Category: Grow

Our Peony Garden: 7 Tips for Success

I’m a hopeless collector….of everything; you name it. Books, funky art, even funky friends, chickens, daffodils and lots of other flowers.

So, it’s easy to understand why I’d be be drawn to peonies too…like, in a big way. They are truly the queen of the flowers. You know, those kinds of flowers that evoke that… ‘Oh! Be still my heart’ kind of moments in life when you see them.

Allen with fresh cut peonies at Moss Mountain Farm

I’ve planted peonies in fits and starts my whole life, but mainly for others. Occasionally you’ll find a design client with enough space and passion for the flower to really go all out, but those are fairly uncommon these days. For the most part, many gardeners want a few in the garden integrated among other perennials, and I will be the first to say there is nothing wrong with that. Peonies, any way you want to grow them, get my attention and full support. However, I will say that over the years I’ve learned a few things about harnessing my enthusiasm and succumbing to my weaknesses…peonies being one of them. Perhaps the most important lesson in order to avoid heartache, no matter the scale of your planting, is to get it right the first time. So last year, true to my uncontrollable and unbridled passions, I embarked on a garden of 360 peonies from Gilbert H Wild. Yep… 360 plants ( tubers), 36 varieties, 10 each. The results were spectacular.

Peony Garden at Moss Mountain Farm

Here are some of my notes and takes aways from the field to consider if you’re serious about peonies. Hopefully, you’ll find them helpful:

  1. They don’t like to be disturbed. So plant them in a good place and leave them. So what’s a good place you might asking. Well, full sun or a spot with at least six hours of sunlight. I prefer morning light over hot afternoon. They need good average soil that drains well. Peonies do not like ‘wet feet’, so plant in well-draining soil or else the tubers will surely rot. And don’t scrimp on adding good amendments to the soil, like plenty of humus and well-rotted manure (Yeah, manure. Go make a friend with a farmer).
  2. Let’s face it, these flowers are extremely ephemeral, like most beauty. So plant multiple varieties that bloom early, mid and late in the season. This will extend the blooming season and your joy. And stop complaining about how the flowers don’t last long! Enjoy the moment and be content. Years ago a customer came into our nursery and wanted a landscape that was evergreen, bloomed all year and was low maintenance. I suggested they move to another hemisphere, perhaps near the equator or take up residency on another planet.

    ‘Krinkled White’ Peony
  3. Buy nice tubers (as I said, ours all came from Gilbert H Wild and Son) with 4 to 5 eyes and take your time planting them.
    Don’t skimp on size, or if you do, don’t complain if they don’t bloom the first year. And, don’t plant the tubers too deep. The eyes are red and needn’t be too deep underground. In the North, deeper planting is advised, but here in the South, I’ve only covered the eyes with about 1/2 inch of soil with great success.

    Peony tuber from Gilbert H. Wild

     

  4. Choose varieties suited to your climate. Peonies, by their very nature, prefer a cold winter. So if you live in Minnesota you probably grow amazing Peonies, but not so much in Texas. Sorry, it’s just a fact of life. Look at it this way, you don’t see fields of Texas bluebonnets in St. Paul, Minneapolis, right? So, it’s a trade off, like so much of life. I will say, however, I’ve found that the early bloomers perform the best in my zone 8a garden. Old standbys like ‘Festiva Maxima,’ ‘Sarah Bernhardt,’ as well as ‘Coral Charm,’ ‘Coral Sunset ‘ and many other single bloom types.
    ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ Peony

     

  5. Once they have bloomed I remove the seed heads. There’s no reason for the plant to continue to put energy into seed production when I’d rather it pour its resources into making larger tubers, which means… you guessed, it will have larger and more abundant blooms next year.
  6. And, another tip… for the first couple of years refrain from cutting the blooms from the plants with extra long stems (Yes, tempting, I know.) The plants with extra long stems and plenty of foliage left intact are your friends, so don’t get greedy the first few years. You see, these remaining stems and leaves are the workhorses of the plant and continue to help build larger stronger future tubers and thereby more plentiful blooms in seasons to come. Later, once the clumps are established you can cut blooms with long luxurious stems.
  7. Oh, and one last thing, the ANTS.
    Of all the questions I receive about peonies, those concerned about the tiny ants that congregate on the flower buds outweigh all questions combined. These ants are drawn to the sweet nectar-like sap that the bud produces. They do no harm to the peony, or will they you. Just rinse them off with cool water and let them go about their day…live and let live!

Below are a few photos of our new peony garden after only one year after being planted at Moss Mountain Farm, and some of the resulting blooms.

‘Largo’ Peony

 

Field of Peonies at Moss Mountain Farm

 

‘Mons Jules Elie’ peony

 

To learn more about growing peonies, check out the video below!

Tips for Growing Peony Growing Peonies

Why You Should Grow More Daffodils

Inexhaustible beauty can be found in the most ordinary things. Not that I would call any daffodil ordinary, but I feel few people really look at this marvelous flower closely and understand its virtues and beauty.

Too often that which comes easy or familiar to us is often not as revered or appreciated. We see this in our relationships with others and the many things to see and do in our own ‘backyard’, but takes visitors from out of town to see these places. Daffodils, as flowers, fall into this category.

So, as the daffodil season comes to a close here are a few compelling reasons to add more daffodils to your life.

First and Bravest

‘Rynvelds Early Sensation’ is our first variety of daffodil to bloom…often the first week of January….yes January! It’s soon followed by ‘February Gold’. It’s that  first flower to say to us  ‘Hey, don’t despair spring will be here soon’. Also, the daffodil, just to reassure us, hangs with us until we are well passed the official date of spring and the earliest peonies begin to bloom. Certainly,  no single variety can span with consistent bloom from January to May, but a range or early, mid and late bloomers have for us each year.

Loyal Friend

Daffodils are perennials. It’s a build that comes back every year …often for many decades. But, give them as much sun as possible, let the foliage dieback naturally and after blooming they can benefit from a good organic all purpose fertilizer.

Deer Resistant

Yes, these are resistant to munching deer and ground burrowing critters. We’ve planted over 450,000 bulbs (and still planting – yes, I know it’s an obsession) at Moss Mountain Farm over the last decade with any issues of overgrazing.

Generous and Good Multipliers

We’ve found some varieties are better ‘increasers’ than others. For instance ‘ Ice Follies’ an early bloomer, ‘Tete e tete’ and  ‘Thalia’ are exemptional. We rarely dig and divide existing daffodil clumps. I’m sure some varieties could benefit, but there have been old varieties on the farm potentially since the mid-1800s and they continue to bloom. So, to divide or not to divide? I’d almost rather add more new varieties…see, I said it’s an obsession!

5 Companion Perennials to Consider

These perennials will emerge as the daffodils have finished blooming are declining, eventually these perennials will cover the spent foliage of the daffodils.

  • Daylily
  • Coral bells
  • Solomon Seal
  • Russian Sage
  • Hyssop ‘Fortune Blue’

8 Cool Vegetables to Grow from Seeds

Cool season vegetables are chill not just because they like frosty temperatures; they are also super easy to grow. Compared to some of our summer favorites like

tomatoes, these crops are definitely on the mellow end of the maintenance spectrum.

Here are eight cool season vegetables to try that are in my Home Grown Seed Collection. This laid-back lot will provide you with fresh produce during the chilly spring

and fall months. Each variety is simple to start from seed, relatively pest-free and doesn’t require much space.

COOL SEASON VEGETABLE SEED VARIETIES

Baby Broccoli ‘Aspabroc’ (Broccolini®) – You are probably familiar with Broccolini® from the produce aisle at the grocery store. Well, that is the branded name for ‘Aspabroc’. This baby broccoli has a mild flavor and an asparagus-like stem. I planted it in spring and it lasted in the garden until July. July!

75 days to maturity from direct seed

50 – 60 days to maturity from transplant

Broccolini® is a registered trademark of Mann Packing Company, Inc.

‘Aspabroc’ baby broccoli 

Baby Broccoli Aspabroc also known as Broccolini

Baby Broccoli ‘Aspabroc’ is also known as Broccolini®.

 

Cabbage ‘Stonehead’ – This AAS Award Winner did really well in my spring garden and we sold quite a bit to local restaurants. ‘Stonehead’ matures early

so it’s perfect for regions where spring is short or the first fall freeze comes early. I love the gray-green color paired with purple violas.
P. Allen Smith harvesting broccoli from his Home Grown Seed Collection

60 days to maturity from direct seed
45 days to maturity from transplant.

Collard ‘Bulldog’ – I’ll never turn down a helping of collard greens so I plant plenty in my garden. ‘Bulldog’ is a workhorse with a high yield. It isn’t quick to bolt, which is good in my zone 7 garden where summer heat comes early.

71 days to maturity from direct seed

 

Mustard ‘Miz America’

One of my absolute favorite cool weather veggies is ‘Miz America’ mustard. The taste is pleasantly mild, without bitter or spicy notes, and it maintains its gorgeous color even at a mature stage!

 

‘Deep Purple’ mustard has a nice spicy flavor.

Spinach ‘Imperial Green’ – If you are going to grow spinach, ‘Imperial Green’ is a must for your garden. I like that the stems are extra-long and

grow upright; makes harvesting very easy. You can direct sow spinach in the early spring garden before the last frost date and in late summer for a fall crop. ‘Imperial Green’ has been exceptionally heat tolerant for me.

25 – 30 days to baby leaf from direct seed
35 – 40 days to maturity from direct seed

Swiss Chard ‘Peppermint’ – This chard is pretty in pink! The stems are a lovely rose color that stands out in the vegetable garden. I sowed the seeds in spring and ‘Peppermint’ was still going strong in early August when temperatures were 100 degrees. Wowza!

35 – 40 days to baby leaf from direct seed
58 – 63 days to maturity from direct seed

Chard Peppermint

Chard ‘Peppermint’ is extremely heat tolerant.

WHEN TO SOW COOL SEASON VEGETABLES

Many people get nervous about starting plants from seeds, but these cool-season vegetables are pretty straightforward. Timing is everything. Check the maturity date on the back of the seed package and plan your sowing accordingly. For an autumn garden count back from the first frost date and for a spring garden count back from the last frost date if you are starting seeds indoors. You can direct sow collards, mustard greens, and lettuce after the last frost date. Your local garden center will have frost date information for your area.

Root crops that don’t transplant well and fast-growing vegetables like lettuce or spinach can be sown directly in the ground at the appropriate time. To get a jump start on other varieties, start the seeds indoors. This is true for spring and autumn gardens.

You can find these varieties and more in my Home Grown Seed Collection HERE.

CANADIAN SEED SOURCE

If you live in Canada and would like to try these vegetable varieties from my collection, you can purchase them from Halifax Seed Company.

To learn more about planting from seed, check out my YouTube video below and subscribe to my YouTube channel to stay up to date on the happenings and tips from Moss Mountain Farm!

 

Dazzle Your Winter Landscape With Colorful Trees and Shrubs

River birch is a handsome ornamental shade tree that adds interesting character to the garden. Photographer: Betty Freeze

As I look out my study window at the bare trees and brown fields around me, I’m struck by the colors and textures of the landscape. I know that many people think of winter as a gray, dreary season, but I see beauty in the subtle tans and browns of the woods, the contrasting colors of the leaves as they skitter across the grass, and the icy slate sky.

Of course, as I write this there is a blaze in the fireplace and a cup of hot tea at hand, which allow me to be more generous in my praise of the cold scenic view. If you’re one of the folks who find the winter landscape more bleak than beautiful, I’d like to make some suggestions about how you might tweak your garden or yard to add a little dazzle to your day. There are many trees and shrubs that provide a pop of color and look their best when their “bone structure” in winter is on full display.

`A classic winter shrub to brighten the garden is winterberry, a deciduous holly with bright red berries. Ilex verticillata is an Arkansas native that can reach 8 to 10 feet tall, but there are more “user friendly” varieties like ‘Red Sprite’ that grow only 3 to 5 feet tall. In addition to enjoying the profuse red berries in the landscape, you can easily cut branches to bring inside and enjoy — win-win.

Another berry alternative is firethorn, or pyracantha, an evergreen shrub that displays brilliant orange to red berries in winter. You don’t see it as often as winterberry, mainly because of its thorns, but that makes it an excellent selection for a barrier hedge. A healthy specimen is a stunning sight this time of year.

This Japanese maple has striking red bark that is prominent in the fall and winter. Photographer: Betty Freeze

If berries are too subtle for you, then I recommend the bright red tree trunk and matching scarlet branches of the Japanese coral bark maple. The cultivar ‘Sango Kaku’ can reach 15 to 25 feet tall and wide, a very manageable size for a small yard. You’ll see the best color in full sun, but this maple will also take light shade. If you haven’t seen one of these trees in person, then you should track one down.  It’s stunning year-round, but it really shines in winter — picture this beauty covered with a light dustig of snow.

And don’t overlook the value of showy evergreens in the landscape. There are several yellow false cypress that absolutely glow in the gray winter months.  Chamaecyparis ‘Golden Mop,’ reaches 3 feet tall, and Chamaecyparis ‘Crippsii,’ grows to a more stately 8 to 10 feet tall. Both have bright chartreuse-colored needles that might resemble a spotlight in your yard. In fact, the only thing more brilliant on a dull January day than a ‘Golden Mop’ cypress is a ‘Golden Mop’ cypress growing near a couple of coral bark maples. 

If you’re looking for something more understated — because let’s face it, there’s nothing understated about a ‘Golden Mop’ — then consider trees or shrubs that have ornamental bark. Don’t think you can get excited by tree bark? I dare you to look at the trunk of a paperbark maple and not be impressed. It’s beautiful as a maple, yes, but it’s claim to fame is its peeling, cinnamon-colored bark that covers the entire tree. You’ll want to place one near your deck or patio where you can appreciate it close up in every season.

The memory of my childhood pine inspire my spring planting ideas. Photographer: Betty Freeze

Oakleaf hydrangeas also have a peeling bark and come in a variety of sizes, from the relatively small ‘Ruby Slippers’ at 4 feet tall to the straight species, which can reach up to 12 feet tall. This is one of those hydrangeas that appreciates a little shade in the summer, so I’d site it where it has some protection from the hot afternoon sun.

So don’t feel blah when you look out your window this time of year. There are lots of subtle and not-so-subtle colors and textures to be found in the landscape. You can appreciate the interplay of nature’s browns, tans, and grays, or go wild with red tree bark and yellow evergreens. Either way, enjoy the bone structure of the landscape.

 

 

Hiring a Landscape Designer

We’ve been in our new house for about a year and I’m ready to start on the garden. We’ve got a blank slate so it is going to be a pretty big job. I received a design from the architecture firm that drew up the house, but am looking for a company to install it. Do you have any tips that will help me make a good choice?

Whether you are establishing a new flowerbed, transplanting a shrub or installing a detailed garden plan the person you choose to handle the job can make or break the results. A mistake may not be noticeable until weeks or months later so it is important to be confident in the help you receive from the start.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you look for someone to help you in the garden.

  • Write out exactly what you want the landscape professional to do.
  • Check with local utility companies to make sure there are no electric, gas or telephone lines running underground in the area.
  • Clearly mark the area you want prepared.
  • If sod, rocks or debris are to be removed, give instructions if you want those items hauled away.
  • Independently investigate what soil amendments your garden requires.

The landscape professional/designer you hire should be:

  • Insured and properly bonded.
  • Properly licensed for landscape maintenance work.
  • Willing to furnish you several current and past references with similar projects.
  • Knowledgeable about soil preparation and horticulture.

Before you finalize the deal:

  • Negotiate a clear, detailed agreement in writing. Do not accept verbal agreements.
  • If a contract is involved read it over carefully. Understand its terms and conditions including payment schedule and guarantees on plants. Ensure all documents are correctly signed and dated by involved parties.
  • Verify licenses and check with your state’s Contractors Board and the Better Business Bureau for any complaints against the contractors.
  • Secure payment and performance bonds from the landscape professional.

After the project is complete:

  • Inspect the work to make sure it was done to specifications.
  • Schedule a walk through/review with the landscape professional to go over any care instructions or discuss potential problems.
    I encourage you to check out the P. Allen Smith & Associates website!

October Garden To Do List

At the beginning of October my mid-south, zone 8A garden is still full of blooms but by Halloween, it begins its steady decline toward dormancy.  So I start the month in harvest mode and transition into doing a serious fall cleanup by the 15th or so.  The to-do list is getting shorter, but the tasks seem to require a little more elbow grease.  That’s okay because there is nothing quite like the satisfaction of seeing a garden tidied up for its winter nap.

Here are a few tips to help you get your own garden ready for bed.

  • Cut back perennial foliage after a killing freeze. For a wildlife-friendly garden, cut back plants that have had disease problems during the growing season but leave stems and seed heads that will provide food and shelter for birds.
  • Mark areas where hardy volunteers have dropped their seeds so that next spring you can be on the lookout for the seedlings.
  • When using dried flowers with fuzzy seed heads, spray them with hairspray to keep them from shattering.
  • Rake up and remove any leaves on your lawn. It is important to remove dead leaves because over time they will form a dense mat that smothers your grass.
  • Clean and oil garden tools before storing for winter.
  • Protect your water features from fall leaves with netting. Stretch the netting over the water surface and secure the edges. Remove the leaves that land on the netting on a regular basis.
  • Before you put away your mower, drain gasoline and take it to the shop for any repairs needed.  It’s also a good time to have the blade sharpened and balanced.
  • Use hardware cloth to wrap around the base of small fruit trees and roses. This will protect them from rodents.
  • Transplant deciduous trees and shrubs after the leaves have fallen.
  • Pot up amaryllis bulbs now for indoor blooms during the holidays.
  • Hill soil to a height of 8 to 10 inches around roses for winter protection. Mulch after the ground freezes.
  • Save packets of half-used seeds in airtight containers in a cool dry place.
  • In my zone 7 garden and other mild winter climates, it is best to sow larkspur in mid-fall because the seeds need cool soil temperatures to germinate (50 to 60 degrees F).
  • Plant spring flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and globe alliums.

Good to Know

I garden in zone 8A. Spring usually starts in March and fall extends through November.  The summers are long and hot.  I write these tips with the idea that they are applicable to all zones during a general period of time. However, given microclimates and weather extremes timing can vary.  Observe the conditions in your garden and apply them accordingly.

How to Select and Use a Leaf Blower

From September through November (or December if you procrastinate like I do) the most used garden tool is the rake. This simple device, that probably began its life as a twiggy branch, has evolved into all manner of contraptions designed to make clearing out autumn leaves easier. I’ve tried many “new and improved” versions, but it’s hard to beat the good ole fan rake, especially when it’s paired with a leaf blower.

I’m certain some of you are opposed to leaf blowers, but I’d like to make a case for them. I think user error accounts for this useful tool’s negative image. If you select the right model for your garden and use it properly with consideration for your neighbors, a leaf blower can reduce your work considerably without being a nuisance.

 

Choosing a Leaf Blower

First of all you need to select the right leaf blower for your yard. What size is your yard? How will you use your leaf blower? To gather up heavy, wet leaves or for light jobs like clearing paths or a patio? What is more important to you: portability or power? By answering these questions you can purchase a leaf blower that works with you rather than against you. My favorite is the GreenWorks Cordless Leaf Blower from Gardener’s Edge. 

Big Yard

Choose a gas-powered backpack or wheeled machine. A gas engine will provide the power you need to tackle big jobs and a backpack or wheeled design makes toting a leaf blower over a generous amount of space easier. Look at the power and speed ratings: miles per hour (MPH) and cubic feet per minute (CFM). CFM is the volume of air a blower can move in a minute. MPH is the speed at which the unit blows. The higher these two numbers, the more power a blower will have.

Medium Yard
A gas-powered backpack or handheld blower with a two or four-cycle engine is ideal for a medium-sized space. You could go electric, but be sure the cord won’t slow you down or, if it’s cordless, the charge will last long enough to complete the job.

Small Yard
Unless you have an exceptional amount of clean up to do, an electric, handheld leaf blower is all you need for small spaces. These are lightweight, quieter, don’t require much maintenance and don’t produce emissions.

Time Line Showing the Evolution from Rake to Leaf Blower

How to Use a Leaf Blower

Once you have the best model for your purposes it’s important to know how to use a leaf blower properly. This may seem like a no-brainer, but there is a correct way to use this tool. When used correctly leaf blowers are truly helpful to you without being annoying your neighbors.

Be considerate about when you operate your leaf blower. Don’t run it early in the morning or late at night. And be mindful of where you blow your leaves.

Stop trying to blow your leaves into the next world. Instead, use your leaf blower to gather yard debris in a central area where you can then use a rake or broom to dispose of it. Blow leaves onto a tarp that you can dump into a compost bin or create a line of leaves that you can rake up in sections.

You’ll make yourself and your neighbors insane trying to get every last leaf with a leaf blower. Use a rake to collect stragglers.

Work in a single direction to prevent blowing leaves from your pile back into your yard. And get a helping hand from Mother Nature by blowing in the same direction as the wind.

Hold the blower at a shallow angle toward the ground and more across your yard using a sweeping motion. Be careful to not sweep away topsoil with the leaves.

Always wear eye and ear protection to prevent injury and hearing loss.

The Garden Tool You Shouldn’t Live Without

Whether you’re just getting into gardening or have been growing flowers and veggies for years, you need the right tools to get your plants in tip-top shape. Good, durable garden tools go a long way in making all those garden chores a little more enjoyable.

Find out which tool you should add to your collection today. Read more

3 Ways to Harness Flower Power Through to Fall

When visitors tour the grounds of Moss Mountain Farm, they always marvel at the annuals looking16_06470 so bright-eyed and bushy tailed all the way into fall. And they start fishing for the secret to keeping those garden beds flourishing through the dog days of summer. Now that we’re in the tail end of those days, I’ll share those secrets now. Hopefully, you can employ those secrets through the rest of the season or file them away for next year.

  1. Cutting back: If flower beds were a metaphor for the human life cycle, this period might be midlife where things start to “creep” or broaden and widen. You must stay vigilant and trim up those creepers that would overpower the more timid plants. Plants like sweet potato vine, which can be thuggish and push over smaller flowers. It’s also helpful to cut back the spent blooms.

 

  1. Feedings: You should continue feedings, even though it’s hot. I usually give a dose of liquid fertilizer every third watering.

16_03527

  1. Filling in: I will typically pull out plants that haven’t fared well and plug in new things for fall. Sometimes the animals help with that task. For example, I had some petunias rooted out by armadillos. So, I’ll either plant more petunias or prepare for fall by substituting plants that like colder temperatures like nemesia, diascia or argyranthemum.