Most plant growth is obvious, even to the casual observer. In spring and summer, we can see shoots, leaves, and stems burgeoning. By this time of year, that growth appears to slow, even stop. But another cycle of growth is just beginning in preparation for winter. Tucked safely – and invisibly – beneath the soil, bulbs are growing fresh new roots.
Out of sight usually means out of mind. However, you can improve the performance of your bulbs if you take a few moments to fertilize in the fall, even though it feels as though nothing new is happening in the plant world. The ideal bulb fertilizer is slow-release, lower in nitrogen (which supports leaf growth) and higher in phosphorous and potassium (to enhance roots and flowers). For centuries, bone meal was the bulb fertilizer of choice, but it’s not a complete fertilizer and may have the unfortunate consequence of attracting dogs or rodents, who digs around to try to find the tasty “bone,” so we no longer recommend it.
Apply the fertilizer as a top-dressing to your existing bulbs, or after planting new ones. You can do this now, or later in the season after you’ve cleared away spent plants.
With fertilizers, it’s important to follow label directions and apply only as much as directed. Applying more than your plants can absorb doesn’t benefit the plants, and excess nutrients can wash off into waterways, disrupting aquatic life. The best practice is to apply fertilizer with a frugal hand.
Lilies grow form bulbs that are easy to plant and offer big rewards for your garden. Lilies add height, distinctive flower shapes, and sometimes perfume, to summer gardens. The season begins with the colorful Asiatic varieties, continues with the delightfully fragrant Orientals, and then the hybrid Orienpets, which combines the best traits of Oriental Lilies and statuesque Trumpet Lilies. To enjoy a long season of blooms, we recommend including some of each type.
Lilies produce their intriguing turk’s-cap or trumpet-shaped flowers on stems that can be graceful and arching, or sturdily upright and an inch thick. Plant heights range from 2 to 6ft or so, depending on the variety. All are elegant in perennial borders, and shorter varieties may be successfully grown in pots. Many Lilies look lovely naturalizing in sweeps, and we offer several mixes ideal for this purpose.
Plant Lilies in a cutting garden or in part of your vegetable garden so you can enjoy magnificent bouquets. A single stem in a vase makes a classic statement and Lilies also lend drama to mixed arrangements. Remove the stamens to avoid contact with the pollen (which can cause stubborn stains) and to prolong the life of the bloom.
Thanks to modern storage facilities, most Lily bulbs are available to plant both in the spring and in the fall. Many Lilies prefer full sun but will flower in partial shade, which may help blooms to retain their color. Some of the species Lilies and their kin prefer afternoon shade, and require it in the hottest climates.
Plant Lilies in well-drained fertilize soil; they will not survive in soils that are poorly drained, especially in winter. Use a layer of mulch to keep their roots cool in summer. Feed plants with a balanced fertilizer in early spring and then again just before they start blooming. Ensure that plants receive regular moisture, especially during drought.
When all the flowers have passed, cut the stem directly below the blooms, so that as much foliage as possible is left to feed the bulb. Also, when cutting flowers for the house, keep the stems as short as possible for the same reason. Deadheading also makes the plants look neater and shortens the tall stems, so they are less likely to topple in a windstorm. After foliage dies back, cut stems off at ground level, or leave a few inches so you know where the bulbs are if you plan to do fall or spring planting around them.
Every year at the farm, we create new and different combinations of annuals. We pot them up in spring and let them grow. At the end of the season, we select our favorites and offer them to you in our Spring Garden Book and on our website. This year, we thought we’d ask for your help in the selection process. Please click the link below to rate the annual collections you see based on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being your favorite. Thanks for your help!
The best way to encourage long life from your Tulip bulbs is to plant them deep. Try for a depth of 8-10 inches for full-size Tulips. That’s far deeper than any of those coring-type bulb planters will ever reach. The hand-corers also encourage repetitive motion problems if you’re planting more than half a dozen bulbs. So arm yourself with something heftier. We love our specialized bulb planters, for prepared soil or for naturalizing. The foot-powered tools dig deeper, and with far less effort, than a hand-powered one.
The fastest way to plant bulbs involves two gardeners: one to dig, one to plant. To plant each bulb, create a deep slot by inserting the planting tool into the ground and pushing forward. Your assistant follows and pushes the bulb into the slot, then steps on the loose soil to push it back into place.
The second tip: water when you’re finished planting. This helps settle the soil, and the moisture will trigger root growth, although it’s not obvious above ground, bulbs send out roots at this time of year, so they will be ready to burst into bloom when spring arrives.
It’s also a great idea to scatter some bulb fertilizer after you plant. We suggest a formula low in nitrogen and high in potassium for the best results.
Squirrels have an uncanny ability to discover a spot where someone has very recently buried a tasty little bulb. Deep planting discourages squirrels, who rarely scratch down more than a few inches. But they might find Crocuses, since they are planted just three to five inches deep. If squirrels are a serious issue, we recommend laying a piece of hardware cloth or small-gauge poultry wire fencing over a newly planted area. You can take if off in a couple of weeks, after rain and watering has settled the soil and removed all telltale signs of planting.
Daffodils are usually the first flowers to make a significant statement in spring gardens. Since there are so many kinds that appear at different times, Daffodils can also be found blooming well into late spring. Daffodil mixes for naturalizing provide a long season of blossoms because they include many different types of Narcissus. As they naturalize, they will increase in number over the years. These mixes are ideal for woodlands and rock gardens, and in bedding areas.
When planting Daffodils, make sure they have adequate drainage and plenty of sun, although some varieties will tolerate half-day shade. To encourage consistent Daffodil blooms, use a granular, slow-release fertilizer upon planting and then feed established bulbs in the fall. Using the right bulb planting tools will make the job a breeze. Watering during the fall is essential for good root growth before the ground freezes in cold regions. For helpful tips on planting Daffodils to create a naturalized look, please watch our video.
You can also take advantage of a wide range of Daffodils by designing areas that showcase specific colors or varieties. Be sure to plant fragrant Daffodils close to your house or anywhere their perfume will be readily appreciated.
Daffodils can be enjoyed equally indoors in forced bulb gardens. Set in a sunny window in a cool room, they yield a delightful tapestry of bloom during the long winter months.
You can read the video transcript for the video “Planting a Native Garden at White Flower Farm” below:
Hi, I’m Cheryl, the head gardener at White Flower Farm. Welcome to the latest addition to our display gardens here at the nursery, the native garden.
The cast of characters for this new garden is selected from the pool of plants that are native to our Connecticut region. The purpose of this garden is to provide a safe and bountiful haven for our local birds, bees, butterflies and insects.
My planning for this garden began last fall. The first step in my design process was lots of research. I came up with a list of native shrubs, perennials and grasses that I thought might work in my space, and using the maps in the plant database on the USDA website, I was able to determine if my chosen plants were native to Connecticut.
After paring down my initial plant idea list, a final list began to take shape. Working my way down that list, more research allowed me to fill in the specifics about each plant, such as its light requirements, mature height and width, flower color and bloom time, and most importantly, what role that plant played in sustaining wildlife. I also made note if the plant had an aesthetic attribute like showy fruit or outstanding fall color. Not only did I want the garden to be useful for wildlife, I also wanted to create a pretty garden.
After collecting all the necessary details about each plant, I started to put the pieces of the garden together. I began with the shrub pieces to my puzzle, which created the structural bones of the garden, which could then be flushed out with perennials and grasses.
The first plants went into the ground in early May, with a few more subsequent waves of planting as the rest of the plants showed up and reported for duty. Much to my surprise my paper garden plan translated pretty well to the earth, as I only had to make a few minor adjustments in spacing as I laid out the plants. It doesn’t always go that smoothly.
I’m pleased with the progress of the new garden this first season. The plants, for the most part, have settled in and have started to flourish. I’ve begun to make a few notes and a “to do” list that I think will improve the garden going forth. It seems I have a little too much Verbena hastata, and I need to replace some Eupatorium perfoliatum that never did quite establish. I still want to find some Coreopsis verticillata. The straight species is hard to source. In the meantime, Monarda punctata, a last-minute addition to the cast, fills in for the Coreopsis and the bees couldn’t be happier.
Why are native plants important? WIldlife and plants that share native habitats have co-evolved over time. Native plants provide food and shelter for your resident birds and insect populations. Consider creating your own native garden, or popping in a few native plants into your existing garden. Your winged and feathered friends will be most grateful.
At this time of year, as the days grow perceptibly shorter and the nights are beginning to cool, we enjoy sitting outdoors in the evening, sipping a glass of iced tea (or something stiffer) as the sun goes down, and reviewing some of the season’s highlights.
A Bumper Crop of Blueberries
One of the great joys of the 2017 garden season was a bumper crop of Blueberries. For weeks this summer, we feasted on handfuls of our own fresh-picked fruit, harvesting enough from our array of bushes to make pies and cobblers, and to top our cereal. Who or what gets the credit for the above-average yields? Blueberry bushes thrive in acid soil that is moisture-retentive yet well-drained. Mother Nature did her part by providing plenty of rain, a welcome relief from two previous seasons of drought, which afflicted our region and many other parts of the country. We did our part by boosting the acid level of the soil. We compost our coffee grounds at the feet of our Blueberry bushes. A dose of high acid fertilizer administered twice a year, once in spring and again in early fall, also doesn’t hurt.
Another factor in this season’s bonanza may have been this year’s temperatures, which were cool in early spring and relatively moderate in summer. Our Nursery Manager Barb Pierson points out that Blueberry flowers stay open longer when temperatures are mild. The longer they remain open, the more time pollinators have to make their rounds. In extreme heat, the flowers wilt, and pollination is thwarted.
To enjoy the longest period of harvest possible in any season, we recommend planting several different varieties of Blueberry bushes and choosing plants that fruit at various times. In our gardens, we grow the aptly named ‘Earliblue’ for the season’s first crop, followed by midseason ‘Blueray’ and late fruiting ‘Elliott.’
The season’s bumper Blueberry crop notwithstanding, these shrubs are too often overlooked for their ornamental value, something that becomes especially apparent at this time of year when the green foliage changes to shades of burgundy orange. They make a beautiful sight in the autumn light.
The Native Garden Takes Off
It’s often said that native plants have what might be called a hometown advantage – growing better and requiring less support than plants that hail from faraway places. The plants in our new native garden at the farm certainly support the theory. While it must be taken into account that gardeners in our region had a generally fine year thanks to ample rain and milder-than-usual summer temperatures, it’s hard to argue with the stellar performance we’re seeing among the natives. The garden was designed by our head gardener, Cheryl Whalen, and planted out this spring. For inclusion, Cheryl chose a mix of species plants (“species” may be regarded as the original form of any native) and some improved hybrids (plants that have been bred to improve or enhance particular characteristics of the species). In the case of some varieties, Cheryl chose to plant both the species and an improved version or two, which affords us and our visitors the benefit of comparing their differences. The starter plants and bareroot specimens were planted in the garden in May. By July and August, the majority had taken off and filled in beautifully.
Our enthusiasm for natives has led us to add more to our offerings over the last few seasons. Plant some in your garden and see if you don’t experience similar results. You’ll find an array of plants native to the Northeast here on our website.
The exquisite colors and sweet fragrance of Sweet Peas have made them a longtime favorite of floral designers. But because these plants adhere to a somewhat tricky timetable and require a bit of special care as they grow, they are rarely (if ever) found in garden centers or nurseries. Sweet Peas are started from seeds in late winter, and this can be a defeating proposition for anyone in a cool climate who lacks a heated greenhouse or indoor seed-starting capabilities. Sweet Peas are vining plants, and they tend to tangle as they grow, making them difficult to display on the crowded shelves in most stores.
Because we love these annuals, and because the demand for them has grown in recent years, we undertook a trial this summer to see if we could ship Sweet Pea plants (not seeds) to our customers. We began by ordering Sweet Pea seeds in a range of pleasing colors. (This is easy work given the range of captivating colors and bicolors available.) We propagated the seeds in our greenhouses, and in early May, just prior to what turned out to be the season’s last frost, we transplanted some of the seedlings into our gardens at the farm. (Sweet Peas can take a bit of cold, and they came through the frost just fine. What they can’t tolerate is high heat.) Other Sweet Pea seedlings were shipped to our homes to ensure that our packaging held the plants securely and that the plants themselves would come through their few days in dark boxes in the back of unheated trucks.
The happy ending to this story is that all of the Sweet Peas we trialed exceeded our expectations. Our gardens were filled with these lovely blooms, many of them sweetly scented, for weeks in June and July, which is roughly when the plants subside. As of this writing, our horticulture staff is selecting the varieties of Sweet Pea plants we’ll be offering to you in next spring’s Garden Book. Our publications team is putting together the information you’ll need to grow these plants, which require the support of a trellis, fence, tuteur or bamboo stake, along with techniques for encouraging the maximum number of blooms and the long, straight stems that are prized for cutting.
For a preview of some of these techniques and to learn more about Sweet Peas, visit the superb blog post on the topic by our friend Matt Mattus, the author behind Growing With Plants. You’ll find it here.
Lavender Phenomenal™ – True to Its Name
Several seasons ago, we planted a low hedge of Lavender Phenomenal™, a plant that was billed as an exceptionally hardy variety that could take heat, humidity and cold temperatures better than many of its cousins. We were skeptical, as we are when a claim sounds too good to be true, but we also took note of the fact that Lavender Phenomenal™ is used in municipal plantings in Europe due to its vigorous nature. We undertook to test the plant’s hardiness. On the crest of a hill at the farm, in a sunny meadow beside our pool, we planted a low hedge of Lavender Phenomenal™ around the perimeter of the pool enclosure. In the first two years, the plants settled in well. They sailed through two seasons of drought. They came through cold winters with nary a plant lost. Deer meandered by, ignoring the plants completely. This season, which brought more rain than we’ve had in years, a moisture level that can be the bane of Lavender, the plants performed equally well, growing, blooming, thriving, their silver foliage creating a lovely contrast with the green grass around and providing a beautiful definition for the fenced perimeter of the pool. The fragrance of the Lavender carries, and the bees feast on the flowers, adding a joyful buzz to the air. Each time we walk across the field and spy our hedge, we have the sudden sense that we’ve arrived in the south of France. How lovely to feel this sensation in our own back yard.
Hosta plants are justifiably celebrated for their robust dispositions and variety of sizes and colors. They are an essential, indispensable component for every shade garden. But a few varieties of Hosta have even more to offer. These are the scented kinds that are relatives of Hosta plantaginea. Their blossoms emit a delicate fragrance that is sweet and light, but never cloying. In the dog days of summer, it’s a wonder to sniff at the blooms of these fragrant blooms, which provide such unexpected and pleasing perfume. Bees love the flowers, too, and they sometimes can be found inside the blossoms, so check the blooms for visitors before putting your nose too close.
We thought it high time these shade garden treasures were given their due, and next spring, we hope you’ll find room in the garden for our Fragrant Hosta Collection. Next summer, when the blossoms appear, you’ll be so glad you did.
Our New Line of Indoor Plants
In our fall catalog, we were pleased to introduce a new line of magnificent houseplants. These are beautiful specimens, the majority foliage plants, that we carefully selected for their vigor, perpetual good looks, and ease of care. We’re offering them in a range of sizes and styles from tabletop Aloes and Ferns to statuesque Palms and Philodendrons. These plants were an enormous hit at our annual Tent Sale (the table of them was cleared in about the first 15 minutes), and they’re selling briskly via our catalog and website. I mention them again in this writing because our customer service team has been fielding one common question among prospective buyers of these plants. It goes something like this: “Your indoor plants look large in catalog and website photographs, just how big are they?” We’re pleased to report that the scale of the houseplants you see in our photographs roughly matches the size of the plants we send to you (with a bit of give and take allowed for the variations that occur among natural, living plants). Our shipping staff spent a considerable amount of time devising the correct packaging for each new variety – especially the largest – to ensure that our plants arrive at your door looking just the way they did when they left our greenhouses.
It’s important to note that while all of these houseplants are low-maintenance additions to any home or office, their lighting and watering requirements will differ depending on type. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the needs of your particular plant, the cardinal sin for most being overwatering. Complete information for caring for each houseplant is included in all shipments. You’ll also find it on our website, on the product page for each plant, under Growing Guide.
As we all begin moving our plants indoors for the autumn and winter, we encourage you to add living greenery to your interiors. Plants add color and vitality, and we can’t be alone in thinking they make life better.
One of the best aspects of the minor bulbs is that they’re easy to plant. Just use a trowel or bulb planter and dig holes to the recommended depth. For very small bulbs you can even plant several in a single hole.
To foster a natural look, scatter bulbs in clusters rather than line them up in rows. Many specialty bulbs will naturalize over time, increasing in numbers each year. Just make sure they have sufficient humus-rich soil and that they’re not competing with tree roots for nutrients. If you plant minor bulbs in lawn areas, refrain from mowing until the foliage has died down naturally. Woodland areas, rock gardens, and perennial beds are also ideal locations to naturalize small bulbs.
A little bulb fertilizer provides the nutrients necessary to keep bulbs performing well in the garden. The best time to fertilize bulbs is in the fall when they are sending out new roots. The next best time is in early spring, just as the foliage begins to emerge. We recommend using a slow-release fertilizer formulated especially for bulbs, such as a granular Daffodil fertilizer. Simply apply the fertilizer to the surface of the soil above the bulbs after planting, and then every fall thereafter. We do not recommend using bone meal since it contains only one primary nutrient (phosphorous) and attracts dogs and rodents, which may dig up the bulbs. Plan to plant your bulbs soon after they arrive. If you can’t plant right away, remove the bulbs from their packaging and keep them in a cool, dry space. Although you can plant bulbs until the ground freezes, it’s best to give them time to develop roots.
On late summer afternoons when it’s just too hot to work in the garden, we love to sneak away for a while and enjoy a cool drink on a bench in the shade. Sitting quietly, we’re usually rewarded by sightings of hummingbirds. These tiny dynamos never fail to amaze and delight.
Although hummingbirds visit feeders stocked with sugary nectar, they seem to spend most of their time zipping among their favorite plants. Here are a few to add to your garden planning list for late summer bloom:
Lonicera sempervirens. Unlike Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera Japonica), our native Trumpet Honeysuckle is not invasive and relatively easy to keep in bounds. Plants are covered with clusters of narrow, trumpet-shaped blooms for most of the summer. Our new favorite is ‘Major Wheeler’, which has brilliant red-orange blooms. Trumpet Honeysuckle grows best in full sun, but we’ve also seen a magnificent specimen growing on the north side of a house surrounded by Maples. It’s definitely a plant worth trying in partial shade, too.
Monarda. Beebalm is a vigorous grower with intricate red, purple, or pink blooms. It’s a hummingbird magnet. We like to let plants duke it out with Rudbeckia and Ornamental Grasses in a border that’s allowed to look a little wild. Otherwise, plan to thin or divide Monarda after a couple of years.
Phlox Paniculata. Garden Phlox have large, fragrant flower heads in pure white, pinks, purples, and bicolors. Each floret has a narrow throat, pretty much invisible to humans, but enticing to hummingbirds. Plants are long blooming, especially if you can take the time to remove spent blooms and encourage new buds to form. Phlox make terrific cut flowers, too.
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.