Save Your Geraniums for Next Year

Red geraniums in a large container in May

When my mother lived in Vienna, Virginia, she grew red geraniums in large containers by the front door. Every fall she would pull the plants out of the containers, knock off the excess soil, and place the plants on a shelf in the basement. There was one small window allowing very little light but these plants would come back to life the following summer. She did this because her mother, who lived in Wisconsin, also saved geraniums in the fall. However, her mother had a sunny foyer. Every fall, she would cut her plants back, repot them in smaller containers, and treat them as small indoor plants in the foyer. Both methods worked well. Geraniums can take quite a bit of dryness which is what makes them ideal for overwintering.

This year, I received a geranium from All-America Selections. Calliope is a 2017 AAS ornamental vegetative winner (not grown from seed) with red flowers. It has bloomed all summer in a large container, in full sun. I added Osmocote when I originally planted it in May but I have not needed to water it. The rain has been enough. Every time I see this pretty plant I think of my mother and grandmother and how gardening wisdom passes down from generation to generation. Before winter hits, I want to save my geranium too. Since I do not have a brightly lit room in my house, I will try my mother’s technique.

Calliope in October, ready to be overwintered

This month, before frost, I will lift the plant out of the container, shake the soil off and cut off or back diseased parts and the flowers. Then I will let it dry for a few days in the shade on the deck so that excess moisture will evaporate. I will then place the plant in a large paper grocery bag, upside down, and close with a binder clip.  I will store the bag in the coolest place in the basement, which will be around 50 degrees.

Periodically, I will check the plant to see if it is getting too dry or, conversely, moldy. If moldy, I would just cut and throw away those parts.  If too dry, I would soak the roots in water for a few hours and then dry and put back in the bag. Of course, the foliage will die off eventually but that is okay.  In the beginning of April, I will put the root structure in a small container with drainage holes. I am assuming the plant will look like a dead stump but I have no doubt it will come back to life. I will water and place the container in the living room where it is warmer and lighter than the basement. This will trigger the plant to leaf out again. After the average last frost date (Mother’s Day here), I will put the container on the deck. It will be in shade at first which actually will be more light than the living room. Gradually, I will move the container to a sunny location and probably in late May, I will plant it back into its large container with another dose of Osmocote.

If you have geraniums, now is the time to think about saving them so you can enjoy them again next summer. This method should enable you to enjoy your geraniums for many years to come.

Pink and red geraniums in the landscape in August

Deer-Resistant Bulbs in the Lily Family for a Spring Show

Of the fall-planted, spring-blooming bulbs, there are several in the lily family (Liliaceae) that are deer resistant. These are worth trying in your garden. If you have a severe deer issue, you may want to try deer-proof bulbs. As mentioned in my deer-proof article, I talked 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.” Because there are three types of deer-proof bulbs in the amaryllis family–daffodils, snowflakes, and snowdrops–you may want to expand your palette of colors with deer-resistant bulbs in the lily family. Try planting these in areas where you know deer do not frequent or cannot gain access. Brent also recommended using Plantskydd repellent for these bulbs. “Plantskydd is most effective,” he said. “You dip the bulb in the liquid, let it dry, and then plant in the ground. It prevents the critters from smelling the sweet smell of the bulbs so they tend to leave the bulbs alone.” Here are six deer-resistant bulbs in the lily family to plant now for a spring show.

Alliums

The drumstick shape of Allium sphaerocephalon

Alliums, also called ornamental onions, are grown for beautiful flowers, not for edible onions. “Allium bulbs have a distasteful, strong onion smell that critters find offensive,” said Brent. Usually the flowers are globe shaped and can be quite large. They bloom in late spring and early summer, preferring full sun and well-drained soil. Many of these flower heads work well as cut flowers and as dried flowers. There are globes, large and small; the drumstick shape (Allium sphaerocephalon); the firecracker shape (A. schubertii); and the large chive shape (A. unifolium), to name a few. The size of the bulb varies so planting depth varies but generally bulbs are planted 2 to 3 times their width.

Grape Hyacinths

Grape hyacinths in a container

The grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum) is a small bulb but makes a big impact if planted in masses. Most people think of blue or purple grape looking flowers but there is a wide variety of colors. Some flowers are two-toned — blue and white or yellow and purple or white and purple. Some have all white flowers, or purple, or pink. Some flower structures have hairy, fuzzy flowers, instead of the common, grape-like clusters. Grape hyacinth bulbs naturalize well, can be grown in full or partial sun or dapple shade, and are great for planting under deciduous trees. Because of their small size, they do well in containers for forcing for an early indoor bloom. They bloom in March and April.

Hyacinths

“Hyacinth bulbs have scales that are a skin irritant so wear gloves when handling them,” recommended Brent. “This also is an irritant to critters.” Hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis) are less than a foot tall and flower colors come in ranges of pinks, yellow, blues, and whites. The actual flower shape does not vary much with cultivars. The bulbs last for a long time in the garden and over the years, the florets become looser, with more space between them instead of a tight cluster. Hyacinths prefer well-drained soil and full sun. They are very fragrant which is not as noticeable outside but can overpower a room if cut for a vase inside. Because of their small size, they do well in containers for forcing for an early indoor bloom. They bloom in March and April.

Spanish Bluebells

“Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) are highly critter resistant,” said Brent. These have about the same height and color palette as hyacinths but the florets are tubular bells. They can tolerate shade, are often found in woodland areas, but also can be grown in sun. They naturalize well and can be used as a cut flower. They do not have such an overpowering scent like hyacinths.

Star flowers

Star Flowers

Star flowers (Ipheion uniflorum) have a nice fragrance but are too small for cutting and the foliage reeks of garlic. “When crushed, the star flower leaves smell like garlic so the plant is critter resistant,” said Brent. The flowers have six petals in pale blue, lavender, pink, or white, resembling a star. The plant is about 6 inches tall with thin, grass like foliage so it is best to grown them in a group or drift. As long as the soil is well drained, they have a wide range of soil tolerance and can be grown in full sun to part shade. They bloom in April and naturalize well.

Glory of the Snow

Glory of the snow (Chionodoxa forbesii) also has star-shaped flowers but they are more open and each flower is lavender with a white center. Again, a small, 6-inch plant so they are not used for cutting. They work well in a group or drift and naturalize easily. Glory of the snow blooms in March, sometimes with snow on the ground, and in April. They need well-drained soil and full sun to part shade.

Glory of the snow in a drift

All of these bulbs should be available to purchase now at your local independent garden center or order online through one of these bulb companies.

All photos courtesy of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.

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.

Giveaway for October issue of Pegplant’s Post: Wild Valley Farms Wool Pellets

Enter your e-mail here to subscribe to Pegplant’s Post, a free monthly newsletter about gardening in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Each issue lists 50 to 100 local gardening events, lectures, and workshops; recently published gardening books; and articles and tips specific to this immediate area. Each issue also features a giveaway and for the upcoming October 2019 issue we have collaborated with Wild Valley Farms to give away two 8 oz. bags of wool pellets. The wool pellets are compressed from all natural, 100% organic wool sheared from sheep at Wild Valley Farms in Salt Lake City, UT, and nearby ranchers. When the wool pellets are added to the soil, especially in containers and hanging baskets, the fibers naturally retain moisture and reduce the amount of time you have to water your containers. The expansion of wool pellets in the soil creates porosity, which aids in plant development. The wool also provides a natural source of nutrients: 9% nitrogen, 1% phosphorus, and 2% potassium. Only subscribers can enter the giveaway so sign up now for a chance to win two 8 oz. bags. Each is enough for 6 one-gallon pots or hanging baskets.

I met Albert Wilde, the owner, when I was in Salt Lake City a month ago. He explained that the idea came when his wife wanted to be able to spend less time watering her containers. As a sheep farmer, he looked around for what he could use on hand and added the waste wool (from shearing the sheep) to her containers’ soil. It worked but he began to notice that the plants actually grew better. He worked with local laboratories and discovered that the wool also delivers nutrients to the plants and increases porosity (like perlite). The plants can access the nutrients 30 days faster than other organic fertilizers. Wild Valley Farms also sells other products on their website, everything is made in the U.S.

Companies for Ordering Fall-Planted, Spring-Blooming Bulbs

School is back in session, which means it is time to order the fall-planted, spring-blooming bulbs such as daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips. In addition to your local nurseries, check out this list of bulb companies. For other companies that primarily sell seeds and may also sell bulbs, see the “seed catalog” tab on pegplant.com.

Amaryllis and Caladium Bulb Company, Florida, has catalog and can order online. Sells amaryllis, caladiums, and spring and summer bulbs.

Brecks, Ohio, has a catalog and can order online, states that it ships bulbs directly from Holland

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, Virginia, has a catalog, can order online, can visit display garden and shop in Gloucester, VA.

David Burdick Daffodils and More, Massachusetts, has catalog and website but not able to order online. Has daffodils, trollius, colchicums, and a few other bulbs

Dutch Gardens, Illinois, has catalog and can order online, sells bulbs and perennials

Dutch Grown, Pennsylvania, order bulbs online.

Easy to Grow Bulbs, California, can order online, no catalog. Sells bulbs, succulents, and houseplants.

John Scheepers Beauty from Bulbs, Connecticut, can order online and has catalog. Also has sister company Van Engelen for wholesale bulb orders and a sister company, Kitchen Garden Seeds, for vegetable, herb, flower seeds

Longfield Gardens, New Jersey, can order online but no catalog, sells bulbs and perennials

McClure and Zimmerman, Wisconsin, has a digital catalog and can order online, sells bulbs

Odyssey Bulbs, Massachusetts, online, no catalog, sells unusual bulbs and perennials

Old House Gardens, Michigan, can order online and has a print catalog, known for heirloom bulbs

RoozenGaarde and Washington Bulb Company, Washington, has a mailorder and internet division called Tulips.com. There is a retail gift shop in WA. Also ships flowers and promotes bulbs as wedding favors.

Telos Rare Bulbs, California, sells bulbs from South Africa, South America, and wester U.S., online, no catalog

White Flower Farm, Connecticut, can order online and obtain catalog, wide range of bulbs, perennials, holiday plants, and gardening tools. Has display gardens and store in CT.

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 and For the Love of Paw Paws, Michael hosts an annual paw paw festival which will be on September 21 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-foot 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.

Start Planting Cool Season, Hardy Annuals for Spring Flowers

snapdragons in the spring

Now is the time to start thinking of planting cool season hardy annuals. This is a group of annuals (grow and die in one season) that can survive the winter and thrive in cool spring weather. In the Washington DC metro area, they are planted in the fall and bloom in the spring. They spend the winter getting established so when spring arrives, they are ready to bolt out the door waving their pretty flowers before the warm season summer annuals appear.

Examples of cool season annuals are snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus), calendula (Calendula officinalis), bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis), delphinium (Delphinium), lisianthus (Eustoma), love in a mist (Nigella), sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus), sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), and bachelor buttons (Centaurea cyanus). Many of these make great cut flowers.

I credit everything I have learned about cool season hardy annuals to Lisa Mason Ziegler and her book, Cool Flowers: How to Grow and Enjoy Long-Blooming Hardy Annual Flowers Using Cool Weather Techniques.  Lisa manages a commercial cut flower business in Newport News, which is in Zone 7, similar to my Northern Virginia garden. In addition to growing and selling cut flowers, she writes books, gives lectures, provides free videos as well as Facebook Live presentations, and manages a website called The Gardener’s Workshop.

Several years ago I was inspired by her book to plant calendula and snapdragons in the fall. I was starting them in the beginning of the growing season and was not having great success. The weather became too hot before the snapdragons could bloom and the calendula foliage was covered in powdery mildew because of the summer’s heat and humidity. When I tried her method of starting them in the fall, they both bloomed early enough the following spring that I was able to enjoy the calendula flowers before powdery mildew set in and cut many snapdragons for indoor arrangements.

calendula flowers in the spring

This year, I plan to grow sweet peas, which I have not been able to master in the spring. Our springs are just too short to have a long blooming period. I bought a package of Botanical Interests ‘Old Spice Blend’, a fragrant, heirloom blend of various flower colors. Interestingly, sweet peas are deer resistant and attract pollinators but I am going to grow them for indoor flower arrangements so I can enjoy their beautiful, fragrant flowers in the office.

Although Lisa provides specific information for 30 flowers in her book, in general, we should start 6 to 8 weeks before the average first frost. In Northern Virginia, 8 weeks is August 31 and 6 weeks is September 15. She recommends to err on starting later rather than earlier. Some seeds can be sowed directly in the garden while others work well as transplants. Sweet peas can be done either way so I am going to do both as an experiment to see which works better in my garden. I will start half of the seeds indoors under lights and half outdoors, directly in the garden. In order to have transplants large enough to move into the ground around September 15, I would have to start sowing seeds around September 1. Then I can sow the remaining seeds around September 15. September is still a very hot month so I will have to remember to water often. If this works, next year I will post a photo of the sweet peas.

If hardy annuals are something you would like to try, you can catch up by visiting Lisa’s website, listening to her videos, and reading her book. Although she sells seeds and gardening products, you can also purchase seed packets at your local independent garden center. Good luck!

Time to Cut Those Bagworms!

Last night, during my evening walk I noticed an unusual number of bagworms on a few evergreens. Bagworms are common pests in the Washington DC metro area. What I saw weren’t the bagworms themselves (Thyridoptery x ephemeraeformis) but their “homes,” 2-inch long “bags” they have created from their spun silk and plant debris. These bags were hung like small, brown ornaments on relatively new plantings in someone’s front yard. Some of the needles were clearly brown and dead.  Interestingly, one bag was hanging from the neighbor’s chain link fence, creating a very visible view of the threads wrapped round the metal.

Bagworms are moths, native to North America. They can attack more than 120 different types of trees but we tend to see them on evergreens such as juniper, arborvitae, cedar, spruce, pine, and Leyland cypress.

In the beginning of the summer, the eggs hatch and the larvae move out of the bags. The tiny caterpillars, 2 millimeters long, eat foliage and/or move to other trees via their silk threads. When they settle on their host tree, they spin a small bag of silk and plant debris. As they grow, their bags become bigger with more material collected from the host plant. By August, they have matured and the bags are very visible. During August and September the male adult bagworms, i.e., moths, emerge and fly to find a female to mate. The females cannot fly, they are grub-like and never leave the bag. Mating occurs through the bag and after mating, the female lays 500 to 1,000 eggs within her pupal cast skin and dies. The eggs overwinter and hatch next year in May or June.

Bagworms can defoliate and kill trees, especially evergreens. Although they can attack deciduous trees, most are not defoliated enough to be killed. Bagworms can also kill twigs by winding their silk around the twigs too tightly.

note white silk thread wrapped tightly around chain link fence

Now is the time to look for the bags and remove them by cutting them off–not pulling–bagging and disposing. Do not put them in your compost bin. If they are on the perimeter they will be easy to find but don’t forget to move branches aside and look within the tree. It goes without saying that a tree that has a bag will be damaged repeatedly each year, weakening the tree and possibly killing it.

Another option is to spray the tree with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) in May or June when the caterpillars have hatched and are on the foliage. This is a type of bacteria that kills the worms but does not harm the tree. If the tree is too tall, call an arborist. Spraying them later in the season after they have created their bags will not work since the bags will protect them. Or replace the evergreens with more resistant plants. But go out there now and inspect your plants, you need to remove them before the males emerge!

Habanada: A New Habanero Without the Heat

As a professional garden communicator I receive plants from nurseries to trial in my Virginia garden. I grow them to see how well they perform in our hot and humid summers, our mild winters, and with our own particular population of insects and diseases. Frequently I am growing plants that I would not have even looked at in a garden center. This year I grew something new to me and a game changer for gardeners as well as chefs: Habanada.

Burpee sent me a Roulette “sweet habanero” pepper plant. I have heard of habanero chilies but I have not grown them before because I cannot tolerate the heat of chili peppers. I always grow sweet pepper plants. This habanada plant has not only grown well, it has been producing many peppers about three inches long. Each pepper has folds and dimples, a broad shoulder, and a tapered end. Now in the beginning of August, the plant has about 10 peppers. I ate one raw and it was not spicy at all. It was not sweet either, certainly not as sweet as yellow and red snacking peppers. Intrigued, I had to learn more.

A search on the Internet told me that several years ago, the University of New Mexico discovered a plant from its habanero line that did not register on the Scoville scale. The Scoville scale measures the level of capsaicinoids, the chemicals that cause the burning sensation or the heat. A normal habanero can reach 300,000 Scoville heat units (very high). They sent seeds to Cornell University plant breeder Michael Mazourek who was interested in peppers at the time. Mazourk was inspired to breed a delicious pepper without the heat as part of his doctoral research. The result was the habanada.

I read that the habanada has “floral properties,” that it tastes like a melon or a guava, but to me it is savory, similar to a soft cheese. I picked them at a more orange than red stage but I will let some mature to red and see how they taste again. With the ones I did pick, I chopped them and made an omelet that was delicious. No doubt chefs will be able to see the possibilities of using habanadas in desserts, as a spread, or maybe even a jelly. It can be used whenever a sweet or hot pepper is called for in an entrée and it certainly can be used to color a dish.

The plant was easy to grow. It is about 3 feet tall now. I used a single stake because a single stake has always sufficed with my other peppers but this plant is bushier so I had to keep it propped up with yarn. Next time, I will use a tomato cage. Oh yes, there will be a next time, I am growing this again next year. My habanada plant grows with my other peppers and tomatoes and they all receive ample sun and water but habanadas do not need as much fertilizer as tomatoes.

I highly recommend the habanada, not only as a star performer in the garden but as a tasty pepper!

Three Heat-Tolerant, Pollinator-Attracting, Deer-Resistant Perennials

We are having a hot, dry streak now which really separates the weak from the strong in the garden. Now is a good time to see which plant is tolerating this weather well in other people’s garden so you can copy for your own garden.

On one particularly hot day this past weekend I was downtown visiting the Smithsonian museums. I spent a lot time in the Pollinator Garden, next to the National Museum of Natural History. This is a 400 x 40 feet area on the east side of the museum at 9th Street between Constitution Avenue and the Mall. The Pollinator Garden is managed by Smithsonian Gardens staff and is a wonderful place to relax and watch the butterflies.

I noticed several plants that were tolerating the heat well, that is, they were in full sun and not covered in powdery mildew.  As expected, they were definitely attracting bees and butterflies. These seemed worthy of copying in my garden. When I got home I looked them up and learned that they are rabbit and deer resistant as well as being full sun, drought-tolerant perennials. This is not to say there weren’t other worthy notables in the Pollinator Garden but these are definitely plants to add to my collection next year!

Wild Petunia

Although this plant is called wild petunia (Ruellia numilis), it is not related to petunias. These plants have lavender blue flowers that bloom from summer to fall. They are low growing with a trailing habit, reaching about a foot tall. They can serve as a groundcover and be used as a spiller in a container.

Allium ‘Millenium’

‘Millenium’ is a member of the onion family (Allium) grown for its ornamental, purple globe flowers. The plants grow to 1 to 1 ½ feet tall, providing a strong vertical interest.  They are great in the garden and can be used in containers as thrillers. After the flowers fade and die, the globe structure becomes tan and remains for a while, which also provides interest.

Walker’s Low catmint (Nepeta) is a member of the mint family, so it has gray green aromatic foliage. In the summer, the plant has small, lavender blue flowers, but each stalk has so many that sometimes the plant seems covered in a purple haze. The plants are low growing, about a 1 to 2 feet tall, and used as a groundcover or small shrub.

Walker’s Low Catmint