Plants

BHG Guest Blogger

Tried-and-True Plants for the Midwest

The following is a guest blog post from Kathleen Hennessy.

When I walk through my yard, there are certain plants that just stand out every year. Season after season they put a smile on my face, delivering beautiful color with minimal care. These easy to grow and easy to love plants are what define tried and true for me.

First Editions® Tiger Eyes Sumac


When people force me to choose just one favorite shrub, I always say Tiger Eyes Sumac. The leaves of this unique plant are simply stunning. In the spring, they start out a bright chartreuse green then change to a glowing yellow. As beautiful as Tiger Eyes is in the summer, its amazing fall color really grabs your attention. The leaves become a wonderful combination of yellow, orange and scarlet. Throughout the entire growing season this plant literally glows in the garden.

Tiger Eyes grows to about six feet in height and width. Planted in groups it makes an excellent back boarder. Planted alone, it’s a great feature plant in a large container or in the garden. The beautiful colors won’t fade in bright light and this sumac is slower to sucker. It is recommended for Zones 4-8.

Coneflowers


If you’re looking for bulletproof blooms, you want to go native. Coneflowers, or Echinacea, are native to Midwest prairies and can tolerate our cold winters and scorching summers.

The flowers of this tough perennial come in a variety of colors, brightening the garden from summer through fall. Best of all, they attract birds and butterflies.

In the past few years, several new varieties have hit the market. But, if we’re talking tried-and-true, I stick with the old standbys. ‘Magnus,’ ‘Prairie Splendor,’ and ‘White Swan’ have performed year after year in my garden.

Newer varieties like ‘PowWow Wild Berry’ and ‘Hot Papaya’ deliver amazing color and great bloom power. PowWow’s compact shape and Hot Papaya’s double blooms make them garden standouts.

See top coneflower varieties from the Better Homes and Gardens’ Test Garden.  

 

Hydrangea Paniculata


Here in the Midwest, your Hydrangea success really depends on picking the right varieties. If you’re looking for a variety that is tried and true, you’re looking for a Hydrangea paniculata.

Paniculata varieties are hardy, easy to grow and produce spectacular cone shaped blooms that are beautiful outside in the garden or inside in a vase.

One of my favorites is First Editions® Vanilla Strawberry. The enormous, bright white blooms turn a soft pink, then become a beautiful strawberry-red as the nights get cooler. The blooms hold their color longer than many other varieties.

Vanilla Strawberry prefers full sun and grows to about six or seven feet. It is recommended for Zones 4-8. Learn more about growing Vanilla Strawberry hydrangea here.

If you’re looking for a smaller Hydrangea paniculata, try Little Lime. This shrub grows only to about three to five feet, making it perfect for a smaller garden space or even a container. The blooms start out a lime green, then turn creamy white. As the flowers age, they take on a slightly pinkish color. Recommended for full sun or partial shade, Little Lime is hardy to Zone 3.
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Kathleen Hennessy has been writing on gardening and DIY topics for more than 15 years. You can read more about her Zone 3 and Zone 4 gardening challenges in her blog at 29minutegardener.com, or follow her on Twitter @29mingardener.

 

 

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BHG Guest Blogger

Complete Your Halloween Haunt with Black Plants

The following is a guest blog post from Leslie Halleck.

With Halloween just around the corner, I find myself giddy with anticipation. I’ll admit that Halloween is my favorite holiday when it comes to decorating. As the designated “scary house” of the neighborhood, I feel it’s my duty to deliver not only on the sweets when the kids arrive, but also to max out the “creepy” factor. In addition to all the standard decorations that go into creating a house of haunt, I also like to create plant combinations that reflect the season. There’s nothing better than adding plants with black foliage to porch containers to complete the look and feel with some style.

Plant varieties with black foliage are hot right now, but plants with true black foliage are far and few between. One of the newest arrivals is the BLACK DIAMOND™ series of dwarf crapemyrtles. When I first spotted these beauties I knew I had to have at least one, and that they’d be perfect for Halloween container specimens. The plants sport spectacular black foliage that offers up a striking contrast to the five available flower colors. BLACK DIAMOND™  Pure White is my favorite; the bright white flowers against the dark black foliage are stunning. If you’re using the “thriller, filler & spiller” method of container design, these are definitely your thriller (which just happens to work perfectly with our Halloween theme, no?). When mature, these semi-dwarf shrubs reach a maximum of 10- to 12’ feet tall, but can be kept to a container size by tip pruning. Make sure you place them in a full sun location to keep plants in bloom and foliage color strong.

For an architectural modern look, Aeonium arboreum ’Zwartkop’, also known as black rose, is the perfect filler for a Halloween themed container. Aeonium is a striking succulent which forms clumps of tall gray stems that hold shiny rosettes of almost black leaves. These rosettes are often called flowers because of their shape. Another fantastic fall filler for your Halloween doorstep is Petunia ‘Black Velvet’. I adore this variety because the flowers are as black as can be with a velvety sheen to them. Don’t forget about black pansies or violas! ‘Black Devil’ offers up coal-black blooms with a tiny yellow center. They make for the perfect tabletop centerpiece when planted or displayed inside pumpkins.


A good container combination always benefits from a plant that trails over the edge…also known as your “spiller”. ‘Black Heart’ Sweet Potato vine is a vigorous creeping vine with beautiful heart shaped leaves. Foliage color is a deep burgundy to almost black. This annual is easy as can be to grow and can work in a full sun to part sun environment. It will also tolerate dry spells if you forget to water, which is a bonus if you live in a hot climate.  All of these black beauties create a striking contrast with combined with silver foliage plants such as dusty miller or Centaurea cineraria ‘Colchester White’.

Happy Halloween!

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Leslie is a dedicated horticulturist and gardener with more than 20 years of green industry experience.  She earned her M.S. in Horticulture at Michigan State University and her B.S. in Biology/Botany from the University of North Texas. Leslie is also a Certified Professional Horticulturist (CPH). She currently runs her own consulting company, Halleck Horticultural. You can read her growLively garden blog at www.lesliehalleck.com

 

 

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BHG Guest Blogger

Boost Your Indoor Space: Add Houseplants

The following is a guest blog post from Justin Hancock.


Looking for an easy way to make your life better? Grow houseplants! Seriously: Having houseplants can improve your quality of life. There’s a wealth of scientific studies out there showing just how good houseplants are for us on a fundamental level.

For example, a study from the University of Michigan found that having a plant in your home office can make you more productive. Turns out having plants in our indoor spaces improves concentration and memory.

 

Other research shows plants help us relax, making them perfect picks for bedrooms. And when you add in the fact that plants filter indoor air pollution (like dangerous VOCs found in paint, carpet, cabinets, etc.), it seems like an even better idea to keep a houseplant or two nearby.

If you’ve never had a houseplant, now’s the perfect time to get one. It’s National Indoor Plant Week, a time to celebrate the benefits of having plants around us indoors.

 

So what are some of the best houseplants? Three of the most stylish, easy-care varieties are: snake plant, zeezee plant, and ponytail palm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About Justin Hancock: A hardcore gardener and professional horticulturist (and former Better Homes and Gardens staffer), Justin lives in Miami and works for Costa Farms, the country’s largest grower of houseplants. He surrounds himself with plants at home and in the office, making him a happy, well-adjusted person. His garden writing has appeared on websites, print, television, and video.

 

 

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Shawna Coronado

Best Fall Blooming Plant — Japanese Anemone Tomentosa ‘Robustissima’

Japanese Anemone tomentosa Robustissima

Hands down, my favorite late summer and fall perennial bloomer of all time is the Japanese Anemone tomentosa ‘Robustissima’. An absolute non-stop flowering gobstopper for weeks on end by my front step from late August through October. Originally I chose this plant because it is known as the hardiest and easiest Japanese Anemone to grow, but soon it’s captivating wind Japanese Anemone tomentosa Robustissima  side view flowers and bee laden blooms became my favorite September flower-power plant.  In fact, bees can be found smothering the flowers the entire bloom season, so anemone is a lovely plant to attract pollinators to your garden. Best yet, this is the perfect perennial to toss in the ground then ignore for most of the season.

How To Grow Robustissima Anemone

While anemone love a rich, moist planting site, this particular variety will do well in average and even sandy soil. Add plenty of organic matter to enrich existing soil before planting. Robustissima Anemone is the most adaptable of all the anemone’s to drier conditions, but need more watering attention initially until they are established. Once established, plants form a low mound of green leaves with tall branching stems that produce interesting branches of bud balls that will develop into attractive soft-pink five petaled flowers.

Anemone Robustissima do well in full sun to part-shade and are tremendously easy to grow. I leave the seedheads up all winter for interest and clean the beds in early spring before green shoots redevelop. Divide every few years in the spring to keep the plants in check. Add additional organic matter like compost to the beds, mulching well, in the fall.

Japanese Anemone with Bee


Shawna Coronado

An Herb Patio Garden; Hummingbirds and Bees and Cocktails

Cocktail Herb Garden Patio Tile View Shawna Coronado

This year I expanded my front patio to include sedum lined tiles, more space for seating, and a cocktail herb garden. This spot is a delicious smelling niche that has become the focus of outdoor room entertaining in my front garden.  Many of my friends and family discover birds and other pollinators like bees and butterflies flitting all around the herbs while we are out on the front patio spending time together.The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

Inspired by Amy Stewart’s latest book, The Drunken Botanist, this garden design was intended to be a relaxing place that bathes you in delightful scents as you sip herbal cocktails and watch the wildlife. Pollinators love the plants that surround the patio. I planted basil, thyme, and plants from The Drunken Botanist plant collection such as, the “Old Tom Gin Garden” and the “Old Havana Rum Garden”. Sitting out front has become an amazing experience because of the bees and butterflies that dance through the herb garden as much as for the delicious herbal cocktails.

Bird watching is a part of this experience as well. We have a wonderful little hummingbird that flies in and out of the hostas and herbs. She loves the sage flowers, bee balm, cat mint, and my little red hummingbird feeder. I keep it stocked up with nectar just for her so she can entertain us with her antics.

Building an herbal garden with the goal of attracting the birds and bees and a few dozen cocktail aficionados could be just the fantastic late summer project you need to end your summer with a garden bang. Plan the lay-out, amend the soil, and then toss in a few perennial herbs such as lemon thyme, tricolor sage, and lavender. You can enjoy the herbs this fall and be surprised by new growth in the early spring for the first outdoor garden cocktail parties of the season.

Herbal Cocktail Garden Patio Shawna Coronado

According the FTC, I need to let you know that I received products in this story at no cost in exchange for reviewing them.


Shawna Coronado

Top 3 Must-Haves For An Outdoor Garden Potting Bench Room

Outdoor Garden Room with Potting Bench

Outdoor garden rooms are all the rage right now and having a unique spot in the garden to call my own sounded pretty appealing. My goal: Transform my haphazard back potting patio into a better looking space that serves the dual purpose of both being an outdoor room and a storage area for my container planting supplies.

Outdoor Room Before Photo
My home exterior is an odd mixture of suburban siding and 1970′s design – I’m always trying to switch it about or update it. We resided the house a few years ago, which was a tremendous change for the exterior image of the garden and home itself, but the back patio really needed some help. It’s an odd shaped deck enclosed by fencing and used as a storage place for the garbage cans and a landing spot for anything and everything [see above].

Removing the extra fencing was the first step, then the garbage cans and old seating. After that I decided what my goal was for an outdoor garden potting bench room — I wanted a functional area I could store my containers, layer my bagged potting soil, sit and entertain friends, and enjoy a beautiful view.

Garden Room Potting Bench

TOP 3 MUST HAVES FOR AN OUTDOOR GARDEN POTTING BENCH ROOM

1. Potting Bench – My husband built my bench – he had no plan, just used 4×4′s, wood planks, galvanized nails, and his amazing engineering-based imagination.

2. Seating - The two bright orange Adirondack chairs came from Freecycle.org. A local family in the community gave them to me unpainted and covered in moss. I bleached the chairs, sanded them, then painted them with brightly colored exterior paint.

3. A View – By removing the deck fencing I opened up the view significantly. Then I built a colorful outdoor fireplace photo and chandelier wall as a centerpiece for the deck (here is the how to do – LINK). A container tower acts as a median view between the garden room and the garden itself.

Transforming your deck or patio into a garden potting bench area that also serves as an outdoor garden room is a great way to combine two needs into your outdoor design plan. Building a room with a view and reusing older things to help with the transformation is a terrific way to make the garden more green and sustainable as well. Build a patio room in your garden this summer that is functional, fun, and a nice place to spend time.

Outdoor Garden Room Adirondack Chairs