Easy Care Roses and Others

This morning I am off lecturing in Connecticut. The first week of May is always very busy for me with multiple lectures. In fact, by the end of May, you’d never know that a gardener lives in the house because I am usually too busy lecturing to garden! There’s a sad state of affairs!

My topic this morning is “Easy Care Roses.” As a general rule, this is a category of roses that requires no extra “inputs” from the gardener (horrible phrase–I have no idea who came up with that) once established. By that, the breeders (and we writers who describe the roses) mean that the roses can pretty much survive on their own without supplemental fertilizer or pesticide. They also say no supplemental irrigation is required but I have found that to be more true of some roses than others. And remember, I have that heavy wet clay that holds moisture longer than most soils.

As a rule, hybrid tea roses are not “easy care.” If you want something easy care, you’ll want to look for something that’s a “shrub” rose. Before we had all these patented roses in the different color pots with the brand names all over them, shrub roses were polyanthas, grandifloras and floribundas. They might have a rugosa in their parentage but it doesn’t mean they’re going to be invasive.

Now that almost every rose in the garden center comes in a branded pot, it’s even more difficult to tell what might be a “shrub” or an “easy-care” rose.  Almost everything claims to be “easy care” but it’s not.

As much as I love the David Austin shrub roses, they are NOT easy care no matter what I do and they never will be. They are beautiful, fragrant, spectacular roses–but they need treatment and that is not for me. I am pulling out the last of mine this year.

And then there’s Knockout™, the great hope of rose growers everywhere. They can grow beside every gas station and in every traffic median. I am not happy with how they grow for me. Maybe it’s a sun thing. So I am not growing them anymore.

I do far better with smaller flowered, incredibly prickly caned roses. This describes many of the roses in the OsoEasy™ series by Proven Winners. It can describe some miniature roses. It describes polyanthas like ‘The Fairy’ and ‘Red Fairy’ which would probably grow for me under a tree (well, maybe not quite there).

Unfortunately these are not cutting roses, nor are they fragrant. But they are tough as nails and they bloom all summer (without any extra ‘inputs’ or any extra water once they are established). They also survive whatever my Connecticut winters throw at them. Minus 15 and no snow? Not a problem.What more could a gardener want?

In With The New, Part 2

On Monday I talked about where I bought plants and why I tended to prefer family owned garden centers over the box stores.

Today I want to talk about what I buy. And here I am not going to talk about actual plants so much as I am about choosing plants in general. Because I know I have readers from all over the country (and some from other countries as well.) So I want to try to give you a philosophy of shopping since what works for me in central Connecticut isn’t going to work in other places.

Of course the moment you get to the garden center, there are lots of signs. Aside from the general signs directing you toward “Perennials” or “Trees and Shrubs” or toward other general categories of plants, what you will generally find are tags on the individual plants.

These tags are what are known as “growing instructions” and give the grower’s best guess of what the plant is going to do. You’ll note that I said that I said the grower’s best guess.

This is less true for annuals, which complete their life cycle in a single year, so the grower has had ample time to observe the plant, and very true for shrubs and trees which take anywhere from 3 years or, in the case of trees, many years to reach maturity.

I am always amazed at the height ranges given for something like the Knockout rose, for example. I still regularly see that “guesstimted” at 3-4′. In my garden, before I gave it a hard pruning last year, Knockout was topping out way taller than I am last year and I am guessing it was over 6′ tall.

The same thing with the Endless Summer hydrangea. Again, I see that “guestimated” at 3-4′. Again, in my garden, unless it gets killed back by a very cold winter, it is over 5′ tall. And remember, I have horrible, wet heavy clay so my garden soil is not optimal for growing anything!

So now that we know that plants can’t and don’t read what’s on their tags with respect to height, why do we care? It’s important because if we are going to be placing shrubs in certain spots (under a window, for example) and the height range given is 4-6′, you had better count on the shrub perhaps reaching  its maximum of 6 feet and plan to prune it so that light gets in your window.

But, if this is a brand new shrub, just released in the last year or two, all bets are off. No one really knows how tall that shrub is going to be because no one really has trialed it to its full growing potential. The growers have grown it in their carefully controlled fields–but in the home landscape? Nobody really knows.

I can say this with complete confidence because I am a shrub trialer for a company whose name you would all recognize and I can tell you that I get some pretty bizarre results when I trial their shrubs. I have one of their roses that again–they report as getting to be 3 1/2-4′. In my yard it’s up over my head which means it’s 5 foot plus. And it’s very thorny so it’s a bear to prune. It’s a lovely shrub and I adore it–but 31/2-4′?  No!

So if you are looking for consistency, perhaps get some plants that have been around for a few years. Sometimes the “latest and greatest”–except with respect to annuals–are a little dicey in the garden.


Wordless Wednesday


One magnolia not killed by the untimely snows of a few weeks ago is my yellow magnolia. Because it is a few weeks later, it always survives the frosts.

Notice the above-ground roots it has put up? That’s because of the rock ledge it grows on. You can see a piece of the ledge jutting out of the ground (with lichen on it, surrounded by moss) near the evergreen shrub at the rear of the bed where the magnolia is planted(but outside the bed).


Here’s a close-up of the flower. You’ll notice everything looks dry. We are “abnormally dry” and on the verge of tipping into “moderate drought.”  Our fire danger has been severe with red flag warnings up for a week. So yes, the larger plants are suffering and our lack of snowfall this winter didn’t help!


In With The New?

If you’re thinking that I missed New Year’s Day with this post by almost 5 months, you’d be correct. But where I garden, it’s about the time to decide what has lived or died over the winter, where I have holes in any existing gardens, and what to plant in my containers.

As an aside, a friend of mine from Texas says she has a disconnect every time she hears me refer to the word “garden.”  Where she comes from “garden” means vegetable or crop planting. Clearly I am not using the word in that sense (for any that share my Texas friend’s sensibility). For me, the word refers to any ornamental planting on my property.

A trip just about anywhere brings me into contact with plants. I can’t even walk into my grocery store without walking by a decent display of annuals and perennials. So that brings up two questions: first, where do I buy my plants and second, what do I buy?

The first is sometimes easier that the second. In general, I try to get my plants from family owned garden centers. Does this mean I never shop the box stores or buy from my grocery store? Of course not. I am as susceptible to impulse purchases as the next person and if something looks really great outside the grocery store, I might just grab it.

Next, I worked for one of the box stores for over two years. They treated me very well (despite the way  some of their plants appear. I now have an explanation for that. In spring, they are literally so overwhelmed with customers that watering takes a back seat. Also, it not safe to be dragging hoses around when there are so many customers present. And they would prefer that customers not trip on hoses or slip on wet floors than worry about plants wilting. Now you know as well. Don’t fault the stores. It is part of the plan.) So I am loyal to my former employer to a certain degree.

But I worked for a family owned garden center for much longer so I try to shop those much more. If we don’t shop those, we will not have them–we will lose them to the box stores and the grocery stores. And we don’t want that.

I am already running a little long with this post. On Friday–Arbor Day in my state–I will talk about actual plant choices.

You Don’t Do What??!!

Happy Earth Day!

No matter what I am lecturing on, the topic inevitably comes around to fertilizing. And the question, or questions are something like “What do you feed your plants?” or “How often do you feed your plants?” or some variation on that theme.

So when my answer comes back “I don’t feed my plants,” there’s practically a near riot in the room. It’s almost as if I’ve said “Don’t feed a baby in its first year of life” or something equally horrifying.

But this is absolutely true with the exception of one or two very large plants that I can no longer transplant. Because I don’t give those plants fresh soil–ever–I will occasionally feed them (and I do mean occasionally, as in I cannot recall the last time I did it but it was probably over a year ago).

Most of the time this discussion is taking place around some sort of potted or containerized plant that I am holding in my hand. So then the other questions begin.

But what about your annuals? No. When I buy my annuals, they are already so pumped full of commercial fertilizers that they need no extra help from me. Then I put them in fresh soil and they are good to go for the rest of the season. They’re annuals–they flower, in my cold climate, for a maximum of 4 1/2 to 5 months if I am lucky. There’s no need to boost them full of extra fertilizers, especially as the sun and warmth is dying in late August!

What about your vegetable? Again, no. I get them off to a really good start in good soil. Then I prepare my beds well. I try to amend with compost every few years. If you feed the soil, there is no need to feed the plants.

And as for established landscape plantings, I take the long view of things. I leave leaves on the ground, in the beds, over the winter and only put them in the compost heap in the spring. That way, nutrients can leech from those leaves into the beds through the action of the rain and the snow (and the worms and the other good stuff in my soil).

And come spring–right about now, in other words–I am not out there roto-tilling or otherwise disturbing those beds. I only disturb what I have to for new plantings or for weeding purposes.

It’s radical, I know, but give it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised. And you’ll spend a lot less money and have some more time for yourself as well!



Wordless Wednesday–Photos from the Freedom Lawn

A little over 2 weeks ago I talked about my “Freedom Lawn.” That post had no photos because we were still having snow!

It has since warmed up enough for things to green up and start blooming so I thought I would post lots of photos so folks could see what I meant by this concept–and either be horrified or not.


The first thing we do is let the violets grow and bloom. Violets are an important early nectar source for early butterflies and moths. You can see two different types here alone–the deep purple and an “introduced one that has self-sown from my garden, viola odorata, ‘Freckles.’


This is a close-up of ‘Freckles.’


This is probably the source of one our biggest battles between the Spoiler and me. I love the moss and he doesn’t. We have a lot of it naturally. He doesn’t understand how sustainable it is, and that where ever it grows, he doesn’t have to mow, water or feed. What’s not to like? This is along one of the beds.20160418_164949

We also have quite a bit of moss naturally in the lawn. People don’t necessarily understand that moss doesn’t need shade to grow. This is on a sunny slope among tree roots. Because our soil pH is so low (it’s in the 3s!) moss naturally loves our soil. You can see all the stoniness too that comes from being on rock ledge.


Here’s a better view of the moss, tree roots and some other “freedom lawn” inhabitants in that same area. There’s chickweed, some dandelions (which will be weeded out) some grass and some moss. The chickweed will stay. Although it’s very weedy and seedy, birds love the seeds.


This is an area on the top of that slope where it is slightly shadier so there is more grass–and greener moss.


Finally, there are grape hyacinths (muscari) that the ants have planted for me all over the slope of this part of the “freedom lawn. ” (More about ants as pollinators during Pollinator Week.)


I am always careful to cut all the flowers before our first mowing. This was our “harvest this year. Usually I get 4 small vases full. This year it was five. I think perhaps because the mowing was delayed due to the cooler weather, the flowers had a longer time to grow. It was a nice bonus!

So that’s the “Freedom Lawn.” The look is not for everyone. But I am fortunate–several of our neighbors have violet patches as well so they don’t get too upset about ours. We don’t live in a place where perfection is demanded–at least not too often!

Feeling Seedy?

About a week or so ago, I started my vegetable seeds. For some reason, I always dread this job and I don’t know why. Even when I am starting seeds for me, my neighbor and the garden at work, it probably takes all of half an hour to complete the task from start to finish.

For this round of seeds, I was just starting peppers and tomatoes–the really warm weather vegetables that need a head start. Most other things I start outdoors–beans, lettuce, things like that.

I may need to do something special to seeds like morning glory if I am going to direct sow those–I noticed I had several different types in my “seed stash.” Usually with those, because they have a hard outer seed coat, I will soak them first before sowing. The other option is to file or nick them a little bit–anything to break open the seed coating.

I suppose at some point I need to figure out what I am going to do with my decorative amaranth as well. Do I start them early indoors or just direct sow them when it’s time?

And I should think about sowing my snap peas, although it has been so miserable and cold that I am not sure it’s quite time. There’s a fine line in my state between cool soil and soil so cold it rots early seeds.

If all this sounds like a lot of trouble, it’s really not–witness my statement at the beginning of this post about starting the seeds taking all of half an hour. Nurturing them along is a little more time consuming but certainly no more so than watering house plants (and we know I have an epic number of those!).

Even transitioning the seeds from indoors to outside need not be too much of a problem–again, I do it with my house plants (about 100 or so) every spring and then I transition the house plants back in again in the fall. What’s a couple of trays of seedlings?

The biggest worry I have is that one of my “critters”–and it’s usually the chipmunks–will decide to wreak havoc among the seedlings and I will lose half of my hard work. But in that case, there are always garden center transplants.

Still, seed starting allows me to choose what I want to grow–not what someone else has decided that I should grow.  And it lets me garden in the cold dreary days when I think the sun and warmth will never return (since, as I am fond of saying, we get 2 seasons in my state, winter and July!)

While it may be a bit late to start seeds indoors where you are, it’s almost never too late to plant something in the garden. Why not give it a try this year?