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Small-Space Summer Vegetable Gardening

Even one small raised bed can provide summer food and enjoyment for your family.

You want a vegetable garden, but you’re stuck with a postage stamp-sized plot of grass and/or a teeny tiny deck/patio of approximately the same area. What are your options? How about a small raised bed or a few nifty container gardens for some of your favorite veggies?

The key to small-space gardening is starting with a good garden base and planting the right cultivars. Small raised beds will be most productive if they are filled with good-quality soil and situated in the sun. Add a few large, 5-gallon plastic pots to your new vegetable garden venture, rotate your vegetables accordingly, and you will be set.

Small-Space Garden Ground Rules

Small raised beds can be substantial enough to support quite a few vegetables.
  1. Grow compact vegetables because container- and small-raised-bed gardens impose limitations on plant size! Avoid large crops such as corn, melons, pole beans, and vining pumpkins. (Plant lists are below.)
  2. Choose a good location for your garden. Ideally, the spot will have full sunlight (8-10 hours), protection from wind, and quality soil in a bed or pot with good drainage.
  3. Choose the right-sized beds and containers. They should be large and deep enough to support crops. A soil depth of 12″-18″ in raised beds is recommended for deep root growth and productivity. 5-gallon pots are a good size for most potted vegetables. Some gardeners even rely on inexpensive 5-gallon hardware-store buckets with holes poked into the base, especially for pot-grown tomatoes. Ultimately, choosing large containers saves time because they need less water and encourage more growth and productivity.
  4. Choose the right pot. Most gardeners prefer light-colored plastic pots with good drainage for vegetables because they stay cool and plastic retains water better than most pottery. Drain holes are mandatory and maintaining deep saucers at the bottom for water collection helps reduce the need to water as often.
  5. Use quality potting soil and vegetable fertilizer. Do not rely on in-ground garden soil as a planting medium (really!). More organic matter is needed, especially in containers. We recommend raised bed soil amended with Black Gold Natural & Organic Raised Bed Mix and pots filled with Black Gold® Natural & Organic Potting Mix to 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, such as Black Gold Natural & Organic Compost Blend, and then following that with a foot or more of potting mix.
  6. Plan ahead for weekly care. Smaller gardens need less care, but you will still need to water, weed, feed, and harvest regularly. Plan a care schedule for each week. Be most conscientious of container plants because they are especially subject to drying and nutrient loss.
  7. Plan to replace crops. Some crops, like beans, greens, and root vegetables are fast-growing. Determine their days to harvest (click here for a harvest guide), and plan to replace them once they are picked or no longer productive.

Vegetables for Small-Space Gardens

Tomatoes

Tomatoes generally grow best in larger lots because they need lots of root space, and they have greater water and nutrient needs than most other vegetables.

Choose compact bush (determinate) or semi-bush (semi-determinate) tomatoes for small-space raised beds and pots. Super small pot tomatoes include the disease-resistant cherry tomato ‘Sweetheart of the Patio‘ (24-36″) and salad tomato ‘Patio Delight’ (12-18″). Larger determinate tomatoes for caging or staking including the flavorful, red, slicing tomato ‘Celebrity’ (36-40″), the early beefsteak ‘Galahad‘ (24-36″), and golden sauce tomato, ‘Sunrise Sauce‘ (24-36″).

Planting recommendations: plant one plant per 5-gallon container. Cage or stake plants reaching 18″ or more. Manage tomato growth by cutting back excessive vining stems once they start really growing. (Click here for more tomato pruning guidelines.) Feed tomatoes regularly with a fertilizer formulated for tomatoes.

Cucumbers 

‘Spacemaster’ cucumbers have short vines and tasty cukes. (Image thanks to Burpee Seeds)

Slicing cucumbers have now been bred in compact form for pots. The most notable variety is the tried and true, ‘Spacemaster‘. The variety has diseases-resistant vines reaching just 26 inches! ‘Bush Champion‘ is another compact variety with vines reaching 24″, and it’s said to produce high yields. Both have medium-sized cukes. Harvest them smaller if you intend to use them for pickling.

Planting recommendations: Plant one or two plants per 5-gallon pot. The seeds can be directly sown into pots. A small trellis can be used if desired. Feed and water regularly, just as the potting soil begins to dry, or the plants will not bear fruit.

Green Beans

Bush beans, green, wax, or filet, are ideally suited to large-container planting. Some varieties are prolific bearers with excellent flavor. Four to five plants are needed per 5-gallon pot. Avoid overfeeding. Beans are legumes and need no extra nitrogen. Beans use a lot of moisture so use a potting mix with good water-holding capacity and water regularly. Several quality varieties

Sweet Peppers

Choose compact peppers for container culture. Their final pot should be larger than the one shown (3 gallons or more), if they are to truly thrive.

New sweet peppers are being bred for small fruits and compact plant size. The lunchbox snacking peppers are most notable. Grow them all, orange, yellow, and red, with the Lunchbox Pepper Mix. The pepper plants reach 28-36 inches and produce lots of sweet peppers.

Planting recommendations: One plant per 3-gallon pot. Transplant starts after the threat of frost has passed. They produce best with days and nights become warmer. Fruits can be harvested green, but I like them best if allowed to reach full color.

Greens

Greens of all types grow beautifully in pots or small raised beds.

Nothing tastes better than greens in pots, such as spinach, kale, Swiss chard, collards, and various lettuces. For the most part, all are suitable as container plants. Unlike the warmer crops mentioned above, many greens are more cold tolerant and can be started in spring before the danger of frost is past, usually by a couple of weeks. Then the greens can be re-sown in summer (If heat tolerant) or in the fall as temperatures cool. The best greens for summer are Swiss chard (we like the colorful Rainbow Mix), heat-tolerant lettuces, like the heirloom ‘Black Seeded Simpson‘, and beautiful Tuscan kale, like ‘Black Magic‘. Please refer to the video below for planting details. The pots are a good size for growing lots of greens!

More small-space gardening reading and information:

 

Five Ways to Maximize Small-Space Vegetable Gardens

Garden Flowers of Victorian Floriography

Tulips, dianthus (pink flower left), and honesty (purple flower right) all have meaning in the Victorian language of flowers.

Since childhood, I have liked the styles and gardens of the Victorian Period (i.e., 1837-1901, the time of Queen Victoria’s reign in England).  While driving around my hometown of South Bend, Indiana, I was inspired by the ornate Victorian houses with simple garden plots filled with brightly colored flowers, and I favored family Victorian heirlooms. My favorite was a decorative Victorian bowl on our mantle covered in delicate pink roses painted from the rose garden by my great-grandmother. The floral bowl was a beautiful reminder of a family garden of the past.

Later in life, I learned about the Victorian language of flowers, otherwise known as floriography. The knowledge has helped me fill my home garden with bountiful Victorian blooms filled with floral meaning, especially when my family bought our own Victorian home (built in 1885). I decorated the interior in the proper style with floral motifs, wallpaper, and decor. My gardens have been equally of the era. Old-fashioned roses, lilacs, bridal wreath spirea (Spirea x vanhouttei), spring daffodils, and other favorite Victorian garden plants dot my beds and landscaping–filling the spaces with meaning.

What is Floriography?

The modest Victorian-era home has sweeps of daylilies and dahlias down the walk.

The popular Victorian language of flowers was formally known as the practice of floriography.  It is the practice of giving meaning or symbolism to a plant, such as ‘warding off evil’ to garlic.  Beyond Victorian England, cultures around the world have had their own floral languages, but the Victorians took it to an unprecedented level, giving social meaning to hundreds of flowers and plants.

From the printing of the first dictionaries of floriography (Le Language des Fleurs by Louise Cortanbert in 1819, to the last, The Language of Flowers by Routledge, illustrated by Kate Greenaway in 1884 (still in print)) people went hog wild, sending increasingly complex messages to each other using plants. More contemporary books, such as The Complete Language of Flowers by S. Theresa Dietz, keep the interest alive.

Meanings of Popular Victorian Flowers

Impatiens (red and pink, foreground), called busy Lizzies in Victorian times, mean…

Especially popular with young adults, floral letters were sent in small-handpicked bouquets called tussie mussies or nosegays, which were wrapped in lace doilies and tied with satin ribbons.  If a question was asked, a nosegay presented by the right hand meant “yes”, and by the left hand “no.”  Nosegays given in an upright position represented a positive message, while one upside-down sent a negative one.  Here are some of the more interesting definitions, from among hundreds, given to common plants.  In some cases, such as carnations, hyacinths, and roses, the message varied depending on the flower color.

  • Apple Blossom (Malus spp.) signifies spring, innocence, and good tidings for the future.
  • Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila elegans) represents innocence.
  • Busy Lizzy (Impatiens walleriana) represent tenderness and kindness.
  • European Bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica) stands for humility.
  • Carnation, Striped (Dianthus spp.): No, I can’t be with you.
  • Cherry Blossom (Prunus spp.) represents education.
  • Daffodil (Narcissus spp.) is the flower for chivalry.
  • Dahlias (Dahlia spp.) inspire inner strength and dignity.
  • Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) is the bloom of happiness (not in our yard, but the bees enjoy them).
  • Daylilies (Hemerocallis hybrids) are given to inspire the recipient to forget their worries.
  • Fourleaf Clover, as anticipated is a sign of good luck but the plant can also suggest “be mine.”
  • Holly (Ilex spp.) branches ask the question, “Am I forgotten?”
  • Hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis) stand for the following depending on color: yellow=jealousy, pink=playful joy, purple=deep regret, white=love and prayer.
  • Purple lilac (Syringa vulgaris) blooms are a sign of happiness and tranquility.
  • Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis) represent the tears of the Virgin Mary.
  • Mints (Mentha spp.) are virtuous.
  • Oak Leaves (Quercus spp.) suggest bravery.
  • Yellow roses (Rosa spp.) are a sign of friendship and joy.
  • Red roses (Rosa spp.) continue to be a sign of love, which is why a dozen red roses are given to a beloved partner on Valentine’s Day or anniversaries.
  • Dried white rose petals mean death is preferable to loss of virtue.
  • Bridal wreath spirea (Spirea x vanhouttei) has bountiful white spring flowers representing prosperity, wealth, and victory.
  • Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) signify long life, lasting happiness, and pride.
  • Red tulips (Tulipa spp.) are a declaration of love.
  • White violets (Viola odorata)  suggest, “Let’s take a chance on happiness.”
  • Mistletoe (Viscum album) continues to be used for celebratory Christmas kisses.
Peonies

Of course, these are just a few of the flowers used in floriography messages.  At the time, people relied on floriography for social fun. Entertainment often consisted of conversing with one another. Sometimes I wish the same social standards applied today. Technology is often considered more important than knowing one’s next-door neighbor. What a pity. Either way, there are still several books available online on the subject of floriography, should you be tempted to delve further into the subject. Then you can fill your garden with meaning.

For me, of all the flowers listed, I am looking most forward to spring Hyacinths. The hyacinth is a fantastic-smelling, brightly colored, spring flowering bulb, and a flower of choice in the 19th Century.  They were planted in sweeps to create patterned floral beds, all the rage at the time, and hyacinths are one of the easiest bulbs to force indoors giving an early taste of spring.  At its height, Holland growers offered almost 2000 varieties of hyacinths. Now there are only about around 30 varieties commonly sold.

A good place to find antique hyacinths is Old House Gardens. Their heirloom Easter Basket sampler is a good place to start or look for them at your local garden center in the spring. They thrive in garden soil amended with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend.

Hyacinths were beloved in Victorian times. Pink hyacinths represent playful love.

Tips for Planning a New Garden

February firmly settles us into the new year and is the ideal month for garden planning. The weather is too crummy in most parts of the country to work outside, and garden planning is a fun, hopeful indoor activity.

When referring to garden planning, I mean accomplishing more than listing a few flowers or vegetables to plant in the ground. A good garden plan takes a lot of thought about the layout of a garden, its soil, plants, care, and overall look. Hopefully, the end result will be a garden that gives lasting beauty and enjoyment.

Since this will be a beginner’s exercise, I’ll keep the steps straightforward. The only preliminary tip I will add is to remind gardeners to be realistic. Make sure you have enough money to complete the task and enough time to tend your new garden.

Steps to Planning a New Garden

A beautifully designed garden will provide lasting enjoyment for years!

Step 1- Choose your Garden

Decide what kind of garden you want. Are you interested in growing vegetables, cut flowers, a beautiful blooming perennial border, or a mixed bed with everything? Will your garden be in sun or shade? Will it contain containers paths or other elements? Choose what you like best. I generally like flower gardens filled with mixed annuals, perennials, and some flowering shrubs for broad interest.

Step 2 – Pick a Location

Simple, neatly edged garden beds around the home improve the landscape are are easy to design.

Determine where your garden will be located, and take note of all variables, such as soil type, light value, wind exposure, and water availability. Additionally, decide which direction you want the garden to face for maximum visual enjoyment. Knowledge of your yard will help you hone in on the right plants for the site.

When determining soil information, such as soil type or pH, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture maintains Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) regional or county offices. They can provide a wealth of local soil and agricultural information for the asking. You can also run some simple soil tests on your own. To test soil for soil acidity take ½ cup garden soil; add ½ cup of tap water followed by ½ cup baking soda. If the mixture fizzes, the soil is acidic (pH 6.0 or less). To test soil for alkalinity take a new 1/2 cup of soil, add ½ cup tap water followed by ½ cup vinegar. If the mixture fizzes, it is alkaline (pH 8 or more)

Step 3 -Select Plant Types

If you are not sure what to plant in a flower border in the first year, try adding lots of colorful, ever-blooming annuals.

Choose the types of plants you want for the garden style and their general location. Think of the color palette you want and the growing needs of the plants, such as light, soil, and water. Plant height must be determined for each choice. Typically the tallest plants (i.e., flowering shrubs and bold perennials) should be planted in the back of the bed, mid-size perennials will go in the center, and short annuals and bedding plants will be planted along the garden edges.

Assemble a list of plant species you are considering for your garden. If you don’t have many books on the subject, rely on quality online nurseries. Assure yourself that each species is in the correct USDA Hardiness Zone for your area (Click here to view the USDA Hardiness Zone Map). Also note individual plant requirements for soil moisture, pH, and sunlight. Final plant numbers can be calculated when you start drafting your garden.

Step 4 – Draft Your Garden

Draw up a draft plan for your garden. The draft is certainly the most complicated step and may be simple or elaborate, depending on your skill level. Make sure you have draft paper, tracing paper, a good mechanical pencil, a good eraser, and lots of patience.  Here are some ideas for making your layout easier to draw.

  • Gain an image of your yard and home plan from your city or county. Many municipalities offer them for download online.
  • Using the image of your home and yard as a basis, measure and lay out your home plan on graph paper at a scale where you can show bed locations. Add any existing walkways, large trees, shrubs, and beds on the plan. Be sure to note water spigots and areas of full sun, partial sun, and shade on your plan. Please use a pencil, or you will drive yourself nuts correcting mistakes.

Step 5 – Garden preparation is the next step. Start implementing your plan by marking out your garden on the ground. Some gardeners like to use a hose to lay out the garden lines. Inverted water-based marking spray paint is another option for drawing bed lines on the grass or soil.

With the plan in hand, lay out your garden. Mark the outer corners and boundaries of your garden with stakes. Mark the interior beds the same way. Now you can visually check the actual layout for problems.  Is there anything present that might present a problem?  Is any other yard use potentially compromised? Is any access or right-of-way blocked?  Any problems with setbacks or zoning restrictions?  Make any plan changes now while it is fresh in your mind.

Step 6 – Desod the ground and prepare the soil. The best time to prepare a new bed is in spring. Choose a day when it is dry and the soil is not wet. (Pick a ball of soil and squeeze. Poke the resulting ball with your finger. If it crumbles, the soil is dry enough to work. If it holds together, it is too wet to work.)

Remove obstacles from the area, and remove your sod. The grass is easier to remove when cut short. If your bed is relatively small, remove sod from bed areas by hand. I prefer cutting sod along the soil line using a sharp, flat, nursery spade, such as the all-steel model from King of Spades (The cost is high, but the spade lasts a lifetime.) If the bed is large, sod cutters can be rented from home improvement centers.

Till your soil, working in any amendments such as all-organic Black Gold Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss or Black Gold Garden Compost Blend, and smooth the soil with a hard rake. Work amendments into the soil. (Click here to read our full garden amendment guide and amendment application formula.)

Step 7 Plant, Mulch, and Tend

Make sure to note what you are going to plant in each bed and how many and the year they were planted. When planting a new garden, I suggest ensuring a beautiful bed by buying large, healthy plants for installation. Fuller, more robust plants have more stored energy and become better established faster. Plant according to the instructions for each planting and follow the plant care instructions conservatively. Ask your local garden center representative about the best fertilizers for your plants, and plan to water and weed your new beds regularly.

I advise you to save your garden plan and any notes you have for future reference. It will be handy as your garden grows and changes with the years. Then, once your garden has begun to flourish, enjoy!

Indoor Orchids Help Beat The Winter BLAHS!

 

Orchids will add a touch of glamour to those winter blue periods when you start counting the days until spring just for something to do. Most people have had only a passing acquaintance with an orchid, possibly as part of a corsage worn by you or your date to the high school prom or maybe a wedding party.

Their exotic coloration and growth habits add a whole new level of cool to the household. And orchids are cosmopolitan. They can be found in most terrestrial habitats of the world except glaciers. But the tropics harbor most of the known species (28,000+). Most tropical orchid species are epiphytes. That is they grow on tall plants like trees and vines to gain access to sunlight, a scarce commodity in a dense rainforest. But they do not get water or nutrients from them. Orchids from higher latitudes are rooted in soil. And all orchids are often incredibly picky in their habitat preferences. On top of that, European and American horticulturists have produced some 1,000,000 hybrids and cultivars since the 19th Century.

I suggest that you buy one or more orchids from a reputable dealer and raise them indoors. It will be good for the merchants, good for the orchids, and good for you as you embark on a brand new hobby. Everybody wins!

Popular Orchids to Buy

Phalaenopsis (foreground) are the most available orchid at stores in addition to Oncidium (background).

At this point, we have to dive into the practical aspects of orchids and orchid care. Unless you live in or near a big population center abounding with specialty stores, you should order online from a reputable dealer. I recommend going for a big show and buying tropical epiphytes. They are more glamorous and rewarding to grow. Temperate zone natives tend to do better outdoors where they get picked by the neighbor’s kids or chomped by chipmunks or mice.

Best bets for purchase include corsage orchids (Cattelya spp.), boat orchid (Cymbidium spp.), moth orchid (Phalaenopsis spp.), tropical slipper orchids, (Paphiopedilum spp.) and dancing ladies (Oncidium spp.). Epiphytes such as these may be potted in wood chips or secured to a piece of tree branch or piece of bark that mimics their forest habitat. Epiphytic aerial roots collect water and nutrients from air, rainwater, and organic debris that collects around the plant.  Despite the multiplicity of exotic forms, patterns, and colors, most orchids have no discernible scent.

You should buy mature plants that have blooms and/or live buds. They should be shipped in 4 or 5-inch pots on a wood chip substrate. Barring a shipping disaster they should provide you with instant orchids.

Cymbidium orchids come in shades of ivory, green, orange, pink, purple, and yellow.

Requirements for Home Orchid Care:

  • Position your plants on a bright windowsill facing east or west.
  • Most orchids require water once a week. When the orchid arrives, water thoroughly, then routinely as indicated above thereafter. Do not disturb the planting medium the plant comes in the first year or those first buds/flowers will not bloom!
  • Unless stated otherwise, Indoor air temperature should be no less than 60 degrees F. at night and no more than 90 degrees F. during the day.
  • Unless stated otherwise, Indoor relative humidity should range from 40% to 70%’
  • Feed weekly with a liquid fertilizer designed for orchids. We recommend a 10-10-10 formulation
  • Repotting with fresh orchid mix when your orchid stops blooming for the year. We recommend Black Gold® Natural Organic Orchid Potting Mix.
  • All of this verbiage notwithstanding, You will receive (or should receive) a set of care and maintenance instructions from the nursery. Follow those
Moth orchids are the most common type available at stores.

Happy New Year and please stay safe!

Autumn in the Garden

Autumn leaves drifting by your window are telling you that fall is here and it is time to put the garden to bed for the winter. For us, it is a very busy time, almost as busy as spring if one sees it as a not particularly enjoyable task and has not done their necessary work the previous fall.  I plead guilty to this almost every year so I will list what needs to be done, starting with the most laborious:

Cleanup This requires cutting back and cleaning up the flowerbeds. I do not realize how many flowers I have until I have to take them out.  Old plant material must be cut off and removed leaving minimal dead material on the ground surface.  This is important for iris as the borers which plague them will winter over in old vegetation left behind.  Roses need the same treatment to discourage black spot the following spring.  I often do my removal in stages: first cut the peonies back to 3 inches then the coneflowers to the base. The Helianthus (perennial sunflowers), both single and double are cut back as well. Next will be the hostas whose leaves are changing color even without frost.  All annuals should be removed as well (although some are still so pretty I am waiting for frost).  This old material should be bagged and disposed of.  We do not compost this material for fear of aiding and abetting garden pests.

Plant new perennials Many nurseries encourage planting new perennials in the fall. I am always leery of doing so as plants from some mail order companies are so small I would prefer to give them a whole season to grow.  The exceptions are peonies, hostas and daylilies. To maximize your planting success, amend the soil with Black Gold® Natural & Organic Potting Mix, Natural & Organic Cocoblend Potting Mix or Natural & Organic Just Coir.

Plant Bulbs. This is the time of year to plant bulbs for next spring.  There are a couple of new things I learned about bulbs that I did not know before.  Wait to plant your bulbs until the weather is cool and after the first frost has the soil around 55 degrees F., but before it has frozen.  Be sure to plant at the recommended depth. If you want to make this job much easier go to GardenersEdge.com and look for the “Bulb Bopper”. Do not add fertilize to the hole as that can encourage root rot.  Fertilize on the top of the ground (1) when you plant, (2) when you see the first foliage poking its leaves up and (3) when the plant starts to die back.  Use a food that is just for bulbs.  Mulch over the bulbs lightly and remove the mulch in the spring when the plants start to come up.  Another surprising piece of information is that some of the gorgeous tulips you see in stores everywhere this time of year should be considered annuals.  The first year after planting they will send up beautiful blooms.  The next year only a few spindly ones and the year after that only leaves.  However, some tulips will not only bloom every year but also naturalize over time.  These include the species, Kaufmanniana and Gregii, and giant Darwin tulips.  Give them at least 6 hours of sun a day and with all bulbs let the leaves die back on their own as they are building up the plants for next spring.

Planting trees and shrubs They do not have the stress of summer heat and will expand their roots over the winter. It is very important to be aware of the minimum distance from the house that shrubs and trees should be planted.  It is so common to see plants smashed against the house.  Small shrubs ought to be 3 to 4 feet away from the house, big shrubs such as lilacs 6 ft. and small trees such as Japanese maples 10 feet. Anything larger goes out in the yard.  Be SURE you know the amount of sun required for each plant.  Shade for rhododendrons and sun for Beauty Bush.

Mulch. Fall is the time to mulch, not so much to protect from the cold of winter, but because it is just too much to do in spring with everything else to do.  I previously mulched in the spring but now I can see the advantage of getting it over in the fall. We use bark mulch from local sources. The mulch should be 3 to 4 inches deep.  The most important thing to remember while mulching is to keep the mulch 3 inches away from the base of each perennial and 5 inches from shrubs and trees.  Mulching right up to plants will cause them to rot.

After the weather clears I will go outside and practice what I preach. Happy Gardening.

Fragrant Garden Plants

 

Tall garden phlox are reliably fragrant summer perennials.

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 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 suggestions below.

Fragrant Shrubs

‘Beauty of Moscow’ is a double-flowered lilac with pale pink and white flowers.
  • In general, lilacs (Syringa species and hybrids, USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8) can reach heights of 10-12 feet. Three especially fragrant varieties are ‘Beauty of Moscow’, ‘Bloomerang Purple’, and ‘Josee’. They are easy to grow so long as there is plenty of sun and the soil is alkaline and well-drained. The double-flowered ‘Beauty of Moscow’ has white blooms rising from pale pink buds. ‘Bloomerang’ lilacs (Zones 3-7) offer a richly fragrant purple lilac that blooms in spring and again in late summer or fall. The compact ‘Josee’ is a pink-flowered lilac that only reaches 4-6 feet.
  • Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii) is a compact shrub up to 6 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.
The flowers of Korean spice viburnum are some of the most sweetly scented of spring.
  • Roses (Rosa hybrids) 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 online.
David Austin roses are bred to flower beautifully and resist diseases.

Annual and Perennial Garden Flowers

Lavender is one of the best garden flowers for fragrance.
  • 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 (Dianthus hybrids, 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 alkaline soil, so amend your garden with Black Gold® Natural & Organic Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix. Carnations are said to be toxic to humans, dogs, and cats. (18 inches high).
  • Woodland tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris) is a re-seeding annual. Its moth-attracting flowers are white, long, tubular flowers, and most fragrant in the evening. The summer bloomer will self-seed if the flowers are allowed to go to seed. They like part to full sun and rich, well-drained soil. Bear in mind that this species is very toxic to humans and pets (3-5 feet high).
  • Garden phlox (Phlox paniculata, Zones 4-8) is a tall (2-4 feet), summer-blooming perennial that grows in neat clumps. The flowers come in shades of red, white, pink, and purple. The North American native grows in full to partial sunlight and needs good drainage and average moisture to thrive.
Woodland tobacco is a dramatic annual whose flowers emit enchanting night fragrance.

This is just a sample of the fragrant plants you might choose for your garden. You might also want to plant fragrant herbs as the 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.

Vegetable Container Gardens for Beginners

 

Potted vegetables are easy if provided summer-long care.

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 the pandemic. 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.

Five Vegetable Container Garden Rules and Advice

So let us get to the subject of veggie container gardening, made possible in part by the development of new compact vegetable varieties.

  1. Grow compact vegetables! You may notice the absence of some LARGE vegetable favorites from this article, such as potatoes, corn, and melons. These plants need more space than most containers provide and are not suitable.
  2. Choose your location. The best location should get enough sunlight (6-8 hours full sun) and protection from wind.
  3. Choose large containers. Most vegetables grow best in larger containers. 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
  4. Choose the right pot. Most gardeners prefer light-colored plastic pots with good drainage for vegetables because they stay cool and plastic retains water better than most pottery. Pottery is more porous and loses water.  Glazed or unglazed pots are also more prone to breaking. A pretty Terracotta or glazed pot looks more attractive, though. If you choose ceramic containers, just be sure to make sure plants stay irrigated.
  5. Use Quality Potting Soil. Do not use your garden soil as a planting medium (really!). It does not drain well enough and may harbor pests and diseases.  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 and then following that with a foot of potting mix.

Vegetables for Containers

Bush Beans (e.g., Bush 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’ or other compact vine variety)

  • 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.

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. https://www.fs.usda.gov/managing-land/wildflowers/pollinators/gardening

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.