If you are starting a new garden or replacing an existing one, here is some general information that may help you decide what to plant and where to plant it.
Q: I love Hostas, but all my gardens get 4-to-5 hours of sun. Are there varieties that will tolerate the sun?
A: Hostas…Sun, Partial Sun, or Shade?
A simple rule to follow with Hostas: Those with yellow leaves or fragrant flowers can withstand sun better than green, blue, or white-and-green leaved varieties. And the key to success with Hostas planted in partial to full sun is water—gardeners must provide enough water to keep the soil moist which provides the ‘strength’ if you will, to withstand the sun and heat.
Generally, yellow Hostas should be located in a sunny spot to keep their color vibrant. If these Hostas do not get at least a couple hours of full sun, their color will fade to green, or even more disappointing, appear to be a green leaf that is turning yellow.
Like the yellow Hostas, fragrant Hostas need the same sunny location for full development of their flowers. Hosta plantaginea is one of the most sun-tolerant, and a parent of many excellent Hosta cultivars with fragrant flowers (see below).
Your Hostas will let you know if they are unhappy. Signs of too much sun are browning leaf tips or edges, and dull colored leaves or faded spots on the leaves. These faded spots are actually patches of sunburned tissue, which will eventually die and drop out, leaving a hole in the leaf. Make sure you water them enough, and if you determine that they are better suited to a shady location, you can dig them up and move them…any time. Hostas are hardy, durable, and will not suffer a from a move…just remember to water after replanting.
The following are some sun-tolerant Hostas:
· Yellow Hostas: ‘August Moon’, ‘Gold Drop’, ‘Gold Regal’, ‘Golden Sculpture’, ‘Rising Sun’, ‘Rosedale Golden Goose’, ‘Squash Casserole’, ‘Sum and Substance’, ‘Sun Power’, ‘Vanilla Cream’
· Yellow Variegated Hostas: ‘Golden Tiara’, ‘Inniswood’, ‘Paul’s Glory’, ‘Regal Splendor’, ‘Sundance’
· Fragrant Hostas: H. plantaginea, ‘Aphrodite’, ‘Fragrant Bouquet’, ‘Fried Green Tomatoes', ‘Guacamole’, ‘Honeybells’, Invincible', ‘Royal Standard’, ‘Summer Fragrance’, ‘So Sweet’, ‘Sugar & Cream’
· White Variegated Hostas: H. undulata ‘Albomarginata’, ‘Francee’, ‘Heartsong’, ‘Minuteman’, ‘Patriot’
· Green Hostas: ‘Honeybells’, ‘Invincible’, ‘Royal Standard’
Some Hostas that will do
well in partial sun include
'Blue Angel', sieboldiana
'Elegans', 'Halcyon', and 'Krossa
Regal'. Check out
for more information about
growing Hostas successfully
in sun or part sun.
Each year my Hostas become riddled with holes by
late summer. What can I do to prevent this?
Q: What is meant by full sun and partial sun? I see these terms on plant identification tags quite often.
A: Full sun means the location receives sun all day long, usually 6-8 hours of sun or more each day. These locations are normally in an open area with no trees or buildings blocking the sun from any angle, or in a south or southwestern exposure with no trees blocking the sun. Partial sun normally means the planting area receives 4-6 hours of direct sun. Partial shade on the other hand, defines a location that receives about 2 hours of sun, or filtered light throughout the day. And finally, shade categorizes a garden spot with no direct sun, and little filtered light during the day.
Q: Is spring or fall the best time to plant perennials?
A: Both! Spring and fall are usually cooler, with more precipitation, yet warm enough to provide the perfect growing environment to promote new root growth. However, perennials can also be planted during the summer; just remember that they will need more frequent watering to help them get established. When planting, make sure to loosen the roots of pot-bound plants before placing them in the ground. Mixing in some sphagnum peat moss can help provide both moisture control and good soil aeration.
I would like to put in some perennial beds, but my
soil isn’t very good. What is your suggestion for amending the soil?
Q: I would like to grow a vegetable garden. How do I begin?
A: Vegetable gardening is one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling forms of gardening. The benefits are many: you can grow the vegetables your family enjoys; you can grow them organically if that is a priority for you, and you’ll save money on your grocery bill.
If you are attempting veggie gardening for the first time, a little pre-planting planning goes a long way. First, choose your garden site. Vegetables require full sun—eight hours or more a day. It should be located near a water supply, hoses, etc. Gardens need to be watered regularly, especially during the dry months of July and August, and toting hoses sometimes becomes a chore. You don’t want to take the fun out of it!
Start small at first, and as you become more confident, increase your space the following year. A good size to begin with is an 8 foot or 12 foot square. You’ll be surprised just how many vegetables you can grow in this small space. Mark off the perimeter, and add a stake and chicken wire fencing all around to keep the critters out. At this time, you might determine whether you need to add any soil, such as top soil or garden soil, so that the garden bed is high enough for proper drainage.
Then rototill the ground and add compost, or another type of nutrient rich soil additive like leaf mulch, grass clippings, or manure. Continue turning the soil to make sure the organic matter is worked in completely. Adding nutrients should become an ongoing practice—fall leaves should be mulched and thrown in the garden. It’s easy to making your own compost bin (a 5’x5’ fence with 4 stakes) into which you’ll toss leaves, grass clippings, kitchen scraps (no meat or dairy), a little dirt, and non-diseased garden waste. As this matter decays, it becomes humus—the black gold your vegetable plants will love! Protect your garden’s fertile soil by not overworking it, and never work it when the soil is excessively wet or dry.
Pay attention to your local last frost dates, and plant accordingly. Watch the weather reports for frosty nights that can occur after the frost dates, as you will have to protect your plants from frost damage. Use plastic milk jugs, upside down pots or pails, newspapers, sheeting material, but never allow plastic to touch the plant.
Selecting vegetables for your garden is both fun and difficult at the same time, as there are so many to choose from. For beginners, stick with the easier-to-grow types, and then graduate to more difficult ones later. Some of the easiest include tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, pole or bush beans, squash (both summer and winter varieties), lettuce, radishes, Swiss chard, kale, beets, and most herbs.
Spacing… Should you go with the old standard of rows, all neat and in order? This method is tried and true, and works well with a square or rectangular garden. Or try arranging the garden into 3’x3’ squares, allowing walking and working space between the squares. Sow a band of lettuce on the outer edge, with Swiss chard plants down the center, and basil plants just inside the lettuce. Always remember where the sun shines…you’ll want taller plants such as tomatoes toward the rear of the garden so they don’t cast a shadow on the other shorter growing plants.
Again, remember to water well after planting, and routinely when there’s no rain. Most gardeners also use some form of fertilizer. There are many to choose from. Some are organic and earth friendly. Some are made especially for tomatoes—some simply for vegetables. Read the labels to select the type you prefer, and follow the instructions on the package for application amounts and frequency.
Succession planting allows an even larger number of vegetables to be grown in a small space. This practice calls for planting another vegetable as soon as one is harvested and the plant is spent. Get to know the early cool-season veggies (lettuce, radish, peas, broccoli etc) to plant first and the hot weather ones to plant afterwards. For example, when the spring lettuce is tired, plant some beans or Swiss chard in its place. You can also create more space by using cane teepees and trellises to help plants like cucumbers and peas grow up rather vining across the garden.
When harvesting your vegetables, do so when they are ready. This keeps the plant producing as abundantly as possible. Procrastinating will result in wasted and rotted food, or an overabundance all at one time. Always use scissors or garden snips when ‘picking’ vegetables; pulling and tugging at the plants may damage them.
Another great thing about having your own vegetable garden is that you can grow what you and your family like to eat. There are many wonderful heirloom vegetables that are not available in the grocery store. Heirloom tomatoes are especially tasty!
Don’t forget about container gardening, or growing vegetables and herbs among your flowers.
There’s nothing like walking out onto your deck or porch to pick fresh veggies and herbs for dinner. And smart gardeners find open spaces to squeeze in a basil plant here, a rosemary plant there, and some Swiss chard behind the sedum in their perennial gardens. Good luck and good eats!
Q: What is the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes?
A: Determinates ripen their fruits over a period of 3-4 weeks, on bushy vines that require little or no staking. Indeterminate vines continue to grow, bloom and produce fruit all season, until frost. These longer, taller vines need support, and the plants can become quite large. There are determinate and indeterminate varieties of all types of tomatoes: cherry, grape, plum, and large round tomatoes. Most heirloom tomato varieties are indeterminate.
Q: Can I plant tomatoes in pots?
A: Absolutely! Growing tomatoes in pots and even hanging baskets on the deck or balcony can be a very satisfying gardening experience. It’s wonderful to be able to open your door and harvest your dinner! The best varieties for growing in pots are the determinate varieties, which produce smaller, shorter, and better-behaved vines than the indeterminate varieties. Determinates will be easier to manage in pots, and require less staking. Small-fruited varieties, such as cherry, grape, and plum tomatoes, are also popular for container gardening. Be aware, though, that many cherry and grape tomatoes produce large, indeterminate vines – check the plant tag for this information before choosing tomatoes for growing in pots. Even large-fruited varieties can be grown in pots, but you may have to provide some support for the heavy fruits. You may also want to choose varieties that have an early maturity date, so you don’t have to grow them all summer long to get ripe tomatoes.. For container growing, we recommend a tomato variety that matures in 75 days or less. Again, this information is available on the plant tags. Some good varieties for growing in containers include ‘Celebrity’, ‘Health Kick’, ‘Patio’, ‘Roma’, ‘Siberian’, Tumbling Tom’, and the ‘Husky’ series.
Keep in mind that tomatoes in pots require frequent watering and fertilizing; pots and hanging baskets don’t retain moisture like the soil in a garden does. Provide nutrients for your potted tomato plants by mixing in a slow-release fertilizer at the time of potting, or use liquid fertilizer when you water the plants.
Q: I'd love to plant some ornamental grasses but I’m intimidated by their size and care. What can you recommend?
A: Ornamental grasses, when used with complementing perennials, can bring your garden to life with movement, texture and sound. Most grasses are drought tolerant and require only once-a- year care and very little fertilizing. Because of their delayed appearance in spring, many gardeners plant early-blooming bulbs and perennials in the vicinity of the grasses, to fill the void until the grasses begin to grow. The most difficult thing about growing grasses is deciding which ones to choose! Start with an evaluation of the environment and site for the grass; is it in full sun or shade, dry or moist, heavy soil or sand? There is an ornamental grass for every garden situation.
Care of the taller grasses, like the sun-loving Miscanthus, Panicum, and Erianthus, may seem like a daunting task—particularly when confronted with a mature specimen at its peak. However, with a schedule, gardeners can care for these big beauties easily…and without a creating a “chainsaw massacre!” The majority of grasses should be cut down to 2-4 inches from the ground in spring before they start growing; leave them standing over the fall and winter for ornamental effect during the off-season. The best way to manage the large grasses is to keep a log of when you plant them, monitor their growth, and plan to divide them after 3 or 4 years. At that time, they should be dug up and split. If you keep to this schedule, you’ll be able to accomplish the task with a shovel, sturdy boots, hand pruners or hedge shears for the stems, and a handsaw for splitting the roots—wait any longer, and you’ll have to bring in the army. Time ages a grass; their stems and roots become tougher and thicker. If a grass has been left to grow for many years, you’ll most likely find a dead zone in the center -- a circle where it is no longer growing. A grass in this condition should be lifted entirely out of the ground, cut into viable sections (the dead parts discarded) and a smaller division replanted. The best time to split grasses is the spring, before active growth begins. At that time of year, you’ll be cutting back last year’s dry foliage, and you can accomplish both tasks at the same time.
The medium-height grasses require much the same care as the larger, taller ones. Cut them to the ground in spring and split them every 3-4 years. Shorter grasses, such as Hakonechloa, Carex, Festuca and Helictotrichon don’t need to be divided quite so often, and can usually be maintained by closely cutting them to the ground each spring. Some Carex varieties are semi-evergreen and can be kept looking good by simply removing any old, browned leaves.
Certain grasses can self-sow in the garden, and the excess seedlings become a nuisance. We recommend cutting these types back in late fall, after you have enjoyed their ornamental plumes, so that the viable seed is removed before it falls to the ground. Chasmanthium, the Northern Sea Oats, is quite fertile, so we like to harvest the long, elegant flowering stems in November. They make excellent dried arrangements which last for years indoors. In some environments, Pennisetum, Panicum, and Schizachyrium can also become self-sowers. Depending on the site, this can be a plus or a minus – for instance, if you are establishing a native meadow planting of Schizachyrium, the Little Bluestem, the surplus seedlings can aid in filling out the site. However, in warmer climates (zone 7 and warmer) the self-sowing habit of many Fountain Grasses (Pennisetum) and some varieties of Maiden Grass (Miscanthus) has caused some professionals to reassess the use of these grasses in environmentally sensitive sites. In the north (zones 4, 5 and the colder parts of zone 6), these grasses rarely pose problems with self-seeding, because our growing season is too short for viable seed to be produced.
For more information on selecting ornamental grasses for your garden, please see the Grass section of our Catalog.
Q: What is the difference between an annual, a perennial and a biennial?
An annual is a plant
that completes its entire growth cycle
in one season. In the temperate
climates, annuals are killed by freezing
temperatures in fall and winter.
Depending on the species and variety,
annuals may produce viable seed, which
drops and germinates the following
year. This process is referred to as
self-sowing. Often gardeners mistake
self-sowing annuals for perennials,
because they are “back again” the
following year. Some examples of
self-sowing annuals are cosmos, cleome,
larkspur, Euphorbia marginata and
Verbena bonariensis. Many
annuals do not produce viable seed in
temperate zones, and, hence, cannot be
depended on to “return” the following
Food sources for Butterflies:
To create a perfect habitat for
butterflies, provide a source of
food for larvae as well. These
plants are usually different species
than those used as a nectar source.
Q: We have a Black Walnut in our
yard. Are there any plants that can
be grown in its vicinity?
The following plants have been shown
to grow reasonably well near a black
Q: Our gardens are being browsed by deer. What can we do to deter them? Can you recommend any deer-resistant plants?
A: As more and more housing goes up, the habitat for deer is reduced, thereby forcing them into our yards and gardens. The best preventive method is deer fencing – however, this is not always practical or aesthetic. There are many methods for deterring deer, but none is 100% effective. Stringing fishing line around the perimeter of the property, hanging soap in the branches of trees and shrubs, and spraying with animal deterrents or home-brewed garlic or egg mixtures are all methods that have been used with some success. Among the sprays available, the hot-pepper waxes have proven to be effective for up to two weeks without re-spraying. Other sprays may need to be re-applied after a rain. At Specialty Growers, we have found that motion-detector sprinklers provided the best protection. As the deer approach the plants, the sprinkler emits a short burst of water, chasing the deer away. Unlike other methods, where the deer become accustomed to the “deterrent,” this method remains viable all season, because the deer never do adapt to being sprayed with water. Unfortunately, this method cannot be used to protect plants that are browsed during the winter, such as shrubs and young trees.
Here is a list of plants that are rarely eaten by deer. Contact your local county extension office for a more complete list for your particular area.
Woody plants that are rarely damaged:
Berberis spp. (Barberry)
Buxus sempervirens (Common boxwood)
Picea pungens (Colorado blue spruce)
Forsythia spp. (Forsythia)
Herbaceous plants and perennial flowers that are rarely damaged:
Achillea spp. (Yarrow)
Agastache (Anise Hyssop)
Allium spp. (Allium)
Aquilegia spp. (Columbine)
Brunnera macrophylla (Perennial Forget-me-not)
Convallaria majalis (Lily-of-the-valley)
Coreopsis spp. (Coreopsis)
Dendranthema spp. (Chrysanthemum)
Dicentra spp. (Bleeding heart)
Digitalis spp. (Foxglove)
Iris spp. (Iris)
Lavandula anustifolia (Lavender)
Liatris spicata (Gay-feather)
Linum perenne (Flax)
Lupinus polyphyllus (Lupine)
Narcissus spp. (Narcissus, Daffodil)
Perovskia (Russian Sage)
Salvia spp. (Sage)