Annuals for Shade

coleus-pixabay

Coleus picture from Pixabay

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about annuals for color. That article focused on annuals for color in full-sun locations, however there are a lot of great choices for shady locations of your landscape as well or if you live in an apartment with only shade on your balcony or have a patio or garden space in the shade. So, I thought I would take the time to give you a selection of good shade tolerant annuals as well.

Tuberous Begonia

Tuberous Begonia is a common shade plant found at the garden center. They can be found in basically all flower colors except blue and the flowers may be single or double. The plants can grow upright or as a trailing plant. Trailing varieties of tuberous begonia are often found in hanging baskets and are popular as a Mother’s Day gift. Tuberous begonias can also be kept over the winter to replant and enjoy new each season. Save the tubers from the plant and then repot them in February to early March and enjoy them as they grow again the next year.

Caladium

Caladium is a fun plant for the shade that will not survive our winters, so it is grown as an annual here. This is a plant that is used mostly for the leaves, not for the flowers. The leaves can be found in shades of green, white, red, and pink and they are large and tropical in appearance. They grow best in moist, shady areas of your landscape where many other plants will not thrive. They will take part shade as well. If caladiums are planted in areas with too much sunlight, the leaves will scorch and turn brown and papery. Caladiums can also be planted in containers placed in a shady location.

Coleus

Coleus is another shade plant that we grow for the foliage, not for the flowers. Coleus can be found in many shades of green with pink, purple, white, red, and orange. There are even mixes that have multiple color combinations together. Depending on the variety they can be only 1 foot tall up to 3 feet tall and wide. There are also sun varieties but be sure to plant shade varieties in the shade and sun varieties in the sun for brightest colors and most vigorous growth. These plants can be grown year-round indoors in a container, but outdoors in Nebraska, they will not survive the winter conditions.

Impatiens

Impatiens are a fun addition of color to a shady spot in your garden in shade planters. The typical impatiens are coral or a mix, but they can be found in the pinks, reds, oranges, coral, and white. These are tough and fairly easy to grow for the gardener of any age. There are now varieties of impatiens that can be grown in full sun, called the SunPatiens. They will grow in full sun, part shade, and full shade, making them very adaptable and a great addition to our landscapes and container gardens. Impatiens often get downy mildew, choose a variety that is resistant to this disease to help maintain your flowering through the season. New Guinea impatiens are another species of impatiens that can survive in more sunlight than traditional garden impatiens but require a lot of water to thrive in that location. New guinea impatiens are the impatiens with large, brightly colored bronze or purple leaves typically with a pink midrib. For a full sun option with less water requirements, choose the sunpatiens that are better suited for this location and have resistance to downy mildew.

Torenia

Torenia is a fun shade annual. I added it to my shade container gardens one year when I lived in an apartment with a North facing patio to add something different. They have a small, blue flower that reminded me of a snapdragon style of flower but it grew well in the shade. It is a little less known, but it can be found at most garden centers.

These plants are shade loving, but not necessarily full shade. They will all tolerate part to full shade. They should have 4 hours or less of sun and that sun shouldn’t be only in the afternoon. It should be more morning sun with some early afternoon or early evening sun as well. So, even if you have a location where you can only have containerized plants and you only have space for them in a shady location of your landscape, there are still great choices for the shade. Annual plants can be fun to put into containers or in the ground around your perennial choices.

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Annuals for Color

Now that spring is here, we can begin to think about the plant material for our landscapes. One of my favorite activities in the spring is heading out to the garden center and choosing new flowers for my garden. I like perennial plants because I can plant them one time and they will continue to come back every year. However, I also really enjoy annual flowers. They have fun colors and bloom throughout summer.

Marigold

Marigold_Big_Duck_Orange-From AAS Website

Big Duck Orange Marigold, Photo from the All American Selections Website

Marigolds are an old favorite flower of many gardeners. They are very easy to grow, making them a great choice for youth or for a new gardener. Marigolds come in many color options in the orange and yellow spectrum. 3 new varieties were All American Selection winners for 2019 for the Heartland region, which includes Nebraska. Big Duck Orange and Big Duck Yellow are large, longer blooming varieties. Garuda Deep Gold is a great choice that lasts with intense flower color much longer than the competition and will last up to 10 days as a cut flower. Marigolds have a lot of different varieties for single and double flowers but mostly all in the yellow-orange color spectrum.

Sunflower

Sunflowers are always a great annual flower choice. There are so many great varieties now that it is difficult to decide which ones to plant in your garden. You may think that the Sunflower is too large, but there are some smaller plants, that only grow up to 2 feet tall. There are also some new variaties like ‘Red Wave’ or ‘Chianti’ that have deep burgundy colored flowers or ‘Fun N Sun’ that is a mix of yellows, oranges, and red colored flowers. Sunflowers are great pollinator plants and they can provide you or the birds with a snack later in the season.

Snapdragon

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Snapdragons

Snapdragons are one of my favorite annual flowers and the 2019 National Garden Bureau annual flower of the year. They come in different colors and sizes and can be added to any container garden or landscape bed. Check which size you choose before you purchase to make sure that you don’t pick an annual that grows larger than the plants behind it. Remove spent flower blossoms through the season to maintain flowering throughout the summer months.

Calibrachoa

Calibrachoa is another of my favorite annual flowers due to the long list of colors and color combinations from many varieties. Calibrachoas are also sold as ‘Superbells’ or ‘Million Bells’ and it resembles a small petunia flower. These plants have a growth habit similar to the wave petunia where it spills over the edge of a container. They are also quite drought tolerant and will do well on their own for a few days if you are out of town for a weekend. It was the 2018 annual plant of the year for the National Garden Bureau. The hardest part of growing calibrachoa is deciding which varieties to plant.

Lantana

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Lantana

Lantana is a fun annual that will grow well in hot locations. It will bloom through the summer and into fall with no deadheading necessary. The common variety is a flower cluster that is red on the outside, transitioning to yellow flowers in the center, but there are varieties with pink and yellow and straight white clusters of flowers. It is a low-maintenance plant for many garden spaces and can be utilized in a container or in a landscape bed.

Annual plants can be planted in the ground or in a container. I like to use them around perennials to provide more color, for a longer period during the growing season. For the most part, they are easy to care for, some may need to be deadheaded to remove spent blooms and allow new blooms. The plants listed in this article should all be planted in full sun. The best part of using annuals in the garden is that they are typically less expensive than perennial plants and if a disease or insect problem occurs on them, you can just pull them out and you might even have time to replant. There are always new varieties of these flowers for improved flowering or new, unique color combinations or better disease resistance. Go to your local garden center and find the perfect choices to fit in with your landscape and container gardens.

Planning Your Garden

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*Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended of those not mentioned and no endorsement by University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension is implied for those mentioned.

In January the seed catalogs begin to arrive in the mail. Each of these catalogs is a promise that spring will come again. In all the cold, snowy weather, I like the excitement of planning my garden for this year. When you are planning your garden, keep in mind things like sunlight, location, and water availability. Planning is important for the vegetable garden as well as for flowers, trees, and shrubs.

Planning a Vegetable Garden

It is always hard not to get overwhelmed with all the fun, new plants available to us. But when planning your garden, look at the location available first. If you are planning for a vegetable garden, you need to have at least 5 hours of sunlight per day but 8-10 hours per day is ideal for vegetables, preferably more sunlight in the afternoon. If you don’t have the correct sunlight, look for shade loving plants. The garden should be in a location that is fairly level and has good soil for best growth of the plants. Be sure to plant your garden near a water source to ensure the plants get watered sufficiently through the growing season.

Also, be sure to have the proper spacing allowed for your garden plants. We tend to plant vegetable plants too close together because they are small when we plant them. Remember to space them according to the label directions. If plants are too close together it can lead to more disease and insect problems when they grow too large and overlap one another.

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Black Walnuts Photo courtesy of Paul Wray, Iowa State University, Bugwood.org

Black Walnut Trees

Another important aspect of your garden to keep in mind, would be to keep your garden at least 50 feet away from Black Walnut trees. Black Walnut trees produce juglone, which is a type of plant produced toxin that works as a weed barrier around the tree. Juglone will hinder growth and sometimes kill many different types of plants. Tomatoes are very susceptible to juglone. There are also a lot of other trees, shrubs, and perennials that are susceptible to the juglone. If you are planting near a black walnut tree, be sure to check if your plant choices are tolerant of the juglone. If you are unsure about a nearby tree, bring a sample of the tree to your local Extension Office for identification and they can help you determine which plants will do well planted near your black walnut tree.

Mulch

Mulch is a necessity for your garden. Whether it is a vegetable garden, a perennial bed, or trees or shrubs, mulch is vital to help keep weeds down and to retain moisture around plants. Mulch can be either wood chips, straw, grass clippings, or another form of organic mulch. Inorganic mulches are not the best option due to the fact that it is very hot around the roots of plants and does not retain moisture. Make sure that your mulch layer is not too deep, keep it around 2-3 inches deep and keep it uniform around the tree, avoid mulch volcanoes.

Plant Size

Make sure you always read the growing requirements and full size of the plant before planting it in your landscape. It is most economical to plant things that fit in the space in your landscape, rather than pruning or removing it later. Often times, trying to keep a plant in a space that is too small for it will lead to death and costly removal fees. So it is best to start with a plant that will grow no larger than the space available to have a long-lasting plant for that area of your landscape.

Have fun when searching through your garden catalogs and find something fun and interesting to try. The 2019 Pantone Color of the Year is Coral, try to use that in your garden this year. Check out the All-American Selections for new varieties that have been tested in real garden settings, many of them were tested in Omaha and Lincoln with help from Nebraska Extension.

Trees turn color in fall

Fall tree color blog

Fall is a great time of the year. The trees start turning colors and everything looks so beautiful, even the green conifer trees. Evergreen trees should maintain their green color all of the time, right? This time of the year I get many calls on a natural process of evergreen trees called Natural Needle Drop.

Natural Needle Drop

Natural Needle Drop

White Pine with Natural Needle Drop

Evergreen trees turning yellow in the fall may not be a problem, in fact it may be completely natural. Evergreen trees do hold onto their needles, but eventually the older needles are shed from the tree in the fall. When this happens, those needles turn yellow before they fall from the tree. As long as the needles that turn yellow are all on the interior of the tree, there is no real concern. The older needles are the needles that are shed, which will be held on the interior of the tree, not on the ends of the branches.

Natural needle drop is very noticeable on white pine trees because they are naturally not a dense tree and they lose their needles every 2 years, making it quite common. Ponderosa pines lose their needles every 3 years, while Austrian pines lose their needles every 4 years. It is not as common to notice the needle drop on these trees due to the infrequency as well as the density of the tree. Spruce trees will also lose their needles, but much less often. Spruce trees will typically hold onto the majority of their needles for up to 10 years

Deciduous Conifers

It is important to know what you tree is supposed to do in the fall and winter months. We have a couple of trees that are classified as ‘Deciduous Conifers’ meaning that they are a conifer due to their needles and how they are arranged but are deciduous because they lose those needles annually. Two deciduous conifers are commonly found in Nebraska, the Larch and Baldcypress. These trees will lose all of their needles in the fall after first turning brown throughout the entire tree. If you don’t know what type of tree you have in your yard or are not familiar with the growth habit of these trees, you might think they died, when they are really just going through their normal lifecycle.

Fall Color for Deciduous Trees

20181023_152033Speaking of deciduous trees, this is the time of the year when our deciduous trees, those with leaves rather than needles, will change color and the leaves will fall from the tree. As the nights gets cooler and the days get shorter, the tree produces a membrane between the branches and the leaves which causes the leaves to be shed from the tree. Prior to leaf drop, this membrane also causes cessation of chlorophyll from the leaves for the year. At this time, the other pigments are allowed to show up in the leaves.

The brightest fall colors are produced when dry, sunny days are followed by cool, dry nights. The dry, sunny days are needed to break-down the chlorophyll in the leaves allowing the other pigments to be dominant in the leaves. The cool, dry nights are also necessary for fall color because trees need to avoid freezing temperatures which can injure or kill the leaves causing them to stop producing much sugar at all. The sugar content is what increases the amount of the anthocyanin, or red pigment.

Pumpkins, Spiders, and Mums

Halloween Pumpkins

Now that October is here, we begin to get prepared for Halloween, a day which I personally enjoy. Pumpkins, spiders, and fall flowers are all part of this festival. So, I won’t miss the chance to help you with your holiday decorations and traditions.

Pumpkins

2017-10-28 19.10.50Pumpkins can be used for so many things including carving, decoration, pies, and many other food products. If planted later in the summer growing season, your pumpkins should just be maturing, or have matured within the last couple of weeks. If you are unsure, pumpkins are mature when the rind is hard and can resist penetration from a fingernail.

Pumpkins do need to be harvested prior to a hard frost. They can be ok out on the vine for a light frost, but a hard frost will damage the pumpkin and can damage storage potential and more likely cause the pumpkins to rot. They should be cut off the vine. Do not cut the vine too close to the pumpkin, this can also cause the pumpkin to decay sooner.

If you didn’t grow the pumpkin yourself, check over the pumpkins you are purchasing. Look for good rind with no puncture wounds. Ensure that the pumpkin has a bit of stem attached to the top and choose the correct pumpkin for the use you have in mind for it. Pie pumpkins are best for baking while jack-o-lantern types will be better for carving and for decorations.

Spiders

Wolf Spider, UNL ENTO

Wolf Spider photo by Jim Kalisch, UNL Entomology

Spiders always come to mind at Halloween as a decoration and because they become a problem inside our homes with the cool fall weather. The most common spider that people bring into my office to be identified is the wolf spider. These are one of the largest species of spiders that we will find in Nebraska. They are quite hairy and often times will have 2 white or lighter brown colored stripes down the back of the spider. There are some wolf spiders that can be the size of a half dollar or more, legs and all. These spiders are not poisonous, but they can bite. Most often, a wolf spider will not bite us, but if they do the reaction is usually similar to a large mosquito bite.

Spiders are actually beneficial, but not often desired. They feed on other insects and pests that can move into our homes. The best way to control a spider population indoors is through habitat modification, meaning to seal up all cracks and crevices in your home foundation and around windows and doors to ensure that the spiders don’t move into your home. You can also use the indoor/outdoor barrier sprays to spray around the foundation of your home and around the windows and doors to reduce spider populations inside your home. Also, sticky traps are a great way to manage spider populations indoors. 

Mums

orange mum, pixabay

Mums are not the scary holiday tradition that spiders and pumpkins are, but they are a common decoration for the fall, including Halloween. Garden mums grow up to 18 inches tall and 30 inches wide and grow into a clump. The flowers are 2-3 inches across and can be found in many colors including white, yellow, orange, pink, purple, coral, and deep burgundy red depending on the variety. Mums need to be pinched back in the early summer to help keep the plants to a compact and uniform size and shape and to help flowering. Pinching should be done 2-3 times in June. It should begin when the plants are 5-6 inches high and it should be discontinued around the 4th of July.

Many gardeners struggle with maintaining their mum plants over the winter due to repeated freezing and thawing cycles through the growing season as well as wet, heavy soil or lack or snow cover. Longevity of the plants can be enhanced by planting them in a location that is more protected from north winds, discontinuing fertilization by the end of July to reduce new growth at the end of the season, adding several inches of mulch to the soil around the plants through the winter months, and cutting the plants back in the spring rather than in the fall.

Planting for Spring Color

Planning for spring color blog

If you are the type of person who always tends to get spring fever this time of the year, your landscape can help make it easier in the future. Plan your garden to incorporate different trees, shrubs, and perennial flowers that will bring you spring as soon as possible.

Cornelian Cherry Dogwood is one of the earliest plants to break from winter dormancy in Nebraska. There was one of these planted next to the Plant Science building on East Campus at UNL where I studied for many years. I always enjoyed to see it pop those small yellow buds in late February to early March to prove to me that winter wouldn’t last forever. Cornelian Cherry Dogwood can be grown as a large shrub or small tree, depending on how it is pruned.

Forsythia is a more commonly known early spring blooming shrub. This shrub blooms with bright yellow, finger-like flowers in March, typically. This is a shrub that is very easy to care for, but it can get overgrown, so it should be pruned often to maintain its size and shape. Every year, you can remove 1/3 of the largest branches from the shrub and prune them off at ground level to reduce the size and remove the oldest, least productive branches.

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Redbud in bloom in the spring

Redbud is one of my favorite plants for spring color. It typically blooms in April-May with beautiful violet to pink blooms all along the branches. There is also a white bud that is the same as redbud, but with white blooms instead of pink. This tree is best grown as an understory tree, so it does best with part shade. However, it will grow in full sun, as many are. After the blooming period, the tree has nice, green, heart-shaped leaves through the summer and into the fall when they turn golden yellow. Be careful with pesticides in the lawn around redbuds, however, as they are very sensitive to 2,4-D. The leaves will often cup up and develop an irregular leaf edge with dark and light green striping, as if the leaf was stretched out.

Magnolia is another amazing choice for a tree for spring color. There are a lot of varieties of magnolias, but not all of them do as well in our environment. A couple of the best suited for Nebraska include saucer magnolia and star magnolia. Saucer magnolia blooms with the pink blooms and star magnolia has white blooms. Magnolias should be in a location where they are a bit protected from winter winds. The blooms of magnolias are often destroyed by a late spring frost causing the flowers to shrivel up and turn brown soon after opening up.

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Crocus Blooming

There are a lot of great spring blooming bulbs that can be used in the lawn. Many of my favorites include tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, snowdrops, and scilla. A great collection of many varieties and species of these bulbs will bring season-long beauty and an assortment of color throughout the spring. These bulbs all bloom in the spring but they need to be planted in the fall. This causes a problem this time of the year, but it can help you begin to plan them out if you look at your landscape this spring to see where there are gaps amongst the other plants or areas where color is necessary throughout the spring.

Plant Choices

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The winter months are a great time to start thinking about gardening for the spring. There is nothing for us to grow and we can’t go outdoors and do much in our garden beds, so we can start to think about spring to reduce our cabin fever. It is a great time because the plant catalogs have begun to arrive. Hooray! A great listing of plants to utilize in your garden would include the All-American Selections and the Perennial Plant of the Year.

The All-American Selection (AAS) group is “the only non-profit plant trialing organization in North America” according to their website. This is a selection organization that is unbiased because all proceeds go into the trials and promoting all AAS winners. Each year the group selects many different judges and judging sites. One of the judging sites for this year was in Omaha, judged by my colleague, John Porter. These judges are professional horticulturists who are volunteering their time to evaluate plants for their growth, flowering or fruiting, and how well they adapt to different environmental conditions. Universities and public gardens are good judging sites because they will keep the results impartial. The AAS is a good way to test new cultivars throughout North America to help gardeners trust the plants they purchase. It is hard when shopping through all the different varieties to know which ones do well, the AAS finds those for you.

Each year the group chooses multiple annuals, perennials, and vegetables to be All American Selections. Then, the group comes up with a selection of annuals, vegetables, and perennials. For 2018, their choices include South Pacific Orange Canna, American Dream Sweet Corn, Super Hero Spry Marigold, Onyx Red Ornamental Pepper, Hungarian Mexican Sunrise Pepper, Cocktail Red Racer Tomato and Queeny Lime Orange Zinnia among others. One of the selections judged in Omaha was the Asian Delight Pak Choi. This variety does not bolt like the comparisons. Even weeks after other varieties went to seed, this Pak Choi did not bolt. John Porter stated that it did not bolt at all during the summer.

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Asian Delight Pak Choi, Photo from the All-American Selections Website

Another great plant choice is the 2018 Perennial Plant of the year, Allium ‘Millenium’. This is a plant honor that was chosen by the perennial plant association which is a trade association of growers, retailers, landscapers, educators and others in the herbaceous perennial industry. They choose a plant to showcase each year that is a standout plant. The perennials they choose are widely adaptive and have minimal insect and disease issues with low management inputs.

Millenium Allium, Perennial Plant Association

Allium ‘Millenium’ from the Perennial Plant Association Website

Allium ‘Millenium’ is a great choice because it is a workhorse of the late summer garden, according the Perennial Plant Association. Alliums are ornamental onions, and this variety is supposed to be spelled with only one ‘n’ in the middle of the word ‘Millenium’, unlike the correct spelling with 2 ‘n’s. The parent plants of ‘Millenium’ have late flowering, uniform habit, great foliage, and are drought resistant. These traits are also seen in ‘Millenium’. This plant is a butterfly magnet and provides large blooms of deep purple in the late summer. The plant reaches up to 15 inches tall and stays looking healthy through the season. One of the great things about ‘Millenium’ is that it is deer and rabbit resistant and no serious pest problems are found on it.

Fall Color

Shagbark hickory, flickr, Nicholas A. Tonelli

Shagbark Hickory photo courtesy of Nicholas A. Tonelli via Flickr Creative Commons License

Fall is a wonderful time of the year, especially when the trees have a good display of colors.

There is a reason why our trees turn so pretty in the fall and why they are green the rest of the year. The color in our trees, during any part of the year, is due to four different pigments that are present in the leaves: chlorophyll, carotene, tannin and anthocyanin. During the spring and summer, chlorophyll is the primary pigment in leaves. It is constantly being generated by the trees as it is easily broken down by bright sunlight. When this compound is being produced in the spring and summer, it is the most prevalent and that is why we see the green in the leaves.

As the nights gets cooler and the days get shorter, the tree produces a membrane between the branches and the leaves, causing them to no longer receive any chlorophyll that the tree might still be producing. This membrane also leads to the eventual shedding of the leaves in the fall. At this time, the other pigments are allowed to show up in the leaves.

Carotene is the pigment that is responsible for yellow and orange colored leaves. Carotene is always in the leaves, as it aids in the capture of sunlight for photosynthesis, but it is at a lower amount than chlorophyll so the green color shows up as the predominant pigment.

Tannins are our least favorite pigment color; they make the brown colored leaves. Tannins are always present in leaves but are not shown until the chlorophyll and carotene are gone from the leaves. These often accumulate in the dead portions of the leaves, which is why dead areas of our leaves turn brown in color.

Anthocyanin is the pigment that is responsible for pink, red, and purple leaves. This pigment is usually not present in the leaves until the fall. Some trees have red or purple colored leaves during the entire growing season because they have higher amounts of anthocyanins than chlorophyll throughout the whole growing season. Other trees don’t produce any anthocyanins and those are the trees that turn yellow, orange, or brown during the fall. Those trees and shrubs that turn red in the fall form anthocyanins when the concentration of sugar in the leaf increases. Low temperatures and bright sunshine destroys chlorophyll and when the temperatures stay above freezing during this time, anthocyanins are produced.

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Burning Bush with great Red fall color

So, what causes our trees to turn bright and colorful in the fall and why are some years better than others? The brightest fall colors are produced when dry, sunny days are followed by cool, dry nights. The dry, sunny days are needed to break-down the chlorophyll in the leaves allowing the other pigments to be dominant in the leaves. The cool, dry nights are also necessary for fall color because trees need to avoid freezing temperatures which can injure or kill the leaves causing them to stop producing much sugar at all. The sugar content is what increases the amount of the anthocyanin, or red pigment. The yellow and brown will be present, but the red is necessary as well.

You don’t have to travel far to get amazing fall colors from the trees. There are many places right here in Nebraska to go for a wonderful fall color display in the trees. Indian Cave State Park in the far Southeast portion of the state, Ponca State Park in Northeast Nebraska, the Nebraska National Forests, and even your own backyard are great locations to find fall tree displays. Look around, they are not that hard to find, just as long as we have dry, sunny days followed by cool, dry nights and minimal frost until later in the season we will have a beautiful display of trees in the fall.

Choosing Plants for Next Spring

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The winter months are sometimes very difficult for a horticulture enthusiast. There is nothing for us to grow and we can’t go outdoors and do much in our garden beds, so we start to get a bit of cabin fever. However, there is always something to do in January for our gardens because the plant catalogs have begun to arrive. Hooray! We can start planning our gardens for the next season. A great listing of plants to utilize in your garden would include the All American Selections and the Perennial Plant of the Year.

The All American Selection (AAS) group is “the only non-profit plant trialing organization in North America” according to their website. This is a selection organization that is unbiased because all proceeds go into the trials and promoting all AAS winners. Each year the group selects many different judges and judging sites. These judges are professional horticulturists who are volunteering their time to evaluate plants for their growth, flowering or fruiting, and how well they adapt to different environmental conditions. Often times, Universities and public gardens are potential judging sites to keep the results impartial. The AAS is a good way to test new cultivars throughout North America to help gardeners trust the plants they purchase.

Each year the group chooses multiple annuals, perennials, and vegetables to be All American Selections. For 2017, the group came up with a great group of annuals, vegetables, and perennials. The one perennial that was chosen for 2017 was Twizzle Purple Penstemon.

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This photo of Twizzle Purple Penstemon is from the All American Selection website at: http://all-americaselections.org/product/penstemon-barbatus-twizzle-purple/

Penstemon plants are great for any garden as they grow tall and upright and have flowers similar to snapdragons because they are in the same plant family. Twizzle purple is a new penstemon with vibrant purple flowers. The judges liked the upright habit of the plant and the overall great flowering performance. This penstemon grows up to 35 inches high and is a great pollinator attracting plant.

Another great pollinator plant is the 2017 Perennial Plant of the year, Butterfly Milkweed. This is a plant honor that was chosen by the perennial plant association which is a trade association of growers, retailers, landscapers, educators and others in the herbaceous perennial industry. They choose a plant to showcase each year that is a standout plant. The perennials they choose are widely adaptive and have minimal insect and disease issues with low management inputs. Butterfly milkweed was chosen for the 2017 Perennial Plant of the year to “celebrate an excellent plant known for its ability to support insects and birds and serve as the primary caterpillar food for a beloved North American native butterfly”. That butterfly would be the Monarch butterfly. Monarchs have been decreasing in their population over the past few years due to many different factors, but lack of food is one. Milkweed is the primary source of food for Monarch butterflies and that plant is now reduced in our environment due to the way that we garden and the fact that people regard milkweeds as weeds. Planting pollinator plants will help with the populations.

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This photo of Butterfly Milkweed is courtesy of Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service (retired), Bugwood.org

Butterfly milkweed is a native plant with small, bright orange colored flowers that are held in bunches throughout the plant. This is not the common milkweed that most people find to be a weed, which is another great pollinator plant. This is a unique and interesting plant that will attract many pollinators to your garden. The plants grow 2-3 feet tall and wide. Butterfly milkweed plants are a great addition to any landscape, but especially in a prairie, native grass area, or naturalized planting.

Fall is a time for Apples and Garlic

Fall is a great time of the year. It can be bittersweet, though, because it often signals the end of our growing season. The good thing is that this is also the time of the year to go pick apples. It is apple month, for tips and recipes on apples, visit the Nebraska Extension October food calendar.

Each different variety of apple differs for their harvest time. To determine the harvest time for the apple, knowing the variety will help you. In fall, a common question from gardeners with a favorite apple or pear tree is for identification of the cultivar from the color and shape of the fruit. This almost impossible to do, in fact, it’s really only realistic to give a general idea of possible cultivars. So, if you don’t know the variety, you can look at the color, flavor, and texture of the apple.

apples-A. Henneman flickr

Flickr image courtesy of Alice Henneman per CC license

To know a mature apple, look at the “ground color”, which is the color of an apple’s skin disregarding any areas of red. You can also try one to ensure that it is the correct sweetness and make sure it is firm and not overripe and soft. Overripe apples will detach from the tree more easily than those that are at the correct stage of ripeness. If the apple is too ripe, it will break down in storage more quickly than those that are at the peak of their maturity.

For storage it is best to pick apples when they are still hard but mature. Place the apples in a box or crate with a smooth lining so that staples don’t puncture or injure the apple. These boxes or crates should be lined with plastic or foil to retain humidity around the apples. Remove bruised and large apples that will break down more quickly than the rest of the apples. Apples produce ethylene gas, even after they are removed from the tree, which speeds up the ripening process in fruits. A damaged apple will produce more ethylene than other apples. Apples should be stored in the fridge or other location where they are kept at temperatures around 32 degrees Fahrenheit, an apple stored too warm will ripen faster.

Fall is also a great time to plant garlic. I love Italian food, so therefore I am a huge fan of fresh garlic. Garlic is best planted from mid-September through mid-October, one month before the soil freezes. The bulbs planted in the fall will root and begin to sprout before going dormant for the winter. Next spring, these bulbs will continue to grow until harvest in the summer months.

garlic-olga-filonenko-flickr

Flickr image courtesy of Olga Filonenko per CC license.

To grow garlic, plant small cloves for each plant you want. The clove is obtained from the division of the large bulb. Planting larger cloves will lead to larger bulbs for harvest next year. Wait until just before you begin planting to divide the bulb into the individual cloves. Plant the cloves 3-5 inches apart, 1-2 inches deep with the point upward in the soil. If you are planting multiple rows, the rows need to be 18-30 inches apart. Before completing your gardening tasks this fall, remember to mulch the planted garlic with 8-12 inches of straw after the soil freezes.

The apple information from this article came from an article written by Mary Jane Frogge, Extension Associate from Lancaster County Extension. The garlic information from this article came from the e-Hort Update at hortupdate.unl.edu which is a newsletter you can sign up for to get more horticulture information throughout the year.