Summer Spreaders

These Black Eyed Susans were growing in the garden when we came here, but we spread the plants around when they emerge each spring. The clumps spread and also self-seed.

These Black Eyed Susans were growing in another part of the garden when we came here, but we spread the plants around when they emerge each spring. The clumps spread and also self-seed.

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Is there a large area in your garden which you would like to fill with plants with a minimum investment of cost and effort?

Many of us have large areas to tend, and welcome plants which make themselves at home, colonizing the surrounding real estate.  If we like a single specimen, we might also enjoy a larger area filled with the same plant.

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Colocasia growing with Canna lily

Colocasia ‘China Pink’  growing with Canna lily and hardy Hibiscus.

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One way to accomplish this is by buying multiples of a single plant to begin with; say seven or nine or thirteen pots of the same cultivar, planted together in a large bed.  If your budget doesn’t allow such a splurge very often, consider buying plants which spread themselves around in a fairly short time.

Most of these spreading plants grow radiating stems which creep along just under or just above the ground.

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A new plant begins to grow from a Colocasia runner.

A new plant begins to grow from a Colocasia runner.

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As the stems grow away from the original plant, they send up new sets of leaves some distance away, and root at that spot to form an entirely new plant.

Over time, each of these new plants will send out its own runners.

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The new plants can be cut away and replanted elsewhere or allowed to grow in place, thus expanding the original planting.

Many plants spread themselves in this way, eventually forming dense colonies.  Some begin to crowd themselves out after a year or two and appreciate thinning.  Others may be left alone indefinitely.

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Clumping Hazel trees form the backdrop to this bed filled with hardy Colocasia and Canna lilies.

Clumping Hazel trees form the backdrop to this bed filled with hardy Colocasia and Canna lilies.  The  bed was planted this spring from divisions of established plants.

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In fact, many of the plants we consider ‘invasive weeds,’ like wild strawberry and crabgrass, spread themselves in this way.  Leaving any part of the plant in the ground when weeding may result in a new plant cropping up in a matter of days.

One of my current favorite plants for covering large areas with interesting foliage is  Colocasia, or Elephant Ear.  These are marginally hardy here in Zone 7.  Some cultivars have returned for us while others have died out over the winter.

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Winter hardiness is an important consideration when choosing a plant to spread.  While a tender plant allows one to easily change one’s mind after the growing season; a hardy plant will most likely become a permanent fixture in the garden.  It pays to do plenty of research into the plant’s needs and habits before making that initial investment to bring it home to the garden.

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C. Black Magic growing in 2014

C. Black Magic, growing in 2014, did not survive our winter.

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Of the several Colocasia cultivars I planted last summer, only two proved hardy in our garden.  The species, C. Esculenta and C. “Pink China” survived our winter.  While the species hasn’t spread beyond its immediate area, C. “Pink China” has spread prolifically this year.  I moved several plants to a new area this spring and they have all sent out runners as well.

One of the cultivars which didn’t survive our winter was C. “Black Runner,” prized for its ability to spread.  Although Plant Delights nursery indicated it is hardy to our Zone 7B, only those plants I kept in pots in the basement survived the winter.

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Butterfly Ginger Lily comes into bloom in late August in our garden.

Butterfly Ginger Lily comes into bloom in late August in our garden.  It is very fragrant, perfuming this whole area of the garden for more than a month.

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Three large, spreading plants we enjoy in the summer garden are the Colocasia, Canna lily, and our hardy Butterfly Ginger Lily.

Our first ginger lily, Hedychium coronarium, came as a gift from a neighbor as she prepared to move.  She allowed me to dig roots from her garden and I happily replanted them  in a new bed near our driveway.  These plants die back to the ground each winter, and then grow to around 6′ tall each summer before blooming at the end of the season.  Their fragrant blooms keep coming until a heavy frost.

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Our first Lycoris of the season blooms beside stems of ginger lily. These create a thick, creeping mat and must be dug each season to keep them in bounds.

Our first Lycoris of the season blooms beside stems of Ginger Lily. The Ginger Lily create a thick, creeping mat and must be thinned each season to keep them in bounds.

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I’ve since dug up roots to share and to spread to a wider area of the garden.  The stems grow very densely together and make a good screen for about half of the year.

Most of our Canna lily were also a gift from a gardening friend.  She brought me a grocery sack of roots dug from her garden late in the summer we lost several tall oaks, transforming our very shady garden to nearly full sun.   Although I planted the roots with several feet between each, they have grown to form dense clumps in just two summers.  The named cultivars with more ornamental leaves planted last year have not proven nearly as prolific in their growth.

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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.

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Bamboo, another spreading giant, already grew at the bottom of our garden when we arrived.  Technically a grass, its rhizomes now cover much of our lower garden.  We are surprised each spring to see where the new stems emerge.  We promptly break these off when they emerge out of boundaries for the bamboo.

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Bearded Iris spread easily when planted in full sun with moist, reasonable soil. They may be allowed to grow into large clumps, or divided and spread around.

Bearded Iris spread easily when planted in full sun with moist, reasonable soil. They may be allowed to grow into large clumps, or divided and spread around.  This is I. ‘Rosalie Figge’ which blooms reliable again each fall.  I’ll shortly be digging these to share with our next door neighbor.

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We enjoy several other hardy perennials which spread over time, although on a much smaller scale than these lovely giants.

German Bearded Iris quickly grow to form large clumps when they are happy with the light and soil.  They prefer full sun and reasonable soil.

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Iris rhizomes may be divided into small pieces, as long as each piece has at least one root.

Iris rhizomes may be divided into small pieces, as long as each piece has at least one root.  They are planted shallowly so the rhizome remains visible above the soil.

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Iris must be divided every few years as their rhizomes age and play out after a while.  We grow mostly re-blooming Iris, which offer two seasons of blooms each year.

Daylilies will clump and spread as well, as will many species of Rudbeckia.

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The large fern in the blue pot is my favorite tender lady fern, which spreads its self around generously. Most ferns spread by rhizomes, gradually growing larger and larger each year.

The large fern in the blue pot is my favorite tender lady fern, which spreads its self around generously. Most ferns spread by rhizomes, gradually growing larger and larger each year.

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Many ferns spread by rhizomes growing at or just below the soil’s surface.  The Japanese ferns and various “walking ferns” are especially good at covering real estate.

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One of my tender lady ferns is especially prolific at spreading it self around a hanging basket or pot and may be divided again and again without harming the original plant.

Many plants sold as ‘ground cover,’ like Ajuga, quickly spread out to carpet large areas of the garden.

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Ajuga, which forms a dense ground cover in one of our beds.

Ajuga, which forms a dense ground cover in one of our beds.

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Vines, like Creeping Jenny and Periwinkle, or Vinca minor can root at each leaf node, spreading themselves out indefinitely.  Although only a few inches high, these plants spread quickly to offer large areas of uniform coverage in beds and under shrubs.

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Creeping Jenny, easy to divide and transplant, grows quickly into a densly matted ground cover.

Creeping Jenny, easy to divide and transplant, grows quickly into a densly matted ground cover.  Here it is interplanted with a hardy Sedum.

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Many succulent varieties offer the same rapid spread through their rooting stems.  These make good ground cover for pots as well as in rock gardens or sunny beds.

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August 13, 2015 spreaders 001

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Members of the mint family, including Monarda and Lemon Balm,  remain notorious for quickly spreading to cover as much territory as possible.  Because their runners travel both above and below ground, one must be ruthless to yank out rooted stems growing beyond their boundaries.

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Pineapple mint

Pineapple mint

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Shrubs, and even some trees, will increase through spreading rhizomes, as well.  Hazel, Forsythia, Sumac, Lilac, Crepe Myrtle, some Figs and many sorts of berry bushes will quickly form large clumps.

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Crepe Myrtle tend to sucker and slowly spread. Lovely and prolific, many gardeners allow them to grow into a large area each year. This one has returned from its roots after being broken down in a 2013 storm.

Crepe Myrtle tends to sucker and slowly spread. Lovely and prolific, many gardeners allow them to grow into a large area each year. This one has returned from its roots after being broken down in a 2013 storm.

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This ability to generate new plants, clones of the original, from spreading stems may be desirable to you or not; depending on your situation.  If you have space to allow the expansion these new plants can be a blessing.  If you are gardening in cramped quarters, the spreading tendencies of many plants may become a nuisance.

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Strawberry Begonia spreads prolifically with long runners, tipped with baby plants which will root wherever they touch the soil.

Strawberry Begonia spreads prolifically with long runners, tipped with baby plants which will root wherever they touch the soil.  An attractive foliage plant, they bloom in the spring.

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It helps to have gardening buddies who are willing to receive extra plants, as well as those who will share free plants with us.  Some of our favorite plants came as gifts from generous and loving friends.

And we appreciate the prolific growth of our favorite plants each summer when they fill our garden with beautiful leaves and fragrant flowers.

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Red Canna flowers and Hibiscus attract both hummingbirds and pollinating insects, including butterflies.

Red Canna flowers and Hibiscus attract both hummingbirds and pollinating insects, including butterflies.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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The Wonder of the Rhizome

Bird's nest fern with a rhizomatous Begonia Rex

Bird’s nest fern with a rhizomatous Begonia Rex sending up new leaves.

A rhizome, technically a stem, grows just at the surface, or slightly underground; sending roots down into the soil and leaves up into the light.

Many plants grow from rhizomes.

Have you eaten ginger?  Ginger is a rhizome, and the ginger you purchase at the grocery can be planted and grown into a new plant by placing it on the surface of some good dirt, adding just a little dusting of soil on top, and watering it in.  Within a few weeks roots will grow and leaves emerge from the piece of ginger rhizome.

Many of the most beautiful Begonias grow from rhizomes. 

And like a piece of ginger, the rhizome may go dormant for a period of time before suddenly producing new leaves and beginning to grow.

When you buy a Rex Begonia for its gorgeous leaves, it is growing from a little rhizome.

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I purchased this bird’s nest fern and a little Begonia at Lowe’s back in the winter, and potted them up in a big bowl for a winter centerpiece on my dining table.  We enjoyed them all winter, but the Begonia struggled along while the fern took off.

I moved them both into a nursery pot and set them outside in early summer.  The Begonia had lost its last leaf by this time, and I had no way to tell whether it was alive or dead.

But look!  The rhizome survived, and has begun to grow again and produce new leaves.

Here is another rhizomatous Begonia which has gone completely dormant twice now, and then has suddenly sprung back into growth.

I love the leaves on this one for their silvery sheen.

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Rhizomatous Begonias grow extremely well in the shade.  That said, they grow much better outside than inside.

Many of these special Begonias are winter bloomers, and will begin blooming, when they are happy, in January or February.  They need bright light inside to bloom, but love a shady and sheltered spot outside in the summer.

August 2013, with this Begonia growing under an Azalea

August 2013, with this Begonia growing under an Azalea

 

We had actually given up on this one for dead last spring, and chucked the contents of its pot under a shrub.  I was thrilled to find it alive and leafing out several weeks later.

It grew happily under an Azalea all last summer, and survived most of the winter potted, indoors by a window.

By April it looked like it was dieing back, and so I moved it outside, and out of its pot, into the Earth.  It perked up within a few weeks, and looks lush and happy again.

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Because a rhizome sends out both roots and stems, it can be broken into smaller pieces and each replanted.

The rhizome grows longer over time, as it stores food for the plant; sometimes branching out to cover more ground.  It can grow  pretty quickly into a large plant.

A different rhizomatous Begonia at the bottom of the photo, growing with Japanese painted Fern.  This rhizome has grown over the edge of the pot.  I could break it off and set it into a new pot of soil to root.

A different rhizomatous Begonia at the bottom of the photo, growing with Japanese painted Fern. This rhizome has grown over the edge of the pot. I could break it off and set it into a new pot of soil to root.

 

Many ferns grow from rhizomes.  German Iris grow from rhizomes.

Ginger lily growing from a rhizome given to us by a friend.  These can be divided and spread each spring.

Ginger lily growing from a rhizome given to us by a friend. These can be divided and spread each spring.

Canna lilies and ginger lilies grow from rhizomes.

Plants which grow from rhizomes can be easily divided to increase your stock.

 

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Each little piece of the rhizome has the potential to grow into a new plant identical to the original one.

Most plants growing from a rhizome need to dry out a little between waterings.  Too much water can cause the rhizome to rot, which will kill the plant.

Many ferns grow from rhizomes.  They spread as the rhizome grows just under the soil level, sending out new roots and shoots as it grows.

Many ferns grow from rhizomes. They spread as the rhizome grows just under the soil level, sending out new roots and shoots as it grows.

 

Watch the leaves to know when more water is needed, but in general let the surface of the soil dry a bit between drinks.  Some, like iris, are very drought tolerant.

A rhizome is a wonderful adaptation which allows a plant to wait out poor conditions without dieing, so it can grow again when conditions improve.

And it is a wonderful thing for a gardener to realize that a plant thought dead was only dormant, and has begun to grow yet again!

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2014

 

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