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Pretty Perennial Ornamental Grasses For Late Summer

Blue fescues are lovely, steely blue grasses that form tidy clumps.

It’s August and here in Indiana we often have days in the 90s.  Many summer perennials, such as daylilies, salvias, and Shasta daisies, are past their prime or have disappeared until next year. Perennial garden grasses, however, are still colorful with their bold plumes and blades. There are many species and varieties available to fit practically any garden.

Perennial grasses range from the diminutive (1-foot or less) to big and bold (6-8 feet or more). Some are dense and colorful while others are airy and textural. Most require full sun, but some will grow well in partial shade. I only grow perennial grasses, so I do not have to fuss with planting new ones every spring. Here are some of my favorites for your consideration.

Sterile Chinese Maiden Grasses

Maiden grasses (Miscanthus sinensis, Zones 5-9) are beautiful, but gardeners need to exercise caution when choosing one. Many of these Asian-native grasses are invasive to North America, so it is best to choose varieties with low or no seed set. One of my favorites Miscanthus is the 6-foot-tall ‘Zebra Grass’, which has an unusual pattern of horizontal-striped bands of yellow across the green blades, but it is not sterile. Thankfully, they have come out with the smaller 3-foot-tall ‘Bandwidth‘, which has all of the good looks while being infertile. In late summer it sends up feathery, golden-brown plumes that produce no fluffy seeds.

Another beautiful, yet invasive, variety is the 6-foot-tall, graceful ‘Morning Light’ with its narrow, green blades with white edges and midveins. The clump reflects light, giving the plant a shiny appearance. The reliably sterile My Fair Maidenis a good replacement. It reaches a whopping 6-8 feet and has very showy plumes that glisten in the sun.

Maiden grasses do best in full sun and need regular water since they don’t like dry soil. Give them plenty of space to grow. These clump-forming grasses widen with age. If you want a tall hedge but don’t want to wait around for slow-growing shrubs or trees, plant maiden grasses instead. They are fast-growing and dense. Wear long-cuffed gardening gloves when you cut the old clumps back to 18 inches in early spring.

Switchgrass

Cheyenne Sky has blades that turn shades of red. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

A simply gorgeous native switchgrass (Panicum virgatum, Zones 4-9) variety from Proven Winners is Cheyenne Sky. The deer-resistant grass forms a tight, upright clump of blue-green leaves that turn wine-red in early summer and stay that way until frost. It needs full sun and is drought-tolerant once established. At only 3 feet tall, it looks beautiful in large containers as well as in the garden. The clumps spread over time. Leave the dry blades and airy panicles for winter beauty and cut them back in late winter before they begin growing again.

Muhly Grass

Muhly grass has pink plumes that are wonderfully showy.

An unusual and extra-beautiful grass for fall color is the pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris, Zones 5-9), or pink hair grass, which is native to barrens and prairies of the eastern United States. In fall, it sends up large, 12-inch, frothy, panicles that look like bright pink clouds. These can last from September to November.  The leaves are very narrow and shiny. Pink hair grass reaches up to 3 feet tall, likes well-drained soil, and is drought tolerant once established. It looks best when planted in groups and grows best in full sun but will tolerate more shade than other grasses. Regal Mist® is an extra showy variety to try.

Blue Fescue

Blue fescue is semi-evergreen, so it continues to look outstanding in winter.

Blue fescue (Fescue glauca, Zones 4-11) is a wonderful compact ornamental grass for the front of the flower garden. It is round clump-forming grass with straight, narrow, blue blades. At only 8-12 inches tall (foliage) it is one of the shortest ornamental grasses.  It is drought tolerant and does well in rock gardens or any other dry-soil area.  Blue fescue sends up its flower heads in late spring–by summer they turn tan. Two excellent varieties are ‘Elijah Blue’ and ‘Boulder Blue’. Old specimens plant sometimes die back in the center. At this time, divide them to rejuvenated clumps, and replant them elsewhere.

Red Hood Sedge

For interest, I decided to add one sedge to the list–sedges being close relatives of grasses. Red hood sedge (Uncinia rubra, Zones 7-10) is a stunning evergreen sedge species from New Zealand that is so tempting to me. The beautiful, cascading, 1-foot mounds have bright, glossy, red blades. Red Hood Sedge will grow in full sun or full shade, so you can tuck them in among your hostas. It grows well but does not require, very wet soil, so it can be planted where other grasses would probably not make it. Choose a spot or pot with moist, rich soil, and do not let it get too dry.  An excellent variety is ‘Everflame’, which has undulating red blades.

Growing Gorgeous Gladiolus

There is nothing more beautiful in the summer than sword lilies (Gladiolus hybrid) in a vase or the garden. Their stately stalks of glowing, fragrant flowers come in an array of colors that just can’t be beat! Most gardeners grow them for cut flowers, but glads can also be carefully worked into summer flower borders for floral impact. There are also compact types suitable for border edges and even containers!

A Short History of Garden Gladiolus

Gladioli have bulbous root structures called corms that can easily be dug in fall for winter storage where they are not hardy.

Though Gladiolus species exist across much of the Old World, most garden gladioli originate from complex hybrids of numerous South African species–South Africa being the world center of Gladiolus diversity. World travelers and collectors brought the first South African specimens to Europe in the mid-1700s, and the earliest hybrids appeared by the early- to mid-1800s. Commercial nurseries continued developing their own hybrids (and do to this day), and the flower took off in popularity. By Victorian times, when meanings were attached to every flower, red gladiolus flowers signified love and passion, while pink ones meant femininity and motherly love.

Planting and Caring for Gladiolus

Byzantine sword lily is a beautiful species that is quite hardy.

Start planting gladioli a week after one’s last frost date (click here to determine your last frost date). Choose a sunny spot with fertile, well-drained soil that’s high in organic matter. To keep waves of these short-season flowers blooming from early summer on, plant more corms in two-week intervals until late June. Gladiolus have bulbous root structures called corms that need to be planted in 5- to 6-inch holes.  I always put some fertile, OMRI Listed Black Gold Natural & Organic Garden Soil and bulb fertilizer in the bottom of the hole to ensure good growth. Plant corms in rows 6 to 8 inches apart in a cutting garden or more closely in small groups of 5 to 9 corms mixed in with tall, bushy perennials to provide upright patches of bright color. Water evenly. Gladiolus do not like wet feet or parched soil conditions.

Glads are one of the most long-lasting cut flowers for bouquets, which is why commercial florists love them. They can last for a week or two in a vase. Pick them when the stems just start blooming and remove the lower leaves. Cut the stems diagonally with sharp shears, and put them in water fortified with cut-flower food. A tablespoon of fully sugared lemon-lime soda to a quart of water also works.

Some gladiolus are hardy but most are tender. Gently dig the corms of tender types up in fall when their leaves turn yellow.  You will find new, small cormlets attached to the main corm. Keep them all to grow new plants, though the cormlets will take a full second season to reach flowering size. Put the corms in a warm, dry place for 2 weeks until they are dry. For storage, hang them in mesh bags in a cool, dry place through winter.

Gladiolus to Grow in Gardens

Unsupported tall glads tend to fall over, which is why caging or staking is recommended.

There are several types of gladiolus for gardeners to grow.

Standard sword lily (Gladiolus hybrids, Zones 8-10) range in height from 3 to 6 feet tall and may have up to thirty 5- to 6-inch flowers on each stem. There are hundreds of exciting varieties. A festive choice is ‘Frizzled Coral Lace‘ with lacy coral-pink flowers that fit the name. The rose and peach ‘Guinea‘ is a very pretty extra tall one, and the breathtaking ‘Zizanie’ has large blooms in broken shards of red and white. When planting taller glads like these, choose a location with low wind and surround the plants with perennial or tomato cages to keep them upright. Staking also helps. Planting corms an inch deeper may also assist with stabilizing the plants.

Hooded sword lily (Gladiolus primulinus hybrids (syn. G. dalenii), Zones 8-10) are shorter (2-4 feet) and have an unusual floral shape, with the top petal of the flower hanging over the rest.  They have large blooms, often with ruffled edges, that come in lots of color variations. An extra pretty one is ‘Las Vegas‘ with its primrose-yellow flowers edged in scarlet. The bright red ‘Mirella‘ is another choice selection.

Dwarf sword lily (Gladiolus nanus hybrids, Zones 7-10) reach only 1.5 feet tall. They have large flowers in many colors, including lots of bicolors.  Some of the blooms are white with a rose teardrop on every petal.  Dwarf glads are hardier, so more gardeners can grow them as perennials. Try the super-compact varieties in the Glamini® Series. They are less hardy (Zones 8-10) but perfect for containers or summer borders.

Exceptional Gladiolus species are offered by some bulb companies. One of the best is the hardy Byzantine sword lily (Gladiolus communis subsp. byzantinus, Zones 6-10) with its upright swords of smaller, pink flowers. It is an heirloom that makes a fine addition to old-fashioned perennial gardens. Another to try is the large-flowered branched sword lily (Gladiolus ramosus, Zones 8-10). The brilliant pink, purple, and red ‘Vulcano‘ is spectacular! The hardiest of them all is the butterfly sword lily (Gladiolus papilio, Zones 3-6). Try the bold, deepest-red ‘Ruby‘ with its striking, butterfly-like blooms on 30-inch stems.

More Gladiolus Notes

Hooded gladioli have top petals that create a hood over the bloom.

About leaving corms in the ground, I have some standard red hybrid sword lilies that I did not get around to digging up last fall in my USDA Hardiness Zone 6 garden.  Imagine my surprise when they came up hale and hearty this spring.  I was really surprised! I have read that planting them in 7- to 8-inch holes will increase the chance of them coming back ni northern gardens. Some mulch over the top also helps.

Two excellent companies I recommend for buying glads are Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, and K. van Bourgondien. Glads are blooming bountifully now, but their corms are only sold in the spring, so look for them in March to have the pick of the best varieties. Gladiolus are some of the most gorgeous flowers in the summer garden, so plan to plant some in yours.

The Best Disease-Resistant Roses

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

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

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

Best Disease-Resistant Roses

Shrub Roses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Roses

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

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

Perennial Spring Beauties for Gorgeous Gardens

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

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

Lenten Rose

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

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

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

Virginia Bluebells

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

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

Lungwort

Raspberry Splash has multicolored spring flowers.

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

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

Columbine

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

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

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

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

Barrenwort

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

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

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

Beautiful, Blooming, Cascading Begonias for Hanging

The Belgian ‘Double Apricot’ pendulous begonia is a showstopper.

By February, I am longing for some beauty when I look out of the window.  It’s the worst month of the year here in the Midwest, with its dead and bleak outdoors. So,  now’s the time I start dreaming of the flower beds and containers for the coming year. This year I plan to focus on cascading Begonias for my shade pots, window boxes, and hanging baskets, and there are several excellent choices.

Cascading begonias are derived from several different species and begonia groups, but all of them have one thing in common, cascading habits and beautiful flowers. The tender plants have succulent foliage and thrive if given regular water, well-drained soil, and season-long fertilization. Here are those that I plan to grow at my own home this year.

Angel-Wing Begonias

‘My Special Angel’ is a new angel wing begonia offered by White Flower Farm. (Image thanks to White Flower Farm)

Angel-wing begonias have both beautiful leaves and flowers. The leaf size depends on the variety, but all of them have a telltale wing shape. They are hybrids of the Brazilian begonia (Begonia aconitifolia) and the Lucerna scarlet begonia (B. coccinea ‘Lucerna’), which were first bred by Eva Kenworthy Gray in 1926. The progeny and descendants have since been called angel wing begonias. Many hundreds of varieties exist today. (Click here for a full account of angel wing begonia history.)

Angel wings are cane-type begonias, which means that they develop tough, almost bamboo-like stems called canes (click here to learn more about cane begonias). Their pretty wing-shaped leaves may be green, bronze, silver, or deep rose, and some are marked with lighted dots or stripes. The flowers appear in clusters over the leaves and come in shades of white, pink, orange, or red. Standard angel wing begonias can become quite tall (4 feet or more), without pruning, and are best reserved for large containers. To prune, cut back any tall or leggy stems at a leaf node.

The new variety called ‘My Special Angel‘ looks especially promising with its pink flower clusters and bold, beautifully speckled leaves. ‘Whimsy‘ is similar but has darker speckled leaves. Expect both to reach between 1 to 3 feet without pruning. Another exceptional variety is the bold, large-leaved, salmon-flowered ‘Snow Cap‘, whose leaves are olive-green and speckled heavily with silver.

Dragon Wing Begonias

Dragon Wing Pink begonias bloom all summer long. (Image by Proven Winners®)

Dragon wing begonias are also cane-types, but they are shorter, more compact, and better for hanging baskets. Most will cascade to 30 inches or less. Their leaves and flowers are equally as showy and diverse but often smaller. I have been wondering what to put in my large shaded baskets, and a dragon wing, such as Proven Winners® Dragon Wing® Red or Dragon Wing® Pink, would be perfect. Each has glossy green leaves and colorful, drooping flower clusters. They will look gorgeous. The plants are self-cleaning and should not require pruning.

Pendulous Tuberous Begonias

Illumination Orange Begonia is very pretty and can be grown from seed.

My favorite cascading begonias are pendulous begonias (Begonia pendula hybrids). They are best known for large, spectacular, single or double flowers, in many shades of red, rose, pink, yellow, ivory, and apricot, which cascade to 15 inches or more. Most reach 8 to 12 inches high. The double flowers look like roses! The plants are so impressive that I have ordered three this year, so my shade containers are going to be all begonias this year. One of the prettiest is the outstanding Belgian hybrid, ‘Double Apricot’. You can also try the beautiful varieties in the Illumination® Series, which can be grown from seed. (Always start begonia seeds as early as January to get them to planting size by May.) Illumination® White and Orange are especially resplendent.

Pendulous begonias are tuberous, so you can most commonly buy them as easy-to-plant tubers or as plants. Often the plants sold at garden centers are small, so you can put three of them in one large basket or pot.

Bolivian Begonias

Santa Cruz® is an exceptional Bolivian begonia variety with orange-red flowers. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Hummingbird-pollinated Bolivian begonias (Begonia boliviensis hybrids) have entirely different flowers than most other begonias. Each has five long petals, which form a single elongated flower. The green leaves are narrow and pointed. The stems hang at least 20 inches over the side of the container and can stand 1-3 feet high, depending on the variety. These are most commonly sold as plants, but they may also be purchased as tubers.  Santa Cruz® is an exceptional form with orange-red flowers. Several pretty hybrid mixes with many-colored flowers are also available. This is a small taste of the numerous varieties out there.

Planting Cascading Begonias

Begonias do best in shade but will tolerate partial sun–between 2-4 hours per day. As stated above, these begonias may be tuberous or have fibrous roots. Tubers need to be planted root-side down (often with the hollow-side up) and only 1.5 inches deep.  If small, pink buds are already emerging from the tubers, take care not to damage them, and plant with them facing upwards. Apply a continuous-release fertilizer at planting time. Begonias like organic-rich soil that is well-drained, such as Black Gold Ultra Coir Potting Soil.  Be cautious not to overwater pots because this can lead to tuber or root rot.  You can start growing them indoors to give them a head start for planting outside in late spring.

These begonias have gotten me excited about my potted flower garden plans.  Now I’m really looking forward to spring!

Inspirational Classic English Gardens

Inspirational Classic English Gardens

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

Formal English Gardens of the Aristocracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Favorite English Gardeners of the 20th Century

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

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

Christopher Lloyd

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

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

Brilliant floral color combinations were the fame of Christopher Lloyd.

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

Beverley Nichols

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

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

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

Creating Your Own English Garden

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

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

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

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

Winter-Fruiting Trees for Lasting Beauty

‘Winter King’ green hawthorn has persistent fruits that are loved by cedar waxwings.

Now that fall has passed, it is a dismal thing to look out the window and see no color. But, this does not have to be the case if you plant beautiful trees that still offer bright colorful fruits to the garden in winter. The first one everybody thinks of is holly, but there are several more that fit the bill.

American Holly

American holly has a classic holly look and the trees can become very large.

American holly (Ilex opaca, USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9) is an eastern native tree that can survive in some shade but grows and looks best in an open area with full sun. The pyramidal tree can reach up to 50-60 feet tall, so find a big place in your yard or garden to plant it.  It has leathery evergreen leaves and bright red berries that turn from green to red in fall that stay on through the winter. A caveat is that it is a dioecious tree, which means that plants have either female or male flowers, never both. That means that both male and female plants are needed to produce fruit. One of the oldest and best varieties is the heavy-fruiting,  ‘Jersey Princess‘, which was bred at Rutgers University. It fruits heavily and has a neat, narrow habit. A good pollinating partner is ‘Jersey Knight‘. Be aware that the leaves are very prickly, so wear thick garden gloves with gauntlet sleeves when handling them.

Yaupon Holly

Smooth-edged leaves and pretty winter berries make this a fine holly tree for southern gardeners.

The more southern sun-loving yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria, Zones 7-9) has smooth-edged leaves and female trees develop copious red berries that remain on the stems through much of winter. It is a native species that naturally exists in open coastal woods from Virginia down to Florida and across to Texas. Wild specimens can reach up to 45 feet high, on rare occasion, but generally do not exceed 25 feet. The golden-berried ‘Anna’s Choice‘ is a lovely female variety reaching 15 feet that bears lots of sunny fruits against its fine, scalloped leaves. ‘Will Flemming‘ is an unusually upright narrow male yaupon holly tree that reaches 12-15 feet. Its spring flowers will pollinate female trees, like ‘Anna’s Choice’.

American Wahoo

American wahoo is a spectacular tree that deserves more attention in landscapes and gardens.

American wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus, Zones 3-10) is a relative of the invasive non-native burning bush (Euonymus alatus), but in fall this non-invasive eastern native shows off exceptional pinkish-red fruits with orange inner seeds as well as purplish-red leaf color. In spring it bears purplish flowers. The multi-stemmed tree can reach up to 20 feet and looks best when planted as specimen trees in a sunny, open lawn. Well-drained, fertile soil is needed. Some stem pruning must be done to encourage an open trunk. Birds love the fruits.

Green Hawthorne

‘Winter King’ offers one of the most spectacular displays of red fruits is any tree.

The green hawthorn (Crataegus viridis, Zones 4-7) is a small native tree that exists across much of the eastern United States. Wild specimens have large thorns up and down stems, so approach this tree with caution.  ‘Winter King’ is an improved variety with spectacular red fruits in winter, profuse white flowers in spring, very few thorns, and silvery bark. The scarlet fruits (called “haws”) resemble very little apples, and technically they are edible, but most gardeners leave them to the birds. (European hawthorns (C. monogyna) are a bit larger and often used to make jams and jellies.) In fall, the leaves turn purple and scarlet, and the brilliant red fruits last well into winter.  ‘Winter King’grows 15 to 20 feet tall, adapts to any kind of well-drained soil and is drought tolerant and disease resistant.

Crabapples

Birds love the jewel-like fruits of crabapples.

There are literally thousands of flowering crabapple varieties. The best flower and fruit beautifully and are very disease-resistant. One that comes highly recommended by my daughter is ‘Prairifire’ (Malus ‘Prairifire’, Zones 4-8), a highly disease-resistant variety first introduced in 1982 and developed by Dr. Daniel Dayton of the University of Illinois. It displays some of the most stunning hot-pink spring blooms against purplish-red spring leaves that turn dark green in summer and bronze-red in fall.  Its fall crabapples turn bright red and are held into winter until birds pick them off. The tree reaches about 20 feet tall, needs full sun, and resistants many foliar diseases that attack crabapples. Plant it in full sun for best growth and flowering.

Click here for a full overview of how to properly plant a tree. Its steps will ensure that any tree you plant will grow beautifully in your landscape. Rich amendments, such as Black Gold Peat Moss and Garden Compost Blend, will ensure their roots will grow deeply in the first year.

Any one of these trees, or all of them, will brighten your winter landscape. I hope this has given you some plants to buy when planning for any garden additions for next season.

Victorian Cemeteries and Flowers that Honor the Dead

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

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

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

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

Mount Auburn Cemetery’s Influence on American Graveyards and Parks

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

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

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

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

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

Victorian Flowers That Honored the Dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planting at Cemeteries Today

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

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

Fall Garden Flowers of the Prairies

The golden strands of the prairie native, wrinkleleaf goldenrod, look right at home in a fall flower garden.

So many favorite summer garden flowers were originally natives of the American prairies–purple coneflowers, black-eyed-Susans, and blazing star among them. Fall is no exception. Whether you plant wild forms or garden varieties, flowers of the prairie are generally easy, tough landscape plants. (If they could withstand trampling and grazing by elk and buffalo, they surely can grow well in your garden!) Some can be planted now, while others can be added to your plant list for next spring.

It’s never too late or early to start thinking about next year’s flower garden, and late summer and fall is the time to see what’s looking beautiful or not-so-great in your garden. Look for holes where a little more color and interest could do some good. You might also make space by removing or thinning out any disappointing or overcrowded plants. Once space has been made, plant now or plan for next spring.

Fall Garden Flowers with Prairie Origins

Native prairie in Lake County, Illinois looks almost planted with its colorful New England asters and Canada goldenrod.

All of these stellar garden plants have their origins from native prairie wildflowers of North America and grow best in full sun and fertile to average soil with good drainage. Feed beds with organic matter yearly to keep your garden soil and plants happy. Black Gold Garden Soil or Flower & Vegetable Soil are excellent amendments for tired beds in need of a boost.

Fall Asters

Alma Potschke New England aster has brilliant reddish-pink, semi-double flowers

Perennial asters are favorite fall flowers, and most originate from American grass and prairie lands.  Their little daisies can be single, double, or even puffed and come in purple, violet-blue, white, reddish-purple, or shades of pink and lavender. There are many notable species. Of these, I like the tall New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, 2-6 feet, USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8) with its bright purple daisies and ability to grow in both moist and dry soils. Aromatic aster (Aster oblongifolius, 2-6 feet, USDA Hardiness Zones 5-8), which is tolerant of poorer soil, is another winner with its fragrant foliage and lavender-blue flowers with golden centers.

Exceptional varieties include the classic Purple Dome New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘Purple Dome’, 18 inches x 12-24 inches), which is compact and has the deepest purple flowers that bloom in midfall. The taller Alma Potschke New England aster ( Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘Alma Potschke’, 3-4 feet) has a wealth of semi-double flowers of reddish-pink. The cool October Skies aromatic aster (18 inches x 18 inches) bears a dense display of lavender-blue flowers with yellow centers on compact plants. Butterflies, birds, and bees love asters, but deer don’t.

Goldenrod

Fireworks wrinkleleaf goldenrod shines alongside a planting of mums and ornamental peppers at Longwood Gardens. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Most associate the name Goldenrod with tall field weeds, but they are not weeds at all. (And, forget the old wive’s tale that they cause seasonal allergies; goldenrods bloom at the same time as allergy-causing ragweed, hence the confusion.) Nurseries have developed some beautiful varieties, worth planting in your garden for fall color. One of these is Golden Fleece goldenrod (Solidago sphacelata ‘Golden Fleece’, 2 feet x 3 feet, Zones 4-9), which becomes heavily adorned with cascading streamers of bright golden flowers from the middle of September through October. Plant it in full sun and average to dry soil, then sit back and enjoy the butterflies. Trim off old flowers to encourage new ones. ‘Golden Fleece’ is deer resistant.

For a bolder statement try the Fireworks wrinkleleaf goldenrod (Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’, 3-4 feet, Zones 4-9) with its impressive sprays of golden flowers that explode in mid-fall. Plant it towards the back of a border beside tall ornamental grasses, tall mums, and Joe-Pye weed.

Sunflowers and Oxeye Daisies

‘Tuscan Sun’ oxeye daisy is very pretty and heavy flowering. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Perennial sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) and oxeye daisies (Heliopsis spp.) look similar, but oxeyes often bloom earlier and continue flowering into fall. One of my favorites is Burning Hearts oxeye daisy (Heliopsis helianthoides var. scabra ‘Burning Hearts’, 3-4 feet, Zones 3-9), a particularly colorful and long-blooming variety that flowers from midsummer to mid-fall. It has purplish leaves and black stems that hold 3-inch flowers of gold with fire-red centers that fade to bronze.  Another excellent choice is Proven Winners’ all-gold ‘Tuscan Sun’ (2-3 feet, Zones 3-9). Be sure to water oxeyes during dry periods, and plant them in full sun. Bees and butterflies cannot get enough of these flowers.

The compact Autumn Gold willowleaf sunflower (Helianthus salicifolius ‘Autumn Gold’, 2-3 feet, Zones 5-10) has a mounding, mum-like habit and becomes covered with sunny, yellow flowers in mid to late fall. Leave the nutritious seed heads for foraging birds.  Once established, ‘Autumn Gold’ will tolerate wet or dry soil conditions, likes full sun, and is deer resistant.

Joe-Pye-Weed

Joe-Pye-weed is an excellent garden flower for feeding migrating Monarchs.

Spotted Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum, 3-7 feet, Zones 4-8) is a bold garden perennial that flowers from late summer to fall and commonly inhabits moist prairies. The wild form is useful in big garden borders alongside ornamental grasses, hardy hibiscus, and tall perennial sunflowers. Tamer options also exist. ‘Phantom’ is a maculatum hybrid that only reaches 4 feet tall and produces lots of puffy purplish-pink flowers on tidy, well-branched plants. They grow well in average to moist soil, full sun, and are a favorite of butterflies but not deer.

Muhly Grass

Beautiful pink Muhlenbergia capillaris has magnificent fall grass plumes.

The prairie-native muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris, 2-3 feet, Zones 6-9) is a tough, fall-blooming grass, with cloud-like puffy seed heads or rose or pink. An excellent variety is Regal Mist® with its ruby-pink clouds of grass plumes in fall that are still showy into winter.  It reaches 4-feet tall, does well in any well-drained soil, and is drought tolerant.  Plant muhly grass in full sun. Even though it is a grass, it is deer resistant.

Another fall grass for prairie gardens is Proven Winners’ Prairie Winds® ‘Blue Paradise’ little bluestem. The neat, upright bunch grass just reaches 3-4 feet and has steely blue blades that turn purple in fall. Leave it uncut for winter interest.

Sedums

Rock ‘N Round™ ‘Popstar’ Sedum looks pretty along the edge of any fall bed.

There are some prairie sedums, though few to none are commonly available to gardeners, so I am improvising with a favorite garden variety.  Rock ‘N Round ‘Popstar’ (10-12 inches, Zones 3-9) is an excellent mounding stonecrop with loads of pink flowers late in the season, and purplish-gray leaves the rest of the growing season. Low-growing, fall-blooming stonecrops like Rock ‘N Round look beautiful when planted along the margins of a prairie-inspired garden.  The succulents have thick leaves that hold water and are tolerant of hot, dry spells. Most new varieties have fancy leaves that are beautiful all season long. Sedums are generally deer resistant.

When planting any of these fall beauties, dig a hole twice as large as the roots, incorporate a few handfuls Black Gold Garden Soil into the backfill.  Then plant your perennial. Follow up by adding a quality slow-release fertilizer.

Adding just a couple of these pretty fall flowers to your late-season display will give it a boost. Hardier varieties can be planted in the garden now, or save a few for your need-to-get spring list.

How to Revive Midsummer Garden Flowers

How to Revive Midsummer Garden Flowers

The neverending summer heat, especially here in the Midwest, stresses garden flowers and potted plants as well as the people that care for them. Formerly vibrant containers of calibrachoa, petunias, marigolds, gaillardia, salvias, zinnias, and other annuals, can start to look pretty drab by August without intervention. Plenty of perennials will also pop back and either rebloom or form attractive foliage.  Some gardeners may think, “Who wants to go out in the nineties and work on plants past their prime?” Don’t make this mistake. If you give certain garden flowers a little reviving boost, they will look great until fall.

Start by Avoiding the Heat

Morning is the coolest time of the day to work in the garden.

Care for your flowers in comfort by avoiding midday temperatures. When you are at ease, so are your garden plants. Go outside from early to mid-morning when it is coolest. Drink a glass of icy water before going out, and keep another on hand outdoors. Decide how long you can stay in the hazy, humid jungle before feeling overheated. For me, this usually turns out to be for an hours from 8:00 to 9:00 AM, and no longer, since this is all I can tolerate at one time. On the hottest days, I also use an ice pack around my neck, which is a big help.  These are easy to find online and well worth the money.

Trimming Back and Deadheading Annuals Midseason

When petunias start to become leggy and flower less, cut stems back by one third to three quarters to encourage a new flush of flowers. (Images by Jessie Keith)

Trim Midseason – Most annuals can be brought back to their former glory with only a little bit of work. Whether in containers or the garden, many need to be cut back, especially calibrachoa and petunias. Cut leggy stems back by one third to three quarters, and they will pop right back. (Click here for a detailed overview of cutting back petunias and calibrachoa.)

The need to trim also holds true for marigolds, zinnias, verbena, salvias, and annual dianthus, as a general rule, only cut these back by one quarter to one third. They should bounce back quickly and look beautiful for the rest of the season. Follow up with selective deadheading as needed.

For taller garden annuals, such as cosmos and amaranths, cut them back by half, and in only one week or two, they start putting out new flower stems. The plants will look bushier and bloom once more.

Deadhead Regularly – For compact marigolds, tall zinnias, dahlias, annual salvias, and flowering geraniums, only remove the spent flowers. Remove larger dead flowers one by one and shear off lots of smaller spent blooms. You may lose a few buds in the shearing process, but you will gain loads more.

Pinch off coleus buds. If you let them flower, the attractive foliage will suffer, and the plants will lose their good looks.

Pinch Buds Regularly – There are foliage plants that also require regular deadheading to keep their leaves looking beautiful. Coleus is the most popular garden annual that suffers from flowering. When plants flower, they put energy towards blooms rather than pretty leaves, and the plants instantly start to lose their good looks. So, remove their flower buds on sight.

Trimming Back and Deadheading Perennials Midseason

When blanket flower goes to seed, it loses its beauty, but it will look beautiful again by simply removing the old flowers and giving it a light trim. (Images by Jessie Keith)

Perennials are a bit different. Quite a few will also rebloom, but some won’t, so it pays to know what will provide more flowers with trimming and deadheading and what won’t. With that said, even perennials that don’t rebloom will respond well to trimming by providing an attractive flush of new foliage, which helps keep gardens looking their best. Here are some reliable rebloomers.

Blanket flower (Gaillardia x grandiflora) has pretty, colorful daisy flowers that turn to round, tan seedheads after blooming. Keep these seedheads cutback. Another method is to wait until they are almost finished blooming and then shear the plant back by one third.

Catmint and perennial salvia (Nepeta hybrids and Salvia hybrids) send out long stems with violet-blue or purple flowers. Over time, those of many varieties tend to sprawl. (One exception is Cat’s Pajamas, which has tidy, upright stems of flowers.) Eventually, catmints stop blooming heavily, and their stems get ratty looking. At this point, cut back to the base clump, and new stems will start growing and flowering in a matter of weeks.

The spent flower stems of catmint should be cut all the way back. The small rosette of fresh green foliage that is left should grow and rebloom, if watered and fertilized. (Images by Jessie Keith)

Coneflowers (Echinacea species and hybrids) respond well to more than one method of pruning. One can wait for them to almost complete flowering and then cut the whole plant cut back–one third for the smaller varieties and one half for the taller ones reaching 3 feet or more. New flower buds should appear in just a couple of weeks. Another method is to selectively deadhead as each flower dies. Towards the end of the season, be sure to allow plenty of flowerheads to dry. Their seeds are an excellent food for finches and other songbirds.

Hardy geraniums (Geranium spp. and hybrids) vary in their ability to rebloom. Newer varieties that rebloom need to be cut back by one third after their flowers start to wane. Common garden varieties, such as blood geranium (Geranium sanguineum), will not rebloom. Still, their old foliage needs to be cut back by three quarters to encourage new growth, which forms a pretty green mound of leaves that turn red to orange-red in fall.

Ox-eye daisy (Heliopsis helianthoides) is a favorite of mine that reaches 5 to 6 feet tall if you let it. But, if you cut the summer bloomer back by half in late spring, it will produce a shorter plant with better branching and more flowers. Mine bloom from July to August. Occasional light deadheading will encourage further blooms. Unlike the closely related black-eyed Susan, which spreads rapidly by seeds, ox-eye daisy does not aggressively self-sow.

Tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata varieties) is another flower that responds well to being cut back by one third after the first flowers of the season start to die away and going to seed. A quick trim will have them producing many bright flowers on new stems in no time.  I have lots of lavender, pink, and white phlox that get up to 3 feet tall.  All reliably rebloom after being cut back.

By removing the brown, spend flower stems of this yarrow ‘Moonshine’, the clump’s silver foliage can shine through, and new flowers emerge. Images by Jessie Keith)

Yarrow (Achillea hybrids) have rosettes of feathery leaves that send up tall stems of blooms in early to midsummer summer.  After the display of flowers stop, cut the plants back by two thirds, and new flowering stems will quickly appear. Newer varieties tend to be the best rebloomers.

Tickseed (Coreopsis species and hybrids) come in lots of varieties, but all produce many daisy flowers of yellow, orange, or rose in summer. Some of the most common are those of threadleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata), which have lacy leaves, lots of small, bright daisies, and do well in full sun. Depending on the variety, plants can reach 12 to 32 inches. By midsummer, they will have gone to seed. Shear them back by one third to produce a new wave of blooms by late summer.

Reblooming daylilies (Hemerocallis hybrids)-  There are many reliable reblooming daylilies on the market. The most reliable for all-summer bloom that I have found is is ‘Happy Returns’.  It has bright yellow flowers and reaches just 2 feet tall. After it has stopped flowering in early to midsummer, either remove all of the spent flower stems and selectively remove any dead or dying foliage, or cut the clump back by 1/3 to encourage new flowers. Either way, they will rebloom and look great in just weeks.

All these perennials are drought tolerant, once established, and loved by butterflies. Aside from tall phlox and daylilies, they are deer resistant as well.

Increase Care After Pruning

All plants, whether in pots or the soil, require regular water, and all need to be fertilized generously with a slow-release fertilizer for the best results. Top-dressing beds and containers with a little Black Gold Garden Compost Blend can increase fertility and soil water-holding capacity, so it also helps. The addition of Black Gold Just Coir to containers will increase their ability to hold water, which can reduce the need to water. Keep the care up, and you will be pleased with the final results. Time to get to work!

We encourage you to watch the following video by my daughter that details how to trim back daylilies, salvia, and more!

Author’s note: Do not cut back Hosta leaves to promote new ones.  Unlike other perennials, the new small leaves that would appear, are next year’s leaves and will weaken the plant for the following spring.