Tag Archives: perennials

Caring for your Easter Lily

Every year I wait patiently for my Easter lilies to come up in the garden. The shoots are now about 6" tall but they are a long way from blooming and I’m looking forward to those huge, fragrant, white trumpet-shaped flowers. Still I pick up a few new blooming plants each year to enjoy now and celebrate Easter. It’s a tradition that marks spring along with decorating eggs, chocolate bunnies and Easter baskets.

Easter lilies that are blooming at his time of year have been forced under controlled conditions to flower in time for Easter. This is a very tricky process since Easter falls on a different day each year dependent upon celestial bodies. Falling on the first Sunday that follows the first full moon after the vernal equinox, Easter can be any day between March 22 and April 25. Crop scheduling and timing is critical. The flowers must bloom exactly when they’re suppose to with no margin for error.

Did you know that over 95% of all the bulbs grown for the Easter lily market are produced by just 10 farms in a narrow coastal region straddling the California-Oregon border? Known as the Easter Lily Capitol of the World, the area offers a climate of year-round mild temperatures, deep, rich alluvial soils and abundant rainfall which produces a consistent high quality bulb crop.

The Easter lily or Lilium longiforum, is native to the southern islands of Japan where it was grown and exported to the US until WW ll. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 the Japanese source of bulbs was abruptly cut off. As a result, the value of lily bulbs sky-rocketed and many who were growing lilies as a hobby here decided to go into business. The Easter lily bulbs at the time were called ‘White Gold’ and growers everywhere attempted to cash in on the crop. By 1945, there were about 1,200 growers producing bulbs up and down the Pacific coast from Vancouver to Long Beach. But producing quality, consistent lily bulbs proved to be quite demanding with specific climatic requirements. Over the years, the number of bulb producers dwindled to just the 10 current farms near the Oregon border. Even after the Japanese started to ship bulbs again after the war, they have never been able to come close to the quality of our US grown bulbs.

Here’s how to make your Easter lily keep on giving. For the longest possible period of enjoyment, remove the yellow anthers from the flowers before the pollen starts to shed. This gives longer flower life and prevents the pollen from staining the white flowers. Place the plants in bright indirect daylight, not direct sunlight, and water when the soil surface feels dry to the touch. Do not let the plant sit in water.

After blooming, plant your lily outside in sun or part shade after letting it acclimate to brighter conditions for a week or so before transplanting. Plant in a well-drained garden bed that has been amended with lots of organic matter like compost and mulch the surface with more compost. As the original plants begin to die back, cut the stems back to the soil surface. New growth will soon emerge but go dormant again during the winter.  Next year the will bloom naturally in the summertime.

Easter lilies are a great addition to the flower border.  Easy to grow, fragrant and hardy.

Give True Geraniums a Chance

I feel sorry for them. They are the wallflowers of the nursery. Shoppers barely glancing their way before moving on to attention getters like dinner-plate dahlias. In the garden, though, they shine. They are the work horses of the perennial border. I’m talking about true geraniums– those hardy, versatile, long blooming plants for edgings, borders and ground covers.

Most people use the common name geranium to describe what is actually a pelargonium. Ivy geraniums, Martha Washington pelargoniums  and zonal geraniums and are all pelargoniums. , also called cranesbill, look very different. Leaves are roundish or kidney-shaped and usually lobed or deeply cut. Flower colors include beautiful blue, purple, magenta, pink or white and often completely cover the plant with color. I’ll bet if you visited a garden on a tour or admired a picture in a garden magazine it contained true geraniums.
Here are just a few strong performers available among the dozens of species.

Geranium maderense grows best in shade. This dramatic native of Madeira is the largest geranium with huge 1-2 foot long leaves shaped like giant snowflakes. Clusters of thousands of rose tinted flowers form on a 3 foot trunk. This perennial is short-lived but self sows freely. Add some of these architectural plants to your border for color and structure.

Blue flowers in the garden are always a hit as they combine so well with other colors. Geranium Orion‘s abundant clear blue flower clusters bloom over a long season. Use this 2 foot spreading plant in sun or part shade in a mixed border or as a groundcover.

Another fast growing variety is geranium Incanum which covers itself spring through fall with rosy violet flowers. Cut back every 2-3 years to keep neat.  This variety endures heat and drought better than other types but needs some summer water. It self seed profusely which might be exactly what you want as a groundcover in a problem area.

If pale pink is your color, plant geranium Biokova. This excellent groundcover spreads slowly. The numerous one inch flowers are long lasting and cover the plant from late spring to early summer. Their soft pink color is indispensable when tying together stronger colors in the border and the lacy foliage is slightly scented.

Give a hardy geranium a place in your garden.

How to Plant a Garden that will look like it’s been there forever

 

 I love to read those articles in gardening magazines with titles like "How to Create a Complete Backyard in a Weekend"   or   "This Front Yard in Just one Year".  If you’re like me you think  " Can I really do that " ?   There are some short cuts that can make this happen and fall is the perfect time to try out some of them.

Start by making sure you have paths where you need them.  Simple flagstone set in sand or soil work fine for meandering through the garden.  A more formal and permanent path is needed to lead guests to the front door but stepping stones are quick and easy in other areas.  Hardscaping like paths, walks and fences establish the framework for everything else to build off of.

If you want your garden to fill in quickly choose key plants that grow fast and are suited to your conditions: sun exposure, soil type and water availability.  Plants given their preferred conditions will grow and flourish more quickly.  Designate irrigated areas for must-have plants and use plants that like it dry in your other areas.  Most important, if you are going for high impact quickly, choose plants that perform right away instead of those needing a few growing seasons to grow in.

Begin your planting by choosing trees and shrubs for structure, especially in the winter.  Fast growing trees include chitalpa, red maples, mimosa, birch, raywood ash, flowering cherry and purple robe locust.  Shrubs that fill in quickly are butterfly bush, bottlebrush , choisya, rockrose , escallonia, hydrangea, philadelphus, plumbago and weigela.

Next come perennials that mature quickly and make your garden look like it’s been growing for years. is one such plant and blooms summer through fall if spent stems are removed.  Their intense violet-blue flower spikes cover plants 18" tall spreading 2-3 ft wide.  They look great in wide swaths across the garden or  along the border of a path and attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.  Walkers Low catmint is another perennial that keeps going and growing.  This vigorous spreading member of the mint family blooms profusely with little spikes of 1/2" periwinkle blue flowers from late spring through fall.  Catmints are easy to care for.  Shear plants back by half at the beginning of the season and after flowers fade.  They are drought tolerant, too.

Where you need a big clump of color to fill in a space. penstemon, crocosmia, cardinal flower, mondarda, purple coneflower and yarrow all put down deep roots and mature quickly.    

Be sure to include combinations that bloom in different months. 

 

 Yes, creating a garden slowly over many years is satisfying, but if you need to fill in a new area quicky, draw on some of these tips and your bare dirt will be full and beautiful in no time. 

 

Chrysanthemums

 I can think of only a handful of perennials that bloom so easily, so prolifically and come in so many colors as the chrysanthemum.   Although they will be available throughout fall, the best supplies are often found now.  If you need to perk up your tired containers of flower beds, think of the reliable mum.

Actually, their botanical name has been changed to dendranthemum grandiflorum but I never hear anyone use this name.  It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
Purple Mums

Mums represent the changing season with their bonze, yellow, orange and red tones.  Other flower colors include pink, lavender, purple and white to match any color scheme you might have.

Grown for years to flower only in late summer and fall, they are short day plants, setting buds when they receive light for 10 hours and darkness for the other 14 hours of the day.  This is why mums bloom in the spring on leggy stems if they are not cut back.  And this is how growers manipulate their blooming, adjusting the dark and light periods with shades in the greenhouse so buds will form in any month.   They’re nearly constantly available in grocery stores and florists in every season.

    At this time of year, garden mums abound.  Pick a plant with lots of buds, they bloom only once and won’t set more flowers until next year.  Those buds, though, last a long time if you don’t let them dry out. The specific type of plant doesn’t matter since they all have long term growth potential.  There is a European mum that produces hundreds of buds and stays relatively small and compact when set out in the garden.  If you particularly like one color or form of chrysanthemum, plant it now to enjoy again next year.  You never know what the growers might decide to grow next season.

Choose a well-drained, sunny spot to plant them.  Like many members of the daisy family, mums don’t tolerate soggy ground.  After blooming, trim off the old flowers and cut back plants to within 6-8" of the ground.  If you started with 4" pots trim back by half.

Next spring pinch them back whenever growth gets to 8" tall.  Keep pinching until July, then allow plants to start forming buds for the traditional fall show.  Mums need regular water so plant them in spots where you have other plants with the same water needs.

This fall, add to your mum collection or start a new one.  The pungent scent of their leaf reminds us that cooler weather is on the way.  And don’t forget to cut some for a bouquet to bring inside the house.
    
 

Gloriosa Daisy ‘Prairie Sun’

Gloriosa Daisy 'Prairie Sun'

Late summer color can be an opportunity to add new plant that will bring beauty to your garden right through fall.  Many summer annuals are leggy and in need of cutting back about now.  If you like spending time outdoors at this time of year take advantage of this glorious weather and make sure your garden has lots of colorful flowers. 

Golden yellow perennials like gloriosa daisies, coreopsis and golden mums stand up to strong sun now, and later in the season burn like embers under gray skies.  You’re probably familiar with the traditional Black-eyed Susan with a prominent purplish black cone in the center.  There are many varieties of this type with russet, bronze or mahogany bands.  But a gloriosa daisy I especially like has huge 5" golden yellow blooms with pale yellow tips and sports a light green central cone instead of the familiar brown one.  Prairie Sun looks stunning with any shade of blue or lavender like asters, Russian sage or salvias.  Try it in front of the sky blue flowers of cape plumbago for a breathtaking combination.

Gloriosa daisies make good cut flowers and are tough and easy to grow.  They are descended from wild plants native to the eastern US and require only moderate water once established.