December Pegplant’s Post Giveaway: DRAMM garden apron and compact shear

I am very excited about the giveaway for the December 2018 issue of Pegplant’s Post. Sponsored by the DRAMM Corporation, the giveaway will be two items: a red ColorWear garden apron and a green ColorPoint compact shear (red and green for the holidays, get it?). DRAMM is a Wisconsin-based business that has produced well-known watering tools for over 75 years and has now expanded into gardening tools, fertilizers, and accessories.

The ColorPoint compact shear is perfect for cutting flowers, herbs, or bonsai. It has corrosion resistant, stainless steel blades and an ergonomic, non-slip handle for a comfortable grip.

The ColorWear garden apron protects clothing while holding tools, plants, or gloves. It is an ingenious three pocket design. The center pocket has side zippers enabling you to unzip the pocket and remove plant debris.

This giveaway opportunity is for subscribers of Pegplant’s Post, an online, free newsletter for people interested in gardening in the Washington DC metro area. Each issue has:

  • Monthly events. Plan your social life with gardening events in the area. Each issue has at least 50 events but depending on the season, there can more than 100 events, many of which are free.
  • New books. Stay abreast of gardening trends and practices with newly published books. Use this list for gift ideas.
  • Tips and advice. Learn timely tips and advice relevant to the current gardening season in our area.
  • Giveaways. Enter the monthly giveaway contest to win items such as seed packets, books, tools, and plants.
  • Articles from pegplant.com. Catch up with seasonal articles about plants, gardens, and resources from pegplant.com.

To be eligible for this giveaway subscribe now. Click here or visit pegplant.com and enter your e-mail address in the box above “subscribe!” on the right column. Click here to see a back issue. Pegplant’s Post is published on the last weekend of the month.

Peg’s Picks: My Favorite Gardening Podcasts

Because I am always interested in learning about plants and gardening, I listen to gardening podcasts when I walk in the neighborhood in the evening, weed in the garden, or drive to work.  Although there are many gardening podcasts available on iTunes or Stitcher, these four are my favorites for several reasons. They offer an unusual perspective; they are extremely detailed, providing an in-depth examination of a particular plant or gardening practice; they are seasonally appropriate, focusing on what is currently happen in the environment; and the voices are easy on the ear, especially if you are fighting traffic. It is always a plus if there is a corresponding website with a transcript, summary, or photos of the topic with links to additional resources. There are other podcasts I used to listen to but they are not available anymore and I am sure after I post this there will be new ones that may interest me. The world of gardening podcasts seems to ebb and flow like the tide; it always best to search for them on iTunes or Stitcher. I recommend these four, in alphabetical order, to people interested in learning more about gardening and the environment.

A Way to Garden

Every Monday morning, Margaret Roach broadcasts her public radio show from Robin Hood Radio in CT. She has an insatiable curiosity and researches her guests well in advance of the show. The topics are seasonally appropriate, ranging from gardening chores and plants; the environment; all types of creatures, including birds; and preparing and cooking the harvest. Usually there is a giveaway such as gardening book. Listening to A Way to Garden is like drinking cappuccino during the morning commute, quick and satisfying. Each podcast is 30 minutes long and runs at a fast clip. If I want to delve deeper and learn more, I am comforted in knowing that she has posted a transcript complete with hyperlinks on her website. Margaret Roach is a well-known garden writer and lecturer, has written several books, and used to be the garden editor for Martha Stewart. Although she gardens in New York, her website, awaytogarden.com, is a wealth of gardening information for anyone who gardens in the United States.

Cultivating Place: A Conversation on Natural History and the Human Impulse to Garden

Jennifer Jewell produces this podcast every Thursday on North State Public Radio. I like to listen to Jennifer’s soothing, relaxing voice as she couch analyzes the people she interviews on her podcast. The range is vast, not simply gardening, but nature in all its forms, including businesses, art, and books. On her website she says she loves gardens, nature, gardeners, and nature lovers. Jennifer gardens with her daughters in California. She has a way of seeing her guest’s role in the natural world, weaving threads to illustrate the path that lead to that person’s purpose in life. Like a languid raft ride down the Mississippi River, each show is one-hour long and Jennifer patiently takes her time pointing out the person’s key impressions in life, points of impact, and choices made. I not only learn more about the person, who may have just published a book I want to read, but I also learn more about myself as a gardener. Jennifer has an excellent website, cultivatingplace.com. She summarizes the podcasts and provides images to complete the audio experience as well as lists an archive of podcasts.

Plantrama: Science, Art and Dinner — It’s All In Your Own Backyard

This podcast is produced by two women who are well-known in the gardening world. C.L. Fornari has published seven gardening books and numerous articles, given lectures across the county, and has talked about gardening on several radio stations. She gardens in Cape Cod, MA. Ellen also has written seven gardening books, is well-known for foraging and creating plant-based cocktails, has taught gardening and given lectures, and lives in New Mexico.

Every Thursday, for 30 minutes, they discuss seasonal topics including what’s for dinner, insider information, eat/drink/grow, product/plant review, and answering questions from listeners. They banter, they do not always agree, but I like hearing the two perspectives. It illustrates that gardening is personal. Although there may be a science-based principle behind a gardening practice, choices are personal and people choose to do what is right for oneself and one’s garden. The podcast is geared for people interested in gardening and eating from the garden although they also talk about houseplants and the full range of annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees. The website, plantrama.com, has large images to illustrate the podcast topics. There is no transcript but the website marks the seconds for each new topic during the podcast so you can jump to the different sections. This podcast is a nice snapshot of what is going on in the garden and what you can be planting, harvesting, or cooking during that particular week.

The Native Plant Podcast

The Native Plant Podcast is like sitting in your grandmother’s rocking chair on the wooden stoop of her Appalachian cabin, sipping ice tea and listening to an old-fashioned radio program. Intently (because they use the “real” plant names). John Magee owns Magee Design, a landscape design firm in Middleburg, VA, that specializes in native plants, sustainable landscaping, and eco-friendly designs. Mike Berkley owns GroWild, a Tennessee wholesale native plant nursery. Together they started this podcast, borne of a friendship from attending the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference. Preston Montague, a North Carolina landscape designer also appears on the show. Sometimes the show is the two of them or three of them talking plants and sometimes they interview a person. Although their main interest is native plants, they are not purists to the point of excluding other flora. Each show opens by what they are seeing in the landscape at the time, what is blooming, what is buzzing (it helps to know the botanical names to the plants they mention). I like the way they explain what I too am seeing in the landscape at the same time. They are down to earth and they don’t rush; each show is about one hour. I feel that I am listening to a much slower, deliberate pace (compared to living here in fast paced Washington DC area) and my heart slows down and relaxes. They constantly kid each other and joke and eventually they get around to introducing the guest. Each show ends by opening a bottle of micro brewed beer with an unusual name. The website, nativeplantpodcast.com, has photos but there is no transcript and they do not air year round. However, there are archives on the website.

New Apple Variety Bred Specifically For Local Pick-Your-Own Orchards

We are in luck, a fresh apple experience is coming our way. University of Maryland has released the first apple variety developed for the mid-Atlantic region called Antietam Blush. Six more varieties will follow, all adapted to the area’s summer heat and humidity, with increased drought and disease resistance. Antietam Blush is the first apple variety bred specifically for this area.  The trees are shorter, thus eliminating the need for ladders, and designed to be picked in October (good for pick your own orchards). The stronger tree architecture makes it easier and less labor intensive to maintain plus this variety is bred to be resistant to the fire blight bacterial disease.  Because the trees are smaller, they can be planted closer together without support, which means more apples can be produced. The apple is blush red, sweet and slightly tart, with a high sugar/high acid fruit content that stores well. Dr. Christopher Walsh, Professor in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Maryland, says that Antietam Blush combines the tartness of its parent, Cripps Pink, with the champagne fizz of its grandparent, Gala.

Dr. Walsh and then-graduate assistant Julia Harshman worked on this new kind of apple tree for nearly 30 years. When they started the main university apple breeding programs were at Cornell University, Washington State University, and the University of Minnesota. No one had bred an apple specifically for the mid-Atlantic region.  They recognized the need for an apple tree that would tolerate the hot, humid summer climate. Over time they bred trees to combine a heat tolerant fruit with a tree architecture that reduced the need for hand pruning and ladders. Dr. Walsh received the University’s first ever apple patent for Antietam Blush. Currently, several Maryland growers are growing Antietam Blush, which will be available to the local markets very soon. Check out the University of Maryland’s short video about Antietam Blush.

All photos by Edwin Remsberg, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Maryland

Grow Your Climate Victory Garden to Help Fight Climate Change

Modeled after the World War II Victory Gardens, gardeners can do their part to fight climate change by planting Climate Victory Gardens. Climate Victory Gardens focus on rebuilding and restoring soil health and employs regenerative agriculture principles at home. Regenerative agriculture is a type of farming that turns dead or degraded dirt into rich, biodiverse soil that acts as a carbon sink. Healthy soil sequesters more carbon than dead dirt. A worldwide switch to regenerative farming could reverse climate change.

Ron Finley and Rosario Dawson teamed up to narrate a video explaining the Climate Victory Garden. Produced by Green America and Kiss the Ground, the video highlights five gardening practices. Together, Ron and Rosario explain the importance of growing food, not using chemicals, composting, keeping the soil covered, and encouraging biodiversity. Although the Climate Victory Garden principles are in alignment with sustainable gardening, Ron explains that sustainable gardening just leaves you in the same place. Regenerative gardening helps reverse climate change by building and restoring soil which can then help pull carbon from the air and store underground.

In order to create a Climate Victory Garden, gardeners are encouraged to commit to the practices mentioned in the video and a few more for a total of eleven. More detailed information on these eleven is on Green America’s website:

  • Grow edible plants
  • Keep soils covered
  • Encourage biodiversity
  • Plant perennials
  • Ditch the chemicals
  • Compost
  • Integrate crops and animals
  • Use people power
  • Rotate plants and crops
  • Get to know my garden

November Giveaway for Pegplant’s Post: Garden of Paradise Gloves

The giveaway for the November Pegplant’s Post is the Garden of Paradise Arm Saver Garden Gloves by Womanswork. A woman-owned family business, Womanswork sells gardening gloves that are made for women’s hands, plus related gardening accessories. The Garden of Paradise glove has an exclusive new print inspired by English cottage gardens. It has extra long cuffs to protect arms from scratches and bug bites and synthetic leather palms. Subscribers to Pegplant’s Post can enter the giveaway to win one pair of these gloves. Pegplant’s Post is a free, monthly newsletter for people who are interested in gardening in the Washington DC metro area. Subscribe by entering an e-mail address at pegplant.com

Spotting Hardy Orchids in Spotsylvania

Years ago I wrote an article for Chesapeake Home magazine on terrestrial orchids that are hardy in the Washington DC metro area. Hardy orchids can be treated like perennials in the garden. They live in the soil instead of hanging from trees and are surprisingly relatively easy to grow. However, hardy orchids are not well known. With the exception of the hardy Chinese orchids (Bletilla), I find it rare to see them in someone’s garden. So imagine my surprise when I spotted Spiranthes cernua var. odorata ‘Chadds Ford’ at Tracy and Bill Blevins home in Spotsylvania, VA. Owner of Plantsmap, Tracy and Bill recently hosted an open house where guests were invited to walk around their personal garden and enjoy refreshments.

Plantsmap is a website community that anyone from the home gardener to professionals managing public landscapes can use to document, organize, map, tag, and share their plants. For many, it is a way of journaling and tracking what they planted with photos and descriptions. Since Tracy and Bill use Plantsmap for their own personal garden, this link is their entry for this particular planting of Spiranthes in their garden.

Spiranthes cernua var. odorata is a fragrant form of lady’s tresses. This hardy orchid is found in the coastal region of southeastern states. The plant prefers moist soil with high organic matter and will slowly form a colony. White flowers appear in the fall and are supposed to smell like vanilla or jasmine.

This particular cultivar, ‘Chadds Ford’, has an interesting history. In the 1960s, Dick Ryan, an orchid enthusiast, discovered this plant in the wild near his hometown in Delaware, just as its habitat was about to be destroyed. The area was slated to be razed to construct homes. Dr. Merlin Brubacker, a plantsman, obtained a division years later and named it ‘Chadds Ford’ after his own hometown in Pennsylvania.

Other hardy orchids include lady’s slippers (Cypripedium), hardy Chinese orchids (Bletilla), grass pink plants (Calopogon), fringed orchids (Platanthera), egret flowers, (Habenaria), and Calanthe. For more information, read Tony Avent’s article on his Plant Delights website, Growing Hardy Orchids by John Tullock, and the Gardener’s Guide to Growing Hardy Perennial Orchids by William D. Mathis. Local native plant societies also may have information. Or search Plantsmap to see if anyone is growing hardy orchids.

Light Up Shady Corners with Variegated Hardy Ginger Plants

White Feather Hardy Ginger in July

One of the advantages of belonging to a garden club is that you are introduced to new plants, as well as new friends. Last fall, in one of my garden clubs’ plant swaps, I came home with White Feather ginger (Zingiber mioga ‘White Feather’). My friends told me that it was a hardy ginger plant that would survive our winters. They also mentioned that its cousin ‘Dancing Crane’ was astounding with beautiful white and green variegation.

I planted White Feather in a shady location in my Virginia garden, inserted a label, and forgot about it until this year. I had noticed that something was emerging in April. In July, the plant was about 2 feet tall and wide and I could clearly see the pretty variegation.  White Feather is a rhizomatous perennial that will spread over time in a nice, divide-and-share-with-your-friends way.

This is such a pretty plant I do not know why more people do not grow this. Despite the tropical appearance of the leaves, it is hardy to zone 6, which means I do not have to dig it up and bring it inside in the fall. The variegated leaves light up a shady area and favor an oriental appearance. So far, there have been no pests or diseases.

White Feather Hardy Ginger in October

According to Tony Avent, owner of Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina, there are three variegated forms. The most striking is Dancing Crane, which has white color in the middle of the leaves. White Feather has white color along the edge of the green leaves, and Silver Arrow is more subdued with lightly flecked leaves.

This is not the plant that produces the ginger root you buy in a store and grate for culinary use (Zingiber officinalis). This particular type is called Japanese ginger, mioga, or myoga ginger, and is grown for young spring shoots that are eaten like asparagus and for flower buds that are used in soups, tofu, sushi, and pickled vegetables.

Close Up of White Feather Flower

I have been looking for the flowers since September. Today, in October, I finally found several flowers which are only visible if you know to look down and under the foliage. They are ephemeral, a ghostly shade of yellow, certainly not something you would pick for a vase. They are only an inch off the ground and about 3 inches wide. They dissipate quickly; they seem to dissolve back into the ground after a few days. Still they add to White Feather’s intrigue, and by now my plant has grown to about 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide.

I recommend White Feather and I can see why others raved about Dancing Crane. Dancing Crane has more striking variegation and if it performs as well as White Feather, it would be a great addition to a garden. Next year, plant these hardy gingers in your garden to light up a shady corner.

Several White Feather Flowers

 

 

Darling Diva Dahlias

Like chrysanthemums, many people associate dahlias with the fall but dahlias can bloom from the beginning of summer to frost. Dahlia flowers are available in a wide range of sizes, colors, and shapes. Each bloom can be 2 inches across to more than 10 inches, in all colors except blue. Plants can reach one to 6 feet tall. Some plants have beautiful dark foliage instead of green leaves. Although there are 40 plus species there are thousands of cultivars. In addition, there are numerous forms such as the single, peony, anemone, collerette, star or single orchid, double orchid, cactus, waterlily, ball, and pompom.

Planting Tubers or Seed

To grow dahlias, you can either purchase tubers or start them from seed. If you purchase a tuber that is a named variety you will know exactly what the plant will look like. Plus, if you purchase cultivars that have been trialed and proven to do well in this area, you will have a good chance of success.  Seed is cheaper than tubers but there is a lot of variability with plant vigor and flower color. Although the seed will grow and produce a plant with pretty flowers for the garden, the flowers may not be exhibition quality.

Tubers can be planted outside in the ground after the average last frost date (Mother’s Day in the Washington DC metro area). Tubers also can be started indoors in April in containers under fluorescent lights or by the window to initiate growth. Seed should be started indoors under lights because planting seed in cold soil may retard the germination rate. Starting seed outdoors in May will only delay the time to reach blooming stage.

Caring for Dahlias

“Put the tuber in a four-inch hole and cover so that it is just peeking through. This way you can see the growth. When it grows, add more soil,” advises John Spangenberg, member of the National Capital Dahlia Society and owner of Crazy 4 Dahlias. John is a long time dahlia enthusiast who also sells tubers from his website.

Growing a dahlia plant is similar to growing a tomato plant: full sun and plenty of water and food. A dahlia can grow in less than 6 hours of sun but would not produce as many flowers. After planting the tubers, insert stakes such as tomato cages or posts. In the beginning, dahlias will require plenty of water, generally one inch of water per week. Dahlias are heavy feeders and will need fertilizer throughout the summer. Slow release fertilizers also work well. Dahlias appreciate a leaf or straw mulch to keep the tubers cool and to prevent weeds.

Encouraging More Flowers

In the beginning of the growing season, John recommends topping the plants to encourage bushier, sturdier plants with more flowers. The center bud (not flower bud but central growth) should be pinched back. “When you see three to four sets (or pairs) of leaves, break the center top off,” explained John.

Later in the season when flower buds appear, disbud or cut off smaller, lateral flower buds to encourage the top bud to form a single, larger flower. When a dahlia flowers, there are three stems with three buds in a v-shape. When the outer two smaller buds are the size of peas they should be cut leaving the center flower bud.

“The more you cut your flowers, the more flowers you get,” said John. If you don’t cut a flower for a vase, make sure you at least deadhead them. Deadheading is cutting off and disposing flowers that are past their prime to encourage the plant to produce more flowers.

Throughout the season, make sure the plant is well staked as it grows, feed it, and make sure it gets enough water.

Saving Tubers in the Fall

Dahlias are native to Mexico. Here in Washington DC they are treated as tender perennials and may or may not come back the following year. In order to ensure that the plants can be grown again next year, most gardeners lift and store the tubers in October.

“In the fall when get the first frost, cut the plant a couple of inches above the ground and let sit for a week or dig them up,” explained John. “You want to have the eyes develop and swell to be able to see them well. It helps to see the eyes when dividing the tubers. You can divide in the spring or fall but it is easier to divide in the fall.”

Dahlia tubers are swollen roots. Each tuber has to have an “eye,” which is a growing point in order to grow. From that eye the stem will emerge. In May, a single tuber with an eye is planted for a single plant. In the fall, when the plant is lifted out of the ground, there will be more new tubers joined together in an area called the crown. The “eyes,” or viable growing points, are in the crown. This can be stored as is or divided to create more plants.

John uses vermiculite in a box to store his tubers but there are many methods to store tubers. He finds vermiculite works best because it absorbs and releases moisture. Tubers should be in the coolest place in the house where there is constant temperature such as a crawl space or basement or a closet next to the outer wall of the house.

Because they are native to Mexico, one would think that dahlias would be easy to grow here with our sunny, warm summers. In fact, dahlias are native to a mountainous region in Mexico with more wind, less humidity, and cooler temperatures. Thus dahlias grow very well in the Pacific Northwest but have some difficulty in the mid-Atlantic. They need quite a bit of water, yet as heavy feeders, the rain can leach the nutrients. Plus the humidity can encourage disease. “In this area, we have issues with slugs, earwigs, rabbits, groundhogs, and deer,” said John. “Plus we have noticed that Japanese beetles prefer white and yellow flowered dahlias.”

Selecting Dahlias for Washington DC Metro Area

To choose a dahlia that performs well here, look to the National Capital Dahlia Society for recommendations. A branch of the American Dahlia Society (ADS), the National Capital Dahlia Society is comprised of dahlia enthusiasts and breeders who meet on a regular basis. Every year they manage a trial garden at the Agricultural History Park in Derwood, MD. “The display garden is a trial garden to test new introduction from across the country to see how they do here. We look at bloom quality and plant vigor and report this to the American Dahlia Society,” said John. Later in October, the Society members will dig up the dahlias at the trial garden and demonstrate how to save the tubers (open to the public). They also sell tubers next year so if you are interested in growing dahlias that do well in the Washington DC metro area, contact them via their website: http://www.nationalcapitaldahlia.org.

This past weekend, the National Capital Dahlia Society held their annual dahlia show at Brookside Gardens where flowers were judged using the ADS criteria. The photos in this article are dahlias from the Court of Honor, those dahlias that have been selected from all entries for final judging. The video is a scan of the Court of Honor.

Pretty Poisonous Pokeweed

mature pokeweed berries

A common sight in Virginia now are the purple berries hanging from green shrubs along the roadside. Pokeweed (Phytolacca decandra) is an herbaceous perennial, considered a weed by most gardeners. Pokeweed is easy to find on roadsides, fields, and ditches as birds eat the berries and drop the seeds. From summer to fall, pokeweed blooms small white flowers on peduncles (stems) making them stick out. In the fall, the berries appear first as flatten green balls with a dimple in the center on hot pink racemes and later, as if they had been inflated, as deep purple, ¼ -inch balls on red racemes. The contrast of purple and red or green and pink is so pretty that pokeweed is often used for fall floral arrangements.

immature pokeweed berries

Pokeweed berries are attractive but it is important to know that all parts of the plant are poisonous. Some people even get rashes from touching the plant. If you have children or see pokeweed in areas where children frequent such as school playgrounds, you should remove the plants. Pull the thick stems after a rain when the soil is loose and when the plants are young. If they mature, they develop taproots, making them difficult to remove completely. If you are not worried about children, consider growing them as a native food source for birds in your garden.

white pokeweed flowers with both green immature and purple mature berries in background

Abelia: A Modern Look to an Old-Fashioned Shrub

Abelia is an old-fashioned shrub. Chances are your grandparents knew them as 6-foot plants with green leaves and small flowers. Now however there are so many varieties they may not even recognize the new cultivars. Abelia is available in compact sizes and in a wide spectrum of foliage color. Depending on the cultivar, foliage can be variegated green and cream or green and yellow or even red, bronze, and orange. Sometimes the new growth is a different color than the old growth.

A member of the honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae, abelia has sweetly scented, funnel-shaped flowers that attract pollinators. They bloom from spring to fall. Right now in the Washington DC metro area the bushes are covered in flowers.

Abelia plants are deer resistant with minimal pest and disease issues. They are called “semi evergreen,” which means they will drop leaves in areas such as ours with cold winters but will retain leaves in the south. The shrubs are ideal for borders, foundations, screens, and hedges, and for erosion control on banks and slopes. Now is a great time to purchase them while you can see how they bloom and look. Select the variety you like best at your local independent garden center.