Saturday, May 31, 2008

Deer Resistant Plants

The bane of the gardener’s existence has to be the deer and their equally annoying friends, the rabbits. It is so frustrating to plant up the garden or put in a new perennial bed only to find it mowed to the ground the next morning by deer or rabbits.
Although nothing is deer or rabbit proof, there are plants that are their least favorites. In general, they do not like plants whose leaves are stiff and fuzzy or that are aromatic. Of course, nothing is deer or rabbit proof, and if deer are hungry they will eat just about anything. Below are two lists of annuals and perennials that are more deer or rabbit resistant.

Unfortunately, most of the vegetables for your garden are pretty much a deer and rabbit smorgasbord. A short fence will keep the rabbits out, but deer are another matter. There are commercially available repellents, as well as home remedies such as hanging Irish Spring soap around the area. The commercial products use several different bases: putrescent eggs, blood products and hot pepper oil. You can also use predator urines and garlic oil. These products do work but they must be used on a regular basis. It also helps to change them periodically since the animals do get used to them.

More Weather

Yesterday’s storm may not go down in the books as a really great storm, but it was pretty severe. We were just glad that it was not accompanied by the dreaded H word (hail). In May 2005, Crystal Lake was hit with a hail storm that broke 200 panes of glass in our greenhouses, as well as shredded a lot of the plant material that was outside. I remember the hostas that we had displayed were severely damaged and we had to cut them back and let them grow out before they were saleable.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Well, as they say, when you don’t have anything else to talk about, you can always talk about the weather. The weather has been foremost in our minds as we try to keep the cold and windy weather of late from damaging the plants. It has also been topic of conversation among our customers as you wonder whether to plant now or wait til it warms up, whenever that will be. April was the coldest April in 11 years and I imagine May will break some sort of record as well. The average last frost date for our area is May 15, but frosts have been recorded as late as the first week of June! So, you have been warned.
Last week we had a frost at Countryside that nipped several varieties of annuals that had been outside, as well as some of the veggies Richard had planted in the garden out back.
Vegetables– Lettuces, the brassicas (broccoli, cabbages, brussels sprouts, etc.) do well in cooler weather, tho the broccoli that Richard planted got nipped in last week’s frost and the young primary heads had to be removed. Heads will form on the sideshoots, so the crop won’t be a total loss. The beets also got hit and the leaf edges turned brown. Sometimes the veins of tomato leaves will turn purple due to colder temperatures. The plants will eventually grow out of it once the weather warms.
It is still too early to plant the warm season crops, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and the squashes and melons. Until the soil warms up you should really hold off on planting these crops in the ground. Even if you don’t get the plants in the ground until mid-June, you should not notice a decline in production. Once the nights warm up the plants will catch up.

If you want to get some ideas for planting your garden, check out the demo gardens located around the sales lot. The Vegetable demo garden is in Greenhouse 7. There are demo gardens for perennials, annuals and the "Stepables" (ground cover plants that can take foot traffic.)

Annual Bedding Plants– Pansies and snapdragons thrive in the cooler weather but hold off on planting impatiens and flowering vinca. Planting them when the soil is still cold will really set them back. You can actually see their little leaves curl up to protect them from the cold. The wind really does a number on hanging baskets. Set them on the ground or put them in the garage to protect them.
Perennials– Although perennials can be planted now (ours have been out on the display tables for several weeks with no ill effects from the cold) you may have noticed your perennial plants have been slow to come out of dormancy due to the cold soil temperatures. I imagine butterfly bush, caryopteris and hardy hibiscus will be really delayed this year, so resist the temptation assume they have died and pull them out. I never see much action out of my butterfly bush until June.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Container Gardening

I am enjoying a day off sitting outside and trying to soak up a little inspiration for this week’s posting. Things are really picking up at Countryside. We are glad to see so many old friends and make lots of new ones. I actually have lots of thoughts but no time to really put them together.

A few weeks ago Michael and I participated in a container garden forum put on by the McHenry Garden Club. It was modeled after the floral design show that is sponsored by the Richmond Garden Club, in that several garden centers were asked to design containers on stage and the finished containers were then raffled off to audience members. There were over 300 people in attendance so obviously there is a lot of interest in container gardening.

Here are a few tips on container garden design. These are based on questions we get asked here at Countryside. A lot of this is pretty subjective. The most important thing is that you like it.
Placement: In order to get to the design considerations first determine where the container will go. This will determine the size, style and color of the container. If it is going up against a structure (house or garage) you might consider a square container so that it will sit flush against the wall. If it will be free standing, consider using a pedestal or urn-type container to get the color closer to eye level.

Color: Again, this is a matter of taste. You might want to use a container color that blends with the house color so that the flowers make a greater visual impact. If it is free-standing, in the garden for instance, you might try using a more boldly colored container so that both the container and flowers provide color interest.
Selecting Plants: Thriller, Filler, Spiller. This design mantra has become quite popular recently, being mentioned in the popular media as well as the trade media. Indeed, we are now labeling our annual plants with these designations to make it easier for customers to select plants for their containers.
“Thriller” plants are the main focus of the container. They should be one and a half to 2 times taller than the height of the container to give the proper balance and symmetry. They would be placed in the center of a symmetrical container or to the back of a one-sided design. “Filler” plants are usually mounding or semi-trailing plants that fill in the center of the container. Several different plants can be used to extend or enhance bloom time. The “Spillers” are the vines or trailing plants such as vinca or bacopa that trail down the sides of the container and soften the edges.
Maintenance: Containers require maintenance just as other garden beds do. Be sure to water regularly, fertilize, dead head and trim back the more vigorously growing plants as needed.
Michael gives a container gardening program every Saturday morning at 11am through May. Meet at his potting bench in greenhouse 4. He is also available to meet with customers whenever he is at work as is the rest of the greenhouse staff.

If you need additional inspiration go to The Proven Winners web site . It has many pictures of container gardens, as well as the "recipe" to make them. You can search their site by container type and size, color, season and exposure to find just the right combination for you. We grow a lot of their plants so if you see something you like we probably have it.