About carole funger

I'm a garden designer and Maryland Master Gardener living in the Washington, DC area. I blog about new trends in horticulture, inspiring gardens to visit and the latest tips and ideas for how to nurture your own beautiful garden. Every garden tells a story. What's yours?

The ABC’s Of Deadheading And Why It Produces More Flowers

Regular deadheading ensures the blooms keep coming all season long

Ever been frustrated by a beautiful plant that suddenly stops blooming? It’s time for a haircut. Regular deadheading is an essential practice in the life of a garden. Not only does it keep plants looking neat, but it encourages more blooms over a longer period of time. There’s nothing quite like getting a plant to re-flower that looks like it’s called it quits for the season.

What is deadheading?

Simply put, it’s the practice of removing faded or dead flower heads from a plant. Deadheading not only keeps a plant looking attractive, it encourages it to keep on blooming.

Dried poppy seed heads

Why does deadheading work?

Because the goal of all plants is to grow, set seed and die. As flowers start to fade, the plant pours its energy into producing seed heads. By removing dead blooms, you prevent the plant from setting seed, which in turn keeps the plant’s energy focused on producing more flowers. The result is a healthier, more vigorous plant that blooms for a longer period of time.

HOW TO DEADHEAD

While deadheading benefits all blooming plants, the world of flowers is diverse and has different requirements. Depending on the species and variety, particular flowers require particular kinds of deadheading.

Here are tips on how to deadhead 6 popular varieties of flowering plants:

1. Clusters of flowers with leaves on their stems

Purple garden phlox

For tall, leggy plants like phlox, yarrow, daisies (or plants that have leaves on the lower stem), the best strategy is to deadhead just before the blooms die back completely.

As soon as flowers begin to wither or brown, use a pair of pruning shears or a sharp knife to cut off the spent blooms.

A good rule of thumb is to reach into the plant and remove the spent flowers back to the first or second set of leaves. This not only helps hide the cut, but it encourages the plant to bush out more as it produces new blooms. I vary the lengths at which I cut to keep the plant shapely.

2. Flowers with no leaves on their stems

Long-stemmed orange daylily

For flowers like daylilies and hostas that have no leaves on their stems, cut the entire stalk back to the base of the plant once it has finished flowering.

3. Salvias

Multiple flower spikes of salvia make pruning tedious

Once the initial flush of flower spikes start to brown, salvias often appear to be done for the season. With proper deadheading, however, you can encourage them to keep blooming through the summer.

Take a look at the plant and you’ll see that there are actually three flower stalks growing together – a central one surrounded by two, smaller ones on the side. As soon as the central stalk starts to brown, remove it. This will encourage the side shoots to grow.  Once the side shoots lose their color, cut them off too. Deadheading perennial salvias in this way can encourage the plant to re-bloom at least twice and sometimes three times during the season, especially if you feed it mid way through the summer.

4. Bushy plants with small flowers

Bushy perennial, Coreopsis verticillata

Bushy perennials like coreopsis can be encouraged to produce a second round of blooms past their standard flowering time.

Since it can be tedious to deadhead so many tiny flowers, I grab big chunks of the stems with spent blooms in one hand and shear them back with a pair of long-blade shears in the other. This not only encourages the plant to re-bloom a week or so later, it keeps thinks looking tidy.

5. Roses

With roses, the number to know is ‘5’

Most of us know that roses need to be deadheaded to flourish. Remove withered blooms by pruning back to above a five-leaflet leaf, cutting on an angle.

6. Annuals

Geraniums need consistent deadheading to look their best

All annuals need to be deadheaded regularly to thrive (with the possible exception of begonias, in which case I prune the leaves.) Popular annuals like geraniums and petunias must be constantly snipped, pinched or cut back to keep flowers looking neat and to encourage blooming. For a more in-depth tutorial on how to prune these annuals, click here for my blog post How To Keep Your Potted Plants In Shape All Summer.’

Self-seeders

Butterfly weed is a prolific self-seeder

Some flowers, like columbine, echinacea and butterfly weed are prolific self-seeders. If you’re looking to produce lots of new baby plants, leave the seed heads on and they’ll quickly spread around your garden.

Don’t be afraid to get out those pruners!

It’s rare to damage a plant by cutting it. Use common sense while removing spent flowers, taking care to hide your cuts under existing foliage. You will be rewarded with a flush of new blooms!

 

Father’s Day 2018: Five Lessons Dad Taught Me About Life In the Garden

Me, my dad and my sister circa 1965

Dad was always up early when I was a child. On weekdays he went to the office, but on weekends the real work began. These were the days that dad devoted to yard work. My sister and I were a fundamental part of his crew.

Dad ran a tight ship and an orderly landscape was testament to our mighty team effort. As garden ‘personnel’, my sister and I raked, clipped, pulled weeds and hauled yard waste on a seasonal basis. We weren’t fans of the work, but we were big fans of dad’s, and the shared chores were a good way to spend outdoor time together.

It wasn’t until much later in life that we realized something more than gardening had been going on in the yard. While my sister and I toiled in the dirt, dad had been teaching us some valuable life lessons. Here are five things I learned from my dad in the garden that continue to infuse my life with purpose and meaning today.

Delay gratification

Until the work was done, there would be no rides to the pool, quick trips to Dunkin’ Donuts or play dates with friends. This was a hard lesson to learn since by Saturday morning most of our buddies were already hard at play. My sister and I gradually discovered, though, that delaying our playtime actually increased our enjoyment of it later. In finishing our yard chores first, we developed patience and strengthened our willpower. Over time, we grew to relish the psychic benefits of putting off fun until our tasks were accomplished.

Do quality work

One of my jobs was to crawl around the periphery of the house with garden shears to trim the stray grass left behind by the mower. About halfway around the exterior, I usually got tired and started cutting corners. My dad always noticed those areas where I had slacked off and though he never yelled, he seemed so disappointed. Many times I tearfully returned to the job. During the process, though, I gradually learned to do quality work and discovered that practicing quality was fulfilling and that it mattered to me.

Practice integrity

If you told dad you were going to do something, you did it. He expected no less. No excuses, prevarication or blaming poor work on your sister were valid substitutes for your word. Honesty was the rule and dad led by example, setting high standards in the yard. Dad taught us how to be respectful of each other and listened patiently to our endless strategies for reducing our workload. He also showed us that the key to good work was to finish the jobs that we started.

Push yourself

Dad had a riding lawn mower, but insisted on walking behind it to cut our 3-acre field. On the hottest of days, my mother would watch him incredulously from the kitchen window. My dad pushed himself to burn calories and probably to spend more time outdoors. Whatever the reason, his work ethic made it hard to refuse when he asked us to bag all the clippings.

Of course dad could have bagged the grass as he mowed, but that would have meant we missed out on the exercise. One year, as incentive, dad offered to pay us if we got all the clippings into 10 bags. We worked like demons all afternoon, devising efficient strategies for raking and fitting the most clippings in each black plastic sack. My sister was stamping on the tenth when it burst at the seams, but dad paid us anyway. We returned sweaty and tired to the house, and though dad disputes this version of the story, it’s still one of my favorite yard memories today.

Try not to complain

Dad showed us through example that even if the job got hard, or the weather uncomfortable, we should strive not to complain. Not only was it annoying, it made yard work unpleasant for everyone. He taught that seeing things in a more positive light was much better for all of us and improved our relationships.

Being young girls, my sister and I struggled the most with this concept. We tried hard to stop airing our yard work grievances, with incremental improvement over time as we aged. But, I’ll admit that it wasn’t until later on in life that I finally learned the true value of this lesson.

Thank you, dad, for all the lessons you taught us.  Happy Father’s Day. You are the best dad, ever.

 

How To Say What You Mean In The Language Of Flowers

Different flowers and flower colors carry different shades of meaning

Studies show that mastering a foreign language can not only boost your brain power but also provide you with important insights on how the world thinks. Unfortunately not everyone can learn with the same ability. But, there’s one second language we all know how to speak fluently, albeit with slight variations. It’s colorful and often emotional. It’s called the Language of Flowers.

The Victorian Language of Flowers

Back in Victorian times, when the practice took off, people really knew how to ‘say it with flowers.’ The 1800s were a buttoned-up time, with many social taboos against expressing emotions. So people found a way around the rules; they borrowed from an ancient language to convey their joy, pain and anger. They used flowers and floral arrangements as coded messages to express feelings they were otherwise unable to say.

Mother’s Day card circa 1890

Sometimes referred to as floriography, the language of flowers can be traced back to ancient times, including the Hebrew Bible, where plants and flowers are often used as symbols. The Song of Songs is one such example:

I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys. 2.As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters. 3 As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. Song of Songs 2:1-3

Apple tree blossoms

William Shakespeare used floral metaphors often. In this fragment of a speech from Hamlet, Ophelia mentions rosemary and pansies, two plants that were typically found in gardens of the period. Most people would have instantly recognized the pun on the word pansies, a clear reference to the French pensées, or thoughts.

There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance: pray, love, remember:

and there is pansies: that’s for thoughts.

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Pansies represented thoughts in Shakespearian times

Turkish roots

The practice of floriography most likely had its roots in Turkey in the 16th century when the Court in Constantinople was said to have an obsession with tulips. Discovered growing wild in the mountains of Kazakhstan, the tulip was brought back to Turkey where it was planted in the gardens of some of the most powerful people in the city.

Tulips were an obsession in the Court of Constantinople

Over time, as Ottoman sultans began wearing them in their turbans, tulips became symbolic of wealth and power. In fact, the flower’s name is believed to have been derived from the Persian word tulipan, meaning turban, with which it shares a likeness.

The word tulip comes from the Persian tulipan, meaning turban

In the Western World, we have Lady Mary Wortley Montagu to thank for introducing the language of flowers to Britain. In 1716, she accompanied her husband to Turkey where he was stationed as ambassador. Montagu’s letters back to England often contained references to the Turkish use of floral symbols and language, including an alleged custom of using flowers to send secret messages in the harem.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

It wasn’t until Queen Victoria ascended the throne in the next century, however, that Montagu’s efforts to promote floriography were finally embraced. Seemingly overnight, books about flower symbolism began to be published. Many of these works continue to inform the floral language we practice today.

The first dictionary to associate flowers with symbolic definitions appeared in 1819 with the publishing of Le Langage des Fleurs a work attributed to Charlotte de la Tour. The author’s true identity remained a mystery for several years until it was revealed to be Louise Cortambert, wife of the geographer Euguen Cortambert (1805-1881). She would have been in her late thirties at the time.

1920 edition of Charlotte de la Tour’s Le Langage des Fleurs

Le Langage de Fleurs was organized by season and contained illustrations and essays on different plants along with their associated meaning. There were 330 different types of emotions. Listed in alphabetical order, they ranged from messages of love, acceptance and refusal to more specific feelings or psychological states such as Render Me Justice, My Regrets Accompany You to the Grave and the catchy Better to Die than Lose One’s Innocence. The book can still be purchased on amazon today.

In Chinese culture, flowers and flower colors are highly important, with the lotus flower being the most significant. Symbolic of the holy seat of Buddha, it also represents perfection and purity of both heart and mind.

In Chinese culture, the lotus is symbolic of perfection and purity

Whereas the peony represents spring, female beauty and reproduction and is often associated with honor and high social class.

Peonies represent spring and female beauty in Chinese culture

When it comes to color, Chinese floriography is highly specific. While in America, white represents innocence and purity, in Chinese culture it represents death and ghosts.

The color white has many different meanings across cultures

And the colors red and pink symbolize life and celebration.

Red symbolizes life and celebration in Chinese culture

Important things for a garden designer to keep in mind when designing for Asian clients.

Common flowers and their meanings

So what are some common flowers that we Americans know how to read? Maybe some of these generally accepted meanings will jar your memory.

Remember putting a buttercup under your chin and asking your friend if it gave a yellow glow? If a yellow reflection can be seen, a person is supposed to love butter.

Buttercups can tell if you like butter

Or did you ever pluck off the petals of a daisy one by one while alternately repeating the phrases She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not? A game of French origin, She Loves Me She Loves Me not can determine if the object of your affection returns those feelings.

Reading the daisy can tell you whether or not your affections are returned

Emerging from the hard ground in early spring, daffodils are the quintessential symbol of spring and rebirth. According to the The Language of Flowers, they can also mean Regards, while some dictionaries associate it with Chivalry. Other interpretations associate daffodils with self-esteem, and the Greek legend of Narcissus suggests the flowers could also represent egotism and vanity.

Daffodils symbolize spring and also regards

Forget-me-nots’ meaning is implied in the name. The true blue flower whose Greek name myosotis means mouse ear, is commonly associated with constancy and friendship.

Forget-me-nots symbolize friendship and constancy

Often flower meaning derives from the behavior of the plants itself. For instance, Mimosa pudica is often linked to sensitivity or chastity, as its leaves fold up when touched by another organism.

Mimosa pudica symbolizes sensitivity

And within the same species, colors can mean different things. In paintings, a deep red rose has been used for centuries to symbolize the blood of Christ, while also expressing the intensity of romantic love.

A red rose is associated with strong feelings of love

While pink roses express affection.

Pink roses represent affection

And yellow roses stand for friendship or devotion.

A yellow rose signifies friendship

If you really want to go for it, you can do like Felix in Honoré de Balzac’s The Lily of the Valley and compose elaborate bouquets built upon multiple meanings. In the novel, he uses flower arrangements to convey coded messages to his beloved that only she can decipher. This took some advanced study, however, with Felix spending days in the countryside meditating on the essence of each flower.

Regardless of your flower knowledge, the list is as long as their are flower species. And though meanings may vary across cultures, the roots of this ancient custom remain the same. Some feelings are best expressed when spoken in the Language of Flowers.

 

Weed ID: Get To Know What You’re Pulling

“My flower is an educated weed.” – Luther Burbank

Summer is coming and many of our plants are bursting into flower. But while we celebrate, there’s another less attractive family of plants that is springing into life as well. These are the dark cousins of our ornamentals: the perennial and annual weeds. The bane of all gardeners, they stubbornly crop up each year, seemingly unfazed by our attempts to remove them.

I started delving into the shadowy world of weeds a few years ago when a member of my garden club gave us an odd assignment. She handed each of us a sheet of paper on which were illustrated a dozen garden-variety weeds. Then, she asked us to “locate” them in her garden. Needless to say, we pulled a lot of weeds that day. I wasn’t thrilled.

However, the experience ended up peaking my interest in this unwelcome form of vegetation.

Weeds are fierce competitors

Weeds compete with other garden plants for water, sunlight and nutrients, often in very aggressive ways. In Maryland, Creeping Charlie is one such example, as it delights in spreading rapidly by runners and carpeting the garden with its fan shaped leaves. (Though pulling it can be particularly satisfying because it comes up in large mats.) Other weeds like crabgrass, or worse, hairy bittercress that spits up tiny seeds if you touch it, are hard to eradicate and decidedly much less satisfying to remove.

It’s important to remember that, just like ornamental plants, weeds are classified by their life spans. They’re either annual (growing from seeds spread the previous year), biennial (completing their vegetative growth in the first season and flowering in the second) or perennial (springing up from established roots that survived the winter.) Herbicides are generally targeted to annual species, while perennial varieties can be much harder to kill. Perennial weeds, in fact, can easily regrow from seemingly dormant stolons, rhizomes, tubers and of course seeds.

Unlike our finicky ornamentals, weeds can grow anywhere

Over the past few years, I’ve compiled a list of the more obnoxious weeds that show up uninvited in my garden. It has helped me get to know the different species and understand when and why they appear. Somehow just knowing the names of what I’m removing has made the whole process a bit more satisfying.

Here are the top ten weeds I’ll be pulling this season

CRABGRASS 

Smooth green, finger-like leaves of crabgrass

Long considered a major problem weed in North America, crabgrass can produce up to 150,000 seeds per season all of which germinate in late spring and early summer. The clumping annual grass can be distinguished by its slender, finger-like leaves that spread by side shoots from a central hub. Growing to form larger and larger clumps in star-shaped patterns, crabgrass eventually becomes a dense mat that smothers grass and other weeds.

Interestingly, crabgrass is considered a symptom (and not the cause) of poor lawn health as it thrives in sparse grass that is under watered and not well fed.

GOOSEGRASS 

Goosegrass is one of the hardest to remove

Also known as silver crabgrass, goosegrass is a prostrate, bunching grass that spreads by seed and usually emerges a few weeks after its smooth green cousin. It has dark green, thick, flattened leaves and whitish stems that radiate from a central point (which makes it easy to identify.) Small, flattened flowers emerge on stiff spikes from July to September. Unlike crabgrass, goosegrass is very difficult to remove and its seeds spread easily by wind.

HAIRY BITTERCRESS 

Hairy bittercress spits its seeds when you pull it

A member of the mustard family, hairy bittercress has heart-shaped leaves with scalloped margins that grow from a basal rosette. The largest leaves are at the base of the plants. The weed produces tiny white flowers from spring to fall and spits its dried seeds into the air when disturbed. If you can dodge the seeds, hair bittercress is actually easy to pull from wet soil, roots and all. Just give it a good yank on the stalk.

BROADLEAF PLANTAIN 

The candle-like inflorescences of broadleaf plantain

Broadleaf plantain has large, oval-shaped leaves that grow in a ground-hugging rosette. The leaves are attached to thick green stems that resemble celery when shredded. Long slender spikes of inconspicuous tiny green flowers spring from the base of the weed from April to September. Broadleaf plantain is actually edible (as are many weeds) and is chock full of iron, minerals and vitamins. The smallest leaves (harvested in the spring) are the tastiest, imparting an asparagus-like flavor. Fresh leaves can also be crushed to treat burns, insect bites and wounds.

BINDWEED 

Bindweed is a member of the morning glory family

This perennial weed has a spade-shaped leaf with rounded tip and two pointed lobes at the base. Erect seedlings spring from underground stems that can grow to several feet long, causing the plant to bend over and begin its vine-like growth. Whitish/pink, trumpet-shaped flowers, which close each afternoon and reopen the following day, bloom from April to October. Bindweed spreads from both underground horizontal stems and seed and is considered one of the most troublesome weeds in the U.S.

CHICORY 

The clear blue flowers of chicory

Of Mediterranean origin, chicory was grown for centuries as a salad green before it started showing up all over our lawns and roads. It has one of the truest blue flowers around. The hardy perennial grows from a deep taproot that forms a prostrate rosette of hairy leaves. From June to September, clusters of daisy-like flowers appear on stiff hairy stalks, opening early in the morning and closing about 5 hours later. In addition to the many medicinal uses for chicory, the weed’s long taproot can serve as a coffee substitute when dried.

YELLOW NUTSEDGE 

Delicate brown flower of yellow nutsedge 

Native to North America and parts of Eurasia, yellow nutsedge is a grass-like perennial with shiny yellowish-green leaves and golden brown flower heads. The plant spreads by producing tubers from a complex shallow root system. It can grow in just about any soil or surface, including my driveway.

MOUSE-EAR CHICKWEED 

Mat-forming mouse-ear chickweed

Mouse-ear chickweed is a low-growing, mat-forming perennial with oval, dark grey-green leaves. The leaves are attached directly to the stem, which can be green or purple. Tiny clusters of white, star-like flowers bloom on erect 4″ stems throughout the summer. Mouse-ear chickweed forms dense mats with trailing stems.

CREEPING CHARLIE 

Easy-to-pull Creeping Charlie has violet flowers

Creeping Charlie, also known as Creeping Jenny or ground ivy, lives up to its name; it creeps. It has small, fan-shaped leaves with round-toothed edges, which emit a minty scent when crushed. Tiny blue-violet flowers appear in the spring, which look quite pretty wrapped around other garden perennials. Don’t let it get out of control, though, Creeping Charlie spreads rapidly to form dense mats, setting down roots all along its stems.

MOCK STRAWBERRY 

Tiny fruits of mock strawberry make it easy to distinguish

Resembling common strawberry, mock Strawberry is a ground-hugging plant that spreads by hairy runners and forms crowns at nodes. Its leaves are toothed and have dense hairs on the upper surface. Yellow flowers with five petals appear from April-June followed by tiny red strawberries. The fruits are edible, but have very little taste. The plant has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes, including as a fever reducer and antiseptic.

A portion of my lawn (below) is currently being invaded by mock strawberry.

Of course, there are so many other weeds to pull, including clover, ragweed and dandelions, to name just a few. This list is by no means exhaustive. NOTE:  Remember to pull weeds when the ground is wet- it makes it a lot easier and you’re more likely to get the entire plant instead of leaving part of it in the ground. Click here for a great tutorial on fast and easy ways to remove weeds from the garden.

 

10 Great Plants For A Care-Free Spring Garden

A spring garden brings renewed hope in all things growing

There’s nothing quite like the look of spring flowers. Bursting to life on the heels of winter, the delicate forms are so fresh as to almost seem edible. That, compounded by the returning sun and its impact on color, and spring gardens bring hope this time of year, renewing our faith in life and everything growing. Continue reading

6 Top Monardas Join The Resistance Against Powdery Mildew

Monarda didyma, Scarlet bee balm

Monarda, commonly known as bee balm, is a spectacular plant when grown under the right conditions. Given plenty of sunlight and well-draining soil, it can flower from mid-July to late summer. Still, the plant’s annoying propensity to develop powdery mildew often make it an eyesore in the garden. That’s why researchers at Delaware’s Mt Cuba Center recently set out to determine which of the top-performing monardas offer the best protection against disease in the Atlantic region. Continue reading

Gardening For The Soul: Ten Steps To A Happy Life

View from atop the Bavarian Alps

Spring is a good time to start fresh and focus on what’s really important in life. For me, the month of April is a time of introspection. I make a mental list of what parts of my life need to be reorganized, adjusted or just plain thrown out.  Then I replenish my house with a happy mind. Continue reading

Chernobyl Plants And The Exotic World Of Ruderal Species

“Sometimes the best thing you can do is…. nothing. –Oliver Kellhammer, Ecological Artist 

There’s a lesser-known field of botany called the study of ruderal plants, or plants that grow on waste ground, ruins or rubble. Borne by birds, wind or other animals, the weed-like species are the first to colonize lands disturbed by wildfires, avalanches, construction and other ecological disasters. The plants self-sow in abandoned areas, forming impromptu gardens and forests over time, in a clear demonstration of what Mother Nature can do when left to her own devices. Continue reading

New York City’s Flower District: Green Oasis In A Concrete Jungle

IMG_8950

New York City’s historic flower district

It’s not every day you visit a city and wind up in a jungle. But that’s exactly the case if you happen to be walking along a certain stretch of New York City’s West 28th street in Manhattan. There, amidst the hustle and bustle of big city life, a vibrant community of plant wholesalers and retailers set up shop each morning, transforming the city’s teeming sidewalks into a bona fide urban jungle. Continue reading