What Are The Best Potting Soils for Dahlias, Lilies, and Begonias?


“What kind of potting soil should I use for Dahlias, Asiatic and oriental lilies, and begonias?” Question from Luciana of Portland, Oregon

Answer: Each flowering plant has some distinct needs when it comes to soil moisture, pH, and quality. The right kinds of fertilizers also help these flowers bloom at their best.

Soil and Fertilizer for Dahlias

Potted Dahlias need porous soil that drains well, holds moderate moisture and has a slightly acid to neutral pH (6.2 to 7). I recommend our Black Gold® All Purpose Potting Mix or OMRI Listed Black Gold® Natural & Organic Cocoblend Potting Mix, which is approved for organic gardening. Both potting soils have all the right characteristics. When picking a fitting fertilizer, choose one formulated for blooming plants. Proven Winners Premium Continuous Release Fertilizer is a good choice. Adding Proven Winners Premium Water Soluble Plant Food as directed will also help boost flowering through summer.

Soil and Fertilizer for Asiatic and Oriental Lilies

Lilies of all types grow best in soils that are well-drained and rich in organic matter. The ideal pH should be a little more acidic (5.5 to 6.5), but neutral soils are also tolerated. Once again, I recommend our Black Gold® All Purpose Potting Mix in addition to another of our OMRI Listed mixes, Black Gold Natural & Organic Ultra Coir, which is rich in organics but drains well. Here, it is best to choose a fertilizer specially formulated for summer bulbs. These tend to be balanced fertilizers with added bonemeal, and there are many fine choices on the market.

Soil and Fertilizer for Begonias

Fast-draining soils that are light and fertile are preferred by begonias. Their tubers or fibrous roots are prone to rot, so soils that hold onto water too well can be detrimental. Once again, a slightly acid pH (5.5 – 6.5) is needed. Black Gold® Natural & Organic Potting Mix is a good soil choice. Adding a little extra Black Gold Perlite for added drainage is also recommended. Proven Winners Premium Continuous Release Fertilizer helps boost flowering and performance in begonias. The occasional addition of Proven Winners Premium Water Soluble Plant Food will also help boost flowering.

Have a great gardening season!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

The Best Disease-Resistant Roses

Knock Out roses of all colors are everblooming and resist common rose diseases.

Roses are among the most beautiful flowers on the planet, but they are also prone to some of the nastiest foliar diseases as well.  The three worst of these are rose black spot (Diplocarpon rosae), powdery mildew (order Erysiphales), and rose rust (Phragmidium spp.), but new roses are challenging their damage. Many of the largest rose growers and breeders have developed gorgeous disease-resistant roses that are absolutely outstanding.

Most of the finest disease-resistant roses are shrub roses, but there are a few other forms on the list. All these roses bloom from late spring until frost. Here are a few favorites to consider.

Best Disease-Resistant Roses

Shrub Roses

Crazy Love is a beautiful shrub rose bred by Kordes. (Image thanks to Kordes.)

The grandiflora shrub rose Crazy Love™ Sunbelt® (USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9, 5′ x 3′)  has unusual, orange and yellow, cup-shaped flowers that are fully double and very fragrant. It is generally resistant to common foliar diseases of roses and a vigorous nonstop bloomer.

Nicole® (Zones 6-10, 4′ x 3′) is a beautiful floribunda shrub rose that I am buying this year for my front border. It has 4-inch wide blooms that are snow-white with deep rose edges.  The stunning shrub rose is remarkably disease resistant.

Nicole is a remarkably beautiful shrub rose that I will be planting in my garden this year. (Image by Garitzko)

One favorite new yellow-flowered rose is the floribunda shrub rose Golden Fairy Tale® (Zones 5-9, 4′ x 4′). It’s another that I have added to my must-buy list this year. The award-winner has bright golden-yellow double blooms that are very fragrant and flower in abundance. Notable disease resistance makes it an effortless variety for the garden. Think seriously about this one.

The compact floribunda rose, ‘Brilliant Veranda’ (Zones 5-9, 2′ x 3′) is brilliant red and just the right size for a flower-filled veranda, as the name suggests. Its blooms almost glow, and the plants show very good disease resistance.  Plant it in front of beds with taller plants behind it to light up the garden.

Shrub roses in the Knock Out® Series are possibly too familiar, since everywhere I go in my hometown of Bloomington, Indiana, they are planted outside practically every landscaped business front.  But there is a reason for that. The classic Double Knock Out® rose has gorgeous, double, cherry red flowers on shrubby plants that are very tough and easy to maintain. There are many other colors in the series, including those in the shades of yellow, apricot, and pink.

The new flowers of ‘Princess Ann’ are deepest pink, fading to pure rich pink. It is named for Her Royal Highness, the Princess Royal. (Image thanks to David Austin Roses)

English garden roses of all kinds are sold at David Austin Roses, the most famous rose-breeding company in the world. David Austin has produced the most beautiful English roses that bloom the whole season through. He also bred for disease resistance and fragrance. I have picked out two of my favorites that you will love forever.

The fragrant ‘Olivia Rose Austin’ (Zones 4-11, 4′ x 3′) is a classic English rose of pale pink that has cupped, double flowers with a dense rosette of petals in the center.  The flowers have a fruity fragrance. The darkest pink ‘Princess Anne’ (Zones 4-11, 4′ x 4′) has highly fragrant clusters of fluffy double flowers that lighten a bit as they get older.  These are held upright over disease-resistant leaves.

At Last® shrub roses are everbloomers with a light, sweet fragrance. (Image thanks to Proven Winners®)

Finally, Proven Winners® has a variety of tough, disease-resistant roses. Of these, At Last® (Zones 5-9, 3′ x 3′) is a fragrant beauty that will bloom nonstop through summer and into fall. The shrubs have glossy foliage and pale amber-orange flowers that are fully double and sweetly fragrant.

Other Roses

From miniatures to climbers, there are many other roses that defy diseases. The disease-resistant hybrid tea rose Gypsy Soul Eleganza® (Zones 5-9, 3.5′ x 2.5′) has deep violet-red flowers with long upright canes that are perfect for cutting long-stemmed roses. Petite Knock Out® (Zones 5-10, 18″) is a brand new miniature rose that has all of the traits of the classic double red Knockout® (mentioned above) but in truly miniature form. The climbing rose ‘Climbing Pinkie‘ (Zones 6-11, 8-12’) is one of the few disease-resistant climbers. The flowers are rose-pink and hang in clusters over the leaves.  It can be trained along a fence or wall, or if you want to be really English, around your front door.

Spring is the best time to plant roses. Feeding the soil and fertilizing your shrubs at planting time will give them a great start. For more details about how to grow and plant shrub roses organically, please watch the video below by my daughter, Jessie.

Perennial Spring Beauties for Gorgeous Gardens

Some of the prettiest Lenten rose varieties have pretty spotted flowers, like ‘Confetti Cake’. Some are even double.

There are many perennial flowers that come up in early spring, to let us know the beauty of our spring gardens has arrived. After a long year of COVID-19, and the recent terrible weather across much of the US, I want to boost my spirits with as much garden color as I can.  Other gardeners that I know plan to do the same. Here are some of the best spring perennials that I grow and enjoy each year in my Indiana garden. These are sure bloomers with lots of color!

Lenten Rose

‘Fire and Ice’ is one of the prettiest double Helleborus orientalis varieties.

Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis and hybrids, USDA Hardiness Zones 6 to 9) are among the first flowers to bloom, from February to April depending on where you live.  The large leathery leaves are evergreen. Each plant produces several stems of flowers. The blooms can reach up to 3.5 inches across. These range from single blooms, to rose-shaped doubles. Some are single-colored, while others have the most spectacular spots, such as ‘Confetti Cake’. The yellow and maroon bicolored Honeymoon®Spanish Flare is a favorite this year, in addition to ‘Fire and Ice‘, which is a white picotee with dark-rose edges.

In spite of the common name, Helleborus are not real roses. Instead, they are closely related to buttercups. They like shade, and moist, well-drained, soil. Plant them in spring, being sure to add Black Gold Garden Soil into the planting hole for added organic matter and fertility. Keep the crown of the plant just under the soil, for better blooming.  For nicer leaves, cut back the old ratty ones, at the end of winter. Water more from spring to fall since it is the primary growing period. Lenten roses are generally 2-feet tall and wide. All plant parts are toxic, so be careful if you have pets and small children. (Click here to learn more about Lenten rose toxicity.)

Virginia Bluebells

Virginia bluebells are beautiful native ephemerals that naturalize over time. Native bees and butterflies love them!

An old spring favorite is a native plant, Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica, Zones 3 to 8).  In spring, it sends up 2-foot stems, with numerous, nodding purplish-pink buds, that turn into bright, trumpet-shaped bluebells. They naturalize and like shade and moist, rich soil. The whole plant goes dormant as summer approaches, so it is best to plant them in the fall among other perennials that will cover the holes that they leave behind.


Raspberry Splash has multicolored spring flowers.

Lungwort (Pulmonaria species and hybrids, Zones 3 to 7) derives its name from the long-ago days when it was thought that a plant, with similar leaves to a body part (like the lung), would be beneficial in treating that body part. Lungwort has spotted leaves, like the spots on the lung, thus its common name.  At one time they tried to use it to treat lung ailments, even though it is  Lungwort is toxic. (Click here to learn more.) I am happy that the days of Medieval medicine are gone forever…

Pulmonarias have become very popular over the last 25 years, so there a lot of varieties available.  They are grown both for their leaves as well their beautiful flowers.  The flowers range from deep blue, to sky blue, deep rose, and light pink. The lovely plants are about 16-inches tall when in bloom, give or take, and like full shade and moist, rich garden soil. Cut back any bad-looking leaves through the season and watered them well through summer to keep the leaves looking beautiful.  Here are some of my favorite varieties:  ‘Silver Bouquet’ has flowers that change from coral to pink to violet, and the long, pointed leaves are pure silver.  ‘Raspberry Splash’, from Proven Winners, has deep rose flowers and leaves with large silver spots.  Also from Proven Winners comes ‘Spot On’ with its speckly silver leaves and deep pink buds that change into a dark, intense blue.


McKana Giant Columbines come in lots of colors! (Image by Jessie Keith)

Columbines (Aquilegia hybrids, Zones 3 to 8) are some of my favorite late spring flowers, with clumps of scalloped leaves that send up narrow stems topped with shooting-star-shaped flowers with long nectaries at the base of the petals. The slender stems get 12 to 20 inches tall, depending on the variety, and support numerous flowers. Each flower has spiked petals of red, yellow, rose, purple, blue, or pink, and inner petals that are usually a lighter version of the same color. Hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees love them.

Columbines are popular, so there are many different varieties available. Most do best in full to partial sun, though some species prefer partial shade, such as the native red eastern columbine (Aquilegia canadensis).  The McKana Giants comprise an excellent columbine mix that is easy for new gardeners to try. The tall stems bear huge flowers in many colors, and they are easily grown from seed. The western native golden spur columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha) is an uncommonly good garden species with its large, long-spurred golden flowers.

Another reason that I like columbines so well is that they randomly cross and reseed easily, with new hybrid plants blooming each year. So, you never know what you are going to see in the garden at flowering time.


‘Orangekönigin’ is an especially pretty barrenwort with its numerous pretty pale-orange flowers.

Barrenwort, or Bishop’s Hat, (Epimedium species and hybrids, Zones 3 to 9) is a low-growing plant, with delicate flowers, on narrow 12-to-18 inch stalks, held above heart-shaped leaves.  In spring they may produce flowers of lilac, pink, yellow, orange, white, or rose, depending on the plant. With some varieties, the leaves are deep red with green veins or are edged in purple.  I consider it to be a slow-growing ground cover, excellent as a front-of-the-border plant in a shade garden. Barrenwort will tolerate dryer soil than most other shade perennials.  Some excellent varieties are the orange-flowered ‘Orangekönigin’, my first barrenwort, as well as the white-and-purple-flowered ‘Cherry Blossom’, double-flowered ‘Rose Queen’, and airy, yellow-flowered ‘Old Yeller’.  To keep the leaves looking good, cut back the old ones in late winter, or early spring.

When planting, remember to mix Black Gold Garden Soil with the existing soil that you dig up to give an extra boost to the plant, shake a little Premium Proven Winners Controlled Release Fertilizer along the soil surface, and you’ll be off to a good start for the gardening season.

Are Hybrid Plants Better?

“Are hybrids better than the real thing?” Question from Dave of Springfield, Massachusetts

Answer: There is a simple and more complex answer to this question. The simple answer is that they often are better. Hybrids exist in the wild, as well as in the nurseries of plant breeders, and they often exhibit something called ‘hybrid vigor, outbreeding enhancementor heterosis. Plants with hybrid vigor have an edge because they have inherited positive traits from both parents. It is equally important to understand that plant genetics are complex, and you do not automatically get hybrid vigor by crossing two species that are able to interbreed. Different plants genetically express themselves in distinct ways, and some show heterosis more than others. Those plants and crops that commonly show hybrid vigor, express increases in productivity, plant uniformity, and overall vigor. Hybrid breeding methods are particularly useful in these crops: beets, broccoli, corn, peppers, rice, spinach, sunflowers, tomatoes, and watermelon as well as many common flowers.

Modern Crops and Human Intervention

It is also important to understand that when it comes to common, coveted garden vegetables, crop plants, and flowers valued by humans, there is no “real thing” in the garden–meaning these plants have been changed by humans to the point where garden varieties do not exist in the wild. Here are four good examples.

  1. Corn has been selected over thousands of years by man and has never existed in the wild as corn (click here to learn more).
  2. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale are all the same species, Brassica oleracea, an edible leafy plant from Eurasia. The widely different garden forms are all a product of selection and hybridization by humans.
  3. Wild apples, and those selected over thousands of years by humans, bear little resemblance to one another.
  4. The same trends can be applied to popular garden flowers, ancient or new, such as roses (Rosa hybrids, selected for thousands of years), dahlias (Dahlia hybrids, selected since Aztec times), and the more recent coneflower (Echinacea hybrids).

Old and New Hybrids

Some garden varieties are old heirlooms selected over generations, while others are products of new hybridization and selection efforts. But consistently, where people have had a hand, you will find plants with bigger, tastier, more colorful fruits produced in higher quantities on plants that make harvesting easier, or you will find bigger, prettier flowers produced in greater quantities on well-branched plants.

The greatest hybridization efforts of this and the last century have worked to battle common diseases and pest susceptibilities in plants. These hybrid traits are especially important because they help to feed the world more efficiently without the need for harmful pesticides, fungicides, etc.

I hope that these answers help!

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist


Inspirational Classic English Gardens

Inspirational Classic English Gardens

I have always been in love with English gardens, from the informality of cottage gardens, filled with hollyhocks and climbing roses, to more formal gardens around estates and castles, with tidy clipped evergreen topiaries, tree allées, and flower borders.  In many of England’s most famous gardens you find a mix of both informal and formal garden styles. Some designs are attainable and inspire my own home plantings, while others are simply a joy to learn about and see.

Formal English Gardens of the Aristocracy

Both expansive and intimate garden spaces surround Windsor Castle in Berkshire County, UK.

Medieval English gardens (5th to the late 15th centuries) were often most focused on utility as well as beauty. Elizabethan gardens (16th to 17th centuries) adopted the geometric formality of other aristocratic gardens popularized across Europe. In the 18th century, Capability Brown (b. 1716, d. 1783), a lover of broad, sweeping, picturesque and pastoral landscapes, became (and still remains) England’s most famed and beloved landscape designer. Many of his landscapes and gardens still exist today and define the quintessential English landscape–molded and shaped so deftly that the natural beauty shines. The Victorian era (19th century) brought about a revival in formal gardening.

Take the ornate 19th century garden at Elvaston Castle (est. 1840s), just near Derby, England, which was created by the ambitious gardener, William Barron. It was famed for its elaborate and fanciful topiaries, which were used to create great scenes and surround beautiful gardens. (Topiary is the trimming of evergreens into shapes, such as boxes, obelisks, tiered spheres, or even animal shapes.) The garden was filled with all manner of geometric gardens.

The 19th century Elvaston Castle gardens were filled with topiaries and ornate gardens. (Painting by E. Adveno Brooke)

Elements from all garden eras are still found in grand old English gardens today, many surrounding the homes of aristocrats. Carefully clipped, formal hedges edge long drives up to the house and frame big expanses of lawn as well as pleasing gardens between. A prime example are the grounds of Windsor Castle (established by William the Conqueror in 1070), the favorite castle of Queen Elizabeth II. The east terrace garden, which recently was opened to the public, contains expansive geometric gardens with fans of fragrant roses and other prized flowers, large pools, and cooling fountains. Formal allées of trees and shrubs add to the splendor of the property.

In the eighteenth century, Capability Brown softened the formal English landscapes of aristocrats with grand open spaces and pastoral plantings. (Image at Stowe National Trust)

In addition to the grand gardens of the aristocrats, there was always a kitchen garden somewhere on the estate and often an orchard. Those who worked for the Lords and Ladies were the ones who initially had the cottage gardens.

My Favorite English Gardeners of the 20th Century

English gardens tend to be flower-filled and rambling yet well-tended and beautiful.

Nostalgia for the beauty of England’s old gardens helped shape newer English garden styles of the 20th century, which most inspire me. Two famous English gardeners (and garden writers) with smaller houses on much smaller estates, have helped me the most in my garden design.  These men were John Beverley Nichols (1898 – 1983), and Christopher Lloyd (1921 – 2006) of Great Dixter.

Christopher Lloyd

Christopher Lloyd (Image care of the Great Dixter Charitable Trust)

Great Dixter is one of the most famous gardens in England, and the estate is only 4 acres.  It was owned by Christopher Lloyd who inherited the property from his family.  Since his passing 15 years ago, the historic gardens have been maintained and nurtured by horticulturist Fergus Garrett. The house has three parts: the oldest from the early 1500s, the second from the 1850s, and the last  from 1912. The latter two have been restored to look like the original.

Brilliant floral color combinations were the fame of Christopher Lloyd.

Lloyd’s garden philosophy was, “if you like it, do it.” He often chose wild combinations of flowers with contrasting textures and colors. His bold plantings became world-renowned for their sensational looks. For example, in one spring garden he had a mix of purple and red tulips, colors not usually grown together.  (Try reading his inspirational book, Color for Adventurous Gardeners (2001)). Lloyd divided Great Dixter into 15 different gardens including topiary, exotic, sunken, meadow, peacock, and the ‘essential water garden.’  A long flower garden runs across front of the house.  The beds are filled with flowers, shrubs, roses, ivies, topiary, and ornamental grasses, all mixed up, to make fabulous, and unusual displays.  Great Dixter is open to the public and visited by thousands of people every year.  His many books on gardening have excellent advice and fantastic photos.

Beverley Nichols

Down the Garden Path is the garden book that Nichols is best known for writing.

The other English garden addict that has inspired me and my gardening is (John) Beverly Nichols.  He started out writing murder mysteries in the 1920s, but in 1932 he wrote his first garden book, Down the Garden Path. It became an instant best seller. My favorites, and his most famous books, are a trilogy that include Merry Hall, Laughter on the Stairs, and Sunlight on the Lawn. The uplifting books mix reality (there really is a Merry Hall, and the gardens mentioned were real) with fiction and humor.

Nichol’s property was only 5 acres. After he got rid of all the existing plants, except for very old trees, he filled it with his own gardens. He put a grove of trees in one corner and flowerbeds all around.  His love of snowdrops were evident in the early spring beds he created, and many others show his artistic pairing of roses, shrubs, trees, and flowers. He also had what he called his ‘essential water garden.’  Beverly loved garden art–classic pillars, urns, cherubs, and statuary–which he would buy like an addict, whether he could afford it or not. His purchases were made in stealth; he would sneak away from his butler, who handled the money, in order to buy them. Despite any minor garden-art transgressions, his gardening advice has been invaluable to me.

Creating Your Own English Garden

Rambling plantings of daylilies and other flowers are among my favorites. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Following the advice of these English gardeners, I have very full gardens, some created in the English cottage style. My favorite garden flowers are daylilies, lilacs, roses, hostas, and rambling clematis vines. Many new annuals add yearly color to my beds and containers.

Following Christopher Lloyd’s advice, my trees, flowers, and shrubs are mixed together in unique arrangements that please me. I have one garden with many different hostas, rhododendrons, and smooth hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’), all under a tri-color beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Roseomarginata’); another bed contains a variegated lilac with lots of the dainty ‘Freckles’ violets that bloom in the spring; another has two large, arching beauty bushes (Kolkwitzia amabilis), with their small, pink, trumpet flowers etched in light orange, surrounded by colorful coneflowers, bearded iris, and bee balm in front of my ‘essential water garden.’ All of these beds are fortified yearly with quality compost, such as Black Gold Garden Compost Blend, to keep my gardens fertile and performing at their best.

The English made the everyday cottage garden something for beauty and enjoyment. I hope learning a little about old and new English gardens encourages you to read more, experiment in your garden, and follow your own garden path, wherever it leads you.

What Are Some Everblooming Flowers for Northern California?

What Are Some Everblooming Flowers for Northern California?

“I live in Northern CA– in the Bay Area. What are the flowers I can plant that will bloom year-round?” Question from Floredia of Vallejo, California

Answer: You live in USDA Hardiness Zone 9b. Thankfully, there are lots of everblooming garden plants that continue to look pretty year-round. Here are some suggestions for your zone and mild, arid climate.

Six Everblooming Flowering Plants for Northern California

Marguerite Daisy (Argyranthemum frutescens, Zones 9-11): New varieties of this daisy from the Canary Islands have been bred to bloom continuously. Vanilla Butterfly® is an especially pretty, high-performing type with ivory and butter-yellow blooms. Established plants tolerate heat and some drought. Bees and butterflies will visit the flowers.

Everblooming Roses (Rosa spp., Zones 5-10): Most new roses are continuous bloomers that tend to flower most vigorously in spring and then in bursts when weather is favorable throughout the year. (Click here for a great list of roses recommended for the West Coast.)

Lynn’s Legacy Texas Ranger (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Lynn’s Legacy’, Zones 8-10): Beautiful lavender-blue flowers cover this evergreen Mexican shrub through most of the year. Plant it in a well-drained spot. The Chihuahuan Desert native needs dry soil once established.

Mes Azur Sage (Salvia ‘Mes Azur’, Zones 6-9): Here is a tough evergreen everblooming salvia that bears loads of small purple flowers all year round. It will only slow down a bit during the hottest driest times of the year. It is a great plant for bees.

Red Neck Girl Forsythia Sage (Salvia madrensis ‘Red Neck Girl’, Zones 7-10): If you like big, bold plants, then this everblooming Mexican salvia is for you. It has huge spikes of yellow flowers on 4-6-foot plants. Hummingbirds love them.

Redvein Indian Mallow (Abutilon striatum, Zones 9-11): Pendulous flowers of yellow with striking red veins cover this shrub through the warm growing season. Specimens can become quite large (8-10′) but take well to rigorous pruning. It also grows well in pots.

There are hundreds more flowers for your area that bloom almost year-round, so let this list be the start of an ongoing search.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

When Do Daffodils Come Up in Spring?

“I just planted my daffodils. Now, when will they start to come up, in the spring? Also, can I just leave them in the ground so that they will come up again the following year?” Question from Bev of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Answer: It seems like a question that answers itself, but it is not. Truly, it depends. There are different daffodils that emerge and flower at different times in the spring season. So, the time that your daffodils will emerge depends on the varieties that you planted. (Always make note of your plant’s names, if they are given. They can provide a lot of needed information.)

Daffodil Bloom Times

Daffodils may emerge in early spring (February to March), early to mid-spring (March to April), mid-spring (April), mid-to-late-spring (April-May), or late-spring (May).  The short, golden ‘February Gold‘ is an early spring daffodil that was first introduced in 1923; a good early to mid-spring variety is ‘Barrett Browning‘ with its ivory petals and small, dark-orange cups; lots of tiny cream and gold flowers cover the mid-spring bloomer ‘Minnow‘; ‘Ambergate‘ is a mid-to late-spring bloomer with tangerine and dark orange flowers; finally, ‘Sir Winston Churchill‘ is a fragrant, double-flowered daffodil that blooms late. And, if you plant all of these, you can happy sunny daffodils in your garden from February to May!

Daffodils are wonderfully hardy and naturalize over time. They are also very long-lived in the garden, which is why you commonly see them in big swaths around old homes. So, leave them in the ground. Once their greens tops start to turn brown in late spring, trim them back. The following spring, your daffodils should return in even greater numbers.

(Click here for more information about planting bulbs.)

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

I Need Good Sunny Window Box Plants

Lovin’ Life – Timeless™ Fire combo by Proven Winners®. (Image thanks to Proven Winners®)

“I have full sun for the majority of the day at my home. I’m wanting to put up a window box on the front of my house, but I’m not sure what plants would succeed. Help is appreciated! Thank you!” Question from Melissa of Ludington, Michigan

Answer: There are lots of great plants for sunny window boxes. Good options do not get too tall or wide and grow and flower well in small spaces. For design purposes, plant them in contrasting combinations with bushy and trailing or spilling plants in complementary colors. Annuals are most often favored for window boxes. Here are some that will grow beautifully in Michigan.

Favorite Sunny Window Box Bushy Bloomers

Summer Snapdragon (Angelonia angustifolia hybrids). Choose these heat-lovers for sunny window boxes. They will even take some drought. Some of the newer summer snapdragons, like those in the Angelface® Cascade Series, are a bit more compact, making them better suited for window boxes.

Bidens (Bidens hybrids): These heat-loving annuals generally have yellow or orangish-red daisy-like flowers. Most varieties keep on flowering until fall.

Bedding Geraniums (Pelargonium hybrids): Old-fashioned geraniums need to be deadheaded, but they are classic window box plants that keep looking great until frost. I love cherry-red varieties, but you can also find them with white, pink, salmon, orange, or orange-red blooms.

Petunias and Calibrachoa (Petunia and Calibrachoa hybrids): Go to any garden center, and you will find loads of petunias and calibrachoa. Vista Petunias and Superbells Calibrachoa are my favorites. They bloom beautifully from summer to fall and trail nicely in containers.

Profusion Zinnias (Zinnia Profusion Series): Here is one of the best trailing zinnias for nonstop flowers for the sun. They come in lots of colors, including white, orange, yellow, and red, and they are very easy to grow from seed. (Click here to learn how to grow annuals from seed.)

Favorite Sunny Window Box Spillers

Dichondra Silver Falls (Dichondra argentea Proven Accents® Silver Falls): Here is one of the easiest, prettiest, most drought-tolerant spillers that you can grow. Its trailing stems of pure silver cannot be beaten.

Mexican Hair Grass (Nasella tenuissima): Plant this fine, fountain-shaped, airy grass to add height and spill to containers.

Ornamental Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas ornamental hybrids): There are loads of compact, trailing ornamental sweet potatoes that really light up containers. Two great, compact options are the bright green Sweet Caroline Medusa Green and variegated green, white, and pink Tricolor

Bacopa (Sutera cordata hybrids): These small-leaved, trailing annuals have small, pretty flowers of white or lavender-pink. Of the white-flowered varieties, Snowstorm® Giant Snowflake®  has the largest flowers and a great spilling habit.

From there, we recommend filling your window boxes with a potting mix that has a high water-holding capacity, such as Black Gold Natural & Organic Ultra Coir or Black Gold® Waterhold Cocoblend Potting Mix. Then be sure to feed the boxes with slow-release fertilizer and water-soluble fertilizer for consistent strong growth and flowering. We recommend Proven Winners’ brand fertilizers, which are formulated for flowering plants.

I hope that some of these plants appeal to you.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

How Often Should I Replace My Window Box Soil?

Victorian Cemeteries and Flowers that Honor the Dead

Many angel statues can be found at Victorian cemeteries, like Mount Auburn Cemetery (Cambridge, MA). (Image by Dedarot)

The language of flowers was essential to Victorian-Era (1837-1901) cemeteries. At that time, plantings and gardens for the dead were common, and cemeteries had become park-like places where people in US cities could enjoy a Saturday picnic. The flowers planted for a passed loved one had meaning.

Since I was a child, I have always been fascinated by old cemeteries. At the age of eight, I would ride my bike to the old Highland Cemetery (1912) in South Bend, Indiana. It was nearby, beautiful, and full of interesting monuments, gravestones, and plantings. In spring, peonies, daffodils, and other flowers decorated the plots. Most importantly, it contained the ~380-year-old Council Oak, the tree under which French explorer Robert Rene Cavalier Sieur de La Salle and Native American tribal leaders made a fur trading agreement in 1679. The tree was still alive in the 1950s when I wandered among the old graves, looking at the names of people from long ago. The event and tree predated Victorian times, but it defined the cemetery and helped shape my love of them.

Before the Victorian Era, places for burying the dead were called graveyards and consisted of gravestones on the grass with maybe a few trees. They were not particularly pretty places to visit.  But, this all changed in 1831 when the first garden cemetery was built, Mount Auburn Cemetery of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Even the name was changed to “cemetery”, which means sleeping place.

Mount Auburn Cemetery’s Influence on American Graveyards and Parks

The picturesque Mount Auburn was designed for public visitation and enjoyment. (Painting by Thomas Chambers (c. 1850), National Gallery of Art)

Boston had no public parks at that time for people to take a stroll and get away from the city. (In fact, there were no public parks, like Central Park in New York City (1857), at that time.) So, Mount Auburn filled the role. It was founded by Jacob Bigelow, a doctor who was concerned about the possible pollution caused by graves under churches and the fact that they were running out of space in local graveyards. In the beginning, 70 acres were purchased for the cemetery, but soon the land was increased to 170 acres.

Designed by Henry A. Dearborn (1783-1851), horticultural designer and founder of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, Mount Auburn was planted with over 1300 trees, as well as shrubs, ivy, and flowers. These looked beautiful along its gently rolling hills with paths in between. Horticultural Society members helped with the installation. The beautiful entrance gate, as well as ornate statues and tombstones, augmented the cemetery, providing a lovely place to take a walk on a Sunday afternoon.

At first, only those who had gravesites in the cemetery were allowed in, but this soon ended, and the public began using it as well.  By 1848, 60,000 people a year visited the cemetery. Today, Mount Auburn is a National Historic Landmark with over 94,000 people buried there, and new gravesites are still available.

Soon after Mount Auburn was built, other cities began developing their own garden cemeteries, among them being Laurel Hill Cemetery (1836) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Green-Wood Cemetery (1838) in Brooklyn, New York, and Spring Grove (1845), in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Victorian Flowers That Honored the Dead

Peonies, such as these tree peonies at Mount Auburn Cemetery, have long been planted in Victorian cemeteries. (Image thanks to Mount Auburn Cemetery)

Out of the new association of graves with flowers, grew the tradition of using them in local cemeteries. A popular Victorian custom that fit right in was giving a meaning to each flower. Over 150 different flowers and herbs, in bouquets or gardens, had a secret message or significance. For example, white chrysanthemums signified “Truth”, lily of the valley blooms symbolized “Purity”, and white daisies meant “True Love.” Many of these flowers also expressed sentiments of grief and were planted at the local gravesites of families and friends.

In the Victorian language of flowers, dark crimson roses represent mourning.

In the Victorian language of flowers, pink carnation meant “I’ll Never Forget You”, red poppy symbolized “Consolation”, dark-crimson roses were planted to mean “Mourning”, and purple hyacinths symbolized “Sorrow.” There were also long-lived peonies bred for cemetery planting. These included two peony varieties planted especially for Civil War dead: ‘One Hundred Years in Memory’, and ‘Always be There’.  Sometimes Daffodils were used as well, including a species (Narcissus x medioluteus) from 1597 commonly called ‘Cemetery Ladies’.

Crocus and snowdrops are common small bulbs found in older cemeteries.

Many long-lived cemetery flowers can be planted today, whether for their reverent name or language-of-flowers sentiment. Crocus ‘Remembrance’ has beautiful dark purple flowers that emerge in early spring. They look beautiful when planted alongside other spring bloomers, like white hyacinth ‘L’Iinnocence’ and large-cupped daffodil ‘Faith’ with its unusual pink and white flowers. Late-spring bloomers include the single-flowered peony ‘Glory Be’ with its vibrant cherry-pink petals and single, white-flowered peony ‘White Angel’. The fringed, honey-yellow daylily ‘Angels Embrace’ is a good summer bloomer for memorials. Funerial blooms in the Victorian language of flowers would include the red poppy ‘Beauty of Livermore’, darkest red rose ‘Black Pearl’, and ‘Chabaud La France’ heirloom pink carnations, which can be grown from seed. Amending the soil at planting time with Black Gold Garden Soil will help any new planting grow beautifully.

Planting at Cemeteries Today

Daffodils are beloved memorial flowers that naturalize in time to make cemeteries more beautiful.

Currently, using flowers at gravesites is regulated by the cemetery management, with some allowing bouquets and planting, and others just allowing the placement of flowers on the grave on Memorial Day, which will be removed later in the season. If your local cemetery permits it, consider planting a flower where someone you love is buried, and then look for beautiful Victorian cemeteries in your area to visit.

How Does Wildfire Smoke Impact Gardens?

How Does Wildfire Smoke Impact Gardens?

“I live in northern California where we had a lot of fires and smoke. The sky was thick with smoke for quite a few days.  How will this impact my flowers?” Question from Jenna of Magalia, California

Answer: What a crazy season it has been! I have watched several of my western gardening friends struggle through the impacts of wildfires. Thankfully, many have been spared the damage caused by fire, but none are spared the ill effects of ash and smoke, which does impact plants in several ways.

Wildfire Smoke and Ash Impacts on Gardens

  1. Ash Effects: Ash can be very destructive, but it also has the potential to benefit plants. On the downside, hot ash will burn foliage. If fine and dense, it can cover foliage and keep plants from photosynthesizing as well. Rinsing it off will stop this problem. On the flipside, ash can raise soil pH, add extra minerals to the soil, and increase microbial activity and plant growth. So, it’s not all bad.
  2. Smoke Effects on Air Quality: Smoke increases carbon dioxide levels, which actually benefits plants. Plants use CO2 to convert sun to energy and release oxygen.
  3. Smoke Effects on Light Quality: Smoke lowers light levels, which can be harmful to plants growing under severe smoky conditions for extended periods of time. There is really nothing gardens can do but wait until the smoke passes.

Smoke is also drying, so be sure to irrigate your plants during these times, if you can.

I wish you the best and hope the fires stop soon. A moist, cool winter would certainly be a blessing.

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist