Monday, August 14, 2017

Annual Scene, Act I

Drama: Cultivate17, the BIG national show for what annuals are on trend and hot for future garden fashion
Setting: Columbus, Ohio
Time: July 15-18, 2017
Cast: Hundreds of horticulture professionals
Stars: Beautiful annual flowers

Featuring: Angelonia, or Summer Snapdragon, newer to gardens, gaining tremendous popularity in the last ten years. The long-lasting flowers have been described as "orchid-like" on vertical spikes, snapdragon fashion, in a wide range of colors including blue. Plants are vase-shaped and bushy with attractive foliage. Loves sun and heat, has moderate fertilizer requirements. Dead-heading will pay big flower dividends. Versatile in beds, containers and as a cut flower.  

Angelonia 'Pink Flirt'
Trend: Larger flowers, even broader color range
Featuring: Calocephalus brownii 'Bed Head'. This plant will be the comic relief in your containers. Looking like an 8" ball of silver sagebrush, this little beast thrives in dry, hot, porous soils. So, site in sun or partial shade, but keep dry. 'Bed Head' should be music to the ears of those saying, "I want a no-maintenance garden." Top of annual shopping list for Spring 2018, people!

'Bed Head'
Trend: Distinctive textures as container subjects

Featuring: Celosia 'Hot Topic Purple'. 'Hot Topic' is a series (no, I haven't switched to television, I'm still talking garden theater), but I especially liked the 'Purple'. Over the years I've found celosia in general to be difficult to direct. So, give it the well-drained, but moist soil (stars can be capricious and contradictory in their demands) it requires. It wants full sun. Again, just watch the water. Don't rush the season and put celosia center stage when soils are still cold. In the same review that makes it sound demanding it's actually tolerant of heat and humidity.           


Cockscomb 'Hot Topic Purple'
Trend: Different colors and forms of old favorites
Featuring: Coleus. The 'Main Street" series adds a winner with 'La Rambla'. I hope this one doesn't fall victim to stage fright and fail to make an appearance at the spring opening with some excuse, like crop failure. I want this starring in my garden next year in a big monoculture pot. I visualize five plants growing together to make a smashing specimen shrub. 'La Rambla' begs you to touch it.

Coleus 'La Rambla'
Trend: Unique colors and texture
Featuring: Mandevilla Sun Parasol 'Apricot' was one of the standouts of the show- a real superstar! From the slightly cupped, glossy leaves to the unique coloration of the 4" blooms, this is going to be at the top of my "Must See" list next spring. This is so neutral it will work with any color. Put all mandevillas (in this case pronounce the double "l", doesn't rhyme with tortilla) in full sun and allow the soil surface to dry between waterings. Moderate fertilization will keep these tropical showstoppers blooming all season long. Love them on a trellis or writhing through an obelisk.   


Mandevilla Sun Parasol 'Apricot'
Trend: New colors, heat tolerant plants
Featuring: This mandevilla is so new to the entertainment field it doesn't even have a stage name...yet. It's worthy of a standing ovation performing with the twin virtues of: stunning red flowers and creamy-white edged leaves. Hold the applause please, until it gets its name (I'm told it will have one by late fall).

Yet unnamed variegated Mandevilla
Trend: Colorful foliage
Featuring: Pentas (aka Egyptian Star Flower) should be moved from the chorus to a supporting role, at the very least. If you haven't tried them either for containers or in beds, maybe '18 should be the year for a new attraction! Sun-loving, tidy plants flower all summer long scoffing at heat and humidity as long as they're moist. Flowers are getting bigger and colors now include: red, pink, white, magenta and violet. Dead-heading certainly encourages rebloom. Bonus: With pentas in your garden butterflies and hummingbirds will attend the show!

Pentas "Starcluster Pink"
Featuring: Petunia. I know, I know. You've seen the petunia story a million times. I get the skepticism, but this one garnered a repeat viewing. Look at the spectacular throat color and the way it extends through the veins like a starburst. Not grandmother's petunia...

Petunia Capella 'Purple Veins'
Trend: Patterned flowers, compact habit, great flower coverage
Featuring: Senecio 'Angel Wings'. Well, talk about a plant that can upstage just about anything. And it does it so quietly you don't even notice you're being drawn into the felted, almost white leaves. Already a 2016 European Bronze Medal winner 'Angel Wings' is destined for accolades galore. Grows 7-15" tall, reported to be hardy to USDA Zone 6. Difficult to get info on, but I'm guessing sun to part shade, dry-ish soil to be safe recommendations. Definitely a Tony (Fulmer) Award winner! Apologies galore, theater lovers, I couldn't resist.

Senecio 'Angel Wings'
Trend: Tactile and uniquely-foliaged plants
Featuring: Vinca. So sorry, the cast photos don't do this hard-working plant justice. Sun? Heat? Soil dry, not particularly fertile? No deadheading required. ***ALERT*** Those of you wanting a low maintenance annual, this should be on your "must see" list. 8-15" tall, mounding plants with attractive, glossy foliage and beautiful five-petaled flowers in a wide range of colors. This is special for bedding in "hell strips" (yes, that's the sophisticated horticultural term for "hotboxes"). Just don't rush to plant early - vinca gets an attitude in cold, wet soil and you get abominable season-long performance.

Vinca, the Soiree series
Trend: Different habits and flower shapes on Vinca
Four star performers, all. Next Hortiholic, say two weeks, different cool annuals from Ball Seed Field Day!  Curtain.  



















Monday, July 31, 2017

It's No Cinch, but Your Lawn Might Have Chinch...Bugs

Typical Chinch bug damage
This July has seen record rainfall (10"+ so far) in Chicago's northern suburbs. With animals pairing up and heading for the ark you may not have been paying attention to your lawn. I should have been, wasn't, and now part of my lawn is breakfast, lunch and dinner for hairy Chinch bugs (henceforth known as CB). See typical damage. Yep, my lawn, my photos.

Tony's lawn
It' been a long time since my college turf classes so I needed review, and a Q & A chat with Chalet's Soil & Turf manager Tony Kacinas. I guess CB snookered me as I know them to be happiest when it's hot and dry. Evidently when it got dry the first two weeks in June they got busy reproducing. Why is this important? The nymphs and adults feed on grass blades by sucking out fluids AND injecting a toxin that affects the vascular system causing the grass to yellow and die. This shouldn't be confused with grub damage which appears later in the summer.

So, garden readers, take a moment and really assess your lawn. CB symptoms could be confused with drought stress or fungal diseases. Is your lawn thick, green and lush right now? No dying areas? Probably safe. If your turf is dying in ever-increasing, straw-colored patches in sunny, hot areas and doesn't respond to additional moisture, perhaps you should check for CB. Look first at areas adjacent to reflective surfaces like driveways and patios where the soil heats up and dries out first. CB also loves lawns with heavy thatch buildup.

How to check for CB is a fair question. Get a large coffee can (Keurig users look for other alternatives) and cut the top and bottom out. Go to the edge of areas where dead meets green, and punch the end of the can an 1" or more into the ground. Fill with water, refilling if it soaks in. Stir the clippings and thatch at the bottom of the "pool" to bring them to the surface. Watch this soup for 10 minutes or so before counting. A commonly agreed-upon threshold suggesting control is 25+ per square foot (that includes nymphs and adults, as they will be found feeding at the same time).

Life stages of the enemy (courtesy of Ohio State)


When deciding whether to use a control or not, understand this turf is very probably dead, and dead will spread. Whereas, with grubs if the 12-or- more-per-square foot threshold hasn't been met the turf will try to stage a comeback. When choosing a control make sure CB is on the label as certain active ingredients may not kill them.

It's natural to wonder what prompts CB to dine on some lawns and pass on others. Lawns with thick thatch are particularly CB-irresistible. Understand, please, thatch isn't grass clippings. Thatch is the compressed, spongy layer of undecomposed stems, crowns and surface roots just above the soil surface. Doesn't that sound like a swell place to spend the winter? CB thinks so. The late spring-laid eggs incubate for 20-30 days, or as little as a week based on temperatures above 80 degrees F. That means two generations per year, even this far north. Great...

Lawn thatch


Don't try to cut corners and reseed into "thatchy", dead turf. You won't get a good, deep-rooted result. If the areas to be reseeded are large you may want to consider using a slit-seeder. They are wondrous machines that slice through heavy thatch and drop the seed directly in contact with the soil. Slit-seeders are heavy, and are like trying to push an elephant around. I speak from experience. Consider hiring turf professionals to do it. It's so-o-o-o-o worth it.    
  
Slit seeder

      

    

Monday, July 10, 2017

July Garden To-Dos

July heat and humidity have descended upon our gardens. Hopefully, it goes without saying that you're applying water as needed, especially to all new plants. Mulch should be caressing the root systems of trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials, veggies and roses to keep: soil moisture from evaporating, weeds at bay and soil temps from soaring. Nine other tasks to consider to keep your landscape "garden-walk ready":

  1. Keep deadheading annuals to stimulate re-bloom. It makes a huge difference. Keep after containers and hanging baskets that are getting overgrown. If some plant is becoming a thug and steamrolling neighbors cut it back artfully into submission. Vines and petunias that are getting "stringy" should be scheduled for a cut. Cut, then new color - yep, plants too.                    
    Pruning a Hanging Basket

  2. Perennials that have long season re-bloom potential (remember some perennials bloom only once a year) will also enjoy deadheading. However, in some cases deadheading can be more extreme and actually involve removing not only spent flowers, but as much as 1/3 to 1/2 of the stems. This more severe pruning, let's call it "refreshing", might be exercised on past prime: beebalm, balloon flower, catmint, perennial geranium, phlox, salvia and veronica to name a few.
  3. Staking or caging is best accomplished early. Get cages on for plants to grow up and into without having to be wrestled (and broken) into submission. Stakes, too, are best placed early with plants guided to their support as they grow. Tomatoes, dahlias, delphinium, mallow and lilies are all candidates.
    Staking a Perennial (Lily)
  4. If you want evergreen density (and your plants are receiving at least a half-day of sun), pruning can help. Late spring/early summer is a great time to trim junipers, arborvitae, yews and boxwood. In a perfect world you would remove 50% of this year's new growth, although most people remove more...
  5. Annuals and roses are still growing and flowering. Keep fertilizing whether your preferred product is water soluble or granular. In particular, plants in containers are often watered daily, flushing nutrients out of drainage holes. Replacing nutrients will keep plants at peak performance. Plants in lots of shade should be fertilized proportionately less than their counterparts in sun.
  6. Tomatoes, America's favorite veggie, needs even moisture and ample calcium to avoid blossom end rot (BER). BER is when the fruit bottoms get leathery brown. Also avoid wetting foliage when you water as this can contribute to blight and other fungal pestilence. Whenever possible water early in the morning going into ascending temps that will dry the foliage before nightfall. Wet foliage = blackspot on roses, too.
    Tomato with Blossom End Rot
  7. If you mow your own lawn, get the deck up to 3" cutting height.You'll have fewer weeds and the grass will be less drought-stressed (whether you irrigate or not).
  8. Scout your garden for: Japanese beetle, aphids, apple scab, euonymus scale, blackspot and powdery mildew. Be forewarned that fungicides are preventative, not curative, and are therefore generally best applied before symptoms show. We recommend all control products (insecticides, fungicides and herbicides) NOT be applied when air temperatures are above 80 degrees F. Leaves in sun are warmer than air temps and chemical scorch is a real possibility above 80 degrees.
    Japanese Beetle
  9. Know the enemy and what feeds its appetite. While amusing tales of cunning skunk, possum and raccoon raids abound, they 're far fewer than the mayhem wrought by deer and rabbits. Be prepared with your best repellent and apply before the damage is done. From personal experience, deer particularly love the taste of ready-to-open buds of  'Annabelle' Hydrangea, lilies, roses and daylilies. They also love (at least in my garden) hosta, dogwood family members and swiss chard. Yum!

If all of these summer tasks are already under control or consideration maybe you are ready to host a garden walk. Bravo!


        

Monday, June 19, 2017

Proper Pruning Protocol

Deadheading Dwarf Korean Lilac

The daily June $64,000 question for garden center horticulturists is: Why didn't my ___________________ (forsythia, lilac, hydrangea, spirea, weigela) bloom this spring? If you dropped more than one species on that blank line, read on to get a handle on what's amiss in your shrub border, and get a leg up on flowers for next year.

Certainly there are a lot of possible answers to the why-didn't-it-bloom question:
  • Too much shade (for a sun-loving shrub)
  • Plant too immature to flower
  • Previous year the plant was heat or drought-stressed
  • Inadvertent exposure to high nitrogen lawn fertilizer formulations flung into beds with rotary spreaders. Lots of yummy nitrogen will often create a let's-grow-leaves-and-forget-the-flowers state.
  • Plant is in a "happy hole". For the uninitiated (and that's everyone since I just made that up), a happy hole is a site where everything is so-o-o perfect the plant is locked into a leaf-growing hormonal state, rather than a reproductive (flowering) one.

Another possibility mustn't be overlooked. How about - The shrub was simply pruned too late the previous year. This is so logical you're likely to take your open palm and slam it against your forehead as a cartoon cloud light bulb appears in your mind.  

Here's the golden rule for pruning flowering deciduous shrubs. If it has a conspicuous flower (to me that means large enough that it's considered a seasonal attribute), and it flowers before July 1, it's a spring bloomer. Spring bloomers flower on stem growth made last summer. So, it makes sense the plant should be pruned within four to six weeks after it blooms. Four being better than six, if you're asking. That gives the plant all summer to produce the stems that will flower the following spring. If you (or your gardener) prune these spring flowering shrubs too late, say July or later, your'e cutting off next year's potential flowers. Didn't I tell you it's so explicable. A sampler of spring bloomers that would fall in the above category: deutzia, forsythia, lilac, mockorange, weigela, to name a few.

Pruning Lilac after bloom


Conversely, those shrubs that bloom their hearts out for you after July 1 are flowering on the growth they made in spring- April, May, June. So, you can prune and shape them EARLY as they're coming out of dormancy, just showing leaf buds. Don't wait to trim them later in the spring, say May or early June, as you'd be eliminating or pushing back potential flowering branches. Some favorites that fall in the summer bloom category are: hydrangea, potentilla, rose of Sharon.

April-pruned Hydrangea = July flower buds

There are a couple of ringers in the viburnum and spirea clans. Because they are such broad genera they have "family" members that bloom in spring, some in summer. Therefore, each species or variety should be researched and pruned on a case-by-case scenario.

Proper pruning protocol, like so many things in life, is all in the timing.

Same species: Properly pruned vs. not

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Sunday, June 4, 2017

Potting Techniques - 200 Level Course

As I was making containers yesterday I realized I'd never written a post about just that. What are some of the tips I've appropriated from others over the years, not only to make the potting process easy and fun, but to ensure the plants grow successfully?

1. If you need height for your focal point plant (say that five times fast) mound the potting soil in the center. It can even be higher than the edge of the pot as long as you taper the soil dramatically so it's well below the rim ate the edges. As you might expect this keeps the soil in the container, not on your patio, after the first watering. I've seen only one person do this over the years and it gave her pots dimension and drama from Day 1.

2. Drop-potting is my favorite trick. Fill your decorative container with soil to the depth of the deepest plant pot. Place that empty pot in place, proceed to fill around it until the soil level is at the depth of the bottom of the rest of the of the pots. Fill in and around these empty pots with potting soil. Use your fingers to       tamp in and around the pots. Pull one empty pot out at a time and simply plug the desired plant in its new home! Once the plants are in place it's a simple matter to gently firm the root ball into even better contact with the surrounding soil. This makes potting so much easier. This is especially true for plants that have leaves and stems close to the ground that are easily broken with traditional "backfilling" of soil. Hopefully, the picture will solidify the concept.


3. If you have vining/cascading plants, and who doesn't, angle those empty pots with the tip at the edge of  the container. Planting at this angle will expedite the vine's bungee drop over the side. Notice how the pot at 6:00 in the pic is tilted at the edge, rather than flat like its neighbor. Cunning, huh?




4. If you have heavily knotted root systems don't be afraid to tease apart those sections with the heaviest tangling. Don't be shy, you won't hurt the plant unless you tear all the soil from the root system.


5. Occasionally we use tropicals as focal points in mixed containers. Know that certain tropicals bloom best   when pot-bound, and are therefore "stressed". Examples would be: Agapanthus, Bougainvillea and Hibiscus. So, taking them from their grower's smaller pot and placing in a much larger soil mass may give them too much freedom. Your reward for this generosity is a plant that changes its goals to growing roots at the expense of flowers. What you might do is faux pot by simply placing the plant, still in its plastic grower's pot, into your container with the lip even with the finished soil surface. Attention please, this will mean you will water that plant-in-pot-bondage more, but the increased bloom will be worth it, I promise.

6. No matter what your potting soil bag says about "fertilizer added" it ain't enough. Standard potting mixes are overwhelmingly peat or bark-based so there's virtually no innate nutrient value. Every time you water nutrients are leaving exiting the pot via the drainage hole. For that reason it's important to fertilize consistently - less for plants in shade than sun, though. If you're that busy person that isn't going to use a water soluble fertilizer every two weeks, then at the very least add a time-release fertilizer (like Osmocote that feeds for 4 full months) at planting. The takeaway is feed your plants regularly throughout the growing season.

One last tip, consider shoving the plant tags down in the middle of the container. That way when the compliments pour in from envious family and friends, and you draw a blank on what Angelonia variety you used, simply pull out the tag and share. Now who's the cunning one?  



    











            

Monday, May 15, 2017

The News on Boxwood Blight


Lesions are the first symptom (via Rutgers University)
As a hortiholic, I love to write about the many fun, positive aspects of horticulture. I like to share cool new plants or things I've learned over decades to help other gardeners become more successful. Every once in a while something comes along that isn't so much fun, but deserves attention. Boxwood blight (caused by the fungus Calonectria) falls into that category. It's important to understand this isn't the end of using boxwood, but another manageable disease.

Lesions progress to this (via U of Illinois)
Backstory for those that haven't heard the latest? Boxwood blight may have been in the U.S. for a few years before it was confirmed in 2011. It has now spread to 22 states. Illinois joined that less-than-elite group with two confirmed cases in northeastern Illinois earlier this year. The fungus starts with brown/black round spots (see above) that generally run together darkening the entire leaf (right). Rather quickly the plant will defoliate leaving bare stems. These stems will show elongated black streaks on the bark (below).


     
Note black streaks - final stages
We need to show restraint in jumping to the conclusion that any boxwood malady is the bad disease (cue the spooky Halloween music, heavy on the organ). There's confusion as there is another irritating, but not fatal, disease call Boxwood blight (caused by Volutella) that's been around for years. So, we need to be careful when we use the term "Boxwood blight". Volutella does not exhibit the black stem streaks or defoliation of the plant.

The final stage


There's also an insect, Boxwood leafminer, that can cause browning of leaves (that could be confused with Calonectria). Leafminer is easily controllable.

Example of Leafminer damage

As an average homeowner with even a few plants, what can you do to protect your boxwood?

  • Like life, education, not hysteria, is the key to success. Learn the symptoms of Boxwood: leafminer and the two very different blights.
  • If you have an irrigation system consider reducing the frequency of watering zones inhabited by box. This blight is spread not by insects or wind (this is great news, people), but by splashing water on an infected plant. Established box isn't water needy and doesn't require "dampening" for 5-10 minutes in the middle of    the night three times a week. You don't want to get the Hortiholic started on the subject of improper use of    irrigation systems. How much better to water deeply, but infrequently. 'Nough said?
  • Mulch to reduce splash. Early indications are that mulch may reduce the splash of spores onto lower leaves, thus reducing the likelihood of infection.
  • Don't prune or work in and around your boxwood early in the morning when there's dew on the leaves or anytime the foliage is wet, especially in humid weather. Again, this is a fungus that requires moisture to infect its host.
  • Can you live with a less formally pruned geometric shape? A "looser" plant that's not so tightly sheared will    allow better air circulation, drying the foliage more quickly, reducing the opportunity for the blight to infect.
  • If your boxwood has symptoms wait until the plant is dry, cut a sample that includes a significant portion of stem (not just a few leaves) and place it in a double plastic bag. Hygiene is a good thing. Seal completely and bring it into Plant Health Care. A picture or two showing the overall appearance of the plant is an extremely helpful addition to the physical sample. Again, at this point chances are overwhelmingly against your plants being infected with Calonectria.
  • When adding boxwood to your landscape be sure to deal with reputable nurseries and garden centers that know plants and adhere to established boxwood cleanliness programs. Chalet, for example, has separate written protocols for handling boxwood for our: retail store, landscape division and growing nursery in Wisconsin.

Like people, all plants can have "issues". This newest Boxwood blight should be considered a manageable disease. After all, try to name even one substitute plant that does everything boxwood can do. There are a lot of reasons it's worth using.




Monday, April 10, 2017

Spring Annuals.... No Non-scents

I offer my sincere apology to Mrs. Ogden, my eighth grade English teacher, for the above double negative. More simply put, I want to share some beautiful, cold-tolerant spring annuals that also bear the gift of fragrance. Who doesn't like two for one?

Beware sniff-test shopping on a cold spring day and understand that you won't be getting an accurate scents (unforgivable, but I've no pun shame) of fragrance. It will always be stronger on a dry, sunny day when temps are warm. Some deliciously scented spring annuals to tickle your olfactory organ:

* Alyssum - Also called "sweet alyssum". Unlike many of the cold-tolerant, short span spring beauties this workhorse goes the distance season long until the big fall freeze. Bonus points! Really a blanket-flat, ground cover annual 3-4" tall, growing 6-8" wide. Color range has been expanded from granny's white, purple-ish and pink to include strong violet, rose and even apricot. Whites tend to have the strongest aroma.



While it will cascade in containers, it may be underwhelming as the growing season progresses and it's steam-rolled by taller, beefier neighbors. I love it for front of window boxes and in-ground as an edger. Will tolerate light shade (note tolerate, not prefer), but not water-logged soils. Do get out the scissors and shear back declining flowers after each wave of bloom to keep the flowering encores coming. Just don't be overzealous and scalp to the ground...

* Dianthus - "Annual pink" shouldn't be confused with its biennial cousin, Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus). Like alyssum, not just a one-shot spring wonder, but will bloom all season, especially if it's a cooler summer, or they're sited in some afternoon shade when it's H-O-T. Well-drained soil. Gorgeous shades of maroon, purple, red, pink, white, and killer combos thereof. Great in beds or containers. Those who deadhead will reap the rewards of their labor.

* Pansies & Violas are already a fragrance "given" for those that read the last post, "A Pansy Primer".

* Stock - A florist flower fave for decades. Scent is generally touted as spicy clove. Flowers can be double or single, clustered in short spikes on plants ranging from 12-18" tall. Colors are: pink, white, rose, antique cream and purple. Foliage is gray-green. While they shouldn't be exposed to frost/freezing weather, they stop performing when daytime temps rise and stay about 75 degrees F. Stock can have a 7-10 day vase life, which is a long time as cut flowers go. For those that love to dry flowers, stock is a great candidate. They can be grown from seed, but you'd better start early to have sizable plants to transplant in early spring. Better to buy larger, budded plants, I'd say.   



* Sweet pea (annual) must be grown by anyone that loves sweetly fragrant pastel flowers. If Heaven has a fragrance, it must be "sweet pea" (one man's opinion - mine)! The scent is unlike any other flower, light, distinctive and unforgettable. It's a grandma flower, for sure, and that's part of its charm. I think it's gotten lost for a couple of generations as it doesn't transplant well. It also doesn't have much sales appeal as a leaning green baby vine in a 4" plastic pot. Therefore, sweet peas should be seeded directly into their final resting place, or in peat pots that can be broken down without disturbing the skinny root system. Soak the seeds overnight or nick with a nail file to break through the tough seed coat to speed germination.



Sweet pea is a cool/cold season vine that need a trellis or support to grow around and through to be upright. Keep cutting the exquisitely scented flowers to bring in the house - Heaven-on-a-stem! The more you cut, the more they'll rebloom until it gets hot. Then they're finished (like stock and many other cool spring annuals).

Ladies and gentlemen, it's spring, dust off your trowels!      
     

  

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