Six Tropical with Fantastic Foliage

Tropicals are trending this summer, from natural nursery specimens to leafy prints on picnic plates and outdoor pillows. We love the remarkable array of leaf shapes, sizes, and colors that can be found in forests around the world, from towering palms to striking Staghorn ferns. Today, we’re embracing the tropical trend with 6 of our favorite leafy greens.

1. Monstera (Monstera deliciosa): Native to the tropical rainforests of Central America, this ornamental favorite can grow to an impressive 30 feet high. It takes the name “Monstera” from its striking scale, while “deliciosa” refers to its edible fruit, which tastes like a mix of banana, mango, and pineapple. This flavor combination lends Monstera the nickname “fruit salad plant.” Other gardeners might know this tall tropical as the “Swiss cheese plant,” a reference to its unusual leaves. The leathery, heart-shaped leaves are solid when young, but develop unique perforations as they mature.

2. Java Staghorn Fern (Platycerium willinckii): Easy to care for, the Java Staghorn is an excellent choice for cultivating at home. Native to the island of Java, this Staghorn is notable for the contrast between its tall, deeply lobed shield fronds and whitish-green fertile fronds. The fertile fronds may develop long, finger-like lobes, offering an exceptionally dramatic shape that differentiates this variety from other Platycerium.

3. Australian Fan Palm (Licuala ramsayi): Native to rainforests in the Australian state of Queensland, this fan palm produces remarkable leaves that can reach 6 feet in diameter in its natural habitat. The circular leaves are made up of wedge-shaped segments, with around 9-12 leaves per tree. This slow-growing palm is uniquely adapted to its tropical environment; the large surface of the leaf absorbs sunlight, while the segmented shape allows air flow to carry heat away from the plant and weather windy conditions.

4. Staghorn Fern (Platycerium superbum): Another Australian native, this giant epiphyte grows on trees and rocks in the lowland rainforests of Queensland and New South Wales. Each fern attaches to a tree with a “nest” frond, which collects falling leaves and insects that provide the plant with nutrients. Branching, antler-shaped fronds extend up to 6 feet, making this variety a stunning ornamental for large spaces.

5. Elephant Ear (Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’): Playfully named for the shape of its leaves, this fast-growing foliage plant features deep purple leaves and stems. Also known as “Black Magic Taro,” this showy tuber is native to tropical regions of Asia and can be grown in up to 6″ of standing water. When grown in its preferred wet soil conditions, its richly-colored foliage can reach 3-6′ tall.

6. Parasol Palm (Licuala orbicularis): A petite palm with show-stopping leaves, this short-stemmed tropical grows in the lowland rainforests of Borneo. Its pleated, circular leaves can reach 30″ in diameter. A popular ornamental variety, it is also harvested from the wild by Malaysian locals. The fronds are used for roof thatching, hat-making, cooking, and even as impromptu umbrellas.

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A Water – Wise Herb Garden

Combine drought-tolerant varieties with water-saving techniques for a garden that takes the dry weather in stride.

Herb gardeners are not the kind of people who give up easily. A few years ago, when we nursed our garden’s through a drought with heavy water {the type carried by hand}. We learned the value of special planting techniques borrowed from the native people of the arid southwest and gained a new appreciation for the natural drought tolerance of lavender, rosemary, and other Mediterranean herbs.

Those of us who grow herbs have a big advantage when it comes to water-wise gardening because we have so many beautiful drought-tolerant choices available to us.

By combining herbs that thrive under dry conditions with several time-tested strategies for reducing moisture loss, you easily can grow a herb garden that requires little or no supplemental water.

Strategy # 1:

Create Moisture Zones

In water-strapped communities across the country, gardeners have found that placing plants that share similar moisture needs together makes watering more effective and convenient. For example, you might place St. John’s wort, lovage, marshmallow and other herbs that prefer moist soil together in a spot shaded from hot afternoon sun. Should the rain clouds disappear for weeks at a time, you can efficiently water the heavy drinkers until they are satisfied. In similar fashion, herbs that need little water, such as horehound, Santolina, and all succulents, can be grouped together in hot spots that are difficult to water.

Strategy # 2:

Water-Seeking Roots

Newly planted herbs need moist soil until they establish a functioning network of roots. But after a few weeks, you can fine-tune your watering practices to push plants to develop bigger, better root systems.

Covering the soil’s surface with any type of mulch will block weeds and slow evaporative moisture loss, but there’s a catch. In dry weather, hurried watering sessions that moisten only the mulch and top inch or so of soil encourage plants to develop roots close to the surface, where they quickly dry out. Weekly deep watering, on the other hand, encourages the growth of deeper water-seeking roots.

Using drip or soaker hoses for several hours {or overnight} is the easiest way to deeply water established herbs. Or let the water run freely from a hose laid on the ground as you do other things nearby. Avoid using sprinklers, which are inefficient and must be left on for a long time to soak roots deeply.

Strategy # 3:

Lessons from the Past

Few places are as hot and dry as the desert southwest, where Zuni gardeners developed an ingenious method called waffle gardening. As the gardeners dug the planting beds, they shaped them into squares or rectangles. Within each one, the Zuni used their hands to mound soil into a waffle pattern. Like warm syrup in a waffle, water collects in each basin when it rains. Between rains, the berms shelter roots from drying the sun and the wind.

Most gardens receive more rain than Zuni gardens do, but you can adapt the waffle garden concept for your temperate-climate herb garden.

A Bountiful, Water-Wise Herb Garden Bed.

Water conservation is built into our planting of more than a dozen herbs and other useful plants. Lavender, Santolina, and others that require excellent drainage and dry conditions occupy raised berms. The irrigated heart of the bed is filled with herbs that prefer a little more water, with front door space set aside for hand-watered culinary herbs.

Use a similar “water-zone” approach when planting your favorite herbs. A 5-by-12 footbed can be created on level ground or on a slight slope. If desired, a second soaker hose can be installed atop the berm. You also can make the garden longer to create a border along a fence.

Make the berm just a few inches high and the sunken interior area about 4 to 5 inches deep. After you plant, add a generous layer of mulch; the interior surface will be just slightly below the original surface. Do include an opening that can serve as an open floodgate should a heavy storm drench your planting of water-wise herbs.

Outer berm:

Lavender {Lavandula spp.}, 30-36 inches, Zone 4-8. All varieties adapt to dry conditions; Spanish lavender {L. stoechas} is especially heated tolerant.

Rosemary {Rosmarinus officinalis}, 24-48 inches, Zones 7-10; curling leaf tips indicate a need for supplemental water.

Hens-and-chicks {Sempervivum spp.}, 6 inches, Zones 3-8; heat- and cold-tolerant succulents form robust mounds. Can be grown in a pot.

Sedums {Sedum spp.}, 4-8 inches, Zones 3-8; these hardy succulents come in a range of sizes, colors, and forms.

Sage {Salvia officinalis}, 24 inches, Zones 4-8; choose between varieties with gray-green leaves or variegated strains, which tolerate less cold.

Ice plant {Delosperma spp.}, 12 inches, Zones 4-8; heavy-blooming succulents can be grown as annuals or perennials.

Thyme {Thymus spp.}, 12 inches, Zones 5-9; all species show the high tolerance for dry conditions after they are well rooted.

Oregano {Origanum spp.}, 16 inches, Zones 5-9; small, thick leaves hold up well under dry conditions which often enhance flavor.

Gray Santolina {Santolina chamaecyparissus}, 12 inches, Zones 6-8; stiff plants form tight mounds of foliage; require dry conditions.

Echinacea {Echinacea spp.}, 36 inches, Zones 3-9; enjoy flowers in summer, and make healthful tea from the roots in the fall.

Inner Bed, rear tier:

Horehound  {Marrubium vulgare}, 28 inches, Zones 4-9; most drought-tolerant member of the mint family. Leaves used for cough medicine, candy or tea.

Fern-leaf yarrow {Achillea filipendulina}, 36-48 inches, Zones 3-8; produces long-lasting yellow flower clusters in summer; finely cut foliage good for arrangements or crafts.

Russian Sage {Perovskia atriplicifolia}, 3-5 feet, Zones 6-9; arching branches clothed with luminous gray foliage all season, with lavender flowers in summer.

Borage {Borago officinalis}, 36 inches, annual, all zones; fast-growing plants produce flushes of starry blue flowers; cut back to prolong blooming time.

Inner Bed, rear tier:

Anise hyssop {Agastache spp.}, 2-3 feet, Zones 4-9; fragrant foliage topped by spikes of bee-friendly flowers from mid-summer onward.

Basil {Ocimum basilicum}, annual, all zones; 12-18 inches tall.

Cilantro {Coriandrum sativum}, grow as annual; about 6 inches tall.

Parsley {Petroselinum crispum}, a biennial in Zone 6 or grow as annual; about 3-4 inches tall.

A mulched herb garden requires only half as much water as the same space kept in a bluegrass lawn.

Use X-rated Plants:

The word xeriscape always has been a mouthful, so it’s no surprise that the practice of gardening with little or no supplemental water {xeriscaping} has picked up a bit of verbal shorthand. in short, a good xeriscape plant is rated x. Depending on where you live, X-rated plants might include cacti or yucca, or perhaps native grasses or vines. Among herbs, gray Santolina, horehound, and rosemary are rated X. For more information, visit Colorado Water Wise Council at http://Xeriscape.org or Eartheasy at http://www.Eartheasy.com

Native Plants for Your Area.

NORTHEAST {ZONES 2A-7B}

Pink Turtlehead {Chelone Iyonii}: wildflower perennial.

Butterfly Milkweed {Asclepias tuberosa}: wildflower perennial.

Creeping Wintergreen or “Checkerberry” {Gaultheria procumbens}: evergreen perennial/groundcover.

Blue False Indigo {Baptisia australis}: herbaceous perennial.

Sweet Pepperbush {Clethra alnifolia}: deciduous shrub.

NORTHWEST {ZONES 3A-9B}

Showy Fleabane {Erigeron speciosus}: wildflower perennial.

Common Camas {Camassia quamash}: wildflower perennial/groundcover.

Spiraea or “Hardhack” {Spiraea douglasii}: shrub perennial.

Hooker’s Onion {Allium acuminatum}: perennial groundcover.

Trailing Blackberry {Rubus ursinus}: vine/shrub/deciduous perennial.

SOUTHEAST {ZONES 5B-10B}

Rose Verbena {Verbena canadensis}: perennial groundcover.

American Elderberry {Sambucus nigra}: deciduous perennial shrub.

Trumpet Honeysuckle/Coral Honeysuckle {Lonicera sempervirens}; vine perennial.

Swamp Milkweed {Asclepias incarnata}: wildflower perennial.

Blazing Star {Liatris spicata}: wildflower perennial.

SOUTHWEST {ZONES 5B-10B}

Skunkbush Sumac {Rhus trilobata}: perennial deciduous shrub.

Desert Sand Verbena {Abronia villosa}: wildflower annual.

Silver Buffaloberry {Shepherdia argentea}: perennial shrub.

Rocky Mountain Columbine {Aguilegia caerulea}: wildflower perennial.

Western Wallflower {Erysimum asperum}: wildflower biennial.

NORTHERN MIDWEST {ZONES 2B-6A}

Purple Prairie Clover {Dalea purpurea}: wildflower perennial.

Greek Valerian {Polemonium reptans}: wildflower perennial.

Sneezeweed {Helenium autumnale}: wildflower perennial.

Bunchberry {Cornus canadensis}: groundcover perennial.

Cattails {Typha latifolia} grass perennial.

SOUTHERN MIDWEST {ZONES 4B-9B}

Blue Larkspur {Delphinium carolinianum}: wildflower perennial.

Spicebush {Lindera benzoin}: shrub.

Coreopsis {Coreopsis grandiflora}: wildflower perennial.

Wild Hyacinth {Camassia scilloides}: wildflower perennial.

Inkberry {Ilex glabra}: shrub.

Not sure what zone you’re in? Go to http://www.usna.usda.gov/Hardzone to find out.

Creating A Native Plant Garden.

By sticking with species indigenous to your area, you can help save the environment and yourself some back-breaking labor!

In the face of an often bleak midwinter, we do have one joyous event to look forward to the steady arrival of garden catalogs. Those glossy pages tempt us with a dazzling array of flowers, herbs, and vegetables, offering yet another chance to dream and plan for the perfect garden. With fancy foliage, pristine blooms, catchy names, and a color palette that rivals a Monet painting, these myriad choices call out to us, saying “buy me!” And often, in a cabin-fever-induced frenzy, we succumb, putting our hard-earned money toward a host of exotic species.

But later, sometimes years after we’ve planted our seeds, we find that those Asian, bittersweet, multiflora roses and that Japanese honeysuckle have taken over the entire garden, choking out any plants in their path. Where did we go wrong? These wondrous species that looked too good to be true are the culprits. By choosing plants unsuited to the region in which we live, we invite, quite literally, an alien invasion of the plant world.

You don’t have to look far to create a garden filled with gorgeous, carefree blooms and healthy herbs and vegetables. Native plants, those species that have grown in your region for eons, are not only aesthetically pleasing, they support the local ecosystem. A healthier ecosystem means a heartier garden and a happier gardener.

Native Know-How:

One of the main benefits of native plants is that they’ve acclimated to your region. With no need for special pruning, or fertilizing, these species require less maintenance. Native ground covers allow the gardener to cut back on weeding time, and the more plants you grow, the less lawn upkeep you have to stay on top of. {They also prevent soil erosion.} Native plants are also the perfect candidates for companion planting. Growing two or more different kinds of native plants close together can help repel pests, attract beneficial insects, provide shelter for smaller plants, and add important nutrients to the soil. This all translates to less work for the gardener.

Of course, these perks also benefit the environment. Essentially recreating the natural landscape {as it was before humans arrived on the scene with their exotic tastes and penchant for wide expanses of green grass}, a native plant garden provides shelter and food for birds, insects, bats, and other organisms. And, unlike foreign plants, which can be extremely susceptible to your region’s various diseases and pests, native species prove much more resilient because they’ve acclimated over the centuries. You don’t have to resort to harmful pesticides and herbicides to thwart these plant killers.

Plants native to a particular region are also accustomed to the climate and seasonal weather conditions. They require less watering and are often drought resistant. In areas where water use is sometimes restricted during the summer months, native species fare much better than exotic plants.

Native plants {and trees} increase biodiversity by providing wildlife with food in the form of leaves, berries, fruit, and insects. Biodiversity is essential to the stability and existence of most ecosystems. Microorganisms break down decaying matter in the soil, providing energy for plants to grow. Plants provide food and shelter to larger insects {and even some animals}, and these larger insects are often food for animals. It’s a continuous, finely-tuned cycle. Because exotic plants can be toxic to insects {even beneficial ones} and often kill off native plants, they reduce biodiversity, damaging the ecosystem as a result.

Butterfly populations, in particular, are dwindling because native plants serve as their main source of food. For a garden to attract butterflies, two types of plants are necessary: those that provide nectar for adults and those that serve as host plants for larvae. Many exotic species only provide nectar, offering no place for these adults to lay their eggs. Birds, spiders, predatory insects, and even rodents rely on larvae for food, while plants look to these future butterflies to help pollinate.

Yet another benefit, many of these native species are used in herbal medicine. Planting a garden full of local flora gives you easy access to remedies for all kinds of medical conditions and symptoms.

Worried that your native plants will attract deer? These four-legged creatures actually find native plants less appealing, because they grow prolifically in the woods. Like humans, deer find exotic rarities much more desirable!

Getting Started:

Rather than transform your garden all at once, start slowly and incorporate a few native plants into your existing plot to complement your annuals and exotic perennials. If you do decide to start fresh with natives, try a small bed no larger than 3 x 8 feet.

Native plants attract and restore wildlife habitats and also attract beneficial insects. Remember to design your garden around the three pillars of a sustainable habitat: food, water, and shelter. Don’t forget to include some trees and shrubs, which also provide shelter and food.

Many nurseries now carry native plants. Make sure that the plants you intend to purchase were cultivated in your area, preferably from seeds or cuttings. Avoid purchasing cloned cultivars or horticulturally enhanced plants.

Sticking with native plants doesn’t mean giving up your neat and tidy garden beds for a wild field of weeds, nor does it mean resigning yourself to unappealing blooms. A native plants garden virtually cares for itself, while offering a safe haven for wildlife and insects. Help sustain your region’s biodiversity and enjoy the unending beauty these species have to offer.

Camellia

Like many of America’s favorite plants, the camellia is native to Asia. One tradition holds that Europeans and Americans first wanted the plants for commercial cultivation — Camellia sinensis for tea and Camellia oleifera for seed oil used in cooking and cosmetics. Instead of supplying these species, which produce understated little flowers, the Chinese slipped traders plants and seeds of showy C. japonica and blowsy-headed Camellia reticulata.

Some reports have camellias in Europe as early as the 16th century. We know for certain that they were in England by the early 18th century and in America soon after. While southerners struggled in vain to turn the tea plant into a cash crop, growers in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast were having better luck growing their more floriferous cousins in the greenhouse as florist plants. As specialty nurseries and camellia-smitten individuals created new cultivars in the 1840s, the plant caught on as a garden plant in the antebellum South.

The oldest camellia plant in the South dates from even earlier and grows at Middleton Plantation near Charlotte, South Carolina. Andre Michaud, the French plant explorer, presented camellias to his friend, Henry Middleton, in the mid-1700s. No one is certain how many camellias Middleton received, but he planted one at each corner of his parterre garden. Of these, a double red, ‘Reines des Fleurs’ (Queen of Flowers) survives.

The Civil War put an end to grand southern landscapes, but the cold-challenged camellia, with its waxen leaves and elegant flowers, was the ideal plant for coddling in Victorian greenhouses. Artists rendered them in watercolors; needleworkers embroidered them on silk and damask; belles wore them to balls. Western plant hunters scoured the globe for new plants to record and propagate. By early in the 20th century, when things Victorian were no longer admired and World War I was closing down conservatories, camellias were almost forgotten, except perhaps on the West Coast. Nurseries that had carried hundreds of cultivars whittled their inventories down to a handful. Besides, many gardeners thought the camellia out of place in the era’s new, more casual landscape style.

The scene began to shift again in the 1930s, as more gardeners came to realize that the camellia wasn’t a delicate prima donna but a trouble-free plant in the right conditions. In the 1940s camellias became the flower corsage of choice for the society set. At the end of World War II, the revival heated up even more. Savvy homeowners saw shrubs as ideal plants for a labor-saving landscape. Few other shrubs had the dense evergreen foliage or extended off-season flowering to equal the camellia (blooming from late fall to late spring). For that trait, they are often called “Queen of Winter Flowers.”

The diversity of flower and form combined with a beautiful shrub that is easy to grow made it a popular plant. Colors range from white to pink to red with just about every shade and the combination of these colors available. Camellia flowers haven’t changed appreciably in past decades. They range from single and semi-double to forms resembling other flowers — peony, anemone, and rose — to the dense formal double. There are now more than 20,000 named cultivars.

Camellias prefer moist, well-drained, acid soils and moderately cold temperatures. They grow best in open shade. Most camellias bloom between September and March, which provides a unique burst of ornamental color when most plants in the garden are asleep.

Countless Species

Camellias thrive in the American West Coast, the South, and the Southeast (hardy to zone 7, and sometimes 6 with winter cover). Their winter blooms provide valuable nectar for pollinators during the cold months. So, beloved, have camellias become that several cities — and one state — have designated them as the city’s (or state’s ) flower. Sacramento, California; Slidell, Louisiana; Greenville, Alabama; Newburg, Oregon; and the state of Alabama all claim the flower as their own. For devotees, there are “camellia trails” in a ring around the coastal areas of the United States. The American Camellia Society maintains a list of these trails on its website (http://www.camellias-acs.com).

The genus Camellia has more than 250 species. Among the ornate varieties, the most widely grown are the Camellia sasanqua and C. japonica. Camellia sasanqua are the earliest bloomers. They have a more open habit and have a smaller, often more profuse bloom. Camellia japonicas, the standard bearer for the genus, have more showy flowers, more compact growth habit and larger, rounder leaves.

The genus was named Camellia by Linnaeus to honor the 17th century Jesuit missionary and botanist, George Josef Kamel. While on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, Kamel wrote an account of the plants he found there. Excerpts of this were published in England. From there Linnaeus Latinized Kamel’s name to “Camellia.”

Cultural Symbols

In the long recorded history of camellias, their notable success in Europe and America is only a footnote. The plants can live up to 800 years and have been prized in Asia for centuries. They are important symbols in Korean culture, where they represent longevity and faithfulness. Since 1200 B.C. they have been used in Korean weddings. The flowers are highly respected in China and can be found in great abundance in the countryside. To the Chinese, camellias symbolize devotion between lovers and are seen as lucky symbols for the Chinese New Year and spring.

Not only beautiful, the tea plant has culinary and medicinal uses. The leaves of C. sinensis are used for tea. In India and Sri Lanka, C. sinensis is one of the leading crops, with plants growing 50 feet tall. In China, the seeds are pressed and the juice extracted to make tea oil (C. oleifera), used for seasoning and cooking. The Chinese use camellias to treat asthma, heart diseases, and bacterial infections.

Gardens along the U.S. coasts from east to west feature camellias new and old. In San Marino, California, the Huntington Botanical Gardens has one of America’s most comprehensive collections, with 60 species and 1,200 cultivars. In the deep South, The American Camellia Society has its headquarters at the Massee Lane Gardens in Fort Valley, Georgia. Here can be found over 1,000 cultivars in several camellia gardens.

Heirloom Cultivars

With over 20,000 cultivars on display — from fall through spring — Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston, South Carolina, has an impressive collection, one that has been growing for 300 years. Ancient Camellias (pre-1900) are a specialty there. The staff seeks out cultivars around the globe, making an effort to find and preserve threatened varieties. Norfolk Botanical Garden in Norfolk, Virginia, has been growing since the Depression and continues to expand. It has more than 1,700 camellia plants in the collection, with plants blooming from September (C. sasanqua) and until the end of May (C. japonica).

“Folks, young gardeners as well as more experienced ones, are becoming very interested in heirloom varieties of camellias,” notes Brie Arthur, propagator, and grower at Camellia Forest Nursery in North Carolina. “Many of the old varieties are spectacular. And we know how well they perform because they have lived healthily for over a hundred years. Many are still available in the trade and more are being offered every year.”

Growers from Camellia Forest Nursery recently traveled to Magnolia Plantation with its collection of over 20,000 antique camellias. From these healthy old plants, Camellia Forest Nursery made a collection of 35 cultivars, now available to the public in its 2013 catalog as the Magnolia Plantation Ancient Collection. Visit their website at http://www.camforest.com.

To achieve a sense of history, a burst of winter beauty, a touch with plants ancient and beneficial, try camellias. To help you in your quest, here are several stunning, older camellia cultivars that are still available:

‘Alba Plena’

A cultivar of C. japonica, ‘Alba Plena’ is one of the oldest types in the United States. It’s medium-sized, double flowers are white with at least 100 petals. It blooms early in the season and can bloom for several months. Captain Connor of the East Indiaman carried it to Britain in 1792.

‘Aunt Jetty’

A light red C. japonica that blooms in mid-season, ‘Aunt Jetty’ has semi-double to loose peony- shaped blossoms. At the Alfred B. McLay Gardens State Park in Tallahassee, Florida, there is an ‘Aunt Jetty’ camellia which is almost 200 years old.

‘Bella Ramona’

Developed in Rome, Italy, in 1863, this formal double camellia is intricately candy-striped. It has large flowers with interesting red picotee margins and red streaks on the blossoms.

‘Captain Martin’s Favorite’

Developed at Magnolia Plantation, this large pink-and-white-striped camellia comes with an amusing story. Apparently, the plant was near the shore where Captain Martin docked his boat. Not wanting the family to know he was picking the flowers, Captain Martin tucked them under his hat every time he passed. Unfortunately, the daughter of Magnolia Plantation came by; custom decreed that the captain tip his hat and as he did, the blossoms tumbled forth. Thus the mystery was solved, and the plant given a name.

‘La Peppermint’

A beautiful and aptly named C. japonica, this camellia has 3-to 5-inch flowers that look like peppermint candy. A profuse bloomer, ‘La Peppermint’ makes a striking focal point to any garden. It was developed in 1935.

‘Pink Perfection’

Another C. japonica, ‘Pink Perfection’ has been a feature of Southern gardens for over 150 years. It produces blush, double pink flowers all winter long. Originally from Japan, it is vigorous and long-lived.

‘Professor Sargent’

A true heritage plant, this camellia originated about 1925 and was named for Professor Charles Sprague Sargent, then director of the Arnold Arboretum. It has heavily ruffled red flowers that bloom from late autumn to spring. This prolonged bloom period makes it an ideal cut flower. Commonly 12-to 15- feet high, the plant can reach 25 feet under the right conditions.

‘Purple Dawn’

Brought to the United States from Europe in the 1840s, ‘Purple Dawn’ is a compact plant with large, double crimson blooms, often having a purple cast. It blooms from January to May. It is also called ‘Julia Drayton’ and ‘Mathotiana’ and is one of the all-time favorites among the group.

Design Landscaping Mistakes to Avoid

When designing their landscapes, homeowners may envision grandiose gardens and lush lawns that are the envy of the neighborhood. But such designs can be difficult to maintain, and homeowners often find they are not worth the time and money.
Avoiding such costly mistakes allows the homeowners to fully enjoy their lawns. The following are a few landscaping mistakes homeowners may want to avoid so they can spend more time enjoying their landscapes and less time working around the yard.
* Planting the wrong trees and shrubs:
When planting new trees and shrubs around your property, choose varieties that won’t overwhelm the property by growing too large.
Such trees and shrubs can mask other elements of a landscape, and they can also take a substantial amount of effort to maintain. Avoid spending too much time pruning trees and shrubs by opting for those that only grow to a particular size.
* Choosing non-native plants:
It’s always best to choose plants that are native to a particular region. Native plants have already adapted to the local climate, meaning they can withstand the worst weather that climate has to offer without homeowners having to put in much effort. For example, if you live in an area where drought is common, avoid planting trees, shrubs, flowers, or grass that need ample amounts of water. Instead, opt for those varieties that can survive without significant amounts of water.
Exotic plants might add aesthetic appeal to a property, but that appeal is often short-lived or costly to maintain when a plant is not in its native climate.
* Too much lawn:
While a large and lush lawn appeals to many homeowners, a yard that is all grass can be difficult and expensive to maintain. Lawns without trees are susceptible to damage from the hot summer sun, and homeowners often respond to that threat by overwatering their lawns. Over watering not only weakens root systems, but it also leads to higher water bills. Homeowners can downsize their lawns by planting more trees around the property, adding a garden in the backyard or even adding landscape features to their property.
* Planting without a plan:
When planting new trees around a property, some homeowners plant without first considering the ideal location for new trees. This can prove an expensive mistake. Planting too close to your house may eventually threaten your home’s foundation as roots grow deeper and deeper into the ground. Planting too close to a home also may prove a security threat down the road, when the tree has grown to full height.
Such trees may threaten the home during a storm, so consult a landscaping professional when planting new trees so the trees are located in a place that does not threaten the value of your home or the safety of its residents.

Native Plants for Your Area.

NORTHEAST {ZONES 2A-7B}

Pink Turtlehead {Chelone Iyonii}: wildflower perennial.

Butterfly Milkweed {Asclepias tuberosa}: wildflower perennial.

Creeping Wintergreen or “Checkerberry” {Gaultheria procumbens}: evergreen perennial/groundcover.

Blue False Indigo {Baptisia australis}: herbaceous perennial.

Sweet Pepperbush {Clethra alnifolia}: deciduous shrub.

NORTHWEST {ZONES 3A-9B}

Showy Fleabane {Erigeron speciosus}: wildflower perennial.

Common Camas {Camassia quamash}: wildflower perennial/groundcover.

Spiraea or “Hardhack” {Spiraea douglasii}: shrub perennial.

Hooker’s Onion {Allium acuminatum}: perennial groundcover.

Trailing Blackberry {Rubus ursinus}: vine/shrub/deciduous perennial.

SOUTHEAST {ZONES 5B-10B}

Rose Verbena {Verbena canadensis}: perennial groundcover.

American Elderberry {Sambucus nigra}: deciduous perennial shrub.

Trumpet Honeysuckle/Coral Honeysuckle {Lonicera sempervirens}; vine perennial.

Swamp Milkweed {Asclepias incarnata}: wildflower perennial.

Blazing Star {Liatris spicata}: wildflower perennial.

SOUTHWEST {ZONES 5B-10B}

Skunkbush Sumac {Rhus trilobata}: perennial deciduous shrub.

Desert Sand Verbena {Abronia villosa}: wildflower annual.

Silver Buffaloberry {Shepherdia argentea}: perennial shrub.

Rocky Mountain Columbine {Aguilegia caerulea}: wildflower perennial.

Western Wallflower {Erysimum asperum}: wildflower biennial.

NORTHERN MIDWEST {ZONES 2B-6A}

Purple Prairie Clover {Dalea purpurea}: wildflower perennial.

Greek Valerian {Polemonium reptans}: wildflower perennial.

Sneezeweed {Helenium autumnale}: wildflower perennial.

Bunchberry {Cornus canadensis}: groundcover perennial.

Cattails {Typha latifolia} grass perennial.

SOUTHERN MIDWEST {ZONES 4B-9B}

Blue Larkspur {Delphinium carolinianum}: wildflower perennial.

Spicebush {Lindera benzoin}: shrub.

Coreopsis {Coreopsis grandiflora}: wildflower perennial.

Wild Hyacinth {Camassia scilloides}: wildflower perennial.

Inkberry {Ilex glabra}: shrub.

Not sure what zone you’re in? Go to http://www.usna.usda.gov/Hardzone to find out.

Creating A Native Plant Garden.

By sticking with species indigenous to your area, you can help save the environment and yourself some back-breaking labor!

In the face of an often bleak midwinter, we do have one joyous event to look forward to the steady arrival of garden catalogs. Those glossy pages tempt us with a dazzling array of flowers, herbs, and vegetables, offering yet another chance to dream and plan for the perfect garden. With fancy foliage, pristine blooms, catchy names, and a color palette that rivals a Monet painting, these myriad choices call out to us, saying “buy me!” And often, in a cabin-fever-induced frenzy, we succumb, putting our hard-earned money toward a host of exotic species.

But later, sometimes years after we’ve planted our seeds, we find that those Asian, bittersweet, multiflora roses and that Japanese honeysuckle have taken over the entire garden, choking out any plants in their path. Where did we go wrong? These wondrous species that looked too good to be true are the culprits. By choosing plants unsuited to the region in which we live, we invite, quite literally, an alien invasion of the plant world.

You don’t have to look far to create a garden filled with gorgeous, carefree blooms and healthy herbs and vegetables. Native plants, those species that have grown in your region for eons, are not only aesthetically pleasing, they support the local ecosystem. A healthier ecosystem means a heartier garden and a happier gardener.

Native Know-How:

One of the main benefits of native plants is that they’ve acclimated to your region. With no need for special pruning, or fertilizing, these species require less maintenance. Native ground covers allow the gardener to cut back on weeding time, and the more plants you grow, the less lawn upkeep you have to stay on top of. {They also prevent soil erosion.} Native plants are also the perfect candidates for companion planting. Growing two or more different kinds of native plants close together can help repel pests, attract beneficial insects, provide shelter for smaller plants, and add important nutrients to the soil. This all translates to less work for the gardener.

Of course, these perks also benefit the environment. Essentially recreating the natural landscape {as it was before humans arrived on the scene with their exotic tastes and penchant for wide expanses of green grass}, a native plant garden provides shelter and food for birds, insects, bats, and other organisms. And, unlike foreign plants, which can be extremely susceptible to your region’s various diseases and pests, native species prove much more resilient because they’ve acclimated over the centuries. You don’t have to resort to harmful pesticides and herbicides to thwart these plant killers.

Plants native to a particular region are also accustomed to the climate and seasonal weather conditions. They require less watering and are often drought resistant. In areas where water use is sometimes restricted during the summer months, native species fare much better than exotic plants.

Native plants {and trees} increase biodiversity by providing wildlife with food in the form of leaves, berries, fruit, and insects. Biodiversity is essential to the stability and existence of most ecosystems. Microorganisms break down decaying matter in the soil, providing energy for plants to grow. Plants provide food and shelter to larger insects {and even some animals}, and these larger insects are often food for animals. It’s a continuous, finely-tuned cycle. Because exotic plants can be toxic to insects {even beneficial ones} and often kill off native plants, they reduce biodiversity, damaging the ecosystem as a result.

Butterfly populations, in particular, are dwindling because native plants serve as their main source of food. For a garden to attract butterflies, two types of plants are necessary: those that provide nectar for adults and those that serve as host plants for larvae. Many exotic species only provide nectar, offering no place for these adults to lay their eggs. Birds, spiders, predatory insects, and even rodents rely on larvae for food, while plants look to these future butterflies to help pollinate.

Yet another benefit, many of these native species are used in herbal medicine. Planting a garden full of local flora gives you easy access to remedies for all kinds of medical conditions and symptoms.

Worried that your native plants will attract deer? These four-legged creatures actually find native plants less appealing, because they grow prolifically in the woods. Like humans, deer find exotic rarities much more desirable!

Getting Started:

Rather than transform your garden all at once, start slowly and incorporate a few native plants into your existing plot to complement your annuals and exotic perennials. If you do decide to start fresh with natives, try a small bed no larger than 3 x 8 feet.

Native plants attract and restore wildlife habitats and also attract beneficial insects. Remember to design your garden around the three pillars of a sustainable habitat: food, water, and shelter. Don’t forget to include some trees and shrubs, which also provide shelter and food.

Many nurseries now carry native plants. Make sure that the plants you intend to purchase were cultivated in your area, preferably from seeds or cuttings. Avoid purchasing cloned cultivars or horticulturally enhanced plants.

Sticking with native plants doesn’t mean giving up your neat and tidy garden beds for a wild field of weeds, nor does it mean resigning yourself to unappealing blooms. A native plants garden virtually cares for itself, while offering a safe haven for wildlife and insects. Help sustain your region’s biodiversity and enjoy the unending beauty these species have to offer.

Low-Water Garden Plants An Option in Drought-Heavy Areas

Coping with drought is a way of life for many people across North America.
The National Climatic Data Center, a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, works cooperatively with Canada and Mexico to monitor climate and drought conditions across the continent.
According to the NOAA, the globally-averaged temperature for 2013 tied as the fourth warmest year since 1880, when record-keeping began. 2013 also marked the 37th consecutive year with a global temperature above the 20th-century average. Warm temperatures, when paired with below-average precipitation, can quickly escalate and cause drought, making things difficult for those who make their livelihood by working the land or even just weekend gardeners.
Low-water garden plants are a smart choice for those who live in areas that often deal with drought. These resilient plants can keep gardens looking lush and beautiful regardless of water restrictions. In fact, low-water gardening has become a popular trend among eco-conscious gardeners and even is a cost-saving measure for homeowners.
Establishing a garden of drought-tolerant plants requires knowledge of hardiness zones and which plants will thrive in certain areas. Native plants, in general, will be more tolerant to fluctuations in weather than plants that are imported. Contact a garden center and speak with someone knowledgeable about plants that will do well in low-water conditions. In addition, choose plants that have a reputation for drought resistance.
Butterfly bush is very hardy and requires little water. Although it is considered an invasive plant in some areas, gardeners who keep on top of seedlings and off-shoots can keep the plant in control. This shrub will create an enormous amount of flowers that will appear in the spring and will continue to bloom throughout the summer. The butterfly bush also attracts scores of butterflies to a landscape.
A variety of sage plants, including white sage, black sage, and Cleveland sage, are drought-tolerant and do well in climates like Southern California’s. These plants produce blooms that attract insects and birds alike.
Gardeners who would like relatively low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plants can opt for succulents.
Succulents, which include aloe, cacti, and jade, are characterized by thick, fleshy water-storage organs.
Succulents prefer bright light and can thrive in south-facing conditions. It’s good to concentrate the most amount of waterings for succulents during the spring growing season. Keep soil well-drained to avoid damage to shallow roots.
Heed landscape conditions when selecting plants for the garden. Drought-tolerant plants are a good idea in those regions where the weather is naturally arid or if homeowners prefer plants that can grow regardless of seasonal water restrictions.

A Bountiful, Water-Wise Herb Garden Bed.

Water conservation is built into our planting of more than a dozen herbs and other useful plants. Lavender, Santolina, and others that require excellent drainage and dry conditions occupy raised berms. The irrigated heart of the bed is filled with herbs that prefer a little more water, with front door space set aside for hand-watered culinary herbs.

Use a similar “water-zone” approach when planting your favorite herbs. A 5-by-12 footbed can be created on level ground or on a slight slope. If desired, a second soaker hose can be installed atop the berm. You also can make the garden longer to create a border along a fence.

Make the berm just a few inches high and the sunken interior area about 4 to 5 inches deep. After you plant, add a generous layer of mulch; the interior surface will be just slightly below the original surface. Do include an opening that can serve as an open floodgate should a heavy storm drench your planting of water-wise herbs.

Outer berm:

Lavender {Lavandula spp.}, 30-36 inches, Zone 4-8. All varieties adapt to dry conditions; Spanish lavender {L. stoechas} is especially heated tolerant.

Rosemary {Rosmarinus officinalis}, 24-48 inches, Zones 7-10; curling leaf tips indicate a need for supplemental water.

Hens-and-chicks {Sempervivum spp.}, 6 inches, Zones 3-8; heat- and cold-tolerant succulents form robust mounds. Can be grown in a pot.

Sedums {Sedum spp.}, 4-8 inches, Zones 3-8; these hardy succulents come in a range of sizes, colors, and forms.

Sage {Salvia officinalis}, 24 inches, Zones 4-8; choose between varieties with gray-green leaves or variegated strains, which tolerate less cold.

Ice plant {Delosperma spp.}, 12 inches, Zones 4-8; heavy-blooming succulents can be grown as annuals or perennials.

Thyme {Thymus spp.}, 12 inches, Zones 5-9; all species show the high tolerance for dry conditions after they are well rooted.

Oregano {Origanum spp.}, 16 inches, Zones 5-9; small, thick leaves hold up well under dry conditions which often enhance flavor.

Gray Santolina {Santolina chamaecyparissus}, 12 inches, Zones 6-8; stiff plants form tight mounds of foliage; require dry conditions.

Echinacea {Echinacea spp.}, 36 inches, Zones 3-9; enjoy flowers in summer, and make healthful tea from the roots in the fall.

Inner Bed, rear tier:

Horehound  {Marrubium vulgare}, 28 inches, Zones 4-9; most drought-tolerant member of the mint family. Leaves used for cough medicine, candy or tea.

Fern-leaf yarrow {Achillea filipendulina}, 36-48 inches, Zones 3-8; produces long-lasting yellow flower clusters in summer; finely cut foliage good for arrangements or crafts.

Russian Sage {Perovskia atriplicifolia}, 3-5 feet, Zones 6-9; arching branches clothed with luminous gray foliage all season, with lavender flowers in summer.

Borage {Borago officinalis}, 36 inches, annual, all zones; fast-growing plants produce flushes of starry blue flowers; cut back to prolong blooming time.

Inner Bed, rear tier:

Anise hyssop {Agastache spp.}, 2-3 feet, Zones 4-9; fragrant foliage topped by spikes of bee-friendly flowers from mid-summer onward.

Basil {Ocimum basilicum}, annual, all zones; 12-18 inches tall.

Cilantro {Coriandrum sativum}, grow as annual; about 6 inches tall.

Parsley {Petroselinum crispum}, a biennial in Zone 6 or grow as annual; about 3-4 inches tall.

A mulched herb garden requires only half as much water as the same space kept in a bluegrass lawn.

Use X-rated Plants:

The word xeriscape always has been a mouthful, so it’s no surprise that the practice of gardening with little or no supplemental water {xeriscaping} has picked up a bit of verbal shorthand. in short, a good xeriscape plant is rated x. Depending on where you live, X-rated plants might include cacti or yucca, or perhaps native grasses or vines. Among herbs, gray Santolina, horehound, and rosemary are rated X. For more information, visit Colorado Water Wise Council at http://Xeriscape.org or Eartheasy at http://www.Eartheasy.com

A Water – Wise Herb Garden.

Combine drought-tolerant varieties with water-saving techniques for a garden that takes the dry weather in stride.
Herb gardeners are not the kind of people who give up easily. A few years ago, when we nursed our garden’s through a drought with heavy water {the type carried by hand}. We learned the value of special planting techniques borrowed from the native people of the arid southwest and gained a new appreciation for the natural drought tolerance of lavender, rosemary, and other Mediterranean herbs.
Those of us who grow herbs have a big advantage when it comes to water-wise gardening because we have so many beautiful drought-tolerant choices available to us.
By combining herbs that thrive under dry conditions with several time-tested strategies for reducing moisture loss, you easily can grow a herb garden that requires little or no supplemental water.

Strategy # 1:

Create Moisture Zones
In water-strapped communities across the country, gardeners have found that placing plants that share similar moisture needs together makes watering more effective and convenient. For example, you might place St. John’s wort, lovage, marshmallow and other herbs that prefer moist soil together in a spot shaded from hot afternoon sun. Should the rain clouds disappear for weeks at a time, you can efficiently water the heavy drinkers until they are satisfied. In similar fashion, herbs that need little water, such as horehound, Santolina, and all succulents, can be grouped together in hot spots that are difficult to water.

 Strategy # 2:

Water-Seeking Roots
Newly planted herbs need moist soil until they establish a functioning network of roots. But after a few weeks, you can fine-tune your watering practices to push plants to develop bigger, better root systems.
Covering the soil’s surface with any type of mulch will block weeds and slow evaporative moisture loss, but there’s a catch. In dry weather, hurried watering sessions that moisten only the mulch and top inch or so of soil encourage plants to develop roots close to the surface, where they quickly dry out. Weekly deep watering, on the other hand, encourages the growth of deeper water-seeking roots.
Using drip or soaker hoses for several hours {or overnight} is the easiest way to deeply water established herbs. Or let the water run freely from a hose laid on the ground as you do other things nearby. Avoid using sprinklers, which are inefficient and must be left on for a long time to soak roots deeply.

 Strategy # 3:

Lessons from the Past
Few places are as hot and dry as the desert southwest, where Zuni gardeners developed an ingenious method called waffle gardening. As the gardeners dug the planting beds, they shaped them into squares or rectangles. Within each one, the Zuni used their hands to mound soil into a waffle pattern. Like warm syrup in a waffle, water collects in each basin when it rains. Between rains, the berms shelter roots from drying the sun and the wind.
Most gardens receive more rain than Zuni gardens do, but you can adapt the waffle garden concept for your temperate-climate herb garden.

Gardening in Dry Climates

Gardeners in climates where summers are dry {or those in other areas who are looking for low-maintenance plants} can still have plenty of flowers. Choosing the right location for the garden will help.
Here are some tips:
* Site the garden where it will get some shade during the hottest part of the afternoon.
* Avoid planting your flowers on sloping ground that drains quickly.
* Do not choose a location with very windy conditions.
* Plant as far as possible from trees with shallow root systems, such as maples, which steal moisture and nutrients from the surrounding soil.
* Add mulch to help conserve moisture and keep the soil cool.
* Position the thirstiest plants closest to the water source.
Some plants that ordinarily grow best in full sun when the soil is rich and moist will manage in drier soil if they receive some shade during the day. The hotter the climate, the more these sun lovers will appreciate some shade, especially in the afternoon. Some of the perennials that behave this way are Lady’s mantle, Japanese anemone, bergenia, columbine, purple coneflower, peach-leaved bellflower, snakeroot, bleeding heart.
Plants for Dry Gardens:
 
Perennials especially good for dry, sunny gardens include yarrow, butterfly weed, coreopsis, globe thistle, amethyst, sea holly, gaillardia, Oriental poppy, penstemons, balloon flower, black-eyed Susan, and sedum “Autumn Joy”. Hollyhocks, golden marguerite, artemisia, baby’s breath, candytuft, rose campion, sundrops and other evening primroses, lambs ears, and yucca can also resist a fair degree of drought.
Annuals that can withstand hot, dry conditions include annual coreopsis {C. tinctorea}, bachelor’s buttons, cosmos, Dahlberg daisy {Dyssodia tenuiloba}, morning glory, portulaca, snow-in-the-mountain, sunflower, California poppy, Mexican sunflower {Tithonia rotundifolia}, strawflower, spider flower, and zinnia.

Summer Gardening.

In summer, annuals combine with perennials and summer bulbs to provide a nonstop show of color.
And this can be an almost instantaneous show if you buy annuals as nearly full-grown plants from a garden center. Many perennials flower lavishly in late spring and early summer, and some, such as coreopsis, will continue blooming sporadically through much of the summer if you regularly dead-head them {remove their spent flowers}.
Summer is the time when the cutting garden is at its height. Pots, planters, and window boxes spill over with glorious hues of easy-to-grow geraniums, marigolds, and other annuals. You can group lots of containers on a deck, patio, or other outdoor living space to create a lush garden right where you like to picnic, read, or entertain in pleasant weather.
Summer is also the season for special kinds of gardens. If you like to spend time in your garden in the evening, you can plant some flowers that open or release their fragrance when the sun goes down. Or you can create a garden for a particular location, that’s dry or shady, by planting flowers that thrive in those conditions.
Summer offers a whole palette of brilliant as well as softer colors for the garden and for fresh bouquets.
This is where we will spend some time on this blog first, we will look at summer colors and a selection of the plants that make up the color palette for outdoor plantings and indoor arrangements. We will also address special kinds of gardens in containers, for fragrance, for nighttime enjoyment, for shade.
And because annuals play a special role in the summer garden, you’ll find guidance for them, too.

Water-Wise Gardening Techniques.

You can save water and still have a beautiful garden.
All it takes is noting moist and dry areas of your property and choosing the right plant for the right place.
Think of your yard as radiating outward from your house like a bull’s eye target. The wettest areas are closest to the house particularly around outdoor faucets where water drips, and the next wettest area is within reach of a 50- or 100-foot garden hose. Beyond the reach of your hose are the driest areas.
For efficient water use and healthy plants, grow water lover’s like ferns and woodland perennials near the house, and select drought-tolerant perennials with deep roots that can reach groundwater, such as coneflower, rudbeckia, and ornamental grasses, outside the reach of your garden hose.
If you live in a mild-winter climate, consider water-conserving garden plants that are native to South Africa, Australia, and the Mediterranean. Or select plants that are native to your region, which is naturally adapted to your local soil and rainfall.

These Drought-Tolerant Perennials Help Save Precious Resources.

Why drought-tolerant perennials? Growers want to save time and money on watering. Garden centers and homeowners want the same. Ever worked in a garden center in July? How much fun was it to water the perennials? It was miserable, wasn’t it? Once these perennials are settled into their new growing environment — whether it’s a 50-cell tray or a new garden, you’ll see how little water they need. Many growers are capturing and reusing water for less impact on the land, and many homeowners live in areas where watering restrictions are common.
Here are 11 of my favorite drought-tolerant perennials.
Angela Treadwell-Palmer is a cofounder of Plants Nouveau, a company that introduces new plants to the market; www.plantsnouveau.com.
Sedum ternatum ‘Larinem Park’
A drought-tolerant, white flowering groundcover sedum for dry shade. What more could you ask for?
Height: 6 inches
Width: 12-18 inches
Hardiness: Zones 3-9
Vernonia lettermannii ‘Iron Butterfly’
This is one of the prettiest iron weeds on the market right now. It does not spread like the species, and the foliage has such a delicate texture. It fits right into cutting gardens, perennial borders and drought-tolerant plantings.
Height: 30-36 inches
Width: 30-26 inches
Hardiness: Zones 4-9
Hakonechloa ‘All Gold’
This is usually seen in moist, shady gardens, but once established, it can take full sun and dry shade. It’s amazingly versatile and it brightens up dry shade gardens so nicely.
Height: 10-14 inches
Width: 18 inches
Hardiness: Zones 5-9
Sporobolus heterolepis
Prairie dropseed is the most wonderful, delicately textured, clumping (or tussocking) grass on the market. It blooms in June and July and the plumes smell like buttered movie popcorn. It makes such a wonderful addition to a hot, dry perennial border or roadside municipal planting.
Height: 2-3 feet
Width: 2-3 feet
Hardiness: Zones 3-9
Silphium connatum 
 This plant likes to walk around a little, but it is easy to remove. This is a pass-over-the-fence plant. Share it with your neighbors. Children love the cup plants because they can grow up to 1 foot a week in the spring. The “cups” capture water from rains for insects to drink. It’s a really cool plant, for sure.
 Height: 8-10 feet
 Width: 4-5 feet
 Hardiness: Zones 4-8
Heuchera ‘Caramel’
One of the few heucheras on the market right now that will thrive in dry shade, a terrible spot for gardeners. This caramel-colored coral bell looks nice all season. The other selection I love for dry shade is ‘Stainless Steel.’ It mixes well with ‘Caramel’ and makes for a colorful, shady spot.
Height: 1 foot
Width: 1-2 feet
Hardiness: Zones 4-8
Echinacea pallida
Echinaceas are drought tolerant, but my favorite species is pallida with its wispy, pale pink ray petals. Of the new selections, my favorite is ‘Hot Papaya,’ with its amazing color, terrific drought tolerance, and the butterflies love it.
Height: 2-3 feet
Width: 1-1½ feet
Hardiness: Zones 3-10
Schizachyrium scoparium
The Little bluestem will grow perfectly well in a roadside ditch. It likes really awful, dry, infertile garden soil. It’s the perfect plant for highway medians — especially some of the newer, more compact selections like ‘Prairie Munchkin’ that will be out in 2013 from Plants Nouveau.
Height: 2-4 feet
Width: 1½-2 feet
Hardiness: USDA
Hardiness: Zones 3-9
Lavendula x intermedia ‘Provence’
Proven hardy to USDA Hardiness Zone 6, this lavender, if kept dry, will live well and perform year after year in the driest, sunniest spots. Plant this with other herbs like thyme and rosemary for a truly Mediterranean, no-water-needed garden.
Height: 2-3 feet
Width: 2-3 feet
Hardiness: Zones 5-8
Baptisia australis ‘Purple Smoke’
Once planted, don’t move your baptisia and it will perform well in clay, infertile, dry soils for many, many years. ‘Purple Smoke’ is nice because it’s the perfect middle of the perennial border plant. The species is just as drought tolerant, but this is a nice, softer color.
Height: 2-3 feet
Width: 2 feet
Hardiness: Zones 4-8
Polystichum polyblepharum
One of the most drought tolerant, ornamental ferns on the market. The tassel fern looks plastic and will not skip a beat in dry shade.
Height: 1½-2 feet
Width: 1½-2 feet
Hardiness: Zones 5-8
All Gold: courtesy Thieneman’s Herbs & Perennials  /  Iron Butterfly: courtesy North Creek Nurseries  /  Provence: Park Seed  /  Silphium connatum : courtesy Indiana UniversitY, Purdue University Fort Wayne    Schizachyrium scoparium: courtesy Kansas State University  /  Sporobolus heterolepis: Julie Weisenhorn, University of Minnesota  /  FERN: courtesy Briggs  Nursery  /  Larinem Park: courtesy Secret Garden Growers  Purple Smoke: Angela Treadwell-Palmer  /  Echinacea: H. Zell

Tender & Hardy Plants

There are many ways that we classify plants but one of the most important for gardening or landscape purposes is how they respond to cool and cold temperatures. This applies to flowering plants and vegetables. In its simplest form plants are considered hardy, semi-hardy or tender. Some of these plants do well direct-seeded into the garden while others do better as transplants.

Hardy

Hardy plants are those that will tolerate frost or freezing temperatures – down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit and even colder for some, such as kale. As the days get longer and soil temperatures begin to warm, these plants have built-in antifreeze that keeps them from getting damaged on nights. As long as daytime air temperatures reach above about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, many will grow and thrive. Generally, hardy plants taste best and do best in cooler temperatures, not during the hot summer months. With proper care and protection, some will even grow during the winter months. Examples of hardy vegetable plants include:

  • cabbage
  • garlic
  • kale
  • leeks
  • mustard greens
  • onions
  • parsley
  • peas
  • radishes
  • spinach
  • turnips

Semi-hardy

Semi-hardy plants will tolerate light frosts down to 29 degrees Fahrenheit. As the days get longer and the soil warms, even more, these plants will grow well and light frosts are not a cause for concern. Semi-hardy vegetable plants include:

  • beets
  • carrots
  • cauliflower
  • celery
  • corn {young corn plants will tolerate light frost but are more susceptible to frost damage as the plant becomes larger}
  • lettuce
  • potatoes
  • Swiss chard

Tender

Tender plants are those that will not survive even the lightest frost. As a matter of fact, some will suffer chilling damage from temperatures as low as 35-40 degrees Fahrenheit. Tender plants need to be protected if there is a risk of frost. If protection is not available, they should not be placed outside until after the last chance of frost is past. Most experienced gardeners in our area will not plant tender vegetables out without protection until after Memorial Day. Tender vegetable plants include:

  • beans
  • cucumbers
  • eggplant
  • gourds
  • melons
  • okra
  • peppers
  • pumpkins
  • squash
  • sweet potatoes
  • tomatoes

Hardening Off

Regardless of the hardiness of your vegetable plants, if they have just been purchased from the greenhouse or nursery center you need to be sure they are hardened off before they are planted in the garden. Any sudden change in environment can throw the plant into shock or even kill it. The environment in our yards and gardens is usually drier, windier and has brighter sunlight than where they have been growing. If the garden center has them outside all the time and they look healthy then they are probably hardened off adequately.

If your new plants come right from a controlled environment then it is best to take about one week to adjust to your yard or garden. Make sure they are adequately watered. For the first couple of days place them outside during the day in a protected, semi-sunny spot, especially out of the wind and bring them into a shed or garage at night. The next couple of days gives them increasing amounts of sunlight in a less-sheltered location during the day and in a sheltered location at night. Continue to increase the amount of light and exposure to winds. Keep in mind that the spring winds are probably the worst enemy of your new plants, so protecting them from the wind even after they are planted will help them be more successful.

Health Benefits of Organic Peppers

You already know that peppers add great taste to your favorite dishes. You might not know what superior healing agents organic peppers can be and how much they can promote your health. I’d like to tell you just how much delicious organic hot peppers can do for you.

Plant compounds called capsaicinoids create the heat in peppers when it touches your mucous membranes.

Different peppers produce a slightly different burn, from mild to very hot. The hottest peppers of the genus capsaicin, such as cayenne and jalapeño peppers, produce a sensation of fire in your mouth.

When that fire hits, your mouth sends a signal to your brain which releases natural pain relievers and endorphins. It’s good to go for the burn but do so in moderation.

Cayenne is a very popular hot pepper. It’s long pod and biting seeds boost fiery flavor and support your immune system too. Specifically, the vitamin A, or beta-carotene, in cayenne and other organic peppers protects your digestive system and wards off infections.

Fresh or lightly cooked red peppers such as cayenne also contain vitamins E, C, and B-complex vitamins.

Health Benefits of Organic Peppers

Capsaicin rich cayenne and other hot peppers help to:

  1. Reduce Redness and Swelling
    You can potentially redness and swelling from sore muscles and bones with the natural properties in organic peppers.
  2. Ease the Common Cold
    Organic peppers clear out congested mucous membranes in the nose and lungs and cause sweating which is one way your body eliminates toxins.
  3. Soothe and Balance Your Stomach
    Added to your diet, organic peppers help improve digestion by stimulating the flow of stomach secretions and eliminating the discomfort of excess gas.
  4. Support Blood Circulation
    Hot peppers such as cayenne stimulate blood flow naturally.
  5. Promote Healthy Lipid Profiles
    Acting as a thinning agent, organic peppers help dissolve fibrin, the insoluble protein that builds up in your blood vessels which might cause blood clots.
  6. Control Your Weight
    By activating your digestion, organic hot peppers can reduce your appetite by making you feel full faster.
  7. Function as an Anti-oxidant
    The beta-carotene in cayenne and other organic peppers works as an antioxidant that counteracts the damage caused by free radicals.

One of the hottest peppers, the small, red-hot habanero, provides exceptional health benefits, too. The oils in these peppers put fiery heat and flavor into Tex-Mex dishes while doing some amazing things for your overall health.

In addition to the benefits listed above, habanero peppers can also help:

  • Trigger endorphins
  • Lower triglycerides
  • Supports circulation
  • Promotes normal, balanced blood pressure
  • Fight potential heart disease

Green, bullet-shaped jalapeños are medium-hot peppers, and they also offer all the health-giving advantages of the hotter capsaicin-rich peppers, with a slightly milder flavor.

Not So Hot Peppers

woman eating red pepper

Very mild and sweet organic peppers have plenty of health benefits, too. Dark green poblanos and red, green, and yellow bell peppers offer the benefits of high fiber, and they’re low in fat, calories, and sodium.

These peppers are great replacements for salt in your diet, and they offer the bonus of boosting your metabolism to burn fat.

Note: Eating hot peppers in excess may irritate your intestinal tract, from top to bottom, so practice restraint. Also, handle the hotter peppers carefully because the heat can transfer from your fingers to your nose and eyes, causing discomfort.

Tips for Starting Your Own Organic Garden

Many readers have expressed interest in creating their own organic garden in their own backyard. As a result, I wanted to share a few tips for starting a backyard garden that is organic, sustainable and earth-friendly.

There are numerous benefits to planting your own organic garden at home. It enables you to eat the freshest fruits, herbs, and vegetable. At the same time, you act to help reduce the amount of pesticides and toxins in the environment. As organic produce can be costly in the supermarket, growing your own delicious organic produce at home can also save money.

Gardening Tip #1 – Plan

Plan your garden before planting your crops, it’ll help you reap the best harvest possible. Make a decision on what fruits, herbs, and vegetables grow best in your area and find local sources that sell organic seeds.

Decide how much space you can use for your garden and what the budget will be. For smaller yards, a container garden works well. You can also make a small herb garden with pots and boxes. By planning you can coordinate what plants grow in the spring, fall, winter and summer to create a year long harvest.

Gardening Tip #2 – Less is More

Garden Harvest

It may seem like a good idea to plant every edible plant that you love to eat… but it may be better to start with a small, manageable garden in the beginning. If you plant too many of one plant, you may find yourself selling tomato sauce to all of your neighbors this summer. Start small and expand each season. Experiment with various plants and find what grows best. City dwellers can easily create a small rooftop or balcony garden consisting of pots and raised beds. You can also grow indoors or in a greenhouse during the winter months. For indoor growing, I use the aero garden which works pretty well.

Gardening Tip #3 – Choose Productive Plants

beets

Choose plants that grow well in your climate and geography. Think locally. Nothing can be more frustrating than trying to plant avocados in Maine.

Also, some plants may grow well but have different economics. Corn, for example, is cheap but is labor intensive. Berries, on the other hand, are quite expensive in grocery stores and are labor free. They require little money or time to cultivate!

Gardening Tip #4 – Share and Barter

If you buy a large packet of seeds and have extras, share with your friends and neighbors. You can also do the same with gardening equipment. By planning and sharing, you can reduce the costs of buying heavy equipment on your own, a process that helps keep overall costs down.

Gardening Tip #5 – Go Organic With Your supplies

Organic seeds can be bought locally or by mail order. Do not use chemical pesticides, herbicides, or any other synthetic chemicals.

There are many natural products for treating weeds, diseases, pests, and soil issues. These natural products are much safer and better for the environment.

Be sure your planting area will not be contaminated with lawn fertilizer or other chemicals. Try to find organic soil and compost or make your own compost by recycling your food waste.

Gardening Tip #6 – Complement Your Plants

Research traditional methods of natural gardening to grow plants that complement one another such as permaculture. Beans and squash grow well together, so do potatoes and corn. Complementary growing helps soil nutrients and overall plant success.

Gardening Tip #7 – Have Fun!

Gardening can be an incredibly grounding family affair. Remember, no garden is perfect. Choose some of your favorite plants and enjoy watching their process of growth.

What is Organic Soil?

Organic soil has been naturally amended by the decomposition of plants and animals and unfortunately, today, most of the soil in the world has been depleted by agribusiness. Farmers who produce certified organic produce must first develop soil that meets the criteria of the USDA. This requires them to amend previously depleted soil with essential organic compounds with the intent of restoring soil with the original richness our planet previously enjoyed prior to the damage caused by modern day industrialization.

How Effective is Organic Soil?

Organic soil is better able to cultivate plants than non-organic agribusiness soil. Organic soil also has a composition that provides some mechanical benefit to as the organic amendment improves soil drainage and makes the soil less apt to “pack” so it breaks up easily for planting. Organic amendment greatly increases soil nutrient content and the soil becomes much more resistant to a pathogenic invasion that can harm plant life. Healthy soil develops a powerful mycelial layer that works to detoxify the land from pesticides and chemicals.

Research shows soil with higher levels of decomposing organic matter deters pest infestations. Not only do organic farmers avoid using pesticides; they actually do not need them the same way conventional farmers do because the richness of the soil actually provides a sort of natural protection for plants. Crops grown in organic soil contain higher levels of nutrients, minerals, and antioxidants. Organic farming often uses 50 percent less of the total amount of energy to operate than the mechanized, chemically oriented methods of agribusiness.

Simply put, organic farming in nutrient-rich, organic soil is as good for the environment as it is for the consumer.

Organic Farmers May be Using Contaminated Water

You have to watch for this. As of yet, the USDA does not regulate water quality used in organic farming. This means that some farmers can, and do, use municipal water sources to cultivate their crops. Many of these sources contain dangerous contaminants that go right back into the amended soil and straight to the core of the plants you eat.

Discovering if your vegetables were grown with municipal water requires some effort on your part, you will need to locate and contact the farm and ask them yourself. Ask them if they are using well water or purified water to irrigate their organic soil. Also, ask if they have tested the water to make certain it is as healthy as the earth they grow your vegetables in. Conscientious farmers who love the earth and its people will answer these questions politely and directly.

Do not be afraid to ask, and find out the truth about your produce before you buy it.

Homemade Organic Pesticides

Ever wonder what farmers did hundreds of years ago to fight off crop pests? Long before the invention of harmful chemical pesticides (yes, the kind that is linked to cancerous cellular activity), farmers and householders came up with multiple remedies for removing insect infestations from their garden plants.

The following list will offer some of our favorite, all-natural, inexpensive, organic methods for making bug-busting pesticides for your home garden.

1. Neem

Ancient Indians highly revered neem oil as a powerful, all-natural plant for warding off pests. In fact, neem juice is the most powerful natural pesticide on the planet, holding over 50 natural insecticides. This extremely bitter tree leaf can be made in a spray form or can be bought from a number of reputable companies.

To make your own neem oil spray, simply add 1/2 an ounce of high-quality organic neem oil and ½ teaspoon of a mild organic liquid soap (I use Dr. Bronners Peppermint) to two quarts of warm water. Stir slowly. Add to a spray bottle and use immediately.

2. Salt Spray

For treating plants infested with spider mites, mix 2 tablespoons of Himalayan Crystal Salt into one gallon of warm water and spray on infected areas.

3. Mineral oil

Mix 10-30 ml of high-grade oil with one liter of water. Stir and add to spray bottle. This organic pesticide works well for dehydrating insects and their eggs.

4. Citrus Oil and/or Cayenne Pepper Mix

This is another great organic pesticide that works well on ants. Simply, mix 10 drops of citrus essential oil with one teaspoon cayenne pepper and 1 cup of warm water. Shake well and spray in the affected areas.

5. Soap, Orange Citrus Oil & Water

To make this natural pesticide, simply mix 3 tablespoons of liquid Organic Castile soap with 1 ounce of Orange oil to one gallon of water. Shake well. This is an especially effective treatment against slugs and can be sprayed directly on ants and roaches.

6. Eucalyptus oil

A great natural pesticide for flies, and wasps. Simply sprinkle a few drops of eucalyptus oil where the insects are found. They will all be gone before you know it.

7. Onion and Garlic Spray

Mince one organic clove of garlic and one medium sized organic onion. Add to a quart of water. Wait one hour and then add one teaspoon of cayenne pepper and one tablespoon of liquid soap to the mix. This organic spray will hold its potency for one week if stored in the refrigerator.

8. Chrysanthemum Flower Tea

These flowers hold a powerful plant chemical component called pyrethrum. This substance invades the nervous system of insects rendering them immobile. You can make your own spray by boiling 100 grams of dried flowers into 1 liter of water. Boil dried flowers in water for twenty minutes. Strain, cool and place in a spray bottle. Can be stored for up to two months. You can also add some organic neem oil to enhance the effectiveness.

9. Tobacco Spray

Tobacco

Just as tobacco is not good for humans, tobacco spray was once a commonly used pesticide for killing pests, caterpillars, and aphids. To make, simply take one cup of organic tobacco (preferably a brand that is organic and all-natural) and mix it in one gallon of water. Allow the mixture to set overnight. After 24-hours, the mix should have a light brown color. If it is very dark, add more water. This mix can be used on most plants, with the exception of those in the solanaceous family (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, etc.)

10. Chile pepper / Diatomaceous Earth

Grind two handfuls of dry chiles into a fine powder and mix with 1 cup of Diatomaceous earth. Add to 2 liters of water and let set overnight. Shake well before applying.