Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.


Everyone Should Plant Angelonia

AngeloniaAs a horticulturist, I often find myself recommending plants to people. I feel bad when I get asked for the impossible plants; something like an evergreen that flowers all year long, is hardy in Zone 3, loves deep shade, and deer won’t eat it.

There is one incredible flower that I frequently recommend, though, because it does cover so many bases. I absolutely LOVE it! The plant is called angelonia, and despite how wonderful it is, not a lot of gardeners have heard of it.

What does angelonia have going for it?

  • It blooms nonstop all summer long.
  • It comes in blues and purples (my favorites), as well as pinks and whites.
  • It holds up well in hot spots.
  • It handles drought like a champ.
  • It can grow in wet soil. I hear (never tried it myself, though), that you can even put it in a water garden.
  • It attracts butterflies.
  • Some varieties are fragrant.
  • Deer and rabbits usually leave it alone.

Because it’s so versatile and wonderful to work with, plant breeders have come out with a number of series. Upright versions like the Angelmist or Carita series can get 2 (or more) feet tall. Spreading varieties, such as Serena and Carita Cascade, are perfect picks for hanging baskets. And new-for-2012 Archangel has exceptionally large blooms that really stand out in containers or the landscape.

There’s a spot for angelonia in virtually every sunny garden. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

a second life for tomato cages

Now that the vegetable garden clean up is completed, I face a dilemma. Where can I store the more than 20 tomato cages used to corral the tomato crop through the growing season? The garage is already full of extra pots, pruning tools, and power equipment. And I can’t afford to send the tomato cages to Florida for the winter tomato crop.

I should explain that these aren’t the common 3-ring stackable tomato cages sold at garden centers. I find those too flimsy to hold up under the weight of ‘Mortgage Lifter’ heirloom tomatoes or too tiny to contain a rampant ‘Sweet Million’ cherry tomato. These are homemade contraptions fashioned from a cylinder of rabbit fencing. I place the narrow mesh of the fence at ground level and the wider squares  at the top to make reaching in for harvest easy to accomplish. The cages are secured in place by weaving a plastic or fiberglass pole through the mesh and into the ground.

'Tomatoberry' cherry tomatoes spill out of their cage.

I’ve put the cylinders to work this winter protecting new shrubs and perennials from deer and rabbit damage. The cages slip over the top of small plants, preventing hungry wildlife from reaching tender shoots. By the time the plant is large enough that it won’t fit into the cage, I figure that the plant is established well enough to bounce back from miscellaneous munching. I’m also using one of the cages to hold in place several feet of fluffy mulch (ornamental grasses and leaves) to protect my hardy banana plant. (Yes, Musa basjoois a Zone 5 banana, provided that it gets winter protection.) The same technique would work for rose bushes that might need protection from winter winds and sub-zero weather.

Leaves and stems of ornamental grasses are contained in this cage, providing winter protection for a hardy banana plant.

Rabbits won't be able to reach this caged blue holly shrub.

spring unleashed

Spring unleashes the inner puppy in gardeners. With boundless joy, we can’t wait to get down on all fours and dig in the dirt as soon as the ground thaws. Thanks to a new German Shepherd pup in my house, our first signs of Spring this year were muddy paw prints on the living room carpet.

Apollo is all ears when I tell him Spring has arrived.

Apollo is all ears when I tell him Spring has arrived.

With house-training little Apollo as my main motivator, I spent a lot of time outdoors this past month examining every square foot of our property, several times each day. Nose to the ground, Apollo follows scent trails of rabbits and deer while I inspect the tree and shrub damage those hungry critters have caused.

Yesterday, I discovered a pair of cheerful yellow winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) blooming in my woodland garden. Nearby, a clump of jonquil (Narcissus hybrids) sprouts were muscling their way through the leaf litter. Fortunately, the rabbits and deer find these tender morsels distasteful.

Before too long, I’ll be digging in the garden. I hope Apollo doesn’t get any ideas.

Winter aconite is one of the earliest flowers to bloom in spring.

Winter aconite is one of Spring's earliest blooms.

Fingerlike narcissus sprouts punch through a fallen oak leaf.

Finger-like narcissus sprouts break through a fallen oak leaf.

The Creatures Were Stirring

Winter Scenes 008Winter Scenes 002All was quiet inside the McKeon house as we slumbered through the predawn hours of Christmas day. While reindeer danced through our dreams, white-tail deer partied the night away in our backyard. We awoke to, not the sound of hooves on the roof, but to the sight of tracks in freshly fallen snow. And to our wondering surprise, four does were lingering in the garden—a flower border planted last summer for birds and butterflies, not grazers.

We had no eyewitness accounts of rabbits, but dozens of telltale hopper trails were all the evidence we needed to prove that a family of cottontails was spending the holiday sleeping off their midnight meal in the cozy warren of our brush pile.

In the wild, deer and rabbits survive cold winters by nibbling on the tender branches from the previous year’s growing season. Called browsing, this method of search-and-devour is Mother Nature’s way of providing food for her flock and pruning crowded vegetation. For gardeners, however, losing plants to hungry critters can be a lot harder on the pocketbook than window shopping, the more common definition of browsing. If left unprotected, young trees and shrubs can be nibbled to nubbins in no time.

I’m all for creating backyard wildlife habitats. Selfishly, though, I like to protect my landscaping investments. The secret to a landscape that caters to both people and wildlife is to reach a respectful balance. I figure if I can successfully keep deer and rabbits from dining on new plantings for the first few years, the trees and shrubs will grow big and strong enough to tolerate a chewed-off branch here and there.

Many gardeners use barriers, such as cages made of stakes and chicken wire, to keep winter browsers at bay. This method is very effective, especially if you have just a few specimens to protect. For large numbers of trees and shrubs, a good alternative is one of the natural wildlife deterrents, such as Liquid Fence and Messina Wildlife Products. These manufacturers offer formulations for just about every critter. The trick is to apply them regularly (every 30 days) when temperatures are above the freezing mark.

What Earth-kind methods do you use to protect your plants from wildlife damage? We would love to hear from you!

© Copyright , Meredith Corporation. All Rights Reserved | Privacy Policy | Data Policy | Terms of Service | AdChoices