Typical landscaping practice separates trees, shrubs, perennials, and the like, from each other. Mulch is used to define each plant. There are extremely few places in nature where plant spacing occurs. Desert and dying forest is just about the only places I can imagine. The more water available, the denser plants grow. Think of the rainforest jungle. Next time you walk through a natural area, look around you. What do you see? How are the plants growing?
The plant-separation aesthetic is artificial and very high maintenance. Spring and fall the mulch needs to be weeded. Every year or two additional mulch is added to “keep up appearances”. Plants in nature do not “keep their distance”. It makes me wonder who conceived of this silliness. Plants WANT to cover the ground. Bare ground is not a natural “thing”. We “clear” a patch of land and invasive species move in. “Disturbed soil” attracts a whole hosts of undesirable opportunists.
Thomas Rainer and Claudia West in their book, “Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes” address a new vision… a vision of layered landscaping and plant communities. Since plants want to cover the ground, and a plant covered ground is evident in nature, it is up to us to take the cue and begin to design our landscapes with this ethic in mind.
Plants do grow in community with each other. They cluster with plants which share the same soil, moisture, and light needs. There are plant communities in dry sand, forest shade, wetlands, prairies, and the like. We would be startled to see a cattail on a sand dune, or a sunflower in a woods. The plants would be out of place. It is the sense of place that should drive our landscape designs and plant choices. After learning about this approach to landscaping I experimented Fox Sedge, Copper Shoulder Oval Sedge, Little Blue Stem, Pussy Toes, and Potentilla Simplex. The results have been remarkable and I am not finished. Where I used to plant 3-5 of certain plants, I am thinking more in flats. Plant in drifts so plants can crisscross in the garden bed. Place shorter plants to the outside edges and taller plants toward the middle. Plant flopping plants surrounded by sturdier stemmed pants.
Consider never mulching again and reducing your weeding time. In your designs, begin to think in edges and layers. We have many Michigan native plants that are underused that can make perfect companions. Consider planting under and in-between shade trees, small trees and shrubs.
Are there places you could add Pennsylvania Sedge or Foam Flower? Both can take shade to partial sun. Both will spread to fill in as ground cover should.
Native grasses are also excellent guests at the party. Prairie Dropseed is our most formal-looking grass and there are many others to choose from depending upon the backdrop you are trying to create.
Potentilla Simplex was addled to a heavily mulched bed of trees and shrubs in full sun. It has performed beautifully and that bed will never need to be mulched again.
Consider planting suckering or spreading shrubs en masse. Bush Honeysuckle is a perfect medium-height shrub with a suckering form. Plant spaced apart to allow for spread and much the first year. Soon no separate plants will be visible. Low-Grow Sumac is another shrub that will spread and grow together. In a few years they will mass and grow together…covering a lot of ground. When a beneficial plant takes up real estate, there is not much room left for weeds.
Reference:Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for ResilientLandscapes, Thomas Rainer and Claudia West, c 2015, Timber Press
By Michele Worden, Advanced Extension Master Gardener, MGANM President
We were nervous about how our first online presentation would work, so Robin Smillie and I entered the Zoom room 15 minutes early. Much to our surprise – so did many other people! Thus, for 15 minutes Master Gardeners had our usual social time before the speaker presentation. We chatted and caught up. How was handling the pandemic going at your house? Many of us marveled at seeing so many faces at the same time. It was a bit like coming out into the sun from a dark place. We could not remember the last time it had happened. We blinked. We were giddy.
At 6:01, Robin Smillie of Garden Goods began her presentation. She regaled us with an overview of the green industry and how many plants Garden Goods sells in a season. It was very interesting. So far, they had only received balled and burlapped fruit trees. They were Tibetan cherry trees (Prunus serulla) with decorative copper bark that provided an attractive winter interest and beautiful spring bloom. She showed us a picture of the tree in a landscape and we oohed and ahhed.
Robin proceeded with a beautiful Powerpoint presentation of plants Garden Goods was excited to be getting for 2020. All plants had already been trialed in northern gardens by Garden Goods. They test plant introductions for at least one season by planting at the owner’s home, or key places, to evaluate before they offer larger numbers to the public through their store. I texted her to claim a few that I wanted for my garden during the presentation. They will have very limited supply. Best to get ahead of the curve.
The list Robin talked about are below:
Shrubs and roses
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Firelight’
Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Summer Crush”
Petite ‘Knock-Out’ rose (a series)
Aralia cordata ‘Sun King”
Allium ‘Millineum’ (weird spelling)
Brunner macrophylla ‘Jack of Diamonds’
Astilbe ‘Chocolate Shogun’
Doing the Chelsea Chop
By Nancy Popa, Extension Master Gardener
Did you ever hear of the Chelsea Chop? It is not a dance or a recipe but rather a pruning technique to make your garden spectacular. The Chelsea Chop is named for the pruning technique that is carried out right before the Royal Horticultural Society Flower Show in Chelsea England. The technique limits the size of the plants and controls the flowering season of many herbaceous plants. It also prevents tall leggy plants from toppling over by making them bushier.
Many summer and autumn flowering plants are suitable for the Chelsea Chop. Sedum (upright), Solidago, Aster, Phlox, Achellia, Penstemon, Helenium, Leucanthemum and Echinacea are perfect candidates. It is not suitable for plants that only bloom once during the season such as Peonies, Iris and Aquilea. It is not used in woody plants nor plants that are young or undeveloped.
Plants can be cut back by one-third to one-half when they are nice and green (anytime beginning in late May/early June) using pruners or scissors. You can actually prune them several times throughout June, just make sure that your pruning is done by the summer equinox at the end of June, as the shortening days signal the plant to produce seeds and not flowers.
Prune back close to a bud, where the growth-hormones will aid in the production of new branching and buds. Remember, the terminal bud (the bud at the end of a branch or twig) produces a hormone called auxin that directs the growth of lateral buds (buds along the side of the branch or twig). As long as the terminal bud is intact, auxin suppresses the growth of lateral buds and shoots below the terminal. When you remove the terminal bud by pruning, lateral buds and shoots below the pruning cut grow vigorously.
Make sure you keep the plant watered and fertilized following the pruning as it can shock the plant.
You can cut back the entire plant if you want to delay the blooms to coincide with another flowering plant or you can cut back every other stem so that you extend the blooming time. A word of caution; make sure you deadhead the first flush before it sets seeds, otherwise you will be disappointed by the intensity of the second flush. In the end, the plant may be slightly shorter although sturdier and with numerous blooms, which may be smaller. Expect blooms to be delayed by about 2 weeks.
It sounds like a great science project, especially if you are trying to time the blooms to coincide with another species. Get out your journal and document your work!
By Michael O’Brien, Advanced Extension Master Gardener
A plant runner is usually a horizontal long thin stem that grows outward from the mother plant. The long stem creates widely spaced new shoots, which can then become new plants. If the runner grows underground it is called a rhizome. Although it is underground, like most plant roots, a rhizome is not a type of root, as roots do not grow shoots. Many different types of grasses grow rhizomes. If the runner grows leaves and has photosynthesizing abilities it is called a stolon. If the runner is not a stolon it must remain attached to the mother plant. The runners develop roots to become a new daughter plant and, when it is old enough, it will develop runners of its own. A plant that creates runners can quickly spread over a wide area and can choke out other plants.
So, what’s are the benefit to a plant that develops runners? These plants don’t have to create large amounts of energy to develop seeds, though it doesn’t mean they won’t create seeds too. A well-known example of a plant that develops runners is a strawberry plant, Fragaria × ananassa. A mother plant will develop runners and those runners will continue to grow. As that runner is growing, new daughter plants are developing. The daughter plants will be an exact replica of the mother plant. The mother plant will also produce fruit and the seeds will then grow on the fruit. Another example is the Spider plant, Chlorophytum comosum. The Spider plant creates daughter plants and flowers. These flowers, when pollinated, will develop a seed pod though no edible fruit.
A good example of a plant that grows stolons is the Boston fern, Nephrolepis exaltata. The Boston fern will develop a stolon and several new daughter plants. Again the daughter plants are identical to the mother plant. However, if the stolon breaks off the mother plant the stolon can continue to grow which will continue to produce more daughter plants. Ferns, in general, grow stolons.
If the rhizome is broken from the mother plant, it can continue to grow. This type of plant can become a real problem when tending a garden. Each broken piece of the rhizome can continue to grow until the garden is filled with this plant, can be referred to as a weed.
This picture shows a Longhorn Sumac, Rhus typhina, growing many daughter plants. It’s easy to see how this can quickly become a problem in a garden.
Image from sciencelearn.org
Create New Plants from runners, stolons, and rhizomes
Michael O’Brien, Advanced Extension Master Gardener
In the previous article about runners, stolons and rhizomes, if these plant parts are left to their own they will quickly take over a large area. In the same respect these three characteristics create anopportunity to make new plants that can grow in places where they are desirable.
With runners, a few daughter plants are growing on a long stem of the mother plant. As these daughter plants are starting out, their roots are not developed enough to grow independently of the mother. If runners are in the garden, place soil on the runners and around any daughter plants and lightly water regularly to encourage growth. When the daughter plant begins to grow vigorously, it will develop an independent root system from the mother plant. When the daughter plant grows a strong, healthy root system, the runner will die. At this time the daughter plant can be gently dug up and replanted in a desirable spot in the garden.
Otherwise, take a small planter and fill it with potting soil. Dig a hole in the ground near the daughter plant. Insert the planter in the newly dug hole and lay the daughter plant on top of the potting soil in the planter. Place soil on the runner and around the daughter plant to anchorit in place. Water gently and frequently. When the runner dies off, the planter can be dug up with the daughter plant. It is now growing independently of the mother plant and is well established.
Also in the previous article, I talked about the Spider plant, Chlorophytum comosum. The Spider plant is a fun plant to experiment with different types of rooting techniques. When selecting a daughter plant, choose one that has some root nubs on the bottom of the plant. Cut the daughter with a section of the runner. The remaining nutrients in the runner will help to feed the daughter plant while it’s alive so make the cutting long enough to help the new plant. Using a small planter filled with potting soil, place the daughter plant on top soil and lightly push it into the dry soft soil. Make sure the root nubs make good contact with the soil. Lightly water the soil: never drench the soil with water. Keep in lightly lit area.
There is another technique that can be used with water. Select the daughter plant with root nubs. This time the runner is cut as close to the daughter plant as possible without hurting the plant. Using a small cup fill about 1/3 of the cup with water. Place the daughter plant in the cup, the water should be just touching the root nubs. Check daily because the water will evaporate quickly, especially when the roots begin to develop. Using a nutrient solution instead of water can quicken root development. The nutrient being mixed with water should have a ratio of 10-0-0. That is the N,P,K ratio that shows on the nutrient label. An educational experiment for kids to see root development. A cotton ball can also be put in the bottom of the cup with the daughter plant sitting on top of it. The cotton ball wicks the water right to the root zone while creating enough air too.
Stolons are a little different in regards to creating new plants. Stolons can break off the mother plant and remain alive. Usually daughter plants have no roots but stolons do. As mentioned previously with runners, stolons can be buried with soil surrounding the daughter plant. Water gently and frequently. When the daughter plant is growing vigorously it is now safe to transplant. Keep in mind the stolon is still alive. It is important to cut the daughter plant off the stolon before moving this plant.
The Boston fern, Nephrolepis exaltata, was also mentioned in the previous article. The Boston fern has long stolons hanging down the plant. The daughter plant doesn’t have any roots at this time. Gently cut a piece of the stolon along with a daughter plant. Lay the bottom of the daughter plant on top of some lightly moistened, never wet, potting soil. Moistened soil has a nice balance of water and air which entices the plant to grow roots. Place some moss, it can be sphagnum moss, around the plant to hold it in place. Give the new plant a very small amounts of water weekly and keep it in cool lightly lit area. When the new plant begins growing new shoots, roots will be growing too. In roughly a month’s time this plant can be transplanted to its new location.
Working with rhizomes is a little bit different. While looking at the garden it is easy to see a string of young daughters growing out of the ground. Using the picture from the previous article, the plant growing in the picture is a Longhorn Sumac, Rhus typhina with daughter plants. Begin by gentle loosening the soil to avoid damaging too many roots. Once the rhizome is exposed and loosened from the soil, cut the rhizome before and after the daughter plant. Make sure the daughter plant has roots. Replant the daughter plant in its new location in the garden or in a planter with potting soil. If the daughter plant is put in a planter, be sure to water it well enough to get the air out of the soil. If there is too much air in the soil the roots will dry out and the plant will die. The planter should have drain holes to allow excess water to drain out. If the daughter plant is planted in the garden, then water well after it has been planted. The new plant should be lightly shaded to avoid stress.
Tomato plants growing in garbage cans June 2013, Summit NJ by Tom W Sulcer
Planting in Pots
By Val Stone, MG and Coordinator for Northwest Food Coalition
If you are a Master Gardener or possess a green thumb and had to downsize to an apartment or condo without gardens, you know the frustration of giving up your beloved full length beds of flowers and veggies that grew bigger every year. But never fear, you can be a successful gardener by growing in pots or containers right outside your door on a patio, deck or balcony.
For variety, mix the sizes and shapes of your pots. We started with 3 large pots (about 48”) and then added 4 or 5 smaller ones to make 3 pot groupings. With the larger pots, fill the bottom with crushed gallon milk jugs so you aren’t filling them with soil and making it harder to move them. I recommend a mixture of peat, compost and topsoil. Your soil mixture is the key to steady growth through the growing season with occasional fertilizer feedings.
With the larger pots, I used a broccoli plant in the middle for height and planted 3 colors of sweet potato vine, verbena and miniature petunias around it. Vary the vegetables you put in the pots and include plenty of trailing vines and flowers for color. Look for plants that require the same light and watering and all will be happy. We have planted ours with peppers, tomatoes, chard, chives, and even Brussel sprouts as the center plant and enjoyed the flowers while the veggies developed during the season. We tried yellow pear tomatoes with flowers and could pick a snack every time we were on the deck. Once the veggies were harvested, we still had the beautiful flowers to enjoy until frost. The smaller pots could hold herbs and flowers to place near your larger containers. Our decks were filled with color for the season and looked like an ad from a magazine when we grouped the pots together. Add an outdoor fountain to your area and enjoy the quiet of your flower veggie garden room.
Seen under a microscope the beginning stages of root development.
Photo by Michael O’Brien
How to grow a Canna Lily from seed
By Michael O’Brien, EMG
Interestingly enough, a Canna Lily actually has nothing to do withl. Its scientific name is Canna indica. The closest living relations to cannas are the other plant families of the order Zingiberales, that is the Zingiberaceae (gingers), Musaceae (bananas) and a few others.
Canna indica is native to South America. Their homes are in Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina as well as in the West Indies and Central America. Canna lilies can be added to a garden for a dramatic appeal during our warmer months.
Canna lilies command your attention. They are an amazing plant as they stand upright about three feet tall with majestic blooms. As the summer days begin to fade the canna lily flowers will die off, at that time they will and begin to create a rather large seed pod. There can be as many as eight seeds inside these pods. Towards the end of September, when these pods stop growing they will turn brown and begin to split open, allowing the seeds to fall to the ground. The call to action begins when the seed pod is brown and just about to split open. It’s time to cut off the pods.
After collecting all of the pods, carefully open each one. The pod will have what looks like black beans inside them, that’s what’s going to be saved until early spring. Save the seeds in a cool dry area. Never let them sit in freezing temperatures. These seeds have a very hard outer shell. In nature where canna lilies grow in their native habitat these seeds can sit in the ground for up to ten years before germinating.
In early spring these seeds must be scarified to be germinated. Scarification is the process which nature uses to weaken the hard outer covering of the seed. At home use a pair of pliers or vise grips to hold the seed securely. Using sand paper or a dremel tool with a sanding bit, begin to sand the seed until the white membrane begins to show. It’s best to expose an area that is a half an inch to an inch long. The exposed area only has to be about a quarter inch wide, this will allow enough moisture to reach the embryo.
Once all of the seeds are done, put them in a glass of water for about three days. During that time a white nub will begin to grow out of the seed. Take these seeds out and plant them in potting soil. In about a weeks’ time there will be a green shoot growing.
Seeds are germinating in a tray with vermiculite/perlite mixture. Photo by Michael O’Brien
These new plants can be planted outside when there is no longer a danger of frost. These young plants will require a full summers worth of growth. The following year when they are planted outside they will flower. An important note, in the fall upon the first frost canna lilies must be taken out of the ground and stored inside in a cool dry area.
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