Tag: perennials

Ivy Damage

I have ivy growing on the side of my brick house. I’ve often been told that this is bad for my home. Is this true?

Ivy has a reputation for being an aggressive grower and can be alarming to some when it begins to grow on buildings. But I wouldn’t really worry unless it was growing on a building of wooden construction. The leaves can harbor a lot of moisture and cause the wood to rot. However, with masonry there is not as much cause for concern except when the little aerial roots get into the joints between the stone or in your case, bricks.

Ivy also takes a bad rap when it comes to trees. Ivy’s aerial roots are just there to attach to the tree, they don’t draw any nutrients from it. The ivy actually takes its food from the soil just like the tree does.

Ivy becomes a problem in trees when it is allowed to grow out of control. This is especially true with English ivy (Hedera helix), which is considered an invasive ornamental. The vine’s weight and the wind resistance it creates can make the tree more vulnerable, particularly during storms. Infested trees are also more susceptible to bacterial leaf scorch, which English ivy tends to harbor.

Because English ivy is a potential hazard for native plants I only use it in controlled environments in areas where it is not a problem and recommend that it is not allowed to run rampant. Always check with your local Cooperative Extension before planting it or go to the National Park Service’s web site at http://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/. They have a nice map that shows which states are troubled by this plant.

Tall Bearded Iris, Dividing

I have a question about transplanting tall bearded iris. In most gardens, the iris are in full bloom now, except for the ones in my garden. I have them under a long needle pine tree, and for the last 4 – 5 years they have done great. This year, however, I only have 2 that are going to bloom. So, I have decided to divide and move them. When and how do I do this?

Wait until after your tall bearded irises have finished blooming to dig up any clumps that are in need of dividing and transplanting. The plants go semi-dormant after they flower, so you can move them without much problem.

If your schedule is flexible, it’s always easier on the plant if you can move it on an overcast day when a rain shower looks promising.

You will find the irises are easier to transplant if you first cut the leaves back to about 12-inches with a sharp blade or pruner. This makes the plant easier to handle and helps it recover faster if there happens to be root loss during the division.

The plants grow from rhizomes, which are just under the soil. Lift the rhizomes by working a spade under them. Then remove the clump from the soil. Next shake off the soil or wash the rhizomes with a garden hose. This will give you a better view of where to make the cut. With a clean, sharp knife, separate the clump, dividing the rhizomes with 2 or 3 fans of foliage attached.

Now you are ready to plant. Prepare a hole 8 to 10 inches deep and work in some compost. In the center of the hole create a mound of soil that rises almost to the top of the hole. Place the rhizome on top of the mound and spread out the roots. Refill the hole until it just covers the crown. After all the plants are in place, water them in.

Your newly transplanted divisions should bloom the following year.

Iris Changing Color

Up until this year, I had iris that bloomed in purple and yellow. This year they are all white! I noticed that some of my neighbor’s iris have also turned white, but not all of them. What has happened and will they go back to their original color next blooming season?

The most likely cause of the bloom color change is accidental exposure to an herbicide. Sometimes when we apply weed killer the chemical can drift over to unintended targets. In the case of bearded iris, the exposure can alter the color and shape of the flowers even before they emerge. So we don’t know about the exposure until after the plant blooms.

This chemical drift would explain why all of your iris turned white and only a few of your neighbor’s did. The chemical was probably applied in closer proximity to your flowerbed than hers.

If this is the case, your iris should return to their normal color next year.

Another possibility is cross pollination has created a new iris in the clump that has just this season matured enough to bloom.

Hosta, Storm Damage

My hostas were damaged by a hailstorm and they look as if a lawnmower went over them. My question is, do I cut them back after I remove all the broken leaves and stems, or let them be in hopes that new leaves with grow?

A true garden tragedy is seeing all your newly emerged hosta leaves crushed by a violent storm. It is almost as bad as losing all your daffodil blooms to a late freeze.

My advice is to cut the damaged leaves back to just above the ground and leave the healthy ones intact. You may see some new growth this season, but it may be smaller in size. You can plant around your hostas with shade loving annuals such as impatiens or green leafed begonias to help hide the damage.

When I know that severe weather is in the forecast, I protect my specimen hostas with an old plastic laundry basket. I simply turn the basket upside down over the plant and secure in place with u-shaped pins made from wire hangers. This works well with other plants, too.

To learn more about Hostas and other shade perennials, check out the video below!


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Alternative Ground Covers

Elevate your sights above the usual ground hugging varieties and try plants of all sizes to solve your garden challenges. Group together shrubs, flowers, ornamental grasses, and vines as low maintenance alternatives to a lawn, as cover-ups for unsightly bare spots under trees and shrubs, or to soften hard lines around sidewalks or stepping stones. Here are some ideas to get your started.

Old Fashioned HydrangeasProblem 1: Sodden spots – wet areas where the lawn languishes.
Solution: Make a better match.

  • Use shrubs to cover up bare spots.
  • Choose varieties like hydrangea that love moist, dappled shade.
  • Create mass appeal by grouping several shrubs of the same variety.
  • Cover lots of ground for not much money.
  • Select the best varieties for your growing conditions by checking plant tag information.
  • Space shrubs according to their mature size to give them room to grow.

DianthusProblem 2: High maintenance strip along path.
Solution: Fill it with flower power.

  • Pick plants with spreading, compact forms that crowd out weeds like dianthus.
  • Start with healthy, nursery grown varieties loaded with buds.
  • Perfume the air with flowers with a sweet fragrance.
  • Soften the hard edge of the walk by letting flowers cascade over the sides.
  • Fertilize plants once a month and remove spent blooms.

Hosta Krossa RegalProblem 3: Too many towering trees.
Solution: Go with the flow.

  • Give in to the shady potential and create an lush oasis of green.
  • Fill the area with classic shade loving plants such as ferns and hostas.
  • Discover the many colors, shapes and sizes of these plants.
  • Combine them in large masses for a bold impact.
  • Divide hostas after a few years to keep them healthy.

SedumProblem 4: Wily weeds between stepping stones.
Solution: Muscle out marauders.

  • Choose ground covers such as wooly thyme that spread rapidly and can take foot traffic.
  • Prepare the area by soaking the ground and removing weeds (roots and all) from between the stones.
  • Tuck in the ground covers and keep the area weed free until the ground covers take hold.
  • Soften areas between rocks and pavers with low growing ground covers.
  • Choose the plant best suited for your growing conditions.

Great Ground Covers
Sun to Partial Sun

  • Sedum ‘Angelina’ – Brilliant, needle-shaped, golden yellow foliage creates a beautiful mat of color. Try it between stones in a rock garden.
  • Dianthus ‘Neon Star’ – A sun lover covered in vibrant pink aromatic flowers. Grow it along walkways in well-drained soil.
  • Maiden grass ‘Morning Light’ – Silvery foliage 4 to 5-feet tall with bronze seed heads that dry to cream. Beautiful along fences or the back of flower borders.

Shade to Partial Shade

  • Golden creeping Jenny ‘Goldilocks’ – Give your garden the Midas touch. The plant looks like it has long strands of small golden coins. Ideal along wet borders such as pools.
  • Ivy ‘Golden Ingot’ – A well-mannered, non-invasive ivy with colorful variegated leaves. Try it under trees and shrubs to create a patterned carpet. .
  • Ajuga ‘Mahogany’ – Lush, almost black-burgundy leaves make a low profile, dramatic statement in shady spots. Use it where grass struggles to grow in shady, moist areas.


Ornamental Grasses For Texture

Couch GrassI’ve found that ornamental grasses are some of the best providers of this important element in garden design. Now they certainly aren’t very colorful when you compare them to some of the other fall favorites such as asters or chrysanthemums, but they do provide a nice contrast to other plants in the garden.

Some of my favorite combinations are dwarf fountain grass with pee gee hydrangea or purple cordyline, or variegated miscanthus grass against a dark broad-leafed holly. This notion of contrasting textures is really pretty simple. It’s just a matter of taking something that has fine delicate foliage and contrasting it with something with big, bold flowers or foliage.

Another great thing about ornamental grasses is that they are very forgiving about soil. They don’t have to have particularly rich soil. Also, once they get established, they can be quite drought tolerant making them ideal for growing in areas where water is limited.

Ornamental grasses come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, everything from the small sea urchin fescue all the way up to one of my favorites, zebra grass. Zebra grass is bold, tough and easy to grow. It takes its name from the light yellow bands across each individual blade.

I’ve found many ornamental grasses to be cold tolerant, but there are exceptions like purple fountain grass. Unless you live in a very mild part of the country, you’ll have to grow it as an annual, but it’s worth it.

5 Ornamental Grasses to Put on Your Garden Wish List

Ruby GrassI am addicted to growing ornamental grasses. This addiction is especially acute in fall when they are at their most brilliant. I love the graceful movements of the blades when stirred by a late afternoon breeze and the sparkle of sunlight reflects off morning dew caught in the feathery plumes.

Grasses are such a versatile addition to the garden. They can be used to add texture, height and harmonizing color. They are always stylish whether planted in combination with bold foliage, intricate flowers, or fantastically colored blooms.

Although ornamental grasses step into the limelight in autumn, many varieties are only marginally cold tolerant so it is best to plant them in the spring to enjoy all summer and into fall.

When planting ornamental grasses make sure the bed or container is deeply cultivated, at least 36 inches, to give the root systems room to grow down. This helps increase their drought tolerance. Compost or humus is the only soil amendment needed.

Newly planted ornamental grasses need 1 inch of water weekly for the first growing season. After that they can be quite drought tolerant. Fertilize perennial varieties in spring with a slow release, all-purpose fertilizer. This is also a good time to divide clumps that have grown too large.

Last spring I planted several varieties at the Garden Home Retreat that I think might interest you.

'Pink Champagne' Ruby Grass‘Pink Champagne’ Ruby Grass (Melinus nerviglumis) – The showy pink plumes that appear in mid to late summer make this grass a real show stopper. It’s an annual except in zones 9 and 10, but that’s okay because it grows quickly.
Mexican Feature GrassMexican Feather Grass (Stipa tenuissima) – This grass is also known as pony tail and angel hair because of the delicate and wispy plumes. It propagates by seed so it can become a garden thug. Deadhead the plumes to prevent it from spreading. Cold hardy in zones 5 – 10.
'Eaton Canyon' Dwarf Fountain Grass‘Eaton Canyon’ Dwarf Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum) – ‘Eaton Canyon’ has the same burgundy foliage and plumes as red fountain grass, but in a smaller package. Standard red fountain grass can grow to 4 feet while ‘Eaton Canyon’ matures at only 30 inches. Because it does not reseed as freely as red fountain grass it is a better choice for regions where the species could become invasive. Cold hardy in zones 8 – 10.
Elijah Blue Fescue‘Elijah Blue’ Fescue (Festuca ovina glauca) – This slivery-blue grass is great for flower borders and containers. It stays compact maturing at 8 to 12 inches tall. It is reliably perennial in zones 3 – 10.
Pink Muhly GrassPink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaries) – Muhly grass is a wonderful see through plant because the delicate blades and plumes allow background plants to show through. The plumes of pink muhly grass have a nice coppery pink hue. It grows to 24 – 36 inches tall. Cold hardy in zones 6 – 10.


Cold Hardy Ornamental Grasses

I am trying to find out if purple fountain can survive the West Virginia winter weather. I have had healthy, in ground planted, tropical plants for years, some of which endure the odd West Virginia winter weather. Being that purple fountain grass is an annual, would it be feasible to mulch the ground and surrounding plant area with straw, so that it would survive the winter? Excellent website and design and data.

I’m happy to hear you enjoy visiting my web site. Thanks for your comments and question.

Unfortunately, purple fountain grass is not reliably cold hardy above zone 9. It would be a risky venture to try and winter it over in West Virginia, which is zone 5b – 6b. As an alternative try grasses that are better suited to your area.

Here is a short list:

  • Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ (Feather Reed Grass); Zones 4 – 9, very upright
  • Chasmanthium latifolium (Northern Sea Oats); Zones 3 – 9, does best in partial shade, may be invasive
  • Phalaris arundinacea (Ribbon Grass); Zones 4 – 8, good groundcover where nothing else will grow, somewhat invasive
  • Panicum virgatum ‘Haense Herms’ (Red Switch Grass); Zones 5 – 9, grows up to 3 feet, rich reddish purple fall foliage and purple flower heads.

Daylily Rust

Lately I’ve noticed that quite a bit of attention has been given to a new nemesis on the American gardening scene – daylily rust. This fungus is indeed a formidable foe simply because not much is known about it.

Daylily rust, Puccinia hemerocallidis, is identified by the orange powder spots that appear on the undersides of leaves and the scapes of infected plants. Other daylily disorders such as leaf streak and spring sickness may resemble the early stages of daylily rust.

A simple test is to take a clean, white tissue and run it over the leaf’s surface. If it comes back covered in an orange, dusty substance you are probably dealing with rust. Visit the American Hemerocallis Society’s “Daylily Dictionary” for images of daylily rust.

If you are still unsure if your plants are infected you can always send a leaf sample to be tested. Check with your local cooperative extension service for a diagnostic laboratory in your area.

Because daylily rust is fairly new to this country, methods of prevention and treatment are still being tested. Here are a few tips that you can follow that might help.

When you bring new daylilies into your garden, isolate them from your other plants for a season. They may be infected without showing any symptoms. Keep them quarantined for as long as six months. If your new plants arrived bare root, pot them up before you set them aside.

Patrinia is another native Asian plant that is not only susceptible to this disease, but also plays winter host to the spores. In spite of the frustration it produces, I find this to be a rather interesting relationship. Certain rust spores subsist through the winter on dead daylily leaves. In the spring they re-generate as a spore that does not affect daylilies but does harm patrinia. Borne by the wind they infect any nearby patrinia plants and then reproduce in a form that can once again attack daylilies.

One method of control is to strip the outer leaves of your new plants, cut the remainder down to about 1 – 2 inches above the crown (where the leaves connect with the roots), and saturate with a fungicide before planting. Be aware that this practice may cause even more stress to a plant already weakened by transplanting and shipping. For step by step instructions with images visit http://www.ncf.ca/~ah748/newplants.html

If you find that your established daylilies are inflicted with daylily rust, simply cut back both the diseased and healthy foliage to the ground and destroy the infected leaves. Do not add these leaves to your compost bin. You can spray the leaves before you do this to limit the spread of the spores and then spray the ground around the plant after the leaves have been removed.

When using a fungicide to treat daylily rust, alternate between a systemic and a protectant type.

As with other fungus, daylily rust thrives in moisture. Use soaker hoses rather than overhead watering systems and water in the morning rather than late in the day or at night. This will cut down on the amount of time that the leaves remain wet.

Dividing Daylilies

When is the best time to separate and transplant daylilies?

For me, the best value in plants is generally determined by three factors. I want them to be low maintenance, I’d like for them to bloom for a long period of time and I’d like for them to come back year after year. Well I know this may sound like a tall order, but there are actually a lot of plants out there that will fill this criteria.

One of the best examples is the daylily. In fact, they have another attribute as well, they can be very vigorous growers, often doubling in number from year to year to the point that they really should be divided every three to five years to continue good blooming.

I’ve found that the late summer is an excellent time of the year to separate and transplant clumps of daylilies. By doing it at this time, it gives them an opportunity to settle in before shorter days and colder temperatures set in. Also by moving them in late summer as opposed to the spring, it’s been my experience that they actually seem to bloom better.

There’s really nothing to dividing daylilies. Just carefully lift the clumps with a sharp shovel and gently remove the soil from the roots so you can begin to see the individual plants. Then with a knife separate each plant and remove any foliage that appears dead or diseased.

Now just cut off the foliage at about half and they’re ready for transplanting back into the garden. Space them about ten to twelve inches apart, put them in full sun and keep them well watered until they’re rooted in.