Category Archives: Plant Portraits

A Versatile Fall Aster

Heath Aster planted itself in the dappled shade of our oak tree.

I take no credit for planting the occasional surprise of native Symphyotrichum ericoides (heath aster) in our gardens…they just appear and often in just the right spot. Unobtrusive all summer, but a delightful accent when flowers form in mid-September, Heath Aster presents 1-2′ stems bearing hundreds of tiny white daisies with yellow centers, creating a frothy foam in both sunny and even somewhat shady areas.

Synphyotrichum ‘Bridal Veil’…a Chicago Botanic Garden Introduction. ( image courtesy of CBC)

There are selected forms out there….‘Snow Flurry’ stays quite low at  6-8″ with 2′ branches that hug the earth, making it a useful native ground cover for the edge of a border or in the rock garden. A new selection ‘Bridal Veil’, introduced by the Chicago Botanic Garden, is believed to be a naturally occurring cross of ericoides and “?”. It produces strong 2′ arching stems with copious amounts of blossoms and forms vigorous clumps.

All forms of Heath Aster prefer well-drained soil and are quite drought tolerant once established. As I mentioned we’ve had plants pop up in even shady situations, but I think you get more flower power with full sun. Deer resistant and pollinator-friendly and hardy in zones 5-8…yay!

Two Plants to add a little Fall Excitement

All summer long Plectranthus ciliatus masquerades as a khaki-colored Coleus. Come early autumn, all of a sudden floral spikes extend and open up into chunky spires of lavender-blue flowers.  It does need to be protected from frost. but we’ve solved this problem by covering plants with a blanket on those pre-Indian Summer nights when the temperatures dip. Easy peasy to grow indoors for the winter, as it can get by with indoor lighting.

Folks always admire this succulent Senecio early in the season for its display of blue-gray tufts of foliage. However, when late summer rolls around flowering stalks emerge and open up to showy 1″ red-orange buttons. Use Senecio ‘Blazing Glory in a pot by itself or mix with other succulent goodies. Yes, it is a plant that needs protection from frosts., but it is super easy indoors on a sunny window sill.

 

Vernonia x ‘Southern Cross’

Do you have room in your garden for a late summer/early fall blooming perennial that attracts butterflies galore? This Ironweed has dreamy clouds of composite purple flower clusters on sturdy stems 3-4’ tall beginning in August and its handsome narrow foliage looks fresh all season long. Discovered by Brent Horvath of Intrinsic Perennials, ‘Southern Cross’ obviously has the species lettermannii in its heritage. This selection combines beautifully with ornamental grasses such as Sorghastrum, Schizachyrium and Eragrostis.

‘Southern Cross’ appears to like extra moisture the first season but becomes more drought tolerant once it is established. Plants are hardy in zones 4-8 and should be deer resistant.

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Glows in the Shade: Tricyrtis ‘Autumn Glow’

We are always looking for summer blooming perennials for shade, and here’s one you should consider. Many of us notice plants when their blossoms present themselves , and indeed Tricyrtis ‘Autumn Glow’ does captivate with its purple-blue orchid like flowers. I say that this form of Toad Lily deserves attention for its large and bold golden edged foliage. Ovate leaves grow to 6″ long and 3” wide and plants enjoy a rich, somewhat moist but well drained soil. Plants spread by stolons and clump up quite quickly, growing to 2’ tall and up to 3’ wide in dappled shade. ‘Autumn Glow’  is reliably winter hardy in zones 5-8.

Tricyrtis ‘Autumn Glow’ still showing off in early October

The flowers, born in sprays from late July into early October, are lovely as cut flowers and do attract butterflies. Pair Tricyrtis ‘Autumn Glow’ with ferns, such as Athyrium otophorumor golden leaved Hosta for a nice shady vignette.

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Stachyurus chinensis ‘Celina’

Shrubs and trees which flower on old wood, just before the leaves unfurl, have a special charm. Think Witchhazel, Native Dogwood, Redbud. One that we especially love and isn’t so well known is Stachyurus chinensis ‘Celina’. This shrub bears pendant racemes of creamy white/yellow flowers in early spring (April for us). We have ‘Celina’ planted in a sheltered spot  from winter winds, which can desiccate the flower buds. This area is shaded by a Japanese Maple and gets 4-6 hours of sun. Our 7 year old plant is about 4′ tall with arching branches from the base, reaching to about 6′ in width. We expect it will grow to 8′ x 10′ eventually. Fall color varies year to year, but we’ve seen it take on yellow and orange tones. hardy in zones 6-9.

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Containers 2017…the before shots

Here it is the end of June, and the most of our containers are planted. These are  low maintenance ensembles: the goal is to have them still looking  fine at September’s end, with minimal care during the summer. As you might expect, foliage plants, especially succulents, play a big role because of their reliable good looks.

6_27_17zenbowl72You’ve seen this pot before, but each year I vary the ingredients. This year the 36″ Zen Bowl has an interesting collection of Graptoveria, Aeonium, Euphorbia, Sedum and Senecio.

zdrumpotaeoniumwebThe green drum pot boasts a specimen Aeonium hybrid with x Sedeveria ‘Harry Butterfield’ and Senecio rowleyensis (String of Pearls).

zgaragepots500Again, the tall cylinder pot in front of the garage has a repeat performance  with a few of last year’s plants…Kalanchoe behartii, Aeonium ‘Cyclops’ , Echeveria ‘Swirl’, x Graptosedum ‘California Sunset, Senecio ‘Mini Blue’, a Rhipsalis and silver leaved Dichondra.

whitepotsjune2017For a sunny spot….some tender perennials with flower power. Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’ is not hardy for us in the ground, but it is a long summer bloomer in pots. Ruellia ‘Purple Showers’ adds some dark contrast with foliage plants Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’, Heuchera ‘Caramel’, and Hedera ‘Amber Waves’ adding long season interest. The smaller pot to the right has Heuchera ‘Cherry Cola’, Phormium ‘Sundowner‘, and Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’, with a matching Hedera.

zgrecian_urn500This 20″ wide Grecian urn is in quite a bit of shade, so I’ve used the variegated dwarf Papyrus Cyperus ‘Starburst’, with dark purple leaved Oxalis, Begonia ‘Art Hodes’, Sansevieria ‘Moonshine‘ and trailing over the sides, Callisia congesta variegata

zvesselferndicondra_shade500New pot, new spot. Green, silver and black color scheme. Dappled shade all day. Used Maidenhair Fern Adiantum pedatum, with Sansevieria ‘Moonshine’, Black Mondo Grass Ophiopogon planiscapes Nigrescens, Begonia grandis, which will get big and add height as the summer goes on, and I’m trying out Dichondra in the shade. We shall see…

papyrus2017_juneThe 14″ green planter has both a green and a variegated dwarf papyrus, with Ornamental Oregano Origanum rotundifolium ‘Kent Beauty’  and Callisia congesta variegata. The dusky plum leaved plant on the right is Tradescantia ‘Pale Puma’ .

ironurn2017_juneThe False Agave Beschoneria ‘Flamingo Glow’ is accented with ivies and oxalis…Hedera ‘Amber Waves’ and congestifolia, plus Oxalis ‘Iron Cross’ in the iron urns which get only 3 hours of afternoon sun.

headpot2017_juneA simple planting of hardy Sempervivum ‘Pacific Blue Ice’ with  teensy creeping Sedum sexangulare are just the right plants for the small planting cavity of this face pot.
brownterracottapot_june2017I can just tell this brown terra cotta bowl is going to be outrageous when fall arrives…the succulents used include Sticks on Fire Euphorbia tirucalli rosea, Senecio ‘Blazing Glory’, Crassula ‘Hummel’s Sunset’ Sedum ‘Firestorm’, and String of Pearls, Senecio rowleyensis. 

Check back for more images in the end of September report.

Uncommon Pollinator Plants

As more and more of us understand the importance of beneficial  insects, we want to host plants in our gardens which welcome and provide food for all of them, plus bees, butterflies and birds. Here is a short list of lesser known plants which add varied ornamental interest as well as lure many more of the good invertebrates into your garden

ascspeCU500Asclepias speciosa

One of the earliest Butterfly Weeds to bloom, Asclepias speciosa, or Showy Milkweed ,has umbels of white to mauve pink flowers in late spring and early summer, with attractive gray linear foliage. Its flowers are a nectar source for all butterflies and its foliage is food for monarchs.  Asclepias speciosa can grow up to 3’ tall and 1-2’ wide. Native to dry uplands of western N. America, it is drought tolerant. Hardy in zones 3-8.

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Parthenium integrifolium

Wild Quinine or American Feverfew is a Missouri native with 8-10” tobacco like basal foliage, and  2-3′ stems bearing clusters of white fuzzy yarrow-like flowers in midsummer. Beneficial wasps and butterflies are often seen hovering over its blossoms. Parthenium integrifolium was grown in years past for its medicinal qualities,  and it makes a nice addition to the dry wild border. Hardy in zones 5-9.

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Pycnanthemum muticum

Mountain Mint spreads, so think of it as a ground cover for butterflies and bees. Beginning in mid summer and continuing into September,  Pycnanthemum muticum displays showy silvery bracts surrounding a central disk rimmed with tiny pale pink/white flowers. Drought tolerant once established, plants will grow 2-3’ tall and are the first pitstop for my honeybees when they leave the hive. Hardy in zones 5-9.

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Silphium perfoliatum

“Cup Plant”, so called because water is held in the reservoir created where the stems pierce through the opposite leaves, provides a watering hole for birds, bees, and butterflies. This Sunflower like plant is useful at the back of a border, where it bears yellow daisies on 4-8’ stems during July and August . I particularly like Silphium perfoliatum’s  green seed heads as cut material for fall arrangements. Hardy in zones 4-8.

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Stokesia laevis

Stokes’ Aster is a showy native with 23” double lavender blue daises on 18-24” plants. Plants begin to color in late June and early July and carries into August. Beautiful as it is as a cut flower, you may want to leave the blossoms undisturbed to enjoy the dance of the butterflies above them. Grow Stokesia laevis in average to dry soils. Note: It resents winter wetness. Hardy in zones 4-10.

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Aster ptarmicoides (formerly Solidago ptarmicoides, and NOW to be botanically correct: Oligoneuron album)

Formerly White Upland Aster or White Goldenrod depending who you askedbut with its new genus classification,  Oligoneuron,  who knows what to nickname it?  Anyway, we first saw this plant at Wave Hill 20 years ago (labeled as Aster ptarmicoides), where it looked crisp and clean on a hot August day. Years later we were finally able to hunt down a seed source for it and now have it in our garden. Tidy plants have 4-5″ dark green linear leaves, and bear sprays of small papery white asters on 15” stems  in mid-late summer through early fall. Yes to bees and butterflies, plus goldfinches love the seeds! Hardy in zones 3-8.

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Symphyotrichum (Aster) laeve

We have grown the strain ‘Bluebird’  of Smooth Aster for years, with  its 1-2” orange yellow centered, clear blue daisies born in September and October.  Symphyotrichum laeve is a plant that is very happy in our mixed borders, self seeding here and there, but is easy to relocate should it pop up somewhere where it is not wanted. Plants grow 2.5-3’ tall and are about 18” wide. Happy in average to dry soil in zones 4-9.

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Eucomis comosa ‘Oakhurst’, Hardy Pineapple Lily

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For the first few years that we grew Pineapple Lilies, we understood that the hardiness range was zones 7-10  for most forms. And that was okay. We would grow it in containers or dig the corms up after a killing frost.

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Then we heard that some forms of Pineapple  Lily were proving to be quite hardy, especially a purple leaved variety, Eucomis ‘Oakhurst‘.  Not wanting to perpetuate “fake news”, we needed to be sure this was in fact true. Four years ago  we planted several plants in our zone 6A garden in average, well drained soil where they get 6 hours of sun.  ‘Oakhurst’ has not only returned dutifully each year, it has produced offsets as well as viable seed, which have germinated easily giving us many dark leaved progeny. Some folks are even reporting that is equally hardy in zone 5 in  a protected spot.

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Eucomis comosa  ‘Oakhurst’s  strap like leaves are an especially dark wine in cooler temperatures, and green up a bit during summer heat. In late July and early August. ‘Oakhurst’ produces spires of pinky white starry blossoms  on 20-24″ stems. Seed heads remain attractive, and you can leave them  for the seed to mature if you like, or remove them to send more energy to the bulbs below ground.

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Magnolia ‘Sunsation’

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I am just smitten with this Magnolia’s nuanced loveliness….chalices of buttery yellow petals infused with plum and pink appear here in early May, waiting for the last frost to come and go.  Yes, it blooms before the leaves unfurl, providing that magic of color against bare wood.

Bred by the late Dr. Augie Kerr, MagnoliaSunsation’ is a hybrid of ‘Elizabeth’ and ‘Woodsman’, and is considered hardy in zones 4-9. ‘Sunsation’ blooms precociously … very young plants try to put on a show which pleases those of us who tend to be impatient.  Her form is upright and pyramidal, reaching heights of 25-30′.

Grow ‘Sunsation‘ in a rich well drained soil in sun or partial shade.

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Spring Succulent Rehab

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Remember your gorgeous succulent containers from last summer? Did you take the time to bring in and care for all those tender
plants over the winter? And, now, do they look overgrown and leggy, or a little scruffy to say the least? You have company…mine do too! Here are some suggestions on what to do to give these babies a new lease on life.

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Give your succulents some fresh soil!

First, give your succulents some fresh soil for new roots to grab into. Remember to use a sharp draining mix formulated for succulents…a basic everyday potting soil will stay too moist. Loosen up the roots, and shake off some of the old soil. Remove any old browning leaves that still cling to the lower stem. Repot in the same pot or a pot that is slightly larger.

If you are rehabbing a large container of mixed succulents that were part of an ensemble and want to give it new life, unplant everything and do the same thing. You can top dress the soil with a fine gravel, chicken grit or uncolored aquarium sand, which will prevent low lying foliage from staying in constant contact with moist soil.

Rosette forming succulents often elongate during short winter days and low indoor light, or they may just be prone to doing so anyway, with age. You might like to have the height that tall gangly stem offers, and if so, just leave the plant be. On the other hand you may want to offset the top heaviness. There are a couple of options.

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Aeonium with aerial roots….

Option 1:  Bury Her. Notice that a lot of bracing aerial roots have developed along the stem of this Aeonium ‘Cyclops’. Last year I tried this unorthodox remedy. I found a deep clay container and replanted the Aeonium low in the pot. Succulent soil mix was used  in the lower half, but then I topped the upper pot portion with perlite. This allowed good aeration for new roots to develop off the main stem.

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Option 2: Off with her head! This may cause you to hesitate, but you will have to cut off the  Aeonium’s top rosette, (you can then root the rosette to form a new plant).  The stalk will hopefully break anew with fresh growth and branch out, but I should warn you this takes a while to happen.  As for that top rosette, let the cut edge air dry for a few days to “heel” or callous over. Then fill an appropriate sized pot with perlite or a mix of perlite and sand, insert the cut end of the rosette into the pot and water frequently.

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Echeveria with elongated stem

These methods work for elongated Echeveria too. Repot in a tall tom, or cut off the top rosette and try rooting it. Note: You may or may not be able to encourage side rosettes off that main stalk (depends on what type of Echeveria hybrid it is), but hopefully your rosette will root in to form a new plant.

Mystery Echeveria…purchased as 'Fleur Blanc'

Echeveria ‘Fleur Blanc’

Many succulents bloom in late winter and early spring, and these blooms are quite lovely, as seen above in Echeveria ‘Fleur Blanc’. The blooms often help identify plants that you may have acquired without a proper name.

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Look-alikes. x Sedeveria ‘Letitia’ on the left, and ‘Sleepy’ on the right.

For example, these two very similar x Sedeveria are often mixed up in the nursery trade. When not in bloom they do look quite alike.  Now in flower, I can tell that the one on the left is Sedeveria ‘Letitia’ (pale yellow/white) and on the right is Sedeveria ‘Sleepy’ (orange/yellow). Also, notice some plants like these Sedeveria have offsets forming at their base. These offsets can be severed and rooted or potted in small pots if roots have already formed.

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Cuttings left to heel, decayed foliage must go, leaves sometimes root too!

Recap:

  • Cut back leggy growth.
  • Let cuttings air dry for a few days to seal the cut ends.
  • Lie or stick in a sand/perlite rooting media.
  • Groom aging  and decaying foliage.
  • Repot all plants in fresh succulent potting soil to give them a new lease on life.
  • Top dress newly potted succulents with fine gravel, aquarium stone, or chicken grit
  • Note (and photograph if you can) what the flowers look like on your plants to confirm their identity.

With longer days and fresh soil, your repotted succulents will show you how happy they are in 4-6 weeks. Once the weather warms, transition plants outdoors on mild days, first in a spot which has just morning sun, and then gradually allow them full day light. Too much strong sunlight on a warm day after plants have been indoors may cause the leaves to get sunburned.

For other posts on Spring Care of Succulents see:

In bloom: Tender Succulents

Rehabbing Succulent Containers