At the end of summer, daffodils are rarely top-of-mind. But this is precisely the time when you need to be ordering them. And this is especially true for the more sought-after, unusual varieties. Why stick with yellow trumpets when daffodils come in so many other colors, shapes and sizes? See below if one or more of these different types of daffodils wouldn’t be the perfect fit for your 2021 spring garden. Continue reading →
Recently my inbox has been overflowing with questions from readers worried about the abnormally warm winter we’ve been experiencing. Many of the questions center on daffodils; in particular, what to do about unruly bulbs. Before replying, I first spoke with a few local nursery experts to gain their advice. Here are five of my readers’ top concerns about daffodil bulbs and what to do about them. Continue reading →
To all appearances, it seems impossible. It’s February, and tiny white flowers are popping up out of the frozen soil. Snowdrops, or Galanthus, are for many the true harbingers of spring. If you ask me, they’re also a powerful symbol of resilience as, one by one, they infuse the cold weather months with a new shade of meaning. Continue reading →
Every year, I make a list of things I want to achieve or change in my garden. But the year passes, I get busy planning my clients’ landscapes and before I know it, it’s mid summer. That is not an ideal time to start something new in the garden.
I’ve promised myself that this year, however, will be different. All those ideas I’ve jotted down in my garden notebook? I plan to convert at least some of them into reality. And January is the perfect time to sit down and create a plan for just how all of it will happen. Continue reading →
Yesterday I supervised the planting of two thousand spring-flowering bulbs. We laid them individually in patterns and dug them one-by-one into the earth. When we were finished, we dressed the bulbs with mulch and stepped back to admire our handiwork. You could almost feel the energy emanating from all those future flowers tucked so snugly underground. Continue reading →
They look like they jumped out of a Dr. Zeus book — giant purple balls stuck like lollipops on long flexible stems. Alliums can be startling the first time you encounter them. But there’s so much to love about these drought tolerant plants, including long bloom period and resistance to most pests and diseases. And their whimsical appeal can sure liven up a garden. Continue reading →
Let’s face it. It’s hard not to stress when your daffodils start popping up mid-winter. As weather becomes more unpredictable, early growth is becoming more and more common in spring bulbs. Not to worry, though. Your plants have seen it all before. Moreover, they’re built to handle a few temperature swings.
THE UNDERGROUND WORLD OF BULBS
To understand why spring bulbs can weather a little premature growth, it helps to take a peek underground.
Botanically speaking, a bulb is a short stem surrounded by fleshy leaves that store food during dormancy. As soon as you plant it in the fall, a spring bulb starts growing.
Each bulb has five major parts: a basal plate, scale leaves, protective tunic, a flowering shoot and lateral buds. The action begins in the basal plate. During the winter months, roots emerge from this modified stem to penetrate the soil.
As they develop, the roots absorb water and other nutrients that they store in the scale leaves.
In some flower species like alliums, a thin papery covering called the tunic keeps the scales from damage or drying out.
Papery thin tunic keeps bulbs from drying out
The scale leaves provide food storage, and they also protect the flowering shoot. This vital part of the bulb contains all of the future leaves and flowers. During the winter months, the flowering shoot slowly grows upwards within the bulb, eventually developing into a stem.
Finally, at a pre-determined time in the spring, the leaves break through the soil. Then, approximately one month later, the flowering shoot begins to appear.
At this stage in the process, the key thing to remember is: the flowers develop independently of the leaves.
This means that even if your bulbs (specifically, leaves) come up early, the flowering shoots still need time (between 5 and 7 weeks) to develop. And before that happens, your bulbs have most likely weathered the warm spell and resumed dormancy.
So if you see leaves poking up out of the ground too early, don’t worry. A cold snap may cause them to yellow and die back, but the bulb will wait things out and send up new growth once things warm back up again.
WAYS TO STOP YOUR BULBS FROM COMING UP TOO EARLY
There are a few strategies, however, that you can implement now to slow things down while providing an extra layer of protection to the flowering shoot.
1. COVER YOUR PLANT
Covering the soil around your spring bulbs will help insulate them against extreme winter weather like frigid temperatures and drying winds. Try mulch, straw, bark chips, leaves or pine needles.
Or, if the plant is budding too early, try draping a cloth over it (securing it above the plant with stakes.) Remove the drape during the day so the foliage can absorb sunlight to warm back up.
2. WATER DURING DRY SPELLS
If there’s been a dry spell for an extended period of time, a little extra water during the day helps bulbs grow. However, make sure your soil has good drainage. Bulbs can rot if they receive too much water.
3. IF FLOWERS START TO APPEAR
If the weather continues to stay unseasonably warm, your spring bulbs may start to produce flowers. Don’t worry. Even if frost kills off some of the initial buds, it usually won’t affect flowering in the coming months. And it won’t destroy your bulbs. They’ll still flower next year.
4. PLANT BULBS LATE IN THE FALL
The later in the fall you plant, the longer the bulb will take to sprout come spring. Wait until the temperature is cold enough (40°F or below at night) to plant your spring bulbs to ensure they’re fully dormant. Here in Maryland, I plant my daffodils in November.
Finally, make sure to plant your bulbs at three times their height in depth with the base down and the bud up. Planting bulbs too shallow makes them vulnerable to frost heaves and can lead to premature growth. And planting them upside down can stunt their growth.
For a list of ten popular spring bulbs and when and how to plant them, click here.
Author’s note January 2020:According to Science News, there is growing evidence that, in general, warmer springs are bringing earlier spring flowers. This in turn will result in longer growing seasons and drier summers. (This does not, however, mean daffodils in January.)
Here in Maryland we are having an unseasonably warm winter. In fact, it’s 65 here today on February 3. Below is a photo illustrating the state of my daffodils. (The leaves are about 3″ tall.) I’ll keep you posted as to their development.
My own daffodils on February 3
Same daffodils on February 24 – all foliage, luckily no blooms!
Looking for more information on daffodil care? I posted an article this week (February 2020) answering five top questions posed by my readers. Join the discussion!
One of my favorite places to visit in the early spring is Delaware’s historic Winterthur Gardens. The estate’s stunning 60-acre naturalistic garden has one of the finest displays of early spring bulbs around, all staged to flower successively in a colorful quilt woven of purples, pinks, blues, yellows and whites. And every year when the show begins on the garden’s famous March Bank, I vow that I will plant hundreds of these tiny bulbs the coming fall so that I, too, can bask in their miniature early-spring glory. Continue reading →
Gardening at the shore can present its own set of challenges. Plants that behave one way in town can look entirely different at the shore. Still, there are many good options to choose from that can handle a stiff breeze and some salt in the soil. It just takes a little know-how and some tough maritime plants, and you can create a coastal garden that has non-stop blooms from now until fall.
Coastal gardens often bear the brunt of high winds that can leave plants vulnerable to breakage. And salt spray can damage buds, stems and leaves, leading to dieback. Often, these symptoms don’t show up until late winter or early spring. However, some of these factors can be mitigated by protection.
Indeed, in order to perform at their best, seaside plants need some extra protection. Screens are one way to protect vulnerable blooms. Or, consider siting your garden in an area close to the house or behind a stand of trees to help break the wind and lessen its impact.
My own seaside garden: a mix of mostly drought-tolerant plants
If you’re gardening at the shore, you are gardening in sandy soil, which is naturally more porous. Porous soil tends to drain quickly, meaning it doesn’t easily retain water. You can combat this by adding generous amounts of compost, leafmold or other organic matter to your soil. This will help conserve moisture and provide much-needed nutrients for your plants to grow.
Just the same, choosing mostly drought-tolerant plants is the number one way to ensure your coastal garden’s success. For those plants that need more attention, make sure you’re around to water them or consider installing a drip line on a timer.
Sandy soil drains water more rapidly
COASTAL GARDEN COLOR
Bright colors show up better at the shore. That’s because bold hues stand out in strong sunlight, which tends to wash out lighter colors. Choose strong purples, blues, magentas, yellows and oranges for your coastal garden. And select plants with bold architecture like big leaves and strong stems for added definition.
Bold colors show up best in bright sunlight
PLANT IN THE FALL FOR BEST RESULTS
To give plants a healthy start, install trees, shrubs and large perennials in the fall when the soil is still warm. This will allow their roots to begin growing before the soil freezes.
Plant trees, shrubs and large perennials in the fall
TOP PLANTS FOR COASTAL GARDENS
ALLIUM (Flowering Onion)
Of the many allium varieties, ‘Purple Sensation’ is probably the most well known. The giant ornamental onion has 4-inch rounded purple blooms that appear in late spring to early summer. Alliums, however, are a large family of bulbs that come in many shapes, sizes and colors. Yellowing foliage can sometimes be a problem, though, so pair them with large-leaved perennials to mask any decay.
BLACK-EYED SUSAN (RUDBEKIA)
Black-Eyed Susans are some of the most heat and drought-tolerant plants around. Native to North America, these tall, golden wildflowers bloom from mid-summer until fall. Plant them in large masses in sun or part-shade for high-impact in the garden.
Daylilies seem to thrive in just about any condition. I’ve left entire clumps of them out all winter long and they still settle happily back into the ground come spring. Daylilies come in a wide variety of colors, from deepest purples to pinks, reds, yellows and even creamy white. There’s something for everyone.
It’s hard not to think of a seaside garden without first conjuring up visions of blue and pink flowers. Hydrangeas are synonymous with coastal living. My own hydrangeas flourish alongside my house where they feel safe and protected, faithfully producing blooms from June through August.
In town, my lamb’s ear needs constant maintenance to look its best. When the plants receive too much water, their velvety leaves start to droop and decay. At the shore, however, my lamb’s ear takes on a whole new appearance, forming upright, silvery-grey mounds.
In mid June, lamb’s ear pushes up tall furry spikes of blue-grey flowers. They’re not to everyone’s liking, and many people trim them off. At the shore, I leave them be so I can watch them sway in the ocean breezes.
This plant is perfectly suited to coastal gardens. Lavender loves lots of sun and once established, thrives in near drought conditions. I’m constantly having to beat back my own lavender Hidcote to keep it in bounds in the border. Check out these great tips from Soleado Lavender Farm on the best species and how to maintain them.
This hardy, drought-resistant perennial slightly resembles lavender, but has a softer, more delicate appearance. It produces purple-blue flower stalks in May/June from above grey-green clumps of fine-textured foliage. I trim my nepeta back hard after its first flowering and enjoy a slightly smaller bloom in July. Nepeta’s soft grey-green foliage looks great paired with bright yellow daylilies and almost anything red or orange.
A low, creeping annual with succulent-looking stems and foliage, portulaca thrives in coastal gardens. Use it in the front of a border, trailing over a wall or in hanging baskets. Its bright colored blooms come in a range of shades from orange, red and yellow to bright white.
RED-HOT POKER (Torch Lily)
I love this striking plant that sends up bright yellow-orange poker-shaped flowers on 3-foot stems. Drought resistant and attractive to pollinators, red hot poker likes lots of sun and isn’t picky about soil. It blooms in mid-summer.
A perfect plant for coastal gardens, verbena’s large clusters of deep purple flowers and deep green foliage look good all summer long. The plant is primarily known for its purple blooms. However, you can now find cultivars in blue, pink, red and white that grow from 6 inches to 3 feet tall.
Also known as Speedwell, this long-blooming perennial with tall flower spikes is the perfect addition to a sunny coastal border. Best known for its intense, violet-blue flowers, it also comes in pink, rose and white. My favorite variety is the mid-sized Ulster Blue Dwarf, one of the truest blue perennials. Veronica is also a great source of nectar for bees and butterflies.
This elegant plant has flat-topped golden yellow flowers borne high atop asparagus-fern like foliage. Yarrow is especially captivating in seaside gardens where it sways softly in seaside breezes.
Yarrow blooms from mid-summer to fall and in addition to the traditional yellow, come in shades of orange, red, pink and white. It also makes a long-lasting and sturdy cut flower.
DROUGHT-TOLERANT DOESN’T MEAN WATER-FREE
While most of these plants are drought-tolerant, they’ll still need watering from time to time. Give your coastal garden a healthy start by improving the soil with compost or other organic matter before planting. Mulch well to hold in moisture and use overhead irrigation whenever possible to wash off salt from the foliage. And avoid watering your plants during the hottest hours of the day, which can burn the foliage.
Growing up in Delaware’s Brandywine Valley, I looked forward each year to the first buds poking their tiny heads out of the ground on Winterthur Gardens’ March Bank. Planted over a century ago, the stunning display unfolds like a giant rose in the springtime, blanketing the dreary winter hillside with waves of vibrant color. For the area’s residents, the March Bank is the true harbinger of spring. It’s always worth a visit just to witness the joyous arrival of the tiny woodland flowers. Continue reading →