The most commonly misunderstood collection of plants are perennials. The name perennial suggests that they should appear each and every year for the remainder of time but this is not necessarily so. There are several factors that affect the survival of perennials that are important to know in making choices for your garden.
One of the first “perennials” I had contact with growing up was “Hosta funkia”. My parents added an extension to their driveway along the side of the garage so the garden in this area had to go. My father saved some of the perennials and replanted them at the end of the asphalt. Every year, they showed up with their purple flowers and even though it was years later that I learned their name, I have never forgotten their loyalty.
Hosta belongs to a group of perennials called “herbaceous” perennials. They are NOT necessarily herbs. They are called herbaceous because the above ground part is not woody and most die back to the ground each fall and sprouts out from these roots each spring. Herbaceous perennials are my MOST favorite because their roots can be dug up and divided with a shovel and spread around the yard in all of the gardens, for free.
When growing perennials there are some cultural basics to remember:
I live in the country with nature all around. My yard has rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, and deer. Our plot of ground is small and it takes the wildlife no time at all to eat up all of the tender spring plants. We have replanted many times over the years believing the varmints had passed by only for them to reappear, some within minutes of finishing the installation. My husband and I are both involved in the landscaping and gardening industry and love to have gardens to tend to. We also love the wildlife that forages around our property.
It is this dilemma that directed us to look more favorably at container gardening. We happen to have a deck that wraps around the house from the southern exposure to the western exposure and to the northern exposure. The quantity of containers has grown over the years and this has afforded a lot of opportunity to vary the types of plant material from one side of the house to the other. The southern exposure gets filled with plants that can handle full sun and heat all day through the Maryland summers. The northern exposure is where the house plants go in the summer as well as annuals that do well in a shadier exposure.
The basics of container gardening suggest mixing annuals so the container has height by including a plant that grows tall, one that has width including one that is medium in height and one that is trailing so it will drape over the side of the pot and grow down. If you can find a garden center that grows “market packs”, you have a chance of fitting a variety in the pot because the plants root balls are smaller. If you can only find 4 inch pots, the container is going to get quite crowded. We save our pots from year to year but it is important to replace the soil with some kind of potting medium fresh every year. The old potting medium is going to have a bounty of fungi, insect eggs, bacteria, and loss of what few nutrients were added by the maker of the potting medium. Potting medium is typically just a moisture retentive medium that grows container plants successfully but none of the ingredients actually have nutrients. They have to be added separately.
I have added soil from my garden and mixed it with the potting medium over the years and it works with some annuals but there are more issues with weeds, insects, fungi and bacteria. Container gardens are short duration gardens and if you have the money it is worth it to completely replace the potting medium from season to season, the container plants look better for longer. They remain weed free and the occurrence of insect infestation, etc is held at bay. Because it a soil-less mix it is important to add fertilizer. If the medium has some fertilizer mixed in it will confirm this on the bag of mix. Fertilizer will then have to be added monthly for the duration of the season. Have I missed a month? Yes, I have. Oh well. You have to look pretty closely to notice the difference. The container garden season is from May through September, or whenever the first hard frost comes. I like hanging on to them until we decide to put the lawn furniture under cover for the winter but they do start to look pretty spent.
Container gardens have to be check daily for water. As they grow and their root systems develop their need for water may be every day. We do like to plant potato vines every year because they are the plant that drapes over the side of the container. They come in lots of colors and have some really pretty variegated varieties. But when the potatoes in the soil get large they need water every day. These pots are always the first to wilt. We use to be able to water the container garden with a watering can but it has expanded so that we now have a hose permanently set up to water every day.
The part everyone wants to know is how to pick flowers for these containers. There is no way to make a mistake, no matter what you pick. We do have some that we like to include every year though. The potato vines, what every varieties are available are on the list every year. I love the pink saliva because they attract hummingbirds. We always select some marigolds because I am a sucker for yellow. Dahlias are also on the list if we can find any. They do tend to get powdery mildew in the fall but their colors are striking. This year we added some Celosia because it is so weird looking and the colors are so intense. Portulaca is mandatory but not always easy to find. We added some petunias and verbena since they are trailing but they were not the strongest performers. We also need to have a geranium or two and a market pack of snapdragons. Perennials have been planted in pots then transferred to the garden in the back at the end of the season but they add something different.
I used to be more concerned with balance, color, texture, shape but I really love the cacophony of color and the natural look of randomness with the varied pot sizes and shapes. I don't worry about balancing the rectangular containers anymore. I have observed over the years that when gardens are planted with a great degree of orderliness that anomalies are more noticeable. Some plants naturally peter out over the course of a season due to weather, sun, temperature, competition between the plant roots. The more random the plantings the less noticeable their absence becomes. Save the orderliness for the botanical gardens and those landscaped areas that have the assistance of professionals to maintain. In your personal garden at home do what you want, observe what does well. Keep the plant tags to remind yourself of what you picked and what you enjoyed watching and why. I can observe the plants on my front deck from where I sit inside. They are positioned so the color is always in my view. There are moments where my gaze will fix on something I haven't noticed before and it reminds me why I like this field so much, it's so small and so personal and gives me such pleasure.
People have the most interesting relationships with the insect community. For some, the mere mention of a bee can send people into spasms waiving and flailing. The funniest part of the “bee” dance is that it is usually precipitated by a wasp. Insects can be revered, like the endangered honey bee, and reviled, like the mosquito. They can be adored, like the ladybug or firefly or swatted at in disgust, like flies or ants. Ultimately, while all insects look different they all serve a greater purpose in the food chain. So rather than vilify some and celebrate others let's gain some perspective on the importance of the feared and misunderstood.
Insects share long and storied history going way back before humans were a blip on the evolutionary radar. There would be no fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, bats, et. al. if not for those yummy little snack treats they feed on. Bees are pollinators and they produce honey. While these two attributes are enough to win the “Best Insect Ever” award they also have the ability to sting. Bumble bees are notorious for stinging with the least provocation and honey bees have the barbed stinger, so once used, the bee dies so they take a bit more provocation. For more detailed information on bees check out this website, http://pestworldforkids.org/pest-guide/bees/, good basic info and pictures.
Wasps are part of a very large family. Their food sources range from nectar to other insects to picnic leftovers. There are good guys in this family of insects who control other insect populations discretely and a few stray cats that have a more notorious reputation. These venomous wasps, nicknamed yellow jackets, set up their habitats in places where their worlds can more easily collide with humans; the lawns they mow, the bushes they prune, the furniture they like to party on. It is this proximity where the human-wasp worlds collide and percentages increase toward the end of the summer when wasps become more aggressive. But when the focus is on the good guys of the wasp family their “street cred” increases.
I was sitting on my back patio the other morning. It had rained and the container gardens were shimmering with droplets, which caught my eye. Then I noticed all of the activity swarming in and around these container gardens. The bumble bees were systematically making their way around the pink Salvia. There were wasps on the Celosia, butterflies and moths were working their ways around each blossom and around each other and there were spiders weaving their webs. It sort of took me by surprise to be sitting so close to all of this activity, no one was bothering me, and each insect was working independently of the other all systematically searching for scraps of pollen and nectar to feed their hoards and keep their communities thriving. It was the orderliness of the scene that struck me like the daily machinations of human society going about their business. Insects have a purpose and it is not always one that we see first hand. It is best if we avoid interfering with those routines outside of providing habitat for them to live off of.
Bugs are not on the attack. They are just going through the motions and if one lands on you or buzzes about your hair it is by accident as they go on their way to find food. The mosquito, being a blood sucker, is the exception but the mosquito is the example that should be followed for humans to look for ways to reduce conflict with them. There are many Fact Sheets on the mosquitoes to help homeowners locate possible breeding sites around their yard and, at least, reduce the population in their immediate area. For more information on mosquito control check out the State of Maryland the link to their Mosquito Control program, http://mda.maryland.gov and click on Mosquito. While this may not be the state you live in the fact sheet is comprehensive. Mosquito Control programs in other states may be organized a bit differently and found by Google searching.
Ultimately, we need insects more than they need us. They keep the world of the teeny-tiny under control and they both provide and make food sources in the food chain. If the teeny-tiny's world is one you would prefer to have limited contact with, then removing their food sources and water access from those areas is a beginning. Finding a fact sheet for each of the bothersome insects will help identify the food sources. Researching all of the insects you see can also be helpful in identifying if they are friendly or not. If you should see a dragon fly, know they actually eat mosquitoes, so they are good to have in the yard which makes them less annoying and in someway their presence is more comforting knowing the checks and balances are in place.
The saying with bees and wasps is when you see them, “Just turn and calmly walk away”. Unless you stick your hand right by their nest, they have no reason to consider you a threat. It is good to go looking for wasps during the season to identify any that have made their nests in your lawn, around the eaves of your house, in your shrubs or around your deck or deck furniture. I walk around with a can of wasp spray, periodically and merely tap on things to see of wasps fly out. I have used the urethane foam to fill fence rails and holes in my house to block their access and prevent them from building a nest inside. I check for wasps before moving things around outside just to make sure a nest is not hiding somewhere close. I expect them to be close so I am not surprised when they surface and I am also prepared when they do with a strategy I am comfortable with. I am not allergic to their venom but I am not immune. It is helpful to learn their habits, habitats, and food sources to know when caution is warranted.
My Random House College Dictionary, revised 1982, defines the word “mulch” as a covering, spread or left on the ground, around plants to prevent excessive evaporation or erosion, enrich the soil, etc. The definition has been expanded in the green industry to include weed control and decoration. Mulch has become the poster child for recycling and recycled products. There is currently a poupourri of mulch products that are produced locally and used regionally that are bi-products that have been re-purposed.
There are 12 types of mulch discussed below but there are many more on the market:
Mulches, historically, were agricultural by-products that were readily available, inexpensive, found in mass quantities, and could be incorporated into the soil profile once the crop was harvested. When the needs expanded in the horticulture/landscaping industry, for uniform looking products, mulches were made out of by-products of the building and tree maintenance industries and when the processing technology collided i.e. tub grinders, power screeners, windrow turners, with the recycling industry the mulch options grew exponentially. Since mulch is added after new plants have been installed shredded hardwood mulch proved to be the easiest to work with, keep in place, and at the lowest cost. Mulching around newly landscaped plants will:
These are all important in preserving new landscapes and assisting in keeping them well maintained. The goal in mulching is to afford the plants time to grow and touch together. The plants themselves take on the responsibility for weed control, etc., reducing the need to replenish the mulch year after year. The variety of mulches allows each homeowner to be creative with their strategic uses and continues to support the recycling effort to reduce the amount of material in the waste stream.