All posts by sunrise-saltbox

Perennial of the Month: Coneflower

Coneflowers, also known as Echinacea, are tough little native flowers that draw butterflies, bees, and birds to the garden! Here’s how to grow this American native—and important tips on plant care, from deadheading to cutting back in July.

Bright upright plants, coneflowers are a North American perennial in the Daisy family (Asteraceae). Specifically, the plant is native to the eastern United States, from Iowa and Ohio south to Louisiana and Georgia. They grow 2 to 4 feet in height with dark green foliage. They are fast growers and self-sow their seed profusely. These midsummer bloomers can flower from midsummer through fall frost!

Their genus name Echinacea comes from the Latin name for hedgehog, echinus, referring to the often prickly lower stem of the plant. Coneflowers have raised cone-like centers (hence, the name) which contain seeds that attract butterflies. Leave the seed heads after bloom and you’ll also attract songbirds! 

Trouble-free, coneflowers are drought-tolerant, once established. They can take the heat!  As native plants with prickly stems, they are more deer-resistant than most flowering plants. 

The most common species available to gardeners is Echinacea purpurea, the purple coneflower. If purple doesn’t pair well with your garden’s color palette, don’t fret: coneflowers can be found in a range of bright or subdued colors.

Coneflowers are at home in a traditional garden or a wildflower meadow; they are striking in masses, especially as a mix of various colors. 

PLANTING

CHOOSING AND PREPARING A PLANTING SITE

  • Coneflowers prefer well-drained soil and full sun for best bloom. Choose a location where the coneflowers won’t get shaded out nor shade out others.
  • They may reach between 2 and 4 feet in height, depending on variety.
  • Coneflowers are very tolerant of poor soil conditions, but they perform best in soil that’s rich so mix in organic matter if needed.
  • Coneflowers are drought tolerant.

Loosen the soil in your garden using a garden fork or tiller to 12 to 15 inches deep, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost. (Learn more about preparing soil for planting.)

WHEN TO PLANT CONEFLOWERS

  • More commonly, coneflowers are bought as small plants with blooms already on the way. These should be planted in spring or early summer.
  • Coneflowers can be started from seed in spring indoors (about a month before the last spring frost date) or outdoors (when the soil temperature has reached at least 65°F/18°C).
    • Note: Coneflowers started from seed may take 2 to 3 years before producing blooms.
    • Better yet, don’t cut back coneflower plants and they’ll self-seed successfully!
  • If dividing or transplanting coneflowers, do so in the spring or fall.

HOW TO PLANT CONEFLOWERS

  • Plant coneflowers about 1 to 3 feet apart, depending on the mature size of the variety.
  • If you are moving a potted plant into the ground, dig a hole about twice the pot’s diameter and carefully place the plant in the soil. Bury the plant to the top of the root ball, but make sure the root ball is level with the soil surface. Water it thoroughly.

 

Shade Gardening for Beginners 

Shade gardening is an essential skill for homeowners who want to keep their entire property green and thriving. Most residential yards have some areas that rarely get direct sunlight and are prone to soil erosion because nothing grows there. This is especially true under spreading trees (such as oaks) which have dense foliage. Residential structures like houses and fences also tend to block sunshine and create dim spaces. 

Introduction to Shade Gardening

Contrary to your expectations, ground cover is not your only option for shady areas in your garden. You can plant shrubs, vines, flowering plants, and herbs in areas that receive little sun. Some species require well drained soil while others can grow in damp, boggy patches. Generally, shade loving plants appreciate being protected from harsh winds. This makes them perfect for side yards and other out-of-the-way retreats on your property.

In warm climates, houseplants (such as Caladium) that require very little light can be planted outdoors. For cooler zones, a luxurious bed of moss may be an ideal addition to your garden. Remember that the ground below deciduous trees will receive light during the winter. You can plant early flowering bulbs like crocuses and snowdrops in these areas since they will bloom before the trees send out new leaves in the spring.

Full Shade Plant Options

Some of the easiest shade plants to grow are those that spread via rhizomes or runners rather than by seed. Wild ginger, bugleweed, and lady fern are examples of species that propagate in this way. Such plants tend to be invasive. You may have to prune them aggressively to keep them from taking over your garden.

Perennial flowers that thrive in full shade include the spectacular foxglove. Bleeding heart, bishop’s hat, and deadnettle are other options. These plants only bloom for a couple of months per year. However, their foliage is still attractive during the rest of the season. 

Shrubs that can be grown in the shade include: Hebe, rhododendron, laurel, yew, and many species of holly. If you have large areas in your landscape that receive little sunlight, you can use these bushes to add height and bulk to your shade gardening design. 

Lilyturf is a ground cover that grows in grassy clumps. It is a popular border plant. Meadow rue, hosta, and lily of China are other shade tolerant ground covers. These types of vegetation are usually not as tough as lawn grass; so plant them in areas with no foot traffic.

Don’t forget ivy when you plan your shade garden. Grow it along a fence line or up tree trunks. Keep ivy away from your house – it can cause damage as its tendrils work their way under siding or into mortar.

Edible Plants 

Herbs such as mint, basil, and parsley will tolerate partial shade. Some leafy vegetables are also suitable for shade gardening. These plants grow more slowly with less sun, but should still produce plenty of fresh foliage for your dinner table. 

Perennial of the Month: Daylily

Daylilies are many gardeners’ favorite plants. They are dependable perennials, they are prolific and colorful bloomers, and they are relatively free of pests. Daylilies are tolerant of drought and flooding, immune to heat stress, tolerant of most soils and grow well in full sun or light shade. 

Height/Spread

Daylilies can range in height from 8 inches to 5 feet, and flower size can be as small as 2 inches or as large as 8 inches.

Growth Rate

Daylilies may bloom the year that they are planted, even from a relatively small plant. They will reach mature size in about three to four years. Daylilies are long-lived if given even moderate care.

Ornamental Feature

Daylilies are grown for their flowers in a rainbow of colors, and many shapes and sizes. There are daylilies in bloom from late spring until autumn. Individual flowers last only one day but since each plant produces many buds, the total blooming time of a well-established clump may be 30 to 40 days. Many varieties have more than one flowering period

 

Daylilies are little troubled by diseases and pests. The most common disease problem is daylily leaf streak. Thrips, spider mites, aphids, slugs and snails are the main pests of daylilies. 

Landscape Use

Daylilies are used for color in shrub borders and in perennial beds. They are excellent ground covers on slopes. Their roots will hold soil against erosion once established. Small cultivars can be planted in containers.

Daylilies grow best in direct sun or light shade. Darker-colored cultivars should be protected from strong afternoon sun that may fade the petals.

Daylilies prefer slightly acid (pH 6 to 6.5) well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. They are however, very tolerant and will grow in almost any soil except poorly drained soils. If drainage is a problem, plant daylilies in raised beds.

The best time to plant daylilies is during early fall or early spring when soil temperatures are moderate. Daylilies will tolerate planting during any time of year. Plant daylilies 18 to 24 inches apart. Set the plant so that the crown (the point where roots and foliage meet) is no deeper than 1 inch below the surface of the soil.

Water plants thoroughly after planting, and continue to deep soak them at least weekly until established. Although daylilies are drought-tolerant once established, consistent watering while budding and flowering produces better-quality flowers.

Daylilies usually grow adequately without fertilizer but grow best when lightly fertilized. They prefer moderate nitrogen and higher rates of phosphorous and potash. Slow-release fertilizers are best for daylilies. Put down fertilizer in the early spring just as new growth commences, and again in midsummer. Make sure that the soil is moist whenever applying fertilizer. Mulch helps to conserve moisture in the soil and control weeds.

Daylilies grow rapidly to form dense clumps. Division is not essential but may revitalize flowering if the plants have become crowded. Division is the usual way to increase your supply of daylilies. Dividing is usually done following flowering, but plants will tolerate division throughout the entire growing season.

Lift the entire clump or cluster out of the soil with a garden fork. To separate a clump into individual fans (sections with a set of roots and leaves), shake the clump to remove as much soil as possible, then work the roots of individual fans apart.

Daylilies look best if given some grooming through the year. During winter, remove any rotted or damaged foliage from around evergreen daylilies. Remove spent blooms and seedpods after summer flowering to improve appearance and encourage rebloom. When all the flowers on a scape (the daylilies’ flowering stalk) are finished, cut off the scape close to ground level. Remove dead foliage from daylilies as they die back in the fall.

Perennial of the Month: Hosta

Hosta are hardy perennials that are especially perfect for a shady garden. Reliable and very easy to grow, hosta are long-lived—and may even outlive the gardener!
 
What’s neat about hosta is that there are so many sizes, heights, textures, and colors. Plus, they work in many kinds of gardens (patio, border, container, rock).Though mainly known for their attractive foliage, the plants also produce lovely flowers during the summer in fragrant pink, lavender, or white. Hummingbirds love the flowers. Note: Slugs, snails, deer, and rabbits like hosta almost as much as people do. Keep this in mind if you have deer regularly wandering into your garden.

HOW TO CARE FOR HOSTAS

  • Apply a well-balanced, slow-release fertilizer after planting or when growth emerges in the spring. 
  • Keep the soil moist but not wet.
  • Place mulch around the plants to help retain moisture. 
  • Remove flower stalks after bloom to encourage new growth.
  • Clean up around the plants and remove brown leaves in the fall to help control diseases and slugs.
  • Transplanting and dividing is best done in early spring when the leaves just begin to emerge.

TRANSPLANTING OR DIVIDING HOSTAS

Hostas do not usually need dividing for their health. If they have less space, they’ll simply grow less quickly. However, if you wish to divide a hosta for a neater appearance, it’s best to do so in early spring once the ‘eyes’ or growing tips start to emerge from the ground.  This is also a good time to move or transplant a hosta to a new site.

Leave as much of the root attached as possible to each crown or plant. Plant the new hostas at the same soil level as they were previously. Water well until established.

PESTS/DISEASES

  • Slugs and snails:  If you see irregular holes along the leaf’s edges or entire leaves chewed off at the stem nocturnal slugs may be the culprit. Look for shiny slime trails on the leaves or on the ground around the plants.
  • Deer: It’s true. Deer love hosta. To discourage deer, use fencing or motion-sensitive sprinklers. Speak to your local garden center about odor-based sprays and deer repellents; the deer will taste the distasteful repellent first. 
  • Rabbits: If you see clean-cut chew marks on young hosta stems and leaves you may have rabbits in your garden. Look for dropped leaves and rabbit droppings on the ground and around the plants.

Thanks to the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

 

6 Simple Tips for Better Tomatoes

We know you are itching to get growing so we thought we’d provide tips to help you along the way. So by now you’ve got your tomato plants ready to plant. You’ve either grown them from seed, bought seedlings or perhaps even a fairly mature plant. Ideally you’ve waited for the last frost date and you’ve prepared your soil. You’re on your way to a summer filled with luscious fruit. Success can be yours if you’ll follow these simple steps when planting and caring for your plants. 

Bury the stems

Plant your tomato plants deeper than they come in the pot, all the way up to the top few leaves. When planted this way, tomatoes are able to develop roots all along their stems. And more roots make for a stronger plant.

You can either dig a deep hole or simply dig a shallow trench and lay the plant sideways. It will quickly straighten itself up and grow toward the sun. Just be careful not to drive your tomato stake or cage into the buried stem.

Mulch tomatoes after the soil has warmed

If you are not going to leave plastic on the soil, hold off on putting down mulch until after the ground has had a chance to warm up. Although mulching conserves water and prevents the soil and soil borne diseases from splashing up on the plants, if you put it down too early, it will also shade and cool the soil. Because tomatoes love heat, allow the sun to warm the soil in the spring. After temperatures remain warm, both during the day and at night, you can add a layer of mulch to retain moisture.

Remove the bottom leaves

After your tomato plants reach about 3 feet tall, remove the leaves from the bottom foot of the stem. These are the oldest leaves, and they are usually the first leaves to develop fungus problems. As the plants fill out, the bottom leaves get the least amount of sun and airflow. Because these leaves sit close to the ground, soil borne pathogens can easily splash up onto them. Removing them helps prevent fungal diseases from taking hold. Spraying weekly with compost tea also seems to be effective at warding off fungal diseases.

Pinch and prune for more tomatoes

Pinch and remove suckers that develop in the crotch joint of two branches. They won’t bear fruit and will take energy away from the rest of the plant. However, go easy on pruning the rest of the plant. You can thin out a few leaves to allow the sun to reach the ripening fruit, but it’s the leaves that are photosynthesizing and creating the sugars that give flavor to your tomatoes. Fewer leaves will mean fewer sweet tomatoes.

Water regularly

Water deeply and regularly while the fruits are developing. Irregular watering—missing a week and trying to make up for it—leads to blossom end rot (a calcium deficiency) and cracking and splitting. The rule of thumb is to ensure your plants get at least 1 inch of water per week, but during hot, dry spells, they may need more. If your plants start to look wilted for most of the day, give them a drink.

After the fruit begins to ripen, you can ease up on the watering. Lessening the water will coax the plant into concentrating its sugars, for better flavor. Use your judgment. Don’t withhold water so much that the plants continually wilt and become stressed or they will drop their blossoms and possibly their fruit.

Getting your plants to set tomatoes

Tomatoes’ ripening is pretty much at the mercy of the weather, but sometimes we can help things along. Pinching off the tips of the main stems in early summer will encourage indeterminate tomatoes (those with fruit available continuously) to start putting their energy into flowering.

Indeterminate tomatoes
like to grow tall before they start setting fruits, so don’t be alarmed if your tomato plants aren’t flowering for their first month or two. Pinching is also a handy trick toward the end of the summer when you want the last tomatoes to hurry up and ripen.

It shouldn’t be a problem getting determinate tomatoes (those that ripen all at once) to set fruit unless weather conditions are unfavorable and cause a condition aptly named “blossom drop.”

Houseplant of the Month: Easter Lily

Did you know that Easter lilies are the fourth largest potted plant crop grown in the U.S.? With Easter approaching, no doubt many homes and churches will soon be graced with the fragrant and lovely white trumpet-shaped flowers, symbolic of spring, purity and the Lord’s Resurrection. But how can you enjoy your fragrant flower long after the holiday? We have some helpful tips.

Caring for Your Potted Easter Lilies

To keep your potted Easter lily as its best, it prefers a cool daytime temperature of 60° to 65° F. and nighttime temperatures 5 degrees cooler. To keep the flowers from wilting, avoid placing the potted plant in direct sunlight. Most plants will lean toward the sunlight. To keep the plant growing upright, turn the pot every two days.

Keep the plant moist, but not soggy. Most Easter lilies are sold commercially in pots covered with decorative foil jackets. No water should be left standing at the bottom of this covering or the life of the lily will be ruined. Remove the pot from the foil covering every time the plant is watered. Once the water has soaked into the soil, return the pot to the foil covering.

Also, to help your potted lily thrive, do not place the pot near a direct source of heat. Lilies thrive in a humid climate, more so than a dry one. To create natural humidity, fill a saucer with small pebbles and water and set beneath the potted lily.

How to Transfer Easter Lilies to the Garden

Your Easter lily plant can be introduced into your flower garden for annual enjoyment. Transplant it outdoors once all danger of frost has passed and when the flower stops blooming. 

The plant needs to be in well-drained soil, just as it did when it was potted. To provide the needed drainage, add peat moss and perlite to rich organic soil.

Plant the lily bulbs, roots down, 3” inches beneath the surface of the soil and water. If planting more than one bulb, position them at least 12” inches apart. Cut back the stems once the plant appears dead. This will cause new growth to begin and possibly another bloom this summer. Next year, look for a June or July bloom.

Why We Garden

Gardeners tend to be optimistic. The simple act of planting a tree shows vision, creativity and yes, even hope. Sowing seeds is an act of faith, a fundamental belief in the natural world. One knows that with fertile soil, water and light, anything is possible. Gardens of contentment are borne in cities and in the country, in grand designs and in simple windowsills. The fact is, we garden because it makes us feel good.

Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who was the creative force behind the design of New York’s Central Park observed that viewing a scene in nature “employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it, tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body, gives the effect of refreshing rest.”

This observation could be judged to be more true today than when Mr. Olmsted was quoted back in 1865. In a day and age when work has become more stressful than ever, where daily lives are played out in an environment with higher levels of noise, crime and intensity, it’s understandable that people feel a general fatigue. Even work here at the nursery takes on an almost frenetic pace during the spring season. Where do we turn for relief? A quiet greenhouse or sales yard in the early morning hours. Like you, we turn to the garden…we connect with nature. Whether it is for five minutes or hours spent transplanting seedlings, we emerge refreshed, rejuvenated and somehow inspired.

There is something to be said for stopping to take notice of the world around you. It may seem trite, but taking the time to stop and smell the roses can lead to better health, a sharper mind and reduced stress. While we are force fed advice on how we should reduce our fat intake, increase our non-impact aerobic workouts, and oh, yeah….spend more quality time with the children, we’d like to present an alternative available right in your own backyard.

The Warm-up-

Start by taking in the morning air. Pulling weeds can be your opening stretching exercise. Comb your landscape and lawn for any and all invaders. Take your time, enjoy whatever is sprouting. Your neighbors will think you are strange, but they’ll be amazed by your weed free (all-organic, by the way) garden.

20-minutes to a leaner, greener you!

In the time it takes to rake your yard, or mow your lawn you can achieve quite an enjoyable aerobic workout. The great part is, you feel better from the results you’ve achieved, and from the physical activity that goes into it-a natural high!

A lush, green lawn, an exquisite flower, the sight of a cardinal…these acts of nature that make us feel good. They lift the spirits and improve people’s general feeling of well being. A garden can be just the right medicine for what ails you.

Gardening is a great opportunity to connect with yourself, your natural environment, and your inner creativity and self-expression-and it’s an activity you can enjoy as a family. Tend your garden daily. Planting the seeds for tomorrow’s blooms could just improve your health at the same time!

Houseplant of the Month: Shamrock

What is a Shamrock Plant? The potted shamrock plant (Oxalis regnellii) is a small specimen, often reaching no more than 6 inches. Leaves are in a range of shades and delicate flowers bloom off and on during fall, winter and spring. Leaves are clover shaped and some think the plant brings good luck.

It has clover-shaped leaves that grow in variable shades of green and purple tones. Shamrock plants bloom periodically, with delicate white or pink flowers which peek out from clusters of leaves throughout their growing season. These whimsical, living good luck symbols can be enjoyed during the fall, winter, and spring months.

Shamrock plants differ from most house plants in a few ways. For one, Shamrock plants grow from tiny bulbs that may be planted outside in fall or early spring, depending on the hardiness zone in which you live. They also fold up at night and re-open when light returns. These plants require a dormant period in the summer time, and will begin to shut down, which Shamrock plant owners sometimes mistake for the plant being dead.

Shamrock Plant Care Tips

  1. Place the plant in an area that is room temperature and receives good air circulation and bright, but not direct, light.
  2. Soil should be kept lightly moist. Water sparingly and allow the soil to dry out between waterings.
  3. Fertilize with a balanced houseplant food every few months.
  4. When leaves begin to die back in late spring or early summer, the plant is telling you that it needs a time of dormancy to rest. At this time, move the plant to a cooler, darker location, away from direct light and do not water of fertilize it. The dormant period varies and may last anywhere from a few weeks to three months, depending on the cultivar and the conditions.
  5. After the first couple weeks of dormancy, check your plant for new growth every week or so.
  6. When new shoots appear, the dormancy period has ended. Move the plant back to a brighter location and resume the recommended regular plant care.

How to Read a Grass Seed Label

If more is better, than a lot should be great! That seems to be the logic when buying grass seed. To get the best results when seeding this spring, it might help to understand a few of the basics. Let’s take a look at a typical seed label:

First of all, what do those names mean? They are usually proprietary varieties that were specifically bred for optimum results. With improvements in seed breeding and technology in the past 7-10 years, these new varieties are more disease and pest resistant. However, over half the lawns in North America are over 7 years old. Newer varieties have definite advantages.

How about germination? The second set of numbers is the germination rate of the seed. Like anything else there are different grades and qualities of grass seed. Watch out for this number. The higher the number the better. Why pay for seed that won’t grow.

What is “other crop seed?” The seed listed here is for the “off types” of seed that can detract from the quality of the lawn. These are usually fillers used in lower priced mixes. The lower the percentage, the better.

Why is there weed seed listed? If there is any weed seed present it is listed by percentage of weight. While you don’t want any weed seed, it is difficult and expensive to keep them out. Similarly avoid those listing obnoxious weeds.

What exactly is “inert matter?” Inert matter is just what it sounds like. This is substance in the box or bag that is not capable of growth. Usually it is filler added to take up space. The lower the percentage the better.

How much seed do you really need? In depends on your application. In full sun, figure about 4-5 lbs for 1000 (M) sq. ft for a new lawn and about 1.5 lbs/M for overseeding. In deep shade your numbers shuld be more like 3 lbs/M for a new lawn and 1.5 lbs/M for overseeding.

Ready to get going? Measure your area. With an understanding of the basic facts, area, conditions (soil, sun, shade) and a better understanding of how to read a seed label, you’ll have greater success with your next seeding project and save time and money! We’re here to help!

Houseplant of the Month: Monstera Deliciosa

Monstera may be the perfect houseplant for you if you’re looking to create a big, bold, tropical feel in your home. It features big (2-foot-wide) leaves that look like they have holes or cuts in them, giving rise to two of its other common names: Swiss cheese plant and split-leaf philodendron (while monstera is not a type of philodendron, it is closely related to them).

While young, this houseplant has a dense, bushy shape, but as it grows, it wants to vine out. You can keep it bushy with regular pruning, or let it climb up a vertical support (such as fishing line fastened into the ceiling), for a decidedly bold and tropical look.

Grow monstera just about anywhere in your house! It tolerates low light, but grows faster and becomes more dramatic in a bright spot. In most areas, it can take some direct sun on its leaves when grown in the house.

Water monstera regularly — enough to keep the soil from drying out. The plant is somewhat drought tolerant, so you don’t need to worry about keeping up with the watering all time time. It’s a survivor! 

Fertilize monstera a few times in spring and summer to keep it happiest, especially if the leaves start to look light green or pale around the veins. You can fertilize it more regularly — even weekly — if you want more growth. Either way, use a houseplant fertilizer and adhere to the directions on the product packaging.