Category Archives: Garden Blog

2021 Perennial Plant of the Year

CALAMINTHA NEPETA SUBSP. NEPETA

Calamint, Lesser Calamint

Calamintha Nepeta Subspecies Nepeta

Photo credit: Stonehouse Nursery

Like a cloud of confetti, tiny white flowers (sometimes touched with pale blue) appear from early summer to fall. Undemanding and dependable, calamint provides the perfect foil for other summer bloomers and foliage. This full-sun perennial has a low mounding or bushy habit, ideal for the front of the border, rock gardens, and more.

While durable and pest-free, calamint also checks two important boxes for gardeners: bees and other pollinators work the flowers throughout the summer and the aromatic foliage is deer-resistant.

Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta is a favorite low-growing component in stylized meadows, matrix plantings, and other modern perennial designs. Gardeners can also create a lovely monochromatic garden with more sure-thing perennials including past PPOYs such as Anemone xhybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’ and Phlox paniculata ‘David’, or complemented with ornamental grasses such as Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’ (switchgrass) or Schyzacharium scoparium (little bluestem).

 

Calamintha in the landscape

Photo credit: Midwest Groundcovers

Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 to 7

 

Light: Full sun 

 

Size: Up to 18 inches tall and wide 

 

Native Range: Great Britain to Southern Europe (Griffiths, M. 1994. Index of Garden Plants, Timber Press: Portland, OR) 

 

Soil: Best with good drainage – tolerates some drought once established. 

 

Maintenance: Low-maintenance deciduous perennial.  Can shear back lightly if desired to create neater habit or refresh spent blooming stems.  Tolerates drought once established. 

 

Nomenclature: What’s with the “subspecies”?  Abbreviated subsp. or spp., this is a naturally-occuring, phenotypic variation to a species that is usually related to a geographic situation.  This subspecies was selected for size and vigor.  May also be found under the following synonyms: Calamintha nepatoides and Clinopodium nepeta. 

 

Grower Notes: Calamintha nepeta subps. nepeta has no patents or other restrictions.  Propagate by vegetative cuttings (stem or root).  Vernalization not required.  Spring planting yields a one-gallon in 8-10 weeks.  Grow on the dry side.  Smaller pot sizes not recommended.  Pinch or shear if needed to shape; responds to plant growth regulators.

June is Perennial Gardening Month

June is the perfect time to plant perennials

Because of the abundance of perennials that bloom this month, June has been designated as Perennial Gardening Month by the Perennial Plant Association.

Perennial gardens often bring to mind the classic cottage garden or vibrant perennial border, and rightfully so.  Cottage gardens and perennial borders burst with a variety of colors, heights, and textures. Beautiful and evolving throughout the entire growing season, even in the depths of winter, perennial gardens are visually captivating and provide wildlife habitat.

Perennials and the Paradox of Choice

Simply defined, the paradox of choice is being overwhelmed by too many choices.  Have you experienced the paradox of choice when trying to decide which perennials to add to your garden?

With virtually endless options of perennials available, creating an entirely new perennial garden or even just adding a few perennials to your garden can be daunting. However, applying these three simple decision-making strategies will help simplify the process and should help make your best options obvious:
Where, What and How?

WHERE:   

SUN OR SHADE – CONSIDER THE SUN EXPOSURE

Is the garden located in full sun or partial sun?

  • If it is in partial sun; is it morning sun or afternoon sun?
    Yes, it does matter. Temperatures of morning sun tends to be cooler than afternoon sun and different plants have difference heat tolerances.

  • Perhaps the garden is in a shady area. If so, is it in full shade, mostly shade or part shade?  

Container garden or in-ground garden

  • A growing gardening trend (pun intended), is to create perennial container gardens and then transplant the perennials to an in-ground garden bed towards the end of the growing season. Some perennials adapt to transplanting better than others and it is important to know what time of year is best for the plant re-location project.

  • In general, established perennials will overwinter better when planted in the ground than in a container. However, when overwintering perennials in a container, a general rule of (green) thumb is to subtract at least one hardiness zones. For example, if you live in Zone 5, the perennials should be Zone 4 or lower.  To verify the Hardiness Zone where you live check out the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.  

    Below are a few additional tips to overwintering perennials in a container:

    • A large container has more mass and holds more soil. This mass provides insulation that helps moderate the soil temperature, protecting the plant’s roots from temperature extremes. The additional soil also helps retain soil moisture.  

    • Cover the soil with organic mulch: bark mulch or leaves, or even a few layers of newspaper. In addition to moderating soil temperature fluctuations and retaining moisture, the cover helps prevent weed seeds from taking up residence in your perennial container garden.

    • Further protect your perennial container garden by moving it to a more protected area. Even a non-heated garage will help protect it from severe temperature extremes. Since the plants are dormant, light isn’t required, but check the container every few weeks to make sure the soil is still moist. However, be careful not to over-water as this could cause the plant to come out of dormancy prematurely.

WHAT:

FLOWERS, FOLIAGE, OR BOTH

Usually perennials are celebrated for their flowers and long blooming period, yet some are infamous for their foliage; think of Hosta, succulents, and ornamental grasses. An ever-growing (another pun?) category of perennials are those with unique foliage such as Heuchera or Ligularia, that also have notable flowers.  

HEIGHT: TALL, MEDIUM, OR SHORT

Consider the placement in the garden, whether it be a perennial border or container garden.

o   Traditional perennial borders are essentially designed in three distinct sections: the tallest plants are placed towards the back then the mid-height plants and lastly, at the front of the border is most often a low growing flowering perennial or ground-cover.

o   A perennial container garden that will be viewed from all angles, or nearly all angles, should have the tallest plant in the center, with mid-height plants surrounding the tallest plant and ultimately the shortest plants around the edge of the container. Just remember the standard container gardening design tenet Thriller, Fillers and Spillers applies in a perennial container garden just as it does for an annual container garden.

For more design ideas and garden maintenance tips read The Blogpost Pile: Coloring Your Garden with Annuals, as the ideas and tips shared in this article apply to perennials as well as annuals.

 HOW:

How much maintenance?

Some perennials require more maintenance to keep them blooming and healthy than others do. Understanding how much time you want to enjoy in the garden tending to your flowers, will help ensure your perennial garden thrives for years to come.

How much moisture?  

Determining how much natural moisture your garden receives and how much supplemental water you plan to provide will significantly assist your decision-making process and reduce the Paradox of Choice predicament.

Celebrate Perennial Gardening Month by discovering new perennials or rediscovering your favorite classic perennials at your local garden center.  

All About Native Plants

What is a native plant?
Seems like a simple question, right? It turns out that some things are not so easy to define. Horticulturists, botanists, growers and gardeners don’t always define the word “native” in the same way. Here’s how they differ.

The Strict Definition of Native
Some people believe that only plants found growing naturally in the wild, with no intervention from humans, are truly native to the place they are growing. If you collected seed from these wild plants and grew them in your garden, those seedlings would also be considered native.

However, if you selected one of those seedlings, gave it a name, and propagated it for sale, strict nativists would no longer consider your new named seedling to be native. Since none of the plants Proven Winners sells can be found in the wild, none of them can be called native by this definition.

Native Cultivars
Many people who enjoy native plants also consider seedlings and cultivars of these plants to be native. You may have heard the term native cultivar (“nativar” for short) used to describe such plants. A native cultivar is a plant that results when native parent plants are used to create a new cultivar.

In the case of one parent, a plant breeder might select and propagate one plant that has an especially unique trait, like brighter colored flowers, out of a hundred seedlings sown from a native species. This one selected plant would be considered a native cultivar because it is a derivative of the native species.

In the case of multiple parents, a plant breeder might make a “complex cross”, transferring the pollen from more than one native plant onto another in hopes of making seedlings that inherit desirable traits from multiple parent plants. The resulting seedlings would all be considered native cultivars.

Proven Winners Perennials and Proven Winners ColorChoice® Shrubs that are labeled as “native to North America” on this website are all native cultivars. These plants’ ancestry includes only native species and native cultivars with North American parentage. If any of the parents used to create a new plant was not native to North America, the resulting Proven Winners plant would not be classified as native.

Are native plants easy to grow?
There are many myths surrounding native plants. One is that all native plants are easier to grow and longer lived than cultivars. In many cases, this is not true. First, you need to look at where the plant you want to grow is native to. If you live in Wisconsin and that plant is native to the Southeast U.S., it may be quite difficult for you to grow because of the difference in climates. If you want to grow natives, it’s a good idea to check the USDA website to see which types of plants are native to your state.

When plant breeders select cultivars of native plants, one of the characteristics that is commonly sought after is disease resistance. Many native species of Monarda (bee balm), for example, are commonly plagued by powdery mildew in the wild, but named cultivars have been selected for their disease resistance.

Breeders also select for traits like stronger stems that don’t require staking, a longer bloom time, self-cleaning flowers that don’t require deadheading, longevity in the landscape, and greater vigor. All of these things save gardeners time and resources, making many native cultivars easier to grow and maintain.

What’s your gardening goal?
Everyone has a different goal when they plant a garden. Some are looking to recreate a tiny piece of the prairie that once stood where their suburban home now sits. Some want to grow as much of their own organic produce as possible. Some view planting as decorating their garden, patio and porch with welcoming color.

No matter the goal, many gardeners enjoy lower maintenance plants, those that draw in butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators, and those that require less frequent watering. Many native plants offer these desirable attributes.

Article courtesy Proven Winners

Create a Pollinator Garden

What you can do? Tips for Creating a Pollinator Friendly Garden Habitat

By planting a pollinator-friendly garden you are making a difference for honey bees, bumble bees, other bees and pollinators that bring us 1 in every 3 bites of food.
Establishing habitat can be challenging but there are certain things you can do to make it easier and more successful. You are probably aware of many of the points listed below; use what is helpful to your site and disregard what is not.

SITE SELECTION

  • Choose a sunny location.
  • Pick a site that has water access; most plantings usually need water for at least the first few weeks while they establish.
  • Start with a manageable size for YOU to plant and maintain – a window box is enough if that is what works for you.
  • Look for sites that are protected from strong wind.
  • Provide nearby ground nesting sites with bare ground or debris (don’t be too tidy!) and wood nesting sites with wood blocks.
  • Provide a source of water.

PLANT SELECTION – PLANTS VS. SEEDS

  • Seeds will take longer to provide habitat, but they can cover more ground and cost less.
  • Select native plants whenever possible (the FREE ecoregional planting guides at www.pollinator.org are really helpful for all!)
  • The plants you select must provide nectar for carbohydrate and pollen for protein to the pollinators.
  • Different floral shapes and colors will attract different pollinators.  The Pollinator Partnership’s Ecoregional Guides will help identify pollinator needs.
  • Monarch butterflies require regionally specific milkweeds on which they will lay their eggs, and also nectar supplying plants to fuel their flights.
  • Though native plants are most helpful to local ecosystems and  pollinators; here is a list of plants that do pretty well everywhere and are widely available:
  • Lavandula spp. (Lavender)
    Rosemarinus officinalis (Rosemary)
    Salvia spp. (Sage)
    Echinacea spp. (Coneflower)
    Helianthus spp. (Sunflower)
    Cercis spp. (Redbud)
    Nepeta spp. (Catnip)
    Penstemon spp. (Penstemon)
    Stachys spp. (Lamb’s ears)
    Verbena spp. (Verbena)
    Phacelia spp. (Bells or Phacelia)
    Aster spp. (Aster)
    Rudbeckia spp. (Black-eyed Susan)
    Origanum spp. (Oregano)
    Achilliea millefolium (Yarrow)

 

PLANTING/SEEDING INSTRUCTIONS:

  • Plant like plants together – pollinators like large targets to find their source of food.
  • Plan for continuous bloom throughout the growing season so that a good food source is always in bloom.
  • Once you get your seed, store it in a cool dry place until you are ready to seed. Never store seed in a car, plastic bag or outside.
  • If you are uncertain, check the pH of your soil. For forge seed germination and establishment, the pH should be between 5.0 and 7.0. An inexpensive pH meter can be used to conduct this test. Remove all weeds and other debris from the pollinator buffer site.
  • Remove all grassy areas before seeding.
  • Evenly scatter the seed throughout.
  • If deer are a problem, install a deer fence.
  • Cover the newly scatter seed with no more than 1/4” of soil.
  • Water the newly seeded pollinator buffer weekly for 4-6 weeks post-seeding (if it is extremely hot and dry, water more frequently).

 

MAINTENANCE AND BEYOND

  • Be sure to have an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program in order to eliminate the impact of pesticides on pollinators.  Access to clean forage is critical to pollinator health.
  • Register your pollinator habitat – no matter what the size – on the Pollinator Partnership’s SHARE site (Simply Have Areas Reserved for the Environment).  You can create an account there and upload photos or videos of your pollinator garden.  You will locate your pollinator garden on a Google map that can be visited and updated again and again and connects you to all the “pollinator people” across the United States who are “sharing” a part of their neighborhood for pollinators.

Courtesy – http://pollinator.org/million-pollinator-garden-challenge.htm

GROW THESE VEGGIES ON YOUR PATIO

As urban gardening continues to trend, container gardens are popping up everywhere! Container gardens are perfect small-space solutions. Not only do they provide added appeal to your space, they also give you delicious food right at your fingertips. If you have limited space, or simply just want to add another element to your existing crop, grow these container plants on your patio this summer.

Espoma soil acidifier, Holly-tone, growing blueberries, BrazelBerries Jelly Bean

Photo courtesy of Bushel and Berry.

  1. Blueberries – These sweet summer fruits grow great in containers. Because blueberries are so small, you can get a big harvest with very little space. Blueberries love acidic soil, so check the pH level of your soil and add Espoma’s Holly-tone if necessary. Check out more on growing blueberries here.
  2. Tomatoes – With tons of varieties, there is a tomato for everyone. Some of our favorites to grow in containers include smaller varieties like grape or cherry tomatoes. These are easy to pick right off the vine and are perfect for gardening with kids. Learn more about growing tomatoes in our ultimate tomato-growing guide.
  3. Peppers – Like tomatoes, peppers come in many different shapes and sizes. Whether you’re looking to add some spice to your garden with jalapenos, or prefer milder bell peppers, these colorful veggies are a vibrant summer sight. Peppers love lots of direct sun, so plant these containers in a bright area.
  4. Zucchini – One of our favorite summer veggies, zucchini are a bit larger than tomatoes and peppers and need more room. Grow in a container with at least a five gallon capacity with proper drainage. Use Espoma’s Garden-tone to get the most out of your zucchini plants. Like peppers, zucchini will thrive with 6-8 hours of sunlight, so plant in a sunny spot.
  5. Herbs – Because herbs are small, they are the perfect fit for any container garden. Kitchen staples such as rosemary, basil and mint are great additions to any dish, or even a refreshing summer drink. Grow herbs in Espoma’s Organic Potting Mix in containers inside or out.

If you have limited space, don’t let that discourage you! With the right containers and a little bit of planning, you can have a delicious summer harvest in no time.

It’s Time To Plant Pansies!

Pansies are the colorful flowers with “faces.” A cool-weather favorite, pansies are great for both spring and fall gardens! Here’s how to plant pansies as well as keep them growing and blooming.

Pansies have heart-shaped, overlapping petals and one of the widest ranges of bright, pretty colors and patterns.

Good for containers, borders, and as ground cover, they are a go-to flower for reliable color almost year-round. Pansies look pretty on their own in a monochrome scheme or in mixed colors; they also look pretty when planted with other cool-season flowers such as violas, primroses, trailing lobelia, and sweet alyssum.

ARE PANSIES ANNUAL OR PERENNIAL FLOWERS? 

The pansy may be treated as either an annual or a perennial, depending on your climate. However, most gardeners treat this plant as an annual because it prefers cool weather and gets too leggy in the heat of summer. There hasn’t been much success in producing heat-tolerant pansies that can adequately survive hot weather.

Pansies are surprisingly hearty in cold weather, though. They’ll survive a frost, bouncing back from even single digit temperatures. If the blooms wither in the cold, the plants will often stay alive to bloom again, which makes them a great flowering plant for fall and early winter color.

Pansies

PLANTING

WHEN TO PLANT PANSIES

  • Pansies can be planted in the early spring or the fall. 
  • Pansies can be finicky to start from seed; it’s a lot easier to buy established plants from a local nursery. Plus, you’ll get blooms a lot sooner.
  • But if you want to seed, start pansy seeds indoors in late winter 8 to 10 weeks before the last spring frost for early spring and summer flowering. Or, start seeds in late summer for fall and winter flowering. Pansy seeds may be slow to germinate (typically emerging in anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks, depending on soil temperature).
  • Set pansy plants in the ground when it becomes workable in the spring. They grow best when soil temperatures are between 45°F and 65°F (7°C and 18°C).
  • Pansies can tolerate a light frost just after planting, but try to hold off on putting them in the ground if temperatures are still regularly reaching well below freezing.

WHERE TO PLANT PANSIES

  • Plant in moist, humus-rich, well-drained soil. See our articles on soil amendments and preparing soil for planting for more information. 
  • Pansies like full or partial sun, but need cooler temperatures to thrive. The ideal planting site will get morning sun but avoid the heat of the late afternoon.
  • Space the plants about 7 to 12 inches apart. They will spread about 9 to 12 inches and grow to be about 6 to 9 inches tall.

Pansies in Pots

  • Pansies are great for containers. Just use potting soil.
  • Plant in portable containers (12 inches or less in diameter) so the plants can be moved to a cooler area when the sun starts to get stronger. Early in the spring season or in the fall, a south-facing patio might be the perfect spot. During the summer, move pansies to the east side of your home for morning sun and afternoon shade.

CARE

HOW TO CARE FOR PANSIES

  • Remember to water pansies regularly. One of the most common reasons pansies fail is because they are not watered enough, so if your pansies are not doing well, try watering them more.
  • You can use a general, all-purpose fertilizer around your pansies to help them grow. Be wary of using a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer, though, as this can result in more foliage instead of flowers.
  • Remove faded/dead flowers to encourage the plants to produce more blooms and to prolong the blooming season.

Reference: Farmer’s Almanac

10 Essential Spring Gardening Tasks

1. Time for a spring inspection.

On one of the first warm days of spring, put on your inspector’s hat and head out to the garden with a notepad. It’s time to see what happened in the garden while you were indoors all winter. Take note of:

  • Cold, ice or snow damage on plants
  • Beds that will need to be cleaned out
  • Hardscaping elements—walls, fences, benches, sheds, trellises—that have shifted, bowed or rotted
  • Evidence of new animal burrows from skunks, chipmunks, moles and voles, groundhogs or rabbits. Also, note any deer or rodent damage on woody plants.

 

2. Address hardscaping issues first.

In early spring before the ground is ready to be worked, focus your energy on hardscaping. This is the time to repair damaged retaining walls, level out your stepping stones, clean out your gutters, and fix fences, benches, decks, sheds, trellises, window boxes and raised beds. These tasks are easier to accomplish while your plants are still resting safely dormant.

Early spring is also a good time to plan for and build new raised gardens, widen existing ones, and tidy up your beds’ edging. When temperatures allow, add a fresh coat of paint, stain or sealant to any hardscaping elements made of wood.

 

3. Do a thorough spring cleanup.

Ideally just before your spring bulbs start to pop up, clean the plant debris out of your garden beds. This includes fallen branches, matted down leaves, last year’s perennial foliage, ornamental grasses and perennial hibiscus, and any annuals you didn’t remove last fall. Maintaining good hygiene in your garden beds will help to keep pests and diseases at bay.

Now is also a good time to clean out debris from your pond or water feature. While you’re at it, scrub and sterilize your bird bath and containers before setting them back out into the garden. A 1 part bleach/5 parts water solution should take care of any lingering diseases or insect eggs in your containers.    

 

4. Test your garden soil.

Experts recommend testing your garden soil every 3-5 years to see what nutrients or organic materials it needs and which it has too much of. You might learn, for example, that your soil is very high in phosphorous, so you would avoid adding fertilizers that contain a lot of it. Or you might find out your soil is naturally alkaline, and need to add aluminum sulfate around your evergreens and acid-loving shrubs like hydrangeas. Detailed instructions on how to collect and submit your soil sample is available on your state’s Extension Service website.    

 

5. Feed your soil.

Once you know what your garden soil needs based on your test results, talk with someone at your local garden center about which specific products to use, always following package instructions for best results.

A good general practice is to topdress the soil with an inch or two of compost, humus and/or manure in early spring just before or as your bulbs are starting to emerge. That’s also a good time to sprinkle an organic slow release plant food like Espoma’s Plant-tone or Rose-tone around your perennials and shrubs. Earthworms and other garden creatures will do the job of working these organic materials down into the soil for you.

 

6. Get out a sharp pair of pruners.

Spring is a good time to prune some kinds of woody shrubs and trees. We’ve created a detailed guide for you to follow here: Pruning Demystified. Here are a few highlights:

  • Start by pruning out anything that has been broken or damaged by winter ice, snow and cold. Remove dead wood, too. 
  • Follow the general rule that flowering shrubs which bloom on new wood (this year’s growth) can be trimmed in spring. This includes summer flowering shrubs like butterfly bushsmooth hydrangea (H. arborescens)panicle hydrangea (H. paniculata)potentillarose of Sharon, and roses. Their flower buds will be set on the new flush of growth that appears after you prune it.
  • Spring is also a good time to shear back evergreens like boxwood and arborvitae once their initial flush of new growth has finished emerging.
  • DO NOT prune early flowering shrubs and those that bloom on old wood (last year’s stems) like azaleaforsythialilacquinceninebark and weigela in spring. If you do, you’ll risk cutting off this year’s flower buds. You might not be able to see them, but they are there, so resist the urge to prune.    

 

7. Divide perennials and transplant shrubs.

In early spring when they are just beginning to pop up, divide and transplant any perennials that have outgrown their space or grown large enough to split, if desired. In most cases, it’s best to divide and move perennials in the opposite season of when they bloom. That means moving summer and fall blooming perennials in spring, and spring blooming perennials in fall. This avoids disrupting their bloom cycle.

Evergreen shrubs can be moved in early spring before their new growth appears or in early fall to give them enough time to re-establish their roots before winter. Deciduous shrubs can be moved almost anytime they are not in bloom and the weather is mild, but generally spring and fall are the preferred seasons for transplanting. If you move them while they are dormant, there will be less stress on the plants and they will be more likely to spring back into action quickly.     

 

8. Put out any necessary supports like trellises and stakes.

If you’ve brought a trellis into the garage or shed for winter, early spring is a good time to bring it back out into the garden. Make sure it’s sturdy and apply a fresh coat of paint if needed before using it again. If you grow peonies, delphiniums, or any other perennials that require support, set them out now or get them ready to go. Trying to wrangle tender peony stems into a peony ring is tough work once their leaves have unfurled.

 

9. Plant your spring containers and borders.

Though most annual flowers need the soil to warm up a bit before planting, some cool weather loving plants like pansiesnemesia, and osteospermum daisies won’t mind if you plant them in the garden early. Fill your spring containers with sweet alyssumlobelia and Supertunia petunias, too. You’ll find six solutions for cool weather plantings in this article. For most other annuals, it’s a good idea to wait until your area’s last frost date to plant. Your local Extension Service website lists that date on their website.  

 

10. Be ready to take cover if freezing temperatures are in the forecast.

If you garden in an area where late spring frosts and freezes are a possibility, be prepared to cover up plants that have tender emerging buds or foliage if freezing temps are in the forecast. If the buds haven’t begun to open yet, there’s no need to cover them.

Old sheets and towels that have been relegated to the rag pile are a good option, and professional row cover is available for purchase, too. DO NOT cover tender plants with plastic sheeting or tarps. The effect of the plastic touching the newly emerging buds and foliage will magnify the cold’s effect, rather than mitigate it.   

Article courtesy of Proven Winners

Veggies That Prefer Cool Weather

Many of the most common kinds have edible leaves or roots, like lettuce, carrots and onions.

With spring around the corner, a gardener can get a bit anxious to start planting. But not all vegetables are as eager to get into the cool ground and start growing. Luckily, there are cool season crops that tend to thrive in the chill of an early spring, and again, in late summer, early fall.

Many of the most common kinds have edible leaves or roots, like lettuce, carrots and onions. Others produce edible seeds, like peas and certain types of beans. And still other cool weather thrivers are artichokes, broccoli and cauliflower. Most of these can even endure short periods of frost. In fact with a cool-weather vegetable like kale, frost on the leaves can make them even sweeter.

To get a head-start on maturity with many cool season plants, start with young, vigorous plants. Most root vegetables (such as carrots and radishes), however, will need to be grown from seed.

These cool-weather plants also grow well in containers, which can make it easier for gardeners, especially if the early-spring ground is still a bit difficult to tend. In fact, plants like lettuce and carrots and peas are excellent vegetables for first-time growers or gardeners with limited space.

Specific Vegetable Varieties to Choose

More specifically, horticulturists tend to break down cool weather vegetables into types, or categories. One such description is “hardy” or “semi-hardy” vegetables. Hardy vegetables can tolerate harder frosts and temperatures in the low 20’s. Semi-hardy vegetables will tolerate light frosts and temperatures in the high 20’s and low 30’s. Here’s a partial list of plants within each category:

Hardy vegetables: broccoli*, Brussels sprouts*, cabbage*, collards*, English peas*, kale*, kohlrabi*, leeks*, mustard greens*, radishes*, spinach*, turnips

Semi-hardy vegetables: beets, carrots, cauliflower*, celery*, Chinese cabbage*, endive, Irish potatoes, lettuce*, radicchio, rutabaga*, Swiss chard*

Early Spring, a Perfect Planting Time

Yes, it can get cold in early spring–a little frost, a few snowflakes. But that doesn’t have to lessen an early harvest. In fact, the cooler temperatures in the spring have fewer pests around to bother gardeners or damage plants.

Whether a novice grower or an experienced gardener, cool crop growing is an enjoyable and bountiful way to extend the season. And that means more meals on your table with fresh, delicious vegetables from your garden.

Article Courtesy of Miracle-Gro

Houseplant of the Month: Fiddle Leaf Fig

The fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) is a popular indoor specimen plant featuring very large, heavily veined, violin-shaped leaves that grow upright. These plants are native to tropical parts of Africa, where they thrive in very warm and wet conditions. This makes them somewhat challenging for the home grower, who is likely to have trouble duplicating these steamy conditions. However, they are relatively tough plants that can withstand a less-than-perfect environment for a fairly long time.

Fiddle-leaf figs are perfect as focal points of a room if you can situate them in a floor-standing container where the plant is allowed to grow to at least 6 feet. (Most indoor specimens reach around 10 feet tall.) They’re fairly fast growers and can be potted at any point in the year if you’re like most gardeners acquiring a nursery plant to keep indoors.

Botanical Name Ficus lyrata
Common Name Fiddle-leaf fig, banjo fig
Plant Type Broadleaf evergreen
Mature Size 50 feet tall (outdoors), 10 feet tall (indoors)
Sun Exposure Part shade
Soil Type Loamy, medium moisture, well-draining

Fiddle-Leaf Fig Care
Fiddle-leaf figs are not especially demanding plants as long as you can get their growing conditions right. When grown as a houseplant, be prepared to rotate your fiddle-leaf fig every few days so a different part faces the light source. That way, it will grow evenly, rather than lean toward the light.

Also, every week or two dust the leaves with a damp cloth. Not only does this make the leaves appear shinier and more appealing, but it also allows more sunlight to hit the leaves for photosynthesis. Moreover, you can trim off any damaged or dead leaves as they arise, as they no longer benefit the plant. And if you wish, you can prune off the top of the main stem for a bushier growth habit.

Light
Fiddle-leaf figs require bright, filtered light to grow and look their best. Direct sunlight can burn the leaves, especially exposure to hot afternoon sun. And plants that are kept in very low light conditions will fail to grow rapidly.

Soil
Any quality indoor plant potting mix should be suitable for a fiddle-leaf fig. Ensure that the soil drains well.

Water
Fiddle-leaf figs like a moderate amount of moisture in the soil. If the plant doesn’t get enough water, its leaves will wilt and lose their bright green color. And if it gets too much water, the plant might drop its leaves and suffer from root rot, which ultimately can kill it. During the growing season (spring to fall), water your fiddle-leaf fig when the top inch of soil feels dry. And over the winter months, water slightly less.

Furthermore, these plants are sensitive to high salt levels in the soil. So it’s ideal to flush the soil until water comes out the bottom of the pot at least monthly. This helps to prevent salt build-up.

Temperature and Humidity
Fiddle-leaf figs don’t like extreme temperature fluctuations. A room that’s between 60 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit is typically fine, though you must position the plant away from drafty areas, as well as air-conditioning and heating vents. These can cause sudden temperature shifts.

Aim for a humidity level between 30% and 65%. If you need to supplement humidity, mist your plant with clean water in a spray bottle daily. Or you can place it on a tray of pebbles filled with water, as long as the bottom of the pot isn’t touching the water. Plus, fiddle-leaf figs can benefit from being in a room with a humidifier.

Houseplant of the Month: Hoya

Hoya have been popular house plants for decades and with good reason. They are extremely long-lived, have a classic, deep green, vining foliage and produce fragrant, light pink and red star-shaped flowers. Because of their thick waxy, foliage they are often called wax plants or sometimes porcelain flower referring to the unique texture of the flowers.

These tropical vining plants have a few requirements in order to thrive but nothing too hard. Give them bright, indirect light, humidity and a light touch when it comes to watering. Use a potting mix that allows for good air circulation around the roots. Read on for the best recipe for success.

Light

Select a place that gets bright, indirect light. Don’t let their waxy foliage fool you. They are not succulents and can’t take harsh afternoon light. They will grow in lower light situations but it’s unlikely they will bloom. 

Soil and Repotting

Potting soil with good air circulation is very important for Hoya. To create a perfect blend mix equal parts of Espoma’s organic Cactus MixOrchid Mix, and Perlite. Hoya like to be pot-bound or crowded in their pots. They will only need to be repotted every two or three years.

Water

Water regularly with room-temperature water, spring through summer. Let the top layer of soil dry between watering. In the fall and winter growth naturally slows down and they won’t use as much water. Water sparingly during fall and winter, give them just enough that the soil doesn’t dry out completely. Too much water can cause flowers to drop.

Humidity 

Hoya are tropical plants that thrive in humid conditions. Use a humidifier to bring the humidity levels up, especially in winter when indoor air tends to be dry. A saucer with gravel and water also provides humidity as the water evaporates. Misting with room-temperature water also helps but avoid spraying the flowers.

Temperature

Keep the room temperature warm year-round, try not to let it drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s also best to keep plants from touching cold windows and away from heating and cooling vents.

Pruning

Prune in spring before vigorous growth begins. The stems with no leaves are called spurs and shouldn’t be removed. Flowers are produced on the same spurs year after year. Hoya are vining plants that will happily cascade from a shelf or window sill. Conversely, they are often trained onto trellises that are either vertical or circular, giving the impression of a more robust plant.

Thanks to Espoma.com for care tips

Photo courtesy of Costa Farms