Decorate Indoors While Dreaming of Spring

This year it seems as if winter just won’t loosen its hold on us. As soon as it begins to warm here in New England, there is yet another snowstorm on the horizon. However, we don’t let the cold snowy days stop us from dreaming of spring. Even as the first green shoots of Daffodils begin to triumph over winter, you can decorate and celebrate the arrival of a new season inside.

Lavender Fields Wreath
Lavender Fields Wreath

Now is the perfect time to change up your indoor decor for the new season. Even though the first day of spring has passed, more cheerful days are ahead. Our colorful Indoor wreaths help bring the garden inside by providing an array of flowers and textures that mimic what is to come in our own yards. These wreaths evoke the colorful spring days that await us.

Sunshine & Roses Wreath
Sunshine & Roses Wreath

Whatever the weather outside, our beautiful fresh bouquets will make your home bright and cheery. We love adding bouquets to help freshen up our indoor decor with spectacular blooms and fragrance. We work with specialty growers to provide long-lasting bouquets. These are shipped in bud stage to allow you maximum enjoyment upon arrival.

Seaside Cottage Bouquet
Seaside Cottage Bouquet
Burst of Happiness Bouquet
Burst of Happiness Bouquet

You can also try sprucing up your indoor pots and containers to showcase the essence of spring. We love the idea of gardening indoors so we use pottery and containers for herbs and small plants. These are perfect for windowsills and small spaces.

Porcelain Pot & Saucer Trio
Porcelain Pot & Saucer Trio

Plant stands and trays are a wonderful way to elevate houseplants and add interest to your indoor decor. These also help protect furniture while adding style.

Ceramic Plant Stool
Ceramic Plant Stool

We hope these decorating ideas have you thinking of spring as much as we are!

American Heirloom Tomato Collection

Grow Your Own Sun-Ripened Tomatoes

With so many varieties of Tomatoes available, it can be hard to decide which kinds to grow. To simplify your choices, first decide where you’ll be growing your Tomatoes and how you plan to use your crop.

Tomatoes in Sausalito Self-Watering Container
Tomatoes in Sausalito Self-Watering Container

If you don’t have a lot of outdoor space, try container gardening. Look for descriptive terms like “compact,” “dwarf,” “patio” or “determinate” for best success. Whether in containers or a garden, always choose a location in full sun, which means a minimum of 6 hours of direct sun per day.

Tomato Heirloom Marriage™ Marzinera
Tomato Heirloom Marriage™ Marzinera – This cross between two heirloom varieties produces meaty, tasty plum Tomatoes. Superb for sauces and tarts.

Select large-fruited Tomatoes such as beefsteaks for slicing, paste varieties (sometimes also called plum Tomatoes) for sauce or juice, cherries for salads and snacks, and heirlooms for their unique flavors and historic appeal. The following terms also will help you choose the right varieties for your purposes:

Tomato Bush Early Girl
Tomato ‘Bush Early Girl’ – Expect high yields of medium-size Tomatoes from this compact, bushy, early fruiting hybrid. Great for slicing and salads.

Determinate” means the plants stop growing at a certain height, rather than continuing to grow all summer. Their fruits ripen all at once so you’ll have a single harvest (which is terrific for things like making sauce or canning), rather than the ongoing or more staggered harvest provided by Indeterminate varieties. Determinate varieties grow well in containers because they are more compact and need less staking.

Tomato 'Cherokee Purple'
Tomato ‘Cherokee Purple’ – A longtime favorite, this heirloom produces delicious beefsteak Tomatoes. Yields don’t always match what you get from some other beefsteaks, but ‘Cherokee Purple’ has the flavor you’ll remember.

Indeterminate” Tomatoes are a good choice for planting out in gardens because they produce higher yields and continue growing as long as the weather is warm and sunny. Their vines will sprawl over the ground unless you stake or cage them; or you can cover the ground with mulch to keep the fruits from touching the soil. A few of our favorite varieties are the snack-size cherry ‘Sungold’ and heirloom ‘Black Prince’.

“Ripens XXX days from transplant” means fruits will ripen and be ready for picking in roughly the number of days that are given in place of the XXXs above. The countdown starts on the date you plant a particular Tomato in the ground or in a container. Early varieties ripen about 60 days from transplant; late varieties may take 80-90 days.

Chefs Compaion Herb Kit With Rustic Tool Box Planter
Chef’s Companion Herb Kit With Rustic Tool Box Planter

Remember to include a few herb plants on your shopping list – they are perfect companions for both fresh and cooked Tomatoes. One of our favorite summer salads is the classic Caprese, which features fresh sliced Tomatoes alternating with slices of Mozzarella cheese and topped with fresh Basil leaves and good olive oil.

Asclepias Gay Butterflies Mixture

Hard to Find Garden Treasures

Every gardener strives to add unique and interesting plants to their gardens, always on the lookout for that perfect addition to complete their own garden masterpiece. Let’s be honest, we all want to be the envy of the neighborhood, showcasing an array of colors and textures. Whether you choose a new perennial to create a focal point or another shrub to complete the border, there’s always room for one more!

Here at White Flower Farm, we’ve always offered a wide array of annuals, perennials, shrubs, and plants for the kitchen garden. But we make it a special priority to stock interesting plants you may not find at your local garden center. Our hard-to-find plants come to us mainly through the strong relationships we have with plant breeders all over the world. You’ll find some of the treasures they help us find highlighted below. We hope you’re tempted to add a few to your garden.

Aquilegia 'Blue Butterflies'
Aquilegia ‘Blue Butterflies’

Lacy greens and dancing, late-spring blooms characterize these lovely border plants. They make excellent cut flowers if picked when half open. This gem is a choice plant for the border’s edge, rock gardens, and containers. The flowers of Aquilegia ‘Blue Butterflies’ are a rich purplish blue with white edges and are shown to advantage by the lovely blue-green leaves.

Dahlia 'Wine Eyed Jill'
Dahlia ‘Wine Eyed Jill’

A precise arrangement of tightly cupped, light pink petals is accentuated by deep magenta on this lovely selection of Dahlia ‘Wine Eyed Jill.’ These hybrids of species native from Mexico to Colombia hold their display in reserve for mid- to late summer and early fall, when most gardens and most vases are looking a little tired. Planted in 3s and 6s, Dahlias serve to fill holes that develop in the perennial border and make excellent potted plants (1 tuber in a 12″ pot).

Hibiscus Purple Pillar
Hibiscus Purple Pillar®

If you’re the type who goes for minuscule flowers, then Hibiscus is not a genus for you. The plants produce big bright blossoms that appear endlessly starting in high summer. This award-winning Rose of Sharon forms a narrow, somewhat pyramidal pillar, which makes it ideal for creating screens or vertical accents in the mixed border. The pinkish-purple 5″ flowers have dramatic darker purple-pink flares at the center. Purple Pillar® is sterile, so its blooms never set seed or become a nuisance. The blossoms and unique form make this a compelling addition to yards and gardens.

Hydrangea macrophylla Let's Dance® Rhythmic Blue™
Hydrangea macrophylla Let’s Dance® Rhythmic Blue™

Hydrangea is a valuable genus of some 100 species of shrubs and vines grown for their large and very showy flower heads. Each blossom of this compact, reblooming Hydrangea is composed of a multitude of florets that appear precision cut in a geometric motif. When you add color, which ranges from pink to lavender-blue depending on soil pH, you have a shrub that’s a distinctive and delightful addition to the mixed border or landscape. Plants also respond quickly when changing their bloom color from pink to rich blue with a sulfur soil additive.

Rose Sweet Spirit
Rose Sweet Spirit

Roses offer colors, perfumes, forms, and habits to suit every garden situation. The tenacious efforts of breeders have yielded Roses with the best attributes of different varieties in new forms. Hybrid Teas, lovely as ever, now combine long bloom periods with the vigor to shrug off pests. A profusion of red blossoms, 3-5 per stem, appears nonstop on this vigorous Hybrid Tea. The fully double 3″ flowers of Rose Sweet Spirit are richly perfumed and handsomely displayed against a backdrop of subtly glossy, dark green foliage. These bushy, mounding plants show increased resistance to black spot and improved tolerance of humidity.

Tomato 'Chocolate Sprinkles'
Tomato ‘Chocolate Sprinkles’

During trials, our staff couldn’t get enough of these oval, bronzy red cherries with olive-green accents. Small but meaty, the disease-resistant fruits of Tomato ‘Chocolate Sprinkles’ have a taste as rich as mini ‘Cherokee Purple’ Tomatoes. Better still, you’ll be harvesting lots of them.  These are indeterminate, and fruits ripen about 50–55 days from transplant.

These garden treasures are truly spectacular. Keep in mind they are often in high demand and supplies are limited.


‘Thank you for calling White Flower Farm’

Go behind the scenes with one of our Customer Service team members

By Jonathan Chesler

In today’s world of e-commerce, it should come as no surprise that White Flower Farm processes the vast majority of its orders online. But the convenience of technology notwithstanding, about a fifth of our orders still come through our call center. Beyond the thousands of phone orders placed during the season, there are three times as many calls regarding order status and changes, product availability and features, and plant selection and care after purchase. Gardeners, it seems, like to talk to gardeners.

Amaryllis Trials in our Greenhouses
Amaryllis trials in our greenhouses

White Flower Farm’s call center takes up only a modest amount of space in our shipping facility in Torrington, CT, and about half as much space as it used to in the Paleolithic, pre-internet days. The industrial building, converted from a former ball-bearing plant, provides us with the large open area required to efficiently store, package, and ship orders. Fifty cubicles are laid out in a grid in a large room with two walls of factory-style windows filling the center with natural light, allowing us to display along the sills all of the plants and hard goods that are offered in the catalog and on the website. In fact, the call center is ringed with pretty much everything sold by the company, so that agents can answer customer questions and refer to the specific products right in front of them.

Shelves in the Call Center filled with products
Shelves in the Call Center filled with products

Experienced supervisors sit at the head of each row. Most have been on staff for several years and have many years if not decades of gardening experience. There are a few master gardeners present, and White Flower Farm has sent agents to the UConn Master Gardener course for the structure and breadth of knowledge it offers. Several supervisors and agents have years of experience in customer service, including one who came from Aetna and another who worked in customer service settings in a half-dozen places before joining the staff at White Flower Farm. I was new to the department. While my official title is assistant to the head gardener, I spend several of the colder months, when our gardens are dormant, helping out in customer service.

Lauren, the training supervisor, started showing me the ropes in the weeks before Thanksgiving. After an overview of the call center and how to field calls and enter requisite order data, she had me sit in and listen to incoming calls while she answered. In short order, I was answering and she was listening. Once the training wheels came off, Lauren was readily available whenever I had a question for her.

Agents who come in without much gardening experience are quickly brought up to speed with close training and frequent refreshers. There is lots of knowledgeable help only a cubicle or two away, either in consultation with a fellow agent or a supervisor. There are a daunting number of complex details for agents to keep in mind. Agents not only have to master the software and phone systems required to take and place orders, they need to know about product availability and potential substitutions (for example, different varieties of Amaryllis), shipping options, and a heck of a lot about hundreds of plants, garden products, and gardening.

I thought coming into the call center with several years of experience in horticulture would prepare me well, and it did, but every day someone would ask me a challenging question about some plant I don’t know well, or some growing condition I hadn’t considered. One customer wanted to know if we could ship a box of Honeybell fruits to California, a state that generally blocks most citrus shipments. After some research, we found out that yes, only certified vendors like White Flower Farm are allowed to ship citrus to California.

Cathy - Senior Horticulturist
Cathy – Senior Horticulturist

Cathy, our senior horticulturist, keeps agents up to speed on terminology, the company’s catalog and website offerings, and where to find information in both. She also showcases seasonal and new plants at meetings, and sends out Horticulture Quizzes and Challenges. Would you, our reader, like to take a Horticultural Quiz? Here’s a typical one for you. (Answers appear at the end of the post.)

  1. How long does it take to force a Dutch variety of Amaryllis into bloom?
  2. Why should Amaryllis be turned every few days once they begin to grow?
  3. Why is the shipping of all tender plants dependent on temperature and weather?
  4. What one factor determines how tall an Amaryllis flower stalk may get?
  5. Why might Amaryllis growth be greenish-yellow when the box is opened?

In addition to ensuring thorough training and supervision, Michelle, the customer service department manager, holds weekly meetings. Despite the universal eye-rolling that the word ‘meeting’ tends to engender, there are too many details that change too often not to touch base regularly. Michelle goes over the big picture –including details of phone and web order volume, and statistics regarding calls – and gives us other relevant information, such as how quickly orders are moving and how weather will impact shipping. It’s a high-wire act to ship live plants during the busiest season of the year, and we want customers to get their plants in a timely fashion, and in as beautiful and healthy a condition as they were when they left our greenhouses.

Michelle - Customer Service Manager
Michelle – Customer Service Manager

New or popular plants are presented at meetings along with examples of how they are packaged, labeled and shipped, so we can anticipate commonly asked customer questions and see how plants are packaged for transit. Lastly, those of us in the trenches are asked for our input. In this way Michelle keeps her fingers on the pulse of the center and hears directly from us about how customers are feeling, what concerns are coming up, and how we can best deal with them.

The types of questions customers ask tend to shift over time. At the start of each season, we answer a lot of questions about products, then availability, and then queries about shipping and how items arrive, such as what the heat packs are and how to dispose of them. (They’re used to ship tender plants in cold weather, and they should be tossed in the trash.) As Christmas approached last year, questions switched to expedited shipping, and returns. Shortly after, enviably organized people began ordering out of our Spring 2018 catalog.

White Flower Farm Spring 2018 Catalog
White Flower Farm Spring 2018 Catalog

When answering calls, we start with a short script that begins: “Thank you for calling White Flower Farm . . .” Despite being scripted, the agents are sincere, and the introduction reminds us to be so. Once through the introduction, we need to verify existing customer information or enter a new customers’ details. While this housekeeping can feel tedious for existing customers, I found that in about half of calls, an address, email or phone number had changed, either for the customer or one of their gift recipients. In several cases, a spouse or partner wanted email confirmation and tracking of a surprise gift order to go to a different email address than the one we had on the account. Clarifying these details is essential to ensuring that everything arrives where and when it should.

The most common calls are about product availability, shipping dates and times, and questions regarding order processing through the website. Shipping questions can pose a challenge, especially when products are requested to arrive before, after, or between certain dates. Like most e-tailers, we are dependent on shipping companies like UPS, and the unknowns can be tricky to navigate.

Just as with any of our plants, White Flower Farm agents are carefully selected, provided with good growing conditions, trained and tended with good supervision and care, all with the aim of providing the best service possible to our customers. As a call center ‘ephemeral,’ I bid my colleagues goodbye for the season and have returned to the greenhouses and garden beds of Morris, Connecticut. I look forward to returning to the call center in the fall. In the meanwhile, Thank you for calling White Flower Farm.

Answers to the Horticultural Quiz, above:

How long does it take to force a Dutch variety of Amaryllis into bloom?

8-10 weeks. Because we start shipping bulbs in mid-November, Dutch varieties generally do not bloom in time for Christmas. If it’s a holiday flower show you’re after, we also offer South African Amaryllis. These bulbs are harvested earlier than their Dutch cousins and take 6-8 weeks to bloom. They begin shipping in late September, which generally means you’ll have blooms in time for the winter holidays.

Why should Amaryllis be turned every few days once they begin to grow? 

Amaryllis leaves and stalks bend toward the light, and without being turned, the stalks stand a much greater chance of flopping over (and of being damaged) as they bend. Periodically rotating the bulb helps keep the growth even and straight.

Why is the shipping of all tender plants dependent on temperature and weather?

Tender plants shipped below threshold temperatures will not survive the cold or, if they do, may take a very long time to recover. Weather can be a factor, as a snowstorm can delay a truck. Tender plants shipped in cooler weather are bundled up with heat packs that extend the ability to ship them, but eventually the heat pack is no longer effective, and the added delay may be too much time.

What one factor determines how tall an Amaryllis flower stalk may get?

Available light. In lower light levels, Amaryllis stalks extend as they “search” for the light.

Why might Amaryllis growth be greenish-yellow when the box is opened?  Amaryllis that have started to grow in the box, will not have had the necessary light to produce chlorophyll. They generally “green up” in a few days.

Lavender Patch

Our Exclusive Perennial Collections: Building Blocks of Many Great Gardens

One of the keys to designing a lovely garden is to mass varieties of a single plant to create swaths of color. Whether you choose a grouping of Lavender plants for full sun, a collection of Astilbes for part-shade, or a variety of colorful Daylillies to line a sunny or partly sunny pathway, the massing of plants never fails to create a unified and beautiful sight while conveying the intentionality of design.

Perennials are natural building blocks for creating drifts of color because they return reliably year after year. Because we often plant multiples in our own gardens, we have, over time, developed a number of exclusive perennial collections that encourage gardeners to do the same in their gardens. These collections are superb for beginners, and they offer value and ease to experienced ones. Scroll below to see some of the effects that can be achieved when planting our perennial collections. The images might also inspire you to plant multiples of other ‘like’ plants, creating your own colorful drifts.

Lavender Patch
Lavender Patch

Lavenders are usually planted in large clumps of one variety, where their soft shade and cool, subtle foliage provide quiet dignity through the summer. In one of our trials, we discovered that a perfectly delightful effect can be had by combining several varieties whose disparate heights, colors, and forms flow together to produce a garden that is interesting and informal, but very definitely Lavender. Our Lavender Patch collection was born.

Whichever way you choose to plant Lavender, these aromatic subshrubs are popular in herb gardens as well as in the perennial border. The intensely perfumed blue-violet, mauve, pink, or white flowers are treasured for drying and making potpourri. The foliage of Lavender is a standout in the garden where its silvery or gray-green hues contrast nicely with its neighbors. Lavenders thrive in the arid West, but are best grown as annuals or container plants in the South, as they do not thrive in areas of high humidity (with the exception of Lavandula dentata and L. stoechas). We love to use them to line a driveway or sunny path or to create a low hedge around a pool enclosure or along a fence.

Cornerstone Astilbe Collection
Cornerstone Astilbe Collection

Graceful to look at yet rugged as can be, Astilbe plants are a superb building block for part-shade gardens. Planted in drifts, they send up clouds of color in summer, their fuzzy plumes also adding beauty and texture above feathery green foliage. Over time, their root systems form mats that help suppress weeds. Our Cornerstone Collection, previously known as “Old Ironsides” for its remarkable durability, is a collection of 12 plants—3 each of a white, 2 different pinks, and a red—at a price that encourages mass plantings. It’s a great way to start a color parade in your shade garden, one that will continue throughout your lifetime and beyond.

Wings Over Water
Wings Over Water

Few flowers can compare with the grace and beauty of the Siberian Iris. Their arching standards and undulating falls, carried on strong stems above grassy, blue-green leaves, flutter in the softest breeze like exotic seabirds playing the wind. What’s more, no plants are more rugged and reliable. Given full sun or partial shade and average to damp soil, Siberian Iris form large clumps that bloom heavily after the first year. Because no garden should be without these beauties and no garden can have too many, we offer 3 plants each of 4 different varieties—in purple, white, and two shades of blue. Cluster them together in the mixed border or beside a pond. Simply stunning.

Unique 50 Daylilies - Hemerocallis
Unique 50 Daylilies – Hemerocallis

Cover a hillside, line a path or create a swath of color in a mixed border. Our rainbow of carefree color includes pink, purple, orange, yellow, and white Daylilies, 50 different named varieties (although plants are not labeled individually), selected by us from award-winning, reblooming, and fragrant varieties. These vigorous, hardy perennials settle in quickly and prosper in average, well-drained soil with at least a half day of sun. The show runs from July into September with no effort on your part. Our collection is the easiest and most economical way to buy Daylilies in mixed colors.

Click here to see more Preplanned Gardens and Exclusive Collections on our website.

Early Spring Bloomers

Start the spring color show early in your garden with a variety of early blooming perennials, shrubs, and trees. From Witch Hazels, which blossom in late winter, and Hellebores, which generally flower before the last of the snow has melted, to Virginia Bluebells, Brunneras, and Magnolias, there are countless ways to incorporate a rainbow of rich colors into your spring planting schemes. What better way to celebrate the arrival of a new growing season?

Witch Hazel ‘Jelena’

The best antidote to winter is a planting of Witch Hazels. This genus of 5 species of upright, spreading shrubs or small trees provides the first big display of color, beginning in late February or early March and continuing for 6 weeks or more depending on the season (the flower petals sensibly curl up if the temperatures plummet). For an even earlier display, cut some branches in January and force them into bloom indoors. Plants thrive in average, well-drained soil.

We love Witch Hazels for the color they bring to winter gardens and for their hardy, problem-free nature. ‘Jelena’ is a favorite, with large ribbonlike petals that gleam coppery orange. In autumn, the shrub lights up again as its matte green leaves turn fiery shades of red and yellow.

Hellebore Gold Collection® ‘Madame Lemonnier’

Hellebores are considered aristocrats of the woodland garden. Native to Europe and western Asia, the genus contains about 20 species of perennials that bloom in early winter in mild climates and in late winter or early spring where the soil freezes hard, which makes them either the last or the first flowers in the garden. In our gardens here at the farm, they are among the first plants to bloom, bringing a splash of color to the late winter garden, sometimes blossoming amid the last of the snow. They require a moist but well-drained site under the shade of trees. Take care to amend the soil with plenty of organic matter, such as well-aged leaf mold and compost. You’ll be rewarded with long-lived, deer- and vole-resistant plants that will spread nicely on their own.

Hellebore Gold Collection® ‘Madame Lemonnier’ is a large-blossomed beauty that was discovered by a gardener in Normandy, France, where her passion for growing Hellebores turned into a full-fledged hybridization program. The plant’s 3″ upfacing blooms are rich purple red, and are held above lush green foliage on tidy, clumping plants. Under greenhouse conditions at the nursery, many of these impressive blossoms exceeded 4″. A magnificent addition to shade gardens.

Forsythia x intermedia Show Off®
Forsythia x intermedia Show Off®

It is impossible to live in a northern climate and be unfamiliar with Forsythia. The durability, vigor, and abundant yellow flowers of this early bloomer make it one of the most popular and important ornamental plants known. Forsythia Show Off® is perfect for a tight hedge or a specimen in a border. From France comes this compact variety whose golden flowers are brighter, larger, and stacked closer along the stems from soil to tip. Another bonus is the dark green foliage.

Magnolia ‘Genie’

Magnolia is a genus of over 100 species of trees and shrubs widely distributed from the Himalayas to East Asia and in the Americas. Introduced Japanese and Chinese species and their hybrids, such as the showy white Star Magnolia and the pink Saucer Magnolia, draw the most attention in spring. The handful of species native to Eastern North America include the magnificent, evergreen Southern Magnolia (M. grandiflora), Sweet Bay (M. virginiana), and the large Cucumber Tree (M. acuminata).

Magnolia ‘Genie’ is a fairly compact variety, growing 12–15’. In early spring, lightly fragrant, 6″ cupped blossoms appear on slender branches, like goblets of burgundy. A second, lighter flush of bloom arrives in midsummer when provided with full sun and adequate moisture. Bred in New Zealand, this slender, well-branched variety blooms for a longer period, even when young. An ideal small tree to feature alone, in pairs, or to put the finishing touch on a mixed border.

Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’

A friend of ours once referred to this charming plant as “prompt” because of the way its beautiful silvery green leaves break ground quite early in spring. They’re followed by a haze of tiny azure flowers, which give this plant one of its nicknames, False Forget-me-not. (It’s also sometimes known as Siberian Bugloss and Heartleaf Bugloss.) Brunnera is most at home in woodlands or along shady stream beds, where it will form a lush understory of quiet beauty. Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ is a standout variety with frosted leaves veined and outlined in green. The plants grow to 12″ tall and as wide, and while the blossoms provide a fleeting show, the foliage looks superb all season long.

Mertensia virginica
Mertensia virginica

Everyone loves Virginia Bluebells (M. virginica) for their sapphire blue flowers on 18″ stems that gleam from shady spots in April and May, making them an ideal underplanting for shrubs and trees. Plants thrive in deciduous shade and moist soil, where they will seed themselves to create a charming colony.

Trillium grandiflorum 'Flore Pleno'
Trillium grandiflorum ‘Flore Pleno’

Trilliums are spring-blooming wildflowers much prized by woodland gardeners for their delicate, 3-petaled flowers and distinctive foliage. Trillium grandiflorum ‘Flore Pleno’ is an exquisite double form that produces pure white flowers in April and May, which will enchant you and all visitors to your garden.

Cleaning & Sharpening Your Pruners

With Matt Scace, Grower for the White Flower Farm Store

The gardening season is about to get underway in the Northeast, so it’s a great time to clean the garden tools.

Up at the farm, we asked Matt Scace, grower for the White Flower Farm Store, to walk us through the steps. For starters, he points out that there are a lot of different tools that would appreciate attention: axes, edgers, shears, hoes, swoes, shovels, trowels, pick mattocks, forks, and saws. For purposes of this post, we’ll concentrate on one of the most commonly used garden tools: pruners. The same techniques used to clean and sharpen pruners can be applied to lopers and the blades of some other garden tools as well.

To begin, the materials you’ll need to clean and sharpen a pair of pruners are:

dish soap, a nylon scrubby sponge, a whetstone or sharpening stone, a few drops of oil (any kind will do, from canola to WD40), a rag or paper towels, and a bit of elbow grease.

Step #1: Soak or Oil Your Stone

Some whetstones and sharpening stones require that you soak them in water for a period of time before use. Others require a few drops of oil. Follow the instructions that came with your stone. Soaking or oiling “prevents teeny, tiny bits of steel from getting stuck in the stone,” Matt says. “It’s the way oil works in a frying pan.”

Matt uses an all-in-one-tool to disassemble his Felco pruners.

Matt uses an all-in-one-tool to disassemble his Felco pruners.

Step #2 (optional): Disassemble Your Pruners

This step is optional because not all pruners or garden tools are designed for easy disassembly. Tools that don’t encourage disassembly should be left intact.

Well-made pruners, including the Swiss-made Felco models preferred by most of our garden staff, are easy to take apart. Disassembling should be done whenever possible because it’s the best way to clean and sharpen the full blade and to clean the interior junction where the blade pivots.

To disassemble: use a screwdriver, all-in-one tool, or, in the case of Felco and some other brands, the mini-wrench or disassembly tool that comes with your pruners. If you’re afraid you might not be able to put your pruners back together again, Matt has great advice: “Take out one screw, and take a picture with your cell phone. Take out another screw, and take another picture with your cell phone,” and so on. That way, you’ll have a visual record of how to put everything back together.

While you disassemble your pruners, take care to set the parts on a clean, uncluttered surface so nothing gets lost. For his demonstration, Matt used the back of a legal pad.

pruners and dish soap
Use warm water, dish soap, and a nylon scrubby sponge to remove sap and clean the blade.

Step #3: Dish Soap & Water

Washing your blade is next. If you’ve disassembled your pruners, carry the blade to the sink. (If you didn’t disassemble, give the whole tool a bath. It won’t hurt anything as long as you dry the pruners thoroughly and coat the metal parts with oil later, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves . . .)

Under warm running water, Matt uses Dawn dish soap and a nylon scrubby sponge to clean the blade. The results are rather remarkable. The blade emerges shiny, and looks almost new. Cleaning the blade not only removes grit, sap and dirt, it also enhances your view of the blade’s beveled edge. Taking care of that is the whole point of sharpening, which comes next.

pruners and sharpening stone

Matt holds the blade at the angle of the bevel as he rubs it down the sharpening stone.

Step #4: Sharpening the Blade

“The bevel on any blade is the angle at which it is ground at the factory,” Matt says. “If you look straight down on the blade of a food processor, the shiny part is the bevel. The purpose of sharpening is to maintain the existing bevel on a blade. While sharpening, you are essentially grinding along that existing bevel.” It’s important to sharpen while the bevel is easy to find, Matt says. “If you wait until you can’t find the bevel, you’re in a bit of trouble.”

Sharpening techniques vary, and they may depend on the size and shape of your whetstone or sharpening stone. Place the stone and blade in contact, and “feel for the angle,” Matt says. When you’ve found it, move the blade gently against the stone (or the stone against the blade, depending on the type you have) so abrasion begins to sharpen the edge. “Some recommend using a circular motion,” which means moving the blade or stone in small circles along the bevel, Matt says. Others run the blade down the stone in a linear fashion. The key is to maintain the angle of the beveled edge. Check your progress as you go. In the places where you’ve rubbed the blade against the abrasive stone, the blade will appear shinier. Make sure the shine corresponds to the factory-made bevel. You can check the sharpness of your blade by cutting a piece of paper: Hold the paper in one hand and slice at the edge with the blade. The blade should cut into the paper, creating a shred that curls away.

oil for pruners
After sharpening, it’s time for oil. A drop or two protects steel blades, preventing rust and corrosion, and it keeps the pivot mechanism moving smoothly.

Step #5: Oil

Once you’re done sharpening, it’s time for oil. A drop or two protects steel blades, preventing rust and corrosion, Matt says. It also keeps the pivot mechanism moving smoothly. Any type of oil will do, from canola or vegetable oil to WD40, honing oil, or household 3-in-1. “Use just enough to coat the surface,” Matt says. He rubs oil all over the metal surfaces and wipes off any excess with a cloth. “The oil shouldn’t run or collect.”

Step #6: Always, Always Use the Right Tool for the Job

There will be a future post on this topic, but for now, Matt reminds all of us to use the right tool for the job. “The right tool for the job is going to reduce wear and tear, and that means you sharpen less often,” he says. The Felco #2, which he uses frequently, “is capable of cutting a great many more things than you should cut with it. When you have your nice Swiss-made Felco pruners, and you’re out cutting your Roses, you might see a coated wire tie on a Rose, and you think, ‘Oh, I’ll just cut it with the pruners, and it’ll be OK because I’m only going to do it this once.’ It is not OK.” Tools that are misused are subject to dings, degradation, and breakage. “The relationship between care and use goes together like teeth and gears,” Matt says. Make that extra trip back to the shed for the wire cutters, or whatever tool is designed for a specific purpose. “This might sound like a sales pitch, but in the long term, having the tool that’s made for the job you’re doing is less expensive.”

disassembled pruners
TIP: If you’re worried you won’t know how to reassemble your pruners, take cell phone photos as you disassemble a pair, then you have a record of what goes where and in what order.

Ongoing Care & Rubbing Alcohol

Ideally, you should clean, dry and oil your tools after each use. Not many of us are that diligent, but the point is, buy good tools and treat them with the respect they deserve, cleaning them often.

For tools that come in contact with plant material, it’s wise to clean the blades with rubbing alcohol. “It can dramatically reduce insect and disease issues,” Matt says. A good number of plant diseases are plant-specific and won’t spread from one type of plant to another on a pair of pruners, but others can be transmitted that way, and a bit of alcohol can hinder the spread.

Ovation Large Flowering Orienpet Lily Mix

Learning About Lilies

True Lilies, from the genus Lilium, are often confused with Hemerocallis, more commonly called Daylilies. True Lilies produce a single stem, often tall, from a bulb. The leaves grow on the stem. Daylilies grow from tubers that produce a large tuft of foliage, from which emerge leafless stems (called scapes).

Lilium 'Eyeliner'
Lilium ‘Eyeliner’

Because Lilies are tall and slender, they fit easily between other plants. Tuck two or three between the crowns of other perennials, toward the back of the border. Lilies can add color where Peonies, Baptisia, and other early summer bloomers have subsided to green. Lilies can also complement summer bloomers. Try Asiatic Lilies, which bloom first, with Salvia, Geranium, Centaurea, or Heuchera. Orienpet Lilies (crosses between Trumpet and Oriental Lilies) are the next group to bloom. They enhance Campanulas and all the Daisy-type flowers: Echinacea, Coreopsis, Gaillardia, and Leucanthemum. Oriental Lilies, the last to bloom, are lovely with Phlox, Ornamental Grasses, and Sedum, as well as the long-blooming Echinaceas.

Lilium 'Montego Bay'
Lilium ‘Montego Bay’

Lilies make superb cut flowers. If you don’t like to cut from your borders, plant rows of Lily bulbs in a cutting bed or a corner of the vegetable garden.

Perfumed Garden Lily Bouquet
Perfumed Garden Lily Bouquet

Spring-planted Lilies will likely be a little shorter than expected their first year; the bulbs are so eager to grow, they produce stems before they’re fully rooted. In their second year in your garden, the Lilies will achieve their full, often majestic, height. Orienpets and Orientals might benefit from staking in their second year, especially if grown in part sun, because they tend to lean towards the sunlight.

To learn more, watch our video Where and How to Grow Lilies.

Amaryllis for Spring Planting

Around here, Amaryllis are generally enjoyed as indoor plants during the winter months. But last spring, we planted some especially cold-tolerant Amaryllis bulbs in our annual garden beds, and the results were gorgeous. To encourage you to enjoy the same stunning sights in your own garden, this year we’re offering a few varieties of Amaryllis for spring planting in the garden. To plant outdoors in Zones 7 to 10, select a well-drained location in full sun. Locating bulbs in a protected, south-facing site will help ensure success. Plant each bulb with its shoulders 1″ above the soil. In areas where there is some frost but temperatures remain above 10°F, plant bulbs slightly deeper. Blooms will appear 4–6 weeks after planting. In fall, provide a layer of winter mulch.

For gardeners in climates that are colder than Zone 7, dig up the bulbs in the fall and bring them indoors. Cut off the foliage just above the bulb and store them in a dry, cool (55°F), dark place such as a basement or closet. When the chance of frost has passed in the spring, plant the bulbs outdoors in a sunny location.

Amaryllis Alasca®
Amaryllis Alasca®

Bred in Holland using cold-tolerant species, this pristine beauty produces an abundance of double, snowy white blooms with a hint of green deep inside.

Amaryllis Eyecatcher®
Amaryllis Eyecatcher®

This beauty is bred from cold-tolerant species and can be a stunning feature of your summer garden. Eyecatcher® produces large 5½″ orange-red blossoms with bold white stars. It’s a lovely surprise in your sunny border.

Amaryllis Balentino®
Amaryllis Balentino®

The fiery red, white-blazed blooms of this striking Amaryllis will make quite a statement in your summer garden. The blossoms appear atop tall stems, and the white anthers protrude dramatically, adding one more note of distinction.

Plants for Pollinators

The key to attracting butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds to your garden is to offer a steady supply of nutritious, delicious foods throughout the entire growing season. The varieties you see here should be considered essential elements of any successful pollinator garden. They produce an abundance of colorful blossoms that pollinators thrive on, and they will attract their fair share of human admirers, too.

Liatris spicata 'Kobold'
Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’

A North American genus consisting of about 20 species. Liatris is excellent for cutting, superb for drying, and beautiful in the border, where it looks best planted in groups. It is also a strong favorite with many butterflies. Plants offered thrive in full sun or partial shade and well-drained, even dry, soil, but they struggle in the desert Southwest.

Salvia Wendy's Wish
Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’

Many annual forms of Salvia are widely grown for their easy disposition and vivid colors, and these are midsummer staples at every garden center. Our favorites are less well known
and offer deep, rich colors that will bring a garden to life. Among the choices we offer is Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish,’ a vigorous Australian selection that’s a favorite of our director of horticulture.

Asclepias syriaca
Asclepias syriaca

A familiar sight in meadows and fields across central and eastern parts of our country, Common Milkweed is an essential source of food for Monarch butterflies. Milkweed plants are content in poor and even rocky soils, and are unfazed by drought. They make a superb addition to butterfly gardens and meadows. Of the 200 species in the genus, the best known are North American wildflowers. They have small, curiously shaped blooms that appear in dense clusters and are irresistible to butterflies. Milkweed flowers evolve into seedpods, which open to release seeds on silky white floss. The pods are attractive in the autumn and winter garden, and they’re great for flower arrangements.

Buddleia davidii Buzz™
Buddleia davidii Buzz™

There are some 70 species of shrubs and small trees in the genus Buddleia, the best being Asian natives. The most popular are varieties of B. davidii and its hybrids with long stems ending in panicles of flowers that are ambrosia to butterflies. In cold-winter climates such as ours, plants are often killed almost to the ground. We prune back to live wood in spring and always have a spectacular show starting in midsummer. Best in full sun and moist but well-drained soil.