Vegetable Gardening

General Care

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How often should I water my vegetable garden?

Water 2 to 3 times a week, or less if you receive regular rainfall. Plants need the most water right after transplanting and when edible plant parts are forming. Deeper, less-frequent watering encourages deeper roots, which will help plants weather dry spells and heat. After watering, check how deeply the water penetrates the soil; it should be wet to a depth of about 5 to 6 inches after watering.  

 

Water at the base of each plant, using drip irrigation when possible. This puts water just at the roots where it’s needed, reduces fungal infections, and discourages weed growth. If you must water overhead, water in the morning to allow foliage to dry out during the day. Using straw or leaf mulch will prevent evaporation and help keep roots cool.

What kind of fertilizer should I give my vegetable plants?

Espoma Garden-Tone is a good all-around organic plant food for vegetables and herbs. It breaks down slowly so it provides consistent nutrition over time, and adds beneficial microbes to the soil. Adding organic matter to soil improves the quality of the soil, which in turn nourishes the plant without creating chemical runoff.

 

For new vegetable plants, apply 3.5 pounds of Espoma Garden-Tone per 50 square feet and work into the top 4 to 5 inches of soil before planting; apply again 7 to 10 days after planting seedlings or transplants. Avoid contact with stems and foliage. Apply to established plants monthly. For single plants, apply up to 1/3 cup per plant, depending on size and maturity. For rows, apply 1-1/3 cups along each side of a 5-foot row, or 10 pounds along each side of a 100-foot row, and thoroughly work into soil.

Espoma Tomato-Tone organic fertilizer adds nutrients and beneficial microbes to the soil to improve soil quality and provide nutrition for tomatoes and other vegetables. The balance of nutrients helps encourage more flowers to maximize fruit production, and the calcium helps prevent blossom-end rot.

 

When planting tomato beds, work 3 pounds of Espoma Tomato-Tone for every 50 square feet into the top 4 to 6 inches of soil. To reapply, apply 1 cup per 5 feet of row twice a month throughout the growing season. Water thoroughly after application. Keep fertilizer at least 3 inches from stems and avoid contact with leaves. For individual plants, work 3 tablespoons of Tomato-Tone into the soil when planting, then water in. Repeat monthly throughout the growing season.

When should I till my soil?

If you do need to break up hard or compacted soil, it’s best to do so in fall after last year’s vegetable plants have been removed, or once the soil has dried out in spring. Spread a layer of organic matter such as compost, manure, or chopped leaves over the garden bed, then till soil lightly to distribute, or dig in gently with hand tools, and let microbes go to work. Avoid tilling wet soil, which can cause further compaction.

When is it safe to plant my vegetable garden in spring?

Cool-season vegetables need to be planted early enough that their growing cycle can be completed before the weather warms up too much, or they may not produce maximum yields. Plants like cabbages, radishes, carrots, and onions can be planted anytime after the soil can be worked in the spring. Since our readers live in a variety of zones, make sure to consult with your local extension service for your recommended planting dates.

 

Warm-season vegetables can be planted outside after the last frost date and once the soil is dry enough to be worked. Planting in wet soil will cause compaction. Planting warm-season vegetables like tomatoes, melons, squash, and peppers too early is unnecessary because they won’t grow well until the soil temperature reaches about 60 degrees F. Generally, if night air temperatures are 55 degrees F, the soil should be warm enough to plant.

How do I cover my vegetable plants during a cool night?

Although it’s best to wait until after the historical last frost date before planting warm-season vegetables, an unseasonably low temperature of even 33 degrees F can damage many warm-season plants. Most cool-season vegetables can withstand freezing temperatures and (in general) may not require covering unless the night is 25 degrees or below. 

 

Frost blankets, cloth row covers, plastic sheeting, or tarps all trap warmer air and make good coverings for vegetable plants; these are effective on nights when the temperature drops as low as 28 degrees F. If using plastic covers, employ tomato cages, stakes, or other structures to prevent the plastic from coming in direct contact with plants, as this can cause leaves to freeze. Weight the edges of covers with stones or anchor with stakes, and check to make sure there are no openings that allow heat to escape. Remember to remove coverings during the day to keep them from overheating.

Raised Bed Gardening

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What are some of the benefits to making a raised bed garden?

Raised beds are great for the following reasons:

  • Access: Gardeners don’t have to bend over as much to access plants & vegetables
  • Weeds: Weeds are generally reduced due to height of the bed and soil tends to be cleaner
  • Soil: Since you’ll be filling the raised bed, the soil is not compacted (as the ground would be) and you can control the soil mix you use
  • Aesthetics: Raised beds can be a beautiful addition to a property!
What is a good soil mix to use in a raised bed garden?

A quality mix to use in a raised bed is ⅓ top soil, ⅓ peat moss and ⅓ compost. The top soil is your base but doesn’t add much porosity (air space) or nutrition to the soil. Peat moss adds oxygen and loosens the soil to make it fluffy. This fluffy texture and porosity allows plant roots to grow through the soil well. Compost adds the nutrition plants need to grow well.

Soil Amendments

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What should I add to my soil to improve it?

Two major amendments you can use are peat moss and compost.

Peat moss helps to loosen the soil. While it doesn’t add much nutrition, it adds air space and oxygen into the soil. This helps plant roots develop by giving them room to grow and gives them the oxygen they need to carry out metabolic processes for development.

 

Compost adds nutrition into the soil and can also loosen the soil like peat moss. Good compost is a dark brown/black in color and will add all the essential elements into the soil that plants need for growth and development.

Is there any benefit to adding lobster compost into my soil?

Yes, lobster compost has many of the same benefits as adding ordinary compost- plus added calcium. This calcium is great for growing crops such as tomatoes and squash because it helps to battle calcium deficiencies that lead to stress and diseases such as blossom end rot.

Is it safe to use manure in my vegetable garden?
In general, the answer is yes. However, you want to try to used “aged” manure that has been composted or let sit for a while. Most bagged manure products available in garden centers and home stores are fine. Mix this manure in thoroughly with your garden soil and do not pile densely next to plants, especially young/tender plants.
Is it safe to use fresh chicken manure?
There is mixed information available about this. Some say yes but not on young plants. Some say no, let it age first. If given the option, let the manure age and compost for a while before using. If you have to use it fresh, mix it in completely with your soil to minimize your risk of burning plants.

Weed control

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What’s the best way to prevent weeds from growing in my vegetable garden?

Newspaper is a great solution to getting rid of those pesky garden weeds. All you need to do is lay down a few sheets of newspaper wherever you have a weed problem – the newspaper will suffocate them and also prevent new weeds from forming. Plus, it adds organic matter to the soil.

Preen Weed Preventer is another great solution because it prevents garden weeds before they even start. It can be safely used on more than 200 different types of plants and can be applied at any time throughout the year.

Landscape fabric is another alternative. It can be a bit tricky to use because weeds can still occasionally sprout through its perforation, but its major benefit is that it is long lasting. It still prevents a majority of weeds, yet still allows moisture and air into the soil. You can go for about five years before you will need to replace it.

Seed Starting

Asparagus

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What are the proper conditions for growing asparagus?
Because asparagus is a perennial that will produce for a decade or more, it’s a good idea to select plants that are recommended for your region. Asparagus grows well in areas with cool winters, and is easily grown in the Mid-Atlantic region. It prefers sandy, fertile soil, in a location that gets full or partial sun. If your soil doesn’t drain well, consider planting in a raised bed, as drainage is important for asparagus. In addition, it’s a good idea to measure the soil’s pH to make sure it’s 6.5 to 7.0.

When planting, dig trenches about 6 inches deep and 12 inches wide in the prepared bed, and transplant asparagus crowns about 18 inches apart, then cover with 2 to 3 inches of soil. Crowns should be raised slightly above the roots, then covered completely with soil. Mulch around plants with organic materials like leaves or straw.

When should I harvest asparagus?
Asparagus needs at least two full growing seasons for adequate root development before spears should be harvested. Harvesting sooner will dwarf the plants and can affect the yields for the lifetime of the plants. Asparagus beds are best harvested using the 2-4-6 sequence: Harvest spears for 2 weeks in the third year, 4 weeks in the fourth year, and 6 weeks in the fifth year and thereafter.

New shoots emerge in spring after soil temperatures reach 50 degrees F. When harvesting, snap off the spears with tight heads, about 7 to 10 inches long, leaving the tougher portion of the stem in the ground. Pick all the spears that emerge during the harvest period.

What is the proper pH for growing asparagus?

The proper pH is 6.5 to 8.0 for asparagus.

Broccoli

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What are the proper conditions for growing broccoli?

Heading broccoli, the type most commonly grown by home gardeners, is planted in Zones 5-7 as a hardy annual for harvest spring through fall. Broccoli prefers moist, fertile soil and does well in cooler temperatures.

Transplant broccoli in late March or early April for spring and summer harvests, and in August or early September for a fall harvest. It has a relatively shallow root system, so regular water and careful weeding are necessary. Prepare the bed by adding compost and an organic fertilizer like Espoma Garden-Tone before transplanting, and work in to the top 4 to 5 inches of soil.

When should I harvest broccoli?

Broccoli heads are flower buds that must be harvested before the flowers open. Most cultivars mature 55 to 65 days after transplanting, so watch closely as heads reach maturity. Heads are best harvested when buds are still small and tight, well before yellow flowers begin to show. 

 

Remove the large central bud clusters first, then the smaller side clusters as they mature in the weeks following the initial harvest. Add organic fertilizer after harvesting the central heads to help side clusters mature into smaller heads for later harvests.

Why are my broccoli plants bolting?

Bolting (stalk formation where the plant goes to flower/seed) occurs when the plant is exposed to cold temperatures early in the spring, usually in the 40 degree range. Small flower heads are formed, and when the weather turns warm, stalks develop and the plant puts its energy into bolting. 

 

While broccoli plants enjoy cool weather in spring, make sure to buy from a reputable source and cover them when temperatures dip too low.

Brussels Sprouts

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Two major amendments you can use are peat moss and compost.

Peat moss helps to loosen the soil. While it doesn’t add much nutrition, it adds air space and oxygen into the soil. This helps plant roots develop by giving them room to grow and gives them the oxygen they need to carry out metabolic processes for development.

 

Compost adds nutrition into the soil and can also loosen the soil like peat moss. Good compost is a dark brown/black in color and will add all the essential elements into the soil that plants need for growth and development.

Cabbage

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What are the proper conditions for growing cabbage?

Cabbage grows best in full sun and in well-drained soil that is high in organic matter. In the Mid-Atlantic region, cabbage can be grown from March through December. These plants prefer cooler temperatures, are cold hardy, and can handle lows down to 15 to 20 degrees F. Cabbage has a shallow root system, so it requires regular watering and careful weeding.

 

Spacing plants closer together will yield smaller heads; larger varieties are spaced farther apart. Planting small-headed varieties in succession will enable harvesting throughout the growing season. Rotate cabbage and other brassicas like broccoli and kale to prevent the accumulation of soil-borne diseases or insect pests from year to year.

What are the roundish/irregularly shaped holes in my cabbage leaves?

A few things could cause round, irregular holes but often they’re caused by cabbage loopers. These are caterpillar larvae who chew small holes in the leaves of plants in the cabbage family. 

They can be prevented by practicing good garden hygiene (such as removing any garden debris at the end of the season), but besides that, they’re tough to treat because they’re tough to kill. As light green, easily camouflaged creatures, they’re best treated with Bonide Bt. This formula contains bacillus thuringiensis, a natural bacteria. Spray Bonide Bt. on the leaves of the growing plant, and this organic solution will take care of the rest.

Eggplant

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Two major amendments you can use are peat moss and compost.

Peat moss helps to loosen the soil. While it doesn’t add much nutrition, it adds air space and oxygen into the soil. This helps plant roots develop by giving them room to grow and gives them the oxygen they need to carry out metabolic processes for development.

 

Compost adds nutrition into the soil and can also loosen the soil like peat moss. Good compost is a dark brown/black in color and will add all the essential elements into the soil that plants need for growth and development.

Green Beans

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Why are rusty orange spots appearing on my bean leaves?

If you have orange spots appearing on your bean leaves–or even spots that are reddish brown or rust-colored–it’s probably bean rust fungus. Spread by spores, these spots later develop their own spores that can spread to other leaves. 

A bean rust fungus infestation is perpetuated by high levels of humidity in the garden. Watering in the morning and providing proper spacing between your plants can help reduce this moisture. You can also use Fungonil, a multipurpose fungicide that is safe to use on a variety of edible plants

Lettuce

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Why are my lettuce stalks bolting?

Many people assume that lettuce only bolts when it gets too hot outside, since lettuce is a cool weather crop. This is a common culprit behind bolting, but it can also be influenced by longer daylight hours. 

 

As a result, there are two actions you can take. One is to plant early so that your lettuce will mature during cooler weather. The other is to select a variety of lettuce that is resistant to heat. Once your lettuce has already bolted, there’s not much you can do–the main central stem will elongate and the leaves will become bitter. Just plan ahead to avoid the problem next year.

Peas

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Why are my pea leaves turning powdery white?

The most common cause of a powdery white film on your pea leaves is powdery mildew. This fungal disease is spread by spores, and while it usually won’t kill your plant, it’s not exactly pleasant to look at. Powdery mildew causes the top sides of your leaves to turn a dull grayish-white color. 

 

Powdery mildew spores germinate on dry leaves when the humidity is high. It’s common in late summer and fall and can be prevented by proper garden spacing and practicing good watering techniques, like watering in the morning. You can also use an all-purpose fungicide like Fungonil–it’s safe to use on pea plants and won’t harm the growth of your plant.

 

Peppers

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Why are my pepper blossoms falling off the plant?

Usually a problem with pepper blossoms falling off a plant is temperature-related. This will usually happen before you see any baby peppers forming. To prevent blossoms from falling off, try to avoid planting too early–peppers need temperatures between 58 and 85 degrees to bloom properly. 

 

Also, buying your pepper seedlings from garden centers that harden off their plants is a better choice than purchasing peppers that were grown in a greenhouse. They will be better-suited to the natural climate. When it gets hot, make sure you are irrigating consistently.

Spinach

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Squash

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Why are my squash vines suddenly wilting?

Squash borers could be to blame for wilting plants. Borers attack all types of squashes indiscriminately, boring into the base of stems right at ground level. Once infestations begin, it’s tough to stop.

 

A good technique is to slit the stem right at the base and physically destroy the borer. You can crush it manually or spray it with Sevin, a ready-to-use bug killer that kills over 100 different insect pests.

 

If your infestation is out of control, you might not be able to recover this crop. Next season, though, you should start spraying with Sevin before symptoms appear. Spray it right at the base of the stem where borers are known to attack.

Tomatoes

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How do you control and kill tomato hornworms?

Tomato hornworms can be very detrimental and destructive to tomato plants in the garden. If populations are small, they can be picked off (with gloves) and disposed of.

If populations are larger, consider using Bonide’s Thuricide, which is a great organic way to control caterpillars. It is a natural bacteria that lives in the leaves of the plant, but poisons the caterpillars when they chew on the leaves.

For a more general approach to kill caterpillars and other insects, try Bonide’s Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew. This kills insects on contact and provides great protection against garden insect pests.

How can I prevent tomato blossom end rot?

Blossom end rot is a plant disorder characterized by a lack of available calcium. It can also be related to the environment, and various factors can come into play: inconsistent watering, extremely hot or cold temperatures, or poor transpiration by the plant. 

 

To combat it, add some calcium to the soil. You can add lime or even Tomato Tone, a product that adds calcium to the soil to prevent blossom end rot. 

 

You can also add a balanced organic fertilizer, like compost, to the soil, since it will likely contain appropriate levels of calcium. Make sure to avoid nitrogen based fertilizers as these encourage too much green/leafy growth.

What kind of fertilizer is best for tomatoes?

Tomatoes need steady, slow-release feeding to ensure even growth and plenty of blooms. Espoma Organic Tomato-tone provides phosphorus and potash–essential nutrients for root growth as well as blossom and fruit development. It also provides calcium to prevent blossom-end rot.

Work into the soil when planting tomatoes, then twice a month throughout the growing season. Keep fertilizer at least 3 inches from stems and avoid contact with leaves.

Zucchini

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What is the white powdery substance on my zucchini leaves?

Unfortunately, the white powder that you are seeing on your zucchini leaves is probably powdery mildew fungus. The spores of this fungus thrive in environments where there is high humidity but poor air circulation. 

 

A severe infestation can be the kiss of death for your plants, but in most cases, powdery mildew will just be unpleasant to look at. It can, however, stunt the growth of your plants. 

 

Consider using Fungonil on your affected plants. This fungicide will help stop the spread of powdery mildew. Next season, start using Fungonil before you start seeing symptoms, as a preventative method.

Herb Gardening

General Care

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What's the best location for an herb garden?

Herbs are versatile additions to the garden, and will do well in almost any well-drained, sunny location. It’s convenient to group them in a dedicated herb garden or add them to a vegetable bed, especially if your garden is close to the kitchen, but they’re equally at home planted near perennial or annual flowers. 

 

Many herbs make attractive ground covers or walkway edgers, and planting them near a faucet or walkway provides opportunities for releasing their fragrance when brushed. Container planting is useful for herbs you plan to move indoors in winter.

What type of soil is best for an herb garden?

Herbs do best in loose, well-drained soil that contains organic matter like compost or well-rotted manure. Consider adding raised beds if your yard doesn’t have good drainage or if it has compacted soil. Fertilize herbs with an organic plant food as you would a vegetable garden; this encourages optimal growth and development of the oils that give herbs their fragrance and flavor. Work a tablespoon of Espoma Garden-Tone into the soil around each herb plant when planting, or after a large harvest.

Are herbs perennials? Will they come back?

Some herbs are annuals, some biennials, and some perennials, depending on your hardiness zone. In Zone 6, perennial herbs like chives, lavender, oregano, and thyme will overwinter in the ground, especially with a 2- to 3-inch layer of shredded bark mulch to protect the roots from repeated freezing and thawing.

 

Other perennials, like rosemary and parsley, should be treated as annuals in areas colder than Zone 7. Although a few rosemary cultivars have been bred to survive lower temperatures, rosemary does not tolerate wet soil so take drainage into account when choosing a planting location.

Indoor Herb Gardening

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What herbs are best to grow indoors?

Herbs are great to have indoors because of their fragrant foliage, ornamental value, and convenience for cooking. Although not all herbs are successfully grown indoors, some adapt well, including chives, thyme, basil, parsley, rosemary, sage, cilantro, oregano, and mint. 

Many herbs require large containers for their substantial root systems and to ensure drainage, so use the largest containers you have room for. Unglazed clay pots are best for ensuring evaporation and preventing soggy soil. Keep plants trimmed and remove blooms to improve longevity.

What's the best location to grow indoor herbs?

Most herbs grow best in full sun, so provide a sunny area (ideally a southern exposure) where they’ll receive at least 6 hours of direct sun a day. Without enough sunlight, herbs become thin and leggy, with smaller leaves and reduced fragrance.

 

If your house lacks sunny windows, you can place plants 6 to 12 inches from two 40-watt, cool-white fluorescent bulbs for 12 hours a day. For uniform growth, you may need to rotate herb pots.

 

Group containers together and place pots on saucers of pebbles to increase humidity, but space far enough apart to allow air circulation. Most herbs prefer daytime temperatures between 65 to 70 degrees, and even cooler temperatures at night, so moderately cool household temperatures are fine, but avoid placing containers near heater vents or radiators.

Is it possible to grow herbs during the winter?

Some hardy herbs can be grown in Zone 6 and warmer. Sage, thyme, oregano, chives, chamomile, winter savory, mint, lavender, and tarragon will be safe in a garden bed, but would benefit from a 2- to 3-inch layer of shredded bark mulch to protect the roots. Herbs grown in containers need mulch as well as ample drainage, especially during freezing temperatures.

Container Herb Gardening

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Is it possible to grow herbs in containers?

Many herb plants can be grown in containers, and are quite attractive planted together or in combination with flowering plants. Container planting is a good choice for herbs that might not survive the winter outdoors, or for limiting the growth of plants like mint that can spread aggressively planted in the ground. 

 

Use large containers with drainage holes or unglazed ceramic pots because herbs need good drainage and ample room for their root systems. Basil, sage, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and chives are all good choices for container planting.

How often should I water my container herbs?

Plants in containers dry out faster than those planted in the ground, so water frequently, even daily in regions that don’t receive regular rainfall. Water herbs thoroughly and allow excess to drain from the drainage holes. Allow the top of the soil to dry before watering again, but don’t let containers dry out completely. Always provide adequate drainage so the plant’s roots don’t sit in water.

What type of soil should I use for my container herbs?

Herb plants prefer a soil that is loose and fluffy, which is good for root development. You can use Espoma Potting Mix, an organic blend of sphagnum peat moss, humus, and perlite enhanced with beneficial microbes to help increase water and nutrient absorption. Slow-acting soil conditioners like earthworm castings, alfalfa meal, kelp meal, and feather meal improve soil structure, which provides long-lasting nutrition for plants.

Other Herb Uses

Basil

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What are some of the best uses for basil?

Basil’s fragrant leaves are the base for pesto, a flavorful sauce for pasta, sandwiches, grilled meats, and vegetables. Pesto is surprisingly easy to make and freezes well. Fresh basil leaves add flavor to appetizers, salads, pasta sauce, and pizza, and can be used to infuse oils and vinegars for flavorful salad dressings. 

 

Caprese salad combines basil with vine-ripened tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese for a classic summertime meal. Edible basil flowers are an attractive garnish or addition to salads.

 

Basil leaves become bitter if seed heads form so, for best flavor, pinch back stems regularly. If you trim plants but don’t need to use the basil immediately, place cut stems in a glass of water on the kitchen counter until needed, changing water often.

How do I control powdery mildew on my basil plants?

Powdery mildew is a fungal infection that can affect plants in moist conditions, especially high humidity. Recognizable as a white powdery coating on leaves, it spreads by spores from infected plants to healthy ones, and can stunt the growth of leaves and buds. Remove and destroy affected foliage, sterilizing tools with rubbing alcohol. 

 

Powdery mildew can be controlled with a fungicide like copper, but if you do not want to use chemicals, prevention is crucial. To reduce moist conditions, plant basil plants in full sun, far enough apart to ensure adequate air circulation. Water plants at the base to keep leaves dry, and avoid overwatering.

How do I propagate basil?

Basil can easily be grown from cuttings, either by rooting in water or planting directly into pots filled with planting medium. 

 

Begin by using a clean knife or scissors to take several 4- to 5-inch cuttings from a healthy basil plant, cutting stems right below a leaf. Remove the leaves from the bottom 2 inches of each cutting. 

 

  • To root in water, put 3 or 4 cuttings into a glass of water so the stems are submerged.  Place in a partially sunny location. Change the water every few days to prevent rot. Roots will appear within about a week where the leaves were attached to the stems. Let cuttings grow until roots are about 2 inches long, then transplant into a container filled with planting medium.

To start cuttings in a container, dip the cut ends into rooting hormone powder, shake off excess, and place in a container filled with Espoma Seed Starter Mix. First, poke a hole in the planting mix, insert the cutting, and pat the soil around the cutting to fill in the hole. Start 3 or 4 cuttings in each container. Water gently, using just enough liquid to moisten the soil around the cuttings. Place in a partially sunny location out of direct sunlight. Water daily, keeping soil moist but not soggy.

Chives

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When should I harvest my chives?

When growing chives from seed, you can harvest any time after seedlings reach 6 inches, usually about 2 months after planting. Cut the grass-like leaves to about 2 inches above soil level. Harvest chives 3 or 4 times a year for the first 2 years, and monthly after that.

 

Chives bloom in late spring. Removing flower stalks at ground level keeps chives from going to seed. The lavender-pink blooms are edible, and can be used as a garnish or to enliven a salad. Place cut chives in a glass of water on a cool counter or in the fridge until you use them.

What's the best location in the garden to plant chives?

Plant chives, like most herbs, in areas that receive full sun to light shade. They’ll grow best in fertile, well-drained soil. Add compost, composted manure, or other organic matter when planting. Chives will reseed readily, so consider a large container or an area that can accommodate them if they spread.

Cilantro/Coriander

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What's the difference between cilantro and coriander?

Cilantro and coriander come from the same plant, one of the first spice plants to arrive in America. What we call cilantro is the parsley-like leaf commonly used to flavor Asian, Middle Eastern, and Mexican cuisines. Coriander is the name for the seeds of the same plant. This spice is used for sausage making, pickling and baking, and is a staple of Middle Eastern, Indian, and other world cuisines.

When should I harvest cilantro?

Cilantro can be harvested within 3 to 4 weeks of sowing seeds. Because pinching back young cilantro plants encourages fuller growth, it’s a good idea to harvest often. This redirects the plant’s growth into producing more foliage. Cilantro has a relatively short life cycle and readily bolts, or develops seeds, in hot weather. 

 

Once seeds develop, the quality of the foliage will decline. To postpone bolting, pinch off the plant’s main stem as soon as buds begin to develop. If seeds do mature, they will self-seed, or you can collect them for planting in cooler weather.

 

After harvesting cilantro, remove lower leaves and place cut stems in a glass of water. Covered with a plastic bag, cilantro will last in the refrigerator for several weeks (change water if it begins to discolor).

Dill

Garlic

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When do I plant garlic?

In the Mid-Atlantic region, the best time to plant garlic is between October 1 and November 15 so root growth can begin before the start of cold weather. Fall-planted garlic will be more mature at the time of harvest than spring-planted cloves, and will yield larger bulbs.

What is a clove?

Garlic plants, like other members of the lily family, grow from underground bulbs. The small segments, wrapped in papery husks, are called cloves, and these cloves make up a larger garlic bulb. Each clove can grow into a full bulb of garlic.

How do I plant a garlic clove?

In a sunny location, dig a hole 2 inches deep in loose, well-drained garden soil enriched with organic matter. Press the flat bottom end of the clove into the base of the hole with the pointed end of the clove up. Fill in with soil so the clove is 1 to 2 inches deep. Plant cloves about 4 to 6 inches apart, with rows spaced 18 to 24 inches apart. Mulch with straw, chopped leaves, or grass clippings. 

 

While you can use garlic from the grocery store, seed stock garlic from a garden center or from a reputable online seller is preferable because it has more resistance to disease and produces better garlic heads. Select large cloves, as they produce larger bulbs than small cloves.

When should I harvest my garlic?

In the Mid-Atlantic region, harvest garlic around July 1, when foliage softens and begins to yellow. To avoid damaging bulbs, lift plants gently with a garden fork, rather than pulling tops. Bulbs should be full-sized and well-wrapped in papery husks. 

 

Brush off soil, but do not wash heads. Allow to dry in a well-ventilated location out of direct sun until tops are completely dry, about 2 to 3 weeks. Braid dried tops together or remove by cutting them a few inches above the bulb. Store garlic heads in a cool dry location with plenty of air circulation.

Lavender

Oregano

Parsley

Rosemary

Lawns

pH & Soil Testing

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Why is pH important and what should my lawn pH be?

How do you raise pH in a lawn?

The easiest way to raise pH in your lawn is to add lime. Lime, or limestone, will make your soil less acidic. It is sold either as calcitic limestone (which is calcium carbonate) or dolomitic limestone (which also adds magnesium).

 

These come in pelletized forms that can be applied to your lawn using a spreader, or you can purchase them in granular, pulverized, or hydrated forms. Pelletized types of limestone spread easily but can take some time to break down. Just make sure you follow the label for how much to use.

 

If these products are taking too long to kick in, you can also purchase a supercharged lime product like Bonide Turf Turbo or Mag-i-cal, both of which are supercharged so you can get more coverage out of a smaller bag. 

Why should I consider a soil test?

A soil test will give you a breakdown and analysis, much like a blood test does for humans. It gives you a baseline of pH and elemental levels.It can potentially save you money! Many people fertilize and lime their lawn every year without knowing if they really need to. A soil test will point you in the right direction so you don’t need to guess what the proper treatment should be.

What does a soil test actually test for?

A good soil test will test for pH and basic elements. Many test kits are available OTC at garden centers/hardware stores. Additionally, you can send away for a soil test to university labs which can give you a more complete analysis of pH, nutrient levels, organic matter, other data, and recommendations.

Where can I send away for a soil test?

In the Mid Atlantic region, we recommend the University of Delaware. Their analysis is low cost and includes all the essentials. They’ll send you a baggie that you can fill and send back. The analysis will be sent back to you in the mail or email. Most major state colleges will have these available at fairly low cost.

How do I create a soil sample?

Separate your yard (or garden) into sections and get a sample from each area. In each of these areas, take 5 to 7 core samples and put them together in a small sandwich bag. For each area, you want one “aggregate” baggie that will give you an average pH. Core samples can be taken with a simple garden trowel–try to dig around 2 inches under the surface to get your sample.

When do I take my soil sample?

Anytime the ground is not frozen! An ideal time would be 1 to 2 months before fertilizing or amending with lime or other products. By doing so, you’ll give yourself enough time to send away for the test results (if needed) and allow yourself time to come up with a plan of action.

How do I read my soil test results?

If you’re testing using a kit purchased in a store, it will have instructions within the kit.

 

If you’re sending away for a test, the company should include a sheet that explains how to read the results along with recommendations on how to proceed based on what you’re growing (lawn, garden, trees, etc.).

Buying Seed

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What should I look for on the label?
Seed tags identify the type of grass seed, including the percentage of each by weight, the germination rates, inert materials like sand or soil, the date seed was tested for germination, a sell-by date, and any other seeds, like weeds, that might be included.

When buying, look for seed types recommended for your area and yard conditions, a recent germination test date, a germination rate of over 80 percent (the higher, the better), a low percentage of weed seeds (0.0 percent to 0.3 percent), and no noxious weeds.

Why should I look for a seed blend? (rather than a single species)
Blends contain several varieties of seed, each with slightly different attributes like strength and blade thickness, which contribute to improved appearance and durability. Using a single species makes your lawn more susceptible to drought or disease; having a blend ensures that if one species dies or turns brown, your whole lawn isn’t affected.
Is Kentucky 31 a good seed?
Its price, drought tolerance, durability, and quick recovery make it a good choice for high-traffic lawns or sports fields, but single-species seeds like Kentucky 31 are more susceptible to adverse conditions and disease.

Kentucky 31 uses more water because of its shallow root system, something to be considered in areas without regular rainfall. Lastly, it doesn’t tolerate shade well, and will thin or die out without enough sunlight.

Can you recommend a grass seed for the Mid Atlantic?

Although this depends on specific factors in your area, one mix that would work pretty much anywhere in the Mid Atlantic region is Pennington Northeast Sun & Shade Mix. It’s a blend of seeds selected for their ability to withstand cold winters, cool summers, and high humidity. It can be used in sunny to moderately shady areas.

How much sunlight do I need to grow a lawn?
Most lawn grasses require at least 4 to 6 hours of direct sun a day. Even very shade-tolerant grasses need at least 2 to 4 hours of sun a day. With less than that amount, grass will fade and become less resistant to drought and disease.
Can you recommend a shady grass mix?

Pennington Dense Shade Mix is a blend of extremely shade-tolerant grasses. Specific mixes are custom-blended for specific regions of the country, so you can buy grass seed precisely chosen for our climate zone. It can be used to plant a new lawn, patch bare spots, or overseed an existing lawn.

How long will grass seed keep in a garage/storage shed?
Grass seed from previous years is still viable for use, but fewer seeds will sprout with each year that passes. Every year a bag of grass seed sits, expect roughly 5 percent less germination. If you’re just filling in some bare spots, use the old seed, but use more seed than required.

If you’re preparing a larger area for a new lawn, it’s probably better to purchase a fresh supply than to use seed that’s more than two years old.

Spreading Seed

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New Lawns

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How often should I water my newly seeded lawn?

For most seed-types, watering once or twice per week in the early morning should give your seeds a good start. Your goal should be about 1 inch of water per week in total. Deep waterings are better–water once or twice per week for around 25-30 minutes. Try to avoid frequent, shallow waterings as this does not encourage roots to establish downward into the soil.

Germinating grass seeds can be a delicate matter. If they dry out after germination has started, they will die. However, you also don’t want to over-water and risk washing your seeds away, burying them too deep in the soil, or creating a fungus-friendly environment.

Should I fertilize my newly seeded lawn?

It is a great idea to apply starter fertilizer to your seeding area before or while you sow your grass seeds in order to provide the nutrients they need for a healthy start. After that, you can apply a regular fertilizer to your newly established lawn 4-8 weeks after seeding, or when your grass is about 1 ½ inches tall. 

One great starter fertilizer is Greenview Starter Fertilizer. If you’re looking for an organic option, try Espoma Organic Starter Fertilizer.

When is the best time of year to plant a new lawn?

For a cool-season grass-like fescue or Kentucky bluegrass, the best time to seed is August or September for optimum temperature and moisture levels. If you must wait until spring, plant in March or April, before early-season weeds emerge to compete with grass seedlings. Be aware that a spring planting may not allow you to use crabgrass/weed pre-emergent herbicides.

What’s the benefit of adding organic matter to a lawn?

Adding organic matter to your lawn, also known as topdressing, has multiple benefits. 

 

First, it can add nutrients that your grass needs for optimal growth. Organic matter like compost will contain all the macro- and micro-nutrients your plants need to be healthy. Organic matter also introduces beneficial microorganisms, like healthy bacteria, to help reduce lawn stress and keep thatch under control.

 

Finally, organic matter can help improve soil structure. Compacted soils benefit from the addition of organic matter, which loosens the soil and makes it easier for plants to develop strong roots.

Mowing

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How often should I mow my grass?

In general, grass should be mowed about once a week during the growing season. During times of drought, keeping your grass a little longer can help prevent loss of moisture and keep the lawn looking greener. Mowing too frequently can also lead to soil compaction, which can prevent grass roots from getting water and nutrients it needs.

What height should I cut my grass?

The proper height to mow your grass depends on the type of grass you have.

 

Tall fescue – 3″ – 4″

Kentucky bluegrass – 2 1/2″ – 3 1/2″

Fine fescue – 3″- 4″

Zoysiagrass – 1/2″ – 1″

As a general rule of thumb, cut no more than one-third of the grass blade each time you mow. Cutting too short can cause rapid moisture loss and also leave your grass weak and vulnerable to opportunistic weeds. By cutting higher, grass plants will outcompete weeds and will grow stronger, denser, and more vigorous.

Should I leave my grass clippings on the lawn?
Grass clippings return moisture and nutrients to the soil in your yard. Earthworms and beneficial microorganisms in the soil digest these clippings and return nitrogen to the growing grass. Leaving clippings on the lawn doesn’t create thatch; thatch occurs when the decomposers can’t keep up with the rate of lawn growth.

Shorter clippings fall more readily to the soil level, so use a mulching mower to reduce the size of grass clippings, and mow frequently, trimming no more than ⅓ of grass height. Remove clippings only if your lawn shows large areas of disease, or when lawn is wet and clippings have become matted.

Should I cut my lawn at the end of the year?
Grass should be at its shortest over the winter to keep it from retaining moisture, which can encourage the growth of disease. If you keep your lawn on the long side during the year, this means gradually decreasing lawn height in the fall until the final mowing of the season, usually in October or November.
How long should the last mow of the season be?
Cut lawns about ½ to 1 inch shorter than normal, to around 2 ¾ to 3 inches.

Fertilization

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Weed Control

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How do I kill white clover in my lawn?

Unfortunately, clover is quite belligerent and can rapidly spread throughout your lawn. An excellent herbicide to use is Bonide Chickweed Clover & Oxalis Killer. This product will not harm your turfgrass. Not only will it solve your white clover issue, it kills over 100 other common, tough-to-kill weeds, including dandelions, violets, and chickweed.

How do I kill wild violet in my lawn?

Wild violets are a perennial weed with a long tap root, making them a real pain to pull out by hand. For best results use a broadleaf weed killer, such as Bonide Brush Killer BK32, that targets the wild violets but doesn’t do any harm to your grass. Even though the product is made for brush and vines, it does a great job in controlling wild violet. If you have an extremely invasive population, you may need to reapply in another month if any of the weeds regrow.

 

Wild violets are known for their waxy leaves which can cause some herbicides to not adhere to the plant properly. We recommend adding Bonide Sticker Spreader to your herbicide mix. The Sticker Spreader itself is not an herbicide. But it is an additive that helps the Brush Killer stick to the waxy leaves and give better overall results.

How do I kill creeping charlie in my lawn?

This round-leaved vine grows close to the ground, rooting where it makes contact with soil. Its quick spread can make eradication difficult. Small patches can be removed by hand, but wear gloves to prevent skin irritation.

For larger areas, treat with Bonide Chickweed, Clover & Oxalis Killer, which will kill the creeping charlie without harming the grass. Use with Bonide Spreader Sticker to help distribute the herbicide and stick to the leaves more effectively. Re-treat in 3 to 4 weeks if needed.

Creeping charlie prefers moist, shady spots; prevent future outbreaks by pruning trees to reduce shade, addressing drainage issues, and practicing proper lawn care to improve your lawn’s overall health.

Fruits/Orchards

Fruit Tree Care

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What does "dwarf" mean?

Dwarf trees are grown on rootstock that limits mature tree size. They offer a smaller alternative to standard size trees that more easily fit home landscapes. They have limited root systems and more compact growth, so there’s less work involved in pruning to control growth and harvesting fruit.

The tops are dwarf too–most dwarf trees will reach a maximum height of 8 to 10 feet. Their smaller root systems mean they’re more susceptible to drought, wind damage, and poor nutrition. It’s best to stake dwarf trees for stability, and water and fertilize regularly. Dwarf trees produce fruit in about 3 to 5 years, several years earlier than standard trees, although they produce smaller yields than standard size trees. 

What does "semidwarf" mean?

Semi-dwarf trees are somewhere between dwarf and standard trees. They are grown on rootstock that produces trees about 60 to 90 percent of standard size. These trees have a mature height of around 12 to 15 feet. Their smaller stature reduces the amount of pruning required, and makes fruit harvesting easier.

Semi-dwarf trees produce fruit in 3 to 5 years, several years earlier than standard trees, and produce more fruit than dwarf varieties. Like dwarf trees, semi-dwarf trees’ smaller root systems can make them more susceptible to drought, wind damage, and poor nutrition. Stake semi-dwarfs, and water and fertilize regularly. 

Why are my fruit trees losing leaves in the summer?

Often, summer leaf drop is caused by heat and drought stress; when the weather heats up, trees drop leaves they can’t support with available moisture. Leaves that turn yellow and don’t appear to be diseased probably signal the need for more consistent watering. Prevent water stress by adhering to a regular schedule of watering and fertilizing, and apply a layer of mulch over the root zone, avoiding the area 6 inches around the trunk.

Also inspect fallen leaves for signs of fungus like brown spots or shriveling. Prevention is important: plant resistant varieties, and rake and destroy fallen leaves to reduce infection. Keep trees well spaced and pruned to maintain air circulation, and treat with Bonide Fruit Tree & Plant Guard in spring, beginning before trees bud out.

Why aren't my fruit trees flowering?

Young fruit trees take a few years to begin producing blooms, and some cultivars take longer than others. If your trees are more than 3 years old and you are fertilizing heavily, it’s possible they’re getting too much nitrogen, which stimulates tree growth at the expense of flower production.

Other possibilities: they’re not receiving enough sunlight (fruit trees need full sun), pruning removed all the branches of fruit-bearing age, or they were too heavily pruned at the wrong time and their energy is being spent on growth rather than blooming. You can test your soil to see if the trees are receiving adequate nutrition, and reduce pruning to just the branches that require removal.

How much space do I need to have an orchard?

Fruit trees need an area large enough to permit adequate spacing within and between rows to facilitate care and harvesting. Suitable spacing also allows air circulation, which enables quicker drying of moisture and reduces the chance of disease.

For home orchards where space is an issue, plant dwarf or semi-dwarf varieties, which will only reach 30 percent to 90 percent of the size of mature standard trees. Most standard fruit trees grow to 18-25 feet tall/wide, semi-dwarf grow to 12 to 15 feet, and dwarf trees grow to 8 to 10 feet.

How far away should I plant my fruit trees?

Tree spacing depends on variety and rootstock, but all fruit trees require enough room to allow air to circulate but not so much room that pollination is affected. Apples are largest, and require 30 to 35 feet between trees. Semi-dwarf apples require 15 feet, and dwarf apples, only 10 feet. 

Sweet cherries need to be planted about 30 feet apart. Figs should be 25 feet apart. Peach, pear, apricot, and sour cherries should be planted 20 feet apart, while semi-dwarf pears and plums need 15 feet between trees.

How long do fruit trees typically live?

Most fruit trees live 20 to 30 years. Stone fruit trees are more susceptible to disease in cold, damp climates so can be shorter lived. When planted in a suitable area and properly cared for, some apples, persimmons, figs, pears, and some nut trees can live 100 years or more.

Spraying/Pests

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What's the best spray schedule for fruit trees?
An easy way to take care of overwintering or early emerging insects is to use a dormant horticultural oil spray before leaf buds begin to open.

Once daytime temperatures are safely in the 60-degree range, apply an all-in-one fungicide/insecticide that controls a wide range of fungal diseases and pests. Spray once before blossom buds begin to open and again after the last petals have fallen. Do not spray while blossoms are open to avoid harming bees and other pollinators.

What's the best dormant oil for orchard trees?

Bonide Horticultural Oil is an emulsified oil that is applied with a sprayer. It’s a mixture of refined oils that suffocates insects by blocking their spiracles—the openings in their bodies they use to breathe. The oil also kills developing insect eggs by disrupting their metabolism.

What's the best product to spray my fruit trees?

Bonide Fruit Tree & Plant Guard is an excellent product for quickly knocking down insect populations and fungal infections. It contains an insecticide and 2 fungicides. The combination of fungicides is beneficial in targeting strains of fungus that may prove resistant to one type of fungicide. This product is effective against fungus and insects, and safe to use on fruit and nut trees.

How do I apply Fruit Tree & Plant Guard?

This product can be purchased as a concentrate that you dilute with water and apply with a tank sprayer. It also comes premixed in an applicator bottle with a hose-end sprayer attachment. Spray foliage thoroughly, applying to all affected plant surfaces, including undersides of leaves.

When do I apply Fruit Tree & Plant Guard?

Spray Fruit Tree & Plant Guard five times during the growing season:

  1. Green tip to pink bud stage: between the time branch tips show new green tissue and when flower buds begin to show color
  2. Petal drop: when petals stop falling, after bees are gone
  3. Fruit set: when baby fruits are just becoming visible
  4. 10-14 days after application #3
  5. 10-14 days after application #4

 

It is important to avoid spraying when the tree is flowering so it doesn’t harm bees.

Are chemical sprays safe for bees?

Insecticides are (in general) indiscriminate killers, and not safe for bees or other pollinators. This is the reason it’s critical to avoid spraying when trees are flowering. When flowers are absent, bees won’t be there. Be SURE to not spray insecticides when plants are in flower. Killing bees prevents plants from being pollinated and harms the environment.

Are chemical sprays safe for humans and human consumption?

To minimize safety concerns, select the appropriate product for your use. Look for products labeled for fruit trees, like Bonide Fruit Tree & Plant Guard, and follow the nstructions for use provided by the manufacturer. All chemical sprays furnish guidelines for how long to wait between final spraying and harvest.  

 

Finally, use common sense when applying, storing, and disposing of excess pesticide. Wear protective clothing, mix and apply pesticides outdoors or in well-ventilated areas, avoid spraying in wind, and wash your hands carefully after use. Wash all produce thoroughly before eating, no matter what products you use.

Are there organic fruit tree spray options?

Organic spray schedules can require more work, but if you’re intent on using only organic products, use Bonide Horticultural Oil in spring before leaf buds begin to open. Follow with Bonide Copper Fungicide to prevent and treat leaf curl, powdery mildew, black spot, rust, and other diseases. 

 

Use Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew throughout the season, every 3 weeks or so, to kill insects. This product is organic but is nonselective, meaning it kills all insects, including beneficial pollinators. Avoid spraying (or dusting the powder) when trees are flowering and pollinators are present.

Pruning

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When is the best time to prune fruit trees?

Most pruning should be performed in late winter, when trees are dormant and branches are bare. The absence of leaves makes it easier to see which branches need to be removed, and pruning before new growth appears allows trees to put their stored energy into spring growth. 

Occasional early-summer pruning can help combat vegetative growth that is too vigorous and competes with fruit production, but should be done sparingly because it slows fruit ripening and removes leaves that provide food for the tree and shade fruit from sunlight.

How do I prune my fruit trees?

The goals of pruning are to develop the desired tree shape and maintain size; allow sunlight and sprayed products to reach the center of the tree; allow air circulation to prevent disease; and balance the growth of structural branches and fruit-bearing branches. In addition, removing shoots that fruited the previous season triggers new buds to develop into fruiting shoots for the next year. 

Prune when trees are dormant. Use sharp tools and clean between cuts with rubbing alcohol. Begin by removing broken or diseased branches. Remove weak and downward-leaning branches, and suckers and water sprouts that grow from the roots or trunk. Remove closely growing parallel or crossing branches that interfere with other branches, and thin branches that block light from entering the center of the tree.

Peaches and nectarines bear fruit on new wood so they need vigorous annual pruning. Apples, pears, cherries, persimmons, figs, plums, and most others grow on older wood, so require less pruning. Prune young trees (up to 10 years) lightly and mature trees more vigorously.

What do I do with diseased branches that I've pruned off?

Always discard in the trash or burn diseased branches instead of composting, as composting can spread infections to other plants. Diseased branches should be removed at least 8 inches below the infected area. Sterilize saw blades and pruning shears with rubbing alcohol between cuts to prevent spreading the infection.

Apple

Apricot

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Are apricots hardy in our region?

Most apricots are hardy to Zone 5, and a few varieties are hardy even down to Zone 4. A late frost may damage blooms without affecting the tree.

Can you recommend a few apricot varieties?

For the Mid-Atlantic region, Harcot has great flavor, and its red foliage in spring makes it an attractive addition to yards and gardens. It’s a bit of a slow starter and can take 2 to 4 years to start bearing, but it’s a good self-pollinator.

 

Goldcot is a dependable producer and self-pollinator with great tangy apricot flavor. Tomcot is a good early-season variety that reliably sets fruit; it’s only partially self-pollinating and will produce more fruit if another variety is planted nearby.

Cherry

Nectarine

Peach

Pear

Plum

Annuals

Choosing Your Plants

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What are 3 of the best annuals for sun?

Petunias, marigolds, and salvia are colorful additions to any sunny garden. 

Petunias are ideal for containers, beds, or a mixed border. Loved by hummingbirds, these heat tolerant plants are available in a variety of colors. 

One of the easiest flowers to grow, marigolds have few pests, and their cheerful red, orange, and yellow blooms attract butterflies. Pinch back spent blooms to keep marigolds flowering from spring through frost.

A pollinator favorite, salvia’s blue, red, white, or purple blooms are a striking addition to containers and beds. Tall flower spikes abound all summer. Deadhead after blooming to keep plants thicker and blooms more plentiful.

What are 3 of the best annuals for shade?

Impatiens, clown flower, and New Guinea impatiens add color and light to shade gardens. Plant all three in moist, rich, well-drained soil.

Impatiens are a good choice in beds or containers. With flowers in white, pink, lilac, red, and coral, they bloom spring through fall, and reseed for easy color every year.

Clown flower (Torenia) is covered with pink, purple, white, and yellow blooms. Attracts hummingbirds and brightens shady rock gardens. A lovely container plant.  

New Guinea impatiens have larger, showier blooms and foliage than their common cousins. Plant this butterfly favorite in areas with morning sun and afternoon shade. Avoid overhead watering to prevent fungal infections.

What are a few good early season annuals for my garden?

Pansies, ranunculus, and primroses appear delicate, but they can handle cool temperatures and add a gratifying pop of color.

Pansies—and smaller-flowered violas—are perfect for containers, massed in beds, or combined with tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths. Plant in rich soil. Pansies prefer afternoon shade in hot regions, and can handle a light frost.

Plant ranunculus corms in the fall or add plants to beds, borders, or containers. Full, colorful blooms on tall stems make them an excellent cut flower. Plants can handle light frost; plant in full sun.

Primrose flowers come in nearly every color, ranging from warm yellows and oranges to cool blues and purples. Good container plant, or add to a woodland garden. Keep soil moist, especially if frost is expected; prefers rich soil.

What are a few good late season annuals for my garden?

To add a burst of color when summer annuals begin to fade, look to chrysanthemums, kale and cabbage, and ornamental peppers.

Chrysanthemums are a seasonal favorite for their spectacular blooms, assortment of blossom sizes and shapes, and their rich gold, russet, and coral tones. Plant in full sun, add compost to soil, and water consistently.

Ornamental cabbage and kale, known for their ruffled foliage, come in bright fuchsia, red, green, and white. Easy to grow, they’re beautiful in containers, mass plantings, or borders. 

Plant ornamental peppers in full sun to ensure fullness and plenty of peppers. They like rich, well-drained soil. Water regularly, but don’t allow plants to sit in water. Keep stems pinched back to promote bushy growth.

What is a good general design for creating annual containers?

Keep three words in mind to make plant selection easy: thriller, filler, spiller. The thriller is a large, showy, focal point. Choose something with height, like an ornamental grass or a flowering plant with spiky blooms. Depending on the size of your container, canna lily, purple fountain grass, lavender, aster, and salvia are all good choices. Plant the thriller in the center or at the back of the pot.

The filler is a medium-sized plant with complementary or contrasting foliage or flowers. Coleus, begonia, geranium, heliotrope, and caladium are good fillers.

For the spiller, use plants that will spill over the rim of your container. Ivy, sweet potato vine, lobelia, nasturtium, and bacopa are excellent spillers. Be sure to select plants with similar light and water requirements.

What are some good trailing annuals for my window boxes & containers?

Ivy geranium, nasturtium, calibrachoa, black-eyed Susan vine, lobelia, morning glory, verbena, petunia, and sweet potato vine are beautiful choices for containers and window boxes.

What are some colorful foliage annuals I can use in my garden?

Coleus, perilla, amaranthus, dusty miller, and sweet potato vine are all grown for their striking foliage. Plant in full sun for most vibrant color.

General care

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How often should I water my annuals?

Annuals need consistent watering because they grow rapidly and tend to have shallow root systems. How often you need to water depends on your climate. If you receive regular rainfall, you may need to water your garden only during dry spells. In drier climates, you’ll need to water almost every day, especially during warm weather.

Pay attention to weather, as overcast conditions, high humidity, or a drop in temperature can affect water needs. Cold-season annuals are better protected during freezing temperatures if they’ve been recently watered. Most container plants need to be watered daily.

When is it safe to start planting annuals in the spring?

Planting dates for spring annuals are largely determined by which USDA plant hardiness zone you’re gardening in. Generally, though, you can plant cool-season annuals like pansy and primrose in very early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked. Wait to plant warm-season annuals like impatiens and zinnias until late-spring or early-summer.

How much sun do "sun" annuals really need?

Most annuals require full sun. In general, this means 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight a day to ensure growth, foliage color, and maximum flowering. In warmer areas, some afternoon shade may be welcome for annuals that aren’t heat tolerant.

How long do annuals typically last?

Although annuals only live about a year, they usually have a long bloom season. Marigolds and impatiens, for example, bloom almost nonstop from spring through frost. Proper plant selection, adequate water, and deadheading when necessary will help to keep annuals blooming as long as possible, but generally the plants won’t survive freezing temperatures.

Coleus

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What are the best growing conditions for coleus?

Coleus is native to tropical climates, and is hardy only in zones 10 and 11. In the Mid Atlantic region, it is commonly grown as an annual or a houseplant. It prefers moist, loose, humus-rich soil, and does best in part shade. Plants will tolerate full shade but tend to become leggy.  Pinch young plants back to promote bushiness, and remove flower spikes to encourage foliage growth.

 

Coleus will overwinter indoors, and make an attractive houseplant. Indoors, it prefers indirect sun, and will need less water than outdoors, so allow the surface of the soil to dry between waterings.

Flowering Vinca

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What are the best growing conditions for flowering vinca?

Annual vinca is an easy plant to grow, performs well in hot weather, and tolerates dry or rocky soil. It prefers full sun to very light shade, and loose, well-draining soil. This plant does well in beds, hanging baskets, and containers, but be sure to provide adequate drainage because it’s susceptible to root rot. Annual vinca is drought tolerant once established, and doesn’t require dead-heading.

 

Don’t confuse annual vinca with the purple- or white-flowered perennial groundcover by the same name; care differs for the two plants. Perennial vinca prefers at least part shade, and cooler, moister conditions. It’s hardy down to Zone 4 and can be invasive in some areas.

Impatiens

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What are the best growing conditions for impatiens?

Plant impatiens in part or full shade, in well-draining soil that’s rich in organic matter. Impatiens do well in borders, beds, and containers, but be sure to provide some protection from wind. It’s important to have a regular watering routine, as impatiens will wilt quickly when they dry out. Water regularly, but prevent soil from becoming waterlogged to prevent fungal infections. Monthly feeding with a low-nitrogen plant food will help flower production. 

 

It’s not necessary to dead-head impatiens, but cut them back if plants become leggy to keep them compact and full, and promote fresh blooms. Impatiens will re-seed readily.

Marigold

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What are the best growing conditions for marigolds?

Marigolds are sun-lovers, so plant in full sun. Marigolds prefer rich, well-draining soil, but are tolerant of most soils and will bloom all season long with little attention. Plants do well in borders, mixed beds, or containers. Pinch back young plants to encourage bushy growth, and dead-head spent blooms occasionally to prolong blooming. 

New Guinea Impatiens

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What are the best growing conditions for New Guinea impatiens?

New Guinea impatiens are a bit larger than standard impatiens, and more sun tolerant. Plant in areas that receive 4 to 6 hours of morning sun, in beds, borders, or containers. Plants should be in shade by the heat of the afternoon. Water regularly, but avoid wet soil. Feed monthly with a low-nitrogen fertilizer, which will help encourage bloom formation. Dead-heading isn’t necessary as New Guinea impatiens will drop old blooms, but cut back if plants become leggy.

Petunia

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What are the best growing conditions for petunias?

Plant petunias in full sun to very light shade in well-draining soil. Plants are tolerant of poor soil as long as drainage is good, and are a good choice for beds, borders, or containers. Pinch young plants back to promote more vigorous growth. Dead-heading is necessary to promote continued blooming. Petunias have few problems with insects or disease, but are susceptible to root rot and fungus if planted in poor-draining soil. Cut back plants if they become leggy.

Portulaca

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What are the best growing conditions for portulaca?

Portulaca is a drought-tolerant succulent that performs well in difficult conditions. It tolerates poor soil and heat, and has few insect or disease problems. Plant in full sun in average, well-drained soil. Once plants are established, water lightly, and avoid overwatering. Portulaca does well in containers, hanging baskets, or in rock gardens. It will often self-seed.

Salvia

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What are the best growing conditions for salvia?

A member of the sage family, salvia is best planted in well-drained soil in full sun, although some varieties will perform well in part shade. Many salvias can be grown as perennials in our region, but less hardy varieties are commonly grown as annuals. 

 

Water regularly for continuous blooming, but allow the soil to dry slightly between waterings. Plants are drought tolerant when established. Plant in beds, borders, or containers. Remove spent flowers to prolong bloom season, and cut back when plants become thin and leggy to keep growth compact.

Perennials

General Care

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How often do I need to water my perennial beds?

This depends on a number of factors, including plant maturity, temperature, humidity, and rainfall in your area. Generally, you want to moisten the entire bed, but stop before soil is saturated. Allow the surface of the soil to dry before watering again. Aim for once a week, but watch your plants. If they wilt, water sooner. Less frequent, deep watering encourages root growth and strengthens perennials. Use a drip irrigation system or soaker hose to prevent waste and keep water at the base of plants. Water on flowers and foliage can make them susceptible to disease. 

Do I need to amend the soil before planting perennials?

Perennials can deplete soil over time so it’s smart to prepare the soil before planting. Organic matter, like compost, composted manure, and peat moss provide food for the microbes, earthworms, and beneficial insects that aerate and enrich the soil, which in turn provides nutrition for the plants. To amend the soil, dig the bed, add a layer of 4 to 6 inches of organic matter, and work in to a depth of 12 to 18 inches.

What's the best location to make a perennial flower bed?

It’s good to have a flat site that gets at least 6 hours of direct sun every day. Although there are many shade-loving perennials, most prefer full sun, so choosing a sunny location gives you more options in terms of plant selection. Choose a well-graded location with good drainage, or add raised beds to ensure roots don’t become waterlogged. Finally, consider the vantage point from which you’ll view the bed.

Shade Gardens

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What are some good perennials to plant in my shade garden?

Many shade plants have beautiful foliage, interesting textures, and dramatic blooms. Hostas and lungwort are strong performers in shade, and variegated cultivars and silver-speckled foliage add light to shady areas. Other excellent choices for shade are hydrangea, lily of the valley, Japanese forest grass, bleeding heart, ajuga, corydalis, lamium, astilbe, epimedium, and hellebores. If your shade garden remains wet most of the year, plant leopard plant, celandine poppy, rodgersia, ostrich fern, and toadlily.

Tough Environments

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What perennials do well in compacted soil?

Compacted soil prevents root development and drainage. But some plants are good performers even in these growing conditions. Among these are sedum, sempervivum, coreopsis, salvia, coneflower, Joe Pye weed, bee balm, milkweed, crocus, daffodil, snowdrop, switchgrass. In shade, plant epimedium or Virginia bluebell.

What perennial plants can I grow in wet soil?

A number of perennials thrive in wet soil. Bee balm, queen of the prairie, Louisiana phlox, Joe Pye weed, swamp milkweed, cardinal flower, Siberian iris, and hibiscus perform best in areas that receive at least 6 hours of sun. For areas receiving more shade, plant ostrich fern, black snakeroot, spiderwort, ligularia, sedge, astilbe, or hosta.

What are the best perennials for hot locations?

Some perennials come into their own in hot weather. Coneflower, liatris, daylilies, red-hot poker, yarrow, Russian sage, black-eyed Susans, coreopsis, verbena, gaillardia, penstemon, lavender, and Shasta daisy all thrive in hot locations.

Pruning

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When should I cut back my perennials?

Hostas, daylilies, peonies, and other plants that become mushy after a frost should be cut back in the fall, once foliage begins to turn black and collapse. Most other perennials will winter better if their tops are left intact until spring. Plant tops collect snow, leaves, and mulch, which provide insulation from freezing and shelter for beneficial insects. Additionally, many perennials add winter interest to the garden, and have seed heads necessary for overwintering birds. Wait until new growth begins to emerge in spring to cut these plants back.

How low should I cut my perennials back?

When cutting perennials back in the fall, trim them 1 to 2 inches above soil level to mark their location. This is especially helpful for plants that emerge in late spring because it prevents accidental damage when working surrounding areas. When new leaves begin to appear, cut the previous year’s stalks to ground level without disturbing new growth.

Leaves are diseased and dying but the plant is alive. Should I prune?

Yes, diseased leaves and stems should be removed and destroyed as soon as they’re noticed to prevent the pathogen’s spread. Cut the plant back to healthy growth. Sterilize pruning shears with rubbing alcohol between cuts to prevent spreading the disease to healthy branches or to other plants. Throw infected branches in the trash and do not compost.

Groundcover

Daylily

Iris

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Many shade plants have beautiful foliage, interesting textures, and dramatic blooms. Hostas and lungwort are strong performers in shade, and variegated cultivars and silver-speckled foliage add light to shady areas. Other excellent choices for shade are hydrangea, lily of the valley, Japanese forest grass, bleeding heart, ajuga, corydalis, lamium, astilbe, epimedium, and hellebores. If your shade garden remains wet most of the year, plant leopard plant, celandine poppy, rodgersia, ostrich fern, and toadlily.
When is a good time to plant iris?

The best time is early autumn, when nighttime temperatures are in the 40- to 50-degree range. This provides a chance for them to root and become established before winter so they’ll be ready to emerge when temperatures begin to rise in the spring. New iris plants can be planted in spring but may not bloom the first spring after planting.

How do I get rid of iris borers?

Iris borers are moth larvae that hatch in spring when iris leaves are just beginning to grow. They feed on the growing leaves and rhizomes, and can kill irises. You can spray visible larvae or moths with Sevin, an insecticide that works on contact. However, because borers are often hidden, a systemic insecticide like Bonide Tree and Shrub Drench may be more effective because it kills unseen larvae when they feed on any part of the treated plant. 

 

Be sure to apply insecticides before irises begin to bloom, as these products will kill bees. Prevent borers by removing garden debris in the fall, eliminating places where moths can hide and eggs can overwinter.

Is there a good time to cut back my iris plants?

Cut iris back in fall, or in summer if you’re combining this job with dividing the irises. Trim off all but 4 to 6 inches of the leaves to eliminate shelter for pests and fungus growth. Like other flowering bulbs, corms, and rhizomes, iris leaves should be left in place after blooming until the leaves become yellow and dry. This enables the plants to gather sunlight and store energy to support next spring’s growth.

Do bearded iris take any special treatment?

Bearded irises can become overcrowded, which prevents them from blooming well and can encourage pests and disease. Dividing the rhizomes (the large roots similar to bulbs) every 3 to 5 years will keep them healthy and beautiful. Divide in summer, which gives the plants plenty of time to become established before winter.

 

To divide, use a garden fork or spade to gently dig up the rhizomes. Rinse with water so you can inspect for borers or other damage. Loosen the rhizomes and cut apart with a sharp knife so that each division has its own fan of leaves and several healthy roots. Discard any damaged rhizomes. Trim leaves to about 4 to 6 inches, then replant 12 to 24 inches apart. Water thoroughly. Don’t plant too deep; rhizomes should sit just below the soil surface. 

What's the difference between Siberian iris and Japanese iris?

Siberian irises have stiff, narrow falls (the 3 descending petals) and narrow, upright standards (the 3 more upright petals). They bloom earlier, usually May through July. They are hardier, adapt better to poor soil, and will tolerate periods of dry weather once established. Divide Siberian iris every 5 to 6 years. 

 

Japanese irises, by contrast, have soft, drooping standards and wide, ruffled falls. They bloom a bit later, from June through August. They should be divided every 3 to 4 years.

Hosta

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Many shade plants have beautiful foliage, interesting textures, and dramatic blooms. Hostas and lungwort are strong performers in shade, and variegated cultivars and silver-speckled foliage add light to shady areas. Other excellent choices for shade are hydrangea, lily of the valley, Japanese forest grass, bleeding heart, ajuga, corydalis, lamium, astilbe, epimedium, and hellebores. If your shade garden remains wet most of the year, plant leopard plant, celandine poppy, rodgersia, ostrich fern, and toadlily.
What's the best location to plant hosta?

Hostas prefer evenly moist, humus-rich soil in light to full shade. Some varieties, like variegated hostas, will have better color if planted in morning sun or filtered sunlight. Avoid planting hostas in full sun, which can scorch their tender leaves.

When is it safe to divide hostas?

Fall is a good time to divide hostas because they’ll have time to become established before spring. Dig carefully around the outside of the plant to avoid damaging the roots. Lift the hosta out of the ground and rinse the dirt off the roots. You can then gently work the plant into several small sections, keeping as many roots intact as possible.

How do I control slugs on hosta?

Slugs and snails can quickly destroy hostas, especially in wet weather. Apply PA40 Bonide Bug & Slug Killer in spring as soon as hosta foliage begins to emerge. This will help protect tender early growth. Wet soil and apply the bait around each plant, preferably in the evening to target slugs when they emerge at night to feed.

Peony

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Many shade plants have beautiful foliage, interesting textures, and dramatic blooms. Hostas and lungwort are strong performers in shade, and variegated cultivars and silver-speckled foliage add light to shady areas. Other excellent choices for shade are hydrangea, lily of the valley, Japanese forest grass, bleeding heart, ajuga, corydalis, lamium, astilbe, epimedium, and hellebores. If your shade garden remains wet most of the year, plant leopard plant, celandine poppy, rodgersia, ostrich fern, and toadlily.
When should I prune my peony plants?

Cut back herbaceous peonies in fall after the leaves turn yellow. Removing old foliage can prevent disease and overwintering insects, but don’t rush it. Like other flowering bulbs, their leaves help them store energy for next spring’s growth, so leave foliage intact until fall. Cut stems to ground level, and discard foliage to avoid composting diseased growth.

 

Tree peonies need minimal pruning. Remove any dead wood in early spring, just after buds begin to swell. Cut back just above the first healthy bud. Remove spindly growth in the interior of the plant and any suckers that emerge from the root stock below the graft.

How do I control powdery mildew on peony?

Peonies are susceptible to powdery mildew, a common fungal infection recognizable by its white, powdery growth on leaves, stems, buds, and flowers. The damage is mostly cosmetic, but can cause leaves to curl and yellow, and blooms to drop prematurely. 

As soon as powdery mildew is observed, remove and destroy affected foliage, and treat healthy growth with a fungicide like Fungonil. To prevent infection, plant peonies in well-drained soil in full sun, give them adequate space for plenty of air circulation, and remove and destroy old foliage in fall.

When is the best time to plant peonies?

Plant, divide, or move peonies in the fall, around late September to October. This allows them time to become established before winter temperatures arrive. Peonies can be planted in the spring, but growth will be slower than those planted in the fall.

Phlox

Shasta Daisy

Trees/Shrubs

Planting Trees & Shrubs

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Why is it important to understand the cultural needs of the plant?

A plant’s cultural needs are the growing requirements specific to that particular plant; for example, light requirement, type of soil, drainage, water needs, and cold hardiness. It’s as simple as choosing the right plant for the right location. Knowing each plant’s cultural needs helps ensure that your plants perform well where they’re planted.

Do I need to do any pre-plant prep?

If you’re planting a bare-root tree, gently untangle and soak the roots for several hours before planting. A few hours before planting, water shrubs and trees that were purchased in a container, and score the root ball to encourage new root growth.

How do I "score" the root ball?

If you’re transplanting a tree or shrub from a container, the root ball will need to be scored, or cut, to allow new roots to spread into the surrounding soil. Use a sharp knife to cut an X across the bottom of the root ball and continue the cuts along the sides up to the top of the root ball. This won’t hurt the plant; it will encourage new root growth.

How deep do I need to dig the hole? How wide?

Dig a hole 3 to 4 times wider than the root ball and about as deep as the root ball itself. When the tree is placed into the hole, the top of the root ball should sit slightly (maybe an inch) above ground level surrounding the hole. Burying the roots too deeply reduces oxygen availability. Avoid digging a deep, cylindrical hole. 

 

A wider hole allows the young tree’s roots to spread out horizontally, allowing the development of an extensive root system. Make sure to chop the sides of the hole with your shovel so that when roots do reach the edges of the hole, they can penetrate through the sides.

Do I need to stake my tree?

Trees purchased with a burlap-covered root ball are usually heavy enough that they don’t need to be staked. Bare-root or containerized trees that are tall or thin, or that have a disproportionately small root ball are more vulnerable to wind or accidental damage and may need to be staked. 

 

Use a sturdy wooden post or metal pipe that is no more than two-thirds of the tree’s height; a post that is too tall prevents trunk movement. Rubber tree ties or other elastic materials allow the tree to move and have enough hold on the trunk to prevent scratching. 

 

For most trees, the stake should be removed after a year or when moving the trunk no longer moves the root ball. This allows the tree to move with the breeze, which will strengthen and ensure proper development of the trunk.

Should I add amendments like peat moss or compost into the planting hole?

The soil that is removed from the planting hole is usually fertile enough for most trees; if not, you can replace it with topsoil when you backfill the hole. Peat moss or compost aren’t necessary and can retain too much water, especially in clay or compacted soil.

Keep in mind the roots of trees need to extend into the surrounding soil anyway–even if that soil is poor. Trees are resilient and for the most part, will survive even in poor soil when proper planting instructions are followed. Sometimes compost and peat moss will do the opposite of what you want and actually cause roots to remain close to the tree for too long and cause problems as a result.

Should I add mulch to my newly planted tree/shrub?

It is a good idea to add a 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch on top of the root zone of the tree. Make sure the mulch doesn’t touch the trunk to prevent soil-borne disease or easy access for pests. Avoid “mulch volcanoes” you often see landscapers use.

Mulch will maintain an even soil temperature, keeping roots cooler in summer and warmer during winter freezes. In addition, mulch prevents evaporation, controls weeds, ands adds food for beneficial microorganisms.

How often do I need to water my newly planted tree/shrub?

New trees and shrubs need to be watered frequently until their root system is established. Even if the soil surrounding the root ball is moist, the root ball itself can dry out in just a day or two. For the first 2 weeks, water daily, then water every 2 to 3 days. Keep an eye on the weather and how the plant is responding, and water accordingly for the remainder of that year. When in doubt, poke your finger into the soil just above the root ball to check its moisture level.

 

Should I fertilize at time of planting?

Generally, young trees don’t need to be fertilized for about a year after planting. Once the tree’s root system is established, it can better make use of fertilizer. If you really want to fertilizer at planting, try Espoma Tree-Tone, which provides nutrients that break down slowly and nourish the soil and the tree.

Natives

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Wildlife

Privacy Screen/Hedges

Best Trees For…

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What are the best evergreen trees to plant?

Norway spruce (Picea abies), which grows 80 to 100 feet tall with a 25-to-40 foot spread, is a good choice. It has short needles, 6-inch cones, and distinctive brown crackled bark. The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is a Norway spruce. Plant in well drained soil, ideally in full sun. Makes a good specimen tree, wind break, or screen. Because of its size, it’s a good tree for large yards.

 

American holly (Ilex opaca), which grows 20 to 40 feet feet tall with a 10-to-20 foot spread, is popular for its winter color, holiday wreaths, and decorations. These trees have sturdy branches, attractive light gray bark, and spiny green leaves. Female plants have bright red berries that are attractive to birds; both male and female trees are necessary for pollination. Plant in moist, acidic soil in full sun to partial shade. In low light, trees may be shorter and become multi-trunked. 

Alaska cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis) is a weeping, flat-needled conifer with drooping branches. It grows 30 to 45 feet tall and 20 feet wide. The bark is reddish-brown and has a shredding appearance. Plant in full sun to light shade. Trees prefer high humidity and rich acidic soil, but will tolerate other soils as long as they have sun and moist, well-drained soil. It’s generally pest free.

What are the best trees to plant in moist/wet soil?

River birch (Betula nigra) grows 60 to 80 feet tall and 40 feet wide. Trees are deciduous, with a single trunk or multi-trunked form. They have shaggy, peeling bark, and shiny, diamond-shaped green leaves that turn gold in fall. Plant in moist to semi-moist soil in full sun. Can handle some dryness. A good tree to plant by a riverbank or other large, open space. This tree is heat tolerant and more resistant to pests than many birches. River birch is a host plant for mourning cloak butterfly larvae, and its seeds attract a variety of birds in late spring.

 

Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) grows 75 to 100 feet tall, with a wide canopy (75 to 100 feet). Trees are deciduous, with thick trunks and distinctive gray and white bark. Leaves are large, with bright green tops and fuzzy, pale undersides, and they turn brown in autumn. Trees require a large space, and can be a bit messy, with leaves, bark, and fruiting balls, but are majestic trees that will live hundreds of years. Plant in moist, deep, well-drained soil in full sun or light shade.

 

Red maple (Acer rubrum) grows 40 to 70 feet high with a 30-to-50 feet spread. This tree has spectacular foliage in fall. Trees drop winged seeds in spring. The extensive root system is not a good choice for planting close to streets or sidewalks, but red maple makes a wonderful tree for a large yard. Plant in moist, rich well-draining soil in full sun or light shade. Red maple has few insect or disease problems.

What are the best trees to plant in dry/compacted soil?

Scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea) grows 50 to 70 feet high and has a 40-to-50 foot spread. Its large, glossy green leaves turn scarlet in fall. Acorns are ½ to 1 inch long. Plant scarlet oak in dry to medium soil in full sun; it’s drought tolerant when established, and has no serious disease or pest problems. This is a good shade tree for large lawns in dry locations.  

 

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is 50 to 80 feet tall with a 30 to 40 foot spread. Fan-shaped leaves are green in spring and summer, turning golden-yellow in fall. Ginkgo has no serious insect or disease problems. It prefers medium to dry soil in full sun, but ginkgo tolerates a wide range of soil conditions. A slow growing tree, ginkgo grows only about 1 to 3 feet a year. It makes a great lawn or street tree.

 

European beech (Fagus sylvatica) will grow 50 to 60 feet high and 35 to 50 feet wide. Dark green 4-inch leaves have wavy edges, and turn golden brown in fall. Flower spikes give way to spiky, husk-covered triangular nuts, which ripen in fall. Trees have distinctive smooth gray bark.

Plant in well-drained soil in full sun or part shade. European beech has no serious insect or disease problems. Give adequate space when planting; makes a great tree for large yards or parks.

What are the best fast growing trees to plant?

Pin oak (Quercus palustris) grows 60 to 70 feet tall with a 25-to-40 foot spread. Known for its graceful shape and beautiful fall foliage. Trees are deciduous and fast growing; they can grow 12 to 15 feet in less than 7 years. Plant in moist soil in full sun, and be sure to give this tree plenty of room. Pin oak can tolerate wet soil.

 

Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) is a deciduous, conical tree that grows 70 to 100 feet high and 15 to 25 feet across. Mature trees have deeply fissured bark and attractive, fluted trunks. Foliage is fernlike and leathery, and tree produces small cones. New foliage emerges light green, darkens to deep green, then turns red-broze in fall. Plant this low-maintenance tree in medium to wet soil in full sun, and allow plenty of space for its spread. Dawn redwood has no serious disease or insect problems.  

Red maple (Acer rubrum) is a deciduous tree that grows 40 to 70 feet high and 30 to 50 feet wide, with spectacular scarlet foliage in fall. Trees drop winged seeds in spring. The extensive root system is not a good choice for planting close to streets or sidewalks, but red maple makes a wonderful tree for a large yard. Plant in moist, rich well-draining soil in full sun or light shade. Red maple has few insect or disease problems.

What are the best small, compact trees to plant?

When choosing a small tree, keep in mind that tree size is relative, and few trees can be called “tiny.” These are compact choices for small spaces:

 

Redbud (Cercis canadensis) is a deciduous tree that grows 20 to 30 feet with a 25-to-35 foot spread. In spring, it has stunning pink blooms on bare branches, followed by oval blue-green leaves; finally, leaves turn yellow in fall. Plant in well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. 

 

Crabapple (Malus spp.) grows 10 to 25 feet and 10 to 25 feet wide. Showy pink or white flowers, followed by brightly colored fruit. Crabapple tolerates compacted soil, air pollution, and drought, once established. Crabapples are edible and enjoyed by birds and squirrels. Plant in well-drained soil in full sun. Tree selection includes many varieties, including weeping and upright, flower color, and fruit color. 

Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) usually grow 10 to 16 feet, with some varieties reaching up to 40 feet in the south. Trees can have single or multiple trunks, and bark is distinctive gray-brown. Crape myrtle is covered by bright blooms all summer, in white, purple, and many shades of pink and red. Plant in well-draining soil in full sun or light shade (better blooms in sun).

What are the best weeping trees to plant?

Picea pungens ‘The Blues’ has beautiful silver-blue needles and irregular shapes that look like Dr. Seuss creations. Slow growing, this evergreen tree will reach 5 to 6 feet tall and wide. Picea pungens makes an interesting focal point. Plant in moist, slightly acidic, well-drained soil in full sun. It has no serious disease or insect problems.

 

Cercis canadensis ‘Covey’ is a weeping redbud with graceful branches and beautiful blue-green foliage. In spring, before leaves appear, the vibrant pink blooms attract hummingbirds. Plant in well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Provide consistent moisture, but avoid standing water. Redbud can be susceptible to canker, so avoid pruning during wet, cool weather when bacteria are present.

Picea abies ‘Pendula’ is a weeping Norway spruce, which will grow upright to 10 or 15 feet if trained as a tree. It can also spread across the ground as a woody ground cover. Plant in moist, preferable sandy, well-drained soil in full sun. Trees are charmingly irregular in shape; stake and support young trees to grow upright. Picea abies has no serious disease or insect problems.

Flowering Trees

Shade Trees

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Can you recommend a few good shade trees for our area?

Pin oak (Quercus palustris) is a medium-sized deciduous oak that grows 50 to 70 feet tall, with a 40- to 60-foot spread. It makes a good street or landscape tree, and has large, attractive leaves that turn reddish in fall. It grows well in medium to wet soil.

 

Red maple (Acer rubrum) is a medium-sized deciduous tree that grows 40 to 70 feet tall with a 30- to 50-foot spread. It makes a good street or landscape tree, and has large leaves that turn orangish-red or yellow in fall. It prefers medium to wet soil.

 

River birch (Betula nigra) is a fast-growing, medium-sized deciduous tree reaching 40 to 70 feet tall with a 40- to 60-foot spread. Often grown as a multi-trunked tree, the river birch has salmon-colored bark that peels off to reveal lighter inner bark, and leaves that turn yellow in fall. It grows best in fertile, medium to wet soil.

 

Sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is a medium-sized, deciduous tree that grows 40 to 80 feet tall with a 30- to 60-foot spread. It has classic maple leaves that turn a vibrant yellow-orange in fall. It grows well in slightly moist, well-drained soil, but doesn’t tolerate road salt.  

In areas with dryer soil, plant red oak (Quercus rubra), a medium-sized deciduous oak that grows 50 to 75 feet tall, with an equal spread. It’s popular as a street or landscape tree, and has large leaves that turn brownish-red in fall.

Best Shrubs For…

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What are the best shrubs for fall color?

Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) is a deciduous shrub that grows in mounds 3 to 5 feet tall and wide. Its profusion of fragrant bloom spikes in late spring attract pollinators. Its eaves are deep green, becoming orange, scarlet, and burgundy in fall. Plant in moist, rich soil in full sun. Virginia sweetspire will spread readily by suckers, and is good for naturalizing and erosion control.

 

Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) grows 6 to 8 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. It has glossy, dark-green foliage that turns bright red in fall. Its attractive red berries are tart and bitter but can be made into jam or jelly. Plant this low-maintenance, deciduous shrub in moist—even wet or boggy—soil in full sun to part shade. A great choice for hedges or naturalizing; it has a tendency to sucker and spread. 

Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) grows 6 to 8 feet tall and wide. It blooms spring through summer; its beautiful white flowers are tinged with purple, and make good cut flowers. It has large, oak-like green leaves, and brilliant orange, red, and purple fall foliage. Plant in moist, rich soil in full sun to part shade. Oakleaf hydrangea blooms on old wood, so prune for shape right after blooming stops.

What are the best shrubs for winter color?

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) grows 3 to 12 feet tall and wide. Its beautiful green foliage contrasts with its red berries from late summer to fall. After the leaves drop, the striking red berries persist, even under snow. Winterberry attracts birds and pollinators. Female plants need a male pollinator to produce berries. Plant in medium to wet soil in full sun to part shade. Winterberry will sucker and spread slowly, and it’s effective when trained as a hedge. It has no serious insect or disease problems. 

 

Red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) grows 6 to 9 feet tall and 8 to 12 feet wide. Clusters of small white blooms appear in late spring, followed by medium green leaves. In summer, attractive clumps of white berries appear. When foliage drops in autumn, the reddish stems become bright red, and are very showy, especially against snow or dormant plants. Plant in moist, rich soil in full sun to part shade. Red twig dogwood prefers swampy areas, and will sucker and form thickets. It’s a good choice for wet areas or erosion control.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) grows 15 to 20 feet high and wide. It has fragrant, feathery yellow or orange blooms in late winter, and attractive green foliage that turns gold and red in fall. Its fruits are seed pods, which remain on the branches in winter until after flowers bloom, then pop open to release shiny black seeds. Plant witch hazel in moist, acidic, rich soil in full sun to part shade. Witch hazel will sucker and spread, and naturalizes well. It has no serious insect or disease problems.

What are the best evergreen shrubs?

Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is a dense, rounded, multi-stemmed shrub that grows 5 to 15 feet tall and wide. It has clusters of delicate white to rose cup-shaped pentagonal blooms in late spring. Its leaves are dark-green and leathery. Plant in moist, rich, well-drained soil in part shade. Mulch to keep roots cool and retain moisture. Mountain laurel is a great choice for woodland gardens and natural hedges.

 

Inkberry (Ilex glabra) is a rounded shrub that grows 5 to 8 feet tall and wide. Its small dark leaves remain attractive even in below-zero temperatures. It has shiny black berries that remain from fall until early spring; the berries attract birds. Female plants need a male pollinator to produce berries. Plant in rich, moist, acidic soil in full sun to part shade. Inkberry makes a good low hedge or shrub border; it will sucker and naturalize in wet areas. 

Mugo pine (Pinus mugo) grows 3 to 5 feet, with a 6 to 10 foot spread, but is quite slow growing. It has bright green needles and small brown cones. Plant in moist, well-drained soil in full sun. Mugo pine does well in sandy soil. An excellent choice for rock gardens and as a foundation plant. Prune in late winter to retain compact size.

What are the best compact shrubs to plant in front of a house?

These shrubs will all stay compact, making them good for under a windowsill:

 

Ilex crenata ‘Beehive’ Japanese holly grows 5 to 6 feet high and 4 to 5 feet across. Evergreen and easy to grow, it has a dense, multi-branched, rounded shape. Its leaves are small and spineless. It has white flowers in late spring and produces round, black berries in fall. Female plants need a male pollinator to produce berries. Plant in medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. It will tolerate poor soil, and has no serious insect or disease problems.

 

Ilex glabra ‘Shamrock’ Inkberry is an evergreen shrub that grows 3 to 4 feet tall and across. Its small spineless leaves remain attractive all winter, even below zero. Its shiny black berries attract birds, and will remain from fall until early spring. Plant this easy-to-grow shrub in rich, moist, acidic soil in full sun or part shade. A great choice for informal hedges or rain gardens. Female plants need a male pollinator to produce berries. This compact cultivar has fewer suckers than larger plants.

Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet’ Virginia sweetspire is a deciduous shrub that forms compact mounds 3 to 4 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide. This cultivar features large blooms and excellent fall color. Leaves are deep green, turning orange, scarlet, and burgundy in fall. Plant in moist, rich soil, in full sun or part shade. ‘Henry’s Garnet’ makes a good informal hedge or foundation plant.

Roses

Planting

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What's the best place to plant a rose?

Roses love sun, so select a site with full sun and loose, well-drained, moderate soil. Ensure that there’s enough room for roots to spread without competition from other plants. Consider a raised bed if your soil doesn’t have adequate drainage.

How much space do I need to give my rose bush?

Providing plenty of room for air circulation is important to help prevent fungal disease. The amount varies depending on the type of plant, but for most floribundas, allow 24 to 30 inches between plants. For hybrid tea and grandiflora roses, allow 30 to 36 inches. For climbers, allow at least 4 to 5 feet.

When is the best time to plant a rose bush?

Plant bare-root roses in early spring before shoots begin to develop so roots have time to become established. Potted roses offer more flexibility, and can be planted once the ground warms a bit and soil is dry enough to work. Potted roses can also be planted in fall, as long as they’re in the ground at least 6 weeks before the first frost.

How do I prepare the soil for a rose bush?

Dig out an area about a foot deep and 18 inches in diameter to ensure that the soil is loose enough to ensure root growth. Mix 1 part organic matter like peat moss, compost, or composted manure with 2 parts garden soil, and use this mixture to backfill the planting hole.

Should I mulch my newly planted rose bush?

Yes, mulch is a good addition to a rose bed because it holds in moisture, keeps roots cool, and inhibits weed growth. Apply a 2- to 3-inch layer over the drip zone, keeping it about 6 inches away from the stem to prevent access by insects and disease.

How much do I water my rose bush?

Water new roses often, especially in hot weather, keeping the area around the roots moist but not soggy. For established roses, water thoroughly once or twice a week, depending on soil type and weather conditions. Roses will not tolerate standing water, so it’s good to check the moisture level with an inexpensive moisture meter or your finger before watering. If the top inch of the soil feels dry, it’s time to water. Always water at ground level, using drip irrigation, to avoid wetting foliage.

How often should I fertilize my roses?

It depends on what type of fertilizer you’re using. For some faster-acting fertilizers such as Miracle Gro, you can apply them once or twice per month during the growing season. Try to avoid using these fertilizers in the middle of summer as it can add stress to the plant.

If you’re using a slower release or organic fertilizer (which we recommend), you’ll only have to apply once or twice a year. We recommend using Espoma Rose Tone. This fertilizer can be scratched into the topsoil around the base of each plant. It is organic, breaks down slowly, and adds beneficial organics that improve your soil.

Disease/Insect control

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What's the best product for rose disease control?

Bonide Fungonil is a really good, broad-spectrum fungicide that can be used to prevent and control a wide range of diseases, including black spot, powdery mildew, rust, and a number of others. Spray all foliage on affected plants thoroughly, including the underside of leaves, and reapply every 7 to 10 days throughout the growing season.

When should I spray my roses for disease?

Spray as soon as you notice symptoms. The nice thing about  Fungonil is that it can be applied preventively, which can keep spores from germinating. Because it’s easier to prevent fungal diseases than treat plants once they’re infected, preventive spraying can be the best option, especially if you’ve had problems in the past.

How do I control black spot on roses?

Black spot on roses is caused by the fungus Diplocarpon rosae and is one of the most common rose diseases. To control black spot, first remove any infected foliage to prevent further spreading. Rake up and dispose of any dead leaves on the ground around the plant. Finally, protect your roses with regular applications of Bonide Fungonil to protect your roses throughout the growing season. Early applications work best before or just as you begin seeing infection.

How do I control powdery mildew on roses?

You can help prevent powdery mildew growth from the start by planting your roses in an area where they will receive full sun, 6-8 hours a day. Proper pruning with plenty of air circulation within branches really helps too.

If a problem already exists, follow the mixing directions for Bonide Copper Fungicide (which you can use in organic gardens) and spray your plant as both a curative and as a preventative. The sooner you spray this product in the season, the better your results will be. It is highly recommended to spray before or right as you begin to see symptoms.

You may also wish to remove severely infected leaves as this may stop future infections from spreading or coming back the following season.

How do I control rust and leaf spot on roses?

Fungal infections like these can spread rapidly. At the first sign of fungus, remove and destroy affected foliage (do not compost), then treat with Bonide Fung-onil every 7 to 14 days. This will stop the spread of infections and will halt its progress.

Prevent infections by thoroughly inspecting new rose plants for signs of disease, keeping plants pruned to allow air circulation, removing leaves from the ground, and watering at the base of plants instead of overhead.

What techniques can I use to prevent disease spread?

Allow adequate air circulation between plants when planting, and preserve space between branches when pruning. Remove diseased foliage as soon as it’s noticed, making sure to destroy it rather than composting, and clean up leaf litter on the ground promptly. Spray plants with a fungicide at the first sign of disease, or spray preventively. Always water at the ground level to ensure foliage doesn’t remain damp.

What's the best product for both insect and disease control on roses?

Rose Rx protects roses from insects and disease. This easy-to-use spray contains a fungicide and insecticide that can be used to control diseases like blackspot, rust, and powdery mildew, as well as pests like spider mites and aphids. Spray foliage thoroughly, including the underside of the leaves. Reapply every 7 to 14 days. Do not apply while bees are active in the area.

Pruning

Types of Roses

Pollinators

Pollinator Gardens

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What are the benefits of pollinator plants?

Most flowering plants depend on bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators for fertilization. When a pollinator visits a flower, it transports pollen and fertilizes the flower’s eggs, resulting in the formation of seeds and the fruit that surrounds them. Pollinators foster genetic diversity in the plants they pollinate, ensuring stronger plants that are better able to adapt to changes in their environment.

 

We depend on pollinators to fertilize more than 80 percent of all flowering plants on earth. Although we need them to pollinate commercial crops and home vegetable gardens, pollinators evolved symbiotically with the native plants that are their original food source. Some, like butterfly larvae, need specific plants to survive, and because of habitat reduction, many species have a hard time finding suitable flowering plants. Planting pollinator plants attracts insects and birds into our gardens and provides them with food and shelter.

What are some of the best pollinator plants?

Native plants and pollinators evolved together, so many pollinators have adapted to feed on these specific plants. Non-native plants may not provide adequate pollen or nectar, or may be inedible to butterfly or moth caterpillars. For example, many hybrids have little pollen, nectar, or fragrance.

 

Perennial wildflowers, or self-sowing annuals, native to your area may perform best because they’re adapted to the climate and soil conditions there. These plants thrive because they’re well suited to the area and will bloom every year with minimal care.

What conditions are necessary to plant a pollinator garden?

Most butterflies and bees like the sun’s warmth, and many pollinator-attracting wildflowers grow best in full or partial sun. Soil is also important for successful planting, but the native species that pollinators prefer are well-suited for local climate and soil conditions, so unless your soil is especially depleted, consider those plants that thrive in the soil you have.

 

Remember to include larval host plants, like milkweed, to feed the caterpillars that will become pollinators. Lastly, avoid pesticides. Hand-pick pests, or use organic or natural deterrents like insecticidal soaps and other products that target specific pests and won’t harm bees or leaf-eating butterfly caterpillars.

What are some good annuals to mix into my pollinator garden?

Because many native plants are summer-blooming perennials, it’s good to include some annuals that bloom in spring and fall so your pollinators have food year-round. Pansies, rosemary, and petunia start to bloom in spring, while ageratum, Mexican sunflower, cosmos, zinnias, and scabiosa will bloom from late spring or summer through the first frost.

How often do I need to water my pollinator garden?

Many native species are also drought-tolerant, so when established, your butterfly garden may need only weekly water. To ensure that your pollinator garden always has flowers available, group annuals and other thirsty plants together to make it easier to hand-water them more often if necessary. Don’t overlook topping off the birdbath or other water sources for the bees and butterflies that visit. It doesn’t have to be fancy; butterflies will flock to just a small mud puddle.

Should I cut my pollinator plants back at the end of the year?

Although it’s tempting to tidy the garden when the growing season ends, many pollinators need dead stems, foliage, and even tree branches to lay their eggs and shelter in until spring. If you have a pollinator garden, leave some plants intact until spring, especially those with attractive seedpods or other winter interest for you to enjoy.

What are some of the best pollinator plants for bees?

As soon as the weather begins to warm up, bees begin foraging for nectar. They need nectar and pollen right away, so it’s beneficial to provide flowers that bloom in spring, like coreopsis, penstemon, native honeysuckle, and veronica. For plants that bloom summer through fall, plant cardinal flower, gaura, liatris, coneflower, agastache, and monarda. A few plants, like Buddleia and swamp milkweed, bloom from spring until the first frost.

What are some of the best pollinator plants for butterflies?

Because butterfly larvae need the leaves of specific plants for food as well as strong stem structure and clumps of foliage as shelter from predators, choosing plants for the butterfly garden means more than just providing nectar. Milkweed, hollyhock, pearly everlasting, bronze fennel, and passionflower vine all have leaves favored by butterfly larvae or leaves and stems that conceal larvae or provide shelter during the winter pupal stage.

 

Once they emerge in spring, butterflies need a steady nectar supply, even before many summer-blooming perennials have started to grow. Plant early everlasting, spirea, bleeding heart, and pansies to tide them over until the long-season bloomers like buddleia, marigold, lantana, and phlox bloom start blooming. Like the summer bloomers–black-eyed Susan, coneflower, Joe Pye weed, monarda, and goldenrod–these will bloom until the first frost.

What are some of the best pollinator plants for hummingbirds?

When choosing flowers for hummingbirds, keep in mind that they are attracted to bright colors, especially red. Flowers that are tubular in shape provide the most nectar. In addition, some trumpet-shaped blooms are difficult for insect pollinators to access, so hummingbirds have those flowers all to themselves.

 

To provide spring and summer blooms for hummingbirds, plant trumpet honeysuckle, lupine, columbine, tiger lily, and red hot poker. For summer and fall blooms, plant trumpetcreeper, red cardinal flower, monarda, agastache, and crocosmia.

Bee Balm

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What kinds of pollinator insects does bee balm attract?

Despite its name, bee balm is a favorite of butterflies as well. Its red, pink, purple, or white flowers are fragrant, it has a long blooming season, and its sturdy stems make a good shelter for insects in winter if left standing.

Cardinal Flower

Hyssop

Ironweed

Joe Pye Weed

Milkweed

Houseplants

Houseplant Care

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What is the ideal environment for most houseplants?

Most houseplants have greenhouse or tropical origins, and mimicking those conditions are key to keeping them happy in your home. Generally, houseplants like humidity and daytime temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, with nighttime temps of 60 to 65 degrees. Placement in your home can vary depending on each plant’s needs. Have a room with large, sunny windows? Your sun-loving plants can congregate there, while plants that tolerate lower light can occupy darker rooms. Group the moisture lovers in a bathroom, place pots on a saucer of pebbles and water, or use a humidifier to increase the moisture in the air around them.

How often should I water my houseplants?

As a general rule, most plants like a thorough watering every 7 to 10 days. Large plants and plants in direct sun need more frequent watering; smaller plants need less. The easiest way to kill a houseplant is to overwater it, though, so always check by poking your finger into the soil if you’re in doubt. 

The soil in most pots should feel dry down to 2 inches from the surface before watering. Leaves of plants like Swedish ivy, peace lily, or pothos–which like a bit more moisture–will droop slightly and lose shine when they need water. Succulents, of course, are the exception. They prefer to be watered less frequently, every 10 to 14 days.

How often should I fertilize my houseplants?

The nutrients in healthy garden soil are regularly replenished by decomposing plants and mulch, insect and animal activity, and precipitation, but the soil in planting containers becomes depleted over time. For this reason, it’s beneficial to feed plants regularly during their growing season. 

Most plants should be fed a slow-release fertilizer once a month throughout spring and summer. Plants are dormant or their growth slows during winter, so skip these months, or reduce the amount by half.

Should I ever take my houseplants outside? If so, when?

Yes, most plants like the humidity, bright light, and air circulation outdoors, and there’s nothing like a gentle rain to clean leaves and leach salts from a potted plant’s soil. Wait until overnight temperatures have stabilized above 60 degrees in spring, then move plants to a protected, shady area. 

Gradually increase the amount of light they receive, avoiding direct sunlight for at least two weeks and paying attention to each plant’s individual light requirements. If colder weather, heavy rain, or wind is forecast, bring them back inside. Remember water evaporates more quickly outside so plants may need more frequent watering, especially those in porous containers.

When should I bring my houseplants back inside?

Houseplants that are accustomed to outside conditions will tolerate cooler night temperatures into the fall, but bring them indoors by the time overnight temps reach 50 degrees Fahrenheit. They’ll need a period of adjustment when they first move indoors. Try to give them as much light indoors as they received outdoors, but they won’t need as much water. Be sure to inspect plants thoroughly for pests they might have picked up on your patio. Also, consider pruning leggy plants or repotting in new potting soil those that have grown.

What can I spray my houseplants with for insects?

New houseplants, and plants that have spent time outside, can carry a variety of pests inside with them. Spider mites, aphids, mealybugs, scale, and whitefly harm plants by sucking their juices, weakening them and stunting growth. In addition, insects can transmit viruses to plants, and can multiply quickly. 

Treat affected plants with Bonide Insecticidal Soap. Spray leaves thoroughly, making sure to check undersides. Repeat weekly as needed. Insecticidal soap is also successful for treating powdery mildew. It’s safe for most houseplants, but avoid using on delicate ferns.

What should I do about aphids on my houseplants?

Aphids are small, sap-sucking insects that transmit disease and weaken plants. Efficient reproducers, they bear live young and lay eggs, so just a few aphids can quickly become crippling as their population grows. 

To control aphids on houseplants, check all plants thoroughly and isolate those affected to prevent spread, then treat with Bonide Insecticidal Soap. Spray aphids thoroughly, making sure to check the undersides of leaves. Repeat weekly as needed until aphids are gone. Insecticidal soap is safe for most houseplants, but avoid using on delicate ferns.

What should I do about fungus gnats?

Fungus gnats are insects that resemble fruit flies. Their larvae feed on plant roots or fungi and aid in the decomposition of organic matter. They’re mostly harmless to healthy plants, but their presence in houseplants may indicate overwatering, and in large numbers they can damage a plant’s roots. Allowing infested plants to dry out will reduce their numbers. 

To kill fungus gnats, apply Bonide Systemic Houseplant Insect Control granules to the top layer of soil, work in gently, then water in thoroughly. The granules control fungus gnat larvae and other insect pests. Reapply every 8 weeks as needed.

What houseplants are good for improved air quality?

All plants absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, but many also improve air quality by filtering out pollutants. Scientific research, including a 1989 NASA study, has identified a number of plants which, along with the microbes in their soil, help remove common household pollutants from the air. 

Among the best performing plants: spider plant, Boston fern, golden pothos, florist’s mums, rubber trees, English ivy, peace lily, dracaena, snake plant, and bamboo palm. The pollutants tested include formaldehyde, xylene, trichloroethylene, benzene, toluene, ammonia, and mold spores.

What houseplants are best for low light conditions?

Most plants need sunlight, or at least full-spectrum artificial light, but a few plants thrive in low light. Cast iron plant, sansevieria, Zamioculcas, English ivy, Chinese evergreen, parlor palm, bamboo palm, dracaena, philodendron, Aglaonema, and Japanese aralia do well with just north-facing windows or in a fairly dark corner.

African Violet

Diffenbachia

Norfolk Island Pine

Peace Lily

Pothos

Snake Plant

Spider Plant

Succulents

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