Monday, August 31, 2009

Abelia For Butterflies, Hummingbirds and Kids

Abelia is a genus of deciduous to evergreen shrubs native to Asia and Mexico. The genus is named for Dr. Clark Abel (1780 - 1826), a British surgeon and naturalist who collected seeds of one species during a visit to China. His original collection was lost due to unfortunate circumstances at sea, but he obtained more. In addition to the one that Dr. Abel collected (A. chinensis), there are approximately 30 other species. Most of the popular abelia plants on the market today are hybrids of A. chinensis and A. uniflora, A. x grandiflora (meaning "large flowers"), commonly called Glossy Abelia.

Abelia is in the honeysuckle family and, as you might expect, produces sweet nectar that attracts nectar-lovers including butterflies, hummingbirds and children. I was among them. My mother had a few old-fashioned abelia shrubs growing in our yard. My job was to prune them, and it seemed like I had to do it way too frequently. But I enjoyed watching the butterflies around them, and I loved picking off the flowers and sucking the nectar. Though there was little more than a hint of a taste, it was fun. Even more satisfying was showing my friends and introducing them to the pleasures of sipping nectar. "Pull the flower away from the stem, put the back end of the flower between your lips, bite off the tip, and sip. See? It's okay! Pretty good, huh?"

Since my youth, horticultural interest in Abelia has grown. Presently, there are several very good A. x grandiflora cultivars for your consideration. Most well-known are 'Canyon Creek', 'Edward Goucher', 'Francis Mason', 'Rose Creek', 'Sherwood'. A x 'Canyon Creek' and Abelia x 'Rose Creek' received the 2005 Georgia Gold Medal Award for their superb qualities. All exhibit glossy foliage. Foliage color may range from deep green to yellow/bronze and variegated. Flower colors range from white to pink. Even flower calyx is given much attention.

Abelia shrubs are useful in foundation plantings, perennial borders, butterfly and hummingbird gardens. The lower growing cultivars (as low as 24") serve well when planted en masse as shrubby ground covers. They require little maintenance, are disease and pest-resistant, and drought tolerant once established. They are hardy in USDA climate zones 6 through 9, thriving in full sun and partial shade. Recommended pH ranges from 5.6 to 7.8. Average well-drained soil is fine.

Before planting, take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office. For a small fee, they can run a lab test and tell you what your soil may need.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 10" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 14" deep. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil. If you choose to use synthetic fertilizer, incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 3 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 8" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Plant Glossy Abelia 36" to 48" apart. If you are installing small plants, you may be tempted to space them closer together. Yield not to temptation. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Water the plants in their pots. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the roots. Do not cover the top of the root mass with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed.

Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 3" deep. The mulch helps retain soil moisture, so you can water less frequently. It also helps suppress weeds. Irrigate when necessary, but allow the soil to dry a bit between watering.

Should you consider Glossy Abelia for your garden? Think about it: colorful foliage, attractive flowers, butterflies and hummingbirds, adaptability to a wide range of pH conditions and climate zones, low-maintenance, no spraying required, and fun for kids (if you show them how to sip nectar). When you consider the features, you may find that Glossy Abelia is just right for you. "Pretty good, huh?"

Return to Abelia at goGardenNow.com.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Enjoy A Multitude Of Muscari

Muscari, also known as Grape Hyacinths, are wonderful little plants that are very easy to grow and highly adaptable. They have been popular for so long, and so widely distributed that you'd think they are native to everywhere. But they are native to parts of Europe, around the Mediterranean region, west and central Asia.

There are 30 or 40 species, but you could count on one hand those that are commonly cultivated. Popular ones include Muscari armeniacum, Muscari botryoides, Muscari comosum, Muscari latifolium and Muscari macrocarpum.

The name, muscari, refers to their fragrance which is thought to resemble musk. M. armeniacum is so-named because it is native to the region surrounding Armenia. M. botryoides refers to the appearance of the flower clusters resembling grapes. M. comosum refers to the hairy appearance of the flowers. The wide leaves of M. latifolium suggested its name. Macrocarpum means "large-fruit."

Flower colors include dark blue, light blue, lilac, white and yellow. If you are looking for a dark blue flower for your garden, muscari are sure to please. They are excellent for bulb gardens, perennial gardens, container gardens, rock gardens, mass plantings, or naturalized areas. Muscari look best when planted in multitude. Perhaps the most famous planting of blue grape hyacinths is in Holland’s Keukenhof Gardens where the lavish river of color flows amongst the trees.

Most grape hyacinths are hardy in USDA climate zones 3 to 8. Plant in full sun or partial shade in average, well-drained soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office. They often provide collection bags. With each soil sample, indicate the type of bulb you intend to grow in it. For the most basic recommendations, you may be charged a nominal fee. For more information such as micro-nutrient and organic content you may be charged more. Follow the recommendations.

Bulb planting begins in September or October, depending upon your area. Your Cooperative Extension office can advise you. Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep. Poorly drained sites can be improved by raising the height of the planting beds. Common soil amendments include sulphur for lowering pH, limestone for raising pH, sand for helping drainage, clay for slowing drainage, gypsum for breaking up caking clay and compost for enriching the soil. Bone meal is especially good for bulbs. Which you should use depends upon your particular circumstance. Your local Cooperative Extension Service should be helpful.

Your soil sample report from your local Cooperative Extension Service will include fertilizer recommendations based upon the results of the test. Following its instruction should be a good bet. A fine all-around practice for Spring-flowering bulbs is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden. Repeat the application when shoots appear, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue. Apply 2 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer per ten square feet of garden area every two weeks until flower buds appear.

Most flower bulbs should be planted three times as deep as they are wide. For muscari, that means about 3” deep. Plant them about 4" apart. Cover the bulbs with soil and add a top-dressing of mulch about 2" deep to suppress weeds. Unless snow or rain fall is inadequate, irrigation should not be necessary.

Many popular flower bulbs are toxic to mammals, but muscari are apparently not among them. In parts of Greece and Italy, the bulbs of M. latifolium are eaten as pickles. But unless you know what you're doing, it's best not to eat them. They could at least cause an upset stomach.

Muscari require practically no maintenance. Plant ‘em and forget about ‘em. They should return every year in greater numbers than the last, and provide you with a fantastic display.

Return to Muscari at goGardenNow.com.

Creeping Raspberry For All Seasons

Creeping Raspberry, also known as Creeping Bramble, Creeping Rubus and Crinkle-Leaf Creeper, is an evergreen ground cover shrub native to Taiwan. It goes by more than one botanical name: Rubus pentalobus or Rubus calycinoides. "Rubus" means red, and is the name given to the bramble genus. "Penatlobus" refers to its five-lobed leaves. "Calycinoides" refers to the very obvious calyx of the flower and fruit. Though it is a vigorous grower, it should not be considered invasive. It does not climb and is not rampant.

The first thing you'll notice about the plant is that it grows very low to the ground. Its height is only about 2 to 3 inches. As mentioned before, the leaves are five-lobed and have a puckered surface. Foliage color is medium to light green during growing season and burgundy in fall and winter. Small white flowers appear in spring, followed by edible fruits. Creeping Raspberry is truly a ground cover plant for all seasons.

The plant is excellent as a ground cover and for erosion control in small to medium size areas. It is also very useful in container gardens, so gardeners with limited space can also enjoy it. The runners cascade nicely over the edges of planters, pots and even hanging baskets.

The virtues of Creeping Raspberry are many. It requires little maintenance, is disease and pest-resistant, attracts butterflies, is unattractive to deer and rabbits, and is drought tolerant once established. Creeping Raspberry is hardy in USDA climate zones 6 through 10. It thrives in full sun and partial shade. It tolerates sandy to clay soil with pH ranging from slightly acid to slightly alkaline.

Creeping Raspberry does not tolerate foot traffic. Winter weather can damage the foliage a bit, but early spring trimming should restore its beauty.

Begin by taking a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office. For a small fee, they can run a lab test and tell you what your soil may need.

Prepare the planting bed for Creeping Raspberry by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 12" deep. I should add here that "cultivate" does not necessarily mean "roto-till." I maintain that "roto-tilling" exposes weed seeds which can germinate and cause future problems. But having said that, it may be necessary to till compacted soil to make it workable.

Creeping Raspberry likes well-drained soil, so add enough soil to raise the bed about 4" above the surrounding ground level. 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.

Plant Creeping Raspberry 18" to 24" apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Water the plants in their pots. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the roots. Do not cover the top of the root mass 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. The mulch helps retain soil moisture, so you can water less frequently. It also helps suppress weeds.

Irrigate when necessary, but allow the soil to dry between watering. Keep the planting bed weed-free until the ground cover begins to suppress weed growth on its own.

This is a lovely plant with a lot going for it. You should definitely find a place for it in your garden.

Return to Creeping Raspberry ground cover at goGardenNow.com.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fragrant, Full-bodied Hyacinths

Hyacinths are ever-popular bulbs for garden and indoor forcing. The large flowers and heady fragrance are well-known to gardeners and non-gardeners alike. Even children come to know them. Several of my childhood teachers had hyacinth bulbs growing in glasses in their classroom window sills, along with sprouting beans in paper cups, sad pothos and such.

There are three species in the genus, Hyacinthus: H. litwinowii, H. orientalis and H. transcaspicus. Only H. orientalis, also known as Dutch Hyacinth, is of commercial importance.

The name is said to have been inspired by a much-adored young athlete, Hyakinthos, who was hit and killed by a stray discus while foolishly trying to catch it. Of course, the discus was not blown off course by accident; jealous Zephyr did it. The flowers miraculously sprouted from the blood of Hyakinthos.

Native to Turkey, Syria and Lebanon, wild H. orientalis sported about a dozen flowers per stem. Though not spectacular in appearance, the fragrance was marvelous. Hyacinths were taken to Holland in the 16th century and became very popular. What began as a humble little blossom was developed into a full-bodied flower of distinction.

Dutch Hyacinths are sold according to size determined in centimeters circumference. The largest bulbs cost more but will produce more flowers and be most satisfying.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office. They often provide collection bags. With each soil sample, indicate the type of bulb you intend to grow in it. For the most basic recommendations, you may be charged a nominal fee. For more information such as micro-nutrient and organic content you may be charged more. Follow the recommendations.

Bulb planting begins in September or October, depending upon your area. Your Cooperative Extension office can advise you. Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 12" deep. Poorly drained sites can be improved by raising the height of the planting beds. Common soil amendments include sulphur for lowering pH, limestone for raising pH, sand for helping drainage, clay for slowing drainage, gypsum for breaking up caking clay and compost for enriching the soil. Bone meal is especially good for bulbs. Which you should use depends upon your particular circumstance. Your local Cooperative Extension Service should be helpful.

Your soil sample report from your local Cooperative Extension Service will include fertilizer recommendations based upon the results of the test. Following its instruction should be a good bet. A fine all-around practice for Spring-flowering bulbs is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden. Repeat the application when shoots appear, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue. Apply 2 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer per ten square feet of garden area every two weeks until flower buds appear.

Hyacinth bulbs should be planted three times as deep as the bulbs are wide. For example, if the bulb is 2" wide, plant it 6" deep. That means the bottom of the hole should be 6" deep. Plant them about 6" apart. Cover the bulbs with soil and add a top-dressing of mulch about 2" deep to suppress weeds. Unless snow or rain fall is inadequate, irrigation should not be necessary.

Many popular plants are toxic to mammals, and hyacinths are among them. Care should be taken to prevent children and domestic animals from ingesting the bulbs. Wild animals are seldom in danger since they seem to instinctively know the danger. Though they may dig them up, they don't eat them. Sensitive persons may be irritated by skin contact with other parts of the plant.

Hyacinths are very popular for "forcing." The procedure involves providing cool temperatures adequate to induce flowering. For information on forcing and other matters about bulbs, read our article Marshall's Answers To FAQs On Bulbs.

Return to Dutch Hyacinths at goGardenNow.com.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Host Of Daffodils

Narcissus is one of the world's favorite spring flowers. Its name is associated with the mythological character, Narcissus, whose tale is told by Ovid in Metamorphoses. Renowned for his beauty, Narcissus stirred desire in a nymph, Echo. He spurned her advances. Angered, she cried for revenge. Nemesis heard her plea and granted her wish. While looking into a pool of water, Narcissus was spellbound by his own reflection and pined away, dying of unrequited love for himself.

But when they sought his body, they found nothing,
Only a flower with a yellow center
Surrounded with white petals.

Ovid's was not the only tale about Narcissus. The names and circumstances differed, but the themes were similar.

Interestingly, the Greek word, narke, is the root of narcotic. It is a fact that narcissus are toxic to mammals. I mention this because caution must be taken to prevent domestic pets and children from ingesting any part of the plant. But it is also notable how stories are sometimes concocted to explain simple facts.

Narcissus are often called daffodils and sometimes jonquils. Daffodil is simply a common name for narcissus, and it is okay to use the names interchangeably. Jonquil, however, refers to a particular group of daffodils, as you will learn below.

Daffodils have inspired many other artists and poets. Remember these lines from Wordsworth?

I wander'd lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

The genus, Narcissus, is native to Europe, the Mediterranean and into western Asia. Narcissus is in the Amaryllis family. The plants are perennials and grown from bulbs. They thrive in full sun to partial shade in well-drained soil, and are generally hardy in USDA climate zones 3 through 9. Some cultivars are more heat tolerant; some are not as cold hardy as others. Recommended pH is 6.1 to 7.5.

To keep them organized, The American Daffodil Society has divided narcissus into 13 Divisions based upon shape, habit, and size. But to better understand these divisions, it's helpful to know something about daffodil flower parts. The cup is the trumpet shaped inner part of the flower. The perianth consists of the six "petals" around the cup. The stamen is the male part of the flower that produces and up the pollen. The pistil is the female part of the flower which receives the pollen and produces seeds.

Division 1: Trumpet Daffodils. The trumpet is at least as long as the petals. Trumpets produce one flower per stem. Use them in perennial borders, bulb gardens, mass plantings and for naturalizing.

Division 2: Large-Cupped Daffodils. The cup is at least 1/3 the length of the petals, but not longer than the petals. These produce one flower per stem. These are great for bulb gardens, perennial borders, mass plantings and for naturalizing.

Division 3: Small-Cupped Daffodils. The cup is less than 1/3 the length of the petals. These produce one flower per stem. Small-cupped daffodils are fine for naturalizing, in mass plantings, bulb gardens and perennial borders.

Division 4: Double Daffodils. These have more than 6 petals. The cup and multiple petals are clustered in the center. These may produce more than one flower per stem. Double daffodils are excellent for mass plantings, bulb gardens, perennial borders and for naturalizing.

Division 5: Triandrus Daffodils. The flowers tend to hang downward, bell-like. Triandrus means that the flower has three stamens. These usually have two or more flowers per stem. Triandrus daffodils are native to western Europe and are cold hardy into zone 4. Use them in container gardens, bulb gardens, rock gardens, mass plantings, perennial borders and for naturalizing.

Division 6: Cyclamineus Daffodils. The perianth appears to be blown backward by the wind. These produce one flower per stem. Cyclamineus daffodils are native to the Pyrenees and are cold-hardy into zone 4. They are excellent for bulb gardens, rock gardens, container gardens, mass plantings, perennial borders and for naturalizing.

Division 7: Jonquilla Daffodils. These daffodils have small flowers with flat petals. These usually produce one to three blooms per stem. They are very fragrant. The foliage is narrow like that of rushes. Jonquils are native to the Iberian Peninsula and are cold-hardy into zone 4. You'll love them in container gardens, rock gardens, mass plantings, bulb gardens, perennial borders and for naturalizing.

Division 8: Tazetta Daffodils. These generally have clusters of 3 or more fragrant flowers per stem. The stem and foliage are broad. Tazettas are native from the Mediterranean into Asia and are cold-hardy into zone 8. They are perfect for indoor forcing, container gardens and for planting outdoors in the South.

Division 9: Poeticus Daffodils. These fragrant daffodils have a very white perianth. The cup is small, crinkled and flat, often with a green center, surrounded by yellow and a red rim. These usually produce one flower per stem. Poeticus daffodils are native to south and central Europe, and are cold-hardy into zone 4. Use them in container gardens, rock gardens, mass plantings, perennial borders, bulb gardens and for naturalizing.

Division 10: Bulbocodium Daffodils. These daffodils have very small petals and a comparatively large cup, giving them the appearance of an angel wearing an old-fashioned hoop skirt. They are native to the eastern Mediterranean region, and are cold-hardy into zone 6. They are great for rock gardens, perennial borders, container gardens, bulb borders and for naturalizing.

Division 11: Split-Cupped Daffodils. These beauties display a cup that is split for more than half its length. The cup is often spread against the perianth. Use them in bulb gardens, mass plantings, naturalizing and perennial borders.

Division 12: Miscellaneous Daffodils. Daffodils in this class are those that don't fit anywhere else. Many of them are hybrids with characteristics of more than one division.

Division 13: Species, Wild Variants, and Wild Hybrids. These are natural species that haven't been tinkered with.

Daffodils are often advertised as "DNI", "DNII", or "DNIII." "DN" means "double-nose" and refers to the fact that multiple bulbs of various sizes are attached at the basal plate. "DNI" bulbs are the largest, and up to three flowers may grow from that bulb the first year. "DNII" bulbs are large and two flowers may grow from that bulb the first year. "DNIII" bulbs are the smallest and least expensive. Fewest flowers will grow from DNIII bulbs the first year.  Even the smallest bulbs will mature to produce a host of flowers.  "DN" does not refer to the actual measurement around the circumference of the bulb. Some narcissus bulbs are advertised as "Topsize". This simply means that those bulbs are among the largest available for that particular variety. However the bulbs are marketed, keep in mind that the largest bulbs cost more but will produce more flowers and be most satisfying.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office. They often provide collection bags. With each soil sample, indicate the type of bulb you intend to grow in it. For the most basic recommendations, you may be charged a nominal fee. For more information such as micro-nutrient and organic content you may be charged more. Follow the recommendations.

Bulb planting begins in September or October, depending upon your area. Your Cooperative Extension office can advise you. Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 12" deep. Poorly drained sites can be improved by raising the height of the planting beds. Common soil amendments include sulphur for lowering pH, limestone for raising pH, sand for helping drainage, clay for slowing drainage, gypsum for breaking up caking clay and compost for enriching the soil. Bone meal is especially good for bulbs. Which you should use depends upon your particular circumstance. Your local Cooperative Extension Service should be helpful.

Your soil sample report from your local Cooperative Extension Service will include fertilizer recommendations based upon the results of the test. Following its instruction should be a good bet. A fine all-around practice for Spring-flowering bulbs is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden. Repeat the application when shoots appear, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue. Apply 2 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer per ten square feet of garden area every two weeks until flower buds appear.

The proper depth may differ. But as a rule of thumb, bulbs should be planted three times as deep as the bulbs are wide. For example, if the bulb is 2" wide, plant it 6" deep. That means the bottom of the hole should be 6" deep. Plant daffodils about 6" apart. Cover the bulbs with soil and add a top-dressing of mulch about 2" deep to suppress weeds. Unless snow or rain fall is inadequate, irrigation should not be necessary.

For more information on bulbs, read our article Marshall's Answers To FAQs On Bulbs.

Return to Daffodils and Narcissus at goGardenNow.com.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Tulips! A Spring Rainbow Of Colors.


Tulip is a plant in the genus, Tulipa, that is native to southern Europe and north Africa around the Mediterranean, parts of Turkey and Iran to western China. Tulips are in the Lily family. The plants are perennials and grown from bulbs. Tulips are indigenous to dry mountainous regions with cold winters, long and cool spring seasons, and temperate summers. The word, Tulipa, is derived from the Turkish word for "turban", and somewhat describes the shape of the flower.

It is unclear how tulips were introduced to Europe in the 16th century, but they became a sensation. So desirable were they that by the 17th century values were highly inflated and bulbs were even used as currency. When the speculative bubble burst, many lost fortunes. It was their beauty and ease of cultivation that captivated the public then as it does today. There are over 150 species and over 3000 varieties, and each one has its enthusiasts.

Tulips are grown commercially in bulb-producing regions of the Netherlands and Kashmir where the climate somewhat approximates that of their native lands. Though few places in North America are so favored, tulips can still be grown successfully in most zones, though sometimes only as annuals. They grow best in full sun and very well-drained soil. Recommended pH is 5.6 to 7.5. Hardiness zones given below are conventional; some gardeners may report otherwise.

To keep them organized, The Royal Horticultural Society of Holland has divided tulips into 16 "classes" based upon shape, habit, origin and size.

Class 1: Single Early Tulips. These bloom early in the season on strong stems. Size is from 8" to 20" tall. They are hardy in USDA climate zones 3 through 8, and are good for perennial gardens, mass plantings and indoor forcing.

Class 2: Double Early Tulips. These bloom early in the season on short, strong stems. Flowers have more than 6 petals each, thus the name "double." Size is from 8" to 16" tall. They are hardy in USDA climate zones 3 through 7, and are good for perennial gardens, mass plantings, container gardens.

Class 3: Triumph Tulips. These bloom mid-spring, 1 to 2 weeks before Darwin Hybrids, on strong stems. Flowers are large and display the typical teardrop shape. More tulips are included in this class than any other. Size is from 8" to 26" tall. They are hardy in USDA climate zones 3 through 7, and are good for perennial gardens, mass plantings, container gardens, cut flowers and indoor forcing.

Class 4: Darwin Hybrid Tulips. These bloom mid- to late spring. Flowers are typical pyramid-shaped, very large, up to 6" across when fully open. Size is from 12" to 34" tall. Due to longer stems and larger flowers, they are best planted out of the wind. They are hardy in USDA climate zones 3 through 7 or 8. Use them for perennial gardens, mass plantings, cut flowers, and indoor forcing.

Class 5: Single Late Tulips. Sometimes called "Mayflowering" Tulips, these bloom very late spring. Flowers are oval shaped. Size is from 9" to 32" tall. They are hardy in USDA climate zones 3 through 7. They are good for perennial borders, mass planting, and cut flowers.

Class 6: Lily-flowered Tulips. These bloom late spring. Flower petals are long, pointed and reflexed, and resemble lilies. Size is from 9" to 32" tall. They are hardy in USDA climate zones 3 through 7. The are useful in bulb beds, perennial borders, and as cut flowers. Having long stems, they are best planted out of the wind.

Class 7: Fringed Tulips. Sometimes called "Crispa" Tulips, these can bloom at different times during the spring, but many bloom late spring. Flowers are cup-shaped and the edges of petals are fringed. Size ranges from 8" to 30" tall. Fringed tulips are hardy from USDA climate zones 3 to 7. They are very good for bulb beds, mass plantings and cut flowers.

Class 8: Viridiflora Tulips. All characterized by a streak of green on each petal, these are mutations from other classes of tulips. The bloom times vary according to cultivar. Size ranges from 10" to 30" tall. They are hardy from USDA climate zones 3 to 7. Viridiflora tulips are good for bulb beds, mass plantings and cut flowers.

Class 9: Rembrandt Tulips. These are mutations from other classes of tulips, that resemble the varied color varieties with flames and stripes so popular during the 16th and 17th century. They are named after the Dutch painter. Bloom season and stem height vary. They are hardy from USDA climate zones 3 to 7. Good for bulb beds, mass plantings and cut flowers.

Class 10: Parrot Tulips. Season for these is mid- to late spring. Petals may be multi-colored, flamed and twisted, and flowers are very large. Height ranges from 12" to 28". They are hardy from USDA climate zones 4 to 7. For tulips with exotic appearance, these can't be beat.

Class 11: Double Late Tulips. These bloom late spring. Flowers have many petals, so are often called Peony Tulips. Height ranges from 12" to 24". They are hardy from USDA climate zones 3 to 7. Double Late Tulips are suitable for mixed bulb beds, mass plantings, cut flowers and indoor forcing.

Class 12: Kaufmanniana Tulips. Kaufmanniana tulips are named for K. von Kaufmann, the first Governor General of Tashkent after the 19th century conquest. These are among the earliest to bloom. Flowers resemble water lilies. Height ranges from 4" to 12". Hardy from USDA climate zones 3 to 8, Kaufmanniana tulips may perennialize and multiply for several years. They are suitable for rock gardens, bulb borders and container gardens.

Class 13: Fosteriana Tulips. Fosteriana tulips, commonly called Emperor tulips, originate from a species native to Turkestan and named for Dr. Michael Foster, professor of physiology at Cambridge University during the late 1800s. Dr. Foster became an avid gardener and plant hybridizer. These bloom early spring. Height ranges from 10" to 20". Hardy from USDA climate zones 3 through 8, T. fosteriana tulips perennialize very well. They are good for perennial borders, bulb gardens, mass planting and cut flowers.

Class 14: Greigii Tulips. Greigii tulips originate from a species native to Uzbekistan and discovered by P.L. Graeber. Another horticulturalist, Eduard von Regel, named the group after S.A. Greig, a botanist in St. Petersburg. Greig was also the president of the Russian Imperial Horticultural Society. They bloom early spring. Height ranges from 6" to 16". T. greigii tulips are hardy from USDA climate zones 3 through 7. They are good for borders, bulb gardens, rock gardens, container gardens, mass planting and indoor forcing.

Class 15: Other Botanical Tulips. As the name suggests, this class contains other tulip species cultivated and wild. Because they are so diverse, a description of size, bloom time and recommended hardiness zones will not suffice. Refer to individual species for descriptions. Tulip species in this class include T. bakeri, T. batalini, T. clusiana, T. dasystemon, T. hageri, T. humilis, T. linifolia, T. sylvestris, T. turkestanica.

Class 16: Multi-flowering Tulips. These are also called Bunch-flowering tulips, mutations of tulips from other classes that produce more than one flower stem per plant. Main stems divide and bear multiple blooms. Because they come from other classes, size, flower descriptions and bloom times vary. They tend to be hardy from USDA climate zones 3 through 8.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office. They often provide collection bags. With each soil sample, indicate the type of bulb you intend to grow in it. For the most basic recommendations, you may be charged a nominal fee. For more information such as micro-nutrient and organic content you may be charged more. Follow the recommendations.

Bulb planting begins in September or October, depending upon your area. Your Cooperative Extension office can advise you. Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 12" deep. Poorly drained sites can be improved by raising the height of the planting beds. Common soil amendments include sulfur for lowering pH, limestone for raising pH, sand for helping drainage, clay for slowing drainage, gypsum for breaking up caking clay and compost for enriching the soil. Bone meal is especially good for bulbs. Which you should use depends upon your particular circumstance. Your local Cooperative Extension Service should be helpful.

Your soil sample report from your local Cooperative Extension Service will include fertilizer recommendations based upon the results of the test. Following its instruction should be a good bet. A fine all-around practice for Spring-flowering bulbs is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden. Repeat the application when shoots appear, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue. Apply 2 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer per ten square feet of garden area every two weeks until flower buds appear.

The proper depth may differ according to the type of bulb. But as a rule of thumb, bulbs should be planted three times as deep as the bulbs are wide. For example, if the bulb is 2" wide, plant it 6" deep. That means the bottom of the hole should be 6" deep. Plant tulips about 6" apart. Cover the bulbs with soil and add a top-dressing of mulch about 2" deep to suppress weeds. Unless snow or rain fall is inadequate, irrigation should not be necessary.

Though tulips are lovely to behold, the bulbs are toxic to mammals, therefore caution must be taken to prevent dogs, cats and young children from ingesting them.

Return to Tulips at goGardenNow.com.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Vinca Covers Ground

A walk along an urban trail is an education in diversity. You'll pass people of many nationalities and dress with one thing in common: they need exercise outdoors. You may notice that the plant world along the way is also inhabited by species from far away places.

Vinca, an evergreen ground cover vine that now inhabits much of North America, is actually native to parts of Europe, North Africa and western Asia. The name was probably derived from a Latin word meaning "to bind." Certainly, as a ground cover, it is very effective for erosion control. In addition, David MacKenzie in Perennial Ground Covers says the tough runners used to be twisted together to form rope.

The trailing, vine-like plant is in the Dogbane family, along with Bluestar (Amsonia spp.), Asiatic Jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum), Confederate Jasmine (T. jasminoides) and Mandevilla. Mature height as a ground cover is usually from 8" to 18". The runners root as they go. Flowers may be blue, white or burgundy, depending upon the cultivar. Vinca prefers moist soil in partial shade to full shade, but will also tolerate sun and drought. It is deer resistant.

Two species of Vinca are commonly available: Vinca major and Vinca minor.

Vinca major is so named because the flowers and leaves are larger and the runners longer than Vinca minor. Its common name is Bigleaf Periwinkle. Leaves are oval, green or variegated, 1" wide and approximately 2" long. Simple flowers are up to 2" diameter. It is reliably hardy in USDA climate zones 6 through 9. Recommended soil pH is 5.6 to 7.8. In addition to its effectiveness as a ground cover, it is a fine subject for hanging baskets. Plant 8" to 12"

Vinca minor is commonly known as dwarf periwinkle, creeping myrtle, or death myrtle. V. minor does contain toxic substances, but MacKenzie says that "during the Middle Ages, the heads of criminals who were to be executed were adorned with stems of V. minor, hence the Italian name Fiore di morte (flower of death)." Foliage is about 3/4" wide and 1" long. Mature height is less than V. major; about 4". Evergreen foliage is deep green and shiny. 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. Vinca minor is hardy in USDA climate zones 4 through 8. Recommended soil pH is 6.1 to 7.8. Plant 6" to 12" apart.

Vinca does well in shallow soil, even where tree roots make it impossible to cultivate. But if possible, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 4" deep, removing all traces of weeds. 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" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Vinca can be planted any time you have a shovel handy, even bare root plants. It is very tough. Nevertheless, you should water occasionally until the plants become established to avoid drought stress. Maintenance is minimal. Vinca has few pest and disease problems, and tolerates poor soil.

Because it is so common, some folks think that Vinca is over-used, even invasive. But I don't agree; I'm all about diversity. It does what a ground cover is supposed to do; it covers ground. Vinca is popular because it is effective, attractive, and requires little or no maintenance.

Return to Vinca at goGardenNow.com.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Conserve Water With A Rain Garden

Water conservation has been on almost everyone's mind for many years. When I was a kid, my parents would remind me to "turn off the faucet all the way! Money doesn't grow on trees!" A more recent concern is that water may run off to where it isn't so easily accessible.

In an effort to help rain water soak into the ground instead of flowing from pavement to the sea, many municipalities require that new commercial developments construct "retention ponds." Intentions may be good, but those things are expensive, dangerous and ugly. Located on high-priced real estate and usually surrounded by chain link fences for safety/liability reasons, they look like marshy dumps filled with plastic bags, styrofoam cups, disposable diapers and whatever else is washed downhill.

How much better it would be for homeowners to take matters into their own hands and construct rain gardens. Rain gardens are nothing more than shallow depressions in the yard located near driveways or roofs to collect water runoff. Planted with moisture-loving plants, they become attractive features in the landscape that serve a good environmental purpose. They can even attract wildlife. Rain gardens are low-maintenance, too.

Here is how to go about it; you can begin any time of year. Choose a site where water would naturally shed: a bit downhill from a downspout or roof, air conditioning unit, driveway or walk. You may direct water in the right direction with drain tubing or a very shallow swale. In my opinion, rain gardens near homes should be 15 feet or more away from the foundation. Exposure to full sun is desirable, but not necessary.

Plan the size of the rain garden by drawing the contour of the area with marking paint. If you need to make changes, you can edit your work by erasing the marks with your foot when the paint has dried.

Size is not very important. Adapt it to the space available. Approximately 25 square feet is okay; 100 square feet is fine; larger is better.

When you are satisfied with the contour, remove the sod and construct a shallow depression. The sides should slope gradually. You may add a few inches of soil as a low berm around the edge of the down-hill side to prevent water from escaping.

Keep in mind that you aren't constructing a pond, so it need not be very deep; 6 inches to 8 inches deep is sufficient. You don't need to install a liner, either. The garden need not be constantly wet; the idea is for rain water to soak into the soil, not to stand indefinitely. If, however, you wish to form a bog garden, you can do that by digging the depression a bit deeper.

Choose plants that like moist soil. Native grasses, sedges, perennials and small woody shrubs are ideal. Many native plants are recognized for their ornamental value. Sometimes they even establish themselves naturally! But non-native plants are good, too. Whether to weed or not is your choice.

An added advantage of a rain garden is that it doesn't require mowing. HooRAY!!! That much less to do. Just mow around it and go on.

Maintenance is minimal. Trimming brown stalks in early spring will keep your garden tidy and allow new growth to sprout unhindered.

If you would like to see what a rain garden looks like before you begin construction, check with nearby nurseries, botanical gardens and nature centers. Since rain gardens are becoming quite popular lately, you shouldn't have far to travel. For more precise information, resources are available on the internet.

Your new rain garden will enable you to conserve water, enhance your gardening experience, beautify your home, provide habitat for wildlife, and maybe even reduce the time you spend maintaining your landscape. It's a great solution.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Chill Out With Delosperma

Delosperma is a delightful evergreen ground cover that only came to my attention within the last few years. It is a succulent, low-growing perennial plant that lends a fresh, cool appearance even during hot weather. These plants are becoming widely known mostly due to the work of Dr. Panayoti Kelaidis of the Denver Botanic Garden.

Delosperma (pronounced del-o-SPUR-ma), commonly called "ice-plant" is native to South Africa where it grows in moderate to dry soils even in high mountain areas. Nevertheless it does nicely in much of the U.S. in climate zones 5 through 9.

The name, Delosperma, means "obvious seed", for they are rather large in relation to the rest of the flower. The common name, "ice plant", refers to the watery, succulent appearance and the icy green color of the foliage, along with other plant properties.

Delosperma is suitable for ground covers, rock gardens, alpine gardens, cactus and succulent gardens, hanging baskets, sunny perennial gardens and borders when planted with species having similar requirements.

There are about 14 species of Delosperma, but only a few are readily available commercially.

Delosperma basuticum thrives in USDA climate zones 5 through 9. Some report success into zone 11. Though I haven't been able to confirm this, I believe the species is named for Basotho, (now known as Lesotho) a region in south Africa where it is native. Maximum height is 3". Yellow to white flowers are produced all summer and into fall. It needs well-drained garden soil with pH ranging from slightly acid to slighty alkaline. It is drought tolerant. Mature plants grow to 12" across. It will produce a beautiful carpet in optimal conditions. Plant in full sun. Space at 8" to 12".

Delosperma cooperi is named for Dr. James G. Cooper(1830-1902), conchologist, geologist, ornithologist, zoologist. Dr. Cooper contributed a great deal to understanding the geology, flora and fauna of the Pacific Northwesst.

D. cooperi, also known as Trailing Ice Plant or Hardy Ice Plant, thrives in USDA climate zones 5 through 9. Flowers are pink to magenta.

D. x 'Mesa Verde', also known as D. x 'Kelaidis', is a new cultivar resulting from pollination by Dr. Kelaidis, mentioned before. It is well-worth seeking. 'Mesa Verde' has been reported to do well in USDA climate zones 4 through 9.

Delosperma nubigenum, which shares its common names with D. cooperi, is similar in habit to D. basuticum and D. cooperi. "Nubigenum" means "born in clouds", referring to its high-altitude native habitat. One might think that it preferred only cool climates, but it also thrives in USDA climate zones 5 through 9 or 10. Flower color is yellow.

Prepare the planting bed for Delosperma by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Take a soil sample to your nearby Cooperative Extension Service office for testing. Follow their recommendations. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil. Fertilizer may be used. If you choose to do so, incorporate fertilizer per the soil test recommendations, or 5-10-15 fertilizer at a rate of no more than 2 lbs. per 100 square feet, into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Container-grown Delosperma can be planted any time you have a shovel handy, but may require monitoring of soil moisture conditions during hot weather. But Delosperma is very forgiving.

Space plants 8" to 12" apart, as indicated earlier. Keep in mind that my spacing recommendations are approximate. If you want them to fill in quickly, plant closer together. If you have plenty of time and patience but less money, plant them farther 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" to 4" deep. Irrigate thoroughly.

Maintenance is minimal. A little weeding and occasional watering should do the trick.

For a low-maintenance, low-growing colorful groundcover that is drought-tolerant, consider Delosperma.

Return to Delosperma at goGardenNow.com.

The Dog Days Of Summer

We are experiencing the Dog Days of summer. The Dog Days traditionally begin in early July and last until mid August, coinciding somewhat with the bright appearance of Sirius, the Dog star, in the northern hemisphere. But some allow that they stretch into early September.

I heard older folks speak of Dog Days when I was a child, and assumed they were so called because the weather was so sultry that dogs and we had a good excuse to avoid work and laze around on or under the porch. Not a bad idea, since Brady’s Clavis Calendarium (1813) describes it as a time “when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics and phrensies.” The ancient Romans sacrificed a brown dog to appease Sirius, the apparent cause of it all. So staying near the house was not only cooler, but safer. Still is.

Our parents would let us lay in the shade during the hottest part of the day. But eventually they’d say, “Get movin’. You’ve got things to do”, as I do now.

The grass needs mowing. The truck needs repair. Tomato hornworms are chewing the Romas. And I need to plan ahead.

Believe it or not, fall is coming. When it arrives, I don’t want to lament that I accomplished so little during Dog Days. On the other hand, maybe I’ll just sit here in the shade while it’s hot and plan for fall.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Planning And Planting To Conserve Water

Whether you garden in a dry region or one with typically adequate rainfall, it is always a good idea to think about water conservation and to plan your landscape accordingly. Three steps should top your list:

1. Have your soil tested. Soil tests can reveal a lot that you may not know. Your local garden center or nearby Cooperative Extension Service can help you. By suggesting how you may improve your soil, nutrient uptake by plants may be enhanced and water conserved.

2. Locate your water source. Will you be relying on a community water supply or your own well for irrigation? There may be ways to obtain water in other ways. Rain barrels can help you harvest and store water coming off your roof. Rain gardens catch run-off and prevent its loss. It might even be possible to take advantage of water dripping from your air conditioning unit! No, I am not kidding.

3. Put "the right plant in the right place." Walk around your landscape and map areas that are wet, dry, shady and sunny. Take note of sun exposure during different times of day. Typically, high areas or spots in your landscape will be dry; low-lying areas will tend to be moist. Select plants that have requirements appropriate to those sites. By planting sun-loving, drought-tolerant plants together, and by planting moisture-loving plants in wet areas you will avoid watering unnecessarily or under-watering.

Be creative! Think of all the ways you can save water, time, money and energy.

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Behind A Garden Wall: A Southern Tradition Kept Alive

Located on a bluff above the Vernon River about 12 miles from Savannah is a site steeped in history and horticultural tradition that we were recently privileged to visit.

Nearby is Beaulieu Plantation (pronounced b-YOU-lee), once owned by William Stephens, the secretary to the Trustees of Colonial Georgia. Stephens arrived in 1737, and was an important official in the colony's early years, even serving as President of Georgia after the colony's founder, Gen. Oglethorpe, returned to England. From its founding, the Trustees of Georgia were charged with conducting horticultural experiments to provide wealth for colonists and the investors who backed them. Cotton and grapes were among the experimental crops tested on the plantation for commercial value.

Beaulieu played a role during the American War of Independence in the 1779 Siege of Savannah. It was there that French commander Count Charles Henri d'Estaing brought troops ashore as part of an unsuccessful attempt to regain control of the city from the British.

Gunboats plied the Vernon River during the War Between The States. Just two years ago, in 2007, archaeologists discovered the sunken wreck of the Water Witch upstream where Confederate sailors burned it to keep it from being re-captured by Gen. Sherman's troops.

Many homes along the river are at the ends of long drives, screened by brick walls, fences and woods from the peering eyes of passersby, and their gardens are only enjoyed by invitation. Needless to say, I was thrilled by the opportunity to visit this one.

Our hosts met us as we arrived and generously devoted time to show us about. The private tour began with a short walk to the bluff. Before us lay the broad expanse of river and marsh with Ossabaw and other Georgia Sea Islands visible on the horizon. The rich history of the site was proudly detailed to us.

Looking back across the front lawn (the front of every river estate faces the water), we were in awe of the home and gardens framed by ancient live oaks. One tree in particular is believed to be over 400 years old. Lush beds planted with Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum), Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), Camellias (C. japonica and C. sasanqua), Azalea cultivars, Cast-iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior), Butterfly Ginger (Hedychium coronarium), perennials and ferns bordered the vista.

Near the entrance of the home, a koi pond designed by one of their sons and established with waterlilies (Nymphea spp.), Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia spp.) along with other bog plants and aquatics, is ornamented by an elegant stone sculpture carved by another son. Creeping Liriope (Liriope spicata), Ardisia (A. japonica), Leopard Plant (Ligularia dentata), Cyperus (C. papyrus) and ferns are sheltered by a large specimen Coastal Leucothoe (Agarista populifolia). The walkway meanders through an arbor covered by Dutchman's Pipe (Aristolochia spp).

Our hosts love to travel, and they have an unusual collection of plants to show for it. Among them are two or three Orchid Trees (Bauhinia spp.), unusual to find growing so far north. Seeds collected during their jaunts are often started in their century-old greenhouse.

The backyard brought more delights to the eye. A discrete shade garden bordered by Shrimp Plant (Justicia brandegeana), Coralberry (Ardisia crenata), ferns, and ornamented by small reptilian sculptures delights grandchildren. Shade-loving annuals such as impatiens (I. walleriana) add joyous color to dark corners. I felt like a kid again for there were Gloriosa Lilies (Gloriosa superba Rothschildiana) like my grandmother used to grow. We had to stop for me to tickle them and wait for the leaf tips to grasp my needle of pine straw.

Sunny beds are a riot of whatever plants tickle the fancy of our hosts, including Lily-of-the-Nile (Agapanthus africanus), Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea), the newest selections of Blanket Flower (Gaillardia cvs.) and Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia cvs.). Lush beds of native Coontie (Zamia integrifolia) draw our attention, and I am given a fruit that looks like a rusty pineapple. Rosemary shrubs (Rosmarinus officinalis) in twisted, bonsai shapes grow in the shallowest pockets of soil atop gray brick walls surrounding the swimming pool. The scene is completed in classic style by benches and large containers featuring the deep burgundy blades of Cordyline australis.

A vegetable garden and produce from their farm up-country amply supply their kitchen, along with an abundance that they share with friends.

As our morning visit drew to an end, we were invited in fine southern fashion to glasses of iced mint tea and pleasant conversation in the kitchen. I felt that President Stephens would have been pleased to know that over 270 years later such a fine horticultural tradition and gracious hospitality would continue on this historic river bluff.

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Discover Mazus


Homeowners spend a lot of time, energy and money trying to get grass to grow in the wrong places. Wet areas can be most frustrating. Plants (some more than others) need oxygen in the soil to thrive, and grass is no exception. In fact, it needs plenty. That is why aerating the lawn is a useful practice. But sometimes too much moisture seems to accumulate, particularly in low-lying areas, so grass won't grow. So what do you do with a soggy bottom?

The best solutions often take advantage of seemingly difficult situations, working with rather than against them. Instead of trying to change the hydrology of wet areas, it may be better to incorporate them into "bog" gardens featuring water-loving plants. Mazus is such a plant.

Mazus (pronounced MAY-zus) comes from the Greek meaning "teat", referring to the swellings near the center of the flower.

Wouldn't you like to follow plant explorers around to listen to their conversations?

"What does that look like to you?"
"Well, I think it looks like...a teat."

"Hmmm. That's what I was thinking, too. We've been away from home far too long."


The genus contains around 30 species of which very few are available, and not widely. Mazus reptans ("reptans" means "creeping") is most common. The evergreen to semi-evergreen, low-growing plant is native to the Himalayan region and parts of Australia. Mature height is usually from 1-1/2" to 2". Lots of purplish-blue flowers appear in late spring to early summer. A white-flowered form is also available. Foliage is light-green and oval-shaped.

Mazus reptans is cold hardy in USDA climate zones 4 to 9, thriving in consistently moist soil in full sun to partial shade. Some protection from the sun is appreciated in very hot climates. Recommended soil pH is 6.1 to 8.5. Plants spread rapidly, rooting as they go. Small, plug-like portions can be dug and re-planted elsewhere.

Prepare the planting bed for Mazus by cultivating at least 4" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Take a soil sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service office to determine the pH and to receive any recommendations they might offer. 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.

Mazus can be planted any time you have a shovel handy, but it is very important to water more frequently during hot weather to avoid plant stress.

Plant Mazus 8" to 12" apart. 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.

Apart from watering (if necessary) and weeding until established, maintenance is minimal. Mazus has few serious pest and disease problems. Most only cause cosmetic problems. Aphids may be attracted to fast-growing shoots. Fungus may attack during spring when temperature fluctuates widely. Cold weather may damage foliage in coldest regions. It tolerates a little foot traffic.

If you need a low-maintenance, flowering ground cover for wet sites, this may be your plant.

Return to Mazus at goGardenNow.com.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Brighten Your Garden With Coreopsis


One of the first perennials I favored has stuck with me all these years, and that is Coreopsis, commonly called Tickseed. Coreopsis is a bright-flowered plant with blossoms shaped like large asters. It is, in fact, part of the Aster family. Color is mostly yellow, but there are some in pink shades, too.

Tickseed comes by its name truly. Coreopsis means "bug-like", in reference to the little dry fruits called achenes which in some ways resemble insects. Not only are the seeds small and brown, they have hair-like structures that cause them to stick to passers-by who brush against them; and they don't just drop off, they must be picked off. Thus the name, Tickseed.

Coreopsis (pronounced "co-ree-AWP-sis") is native to the U.S., and, thankfully, its ornamental value is widely appreciated. Three species are commercially propagated and researched for new cultivars.

C. auriculata is commonly called Mouse-ear Tickseed. Auriculata (pronounced "awe-rick-ewe-LAY-tah") means "ear-like" or "lobed." It thrives in USDA climate zones 5 through 9. Maximum height is 6" to 12". C. auriculata 'Nana' is the shorter. ("Nana" means "dwarf.") It prefers slightly moist, well-drained garden soil with pH ranging from slightly acid to slighty alkaline. It will tolerate short periods of drought. Mature plants grow to 10" across. It will produce a beautiful carpet in optimal conditions. Plant in full sun. Space at 8" to 12". It is semi-evergreen, meaning that some foliage just above soil level will remain during cold weather.

C. auriculata is suited for butterfly gardens, sunny perennial gardens and borders when planted with species having similar requirements. The dwarf, 'Nana', is a fine, low maintenance ground cover.
C. grandiflora is commonly called Big-flowered Tickseed. It thrives in USDA climate zones 4 through 9. Maximum height is about 18". Plant in full sun and slightly moist, well-drained soil with pH widely ranging from 5.1 to 8.5. Space 18" to 24" apart. Soil should not be allowed to become bone-dry between waterings. C. grandiflora is deciduous, though some foliage may remain at lower levels in warm climates. Bare stems should be cut short in winter.

C. verticillata (pronounced "ver-tiss-ill-A-tah") is commonly called Thread-leaf Tickseed. It also thrives in USDA climate zones 4 through 9. Maximum height is 18" to 24". Plant in full sun to partial shade in moist, well-drained soil ranging from slightly acid to slightly alkaline. Space at 18" to 24" apart. C. verticillata should be cut short in winter.

Both C. grandiflora and C. verticillata are good for butterfly gardens, perennial gardens and borders, and container gardens.

Prepare the planting bed for Coreopsis by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep. 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.

Container-grown Coreopsis can be planted any time you have a shovel handy, but will require monitoring of soil moisture conditions during hot weather to avoid plant stress.

Space plants 12" to 24" apart, as indicated earlier. Keep in mind that my spacing recommendations are approximate. If you want them to fill in quickly, plant closer together. If you have plenty of time and patience but less money, plant them farther 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" to 4" deep. Irrigate thoroughly.

Maintenance is minimal. Dead-heading (pinching off spent flowers) can prolong the bloom season. Coreopsis have few pest and disease problems, but they aren't immune. Spider mites can cause problems during dry weather, but the little critters hate water. So overhead irrigation discourages them. If you are keeping the soil slightly moist, as you ought, spider mights shouldn't be a problem. Deer can do damage.

For a sunny summer plant that will brighten your garden and spirits, I highly recommend Coreopsis.

Return to Coreopsis at goGardenNow.com.

Phlox In Flames Of Glory


When spring arrives in a blaze of glory, Creeping Phlox provides the flame. Indeed, Phlox (pronounced "flox") means "flame" or "blaze", and it is appropriate. Hundreds of flowers from red to blue to white carpet the ground in a breathtaking display nearly obscuring the evergreen foliage.

Phlox stolonifera (pronounced "stow-low-NEE-fur-uh") is native to much of the eastern U.S. in the Appalachians and Piedmont and thrives in USDA climate zones 4 through 9. Maximum height is up to 12". It prefers slightly moist, well-drained soil with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.8, but it will tolerate short periods of drought. "Stolonifera" means "bearing runners", which explains how it spreads. Mature plants grow to 18" across, but spreading and propagating along they way, P. stolonifera will produce a beautiful carpet in optimal conditions. Though it is commonly found in light shade to full shade, P. stolonifera will also tolerate full sun.

P. stolonifera is well-suited for woodland gardens, perennial gardens and borders, rock and alpine gardens when planted with species having similar requirements. It benefits from being divided about every 3 years or so. Young plants can be replanted in the same bed, moved to other places in the garden, or shared with friends.

Phlox subulata (pronounced "sub-you-LAY-tah") is also native to the U.S., mostly in the eastern and central regions, and thrives in USDA climate zones 3 through 9. Maximum height is up to 8" and spread is up to 24". It prefers slightly moist, well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8, but will tolerate short periods of drought. "Subulata" means "awl-shaped" which describes the shape of the leaves. Due to the shape of the leaves, P. subulata is commonly called "Moss Pink", though the flower colors may not be pink. After spring bloom, the plants display an attractive mossy texture in the garden.

P. subulata is superb as a ground cover in perennial gardens and borders, rock and alpine gardens. Phlox is effective as a planting beside stepping stone paths. It is very beautiful planted atop walls and terraces, especially stone ones, where it can cascade over the side.

Prepare the planting bed for Creeping Phlox by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep. 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.

Container-grown phlox can be planted any time you have a shovel handy, but will require monitoring of soil moisture conditions during hot weather to avoid plant stress.

Space plants 12" to 18" apart. Keep in mind that my spacing recommendations are approximate. If you want them to fill in quickly, plant closer together. If you have plenty of time and patience but less money, plant them farther 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" to 4" deep. Irrigate thoroughly.

Maintenance is minimal. Creeping Phlox have few pest and disease problems, but they aren't immune. Spider mites can cause problems during dry weather, but the little critters hate water. So overhead irrigation discourages them. Nematodes can attack stems, but affected areas are noticeable by yellowing. Removal and destruction of the infected portion is effective. Mildew can infect in areas with poor air circulation during cooler, wetter weather. Sulfur spray is a good treatment. Keep in mind that remedial sprays do not restore damaged tissue; they only stop the progress of the problem. The best preventative is to maintain vigorous plants in a healthy environment.

For a thrilling floral spectacle in spring on a low-maintenance ground cover, I highly recommend Creeping Phlox.

Return to Creeping Phlox at goGardenNow.com.