October Surprises in the Garden

Fall may be the most pleasant garden season in Minnesota. Our springs are usually short and unpredictable. Summers can be cool and rainy or more often hot and humid—sometimes both. In fall, the mosquitoes are down, the humidity is usually not bad and it’s very rarely hot.

That’s why I’ve always planted a lot of fall-blooming perennials. This year, I have two perennials that are surprising me with how pretty they are — and an annual that took it’s time blooming but is now really putting on a show in my back alley.

The perennials are both natives to Minnesota, purchased from Prairie Moon Nursery as plugs last spring. This is the first time I’ve gotten so many blooms from plugs, which is likely because the number of weedy plants in my new garden is like, zero, where there were thousands of them surrounding my previous garden.  On to the surprises…

Clouds of blooms in late summer and fall on false aster

False aster (Boltonia asteroides): Truth in advertising, these look a tad weedy until they start blooming, and according to the Minnesota Wildflowers website, they can be aggressive. I’ve put them near my back fence, facing the alley, and they are in really rotten soil, so I’m hoping that will contain them. Now for the good part — the blooms! They are big, a bright white and yellow cloud of daisies. The plants usually start blooming in August, but mine did not bloom at all until mid-September, which may be related to the location.

It’s a pollinator magnet, too.
The bloom shape of wild quinine is airy.

Wild quinine (Parthineum integrifolia): I’ve heard several folks who are experts on native plants recommend wild quinine as easy care and attractive to people and pollinators, so I decided to give it a try in the new garden. The blooms come in August, but look pretty for a long time. They are often compared to yarrow because the blooms have a flat, sort of bubbly appearance. The foliage is large and a bit rough, so these will be moved this fall to the back of the border they are in.

The blooms of ‘Heavenly Blue’ morning glory really are blue but they change color over time.

‘Heavenly Blue’ morning glory: Like a lot of gardeners, I planted Grandpa Ott’s morning glory once and regretted it for years. (So did my poor neighbors, who ended up with a thick patch of it!) But I really wanted some screening between our patio and the alley and decided to grow ‘Heavenly Blue’ there. The plant took awhile to get started, but eventually it crawled up the trellis I gave it and took off in both directions along the fence. Starting about Sept. 20, it began to bloom, really bloom. That’s late for morning glories, but the pale blue blooms, which then turn kind of purplish and white as they fade are worth the wait.

Neighbors? What neighbors? Between the bean arch and the morning glories, I’ve got lots of cover.

Which plants are adding luster to your fall garden?

Best of the New Annuals

Like a lot of garden writers, I get to try out newish plants, courtesy of plant wholesalers. For several years, I’ve gotten plants from Proven Winners and invariably there are indeed some winners among the plants.

This year, I grew two annuals from the sample plants that have grown really well, and definitely are among the “best of” plants for their categories.

He’s not visible in this shot, but there was a bee all over these guys when I took the photo.

Playin’ the Blues salvia — Part of a series called Rockin™, these deep purple-blue salvia have gotten zero attention from me, but have bloomed and bloomed and bloomed all summer long. Even in August, the foliage looks healthy and shiny and the flower spikes keep growing. I planted these in a bed that I’m planning to use for strawberries next year, so I basically threw whatever into it this year—the garden equivalent of a junk drawer. (That’s why there is a monster squash edging its way around the salvia.) The bed gets part-sun at best, and other than a little slow-release fertilizer in the planting hole, nothing else has been done to them.  Pest and disease free, the bees seem to love these plants.  The foliage looks better than any of my other annuals. They are winter hardy in USDA Zone 7 and higher, so for cold-climate gardeners these will have to be annuals.

Playin’ the Blues looking great in my “junk-drawer” garden bed.

 

Superbells® Over Easy™ is a Calibrachoa hybrid that does really well in containers. I planted these with some lilies, which have bloomed already, and some marigolds grown from seed. The white color with a dot of yellow at the center does remind you of over-easy eggs and the plants brighten up whatever else they are planted with. White is such a great color for adding contrast to the garden. Unlike some of my other petunias and calibrachoas, I did not need to give the Over Easy plants a mid-season trim in order to keep them blooming. The plants don’t get huge — staying under 12 inches tall, but they look neat and perfect flopped over the edge of a terra-cotta container.

Marigolds pair well with this yellow-centered calibrachoa, which is called Superbells® Over Easy™a new plant from Proven Winners.

What have been your best-performing annuals this season?

Disclaimer: I received free plants from Proven Winners to test for readers of this blog and Northern Gardener magazine. The opinions are my own and no other compensation was exchanged.

What!? A USDA Zone 6 Plant Thrives in Minnesota?

Hey, it’s back! Labeled USDA Zone 6 hardy, this hyssop survived winter in my zone 4 garden.

Pictured above is an anise hyssop that I planted last summer for a little color with absolutely no hopes that it would survive the winter.  Yet, come April, it was sprouting its pretty chartreuse leaves and getting ready for another season of bloom.

The plant is ‘Golden Jubilee’ anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum ‘Golden Jubilee’), a 2003 All-American Selections winner that has pretty purple bottlebrush flowers and is very attractive to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. It’s listed as being hardy to USDA Zone 6 on the tag it came with, though I’ve found several other sources that says it is zone 5 hardy. (For reference, I live in zone 4, which covers the southern two-thirds or so of Minnesota.) Even if it was zone 5, I would not have expected it to survive the winter of 2016-17 because of the lack of snow cover. We did have a warm winter overall, but the temperature sunk to below -20 F in December, which should have been cold enough to ice even a zone 5 plant.

This is what it looks like in the summer. Photo courtesy of All-America Selections.

But like all politics, all weather—and all gardening—is local. In my garden, this plant faces south. I live in the urban heat island of St. Paul. The plant lies within 5 feet of the foundation of my house, which may emanate some heat. The extremely cold days in December came right after a snow storm, so the plant’s roots had some cover during the worst of the winter. Clearly, the local conditions were warm enough to get it through the winter.

It may also be that the zone 6 rating given the plant by this grower is conservative. That’s one thing to keep in mind when choosing plants—zone ratings are as much art as science and some companies are conservative in their ratings while others are more optimistic. Your local conditions may be warmer or cooler than the averages for your zone, too. Choose plants not exclusively by the numbers but by the local conditions.  I bought the anise hyssop plants later in the summer. They were on sale and I expected they would be annuals. This brings to mind a good rule for gardeners who want to “push their zone.” Never choose a plant you can’t afford to lose.

Whether it was luck, a warm winter or a too-conservative rating, I’m happy to have this cheerful plant back for another year.

 

Gift Idea: A Spring Garden for Valentine’s Day

The Watch 'em Grow basket arrives with some growth.
The Watch ’em Grow basket arrives with some growth.

Are you looking for a gift idea for your valentine this week? If he or she is a gardener or someone who likes flowers, let me suggest this pre-planted bulb garden the folks at Bachman’s are offering. Called Watch ’em Grow, the pots come in 8 or 10 inch sizes and are planted with an assortment of spring bulbs: tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and muscari.

When they arrive, the bulbs are just starting to grow. Give them a little water and set them in a bright spot, and in a week or so, your valentine will have blooms. Mine arrived January 26 and by February 4, the cutest tiny daffodils I’ve ever seen on it were in bloom. Today, the hyacinths are also blooming (one light pink, one dark purple) and the tulips are just starting to break open. I’m guessing I will have blooms for about 10 more days.

Pretty spring colors!
Pretty spring colors!

Fresh flowers are a wonderful gift, but I like something that you can watch grow and enjoy for several weeks. Other suggestions for a Valentine’s Day gift for the gardener in your life?

  • Seeds! How about seeds for a butterfly garden? Or a selection of tomato seeds with unusual names or flavors?
  • A tree. A few nurseries are open now and you can get a gift certificate for a tree.
  • A book about gardening or cooking. Some of my recent favorites include The Layered Garden, Groundbreaking Food Gardens, and for planning how to cook up all the good vegetables your gardener will grown next year, Amy Thielen’s The New Midwestern Table. (Check out the March/April issue of Northern Gardener for an article on the garden Amy and her husband, Aaron Spangler, tend in northern Minnesota.)
  • A CSA share. OK, this is a big one. But, if your gardener does not grow a lot of food, but loves fresh food (and who doesn’t?) how about a share or partial share in a local community supported agriculture farm? You can find a list of regional CSAs here.
  • Fresh flowers. A bouquet is lovely and much better for the figure than a box of chocolates.

Enjoy the holiday!

Disclosure: I was sent the Watch ’em Grow basket free of charge for review purposes. My policy is to review products only if I like them. If I don’t like them, I will not mention them on this blog or in social media.

Minnesota State Fair Potted Plant Show

Cacti on display at the Minnesota State Fair potted plant show.
Cacti on display at the Minnesota State Fair potted plant show.

I’m not much of a houseplant or cacti grower, but I sure admire people who can keep a plant healthy and lush through the winters in our harsh climate. That’s one reason I usually stop by the MSHS Potted Plant, Cactus and Succulent Show at the Minnesota State Fair.

This year’s show will be held the first two days of the fair, Aug. 21 and 22, and now is the time to get your entries ready. The show features categories for growers of everything from African violets to patio petunias, orchids, coleus, roses, begonias, all types of succulents from aloe to sedum, figs, cacti of all kinds and dozens of other species. See the entry information for a complete list of categories.

Not flashy, but a beautiful and healthy looking plant.
Not flashy, but a beautiful and healthy looking plant.

Entrants should bring their plants to the Horticulture Building at the Minnesota State Fair before 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 20. Judging will be done that evening, with ribbons awarded for each category. Judges may also name a Grand Champion and Reserve Champion as well as special awards for exceptional entries.

The show is open to the public during the first two days of the fair, Aug. 21 and 22. It’s well worth a visit for any plant enthusiast.

First Bloom, More Snow

iris reticulata
iris reticulata
This is the latest date I have ever recorded a first bloom.

A Facebook friend of mine wrote today that she is just plain numb when it comes to our weather here in Minnesota this spring. For my town, another 6 to 9 inches of snow is predicted for later today — yes, 6 to 9 inches on April 22! Last year, by this time, we had had several days in the 70s and 80s, whereas this year  we have not yet hit 60. If you live outside of the Upper Midwest, wrap your mind around that. According to the super-helpful Carleton College Weather Database, my hometown has not seen 60 degrees since Nov. 22, 2012 — five months!

But, no more complaining. We will endure. And, I have a bloom in my front yard. The Iris reticulata that is usually the first bulb to bloom in my front yard is up and blooming as of yesterday. April 21 is the latest I have ever recorded this first bloom. Last year, it happened on March 15! Here’s what I said then about past bloom times:

Last year, I first saw Iris reticulata in bloom on April 4; in 2010, I saw it on March 25; and in 2009, I recorded it blooming on April 16.

You can see how much variation there is in Minnesota, but having the earliest bloom time and latest in back to back years—and more than a month apart— is a bit disconcerting. The weather forecast calls for 60s and even 70s by the weekend, so I’m hoping that this will in fact be our last snowfall of the year.

Right Plant, Right Place II

clara curtis daisies close up

clara curtis daisiesPutting the right plant in the right place is an adage in gardening — and a true one. (Maybe all adages are true?) I’ve written about it before, but more evidence of right plant, right place showed up in my garden this summer.

Last year, I removed some shrubs in a back bed that were damaged in a storm and were otherwise overgrown. The shrubs also put a big corner of that bed in shade. Once removed, several plants that struggled in the past have thrived there, including these pretty Clara Curtis daisies. These are super easy to grow and they will survive even in the wrong type of growing conditions. (They also will spread, but I love the pink color in fall, so I accept the spreading.)

But, give them nearly full sun and good soil; add a little fertilizer and keep them trimmed back in early summer, and this is what you get. Fluffy, healthy, pink masses that bend beautifully in the wind.

Right plant, right place.