Cleaning Up The Fall Garden

Brrrr…it’s chilly outside. The wind has been blowing briskly today and thankfully, most of the leaves have finally fallen. Fellow horticulturists and I have discussed how the leaves seem to be hanging on longer this year. Perhaps it’s because we had a decent summer of rainfall, even though the temperatures were at or near 100 degrees for nearly a month. Regardless of the reason, I’m delighted that the leaves have finally dropped so that I can get on with cleaning up the fall garden.

My black eyed Susan’s are mere sticks with dried seed heads, my Solomon’s Seal has withered to the ground and all that remains of my hostas are a few translucent leaves. It’s time to take my handy Felcos to the dried seed heads and my fingers to the remains of the Solomon’s Seal and hostas. My evergreen perennials like Ajuga, Christmas fern and Heucheras will be fine with little or no maintenance until spring. Thank goodness.

cleaning up the fall garden

This Heuchera will not require any maintenance until spring when they’ll appreciate a nice haircut

Many gardeners fret over their perennials in the fall. Do I cut them back half way, all the way or not at all? Thankfully, Mother Nature has managed to go about her business for thousands of years without our doting over her. If you don’t cut back your perennials, what’s the worst that can happen? They’ll look untidy and unkempt but that’s really the only concern. If you cut back a perennial that is dormant in the winter before all of the leaves turn brown and wither away, you can pretty much rest assured that it will be fine as it wouldn’t have any leaves for photosynthesis during the winter anyway.

There are a few perennials that appreciate a bit more thought being put into their care. Here’s a partial list:

  1. Ornamental grasses – these are best left untouched until February or early March here in Virginia. They’ll offer cover for birds and the snow looks magnificent against the seedheads.
  2. Hibiscus – of course, I’m talking about the perennial types like the ‘Disco Belle’ series, ‘Kopper King’ and all of the wonderful hybrids. The bare stalks, while not particularly attractive, are best left intact until the following spring.
  3. Balloon flowers – The brown, dried foliage of Platycodon is highly susceptible to Botrytis, a deadly fungus. You can eliminate the worry completely by taking a few moments to swipe your hand across the dormant plants to remove the plants’ remains.

Other tasks to complete in cleaning up the fall garden include removing piled up leaves, putting away terra cotta pots that may crack in the winter weather and assessing areas that may need improvement at a later date. Perhaps that includes filling in with new perennials, adding a blooming shrub in the the spring or tucking in a few bulbs or annuals.

I love gardening but I am also thankful to live in Virginia where we have four seasons (usually). I look forward to the respite that winter offers but I also look forward to the anticipation of spring. Seed catalogs have already started filling my mailbox and it’s exciting to think of what next spring may bring. Have you already cleaned up your garden for the fall or do you still have chores to complete? Drop me a line in the comment section below.  If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening!

November 24, 2012Permalink Leave a comment

Plant Profile: Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.)

I thought that we would take a look at daylilies today…daylilies as a whole with discussion about a few popular cultivars. Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.) are perhaps the easiest to grow of all of the sun loving perennials. They withstand a tremendous amount of abuse, can grow in extremely harsh conditions and are only bothered by a few pests.

Daylilies perform best in full sun but can certainly withstand a bit of shade. They are one of the “sun” perennials that I’ve been able to successfully establish in my shady yard. I may not receive the same amount of blooms as those grown in sunnier areas, but I’m not complaining. As for moisture, they can’t grow in desert-like conditions or standing water. If your garden lies anywhere in between these two extremes, your plants will do well. While I say that they can’t grow in standing water, they can survive bareroot in water. When I worked at Maymont, we were allowed to take home divisions of plants that were being divided in the various gardens. I successfully housed bareroot daylilies in old pots and pans under my future-husband’s tall deck. They were a bit neglected and the pots often filled with rainwater. The daylilies did just fine and we have those divisions at our house now, 15 years later.

Daylilies seem to be one of those plants that hybridizers have a field day with. There are all sorts of beautiful cultivars that have been developed by daylily enthusiasts, many of them being backyard breeders. Check out The American Hemerocallis Society’s page to get a feel for just how many daylilies there are in the world. They have a pretty awesome database that can give you just about any information on a particular cultivar that you could want. Here are a few of the most popular cultivars:

‘Stella d’Oro’ – Photo courtesy of Dutch Gardens


‘Happy Returns’ – Photo courtesy of Conard-Pyle



‘Gentle Shepherd’ – Photo courtesy of


Hemerocallis fulva aka Roadside Daylily – Photo courtesy of


Many people think of the Roadside daylilies as a weed…I happen to think they’re quite delightful. They naturalize quickly and fill old homesteads and ditches everywhere. There is even a double variety known as ‘Kwanso’.

I’d be remiss to not include some information on daylily rust. It is a “new” disease of daylilies that is spreading quickly. It takes a lot of fungicides to keep it under control so it is best to take care to not introduce it to your garden. Here is a picture of the symptoms:



I’ll do a future post about daylily rust versus daylily leaf streak. They are two different diseases and it’s important to distinguish between the two. What daylilies do you grow in your garden? Are they old classics or some of the souped-up new hybrids? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening!



Plant Profile: Calla Lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica)

There are so many fantastic plants that I could profile this week…the perennials are blooming their little hearts out, the annuals are giving their all and the gardenias are filling the air with their sweet perfume. But I decided to look at Calla lilies instead. Why calla lilies? They’re so elegant and have a sort of mystique with Mid-Atlantic gardeners. They’re technically hardy to Zone 8 but with careful siting, they can flourish in Zone 7. In more northern climates they can be brought in during winter and set back out in the spring.

calla lilies


The calla lilies in the picture above are sited near a pond where they receive the warmth from the water as well as the stones that surround it. Speaking of ponds, calla lilies are very tolerant of moist conditions and can even survive in the shallow end of your pond. They’re also fairly tolerant of dry conditions…not bone dry soil but drier areas. Many people grow their calla lilies in containers so that they can easily lift them and bring them indoors during the winter. If your containers are anything like mine, they dry out quite a bit between waterings. It’s not an issue for calla lilies.

The flowers of calla lilies are stunning and vary in color from red to pink to white and even yellow. Their vase-like flowers are borne in summer and usually begin in late May. While most people grow calla lilies for their flowers, in my opinion, their foliage can be just as striking. Some callas have plain jane green foliage but there are others that have lovely white speckling.


calla lilies
Photo courtesy of


Pretty fantastic, am I right? Don’t be discouraged by the fact that calla lilies aren’t necessarily hardy in your area. Experiment and try a few in a container…or in your pond. Push the limits in your garden and see what works. I think that you’ll be pleasantly surprised by your efforts. Have you grown calla lilies in your garden? What has been your experience? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me so that other readers can benefit from your experience. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening!

June 27, 2012Permalink 1 Comment

Plant Profile: Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

I love Agastache. Plain and simple, I love them. What’s not to love? They attract bees and butterflies, are extremely drought tolerant, and bloom all season. That’s about all that you can ask for in a perennial.

Agastache foeniculum, in particular, is a knockout perennial. It has lavender-purple blooms that start in May and continue all season. The blooms are held on upright spikes above the 3′ tall fragrant foliage. The fragrant foliage is a deterrent to deer. That’s another tick mark on the plus side of the equation for growing Agastache. Bees and butterflies are drawn to Agastache like a moth to a flame. It is truly a magnet for all types of our six-legged friends including beneficial insects that take care of the nasties that want to decimate our gardens.



Look at that little guy…so happy to be in the vegetable garden eating and pollinating all at the same time. These are plants that I grew from seed last year and they are ginormous this year. They’ve already been blooming for weeks and will continue for months more. Have I mentioned that I love Agastache?

There are a few cultural conditions to keep in mind when growing Agastache. The first is the soil. Agastache are native to dry areas with poor soil. Don’t plant them where the soil is too rich or they’ll end up all floppy. They won’t die but they won’t be impressive either. Also, don’t plant them in wet soil. They must have well-drained soil and they actually prefer droughty conditions once they are established. You can water them but you may force too much top growth and then you end up with the floppiness issue again. Their last cultural requirement is sun. They can tolerate a tiny bit of shade but they prefer the fullest of sun. You almost can’t give them too much sun. Agastache is hardy to Zone 4.

One other thing to keep in mind when planting Agastache foeniculum is that they reseed readily. You can expect to have many more baby Agastache next year surrounding your original plants. They are easy enough to remove if you don’t need anymore but why not give them to your gardening friends or transplant them around the garden. If your garden beds are filling up and you have a veggie garden, move a few out there. Your cucumbers and tomatoes will thank you!

Have you grown Agastache in your garden? What are your opinions? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me. I’d love to share your experiences with other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!





Did You Know? Successfully Transplanting Ferns

Today’s post was inspired by a stroll around the yard last week. I think I was actually helping my daughter, Maddie, to steer her John Deere Gator. She’s 3 and hasn’t quite got the swing of driving yet. Anyway, as we were leaving the backyard and entering the front I looked down under the dogwood and saw a baby lady fern. It was probably 4″ tall and had three or four fronds. Here’s a picture:

transplanting ferns

I was reminded of a few years back when I plucked out one of these baby ladies from the “lawn” and stuck it in my border. It has performed beautifully ever since with no attention. There are winters where I don’t even bother to remove the foliage. Yes, I know that’s lazy.

Here’s a picture of the adult lady fern:

transplanting ferns

Successfully transplanting ferns isn’t hard to accomplish if you keep a few things in mind. Before I go any further, let me put out a disclaimer: I don’t advocate digging up any wildflowers, even ferns, from the wild and planting them in your garden. With that being said, I don’t think that the “lawn” area under my dogwood qualifies. So what should you keep in mind when it comes to transplanting ferns?

  1. TIMING – I’ve successfully transplanted ferns in spring and fall but I wouldn’t recommend doing it in the summer. That takes us to our next point.
  2. WATER – As with most plants, if you transplant them in fall your watering woes decrease dramatically. It usually rains in the fall here in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region so God will take care of the water. Here’s a post that I did on Fall Is For Planting for more info. If you decide to move your ferns in the spring, be prepared to water regularly throughout the first summer. The roots of your transplanted ferns have to establish themselves in their new home and you’ll need to help them along at first.
  3. SOIL – Transplanting ferns is much easier if the soil in their new home is similar to the soil in their old home. Perhaps that’s why my lady ferns have done so well. The 20′ commute from the dogwood to the border means that the soil is virtually the same. If you are getting your ferns from a gardening friend that has awesome soil and your soil is so-so, help the new ferns along by keeping them well-watered and topdressing with compost. I don’t recommend amending the soil in the planting hole. It creates a bath tub effect and can create some negative conditions in the soil. I’ll do a post about that at a later time.


So what do you do if you have ferns that you want to divide and transplant around your garden? Just dig up the whole clump, take a shovel or knife (my choice) to divide them and then plant them. I think a lot of people are intimidated at the thought of dividing perennials but you really shoudn’t be. Most perennials are extremely tough and amazingly resilient. So if you see any baby ferns popping up under your dogwood tree, pluck them out of the “lawn” and plant them in your garden. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results. Have you successfully transplanted ferns in your garden? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!


June 11, 2012Permalink 1 Comment

Reader Questions: Should I Deadhead My Perennials?

Today’s Reader Question comes from Charlene in Charlottesville, Virginia:

I have planted a perennial border that also has some Knockout Roses. I am wondering if I need to deadhead the perennials and the roses. I am growing Salvia ‘May Night’, Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’, daylilies, German iris, Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’ and Salvia greggii. I’m sorry to list all of the plants but I don’t know if I should deadhead them. Thanks for your help in advance.

This is a great question that I’m sure other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers have so thanks for asking! Let’s go through each of the plants one-by-one and discuss which ones need to be deadheaded.

  1. Knockout Roses – part of the beauty of growing Knockouts is that they don’t have to be deadheaded. If you have the time and/or energy, you can deadhead them and be rewarded with a few more blooms. But be very careful with sanitation to avoid spreading Rose Rosette Disease.
  2. Salvia ‘May Night’ – you don’t have to deadhead these beauties. The easiest way to deal with the spent blooms is to wait until most of the first flush is over and then cut them all off at the same time. You’ll be rewarded with another flush of blooms…and another…and another.
  3. Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’ – the lemon yellow blooms of Moonbeam will eventually fall off and you’ll be left with a brownish-black blob of spent blooms. If you cut the whole plant back (you should see new growth starting at the base…if you don’t then don’t cut the plants back until you do), your plants will start reblooming in a few weeks.
  4. Daylilies – daylilies are called such because each bloom lasts for only a day. If your individual blooms are spent, just snap off the spent bloom. If the entire bloom stalk has finished blooming, cut that stalk back to the base of the plant. Here’s a tip to get a second flush of blooms, even if your daylilies aren’t the reblooming type: when your plants finish blooming completely, cut all the foliage back to within 3″-4″ of the ground. Your leaves will come back out and look fresh for the summer and you’ll probably get a few extra blooms to boot.
  5. German Iris – while daylilies can be forced into a second bloom period in most cases, German iris can’t be. I don’t like to say “can’t” with so much authority but I’ve never seen German iris rebloom from being deadheaded. What I have seen are wonderful reblooming irises like ‘Immortality’.
  6. Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’ – Scabiosa, or pincushion flowers, are best if they are deadheaded when they finish their first flush of blooms. Their bloom habit is similar to Salvia ‘May Night’; they don’t have to be deadheaded but if they are, you’ll be rewarded with more and more blooms.
  7. Salvia greggii – I love this plant! I’ve never had to deadhead it in the landscape…it literally blooms from April through November and never misses a beat. There are so many blooms that you never notice the spent ones. More people should grow Salvia greggii and I should do a post about it…thanks for the reminder!


Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’ will reward you with more blooms if you deadhead them


Charlene, I hope that this gives you some answers regarding whether to deadhead your perennials. I wish you all the luck with your perennial border! Annuals are fantastic for splashes of color but, in my opinion, perennials are what hold the landscape together.

If other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers have thought on deadheading perennials, leave me a comment below or e-mail me.  If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!


Plant Profile: Peonies

Everywhere I look these days, I see peonies blooming their little hearts out. In nicely landscaped yards, around older and established homes, and near abandoned homesteads. Perhaps that should be the criteria we use to select plants for our landscapes…if it can survive on an abandoned homestead, then it deserves a place in our garden.

Peonies are one of those old-fashioned plants that your grandmother probably had growing in her garden. They’ve been cultivated for seemingly eons and with good reason. They are really tough plants and once they’re established, they’re almost maintenance free. For all of your hard work (not) you are rewarded with gorgeous blooms that can be as large as 8″ across.


They come in singles and doubles and in colors that range from pink to white to red and bicolors.





Peonies flourish in full sun but will do quite well in lightly shaded areas as well. They are tolerant of a wide range of soils but will not survive in wet soils. If your yard is plagued with low spots that retain water, either plant your peonies in containers or pick another plant.

The foliage of peonies is deciduous and it’s best to cut back and remove the foliage once the first hard frost arrives in fall. Peonies are pretty pest and disease free but if the foliage is left throughout the winter, they can suffer from some fungal issues. (Pssst…don’t tell the ones that were left behind on the homesteads…they obviously don’t know any better).

peoniesA common question regarding peonies is whether or not the ants that undoubtedly run amok on the blossoms affect the blooms or the health of the plants. The answer is no. The ants are only there because the buds have a sweet covering and they’re looking for a little snack. Ants are often overlooked as pollinators but their role in the ecosystem is vital.

Peonies make beautiful cut flowers and they last a good while indoors. To get the greatest longevity out of your blooms, cut them when they’re in the marshmallow stage: the buds haven’t quite opened yet and the buds have the texture of a marshmallow. They’ll open beautifully indoors where you can enjoy the blooms up close.

Butterflies love peonies when they’re in bloom. Pick early, mid and late blooming peonies to extend your season of bloom from April through early June. The butterflies will thank you and you’ll be rewarded with an amazing display of breathtaking blooms.

Which peonies do you have growing in your garden? Are they hand-me-downs from fellow gardeners? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!


Plant Profile: Salvia ‘May Night’

Today’s Plant Profile is about one of my favorite perennials: Salvia ‘May Night’. Officially, the Latin name is Salvia sylvestris ‘May Night’ but it usually goes by Salvia ‘May Night’, May Night Sage or just May Night. It is one of those plants that belong in every garden, unless you have a shady garden like me. Salvia ‘May Night’ prefers full sun but it can survive in some dappled shade. It can survive the hottest of hot areas and actually prefers the heat. It is very drought tolerant once established and it’s only requirement regarding moisture is that you not give it too much. It will reach 18″-24″ tall by 24″ wide over time so it makes a perfect plant for the front of the border.

Salvia ‘May Night’ begins blooming in April and the blooms just keep on coming until frost. This picture was taken just about a week ago.

salvia may night

As with most long blooming perennials, it will provide the best show if it is kept deadheaded but you don’t have to fret about this. If you are a lazy gardener like me, just wait until most of the blooms are spent and then cut all of the bloom stalks off. Simple enough.

When and if you deadhead your Salvia ‘May Night’, you may have to shoo away the bumble bees and honey bees. They absolutely love it. Your plants will be covered with bees and some butterflies too. If you want to attract beneficials to your garden, Salvia ‘May Night’ is an excellent choice.

The only drawback to May Night, if you can call it one, is that the foliage smells…well…urineferous. That’s a word that I learned from Dr. Niemeira at Virginia Tech; he used it to describe the blooms of boxwood. Yep, the foliage smells like pee. There’s really no other way to put it. But unless you make a habit of rubbing the foliage, you won’t even notice it. There is one creature with a better nose than us that will notice the smell though: deer. Deer generally steer clear of plants with smelly foliage like herbs and in this case, Salvia ‘May Night’.

The foliage is semi-evergreen in Virginia. It’s there for most of the winter but eventually it starts to look pretty crispy as the winter wears on. I wouldn’t grow Salvia ‘May Night’ for its winter foliage but I would grow it for the other 9 months of the year when it shines in the garden. It’s hardy to Zone 5 so it should be a long lived, reliable perennial in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region. Let me know if you have experience with Salvia ‘May Night’ by leaving me a comment below or e-mailing me at Happy gardening!

April 11, 2012Permalink 4 Comments

Reader Question: Shade Perennials

Today’s Reader Question comes from Monica in Bethesda, MD:

I recently read your article about shrubs for shady gardens and it made me wonder if you have suggestions for shade perennials. I have hosta and pachysandra but I’d like to expand my area for shade perennials.

Monica, there are so many wonderful choices when it comes to shade perennials. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Ferns – there are ferns that can fit just about condition that you can throw at them. There are short ones like rainbow moss fern that spread like a groundcover, tall majestic evergreen creatures like autumn fern and delicate ones with apple green foliage like lady fern.
  2. Coral Bells – the latin name for these is Heuchera and you can find them in all sorts of foliage colors. The foliage can range from green to chartreuse to purple to marbled. Coral bells are generally grown for their beautiful evergreen foliage but some of them, like ‘Autumn Bride’, provide a nice display of flowers too.

    shade perennials

    Coral bells are often grown for their beautiful evergreen foliage

  3. Astilbe – also known as False Spiraea, these perennials can vary in size from dwarf (like Hennie Graafland) to quite tall (like ‘Bridal Veil’). They come in a variety of colors that can be worked into virtually any shady garden.
  4. Bleeding Hearts – also known as Dicentra spectabilis, these ephemeral beauties begin blooming in April and all but disappear by midsummer. Their gorgeous blooms can either be pink or white and will provide a beautiful show of color.
  5. Solomon’s Seal – Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ is a favorite in my own personal garden. I love perennials that are no fuss and take care of themselves once established. Solomon’s Seal will form a small colony over the years and is easily propagated to use in other shady areas or to share with your friends.
  6. Dwarf Crested Iris – Iris cristata is a delightful little spring bloomer that is attractive even when it’s not in bloom. The straight species’ blooms are blue but it is also available in white. This is another shade perennial that will colonize over the years and it is not invasive.

I hope that this list gives you some ideas of shady perennials that will be great performers in your garden. Arum italicum ‘Pictum’ is another great choice and you can use it to fill in the bare spots that are left in the winter by hostas.

I’d love to hear from other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers about their favorite shady perennials. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

Friday Free For All: Your Garden in 2012


I’ve decided to name the Friday posts for the website “Friday Free For All” since we have set topics for every other day. In case you haven’t noticed, Monday is the Did You Know? posts, Tuesday is for Pests and Diseases, Wednesdays consist of Plant Profiles, Thursdays are for Reader Questions, and Friday is now the “Free For All” posts where we’ll cover all the other fun gardening topics that we didn’t get to the other four days.

Since 2011 is quickly coming to a close, I thought that we should look at what your plans are for 2012 in the garden. Perhaps you are looking to add a compost pile in the backyard or expand your veggie garden. Let’s look at a list of things and see how many you are willing to take on in the upcoming year.

  1. Start a compost pile
  2. Expand your existing compost pile so that you can turn more of your scraps into black gold
  3. Add vermicomposting (worm composting) which can be done under your kitchen sink
  4. Start a vegetable garden
  5. Expand your vegetable garden
  6. Plant a container of herbs or other veggies if your space is limited
  7. Add perennial veggies like strawberries or asparagus to your garden
  8. Add perennial shrubs like blackberries or gooseberries to your landscape
  9. Add an orchard, even if it is only a couple of trees
  10. Expand your orchard to include other producers like paw paws, pecans, and figs
  11. Add a rain barrel to catch stormwater runoff from your roof that can be used to water your garden
  12. Start your own vegetable, perennial or annual seeds indoors
  13. Build a cold frame that you can use to harden off your seedlings
  14. Add a greenhouse – it doesn’t have to be big or extravagant to get the job done
  15. Add compost to your landscape – if your trying to improve your lawn, add a 1/4″ layer over the top. Remember it’s all about feeding the soil, not the plants.
  16. Add hardscaping like paths or pergolas
  17. Add lighting to your landscape so that it can be enjoyed after sunset
  18. Add plants that will attract beneficials so that they can fight your battles against pests for you
  19. Add a beehive
  20. Add bat houses
  21. Add bird houses, bird baths and/or bird feeders
  22. Commit to using less or no pesticides in 2012


I hope that I’ve given you some ideas to incorporate into your landscape this year. I know that I haven’t thought of them all so leave me a comment below about what you plan to work on this year in your garden. If you’d like for me to expand on any of the above items, send me an e-mail at Have a safe New Year’s Eve. See you in 2012!

December 30, 2011Permalink 1 Comment