Subscribe to Pegplant’s Post, Free Monthly Gardening Newsletter

Subscribe to Pegplant’s Post, a free monthly newsletter about gardening in the Northern Virginia, MD, DC area. Click on the “subscribe” button, right column of my website, pegplant.com. May’s issue will feature the opportunity to win Espoma products, over 100 gardening events, the latest books, relevant articles, and useful tips. Here’s one tip: Firehouse Subs sells their 5-gallon pickle buckets for $2, perfect for container growing large veggies. Proceeds go to their foundation to help first responders and public safety organizations.

General’s Choice of Trees and Shrubs is a Wise Choice for the Mid-Atlantic Gardener

 

Spring is the season for plant sales in the Washington DC area. Every weekend there are plant and garden sales, garden parties, workshops, tours, and lectures. I look forward to these annual events just as much as I look forward to seeing the cherry blossoms. One of the more interesting plant sales is Mount Vernon’s Historic Plant and Garden Sale in Virginia. This year, the month-long sale runs from Saturday April 21 to May 20, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm (members can attend the preview night on April 20). The plants are located outdoors, just outside the Mt. Vernon main gift shop, and admission tickets are not necessary. Gardening accoutrements such as tools, books, mugs, note cards, and gift items also are available. Staff horticulturists, easy to spot by their bright green shirts, are available to answer gardening questions on Wednesdays and Sundays from 1:00 to 2:00 pm.

“At length my dear Marquis I am become a private citizen on the banks of the Potomac, & under the shadow of my own Vine & my own Fig-tree.”

What sets this plant sale apart from other local sales is provenance. The Mt. Vernon horticulturists propagated most of the plants that are for sale from the plants that are grown on the George Washington’s estate. There is a wide assortment of vegetables, flowers, herbs, trees, and shrubs. Of note is the General’s Choice Collection. Staff grew ten trees and shrubs representative of those that were grown by George Washington: three types of boxwood (American, English, and tree), two edibles (pawpaw and fig), tulip poplar, southern magnolia, redbud, dogwood, and red maple. The General’s Choice Collection has distinctive tags and can be grown easily by gardeners and homeowners in the mid-Atlantic area.

In addition, the Mt. Vernon horticulturists collected, cleaned, and packaged heirloom seed from plants grown on the estate. The beautifully designed seed packets make great souvenir gifts, easy to mail. The proceeds from the plant sale support the historical museum and gardens. Every time someone purchases a plant or a seed packet, George Washington’s legacy as a gentleman farmer lives on.

“Planted all my Cedars, all my Pawpaw, and two Honey locust Trees in my Shrubberies and two of the latter in my groves – one at each ‘side’ of the House and a large Holly tree on the Point going to the Sein landing.”

Photos courtesy of George Washington’s Mt. Vernon

Best Phlox Plants for Mid-Atlantic Gardens

Lavelle phlox

Lavelle

Despite its tendency to get powdery mildew, phlox is a very common perennial in the mid-Atlantic area. Many gardeners –as well as butterflies– love the old-fashioned, native plant for its tall stems of summer-blooming pink, purple, or white flowers.  Phlox is actually a large genus comprising more than 60 species native to North America. There is wide variation — some plants are tall, low growing, or groundcovers, while some prefer full sun and others thrive in shady, woodland areas.

This year, before you purchase phlox for your garden, read about the recommended varieties in Mt. Cuba Center’s report. The horticulturists at the Trial Garden, Mt. Cuba Center, Delaware, completed a three-year study. They tested 94 selections of eight sun-loving species and 43 selections of two shade-loving species.  For the sun lovers, they deliberately tested for resistance to powdery mildew, a fungal infestation of the foliage that creates an unsightly white powder. (This usually does not kill the plant but detracts from its beauty).

Of the sun-loving plants, within the species Phlox paniculata, top performers are ‘Jeana’, ‘Glamour Girl’, ‘Delta Snow’, ‘Lavelle’, ‘Robert Poore’, ‘Dick Weaver’, ‘David’, ‘Ditomdre’ (Coral Cream Drop), ‘Shortwood’, and the hybrid P. x arendsii ‘Babyface’.

Jeana

“Jeana,” according to the report, “is, without a doubt, the best performing phlox from the trial. This cultivar was discovered growing along the Harpeth River near Nashville, Tennessee and named after its discover Jeana Prewitt.”

Interestingly, volunteers who monitored pollinator visitations in the trial garden, noticed that ‘Jeana’s’ pink flowers received 539 visits from butterflies over 2 years. Others phlox flowers received at best 117 and lower.  ‘Lavelle’, second in place, received 117 visits indicating a marked preference for ‘Jeana’.

 

Blue Moon phlox

Blue Moon

Horticulturists also trialed shade-loving woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata) and creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera). Their report stated that the creeping phlox was easy to grow while the woodland was more difficult. However, they conceded that their initial plants of the woodland may not have been the healthiest. The best performers of woodland phlox are Phlox divaricata and P. divaricata ‘Blue Moon.’ With creeping phlox, best performers are Phlox stolonifera ‘Fran’s Purple’, ‘Home Fires’, ‘Pink Ridge’, and ‘Sherwood Purple’.

Fran's purple phlox

Fran’s Purple

All photos courtesy of Mt. Cuba Center

Growing Potatoes the Easy Way: Containers on the Deck

dandelionThis year I was given two types of seed potatoes: Harvest Blend and White Superior. I have grown potatoes before in my Virginia garden and they were very tasty. This year, I am going to grow these potatoes in fabric containers called Smart Pots. Any fabric container or even a plastic container with holes for drainage will do, I just happen to have a few large Smart Pots.

Potatoes are in the same family as tomatoes and eggplants but gardeners start growing them in the spring, as opposed to their warm-season cousins.  Although you hear that potatoes are started on St. Patrick’s Day, that might only be true for the Irish. It does not always work for gardeners in the Washington DC area. We just had snow so I waited until this past weekend when I was closer to my last average frost date. I have read that the time to plant potatoes is when dandelions are blooming; sure enough, my dandelions were blooming this past weekend.

Some of the independent garden centers will sell a few varieties of potatoes but you get a much wider selection if you contact mail order companies. In fact, there is tremendous diversification of the tuber itself:  there are white, blue, red, purple or gold colored tubers–round, gnarly, slender, large or small.  In terms of cooking, tubers can be mealy like a Russet (good for baking but disintegrates in a stew) versus waxy like a Yukon Gold (holds its shape). The tubers vary in maturation days, there are early, mid, and late season varieties, thus extending the harvest from June to August. Interestingly, the foliage, that is, the above ground part, does not vary. The plant grows to a few feet tall, flowers, and dies, signaling the time to dig up and harvest the mature tubers.

Planting

To grow potatoes, purchase “seed potatoes,” which are not true seeds but the “starter” tubers one plants in the soil. It is best to start with seed potatoes that are certified as disease-free, instead of planting a grocery store potato. The shoots arise from the “eyes” and additional tubers appear along these shoots as they grow. Seed potatoes should be the size of an egg with at least two eyes. If the seed potato is this size already then plant the whole thing, eyes up. If the tuber is large, can cut into sections, each with at least two eyes. I have read differing opinions about whether you should let the cut end callous (to prevent disease); it seems some people cut and plant while other cut, callous, and then plant.

I planted my potatoes in two Smart Pots, which are ventilated fabric containers (no need to poke holes in the bottom). This is a great way to grow potatoes if you do not have a lot of land, if your garden soil is too compacted, or if you want to encourage kids to get involved. For potatoes, use at least a 20-gallon size Smart Pot with at least a 15-inch height.  Estimate 4 plants in this size and more in larger sizes.  I spaced mine about 6 inches part so I planted four Harvest Blends in the medium container (foreground in photo) and 5 White Superiors in the larger pot (background in photo).

I used potting soil that already had a slow-release fertilizer.  Because potatoes are heavy feeders, I will supplement with a liquid fertilizer later in the season.

I poured 3-4 inches of the soil in each container, watered, placed the potatoes on top, eyes up, added 3 more inches of soil, watered again, and inserted a plant label. I rolled down the sides so they would not turn inward and prevent rain from reaching the plants.

Growing

One advantage to containers is that you can place them anywhere, a deck, a porch, a driveway, even on grass. Another advantage is that you don’t have to worry about crop rotation if you have been growing tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants in the garden. My containers are in full sun on the deck so I can easily keep an eye on them. Because potatoes are susceptible to Colorado potato beetles, I have to be able to easily check the underside of leaves for the yellow/orange eggs.

Potatoes require an inch of water a week so I need to be able to water easily and often, which I can do with a hose on the deck. However, the foliage is susceptible to fungal diseases so I will water by putting the hose nozzle into the bag, not spraying the foliage and not watering in the evening.

In a few weeks I will have to “hill” the plants. The new tubers grow up from the seed potato. As the shoots grow (now stems), and more tubers appear, these new tubers have to be covered with soil. Tubers exposed to light become green and bitter.  (This also is a tip for storing store-bought potatoes, keep them out of light in a cool place but not in the fridge).  When the stems have grown about 8 inches, I will add about 4 inches of soil and repeat the process again, unfolding the sides as I add more soil. This process of adding soil is called “hilling.”

Harvesting

In early summer, when the plants flower, I can harvest immature tubers by putting my hands in the soil and pulling egg-size tubers out (leaving smaller ones in). This immature stage is what we buy as “new potatoes” in the store. New potatoes have a very thin skin and do not keep. They have to be eaten soon and usually they are boiled and mixed with parsley, chives, and butter.

In mid-summer, probably June, the potatoes will have matured. When the leaves yellow and die, I will stop watering, wait two weeks, and then dump the container. I will dump the soil on a tarp. I can either use the soil to start a new garden bed or put back in the containers to plant bush beans.

Chitting

One term that comes up with potatoes is chitting, which is common in England but not so much so here. Chitting is the process of “pre-sprouting” the tuber before planting to give the plant a head start, much like starting tomatoes under lights in the house before May. Chitting affords an early harvest but takes space and time.

I did not chit my potatoes for two reasons. By the time I received them they had already started to sprout. The tubers were small and slightly shriveled. They must have been in a place that was too warm. But if I had purchased tubers, I probably would not chit because I do not have a need to have potatoes a few weeks earlier. Plus one has to consider the space this would take and available windows.

If you are interested in chitting, place your tubers eyes up in an egg carton. Put next to a window in a warm place (the usual heated house). The type of grow lights you use for starting seeds are not necessary. After they have sprouted (like your old potatoes in the vegetable bin), you can plant them outside. If the tubers are large, cut into pieces the size of an egg with at least two eyes.

I am looking forward to growing potatoes in Smart Pots this year — freshly grown potatoes taste better than store-bought potatoes.

Master Gardener Programs & Getting Help with Plant Pests and Diseases in Washington DC Metro Area

Just updated the information on these two pages on my website: Master Gardener Programs in the area and Plant Pests and Diseases. If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener check out this page, there are several programs in the area. As the gardening season progresses and you need help with plant pests and diseases, look to these resources in the Washington DC metro area.

Gardening-Related Media in the Washington DC Metro Area

I updated my page on local gardening media in the Washington DC metro area on my website, pegplant.com. This is traditional, not social, media. If you are new to the area or new to gardening check out the gardening columns in the Washington Post, the gardening shows on television and radio, two magazines, and my newsletter, Pegplant’s Post.

Twitter Chats: Online Garden Parties

Participating in a gardening twitter chat is a great way to learn and meet new people. A twitter chat is like attending a party where 20 people are standing in the living room talking generally about the same thing. I visualize them standing because usually a chat is for one hour, which goes by fast.

There are several gardening-related twitter chats, each with their own formats differ. Some have predetermined questions while others have a theme for the day.  In some chats, the moderators compile the conversation like a transcript to be viewed later. Twitter chats also can have guests for a particular topic or collaborate with sponsors for giveaways.

Twitter chats are free and open to anyone who has a Twitter account. The more people are participating, the more often messages are posted, and the faster it seems to move. Messages can appear very fast so you have to really stay focused on the conversation. If you are new to Twitter, it may be helpful to first read as people type. There is no need to actually tweet a response. As you feel more comfortable, jump in and respond when you can. Some people post photos but that is optional.

Sometimes during a chat, a few people seem to get off track, as if they walked into the kitchen, looked out the window, and started discussing the weather. To keep track of the actual chat, it is useful to use tweetdeck or tchat.io. Using the hashtag, these are able to order the tweets so you only see the tweets relevant to that particular chat. These tools help to focus on the chat for the hour instead of seeing all of the tweets from all of the people you are following.

Monday

#gardenchat, 9-10 pm EST, weekly, hosted by Bren Haas @BrenHaas

Tuesday

#treechat, 2-3 pm EST, every 2 weeks (#treechat and #plantchat alternate), hosted by Corona Tools (@Coronatools)

#plantchat, 2-3 pm EST, every 2 weeks (#treechat and #plantchat alternate), hosted by American Horticultural Society (@AHS_gardening) and Corona Tools (@Coronatools)

Wednesday

#landscapechat, 2-3 pm EST, weekly, hosted by Corona Tools (@coronatools)

#seedchat, 9-10 pm EST, weekly, hosted by Growing North @growingnorth

#groundchat, 8-9 pm EST, weekly, hosted by Cristina da Silva @CristinaGardens

Thursday

#herbchat, 2-3 pm EST, weekly, hosted by Geri Laufer @gardengeri

#growingnorth, 9-10 pm EST, weekly, hosted by Growing North @growingnorth

Growing Daffodils: Gold Investments for Your Garden

daffodil

British Gamble is a Division 1 daffodil, with a pale pink, broad, showy cup

Daffodils are great investments for your garden. For very little money, you can plant daffodil bulbs in the fall and enjoy their bloom every spring for years to come. Reliable and dependent, these sunny flowers can be used to landscape your garden or cut for indoor flower arrangements.

Cultural Requirements

Daffodils are long lasting and are not bothered by deer or other animals. They can be divided to increase the numbers or simply left in place. Bulbs are available at local nurseries in the fall or through mail order catalogs. Select large healthy bulbs and plant about 5 to 6 inches deep and apart. Daffodils can be planted in the garden bed, in large swaths for a naturalizing effect, under a deciduous tree, or in containers with other bulbs. One caveat is that after the daffodils bloom, the leaves must be left in place until they yellow so you may want to think about disguising the foliage with other perennials. Do not fold the leaves down, tie with rubber bands, or cut until they are so yellow they detract from the garden’s beauty.

Dutch Master, the classic Division 1 daffodil

Daffodils prefer full sun but will tolerate part sun (a half day of sun). They are not particular about soil but because they are bulbs the soil has to drain well to avoid rot. When planting, apply a balanced fertilizer. On an annual basis apply a low nitrogen fertilizer in the spring and fall. Daffodils do not need to be divided, they multiply naturally, but they can be dug up and divided if you want to increase your number of bulbs. Division should occur after the blooming period, when the leaves yellow. Dig up, divide, and replant immediately if possible. If not possible, store the bulbs in a dry area with good air circulation until can plant in the fall.  If you see a decline in blossoms after several years of growing, you can also dig up and divide daffodils because the bulbs may have increased to the point that they are too crowded.

Daffodil Societies and Shows

While most people are familiar with the foot high daffodil with large yellow blossoms, there is a wide spectrum of colors, sizes, and bloom times. In fact the spectrum is so great that daffodils have been categorized into 13 divisions and there are thousands of cultivars. The divisions below illustrate the diversity but for more information contact the American Daffodil Society or a local daffodil society.

daffodil

In the foreground is Katie Heath, Division 5, and in the background is Pink Charm, Division 2

In the Washington DC metro area, there are three daffodil societies, each with their own spring shows that are open to the public. If you want to know what to plant this fall, visit these shows to see how the flowers will look, meet other daffodil enthusiasts, learn best cultivars for this area, and identify additional resources for purchasing bulbs. There also are local garden clubs that have their own daffodil shows such as the Garden Club of Virginia Daffodil show in Richmond, VA, on March 28; and the District II Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland Daffodil show in Severna Park, MD, on April 9-11. The daffodilfestivalva.org website provides a listing of local daffodil festivals and areas that have substantial daffodil collections.

Daffodil Divisions

One flower to a stem (corona is the center trumpet or cup)

  • Division 1: Trumpet: corona not more than one-third the length of petals
  • Division 2: Large cupped: corona more than one-third but less than equal to the length of petals
  • Division 3: Small cupped: corona not more than one-third the length of petals

One or more flowers per stem

  • Division 4: Double: many petals
  • Division 5: Triandrus: pendulous blooms, petals turned back

One flower per a stem

  • Division 6: Cyclamineus: petals turned back significantly and flower at an acute angle to stem

Several flowers per a stem

  • Division 7: Jonquilla: petals spreading or reflexed, usually has fragrance
  • Division 8: Tazetta: stout stem, petals spreading but not reflexed, usually has fragrance, have minimal to no chilling requirements, this is the division for paperwhites, which often are forced indoors

Division 9: Poeticus: white petals, short corona with green or yellow center and red rim

Division 10: Bulbocodium hybrids, one flower per stem, petals very small compared to a large corona

Division 11a: Split cup collar

Division 11b: Split cup papillon

Division 12: Other types

Division 13: Species or wild variants

Mary Gay Lirette, a Division 11a daffodil, has flowers that open with a yellow cup that turns salmon and folds back

Local daffodil societies and shows (open to the public)

The Washington Daffodil Society will have their spring show on April 14 & 15, 2018, at the Alexandria Scottish Rite, 1430 W. Braddock Road, Alexandria, VA.

The Maryland Daffodil Society   will have their spring show on April 17 & 18, 2018, at The Shops at Kenilworth, 800 Kenilworth Drive, Towson MD.

The Virginia Daffodil Society will have their show on March 31 & April 1, 2018, at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Richmond, VA. This society does not have a website but the contact person is Jennifer Potter, Jpotter890@msn.com

Sources

All photographs are courtesy of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs

Snowdrops: From Simple Flowers to Complex Collections

galanthusThe common snowdrops are popular, spring blooming bulbs that are easy to grow. After planting the small bulbs in the fall, in masses or drifts for the best effect, you will be rewarded with small, white bells in the midst of winter. Here in the mid-Atlantic area, the common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) blooms any time from January through March. Sometimes they push through the snow or a carpet of brown leaves under trees.  Hardy to USDA Zone 4-7, they prefer cool weather, partial shade, and rich soil. They are not fazed by deer but may get relocated by squirrels. By late spring, the green, strap-like leaves die back and the bulb lies dormant during the summer.

Snowdrops seem so simple, so humble, like servants to queen daffodils and regal tulips. Here in America we give them a nod as a small sign that spring will come soon. In Great Britain, however, snowdrops enjoy a cult status. The English have been breeding snowdrops extensively since the Victorian area, yielding over a thousand cultivars. They quite literally put these small perennials on pedestals and table top arrangements during judging shows and grand events.

To me they all pretty but look similar. To a galanthophile each flower is distinct and beautiful. Galanthophiles collect the cultivars, some of which can be costly. They may also collect other Galanthus species — there are about 20 species that vary in bloom time and size.

Here in this country, we are not able to access a wide variety but a good source for many snowdrop cultivars is Carolyn’s Shade Gardens in Pennsylvania. Another source is to visit a private garden or sale such as David Culp’s annual Galanthus Gala which will be on March 3, 2018, in Downingtown, PA. David, a well-known breeder, lecturer, and author, has a collection of snowdrops, among other plants, in his gorgeous gardens at Brandywine Cottage. The Galanthus Gala is open to the public, registration is required, and includes speakers and other plant vendors.

Subscribe to Pegplant’s Post: Free Online Gardening Newsletter for Northern VA, MD, and DC Area

To celebrate the beginning of the 2018 gardening season, I am launching Pegplant’s Post, an online, subscription-based newsletter. Pegplant’s Post focuses on gardening in the Northern Virginia, Maryland, and Washington DC area. Every month this timely, local newsletter will be delivered directly to your e-mail box free of charge. Subscribing to Pegplant’s Post ensures that you will receive Peg’s Picks of:

  • Monthly events. Plan your social life with gardening events in the NoVA, MD, DC area. Depending on the season, there can be over 100 events, many of which are free.
  • New books. Stay abreast of gardening trends and practices with newly published books. Use this list for ideas of gifts to buy for birthdays and holidays.
  • 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 articles from my website, pegplant.com, about plants, gardens, and resources.

Visit pegplant.com and enter your e-mail address in the “subscribe” field on the right column. Pegplant’s Post will be issued on the last weekend of the month.