Posts Tagged ‘Landscape’

Landscape Mulches Revisited

Icon Written by Wayne on April 1, 2010 – 12:01 am

For the home gardener probably the most important task they can perform each Spring, is applying a good mulch to their garden. This one project, if for no other reason than the time it will save you, will lift your garden to the next level. We have talked about this before, but we just cannot stress it enough, mulch, mulch, and more mulch.

Why should we mulch? In the first place, itis a good conservation practice. Thick mulch helps prevent loss of top soil from wind and water erosion. Mulching reduces soil compaction, decreases water loss from the soil through evaporation, and lessens soil temperature fluctuations. Mulch tempers the effects of heat and cold. In the winter months the soil in a garden heaves between the combined effects of freezing, thawing and then refreezing, which also can damage plants and shrubs.

Organic mulch decomposes and becomes part of the soil, improving drainage, organic content, and texture. Microbes work by the millions to break down the organic matter and turn it into humus, this buffers the soil pH and improves the soil. A continuous supply of mulch means the bacterial and fungal activity can crowd out the bad stuff. Mulching enriches and protects soil thus, helping to provide a better growing environment.

Organic mulch is also important from the visual perspective. How others see our garden is very important to most gardeners. Mulch keeps our gardens neat and trim. Mulch is useful for weed suppression and control. We would apply mulch for this reason alone. In this day and age who has time to weed?

Mulch comes in a variety of colors and textures to meet your needs. Gone are the days of wood chips and pine bark. Many companies now offer wood and bark chips that have been colorized to match a gardens decor. Colleges and universities now have their landscape areas mulched to match their “school colors. As we said before, ” What true Nebraska “Husker” Fan would be without his or her own perennial bed mulched in red and white.

Inorganic mulch like rubber mulch, stones, black plastic and landscape fabric are also useful tools. Stones and marble chips do the same job as organic mulches. They lend a more formal look to a landscape and help prevent weeds. While inorganic mulches have their place in the garden, they lack the soil improving properties of organic mulches. We have found that the use of plastic sheeting or landscape fabric is in most cases a waste of time and money as weeds quickly grow on top of it. An inorganic mulch may also be difficult to remove if you decide to change your garden plans later.

In choosing a mulch, consider first what is available in your area. The best place to look at different types of mulch is at a garden center. A mulch with course particles remains loose and lasts longer so it’s a better choice. A mulch with fine particles can become compacted and will decompose faster.

Mulching is one of the simplest and most beneficial tools you can use in the garden. So get out there and mulch.

 

Tips of the Month

Our favorite mulch is 100% pure shredded sawmill bark that has been double ground. This has excellent uniform texture, color, and decomposition rate plus we like how it sets off our plants. A shredded double ground hardwood mulch with bark would be our second choice. We try to avoid soft woods and fruit woods because, as a rule, they contain a lot of resins.

Mulch, provides an insulating barrier between the soil and the air thus moderating the soil temperature. This means that a mulched soil in the Summer will be cooler than an un-mulched soil. If you are using mulches in your perennial garden, it is best to apply them after the soil has warmed up in the spring. Also, wait until the soil has warmed completely in the Spring to add additional mulch to existing perennial beds.

In the winter, the mulched soil may not freeze as deeply as unprotected soil. Mulches used to help with winter temperatures, can be applied late in the fall after the ground has frozen. Applying mulches before the ground has frozen may attract rodents looking for a warm Winter home.

Types of mulch:

  1. Bark chips – biodegradable, apply 2-3 inches. Advantages: Attractive, good for permanent mulch, and reusable. Disadvantages: May hinder water penetration. Decomposes slowly unless composted first.
  2. Brick chips – will not decompose, apply 2-3 inches. Advantages: Cheaper than stone mulch and non-flammable. Disadvantages: Not readily available, high moisture retention, and no organic matter added.
  3. Compost – biodegradable, apply 1-2 inches. Advantages: Contributes nutrients, turns quickly to humus. Disadvantages: Needs heating period to kill off weed seeds and diseases and may have unpleasant odor.
  4. Corncobs and cornstalks – biodegradable, apply 3-4 inches. Advantages: Readily available in most areas and good weed control. Disadvantages: Water cannot penetrate well and may generate heat.
  5. Cottonseed hulls – biodegradable, apply 2-4 inches. Advantages: Fertilizing value similar cottonseed meal. Disadvantages: Very light, wind scatters.
  6. Grass clippings – biodegradable, apply 2-3 inches. Advantages: Improves soil by adding organic matter. Disadvantages: Absorbent, may carry weed seed.
  7. Hay – biodegradable, apply 4-6 inches. Advantages: Legume hays (alfalfa) add nitrogen. Disadvantages: First cut hay full of weed seeds and offers poor weed control.
  8. Leaves – biodegradable, apply 2-3 inches. Advantages: Contain many trace minerals, best food for earthworms. Disadvantages: May become soggy and pack, hindering water penetration.
  9. Paper – biodegradable, apply 5-6 pages or 4-6 inches, shredded. Advantages: May add trace minerals, decomposes readily. Disadvantages: May pack and hinder water penetration.
  10. Peanut hulls – biodegradable, apply 2-3 inches. Advantages: Adds nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and decomposes rapidly. Disadvantages: Not readily available in North.
  11. Peat moss – biodegradable, apply 3-5 inches. Advantages: Clean and free of weed seeds and improves water retention when tilled into sandy soil. Disadvantages: Extremely absorbent, water penetration hindered and expensive.
  12. Pine needles – biodegradable, apply 3-4 inches. Advantages: Light, usually free of weed seeds, absorbs little moisture nor does it pack. Disadvantages: Decomposes very slowly.
  13. Polyethylene – will not decompose, apply one layer. Advantages: Retains but absorbs no moisture, black is effective weed control. Disadvantages: Weeds grow under clear plastic and rain will not go through easily.
  14. Rock – crushed gravel or marble chips, will not decompose, apply 1-2 inches. Advantages: Relatively inexpensive, not absorbent, water penetrates, and non-flammable. Disadvantages: Poor weed control and adds no organic matter to soil.
  15. Salt marsh hay – biodegradable, apply 4-6 inches. Advantages: Usually weed-free; available in marshy areas or along coast, very long lasting. Disadvantages: Not available to everyone. Expensive if purchased.
  16. Straw – biodegradable, apply 4-6 inches. Advantages: Adds nutrients and lightens soil when tilled under. Disadvantages: Can be a fire hazard.
  17. Vermiculite or perlite – will not decompose, apply 1-2 inches. Advantages: Totally sterile, so will not carry disease and no weed seeds. Disadvantages: Expensive, very light; scatters, and hinders water penetration.
  18. Cocoa bean shells – biodegradable, apply 4-6 inches. Advantages: attractive color and smell. Disadvantages: Poor water retention, will float out in heavy rains, and makes you want to eat a chocolate bar.
  19. Rubber mulch– is better then any other mulch available in the market today for use in playground areas. Its durability, elasticity, and non-moisture absorbent are some characteristics making it suitable for almost any purpose.

 

Flower of the Month

2744370614_b989dbe74dWinter rye Secale cereale , a green manure cover crop, is living mulch that provides organic matter to your garden and protect your valuable soil. It a has high cold tolerance, moderate to high shade and drought tolerance and is fast to establish. It prefers a slightly acid soil and sandy loam to loam soil type. Rye grows very tall and plant residues have a high C:N ratio. Because of its cold tolerance, it is the best choice for late fall plantings, providing excellent winter erosion control and removing excess soil nutrients.
In the spring, you will want to turn the cover in at least two weeks before you plan to work the area. This can be done by rote-tilling, plowing, or using a spading fork if the area is small. It is often helpful to mow the crop before tilling. The nitrogen held in the Green Manure’s tissue will now be available to future crops through decomposition.

 

Web Site of the Month

Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
They are located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania are a non-profit membership organization founded in 1827 to encourage and advance horticultural interests. Their Green Scenes Magazine is an excellent publication. Their Yearly Gold Medal Plant awards it often underused but exceptional plants is very useful to the discriminating gardener.

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Selby Botanical Garden

Icon Written by Wayne on October 1, 2009 – 12:01 am

Whenever we travel we make it a point to visit as many botanical gardens and nature centers as possible. I suppose this is only natural considering our interest in plants and gardening. We are sure some of our friends and family think we are strange, but then most people have a mistaken impression of what botanical gardens really are.

Most people think of botanical gardens as outdoor museums where plants bear labels with unpronounceable names. Fortunately modern botanical gardens are fun places devoted to the culture, study, and exhibition of living plants in a park like setting. While committed to developing, documenting, verifying, maintaining, sharing, propagating, and disseminating their plant collections they also offer a wide variety of activities. Most offer not only areas to simply stroll and relax, but also gift shops, picnic areas, wedding and banquet facilities, restaurants, and cultural events.

One of our favorite Winter time botanical gardens is the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens located right in downtown Sarasota, Florida. Named after Marie Selby who donated her Sarasota Bay home and grounds “to provide enjoyment for all who visit the Gardens” it is a great place to get some quiet time and enjoy the natural beauty of Sarasota.

You can stroll through the Tropical Display House with orchids and colorful bromeliads, wander the garden pathway past plantings of bamboo, under

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Pathway

ancient banyans, and through the mangrove along Little Sarasota Bay with spectacular views of downtown. You will find more than 20 individual gardens, complete with waterfalls and terraced walkways. Special areas include the Butterfly Garden, Koi Pond, Cycad Garden, and Baywalk.

An exciting open-air exhibit of more than 20,000 colorful plants, including a living collection of more than 6,000 orchids, many collected in the wild from tropical rain forests, can be enjoyed by young and old. In fact, the Selby Gardens maintains one of the finest collections of species orchids in the world for use in its programs of research, education, and display. There are rotating exhibits of botanical art and photography in a 1934 restored mansion, a café under the banyans, and the Rainforest Store, with gifts and tropical plants.

 The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is a must-see for those garden enthusiasts visiting the Sarasota area. The Gardens are open daily 10-5, except Christmas. Admission includes all outdoor gardens, Tropical Display House, Plant Shop, Book Shops, and the Tree lab. All areas of the Gardens are wheelchair accessible and wheelchairs are available at no extra charge.

 

Tips of the Month

Some other botanical gardens which we have enjoyed and highly recommend are:

The Allerton Estate and National Tropical Botanical Gardens on Kauai, Hawaii  is a garden paradise extending over an area of more than 100 acres. The grounds were the mid-1800s summer cottage of Queen Emma, wife of King Kamehameha IV, and the former home of Robert & John Allerton. They have been returned to their former glory, as have the surrounding stately gardens. The Allerton Estate is managed by the adjoining National Tropical Botanical Garden, a non-profit organization that conducts guided tours of the estate.

The Florida Botanical Gardens offers a unique blend of native and exotic plants displayed in both natural and formal gardens. The site also has abundant wildlife from rare birds to native alligators. This was my first introduction to  palm trees which I will never forget. This is a must see visit for those in the Clearwater/St Petersburg area.

Secluded between rugged cliffs dropping down to a peaceful valley floor outside of Poupoi, Hawaii, the McBryde National Botanical Garden is a treasure house of tropical flora. Explore the unique bio-diversity of native and exotic plants,and see rare and endangered Hawaiian species and learn about the efforts to save them. Stroll through McBryde Garden’s Bamboo Bridge section, visit the living laboratory where scientists are still discovering the secrets of these plants. 

 

Flower of the Month

000241a2Phoenix roebelenii ‘Pygmy Date Palm’

It is a small to medium sized palm to about 9 feet, although older plants can be quite tall. Has very attractive dark green feather leaves, and spined petioles. Not self cleaning, so old fronds need to be manually removed. Houseplant in bright light, container plant, or a palm for shady outdoor areas. Moderate growth rate, single trunk.

The stem is covered with old leaf bases and is topped with a dense head of rich green pinnate leaves that grow to about 4′ long. Delicate leaflets, arranged neatly along the upper length of the leaf lend the plant a very graceful aspect. Lower leaflets are modified into pointed 2-3″ spines that are very sharp.

Cream-colored flowers are held on short, 1′ infloresences (photo at right) and are followed by small black dates on the female plants (male flowers are borne on a separate plant). Although this palm is single-trunked it is most commonly container raised by nurseries in group of from 3 to 5 specimens. When grown like this the pygmy date palm makes an especially attractive specimen with the trunks tending to curve gracefully away from the center of the clump.

Pygmy date palm excels in containers of all kinds. Also looks great by patios and entry ways. Use clumps of these palms as specimens and to serve as focal point in a mass planting of annuals. Also nice combined with evergreen shrubs in a mixed hedge.


 

Web Site

Fontenelle Forest Nature Center in Bellevue, Nebraska offers visitors the opportunity to explore native plants and animals in much the same setting as out forefathers. Hiking their extensive trail system is like taking a step back in time. Our family spent many happy moments at this wonderful site.

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A Weed by Another Name – The Joe Pye Weed

Icon Written by GeoffM1968 on September 1, 2007 – 7:07 pm

Joe Pye Weed is a tall, dominating upright perennial, three to twelve feet tall, with a green to purple unbranched stems, that are mostly hollow. The lance shaped leaves are eight to twelve inches long, and arranged in whorls at each node on the stem. When crushed, the leaves have a slight hint of vanilla. The blooms are white to mauve and densely packed in several large rounded clusters at the top of the stem. The showy flower clusters can be up to twenty inches across and invariably covered with butterflies, wasps and bees, and beetles from summer until late autumn. Characteristics of all species run together, and identification of individual species can be confusing. 

In the wild, Joe Pye Weed grows in moist fields and pastures, along road shoulders, and at the woodland edges. An Eastern plant, it grows from Central Florida west to Texas and north into Canada. They often grow in thickets along streams and ditches. Some Joe Pyes can be very cold hardy, growing as far north as Quebec and Newfoundland. Normally they are considered cold hardy from Zone 3 through Zone 9. 

Joe Pye Weed is a very popular ornamental plant in Europe but rarely used in gardens in our country. This is starting to slowly change as the home gardener discovers just how useful they are, particularly in the butterfly garden. Most varieties are at home in the background of the border garden. We like to use them in a semi-wild naturalistic garden such as alongside a stream or pond. 

Joe Pye Weed are big and bold enough to hold their own among shrubs in a mixed border but grows best in full sun. Plants grown in partial shade will get too tall and flop over. You can prune them back in late spring and they will bloom at a much lower height. They all like plenty of water but will survive in dry sites. We consider them to be drought tolerant, but they will never be as showy as when grown with abundant moisture. 

Joe Pye Weed is one of the showiest perennials in autumn, towering above summertime’s worn out flowers and shrubs. We like to use them with Solidago rugosa Leraft and Panicum virgatum Cloud Nine or Prairie Sky. On a smaller scale we use Joe Pye Weed with Boltonia decurrens Snowbanks and Solidago rugosa Fireworks or Golden Baby planted in the foreground. All of these and more can be seen on our Plant Data Base. 

Joe Pye Weed has underground stems, called rhizomes, which grow laterally and send up new shoots. The root is woody, thick and purplish brown with cream colored flesh. The above-ground parts die in the Winter and the rhizomes start new stems, leaves, and flowers the following year. We easily propagated them by dividing the root clumps with a sharp shovel or spade during the dormant season. 

Native Americans used concoctions of Joe Pye weed to treat a diversity of internal and external ailments. The Algonquin, Joe Pye, was said to have cured typhus fever with the plant that received his name. The entire plant was used as a medicine with the roots being the strongest part. Crushed leaves have an apple scent and are dried then burned to repel flies. Boil dried root and flowers for a diuretic tea to relieve kidney and urinary problems. Tea is also used to induce sweating and break a high fever. 

We grow the Joe Pye Weeds not for it’s medicinal properties but because they look good in the garden and attract butterflies. We have seen ducks, geese and wild turkey weeding on them in the Fall. In our gardens the Eastern Cottontail and White-tailed Deer really flock to the tickets looking for the seeds. Our favorite is the impressive Gateway, although Carin and Little Joe are hard to beat. Joe Pye Weed attract butterflies and other insects, smell good, are attractive, easy to grow, and even provide food for wild critters. Not many plants are so versatile.

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Athyriums in the Garden

Icon Written by GeoffM1968 on August 1, 2007 – 6:33 pm

Athyriums have long been prized by the home gardener not only because they were very easy to grow but, because of their color and texture. Lady ferns, particularly look good when grown in clumps or mass plantings. We use these ferns throughout our shade gardens. Actually, this is one down right spectacular plant. 

Lady Ferns are a highly variable species, with numerous varieties in cultivation. More than 300 varieties, in shades of grays, greens, and burgundy, have made their way to the home garden. Some, like ‘Frizelliae’ are extremely odd in appearance. This delicate, finely cut deciduous perennial fern is at home in the garden as the woodlands and meadows. The plant can even be used as a ground cover or on a wet hillside. 

Athyriums are relatively sun and soil tolerant, compared to many other ferns. Despite its delicate appearance, lady ferns are quite rugged and adapt well to cultivation. In the woodland setting they even do better with an occasional burning. For best growth plant them in partial shade in soil that is rich and moist. Give them a little shelter from wind to protect fronds from breaking and they will perform well for years. 

These ferns need a neutral to acid ph soil which drains well. A mixture of equal parts of loam and leaf mold is suitable growing medium. Lady ferns require no fertilization. Athyriums grown in a greenhouse or home should be planted in peat and loam with a bit of sand. 

Propagation is by division in the spring, although spores may be sown in Summer. Division is most successful and by far the easiest method for the home gardener. Simply divide the clumps every few years, with a sharp spade and replant crowns at soil level. 

In the wild, lady fern often occurs on wet sites but can colonize cracks in rocks and crevices if roots are protected and in constant contact with water. We use them, with hostas and other broadleaf plants, along trails, naturalized on banks, mixed with grasses, or bordering walks. They work well at the base of sculptures, garden benches, and potted plants.

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Who We Are

Icon Written by GeoffM1968 on March 1, 2006 – 12:01 am
We get numerous emails asking us about our company and just what do we do. First of all, while we do have extensive gardens, we do not sell plants directly to the retail public. Most of the plants we produce are consumed in our normal business operations. The plants we grow are unique specimen plants, often new introductions. We are always looking for new plants with the potential to out perform all others of their class. 

 

Secondly, while we do have sunny borders, grasses, and roses gardens, our primary interests lie in shade gardening, specifically Pulmonarias, Epimediums, and large specimen Hostas. The gardens are aesthetically pleasing, while also providing a habitat for birds, butterfly and other wildlife. At anyone time we have between 300-400 different plants growing in our gardens, although we find it hard to believe at times. 

 

Thirdly, Martin’s Yard & Garden is a family owned and operated lawn and garden maintenance company serving Southwestern Lower Michigan,(Zone 5) for over 18 years. Our mission is to provide timely quality affordable lawn and garden maintenance to the members of our community. We have had the honor of being selected “The Best of the Best” the last four years, in a survey conducted by Leader Publication.

 

Equipment
Equipment My wife, Marty, is responsible for maintaining the office in some semblance of order. She is our accountant and office manager rolled into one. Her duty is to keep us all under control and headed in the right direction. Marty is our rose garden expert, having grown and cared for roses for-over twenty years. She is also a great cook.
I run the day to day operations of the business. Although I would much prefer being out in the gardens, I do the scheduling, research, designing, and planning. I have been involved with plants for over 40 years. Equipment
Equipment Our son, Geoff, is our computer specialist. He designed and maintains our web site and plant data base. even though he now lives in Florida, he keeps all our systems up and running. With out him I would be lost in this fast paced digital world.
While we do not sell plants we are always here to help out with your gardening questions. Please feel free to email us whenever you have a question or problem. Naturally, if you live in our area we would be more then happy to work with you directly on your lawn and garden needs.
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Border Planting for Privacy and Screening

Icon Written by GeoffM1968 on September 1, 2005 – 3:23 pm

We all have some part of our yard or gardens that we wish we could hide, maybe an old dilapidated two hole privy, a neighbors forgotten 1952 Nash Rambler, or an abandon oil tank. Things of character to be sure but an eye sore never the less. 

Believe me I would rather have a Nash Rambler as a neighbor rather then a Suds Your Dudes, or heaven forbid, a Mickey D’s. Most of us consider our lawn and gardens an extension of our homes, where we can look for quiet and privacy . Unfortunately, we often take the easy way out, when our tranquility is threatened. We quickly throw up a stockade fence, suburbia’s Berlin Wall. 

We soon realize though that our solution in itself can be quite unsettling. Like busy little beavers, we are soon at work trying to hide what we just built. While taking a little longer to develop, plants offer living privacy walls, which can be especially important in today’s neighborhoods where ranch style homes are lumped together with fast food joints and adult entertainment centers. 

Using plants effectively will require careful planning on your part. First, you will have to decide if you are looking for single or multi season screening. If you are looking for year round appeal you will have to consider plants that flower, have changing foliage, offer winter color, bare fruit, or have interesting texture. 

You will also have to decide how much time you can spend on plant maintenance. While a living border can require a lot of maintenance it does not have to. If your time is limited you definitely will not want a formal hedge or border which require constant pruning and care. Natural planting usually offer a more relaxing soft effect and require little time. A popular option, just catching on, is to rent potted plants which only require watering and can be easily moved around for special occasions. 

Selecting the right size of plant is also critical. You would not want to use towering Oaks to hide a pool nor Firethorns to screen a hot tub, and surly Pygmy Barberries would not hide that Nash Rambler. While this may seem as just common sense, it is surprising how often we select plants we like and are familiar with and not what works best. We also often forget that most plants get bigger as they mature. 

The last thing you need to evaluate, before plant selection, is the area in terms of size, sun exposure, soil, drainage, and proximity to utilities such as gas, water, electrical lines. You will also need to check on existing building codes. Also it might be nice to check with your neighbors and let them know what you are planning. 

Once you have information about the site, and desired effect, you can decide what kind of plants meet your needs. Mixed plantings of evergreen and deciduous shrubs provide interest in many seasons. Deciduous plants provide more shade in summer but allow light to reach your yard in winter. Fruiting trees, bushes, and vines provide snacks for you and the birds and for your neighbors. Tall potted plants make a fast portable screen around a pool, patio, or deck. Ornamental grasses grow rapidly and are easy to maintain. Vines will quickly soften hardscapes and hide buildings.

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My Favorite Perennial Mums

Icon Written by GeoffM1968 on October 1, 2004 – 7:09 pm

Last season we tried a new hybrid mum called My Favorite Mum. The My Favorite Mums series is a joint venture of Ball Horticultural Company of West Chicago, Illinois and Anthony Tesselaar International of Melbourne, Australia, both renowned horticultural innovators. 

These mums are bred for hardiness, thriving in the hot humid South as well as the frigid North. Although we have only grown this variety one season we think it is going to be a winner. While probably not replacing the traditional garden mums they do offer a great alternative. 

My Favorite Mums will reach about 12 inches in height and grow to around 16 inches in diameter in the first year. In year two, look for another 2 inches in height and another 6-8 inches in diameter. With ideal growing conditions they will grow not only three feet high but also five feet around. 

These easy to grow and maintain plants produce masses of 2 inch flowers over the entire plant. You can expect over 1,000 flowers the first year and up to 5,000 in the following years. All this without pruning or pinching. On top of this they attract butterflies and are great as a cut flower. 

You can also enjoy the mum in containers on a porch or patio, although, like all perennials, it will not survive the winter out of the ground. This is a great plant to add to existing perennial gardens as you would other mums. It is a great source of replacement color for annual beds that have gone out of bloom. 

The My Favorite Mum is a long bloomer, flowers last 4-5 weeks. They start flowering in Mid-August and continue blooming well into September. Newer flowers generally bloom above older flowers which hides older faded blooms. 

These mums are truly perennial, bred to survive temperatures down to -30 F. A well established plant is the key to keeping My Favorite Mum beautiful. It is best to plant your mum early in the Fall season so it can establish a good root system before winter. 

In the Fall of 2001 ‘Autumn Red’ was introduced with Coral, White, Twilight Pink, and Yellow Quill following in 2002. They are available in pots from area garden retailers, either in bud or bloom. While the selection is somewhat limited we do expect more varieties to be introduced into the market in the coming years. Unfortunately, these mums cannot be sold through catalogs or on line. This is probably the biggest drawback we see to the My Favorite Mum. They are worth the extra effort and we do recommend you give them a try.

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Rudbeckia in the Border Garden

Icon Written by GeoffM1968 on September 1, 2004 – 7:16 pm

We find that there are some plants that you just cannot have too many of, in our case it is the Rudbeckia or Black-Eyed Susans. The showy character of this plant make them particularly useful in bold masses, especially around outbuildings, fences, and where unsightly objects are to be hidden. We find that they work particularly well with ornamental grasses and mallows. In some form, Rudbeckia are used in every one of our sunny beds and borders. 

An extremely hardy native of our tall grass prairies, they are both drought and pest resistant. Even the great herds of buffalo, that once roamed the great plains, could not kill this tough critter. Black Eyed Susans not only survived the great prairie fires and “dust bowl” conditions of the 20’s and 30’s but actually expanded their range. 

There are approximately twenty native species, annuals, biennial and perennial varieties, growing in the Midwestern region. Most species like a lean well drained soil in full sun or light shade but will also do well in moist locations. This hardy soul has even been found growing on clay bluffs and limestone ridges of Missouri. 

All varieties of Rudbeckia have golden yellow flowers with a dark, usually raised, central cone. They bloom for 6-8 weeks, beginning in late June. You can prolong the blooming period by deheading or cutting the plant back. Please be sure to stop early enough to allow some of the cones to mature for Winter bird feeding. 

By planting several species, you can have Black-Eyed Susan blooming through late Fall. All Rudbeckia serve admirably as cut flowers, for their stems are long and the flowers long lasting. Butterflies, bees and hummingbirds all like these high centered flowers. We use the taller varieties, with Joe Pye Weed, New England Asters, and Mountain Mint in our butterfly gardens. 

Although all but one species can be grown from seed, we find division in early Spring works best. Being such a hardy plant, simply dig up the root ball, cut into sections with a sharp knife or trowel, and replant as we would a hosta. Actually digging up the plant helps to keep them under control for while not invasive they are extremely vigorous. 

Rudbeckias are equally at home on the prairie, in the border garden, for attracting birds and butterflies, or in the formal flower arrangement. We find them growing in the home rock garden or moist country swale. Even fire and wild animals cannot kill this plant. Little wonder why we use it so often in our gardens. 

Here are some of the more popular Rudbeckia that you my wish to try in your garden: 

Rudbeckia fulgida VAR. Sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’
It is a compact 2-3 foot selection of Black-Eyed Susan that blooms for 6-8 weeks in mid-to-late summer. Numerous golden yellow ray flowers with black central cones cover this plant in a profusion of color. 

Rudbeckia grandiflora ‘Black-Eyed Susan’
It is a species of the dry prairie, a truly giant Black-Eyed Susan. Long-stalked leaves, hairy stems, robust form and gold daisies with dark eyes are characteristic of the species. Each stem yields a single bloom, but with many, many flowering stems, flowers mature to showy tall cones on 3-4 foot plant. 

Rudbeckia maxima ‘Cabbage Leaf Coneflower’
It is a dramatic Black-Eyed Susan 6-7 foot that adds vertical drama to the natural landscape as well as in the cultivated sunny garden. We grow this Rudbeckia for its eye-catching large, coarse foliage that resembles oversized cabbage leaves. 

Rudbeckia speciosa v. Newmanii ‘Compact Black-Eyed Susan’
It is one of the shortest and latest blooming. Flowers are slightly smaller than most Rudbeckia but abundant on compact 2 foot plants. 

Rudbeckia triloba ‘Three-Lobed or Thin-Leaved Coneflower’
It has small but numerous brown-eyed flowers that appear from late summer through early fall on 3-5 foot plants. It tolerates light shade, poor soils and drought. 

Rudbeckia missouriensis ‘Missouri Coneflower”
It is an attractive, long lived perennial wildflower excellent for cut flowers. It provides natural color when planted in the butterfly or rock garden. Missouri Black-eyed Susan is equally at home in formal flower beds or naturalized in a prairie meadow. 

Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Sweet Black-eyed Susan’
It receives its common names from the flower’s sweet anise scent. Numerous 3 inch flowers consisting of yellow petals around dome-shaped central disks provide nectar for butterflies and seed for Goldfinches. This sweetly scented flower occurs naturally in low meadows, open slopes, stream banks, and prairies. 

Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Gold Drop”
It is a free flowering, hardy Black Eyed Susan with double, 2 inch, yellow flowers on 2-3 foot stems. Very attractive used in cut flowers arrangements. 

Some other Rudbeckia worth considering for your garden are: 

  • Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Irish Eyes’
  • Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Marmalade’
  • Rudbeckia hirta ‘Gloriasa Daisy’
  • Rudbeckia hirta ‘Toto Lemon’
  • Rudbeckia hirta ‘Sonora’
  • Rudbeckia hirta ‘Indian Summer’
  • Rudbeckia hirta ‘Chim Chiminee’
  • Rudbeckia hirta ‘Prairie Sun’
  • Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Goldquelle’
  • Rudbeckia occidentalis ‘Green Wizard’
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Attacking Slugs in the Garden

Icon Written by GeoffM1968 on August 1, 2004 – 12:01 am

Ask any gardener, who grows hostas or other broadleaf plants, for their candidate for one of the most distasteful garden pests and they will say the slug. With our wet Spring weather and humid Summers slugs are a problem in this area. 

Slugs are simply snails without shells, we will refer to the two of them interchangeably throughout our discussion. The most common slugs encountered by the home gardener are the grey garden slug, the greenhouse slug, and the banded slug. Slugs and snails lay their eggs in clusters under rocks, mulch, and other garden debris. All slugs require moist wet conditions and in fact will quickly die during extended dry spells. During Winter, snails and slugs hibernate in cracks in the topsoil, under mulch, or leaves and dead plant matter. 

Slugs are usually nocturnal, they hide in the mulch during the day, so you rarely see the pests only the damage. They eat irregular holes in all kinds of foliage but love hostas. A sure sign that slugs are present is when a plant’s lower leaves have been chewed or the silvery trails snails leave as they move about. 

Slugs feed on a variety of plants as well as ripening fruit and tender bark. They prefer succulent foliage plants or flowers. They can consume several times their own body weight each night. Slugs tend to avoid plants with hairy leaves or those with a milky sap. Some plants like artemisias, astilbe, baby’s breath, columbine, coralbells, coreopsis, dianthus, lupines, peonies, rudbeckia, and sedum are resistant to them. 

Snails and slugs do have some natural enemies, including some beetles, toads, turtles, and birds also feed on them. Ducks, geese, or chickens will readily feed on them. Unfortunately, we have found that these also like to dine on young tender plants and berries. 

Fortunately, we have not had a problem with slugs and snails even though we grow hundreds of hostas and other succulent plants. Even with all the ground cover we have, slugs are all but non-existent. This was not always the case but, once we began completely cleaning up all Fall garden debris and cut back spent foliage, they just seemed to disappear. All of our compost piles are kept far away from the rest of the garden. 

We also use only course wood chips and pine needle mulch, this is renewed yearly before the plants began to leaf out. While we do not raise ducks and chickens, although I would like to, we do entice birds into our gardens with many feeders, birdbaths, and nesting areas. We particularly encourage ground feeding birds such as robins, towhees, blackbirds, and thrushes to feed in the garden. 

Slugs can also be controlled by a variety of other means which we have listed in the “Tips Section “. Most of these are time consuming or require the use of chemicals, the former we do not have enough of and the latter we try to avoid. We do not doubt that they work but we suggest that you review your gardening practices first. We have found a clean garden is also a slug free garden.

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Athyriums (Lady Fern) in the Garden

Icon Written by GeoffM1968 on July 1, 2004 – 6:31 pm

Athyriums have long been prized by the home gardener not only because they were very easy to grow but, because of their color and texture. Lady ferns, particularly look good when grown in clumps or mass plantings. We use these ferns throughout our shade gardens. Actually, this is one down right spectacular plant. 

Lady Ferns are a highly variable species, with numerous varieties in cultivation. More than 300 varieties, in shades of grays, greens, and burgundy, have made their way to the home garden. Some, like ‘Frizelliae’ are extremely odd in appearance. This delicate, finely cut deciduous perennial fern is at home in the garden as the woodlands and meadows. The plant can even be used as a ground cover or on a wet hillside. 

Athyriums are relatively sun and soil tolerant, compared to many other ferns. Despite its delicate appearance, lady ferns are quite rugged and adapt well to cultivation. In the woodland setting they even do better with an occasional burning. For best growth plant them in partial shade in soil that is rich and moist. Give them a little shelter from wind to protect fronds from breaking and they will perform well for years. 

These ferns need a neutral to acid pH soil which drains well. A mixture of equal parts of loam and leaf mold is suitable growing medium. Lady ferns require no fertilization. Athyriums grown in a greenhouse or home should be planted in peat and loam with a bit of sand. 

Propagation is by division in the spring, although spores may be sown in Summer. Division is most successful and by far the easiest method for the home gardener. Simply divide the clumps every few years, with a sharp spade and replant crowns at soil level. 

In the wild, lady fern often occurs on wet sites but can colonize cracks in rocks and crevices if roots are protected and in constant contact with water. We use them, with hostas and other broadleaf plants, along trails, naturalized on banks, mixed with grasses, or bordering walks. They work well at the base of sculptures, garden benches, and potted plants.

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