Fall is For Planting

Many folks are surprised to learn that autumn runs a close second to spring as an ideal planting time, but it’s true: cool temperatures, reliable rainfall, and short, bright days help plants make a quick and easy transition to your landscape. Despite the cold weather lurking around the corner, the entire first half of autumn (and then some) provides ample opportunity for plants to grow roots and get off to a good start in their new home. Before you run off to the garden center, though, there are a few things you should know to ensure success with fall planting:

– You can plant up to 6 weeks before your ground freezes. Once the ground is frozen, root growth will cease almost entirely until spring, and that six week window gives the plant time to get established enough to withstand cold and snow. The date that your ground actually freezes varies from year to year, of course, and some areas won’t have frozen ground at all. If you’re unsure, mid-November is a safe planting deadline for nearly everyone.

– Get everything in the ground before the ground freezes. If you still have plants in their nursery pots, get them in the ground before winter, no matter how late it has gotten. The plants will be much happier and better protected in the ground than in their thin plastic pots, so even if it’s getting quite late in the season, just plant them where you can. You can always move them come spring if you change your mind.

– Provide supplemental water when needed. Autumn weather can be quite cool and rainy, but that doesn’t mean that new plantings should be ignored, particularly if weather has been dry and/or windy. Water all plants thoroughly after planting, and continue to water them as needed until the ground freezes.

– Mulch. Just as you pile on blankets and quilts when the temperatures dip, mulch acts as insulation for plants. Mulch also creates the ideal environment for vigorous root growth, which helps new plantings get off to a good start. While even established plants benefit from a nice layer of mulch, newly planted specimens especially appreciate the protection it offers from the challenges of winter.

– Know what to expect. You won’t see much top growth emerge on fall-planted shrubs, but this is actually a good thing: any new growth that the plant produces now will be too soft to survive the impending cold anyway. Autumn planting is all about giving the plant a chance to put on root growth, which continues until temperatures average about 48°F/9°C. Plantings will be raring to go come spring thanks to the roots they create in fall.

There are also a few things to avoid:

– Avoid planting evergreens in mid-late fall. Because they keep their foliage all winter, they are more susceptible to drying out when the soil is frozen and the winds are blowing. Having several months (rather than several weeks) to develop a sizeable root system better prepares them to face these challenges. This is especially important for broadleaf evergreens like holly, rhododendron, and boxwood, as their large leaves are far more likely to get windburned and drought-stressed than conifers with needle or scale-like foliage.

– Avoid planting varieties that typically get winter damage in your climate. Certain plants get a bit of winter damage every year, no matter what – butterfly bush, caryopteris, and big-leaf hydrangea are some common examples. If you’ve got a shrub in your yard that you prune each spring to remove dead, winter-damaged stems, similar varieties would be better planted in spring than fall.

– Avoid planting anything that’s pushing it in terms of hardiness. Hardiness zones are a guideline, not an absolute, and lots of gardeners happily experiment with them. If you’d like to try something that’s perhaps not entirely hardy in your area, it’s far better to plant it in spring so it gets the whole season to grow roots instead of just a few weeks. The more roots it has, the better-equipped it is to survive winter.

Bonus tip: All of these guidelines apply to transplanting as well as new plantings, so if you’ve been considering moving something that’s already a part of your landscape, fall is a great time to do it.

https://www.provenwinners.com/learn/planting/why-plant-fall

Perennial of the Month: Aster

Asters are daisy-like perennials with starry-shaped flower heads. They bring delightful color to the garden in late summer and autumn when many of your other summer blooms may be fading.

There are many species and varieties of asters, so the plant’s height can range from 8 inches to 8 feet, depending on the type. 

The plant can be used in many places, such as in borders, rock gardens, or wildflower gardens. Asters also attract bees and butterflies, providing the pollinators with an important late-season supply of nectar.

PLANTING

CHOOSING AND PREPARING A PLANTING SITE

  • Asters prefer climates with cool, moist summers—especially cool night temperatures. In warmer climates, plant asters in areas that avoid the hot mid-day sun.
  • Select a site with full to partial sun.
  • Soil should be moist but well-drained, and loamy.
  • Mix compost into the soil prior to planting. (Learn more about soil amendments and preparing soil for planting.)

PLANTING ASTERS

  • While asters can be grown from seed, germination can be uneven. You can start the seeds indoors during the winter by sowing seeds in pots or flats and keeping them in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 weeks to simulate winter dormancy. Sow seeds one inch deep. After 4 to 6 weeks, put the seeds in a sunny spot in your home. Plant outside after the danger of frost has passed. (See local frost dates.)
  • The best time to plant young asters is in mid- to late spring. Fully-grown, potted asters may be planted as soon as they become available in your area.
  • Space asters 1 to 3 feet apart, depending on the type and how large it’s expected to get.
  • Give plants plenty of water at the time of planting.
  • Add mulch after planting to keep soil cool and prevent weeds.

CARE

HOW TO GROW ASTERS

  • Add a thin layer of compost (or a portion of balanced fertilizer) with a 2–inch layer of mulch around the plants every spring to encourage vigorous growth.
  • If you receive less than 1 inch of rain a week, remember to water your plants regularly during the summer. However, many asters are moisture-sensitive; if your plants have too much moisture or too little moisture, they will often lose their lower foliage or not flower well. Keep an eye out for any stressed plants and try a different watering method if your plants are losing flowers.
  • Stake the tall varieties in order to keep them from falling over.
  • Pinch back asters once or twice in the early summer to promote bushier growth and more blooms. Don’t worry, they can take it!
  • Cut asters back in winter after the foliage has died, or leave them through the winter to add some off-season interest to your garden.
    • Note: Aster flowers that are allowed to mature fully may reseed themselves, but resulting asters may not bloom true.
  • Divide every 2 to 3 years in the spring to maintain your plant’s vigor and flower quality.

There are many species and varieties of asters, so the plant’s height can range from 8 inches to 8 feet, depending on the type. You can find an aster for almost any garden at our garden center in autumn!

The plant can be used in many places, such as in borders, rock gardens, or wildflower gardens. Asters also attract bees and butterflies, providing the pollinators with an important late-season supply of nectar.

RECOMMENDED VARIETIES

The most common asters available in North America are the New England aster(Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) and the New York aster (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii). Both of these plants are native to North America and are great flowers for pollinators. We recommend planting a native species of aster over a non-native species when possible.

NORTH AMERICAN ASTERS

  • New England asters (S. novae-angliae): Varieties have a range of flower colors, from magenta to deep purple. They typically grow larger than New York asters, though some varieties are on the smaller side.
  • New York asters (S. novi-belgii): There are many, many varieties of New York asters available. Their flowers range from bright pink to bluish-purple and may be double, semi-double, or single.
  • Blue wood aster (S. cordifolium): Bushy with small, blue-to-white flowers.
  • Heath aster (S. ericoides): A low-growing ground cover (similar to creeping phlox) with small, white flowers.
  • Smooth aster (S. laeve): A tall, upright aster with small, lavender flowers.

EUROPEAN/EURASIAN ASTERS

  • Frikart’s aster (Aster x frikartii) ‘Mönch’: Hailing from Switzerland, this mid-sized aster has large, lilac-blue flowers.
  • Rhone aster (A. sedifolius) ‘Nanus’: This aster is known for its small, star-shaped, lilac-blue flowers and compact growth.

Why gardening during a pandemic is so comforting

We wanted to pass along this article which we thought to be very inspiring. Get out there and garden!


My friend passed along some vegetable seeds and my first burst of excitement has turned into dread.

With the struggle to slow COVID-19 leaving most households quarantined and food-obsessed (sourdough-starter sharing the least of it), I have these suddenly hot items in my hands. But now what do I do with them?

I have a lilac bush that’s still pathetic five years after planting. It’s a couple feet from the site of a sapling I pulled up, frustrated it never took root — so how am I going to transform my kale, pea, tomato and cucumber seeds into bumper crops?

I’ll wager other people have questions too, even if they don’t have a lackluster planting career and self-doubt like me.

The 50th anniversary of Earth Day this year coincided with the coronavirus outbreak and, relatedly, rising consumer demand for fruit and vegetable seeds.

Longtime gardeners have noticed more novices this year picking their brains on tips and troubleshooting.

For example, in Solon, Iowa, Paul Deaton, a gardener of three decades, has heard from people who want to know how to protect their plants from rabbits and deer, or how to plant and raise new crops.

In McComb, Miss., Gay Austin, president of National Garden Clubs, an organization comprised of 5,000 clubs across the country, has heard it too. One woman asked Austin how to cultivate the herb garden at the house she just purchased.

That gets me back to my seed-driven dread. Why should I bother when another planting failure now would be an extra point of aggravation during a frightening time?

For me at least, I think of the trimmed-down grocery shopping lists I could have if I didn’t need to buy as many fruits and vegetables. Instead of staring at a screen, it’s also a way I could distract myself during long weekend hours that are suddenly wide open.

“It’s a wonderful time to be a home gardener, because you’re home,” Austin noted.

I’m immediately aware others may regard gardening as much more than a hobby.

From her Bella Vista, Ark., offices, Look hears from customers all over the country who see empty grocery shelves or long food bank lines and are concerned. “The world as they’ve always known it no longer exists.”

Gardening makes these customers more self-reliant and lets them “gain more control over their food source,” Look said.

‘Plants are non-judgmental’

Seeds offer their grower a simple deal: plant and tend to me correctly, and I’ll grow for you. Usually, less is more.

It’s a bargain that rookies can uphold too, according to Rutgers University professor Joel Flagler.

“Let’s remember plants are non-judgmental. Plants are ready to respond to anybody, starting today,” said Flagler, who’s also the school’s agricultural extension agent for Bergen County, a suburban county near me. As an agricultural extension agent, Flagler helps homeowners, garden stores, farmers, nurseries, landscapers and others with their garden and agricultural efforts.

Start easy, he explained.

Rather than creating a whole garden, rookie gardeners can begin by putting seeds in pretty much any container, so long as it has drainage at the bottom. If you want to grow a larger plant, like a tomato, or put a couple of plants or flowers together, Flagler said it would be good to start with a bigger container. (That could be something with that’s between one and three feet in diameter, he said. And, again, don’t forget the drainage at the bottom.) Add sun, water and a “positive attitude” and you’re on your way.

I’m going to add a healthy dose of internet research to my planting efforts. So much for my minimal screen time.

I have tomato, cucumber, kale and pea seeds. But tomato and cucumber are plants for the hotter months, which, Flagler said, can be planted in late May and picked in late July. Kale and peas are “cool season” plants, he noted.

Kale’s outer leaves can bloom and be ready for eating in a few weeks, he said. Peas could take closer to 60 days. I figure I’ll start with those.

Flagler teaches horticultural therapy at Rutgers, a discipline using plants and gardening to improve the mental and physical health of people with special needs.

He understands the allure of gardening for everyone at a time like this.


‘There are certain, very stabilizing forces in gardening that can ground us when we are feeling shaky, uncertain, terrified really. It’s these predictable outcomes, predictable rhythms of the garden that are very comforting right now.’

— Rutgers University professor Joel Flagler


I understand how any activity giving a sense of control can seem especially attractive right now.

Actually, gardening isn’t some power trip, Flagler noted. “It’s that positive control, a feeling of ‘Hey, I did this, I did something good here.’”

That also seems like a good way to feel right now, even if only for moment.

So this past weekend, I bought potting soil and small, cardboard mini-pots to start planting.

I discarded my dread, dropped the kale and pea seeds in the pots, poured water and hoped for a second chance.

Credit to MarketWatch for this article.

Perennial of the Month: Hardy Hibiscus

The hardy perennial hibiscus, also called rose mallow or swamp rose, adds the beauty of a tropical hibiscus to the garden, but can withstand cold winter temperatures that kill the actual tropical varieties. Here’s how to grow hardy hibiscus in your garden!

Perennial hibiscus have big, disc-shaped, hollyhock-like flowers that can be 6 to 12 inches across. The perennial hibiscus species found in gardens are the result of hybridizing native hibiscus species, including Hibiscus moscheutos and H. coccineus.

The larger, more shrub-like hardy hibiscus species, H. syriacus (aka Rose of Sharon), has similar planting and care to the smaller species highlighted in this article. It produces an abundance of smaller flowers and grows into a much larger shrub that doesn’t die back to the ground in winter.

How to Grow Hardy Hibiscus Plants

Plant taxonomy classifies the hardy hibiscus plants as Hibiscus moscheutos. They also go by such common names as rose mallows and swamp mallows. The hardy hibiscus is a cold hardy plant despite bearing large blooms that call to mind the tropics. The hues of the most common cultivars are white, bicolored, or various shades of red or pink, but other colors are now available.

Although hardy hibiscus plants seem woody in summer and function as sub-shrubs in the landscape, their stems do die back to the ground in winter, making them herbaceous perennials, technically.

Some of the most popular hardy hibiscus cultivars reach about four feet in height, with a spread slightly less than that, but the bloom size can be up to 10 inches.

Even cultivars with smaller blooms still produce impressive, saucer-size flowers. While each bloom lives only a day or two, they are quickly replaced by newcomers.

The species plant is indigenous to eastern North America. H. moscheutos cultivars can be grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 to 9.

Light

For your hardy hibiscus plant to bloom to its greatest potential, it needs about six hours a day of full sun. However, if you live in a hot and dry zone you should provide your hardy hibiscus occasional relief from the bright afternoon sun. Shade from other leafy plants placed nearby should help. Indoor hibiscus plants should be situated near a sunny (southwest facing) window and if that still doesn’t provide enough light, you can augment with artificial lighting.

Soil

The species plant is a wetland plant, and hardy hibiscus flowers can be treated as plants for wet soils. So if your landscaping situation is a soggy area where most plants do not grow well, H. moscheutos might be the answer. This makes them useful around water features.

Water

If you are not planting hardy hibiscus plants in a wet spot, make sure they are adequately watered—but don’t overdo it. A small plant with fewer leaves needs less water than a large leafy plant. In warm weather, you need to water your hibiscus plant daily but in the winter you should water it only when the soil is dry to the touch.

Temperature and Humidity

Hibiscus flower best in the 60 to 90 F range. Bring plants indoors before temperatures dip to 32 F, but be mindful that low humidity can dry them out. Mist the leaves daily or place each pot on a tray with a layer of gravel underneath. Add water up to the top of the gravel and as it evaporates, the humidity will rise around the plants. A humidifier may also help.

Fertilizer

Growing hibiscus plants need plenty of nutrients. Use either slow-release or water-soluble fertilizer but make sure the nutrients are balanced. For example, use a 20-20-20 or 10-10-10 fertilizer. You can use a diluted liquid fertilizer once a week, or a slow-release fertilizer four times a year: early spring; after the first round of blooming; mid-summer; and early winter.

Potting and Repotting

Repot in late winter and use houseplant potting soil or a soilless mixture. Your hibiscus can wait two to three years to be moved into a larger pot. Just remember to use one with good drainage.

Perennial of the Month: Coneflower

Coneflowers, also known as Echinacea, are tough little native flowers that draw butterflies, bees, and birds to the garden! Here’s how to grow this American native—and important tips on plant care, from deadheading to cutting back in July.

Bright upright plants, coneflowers are a North American perennial in the Daisy family (Asteraceae). Specifically, the plant is native to the eastern United States, from Iowa and Ohio south to Louisiana and Georgia. They grow 2 to 4 feet in height with dark green foliage. They are fast growers and self-sow their seed profusely. These midsummer bloomers can flower from midsummer through fall frost!

Their genus name Echinacea comes from the Latin name for hedgehog, echinus, referring to the often prickly lower stem of the plant. Coneflowers have raised cone-like centers (hence, the name) which contain seeds that attract butterflies. Leave the seed heads after bloom and you’ll also attract songbirds! 

Trouble-free, coneflowers are drought-tolerant, once established. They can take the heat!  As native plants with prickly stems, they are more deer-resistant than most flowering plants. 

The most common species available to gardeners is Echinacea purpurea, the purple coneflower. If purple doesn’t pair well with your garden’s color palette, don’t fret: coneflowers can be found in a range of bright or subdued colors.

Coneflowers are at home in a traditional garden or a wildflower meadow; they are striking in masses, especially as a mix of various colors. 

PLANTING

CHOOSING AND PREPARING A PLANTING SITE

  • Coneflowers prefer well-drained soil and full sun for best bloom. Choose a location where the coneflowers won’t get shaded out nor shade out others.
  • They may reach between 2 and 4 feet in height, depending on variety.
  • Coneflowers are very tolerant of poor soil conditions, but they perform best in soil that’s rich so mix in organic matter if needed.
  • Coneflowers are drought tolerant.

Loosen the soil in your garden using a garden fork or tiller to 12 to 15 inches deep, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost. (Learn more about preparing soil for planting.)

WHEN TO PLANT CONEFLOWERS

  • More commonly, coneflowers are bought as small plants with blooms already on the way. These should be planted in spring or early summer.
  • Coneflowers can be started from seed in spring indoors (about a month before the last spring frost date) or outdoors (when the soil temperature has reached at least 65°F/18°C).
    • Note: Coneflowers started from seed may take 2 to 3 years before producing blooms.
    • Better yet, don’t cut back coneflower plants and they’ll self-seed successfully!
  • If dividing or transplanting coneflowers, do so in the spring or fall.

HOW TO PLANT CONEFLOWERS

  • Plant coneflowers about 1 to 3 feet apart, depending on the mature size of the variety.
  • If you are moving a potted plant into the ground, dig a hole about twice the pot’s diameter and carefully place the plant in the soil. Bury the plant to the top of the root ball, but make sure the root ball is level with the soil surface. Water it thoroughly.

 

Shade Gardening for Beginners 

Shade gardening is an essential skill for homeowners who want to keep their entire property green and thriving. Most residential yards have some areas that rarely get direct sunlight and are prone to soil erosion because nothing grows there. This is especially true under spreading trees (such as oaks) which have dense foliage. Residential structures like houses and fences also tend to block sunshine and create dim spaces. 

Introduction to Shade Gardening

Contrary to your expectations, ground cover is not your only option for shady areas in your garden. You can plant shrubs, vines, flowering plants, and herbs in areas that receive little sun. Some species require well drained soil while others can grow in damp, boggy patches. Generally, shade loving plants appreciate being protected from harsh winds. This makes them perfect for side yards and other out-of-the-way retreats on your property.

In warm climates, houseplants (such as Caladium) that require very little light can be planted outdoors. For cooler zones, a luxurious bed of moss may be an ideal addition to your garden. Remember that the ground below deciduous trees will receive light during the winter. You can plant early flowering bulbs like crocuses and snowdrops in these areas since they will bloom before the trees send out new leaves in the spring.

Full Shade Plant Options

Some of the easiest shade plants to grow are those that spread via rhizomes or runners rather than by seed. Wild ginger, bugleweed, and lady fern are examples of species that propagate in this way. Such plants tend to be invasive. You may have to prune them aggressively to keep them from taking over your garden.

Perennial flowers that thrive in full shade include the spectacular foxglove. Bleeding heart, bishop’s hat, and deadnettle are other options. These plants only bloom for a couple of months per year. However, their foliage is still attractive during the rest of the season. 

Shrubs that can be grown in the shade include: Hebe, rhododendron, laurel, yew, and many species of holly. If you have large areas in your landscape that receive little sunlight, you can use these bushes to add height and bulk to your shade gardening design. 

Lilyturf is a ground cover that grows in grassy clumps. It is a popular border plant. Meadow rue, hosta, and lily of China are other shade tolerant ground covers. These types of vegetation are usually not as tough as lawn grass; so plant them in areas with no foot traffic.

Don’t forget ivy when you plan your shade garden. Grow it along a fence line or up tree trunks. Keep ivy away from your house – it can cause damage as its tendrils work their way under siding or into mortar.

Edible Plants 

Herbs such as mint, basil, and parsley will tolerate partial shade. Some leafy vegetables are also suitable for shade gardening. These plants grow more slowly with less sun, but should still produce plenty of fresh foliage for your dinner table.