Saturday, April 29, 2017

An April Awakening!

Pops of color in April, following the frequent gray-sky days of winter, are a welcome sight for Wisconsin residents.  While walking through my hometown in April, colorful spring blooms are prominent—trees, shrubs, some perennials, and a plethora of spring flowering bulbs!

Magnolia trees with pink-to-purple blooms are always a show stopper.  Even Norway maples (Acer platanoides) provide lime green pompon-style blooms for us to enjoy in April; large, leathery leaves will follow soon.   Shrubs like Forsythia, with vivid yellow blooms, are another welcome sign of spring.  Other flowering shrubs, like lilacs, generally do not flower in April; although lilac flower buds are forming, they will open and release their fragrance in May.

My personal favorite April-blooming perennial is Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla) with its lime green textured foliage and periwinkle blue blossoms.  This plant is usually considered a shade lover, but I have had success with it in part sun (and full sun, providing the root zone is mulched with wood shavings.) 

Of course, the obvious April Awakening is an explosion of spring flowering bulbs!  Creamy white and vivid yellow daffodils bloomed throughout the month and are still performing well as we proceed into May. (Reminder: daffodils contain a natural toxin, so rabbits won’t destroy.)  Some tulips have begun blooming in April, and others will open in May.  The genus Tulipa has many varieties and colors—choose a few favorites and plant in autumn. 
(If cottontail rabbits frequent your yard, tulips are at risk.  May I suggest surrounding bulbs with wire mesh hardware cloth as soon as leaves emerge until blossoms open; then remove wire mesh and enjoy the sight!)

M. Lynn Schmid,  Certified Master Gardener
A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Tenacity... a Great Trait!

While walking on a woodland trail (or possibly a desert trail), have you ever encountered a solitary plant or flower that commands your attention?  The plant appears to be thriving— possibly blooming— despite its harsh surroundings.  So many plants require pampering (loose soil, rich in organic matter and nutrients, frequent watering) while other plants seem to thrive with little care in parched, gravely, compacted alkaline soil.  Plants that tolerate infrequent rain and harsh conditions could easily die if they were planted in rich organic soil and pampered!  Instead, they thrive on meager provisions… little moisture, few nutrients, intense heat and compacted soil.  
These plants have tenacity

Desert Chicory  (Rafinesquia neomexicana) 

While in the sunflower family (Asteraceae) desert chicory doesn’t remind me of a sunflower at all.  With layers of delicate white petals, fringed at each square tip, this delightful desert annual can grow to 20” tall. 

(The specimen I encountered was only a few inches tall, but its bloom was fresh and white against the rocky terrain.)

Mexican Goldpoppy  (Eschscholtzia mexicana) 

From the poppy family (Papaveraceae) a delicate 3” tall annual, this golden poppy carpets the desert floor for a few days in early spring.  Hot sun may dry its blooms quickly, but soon seed pods form; seeds spread easily when rains arrive.  

NOTE:  the California poppy shares the same genus and is named Eschscholtzia californica.  Both plants have similar grey-green foliage, but the California poppy stands 6”-8” tall, with petals of apricot/orange—not yellow/gold.  I have often grown California poppies in my home garden in Southeastern Wisconsin; they thrive in gravely soil, full sun.

Often a plant will adapt to its harsh environment by developing “protective apparel” for survival.  Some plants develop a thick, waxy layer on their leaves which seals against moisture loss and can be difficult for insects to penetrate.  Even cacti have spines rather than leaves to reduce the amount of plant surface exposed to the sun’s intense rays; those spines actually are a form of modified leaf tissue.

Each tenacious plant I encounter on life’s journey makes me pause.  If plants can endure an extremely harsh environment and still be tenacious enough to bloom, then maybe we humans can take a lesson from them.  Throughout our lives we might be touched by someone fighting cancer, arthritis, diabetes, depression or a host of other diseases.   Doctors’ care, hospitals and medications can only resolve some of the issues associated with these diseases; the patient also must develop tenacity to accomplish a state of wellness.   
Tenacity might be learned from our plant friends in the natural world— they don’t give up easily, despite a harsh environment!

M. Lynn Schmid,   Certified Master Gardener
A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Yucca… funky name, fabulous flower!

Yucca is a distinctive drought-tolerant plant with a dramatic whitish bloom that towers above its sword-like foliage.  Yucca filamentosa  (common names:  yucca or Adam’s Needle) can be included in your garden in Southeastern Wisconsin; choose a special place for it… a space where nothing else grows… a place that gets intense heat in full sun… a space with gravelly, sandy soil.   Your yucca will thrive there and should bloom in July/August. 

Yucca belongs to the family Asparagaceae and is native to the southeastern USA.  Yet it is often found in the southwestern USA as well, since some species have adapted to coastal sandy areas, grasslands and prairies.  In the southwest, you may encounter blooms from late January through March, depending on conditions in each locale. 

When traveling in the southwest, I encountered a yucca bloom emerging in a coastal, sandy wildlife area— just one plant in the vicinity, just one bloom.  In the southwest yucca also is utilized as a landscape planting, and provides a dramatic panicle bloom on a stem which can exceed height of seven feet!

Yucca plants require little pruning; simply cut back the tall stem after bloom has faded; once again, the “prune after bloom” recommendation applies.   Plants need little water once established.   These plants often store water within their root systems, which can be several feet below soil level.   

* TIP:  be sure to choose wisely when selecting a site to plant yucca. Some gardeners try to move/remove yucca but the root system is tenacious!

M. Lynn Schmid,   Certified Master Gardener
 A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Pick a Plant Pick!

Around Christmastime the usual star performers appear on the scene… pretty poinsettias displaying red, ivory, pink or speckled bracts, with an occasional holly plant making an appearance.   Often a dramatic red amaryllis plant takes center stage.  But don’t exclude members of the supporting cast— your houseplants

Check the condition of each plant you are considering as a member of the supporting cast.  Only your best specimens should be exhibited with your holiday d├ęcor; they need just a little “holiday help” in order to perform well.   You might add a large bow for a pop of color.  My favorite inexpensive makeover is to pick a plant pick!  (You might already have a few plant picks tucked away with Christmas ornaments; they are easily reused from year to year.)  

If you choose to purchase new plant picks, they are readily available at floral gift shops and online.   Often plant picks are sold for under $10 each.

A wide variety of plant picks awaits you—each ready to sparkle and command attention when tucked into a potted plant.   Some picks feature glitter ribbon and other sparkly elements.  Some feature pine cones with red or green ribbons.  I even have a brown metal-art butterfly that makes a quick cameo appearance during the holiday season, by simply tucking it into an ordinary houseplant.

Plant picks vary in size from one to three feet tall.  Choose a pick that is proportionate to each potted plant; then find a special place in your home to exhibit those plants… separately or together, they will perform nicely for you!

Remember to water your plants occasionally during December… it’s easy to forget about them with all your extra activities this month.   Enjoy the Christmas season!

M. Lynn Schmid,   Certified Master Gardener
A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

October's Peak Performers

The autumn season in Southeastern Wisconsin is usually pleasant and pretty… but the interesting color hues are usually attributed to a variety of hardwoods that thrive here.

Sugar maples, as well as a variety of maple cultivars, contribute to the fall landscape along with deep red sumac, oaks and an assortment of trees.
With all those trees donning their fall wardrobe, it might be easy to overlook other plantings in our autumn landscape.  Shrubs, perennials and annuals contribute color and texture at eye level and ground level; these plantings are also peak performers during October.  A few of my personal favorites:

In the shrub category, I’m impressed with blooms on Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bobo’ which is pictured here.  The genus Hydrangea has a variety of offerings for your enjoyment during autumn:  ‘Pinky Winky,’ ‘White Diamonds,’ ‘Little Limelight.’   Each cultivar produces white or light blooms during summer, but the dramatic colors arrive in autumn (shades of pink, burgundy, green, tan).   Dried blooms can be incorporated into floral arrangements as well—with or without a wisp of spray paint on the blooms!

In the perennial category, an obvious autumn charmer is Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ stonecrop. This plant is monochromatic during summer—usually a light green— but the stems are sturdy and support developing flower heads.  When fall arrives, the deep pinkish blooms appear and mature to a copper color.   Although I grow a few types of tall sedum, ‘Autumn Joy’ is my favorite during October.

In the annuals category, I can’t resist these dainty ornamental peppers called Capsicum annuum ‘Twilight.’  After purchasing seeds in New Mexico and planting those seeds in early MAY, I was impressed with their performance all summer long.  They formed tiny upright peppers in early JULY, which were purple and pretty!  Later, purple faded and red-orange colorants emerged; ‘Twilight’ provides a spark of color in the autumn landscape.  (After these peppers die from frost, I will toss them under our shrubs to deter critters from munching on stems during winter.  ‘Twilight’ is rated higher than 30,000 units on the Scoville heat scale.)

M. Lynn Schmid,  Certified Master Gardener
A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture