Fall Planting of Peonies

Spring Flowering Peonies Starts With Fall Planting

Spring Flowering Peonies Starts With Fall Planting

Fall is the perfect time to plant peonies either from bare-root plants or from pre-potted plants at garden centers. Fall planted peonies will adapt to their new garden spot over the winter and usually will bloom in the spring.

There are three types of peonies: herbaceous, tree, and intersectional (hybrids of herbaceous and tree types). Only herbaceous peonies will be discussed here. Plants are extremely long-lived, often surviving 50 to 70 years. Peonies are easy to grow if you follow three simple rules: 1. good site selection; 2. good soil preparation; and 3. proper planting depth.

Herbaceous peonies prefer cool summer climates from USDA hardiness zones 3 to 8. They require a sunny well-drained garden spot with a slightly acidic soil pH (between 6.0 to 7.0). If you live in a hot humid region, such as in the Southeastern U.S., shelter plants from direct afternoon sunlight. Plant right up until the ground freezes in the fall. Take advantage of the warm ground by planting early. Spring-planted peonies have a tougher time recovering compare to those planted in the fall.

Purchase large 3-5 eye divisions. Often, garden centers sell unsold spring potted stock at big discounts. Dig a wide hole, carefully remove the plant from the pot, and set in the hole at the same depth as in the pot. Poor soil drainage is the one enemy of peonies. The crown and roots will rot and the plant slowly dies. Amend the planting hole with organic compost and/or well-rotted manure to improve drainage and nutrition.

The eyes (buds) should be set no more than 1-2 inches below the soil surface. Planting too deeply will frequently prevent the plant from flowering. Shallow planting puts the buds at risk of mechanical or winter damage.

Peonies require little additional maintenance. In late winter feed 10-10-10 or equivalent granular fertilizer or a slow release organic-based fertilizer. Mulching around plants conserves soil moisture and reduces weeding. Irrigate newly planted peonies over the dry growing months. They become very drought tolerant after two years.

In the fall cutback all herbaceous peony stems to the ground. Old peony foliage may harbor fungal and bacterial diseases. Dispose of all plant material and do not compost.

‘Purple Dome’ Aster Reliable In The Late Summer Garden

'Purple Dome' Aster

‘Purple Dome’ Aster



New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) is indigenous to a wide geographic area that encompasses moist prairies, meadows, valleys and stream banks in most Eastern and midwest states as far south to New Mexico. ‘Purple Dome’ is a very popular dwarf cultivar introduced by Dr. Richard Lighty, former director of Mt. Cuba Center in Greenville, Delaware. It grow 2  to 3 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide.

Purple Dome bears dark purple flowers that blanket its low growing shrubby form from mid-August thru early October. That’s 4-6 weeks of sustainable purple color. Blooms measure 1 ½ inches across with prominent bright yellow centers. The flowers are covered with nectar hungry bees and butterflies. Unlike most New England aster cultivars, Purple Dome requires no pinching or staking.

The lance-shaped dark green leaves are rough, hairy on the surface, and up to 4 inch in length. Bloom clusters make excellent bouquets. New England asters are very durable, long-lived, and tolerant of wet soils. Plants should best divided every 2-3 years in early spring.

New England asters grow in average well-drained soil in full sun although prefer moist, compost-rich planting sites. They have no serious insect or disease problems. Good air circulation around plants reduces potential foliar diseases, particularly mildews. Aster wilt may be an occasional problem, particularly if plants are grown in poorly-drained clay soils. Plants showing aster wilt symptoms should be quickly removed from the garden. Plants are rabbit resistant.

Purple Dome asters come highly recommended for inclusion in native plant areas, prairie restorations, and in rain gardens. Gardeners should add Purple Dome asters to low flower borders.

Bloodroot Is Wonderful Woodland Beauty

Bloodroot Emerging Through Leaf Litter In Spring

Bloodroot Emerging Through Leaf Litter In Spring

Bloodroot in Early Spring

Bloodroot in Early Spring








Bloodgood (Sanguinaria canadensis) is a long-lived rhizomatous native woodland wildflower. All plant parts exude a bright reddish-orange sap when cut, hence the common name. Indians utilized as a dye and sap is antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral. Roots are poisonous if ingested (USDA hardiness zone 3 -9).

In very early spring white or pale pink flowers with bright yellow stamens rise 6-10 inches tall. Multiple flower stalks, containing solitary 8-10 petaled blooms, emerge wrapped around by a deeply-scalloped, grayish-green palmate leaf. Single flowers measure 2-inches across and open up in early morning and close at dusk; it lasts only a few days. Scalloped leaves, some 9 inches across, continue to grow in size after flowering is over and remain attractive through early summer when the entire clump dies back (dormant) until late next winter.

Bloodroot is best planted in a humus rich, well-drained soils in part to full shade. It also performs in 1/2 day morning sun, and in dry woodland soils (not initially, but once fully established). In early spring (late winter in the South), large pure white flowers arise atop 6-10 inch tall plants. If site location is ideal, bloodroot self-sows and forms small colonies in woodland shade.

Early fall or late winter are ideal planting times to insure that roots will establish before winter arrives. Potted plants have become more available at garden centers for those who shop for these woodland beauties early spring.

Bloodroot is not troubled by disease or pest problems provided soil is well-drained. Deer, rabbits, moles, voles, and other critters usually leave bloodgood alone. Over the past ten years bloodroot, along with other woodland perennials, have been appearing at local garden centers and specialty native plant emporiums. You should check with Barry Glick at Sunshine Farms in WV or Andrea Sessions at Sunlight Gardens in Andersonville, TN.

Crape Myrtles With Awesome Bark

Light Creamy Bark of  ‘Apalachee’

L. 'Townhouse' at JC Raulston Arboretum

L. ‘Townhouse’ at JC Raulston Arboretum

Trunk Bark of L. fauriei 'Fantasy' at JC Raulston in Raleigh, NC

Trunk Bark of L. fauriei ‘Fantasy’ at JC Raulston in Raleigh, NC


Many cultivars of crape myrtles are hybrids that combine the large, colorful flowers of common crape myrtle (L. indica) with the mildew-resistance and cold hardiness of Japanese crapemyrtle (L. faurei). Many U.S. National Arboretum hybrid releases excel with beautiful year-round ornamental bark.

Among the tree forms are ‘Natchez’ (my favorite), ‘Apalachee’, ‘Lipan’, ‘Muskogee’, and Tuscarora’. Natchez possesses extraordinary cinnamon brown winter bark and is rated among the hardiest in USDA hardiness zone 6.

Some intermediate shrub crape myrtles also exhibit extraordinary bark that is often passed over by landscapers. Gardeners should remove the lower lateral branches to catch a full view of these better forms: ‘Acoma’, ‘Hopi’, ‘Sioux’, and ‘Tonto’. Wait 5 to 6 years to properly evaluate these and other shrub types.

According to Dr. Gary Knox, University of Florida crape myrtle authority, ‘Acoma’ and ‘Lipan’ exhibit near white to creamy brown bark. This trait is desirable in the deep South where white bark birch species (Betula spp.) do not tolerate the intense summer heat and humidity.

Japanese crapemyrtles (L. fauriei) possess some of the best winter bark color. These multi-branched trees grow taller, 40 feet or more in height.  On the grounds of the J.C. Raulston Arboretum is a 50 foot tall specimen of ‘Fantasy’ with exquisite cinnamon brown flaking bark. Nearby is another outstanding L. fauriei beauty ‘Townhouse’, with a darker brown bark. White flower spikes in early summer tend to be smaller but very abundant. Japanese crapemyrtles bloom only once a season.


Seven Step Lawn Renovation Program

New fall renovated lawn the following spring

New fall renovated lawn the following spring

Fall (late August to mid-October) is the “springtime” for lawn care. Most weeds have stopped growing and the cooler weather is a more comfortable time to work outdoors. If your home lawn is in horrible condition, now (not spring) is the best time of the year to take on lawn renovation.

First, here are a few guidelines before you get started. The information is useful for homeowners who reside in temperate areas of the U.S. (USDA hardiness zones 3-7). You will be sowing cool season grasses such as tall fescues, bluegrass, red or chewing fescues, and perennial ryegrasses. Most seed companies package seed blends containing 3-4 varieties. Consult your local Extension office or State Unversity website for additional information.

There are seven basic steps in renovating a lawn: 

  • Apply non-selective herbicide such as glyphosate (Roundup™) that eliminates all vegetation. Follow package directions and use the high rate.
  • Wait at least seven days for the herbicide to work; it needs to penetrate the foliage and move (translocate) down to the roots to effectively kill plants. Weeds and old lawn grass may still appear green and are essentially killed.
  • Rototill the soil to 4-5 inch depth.
  • Broadcast fertilizer and lime (if needed); a soil test prior to starting may be of value, but proceed nonetheless..
  • Lightly rake to smooth (level) the soil surface, break up large soil clods and remove large debris such as rocks, thatch, twigs, and most fallen tree leaves.
  • Spread seeds uniformly over the surface and lightly rake the surface a second time to insure soil to seed contact. Previously, you should have measure out the area (length x width) to be seeded, calculated the area square footage, and weigh out amount of seed needed for complete coverage. Do not over apply seeds
  • Spread clean straw (not hay) over the surface (1-2 bales per 1,000 square feet) to keep moist and hasten seed germination. It also covers the seed to prevent birds from feeding. Additional irrigation to provide grass seedlings water.




Calamint: Tough Reliable Perennial Ground Cover


Calamintha nepeta 'Blue Cloud'

Calamintha nepeta ‘Blue Cloud’

Calamint (Calamintha nepeta) is low mounding subshrub or perennial native to southern Europe; its primary use is as a low growing ground cover (USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8). Plants grow only 9-12 inches tall. A subspecies, var. nepeta, is the preferred choice because it produces more flowers per inflorescence. Calamint tolerates most soil types, wet or dry, and is at its best in full sun with good air circulation.

Airy plumes of small pale blue or white flowers fill thier garden spot from June- October. Foliage emits a minty or oregano fragrance when stroked or brushed. Calamint blooms for multiple weeks in the summer and attracts lots of butterflies and bees. Its scent keeps deer away.

Calamint does not spread aggressively around the garden like regular mint. Clumps may be easily divided in early spring. Calamint is popular in Northeast and Midwest U.S gardens. Calamint tends to languish in warm and humid climates like the southeastern U.S.. Snip back plant by one-third in late July to repair its ragged appearance and spur new flowering.

Treat this herbal perennial as a short-lived, 3-4 years at most. It is frequently substituted for sometimes iffy baby’s breath (Gypsophila spp.), plus add the aroma of calamint. It is excellent for edging a border along a pathway or plant it in containers. It also  makes a great rock garden plant. In the kitchen crushed leaves may be used to flavor favorite pasta dishes.

Cultivar ‘Blue Cloud’ is rated as one of the best. Dr. Allan Armitage reports that cultivar ‘Gottleib Friedkund’ has performed well over the hot humid summers in the University of Georgia Gardens in Athens.

Purple Heart Tradescantia

'Purple Heart' Setcreasia at Ohio State University Gardens

‘Purple Heart’ Setcreasia at Ohio State University Gardens

Cobweb spiderwort (T. sillamontana ) at Dallas Arboretum

Cobweb spiderwort (T. sillamontana ) at Dallas Arboretum








Purple Heart tradescantia (Setcreasea pallida  ‘Purple Heart’), formerly Tradescantia purpurea), is an annual trailing groundcover with purple stems and violet-purple foliage. This flowering vine is primarily grown for its vibrant foliage. Purple Heart is utilized in garden beds, large containers or hanging baskets. By summer’s end individual plants may grow 8-12 inches tall and spreading 16 inches wide.

Purple Heart grows best in full sun to light shade. Its foliage color is darkest in bright sunlight and purple hue diminshes under lower light levels. Colorful leaves may reach 7 inches in length, most often 3-5 inches.

Over the first 4-6 weeks pinch growing tips to encourage better branching and bushier plant habit. Note: pinched cuttings root easily. Small 3-petalled, pale pink flowers appear in late summer. Cut back flowering stems in late summer after blooming to improve plant density. Water frequently and fertilize to establish plant(s). Feed monthly with water soluble fertilize such as Miracle-Gro™, Nature’s Source™ or Schultz™. Plants become very drought tolerant in late summer.

Purple Heart is easily propagated from vegetative cuttings. Stick 3- to 5-inch long tip cuttings in a loose, airy soil mix of medium grade perlite, or gritty sand, or water. Cuttings root quickly, usually within 2-3 weeks. Pot them up to start other container(s) or add to existing garden bed in spring and summer.

Viruses, aphids, spider mites may be occasional problems. Discard virus infected plants immediately.

In mid-autumn frugal gardeners collect cuttings and grow Purple Heart indoors over winter. New cuttings can be started in spring and moved into back to the garden in mid- to late spring.

Others spiderworts to consider:

‘Cobweb’ spiderwort (T. sillamontana) is a wonderful plant collector’s oddity. Native to the mountains of northern Mexico (zones 7b – 10), it remains evergreen in zone 8b and further south. Gray-green leaves and thick stems are covered with white hairs (“cobwebs”). It sports deep pink three petal flowers.

S. pallida ‘Blue Sue’ is a passalong plant sold by Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, NC (zones 7b – 10). The 2-inch wide x 5 inch long bluish gray leaves clasp upright dark purple stems; forms an 18 inches tall x 5 feet wide patch over 10 years. Small diurnal lavender flowers appear in late June (NC). Tony Avent recommends it as a groundcover around open branched shrubs, including roses.

Rebloomers Need Your Help


Rebloomer daylily (Hemerocallis 'Stella D'Oro')

Rebloomer daylily (Hemerocallis ‘Stella D’Oro’)

Iris 'Immortality' at NC Arboretum in Asheville, NC

Iris ‘Immortality’ at NC Arboretum in Asheville, NC








Re-bloomers are specific cultivars that bring on a repeat floral show – two and sometimes three in one season. In my garden re-blooming iris and re-blooming daylilies return for another round of bloom in late summer and fall. Also, deadheading some perennials will cause them to flower again.

You, the gardener, must supply needed soil moisture and nutrition (primarily nitrogen) as these plants should not struggle through an environmentally stressful summer. Plant vigor gets recharged by frequent irrigation and adequate fertilizing. In some situations you may need to monitor and treat disease and insect problems.

As plants finish blooming in “prime time”, remove all  spent flower heads to prevent seed formation. For iris prune off old flowers in late May, daylilies in late June and July.

Deadheading: some perennials re-bloom a second and third time when old spent flowers are promptly removed, and plants are properly nurtured. Here are a dozen of easy to re-bloomers: yarrow (Achillea), blanket flowers (Gaillardia x grandiflora), perennial salvia (Salvia x nemorosa), tickseed (Coreopsis verticillata), coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), redhot poker (Kniphofia), gayfeather (Liatris spicata), summer phlox (Phlox paniculata), Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum), blackeyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida), Stokes aster (Stokesia) and speedwell (Veronica spp.).

Note: not all daylily and iris varieties are re-bloomers.

Blackberry Lily

Orange spotted flowers

Orange spotted flowers

Blackberry (Belamcanda chinensis) at Yewdell Gardens, Louisville, KY

Blackberry (Belamcanda chinensis) at Yewdell Gardens, Louisville, KY








Blackberry lily (Belamcanda chinensis), aka leopard lily, is native to Central Asia, China, Japan and India (USDA hardiness zones 5-9). It derives its name from clusters of shiny black seeds clearly in view as individual seed capsules split apart as they ripen. Its common name is misleading as it is not a lily, but instead a member of the Iris family (Iridaceae).

The sword-shaped leaves mimic those of gladiolus, also members of the Iris family. The medium green leaves measure up to 10 inches length. Plants grow 2 to 3 feet tall and bloom in mid to late summer (depending where you live). Flowers average 2 inches across, comprised of 6 orange colored petals splashed with red dots. Floral sprays stand on wiry, naked stems, typically 2-3 feet above the flat fan foliage. Heavy rains tend to topple floral stems which do not pick themselves back up.

Two species of blackberry lilies: 1. orange-colored flowers (B. chinensis) are most common; 2. unspotted yellow flowers of B. flabellata (‘Hello Yellow’). Latter species wants for more shade and water. Individual flowers last only a day. Decorative seed capsules are utilized in dried floral arrangements in fall.

Blackberry lilies thrive in average moist well-drained soils and light exposures from partial (4-5 hours) to full day sunlight. Plants may be started from  seed or from rhizome divisions. In late summer or fall, before capsules fully open, collect seed and sow in a prepared bed about ½ inch deep. Seedlings emerge in late spring and usually bloom the first year. Blackberry lilies fail planted in poorly drained ground.

Clumps slowly expand via creeping rhizomes and usually not long-lived. They tend to seed-in readily, rarely becoming invasive.

Blackberry lily requires little maintenance. Few potential diseases and pests are troublesome. Iris borers may attack plant rhizomes. Some plant parts are poisonous, if ingested; keep away from young children or pets.

Beware! Yellow Jackets


Paper wasp (photo by Dr. Frank Hale, University of Tennessee Entomologist

Paper wasp (photo by Dr. Frank Hale, University of Tennessee Entomologist

Most humans fear and hate yellow jackets. They are actually wasps and important predators of several harmful insects. They’re easily identified by their distinctive markings along their abdomen. They tend to dart about rapidly, in a side-to-side flight pattern. Female yellow jackets are the ones capable of stinging.

Wasps (Vespula spp.) are not bees; they’re brightly colored “cousins” of ground bees. In late summer, while most ground nesting bees are storing up food for the winter, wasps begin to emerge. They had constructed their nests in cool spots such as old rodent burrows, ground holes, under roof eaves, and in mortar cracks between bricks of buildings.

Yellow jackets are social insects. They are not pollinators, but do prey on other pollinating insects and nectar. They scavenge on animal wastes and foods high in protein or sugar. Wasps are highly aggressive and are easily provoked by humans. Favorite places to forage include waste receptacles, soda cans, and picnic foods which they carry back to their nest.

The aggressive behavior of yellow jackets, coupled with their tendency to attack as a group, makes them formidable pests to deal with. When outdoors follow these few wasp avoiding tips. Keep all liquids covered. Don’t swat or crush yellow jackets as this may incite other yellow jackets to attack. If you get too near a nest, backoff slowly. Do not wear bright colored clothes or heavy perfumes.

Call a professional exterminator who has the knowledge, safety clothing, and proper pesticides to find and destroy nests close by your home or patio. Otherwise, leave these mostly beneficial insects alone.