Laundry Basket Planter Video

Using a laundry basket as a planter.  What a great idea!  But, it’s not my idea.  I found this video on Youtube on the Garden Answer Youtube channel.  This is such a unique inexpensive idea for a garden planter.  I had to share it with you.  Happy Gardening!

Note:  I do not own this video and I am not paid to advertise it.

 

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Planning Next Year’s Garden

As I sit at my desk, watching the snow come down during our first blizzard, I am daydreaming of spring planting.  On my desk, gardening books and catalogs lay open to designs I love and plants I would like to have.  Graph paper and color pencils are patiently waiting as ideas begin to form.  If you are like me, when one growing season ends, it’s time to start planning the next.

I love design. I love planning for new flower beds and borders.  I also love to redesign old gardens with new walkways, trellises, or arbors along with flowers.  Fences can also add to the landscape by separating large gardens into smaller spaces.

Gardens separated by fences
Gardens separated by fences: http://www.mooseyscountrygarden.com/botanical-gardens/laking-garden-ontario.html

 

After settling on the new hardscape (walkways, retaining walls, etc.), it’s time to delve into the joy of picking out the new plantings.  It’s fun to pick out new perennials such as roses, delphiniums, peonies, and lilies but don’t forget to include decorative trees, like birch and canadian cherry, and shrubs, like viburnum and lilac.  Mixing flowers in with trees and shrubs gives your new garden the thoughtful balanced look every designer craves. This is where planning is really important.

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Landscape design with trees and shrubs

Adding trees and shrubs to the new landscaping will create a vision of beauty in your garden, however, there are some things to consider when doing so.  Trees and shrubs are more permanent parts of the landscape than annual and perennial flowers. Annual flowers must be replanted ever year and most perennial flowers that come up every year can be easily moved.  This is not the case with trees and shrubs.  It is important to take into consideration how large a tree or shrub will get at maturity, how long it takes to reach maturity, and the plant’s long term needs. For example, a small white pine tree may look elegant in the landscaping next to a red brick home but within a few short years it will outgrow the space and it will need to be removed.  A better option for such a space would be to plant an aborvaete or juniper that grows vertically and slender.  This will still give the homeowner the elegant evergreen appearance and the plant will be able to thrive in that space for many years to come.

Color and bloom time for each plant is also a consideration when planning a new garden or landscape.  Some plants, like hostas and coral bells,  are grown strickly for their foliage texture and color.   However, plants like peonies and lilacs, which are grown for their showy colorful blooms, have a definite bloom time.  It is important to plan around the bloom time of each plant to allow your garden to have consistent bloom coverage for the entire growing season.  To get the most from your garden, plant a mix of flowers and shrubs in the colors you like that start blooming in early spring, like tulips and forsythia, with summer bloomimg plants, like coneflowers and viburnum, and fall blooming plants, like mums and asters.  Then, to make sure there is no time your garden color falls flat, add in some annuals for all season color and a show-stopping look.

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Planning your new garden or redesigning an old one is fun way to stay in the gardening spirit even when the snow is falling outside. And, creating a good plan ahead of time will  give you a beautiful garden or landscape that is colorful and inviting all season long!

Happy gardening!

Quote of the Day

A black cat among roses, phlox, lilac-misted under a quarter moon, the sweet smells of heliotrope and night-scented stock. The garden is very still.  It is dazed with moonlight, contented with perfume…
― Amy Lowell, American poet

Biennials

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.

Happy Gardening!

Quote of the Day

 

Shed no tear! O shed no tear!

The flower will bloom another year.

Weep no more! O weep no more!

Young buds sleep in the root’s white core.

-John Keats, English poet

 

 

 

 

Preparing Perennials for Winter

It’s September.  The nighttime temperatures are beginning to drop.  The morning air is crisp and cool.  The summer sun is setting, fall is coming, and winter will soon be here.  It’s time to begin thinking about preparing your landscape for winter.  The question is, “What do I have to do to prepare my perennials for winter?”

First of all, what the heck is a perennial?

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Hosta. Photo by Wanette Lenling

One of the questions that first time gardeners always ask is what is the difference between a perennial flower and an annual flower.  It’s simple. Annuals have to be planted yearly (annually) and perennials come back up year after year (perennially). Annuals include such flowers as petunias, impatiens, and alyssum.  Perennials include such garden favorites as daylilies, hostas, and coral bells.  Whereas annuals live for one season, set their seeds and die,  perennial plants hibernate during the winter only to burst forth in the spring with new growth when the weather warms.  There is also a whole other set of plants called biennials that act like both perennials and annuals! I won’t cover biennials here as I will tackle that subject in an upcoming blog so stay tuned!

hollyhocks
Hollyhocks, are a common biennial.    Photo from http://www.alientravelguide.com

In the fall, annual flowers  can be dug up and discarded into the compost pile. Their life cycle is complete and they will need to be replanted either by seed or as transplants the following spring.  So then, the question remains: “What do I do with my perennials for the winter?”

Do I have to cut down my perennials in the fall?

I have both cut down my perennials for winter and left them up. As a naturalist organic gardener, I prefer to leave my healthy perennials uncut for winter when I can.  In nature, as plants die back in fall, the base of the plant is insulated from the cold with the plants own dead leaves and other garden debris like fallen tree leaves.  Snow acts as a secondary insulation keeping the ground temperatures stable and creating a barrier between the plant and the biting cold air. With a moderate amount of snow cover, the ground temperature, even near the surface, will actually hover just below freezing.  This is why water pipes do not freeze when they are buried underground!

For a more concrete example of layered insulation, think of how a home is insulated with multiple layers of insulation.  There is siding on your house under which is sheeting to keep out moisture and drafts and then there is fiberglass or blown insulation in the walls between the studs.  Mother nature uses the same concept of multiple layers of insulation to keep plants protected from harsh winter weather.

What do I need to do to protect my perennials when I cut them down for winter?

It is not uncommon for gardeners to cut down all their perennials in fall.  It keeps your yard looking neat and tidy and prepares the landscape for next spring.  And, if you live in an area with a Home Owners Association, you may be required to clean up your landscape in the fall to stay within the rules of the HOA. There is nothing wrong with cleaning up your landscape in the fall.  In fact, if you have had any insect, bacterial, or fungal infestations, you definitely want to remove the greens from at least those plants. Throw this plant material away rather than putting it in the compost pile as it may spread the problem onto next year’s landscape.

If you choose to cut down your perennials, it is a good idea to cover them with a layer of mulch several inches thick to protect them from the winter air. The mulch can be anything from purchased wood mulch to straw or tree leaves. Leave the mulch on the perennials for the duration of the winter.  In the spring, carefully rake the mulch away, uncovering your perennials, to allow the spring sun to warm the ground.  Your perennials should wake from their slumber and begin to grow.

It is especially important to cover tender perennials, even if you don’t cut them off.  A tender perennial is basically a perennial that a gardener is attempting to grow in a climate zone with harsher winter temperatures than what is generally recommended for that plant.  For example, a zone 5 perennial grown in zone 4 would be considered a  tender perennial in zone 4.  The plant will need much more care in zone 4 in order to help it survive the winter, if it will at all. (Please see the following link to learn more about your growing zone:  USDA Zone Map  ) If you are attempting to grow a plant in a colder zone than is recommended, please do a search on the particular plant you are attempting to grow in order to find out what professionals or other gardeners recommend for winter protection for that specific plant in your specific area. It may save you the heartache of having to replace your plant in the spring.

 

Perennials with a purpose.

There are some plants you may want to consider leaving up for the winter simply because of their striking beauty or usefulness.

Red Twig Dogwood
Red twig dogwood photo found at http://www.menet.umn.edu

Upright sedum such as ‘Autumn Joy’  and ornamental grasses like ‘Karl Forester’  look gorgeous in the winter landscape.  Dried sedum flower heads  with a soft dusting of snow covering them add interest to the winter landscape and the movement of ornamental grasses in the winter breeze surrounded by snow is undeniably beautiful.  Another noteworthy exception is red twig dogwood.  Even though it is a woody shrub and not a perennial flower many people cut it down in the fall. It is definitely worth leaving up for its striking red winter color.

Some other perennials that you may also consider leaving up are flowers with seeds that are consumed by birds like coneflowers and black-eyed susans. Coreopsis, or tickseed as it is commonly called, is also a favorite of winter wildlife.  The birds will love the winter buffet and you get to enjoy the view!

A little preparation in the fall on your part is all it takes to insure that your plants have a great shot of surviving the winter weather.  It’s well worth the time and effort when you see those same plants bringing your garden to life in the spring.

Happy Gardening!

 

Quote of the Day

“The spring, summer, is quite a hectic time for people in their lives, but then it comes to autumn, and to winter, and you can’t but help think back to the year that was, and then hopefully looking forward to the year that is approaching.”

-Enya, Irish singer and songwriter

 

 

 

Simple Advice for Fall Plant Sales

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.

Fall planting.

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.

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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

Sales

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!

Happy gardening!

Quote of the Day

“Autumn’s the mellow time.”

-William Allingham, poet

What’s With the Name? Is It Echinacea or a Coneflower?

Have you ever noticed  that many plants are called several different names? Have you ever been to a garden store to ask about a flower you want only to have the customer service person ask, “What’s that?”  Frustrating huh?

Plants generally have more than one name.  There are “common names” and “proper names”. So how do you know what to call it? First let me explain what the “common” and “proper” names refer to.

What does the phrase “common name” refer to?

The phrase “common name” simply refers to what  people commonly call a certain plant or flower, although this may differ from one area of the country to another.  “Coneflower”, “daylily”, “black-eyed susan”, and even “maple” are all common names.  These are the names that people commonly use to refer to these plants.

What does the phrase “proper name” refer to?

The “proper name” for the plant refers to its scientific name, a Latin name that refers to either the plant’s genus, or, genus and species. For example, the proper genus name for a  maple tree is “Acer” but if you are referring specifically to a Norway maple, the proper species name is “Acer platonoides” (or more often listed as “A. platonoides”).  Some proper names are very similar to the common name such as “Rosa”  and rose while others have no similarity at all.

Do I have to call it by the proper name?

No, you don’t have to call a plant by its proper name, however, there are instances where it’s a good idea to know the proper name. For example, say that you wish to buy a flower commonly called a “bachelor button”. You go to the garden center and ask to see a “bachelor button”  You are seriously frustrated when the customer service person shows you three different flowers, none of which are what you refer to as a “bachelor button”.  It seems no one can agree on which exact flower is commonly called a “bachelor button”. This example comes from my own experience at the landscape and garden nursery.  In my years working there, I  heard the term “bachelor button” used to refer to at least six different kinds of flowers!   So sometimes relying on the common name may end up in a very frustrating situation for you!

My advice to you, especially if you are looking for a specific plant, know the proper name (genus and species) along with the common name.  Also, if possible, take a picture of the plant with you as you head to a garden store to make a purchase. This will make your shopping experience a much more pleasurable outing and everyone involved will be on the same page!

Happy Gardening!

 

To make you laugh:

One of my best friends called me one day and asked me what she should do to overwinter a flowering plant she had next to her house.  I had just  met my friend as she had recently moved into our area from another part of the United States and she had an “accent” (Don’t we all!). She called the flower a “pee-yoe-nee”.  She pronounced the word with a long “o” sound and three syllables with emphasis on the second syllable.  Her pronunciation along with her accent made it hard for me to to figure out what plant she was referring to so I asked her to describe the plant to me.  She described it as a bush with large leaves and a large flower that looked like a rose. It was then that I figured out that she was referring to what we in the Midwest call a “pee-eh-nee” , pronounced with a short “e” sound  and one syllable.  It’s a peony!

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Photo by Wanette Lenling

 

Compost. What’s the Big Deal?

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.

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Compost pile: Picture by Wanette Lenling

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.

For more complete and in-depth information on composting, check out this great website from the Illinois extension office. https://web.extension.illinois.edu/homecompost/science.cfm

Happy Gardening!