Just the other day, I was working with a bunch of Master Gardeners preparing a garden for the county fair when one of them noticed a bare space. Sure enough, in one of the central beds, a group of plants had recently given up the ghost on a prominent corner. In no time, we all agreed that a lacy evergreen would be the perfect replacement. And that’s when I suggested chamaecyparis. Continue reading →
If you’re used to order in the garden, naturalistic plantings can seem a bit out of control. But installations such as New York City’s High Line are bringing this new, plant-driven approach more and more into the mainstream. That’s according to award-winning designer Carrie Preston of the Netherland’s Studio TOOP. She spoke recently in Maryland on how to incorporate naturalistic plantings into all types of landscapes. Continue reading →
Last week, I was manning the booth at the Master Gardener Demo Garden when someone plopped a tall, spindly plant down onto the table. It looked pitiful; the flowers were gone and the leaves had tiny holes in them. But upon closer inspection, I spotted a few lantern-shaped chrysalises and some colorful caterpillars working their way up the stems. The plant was none other than milkweed. And the ‘lanterns’ contained baby monarchs in the process of forming. Continue reading →
Come August, a garden can begin looking a little tired. Months of heat, insects and disease can take a toll on summer flowers. But that’s precisely the time many late-summer flowers are just coming into bloom. All it takes is a little advance planning and some deliberate pruning, and you can enjoy a gorgeous garden all the way until fall. Continue reading →
Monarda, or bee balm, is a spectacular plant when grown under the right conditions. If given plenty of sun and well-draining soil, it will flower from mid to late summer. Still, the plant’s annoying predisposition to powdery mildew often makes it an eyesore in the garden. So, recently researchers at Delaware’s Mt. Cuba Center set out to identify which varieties offer the best resistance. 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 →
Minus some advance planning, fall usually spells the end of the garden. But if planted in spring, dahlias will flower non-stop through autumn. Lately, I’ve been waking up to crisp mornings only to discover more and more blooms. Who knew October could bring so many fresh flowers?
DAHLIAS BRING OUT THE CHILD
For some, dahlias may not be all that big a deal. But for me, the first time I saw the majestic, 10-foot flowers left an indelible memory. It was the 1960s, and I was a kid growing up in Delaware. Smack dab in the middle of suburbia, on the corner of two heavily-traveled streets, there was a small working farm. In the summer it produced fruits and vegetables. But in September, it grew dahlias.
And these weren’t your everyday dahlias, mind you. Many were the gigantic, dinner plate size; the kind that drives a kid mad with desire to jump out of the car just to be among them. Standing as tall as adults, they gently swayed in the breeze, solemnly saluting as we drove by.
Craning my neck out the window, I’d watch until they disappeared, slowly dissolving into a sea of rainbow colors.
And thus began my love affair with these beautiful flowers.
SO MANY TYPES, SO LITTLE TIME
Dahlias are classified as tender perennials, meaning they may be annual or perennial, depending on the climate. They typically start blooming in August with other late-summer flowers. But the best thing about them is that they don’t stop blooming until the first frost, or roughly right around Thanksgiving.
And in spite of their reputation for towering stems and gigantic blooms, the plants come in all shapes and sizes. Dahlia types can range in height from the very tall specimens of my childhood to just under one foot. Planting the tubers is easy. Just dig a hole 6 to 8 inches deep and drop them in with the ‘eyes’ facing up. Three or more tubers per hole usually gives the most colorful effect.
FLOWERS AS BIG AS A FOOT
Still, it goes without saying that the most notable feature of all dahlias are the flowers. These can range in diameter from 2 inches to almost one foot. And among these, there are specific dahlia types, each with its own specifications. For example, there are species with single, double and semi-double petals. And there are unusual shapes like spherical or cactus. There are also types that resemble flowers such as anemones, peonies or orchids.
Waterlily dahlia ‘Pam Howden’
Notwithstanding the variety, one thing all dahlia types have in common is their dazzling color. These flowers come in a seemingly infinite array, including all shades of pink, red, scarlet, orange, purple and yellow. Moreover, the flower petals often come painted with strips or tips of another color. (There are also creamy ones as well as many brilliant white species.)
In sum, with so many options to choose from, how do you decide? One way is to familiarize yourself with the most common types. You may be surprised to find that some don’t look like the ‘typical’ dahlia.
THE TEN MOST COMMON DAHLIA TYPES
Single-flowered dahlias feature a single row of flat or slightly cupped ray petals surrounding a central disc.
Semi-double dahlias have two or more rows of petals surrounding a central disc.
Mignon dahlias are similar to single dahlias except their petal florets are rounded and their disc flowers have no more than two rows.
Mignon dahlia with burgundy/black foliage
Anemone dahlias have an inner disc made up of tubular shaped florets and an outer ring of one or more rows of flat ray petals.
Anemone dahlia ‘Polka’
Orchid dahlias have open centers with just one row of ray florets surrounding a disc. The petals are often overlapping and curled for most of their length.
Collarette dahlias have one row of flat petals surrounding a disc as well as an inner wreath of shorter petals called the ‘collar’.
Collarette dahlia ‘Mary Eveline’ plum red petals with white ‘collar’
Ball and Pompon dahlias are shaped like balls and feature double flowers with rounded or blunt tipped florets. Pompons are slightly smaller than ball dahlias.
Orange ball dahlias – notice the slightly flattened shape
The perfectly round pompon dahlia ‘Franz Kafka’
Decorative dahlias are doubles that feature flat, oval petals with tips on the end. Formal varieties have regular, evenly placed petals, while informal varieties tend to be arranged in a more haphazard way. Both varieties grow to over 40 inches.
Decorative dahlia ‘Lisa Dark Pink’
Cactus and semi-cactus dahlias have narrow pointed petals that roll back on themselves, giving them a spiky look. Cactus types are rolled for their full length, while semi cactus types include a mix of flat and rolled petals. Both reach an average height of around 40 inches.
Orange cactus dahlia
Semi-cactus dahlia ‘Aloha’
There are many other varieties, including peony, waterlily and stellar, not to mention the celebrated ‘Dinner Plate’ which falls under numerous categories. The Miscellaneous Dahlias category alone includes hundreds of varieties.
Dahlias are sold as tubers and need to be planted after the ground has warmed up and there’s no danger of frost. I usually plant mine in the late spring just around the time my tulips have faded. Plant the tubers in well drained soil in full sun for best results. You can also pot them up indoors a couple weeks beforehand to give them a head start.
Dahlia tubers need to winter indoors in a cool, but not cold, space
Dahlias are considered tender in my neck of the woods (Zone 6), but hardy outdoors in zones 8 to 10. That means that once they’re done flowering in the fall (or right after the first frost), I must dig them up. I then label them and store them in a dry spot in the basement. Click here for the USDA Plant Hardiness Map to see where you fit.
To see photos of my garden designs, including plant lists, check out my Instagram at carole.herebydesign. I post seasonally from spring through fall.
When children aren’t getting along, parents know it’s time to divide them. The same goes for perennials that refuse to make room for other plants in the garden. And daylilies are one of the biggest offenders; quickly crowding out other, smaller species with their big, drooping foliage. But don’t despair. Just follow the simple steps below and you’ll have things back under control in a jiffy. Continue reading →
One of the many things I love about late summer are the throngs of colorful, star-shaped flowers that spring up all over the landscape. Most of us are familiar with the yellow ones (sunflowers). But did you know that the same plant family also includes species in purple, pink, red and white? These flowers are all part of the Aster family, Asteraceae, the largest and most diverse group in the plant kingdom.
THE ASTER FAMILY STORY
Indeed, the Aster family is exceedingly large, with numbers in the tens of thousands. According to The Plant List, there are currently over 27,000 known species. You may have noticed some of the flowers’ shared characteristics. Many feature a round central disk surrounded by colorful petal rays.
Gaillardia is a member of the aster family.
However from there, things can get confusing. Although the botanical name, Asteraceae, comes from a Greek word meaning star, people often refer to asters by their common name, daisy.
Still others refer to asters as Compositae. That’s because their blooms are composed of many tiny, individual flowers. (More on that below.)
WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT ASTERS
They may appear as one flower, but asters are actually made up of many, all inserted on a single flower head, or disk. These tiny flowers come in two shapes: tubular and ray. Tubular flowers are located in the center of the disk. And the ray-shaped flowers are found at the perimeter. The ray-shaped flowers are what we often refer to as petals.
Zoom in on the photo and you’ll see that the disk is not flat, but domed. And it’s made up of hundreds of tiny tubular flowers.
Leucanthemum (daisy) displaying both tubular and ray florets.
That being said, within the family, there are many variations. Some members have only tubular flowers while others have only ray. And then there are family members like daisies, coneflowers, common sunflowers and asters that have both disks and rays.
The flower head of Globe Thistle contains no petal flowers.
Scientists believe that the aster flower head, which also contains seeds and nutrients, helps the plants store energy during periods of drought. It also may contribute to their longevity. In my own experience, I’ve noticed that once established, my Aster family members like coneflower, daisy and blanket flower require very little water. And certainly the abundant roadside sunflowers, daisies and asters are living proof of these flowers’ remarkable survival ability.
UNEXPECTED FAMILY MEMBERS
Of course every family has its outliers, and the Aster family has a few. These include the food crops lettuce, chicory and globe artichokes. Notice the two types of flowers, both tubular and ray, on the mountain lettuce bloom below.
TAKE THE ASTER FAMILY QUIZ!
Yet, despite all these variations, I find that it’s the yellow aster members that are the hardest to identify. Superficially, many of the flowers look alike. But on closer inspection, their disk and ray flowers are all slightly different.
Below are some well-known Aster family members that bloom in late summer and early fall. Can you identify them? (For answers, please see below.)
Ready to add some of these beautiful flowers to your garden? (or just be able to identify some more members of the family). Following is a list of well-known aster species and their value in the garden.
These popular flowers can be found in gardens all over the world. Popular members include: New England Aster, Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Cosmos, Daisy, Fleabane, Dahlia, Coreopsis, Liatris, Blanket Flower, Fleabane, Zinnia, Chrysanthemum, Oxeye daisy and Yarrow.
HERBAL TEAS, MEDICINE AND FOOD
Aster flowers, leaves and roots have been used for millennia to treat various ailments and diseases. These species include Calendula (Pot marigold), Chamomile, Echinacea, Arnica, Endive, Lettuce and Artemisia.
GREAT NECTOR PRODUCERS
Since they bloom late in the summer and into the fall, asters are a great source of nectar and pollen for pollinators. Some of the best producers are Helianthus annus (Sunflower), Goldenrod, New England Aster and Fleabane.
French marigold, Tagetes patula
Some asters are great at repelling insects. The most well-known among them are marigolds. French marigolds are known to repel whiteflies while Mexican marigolds are said to not only stave off insects but rabbits as well. Other effective ‘insecticidal’ species include Tanacetum, False Fleabane and Chrysanthemum.
Ragweed is a member of the aster family.
Weeds are members, too. Dandelion, Ragwort, Ragweed and Sneezeweed are all part of the Aster family.
Want to know more? For a detailed list of Asteraceae, its genera and where the family fits in the plant kingdom, click here for the USDA Natural Resources Conversation Service.
Looking for garden inspiration? To see photos of my designs, including plant lists, check out my Instagram at carole.herebydesign. I post seasonally from spring through fall.