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Ok, it isn't actually wine that we'll be pairing in this article, but you could enjoy a glass of it while you read this or as you are planting. Just as Pinot Noir compliments grilled salmon and Zinfandel pairs well with barbecued chicken, spring bulbs can compliment perennials with some thought and planning. Following are three ways to approach well-designed pairings.
One category of pairings is bulbs and perennials with similar foliage. Hiding the dying foliage of spring bulbs is an important factor in these perennial/bulb combinations. For example, two of the easiest masquerading combos are daylilies with daffodils (see above) and tulips with hostas (see below). The pairs have similar foliage allowing for quick cover-up as the daffodils and tulip foliage die back and the new leaves of daylilies and hosta emerge. Imagine seeing the combination above in the same space in your garden but at different months of the year! Another benefit of planting daffodils among the daylilies is that they will discourage deer from eating the daylilies.
Other perennials make great pairings because of their interesting spring foliage. Many perennials don't bloom until summer but have interesting leaves in the spring. Imagine flowers of spring-blooming bulbs rising above those leaves and then disappearing just as the perennial comes into bloom. This extends the color and interest in your landscape for another season without taking up more garden space. Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) & orange tulips (see below) would be stunning together in the garden especially with a burgundy barberry added to the scene. My favorite accidental combination that turned out amazingly well was when I planted the large bulbs of Allium 'Schubertii' amongst an area covered with variegated Dead Nettle (Lamium). It was striking as well as whimsical.
Hostas & Purple Allium like 'Globemaster' make great partners in the garden.
And doesn't this burgundy leaf Coral Bell (Heuchera) & these pink tulips make a pretty match?
The final group of great pairings are those with the same bloom time. It can be tricky to do but with experimentation, you can come up with outstanding combinations. Imagine orange Oriental poppies with dark purple 'Queen of Night' tulips - dramatic and delightful.
Here are a few more great pairings of perennials and spring bulbs:
* Penstemon & Daffodils - the dark burgundy foliage of 'Husker Red'or 'Dark Towers' looks especially fabulous with yellow daffodils nearby.
* Hardy Geranium & Grape Hyacinths (Muscari)
* Creeping phlox & Grape Hyacinths (Muscari) - see photo below
* Golden Bleeding Heart & pink tulips - see photo below
Fall is the time to purchase spring-flowering bulbs and tuck them in the ground. In fact, if you are planting perennials now, throw a handful of bulbs in the same hole. Work smarter, not harder. And a final thought: just as a fine wine paired with the right entree provides a pleasurable dining experience, planting thoughtful combinations of bulbs and perennials can give your garden a well-designed look.
Horticulturist and General Manager of Burlington Garden Center
Here in midsummer, we find ourselves at the height of activity for pollinating birds and insects. While there is a plethora of plants that will attract them to your yard, the cry to use more native plants is beginning to make sense to more and more of us. Native plants are those found to grow naturally in our area, attract more varieties of wildlife, and are more adaptable to the soil and climate of where we live. And most are deer resistant! Here are five native shrubs to get you started:
You may already be familiar with serviceberry trees but not so familiar with their native, low-growing cousin. Running Serviceberry (Amelanchier stolonifera) grows 4-5’ tall and forms a 4-5’ wide colony. Showy, white flowers turn to showy, edible fruits that birds love (also good for pies). On a full sun to part shade location, use this native shrub for a slope, as a low hedge, in a woodland planting or to naturalize an area.
If you love butterfly bushes but have had trouble with them surviving our winters, then Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) is a great substitute. Butterflies love the long panicles of white flowers, songbirds feast on the seed heads, and it’s 3-4’ height makes it perfect for any garden. Plant Meadowsweet in a sunny location.
Witherod Viburnum (Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides) The best feature of this large-size shrub (8’+) is the pink fruits which eventually turn blue-black. White flowers appear in late June when pollinators are at their busiest. Doing its best in full sun to part shade, Witherod can be used in a border, as a screen, or any difficult spot. It attracts birds and pollinators.
Downy Viburnum (Viburnum rafinesquianum) is a native shrub for the shade, especially dry shade. White spring flowers, that are a favorite among pollinators, turn to purple fruits in summer that attract songbirds and other wildlife. Growing 6-10’ tall, this native is at home in a woodland garden.
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) This interesting shrub (shown in the first photo of this post) has a lot going for it. It is quite happy in wet soils, along streams and ponds, but does well without excessive moisture. It’s white, fragrant, sci-fi flowers are a source of nectar for butterflies. The native species can grow up to 12’ so you may want to opt for ‘Fiber Optics’, a sunny, compact version that grows 5-6’ tall. Use it for naturalizing, to attract wildlife, and in rain gardens.
Horticulturist and General Manager of Burlington Garden Center
where you can find these and more native plants.
Designing a garden can be a mystery to most homeowners. Achieving a balance of continuous color and great foliage can take years of experimenting. We've made it easier with our new formula which can be used with perennials as well as trees and shrubs. We think it's such a great idea, we've set up our Perennial House with these categories for our sunny perennials. Here's the recipe for your success:
1 part Backbone plants
1 part Long Blooming plants
3 parts Plants for a Season:
* 1 part Spring Blooming
* 1 part Summer Blooming
* 1 part Fall Blooming
Choose plants from each of the above categories for a well-balanced, well-designed perennial bed. Then, for fun, add in a few Plants for a Reason - it's like the frosting on the cake.
Step One: Backbone Plants
Every well-designed garden begins with a good foundation, or in this case, a good backbone. In the perennial garden, backbone plants provide structure and interest through the entire season. This included peonies and hardy Hibiscus, which become shrub-like when not in bloom. The same is true of False Indigo (Baptisia), which can grow to be 3' tall and 3' wide.
Plants with variegated foliage (Vanilla Gorilla Masterwort) , silver foliage (Silver Mound Artemisia), chartreuse foliage or other interesting foliage (Lady's Mantle) are also included in this category because they look great even when not in bloom.
Tall perennials, such as Delphinium, Hollyhocks, and Penstemon are included in this group as well. Their tall stature gives the garden a back drop for other perennials. In the mixed border when shrubs are also included, evergreens are considered a backbone plant as are shrubs with interesting foliage like variegated dogwoods.
Step Two: Long-Blooming Plants
The workhorse of every well-designed garden are plants that have a long bloom time. It's unrealistic to expect a perennial to flower April through October, however, there are several perennial families that bloom for a good three months. This category includes Coreopsis, daisies, Hardy Geraniums, Catmints, and Salvias among others. By the way, the new April Night Salvia actually blooms in April - a whole month earlier than other Salvias - giving the spring garden deep purple color. Repeat bloomers like Purple d'Oro Daylilies are also included in this category of long-blooming perennials. Note that some of these plants need to be deadheaded or sheared back to encourage more blooms.
Step Three: Plants for a Season
This is an important step when trying to achieve a perennial garden in which something is always blooming. Spring, Summer, and Fall each have their stars, so a well-designed garden will include a few of each.
Spring (April - May): creeping Phlox, Iris, and Anemone
Summer (June - August): Alliums, daylillies, Asiatic lilies, Phlox, Black-eyed Susans, Russian Sage, and yarrow
Fall (Sept - October): Asters, hardy mums, and ornamental grasses
Choosing at least one from each of these seasonal categories, combined with long-blooming perennials from step two, will ensure a continuous color show.
Step Four: Plants for a Reason
This final category of sunny perennials are plants with a purpose, fill a need, or are just for fun. They could become theme gardens as well. A few that we are including this spring are:
* Plants for Pollinators
* Drought-tolerant Plants
* Native and Nativar Plants
* Deer Resistant Plants
* A Collector's Corner with hard to find plants
We think this is a fail-proof way to design a garden. Remember, we've set up our perennial house with these categories of sunny perennials to make it even easier for you. By including plants from each category and planting in threes and fives, your garden will provide interesting flowers, foliage through the entire growing season, and a well-designed look.
Horticulturist and General Manager of Burlington Garden Center
One of the most enjoyable pastimes of gardening is planting containers to dress up the front entrance, patio, and deck. Especially now with the landscape just beginning to awaken, pots filled with pansies and snapdragons remind us that yes, it IS spring.
May promises to be what we hope is more of a normal spring month, but remember, that is just what it is - a spring month. It's too soon to be filling containers with summer annuals that are thriving now in the heated greenhouse. Here in Wisconsin we enjoy four very different seasons, so celebrate each one in your containers.
Spring pots can be filled with pussy willow stems, pansies, snapdragons, nemesia, and our new favorite, Senetti, (shown above) which can take temperatures down to 35 degrees. Or plant a pot with spring-blooming perennials like the one below. Once June rolls around, plant the perennials in the garden and fill your containers with summer annuals. Then come fall, it's time to switch them out for mums, kale, and fall Rudbeckia and finally fresh-cut greens and red dogwood for winter.
Need inspiration for your summer containers? Stop in and walk through the greenhouses which are full of new annual varieties as well as old favorites. Our staff is willing to help you select combinations that grow well together. You can also ask for a complimentary copy of the Proven Winner Idea Book for 2018 at the checkout counter.
Start your container gardens off right with fresh potting soil and a slow-release fertilizer. Use what we use! This year we are using Pro-Mix which is peat and bark-based. It also contains biofungicide and mycorrhizae - natural ingredients that make a visible difference in plant health, size, and vigor. We have also switched from Osmocote to a natural, slow-release fertilizer called Sustane. Sustane can be used in containers as well as in the vegetable garden. Both are available here at BGC!
Let us plant your container for you!
Not sure what to plant, or don't have time to do it yourself? Every spring, we plant containers for almost 100 customers! Bring in your containers, give us an idea of what you like, sun or shade requirements, and we'll take it from there. We plant, then we'll keep your containers until the weather is nice in mid-late May. We keep a record of what we plant, so we can do it again for you next year!
Call today for more information (262-763-2153) or stop in and ask for Marty, Pam, or Taylor.
Asparagus is one of the first vegetables in spring to grace our kitchen tables. An asparagus patch can be productive for 15 years or more if well-tended so why not plant your own bed of this delightful edible.
You will need:
* asparagus crowns (males are preferred)
* sunny spot
* composted manure
Asparagus is usually planted by crowns from mid-April to late May after the soil has warmed up to about 50 degrees. Male varieties like 'Jersey Knight' are better producers because they expend all their energy into producing a tender, abundant crop instead of producing seed. Choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil on the north or west side of the garden where it can remain undisturbed.
Dig a furrow about 6-8 inches deep and 12 inches wide. Add a layer of composted cow manure for a slow-release fertilizer. Place the crowns 1 ½ feet apart in the furrow on top of the manure. Rows should be spaced five feet apart to promote air circulation which will help prevent the spread of fungal diseases.
Cover crowns with two inches of soil, gradually adding more soil through the growing season until the furrow has been filled. Spears should emerge within one week in moist soils. Asparagus should not be harvested the first year and sparingly the second year. Let the spears develop into ferns which will help produce food for next year’s crop. The ferny foliage also has ornamental value and looks attractive when interplanted with the bright colors of zinnias or the soft pastels of cosmos.
RECIPE FOR CREAMY ASPARAGUS
2 c. water
2 lbs. asparagus
1/2 c. chopped onion
2 T. flour
2 T. butter
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. lemon pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. chicken broth
1/4 c. parsley
2 T. vinegar
1 tsp. dill
8 oz. sour cream
Cook asparagus; saute onion and butter. Add next 4 ingredients. Gradually add broth. Add parsley, vinegar, and dill. Bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Reduce heat and whisk in sour cream. Serve at room temperature.
ASPARAGUS WITH PENNE & TOMATOES
5 garlic cloves, minced 1 pt. cherry tomatoes Salt to taste
¼ cup olive oil 1 T. fresh oregano, chopped ¼ c. shredded parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon butter ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes ½ lb. penne pasta, cooked, drained
1 pound fresh asparagus
In a skillet, sauté garlic in oil and butter for 2-3 minutes. Cut asparagus into 1 ½ -inch lengths and cook in skillet for 5 minutes. Add cherry tomatoes, oregano, red pepper flakes, and salt; cook until heated through. Add parmesan cheese and mix well. Pour over hot pasta and toss to coat. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
Growing your own food has taken on a new dimension. Tomatoes, squash, and Swiss chard are all making their way into the landscape. Perhaps you don't have room or time for a full-out vegetable garden. Maybe you only want to grow one tomato plant and some kale, or the only sunny spot might be in the front yard. It's time to think outside the box, or in this case, outside the garden, and consider edible landscaping.
The foliage of many edible plants are very attractive and offer interesting texture and color when planted among perennials, trees, and shrubs. In the photo above, the broad colorful leaves of Swiss chard, Japanese mustard, and artichoke add interest when mixed with thyme and rock garden plants.
Above: A trio of edibles with chartreuse foliage make a lovely contrast with the burgundy leaves of Astilbe.
Above: Create a border of edible collard greens, Japanese mustard, onion, and broccoli. Add in flowers and pockets of salad greens. The fairy statue gives the bed an ornamental, whimsical touch.
Above: The blue-gray leaves of cabbage plants mingle nicely with daffodils, dusty miller, pansies, and lettuce.
Above: Think of ways to introduce edible plants into your existing landscapes: The lavender-colored Scabiosa could easily be replaced with chives; the dark leaf Coral bells could be substituted with ruby lettuce; plant garden sage instead of dusty miller, and lemon grass in place of ornamental grass.
Above right: The red stems of Swiss chard are striking with a red petunia in a container.
Above left: Plant an edible vine to scramble up an arbor. Scarlet runner bean is a great option and grows quickly.
Above: This vine is truly edible: it's Malabar spinach! The stems are a deep purple and thick leaves are tasty in a salad.
Above: A final source of inspiration is this quilt-like planting that includes cabbage, several kale, and Swiss chard along with marigolds, hostas and tropical plants.
It's a new growing season, and a new way of looking at the food you grow, so think outside the box - oops - garden. Plant the carrots next to the daisies, peas with the pansies, and tomatoes with the cosmos. They'll all be happier growing as companions in the garden, and they make an pretty, interesting landscape, too.
Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy.
She's the authority on the subject and we have her book here at BGC! It is so inspiring. Seriously. It'll make you rethink how you landscape and soon you'll be growing pole beans in place of clematis and tucking salad greens in with your perennials.
All photos are from rosalindcreasy.com or pinterest.com.
We all are getting a little antsy by now to see signs of spring. For those of us who can’t wait any longer, there is a way to hasten spring’s arrival. Get your pruners ready and read on.
Many flowering trees and shrubs set their flower buds last season. By now they have had their required period of cold temperatures and can be forced out of dormancy. On a mild day, head outside with your pruners and select a few branches to force indoors. Stems that are less than ½” in diameter work best.
The most common and easiest branches to force are those of the yellow-blooming Forsythia. Select branches near the top of the shrub for best flowering. In addition, try forcing branches from these trees and shrubs for beautiful blossoms:
Here’s how to force them: prepare a bucket of warm water (about 100 degrees). Adding floral preservative will help stems stay hydrated longer and keep the water clean. Set the bucket aside. Fill a sink with hot water. Place stems in the sink and recut at an angle while holding under water. Immediately place stems in the bucket. Keep the stems cool (45-55 degrees) for a week or two, changing the water each week. When the first buds begin to show, create an arrangement and place where you can enjoy.
A few more tips: You may need to crush or split the ends of larger branches to increase the surface area available to take up water. If the branches you try to force don’t work, it may be too early. Try again in a couple weeks. Misting the branches frequently can help them last longer in a vase. Cut fresh branches every week until spring arrives and experiment with other trees and shrubs in your yard. Forced dogwood leaves and birch catkins can also be very pretty.
Burlington Garden Center
Ever since fourth grade, Frances Hodgson Burnett's 'The Secret Garden' has been a favorite of mine. One of the quotes that has stuck with me well into adulthood is when a very timid Mary asks her guardian, Mr. Craven, 'Might I have a bit of earth?" But only as of late have I noticed his response: “When you see a bit of earth you want,. . . take it, child, and make it come alive.”
The Soil & it’s Amendments
‘I find that a real gardener is not one who cultivates flowers;
but one who cultivates the soil.’ Karel Kapek
When to Work the Soil & When to Plant
One of the easiest ways to know when the soil is ready to be worked is by doing the simple ball test:
form a ball of soil in your hand, then press your thumb into it. If it breaks apart, the soil is ready to be worked. If the ball of soil does not break apart, the soil is too wet, so waiting a little long is best.
Another common mistake among anxious gardeners is to plant before the soil is warm enough. Some seeds will germinate in soil temperatures of 60 degrees (like peas). Other seeds, like pumpkin and squash, need warmer soil temperatures of 80 degrees to germinate. The best way to know when the soil is warm enough is to use a soil thermometer - it takes the guesswork out . A soil temperature chart is also helpful as it lists crops and their optimal temperature ranges for germination.
Click here for your free chart!
Soil pH is probably the most important factor in how well a plant will grow. If the pH is out of wack, then plant roots are unable to break down nutrients in the soil and make them available for the plant to absorb. Our soils in southeastern Wisconsin are naturally alkaline, so adding lime to the soil before planting is not necessary. Most likely soil will need to be amended with sulfur or peat moss in order to lower the pH, but rather than guess how much, a simple soil test should be done. You can do this yourself with a pH tester available here at Burlington Garden Center. If you want a more exact analysis, then a soil test can be taken and mailed away and analyzed for a cost. Ask us for information and a free envelope if you want to pursue this.
How to achieve the best soil? Once you know that the pH is in line with the crop you are growing, the next best thing you can do is feed the soil. By feeding the soil, in essence, you are feeding your plants. In fact, by adding organic matter, your soil becomes more alive with microbes that break down nitrogen - which is necessary in order for plants to use it and grow healthy green leaves.
Adding organic material in the form of compost is the best way to feed the soil. If you have a compost pile, add compost to the soil in the fall or in the early spring. If you don't make your own compost, then here are a few we recommend:
(nature's black gold)
Nature's Blend w/Alfalfa & Humates
(a wonderful mix of cottonburr compost, cow manure, alfalfa, and humates)
(use every 3 years to avoid a build up of salts)
Chicken or cow manure
(aged for a year is best)
Cotton burr compost
(not only is this a great soil amendment, but many gardeners use it as a mulch around their perennials)
(are another good source of microbial activity)
All of the above amendments are available here at BGC. Remember, healthy plants begin with healthy soil. Let us know how we can help you make this year your best year growing in the garden. And in the spirit of Mr. Craven "When you see a bit of earth you want,. . . take it, and make it come alive.”
- Tracy Hankwitz
BGC General Manager & Horticulturist
Have you ever heard a garden hum? One that not only hums but is full of movement - alive with butterflies and buzzing bees? Plant a bit of earth with wildflowers and you will have such a garden. But two questions may come to mind: 'why?' and 'how?' Hopefully the 'why' is obvious as they attract pollinators into the garden which help plants, especially fruits and vegetables, grow better which means more food on the table. And the 'how'? The easiest way to begin is with seeds.
Following are several wildflower seed mixes that are available here at BGC. We love these mixes from Olds Seed not only because of the colorful combinations of flowers and native grasses, but they contain no fillers or inert ingredients. It's pure seed! I've also included a few tips on growing them successfully as well as a challenge for all of us to consider.
Basic Steps to Growing Wildflowers
1. Decide what to plant
If you want color the first year, choose a mix that contains annual flower varieties. Perennials will bloom the second year from seed. For lots of color, sow the heavier recommended amount.
2. Where and when will you plant?
Most wildflower seed mixes require a site that receives at least six hours of sun. Sow in spring when the soil has warmed - mid to late May and into early June.
3. Clean and prep your site
Remove existing vegetation, then till shallow or loosen soil with a rake or hoe for good seed-soil contact. On sloped areas use a mat for erosion control.
4. Sowing tips
It is best to sow wildflower seeds with a carrier like sand. Milorganite works even better! Mix approximately one handful of seed with one quart of carrier. Lightly rake the seed in not covering more than 1/8" to 1/4". Keep area moist for several weeks until most seeds germinate.
5. First year care
Seedlings will emerge in 2-3 weeks. You'll see flowers in 6-10 weeks. If it has become a weed patch by mid-summer, mow with the deck set at the highest setting before weeds set seed. During dry spells, water deeply every two weeks. After the flowers have set seed in the fall, mow at 4-6" to scatter the seed. Do this only the first fall.
Are you up for a challenge? Be part of a movement to create one million pollinator gardens. To the left is a photo of the number that have registered in Burlington. Two! Come on, everyone! We can do better than that! Join our staff and follow the link below to take the challenge and bee one in a million! millionpollinatorgardens.org/
Be sure to pick up a free brochure with more planting tips next time you visit us at BGC. See you soon!
Burlington Garden Center
General Manager & Horticulturist
Reading an article about winter is probably the last thing you want to do on days when it's in the 40's and feeling like spring. But before we leave winter completely behind us, have you really looked at your yard when covered in snow? Is winter interesting when you look out your window? This is when we see the bones of our landscape - trees, shrubs, sturdy stems of perennials, statuary , and hardscapes - all provide structure and interest.
Leave a few perennials standing for the winter. Take this 'Autumn Joy' Sedum above. It's an unassuming, overused perennial, but these stems have held up under 8+ inches of wet, heavy snow more than once. At one point they looked like strange mushrooms found in a woodland. If they had been trimmed back in the fall, this spot would have not been as interesting to look at.
A fresh snow brings the landscape to life. Statuary and other garden ornamentation can add character and charm to a rather bland palette. In the photo above, taken a couple snowfalls ago, a lilac and hydrangeas dance around a young birch while a statue of Hebe watches in the background. The heart filigree in the wrought iron fence offers it's own beauty to the winterscape.
Combining perennials with conifers and small, ornamental trees is guaranteed to look captivating through the changing seasons. Low-growing evergreens, like this Juniper, are often ignored when designing an area. They are easy to walk right by at the garden center, but look how great the green needles look dusted with snow in the photo above. Here it is planted near a Coral Bark Japanese Maple whose fall leaves are still clinging on making it an even prettier picture. Rocks that edge a bed of Lenten roses (Helleborus) mark a compelling pathway.
If you just can't bring yourself to add evergreens into your landscape, then consider broadleaf varieties. Holly (Ilex) ,shown above, and boxwoods, shown below, are two ways to add year-round green and provide living structure. And no need to prune them unless you want to! Boxwoods on this property are rarely pruned unless a branch gets overly rambunctious and throws off the overall look of the plant.
When choosing trees to bring into your plant communities, consider what they have to offer during the winter months. The gnarly branches of the Harry Lauder Walking Stick (Corylus avellana 'Contorta'), in the photo below, are at the top of my list as is the bark of birch trees and Seven Sons tree (Heptacodium miconioides ).
Winter will give us another fresh blanket or two of white before letting Spring have her way. Seize the opportunity to look at your landscape with a critical eye and find ways to increase Winter's interest. Taking a photo of an area can help see more objectively and you'll notice more details. If you need ideas and suggestions, bring your photo in to us here at Burlington Garden Center and take advantage of our landscape design service. We're here to help make your gardens the best they can be - even in winter.
Horticulturist and General Manager of Burlington Garden Center
Cold and flu season is upon us as are long stretches of sunless days. To fight off illness and depression, take an active approach to cultivate natural remedies into your lifestyle. Following are a few suggestions:
Surround yourself with green medicine - houseplants. All indoor plants have the ability to purify the air to a certain degree, but some are more beneficial than others, removing up to 90% of toxins from the air. By adding a 10-12” size plant for every 100 square feet in your home, it will make a difference. Try these easy-to-grow plants for starters.
Another plant family known for its health benefits is herbs. Used in teas and essential oils, these natural remedies are worth learning more about. For example, did you know peppermint can soothe headaches, relieve sinus pressure, and calm an upset stomach? Lemongrass aids digestion, regulates high blood pressure, and helps cold symptoms. Lavender, marjoram, sage, garlic, ginger . . . the list goes on. Start planning which ones you will grow this year.
Playing in the soil
As you pot up those herbs and houseplants, you will probably notice a lift in your spirits. Recent studies have shown that soil bacteria can act as antidepressants, boost immune systems, and increase learning abilities. So digging in the dirt is an act of wellness, too. Growing your own vegetables is another way to increase exposure to those beneficial soil bacteria as they may be contained in the food – that’s a good thing!
Whether you take a houseplant to the office, end the day with a cup of herbal tea, explore the use of essential oils, or just play in the dirt, make this a year of cultivating wellness the natural way. Start by attending our Gardeners' Retreat on Saturday, February. 17 where the focus is this very topic! Learn more at www.burlingtongardencenter.com.
Horticulturist and General Manager of Burlington Garden Center
Perennial of the Year - Allium 'Millenium'
The ornamental onion has long been used in the garden for it's whimsical purple globe-shaped flowers. Though it shares the same family name as the common chives, most ornamental onions used in the landscape are sterile and will not spread prolifically by seed. From the hundreds of Allium varieties, the Perennial Plant Association has named A. 'Millenium' as the 2018 Perennial of the Year. Developed by Mark McDonough, fondly known as the onion man, 'Millenium' has neat and tidy mounds of shiny, deep green foliage. In mid summer, a profusion of rose-pink globes will attract butterflies to your yard. Alliums in general are deer and rabbit resistant, love the sun, and mix well with other perennials and ornamental grasses.
Hosta of the Year 'World Cup'
Hosta 'World Cup' has been deemed worthy of this title for 2018 by the American Hosta Growers Association. This golden-colored hosta has deeply-cupped, wavy foliage that reaches upright to the sky. It grows 23" tall and 43" wide. It's pale purple flowers make an appearance in late June. Plant H. 'World Cup' with other shade lovers such as a fine-textured fern and varietgated hosta varieties.
Annual of the Year - Supertunia 'Bordeaux'
For all of you annual lovers, Proven Winners has not let you down with their 2018 pick: Supertunia 'Bordeaux'. It's floriferous, mounded habit makes this petunia perfect for containers, hanging baskets, or in the landscape. Planted in full to part sun it will attract butterflies and hummingbirds. 'Bordeaux' is also heat and drought tolerant and requires no deadheading. It is perfectly happy in its own container, but looks stunning with deep purple lantana and the chartreuse leaves of the sweet potato vine.
Herb of the Year - Hops
Rounding out our stellar performers is the award-winning herb, Hops, Humulus opulus, chosen by the International Herb Association. Hops are useful for more than beer-making. For ages it's shoots and roots have been used medicinally having a natural sedative quality. It's also an attractive ornamental vine. Some varieties can grow 25' in one season making it useful for providing a shady spot in which to relax.
Horticulturist & General Manager of Burlington Garden Center
Color in the landscape at this time of year can be a rather limited palette. Various shades of white (depending how dirty the snow is) mix with shades of brown and gray. No wonder we look forward to spring when the earth teems forth with life-giving greens and a Crayola box of color. While we wait, it's encouraging to look at the hues that have been chosen as Pantone's colors for 2018.
As a gardener and manager of a garden center, imagine my delight at the color of the year selected by Pantone: ultra violet. Purple has a regal and majestic meaning to it, but ultra violet was chosen to reflect "originality, ingenuity and visionary thinking" according to Pantone VP, Laurie Pressman. "It leans more to blue than red and that speaks to thoughtfulness, a mystical quality, a spiritual quality."
Hmmmm . . . thoughtful, mystical, and spiritual sound great, but what if you just like the color purple? For those of you kindred lovers of all things purple, here is a sampling of new perennials and annuals to add to your garden in spring:
‘Blueberry Ice’ Bougainvillea (shown above) is compact and perfect for small, sunny spaces. The cascading lavender-blue flower-like bracts are offset by its second-best feature - variegated green and white foliage. This tropical will slowly grow 2 to 3 ft. tall and 5 to 6 ft. wide.
‘April Night’ Salvia x sylvestris is a new salvia that blooms a month earlier than its relative ‘May Night’. Its longer bloom time of blue-violet flowers and compact, dense habit make it perfect for the garden or in patio containers. ‘April Night’ is hardy in zones 4-10.
‘Pikes Peak Purple’ Penstemon x mexicali is a hummingbird magnet! The tall spikes of grape-colored, nectar-rich flowers bloom throughout summer. This adaptable and versatile Plant Select® winner will reach 3 ft. tall when flowering, 2 to 3 ft. wide, and is hardy in zones 4-7.
Will we see more originality, ingenuity and visionary thinking as the year unfolds? Will ultra violet live up to its expectations? Let’s be positive and hope that it does. At least we know it will in the garden.
Horticulturist and General Manager of Burlington Garden Center
For more 2018 Pantone colors, visit pantone.com .
Every spring we try to offer new varieties of petunias, geraniums, and other annuals. This spring is no exception. Read on as we share which annuals we are excited about this spring.
Cordyline ‘Dancing Cha Cha’
known as a Festival grass, grows 3-4’x3-4’
Digitalis ‘Digiplexis Illumination Raspberry’
a cross between the hardy foxglove and the annual ; full sun to pt shade, 20-23” tall, attracts bees and hummingbirds
'Platinum Blond’ Lavender
full sun, hardy to zone 6, 16-24” tall, attracts pollinators
Calceolaria calynopsis Red (Pocketbook Plant)
early season annual, 12", provide part shade for best performance; also available in yellow
Geranium 'First Yellow'
a true breakthrough, full sun, 15" x 18"
Begonia 'Apricot Shades'
from the Illumination series, cascading habit, 12" x 18", part shade, flowers are edible and have a lemon flavor
Snapdragon 'Candy Showers Deep Purple'
Cascading habit, 8" x 18", perfect for hanging baskets, and is slightly fragrant
Snapdragon 'Candy Showers Yellow'
heavy flowering, cascading, sun or part shade, heat tolerant
Snapdragon 'Snap Daddy Pink'
full sun, heat tolerant, 18-24", good cut flower
Snapdragon 'Snap Daddy Yellow'
full sun, heat tolerant, 18-24", good cut flower
Bacopa ‘MegaCopa Blue’
large flowers, improved heat performance, 4-6”x12-18”, sun
Coleus 'Main Street Oxford St'
cherry red and lime green foliage, 16" tall, part sun/full shade
Coleus 'Main Street River Walk'
Upright habit, 16" tall, part sun/full shade
Pennisetum 'Black Stockings'
fountain grass, 3-4' tall, full sun, black flower plumes
New Guinea Impatiens 'Ruffles Peach'
Proven Winner variety, part shade/shade, 10-14"
Duranta erecta 'Golden Edge'
tall foliage annual, does best in full sun, has cascading clusters of light blue tubular flowers
Pentas 'Falling Star'
trailing habit, good for containers, full sun
Petunia 'Crazytunia Cloud Nine'
10-15" x 10-12", upright-mounding habit, full sun, heat tolerant
Scented Geranium 'Cy's Sunburst'
compact, smaller leaves, part sun, lemon scent, good for topiaries
Pennisetum 'Sky Rocket'
full sun, 24-30", Proven Winner, good for containers
4-7'x3', upright annual grass, full sun, Proven Winner
Ipomoea 'Sweet Caroline Bewitch Green with Envy'
Proven Winner, great accent in containers, 16" x 18-30", sun or shade but better coloring in the sun
Lobularia 'Frosty Knight'
Sweet alyssum, part sun to full sun, heat tolerant, fragrant, 6" tall and trails up to 24"
Impatiens Double 'Fiesta pink Ruffle'
morning sun, afternoon shade, bicolor
Stachys 'Lilac Falls'
hardy to zone 5, 8-12" x 18"-20", full sun, great for hanging baskets are as a ground cover
Celosia "Dragon's Breath'
full sun, likes the heat, 24" x 16"
5-8" x 5-8", cold tolerant
Our focus this spring is 'Renewal' in the garden and what better example of that are ferns unfurling their fronds every spring. Ferns have been a staple in the shade garden for a long time - a very long time. Dr. Oliver Sacks who spent his life hunting for and documenting rare varieties of ferns said the following:
‘Ferns had survived, with little change, for a third of a billion years,'' he notes. ''Other creatures, like dinosaurs, had come and gone, but ferns, seemingly so frail and vulnerable, had survived all the vicissitudes, all the extinctions the earth had known. My sense of a prehistoric world, of immense spans of time, was first stimulated by ferns and fossil ferns.'
Another interesting part of fern history involves Dr. Nathaniel Ward, a surgeon who lived in London in the early 1800's. Dr. Ward was also interested in botany and entomology. Quite by accident, he discovered that although ferns could not survive the polluted London air, they could thrive under glass. So he made the first terrarium in the early 1800’s for his personal fern collection. His discovery made it possible for English explorers to collect species of plants from around the world and ship them back to London. And the first plants to be successfully shipped? Ferns.
So how about you? Do you have a case of pteridomania, also known as fern craziness? We hope you will after reading about the following varieties of ferns.
How to Grow Ferns
In general, ferns prefer moist soil and part shade to full shade.
Ferns are also deer-resistant and rabbit resistant.
Lady in Red (Athyrium)
•Tolerates dry soil as well as full sun in moist soil
• Grows 18-30” tall
Lady Fern (Athyrium felix-femina)
Grows 2-3’ x 2-3’
Ferns pair well with the broad leaves of hostas. In the photo above, Hosta 'Remember Me' and a miniature hosta give a nice contrast with the Lady Fern.
Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum)
Grows 18” tall and has silver foliage with hints of burgundy.
Pair the Japanese Painted Fern with the glossy, broad leaves of Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense), a groundcover for the shade.
Try this great shade combination: (from left to right) dark leaf Heuchera, chartreuse hosta, Epimedium, and Japanese Painted Fern.
Japanese Painted Fern ‘Apple Court’
Fern with crested tips, grows to 12" tall.
Also known as Victorian Lady Fern, 'Dre's Dagger' is sport of Athyrium filix-femina. It is compact at 18" tall and wide and has upright stems.
'Ghost' is a cross between Japanese Painted Fern and the Lady Fern and grows 30” tall.
An interesting combination for part shade: two varieties of Heuchera with 'Ghost' fern and blue blooming Ajuga.
'Godzilla' is a Japanese Painted Fern on steroids! It grows 3' tall and 4-6' wide.
Have fun with 'Godzilla' by pairing it with the large-growing 'Sun King' Spikenard (Arelia cordata shown above).
'Bulblet' Fern (Cystopteris)
Grows 12” tall x 24” wide
It forms small bulblets in late summer that drop to the ground and grow new plants.
Hayscented Fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula)
This native fern grows 2’ x 3’. The fronds release a fragrance reminiscent of fresh mown hay when brushed with a hand, crushed or bruised. As a bonus, the fronds turn yellow in fall.
Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)
This dark green fern is called the Christmas fern for two reasons: in some zones it stays green at Christmas time and secondly, the pinnae are shaped like stockings. It grows 2’ tall and because it is native to North America it thrives in dry and moist wooded areas.
Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosora 'Brilliance')
Grows 18" tall and wide in moist shade.
An elegant lacy fern on black stems, this pretty Himalayan Maidenhair Fern is hardy to zone 4 and grows only 12" tall.
I'll close with a few landscaping ideas with ferns.
- Tracy Hankwitz
Burlington Garden Center
Wake Up the Garden
Saturday, March 11, 2017
Burlington Garden Center
What to do in the garden in March & April to get your garden off to a great start and save time later.
Trees & Shrubs
Happy fall! As we wait for autumn to put on it's magnificent show in full color, I've been contemplating the versatility of a rather common perennial - sedum.
Although found in almost every back yard, upright sedum, also known as border sedum, has so many things going for it. It is easy to grow and it is not demanding. The sedum family in general doesn't need much water or much of your time. It's easy to propagate, and transplants well. It's a staple in the perennial garden, just hanging out rather unassumingly until fall, when it turns from lime green to shades of pink, red, and rust. This year I've begun to notice it more - appreciating it's clean, well-behaved habit in spring, admiring the lime green hue all summer, and enjoying it's transformation as it takes on it's fall color.
I've also been noticing how it goes with just about anything in the garden making it a versatile plant in the landscape. It mixes well with shrubs like this hydrangea above. Even next to the broad leaves of the hosta (even though flawed), it provides a contrasting texture in a part sun/part shade location.
Here at Burlington Garden Center, it's planted with it's typical fall partner - 'Karl Foerster' Feather Reed Grass (photo above), but looks attractive all summer when skirted with red-flowering annuals.
I love all the texture in the photo above provided by boxwood, sedum, and another 'Karl Foerster'.
The foundation planting below is a drift of sedum, Miscanthus 'Adagio' ornamental grasses, hardy geranium, and black-eyed susans. Instead of planting just one clump of sedum, several were planted together to balance the other plantings and the wide front porch.
One of my favorite compositions in my yard is in the photo below. I've been watching it all spring, summer, and now fall and am enjoying the changes in color with each season. Conifers, like this weeping blue spruce, is a good match for sedum. 'Coppertina' Ninebark, 'Shenandoah' Switch grass, 'Autumn Leaves' coral bells, and a pot of annuals complete the colorful scene.
Sedum can even stand alone like it does in the very first photo next to the blue chippy bench. It can compliment a planting of coneflowers and daylilies. It plays well with just about any plant in a spot with at least 4-6 hours of sun. If you don't have a clump or two of sedum in your yard, consider adding it to your cart the next time you visit the Burlington Garden Center.
Learn more about the versatility of sedum in 'The Plant Lover's Guide to Sedum' by Brent Horvath. Pick up your copy here at BGC!
BGC Store Manager & Horticulturist
Lately there’s been a lot of buzz about pollinators. Over the last few years, awareness has grown of the important role they play in our daily lives. At the same time, we are seeing a decline in population due to many causes including the misuse of pesticides and loss of habitat.
Bees are the most well-known pollinators with honey bees, bumblebees, and mason bees topping the list. But there are approximately 4,000 different species of native bees that also pollinate our plants. In addition, birds, butterflies, and bats also carry pollen from one plant to another aiding in the pollination of 75-90% of flower and food crops. That calculates to one out of every three mouthfuls of food we eat and beverages we drink is thanks to the work of pollinators. Think of that the next time you eat an apple, pepper, squash, or even chocolate. So knowing their importance as well as their struggles, what can we do to help the pollinators?
Enter the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. This nationwide call to action is designed to preserve and create garden spaces, big and small, that help revive the health of pollinators. Several non-profit organizations have formed the National Pollinator Garden Network and have a goal to register one million public and private gardens that support pollinators. You can be one of them! Here’s how:
- Plant a Pollinator Garden. Use plants that provide nectar and pollen. A few that attract pollinators are asters, bee balm, butterfly weed, coneflower, lavender, and yarrow. Native perennials to grow are Joe Pye Weed, Liatris, and Penstemon.
- Provide a water source.
- Sunny areas with wind breaks.
- Establish continuous blooms using perennials supplemented with annual flowers.
- Plant a large area with native perennials and shrubs.
- Minimize pesticide use.
- Register your garden at www.millionpollinatorgardens.org.
From a small planted container on a balcony to a five acre field planted with plants for pollinators, each of us can ‘BEE one in a million’. All you need to get started is a list of pollinating plants and you're on your way!
Horticulturist and Store Manager of Burlington Garden Center
2016 has been declared the Year of the Begonia by the National Garden Bureau. We're so glad! Begonias are one of our favorite annual crops to grow here at BGC and according to our customers, we have the best ones in the area.
There are over 1,700 different species of Begonias. With all the various types of Begonias, there are so many to choose from that it is often hard to decide which one to try. Following is a brief run-down of the different varieties we are growing this spring.
Other than the rather common wax begonias (shown above in those fabulous strawberry jars), Non-stop tuberous begonias are probably most well-known. Non-stop begonias, with their large blooms in vibrant hues, provide a bright punch of color in a shady spot. In addition to the Non-stops, there are new series of tuberous begonias being introduced every year. Newcomers in our greenhouse include 'Pink Halo' and 'Unstoppable' Upright Fire.
Those making a return appearance are 'Miss Montreal', 'Elegance', 'Devotion' (a more pink version of Elegance'), 'Sparks Will Fly' and 'Cherry Bon Bon'. They are lovely in hanging baskets and container gardens.
Looking for a heat tolerant begonia that brings continuous blooms? The boliviensis series looks stunning in a large container or hanging basket. Our favorites are quickly becoming your favorites: 'Santa Cruz Sunset', 'San Francisco', and 'Pink Glow'.
Of course we can't forget the begonias known for their interesting leaves. Rex Begonias have bold patterned foliage that are perfect for adding color and texture to any container. They make wonderful houseplants once their watering needs have been mastered. 'Sophia', 'Gryphon' (shown below with silver foliage), and 'Escargot' are among the Rex Begonias found in our greenhouses this spring.
Another series of hybrid Begonias that thrives all season with continuous blooms is Dragon Wing Begonia which is an AngelWing Begonia. AngelWings are go-to plants that give an outstanding performance in full sun or full shade. 'Dragon Wing Pink' is shown below.
Claiming to be the easiest annual you'll ever grow, we believe it! The BIG series can be grown in full sun, full shade, and everything in between. It's drought tolerant (aka it will be fine if you miss a watering), and like other begonias - no deadheading required. Choose from BIG Rose w/Bronze Leaf, BIG Red w/ Bronze Leaf, and BIG Green Leaf.
Come see all the varieties filling the greenhouse. Bet you can't leave without one.
BGC Store Manager
'I must have flowers, always and always' - Claude Monet
Ok, confession time.
If I could have, I would have been a flower farmer.
Something about growing flowers, cutting flowers, and breathing flowers 24/7 compels and calls.
Maybe it's in my blood - Tracy means 'harvester' and my maiden name, Bauer, means 'farmer'.
Why not farm flowers?
I know it's hard work, but the payoff?
Imagine armfuls of beautiful blossoms arranged into gorgeous, breathtaking bouquets . . .
Who knows, I'm only 47 -
it could still happen.
Until then, I'll be content to grow a few flowers for cutting in my small garden. Following are annuals that make wonderful cut flowers:
GROW FROM SEED: Many cutting annuals are easy to grow from seed, like those pictured above. From top left: 'Sundancer' Sunflower is early blooming, multi-branching and vigorous at 4 ft; 'Singing the Blues' Bouquet Larkspur are tall and graceful in the garden and in the vase; 'Fragrant Ten Week Stock' is the best branching variety with double flowers and a spicy-sweet fragrance; Bottom left: Zinnias - an endless selection available and every garden should have some - so easy to grow; 'Moulin Rouge' Sunflowers grow taller (6') but those rich velvety red flowers are pollenless and a must have for late summer & fall bouquets; 'Peach Passion' Sunflower is another pollen free, multi-branching sunflower standing 3-4'tall in the garden. And fortunately, we have all of them available in seed packets here at BGC.
IN THE GREENHOUSE:
Sometimes it's easier to let others start the growing process. I have my eye on the following cutting annuals growing in the greenhouses here at BGC: Salvias 'Faye Chapel' and 'Black and Bloom' are especially nice; snapdragons, Dahlias, Gaura, and Agastache are a few more among many.
OTHER MUST-HAVES: Dahlias of all kinds, sweet peas, Ranunculus, and Lisianthus. Bulbs planted in the fall make lovely spring bouquets. Daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and grape hyacinths top the list.
A few great resources . . .
Happy planning and happy planting!
Horticulturist & Store Manager at Burlington Garden Center
and flower farmer wannabe
Watch for Part 2: The Cut Flower Garden - Perennials & Shrubs
Imagine armloads of sweet peas in a palette of watercolors and the intoxicating fragrance filling the room. Mmmmmm, I'm totally wanting to be there in that sweet world. So much so that I was out last night in the dark, prepping the bed and tucking seeds into the earth.
Here's how to grow your own sweet peas:
Seeds can be started indoors but they are easy to sow directly in the garden.
They have a hard seed coat, so a soak in water for 8-10 hours before planting will speed up germination. Or nick the seed coat with a nail clippers.
While they are soaking, head outside to prepare the site.
Choose a sunny spot (a little afternoon shade wouldn't hurt). Sweet peas are heavy feeders so it's important to amend the planting area. Work in compost or well-rotted manure (I used Purple Cow Compost), and a slow-release, natural fertilizer ( Happy Frog's All purpose is a good one). I also add a light dusting of bonemeal to provide an extra boost of phosphorus. Turn all the amendments under and mix well into the soil.
Plan to fertilize the hungry sweet peas weekly, or at least twice a month with fish emulsion or compost tea.
Sweet peas are climbers and will need a sturdy trellis to climb.
Use garden netting or chicken wire between posts. Or try this fun, natural method:
Plant seeds/seedlings in two rows, one on each side of the trellis, 6-8" apart, 1 " deep.
Then watch them grow!
Remember, the more you pick, the more you get!
Prolong blooming by deadheading. Better yet, pick these sweet-smelling beauties to enjoy in a vase.
TIP: for the longest vase-life, pick when there are at least two unopened flowers at the tip of the stem.
- Happy planting!
Horticulturist & BGC Store Manager
Growing in containers is the perfect solution when space or sun is limited or you want to grow something that is easy to maintain. Edibles offer their own visual appeal and can be just as pretty as flowers in containers. Here are a few things to consider:
Container gardening offers endless possibilities when it comes to growing edibles. If you are just starting out, try growing leaf lettuce or herbs in a 14" garden bowl. Experiment and try something new every year. "As the garden grows, so does the gardener." - Anonymous
Recently we held a seminar here at BGC on effective weed control. Walt Uebele, owner of the Burlington Garden Center, walked through different methods, products, and their time of use on the lawn, perennials beds, and vegetable gardens. Here are some of the highlights:
For crabgrass in the lawn, preventative measures can be taken in the early spring. Products such as Hi-Yield's Crabgrass Control effectively prevent weed seeds from germinating. If you miss spring's pre-emergent window, Walt recommends Fertilome's Weed-out with Crabgrass Killer in mid-May. This will control crabgrass as well as a long list of broadleaf weeds including dandelions, thistles, chickweed, and ground ivy. Liquid products applied with a hose-end sprayer (RTS - Ready-to-Spray) are easy to use, require no mixing, and result in good coverage. They also eliminate the need to time the applications with dew or rain.
For dandelions, Walt recommends Hi-Yield 2,4-D. This concentrate should be mixed with Spreader Sticker which is a surfactant that improves absorption into the leaf of the weed. Dandelions are a sign of compact soil, so core-aerating in the fall will help improve soil structure.
Other lawn tips: Proper fertilization can help reduce the number of weeds in a lawn. Use Milorganite as a lawn fertilizer in the spring (May) and again in the fall for a slow, even green-up, with no burning. For those who want to use an organic fertilizer on the lawn, corn gluten is the best option.
To eliminate grass in asparagus beds, use Fertilome's Over the Top Grass Killer. It is absorbed by the grass foliage and travels through the entire plant working systemically. Over-the-Top will kill grass in perennial beds as well - see label for complete list.
Walt has a warning when using products like Round-up and Hi-Yield's KillzAll - avoid purchasing the Extended Control versions by mistake. Extended-control products will kill everything and prevent any growth for up to 3 months. The dual-action formulas (pre-emergent and post-emergent) are designed to be used on driveways and sidewalks.
Creeping Charlie can be a real nuisance in the lawn as well as in landscaped areas. Fertilome's Weed-free Zone works in well in the cool temperatures of spring and fall on creeping Charlie as well as 80 other problem weeds. If creeping Charlie has crept into your perennial beds, Weed-free Zone can be used taking care to avoid contact with the leaves of perennial plants.
For those of you who use Preen, Walt suggests switching to products containing Dimension. This newer technology will suppress the germination of annual grasses and broadleaf weeds, can be used earlier in the spring (April), and has a longer window of control extending well into the growing season. Dimension can be used in perennial beds, ornamental landscape areas, and established lawns.
Natural weed control in perennial beds and the vegetable garden can be achieved with a thick layer of mulch. Speaking of natural, a new line of natural products here at BGC is Natria by Bayer Advanced. In addition to natural insect and disease control products, there is a Grass & Weed Killer that uses naturally-derived, non-synthetic active ingredients to kill listed grasses and weeds.
We hope this gives you a good overview of how to effectively manage weeds in your yard this year. Feel free to ask Walt or our knowledgeable staff questions you have may have about your specific situation.
- Tracy Hankwitz
BGC Store Manager
Horticulturist & Landscape Designer
photo source: gertens.com
"A garden is only as good as its soil."
A wise gardener once said this. While soil is not the most exciting part of gardening, it could be the most important.
There are many things to consider about soil and it's rare to find the perfect soil without adding amendments of some kind. Here in SE Wisconsin, much of our soil structure is heavy clay - water tends to sit longer and plants struggle without air in the soil. Along the lake it tends to be more sandy which offers better drainage, but nutrients tend to seep away along with the water. The ideal soil is loamy rich in organic matter and beneficial microbes. If you have heavy clay or sandy soil, adding compost every fall or spring is the best thing you can do.
In addition to good soil structure, soil pH is a key factor. If your plants aren't flourishing, it could be the wrong soil pH. Proper pH promotes plant growth by making it easier for roots to absorb essential nutrients. 7.0 is neutral; above that is considered alkaline (our native soil's tendancy); below that is acidic. Most garden plants grow best in slightly acidic soils (6.5). Adding peat moss will lower the pH as will other organic amendments as they decompose. Blueberries, for example, need a soil pH of 4.5-5.5, so planting in peat followed with an annual boost of aluminum sulfate will help. A simple soil pH test can be helpful in knowing what you need to add to sweeten or sour the soil.
Speaking of soil tests, it's a good idea to test your soil in the spring to see what is lacking. Whether you are growing vegetables, shrubs, perennials, or turf, it's worth it! There are simple DIY tests available here at BGC that will give you a general idea. If you want more specific results, take a soil sample and send it in to UW Madison Department of Soil Science. We have the test kits here as well.
If you only take two things away from this article, here is one of them: Feed the soil, not the plants! Just as we don't live on water alone, plants need food as well. The best thing you can do for your plants is to feed the soil. By building up the soil with minerals, nutrients, and microorganisms, you are also feeding the plants. We hear alot about NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) but minerals are just as important. Minerals make up 90% of garden soil and hold onto plant nutrients.
The second is the soil is alive! It's alive with microorganisms (bacteria and fungi) that capture moisture and nutrients making them available to the plant roots. Our favorite things to feed the soil are worm castings because they add NPK, calcium, minerals, and beneficial bacteria. TIP: Add directly to the planting hole or row rather than to the entire garden bed. Composts, especially cotton burr compost, is another favorite amendment. Not only do they add organic matter and microorganisms, they lighten the soil. This means clay soils won't be so heavy and sandy soils will have better nutrient capacity. A personal favorite of mine is Nature's Blend with alfalfa and humates. I add it to every planting hole for trees, shrubs and perennials. It also makes a good top dressing for lawns.
The benefits of compost tea have long been touted, but not everyone wants to mess with putting compost in a cheesecloth bag and letting it steep overnight in a 5-gallon bucket of water. Life just got easier with prebagged compost tea bags from Purple Cow. Drop one in your watering can and after steeping, water the soil around the plants or use it as a foliar feed.
One last recommendation for improving soil is to sow a cover crop in the fall to till under in the spring. Winter rye and buckwheat are two that work well in our area. The tilled-under foliage becomes an instant source of nitrogen which the microbes will quickly breakdown making it available to the plants.
As you make your garden plans for spring, include plans to improve your soil. Your plants will thank you!
BGC Store Manager & Horticulturist
photo source: redbeacon.com
This past summer I had the opportunity to visit the cut-flower garden of Cheri Carlson. Located on a suburban lot in Kansasville, WI, I was impressed with the number of flowers she is able to grow in a relatively small space. A large swath of perennial and annual flowers greet visitors at the entrance to the property and extend to the back.
She grows most of her annuals in raised beds. This photo was taken at installation a few years ago.
She extends the cutflower-season with bulbs that bloom in the spring.
By August, the raised beds look like this (above) . Notice how even the sprinkler adds it's own artful touch to the garden.
I was smitten with the Lisianthus.
Cheri mulches with straw to help with moisture and weeds. Marigolds detour pests while the red bee balm attracts pollinators. She plants sunflowers to keep the birds busy and away from the nearby raspberry patch.
Most of Cheri's flowers end up in beautiful bouquets.
These lisianthus, phlox, zinnias, snapdragons, hosta, and verbena ended up in bouquets for my neice's September wedding. Just breathtaking! I'm inspired to grow my our cut flowers this year. Thanks, Cheri!
- Tracy Hankwitz
Horticulturist & BGC Store Manager
* some photos compliments of Cheri Carlson