Articles

Why Do My Sweet Alyssum Keep Dying?

Why Do My Sweet Alyssum Keep Dying?

“Every year I try planting alyssum and within 48 hours of planting its dead? I’ve tried many different things but can’t seem to get it to work at this house.  I’ve grown it in other beds and borders just not working here … any thoughts?” Question from Kyla of Oakbank, Manitoba, Canada

Answer: Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) is a common bedding plant that originates as a seaside plant from the coasts of the Mediterranean and Europe. It can withstand the cool temperatures of spring as well as the heat and drought of summer, but there are several things that are certain to kill it early in the season. Here are the top four possibilities.

  1. Below-freezing temperatures – Spring-purchased alyssum plants have been greenhouse-grown and are more tender than average and sensitive to temperatures near or below freezing. Once well-established and growing, they can take light frost.
  2. Poor drainage – Maritime plants like alyssum are adapted to very sharply drained soils. They will grow well in organic-rich soils if they are porous and have very good drainage. Pot-grown specimens require a mix with good drainage, such as Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix. The containers also need to drain well through holes at the bottom.
  3. Cold, wet weather – Cold, wet weather can induce fungal disease and subsequent root and crown rot.
  4. Poor Irrigation before establishment – Newly planted annuals need even moisture and good care while they are becoming established. If they are not properly watered from the start, they can dry out and die quickly. Those planted as small plugs are especially susceptible to drying because they have tiny root systems.

If your plants are subjected to one or more of these stresses shortly after planting, death can occur. But, below-freezing cold is the fastest killer. I hope that these tips help!

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Hellebores for Late Winter Color

It has been unseasonably cold here in the Pacific Northwest. In Portland, Oregon, we have had temperatures down in the teens, which is not the norm. To make matters worse, we had an extended period when the temperature did not get above freezing. The ground is very dry, which causes additional stress on plants when the ground is frozen. Walking out into my garden this morning, I must say it is looking very bleak. The Eugene area has had some snow, which is a good insulator that offers cold protection for plants, but the Portland area has not had any significant snow. Our ground is bare and dry. Nonetheless, the hellebores are beginning to show themselves.

However, we have many benefits to be living and gardening here, and one is the hellebore (Helleborus spp.), which is a true winter gem. Most are hybrids of the winter-blooming Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) and later, midwinter- to early spring-blooming Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis). All can withstand the cold, wind and rain and not only survive, but thrive. It is also one plant that I have heard deer will not eat. Hellebores were very popular in the Midwest in the early 1900s, and then their popularity diminished. In the early part of this century, they made a resurgence and have become increasingly popular in Pacific Northwest gardens. Plants are being bred to have stronger stems and an ever-increasing palette of color.

 

The Best Hellebores

Hellebore 'Double Painted'
The glorious hellebore ‘Painted Double’ is one of many outstanding selections in the Winter Jewel™ Series.

Hellebores should be on every gardener’s must-have perennial list. Their most outstanding attribute is that they bloom in winter when most other perennials are sleeping the deep sleep, but their evergreen foliage is also a nice, year-round bonus. When planted in masses, they even make a nice groundcover. Even novice gardeners will find these shade-lovers easy to grow. They’re even deer-resistant.

As I write this column in early December, there are flower buds beginning to show their color on some of my plants. I have seen hellebores even blooming in the snow in January. A particular variety that has been outstanding in my garden, called ‘Jacob Classic’,  is from the Gold Collection®. This is an early bloomer with white flowers that tend to face forward instead of downward, as many Hellebores do. It will begin flowering in January and continue for at least two months. It makes an excellent container plant, especially by an entryway, as the early blossoms provide winter cheer.

Another group of hellebores is the Winter Jewel™ Strain. The flowers in this series provide some apricot, yellow, white, and rose-red bloom colors that are relatively new for hellebores. I have two of these that have performed will in my garden and provide some striking winter color. These are ‘Painted Double’ and ‘Golden Sunrise’. As the name implies,  ‘Painted Double’  has double flowers of white with rose-red speckles that look painted. The cheerful ‘Golden Sunrise’ has ruby-edged single flowers that turn slightly downward to reveal the soft yellow backside of the petals.

Growing Hellebores

Hellebore 'GoldenSunrise'
Ruby edges bring radiant color to the nodding, primrose-yellow flowers of hellebore ‘Golden Sunrise’.

 

Hellebores like to be planted in soil that is rich in compost, such as Black Gold® Garden Compost Blend. They also perform better when given some shade from the hot afternoon sun. Hellebores make excellent plants for under a large tree where they can benefit from the filtered light that falls from between the branches. Once established, they can become a permanent part of the garden and require very little maintenance.

Hellebores aside, many Pacific Northwest gardeners successfully grow plants that are considered marginally winter hardy. With our past relatively mild winters, many have survived with minimal protection. This winter is sure to prove which plants are marginally winter-hardy and which are not. In my garden, I have a Gunnera tinctoria that I consider marginally winter hardy. Luckily, several weeks ago, I mounded the crown with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend, and then on top of that I placed the huge Gunnera leaves that I had removed from the plant. The Gunnera leaves will help keep the conditioner from blowing away in the wind. Hopefully, this method will provide the insulation the plant needs to survive. I have done this in winter’s past, and it has worked.

Hellebore 'Jacob'
Clear white flowers with bright yellow stamens grace hellebore ‘Jacob Classic’ in winter.

With the weather as cold as it’s been, there is not much a gardener can do to protect plants without a protective greenhouse or sunroom, though I always have a few tender plants that I put on a garden cart and take into my unheated garage. (My prediction for this spring is that garden centers will see a surge in sales when spring finally arrives with gardeners buying plants to replace those that couldn’t take the cold.) In the meantime, get into the spirit of this season with a visit to your garden center, and check out the holiday displays, which are certain to include a few choice hellebores.

Desert Gold Poppy: Create a Superbloom in Your Backyard

Desert poppies stay low on windy hilltops.

In the wave of Superbloom in California, a rare wildflower is making a massive appearance.  Desert gold poppy (Eschscholzia glyptosperma) is a smaller cousin of the famous California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) because it grows only in the desert. Virtually every aspect of the plant is dwarfed, a natural mechanism for greater efficiency in a very harsh, dry climate.

This year the gold poppies made their appearance upon the burned over hills of the desert, in golden swaths of color.  They clustered on the steepest hillsides, the most rugged ridge tops.  Here they are never disturbed, so seed quantity can accumulate and lay wait for years before enough rain falls to create a visible patch.  To see them close you must get up and out, perhaps do some hiking, but this year photos show their character and suitability for sowing onto very dry properties of the desert Southwest and Great Basin.

Siting Desert Gold Poppy

These poppies are in a sheltered location at the bottom of a slope.

Desert gold poppy prefers alluvial fans and dry stream beds, which are easy to duplicate in desert gardens.  It is tiny compared to its famous California poppy cousinBoth show equally well en masse but are rarely found together.

Microclimates define the desert poppy.  It is delicate and prefers to stay out of the wind by hunkering down into dry washes or clustering on lee sides of landforms.  Where it is windier, the desert poppy adjusts its height by shortening flower stems.  This drops blooms below the prevailing winds.  Big patches thrive where large yuccas provide windbreaks. Their low height also protects pollinating bees from winds.

This provides a clue to where to sow the desert poppy in home gardens. Choose a site where it’s likely to germinate and hopefully naturalize into a colony.  In most gardens scenarios the plant is twice as tall, and more widely spaced.

When sown in the fall, poppies have time overwinter, grow roots and flower by spring.  when sown in the spring, they sprout and then wither.  Some can perform as biennials or even short-lived perennials, depending on growing conditions.

Sowing Desert Gold Poppy

Poppy seed gradually filled this whole ravine resulting in a Superbloom.

Poppy seed is tiny and difficult to sow evenly.  The best way to be efficient with your introduction of poppies to your property is to blend them into a delivery material such as Black Gold®Earthworm Castings Blend.  This helps distribute the seed and provide a little organic matter to protect the seed once sown. Seeding is best done before a rain in the fall or early winter

First find a wide, shallow container and fill it half full with worm castings.  Next, sprinkle your poppy seed over the top, like you would add sprinkles to a white cake, striving for even coverage.  Once in place, use your bare hands to gently toss the castings as you would a salad, slowly blending in the seed.  Immediately sow this blend where you want it, otherwise, it will settle and lose its fluffy quality.

The more disturbed the ground, the better the poppies will row.  They don’t like competition either.  Fast-draining grainy soil, sand, or steep slopes with extreme runoff are this plant’s preference.  Open soils allow the tiny seed rootlets to easily penetrate the ground quickly after germination.

Sowing desert gold poppies will bring an annual Superbloom to your own backyard, farm, ranch, or rural cabin. Such natives will either sink or swim after the first year.  If they like your digs they’ll stay, have babies, and take up residence.  But for others, unless it’s an epic rain year, they may never return.

Tough Garden Yuccas      

Adam’s needle (Yucca filamentosa) is an adaptable, bold landscape plant!

“This flower was made for the moon, as the Heliotrope is for the sun…and refuses to display her beauty in any other light.”  This lovely Victorian quote, taken from the 1878 edition of Vicks Monthly Magazine, set off a fad for yucca plants.  Though they flower in the sun, their blossoms become fragrant at dusk, releasing a seductive scent to draw their pollinators, yucca moths (Tegeticula and Parategeticula moth species).  Yucca species depend on specific yucca moths for pollination, and yucca moths lay their eggs in yucca flowers where the young feed on some (but not all) of the developing seeds. Both moths and plants need one another for survival.

Growing yucca is a snap if you choose the right one.  With so many species and new varieties available at garden centers, it can be mind-boggling.  The best choices for those in yucca country are locally native species available in outdoor garden centers.  These will be the best adapted to your region and most likely to bloom well.

Central and Eastern Yucca for Landscapes

Moundlily yucca growing in a sandy plain in the American Southeast.

Yuccas may form single clumps, multiple clumps, or be tree-like.  Clump-forming species are more prevalent in the East and Southeast coastal regions.  Common garden-worthy forms include Adam’s needle (Yucca filamentosa), an eastern native that inhabits fields and open woodlands, the southeastern moundlily yucca (Y. gloriosa and Y. gloriosa var. recurvifolia) that inhabits coastal landscapes, and the Central US soapweed yucca (Y. glauca) of the dry plains. Spanish bayonet (Y. aloifolia) is a trunked species that inhabits southeastern coasts. These are more tolerant of regular rainwater and soils with clay, but all require well-drained soil and will withstand drought.

Western Yucca for Landscapes

The beautiful flowers of banana yucca rising from a tough cluster of leaves.

In the arid west, Yucca species are adapted to perpetual wind and nonexistent humidity.  Species such as the clump-forming banana yucca (Y. baccata) and tree-like beaked yucca (Y. thompsoniana) have thicker leaves plus a hard outer skin that make them super desert hardy, but painfully slow growing.  That means these are best purchased as mature specimens because young plants take so long to reach a visible landscape size. Arid yucca prefer south-facing, sloping ground with rapid drainage or naturally porous soils.  That’s why it’s essential to know the origin of any yucca you’re considering, to make sure you get a proper fit with your microclimate.

Landscape yucca of all kinds have been getting a makeover; ordinary green-leaf species are now offered as variegated cultivars that you can buy at garden centers.  These feature brightly striped or blue leaves and compact versions that are ideal for container gardens.  Variegated forms may bring shades of bright gold, ivory, and mint green into the garden for year-round color.

Growing Yucca in Gardens

‘Color Guard’ is a popular variegated Adam’s needle for containers and gardens.

In the landscape, some yucca species develop a trunk-like growth with age, so they get taller with time.  Others spread laterally, producing large clumps around the mother plant.  Since there are so many species in cultivation, the list below identifies the most widely grown and available species for gardens.  Different cultivated varieties may be available at the garden center, and though they may look different, grow them as you would the parent species.

Provide your yuccas with soils that drain well. Sandy or gravelly soil is often preferred, though Adam’s needle can withstand loamy soils. Be sure you know the hardiness of these sun lovers before planting them in the garden. Most landscape species are remarkably cold hardy, but the lack of winter light may be problematic for overall vigor.  Southwestern species cannot withstand winter moisture.

Growing Yucca in Pots

Mature Y. gloriosa var. recurvifolia become tree-like with age.

When growing yucca in a large pot, it’s best to make sure there is optimal flow for drainage.  If you create a small gap between the drain hole and the underlying surface or saucer, the pot will drain more freely.  Take at least 2 pieces of old tile, and slide them under the pot where you can’t see them.  It is important to “gap” the pot with any arid plant grown in containers.

Juvenile yuccas do beautifully in pots.  Plant them in porous Black Gold Cactus Mix instead of ordinary potting soil, so there’s less chance of overwatering them.  Buy a youngster for a cute matching pot to enjoy up close. As it grows, pot it up into larger containers until it becomes a stunning mature patio specimen.

Unlike agaves that bloom once at the end of life, yuccas bloom each year with stalked iridescent sprays of snow-white blossoms.  They shine in the moonlight reflecting light to lure their moth pollinators, so be sure to plant them where you can’t miss the show for full-moon viewing.

List of Common Yucca Species for Gardening

Latin Name Common Name Form US Region Zone
Y. aloifolia Spanish Bayonet Tree-like SE 7-11
Y. baccata Banana Yucca Clumping SW 7-11
Y. filamentosa Adam’s Needle Clumping SE 4-9
Y. gloriosa    Spanish Dagger Tree-like SE 6-11
Y. glauca Soapweed Yucca Clumping C 4-10
Y. thompsoniana
Beaked Yucca Tree-like SW 6-11
Glowing yucca flowers develop a sweet scent at night.

Top 10 Water-Wise Container Garden Plants

No matter where you live, you can always count on bouts of hot, dry summer weather. That’s why it’s smart to fill your outdoor containers with drought-tolerant flowers and foliage plants. Sure, you can always water heavily and fill your pots with water-holding potting soil, but water-wise plants provide real container garden insurance. They will perform beautifully in the dog days of summer, saving you time, money, and worry.

 

Top 10 Water-Wise Container Garden Plants

Proven Winner’s Good Morning Sunshine is a cool-colored, textural container garden recipe custom made for hot, dry weather.

These ornamentals create a great pallet for water-wise container gardens. Once established, they will tolerate drought and shine in the summer heat.

Agastache Alcapulco® Salmon Pink

Hummingbird Hyssop (Agastache hybrids)

These fragrant garden flowers add upright color to containers and attract hummingbirds. There are lots of varieties that vary in height, some reaching 2-3′ and others staying quite compact. The colorful members of the Alcapulco® Series are vigorous and come in pastel shades of rose, orange, and pink. Pinch the old flower stems back to encourage new flowers all summer long.

 

Angelonia Angelface® Blue

Summer Snapdragon (Angelonia Angelface® Series)

These bedding flowers produce nonstop blooms all summer long in shades of pink, purple, rose, and white. The annuals are offered by Proven Winners® and their flowers attract bees and butterflies. Even though they look delicate, they can take high heat as well as drought.

 

 

Bidens Goldilocks Rocks® (image by Proven Winners®)

Tickseed (Bidens ferulifolia)

Bright gold flowers make tickseed a sunny choice for containers. The low, mounding annuals add substance to plantings and bloom all summer long, attracting bees and butterflies. The variety Goldilocks Rocks® is especially tough and will thrive in even the worst summer weather. Tickseed is self-cleaning, so there is no need to deadhead.

 

 

Catharanthus Cora® Violet

Madagascar Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus)

Bushy Madagascar periwinkle blooms effortlessly until frost, making it a mainstay for sunny, drought-tolerant containers. It comes in lots of bright colors that can be purchased at practically any garden center. Its flowers are favored by butterflies, and many great varieties exist, such as those in the compact Cora® Series.

 

 

Cuphea Vermillionaire® (Proven Winners®)

Cigar Flower (Cuphea ignea)

Talk about a resilient garden flower! Cigar flower is a big, bushy ornamental that becomes covered with orange-red, elongated flowers throughout summer. The tubular blooms attract hummingbirds and don’t stop until frost. The Proven Winners® hybrid Vermillionaire® is especially large and colorful.

 

 

Euphorbia Diamond® Delight (Proven Winners®)

Euphorbia (Euphorbia Diamond® Series)

The delicate, white blooms of these tough garden flowers look like snowflakes and will complement almost any container planting. Euphorbia in the Diamond® Series are offered by Proven Winners® and their popularity is a testament to their ease of growth and beauty. The mounded, slightly cascading plants are self-cleaning, look great all summer, and will bloom until frost.

 

 

Lantana Bandana™ Pink

Lantana (Lantana camera)

All lantana are as tough as nails, and the bushy plants give container gardens a colorful, robust look. The glowing flowers are produced in warm, bright, multi-colored clusters that attract butterflies. Some varieties are more compact than others, like those in the Bandana™ Series.

 

 

Artemisia Quicksilver (Proven Winners®)

Wormwood (Artemesia Quicksilver™)

Grown for its icy, silvery leaves and appealing mounded habit, Quicksilver™ is a tough wormwood that looks good with both warm- and cool-colored plantings. Its toothed leaves are fragrant and resistant to deer and rabbits.

 

 

 

Pennisetum Fireworks (Proven Winners)

Annual Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum)

This elegant grass brings soft, airy height to containers and comes in lots of shades–from the multi-colored ‘Fireworks‘ to the russet red Red Riding Hood. By midsummer, it will produce ornamental foxtail plumes that persist into fall, even after they have turned brown.

 

 

Dichondra Silver Falls (Proven Winners)

Dichondra (Dichondra Silver Falls™)

This is the ultimate drought-tolerant spiller for impressive pots! The foliage effortlessly cascades down like a waterfall of silver and can be gently pruned back if it becomes too long. Its neutral color combines well with many other plantings.

 

 

Container Design

Diamonds and Emeralds is a more neutral container recipe from Proven Winners. (Image by Proven Winners)

Container gardens must have plants with the same sun and water requirements. For professional looking pots, go for plants with contrasting textures, heights, and habits, and devise a clear color scheme.

The standard container design formula includes a vertical, mounding or bushy, and cascading plant married in a complementary arrangement where plant heights blend into a fluid design. Contrasting leaf textures (fine, bold, airy, or spiky) will lend even more dramatic looks to your container. Choosing a smart color scheme is the final design factor.

Harmonious color choices make beautiful gardens. Colors may be contrasting but complementary (on the opposite end of the color wheel, such as purple and yellow, orange and blue, and red and green), warm or cool (reds, oranges, and yellows are warm and blues, greens, and purples are cool), or in similar hues (pink with pink, purple with purple, and so on).  Neutral plants and flowers, such as tan-, white-, silver-, and black-hued plants, fit with practically any color group. Click here to view some great container designs by Proven Winners®.

 

Container Preparation & Care

Larger containers hold more water and give roots more space, so opt for big pots able to sustain your contained gardens—especially when growing multiple plants in one pot. Containers must always drain well, so make sure they have drainage holes in the bottom and a base able to hold residual water.

The proper mix also makes a difference. For best performance in hot, dry weather choose Black Gold® Moisture Supreme Container Mix or OMRI Listed® Black Gold® Waterhold Cocoblend Potting Mix. Both contain natural ingredients that hold water well. Adding a slow-release fertilizer at planting time will also boost performance.

Water-wise plantings require less water, but they still need timely irrigation. Your watering plan will depend on the size of your pot and the plants chosen. Those planted in large containers with water-wise plants often require water every three days or so. If your plants look lush and healthy, you know you are giving them what they need.

Summer Breeze is a warm-hued, water-wise container recipe from Proven Winners.

Growing Perfect Garden Peonies

‘Coral Charm’ has beautiful peachy coral flowers. (Image by Jessie Keith)

It’s time to plant peonies! Nothing says spring like a garden full of bright, beautiful peonies (Paeonia spp.). Their big, fragrant flowers are great for cutting and come in shades of red, pink, white and yellow and may be single, semi-double, or double. The plants themselves are resilient and can live as long as 100 years or more. This is why established clumps of these old-fashioned garden flowers often exist around old homes.

First cultivated in China, where an estimated 41% or the world’s species reside, peonies have been the object of adoration for nearly 4000 years. There are hundreds of variable woody and herbaceous varieties for the garden. All are long-lived and wonderfully beautiful in their own right.

Herbaceous Peonies

Paeonia lactiflora 'Sarah Bernhardt' JaKMPM
Double-flowered varieties like ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ should be staked to keep their flowers from flopping. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Common garden peonies (Paeonia lactiflora) are the classic herbaceous peonies found in American gardens. The large, bushy plants produce loads of big, late-spring flowers that are hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8. Caging or staking is recommended for double-flowered varieties because weak stems often cause the flowers to flop to the ground in heavy rains. Through summer, these perennials are not very attractive, so it’s best to plant other pretty garden flowers around them for continued seasonal interest. In winter, herbaceous peonies die all the way to the ground and old stems should be cut back.

Paeonia lactiflora 'Gold Rush' JaKMPM
‘Gold Rush’ is a classic Japanese-type peony. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

Herbaceous peonies have many flower forms other than standard single, semi-double, and double types. Bomb peony flowers have a big round puff or “bomb” of petals, and Japanese- and anemone-peony flowers have golden puffs of color at the center of the blooms.

Exceptional varieties include the single, clear-pink-flowered ‘Pink Dawn’, the classic pale double pink ‘Sarah Bernhardt’, the semi-double, peachy coral ‘Coral Charm’, and the white and pale yellow, Japanese-flowered ‘Gold Rush’.

Tree Peonies

Mudan_7
Double, red-flowered tree peonies in full bloom. (Image by Jesse)

The spare, shrubby habits of tree peonies don’t impress, but the spectacular flowers they produce are some of the biggest and best around. Blooms can reach up to 10” across and come in shades of white, pink, and purplish red as well as burnished yellows and corals. Flowers burst forth from late spring to early summer for a period of around two weeks. Grow them in full sun to partial shade.

Plants are slower growing than herbaceous peonies, and their branches can be brittle, so it is important to protect them from the wind. Even though most are hardy to USDA Hardiness Zone 4, their buds can be damaged by frost—another reason to plant them in a protected spot.

Great varieties include the American Peony Society Gold Medal Winner ‘Age of Gold’, which has huge golden blooms—often with more than one flower per stem—and reaches 5 feet in height. The semi-double, pink-flowered ‘Hana Kisoi’ is another garden classic that blooms in May and originates from Japan. The brilliant white-flowered ‘Phoenix White’ bears enormous single flowers, grows relatively quickly and will add sparkle to partially shaded gardens.

Intersectional Hybrid Peonies

Paeonia 'America' JaKMPM
‘America’ is a wonderful magenta-red intersectional peony. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Intersectional (Itoh) peonies are crosses between tree and herbaceous peonies, and they offer the best characteristics of both. Their big flowers tend to be more like those of tree peonies, but they have herbaceous habits. They bloom in late spring and have stronger stems than standard herbaceous peonies, so staking is not needed.

Itoh peonies were first bred in Japan in the 1960s. Since then lots of stellar varieties have come to the market. Choice varieties include the single, magenta-red ‘America’, the semi-double lemonade colored ‘Bartzella’, and the award-winning ‘Garden Treasure’, which has semi-double flowers of palest tangerine.

Growing Peonies

All peonies flower best in full, bright sunlight, though tree peonies can take partial shade. Tree peonies should be protected from strong winds and harsh winter exposure, and double-flowered herbaceous peonies must be staked or caged if you want to keep their flowers off of the ground.

Plant new peonies in early spring or fall. Rich garden soil with a neutral pH is best. Soil that is too acid or too alkaline can cause nutrient deficiencies and result in leaf chlorosis (yellowing between the leaf veins). Before planting new peonies, amend the garden soil with fortifying Black Gold Garden Soil. Established peonies can be mulched in spring with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend. Plant the roots just below the soil surface. If you plant them too deeply, this can inhibit flowering. Small peony starts may take a year or two before reaching full bloom. Feeding peonies in early spring will support flowering and foliage health.

Large herbaceous peony clumps can be divided in fall. Just be sure to dig the large, fleshy roots deeply, and gently cut new divisions from the parent plant. Mulch new plantings lightly and water them well.

Globe-shaped peony buds attract ants, but the insects won’t damage the flowers. They simply feed on the sweet juices surrounding the unopened petals. Before cutting the flowers for indoor arrangements, just be sure to brush off any lingering ants.

When peonies are in full bloom, they look so impressive! And, you can be sure that they will remain in your garden for years to come, offering lots of sweet-smelling blooms for cutting and enjoyment.

The pink peony 'Monsieur Jules Elie' has bomb-type flowers. (Image by Jessie Keith)
The pink herbaceous peony ‘Monsieur Jules Elie’ has bomb-type flowers. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Mike Darcy’s Favorite Fall Trees and Flowers

This Stewartia pseudocamellia is in fall color.

The fall season is upon us and what a glorious time of year it is. As I walk around my neighborhood and drive around Portland, the many deciduous trees are turning brilliant shades of color. The more brilliant they are, the better.

Favorite Fall Trees

Stewartia pseudocamellia seed pods, L Foltz 2014
Stewartia pseudocamellia seed pods

Many maples are turning red, some are orange, and others are shades of yellow.  The Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) trees are turning golden yellow, and our summer annuals are telling us that their time is almost over.  Sometimes we can have a tree that gives us scarlet fall foliage as well as beautiful seed pods.  Stewartia pseudocamellia is just such a tree. Mine is planted in my front yard where it takes center stage.

 

Salvias

Salvia splendens Saucy™ Red
Salvia splendens Saucy™ Red looks great well into fall.

Yet, there is still much color in the garden, not only from foliage but from flowers as well.  In my own garden, I am quite a Salvia fan and always willing to try new varieties.  This past spring I purchased Salvia splendens Saucy™ Red, and I was rather disappointed with it in summer.  It did not flower well compared to my Salvia guaranitica ‘Black & Blue’.  Well, I had a very pleasant surprise this September. Evidently, Saucy™ Red likes cooler weather, shorter day-length, or maybe both, because it burst into full bloom and has continued ever since.  It is mid-October, and the 7-foot-tall plant has burnished scarlet flowers on almost every stem. Sadly, the tender plants are only hardy to USDA Zones 9-10, so I will have to replant if I want to enjoy this Salvia again.

Impatiens tinctoria

Impatiens tinctoria
Impatiens tinctoria is an unusual garden flower that looks great in fall.

Another new garden flower this year is the 8-foot-tall, large-flowered, Impatiens tinctoria, which comes from the rain forests of East Africa.  I had first seen it growing in a friend’s garden three years ago and was surprised to learn that it is a winter hardy perennial, surviving USDA Zones 7-11.  This is my second year to grow it, and I learned that it likes grows best in shade with protection from the hot afternoon sun. In the spring, I worked lots of humus into the soil around it and mixed in Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Soil. Today my plants are over 6 feet tall and blooming with a flower that does not look anything like a garden impatiens.  These flowers are fragrant at night and attract much attention from garden visitors.

Cover Crops

Now is the time of year to put the summer vegetable garden to bed.  The tomatoes are finished, as well as the beans, squash, peppers, etc.  Once these plants are removed, it is an ideal time to prepare the soil for next season.  Mix Black Gold® Garden Soil 0.05 – 0.02 -0.05 into the beds and plant a cover crop. Cover crops are broadcast legumes, or grasses such as buckwheat, that are planted to cover the garden in winter and are tilled under in spring.

BG_GRDNSOIL_1CF-FRONTLegumes are plants in the Pea Family (Fabaceae) and include clovers and vetches. With the help of symbiotic bacteria called Rhizobium, they “fix” nitrogen from the air back into the soil, making it available to other plants.  Thus, by planting a cover crop, you increase the nitrogen level of your soil while also protecting your beds from erosion and aggressive winter weeds. The added organic matter from the spring-tilled cover crop with also benefit your garden soil.

We always get some “sunny windows” during this season.  These windows give us a wonderful opportunity to get out in the garden and do fall chores.  Fall is also a great time to “edit” your garden.  We all have plants that have gotten too big, are in the wrong place, or maybe we are tired of them.  Walk around your garden with a note pad and make notes on garden editing that you can do throughout winter.  But, most importantly, enjoy the season and its many colors.

Late-Summer Gardening in the Pacific Northwest

Fuchsia ‘Dying Embers’ has lovely deep purple flowers that draw hummingbirds.

It seems as though the gardening season has flown by, and here it is August already.  I think August is a good month to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor; summer is not quite over and autumn has not yet begun.  The summer vegetable gardens are peaking with tomatoes, squash, melons, beans, cucumbers, and all the other seasonal crops.  The flower garden is bursting with the color of all the late-season bloomers, like dahlias, crape myrtle, hardy hibiscus, salvias, and the list goes on.

Late-Summer Food Crops

Lycopersicon esculentum 'Early Girl' JaKMPM
2016 has been a great year for tomatoes in the Pacific Northwest.

This has been a good season for tomatoes, and I am hearing from other gardeners that their crops are abundant.  We had both a mild winter and spring and tomatoes, which usually do not ripen until September in the Pacific Northwest, are turning red.

This year the season for commercial fruit and berry growers is about two weeks ahead of normal.  Last week I visited with the Market Manager of the Beaverton (OR) Farmers Market, and she said that apples that are usually brought to the Market in September maturing by mid-August.  Fall apples are now ripening in late summer!

Hardy Hibiscus

Hibiscus 'Tie Dye'
Hibiscus ‘Tie Dye’ is a late-summer gem producing 10-inch pink and white flowers with cherry-red eyes.

Since there is not much we can do about the weather, we should look to the garden and enjoy it and all the color it has to offer.  A favorite pastime of mine is walking through the garden in the early morning before the sun has gotten hot.  I like looking at all the color that the August garden provides.  In the past few weeks, I have been adding hardy hibiscus, (Hibiscus moscheutos), to my garden, and I am enjoying this late-blooming hardy perennial.

Often when people hear the word “Hibiscus”, they think of the tropical Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) from East Asia.  Instead, this hibiscus is native to the eastern United States, and I remind garden enthusiasts that if it can survive a winter in Michigan or Ohio, it will certainly survive a Portland winter.  One of its attributes is that it blooms later in the season, July-September, when many other herbaceous perennials are long gone. Check out your local garden center as they should have plants in bloom now.  In addition to flower color, (white, pink, red, and all shades in between), this hibiscus has a variety of foliage colors from solid green to dark red and almost black.

Hardy hibiscus like to be planted in full sun and need summer watering.  In fact, it is a wetland plant that grows well in continuously moist ground. That’s why I mix Black Gold Garden Compost into the soil before I plant to help hold moisture.

Fuchsia

Our Pacific Northwest climate is ideal for growing fuchsias and most are nonstop bloomers. All summer they attract hummingbirds, which is an added benefit.  A fuchsia that I saw in a garden late last summer was called ‘Dying Embers‘.  This prolific bloomer was a must-have in my garden this year, and it is not a disappointment with its small, very dark purple blooms.  I have my plant in a large pot filled with Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Soil. As the August sun has been hot and bright, I am very glad that I did because it holds moisture while also providing good drainage and boost of organic fertilizer.

BG-Seedling-1.5cu
Mid-to late-summer is the time to start seeds for fall planting.

Seed Starting

August is also the time to be thinking about the fall garden.  Most of our winters are mild enough to allow vegetable cultivation through the coldest months.  Sow seeds now for cool-season crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts.  Start seeds now in seed trays with Black Gold Seedling Mix and plant them outdoors by late summer.  (Click here to learn more about starting plants from seed.) For gardeners with limited space, or those wishing to grow vegetables on a deck or patio, try starting leafy vegetables from seed in a pot using Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix. Leaf lettuce is quick to germinate and can provide several cuttings before frost.

This is an ideal time of year to visit other gardens and see what is blooming.  I like to encourage gardeners to visit new gardens, talk with other gardeners, and learn what plants have done well, or not so well.  We often tend to visit other gardens in the spring and early summer, but many plant surprises can be also discovered in late-summer gardens.