Sunday, June 29, 2008

Simply Beautiful Dianthus

Dianthus gratianopolitanus: hard to pronounce, but it stands for a simply beautiful plant. The name Dianthus is a combination of the Greek words "dios" for god and "anthos" which means flower. Thus this divine flower has always been highly esteemed by gardeners and viewers. Dianthus gratianopolitanus (grah-see-AHN-no-pohl-ee-TAHN-us) is also called "Cheddar pink" and "Border pink". The origin of the term "pink" or "pinks" is likely from the Dutch or German words for Pentecost, which is the plant’s bloom time. Cheddar pink is named for Cheddar Gorge in southwest England, one of the locations where it grows wild. Border pink is a name that refers to its functionality. It is a common misconception that Cheddar pink is a cultivar itself. 

Native to Europe and the Mediterranean, Cheddar pink is a versatile plant. I’ve seen it used as an excellent border or edge, in rock gardens, as a stunning sloping ground cover, in terra cotta pots and wall crevices. If you have a cottage garden it is not complete without this plant. Being relatively short, Cheddar pink grow about 4" tall and up to 1’ wide. Its flowers will add an additional 4" in height. Cheddar pinks can be semi-evergreen or evergreen and can live from Zone 3-9 depending on the cultivar.

Dianthus tend to have blue-green, blue-gray or silvery leaves. These are complimented by a wide range of pink, but also purple and red blooms. These ornamental flowers are clove-scented and attractive bees and butterflies, which pollinate this self-fertile plant. Even though they only grow ankle-high the scent is strong and pleasant. The double-flowered form, 'Flore Plena' has an even stronger scent.

Cheddar pink grows best in full sun in any (sandy to clay) soil as long as it’s well drained. The plant prefers a soil pH of 6.6-8.5 and cannot grow in the shade. I have seen the plants growing in maritime environments as long as the soil was dry.

Although it germinates during cold frames, Dianthus should be planted outside after the last expected frost in your area. Plant them about 10" apart if you’re using them as a border or ground cover. If grown in a container, use a soil mix with very good drainage and place in full sun. Don’t fertilize too much or the plant will be leggy with fewer blooms. Repeat irrigation of the new plantings after the soil has thoroughly dried. Cheddar pink can tolerate short dry periods, but will produce fewer flowers in drought or in continual hot, dry areas.
After an eye-catching bloom in late spring, prune or deadhead your Cheddar pinks for extended bloom time. During the winter months there is no need to put down more than one layer of mulch. The following March or as soon as new growth appears, your year old plants may need division. Larger clumps can be divided and replanted, but smaller clumps may need to be potted first until they establish significant roots. Transfer the year old potted plants back outside in the spring. Mature plants need to be divided every few years to promote longevity and prevent rust, leaf spot, root rot, and other diseases. And deer will avoid mature plants.
This undemanding plant has many popular varieties. 

x 'Firewitch’: Voted 2006 Plant of the Year by The Perennial Plant Association. It has one of the bluest foliage of all Dianthus, the longest bloom period and is the most tolerant of heat and poor soil conditions. As a groundcover, the pool of silvery-blue foliage produces eye-popping magenta-pink blooms. If you live in Zones 3-8 you will not be disappointed with this one. Plant them 18" apart as one plant can spread up to 2’.

x 'Bath’s Pink’: A Georgia Green Industry Gold Medal Award winner. Produces pale pink 1" blooms that perch beautifully atop its blue-green foliage. Attains 1’ in height and width, but plant them about 10" apart to be sure you don’t have gaps. Blooms in early summer, but after pruning it blooms through late summer. Grows in Zones 3-9.

x 'Fire Star’: A shorter variety that grows less than 6 inches tall but demands to be noticed with its dark, scarlet blooms that have a darker crimson center. Starts blooming in mid spring and can bloom up to late summer. A dense and vigorous grower that grows best in Zones 6-9.

Let’s discuss Cheddar pink one more time. It’s a drought tolerant and fragrant plant that is a beautiful border, edging, ground cover or feature which attracts butterflies and resists disease (as long as it’s kept dry) and deer don’t like them. You pretty much cannot go wrong with this plant. I give it my highest recommendation.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Echinacea: Beautiful, Drought-Tolerant, Beneficial

Echinacea is loved around the world for its beautiful, showy flowers and reputed herbal remedies. If only all our plants could be so useful. It requires very little maintenance, too. 

Echinacea has been used for centuries by Native Americans as a natural solution to physical ailments. Popularized by John Uri Lloyd, a pharmacist and medicinal plant enthusiast, Echinacea is used worldwide as an immuno-stimulant.
This close relative of Rudbeckia, or Black-eyed Susan, is native to the Great Plains region of the United States and Canada and has many monikers including: The Hedgehog or Purple Cone flower, Kansas Snakeroot, Droops, Black Sampson, Sampson root, Scurvy root and Comb flower. 

Echinacea purpurpea, a common species, comes from the Greek word echinos for 'hedgehog' and purpurea for 'purple'. E. purpurea is one of nine species Asteraceae family. All nine are 2-4 feet tall perennials that live in USDA Climate Zones 3-9. They all require full sun and well-drained soil (hint: raised beds) and are exceptionally drought tolerant. Seed them this spring and they will bloom in the next year’s summer. Once established they bloom every year. E. purpurea is a striking plant available in many colors. The center of the fragrant 4 – 6 inch bloom is a brown or green spiky cone that attracts masses of butterflies and bees. The flowers are showy and make brilliant cut or dried arrangements. Blooms are supported by hairy unbranched stalks in the midst of narrow jagged deep green leaves.
  • There are several popular varieties: E. purpurea ‘Magnus’ This Perennial Plant of the Year in 1998 has rosy purple sunflower-esque blooms from July – October with a height up to 3’.
  • E. purpurea ‘White Swan’The petals of this classic white showy coneflower droop from the copper-orange center. Blooms June to August and grows up to 3’.
  • E. x purpurea ‘Green Envy’ – This 3’ tall exotic’s wide petals surround the cone in pink and fade to light green. Blooms July to September.
  • E. x purpurea ‘Sunrise’ – Delicate pale yellow flowers reflex away from the cone that transitions from green to gold. Blooms July – October and grows up to 3’.
  • E. x purpurea ‘Kim’s Knee High’ – These very pink shuttlecocks float on the breeze around an orange center and bloom from July to October. Grows up to 2’ tall.
  • E. purpurea ‘Sunset’ – Deep orange overlapping petals surround a fat brown cone. It stands 2.5’ high and blooms from July to October.
Echinacea thrives under specific but easy conditions:
  • full sun;
  • well-drained, aerated and fertile soil;
  • pH near 7.0, though will tolerate more acid or alkaline soils.
Your nearby Cooperative Extension Service can assist you with a very simple and inexpensive soil test.

Echinacea loves sunlight. It will grow tall in the shade, but it won’t be lush. Well-drained soil is essential. It should never have to sit long with roots in soggy soil. If you’re planting in a low lying area, use a raised bed.

In the spring, cultivate your garden as normal. Ordinary garden soil is usually good enough for Coneflower, but if your soil is sandy or clay add a little compost or organic fertilizer. 

E. purpurea is available in many sizes but you don’t need them any bigger than gallon pots. Buying them bare root or in small pots is easy and a lot cheaper. If the plants are young they do require frequent water and some weeding. You can plant them any time of year, but the hotter the weather the more water they'll need. Protect them with wire cages or netting if Peter Rabbit dines at your place. 

Be sure to space Coneflower about 12 inches apart because they can spread up to 2 feet. E. purpurea may need up to 18 inches per plant. Watch these seedlings take off during the summer.

Greater spacing between plants might help prevent the only two reported diseases: fungal leafspot and root rot. Deer are not a problem with Echinacea but gophers, moles and rabbits like the roots, especially of young plants. Leafhoppers, grasshoppers, a nematode and Japanese beetle are the reported minor pests. Goldfinches love Echinacea seed crop and can eat all the seed in a few days. 

While the flower blooms in between June and October, deadhead them to extend the bloom cycle or leave spent blooms for winter architectural interest. Echinacea plants are good at self-sowing so leave a few of the last flowers to dry up naturally. Watch out for Echinacea seedlings in the spring and transplant them appropriately. 

After 3 or 4 years, the plants are ready to be thinned. Depending on how they respond to your soil you can separate up to 6 plants from an original. In warmer climes, divide your plants in the fall or spring. First loosen the soil around the circumference of the mature plant’s root system. Insert your spade and lift it up. Remove excess soil by gently shaking it. Pull the root clump apart following its natural divisions. Replant the divisions in freshly cultivated soil with frequent watering until you see new growth.

If you are interested in old-fashioned herbal remedies for the common cold or just wanting a wilderness look in your garden, Echinacea is a timeless plant for modern needs.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Marshall's Answers To FAQS On Bulbs


Q. Why do bulbs often look so different?
A. Bulbs are like other creatures; they vary from genus to genus and species to species. But some "bulbs" look very different from others because they really aren't bulbs at all.

Q. What is a bulb?
A. A bulb is a flattened or compressed stem called a basal plate, usually growing underground, with a growing point on top and surrounded by enlarged, fleshy scales or layers that store food. The layers or scales are the bases of leaves. Roots grow downward from the basal plate. Root scars or dried roots may persist on the bottom of the basal plate. Bulbs may or may not be covered with papery structures called tunics. Tunics help to protect bulbs from drying out. The onion is a good example. Some bulbs do not have tunics. The Easter lily is a good example. Bulbs without tunics lack protection from drying out, so special care must be taken to keep them moist until they are planted.

Q. What are some examples of bulbs?
A. Examples of bulbs include allium (onion), lilium, narcissus, tulip and hippeastrum.

Q. What is a corm?

A. A corm is an enlarged, solid stem, usually growing underground, with a basal plate on the bottom and a growing point on top. This top growing point is called a terminal bud. The stem is divided into sections. The sections are separated by structures called nodes. Other growing points called lateral buds can arise from the nodes along the sides of the corm. If the main growing point is damaged, the lateral buds can replace the terminal bud. Some corms may be covered with papery or scaly remains of leaves.

Q. What are some examples of corms?
A. Examples of corms include gladiolus and crocus.

Q. What is a rhizome?

A. A rhizome is a thick stem that grows horizontally at or just below the soil surface. The stem is segmented by nodes. Roots grow from the bottom of the rhizome. Shoots and leaves may appear along the top and sides of the rhizome.

Q. What are some examples of rhizomes?
A. Examples of rhizomes include cannas, callas and german iris.

Q. What is a tuber?
A. A tuber is a swollen, fleshy portion of an underground stem that lacks a basal plate. A tuber lacks a protective tunic, but has a protective skin. Growing tips or buds appear over the surface of the structure from which shoots and roots may grow.

Q. What are some examples of tubers?
A. Examples of tubers include caladiums, potatoes and oxalis.

Q. What is a tuberous root?
A. A tuberous root is a swollen fleshy, unsegmented portion of a root. Growing buds form at the top end of the root.

Q. What are some examples of tuberous roots?
A. Examples of tuberous roots include dahlias, ranunculus and sweet potatoes.

Q. How are bulbs measured?
A. Bulbs are usually measured in centimeters around the perimeter of the bulb. Thus, tulip bulbs that are advertised as "Size 12/14" are a minimum of 12 to 14 centimeters around the circumference of the bulbs. Some narcissus bulbs are advertised as "Topsize". This simply means that those bulbs are among the largest available for that particular variety. 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. "DNII" bulbs are large and two flowers may grow from that bulb. "DNIII" bulbs are the smallest and least expensive. Fewest flowers will grow from DNIII bulbs. "DN" does not refer to the actual measurement around the circumference of the bulb. However the bulbs are marketed, keep in mind that the largest bulbs cost more but will produce more flowers and be most satisfying.

Q. How are corms measured?
A. Corms are measured in centimeters around the perimeter.

Q. How are rhizomes measured?
A. Rhizomes are usually measured in centimeters length, but the largest are generally advertised as "topsize", which means that the rhizomes offered are among the largest available for that type.

Q. How are tubers measured?
A. The largest tubers available are generally advertised as "topsize", which means that the tubers offered are among the largest available for that type.

Q. How are tuberous roots measured?
A. Tuberous rooted plants may be advertised as "topsize", which means that the plants offered are among the largest available for that type. They may also be advertised according to the size and quality of the "division." A division is a portion of a larger clump that has been cut apart. The largest divisions are often called "#1 divisions."

Q. Is it okay to refer to bulbs, corms, rhizomes, tubers and tuberous roots as bulbs?
A. It depends on the company you keep. Among true friends who aren't trying to prove themselves, you may refer to them as bulbs. If you associate with self-conscious or pretentious persons who are keeping up appearances, you'd better get your terminology right. If you are pushed to the limit, you might refer to your most annoying critics as "fast and bulbous. Got me?"

Q. What are Fall-planted bulbs?
A. Fall-planted bulbs are those that are planted in the Fall for Fall (i.e. fall-blooming crocus) Winter, Spring or Summer bloom. Do not confuse Fall-planted bulbs with Fall-flowering bulbs, though some Fall-planted bulbs such as the crocus mentioned before may actually bloom in the Fall.

Q. What are Spring-planted bulbs?
A. Spring-planted bulbs are those that are planted in the Spring for Spring, Summer or Fall bloom. Do not confuse Spring-planted bulbs with Spring-flowering bulbs, though some Spring-planted bulbs may actually bloom in the Spring.

Q. When is the best time to plant Fall-planted bulbs?
A. Fall-planted bulbs must be planted in the Fall season, usually when soil temperatures drop below 60 degrees F.

Q. When is the best time to plant Spring-planted bulbs?
A. Spring-planted bulbs must be planted in the Spring season. Some of them can be planted as soon as the soil has begun to thaw and is no longer rock-solid. Others must be planted when danger of freezing has passed, or has warmed to about 60 degrees F.

Q. What kind of environment do bulbs prefer?
A. Every guide will recommend that the soil be well-cultivated and well-drained sandy/loam, free of weeds and pests, rich in organic matter and free of stones with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0, and that the average seasonal temperatures and rainfall be nearly perfect. Few such sites exist outside the fertile fields of bulb-producing regions such as The Netherlands, Belgium and Kashmir. But you can do the best with what you have with thoughtful preparation.

Q. How should the planting environment be prepared?
A. Choose a site that meets your bulbs' sun or shade requirements. Then try to replicate the environment of the fertile fields of bulb-producing regions such as The Netherlands, Belgium and Kashmir. Actually, I'm serious. Begin by taking 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. Poorly drained sites can be improved by raising the height of the planting beds. Clay soils can be amended with gypsum, sand and/or loam. Sandy soils can be improved with organic compost. There is not much you can do about minimum winter- or maximum summer temperatures, so purchase only those bulbs that are recommended for your climate zone. Responsible irrigation practices may help in lieu of optimal rainfall.

Q. What does "naturalizing" mean?
A. "Naturalizing" means growing bulbs in an area where they can grow "naturally", perhaps multiplying and forming colonies as though they are native to the area. It means minimum maintenance. In order to achieve it, your soil and climate zone must be conducive to growth for that particular plant. Daffodils, narcissus and crocus may naturalize open fields and lawns if the climate is to their liking. Similarly, squill and scilla may colonize woodland areas. To be successful, the plants must be let alone to proceed through their own life-cycles without disturbance. In other words, avoid cultivating the soil, and don't mow down the yellowing leaves until they have dried fully.

Q. What kind of soil amendments should I use?
A. The soil amendments you should use depends upon the type of soil you have in need of amending. 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. There are others which I don't have the time or space to name. Which you should use depends upon your particular circumstance. Your local Cooperative Extension Service should be helpful.

Q. What kind of fertilizers should I use?
A. There are many bulb fertilizer formulations on the market, each with their own claims to superiority. You may want to experiment with them to see which work best for you. Your soil sample report from your local Cooperative Extension Service will include 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. Summer- and Fall-flowering bulbs should be fertilized more frequently but with less fertilizer per application. Apply 2 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer per ten square feet of garden area every two weeks until flower buds appear.

Q. How deep should bulbs be planted?
A. 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.

Q. How deep should corms be planted?
A. The proper depth may differ according to the type of corm. But as a rule of thumb, corms should be planted three times as deep as the corms are wide. For example, if the corm is 2" wide, plant it 6" deep.

Q. How deep should rhizomes be planted?
A. The proper depth may differ according to the type of rhizome. But as a rule of thumb, rhizomes should be planted at or near the soil surface. For example, german iris should be planted with the lower end of the rhizome about 1" below the soil surface, but the top of the rhizome where the foliage appears should be showing just above the soil surface.

Q. How deep should tubers be planted?
A. The proper depth may differ according to the type of tuber. But as a rule of thumb, tubers should be planted 2" to 3" below the soil surface.

Q. How deep should tuberous roots be planted?
A. Most tuberous roots are attached to the growing point of the plants from which leaves appear. This growing point is called a "crown." The crown should be planted at soil level with the tuberous roots spread out below it in the hole.

Q. How should I care for the site after the bulbs are planted?
A. Other than keeping the area relatively weed-free, Fall-planted bulbs require very little care after planting. A 1" layer of mulch is very beneficial. During Spring, when growth begins, regular irrigation is helpful. For most types, the soil should be allowed to dry a bit between waterings.

Q. How should I care for the plants after flowering ceases?
A. After flowering ceases, most bulbs spend a few weeks building food reserves and preparing for dormancy. In order for them to build food reserves, foliage must remain intact and irrigation should continue. The leaves will begin to yellow over time. Though yellowing leaves are unsightly, they must be left alone until they dry and turn brown. After they turn brown, the foliage may be cut off. Avoid pulling dried foliage since the bulbs themselves may be pulled up by accident. Most bulbs, corms, rhizomes and tubers require drier soil during dormancy.

Q. Can bulbs be grown indoors?
A. Yes, bulbs can be grown indoors. Some may require special treatment in order for them to flower. Apart from providing adequate sunlight, moisture, and fertile potting soil, some bulbs may require forcing.

Q. What does "forcing" mean?
A. Many plants require a period of cold weather during dormancy to induce growth and bloom. "Forcing" requires a method to provide that necessary period of cold. The method involves keeping the bulbs in a dark place at a temperature between 40 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 15 weeks. Paperwhite narcissus do not require a period of cold weather before blooming.

Q. How does one go about "forcing" bulbs.
A. Gardeners living in areas where winters are consistently cold may simply keep their potted bulbs in a covered trench or in a dark corner of an unheated garage as long as the temperature around the bulbs does not go below 40 degrees. Another common method is to store the bulbs at the proper temperature in an extra refrigerator. If you plan to keep them in a refrigerator, make sure that you do not keep fruit in the same place. Fruit slowly releases ethylene gas which will damage the flower bulbs.

Begin by planting the bulbs in well-drained bowls with a superior grade of potting soil. Pots with wider bases are best because they are less likely to tip over. After planting, mark the bowls to identify the bulbs, water well, drain and store. Some of the bulbs may begin to sprout during storage. When 15 weeks have passed, remove the bulb bowls from storage and keep in a cool, dimly lit area. Within a few days, the shoots will appear and turn green. When the shoots have turned green, they can be moved to a bright location to be enjoyed. Keep the soil moderately moist. The flowers may last for three or four weeks.

Q. How do I care for indoor bulbs after flowering ceases?
A. For some bulbs the answer is simple: throw them away. Bulbs that have been forced have usually used up their food reserves for blooming and have been deprived of the opportunity to rebuild them. Even transplanting them in the garden is usually an exercise in futility. Tulips, hyacinths and narcissus are examples.

Hippeastrum, however, are good examples of bulbs that can be grown indoors and brought into bloom again. After blooming, they may be planted in the garden in temperate climates, or one might continue to grow them indoors. When the bulbs are potted, they should be kept slightly moist. Avoid over-watering. When they begin to sprout, they should be fertilized with a balanced slow-release fertilizer. An all-purpose fertilizer should be fine, but some are available that are specially formulated for bulbs. If you choose to use a water-soluble fertilizer, feed them twice per month. Display them in a cool, bright area out of direct sun to encourage a longer bloom period. After flowers fade, allow the stems to yellow and droop. When they have shriveled, cut them off at the top of the bulb. Continue watering and fertilizing as usual until the leaves yellow. When the leaves have shriveled, they can be cut off, the bulbs unpotted and stored for later use.

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Marshall's Brief Guide to Hostas

Hostas are easy to grow, shade tolerant, herbaceous perennials. Grown mainly for their beautiful foliage, hostas exist in a wide range of shapes, colors, sizes, and textures. They were once classified in the family Liliaceae but are now included in the family Agavaceae. Hostas are also called plantain lilies or Funkia, but these names are outdated. The scientific name for hosta is also its common name.

Hostas, native to Japan, Korea, and China, were imported to North America in the mid-1800s. From the handful of species that were imported, hybridizing and tissue culture propagation have increased options for today's gardeners as there are many species and thousands of cultivars available.

If we're at all familiar with gardens, the name hosta evokes an image of a low-growing green plant with large broad leaves. To be more specific, a hosta is a non-bulbous lily that is a shade tolerant, hardy perennial plant grown principally for its foliage. But hostas produce pendulous 1" to 2" long white or violet flowers on an erect panicle up to 31" tall.

Hostas are hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8, meaning they grow in most areas except deserts and the tropics or subtropics. They need about 700 hours below 40 degrees F to meet their dormancy requirements.

Hostas prefer moist, light, humus-based acid soil. The soil should be rich in organic matter and it can be any form: peat moss, rotted or composted manure, rotted sawdust, or composted leaves. By adding large quantities of organic matter, moisture retention and aeration of the soil is improved. Due in part to their leaf size, hostas have a very high transpiration rate, and so soil conditions should allow for optimum water retention.

Keep in mind that with hostas, whichever you choose, you really can not go wrong. However, there are two keys to growing hostas successfully: light and water. Most newcomers think all hostas do best in full shade, but this isn't true. Hostas tolerate varying degrees of shade, yet some like the sun. Each variety of hosta has a different light requirement, so you can plant hostas in almost any light situation. Generally, blue hostas prefer more shade and the gold and yellow-colored varieties tolerate and receive their best coloring from more sun. If you have dense shade, you might want more variegated ones to help brighten the areas.

Preferring a well-drained location, hostas generally need more water than the rain provides in an average year. This is true especially if growing under trees which take up much soil moisture. Plants in ideal growth conditions receive 1 1/2" per week. Over the course of a season that is 3/4" every 3 to 4 days. Hostas need this extra water during the growing season, but not in winter when they are dormant. Too much water in winter can contribute to crown or root rot.

Hostas need room and about two seasons to grow and achieve their full potential. When planting, space the small-leaved hostas between 18" and 24" apart and the large-leaved ones 24" to 30" apart. Space them appropriately to allow room for growth since hostas do best when left undisturbed for several years.
After they are planted, your hostas will require little care. Attentive watering and well-drained soil are musts, and a layer of mulch (no more than 2-3") will prevent competition from weeds. Annual feeding with slow-release fertilizer will keep your hostas happy. With so many different options in fertilizer, the thing to do is to take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Office for testing and fertilize according to recommendations.

Place your hostas in soil that is loose and well-drained in a shady spot that is protected from hot afternoon sun. Amend the soil with organic matter or compost. Add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil. Place the hosta in the hole so that the clump is level with the soil surface, and water thoroughly. You can plant them any time during the growing season, but the later in the season you plant, the more important it is to keep them adequately watered. Cutting off the flower scape as soon as possible after blooming tends to increase the probability of re-bloom.

Hostas do not need regular dividing to keep them vigorous. They can be left undisturbed indefinitely, but when dividing is necessary, do so in the spring just after the plant pips are emerging from the ground so the new foliage is not damaged. If the plants are left undivided, you can enjoy their mature beauty sooner.

Hostas are virtually disease-free. Major pests include slugs and snails, deer, cut-worms and leaf beetles. Slugs chew holes in the hosta leaves and make them unsightly. There are books about slug control methods including: picking them off one by one, leaving out beer-filled trays in the hopes the slugs drown, copper rings, squashing them between bricks, pesticides, and my favorite, diatomaceous earth. It is a powder of the finely ground shells of diatoms. Diatoms are microscopic sea creatures. When sprinkled on the ground, the slugs crawl over the powder, cutting themselves all to pieces, then they die of dehydration.

Deer love hostas. Apart from keeping a dog present in the affected area, there is no single cure for deer. Previously successful methods of repellent, such as leaving bags of human hair around, are no longer effective because urban deer have become comfortable co-existing with humans. A varied program with several components will be more effective than a single preventive method. Contact local nurseries for information on deer repellent products currently on the market. Rabbits and squirrels may chew an occasional leaf, but are not generally known to be problems for hostas.

Cut-worms and leaf beetles can cause more damage than slugs. Cut-worms live in the ground and feed at night by crawling up the plant and eating holes through the unopened leaves. Leaf beetles will eat holes in the center of the leaves between the veins. Sometimes this can be confused with slug damage. A natural control is the house wren. They have a tremendous appetite for those pests and for slugs. If you're not keen on birdhouses, you can fall back on commercially available pesticides. Always carefully follow label instructions and heed warnings.

Now that you're an expert on hostas, how do you pick the right ones? Think about the space you have available and the amount of the sunlight the plant will receive in your garden. Those are determining factors.

Here are a few varieties to consider:

x'Sum and Substance' - A striking hosta with large, leathery, neutral-green leaves. It has been called "the biggest and most popular hosta in the world." It grows to 3' tall and 5-6' across.

x'Blue Angel' - The largest and most dramatic-looking of all hostas, 'Blue Angel' has deep blue-green leaves and can grow into a mount 30" tall and 6' wide.

x'Emily Dickenson' - Deep green glossy leaves with creamy white margins, a neat, compact, mounded habit, and deep lavender flowers make this a welcome plant in any garden. It grows to 20" tall and 26" wide.

x'Praying Hands' - The most unusual hosta to appear. The plant has extremely narrow, curled, crinkled and furrowed green-and-white leaves that some believe resemble hands folded in prayer. It forms clumps about 18" wide and in late summer bears 18" tall spikes of light-lavender flowers.

x'June' - Heavy leaves with blue-green margins, gold centers with green striations within the gold, and bright color in the shade. It grows to 15" tall and 15" wide. Bears very fragrant violet flowers from July to August.

Ready for a carefree, lush plant to cover your problem shade areas or to provide a sense of calm to your garden? You're ready for a hosta.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Consider The Daylily For A Moment

The daylily, Hemerocallis, is actually not a lily even though it is called one. Hemerocallis is the combination of the Greek words for "day" and "beauty," which stems from the observation that each flower lasts only one day. Fortunately for us, there are many flower buds on each daylily flower stalk, and many stalks in each plant so we are blessed with a clump that blooms for several weeks.

Daylilies have the reputation for being tough, adaptable, vigorous plants that can withstand droughts and require less care than other perennials. Daylilies are one of the most popular perennials and for good reason. They are:

* Available in a rainbow of colors and a variety of shapes and sizes.
* Able to survive with very little care in a wide range of climates.
* Suitable for all types of landscapes.
* Drought resistant and almost disease and insect free.
* Adaptable to various soil and light conditions.
* Known to bloom from late spring until autumn.
* Did I mention easy to care for?

Daylily descriptions typically include the plants color, size, habit, and temperature tolerance. As far as color goes, if you want it it’s probably out there. Leaves can be narrow like grass to husky like corn and may curve or stand erect from 6 inches to 36 inches long.

Daylily varieties behave three different ways in the winter. If the plant is Dormant, the leaves die off completely, but emerge like green spears from the earth in spring. If the daylily is Evergreen they will keep producing leaves year round until cold weather prevents growth. In mild climates, the leaves of evergreens remain green all winter but in colder climes the crown survives if it is hardy (or well mulched). We say that a daylily is Semi-Evergreen if it behaves contrarily to Dormant and Evergreen descriptions. The term is used to describe varieties that appear somewhat evergreen in the South, but are dormant in the North.

The cold-hardiness of daylilies is quite variable. Some are iron-clad hardy. Others are extremely tender. Cold-hardiness is not determined by the foliage habit because evergreen, dormant, and semi-evergreen can be anything from extremely cold-hardy to extremely tender. To avoid losing a cultivar, choose daylilies which others have already grown successfully in your climate.

Daylilies can bloom for years without special care. In fact, you accomplished gardeners will recognize the procedures given here apply generally to most perennials.

The genus Hemerocallis is native to the countries in the temperate parts of Asia. Original colors consisted of yellow, orange and red. But hybridizers created a palette of colors from near-whites, pastels, yellows, oranges, pinks, crimson, purple, nearly true-blue, and fabulous blends. They also created different bloom sizes, shapes, textures and fragrances.

Daylilies bloom from early spring until frost, depending on the coldness of the climate. To indicate which plant grows when, daylily growers use terms and abbreviations:

* Extra Early (EE). The first to bloom from March or April in the extreme South, to May or June in the North. Gold and yellow shades dominate in the extra-early season, often complementing the blues and purples of Iris. Try Hemerocallis x ‘Lemon Prelude’ – A bright entirely lemon-yellow 5" blossom with six petals each. 21" tall. Hardy from North Carolina to Maine.
* Early (E). These daylilies bloom three to five weeks prior to the mass of bloom at midseason. ‘Stella d’Oro’- blooms early to late summer in Zones 3-9. Up to 24" in height with 5" bright yellow blooms. Deadhead to promote continual bloom.
* Early Midseason (EM). These daylilies bloom one to three weeks before the height of bloom of most cultivars. x ‘Atlanta Lucky Piece’ is a 29" tall plant with a 6" pink and yellow green eyezone and darker orchid watermark above a big green throat. Zones 3-9.
* Midseason (M). These daylilies bloom at the peak of the daylily bloom in your Zone. This ranges from May in the South to July in the North. A typical midseason plant is x ‘Chicago Cardinal’- 32" tall with 6" bright clear red bloom with a green throat. Zones 3-9.
* Late Midseason (LM). These daylilies bloom one to three weeks after the height or peak of bloom in your Zone. x ‘Pardon Me’- An 18" tall daylily with 2 ¾ inch re-blooming cherry wine crimped petals around a yellow throat. Zones 3-9.
* Late (L). These daylilies bloom when most others have finished blooming, usually four to six weeks after the peak of the season. x ‘Wee Willie Winkie’ is a 50" tall delicate yet profuse bloomer. Light yellow 2 ¼ inch bloom. Zones 3-9.
* Very Late (VL). These daylilies are the last to bloom, often late in the summer in the South, fall in the North. x ‘Late Adagio’- A 50" tall with distinctive purple, amber and yellow blended 5" blooms. Zones 3-9.
* Rebloomer or ever blooming. These daylilies bloom more than one time during a single season. Some of these bloom early (e.g., May or June) and then repeat in the fall. Others have a succession of bloom periods, one shortly after another for several months.

Daylilies adapt to most sites provided they have at least six hours of direct sunlight a day. If using them in a partially shaded environment they require a minimum of two hours of direct sunlight to perform well. And here’s a secret to extending your blooming season. When daylilies have a little shade they tend to bloom about two or three weeks later than the ones in full sun. By planting some in part shade and some in full sun, you increase your bloom period by about three weeks. These plants are the best!

They are not very fussy about soil, but a well-drained loam is best. If you have heavy, compacted soil, like clay, mix peat moss or compost to loosen it. The easiest way to assess your soil fertility and condition is to have a soil test performed. The PH or acidity of the soil should be adjusted to about 6.5 or at least be in the range of 6.2 to 6.8. Daylilies like some organic matter mixed in the soil; I’d use about five inches of compost tilled into the top eight inches of soil.

Planting your daylilies is easy. Loosen the soil about 8 inches below ground level and add compost if your soil is compact. Dig a hole and fashion a cone of soil slightly below ground level. Spread the roots over the cone and then cover them with about 1" of soil. Daylilies may be planted from 4 inches to 18 inches apart, though plant spacing is a personal preference. You don’t have to water them much during the first month as they send out new feeder roots, but they do need to be watered regularly. An inch a week applied in two irrigation cycles is perfect.

Three year old plants are probably root bound and should be gently dug out of the ground and separated into individual clumps. Over grown clumps may not bloom or grow well. Fall is the best time to divide and replant in the south and spring is the best time in the north. Vigorous re-blooming cultivars like Stella De Oro (and its many relatives) will out grow a site and need to be divided and replanted every two or three years. Wash all the soil from the roots and pulling two, three and four fan divisions off the clump. Let the divisions dry in the shade for several hours or overnight to let the cut surfaces heal and prevents fungal and bacterial infections. Replant the divisions as described above.

Daylilies do not generally have serious disease and pest problems. The few diseases they do have can be easily controlled by proper culture. Always pull summer mulch away from the crown at least an inch in early spring and again in late fall to prevent bacterial and fungal infection. If chemical treatment is necessary, follow the directions of a soil drench fungicide labeled for ornamentals. Daylily pests may include aphids, thrips and spider mites, but they are rarely a problem. If they are, organic or chemical sprays labeled for the particular pest and ornamentals will control them.

It’s no surprise that daylilies are in high demand. They’re easy to care for, grow just about anywhere, and varieties abound in dizzying arrays of colors and sizes. This plant you see everyday just may be the plant you’ve overlooked.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ferns: Lush and Luxurious Perennials for Shade

Ferns evoke a sense of rich mystery in the landscape, like that of a lush woodland. Their fragile appearance belies their toughness. Rather than being difficult to grow, ferns are solution plants for many of the difficult landscape problems that gardeners face. They thrive in shady, moist areas and love acid soil. Plant them around the base of trees, in dark and moist areas around the foundation of your home, behind walls or utility buildings, at the edge of wooded areas. They may grow where ever they find a foothold between cobblestones and bricks. They are great for those transitional zones between lawn and wooded areas.

Ferns prefer acid soil; ideally, the pH should test between 5.5 and 6.5. Take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Office for analysis. Adjust the pH according to their expert recommendations.

If you are planting a container-grown fern, thoroughly water it before planting. Gently slip it from the pot, retaining as much of the soil as possible. Spread the roots out into the hole. Plant at the same depth as it grew in the nursery container. Water deeply with a fine spray. Too strong a stream of water can damage the foliage.

Many ferns are easily transplanted as bare root plants. These may be available as dormant crowns, mats, or plants in leaf. Dormant crowns are simply bare-root ferns in a dormant state with the dead fronds removed. Mats look like a tangle of roots about the size of a saucer or small plate. Planting them is not much different than planting container-grown ferns. The roots should be kept moist (not soggy) until planting, the soil should be properly prepared, and the plants watered well.

A few, like the Hay-Scented fern, are easily and economically propagated by bare rhizomes, or "root cuttings." These are usually about the length and diameter of a short pencil. Plant by digging a very shallow trench and laying the rhizomes in it. Or you may simply lay them atop a prepared planting bed, and cover with a couple of inches of good grade topsoil or professional potting mix. Always water well and make sure that no rhizomes are left exposed.

seldom need fertilizing. But if they look pale or grow very little, some fertilizing can help. Fish emulsion fertilizer is a favorite with fern growers.

Dilute the fish emulsion with water at a rate of 1/2 teaspoon of emulsion per quart of water. Apply as a soil drench once in Spring and again in mid-Summer.

Gardeners in the frozen north often take steps to protect their ferns during winter, even if the plants are considered to be cold-hardy. If you choose to do so, leave old fern fronds on the plants as they turn brown in the fall. A light covering of tree leaves spread over a make-do frame of sticks or poultry netting works well. The mulch and frames should be removed right away in the Spring and added to the compost pile. Take care that young fresh fronds are not broken in the process.

Here are some of my favorite ferns for the landscape:

Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum Pictum). This is a gorgeous fern with contrasting foliage colors. New fronds are metallic gray with a reddish or purplish blush. The older fronds maintain color very well, and contrast nicely with the newer fronds. Its very cold hardy, doing well from USDA climate zones 4-9. Japanese Painted Fern grows to 10" and goes dormant in winter. Plant in partial to full shade. It is deer resistant.

Hay-Scented Fern(Dennstaedtia punctilobula). It is native to the U.S. The leaves are fragrant, as its name suggests. The deciduous, deep green fronds are triangle-shaped and heavily divided with lacy leaflets. It is very adaptable, doing quite well in poor soil, and it doesn't care whether the soil is wet or dry. As noted before, Hay-Scented Fern is propagated from rhizome cuttings that are about the size of a short pencil. Just prepare the soil, lay the rhizomes horizontally in shallow furrows, cover with soil, and water. View the instructional video below.  Very easy. Mature height is up to 30". Plant in partial to full shade in USDA climate zones 3-8. It is deer resistant.

Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosora). Burgundy colored fronds emerge in spring and turn green as they mature. 'Brilliance' is one of the best. This evergreen fern prefers well-drained soil in USDA climate zones 5-8. Plant in partial to full shade. Mature height is up to 24". It is deer resistant.

Southern Shield Fern (Dryopteris ludovichiana). This evergreen native perennial has a very upright growth habit. The fronds are dark green. It tolerates dry conditions, but prefers moist soil in USDA climate zones 6-10. You can plant it in full sun to partial shade. Mature height is up to 48". It is deer resistant.

Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). This native fern grows to be a whopper, up to 72". From winter dormancy, dark brown fronds emerge erect in the spring, arch outward from the center and turn dark green. Foliage is lance-shaped. This is the fern that produces that elusive delicacy so loved in the northeastern states. Plant in moist soil in partial to full shade. Though it is said to perform well in USDA climate zones 2-7, it is only marginally successful in zone 7. It is deer resistant.

Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea). Cinnamon fern is widely adaptable from USDA climate zones 2-10. It is native to the U.S. Emerging from dormancy, furry brown fronds unfurl and turn light green. Rust-colored spikes emerge from the center. Cinnamon fern grows to 60" Plant in moist soil in partial to full shade. It is deer resistant.

Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis). Royal fern produces bright green fronds that are mostly erect. Leaflets are broad and oblong. Rust-colored spikes emerge from the center. Royal fern often shares the same habitat as Cinnamon fern. It also requires moist soil in USDA climate zones 2-10. Plant in partial to full shade. Mature height is up to 60". It is deer resistant.

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides). It gets its name by the fact that the tough, evergreen fronds were very popular for floral arrangements. Many people used to scour the forests to gather the dark green foliage for themselves or for commercial purposes. Christmas fern has a clump-forming habit. It prefers moist soil in USDA climate zones 3-9. Plant in partial to full shade. If it receives more sun, adequate water is essential. It is deer resistant.

Variegated East Indian Holly Fern (Arachniodes simplicior Variegata). I love plants with variegated foliage, so this one is very satisfying. Glossy, evergreen fronds have yellowish variegation along the mid-rib. It grows slowly up to 30". Plant in partial to full shade in USDA climate zones 7-11. Consistently moist soil is essential. It is deer resistant.

Japanese Holly Fern (Cyrtomium falcatum Rochfordianum). You'll see this bold, semi-evergreen fern all over the southeast. It is especially popular in parks and gardens in such classic cities as Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC. Fronds are deep green and glossy with large, holly-like leaflets. It grows to 30". Plant in partial to full shade in USDA climate zones 6-10. It requires rich, well-drained soil. Like other ferns, it is deer resistant.

Marginal Wood Fern (Dryopteris marginalis). It is also known as Eastern Wood Fern, and is native, as you might expect, to the eastern U.S. This one is evergreen, growing to 20". It performs best in USDA climate zones 2-8. Plant in shade in moist, well-drained soil. Deer resistant.

Tassel Fern (Polystichum polyblepharum). This evergreen fern has glossy, dark green fronds and fuzzy stems. Quite unusual looking. Performs best in USDA climate zones 2-8. Plant in partial shade in moist, rich soil. It grows to 24". This, too, is deer resistant.

Korean Rock Fern (Polystichum tsus-simense). This lovely evergreen fern can even double as a house plant! It has a very compact habit, growing up to 18" tall. Plant in partial shade in rich, well-drained soil. Though it prefers slightly moist soil, it will tolerated periods of dry weather. It is good for xeriscaping. If planting outdoors, it performs best in USDA climate zones 6-8. Deer resistant.

Southern Shield Fern (Thelypteris kunthii). It is a native fern that does well in sun or shade, but always requires wet or consistently moist soil. Its a great choice for planting alongside ponds, streams or bog gardens. Deciduous fronds are erect and form large, spreading clumps. Performs best in USDA climate zones 7-10. Mature height is up to 28". It should come as not surprise that this one is also deer resistant.
For more on deer resistant plants, check out my blog article on that topic.

If you would like to tell us about your experiences with ferns by adding a comment to this blog, please do. We look forward to hearing from you!
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