Monthly Archives: August 2018

Allium Globemaster

Allium – Show-Stopping Globes, Spheres, & Domes for Your Garden

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.

The globe-shaped purple flower heads of Allium shown blossoming amid Salvia, Iris and Poppies in the June border.

Alliums are more commonly known as Flowering Onions, a pedestrian name unworthy of these remarkable plants.

Allium caeruleum is a standout for both its color and its form.

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.

The flower clusters of Allium roseum bulbiferum are less dense than some other cultivars, the pink florets and airy habit adding a graceful presence to the sunny border.

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.

Our popular Red Highlights Collection pairs Drumstick Allium with the reddish-yellow flower clusters of Achillea (Yarrow) ‘Paprika.’

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.

The large white globes of Allium ‘Mount Everest” are a super choice for a white garden.

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.

Alliums pair beautifully with a wide variety of perennials including Echinacea (Coneflower), Phlox, Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle), Achillea (Yarrow), and Iris. Peonies are another excellent choice. Here a purple-flowering Allium pairs with a white-flowering Peony.

Dividing/Transplanting: Alliums rarely need transplanting or dividing, but this can be done when the bulbs are dormant.

Planting and Growing Bearded Iris

Flamboyant blooms on stately, splendid plants grace the garden in June. Bearded Irises are available in a veritable rainbow of colors, from vibrant primaries, to subtle bicolors and gentle pastels. Breeders have introduced a variety of reblooming Irises, which have a tendency to flower again from late summer into fall depending on climate and growing conditions. Please note that Bearded Irises may not bloom the first year after planting.

Light/Watering: Full sun and well-drained soil are important for vigorous growth and flowering. Do not overwater, as too much moisture in the soil can cause the rhizomes (roots) to rot, but do water deeply during summer drought. Consistent watering is especially important for reblooming Irises.

Bicolor ‘Fashion Queen’ contrasts bright apricot standards against violet purple falls with tangerine beards.

Fertilizer/Soil and pH: Iris will not tolerate soils that are wet in winter. Good drainage is important all year, and a pH near neutral (7.0) is preferred. In climates with very hot summers, plant the rhizome just below the soil surface; in cooler climates, the top of the rhizome should be exposed. Do not mulch around the rhizome as this practice may encourage rot. Fertilize in early spring with an all-purpose fertilizer scratched in around the plants, avoiding direct contact with the rhizome. Reblooming Irises perform best if fertilized again after the first wave of flowering is finished.

Pests/Diseases: The Iris borer, the worst pest of these lovely plants, overwinters as eggs in spent leaves, so don’t give the critters a hiding place. The borers emerge in the spring as tiny caterpillars, which spend a couple of weeks boring through the leaves down into the rhizome, where they grow fat and cause great damage, often leading to soft rot that causes even more damage. Vigilance can help—it’s actually possible to kill the borers in situ if you catch them early enough. You’ll see vertical streaks in the leaves; that’s your guide to help you squash the pests. If you see any signs of rot in the rhizome, dig it up and remove the affected parts. Unless the infestation is severe, plants usually recover, or grow lustily enough that you can salvage healthy chunks to keep growing. The rhizomes may also become infected with soft rot. Well-drained soils are important, so add sand if your soil is heavy and plant so that the top of the rhizome is above the soil line. If soft rot does occur, dig out and discard affected rhizomes and cut away any smaller areas of damage.

There are a number of Bearded Iris that have the tendency to bloom gloriously in June, then flower again in late summer and into fall. Our sampler offers an excellent introduction to this worthy group.

Companions: Irises are at their best in the company of other perennials, especially LiliesHerbaceous PeoniesRoses, and Oriental Poppies. Be careful to leave enough room between plants to provide for good air circulation.

Reflowering: Remove spent blooms consistently; Bearded Irises will flower sequentially on buds spaced along the stems. After blooming is finished, cut flower stems down at their base. Although reblooming varieties have a tendency to rebloom, sending up new fans that sport flower spikes as they mature later in the season, they are not guaranteed to bloom a second time. Repeat bloom is dependent on many things, including geographic location and growing conditions.

Dividing/Transplanting: Divide your Irises when the clump becomes crowded and bloom diminishes, usually every 3 to 4 years. The timing of division is very different than that of most perennials, because Bearded Irises go dormant shortly after flowering, and summer is the ideal time to dig up the rhizomes. Even though reblooming Irises don’t go dormant, this is also the correct time to divide those varieties. Break the rhizomes into pieces or cut them with a sharp knife. Select divisions with healthy fans of leaves, most likely from the outermost part of the plant. Discard the crowded interior pieces, and any that show signs of soft rot; dispose of these in the trash, not in the compost. This is the time to trim the leaves back to about 6 inches in length. Some gardeners like to dust the cut surfaces with powdered sulfur, or to dunk rhizomes in a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. We haven’t found this step necessary, but it might be advisable if you have had problems with rot. Replant promptly. You will probably find yourself with extra divisions you can share with friends.

Introduced in 2008, Tall Bearded Iris ‘Raptor Red’ brings luscious color to the June garden. Its well-branched stems hold plenty of these bicolor red blooms with a dab of mustard on their beards.

End-of-Season Care: After hard frost in the fall, cut foliage back hard, remove any foliage that appears spotted or yellowed and dispose of all debris in the trash. We recommend winter protection in cold climates, especially for the first winter after planting. We suggest covering the rhizomes with an inch or two of sand topped with a light layer of evergreen boughs, applied after the ground freezes and removed when the Forsythias bloom the following spring.

Calendar of Care

Early Spring: Diligently remove and destroy any old foliage to allow for fresh, new growth and prevent Iris borers from emerging as the weather warms. Remove any winter mulch. Feed plants with an all-purpose fertilizer scratched in around the plants, avoiding direct contact with the rhizome.

Mid-Spring: Watch vigilantly for the telltale signs of Iris borers in the foliage — dark vertical lines that may appear watery show up in the leaves. Squash the bugs where they live; if infestation is severe, remove affected foliage completely and destroy.

Pastel shades of yellow and blue combine in Iris ‘Easter Candy’.

Late Spring: Taller forms may need staking. Deadhead as flowers fade, and cut entire flower spikes down at the base when blooming is finished. Fertilize reblooming varieties again after the first wave of flowering is through.

Summer: If plants need dividing, complete this task after flowering finishes and then trim the foliage back to six inches. Water divisions well during dry periods.

Fall: After hard frost in the fall, cut foliage back hard, remove any foliage that appears spotted or yellowed, and dispose of all debris in the trash. Winter protection in cold climates is recommended, especially for the first winter after planting. After the ground freezes, cover the rhizomes with an inch or two of sand topped with a light layer of evergreen boughs; remove when the Forsythias bloom the following spring.

Hydrangea macrophylla Endless Summer® BloomStruck®

Learning About Hydrangeas With our Video Series

It’s easy to gush about Hydrangeas. Grown for their large and spectacular flower heads, these classic shrubs are vigorous, of easy care, and attractive at virtually every stage of growth. Best of all, they dazzle in summer and fall, a time when many woody plants are resting. Whether you are a novice with growing Hydrangeas or an expert, our video series mentioned below can help you learn more about these beautiful shrubs.

Most Hydrangeas are not fussy as long as they receive their preferred amount of sunlight (generally full sun to part shade) and are planted in moist, well-drained soil. They will even thrive in coastal areas, since they tolerated high winds and salt. Most Hydrangeas do need water if it doesn’t rain, but are otherwise undemanding. Mulching Hydrangeas will conserve moisture and buffer soil temperatures.

There are many different types of Hydrangeas, from mophead (macrophylla) varieties, vining Hydrangeas (anomala petiolaris), native Oakleaf Hydrangeas and many more. Some are shade-loving types such as Hydrangea serrata ‘Blue Billow’,  which also offers a sensational display of colorful fall foliage. To learn more about the different offerings of Hydrangea, watch our video “What are the Various Types of Hydrangeas” below.

Flowers come in shades of white, cream, chartreuse, pink, blue, and red. Blooms of many hydrangea Varieties change color over time, so they show is continually intriguing. Some varieties of Hydrangea change flower color depending on the pH of the soil, generally blue on acid soils and pink on alkaline. For help on getting your hydrangeas to bloom, watch our video, “Why Didn’t My Hydrangea Bloom?” below.

The biggest breakthrough in Hydrangea breeding has been the introduction of varieties that bloom on both old and new wood. Endless Summer®, Blushing Bride®, Let’s Dance® Moonlight, and Twist-N-Shout™ are among these exceptional long bloomers. They flower on old wood starting in late spring and then on new wood in midsummer. In warm climates, the bloom period can last up to six months. These newcomers also make good choices for colder climates, since bloom on new wood is reliable ensured, even after a severe winter. Regular deadheading of these varieties helps to encourage rebloom. For tips on pruning all varieties of Hydrangea, watch our video, “Pruning Hydrangeas” below.

Since Hydrangea varieties range from compact to sprawling, check your plant’s size at maturity and give it room to grow. Many Hydrangea varieties look superb when grown as a hedge. When Selecting companion plants, be sure that their light requirements match those of your Hydrangea and the planting site.

Long-Season Hummingbird Garden

Invite Hummingbirds to the Garden

Hummingbirds are enchanting visitors to any garden. Small, fast, and as aerially sophisticated as helicopters, they zip around, feeding at nectar-rich blossoms. By planting the natural food sources they prefer, you’re sure to welcome these delightful little birds to your garden. Hummingbird feeders are another great way to entice them to your yard, and they’ll begin to investigate these as a possible new food source. Below are some of our favorite perennial plants and products, all of which will entice these remarkable flyers.

Monarda ‘Raspberry Wine’

Hummingbirds are drawn to the brilliantly colored, bright magenta-red blossoms of Monarda ‘Raspberry Wine.’ These plants bloom long and hard and show excellent resistance to powdery mildew. A member of the Mint family, this vigorous Bee Balm will spread. Divide plants in spring and share with friends. A White Flower Farm introduction in 1992.

Asclepias ‘Cinderella’

Of the 200 species in the genus Asclepias, the best known are North American wildflowers. They have small, curiously shaped blooms that appear in dense clusters. Asclepias ‘Cinderella’ is a genuine star with unusually dense clusters of pale pink flowers that open from dark pink buds. The vanilla-scented flowers last well in winter and attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’

Agastache is a genus of about 30 aromatic species native to central and eastern Asia, Mexico, and the United States. Careful breeding and selection have given us newcomers that offer exceptional garden performance and a long season of bloom. Robust Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ produces a mass of soft powder-blue flower spikes from July onwards, making it a magnet for butterflies and admiring visitors alike.

Lonicera ‘Major Wheeler’

Bring on the hummingbirds! Lonicera ‘Major Wheeler’ produces a blanket of tubular, reddish orange flowers (coral shades on the West Coast) from late spring through summer. Later, the red berries attract goldfinches and robins. It’s a selection of our native species, Lonicera sempervirens, and plants are both carefree and noninvasive.

Hand-Painted Hummingbird Feeder

In addition to enchanting us with their aerial acrobatics, hummingbirds can be a beneficial presence in the garden. A great way to encourage them to take up residence or visit often is to utilize hummingbird feeders. Our Hand-Painted Hummingbird Feeder is made in Mexico from recycled green glass that’s hand-blown in the shape of a blossom then painted by artists. Each brightly colored, beautifully constructed nectar feeder is secured by a metal stand that pushes easily into the ground.

 

Field Tips for Harvesting Cut Flowers

Most gardeners enjoy growing flowers for the beauty they bring to outdoor areas. But we also like cutting blossoms and bringing them indoors in vases. For advice on how to cut and care for your own fresh cut flowers, we turned to White Flower Farm staffer Mary Altermatt. In addition to her job here in the Publications department, Mary is the owner of Mountain Meadow Flowers of New Milford, CT, purveyor of beautiful, organically grown perennial and annual cut flowers.

On her farm in New Milford, CT, she grows approximately 200 varieties of annual cut flowers from seed using organic methods. Throughout the growing season, she creates cut flower bouquets, which are sold at the White Flower Farm Store in Morris, CT, at area farmer’s markets, and to private clients. She also sells flowers by the bucket so clients including restaurants can create their own arrangements.

After 25 years of growing, here are some of Mary’s field tips for harvesting flowers:

  • Have plenty of clean buckets on hand, lightweight plastic is fine. Before cutting flowers, wash your buckets, vases and pruners with a mix of 1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 gallon of water, let sit for a few minutes, rinse out and then fill with clean water, about 1/3 full. Bacteria growth in the water will clog the flower stem and prevent the flower from staying hydrated so these hygiene steps are well worth the effort. Buckets that are clean enough to drink out of is the rule of thumb.
  • Bring your bucket to the garden, preferably left close by in the shade, so when you cut a handful of stems they can go right into the water. When cutting, be sure to use a floral knife or scissors with thin blades to avoid crushing the stems. (If stems are crushed, it will inhibit or block the uptake of water.) As you’re harvesting, strip off the lower foliage that would be below the water line and shake off any excess dirt, to keep your harvest bucket as clean as possible.
  • It’s best to cut your flowers when they are cool and well hydrated, either early in the morning or later in the day, not in the heat of the day. Avoid harvesting flowers that are wet from rain or after watering. Damp flowers and foliage in a bucket will invite mold and fungus. Rather than over-stuffing your bucket and possibly crushing blooms, bring an extra bucket to the garden.
  • Do a little research ahead of time to know at what stage to harvest certain flowers. For example, a Sunflower should be cut when the petals start opening away from the center disk. A Peony should be cut before it opens at all, when the bud feels like a marshmallow.
  • After harvesting, bring the buckets into a cool holding area and remove any leftover lower leaves. The stems can be recut at an angle underwater. This prevents air bubbles from forming within the flower stems thereby blocking the flowers’ water uptake. For some flowers, like Dahlias, which have hollow stems, you can hold each stem upside down under the faucet, fill it with running water, hold your thumb over it like a straw, then submerge it into the bucket. This will strengthen the stem and prevent collapsing.
  • Transfer the stems to the “resting bucket” of clean water with a flower preservative, most commercial ones contain sugar for food, bleach to control bacteria, and a water acidifier. Let the flowers rest for at least a few hours in a cool spot or overnight, so they can take up plenty of water before more handling and arranging.
  • When it comes to arranging, Mary will provide a separate blog post with tips. But for some general guidelines, choose a color palette you like, choose a variety of heights, flower forms, and textures. Add something aromatic, if you have it, from fresh picked herbs to fragrant flowers.
  • After arranging your bouquet, hold it in one hand, if possible, and give a clean cut to even out the stem ends. For a longer vase life, the bouquet stems should be recut every three days and the vase water changed every other day to ensure clear uptake. If a flower completely wilts or becomes moldy, remove it from the bouquet. Display your bouquet out of direct hot sunlight and away from the fruit basket. Ripening fruit emits ethylene gas, which causes cut flowers to deteriorate faster.

 

For more information on Mountain Meadow Flowers, visit www.mountainmeadowflowers.com