Prepping for Spring by Mike Darcy

I like to refer to February as the month to get ready for spring. Most of us have some garden tasks that we have yet to complete, and this is a good time to get them done. Living in the Pacific Northwest, this winter has been a mix of temperatures, both mild and very cold, (for us). In late January/early February, temperatures dipped into the low 20’s and we will have to wait until spring to really discover what damage was done to our plants.

Years ago, I was given a Musa basjoo, often called ‘Hardy Banana’ because the tops will die to the ground after a freeze, but the roots will survive, and new banana shoots appear in the spring. Musa basjoo is fast-growing and likes a soil rich in humus. When planting, add Black Gold Natural & Organic Compost Blend into the soil.

Photo above, is what my plants looked like after a frost. This was a major winter cleanup chore because I cut all the stalks to ground level and then put the leaves in my compost bin. This is a rather barren spot right now, but I know what it will look like in late spring and summer.

Hardy fuchsias are treated differently. I have found that after freezing weather, the leaves on hardy fuchsias all turn brown and the stems look as though they are dead. However, it is difficult to tell just how far back the stems have been killed. If hardy fuchsias need to be pruned because of space considerations, I suggest waiting until later in the season because I have often found that on many of the stems that I thought were dead, new shoots will appear.

While it is too late to plant bulbs of Galanthus, well known by their name ‘Snowdrop’, some garden centers will carry pots of blooming plants which can be planted now. Bulbs should be planted in the fall. These are among the first bulbs to bloom in late winter/early spring. Plant them in an area where they can naturalize such as under a shrub or in a woodland setting. They like a moist soil and adding Black Gold Natural & Organic Garden Compost Blend at time of planting would be a benefit.

We should also think about what, I would call some of the more mundane tasks. Before pruning, check pruners and make sure they are sharp and well oiled. Shovels, rakes, and trowels should be cleaned. February is also a good month to get the lawn mower tuned up, so it is ready to mow once spring arrives.

While the February weather is not always ideal for working outside, we usually have some days, or partial days, when there are sun breaks. As you walk around your garden, when you see new growth emerging, check for signs of slug damage. I have seen many very small slugs in the garden, and they can do significant damage on newly emerged plants. Take appropriate control measures.


The garden is meant to be enjoyed, don’t let the tasks overwhelm you!


Happy gardening!

About Mike Darcy

Mike lives and gardens in a suburb of Portland, Oregon where he has resided since 1969. He grew in up Tucson, Arizona where he worked at a small retail nursery during his high school and college years. He received his formal education at the University of Arizona where he was awarded a Bachelor of Science Degree in Horticulture, and though he values his formal education, he values his field-experience more. It is hard to beat the ‘hands on’ experience of actually gardening, visiting gardens, and sharing information with other gardeners. Mike has been involved with gardening communications throughout his adult life. In addition to garden writing, he has done television gardening shows in Portland, and for over 30 years he hosted a Saturday radio talk show in Portland. Now he writes, speaks, gardens and continues to share his love of gardening. To be connected to the gardening industry is a bonus in life for Mike. He has found gardeners to be among the friendliest and most caring, generous people. Consequently, many of his friends he has met through gardening.

The November Garden



November is a sort of in-between month. Our warm days are gone, and we are into, what I would call, a typical Oregon fall season. The daylight hours are shorter, the rainy season is here, day and nighttime temperatures are cool and sometimes cold. Yet, there are still many plants providing color with flowers, foliage, and berries.

On this November day, my hardy fuchsias are still blooming and show no signs of letting up. In my own garden and others that I visit, hardy fuchsias have been amazing this year. They seem to perform equally well in both pots and planted in the ground. Contrary to popular belief that they need shade, many in my garden receive sun for most of the day. They should continue blooming until we get a frost, although with continuing days of rain and cold weather, their bloom will diminish.  As an added precaution to give the roots some protection during the winter months, I add 3-4 inches of compost around the base of each plant. Black Gold Garden Compost Blend would be ideal. Some gardeners prune the branches severely after a frost, but I have found that sometimes branches that appear to be dead are actually not and new buds will appear in spring.

It is not too late to plant spring flowering bulbs, favorites like tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and crocuses are the most common. All of these do well in pots, and it can be fun to try different combinations. Using Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix should get your bulbs off to a good start. Try planting crocus around the rim of the pot and then plant pansies over the top for instant winter color.

Many gardeners like to try new plants or bulbs in their garden. While tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and crocuses are the mainstream spring flowering bulbs, Galanthus, (Snowdrop), should not be overlooked. Bulbs can be planted now and, in the spring, they will be among the first bulbs to bloom as the winter is ending. Their clumps of nodding bell-shaped flowers are pure white and are a delight to see on a winter day. Snowdrops are a good plant for a rock garden as well as for under shrubs where they can be allowed to naturalize. They prefer a soil rich in humus such as Black Gold Garden Soil. Work this into the soil at the time of planting.

There are also many deciduous trees that provide us with some spectacular fall color.

Certainly, one of the best is Oxydendrum, (Sourwood). The autumn foliage can be in shades of orange, red, purple, and all shades in between.

There is a huge array of Japanese Maples to choose from. The leaves can vary widely in shape and color. This is an excellent time to visit an arboretum or your local garden center to see what varieties are available. It is often more accurate to see the leaf color in person rather than relying on a photo. The two below are favorites in my garden.

Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’:

Acer palmatum ‘Fairy Hair’:

Of course, the work in the garden is never done and a few non-plant winter tasks would be to clean and oil the lawn mower, clean and oil and sharpen pruners, rake and compost leaves, and look through seed and plant catalogs to get ideas for spring!

Enjoy the fall garden and don’t be limited to the plants mentioned here, especially regarding leaf color.  The list for trees and shrubs for fall leaf color is vast. Walk around your neighborhood and visit other gardens to get ideas.


About Mike Darcy

Mike lives and gardens in a suburb of Portland, Oregon where he has resided since 1969. He grew in up Tucson, Arizona where he worked at a small retail nursery during his high school and college years. He received his formal education at the University of Arizona where he was awarded a Bachelor of Science Degree in Horticulture, and though he values his formal education, he values his field-experience more. It is hard to beat the ‘hands on’ experience of actually gardening, visiting gardens, and sharing information with other gardeners. Mike has been involved with gardening communications throughout his adult life. In addition to garden writing, he has done television gardening shows in Portland, and for over 30 years he hosted a Saturday radio talk show in Portland. Now he writes, speaks, gardens and continues to share his love of gardening. To be connected to the gardening industry is a bonus in life for Mike. He has found gardeners to be among the friendliest and most caring, generous people. Consequently, many of his friends he has met through gardening.

Summer Garden Tasks

by Mike Darcy

The spring season of 2022 will not go down the annals of ideal gardening weather here in the Pacific Northwest. We had record rain and cool, (cold), days and nights which delayed the typical planting season for many gardeners. Warm season vegetable crops like tomatoes, squash, beans, etc. were delayed until late May and early June. Many gardeners also delayed buying their hanging baskets and flowering annuals as well. While this cool and rainy weather put the garden season behind the usual schedule, it did not take long for plants to put on vigorous growth and now it appears that they are where they should be for July.

There are lots of tasks for July but most important is to enjoy your garden and don’t get overwhelmed.

With container gardening, keep in mind that potted plants will dry out much faster than if they were in the ground, Usually, daily watering is necessary especially for hanging baskets. Adding Black Gold Just Coir to the soil surface of pots will help to hold moisture. Also, check pots to be certain that they are draining adequately. I’ve found that drainage holes can get plugged and it may be necessary to take a piece of rebar or heavy wire to unplug them.

It is not too late to add some color to your garden. Most garden centers carry summer blooming annuals, and these can easily be potted in your own containers for some instant color. No one has to know that you just planted them! Be sure to use a potting soil that will help hold moisture. I like to use Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix, because with pumice or perlite, it will also ensure good aeration.


Dahlias will be coming into bloom this month and should continue through the fall or until there is a frost. Keep the flowers picked for continuous bloom. Earwigs seem to prefer dahlia flowers over many others and if you see the flower petals being eaten, that is probably a sure sign of earwig damage. Take a flower apart and you will probably see them. Control as necessary, always following label instructions. Dahlias need regular summer watering and if the soil constantly dries out quickly, add Black Gold Garden Compost Blend. Tall growing dahlias usually need to be staked

As the name suggests, Hydrangea is a moisture loving plant. While some can grow in a full sun location, I’ve found they do best with some afternoon shade. They are quick to wilt with lack of moisture, but also quick to bounce back. A mulch of Black Gold Just Coir, especially during the summer months would be beneficial.

Some of the smaller fruited tomatoes may be beginning to ripen. Be sure tomato plants have good drainage and adequate water. Tomatoes have an extensive root system so water them deeply. If they stress for water, they may drop the fruit. Plants often get very dense with growth, and it is a good idea to thin some of the branches and leaves to increase air circulation which can help prevent some diseases. While it is too late to plant tomatoes, if you did not get a spring vegetable garden planted, make plans for a fall one in mid-August. While the crops will vary from spring, there is much that can be planted for a fall harvest.



Take some time to enjoy your efforts. I like to have a walk through the garden in the early morning and just enjoy the peace and quiet. I have many plants that attract hummingbirds, and it is a delight to watch them in action. I have other plants for attracting bees and other insects as well as an assortment of birds and several sources of water for all. I strive to be respectful of our planet.




About Mike Darcy

Mike lives and gardens in a suburb of Portland, Oregon where he has resided since 1969. He grew in up Tucson, Arizona where he worked at a small retail nursery during his high school and college years. He received his formal education at the University of Arizona where he was awarded a Bachelor of Science Degree in Horticulture, and though he values his formal education, he values his field-experience more. It is hard to beat the ‘hands on’ experience of actually gardening, visiting gardens, and sharing information with other gardeners. Mike has been involved with gardening communications throughout his adult life. In addition to garden writing, he has done television gardening shows in Portland, and for over 30 years he hosted a Saturday radio talk show in Portland. Now he writes, speaks, gardens and continues to share his love of gardening. To be connected to the gardening industry is a bonus in life for Mike. He has found gardeners to be among the friendliest and most caring, generous people. Consequently, many of his friends he has met through gardening.

The Best Reblooming Clematis

When visiting older established gardens, if there is a border garden, it will probably contain at least one of these three plants: peony, bearded iris, and clematis. These are often considered old-fashioned plants because they have been regularly planted in gardens for so many years. All three of these plants are generally considered reliable spring bloomers and once blooming. The bloom period can be over several weeks, and there are usually early and late-season varieties, but their flowering time is usually spring and early summer with additional flowers not expected until the next spring. There are, however, exceptions.

Over the past several years, there has been a resurgence of interest to select those that will rebloom. This is especially true with clematis, and with a little effort, a gardener can have plants that will rebloom once and sometimes even twice. I recently discussed reblooming clematis with Linda Beutler, curator of the Rogerson Clematis Collection in Lake Oswego, Oregon, and here are some of her thoughts.

The fully double ‘Duchess of Edinburgh’ can bloom as many as three times in a season. Image from the Friends of Rogerson Clematis Collection archive)

Reblooming Clematis Care

Most clematis grow best in the full to partial sun and like to have their roots shaded and their tops in the sun. After a clematis has flowered, deadhead it, (remove old flowers) and do some light pruning if necessary. Deadheading prevents the plant from setting seed and light pruning removes any dead stems and opens the plant up to more sunlight. Fertilize the plant at this time. Linda said a rose & flower fertilizer is generally good. At the Rogerson Clematis Collection, they use a fertilizer with an NPK, (Nitrogen- Phosphorus-Potassium nutrient numbers on the bag or box) ratio with numbers under 10. Currently, they use a 5-7-2. Often, 30-45 days after fertilization, the plant will re-bloom. For a full list of care tips, visit the Rogerson Clematis Collection page on clematis care (click here).

Five Recommended Reblooming Clematis

‘Blue Ravine’ is a large-flowered rebloomer. (Image from the Friends of Rogerson Clematis Collection archive)

Naturally, some plants will consistently rebloom easier, and for that consistent rebloom the following are five clematis varieties that Linda recommends.

  1. Clematis alpina ‘Pamela Jackman’ (Zones 3-9) flowers first in April and reblooms well, often in late summer. It requires trellising and can also be grown well in a container. With this clematis, you can have April in August.
  2. Clematis ‘Elegant Rhythm’ (Zones 5-9) is a handsome herbaceous perennial clematis named and introduced by Joy Creek Nursery. If you do not allow it to set seed, it will rebloom through late spring and summer, just like annual Scabiosa or perennial Astrantia.
  3. Clematis ‘Duchess of Edinburgh’ (Zones 4-9) is a double that can bloom as many as three times in a long growing season. Deadhead the spent blooms and fertilize with most any fertilizer for roses. The fully-double flowering clematis will often produce flowers that are less doubled when they rebloom.
  4. Clematis ‘Blue Ravine’ (Zones 4-9) is an excellent large-flowered variety and has the added advantage of flowering well—if paler—in partial shade. The photo above was taken in September 2020 and looks as though it were in spring.
  5. Clematis ‘Niobe’ (Zones 4-9) is a deep-red variety (pictured below reblooming in the autumn). Look closely at the image and you can see this clematis is growing through and is supported by another plant. This particular support plant is Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’.
The deepest-red-flowered ‘Niobe’ is growing up an Osmanthus shrub. (Image from the Friends of Rogerson Clematis Collection archive)

Clematis are often grown in this way using another plant for support. Often some of the old garden roses are used because they not only offer a good support system, but the clematis will flower again when the once-blooming roses are finished.

If you are visiting the Pacific Northwest, and have any interest in clematis, be sure to visit the Rogerson Clematis Garden, which is part of the Lake Oswego, Oregon, Parks & Recreation system. With over 900 taxa represented, it is the most comprehensive collection of clematis within a public garden in North America. Admission is free.

The handsome clematis ‘Elegant Rhythm’ has pendulous flowers. (Image from the Friends of Rogerson Clematis Collection archive)

Spring Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden 2022

Spring is here! Officially it was March 20th, but I knew it was spring as soon as I saw the daffodils emerge. The hellebores have been glorious this year, but as their late-winter flowers slowly fade, new colors appear in the garden. The red stems of the peonies have started to peek out after being dormant all winter, the early magnolias are blooming, and the sweet fragrance of daphne lets my family know that spring has begun.

This is a wonderful time of year in the garden, with lots to do but so much to be thankful for. Yes, there are many tasks required, but most of those tasks are not burdensome. Instead, they are rather enjoyable because as gardeners, we are getting ready for a new growing season with lots of promises in store.

Refreshing Garden Containers

By refreshing the potting soil in your spring and summer containers, you will find that they perform much better!

One of my early tasks is to freshen up my many containers, of which I have 100+ scattered throughout the garden. It is a chore, no question about that, but I always like to add new potting mix to containers as needed. In some of the large pots, instead of removing all of the older potting mix, I take out about half and add new and mix the two together. In most of the smaller pots, if the mix has not been changed for a couple of years, I empty the old and add new. With the old mix, I use it around established trees and shrubs in the garden as a mulch.

My planting mix of choice is Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix. Last year, we had some extremely hot days, and it was difficult to keep pots adequately watered. This year, I am going to add some Black Gold Just Coir to the mix because it should help with moisture retention when temperatures are high.

Click here for more spring-container reading:

Prune Early Spring-Blooming Shrubs

Prune spring-flowering shrubs, like this Viburnum, just after they flower to keep from removing next year’s flower buds.

As some of the early-blooming flowering shrubs, such as Forsythia, finish their blooming period, it is a good time to do some pruning if necessary. Remove any branches that tend to be older and weaker because this pruning will encourage new growth that will then bloom next year.

This has been a superb spring for Camellias, and I cannot remember a time when I have seen so many plants with so many flowers. As the flowers fade, they should be removed. Often plants grow much larger than we had intended when they were planted, and I think Camellias are a good example. After they bloom, it is an excellent time to do any necessary pruning.

Click here for more information about spring-bloomers:

Get Spring and Summer Vegetables Started

Now’s the time to plant spring herbs and vegetables, such as this dill, lettuce, and cilantro.

While it is too early to set out tomato plants and other summer vegetables, there are many cool-season vegetables that can be planted now. Vegetables, like lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower can be planted now, and garden centers should have a good selection available. Tomato seeds can be started indoors, and the plants will then be ready to set outside in late May or early June. Peas can be sown outdoors, both edible peas and flowering sweet peas. Sweet pea seeds have a very hard coating, and I have found that soaking the seeds overnight in a bowl of water prior to planting, will speed up germination. (Click here to discover more seeds that appreciate soaking.)

Here are some more resources about planting vegetables in the spring:

Prune Roses

If you failed to prune your roses earlier in the season, there is still time.

Roses should have been pruned in late winter or earliest spring, but if not, it is better to do it now rather than not at all. Your flowers will probably appear later, but the bushes will be more compact, and the flowers will be within reach.

Click here for more rose pruning and selecting resources:

Don’t let the many tasks of the spring garden overwhelm you. A garden is meant to be enjoyed and to be a place of peace and tranquility. Take the time to enjoy it, most plants are resilient and can stand some neglect. The garden never has to be perfect. It is a growing entity that is constantly changing. Enjoy the changes with it.

Click here to see my Spring Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden from previous years. Happy spring!!!

Beyond Your Average Dogwood

‘Satomi’ is a classic pink Korean dogwood to try.

The diversity of dogwoods (Cornus spp.) goes way beyond the common eastern flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), which is much-loved but prone to serious diseases. The list of comely Cornus contains so many selections that it can be difficult to know what to choose. My list of favorites may help you narrow down your choices.

In my own neighborhood, I see many varieties that offer not only spectacular flowers but colorful fruits later in the season, some of which are even edible. Most have interesting leaves that turn brilliant colors in the fall or are variegated. Others have interesting winter bark or brightly colored twigs.

Dogwood Anthracnose and Dogwoods

We are fortunate to live on a fertile western slope of the mountains in the Pacific Northwest because the variety of plants that we can grow, dogwoods included, is broad. One downside is that our non-hybridized native Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) has problems that render it a poor choice for most gardens. Like eastern flowering dogwood, it is very susceptible to a disease called dogwood anthracnose, which causes leaf and stem tissue to die back, resulting in a very unsightly tree. However, we are fortunate that there are many other dogwood choices available that are resistant to this disease. (There are a few eastern dogwood hybrids, such as the Rutgers Hybrids, and Pacific dogwood hybrids, such as the Stellar Pink® (Zones 5-8) and Starlight® (Zones 5-9), that are also dogwood-anthracnose resistant, but most are not.)

Divine Dogwoods

My list includes favorites that perform well in the Pacific Northwest, but most grow well in other temperate regions of the country. Just be mindful of their growing needs and hardiness-zone limitations. Before considering any of these dogwoods, I want to mention that they like soil with excellent drainage in addition to ample organic matter at the time of planting. (Click here for tree and shrub planting guidelines). Light needs are species- and variety-specific. Check with a local garden center to determine what trees would be best suited to your yard, because some can become quite large, while others have a growth habit like a shrub.

Cornelian Cherry

Cornelian cherry is named for its bright red, edible fruit, but it also has lovely yellow flowers in the early spring.

In this early spring season of March, my cornelian cherry (Cornus mas, Zones 4-8, 15-25 feet) is in full bloom. Many visitors to my garden are not familiar with this dogwood and often are surprised to discover that it is one. It is a deciduous tree and right now is in full bloom with masses of small yellow flowers that appear on the bare branches before they leaf out. It is one of the earliest trees to bloom in my garden. The leaves of ‘Variegata’ are marbled creamy white, for extra interest. It goes by the common name of cornelian cherry because, in the fall, cherry-sized fruits appear that are bright red and hang on the tree until the birds get them. The fruits are also edible and described as tasting like a cross between a cherry and cranberry. Some gardeners use them to make jam.

Korean Dogwood

Cornus kousa looks laden with flowers in the late spring and has lovely edible fall fruits and lovely fall leaf color.

Korean dogwood (Cornus kousa, Zone 5-8, 20-40 feet) have become very popular because of their four seasons of interest (spring flowers, beautiful habit, colorful fall fruits and leaf color, and pretty mottled bark), and the many fine hybrids released by Rutgers University. These dogwoods are noted for being vigorous and disease resistant.  One of my favorite hybrids is ‘Venus’, which reaches 15-20 feet, has huge white blooms, and red fruits and foliage in the fall. Pink varieties are also stunning when in bloom. Two of the best are the darkest-pink Scarlet Fire® (25 feet) and the classic, paler pink ‘Satomi‘ (15-30 feet). When the blooms appear in the late spring, they tend to be along the top of the branches and above the leaves. This creates the appearance of a tree covered with flowers with the leaves being almost invisible. Ornamental and edible red fruits appear in the fall, and the leaves provide some excellent fall color in warm and purplish shades. The fruits are a bit mealy, though somewhat tasty. Wildlife enjoy them as well.

Wedding Cake Tree

The variegated wedding cake tree is gorgeous when mature.

One of the most spectacular-looking dogwoods is Cornus controversa (Zones 5-8, 30-40 feet). Sometimes it is referred to as the wedding cake tree because of its layered growth that looks like tiers on a wedding cake. Small clusters of white spring flowers are followed by small blue-black fruits. The variety ‘Variegata’ is even more stunning with bright green leaves edged in white. This is a magnificent small deciduous tree for the garden.

Evergreen Dogwood

Evergreen dogwood is rarely grown but beautiful! (Image by Stan Shebs)

Some dogwoods are evergreen, such as Cornus capitata, which is a little less hardy, surviving in Zones 8-9. The Himalayan and Chinese native reaches between 20 and 40 feet and grows well in moist, West Coast regions. One of the best is ‘Mountain Moon’, which has small clusters of flowers that are followed by edible red fruits in the fall. While considered evergreen, I would call it semi-evergreen, because if we get a cold winter, it will lose its leaves.

Bloodtwig or Common Dogwood

‘Midwinter Fire’ is one of the most colorful of the common dogwoods.

I would be remiss if I did not mention a dogwood known for its colorful stems, and bloodtwig dogwood (Cornus sanguinea, Zones 4-7, 8-15 feet) is one of the best. The tricolored ‘Midwinter Fire’ is one of the most well-known and eye-catching when it shows off its orange, red, and yellow stems in the winter. With a spotlight under it, the colorful stems create a wonderful winter scene. Prune hard each spring to promote the brightest stems. In spring, it produces clusters of white flowers, and the leaves have nice yellow fall color.

As I mentioned earlier, there are so many different dogwoods to choose from, so it is wise to do some research to be certain you are getting the right one for your particular location. To walk into a garden center and say you want a dogwood would be like walking into an ice cream parlor and saying you want an ice cream cone. Be choosy.

Favorite Old & New Salvias For Flower Gardens

The red and white ‘Hot Lips’ is heat-tolerant and beautiful.

It would be difficult to come up with a group of plants that can add as much to the garden, in so many ways, as the flowering sages in the genus Salvia. Their colorful, two-lipped blooms are lovely and the many garden representatives have diverse growth habits, flower colors, fragrance (usually in the leaves), as well as being long-blooming and low-maintenance.

In addition to the above-mentioned attributes, salvias are excellent plants for a pollinator garden–attractive to bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds–and most are summer bloomers that love sunny garden spots. In my garden, the flowers are hummingbird magnets. It is delightful watching the territorial antics of these amazing birds.

Of the more than 900 species of these mints (Look for the square stems!) distributed throughout the temperate and tropical zones of the world, only several species are commonly cultivated in the garden. With so many types of salvia across the world, it stands to reason that there is lots of variation among the species and their hardiness. While many are technically perennial and perform exceptionally well in my Pacific Northwest summers, they may not survive a winter. Poor drainage can be a factor for winter survival, so I add additional perlite for increased drainage when planting them. Gran-i-Grit and coarse sand can also improve the drainage of raised gardens to enhance salvia survival.

Great Garden Salvias

‘Amistad’ has glorious purple flowers that hummingbirds love.

For me, salvias were a late addition to the plant palette in my garden, however, once I started growing them, it was as though I could not stop. I re-planted favorites each spring and always add some new varieties that I have not grown before. I discovered they were wonderful container plants, and now we always have salvias in pots on our deck. From my own experience, I have discovered what I would consider outstanding performers. Below is a listing of some of my favorites.

Introduced nearly 20 years ago, Black & Blue sage (Salvia guaranitica ‘Black & Blue’, Zones 7-10) was one of the first ones in my garden. It was recommended by the owner of a local garden center, and this salvia has become such a favorite that I plant it every year. The 4-foot plant has deep blue flowers with black calyces, hence the name ‘Black & Blue’.  Amistad salvia (Salvia guaranitica ‘Amistad’, Zones 7-10) is another good performer with deep purple flowers. It has a more compact growth habit than ‘Black & Blue’ with a final height under 3 feet. Both are excellent hummingbird attractants and will bloom all summer. They are also technically hardy to my area but very sensitive to winter moisture.

Black & Blue sage looks the part with its bicolored flowers.

Proven Winners has recently released a series of salvias in the Rockin series. I have grown several in this series, and they are excellent. My favorite is Rockin® Fuchsia (Zones 9-11) and as the name implies, the flowers are brilliant fuchsia. It is an excellent salvia for a container in a location where bright color is desired. It is also a heavy bloomer and hummingbirds love it. Another in this series that I have grown and liked is Blue Suede Shoes (Zones 9-11), which has light blue flowers with black calyces.

Rockin® Fuchsia is a very heavy summer bloomer.

For fragrance, I have not grown any better than Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii, Zones 8-11). This southern California native has the most aromatic leaves of almost any plant that I have grown. It has a mounding growth habit with wrinkly, leather-textured leaves. The flowers are in rounded clusters and may be lavender to purple. Plant this where people can walk by and rub or touch a leaf.

Cleveland sage is a California native with an enticing scent.

Classic garden salvia that has distinct bi-color flowers is Hot Lips littleleaf sage (Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’, Zones 7-10). The flowers are white at the base and bright red on the petals. A grouping of these in bloom makes a very striking summer display that hummingbirds cannot resist.

The flowers of ‘Hot Lips’ appear all summer.

Garden centers are continually increasing their salvia choices for customers. It was not many years ago when the selection was perhaps two to three different kinds, but today that is not the case. If you are new to growing salvias, check with other gardeners to discover what varieties perform best in your particular area. The salvias that I have mentioned are sun-loving, but there are some varieties that require at least partial shade. Others are very reliable hardy perennials.

Try some salvia plants in your garden this season. I think you will become hooked on them just as I am.

Winter Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden- 2022

January is a good time to remove old Helleborus leaves, just be sure not to accidentally snip flower stems.

December was a month of trying to get my winter garden tasks all done before the end of the year. Here it is January, and I have not completed all my December tasks. Getting everything done is something that I have never been able to do because a garden is constantly changing and evolving. With the unpredictability of weather, it seems as though there is always a new task, and I often get distracted on starting on another before completing what I am working on. So, the tasks get moved deeper into winter.

Winter Garden Tasks

Move Hardy Perennials: I have heard some gardeners say that they can relax in January, but that is not the case with me. I consider January a good month to do some final ‘editing’ in the garden because there are always some very hardy plants that need to be moved or, in some cases, removed. This can be done in January as long as the soil can be worked and I only move very hardy perennials.

Move hardy perennials if the soil can be worked.

Divert Water: During this winter season, and this is just early January, we have had strong winds, some snow, freezing temperatures, and rain, lots and lots of rain. The rain was much needed, and so there are no complaints from me about it. Walking through the garden after a rain, there are some areas that have accumulated pools of water, and there are very few plants in my garden that have roots that will thrive in standing water. This is a perfect opportunity to create some diversion paths for the water and also an ideal time to add Black Gold Soil Conditioner (only available in the West) or Black Gold Natural & Organic Garden Compost Blend to help improve the drainage in low garden areas. By doing this now, I can observe what is working and what is not because we will soon have more rain, and I can see if there is still a collection of water.

Trim Back Helleborus Foliage: I spent several hours one morning cutting off the old leaves of the Hellebores. I was surprised to see new growth and flower stems beginning to break through the soil. A word of caution here, be very careful when cutting off the stems of the old leaves because it is very easy to snip off a new leaf or flower stem. Beware of early slug damage on newly emerging bulbs and on the new growth on Hellebores and treat accordingly.

Check Outdoor Garden Pots: My garden has many pots, and I have looked at every one to make sure that the water drains through and there is no standing water. Several of my pots did have standing water, and I was able to turn the pots on their sides and poke a metal rod into the drainage holes to un-plug them. This helps heavy, ceramic pots resist cracking in the winter.

Check outdoor pots to see if they are still draining.

Treat Moss: Moss in the lawn can be treated now, unless you love the look of natural moss. It is a good idea to check if it is a re-occurring issue. Usually, it can mean there is too much shade, poor drainage, or both. There are lawn moss control products available at garden centers, and this is a good time to apply them. Many of moss control products contain ferrous sulfate monohydrate, (iron), and iron will stain shoes, cement, decks, etc., so use it with caution and follow all of the manufacturer’s warnings. These products will turn the moss black in a couple of days, and then it can be raked out. If there are large areas that have dead moss, re-seeding might be necessary but wait until spring for that.

Enjoy what still looks beautiful and do any early pruning as needed.

Do Early Pruning: Winter garden tasks always seem to involve some pruning and on deciduous shrubs, it is often easier to prune and shape the plant before new leaves appear. While the major pruning on roses is usually mid-February, I like to do some pruning now and cut the hybrid teas and grandifloras to 3-4 feet.

Enjoy What Looks Nice: I find that the garden is enjoyable in the winter, although the expectations are different than they are in the spring and summer. My dogwood Midwinter Fire is a bright spot with its stems of red, orange, and yellow. The twigs are also a nice addition to indoor winter arrangements. My variegated evergreen shrubs also provide winter color to dark areas in the garden and are a welcome addition to what otherwise are bare garden stems.

Even though I enjoy the winter garden, I am eagerly awaiting spring!

Winter Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden – 2021

Winter Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden – 2020

My Midwinter Fire dogwood is adding lovely color to my winter garden.

Unique Poinsettias for the Holidays

These days, poinsettias come in all shades of red, white, and pink. Some are even apricot and salmon hues.

Jingle Bells’, ‘Winter Rose Red’, ‘Whitestar’, ‘Cortez Burgundy’, etc., are just some of the names you might find on an exciting new poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) plant this year. There is probably no flower more associated with a holiday in the United States than the poinsettia is for the Christmas and New Year season. The red poinsettia certainly denotes the Christmas holiday season, but breeders have come up with lots of new, unique varieties that stand out from the mass displays of traditional poinsettias that you usually see at garden centers or grocery stores.

About Poinsettias

In tropical and subtropical regions, poinsettias grow as flowering shrubs that feed butterflies. If you live in southern California or Florida, you can grow them this way.

Poinsettias are winter-flowering shrubs that are native to Mexico, but the plants we see in stores are quite different than the tall, roadside plants seen south of the border. They were introduced to the United States in the 1820’s when Joel Roberts Poinsett, who was the first US Ambassador to Mexico, sent some cutting to his home in South Carolina. It was not an instant success as a potted plant because the flowers only lasted a few days.

With the new breed of poinsettias that we see today, the colorful bracts (colorful petal-like leaves) will last long past the holiday season. While the bracts are often called the flowers, the actual flower is in the center of the bract. Botanically speaking, it is Euphorbia pulcherrima, a member of the Euphorbia family, which is noted for often having a milky sap in the stems and leaves. This sap was considered poisonous for some time, but recent research has shown it is much less toxic than once believed. Some people might be allergic to it from skin contact and have a mild reaction and it can cause burning if there is eye contact. From reports that I have read, it is said to taste horrible and so it is unlikely a child would eat much. (Click here for more details about poinsettia toxicity from the Mayo Clinic.)

In their native southern Mexican habitat, the plants are tall shrubs (10-12 feet) with winter blooms that have smaller red bracts. Today, red poinsettias are the most popular and account for about 75% of sales, but plant breeders are constantly trying to create unique and more vibrant colors, so the color range continues to expand.

New Poinsettias

New poinsettias come in many colors and even have different floral shapes. You can find new, fun types at quality garden centers. ‘Christmas Beauty Marble’ is third back from the right. (Image by Jessie Keith)

After many years of plant breeding, poinsettias are now shorter and more compact, which makes them ideal for most homes. Plant breeding has also given us more choices for color, and the colorful bracts look good for weeks. I have seen gardeners overwinter these perennial shrubs in a bright home or greenhouse, set plants outside in the spring, and bring them indoors again in fall. Sometimes it also pays to give the plants a midsummer trim. If done properly, they will bloom again in winter, though flowers may appear after December, on occasion.

‘Cortez Burgundy’ is a much darker red than average. (Image by Mike Darcy)

Visiting a grower recently, I was amazed at the variety of unique poinsettias. The large bracts of ‘Jingle Bells’ were red with lovely white speckles across them. New rosette-style poinsettias, with smaller rose-like blooms have become popular, and ‘Winter Rose Red’ is a lovely red one that I saw. The bright  ‘Whitestar’ has huge brilliant ivory bracts that really stand out, and the deepest burgundy red, ‘Cortez Burgundy’, was on the opposite end of the poinsettia color spectrum. ‘Christmas Feelings Pink’ had all large blooms with pink bracts whereas some plants have multicolored bracts, such as ‘Christmas Beauty Marble’ (image at bottom), which had pink bracts that were outlined in cream.

Growing Poinsettias

Some growers will add multiple varieties to a pot for extra punch. The plants can be later separated if you like to keep your poinsettias after the holidays.

When purchasing your poinsettia, make your poinsettia purchase the last stop before reaching your home because they do not like cold weather. The sooner you can get the plant out of your car and into your home, the better. Select an area that has uniform bright light and keep it away from forced air heater vents. The pots are often wrapped in a foil sleeve, which should be removed when watering. Place the plant in a sink and give it a thorough soaking. After the water has drained, put the sleeve back on.

Your poinsettia will probably last well past the holiday season. If you don’t want to keep yours, before throwing it in the compost bin check with a senior living center to see if there is interest. Gifting it, even after the holidays, might provide a resident with some much-needed happiness.

Lovely rose poinsettias look beautiful alongside the ivory-flowered ‘Whitestar’.

Effortless Junipers for Practically Every Garden

Ground cover junipers look handsome when planted in spacious containers.

There are few plants that come in as many different forms as the juniper. The Genus Juniperus includes plants that are grown as ground covers with some that hug the ground at just several inches and others that may reach 2-3 feet in height. Another category is the shrub types, and these can range in growth from 4-12 feet. Junipers can also be columnar in their growth habit with heights ranging from about a few feet up to 20-30 feet. Then, there are the tree junipers that can reach 50 feet or more.

Juniper berries are waxy, fragrant, and distinctive.

Junipers are conifers, but instead of cones, the female shrubs have berry-like, waxy, blue-green fruits. The berries of some types are highly scented and are often used during the Christmas and New Year holiday season in wreaths and often as part of an evergreen indoor table decoration. Often, juniper scent is incorporated into holiday candles. Most juniper plants produce berries that are attractive to many birds.  Hummingbirds often build nests in the larger shrub and tree types.

Juniper foliage color can be various shades of green to blue, gray, and yellow. The leaves of some have smooth or prickly needles, so consider this when choosing a variety. Prickly forms should be planted in areas where people won’t have contact with the foliage.

Growing Juniper

Junipers can be planted in the spring or early fall.

Good drainage is a requirement for most juniper varieties, and once established many require little or no additional water, depending on your plant zone. Be sure and read the plant label for detailed planting guidelines. Most varieties will take a full sun location, but there are some that like some protection from the hot afternoon sun. Well-drained average soil will usually suffice. Amending the soil at planting time with a little Black Gold Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss will encourage good growth from the start.

There is a vast selection of juniper choices, so it would be impossible to list all of the many varieties here. Instead, I have included several popular varieties that should be readily available at garden centers.

Groundcover Junipers

Juniperus horizontalis comes in several pleasing, low-growing varieties.

Tam juniper (Juniperus sabina ‘Tamariscifolia’, Zones 4-7), is often referred to as simply Tam. With blue-green foliage, expect this juniper to reach 2-3 feet in height and a width of 10 ft. It is one of the most widely used junipers in gardens.

Blue rug juniper (J. horizontalis ‘Wiltoni’, Zones 3-9) has silver-blue foliage that hugs the ground with long trailing branches. It is flatter and grows closer to the ground than the Tam Juniper. Expect it to spread beautifully. Specimens will tolerate some salt-spray and sandy soil, so it is a great oceanside shrub.

Shrub Junipers

Golden junipers add extra pizzaz to every garden.

Weeping needle juniper (J. rigida ‘’Pendula’, Zones 5-8) has an upright main stem and is often trained and staked to show off the secondary branches with weeping tips. Its green foliage and blue-black fruits are appealing. It will reach 15-20 ft in height when mature.

Pencil point common juniper (J. communis ‘Compressa’, Zones 3-7) is a very tight shrub with blue-green foliage. It is a slow grower that only grows about 2-4 inches per year. This is an ideal conifer for a rock garden and rarely needs pruning. Sometimes it is planted in rows as a dividing line in the garden.

Gold Coin common juniper (J. communis ‘Gold Coin’, Zones 3-7) is a conical, upright form with finely cut foliage. It is most admired for its brilliant new golden growth which turns bright green in the summer. It will reach about 10 feet.

Moonglow Rocky Mountain juniper (J. scopulorum ‘Moonglow’, Zones 3-7) is a dense conical grower with steel-blue color. At maturity, it will reach 8-10 feet. It makes a good screen and can be sheared as needed.

Tree Junipers

Western cedars are high-value trees for wildlife.

Western juniper (J. occidentalis, Zones 4-8) has fragrant green foliage and is native to intermountain regions from Central Washington to Southern California. It is very large growing and will reach 50-60 ft. The fruits are essential food for many native birds.

Weeping blue juniper (J. scopulorum ‘Tolleson’s Blue Weeping’, Zones 3-7) will usually reach about 20 feet and has very distinctive weeping branches that are silvery blue. It makes a graceful weeping tree.

I suggest visiting a local arboretum or garden center with a conifer display garden. Most conifer display gardens will include junipers. It is always wise to check out plants that will be permanent in your garden before making a final selection. Seeing plants growing out in the open may give a very different ‘look’ as compared to seeing them in a nursery container.