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.
Watering plants seems simple and uncomplicated. However there are some myths that mislead even the more experienced gardener. A sustainable landscape calls for installing the right plant in the right spot. Making a plant feel at home improves plant health and reduces the need to overuse a valuable natural resource: water.
When choosing plants, first evaluate your existing conditions and read plant labels. If plants like wet feet, you’ll want to put these in areas that tend to have damp soils like near streams, springs or water features and fountains. If you have dry shade, then look for plants that like those conditions. However, if you’ve inherited an existing landscape or experience drought, unusual heat or drying winds, additional irrigation or hand watering may be necessary. Whether you're taking care of an established garden or installing new plants, you’ll benefit from these guidelines and myth debunking tips.
While the general rule of thumb is about an inch or two of water each week with deep, infrequent watering as opposed to the more frequent shallow watering, this really depends on a number of factors. First, consider your soil. Sandy soil is going to hold less water than heavier clay soil. Therefore, it’s going to dry out faster while the clay-like soil will hold moisture longer (and is more susceptible to overwatering). For clay soils (Western PA,) avoid daily light sprinklings, which encourage roots to grow near the soil surface where they're vulnerable to drying out. Apply water slowly so it's absorbed by the soil rather than running off — a soaker hose is ideal. Another advantage of a soaker hose is that you don’t have to stand and direct the spray.
This is why amending the soil with compost is so important. Healthier soil drains better but allows for some water retention too. Applying mulch is also a good idea, reducing watering needs. Weather conditions determine when to water garden plants as well. If it is hot, windy, and/or dry you’ll have to water more often. Of course, in rainy conditions, little watering is needed. Plants, too, dictate when and how often to water. When a plant is first installed, it requires regular watering until it acclimates to it’s new home. (Read on to later in this blog)
Different plants have different watering needs.
Be sure to read water recommendations and growing conditions on labels or reputable website sources. If plants like wet feet and they are planted in a dry soil, they will need more irrigation. Some plants like hydrangea, astilbe and hosta are sensitive to heat and may need more water during hot and windy weather. Vegetables, bedding plants and many perennials have more shallow roots systems and also require more frequent watering, some daily–especially in temps over 85 F. (29 C.). Most container plants need watering on a daily basis in hot, dry conditions — sometimes twice or even three times a day.
The best way to water most plants is by applying enough to moisten the plant's entire root system, and then letting the soil dry out slightly before watering again.
When to Water:
Time of day is key. The most suitable time for watering is morning, which reduces evaporation. But late afternoon is okay as well provided you keep the foliage from getting wet, which can lead to fungal issues.
Wilting is a sign that the leaves aren't getting enough moisture, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the soil is dry. Anything that damages plant roots can cause wilting.
Plant roots need a fairly constant supply of both air and water. Too little water and the roots die from lack of moisture. Too much water and the spaces between soil particles remain filled with water, suffocating roots. Both situations reduce a plant's ability to deliver enough water to stems and leaves, resulting in wilting. A good example of this is an outdoor pot with inadequate drainage holes -- after a week of heavy rain, the plant’s roots become waterlogged. Root diseases, physical damage (such as disturbing roots while you're hoeing) and soil-borne insects can also harm roots to the point that they can't fully hydrate the plant.
Damage to stems can also cause wilting. Some diseases and insects (especially borers) prevent water distribution throughout the plant, causing some or all of it to wilt.
The only way to tell if lack of water is causing wilting is to check soil moisture.
How To Water
The myth that water droplets act like tiny magnifying glasses and burn plant leaves has no basis in fact.
There are good reasons to avoid watering your garden on a sunny afternoon, but causing scorched leaves isn't one of them. Anyone who has watched the sun come out after a summer shower knows that the water quickly evaporates. Try to avoid watering on sunny afternoons to minimize the amount of moisture lost to evaporation, but don't worry about leaf scorch.
Overhead watering isn't the most efficient from a water conservation standpoint, but there are times when it's called for. It's usually best to apply water directly to the soil around plants rather than watering with a sprinkler. Less water is lost to evaporation, especially on hot, sunny days. Foliage stays dry, minimizing disease problems.
But there are times when an overhead shower is called for.
During dry, windy weather, a fine layer of dust can build up on leaves, reducing the plants' ability to photosynthesize efficiently. Another case is if plants are infested with insects, such as aphids and spider mites. Simply hosing them off plants can keep them in check. Gardeners who want to avoid spraying chemicals prefer this method. Finally, heat-stressed plants that have wilted even though their roots are moist can benefit from a cooling shower — the effect won't last long on a sunny day but it may provide some relief.
Even drought tolerant plants need watering.
Many young plants have perished because these drought tolerant plants didn't get sufficient water at installation time and during their first season of growth. When you set out a new container-grown plant, the roots are confined to the shape of the pot. The plants need a consistent supply of water during their first growing season, until their roots grow out into the surrounding soil. Water them as you would your annual flowers in their first season. During their second and subsequent growing seasons, drought-tolerant plants may need supplemental water only during extended dry spells. Note, however, that just because a plant is drought-tolerant doesn't mean it won’t fare better with a regular supply of moisture.
Watering in Newly Installed Plants
(Courtesy Penn State Extension—Advice for PA residents)
Newly installed landscape plants have a unique set of needs. Unlike established flowers, shrubs and trees, new plants experience an adjustment when transferred from container to the ground. To help plants get a good start in your garden, follow these tips from the Penn State Cooperative Extension. If you live in another region, check out your state extension’s planting guidelines.
Soak the plants immediately after planting and check regularly to prevent drying out. Less frequent but deep watering encourages perennials to root deeply. Perennials that are said to tolerate drought are drought tolerant only after they have become established. The addition of mulch will help to reduce the need for frequent watering.
Shrubs and Trees
Water the plant weekly during the first year, except during weeks when it rains enough to wet the top six inches of soil. When you water, be sure to soak the soil by allowing a hose to trickle slowly at the base of the plant and at the edges of the backfill soil. Move the hose around a tree or shrub bed to assure uniform water application. Avoid shallow, frequent watering because it will encourage the growth of shallow surface roots, which will be vulnerable to drying out. Be careful not to overwater. Frequent saturation of the surrounding soil in poor drainage areas could smother the root system. Water only when the soil under the surface is dry to the touch. Continue to monitor new trees for drought stress into their third season. They may suffer from insufficient water even when other established plants in the landscape are thriving.
Water is a precious natural resource that we don’t want to waste. And unless it comes from the sky, it isn’t free. Start by finding out what your plant needs to grow and thrive. Keep an envelope with the original plant tags, or make notes in your journal. After planting the new specimen in the ideal spot, soak it thoroughly and check soil moisture regularly to help it adjust to it’s new home. And follow our guidelines for optimal watering. Your thirsty plants will thank you.
Are you trying to:
Your solution may be planting a flowering ground cover. So what exactly is a ground cover? It is a plant that forms interconnected mats by creeping or clumping. Ground cover crowds out weeds and forms a continuous expanse of foliage.
Too often the only ground cover seen in landscapes are ivy, vinca and pachysandra. Ivy and vinca are considered invasive species because they are spreading into forests and wildlife areas and choking out native plants that support local insects and wildlife. They are hard to control and, if possible, should be removed and replaced with ground covers that support pollinators and stay within bounds. Pachysandra is a wonderful ground cover for deep shade and in hard-to-grow areas like around the base of trees. As an alternative to pachysandra, we’ve put together a list of hardy and alternative ground covers for your landscape.
The plants are divided into four categories: stepables, sun, sun and shade, shade. Stepables tolerate moderate foot traffic and are effective solutions for lawns, and spaces between stepping stones or along paths.
Most yards have a variety of growing conditions and you won’t be disappointed by the options listed here. Be sure to read the growing requirements before selecting from the abundance of available ground covers. By planting the right plant in the right spot, your new ground cover will establish healthy roots and grow happily. For example, some ground covers for stepping prefer dry feet. If these ground covers are planted in a soggy area, they will experience root rot, disease and fail to thrive.
Before planting any creeping or clumping plant, particularly those that claim to be fast growing, refer to the USDA list of Introduced, Invasive, and Noxious Plants. What is desirable in one state may be considered a nuisance in another.
Pictures and plant descriptions courtesy of Blue Stone Perennials.
Foot Tolerant Groundcovers
Thymus Silver Posie
Most of the perennial thyme plants offer beautiful matted groundcovers. This one is particularly suited as a focal point. For lawns, choose a solid green leaved variety like Thymus Elfin.
Silver Posie is suitable for both ornamental and culinary use. This Thyme is a bit more upright than Creeping Thyme with fragrant gray-green foliage edged in creamy white. Foliage will develop a warm burgundy cast in cooler weather. Harvesting will generate more culinary leaves. Blooms lavender pink, making this a nice dual purpose ground cover.
Laurentia Fluviatilis - Blue Star Creeper
Blue Star Creeper is an adorable little plant that makes a dense, spreading low mat of round, green foliage and equally tiny light blue flowers in spring. Perfect between and around stepping stones. Will need to be contained if spreading is not desired.
Corsican Pearl Wort, Irish Moss
Lush deep green moss-like carpet of foliage 1" tall. Tiny translucent star-shaped white flowers add to its beauty in spring. Irish Moss is just the ground cover you need for rock gardens and planting between stepping stones or pavers.
Ground Covers for Sunny Spots
Cerastium tomentosum 'Silver Carpet'
Snow In Summer, Starry Grasswort
Silvery-gray foliage is covered with cheerful white flowers in late spring to early summer. The combination of flowers and foliage bring a refreshing feeling to the garden. Cerastium Silver Carpet cascades over hillsides and walls nicely.
Gypsophila repens Filou Rose
Creeping Baby's Breath
Long-blooming pink Baby's Breath well-branched with dense blue-green foliage spreading to 2 feet across. Larger five-petaled, fragrant blooms resemble Cerastium but in a bright rose pink. Loads of flowers. Great spilling over the edges of hillsides, walls or rocks.
Sun and Shade
Most of the perennial geraniums (or better known as cranesbill) make excellent long- blooming ground covers. Their blooms are delicate and rise above the mounded foliage. Some have leaves that smell lemony when crushed by an accidental stepping or weed whacker nip. The low-growing varieties (under 12”) recover nicely from a stray ball or wandering pet. They are not considered a ‘stepable’.
Cranesbill, Perennial Geranium
Fragrant, apple-scented foliage and flowers. Thick clusters of five-petaled, pink flowers in late spring. Showy stamens dance with the slightest breeze. Dense ground cover. Geranium Macrorrhizum's foliage displays red and bronze tints in fall. Clusters of crimson-red, berrylike seedheads remain after the flower petals fall away. Tolerates sun and dry conditions.
If you have a bed that includes sun and shade, and you want to include a plant that will offer continuity and grow in both conditions, consider lamium. This is a versatile ground cover resistant to deer and rabbit browsing too! There are many varieties and colors. Below is one that will brighten any garden space.
Lamium maculatum Golden Anniversary
Spotted Dead Nettle
Golden yellow edges on dark green leaves with a white central stripe. Scalloped and bright colored foliage of Golden Anniversary combine to provide interesting texture and light. Lavender flowers appear in Spring and continue on and off until Fall. Stunning planted among Hosta and Ferns.
Campanula is another long-blooming ground cover that blooms in partly shady or sunny locations to offer continuity in a foundation planting that has both conditions.
Half-trailing, prostrate growth, able to cling to dry walls. Large rock gardens or sandy banks permit the 2' stems to trail. Starry blue flowers of Campanula Poscharskyana highlight your garden in summer.
Sweet Woodruff, Galium odorata
Dainty white flower clusters are held above foliage shaped like miniature parasols. Good ground cover for shade, even where only moss will grow. Especially tolerant of acidic soil under evergreens. Fresh foliage has little scent, but when dried you will enjoy a refreshing scent of new mown hay. Dry foliage in bundles or make into a garland.
Phlox divaricata Plum Perfect
Wild Sweet William, Woodland Phlox
Plum-purple flowers with a darker violet eye. A real charmer for shade. Perfect for naturalizing with Tiarella and Lamium. Trouble-free and more humidity tolerant than most Woodland Phlox. Longer stems make for fragrant cut flowers. This Phlox is 'Plum Perfect' as a stunning late spring groundcover. Does best in fertile, moist, well-drained soil.
Brunnera macrophylla Jack Frost
Siberian Bugloss, False Forget-Me-Not
2012 Perennial Plant Association's Plant of the Year. Prized for its large, highly frosted and veined heart-shaped leaves. Brunnera Jack Frost produces a truly spectacular display in the shade, even more so when in bloom with its bright blue Forget-me-not flowers in spring. Will multiply politely. Brunnera are ideal for a woodland setting, a semi-shaded border or along a pond edge. Has the biggest leaves of the ground covers on this list. New cultivars add wonderful choices of this versatile garden performer. Lovely naturalizing carefree habit. Tolerates moist, well-drained soil in partial shade.
Hopefully, this blog has inspired you to think beyond the most common ground covers. As you can see from the photos, a ground cover doesn't have to be boring. Our examples are real head-turners and will get noticed on their own merit. With their many unique textures, foliage and flowers, a new ground cover can be a low-maintenance multitasker in your flower bed or rock garden.
Don’t let summer travel plans prevent you from decorating your porch, patio and balcony with colorful annual containers and hanging baskets. With some planning and creative watering solutions, you can maintain your potted flowers throughout the summer. Unlike plants in the ground, containers have limited soil volume and less capacity to hold water, so they dry out quickly and need daily watering. By choosing plants that are drought tolerant and using creative planting and watering techniques your pots can survive a weekend away, a business trip or a short summer vacation.
Before you head to the garden center this spring, consider which pots will most likely suffer from a few days without water. It is usually those that are in the sun or exposed to wind. Planters in the shade and protected areas don’t always require daily watering because of less water evaporation than pots exposed to radiant heat and sun. Make a list of plants that are drought tolerant and shop with purpose. There are edible, succulent, annual, shrub and perennial plants that are drought tolerant. When choosing vacation proof plants, choose ones with less fuss, deadheading and those that thrive on less water. When planning pots, place them together in your basket to visualize what they will look like together in a container. Make sure to consider existing color, texture, and height. Vacation proof plants include:
Vacation Proof Strategies
Despite using drought tolerant plants, long, hot, dry spells and dry winds will desiccate and stress the hardiest plants. If you will be away for more than four days or weather forecasts seem unfavorable, there are strategies to reduce the stress on your plants. Prior to leaving:
To summarize, no matter where you live, you’ve most likely returned from at least one trip to shriveled up impatiens and Gerber daisies in your outdoor containers. And that’s a drag! There are steps we can all take to preserve the beauty of our container plants while we are away for brief periods. Select the right potting soil and amend with polymers if your pots get all day sun. Avoid clay pots. Purchase drought-resistant plants and place in large pots. And use the pointers provided for preventing containers from drying out while you travel. Container gardening offers the chance to paint a different palette every year. Since it’s a view you’ll have all summer, use these pointers to extend their beauty. Enjoy the view!
Planting annual beds in the spring is the highlight of a gardener’s year. After a cold and brown winter, it is a relief to experience the April green-up, and also the pastel showy blossoms of flowering trees. Annual planting is the gardener’s reward for patiently awaiting winter’s end. You take the steps to create a landscape design, scour plant material at greenhouses, and create gardens with meticulous care. After all of your efforts are complete, you awaken to discover that ...your precious flower bed became a snack!
Spring is not only your favorite time of year… it’s also a deer’s favorite time as well! After eating nothing but twigs and dead grasses all winter, there’s nothing they love more than getting a mouthful of your tender and tasty flowers! The answer? Deer resistant plant material and deer spray.
Why are they “deer resistant”?
Certain annuals naturally repel critters because their textures are unpleasant in a deer’s mouth. Other plants have a bad smell or taste - and can even be poisonous.
I’m at the store and found a plant I love… will deer eat it?
It’s always a good idea to visit a greenhouse with a plan. When you encounter a new cultivar you really love, get some information from the plant marker. Besides light requirements and spacing suggestions, the label may indicate if the plant is deer-resistant. If it doesn’t say, here are some ways to see if a plant will be ignored by hungry deer:
Fun fact…. Hosta and Hydrangea are two of deer's best-loved foods. These perennials will draw deer in and keep them coming back. If you have deer, either replace these plants with resistant annuals, perennials and shrubbery, or spray repellent to protect them.
Annuals to Avoid
Annuals to Plant
Partial Shade and Full Shade
Partial Shade to Full Sun
The knowledgeable gardener can certainly take measures to prevent deer browsing and enjoy colorful and beautiful gardens by combining deer deterrent sprays and using select plants in the landscape. Replacing plants and shrubs which deer prefer with those they will ignore will take time, money and effort. But the result will be a sustainable garden minus the frustration with local wildlife.
Our Guest Contributor: Paige Alcorn
Penn State Ag School graduate majoring in turf grass and horticulture.
Clausen, Ruth Rogers, and Alan Detrick. 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants: the Prettiest Annuals, Perennials, Bulbs, and Shrubs That Deer Don't Eat. Timber Press, 2011.
“Deer Resistant Plants.” Cornell Cooperative Extension, 2019, warren.cce.cornell.edu/home-page/gardening-landscape/deer-resistant-plants.
Moore-Gough, Cheryl, and Robert E. Gough. “Growing Annual Flowers.” MontGuide, 2010, missoulaeduplace.org/images/horticulture/Publications/Flowers/Growing_Annual_Flowers.pdf.
While reading, enjoy some Moonlight inspired music:
Moonlight Sonata (Beethoven)
Moondance (Van Morrison)
Shame on the Moon (Bob Seager)
Blue Moon (Frank Sinatra)
Fly me to the Moon (Frank Sinatra)
On Moonlight Bay (Doris Day)
Moonlight (Grace VanderWaal)
“Well it’s a marvelous night for a moon dance….” Listen to Van Morrison’s famous hit, ‘Moondance’, and let it inspire you as we explore ways to create our very own moonlit garden. Photos of moonlit gardens contain billowy beds filled with white, silver and multiple textures. While the pictures are pretty, how many gardeners have transformed that inspiration into action? After a long day of work, relaxing in a comfortable, aesthetic space soothes the soul and calms the mind. Keep reading for inspiration to create a moonlit garden.
To extend the life of your garden into the dusk and evening hours, there are several design elements to consider: color, texture, garden features, and scent.
As shadows fall at dusk, light is reflected off of white, silver and pale yellow plants. Conversely, garden plants with deep, saturated colors like deep purple, reds, and dark green fade into the shadows by early evening. If you have a bright, sunny yard, saturated colors don’t wash out. Keep these bold exclamation points. To reflect evening light, use white pots and trellises, silver accents, and water. Tuck white flowers and silver leaved plants into your garden, pots, and beds to add a pop of evening interest. Repeat groupings of white and silver plants throughout. While white shrub and perennial flowers offer an elegant touch, the blooms can often be unsightly when they die. Think of a magnolia, white azalea or rhododendron when the flowers die…their brown flowers hang on for days. It is not a bad choice to select these types of shrubs; you just need to balance them with other longer blooming plants for staggered bloom times. Attractive examples of long blooming white shrubs and perennials are hydrangea paniculata, hydrangea annabelle, Astilbes, Coneflowers, Cerastium, Daisies and the leaves of ornamental grasses.
You don’t need flowers to add a reflective quality to your landscape. Bulbs, leaves and water also offer evening interest. Plants with white or gray foliage reflect light and pop in the shadows. Some plants to consider include Caladium, Lamium, Brunerria, Ferns, and gray evergreens like spruce and junipers. All of these offer wonderful texture.
Water is a multi-dimensional feature in a garden. Water that moves stimulates our senses with the soothing, ambient sounds of nature. Water also reflects the light and color of the nearby plants. Strategically placed lights and even mirrors add accents to plant material and highlight special elements such as white or silver pots and trellises. A ‘moon light’ is when a light is placed in a tree and shines down on the garden to create the effect of the moon in your landscape….something to consider if the moonlight doesn’t make it to your oasis.
Make sure not to overlook plants that come to life at night by either blooming at dusk or offering a lovely scent like Gardenia Augusta (annual), Evening Primrose (perennial), Angel’s Trumpet (annual), Polianthes tuberosa (tender bulb), Nicotiana (annual), Four O’Clocks (annual), Casa Blanca Lily (hardy bulb), Jasmine floridium (tender), and moonflower. Shrubs that bloom white and smell lovely are lilacs, Korean Spice Viburnum, and Daphne. Tuck these plants close to your seating area or entrance so you don’t miss the scent.
Incorporating a moonlit garden into your outdoor space is easy. Make your dreams of an inviting evening spot a reality by recognizing color, texture, garden features, and scent. Then strategically place these elements where they will reflect the moonlight, extending the time you can enjoy your lovely garden. Whether you enjoy stretching your bare toes in the grass, gazing at the constellations in the night sky, or enjoying an intimate dance with your partner, a moonlit garden is full of sweet possibilities.
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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.