Many years ago I received a flat of Iris rhizomes from a friend when she was dividing clumps that had outgrown the area in which they were planted. I planted them in the flower border that runs across the back of our yard. For many years they have bloomed, each year putting on a larger show. The past two or three years I have thought that it may be time to divide and replant them. Unfortunately that thought happens when the iris is in full bloom. When the appropriate time comes to divide and replant I have usually moved on to the many chores of summer not the least of which are the high demands of the vegetable garden. But not this year. Iris can be divided any time from late July through September so I ask: is September too late to keep a resolution? I don’t think so. This year I divide (and conquer) the iris.

A crowded planting

There are more than 200 species of iris but the most common in our area are the bearded and Siberian iris. Iris are easy to grow hardy perennials but if they become crowded then they are more disease and insect-prone and flower production is reduced.

I already know that the flower bed in our yard is a good spot for the iris as it is receives full sun and is well-drained. Selecting new areas to put the divided rhizomes into is not a problem. It is always best to have the new site ready to go so that the rhizomes aren’t drying out in the sun while a new plot is dug. The new hole should be about 5” deep with a small mound in the middle of the hole (you will see why in a bit).

The new hole, 5

The new hole, 5″ deep with a center mound

Also, have ready a few marked trays or buckets to put the rhizomes into if you would like to keep track of the different varieties/colors. I have plenty of pictures of the Iris in bloom so that I have a good idea of where the colors currently are in the bed even though all that I can see right now are the leaves.

Tools for the job

Tools for the job

So, what are tools needed for this job? A spade or a digging fork, a pair of shears, a sharp knife, and a bucket of 1:10 bleach/water solution. The first step in the actual dividing process is to cut the leaves back to a third of their height using a pair of garden shears, trimming them into a fan shape. Be sure to dip the shears into the bleach solution often to avoid spreading diseases.  

Cutting the leaves

Cutting the leaves

1/3 of the original height

1/3 of the original height

Next, lift out the entire clump that is going to be divided by getting underneath it with the spade or digging fork. You may need to work around it in a few areas to get under it.

Removing the clump

Removing the clump

Place the entire clump on the ground and take a look at it to decide where it should be divided. It is easy to see which rhizomes have new growth  and which are no longer supporting  any foliage. Using the sharp knife cut away each section of rhizome that will be replanted, dipping the knife into the bleach solution often to disinfect it. Each new rhizome section should have plenty of roots and a fan of leaves.

Cutting the new rhizome

Cutting the new rhizome

At this time it is important to check for iris borers and  the bacterial soft rot that often accompanies them. Each rhizome should feel firm when pressure is applied. If the rhizome gives way easily then that is a sign that there may be a borer. The adult iris borer is a brown and grey moth. It lays its eggs on the iris leaves and plant debris at the base of the iris in the fall where they will overwinter and hatch into tiny caterpillars in April and May. The new caterpillars will crawl up the foliage, chew pinprick sized holes and begin to tunnel their way back down toward the rhizome. Signs of their feeding are streaks that appear tan or water-soaked. By mid-summer the borers can be up to 2” in length and have reached the rhizome. Their feeding allows the entry of the bacterial soft rot that turns the rhizome into a smelly, mushy, mess. Late summer will see the borers moving into the soil to pupate, emerging as adult moths in the early fall. There are some varieties of the Siberian iris that are more tolerant to a borer attack.  

Possible borer activity

Possible borer activity

Scouting and sanitation practices can be the most useful controls.  Look for the tell-tale signs of chewing damage and water-soaked streaks in the spring when it is easy to crush the insect while it is still in the leaf or remove the leaf entirely. If the plant has above ground symptoms in July then dig up and examine the rhizome for signs of borer activity, discarding any that are infested. In the fall remove all plant debris where the eggs might overwinter. If you have an infestation that you feel is severe enough to warrant an insecticide then acephate (highly toxic to bees when freshly sprayed and as a residue) and spinosad (non-toxic to bees when it is dry) are generally recommended. Here is a link to the Virginia Cooperative Extension fact sheet which also includes some images: Iris Borer

And now back to the rhizomes. It’s time to place them into the prepared holes, putting one rhizome section on top of the mound in each hole. Spread the roots out and down and fill the hole with soil. Be sure that you don’t bury the rhizome; it should still be visible from the surface.

Iris rhizome in its new hole

Iris rhizome in its new hole

The fans of leaves are usually planted so that they all face in the same direction. Water each plant thoroughly and in years such as this one, more than once. Newly transplanted iris may need a winter cover of straw to keep the newly planted rhizome from coming out of its new location due to  the thawing/freezing cycles that can happen. Just be sure to remove the straw in the spring. These new plants may not bloom much the first year but after that they should be back to their normal, showy selves.

IMG_20150523_163227348 IMG_20150523_163249768_HDR IMG_20150523_163331430

Susan Pelton

Comfrey flower, photo by C. Quish

Comfrey flower, photo by C. Quish

Not all pretty flowering plants in small, four-inch pots siting on the nursery bench are as innocent as they appear. Beware the sneaky aggressor! About five years ago the delicate and rare clear blue color of the comfrey blossom, shyly wooed me into taking it home. What could one more plant hurt in the side garden abutting the wild side of the neighbor’s yard hurt? Well, it hurt plenty. I have been cursing the day I planted it.

Comfrey gone wild. photo by C.Quish

Comfrey gone wild. photo by C.Quish

Comfrey spreads incredibly fast. It is a hardy perennial with a deep and extensive root system. And its seed drop and are spread to create new plants elsewhere. The neighbor loves it and encourages its spread which doesn’t help my eradication efforts on my side of the property line. I suppose it makes a better fence than wood and nails, and he enjoys the view.  The bees enjoy the flowers, too. Dozens of honey bees can be found busily entering flower after flower, not caring how close I get to almost petting them.

Bee feasting inside comfrey flower. photo, C.Quish

Bee feasting inside comfrey flower. photo, C.Quish

Comfrey is botanically known as Symphytum sp. and is a member of the borage family. The Latin name means ‘grow together’.  It was first brought to America with the English as a healing herb. I contains a high level of the chemical allantoin which aids in cell formation, healing. It also is reported to contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids, known to cause liver damage when taken internally in large amounts. The leaves can be crushed or bruised to be placed on external skin areas to heal wounds and broken bones. I only use the plant as an ornamental and to spread into the neighbors neglected ‘wild’ area.

Comfrey has a tap-root, growing about 18 inches deep in the soil. It does a great job of breaking up compacted ground, accessing the minerals and nutrients out of reach of shallower plant roots. For this reason, comfrey leaves are a great addition to the compost pile, as those deep-seated nutrients of the ground are now taken up by the roots to be stored in the comfrey leaves. Once the microbes in the compost pile break down the comfrey leaves into its basic chemical elements, the nutrients are released into the compost and made available for use by other plants. Just don’t put any of those spreading roots into the compost pile. Keep any seeds out of the compost also.

So heed those enticing words on the plant labels when the just mention the words, ‘fast grower’ or ‘spreading’. Sometimes they really mean it!

-Carol Quish

 

bluets

Bluets- Houstonia caerulea

Well, it appears as though spring is warming up at last and some common early bloomers in the wild landscape are finally starting to show themselves. And I say, better late than never…

I always look for Marsh Marigolds ( Calthus palustris ) to appear in April before most other flowering plants have even broken through with new growth. They are a nice cushiony dark green with golden yellow flowers, and they are often the only green to be found in an otherwise bleak and brown landsc??????????ape. Look for them in open marshy areas, or in stream beds from April- June in Connecticut. They are in the Buttercup  family, ( Ranunculaceae ), and have similar flowers to the field buttercups.

Second on my list of favorite spring wildflowers are the Trout Lilies, or Dogtooth Violets, named for their mottled leaves that mimic brown trout markings, and the edible corms that resemble a dog’s tooth. Found in rich woods, these native low- growing plants have nodding yellow flowers, and sometimes grow in large colonies that may be over one hundred years old. Petals and sepals are bent backwards revealing the six brown stamens. Only mature plants having two leaves will produce a flower.

trout lilyjpg

Another April bloomer is dwarf ginseng, Panax trifolius, which is only 3- 8 inches tall, and can often be found with wood anemones. Look for these in rich, moist woods especially at the base of trees on the edge of woods or along woodland trails and in clearings that are damp. They flower April- June and have a small umbel of tiny white flowers and three sessile leaflets, and its tubers can be eaten raw or boiled, according to the USDA Forest Service.

Bloodroot,Sanguinaria canadensis, is one of the earliest wildflowers to bloom in New England, form March- May. Although small in stature, they are definitely a plant that gets noticed. Flowers are a magnificent white and have a stately form  that can provide a wonderful herald to the arrival of spring. This is a member of the Poppy family of plants. Its two large, distinctive leaves are large and completely enwraps the flower bud at first. Flowers open in the sun and close at night. The Latin name, Sanguinaria, means “ bleeding’, and refers to the red juice that was extracted from the roots by Native Americans and used as a dye for clothing and baskets and also as an insect repellent.

bloodroot 4-15-13

My last inclusion in the spring wildflower list of favorites is purple trillium,Trillium erectum, a member of the Lily family that blooms from  April- June. This is also a native that is found in rich, damp, shady woods, and its name is derived from the plant parts, which are arranged in threes.purple trillium2010 Flowers are commonly a deep red- purple, but sometimes are green, white, or pink. They smell like rotting meat and are pollinated by flies. The fruit is a reddish berry having a threefold symmetry and containing seeds in a reddish , juicy pulp, and continues development into the fall. Seeds are attractive to ants, so if you want to try to start trillium from seed, you have to compete with them for the seeds. Seeds require two winter periods before they will germinate, so patience is required before the reward of new plants.

There are other wildflowers of spring- bird’s foot violet, wood anemones, starflower, wild sarsaparilla, and, of course, violets, but those are for another time.

Pamm Cooper                           All photos copyright  2014 Cooper

While there are many spectacular perennials that come back year after year, I really love annuals for that splash of long-lasting color they impart to the landscape. Fiery salvias, soft celosias, autumnal hued sunflowers and brilliant white cosmos are just a sampling of the huge selections of annuals to choose from. When planning your gardens, do take into account an annual’s floriferous nature and its ability to provide you with color over a large part of our growing season. Use annuals alone in flower beds, in containers, in combination with perennials and herbs, to set off shrub borders or to brighten up planting areas under trees.

Gomphrena 'Fireworks' with zinnias & chrysogonum

Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ with zinnias & chrysogonum

One of my favorite jobs was that as a horticulturist at Old Sturbridge Village. We would spend the winter months pouring over seed catalogs designing annual displays for the dozens of exhibition beds. Seeds would be ordered and we would start 10 to 12 thousand in the greenhouses before hardening them off and setting the transplants in their designated beds as the weather warms. I still have not gotten out of that ritual although I only start 2 to 3 hundred seeds under my plant lights these days.

Love Lies Bleeding - a favorite flower at OSV

Love Lies Bleeding – a favorite flower at OSV

A few suggestions for those pondering what to plant. First, do plan your color scheme before purchasing your plants. Take into consideration what will be blooming nearby, the color of adjacent buildings and the annual’s mature size and texture. Sometimes primary colors are just what is needed to liven up drab spots. Other times, soft pastels are called for. Large plantings of a single color look more formal while a mixed color border can be designed to give the feel of an English cottage garden. Keep in mind, however, that too many different shapes, sizes and colors can lose their charm as the eye doesn’t know where to focus and the planting becomes more distractive than attractive.

Also, consider the distance from which the garden will be primarily viewed. Strong, vibrant reds, yellows, pinks and oranges can be seen from a long way off. Quieter purples, blues and pastel pinks tend to recede and need to be viewed up close for greatest appreciation.

Remember that an annual’s sole purpose in life is to produce seeds to perpetuate itself. Once it feels that it has made enough, your annual plants will begin to slack off on the flowering. That is why it is important to remove spent blossoms on a regular basis. If seeds are not set, the plants will keep on producing flowers. The removal of spent blossoms is commonly referred to as dead heading. Some vegetatively propagated annuals as well as tender perennials do not readily set seed. Others, like fibrous begonias, are relatively self-cleaning. These types do not need dead-heading.

When selecting annuals, match the plant’s growth requirements to the site. For hot, dry areas try dusty miller, statice, amaranthus, tithonia, Madagascar periwinkle, gazania, portulaca, salvia, creeping zinnia, globe amaranth and Dahlberg daisy. For an old-fashioned touch, use poppies, love-lies-bleeding, salpiglossus, celosia, four o’clocks, gomphrena, love-in-a-mist or bachelor buttons.

Annuals that do well in shady sites include coleus, begonias, impatiens, torenia, nicotiana, pansies, mimulus, browallia and polka dot plants. There have been problems with impatiens downy mildew so a lot of garden centers were cutting back on the amount of impatiens they are selling. I lost all my impatiens in 2012 to downy mildew so did not plant any last year but several 2013 plantings not too far from me seemed fine to me so I was going to try some again this summer.

Impatiens wall at Prescott Park

Impatiens wall at Prescott Park

Some possible color combinations that I find particularly alluring are pink zinnias, bells of Ireland and white sweet alyssum, blue ageratums combined with cream-colored (white) marigolds and peach celosia, and orange tithonia accompanied by blue salvia and pert yellow marigolds. Silvery dusty miller goes nicely with the cooler pastels as well as warmer reds and yellows. I’ve used it as a lovely border for orange zinnias as well as in combination with pink snapdragons and pink ageratums.

Front walkway with celosia one year & marigolds the next

Marigolds - Durango Orange Front walkway with celosia one year & marigolds the next

There are many reasons that I find annuals alluring but I think the most compelling one is that I can give my garden beds a new look each year.

Good Gardening To You!

Dawn

 

Enough of this snow and cold weather already! I am sure that many of us are tired of shoveling, snowblowing, slipping and sliding, rearranging schedules and high heating bills and really need a breathe of spring right now. Thank goodness for the Flower Shows and the one I spent all day at yesterday was the 33rd Annual Connecticut Flower & Garden Show at the Convention Center in Hartford.

In part that was because the UConn Home & Garden Education Center has an information booth there staffed by UConn horticulturists and UConn Master Gardener Coordinators and Volunteers available all 4 days to answer your gardening questions. UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab staff are also at the show offering free soil pH testing and limestone recommendations. We only got two soils yesterday which considering the amount of snow covering most of our yards at the moment is not surprising. The important thing about tabling at the show is really to let the folks of Connecticut know what the UConn Departments of Plant Science/Landscape Architecture and Extension can offer them in terms of advice and services for problems in the home and landscape.

UConn Home & Garden Education Center Booth

UConn Home & Garden Education Center Booth

Two other UConn Home & Garden Education Center staff, Carol Quish and Pamela Cooper, along with myself have or will be speaking at the Flower Show. I noticed at least a couple of UConn Master Gardeners will also be giving presentations as well as many other skilled and knowledgeable horticultural professionals. If you are attending the show, check out the free seminars.

My favorite part of the show is the FLOWERS, of course! So many to view! Arrangements in the Federated Garden Clubs of CT competitions, the floral arranging demonstrations by CT Florists, the lovely blooming plants in the landscapes, and all the plants and garden themed items to buy.

Floral Arrangements and Lovely Landscapes

Maybe Pondering Creations Floral Arrangements and Lovely Landscapes

The creativity of the flower arrangers, landscapers and the various merchants is really amazing. I also love finding new garden products and unique craft items. So here’s a few photos of what caught my eye – no endorsement is meant. This is just a small taste of what you’ll find at the show. Do come see for yourself and stop by the UConn booth to say hi!

Garden On a BBQ Grill!

Garden On a BBQ Grill!

 

Hanging Terrariums by Naturesworks

Hanging Terrariums by Naturesworks

 

Tower Garden by Juice Plus+

Tower Garden by Juice Plus+

Mushrooms by  ripple Pottery

Mushrooms by
Ripple Pottery

Dawn P.