Green Thumb Tip #13: Breaching Your Zone

It is time to save our favorite Alocasia before our first freeze of the season, tonight.

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We expect frost tonight, the first of the season.   In fact, the forecast suggests that we may have temperatures in the 20s overnight; the result of an approaching cold front and gusty winds from the north all day.

We can’t complain.  Here in Zone 7, we know that frost is possible any time from October 15 on.  We’ve escaped the inevitable for nearly an extra month, and tonight is the night.

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Alocosia ‘Stingray’ in August, with Begonia ‘Griffin’ behind.  Both came inside today for the winter.

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Bringing tender plants in for winter remains one of our annual rituals here in our forest garden.   We procrastinate as long as possible, to give the plants every day possible out in the air and sunshine.   We’ve found that even tender tropicals will survive a few nights in the 40s better than a few days in the garage, and so have learned to wait until we are sure that we have a freeze warning before we gather them back indoors.  Moving them back and forth several times over our long fall really isn’t practical; we wait for the last possible moment to commit.

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Colocasia ‘Mohito’ is marginally hardy in our area. I couldn’t lift this pot, but brought all of the divisions of the plant indoors today.

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Preparations for the ‘great migration’ included doing a little homework to refresh my memory about the lowest temperatures some of our plants can tolerate, before they turn to mush.  Nearly all of our Begonias won’t tolerate any freezing at all.  The hardy ones are mostly dormant, already.

But the Aroids, the Alocasias and Colocasias, have different degrees of cold tolerance.  Unlike Caladiums, which like to stay cozy at 50F or above, some Colocasias remain hardy to Zone 6.

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Colocasia ‘Pink China’ has proven hardy in our garden. It spreads a little more each year and grows lush and reliable from May until November. I expect to find this whole stand knocked down by frost when we come out tomorrow morning.

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When we talk about  USDA agricultural zones, there are three variables in play; all very important for which plants you may grow.  First, dates of first and last frost are pretty standard across a given Zone.  For example, here in Zone 7, we expect our first frost around October 15, and our last freeze around April 15.  That gives us a solid six months of outdoor growing season, which means we can raise lots of different sorts of crops in our zone.  There is sufficient time for a plant to develop, bloom, and ripen fruit.  A few miles to the southeast, nearer the Atlantic, Zone 8 begins.  Zone 8 has later first frosts (November 15) and earlier last frosts (March 15).

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Colocasia have runners, and each runner will create a new little plant. These special stems run just at ground level. This is how a dense stand develops from a single plant. Were you to visit my garden, I’d offer you as many of these little Colocasia plants as you would take!

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So knowing your Zone (updated in 2012,) not only tells you how many weeks of the year you have a 50% chance or greater of having freezing temperatures, at least overnight; it also tells you how cold those temperatures may go.   Here in Zone 7b, we may experience a low between 5F-10F.  Most winters we never drop below the teens, here, but it is possible.  Zone 8 may have temperatures down to 10F, but Zone 9 wouldn’t expect temperatures to drop below 20F.

Knowing this helps me make choices about what to bring inside, where  to keep overwintering plants, and what to take a chance on leaving outside until spring.  When space is limited, hard choices must be made if one wants to share the house with the plants for the next six months!

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Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’ is hardy to Zone 7b. I still brought many of these plants in to hedge my bets, since we are right on the edge….

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If a plant is hardy to Zone 8, we sometimes have success keeping it outdoors when we provide mulch or significant shelter.  In a mild winter, we may not dip below 10F to begin with.   Plants with deep roots may be mulched, or may have a little shelter built around it with most anything that will trap and hold heat on those few cold nights.  Our patio is a great place to offer potted plants shelter through the winter.  It offers shelter from the wind, and also absorbs and holds a bit of heat on sunny days.

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A plant rated to Zone 9 or 10 will definitely need to come indoors in our area.  But because Aroids have a dormant period over winter, we can keep them in our low light but frost free basement.

As Colocasias and Alocasias grow more popular, enthusiasts are left deciding whether to try to save them for another season, or whether to start next season with fresh plants.   Sometimes space determines our choices, other times our budget.  That said, I’ve found four ways to keep these beautiful plants from one season to the next.

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Colocasia ‘Black Magic’ is hardy to Zone 8. We were fortunate to have one overwinter in a protected area, and this is an off-set I dug up in August to grow on. It is now safely tucked into our garage for the winter.

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I found two of our most spectacular Alocasias back in February, at Trader Joe’s.  They were right inside the door, with a few other pots of ‘tropical’ plants.  Because I recognized their leaf, I bought two, intending to use them in large pots to frame our front door all summer.  What came home in a 4″ pot, grew over summer into a huge and beautiful plant.  I learned today that their roots had completely filled the 20″ pots they have grown in since early May.

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This Alocasia, originally from Trader Joe’s, wasn’t labeled when I bought it last winter. It reminds me of A. ‘Regal Shields,’ but grows a bit larger.

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I can barely slide those pots when they are well-watered.  And, I plan to re-plant them for winter interest.  There was no question of trying to move them into our home or garage to overwinter the plants.

But last night I did my homework, and spent a while searching out how others have managed to overwinter large Alocasias.  Since the plant goes dormant, it can be kept, barely moist, out of its pot in a frost free basement or garage.    So I pried each of my beautiful Alocasias  out of their pots this morning, and lowered each, root ball intact, into a large paper grocery bag.  I’ve set the bags into shallow plastic storage boxes in our basement.  The leaves will wither; the soil will dry.  But life will remain in the plant, and I can pot it up again in spring for it to continue growing.

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How many plants? I didn’t count…. But here are four grocery bags filled with Aroids to sleep through winter in the basement.

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I decided to hedge my bets again this winter by storing our Aroids in a variety of ways.  While I’ve brought a few indoors in smaller pots to either keep growing in our living room, or slowly go dormant in our garage or basement; a great many got yanked from their pots this morning and stuffed into grocery bags.  Now the Alocasias will mingle for the next few months with A. ‘Stingray,’ C. ‘Mohito’, and C. ‘Tea Cups.’

C. ‘Tea Cups’ is supposed to be hardy in Zone 7.  Actually, we had one overwinter in a very large pot last year, but it was slow to emerge and never grew with much vigor over summer.  So again, I hedged my bets.

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A. ‘Stingray’ came home in a 4′ pot this spring. It has grown prodigiously, and there were several small off-sets. I pried these out of the wet soil, and am storing them in the grocery bags for winter.

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Remember, all of these plants create off-sets.  So, I left a few plants growing in the circular bed we began in spring.  But I pulled up enough to replant the bed next spring, if those don’t survive winter for whatever reason.  I have a few C. ‘Tea Cups’ overwintering in moist soil in pots, and others set to go dormant in paper grocery bags.

The very small divisions of Colocasia ‘Black Magic’ that I potted up in late summer came in to the living area in their pots, along with  A. ‘Sarian’ and a few A. ‘Amazonica‘.   I can give them window-sill space and keep them growing.  Even if you don’t have space to keep the largest of your Aroids, chances are good that there will be a small off-set that you can save over winter.

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For plants like Begonias and Brugmansias, which don’t create off-sets, consider taking cuttings if you need to conserve space. If you don’t have room for the whole pot or basket, cut a few vigorous branches to root in a vase or jar near a window.

Cuttings placed in water now will root, and may be potted up in early spring.  I always have Begonia cuttings rooting in vases of water, but I brought a few more cuttings in today.  We just have too many pots of Begonias to save them all.  But I am careful to save some of each variety.  Because plants like Begonias root so easily in water,  once you have a variety, you can keep it going indefinitely.

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Many, many plants will root in water.  I’ve experimented over the years with keeping many genus of plants going, because the nursery trade just isn’t that dependable when there is a particular variety you want to buy in spring.   Maybe you’ll find it, but maybe its shelf space will be given over to something newer or more fashionable, and your favored cultivar just won’t be available in your area.

My friends know that even if I had a good sized greenhouse, I’d soon fill it to the rafters like some botanical Noah’s Ark.  As it is, our living space is filled, once again, with my coterie of plants.  My partner is blessedly patient with my horticultural obsessions.

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Begonia ‘Richmondensis’ is an angel wing Begonia which performs well in a hanging basket.  A perennial in Zone 10,  you can overwinter it in its pot, or as a cutting.

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There is no shame in letting ‘annuals’ perish when winter finally blows into your garden.  But your Zone doesn’t have to limit what you can grow, and winter doesn’t have to destroy your beautiful collection of plants.

Master a few handy hacks, and you can keep your favorite warm-weather plants growing (and multiplying) indefinitely.

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A. ‘Amazonica’, also known as ‘African Mask’, grows vigorously in a large pot. I’ve kept this pot going for several years by letting it over winter in our living room..

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Woodland Gnome 2017
“Green Thumb” Tips: 
Many visitors to Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help grow the garden of their dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.

If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what YOU KNOW from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9 Plan Ahead

Green Thumb Tip # 10 Understand the Rhythm

Green Thumb Tip # 11:  The Perennial Philosophy

Green Thumb Tip #12: Grow More of That! 

‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

 

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Green Thumb Tip #12: Grow More Of That

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What grows well in your garden?  Well, grow more of that.

There are hundreds of thousands of different plants available for the inspired gardener to seek out and grow.  You can choose everything from lilies to Aloe, boxwood to basil, Magnolia to daffodils.  There are uncounted genus and species and cultivars of every imaginable plant, in abundance.  How to choose?

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Tri-color sage, a culinary herb, can take heat and dry soil.

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I enjoy experimenting with plants.  I bring home many flats of this and that, some planned purchases and some adopted on a whim.  And yet as I walk around, hose in hand, during this July heatwave in coastal Virginia; I’m brought up short by which plants in our garden struggle and which thrive.

Let it be said that my beloved roses struggle at the moment.

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Through the vagaries of climate change, they never had a good start this year; and I’ve been too busy with other matters to give them the attention they require.

In fact, my instinct this morning was to rip out of most of the pathetic little shrubs and be done with them.  Perhaps heavy pruning and heavy rain could bring them back to beauty.

I might whistle a different tune by October.  But in this moment, they aren’t earning their garden space.

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Trailing purple Lantana fills several of our hanging baskets this year. It can take heat and drought and still give consistent color.

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Even the geraniums look rather ratty this week.  In fact, as I look around and survey recent purchases, it is clear that some have clearly not lived up to their potential here.

Most of our perennial geraniums were heavily grazed by our resident rabbits.  They’re supposed to be fool-proof, aren’t they?  The annual geraniums struggle in their pots against the unrelenting summer sun and oppressive heat.

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Last year’s potted Hydrangeas, nipped by late frosts, never took off in early summer.  Add a few grazing deer and…. well, you can imagine the nubs without a photo, can’t you?

But on the other hand, the Caladiums, Cannas and Colocasias look great.  The Basil is taking off, and our sage, Thyme, Santolina, Germander, mint and Rosemary still look fresh and strong.  The Crepe Myrtle trees are beginning to bloom and our garden remains filled with bright Hibiscus blossoms.

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Echinacea can hold its own in July, attracts wildlife, and holds its color for several weeks.  It grows easily from seed, and may self-sow.

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It came clear to me earlier today, as I was watering our new shade bed, that while the ferns looked fresh and healthy, most of our newest Rhododendrons, right beside them, look terrible.

I’ll be very surprised if any of them survive.  I was calculating the dollars I spent on them and remembering my great confidence in their coming years of beauty….

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The first Rhododendron we planted this spring to stabilize a gorge caused by erosion over a vole tunnel. It doesn’t look this perky anymore….

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Let’s acknowledge, first of all, that we are in the midst of rapid climate change.  What ‘always worked’ before has become irrelevant in this year’s garden.  Every month is a record breaker as our climate warms.  Neighboring communities flood while our garden bakes and the soil hardens.

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Mahonia is one tough shrub. It looks great year round, blooms in winter, produces berries for wildlife, and require very little from its gardener.

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Weather aside, we all still face our own particular challenges based on our soil and where our garden is situated.  We deal with a virtual zoo of insects, rodents, and other creatures who dine in our garden.  Like generations of gardeners before us, we can either adapt or stop trying to garden.

I vote, ‘adapt.’ 

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Ajuga and creeping Jenny make a dependable ground cover throughout the year.

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Adapting means adjusting to what is rather than working harder to create some fantasy of what used to be so.  For us, that means finding better ways to care for our plants.  And it also means growing more of the tough plants that thrive in the conditions we can provide.

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This native perennial ageratum spreads itself around the garden. I used to ‘weed it out’ in spring, but have grown to appreciate its tough beauty.

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Mid-July is a good time to take a hard, honest look at one’s own garden.  What looks good?  What has already died this season?  Which plants are barely hanging on?

Whatever is doing well, then plant more of that!

We have a few self-seeding perennials we have learned to enjoy.  Black eyed Susans, Rudbeckia hirta, is a beautiful native perennial that conquers more of our garden real estate each season.  I allow them, while also digging up lots of spring seedlings to share with neighbors.

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This is our largest patch of black eyed Susans, bordered with a few Zantedeschia and other perennials..

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Another self-seeding native perennial, Conoclinium coelestinum, is a hardy Ageratum or mist flower.  While I used to buy flats of annual Ageratum in years passed, now I just allow the native form to grow undisturbed. Echinacea and Monarda return and spread each summer.

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I also allow our hardy Colocasia, Hibiscus and Canna to spread a little more each year; and invest part of our spring gardening budget in hardy ferns instead of flats of tender annuals which won’t make it through the hottest part of summer.

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Begonias hold up well in heat and humidity, so long as they have shade from the mid-day sun and consistently moist soil.

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Gone are my hanging baskets once filled with Petunias and ivy geraniums.  Instead, I planted some trailing Lantana, ivy and scented Pelargoniums that can take intense heat and dry soil.  Because Begonias hold up to our heat and humidity, if sheltered in some shade, I keep rooting cuttings and planting more of those, too.

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This ‘volunteer’ Crepe Myrtle tree is taking its place in the border. After several years of TLC, it has grown to about 10′ tall and is covered in blooms this July.

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Planting more of what has proven successful, instead of planting once loved plants which no longer thrive, gives us a fuller and more vibrant garden.  The butterflies and hummingbirds still visit.  Goldfinches appear once the Basil begins to go to seed, and hang around for the autumn ripening Rudbeckia and Hibiscus  seeds.

And, for the budget conscious, propagating more of those plants which grow well sure beats sowing or buying a lot of new plants each year, which might fail!

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Rose of Sharon, tree Hibiscus, attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Dozens of seedlings pop up in unexpected spots in the garden each spring.

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Each passing season in this garden teaches me to ‘allow’ more and plant less.  Native and naturalized plants are winning out over showy annuals or the latest new perennial.

I’ve come to see that the garden hones the gardener, just as much as the gardener shapes the garden.  Struggle melts into harmony, and work becomes play.

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Phytolacca americana, common poke weed, fills a corner of our garden with spectacular berries during these ‘Dog Days’ of summer.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Green Thumb” Tips: 

Many visitors to Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help grow the garden of their dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.

If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what YOU KNOW from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9 Plan Ahead

Green Thumb Tip # 10 Understand the Rhythm

Green Thumb Tip # 11:  The Perennial Philosophy

‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

 

 

Green Thumb Tip #11: The Perennial Philosophy

Peonies emerging from the warming earth.

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Newbie gardeners so often fall for the trays of brightly flowering annuals each spring.  I know this, because I once did, too.  Who can resist the bright, harlequin colors of striped petunias, glowing marigolds, red New Guinea impatiens and perky geraniums?

In fact, we’re just home from Lowes.  It took all my will power to admire the tables laden with annual flats and keep right on going, without adopting a single one!

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Redbud, a small native tree which fills the garden with flowers in earliest spring.

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And I promise you, I will end buying a few annuals for pots and baskets before the last week of April.  But there is a better way to build a garden than bedding annual plants.

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Narcissus “Thalia” form clumps as their bulbs multiply each year.

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Back when, in another century, the fashion might have been to plant vast expanses of bright annuals in geometric figures in a large bed backed by a sedate hedge.  That works when you have a small army of gardeners on staff, a greenhouse of your own to raise those annuals, and plenty of time to work out the annual schemes.

It helps if your property is well fenced so that rogue rabbits and deer never find your tasty annual treats, too.

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Hellebores bloom each winter, filling the garden with flowers for three or four months when little else is in bloom.  Deer and rabbits won’t bother them.  This is a young plant, and will eventually grow to 18″-24″ wide.

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But we live, and garden, in a different world, don’t we?

Our reality includes limitations on our time, our energy, our purse, and maybe even on how much water we can invest in our garden during the hottest, driest months of summer.  Experienced gardeners learn to use plants which will return year after year, and largely take care of themselves.

It helps that most perennials not only grow larger each year, they also spread by some means or another.

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Lamium roots at the leaf nodes, and makes a beautiful ground cover. It will bloom in a few weeks and provides a beautiful foliage back drop almost year round.

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Perennials prove a wise investment of gardening dollars.  Purchased as small divisions or even bare root, most cost less than many annuals.  Some perennials even come as tiny starts in cell packs of 4, 6, or 8 in spring.  Once established, they can be divided again and again so your garden grows more lush and full each year.

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Lilac shrubs fill the garden with fragrance when they bloom each spring. Some newer Lilacs will re-bloom sporadically during the summer.

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Perennials include herbaceous plants, which may die back to the ground each winter; but they also include bulbs, tubers, ferns, herbs and flower producing shrubs. I take great joy in watching for favorite perennials to emerge from the earth each spring.  It is reassuring to see them return again and again; better each year.

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Perennial Columbine will begin to bloom any day now. Its foliage will fill this spot all summer long.

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I have heard from more than a few aging gardeners that they invest more in interesting trees or shrubs, and less in herbaceous perennials, with each passing year.  The upkeep year to year is easier.  You get more ‘bang’ for your ‘buck’ with a shrub producing hundreds of flowers each season.

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Iris ‘Immortality’ with Comphrey. This is a re-blooming Iris, which often blooms again in August or September.

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Some gardeners may be timid to plant perennials, because it is a little more complicated to plan for a full season of blooms.  Some perennials, like bearded Iris, may bloom only for a few weeks each year.  Once the Iris finish, what next?

I’ve actually seen charts showing the staggered bloom times of twenty or so perennials planted together in a bed.  Keeping track of color, size, habit and bloom time can seem overwhelming to a newbie gardener just getting acquainted with the world of perennials.

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Siberian Iris bloom with Artemesia and Comphrey, both perennial herbs. 

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It takes time to grow a good gardener.  We learn a little bit more with each passing season.   Our repertoire of plants increases through trial and error.  And our tastes evolve.

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Azaleas fill our garden in April.

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At some point, we realize that foliage is more important than flowers; and that the best gardens envelope us.  While annuals grow just a few inches tall, our trees, flowering shrubs and established perennials grow feet high, giving the garden a bit of drama and a lot of interesting structure.

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Many perennials, like Canna lily and Ginger lily, will grow to six or seven feet tall in just a few weeks.

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So go ahead a buy a few geraniums this spring to fill a pot by the front door.

But remember the perennial philosophy:  Buy it once, and then enjoy it for many years to come.

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Echinacea, or Purple Coneflower, is a favorite of nectar loving insects. A perennial, it is rarely touched by deer and grows more vigorous each year.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Green Thumb” Tips:  Many of you who visit Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help you grow the garden of your dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.  If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what YOU KNOW from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9 Plan Ahead

Green Thumb Tip # 10 Understand the Rhythm

‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

 

 

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #10: Understand the Rhythm

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Philosophers speak of ‘The Music of the Spheres.”  Since ancient times, we have understood the musicality of nature.

Not only is the physical world based in pure mathematics, as is music; the sounds created by Earth, sea and sky flow together as a symphony.  Everywhere there is sound:  pitch, rhythm, harmony and the melodies found in the voices of whale, wind, bird, cricket and human.

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Morning Glory vines are annuals in our climate, but drop their seeds each summer. These prolific seeds germinate in early summer and the vines bloom from mid-summer until frost.

Morning Glory vines are annuals in our climate, but drop their seeds each summer. These prolific seeds germinate in early summer and the vines bloom from mid-summer until frost.

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Our gardens grow to their own rhythms, too.  And the wise gardener comes to know these rhythms as closely as their own heartbeats.

Understanding the growth rhythms of the seasons in your own region, and the rhythms of the various plants you grow, allows a gardener to work confidently with nature.

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These Morning Glory vines scamper over roses and Lantana.

These Morning Glory vines scamper over roses and Lantana.

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Not understanding these basic rhythms can set you at  cross purposes to the unfolding happening around you.  And worse, ignorance of a plant’s natural rhythms can lead to a lot of unnecessary stress for the plant and the gardener!

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These hardy Begonias share the pot with the perennial Heuchera. There are a few spring bulbs, too, which will begin growing in the months ahead. The Caladium 'Florida Moonlight' will need to come out before frost. But these plants can all share the same space and take center stage at different seasons of the year.

These hardy Begonias share the pot with the perennial Hellebore. There are a few spring bulbs, too, which will begin growing in the months ahead. The Caladium ‘Florida Moonlight’ will need to come out before frost and will be replaced with Violas. But these plants can all share the same space and take center stage at different seasons of the year.

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What rhythms does an effective gardener understand?  Well, first, we must feel the rhythms of the seasons.  This is different for each place, as one season melts into the next.

The official dates of solstice and equinox, new moons and full, frost dates and summer heat help us begin to feel this rhythm.   But the fine details are learned through years of observation.

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For example, there is a great deal of ‘see-sawing’ between hot days and frosts here each autumn and each spring.  We might have roses blooming until mid-December after a brief November snowstorm.

But we might also have days over 80F in March followed by snow in April.  Temperature changes prove gradual and unpredictable here, and we have to pay attention to the daily forecast.

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Autumn roses are the best. Our shrub is recovering from summer drought and beginning to produce roses again.

Autumn roses are the best. Our shrubs are recovering from summer drought and beginning to produce roses again.

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Beyond climate, there is the rhythm of each plant we grow.  So many prove ephemeral, appearing and disappearing quite suddenly with the seasons, like our Hurricane Lilies.

It helps to know what plants are annuals in our region and are ‘gone forever’ once they die back, and which will return.  What plants grow from ever multiplying bulbs and tubers?  Which plants have perennial roots?

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Our 'Hurricane Lily,' Lycoris radiata, just suddenly appears when its time is right. We often forget where the bulbs are planted year to year so they are always a delightful surprise.

Our ‘Hurricane Lily,’ Lycoris radiata, just suddenly appears when its time is right. We often forget where the bulbs are planted year to year so they are always a delightful late summer surprise.  The vinca Minor vines growing as ground cover remain evergreen, but bloom with the Daffodils each spring.

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When rain was abundant this spring, I started a new nearly full-shade garden bed  filled with ferns,  Caladiums, and a few low perennials.

It was coming along beautifully, until our hot spell in late July and August came while I was spending a great deal of time out of town.  My watering fell behind here, and by the last week of August many of the plants appeared to be dead or dying.

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The new garden on July 18, when there still was abundant rain. All of the new plants were growing well.

The new shade garden on July 18, when there still was abundant rain. All of the Caladiums and ferns were growing well.

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I was so disappointed in myself to have allowed all of these beautiful new ferns to ‘die.’

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I started watering intensively here, and then Hermine brought us a good day and a half of cool, cloudy wet weather.

And, ‘Voila!’ Even though the fronds of my potted Athyrium niponicum may have all shriveled in the drought,  their roots survived.  And today I discovered new growth in the pots.   What relief!

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These hardy ferns aren’t evergreen and so die back each autumn.  They won’t be seen again until early spring, when their new leaves emerge.

But now I’ve learned they can survive a drought in the same way they survive freezing temperatures; they pull their life back into their roots.

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Spring bulbs have begun to grow in ths container, also recovering from August's drought.

Spring bulbs have begun to grow in this container, also recovering now from August’s drought.  The Sedum can root from any part of the stem and remains evergreen through our winters.  The Creeping Jenny is also a perennial here.

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So many plants will survive in one small part of the plant; whether seed, bulb, root, rhizome or tuber.  Knowing this lets us move from season to season with confidence, knowing how to help our favorite plants not only return, but also multiply.

When will each appear, grow and bloom?  When will they disappear again in the cycle of the year?  Which seeds can we scatter with confidence that they will germinate and grow?

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This perennial butterfly Ginger Lily will die back to the ground after frost, but its rhizomes spread each year. These will bloom from the end of August until killed by frost in November.

This perennial butterfly Ginger Lily will die back to the ground after frost, but its rhizomes spread each year.  The plants return in May and grow all summer, topping out at 7′-8′ tall.  These will bloom from the end of August until killed by frost in November.

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Plants come and go with the seasons.   The appearance of our garden may change radically from one month to another.

Learn these rhythms and time your ‘doings’ and ‘not-doings’ to work in harmony with them.  This is one of the hallmarks of a true gardener.

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“Green Thumb” Tips:  Many of you who visit Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help you grow the garden of your dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.  If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what YOU KNOW from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9 Plan Ahead

‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

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And suddenly, it is beginning to look like autumn here. Jones Mill Pond, as it looked last evening.

And suddenly, it is beginning to look like autumn here. Jones Mill Pond, as it looked last evening.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9: Plan Ahead

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That title could say, ‘Plan ahead for your garden’s worst day’ and it would be even better advice.  I’ve been thinking about this these last few mornings as I stand outside for hours watering and watching our garden respond to weeks of dry heat.

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We gardeners are curators of a collection of living ever-changing organisms.  In the best conditions, when we get just enough rain and temperatures are mild, we have it easy.  But those days won’t last forever.  And so we must plan ahead for all of the challenges the gardening year brings; including August’s heat and drought.

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I've been sprinkling seeds of these chives around the garden for the past few years. They are tough and pretty and their aroma discourages grazing animals.

I’ve been sprinkling seeds of these chives around the garden for the past few years. They are tough and pretty and their aroma discourages grazing animals.

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As change is the constant in our gardens, we plan ahead for the beauties and challenges of each season.  We make sure our garden has ‘good bones’ to offer structure and interest during winter.  We plan for evergreens, architectural structure, perhaps a few interesting perennials with seed heads left standing and a few herbaceous plants which keep going through the worst weeks of winter.

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Violas bloom for us through most of the winter. They make a nice display from October through May.

Violas bloom for us through most of the winter. They make a nice display from October through May and pair well with potted shrubs and spring bulbs.

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We plant bulbs and flowering woodies to greet the warmth of spring; perennials to carry us through summer; and those special late perennials and trees with colorful foliage to give us beauty lasting through the first wintry frosts.

Good gardeners are always thinking a few  months ahead to take advantage of the season coming.

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But we also think ahead to survive the special hazards of the season coming, too.    And right now, that means having a plan in place to keep the garden hydrated until the rains come again.

It can be so discouraging to watch valued plants wither and droop from too much heat and too little water.  Mulches and drip irrigation certainly help here.  But we don’t all have extensive drip systems in place.  Some of us are carrying hoses and watering cans to the most vulnerable parts of our landscape each day.

In a few short months our weather will shift.  Winter protection for overwintering perennials will be our big concern.  We’ll begin preparing for spring with thoughtful pruning and dividing, and then watch for those late freezes which can catch a gardener unawares.

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Black Eyed Susans may droop in the heat, but they are survivors. Native plants like these are able to manage without a lot of special care. This patch self-seeds and spreads each season.

Black Eyed Susans may droop in the heat, but they are survivors. Native plants like these are able to manage without a lot of special care. This patch self-seeds and spreads each season.

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Changing the plant palette in the garden to include tough, hardy, drought tolerant plants helps, too.  Finding plants with deep roots, thick fleshly leaves and a hardy constitution becomes more important with each passing year.  A too-delicate plant allowed to dry out or freeze for even a day may be a total loss.

I’ve been moving pots around quite a bit over these last few weeks, trying to offer more shelter and shade to plants which need it; moving those that succumbed while I was traveling out of sight….

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Lavender "Goodwin's Creek' and Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' have proven a winning combination in a pot together this summer. They sit in full sun and never show stress from the heat.

Lavender “Goodwin Creek’ and Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ have proven a winning combination in a pot together this summer. They sit in full sun and never show stress from the heat.

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A dedicated gardening friend sometimes reminds me, “There is no right place for an ugly plant.”  I tend to be sentimental and try to coax near-gonners back to health.  He is much more practical about it.  Get rid of that ugly plant and choose something better suited to the actual conditions of the spot!

And that brings us full-circle in this conversation.  Planning ahead also means deciding not to buy those plants we know won’t make it through the season.  It doesn’t matter how much we love the plant.  If the real growing conditions of our garden won’t support a plant long term, why waste the money?

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This is one tough Begonia, taking a lot of sun and keeping its color well.

This is one tough Begonia, taking a lot of sun and keeping its color well.  It overwintered in our garage and new plants grew quickly from cuttings.

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As we note which plants grow really well for us, we have to also note those which don’t.  I already know that the Dahlias I planted with such hope look like crap.  Several are already dead or dormant….  Most of the potted Petunias have now fried in the heat.  I cut them back hard, watered, and hope for grace. 

It doesn’t matter whether the problem is the soil, the weather, Japanese beetles, lack of time or lack of skill; let’s be honest with ourselves from the beginning.  Let’s choose more of what works for us and just stop trying to force those plants which won’t.

Let’s plan ahead for success rather than setting ourselves up for disappointment.

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Many plants in our garden, like these Crepe Myrtles, are self-seeded 'volunteers.' These shrubs are never watered yet look fresh and healthy. There is a self-seeded Beautyberry in the lower right corner which soon will have bright purple berries loved by the birds.

Many plants in our garden, like these Crepe Myrtles, are self-seeded ‘volunteers.’ These shrubs are never watered yet look fresh and healthy. There is a self-seeded native Beautyberry on the right, which soon will have bright purple berries loved by the birds.  Native and naturalized plants are dependable through all sorts of weather extremes.

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Woodland Gnome’s Caveat:

Planning ahead also means looking for ways to do things better each season.  We should try a few new plants each year.  Let’s remain open to new possibilities both for our plant choices and for cultural practices.  Just because something doesn’t work the first time we try doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to improve on what we’re doing, and try again.

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These are the first leaves to open on our new Caladium 'Sweet Carolina' from Classic Caladiums. This is a new 2015 introduction that I am happy to grow out in a gardening trial for this plant in coastal Virginia. So far, I like it! It has gone from dry tuber to leaf in only about 3 weeks.

These are the first leaves to open on our new Caladium ‘Sweet Carolina’ from Classic Caladiums. This is a new 2015 introduction, which I am happy to grow out in a gardening trial for new Caladium here in coastal Virginia. So far, I like it! It has gone from dry tuber to leaf in only about 3 weeks.

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“Green Thumb” Tips:  Many of you who visit Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help you grow the garden of your dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.  If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what YOU KNOW from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe

Green Thumb Tip #8:  Observe!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #10: Understand the Rhythm

‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

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Lantana has proven a winner in our garden. I never shows stress from heat or drought because its roots grow deep. It feeds birds, hummingbirds and butterflies. It pumps out flowers non-stop from April until it is hit by frost. It is one of the most dependable and attractive plants we grow.

Lantana has proven a winner in our garden.  It never shows stress from heat or drought because its roots grow deep. It feeds birds, hummingbirds and butterflies. It pumps out flowers non-stop from April until it is hit by frost.  It rarely has any damage from insects and never is touched by deer or rabbits.  It is one of the most dependable and attractive plants we grow.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

 

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8: Observe

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In February and March, every gardening miracle seems possible.  My coffee table holds a thick stack of gardening catalogs, each filled with gorgeous photos of flowers and foliage in every size, color, pattern and form a gardener might wish for.  In winter, I sketch out plans for new planting beds and make long ‘wish lists’ of what I hope to grow in the season coming.

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Hybrid hardy Hibiscus 'Sun King' attracts every Japanese beetle within miles. Our native Hibiscus mucheotos rarely sustain damage, but these ratty leaves always distract from the beauty of its vibrant flowers.

Hybrid hardy Hibiscus ‘Kopper King’ attracts every Japanese beetle within miles. Our native Hibiscus moscheutos rarely sustain damage.  But these ratty leaves always distract from the beauty of this plant’s vibrant flowers.

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But as the calendar pages turn, reality sets in with late freezes or early heat; storms and drought; insects chewing the leaves; rabbits and deer ‘pruning;’  and any number of other seasonal stressors to challenge the beauty of our garden.  The pristine beauty of a gardening catalog photo doesn’t always match the reality of how that plant may look in late summer growing in our garden.

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Rudbeckia lacniata came as an unexpected gift along with some Monarda roots. These wildflowers grow to 8'tall and require little care beyond staking.

Rudbeckia laciniata came as an unexpected gift from a gardening friend,  along with some Monarda roots. These wildflowers grow to 8′ tall and require little care beyond staking.  Butterflies love them!  These grow in our ever changing ‘Butterfly Garden.’

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The difference between gardening dreams and gardening reality can prove both disappointing and expensive!  That is why experienced gardeners notice how a plant actually weathers the long months of summer; in what conditions it thrives or disappoints; and what special care it needs; before making an investment.

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In its second season, the Rudbeckia laciniata has climbed up through our Rose of Sharon shrubs this summer. What a display!

In their second season, the Rudbeckia laciniata have climbed up through our Rose of Sharon shrubs this summer. What a display!

Many popular and commonly used plants have a very brief period when they look great.  But as flowers fade and drop and summer heat sets in they turn more brown than bright.

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Some, like German Iris, respond to having the bloom stalks pruned back and dying leaves removed.  New growth often shows up as summer wanes.  The leaves offer a green, sculptural presence in the garden long after the flowers fade.

But other commonly used annuals and perennials, like some semperfloren Begonias and many re-blooming daylily hybrids, simply don’t do well in our Virginia mid-summer dry-spells combined with days of heat.  They soon look rather ragged.

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This bed of hybrid roses and daylilies grows along Rt. 60 near Busch Gardens. Planted with good intentions, it looks pretty dismal by early August.

This bed of hybrid roses and daylilies grows along Rt. 60 near Busch Gardens. Planted with good intentions, it looks pretty dismal by early August.

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That is why it pays to really look around and observe what looks good and what doesn’t by the middle of August in your region.  What plants thrive in your local conditions?  What proves ‘high-maintenance’ and needs a lot of attention to make it through the season?

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Canna lilies keep blooming through the worst summer weather, but may also attract insects which eat their leaves. These Canna 'Russian Red' are a new variety we're trying this year.

Canna lilies keep blooming through the worst summer weather, but may also attract insects which eat their leaves. These Canna ‘Russian Red’ are a new variety we’re trying for the first time this year.

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What plants attract Japanese beetles and other pests?  What gets eaten at night by slugs and snails?  What do you admire growing in neighbors’ yards as you drive around town?

Our star performers in August include Crepe Myrtle trees, Canna lily, Colocasia, Lantana, Black Eyed Susans, Caladiums and many herbs.  Relatively pest and disease free, these beauties shrug off the heat and remain attractive and bright through the long months of summer.

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Naturalized Black Eyed Susans in our garden

Naturalized Black Eyed Susans spread themselves further and further each year in our garden.

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What stands up to summer in your garden?  Which plants do you count on to thrive and remain attractive into the autumn months each year?  A wise person once said, ‘Begin with the end in mind.’  This is good advice for gardening and good advice for life.  It helps us focus and make good choices along the way.

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Ajuga reptans 'Black Scallop' proves a hardy and beautiful ground cover in pots and planting beds. Evergreen, it blooms each spring. Caladiums love our summer weather!

Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’ proves a hardy and beautiful ground cover in pots and planting beds. Evergreen, it blooms blue each spring. Caladiums love our summer weather!

Woodland Gnome’s caveat:  Taking photos helps me observe the garden more closely while providing a record, year to year, of what we grow.  Looking back over the development of a planting through several years of photos shows me things about the garden’s development in a way my memory might not.  Photos also help me remember successful annual plants we might want to use again. 

It is good to study photos taken from various angles, in differing light, and at different points in the season to gain a better understanding of a garden’s rhythms; its strengths and its weaknesses.

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Our 'potted garden' on the back steps evolves each season. Originally, I grew only Basil, which didn't last the entire season. Now we experiment to see which plants thrive in intense heat and full sun from late spring through autumn.

Our ‘potted garden’ on the back steps evolves each season. Originally, we grew only Basil, which didn’t last the entire season. Now we experiment to see which plants thrive in intense heat and full sun from late spring through autumn.

“Green Thumb” Tips:  Many of you who visit Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help you grow the garden of your dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.  If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what YOU KNOW from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

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Not the most attractive shrub, we soon observed that Rose of Sharon attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. We allow them to naturalize throughout the garden.

Not the most attractive shrub, we soon observed that Rose of Sharon attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. We allow them to naturalize throughout the garden because they benefit wildlife.

Woodland Gnome 2016

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‘Green Thumb’ Tip #7: Experiment!

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A sense of curiosity and wonder drive ‘normal people’ to transform themselves into dedicated gardeners.  We take pleasure in watching how plants grow.  Now, that isn’t a punch-line; it is a confession …

When I learn about a new plant, or a new (to me) cultivar of a more common plant; I often want to grow it myself to watch the process of is unfolding.  And I generally want to grow several in differing conditions to learn for myself how it performs, what makes thrive, and what it needs to look its best.  But most importantly, I’m curious whether I’ll like the plant; whether it is worth my investment of time and energy to grow in our garden.

We ‘click’ with some plants and dislike others.  It’s human nature.  But it’s hard to learn what we like and glimpse new possibilities for our garden space unless we are willing to take a chance growing new plants.  We learn much of what we know as gardeners through experimentation.

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Echinacea 'Green Envy,' which we planted for the first time last summer. All three plants returned and are doing well this summer.

Echinacea ‘Green Jewel,’ which we planted for the first time last July.  All three plants returned and are doing well this summer.

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Saying we’re “Watching the grass grow” is a joke simply because grass is both predictable and inevitable.  Why would we watch something like that?  We all pretty much understand grass.

Yet many good gardeners love it and can deliver a long monologue on which types are best and how to properly care for a healthy lawn.  That is their thing. 

Others of us delight with each patch of grass/weeds we convert into a bed for more beautiful plants….  And still other gardeners love growing the new cultivars of ornamental grasses coming to market each year.  They take pleasure in watching the wind set their Miscanthus and Carex dancing in the changing light.  But how will we ever take pleasure in the beauty of Carex mixing among other perennials, unless we are willing to experiment with planting a few?

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Colocasia esculenta in its third summer has grown much larger than I expected. This wasn't sold as 'Thailand Giant,' but I'm beginning to wonder.....

Colocasia esculenta in its third summer has grown much larger than I expected. This wasn’t sold as ‘Thailand Giant,’ but I’m beginning to wonder…..

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Many frustrated gardeners who boast of their ‘brown thumb’ may be growing the wrong plants.  They may not feel confident in buying plants they haven’t already seen neighbors and friends growing in their gardens.  Or maybe they are growing familiar plants in the wrong conditions or with inconsistent care.  A more pleasing garden will result when they begin to experiment with fresh ways of doing things.

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This experimental raised bed is bordered with hypertufa planters and planted with a combination of hardy Begonia and ferns, with a few Caladiums planted each spring.

This experimental raised bed is bordered with hypertufa planters and planted with a combination of hardy Begonia, Hellebores and ferns, with a few Caladiums planted each spring.

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Experiments help us learn.  We observe more closely.  Perhaps we do a little reading to guide us.  We take chances we might otherwise avoid.  We learn from the results of our experiments without blaming ourselves if the results aren’t what we hoped.  After all, it was an experiment, not a commitment!

After a few experiments we’ll have a little more experience to guide us in our gardening decisions.  Eventually, after years of trial and error, we will shape our outdoor spaces into places which please us and bring us joy.  That is the point of gardening, isn’t it?

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Colocasia 'Coffee Cups' sparkles in the morning light. New leaves now grow to between 3' and 4' high, but will likely grow larger as summer progresses.

Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’ sparkles in the morning light. New leaves now grow to between 3′ and 4′ high, but will likely grow larger as summer progresses.

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Our garden remains an ongoing experiment.  We experiment with various ways to keep deer out of the garden.  And nothing so far has proven 100% effective….   Thus, we also experiment with growing beautiful plants the deer won’t graze when they find a way inside.  Our list continues to grow….

We experiment with how to grow perennials on heavy clay soil, how to protect shrubs from the ever hungry voles tunneling through much of the garden, how to adjust to our changing climate and how to preserve tender plants through four or five months of freezing weather.  We continue to experiment with new ways to construct simple, inexpensive raised beds

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We also experiment with several new plants each year.  This year we’re growing Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’ and Alocasia ‘Stingray’ for the first time.  We’ve been experimenting with various Colocasia since the summer of 2014, and have six different varieties growing this year.  We’ve discovered at least two which will survive our winters outdoors.  This year I’ve added four different Alocasia cultivars to the mix, and I’m very pleased with how they are performing.  These plants all love intense heat so long as they are hydrated.  Some will take full sun, while others need shade.

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I thought I might have ruined this 'Voodoo Lily' tuber when my spade hit it early this spring. Rather, it is better. Instead of one or two stems, it has sent up many, producing a much better plant.

I thought I might have ruined this Sauromatum venosum or ‘Voodoo Lily’ tuber when my spade hit it early this spring. Rather, it is better.  Instead of one or two stems, it has sent up many, producing a much better plant.

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Another experiment hasn’t gone so well.  I admire Begonia boliviensis, but have had little success with it in past years.  This year I began with seven huge, healthy tubers of Begonia boliviensis, ‘Bertini’, a cultivar said to do well in our hot, humid summers, which can take partial sun without burning, and that might overwinter.  I planted some in pots, another in a hanging basket, and set those containers in areas with various amounts of light.  None so far have pleased me.  Most, in fact, look abysmal, and there are zero photos to share.

When the soil is too wet, and the humidity to high, this plant collapses.  Native to the Andes Mountains, these plants naturally grow in a cooler climate on much thinner soil.  They cascade down the rocky slopes, roots tucked into a small crevice, thriving in thin, cool mountain air.  Our hot, humid Virginia summer stresses them out.  Even though they are blooming prolifically, the stems often rot and simply fall away.  I haven’t yet figured out the formula to keep them growing strong….

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Three different Begonia cultivars share this basket with a rabbits foot fern. The Begonia Boliviensis usually dies back by late summer, but returns from its tuber the following spring. This baskets spends the winter months in our garage.

Three different Begonia cultivars share this basket with a rabbits foot fern. The Begonia Boliviensis usually dies back by late summer, but returns from its tuber the following spring. This basket spends the winter months in our garage.

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We have several more ‘new to us’ plants just getting established in our garden this year.  Besides the C. ‘Desert Sunset’ we found last week, we are also enjoying Verbena ‘Lollipop;’  native Pycanthemum or Mountain Mint; some pretty Crocosmia given to us by a friend; a Cryptomeria ‘Black Dragon’ bought on impulse last fall;  several new Hydrangeas; and two little native Live Oak trees, Quercus virginiana, ordered from the Arbor Day Foundation.  It may take a few years for some of these to make an impact,  but I enjoy watching them sink their roots and begin to grow.

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Alocasia 'Stingray' is a fun Alocasia whose leaf grows with a tip shaped like a stingray's tail. These prefer partial shade and will grow to several feet tall as the tuber matures. Here it is in a mixed planting with tuberous Begonias, Coleus, Oxalis and ivy.

Alocasia ‘Stingray’ is a fun Alocasia whose leaf grows with a tip shaped like a stingray’s tail. These prefer partial shade and will grow to several feet tall as the tuber matures. Here it is in a mixed planting with tuberous Begonias, Coleus, Oxalis and ivy.  The blue pot behind holds a Begonia Boliviensis tuber just gone bust…. I’ve transplanted some little Colocasia ‘Blue Hawaii’ divisions, wilting in our heat, to fill it while I hope for the Begonia to recover.

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Like Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, some of us view our garden as a work in progress, constantly thinking of ways to renovate and make it better.  I would soon lose interest in a garden where I couldn’t experiment and try out new ideas year to year; where I wasn’t always learning and discovering new details of nature.

A garden grows into a unique ecosystem, alive and ever evolving.  Gardeners earn their green thumb by taking an active hand in guiding the many changes taking place each season.  We plant and we prune.  We enrich the soil, irrigate, feed; but also pull the weeds and remove the plants we don’t like.  We attract pollinators while eliminating pests and disease through careful management.

None of us has all the answers to the many questions which present themselves over time; but good gardeners set out to find those answers through their own experience and experimentation.

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Woodland Gnome’s Caveat:  It is wise to remain open to others’ experiences to save oneself a little frustration and pain.  A little research before welcoming a new plant can help avoid unfortunate and costly mistakes. 

Be careful of introducing invasive species just because they come cheap from a mail-order nursery.  Know whether a new plant will survive in your climate and what its needs are before making an investment.  Understand how quickly and how far that new perennial or shrub might spread.  Some ‘experiments’ we don’t need to repeat.  Others will tell us what we need to know if we’ll just do a little reading and research.

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Hardy Begonia grandis has naturalized in our garden. It spreads, but is never invasive.

Hardy Begonia grandis has naturalized in our garden. It spreads, but is never invasive.

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“Green Thumb” Tips:  Many of you who visit Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help you grow the garden of your dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.  If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what YOU KNOW from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!

Green Thumb Tip #5: Keep Planting!

Green Thumb Tip #6: Size Matters!

Green Thumb Tip #8:  Observe!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9: Plan Ahead

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #10: Understand the Rhythm

‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

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Woodland Gnome 2016

Green Thumb Tip # 6: Size Matters!

Magnolia grandiflora growing along the Colonial Parkway near Jametown, VA.

Magnolia grandiflora growing along the Colonial Parkway near Jametown, VA.

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Have you ever planted a sweet little plant that you fell in love with, only to find yourself in pitched battle to control it a few years later?  It has happened to most of us at one time or another.  Sitting at the nursery in its little pot, it looked so charming.  You knew the perfect place for it….

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July 12, 2016 garden layers 013

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But just like babies and puppies, plants grow when they’re happy.  And quickly! 

I believe that many people hate ‘gardening’ because of their many battles trying to control a gargantuan shrub or spreading perennial which has gotten out of control.  ‘Mature size’ matters!  Both the expected height and the expected spread of an adoptive plant need to be considered before you invite it home to your garden.  And this information isn’t always accurate on the tag or easy to track down!

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Crepe Myrtle begins to bloom in our garden, and will fill the garden with flowers until early September.

Crepe Myrtle grows very fast and most varieties will send up suckers beside the main stem, gradually growing into a wider and wider clump. 

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It is wise to consider, before the purchase, the size of your space.  How wide can this plant comfortably grow without hitting the house or bumping into other structural plants?  How high will be too high?  Will a shrub eventually block windows or grow out into your driveway?  Will an herb or perennial take off and steal the entire garden with its runners?

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Cannas spread by underground rhizomes and grow thicker each year.

Cannas spread by underground rhizomes and grow thicker each year.  A few plants quickly spread to form a solid stand.

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I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen ignorant ‘landscapers’ plant Magnolia trees as foundation plantings for office buildings.  Now, understand that our native Magnolia grandiflora will grow more than 100′ tall and 30′-40′ across at maturity.  Somebody didn’t think something through when they plant a young tree of this size less than 10′ from a brick wall….

So before you purchase and before you dig that hole, do a little research into what that plant will be 2, 5, and 20 years from now.

Maybe you’re thinking, “But I have electric hedge trimmers… it doesn’t really matter.”  Yes, and no.  Some plants will respond to regular trimming with more growth and can be maintained at a certain height indefinitely.  But others, like many conifers, will never recover from a shearing or improper pruning.  Others will just grow so fast, once established, you’ll lose the race!  I’ve never enjoyed cutting back shrubs on a hot summer day.  Have you?

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June 27, 2014 garden at dusk 021

This Rose of Sharon has grown from a shrub to a large tree. Although it has overgrown its intended space, we prune only the lower branches and simply enjoy the show!

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Better to select a plant to fit the space you have.  While tags are good guides, you will find much more useful information from a quick internet search.  Often you’ll find university studies comparing cultivars of a plant to help you select the best one for your situation.  For example, if you want to plant an Azalea, you can choose from a dwarf variety which won’t ever grow more than 3′ high or one of the tall ‘Indica’ hybrids which may reach 10′ in just a few years. Often you’ll learn that expected height and spread depend on your climate.

Another important consideration is whether a plant will ‘sucker’ and spread.  This means that rather than growing from a single stem, new stems will keep growing out of the ground year after year, making your plant wider and wider with each passing season.  Some native plants, ferns, perennials, and even trees will just keep growing outwards like a rapacious bamboo!

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A new bamboo 'shoot' emerged far from the bamboo forest, right in front of a fig tree. We cut this down after taking a photo.

A new bamboo ‘shoot’ emerged far from the bamboo forest, right in front of a fig tree. We cut this down after taking a photo.

~

Always check so you know what to expect, and how many plants may be needed to cover your real estate with a nice stand of these willing plants.  If you don’t want wide coverage, you may find yourself on the business end of a shovel digging up the new growth for many years to come.

So do a little research before you introduce a new plant to your garden, even if that new plant is a ‘gift.’  A professional plantsman once showed me a towering Rhododendron which covered half of the side wall of his home and reached for the roof line.  This monster, lovely as it was, originally came to the garden in a little gallon pot as a gift from a Rhododendron enthusiast friend.

There were originally two little shrubs in that pot, and they are planted side by side, one nearly twice as tall as the other.  Stunning for the weeks when they bloom each May, these two shrubs have grown completely out of control and remain on my friend’s ‘get around to it’ list for heavy pruning…..

The best of intentions can lead to later problems when you don’t pause to do your homework.

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The march of the bamboo up the hill back in early May. We have had to control the growth up towards the garden.

The march of the bamboo up the hill in early May. We have had to control the growth up towards the rest of the garden each spring.

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Woodland Gnome’s Caveat:  When a friend offers me a plant I nearly always accept it.  But I wait to plant it out until I first figure out what it is and then learn something about it.  If necessary, I’ll pot it up for a while as I do the research.  If I can’t use it, then I’ll find a gardening friend who can.  Since we all have different gardening goals and conditions there is generally someone glad to get it.  

And, when sharing plants from my garden with others I try to give full disclosure.  I want my friends smiling with fond memories as they admire the plants I’ve given, not mumbling unhappy things while they wrestle with the ‘gifted’ plant!  A little understanding goes a long way to siting a plant properly for years of enjoyment.

~

These white Monarda are performing well in partial sun. A friend gave me several clumps last year, and I spread them around in different parts of the garden to see where they would do well. These in partial sun, near mature Lilac shrubs, have done the best.

A friend gave me these beautiful white Monarda last year. I spread them around in different parts of the garden to see where they would do well, and shared a few clumps with friends.  Monarda spread quickly with underground stems.

~

“Green Thumb” Tips:  Many of you who visit Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help you grow the garden of your dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.  If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what YOU KNOW from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

~

The reddish orange flowers, Crocosmia, are another gift from a gardening friend. I've since learned that these are Iris relatives and form clumps, expanding each year. Lovely flowers, they are spread in different beds around our garden.

The reddish orange flowers, Crocosmia, are another gift from a gardening friend. I’ve since learned that these are Iris relatives and form clumps, expanding each year. Lovely flowers, and tough, they are spread in different beds around our garden.

~

Many thanks to Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios, who posted her first tip:  ‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots!  Please visit her post for beautiful instructions on how to prepare roots for re-potting.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!

Green Thumb Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

Green Thumb Tip #8:  Observe!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9: Plan Ahead

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #10: Understand the Rhythm

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July 13, 2016 garden close ups 015

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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July 13, 2016 garden close ups 012

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 5: Keep Planting!

July 12, 2016 garden layers 013

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You’ve heard, “Nature abhors a vacuum.”

And gardeners know that any bare spot of earth, whether in a pot or in the ground, will soon sprout a weed.  That is why it is important to keep planting desirable plants in any space which comes vacant in the garden.

~

Crabgrass seems to appear overnight this time of year, even through a layer of mulch.

Crabgrass seems to appear overnight this time of year, even through a layer of mulch.  Weeds grow quickly to fill any bare earth during the hot, moist Virginia summer.

~

Gardening is a dynamic art.  Things rarely stay the same for two days running.  There is always growth and there is always decline.

Whether a plant simply finishes its season, like spring bulbs; is harvested; grows diseased; desiccates in the heat; or is eaten by pests; these plants need to be replaced as they disappear.  Experienced gardeners understand this rhythm and plan for it.

~

As Arum itallicum nears the end of its season, its berries redden and its leaves wilt away. It will sprout new leaves in the autumn, growing strong and green all winter and spring. Calladiums will fill its place for the summer.


As Arum italicum nears the end of its season, its berries redden and its leaves wilt away. It will sprout new leaves in the autumn, growing strong and green all winter and spring. Caladiums  and ferns will fill its place during summer.

~

Brent Heath, owner of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, demonstrated this principle to me as we toured his gardens last month.  He showed me the packets of Larkspur and other seeds he routinely carries in his pocket.

When weeding, he sows what he wants to grow in any newly vacant spot.  If he harvests, he immediately plants.  Fading leaves in his Daffodil fields were first mown, and then overplanted with a summer cover crop to build the soil.  Prevent weeds from growing in the first place by sowing what you want the land to support.

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Spring bulbs will have faded and melted away by late May. What will fill their spot for the rest of the season?

Spring bulbs will have faded and melted away by late May. What will fill their spot for the rest of the season?

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If you observe a meadow, you’ll find a variety of plants all growing together, covering every bit of Earth.    They form a community.  This is nature’s way.  Keeping the ground covered slows evaporation, inhibits germination of weed seeds, makes the garden more productive, and simply looks nice!

Rather than allow for gaps in the garden as plants fade, have a plan to fill the space with a new plant.

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This Begonia, grown from a rooted cutting, will fill this pot until frost. Evergreen ivy and Dianthus carry it through the other seasons.

This Begonia, grown from a rooted cutting, will fill its pot until frost. Evergreen ivy and Dianthus carry it through the other seasons.

~

There are several ways to accomplish this:

  1.  Grow bulbs and perennials which will always grow in a particular season, even if they disappear for the rest of the year.  Planted once, they fill their niche indefinitely. Plant something else over them as they fade.
  2. Root cuttings from plants as you prune, so there is a supply of rooted cuttings ready to go out to fill spaces when needed.  I keep Begonia, Impatiens and Coleus cuttings rooting through much of the year.  There are many annual and perennial plants which will root easily, some, like Pelargonium, can often be cut and then planted directly where you want them to grow.

    ~

    A Coleus cutting will soon fill a gap left by faded Daffodils, and never filled by the Zantedeschia bulbs which failed to sprout this spring. Creeping Jenny and Dichondra are covering the bare soil.

    A Coleus cutting will soon fill a gap left by faded Daffodils, and never filled by the Zantedeschia bulbs which failed to sprout this spring. Creeping Jenny and Dichondra are growing over the bare soil in this pot.

    ~

  3. Purchase seedlings seasonally to refresh pots, baskets, and garden beds.  Replacing spent summer annuals with Violas and ornamental Kale would be an example of this principle.  Likewise, winter annuals are pulled and replaced each spring.  Good garden centers will have small starter plants for sale year round.
  4. Sow seeds for annuals, herbs and vegetables as needed to quickly fill empty spaces.  This includes succession planting of edible crops such as lettuce, cilantro, carrots, spinach and radishes.  Herbs and fast vegetables like radishes can be sown in pots, window boxes, and baskets along with ornamental plants.

    ~

    Iris is an easy perennial to divide to fill in spots. Although it only blooms once each year, the leaves fill the space year round, and continue to expand.

    Iris is an easy perennial to divide to fill in spots. Although it only blooms once each year, the leaves fill the space year round, and continue to expand.

    ~

  5. Divide perennials as needed and re-plant divisions to fill gaps and holes.  Many perennials will not mind having a division dug from the edge of the clump, and that division will grow on as a new plant.  This works better in the spring and fall, and during wet cloudy weather than during summer’s heat.  Divisions need to stay hydrated until their roots take hold.
  6. Plant ‘grocery store’ finds such as ginger roots, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic cloves, cactus pads, onion sets and even hydroponic lettuce sold still on its roots.  The grocery store is also a source for small pots of herbs and edible seeds.  Take a fresh look at the produce department to see what you can find that will grow on in your garden.

    ~

    Plant in layers so that if a plant is lost, others are already there to grow and fill the space.

    Plant in layers.  The tall plant in the pot is Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups.’  Daffodils filled this pot in April; their foliage just turning brown and melting away now in July.

    ~

  7. Plant in layers, including a ground cover as well as mid-sized and larger plants.  If a mid-sized plant finishes or fails, the ground cover remains.  Other plants can grow to fill in gaps left by plants which fail or finish.
  8. Allow plants to spread and to self-seed.  Some plants will spread by rhizome, covering a bit more real estate as time passes.  They form clumps and colonies.  Other plants will spread their seeds around, appearing some time later in surprising places.  Allowing plants you admire to spread helps fill your garden at no additional expense.

    ~

    Coleus rooting in a jar makes a nice arrangement, and keeps a supply of rooted cuttings ready to plant where needed.

    Coleus rooting in a jar makes a nice arrangement, and keeps a supply of rooted cuttings ready to plant where needed.

    ~

    “Green Thumb” Tips:  Many of you who visit Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help you grow the garden of your dreams.

    I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.  If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what YOU KNOW from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

    Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

    Many thanks to Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios, who posted her first tip:  ‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots!  Please visit her post for beautiful instructions on how to prepare roots for re-potting.

    ‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

    ‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

    ‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

    ‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right

  1. ‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

    ‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

    ‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe

    ‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9 Plan Ahead

    ‘Green Thumb’ Tip #10: Understand the Rhythm

    ~

    Volunteer Black Eyed Susans have colonized the sunny edge of this clump of Colocasia.

    Volunteer Black Eyed Susans have colonized the sunny edge of this clump of Colocasia.  Colocasia spread with runners and can be divided very easily.

    ~

    Woodland Gnome 2016

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4: Get the Light Right!

July 3, 2016 wet garden 043

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Giving each plant the right amount of light, without burning it or starving it, determines how well that plant performs.  Because plants ‘eat’ light, they must have enough to power photosynthesis and to accomplish all of their life processes.

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Many flowering perennials, like Iris, Lavender, and Cannas, want full sunlight for at least 6-8 hours each day.

Many flowering perennials, like Iris, Lavender, and Cannas, want full sunlight for at least 6-8 hours each day.

~

Give a plant too little light and it grows leggy and pale.  The stems between its leaves s t r e t c h, reaching for the light.  Flower production slows and it looks a bit ‘sickly.’ It grows more susceptible to pests and to disease, fungal infections and general rot.

~

This Calla, grown in partial shade last summer, grows better in full sun. The elongated petioles of the leaves are reaching up for the light.

This Calla, grown in partial shade last summer, grows better in full sun. The elongated petioles of the leaves are reaching up for the light.  It was also crowded after several years growing in the pot.  I divided the tubers, after this photo, and had five separate plants to grow on in better light.

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But too much light can fry fragile leaves and delicate flowers; especially hot summer sun.  Even ‘full sun’ plants appreciate some shade during summer afternoons in the southern United States.  It is harder to keep plants hydrated in full sun and hot weather.

~

White and light colored leaves often want more shade than dark green ones. Here, Caladium, fern and perennail Begonia grow in shade cast by a Dogwood tree.

White and light colored leaves often want more shade than dark green ones. Here, Caladium, fern and perennial Begonia grow in shade cast by a Dogwood tree.

~

How do we navigate both the weather, and the needs of our many different plants?

The MOST important question to ask when acquiring a new plant is, ‘How much light does it need?

Most nursery grown plants and seeds now come with little informational tags which indicate: full sun, partial sun, partial shade or shade.    That bit of information provides a start, but most of us need the experience of trial and error to master getting the light right!

~

Though most Canna lilies prefer full sun, this variegated C. 'Stuttgart' wants partial shade and lots of moisture. The more sun it gets, the more moisture it wants. Notice the burned leaves? It probably wants more shade than this spot offers.

Though most Canna lilies prefer full sun, this variegated C. ‘Stuttgart’ wants partial shade and lots of moisture. The more sun it gets, the more moisture it wants. Notice the burned leaves? It probably wants more shade than this spot offers.  The nursery sent a note of warning about its needs when I purchased it this spring.

~

Like everything else about gardening, the light is ever changing from morning to evening and spring thorough winter.  And of course, these conditions change in our garden as trees and shrubs grow, perennials expand, and of course when plants are lost.  Good gardeners learn through observation, and remain flexible.

When trying a plant for the first time, especially an expensive one, I think it is wise to start it off in a pot.  Why?  Pots are portable.  Unless you are absolutely sure you know where to plant something for it to get proper light, like planting Daffodil bulbs in the sun, starting off with a pot allows for easy experimentation.

~

Our 'bog garden' got more sun last year than it does this year. The plants all started in pots, though I moved a few into the soil as the summer progressed.

Our ‘bog garden’ got a little more sun last year than it does this year. The plants all started in pots, though I moved a few into the soil as the summer progressed.  Colocasia will grow in sun or shade, but want more moisture in full sun.

~

Although gardening books can be helpful guides to knowing how much light or shade a particular plant requires, the latitude and altitude of one’s garden determines the ferocity of the sun.  Climate also plays an important part in knowing how much ‘full sun’ a plant needs and can endure.  If most days are cloudy and rain falls frequently, less shade from buildings and trees will be required.  But if it rarely rains and day after day passes hot and clear, anything but a cactus will likely need a little afternoon shade!

Providing more moisture can help a plant survive a spot that is a bit too sunny and hot for its liking.

~

Foxtail ferns growing in an open area beside the path to Beverly Beach, OR.

Foxtail ferns growing in an open area beside the path to Beverly Beach, OR.  They grow in full sun in this cool, moist climate.

~

A fern growing in ‘full sun’ in coastal Oregon might burn up in a day or two in my Virginia garden, if not given some afternoon shade.

That is one reason why many experienced gardeners give themselves at least a year to come to understand a new garden before starting renovations.  It takes a full year of observation to understand how light moves through the garden during the course of a day and from month to month.

~

Older varieties of Coleus prefer partial shade, but these newer hybrids can take several hours of full sun each day.

Older varieties of Coleus prefer partial shade, but these newer hybrids can take several hours of full sun each day.

~

Even a single year isn’t enough to understand the subtleties of microclimates and exposures relative to structures; the prevailing winds; where water flows during a rainstorm; and where heat  lingers during the winter.  That is why patient observation is a gardener’s best ally when placing plants.

~

This first bloom on Canna 'Stuttgart' is an unusual color for a Canna. Still growing in a pot, I will look for a permanent spot with more shade since the leaves have scorched in this location.

This first bloom on Canna ‘Stuttgart’ is an unusual color for a Canna. Still growing in a pot, I will look for a permanent spot with more shade since the leaves have scorched in this location.  This variety enjoys moist soil.

~

Here is an experiment for you:  If there is a new plant you want to introduce to your garden, begin with several.  Plant them in different spots in your garden, give each the best care you can, and observe how they grow.  Within just a few weeks you may notice some doing better than others.  Why?

~

Echinacea grow well with a little afternoon shade in our garden. The Calla has much better color here than it did last year in its pot. All of these sun-loving perennials will have to be moved as the Star Magnolia grows into a tree over the next few years.

Echinacea grow well with a little afternoon shade in our garden.  It is planted in several different beds with varying degrees of sun.  The Calla has much better color here than it did last year in its pot. All of these sun-loving perennials will need to be moved as the Star Magnolia (right) grows into a tree over the next few years.

~

I quickly noticed that two identical pots, one on either side of our front porch, grew differently.  Why?

One side of the porch has more sunshine each day than the other, more shady side.  I can trade out pots every few weeks to keep them even, or experiment to find plants indifferent to the subtle difference in light.

After learning about each plant’s needs and preferences, and understanding what resources each zone of a gardener can offer, it becomes clearer how to design successful plantings.  It takes time; maybe years; to earn this knowledge.  We all make mistakes along the way, and hopefully count them as part of our education.

~

This tuberous Begonia grows in a pot 10 feet away from identical Begonias purchased the same day from the same nursery. They grow in a little more shade and have not yet bloomed. Although tuberous Begonias prefer partial shade, they need a filtered or morning sun to bloom well.

This tuberous Begonia grows in a pot 10 feet away from identical Begonias purchased the same day from the same nursery, and potted up with the same fertilizers. But the other plants grow in a little more shade, and have not yet bloomed. Although tuberous Begonias need partial shade, they still want plenty of  filtered light or morning sun to bloom well.  Moving the pot a little into more light might help the other Begonias bloom, too.

~

And this is why observation and flexibility make the difference between great ‘green thumb’ gardeners and mediocre ones.

When we realize that a plant isn’t happy where it is growing, we must either move the plant, or somehow change the conditions.  Knowing a plant’s needs and preferences up front helps us make educated guesses about how to grow it well.  When it shows stress, we can give it more favorable conditions, or discard it.

~

These Echinacea plants need a little bit more sun than they are getting. Their bed has grown shadier over the years. Though blooming, they look a bit 'ratty,' don't you think? I should move them.....

These Echinacea plants need a little bit more sun than they are getting. Their bed has grown shadier over the years. Though blooming, they look a bit ‘ratty,’ don’t you think? I should move them….. and plant something else which appreciates the shade…..

~

Likewise, if we realize that we have very little sun in our garden, or very little shade; we choose only plants that can thrive in our conditions.  Why watch a tomato plant languish in a shady, tree filled garden?  Tomatoes like all the sun you can give them, and require 6-8 hours of full sun each day to produce good fruit.  If you garden in a forest, as we do, it pays to make friends with the local farmers and frequent their farm stands!

~

These white Monarda are performing well in partial sun. A friend gave me several clumps last year, and I spread them around in different parts of the garden to see where they would do well. These in partial sun, near mature Lilac shrubs, have done the best.

These white Monarda are performing well in partial sun. A friend gave me several clumps last year, and I spread them around in different parts of the garden to see where they would do well. These in partial sun, near mature Lilac shrubs, have done the best.

~

Shade gardeners learn to take pleasure in ferns and Hostas, Azaleas, Caladiums and Begonias.  Those with sunnier gardens have better experiences with most herbs and vegetables, flowers for cutting, conifers and fruit trees.  Sometimes we have to adapt our expectations and desires to the growing conditions our present garden can provide!

We were startled, a few years ago, to lose several mature oak trees in a summer thunderstorm.  In the blink of an eye, much of our shady garden was transformed to an open, sunny, mulch covered field.  What to do? 

~

Bits of branch and bark form a foundation for the new raised bed.

Bits of branch and bark form a foundation for the new raised bed which became our ‘stump garden’ after losing our oaks.  Nearly full shade was transformed to ‘full sun’ in a moment, with the loss of three mature oak trees.

~

Challenges grow into opportunities, don’t they?  But the available light in a garden determines everything else about plant selection and vigor.  Moving a plant just a foot or so one way or another may change the amount of sun it receives each day.

That is why it is crucial to ‘get the light right!’  when designing our garden, and protecting our investment in the plants we grow.

~

Herbs hold the power to heal us. Our own garden in July-

Herbs hold the power to heal us. The ‘stump garden,’  two years later, planted with sun loving herbs and perennials.

~

“Green Thumb” Tips:  Many of you who visit Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help you grow the garden of your dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.  If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what YOU KNOW from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

Many thanks to Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios, who posted her first tip:  ‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots!  Please visit her post for beautiful instructions on how to prepare roots for re-potting.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9 Plan Ahead

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #10: Understand the Rhythm

~

July 3, 2016 wet garden 018

~

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015-2016

~

 

“The single greatest lesson the garden teaches

is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum,

and that as long as the sun still shines

and people still can plan and plant, think and do,

we can, if we bother to try, find ways

to provide for ourselves

without diminishing the world. ”

.

Michael Pollan

~

July 3, 2016 wet garden 039

 

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