Friday, July 31, 2009

Mondo Possibilities For Your Landscape

With a growing consideration of ecological and economical responsibility, many are considering ways they can change their landscapes and how they maintain them in order to reduce waste and save money. Since turf grass is a major part of most landscapes, the lawn is a matter of interest.

Some have come to the conclusion that they spend way too much on their lawns, and might do better by replacing selected areas of turf with something less expensive in the long run. Ground cover plants offer reasonable alternatives, and Ophiopogon is one of the best. It resembles grass but requires much less care, and tolerates moderate foot traffic.

Ophiopogon (pronounced o-fee-O-po-gahn), is commonly known as mondo grass or lily-turf (a name it shares with Liriope). The botanical name comes from the Greek meaning "snake beard." I have no explanation why it was so named. Perhaps a plant explorer saw a snake laying in it and mistook the foliage for it's beard. Ophiopogon, like many of our favorite ornamental plants, is native to Asia where it is also used for medicinal purposes.

The genus contains 65 species of which 2 are commonly available: O. japonicus and O. planiscapus. The evergreen, grass-like plant was included in the Lily family, but is now included in the Ruscaceae family. It doesn't matter much to the layman. Mature height is usually from 1-1/2" to 5". Inconspicuous whitish flowers are followed by small berries.

Ophiopogon prefers slightly moist soil in partial shade, but will also thrive in full shade, and in full sun tolerating drought and heat very well. The plants reproduce vegetatively by short underground rhizomes, young plants appearing at the ends. When rooted, the rhizomes can be severed (divided) and the young ones replanted elsewhere.

O. japonicus is native to Japan. Foliage is deep green or variegated. It is reliably cold hardy in USDA climate zones 6 through 10. Recommended soil pH is 5.6 to 6.5. Foliage is 4" long. A dwarf form, O. japonicus 'Nana' produces short leaves about 1-1/2" to 2" long. O. japonicus grows on fibrous roots and short rhizomes, so mature plants may be in clumps. However, it can be used very effectively as a ground cover for small to medium-sized areas if the divisions, also called "bibs", are sprigged.

O. planiscapus is favored for its black-leaved cultivars, sometimes called Black Mondo. Well, they aren't actually black, but nearly so. They are recommended for partial to full shade, but I've found that the color is darker if they receive more sun. Because they spread very slowly, O. planiscapus is not recommended for ground cover except in the smallest of areas. The black foliage is exceptionally attractive when contrasted with light-colored stones and plants with red, white or variegated foliage. Like O. japonicus, O. planiscapus is cold hardy in USDA climate zones 6 through 10. Recommended soil pH is 5.6 to 6.5.

Prepare the planting bed for Ophiopogon by cultivating at least 4" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 8" deep. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil. Fertilizer may be used. If you choose to do so, incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Ophiopogon can be planted any time you have a shovel handy, even bare root plants. It is very tough and resilient. Nevertheless, I recommend watering more frequently during hot weather to avoid plant stress.

Plant bare root O. japonicus bibs by punching holes in the soil with a trowel or dibble at 4" to 8" apart (3" to 6" for dwarf cultivars), and insert the plants, pressing soil around the roots as you go. Plants in small containers may be spaced 6" to 12" apart. Space O. planiscapus at 6" to 12". Keep in mind that my spacing recommendations are approximate. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill. Press soil around the roots. Do not cover the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 2" deep. Irrigate thoroughly.

For sake of economy, container-grown plants may be removed from their pots and divided before planting a tad closer than you might otherwise space them. This will help you to cover more ground at a lower cost.

Maintenance is minimal. Ophiopogon has few pest and disease problems, and tolerates poor soil. Cold weather may damage foliage, but annual spring mowing at a high mower setting will easily renovate. But, otherwise, Ophiopogon seldom needs mowing. As mentioned before, it tolerates moderate foot traffic. Ophiopogon is deer resistant, but deer will eat almost anything if hungry enough.

If you need a low-maintenance, lush, evergreen grass substitute for full sun to shade that tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, I highly recommend Ophiopogon. Though it costs more to purchase the plants in the beginning, the cost of maintenance is far less.

Return to Mondo Grass at goGardenNow.com.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Liriope: A Favorite Ground Cover

Some plants are so familiar that you might think they are "from around here." Such is the case with Liriope (pronounced la-RYE-o-pee), commonly known as lily-turf or monkey grass. Many Americans like a sense of order, and Liriope provides it as it borders walks and driveways from street to door. But Liriope, like many of our favored ornamental plants, is native to east Asia.

The genus was named for Liriope, the "wave-blue water-nymph" and mother of Narcissus. Narcissus, you will recall, was the mythological character who adored himself way too much. The evergreen, grass-like plant is in the Lily family. Mature height is usually from 8" to 18". Flowers usually in shades of blue may be clustered around upright spikes, depending upon the species. Flowers are followed by small black berries with an opalescent sheen. Perhaps a scene of Liriope en masse inspired the name.

Liriope prefers moist soil in partial shade, but will also thrive in full sun tolerating drought and heat very well. The plants reproduce vegetatively by underground rhizomes of various lengths, young plants appearing at the ends. When rooted, the rhizomes can be severed (divided) and the young ones replanted elsewhere.

Liriope, depending upon the species, is used for ground cover and perennial borders. Taller cultivars such as L. muscari 'Evergreen Giant' and 'Densiflora' may be used for height and texture in container gardens.

Two species of Liriope are commonly available: Liriope muscari and Liriope spicata.

L. muscari is named thus because the blue flower spikes resemble those of Grape Hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum). In addition to "lily-turf" and "monkey grass", it is commonly called "border grass." Leaves grow up to 1/2" wide and up to 18" long. Foliage may be variegated. Flower colors range from blue to pink to white. It is reliably cold hardy in USDA climate zones 6 through 10. Recommended soil pH is 6.0 to 7.5. L. muscari grows on fibrous roots and tends to produce shorter rhizomes, so mature plants may be in clumps about 12" across. For this reason, it serves well as a border plant, as a common name suggests. However, it can be used very effectively as a ground cover for large areas if the divisions, also called "bibs", are sprigged.

L. spicata produces narrower, grassy leaves about 1/4" wide and up to 8" long. Evergreen foliage may be variegated. Unlike L. muscari, flowers are borne on much shorter spikes and may not even be visible above the foliage. Rhizomes of L. spicata tend to be longer, so the plant makes a very good ground cover, but does not serve so well as a border. Thus it is commonly known as "creeping lilyturf." It is fine for erosion control in medium-sized areas provided that water does not flow with such force that the plants are dislodged before established. L. spicata is cold hardy in USDA climate zones 4 through 4 through 10. Recommended soil pH is 4.5 to 6.0.

Prepare the planting bed for Liriope by cultivating at least 4" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 8" deep. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil. Fertilizer may be used. If you choose to do so, incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Liriope can be planted any time you have a shovel handy, even bare root plants. It is tough, tough, tough. If you left them laying out on hot concrete all day long, I believe they would still survive.

Plant bare root divisions by punching holes in the soil with a trowel or dibble at 6" to 12" apart, and insert the plants, pressing soil around the roots as you go. Plants in small containers may be spaced 10" to 18" apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill. Press soil around the roots. Do not cover the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 2" deep. Irrigate thoroughly.

Maintenance is minimal. Liriope has few pest and disease problems, and tolerates poor soil. Cold weather may damage foliage, but annual spring mowing at a high mower setting will easily renovate. Liriope is deer resistant, but deer will eat almost anything if hungry enough.

Because it is so widely used, some folks think that Liriope is boring and over-used. But I don't agree. If someone asks me to recommend a low-maintenance, lush, evergreen ground cover or border for full sun to partial shade that tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, I ask, "Have you tried Liriope?"

Return to Liriope at goGardenNow.com.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Jeepers, Creepers! Virginia Creeper and Boston Ivy

Parthenocissus is a genus of woody, creeping plants that, depending upon the species, are native to parts of Asia and of North America. The name comes from the Greek meaning "virgin ivy." Parthenocissus belongs to the grape family.

The plants may grow as ground covers, but will climb if they meet an obstacle. As they ascend, they attach themselves to the surface by small adhesive disks. Mature height may be 40' or more.

The two most common species in cultivation include Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and Boston Ivy (Parthenoscissus tricuspidata).

Virginia Creeper, also known as Woodbine, is native to many parts of the U.S. and Canada. Each leaf is composed of five dark green leaflets. It is a vigorous climber and will cover whatever it grows upon. If allowed to grow over shrubs, its dense foliage can rob the lower plants of sunlight and weaken them. Fall brings bright colors of yellow, orange, red or burgundy. The depth of fall color seems to depend upon available sunlight. Virginia Creeper is widely used as an ornamental ground cover, but its fall color and ability to cover walls, trellises and pergolas makes it popular as well.

Virginia Creeper is cold hardy in USDA climate zones 3 through 9. It prefers average, well-drained soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8, but is tolerant of poor soils. It will grow in partial shade to full sun, is heat and drought-tolerant. Pests are limited to a few that nibble the leaves. It is disease-resistant. Birds love the fruit, but the berries are toxic to mammals. The plants can cause allergic reactions in sensitive persons.

Boston Ivy, also known as Japanese Ivy or Woodbine, is native to east Japan, Korea and eastern China. Each leaf is composed of three lobes. It is also a vigorous climber. Like Virginia Creeper, fall brings bright colors of yellow, orange, red or burgundy. It is also widely used as an ornamental ground cover, but is used to cover walls, trellises and pergolas. Because it has been very popular in Boston, it bears the name of that city.

Boston Ivy is cold-hardy in USDA climate zones 4 through 8. The foliage colors best in full sun, but it will tolerate partial shade. Plant in well-drained soil with average to poor fertility.

Prepare the planting bed for Parthenocissus by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 12" deep. Add enough soil to raise the bed at least 4" above the surrounding ground level. This will help to promote good drainage. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil. Fertilizer may be used. If you choose to do so, incorporate 5-10-15 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Plant Parthenocissus 12" to 36" apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. If you are planting bare root vines, the roots should be spread out in the hole. Do not plant them any deeper than they grew previously. You should be able to see a difference in the plant tissue at the previous soil line. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the roots. If you are planting container grown stock, do not cover the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 2" deep.

If the plant is stressed during planting, it will usually drop its leaves as a protective measure. While it is unsightly and may be worrisome, maintaining proper soil moisture will encourage new leaves to sprout.

You might wonder whether it can be easily removed from walls, pergolas and such. It depends upon how you go about it. If you just start pulling them off a painted surface, the adhesive pads will probably pull off paint, especially if the paint is flaking. Because they do not attach themselves by means of penetrating roots, they will not damage brick or stone by pulling. The best way I've found to remove them is to sever their vines near the base, or spray foliage within reach with glyphosate herbicide. When the plants die and dry, the vines can be removed more easily.

Both popular species of Parthenocissus cover ground and buildings, and do it well. The fall colors are fantastic, and the plants are basically trouble-free.

Return to Parthenocissus at goGardenNow.com.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Carolina Jessamine - The Yellow Garlands Of Spring

Our native Carolina Jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens, is a spectacular ornamental vine that is well-known throughout the South. Its range is from Virginia to Texas and southward through Mexico. Another species, Gelsemium rankinii, also known as Swamp Jessamine, is native to the Southeast. A relative, Gelsemium elegans, also a climbing vine, is native to India, parts of China and Southeast Asia. Gelsemium sempervirens translated from Latin means "evergreen jasmine". The common name, Jessamine, is a variant spelling of Jasmine. "Jasmine" is of Persian origin, meaning "God's gift." It must be noted, however, that Gelsemium species are not among what some consider to be "true jasmine" of the genus Jasminum.

Carolina Jessamine foliage (about 1" to 4" long) is elongated. Whether it is evergreen depends upon the climate. It is semi-evergreen in northern parts of its range. Beautiful fragrant yellow flowers, 1-1/2" long and tubular, appear in early spring and sometimes in fall creating elegant garlands of yellow on arbors and pergolas. Motorists are sure to notice it as they travel along our highways as Jessamine festoons trees and shrubs. Mature height as a ground cover is only 24", but when allowed to climb, it will just keep on going.

Carolina Jessamine is cold-hardy in USDA climate zones 7 through 9. It flowers best in full sun, but will grow in full sun or shade in well-drained soil with average to poor fertility. Recommended soil pH covers a wide range: from 5.5 to 8.5. If planted in shade, it will find something to climb until it enjoys sunlight. Plants are drought tolerant when established, and heat-loving.

Because the flowers are beautiful and abundant, Gelsemium is usually planted with that purpose in mind. Unlike some other ornamental vines, it does not attach itself permanently to its support. Gelsemium ascends by twining around the support. For that reason, if grown on a wall, it will need a trellis to climb upon. If necessary, it can be pruned back drastically in order to maintain supporting walls, trellises, pergolas, arbors, mail boxes and light posts.

Gelsemium can be effective as a ground cover for erosion control in small to large areas. If allowed to grow as a ground cover, it will certainly do so, but will climb the first chance it gets.

It must be noted that in spite of its loveliness, Carolina Jessamine is highly toxic if eaten. So don't. The good news is that it is deer-resistant.

Prepare the planting bed for Gelsemium sempervirens by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 12" deep. Add enough soil to raise the bed at least 4" above the surrounding ground level. This will help to promote good drainage. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil. Fertilizer may be used. If you choose to do so, incorporate 5-10-15 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Plant at 24" to 48" spacing. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the roots. Do not cover the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 2" deep.

To encourage plant density and more profuse bloom, prune Gelsemium occasionally, especially if grown as a ground cover. Edging around the perimeter of the ground cover bed and shearing the top is very effective. Though Carolina Jessamine vines are capable of growing 20' high, they can be grown in containers on trellises of 3' to 4' and maintained by pruning.

Carolina Jessamine is one of my favorite flowering vines. It can be grown high or low, over your mailbox or under it. The deep yellow garlands in the trees drop lovely blossoms on the forest floor below, golden mantles drape garden walls, and the fragrance is wonderful.

Return to Gelsemium at goGardenNow.com.

Trumpet Creeper -The Hummingbird Clarion

Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans), also known as Trumpet Vine and Cow-Itch Vine, is a climbing deciduous vine native to the southern United States. Its only relative, Campsis grandiflora, is native to China. The latin name, Campsis radicans, refers to its somewhat pendulous flowers, like tubular bells, and the fact that it climbs "by the roots". A vigorous climber, Trumpet Creeper develops prominent aerial roots as it matures. Older vines can be as thick as your arm. The common name, Cow-Itch Vine, refers to the fact that it can cause skin irritation to sensitive persons, but so can tulip bulbs. I've never experienced any irritation myself.

If you have ever traveled through the South, you may have noticed it growing up and over fences and signposts along the highway. Large, bright yellow, orange to red trumpet-shaped flowers appear from mid-summer to fall. Trumpet Creeper is popular world-wide in those areas where it can be grown for its flowers.

Foliage of Trumpet Creeper is pinnately compound, meaning that each leaf, up to 12" long, has leaflets that grow off to the side of the "stem". Vines will climb anything up to 40' high, attaching themselves so tightly that if removed they take some of the structure with them. That shouldn't be a problem as long as the plant is intended to cover permanently. Surfaces that may require maintenance, such as wood requiring paint, should be kept free of Trumpet Creeper.

Campsis radicans is cold-hardy in USDA climate zones 4 through 10. It flowers best in full sun, but will grow in full sun or shade in well-drained soil with average to poor fertility. If planted in shade, it will find something to climb and keep going until it enjoys sunlight. Plants are drought tolerant when established and heat-loving.

Because the flowers are exceptionally attractive to hummingbirds, it is usually planted with that purpose in mind. It is best planted next to a permanent structure. A solid wood post, masonry wall, dead tree trunk or living tree will do just fine. I've seen it planted beside a vertical post so that it engulfs it, forms its own support and looks like a tree itself.

Trumpet Creeper can be effective as a ground cover for erosion control in large areas, but it needs room to grow. If allowed to grow as a ground cover, it will certainly do so, but will climb the first chance it gets.

Prepare the planting bed for Trumpet Creeper by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 12" deep. Add enough soil to raise the bed at least 4" above the surrounding ground level. This will help to promote good drainage. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil. Fertilizer may be used. If you choose to do so, incorporate 5-10-15 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Highly fertile soil will cause Trumpet Creeper to grow like a rocket. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Plant Trumpet Creeper 18" to 36" apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. If you are planting bare root vines, the roots should be spread out in the hole. Do not plant them any deeper than they grew previously. You should be able to see a difference in the plant tissue at the previous soil line. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the roots. If you are planting container grown stock, do not cover the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 2" deep.

If the plant is stressed during planting, it will usually drop its leaves as a protective measure. While it is unsightly and may be worrisome to the novice, maintaining proper soil moisture will encourage new leaves to sprout, and away you go.

If planted in an appropriate area, Campsis radicans is a fine plant that is very effective as an ornamental vine and hummingbird lure.

Return to Campsis at goGardenNow.com.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Answers To Our Community Poll Ending July 20, 2009

Our last Community Poll at goGardenNow.com, which ended July 20, 2009, asked the question, " Do you plan to grow more edible plants, ornamental plants or ornamental plants that are edible." Believe it or not, all respondents said they planned to grow more edible plants.

Let's see whether that actually happened. Our new poll asks the question, "Are you actually growing more fruits and vegetables than you did last year?"

Let us know. We love hearing from you. Go to the Poll! You will find it in the right-hand sidebar of our contact page. If you'd like to share more thoughts with us, please do.

Luxuriant, Evergreen Creeping Fig

Creeping Fig (Ficus pumila) is a climbing evergreen vine native to South China, Vietnam, Japan and to Malaysia. Its relatives include popular house plants such as Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) and the Rubber Tree (Ficus elastica), and the familiar, edible fig (Ficus carica). The latin name, Ficus pumila, simply means "small fig". Though it produces a small, insignificant fruit, the plant is usually grown only for ornamental purposes.

Perhaps you have seen Creeping Fig covering garden walls in lovely cities of the Deep South. Clinging closely, it lends dark green softness to all kinds of structures. In colder climates it is used to carpet ground and cover walls in conservatories and greenhouses, or to cover topiary forms. The matting is usually about 2" deep, but can become deeper as the plant matures. Vines with no where to go may continue to grow, but hang away from the supporting structure.

Foliage of Creeping Fig is oval-shaped and ranges from 2" to 4" in length. Vines will climb anything up to 40' high, attaching themselves so tightly that if removed they take some of the structure with them. That shouldn't be a problem as long as the plant is intended to cover permanently. Surfaces that may require maintenance, such as wood requiring paint, should be kept free of Creeping Fig.

Creeping Fig is cold-hardy only in USDA climate zones 8 through 11. Temperatures in the lower teens will kill or severely damage it. Partial shade is recommended. Soil should be well-drained, slightly moist with pH ranging from 6.0 to 7.8. Mature plants are somewhat drought tolerant. It is deer-resistant.

Prepare the planting bed for Creeping Fig by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 12" deep. Add enough soil to raise the bed at least 2" above the surrounding ground level. This will help to promote good drainage, but prevent unnecessary run-off. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil. Fertilizer may be used. If you choose to do so, incorporate 5-10-15 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Plant Creeping Fig 12" to 18" apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1" deep.

In addition to the species, Ficus pumila Variegata is also available. The white leaf margins are especially attractive.

Obviously, the primary purpose of Creeping Fig is to carpet ground and cover walls with a dense, green mat. But as mentioned before, it is wonderful for topiaries. Not only that, it is very attractive in hanging baskets as it drapes downward or climbs the basket supports.

The only negatives are that it can cover ground, as a good ground cover should, therefore it should be trimmed occasionally to keep it confined. The other negative is that, as noted before, it sticks tight to supporting structures and can be difficult to remove. So think ahead and don't put it where you won't want it later.

Ficus pumila is a fine plant that does it's job gracefully, producing a luxuriant, evergreen covering where it is needed.

Return to Creeping Fig at goGardenNow.com.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

You've Got To Love Gaillardia


Gaillardia, commonly called Blanket Flower or Indian Blanket, is a genus of 12 species along with various hybrids and varieties that is native to the U.S. The genus is named for an 18th century Frenchman, Gaillard de Charentonneau, a plant enthusiast who supported botanical studies. The common name was given due to the bright colors and bold patterns reminiscent of North American Indian fabrics. Gaillardia is a perennial in warmer areas of its range and re-seeds itself as an annual in colder regions.

Blanket Flower caught my eye when I was very young as it grew behind sand dunes on Tybee Island, GA, alongside coastal highways, abandoned railroad tracks and eroded shell middens. It thrives in full sun in USDA climate zones 3 through 10 in well-drained soils that range from mildly acid to mildy alkaline. The flowers attract butterflies, but the plants are unattractive to deer. Gaillardia is more or less disease free. It is heat-, drought- and salt-tolerant, therefore it is well-suited to exposed perennial gardens, rock gardens, wild-flower gardens, butterfly gardens and xeriscaping. Seaside gardeners love them, but they will flourish far from the coast. Gaillardia is favored by native plant enthusiasts. Because it may have some medicinal properties, herb gardeners sometimes include Blanket Flower in their collections.

Prepare the planting bed for Gaillardia by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 12" deep. Add enough soil to raise the bed at least 4" above the surrounding ground level. Sand is a fine amendment. This will help to promote good drainage. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil, but it may not be necessary. Gaillardia does well in poor soil. For that reason, fertilizer should be used sparingly. If used at all, incorporate 5-10-15 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Plant Gaillardia 12" to 18" apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1" deep.

Because it likes well-drained soil, plant Blanket Flower with other plants having similar cultural requirements. As the plants mature, fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between waterings.

Depending upon where you grow it, Gaillardia blooms early-summer to early fall. Bloom time is about 8 weeks. While dead-heading (pinching off spent flowers) is not entirely necessary, it may help to prolong the bloom season.

The following are well worth growing:
  • Gaillardia x 'Arizona Sun': This was a 2005 All-America Selections Winner. It grows 12" to 14" in height as a low-growing mound. Red/orange flowers tipped with yellow are 3" across and produced from mid-summer to fall.
  • Gaillardia x grandiflora 'FanFare': This new cultivar invites praise. The red 3" wide flowers with yellow tips are tubular and trumpet-shaped.
  • Gaillardia x grandiflora 'Goblin' is an old favorite variety of a popular native plant, it grows up to 12" in height as a low-growing mound. You can't go wrong with this one.
  • Gaillardia x grandiflora 'Oranges and Lemons': Produces lots of yellow and orange flowers over a very long season.
Maybe it's because I grew up with it, or because I have grown to appreciate its adaptability, but I can't praise Gaillardia enough. It is native, sun-loving, heat-tolerant, drought-tolerant, attractive to butterflies, unattractive to deer, long-season blooming, re-seeding, practically disease-free and thrives across a very wide range of climate zones. What more can I say? You've got to love it.

Return to Gaillardia at goGardenNow.com.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Taking Care Of Beesness


With renewed interest in things natural, more folks are thinking of planting gardens to attract wildlife. Birds and butterflies are particularly desired, but many other critters are overlooked; bees, for example. Perhaps they are neglected because they are so small and barely noticeable, or perhaps it is because some can sting and be very noticeable if disturbed. But bees can use a little help, and by helping them they will help you.

Bees are important for pollination. When they forage for nectar they brush against flower pollen and carry some of it with them. As they visit other plants, they deposit some of the pollen. Receptive plants are thus pollinated and fruit is formed. Without bees, our dinner tables would be nearly bare.

Life is tough for bees. Food and water can be scarce. They are food for various other hungry creatures including winged hunters and parasites. Beetles and moths destroy their homes. Toxic pesticides poison flowers with disastrous results. For honeybees, just one sting meant to protect themselves and their brood means certain death. Some think that cell phone signals confuse them so they can't find their ways home. They need safe havens. You can do so by providing them with pesticide-free gardens planted with nectar-producing plants. Bees need water, too.

Bird-watching is a popular past-time, but bee-watching can also be fun. A bee-keeping friend of mine tells me he can sit and watch his hives for hours of learning and enjoyment. I know its true because I used to keep bees myself.

I love to watch them searching among flowers. Our bird-bath also serves bees who line the edge of the water on hot summer days for refreshment. It has gently sloping sides so the bees can gather next to shallow water without falling in over their heads.

You may wonder whether attracting bees invites danger since they can sting. You must realize that not all bees pack a punch. Even those that do are usually too intent on sipping nectar or otherwise going about their bees-ness to bother us. Seldom do they notice our presence beyond passing glances. Even if threatened they usually issue a warning "fly-over buzz". So you can plant a bee garden and enjoy their presence as you would other wildlife; invite them, feed them, water them, but don't try to handle them.

Here, then, for your consideration is a partial list of perennials and groundcovers that attract bees. The descriptions are brief, but I hope it will be helpful.

Abelia x 'Rose Creek'. This is a lovely mounding shrub that makes a terrific groundcover when planted in groups. Evergreen foliage on red stems. Produces loads of attractive white flowers throughout the growing season. Grows 24" to 36" in height. Full sun in USDA climate zones 4-9.

Achillea spp. Also known as Yarrow. Fragrant gray-green lacy foliage. White, rose, yellow, gold flower clusters from mid to late summer. Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 3-10. Grows to 36" in height according to species.

Actaea racemosa. Also known as Bugbane. Fern-like foliage. Frothy white flower plumes on 5' stalks in summer. Partial to full shade in USDA climate zones 3-9.

Ajuga reptans. Also known as Carpet Bugleweed. Bronze to variegated foliage. Blue flowers on short spikes in spring. Full sun to full shade. USDA climate zones 3-9. Well-drained soil. Grows to under 6".

Allium spp. and ornamental hybrids. Also known as Ornamental Onion. Lovely globe-shaped flower clusters in spring to summer. Full sun to partial shade. Color and size varys by variety. USDA climate zones 4-9. Well drained soil. Plant bulbs in fall.

Armeria maritima. Also known as Thrift or Sea Pink. Evergreen spreading clumps of grassy foliage. Dark pink, ball-shaped clusters. Blooms spring to fall. Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 3-8. Grows to 12" in height.

Asclepias tuberosa. Also known as Butterfly Weed. Clusters of bright orange flowers attract butterflies in summer. Full sun in USDA climate zones 4-10. Grows to 24" in height.

Aster spp. Small, colorful, daisy-like flowers late summer to fall. Full sun in USDA climate zones 4-9 and height varies according to species.

Astilbe spp and hybrids. Also known as False Spirea. Frothy flower plumes in colors ranging from white, pinks, reds, lavenders. Partial to full shade in USDA climate zones 3-8. Height varies according to species.

Carex spp. Also known as Japanese Sedge. Evergreen, grass-like foliage green or variegated. Mounding to spreading habit. Moist soil. Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 5-9. Grows to 12" in height.

Cotoneaster spp. Pronounced "co TOE nee aster." Spreading groundcover shrubs. Evergreen to semi-evergreen foliage. Small flowers like apple blossoms in spring followed by pink or red fruit. Full sun to light shade in USDA climate zones from 4-10 and height to 18" depending upon species.

Coreopsis spp. and hybrids. Also known as Tickseed. Deciduous oval to thread-like foliage with daisy-like flowers in yellow or pink in summer. Full sun to light shade in USDA climate zones and height to 8" to 18" depending upon species.

Crinum spp. Large plants with strap-like foliage in the Amaryllis family. Large clusters of white to pink flowers in summer. Full sun in USDA climate zones 8-11. Grows to 48" in height. Bulbs planted in spring.

Calamintha grandiflora. Also known as Calamint. Lavender blue flowers on mint-like leaves from spring to fall. Aromatic foliage. Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 5-9. Grows to 24" in height.

Crocosmia. Also known as Montbretia. Red, orange to yellow iris-like flowers on long stems in summer. Sword-like foliage. Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 6-9. Grows to 48". Plant spring bulbs.

Echinacea purpurea and hybrids. Also known as Coneflower. Pink/purple, white, orange or yellow flowers spring to late summer. Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 3-8. Grows 18" to 48" in height according to species.

Geranium spp. and hybrids. Also known as Cranesbill or Hardy Geranium. Mound-like clumps of evergreen foliage. Flowers in red, white, pink, blue shades spring to summer. Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 4-9. Grows to 24" in height.

Heuchera spp. Also known as Coral Bells or Alumroot. Low-growing clumps of variegated foliage in green to bronze colors with spikes of frothy white, pink or red blooms in spring and summer. Many new varieties introduced. Full sun to shade in USDA climate zones 3-8. Grows to 18" in height.

Hypericum calycinum. Also known as St. John's Wort or Aaron's Beard. Evergreen to semi-evergreen foliage with buttery yellow foliage in spring with some re-bloom into summer. Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 5-9. Grows 12" to 18" in height.

Lamiastrum galeobdolon. Also known as Yellow Archangel. Evergreen silver-variegated foliage with yellow flowers in spring. Spreading groundcover. Full sun to shade in USDA climate zones 3-9. Grows to 15" in height.

Lantana spp. and hybrids. Deciduous to evergreen, depending upon climate zone. Upright to spreading shrubby perennial. Fragrant foliage and clusters of often multi-colored flowers spring until frost. Flower color ranges from white, yellow, orange, pink, lilac, purple, red. Full sun in USDA climate zones 7 - 11 and grows 12" to 60" in height according to species.

Lavandula angustifolia. Also known as Lavender. Compact shrub-like perennial with fragrant evergreen grayish foliage. Fragrant lavender to purple flowers summer to fall. Full sun in USDA climate zones 5-9. Prefers alkaline soil with low fertility. Grows 18" to 20" in height.

Leucanthemum x. superbum 'Becky'. Also known as Shasta Daisy. 2003 Perennial Plant of the Year. White daisys with yellow centers from summer to fall. Full sun to light shade in USDA climate zones 4-9. Grows to 36" in height.

Monarda didyma. Also known as Bee Balm. Tall, fragrant perennial of the mint family. Crown-like cluster of white, pink, red, purple flowers in spring and summer. Full sun in USDA climate zones 4-9. Grows to 48" in height. Prefers moist soil.

Nepeta spp. and hybrids. Also known as Catmint. Many species are perennials. Nepeta 'Walker's Low' is favored, 2007 Perennial Of The Year. Heart-shaped, gray-green foliage with purple flowers from late spring to frost. Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 4-7. 'Walker's Low' grows 30" to 36" in height.

Perovskia atriplicifolia. Also known as Russian Sage. 1995 Perennial Plant Of The Year. Deciduous to sem-evergreen shrubby perennial. Fragrant gray-green foliage. Ethereal light blue flowers from mid-summer to fall. Full sun in USDA climate zones 5-9. Grows 24" ('Little Spire') to 36" in height.

Phlox nivalis 'Eco Flirtie Eyes'. Also known as Trailing Phlox or Florida Phlox. Trailing habit. Evergreen, needle-shaped foliage. Pink to lavender flowers in early spring. Long bloom period. Full sun in USDA climate zones 5-9. Grows to 10" in height and spreads 24" to 36".

Phlox subulata. Also known as Thrift or Creeping Phlox. Pink, red, white, lavender flowers in early spring. Tolerates a wide range of soil conditions. Full sun in USDA climate zones 3-9. Grows 4" to 6" in height. Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Rosmarinus officinalis. Also known as Rosemary. Evergreen, fragrant, needle-like foliage. White, pink or light blue flowers repeatedly. Full sun in USDA climate zones 7-10. Grows to 48" in height.

Rudbeckia fulgida var. 'Goldsturm'. 1999 Perennial Plant Of The Year. Also known as Black Eyed Susan or Gloriosa Daisy. Yellow daisy-like blooms with deep brown centers from mid-summer to fall. Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 5-9. Prefers moist soil, but tolerates drought. Grows 24" to 36" in height.

Salvia spp. One of my favorites is S. nemorosa. Also known as Perennial Sage. Varieties include 'Blue Hill' or 'Blauhugel', 'Caradonna' (2000 International hardy Plant Union Award), 'East Friesland' or 'Ostfriesland', 'Marcus' (PP# 13322), 'May Night' or 'Mainact' (1997 Perennial Plant Of The Year), 'Pink Friesland' (PPAF), and 'Snow Hill'. Deep green to gray-green foliage with long-lasting flowers in shades from white, pink and purple. Long-lasting blooms from late spring. Re-bloom after cutting. Full sun in USDA climate zones 4-8. Grows to 18" in height.

Scabiosa columbaria 'Butterfly Blue'. 2000 Perennial Plant Of The Year. Also known as Pincushion Flower. Light blue flowers from summer to fall. Cutting increases blooming. Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 3-9. Grows 12" to 18" in height.

Sedum spp. Also known as Moss or Stonecrop. Succulent foliage of various shapes and colors. Flowers in shades from yellow, pink to red. Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 4-9 and grows from 4" to 30" according to species.

Thymus spp. Also known as Thyme. Aromatic, evergreen foliage, green to variegated. Lilac, white, pink, red flowers in summer. Full sun in USDA climate zones 4-9. Grows to 4" according to species. Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Verbena spp and hybrids. Aromatic green foliage with large clusters of red, pink, purple flowers spring through fall. Spreading habit. Full sun in USDA climate zones 6-10. Grows to 12" in height according to species.

Veronica. I really like Veronica penduncularis 'Georgia Blue.' Evergreen foliage turns bronze in fall. Blue flowers in spring. Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 4-9. Grows 3" to 6". Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Because space is limited, I can only name a few other perennials and ground covers that attract bees: Acanthus, Agastache, Alstroemeria, Anthemis, Campanula, Digitalis, Echinops, Erigeron, Erysimum, Gypsophila, Helenium, Helianthus, Helichrysum, Hesperis, Inula, Knautia, Kniphofia, Lamium, Lathyrus, Liatris, Ligularia, Lobelia, Lupinus, Lychnis, Lythrum, Malva, Mentha, Oenothera, Origanum, Paeonia, Penstemon, Potentilla, Pulmonaria, Saponaria, Sidalcea, Solidago, Stachys, Stokesia, Tanacetum, Thalictrum, Tiarella, Trifolium and Verbascum.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Hardy Geranium - The Lovely Weed

We gardeners often complain that the plants we want to grow require too much cultivation and tender loving care, while weeds thrive despite all the invective and abuse we heap on them. If only weeds were more appealing.

Good news! There is such a weed. In fact, various of its charming species are native to every state in North America. Others were introduced and found our soils to their liking. What is this amazing creature? Hardy or "Cranesbill" geranium.

Before going further, it must be noted that hardy geraniums are not the same plants sold as annuals in many retail markets. The annuals are of another genus, Pelargonium.

Though most of the hardy geraniums on the market are improvements over the species having been selected or hybridized for superior characteristics, they are not far removed from their native roots. They still retain the vigor and persistence of their parents, so they require very little care once established.

Hardy geraniums possess only positive characteristics, blooming for most of the growing season, tolerating a wide range of temperatures, thriving in most types of soil and pH, and growing in full sun to full shade. They perform best in USDA climate zones 4 - 8, enjoying a bit of protecting shade in the South. Geraniums are perfect for the butterfly garden. Deer don't like 'em.

These are some of the most popular varieties:

  • G. x 'Ann Folkard' - Grows to 8" tall, trailing habit, and begins to bloom in early Spring. Hardy from zones 5-9.
  • G. pratense 'Double Jewel' - Grows to 10" tall and produces double, white petals with lilac center.
  • G. x 'Johnson's Blue' - Grows to 20" tall and begins to bear 1.5" bright violet-blue flowers in late Spring to early Summer.
  • G. x 'Orion' - Grows to 18" and begins to bear deep blue flowers with contrasting violet-red veining in mid-Summer. Very tolerant of most environmental conditions.
  • G. x 'Rozanne' - 2008 Perennial Plant of the Year. Grows to 24" tall and bears violet blue flowers. Hardy from zones 5-8.
  • G. endressii 'Wargrave Pink' - Very popular. Grows to 24" tall and bears salmon-pink flowers.
  • G. macrorrhizum 'Bevan's Variety' - Grows to 24" tall and begins to bear deep magenta flowers with dark red sepals from mid to late Spring. Fragrant foliage turns red to bronze in Fall. Grows densely and suppresses weeds.
  • G. maculatum - This wild geranium grows to 20" and begins to bear lavender-pink flowers in Spring to early Summer.
  • G. oxonianum 'Southcombe Double' - Grows to 10" tall and produces double, pink, frilly blooms.
  • G. sanguineum - Known as 'Bloody Geranium'. A popular plant that grows to 15" and begins to bear rose to wine-red flowers in May. Very easy to grow. Foliage turns red in Fall.
  • G. sanguineum 'Max Frei' - An improved 'Bloody Geranium' that grows more compactly with purple-red flowers.

For optimum results, provide the following conditions:

  • Moist, well-drained soil,
  • Full sun to full shade (depending on your region),
  • Average fertility,
  • pH from 5.8 to 7.0,
  • About 2" of mulch.

Hardy geraniums are most commonly available growing in 4" pots to 1 gallon pots, or as bare root plants.

Prepare the planting site by thoroughly cultivating the soil. Add compost if available, otherwise do not add fertilizer to the planting hole. Space from 12" to 18" apart. Remove them from their pots and plant at the same depth they grew before. If planting bare root geraniums, place them in the ground with roots downward and spread out. The bases of the crowns should be at soil level. Firm the dirt around them and water well. Add about 2" of mulch around the plants.

Hardy geraniums prefer moist, well-drained soil, but will tolerate mild drought conditions when established. But if possible, water deeply at least once per week if you haven't had adequate rainfall. The frequency depends on your environment. Occasional deep irrigation is better than frequent shallow watering.

After Spring bloom, trim the plants back from one quarter to half off. This will remove the slender seed pods and encourage more branching and bloom. If you use your imagination, you will see that the seed pods resemble cranes' bills. Thus the name.

Frost will wilt the leaves, but not before turning some of them burgundy or scarlet in color; especially Geranium sanguineum or 'Bloody Geranium'. Trim them off when spent, dispose of the debris in your compost pile, and wistfully anticipate Spring.

Over time, your geraniums will spread by underground rhizomes, becoming large clumps. About every three years, these can be divided and replanted elsewhere. To divide them, cut downward through the clump with a sharp spade and separate the parts. When you have enough, you'll love sharing them with your friends.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

No Cars Inside Building!

This post has absolutely nothing to do with gardening, but it does have to do with keeping some order on the premises.

One convenience store owner here in Georgia (Swamp Fox Country Store near Port Wentworth) felt it necessary to post this warning on the door, just in case there are any questions. My guess is that he had just about enough. But, it begs questions, doesn't it?

His demand seems reasonable. But what is a man supposed to do if he is repairing his '89 Town Car out front and needs to keep the parts dry?

Wintercreeper - An Under-Rated Evergreen Ground Cover

Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei) is an under-rated, versatile broadleaf evergreen that grows in Zones 5-9. Depending on the cultivar, this ornamental shrub attains 2’ to 4’ in height and up to 5’ in width.

Euonymus is native to China, in a wetter climate than the United States typically. It naturally prefers moist, well-drained soil conditions in partial shade. But it is a hardy plant, tolerating full sun, poor soils with a wide pH range in environments given to heat, drought, and pollution. In other words, it will probably grow in your yard.

Euonymus fortunei is semi-evergreen to evergreen with unremarkable but pleasantly lustrous, dark green 1” to 3” long leaves. The most common cultivars are more remarkable, variegated with shades of white or gold around each leaf’s margin. Depending on the cultivar, leaves will fade to colors including red, purple, bronze, gray or pink. Because some are semi-evergreen, they keep their leaves in fall but may lose a few during winter. Euonymus can produce light yellow or green blooms in June or July, but you’ll have to look hard for them if they’re there at all.

Euonymus, whose name translates as “good name”, is found in two different forms: groundcover or shrub. Both are widely planted. I’ve seen them used for foundation and specimen plants, low hedges, edging, mass plantings, and even as climbers on trees and trellises. The foliage has a fairly thick density. Both forms have green stems that tan with age, but ground cover varieties’ grow outward, whereas shrub varieties’ grow vertically. Take note that regardless of it being a ground cover or a shrub, if the plant is placed near a vertical structure (brick wall, chain-link fence, tree, etc.) the stems will grip it and, like a short clinging vine, climb it. Either form grows moderately fast when it’s young, but slows with maturity. If you’re in a hurry for it to mature you should prune it frequently. Pruning in the spring encourages it to grow quickly.

Euonymus can be propagated by rooted stem cuttings, but they’re always available in containers. Plant in spring or fall. But if you can’t get around to planting until summer, that’s fine; just be sure you irrigate it frequently. Upon planting, spread mulch around it to control weeds and preserve moisture. To prevent new roots from freezing the first winter, particularly with the ‘Coloratus’ variety, mulch to 4" depth.

Euonymus is a great, easy and carefree plant until it gets old. With age or lack of vigor, it becomes more susceptible to crown gall and euonymus scale. Both afflictions are primarily cosmetic. Scale is the most common of the two. However, these problems don't progress quickly. You’ll have time to catch problems and begin treatment.

Scale is an insect that is easily treated with organic pesticides. Scale easy to spot because the stem and undersides of leaves will look like they're covered in powder or teeny-tiny turtle shells. The powder actually consists of hundreds of tiny white structures that house juice sucking bugs. Scale is a serious problem if found in a Euonymus mass planting because it spreads to other plants. As with all plants, keep your eyes open to potential problems.

Popular Euonymus fortunei varieties include:
  • E. f. ‘Acutus’. The best Euonymus for a fast growing groundcover. Its deep green 1”-2” long egg-shaped leaves bronze in the winter. If you want it to stay at its mature 2’ height keep it away from a supporting structure and plant about a foot apart.
  • E. f. 'Coloratus'. This woody groundcover, most frequently used for mass planting, grows 1' tall if not near a vertical structure. It will climb if the opportunity presents itself. Solid green foliage turns a very attractive red or heavy bronze in winter. Plant 8” to 12” apart.
  • E. f. 'Gracilis'. (See the photo above.) Its half inch deep green ovoid leaves have a creamy edges which develop a burgundy tint in winter. This shrub grows about 1’ in height and 1.5’ feet in width in Zones 5-9 in full sun or shade. Plant at least 18” apart.
  • E. f. 'Harlequin'. Perfect for mass planting as a ground cover. Variegated, evergreen foliage spaced compactly displays a burgundy hue in winter. Spreads horizontally, more or less, until it meets an obstacle, then may climb to 36" or more.
  • E. f. 'Kewensis'. A very low growing (1" - 3” tall) variety that forms a thick dense mat and spreads slowly but indefinitely. Grows best in Zones 5-8 in sun or shade. Plant up to 3’ apart. Pea-sized leaves with the occasional white flower in June. It is great as a ground cover in small spaces, and is wonderful for bonsai.
Euonymus will be an asset to your garden. Some cultivars display beautiful fall color. It grows in virtually any soil condition as long as the soil is moist and well drained. It has few pests, and they're easily remedied. It has proven to be a beautiful, hardy, “plant it and forget it” shrub or ground cover all over the United States.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Carex Sedge: A Ground Cover Solution For Moist Soil

Carex hachijoensis 'Evergold'Carex is of the Cyperaceae, or sedge, family that contains at least 3000 species and 100 genera of grass-like perennials. As such, there is some confusion and misspelling about the specific names of many plants. Regardless, the one you end up with in your garden will certainly be lovely and virtually care free. Carex is found worldwide, is native to the U.S. and is most common in temperate and cold regions.

Carex is also called Sedge Grass and Japanese Sedge. It is frequently referred to as a tufted grass, a category that includes grasses, sedges, rushes and bamboos. Sedges are distinguished from grasses by their solid, three sided flower stems (grass flowers have round, hollow stems) and they typically form dense, compact clumps. For you botanists turned poets, you can distinguish them using this poem by an unknown author: “Sedges have edges and rushes are round, grasses are hollow and rush all around.” If you don’t want to remember that, just keep in mind that any plant from the genus Carex is a true sedge.

If you see a clump of “grass” growing in shady standing water, chances are it is Carex. Hardy in Zones 5-9, this ornamental grows in wet to very moist soils but prefers evenly moist, well drained, loamy, sandy or clay soils. It may tolerate shallow standing water for awhile. If the soil dries out it will begin to suffer from drought stress. The pH preference is neutral (7.0).

Carex will grow in full sun, but prefers partial to full shade. Consider your location before planting; if you live north of Maryland, full sun might be okay, but you won’t get away with full sun in Alabama. You’ll have to experiment and see how it performs in your garden.

Carex grows 6" high or more depending on the cultivar, and has dense tufts of fine, narrow, arching leaves. The 1" leaves are all shades of green with an abundance of variegations, and considering everything I just said above, have the best color in full sun. Its dense mounds make it difficult for weeds to survive. Carex is great for borders, containers, ground cover, rock gardens and water gardens. In well-drained gardens, Carex hides yellowing foliage of spring-flowering bulbs very well.

Sedges are easy to care for because they have no serious pests or diseases. The most you’ll have to do is divide it every few years because it spreads aggressively by rhizomes (but isn’t invasive). Propagation from division is best done in the spring. You can fertilize Carex as you see fit, but keep granular fertilizers off foliage and away from stems and crowns. I’d use half the recommended dose of fertilizer for new plantings, if at all. It remains lush all year round and there is no need to prune it. You’ll probably have to pull away some dead leaves in the winter, but you won’t have to spend additional time mulching it.

Interest in grasses and sedges has increased lately and I’m listing the three varieties of sedges about which I get the most inquiries.

Carex conica 'Hime Kansugi': One of the shortest Carex, it grows between 6" - 12” tall and 8" -10” wide. This dwarf variegated plant of green and white grows in sun or shade in Zones 5-9. Plant them 8" apart for an immediate full, dense look.

C. hachijoensis 'Evergold': Peaks at 8" - 12" tall, but has a wide spread up to 18”. This evergreen variety is very popular because of its slow growing and mounding habits as it spreads. Very nice green and yellow striped one-half inch wide leaves. Grows in Zones 6-9 and must have well-drained most soil. Great as a ground cover, but needs to be divided every few years to keep it tall and thick.

Carex morrowii 'Ice Dance': Grows 12” tall and 18” wide in sun or shade. It has green one-half inch wide leaves with white edges. Lives in Zones 5-9 and should be planted 18” apart. Lights up a shady spot well. This variety is very aggressive and is probably best suited for a container or ground cover.

Carex sedges are becoming more popular because they’re easy to take care of, gorgeous, and often the most colorful plant in the winter garden. If planted in moist to soggy areas in sun or shade they’ll do well and won’t need additional maintenance.

Return to Carex at goGardenNow.com.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Japanese Sweet Flag: Ground Cover For Wet Sites

Acorus gramineus is a wetland perennial that is also known as Japanese sweet flag, Japanese rush, grassy-leaved sweet flag and dwarf sweet flag. The source of calamus oil, this plant was used medicinally and in perfumes and soaps because of its cinnamon fragrance. It produces this smell when the leaves are bruised or crushed under foot.

Japanese sweet flag has semi-evergreen, long (up to 14"), narrow, grassy foliage. Its half inch glossy leaves are flat and look like thick, lush wet grass. Sweet flag is unusual in that it produces yellow horn shaped flowers on hollow stems in midsummer.

Japanese sweet flag is native to wetlands of eastern Asia, and can be grown in similar environments in Zones 6-9 in the United States. At the very least, it requires very moist soil. It thrives in wetlands, like along ponds or pools, and can even grow when submersed in up to 4" of water. If you grow it out of its natural aquatic element, it must be watered frequently. If the soil dries for even a day the leaves will suffer. Given this prerequisite, it also needs full sun to partial shade.

If you want to plant a year old sweet flag from a seed or rhizome, it is best to let it mature in a container for a month. Container grown plants can be set in their permanent positions any time you have a shovel handy, but if you plant in the summer, you must be comitted to watering as needed until cooler, rainy weather arrives. Mature plants should be divided every few years in early autumn or late spring. They’ll do fine through winter months without mulch.

Sweet flag may seem like the ideal plant for your Koi pond, but be aware that it spreads aggressively via rhizomes. Eventually it will establish a beautiful seamless turf that may be better for the front of a bog garden than an ornamental pool. If you don’t want yards of sweet flag, grow it in submerged containers so it can't spread. However, even container bound plants will need to be divided eventually.

Japanese sweet flag doesn’t attract any pests, but desperate deer might eat them. It is not prone to any diseases. It can become home to small wetland wildlife.

There are several varieties of Japanese sweet grass, but the two I’m most asked about are 'Ogon' and 'Variegatus'.

The cultivar 'Ogon' is also called Golden Japanese sweet flag because its green foliage is variegated with cream and bright light green stripes. Look for more golden colors if planted in the sun and greener colors in the shade. With a quarter of an inch wide and 10" long arching leaves, it is smaller than other cultivars. It is evergreen in warmer winter climates and produces unremarkable small yellow flowers and red fleshy berries. 'Ogon' will slowly spread about a foot and you should plant them at least 10" apart. Performs best in Zones 7-10.

'Variegatus' is also called variegated Japanese sweet flag. It is semi-evergreen, with green and white striped quarter inch wide leaf blades that can grow 12" long. Plant 'Variegatus' 12" apart. It produces small green blooms in early summer that later become tiny red berries and grows best in Zones 6-9.

In addition to being ideal in wet or submerged areas, Acorus gramineus delights the nose and the eyes. Its beautiful sweet smelling foliage provides year round color and blossoms and berries in the summer. It is easy on your schedule too, as it requires infrequent maintenance and has no common pests or diseases. This simple and rewarding plant will be perfect in or around your water feature.


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Monday, July 13, 2009

Cotoneaster - A Bright Little Ground Cover Shrub

Cotoneaster is a genus of small shrubs comprised of 300 species, the majority being somewhere in between low-growing and erect bushes. A few are small trees that grow up to 45’ tall, like C. frigidus, but most are prostrate shrubs or tall ground covers that are used as borders, low barriers, foundations, non-traditional ground covers or features, even bonsai. Any species provides beautiful color and charm in your garden.

Pronounced "Co-TOE-nee-aster," the name translates as "quince-like " from the Greek "Kotoneon" (quince) and the Latin "ad istar" (similarity). Both quince and Cotoneaster belong to the Rosaceae family. Native to Asia, the plant naturalized in the U.S. in Zones 4-9. Some varieties can be evergreen, semi-evergreen or deciduous depending on the climate. All varieties are loved for their mounding growth habit, bright flowers and showy berries. Although they don’t look much like the plant for which they’re named, cotoneasters are popular because, unlike their relatives, Pyracanthas, they have no thorns.

Cotoneaster grows slowly and matures between 18" and 36" tall. It sprawls, but it can also climb if it has a supportive structure. If planted in a raised bed, its branches cascade down gracefully. It prefers full sun to partial shade and moist, well-drained soil. However, it is proven to thrive in urban areas with stress from poor soils, various soil pH and condition, pruning mistakes and winter road salt.

The cultivar you buy in a container will have a distinct main stem and branches, but as the branches spread they often root with soil contact. Older stems are brown and new ones that branch off the sides are reddish. Foliage is ovoid, alternate, 0.5" long, and glossy dark green with a pointed tip. In the fall the leaves may turn shades of green, yellow, orange or burgundy. In addition to the colors provided by the leaves, flowers bud in April and bloom in white or pink in May and June. The clusters are beautiful but don’t dominate the plant. The real show begins in August with glossy red berries. The contrast with the dark green leaves demands your attention. These quarter-inch berries, inedible for humans, can last into November if they aren’t eaten sooner by birds.

Cotoneaster may be planted any time you have shovel handy, but if planted in summer you must take care to provide adequate irrigation until the plant is established. If grown in containers or planters, mature plants should be repotted yearly using fast-draining soil. Don’t be timid here - you can remove a third of the roots and it will be fine. It may seem like a waste to throw those roots away, but Cotoneaster resists being bare-rooted. Immediately after planting and fertilizing lay down mulch to prevent weeds from invading up through the arched branches. Irrigate frequently to keep the soil moist.

Because Cotoneaster naturally arches and spreads, you may have to prune it depending on why you bought it and where you planted it. If you want a spreading Cotoneaster, it will sucker naturally and there is no need remove new shoots that will root on the soil. But if you want a plant with a single trunk, new shoots must be removed every few weeks to promote trunk growth. If grown near a wall, Cotoneaster will try to climb, so you may have to prune back. On the other hand, Cotoneaster espaliered against a wall or trellis and trained in elegant forms. If it gets too big, Cotoneaster may be pruned after the berries have dropped.

This popular plant is unfortunately not without unpopular pests, but deer aren’t among them. Cotoneaster be bothered by aphids, scale, spider mites, webworm, leaf blight, crown-gall and bacterial fireblight. These are primarily cosmetic problems and are easy to recognize and remedy.

Aphids are yellowish/pink/green 0.125" long plant lice. They are found on nearly all varieties of plants, vegetables, field crops, and fruit trees. Control and prevention are important for new plants, where sap removal by aphids prohibits development. Early detection is key. A fungus called sooty mold grows on aphid waste that accumulates on leaves, turning them black. The appearance of it on plants may be the first time that an aphid infestation is noticed. To prevent sooty mold, you must control the insects so look for them on the affected plants, but also plants in close proximity. Aphids can be controlled chemically, but this also tends to kill other good bugs in the area. Try spot treatment first.

Scale is an insect infestation that is best treated with systemic pesticides. It’s easy to spot because the plant will look like it’s covered in powder. This powder is actually hundreds of tiny white structures that house juice sucking bugs. Scale can be a serious problem if found in a mass planting because it spreads quickly to other plants. If you don’t see the problem for several months and you notice it when the plant looks like it’s covered in powder and also gray mildew, it’s too late and you’ll have to dig up and throw away all the infected plants.

Spider mite and webworm can cause moderate to severe cosmetic leaf damage. Spider mites cause dappled yellow to brown color on otherwise green leaves, while webworm cosmetic leaf damage is often severe, with a webbed matrix covering the brown and dead leaves on entire stems. Foliage is subject to mite and/or webworm damage because of drought stress. Spider mites require pesticides that are specifically developed for spider mite control (miticides or acaricides). Because most miticides do not affect eggs, a repeat application at an approximately 10- to 14-day interval is usually needed for control.

Leaf blight is first recognized when the leaves turn yellow, but don’t fall off. Soon lesions will appear on the leaves and rapidly engulf surrounding plant tissue. If leaf blight is confirmed on your plant it can be treated chemically with a product from your garden center or a specific remedy can be recommended by your agricultural extension agent.

Crown-gall describes large lesions on the plant at the soil line where the main roots join the stem but sometimes are higher up. Crown gall is best controlled by removing the plant and treating the soil with a suitable fumigant. Chemical treatments are also available.

Bacterial fireblight affects young stems of plants in the Rosaceae family, which includes apples, pears, Cotoneaster. Fireblight is triggered by warm, wet weather during bloom time. The ends of twigs and branches become brown or black and may curl over into a shepherd's crook shape. Dead leaves may remain attached to the tree. Pruning diseased branches early and frequently is the surest way to prevent fireblight from spreading, but remember to disinfect pruning tools frequently. Chemical treatments are also available.

Just let me say that if all these diseases were frequent and hard to solve, Cotoneaster would not be sought out by so many from novice gardeners to enthusiasts. I’ve had Cotoneaster in pots and around the yard for years and they attracted aphids once. This beautiful woody ground cover isn’t going to be perpetually infested with something.

There are hundreds of species out there and I prefer the shorter ones because they’re easier for me to maintain. Here are four of my favorites:

  • C. adpressus "Tom Thumb": Also known as "Little Gem", this evergreen rarely blooms or produces berries. I like it because it is an attractive and unique dwarf specimen with dark green miniature, ruffled leaves. A very slow grower that gets only 24" wide and 12" high, it grows best in full sun in Zones 4-9. Prefers moist, well-drained soil.
  • C. dammeri 'Coral Beauty': Growing best in Zones 4-8, this variety is easy to grow and drought tolerant. It gets 30" tall and has bright pink flowers. Plant them 18" apart.
  • C. dammeri 'Lowfast': A very hardy variety that grows from Zone 4-10, it prefers full sun to get the best evergreen foliage color. It grows 18" tall, produces solitary and profuse white flowers and abundant red fruit. It is low and fast spreading.
  • C. salicifolius 'Scarlet Leader': A taller shrub that gets up to 36" tall. Does best in Zones 6-9 and has pleasant red/purple foliage in the fall after its white flowers and red berries have dropped. It has very strong disease and insect resistance.
Think how beautiful your yard would be with a wavy, arching evergreen shrub covered in bright flower and red berries. Think of other plants you know that thrive despite enduring all kinds of abuse and yet look great year round. What else could do that and be used as a dramatic feature, tall ground cover, border or foundation?

Return to Cotoneaster at goGardenNow.com.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Lawn Mowing Tips

Summer is in full-swing and lawn-mowing is a regular chore for most of us. Here are a few tips to help you.

If your lawnmower is gasoline powered, be sure to check the oil level (if applicable) before cranking it.

If you have pneumatic tires, make sure they are properly inflated. A tire with low pressure will cause the blade to cut lower on that side resulting in an uneven cut.

Keep mower blades sharp. Dull blades shred the grass leaves rather than cut them. The shredded leaf ends will turn brown and discolor the lawn.

Don't mow when the grass is wet. It puts a strain on your lawn mower and results in an uneven cut. In addition, the wet clippings mat together and can not disperse properly. Furthermore, mowing wet grass on a slope presents a safety hazard; you may slip and hurt yourself.

Grass should be cut at varying heights depending upon the time of year. For that reason, your lawn mower cutting height should be easily adjustable. Never adjust the cutting height while the motor is running.

If your lawnmower is gasoline powered, allow the engine to cool before refilling. Never refill the tank while the mower is on the lawn; spillage will kill the grass.

If you use your mower on different lawns, weed seeds may be transported from one to the other. Be sure to spray off the underside of the mower, the deck and tires before going to the next job.

That's not all, but enough for now.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Yarrow, Her Sunshine Plays Upon Thee

Achillea, commonly called Yarrow, is a perennial herb in the Asteraceae family native to parts of Europe, Asia and North America.

It produces flat flower clusters, 2" to 6” across which may include hues of red, pink, gold, yellow and white. Flowering begins in the spring and continues well into summer or even fall. Flower stems range from 12" to 36" in height. The 3” to 8” feathery, fern-like leaves are green or gray and have a fresh, spicy fragrance.

Yarrow, also called ‘Nosebleed Weed’ for its ability to stop a nosebleed, is an immuno-stimulant. It has been used to prevent cold and flu and lower blood pressure, promote digestion and relieve headache, earache and tooth pain. But, as with many medicinal herbs, there are dangers associated with ingesting it.

Yarrow is most widely grown for its ornamental qualities. It lends drama to the perennial border and is excellent for cutting and drying.

If grown in USDA climate zones 3 - 9, Yarrow takes care of itself, requiring virtually no attention. Some cultivars will tolerate heat in Zone 10, but need extra care. Otherwise, it thrives in full sun and in poor, gravely and infertile soil conditions. They can live with a minimum of 8” of rain per year, so they're excellent for xeriscaping. Though drought tolerant, Achillea should be watered during extended dry spells.

Yarrow can be started from seeds or seedlings, but they may lack vigor and be finicky about water and weeding. Let someone else deal with the stress and buy them as bare root plants or growing in small containers.

The Achillea root system needs a minimum of 8” of soil. If your landscape only has a thin layer of topsoil, raised beds or terracotta pots should provide enough depth. Achillea needs a pH between 6 and 8.

Prepare a planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Add enough soil to raise the bed at least 4" above the surrounding ground level. This will help to promote good drainage. Next, incorporate compost or 5-10-15 fertilizer at the rate of 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Do not allow synthetic fertilizer to come into contact with the plant.

Plant Yarrow 12" to 24" apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover the root balls with soil. The tops of the root balls should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1" deep.

Achillea spreads by underground rhizomes, so after 4 or 5 years you might thin your plants in the spring. If left to themselves, they will most likely out-compete less aggressive plants. After digging around the perimeter of the mature plant, lift it up and shake off excess soil. Divide the clumps along their natural divisions and replant. Water frequently until you see new growth.

Darker colored flowers may fade in temperatures higher than 80ºF or as they age. You can deadhead flowers to extend the blooming season, but that won’t last past mid October. Or leave the spent flowers on for the birds to enjoy in the winter. In winter the leaves will fall off and may be removed. The evergreen crowns may remain.

Because some Achillea can grow 3' tall, it is best to plant those behind shorter ones, obviously. They can be easily staked, but it may not be necessary. I’ve seen them staked, or leaning over naturally at an angle as if they wanted to greet my knees while I walked along the garden path.

Achillea is susceptible to a preventable disease: mildew. Plants in humid climates, poor sunshine or soggy soil will most likely catch this grey spotty fungus. If your plant has new signs of mildew, spray it with sulfur when the plant is moist with morning dew. Plants with advanced mildew should be removed.

Yarrow is perfect for borders or in mass plantings. It is self-sowing and will spread indefinitely even on slopes. Infrequent foot traffic is tolerated. For an attraction to butterflies that is deer and rabbit resistant, one can’t go wrong with this plant.

Achillea is visually appealing in fresh or dried arrangements. If you want to dry them, cut them at their peak before they fade and hang them upside down in a dark place to avoid the sun’s bleaching rays. They retain their scent and are fragrant in potpourri. The flat flower heads are a great contrast to other shapes.

Horticulturalists have hybridized beautiful cultivars you’ll want to nurture. Among the many cultivars are these beauties:

A. filipendulina ‘Coronation Gold’ - Bright yellow clusters that grow up to 42” high and spread up to 2’ in Zones 3-9.

A. millefolium 'Cerise Queen' - Vivid pink flowerheads that grow 18” high in Zones 3-9.

A. millefolium 'Fire King' - Bright crimson petals surround a yellow center. It grows in Zone 3 - 8 up to 2’ tall.
A. millefolium 'Lilac Beauty' - A taller Achillea that grows 3’ tall in Zones 3-10 with lavender blooms butterflies love.

A. millefolium ‘Oertel’s Rose’ - Pink to light red 2"- 3” clusters that grow about 24" tall. Spreads at least 18”. Successful in Zones 3-10.

A. millefolium 'Paprika' - Orange-red flowers provide a riot of color from Zones 4-8. Has 3” blooms. Height and spread of 2’.

A. x ‘Moonshine’ - This canary colored flower blooms from June to September in Zones 3-9. Has bigger blooms up to 4”. Height and spread of 2’.

Many cultivars exist from crossing and back-crossing among Achillea species. If you’ve been looking for a friendly, low maintenance perennial flower that is drought tolerant, cold-hardy, heat-resistant, deer resistant and produces a specific color for your garden, look no further.

Return to Achillea at goGardenNow.com.