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In the Garden: Asters In Their Natural Habitat

Tina talks about how much taller asters grow when they are in your garden as opposed to the ones in the garden center.

Native Asters put on quite a show this time of year.  Seen along roadsides across the northeastern part of the country asters provide a bold pop of color When other plants and perennials begin to fade into the landscape. They are a staple in many perennial gardens and borders, with clusters of star daisy like flowers.  Colors range from white, pink to  hues of lavender purple and are at the forefront of fall gardens right along side mums, cabbage and winter pansies.

Aster novae-angliae also known as New England aster and novae-belgii, New York asters are North American natives hardy to zones 4-8 and commonly found in your local garden center typically beginning in late August through the fall. They are a key food source for pollinators and wildlife alike.   Late blooming flowers, like asters provide a viable food source necessary to supply much needed energy for pollinators like the monarch butterfly and hummingbirds as they migrate southward.  They are also a pollen source for bees as well, especially honey bees.

In their natural habitat they look different than what you see in local garden centers.  When grown commercially they are typically pruned twice during the summer months to encourage branching to maintain a certain height ranging from six to twelve inches to fourteen inches at the most.  Wild asters can grow up to six feet in height without pruning. They flower effortlessly with a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight and are right at home in container gardens as they are growing in garden beds.  Caring for asters are simple and similar to garden mums.   The key is to plant asters in early fall to establish a healthy root system. They prefer full sun to partial shade.  If grown in shady area of the garden plants tend to be leggy and will need to be staked.  Asters are also drought tolerant and do best in well drained soil and can be susceptible to root rot if planted in heavy wet soil. First year plants don’t need to be fertilized heavily, once they are established  begin fertilizing in early spring.  Add organic compost around the base of the plants and use a balanced fertilizer monthly.  Overall plants are relatively maintenance free and are seldom bothered by pests.  Powdery mildew can occur but is no real threat to the plant.  Spraying an organic fungicide early in the season can help prevent it.

A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN

Fall Mums: A Perennial Favorite For Late Season Color In The Garden

Fall is a season of new beginnings, the days are shorter and the temperatures cooler.  The landscape becomes bursting with rich colors of burgundy red, gold, purple and yellow. Hardy mums are front and center of the fall garden along with pumpkins and gourds.  Whether you grow them as seasonal annuals or perennials that come back in the garden every year mums give your landscape a pop of color from September to November.  If you find them to be a bit fussy and a challenge look no further we have the answers.

Mums are an easy to grow low-maintenance plant that grows equally well in garden beds and mixed containers.  They are drought resistant and relatively pest free.  Planting mums in the garden is a great way to add late season color to your landscape. They continually bloom for weeks at a time and prefer at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.  Preparing the soil for mums requires adding quality compost to the existing garden beds. Improving the condition of heavy dense soil improves growing conditions for the plants. Mums prefer well-drained soil.

Watering mums can be a challenge.  The most common problem is overwatering.  As mentioned above garden Mums are drought tolerant.  Overwatering can lead to leaves wilting, which can be  mistaken for being too dry.  This is common problem for those who have outdoor irrigation in place.  If this has happened to you take a hands off approach, meaning ‘back off’ of regularly or daily watering.  As the daylight decreases and nights turn cooler plants are not drying out as quickly as they do in a garden during the summer months.  If you are growing Mums in containers allow the soil to dry thoroughly.  Physically checking the soil daily with your hand is helpful.  If the pot or container feels light in weight and the soil feels dry then proceed with watering.  Avoid the mums drying and wilting.  Letting them go too dry too long will diminish the blooms and color.

Fertilize mums in mixed container gardens using Jack’s Classic blossom booster 10-30-20 or All -Purpose 20-20-20.  Plants in the garden should be planted using Espoma Bio-Tone Starter Fertilizer the first year.  Then fertilize monthly the second year of growth from May to August.

Hardy mums can tolerate the frosty cool nights in the fall and can easily be overwintered for the next season.  The key to successfully overwintering mums is to plant early. Planting in early fall allows the plants to become established before winter.  Once a hard frost occurs stems and leaves will turn black.  Cut plant back leaving an inch to one and a half inches above the ground and cover with mulch. Garden Mums can grow naturally to heights of 12-48 inches. To keep plants compact and encourage more branching pinch back plant tips twice during the summer months.  First pinching occurs in June. When plant has grown 6-8 inches pinch tops off each branch about 2 inches.  Pinch again in July, 2 inches off each branch from the new growth.  This will strengthen plants and encourage blooming.

Falls rich display of colorful garden mums are unmistakable and a welcome sight after a long hot summer.

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In the Garden: What plants attract butterflies?

Tina visits the outdoor butterfly space at the Camden Children’s Garden.

You may think it is too late to plant flowers to attract butterflies to your garden, but not true.

Adding flowers in the garden now will bring butterflies to your garden for many seasons to come. Late summer and fall is the perfect time to add plants to your garden. Plants have plenty of time to settle in before winter. Typically fall can turn rainy, which is ideal for newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials to establish. Another perk of planting now is that there is still a good selection of plants to choose from at your local garden center. Late flowering perennials are ideal to add now to extend your garden blooms to the first frost.

To start building your butterfly garden you want to do research and find out what flowers butterflies are attracted to. Typically butterflies like sun loving plants. Find a location that receives an adequate amount of direct sunlight, 6 to 8 hours is ideal. Once that is established you can make your plant list. Butterflies not only love sunny plants but they are attracted to sweetly scented flowers in red, yellow, pink and purple. Flowers are usually flat topped or have clusters of tubular shaped flowers.

You want to have a good mix of host and nectar plants both annual and perennial. Host plants are important to include in the garden providing a place for butterflies to lay their eggs and caterpillars to feed on. Naturally different host plants attract different butterflies.

I recommend doing a little extra research if you are looking to attract a certain type of butterfly to your garden. Host plants like Asclepias tuberosa, Parsley, Queen Anne’s Lace, Fennel, Hollyhocks and Shasta Daises are a good place to start.

Nectar plants are equally important to provide food for the adult butterflies. Planting a wide variety of nectar plants will invite a wide range of butterflies. Native plants like Joe Pye Weed and Aster can serve as both host and nectar plant. Other popular native perennials are Coneflower, Phlox, Salvia, and Heliopsis False Sunflower. Butterfly Bush is a popular choice for butterfly gardens because of its sweet fragrance and abundant nectar, but is not native to North America. It originates from Asia and has been labeled by some to be an invasive weed.

A few design tips to consider when planting.

Create large masses of colors and flowers together in large areas. Butterflies tend to linger longer when there is a wide range of flowers and colors. Combine Ornamental grasses with flowering perennials and annuals. Varieties of Panicum virgatum, Switchgrass provide structure as well being a host plant for Skipper caterpillars. Add a water source and resting place in the garden. A shallow saucer filled with water and a few flat stones make inviting resting places for visiting butterflies. Refrain from using any pesticides in the garden and don’t worry about weeds. If you do not mind a wild looking garden keep weeds like thistle and clover around both are considered host plants as well.

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In the Garden: Visiting the Butterfly House

Tina visits the Butterfly House with Jeff Clarke from the Camden Children’s Garden and they discuss their life cycle and what plants attract butterflies.


Butterflies, butterflies and more butterflies!

We can’t get enough of the beautiful and mysterious insects that dance in our gardens with their brightly colored wings. We watch intently to see how they feed from one flower to another as we snap an iphone photo for our Instagram page. Our social media feeds are filled with photos from friends and family who have captured them fluttering about.

This has become a common summer time activity, at least I know it has for my family and friends, including myself. But if you are not quick enough to snap a photo and want an up close and personal look at butterflies, head over to the Camden Children’s Garden in Camden, New Jersey, this weekend. They have a butterfly house you won’t want to miss.

The butterfly house is a greenhouse that is home to several species of primarily North American butterflies with up to a hundred butterflies flying around inside. It is a place where adults and children alike can interact with the butterflies. The house is filled with cut flowers from from the outdoor butterfly garden. Be prepared to have an intimate look at these creatures once you choose to pick up a flower from the Butterfly Bush. While I was there I became acquainted with a beautiful Monarch and a Pipevine Swallowtail.

The Pipeline Swallowtail is unique with it’s black body and shiny blue color with white spots on it’s wings. Its host plant is Dutchman’s Pipevine, that blooms in June producing plum speckled flowers in the shape of a pipe. It is tender vine in this region and generally overwintered indoors during the coldest month. Other species include the Zebra Longwing and White Peacock butterfly, just to name a few. The butterflies in the house are not harvested or caught from the wild, instead they are farm raised. The actual life cycle for the butterflies can be about ten days. Seven days is the usual life span in the wild, but in a controlled environment where they are safe from predatory insects the lifespan is a little longer.

The key to cultivating butterflies is to increase their habitat. Planting the proper host plants for them, like Asclepias for Monarchs can attract them to your garden. In fact, native Milkweed can be found growing wild throughout much of the gardens. It provides a place for the Monarch caterpillar to lay their eggs. Planting one or two different species is ideal when mixed with a few host plants to provide nectar for the adults to feed from.

The Butterfly house at the Camden Children’s Garden doesn’t disappoint. If you are unsure why everyone is fussing over an insect then take a trip to the gardens to see the beauty and joy they bring to children and even adults. You will also learn how to attract and keep butterflies for you to enjoy in your own garden. Who knows, you may even make a new colorful friend or two.

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In The Garden: Camden Children’s Garden

by Tina Sottolano-Cain

It’s summertime in the garden, filled with flowers and vegetables.

Days are spent weeding, deadheading, harvesting and of course relaxing in the garden oasis you’ve created. If this daily routine is becoming a little too boring it may be time to get out and explore some of the display gardens in and around your area.

One of my favorite summer activities, especially late summer is to take a road trip to local gardens. Public gardens are a great resource for education and inspiration. It gives you an opportunity to see a wide range of plants and how they are used in the landscape. With so many great gardens to choose from I thought the Camden Children’s Garden is an ideal choice.

Located in Camden, New Jersey, the gardens are situated on 4 acres of land.

Valerie Frick, the director of education, tells me the gardens were started in June 1999. “It was born out of the Camden City Garden club, which is a community garden that has been in existence since 1985.”

The primary focus of the gardens and the children’s garden movement was to have a place where kids can run and play throughout nature. Frick says there are no rules in the garden, “It is important to have a fun place for children to do things that children like to do, climb, run, jump, play, explore and discover.”

The children’s garden movement wants to ensure that at a young age the children become familiar with horticulture. By encouraging them to walk on the grass and touch the plants they can feel free to explore and learn. Frick also states, “What children learn when they are young gets carried over to when they become adults.”

Some of the display gardens you will see are inspirations from a group of local landscape designers and gardeners. They even included ideas from the children in Camden County. Frick tells me they went into the Camden County school district and asked the children what would they want to see in a perfect garden. One very memorable request from a child was to walk on water, another was to have dinosaurs in the garden. Both are reflected in the interactive water fountain garden and dinosaur garden where they can learn about dinosaur bones found in New Jersey.

Other requests came from teachers wanting to bring story books to life. It was also important that the gardens reflect the important programs in the schools like educating children on how to grow vegetables in an indoor space. Frick says, they wanted to tie in the work they do in the community with the work they do in the gardens. They are a non-profit organization and operate on grants to keep the gardens going.

The Camden Children’s Gardens is an amusement park dedicated to the thrill of growing plants and vegetables. They even have their own garden themed merry-go-round. For more information go to www.camdenchildrensgarden.org.

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In the Garden: Garden Art and Sculpture

by Tina Sottolano-Cain

In recent years gardens have become an extension of our homes.

In essence, the yard patio and deck have become outdoor rooms and people are spending more time perfecting and decorating these areas. Adding garden decor is another creative way to boost interest in your garden, enhancing what you already have.

Adding various architectural elements like garden benches, sculptures and containers, along with easy-to-add elements that include solar lights, can help define the space.

Garden furniture, specifically benches, are not a new concept. It can help define the garden space and provide a destination for anyone visiting your garden. Find an area in the garden with a wide open view to enjoy or place the bench along a pathway under a pergola giving visitors to your garden a destination. Garden benching can reflect your personality, depending upon the material and style you choose. Add a pop of color with a brightly colored bench. Natural materials like stone are great to add in a garden bed doubling as a piece of sculpture as well. Whether you have a formal garden with straight lines or a curvilinear garden there is a garden bench waiting for you to take a seat on.

Garden statues and containers are another way to boost visual interest in the garden. Sculptures can give the element of surprise when used in garden bed. Place them where you may not have an abundance of plant material or tucked under taller perennials and lower growing shrubs.

Containers, on the other hand, are multi functional. Nowadays you can find large glazed pottery. These urns are modern and formal and can be placed in the garden as a focal point. The beauty of theses giant pots are you don’t have to fill them with plant material. If you use smaller potted containers in the garden along the patio or pathway always cluster in groups of three in varying sizes making the display more visually appealing.

Quick and easy elements to add to the garden include whimsical garden stakes that are colored solar lights perfect for guiding you on a nightly garden stroll. More traditional solar lights can outline garden beds and pathways as well as accenting a piece of garden art you want to highlight. When adding anything to your garden always remember to have fun. The outdoors is a space to feel relaxed, it is your very own sanctuary.