Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.


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!

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.

Now that the snow is finally melting here in Central Iowa, the extent of damage to shrubs from rabbits is woefully apparent. Snow cover was deep for so long that bunnies fed on almost any plant that protruded from the white stuff.

Two forms of rabbit damage show up on this viburnum. Smaller shoots have been nipped with an angular cut. The larger branch has been stripped of its bark.

Two forms of rabbit damage show up on this viburnum. Smaller shoots have been nipped with an angular cut. The larger branch has been stripped of its bark.

It’s discouraging to look at receding snowbanks and see glaring white stems of shrubs stripped of their bark. Often, the shoots near the ground are fine because they were protected under the snow.

It’s too late to protect these shrubs now. But they can be salvaged with a little pruning. If stem tips are gnawed, cut the remaining stem just above a bud. A new shoot will emerge from that bud. If the bark of larger stems is damaged, the amount of pruning needed depends on the extent of the damage. The rule of thumb that I use is, if the bark is stripped more than half way around the stem, remove that shoot. If damage extends only 1/4 (or less) of the way around the stem, it will probably continue to grow fine without any care.

I usually opt for removing damaged stems. Shrubs with multiple shoots resprout readily from the base and grow back fuller and lusher than ever. It’s a great opportunity to rejuvenate old, overgrown shrubs. Make cuts 6 to 12 inches above the ground. If you make the cuts higher, the shrub will develop tufts of new growth at stem tips and be relatively bare at the base.

Wire caging protected this barberry from rabbits.

Wire caging protected this barberry from rabbits.

One technique that I’ve used to protect shrubs from rabbits is to place homemade tomato cages around smaller shrubs. They’re cylinders made of rabbit fencing. The lower wires are close together, preventing rabbits from getting in. Wider wire spacing at the top allows easy access for tomato harvest in summer. Normally this trick not only solves the problem of where to store cages over winter, bit it also prevents rabbit damage to the shrub it encircles. However, deep snow this year let the rabbits wiggle through the wider wires. Next year I’ll be more vigilant and spray rabbit repellent in addition to fencing off favorite plants.

It’s been a while since I blogged on rabbits, one of my perennial favorite topics. So…..

This photo shows what used to be a spirea shrub. There’s nothing in my yard that is a bigger favorite of rabbits, year after year, than spirea.  (Tulips and lettuce come close, though.)  There is a whole row of spirea plants, and they all look like this one. At least they look rejuvenated each spring, although they don’t ever get much bigger.

Rabbit damage

My neighbor, “Wilson”, has a barberry shrub in his front yard. Barberry is another rabbit favorite—the thorns don’t seem to matter a bit. The poor plant never could grow much before getting mowed down again. I finally talked him into putting some chicken wire around it to give it some protection. In  a year or so, it had grown quite a bit and once the wire was removed, the rabbits mostly left it alone. That’s the funny thing about rabbits — they always go after the small stuff, the plants they can eat without having to stand up. I guess they’re as lazy as they are hungry. In spring, newly sprouted perennials tend to get demolished, but if they have a chance to grow and get larger, then the bunnies leave them be.

This year, the snow drifts are pretty high, so the critters are getting to a lot branches that are normally out of reach. I’m trying to just relax and not let it bother me so much. As long as the plant doesn’t get mowed to the ground, I guess it’s not the worst that could happen. The spirea earns that prize.

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