Thursday, May 31, 2007

Container Grown Tomatoes

America's Favorite Fruit

As we learned several blogs ago, the tomato is actually a fruit. It was declared a vegetable by an act of Congress in 1893 so that it could be taxed. Well, whether you say "tomayto" or "tomahto," we love our tomatoes and it is America's favorite crop. If you don't care for store bought tomatoes, but don't have the room to grow tomatoes in the ground, we have some alternatives for you.

Tomatoes are very easy to grow in containers and it is not too late to get started. There are quite a few shrub or bush type tomatoes available that do well in containers. The minimum sized container to use if you are only planting one tomato, is a 16" diameter pot. Because most dwarf or compact tomatoes are determinate, that is they grow only so high and have one flush of fruit, you might consider planting several plants with different maturity dates.

Tomatoes need lots of water and do not like to dry out between waterings, so it is important to watch the water. That is one reason to use a large container with lots of moisture retaining soil. You can also mix in water retentative crystals, such as Soil Moist, to maintain moisture levels. In my half barrel, I have two Sprite tomatoes, some sweet basil and some lettuce. The lettuce will bolt in the warm weather, so I will replace it with something later on, possibly more herbs.
One symptom of improper watering, either too little or too much, is blossom end rot, which is actually due to lack of calcium. There is a calcium supplement on the market called Blossom End Rot Stop. The calcium is in liquid form and is absorbed through the leaves when applied. This can happen whether the tomatoes are container grown or grown in the ground.
Tomatoes grown in containers will also need to be fertilized. I used the Osmacote Vegetable and Bedding Plant Food because it is slow release and feeds for 4 months. You could also use the MiracleGrow Tomato Fertilizer. It is water soluble and you normally feed every time you water.

After your plants have become established you may want to consider some other preventive disease controls. Tomatoes are prone to several fungal diseases, such as blight. It is easier to prevent these problems, since they are not actually curable. There are organic controls available. Also, practicing proper watering techniques, such as watering only the soil and watering in the morning, will help reduce these problems.

Our last shipment of herbs comes this Friday, so if you haven't planted yet, be sure to stop by the Herb House, located in Greenhouse 6.

See you soon!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Garden Trivia Quiz: An arboretum is a collection of trees for study, a fruticetum is a collection of shrubs for ornamentation or study. Wow, that was a hard one. Not even the Countryside staff got that one right. Try this one: Rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme and marjoram are all in what family? E-mail me at with the answer and you could win a coupon worth $5 for use at the store. Good luck!

Notes from the Nursery: Are you considering planting some trees this year? Now would be a good time to think about it as next month (June) we will be running our free planting promotion. Watch our ads to find out more. One tree to consider would be the river birch. This tree grows up to 70 feet tall and has reddish brown exfoliating bark, making it an interesting ornamental plant. It is relatively disease free and resistant to the bronze birch borer. The bark is its most interesting feature. It blooms in the spring with long catkins. It is primarily found in the southeastern US but is found as far north as southern Wisconsin and Minnesota.

How to Post a Comment:I was looking at the blog from my daughter’s computer and realized that in order to leave a comment you need to have a Google account. I went to the and signed Alexa up for an account. It is free although I am sure there is some sort of nefarious marketing opportunities going on. Then I tested it by posting an admittedly seIf-serving comment about the petunia basket article from last week. I have to approve the message so any of my friends who were thinking of posting some of those pictures from the last time we went out, it won’t work. Any way if you are interested in leaving a comment and don’t want to go through the hassle of creating a Google account, go ahead and e-mail them to me directly and I will respond. My e-mail is . Sorry it took me so long to figure this out. Actually, I think I'm doing pretty well, being as I am a "woman of a certain age."

More on Proper Planting
So far we have amended the soil, properly planted our plants and are watering correctly, which is to say, watering in the morning and not spraying the foliage. The last step in the planting process is fertilization. So often we spend boat loads of money on the plants, maybe we take the extra step to amend the soil and then we don’t fertilize. We say to ourselves well the plants are in soil that naturally has nutrients in it. This is true, but under natural circumstances, the soil is not as heavily planted as it is in our ornamental or vegetable beds. My friend Kim explains to her customers that you have made an investment in your garden and fertilizing is going to help your investment grow. The cost of the fertilizer is a small part of the total cost of your project, so don’t scrimp on this important part.
Decoding the fertilizer box can be a little tricky. There are three main components to fertilizer and these are shown on the package as percentages. The first number is the percentage of nitrogen, the second phosphorus and the third potassium. A good fertilizer will also have calcium, magnesium, and sulphur as secondary nutrients . Additional trace elements such as copper, iron, manganese and zinc should also be included. A quick way to remember what does what is that nitrogen promotes top growth, phosphorus promotes flowering and potassium promotes root development.
Another factor that impacts nutient uptake is the alkalinity of the soil. The more alkaline the soil, the less efficient the plant is at taking up nutrients. A soils test will determine the pH level of your soil. A neutral soil will measure 7 on the scale. The higher the number the more alkaline it is. It is hard to change the soil alkalinity. You can add soil acidifiers, such as sulphur, and add organic matter as a soil amendment. You can also select plants that do better in alkaline soils as well.
Fertilizers come as water soluble, such as Miracle Grow, or in a slow release pelleted form, such as Osmacote. I use the slow release in my perennial and annual beds. With the rain we get during the summer plus the watering we do when we don’t get rain, the water soluble fertilizer will leach out while the slow release type will stay in the ground longer. For your hanging baskets and containers it may be more convenient to use the water soluble. We recommend the Proven Winners water soluble fertilizer for your hanging baskets and containers because it is formulated especially for container plants that tend to be heavy feeders, that is they need large amounts of nitrogen.

More on Containers and Hanging Baskets:
Our container designer, Michael Fedoran, did this container for the store the other day. This container includes sweet potato vine, ageratum, euphorbia "Diamond Frost," sedge, coleus, geranium and calibrachoa. As we were looking at it, he gave me some tips on container design.

Basically, you need three types of plants in the container: the "thriller," the "filler," and the "spiller." These are pretty self-explanatory. The "thriller" would be the focal point of the container and be situated at the center or back of the container, depending on where your container is viewed from. The filler plants are shorter mounding or semi-trailing plants and the spillers are the trailing plants that pour over the side the container. In order to make the container last all season, Michael uses some plants that bloom well during the cooler months of spring and fall and some plants that do better during the heat of the summer. About the time the cool loving plants are going dormant the heat tolerant ones take over. In the example shown here, the thrillers are the geranium and the coleus, the fillers would be the euphorbia, the ageratum and the sedge. The spillers are the sweet potato vine and the calibrachoa. For hanging baskets, you would forgo the mounding plants and use only the semi-trailing and trailing plants.

On the Go

Last Saturday, our youngest daughter graduated from high school. She will be going off to Northeastern in Boston in the fall. My dad and brother came in from the West Coast (Dad from Bend, Oregon and Stewart from Santa Rosa, CA). To keep them entertained we went down to Chicago on Friday and did the architechtural boat tour from Navy Pier. It was really great, if you have never been. Afterwords we sauntered down to Millenium Park and strolled through Lurie Gardens, designed by Kathryn Gustafson, Piet Oudolf, and Robert Isreal. They have really matured over the past several years. I took this picture of the salvia. What a great color impact, with the two varieties of salvia. I don't know what varieties they are, presumably one is "May Night." I think this is a great example of the color impact of mass plantings.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Petunia Baskets

Trivia Quiz Question: We had a winner for last week’s trivia quiz question who wasn’t one of us or even a "plant!" Congratulations to Liz, who received an e-mail coupon for $5 off a $25 purchase. The answer is below. Here’s this weeks question: A collection of shrubs grown for ornamentation or study is called? Good Luck! E-mail me at . I look forward to hearing from you!

Those Lovely Petunia Baskets

We get a lot of compliments on our Wave Petunia baskets. Weeks later we also get lots of calls about why the basket doesn’t look like it did in the store. Whenever we see any one at Countryside with a petunia basket we give information about good basket care, but sometimes we don’t catch you, so here’s the scoop. Wave petunia baskets need three things to look great even months after you take it home: 1) water when it needs it; 2) fertilizer; and 3) plenty of sun. The way to tell when a basket needs water is to push on the bottom of the basket. If it feels light, it needs water. If it still feels heavy, don’t water it. Plant roots need oxygen and over watering will effectively suffocate it. When you do water, water until water drains from the bottom of the basket. Make sure the soil is thoroughly saturated. As a result of this watering, nutrients will leach out of the soil and the basket (or container) will need fertilization. Petunias are especially heavy "feeders," and can be fertilized weekly, or even daily if you need to water that frequently. We recommend the Proven Winners brand fertilizer. It has been formulated for plants grown in containers and hanging baskets. Whatever plants you have in your containers or hanging baskets, make sure that you have placed them in the appropriate location so that they will receive the proper amount of sun. Petunias need full sun. If you don’t have full sun, we have other baskets and containers that will work for you. Finally, if the plants do get a little leggy, don’t hesitate to get out the scissors and give them a haircut. In a few weeks the baskets will look good as new. So I guess that was actually four things, but still not bad for 4 months of non-stop color.

KEZW Garden Show– What did we ever do without the internet? Some of you might know that prior to living here, we lived in Denver. My favorite radio station was KEZW. Every Saturday morning, they had a gardening show and ten years later it is still on the air. I listen to it over the internet. Obviously most of the information relates more to gardening in the Rocky Mountain region, but it is fun to listen to and it’s where this week’s trivia question comes from.

Spring is Here: Part Three: Watering
All plants will need regular watering until they are established. Most plants need about an inch of water a week. It is best to water deeply on an infrequent basis, rather than shallowly every day. This encourages the roots to grow deeper into the soil and makes the plants more resistant to drought. Over watering can actually suffocate the plant because the plant's roots need oxygen. Usually, your plants can tell you when they need water because they will wilt, but just because a plant has droopy leaves doesn't necessarily mean it's time to water. During the heat of the day a plant may be transpiring so quickly it cannot take up enough water through its root sytem even though adequate soil moisture exists. Wait until the next morning and then check the plant. If it is still wilted, then water. This is not the case for containers and hanging baskets. Water them when the container feels light.

It is best to water in the morning and to water the soil and not the plant. Put the end of the hose next to the plant and set it on a slow trickle, or better yet, set up some soaker hoses. Doing these things will help reduce fungus and mildew problems, conserve water and keep weeds at a minimum.

The Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question
The petunia-like plant that is related to the potato is Calibrochoa, or Million Bells. This is a great trailing plant that works in both containers and hanging baskets. It is very heat and sun tolerant and will bloom all season long. It comes in a variety of colors from magenta to orange/yellow and white. Don’t forget to e-mail me with the answer to this week’s question.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Hope You Didn't Get Frost Bit

Just a quick post about last night's frost warning. We were very busy at the store last evening bringing in our tender annuals-- the celosia, marigolds, dahlias, etc. When I got home I covered my caladiums and hypoestes that I had planted behind my pond last week and put a bucket over my tomato, when a certain co-worker proclaimed all frost possibilities passed. Thankyou very much, Micheal! We all get a little too eager to plant when the weather finally improves and we are no different. It was 45 at my house this morning, so I think we dodged the bullet. My neighbor, Susan, was busy yesterday covering her plants. Notice she used sheets and towels to cover the plants, not plastic sheeting. You can check out some previous postings about frost damage if you did get frost last night.

If you missed our seminar weekend in April, I have uploaded Kim Hartmann's perennial slide show to a web site called Slideshare. The link is at the bottom of the blog page. There is also a link to the vegetable seminar also given that weekend. It is on a different server at the moment because of the size of the file. This is still a learning process for me and as I figure out how to work out the bugs we will make the appropriate changes to the site.

If you have any questions or would like to make suggestions for future blog topics please post a comment or e-mail me at

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Proper Planting, Part 2

The Gardening Trivia Quiz

Hey, we have a winner of the garden trivia quiz! Our own Laura Fergus from the greenhouse staff gets a batch of homemade mini-chocolate chip muffins. Laura, I’ll bring them in tomorrow. I hope you plan on sharing! See below for last week’s answer. In the meantime this week’s question: What petunia-like flowering annual is related to the potato?
E-mail me your answer at and I’ll send you back a coupon to use in the store. Good luck!

Spring is Here: Part Two

Last week I wrote about amending your soils. Today I will discuss planting.
After you have prepared the bed, the next step is preparing your plants. If the annuals or perennials you have purchased have not been "hardened off," or acclimated to the outdoor climate, place them outside in a shady spot during the day, then bring them into the garage at night. After a few days, they should be used to being outside and you can plant them. Give them a good soak while still in their flats or containers. If the soil in the containers is dry or the plants are root bound, water applied after planting may not penetrate the root ball and the plants will die. Water them again after you have planted them so that the surrounding soil is wet and the roots can penetrate into that soil. We recommend using Plant Start or Quick Start, two products that are root stimulators. These products are in a concentrated form and are mixed with water. Use this solution the first few times you water to stimulate root growth. You can use these products on all plants you are transplanting, including trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals.

We get a lot of questions about how deep to dig the holes for planting. Most plants should be planted at the same level as they are planted in their containers. Holes for trees and shrubs should be dug as deep as is the root ball or container and one to two times as wide. You should mix one-half native soil with one-half soil amendment (compost) to back fill the hole. The same can be done with perennials. There are a few exceptions. Clematis vines like to have their roots cool and you can plant these vines a good six inches deeper than they are in their containers. Roses, especially roses that are grafted onto a root stock can be planted two to three inches deeper. Tomatoes are another plant that we recommend be planted deep so that only the top two leaf branches are above the soil. Tomatoes are some plants that require lots of water and nutrients. By planting them deep in the soil, roots will grow from the stem nodes allowing the plant to take up more water and therefore more nutrients. It also results in a much stronger plant.

Another tip for successful planting is to plant late in the day so that the plant has time to recover from transplant shock during the cool evening hours.

Garden Patrol: The Woodland Garden

One of the goals of this blog is to introduce you to local gardeners and gardens and recently I visited a woodland garden with quite a history. I met Randy and Nancy Schietzelt on Election Day where we were serving as election judges. (In a side note, congratulations to Nunda 11 for having a 22 percent turnout that day. Keep up the good work.) When I mentioned my work at Countryside, they invited me to see their fabulous woodland garden that has been in the making since 1948. I also learned a little Crystal Lake history that day.
My main purpose that day was to see the abundant Virginia bluebells that have been naturalized on their property and that were in peak bloom. The white pine forest that is visible from the road marks the beginning of their property. A previous owner planted these trees by hand and carefully watered them, bringing water by the bucket full from the house. As I came up the drive the ground just shimmered in blue. Also on display was trillium, jack in the pulpit, celadon poppies and wild ginger. In order to allow these woodland plants to flourish, Randy and Nancy have worked hard to eradicate the buckthorn and mustard garlic that grow wild but are non-native invasive species. A small stream also meanders through part of the property.
As we walked around Nancy gave me a brief history of the property. Randy and Nancy have lived in the house since 1998, when they bought the property from Ardeth Wingate, wife of the late Bill Wingate. Although the house was never listed by a real estate agent, an ad had been placed in an Audubon Society magazine, to which the Schietzelts belong. Prior to the Wingate’s owning it, the front part of the property had been a chicken farm. Down the road, near where Prairie Ridge High School is today, there had been a cheese plant. The water on the Schietzelt’s property was so clean and pure that the cheese plant piped the water to the plant for use in making the cheese.

Anyone who frequents Stern’s Woods off of Hillside or the Nature Center off of Hwy. 176, will be familiar with Wingate Prairie. The 33-acre site is part of Veteran’s Acres and the 27-year long restoration effort was lead largely by Bill Wingate, a teacher who had grown up in the area. (Anyone interested in helping to preserve Wingate Prairie can call the Nature Center at 815.455.1763 to get information about their scheduled prairie work days.) Bill and Ardeth must have been pleased to sell their home to such good stewards as the Schietzelts, who have kept up similar preservation efforts at Bill’s house.

Invasive Species

Many of the plants that we use in our gardening are not native to our country. Roses came from China. Many orchid species are from South America. Some of the ornamental plants we use today are hybridized species of native plants. There are some plants that have been imported, however, that threaten the economic livelihoods of ranchers and farmers. These plants have no natural enemies and crowd out beneficial plants. It is a huge problem in the western US, where economically important forage grasses must compete for scarce resources, water being one, with the non-natiave species. Buckthorn and garlic mustard are just two of the non-native species that have invaded northern Illinois. If you have these plants on your property, please do your part to eradicate them. For a more complete list of invasive plants, visit

Nursery Notes

KC and the nursery staff report numerous calls about several tree problems. If you have Mugo or other pines you may have spotted the European Pine Sawfly larvae munching on the new growth, or candles. The larvae rear back when disturbed and they have quite the appetite. You may also have noticed little bumps on the underside of maple leaves. These are known as galls and are the reaction of the tree to the feeding of mites. Both of these problems can be solved by using Bayer Tree and Shrub Systemic insecticide ( The product is a concentrate that is diluted and poured at the base of the tree or shrub and is taken up into the branches and leaves by the tree’s vascular system. The product remains active for a year. It is a good remedy for other boring insects, such as the emerald ash borer.

The Answer to Last Week’s Garden Trivia: Congress declared tomato to be vegetable in 1893. Can you think of any other vegetables that are really fruits? Also, here’s a hint for this week’s question. The answer to this week’s question is in a previous posting. Good Luck!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Spring is Here

The Gardening Trivia Quiz

Last week’s question had to do with telling the difference between a fruit and a vegetable (the answer is below). This week’s question is part 2: What is the only fruit to be declared a vegetable by an act of Congress and in what year did that occur? E-mail me your answer at and I’ll send you back a coupon to use in the store. Good luck!
Spring is Here!
I grew up in California, but I have spent the majority of my adult years in Michigan, Colorado and now Illinois and I have come to appreciate having four seasons. In California we joked that we had two seasons: green and brown. It was green during the winter rainy season and by the end of May the surrounding countryside turned brown as the grasses went dormant. The only green would be from the magnificent oaks that dot the foothills or the star thistle. (Why is it that weeds stay green no matter what the weather?) In Colorado, due to the extreme dryness during the summer, gardening was truly a labor of love. Ten percent humidity is not uncommon. I could not grow impatiens to save my life, because I couldn’t keep them watered enough. Having been at the bottom of an ancient sea, the soil also is very alkaline and clayey. Living in the West, you must learn to love the various shades of brown that nature provides.

Here in Illinois we have our gardening issues, but basically life is good and now that spring has sprung we can get out in the garden and begin planting our annual beds and adding to our perennial gardens. As you might imagine, we get a lot of questions at Countryside about how to plant, so I thought I would address a few gardening basics today and over the next couple of postings.

Getting Ready -Part 1 -- Soil, the Garden Foundation
The most important foundation of a successful garden is the soil. Just about any soil problem can be corrected with the addition of organic matter. Heavy, clay soils, like we have here in Illinois, can be loosened up and sandy soils will become more water retentive. It is much easier to add organic matter before you start planting. If you are planting a new bed, please take the time to amend the soil with some type of organic matter. It will pay back big dividends in added productivity later on. The addition of organic matter will also increase soil acidity, which is a good thing since most plants don't do well in high pH soils. The high pH inhibits take up of certain nutrients.

What to Use: Organic matter is any carbon based material that has decomposed or been "composted". You can make your own compost from yard and garden waste, but there are many products available commercially. We don’t recommend using peat moss because it provides very little nutritive value and peat is a non-renewable resource. It is also so good at retaining moisture that it can actually reduce drainage in clay soils. Use a good compost instead. Mushroom compost is a good alternative because it is essentially well rotted manureand high in nutrients, but used excessively over time it can cause salt build up in the soil. Leaf compost is available commercially in bulk or from your own compost pile and is a good substitute. Think about getting a leaf shredder and shredding leaves next fall instead of burning them. You can add them to the compost pile, use them as mulch or dig them directly into the bed to compost over the winter. (When we got our shredder I thought I could shred them down to a wheel barrow load, but as I discovered an acre's worth of leaves is still a lot of leaves!) Newly available on the market is a product called Cotton Burr Compost. Sold locally in bags, it provides lots of nutrients as well as lightens up our heavier soils. If your beds are already established, compost can be applied as a top dressing. Eventually, worm action will work the compost down into the soil.

Next Week: Proper Planting Techniques

Container Gardening

Container gardening is gaining popularity as people downsize to smaller gardens or have less time to garden on a large scale. Gardening in containers gives you flexibility in choosing color combinations and making changes as the season progresses. More and more plants have been developed to meet this demand. We are fortunate at Countryside to have the talented Michael Fedoran who designs a lot of the container gardens we sell and assists customers in selecting unique or unusual plant combinationss for containers.

Michael uses perennials as well as annuals in his containers and at home he will cluster containers in a monochromatic scheme. Each container will have several of the same plant and he will cluster them in groups of three to five. Foliage holds more of an interest for him than do the flowers and you will notice this in the containers he does for the store. Lamium as a trailing plant or upright heucheras for the center of the container are some of his "trademarks." Although I already know some of his favorite plants (Diamond Frost euphorbia) I asked him to recommend some "foolproof" annuals for people wishing to do their own containers and these are his recommendations:

Million Bells (Calibrachoa)
Often mistaken for miniature petunias, these plants are actually in the potato family. Regardless, they are steady performers in the garden, either in the ground, but more often in containers or hanging baskets. They come in a range of colors from blues and purples, to pinks, oranges, reds and yellows. They prefer full sun, but will tolerate some shade although they will not bloom as profusely. They prefer evenly moist soils and do not like being waterlogged. If they get a little leggy, don’t hesitate to get out your scissors and give them a trim.

There must be a bazillion different coleus. One website I visited listed over 1400 different varieties! In Victorian times they were used as bedding plants, but now they are used as the focal plant in containers due to their bright, variegated foliage. While most coleus do well in shade, hybridizers have developed sun tolerant coleuses. They are very easy to grow and are resistant to most pests and diseases. With all the varieties available, I am sure you will find one (or two or more) to accent your containers this year.

The Answer to Last Week’s Garden Trivia: Fruits contain seeds and are the result of the plant’s flowering while vegetables are the edible parts of the plant, such as the root (carrot), leaf (lettuce), or stem (celery).

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Garden Trivia

We’ve made a few changes to the garden trivia quiz. We will post the question one week. You can e-mail ( us with your answer and we will send you a coupon to use at the store. (You are lucky you get the coupon. I think the staff just gets mini-chocolate chip muffins, which is a whole ‘nother story.) We will then post the answers the following week. Some of the questions will be easy, but some will require a little research. You can even come in and quiz our professional gardening staff, if you like. It’s all in good fun and hopefully we will all (including me) learn a few things. So, this week’s question:

What is the difference between a fruit and a vegetable? Good luck!

Garden Patrol–The Case of the Messy Pond

It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, the phone rang. It was a dame– a dame with a pond problem.. "I’ll be right over, as soon as it quits raining and the sun comes up. Dames, it’s always about them."

Observant readers of Countryside ads might recognize this pond. It was a winner in our garden photo contest a few years ago and has appeared in some of our advertisements. Mrs. Fueger and her family designed and built it themselves. She can see the pond from her kitchen window and from her screened porch and it has provided many hours of enjoyment. The pond was built to attract wildlife, and the day I was there the frogs and toads were calling to each other and a dove landed several feet from us to take a drink. Mrs. Fueger has many wildlife stories (I’m sure none of us will soon forget the time the giant bullfrog ate the sparrow.) Since it was built it has undergone a few changes. The plants have matured and fish have been added (and some subtracted by the local heron.)

After observing the pond with my keen eye, I sum it up in a nutshell. "Mrs. Fueger, your pond is in need of a thorough cleaning. I can’t believe you let it go like this. And you, president of your garden club!" We got straight to work. First, we removed all of the leaves, stems and large debris that had accumulated in the pond over the winter. Using a net over the pond in the fall keeps much of this debris out of the pond in the first place. Next, we assembled the Oase ( pond vacuum and vacuumed out the silt and dirt. I don’t like to entirely drain a pond, since doing so also removes the beneficial bacteria that help the pond’s ecosystem. Removing 20 to 25% of the water at a time is the most you want to remove. The vacuuming took several sessions as we had to let the disturbed silt settle several times. Remember, the pond is not a pool but you should be able to see to the bottom. Some amount of inorganic dirt at the bottom will not hurt the pond. It does provide a medium for beneficial bacteria growth. On the down side, it can also be a breeding ground for parasites that are harmful to fish.
This is also a good time to clean and examine the filter material in the bio-falls or filter. Rinse it with pond water and then use the rinse water to water your flower beds. To jump start the bacterial process that aids in the filtering process, add Eco-Fix or Microb-Lift-PL ( (for use in colder temperatures, you could use Microb Lift Autumn/Winter Prep). Using these products will help keep down the nitrogen levels in the pond and reduce algae blooms. Invariably these algae blooms will happen as the pond get itself in balance. As your plants come out of dormancy and begin to absorb the excess nitrogen and the beneficial bacteria colonize, this will correct itself.

If you do have fish, make sure they haven’t reproduced to a level that is incompatible with your pond size. The rule of thumb is one inch of fish per one square foot of surface area. If you feed your fish, you can feed a high carbohydrate food when the water temperature reaches 50. When the water temperature reaches 70, you can switch to a high protein food. Feeding your fish will teach them to come to the surface when you come out by the pond. Do not allow uneaten food to remain in the pond as this will add to the nitrogen level in the pond and worsen what algae problem you might have.

Ponds may seem like a lot of work, but they really aren’t. They attract wildlife, and the sound of the water is very relaxing. I love sitting out by my pond after work in the evening. I also like being able to grow plants that I can’t grow elsewhere in the garden. If you have a spot in your garden for one come in and talk with our aquatic specialists about installing one. Be sure to tune in again for another thrilling episode of "Garden Patrol!"

Plant Profiles for the Water Garden

I love tropical and tropical-looking plants. I have cannas and lotus in my pond. The cannas overwinter in the house and the lotus is hardy. I have grown tropical lilies and this year I am planning on adding a papyrus.

Tropical Lily

If you have ever seen a tropical lily in bloom, you will wonder why you ever bothered to grow a hardy one. The flower heads are much larger and more intensely colored than hardy lilies. Blue flowered lilies are available and the flowers of all tropical lilies are much more fragrant than hardy lilies. The flowers are held well above the water making for a very dramatic display.
For those of us who work during the day, there also are night blooming tropical lilies. These only come in three colors, white, pink and red, but how delightful to come home and see them open rather than closed, as day bloomers and hardy lilies would be at that time of day.
It is possible to over winter tropical lilies, though I have never been successful in doing so. As with all lilies, they are heavy feeders, requiring fertilization twice a month. Yes, they are a bit pricey, but as a former co-worker once told me, it isn’t any more than you’d spend on a geranium tub or hanging basket that also will last only one season . So, take the plunge and add one to your garden pond this summer.


The Cyperus family features grass-like plants, including the umbrella palm and papyrus, that add some height to the water garden and have unique, umbrella- like foliage atop their stems. Their stiff stems can grow up to ten feet tall and they do take some shade. It is a tropical plant but easily overwinters in the house. If the taller varieties are too tall, dwarf varieties are also available. All varieties provide excellent natural filtration.
My other favorite plant for the water garden is the Black Magic colocasia, or taro. It will also over winter indoors, though apparently it does like it a bit warmer than I usually keep my house (I am such a scrooge with the thermostat.)
Mrs. Fueger’s pond is planted with mostly hardy plants, but she also has a papyrus. Some of her favorites are: anacharis, sweet flag and hardy lilies. The anacharis is anchored to the pond bottom with weights and helps to add oxygen to the water.

Good luck with the gardening trivia question....And Happy Gardening.