Saturday, January 29, 2011


While waiting for the amaryllis to bloom…

I decided to repot the fern -

A knife around the inside edge to loosen the plant; a little root pruning; a slightly larger pot; fresh potting soil; done.

Still waiting

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Purple Coneflower

Echinacea purpurea (with annual Aster)

According to Doug Green’s Perennial Garden Tips: “The name Echinacea comes from the Greek, echinos or hedgehog.” I can almost see a little hedgehog in the spiny seed head. You can read the rest of Doug’s article here.

As I worked on my spring to do-list this week, I added another low-maintenance perennial that needs some maintenance.

Purple Coneflowers should be divided every 3 to 5 years. I tend to ignore them well past the 5-year limit. I procrastinate until they look raggedy, bloom less or turn black from mildew because they are too crowded. All that happened last summer.

I have 2 large clumps of these tall, back of the garden perennials and a small clump that somehow grew under a dogwood tree. I’ll dig up the large clumps, separate and put some plants back in the same spot. I’ll pot up the rest to give away. I’ll move the small clump to a corner of the front garden that can use some color. Then, I’ll be good for another 5 years.

Even low maintenance plants require some maintenance.
The no-maintenance garden is spelled C-O-N-C-R-E-T-E.

More information: “Dividing Perennials” from Clemson University Cooperative Extension

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Dianthus gratianopolitanus 'Bath’s Pink’

Here’s another perennial I that’s an easy keeper in my garden – just two little bits of maintenance during the year. It’s been in my garden for ten years.

The slowly spreading ground cover grows 6 to 8 inches tall. The flowers hover above the foliage.  It blooms well in full sun, After bloom it is easy to deadhead with a hand grass edger or to grab a bunch of stems and snip them off with a hand pruner. I have never had it re-bloom.

The new growth lays on top of the ground and can be trimmed with a scissor to keep it the right size - just lift and cut. . .

It always seems to me to have a brief bloom time. The pictures from May 5 (in bloom) to May 29 (after trimming) prove it’s not much different from a lot of other perennials.

(May 5, 2010)

(May 29, 2010)

Dianthus is also called pinks. I remember my grandmother talking about the pinks in her garden. I thought the name came from the color of the flower.

It turns out that pinks are named for the flower’s saw-toothed edge. A piece of cloth is pinked to keep the fabric from unraveling. Sewers may be familiar with the zig-zag edge of a pinking shears.

 For me, it’s about as care free as a perennial gets. Neglect doesn’t seem to bother it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Liriope muscari

This low maintenance plant is also known as lilyturf or monkeygrass. It is an evergreen, slow-growing, clump-forming, plant.

My original plant was a division from a neighbor. I have 3 clumps now. There are only a few things to do to keep them tidy.

Each spring, before new growth starts, the old, tough-as-leather leaves need to be cut back. I missed this step a few times and it didn’t seem to make much difference. Some experts say to set your lawn mower to the highest setting and run over it. I think the easiest way to trim it is with a weed whacker. Trying to trim the tough leaves with a hand pruner or scissor is frustrating to say the least.

If you don’t have a weed whacker offer your neighbor a beer to come whack them down. Each plant takes about 45 seconds. It’s worth a beer (or a case of beer if you have a lot of Liriope).

If the clump starts to get too wide, dig it up and divide it immediately. An 18” wide root ball can weigh a ton and will need to be divided with an axe or a large saw. I’m talking from experience here. (Judging from the size of the lirope pictured above, I haven't learned this lesson.)

Liriope muscari 'variegata' is a more striking plant. The picture is from my daughter’s garden. I like the variegated leaves. Someday I may replace the solid green with the variegated variety. Or, if I wait long enough, I may get a division from her garden.
Liriope muscari seems to grow anywhere. Mine are planted in part shade. It blooms in late summer and produces black berries for the birds in fall. And it really can be ignored – somewhat.

More information from Fine Gardening here.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I’ve been shoveling but it’s not dirt

It’s winter. Snow shoveling comes with the territory in zone 6, I guess.  So far we’ve been lucky with no major snowfalls just a bunch of minor ones. It’s not as much fun as planting a new perennial or starting a new garden bed.
But, I’m told the snow is good for the garden. It conserves moisture in the soil. It insulates and protects perennials. It keeps the soil temperature more even and prevents heaving from alternate feeze/thaw cycles. And, it paints a pretty winter garden picture.

I wish it would only snow on the garden and not on the sidewalks and streets.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Perennial Care Manual

“The Perennial Care Manual – A Plant by Plant Guide. What To Do and When To Do It”, by Nancy J. Ondra. You can get a taste for her writing at her classy and informative blog “Hayefield”. 

This large book (8 ½” X 11” with 355 pages), replete with Bob Cardillo’s gorgeous photos, is divided into two parts - “Perennial Care Basics” and “Plant by Plant Perennial Guide”. It is one of the most readable books I’ve ever read.

The “Perennial Care Basics” section contains a lot of information to absorb. From starting a new garden to revamping the old garden, there are so many tips and tricks simply make you say, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

For instance, I want to mulch the roses after ground freezes but, after the ground freezes, the mulch is also frozen. Nan’s advice: Cover the mulch with a tarp to keep it from freezing. I did that this year. I made my mulch pile on the patio next to the roses and covered it with a tarp. The mulch stayed warm and I mulched the roses in December. Why didn’t I think of that?”

Not in a lifetime could I get so much information in one book. Each one of the 125 perennials in the “Plant by Plant” section includes growing tips, seasonal care and troubleshooting. Inserts for most of the plants contain tips and facts not found in your average plant description.

An insert for Crocosmia:  “Definitely Deadhead – Where crocosmias thrive they may actually grow too enthusiastically to the point of being aggressive…invasive in some regions…”  I haven't had that problem yet but I will definitely keep an eye on them. Deadheading is a simple task. A few snips and the job is done.

I guess you can tell I’m a big fan of this book. I’ll be happily dreaming through it all winter and beyond!

A reminder for local gardeners:

Get out of the house for an evening and start thinking SPRING! The first session starts 6 PM January 17 at Bethlehem Township Community Center. Call 610-391-9840 to reserve a spot or print the brochure in the link above and send it in.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Christmas Cactus

Last January I pruned the roots and trimmed my old Christmas cactus. (See post “Root Pruning” from January 27, 2010.)    I don’t prune the roots often because Christmas cactus doesn’t mind being root bound.

This plant could be Schlumbergera russelliana - that's my best guess. It is the granddaughter or great-granddaughter of the original plant I got 50 years ago. The flowers are brilliant red and it is usually blooms at Christmas. I have never seen one exactly like it at the garden centers.

After trimming last year, I took four cuttings and put them in a small vase of water. I planted them in potting soil about a month later. All four cuttings ended up in a single 4” plastic pot (because I was too lazy to plant four separate pots). Maybe you can see the tiny buds on the baby plants in the picture below.

I’ll transplant each one to individual clay pots one of these days. These plants seem to do better in a clay pot. (Plastic pots may keep the plant too wet.) Also Christmas Cacti tend to get top heavy. The weight of the clay pot keeps them from toppling over.

I will give three away.  I'm looking for takers.

I’ll keep one to start a new generation.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Spring Garden Series

Back to reality and time to plan for spring!

2011 Master Gardener Spring Garden Series

Evening Classes (6 PM) begin Monday, January 17 at the Bethlehem Township Community Center, 2900 Farmersville Road, Bethlehem, PA 18020. Phone: 610-746-1970. The first classes will be “Cottage Gardening” and “Pollinators”.

Saturday Classes (9 AM) start February 12 at the Lehigh County Agricultural Center, 4184 Dorney Park Road, Allentown, PA 18104. Phone 610-391-9840. “Heirloom Tomatoes”, “Composting” and “Pollinators” will be the subjects to start the series.

The charge for each class is $7. Click here to access the brochure “Grow Healthy Gardens and Healthy Landscapes” for all the details. If you are interested, sign up soon. Class size is limited and classes have been filled to capacity in other years.

Spring will be here before we know it.    ----   I am so over last year!

Other topics in the Spring Garden Series:
• Community Gardens in an Urban Setting

• Green Roofs

• Backyard Fruit Production from Apples to Zinfandels

• Flowering Trees: The Good the Bad and the Scabby

• Pruning Landscape Trees and Shrubs