It's no secret that flowerbed design is always evolving! Two current trends are incorporating pollinator-friendly plants and intermixing species as opposed to planting in formal rows. In the example below, two seemingly unrelated flowers are featured - Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) 'Silky Formula Mix' and Gomphrena 'Fireworks.' Upon closer inspection they display similar size and vigor, and both have a light and airy stem and flower habit. Mix them together and what a color impact you have!
The Asclepias has the added benefit of being specifically attractive to butterflies. Many Monarchs were observed on the plants at the research trials.
It's a great thing when we can color our world in addition to providing beneficial plants to our insect friends. If you are interested in pollinators, the native Butterfly Weed is a great addition to a perennial garden.
Here in eastern Kansas we have been inundated with rain this spring, making planting the flower trials difficult. You may be wondering whether or not to work your flower beds at home. Unfortunately, right now isn't a good time for the soil structure to be tilled since the ground is so wet. The soil will form large clods which are undesirable and hard to break down later when they start to dry out.
Soil is dry enough to work when poking a finger into a fistful of it makes it crumble. If water comes out or your finger just makes an indention, keep waiting. It will dry out soon.
If you have already planted your garden and are worried about standing water, the plants should be okay if the area drains within 24 hours. For more information on what to do for vegetables, turf, and trees in flooded areas, read the K-State fact sheet on Flooding and Plants.
Shrubs are a great accompaniment to annual flowers, providing some year-long structure to the landscape along with their own color and texture. If you're considering adding some shrubs to your gardens this year, you have an easy reference from K-State on what cultivars will perform well where you live. Two publications are available to download off the K-State Research & Extension Bookstore: Deciduous Shrubs for Kansas and Evergreen Shrubs for Kansas.
These publications are very easy to use for home gardeners. Plants are organized by mature size, with short descriptions on their notable characteristics and the season they provide the most interest in the landscape. Since western, central, and eastern Kansas all have different growing conditions, plants are recommended by region.
There are so many diverse cultivars to choose from! Following are just a few highlights.
The Oakleaf Hydrangea are the best performing kind of hydrangea across the state. They have beautiful big flowers and the oak-shaped leaves provide great fall color.
The bright red bark color of the Red-stemmed Dogwood make it an excellent choice for winter interest. And a pruning tip from the publication: young stems are the brightest red, so you should trim 1/3 of the oldest stems from the base of the plant every year or cut it down to the ground in late winter to ensure a big color display.
An evergreen shrub that does well with some protection and shade is Oregon Grapeholly. It's got it all - yellow spring flowers, glossy attractive foliage, a display of berries in late summer, and winter interest! A neat choice for a small area, as the cultivar 'Compactum' stays 2-3 feet in size.
On the larger side at 10-15 feet tall at maturity is the Common Smoketree. There are many different cultivars available, often displaying purple foliage. The distinctive flowers give the shrub its name, as the fine hairs make a unique smokey look in the landscape.
Check out the latest group of annual flowers to have very high ratings in the K-State trials for two years and are now on the Prairie Star list.
Full plant profiles can be viewed at the Prairie Star website, and don't forget to print out a copy of the publication to take to a garden center when you do your spring shopping!
Exciting news: There's an updated Prairie Bloom publication hot off the presses! While the website has always had the latest additions of recommended perennials for the prairie climate, it has been a long time since we came out with a new printed version. You can download the PDF free from the KSRE Bookstore.
New additions for 2015 include Peonies, Crapemyrtles, and Forsythia. See below for slideshows featuring some of them. Cultivars on the Prairie Bloom list have been tested for 3 or more years in the K-State trials and have received very high ratings in vigor and floriferousness (and, since this is a perennial trial - survival!).
The new formatting of the Prairie Bloom list has plants listed in three categories: Perennials for Sun, Perennials for Shade, and Woody Perennials for Sun. The last category includes Shrub Roses, Crapemyrtles, and Forsythia. While these are often thought of as shrubs, they can also be treated as perennial flowers since most gardeners choose to plant them for the few weeks of colorful blooms they display.
The height and width dimensions in the publication were observed during the trial period at the K-State Horticulture Research & Extension Center in Olathe. The actual plant size in your garden may differ slightly depending on where you live and the level of care you provide. Crepemyrtles, for instance, typically die back to the ground after winters in northeastern Kansas, but they grow to be tree-sized in southcentral Kansas. A local garden center should know how things perform in your region, or consult with your county extension office.
With spring finally around the corner, are you looking for something you can do in the garden now? Good news - it's the perfect time to trim back your ornamental grasses if you haven't done so already. The grasses are still dormant now, so there's no danger of damaging the growing tips. It's pretty simple to cut down the foliage with clippers, but here are some tips if you have very large grasses that can be difficult to work with.
- Before cutting, wrap twine around the clump of stems to keep them bundled together. This makes clean-up much easier.
- For thin stems, a weed trimmer makes the job faster. Brush cutters with a metal saw blade work well for thicker stems. For seriously thick grasses, bring out the chain saw - but use the top of the bar, so as not to clog the machine.
- Burning off the dead foliage now won't hurt the plant, but only do this if the fire danger is low and the grass is not located near structures.
Early spring is also a good time to divide cool- and warm-season grasses. Kansas Healthy Yards has an informative video that demonstrates the process. You can download the K-State Extension publication on Ornamental Grasses for more information and a list of grass cultivars that have done well in this area.
Perhaps reading about ornamental grasses makes you want to plant some more this spring! Here are some highlights from past trials at K-State. Exciting new cultivars and "nativars" (cultivars of native plants) are always coming on the market. Ornamental grasses are a critical part of landscapes that are functional (low water use, good stormwater management, native habitat) as well as decorative, and we will continue to see more and more of them in the future.
I could do a whole blog post about just Switchgrass cultivars there are so many out there now. 'Northwind' is a noteworthy one, and was actually selected as the Perennial Plant Association's plant of the year in 2014. Its growth habit is very upright and columnar for a Switchgrass, and once it is established it is very low maintenance and drought tolerant.
Miscanthus sinensis (Maiden Grass or Eulalia Grass) cultivars are frequently planted in our region. There are many shapes and variations to choose from, but one cultivar that stood out in the trials for consistently good performances even in dry years is 'Adagio.' It's on the shorter side at 4 feet (closer to 5 feet when blooming) and puts on an abundance of blooms in late summer. (Note: these recommendations are for Kansas and the surrounding region. In other areas of the country, Miscanthus sinensis can be invasive, especially early blooming varieties. Please check with local experts if needed.)
One of the more delicate-looking native grasses is Sporobolus heterolepis (Prairie Dropseed). It has very fine foliage and sends up arching blooms in late summer that reach about 3 feet in height. As a native grass, it is good at adapting to poor soil conditions and hot, dry weather - perfect for our area! Another nice characteristic is that no self-seeding was observed during the 3 years it was in the trial. It's also unique for a grass in that it has a distinct fragrance - I find it similar to buttered popcorn, and have also heard it described as coriander.
Calamagrostis x acutiflora (Feather Reed Grass) 'Karl Foerster' has been used frequently in landscapes for many years now. As a cool season grass it starts blooming in June, compared to the later warm season grasses discussed earlier. It is a well-mannered, erect grass that serves very well as the backdrop in a landscape design. Did you know there are also variegated options of Feather Reed Grass? Both 'Avalanche' and 'Overdam' are on the Prairie Bloom list. As you can see from the picture, the variegated cultivars tend to be a little smaller in size but still have the same overall shape.
Recently we celebrated the many accomplishments of Dr. Alan Stevens during his long career as the K-State Floriculture Extension Specialist. He retired from his post at the end of January. The venue could not have been more perfect, thanks to Family Tree Nursery in Shawnee, as people from all over the region gathered in a beautifully decorated greenhouse to wish Alan the best.
Alan came to K-State in 1990. In 1996 he began work as the Directer of the newly created Olathe Horticulture Research & Extension Center and the flower trials were established in their current location. In 1998 he coined the "Prairie Star" name and the program that lists the best performing annual flowers (and the Prairie Bloom list of perennial flowers) for the region continues to this day.
One of Alan's favorite aspects of his job was the people he got to work with, especially Extension Master Gardener volunteers. His talks throughout the state (and country!) inspired many gardeners to plant the best flowers. As the Prairie Star program moves forward, we will always be thankful for Alan's vision and the work he put into making it a success. Our world is a lot more colorful thanks to him!
Now that Thanksgiving is over it is time to discard our pumpkins, corn stalks and fall decorations and redecorate for the winter season. Our flower planters make the perfect foundation to build upon. Here are some examples we have come across over the last few years. See if something inspires you!
An assortment of evergreen branches create the perfect filler to which we can add a vertical element. Red and yellow twig dogwood branches, corkscrew willow, or any branches spray painted red, silver, gold or bronze are excellent line forms to add height. A few lotus pods and colorful preserved leaves provide contrast and interest. A large beautiful bow can then be added creating a wonderful festive decoration for our front entrance.
A blue bow and blue painted branches repeat the blues of the front door and entry carpet.
Of course we can't control the weather, but a light snow provides additional interest. A nice wintery decoration.
Cones in a variety of types and sizes combined with some colorful fruits make wonderful accents.
Add branches with bright red berries for a splash of color.
For even more ideas see the picture gallery below.
We run the annual and perennial flower trials for Kansas State University