Category Archives: Flower gardening

“Plants for Pollinators,” the LI Gardening Calendar for 2017

Now’s the time to buy the Long Island Gardening Calendar 2017, a perfect gift or stocking stuffer for the passionate gardeners in your life. Plants for Pollinators is filled with tips for creating pollinator-friendly gardens on Long Island. With beautiful photographs every month, this calendar features information on how to support bees, flies, wasps, butterflies, moths and birds by planting native habitat for them. Blueberries, strawberries, apples, carrots, broccoli, and pumpkins are among many plants that require pollinator services to produce fruits and vegetables — which means we need pollinators, too!

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A flower fly visits a Rosa virginiana, a native rose. Photo © Mina Vescera.

This high-quality calendar discusses how to analyze your landscape to plan a pollinator garden and how to include nesting habitat for insects, and gives you a resource list of organizations and websites where you can learn more about sustainable horticulture and pollinators. There’s even a list of where to buy native plants on Long Island! Purchase calendars at the front desk at CCE Suffolk, 423 Griffing Avenue in Riverhead for $5 each; or use this order form to have them mailed to you for $7 each to cover their cost with postage.

Whether you’re a beginner or advanced gardener, there’s something here to inspire everyone who wants protect and support pollinators. It’s time to start planning for next year’s garden, and calendars are limited, so pick up or order Plants for Pollinators today!

Robin Simmen is Community Horticulture Specialist for CCE Suffolk. She can be reached at rls63@cornell.edu or at 631-727-7850 x215.

Growing Vines in the Landscape

When gardeners think of flowering plants, what usually comes to mind are annuals, perennials, and a few trees and shrubs. Although often overlooked, vines also have great potential in home gardens as they can create shade on pergolas, add vertical interest to arbors, adorn fences, or even serve as decorative ground covers.

Our wonderful native honeysuckle attracts hummingbirds.

Our wonderful native honeysuckle attracts hummingbirds.

To select a vine, first consider how it grows. Does it twine like a honeysuckle vine? Does it cling with aerial roots like a climbing hydrangea? Or does it produce tendrils like a clematis? Knowing how the vine grows will dictate the type of support you need to provide for it. Also think about the site: Is it sunny or shaded? Are you trying to attract wildlife? Do you prefer an evergreen plant? Here are a few vines worth considering:

Honeysuckle Vine (Lonicera sempervirens)

Our native honeysuckle vine is a great choice for a sunny site. It will happily twine its way in and out of a picket or chain-link fence, arbor, or trellis. As the botanical name suggests, this vine is evergreen in a mild winter. Honeysuckle vine is among the first plants to bloom in spring, serving as a bright beacon for Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds making their way back from southern climes where they overwinter. This vine grows 15 feet or taller and can withstand hard pruning. Some cultivars bloom continuously with red, orange, pink, or yellow flowers from spring until fall, providing all-season interest. Honeysuckle is prone to powdery mildew, but siting it in full sun with good air movement will keep the plant in good health. Aphids can sometimes be a problem. Be careful: Don’t confuse this native honeysuckle for the invasive, Asian species, Lonicera japonica!

Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla)

Dutchman’s pipe is another great choice if you’re looking for a native vine to cover a large area. This woody-stemmed, twining vine requires a strong trellis, wall, or pergola to support it. It will tolerate sun to shade in any garden setting, from a manicured garden to a tough urban site. Dutchman’s pipe was a popular choice in the 19th century, draping over large Victorian homes. The vine produces small, inconspicuous, purple-brown flowers that produce a unique odor and are often pollinated by flies that crawl into the “pipe” and get stuck within the hairs inside the flower. Once a pollinator is caught, the flower hairs wither and the insect can crawl out, covered in pollen. If you’d like to invite pipevine swallowtail butterflies to your garden, this is their host plant.

Dutchmans pipe creates a dense barrier of foliage.

Dutchmans pipe creates a dense barrier of foliage.

Passion Flower (Passiflora caerulea)

Blue passion flower, also known as hardy passion flower, is a unique option for a protected site. This passion flower is said to be hardy to USDA zones 7 and 8, but a harsh winter will probably knock this vine back to the ground. Passion flower climbs by tendrils, sometimes reaching 20 feet and higher. Unique purple-blue flowers are produced on new growth on and off throughout the growing season. If you’re looking for a native variety, Passiflora incarnata ‘Maypop’ is a hardy passionflower up to USDA zone 6. Pale-lavender flowers bloom throughout most of our growing season on Long Island. Maypop is also the host plant for the Gulf and Variegated Fritillary butterflies!

Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris)

Climbing hydrangea is a great alternative to English ivy. Like ivy, this clinging vine uses aerial roots to attach itself to porous, vertical surfaces. You’ll be graced by large, lacy, white fertile flowers surrounded by a circle of larger, white sterile flowers in summer (think lacecap hydrangea). Plant a climbing hydrangea in sun to partial shade in rich, well-draining soil. Though this vine grows well on the trunk of a tree, it is not healthy for a tree to bear the weight of another plant. Instead of a tree, choose surfaces like wooden stockade fences, stucco siding, and stone walls. Climbing hydrangea is notorious for starting off slowly and establishing its root system for a few years before it takes off. Have patience, it’ll be worth the wait!

Morning Glories Ipomoea spp.

If you like to change it up every year, consider growing annual vines such as these in the morning glory family: moonflower (Ipomoea alba), cardinal climber (Ipomoea x multifidi), cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit), and the traditional morning glory (Ipomoea tricolor). Moonflowers open at night, providing bright-white, fragrant blossoms for evening dinner parties. Morning glories bloom in the morning and begin to fade by mid-afternoon. Gardeners often combine moonflower and morning glories together on one trellis to provide a continuous bloom day and night. Cypress vine and cardinal climber can be added for a pop of bright red to attract hummingbirds and other pollinators. Ipomoea spp. can be direct-sowed in a sunny site with good drainage. They grow rapidly, twining in and out of a trellis, arbor, or fence.

Cypress vine makes a great splash of color on a wooden fence.

Cypress vine makes a great splash of color on a wooden fence.

These are just a few of the many vines we can grow on Long Island. For more options and information on growing vines in home landscapes, check out our CCE Suffolk Horticulture Fact Sheet: Flowering Vines for Long Island: Indoors and Outdoors

Sandra Vultgaggio is Horticulture Consultant for CCE Suffolk. She can be reached by email at sib7@cornell.edu or by phone at 631-727-7850 x387.

In Praise of Spring Planted Bulbs

All of us love crocus, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, and so many other bulbs that are early harbingers of spring. Dreaming of flowers to come, in autumn we have no trouble finding time to plant new bulbs for next year. There are, however, four seasons to our gardens, and when the spring bloom is done, it’s time to think of bulbs we can plant in spring for beauty during the rest of the year.

Let me take a step back and say that many catalogs and gardeners use the term “bulb” to refer to corms, tubers, and rhizomes as well as true bulbs. These little storehouses all serve much the same function: housing and protecting the buds, or eyes, for the growing season to come as well as storing energy for growth during stressful times…and the more a plant does for itself, the happier this lazy gardener is. Hence my love of spring-planted bulbs.

Who can resist the glorious iris? Photo by Kate Rowe.

Who can resist the glorious iris? Photo © Kate Rowe.

After the carefree and abundant blossoms of spring, look around your yard for empty spaces that need filling: it’s time for spring-planted bulbs to the rescue! Do you need something tall in a sunny spot? Try iris, day lilies, gladiolus, crocosmia, dahlias, or something really different: bletilla, a.k.a. ground orchid. Bletilla striata can last for years in our Long Island gardens and will grow to be 16” tall. Many gladioli also survive winters in our gardens, thanks to global warming—every cloud has a silver lining!

What’s that you say? You will happily plant iris or day lilies, but not dahlias? You don’t want to grow big, beautiful, colorful dahlias because you don’t want the hassle of digging up the tubers at the end of autumn? Well then, don’t!  With the affordable price of bags of dahlia tubers at big box stores, just forget about digging them up. Those abandoned tubers will enrich the soil…That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Do you have a shady area in need of help? Consider planting carefree variegated Solomon’s seal. Its arching stems are beautiful, and the shy green-tipped white flowers that appear under its leaves in late spring  are a lovely bonus. This gardener can assure you that if Solomon’s seal is happy, it forms lovely large clumps with virtually no help. So it’s one of my favorites; I’m a lazy gardener, remember!

Do you need late garden color? Check out re-blooming iris, canna, of which there are now some shorter varieties, and caladium which blooms throughout the summer until the first cold days of fall. And did I mention dahlias? See above for the lazy gardener’s take on these beauties! For specific advice on using bulbs successfully in your garden, read this CCE Suffolk fact sheet on Summer Flowering Bulbs.

I’ve concentrated here mainly on perennial flowers (as any card-carrying lazy gardener would) but many bulbs can be planted as annuals to provide a world of beautiful color in Long Island gardens. For the most part, these bulbs are no more expensive than a 6″ or 8″ pot of geraniums, and in general much more carefree, so give them some thought as you plan for summer and autumn color in your garden, on your patio, or in your pots. Not sure how to plant and nurture these bulbs in your garden? There’s an easy way to learn: Check out this Flowering Growing Guides list of plants from Cornell, which includes many of these bulbs.

Here’s a short list of both annual and perennial spring-planted bulbs to use either as fillers or focal points in your garden. Those marked with an asterisk are the ones most successfully dug up and over-wintered for replanting next year (an activity for the over-achievers among you):

ANNUALS                                          PERENNIALS                    

Begonia                                              Anemone

Caladium                                            Acidanthera

Canna*                                               Bletilla

Dahlia*                                               Crocosmia

Elephant ear*                                    Day lily

Freesia                                                Fall crocus (Colchicum)

Ranunculus                                        Gladiolus (to zone 7)

Tigridia                                                Iris

Triteleia                                               Lily

Solomon’s seal

Once your bulbs are planted, sit back with a cool drink and relax while they make your garden look beautiful!

Kate Rowe is a lazy gardener and Master Gardener Volunteer from the CCE Suffolk class of 2014. She can be reached at rowekb@gmail.com.

Dreaming in Color: Starting Flowers from Seed

It’s the end of March, the sky is gray, and I’m dreaming of color. I do believe it’s time to begin propagating flowers for the upcoming seasons! Annuals and perennials in all shapes, colors, and sizes are important for biodiversity in the garden. They attract bees, butterflies, birds, and a plethora of vital insects to your cultivated habitat. Here in Suffolk County, our average last freeze date is April 20, the rough date to guide you on sowing seeds indoors. Although this isn’t a hard and fast date, keep an eye on the forecast and consider your personal experience in your own yard to decide when it’s safe to set plants outdoors.

Violas or pansies are blooming outdoors now! Photo c Sandra Vultaggio.

Violas or pansies are blooming outdoors now! Photo © Sandra Vultaggio.

Different flower seeds require different germination strategies. Some seeds need light to germinate, others need darkness. Some need pre-treatments like scarification (nicking the seed coat), soaking, or chilling before you plant them. Some flower seeds are much slower to germinate and grow than others; a calendar will help you organize when to plant them. Common flowers that need a longer head start (eight-to-ten weeks before transplanting) include salvia, snapdragon, impatiens, pansies, petunias, lavender, and gazania. Compare those to flowers that need only a few weeks (three or less) such as cosmos, sunflowers, marigolds, nasturtium, and zinnias. Some annual and perennial plants don’t like to be started indoors and then transplanted. Poppies, butterfly weed, and candytuft prefer to be sown directly outdoors. Once you’ve decided what you’re going to grow, research the preferred methods of sowing and pretreatments by browsing books in the library, researching specific plants online, or referring back to the seed packet or grower’s website/catalog.

Seed starting tableThe most important tools for starting seeds indoors are light and heat. As a child, I remember growing seeds inside every spring. I would pick out seed packets with pretty flowers on the cover, and my mom would buy a bag of potting soil and containers or maybe expanding peat pots. We’d sow the seeds, set them on a sunny windowsill, and wait for them to germinate and grow. While starting seeds like this is a great activity for children, usually the seedlings don’t amount to much. A windowsill is likely too cool and too dark for most plants.

If you are serious about starting quality plants indoors, you’ll want to invest in fluorescent lights and a heating mat, available at home improvement stores and garden centers. For the really committed, I’d recommend an automatic timer for lights, a propagation stand, and easy access to water. This type of seed-starting setup creates a healthy and controlled environment where your plants can thrive.

Seed-starting materials checklist:

  • Clean containers (use cell packs, peat, fiber or paper pots, or re-purpose old containers)
  • Clear plastic dome or plastic bags
  • Commercial soil-less seed-starting mixes, usually composed of vermiculite and peat moss
  • A location where air temperatures stay consistently above 60°F
  • Fluorescent tube lights (one cool and one warm bulb)
  • Automatic timer, set to stay on for 10-12 hours
  • Electric heating mats for bottom heat (don’t plug your mat into the timer!)
  • Water
  • General purpose water-soluble fertilizer to use only after seedlings develop several sets of true leaves

Sandra Vultgaggio is Horticulture Consultant for CCE Suffolk. She can be reached by email at sib7@cornell.edu or by phone at 631-727-7850 x387.