Tag Archive | Outagamie County Master Gardeners

I Love, Love, Love Lavender!

With visions of Heathcliff on the moors gathering fragrant bunches of heather and lavender, I’m swept up every time I use one of my lavender-scented soaps or walk through my garden and brush against the fragrant blooms of my lavender plants. I didn’t always have success growing the lavender, though. For a while, I had one as a houseplant until I overwatered it and sadly had to add it to the compost pile. Then, I had a couple in my garden that lived but didn’t thrive until I finally decided to do some research on why I was failing so often with this beloved plant.

Enter ‘The Lavender Lover’s Handbook’, a badly needed and now heavily well-worn gift from my daughter-in-law who knew of my love for the plant. This book, by Sarah Berringer Bader, has been a primary reason for the turn-around of my plants from surviving to thriving.

First of all, though, let’s talk about why you should include lavender in your garden:

  • it’s absolutely beautiful with foliage that ranges from various shades of green through gray-green to silver. The flowers come in shades of blue, purple, pink, and white so versatility is huge!
  • the fragrance is incredible and, when dried, the flowers last long into the winter
  • grown in the right spot, very little to no care is needed. As long as the spot has full sun, good drainage, and plenty of room to spread out, you can focus on plants that require your attention. Lavender will take care of itself, thank you very much!
  • lavender attracts a range of pollinators — the good ones that not only pollinate your garden but also eat the pests you don’t want! Watch carefully on a sunny day and you’ll find bumblebees, honeybees, butterflies, ladybugs, and praying mantises drawn to this delightful plant.

There are many, many lavender plants from which to choose so you’ll want to do your homework to make sure you’re ordering or buying a plant that will thrive in your growing zone. Because lavender is exceptionally drought tolerant, it’s a great addition any area of your garden where watering is a problem. Consider combining it with other drought-tolerant plants like Achillea millefolium (yarrow), Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower), Gallardia grandiflora (blanket flower), and Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed Susan). The purple / yellow combination of these plants will make a beautiful garden area.

Lavender and roses love growing together as well (see prior blog post here) and makes less work for you! While roses attract aphids, lavender attracts aphid-eating ladybugs. Roses do want more water than lavender, however, so you’ll want to mulch the roses to retain water. The flowers from both lavender and roses can be gathered and dried, but here’s where my skills leave me — utilizing the flowers for teas, soaps, baking, sachets, and crafts. However, with both purple and white lavender in my garden along with some beautiful yellow roses, I’m planning on learning these skills!

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

Salt Alternatives


Winter salt damage to lawn

When winter comes, it’s important to keep walkways safe, but the chemical compounds sold for de-icing all contain some form of salt, which you don’t want leaching into your soil. Although calcium nitrate or high-nitrogen fertilizer is often recommended as a more benign alternative, an overdose of nitrates isn’t really any better than a buildup of salt itself. In either case, soil organisms are damaged, plant roots can be burned, and leached-out excess winds up in the groundwater.

So what do you do? Start with prevention. There will be very little ice to worry about if you are careful to keep the walkway well shoveled in the first place. Remove snow right down to the path surface as soon as it falls (walking on snow compacts it and makes it stick). Pile the snow on the downhill side, so it doesn’t flow over the walkway when it melts.

Next, cover any ice you do get with something that will provide traction. Clay cat litter and coarse sand both work well and won’t be much of an indoor problem if you keep a mat or bootbrush by your door.

Alternatively, you can add traction to the walkway by covering it with temporary “paving” that has a nonslip surface. There are specially designed flexible metal grids sold for this purpose at hardware stores and through specialty catalogs. Or you can use panels of asphalt roofing shingles. They cost less and work just as well, although they are less than lovely (sprinkle sand under the shingles so they don’t slip around).

Of course you can grow Roses!

I’ve tried and tried to add roses to my garden. I’ve put them in sun, I’ve put them in shade, I’ve planted them all together, I’ve interspersed them with other plants, I’ve tried hybrids, I’ve tried tea-roses — nothing ever grows properly! Several years ago, I was having moderate success buts, after a hard winter, I went out to find that my rose bushes had been eaten to the ground (thorns and all) by very hungry rabbits.

How can you not want that beautiful color and fragrance, though, so I keep trying! For help, though, I’m now turning to the experts for advice.

One of the most beautiful rose gardens in our region is located in what you might call a difficult rose growing area. The Leif Erickson Public Rose Garden in Duluth, MN is a zone 3 or 4. The rose garden features many different varieties, from species rugosa to hybrid tea roses. Hardy rose hedges line walkways, and a planting of hardy shrub roses near the entrance welcomes the 100,000-plus yearly visitors to the garden.

2504-1271616438ho6hBasic rules for growing roses:

  • Select hardy roses
  • Plant in an area that gets plenty of sun — at least six hours of sunlight a day
  • Make sure you’re planting in soil that provides excellent drainage. Roses don’t like wet feet. [Note: a good planting companion is lavender that also doesn’t like wet feet. Refer to our blog post regarding these garden companions here.)
  • Water regularly, especially during hot summer days. Most experts recommend about 1 inch of water per week. When watering, make sure to soak the base of the plant, keeping water away from the leaves.
  • Feed your roses using an all-purpose slow-release fertilizer, or a fertilizer specially designed for roses. Be sure to follow label directions.
  • Roses can thrive in a large container. Be sure to keep the planter evenly moist and fertilize regularly.

Types of roses:

  • Hybrid Teas: showy, most popular
  • Floribunda: shrubby with bloom clusters
  • Grandiflora: tall, ideal for cut flowers
  • Miniature: only 6 to 18 inches
  • Shrub: large and full; some are fragrant
  • Climbing: use with trellises, arbors and walls

Master Gardener Marilyn Davis teaches the “Roses” portion of our training classes for new Master Gardeners each year, and has created a list of cultivars recommended for Wisconsin:


Knock Out Shrub Rose (yellow)


  • Hybrid teas:
    • Strike it Rich (yellow bloom) – 5ft high
    • Miss All American Beauty (hot pink) – 4ft high
  • Floribunda
    • Betty Boop (white/red) – 4ft high
    • Ice Berg (white) – 4ft high
    • Honey Perfume (apricot/yellow) – 4ft high
  • Grandiflora
    • Prima Donna (deep pink) – 4ft high
    • Love ( red blend) – 3ft high
    • New Year (tangerine) – 3 to 4ft high
  • Miniature
    • New Beginning (orange/red) – 2ft high
    • Debut (red/white/cream blend) – 2ft high
  • Shrub
    • Knock Out series (yellow) – 3ft high
    • Parkland series (red/pink) – 2ft high
    • Bonica (pink) – 4ft high
    • Austin English (apricot to crimson) – 4ft high
  • Climbing
    • New Dawn (pink) – 18 to 20 ft.
    • Winner Circle (red) – 18 to 20 ft.
    • Autumn Sunset (yellow double) – 8 to 12 ft.

Miss All American Beauty

To keep roses blooming throughout the growing season remove spent flowers (deadheading). This transfers the plant’s energy back into creating stronger roots and even more blooms. Trim down to the first or second five-leaflet leaf.


Woodland Blossoms

by Master Gardener Tammy Borden

I love the time of year when the forest floor is alive with color. Mid to late spring is the prime time for native woodland flowers to shine. The leaves from deciduous trees haven’t fully emerged yet, allowing the sun to penetrate through to the ground, warm- ing the layers of dead leaves that have accumulated through the years to create a rich soil with lots of organic matter. The sun also beckons many woodland blooms to push through.

Don’t have a forest in your backyard? No worries! You can still grow many woodland natives. Here are some of my favorites that have done well for me in my shade garden.



Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) Member of the Arum family. Prefers moist soil. An exotic looking plant with a hooded flower or “pulpit.” The leaves can resemble those of Trilliums, but are generally larger and have deeper veining. The flowers produce a cluster seed head which turns a brilliant red in fall.

Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) Member of the lily family. Can tolerate dry shade. Nodding yellow 1″ flowers. The leaves have a beautiful mottled appearance that is said to resemble the coloring of a brown trout, from which it receives its name. Do not allow tuberous bulbs to dry out when planting. Be patient – they can take from 4-7 years to bloom from seed.

Smooth Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) Member of the lily family. Can tolerate dry shade. Long arching stems produce small inconspicuous light green blooms along the stem that hang below the leaves. When its stalk breaks away it leaves a distinctive mark that is said to resemble the seal of King Solomon, from which it derives its name.

Wild Columbine

Wild Columbine

Virginia Bluebell (Mertensia virginica) Member of the borage family. Prefers moist soil. Can also tolerate morning sun. Also called lungwort. Foliage will die down by mid-summer. Beautiful groups of bell-like flowers that start off pink then change to light blue. Hybridized versions available.

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) Member of the buttercup family. Can tolerate dry, rocky soil. One of the most stunning woodland flowers, in my opinion. It was once considered for our national flower because the shape of its orange and yellow flowers resemble the talons of a bald eagle. Aquilegia is Latin for “eagle.” Loved by hummingbirds and sphinx moths. Many hybridizes versions are available.

ground level view of forest trilliums in spring bloom.

ground level view of forest trilliums in spring bloom.

Trillium (Trillium Grandiflorum) Member of the lily family. Prefers consistently moist soil. Large pure white three-lobed flowers that fade to pink. Some unique hybrids are also available featuring purple flowers, versus the white three lobed flowers commonly seen. Seeds are dispersed by ants that carry them into their nest, but don’t eat them.

Be sure to purchase woodland flowers from a reputable nursery that has not cultivated their plants from wild stock. It is illegal to dig up many woodland native species. Seed collection, however, is a wonderful way to preserve and propagate your own plants.

Perennial Herb Garden

Herbs-in-containersTired of replanting herbs every year because they don’t survive our harsh winters? Want to try some new flavors and fill out some of those empty spaces in your garden? Try planting perennial herbs! There are so many hardy herbs that fit the bill, you’ll want to refine your garden plan before choosing plants. Is this a culinary herb garden? If so, consider chives, garlic chives, fennel, sage, tarragon, thymes, winter savory, and — as long as you keep it in a confined space — mint.

If your interest is more in medicinals, you’ll want to try arnica, catnip, echinacea, feverfew, valerian, and comfrey (which should only be used externally no matter what you read).

And don’t forget that some annual herbs are such rampant self-sowers that you’ll have to plant them only once. Borage, dill, chervil, and coriander will come back reliably year after year as long as you let some plants go to seed. They won’t necessarily come up right where you want them, but a little untidiness never hurt any garden, and they are easily weeded out if they’re really in the way.

Note: if you have space for your herbs near your back door, they’ll be handy for throwing into your cooking. Containers of fresh herbs growing near your bar-b-cue grill will liven up your outdoor cooking.