Plant Profile: Wisteria

In today’s Plant Profile, we are going to take a look at Wisteria. The latin name for this vine is Wisteria sinensis and it is also known as Chinese Wisteria. There is another species that is grown in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region and it is Japanese Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda). Chinese wisteria is by far the most common type that is grown and so it is on this species that we will focus our attention.

Many people are left stunned when they see the pendulous blooms of wisteria. They are a beautiful lilac purple color and can last for several weeks. The longevity of the blooms depends on the ambient temperatures when the vines are blooming. They generally bloom in late April but they have been blooming for a couple of weeks here in the Richmond, VA area. Our weather has been moderate so I expect them to last for a couple more weeks before they disappear into the background for the rest of the year.


Let’s take a look at how the Wisteria vine grows. In case you aren’t familiar, vines generally grow in one of three ways: 1. Tendrils (think passion flower) 2. Clinging (like with Boston ivy) or 3. Wrapping (think honeysuckle). Wisteria grows by wrapping itself around a structure or a tree if there isn’t a structure around. If you are planting wisteria on a pergola or another structure, make sure that the structure is well made and heavy duty. Wisteria is the type of plant that can bring a loosely constructed arbor to its knees in a couple of years. If you are familiar with Maymont’s Italian Garden, it is wisteria that grows up and over the pergola there…and it is amazing when it is in flower. It’s no wonder that April is a favorite time for outdoor weddings there.

I have to throw in a good bit of caution regarding planting wisteria. It must be planted in an area where it can’t escape into the surrounding woods. If you doubt this, take a Sunday drive through a rural area near you and observe all of the wisteria growing in the woods. It’s readily apparent that someone planted the wisteria on an old homestead and the vine just got away from them. It will kill mature trees over time as it girdles them like a boa constrictor and also shades the tree’s leaves and reduces photosynthesis.

To help keep Wisteria in check, give it an annual winter pruning to reduce its size. Prune the main leaders (leaders are the stems that come off of the main trunk) back to 4 or 5 buds. This will keep the plant’s size in check and will help to promote flowering. It is amazing how quickly they can grow…here is a picture of one that hasn’t been pruned for approximately 3 years. It’s going to take a bit of pruning before anyone can sit comfortably under there.


Let me know if you have experience with wisteria…the good, bad and the ugly. Most people either love or hate wisteria. What side of the fence do you fall on? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!


The Vernal Equinox: It’s the First Day of Spring!


Today is the first day of spring! Woo-hoo…spring has sprung in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region. But quite honestly, we didn’t have much of a winter so we don’t really have the same enthusiasm as we had two years ago after “Snowapalooza”. But even still, it’s good to know that sustained warm temperatures are right around the corner. For those who don’t know, I’d like to quickly explain what determines our seasons on the calendar:

The Vernal Equinox – March 21 – SPRING – this is the first time in the calendar year when the hours of daylight and darkness are equal…12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness.

The Summer Solstice – June 21 – SUMMER – this is the longest period of daylight in the year…from December 22 until June 21 the days get longer and longer.

The Autumnal Equinox – September 21 – AUTUMN – this is the second time in the calendar year when the hours of daylight and darkness are equal…12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness.

The Winter Solstice – December 21 – WINTER – this is the shortest period of daylight in the year.

Plants are blooming like crazy now. The trees are blooming, the tulips, the forsythia, the grape hyacinths…you name it and it’s blooming. I thought that I would share a few pictures of the plants that are blooming in the central Virginia area.

Camellia (this one fell into a bed of creeping jenny)

vernal equinox

Redbud (Cercis canadensis

vernal equinox

Daphne odora

vernal equinox

Helleborus orientalis

verna; equinox

Flowering Almond (Prunus mume)

vernal equinox

I hope and pray that we don’t get a hard freeze now…that would be devastating to plants of all sorts. I remember that happening while I was a student at Virginia Tech. Trees had to have all sorts of branches removed as the freeze even killed much of the previous season’s growth. Fingers crossed that doesn’t happen this year! What’s going on in your area? What plants are blooming in your hometown? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

Pests and Diseases: Hosta Virus X


It won’t be long until your beautiful hostas begin to poke their heads up from their winter slumber. If you have a shady garden, it’s highly likely that some of these plants decorate your garden. They may be hand-me-downs from your grandma or some of the newly bred cultivars. Either way, they could be infected by a virus known as Hosta Virus X.

Many of the hostas that are grown by commercial growers come from Holland where they are grown in large operations. The Dutch are infamous for growing magnificent plants but in any large scale operation, the chances of spreading diseases from plant to plant is increased. Hosta Virus X is often spread when the plants are cultivated or being dug for bareroot shipments. As the machinery works the rows, plant leaves are damaged and the juice from one plant is spread to the open wounds of the next. This is how Hosta Virus X is spread.


Hosta Virus XThere is a typical virus pattern on the leaves with strange mottling and weird patterns that are not usually seen on the hosta in question. The leaves can be mottled and strangely wrinkled. Before this Hosta Virus X was discovered, many breeders thought that they were onto something new. The mottling was interesting in appearance so the plants were thought to be new and unique. Unfortunately, it was Hosta Virus X that was causing these “neat” new looks.


Unfortunately, it can take years for the virus to rear its ugly head but when it does, the plant needs to be destroyed immediately. Testing for the disease isn’t practical and generally once you have seen Hosta Virus X it is easy to spot the next time. After you’ve dried your tears from pitching some of your favorite hostas, make sure that you don’t infect the rest of your plants. As we talked about earlier, Hosta Virus X is spread by transferring plant juice (doesn’t that sound scientific?) from an infected plant to another hosta plant. Make sure that you take every precaution to not infect your clean plants: wear gloves, bag and dispose of infected plants, and clean your tools well.

I found a great resource online that details Hosta Virus X and the varieties that it is commonly found on. Let me know if you have any experience with this virus…something tells me that many Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers do. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!



February 21, 2012Permalink Leave a comment

Reader Question: Butterfly Garden


Today’s Reader Question is from Sheryl in Rockville, Maryland:

I’d like some advice on planting a butterfly garden. I have a butterfly bush and its covered with butterflies in the summer. I’d like to expand the border to include other plants that they would like. Thanks for your help in advance.

Great question Sheryl! Butterflies are such fun to watch in the garden as they flit from flower to flower engorging themselves on nectar. Let’s take a look at some of the plants that they particularly enjoy and then we’ll look at some other items that you can add to entice them.

  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii) – you already have the grandaddy of them all to attract butterflies. They come in many different colors including white, pink, yellow and purple. There are dwarf varieties that are as short as 3′ and taller varieties that can reach to 8′ tall.
  • butterfly garden

    Butterfly Weed

    Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) – this plant often grows on the edges of ditches and needs dry soil. If you enjoy bright orange flowers, this is the plant for you. Just be aware that they are very late to emerge in the spring…it’s often May before they fully emerge from their winter dormancy.

  • Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) – while it may be in the same genus as Butterfly Weed, its cultural requirements are completely different. While Swamp Milkweed will perform well in average soil, it is at home in wet conditions. Its blooms can be pink or white. Monarch butterfly larvae will completely strip the leaves from the plants but the reward of adult butterflies make it completely worthwhile.
  • Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium dubium, E. maculatum, E. rugosum) – there are many different species of Eupatorium that butterflies adore. There blooms can be mauve pink, rose or white. Joe Pye Weed’s cultural needs are similar to Swamp Milkweed…they can tolerate average soils but thrive in wet conditions.
  • Hardy Ageratum (Eupatorium coelestinum) – the same conditions as Joe Pye and Swamp Milkweed prevail with Hardy Ageratum. If you’re a fan of the little annual ageratum, you’ll love the tall blooms of this plant. They come in blue and white but they self seed like crazy so be sure that you want lots of them before you plant the first one.
  • Catmint (Nepeta spp.) – butterflies adore catmint’s purple flowers. Catmint can range in size from 12″ to 36″ depending on the cultivar you select. Catmint is very long blooming.
  • Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – so much breeding has taken place with coneflowers that its mindblowing. It used to be that coneflowers were either white or pink…now they can be white, pink, orange, red, yellow or green. Regardless of the color, butterflies love them.
  • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) – parsley is an important larval food for butterflies so make sure you plant some clumps just for them. See my link for more information on parsley in general.


This is by no means an exhaustive list of perennials that attract butterflies but it is guaranteed to bring them in by the droves. Here are a few other ideas to keep them coming back for more.

  • Plant a pot of mint and sit in the garden. Never, ever, never plant mint directly in your garden unless you want a garden of mint and mint only. The flowers are adored by our winged friends.
  • Take a terra cotta saucer and fill it with sand. If you keep the sand moist, the butterflies will use it as a watering hole. If you’ve ever witnessed butterflies drinking from the sand along a lake or river, you can appreciate how much they enjoy these sips of salty water.
  • Place a few large stones or concrete statuary in the garden so that the butterflies have a place to warm their wings in the early morning.

butterfly garden

Sheryl, I hope that you can take these ideas and use them to enhance your butterfly garden. An added bonus of creating a butterfly garden is that bees and beneficials will find comfort in your landscape and help you keep your pest population in check. I’d love to hear from other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers regarding plants that attract butterflies. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

February 16, 2012Permalink 4 Comments

Plant Profile: Adagio Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’)


adagioIn today’s Plant Profile I thought we would take a look at one of my favorite ornamental grasses, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’ or Adagio for short. This maiden grass is such a delight to use in the garden as it works with virtually every plant that is paired with. It is a compact version of the larger maiden grasses like ‘Gracillimus’ so it can fit in all but the smallest gardens. I’m getting ahead of myself a bit so let’s step back and look at the conditions that Adagio would like to call home.

Like all Miscanthus, Adagio prefers full sun and well-drained soil. If placed in a little shade, it will perform fine but you can expect it to be a floppy mess if sited anywhere with less than 6 hours of direct sun. Adagio needs well-drained soil but that soil can be moist, well-drained soil or dry, well-drained soil…it’s tolerant of both. I have found that Miscanthus performs best in lean soil that tends to be on the dry side; I think it keeps them looking stout and they have less tendency to flop. If you live in a coastal region where the soil tends to be high in salts, you are in luck with Miscanthus of all types.

Adagio reaches a height of around 4′ and they are equally as wide. When they are in bloom, their height can easily expand to 5′. They form a solid mound of foliage that has delightful wispy tips that blow in the wind to capture your attention; they really are an eye-catching plant in the garden. If you can site them so that they are backlit by sunlight either in the early morning or late evening, you will be rewarded with a glowing display that lasts throughout the seasons. Miscanthus ‘Adagio’ is a four season plant…the only time that it isn’t showy is when it is cut to the ground in late February or early March. Here’s a tip for performing the most disdained chore in the garden: the easiest way that I know to cut back ornamental grasses is to tie them together about 12″ above the ground with either twine or a bungee cord. You can then use hedge trimmers or a saw to cut below the twine. What you are left with is a neatly bundled package of brown foliage that is easy to dispose of. Even though I said that this is the easiest method, there is actually an easier way to eliminate the winter foliage: burning. I’m not recommending that you burn yours since I don’t have enough insurance to cover the cost of your house when it catches fire but I’ve seen it done before and it is remarkably efficient. Within 2 to 3 minutes of setting the fire, the 5′ grass is reduced to a pile of ash.

adagioMiscanthus ‘Adagio’ is a wonderful companion plant to Knockout Roses. The dark green Miscanthus foliage is the perfect backdrop to the sea of color that the roses provide from April until December (in the Richmond area). It’s hard to come up with a pair of tougher plants than Miscanthus and Knockout Roses. They are both remarkably drought tolerant once established and relatively free of pest problems. (See this link for more information on a disease that is threatening the Knockouts.) The plumes that emerge from Adagio in August and September are a welcome sight to a tired landscape that has been through a typical Mid-Atlantic gardening summer of drought and high temperatures. These plumes change to tan as the foliage does when the first frosts begin in the fall. They remain remarkably attractive through the winter and the birds enjoy the refuge that they offer. Miscanthus ‘Adagio’ is quite the sight to behold when the snow begins to fall too. I highly recommend Adagio as a carefree plant that can fit into all but the smallest of gardens. It will help soften hard lines in the garden and provide you with four seasons of beauty. If you have experience with Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’, leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

February 8, 2012Permalink 5 Comments

Plant Profile: Dwarf Iris (Iris reticulata)


Dwarf IrisThe official start of spring is less than 8 weeks away but most gardeners consider March 1 to be their beginning of spring. And it’s around this time of the year that you’ll find Iris reticulata, or Dwarf Iris, blooming in your garden if you’re fortunate enough to have a planting.

Dwarf Iris are delightful little early spring bloomers with purple to blue flowers with a yellow highlight on the falls. They are often seen poking through a light layer of late winter snow with no bother. At 6″-8″ tall, they can fit in nearly every garden and are often used in rock gardens. I think they look great along pathways or by doorways where they can be viewed up close. If allowed to naturalize into a colony, they can make quite a show even from afar.

Dwarf Iris require no special cultural conditions other than well-drained soil. They prefer full sun and that is easily achieved under deciduous trees even in an otherwise shady landscape. They will tolerate light to moderate shade but shouldn’t be planted underneath dense evergreens such as spruce or hemlock. Their foliage, as with other spring blooming bulbs, should be left intact until it turns brown on its own. With such a small stature, the drying foliage shouldn’t cause much of a distraction in the garden.

Dwarf Iris originate from a bulb instead of a rhizome like the popular German Iris. This makes it easy to propagate them to plant in other areas of the garden or to share with a friend. The bulbs should be planted in autumn so if you didn’t plant them last fall, you’ll have to wait a few more months before you can add them to your gardening palette.

Other noteworthy characteristics of these spring bloomers is that their blooms are fragrant and the plants are deer resistant. Remember, deer resistant doesn’t equal deer proof! Plant them in an area where their sweet fragrance can be enjoyed and you’ll be rewarded for years to come. If you have dwarf iris in your garden, leave me a comment below and let me know your experiences…you can also e-mail me at Happy gardening!

Reader Question: Will my daffodils be OK?


Here is a question that I received from Julia in Virginia:

My daffodil leaves are already up 6″ or so and I can see some small flower buds. I’m wondering if they will be OK with 8 weeks left in winter. It seems awfully early for them to be up.

That’s a common concern when we have temperatures that have been as mild as they have this winter. The good news is that daffodils are hard wired to survive the ups and downs of early spring weather and that’s really what we are experiencing now. If temperatures are predicted to drop into the low teens and you have either open flowers or buds that are about to open, you may want to take some measures to protect them. You can lay a lightweight cloth like a bed sheet over them or mulch over them with straw or leaves. Whatever you do, make sure that you uncover them during the day.

daffodilIf the weatherman is predicting low temperatures like I mentioned above and the buds are close to the ground or haven’t emerged at all yet, I wouldn’t do anything to protect just the foliage. The ground has an amazing insulating effect and the temperature there is generally warmer than the surrounding air in the winter. The foliage may be burned at the tips but it will still function just as it should to produce energy for next year’s flowers. A little something to remember when it comes to protecting plants from unexpected freezing temperatures: air is THE best insulator. If you are lucky enough to have snow on the ground when the temperature dips, you shouldn’t have to worry at all as snow is full of air. If you’d like to read more about bulbs of all kinds and their care be sure to check out Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. They are a Gloucester, VA based company and they have oodles of information to share…just make sure that you tell them that you heard about them on If you have a question that you’d like to have answered, shoot me an e-mail at Happy gardening!

Plant Profile: Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)


In keeping with the vegetable theme, I thought that we would look at an herb today. Today’s Plant Profile is about parsley. While you may think of parsley as that little green garnish that arrives on the plate with your seafood, parsley offers so much more. It is a biennial herb, which means that it flowers its second year and sets seed. To me, this is essentially like getting a buy-one-get-one free at the grocery store; you plant it once and you get two years of use out of it. I like BOGOs at the grocery store and I like them even more in the garden.

Let’s first look at starting the plants from seed. Parsley is notoriously slow to germinate and if I were you, I would go ahead and start some seeds now instead of waiting closer to the last frost date. I would also either sow them twice as thick (at least 4 seeds per plug) or sow twice as many plugs as you need…I have never attained anymore than 60-70% germination with parsley. It doesn’t mean that I don’t still grow it; it just means that I compensate accordingly. Parsley is also one of the plants that must have darkness to germinate so make sure you cover it when sowing the seeds. Once it has germinated, it will look more like grass than parsley but give it time…it will develop into a miniature version of the full grown plant in a couple of weeks.

In the garden, parsley should be planted in full sun but it will take a little more shade than other herbs. You may sacrifice some foliage production but chances are that if you are planting it in shade, you don’t have very much sun to begin with. Once it is established, it can tolerate drought and makes an easy plant to grow. Parsley is similar to cut and come again greens in that if you cut it back, it will resprout more leaves for you to harvest later. Another beautiful part of growing parsley is that it will remain perfectly green through all but the hardest frosts which means that you can have vitamin rich leaves to add to most dishes.

Parsley is rich in Vitamins A and C. Even if the flavor of parsley isn’t desired, it’s a great idea to tie a bunch together and allow it to simmer in soups for 10 minutes or so at the end. Sally Fallon, of Nourishing Traditions fame, recommends adding it in this manner when making highly nutritious and delicious chicken stock. For those of you that are seeking a truly heart healthy diet, be sure to obtain a copy of Nourishing Traditions and check out the Weston A. Price Foundation. See, there’s one of those tangents again.

If you have more parsley than you can eat, consider dehydrating it (I use an Excalibur dehydrator) and saving it for later. Instead of buying the little jars of parsley for $3 in the grocery store, dehydrate your own and throw an oxygen absorber into a mason jar. If the jars are kept at room temperature and out of direct light, you’ll have parsley that will last you for years.

There are two main types of parsley and they are Italian parsley and Triple Curly. Italian parsley is a flat leaved variety that produces the best flavor whereas Triple Curly has a fancy, crinkly leaf that makes a beautiful garnish. Both of them are a larval food for Black Swallowtails which comes as an added bonus. Parsley is such a versatile plant that belongs in everyone’s garden or perennial border. Let me know your experiences by leaving a comment below or e-mailing me at Don’t forget to Like my Facebook page…you can use the link above to get you there quickly. Happy gardening!

January 11, 2012Permalink 2 Comments

Pests and Diseases: Gray Mold (Botrytis cinerea)


Today we will be discussing a fungal disease known as Gray Mold or Botrytis cinerea. I’ve always called it by its latin name, Botrytis (pronounced BO-TRY-TIS), so forgive me if I go latin through most of this post. Botrytis is a fungal disease that can infect just about any crop, although herbaceous plants like perennials and annuals seem to be the preferred choices. Many people think of botrytis as a greenhouse problem, and while it certainly can be, it can also affect your outdoor plants.

It is often found on plant material that has been killed by frost but hasn’t been removed from the landscape. The plant that sticks out in my mind is balloon flower, or Platycodon. At the nursery that I used to work at, we would lose Platycodon by the hundreds if we didn’t remove the foliage soon after the first killing frost. Once the foliage is dead, it tends to accumulate moisture and that moisture breeds botrytis which infects the crown and ultimately kills the plants.


If you see a fuzzy gray mold on your plants when the weather conditions have been cool, cloudy and damp, chances are that you have botrytis. If the infestation isn’t particularly bad, you can remove the infected foliage (I don’t recommend composting it; I would trash it instead) and your plants should be OK come spring. I prefer to take a wait and see approach instead of going through the trouble of worrying myself whether the plants will survive. In the case of Platycodon, they are pretty prolific self seeders so you should have little babies that you can transplant to fill in any holes.


Peonies are probably the most well known as they are prized for their large flowers that appear in the spring. Unfortunately, botrytis can attack the buds before they open and lead to a display of black buds instead of beautful flowers. If your stems turn black from the bud down, botrytis is probably the culprit.

If you are a fan of Forget-Me-Nots, or Myosotis palustris, you may find that the centers of your plants open up and when you peek inside, there’s a colony of gray mold that has taken over…if that’s the case, you can bet that it’s botrytis.

Many, many other ornamental plants are susceptible to Botrytis including petunia, cyclamen, chrysanthemums and annual geraniums. Fortunately for the gardener, most of these disease problems occur in the greenhouse industry where plants are grown at intense densities.


Botrytis is spread by splashing water so it is imperative that the foliage has a chance to dry before the coolest part of the day occurs. In an outdoor setting, it is unlikely that you will have to water your plants when the cool, cloudy, damp conditions exist, but on the off chance that you do, be sure to water in the morning.

Sanitation is by far the best way to prevent your plants from becoming infected with botrytis. In the fall, remove foliage that has been killed by the frost and give your plants enough room so that air can get in to dry the foliage in the spring. Once the weather decides to stay warm, botrytis will be a thing of the past. Let me know if you have had problems with botrytis in the past and what you have done to remedy the situation. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!


January 3, 2012Permalink 1 Comment

Plant Profile: Lords and Ladies or Arum italicum ‘Pictum’


The frost has killed off the foliage on my hostas and they resemble little more than pathetic blobs of brown mushiness. But a winter friend has reared its head and that friend is Arum italicum ‘Pictum’, otherwise known as Lord and Ladies.

Arum is a fascinating plant in that it is summer dormant and waits until cool weather to emerge. It is a perfect companion plant for shade loving perennials such as hostas, deciduous ferns and astilbes. When the cold weather has become too much for these spring and summer beauties, Arum decides to emerge to take over the show. Its beautiful arrow shaped leaves are mottled with white veins that seem to catch sunlight and reflect it back in the winter garden. It will emerge through fallen leaves so it can be naturalized in wooded areas, perhaps along a garden path or sitting area that is enjoyed on those warm winter days.

Arum is accented with light green to white spathes in spring that resemble those of a peace lily. As summer draws closer, the spathes transform into bright red seed heads that stand out in the shade garden. After this final performance, Arum goes into its summer dormancy and waits again for the cool weather. For this reason. it’s a good idea to mark or otherwise note where your Arum are so that they aren’t uprooted during the summer.

A bonus of growing this plant is that it is also deer and vole resistant. Reported to be poisonous, it’s no wonder why the four legged critters, both above and below ground, steer clear of it. Arum will form quaint colonies over time that are easily separated to either move to other areas of your garden or to share with friends. While they prefer moist but well drained, humusy soil, they will certainly tolerate much less, including the usual drought that the Mid-Atlantic summers offer. This is a must have plant for winter gardens…surely you can find a place in your garden for a plant otherwise known as Lords and Ladies! If you have experience with Arum italicum ‘Pictum’ in your garden, let me know by leaving a comment or e-mailing me at I’ve received some reader questions about deer resistant plants so I’ll be tackling that subject tomorrow. Happy gardening!

November 30, 2011Permalink 5 Comments