January, right after Christmas, means MANTS (mid-atlantic nurseryman’s show), and I attend every year to see what is up and coming in the gardening world. New plants, new products, new trends, are the things that I look for in the upcoming year. It is the CES of gardening, not as exotic or techy as electronics, but still exciting and new, and way more interesting.
My favorite item to look for are new plants, or new improved cultivars of old plants. I have written about ‘Party Pesto‘ a mildew resistant basil from Burpee Seeds before and found another resistant one called ‘Amazel’ from Proven Winners.
Downy mildew of basil is a destructive pathogen that develops on lower leaf surfaces, all but rendering what’s left as inedible.
‘Amazel’ is a basil that is resistant to basil downy mildew, and because it doesn’t flower early in the season, produces more foliage in July and August than most plants. The plants grow 24 to 36 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide. This is on my list to plant this year as I love basil and have had unsightly crops for the past couple of years.
‘Rockin Fuschia’ annual Salvia from Proven Winners caught my eye right away with glossy dark green leaves, and profuse bright pink flower wands that covered the plant. Salvias are one of my favorite plants because of the non-stop blooming and deer resistant traits, but this one stopped me in my tracks. Stockier and more compact than the taller forms, this would be perfect in a container.
Gomphrena Truffula™ also caught my eye because these are long bloomers, dry well, and last a long time as a fresh cut.This a tough and durable airy annual. I have written about ‘Pink Zazzle’ Gomphrena, another gomphrena. which I love and is a great looking plant, but I have trouble keeping it alive as it needs dry conditions with perfect drainage.
I was ready for another Gomphrena with easier care. Truffula is a large multi-branched plant which mounds up and is literally covered with flowers and I hope this one fits the bill.
Another plant that appealed came from Terra Nova Nurseries, Artemisia Makana. A soft grey pillowy plant that you could sink into, Makana would be wonderful in mixed containers.
NewGen Boxwood is high on my list of shrubs to try this year. Boxwood blight/leafminer resistant, attractive, and deer proof are all traits that I am looking for in my landscape design business. Introduced by Saunders Brothers who spent years developing it, NewGen will definitely be on my list this spring.
Sandy’s Plants was introducing a new Arum ‘Pamela Harper’ with a beautifully patterned leaf. An under-used shade perennial that bears wonderful red berries in the fall, deer won’t browse on it. A great ground cover that will add beauty with foliage and berries, I will look for this one in the spring.
A New Invasive
The MD Department of Agriculture had a large display on the dreaded Spotted Lantern Fly which is moving south from Pennsylvania into Maryland. A scourge for crops, especially hops, grapes, and fruit trees, I have seen this insect in Pennsylvania and they are expected to hit us home in Maryland soon.
An invasive with no known predators and laying eggs in the host plant Tree of Heaven, another invasive, I am not looking forward to this onslaught. But it looks like the MD Dept of Agriculture is on top of it with tons of information to give out.
I have written about Root Pouches before and they continue to wow me. Great for Micro Greens which continue to be a huge health trend, these sustainable alternatives to plastic pots, are useful for many situations.
Hydroponics continues to be strong and I can see a Millennial having one of the new hydroponic carts on display in their apartment growing greens and herbs. No soil required is attractive, and growing a lot of edibles in a small space with no additional watering is the perfect solution for busy people. Fresh healthy greens at your fingertips all year round!
Garden Trellis & Fence, Co. was a new vendor this year. They solve the problem of tall-growing plants and vines. The trellis system allows you to plant large plants in a smaller footprint using their easy put-together(no tools!) trellis system. How many times have you planted a tomato and it grows quickly to the top of the cage and then drapes over becoming this huge cumbersome plant? Supporting your tomato plants to grow up rather than out sold me on this hot dipped galvanized trellis system that won’t rust and can be left in place all year-long.
Have you always wanted honeybees on your property but were afraid of the upkeep and the work involved? Best Bees is for you! A company that installs and maintains beehives on residential or commercial properties, they will make sure you have honeybees that you can watch and enjoy the honey benefits but not lift a finger! Yes, it costs money, but if that is your dream, then you can use this company’s services.
Another unique service is Bower & Branch, an online service that delivers ordered plants to a local garden center for pick up. Trees, shrubs, perennials, ornamental grasses are available. Their plants on display were beautiful and you can get unusual things that a local garden center won’t carry. How many times have you lusted for a plant but it isn’t available locally? I can see the benefits of this right away. I need to try it!
It’s that time of year again, where I review my most viewed posts from all over the world and I was surprised at some of the posts that were at the top of the heap. The top ten countries that view my blog in descending order are the U.S. Canada, UK, Australia, India, Germany, France, South Africa, Brazil, and New Zealand. I am always amazed at this! India is near the top and reading my blog in great numbers? And Australia and New Zealand are reading too! That just goes to show you that gardening topics are a universal theme.
I have about 5,000 followers that receive regular emails when I post and my average viewings per day is around 250 to 300 readers. And for the year, I ran around 100,000 visits or page views.
For 2018, I gathered the most popular posts for the year, some of which are old and are continuously viewed from years ago, but others that are new. I work on some posts a year in advance. For instance, I am working on Christmas ones for next year. And I am working on a book with all new projects.
This is a golden oldie. Container plantings are one of my favorite things to put together, not just in spring, but all year long. Most people do their containers in the spring and are done! But I am coming up with ideas all year long. And with the recent addition of a greenhouse in my backyard, I am going coming up with lots of new ideas. Seasonal, and non-traditional containers are my specialty.
Winterthur in Wilmington, Delaware, has a tradition going back to 1986, of decorating a large tree with dried flowers. And the dried flowers aren’t your grandmother’s musty dusty dried arrangements that dotted the home. These are air dried and silica gel dried (think of those little packets that come with new purchases) to retain their jewel like tones that almost seem fresh. I made my own miniature dried flower tree that I will post about next season in time for the Christmas season.
This one was a surprise. There are a lot of bird watchers out there and there must be some super hungry birds that are getting a smorgasbord of home made treats. Easy to put together for anyone, these make great gifts for your bird loving friends.
Put this garden on your radar. It is a world class garden taking shape in Dagsboro, Delaware- on my doorstep! Designed by world renowned Dutch designer, Piet Oudolf (think High Line!), it has been in the making for some years and is scheduled to open in 2019. The development of this garden has been written about on my blog and I will keep you posted as it opens to the public.
Though I didn’t participate in decorating the White House in 2018, I have done it three times in the past and have lots of friends who sent me updates and pictures of the current decorations. Take a look!
A plant oddity that takes people by surprise when they see it growing in my garden. Having grown it for years, I am tickled when people exclaim over it. Easy to grow and attractive to Monarch caterpillars, this is a fixture in my garden.
There is a real interest and need for sourcing of pesticide free nurseries and seed companies. Posting this information brought in a lot of comments and appreciation from gardeners who strive to garden organically as much as possible.
My love of creating miniature little worlds has been with me as long as I can remember. The Philadelphia Flower Show has some of the best examples around and I visit every spring for my inspiration. I like to change my miniature gardens with the season and decorate my home with them.
As a landscape designer, I am frequently asked; “What can I plant in shade under a tree?” Besides Pachysandra, Vinca, and Ivy, in this post I give you lots of plants you might not have thought of that work much better than the “big three”. There are so many perennials suitable for this hard to work with area, and this post give you information on what works.
Bowl arrangements are for those who are too intimidated to arrange flowers. I started making these with leftovers after making a floral arrangement and sometimes like them better than the arrangement that I spent more time on. No mechanics are needed other than a wide open bowl and a few flowers and /or some foliage. Staged inside or outdoors, I have made these in the dead of winter with some odds and ends from my garden.
Comments about my posts are very much appreciated and I always read them and learn from them.
Thanks to all my readers out there, where ever you are, and have a great New Year!
No flower says Christmas like the beautiful Poinsettia. I was amazed to learn that the Poinsettia is the most popular potted plant by far in the U.S. and Canada. Here are some other interesting tidbits:
History & Legends
The Poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, means “very beautiful”
The showy leaves or petals, called “bracts”, are not the actual flower. The flowers of the poinsettia are in the center of the bracts and are inconspicuous and contain a sweetly fragrant nectar
The cultivation of Poinsettias originated with the Aztecs hundreds of years ago in Mexico. Montezuma, the last Aztec king, would have Poinsettias brought into the city, which is now known as Mexico City, by caravans because he liked them so much
Aztecs used the bracts, the colored portion, as a dye, and the sap as a medicinal to control fevers
Joel Poinsett, a botanist and the first U.S. minister to Mexico in 1825, found the plant blooming on the side of the road, which the native people regarded as a weed, took cuttings, and sent some plants to his home in South Carolina
Poinsett shared his finds with other plant enthusiasts and that is how the poinsettia came to the United States
The Ecke family grew Poinsettias in southern California in the 1920’s, primarily as a cut flower and landscape plant and remain to this day, the largest producer of Poinsettias in the US
Grown as field grown potted plants for the cut flower trade, Poinsettias were shipped all over the country by train. Poinsettias really gained wide-spread recognition through media promotions on The Tonight Show and The Bob Hope Christmas Specials. This promotion ensured that Poinsettias were as much a part of the holiday tradition as Christmas evergreen trees
When the flowers or stems are cut, they ooze a milky sap that can cause people with latex sensitivities to have an allergic reaction.
Contrary to popular belief, Poinsettias are not poisonous. This misconception was spread by a 1919 urban legend of a two-year-old child dying after consuming a poinsettia leaf.
Red is the most popular color, and the variety called “Prestige Red” tops the popularity list
Poinsettias are now the best-selling potted plant in the U.S. and Canada!
Breeding of the poinsettia began with the goal of improving cultivars that would retain their leaves and bracts for a longer period. The breeding also created stronger stems, multiple branching, earlier blooming, and the palette of colors that we recognize today. These modern cultivars last longer, bloom earlier, and are available in a vast array of colors from red to white, pink to burgundy, and with many variations including doubling of flowers and flecks of color on contrasting backgrounds.
Spraying of blues and purples and glitter is done to jazz up the color spectrum. It isn’t my favorite way to treat these plants, but recently at a local nursery, I heard people swoon over the purple Poinsettias!
Selecting a Healthy Poinsettia
Poinsettias do great in the home with proper care and will keep their coloration until mid-March. When choosing a healthy plant, look for dark green uniform foliage. But be aware, that lighter colored or mottled bracts typically sport lighter green foliage, and the darker colors like burgundy, will have very dark green foliage. Reject any plants that have dropping leaves, or ones that have pale green or yellowing foliage.
When purchasing, make sure that the plants are well wrapped or sleeved before transporting, as low temperatures, even for short periods, can damage the plant.
Care-5 Tips to Keep Poinsettias in Tip Top Shape Until April
Yes, you read that right-until April! The newer varieties will last until April, namely the Princettia varieties. These varieties branch more readily which produces more flowers, and are shorter- not so top heavy as older varieties. I brought home one of these pastel pink ones from my local nursery, Valley View Farms, as it was so different looking from the old mammoth flowered Poinsettias.
Keep in indirect, natural daylight
Water when soil is dry to the touch-overwatering is the biggest cause of leaf drop and death
Keep in temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees
Make sure the pot drains, removing the foil wrapper if necessary
Fertilization is not necessary
Reflowering-Tough But Not Impossible
It is possible to get your poinsettia to “rebloom” next year, but you need to follow strict requirements for light, temperature, and fertilization. Following all these rules is way too much trouble for me, so I consider this plant a “throwaway”. Poinsettias are very inexpensive and I leave the growing of them to experts who have the right equipment to make this happen. If you really want to get your Poinsettia to bloom again, go to University of Illinois for detailed instructions.
Contrary to popular opinion, Poinsettias are not poisonous, but neither are they edible. There was a study done that determined that a 50 pound child would have to eat 500 leaves to get really sick! And the leaves supposedly taste awful. The Poinsettia plant is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family of plants, which includes the rubber tree, where natural latex comes from. So, If you are allergic to latex, and ingest this plant, you may have some degree of discomfort, but not fatal. Likewise, if you handle the plant, you could develop a rash. Poinsettias are not harmful to pets either, unless they ingest leaves or bracts in very large quantities. Cats who chew on the leaves may salivate and can vomit if the leaves are swallowed, but it will not kill them.
Decorating With Poinsettias
Rather than scattering Poinsettias around the house, try grouping them together for bigger impact. I also like to place Poinsettias in baskets along with other plants, pods, and cones, to add interest.
As cut flowers, Poinsettias are great, but you rarely see them used this way. The plants are so inexpensive, that I don’t feel guilty buying one, and cutting the flowers off for arrangements. You can get an entirely different look by using them as cut flowers and they last a long time in a vase, over a week!
Here in Maryland, we are still shell shocked from the smelly Stink Bug Invasion and we need to get ready for an even worse invasive species that is making its home here on the East Coast. Starting just four years ago in Bucks County Pennsylvania when a shipment of stone from Asia arrived with Lanternfly eggs attached, the Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is native to China and was first detected in Pennsylvania in September 2014.
Spotted Lanternfly is a one inch long plant hopper who feeds on ornamental and fruit trees, with Ailianthus, or Tree of Heaven, another invasive, its preferred hosts. Smelling like well-used gym socks, this tree appears everywhere along roads, in cracks of sidewalks, and anywhere it drops a seed. Signs of an infestation are weeping wounds that leave a greyish or black trail along the trunk. Weeping sap attracts other insects to feed, notably wasps and ants. Egg masses are laid on host trees and other smooth surfaces like stone, outdoor furniture, vehicles, and structures in late Fall.
Spotted Lanternflies are invasive and can be spread long distances by people who move infested material or items containing egg masses.
Just spotted recently in Cecil County, Maryland, this noxious pest is poised to spread throughout Maryland in the next couple of years. Orchards and vineyards will be the first to be invaded and they will spread from there to homes.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the spotted Lanternfly has been spotted in 13 counties of Pa- Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia and Schuylkill. My first sighting of the Lanterfly was at a friends house in Montgomery County, PA, when I spotted one perched on the side of the house.
Since it is new to the United States, little is known about its behavior and biology, but researchers are feverishly gathering information and scientific data on how to manage this pest. Aerial spraying is not an option as large-scale spraying of this type can kill native species and cause more harm to the environment.
Right now, the recommendation is to destroy the bug or egg mass to stop the spread. Adults will lay egg masses on host trees and nearby smooth surfaces like stone, outdoor furniture, vehicles, and structures.
In the veggie garden this year, eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash all bombed. Rotting zucchini plants were everywhere and tomatoes that peaked early and then languished was the norm. The mid-Atlantic had record rainfall and it seemed every day there was a chance of showers. And shower it did! Non-stop for five solid months, it was mud season all summer.
From May through July 2018, much of the East Coast, especially the Mid-Atlantic, experienced rainfall up to 300% of normal according to NOOA. The soggy summer was described this way by NOOA, “in June and July, the epicenter for heaviest rains became focused over the Mid-Atlantic, as monthly rains near Washington, D.C. through central Pennsylvania easily eclipsed 200% of normal”. The rains here in Maryland have been so heavy that May to July was the wettest in the state’s 124 history. This pattern continued into October. Also, the heat was turned up so I call this summer our “tropical rain forest year”. It felt heavy and humid every day which translates to Heat + Humidity = More Disease.
The wet weather affected my vegetable garden yields greatly, and any vining veggies, like cucumbers, squash, and melons, totally succumbed to disease from wet conditions. But to my total surprise, my pepper crop reveled in the rain and heat and broke all records for producing quantities of peppers. We have been eating peppers at every meal- sweet, hot, and slightly hot are all producing prodigiously even into the end of October.
I used all AAS Winners (All American Selections National and Regional Winners) for seed which have been tested for garden performance all over North America from a panel of expert judges. Reliable new varieties that have proved their superior garden performance in trial gardens is the way to go for me. Like a stamp of approval from experienced gardeners, my AAS peppers included: Cayenne Red Ember, Hungarian Mexican, Escamillo, Mexican Sunset, Habanero Roulette, Mad Hatter, Pretty N Sweet, and Mama Mia Giallo.
Growing all my plants from seed, I planted about 20 different transplants out in May and forgot about them for the next two months. Peppers thrive on neglect and yes, I neglected them while I constantly tried planting new cucumbers and squash to no avail. I didn’t harvest one. But when I totally despaired of my vegetable garden, the peppers started to come in and are still producing.
Growing some of my peppers in containers was the best choice I made this year. The ones in containers excelled and when frost started to hit in late October, I whisked them into my greenhouse, where they are still producing.
Peppers 3 Ways
What to do with all this bounty? I have tried these three ways this season.
Wash peppers and let dry. Cut in half and lay on a dehydrator tray and dry for about 24 hours. Store the dried peppers in plastic freezer baggies, and store in freezer. Pull them out as needed.
Wash peppers and let dry. Chop peppers up into pieces and place in freezer bags. I like to mix red and green pepper together. I freeze them in small quantities that are recipe-ready.
My favorite treatment by far: Wash your peppers and dry. Heat up some canola oil in a fry pan until hot and sizzling. Dump your peppers in one layer and stir to flip them to all sides until blackened. Squeeze juice of one lime into the pan and sprinkle with kosher or sea salt. Eat by biting the pepper right off the stem that will include the seeds. Delicious! Watch out for the hot ones!
An under-used and under-appreciated perennial in the U.S, Tricyrtus or Toad Lily, is gaining in popularity. Called toad lilies because of the spotting like a toad, these beautiful flowers thrive in moist deep shade to partial shade and come back year after year. In addition, the flowers have warty, sack-like bumps at the base of the flowers that appear “toadish” to some. The bumps are actually nectaries where the nectar is stored.
Toad Lilies, Tricyrtus hirta, are in their fall glory right now in mid-October. Growing all year-long, with layer upon layer of foliage sprays, in October the flowers surprise me and emerge from the axels of the leaves with diminutive spotted flowers. Deer tend to leave them alone for the most part, but there are exceptions where I have seen them nibbled.
Growing on upright arching stems the entire plant is attractive. An easy to grow perennial, more people should consider growing these gems in the shady areas of their garden, along with hostas and astilbe.
Filling an important blooming gap in the garden, these plants bloom in October into November when few other plants are flowering. In the lily family, Tricyrtus is a Japanese species of hardy perennials found growing on shaded rocky cliffs in Japan.
Because there isn’t much blooming in the garden in October, bees flock to them and they are an important nectar and pollen source for my honeybees when there isn’t much for them to forage from. And since we have had a record amount of rainfall this summer, the toad lilies are lush and beautiful.
Halloween is around the corner and people are starting to decorate with the many types of pumpkins available at the farmer’s market. The past 10 years have seen an explosion of all kinds of colors, sizes, and shapes of pumpkins, but I am in love with a diminutive one, which actually isn’t a real pumpkin, but an eggplant., specifically Ornamental Eggplant, (Solanum Integrifolium). For different types of real pumpkins, go to my Pumpkin Eye Candy post.
Ornamental or Food?
Falling in the eggplant family, the little pumpkins, Solanum integrifolium, are not really pumpkins, but an ornamental used in stir-fried Asian dishes. I grow this cute ornamental jack-o-lantern for jazzing up my Thanksgiving table and fall flower arrangements as it dries nicely and lasts a long time.
Native to Southeast Asia, it grows 3 to 4 feet tall with very large fuzzy leaves that grow from a purple thorny stem. It towers over other eggplants in my garden and the plant looks remarkably like Bed of Nails or Solanum quitoense, profiled in Plant Geek Alert.
Around for over 125 years which makes it an official heirloom vegetable, it has also been called Pumpkin Tree and Pumpkin Bush. Planted directly in full sun in your garden, the plant needs steady moisture and benefits from regular fertilizing as it grows large fast. Pretty soon, the insignificant blooms appear, followed by pale green nubby fruit that turn into their final pumpkin ribbed shape a few weeks later. Insects like to gnaw on the leaves as you can see but deer and rabbits leave it alone because of the wicked thorns.
In late summer, the fruit changes to a scarlet color and when frosts start to hit, the eggplants turn their final rich orange color. You can harvest up to a dozen pumpkins on one plant. When you pick a stem of pumpkins for fresh use, cut the stems and use as is. If you want to dry the pumpkins, hang the entire stalk upside down in a cool dry location, removing leaves. This treatment prevents the fruits from sagging. Fruits will shrivel and the orange color will intensify. For eating, pick the fruits when orange and use in stir-fries.
Floating above the border on long springy stems, Japanese Anemones are a stalwart perennial that lasts for years. Many perennials are short-lived, lasting only for a few seasons, but I have had Anemones bloom for me in my garden for over 30 years. Reliable and deer resistant, they come in a variety of pinks, reds, and whites.
Dancing in the slightest breeze, the dainty flowers are great for floral arrangements in the fall. Commonly called Windflowers, these herbaceous perennials are different from the bulb anemones that bloom in springtime. An autumn bloomer, Japanese Anemone grows well in moist soil conditions and can take part sun or part shade. I find the flower color is actually best with some afternoon shade. They steadily spread when happy.
Japanese anemones can grow 4 feet tall. Some taller varieties may need staking to keep them from falling over. ‘Honorine Jobert’ a wonderful white heirloom variety is one of my favorites, but needs a little help in staying upright.
Spreading by underground runners, the plants can be divided every few years to keep them in bounds. In the spring, you can dig them up and divide them and give some away or spread to other parts of your garden. When frost hits them, cut them back.
Designing With Anemones
Japanese anemones are great additions to part sun gardens paired with Joe Pye Weed, Monkshood, Hosta, and Bergenia. They look best when planted in a mass and have room to spread. Check out my recent post on Joe Pye Weed.
Since so many people have small gardens and can’t accommodate full-sized perennials, shorter varieties of Anemones are on the market and more are coming out. I thought I would hate them as one of the beauties of Anemones is the winsome willowy stems. But the shorter varieties are very floriferous and create a pop of color, albeit with a whole different form. Clumping forms of 12 to 18 inches tall, the plants are covered with blooms to make an instant color statement.
When your coneflowers and phlox are fading from the late summer/fall garden, Japanese Anemones fill a gap in the blooming show that starts up with asters, sedums, and aconitum or monkshood. Forgetting about them all summer long with just the foliage showing, the flowers pop up out of nowhere and you remember why you planted them! For information on Monkshood, go to my post on Monkshood-Deadly Blue Beauty.
When selecting shrubs and trees to plant in your garden, consider not only the beauty of it’s flowers and foliage, but also the bonus of fruit or berries. Berries add another dimension to the attractiveness of the landscape which can last until late winter. Birds and other wildlife benefit from the berries as an important source of food when most other sources have disappeared. Even birds that primarily feast on insects will switch their diets in the winter to berries in order to survive the long lean winter months.
Viburnums are the king of berry production for me in my garden. For a great article on Viburnums, go to Viburnum for American Gardens by Michael Dirr.
The list of berry producing shrubs and trees includes service berry, viburnums, roses, beauty berries, hollies, sumacs, persimmons, bayberries, nandinas, and pyracanthas. I have highlighted a few that are easy to grow, last into winter and are particularly showy.
Viburnum dilatatum ‘Cardinal Candy’ is a nicely rounded deciduous shrub that will grow 6 to 8 feet tall. It likes sun or partial sun and carries an incredible display of abundant, glossy red fruit in the fall that persists into winter. It is blanketed with creamy white flowers in the spring and forms an attractive well branched shrub that fits in well with any landscape. It will cover a steep bank very effectively.
‘Michael Dodge’ has a different berry which sets it apart from most other Viburnums – yellow! Yellow berries are a rarity in the plant world and I treasure this one.
Erie Viburnum has the same red berries as Cardinal Candy, but I particularly like the fireworks display of berries.
Doublefile Viburnums, Viburnum plicatum ‘Mariesii’, are as beautiful in flower as in fruit and does well in shade. Deer tend to steer away from this also which is a big plus. Making a beautiful screen, this deciduous shrub gets as wide as tall and resembles a layered wedding cake.
The American Beauty-Berry (Callicarpa americana ) grows 3 to 5 feet in height and width with long arching branches. It has yellow-green fall foliage and clusters of striking shiny purple berries held close to the branches. The berries also come in white. It is easy to grow in sun or part shade. I cut branches of this shrub and plunge them into vase of water to enjoy the beautiful berries and field a lot of questions about this unusual shrub.
The very name tells it all. Berries lasting through a good part of winter, this shrub shines in the landscape. An unremarkable bush before the berries emerge and change color, once the leaves shed, this is my favorite berried shrub. Winterberry Ilex verticilatta, come in several sizes and colors.
Winterberry Hollies (Ilex verticillata) are deciduous plants. Leaves are mid-green and quite unlike the prickly, shiny leaves of evergreen Hollies, and drop off when frost hits.
Winterberry Holly grows in full sun, partial shade, and even quite dense shade but don’t expect as many berries. Commonly found in wet soil, it also grows well in average soil and tolerates a fair measure of drought once established. It does require an acidic soil. Prune in late winter or after bloom, but be aware that pruning reduces fruit production.
This spring I toured a gorgeous private garden that is stunning for it’s beauty and classic garden design. I enjoyed strolling through the woodland gardens that were peaking with spring color and was struck by the innovative use of ground covers. No overly used big three – pachysandra, vinca, or ivy to be seen! There is a time and place for the big three, but consider the options before settling on the mundane.
Why use a ground cover? Simply, it reduces the empty space around plants that will require weeding. Ground covers crowd out weed seeds that can migrate into the soil spaces between plants, germinate, and start the process of invading garden space. Plus it adds a finishing touch to the landscape. It is similar to putting on your jewelry once you are dressed.
In practical terms, ground covers usually refers to any one of a group of low-lying plants with a creeping, spreading habit that are used to cover sections of ground which require minimal maintenance. Ornamentals such as hydrangeas could be used as a ground cover but more commonly low maintenance perennials like ferns are used to cover large expanses or slopes.
Usually chosen for practical purposes, such as an area where it is too shady for turf to grow or too steep to mow, the selections are many. My favorite selections are for shady spots with some even performing well in dry shade.
There are so many more interesting and attractive options, you just need to arm yourself with these choices and visit a good plant nursery. In addition, if you are a fan of the color blue, you will love these. So read on, and pick the best for your situation.
Who ever thought about using Bluebells as a ground cover? It blooms beautifully and then disappears for another late comer like lamium or hostas to cover up.
Spanish Bluebells, Hyacinthoides hispanica, is a great mid spring bloomer that spans the gap between the early arrivals of spring bulbs such as snowdrops, to the later arrival of mid summer perennials. Their best feature, other than the beautiful blue color, is that they bloom in deep shade as well as in full sunlight. You can naturalize them in a shady woodland underneath evergreen or deciduous trees and they will steadily increase over the years to carpet the ground in an azure swath.
Bluebells are a bulb and come in pink and white as well, but the blue is my favorite by far. They are easy to grow in any woodland condition but will thrive where it is well-drained and with ample moisture. I grow them in my perennial borders with no special care and the foliage will disappear by midsummer. Because of this feature, you can underplant it with another creeping ground cover such as ajuga or sweet woodruff that can will take over once the foliage has died down.
Virginia Bluebells – A Native
Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica, is the native version of Spanish Bluebells. Instead of the strap like foliage of Spanish Bluebells, the leaves are very broad and tissue like in texture. The flower color is an intense cornflower blue.
Virginia Bluebells are a spring ephemeral like so many early woodland bloomers, dying back to the ground. So be sure to have something else like the native woodland phlox to take its place. Later flowering annuals could be plugged into the spot that is empty when they die back or a perennial like late appearing hostas can do the job.
Lamium or Dead Nettle has been mentioned several times already as it is a perfect little ground cover for bulbs to sprout though in the spring. A ground hugging creeper with silvered variegated foliage and some really pretty colored flowers, Dead Nettles are an ideal choice for gardeners who want a tough plant with a variety of foliage colors and textures.
Tolerating a variety of light conditions, Lamium makes a good transition plant between shady and sunnier areas. The cultural adaptability of this great plant makes it a valuable tool in the gardeners planting palette.
Woodland Phlox, Phlox divartica, is a native about 9 inches tall that comes in pastel blue, pink, and white. I love it, but find that it is a very short-lived plant, only three or four seasons. Who knew that there were so many kinds of phlox? Available in creeping, woodland, tall garden, and miniature alpine varieties, and some variations in between, most people are not familiar with the range of varieties available. The Woodland Phlox is a very beautiful member of the family that blooms in April with a punch of color.
Crested Wood Iris
Another underused ground cover is the Crested Wood Iris, or Iris cristata. This diminutive little Iris is only about 6 inches tall and blooms with a miniature azure colored Iris bloom and will spread steadily but not aggressively. It is perfectly adorable! The deer ignore it also. Wood Iris will bloom in very deep shade.
Solomans Seal, Polygonatum variegatum, is a workhorse perennial for me. Plant a small colony of a dozen, and after splitting it up regularly for several years, you will end up with a large swath of nodding white bells! Be warned – Deer do like to browse on them. This perennial will not thrive amongst others as it covers the ground with underground tubers and lasts all season long. Nothing else will grow where Solomans Seal takes over but a large drift is a sight to behold. Yellow fall foliage is a bonus, something that surprises me every year!
Just about everyone knows and grows hostas. A tough plant that is hard to kill, it is a deer magnet for browsing. But if bambi doesn’t roam nearby, try planting large colonies of the same variety for a great looking ground cover. Or vary your planting scheme for interesting textures and hues. I find that hostas play well with other shade perennials and like to add clumps of them along with other ground covers.
Green and Gold
Another golden ground cover that will brighten a shady area is Green and Gold, Chrysogonum virginianum, or Golden Star. A native also, it is known for its star like flowers and creeping hairy leaves. Green and Gold loves moisture and will thrive in a boggy area. I grow it in ordinary garden conditions and it does just fine. It does need some shade or will burn in full sun. Deer leave this one alone!
Hellebores or Lenten Roses
I have been advocating the use of Lenten Roses or Hellebores, as an evergreen, long blooming, deer resistant ground cover for years. The plants are a little pricey but will slowly fill in and throw off seedlings that will cover your ground before you know it. Did I mention that it blooms for three months, sometimes longer? Everyone who has a shady garden should grow these. Tough as nails, this plant will gradually increase in size every year. For more information, read my post, Hellebores-Deer Resistant, Low Maintenance, Shade Loving Perennial.
I really hate that name! Golden Ragwort, Senecio aurea, is another native which I like to use in shady or semi-shady conditions. Senecio blooms with a cheerful daisy-like flower for weeks in the spring. The rosettes of deep shiny heart-shaped leaves are attractive the rest of the growing season. This ground cover will spread steadily and you might have to restrain it a bit, but it is definitely not a garden thug!
Forget Me Not
Another deer resistant ground cover which I recommend is Brunnera or Forget-me-not. This is the perennial Forget-me-not, not to be confused with Myosotis which is a biennial. Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ was the perennial plant of the year for 2012 and deservedly so because of it’s beauty and toughness. Deer give it a wide berth because of the fuzzy foliage and it will hide early spring bulb foliage because it emerges right when the bulbs are dying back. ‘Jack Frost’ is a great cultivar with silver to white webbing on the leaf surface that shines in the shade. The plant is topped off with airy panicles of true blue tiny flowers.
Perennial Geranium does well in part shade to shade and many of the varieties are deer resistant. Blooming with delicate flowers in the spring, these are tough perennials that will form nice weed smothering clumps.
Mazus is a low-growing ground cover that spreads by creeping stems which root at the nodes as they spread. Growing only 2″ tall, this tiny creeper can spread pretty fast forming a dense, steppable cute ground cover. The foliage stays green for at least 9 months of the year and explodes in spring with purple tubular beautiful flowers. There is a white version also.One of my favorite ground covers, I use Mazus whenever I have a smaller area like between stepping stones to cover.
Euphorbia or Spurge is rarely seen as a ground cover and should be used as it can tolerate dry shade. Evergreen and deer resistant, spurge is topped with lime green flowers in the spring. I am a sucker for the color lime. The color really brightens a dark area. Euphorbia robbiae easily grows in shade or sun and sports rosettes of handsome leathery leaves all season long.