Posts Tagged ‘Perennials’

My friend Darby called me on her cell phone the other day with a shopping alert. She was at a discount store selling boxes of bare root perennials at bargain prices and wanted to know how many I wanted. She was shocked when I told her I would pass on this bargain.

Plants at rock bottom prices are not a value if they fail to grow and thrive and the problems with bare root plants often arise when you get them home. They have a relatively short shelf life once they are taken from cold storage and boxed up, so they need to be planted ASAP.

I told Darby how I cornered the market on bare root plants a couple of years ago and the experiment was a disaster. I had neither the time nor the space to care for the plants until the weather warmed enough to plant them in the garden.

Each box contained 6 bare roots – a real bargain for under $10. I grabbed an armload.  Most of the roots were too large to fit into the small pots I had on hand so I resorted to planting them in 10 oz foam coffee cups and stuck them under lights in the basement where it was cool. To make sure the plants got off to a good start the roots needed to be soaked several hours before planting.  And planting took forever so by the time I finished I wished I had never seen a bare root plant. To make matters worse I had no room under my lights to start my seeds.

Why not grow them in your conservatory Darby asked? Most home green houses and conservatories lack the automatic venting needed to prevent temperatures from rising when the sun shines. On a sunny day the temperature in my conservatory can shoot into the 90’s spelling death to bare root plants that have yet to develop good root systems. Bare root plantings are grown in cool greenhouses.

Walter’s Gardens of Zeeland Michigan one of the largest wholesalers of bare root plants tells their growers to promote root growth, newly planted bare roots should be kept between 48 to 55 degrees F for 10 to 14 days after potting and then increase the temperature to 55 to 60 degrees. Nighttime temps should be maintained at 45 to 50 degrees F.  Heat will accelerate the green growth and you want the roots development first.

I found florescent lights worked well at first but once the plants started putting on leaves they needed more light so at that point I put the perennials under professional grow lights. These high intensity lights make that wheel in the Edison box sing and my electric bill took a big jump.

When planting in spring, perennials shouldn’t be exposed to freezing weather so I explained to Darby she would have to tend those babies until the nights are frost-free and then be prepared to cover them if frost threatens.

Before planting out doors the plants need to be hardened off which means they will have to be carted in and out-of-doors for a week or more.

At some point the plants may need to be transplanted into gallon pots. Plants that stay in small containers too long become pot bound, which stresses them and they often need to be watered twice a day.

Walters recommends planting bare roots in a bark-based soilless potting mix to help hold moisture in the potting mix

“Are you telling me not to buy bare root plants?” Darby moaned.  No kiddo, I just want you to be aware of how much time and space it takes to grow them successfully so you don’t waste your money and end up with a bunch of dead plants, I answered. I suggested she start with box of easy to grow bare root day lilies or hostas and see how it goes.

I also reminded Darby bare root plants sporting green leaves have broken dormancy. They’re poor buys because the plants don’t have a root system to support that new growth and they have to use their stored reserves. While they may live through the summer many eventually run out gas and fail to survive the winter.

Roses and shrubs purchased from mail order houses that arrive bare root are not such a problem. They can and should be planted outdoors as soon as possible. However, if that’s not possible, for a short period of time they can be kept in a garage or stored along the north side of the house until planted.  Dormant bare root roses can withstand freeze as low as 28-degree says Nancy Lindley, author of Roses for Michigan.

When the plants arrive be sure check the packing to make sure it is moist and mist both the bark and the roots if they look at all dry.  Leave the packing in place and wrap the plants loosely in wet burlap, damp sheets or thick sheets of wet newspaper to keep them moist until they can be planted.

I’ll check in with Darby in a few weeks to see how much trouble she is in.  Hopefully, she took my advice and started slow.


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If you had asked me a few years ago which of my gardens I favor most, hands down the answer would have been my English-style flower border. It’s the garden I dreamed about and yearned for, but never had room to grow when I lived in the city.

But today my story has changed because my woodland shade garden has stolen my heart. I look out at it every day from my office window. In summer, from that distance of 20 feet, I can see a colorful mix of hostas, heucheras, astilbes and a host of hydrangeas. But it’s the smaller plants, those that stay close to the ground, that call to me to come and take a closer look.

I am thrilled my lungworts Pulmonaria, with their leaves splotched, spotted and glazed with silver, are reseeding. And tiny Japanese painted ferns are popping up everywhere. Native ferns got wind that the living was easy in the humus rich soil I prepared and have also taken up residence.

What are missing are the lovely native flowers that once filled the woodlands that surround my house. The dogtooth violets Erythroniumamericanumand trillium Trillium grandaflorumof my childhood are nowhere to be found. The large deer population that roams my acreage and adjacent family homestead has ravaged the wildflower population that thrived in the surrounding woods when I was a child, so now I will have to buy native plants I want to grow in my woodland garden. And I want to expand the collection.

Many woodland natives are early blooming ephemerals that flower in spring and then go dormant, so they are best purchased and planted in early spring. But they can be hard to find.

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If you read a lot of gardening books and magazines you’re probably familiar with the term mixed border. If not, don’t despair, it’s simply a term used to describe an elongated plot of land filled with flowering plants mixed with shrubs, possibly grasses and maybe small trees.

The issue of Fine Gardening magazine published several years ago featured the article Design a Border with Strong Plant Shapes by Sydney Eddison, that I think does a nice job explaining the visual impact of combining these plants and how one might begin go about putting together a mixed border.

The interspersing of shrubs and grasses among the flowers adds more than texture and color. Shrubs come in a variety of interesting shapes – cones, globes, mounds, spikes and fountains that add substance, depth and structure to the garden.

A before photo of the author’s garden depicts a sea of daylilies in full bloom. Though the area is awash with color, the garden lacks definition. And what will that space look like a month later when the lilies have bloomed out?

The after photos show a far more interesting scene, a garden packed with glorious blooming flowers framed with fountains of grasses, mounds and pillars of purple foliaged shrubs and a variety of interesting shaped evergreens. The added contrast of these strong shapes and lines turned a pretty garden into a fabulous garden that will carry the landscape through the four seasons

As I looked over the plant list Sydney Eddison provided I realized that, as is often the case, some of the recommended varieties will not work in many Michigan landscapes.

The gorgeous thread leaf Japanese Maple that thrives in Eddison’s Long Island, New York full sun border, that provides a large and graceful mound of mahogany colored foliage, could not handle that kind of exposure here in Michigan. And even if it could, it’s far too large for most yards. Flower lovers tight on space are not about to give up large chunks of plantable land to a tree, no matter how lovely it is.

But all is not lost. With a little detective work it’s not hard to come up with substitutes, downsized shrubs that are hardy and offer a stunning array of shapes, textures and colors for use in mixed borders.

For instance, let’s just take a look at some possibilities for globe and mound shaped shrubs.

When we think of globes, Arborvitaes quickly come to mind. But common varieties burgeon to 5 to 6 feet in but a few years. However, Thuja occidentalis ‘Danica is a true dwarf Arb that grows to only ten to fifteen-inches in height. ‘Golden Glove’, with its soft yellow foliage will stay within the 2 to 3-foot range and is hardy to a frigid zone 3.

Boxwoods are another classic choice for evergreen globes and they are on the list of deer resistant shrubs. Buxus ‘Green Velvet’ at 2 to 3-feet in height won’t require shearing to keep it from overtaking the garden.

Repetition of shape and color provide continuity that helps tie the mixed border together. And there are many deciduous shrubs that will not only repeat the globe or mound shapes, while adding season long color and interesting texture as well. The deer resistant Barberry ‘Rose Glow” with its lovely rose and pink mottled foliage that matures to a deep purple, is a colorful choice that might be used like book ends to anchor at the ends of the border. If you prefer green go with the 3 to 4-foot ‘Lime Glow’ Barberry. Burgundy colored Barberry ‘Crimson Pigmy’ will only rise to 18 to 24-inches. At the rear of the border repeat that globe shape and color with deep purple-leafed Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’. As a bonus, this stunner will produce oodles of intense rosy-pink flowers in June and flower sporadically on current season’s growth. At maturity ‘Wine and Roses’ will reach 4 to 5-feet in height, but it can be easily pruned to reduce its size after the initial blooming. And those prunings make fabulous foliage fillers for your cut flower arrangements. If you’ve a passion for purple, repeat that shape and yummy color in the front of the border with the low growing Weigela ‘Midnight Wine’.

Shrub roses also fall into the roundy moundy category. Conard-Pyle’s brilliant red ‘Kockout’ will flower non-stop from June through frost and make a stunning companion to those burgundy leafed plants.  The dainty pink polyanthus ‘Fairy’ rose is another possibility.

If bright lights turn you on, the glowing golden thread like foliage of Chamaecyparis ‘Sungold’ at a mature height of about 3-feet will give the garden a year-around shot of color. Bright yellow C. ‘Vintage Gold’ that holds to a height of 18 to 30 inches is another little treasure that will color up a full sun or part-sun border.

If you think of Spireas only in terms of the brilliant yellow harbingers of spring, get thee to a good garden center. ‘Dakota Goldcharm’ is a 12 to 15-inch dwarf gold leaf with bronze tips and pink flowers. ‘Pink Parasol’, topping out at 3-feet combines blue green leaves with big fluffy pink umbrella-like blossoms. Than there’s the vivid red 3-foot Spiraea ‘Neon Flash’. Keep these pretties dead headed and they too should re-bloom sporadically through out the summer.

When planning your new scheme, be sure to leave room for the vertical shapes in the form of grasses and shrubs.

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Timely Tip: Before the kids, cats and dogs have a chance to get out and romp in newly fallen snow, walk the landscape and look for signs of foot traffic. Four-legged foot traffic that is. Rabbits, voles and deer that are grocery shopping in your yard today will be dining on spring bulbs, newly emerging perennials and tender young seedlings in a matter of weeks, so now is the time to ask them to leave. Live trap the rabbits, mouse trap the voles and fence out the deer.

If asked to pick the toughest plant in my garden, I’d name the hosta. When I moved from my old house I discovered three live hostas, still in their containers, hiding beside the compost bin. As the saying goes, out of sight out of mind.

I figured those tough little plants had spent at least two years hidden away in those pots, yet they were none the worse for wear.  So I packed them up, trucked them out to the country and planted them in front of my new home. I’m pleased to say they are growing like crazy.

This summer I received a couple of emails from readers asking why their hosta suddenly up and died.  The only pests that ever attack my cast iron characters are deer and slugs, but the damage is only cosmetic. Voles have been known to munch on hosta roots, but their presence is easy to detect. The roots of the plants are missing.

At the time, my best guess as to the cause of the readers’ sudden hosta demise was crown rot, caused from over-watering and poor drainage.  But according to an article in the January/February edition of the Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association publication, The Michigan Landscape magazine, there may be much scarier explanation – Sclerotium rolfsii var. delphinii or Hosta Petiole Rot.

According to Mark L. Gleason of the Department of Plant Pathology at Iowa State, author of the article on Host Petiole Rot, this relatively new fungal disease, has begun to rear its ugly head here in Michigan,

If you are a hostaholic, you should know that this nasty stuff, once established in the landscape, has the ability to wipe out your entire collection, so I recommend you become familiar with it and be on the lookout for it.

Infected hosta develop soft brown areas at the base of the petioles or leaf stalks, followed by withering and the collapse of the leaves. Within a short period of time the plant dies.

To date there is no fungicide available to kill the disease so the best defense is to keep it out of your garden. Whether you receive new plants from friends or buy them from a garden center or nursery carefully inspect every hosta crown for signs of the disease.

Because Hosta Petiole Rot is a sleeper disease that remains dormant in the upper Midwest most of the year, infested hostas with otherwise healthy looking crowns may be sold in May through July. However, upon close inspection, Gleason says infected plants will display sclerotai – tiny B-B like spheres, which may be white, tan or brick red in color and closely resemble mustard seeds.  He describes them as little spaceships that encapsulate and protect the dormant fungus until the weather conditions are right for it to thrive.

However, don’t mistake slow release fertilizer capsules, such as Osmocote, as signs of the disease, says Mark Gleason. These plastic coated fertilizer spheres often found in container plantings are three times as large as the fungal spheres and lack their colorations.

When the disease is active, only is warm wet weather when day time temperatures reach into the 80’s and 90’s and night time temps climb into the 70’s along with evening rains or irrigation, the leaf stalks begin to turn brown and mushy.

If you have a plant that you suspect may be infected with Petiole Rot Fungus, send a sample into the plant-testing laboratory at MSU for proper id. In the mean time, quarantine the area and avoid tracking surrounding soil to other areas of the garden.  If the diagnosis is positive, Mark Gleason recommends carefully removing the infected plant and destroying it. Gleason also suggest removing the surface soil and mulch surrounding the plant and either burying it 6 to 12-inches deep in an area that will remain untouched for at least a year or disposing of it in the trash. Under no circumstances, add it to the compost pile.  Fungus buried in the ground will become food for the beneficial microbes that live in the soil.

After working with the infected soil, be sure to wash all tools, shoes, gloves and clothing clean of any soil to prevent tracking the fungus to other areas of the garden and spreading the disease.  Tools should be disinfected with alcohol or bleach.

Unfortunately, hostas aren’t the only plants this fungus attacks. According to Mark Gleason, HPR can travel from hostas to other nearby plants. Iris, delphiniums, astilbe, ajuga and aconitum are among the list of 20 other plants that have succumbed to Hosta Petiole Rot.

Unlike other kinds of fungus, HPR does not produce spores so it is not carried about by the wind. When the conditions are right, it travels along the surface of the soil in search of fresh petioles. Water droplets crashing into the earth during rainstorms and irrigation also disturb the soil, facilitating fungal movement.

Mulching with several inches of mulch, taking care to leave a six-inch ring of exposed soil at the base of the plants has proven to help contain the spread of the disease.  However, the HPR fungus does not appear to spread in pine needle mulch says Gleason.

Skilled gardeners are good detectives, they’re always looking for trouble.

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Timely Tip:  If you have over wintered bulbs such as cannas and dahlias, now is a good time to check them to make sure they have not dried out. If they are beginning to look a bit shriveled or the packing sand or peat moss is dry, spray the surface of the packing medium with just enough water to slightly dampen it. Remove any bulbs that feel soft and mushy.

This can be a tough time for a lot of gardeners. With the hustle and bustle of the holidays far behind, the digging juices are beginning to flow. But alas, the weather outside if not frightful is cold and the soil is frozen solid. And unless you’re a serious contender in  “the great tomato race”, it’s too early to start seeds. So what’s a gardener to do?

Why not consider starting a plant collection. Now is a perfect time to take up collecting because all the new plant and seed catalogs are out and there’s lots of time to peruse them, pick your passion and begin making a wish list.

Unlike antiques if you pick your plants wisely and are patient, plant collecting doesn’t have to be expensive. We often hear stories of Hosta collectors who have to be the first on their block to show off the latest and greatest and are willing to pay hundreds for new introductions. But those who sit back and relax can pick up the same plants a few years down the road at reasonable prices.

If you garden in the shade, perennial ferns are also worth collecting and they mix beautifully with hosta and other wild flowers.

Many herb gardeners enjoy collecting thymes. Of the 350 species of Thymus more than half a dozen are currently used in ornamental gardens and there are numerous cultivars of every specie, so there’s a lot to choose from.

Last summer I got hooked on salvias. They thrived in the hot dry weather, were pest free, and flowered their heads off. I’m mad for them.

But you don’t have to limit yourself to a single genus. Some folks collect by color. Others, such as rock gardeners, search out plants that grow in dry, gravel filled beds. Bog gardeners collect plants that thrive in muck. Some folks prefer to collect miniatures, while others search for gentle giants.

Half the fun of collecting is the thrill of the hunt. So why not take some time now to begin planning your safari.

Start by taking a mental tour of your garden and list the plants that you not only enjoy growing and but also do well in your garden. No use collecting specimens that will have to struggle. Next peruse you garden books and magazines for additional inspiration. And don’t forget the library. Also check out the Internet. Google (www.google.com) is my search engine of choice. Just type in the plant’s Latin name, hit go and your off the races.

Catalogues are a great way to ascertain what’s available. The Avant Gardner Newsletter publishes an annual directory of general and specialist mail order suppliers. These 387 reliable and often hard to find U.S. and Canadian sources sell seeds, perennials, herbs, roses, fruits, nuts, wildflowers, trees and shrubs, plus tropicals for the home. greenhouse and garden. The Source Guide is $3 postpaid from the Avant Gardener, P.O. Box 489, New York, NY 1003. A free sample of a regular issue of this interesting newsletter will be included The list gives names and addresses only, but once you have the names you can use Google to look for websites.

If you grow a variety of salvias let me know. Exchanging plants and seeds with other gardeners is part of the fun of collecting.

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New Plants for 2010

A lot of folks suffer the blues at this time of the year. The hustle and bustle of the holiday will soon have passed and the cold gray days of winter can be a drag. But if you’re a gardener, it’s time to research new plants for the garden and begin the hunt.

Wave Petunia

Plant breeders are churning out new varieties at a record pace so there will be lots of new choices at garden centers this spring. Two years ago I toured the trial gardens of the Ball Seed Company in West Chicago, Illinois and saw more than 400 new varieties of plants. Granted, a relative few will make it to market this year, but multiply that number by the dozens and dozens of plant breeders and propagators of new found varieties around the world and the numbers of new plants for 2010 sky rockets.

Flower Carpet Rose

Not every plant that is introduced will be a winner.  Some will not perform as promised and others will be overlooked – either by the growers, the green buyers or the general public. A few, such as the Flower Carpet Roses and the Wave petunias have gone over the top and become legends in their time. Others, such as salvia ‘Victoria’ and Achillea ‘Moonshine’ have quietly become staples in America’s gardens.

In the coming months, you will be reading more about the real hotties for 2010, but some may be in short supply. So if you want to be the first on your block to grow these hot new plants, now is the time to make out your wish list and begin the hunt.  Here are some of reliable plants that have recently been released.

Golden Spirit Smoke Tree

The Golden Spirit Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggyria ‘Ancot’) a recent introduction from Monrovia that showers the garden with golden yellow foliage throughout the summer. This versatile shrub is a vigorous grower and left to it’s own devices, will reach 10-feet in height and six-feet in width after a decade in the garden. However, with yearly pruning it can be maintained as a small shrub or trained into a small tree, making it perfect for use in a mixed border, a large container on a patio or in a courtyard.  Hardy to zone 4, this golden beauty will perform well in full or part sun when grown in well-drained soil.

Amazon Dianthus

Dianthus, both annual and perennial have been staples in the American garden forever, but never quite made headlines. However, all that may change with several new introductions released last year.  Once relegated to the front of the border newer varieties are taller and are making their way to center stage. The Burpee Seeds catalog (800) 888-1447; www.burpeecom/new, is featuring the new ‘Amazon’ Rose Magic, a perennial dianthus hardy to Zone 5 that sports a tri-color summer display from white to pink that towers 18 to 24-inches above a soft bed of glossy leaves. Their sweet fragrance, reminiscent of clove, makes them valued in the vase as well as the garden bed.

Dianthus devotees will also want to check out the ‘Dynasty’ series, the first double flowering variety. Plants reaching up to 20 inches in height are covered with large one-inch to an inch and a half flowers red or white or purple.

Guardian Delphinium

Delphiniums are the quintessential cottage garden flower and a favorite of mine, so and I can’t wait to grow the new perennial ‘Guardian’ series from Ball Seed, rated as a top performer in the 2003 Illinois trial gardens by Jim Nau, New Product Manager.  Along with white and lavender are two blue varieties that flower at different times that will help extend the bloomtime.  These beauties will flower in June and with dead heading should repeat in August. ‘Dynasty’ dianthus and Solstice snapdragons will make good bed partners.

There literally dozens of new flowers and shrubs coming to market next spring.  My advice is when you find a plant that turns you on, start trying to acquire it in February.  The plants with the most hoopla are going to sell out quickly.

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Nancy Szerlag

For those who like to get their holiday shopping done early, here are two great gardening books from one of America’s top gardeners.
• “The Well-Tended Perennial Garden: Planting & Pruning Techniques” — the expanded edition, by Tracy DiSabato-Aust (Timber Press, $34) — is number one on my list of must-read gardening books because it takes the mystery out of how to become a first-class perennial gardener. The book details the whys and hows of dead-heading, pinching, cutting back, thinning, dis-budding and dead-leafing with easy-to-understand explanations and illustrations. These are the tasks that strike fear in many folks’ hearts, but DiSabato-Aust empowers the gardener to take control and have at it with confidence.
This A-to-Z encyclopedia of perennial plants that clearly states how to care for each plant is worth its weight in gold to the newbie who feels overwhelmed when spring arrives. It’s a roadmap for almost every plant in the garden.

DiSabato-Aust spent years pruning and dead-heading perennials to see what the effects would be on the plants. Would they re-bloom if dead-headed, and would early pruning delay flowering or improve their growth habit and prevent flopping? Through the process, like any good scholar, the author took copious notes to give an accurate accounting because weather can impact outcomes. The results are this groundbreaking work. The large appendix provides quick access to month-to-month planting and maintenance schedules. There are also lengthy lists to help choose plants that adapt to specific needs of the gardener and location. This book is a real winner.

• “The Well-Designed Mixed Garden: Building Beds and Borders with Trees, Shrubs, Perennials, Annuals and Bulbs” (Timber Press, $24.95) is much more than a book on garden design. DiSabato-Aust includes plant combinations and a directory of garden plants that allows the gardener to select varieties and cultivars of species that meet their needs and thrive.
DiSabato-Aust covers the basic design fundamentals including site evaluation, color theory and maintenance requirements in friendly, easy-to-understand terms. Readers often come away with the “I get it” feeling.
Whether embarking on a D-I-Y project, or enlisting the services of a professional, this book can save time and money and down the road and the reader will end up with a gorgeous garden that is easy to maintain. Now that’s a great gift.
Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit free-lance writer. E-mail her at Szerlag @earthlink.net. You can read her previous columns at detnews.com/homestyle.

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