Spring Bulbs may be the easiest plants you’ll ever grow. Each contains next spring’s flower already tucked away in its heart. Planted this fall, the bulbs will produce roots as this year’s garden fades away. They’ll be ready to burst into bloom as soon as winter retreats – or even earlier, in a few cases. With a little planning, it’s possible to orchestrate a sequence of blooms that last for several months and overlap the early perennials for a stunning spring display. For most bulbs, the show is beautiful the first year – and keeps getting bigger and better in following springs.
Daffodils, of course, are the first large flowers of spring with their bright colors especially welcome after winter’s dreariness. Deer-resistant and long-lived, most varieties continue to multiply for years, even decades. Some are fragrant, especially the Jonquils. To extend the bloom time, try the earliest Trumpets followed by the midseason Large-cupped, then the later blooming Poeticus varieties. The Works has examples from all these groups, if choosing yourself seems too daunting at first.
But Daffodils aren’t the first bulbs to appear. Especially if you live where winter seems endless, try adding at least a few handfuls of the early blooming bulbs that will remind you spring is on its way. Galanthus (Snowdrops), Crocus chrysanthus, and Iris reticulata are small but they create a big impact when nothing else is blooming in the garden. These bulbs are tiny and even several dozen can be planted in no time at all. Choose a spot you’re likely to see every day, such as near your main entry or a flowerbed you can see from a kitchen window. We guarantee that a few months from now, you will be delighted that you did.
Overlapping this second group are various Fritillaria, Leucojum (Summer Snowflake), and Narcissus (Daffodils). The large-flowered Tulips, such as the Darwin Hybrids, tend to bloom along with Daffodils making them fine companions. The distinctive and elegant Lily-Flowered Tulips, with their graceful stems, usually provide the swan song of spring-flowering bulbs. They Hyacinthoides (Bluebells) transition to the first flush of early summer perennials, followed by the fragrant Lilies of summer.
Have fun choosing a color theme, or exuberant mixes of hues and varieties. Even a few dozen bulbs will cheer you next spring, before your perennials are barely discernible tufts of green.
Year after year, our customer service staff members spend as much time taking orders as they do answering questions and offering garden advice. They love to do this, especially because many are avid gardeners. Compiled below are the 5 most common questions they hear at this time of year. From advice on watering plants to pruning Hydrangeas, we hope you’ll find information you can use in your own garden.
The questions and answers here were supplied by Cathy Hughes, the Senior Horticulturist of the Customer Support Center and manager of the staff gardens at our facility in Torrington, CT.
Why aren’t the perennial plants I received this spring doing well despite being watered diligently (or religiously)?
Perennial plant material, which includes perennials, trees, shrubs and Roses, needs to be watered well after planting and then watered when the soil is dry to a depth of 1”. If rain is scarce, this generally means one deep watering per week, even in the hotter areas of the country. This is especially true of bareroot plant material. If plants are overwatered while establishing new roots, the quality of the roots will be compromised and the plants will not survive.
Why is the foliage of my perennials (or shrubs) wilting even though I’m watering diligently? Why don’t the plants recover after watering?
The foliage of plants often will wilt during the hottest part of the day as a response to the heat, but this does not mean the soil is dry, especially if conditions also have been humid. Always check the moisture level of the soil before watering. It should be dry to a depth of 1” before you water again. It’s important to remember that decorative mulch holds moisture in the soil. If the soil is staying too wet, it’s always best to temporarily remove the mulch from the base of the plants and gently cultivate it the soil to aerate it. This should be done after every rain until the plant recovers.
What’s the white coating on the leaves of my perennials (or vegetable plants)?
It’s the disease powdery mildew, and it can be controlled with neem oil, which is applied as a foliar spray. While the foliage looks unsightly, the overall vigor of the plant will not be affected. If possible, it’s also important there be good air circulation between plants and that all infected plant material be collected, bagged and discarded in the garbage in the fall. Do not compost this material.
What’s causing the holes in the leaves of my Roses?
If the damage results in a skeletonizing effect to the foliage (the leaf tissue between the large veins is eaten away), the damage could be caused by the larval stage of Rose sawfly (here in Zone 5 we begin scouting for this insect around Mother’s Day) or Rose chafers. Later in the season thrips may be the culprits. All of these insects can be controlled with a neem oil or Monterey Garden Insect Spray, or any insecticide recommended for Roses. While this damage is unsightly, it will only affect the overall health of the plant if the infestation is severe and is left untreated.
When do I prune my Hydrangeas?
The pruning of Hydrangeas depends upon whether they bloom on old wood, new wood, or both. Click here to visit our Grow Guide, which outlines how to prune different varieties.
As summer hits its high arc and the days grow technically but as yet imperceptibly shorter, Northeastern gardens are in full flush and bloom. Pick-your-own produce places pop up and roadside farm stands fill out with signs for ‘Native Corn’ and ‘Native Tomatoes.’ Despite the horticultural inaccuracy found on those placards and in other cases, it’s noteworthy that a plant’s native status is emphasized as an important selling point. True, while everything is native to somewhere, for our purposes, native plants are those that have been found in the Northeast (New England) from pre-Colombian times.
So why the interest and excitement over natives? Firstly, native plants ask for few resources upon seeding or planting them, and they also give back in abundance. As these plants have co-evolved with native butterflies, moths, birds and the like, they are recognized as sources of food, and good food at that. It’s not by coincidence that White Flower Farm’s Butterfly Magnet Collection, Monarch Butterfly Collection, and Pollinator Garden for Sun heavily favor native cultivars; e.g. Liatris, Phlox, Echinacea, Milkweed, Agastache, and Coreopsis (in no particular order).
When properly placed and established, native plants are vigorous players that usually outperform newcomers when the vagaries of nature throw drought, inundation, disease, and predatory herbivores their way. Not to say that they cannot be affected and even succumb to the aforementioned, but they often can overcome such problems with minimal care. This leads us to the next point: native plants generally don’t need as much water, fertilization and disease control as non-natives. This leaves you more time to fuss over other areas of the garden, or perhaps a chance to sit back and enjoy!
Finally, despite increasing popularity, natives and native cultivars are uncommon enough to elicit surprise, yet they’re entirely familiar and fitting in our gardens. No matter what kind of environmental conditions you have in your garden, or what kind of color or effect you’re looking for, you’re sure to find a native that excels in one or more areas. Dry or wet, shady or sunny, small or expansive — there are plenty of choices that are horticulturally interesting in leaf, form or flower. What follows here are some native highlights best seen in fall, before New England’s lakes and ponds release their stored summer heat and before morning mist and leaf peepers displace the snowbirds heading south.
While correlation does not imply causation, native fall flowers seem to hit their stride just as ‘Back to Skool’ advertisements begin to appear. Liatris, Coreopsis, and Monarda (Bee Balm) recede as Trumpet Honeysuckle, Autumn Phlox and Ox-eye Daisies continue their earlier summer shows into early autumn’s prime-time. Echinacea, Rudbeckia and Asters are in full effect. As vacations end and grumbling begins, optimistically bright Black-eyed Susans are true pick-me-ups and are as quintessentially New England as clam chowdah and apple pie.
The Goldenrods flower, as does Vernonia novaboracensis, New York Ironweed. White Flower Farm offers the Ironweed cultivar ‘Iron Butterfly,’ which tops out at about 3’, far below the impressive 6-8’ potential of the straight species, making it far more practical scale-wise for most gardens. It’s a strong favorite of Monarch butterflies, and the persistent seed heads fade to a rust color in the fall, giving it the common name. The seed heads are treasured by birds in the winter.
Another spectacular fall flower is Helenium autumnale, which is also called Dog-tooth Daisy or Sneezeweed. Beyond the straight species’ pure orange-yellow are brighter yellows and reds and oranges best found in the Mariachi™ series, which is also offered and grown here at White Flower Farm. Chelone glabra, Turtlehead, can be a late-to-the-party, white- or pink-flowered, deep green-leafed shade-tolerant plant, which, contrary to much of what’s written, can handle sun, if provided with enough water.
Eragrostis spectabilis, Purple Love Grass, appears at this time as well, along roadsides and in our new Native Garden designed by Head Gardener Cheryl Whalen. The light and feathery, relatively low seed heads are more of a 1980’s neon pink than purple, but semantics notwithstanding, and as the Latin implies, it’s a spectacle not to be missed.
In addition to flowers, shrubs small and large come into their own just as signs for New England’s Fall Fairs start appearing by roadsides, framed by the aforementioned Eragrostis. Red or black, you win either way with Chokecherry roulette. The fiery red foliage is a feast for the human eye, and for many a hungry bird to boot. And while most people fend off angry birds to protect their blueberry crop, Blueberry bushes both high and low are surprisingly undervalued for their foliage, which I find even more attractive than the Chokecherries, and far superior to the invasive, thornily ornery Berberis thunbergii, more commonly known as Japanese Barberry. If you prefer the hot pink fall foliage of Barberry to the redder Blueberry, there is still a native answer – Viburnum acerifolium, Maple-leaved Viburnum. This understory shrub is eye-catching and, like the Chokecherries, its berries are inedible for humans but delicious to our avian companions.
In addition to brilliant colors, there is a wide variety of natives that offers interesting foliage textures to Northeast gardeners. While many of the above have small leaves and the Amsonias in particular take fine texture quite seriously, Hydrangea quercifolia, the Oak-leaf Hydrangea, and Rubus odoratus, or Flowering Raspberry, have broad leaves and coarse texture. Both need a fair amount of room, and they tolerate or prefer light to part shade. Shade will reduce bloom size and number, but if that’s not the goal, they can fill in space very nicely. I have an Oak-leaf Hydrangea that was slammed into a lightly shaded corner quickly before the frost two years ago, but it has responded so well in form and flower that the most temporary solution became the most permanent.
The Oak-leaf Hydrangea’s spectacular orange, scarlet and purple extends its seasonal interest and contrasts the lemon yellow of the Flowering Raspberry. In addition to the red and pink fall foliage described above, Lindera benzoin or Spicebush, Clethra alnifolia or Sweet Pepperbush, and Amsonia tabernaemontana or Bluestar, provide attractive yellows to brighten the fall color palette.
In this New-York-minute scramble through the ancient Adirondacks, past Congregationalist churches, “Native Corn” farm stands and “Pick Your Own” pastures, I hope you’ve sensed the wide variety of available native plant material, whether you aim for sun or shade, big or small, flower, leaf color or shape, or edibility for yourselves or for friendly fauna. So explore, and indeed, pick your own!
[Editor’s note: Among the images here are plants that are not the straight species referred to in the article. Several are what is called “improved” varieties, which means they’re bred from natives with the intent of enhancing particular characteristics such as form, blossom size or color, hardiness, etc. Those who interpret “native” most strictly may wish to seek out the straight species forms of each plant.]
The simplest way to increase your success in the garden is to select plants that match your conditions. Sun-lovers such as Peonies and Daylilies will be less vigorous and less floriferous when grown in shade, and shade-lovers such as Hostas, Astilbes, and Ferns tend to get crispy and bleached when they bake all day. No amount of fertilizer will change those performances.
It’s easy to fall in love with a plant, but you’ll spare yourself a lot of heartache if you can match that plant’s needs with the conditions you have. It may be worth experimenting once in a while, but you’ll save time and money and frustration when most of your choices fit your site. Beyond the basics of sun and shade, you can also look in our quick guide for plants that resist deer, attract butterflies, rebloom with abandon, or even tolerate tough conditions.
Whether you’re lucky enough to have mature trees providing shade or you live in a new development with lots of wide-open sunny spaces, there are perennials, bulbs, and shrubs that will love to grow in your garden. So size up your site, make notes on your aesthetic preferences and enjoy browsing for just-right plants. Our Web site provides an A-Z List of Growing Guides in the Gardening Help section so you can be successful with every plant you choose.
Magazines and TV talk shows exhort us to live in the moment, and gardening is a way to encourage that practice — to stop and smell the Roses. But gardening is also very much about anticipation, eagerly looking ahead to the first ripe Tomato or the blooming of a favorite perennial.
We find it’s easy to extend that sense of anticipation far beyond the summer growing season with fall-blooming bulbs such as Crocus, Colchicums, Sternbergia, and Lycoris. These charmers provide a delightful way to bring the gardening year to a close.
Like bulbs that flower in spring, most fall-flowering bulbs need a sunny or partly sunny site (although Lycoris radiata prefers partial shade in warm climates) and moderately fertile, well-drained soil. To improve drainage, incorporate organic matter into the soil and to boost fertility, apply bulb fertilizer on top of the ground after planting. Sternbergia often benefits from a bit of limestone worked into the soil.
Plant fall-flowering bulbs as soon as possible after you receive them because they need to establish their root systems. Plant Crocuses 2-3in deep and 3in apart. Colchicum bulbs are larger; plant them 4-6in deep and 10-12in apart. Plant Sternbergia bulbs 6in deep and 4in apart. Set the bulbs of Lycoris so that the neck sits just below the soil surface and space them 5in apart.
As long as the soil is well drained, pests and diseases are rarely a problem with these bulbs. Deer and voles do not bother them. Fall-flowering Colchicums and Crocuses usually bloom about 3-6 weeks after planting. Lycoris requires more time to settle in; it may not bloom until the following year, but the wait is well worthwhile.
Visitors to the farm this June are in for a splendid show. After two years of what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) called “extreme drought,” our part of New England has been blessed with rain, and plenty of it. As of this writing, maps produced by NOAA and the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) show that drought conditions have eased in Connecticut and many other parts of the country. Even before the news was official, the plants in the garden were broadcasting the news, the effects of the abundant rainfall evident in lush growth that celebrates the end of a dry spell. It’s raining again as we write this, and our perennials, shrubs and trees all look vibrant and refreshed. The succession of bloom that began in late winter has segued into a June crescendo of Bearded Iris, Peonies, Poppies, Nepeta, perennial Salvia, Allium, and Amsonia hubrechtii. It’s an enchanting time in the garden, one of our favorite “moments” in any season, and this June is particularly magnificent.
Visitors to the farm often remark that we must be awfully busy at this time of year, and, of course we are, but not necessarily in the way you might think. While the garden staff is finishing up the mulching and is steadily weeding and tending the beds and borders, the planting is nearly finished, and a goodly number of us have moved on to making plans for autumn. The publications staff is finishing the final edits on the fall catalog (which will arrive in your mailbox sometime in early August). The nursery and product development teams are focused on clearing out the warehouse and greenhouses, which soon need to be empty to make room for the arrival of fall-planted bulbs and houseplants.
Lest you think we’re idling around the place, there is plenty to do. Pursuant to our need to empty the warehouse and greenhouses, we’re pleased to host our Annual Tent Sale & Open House on Friday and Saturday, June 16th and 17th.
Annual Tent Sale & Open House
We know some of you wait patiently each year for the Tent Sale, and for good reason. This year’s two-day event takes place, rain or shine, on the hillside beside the store. On offer will be an array of annuals, perennials, and shrubs, along with growing supplies, garden gear, and our exclusive Crete pottery in a wide variety of sizes and forms. For you early birds, please note we’ll be opening at 8 a.m. on Friday morning. If you’ve attended the sale in year’s past, you know shoppers line up well before start time. When the clock strikes the hour, aficionados and bargain hunters bolt up the hill like colts in the Kentucky Derby, racing to secure Crete pots, Tomato ladders, and plants, all at substantially discounted prices. To help with your shopping, we suggest, if possible, you bring along a garden cart.
Hours are: Friday, June 16th: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday, June 17th: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
In the midst of the glorious madness, we’re a bit humbled and mighty grateful to be celebrating our 67th year in the nursery business. We hope you’ll mark the occasion with us by attending our free Annual Open House on Saturday afternoon, June 17. Free guided tours of our gardens begin at 1 p.m. At 2 p.m., we’ll set out free fruit, cucumber sandwiches, iced tea, and fresh strawberries, which we hope you enjoy as you mingle with a company of friends, fellow gardeners, and members of the Wadsworth family, the owners of White Flower Farm. While you’re here, we hope you’ll take the time to shop for a few great additions to your garden and landscape.
Among the new sights to be seen in our display gardens are the plants that have been settled into our Native Garden. Nearly all of the perennials and shrubs are now in the ground. The spring rains have been beneficial in allowing them to settle in nicely after transplant. Our head gardener Cheryl Whalen is pleased with her layout, the actual planting now fairly closely mirroring the original planting plan she created on paper. (Here is where beginning green thumbs may take heart: Even among the most experienced gardeners, there are often challenges and surprises in going from a paper plan to the ground, with adjustments and replantings often required as you go.) None of the freshly planted natives are in bloom at this writing, but that’s to be expected. “It’s only a first-year planting so I don’t expect much in the way of a big show of blooms,” Cheryl says. “It’s enough for the plants to just get well established.” (Beginning gardeners might also take note of the patience that is part of every great gardeners makeup.)
On the subject of blooms, with our spring planting mostly complete, our minds are shifting to plans for autumn bulb planting. Tops on our list are fall-planted, fall-blooming bulbs, which add surprise and help continue the garden’s color show right up until frost. Too little appreciated, bulbs such as Colchicum and Sternbergia are planted in the autumn, and they bloom a few weeks later. One of our favorites is Colchicum ‘Waterlily,’ which we like to tuck in amid the spiky chartreuse foliage of Sedum ‘Angelina.’ When the Colchicum blossoms in September and October, the color contrast is pure delight. Sternbergia lutea may be nicknamed the “Autumn Daffodil” for its golden yellow color, but in form, it most closely resembles a Crocus. Planted near blue-flowering Caryopteris or purple-flowering Salvia, the September-blooming heirloom creates lovely contrast.
On our list of fall-planted bulbs that will bloom in spring, we’re stocking up on Species Tulips. The most perennial of all Tulips, these charmers are available in a beguiling array of colors, forms and sizes. Last fall, Cheryl planted Species Tulip bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’ under an ornamental Dogwood tree, and intermingled it with the dwarf Narcissus ‘Hawera’ and the perennial ground cover Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop.’ We can’t walk past a Dogwood without wishing to see the same combination planted under every one. Low-growing Species Tulip humilis ‘Tête à Tête’ will find a place alongside a few of our rock walls, the vibrant cherry red color being just the thing to banish winter when it peeks out in April or May. Golden orange Species Tulip praestans ‘Shogun,’ which grows 6-10” tall, is a welcome warming sight in the early spring garden, and it creates a burst of sunshine orange alongside Fritillaria imperialis.
If we can help with your plans for fall planting or answer any questions, you know where to find us. In the meantime, we hope you’re enjoying the beauty of your own June garden.
Tall Bearded Irises invigorate summer gardens with their rainbow of colors. You’ll find nearly every shade or color combination in this beloved group of June-Blooming plants named for Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow. The sculptural qualities of their elegant blossoms and sword-like foliage are important design elements in perennial borders. Fragrance is often an overlooked quality, yet their perfumes are sweet and pervasive.
Flowers appear sequentially on buds spaced along the stems, which should be cut down to the base after blooming is finished. Reblooming Iris will send up new fans that develop flower spikes as they mature later in the season, giving you a second display of showy flowers after many other perennials have passed their prime. Give them a light dose of fertilizer after the first bloom and regular watering when the things get hot.
Bearded Irises are generally easy to grow. Provide full sun to very light shade and well-drained soil. Add sand if your soil is heavy and plant so that the top of the rhizome is above the soil line. Few pests bother them, except for the Iris borer. Ward off that problem by keeping the soil around plants free of weeds and, in fall, do a thorough cleanup around plants because the borer eggs overwinter in plant debris.
As visitors stroll the display gardens at the farm, they often ask us about the plants they see in the borders and beds. No plants generate more questions than Alliums. Members of this genus are available in a broad range of colors – from various shades of purple to pink, true blue, yellow, and white, but the hallmark of this family of plants is a form that is both playful and utterly distinctive. Larger cultivars such as Alliums ‘Globemaster,’ form sizeable spheres (in this case 8-10” flower heads) that appear to float like balloons above other plants in the border. Smaller varieties including the delightful Drumstick Allium (Allium sphaerocephalon), produce lollipop-sized orbs on slender stems at a lower height.
Alliums are more commonly known as Flowering Onions, a pedestrian name unworthy of these remarkable plants.
It’s worth mentioning that Alliums, like Daffodils, are deer and rodent resistant, thanks to their faint oniony scent. The odor is not noticeable above the ground unless the leaves are cut or bruised, and many of the flowers have an enchanting, sweet scent. There are hundreds of species within this under-appreciated genus, and we annually struggle to restrain ourselves to a reasonable selection. They are reliable perennials when they get good drainage and plenty of sun.
Using Alliums in the Garden
Alliums offer colorful, distinctive, and long-lasting flower forms that are standouts in the early summer garden (there are some fall bloomers as well). They love sun and prefer a well-drained, even sandy, soil as long as it has sufficient nutrients. Tuck the bulbs around clumps of summer-flowering perennials where the Alliums’ withering foliage will be hidden by the expanding perennials. Some combinations we use at the nursery include Allium ‘Globemaster’ among Echinacea (Purple Coneflower); Allium sphaerocephalon (the Drumstick Allium) with Yarrow, Asiatic Lilies, or Phlox; and Allium cristophii (Star of Persia) with Salvia ‘May Night,’ Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle), or Roses. We offer 5 varieties of the shorter Alliums (10–30″ tall) as A Big Mix of Little Alliums. They look best along the edge of a shrub border or planted in front of late-blooming perennials.
How to Care for Your Allium Bulbs
Light/Watering: Most Alliums grow best in full sun, with at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight a day. Those we offer require well-drained soil and are longest lived in locations where the soil is on the dry side during summer dormancy.
Planting: Plant Alliums more shallowly than comparably sized bulbs, just one to two times the diameter of the bulb deep.
Fertilizer/Soil and pH: Alliums prefer well-drained, fertile soil. Fertilize in fall and spring with any bulb fertilizer.
Continuing Care: The leaf tips of many varieties, especially the tall ones, begin to brown before bloom time. Remove the spent flowers (except from varieties that are sterile, such as ‘Globemaster’) if you wish to prevent them from self-sowing.
Pests/Diseases: Alliums have few problems except when planted too shallowly or in wet soil.
Companions: Place Alliums behind heavy-foliage plants such as Peonies and Iris. Good for bedding, and in mixed borders. Flower heads are good for drying.
Dividing/Transplanting: Alliums rarely need transplanting or dividing, but this can be done when the bulbs are dormant.
Here at the farm, we’re in the midst of mad preparations for this weekend’s 12th Annual Great Tomato Celebration, which runs May 19th through 21st, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, rain or shine. The weather is set to be mostly lovely (which, we have to say, always improves everyone’s mood a bit), and we’re raring to go.
On Thursday, staff members will set out tables in the open field adjacent to the store. As the sun rises Friday morning, our tractors will be buzzing back and forth to the greenhouses and warehouse ferrying flats of Tomato seedlings, vegetable starts, herbs, growing supplies, container pots, and anything else we think gardeners might need. Tomato aficionados, some from as far away as Vermont and Massachusetts, tend to arrive early, and at the stroke of 9 a.m., the shopping begins! Gardeners who know just what they want can be seen bolting up the hill, sometimes running to claim their favorites. Their lists in hand, they work the aisles, filling their wagons. Others adopt a more leisurely pace, scanning the signs that describe each Tomato variety and asking questions of staff members, who are always happy to answer and to steer shoppers to favorite selections.
This year, we’re pleased to be offering more than 130 varieties of Tomatoes, including highly coveted heirlooms and bestselling modern hybrids (all non-GMO), and everything else you may want for this season’s kitchen garden including savory herbs and veggie plants.
On Friday, we’re thrilled to be welcoming nationally recognized Tomato expert Craig LeHoullier, author of the award-winning book Epic Tomatoes. He’ll give two free talks on May 19th only. (For a few excerpts from his terrific book, read below.) For times and more details, click here.
Also on tap to offer Tomato-growing tips and answer questions is White Flower Farm’s Nursery Manager Barb Pierson, who will give two talks on Saturday and also be available each day to answer questions. Chef Charlene Goodman Dutka, owner of Ciesco Catering in Torrington, presents Grow It, Cook It, Eat It, a live cooking demonstration that focuses on Tomatoes on Saturday afternoon. For times and a complete schedule of events, click here.
If you’re hungry after rounding up what you need for your kitchen garden, Ciesco Catering’s truck will be selling delicious, made-to-order food.
See you at the celebration!
While you’re shopping, consider picking up a copy of Craig LeHoullier’s Epic Tomatoes. This splendid book is stuffed with all sorts of facts and information about Tomatoes – from their early history in this country, to definitions of the different types, to profiles of individual varieties, to tips for planting, growing, staking and harvesting. You can read this book from cover to cover, or keep it around to dive into now and again. It’s a delightful read, and a wonderful resource for those of us who grow and love to eat Tomatoes.
Here’s a somewhat condensed version of LeHoullier’s account of the early history of Tomatoes in America:
“The Mayans and Mesoamerican people domesticated the tomato plant and first used it in cooking . . . By the early nineteenth century, tomatoes were present in many towns across America, though it appears most people didn’t eat them . . . Most people had no idea how popular the tomato was becoming in Europe . . . [and] The tomato had a reputation for being poisonous . . . The most famous early American tomato story is the daring public tomato consumption – perhaps – by Robert Gibbon Johnson in Salem, New Jersey, reported to have occurred in 1820. . . . Hundreds of onlookers reportedly traveled from far and wide to witness this remarkable event . . . Johnson bit into a tomato, some onlookers fainted, and, with Johnson suffering no ill effects, the tomato industry in America began.”
At the farm, we’re often asked to define hybrid, heirloom, open-pollinated, determinate and indeterminate Tomatoes. Here are LeHoullier’s definitions, just in time to help with your shopping:
“A hybrid tomato is grown from seed collected from a fruit that developed from a process known as crossing. Most simply described, pollen from one parent is directly applied to the pistil of another parent. Prior to the cross, the anther cone (the pollen-producing part) is removed from the receiving parent so that the flower doesn’t self-pollinate as it typically would.”
“Also referred to as non-hybrid, open-pollinated tomatoes have stable genetic material, and seeds saved from open-pollinated varieties will (unless cross-pollinated by bees) replicate the parent variety. All heirloom varieties are open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated varieties are considered heirlooms.”
“An heirloom is an open-pollinated variety that has history and value embedded within its story.”
“This class of tomatoes is by far the most common, and its members grow upward and outward continually until killed by frost or disease. Indeterminate tomatoes have a central main stem from which side shoots, or suckers, grow at a 45-degree angle outward from the attachment point of the leaf stems. In turn, each sucker of side shoot acts as an additional main stem and produces its own side shoots. The central stem of an indeterminate tomato, if vertically staked and tied, will easily exceed 10 feet by the end of the growing season. Flowering clusters appear at varying intervals along the main stem and side shoots, ensuring continual fruit potential until the plant dies: this allows for continual and extended harvest throughout the growing season. Another important characteristic of indeterminate varieties is the relatively high ratio of foliage to fruit, and all of that added photosynthesis means a significantly higher flavor potential when compared with determinate varieties.”
“Determinate varieties are far less common than indeterminate varieties; the gene that produces determinate growth habit didn’t appear until the 1920s. Determinate varieties look identical to indeterminate varieties as young seedlings, with the same stem width and foliage shapes and textures. There is a genetic component, however, that signals an end to vertical growth, emergence of flower clusters at the end of flowering branches, and massive fruit set over a very concentrated time span. This leads to a very narrow window for fruit ripening, which makes determinate varieties very attractive for commercial ventures that benefit from picking the fruit in just a few rounds of harvest. Because of the way the flowers appear, any pruning of this type will significantly reduce yield. In addition, the very high ratio of fruit to foliage means less photosynthesis: as a result, the vast majority of determinate tomato varieties have less flavor intensity and potential than indeterminate varieties (though there are always exceptions). Because of their compact growth, determinate tomato varieties are perfect for container gardening and caging.”
Tips for Creating Beautiful, Successful Patio Pots
In our part of the country, the high and low temperatures of spring are beginning to even out, and the danger of frost will soon be past. That’s when we pot up collections of annuals (and sometimes a few perennials) to decorate our porches and patios. Each spring, our staff members have fun creating new plant combinations. To help you create yours, here are a few tips:
Selecting Container Pots
Start by selecting container pots. The variety is limitless, which is both a good and bad thing. The advantage is you have lots of choices – terra cotta, glazed, cast iron, plastic, footed, self-watering, etc. – but choosing too many pots in too many colors or styles can create a look fails to unify and isn’t very appealing. As a general rule, you’ll create a sense of visual harmony by choosing a grouping of pots that goes well together even before you add the plants. Then, as you fill them with annuals and perennials, it may look best to pot the same or similar plants in a variety of pots, or pot a variety of plants in the same or similar pots. When in doubt, keep it simple. Less can be more.
Remember to choose pots with at least one drainage hole, says our nursery manager Barb Pierson. If a pot has no drainage hole, drill one. If that’s not possible, fill the bottom of the pot with gravel, river rocks, or Styrofoam peanuts to create a space for drainage.
Choose the right size pot for your plantings: Barb’s rule of thumb is that 3 plants generally need a 12” opening, and 5 plants require a 16–18” opening.
Know Your Site
Will your pots be in blazing sun all day? No problem! Choose zinnias, lantanas, salvias, and other heat lovers. Part-shade is very forgiving for most varieties. Are you designing pots for shade? Look for impatiens, fuchsias, caladiums, some varieties of coleus, and some types of begonias.
Play With Colors & Textures
To create a pleasing combination, play with plant groupings until you get something you like. Here at the farm, our staff members do this in the greenhouses where the annuals are grown. Customers are invited to “play with plants” at our Annual Container Workshops. Another way to experiment with various combos is to pull up images on your computer screen and create a collage. Or, collage the old-fashioned way by cutting out catalog photos and creating groupings of images until you’re satisfied with what you see.
For best results, most patio pot combos should contain 3 types of plants: a thriller (which will be the tallest variety in the combo), a spiller (to cascade over the sides), and a filler (to fill in around the middle). Larger combos tend to have multiple spillers and fillers, but the thriller is generally a single, tall plant such as a grass, elephant’s ears (colocascia), caladium, upright coleus, begonia or fuchsia, or a vine such as a low-growing clematis on a tuteur.
As you’re working, pay attention to colors and textures. Are you using hot colors (red, yellow, orange, and lime), cool ones (blues, lavenders, whites and grays), or pastels (soft pinks, soft yellows, and baby blues)? Do you have a range of blossom forms and foliage types?
The Right Planting Mix
To begin your potting, fill your container with planting mix. Barb recommends a mix of ¾ high quality potting mix combined with ¼ compost. (The mix is also great for raised beds.) Water the mixture thoroughly until it is evenly moist but not soaking.
Now position your plants: Before you take them out of the pots they came in, set them atop the planting mix and arrange them in a way that will promote best growth and work best for your site. (If the pot is to be set against a wall or doorway, the “thriller,” or tall plant, is best positioned at the back-center area of the pot. If the pot will be viewed from all sides, the thriller belongs in the middle.) Once you’ve settled on an arrangement, plant your annuals in the container pot. Be sure to fill in with soil around them. (You can use the tip of a trowel or even a large spoon to add more potting mix where it’s needed.) Water again to dampen the soil that’s been added, and let the combo settle.
Feeding & Watering
Over the course of the season, check your pots for moisture daily and water as needed. Larger pots need less water. (In dry summers, container pots may need to be watered daily.) How do you know when your container pots need water? Look for the soil to shrink a bit from the sides of the pot, Barb says. When that happens, it’s time to water. You can also test by sticking your finger in the soil mix. It it’s dry an inch or so down, the plants need a drink.
Feed your plants. Annuals give their all in a single season, and they appreciate a bit of food to keep their blossom and foliage shows going. Barb recommends using a blossom-boosting fertilizer such as our All-Bloom. It makes all the difference, she says.
As the plants grow, trim back varieties that are more aggressive than others. Some varieties of coleus, and trailing plants including ipomoea (potato vine) and helichrysum are vigorous growers. Don’t be afraid to get out the scissors for some judicious pruning. Pinching back plants including impatiens and coleus also helps encourage branching so you get bushier plants.
Not Just for the Patio
Colorful container pots are a joy to behold all season long, and they’re not just for the patio. Pots also can be sited in garden beds and mixed borders, and in front of hedges and walls. A container pot full of colorful blossoms makes a lovely focal point when silhouetted against a green hedge or sited at the end of a path.
If we can help with your combinations, you know where to find us.