Tag Archive | native plants

A Geranium by any other name…

 

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

3a1692ce06cbe5d1ce3a4c0cc3800075

Geranium ‘Brookside Blue’

When you hear ‘geranium’, I’m guessing you picture the beautiful annuals that are so beloved by northern gardeners. While I, too, love those gorgeous full heads of color all summer long, there is another geranium that I love as much: the ‘hardy geranium’.

Hardy geraniums are distant cousins of the tender plants known as geraniums. The irony is that the hardy plants have technical rights to the name (they belong to the genus Geranium), but it is the tender ones that most people think of when they hear “geranium”.

Technically, the familiar houseplants are not geraniums. They belong to the genus Pelargonium. But the confusion is natural. Both the hardy and tender versions belong to the Geraniaceae family, and they both used to be in the genus Geranium. Then the tender ones got split off into Pelargonium, but people kept right on calling them geraniums.

Pelargoniums were brought to Europe from South Africa early in the seventeenth century. They found immediate favor, but it was their scented leaves and not their flowers that caused the sensation. By the time they came to the U.S., more than a century later, Pelargoniums’ large clusters of bright red, orange, or hot pink flowers had taken center stage, a position they still hold; scented-leaved geranium fans are passionate, but a minority.

IMG_3033

My Cranesbill: ‘Bikova’ clustered at the base of a tree peony

Meanwhile, back in the temperate British and American countrysides, numerous species of native Geranium, known to the populace as cranesbills, were finding their way into gardens. The cranesbills do double-duty, offering beautiful, long-lasting leaves as well as loose umbels of flowers in a wide range of pinks, blues, and purples.

You can usually tell these plants apart by general appearance: the leaves of Pelargonium are thicker than those of true Geranium, their flower stems are stiffer, and though individual flowers are smaller, they tend to be clustered more densely. And if you look closely at the individual flowers, you can usually see a tiny spur on the pelargonium flower stalk (geranium flowers don’t have them).

hardygeraniums.biokovo

Cranesbill ‘Bikova’ in bloom

Color helps too: although both kinds might be white, plants in the genus Geranium come in purples, blues, and blue-tinged reds and pinks; those in Pelargonium may be true red, orange-red, pink, or orange, but they do not sing the blues.

Note: Wild geranium, also known as cranesbill,  (Geranium maculatum) is a hardy perennial excellent for naturalizing, or filling in, under bushes or wherever there is dappled shade or part sun. The American native wildflower, with it’s flat, delicate-looking pink-lavender flowers and deeply notched foliage, is very easy to grow, ultimately reaching between 12 and 18 inches.

Authors in our Midst and at our Garden Conference – #2

Author Stacy Tornio

Stacy Tornio was my inspiration to become a Master Gardener. At the time, she was the editor of Birds & Blooms and a Master Gardener herself. Since then, she has branched out to pursue her goal of being a published author — and has been wildly successful. With 15 published books currently available on amazon, Stacy was the keynote speaker at our Garden Conference several years ago and a vendor this year.

Stacy’s most recent book, Plants You Can’t Killwas written with an eye toward inexperienced gardeners but there’s a wealth of information in the book for those of us who can’t figure out what we’re doing wrong! Loaded with beautiful photographs, it’s a book that should be in every gardener’s library.

From the amazon page:

“I kill everything I plant.”

Does this sound like you or someone you know? Give yourself a pat on the back because admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. And lucky for you, you can easily turn your brown thumb into a green one with the help of Plants You Can’t Kill.

Seriously—it doesn’t matter how many plants you’ve killed in gardens past. It’s time to put those experiences behind you and finally grow something in your empty and bare spots. This is the only gardening book you’ll ever need with more than 100 plant picks for every situation. You want veggies? We have ’em. You need to fill a big space? We have shrub ideas for you. You just want something pretty? We have plenty of that, as well.

The plants in Plants You Can’t Kill have been vetted by an amazing and famous panel of horticulture experts (this is just a fancy way of saying they went to college for gardening), so feel confident you’re not wasting money on yet another gardening book. These plants will actually survive your well-meaning, yet sometimes neglectful ways.

Ready for the most resilient, hardcore, badass list of plants known to gardeners? Find them and grow them with the help of Plants You Can’t Kill.

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

Fire in the Fields

Sumac lighting up a hill in Wisconsin's autumn

Sumac lighting up a hill in Wisconsin’s autumn

It happens every autumn. Huge sweeps of straggly, undistinguished shrubs that grew unnoticed in unkempt fields are suddenly, gloriously, ornamental. The long almost palmlike fronds of leaves shine bright red with hints of yellow and orange. The branches spread like candelabra holding up huge crimson fruit clusters that keep glowing long after leafdrop, when all the world is gray. No wonder gardeners think about bringing sumac in from the wild.

Staghorn sumac in the summer before changing color

Staghorn sumac in the summer before changing color

Sumac grows everywhere, all the way from zone 2 to zone 9. It grows in dry soil, poor soil, moist soil, near-bog, bright sun, and part shade. It spreads by seed and by underground runners that can travel 20 feet or more in search of a good spot to make a new clump of sumac. But if there is also a lawn anywhere nearby, there will be adequate local control as long as you keep mowing.

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) is the most common roadside attraction. It’s fuller and more readily clump-forming than staghorn sumac (R. typhina), named for the velvety down that covers every branch. Smooth sumac tops out at about 8 to 10 feet, staghorn at 12 to 16 feet.

Fragrant sumac makes a beautiful garden addition

Fragrant sumac makes a beautiful garden addition

Fragrant sumac (R. aromatica) is shorter, at 3 to 4 feet, and bushier, more like a garden plant. If you decide to bring sumac into your garden or prairie, no matter which type you choose you will need both male and female plants if you want fruits. Sumacs are available through nurseries that specialize in native plants, and some large garden centers will order them for you if you ask.

Note: it’s always a good idea to check whether a plant is considered an invasive species in your state before transplanting from an area where the plant is growing wild. In Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources provides a free guide to invasive species here:  DNR INVASIVE SPECIES GUIDE