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Picking Good Plants–Round Two

On Friday I talked about picking a plant that looked most like every other plant. This is a good rule no matter what type of plant you are buying.

Today I want to get into a few more specifics about  what to do when you get to the garden center–and let’s presume you are at a garden center today, simply because  it will have more signage about varieties and possibly more information on the plant tags that will be accurate for your location.

What do I mean by that? When I go to a box store, I am told that the plant “lantana” is a perennial. That’s technically true. It is not, however, a perennial for me here in New England.

I know that in some parts of the country lantana is considered an invasive pest and can grow to the size of a shrub. Here, we grow it as a nicely behaved hanging basket that has flowers that feed our butterflies and hummingbirds and the plant dies at the first hard freeze. See what I mean now about “for your location?”

So, when you walk into your garden center, depending on where you are, you might find lantana in a hanging basket, you might find it with the perennials, or you might not find it at all because it is invasive in your part of the country. There you are. But chances are, you’re not going to just find it willy-nilly labeled “perennial.”

I know the box stores are working on this–and one reason has to do with their guarantee for a year. They don’t want New England customers bringing in their dead lantana the following spring and asking for a refund–and rightly so! No one is happy in that scenario.

Enough plants die in our now unpredictable winters that they shouldn’t have to give for plants that are mis-labeled. But if they mis-label them, well, they get what they deserve.

Apparently I have gone on long enough about why you should be going to the garden center for your spring plant shopping and not a box store–at least if you are a brand new plant buyer. We’ll talk about what to look for on Friday.

Garden Trends–Gold Foliage

Gold foliage is the “trendy” foliage color of the year (despite the fact that the Pantone color of the year is “Greenery” I guess).

We go through these various color fads in the garden. I have had some customers in my retail gardening days say that they didn’t like “gold” colored foliage in the garden because it made the plants look dead–particularly on evergreens. I have had other customers say the same thing about chartreuse. But here again, I think color is a very personal thing–and as those internet “memes” with the dresses have shown us, we certainly don’t all perceive color the same way! Oh well.

If you think about hostas, for example, a variety of colors, including blues and golds, can give the garden interest and movement, even if you are using all the same plant. The same thing would be true of a plant like coral bells (heuchera) or even an annual like coleus.

Evergreen, or conifer gardens also benefit not only from a wide variety of textures but of colors. An evergreen garden of just greens would be rather uninspiring. But when you add a variety of blues, golds and whites, the garden takes on a liveliness that cannot be obtained from just design alone.

So this year when you are planning your garden–whatever type of garden you plan–look for the gold! You won’t be sorry that you did.

Wordless Wednesday

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Every time I go to water a certain pot, I find this katydid on one of the blooms. Usually it’s the gerbera daisies.  Sometimes it’s the marigolds.

It doesn’t seem to be doing much damage.  And of course in the evening,  when the air conditioner isn’t running,  I can hear its “katy–katydid” call.

Also notice, our “freedom lawn,” particularly the crabgrass,  is not suffering too much from drought stress. We do not irrigate. And yes, there are dry patches.  And yes, crabgrass thrives in the heat. We hand pull it before it sets seed (if we don’t get heat stroke first!). Otherwise, there’s always next year.

An Annual for Bees

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I was watering the other day and was surprised by the number of honeybees that I saw on this celosia. It was not something that I expected.

So often when we plant annuals we plant for color or for long blooming time. These plants have performed beyond all expectation, nestled as they are up against a brick wall and a parking lot, in our very dry summer. They’re lucky if they get watered once a week. You all know by now that I am notoriously thrifty with water.

And yet they are thriving and blooming their heads off, as annuals are supposed to do. The fact that the bees love them is quite an unexpected bonus!

As for the mulch–this is my “work” garden. You all also know I don’t mulch at home.

It’s Mid-July. What’s Blooming in Your Garden?

 

20160708_075830We are halfway through meteorological summer and halfway through the “Dog Days.” How does your garden look?

It’s okay if you said “tired,” “dry,” burned up”  or some such thing. Keeping a garden going all summer is a real challenge and an art. There have been hundreds if not thousands of books written about it.

What I don’t want to hear is “this is not my growing season,” (unless you live in the southern hemisphere.) Try telling that to the numerous Botanic Gardens all over the south. Do you expect they can get away with that? They have to have gardens that look good all summer long. There is plenty that looks good–and is water-wise–in Florida and Texas and New Mexico and Denver–in the heat of the summer. I know this from personal experience. I’ve been to most of those Botanic gardens in the heat. If you don’t know what those plants are, go to your local Botanic gardens. If you don’t like those plants, that’s a different story.

So now that we’ve established that folks can find out what grows in their region in mid-summer, how do you go about getting some of those plants into the garden in a sensible way?

The sensible way is not to go out and buy those plants and plant them when it’s 90-100 degrees, of course. Even I am trying to limit what I plant right now since we are in the middle of a drought advisory (although, since I do have a couple of shrubs still in pots, the sensible thing to do is to get them in the ground and water them sustainably rather than to continue to water them every day!)

The sensible thing is to try to find plants earlier in the season–when the heat is not at its worst–and to plant them then. That means doing your research now and planting next spring–or for those of you in the south with a longer growing season, planting this fall, if you can find the plants you want to add to the garden.

But don’t just settle for tired, burned up sad looking gardens in July. It doesn’t have to be that way. With a little research, you can have a vibrant, sustainable, lovely garden all summer long.

Oh, and about that photo above? It’s almost all native plants. That makes these blooms fairly drought resistant once they are established. And they are great for the wildlife as well (in fact, they are a little too great in my drought! A rabbit has been helping itself to the echinacea plants. That’s never happened before. Poor thing probably needs a little extra nourishment and moisture!)

 

Bug Magnets

If you go to the tab at the top of the blog header that says introduction, you can read a little bit about me. The second paragraph says that my first paying job in horticulture began at 11 years old when I was paid $1.00 a week to deadhead my neighbor’s yard full of petunias.

Mind you, this was in the days of the old-fashioned petunias–the kind that still had a scent, got you covered in sappy goo when you deadheaded–and in fact, still had to be deadheaded or they wouldn’t re-bloom.

Now, with all the fast growing new varieties like supertunia™ and of course the one everyone knows, the Wave™ petunia, deadheading is a thing of the past–unless of course, you are a sucker like me and still buy the old-fashioned,  scented petunias.

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But every year I swear that “this year will be my last!” Because as much as I love them, for me, these lovely, scented petunias are bug magnets!

I mentioned this at a lecture this spring and I got a lot of blank stares. So I think this is a bit of a regional–or perhaps even local thing–at least here in Connecticut. Yet whenever I post about it, I get a lot of hits on the post. So I know a lot of you out there share my pain.

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This year, I hadn’t even owned my pot for 2 weeks when it began to look like this! What are these things? At this point, they’re a little small to see, but there are caterpillars, pretty much the same color as the foliage of the plant, eating into the buds and pretty much ruining all the future flowers.

They go by the name petunia bud worm. And lest you think that’s all they affect, they also like geraniums (at which point, they become called geranium bud worms).

They are the larva of a nondescript moth, the tobacco moth. Apparently they also affect caibrachoa (million bells) which explains why my million bells are starting to show tiny holes and of course nicotiana (the flowering or ornamental tobacco) plants.

To get a better look at a more mature version of these critters, you can see my post from a few years ago here. But apparently, they are becoming pesticide resistant and once they are in the bud even Bt is not terribly effective.

My answer–rather than to load up annuals with a bunch of pesticides–is to just compost the plant. However, perhaps I should trash it instead. Maybe I am unwittingly maintaining the problem on my own property.

But, I think the answer is simpler than that: no more petunias or million bells for me. No plants means no bugs!