Tag Archive | garden planning

Plant Now for Fall Color

Ground covers are a frequently neglected part of garden design. How else to explain the overwhelming use of Vinca minor, English ivy, and pachysandra when so many other choices are available?

Instead of thinking only of very low-growing evergreen selections, broaden your possibilities to include other plants that can be massed to tie together areas of the garden. The relationship between a ground cover and its location and use should determine the appropriate height, not some limiting idea that anything more than 4 inches tall cannot qualify.

Fall color is an important part of garden design, and it should be part of your ground cover selection process, just as it is for trees and shrubs.

Some ideas for ground covers:

 

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Fragrant sumac

Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low’): The glossy, deciduous leaves, which are aromatic when bruised, turn a fiery orange-red in the fall. The wide-spreading shrub grows to 2 feet tall and works very well, even on a slope, in full sun or partial shade.

Bigroot cranesbill (Geranium macrorrhizum): This

geranium-macrorrhizum-ingwersens-variety-cranesbill

Bigroot cranesbill

mound-forming semi-evergreen perennial has leaves with a distinctive medicinal scent that turn reddish in the fall. It grows from 12 to 15 inches tall and spreads well through a thick, rhizomatous root structure. It is easy to grow and is both heat and drought tolerant. Different cultivars have different spring flower color

leadwort

Leadwort

Leadwort (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides): Fall color and flowers occur at the same time. The shiny green leaves turn strawberry tints, then bronze-red in fall, while the cobalt blue flowers last from late summer until frost. Cut back the bare wiry stems in late winter.

Siberian

Siberian carpet cypress

Leaves appear in late spring, just after you’re convinced it is dead. Grows 8 to 12 inches tall. It works well in full sun or shade, but colors up better in the sun.

Siberian carpet cypress (Microbiota decussata): This wide-spreading evergreen grows to2 feet tall, with arching, scaly, feathery foliage that turns bronze after a frost. It’s unusual in that it is an evergreen that tolerates shade. It really is from Siberia, and very cold hardy.

 

 

cotoneaster

Rockspray cotoneaster

Rockspray cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis): The dark, shiny deciduous leaves turn orange-red, complementing small red berries growing along the stems. This densely branching woody shrub grows from 2 to 3 feet high, spreading to 6 feet. Its arching habit makes it looklike the perfect refuge for rabbits or chipmunks as it covers and cascades down a bank. Lower-growing cultivars are also available.

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Lettuce

LettucesWant a dizzying variety of tastes, textures, and forms of beauty? Want ’em quickly and in a small space? Welcome to the wonderful world of lettuces. There are hundreds of varieties available, choices that meet every growing need. But they all break down into four main types:

  • Leaf lettuces. These lettuces do not form tight heads. No matter how large they get, they are always loose collections of leaves, bound together at the base. Leaf lettuces are the quickest to mature and also the best for cut-and-come-again harvesting — just cut only the outer leaves and the plants will keep making more.
  • Butterheads. The heads may be loose or tight, baseball to volleyball size, but they are always composed of leaves that are softer and — if well grown — sweeter than those of other types. Most butterheads are very heat sensitive and produce well only in spring and fall.
  • Crispheads. As their name makes clear, crisphead lettuces form tight heads of very salad-2376777_960_720crisp, juicy leaves. This is the class to which iceberg belongs, but don’t let that keep you from trying it. Homegrown crispheads are delicious; but they do take longer to grow than other types, and they are the pickiest about good growing conditions.
  • Cos. These are the heading luttuces with the tall profile, also known as romaines. Although they eventually come form tight heads, they can be grown as cut-and-come-again, and although they are both crisp and juicy, they are somewhat easier to grow than classic crispheads.

You grow lettuces from seeds, which keep a surprisingly long time. How long seeds remain viable depends not only on the type of seed, but also on how the seed was stored. The combination of warmth and humidity is the biggest enemy. If the temperature and relative humidity add up to less than 100, your seeds will last longer.

When stored under ideal conditions — airtight, in a cold, dark location — lettuce seeds can last up to six years. But as the ideal is seldom met, use this as an estimate, not gospel.

Since lettuce often does poorly in mid-summer heat, it is usually grown as a cool-weather crop: sown in spring and grown through early summer, then sown in late summer and grown through early autumn. But there are many varieties specifically bred to withstand summer conditions, and most catalogs identify them as such.

For best results, try out a few different heat-tolerant selections. All are likely to fare better than spring and fall varieties do in the summertime, but some will probably do quite a bit better than others, depending on the specific conditions in your garden.

 

Herbs and Butterflies

Bees, birds, and butterflies adore blooming herbs. They’re easy to grow from seeds and add color and interest to your gardens — and you’ll enjoy having those fresh herbs for cooking! You can scatter the seeds in a sunny spot in early spring, cover lightly with soil, and keep moist until they sprout. Want to experiment? Try growing them straight from your spice rack! Use organic whole seed, rather than ground or powdered spices. Their ability to sprout will also depend on how they’ve been stored and processed.

Here are a few to try:

Fennel (foeniculum vulgare) – fennel is a fast-growing herb that adds delicacy and height to flowerbeds. It reaches 3 feet tall and has abundant clusters of tiny, buttery yellow flowers. Many butterfly species, including black and anise swallowtails, flock to fennel both for its nectar and to use it as a host plant for their very hungry caterpillars.

Caraway (carum carvi) – the crescent-shaped seeds are produced by a plant that looks a lot like Queen Anne’s lace, thanks to its clusters to tiny white and pinkish flowers. This biennial reaches 2 feet tall and may not flower until its second year. As a host plant, it’s fantastic for black swallowtail eggs, while yellow-green sulphurs and metalmark butterflies stop by to snack on its nectar.

sesame

The flowers of the sesame plant

Cumin (cyminum cyminum) – with delicate white bloom bursts, cumin looks like a smaller, daintier cousin of Queen Anne’s lace. The ridged seeds grow into branching annuals that stand 18 inches tall. Soak seeds overnight before planting for faster germination. Small to medium-sized butterflies love to land on the flowers.

Sesame (sesamum indicum) – humans have been using sesame seeds for more than 4,000 years, making it the oldest known oil crop. This robust and drought-tolerant plant has tubular flowers that resemble foxglove blossoms and dangle from leafy stems that can reach up to 3 feet. Sesame flowers can self-pollinate, but they still produce sweet nectar to tempt wandering pollinators such as butterflies and bees. Monarchs and fritillaries visit, as do sphinx moths and hummingbirds.

Dill (anethum graveolens) – this annual adds appealing contrasts of color and texture to

Dille

Lacy dill in bloom

flowerbeds thanks to feathery fronds and bright yellow flowers. Not only is dill irresistible to anglewings, tortoiseshells, and sulphers, but it’s also a favorite host plant of black swallowtails.

Coriander (coriandrum sativum) – this plant has a split personality. It’s round seeds are common to Indian cuisine, but its fresh leaves are what we know as cilantro. Clusters of delicate white, pinkish, or pale lavender flowers top these 2-foot annuals. From New England to Montana, naturalized coriander grows across the United States.

 

Straw-bale Gardening

Not everyone has the luxury of a large plot of land for growing vegetables, so alternative Straw-Bale-Gardening-660x497garden styles are continually being developed. One that continues to be popular is using a bale of straw as the garden or garden “pot”. This style of gardening is not for everyone. It can be messy and the bale, once saturated with water, is exceptionally heavy. However, for gardeners facing the challenge of poor soil, excessive weeds, space issues, and short growing seasons, this method of gardening can provide a solution. Because the bales hold moisture, as they decompose they provide a rich medium for veggies.

“The biggest benefit of straw-bale gardening is that the bales heat up as they begin the ‘conditioning’ process, and thus allow earlier planting,” says Joel Karsten, author of Straw Bale Gardens Complete: Breakthrough Vegetable Gardening Method. “The warm root zone means faster, early-season root production and earlier-maturing vegetables.”

Raised bales are easier to reach and work on for those with physical limitations. And they almost eliminate weeding, a benefit many straw-bale gardeners love most.

Follow these steps to garden with straw bales.

  1. Pick a prime location. Choose heavy, highly compressed straw (not hay!!) bales, directly from a farm if possible. Find a location that gets six to eight hours of sunlight per day. Lay landscape fabric to keep weeds from growing and arrange the bales cut sides up, with the strings running along the sides.
  2. Condition the straw. Two weeks before planting, start “cooking” the bales. Treat them with high-nitrogen fertilizer every other day and water heavily for about two weeks to accelerate decomposition of the straw inside the bale.
  3. Plant seedlings or seeds. Seedlings can be planted directly in the bales. Just make a hold with the trowel and add a little planting mix to cover the exposed roots. Seeds require a bed of potting soil to hold moisture on top of the bale until germination. If you wish, plant annual flowers or herbs into the sides of the bales to make them more attractive.
  4. Protect and support. Position tall posts at the end of each row and run wire between them at 10-inch intervals from the top of the bale. When seeds sprout, drape a plastic tarp over the bottom wife to create a greenhouse for chilly nights. As the plants grow, the wires become a vertical trellis, supporting the tiny veggies.
  5. Harvest and compost. When the season is over, the bales turn into usable, healthy compost for next year’s gardens.

Add a New Color to Your Garden: Purple

Is your flower garden a study in pinks, oranges, and yellows? Wouldn’t you like to add a little drama? If your favorite color is purple, you’re in luck because there are a lot of choices for flowers, foliage, and berries in a wide variety of purple hues. You can create different looks, depending on the shade of purple you use and the other plants you combine it with. Purple isn’t always one of those “Wow!” colors, but it acts as a great contrast to orange and yellow, which command more attention. It adds a subtle sophistication to the showier colors, and when planted in a combo, that contrast actually makes each color stand out more.

Some ideas:

basel

‘Red Rubin’ basil

‘Red Rubin’ basil (Ocimum basilicum purpurascens)

This tender perennial is as attractive as it is useful. A staple in the herb garden, its fragrant purple leaves work well in containers and borders. Always pinch off flowers as soon as you see them starting to bloom. Doing so encourages the plant to keep producing leaves, making them bushier. It tastes as good as it smells! For culinary drama, combines it with yellow tomatoes. Or try making purple basil vinegar or jelly. Cold hardy: USDA zones 10 to 11.

‘Concord Grape’ spiderwort (Tradescantia hybrid)

The dark green grasslike clumps of ‘Concord Grape’ spiderwort are one of the first things

spiderwort

‘Concord Grape’ spiderwort

to emerge in spring. Then a big show of flowers starts a few weeks later. Hot weather and lack of rain are hard on spiderwort. Cut plants back by two-thirds when the heat takes its toll and keep them well watered during dry spells. Dig the clump in spring and cut into smaller sections, then replant them. They recover quickly, and will probably even bloom the first year. Larger leaf plants contrast well with spiderwort’s grassy foliage. Try planting with Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum pictum) or Lungwort (Pulmonaria ‘Sissinghurst White’). Cold hardy: USDA zones 4 to 9.

KICKIN ‘Lavender’ aster (Aster hydrid)

aster

KICKIN ‘Lavender’ aster

In autumn, reds and oranges take over the landscape. Sometimes you want a little purple to add to that fall blend. Asters are perfect for that, and their late-summer flower show is a welcome sight. It starts when a lot of others are fading out. KICKIN ‘Lavender’ is on the small side compared to standard asters, so it can be planted closer to the front of the border or in containers. Blooming asters show up in garden centers in late summer, but they will survive better in the north if planted in spring so they can get established. Cold hardy: USDA zones 5 to 9.

 

 

Drought Tolerant

We’re entering winter and our green thumbs are itching to find a project, especially as the garden catalogs start filling the mailbox. What a great time to spend some time looking at your existing gardens and finding the weak spots! Do you have an area with little or no water so you’ve ignored it for too long? How about spending some of this long winter planning a drought tolerant garden?

Just because you’re designing for low water requirements doesn’t mean you can’t mix up the colors and textures just like you do with your other flower beds. Also, be sure to factor in various bloom times and plant height to provide interest and beauty across the growing season.

As with any garden, well-drained soil is a key to a successful garden so, if you’re stuck with compacted soil, dig compost into the bed before planing so the roots can grow deep. Though you may need to water it weekly to get it going (maybe the whole first year), plants with well-established roots will be better able to withstand drought.

Plants to consider that will provide height, texture, and color variety:

Don’t let lack of water deter you from having color and butterflies to enjoy all summer!

 

 

The Learning Garden “Asian Garden” and “Herb Garden”

Asian Garden by OCMGA Master Gardeners Anne Anderson and Tom Wentzel

Tom and I did the square garden with Asian veggies. What I learn from the square garden is how much you can plant in one square. It’s amazing if one is limited on space how square gardening would be beneficial. The only problem was after the garden started to grow I was not sure what were weeds or the growing vegetable. Asian vegetables to me, looked like weeds or maybe they were! LOL!!! What I would do different is if there is more than one square with the same veggie, I would not have put them next to each other. Lastly, I should have brought my cats to clean up since watching them chase the mice would have been so entertaining!

Herb Garden by OCMGA Master Gardeners Mary Learman, Sue Mings, and Maureen Flanagan-Johnson

We continued the original theme by planting the more common herbs used in Greece, France, Italy and England. Since most herbs do not like wet feet, it took a little while before we saw any real growth. Then they did not stop. We framed each of the four plots with marigolds and made a Marigold Henge in the center. A couple of notes for next year will be to not to over-plant, plus to harvest more often. It actually needed little upkeep apart from the occasional pruning. But with schedules and the vagaries of the weather, they were not harvested often enough. One unexpected problem turned out to be that the voles had built a metropolis under the herb garden and it collapsed in several places. They also ate some of the roots. Ninja tactics will be employed next year.

Reprinted from the OCMGA member newsletter from the winter of 2014