Chrysanthemum: Fall Friendship Flower

Hardy mums are easy mainstays in the fall garden. Florist mums brighten the house with long-lasting blooms any time. What’s their special quality beyond beauty?

Red mums with yellow centers.
Hardy Chrysanthemum

November babies, this is your flower. It’s been a sign of friendship since Victorian times.

The chrysanthemum has different symbolic meanings in countries like China, Japan, Australia, Belgium and Austria. For most in the U.S., it’s a beautiful flower that’s in abundance in the fall.

There are two ways to buy them:  hardy mums to grow in the garden or florist mums to dress up your house.

Garden Mum

Features

Native to: Asia and Northeastern Europe.

Name refers to: Greek words for gold and flower.

Zones:  5-9, although some may be grown in Zones 3 and 4 – check the plant’s label.

Leaves:  Small dark green, three lobe leaf. It’s shape reminds you of a little animal’s paw.

Blooms: Many shades from gold to bronze to red, purple, pink, white and off white. One bloom is made of hundreds of smaller petals called florets. 

These florets have many different shapes. The National Chrysanthemum Society has listed 13 classes of bloom forms.

Bloom Time:  Depending on the cultivar, mums bloom early July, early fall in September or late fall in October. Flowering lasts 4-8 weeks.

Height: 1-2 feet sometimes 3 feet depending on the cultivar.

Width:  1-2 feet

Grows from:  Seeds, cuttings and divisions. Many people buy full grown plants in pots.

Seeds:  Planting seeds may not grow true to the color of the parent plant. Follow package directions.

Cuttings:  Taken in spring when pinching to control growth. Root the cuttings and transplant.

Divisions:  After a few years, a woody stem develops in the middle of the plant.

Dig up the whole plant and separate the young, newer plants from the outer edge of the root ball.

Plant in a new spot in the bed for pest control and to prevent disease.

Attracts:  Butterflies.

Care

  • Location: Find a place where it will be protected from the wind. Plant far enough apart from other plants for good air circulation to keep diseases from developing.
  • Sunlight:  Full sun but protected from late afternoon sun.
  • Soil:  High in organic matter that drains well.
  • Water: Frequent watering to keep soil moist but not wet.  Root rot occurs if the soil is too wet.
  • Fertilize: They’re considered heavy feeders. Feed monthly with an organic, water soluble fertilizer spring through July.
  • Pinching: To keep the plant small and bushy, pinch off the branches as they grow.

Pinch between your finger nails above the second set of leaves. This will cause it to branch.

Do this from the time they reach six inches tall until early summer.  Pinching also prevents leggy growth that causes the plant to flop over.

  • Winter Protection:  Sometimes they will survive the winter, sometimes not even if your plant is designated winter hardy for your area.

In late fall, after blooming, cut back to 6 inches.  Mulch with straw or pine straw.

These mulches are loose and open enough to provide protection from the cold, but still allow air to circulate to prevent the roots from getting too wet. 

Problems/Pests

Many pests:  Aphids, spider mites and thrips.

Many diseases:  Powdery mildew, rust, stem and root rot, viruses.

To prevent problems, rotate their spot in the garden when you divide them every few years.

Uses

Perennial or annual containers, edging for borders, grouped together for large displays.

White mums with yellow centers.
Bouquet of florist Chrysanthemum.

Florist Mum

These are the beautiful indoor flowers that are enjoyed for over a month and then thrown out.

Potted version:

Buy one that has more buds than open flowers to enjoy the show longer.

Blooms approximately 6-8 weeks.

Known for its air cleaning qualities.

Care:

  • Can place in a decorative pot that has no drainage holes.  This protects the counter or furniture surface from water damage.

A saucer underneath the potted plant will do the same.

  • Keep in a cool but sunny spot. Cooler temperatures make blooms last.
  • Keep soil evenly moist. Water generally twice a week.

Test top inch of soil with your finger. If dry, thoroughly water it at the sink. Let water drain completely before putting it back in its spot.

  • Throw out when it’s done blooming. Avoid the compost pile because the plant has been treated with chemicals to make it grow to the size and shape that is sold at the store.

Bouquet of Mums:

Last approximately 2 weeks.

Change the water at least once during that time.

Cut the ends of the stems as the original cuts have closed up. This allows fresh water to get to the blooms. Flowers will last longer.

Chrysanthemum’s Other Quality

In addition to cleaning the indoor air, outdoors the mum has another role. The flower of a particular species is turned into a natural insecticide.

An extract from the flower is toxic to most insects. When exposed to this substance it can numb and kill them.

Unfortunately, this substance is toxic to beneficial insects, fish and amphibians too. Although it’s a natural insecticide, use carefully following package directions.

You really want to target the infested plant without spraying other plants. By targeting you reduce harm to beneficial insects and reduce water pollution runoff.  

Whether you buy the chrysanthemum for indoor or outdoor decoration or use an insecticide product made from its flowers, the mum is a mainstay of the fall garden.

References

EXTOXNET Extension Toxicology Network

FTD by Design

National Chrysanthemum Society, USA

Copyright Juli Seyfried 2019

Apples: Versatile Stars

Crabapples on tree branch.
Crabapples
Photo from Pixabay

Apples are so versatile with so many uses people almost overlook them or take them for granted.

They’re nutritious and benefit your health in many ways helping to prevent some diseases.

Although sweet on their own, treats like apple pie add something special to a meal.

You can grow your own and within a few years of planting they’re ready to pick.

But there’s more to apples than eating. This is the second part of two articles about these globes. Experience some of their other star qualities!

Pink crabapple flowers.
Crabapple flowers
Photo from Pixabay

Decorative Crabapple Trees

Besides growing your own tree for fruit there is a decorative version:  the crabapple tree. This four season beauty is worthy of a spot in your yard.

In spring, it’s covered in small fragrant blossoms that capture your nose long before you see the tree.

It’s the kind of scent that makes people forget to watch where they’re walking – running into street signs or falling off curbs.

Summer’s bronzy green leaves cover the tree, hiding the growing clusters of fruit.

Fall leaves turn colors yellow to red. Small apples like ornaments, hang in plain sight all over the tree.

Winter, some apples remain and stand out from the dark bark on the twisting branches.  

Red crabapples frozen in ice on tree branch.
Crabapples in ice.
Photo from Pixabay

Features:

Genus:  Malus

Name refers to:  Tree with small bitter fruit that is edible in jellies.

Zones:  4-8

Leaves:  Small deep green to bronzy color in summer. Varieties have leaves that turn yellow, orange, red or purple in fall.

Blooms:  In April beautiful buds open to flowers of white, various shades of pale to deep pink depending on the variety.

Fruit:  Small yellow, orange red to deep red apples that are too bitter for basic eating.  It makes a good tart jelly.

Trunks:  Pretty, gnarled shape that looks like a statue in winter. Snow on bark is a bonus.

Height: 15-20 feet

Spread:  12-20 feet

Attracts:  Pollinators like bees and butterflies. Birds love the fruit later in the season.

Crabapple trunk, branches. leaves in fall.
Fall Crabapple tree
Photo from Pixabay

Care:

Sunlight:  Full sun

Soil:  Well-drained, tolerates clay soil

Water:  Medium

Fertilize:  Add compost once a year

Problems:

Considered a low maintenance tree if you get a disease and pest resistant variety.

People who cut the grass find fallen apples may damage the mower blades.  Plant in a large bed where fallen fruit can just decompose.

May develop scab, fireblight, rust or powdery mildew.

Insect problems include aphids, borers, Japanese beetles, scale, spider mites and tent caterpillars.

More Star Qualities

Experience versatile apples in events, art, crafts, stories and sayings. You’re surrounded by their sight and tart smell!

Rows of candy and carmel apples.
Carmel and candy apples
Photo from Pixabay

Celebrations of apples:

Festivals: Across the country you can find many apple festivals usually from September to mid October. Think about it now and plan a fall trip for next year.

Each festival is unique reflecting the town or area where it is held. Apples and products made from them are the stars of the festival.

Here are some activities you may find: judging of apples, pies and jellies; arts and crafts with the fruit.

More activities: parades, musical entertainment, how-to demonstrations, games, rides, hayrides and art shows.

Apple-picking at farms who may also host events or sell products made from apples.

Bobbing for apples is a game usually played at Halloween parties. Get a large tub at least 18 inches in diameter, fill with water and throw some fresh ones in. Watch them float on top.

You kneel on the ground with hands behind your back. Try to grab one with your teeth. Not as easy as it looks!

If the tub is big enough two people can bob at the same time. Winner is the one who gets it first. You can also time the contestant to see how long it takes. Shortest time wins.

Or set a timer for a minute and see who can get one in that time. If you get the apple it’s yours.

Crafts

Dolls: Make a doll head out of a dried apple. Make a body, attach the dried apple head and dress it to complete the doll. There are many instructions on line for how to make one.

Half an apple.
Half apple ready for print making.
Photo from Pixabay

Apple Art: Young children may use them as a tool to make sculptures or prints. To make a print use half an apple as a stamp. Cut a whole one in half. Let it dry for a little bit so juice doesn’t interfere with paint.

Put a little acrylic paint on a paper plate. Take one of the dried halves and dip the cut side evenly into the paint. Press onto a piece of paper. What designs can you make?

Painting of wooden bowl of apples.
Current painting of apples in still life.
Image from Pixabay

Art

Apples are the main subject in paintings by famous artists.

Vincent Van Gogh painted Still Life with Apples, Paul Gaugin painted Apples in Bowl, and Paul Cezanne painted The Basket of Apples.

Maybe this fruit was in season and handy to grab, display and paint? These are only three of many works of art with apples as the main subject or as part of a larger scene.

Tree trunk surrounded by fallen green apples.
Fallen apples
Photo from Pixabay

Stories from history

Sir Isaac Newton (1642/43-1727), an English physicist and mathematician had an experience with the humble apple that inspired him to think about gravity.

While drinking tea under apple trees, a ripe one fell from a tree to the ground. Thinking about “why and how” later contributed to the development of the universal law of gravity.

John Chapman aka Johnny Appleseed ( 1774-1845), was a traveling nurseryman who planted nurseries and apple orchards throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana.

The fruit from these trees were good only for making hard cider and applejack. Orchards were a legal way to make a land claim.

He’d plant an orchard and create a nursery, then leave to create another somewhere else. He’d return in a few years to sell the first one off.

He dressed simply, often without shoes, wearing a tin hat. He believed in no harm to animals or other living creatures. His life and work made him a folk hero.

A few old sayings starring apples:

One slice of apple pie.
Slice of apple pie
Photo from Pixabay

As American as apple pie.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

An apple for the teacher…

“Apple polisher” – name given to a person trying to impress someone.

Apples are wide spread in the world. They’re recognized in all sorts of food products, health benefits, celebrations and artistic uses. They’re everyday stars of life!

References

PickYourOwn.org

Wikiart Visual Art Encyclopedia

web.stanford.edu

Copyright 2019 Juli Seyfried

Apples: Stars of Food and Nutrition

Apples plucked from the orchard display their useful versatility in this two-part series during the “Apple Month” of October.

Three McIntosh Apples stacked.
McIntosh Apples ready to eat!

Apples are for more than snacking. They are the versatile stars of their own dishes like pie and drinks of cider. They are the main feature of holiday games and decorations.

Scientists study their health benefits. Apples offer lifestyle advice through wise old sayings.

Here’s a look at some of their contributions to nutrition and mealtimes.

Health benefits

Studies abound about the beneficial effects on the body from eating apples. Although not a cure-all apples have some preventive qualities.

Because they contain Vitamin C and Beta carotene antioxidants, apples fight toxins in the body. 

Fiber in apples helps tame cholesterol. Fiber cleans the liver and colon by removing toxins. Apple fiber contributes to protection against diseases like diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Apples are low in calories. Eaten raw they naturally remove some stains from your teeth.

Some common food uses for apples:

Eating apples tops the list. Will you be eating them fresh? Will you cook or bake them? Do you like your apples on the sweet side or do you like a tart flavor?

Some varieties are tried and true for eating fresh as a snack or in a salad like: McIntosh, Red Delicious, Fuji and Gala.

Some are good for both eating fresh or cooking and baking like: Crispin, Braeburn, Jonagold and Granny Smith.

These are just of few of the varieties. There are so many more apples to choose from. Some grow only in your area. Give a different one a try!

Two barrels of apples in an apple orchard.
Two barrels of apples picked from trees in the orchard ready for processing. Photo from Pixabay.
  • Food made from apples:

Applesauce is made by cooking peeled apples and sometimes adding spices. Available in stores, some with no added sugar or you can make your own.

Start with a few fresh apples. Wash and peel. If you leave the peels on they make the sauce chewier but add nutrients.

Cut the apples into slices. Add some water and cook in a saucepan over medium heat until it’s the consistency you like. Sprinkle cinnamon over apples while cooking. Cool before serving.

Dried apples can be made in dehydrators or ovens.

Apple jelly and apple butter spread on toast or muffins are delicious! Buy ready to slather on or find an easy-to-make recipe.

How about apples dipped in melted candy or caramel? The sweet and sticky concoctions get all over your face and hands – but they’re oh so good!

Buy candy apples or caramel apples in stores. Have a sticky good time with easy recipes to make your own.

  • Drink the juice made from apples:

Apple Juice is filtered to remove pulp, etc. and pasteurized to kill bacteria.

Cider is apple juice that hasn’t been filtered or sweetened.  It may be pasteurized.

Hard cider and applejack are fermented versions of apple juice. The amount of alcohol from the fermentation process differs in each product. Hard cider has less alcohol than applejack.

  • All-purpose apple products:

Vinegar is made from fermentation of apple juice. It’s used for many purposes. Food uses include: vinegar as a partner in salad dressing and pickling just about anything.

Clean counter tops with a 50/50 solution of vinegar/water.

Use it full strength in a squirt bottle for killing weeds. A bottle that streams liquid works best to target only weeds.  

Finding and storing apples

Besides your local grocery, farmers’ markets and apple farms are great places to get popular varieties. Some carry local varieties.

Choosing organic apples reduces the amount of pesticides that you consume. They keep best in the refrigerator.

Apple tree with apples on tree and ground.
Apple tree loaded with fruit. Photo from Pixabay.

Interested in growing your own trees?

Apple trees originated in Kazakhstan in central Asia. They are members of the Rosaceae family. They are found in almost every part of the world.

Here are a few tips for growing them in your yard:

You will need to buy two trees so that bees can cross pollinate them to produce fruit.  Make sure the location you want to plant them is the best spot for their needs:  soil, light – at least eight hours/day and water. Keep in mind the size of the full grown tree when choosing a spot!

Your local nursery can help you with the selections hardiest in your zone. They have information on insect and disease resistance. They can also tell you how many years before you see fruit growing on the trees.

Consider the care needed to grow them. They thrive with regular watering and yearly pruning.

A group of green apples with one peeled.
One peeled and ready to cook apple in the group. Photo from Pixabay.

Ready to make some goodies from apples? Here are three recipes to try that are inspired by old apple recipes:

  • Slaw with Apples and Cheese

Grate cabbage. Add chopped or grated apples along with your favorite crumbled or grated cheese. Mix with mayo or mayo substitute. Season to taste with salt and pepper or a non-salt seasoning.

  • Apple Pie

1 single ready-made or made from scratch pie crust

Filling:

1 21oz can apples or 3 C fresh, peeled and cooked apples

1 TBS all-purpose flour

8 TBS sugar or favorite sweetener following the package’s substitution guidelines

1 tsp cinnamon

2 TBS bottled lemon juice

1 – 2 TBS butter, cut into small pieces

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place pie crust in pie pan.

In a medium bowl:  mix apples, flour, sugar, ½ tsp cinnamon and lemon juice together. Place on crust in pie pan.  Scatter the pieces of butter over filling.  Sprinkle remaining cinnamon on top.

Place a ring of foil on pie crust edges to prevent overcooking. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove foil from edges and bake until crust is lightly browned. Take from oven and cool for 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

  • Applesauce Bread With Nuts

2 C all-purpose flour

¾ C sugar or favorite sweetener following the package’s substitution guidelines

3 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp soda

1 tsp cinnamon

¾ C nuts – walnuts or pecans (omit if you want)

1 egg

1 C applesauce (no sugar added type)

2 tsp melted butter or margarine

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat egg. Add applesauce and the butter or margarine. Mix. Add dry ingredients.  Stir by hand or mixer until blended.

Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees. Touch top to see if it springs back easily. If it does, insert a table knife in top. If it comes out clean, it’s done! Let cool before slicing and serving.

In Part 2 we’ll look at other versatile uses for apples and the meanings of some of those old sayings.

References

Organic Lifestyle Magazine

US Apple

University of Minnesota Extension

Copyright Juli Seyfried 2019

Save Water in Your Garden

Save water and money with these tips to reduce the amount of water you use to keep your garden green.

Hose end with water coming out.
Water flows freely from open end of hose.

Watering the garden during this dry early fall is on my mind. My yard is getting little to no rain in this record breaking heat.

This watering task is getting very old. The water bill will be higher than normal this season too.

Most of the yard gets water roughly once a week if there’s no rain in the weather forecast. Sun worshipers like roses and spireas don’t ask for much. Shallow rooted plants like Hosta, and water lovers like hydrangea need water more often.

How to satisfy the needs of garden plants yet not use too much water? Here are some ideas to balance a healthy garden with water conservation.

Some water-saving solutions:

  • Water morning or evening to reduce evaporation. Some of the water coming from your sprinkler or sprinkler system evaporates during the delivery to your garden.

Evening is really the second best time because temperatures usually get cooler at night. Fungal diseases might develop. Slugs like a cool, wet environment and come out to eat your plants.

  • Water less often. Yes! When you water make it a slow and long session.  Water will soak the soil. Roots have time to take up the water.
  • Water soil around the roots. This is where it’s needed because roots take in most of the water used for growth. Don’t worry about leaves.

   Try one of these:

Soaker hose: Drips water on the ground. Place one throughout the garden. Your plants will get a slow steady watering.

Sprinkler: Delivers water to the ground but depends on the aim of the spray nozzles. Look for one that is adjustable. You want to aim the spray nozzles at the base of plants. You don’t want to water the driveway or parts of your house!

  • Plant drought resistant trees, shrubs, lawn and flowers. Look for native plants of your area first.

They’re already adapted to your climate which includes amount of rainfall and soil. They’re also resistant to diseases and insects commonly found in your area.

  • Mulch conserves water by shading the soil. Roughly 1.5 – 2 inches around the plant slows evaporation of water. Keep mulch away from the stem to prevent rot.
  • Allow grass to grow longer.  Cut only one third off the top. Leave the short grass clippings on the ground. This blocks the sun to slow water evaporation much like mulch. Longer grass develops deeper roots which need less water.
  • Plant trees and shrubs. They shade the ground and plants nearby, reducing heat and rate of evaporation of water.
  • Put plants together by their water needs.  The ones that require more water get it more often. The ones that like it drier will save you time and money on the water bill.

As an example, my backyard is a water park. Our house sits slightly downhill from neighboring houses and the backyard gets too much during the late winter snowmelt and spring rain.

Water babies thrive there. Hydrangeas look so lush during spring. So do the spice bush, viburnum trilobum, hosta, fern, dogwood and birch tree.

End of summer hydrangea drooping.
Hydrangea droops from lack of water.

During excessive heat spells of summer, hydrangeas wilt. One hydrangea’s leaves droop like it lost its best friend.

This flowery shrub is the first to let me know that water is needed now. The other plants in the backyard benefit from hydrangea’s distress signal.

The front yard is a lot drier and all the plants that grow there need watering less often. Plants can go a few days longer without water.

Rain gardens are perfect for grouping plants together. In my Zone 6 area, plants used in rain gardens tolerate both extremes of too much water and too little water.

  • Container plants simply need more water:

-Consider limiting the number you have.

-Install drip irrigation in them.

-“Plant” something in the center of your container that slowly leaks water. PVC pipe, a plastic yogurt carton or clay pot will do.

Drill holes in the PVC pipe and plug the bottom. The plastic yogurt carton needs puncture holes everywhere but the bottom. Clay pots leach water through their sides. Plug the hole in the bottom first.

Dig a hole in the flower container and put your leaky watering device in the hole, open side up. For the PVC pipe it’s easier to put it in an empty container and add the soil.

Surround the watering device with plants. Add water to the open end. It will slowly leak the water to the plants. Eventually the plants will grow and conceal it.

Other ways to save water:

  • Rain barrels above ground and cisterns below ground collect rainwater for use on hot days.
  • Water meter attaches to faucets or hoses and tells how much water you’re using.
  • Water gauges tell how much moisture is in the soil so you know if it’s time to water. These can go in the garden soil or a container.
  • Rain gauge is a simple collector of water either from rain or sprinklers to let you know how much fell.

It’s a rougher estimate of how much water your plants got. It doesn’t account for how much actually got into the soil.

  • Fix leaky outside faucets. Drips add up.
  • Fix leaky hoses at the connections with rubber washers, not the hard plastic kind. You need a tight fit to keep water from gushing out at the connection.

Use just a few of these ideas and watering can be less of a chore, less costly and most importantly save water.

Copyright 2019 Juli Seyfried

Hardy Begonia Adds Late Summer Blooms to the Garden

A perennial form of Begonia grows well with regular watering in the hot summer and displays beautiful late season flowers.

Hardy Begonia flowers at end of summer.
Hardy Begonia displays flowers at summer’s end.

One edge of my patio is an island of shrubs and plants to screen out the neighbors. Don’t get me wrong, our neighbors are very nice people.

We help each other whenever we’re in need. It’s the kind of connection that makes me feel the world is all right.

Properties are small in our area. It’s nice to have a sense of privacy even though the sound of our voices can be heard through the layers that separate us.

There are two layers. One is a six foot high wood fence that divides our property from two different yards on the south side. This is the hardscape or backdrop for shrubs.

In the second layer, two purple leaf sand cherries anchor the ends of the garden island. Growing below them are assorted shade loving plants.

Bordering the side closest to the patio: hardy Azalea, Japanese painted fern, Heucheras, Foam plant, and Solomon’s seal.

The island entices us to come out from our back door view for a closer look. Sitting in chairs next to all that greenery makes us feel like we’re in the woods.

The newest addition to the island border is a perennial or hardy Begonia. It’s almost right in the middle of the lineup.

Nothing else I have tried in that spot has survived. Perhaps the spot has poor soil or is too sunny, too dry.

Maybe the dog has cut through plants in this area one too many times. He’s made his own easy access to the patio from that side of the yard.

I guess I could have placed a statue or some large rocks in that space. They don’t need any nurturing, don’t care if the dog brushes by!

I really like to see plants growing: leaves blowing in the wind, flowers open to catch the little bit of sun allowed by the shrubs. Planting Begonia grandis is another attempt to complete the island border.

Results are good so far. A lucky find from a garden store, hardy Begonia was planted in midsummer. It was a find because it’s not sold in too many garden centers or nurseries here.

Compost added to the soil, mulch on top and frequent watering helped this plant withstand several sessions of extreme heat already.

Right now it is flowering profusely, the only plant to do so. Gorgeous pink disks like dangling earrings hang over hardy Begonia’s large green leaves.

The disks open to pretty pink flowers with yellow centers. One flower has four petals: two large on top and bottom, two small on either side of the center like little wings.

Since the rest of the border plants bloom earlier in the season, hardy Begonia’s flowers bring new life to this space. Its show enhances the various leaf shapes and colors of the other plants.

I encourage growth of this plant in hopes of seeing new ones sprout nearby from the little bulbs it produces.

Features

Native to: Tropical Regions of the world:  Africa, Central and South America, Southeast Asia.

Name refers to: Begonia grandis is commonly called hardy Begonia or perennial Begonia. A French botanist, Charles Plumier named the genus to honor Michael Begon, a French public official.

Zones: 6-9          

Leaves:  Off-center heart shape, medium green on top side, pale green with red veins on bottom side.

Blooms: Late summer to early fall. Flowers are pink with yellow centers, hanging in clusters.

Tiny bulbs called bulbils, form from the flowers. The bulbils drop in late fall to root and produce new plants next year.

Height:  1.5 feet – 2 feet

Width:  1.5 feet – 2 feet

Grows from: Tubers that develop roots. Also produces bulbils which generate new plants.

One of the last plants to come up in the spring. Mark the spot in case you forget what is growing just beneath the surface of the soil.

Care

  • Sunlight: Part Shade to Full Shade.
  • Soil: Well drained containing lots of organic material. Compost supplies this material.
  • Water: Regular watering especially during drier times in summer.
  • Fertilize: Add compost yearly.
  • Surviving winter:  Mulch heavily in Zone 6 to protect the tuber from freezing and dying.

Problems/Pests

No serious problems beyond getting too dry in summer or freezing in Zone 6 winters.

Uses

Great in shade gardens and shady borders.  One gardener I met said they grow well without any attention in heavy shade close to her house.  Naturalize these in wooded areas of your yard.

References

Missouri Botanical Garden

Southern Living Magazine

University of Maryland Extension

Copyright Juli Seyfried 2019

Liriope Spicata ends Summer with Flowers

Here’s a ground cover that says goodbye to summer with lavender flower spikes. Easy care Liriope spicata lets you know it’s been holding ground all season.

Liriope spicata flower cluster and leaves.
Liriope spicata flowers in a cluster.

Outside in the hot, humid end-of-summer afternoon, a muggy blanket of air covers me. Uncomfortable sweatiness is the result.

I have to water some annuals that are very thirsty, otherwise I would not be out in this open air sauna.

Humidity alone doesn’t keep Midwest plants alive. Despite the high level of moisture in the air, the roots below ground need water.

I walk the hose around a tall purple leaf sand cherry. The shrub gives dappled shade to a grassy-like ground cover that grows underneath.

In the middle of the ground cover’s strappy leaves, pale with no scent, but standing up straight to get my attention is a small lavender cluster of buds on a green stem. Just one.

Scattered among the deep green/white stripes of other grassy leaves, I discover a couple of other bud clusters standing up alone.

Nice surprise! Little flowers divert me from my watering task. While I’m trying to keep a few annuals alive to hang on into fall, the time is right for these little blooms to shine.

Even though I’m sweating from humidity without too much physical effort, they make me glad I came outside!

Liriope Spicata, sometimes called creeping lily turf, is an evergreen perennial ground cover that’s spread is just right. It’s not too dense and it’s not too sparse.

The green and white stripes on it’s leaves light up the partly shady area it’s planted in. At night it reflects the back door light and also moonglow.

So easy to grow and maintain too. A few were planted in staggered rows to cover the ground below two shrubs of purple leaf sand cherry.

It only took a year for them to sprout more plants to fill in the area. Because they are a little sparse in growth, that is, there’s space between plants, weeds sometimes pop up.

This Liriope is a part time weed deterrent. Pulling starter weeds every few weeks isn’t so bad. Liriope spicata makes my list of good ground covers.

Features

Native to: Asia.

Name refers to:  In Greek mythology, Liriope is the mother of Narcissus.

Zones:  4-10

Leaves:  Green and white stripes on long thin straps remind you of the green and white leaves of the spider plant that grows indoors in winter.

It is a member of the asparagus family and is not turf grass. In some places where it is hard to grow turf, it is used as a substitute.

Blooms: Lavender clusters at the top of the stem. The cluster of buds unfold into tiny daisy like flowers. The flowers each have five or six lavender petals with a yellow center.

Flowers have little to no fragrance.

Bloom time is August to September.

Fruits:  Clusters of flowers yield pale green berries. Humans cannot eat these berries. Leave them for the birds.

Height:  9 inches to 1.5 feet. 

Spread:  1.5 feet.

Grows from rhizomes.

Rabbit and deer resistant.

Other varieties of Liriope: Muscari’s leaves are blue green and Muscari Variegata leaves have green and yellow stripes.

Care

  • Sunlight:  Full Sun to Part Shade. The amount of sunlight it gets affects the ratio of green to white color in the leaves.
  • Soil:  Average but well drained. Tolerates soil that is on the dry side. Good for dry shady areas.
  • Water:  Medium.
  • Fertilize:  Once a year with compost.

Problems/Pests

It has no serious pests. Too much water can cause root rot, leaf or crown rot.

Considered invasive in some parts of the country where growing conditions are optimal.

See References below for link to Invasive Plants site to see if this plant is a problem for your area.

Uses

Grown as ground cover due to spreading by rhizomes.  Often used in areas where it is difficult to grow other plants because Liriope spicata is tolerant of drought and soil erosion.

References

Clemson Cooperative Extension

Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States

Missouri Botanical Garden

North Carolina State Extension

Copyright Juli Seyfried 2019

Crape Myrtle: Easy to Grow and Maintain

One hack makes the Crape Myrtle a low maintenance tree or shrub! See if you can find it…answer at the end. 

Crape Myrtle flowers in full bloom.
Crape Myrtle blooms in clusters. Photo from Pixabay.

Field Trip:  When I’m out of town to see family and/or new places, I always look for plants unfamiliar to me. As a gardener it’s fun to learn how and why they grow in the area I’m visiting.

Often the plants don’t grow at home because of the difference in climate and soil.

Sometimes the plant I see is one I recognize from home. And it is larger than mine with more flowers than the one I’m trying to grow.

How is that? Can I grow it like that at home?

Crape Myrtle is one that I ooh and ahh while on the highway to Atlanta, Georgia where many of my family members live.

No matter which summer month it is, this graceful flowering tree is everywhere! Several slender grey trunks hold up a canopy of green leaves and long arching flowers.

This tree that lets me know I’m in a warm climate.

If ever there were a poster child for “buy the right cultivar, then plant it in the right place” – Crape Myrtle is it.

As long as the specimen size matches the right location, it is considered long lived and easy to grow. Beautiful exfoliating bark, gorgeous clusters of flowers and low maintenance are the reward.

Features

Native to:  China, Korea, India, Western Australia and the Pacific Ocean Islands.

Name refers to:  Flower petals have a crinkly appearance just like crepe paper.

Zones:  6-9

Bark:  Exfoliating bark grows on several trunks in shades of grey that peel to red brown or pink underneath depending on the variety. 

Leaves:  Cultivars have oval shaped leaves that range from 1 – 2.5 inches long to 4 inches long.

Summer colors are light to dark green. Leaves in fall turn to yellow, orange, red or purple red.

Blooms:  Flowers appear on new branches. They grow in clusters or panicles 6-18 inches long.

Flower colors are pink, lavender, purple, red or white. Most blooms aren’t known for fragrance although the white ones may have a scent.

Crape Myrtle flowers in summer and is available in early blooming and late blooming specimens.

Height:  3-20 feet.  There are many varieties. Some are shrubs, some are trees.

Width:  6-15 feet, again depending upon the cultivar.

Attract wildlife:  Bees gather nectar from the flowers. Birds live in them.

Care

Best advice for a healthy, low maintenance Crape Myrtle:

  • Know the size of the spot you want to plant it in.
  • Check the plant label for the size it will be when fully grown.
  • Buy a cultivar (even though it may be small now) so that when full-grown, its height and width match the spot you chose.

Full sunlight and proper moisture make for good growth. Very little pruning needed if the right size plant fits the location.

  • Sunlight: Full sun.
  • Soil:  Crape Myrtle can grow in many types of soil. Prefers soil that is moist and drains well. No standing water.
  • Water:  Medium. Drought tolerant once the plant is established. Flowers better if watered regularly during periods of drought.
  • Fertilize:  Feed it lightly once a year. Compost is a good choice. Too much fertilizer causes too much plant growth and poor flowering.
  • Pruning:  Only in late winter before it begins to grow and just for health of plant. If the cultivar is planted in the best spot for its heighth and width, pruning should be minimal.

Problems/Pests

Although easy to grow, Crape Myrtle may develop a few problems. It is susceptible to powdery mildew, leaf spot and aphids. Best defense is to plant cultivars that are disease resistant, then set them in the right place.

Uses

Since it is easy to grow and maintain, Crape Myrtle is used in home and commercial landscapes as well as along highways and boulevards.

Answer: The hack for a healthy, low maintenance Crepe Myrtle is to match the full grown size of the tree or shrub to the location. A good idea for any plant you add to the garden!

References

University of Georgia Extension

Southern Living

Arbor Day Foundation

Copyright Juli Seyfried 2019

A Tale of Two Dogs in the Garden

Gardening and dogs are a great combination. Outside together we tend the flowers and enjoy the day!

White Vincas and Orange Zinnias fill the planter.

Title pun intended.  Our family has been so fortunate to be friends with two dogs and their wagging tails – just at different times.

Our first family dog was a golden retriever mix we found at the SPCA.  Such a sweetheart!  45 pounds of joy! She looked like a golden – slightly stocky build, long reddish tinted blond fur, white fluffy hind legs, sweeping tail.

Purists would know in a minute she was not true to the Golden Retriever breed. Her tail curled over her back, her feet were more pointed than squared off, fur not as thick.

Hazel eyes. Head a triangular shape. Ears always a pretty curly cascade. Our vet said she was definitely golden and maybe part chow because of her pink and black tongue.

I suspected a third dog was in the mix. Studying pictures of golden retrievers and chow chows, I couldn’t find some of her features.

A groomer once said her curly ears were like Saluki ears. Sounds exotic for a medium sized, good natured dog who we loved dearly. 

She was my constant companion in the garden. She’d stand nearby to supervise. She’d sleep in the grass, alternating between shade and sun. She chased butterflies and insects, jumping and trying to catch them.

She stayed outside with me until I was finished.

Now, when I need a quiet moment of reassurance, I see the two of us standing together in the garden sizing up the flower bed, under a warm sunny sky, with a slight breeze blowing on us. Blowing her long fur every which way.

The image brings peace. One of those moments you realize that life doesn’t get any better.

She made having a dog so much fun in spite of the work, worry and ultimately the loss that I knew we would eventually get another dog.

 A year later, we found our new friend. Our little comedian.

We went to several shelters in one day.  My husband wanted to think about which dog to get. I returned the next day to one of the shelters to decide between two dogs.

The first one I saw was the cockapoo with long, uncut curly black and white fur. He stood up on his hind legs when I came to his kennel. He gave me a long ra-roo talk with a growly finish. I knew this was our dog to love.

I did look for the other dog, but it must have been adopted. Things have a way of working out just right.    

His head is cocker spaniel and his coat is cocker-thick. He has very floppy cocker spaniel ears that he whips around when he shakes his head. We can hear this slapping sound even in the middle of the dark night.

The rest of him is poodle:  slim body, long tail, and tight curly fur. A hairy dog our vet says. We didn’t know that fur care was going to be so critical and a regular expense.

No matter. We keep his fur relatively short to prevent matting.  I like curly hair and curly fur.  I let his fur be poodle-curly. The only time it looks straight is when he comes home from the groomer.

He has that poodle bounce to his step making him look like the happy guy he is.

As a gardener he’s very interested in what I’m doing and gets right in the middle of it. I have to ask him to step away sometimes.

When not in my work, he circles the yard checking out his domain. If tired he sleeps in the grassy shade.

Sometimes he’s a sundog, lying in sunny grass, on the stone patio or even hot gravel to get his rays. When he’s had enough of the garden, he barks to go inside.

Doesn’t matter if I’m done or not. He’s done.

Picking up dog droppings from the lawn is part of my routine before I begin any other garden work. Keeps the smelly surprises on the bottoms of my shoes to a near minimum. Yes, I miss some.

I can’t imagine gardening without either dog.

I like to think that they would get along well if our golden were still alive. Both mild mannered, both happy, both gardeners in their own way.

Happy National Dog Day!!

Copyright Juli Seyfried 2019

Daylilies: Trumpets of Color

Easy to grow Hemerocallis adds fringe and flowers to your garden border!

Daylily: Happy Returns

Daylily flowers, trumpets of many colors, pop open just above their long green-strap leaves every day.  Amazing in large groups, you can never have enough in your garden!

On a visit to a daylily farm with some friends, the variety of flowers overwhelmed us. Planted in the parking area near a large barn we knew this was the collection.

Barely out of the car, we were oohing and ahhing when someone in the yard said, “These aren’t it. If you think these are pretty, wait ‘til you see what’s in back of the barn.”

Not taking time to explore the flowers in front of us we hurried to the back of the black wood barn, stopping on the ridge. Below us spread a huge rectangular quilt of daylilies growing in the farm field.

Row after row after row of blooming daylilies: each row a different color.  So many kinds to take in. Where to start?

The farm was a dig-your-own. They gave us shovels and large bags. They gave us instructions to dig a bucket size clump of daylilies – $10.00 for the clump.

Dragging shovels and bags, we made our way down the trail worn in the grass hill. We ended in the middle of the flower quilt – cupping a bloom with our hands, sniffing for a fragrant scent.

Drawn by different flowers we didn’t know we separated from each other. In our own worlds we walked to one end of the field, each choosing this one or no – maybe that one.

“Both?” we said out loud only to turn and find nobody there. We were all just talking to ourselves.

Our choices weren’t easy. On the way to the other end of the field we walked by more rows of floral possibilities.

Was there room in our gardens for more than a few? Somehow we pretended there was, so decision made.

Dry packed dirt was tough to dig alone. Eventually we reconnected to help each other.

We dug opposite sides of the same plant and the bucket size clumps came out. We all had our treasures to buy and take home.

Why so much effort to get daylilies? They’re easy to grow, easy to care for beauties. Garden stores carry a limited variety.

Daylily farms and catalogs are great places to find a wide number of hybrids.  New hybrids develop all the time.

Features

Native to: China and Japan

Name:  The common name ‘daylily’ fits the flowering pattern of one bloom per day. The bloom withers.  Another bud blooms the next day.

Hemerocallis Linnaeus is the botanical name.

Zones: 3-9

Leaves:  Long flat green strips that form grassy- like clumps.  When not in bloom the clumps make a fringe for the garden border.  Daylilies are great for blocking weed growth.

Blooms:  Trumpet shaped flowers in colors of white, yellow, orange, pink, purple, red and assorted combinations of colors.

The petals can be smooth, bent or have ruffles to name a few types. Some are fragrant.

Flowers with different bloom times are available: early, mid (most common) and late season. Some plants rebloom. There are many, many hybrids.

Height:  1-1.5 feet

Width: 1-1.5 feet

Grown from seeds. They develop roots which often develop rhizomes to store food and produce new plants. The full grown plant is usually available to gardeners.

Attracts butterflies.

Care

Sunlight: Full to part sun.

Soil: May tolerate poor soil, but grows best in soil that is rich in organic materials and drains well.

Water: Best to water consistently. Will dry out in summer heat, causing leaves to die. This shortens the bloom period.

Fertilize: Add compost every year around the clumps.

Propagate:  Make more plants by dividing clumps in spring or fall. The center of the clump stops producing leaves and flowers after a few years. Use the newer plants growing on the outer edge of the clump.

Keep them looking good all summer.  Remove dead flowers from the stem.

When finished blooming, cut back the entire plant, stems and leaves to 1/3 the height.  New shorter leaves will grow from the clump adding fringe to your flower border.

Problems/Pests

No serious pests.

Uses

Border plants anywhere you want graceful leaves with summer flowers.

References

Missouri Botanical Garden

American Daylily Society

University of Illinois Extension

Copyright 2019 Juli Seyfried

Peperomia: an Undemanding Houseplant

Grow several kinds of Peperomia – they don’t ask much!

“Give it up, it’s dead.”

That was gardening advice I got as a college freshman from some guys visiting us from another dorm. The cute little green plant I bought and placed in the special little ceramic pot was no more. It was a little stump, shriveled and brown.

“I thought it might grow back,” I said.

Laughter all around. And the conversation moved on to other things.

I pretended not to care but inside I was crushed. I had killed it. Maybe I couldn’t grow plants – all plants.

The thing was, I bought this little plant on a visit to a local garden shop. I knew after this trip I really wanted to grow houseplants:

Just curious and with nothing else to do, a group of us walk to a campus houseplant store we’d heard about. Upstairs on the second level of an old wooden building we see plants covering the inside of the windows like living curtains. This is it.

Through the door and it’s magic! Humidity in the air thickens the earthy smell of living greenery. Everywhere rows and rows of small happy plants grow in black plastic containers, a different kind in every row.

Larger potted plants sit in any available space showing off shiny or fuzzy or textured leaves, some with flowers. From rafters, hanging plants trailing lush leafy stems catch my head and shoulders as I walk by. Endless colors and textures up and down.

I want to be a part of this lively tangle – or at least bring a little of it to my dorm room.

A wondrous plant store. A purchase of a small Peperomia and a ceramic pot. The beginning of a lifelong fascination with growing plants.

Back at the dorm, the cute little plant sat on my dorm dresser. In a ceramic pot measuring two inches across it dried out pretty quickly.

The dresser was right next to the steam heat radiator. Behind the radiator was the window giving light to our room and the plant. The radiator pumped out so much good warm heat that to balance the temperature, we had to open the window to get some cold winter air.

Super hot air and super cold air and not enough water – I was right.  I did kill the plant. Not because I wanted to. I just didn’t think of the needs of this pretty living plant that I dressed up in a cute ceramic pot. Once I figured out that there was a little more to this plant growing fascination, I was up for the challenge of growing all kinds of plants.

Despite my poor gardening start, Peperomia has turned out to be one of the easiest plants to grow because it’s really not too demanding.   

Features of Peperomia

  • Native to:  Tropical areas in Central and South America.

Name:  Piperaceae family which counts peppers as a member.

  • Leaves:  The reason they are so popular as a houseplant! There are many different shapes, textures and designs in leaves.   

The three most common ones sold at neighborhood stores are:

Watermelon Peperomia – Smooth, striped leaf that look like its namesake.

Emerald Ripple Peperomia – Ridges and valleys on each leaf.

Baby Rubber Plant Peperomia – Round thick leaf. One variety is all green, the other yellow green marbling. Not related to the true rubber tree.

More varieties are available online.   

  • Blooms:  Shaped like a rat or mouse tail – greenish reddish stalk, ending in a pale green or cream fuzzy tip.
  • Height: Varies by species but can be a few inches in the trailing varieties to 12 inches for upright plants. 
  • Width: Varies by species.

Care

Sunlight:  Bright but indirect light. Too much sun burns the leaves. Grows well in fluorescent light.

Soil: Medium potting soil that drains well. Repot when it outgrows the current one. Use the next size pot – too much soil holds water which creates potential for rot.

Water:  Check to see if most of potting soil is dried out. Water well every week to week and a half.

Fertilize:  Light use of soluble fertilizer spring through fall.

Propagation: Grows from seeds, roots, cuttings either from leaves or stems. Most grow new plants by rooting a stem cutting.  When making a cut be sure a node, the lumpy joint of the stem where leaves appear, is close to the bottom of the cut stem. Place in water. New roots grow from the node.

Problems/Pests

Root rot is the biggest problem. They don’t require a lot of water.

Some things I’ve learned:  Pay attention to the plant’s growth requirements. Some plants are easier to grow than others. Don’t give up on a plant. Try another strategy or two, but know when to move on.  I never did successfully grow the first variety of Peperomia that I bought. I have done well with others!

Copyright 2019 Juli Seyfried