Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Heading into Fall: What was Blooming Last Week

Hydrangea paniculata 'Quick Fire' blooms a bit earlier than most hydrangeas. Initially, the flowers are white. As the fall approaches, they age into a deep firey rose.

Any possibility of gardening today has been rained out. Poor Piper is curled up on his bed looking a bit dejected about spending the afternoon indoors. Every time I get up from my desk, he looks at me expectantly, hoping I am going to put on my gardening shoes.

If it's one thing I've learned this summer, it's just how much we both love to be outdoors. What's surprising about this is I am not at all a sporty person. I've always thought that given a book and a comfortable chair I'm happy, but no, I've come to realize how much I like to be busy and active. Sometimes the heat and mosquitoes get to me a little, but I still choose to be working outside.

I think Piper shares my sentiments.

If I have been posting rather erratically, it's because I have been rushing to finish off a long list of projects before the weather turns. Sadly not everything on my to-do list is going to get completed. The pond for instance. It's likely to remain a cavernous hole in the ground until next spring. I am super disappointed about this, but in the end, it all came down to issues of time and money. Instead, we've decided to focus our energies on revamping our compost system which is a smaller project and will cost little or no money (we have most of the materials needed already).

This phlox has been blooming since mid-summer:

Phlox 'Sweet Summer Candy' has pink flowers with a white eye. Water regularly for best performance. Full sun with a little afternoon shade. Height: 20-30 cm (8-12 inches), Spread:38-45 cm (15-18 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Yellow Wax Bells, Kirengeshoma palmata love moist soil, part-shade/shade.

Native Cardinal flowers, Lobelia siphilitica

I am pleased with what we have accomplished over the gardening season. With my husband's help, we have managed to tackle two problem areas. In the first spot, an old variety of big leafed Macrophylla hydrangeas that never bloomed had to be removed (they bloom on old wood that dies our Ontario winter). The orange daylilies that surrounded them have also been ousted. Good riddance! Never put up with plants that are problematic or don't perform!

We also cleared an area that had Goutweed, orange daylilies and Double Soapwort, Saponaria officinalis. The Goutweed and the daylilies are almost defeated, but the Soapwort is proving to be a bit more tenacious. While I'd love to be free to replant this space in the spring, I am willing to wait it out to make sure that there will be no recurrence of these invasive perennials.

Hydrangea 'Little Lime' with various Sedum in the background.

Hydrangea 'Little Lime' is the little sister of popular 'Limelight'. It has greenish-white flowers that turn deep rose-green in early fallIt blooms on new wood so prune it in late winter or early spring as needed. Part-sun to full sun. Height: 36-60 inches, Spread: 36-60 inches. USDA zones: 3-8.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' has heart-shaped, silver-coloured leaves that are veined in a bright green. Sprays of blue flowers, which closely resemble forget-me-nots, appear in mid-spring. This cultivar can take more sun than many other types of Brunnera, but it still prefers afternoon shade particularly in hotter gardening zones. Average garden soil is fine, but 'Jack Frost' prefers rich soil and moist conditions. Height: 30-40 cm (12-16 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm ( 12-18 inches). USDA Zones: 2-8.

Verbena bonariensis

I am very grateful to a friend who gifted me several Verbena bonariensis seedlings that she had grown herself.

Verbena bonariensis is a tender perennial (usually grown as an annual here) with mauve flowers on tall, wiry stems. It likes sun and moist, well-drained soil.  Sow 6-10 weeks before planting out after frost.  Seed depth: 1/16 inch. Sprout time:10-30 days. Blooms July until frost. Verbena bonariensis will generously reseed itself if spent flower heads are allowed to remain into the fall. Height: 2- 4', Spread: 1.5-3' . USDA zones:7-11. Bees and butterflies love it!

Wild Bergamot, Monarda fistulosa (top left), Phlox and Sedum (bottom of the picture) with Miscanthus grass in the distance.

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' and Sedum 'Autumn Charm' (with variegated foliage).

A new-to-me perennial:

Dwarf Liatris, Liatris microcephala is native to the area of the southern Appalachian Mountains. It has arching stems of lavender flowers on a compact, vase-shaped clump with grass-like foliage. Attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. Drought tolerant. Full sun. Height: 24 inches, Spread: 18-24 inches. USDA zones: 4-8.

Another thing I am really happy about is the numbers of butterflies that have visited this year. The Monarchs have loved the Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)Monarda (both the scarlet 'Raspberry Wine' and the mauve Monarda fistulosa), the tall purple Ironweed (Vernonia) and the Echinacea. There is always one or two of them flitting about each afternoon.

Cabbage White Butterflies have come faithfully to the Calamintha, Sedum and Catmint (Nepeta). Other pretty visitors have included Swallowtails (both yellow and black) and Admiral butterflies. 

Phlox paniculata 'David's Lavender' (right) and Wild Bergamot, Monarda fistulosa (in the background).

Looking toward the back of the yard.

Salvia 'Black and Bloom' and Salvia patens

Salvia 'Black and Bloom' has showy, indigo-blue flowers and black stems on a plant with attractive green foliage. This fast-growing tender perennial likes regular watering especially in the heat. Part-shade to full sun (with some light afternoon shade). Height: 3-4 ft, Spread: 3-4 ft. USDA zones: 8-9.

The thyme seeds I planted in late June didn't take (we did go away for two weeks–not sure if that is what went wrong). Thankfully the plugs I planted are slowly filling in. Fingers crossed the thyme makes it through the coming winter.

At the base of the sundial (inside the little circle) I have planted:

Catmint, Nepeta racemosa 'Blue Wonder' has compact, aromatic grey-green foliage and blue flowers. Butterflies love this perennial. Cut the plant back mid-summer to encourage new blooms. Drought tolerant. Full sun to light shade. Height: 30-45 cm (10-18 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA zones: 3-8.

Dwarf Calamint, Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepta has arching sprays of pale mauve-blue flowers. The foliage of this plant has a slight minty fragrance. Full sun or light shade. It tolerates average, dry and moist growing conditions and is suitable for normal, sandy or clay soils. Bees love it! Height: 20-30 cm (8-12 inches), Spread 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). Hardy USDA Zones 4-9.

Russian Sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia 'Little Spire' is a shorter, upright Russian Sage with lavender-blue flowers and grey-green foliage. Full sun. Height: 60-75 cm (23-29 inches), Spread 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

 I still haven't replaced my broken sundial.

I know other gardeners like this Salvia. Myself, I feel only mild enthusiasm based on its performance this summer.

Salvia 'Mystic Spires' is a tender perennial (annual here in my garden) with grey-green foliage and deep blue flowers. Full sun. Height: 46-61 cm (18-24 inches), Spread 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). Hardy USDA Zones: 7-10.

Looking back toward the "pond" which is just a big hole in the ground at the moment. Thankfully all the flowers hide it somewhat.

Echinacea purpurea 'Pow Wow Wildberry' has magenta petals and an orange cone. This is a mid-sized plant that was the All-American Selections Winner in 2010. Full sun. Height: 50-60 cm (20-23 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

In this part of the garden, there are four raised beds with an urn in the centre.

Phlox paniculata 'David's Lavender' has flowers that are lavender-mauve. Average to moist growing conditions. Full sun or light shade (mine is in light-shade). Height: 90-120 cm (36-48 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (24-36 inches). USDA Zones: 4-9.

I have this particular Phlox in a number of different spots. The big clump (shown above) is in one of the four raised beds. To tell the truth, 'David's Lavender' is a little tall for this particular location, but I have left it because it looks so nice every fall.

Garlic Chives in my herb garden.

If you have a keen eye, you'll have spotted the Goldenrod in the flowerbed at the very back of the yard. Digging it out is at the top of this week's to-do list! 

The entire circular flowerbed has been neglected while I focus on other things.  It needs a complete overhaul next spring.

Rosa 'Never Alone' 

Though the forecast calls for a few hot days later this week, the temperatures at night have dipped significantly. Most mornings are frosty enough to require a coat.

I still have perennials to move and tasks to complete, so I am hoping that the first hard frost is still a few weeks away.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

My Weed Management Strategies

Like laundry and dirty dishes, weeds are a routine task that needs to get done. In July and August, I find that weeding is my principal garden chore.

My approach tends to be proactive–I do my best to prevent problem weeds from gaining a foothold, but I have a very big garden to manage and weeds are happy to take full advantage of any opportunity.

Here is a look at my overall approach to weed management.

Take stock of any Issues

I always begin my time in the garden with a little stroll. I like to pause and admire what's in bloom, but there is also a very practical purpose to this exercise– I make mental notes on what needs attention and the chores that are the most urgent. If I notice weeds have begun to flower or set seed, I'll target that problem area before I do anything else. If the list of chores is long or I'm otherwise pressed for time, I might only have a chance to cut the flower heads off any weeds. When I have more time, I'll circle back and take care of the roots.

Most importantly, this walk around the yard reminds me of the reason I garden in the first place. It's when I take pleasure in the beauty born of all my hard work.

Assorted Phlox, Rudbeckia triloba 'Prairie Glow' and white Liatris

An Overall Gameplan

As I said, I tend to tackle any urgent weed problem immediately. For me, it doesn't make sense to concentrate on clearing one flowerbed at a time if I know Goldenrod seeds are going airborne at the very back of the yard.

But once everything pressing is addressed, I tend to work through the flowerbeds one at a time, clearing one bed completely before I move to the next. Once an area is done, I will mulch any disturbed ground as a final step.

The Best Time to Weed

After it rains is absolutely the best time to weed. Dry soil, especially if you have clay, can be as hard as a rock! Wet soil is soft and loose making it so much easier to pull weeds.

There seems to be only one drawback to a damp garden– the rain also seems to bring out the mosquitoes. If the bugs are bad, I tend to work in one of the more open areas of the garden (in my experience, mosquitoes love the cover of shade and dense growth).

If the mosquitoes are a worry for you to, try to time your weeding chores on a day when there is a good, stiff breeze. Mosquitoes are not great flyers, so they tend to lie low when there is a wind.

 Not my garden thank goodness! These are weeds in an open field.

 Seeds with Wings

Begin by Gathering all your Tools

My weeding tools couldn't be any more basic. I use a trowel with a sharp point and a heavy-duty plastic bucket (a former plant pot for a tree) to collect anything I pull. I also keep a shovel on hand for anything with stubborn roots and a pair of pruners (if a weed has gone to seed, I will cut the seedhead off first and then remove the rest of the plant. This lessens the chances any seed will drop to the ground or get airborne).

One last thing I should mention. Weeds can be armed and dangerous! While I don't always wear garden gloves, I always put them on when I'm weeding. Etched into my memory is the first time I had a run-in with Stinging Nettles. My fingers were on fire!

Follow the Shade

Some gardeners love the sun, but I find the heat and humidity drains my energy. And I have fair skin that never tans. The sun only plays connect the dots with my fine freckles.

I prefer to wait for an area to move into the shade before I begin my work. After a while, you get used to the way the sun moves across the sky and how that impacts any one portion of the yard.

For instance, I know that the flowerbed next to the pond enjoys a period of shade for a little over an hour in mid-afternoon. The circular garden at the back of the yard is full sun in the morning and shaded in the late afternoon. If I want to weed in the shade, those times are the perfect opportunities.

Garlic Mustard

Know your Weeds

Like so many people, I have had an issue with Garlic Mustard. I've learned its habits and now use that knowledge against its further spread. I watch for Garlic Mustard in early spring. It flowers in May and is a prolific self-seeder. Before the tulips are finished and the perennials have flushed out, I comb the garden for Garlic Mustard and pull any flowering plants. In the fall, I make a second sweep and yank any seedlings that I may have missed. In just a couple of years, I have reduced the initial problem very significantly.

Make sure you Get all the Roots

Canada Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis blows into the garden from the surrounding fields. I appreciate that it is an attractive, late-summer magnet for bees, wasps and other insects, but it is also a terrible thug. It both seeds prolifically and spreads by underground roots.

Once you've dug out a weed that spreads underground, I find it pays to go back over the area a second time and look for any root segments that you may have missed.

 Lilium 'Black Beauty'

 Phlox (the bubblegum pink is self-seeded, the darker shade is 'Niki') and Agastache 'Blue Fortune'

Lilium 'Black Beauty'

The hose snaking its way through the flowerbeds.

Open Ground is an Invitation for Weeds

To my mind, I can fill any open ground with the plants of my choice or nature will make the selection for me.

The perennials in my garden are all snuggly planted. Whenever possible, I layer my plants. For example, I will plant hostas and Lamium at the feet of shrubs. I also let Lamium wander around the feet of taller plants. The Lily you see in the image above grows up through Geranium macrorrhizum 'W. Ingwersen's Variety'.

Watch that you or your furry friend isn't spreading the problem

Just a quick caution to alert you to the possibility that you or your pets may inadvertently become part of the problem.

I looked down the other day when I was weeding only to discover that my skirt was covered in seeds. It took me ten minutes to pick the fuzzy seeds out of my clothes! Piper got covered in seeds as well and had to be brushed clean.

Invasive Weeds

For me, a problem weed or plant is not just aggressive, it's also a plant that is hard to remove where unwanted. Weeds can send out roots that spread underground in many directions. Eradicating them can be very difficult. Even if you dig out the main plant, any roots segments you miss are capable of producing a new plant.

I have written about invasive plants quite extensively, so if that is an issue you are facing, I am going to refer you back to these earlier posts Part 1: Invasive Plants, Part 2: Plants to Avoid and Part 3: How I Eliminated Goutweed from my Garden (a method that might easily be used for weeds as well). 

Balloon Flower, Platycodon grandiflorus

 An older variety of Phlox that sometimes self-seeds.

Phlox paniculata 'Jeana' has clusters of tiny flowers.


My number one strategy for suppressing weeds is to use mulch. Honestly, I could not manage my sizeable garden without it.

Mulch works by depriving seeds of sunlight. A mulch is simply a layer of material (usually organic) that is spread over the surface of the soil. Mulch not only helps suppress weeds, but it also helps with moisture retention and depending on what you use, soil health and fertility. A few organic options might include compost, manure, straw or hay, pine needles, leaf mold, shredded bark, sawdust and wood chips.

A Few Factors to Consider

The drier and woodier the mulch, the slower it will decompose and the fewer nutrients it will add to the soil. Manure, compost and straw may all contain weed seeds, so it is important to know the source of these materials.

Perhaps the best mulch is compost or leaf mold you make yourself. You know what's gone into it, and when its properly made, aged compost shouldn't contain any weed seeds.

Hydrangea paniculata 'Little Lime', Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate' and a pink Phlox.

I don't mulch every square inch of my garden, but I do mulch most of my flowerbeds. The exception would be a number of mature areas of the garden where the plants are so tightly packed weeds have trouble finding any open ground to colonize.

While I started to make compost and leaf mold, my composter's present output does not meet my full requirements. This is something I hope to rectify in the near future with an overhaul of my present setup. In the meantime, I use natural cedar mulch. It is not super nutritious, but it is effective and very affordable.

Mulch is such an important topic I think I will come back in another post (perhaps after we redo our compost bins) and address it in more detail.

Single Balloon Flower, Platycodon grandiflorus and Phlox 'Eva Cullum'

Do we really want to think of the Garden as a Battleground?

As I wrote in the opening of this article, like housework, gardening is a chore. Our approach to these two tasks is however quite different. We always talk about doing battle with weeds, but it never occurs to us that we are waging war when we pull out the vacuum cleaner. Why is yanking weeds any different than killing germs and getting rid of dust and dirt?

My husband and I had a long discussion about this. "I want to end my post on a positive note," I said to him. "I struggle with the notion of my garden as a battleground." After all, the garden is where I go for peace and comfort. The joy it brings me seems so out-of-step with any notion of winning a war against weeds.

Certainly, there is a long history of gardening as a means of taming or controlling nature to suit our purposes. Modern science has only sharpened the battle cry. Make things fast and easy. Bring on the chemical concoctions!

For me, it's time for a new mindset. I don't want to engage in a struggle with Mother Nature, because I know it is a battle she'd win anyway. If I were to step away from my garden for just a few months, Mother Nature would quickly reclaim her rightful place.

There is no such thing as a spotless house or a weed-free garden and perhaps that is as it should be.