Category Archives: plants

Garden Staple: Lemon Basil

lemon basil flowers

Lemon basil flowering in August

Every summer I grow Mrs. Burns lemon basil, a lemon scented type of sweet basil. Like all basil plants, Mrs. Burns lemon basil prefers warm weather, full sun, and plenty of moisture. I grow mine from seeds in large containers and in the vegetable garden. Continue reading

Deer-Proof Bulbs for Spring Flowers

snowdrop blossoms in the woodsFall is the time to purchase spring-blooming bulbs in the Washington DC metro area. There is a wide variety of choices but if you have a severe deer problem, you may want to plant deer-proof bulbs. I know, you say, there is no such thing as “deer-proof” but with bulbs there are a few that are actually poisonous. I spoke with Brent Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, VA, who explained the difference between deer-proof and deer-resistant. Continue reading

Plan for the Fall and Winter Garden

mustard

mustard

August is the time for harvesting the summer’s bounty in the vegetable garden while thinking ahead to a winter’s garden. Even though it is hot and humid, you have to plan now to have even more edibles in the fall and winter. These edibles prefer cool temperatures. Often these plants are not bothered by as much disease and pests as in the summer plus you as a gardener are not bothered by heat, humidity, and mosquitoes. Continue reading

Black Magic in the Garden: Ornamental Rice

Black_Madras

Close Up of Black Madras

A few years ago, I visited friends who had a garden open house or rather an open garden. Tracy and Bill Blevins, owners of Plantsmap, invited friends to visit the garden which was comprised of a variety of types of plants. They set up tables in the driveway to share seeds and cuttings and offer refreshment. It was a great idea, I met new people and plants. Tracy generously shared seed she had collected from her plants and I was able to bring one unusual type of seed to try in my garden. Continue reading

Baptisia Plants Perform Well in the DC Metro Area

Baptisia ‘Lemon Meringue’ flowers up close

Baptisia, also called false indigo, is a shrub-like plant that does well in our hot and humid summers. Recent breeding efforts have expanded the range of flower colors creating a new look for an old favorite. Continue reading

Free Local Gardening Newsletter, Complete with Giveaway

Enter your e-mail here to subscribe to Pegplant’s Post, an e-newsletter about gardening in the DC metropolitan area. This free monthly communication lists recently published gardening books, articles, and tips specific to this immediate area. Each issue also features the opportunity to win a free plant or gardening product. For the upcoming May 2020 Pegplant’s Post, one lucky subscriber will receive Heartbreaker, one of the newest varieties in the Hollywood Hibiscus line.

Heartbreaker has orange petals with yellow-gold veining and a white center. He will only get about 3 to 4 feet tall, perfect for containers. He is one of the most recent stars to be introduced in the Hollywood line of tropical hibiscus plants, along with other stars such as Bombshell, Chatty Cathy, and Disco Diva. This award-winning collection grown by J. Berry Nursery features plants that bloom all summer long, unfazed by DC’s hot and humid summers.  Their large, colorful flowers attract pollinators and add a splash of color to the deck, patio, or poolside. My plants always put a smile on my face, they practically cover the foliage with such happy blossoms. The Hollywood Hibiscus line is known for compact, tropical hibiscus plants that produce many flowers per plant, in a wide range of flower colors.  If you are not already a Pegplant’s Post subscriber, type in your e-mail now at pegplant.com for a chance to win one Heartbreaker in a 2-gallon plastic container.

Now is the Time to Pull Weeds!

Spring has sprung and it is time to pull the weeds! By this time, there are many weeds that are flourishing in the garden but hopefully, not yet flowering. Now is the time to pull them before they flower and set seed. Fortunately, now is a good time to eradicate these weeds because the moist soil makes it easier to pull the small plants.

purple deadnettle on left and hairy bittercress on right

purple deadnettle (left) and hairy bittercress (right)

In my garden I have an infestation of hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta). A member of the mustard family, these young’uns appear as small mounds of subdivided leaves, creating a lacy or scalloped appearance. As the plant matures and grows, slender stems arise from the base producing small, white flowers. By late spring, slender seed pods burst open when touched (called “explosive dehiscence”), shooting seeds as far as 3 feet! Also called shotweed, this weed prefers damp conditions and should be removed as soon as possible.

I also have colonies of purple deadnettle, a member of the mint family. Purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) is called “dead” nettle because the plant resembles the true nettles (Urtica spp.) but does not sting like a nettle, hence, “dead” nettle. Right now, I can only see young leaves at ground level which makes it hard to identify but in a few months, the striking flower structures will grow tall above the basal leaves and the youngest, smallest leaves at the top will be purple. Tubular-like, purple flowers, typical of the mint family, peep out from under the uppermost leaves.

henbit in foreground and mouse ear chickweed in background

henbit in foreground and mouse ear chickweed in background

A cousin of purple deadnettle, henbit (Lamium amplexicaule), looks similar but does not have the pronounced purple color on the leaves. Purple deadnettle has stalked leaves on the flower stems while henbit does not. The word “amplexicaule” means leaves grasping the stem. The pretty scalloped leaves wrapped around the stem remind me of Queen Elizabeth I with her ruffled collar. Also a member of the mint family, henbit has small pink/purple, tubular like flowers.

Looking like a cross between a dandelion and a thistle, groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) is a member of the sunflower family. Like a dandelion, groundsel has a taproot and the same feathery type of seed head. It is good to pull while young before the tap root gets established. Already the groundsel is beginning to sport yellow flowers, similar to dandelion flowers but smaller. If these are not removed, the groundsel will flower, set seed, and the wind will disperse hundreds of seeds to the rest of my property.

groundsel

groundsel

Two weeds that I do not have in my garden but I have seen in other people’s gardens are common chickweed (Stellaria media) and mouse ear chickweed (Cerastium vulgatum). There are several different types of chickweed, all members of the carnation family. The common chickweed has smooth, small, egg-shaped leaves and is so named because the plant is used as a starter food for baby chicks. The mouse ear chickweed has hairy leaves, slightly larger than the common chickweed, resembling fuzzy mouse ears. Both have tiny, five-petal flowers but the common chickweed is an annual while the mouse ear chickweed is a perennial. These plants have shallow fibrous roots. Their stems spread and crawl and are capable of rooting where the node touches the soil.

common chickweed and mouse ear chickweed

common chickweed and mouse ear chickweed

The garden is not asleep. Get out there now and start pulling before these vast armies of weeds flower and disperse hundreds of seeds!

Best Helenium Plants for the Mid-Atlantic Area

Kanaria, top rated, with good powdery mildew resistance and a pollinator favorite

The Mt. Cuba Center has just published Helenium for the Mid-Atlantic Region, a 16-page report detailing the results of a 3-year trial of 44 taxa of Helenium plants. A member of the Aster family, the genus Helenium has summer to fall-blooming perennials with daisy-like flowers about 2 inches across. The flowers are in various colors of yellow, orange, and red, with raised yellow to brown centers, making them look like buttons.

The flowers are beautiful, but the plants are not commonly found in American gardens. Part of this may be because its common name “sneezeweed” leads people to erroneously assume the flowers cause allergies. In fact, the flowers are pollinated by insects, not wind. Sneezeweed is finely ground plant parts that are inhaled, like tobacco snuff. Part of the unpopularity may also be the plant’s tendency to flop over, exhibit powdery mildew, and/or contract a disease called aster yellows. Although they require full to partial sun, they are not drought tolerant and native plants are found growing in wet areas.

When asked why this genus was chosen for the trial garden, Sam Hoadley, Mt. Cuba Center’s Horticultural Research Manager, answered: “Helenium really is a genus that is native to the Americas, and there are several species native to the eastern United States. They are really not well represented in American horticulture. I think, outside of the native plant communities that will work with Helenium autumnale and Helenium flexuosum, we felt that this [trial] represents a fairly diverse group of plants and deserves a second look in American horticulture after it’s been so popular in Europe to see how these plants perform there. We also knew that they have significant benefits for bees and wasps, anecdotally. We really wanted to see how these plants would perform and what benefits or attraction they would have for these pollinators when brought back to the United States.”

Zimbelstern, second top rated, pollinator favorite, excellent powdery mildew resistance

Heleniums are popular in European gardens where extensive breeding has been done in Germany and the Netherlands. German breeders Karl Foerster, Gustav Deutschmann, Peter zur Linden and Dutch breeders Inez Arnold and Bonne Ruys have cultivated many Heleniums for exquisite flower colors, shorter forms, and increased resistance to drought. Karl Foerster in particular created more than 70 cultivars drawing on two native American species: H. bigelovii, which is found in Southern Oregon, California, and Arizona; and H. autumnale, which is found across the country. These plus a third species that is found in the eastern United States, H. flexuosum, were included in the trial.

“They really contribute some great late-season interest,” said Sam. “They are in bloom when gardens are in a lull, right at the end of summer and the beginning of fall, bridging a gap in the garden. There’s been a lot of Helenium breeding so that size, stature, and habit of the plant are becoming more and more diverse. For that reason, you are able to incorporate it into more garden designs.”

H. autumnale, a native species that is most visited by bees and wasps

In the trial at the Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware, forty-four taxa including three species were grown in full sun on clay-loam soil. By the beginning of the third or final year, only one-third of the original 220 plants remained. Plants were given minimal care although staff did try to prevent the flop with the Chelsea Chop and several staking methods on some plants to see which would work. Plants were watered during the first year for establishment and during any extremely dry periods. They were not sprayed with fungicides. Many plants succumbed to dry soil, powdery mildew, aster yellows, and possibly poor winter hardiness.

The downloadable report has three tables:  performance summary ratings and plants characteristics, plants that did not complete the trial, and best Heleniums for bees and wasps. Plants are rated on a scale of five (excellent) to 1 (very poor) and include a variety of criteria. None received a five but the top rated, Kanaria, is 4.3, followed by Flammenspiel and Zimbelstern at 4.2, Can Can at 4.1, H. flexuosum at 4.0, and H. autumnale at 3.9. The Mt. Cuba Center’s Pollinator Watch Team observed the plants and found that bees and wasps preferred H. autumnale followed by Zimbelstern, Kanaria, Can Can, and Tijuana Brass.

Can Can, one of top 4 rated, excellent powdery mildew resistance, and a pollinator favorite

Since 2002, the Mt. Cuba Center trial garden has been evaluating native plants and their related cultivars for their horticultural and ecological value. See their website for past reports on phlox, monarda, baptisia, coreopsis, heuchera, echinacea, and asters.

All photos courtesy of Mt. Cuba Center.

A Gardener’s Christmas

A Gardener’s Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas,
And all through the yard
The branches were bare
And the ground frozen hard;

The roses were dormant
And mulched all around
To protect them from damage
If frost heaves the ground;

The perennials were nestled
All snug in their beds,
While visions of fertilizer
Danced in their heads;

The newly planted shrubs
Had been soaked by a hose
To settle their roots
For a long winter’s doze;

And out on the lawn
The new fallen snow
Protected the roots
Of the grasses below;

When, what to my wondering
Eyes should appear,
But a Prius full of gifts
Of gardening gear;

St. Nick was the driver
A jolly old elf,
And he winked as he said,
“I’m a gardener myself.

I’ve brought new seeds
And light systems, too,
Give them a try
And see how they do.

To eliminate weeding,
I brought bags of mulch
To attract the pollinators,
I have flowers for best results.

To add to your joy,
I’ve plenty of herbs
And ornamental grasses
For your hell strip curb.

For seed planting days,
I’ve a trowel and dibble.
And a roll of wire mesh,
If the rabbits should nibble.

I have the latest books
Plus some gadgets you’ll love;
Plant stakes and frames,
And waterproof gloves.

Here are sharp shears
And a new compost pit
And, for pH detecting,
A soil testing kit.

With these colorful flagstones,
Lay a new garden path.
For the view from your window,
A bird feeder and bath.

And last but not least,
Some well-rotted manure.
A green garden year-round,
These gifts will ensure.

Then, jolly St. Nick
Having emptied his load,
Started his Prius
And took on the road.

And I heard him exclaim
Through the motor’s quiet hum,
“Merry Christmas to all,
And to all a green thumb!”

Written by Peggy Riccio. Merry Christmas from pegplant.com

your online resource for gardening in the Washington DC metro area

Deer-Resistant, Spring-Blooming Bulbs to Plant

Fall is the time to purchase spring-blooming bulbs in the Washington DC metro area. There is a wide variety of choices but if you have a severe deer problem, you may want to plant deer-proof bulbs. I know, you say, there is no such thing as “deer-proof” but with bulbs there are a few that are actually poisonous. I spoke with Brent Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, VA, who explained the difference between deer-proof and deer-resistant.

“Critter-proof bulbs are poisonous to animals such as deer, rabbits, squirrels, and voles,” Brent said. “Critter-resistant bulbs have some quality that is unpleasant to the critter but if the critter is hungry enough it will eat the plant.” Of the spring-blooming bulbs, the amaryllis family offers three popular critter-proof bulbs that contain lycorine, a poisonous crystalline alkaloid. Somehow critters know about lycorine and stay away from daffodils, snowdrops, and snowflakes. A subsequent article will describe critter-resistant bulbs for gardeners who are not plagued by deer.

Daffodils (Narcissus)

Daffodils are very hardy in this area, they last for years. There is a wide range of daffodils–flowers vary in color, size, shape, and bloom time. In fact, daffodils are categorized in 13 divisions according to the American Daffodil Society. Usually people think of yellow when they think of daffodil flowers but colors range from yellow to white to cream to orange to pink. Plants can be as short 3 inches or as tall as 2 feet. The bloom time varies from January to the end of April.  “The earliest daffodil to bloom is Early Sensation, which blooms in January and February in my area,” said Brent. Because there are early bloomers and late bloomers, you can extend your range of bloom time by a few months.

Drifts of daffodils about to bloom under deciduous trees

Daffodils are usually planted in a mass for a natural look. They blend well with the front garden or landscape but the small ones should be planted up close to the walkway for visibility. The flowers are perfect for floral arrangements so when you buy bulbs consider planting bulbs for flowers in the landscape and flowers for cutting. Daffodils should be planted in a well-drained area with full sun or part shade. Usually bulbs are planted 5-6 inches deep and 6 inches apart but because the size of daffodil bulbs vary this depends on the size of the bulb. The rule of thumb is to plant 2-3 times the width of the bulb. When I asked Brent which daffodils he recommends, he said that the recommended daffodils for this area have a heart symbol next to them in their catalog (which they mail free). There are also several local daffodil clubs and shows if you want to get additional recommendations and see what the flowers look like before buying the bulbs.

Daffodils for landscape as well as cutting

Snowdrops (Galanthus)

Snowdrops are very early bloomers, sometimes as early as January with snow on the ground. They bloom until March and then their thin, green foliage seems to blend into the landscape and disappear. The plants are small, about 6 inches tall, with white pendulous bells of flowers. Usually each flower has six tepals (a modified petal) but there are double-flowering types too. The tepal length plus the green markings on them vary tremendously. Although they are considered common here in the United States, they have achieved cult status in Great Britain where they have been bred since Victorian times. There are thousands of cultivars, some of which are very expensive.

Snowdrops

Because they are small, it is best to plant many in a group. They naturalize well and can be used in rock gardens. They can be grown in full sun but do best in dappled shade or under deciduous trees. Snowdrops tolerate clay soil and black walnut trees. Plant bulbs 4 inches deep and about 2 to 4 inches apart.

Snowflake or summer snowflake (Leucojum)

There are two species of snowflake: Leucojum vernum and Leucojum aestivum. L. vernum blooms in the winter and early spring, at the same time as snowdrops. They are about 8 to 10 inches tall. L. aestivum blooms much later in April and is about 12 to 18 inches tall. A common L. aestivum cultivar is ‘Gravetye Giant’ which is slightly taller with larger flowers.

Leucojum ‘Gravetye Giant’ next to azaleas, photo courtesy of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs

Snowflakes have wide, strap-like foliage and dainty bells of flowers hanging above the green leaves. Each flower is white with green tips. Snowflakes can be grown in full sun or dappled sunlight. It is best to grow them in a drift, along river banks, and under deciduous trees. The L. aestivum in particular is a great companion plant for spring blooming shrubs and perennials in the garden because of its height and bloom time. Snowflakes prefers rich, well-drained soil, and can tolerate moist soil more so than other bulbs. They also can tolerate clay soil and black walnut trees. Plant the bulbs 6 inches deep and about 6 inches apart.

If deer are an issue for you, try these bulbs in the amaryllis family. You can plant them after a hard freeze, usually late October through November. All of these bulbs are easy to find at local independent garden centers or they can be ordered from these bulb companies.