Don’t let the winter blues get you down. Spring will be here soon. Take advantage of these last few weeks of hibernation to consider getting a head start so you can hit the ground running. The theme of a winter garden to-do list is anticipation. While you hum the Carly Simon ballad, dream up a crop of fresh gardening goals. Research new plants you’d like to try this year. Below are some ideas to motivate your spring planning.
Swap Plants. If you have plants that are ready for dividing, consider sharing. Get together or video chat with some gardening friends and organize a plant exchange for spring. Think about what plants need dividing and coordinate with your group on who, what, where and when you’ll host a garden swap. This article from Homestead Brooklyn has some great planning tips: How to Organize a Plant Swap Like a Pro.
Plan a low-effort garden. If you’ve got a busy summer planned, consider planting pots in self watering containers (available online and garden centers) and plan your drought tolerant containers. Window boxes, which can be difficult to water, benefit from self- watering window boxes. Swallowtail Garden Seeds is an informative resource with pictures for drought tolerant plant ideas.
Take inventory of your tools. Buy any tools you need so you’re prepared when spring arrives. Care for your tools by cleaning and sharpening them. Create a cleaning station for your hand tools for the growing season. Sanitizing pruning shears prevents the spread of disease between plants. Garden Betty has an informative blog on making a DIY tool cleaning station.
Get Healthy. Get soil healthy by taking a soil test. Purchase it from a hardware store or your local extension office. Now is the time to start the testing process so that you have results in time to amend your soil in the spring.
Start composting with worms. A great approach to recycling and producing natural fertilizer is vermiculture. It takes about one year to reap the benefits. If done correctly there is little to no smell and no rodents. For more information read this article called: Worm Composting Basics for Beginners.
Create Buzz: Help your garden and local farmers by attracting and supporting pollinators. Use the winter to evaluate your yard and determine how you can create an environment that attracts pollinators. Bees, bats, hummingbirds, butterflies and more are needed for a healthy environment. This beautifully illustrated guide by the US Fish and Wildlife Service is worth the download.
Incorporate Native Plants: Commit to planting one native plant. Native plants support local wildlife, thrive in your environment and therefore require less care and chemicals. Native plants adapt to our local climate and conditions, provide food for native animals and insects, support native pollinators, are low maintenance and support biodiversity. The DCNR provides native plant lists for your area. PA natives are listed on DCNR website.
Purge: Eliminate at least one invasive plant in your yard. Non-native invasive plants become established in the wild and prevent native plants from growing. Many people have invasives in their yard and don’t realize it. These invasives don’t support the local flora and fauna. Eliminating an invasive plant once and for all saves you time from weeding out new shoots, and gives your other plants a fighting chance. Even though it is hard to justify ridding your yard of a thriving plant, you’ll support our woodlands and wildlife by eliminating invasive plants like: burning bush, Japanese barberry, Japanese honeysuckle, and tree of heaven. The Smithsonian lists the top six invasive plants in the United States on their insider website. For the most extensive list of invasive plants specific to where you live, contact your county extension office.
A harsh winter like this one makes the arrival of warm breezes and spring blossoms all the sweeter. As you anticipate the thaw, commit to game-changing, practical steps to maintaining a healthy landscape.
With the holidays approaching, we’ve compiled a list of items any home gardener would like to receive. The common theme here is pragmatic and affordable. Prices for gifts range from $10-$80. Each of these items serves a purpose, whether it is to start a cutting garden or protect your hearing. When you decide you want some of these items, remember to share the link with your loved ones.
This kit is perfect for the budding flower grower and contains all the essentials to kick off a successful growing season. Save 10% off individual retail prices when you purchase this collection that includes:
Rose Success Kit
Grow your loveliest roses yet with our top three rose products, and save money too. We've put together everything you need to ensure healthy, abundantly blooming roses.
Hand selected for color and form, these special assortments of Floret's cutting garden favorites are guaranteed to create abundant, foolproof bouquets all season long.
Galvanized Flower Caddy
Unique flower caddy goes from garden to house with ease. This rustproof and watertight container carries cuttings or displays seasonal bouquets. Vintage-inspired caddy is made up of four conjoined French flower market buckets, which give it stability as well as unique style. Galvanized-and-wood handle for single-handed carrying ease. Gather long-stemmed blooms, dogwood, willow branches, winterberries, and more. It's actually perfect for picking; with a little water in each bucket, cuttings will stay fresh until you can get them indoors.
These winter shrub and small tree protectors are superior to burlap, and will last for years. Cut this durable and flexible coconut husk fabric to size with scissors. You invest a lot of time and money to purchase and care for your plants. Protect them from sun scald, wind, snow and salt spray.
Crescendo Gardening Ear Plugs are the first ear plugs designed especially for gardening and yard work. Whether you are just whacking a few weeds or working toward that picture-perfect golf course quality lawn, Crescendo Gardening is the perfect way to ensure your hearing stays protected while you work. And thanks to the enormous selection of home and garden gadgets available today, keeping a nice lawn and a beautiful garden has never been noisier. These great ear plugs provide NRR 16 hearing protection overall, with up to 25dB of protection at some frequencies.
Crescendo Gardening Package Includes:
2 sets of interchangeable tips (small and large)
1 set of interchangeable Gardening sound filters
1 rugged aluminum screw-top carry case with key chain
Deep Drip Watering Stakes
$7-$10 each (pending length)
Plant roots will reach and grow towards where they find water. DEEP DRIP® stakes release water deep into the ground, encouraging plant roots to grow deep into the soil, instead of coming up to the surface looking for a surface/shallow water source. Deep root watering leads to healthier, stronger, and of course, deeper roots. Deep seated roots also help to prevent tree uprooting during strong winds, hill erosion, and damage to structures, foundations, and sidewalks that could otherwise be caused by uprooting.
Mechanic's supplies help you lay the foundation for beautiful arrangements that stay in place. Pin frogs allow you to securely arrange heavy, woody branches in even shallow vessels. Hairpin frogs allow you to insert stems at any angle and create lush, trailing bouquets.
This gorgeous journal brings the beauty of Floret to every note and memory. With seasonal photographs of glorious blooms and inspiring quotes about the natural world throughout, this is the perfect companion for any flower lover.
This list is certainly not exhaustive. But it should inspire our family and friends to select a gift we’ll actually use more than an ugly Christmas sweater! Some of our blogs compliment these gifts, so be sure to read during the holidays and share the links with your friends and family.
Many gardeners pack away their container inspiration when they empty and store their outdoor pots for the long winter. When days shorten and grays and browns dominate our view, color and plant form (height, shape, texture) are vital to four-season interest in our gardens and landscape. A perfect way to brighten our front doors, patios, and sidewalks is with a seasonal arrangement that’s intended to be outside.
My piano teacher, Andrea (If you're need an amazing piano teacher in Pittsburgh, visit her website.) greets her students with seasonal decorations and tastefully decorated pots. I have always admired her beautiful and creative front porch inspirations. Her pots are coordinated with her handmade wreath and entrance decorations creating a welcome and seasonal vignette.
Creating a winter container is not difficult and can be inexpensive if we incorporate cuttings from our garden. When choosing plants for winter containers, the general rule for plant survival through the winter is to use plants hardy to at least two zones colder than your USDA Hardiness zones. Many trees, shrubs, and perennials that are hardy in your zone will live and even thrive in containers through all four seasons. A frost-proof pot, like fiberglass, lead, iron, heavy plastic and stone will work. A drainage hole is necessary. Terra cotta is not advisable because this material eventually expands and cracks with repeated freezing and thawing.
Assemble your designs early enough for plants to acclimate to new pots before freezing. Also, winter containers usually need to be checked monthly for water. When soil is frozen solid, watering is no longer necessary. Apply an anti-desiccant such as Wilt-Pruf to broadleaf evergreens and branches of cut greens to protect against drying winds.
If you prefer a low maintenance pot, select non-living elements such as branches, dried or silk foliage, mosses, orbs of a variety of natural materials, and artificial embellishments such as holiday ornaments, ribbon, and fairy lights.
Cool Winter Container Design Tips
When it comes to design consider these tips:
Strong lines and architectural forms: Sheared boxwood or topiaries create living architectural forms.
Contrast Shapes: Spike and round (Yucca & Berries) or geometric and loose (sheared round boxwood and grassy leaves of dried grass or sedge).
Strong Vertical form: Young columnar arborvitaes or junipers act like an explanation point and draw attention. Mix in boughs of pine or cypress greens as contrast. Strive for complementary colors and textures.
Mix dark and light foliage: Plant a young holly and add branches from a white birch. The white birch branches will pop against the dark holly branches. Add seed pods, pinecones, or any natural elements to make the pot your own.
Silver hues and whites shimmer with night lighting. Lambs ear or a silver-leaved coral bell (Silver Scrolls), reflect light.
Attractive containers provide mass, bold texture and color. This grouping makes a tasteful statement.
To make a pot stand out, add reflective colors such as silver, gold, and even white. It is easy to spray paint pine cones, branches, and twigs of artificial berries. Add cuttings with contrasting leaf shape, such as large magnolia leaves and cypress for an eye-popping arrangement.
Monochromatic colors are a calming approach to container designs.
Don’t forget to repurpose your hanging baskets and window boxes for winter container gardens.
Choose a focal element for the eye to rest and to attract attention. A focal element can be a plant, added greens, pot...have fun.
Transform potted evergreens with holiday decorations, bows of evergreen magnolia, holly, or pine branches.
Mix in fruit (preferably fake to deter animals and rodents).
Embellish with oversized seasonal ornaments.
Architectural accessories give structure and prominence.
We’ve scoured the internet for inspiration and created a list of plants and decorations to use in your winter containers. Use them as guides for your own creations.
Fresh Cut Boughs—Seasonal branches and berries:
Hopefully these pictures and the ones below will inspire your next cool weather container garden! For even more examples check out my winter container garden board on pinterest .
One way to think about creating your garden is to compare it to a musical. The bones give it the
beat or rhythm that you can tap your foot to throughout the seasons.
You're familiar with the phrase, "This house has good bones." Like a home, a garden must also have "bones" that provide structure through all four seasons. Fall and winter are the best time for the gardener to assess and reevaluate gardens and landscapes. Would adding some boulders or a stone bench balance your front garden in the months when flowers aren't blooming? Do you have enough shrubs and trees to serve as the bones of your garden through all seasons? If not, fall is the perfect time to plant them so their roots can spread and establish. Does your garden contain plants that stand out in the fall? Does your large perennial bed contain a balanced variety of bloom color, height, texture, and shape? Have you transplanted flowers which are hidden, or were planted in the wrong spot? These are a small sample of the questions we should ask ourselves this time of year.
Each landscape is dynamic, ever changing, and transforming. Plants and bulbs will multiply. Shrubs and trees sometimes exceed our growth expectations in a few seasons. Reevaluation in the fall is the way the most successful gardeners keep tabs on their outdoor spaces. So walk around outside, take photos, and make notes in your garden journal. Set yourself electronic reminders for when to tackle these tasks.
Why are the bones of the garden important? They provide structure, dimension, and foundation for the rest of the plantings on your property. Bones offer winter interest and can be living like a hedge or inanimate like an arbor, fence or gate. Bones are the first design element to consider when updating or starting from scratch.
For those who live in climates with all four seasons, it is worth considering what your garden looks like when deciduous plants have lost their leaves. It is best to evaluate the bones of your garden when all the flowers have faded and plants have dropped their autumn leaves. Views from within the house and those seen by the public are especially important. Southern gardeners also benefit from starting with a strong backdrop to support the continuous seasons of flowers and greenery. Bones of a garden include structure, rhythm and winter interest. They serve as the backdrop for the landscape. Without good bones, a garden looks like a sloppy, hodgepodge collection; the result is unpleasant on the eyes. Even perennial and casual country gardens have bones. Purposefully including garden structure gives the gardener the luxury to splurge purchase a favorite plant without creating a mismatched landscape.
One way to think about creating your garden is to compare it to a musical. The bones give it the beat or rhythm that you can tap your foot to throughout the seasons. Certain plants dance in the chorus line and during the various acts, star performers take center stage. Some plants, like those with a beautiful voice, command more attention than others, like the color yellow or variegated foliage. In the winter, the star performers are the bones of the garden.
If you prefer a gray- green color theme, use the varied sized blue spruces. Iseli fastigiate is tall and narrow, globe type is lower and round. Pancake or Bowling ball (cypress) offer a shrub layer. Heuchera leaves have all- season silver interest. Special note about variegated foliage: for example, Daphne, boxwood, certain iris, and others. Use these unique plants with interesting foliage as focal points or place in areas to attract attention. Too much variegation looks busy and fussy. Variegation also does not show up well against light- colored backgrounds, such as pale stone, white or vanilla- colored brick, light siding, and white fences.
With some thought and planning, using color to offer structure is easier than you might think.
Texture is another way to create rhythm and bones. For example, if you are a collector of daylilies, ornamental grasses, hydrangeas, or camellia, you can provide rhythm by repeating your collection throughout the landscape. Then mix in contrasting foliage to make your favorite plants pop. For example, for grasses or daylilies, add oakleaf hydrangea or other large-leaved plants, or strongly structured evergreens.
Perennial, English or Cottage Gardens
While all landscapes benefit from having a strong foundation, it is even more critical for perennial, English or cottage gardens. Without structure or rhythm, these areas may look weedy and hodgepodge. There are a couple of ways to create rhythm. First, you can use evergreens or structural elements like trellises or obelisks and repeat them within the bed. Second, plant larger structural herbaceous perennials like ornamental grasses, baptisia, peony, or cohosh or large hostas and repeat like you would a shrub. Then add your favorite perennials in between. Another option is to create groupings. Each grouping would include 4-6 plants, one for each season: early spring, late spring, early summer, late summer, fall, and winter. Repeat these groupings throughout the planting beds. Perennials tend to only bloom for 2-3 weeks, so varying seasonal bloom time ensures color and visual interest throughout the year.
When creating or evaluating your existing landscape, the first step is to evaluate its bones. Do you have too many star performers stealing the stage? Is there one season when your garden appears flat and one-dimensional and could benefit by adding the height of a flowering tree or tall evergreens? What does your landscape look like in the winter? What is creating a beat? Is it color? Evergreens? Hardscape? Keep views in mind as you evaluate the landscape. In a front yard where traffic may travel quickly, use bold statements of rhythm with strong color or structural evergreens. For informal gardens, or gardens experienced while strolling or meandering along a path, you have the opportunity to use more subtle forms of structure, like groupings of perennials. Remember that creating the bones of your landscape doesn’t have to be the repetition of a tightly sheared, round boxwood. There are infinite ways to achieve good bones in your own garden. Each method is a chance to infuse the landscape with your personal style and creativity.
Hope springs eternal when the gardener spies the first green sprouts of the crocus. Amongst the backdrop of drab greys and browns, the bright green almost looks like a color image superimposed onto a black and white photograph. Do you have flowering bulbs in your gardens that will greet you with their optimistic green shoots next spring? Bulbs are a breeze to plant, and don’t require your attention for most of the year. Flower bulbs are one of nature’s miracles; everything they need to bloom is contained in the bulb. Fall is the time to plant. To ensure bulbs are protected from critters, here are some tips.
Avoid Tasty Treats
There’s nothing more discouraging than to discover that chipmunks, squirrels, deer, skunks (yikes!,) dogs or cats have unearthed our bulbs. The simplest strategy is to plant bulbs they dislike: daffodils, alliums, hyacinths, gritillaria, and snowdrops.
Hide your Tracks
Disguise any clues that something tasty is in the ground. Chipmunks are territorial and squirrels are curious, and freshly dug soil invites investigation. Spreading mulch will help hide the evidence of newly planted bulbs. Recent studies have proven that adding bone meal to the planting hole in fact encourages critters. Instead, work some slow-release fertilizer into the planting hole.
Plant bulbs inside a wire or plastic cage. These are effective, but can be costly if you are planting many bulbs. A plastic cage that holds 6 bulbs costs about $7. You can build your own (link) using 2” mesh such as chicken wire. While this will deter digging, it is not full proof. Hardware cloth is another alternative, though it is much more difficult to work with.
You can purchase repellent or use crushed stone or oyster shells. The gritty texture deters digging and chewing. To use, sprinkle in the hole both under and over the bulb when planting. Feed stores usually carry crushed oyster shells. Purchased repellents only last for a specific period of time, so the crushed stones or shells is a longer- term solution. In addition to deer repellent, spreading granulated garlic or crushed pepper flakes will discourage snacking.
The month of October is the perfect time to plant spring-flowering bulbs. Just follow my instructions to ensure they are not disturbed by curious critters. For a small investment in time and money, you will be rewarded for years with cheerful pops of spring color.
There are plants that are thugs in the garden. Unfortunately they are sold at garden centers or unknowingly given to us by friends. Or….they have spread into our yards and we mistakenly let them grow. They are the bullies that forcefully take over our landscapes and fragile ecosystems. When our native plants that feed and support our native bugs, birds and mammals are compromised, the delicate balance of nature is upset. What is a thug? It is a plant that aggressively spreads and is very difficult to remove. These plants are often ‘low maintenance’ in the short term because they grow quickly, have few diseases, pests or deer problems. However after a couple of years they will spread to other beds, lawns and native growing habitats. Removal often requires a lot of manual removal or chemicals. The plants listed here are lessons from my own gardening mistakes or those experienced by my friends and clients.
Even if these plants are free, cheap or deer resistant, practice self restraint. You’ll not regret your choice to remove them from your existing landscape. Or better yet, never plant them.
This is impossible to eliminate without chemicals or plastic covering. I had a client who paid a lot of money to have it removed from her small urban garden and it ALL returned the next season. Though it's variegated leaves are attractive, they choked all of my client's perennials. Due to nearby shrubs, it is close to impossible to lay plastic to smother it. So it took several applications of a chemical weed killer.
While the purple flower is quite lovely, it grows EVERYWHERE. It takes over beds and grows through dense ground covers. This flower quickly spreads to nearby forests and wild areas.
I planted this in my front yard with hopes to lengthen the blooms in my garden. They typically bloom late August through September. I wish I had done my research 20 years ago. I have been chasing it for over 15 years and still have not completely eradicated this perennial. It continues to pop up within my shrubs and between pavers.
Lily of the Valley
I accidentally transplanted this plant from an old garden 20 years ago and it has also started to wind itself through my shrubs, making it very difficult to manually remove. Some enjoy this plant due to fond memories of a loved one or enjoy the strong fragrance. Near woodlands it can creep and invade understory areas.
This ground cover is taking over our native understory. The periwinkle colored flowers and cream/green foliage are very tempting to plant. While walking client's woodland sites there is evidence of this plant growing without restraint in native areas.
Every year I see herb and vegetable gardens taken over by this plant. It is wonderful and smells so good, but plant in a pot on the deck or patio. Or place pot in the ground to keep it contained.
This plant took over my neighbor’s entire front yard beds. Despite being a super pollinator, it will move into your landscape and never leave. It also is prone to powdery mildew, so not only will you have an entire garden filled with Modara (bee balm), it will look ugly and the disease may spread to other plants.
This is the plant which Holly most regrets planting. It is a vigorous grower and will take over flower beds in a brief time. Efforts to remove it are only temporary; she’s chosen not to spray with Roundup because of nearby perennials and shrubs. Loosestrife has extensive root systems which sprout new shoots. This means that to contain the spread, all roots must be dug up. Purple Loosestrife has overtaken native species in many marshes and wetlands in the northeast.
I had a friend who had trumpet vine roots growing through the walls of her basement. Another person had a beautiful variegated one which must constantly be removed from arborvitae shrubs. It’s now spreading into the grass. Be thoughtful of your neighbor before planting this vine. Another client tried to get rid of it when she removed an arbor, and it took her 3 years of Roundup to eradicate it.
Wisteria has the same issues as the trumpet vine: Invasive, years to eradicate and as it matures, its branches thicken like a tree. A mature wisteria can destroy the structures it is planted on. Not only will roots spread many feet away, it also needs a strong metal trellis.
Sweet Autumn Clematis
I planted this vine to extend the flowering season in my garden and to achieve a quick vertical screen. Eventually it started self seeding in my beds and hillside. It is also taking over our native habitats by climbing trees and choking out native perennials.
Toxic to people, pets and livestock. If you see it, eliminate it. Period.
Ivy and Virginia Creeper
They take over landscape beds, climb and kill trees and shrubs, and are a risk to our native plants in our woodlands and parks. If ivy or creeper adheres to building with brick or stone, the plant will eventually damage mortar joints, causing expensive repair.
Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii), Barberry, Privet, Burning Bush, Rose of Sharon: Rapidly spread to forests and displace native perennials and understory plants.
Japanese Knotweed: Has aggressively invaded stream banks, fields, weeds, rail trails, and yards. This shrub is virtually impossible to eliminate. It stores enough carbohydrates in its roots when cut or sprayed with weed killer to return year after year. If you see a SINGLE stem in your yard, dig it up immediately!
Bamboo: In my humble opinion this plant should be prohibited. It is unethical to plant as it will spread to other people’s property (just like Japanese Knotweed) and it is virtually impossible to eradicate. It grows quickly and can fill an entire property in just a few years. Some people have had their yard bulldozed to remove bamboo. If you are tempted to plant this, it may be illegal and cost hefty fines. Check out your local ordinances first, or simply respect your neighbor and consider an alternative.
There are invasive trees that rapidly spreading to our forests and displace our native understory trees. Unfortunately these have been used by municipalities and commercial property owners as street trees. Two of the more popular trees that prevent other larger native seedlings from germinating are:
The most fail-proof way to avoid invasive vines, perennials, trees and shrubs is to do your homework before planting. And understand that there is a difference between perennials which spread by reseeding, like daisies and coneflowers, and those that spread ruthlessly, crowding and eventually taking over planting areas. Because invasives are non-native, they have no natural predators or diseases. They will come back year after year and are nearly impossible to eliminate once established, even for even landscape professionals.
For guidance in choosing alternative plants, these links will be extremely helpful. Use the Native Plants for the Small Yard as a resource because it contains sample designs for a variety of landscapes. The Invasive Plants in Pittsburgh is a useful visual guide for identifying invasive plants in your yard. Use the pictures as links to the PDF files which you can download for reference material.
Pre & Post Harvest Care
The key to a good flower arrangement is great flowers. To ensure you have great flowers, you will need to follow some guidelines before and after harvesting. Preparation is key! Plan on cutting stems in the early morning or late evening, because the plant is more hydrated and has more food stored. Choose flowers from your gardens that are still buds or somewhat open. Fully opened flowers will not last as long in the vase. Look for unblemished flower material and inspect for disease or insect infestation.
Before harvesting, grab a sharp pair of shears or scissors. You want to make sure you are cutting and not crushing the stem. Crushing the stem will prevent the flower from receiving enough water and start the wilting process earlier. Before you start cutting, have an idea of how tall your arrangement will be. (Remember, you can’t make the stem longer!) While harvesting, have a bucket of warm water available beside you to keep flowers fresh.
After collecting the flowers, strip lower leaves that are not part of your arrangement. Some flowers like hydrangea may have sap leaking from the stem. Put the edge of the stem in boiling water in order to stop the leak. Next, add flower food to the water and container. You can create your own flower food by adding:
½ teaspoon bleach
1 teaspoon sugar
1 quart warm water
Have an idea of where to place your arrangement, preferably out of the sun in order to prolong its life. Also remember to keep flower arrangements away from apples and bananas on countertops. Ethylene produced by fruits and vegetables can cause flowers to wilt faster.
Let’s Start Arranging!
There are several simple concepts to understand in order to get a professional-looking outcome when arranging your own cut flowers.
1. Placement, Placement, Placement! Placement of flowers and filler will determine the success of the arrangement. After creating an arrangement, it’s natural to step back and think, “This doesn’t look right” without understanding what went wrong. Creating a plan for placement will be very helpful when designing. Follow these principles in your design to get a picture-perfect arrangement.
2. Everything Has a Purpose. Understanding what type of material you are using and its purpose can help achieve balance and develop proportion. The three different types of material are: Flowers/Buds, Filler, and Greenery.
Flowers and buds draw your attention to the arrangement. Flowers are placed into two categories: Linear/Spike as well as Round.
Filler plants have smaller, massed flowers, as well as space between the flower bunches. Filler will add more texture to your arrangement while also lifting it and making it look lighter. Some examples of filler: sweet pea, limonium, lavender. This arrangement is using waxflower as filler.
Greenery is material you add from the garden that is only green material. Some flowers like tulips already have great leaves that can be utilized as greenery. Greenery can also be taken from shrubs or other plants in your garden. Use your herbs! Some ideas of greenery you may already have in your garden: rosemary, boxwood, forsythia, conifer stems, and ferns. Pro Tip: Place greenery in the vase first! Check out this cute little arrangement using rosemary, basil, and lemon balm.
3. Fit the Vase. This concept is all about proportion. The flowers should be a good size for the vase. A single flower should be smaller than 1/3 the size of the container. For those hydrangeas, use a large vase! Flower height should be a maximum of 2x the vase. Don’t crowd the vase with flower stems; if you need more room in the vase, just choose a larger vase, or make 2 bouquets.
As is true with many aspects of gardening, there is a difference between placing flower stems in the nearest container, and following the fundamentals of floral design to achieve an arrangement that’s pulled together and pleasing to the eye. We hope these tips will help elevate your floral arrangements to an altogether new level.
My defunct and failing vegetable garden ravaged by groundhogs and rabbits was transformed into a cutting garden last summer. This year is my first season for cutting and enjoying armfuls of shasta daisies, coneflowers, hydrangeas, poker plants, scabiosa and roses. Stokes aster and dahlias are now opening and I look forward to the New England asters in the fall. I have copious amounts of flowers and enjoy filling mason jars for my home and friends. I am planning to catch some summer sales to add more plants like liatris and lavender. This blog shares my experience and advice for starting your own cutting garden. You don’t need a dedicated spot. Simply start by adding flowers to your existing beds, pots or your vegetable garden.
When you’re designing a regular flower garden, you need to think about plants that look good together, will bloom in pleasing color combinations, and will thrive where you plant them. But the purpose of a cutting garden is different. It’s all about production, mix of colors and bloom times. For a cutting garden, there are five things you want to think about:
1. maximizing production
2. minimizing maintenance
3. growing flowers that will look great together in a vase
4. stem length
5. sequence of bloom
One of the most important factors in a cutting garden is the availability of sun. Most cutting gardens require full to partial sun. In another blog we will address a shade cutting garden. The second most important factor in a cutting garden is stem length. Long-stemmed annuals, perennials and bulbs make the best cut flowers, so that’s where to start. Keep in mind that most plants have a specific bloom time, meaning they will not flower continuously. Spring bulbs, for example, bloom early and then fade away until next year. Early summer perennials such as peonies, iris, sweet William and lupines may bloom for up to a month, but then that’s it until the following year. Some perennials, such as scabiosa, shasta daisies, delphinium and coreopsis, will re-bloom if they are cut back after flowering. Annuals (and dahlias) have the longest flowering season. If you remove spent blossoms, they will usually give you a good 3 months of flowers. As you begin your planning, formulate a list of flowers you’d like to include based on:
Grow what you love
To ensure a long season of color, create a chart like below. Use a computer, or good old colored pencils/markers to determine the color and bloom times of your plants and to plan for future purchases. Use a garden journal to track blooms and adjust plant additions. In the example, if you want more pinks or oranges, a different type of coreopsis could be used or rudebekia added. You can use this same planning strategy to achieve a variety of textures. By replacing the seasons with plant shape…round, spiky, trailer, foliage, you can evaluate the need for adding plants with a variety of shapes.
Plan ahead for attractive combinations. If you have a relatively small space to work with, choose a color palette and then select flowers that will harmonize with those colors. Take a tip from floral designers and include a range of different flower sizes and shapes. Consider round flowers (ball dahlias), angular ones (foxgloves); soft ones (peonies) and stiffer forms (glads and salvia). Selecting a few stems of each flower shape results in a balanced arrangement. You’ll also want to include flowers that work as fillers and foliage (baby’s breath, ligularia, boxwood and hosta leaves). Foliage fills in the gaps of your bouquets, and will give your arrangements a professional touch.
Cutting Garden Favorites
Here's a list of plants to get you started. It includes the most popular annuals, perennials, bulbs and foliage plants.
Maximize Production and Planning
Give your cutting garden a sunny spot with well-drained soil. Prepare the planting area, making sure it is loose and weed-less. If possible, take time to work in compost and all-purpose organic fertilizer. The most efficient way to set up a cutting garden is to grow your flowers in rows, as you would vegetables. In fact, growing a row or two of flowers in your vegetable garden is an easy way to get started. Creating a planting plan is the best way to maximize your growing space. Use a grid to make your plan. This makes it easy to determine how many plants can be squeezed into each row. Your finished planting grid can then be transferred to the garden.
When working out your planting plan, you need to know each plant’s mature height and width. Use the recommendations on plant descriptions and seed packets as a guide but reduce the spacing by about 30%. With experience, you’ll get a sense of which plants need a little more or a little less than the recommended amount of space. To make plant care (and picking) as easy as possible, it's best to plant blocks of the same type of plant, grouping like plants together. Plant perennials together, since they will stay in the same place from one year to the next. Plant annuals together so it's easy to remove them in the fall and replant in spring.
You can also separate plants that need staking from those that need a fence or benefit from grow-through netting. Make room for paths so that you can access plants…18” to 2’ between rows is just enough to walk through rows. Never use landscaping fabric as it impedes soil health, reduces water absorption and doesn’t allow plants to spread. Minimize maintenance by adding stepping stones, mulch or grass clippings between plants and in paths. Mulching also helps to reduce evaporation and retain soil moisture.
In a cutting garden, deadheading will be your primary maintenance task. Removing spent flowers encourages annuals and some perennials to continue producing buds. If you don't remove the dead flowers, plants assume they have fulfilled their mission and can shut down for the season. Another good reason to keep up with deadheading is plant health. As spent flowers begin to decay, they become a magnet for pests and diseases. A tidy cutting garden stays healthier, is easier to tend and looks better, too!
Tips for Gathering Your Flowers From The Cutting Garden
Mixed bouquets are beautiful, but bouquets with all the same flower are beautiful too.
Did you know that arranging fresh cut flowers from the garden that has been practiced since 2500 B.C. by the Egyptians? Designing your own cutting garden is a sweet indulgence. We tend to concentrate on the flowers that we find whimsical, cheerful, beautiful, peaceful, and joyful. Cutting gardens encourage us to experiment with long-stemmed species we’ve never tried before. We stretch our creativity when we arrange our blooms in interesting containers. It is also a chance to appreciate the subtle nuances of texture, scent, and shape of every bloom and leaf.
If you derive pleasure from bringing blooms into your home, follow our tips for a cutting garden. In one year, you’ll have plenty of flowers to place in your favorite container and an abundance of bouquets for yourself, friends and family.
We have enjoyed learning as we write our blogs. This year we've been inspired by our research and want to offer a view into our private spaces and share our garden inspirations. Gwen was influenced by her son, Dan, a graduate of Penn State Ag School, to incorporate succulents for the first time. Using succulents created worry-free and deer resistant containers. His wife's (Paige) blog gave both of us guidance on pruning our shrubs. Holly experimented with beautiful colors and vegetables in her containers. Gwen's own garden success in reducing mulch and watering inspired her to write the flowering ground covers blog.
PS: For the first time, Gwen tried succulents in pots for water-wise care. She has always enjoyed the traditional riot of colors from geraniums, petunias, impatiens and begonias. Inspired by pottery from a trip to Spain, Gwen purchased large blue pots from Costco and Lowe's. The calming palette of gray, green and orange planted in blue containers creates a back yard oasis and compliments the outdoor cushions.
PS: With less time for maintenance and desire to minimize long-term costs, Gwen took her own landscape design advice by replacing plantings of annuals with perennials, and mulch with flowering ground covers. Another time and cost-saving measure was to replace mulch with massed plantings of flowering thyme, sedum, hens & chicks, creeping baby's breathe, geranium, carex and campanula.
PS: We followed the advice of our guest blogger, Paige and were rewarded with full and happy hydrangeas.
To keep the deer, chipmunks, and groundhogs away, we planted vegetable container gardens. Gwen used rosemary and basil to deter chipmunks from taking bites out of her tomatoes. Holly planted beets, green beans, lettuce and tomatoes on her deck, keeping hungry critters from chowing her veggies and herbs.
Holly's yard yields armfuls of daisies. Gwen started a cutting garden last year taking advantage of a huge Bluestone Perennial sale. She enjoys sharing the bounty of flowers with her family and friends. Next month we will share advice for planting your own cutting garden.
Our gardens have had many blunders, but each and every lesson is part of the journey. The changing seasons give us joy, favorite times to anticipate, and time to reflect and plan. We enjoy the ups and downs, blooms and bugs, fungus and fragrance and sharing these experiences with you. We hope our garden pics inspire you to read our blogs and to try your own flowering ground covers and water-wise planters. Please comment with your favorite ground covers and planters.
Plants that bask as the temperatures skyrocket are prized for their reliability. These are plants that thrive in the heat and are often low maintenance because they don’t require much water. The good news is that you can still plant these in July as long as you provide ample water for them to take root.
Courtesy Fine Gardening
Name: Panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata )
USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 8
Size: 12 to 20 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil
The lush panicle hydrangea is a surprisingly drought-hardy stunner. It peaks at the height of summer with magnificent 6- to 15-inch-long white blooms that cover arching limbs. They change from greenish white to pinkish red. In fall, the leaves drop, leaving bare branches weighted with large dried blooms into winter. Varieties worth considering include ‘Limelight’ and ‘Little Lamb’.
Name: Flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa )
Zones: 5 to 9
Size: Up to 8 feet tall and 15 feet wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained, slightly acidic soil
The beautiful blossoms of flowering quince are sure to get your heart pumping. Bare branches are covered with cottony blooms on ‘Jet Trail’ or kissed with a vibrant lipstick red on ‘Texas Scarlet’. As the flowers fade in spring, the foliage begins to appear (inset). Typically, the bare branches are a stunning gold or red in fall, when they occasionally rebloom again. The likeliness of a second bloom is increased by a dry spell in late summer followed by plenty of fall rain.
Name: Winterberry (Ilex verticillata )
Zones: 5 to 8
Size: Up to 15 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained, acidic soil
We’re not sure who the bigger fan of winterberry is: us or the fat mockingbird that spends the winter trying to eat every vibrant berry from the leafless stems. The fruit begins to ripen in late summer when the leaves are still lush. Winterberry holds onto the branches through the fall—even after the foliage changes color and drops. The straight species of this plant is spectacular, but if you’re short on space, ‘Red Sprite’ is a snazzy smaller option at 3 to 5 feet tall and wide.
Name: ‘Anthony Waterer’ spirea (Spiraea × bumalda ‘Anthony Waterer’, syn. Spiraea japonica* ‘Anthony Waterer’)
Zones: 4 to 9
Size: Up to 5 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun; fertile, well-drained soil
‘Anthony Waterer’ is attractive en masse and shines when peppered in a border. No wonder it’s popular. New growth is bronze to red but matures to green. Pink blooms cover the shrub late spring to early summer. Remove spent blooms before they turn brown to increase the chance of a second show of flowers.
Name: Callicarpa americana
Zones: 5 to 9
Size: Up to 6 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Prefers partial shade; fertile, well-drained soil
This gem-studded shrub is native to North America. The small berries are attached in dramatic clusters up and down the stems. The fruit turns an exotic lavender-purple (or bright white in the case of ‘Lactea’) and persists through fall—or until the birds eat them. Arching branches are bare in winter but come alive in spring with bright green leaves. In late spring to summer, delicate pink blooms appear, followed by the showy fruit.
(credit Arbor Day Foundation )
Japanese Tree Lilac
Name: Syringa reticulata subsp. reticulata
Size: 20-30’ tall, 15-25’ wide
Conditions: Full Sun. Prefers moist, well-drained soil, but tolerates dry sites. Intolerant of poor drainage. Attracts butterflies, hummingbirds and pollinators.
Name: Juniperus virginiana
Size: All sizes as a shrub or tree
Conditions: Likes full sun and a more neutral soil amended with commercially ground limestone. Aromatic tree with reddish wood. Trees are good for windbreaks and city landscapes for hedges, screens or as a specimen tree.
Bur, Northern Red, Chinkapin
Zone: 60-80’ tall 30-45’ wide
Conditions: Full Sun. Some oaks tolerate the heat and serve as a lovely shade tree specimen. Give these beauties plenty of room to grow. In the fall enjoy their brilliant fall colors and feel good about the value they offer wildlife.
Name: Kentucky Coffeetree
Name: Gymnocladus dioicus
Size: 60–75' tall, 40–50' wide
Conditions: Full Sun. Drought-resistant. Tolerant of pollution. Adaptable to a variety of soils. With its reputation as a tough species, the Kentucky coffeetree is an excellent choice for parks, golf courses and other large areas. It is also widely used as an ornamental or street tree.
The tree’s picturesque profile stands out in all seasons and can be attributed to a unique growth habit of coarse, ascending branches that often form a narrow crown. Tree expert Michael Dirr points out that there are “certainly no two exactly alike.”
Name: Catalpa speciosa
Size: 40-60’ tall, 20-40’ wide
Conditions: Full Sun to Partial Shade. This is a tree that demands your attention. White, showy flowers. Giant heart-shaped leaves. Dangling bean-like seed pods. Twisting trunk and branches. How could you not stop to take it in? And with all of these unique features, the northern catalpa is popular with children, who sometimes refer to them as “String Bean Trees.” While not ideal for every location, this unique and hardy tree is a fast grower that finds a home in parks and yards throughout the country.
Snowcap Shasta Daisy
Size: 14” Tall, 12” Wide
Conditions: Give them a sunny spot . Remove flowers as they fade to promote further bloom and give them space. Attracts butterflies and makes an ideal cut flower.
Blue Jean baby or Denim ‘n Lace
Size: 30” tall, 36”wide
Conditions: Airy, aromatic and a bee magnet, this plant comes in several heights and stays gorgeous all summer long. It is deer resistant, too. Full Sun and good drainage.
Size: tall or short, ground cover
Conditions: Sedums are a well-known perennial for their distinctive fleshy foliage and come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Star-shaped flowers are usually in clusters or sprays that often change color throughout their bloom time. Enjoys full sun, but will tolerate some shade.
You may already have some of these heat-loving plants in your yard. If you have plants that aren’t holding up on hot days, try moving them to some shade. And replace them with reliable plants from this list of summer sizzlers.
Thank you for finding us! Holly and I have collaborated to bring you informative, fun, and seasonal garden inspiration blogs. Friend me on Facebook to stay updated. Please visit us often, especially on the 1st and 15th of the month when we plan to update our blogs--Gwen
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Gwen Wisniewski: Landscape and Garden Designer. Contact me. Let me help you integrate these garden inspirations. Choose the links below to find out more about my landscape design service or to make an appointment.