September 2010

Justin W. Hancock

Planting Bulbs

The days are getting shorter and temperatures are (finally!) cooling down. That means it’s time to plant spring-blooming bulbs!

Most of us are familiar with big showy ones such as tulip, daffodil, and hyacinth. But don’t overlook the littler ones.

Like the Siberian squill shown here, most of the little bulbs are great because they put on a bigger, better show every year as the bulbs multiply.

They’re perfect for adding a dose color underneath a groundcover such as lamium, barren strawberry, or vinca — don’t worry; bulbs can push their way up between the leaves.

My favorite way to use the littler bulbs, though, is to plant them in my lawn for a super dose of early spring color. (Plus, I never have to worry about accidentally digging them up when I’m adding new plants in my garden over the summer.) Most years the bulbs’ foliage begins to fade around the time I mow for the first time so I’m not really hurting them by cutting my grass.

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James A. Baggett

Nature’s Bubble Wrap

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Every time I walk past the blooming stalks of hostas—especially at this glorious time of year—I can’t help but reach out and pop a few unopened blossoms. They really are nature’s Bubble Wrap. At least that’s what I used to think as child growing up in New Jersey. The turn-of-the-century neighborhood my family lived in was shaded by mature oaks that bore acorns the size of bowling balls , and hostas—along with the ubiquitous Japanese spurge (Pachysandra terminalis)—carpeted the front yards, ringed the trees, and lined the driveways up and down Kendrick Road. Most likely, this was handsome Hosta ‘Lancifolia’, but this back before anyone paid much attention to these hardworking perennials. Late in the summer, the strappy hostas send up their slender stalks of funnel-shaped, deep-purple blossoms, and—just before the flowers unfurl their delicate petals—each bud forms a miniature airtight balloon. If you quickly snap one of these buds between your thumb and forefinger, it will release a loud, satisfying pop! My brothers and I would run up and down the street furtively popping hostas blossoms until we were caught in the act. “Stop that,” I can still hear my mother scolding us. “Now those flowers will never bloom.” Go ahead, give it a try. It’s certainly worth sacrificing a few blossoms for a few seconds of bubble-popping fun.

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Justin W. Hancock

Why Grow Up?

Pinus flexilis 'Glauca Pendula'Summer is fading into fall, and that means winter (at least here in Iowa) is inevitably around the corner.

Many of my gardening friends tell me they like the idea of an evergreen for winter interest, but they don’t want to lose all the space a full-size pine tree would take up.

They’re in luck — and so are you, if you find yourself in a similar predicament. Instead of pursuing big trees, consider weeping forms. For example, I just snapped a picture of a weeping limber pine (Pinus flexilis ‘Glauca Pendula’) from the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden. It only grows about knee high and is spreading about 4 feet wide. It forms a stunning groundcover that looks good in all seasons.

If you look hard enough you can find weeping varieties of most of your favorite evergreen trees, including white pine (Pinus strobus ‘Pendula’), blue spruce (Picea pungens ‘Glauca Prostrata’), and hemlock (Tsuga canadensis ‘Pendula’). Look for them at your local garden center or nursery as a quick and easy way to add four-season color to your landscape.


Justin W. Hancock

Plant of the Day: Coralberry

SymphoricarposThe other day I took a picture of beautyberry from the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden. Here’s another great shrub with fun fall fruits: Coralberry (Symphoricarpos). Native to areas of the North American Midwest, it features clusters of pink fruits in fall. It’s a tough plant that tolerates a wide range of conditions (though it does tend to produce suckers and want to form small thickets). It attracts birds and is great for use in fall flower arrangements!

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Justin W. Hancock

Plant of the Day: Coleus

Coleus 'Swallowtail'Wondering what this cool plant is? It’s ‘Swallowtail’ coleus — a stunning, extra-easy to grow shade-loving annual. If you fall in love with it as much as we have, you can take cuttings and grow it as a houseplant in a bright window!

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Justin W. Hancock

Picture of the Day: Beautyberry

CallicarpaAdd drama to your fall landscape with beautyberry, an easy-growing shrub that lights up in autumn with gorgeous violet-purple berries that attract birds. We’re particularly fond the variety ‘Issai’, which only gets about 4 feet tall and wide — perfect for any sunny garden!

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