Tag Archives: flowers

Darling Diva Dahlias

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

Planting Tubers or Seed

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

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

Caring for Dahlias

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

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

Encouraging More Flowers

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

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

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

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

Saving Tubers in the Fall

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

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

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

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

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

Selecting Dahlias for Washington DC Metro Area

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

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

Honesty, Money, and Sincerity: What More Could You Want in a Plant?

silver dollar flowers

Some plants provide beauty in the spring and then step back off stage, only to be forgotten until next spring. Others provide beauty in the spring, come back with an encore in the fall, and stay with us all winter long. The silver dollar plant (Lunaria annua) is blooming now in April in the Washington DC area. A member of the cruciferous family (Brassicaceae), these flowers have the typical four-petal cross shape but the petals seem wider and larger than the yellow roadside mustard flowers. The plant is 2 to 3 feet tall and the fragrant flowers are purple butterfly magnets although there is a white variety. Usually there are masses of blooms because the plant self-seeds but the plant looks best this way since the flowers are small.

purple flowers at Carlyle House, Old Town, Alexandria

In the summer, the flowers form green, flat but oval-shape pods with large seeds inside. As the pods mature, the green disappears, the seeds drop, and what is left is the translucent papery thin membrane of each pod. The encore to their pretty spring show of flowers are these shimmery flat pods. The pods dry so well, i.e., hold their shape for so long, they can last the winter in dried flower arrangements and wreaths.

basket of dried, mature seed pods

The silver dollar plant has many common names. In England the more popular name is honesty, which refers to the frankness of the plant in displaying its seed in the pods (because some remaining seeds appear in the transparent pods). Other common names are white satin flower since the mature pods are shiny like satin, moonwort because the translucent pods are round like the moon, and money-in-both pockets because the mature pods look like coins.

If you are growing this from seed, you may not get flowers the first year. Technically it is a biennial but once it starts flowering and drops seed, it will just appear every year as if it were a perennial. Treat it like a woodland plant, provide part sun and part shade in well-drained soil. Hardy to zone 5, the silver dollar plant is deer resistant.

close up of seed pods

A native of Europe, this was one of the first plants brought by the colonists to the New World. The plant is quite common in colonial gardens. Most local nurseries sell the plant or seed.

In the language of flowers, the plant represents honesty, money, and sincerity. In witchcraft, the silver dollar plant is protective, known for keeping away monsters. The plant also is used in spells for prosperity – the mature seed pods resemble coins and promises of wealth. Either way, having a basket of silvery coins has got to be good for you. Grow some honesty, money, and sincerity and share the wealth.

 

Containers with Summer Blooming Bulbs: Living Flower Arrangements

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to create a container with summer blooming bulbs, a “living flower arrangement.” I along with a group of garden writers and communicators visited Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, Virginia. I have known Brent and Becky for years but have never made the 3-hour drive to the Tidewater area. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs is THE place to buy bulbs in the mid-Atlantic area. Although known for daffodils, they sell spring and summer blooming bulbs as well as some perennials and grasses.

Becky provided a “living flower arrangement” workshop for the group. Living flower arrangements are spring or summer blooming bulbs that have been planted in layers in a large container. As they break dormancy and flower, they provide an array of different blooms, similar to cut flowers in a vase. Usually the containers are outside, making them ideal for porches, patios, decks, and front doorways.

Becky began the workshop by giving us each a large vinyl container with drainage holes. After adding about 4-5 inches of potting soil, we planted three lilies, Lilium orientale ‘Mona Lisa’. These are the fragrant, oriental lilies with the large star-shaped flowers. This particular cultivar was bred to be short, only 1 to 2 feet tall, with rose/pink flowers.

While she distributed the bulbs to us, she explained the plants and the planting depth. The lilies produce stem roots that act as anchors so the plants stand taller if they are planted deep, about 6-8 inches, which is why they were planted first. Becky also gave each of us a special ruler indicating how deep different bulbs should be planted.

After covering the lilies with soil, we planted one Dahlia ‘Gallery Leonardo’ and one Zantedeschia ‘Paco’ on the same level, across from each other. The Dahlia Gallery series is more compact and floriferous than other dahlias, making them ideal for containers. The dahlias grow to about 1 to 2 feet tall and the flowers have pointed petals, in apricot, peach, and salmon colors.

The Zantedeschia, also called calla lily, has a flower that looks like the peace lily houseplant. The spathe is a dark rose color and the plant grows to about 1 to 1 ½ feet tall. They look exotic but they grow well outside in this area. The bulb looked like a biscuit, it was hard to tell which end was up. Becky explained that if you cannot figure out the top and the bottom, plant the bulb sideways and it will sort itself out.

After covering with soil, we planted 10 Oxalis regnellii var. triangularis. Also known as the shamrock plant, this particular variety has burgundy-colored, triangular-shaped leaves and small pink flowers. Shamrocks grow to about 6 inches tall and prefer shade which they will get since they will be under the foliage of the other plants. These “pips” were about the size of a thumb, so it was easy to fit 10 across the container.

After covering with soil we dug a little hole in the middle and added one pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris). This was a small plug, about 2 inches wide, which will eventually grow several feet tall. Muhly grass is an ornamental grass with blue green foliage. In the fall, the pink variety blooms, creating a beautiful pink haze in the landscape. Becky added this because she felt participants should go home with something pretty to see on top. I agree, it was the promise of great things to come.

Becky also distributed a handout with care instructions and possible combinations of the three-layered technique. We had a great time creating the living flower arrangement – it was definitely a hands on experience!

As I drove home with my container in the back seat, it occurred to me that this technique could be used many ways. Dormant bulbs can sit in a container for a while and not die.  If I take the muhly grass out (which needs water and light), I could “package” the container with tissue paper and give it as a gift. These containers could be “instant” gardens, just water and watch! And for those who may have trouble gardening, these could be great gifts –pre-made flower gardens.

When I got home I took the grass out and put it into another container. I then wrapped the large container with tissue paper I had in the house just to see how it would look. I could see the potential – giving a container with several types of bulbs could inspire others to garden or help those who have limited physical capabilities still enjoy growing flowers.

As I write this at the end of April, I have put the container outside on the deck where the temperatures are now warm enough. Already the bulbs are sending up shoots. I will post photos when they flower, but the plant links in this article to Brent and Becky’s catalog should give you an idea of the flower and additional information. Try this method of three layers of summer blooming bulbs for a beautiful container. I know I will spend the summer enjoying my living flower arrangement and the memories of a great weekend at Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs is a family-owned, mail order business in operation since 1900. They have a fall planted/spring flowering catalog and a summer-flowering catalog. They have a Bulb Shoppe full of bulbs and gardening accessories surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay friendly 8-acre teaching garden. The public is welcomed to visit the Shoppe and gardens Monday through Saturday, February through mid-December. Workshop and gardening programs also are offered onsite and Brent gives lectures across the country.

Best Phlox Plants for Mid-Atlantic Gardens

Lavelle phlox

Lavelle

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

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

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

Jeana

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

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

 

Blue Moon phlox

Blue Moon

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

Fran's purple phlox

Fran’s Purple

All photos courtesy of Mt. Cuba Center

In a Vase on Monday

Here is a small container of summer blooming flowers from my Virginia garden for #inavaseonMonday. Can you guess the herb that is tucked inside?

Letting Your Herbs Flower to Attract Beneficial Insects

My first guest post for the Herb Society of America’s blog appeared yesterday. I was inspired by the numerous beneficial insects hovering around my herbs in my Virginia garden. Often my herbs flower before I ever get to harvest the leaves but that’s okay because their tiny flowers attract the “good” bugs. If you are interested in growing and learning more about herbs, contact the Herb Society of America (I belong to the local Potomac Unit).

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: Four O’Clocks

yellow four o’clocks in my garden, 8:30 pm

When we were at Monticello last summer I was struck by how large Thomas Jefferson’s four o’clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) were compared to mine. I also liked the fact that it was a plant he knew and grew and could still be grown today as an heirloom. Although I had a few small plants in dry, lean soil in full sun, I was inspired to start new plants from seed this year. I planted them in very rich soil, under morning sun and afternoon shade. Yes, Virginia, despite our heat, humidity, and lack of rain, they are growing very well. They are about 2 feet tall with light green leaves and many yellow or pink blossoms.

The only trick is that the flowers do not open in the day. Although they are named for opening at 4:00 pm, mine never do. The tubular blossoms are sensitive to light and temperature and prefer to open during the cool of the evening, usually between 4 and 8 pm, and stay open all night long. Currently we are in the midst of a heat wave so they do not seem to be opening fully.

flower begins to open in evening

Flowers come in pink, white, red, yellow, magenta, or mixed, liked speckled. They are tender perennials which means they will grow as perennials in the south but in my zone 7 garden, I can grow them as annuals that may not overwinter, dig and save the tubers for next year, or start new seed next year. Four o’clocks were cultivated and selected for various colors by the Aztecs prior to the Spanish Conquest. They were then introduced to Spain and England and were in cultivation in Europe for about 200 years before Linnaeus first described the species in 1753. Thomas Jefferson received his from France. In July 1767, exactly 250 years ago to the month, he noted in his journal “Mirabilis just opened, very clever.”

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day occurs on the 15th of the month. Garden bloggers from around the world post their articles about blossoms in their garden.

pink four o’clocks at Monticello, early afternoon

In a Vase on Monday: Black-Eyed Susans

During the Garden Bloggers Fling, I had the opportunity to get to know Susie Moffat who mentioned that Cathy at Rambling in the Garden posts a photo of flowers in a vase on Mondays and calls it “In a Vase on Monday.” Other bloggers chime in and post photos of their vases of flowers on Monday. Usually I cut flowers in my garden and bring them to the office but I just stick them in a vase; I don’t “arrange.” By Friday they have passed their prime so I do it all over again the next week. For today, July 10, I have black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta. They are very easy to grow in my Virginia garden and they are the state flower for Maryland where I work.  #inavaseonmonday

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: Feverfew

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is an old herb once thought to treat fevers but actually is helpful in preventing migraine headaches. I first saw the plant blooming at a demonstration garden a few years ago and liked the small, daisy-like flowers, similar to chamomile. I sowed seed late last summer and transplanted the seedlings in the ground before frost. They weathered the mild winter in my zone 7 Virginia garden but remained small. When the temperature increased in early spring, the plants grew up very fast and started blooming as early as . The plants are several feet tall now in full sun, oblivious to our current dry spell. I do not use feverfew medicinally but as a summer flowering perennial. Because they are small white flowers, they are great by themselves in a vase or as a filler with other flowers.

I read that the plant has a strong and bitter smell but I don’t notice it. I have also read that feverfew has mosquito repelling qualities but there are still the same number of mosquitoes in my garden.  However, I have noticed that nothing goes near it, no deer and no rabbits.

My variety is Heirloom Double White Wonder from Renees Garden but there are other cultivars on the market such as Aureum, White Bonnet, Golden Ball, Crown White, and Ultra Double White. You may not find this in your local nursery as a plant; you may have to purchase seed but the seed germinates easily. Feverfew is known to be a short-lived perennial but it will be a summer-long success in my garden this year.

The 15th of the month is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day where garden bloggers post photos of plants that are blooming in their area across the country.

Petite Jenny’s Lavender-Rose Flowers Sway Like a Calder Mobile

Last year I received a small green plant that just sat in my garden all year long. It really did not grow much, it did not bloom, it just took up 6 inches of space. I assumed it was on its way to the pearly gates. This year, it has bloomed so well I would not mind having a few more! Lychnis ‘Petite Jenny’ has leaves at the base (a basal rosette) with inch-wide lavender-rose, tufted blossoms atop 12-inch wiry stems. Petite Jenny started blooming in April in my Virginia garden and should bloom all summer long. Because the flowers sit atop the thin stems, the blossoms sway in the breeze, much like a Calder mobile.

Now that it is flowering (its alive!), I realized I was fortunate to plant mine next to a ninebark called ‘Summer Wine’ (Physocarpus opulifolius). Summer Wine is a small bush with dark, red/purple foliage that complements Petite Jenny’s lavender-rose flowers and also provides a dark backdrop to make it easier to see the flowers.

Hardy to zone 5, Petite Jenny prefers full sun to part shade and more moist than dry soil. It is deer resistant and the flowers can be cut for arrangements. There is a “Jenny” that is a larger plant; Petite Jenny is a dwarf form with sterile blossoms (sterile blossoms have a longer blooming period). Petite Jenny is a Blooms of Bressingham introduction. If this great perennial is not available at your local independent garden center, contact http://www.musthaveperennials.com