Category Archives: Events

Daffodils: Reliable Spring Bloomers

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 26; and the District II Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland Daffodil show in Severna Park, MD, on April 9-10. 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 13 & 14, 2019, at the Alexandria Valley Scottish Rite Temple, 1430 W. Braddock Road, Alexandria, VA.

The Maryland Daffodil Society   will have their spring show on April 24 & 25, 2019, at a new venue, Vollmer Center, Cylburn Arboretum, 4915 Greenspring Avenue, Baltimore MD.

The Virginia Daffodil Society will have their show on March 30 & 31, 2019, 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

Learn to Multiply Your Plants by Divisions and Cuttings

Join me as I demonstrate how to multiply plants through simple techniques that you can do at home. Learn how to take stem cuttings and divide plants to save money and enhance your garden. Take home a starter plant and handout. To register for the “Plants & Design Workshop: Multiply Your Plants” on Saturday, March 30, 9:30 to 11:00 am, call Green Spring Gardens at (703) 642-5173 or register online at https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/parktakes/ using code 586.37E6. Green Spring Gardens, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA.

Free Culinary Herbs Presentation

Join me as I talk about 10 culinary herbs at the Merrifield Garden Center. I will cover cultural requirements, harvesting and preserving techniques, inspiring ways to use the herbs in the kitchen, and local herb resources. Don’t worry if you don’t have land or a garden, these 10 herbs can be grown in containers. Everyone will receive a handout to take home. No reservations required, this is a free lecture on Sunday, March 24, 1:00 to 2:00 pm, at the Gainesville location, 6895 Wellington Road, Gainesville, VA.

Celebrating New American Gardens Exhibit at U.S. Botanic Garden

Portland Japanese Garden

Explore a new exhibit called Celebrating New American Gardens at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington DC. The exhibit showcases 21 gardens in the United States that have created new gardens or renovated a garden within the last five years. Photos, drawings, landscape designs, and project descriptions communicate each garden’s story. These new gardens showcase new plant collections, create spaces for people to connect with nature, and foster sustainability.

Longwood Gardens

“Gardens are always changing – with the seasons, with emerging gardening trends, and with their communities. We are excited to feature these new gardens and showcase the diversity and beauty of modern garden projects,” said Saharah Moon Chapotin, U.S. Botanic Garden executive director.

From now until October 15, 2019, when the exhibit ends, the U.S. Botanic Garden will have programs, workshops, lectures, and tours related to the exhibit. The U.S. Botanic Garden is open to the public, free of charge, every day of the year from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Conservatory is located at 100 Maryland Ave. SW, on the southwest side of the U.S. Capitol. The following are the gardens featured in the exhibit.

  • Adkins Arboretum, Maryland
  • Brooklyn Botanic Garden, New York
  • Castle Hill on the Crane Estate, Massachusetts
  • Chicago Botanic Garden, Illinois
  • Denver Botanic Gardens, Colorado
  • Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve, Michigan
  • Green Bay Botanical Garden, Wisconsin
  • The Grotto Gardens at the Dayton VA Medical Center, Ohio
  • Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania
  • Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Florida
  • New Orleans Botanical Garden, Louisiana
  • Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Pennsylvania
  • Portland Japanese Garden, Oregon
  • Reiman Gardens, Iowa
  • San Diego Zoo, California
  • San Diego Zoo Safari Park, California
  • State Botanical Garden of Georgia, Georgia
  • Tohono Chul, Arizona
  • Tulsa Botanic Garden, Oklahoma
  • United States Botanic Garden, District of Columbia
  • Waterfront Botanical Gardens, Kentucky

Photos courtesy of the U.S. Botanic Garden.

Seed Swaps: Fun Way to Get New Seeds!

It is that time of year again — seed swaps! National Seed Swap Day is Saturday, January 26, 2019, the last Saturday in January. Seed swaps are a great way to obtain new seeds, share your favorite seeds, and attend a fun event. A seed swap can be as simple as friends getting together to share seeds they saved from the previous gardening season to an all-day planned event with speakers, door prizes, and refreshments. Seed swaps can be a vehicle to teach others how to save seed, the importance of seed diversity, heirloom seeds, and other aspects of gardening. Some exchange more than seeds; tables may be set up to collect used gardening books, magazines, tools, pots, and nursery catalogs. Some may expand their definition of seeds and allow bulbs, rhizomes, and cuttings. Others include related activities such as learning to make handmade seed envelopes.

Each seed swap is different but usually organizers have established guidelines for the seed such as the type of container to use, the number of seed in each bag, and the information required on the label. Organizers should clarify if commercial seed packages or hybrid seeds are accepted. Although swaps do not want seeds from invasive plants, the organizers should clarify the definition of an invasive plant in their area.

If you are interested in attending a seed swap, ask your local county extension agent or Master Gardeners if they know of seed swaps in your area. Check out my monthly list of local gardening events at pegplant.com for seed swaps in the Washington DC metro area.

If you are interested in starting a seed swap, visit a few first to see the range of activities that could take place and the number of volunteers required. Read Seedswap: The Gardener’s Guide to Saving and Swapping Seeds by Josie Jeffery and download the Seed Savers Exchange’s 8-page handout on how to organize a seed swap. To learn how to save seeds, read my article entitled “How to Save Seeds from the Home Garden.” Happy #seedswapday!

Volunteering at Washington DC’s Public Gardens

The Washington DC area has many opportunities for people with a passion for plants and gardening to volunteer. This article focuses on three opportunities where the entities are not non-profits, they are actually part of the federal government. Thus, they share several unique characteristics.

This article provides a broad overview and compares and contrasts three places. However, it is best to reach out to the organization that interests you for more detailed information. Opportunities to volunteer are like the tide, they ebb and flow depending on the season and annual events. To learn about additional organizations that may need volunteers, view this list of public gardens and contact them directly.

U.S. Botanic Garden

The U.S. Botanic Garden (USBG) was established by Congress in 1820 and is one of the oldest botanic gardens in the country. The USBG is comprised of the Conservatory, the National Garden, and the Bartholdi Park. It is administered through the Architect of the Capitol. It is a prime tourist attraction, open every day of the year, and within walking distance of metro stations.

“Volunteers are vital to the support of the Botanic Garden,” said Elizabeth Barton,Education Specialist and Volunteer Coordinator, who oversees about 250 volunteers. People interested in volunteering at the USBG should first complete the application form on the USBG website, which gives Elizabeth a sense of timing, availability, and interests. After she receives the application, she calls the applicant to set up a meeting with her and possibly another staff person. Applicants can apply between January and early October.

U.S. Botanic Gardens’ production greenhouses

The USBG has a public programming team and a horticultural team. Volunteers who work with the horticultural team work with the plants either inside the conservatory, outside with the gardens and grounds crew, or at the USBG production facility in Maryland (large production greenhouses). Volunteers who work with the public programming team assist with the public programs, such as lectures and children’s programs, answer questions at the visitor’s desk, manage the Discovery Carts, or serve as docents.

All volunteers attend a general volunteer orientation. Starting in 2019, all volunteers will attend an accessibility awareness training where one learns to interact with people who have special needs and disabilities. There may be further training depending on the assignment. “None of the volunteer duties require prior horticultural knowledge,” explained Elizabeth. “We work with you where you are. The horticultural team loves working with people who have horticultural experience but they also love working with people who have no horticultural experience but have enthusiasm. As long as you have the enthusiasm, we can teach you about the tasks.”

Docents obtain additional training on how to give a tour and basic botany and plant morphology. Docents focus on a particular area of the Botanic Garden to learn about those particular plants. For example, a docent who leads tours of the National Garden outside would get additional training on the National Garden before leading a tour.

Elizabeth emphasized that there is also the opportunity to explore a special interest. A volunteer can present an idea to USBG staff who will discuss it to see if the idea fits with current programming. She explained how a volunteer had an interest in conifers and thus developed a conifer Discovery Cart. (Discovery Carts are informal, pop-up educational opportunities on specific topics such as conifers, chocolate, or poinsettias.)

Volunteers need to commit to 100 hours per year, which could be a 4-hour shift every other week or 2-hour shift every week or a condensed number of weeks. It varies because some people live nearby and can easily commute to work a few hours at a time while others live further away and prefer infrequent trips and a longer day.

A well-known volunteer giving a lecture at USBG

Because USBG is part of the federal government, volunteers need to go through the background security check and fingerprinting process that is required of all feds. If you are a current or retired government employee, you would have been through this process before.

Volunteers not only benefit from helping others, they learn more about horticulture and gardening. “Volunteers learn a lot no matter what they are doing here,” said Elizabeth. “They also are able to give back to the community, that is, the USBG is a great resource to the community.”

USBG staff host two volunteer appreciation events every year for the volunteers, a holiday and a spring social event. If volunteers have volunteered for a set minimum number of hours, they are able to attend a one day educational and appreciation event hosted by the Horticultural Consortium of the Greater Washington area (HCGWA). The HCGWA is a group of local organizations that depend upon a cadre of volunteers. Each year, one of the organizations hosts and develops the agenda and invites the volunteers from the other organizations.

Smithsonian Gardens

The Smithsonian Institution was established by an act of Congress in 1846 and is a unique public-private partnership that receives federal funds. In 1972, the Smithsonian Gardens was established to manage the Smithsonian museum grounds and is comprised of the Grounds Management Operations, the Greenhouse Nursery Operations, and the Horticulture Collections Management and Education. The outside gardens are open every day of the week and there are several nearby metro stops.

Alison Kootstra, Volunteer Program Coordinator, explained that even though they have a small volunteering program, less than 100 volunteers, they have a very high retention rate. As with the USBG, applicants need to first complete the volunteer application form on the website. Alison reviews the application and contacts the applicant to set up an in person interview. Interviews are conducted at the Smithsonian Gardens office on Maryland Avenue (next to L’Enfant Plaza metro station) or at the Suitland, Maryland, production greenhouses, depending on the location of the volunteer opportunity.

There are three different types of opportunities: grounds maintenance, greenhouse, and docents for exhibitions. Alison most frequently recruits for the grounds maintenance position where volunteers work alongside staff horticulturists in the Smithsonian gardens. Tucked among the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall are 13 thematic gardens.

Volunteer at Smithsonian Gardens event
Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Gardens

Volunteers are asked to commit to working from April to October, one day per week. Because staff work Monday through Friday, volunteers also work during the work week and not on the weekend. Recruitment occurs every year and three to eight people are chosen to work in specific gardens. “Experience is not required,” explained Alison. “It is more important that the person has enthusiasm, the willing to learn, and the ability to follow instructions.”

The Suitland greenhouses are not open to the public so the environment may be quieter than the public gardens, which are frequented by tourists. Tasks include planting, transplanting, and taking care of orchids and tropical plants. This opportunity is less frequent because volunteers tend to stay for a long time. Again, since volunteers are working with staff who work weekdays, the opportunity is also on weekdays.  

There are opportunities for docents for exhibitions but this is less frequent, depending on the need or exhibit. Because the Smithsonian Gardens is responsible for an orchid exhibit that begins in February 2019, Alison just recruited 20 new volunteers to serve as docents. This exhibit is open every day so the opportunity to volunteer would be on the weekday or weekend and would require quite a lot of interaction with the public.

Alison ticked off the benefits of volunteering with the Smithsonian Gardens, which mirror Smithsonian employee benefits. Volunteers receive 20 percent off at Smithsonian gift shops and many of the public food eateries, access to behind the scenes tours or enrichment activities within the Smithsonian, discounts on some ticketed Smithsonian programs, and reciprocal arrangements with other museums across the country.  In addition, Alison plans an enrichment activity every other month such as a tour of another public garden or a trip to see a local museum exhibit. Like the USBG, if volunteers have volunteered for a set minimum number of hours, they are able to attend the HCGWA event.

Volunteer in the Smithsonian’s Ripley Garden
Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Gardens

Smithsonian volunteers must also undergo the background security check and fingerprinting.They must attend an orientation and an annual security training. There may be additional training as needed for specific positions, for example, grounds staff may have more safety trainings than docents.

U.S. National Arboretum

The U.S. National Arboretum (USNA) was established in 1927 by an act of Congress. According to their mission statement on their website, the USNA enhances the economic, environmental, and aesthetic value of ornamental and landscape plants through long-term multi-disciplinary research, conservation of genetic resources, and interpretative gardens and exhibits. The USNA is administered by the U.S.Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Services. Located in Northeast DC with entrances on New York Avenue and R Street, the Arboretum is made up of 446 acres and many plant collections. There is no nearby metro stop but plenty of free parking.  

 “We get inquiries from people interested in volunteering from our website or they walk in to the Arboretum and ask if there are volunteering opportunities,” said Carole Bordelon, Supervisory Horticulturist and Acting Volunteer and Intern Coordinator. Carole asks interested applicants to complete an online form. She looks at the applicant’s interests while asking staff how many volunteers they can support, and then tries to match the two.

Volunteers cleaning seed at USNA
Photo courtesy of USNA

“We have several different types of volunteers but the majority are working outside in the gardens and assisting staff with weeding, pruning, mulching, and planting,” said Carole. “Although the Arboretum is open to the public on the weekends, the staff work during the week so the volunteer positions are only available during the work week. In addition, depending on the collection, the staff horticulturist may want a volunteer to work on a specific day.”Currently, they have about 75 volunteers that come in on a regular basis and work in the various collections. They also have a need for volunteers to work indoors on the herbarium, archives, exhibits, image database, and public programs.

“There are some volunteers who have been here a long time so there is no need for volunteers in that particular garden area but in some areas they need volunteers for the spring/summer months and not the winter. There are some volunteers who work in one collection outside and then on bad weather days, work inside on the herbarium.”

They do require 4-6 hours per week, usually 4 hours. “We set up a schedule and most of volunteers who work outside are asked to come on a specific week day,” said Carole. 

Volunteers planting in the USNA’s Fern Valley Meadow
Photo courtesy of USNA

Volunteers learn about the plants in the collection and proper techniques, but they also enjoy the ability to meet new people. The Arboretum is a tourist attraction; volunteers may interact with visitors from all over the world. In addition, the USNA staff put on an annual volunteer recognition event where they invite a guest speaker and distribute service awards. Staff arrange outreach field trips to other public gardens and volunteers are encouraged to go to the Smithsonian In-Service Days in the winter months. Similar to the other two, USNA volunteers may attend the HCGWA event. USNA volunteers must complete the background check and fingerprinting.

Friends of the National Arboretum

Although the Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA) is a non-profit organization, it is important to mention because FONA works in tandem with the USNA and FONA volunteers work on the Arboretum property. People interested in volunteering may find themselves at the Arboretum for one-time events or long-term projects managed through FONA.

To volunteer, applicants need to complete the online form at the FONA website. “Many of our opportunities are seasonal,” explained Melinda Peters, Volunteer Programs Manager. “For example, recruiting for volunteers for the annual Garden Fair and Plant Sale in April will start up later. Our busy time will start at the end of February and into March and that is when I will start contacting applicants.”

To help distinguish between the two, the Arboretum manages volunteers who work in the plant collections or in the Arboretum’s Administrative Building while FONA manages volunteers for annual events such as the Garden Fair and Plant Sale, summer concerts, and Full Moon Hikes and for long-term projects such as the Washington Youth Garden and the Springhouse Run restoration project.

Volunteer pruning in the Asian collection
Photo courtesy of USNA

For the past 2 years, volunteers have restored Springhouse Run which is actually two streams that run through the Arboretum and into the Anacostia River, the Springhouse Run and the Hickey Run. The stream has been restored to a more natural flow and volunteers have planted many native plants. The Washington Youth Garden helps DC’s youth learn to garden and volunteer opportunities exist from April to early November, Tuesday and Saturday mornings. The Full Moon Hikes are guided walks around the Arboretum in the evening, under a full moon,which requires volunteers to serve as tour guides. The Garden Fair and Plant Sale is an April weekend where many different types of plants are for sale to the public, either from the Arboretum’s holdings, local garden clubs, or nurseries. This is a purely volunteer-run event at the Arboretum managed through FONA.

Unlike the three federal entities mentioned above, FONA does not require a background security check and fingerprinting except for the Washington Youth Garden volunteers who have to complete a more extensive onboarding process. However, volunteers for one-time events may have to sign a liability form.

There is more flexibility in terms of hours if one volunteers through FONA. Volunteers can work on weekdays, weekends, and in the evenings, depending on the event.  Also, corporations that want to or universities that require service hours can work through FONA to complete one-time service activities such as mulching on the Arboretum grounds.

Volunteer cleaning up in USNA’s Azalea collection
Photo courtesy of USNA

As with all volunteering opportunities, the benefits are socializing, learning, and giving back to the community. “For single events, we provide snacks, tools,and training,” said Melinda. “It is safe to say that food is always involved somehow.” FONA volunteers are invited to an annual volunteer appreciation event and as with the other three entities, volunteers may attend the HCGWA if they meet the required hours. Melinda also explained that the Full Moon Hike leaders receive a stipend because they have to undergo a more rigorous training program and commit to a certain list of guidelines.

To summarize, there are many different opportunities to volunteer with these prestigious organizations, you just have to figure out which is the best match for you in terms of your time, interests, and ability. Some will require digging in the dirt while others will require public speaking. But with all, horticultural experience is not a requirement so do not hesitate if you do not have plant experience. Just show up with enthusiasm and a willing to learn and you will become connected to DC’s horticultural network!

Season’s Greenings Exhibit at Washington DC’s U.S. Botanic Garden

Check out the U.S. Botanic Garden’s holiday season exhibit, Season’s Greenings: All Aboard. Season’s Greenings showcases historic railroad stations across the country including three Maryland stations (Ellicott City, Viaduct Hotel, and Point of Rocks) and DC’s own Union Station. Each year, the U.S. Botanic Garden staff and Applied Imagination of Alexandria, Kentucky, collaborate to create a theme and then to build the plant-based sculptures based on that theme. All the train stations are made of plant materials.

Salt Lake City Union Pacific Depot, Utah

Clock of Salt Lake City Union Pacific Depot made of cinnamon, acorn cap, anise fruit and driftwood

There are more than 20 replicas of railroad stations and two fantasy stations: Dino Depot (a large dinosaur) and the North Pole. Located in the West Gallery, the iconic stations take up the entire room with G gauge model trains running through. In addition, there is a “caboose” tall enough for kids to walk through to view dioramas of peanut farms, citrus groves, and grain fields. Outside the U.S. Botanic Garden at the front entrance is another train set among winter greens.

Point of Rocks Station, Maryland

In the Garden Court, there are 12 Washington DC landmarks plus the new Union Station. Each building is constructed on a frame of acrylic-based foam, casting resin is poured in the window cutouts, and wall surfaces are finished with sand-based grout. Each building is made of plant materials and if you look closely, you will see everything from walnuts to acorns.

Union Station in Washington DC

Statues of Union Station are made of corn husks, tulip poplar seeds, lafi pods, and other plant materials.

National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington DC

Walnut shells on walls of Nat. Museum of African American History and Culture

Also in the Garden Court are thousands of poinsettias, from traditional red, to white, marbled, and lime green. Upright, red twigs and fully decorated live trees punctuate each river of poinsettias.

Many different types of poinsettias among ferns, red twigs, and decorated trees

The Season’s Greenings exhibit runs from Thanksgiving to January 1, 2019. The U.S. Botanic Garden, located at 100 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington DC, is open to the public, free of charge, every day of the year from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. On most Tuesdays and Thursdays in December the Conservatory will be open until 8:00 pm for live seasonal music concerts and after-dark holiday exhibit viewing. For more information and the music schedule, visit http://www.usbg.gov.

Cincinnati Union Terminal, Ohio

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.

American Heritage: Native Paw Paw Trees

Paw paw flowers in the spring

It’s paw paw season! Paw paws (Asimina triloba) are native trees that bear fruit in August, September, and October. Fruit of cultivated trees look very similar to mangos—green, kidney-shaped, and about 6 inches long and 3 inches wide. They have a variety of common names such as Indiana banana, poor man’s banana, and bandango. When cut in half, the interior reveals a yellow, custard-like pulp with two rows of large seeds. Paw paws can weigh from ½ to 1 pound. Technically a berry, they are the largest North American edible fruit. Paw paws taste like a cross between a banana and a mango with a splash of pineapple. They can be eaten raw or used in ice cream, pudding, smoothies, butter (such as apple butter), baked goods like cookies and pies, and even beer, brandy, and wine!

From Florida to Texas, north to New York, and west to Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska, paw paws are native to 26 states and grow as understory trees in hardwood forests near streams and rivers. In the wild, the trees grow to 15 to 30 feet and sucker, creating colonies. Reminiscent of cucumber magnolias, they have foot-long, dark green leaves. Unlike other fruit trees, paw paw trees are not subject to a high level of pests and diseases.

Paw Paws in American History and Folklore

Paw paw trees are part of American history and folklore. Jamestown colonists wrote about them in the 1600s. John Lawson, an Englishman, described them in his travels in the Carolinas in the 1700s. Danielle Boone enjoyed eating them. Members of the Lewis and Clark expedition ate paw paws for pleasure as well as sustenance. George Washington grew paw paw trees at Mount Vernon and ate the fruit as dessert. Thomas Jefferson grew them and sent seeds to his colleagues in Europe.  William Bartram, a naturalist, described the trees in Bartram’s Travels. His father, John Bartram, a botanist, sent seeds to Europe. During the Civil War, soldiers as well as African American slaves collected the fruit in the wild to supplement their meager diets. There is even a popular folk song called “Way Down Yonder in the Paw Paw Patch” about collecting ripe paws paws from the ground and putting them in a basket.

Paw paw fruit develop in clusters

Finding Paw Paw Trees and Fruit

Currently, Washington DC residents can see paw paw trees in the wild along the C&O Canal and Potomac River and as native plant representatives in public gardens. There are paw paw trees at the Smithsonian Pollinator Garden, next to the National Museum of Natural History, and at the U.S. Botanic Garden’s newly renovated Bartholdi Park and their National Garden’s Regional Garden of Mid-Atlantic Native Plants. 

Although paw paws are part of American heritage, you may not find them in grocery stores. When the fruit is ripe enough to eat, it drops to the ground and is highly perishable. The thin skin bruises easily, discoloring to black. Paw paws are best eaten immediately or preserved by removing and freezing the pulp. You may find them at local farmers markets in peak season and you will definitely find them at paw paw events across the country in the fall.

Growing Paw Paws in the Home Landscape

Paw paw fruits can be eaten raw

“There is a paw paw renaissance now,” said Michael Judd, owner of Ecologia, an edible and ecological landscaping service in Frederick, MD. Author of Edible Landscape with a Permaculture Twist, Michael currently is writing a book about paw paws and hosts an annual paw paw festival that will be on September 22 this year at LongCreek Homestead. “I call the paw paw an edible landscape all-stars because the tree is very attractive, low maintenance, and very fruitful.”

As native, hardy trees, paw paws can be grown in typical suburban plots. “Paw paws grow easily here,” said Michael. “This is paw paw country.” Although they are not self-fertile, that is, there must be two trees to cross pollinate to produce fruit, one can trim the trees to fit in residential properties. Michael recommends growing the trees in full sun, 10 to 12 feet apart, and cutting the central leader back to keep the trees at 8 feet. This shorten stature also makes them easier to harvest the fruit. Therefore, homeowners could have two 8-f00t trees in the yard producing 50 pounds of fruit each year. If full sun is not possible, they can grow in part shade but will produce less fruit.

Paw paw trees have a pyramidal shape

Michael recommends purchasing either a grafted tree, a select seedling, or a specific cultivar. Starting from seed takes years to produce fruit. Also starting from a wild paw paw seed will result in less than desirable fruit. The taste of wild paw paws varies plus the fruit is small with a poor pulp to seed ratio.  Breeders spend years selecting desirable characteristics such as large fruit, a high pulp to seed ratio (more pulp, less seed), and good flavor.

You can’t go wrong planting paw paws. They are native, deer resistant trees that provide fruit and pretty yellow fall color. “Paw paw trees are very ornamental, they have a beautiful pyramidal shape,” explained Michael. “The leaves turn to a beautiful yellow golden color in the fall and when the leaves drop they reveal a tree with nice architecture in the winter.”

All photos taken by Michael Judd.

Greenstreet Gardens Sets Up Shop in Belle Haven, Virginia

It’s no mirage–that is a tropical oasis on Richmond Highway. Residents of Belle Haven are noticing a pop of color now that Greenstreet Gardens has moved in.

Ray Greenstreet, owner of Greenstreet Gardens, is leasing the lot at 5905 Richmond Highway, Alexandria, Virginia, as an extension of the Greenstreet Gardens retail operation. Instead of building a new structure, Ray created an open air retail garden center featuring houseplants, perennials, annuals, containers, fertilizer, and gardening tools.

“This location just fell in our lap but it is a great opportunity,” said Ray. Despite the windfall, it took months to get the place into shape for the customers. “This was vacant for a long time, maybe 10 years,” said Ray. “Before we came, it was a VDOT (Virginia Department of Transportation) lot for the Wilson Bridge where they dumped gravel. We had to remove 5 dumpster loads of trash.”

Currently, the cash register is in an open shipping container. The products, from plants to fertilizers, are outside on racks or wooden benches. The fire hydrant on the sidewalk provides the water for the plants, most of which are in full sun.  Although Ray is working to have electricity, lighting is not an issue now with the long day length. Just the inventory alone, lush green foliage and eye-popping flowers, beautifies the neighborhood but Ray intends to enhance the location even more. “We intend to add trees to create a park-like setting,” said Ray. “In the fall we will sell chrysanthemums and pumpkins followed by Christmas trees.” After the holidays, the location will close in January and February and re-open in March.

I visited the corner lot last weekend. A large, tall display of tropical plants in containers marks the entrance to the parking lot, which is quite spacious. There was a wide variety of plants on benches and racks of new plants that had just been delivered. The plants were well watered and healthy and the employees were pleasant and helpful. Because this location is just south of the Beltway on Richmond Highway with plenty of traffic, stop lights, and median strips, I thought it would be difficult to access. It turned out to be easy to get in and out with no problems.  This new location truly provides a new source of greenery to residents on the northern end of Richmond Highway.

A native Marylander, Ray and his wife Stacy started Greenstreet Growers, a greenhouse operation in Lothian, Maryland, in 2000. They then ventured into retail and opened Greenstreet Gardens on 14 acres of their 65-acre farm in Lothian. In 2012, they expanded into Virginia and opened a retail store at 1721 West Braddock Road, Alexandria, which is thriving. Later they opened a smaller store in Del Ray, now closed. The Belle Haven location is the third Virginia location and is open every day of the week from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. If you are ever in the area, stop by and say hello to our new neighbors!