BHG

Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

October 2009

Cushion Spurge, Act II

fall spurge
Cushion spurge glows in the springtime with its fluorescent yellow green flowers and bracts, but it also stars in the fall garden when its leaves sparkle in shades of red, purple, and orange. It’s easy to see where the plant got its botanical name: Euphorbia polychroma. This chameleon-like seasonal color change makes it an excellent choice for a well-drained perennial border. The bright red leaves also hint at spurge’s close relation to poinsettia. In addition to sharing red and gold color combinations, both plants have milky sap.

For more on growing cushion spurge, and to see it’s springtime color, go to our Plant Encyclopedia entry on spurges at http://www.bhg.com/gardening/plant-dictionary/perennial/spurge/. 


You Get What You Pay For

About 14 years ago I planted two red oak trees in my brother’s yard. One came from an independent nursery, the other from a now-defunct big box retailer. The first had a sizable root ball, well-developed branching, and $40 sale price. The second was deformed and sad-looking (I actually felt sorry for it languishing on the asphalt), and carried a $12 sale price. Now see if you can tell which is which. Moral of the story: sometimes it pays to pay a higher price.

Here's the $12 Hechinger's special I felt sorry for. I'm glad it survived, but it's never been a showstopper.

Here's the $12 Hechinger's special I felt sorry for. I'm glad it survived, but it's never been a showstopper.

Note how healthy and large this $40 tree has become.

Note how healthy and large the $40 tree has become.

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Fall reflections

Bright fall colors of a Japanese maple are reflected in the waterfall and pond at the Test Garden.

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When Gardening Gets Dangerous

Squid Agave

Octopus Agave

In a previous life, I must have lived in a warmer climate. Otherwise, I have no clue why I’m so attracted to big tropical plants that have no business living in my Iowa garden. Take agaves, for example. I love these plants and have a collection of them that I must move to warmer spots in my house for the winter. Yet, I persist on getting new agaves every year. Last spring, for example, our friends at Monrovia sent me a gigantic octopus agave that weighs so much I can barely budge it. It makes an extraordinary container plant and caught the eye of everyone that visited my garden this summer. Trouble is, agaves, are not fun to move because most species have sharp, spear-like foliage. And, no matter how careful I am, I always end up with puncture wounds on my hands and arms (agaves eat garden gloves for lunch). I imagine it’s what wrestling a porcupine would be like if that opportunity ever arose. Anyway, I’m happy to report that all my agaves are safely indoors for the winter, including the giant octopus agave–the way it kept grabbing me I understood why they call it an octopus agave.

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Da fruit is divine

I recently vacationed in Tuscany, Italy. Like most people who travel there, I became convinced that this is the coolest place on earth. The food, the wine, the vineyards and olive groves, the people….all  wonderful! (You don’t need to hear my vacation stories, but I couldn’t help saying that much. Oh, did I mention the wine?)

While there, I went to a street market and noticed ornamentals with berries or fruits were popular. It seems to be a trend over there. I hope it becomes a trend here, too. I noticed Pyracantha, Solanum, and Capsicum (below), among others and they were CUTE! Using plants with ornamental fruit is not a new idea, but definitely an underutilized one.

Pepper italy

A variegated pepper (of some sort) in a 4 inch pot.

When I find a source for this pepper (I think that’s what it is), I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, check out the seed catalogs. You’ll find several peppers and eggplants with really fun, ornamental fruits. This one from Park is fun.

Almost as fun as refilling a 2 gallon jug with a nice chianti for 7 Euros. At a hardware store. Someday I’m going to move there, I swear.

UPDATE: Denny says he thinks this is a Jerusalem cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum). I think he’s right. Thanks Denny!

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Cut it Out

StreamAssetContentOrigOne of the most common questions I’m asked this time of year is “when do I cut back my perennials?”

The answer is really up to you; it makes no difference to the plants. Some gardeners cut their perennials back in fall, after they’ve been frosted and don’t look so good anymore. This gives you a really tidy-looking winter landscape.

Other gardeners prefer to wait until spring so that the perennials catch snow and create winter interest. In fact, some perennials such as purple coneflower and black-eyed Susan, have seeds that will attract birds to your fall and winter garden.

As for me, I tend to leave my plants stand until spring. I’m usually busier in fall — and it gives me a reminder of where everything is planted before it starts growing for the year.

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