Top Holiday Plants And How To Keep Them Blooming

Soon, many of us will be receiving gifts of holiday plants with no clue what to do with them. Sure, the seasonal blooms look great in their decorative wrappings, but too often, just one week later they’re already showing signs of distress. Why toss these beauties in the trash when there’s still so much floral potential? Here’s how to keep your holiday plants looking their best and blooming well past the holiday season. Continue reading

What Dirty Old Birds Can Teach Us About Air Pollution

Bird specimens at the Field Museum of Chicago

It couldn’t help but attract my attention; a neat row of old, preserved birds, their soft, feathery chests face-up: some were dark with soot, others by comparison, were clean. All came from an industrial area in the United States called the Rust Belt. That is key to the story. Continue reading

Spring Bulbs: Still Time To Plant Some Of These 10 Great Varieties

Spring bulbs in a formal garden setting

Yesterday I directed the planting of two thousand spring bulbs. We placed them individually in patterns and our very capable team dug them one-by-one into the ground. When they were finished, we dressed the bulbs with a thick layer of mulch and all stepped back to admire our handiwork. The garden felt as if it were bursting with energy with so much spring promise nestled snuggly underground. Continue reading

Five Reasons Your Trees Are Failing: A Bartlett Tree Expert Speaks Out

Trees are generally admired for their surface beauty, but their health and vigor springs from what’s underground. That’s according to Dr. Kelby Fite, Director of Research for Bartlett Tree Research Lab in Charlotte, North Carolina, who spoke to Maryland’s master gardeners last week. His lecture entitled ‘Managing the Landscape Below Ground’ provided a wealth of information about how to improve the life of the trees in our landscape. According to Fite, it all starts with the soil. Continue reading

Tree ID: How To Be Your Own Best Detective

Giant tulip poplar in Orange, Virginia

I remember the first time I recognized the value of knowing a tree’s name. I was walking with a friend along the C & O canal in Great Falls, Maryland when she began identifying the trees around us. As we passed, she stopped to observe different species, remarking on their visible characteristics and quality of growth. Suddenly, the woods took on an entirely new dimension for me. Continue reading

Trending In Health: Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing)

Most of us are well aware that a walk in the woods is a breath of fresh air; especially if you’re stressed out from big city life or the artificial glow of computer screens. But now in a growing trend, people are heading to the woods to experience nature in a completely different way. It’s called forest bathing. Continue reading

Dreamy Dahlias: 10 Ways To Identify Your Perfect Type

A cactus dahlia blooming in my garden

Fall may be poking a tentative finger into my garden, but my dahlias still think it’s summer. Every morning I wake up to a multitude of new blooms. And, no matter how many I harvest, the next day there are still more waiting to be cut. To me, October means breakfast with an armload of fresh flowers, their brilliant, flat-tipped petals still wet with the morning dew. Continue reading

Bees, Wasps and Hornets: Here’s How To Tell The Difference

Four common bees and wasps

What is the difference between bees, wasps and hornets? This is a question I tend to ask myself, especially when surrounded by swarms of hungry yellow jackets while dining outside. I, for one, know from experience that fuzzy honeybees can make excellent garden companions. But, what’s up with their skinny yellow and black striped brethren? Do they have any value? They seem interested only in stinging me. Continue reading

Daylilies Giving You Trouble? Here’s How To Divide Them

Hemerocallis fulva, commonly known as Tiger Daylily

We parents know that when our children aren’t getting along it usually helps to divide them. The same goes for many perennials that stop behaving as mature specimens in the garden. Daylilies are one common plant that benefits from a good shaking up from time to time when things start to get out of control.

Warning signs

You may have noticed that your daylilies aren’t blooming as prolifically as they used to. Or that they’re crowding out or overshadowing other plants in the garden. Recently I lifted up an overgrown clump of ‘Happy Returns’ (pictured below) to find a few forgotten Heuchera ‘Obsidian’ barely surviving.

If this sounds familiar, now is the time to start dividing!

Tips for dividing

It’s pretty hard to kill daylilies (I’ve left clumps out, unplanted, for an entire winter and they still flowered come summer.) However, to play by the rules, most experts advise dividing them right after they flower, or in late summer or early fall.

Depending on your soil type, daylilies can be a bear to dig out. I prefer using a long, narrow shovel with a platform step for my foot. This seems to be the right length for getting under the daylily while providing me with a little extra leverage.

Step 1

Start by inserting the shovel into the soil about 6 inches away from the roots. Dig around in a circle, gently prying up the plants as you go. Once the plants are loosened, slide the shovel horizontally underneath the clump and cut it from the ground.

TIP:  Most times I dig the whole clump up and immediately begin dividing. However, you can save a little time by leaving a small sized clump in the ground.

Step 2

Once you’ve removed the clump, you have two choices. You can simply cut it into smaller groups, leaving the soil on. Just dig new holes and replant. (Don’t worry if you cut through a few of the roots. The plants will do fine.)

Or, you can remove the dirt from around the roots and pry the plants apart. I prefer this latter way because it gives me an opportunity to tease out the roots and replant my divisions in fresh soil.

If the clump is a large one (which it probably is if you’re dividing it), then 4 to 5 fans (green sections) is a good number. This will ensure you get blooms the next year.

But, there’s no reason you can’t break the clump down to single fans if you’re looking to fill a big area. You may have to wait a year to see new flowers, though.

Step 3

Not really a step, but very important: No matter how many divisions you choose, always leave a fan attached to the roots. Without it, the daylily won’t grow.

Step 4

Finally, replant your divisions 12′ to 18′ apart (remember, daylilies grow fast), adding compost or LeafGro to the soil. Build a small mound under your transplant and fan the daylily roots out into the soil. Cut the foliage back to around 4 to 6 inches, water generously and look forward to next summer’s abundant new blooms!

 

The September Garden: How To Wind Down On A High Note

My September garden

The end of September can be a tough time for gardens. Leaves lose their deep green luster, stems start to brown and many perennials have simply lost their will to survive. Add to that the fact that the lower the sun gets in the sky, the more dull colors can appear and suddenly, the same flowers that looked so vibrant in summer begin to take on a more muted, less enthusiastic look.

Still, a September garden can hold plenty of attractions with many great plants to choose from. It just takes a little spring planning with an eye towards fall, and you can have a beautiful garden that will provide color and blooms all the way until frost.

FALL HUES

When planning your September garden, take a cue from the fall landscape and choose blooms in brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow. Even though they’re bright, these colors will look softer under a lower sun. Think dusty reds, golden yellows, tangy oranges and throw in some deep purples to add drama.

One of my garden combos, sedum, coreopsis and cranesbill geranium

And don’t forget pinks. They make a nice transition between all of the other hot colors.

Pink Japanese anenomes

Dried pink blooms of PeeGee hydrangea

TO CUT OR NOT TO CUT

There’s no right or wrong when it comes to removing dried seedheads. I leave the elegant forms of thistle, coneflower and rudbeckia to ride out the winter. Seedheads give architecture to the September garden where they pose as sculptures amongst all the fall blooms.

In September, the dried blooms of my coreopsis add color and dimension to my garden

MULCH ALWAYS MAKES THINGS LOOK BETTER

Often at this time of year, things are looking pretty straggly. Aside from pruning things back into bounds, a new layer of mulch can do wonders for a garden. Dark brown mulch acts as a clean backdrop, helping fall tones to ‘pop.’ Plus, the aroma of new mulch always speaks ‘new.’

I’m currently a big fan of mulch made from shredded leaves. I buy it locally from University of Maryland. Not only does it keep neat and hold its color, but it continually feeds and conditions the soil, making for better, longer lasting blooms.

WHAT’S GROWING IN MY GARDEN NOW

Here are some of the flowers that are still going strong in my September garden. Some of them have only just started to bloom.

Purple lisianthus

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (I cut mine down by half in June so it blooms in September)

Dahlias are the stars of the September garden

Dahlia ‘Aloha’

Roses love the return of cooler weather

Rosa ‘Cardinal Richelieu’

Butterfly Weed

Sweet Autumn Clematis

September planters filled with sweet alyssum and lantana

This re-blooming white iris just reappeared in my garden. The bright white seems a little shocking amongst the other warm colors, so next year I’m switching it out for purple.

White seems a little jarring this time of year

Cranesbill geranium

Smoke bush, Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’

For other great fall planting ideas, click here for last year’s blog post on Maryland’s beautiful Brookside Gardens.

How does your garden grow? Join the discussion and share your ideas for great blooms for September!