Flower bulbs, water, and a vase (or two) are all you need to bring a splash of spring to your windowsill this winter. It’s as simple as plant-growing gets. The water provides moisture for the bulbs’ roots. The vase provides a container for the water and support for the bulbs’ stems and leaves. And the bulbs take it from there. Everything’s inside these miraculous little plants-in-a-package: the buds, the roots, and the stored food that fuels roots and top growth. Give them the proper stimulus, and they’re off and blooming – no soil required, in many cases.
Simplest of all are paperwhite narcissus, which require nothing more in the way of stimulus than a hit of water. Place several of them at the bottom of a bubble vase (illustrated) or a tall cylindrical glass vase (6 inches wide by 10 inches deep is an ideal size). Add around an inch of water (don’t worry – they’ll be fine). Move the vase to a cool dimly lit location. Finally, bring the vase out into cool full light when the bulbs begin to push roots. Re-water when necessary. In 3 to 5 weeks, you’ll have paperwhite blooms, their stems neatly propped by the sides of the vase. To further counteract flopping, amend the water with a touch of alcohol, which promotes compact growth.
Most other bulbs are generally not as fine with sitting in an inch of water. Fortunately, you can buy forcing jars made just to address this challenge. The bulb nestles in a bowl-shaped receptacle at the top of the jar, which is filled with water just to the bulb’s base. Add water as needed to keep the developing roots immersed.
Bulb-jars purpose-made for amaryllis (botanically known as Hippeastrum) are available from several suppliers. Some are vase-like bulb supports, while others provide space for pebbles to be placed at the base for root support. As with paperwhites, newly bought amaryllis can be forced directly with no pretreatment necessary. Within weeks, you’ll reap the reward of a spectacular display of huge, richly hued, trumpet-shaped blooms. (Click here to learn more about growing Amaryllis.)
Hyacinths, Crocus, and More
You’ll also find bulb-jars designed specifically for hardy bulbs such as hyacinths, crocuses, or whatever else will fit (scillas, grape hyacinths, trumpet daffodils, and early tulips are among the other bulbs that force well). Hardy bulbs present a special pretreatment challenge, though: many of them won’t send up flowers until they’ve experienced a few weeks of cold and have started rooting. One easy solution is to put the jarred bulb in a refrigerator or other chilly, dark place for several weeks, and move it into the light and warmth once roots extend and plump buds appear. Some hardy bulbs, such as Tazetta narcissus (including ‘Geranium’ and ‘Cragford’) and double hyacinths, need only cold; no rooting required. A few weeks in the refrigerator in a paper bag and they’re ready to head for their jars and get growing.
Or you can make your own “bulb jar”. Place pebbles in a narrow cylindrical vase, leaving a few inches of space at the top. Place the bulb (or bulbs) on the pebbles, and add water to the bulb’s base. Proceed as above. In a couple months, you’ll have spring in winter
January showers bring winter flowers. No – really. Plant the right shrubs, and you can have midwinter bloom whenever the weather turns mild, provided you’re in USDA Hardiness Zone 5b or warmer. Boston, Rochester, Columbus, Detroit – wherever. And, all feed early bees and other essential pollinators.
Topping the roster of hardy winter-blooming shrubs are the witch hazels (known botanically as Hamamelis). These medium to large deciduous shrubs are to winter what roses are to summer. The gossamer, spicy-scented flowers unfurl their ribbon-like petals as early as December. (The eastern North American native Virginia Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) departs from the witch hazel norm by blooming in autumn.) Witch hazels are also attractive during the growing season, bearing broadly oval, gently scalloped leaves that turn bright yellow, red, or orange before shedding in fall.
Plant witch hazels in full sun to light shade and humus-rich soil that’s not overly heavy or dry. Mulch with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost to get them off to an especially good start. Their semi-translucent flowers are showiest when flooded with light, so give them a position where they can be viewed against the sun.
A good place to start your winter-blooming shrub collection is with one of the many hybrids of Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis), arguably the showiest-flowered members of the witch hazel tribe. As with all Hamamelis species, the 1/2- to 1-inch-long petals of Chinese witch hazel and its hybrids are lemon yellow (with a citrusy scent to match), but sometimes stray into other colors. Among the most outstanding of this wonderful group of large shrubs are:
‘Arnold Promise’, which opens its large sunny-yellow flowers relatively late in the witch hazel season, from late January to late March.
‘Aurora’, whose orange-tinged, golden-yellow flowers are among the largest and most abundant of the lot. Like most cultivars, it flowers from early January to early March or so.
‘Diane’, a coppery-red-flowered selection that also features outstanding bright orange to red fall foliage.
‘Primavera’, noted for its pale moonlight-yellow flowers and its exceptional fragrance.
In USDA zones 4 and 5a, where Chinese witch hazel and its hybrids are marginally hardy, consider instead the U.S. native Hamamelis vernalis, commonly known as vernal witch hazel. Somewhat smaller and denser in habit than Hamamelis mollis, this 6- to 9-foot-tall shrub typically bears orange-yellow blooms with stubby ¼- to ½-inch-long petals. The cultivar ‘Amethyst’, in contrast, offers flowers of a striking mauvy maroon that’s unlike anything else in the witch hazel tribe. Another marked departure from witch hazel norms is ‘Quasimodo’, a semi-dwarf selection that tops out at 4 to 6 feet tall. Some forms of vernal witch hazel also bloom exceptionally early, including ‘Beholden’, whose pale orange flowers debut as early as November.
As companions to your witch hazel collection, consider the following winter-blooming shrubs.
Winter heath (Erica carnea) is a low, hummock-forming, 8-inch-tall evergreen shrub with small needle-like leaves, this European native covers itself with small flask-shaped flowers from midwinter to early spring. Cultivars include ‘Springwood Pink’, with lilac-pink blooms on vigorous spreading plants; ‘Springwood White’; and the relatively petite, rose-pink-flowered ‘Vivelli’.
Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica) is another reliable winter bloomer. “Hardy camellia” may sound oxymoronic, but in fact some members of the tribe can withstand remarkably low temperatures. Japanese camellia is undoubtedly the hardiest of the genus, with plants of Korean origin flourishing in Zone 6 or even Zone 5. Camellia japonica ‘Bloomfield’ features brilliant red flowers, lush evergreen foliage, a large, dense, rounded habit, and rock-solid Zone 6 hardiness. The single, 3-inch-wide blooms occur in flushes during mild spells in late winter and early spring. The original plant – grown from Korean seed at Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia – is more than 12 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Even hardier is ‘Korean Fire’, which produces smoldering-red, six-petaled, 2-inch-wide flowers. It’s well worth trying in favorable partially shaded microclimates into USDA Zone 5a. Plants grow to 10 feet tall and 6 feet wide.
Black pussywillow (Salix gracilistyla ‘Melanostachys’) has large, mitten-like, black-purple catkins line the maroon-tinged stems of this wonderful pussywillow in late winter and early spring. It’s hardy to Zone 4. Equally arresting (and hardy) is ‘Winter Glory’ (aka Salix chaenomeloides), with even larger catkins of the typical silver-gray color. Both these shrubs grow to 10 feet tall or so, and benefit from a hard early-spring pruning every couple of years. Give them full sun and moist humus-rich soil.
Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima). A welcome sight and scent in the late winter garden, this East Asian native perfumes the air with small white blooms that open on mild days from midwinter to early spring. A deciduous, 6-foot shrub in the colder sectors of its zone 5 to 9 hardiness range, it behaves – or rather misbehaves – as a moderately to highly invasive 8- to 12-foot evergreen in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. It’s thus best reserved for northern U.S. gardens. Its hybrid Lonicera × purpusii (including the cultivar ‘Winter Beauty’) does much the same thing. All forms of winter honeysuckle favor full to partial sun and well-drained, average to fertile soil.
Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is a large shrub or small tree from southern Europe and western Asia covers itself with clusters of small acid-yellow flowers in late winter and early spring. The common name refers to the fleshy edible fruits that ripen red in summer. Don’t be deceived, though; this “cherry” is actually a member of the dogwood tribe. The East Asian native Cornus officinalis is similar, but also features handsome exfoliating bark and a slightly earlier bloom time. It’s also a bit less hardy, to Zone 5 rather than Zone 4. The award-winning ‘Kintoki‘ is known for its superior floral and fruit displays. Both species like full sun to light shade and do well in most soil types.
Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum). The bright yellow flowers of this scrambling East Asian native resemble those of Forsythia, but open weeks earlier. Its lax green 10- to 15-foot stems are useful for trailing down a bank or wall or for training on a trellis. Flowering may occur somewhat later in the zone 5b to 6a fringes of its hardiness range. Gardeners in Zones 6b and up can grow the somewhat similar Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens). Its wonderfully scented winter-to-spring flowers, evergreen foliage, and native origins compensate for its relative winter-tenderness. In colder climes it works well as a greenhouse subject, which can be moved outside with warmer weather. Both winter jasmine and Carolina jessamine do well in most types of soil in full to partial sun.
Your summer garden has been a haven for butterflies. Painted ladies and orange sulphurs have flocked to your purple coneflowers and white cosmos, and monarch and swallowtail caterpillars have munched on the showy milkweeds, Dutchman’s pipevine, and bronze fennel. Then there were the giant swallowtails, which discovered the golden hop tree (Ptelea trifoliata ‘Aurea’, USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9) in the backyard.
Now – with the approach of fall – your garden takes on a new role: as a sheltering, nurturing habitat for overwintering butterfly species.
How to Help Migrating Butterflies
Some butterfly species – most famously monarchs – flit away to warmer climes as winter approaches. They don’t require winter shelter, but they DO need ample fuel for their migration flight. To optimize your garden as a butterfly refueling station, stock it with late-blooming, nectar-rich perennials such as goldenrods (Solidago spp.), whose sunny late-summer flowers are monarch magnets.
Among the many Solidago that make excellent, well-behaved subjects for perennial plantings are stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida, Zones 3-9), which sports dense domed flowerheads on 4-to 5-foot stems clad with large, handsome, gray-green leaves. The flowers of the equally garden-worthy showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa, Zones 3-8) are held in generous conical spires atop 3-foot, maroon-marked stems. For shade, there are the likes of zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis, Zones 3-8), a spreader that forms leafy 2-foot-tall hummocks decked with conical flower clusters.
Additional late-season butterfly favorites include asters, Joe-Pye weed (along with other perennials in the genus formerly known as Eupatorium), and showy and cutleaf coneflowers (Rudbeckiafulgida and R. laciniata, Zones 3-9).
How to Help Winter Pupating Butterflies
Rather than flitting south, most butterflies stay put for the winter, riding it out in a state of suspended animation known as diapause. For many species, diapause occurs in the form of a chrysalis, a hardened structure which encases the pupating butterfly while it morphs from crawling caterpillar to flitting adult. You’ll greatly increase the butterfly-friendliness of your garden if you leave some perennials standing in fall, thus providing structures to which swallowtails and other winter-pupaters can attach their chrysalises. Stems of goldenrods and asters make perfect chrysalis hosts, as do those of other sturdy perennials such as false indigo (Baptisia), bluestar (Amsonia), and wild senna (Senna).
How to Help Butterflies in Larval or Egg Diapause
Numerous butterfly species, such as skippers and fritillaries, spend the winter as caterpillars, typically sheltering under a blanketing layer of fallen leaves and other plant debris. This is yet another argument for letting nature take its course in autumn. Instead of cutting back and raking outspent perennials and their debris in fall, consider designating some or all of your butterfly garden as a disturbance-free zone. You can tidy things up in spring after the weather warms. After spring cleanup, apply a layer of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost to give your butterfly plants a boost.
Eggs are the means of overwintering for hairstreaks and a handful of other butterfly species. Again, perennial stems and detritus are crucial for providing adequate winter protection – so save the garden clean-up until spring!
How to Help Overwintering Adult Butterflies
Mourning cloaks, question marks, and a few other butterflies tough it out as winged adults, seeking refuge in hollow trees, unheated outbuildings, and other cozy niches. If you have such features on your property, consider conserving them as winter butterfly habitat. Boxes sold as putative butterfly shelters “can be attractive, and do little harm, [but] studies have shown that butterflies do not use them in any way,” according to the North American Butterfly Association.
In whatever form, winter diapause is a crucial stage of a butterflies’ life cycle. If you want a host of flitting butterflies next summer, be sure to provide the resources they need to make it through this winter.
The cusp of the New Year is not prime gardening season in much of the United States. But, it’s often an excellent time to map and design a new garden or planting border, even in areas that experience real winter. All that is required are bare ground, a relatively mild day, and a few common household items.
Start by considering the garden’s location, size, shape, and desired plants and their growing needs. Roughly sketch out your basic plans. At this stage, don’t worry about precision or specifics. The finer details will be worked out later.
Setting the Garden Perimeter
Once you have sketched basic garden perimeter designs on paper, grab a couple of tape measures and a notepad and pen (or smartphone) and head out to the new garden site. A 50- to 100-foot tape measure with a tip that you can stake in place is extra-useful. If necessary, also bring a garden hose to mark portions of the prospective border’s perimeter that aren’t already defined by paths, walls, and the like. Place stakes along any hose-defined edges so that you’ll have something to refer to after you return the hose to its winter quarters.
A border with at least one long, straight edge is a cinch to map. At regular intervals (5 feet usually works well), measure the perpendicular distance from the straight edge to the opposite side of the border. Also, measure the distances to any extant plants and features that will remain as part of the new garden. Transcribe the data to graph paper and – voila! – you have an accurate map of your soon-to-be-border.
A border with curving edges is somewhat trickier to map. In this case, extend the tape along the approximate “equator” of the border, and measure the perpendicular distances from the tape to both edges at regular intervals. Compared to the straight-sided border, a few more dots and a bit more freehand sketching are required to translate these measurements to graph paper.
Mapping the Garden
A landscape design template is an especially handy implement for the drawing and mapping stage. You can purchase one (as well as graph paper) from most art- and drafting-supply stores, as well as online. It also helps if you have an image of your home’s footprint and yard to sketch upon and include for perspective. This will also help ensure that your garden is placed within your yard’s boundaries.
To map the border’s location relative to the house, measure the length of the nearest side of the house, and the distances from its corners to the ends of the border. Using graph paper and a ruler, compass, or landscape design template, lightly sketch a curve representing the distance from the one corner of the house to one end of the border. Repeat for the distance from the other corner of the house. The intersection of these curves pinpoints the end of the border. This technique also works if you’d like to map the border’s relationship to other landscape features such as property lines.
Choosing Plants for the Garden
Next comes the really fun part – choosing plants. Given the border’s conditions and surroundings, what would grow and look well there? Compile a list of candidate garden plants that would provide a pleasing mix of flowers, foliage, shapes, sizes, and textures. When you’re happy with your list, start to play around on paper, beginning with the major “keystone” perennials, shrubs, or trees that will form the backbone of the new planting. A composition of rhythmically spaced “keystone” specimens – interspersed with clumps of smaller companion plants – generally works well. Lightly pencil-in a circle for each plant, spacing the circles according to plant size and vigor. Use a complete circle to represent individual specimen plants (often trees or shrubs), and fused circles (omitting their inner portions) to depict clumps.
Once you have a good handle on the design of your new border, you can start planning how to execute it. It’s never too early to start sourcing and ordering plants (especially rarities that are likely to sell out early). You also need to consider how you’re going to prepare the border site. Is the site currently occupied by grass or by other plants that will need removing? Now’s the time to formulate a strategy.
Perhaps you’ll decide to rent a sod cutter come spring to remove turf from the site. Or maybe sheet composting is the way you’d like to go. Solarization – blanketing the site with heavy plastic to fry the existing vegetation as well as the weed seeds that lurk in the soil – is another excellent approach that works particularly well if you plan to hold off on planting until fall. A soil test might also be in order, whenever as the ground is workable (most state extension offices offer soil testing at a reasonable price). Finally, what’s your mulch of choice going to be? Now’s the time to find a source.
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.
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.
A bit of garden housekeeping in February and March can literally help clear the way for the floral exuberance of April and May. With that in mind, here are some spring cleaning projects for late winter, on days when the Polar Vortex isn’t visiting. Continue reading “Late-Winter Garden Cleanup in Six Steps”
After the leaves have fallen, the well-fortified garden is filled with a wealth of late-season branches, berries, hips, dried grasses and flower heads for rustic fall décor. Early fall is when they are at their brightest and most beautiful for indoor and outdoor decorating.
Spring and fall are the best times to plant ornamentals that remain pretty through winter. Crinkly dried hydrangea flowers, puffy grass seed heads, berried and hipped branches of hollies and roses, and colorful twigs and greens all look seasonal and appealing when arranged for display. Gather them for Thanksgiving or winter holiday table displays, or place them in pots outdoors to keep your home looking festive.
Here are some of our favorites to plant and enjoy for harvest décor.
Broom Corn (Sorghum bicolor): As the name suggests, the canes from this annual ornamental grass are used for broom making, but their glossy, pendulous seed heads of burgundy brown are also very showy. Start broom corn in spring for fall harvest. Outdoor displays of these seed heads will also feed winter birds. Pearl Millet (Pennisetum glaucum): This is the common millet that’s grown for pet store birds, but its bold, upright heads of grain look equally attractive in the garden and arrangements. The warm-season annual grass must be planted in spring, after the threat of frost has passed. The eye-catching purple variety ‘Purple Baron’ looks especially pretty in the garden. If used in outdoor displays, expect birds to pick away at the seeds. Perennial Grasses: There are many perennial grasses with seed heads that are slow to shatter in winter. Airier grass heads include switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and maidengrass (Miscanthus sinensis; this grass is invasive, so choose a non-to-low-seeding variety like ‘Hinjo’ or ‘Silberpfeil’ (aka. ‘Silver Arrow)). The foxtail stems of perennial fountain grass (Pennisetumalopecuroides) are also especially pretty when dry.
Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.) and Celosia (Celosia spp.): These closely related plants bear everlasting flowers that hold their color and looks for a long time, especially when harvested in fall and hung to dry. Purple amaranth (Amaranthus hypochondriacus), Cockscomb (Celosia argentea var. cristata), and spike celosia (Celosia spicata) are some of the best types for drying. Hydrangea (Hydrangea spp.): By fall, hydrangea blooms are papery and ready to harvest. Clip the stems for any indoor or outdoor bouquet. Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera): Stems of lotus seedheads are sold for top dollar at craft stores, but if you have a large, water-holding pot, you can grow them at home and collect and seed heads in fall for arranging. Start lotus in late spring; fill the bottom of your pot with a 1:2 mixture of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost and heavy topsoil to a depth of 4-6 inches. Nestle a lotus rhizome in the mix, and then add 12-15 inches of water to the pot. As the weather warms, your lotus will quickly grow and bloom. Add fresh water as needed, and divide the rhizomes at the end of the season, if they outgrow the pot. Dried Wildflowers: Collect common roadside wildflower seed heads along public thoroughfares. Choice options include the heads of teasel (Dipsacus fullonum), goldenrod (Solidago spp.) and milkweed pods (Asclepias spp.). These look wild and wonderful gathered in rustic containers beside ornamental squash and greens.
Choose any bare-branched, bright berries or hips for fall and winter displays. Those wishing to grow their own should consider growing pretty berried trees, like rowan (Sorbus spp.) and hawthorn (Crataegus viridis ‘Winter King’); winter birds will flock to their branches, too. Shrubs with lasting berries include winterberry (Ilex verticillata, read more about growing winterberry here), firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea), and shrub roses with bright hips (Rosa spp.).
Colorful and textural twigs add vertical interest to any bouquet or pot. The most brightest are red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea, click here to read more about growing red twig dogwood), which hold their color of red, orange, or yellow-green. Twisty branches, like curly willow and contorted filbert, are also texturally appealing alone or with berries and blooms. Evergreen branches of all kinds will add substance to your holiday displays.
The key to a good mixed vase or potted arrangement is choosing a suite of plant materials with different colors, textures, and heights. Considering the piece’s overall form before starting (click here for a more detailed DIY outdoor holiday arrangement how-to). Or, your can take a more simplistic, modern approach and fill a container with a single grass, branch, or floral element. Design your containers to fit your personal style, and you will always be pleased with the result.
When flower-filled summer containers die back at the end of the season, don’t put those empty pots away. Convert your vacant outdoor planters into beautiful showpieces for the holidays. Take pruned evergreen and berried branches, dry grass plumes, and hydrangea blooms to make festive DIY outdoor holiday containers that will remain attractive well into winter.
Gathering Holiday Container Materials
Winter branches and dried flowers can be purchased, but it’s more cost-effective if you have these materials in your own landscape or garden. Pine, fir, or spruce branches are perfect for that touch of greenery. Holly and winterberry branches will add color and substance as will red twig dogwood or curly willow branches. If you have ornamental grasses with dried seed heads or dried hydrangea flowers, these add extra beauty, especially if given a little glitz with metallic spray paint. Finally, pine cones, magnolia seed heads, or sweet gum balls make excellent base decorations, so use them if you have them.
Creating these containers is no different than putting together a large winter bouquet, but instead of a vase, you use a planter with potting mix. Long branches make bolder showpieces with bigger impact, so start with branches that are at least 2-3 feet in length, and trim them as needed. Your container composition will depend on the materials you have on hand, but this is the formula I use for one large container.
A large planter filled with potting mix
6-8 large evergreen branches
One large berried holly or winter berry branch
10 dried hydrangea and grass plumes
5 red twig dogwood branches (curly willow or other spray painted bare branches would work)
Gold or silver spray paint for the hydrangea plumes
Make sure your pot is filled with potting mix to support the branches. Place the pot in its final location before arranging; this will allow you to consider appearance and size as you craft the piece. If your container will be placed against a wall, set the showiest branches along the front. Start by adding the greenery—placing the tallest branches towards the middle. Trim additional branches to place along the periphery. Next, add the colorful ornamental branches concentrically around the container. Set the berried branch in the center, and follow up by placing the dried hydrangea flowers along the edges. Add the grass plumes around the composition, and center one tall plume behind the berries. Nestle pine cones along the base and in the greenery or bare branches.
Create Your Own Container Design
These containers should reflect your personal style and home, so get creative and design your own. There are lots of things you can do to make them bigger, bolder, or more glittery. Adding stark but colorful branches in the center and surrounding them with greenery and pine cones creates a bold, attractive look. For added glitz, spiral some lights around each arrangement, embellish with a few glittery outdoor ornaments, or add a bright, colorful bow. It’s up to you!
Tart, spicy, fragrant fruit butters are great winter treats that can be canned and shared as holiday gifts. Apples and winter pears are in season, so there are no better fruits for making dessert-quality spreads perfect for spreading on buttery toast, dipping with salty pretzels, or dolloping onto spice cookies. If you have your own apple and pear trees, even better! [Click here to learn how to grow your own winter pears!}
These butters are simple to make but require some patience. The key to their deliciousness is perfect caramelization and thickness, so be sure they are perfectly cooked before canning! As pre-preparation, be sure to have sterile canning jars on hand. Well-cooked spreads such as these are perfect for those just learning to can at home (canning instructions are below). Place a pretty label on the jar, top it with a bow, and bring a few jars to your next holiday party!
Caramel Apple Butter
Tart apples are rounded by the milky sweetness of caramel. Sweet/tart sauce apples like ‘Gravenstein’, ‘Jonathan’, ‘Cortland’ and ‘McIntosh’ make excellent butter. A touch of salt is crucial for flavor. Can this yummy spread for holiday gift giving or personal enjoyment. It’s decadent stuff! Ingredients
3 lbs. apples (about 9 medium apples) – peeled, cored and roughly chopped
½ cup water
¾ cups light brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon allspice
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Add the apples and ½ cup of water to a large, sturdy sauce pan. Cover and simmer until the apples are soft but intact (15–20 minutes).
Allow the apples to cool, and then strain them in a colander to remove any excess liquid.
Transfer the apples into a food processor and puree them until smooth.
Place the apple puree back in the pot and set the stove to medium-low heat. Reduce the heat to low if it starts to bubble.
Add the sugar, caramels, and salt, then simmer, stirring occasionally.
After 3–4 hours the butter should be thick and caramel-colored.
Use the dab test to check if the butter is ready. Dab a bit onto a plate; if no residual liquid oozes from the edge, and the butter remains mounded, it’s ready.
Add the spices and stir. Keep the butter on low heat until you’re ready to can it.
This recipe makes around four 4-oz. jars of butter that can be canned or stored in airtight containers for freezing or refrigeration.
Pear Fig Honey Butter
This decadent fruit butter tastes great on morning toast or dolloped between crisp butter cookies.
9 soft Bosc or Comice pears – peeled, cored and chopped
1/2 cup raw, wildflower honey
1 cup chopped dried figs
the juice of one lemon
Pinch of salt to taste
Puree pears and figs in a food processor until smooth.
Place the puree in a sturdy, large pot and set the stove to medium-low heat. (Reduce to low if it starts to bubble).
Add the honey and salt, and mix until blended.
Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the butter becomes reduced by half. This should take around 2-3 hours (sometimes more).
The finished butter should be fully caramelized, thickened and ready to can.
This recipe makes around four 4-oz. jars of butter. Enjoy!
Canning Pot with Jar Rack
Four 4-oz or two 8-oz jars for canning
Canning Jar Lifter
Canning Lids and Screw Bands (new)
Labels and Permanent Marker
Wide-mouthed Jar Funnel Steps:
Wash your hands and work space before starting.
Sterilize jars by filling a large pot with water to a depth that will cover them. Submerge the jars, screw bands, and lids into the hot water. Bring the water to a rolling boil, and boil for 10 minutes. Remove the hot jars with clean tongs while gently pouring the hot water out before removal. Place the jars upside down on a clean towel. Only touch the jar exteriors (Keep the canning pot with hot lids simmering.)
Using a clean ladle and wide-mouthed funnel, fill the jars with hot, prepared fruit butter. Fill until there is an inch of head space at the top of the jar. Wipe messy jar rims with a clean cloth.
Remove the sterilized lids and screw bands from the hot water and place them on the jars–being sure not to touch the inner lids. Make sure the lids are firmly down and screw bands lightly tightened. Manufacturer’s instructions may vary so follow those on the box.
Place the jars on the jar rack and lower them into the pot of hot canning water, if you have no rack lower the jars in with a canning jar lifter being sure to keep jars from touching. Cover the canning pot and keep at a low boil for 10 minutes.
Remove the jars from the pot and place them on towels to cool. Fully tighten the screw bands. Once cool, dry the outsides thoroughly and apply labels. Include the butter type and date.
After jars have set for 12 hours, check for success. If the lids are tight, air free and cannot be pressed down, they’re fine. If they pop down, they are improperly sealed, but don’t throw them away. You can either put them in the refrigerator for immediate use or try to re-cap them using steps 4 through 6. As a general rule, canned food is best used in the first year. Store your butters in a cool dry place.