Category: Garden

Win a Pair of Dramm Hand Pruners

I can’t believe what an awesome response we received on this contest. I wish I had more pruners to give away. Today’s winner by random draw is Tammy Hathaway. Congratulations Tammy and thanks to everyone for participating. I’m blown away.

People often ask me about which plants to cut back in autumn and when to cut them back. I advise to wait until a killing freeze to cut back perennials and pull out summer annuals. If a plant had problems during the summer always through the foliage in the trash rather than the compost bin to prevent carrying fungus and disease over into next year.

I like to leave some of my perennials and ornamental grasses uncut for winter interest and bird habitat. How about you? Do you prefer a tidy winter garden or is a little frowzy more your style?

Tell me in the comments section below for a chance to win a cool pair of Dramm ColorPoint™ Bypass Pruners. They are bright yellow, which makes it easy to find them in the garden. I’ll announce the winner on Friday November 02, 2012 at 9:30 a.m. CST. Click here for the official rules.

Dig In!

Congratulations to Cathy Bradford! She’s the winner of the “Clouds of Pink Garden.” Thank you to everyone who entered. Everyone in the office loves reading your comments.

It takes a lot of faith to plant a bulb in fall and trust it will grow and bloom the following spring. Patience too! Fortunately I have plenty of both because tulips are one of my favorite flowers. How about you? Tell me about the spring flowering bulbs you love the most for a chance to win my Clouds of Pink Bulb Garden.

I’ll select a winner at random on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 9:00 a.m. CST.

Use the comment form below to answer. Click here for the official rules.

There are 3 other bulb garden designs in my collection. All are available at independent garden centers. Check them out.

Super Star Shrubs Come in All Sizes

Shrubs have traditionally been cast in supporting roles with the occasional star billing for seasonal blooms or color. However, hybridizers are continuously introducing varieties with attributes that push these workhorses to center stage.

Size is one characteristic that has seen an increase in possibilities. Whether you need a shrub to create an enclosure or brighten the corner of a patio garden, there’s something for you.

From tall to small my friends at Proven Winners® have some fabulous shrubs to choose from. Here are 10 worth considering for setting a dramatic scene in your garden.

‘American Pillar’ Thuja (Arborvitae)
20 – 30 feet tall
3 – 4 feet wide
Full sun to partial shade
Hardy in zones 3a – 7b
This tall, columnar arborvitae is known for its dense branching and rapid growth. It’s an excellent choice for screening and creating enclosures. Learn more about ‘American Pillar’ arborvitae

Berry Nice® Ilex verticillata (Winterberry)
6 – 8 feet tall
6 – 8 feet wide
Full sun to partial shade
Hardy in zones 3a – 9b
I. verticillata is a deciduous holly with brilliant red berries in winter. It is very dramatic when planted in groupings. Learn more about Berry Nice® Ilex verticillata

Bloomerang® Purple Syringa (Lilac)
4 – 5 feet tall
4 – 5 feet wide
Full sun
Hardy in zones 3a – 7b
Unlike other lilacs Bloomerang® flowers in spring, then again midsummer and continues through the fall. A compact, mounding shrub that’s suitable for mixed borders, it has the same delightful fragrance you expect from lilacs. Learn more about Bloomerang® Purple lilac on

Incrediball® Hydrangea arborescens (Smooth Hydrangea)
4 – 5 feet tall
4 – 5 feet wide
Full sun to partial shade
Hardy in zones 3a – 9b
This North American native shrub produces impressive flowers (up to 12 inches across). I love it so much that I selected it for my Platinum Collection. Learn more about Incrediball® Hydrangea arborescens on

Snow Storm™ Spiraea x media (Spiraea)
3 – 4 feet tall
3 – 4 feet wide
Full sun
Hardy in zones 4a – 8b
Snow Storm™ produces hefty white blooms in spring. Foliage turns a striking orange-red in fall. This is a good choice for mass plantings or as a seasonal focal point in a mixed border. Learn more about Snow Storm™ spiraea on

Little Henry® Itea virginica (Sweetspire)
2 – 3 feet tall
2 – 3 feet wide
Sun to part shade
Hardy in zones 5a – 9b
Little Henry® is the compact version of one of my favorite North American native shrubs. It will grow in sun or light shade and tolerates moist soil. Little Henry® produces showy white blooms in early summer and the foliage is fantastic in fall. It’s part of my Platinum Collection. Learn more about Little Henry® Itea on

Lo & Behold® Blue Chip Buddleia (Butterfly Bush)
24 – 30 inches tall
24-30 inches wide
Full sun
Hardy in zones 5a – 9b
Now everyone can grow a butterfly bush in their garden. This little shrub produces fragrant blooms from mid-summer through fall. It stays under 3 feet tall. It’s a great bedfellow for perennials and annuals or grow it in a container.  Lo & Behold® Blue Chip Buddleia is part of my Platinum Collection. You can learn more about it on

Show Off™ Sugar Baby Forsythia
18 – 30 inches tall
18 – 30 inches wide
Full sun
Hardy in zones 4a – 8b
Show Off™ Sugar Baby produces the same amount of bloom as larger Forsythia varieties but on a compact plant. Mass plant in larger gardens or use as a spring focal point in small spaces. I love it in a container, surrounded by daffodils and grape hyacinths. Learn more about Show Off™ Sugar Baby Forsythia on

Sunjoy® Mini Saffron Berberis thungergii  (Barberry)
18 – 24 inches tall
24 – 30 inches wide
Full sun
Hardy in zones 4a – 8b
Sunjoy® Mini Saffron sets itself apart with its compact form and dazzling foliage. The sunny yellow leaves tinged with orange turn a sunset orange-red in fall. Learn more about Sunjoy® Mini Saffron barberry on

My Monet® Weigela
12 – 18 inches tall
12 – 18 inches wide
Full sun to partial shade
Hardy in zones 4a – 6b
My Monet® boasts variegated foliage and pink flowers but in a petite form. Mix it with perennials and annuals in a flower bed or group several together for impact. It also grows well in containers. Learn more about My Monet® Wiegela on

Fertilizer Test

Whew. What a summer. It’s like Mother Nature has a magnifying glass pointed right at the central U.S. Here in Arkansas the growing season started about a month early this year. We were planting tomatoes in March and by the end of May it was as hot as July.

When the forecast is hot and dry for the foreseeable future the best thing for the vegetable garden is consistent, even moisture and an organic, water soluble or slow release fertilizer that won’t over stimulate heat and drought stressed plants.

My fertilizer of choice for edibles is Jobe’s Organics Vegetables and Tomatoes. It’s organic, but produces quick results. The granular and stakes are slow release and there is a new water soluble version too that’s perfect for our current weather.

The reason Jobe’s is my choice is it’s organic and it works. I can see the difference in the health of my plants and the flavor of the vegetables they produce.

This year I decided to put Jobe’s to the test to see how vegetables fed with Jobe’s matched up to those that went without. In early May I set up an experiment by planting two 6’x6’ raised beds with tomatoes and peppers. I added Jobe’s Organics Vegetables and Tomatoes granular fertilizer to the experimental bed and left the control bed unfertilized.

Over the summer, I’ve continued feeding with Jobe’s Organics water soluble. It’s easy to do with a hose end feeder, but you can also mix it up in a watering can.

In spite of the horrendous heat (11 days of near 100 and above 100 degree temperatures), both beds have continued producing a harvest, but the Jobe’s tomatoes and peppers are more robust and flavorful.

Are you curious how your vegetable garden would perform with Jobe’s Organics Vegetables and Tomatoes? Tell me how your garden is growing in the comments below for a chance to win a bag! Congratulations to Christine! She’s the winner of the Jobe’s Organics Fertilizer. Thank you to everyone for entering. Sounds like the heat and drought aren’t keeping you guys out of the garden!

Click here to find a store in your area that sells Jobe’s Organics.

Ten Tips from Heifer Ranch

There is so much to discuss about Heifer Ranch I thought it deserved a second post. In the first post I introduced you to this farm and learning center that is a part of Heifer International. With only three full time gardeners who maintain almost four acres of produce, I figured the folks at Heifer Ranch would have some good tips for us home gardeners. Here’s what they had to say.

  1. Plant Early: Ryan, manager of the garden, says the first step to success is putting in a spring crop as early as possible. It helps the workers get a jump on the season and take advantage of Arkansas’ short spring before the weather turns too hot.
  2. Succession Planting: To stay in constant supply of fresh produce, the gardeners plant the same crops every 3-4 weeks. This is especially helpful for pest-vulnerable crops like squash, but it also helps if a heat wave or flash flood destroys one planting group.
  3. Row Covers: Many people shy away from them, but row covers made from thin agricultural fabrics are used to cover plantings for two main purposes: frost protection and as an insect barrier. This is an added protection for tip 1- planting early- but it also helps with weed control.
  4. Rotation: The Heifer Ranch gardeners try not to plant a crop of the same family in a particular spot within four years of another member of that family being planted there. For example, the areas that have tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant this year will not have any of those items planted there for the foreseeable future. It’s a task that requires a little note keeping, but it greatly helps with the prevention of disease and insect pressure for future crops.
  5. Drip Irrigation: With the typical Arkansas summer, and especially this year’s drought-plagued summer, drip irrigation is a saving grace. The use of drip tape or line helps them conserve water and helps keep plants foliage dry, which reduces disease. It’s especially useful to keeping the soil moist when plants are young so that roots won’t dry out.
  6. Compost: The dynamic duo of food waste from the cafeteria and manure from the barns with the addition of garden remnants creates “black gold” to greatly enhance garden soil.
  7. Cover Cropping: Despite the extra work it may entail, the gardeners try to never have bare soil. When a “cash crop” is finished producing, they quickly plant a crop like cowpeas in the summer or winter wheat in the fall because in sustainable farming, cover crops help manage soil fertility & quality by adding nutrients back into the ground and help keep weeds, pests and diseases at bay.
  8. Mulch: By placing mulch around the base of plants, the gardeners can keep the soil consistently moist and cool while also discouraging weeds- the less weeding they have to do, the more time they have for planting and harvesting.
  9. Organic Pest Control: Heifer Ranch is a certified organic producer and they avoid chemical-based pest controls. But as a last resort for those hard-to-beat pests, they rely on the organic pyrethrum-based controls for blister beetles and fire ants and baits containing Nosema locustae against tomato hornworms and grasshoppers.
  10. Hard Work: What garden doesn’t require this? All of the vegetables are harvested by hand, so the three full-time gardeners are out in the sun for 8-10 hours a day. Even so, they rely on help from volunteers, guests, and CSA members to keep things fully harvested. Gardening and farming are social events at Heifer Ranch.

Do you use any of these methods to keep your garden in top form? We’d love to hear which of these you use, or any other tips you have to make a garden manageable.

Rose Woes? I’ve got solutions.

Summer is in full swing and so begins the annual watch for signs of pests and diseases in the garden. Roses are especially susceptible to troubles as temperatures and humidity rises, but rose problems are general easy to manage. The key is early detection and identification.

Looking for help with your rose woes? Read this excerpt from my eBook Garden 101: Growing and Caring for Roses.

What do you think is the most carefree rose? Tell me for a chance to win a copy of Garden 101: Growing and Caring for Roses for your Kindle or to read on your computer. I’ll select a winner on Monday July 16, 2012. Read the official rules.

Congratulations to Adele, Susan, Susan O., Cindy M. and Jo S. You gals won a copy of my eBook!. Check your email for confirmation. Thank you to everyone for entering! I especially enjoyed reading the deer tips!

Gardening 101: Growing and Caring for Roses “Common Rose Problems”

Now, some may say that roses are prima donnas that are susceptible to all kinds of maladies. Really, though, roses only have a few problems. The truth is, many of these issues can be prevented with good cultural practices and simple treatments. My best advice is to choose the right rose for your conditions and then make certain that the rose is growing in the right place. Happy roses are healthy roses.

Know the Enemies …

Insect Pests

Admittedly, gardeners aren’t the only ones who love roses. Lots of bugs love roses, too. When dealing with insect pests, I like to use methods with low environmental impact. I keep everything orderly to make the garden as inhospitable as possible to these unwelcome guests. I handpick them or use bug traps. On occasion, I’ll use a spot spray of insecticidal soap or pyrethrum-based insecticides. A stealth tactic such as using garlic or marigolds in the garden sneakily repels insects, too.

Here are some of my best tips to prevent and control specific pests.

Japanese Beetle: If you see that your rose leaves are skeletonized and the flowers have been eaten, it’s a good bet you have Japanese beetles. The beetles have coppery-green wings with five little white “tufts” on their sides. Your best defense is to handpick the adult beetles and drop them in a jar of soapy water. Natural repellents include catnip, chives, garlic and tansy, or you can use an insecticidal soap. If the garden is too overwhelmed with them, try bacterial controls or bug traps.

Aphids: Look for reduced shoot growth and distorted or pale foliage with small insects clustered on stems and shoots. Many natural enemies, such as ladybugs, exist that can eat many of the aphids. A strong jet of water can wash away the colonies from the buds. You can also spray thoroughly with an insecticidal soap.

Sawfly Larvae (Rose Slugs): When upper-leaf surfaces are skeletonized or complete leaves have been devoured with only the midvein remaining, you have rose slugs. If the infestation is manageable, handpick the rose slugs and the affected leaves. If the rose slugs persist, then spray with an insecticidal soap.

Spider Mites: You have mites if the leaves are rough and appear stippled with tiny, light-colored dots. To beat spider mites, you have to be persistent. Make sure you spray under the leaves to be effective, because that’s where spider mites live. Spray every seven to 10 days, alternating between a hot-pepper spray and an insecticidal soap. Other pest arsenal options are neem tree oil, BT, garlic insect repellent and pyrethrins.

An Ounce of Prevention …

Roses are susceptible to a number of fungi such as black spot, powdery mildew, downy mildew and rust. I’d like to alert you to some symptoms so you can be on the lookout. When trouble crops up, you can be ready with a quick solution.

Black Spot: Black spot is your culprit if you see circular to irregularly shaped black spots on the upper surface of the rose leaves or if you find leaf yellowing, leaf drop or canes with raised purple-red blotches that turn black with age. Carefully prune and discard the affected plant parts when the foliage is dry. I like to use a three-in-one spray (fungicide, insecticide and miticide) made with neem oil that also controls insect pests.

Powdery Mildew: Symptoms of this problem include a powdery, white growth covering the leaves’ upper surface that can also distort the leaves. Prune to improve air flow around the rose shrub as well as around the surrounding plantings. Once I’ve trimmed, I’ll use neem oil to treat the powdery mildew.

Rust: Orange, powdery spores that are usually confined to the lower-leaf surfaces signal a rust problem. If left untreated, orange-brown spots will appear later in the season on the upper-leaf surfaces, and infected young stems and sepals may become distorted. The best offense is a good defense — so again, avoid crowding and prune your roses and the plantings around them to improve air circulation. When you first see rust pustules on lower-leaf surfaces, apply fungicide at regular intervals. Spray every seven to 10 days, except during extreme heat and drought. Again, I have a lot of success with neem oil.


Thorns or no thorns, many animals will eat a rose bush to the ground. If an animal is hungry enough, it will eat anything. Bird netting is one way to keep out those unwanted garden guests, since many animals shy away from the feel of the plastic. Using the bird netting won’t mar the appearance of the landscape either, since it’s hard to see from a distance. I’ve also had luck with liquid repellents, but I have to remember to apply them after every rain.

A Special Note About Keeping Out Deer

Deer are a problem nationwide and I receive questions about deer everywhere I go. Strangely enough, I haven’t had any deer problems in my rose beds at the farm. I also realize I may be tempting fate with those words, considering the fact the Retreat is surrounding by woods. There have been plenty of deer sightings, so I know it won’t last forever. I have some tricks up my sleeve to deter them, yet I’m mindful that they were here first, so my defensive measures will at the very least keep me in their good graces.

Deer Fence: Deer can jump pretty high, but they don’t like to jump across a double barrier. So a fence inside a fence is much more effective than one tall fence. At the farm I’m building two 4-foot fences that are 5 feet apart. The space between the fences will be wide enough for a wheelbarrow or lawn mower to get through, but it will be too far for a deer to jump across.

Deer Netting: Deer netting can be draped over plants or attached to existing fencing. Deer don’t like the way it feels on their muzzles so they avoid it and whatever it protects.

Plant Choices: Avoid traditional deer favorites such as rhododendron, azaleas and hostas. Why tempt them with their favorite salad bowl? I also planted daffodils instead of tulips because deer won’t eat them. Deer also dislike plants with a pungent fragrance, including marigolds, lavender, boxwood and herbs. Fuzzy foliage plants such as lamb’s ear are also not on a deer’s menu. Very few plants are actually deer proof, but, it never hurts to try.

Here Come the Bugs!

The mild temperatures of the past winter came at a price and now it’s time to pay up. Bugs. Without freezing winter temperatures to reduce their populations the insect pests in my garden are back with a vengeance. Pest management is going to be tough this growing season, but I’m trying something new that gives me hope that I can stay one step ahead.

AzaGuard® Insecticide and Insect Repellant is a broad spectrum insecticide, nematicide and repellant. Here are a few points that convinced me to give AzaGuard® a try.

  1. It’s organic, non-toxic and safe to use both indoors and out.
  2. AzaGuard® contains the OMRI listed insect growth inhibitor Azadirachtin. This prevents insect growth, feeding and reproduction. It works on over 300 pests including aphids, beetles, grasshoppers, grubs, and whiteflies.
  3. The active ingredient Azadirachtin has a low impact on the environment and no effect on birds or other wildlife.
  4. In addition to being a growth inhibitor AzaGuard® is also a repellant that works on flying insects like house flies.
  5. AzaGuard® controls parasitic nematodes.
  6. I can mix AzaGuard® in my sprayer with other chemicals such as BioSafe System’s fungicide/bacteriacide OxiDate®.
  7. The packaging is designed with the environment in mind. Each spray bottle comes with 3 ampoules of water soluble product providing 96 fluid ounces of spray. All I have to do is pour the contents of 1 ampoule in the bottle and add water. When I that runs out I can mix up more without purchasing a second spray bottle.

If you want to try BioSafe® Systems AzaGuard® in your garden look for it at your local independent garden center or hardware stores such as True Value or United Hardware.

Say No to Nicotine and Yes to Nicotiana

Nicotiana 'Perfume Deep Purple'Today, May 31st is World No Tobacco Day so in honor of that celebration I’d like to tell you about a few Flowering Tobaccos!

Smoking tobacco, Nicotiana tabacum came from the New World and circled out to cultures around the globe. Flowering Tobacco, the cousin of leaf tobacco, is a charming heirloom flower experiencing a Renaissance with gardeners lately. The best part about this ornamental is that it fills the summer garden with large, brightly colored trumpets of star-shaped flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Many hybrids offer smaller, more compact plants with abundant flowers that bloom throughout the summer.

I also grow Nicotiana sylvestris for its statuesque presence and sweet aroma. It makes a bold statement in my flower borders and frequently comes back as a volunteer. The plant is very fragrant with tubular-shaped, white flowers that dance on 30″ – 36″ tall branched stems during the summer.

Another one to try is Nicotiana langsdorfii because it too grows to an impressive height and I love the waxy, lime green blooms. A third species that I just discovered is Nicotiana x hybrida ‘Tinkerbell’. It is similar in appearance to N. langsdorfii but produces lime green and rose flowers with amazing azure blue pollen.

Try Planting an Evening Garden

I enjoy Nicotiana alata for its strong, jasmine like fragrance at night. Introduced into garden cultivation in the United States and England in the early 1800’s Nicotiana alata was prized for its white, highly scented night-blooming flowers. In Victorian times, Nicotiana sylvestris was intentionally planted along walkways and paths so that those strolling by could enjoy the sweet fragrance of the flowers.

A noted garden writer of the early 20th century Louise Beebe Wilder describes Nicotiana alata as a “poor figure by day … but with the coming of the night the long creamy tubes freshen and expand and give forth their rich perfume and we are then glad we have so much of it…”

I have to agree, I’m a huge fan of all of the Flowering Tobaccos!

Lemon Verbena

Lemon verbena with its sugary lemon scent is an herb you’ll want to have in your garden for the fragrance and flavor. And plant it somewhere close! It’s one of those plants that release scent every time you touch the leaves.

Lemon verbena is a shrubby herb with loose, twisting branches and bright green foliage. It can grow to 6 feet tall by 8 feet wide where it is perennial (zones 8 – 11). In my zone 7 garden it stays a little more contained because I grow it in a pot that I move indoors for winter. It’s a fast grower that needs full sun and excellent drainage – too much water will rot the roots! Lemon verbena has a sweet lemon flavor – I tend to use it with desserts and as a seasoning for meat dishes, but I also love placing it near my outdoor living areas so I can enjoy its lemony scent. In fact, it was its lemony scent that led me to make this lemon verbena infused honey, and I can’t wait for you to try it.

What you’ll need

  • A few stems of lemon verbena, cleaned and dried
  • 1 mason jar
  • Honey

All it takes is a little herb-tidying. Pluck the lemon verbena leaves off of their stems, rinse them, and dry them with a paper towel. Loosely fill a mason jar with the leaves and then pour the honey over the top. While you may want to try it right away, put the jar in a cupboard for a few weeks to infuse. After two weeks strain the honey to remove the leaves.

You’ll end up with a lovely lemon-flavored honey that you can stir into tea, drizzle over nuts or cheese, or use as a sweetener.

Do you want to know more about this great herb? Jump over to the Bonnie Plants website to read about growing lemon verbena.

Color-Blocking Containers

A big trend in fashion last year was color-blocking; combining blocks of colors in one article of clothing or outfit. It was a big hit that seems to have carried over to 2012. So I got to thinking, why not color-block containers? The same principles that apply to fashion can be used in the garden. Just plant one color flowers and foliage per container. If you really want to take the idea to heart select a bright container to contrast with your plantings. Or choose a neutral hue for the pot to really make the flowers pop.

All About Blue

Blue is my favorite color for the garden. For harmonious pairings choose other cool colors like green, turquoise and purple. Fuchsia is even a good match. Jazz up blue with contrasting hues like orange and yellow.

In this Container:

  • Proven Winners® Graceful Grasses® Blue Mohawk (Juncus inflexus)
  • Proven Winners® Sweet Caroline Light Green Sweet Potato Vine
  • Proven Winners® Colorblaze™ Alligator Tears Coleus
  • Proven Winners® Decadence ‘Blueberry Sundae’ Baptisia
  • Proven Winners® Laguna™ Sky Blue Lobelia
  • Proven Winners® Graceful Grasses® Fiber Optic Grass (Scirpus cernus)
  • Proven Winners® Color Spires® Steel Blue Agastasche

Passionate about Purple

Purple is the number one color choice for gardeners. It looks great with orange or chartreuse. Keep it cool with green, fuchsia or varying shades of purple.

In this Container:

  • Proven Winners® Artist® Purple Ageratum
  • Proven Winners® Graceful Grasses® Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’)
  • Proven Winners® Superbells® Plum Calibrachoa
  • Proven Winners® Supertunia® Lavender Skies
  • Proven Winners® Senorita Rosalita® Cleome

Blushing Pink

Pink is a chameleon that can be both warm and cool. Color-block it with yellow, blue or orange. It also looks great with bright green and chartreuse.

In these Containers:

  • Proven Winners® Flying Colors® Trailing Antique Rose Diascia
  • Proven Winners® Supertunia® Vista Bubblegum Petunia
  • Proven Winners® Karalee® Petite Pink Butterfly Flower (Gaura lindheimeri)
  • Proven Winners® Superbena® Pink Parfait Verbena
  • Proven Winners® Molimba® Pink Argyranthemum