How we shop and buy plants is changing, so gardeners need to sharpen their ‘internet savvy’ skills to avoid disappointment when ordering plants online.  First, let’s talk about shipping.  Shipping costs may be the single largest impediment to buying plants online due to outright sticker shock.  Shipping can make up a significant portion of the order total.  The reality is potting mix is heavy and shipping is expensive.  Most nurseries are not large enough to offer free shipping, so it is passed on to you the buyer.  Most shippers like UPS, FedEx and the US postal system use what is termed “

The first hard frost has snatched the lushness right out of my jungle, giving it the first real feel of autumn.  Leaves are continually drifting down like feathers to the ground, making the ground a mirror of colored leaves from whence they fell.  Some perennials appear almost unfazed while others look like a blow torch was in their midst. 

It’s hard to believe that the first frost may be just around the corner, which means fall jungle cleanup is in operation.  I usually prioritize what needs to be done first by what would be most affected by freezing temperatures.  In my case, that’s plants.  For my “tender” potted plants, I begin by gathering them up from around the jungle and getting them closer to their winter storage area…the garage.  Just in case I get caught off guard, I like them close so they can be moved inside quickly.  But until that point, I’ll use the time to trim, fertilize and hopefully spray a few times with i

Early signs of the coming fall had me screaming, literally!  Nocturnal orb-weaver spiders (commonly Neoscona crucifera and Aranus cavaticus) start showing up in late-summer to early-fall and have the habit of building their huge webs in the dark of night, then consuming them and their victims before daylight the next day.

Just when my garden is fully deserving of its “jungle” moniker, I attend the 2019 Perennial Plant Association (PPA) National Symposium in Chicago.  Don’t get me wrong, I gained very valuable information throughout the program but the opportunities to bid on or just outright buy herbaceous perennials may not have been a good environment for a plant geek like me.  Let’s just say my car was completely full and the suitcases were an afterthought.

Over the years I have collected a number of planting media recipes, and each has its own characteristics and usefulness in the garden. Eliot Coleman, author of New Organic Grower, developed a blocking mix a number of years ago that is basically 3 parts peat for structure, 1 part perlite for aeration, 3 parts compost/garden soil, lime for pH correction and a base fertilizer for nutrient needs, which is made up of blood meal, rock phosphate and greensand. This mix works better than standard potting mix when making soil blocks (growing transplants without a pot).

The jungle is popping with early summer-blooming flowers, making cut flowers a quick and easy visual treat. I certainly understand some gardener's preference to just enjoy them on the plant, but for me, there is just a little added enjoyment creating a mixed vase of flowers from my own jungle.

The lawn art (with early flowering bulbs) project was a success. Last fall I planted a number of very early blooming bulbs in a sunny turf area, specifically dwarf iris (Iris reticulata), squill (Scilla sp.) and crocus (Crocus sp.). The iris were first to bloom in late February, followed closely by the other two species. And though the iris and crocus were readily visible even from a distance, the squill were too small and delicate to be easily detected…meaning they were easily stepped on.

My jungle still has the look of winter sleep, but a few plants are starting to stir. As expected, the buds are swelling on Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas) and fragrant dawn viburnum (Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn'). Daffodils (Narcissus) and Italian arum (Arum italicum) are pushing, but unfortunately, so is the purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum). After looking closely, I noticed the hellebore (Helleborus spp.) blooms developing close to the ground but looking a bit rough around the edges.

"Difficult to establish" can be an understatement for some plants. Over the years, I have out of necessity made a "three strikes, you're out" rule for how many times I allow myself to fail with a plant before accepting defeat. Globeflower (Trollius sp.) for example has a reputation for being difficult, but it is still one of my most regretful three strikes addition to "the dead list" because it has such a beautiful flower. Every time I see it in the nursery I still want it; but "the dead list" stays my hand. I just don't have the preferred sunny bog or pond edge to be successful.

Does unseasonably warm weather in the middle of winter cause woody perennials (trees and shrubs) to "wake up" too early? As with all things in nature, it all depends. Most trees from temperate climates require the accumulation of winter chill (500 and 1,500 chill hours) and subsequent heat during their dormant phase to resume growth and initiate flowering in the following spring. Chilling hours are the number of hours of exposure to about 45°F, and are measured from leaf drop in autumn until mid-February to early March.

Bearded irises are blooming in the jungle and the arilbreds are leading the way. Arilbred iris hybrids are produced from crossing the finicky-to-grow aril irises with the more common and easy-to-grow bearded irises. They tend to have a touch of the exotic from their aril iris parentage, but the ease of cultivation from their tall bearded iris parentage. As previously implied, arilbreds bloom earlier than the tall bearded irises, more in time with the standard dwarf bearded irises and the intermediate bearded irises.