Fall Blooming Pansies, Practical Gardening

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In the Midwest, we’re all pretty familiar with fall mums, Russian sage, and flowering kale as the main staples of the late-season garden. These plants are tolerant of cold nights and less sunlight. But why not add pansies to your selection?

Until recently the general public was unaware that the pansy is not heat tolerant, dying out in the summer. It flowers best when night temperatures are in the 40s and day temps in the 60s. Many areas of the Pacific coast are blessed to grow them all year round! The pansy grows well in Zones 3-7. In the northern zones if you plant the little lovelies in late September it will bloom until covered in snow.

Image by loneangel at morguefile.com

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Things are a bit different for species violas (Johny Jump-up or Heartease). It is the small flowered parent of the bold faced pansy, and will winter over–usually for only two years–and bloom in the spring, being a tender perennial that reseeds. The pansy, a hybrid viola, is a biennial grown as an annual.

Agrilife Resources gives a bit of history of the pansy’s evolution from the wild viola:

Viola is a large genus containing 500 species…. and were familiar to people living in Greece in the 4th century B.C. The center of origin for the plant was continental Europe. The hardy but delicate viola was cultivated by the Greeks for herbal medicinal use and much later inspired William Shakespeare to write of romance.

Some time after the 4th century B.C. in Europe, an acute observer noticed a plant similar to a viola but growing in open areas with more sunlight. This plant thrived in alpine meadows and on rocky ledges. Someone named this plant a wild pansy. Possibly, it was a person living in France who noticed this plant because the word pansy is traced back to the French word pensee, meaning thought or remembrance….

In the last 50 years much of the innovative pansy breeding has been in Germany, the United States and Japan. New pansy colors such as shades of pink, rose or orange and unusual bicolor designs have expanded the variety of pansies available to gardeners in North America

Compact and low growing, pansies are not fussy plants, growing best in a loose, rich soil. They prefer full sun. If you want instant color in their garden, you will find packs and flats of pansies at local nurseries or garden centers. Select the flower colors that suit your garden design. Choose plants that are stocky with dark green leaves, with a few blooms showing but lots of buds.

With the short growing season, plant them closer together than what the tag instructs for a burst of color. They are lovely planted at the base of fall mums, replacing spent flowers in containers, or in a grouping filling in where more tender annuals were removed.


Transplanting Perennials and Hardwoods, Practical Gardening

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October is a lovely time of year for dividing and transplanting in your gardens. The urgency of spring gives way to a slower pace of planning.

There are many reasons to divide perennials: to keep them healthy and free of diseases, to have more plants, keep them contained to an area, to open up space.

  • Many perennials grow quickly and develop clumps. If the clumps are not divided every 3-4 years, the centers can die out. (Note: with many ornamental grasses this donut effect is due to high pruning—ornamental grasses should be trimmed to ground level.)
  • When perennials become overcrowded, flower production declines or ceases. The perennial may appear stunted if they are in desperate need of dividing—in which case, you’ve waited too long and will need to remember to divide sooner next time.
  • Some perennials are aggressive, nearly weedy in their growth habit—oh the sins of Lily of the Valley! Those with a vigorous growth habit should be divided (often every other year) to keep them in balance and not overrun the garden.
  • Dividing your perennials allows you to use more of the same variety (especially those that are hybrids without viable seeds) throughout your gardens, and to share with friends.

Transplanting herbaceous plants is usually best done in the spring or fall Follow this link to a Garden Gate Tip’s Sheet on what to move when.

In autumn cut plants back before digging them for division. I prefer to divide in the fall because the plants have more time to set new roots before growing into summer’s heat. Fall bloomers are divided and transplanted in the spring.

Fine Gardening offers this advice on technique:

To lift a perennial with minimal root damage, begin digging at its drip line. The roots will generally extend that far, so digging there lets you lift the plant with most of its roots intact.

Dig a trench around the clump, cleanly severing any roots, then cut at an angle down and under the clump from various points around the outer edge until you can lever the plant out of the hole. For large, heavy plants, you may have to first dig the trench, and then slice straight down through the center of the plant as if it was a pie, halving or quartering the clump before under­cutting and lifting it.

If you find that you will be moving perennials when it’s hot and sunny, anticipate the potential for excessive transplant shock and protect your plants from too much sunlight, heat and wind until they are established.

Trees and shrubs grow roots beyond what can be realistically moved. To prepare hardwoods for transplanting, and develop new roots in a smaller area, they need to be root pruned. Established trees and shrubs—I’m talking bigger than the potted ones from big box stores—to be moved in the autumn should be root pruned in March. If you know which mature hardwood you want to move, tag it now to be pruned early spring and moved next October. Clemson University has an excellent article on transplanting established trees and shrubs.

I check the weather report for the week following an anticipated transplanting date, and look for a day of rainy, at least cloudy, weather. I will transplant late afternoon the day before a rain. The rains will take the place of hand watering and the high humidity will reduce the stress on the plant, and allows roots to set well in damp soil.

Plan ahead for moving plants, prepare and be attentive after the uprooting. After the wilt, new buds will emerge!

(Photo by pippalou at morguefile.com )


August To-dos, Practical Gardening


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Our warmest month in southern Michigan is usually August. The heat—though we seem to be short on that this year—combined with the shortening daylight hours pushes plants to maturity. Vegetables are coming on strong for the harvest, perennials are setting seed, trees and shrubs are hardening up for the winter to come. It’s that time of year, as busy as the spring, when your gardening to-do list starts to grow as fast as the zucchini!

So…here is a list to help you keep on track of what to do in August.


  1. Keep deadheading so plants continue to look their best.
  2. Be sure to keep up on watering, especially container grown plants.
  3. Fertilize once a week with a 1/4 strength solution.
  4. Certain cultivars of annuals decline after July. Consider replacing them.


  1. Regular maintenance will keep your perennials looking their best. Keep up on deadheading and removal of dying plant material.
  2. If perennials are overgrown, you can start digging and dividing them this month and into October. Keep an eye on watering new divisions—late summer/early autumn tends to be dry.

Vegetable & Herb Gardens:

  1. Keep watering and weeding.
  2. Check plants regularly for signs of pest or diseases. Remove infected plant materials. DO NOT compost blighted tomato leaves.
  3. Deadhead flowering herbs—like basil—to keep them productive.
  4. Harvest regularly to keep plants actively producing. By mid-August, remove any new tomato flowers. There’s not enough time for them to set proper fruit and removal will allow better growth for the fruit remaining.
  5. Feed your vegetable plants now, and only once, with a foliar feed (preferably organic). It will boost the harvest into fall.
  6. Plant fall crops such as broccoli, cabbage, and kale. If you didn’t start your transplants last month, purchase them. Direct seeding will take too long for you to reap a harvest.
  7. Direct sow quick growing fall crops such as spinach, kale, turnips, small carrots, and radishes.
  8. Plant garlic for harvesting next summer.

Trees and Shrubs:

  1. Trees and shrubs will need an inch of water per week to stay healthy, either from rain or the hose. Do not fertilize after mid-August; any new growth may be too tender to survive a harsh winter.
  2. Any summer blooming shrubs that are done flowering can be pruned.

Next week I would like to post your favorite, down home, family style harvest recipes. If you would like to contribute, message me on Facebook.


10 Fun and Easy Practical Gardening Tips

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Over the years I’ve collected a number of these tips from friends, magazines, online, or at conferences. Here are a few:

  1. Turn a wooden long-handled tool into a measuring stick. Using a permanent marker or a wood burner, write inch and foot marks on the handle. When you need to space plants a certain distance you’ll already have a measuring device.
  2. To keep garden twine untangled and handy when you need it, stick a ball of twine in a small clay pot, pull the end of the twine through the drainage hole and set the pot upside down—in a wagon, the garden, or on a work station.
  3. If you don’t wear gloves while you work in the garden (as I rarely do), to prevent accumulating dirt under your fingernails draw your fingernails across a bar of soap before you begin. You’ll seal the undersides of your nails so dirt can’t collect beneath them. After you’ve finished in the garden, use a nailbrush to remove the soap and your nails will be sparkling clean.
  4. To keep watermelons from resting on the ground and possibly rotting from the moisture, place an inexpensive plastic colander underneath them when the fruit is about the size of your fist.
  5. To create more natural looking plant markers for the summer, using a permanent marker write the names of plants on the smooth flat faces of light colored stones and place them near the base of your plants.
  6. The next time you boil or steam vegetables, don’t pour the water down the drain. Keep a pail or watering can nearby and drain the vegetable water in it to cool. Use the “greens” water for potted patio plants. You’ll be amazed at how well the container grown plants respond.
  7. Use leftover tea and coffee grounds to acidify the soil of acid-loving plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias, gardenias, some hydrangeas and even blueberries. A light sprinkling of about one-quarter inch applied once a month will keep the pH of the soil on the acidic side.
  8. The quickest way to dry herbs: lay sheets of newspaper (black ink only) or paper grocery bags on the seat of your car, arrange the herbs in a single layer, then roll up the windows and close the doors. Your herbs will quickly dry AND the bonus is your car will smell great.
  9. Clean a hummingbird feeder by filling it with warm water and break a denture-cleaning tablet into it. Let it fizz for the time indicated on the package, then rinse. Denture-cleaning tablets are antibacterial and nontoxic—a near perfect cleaning solution for keeping the hummers healthy!
  10. Need a sturdy trellis? Recycle metal flat-link bedsprings from old bunks, cots, or day beds. Set 4×4 posts in ground just wide enough apart for the bedspring frame to hit on center. The metal frame is predrilled so it’s easy to secure it with long, rust-proof screws. Secure it so it will be 6-8 inches above the soil line. Paint or not as desired.