Fragrance In Your Garden

For the past couple of years, cold stormy springs blitzed our lilacs, of which we have many.  That heady fragrance was sorely missed around the Keith household. We were definitely spoiled for fragrance.  But we were able to hang on until our other flowers and shrubs bloomed and took up the slack. We did lose some lilacs during that period, but we have had other, more catastrophic losses (dairy cows in the Jerusalem artichokes, for instance or the family dogs making off with the guest of honor on Thanksgiving morning, but leaving the turnips).

When the first spring flowers appear in March, the soil is often too wet and cold to be planted, so like all good things we have to wait. But we can stock up on the wonderful new varieties offered by local and national nurseries.

Bearing the title of this piece in mind, what to buy for a fragrance garden?  See some suggestion below.


  • Lilacs (Syringa ) can reach heights of 10-12 feet. Three especially fragrant varieties are ‘Beauty of Moscow’, ‘Bloomerang’ and ‘Jose’. They are easy to grow so long as there is plenty of sun and the soil is well drained. Beauty of Moscow has double white flowers rising from pale pink buds.  They like Planting Zones 3-8. ‘Bloomerang’ lilacs (Zones 3-7) offer a richly fragrant purple lilac that blooms in spring and again in late summer or fall.

  • Korean spice viburnum ( carlesii) is a compact shrub up to six feet in height. Flowers have an incredibly spicy aroma plus showy pink clusters of flower buds that develop into whiter flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. The fruits are black berries and in fall, the leaves turn scarlet. Some sources consider them invasive, but most do not. Prune one time to remove dead branches or restrict growth, then leave it alone.

Herbaceous Perennials and Annuals

  • Roses epitomize garden fragrance, but there are so many varieties put out by so many growers, a list of the available cultivars would fill a small book. We have been purchasing roses from the David C. Austin Co. since we discovered them. Austin (now deceased) was a British rose breeder and writer. The company offers trademark English roses, and shrub and climbing roses for the garden. ’Rosa Boscobel’ is an English shrub rose of medium height with a heady, complex scent. It produces large, salmon-pink flowers throughout the growing season (Zones 5-9). ‘Rosa Munstead Wood’ is a crimson shrub rose with a rich, fruity aroma. It blooms for most of the growing season (Zones 5-9). They come in light purple, deep purple, and pink.  They are also disease resistant. Prune this group right after they finish blooming.  Check local nurseries, or go to Proven Winners on line.

  • Lavender (Zones 5-10) These Old World natives are a natural addition to any fragrance garden. A summer bloomer (pink, blue, purple and white) that likes full sun and they are not too fussy about soil. Pollinators love them. (1-3 feet high)

  • Carnations (Zones 5-9) these well-known perennial flowers will add a welcome spice fragrance to your garden. They bloom in late spring, so you may want to plant another, summer-blooming species as well.  Flowers come in shades of red, pink and white. They prefer full sun, but can tolerate partial shade.  They like an alkaline soil, so amend your garden with Black Gold® Natural & Organic Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix. Carnations are said to be toxic to humans, and dogs and cats. (18 inches high).
  • Nicotiana sylvestris (Zones 10-11) Also known as flowering nicotine, this Argentine native can persist to Zones 10-11 if sheltered. Otherwise it should be treated as a re-seeding annual. Long, tubular flowers, ranging from while to pink bloom throughout summer, and they will also self-seed. They like part to full sun and a rich, well-drained soil. Bear in mind that this species is very toxic to humans and pets (3-5 feet high).
  • Garden phlox (Zones 4-8) Also known as paniculata, garden phlox is a perennial that grows in clumps. The flowers com in shades of blue, orange, purple blue and white and should bloom all through summer. This was originally a woodland species and needs a somewhat moist soil to thrive. (2-4 feet high).

This is just a sample of the fragrant plants you might choose for your garden. You might also want to plant fragrant herbs as border. Container plantings could also work well. Some tender species like lavender could be planted in containers and moved indoors when it gets cold.

Black Gold® offers the best in soil amendments and potting mixes for your garden, keep it in mind wherever and whenever you are planning all of your gardening projects.


About Teri Keith

Garden columnist, Teri Keith, has gardened for over 50 years in her home state of Indiana. She served as a longtime IGC nursery manager specializing in annuals and perennials in Bloomington, Indiana and still gardens with passion. Each year she plants and maintains over 50 flower containers, many gardens, and a large collection of lilacs.

Container Garden for Beginners

There was a time when almost every household in our town had its own garden plot that stretched between the back door and the alley. There were many reasons for this. First was that my hometown is primarily a farming community, with all that the term implies. Second was the double-barreled effect of (a) The Great Depression (1929 ~1940) and (b) World War II (1941-1945) when what was ripe in your garden was probably what was for supper. Third was a prevalence of first- or second-generation city folks who had been forced off the farmland by financial hardship or by primogeniture (e.g., all the land goes to the eldest son when dad dies). Fourth, many retirees under the (then) new Social Security Act did not trust the federal government to keep its word to continue Social Security benefits after retirement.

Now we live in a time of relative plenty despite the stress and strain on our social fabric and supply lines thanks to COVID. Yet many people will plant corn, green beans, potatoes, peppers and tomatoes wherever they can; not out of need, but for the simple pleasure of doing it.  In addition, for the knowledge that if Old Man Trouble happens to stop by you will still have food to fall back on.

So let us get to the subject of veggie container gardening, made possible in part by the development of new compact vegetable varieties. Here are some rules and advice.

  • You may notice the absence of some typical vegetable favorites from this article. That is, potatoes, corn, and melons. These plants would best be attempted with at least a year’s experience in container plantsmanship before hitting the big time.
  • First thing you need is a bit of space but not a lot. It needs drainage control, light (6-8 hours full sun) and protection from wind.
  • Next you need containers. 1-, 2- and 5-gallon pots are the most common sizes. 5-gallon window boxes are also good picks, as are 5-gallon paint buckets purchased at hardware or paint stores. Container gardens need lots of sun, but most plant roots cannot stand heat, so white plastic containers are a good choice. Drain holes are mandatory. You also want to provide about a foot of potting mix in the container for root vegetables
  • I mentioned plastic as a container material. By that I meant a thick polyethylene type material. Glass is too prone to breaking. Pottery (glazed and unglazed) may be decorative but are also prone to breaking from dropping and also from internal pressure from an expanding root mass in an undersized pot.
  • Do not use your garden soil as a planting medium (really!). It does not drain well enough and may harbor pests and disease.  Black Gold® All Purpose Potting Mix and Black Gold® Natural & Organic Potting Mix will meet the demands of your container crops from start to finish. Some experts also advocate filling container bottoms with dead (not green) lawn sweepings or compost then following that with a foot of potting mix.

Below are some veggies you can start on.

Bush Beans (e.g., Blue Lake, Bush Green Bush Yellow TopCrop  or similar)

  • 3 plants per 2-gallon container (8-12 inch soil depth
  • Plant seeds directly in containers (does not transplant well)
  • Harvest in 50-60 days

Cucumbers (Spacemaster, Tasty Green (Japanese), Straight Eight (English)

  • One plant per 5-gallon pot
  • Sow seeds directly into pot
  • Harvest time – refer to seed packet

Lettuce (Ruby, Salad Bowl, Buttercrunch, Webb’s Wonderful)

  • 5-gallon window box
  • Sow directly or transplant
  • Harvest time – 40-70 days

Onions (White Sweet Spanish, Yellow Sweet Spanish, and NOTE: Forget Vidalia Onions; the high-sulfur soils around Vidalia, Georgia are the chief reason for their sweetness.

  • 5-gallon window box
  • Plant sets 3-5 inches apart
  • Harvest 100-125 days after planting, or when 50-75% of the tops have fallen over and the skin has dried

Peppers (Cayenne, Long Red, Sweet Banana)

  • One plant per 2-gallon pot
  • Transplant starts or sow seeds directly
  • Harvest time – refer to seed packet

Root Veggies (carrots, beets, radishes, turnips, onions, etc.)

  • 5-gallon pot or window box at least 12-inch soil depth
  • Sow seeds directly in soil
  • Harvest time – refer to seed packet

Tomatoes (determinate varieties e.g., Rutgers, Tiny Tim, Roma)

  • One plant per 2-gallon pot (may require support)
  • Transplants well
  • Harvest in 50-100 days (depending upon variety)

There you have it: quite enough to do, but not enough to get into real trouble.

About Teri Keith

Garden columnist, Teri Keith, has gardened for over 50 years in her home state of Indiana. She served as a longtime IGC nursery manager specializing in annuals and perennials in Bloomington, Indiana and still gardens with passion. Each year she plants and maintains over 50 flower containers, many gardens, and a large collection of lilacs.

Pollinators in a Pinch by Teri Keith

Honeybees, (Apis milliflera) are in trouble in North America, and gardeners, farmers, beekeepers and industrial agriculture are in danger of losing their services. The decline has been going on since the 1940s. Factors include habitat degradation, introduced predators like giant wasps, climate change, and introduced parasites and diseases to name a few.

Honeybees are eusocial insects. That is, they have a tight-knit social order and caste system that revolves around a single queen who provides the offspring for the succeeding generations. The entire colony is powered by nectar and pollen collected from flowers in the vicinity of the hive. In 2005-2006 beekeepers noted that worker bees were quitting millions of hives, presumably dying as a result. This is termed Colony Collapse Disorder and its causes are still being investigated. Under suspicion are two mite species that can infect and kill entire colonies.

Honeybees are not natives of the New World.  They were carried west by Old World settlers, clerics and explorers. They are highly efficient pollinators and they make and store honey as well.  Honeybees are not the only organism that can pollinate plants.  Birds, bats, ants, beetles, butterflies and moths, and native bees can all do it: they just do not tend to go after one species of plant at a time.

We now know now that there are literally thousands of other species of wild native bees, flies, wasps, ants and many others. One of them will pollinate a plant for you if you ask it nicely or at least make it feel welcome around your garden.

  • Plant native perennial flowers that will provide the garden with a constant range of flowers lasting from spring into fall. Here are some suggestions: Spring blooners – crocus, hyacinth, borage, calendula and lilac; Summer- bloomers – bee balm, cosmos, echinacea, snapdragon, foxglove and hosta; Fall bloomers– zinnia, sedum, aster goldenrod, and milkweed.
  • Blossom colors Bees prefer white, yellow and blue blooms. Birds like red, orange and white. Bright, vivid colors, including red, yellow and purple, draw butterflies.
  • Plant a few flowering shrubs nearby. This will attract birds and more types of potential pollinators.
  • To attract ground-nesting bees (e.g., bumblebees, miner bees or sweat bees) make sure there is a few clear, sunny, well-drained patches of loose soil. Such areas should not be mulched or covered in any way.
  • Lay a shallow plate or two to collect rain or runoff and keep your pollinators happy.
  • Carpenter bees are good pollinators, and are attracted to fence posts, wood siding, and old wooden sheds and outbuildings. Laying out or hanging up untreated lumber pieces will provide them with something to excavate.
  • Consider making pollinator condos. These consist of bundles of small tubes of varying diameters (generally ¼ inch or less. Bamboo, hollow reeds, hollow weed stems, paper straws stems are common materials. They are often made with a small roof to keep them dry.

Photo credit USDA Forest Service

For a good start visit, “Gardening for Pollinators” in the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture website.

Honeybees have been successful because they can make a living on a wide range of plants over the growing season. Some other species can do the same, but others are active over only a short time period and still others may confine their activities to a limited set of plants.

A few comments:

Please note that native goldenrods and common milkweed are favored pollinator targets. Monarch butterflies rely on milkweed both as a source of food and protection against predators.

I could not help noticing the repetitive refrain that ran through much of the source material for this piece, viz: “This (name species) does not sting! That is incorrect as written. If it has a stinger or a formidable set of mandibles, it will sting or bite when threatened, alarmed or trapped in a crease of sweaty flesh or clothing. Any person who is allergic to insect stings, and any child that is inexperienced around potentially stinging insects should be encourages to play elsewhere. This is also the reason I did not discuss attracting wasps or hornets.

Finally, to give all your hard work its best of success, remember Black Gold® lawn and garden products will be waiting at a local supply store. Find one on the Black Gold® website.


About Teri Keith

Garden columnist, Teri Keith, has gardened for over 50 years in her home state of Indiana. She served as a longtime IGC nursery manager specializing in annuals and perennials in Bloomington, Indiana and still gardens with passion. Each year she plants and maintains over 50 flower containers, many gardens, and a large collection of lilacs.

Petunias Are Glorious plants By Teri Keith

Petunias Are Glorious Container Plants

It is time to plan your 2023 container garden, so start picking out which of the fabulous annuals available, but check out the petunias first.  The petunias we know today are a far cry from those that first appeared in 19th century gardens. Two species had been discovered in South America in the mid-1700’s: White-flowered Petunia axillaris and purple-flowered Petunia violacea. These were introduced into Europe in the early 1800’s.  Soon breeders in Germany and England began crossing them.  The result was the ‘garden petunias’, a group of plants in new colors and larger flowers. Referred to as Petunia x hybrid, the plants were not hybrids, as we know the term; they were chance crossings of species.  Double flowers occurred in only 20 to 30 percent of the plants grown from seed, the rest would be large singles. It took until the 20th century for hybridizers to formally bring Mendelian genetics, to bear on petunia plant breeding.

Now they come as packed doubles, looking like small peonies, ruffled petals, striped, spotted, new colors, and with different colored edges.

There are now several types of petunias.  All, except milliflora, have single or double flowers.

  • Grandifloras have 3 to 4 inch diameter blooms.
  • Multifloras have smaller flowers, 2 inches diameter; produce more abundantly, with sturdier flowers that withstand rain better.
  • Floribundas are the combination of top two, with the size, abundance, and sturdiness of both. Sounds like the best pick.
  • Milliflora have small, around 1 inch in diameter, and do not need cutting back.
  • Wave petunias are the last, and cascade over the sides of your containers. They also can be used as a ground cover, some as large as 10 feet square.  Waves will tolerate drier weather, and do not need dead heading.  Waves get 4 to 6 inches tall.

The colors of petunias range from, red, white, purple, lavender, pink, peach, orange, rose, yellow, salmon, green, blue, and yes black.  The last two colors took years of breeding.

Now, to some of the best varieties, available today.  Our gardeners from the past would be blown away by these flowers.  Look on the web to see where to buy them.

‘Black Cherry’ has deep red flowers, with black centers, and ‘Bordeaux’ pale lavender, with deep purple veins and centers.

‘Black Cat’ has velvety, true black flowers, and gets 12 inches tall.

‘Night Sky’ is one of the most unusual petunias, purple, with white spots.  Does well in baskets,


‘Limelight’ has magenta flowers, with lime green edges, and is 10 inches tall.

‘Purple Pirouette’ is one of my favorite petunias, with ruffled, double purple flowers and bright white edges.  It is 10 to 15 inches tall.

‘Wave Blue’ has bright, true blue, 2-inch flowers.  Gorgeous in a large container, or as a 3 to 4 foot groundcover.

Romantica ‘Isabella Red’ is one of the striped petunias, with intense red blooms and yellow stripes.

The Supertunia ‘Mini Vista’ series, have small 2-inch blooms, and are perfect for hanging baskets, growing 2 feet long.  They come in yellow, white, scarlet, white with purple stripes, velvet purple, and more.  Unlike the other petunias, they do not need cutting back.

The ‘Vogue Series’ has beautiful double flowers in shades of purple, pink, red, white, lavender with deep purple veins, and lastly one I have never seen anywhere else, having deep magenta petals, with light green ovals, not stripes.

And lastly ‘Crazytunia Mayan Sunset’, has yellow throats and bright rose edges.

Of course, these are not all of the wonderful petunias available.  Many of these, and more, are available online, as well as nurseries and stores.

Plant your petunias using Black Gold® Potting Mixes, such as  Black Gold® All Purpose Potting Mix, or  Black Gold® Natural and Organic Cocoblend Potting Mix.  Sprinkle with Osmocote Fertilizer, and repeat every 6 weeks.

Petunias like full sun, but can take about 1/3 shade.  Cut them back by 1/3 every 4 weeks, to keep new flowers growing, and be sure to hit the local flower sellers early to get the best ones.

Happy gardening.


About Teri Keith

Garden columnist, Teri Keith, has gardened for over 50 years in her home state of Indiana. She served as a longtime IGC nursery manager specializing in annuals and perennials in Bloomington, Indiana and still gardens with passion. Each year she plants and maintains over 50 flower containers, many gardens, and a large collection of lilacs.

Spring Ephemerals by Teri Keith

I always feel like the Winter Solstice is an emotional turning point that comes each year when it’s needed most.  The world stops darkening and the sun begins its long climb back to summer.  It is accompanied by winter festivities that celebrate (directly or indirectly) the great turnaround.  When our kids were small, spring hikes were a yearly occurrence.  Nearby nature preserves, state parks and even city parks and secluded woody hollows sometimes had amazing displays of spring wildflowers. At some point I decided we could have a spring wildflower display in our own yard.  After all, how hard could it be?  Those things are natives and grow everywhere!

Those wildflowers, known as spring ephemerals, are a somewhat unusual, but time honored, gang of plants.  They are perennial woodland plants that are mainly found in the eastern U.S. and Canada. They emerge quickly in the spring, when sunlight warms the soil, but leaf canopies have not yet cut off the sunlight. Ephemerals quickly bloom and produce seed.  Plant stems and leaves will wither back to their underground parts (roots, rhizomes or bulbs) for the remainder of the year.  Fallen leaves provide mulch for the plants and the leaves break down, enriching the soil and provide a food base for detritivores and potential pollinating insects.

Here are some common native spring ephemerals:

  • Spring Beauty
  • Cutleaf Toothwort
  • Dutchman’s Breeches
  • Twinleaf
  • Bloodroot
  • Celandine Poppy
  • Shooting Star

Spring ephemerals are woodland plants that live around the base of deciduous hardwood trees. Soils tend to be rich in organic material with a crumbly texture.  Dry, sandy soils or heavy wet clay soils a generally unsuitable for ephemerals, except shooting stars that need well-drained soil.

I like to plant in fall, while the soil is still warm. Add a top dressing of compost, plus a layer of shredded leaf mulch. Depending on the species and the nursery, you may be planting seeds, bulbs, corms or starts. If there are trees around your beds, plant them near the base.  You plants are unlikely to flower the first year, just take care of them and they will do the rest.

Bearing in mind that your ephemerals will spend only a short time entertaining you, you will need to plant some companion plants.  Shade or semi shade perennials are a good bet.

Still, finding a good site for your new ephemeral garden may be a challenge.  Try to find a location that has partial sun/shade in early spring. Do not worry about existing trees or shrubs. By the time they leaf out, your ephemerals should be done flowering for the year. Most of the plants mentioned above like a rich neutral to slightly acidic soil.  If you have moved into a new housing subdivision, you may be forced to deal with clay subsoil that will require amending with compost and fertilizer before you can plant.  Please consider the Black Gold™ line of soil amendments and compost products for your needs.

Soil drainage is another important factor.  Virginia bluebells can tolerate a wet site, while others like shooting star quickly die off on poorly drained sites.  Digging sand into a poorly drained area may help a bit, but for a really wet soil, you should either apply some sort of positive drainage method or find another site.

Some plants can be readily started from seeds, corms, rhizomes or bulbs.  Rue anemone starts well from seeds and spreads by reseeding.  Others like trillium are best started by dividing an existing plant (no poaching).  They can be started by seed, but it may take a few years to flower.

Finally, you do not want to be feeding the local small mammal population more than you already are.  Rabbits, chipmunks, mice, voles, squirrels and others can be a real threat to your ephemerals.  A few years back, we tried growing a lady’s slipper. It did not last the summer before being consumed.  The same occurred with a Helleborine orchid. Spring beauty and trillium are favored sources of food, but most of the plants on our list have toxic stems, roots or foliage.

Of course you want to know how we made out with our own ephemerals.  The orchids were a flop.  So were shooting stars and trout lily. We planted trillium obtained from a local nursery under an oak-leaved hydrangea and snowball bush and they do reasonably well in both locations.  Celandine poppy and Dutchman’s breeches also do well under the snowball bush.  Virginia bluebells have done very well everywhere we planted them.  Of course we still visit the woods in spring, but we do have a small spring show of our own.


About Teri Keith

Garden columnist, Teri Keith, has gardened for over 50 years in her home state of Indiana. She served as a longtime IGC nursery manager specializing in annuals and perennials in Bloomington, Indiana and still gardens with passion. Each year she plants and maintains over 50 flower containers, many gardens, and a large collection of lilacs.

Digging Dirt by Teri Keith

Soil is the heart of your garden.  Wherever you decide to set up a garden, you should know that there may be soil factors or problems that you will have to deal with in order to get the most benefit and enjoyment from your efforts. Soil is what is left behind after a long and complex interaction of sun, wind, water, and plant life and soil organisms on some sort of parent material. The latter could be the native bedrock, materials deposited by wind and water, organic material and so forth.

Most undisturbed soils have distinct, well-defined layers that taken together form a soil profiles.  These extend from the ground surface down to native bedrock or to a depth at which soil formation processes are no longer active. Soil profiles describe individual soil types, and provide information regarding fertility, texture, and color, and organic content, moisture holding capacity, erosion potential, chemical characteristics, and suitability for various land uses.

In the United States, soils are the province of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA provides services not only for farmers, but to gardeners as well. In most U.S. locations, USDA maintains a county or regional presence through Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) offices. These are often excellent sources of local soil information in your area such as soil maps, soil descriptions and other resources such as soil testing.

A soil profile is typically displayed as:

  • O Horizon This is seldom present in recently disturbed soils. The O Horizon provides a habitat for small invertebrates and fungi that process dead organic materials (detritivores), and enrich the soil.

  • A Horizon (Topsoil) The A Horizon is true soil in which most seeds germinate. It reaps the benefits of O Horizon detritivore activity plus the activity of earthworms that carry bits of dead organic material into the soil to feed, aerating and further enriching it.


  • B Horizon (subsoil) The subsoil is just below the topsoil and just above the C Horizon or native bedrock. It contains fewer soluble minerals and less organic material than topsoil, but it is also a place of deposition of soluble minerals and mineral salts.
  • C Horizon This layeris devoid of any organic material and is made up overwatered broken bedrock.

In most cases it is preferable to make the best of the soil you have.  It came with your house, you own it and you need to take care of it. Using deadly chemicals to control weeds, bugs, moles and other annoyances can backfire by killing off beneficial pollinators, beneficial soil bacteria and fungi; detritivores that eat dead organic material and earthworms, not to mention songbirds and small mammals.  Bringing in topsoil is expensive.  The soil may have been to keep the cycle going illegally stripped from another building site.

Any kind of topsoil can be transformed into healthy garden soil with dedication and work. Organic matter needs to be replenished frequently to keep the cycle going.

Here are some ways you can improve your soil.

  • Get a soil test Have your soil tested at the beginning of your project, then every few years thereafter to determine what additional nutrients are needed to promote plant growth and production.

  • Add Compost posed organic material, and it is a wonderful soil additive to improve soil structure, enable them to better retain nutrients and water and keep the soil loose.
  • Mulch Mulching the soil surface helps to keep the soil cool and reduce moisture loss from evaporation.

  • Avoid soil compaction Soil that is hard and compacted will inhibit seedling growth. This can be alleviated by breaking the garden up into smaller beds connected by footpaths.
  • Rotating cover crops. Planting cover crops of nitrogen fixing plants like clover or alfalfa on a portion of your garden beds. This will benefit the doily by increasing fertility. After overwintering, these annual plants will act as mulch

In addition, don’t forget that Black Gold® has a complete line of soil amendments, soil conditioners, and specialty potting mixes. Black Gold® is your indispensible ally in caring for the heart of your garden.


About Teri Keith

Garden columnist, Teri Keith, has gardened for over 50 years in her home state of Indiana. She served as a longtime IGC nursery manager specializing in annuals and perennials in Bloomington, Indiana and still gardens with passion. Each year she plants and maintains over 50 flower containers, many gardens, and a large collection of lilacs.

Pruning The Garden in Winter


As for me, I believe that pruning is without doubt the biggest (dreadfulest) but most important job in the winter garden.  Young trees and shrubs need pruning then while the branches are bare.  The rules for pruning flowering shrubs depends on when they bloom.  Spring blooming shrubs (i.e.  quince and viburnums that bloom on last year’s wood should never be cut in winter. But only after they bloom.  Summer and fall blooming shrubs such as Hydrangeas will bloom on new wood and can then be cut to the ground in winter.

The first step is to remove all dead wood at its base.  Then look to see if any branches are crossing each other and rubbing together then cut one off leaving the best branch to grow.  The next step for almost all non-evergreen shrubs is to cut one third of the oldest branches to the ground every three years.  This will ensure a new crop of younger shoots each year and help to eliminate pests which often attack the old wood first. A perfect example of this is the lilac.  A common mistake I have seen is to cut some shrubs into forms that are totally unnatural to their basic shape.  The worst offenders try to prune forsythia into shapes such as globes or rectangles.  There again give forsythias room to spread and follow the three-year cycle.  If you have a small area buy a small shrub to fill it.  There are a few slow growing shrubs that really do not need pruning at all, as far as its shape is concerned.  The most common plant in our area is the Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata).  Except for dead wood and rubbing branches leave it alone.

Pruning rhododendrons and azaleas is a whole different story.  There is a difference between them and size is not it.  In the south you can see azaleas over six feet tall, while there are dwarf rhododendrons.  The difference is where the flowers are located on the branch. This is important to know because the main pruning job for these plants is deadheading.  Rhododendron flowers are found just above the leaf rosette and pruning consists of removing the old flowers while not hurting the leaf rosette just below it. That is where next year’s buds will form.  On the other hand, azaleas form new buds all along the branch.  Just cut the branch after blooming, but not all the way back. Then you will have new flowers next spring.  Remember both plants require acidic soil.  If your plants start to look weak or yellow you need a soil additive. Copperas (hydrated ferrous sulfate) an inexpensive powder comes in small bags. Follow the instructions and add to a liquid mix for acid-loving plants.

Roses are in a group by themselves. The main rule is to get rid of the old wood to discourage pests and encourage new growth (= more roses).  There are two groups of roses, one that blooms on last year’s wood and one that blooms on this year’s new growth. With both groups remove the oldest and weakest canes.  The oldest canes tend to be dark brown and woody. They need to go. The new growth roses should have one third of all old branches cut to the ground to keep the plant from pouring energy into maintaining old growth, and it should be done in the very early spring just when the buds begin to swell.  For a fuller looking plant cut some of the inward growing branches to open up the center.  For roses that bloom only on one year old wood (and I do not think there are many of these left) look at the stems.  They should be brownish green.  Leave them and cut out anything older, but be sure to let new growth come along for next year.

I also caution against the dreaded rose rosette virus.  If you see any misshapen or oddly colored growth dig up the plant and burn it or put into a large plastic bag to put in the trash. Even if everything looks okay douse your pruners with 70% Isopropyl Alcohol between each rose.  I encourage everyone to go online and see what bad growth looks like.

I also recommend going on line to see the gorgeous new varieties of all the plants I have talked about for example, Hydrangea paniculata images and a world of gorgeous shrubs will appear.

I hope I have given you enough work to keep you out of trouble and I haven’t even gotten to young trees.  So get going and happy gardening.

About Teri Keith

Garden columnist, Teri Keith, has gardened for over 50 years in her home state of Indiana. She served as a longtime IGC nursery manager specializing in annuals and perennials in Bloomington, Indiana and still gardens with passion. Each year she plants and maintains over 50 flower containers, many gardens, and a large collection of lilacs.

Favorite Christmas Plants

The U.S. holiday season traditionally kicks off with Thanksgiving and its televised parade extravaganzas (e.g., Macy’s and Philadelphia). Both feature marching bands, lavishly decorated floats, giant balloons and (Oh boy!) Santa Claus.  We are old enough to remember watching the parades on black & white sets. All of that was great fun for our kids too; less so for our grandkids who somehow acquired a streak of cynicism in their teens that I can’t recall before. That’s OK. Christmas is big enough to include both the sacred and secular in its bosom; not to mention the remnants of Pagan traditions dredged up from the past. The latter are best represented by traditional Christmas plants. Here are our own favorites.


Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a shrub-to small tree-sized plant. The winter bloomer hails from Mexico and Guatemala where it was considered by Aztecs to be a symbol of purity and was cultivated as a medicinal plant. The actual flowers are small, green or yellow, and are concentrated in the center of a bunch of leafy bracts at the tip of each stalk. The bracts turn bright red and are typically mistaken for flower petals. This is how they appear when brought home for the holidays. All well and good, except that when the plant is kept and nurtured the following year, no colored bracts. The trick is that the colors of the bracts are created by subjecting the plants to at least fourteen hours of absolute darkness (not even a night light) at a time for 6–8 weeks in a row prior to the holidays.  They also need abundant light during the day for the brightest color.

Poinsettias are reputed to be poisonous (ASPCA link: So, keep pets and little ones away from them, if you don’t want a child, puppy, or kitty sick under the tree.  If you have further questions can always “Ask a Garden Expert” on our Black Gold Page here 

Photo Credit Jessie Keith

Christmas Cacti

The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) should not be confused with the Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata).  The common names refer to the time of year they usually bloom.  Christmas cactus blooms from December through February. Thanksgiving cactus blooms in November and December. Despite appearances, neither plant is a cactus. Instead they are succulent epiphytes that live on tree branches in subtropical rain forests. So you must not treat them like a standard cactus, or your reward will be a dead plant. On the other hand, Christmas cactus is incredibly easy to start. Just pick off a Y-shaped piece and stick it in a pot of moist Black Gold© Succulent and Cactus Mix and you are done.

Plants should be kept in bright, indirect light. An east-facing window or a bright bathroom is ideal. Too much direct sunlight can bleach the sensitive leaves. A daytime temperature of 70°F (21°C) and an evening temperature of 60-65°F (15-18°C) is best. In the summer, Christmas cacti can be placed in a shady spot in the garden or in an unheated porch until temperatures get below 50°F (10°C). Keep them out of direct outdoor sunlight.

Photo Credit Jessie Keith


The genus holly (Ilex spp.) is the primary representative of the holly family, Aquifoliaceae. Popular decorative hollies with red berries and spiny leaves are Ilex aquifolium in the Old World and Ilex opaca in North America. In Europe, Holly branches have long been used to decorate homes in winter. The tree was seen as a fertility symbol and a charm against witches, goblins and the devil. And it was thought to be unlucky to cut down a holly tree. When British colonists arrived in North America, they were surprised to find holly was already present, similar, though a different species.

American holly grows as an understory tree in forests of south and southeastern United States, and reaches a height of 30 feet or more.  With its dark green, prickly foliage, solid pyramidal shape, and abundant crops of red berries on female trees, American holly is a great asset to any yard or garden. With careful pruning, enough holly boughs can be cut to deck your halls quite nicely without damaging your tree. If you don’t have your own trees. Attempting to collect your own holly bought in the wild may be fruitless at best, as American holly is not a particularly common tree anywhere in its range. Attempting to gather holly on public land may also be illegal. If you ask nicely, a kindly understanding neighbor may allow you to take a few. Otherwise, I recommend checking with local Christmas tree merchants.

Photo Credit Jessie Keith

Whatever you come up with, we wish you the joy of the season. And, keep safe.

About Teri Keith

Garden columnist, Teri Keith, has gardened for over 50 years in her home state of Indiana. She served as a longtime IGC nursery manager specializing in annuals and perennials in Bloomington, Indiana and still gardens with passion. Each year she plants and maintains over 50 flower containers, many gardens, and a large collection of lilacs.


When I was a child my parents had a beautiful flowering bush next to the front porch.  It bloomed in the spring with small pink trumpets that had gold etching inside. It turned out that the name was fittingly Beauty Bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis). Now I have a gorgeous one arching over my pond.  Not something you see often – something different.


There are quite a few shrubs that are a delight in the spring and throughout the year yet are for most people something different.  Beauty Bush is still available, now in fancy varieties such as ‘Maradco’ and ‘Dream Catcher’ with ever changing foliage: copper in early spring, yellow in May, chartreuse in summer and orange and gold in fall. The height is 7 to 8 ft. and it likes full sun (plus it’s deer resistant).

photo credit to Jessie Keith

Deutzia ‘Duncan’ and ‘Chardonnay  Pearls’ are low growing shrubs only 2 to 3 feet tall with willow like leaves. The branches are covered with tiny, white flower buds resembling pearls. The buds open to a myriad of fragrant flowers in April to May. This variety also has lemon-lime leaves as one of its benefits.  Deutzia likes sun to part shade and will grow in our clay soil.


Hydrangea ‘Quick Fire’ is a new paniculata hydrangea with many advantages.  It starts blooming a full month earlier than others of it species and is in bloom from early summer to late fall.  Flowers are cone shaped and white to start. They turn pink and then a dark rosy-pink in the fall. It likes full sun to full shade so you can put it anywhere.  It is a rather large shrub at 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide so give ‘Quick Fire’ plenty of room.  All paniculata hydrangeas bloom on new wood, so they can be pruned to the ground in late winter or early spring.  Unlike big-leaved hydrangeas, this and the following hydrangea varieties never die in the winter and you will have them for many years.


Hydrangea arborescens with white ball-shaped blooms has also been improved.  The ‘Annabelle’ series have stronger stems than the other types and so won’t flop over.  Besides the familiar white Annabelle, now there is ‘Invincibelle Spirit’ which produces pink blooms from June to September on new wood and can be pruned from the ground to 1 foot each winter.  They like partial shade, and grow in clay, rocky, wet, or dry soil.  It has a height of only 4 feet and I highly recommend them.


Fothergilla ‘Blue Shadow’ is a new variety of this unusual shrub.  It has fragrant, upright, white bottle brush flowers in late April to May.  The leathery leaves are up to 4 inches long. They are a beautiful blue to blue green, then turn red and orange in the fall.  To keep the blue color, plant in part shade and well drained acidic soil. Feed with a rhododendron fertilizer.  ‘Blue Shadow’ is a slow grower that will grow to 6 feet over 10 years.



Most of us are familiar with butterfly bushes, but not with the new Flutterby Petite series.  This is the first butterfly bush that can be used as a ground cover or container plant.  ‘Petite Blue Heaven’ only grows 2 feet 6 inches tall and wide, with beautiful purple-blue blooms and silver leaves.  ‘Petite Pink’ has medium to dark pink flowers and only gets 1 to 2 feet tall and wide.  Plant in full sun in medium to semi- dry soil.  Butterfly bushes bloom from summer to frost and are heat and drought tolerant only needing occasional clipping of old flowers.


The last shrub on my list is beauty berry ‘Wine Spritzer’.  Beauty berries are usually grown for the purple berries they bear in fall, but ‘Wine Spritzer’ has gorgeous large white and green sprinkled leaves with burgundy stems as well.  It likes well drained soil and is heat and deer tolerant.  It does best in sun but will grow in partial shade and gets 4 to 5 feet tall. If cut to the ground each winter, it will improve leaf variegation for the next year.  By the way, an old wives tale that says rubbing the leaves of beauty berries on your skin will repel mosquitoes and ticks has been proved to be true by the USDA.


You will not have to go far to try any of these wonderful shrubs as all are carried by Bloomington Valley Nursery on old 37 south.  I know you will be glad you did.

About Teri Keith

Garden columnist, Teri Keith, has gardened for over 50 years in her home state of Indiana. She served as a longtime IGC nursery manager specializing in annuals and perennials in Bloomington, Indiana and still gardens with passion. Each year she plants and maintains over 50 flower containers, many gardens, and a large collection of lilacs.

Winter Refugees

Fall is a time for change. The old year is slipping away. And despite our best intentions the yard and garden start getting unkempt and a bit seedy. The vegetable garden (if you put one in) has given up most of its bounty and what is left tends to be root vegetables like turnips and beets. It is a time for asters and mums to show their stuff before a big freeze sets in.
Most falls find us trying to decide how and where to make extra room indoors for some winter refugees. That is, annuals that have done well in the growing season that we hope might reward us with a bit more beauty in exchange for a sunny window and regular watering.
In recent years, I have devoted more time to container gardening on our back deck. Recent favorites have included geraniums, gerbera and coleus. However, bringing plants inside does not always work. Here is a list of things to consider before bringing your favorite plant indoors.
Clean pots; remove dead or unhealthy growth.
Check for pests; treat with pesticide or leave outdoors.
Repot if necessary.
If you are not repotting, top off plant with fresh soil.
Rinse and water.
Ensure you can meet all of the plants’ indoor needs, especially air temperature, humidity and light
Keep the plant out of reach of animals and children, if necessary.

Geraniums and pots were rather made for one another. Our deck has a southern exposure so sun is not a problem in summer; but they should be kept in a location that is sheltered from prevailing winds. In fall, it is simply a matter of hauling them in the house, 2-gallon pots and all. If indoor space is going to be a problem, you can take cuttings and place them directly into a potting mixture in 8-inch pots. Black Gold® All Purpose Potting Mix offers a great substrate for potting full sized geraniums or cuttings. Make sure your mixture is well drained. Water the plants when the potting mixture is dry, but do not overwater. Geraniums need lots of light to flower so give it a south- or southwest facing window. Avoid heating registers or cold drafts.

Photo credit to Jessie Keith

Coleus hail from Asia, Africa and Australia. They became popular as bedding plants in Victorian gardens. More recently, plant breeders have developed many new varieties that I love. Coleus is mostly valued for its intricate multicolored foliage. The blue, purple or white flowers are insignificant. In summer, I like to put them outdoors in 4- to 8-inch pots in front of garden beds or along garden walks. Pinching back new shoots will encourage new growth. While it is important to keep the soil moist, avoid overwatering. Indoors, Coleus likes bright light. However, they are poisonous to cats and dogs; so if Rover or fluffy like to munch on household plants, it might be wise to give this indoor plant a miss.

Bigleaf Begonia is another favorite of mine. They have waxy green to bronze leaves.  Outdoors, it can be placed in full sun to shade, and is considered a low-maintenance plant. It can grow to 18 inches in height. When I bring them indoors, I generally upgrade them to the next largest pot filled with a Black Gold® potting mixture. Indoor plants need full to partial sun and frequent watering to keep the soil moist. It is somewhat poisonous to house pets so be careful.

Gerbera is also known as Transvaal Daisy. These beautiful plants produce flowers that resemble giant daisies in bright candy colors of red, yellow orange and pink. They like a rich soil with added organics like Black Gold® Natural & Organic Raised Bed & Potting Mix. Make sure the pot has an adequate drain hole.  Feeding will also help with bloom production.  Feeding every two weeks with a water-soluble fertilizer (24-8-18) will encourage blooming. Set pots near a sunny window so they can get bright indirect sunlight. Sunlight will encourage blooming, but too much direct sunlight can harm young plants. Good air circulation is also important to reduce humidity and discourage fungal growth. Take care not to overwater Gerbera. Do not water until the top inch of the potting mix is dry. Gerbera is also somewhat toxic for cats so be careful.

About Teri Keith

Garden columnist, Teri Keith, has gardened for over 50 years in her home state of Indiana. She served as a longtime IGC nursery manager specializing in annuals and perennials in Bloomington, Indiana and still gardens with passion. Each year she plants and maintains over 50 flower containers, many gardens, and a large collection of lilacs.