Biennials comprise some of the most beautiful flowers in the landscape. Biennials include such lovely flowers as hollyhocks, sweet william (also called dianthus), and foxglove. But what exactly is a biennial and how do you grow it?
What is a biennial?
To answer the question, “What is a biennial?”, it may help to first define the other types of flowers that are more well known. Annuals are flower that must be planted every year. They grow, set seed, and die within the same season. They don’t come back. Perennials are flowers that grow, flower, die back to the ground, and come back the following year and the year after and so on.
Biennials are odd in that they combine the behaviors of both annuals and perennials. Biennials sprout from seed the first year. The plants focus all their energy on growing sturdy roots and healthy greens but will not flower during the first year of growth. Biennials will then die back to the ground for the winter and come back the following spring. In the second year of growth, the biennials create a stunning display of flowers and set seed. After setting seed, biennial plants die completely and don’t come back. So a biennial grows the first year and dies back to the ground for the winter like a perennial. The following year the biennial will flower, set seed, and die, root and all, like an annual.
How do you grow a biennial?
Because of the interesting growing behavior of biennials, there is a trick to growing them. In order to have beautiful flowers every year when you start biennials, plant biennials by seed for two years consecutively or plant potted biennials for several years in a row. Thereafter, either let the seeds fall to the ground or collect the seeds to reseed the following year. This means do not deadhead your biennial flowers. Instead, allow the flower head to dry up and collect the seeds to replant the following season or allow them to drop to the ground so the plant reseeds itself. This process of planting will give you a never ending supply of biennial flowers year after year after year.
How are biennials special?
Biennials are a special type of plant. They have a fascinating mix of annual and perennial growth behavior. In order to have their flowering presence in the garden every year, the gardener must follow a special process. However, biennials are well worth the effort. They have some of the most beautiful flowers of any garden plant.
You never know what you are going to find in the garden. I am going to deviate from my normal garden articles to tell you the tale of Francis. Francis, the critter in the picture, is an Eastern Gray Tree Squirrel.
The evening I found Francis, I was outside getting the laundry off my clothesline. That’s when I heard an animal scream. It was a scream the likes of which I’ve never heard before. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It sounded like it was coming from the tree but I couldn’t see what was making this awful noise. It was obviously an animal in distress. I assumed it was a bird until I saw Francis at the bottom of the tree.
Now, before I go on, let me back up a bit and tell you a bit more about myself. Not only am I passionate about gardening, but I have been an indiscriminate animal rescuer literally my whole life. In fact, as a toddler, I used to walk up and down the alley behind our house after it rained to save the worms in the mud puddles because I knew they would die if I left them there. (Funny enough, I just read an article on The Dodo , about a dog that saves worms .) And, as a child, I was known in my small town as “the cat lady” because my rescue cats would follow me wherever I went.
I have rescued everything from cats and dogs, to rabbits, turtles, a turkey, and a blind ferret. People call me in to remove an animal when it’s where it’s not supposed to be. I’ve done everything from removing a feral cat from a commercial greenhouse to blocking traffic on a four-lane highway to remove a wild painted turtle from the road.
I’ll never forget one cold snowy winter night when I was contacted by a local farmer at 9:00 o’clock in the evening. He said there was a greyhound dog on the loose near the farm where he worked. He and other workers had tried for days to catch the dog but were unable to get near it. He was worried about the dog because it was nearly -20 below zero outside that night. I thanked him for calling and told him I would head out to get the dog. I put on my winter gear, jumped in my SUV, and headed out to the last place the dog had been seen. Within a short amount of time, I found the dog. He was curled up in a pile of hay along side a road, trying to stay warm. I approached the dog carefully but in no time at all, I had the dog in my vehicle. As it turned out, he was actually a scottish deerhound and he was physically fine, just a wee bit cold. He now lives happily with his new family in his forever home.
Most of the animals I take in are abandoned, abused, and/or lost. I have dealt with a lot of different health and behavioral issues, as well as disabilities that come with rescue animals. As a rescuer, you generally have no idea what the animal’s background is or how it ended up where it was found. Your job is simply to help. It would be disingenuous for me to say that I simply love these animals when in fact, my life is dedicated to my fur-kids. It’s my life’s purpose.
So now that you know a little more about me, let me continue with the story of Francis, the infant gray squirrel stranded at the base of the tree. When I found Francis, he was frantically rolling about in the shrubbery unable to walk. I quickly looked around for the mother and noticed a squirrel laying dead on the road. It had been hit by a car.
I made my decision very quickly to take in this tiny squirrel. I ran into the house and grabbed a hand towel. I ran back outside, scooped up this little creature, and brought him into my home. He was cold but moving. He was also quiet. I prayed he would be ok. I held him against the skin of my throat at the base of my neck to keep him warm. As I held him, I frantically searched online for any articles referencing “rescue” and “baby squirrel”. I have never rescued an infant squirrel before and I had absolutely no idea how to help.
During my search, I learned how to care for Francis’s immediate needs. I also found a company called Fox Valley that makes the specialized formula Francis would need to survive and thrive. I ordered the Fox Valley formula online and used puppy formula, as recommended, until the specialized formula arrived in the mail.
As my knowledge grew, I quickly realized that rescue squirrels have very specific nutritional needs and require a great deal of care in order to grow healthy and strong in order to be released, usually around the age of 12 weeks. But, it also became clear, that Francis was disabled, likely from the fall from the tree. Francis has a bad hip which restricts his ability to move around, climb, and sit up properly to eat. His balance is off and he is abnormally small for his age, only about half the size he should be.
Due to his disability, it’s likely that I’ll be looking after Francis for the duration of his life, which may be as many as twenty years according to some experts. We are still learning as we go but I think Francis will be ok. His never-ending energy and high spirits, despite his disability, make me pretty certain, he’s an angel that “dropped” into my life to make me smile.
The moral of this short animal tail (animal tail, get it! Ok, it’s not that funny.) The moral of the story is this: Be careful in the garden. You never know what you’re going to find.
P.S. I don’t recommend that you rescue animals, especially wild animals, unless you have the training or experience to do so. Remember, I have been doing this for more than thirty years. Rescuing animals can be very dangerous, not only for the animal, but for you too. There are very real physical dangers as well as health issues to consider before rescuing an animal. Rabies and other diseases are always a consideration in these situations. If you find an animal in distress, please call your local experts or professionals that are trained to deal with these situations. Thank you.
Daily announcements of fall plant sales have been filling up my inbox recently. “Buy now!”, “Huge sale”, these ads say. My advice is, buy now! Here’s why:
Huge savings for you.
You benefit with extremely low prices from the company trying to clear out its inventory. At the nursery where I used to work, we always had huge fall sales with drastic cuts in prices because any plants we had to keep for the winter had to be stored. Storing all those plants required a lot of labor and work hours for which the company received no profit. Then in the spring, we would have to pull all those plants out of storage again which took a lot of labor and work hours. There is no profit in this for the company, therefore they would rather sell off their inventory at drastically reduced prices than store plants for winter. Therefore You benefit! As the consumer, you get really really low prices for plants that would have cost you double or even triple the price in the spring.
If you buy plants at fall sales, it’s still ok to plant them. In fact, fall is the best time for transplanting many flowers including daylilies, irises, and peonies. Some plants may not look the best because they are no longer actively growing on top but there is still plenty of time for the roots to grow down before winter. Water the plant well when you plant it (or transplant it) and keep it moist until such time as evening temperatures are at the freezing point and daytime temperatures are cool. Then stop watering to allow the roots to dry out. Wet roots rot so you only want the roots to remain moist but not wet for the winter.
In the colder climate zones, cover any new plants or transplants with leaves, mulch, or straw for the winter to ensure they stay insulated and warm for the winter. Also, when you plant or transplant in the fall, don’t fertilize your plants. You don’t want to encourage new growth. It may damage or kill your new plant as winter sets in. You want them stop growing and setting in for winter weather.
Designate an area of the yard for sale plants
For sale plants that don’t have a place in your garden yet, designate an out-of-site area in your yard to heel the plants in for winter and make sure to label them if necessary so you don’t forget what you bought. Over the winter, you can plan and map out your new garden arrangement. Then in the spring, move your new plants to their designated spot and watch them grow!
Hint: Heeling plants in simply means temporarily planting plants until their permanent planting area is ready. For a great demonstration of heeling plants in check out this video I found on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZI6Cb_4AOM
Take advantage of those plant sales. It will save you a lot of money in the end and you may even be able to afford that expensive plant you have been coveting but could not afford until now. Besides, in the spring, think of the fun you get to have creating new areas of the garden without spending a dime!
Yes, Fall is for planting and its right around the corner so its time to start planning. Fall is the time for planting tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinths, alliums, and many, many more beautiful spring-flowering bulbs. Many bulbs must be cooled for a period of time in order to sprout so they need to be planted in Autumn. Over the winter the bulbs are naturally cooled or frozen in the ground and then sprout in the spring when the sun warms the ground. Now is the time to plan for your Fall plantings so your spring garden is bright and beautiful.
Planting bulbs is a very easy process. When you purchase bulbs, the bulbs will generally come packed in a bag or box with wood chips, wood fibers, or some other inert absorbent organic material. Planting directions will be either in or on the package. Read the directions carefully. You must plant your bulb at the correct depth or they will not thrive. Bulbs also need to be placed in the ground correctly. Bulbs have a top and a bottom. For example, a tulip bulb is pointed on the top (where the greens sprout from) and flatter on the bottom (where the roots will extend from). The bulb will not thrive and may perish if it is not placed in the hole the right way and at the correct depth so make sure you read the instructions before planting so your plants reward your hard work with a fabulous display of color in the spring.
Bone meal is an excellent fertilizer for spring flowering bulbs as it adds phosphorous to the soil which is the nutrient that’s responsible for producing larger and more beautiful flowers. However, bone meal is exactly what its name implies. It is made from the bones of slaughtered animals, usually cattle. It is an organic fertilizer but if you are adverse to using animal remains in your garden, try adding bat guano (bat poo) or poultry/pig manure to your soil. Manure based fertilizers add phosphorous and nitrogen to the soil. Nitrogen is a necessary nutrient for plants, however, nitrogen encourages the greens of the plant to grow, in detriment to flower production, so limit the amount of nitrogen you add to your soil for your bulbs or you may end up with fabulous greens and no flowers!
Some critters, like squirrels and deer, will dig up or eat your bulbs. Using bone meal as a fertilizer on your bulbs tends to deter herbivores (plant eaters) from digging or munching in the area where you planted your bulbs because of what it is made of. There are also some manufactured deterrents, in the form of sprays and granules, that will deter animals from digging or eating your bulbs. Before purchasing these products, read the directions to understand how to use the product and whether the product is potentially hazardous. Also be aware that some of these products use foul smelling substances to deter animals so using the product near your home or commonly used area may create a rather obnoxiously fragrant (stinky!) nuisance.
There are also DIY projects that are easy to install that deter animals from digging your bulbs. Chicken wire is an excellent solution, especially for large beds containing bulbs. Plant your bulbs as normal, covering the bulbs with soil. Then lay chicken wire over the ground on top of the area where the bulbs are planted. Hold the chicken wire down with rocks or other decorative items or place a layer of mulch or dirt over the wire to hide it and hold it down. Animals will not be able to dig through the chicken wire and your bulbs will remain safe and happy tucked away in their new bed.
Another simple way of protecting bulbs is to create or purchase a wire basket with a wire lid that is large enough to hold your bulbs. Dig a hole in the ground large enough to hold the basket. Plant the bulbs in the ground inside the basket and close the lid. Hide the lid with a nice layer of mulch or soil. The bulbs are now planted in the ground safe inside the wire basket away from the wildlife that would love to dig them up.
First, what is compost? Compost is simply organic matter, such as grass clippings and leaves, that have been decomposed down to what looks like brown chunky dirt. Micro-organisms such as bacteria and fungi, and macro-organisms such as insects and earth worms, are responsible for the decomposition process. The resulting decomposed organic matter contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous that are essential for healthy plant growth. Think of it as giving a vitamin supplement to your favorite plant to make sure it stays vital and healthy. Amending the soil with compost either before planting or adding it around your existing plants boosts the vitality of your landscaping. Your plants will thank you with beautiful flowers, abundant fruit, and healthy greens and roots.
Second, how do you compost? Gardeners have many different methods of composting. No one way is the “right” way. Some gardeners build fence-like structures with removable walls to hold compost while others purchase compost tumblers that can be rotated 180 degrees to speed the compost process. Some gardeners take a hands-on approach to their compost by adding water, purchasing bacteria or worms, adding specific percentages of brown or green organic matter, and turning the compost at specific intervals all in an effort to speed the composting process. These methods are absolutely effective in creating nutrient rich compost for your garden.
I am a simple gardener, however, and I like to let Nature do what it does naturally. Organic matter will naturally degrade over time without human intervention. My compost pile is just that, a pile. I don’t turn it. I don’t amend it. I simply pile leaves, garden refuse, and kitchen scraps on the pile and let nature take over. (But, my dog does take a hands-on approach every now and again in his attempt to find the tasty kitchen scraps!) Every spring, I dig at the bottom of the pile and I scrape fresh compost out with a shovel to spread in my garden. This method works for me but each gardener must choose the method that works for them.
Each gardener must determine if and how they are going to create their compost pile. Research different methods if you have never composted to see what would work best for you. Also be aware that some homeowner’s associations may not allow simple compost piles due to the messy look or smell, so the gardener may need to purchase a tumbler or build a bin in order to hide the compost. Experiment with the method that works best for you to create organic compost to add the essential nutrients to your soil for beautiful healthy plants.
Most gardeners are familiar with the perennial plant known as a hosta, or plantain lily. It’s a well known staple for any shade garden. Hostas, however, are much more versatile than most gardeners know. There are more than 800 different varieties of hosta. There are hostas for small spaces, like the blue variety known as ‘Mouse Ears’, which is amazingly tiny at only 6 inches high and 12 inches wide. There are also giant varieties, like the grand ‘Empress Wu’, which gets to an astounding four feet in height with enormous leaves that can reach up to 18 inches across.
The hosta comes in a wide array of colors and textures as well. The ‘Blue Angel’ hosta is a variety of giant Hosta with a stunning blue color and a heavy, thick heart-shaped leaf that grows best in deep shade. Other hosta varieties sport variegated foliage like the variety ‘Fire and Ice’ which has leaves with a delicate border of dark green with a white flame-shaped patch in the center of each leaf running from the bottom of the leaf to the tip. Another stunning variety called ‘Curly Fries’ has extremely narrow, heavily textured yellow-gold foliage that looks more like ribbon than a plant.
Along with the wide variation in size and texture, there are also hostas that will grow in a moderate amount of sunlight. The yellow varieties of hosta, such as the stunning giant variety ‘Sum and Substance’, can withstand more direct sunlight than other varieties. (Hint: If your hosta has brown burnt edges, it may be getting too much sun, so simply move it to a shadier spot.)
If you have never tried growing the perennial plant known as hosta, give it a try. They are extremely easy to grow and with so many varieties you are sure to find one you love. Try the variety, ‘Guacamole’, it is one of the only hostas with a scented flower and it smells divine!
This blog is for all people who have a passion for gardening or for those who are beginning gardeners. I will share with you gardening DIY projects, tips for a healthy landscape, fun plants to grow, and the basics of gardening “How To…”. I look forward to sharing my gardening experience with you and I hope that you will comment and share your gardening experiences with me. Gardening is a glorious experience that deserves to be shared! Continue reading “For the Love of Gardening”