Bulbs in Pots-Portable Containers for Spring

 

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If you don’t have a yard or outdoor space to plant outdoor bulbs like Tulips, Daffs, Iris, or Hyacinths, don’t despair….Plant them in pots. Easy peasey. So much better to plop your bulbs in nice loose potting medium rather than slaving with a heavy shovel to get your bulbs down to the proper depth in a heavy clay soil.  Frustrating? You bet! But in containers, think of the advantages:

  • You can enjoy your bulbs up close and personal
  • Change the look and appearance of your garden instantly
  • Grow bulbs that require specialized TLC
  • Pop them into containers with other spring flowers
  • Experiment with new varieties. Plus, you can have beautiful pots of spring flowers welcoming friends to your front door or brightening your patio for weeks in the spring when you become starved for color and fragrance
  • You can have tulips without the deer eating them! Place your pots close to the house, like on your porch where the deer won’t venture
Amaryllis are one of the easiest of indoor bulbs to bloom; here they are blooming in the nursery display boxes

Outdoors For Spring Bloom Vs Forcing
Fall-planted bulbs in containers have different needs than bulbs planted directly in the ground. I am not talking about “forcing” bulbs which means to accelerate your bloom period. In that scenario, your bulbs bloom in late winter, earlier than scheduled for their normal bloom period. That method requires pre-chilling to get the required days of cold that each bulb needs. I didn’t want to fool with forcing this year. So, I decided to enjoy my bulbs in containers by my back door without fiddling with burying the pots and/or chilling bulbs that forcing requires. Go to Bringing Spring In-Forcing Bulbs for more information on pre-chilling and forcing if you want winter color indoors.

For how-to on forcing Hyacinths for indoor bloom, go to
For how-to on forcing Hyacinths for indoor bloom, go to Longfield Gardens blog 

 

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Grape Hyacinth ‘Valerie Finnis’ is one of the prettiest minor bulbs
Miniature Iris in a pot
Miniature Iris in a pot is also a favorite; this blue variety is a stunner-‘Katharine Hodgkin’

Another use for your bulbs in containers is to use them in mixed spring containers for an instant pop of color.

Blooming Tulips, Daffs, and Grape Hyacinths add great color to a spring container
Blooming Tulips, Daffs, and Grape Hyacinths add great color to a spring container-by Leigh Barnes

Creating an enclosed environment for your tiny packages of blooms is easy if you remember a few cardinal rules.

  • Potting Medium-Use a high quality potting medium with lots of perlite or vermiculite for porous well draining soil (not garden soil)
  • Pots-Use flexible plastic pots that give with the changes of temperature (terra-cotta can break); You can slip these into decorative pots when they bloom
  • Spacing-Plant bulbs so they’re close but not touching, with their tips just below the soil surface. Here is your chance to stuff them in for a huge color show
  • Depth-Pot bulbs are typically planted a little less shallowly than ground bulbs. But try to stick closely to recommended planting depths for best results. The goal is to leave as much room as possible under them for root growth
  • Layers-For a more abundant lavish look, you can layer your bulbs or stack them on top of each other but it is simpler to stick with one variety per pot for beginners
  • Temperature-In winter, bulbs in above-ground containers will get MUCH colder than those planted in the ground where the surrounding soil insulates. This means you’ll need to store your potted bulbs through the winter in a place that stays colder than 48° F most of the time but that doesn’t get as severely cold as the outside
  • Water-Check your soil all winter to make sure soil is moist but not soggy. Water infrequently when just started, but later when roots have filled in and top growth has started, ramp it up
  • Presentation-Place grit, gravel, or Spanish moss on top to finish it off or plant something shallow rooted on top, like moss
Miniature Iris are my favorite for pots
Miniature Iris are my favorite for pots
There is nothing more fragrant than a pot of Hyacinths by the back door, from Longfield Gardens
There is nothing more fragrant than a pot of Hyacinths by the back door, from Longfield Gardens
Tulips are also easy in pots
Tulips are also easy in pots

Storing
I keep my planted pots outside until the weather consistently gets below freezing. For me in the mid-Atlantic region, that could be as late as mid December, depending on the weather. Keeping my pots on my patio where I can easily throw some water on them, is the simplest way to monitor them. Once freezing temps are here to stay, I start bringing the pots in to a more sheltered position.

Since temperature is critical for success, it is important to choose an area that  is buffered from the killing freeze/thaw cycle, but still able to get the needed chilling for successful flowering. Keeping the pots in a cool shaded spot, like an unheated garage, until early spring growth appears is essential. For me it is an unheated mud room attached to my house once winter weather arrives.

I wrap my containers in bubble wrap and place them in an unheated mud room next to my house
I wrap my containers in bubble wrap and place them in an unheated mud room next to my house

Wrapping my pots in insulating bubble wrap and placing them next to the wall of the house in the mud room for any ambient warmth is my solution for minimal protection. A cold frame would work also. I have heard of gardeners even storing the pots in old-fashioned galvanized trash cans with some burlap or other filler stuffed around them. Storing them in cans will avoid the great destructor of bulbs-squirrels, mice, voles and other assorted varmints.

Use masking tape to hold the layers of bubble wrap around the pot

Check on your pot while it is being stored. Water when the soil feels dry to the touch. This will only happen every couple of weeks. Towards February, the tips of the bulbs will be pushing through the plants that you have planted on top.

Squirrels are very destructive with bulbs
Squirrels are very destructive with bulbs

If storing in a garage, be careful of ethylene gas emitted from exhaust fumes from warming-up cars. Ethylene gas can cause flower buds to abort and you end up with wonderful pots of foliage only. If you store in an old refrigerator, be aware of ripening nearby fruit for this reason as the ethylene gas of fruit can cause the same problem. Store the pots in impermeable plastic bags to avoid contamination.

This pot was planted in the fall and stored all winter.  I brought it out on the patio when the weather started to warm up; you can see the bulb foliage peeking through

Once top growth starts in the spring – pointy tips pushing through the soil-  gradually move the pots out into the partial sun acclimating them to brighter sunlight necessary for good flower development. Enjoy! I include a step by step guide on how to plant bulbs in containers at the end of this post.

Muscari or Grape Hyacinths are easy in containers
Muscari or Grape Hyacinths are easy in containers, from Longfield Gardens
My bulb delivery in the fall from Colorblends

After Care-3 Ways

Compost the bulbs, leave in the pot/plant in the ground in the fall, or replant in the garden right after flowering and still green are the three ways to handle the spent bulbs. If you replant, be sure to fertilize them with a bulb fertilizer as the bulbs have used all those nutrients up at their first burst of flowering. Most times, the flowers aren’t as spectacular as the first bloom using up all their energy, so I tend to compost them.

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Don’t hesitate to compost your used bulbs-There is no shame in that!

Step By Step for ‘Lasagna’ Pots

All of these bulbs fit into one layered pot

‘Lasagna’ pots just means layering your bulbs so that you have a 6-7 week display from one pot of different types of bulbs.

My Garden Club had a workshop making ‘lasagna’ plantings of bulbs
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First layer covered with potting medium
  • Fill your deep container  (16″ deep)with a high-quality potting mix about 3-4 inches deep
  • Plant your bulbs almost as deeply as you would in the ground; for instance, 6 or 7 inches deep for tulips and daffodils, and 3 or 4 inches deep for little bulbs such as Crocus and Miniature Iris
  • Press the bulbs firmly into the soil, growing tips up. If layering, make sure that you cover one layer completely before placing more bulbs
  • For my layers, I planted the following from deepest to the most shallowly planted;  1st layer- 10 Daffodils, 2nd layer- 10 Hyacinths, 3rd layer-16 Tulips, 4th and last layer- 50 assorted small bulbs (I used 20 Grape Hyacinth, 20 Crocus, and 10 Mini Iris)

 

The first layer of Daffodil bulbs is planted the deepest
  •  Water your bulbs well after planting
  • Plant either pansies, moss,  or fall cabbages to the top for more insulating helpLayer your bulbs according to the suggested planting depth
  • Layer your bulbs according to the suggested planting depth; Here I used a container 18″ in diameter and 16″ deep for a good root run
Place all your bulbs closed together
Place all your bulbs close together; This is the top layer using minor bulbs like Crocus, Mini Iris, and Grape Hyacinth
Plant pansies or fall cabbages on top for extra insulation
Plant pansies or fall cabbages on top for extra insulation
This pot I finished off with Irish Moss, and creeping Sedum
The ‘lasagna’ pot in bloom
Tulip bulbs planted very close together
Tulip bulbs planted very close together
Tulips popping up in the spring

The sources of bulbs for this post were ColorBlends, Longfield Gardens, Brent and Becky’s, and Old House Gardens. 

 

 

Delaware Botanic Gardens- From the Ground Up

Traveling the quiet back roads of Sussex County in southern Delaware, through residential developments, I didn’t expect to see a world-class botanic garden taking shape. At the end of Piney Neck Rd, there it was for all the world to see, ‘The future home of Delaware Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek’. My motive for searching down the steamy country roads was the opportunity of enjoying an alternative beach activity. Staying at Rehoboth Beach each summer for a week, I tire of the outlets and surf and look for other entertainment. And if there is a garden involved, all the better!

An aerial view,  photo courtesy of Delaware Botanic Garden

Within the gardening world, rumors were flying of the establishment of a new Botanic Garden in Delaware. In the works for years starting as a grass-roots movement, it is remarkable to note that the project began just four years ago, and has since grown into a tax-exempt nonprofit organization. Funding has start to flow with grant monies, most notably from Longwood Gardens, but like any public garden, they always need more. The ground breaking  was launched in December 2016 and the hard work of creating an ambitious 37 acre botanic garden featuring natural woodlands, vernal ponds, meadow gardens and 1000 feet of waterfront has begun.

Looking out into Pepper Creek

Situated along Pepper Creek, which flows into Indian River Bay, the parcel of land leased from the Sussex County Land Trust for $1 a year, has an unusual feature: a hill.  As anyone knows, driving through this part of Delaware, any elevation of the land is a rare event. This valuable feature slopes down through a twelve acre hardwood forest to the water’s edge to a wetland marsh and a tidal creek-great territory for a garden. In the hardwood forest, a winding walkway beneath pine groves and alongside century-old southern red oak and sassafras trees provides a welcome respite from the hot sun of summer.

Pathways through the woodland area; native wildflowers are being planted here, photo courtesy of Delaware Botanic Gardens

Building the new Botanic Garden in stages over a 10 year period, any experienced gardener knows this time line makes sense. Establishing a garden takes time and more importantly for a garden this size…..tons of money.  With a goal of being self-supporting with donor help: membership dues, admission fees, gift shop and online sales, and event rentals, there is still a huge need for the initial costs of building, installing, and planting, as well as volunteer hours.  If interested in donating, go to Make a donation.  This is an exciting opportunity to get in the ground floor of supporting the incredible new Delaware Botanic Gardens.

Proposed visitor’s center surrounded by expanses of meadow,  photo courtesy of Delaware Botanic Garden
From left to right- Janet Meenehan Point, Gregg Tepper, and Ruth Rogers Clausen
Blue crabs live in the nearby water, photo courtesy of Delaware Botanic Gardens

When I visited this past August, I could see many enthusiastic volunteers in action in hot, humid, and unbearable weather, and yet so excited about working there. From laying stone for beautiful dry laid walls, to planting and watering new transplants, everyone is welcomed and appreciated.

Ruth Rogers Clausen enthusiastically shows off the woodland area, one of the first areas to open to the public in 2019

Gregg Tepper, the DBG horticulturist,  comes to DBG from Mt Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware, where he served as horticulturist, and director of horticulture. An articulate promoter of native plants, he is the driving force for using everything on site in a sustainable way. Brush, log chunks, and tree trunks are not discarded but used in very innovative ways. The hedgehog was my favorite. A large downed tree with multiple protruding branches is a canvas for a future hedge hog sculpture. Brush branches, instead of being discarded, were deposited in open areas of the woodlands to create giant birds nests. A great way to entice kids to enjoy the woodlands! The log chunks, Gregg said, could be used as edgers for the woodland pathways.

Nests of brush are being constructed in the woodland area using cleared brush, photo courtesy of Delaware Botanic Gardens

Can you see it? The start of a hedgehog sculpture!

 

Beautiful dry laid walls are lining the woodland walkway, all done by volunteer Don Klima
Holding area for new plants

The Master Plan includes nationally and internationally recognized leaders in the field of garden design, architecture and landscape architecture, notably Piet Oudolf, an influential Dutch garden designer, nurseryman, and author. When I heard that Piet Oudolf was involved in the planning, I was impressed that DBG had snagged such a high-profile plantsman. Volunteer Barbara Katz was the impetus behind getting Oudolf involved. Known best in the U.S. for his design of the High Line and a leading figure of the “New Perennial” movement, Oudolf is renowned for using broad painterly drifts of hard-working perennials and grasses. Oudolf designed the centerpiece Meadow Garden at DBG.

The Meadow Garden

The centerpiece Meadow Garden is described on the Delaware Botanic Gardens’ website; “Taking advantage of the upland plateau’s openness, a spectacular meadow filled with broad bands of native grasses and seasonal flowering blooms will form the sweeping center of the site and the gateway to the Woodland Gardens. Herbaceous plant species native to Delmarva and surrounding areas will be featured in a breathtaking design. This open garden, designed by the internationally acclaimed Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf, will support thousands of pollinators, butterflies, and birds. One of the primary objectives of this space, located in the Atlantic Flyway, is to encourage the bird population and the insects they need to survive”.

For a great day by day on-line progress of the planting of The Meadow, go to YouTube.

An army of volunteers planted 17,000 plants in the initial phase of the Meadow Garden, photo by Ray Bojarski

According to Raymond Sander, President of Delaware Botanic Gardens, when Oudolf first saw the proposed meadow site, he exclaimed, “It is beautiful, but we can make it more beautiful!! This is infinity!” And the meadow is indeed in the shape of an infinity sign, bisected by pathways.

Hand drawn meadow design by Piet Oudolf
Left to right: Raymond J. Sandler, President of DBG, Piet Oudolf, and Sheryl Swed, Executive Director of DBG, photo by Ray Bojarski

Located in a sunny two acre site in the center of the Gardens, the Meadow Garden will be planted with 65,000 herbaceous flowering plants and ornamental grasses that will provide a tapestry of color throughout the year.

Perusing the Master Plan, by Bill Jones & Ruth Clausen, a board member and volunteer

Hand drawn artistic plans of the meadow by Piet Oudolf were available when I visited and as a landscape designer myself, I was delighted that they were hand drawn and not computer generated. They were works of art.  Print these plans on silk scarves and sell them in the planned gift shop!

A closeup of the hand drawn plan of the meadow by Piet Oudolf

When I was there is August, volunteers were preparing the ground, leveling and spreading pine fines which is partially composted pine bark. Its fine texture allows water to pass easily through while providing a protective covering for the soil. Providing nutrients, decomposing easily, the fineness of particles doesn’t compact like other pine bark mulches.

The dark color is pine fines
Planting the meadow takes lots of wheelbarrows, Photo courtesy Janet Draper

Volunteers, led by DBG Horticulturist Gregg Tepper, came out to prepare and plant the meadow the week of September 5. When Piet Oudolf arrived to inspect the site, Piet decided to first have the volunteers build and smooth out the elevated hill in the middle.

The much anticipated first phase planting of the Piet Oudolf meadow, staffed by an army of volunteers, began.  Referring to the comprehensive plan, orange marks were painted on the ground detailing the proper placement of plants and orange flags were placed if the plants were currently on hand. White flags were placed  designating quantity and identity of plants still to come. The second phase of planting will occur in June 2018.

Photo courtesy Janet Draper
Melanie Ruckle and Patrick Gravel planting the meadow with grasses, photo courtesy Janet Draper

As any gardener knows, the work of digging thousands of holes is time-consuming and hard on your wrists. With the help of a power auger, the holes were dug much more efficiently.

A power auger made the plantings go quickly, photo courtesy Janet Draper

Master Plan/Field of Dreams

The Master Plan is the result of a twelve-month process led by Rodney Robinson and Allan Summers of RAS Landscape Architects. Organizing the site and guiding the process of long-term plantings, it identifies the different types of gardens and plant collections.  In a  zone 7b garden, many different types of plants can be planted as long as deer are controlled, and a deer fence is being planned, I was glad to hear. You don’t want your hard work and money to be devoured by a voracious deer population. The main focus of the Master Plan vision is as follows:

  • Always be beautiful
  • Be innovative and forward thinking
  • Provide an outdoor wetlands classroom for both passive and structured educational experiences
  • Connect children and adults to nature
  • Demonstrate the intersection between horticulture and ecology
  • Reach out to a rapidly growing year-round community
  • Attract a wide audience and encourage repeat visitation
  • Accommodate festivals and special events
Butterfly on newly planted Lobelia in Woodland Garden

The surrounding areas are being rapidly developed with residential communities and is a highly attractive area for retirees so I can see that many people will take advantage of the Botanic Gardens proximity. It is also a great resource to draw volunteers from. Buffers of plantings are planned to screen the Gardens from neighboring properties and Piney Neck Road.

Master Plan , photo courtesy of Delaware Botanic Gardens

From the entrance area, multiple pathways will wind through, connecting pedestrians to all the garden areas. Water is a recurring theme throughout the Gardens as showcased in the proposed Cascade Garden, the Bald Cypress Garden, and the unifying Freshwater Pond that will serve as a focal point. Garden components included on the Master Plan:

  • Parking and Rhyne Garden
  • Visitor and Events Center, Cafe
  • Meadow Garden
  • Edge Garden w/ Amphitheater
  • Gallery Garden
  • Demonstration and Display Garden
  • Coastal Living Garden
  • Cascade Garden
  • Freshwater Pond
  • Bald Cypress Garden
  • Discovery Garden
  • Native Plant Garden
  • Outdoor Wetlands Classroom
  • Maze
  • Woodland Gardens-Kalmia-Azalea Knoll, Pine Savannah, Grotto, Oak Glade, Magnolia Forest, Delmarva Bay Gardens, Asian-European Bank
Remains of a horseshoe crab on the shoreline

 

Quite ambitious, but with all the enthusiasm, knowledge, and verve pushing this project along, I have no doubt that it will happen.

As a landscape designer, I am always called in after the house is built and the owners are ready for the planting of the landscape. But at the DBG, their priorities are reversed – the landscape comes first and then the buildings. Buildings and structures are important but in the long-term, the landscape plantings that can take years to mature should take priority.

When it opens in 2019, the DBG will include the just planted colorful natural meadow, extensive plantings in the woodlands, and pathways in and along the edge of the existing woodlands, a living outdoor wetlands classroom, and a temporary visitors center. Additional gardens, water features, and more permanent structures will be added in the following years. Serving as a resource for local farmers, gardeners, and homeowners, I can’t wait for the opening of the Garden Gates!

Photo by Ken Arni

Many thanks to Ruth Rogers Clausen for her hospitality in opening the garden to several beach weary gardeners. Also, thanks to Janet Draper for her photos and information on the first phase of meadow plantings and Sheryl Swed for additional pictures.

 

 

Magical Sunflowers-Fibonacci Spiral

Full size Sunflowers with seeds in bucket
A field of sunflowers all face the same way towards the sun
A field of sunflowers all face the same way towards the sun

Magical Qualities

Sunflowers have always been one of my top favorite blooming plants. The list of their attributes is long; they are cheerful and uplifting, long blooming, easy to grow, feed birds and pollinators, good for flower arranging, etc. For my post on The Great Sunflower Project, see how sunflowers are used in citizen science on pollinator research. The color palette goes way beyond just yellow. Red, burgundy, orange, cream, and even black are all well represented in the sunflower kingdom.

Almost black sunflower
Burgundy shades are stunning
A field of sunflowers
A field of sunflowers

The most interesting and fascinating features are twofold: the blooms actually move to follow the sun from east to west across the sky, and the seeds are arranged in a Fibonacci Spiral to pack as many seeds as possible in a small space.

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sunflower

Bees flock to sunflowers

Facing the Sun-Heliotropism

The amazing sun-following trick makes these plants seem to possess some mystical powers. What’s really going on here is something called heliotropism, and lots of plants do it. But with a field of huge sunflowers in bloom, it is a sight to behold.  Heliotropism means moving toward the sun.  The puzzle with sunflowers is, why do the flowers need to face the sun?

Butterflies flock to sunflowers for pollen

The stems of all actively growing sunflower parts – flowers and leaves – grow to face the sun in order to maximize photosynthesis.  During the day, the stems elongate on the side away from the sun, tilting leaves and immature flowers toward the sun throughout the day and ending up facing west at sunset.  When there’s no light, the other side of the stem grows, pushing the leaves and flowers back to the east where they will be facing the sun at sunrise.

Hanging heavy with ripening seeds

Growing leaves and immature flowers are green and full of chlorophyll and actively photosynthesizing. Once the flower matures and is not actively photosynthesizing, then it remains stationary and will hang with the weight of the growing seeds.

A mature head of the sunflower droops down with the weight of the ripening seeds
A mature head of the sunflower droops down with the weight of the ripening seeds
Sunflower ready to open
Sunflower ready to open

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Painting a field of sunflowers

Fibonacci Spiral

English: Fibonacci Spiral generated with the f...
English: Fibonacci Spiral generated with the free software GeoGebra (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A fascinating attribute of the sunflower is The Fibonacci Spiral . The concept is named after a Middle Age Italian mathematician named Fibonacci who was considered to be one of the most  brilliant mathematicians of his time. The principle underscores that mathematics is utilized in nature in every facet, especially in the design of nature.

Chambered Nautilus, Sunflower, and Agave plant all show nature's use of the Fibonacci Spiral
Chambered Nautilus, Sunflower, and Agave plant all show nature’s use of the Fibonacci Spiral

The Fibonacci Spiral or numbers are nature’s numbering system. It appears everywhere in nature, from the leaf arrangement in plants, to the pattern of the florets of a flower, the bracts of a pine cone, or the scales of a pineapple. It means that a plant or animal grows in the most efficient ways, maximizing the space for each leaf, or the average amount of light falling on each one. Even a tiny advantage would come to dominate over many generations. In the case of closely packed leaves in cabbages and succulents, the correct arrangement may be critical for availability of space.

Succulents are often arranged in a Fibonacci spiral

 

 

 

Disk florets of yellow chamomile (Anthemis tin...
Disk florets of yellow chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria) with spirals indicating the arrangement drawn in. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

In the  seeming randomness of the natural world, we can find many instances of  mathematical order involving the Fibonacci numbers themselves and the closely related “Golden” elements.

The famous Fibonacci sequence has captivated mathematicians, artists, designers, and scientists for centuries. Also known as the Golden Ratio, its universality and astounding functionality in nature suggests its importance as a fundamental characteristic of the Universe.

Array of sunflower seeds
Array of sunflower seeds
Hurricane Sandy Fibonacci spiral
Hurricane Sandy Fibonacci spiral
Fibonacci galaxy
Fibonacci galaxy
Even dead Sunflowers make a statement

Dahlias-Divas of the Garden

From July to a killing frost in October, dahlias dominate my garden with their many petaled lushly colored flowers. Except for a true blue, you can find just about every flower color in a dahlia. Sizes can vary from an enormous 12 inch dinner plate to small button pom poms. Bee magnet blooms cover my plants that are excellent for cutting and using in arrangements. 
Bringing armloads of blooms in the summer will decorate your living space for weeks

Originating with the Aztecs, and arriving in European gardens in 1789, by 1927 F. F. Rockwell, author and founder of Home Garden Magazine,  reported that dahlias ranked in “the leading position of all bulbs grown in America.” For fascinating details on this beloved flower, go to Dahlia Archives of Old House Gardens.   Old House Gardens carries a wealth of heirloom varieties of all kinds of bulbs that you can’t find anywhere else.

Diva dahlia
Dahlia tubers dug up in October ready to be stored over the winter
Easy to grow if given adequate sunlight and rich well-drained soil and plenty of moisture, these shrubby plants grow from tuberous roots, or tubers. Depending on how severe your winters are, they may require digging and storing indoors until planting time next spring. For this reason, many buy new ones every year. 
Getting ready to plant newly arrived tubers from Longfield Gardens
Hundreds of flower forms and colors can confuse people about what varieties to plant but I see this as a great opportunity to try new ones every year and also to go back to my favorites. But remember, the larger the flower, like the dinner plate size (7 inches +), the less flowers it will produce. Juanita, a lovely ruby-red smaller flower (4-5 inches), will produce dozens of flowers compared to a dinner plates’ couple of flowers at a time.  
Pam Howden is a beautiful peach tinged with yellow, seen at Longwood Gardens
Gallery Art Deco, Cafe Au Lait, and Diva are my favorites from Longfield Gardens. There are so many favorites and new ones to pick from! Swan Island from Oregon carries hundreds of varieties and I like how they stamp the name on the tuber so you can even see it when you dig it up for saving. You always have the name even if your tags fade in the sun. Brandon Michael and Hulin’s Carnival were outstanding selections from  Swan Island this year.
Brandon Michael from Swan Island
Sunlight
Select a spot that gets at least six hours of sunlight a day, preferably more. If you can grow a tomato in a spot, you can grow a dahlia. Tolerating partial shade, dahlias will still bloom but less blooms will be available for cutting. And to produce more blooms, dead head and bring the fresh cuts in to enjoy.
Clown-like bloom, not sure of this variety
Hulin’s Carnival
Juanita dahlia, a prize-winning ruby-red, available from Old House Gardens and Swan Island
Not sure of this one
Cafe au Lait dahlia flowers are in shades of cream, pink, and tan

Soil

Heavy feeders, dahlia tubers should be planted in loose fertile soil. Add compost to the soil before planting. Don’t plant in soggy soil; they need good drainage to be successful. Soil temperature must be over 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the spring and I check this with my instant read cooking thermometer. Tubers can rot if planted in wet cold soil in the spring.
Thermometer says the soil temperature is 61 degrees
Campos Gibby dahlia seen at Longwood Gardens

Planting

Plant tubers by digging a hole three to six inches deep and laying the tuber in it with the growing tip up. The growing tip or bud is obvious as a fresh emerging shoot coming out of the fleshy brown tuber. Cover with soil but don’t water until well after growth emerges. Plant the tubers about 18 to 24 inches apart because they produce bush-like plants.
Planting a Cafe au Lait dahlia tuber in the spring that has already sprouted
York and Lancaster, an heirloom dahlia from Old House Gardens

Care

Staking can be done with tomato cages or with stakes and twine. Most dahlias need to be staked or you will have a plant with branches that will flop on the ground and have misshapen flowers. Water if you don’t get at least an inch of rain per week and the plants benefit from feeding lightly with a granular or liquid fertilizer of a general use fertilizer, not high in nitrogen. High nitrogen will produce more foliage than flowers. Dahlias like cooler conditions so flourish especially well in the late summer when temperatures start to moderate.
Seen at Longwood Gardens, dahlias are lined out in rows and at the end of the row, stakes are hammered in and tied with twine
A newly planted dahlia tuber with a tomato cage and twisted sprouts that have already started to grow while being stored

Saving/Storing

Frost will hit your plants sometime in October or November and they will go from glorious specimen plants to blackened wilted skeletons overnight. Check your weather report and before a hard frost is forecast, cut off every flower and bring it in to enjoy for another week. Once the plants are frost killed, you can start digging around the root ball carefully to remove the shrunken star fish like tuber that is nestled a few inches under the soil. Wash off any soil with a hard stream from your hose and dry in the sun. If you leave you tubers in the ground, I have found that some even come back if the winter hasn’t been too cold. Some people don’t save them, preferring to buy new ones every year.

Wash off your tubers in a crate for easy cleanup

Cut the stems a few inches above the tubers and store them in a container full of peat moss and perlite. I only place two layers of the tubers in a container, as I find that the bottom layers tend to rot more often than the top. If the tubers are too wet, they might rot, so I check them after a couple of weeks of storage to see how they are doing. If they are moldy, I scrape off the mold and add some dry peat moss. You are going to lose some of the tubers, but I have a success rate of about 75% saved tubers.

Storing tubers in peat moss
Using a large rubbermaid container that has a layer of peat moss and perlite

Alternative Method of Planting/Saving

Another method is to plant your tubers in 1 gallon plastic pots early in the spring. When the weather warms up, plant the whole pot in the garden and cover with soil. Leave the tuber in the pot and roots will come out the bottom drainage holes. When frost hits, dig up the entire pot, cutting off roots that are outside of the pot and bring the pot inside and place in a cool dark place for the winter. When shoots come up in the spring, top dress with compost and plant outside for another season of bloom.  I read about this method on Old House Gardens and want to try it next season.

Another method which a friend swears by is to dig up the tubers and shake the loose soil off and place in a large trash bag, leaving all the clinging soil attached to the tubers.  Store the trash bag in an unheated garage that won’t go below freezing. Easy and effective!

Pom Pom Dahlia
Pom Pom form of dahlia
Bees love the single type of dahlias because they can easily get to the nectar and pollen

Arranged in a bowl

 

Garden Design Magazine-A Good Read

 

Garden Design magazine

Garden Design magazine known for its in-depth articles and awesome images has a clean and easy to read design, free of ads. Over the years, I have started and stopped my subscriptions to different gardening magazines, but I will never give up this one. I don’t review many print publications, but I felt that this one richly deserved to be recognized. Not available at the grocery check out line, it is primarily available by subscription. But if you are interested in nature, ecology, cooking, design, gardening, traveling or simply beautiful images, this would be the magazine for you. With 132 pages, there is plenty of space to cover diverse subjects that would appeal to amateur as well as professional gardeners. Most garden magazines have brief articles and I often crave more. In Garden Design, the articles can run 10 to 12 pages long to really get an in-depth look.

Hydrangea picture from Garden Design magazine by Ngoc Minh Ngo

Plant Portraits

What flower can reach 12″ across and up to 18″ long? That is Hydrangeas’ main claim to fame, according to Garden Design article ‘Old Reliable, New Tricks’. The commonly asked questions of how to prune and change hydrangea color is demystified in this informative article. These two questions are asked by many enthusiastic gardeners as there are so many different varieties and treatments for each particular kind.

 

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ is beloved for good reason. Its huge white flower heads—8 to 12 inches across—grace shrubs for 2 months in summer. Zones 3-9 Photo by GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss
A costly one hundred pound bouquet of hydrangeas at a flower shop in London- photo Claire Jones

Using Garden Design magazine as a great design resource, and also for stellar articles on plants, containers, and pollinators, it is always sitting on my desk. More like an add-free soft bound book, I welcome it to my house every season for eye catching photos of gardens, design ideas, and great plant selections. Printed every three months, I am not deluged with monthly issues but instead have a seasonal reference at my fingertips.

Design

The design posts will make your mouth water with all the delicious combinations of plants and good design components. My design of a healing labyrinth made the on-line Garden Design magazine when the magazine went on a brief print hiatus a few years ago. The magazine came back stronger than before chock full of garden inspiration.

My design of a labyrinth made the on-line Garden Design, photo Claire Jones
A beautifully designed water wise courtyard located in Spain is my favorite photo in the current issue of Garden Design, photo by Claire Takacs

And the article by Janet Loughrey, ‘Spanish Lessons’, highlighted three Mediterranean landscapes that show the best of waterwise design.  I drooled over these images!

Garden Travel

Visiting different gardens is also covered and Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens is featured in the latest issue because of the fantastic new fountain show. Perfect timing, as I am visiting it this weekend.

Longwood Gardens new fountain display-photo Longwood Gardens

Another mentioned event that I would love to go to is the Swan Island Annual Dahlia Festival. Located in Oregon, strolling and ogling 40 acres of dahlias in full bloom is my idea of a good day. I’ll make it there someday.

Dahlias come in a huge array of colors and types and are one of my favorite flowers for arranging-photo Claire Jones
A container with Cafe Au Lait dahlias-photo Claire Jones

Ecology

Box Turtles were featured in an article by Doug Tallamy-photo Amy Sparwasser

A find of a box turtle is always happy but all too rare, and the article by Doug Tallamy explained why. Habitat fragmentation  is the main culprit that has placed this species on the Threatened Species list as “vulnerable”. Fulfilling the important job of seed dispersal, Tallamy gave pointers on encouraging these great little natives. Exceeding 100 years old if conditions are right, I learned how to make my property better suited to the colorful turtles.

Tools

Rain wand by Dramm-photo Claire Jones

After doing my post on Watering Like a Pro, reviewing Dramm products like ColorStorm hoses and Rain Wands, the current article about watering tools in Garden Design “elevated this perennial garden task into a real pleasure”.  Quality of your tools makes a huge difference in your garden enjoyment and reaffirmed my watering tool selection.

This laissez-faire beekeeper makes sure his bees have plenty of blooms, photo by Meg Smith

Pollinators

As a beekeeper, I appreciated the article ‘Darwin’s Beekeeper’. Letting nature take its course reflects my policy on beekeeping perfectly. And the foldout on pollinators is pretty enough to be framed. The progression from early to late bloomers is essential information and includes both tree/shrubs, and perennials. Go to my post on Pollinators for more information on what plants to select to attract a wealth of winged beasts to your property- and keep them coming back!

A great reference chart for any gardener-photo Garden Design
Burr comb on one of my bee hives-this is laissez faire beekeeping! photo Claire Jones

 

Great Gardens Across America

A woodsy garden entryway located in Whidbey Island, WA, photo by ClaireTakacs

Probably one of my favorite sections is Great Gardens Across America. Showcasing gardens anywhere in the country, the stories and material and plant selections are always interesting to me as a garden designer.

Front cover of the current issue of Garden Design

No matter what zone or coast you live in and what type of nature lover you are, you will find inspiration from this magazine.

 

Full disclosure: Garden Design magazine is not paying me for this review!

Water Like a Pro-Top 10 Tips

My favorite French blue 3 gallon watering can

Working at a landscape company, I trained many a newbie on watering effectively. The art of watering is crucial to raising healthy plants. Here are the top guidelines on watering.

Drip irrigation in raised beds

Water Wise Guidelines:

  1. Water Containers When Needed-Watering on a schedule, like every morning, is not the best way to water. Irrigate after first determining that your plants need it by inserting a finger down into the soil a couple inches. If the first inch or so is dry, but down further is  moist, wait a day. Then……. saturate thoroughly. For containers, don’t think you need to water those pots every day so that they become soggy. Even if your pots have excellent drainage, watering every day is usually not needed for larger pots(over 15″ in diameter), unless you have exceptionally hot days and your plants are really large.
  2. Timing– The best time to water is the morning. Evening watering can lead to fungal growth.
  3.  Planting Transplants– Water plants as soon as you get them in the ground. Allow the water to soak in, then water again until the soil is thoroughly moistened. When you plant a new transplant, air pockets form around the root ball because soil can be back filled unevenly to the hole. Watering will ensure that the soil will blanket the tender exposed roots completely.
  4. Newly Planted Timing-Water new perennials or annuals daily or every other day. For shrubs and trees with larger root balls, once a week is usually sufficient. Again, use the finger test, directly into the root ball. Just planted roots will be able to absorb soil moisture from only a small area until they begin to grow. If the surrounding soil is dry, it will wick out any water that you add to the plant that you just put in the ground.
  5. Deep Roots-Encourage deep roots by allowing the top inch or two of soil to dry before watering.
  6. Mulch-Mulch for moisture retention. Mulching the surface of the soil reduces evaporation so you can water less often. Only use between 1 to 2 inches of mulch. Don’t pile up too much around the base of the plant.
  7. Too Dry-If you let your containers dry out completely-you can tell as the plants are wilted- added water tends to slide down the sides of the pot and won’t moisten the root zone. Make sure that you apply water directly to the root zone and that it sinks in. If you are dealing with a mass of compacted roots, I even stab the root ball with a stake to loosen it so that water penetrates.
  8. Rain Water-Don’t depend on rain water to completely water your plants. Rain can be light and sporadic and not soak into a compacted root zone. Unless you get a gully washer or steady rain, don’t assume that your containers are watered.
  9. Right Tools-Leaky fittings and kinky dry rotted hoses, can make watering frustrating. Many people who would spend a pretty penny on the latest electronic equipment or kitchen appliances, skimp on their watering tools. For hose suggestions, go to Tools of the Trade. Dramm offers a high quality lifetime warranteed hose with crush proof nickel-plated couplings. No more ruining a hose by running my car over it!
  10. Sprinklers & Watering Cans-Think of sprinklers as one tool in your tool box. Don’t rely on them solely as they soak the top inch of soil in a wide area and can’t do a good job for deep watering. Watering Cans-You can never have enough watering cans lying around. I have at least 8-10 of them scattered around so I can find one immediately to hand. Invest in a larger one than the normal 1 gallon one found at Home Depot. Walmart carries the 3 gallon one pictured here.
Make sure you have plenty of watering cans scattered around
Dramm hoses are attractive as well as sturdy and tough

Hand Watering-The Right Stuff

I am very particular about nozzles, sprays, and wands or handles. Again, the right equipment makes watering so much easier and more efficient. I am always amazed at people who have the latest car with all the most expensive features, but in their back yard have a leaky faucet with cheap hoses and appliances. Dramm Corporation offers a variety of specialty water breakers or nozzles for the amateur and professional grower.

My array of wands, with different nozzles for different applications

Using Dramm’s tools exclusively has really sold me on their quality and toughness. A family run business in the USA, the company which started manufacturing their water breaker in inventor’s John Dramm’s basement,  has been in the horticulture business for over 75 years. I see them used everywhere by professionals in greenhouses and nurseries. Also producing other horticultural equipment like fertilizers, cutting tools, and aprons, watering equipment is Dramm’s core business.

Colorful array of Dramm products at my local nursery, Valley View Farm
Riding around a local wholesale nursery in a golf cart, I noticed the empty Dramm package-professional nurseries know a good thing

Dramm Versatility

Many types of watering situations are in a home garden – from starting seedlings and transplants to watering newly planted large trees and shrubs. It is easy to change the handle and the head easily with the large shut off valve without making a trip back to the faucet to turn the water flow off.

The brass shut off valve makes changing the handle or head easy

Wands or handles come in 16″ or 30″ lengths to reach into difficult to get to places, like a hanging plant massed with foliage that is hard to penetrate. The thumb valve works with a flick of your thumb so you can turn off the water as you move around to different plants.

Thumb valve is easy to use and ergonomic; great for my carpal tunnel

Waterbreaker Heads

I love the term- ‘waterbreaker’! The nozzle or waterbreaker actually breaks the water into many streams which adds air to the mix. Oxygenating your water flow is really important to healthy plants, especially to compacted soils, which you might find in containers. Softening the flow from a high-powered hose so you don’t disturb the soil and damage tender plants, keeps your plants healthy and looking good. With newly placed mulch placed around the plant base, you don’t want to wash away all that mulch that you just carefully placed. The original Dramm 400 nozzle has 400 holes and if you have low water volume like a well with lower water pressure, the 170 nozzle with micro-fine holes would work as it restricts the total water volume that gets to the nozzle.

The 170 nozzle is smaller in size and comes in plastic or aluminum

Range of sizes of nozzles-the one on the right side is the Screen-Aire waterbreaker

The Dramm Screen-Aire waterbreaker is designed to water containers with a gentle, concentrated aerated flow of water. A fine-mesh screen and internal components combine air and water to produce a very soft, unrestricted spray. I love this one! Watering in my new greenhouse is easy with this particular waterbreaker.

For my miniature gardens, I use  the 480 waterbreaker with extra fine holes so it doesn’t disturb all my miniature accessories. There is even a brass seedling nozzle with one hole to water my tiny cuttings.

I use the waterbreaker 480 which has micro fine holes to water my miniature gardens
I use a seedling nozzle to water my tiny plants

Slow & Deep

Think slow and deep for watering your plants in a container or in the garden to save time, water, and plants. A quick splash of water leads to shallow root systems and high water loss through evaporation. One deep watering will encourage deeper rooting, which leads to stronger, healthier plants.

 

Silvery Beauty-Silver Falls Trailer

 

Silver Falls is a great trailer for containers

Silver Falls, Dichondra argentea, has been in the gardening world for a while now but I don’t find that gardeners use it very often. Too bad! This plant makes an easy to grow spiller/trailer out of containers and a great low ground cover. An annual native to northern Mexico, Arizona, and western Texas, it thrives in hot dry conditions. A Proven Winner plant, I buy at least a flat of it in the spring for my containers.

Here are some quick facts about this great plant:

Features

  • Vigorous, fan-shaped silver foliage on silver stems; very heat and drought tolerant

  • Cascading plant that works in containers and looks good on stone walls

  • Grows 2-6 inches high, space in the garden 18-24 inches apart

  • Needs part sun to sun

  • Hardy to 20 degrees

  • Ideal for containers, hanging baskets, and ground covers

  • Works well with Creeping Jenny trailer

    Silver Falls planted in a free standing table container with Creeping Jenny in partial shade
Dichondra, Silver Falls
Silver Falls seen at Longwood Gardens

Definitely not deer proof but deer don’t prefer it. They only eat Silver Falls if there is nothing else tastier on the menu. Also, if you get it going so it has some size to it, deer tend to leave it alone. Get it through the juvenile and tender stage, and deer will browse on something else.

Cold tolerant, Silver Falls can last through some winters; here it is seen in a container at the end of November
Because of the small scale of the trailer, Silver Falls is useful for miniature gardens

My Silver Falls dripped out of my window boxes and rooted in the ground underneath. I let it do its thing as I thought it made a great ground cover. And yes, this is a vigorous (but not invasive) plant and I welcome the speed that it drips or cascades as once really cold (below 20 degrees)weather hits, it is gone. In the mid-Atlantic region here in Maryland, that means that it lasts until January.

Ground cover Silver Falls rooted in from a window box
Silver Falls works well trailing out of containers

 

Silver Falls seen at the Ripley Garden next to the Smithsonian in D.C.