Archive for 2002

The Poinsettia

Icon Written by Geoff on December 1, 2002 – 8:20 pm

The Poinsettia once only offered in red, is now found in many colors, even yellow. What we see as the colorful flowers are the leaf bracts. It is called the “Flame Leaf” in Central America or “Flower of the Holy Night” and was brought here over a hundred years ago by Dr. Joel Poinsett, our first ambassador to Mexico. 

The Legend 

The legend of the poinsettia comes from Mexico. It tells of a girl named Maria and her little brother Pablo. They were very poor but always looked forward to the Christmas festival. Each year a large manger scene was set up in the village church, and the days before Christmas were filled with parades and parties. The two children loved Christmas but were always saddened because they had no money to buy presents. They especially wished that they could give something to the church for the Baby Jesus, but they had nothing. 

One Christmas Eve, Maria and Pablo set out for church to attend the service. On their way, they picked some weeds growing along the roadside and decided to take them as their gift to the Baby Jesus in the manger scene. Of course they were teased by other children when they arrived with their gift, but they said nothing for they knew they had given what they could. Maria and Pablo began placing the green plants around the manger and miraculously, the green top leaves turned into bright red petals, and soon the manger was surrounded by beautiful star-like flowers and so we see them to this day. 

Perhaps you’d be interested in knowing a little bit more about the poinsettia plant you buy every Christmas: 

  1. Did you know that the poinsettia’s main attraction is not its flowers, but its leaves? The flowers of the plant are the yellow clustered buds in the center. The colored leafy parts are bracts or modified leaves.
  2. Red is the most popular color, accounting for roughly three-quarters of all sales nationwide, followed by white and pink. Poinsettias come in a variety of colors from red, salmon, and apricot to yellow, cream, and white. There are also unusual speckled or marbled varieties like “Jingle Bells” and “Candy Cane” with several colors blended together. New varieties are introduced yearly with even more variation in height and colors.
  3. How many poinsettias do you think are sold in a year? If you guessed around 60 million, you’d be in the ballpark. Would you believe that last year more than 65 million were sold nationwide? Poinsettias accounted for one-third of sales of all flowering potted plants. In economic terms, which is $237 million out of a total of $781 million in sales of all flowering potted plants!
  4. Although every state in the United States grows poinsettias commercially, California is the top producer with about 27 million pots grown, followed by Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, and Michigan, each with about 14 million pots.
  5. Did you know that in the wild, the poinsettia can reach heights of 12 feet with leaves measuring six to eight inches across? It is actually a small tropical tree belonging to the Euphorbia plant family. Its botanical name is Euphorbia pulcherrima although in English speaking countries it is more commonly known as the poinsettia. A native of southern Mexico, the poinsettia blooms in December and has been used in that country to decorate churches for centuries.
  6. In the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, the Aztecs used the poinsettia leaves to dye fabric for clothing and the sap for medicinal purposes, including to help control fevers. They also considered the red color a symbol of purity, and so poinsettias were traditionally part of religious ceremonies.
  7. Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, an amateur botanist and first United States ambassador to Mexico, introduced the plant that became known as the poinsettia to this country. He discovered a shrub with brilliantly colored red leaves growing by the side of the road in Taxco, Mexico, in December 1828 and sent cuttings home to his plantation in Greenville, South Carolina. But did you know that most botanists then dismissed the poinsettia as a weed? Fortunately, Poinsett continued to study and breed this plant in his greenhouse, sharing plants with his horticulturist friends. It soon gained acceptance as a holiday plant, despite its very short bloom time. It was not until the 1960s that researchers were able to successfully breed plants to bloom more than just a few days.
  8. December 12 is National Poinsettia Day. Never heard of it? Believe it or not, the United States has observed this official day since the mid-1800s. It honors the man and the plant he introduced. Poinsett died Dec.12, 1851.
  9. True or False? The poinsettia is a poisonous plant. If you answered false, you’re correct. The plant has been tested repeatedly and cleared of this charge by the National Poison Center in Atlanta, Georgia, and the American Medical Association. The POINSINDEX Information Service, the main information resource for poison control centers across the country, reports that even if a 50-pound child consumed more than 500 poinsettia bracts–the amount tested in scientific experiments–the consequences would not be fatal. Even at this high level, no toxicity was found.
  10. However, this does not mean that poinsettias are meant to be eaten. If ingested, this plant can cause stomach irritation and discomfort. Cats and children also may choke on the fibrous parts, so be sure to keep these plants out of their reach. The sticky white sap also may cause skin irritation for some people.
  11. Do you know the best way to prolong the life of this Christmas plant? Avoid hot or cold drafts, keep the soil moist not soggy, and place in a room with sufficient natural light.

Fun Facts About Poinsettias
by Leonard Perry
December 9, 2001

Poinsettias as mentioned are native to Mexico and like lots of heat. Growing them outdoors generally requires a minimum temperature of about 45 degrees, and they do best with night temperatures of about 60 degrees. If you want to plant a poinsettia in the garden after the holiday season, make sure to keep it healthy while indoors by placing the plant in a sunny, draft-free location and watering it when it is approaching dryness. Avoid sudden temperature changes. When the leaves fall in late winter, cut the stems back to the two healthiest buds and reduce watering to the bare minimum. 

When frost danger has past you can move the plants outdoors. When new growth begins to show, feed with an all purpose fertilizer every other week. The soil should be slightly acid. Use only a sterilized, lightweight potting mix. 

Poinsettias are short day plants. Although they will eventually bloom, if you want the plants in bloom for the holidays they must be subjected to at least six weeks of 14 hours of total darkness per day (mid to late September). This may be accomplished by placing a potted plant in a closet or unlighted room. The plant should then be returned to the light each day and given a minimum of 4 hours of direct sun. 

Here are some tips on how to keep these plants going: 

  1. Place the plant in bright light, but not direct sun.
  2. Keep soil slightly moist, not waterlogged.
  3. Feed with a liquid houseplant fertilizer.
  4. When the flowers fade, keep the leaves healthy by watering and feed as you would during the flowering season.
  5. The flowerless plant still needs bright light.
  6. Prune back during the growing season to control its size and shape so it won’t get thin and ungainly.
  7. Maintain a night temperature of 60 to 67 degrees.
  8. Mist leaves daily.

Poinsettias usually will outlast your desire to keep them!

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Forcing Flowering Bulbs

Icon Written by Geoff on November 1, 2002 – 7:05 pm

Winter, even for those of us that enjoy its beauty, can become rather drab for the home gardener. Although growing houseplants helps, they somehow start to lose their excitement after a while. This is when coaxing spring bulbs to flower indoors in the dead of winter is especially welcome. Bulbs can add color, aroma, and excitement to a home like nothing else. One look at a container of Katie Heath daffodils warms the heart and reminds us that spring is just around the corner. 

Getting bulbs to bloom indoors ahead of schedule is called forcing. Forcing is a process by which plants are stimulated to bloom other than at their normal time. Many spring bulbs can be forced indoors with only a little effort on our part. 

The first step is to select those varieties you wish to force. You will want to select the largest, healthiest bulbs for most flowers. Forced tulips do not bloom quite as well as garden planted tulips because they require a long rooting period but are still better than nothing. 

Some of the easiest varieties to force according to Nancy Anderson, a North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service Agriculture Agent, working as the Urban Horticulture Agent in Cumberland County are: 

  1. Narcissus – Barrett Browning, Bridal Crown, Dutch Master, Ice Follies, Paperwhites, Golden Harvest, Spell Binder, Salome, Pink Charm, Flower Record, Louis Armstrong, Unsurpassable, Tete-a-Tete, Jenny, Barrett Browning, Cheerfulness.
  2. Large-flowering crocus – Pickwick, Rembrance, Flower Record, Perter Pan, Purpurea Grandiflora.
  3. Hyacinth – Amethyst, Blue Jacket, Jan Bros, L’Innocence, Pink Pearl, Delft Blue, Hollyhock, Anna Marie, Violet Pearl, Gypsy Queen, Carnegie.
  4. Muscari – Blue Spike, Early Giant.
  5. Tulip -Apricot Beauty, Bing Crosby, Edith Eddy, Mirjorma, Yokohama, Jingle Bells, Attila, White Dream, Princess Victoria, White Swallow, Estella Rijnveld.

A listing of other suitable bulbs for forcing can be viewed at The Dirt Gardener’s website

Bulbs can be grown in any type of container. The roots are not long so the pot need not be deep. The pot size is important. It should be just large enough to hold all the bulbs without allowing them to touch each other or the sides of the pot. Choose a pot that is at least twice as tall as the bulbs. 

Since bulbs require porous soil and perfect drainage, a mixture of equal parts peat moss, potting soil, sand and vermiculite or perlite works well. Mix thoroughly and moisten with enough water to a damp consistency. Add one teaspoon of 5-10-5 dry slow release fertilizer to every quart of soil mix to give the bulbs an extra boost after flowering. Special bulb fiber may be used in place of potting soil. If you use fiber, place a one inch layer of soil or sand in the bottom of the pot first. Place a few pieces of broken pots or pebbles over the drainage holes, to prevent the soil from running out initially or clogging later. 

Fill the pot with your potting mixture so that each bulb top is even with the top edge of the container. Sprinkle soil around the bulbs until only the shoulders are showing. Plant several bulbs in a container for best display. They should be placed close together, but should not touch each other or the pot. Water the soil and keep it moist. 

Now your bulbs must be “chilled”, this is a period required for most bulbs to develop a strong root system. Begin 15-16 weeks before you want your bulbs to bloom. You need an area where bulbs can be stored at a cold temperature. A cool garage, unheated basement, or even an old refrigerator will do. Beware though that bulbs often do not mix with fruits in enclosed spaces because of the ethylene gas they give off as they ripen. Ethylene gas exposure can cause partial or incomplete flower abortion, retard growth, cause growth abnormalities such as excessive leafiness, shorten the lifespan of cut flowers, and inhibit development of flower buds. 

Place the pots in the area you selected for chilling. Ideally, temperatures should be 35-48 degrees Fahrenheit. If necessary, set boxes, pots or black garbage bags over your potted bulbs to keep them dark during the cooling period. Turning the pots every day or so keeps the flower stems straight and strong. In a week or two, the stems will elongate and the buds will become plump. 

When the stems are about 2 inches, tall, move the pot to a warm sunny spot to stimulate bloom. Move the pots to a bright, sunny window in the house, where temperatures are near 65 degrees once the foliage and buds are well developed. 

As the flowers begin to open, take the plants out of direct sunlight to prolong the bloom. During flowering, keep the plants in as cool an area as possible to encourage longer blooming. Keep the soil evenly moist and keep out of direct heat or drafts. 

After flowering, cut off the flower stems and place the pots in direct sunlight, keeping the foliage growing until it begins to die back. Hardy bulbs such as hyacinths and tulips cannot be forced again and should be discarded. You can try to plant them outdoors but it may take them a year or two to rebloom. 

Hyacinth, crocus and paperwhite narcissus, can be forced in water. You will have to anchor these bulbs to the bottom with small stones or use special forcing glasses. The glass is short and somewhat hourglass shaped. Keep the vase cool and dark for 3 to 6 weeks or until their roots have developed and the shoots appear. Bring the vase to a bright area where the bulb will flower as with conventional forcing methods. Bulbs that have been forced in water should be discarded after flowering. 

Forced bulbs can bring a little of Spring into your home even during the darkest Winter months. With very little work you can brighten up your home. Containers of forced bulbs also make welcome gifts, particularly during the holiday season.

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Fall is for Ornamental Grasses

Icon Written by Geoff on October 1, 2002 – 5:02 pm

Ornamental grasses can become an important addition to your garden. Grasses can add lasting beauty, an air of elegance and character to a yard. In the traditional landscape garden they can be interplanted with flowering perennials, particularly coneflowers and asters. Besides adding beauty to outdoor surroundings, plumes from ornamental grass can be dried for use in flower arrangements. 

They also can be used in the wildflower gardens or meadows, where they have the added benefit of attracting birds. We have found ornamental grasses not only provide shelter but food for the birds. In the Fall large flocks of migrating songbirds often descend on our grasses to feed. 

Other uses of ornamental grasses are: 

1. In containers
2. As background planting
3. Specimen planting
4. Use as a living screen
5. For groundcover 

Most of the grasses thrive in full direct sun, although a few tolerate shade. They mainly like a well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Therefore, we always work organic matter into the soil before planting. Remember too that grasses are deep rooted so really dig deep. Their root system makes moving or dividing extremely difficult. 

Grasses are very hardy, pest resistant plants that require no fertilization and very little watering. We do water them during their first growing season but it is more out of habit than a cultural requirement. Since grasses grow so densely, we have never had to worry about weeds. 

In early spring before new growth begins, remove the previous year’s foliage. Grasses will begin growing earlier if foliage is removed. We have found power hedgetrimmers work very well for this. In the Spring, if the center of the clump shows little or no growth, the plant should be divided if possible. Separate and replant the vigorous growth on the outer edge of the clump. 

Some popular grasses for the home garden are: 


Varieties we recommend are:

Andropogon glomeratus ‘Bushy Blue Stem’ 
This wonderful native with flattened blue-green foliage makes a very structural statement, reaching 6 feet tall, with only a 2-3 foot spread. In early fall the plumes emerge and with the first heavy frost, the plumes take on a billowing cloud-like appearance. 

Sporobolus airoides ‘Alkali Dropseed’
Alkali dropseed qualifies as one of the least-known of the native grasses. Tolerant of drought and alkaline soils, a single plant will quickly produce a 3 feet tall by 6 feet wide clump of grey-green foliage. In Mid-Summer it is topped with graceful tall golden bronze panicles. 

Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’
We are very fond of Panicums for two reasons, they are native grasses and they are quite beautiful. Cloud Nine tops out at 6-7 feet tall with airy panicles of gold against subtle blue foliage. We tucked this new native selection in the back of the sunny border to offer a vertical grassy form with airy fall panicles. 

Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’
This selection of our native panicum makes a small 3 foot tall clump. The foliage is dark purple on its tips throughout the summer, but when fall hits, nice airy plumes appear. 

Chasmanthium latifolium ‘Northern Sea Oats’
This is one of the few ornamental grasses that thrives in shady conditions. Northern Sea Oats has a short basal tuft of wide grassy leaves that produces 4 foot stalks with dramatic grain-like flowers. Northern Sea Oats grow best in a naturalistic garden, either in the border or by the water. 

Calamagrostis arundinacea ‘Karl Forester’
This grass is appreciated not only for its glossy, dark green leaves but also for its graceful flower spikes which appear reddish-green in early summer and change through the growing season to a creamy white. Highly prized for its ability to add subtle texture and color in the perennial border. 

Panicum virgatum ‘Prairie Sky’
This native switchgrass is prized for its powdery blue foliage. In late summer, billowing plumes of amber brown top the clump. 

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’
Morning Light has very narrow foliage with a subtle white stripe that causes this plant to shimmer and glow in the landscape. This choice ornamental grass of 4-5′ sets off any sunny area in the garden. If you need a plant to stop your eye, this grass will do it. Highlights all other plants in its company. 

Pennisetum orientale ‘Tall Tails’
This vigorous, heat-loving plant makes a border-sized upright arching clump to 4.5 feet tall. The early fall plumes of tan, with a hint of pink, tower another above the foliage. 

Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’
The wide, olive-green foliage makes the strongest vertical accent of any of the switchgrasses. This vigorous grower is topped in September with attractive narrow plumes. 

Miscanthus giganteus ‘Giant Chinese Silver Grass’
This plant quickly grows to 12 feet by early summer. In early fall, plumes rise and add to the drama of this grass. The grassy leaves are long and gracefully sway with the slightest breeze. 

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’
Perennial grass with white stripes on dark green leaves. Feathery flower plumes are an added feature. Excellent as a specimen or in the perennial border. 

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Yaku Jima’
Excellent ornamental discovered on the Japanese island of Yaku Jima. Compact, clumping grass with finely textured silver-striped green foliage. Silver plums appear in late summer and remain attractive into winter. 

Grasses are fun to play with in the garden. They add vertical texture like no other plant. Ornamental grasses really come into their own in the Fall and Winter with their beautiful plumage, all the while providing food and shelter for birds and other wildlife. In the Spring the dead foliage even provides nesting material. There are so many easy to grow varieties you really cannot go wrong.

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Fall Planting of Trees

Icon Written by Geoff on September 1, 2002 – 7:32 pm

The Fall planting season for trees has arrived. If you had planned to plant trees last spring but did not get around to it, do not worry, Fall is the second best time to plant. 

This is because with cooler temperatures and shorter days, the plant is going dormant. By planting in the Fall, the tree has plenty of opportunity to establish itself before spring. Most container-grown and balled and burlapped deciduous trees are excellent candidates for Fall planting. Container-grown or balled trees can be easily planted on into October. 

Trees set in the Fall make root growth during the Fall and Winter months that enables them to become established before warm weather. Fall planting of evergreens is more of a risk because they lose moisture from needles. We recommend delaying the planting of evergreens until spring. 

Dig a hole wide enough to allow the roots to spread out without bending back into the hole. You want to encourage all of the roots to spread out and take hold in their new home. One of the best ways to do this, if the plant is in the least root bound, is to gently tear the roots before planting. 

Test to make sure the hole has good drainage. Soil in the bottom of the hole should be firmed to avoid excessive settling before easing the plant in. Add soil around the roots and use water instead of tamping to settle it. 

Once you get the tree in the ground, add a root stimulator to the water and then water thoroughly. Root stimulators contain a mild fertilizer that accelerates the development of feeder roots. Wait on the heavy feeding for Spring. Keep watering new plants until the ground freezes. 

Trees planted in areas subject to strong winds should be staked. Soft twine, strips of webbing, or soft rope may be used to tie the tree to the stakes. Mulch, 4-5 inches to help keep the roots consistently moist and withstand extreme temperature changes. 

It is sometimes necessary to move plants from one location to another. The best time to move deciduous plants is from late Fall until Late Winter. When digging a plant to be moved, try to get as much of the root system as possible. Remove one-third to one-half of the top of the plant to compensate for the roots lost at digging. 

The following trees have been tested by the Colorado State University Horticulture Department and are suitable for Fall planting. 

  1. Fraxinus americana ‘Autumn Purple’
    – A tree rapidly becoming a Michigan favorite. This tree requires low to medium watering and its foliage turns a striking shade of purple in the fall.
  2. Fraxinus pennsylvanica ‘Marshall’s Seedless Ash’
    – Suitable for street tree use. This ash turns yellow in the fall.
  3. Sophora japonica ‘Japanese Pagodaatree’
    – Pagodatree bears large creamy flowers in midsummer and bead-like pods in Fall.
  4. Quercus bicolor ‘Swamp White Oak’
    – A more handsome tree than its common name might imply. It is native to wet locations, so it adapts well to heavy clay soils. Some oaks grow very slowly, but this species is faster growing.
  5. Quercus rubra ‘Red Oak’
    – The Red Oak is notable for its glossy, dark green leaves throughout the summer which turn bright red in the fall.

Additional Fall tree choices include common hackberry, littleleaf linden and Norway maple. 

While we prefer Spring planting of trees we have never had a problem with Fall planting if done properly. Just make your selections carefully, plant correctly, and water thoroughly and often.

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Fall Weeding of Plants

Icon Written by Geoff on August 1, 2002 – 5:04 pm


It is late summer, the peak of the gardening season when we should be out strolling around the yard, enjoying our flowers in bloom. However, what am I doing, weeding! Weeding becomes the main focus of the gardening this time of year. 

Why weed at all, one man’s weed is another man’s flower? While there is some truth in this, flower beds should be kept as weed free as possible because the weeds compete with the ornamental plants for both moisture and nutrients. Even cultivated plants can grow so vigorously they can become a problem, just look at the mint family. Weeds then are plants growing in the wrong place. 

If done at the right time and with practical tools, weeding does not have to be something as enjoyable as having poison ivy. It can be a time to relax and enjoy the outdoors. We like to weed, it gives us a time to see our gardens up close and enjoy the outdoors at a leisurely pace. 

The wrong time to weed is when the sun is high and the ground is dry. Choose to weed at cooler times of the day or on cloudy days for your own comfort. When the ground is damp, the weeds will come out much more easily too. Weed the day after watering or a rain, everything will be soft and the weeds will come out with their roots intact. 

Help yourself by making weeding as easy as possible. 

1. Pull up weeds before they go to seed and spread around the garden. 

2. Try to get the whole weed including the root. Younger weeds are easier to pull because they do not have an established root system. 

3. For tap roots like dandelions pull straight up with a little pressure on either side of the stem using a tool with small V-shaped end. 

4. For weeds with shallow invasive root systems, try scraping below the surface. 

5. Mulch between plants to help prevent weeds from establishing. 

6. When weeding, always make things as comfortable as possible, use a cushion or knee pads. 

A 2 – 3 inch layer of mulch will help reduce the amount of weeding needed and will keep the soil moist. Whether your preference is shredded bark, wood chips, or last fall’s leaves all will help. We suggest visiting Martin’s Yard & Garden’s Yard Talk Past Issue “Landscape Mulches” for more information on this subject. 

A landscape fabric can be used around perennial plantings. It will let water through but keep weeds down. To improve the appearance of the mat it should be covered with mulch. 

Weeds can be removed in various ways; however, nothing is more effective than the old-fashioned way of hand picking or hoeing. The tools we have found the most useful are:

1. The Cape Code Weeder 
– The Weeder is an ideal tool for all hand weeding and cultivation, easy to use and maintain. No gardener should go without one. 

2. Offset Blade Soil Knife 
– This tool is offset to give it extra digging power after slicing into soil. Cuts roots, too. You will find many uses for this in the garden. 

3. Pointed Push Hoe 
– This push/pull hoe is by far the easiest hoe to use, we would not know what to do without them. We go through several every season. 

Two good sources of high quality garden tools we have found are: The Garden Works and A M Leonard. Whenever possible we suggest purchasing English hand forged tools as they seem to last longer and hold an edge better. 

Sometimes a weed escapes your attention until it is quite large, when pulling them can result in severe disturbance to the roots of the plants around them. Try cutting it off at the base with pruners and treat any sprouts with Round Up. 

Some weeds that grow from rhizomes and seed freely are best treated with non-selective herbicide to kill the entire plant, roots and all. A non-selective herbicide such as Roundup and Finale can be bought already mixed in spray bottles. Another method, safer around ornamental plants is to brush it on. The Sideswipe Herbicide Applicator is an easy, environmentally sound way to control weeds even on the windiest day. 

Avoid using a hand cultivator or roto tilling for weed control, particularly when the area is infested with grasses because it merely chops up the roots. These pieces will grow and cause an even greater problem. Roto tilling also brings new weed seeds to the soil’s surface were they will quickly germinate. 

Not sure what is a weed or not? The New Jersey Agricultural Weed Gallery can help you there. The Weed Gallery, is a collection of photos and descriptions of agricultural weeds found in many states. 

If you are like us a few weeds are no big thing. Our best flowering goldenrod is a native that went unnoticed until it started to bloom. Now it holds a prized place in one of our sunny gardens. 

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Climbing Plants for the Garden

Icon Written by Geoff on July 1, 2002 – 6:52 pm

Vines are the most versatile of all garden plants. They are easy to grow, take little care, and are extremely hardy. They can even be successfully used as a ground cover. 

With this said, we should admit, except for one very scrawny Crimson Glory Vine, every vine we have planted has never seen its second birthday. We are not even sure why this vine has hung on this long, after ten years it has not grown an inch. 

In our defense, most vines require a lot of sun that is very scarce in our gardens. We purchased the Crimson Glory Vine after reading how it would climb through the trees to seek the sun on its own. Maybe we were asking to much of it to climb over 150 feet before it saw daylight, a little much for a plant only 18 inches tall. We also tend to stretch a plant’s hardiness, and vines, by there very size, are exposed to a lot of bad things. 

Given the right conditions, sunlight, well-drained humus soil, and the right moisture, vines can be very rewarding. We have seen some very impressive vines in other people’s gardens, enough to keep us trying at least. Here are some that we were impressed with: 

Vitis coignetiae Crimson ‘Glory Vine’
It has 12 x 10 inch leaves that turn a dark crimson color in autumn, This grape is undoubtedly the finest of the true vines, easily reaching the treetops with its showy fall color.

Wisteria sinensis ‘Texas White’
This vigorous Chinese vine is particularly showy with its pendulous white flowers and its vigorous growing habits.

Rosa multiflora platyphylla ‘Seven Sisters’
The two inch blossoms open in bright magenta, then fade through shades of pink. There can be seven different colors showing in one large cluster of blooms. Given time it will easily cover a large support or clamber into trees.

Hydrangea anomala petiolaris ‘Climbing Hydrangea’
Widely acclaimed as the best vine in cultivation. It has outstanding foliage, flowers, and exfoliating, cinnamon-brown bark. Its abundances of white flowers bloom in early summer.

Rubus lambertianus hakonensis ‘Rubus’
A luxuriant climbing or crawling shrub with shiny, light-green, leaves and tiny white flowers.

Ipomoea alba ‘Moon Vine’
A vine with spectacular, five inch white flowers opening in early evening. The tightly furled flower buds unroll rather quickly as if watching a time-lapse film. The pure white, fragrant flowers fairly glow against the dark green, heart-shaped foliage. This vine is very fast growing when the weather is warm and calm.

Passiflora incarnata ‘Passion Flower’
Flowers have purple petals, purple fringes and intricately detailed centers. In the fall, egg-shaped fruit that resembles smooth limes appears.

Lablab purpureus ‘Hyacinth Bean’
An old-fashioned ornamental bean ideal for rambling over fences, posts and porches. Resembling the pole bean of vegetable fame, Hyacinth Bean is highly valued for its prominent stems of lightly fragrant flowers, thrives in heat and tolerates poor soils.

Campsis radicans ‘Trumpet Creeper’
Beautiful trumpet shaped orange flower clusters blooming in July attracting butterflies and hummingbirds.

Aristolochia tomentosa ‘Hairy Dutchman’s Pipe’
This high-climbing vine with downy, heart-shaped leaves has long pipe-shaped flowers that are yellow with a purple interior.

Polygonum aubertii ‘The Silver Lace Vine’
This vine is a vigorous twining vine with masses of fragrant white flower clusters in August. It can grow 30 feet.

We are sure that there are many more vines worth mentioning such as the clematis, which we will cover in depth in a future Yard Talk, but the above we know performs above average without special care. Often overlooked in the home garden, vines can easily brighten up a dark area. Most of the above and many more can be found at: 

Aesthetic Gardens ( )
Clematis Specialty Nursery ( )
Forest Farms Nursery ( )
Roslyn Nursery ( )

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Aster in the Home Garden

Icon Written by Geoff on June 1, 2002 – 6:29 pm

It would not seem like Fall in our gardens without asters. When little else is blooming the aster comes into its own. They brighten the garden with blooms in shades of blue, pink, purple, and white. The aster produces large clusters of delicate daisy-like flowers, usually with bright yellow centers. They begin blooming in late July and continue until Winter. 

Asters are easy to grow and very versatile. Plant in Spring in any sunny location. They like well-drained fertile soil and will tolerate drought. We plant daffodils, tulips, or other Spring flowering bulbs to fill in before the asters fill out. You can pinch back the tips to promote dense, compact growth and eliminate staking. We prefer not pinching as we prefer the natural clumps they form. 

The aster needs to be divided every three years in the early spring or late fall right after blooming. After digging, divide and replant the sections from outside the clump, discarding the older center portion. Asters are excellent border perennials and go well with Boltonia ‘Snow bank’Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, and Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’

Some asters that you must try in your garden are: 

Aster oblongifolius ‘Fanny’s Aster’
This aster has bright purple, daisy-like flowers that are produced late in the season after most asters have finished. This aster has three to four foot branching stems with gray-green leaves spread slightly outward.
Aster dumosus ‘Rose Serenade’
This aster that forms a tidy mound of narrow-leaved foliage reaches 1-2 feet by early fall, when rosy pink blooms cover the plant.
Aster concolor ‘Eastern Silvery Aster’
The plant has oval 1 inch leaves covered in downy white hair that continue to shrink in size as the stems grow, so by fall, the leaves are tiny pressed to the 2-3 foot stems. Purple flowers cover the stems, creating long purple spikes.
Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’
Violet-blue flowers with a golden eye are produced from July to late October by this aster. Monch is one of the best, small asters, that we have tucked throughout our garden.
Aster ‘Miss Bessie’
Hundreds of 1 inch medium purple, starlike blooms cover this plant, weaving with the tops of our ornamental grasses at the entrance to our home. Blooms lasted for three weeks.
Aster macrophyllus ‘Albus’
Albus is a native American Wood Aster with handsome foliage that will spread quickly to make a weed suppressing groundcover. The stems are covered with pure white flowers.
Aster novae-angliae ‘Alma Potschke’
As early as July blooming aster with rose-pink flowers atop 3-4 foot plants. A real show stopper as a border planting.
Aster novae-angliae ‘Purple Dome’
This drought-tolerant native New England Wood Aster, with fuzzy stems and narrow green leaves is topped in the Fall with hundreds of bright purple blooms.
Aster carolinianus ‘Climbing Aster’
If you provide support this aster will definitely climb. Foliage is grayish with narrow leaves with loads of rose-pink flowers. Cut back to the ground every spring.

These, along with Aster tartaricus ‘Jin Dai’, are ones we have come to enjoy in our gardens. While our favorite is Alma Potschke, we have come to love them all. In fact, there are hundreds of others to choose from for your garden. There are even a few asters that bloom in the Spring. For that sunny, dry area asters are hard to beat.

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Caring for the Newly Sodded Lawn

Icon Written by Geoff on May 1, 2002 – 5:58 pm

Taking good care of your newly sodded lawn is vital, one mistake and you might as well throw it all on the compost pile. Fortunately, sod is also easy to take care of if you follow a few simple steps. 

New sod should be watered as soon as it has been laid. But how much water is enough? The best way to tell if you’ve watered enough is by taking a few steps onto the turf. If you make deep footprints, your sod has enough water. If the soil seems firm, lift a corner of one of the rolls and inspect it. The soil on the back of the sod should be damp, or wet. If the back of a roll is not damp, water an additional thirty minutes. 

Check your lawn at least once per day during the week after installation, to ensure that there is adequate moisture for the turf to flourish. During hot and/or windy weather, you may need to check for moisture more than once per day. Walk on the new lawn to inspect it. If the soil is soft, and you make deep footprints, or if water has puddled in areas, it is too wet. Unlike the first day of watering, you do not want to make footprints. At this point, you should stop watering for a day or two. Once you begin the watering schedule again, water less often. However, if you walk across your lawn to inspect it and find that the soil is very firm, lift a comer of the grass in several places. The soil should be damp– not dripping wet, or dusty dry. Areas where the grass has wilted, or turned a straw color, have not received enough water. 

Green sod that turns brown almost overnight is an obvious symptom of under watering. Fortunately, the roots and crowns of the grass plant are probably still alive. If immediate action is taken, new leaves will appear in seven to ten days. Another indication of under watering is cracks that appear between the rows of sod. Both of these signs of under watering can be corrected by watering longer than you have been currently, with more water. 

After about five days, the sod has soaked up water like a sponge, and you must reduce your watering habits. If you do not reduce the amount of water applied to your lawn, you risk drowning the sod. Only cattails and bull-rushes will grow in water-logged soils, not grass. Now is the time to begin stretching out the amount of time between watering. 

Mow your new sod when it needs it. You do not need to stay off it just because it has been recently laid. You do, however, need to pay attention to the height of your mower. It is very important to not water immediately before mowing, to prevent the mower sinking in and making ruts. 

Sod is ready to be used instantly. The catch is that early watering often makes the soil underneath the sod soft, and susceptible to ruts. Making deep footprints when the soil is soft will not hurt the sod, but will make for an uneven lawn in the future. If children play in your yard and turn a comer up, just pat it back down. 

Your new sod does not need any type of weed killers. Should a dandelion or other small weed pop up, pull it out, making sure that you pulled out the root as well. Pulling out roots will ensure that weeds will not return. Your new lawn does not need any fertilizer for at least two weeks. 

Conscientious long-term care is extremely important in maintaining your investment in sod. Good maintenance habits ward off disease and weeds. The following information will help you in long-term sod care. 

Mow your sod at 3 to 3 1/2 inches in height. Setting your mower even higher will result in fewer weeds and healthier turf. Clippings should not be collected, unless they are long and smother the grass. Clippings do not create thatch, but do recycle nutrients back into the lawn. 

Sodded lawns that have been growing one year do not have to be watered to stay alive. If you do not water in a drought, the grass will turn brown, go dormant, and will resume growing when rain falls again. Watering to keep grass green is a choice for you to make, but if you over water, you will cause serious problems for your grass. A lawn can be watered anytime, but early morning is ideal as there is usually very little wind. 

It is important to fertilize regularly, whether you hire the work done or do it yourself. Usually sod only needs an application of a balanced fertilizer such as 13-13-13. Contact a lawn maintenance company or visit a garden center to set up a fertilization schedule. 

A good lawn service, will take care of any weed problems. If you plan to control your weeds yourself, remember there are two types of weeds: broadleaf and crabgrass. For broadleaf weeds, like dandelion, we suggest you visit a garden center to discuss the many ways of applying broadleaf herbicides. Crabgrass herbicides are not needed if your sod is thick. A good web site to visit is the Scott Company’s which not only has helpful information but links to how to control weeds and other problems in your lawn.

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Summer Flowering Bulbs

Icon Written by Geoff on April 1, 2002 – 7:00 pm

As we promised in March’s Yard Talk we will be looking at Summer flowering bulbs this month. In March we discussed Spring flowering bulbs, much of the cultural requirements we discussed then, holds true for Summer flowering bulbs. For our discussion, we are going to group bulbs, corm, rhizome, and tuber together. 

Site selection and preparation is very important. Summer bulbs like good drainage and high organic matter. You can never add too much humus to a bulb growing medium. Try to group bulbs together, or plant in masses and groups, in curves and drifts, or clustered close together. A light mulching helps the bulbs retain moisture and reduces the competitive weeds. 

Some commonly used Summer bulbs are: 

1. Liliaceae Lilium ‘Lily’
Lilies are used in borders, perennial gardens, pots, and containers. Lilies are often used for cut flowers. They like a sunny spot, but will tolerate partial shade. A good online source for lilies is B&D Lilies 

2. Compositae Dahlia ‘Union’
From Summer into Fall this bulb produces two to eight foot plants with flowers up to 14 inches across. They are generally planted directly in the garden in Mid-May in a well-drained sunny location. Plants should be staked at planting time because they will require support for the large flowers. Dahlias must be dug and stored each fall. A good source for dahlias is Old House Gardens in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

3. Iridaceae Gladiolus ‘Sword Lily’ 
The gladiolus is used mainly for cut flowers, although it does have a place in the home garden. Their wide range of colors, sizes and flower types make them particularly useful for flower arrangements. Gladiolus flowers are found on exhibit at flower shows and are a specialty of many amateur growers. Columbia View Gladiolus offer an excellent selection for the home gardener. 

Some lesser known Summer bulbs that we have tried are: 

1. Iridaceae Tigridia ‘Tiger Flower’
This bulbs’ foliage is similar to the daylily, it produces several flowers per stalk and each separate flower blooms for just one day. Like dahlias they bloom from Mid-Summer into Fall in shades of white, cream, yellow, pink, and red. Plant in a sunny location along walks or as borders. Tigridia must be dug and stored each fall. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs offers this unusual bulb. 

2. Amaryllidaceae Sternbergia ‘Autumn Daffodil’
The Autumn Daffodil is a terrific bulb to use in naturalizing. They have bright yellow, crocus-like flowers that pops up out of nowhere. Grow in partial shade for autumn color. These bulbs must be dug and stored each fall. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs also offer this selection. 

3. Liliaceae Eucomis ‘Pineapple Plant’
The flower is a spike of masses of little flowers with a rosette of green leaves on top. Eucomis blooms best in full sun from July through August. It is often used in container gardening. Eucomis must be dug and stored each fall. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs also carry this bulb. 

4. Ranunculaceae Anemone coronaria ‘Windflower’
This blue, red, white, and pink blooming bulb flowers from May to September. It likes a partially shaded location. This bulb must also be dug and stored each fall. Most good online bulb companies such as Brent and Becky’s Bulbs carry this Summer bulb. 

5. Cannaceae Canna
Canna lilies are native plants in the United States. Flowers come in shades of red, pink, yellow, orange and cream. The planting site should be well drained and in full sun. Once frost has killed the canna tops, cut off the dead tops and dig bulbs. They must be stored in a cool dry place. Aaron’s Amaryllis & Canna Bulb Farm Nursery offers some of the best bulbs we have seen. 

Some additional Summer blooming bulbs worth looking at are:

Achimenes Globba Polianthes
Alocasia Gloriosa Sandersonia
Amaryllis Habranthus Sauromatum
Bletilla Hedychium Scadoxus
Bloomeria Hemerocallis Sparaxis
Caladium Hippeastrum Sprekelia
Canna Hymenocallis Triteleia
Chlidanthus Incarvillea Tritonia
Colocasia Ixia Tropaeolum
Commelina Leucocoryne Tulbaghia
Convallaria Liatris Veltheimia
Crinum Lycoris Zantedeschia
Crocosmia Nerine Zephyranthes
Cyrtanthus Oxalis  
Galtonia Pleione  

We did not discuss daylillies, although a beautiful Summer bulb, as this was covered in a Past Yard Talk. We enjoy growing daylilies and other Summer bulbs in our gardens. Summer bulbs add a lot of interest to the landscape. They offer not only bright flowering blooms but unusual shapes and textures. We encourage you to try them, particularly some of the lessor known bulbs.

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Flowering Bulbs

Icon Written by Geoff on March 1, 2002 – 6:57 pm

This month we are taking a look at flowering bulbs. While this is usually a topic for the Fall, we decided, for several reasons, to discuss them this Spring season. First of all, site selection and preparation is much easier now than when your new bulbs and Winter is just around the corner. Spring is also a time when you can get a good overall look at all your garden plants and how they look together. 

If you are like us, we make our bulb selections in the Spring. When they arrive in the Fall, there is always a few varieties that we cannot remember where we planned on using them. So, we rush out and just stick them in the ground, not always to the best effect. We have even been known to start planting bulbs only to discover the space is already occupied. In the Spring you can also see where you already have bulbs growing. How much easier Fall planting is when you have the site selected, soil prepared, and the design laid out. 

While we are primarily talking about Spring bulbs, much also holds true for Summer flowering bulbs. These often overlooked bulbs that are planted in the Spring, have much the same cultural requirements as their Spring cousins. Unfortunately, many Summer flowering varieties must be dug up in the Fall. For our discussion, we are going to group bulbs, corm, rhizome, and tuber together. Thus, we will treat daffodils, a bulb, the same as crocuses although they actually are a corm. The most important decision you must make is where to plant your bulbs. You want a site with appropriate sunlight. Tulips and narcissi prefer full sunlight or filtered sunlight for optimum coloration and prolonged flowering periods. Since deciduous trees will not be leafed out in the spring when the bulbs are growing, it is usually all right to plant bulbs under them. 

Bulbs will not grow in an area with poor water drainage. You cannot add enough compost or other organic matter to your selected area. For clay soil, add sand or peat moss. For sandy soil, add peat moss or aged leaf compost. Since bulbs prefer neutral pH soil, go easy on the peat moss. While adding “hot” manure such as mushroom compost to your bulb beds in the Fall this is not recommended, it is not a problem for Spring prepared beds. Work the compost in as deep as possible remember many large bulbs such as daffodils and alliums are planted once and enjoyed for many years. 

Design your planting to get the most effect, try to group bulbs together, or planting in masses and groups, in curves and drifts, or clustered close together. At least avoid straight lines and skimpy placement. We never plant less then 12 of any one variety in a group. By all means put the bulbs where you and your neighbors can see them. Consider height and time of bloom. Bulbs are identified in all good catalogues by bloom-time, generally early, mid, and late bloomers. Plant some of each for a continuous color display. Also, match bulb bloom with the early flowering perennials such as pulmonarias, epimedium, and creeping phlox. Foliage plants such as hostas work well with bulbs and serve to fill in once the foliage start to go dormant. 

Naturalizing with bulbs is a popular planting technique used to achieve a natural, as if nature had planted them. Most of the small bulbs such as crocus and snowdrops naturalizing well. Even many larger bulbs like daffodils naturalize well in open areas, at the edge of woodlands, or on the slope of your lawn. Siberian squill, whose foliage matures fast, are the best for naturalizing in lawns. The simplest method of naturalizing is to scatter bulbs across the area and plant them where they fall. 

Bulb selection is important too. Some Spring flowering bulbs to consider are: 

Allium Anemone Arum Bellevalia
Brimeura Bulbocodium Calochortus Camassia
Chionodoxa Colchicum Corydalis Crocus-Fall
Crocus-Spring Dactylorhiza Dichelostemma Eremurus
Erythronium Freesia Fritillaria Galanthus
Geranium Gladiolus Hemerocallis Hermodactylus
Hippeastrum Hyacinthoides Hyacinthus Ipheion
Lachenalia Leucojum Lycoris Muscari
Narcissus Ornithogalum Oxalis Paeonia
Pancratium Puschkinia Rhodophiala Scilla
Sternbergia Triteleia Tulip  

While you might not be familiar with many of these, they all have their special garden uses and are well worth trying. 

Some Summer blooming bulbs worth looking at are: 

Achimenes Alocasia Amaryllis Anemone
Bletilla Bloomeria Caladium Canna
Chlidanthus Colocasia Commelina Convallaria
Crinum Crocosmia Cyrtanthus Dahlia
Eucomis Galtonia Gladiolus Globba
Gloriosa Habranthus Hedychium Hemerocallis
Hippeastrum Hymenocallis Incarvillea Ixia
Leucocoryne Liatris Lilium Lycoris
Nerine Oxalis Pleione Polianthes
Sandersonia Sauromatum Scadoxus Schizostylis
Sparaxis Sprekelia Sternbergia Tigridia
Triteleia Tritonia Tropaeolum Tulbaghia
Veltheimia Zantedeschia Zephyranthes  

An excellent source for heirloom or hard to find bulbs is Old House Gardens. While Odyssey Bulbs a new company in Berrien Springs, Michigan claims their mission is to “fill a void in America’s gardens by providing bulbs that have escaped the attention of mainstream horticulture businesses.” While we have not used either company yet, we plan to give them a try this year. 

Plant bulbs with the pointed end up, if you are not sure, plant the bulb on its side. Do not plant bulbs shallow, follow the instructions for planting that came with your bulbs. Generally, planting depth should be roughly three times the width of the bulb. If planting many bulbs, cover each grouping with a light layer compost and apply a bulb fertilizer such as Scott’s Bulb Food. Water in the bulbs thoroughly after planting. This will help you keep track of where you have already planted and get the bulbs off to a good start. Do not apply top mulch until after the ground freezes! Mulch should not be more than about two inches thick. 

Once planted, bulbs are very easy to care for, whether in beds or naturalized. You need only apply bulb fertilizer when the sprouts first poke through the soil, when the flower dies back, and in the fall before the soil freezes. The most critical point in caring for your bulbs is to allow the foliage to mature naturally. The leaves are the bulbs’ principle source of energy for the next year’s bloom, removing them literally starves the bulb. When daffodils become overcrowded, dig them up with a fork, divide them and replant. 

We recently read in McClure & Zimmerman Newsletter of January 9, 2002 an excerpt from the preface of “Bulbs and Tuberous Rooted Plants” written by C. L. Allen, published in 1899 that we would like to pass on to you: 

“The flowering of bulbs is a very simple matter. The bulb, when it comes from the hands of the grower, contains within itself the food for the future flower, and it does not require the gardeners’ skill to develop it. The growing of bulbs has advantages over that of any other class of flowering plants; among others, and a very great one, is that many of them produce their flowers in early spring, at a season when few other plants are in blossom, and yet when flowers are doubly valuable for their rarity. At this season, in a sheltered, sunny spot, a few clumps of Snowdrops, Crocus and Scillas will present a mass of color, in graceful forms, while the snow yet lingers in shaded places; before these are gone, Hyacinths refresh us with their grateful fragrance; these are soon followed by the Narcissus and showy tulips, and all before other vegetation is fairly started. In rapid succession follow the Crown-Imperials, the Iris, and, before these are gone, the Gladiolus and Lilies commence. Another advantage that bulbs possess is their long period of rest, which leaves the ground, half the year, free for other plants…..No other plants are so easy to manage, none more showy, and none succeed as well under all circumstances, as the different classes of bulbs and tuberous-rooted plants.”

How little has changed over the years and how much we continue to enjoy bulbs whether they are Spring or Summer blooming. In future issues of Yard Talk we will discuss in more detail Summer Flowering Bulbs and forcing of bulbs for Winter enjoyment.

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