliant fall color.

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® little bluestem (Image by Proven Winners)
Prairie Winds ® little bluestem reliably turns burgundy-red in fall. (Image by Proven Winners)

Prairie Winds® ‘Blue Paradise’ Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium ‘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.

10 Worst Garden Weeds and Their Management

Managing the Worst Perennial Garden Weeds Featured Image
Burdock is a very difficult weed that pops up along yard perimeters and in gardens.

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.

Field Bindweed

Field Bindweed
Field bindweed is a twining vine that can cover gardens and shrubs in no time.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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

Great burdock flowers
Great burdock flowers look much like thistle blooms.

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.

Burdock seed heads on pets
Burdock seed heads are huge burrs that attach to pet fur and are difficult to remove.

Ground Ivy

Ground ivy
Ground ivy is a fast spreader that invades lawns and gardens. (Image by Jessie Keith)

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

Canada thistle in bloom
Canada thistle in bloom.

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.

Canada thistle in seed
Canada thistle in seed.

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.

Johnsongrass

Johnsongrass
Johnsongrass is a tall, tough weed grass. (Image by Harry Rose)

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

Mugwort
Mugwort was brought to North America as a garden medicinal and has since become a terrible weed.

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.

Nutsedge

Nutsedge
Nutsedge produces lots of seed and underground tubers. (Image by Jessie Keith)

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.

Poison Ivy

Poison ivy
“Leaves of three let it be”…unless poison ivy is growing in your yard or garden.

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.

Beautiful Flowers for Rain Gardens

Beautiful Flowers for Rain Gardens Featured Image
This summer rain garden shows a mix of flower favorites. (Image by David Steakly)

Any low, wet area in the yard where rainwater runoff collects after a storm has the potential to be a spectacular, flower-filled rain garden. Maintaining these landscape reservoirs as beneficial gardens rather than stressed turf will save time and headaches and improve your yard’s looks—as long as you plant the right plants and create a design for all-season bloom.

Continue reading “Beautiful Flowers for Rain Gardens”

Planning a Sustenance Vegetable Garden

Planning a Sustenance Vegetable Garden Featured Image
Fafard Garden Manure Blend pack

A well-planned vegetable garden will sustain your family with a variety of fresh produce from spring to late fall. Serious gardeners will even cold-frame garden into the winter months for a steady stream of fresh greens and root vegetables. Sustenance vegetable gardens save money and ensure produce is organically grown. Careful planning and timing are essential for season-long garden-fresh produce for eating, canning, freezing, and drying.

Vegetables are divided by their best season of culture. Cool season crops are ideal for the spring and fall months, while warm-season crops are suited for summer growing. Some vegetables can be grown at almost in the growing season. Fruits are almost purely seasonal.
Planning the garden with a well-rounded collection of vegetables is essential. Consider your proteins (legumes and brassicas), carbohydrates/starches (root vegetables, corn, and squash), greens, fruits, and flavorful herbs when planning for each season. The broader array of healthful edibles you grow, the better.

Soil Preparation and Plot Design

Simple plot design
Simple plot design makes it easier to transition crops through the season.

Two key ingredients for good garden planning are soil preparation and plot design. Nourish your soils with OMRI Listed® amendments, like Fafard Garden Manure Blend and Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost, to encourage deep rooting and maximize growth and production. Then feed the ground with a multi-purpose fertilizer formulated for vegetables.
Design your garden plots in tidy rows or blocks, planning for spring, summer, and fall, and be sure that you know exactly where your vegetables will go. Rotation is essential for crops that are heavy feeders and suffer from soil-borne diseases and pests. Tomatoes, potatoes, and cucumbers are three crops that always require yearly rotation.

Here are some season-by-season vegetable suggestions and their benefits.

Spring Garden Sustenance Edibles

Early beets, carrots, spring onions, and cabbage are some of the classic early vegetables of spring
Early beets, carrots, spring onions, and cabbage are some of the classic early vegetables of spring.

Protein: Legumes are the main providers of needed protein from the garden. Good candidates for the spring include crisp snap peas, snow peas, and shelling peas (click here to learn more about growing peas). All are grown similarly and thrive in the cool weather. Brassicas, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kohlrabi are also good protein sources (click here to read more about growing brassicas). Choose fast-growing brassicas (50-60 harvest days) for spring growing. Each year I like to grow crisp and productive ‘Super Sugar Snap’ peas (60 days), fast-growing ‘Gypsy’ broccoli (58 days), and sweet, purple ‘Kolibri’ kohlrabi (45 days).

Collecting spinach
Spinach is one of the best early greens of spring.

Carbohydrates: Root crops are made for the cool weather of spring and are rich in starch and nutrients. This is when they grow most rapidly and taste the best. Choose fast-growing beets, carrots, radishes, and turnips and plant them as soon as the soil can be worked. This is also the time to plant early potatoes, onions, and leeks. Asparagus is a perennial spring vegetable that is also high in carbohydrates. Of these, try the candy-striped ‘Chioggia’ beet (55 days), crisp, sweet ‘Yaya’ carrot (56 days), and ‘D’Avignon’ French radish (21 days).

Greens: Most garden greens taste and grow best in cool weather. This is the time to plant arugula, lettuce, endive, and spinach. Swiss chard is also best planted in spring and will remain productive well into late fall. (Learn how to grow several cool-season greens by clicking here.) The spicy ‘Sylvetta’ arugula (45 days), Salanova® green butter lettuce (55 days), and ‘Dragoon’ mini romaine lettuce (43 days) are all great choices.

Herbs: Cool season herbs may be annual or perennial. Recommended perennials for spring are chives, sorrel, tarragon, and thyme. Borage, chervil, cilantro, parsley, and dill are all superb annual herbs for spring. All are nutritious and very flavorful. The flavorful, slow-to-bolt cilantro ‘Calypso’ (50 days) is a high performer.

Fruit: Perennial late-spring “fruits” for the garden include rhubarb and strawberries—both being very high in vitamin C. (Click here to learn more about growing strawberries). Can them as jam or freeze them for use later in the season. I like to grow everbearing strawberries that will produce fruits through the growing months.

Summer Garden Sustenance Edibles

Well-planned summer vegetable garden
The well-planned summer vegetable garden is organized and diverse.

Protein: Beans of all kinds provide summer protein from the garden (click here to learn more about growing beans). Vining beans offer the highest yields because they produce more for longer. Heat-loving beans like Chinese noodle beans, Roma beans, and lima beans are tasty and very nutritious and protein-packed. Colorful beans for drying are also essential for winter storage and good eating. Okra is another high-protein vegetable that thrives in heat and is very easy to grow. The meaty ‘Musica’ Roma pole beans (55 days) and ‘Maxibel’ slender bush beans (50 days) are always good choices as is the compact, spineless ‘Annie Oakley’ okra (50 days)

Carbohydrates: Sweet corn is everyone’s favorite starchy crop (click here to learn more about growing sweet corn) and many varieties will start to mature by midsummer. Sweet potatoes require high heat for development and are an excellent source of carbohydrates (click here to learn how to create a sweet potato tower). Summer beets and carrots are also good choices for summer salads and sautees (click here to learn how to grow summer beets). Summer squash and zucchini of all kinds will also feed the family for weeks with their starch- and nutrient-filled fruits. my favorite summer squash of all is the long-vined but prolific ‘Zucchetta Rampicante’ (70 days).

Swiss chard
Swiss chard is a green for warm or cool seasons.

Greens: Heat-tolerant greens are limited because many of the best greens are adapted to cool weather, but Swiss chard will provide a needed supply of tasty leaves through summer. Choose Rainbow Mix Swiss chard, which tastes great and comes in colorful shades of white, yellow, red, orange, and pink. Malabar Spinach (Basella rubra) is a vining green with a spinach-like taste that bursts forth with loads of edible foliage when summer is at its hottest. (Click here to read more about heat-tolerant greens.

Herbs: Basil is the top annual herb for summer (Click here to learn more about growing basil in containers). It can be grown and harvested all through the season–whether you choose sweet basil, lemon basil, or Thai basil (the compact ‘Siam Queen’ is my favorite). Other culinary herbs for hot summer weather include lemongrass (click here to learn more about growing lemongrass), mint, oregano, summer savory, and rosemary (click here to learn more about harvesting and storing summer herbs.)

Fruit: Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and cucumbers are the four best savory fruits of summer. These are the staples that many gardeners rely on for summer garden harvest, especially tomatoes (click here to learn more about growing the best cherry tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, and sauce tomatoes). All of these fruits require summer warmth for full development and flavor. (Click here for some of my favorite tomato varieties!)
Melons are everyone’s favorite garden fruits for summer. All are easy to grow if you have space (click here to learn more about growing melons). Watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew melons are all nutritious and low-calorie. Summer is when many perennial and tree fruits are at their prime. Blueberries, blackberries, mid-season raspberries, cherries, and peaches are all also ready by early to midsummer. Planting these fruits is an investment but one that’s worth it if you value growing your own fresh fruit. (Click on these links to learn more about growing blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, cherries, and patio peaches.)

Fall Garden Sustenance Edibles

Leeks, cool-season greens, and ripe winter squash
Leeks, cool-season greens, and ripe winter squash are some of the primary crops of fall.


Protein: Few protein-rich vegetables grow at this time, but this is when shelling beans dry for harvest and winter storage. Choose a variety of flavorful shelling beans that you can enjoy all winter long like the red soup beans ‘Vermont Cranberry’ or classic white ‘Cannellini ‘ beans. You should also replant brassicas in late summer to they can sweeten up with the fall frost. Broccoli, broccoli rabe, and cauliflower are all great choices

Carbohydrates: Beets, carrots, radishes, turnips should be planted by early fall for late-fall harvest. (Click here to learn more about growing late-season root vegetables) Choose winter carrot varieties and extra sweet beets that will remain harvestable after frost. Leeks should also be ready to harvest after the first light frost of the season. This is when they taste their sweetest. Nutritious winter squash and pumpkins should also be fully mature by early to mid-fall.

Cool season lettuces
Cool season lettuces can be replanted in fall.


Greens: Replant the same cool-season greens of spring and consider throwing in a few kales and collard greens. Kales of all colors and sizes are pretty in the garden and delicious, and collards are reliable producers with large leaves and high yields. Both grow sweeter with frost. I like the flavor of blue-green ‘Lacinato’ kale

Herbs: Annual cool-season herbs are also back on the menu. Evergreen sage and rosemary are also available for favorite fall dishes. Sage pairs particularly well with winter squash.

Fruit: Apples, pears, and persimmons are the fruits of fall. Small-space gardeners should consider planting dwarf trees for home gardening. (Click here to read more about growing dwarf apples.) This is also when hazelnuts, pecans, and walnuts can be culled from the ground and roasted. (Click on the links to read more about growing hazelnuts and pecans.)

Winter Garden Sustenance Edibles

Cool-season greens
Cool-season greens of all kinds can be grown in mild winter areas or winter cold frames.

Assuming you don’t live in the American South or Southwest, there are only a handful of garden edibles suitable for cold-frame growing in winter. (Read more about high-desert vegetable gardening.) These consist of cool-season greens, root vegetables, and herbs. Then, after the cold of winter wanes, it will be time to start planning and planting your sustenance vegetable garden once again.

Planting Table

Vegetable          Planting Time           Season            Seeding
Bush Beans       Spring, Summer         Warm               Outdoor
Pole Beans        Spring (after frost)      Warm               Outdoor
Beets                 Spring to Fall              Warm/Cool       Outdoor
Broccoli              Spring, Summer         Cool                  Indoor
Cabbage            Spring, Summer         Cool                  Indoor
Carrots               Spring, to Fall             Warm /Cool      Outdoor
Corn                   Late Spring                 Warm              Outdoor
Cucumbers        Spring (after frost)       Warm              Outdoor
Eggplant            Spring (after frost)       Warm              Indoor
Kale                   Spring, Summer             Cool                Indoor
Kohlrabi             Spring                            Cool                Indoor
Leeks                 Spring                             Cool                Indoor
Lettuce               Spring, Summer          Cool                Indoor
Melons               Spring (after frost)      Warm            Outdoor
Okra                   Late Spring                   Warm             Outdoor
Onion Sets         Mid-Spring                  Warm              Outdoor
Onion(Spring)     Early Spring              Cool                 Indoor
Peas                   Early Spring, Summer Cool                 Outdoor
Peppers              Mid-Spring (after frost) Warm Indoor
Potato Sets         Spring Cool Outdoor
Pumpkins            Mid-Spring (after frost) Warm Outdoor
Radishes             Early Spring Cool Outdoor
Spinach                Early Spring Cool Indoor
Zucchini/Squash  Mid-Spring (after frost) Warm Outdoor
Sweet Potatoes    Late Spring Warm Outdoor
Swiss Chard         Early Spring Cool/Warm Indoor
Tomatoes              Mid-Spring (after frost) Warm Indoor
Turnips                 Early Spring Cool Outdoor

Small Native Shrubs with Big Fall Color

Small Native Shrubs with Big Fall Color Featured Image
A compact cranberry viburnum glows like embers in an autumn landscape.

Some of the most brilliant fall shrubs come in small packages and have the added benefit of being native. This sets them apart from the many non-native, ecological troublemakers sold in most garden centers, which are seasonally beautiful but noxiously invasive. Landscape favorites like dwarf Burning bush (Euonymus alatus) and Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), are among the worst weedy offenders.

But, with so many small, tidy, vibrant North American options, there’s no need to grow weeds. Our favorite “Small” native shrubs grow no more than 4-feet high, with a comparable spread. All fit well in small-space gardens, along low borders, or in large containers. Many are cultivated varieties selected for their size and beauty, and each is adaptable and easy care.

Small Native Shrubs for Fall

When planting with fall in mind, choose from these standout beauties that nurture the environment. Many also have winter attractive berries that feed songbirds and other wildlife in the cold months.

Dwarf Black Chokeberry

Low Scape Mound™ leaves
The fall leaves of Low Scape Mound™ turn shades of crimson and orange. (Photo care of Proven Winners®)

Proven Winner’s Low Scape Mound™ black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa Low Scape Mound™, 1-2 feet, full to partial sun, Zones 3-9, eastern North America) is a truly small shrub that starts the season with medium-green leaves and clusters of pinkish-white May flowers that attract bees. Clusters of purple-black berries feed birds in summer, and bright crimson and orange leaves light up the fall landscape. These shrubs are best planted along border edges or in large pots. They will also tolerate moist soil conditions.

Bush Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle flowers
The summer flowers of bush honeysuckle are followed by yellow and red fall foliage. (Image by Rob Routledge, Sault College)

Don’t underestimate bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera, 3 feet, full to partial sun, Zones 3-7, eastern North America). The yellow and/or orange-red summer flowers of this underplanted native shrub are a favorite of bumblebees, and it’s crisp green foliage turns from yellow to red in fall. It will withstand partial sun and dry, rocky soils, though its fall leaf color is prettiest when specimens are planted in full sun.

Dwarf Fothergilla

Dwarf fothergilla leaves
The leaves of dwarf fothergilla turn brilliant orange, red, and gold in fall.

There are many wonderful cultivated varieties of dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii, 2-4 feet, full sun to partial shade, Zones 5-8, southeastern United States) available. One of the best is ‘Blue Mist’, which grows to 3 feet and bears ivory bottlebrush blooms in early spring followed by blue-green summer foliage. In fall, the leaves turn riotous shades of orange, gold, and red.

Dwarf Oakleaf Hydrangea

Oakleaf hydrangeas
All oakleaf hydrangeas turn pleasing shades of red and mahogany in fall.

Standard oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia, full to partial sun, Zones 5-9, southeastern United States) are very large shrubs but lots of superb dwarf varieties have been bred.  The 3- to 4-foot ‘Ruby Slippers’ bears lots of large, rosy flower panicles in late spring, and its green oak-shaped leaves turn, mahogany red in fall. Another colorful beauty is the gold-leaved ‘Little Honey’, which grows to 3-4 feet, bears white flower panicles in summer, and has deep red fall leaves.

Dwarf Virginia Sweetspire

Itea virginica Scentlandia® leaves
Itea virginica Scentlandia® turns shades of deep purple and glowing red with hints if orange and gold. (Image care of Proven Winners®)

Named for its drooping spires of fragrant, early summer flowers, Scentlandia® Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica Scentlandia®, 2-3 feet, full sun to partial shade, Zones 5-9, southeastern United States) has the added bonus of spectacular fall foliage. A single plant may have a mix of purple, red, orange, and gold fall leaves at once. The soil-adaptable shrubs grow well in average to boggy ground.

Compact Fragrant Sumac

Fragrant sumac leaves
Fragrant sumac has colorful fall leaves of purple, red, orange and gold. (Image by Jessie Keith)

If you need a tough shrub with great fall looks, try compact fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica ‘Gro Low’, 2-3 feet, full to partial sun, Zones 3-9, mid-western and eastern North America). This low, spreading shrub grows well in rugged, dry roadside plantings as well as home landscapes, and its three-parted leaves turn hot hues in fall.

Dwarf Witherod Viburnum

Lil' Ditty flowers and red fall foliage (inset)
Lil’ Ditty witherod viburnum looks great in spring and has reliable red fall foliage (inset). (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Proven Winner’s Lil’ Ditty witherod viburnum (Viburnum cassinoides Lil’ Ditty®, 1-2 feet, full sun to partial shade, Zones 3-8, eastern North America) is truly a tuffet of a miniature shrub. From late spring to midsummer it bears rounded clusters of white flowers with a mild honey-like fragrance, which bees like. In fall, its glossy leaves turn various shades of red, from the leaf edges inward.

Compact Cranberry Viburnum

Dwarf cranberry viburnum fall fruit
The fall fruits of dwarf cranberry viburnum are brilliant red and feed wildlife.

In fall, the brilliant red fruits of the American cranberry viburnum (Viburnum opulus var. americanum, full sun to partial shade, Zones 2-7, northern North America) glisten among its bright red and gold leaves. There are several compact varieties of this super hardy shrub from which to choose. The smallest is the soon-to-be-released ‘Jewell’ or ‘Jewell Box‘, which reaches a maximum of 2 feet and has reliable burgundy red fall color. The larger ‘Compactum’ grows to a height of 4-6 feet and bears copious red fruits that remain into winter until they are consumed by birds.

Planting Shrubs in Fall

Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend pack

Thankfully all of the shrubs on this list are quite hardy, making them good candidates for fall planting. Before planting any shrub, be sure you have a smart planting plan and consider your plant’s needs with respect to light, soil, and elevation.
When planting a shrub, dig a hole that’s roughly twice the diameter of its root ball. Dig the hole deep enough so the top of the root ball is level with the surrounding soil. Before planting, gently loosen your shrub’s roots if they are densely intertwined (root bound). Then enrich the excavated soil with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. When planting, pack the soil around the root ball to remove any air pockets and cover all roots. Finally, lightly mulch around the shrub and water it well.
If fall weather remains dry, continue to provide supplementary water to encourage good establishment. Come spring, your new shrubs should shine through the season!

Tall Sedums for Fall Gardens

Tall Sedums for Fall Gardens Featured Image
Sedum ‘Autumn Fire’ mingles with a well-designed mix of textural perennials and shrubs.

Tall sedums (Sedum spectabile hybrids) provide mounds of lush, blue-green foliage through summer, but late summer and fall are when they really shine. Their sturdy stems support rosy-pink blooms that glow in the late-season sun. New varieties make growing and designing with these tried-and-true perennials even more gratifying and fun.

Bold Tall Sedums & Planting Combos

New tall sedums have broken the mold of the old-fashioned, dusky pink ‘Autumn Joy’ of grandmother’s garden. Extra bright flowers and unique foliage colors, like bronze, purple and near-black, mark some of the newer varieties. Some are extra tall while others are very compact and more densely flowered.

Sedum ‘Thunderhead’

Sedum 'Thunderhead' has some of the deepest rose-pink flowers. (photo care of Terra Nova, Nurseries)
Sedum ‘Thunderhead’ has some of the deepest rose-pink flowers. (photo care of Terra Nova Nurseries)

Take the ‘Thunderhead’ introduction by Terra Nova Nurseries, its giant, bright, rose-red flower heads stand on strong, 18-inch stems above bronzy green foliage. For a great combo, plant it in swaths alongside soft, mounding, blue-green ‘Blue Zinger’ sedge and bright yellow-flowered Helianthus ‘Low Down’, which only grows to 2 feet high.

Sedum ‘Dark Magic’

'Dark Magic' blooms
The deepest rose-purple blooms of ‘Dark Magic’ are emboldened by the orange-red flowers of Coreopsis ‘Ladybird’. (Image thanks to Terra Nova Nurseries)

One for outstanding foliage as well as flowers is the 2015 introduction ‘Dark Magic’, which has deepest burgundy foliage all season and large heads of burgundy pink flowers in late summer and fall. The compact plants only reach 12-inches high, making this a great plant for border edges. Its upright habit complements lower, mounded grasses and perennials like evergreen, lavender-flowered germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) or tidy thyme (Thymus spp.) plants.

Sedum ‘Crystal Pink’

'Crystal Pink' flowers
‘Crystal Pink’ has sparkling pale pink flowers on low, mounding plants. (Image thanks to Terra Nova Nurseries)

For a lighter more silver-pink flower try the compact ‘Crystal Pink’, which becomes completely covered with clouds of palest green and pink flowers in late summer or fall. Plants reach no more than 12-inches, and their light flowers complement taller, darker-colored annuals and perennials.

Sedum ‘Frosty Morn’ and ‘Autumn Delight’

Frosty Morn
Variegated leaves add to the visual appeal of ‘Frosty Morn’

Another cheerful sedum is the cool ‘Frosty Morn’. This variegated counterpart to ‘Autumn Joy’ is surprisingly vigorous. Its bright mounds of foliage complement darker-leaved plants and are best planted in clumps of five to seven plants to show off the effect of the ivory-edged leaves. Late in the season, they become topped with subtle, dusty pink flowers. A bolder variegated sedum is ‘Autumn Delight’, which sports chartreuse and blue-green variegated leaves and bright rose flowers.

'Autumn Delight' flowers
The deep rose flowers of ‘Autumn Delight’ look lovely against its variegated leaves.

Sedum ‘Autumn Fire’

Gardeners looking for classic tall sedum looks but more exciting flowers might consider ‘Autumn Fire’. Their flattened clusters of rose-pink flowers are rich rosy pink, and the plants themselves have a significant presence in the landscape with their dense stems that reach 2 to 3 feet high.

Growing Tall Sedums

Bees on sedum flowers
Bees and butterflies are attracted to tall sedum flowers.

Growing Tall Sedums

Tall sedums prefer drier feet, but they aren’t as drought tolerant as some of the short, spreading Sedum species able to withstand really high heat and drought. Plant tall sedums in porous, mineral-rich soil with added organic matter, such as Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost, for perfect rooting.

All sedums attract bees and butterflies,  making them perfect for pollinator gardens. After fall flowering, the seedheads should be left until they are no longer ornamental. In early winter, they hold up moderately well before being flattened by snow. Cut them back on a dry midwinter’s day, and wait until the soils warm in spring and their rosettes of fleshy leaves begin to grow again.

Top 10 Tough Fast-Growing Shade Trees

Red maple trees
Red maples are very fast growing and spectacular in fall.

What makes a fast-growing shade tree exceptional? First, it must be strong-wooded and long lived. Second, it must be attractive, providing desirable seasonal characteristics to make your yard look great. Those that are native, disease resistant, and well-adapted to a given region are also optimal. Finally, they should have minimal messy fruits to reduce the hassle of seasonal clean up. Continue reading “Top 10 Tough Fast-Growing Shade Trees”

Rose Rosette Disease Solutions

Rose Rosette Disease Challenges and Solutions Featured Image
Rose rosette symptoms on an old-fashioned climbing rose.

Few rose diseases are more dreaded than rose rosette disease. This disfiguring, deadly pathogen can take a perfectly lovely rose from glory to ruin in just a season or two. It’s very easy to identify, but trickier to manage. Thankfully, there are solutions for ardent rose growers.
Continue reading “Rose Rosette Disease Solutions”