Gardening Tips

Branching Out

(Excerpted and edited from Marilyn Pulk’s column in RGC Bramble Newsletters)

Q. At our Winterfest party, I received a cool winter “color bowl” that consisted of a miniature blue fir tree, poinsettia and what I believe is a Marten Spikemoss (although there weren’t tags on the plants). The poinsettia is long‐gone and the fir tree transplanted, but the spikemoss seems to have suffered from the outdoors transplant. How best to save this?

A. Part of the problem might be location‐location-location. Marten’s spikemoss or Selaginella martensii is a great houseplant for lower light spots, so moving this one outdoors might be the major problem here. That’s probably why it was available at holiday time. This earns a cool plant award as it resembles a Thuja (Arborvitae) in leaf structure, but not in height. And it looks like it could be an outdoorsy, mossy kind of plant, but you want to keep this one in the houseplant category. Also, this is not a clubmoss, as that is something different (but related).

Efforts to keep this one going are worthy. And according to, “This is an OLD specimen. The Lycopodiophyta division is the oldest living vascular plant division at around 410 million years old.” Whew! Not to get too much into taxonomy but this genus is kind of the go to for both an order AND a family, Selaginellaceae. So, all of that being said, they aren’t like your standard flowering plants. Not quite ferns, but in terms of care they are very similar. They like to be well watered with high humidity and kept fairly warm. Room temperature should be fine. To combat your bone dry house in the winter, either put a dish with water and rocks under the pot…or they even make humidity trays that work well.

You can find them with yellow to white variegated tips that are reminiscent of a Thuja/false cypress (Chamaecyparis) blend. Almost like having a little evergreen in your house! A few details about the plant include they are spore producing and as an interesting distinction, lycopods only have one microphyll (leaf vein) per leaf compared to the many in ferns and many other plants. Unlike almost all lycopods, Selaginella actually does have some trace branching off of the microphyll. Very old school and far less evolved, but obviously a pretty solid model, considering they are still around.

This particular species may be found listed in houseplant books with a common name of resurrection plant. In times of extreme drought they turn brown and curl up into a ball and can be uprooted. When moisture returns they turn green and “bounce back.” Pretty cool survivalist at any rate. So, don’t despair on saving this one….just bring it inside as fast as you can…before it curls up into a ball and more than likely, it may go on to outlive you.

Q.  At a recent “big box” store venture for summer blooming bulbs, I found some Ismene festalis, aka spider lilies, Peruvian daffodils, sea daffodils, summer daffodils or basket lilies—take your pick on the common name—that I’m now wondering why they were sold, since I’m thinking they might be tender here. How best to be successful with these bulbs to get such fascinating summer blooms?

SpiderLillyA. It’s a bulb, it’s fragrant, it blooms in the middle of hot summer…what more could one want? Hardiness? According to, Hymenocallis festalis is a group of tender bulbs that are natives of tropical America, Peru, Africa and the U.S. The name means “beautiful membrane” which refers to the corona that connects the stalks of the stamens for a portion of their length. Their attractive, showy flowers resemble both daffodils and lilies, so their common names reference both of these flowers. Ismene festalis syn. Hymenocallis x festalis is a cross of the Mexican H. narcissiflora with H. longipetala. It is one of the best-known, easiest-grown, and easiest-to-find cultivars and is hardy to zone 8, as it turns out. Some Hymenocallis like a boggy situation (some in greenhouses actually grow in water); others prefer light watering and good drainage. Hymenocallis festalis is the light-water type according to most sources.

The large pure white, ivory or yellow flowers are noteworthy both for their intricate design and fragrance. These strongly scented 4-in. flowers are borne atop 2-foot, leafless flower stalks and the leaves resemble Amaryllis. The fragrance is of the orange blossom/gardenia tribe, but somehow diluted and softened in a very pleasing way. Each stem may hold 2-5 flowers, resembling spidery daffodils, which are white with green stripes and lovely spiraling, recurved petals around a central cone.

Now onto the hardiness…Peruvian daffodils are only hardy in zones 8 to 10, but they can easily be grown outside this range (according to USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map we are zone 8b), if the bulbs are dug and stored in a frost-free location over winter. They do very well grown in pots and containers, if the soil is kept moist and fed monthly with a slow-release fertilizer from spring to fall. Do not move the plants outdoors until night temps average above 60o F. When frost threatens in the fall, dig up the bulbs carefully leaving soil around the roots and put them in a well-ventilated shady place on their sides until leaves wither. Cut off the leaves and store bulbs upside down over winter in dry peat moss or vermiculite at 60-70o F. To be on the safe side, the clay pot method described by speaker Pat Roome, may be a good bet for these on-the-cusp hardy bulbs—that or a container. Just insert the clay pot in the warmed-up ground and remove in the fall. The “festalis” part of the name means, as you might have guessed, festival or holiday. So it’s a beautiful festive membrane. I think the curling-back petals of Hymenocallis look like some party decoration or a 4th of July burst in the sky and hopefully with the aforementioned precautions, you’ll be celebrating your own little Hymenocallis festival this summer while humming the overplayed lyrics “Baby, you’re a firework….come on let your colors show”

Q. My Yucca Filamentosa ‘Color Guard’ plants have provided such vibrant color this winter, when all else appears dead. I’d like to figure out how to transplant the “pups” that have sprung up beside the mother plants. Some of these “moms” bloomed this summer with spectacular spiky white flower stems. But, am I right in thinking that they won’t bloom again? And if so, I’d like to propagate the babies for our plant sale. About how long would it take for these pups to achieve plant sale gallon size? This has been my go-to plant for color, deer resistance, poor soil, cool foliage and drought tolerance. I’d like to pass this one along, if possible.

Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’A. Good on you for thinking early about plant sale baby propagation. February is the month when our thoughts turn toward seed-starting and getting a head start on the spring plantings, after some armchair winter landscape evaluations. Your Color Guard yuccas are so cool in winter and have been listed in the NW Great Plant Picks selections. Their analysis of this yucca culture states: “Yuccas adapt well to most garden soils. This plant prefers a well-drained or sandy soil but is tolerant of clay and is very drought tolerant once established. The best growth and flowering occur in full sun. Although it will tolerate light or open shade, it is less likely to flower. Once established, yearly removal of the oldest, dead or damaged leaves in the fall or winter is recommended. The rosettes of foliage that flower will die after the bloom fades, but new side pups quickly re-sprout to form new plants.” This means only the rosettes of foliage that flowered will kick the bucket—the rest of the plant (minus the dead leaves underneath) should maintain their colorful foliage. The pups will arrive after that flowering display.

There are several propagation methods for yuccas (seeds, stem cuttings, offshoots—pups, or bulbils), but the pup starts would shave months off of the seed method. According to, “Pups do not need to be removed from the parent plant but, if the pups are not removed, they will eventually grow up on their own where they are and you will have a large clump of yucca. If you do decide to remove the pups, the first thing you will need to do is wait until the pup is mature enough to survive without the parent. If the pup is pale and whitish, it is still too young to remove from the parent. But if the pup is green, it has the chlorophyll manufacturing capacity needed to live on its own. The timing of when you will be repotting your yucca pup is important as well. Yucca pups should be repotted in the fall. Repotting the pups in the fall will do the least amount of damage to the parent plant, which will be in a slow growth period.

To remove the pup from the yucca, remove as much of the dirt from around the base of the pup you wish to transplant. Then take a sharp knife or spade and cut down between the parent plant and the pup. Make sure to take a chunk of the parent plant’s root (which is what the pup will be attached to). This root piece from the parent plant will form the new root system for the pup. Take the separated pup and replant it where you would like it to grow or place in an appropriately sized pot. Water thoroughly and fertilize lightly. Your yucca offshoot pup should have no trouble establishing itself and growing into a beautiful new yucca plant.” Timing? That’s another matter. The size of your transplanted pup is key to being “plant sale worthy” by this year. I’m guessing at least a year or more to size up for a good price point. Wear gloves and whack away this fall or if you’re brave, on a semi-warm day this month.

Q.  My Cryptomeria japonica “Sekkan-sugi” (a Great Plant Pick) has been hit by the grazing deer population. I’ve since surrounded it with fencing, but am concerned whether this columnar tree will make it, since they ate off the leader. Should I do some pruning, in addition to what the deer did? Or let nature take its course. Sadder but wiser

Cryptomeria japonica
Cryptomeria japonica

A. It’s completely understandable why we’re drawn to this cool tree, with its graceful shape and glowing golden needles. It’s a standout focal point in the landscape, especially against dark green or blue companion shrubs/trees. Fine Gardening Magazine describes its finer points by season: “In spring, the young foliage emerges a pale shade of yellow in a herringbone pattern. By summer, some of the new growth is still evident, making a striking contrast with the deeper green of the older needles. In autumn, the crinkled brown cones dangle daintily on the ends of the branches. In winter, new developing cones become more obvious, they look like little lanterns as their light color gleams during the seasonally gray days.” According to the Great Plant Picks info on the Golden Japanese Cedar, it is a visually dominant tree in the landscape because the foliage color is so intense and shines like a beacon in full sun to dappled shade. They also say it needs very little pruning. The plant sounds like it’s young, if the deer were able to reach the leader, because this tree has a medium growth rate, increasing in height and width about 10 in. per year and typically maxing out at 30 ft. or so. In any case, with its open branch structure, this cedar is easily kept short and bushy with regular pruning. It is, however, susceptible to wind damage, so avoid a windy site. Now that it’s surrounded with fencing, the tree should have some recovery time and perhaps the deer have helped create a bushier specimen. Greer Gardens stated that “this medium to fast grower does not usually have a single leader and is bushy in nature”, so stand back and watch the explosion of new branches which should overtake the chopped off “leader” in time. But back to the deer problem…. Louis the Plant Geek stated in his Gardening Journal that this tree is “Grown for not only its young foliage and branches, which are a bright creamy yellow that’s a strong and exciting contrast to the green of older growth; but—and here’s the definitely refutable part– its unpalatability to deer. Cryptomeria is, as a rule, avoided by all browsers; I’ve never heard of (nor experienced) their bark getting gnawed either.” OK…then…. Welcome to my world…

Q. At last year’s Green Elephant Plant Swap, I snagged a carnivorous North American Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia), which the owner said would be hardy outdoors. I’m finally getting it in the ground but wondered about whether the spot which is wet, clay-like and in shade will work. What is the best location for this glorified fly-catcher and its requirements?

American Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia)
North American Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia)

A. Sarracenias are an easy, great start at growing a showy carnivorous plant. In our zone, the ssp. “purpurea” is easy to grow in anything that can hold moist peaty soil and still be well draining–not exactly the soil selection you’ve chosen with the water-retaining clay site. They also need full sun, or a reasonable facsimile here in the NW, so a move to those kinds of conditions would ensure success. The best option for a smaller space is a 12 in. diameter dish garden in a plastic bowl with a drainage hole—creating a mini-bog garden, but it must be kept moist (the peat helps)—especially in our dry summers. Pitcher plants go dormant and die down in winter. Cut the old pitchers off before spring growth begins to allow for the fresh pitchers to shine—like the flowers they aren’t. A move to a more hospitable location is in their future. Then, stand back and listen to the “invertebrates” scream as they check into the tube motel, but can never check out… Sorry, a bit ghoulish….but ‘tis the scary season this month.

Q. As a Heronswood Tour and Plant Sale attendee, several of us were drawn to purchase the tropical-like Chinese May Apple, Podophyllum pleianthum, and now I’m wondering how best to plant and care for my single-leafed exotic?

Chinese May Apple, Podophyllum pleianthum
Chinese May Apple, Podophyllum pleianthum

A. Yes, this is a landscape standout…. Our “OOH-LA-LA”Ciscoe says that the May Apple is “One plant I could never be without in my garden. These exotic, herbaceous relatives of barberry feature large, umbrella-shaped leaves, colorful flowers and showy, inedible fruit.” He cautions, however, to plant the crown of your Podophyllums 1 to 2 inches below soil level in a woodsy setting with moist but well-drained soil. Planting deeper like this will delay emergence in spring, which is important as most May apples can be harmed by late-spring frosts. In all of its giant starfish-like splendor (often dinner-plate sized), this one is a show-stopper in the shade garden, standing at 18 to 24 inches in height. A word of caution…those spectacular leaves will burn if not shaded. These Asian species represent an absolutely stunning collection of shade-loving foliage plants with a variety of angular leaf shapes and look spectacular grown up against different textural plants. The bonus is the bizarre clusters of red flowers peeking out from underneath the umbrella. Your single-leafed plant is too immature to flower, as plants with two or more leaves (usually in the third year) will develop the nodding round, green flower buds on the leaf stems underneath, that open one after another to a richly, dark red color in May or June. An older plant will have many buds, so that the flower season lasts for quite some time. These then give way to an impressive summer display of red, fleshy tomato-ish fruit about 2 inches long. Even though May apples have a tropical look, they can survive to -10 degrees, so can handle our winters well (Zone 6-9). This is an incredible addition to a semi-shade or dappled woodland light condition and given the right moisture-retentive, organic enriched soil can form an excellent ground cover as it creeps slowly with clusters near the base from rhizomes. Cut back the stems in autumn and propagate by division in late spring for sharing with jealous shade gardeners….or better yet think of our own RGC plant sale in a few years as a “special plant” entry. Everyone wins in this “Oh-so-worth-it plant”! Now a more important question is whether they’re deer “CANDY”… Think this one might go well in a tall deck pot for that three year waiting period to ensure success. Then spotting the blooms without deep knee bends or crawling around, peering underneath is a possibility. Another winning thought!

Q. I recently received some elephant garlic bulbs and wondered how best to grow or process these in our region?

Elephant Garlic, allium ampeloprasum
Elephant Garlic, allium ampeloprasum

A. What a great gift! Territorial Seed Company provided a short tutorial on Elephant Garlic, allium ampeloprasum. It is not a true garlic, as it’s related more closely to a leek. These enormous cloves produce softball-sized heads and have much milder and sweeter flavor than garlic, more suitable for many recipes. This easy-to-grow, late season bulb is planted 6-8 inches apart, covered with 4-6 inches of soil and in our maritime Northwest region is best planted by mid-October or early November, so it has time to establish a good root system before cold damp weather settles in (known as vernalizing). When spring growth begins (right about now) keep the soil slightly moist (not a problem this year), well weeded and fertilized with a high nitrogen fertilizer applied every two weeks until bulbing begins. As harvest approaches, watering should be less frequent to avoid molding or staining. Cut off any flowering stems at the top leaf to redirect energy to the bulb. Garlic should be harvested when 3-4 green leaves remain on the stem and when the garlic tops begin to turn brown. Once half of the stem has turned brown and started to dry out, the garlic can be harvested. Each green leaf represents one layer of covering over the bulb in the ground. If there are no green leaves when you harvest, you may find the cloves are exposed when you dig up the garlic. After about 2 weeks, you can hang the plants in small bundles in a cool location to cure and increase storage life and out of any direct sunlight. You can also remove stems and store garlic heads in a mesh bag. It sounds like the bulbs you received are freshly harvested and ready for this storage and cooking process soon. Generally, there are about 5-7 cloves per head (fewer than other garlic varieties), so maybe save a few healthy cloves for fall planting to enjoy yet another harvest. As one clove produces one head of garlic, consider planting about 10 plants. And bring on the artisan bread and roasted garlic!

Q. The past few winters my bloodtwig dogwood has not shown its normally brilliant red stem color. The stems are more of a dull green. What could be wrong here?

Bloodtwig Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea)
Bloodtwig Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea)

A. According to Horticulture Magazine’s Q& A Nov./Dec. 2013, the answer is a maturity issue. “The best red coloration on bloodtwig dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) occurs on young stems. Your shrub is likely looking dull because its stems are fully mature; it’s normal for them to turn army green or brown as they age. To restore your shrub’s vivid winter presence, prune it in the late winter or early spring. Cut the stems down to about one-inch tall. You can cut them all down, or select a third or half of the stems to remove each year (always choosing the oldest ones). Bloodtwig dogwood forms flower buds on old wood, so such cutting down of the stems will prevent flowering. However, its flowers are not very significant, so you may not mind. If you use the shrub for its bird-attracting abilities, though, just keep in mind that preventing flowering will also prevent the formation of those fruits that the birds love. This regimen also works well for maintaining the winter stem color of tatarian dogwood (Cornus alba), redtwig dogwood (C. sericea) and willows (Salix spp.) with colorful stems.” You need to cut a little to get better blood-red looks, so don’t be afraid to hack away. This is one cutting trick that can be practiced at home.

Q. My 4 year old, 10 ft. tall American Sweetgum tree “Rotundiloba” (a sterile variety that does not produce the nuisance spiky ball seeds and fruit) has been damaged by deer. It is supposed to have a pyramidal shape as a young tree and then more of a rounded shape as it ages. I’ve lived with the deer eating up the bottom leaves, which has always given the tree a more tidy, flat bottomed look. But now, one of the stronger side branches close to the top has been ripped down and is hanging on by only the bark, which when removed will create a lopsided shape. What should I do for pruning to save this tree and its pretty shape?

American Sweetgum tree “Rotundiloba”
American Sweetgum tree “Rotundiloba”

A. Online research revealed that the sweetgum tree is a very resilient fast-growing tree with a neat shape as you described and can get up to more than 100 feet (definitely out of deer reach then). The bark is grayish brown and deeply furrowed (think alligator), but it’s the tree’s late fall yellow to purple-red leaf color that is worth the wait. In most cases, the damage done by animals such as deer is negligible, and preventative measures rarely need to be taken. In fact, sweetgum trees can lure these destructive animals away from other, more vulnerable landscape plants. Maybe that’s something you don’t want to know right about now. At any rate, the trees are hardy and fast growing and will recover from most damage that is done. Cass Turnbull, our local Plant Amnesty pruning guru cautions that “when a tree is injured, it must stop the decay that wants to eat it up, and grow a new replacement part, say a new limb.The decay begins with the injury. The tree does the defense work internally. Trees don’t heal, they set up barriers to rot and then try to outgrow it. Sometimes a tree compartmentalizes well, and only a small pocket of rot remains sealed off inside the trunk as the tree grows larger. The only wood that is guaranteed not to decay after an injury is the new wood—the rings of wood laid down after the tree is damaged.  Whether your tree dies back totally or partially when wounded depends a lot on how well it walls off wounds generally according to its genetic makeup. Prompt removal of injured limbs is imperative.  Cut out the deadwood and little else. Leaving deadwood rotting on a tree draws in the rotting organisms. Besides, it looks bad.” Immediate marching orders are thus to remove the dead branch, step aside and keep your fingers crossed for signs of recovery in the spring. Reshaping is a secondary approach after your sweetgum recovers. Pruning out the deadwood along with letting nature take its course…well, maybe with some more deer fencing protection…is worth the wait for this pretty landscape addition.

Q. My impatiens all died off in mid-summer. The leaves yellowed, curled and dropped off as did the flowers, leaving naked stems.  What’s going on?

A. Impatiens, that ubiquitous shade-blooming plant, which appears all too often in our gardens out of desperation for bloom color, is showing considerable stress from downy mildew in landscapes around the country. Most likely the culprit at your site is downy mildew (Plasmopara obducens). This pathogen is not new; however, It was identified on the native wild impatiens (now known to us as Jewelweed) in 1897! The undersides of the infected plants become covered with white fuzz, which is the sporangia or spore-bearing parts of the fungus. Cool temperatures and high humidity favor the growth of this fungus. Besides the spores produced by the sporangia, this fungus also reproduces by producing oospores (another type of spore) within the stems of the infected plant. These can remain viable in the soil for years. It would seem like a good idea not to plant the walleriana variety of impatiens in these infected beds in the years to come. Avoid watering your plants at night (near to or after sundown), and you may be able to deter this scourge. NEVER buy plants from a dealer when the plants look stressed, limp, or just not attractive. Even at half price, these plants will not be bargains! The color of impatiens in shade can be very “hot”, but there is nothing worse than seeing the plants started from seed die off, so looking for alternatives for the space is a good idea. Try New Guineas, but remember that they require more light than the walleriana species to bloom well. Maybe some hostas, astilbes, epimediums will fill the space better, although less colorful. Go to: for additional information and select Impatiens Downy Mildew (Extracted from Harvard Garden

Q. For future “preferred plant” ideas down the road, I’d like to propagate my acer palmatums—What’s the best way to go about this?

A. Japanese maples are spectacular additions to our plant sale numbers, but just don’t expect a good-sized tree any time soon. Patience is the key word here, so get started with this year’s crop of seeds. Chris Beardshaw of Gardeners’ World magazine answers this question best: “If your acer is an acer palmatum species type, you could collect and sow the seeds, as these will come true to the parent. Sow into a rich compost material, lightly covering the seeds, and put in a protected area in winter months (garage, greenhouse, coldframe). Seeds should germinate in the spring. However, if your plant is a variety, let’s say Acer Palmatum ‘Corallinum’, then it won’t come true from seed, so it won’t be an exact replica of the parent plant. But the chances are that it would have many of the characteristics of the parent. If your acer either fails to set seed or you want an exact copy of a variety, then try taking a “heel” cutting or even layering. Commercially, the most successful technique is grafting, which is quite a technical process, but it can be great fun for propagating all sorts of woody plants. If you want to give it a try, the best advice would be to enroll in a grafting course at your local horticulture college program.” Several small acer seedlings I acquired at the Green Elephant Plant Swap (several years back) have been emerging slowly in my holding pen.  The wait is so worth it, when you see the beautiful red lacy leaves poke out once again in spring, it may be hard to part with them, however. Acers are showy landscape pieces and so worth a try.

Q. As veggie season heats up, a question about a lonely artichoke start in my raised bed that >popped back up after our mild winter. How do I nurture this along for best harvest results?

A. Architectural and dramatic, nothing tastes better than your own ‘chokes!  Rule of thumb: Give rich, well-draining soil, sun and room to grow and you’ll be sharing with your neighbors in no time. And bonus…They’re deer resistant! Hopefully, your variety is “green globe”, which can be grown as an annual or perennial and if so, for best harvests get a row of them—and if you’re a true ‘choke devotee maybe an entire bed as they will produce as many as 10 heads per plant for years with little maintenance! Be aware that if you’re successful with these guys, they can be dug up and divided at the base to produce more plants, so maybe a wait-and-see strategy works best for multiplying on the cheap. The other side of the coin, is that it may take several seasons before harvest begins. Since artichokes have limited frost tolerance, if it survived the winter without it, you’re in luck. It’s best to apply heavy mulch in the fall, to brace them against cold possibilities. These guys can get up to 6 ft. tall and just as wide, so plant 4 ft. apart with the rows also 4 feet. They start out as short, leafy plants, but soon by midsummer will send up thick flower stalks. The artichoke bud will begin to develop at the top of each stalk. Colin McCrate (former speaker) recommends keeping plants well watered throughout the summer and a balanced fertilizer applied each spring for best-tasters and incorporating these drama queens in your landscape beds. Now for the fun part…harvesting. Harvest the immature flower buds when they’re still tight and compact. Cut just below (1” to 2”) the bud with a knife or hand pruners. If you leave the bud on the plant too long, it will develop into a large, purple, thistle-like inedible flower that is a bonus landscape beauty atop the gray-green spiky leaves. Soon you’ll hear the chant, “Get out the aioli and garlic butter, Gramma, it’s ‘choke time!

Q. Fresh from the Flower & Garden Show’s Marketplace, a purchase of Eucomis comosa “Sparkling Burgundy” bulbs were a thrill buy, since on many nursery websites, these were sold out. Now, I’d just like to ensure that they survive in our Zone 7ish climate. How best to achieve these spectacular pineapple-like blooms this summer?

A. According to Fine Gardening magazine, you’re right to covet these beauties as they refer to it as an “outstanding cultivar” of the pineapple lily family. This variety boasts dark burgundy strappy leaves that slowly change to olive green, and then revert back as the flowers fade.  The flowers form on 20- to 30-inch stalks bearing bottle-brush-like wands of tight, smokey pink florets, which are crowned by tufts of purple bracts.  As the common name implies, these unusual and magnificent inflorescences are reminiscent of pineapples. This is a South African native to the dry screes and annually damp meadows. We’re just on the edge of the zones where it can grow successfully (zones 8-11), as they are considered tender bulbs, which must be overwintered in a frost-free location.  Plant the bulbs 6 in. deep, in fertile, well-drained soil in full sun (darkest foliage color) to partial shade.  In our cooler climates, it might be best to show off these plants in containers for solo garden display, added warmth and easy winter removal for protection in garages, etc.  Water freely in active growth; they do best if dry when dormant. Bulblets can be removed in spring and replanted—a bonus for sharing as a Plant Sale “specialty” or with like-minded, shovel-ready gardener friends.

Q. I have two pot‐grown agapanthus plants (thanks to our plant sale), which are experiments as to where the best blooms occur. These were both divided up at the same time, however‐‐one pot on a full‐sunny deck was loaded with blooms, while the other in partial shade had one bloom. I’ve definitely babied these guys and overwintered them in the garage. There was also a difference in pot size. Any ideas why they differed and how to improve blooming?

A. According to Gardeners World writer Theresa Stephenson… “A lack of flowers is a sure sign that your agapanthus plant is unhappy. While it’s true that they prefer to be crowded in pots, that doesn’t mean that repotting can be delayed indefinitely. In order to see mass of blooms, the plant must have masses of roots. So start out with crowding the pot in order to see early blooming. They prefer a well‐drained, but moisture‐retentive soil‐based compost. Add humus in the form of leaf mold or well‐rotted farmyard manure to the mixture. Check that the drainage holes in the base of the container aren’t blocked. Give plants a high‐potash feed in spring to increase flower size and intensify the blue colored varieties. A midsummer feed of fertilizer will build the plants up before autumn rests.” Agapanthus, or Lily of the Nile is a So. African plant that is considered a bulb in need of winter protection here in the NW. And then there is the issue of location, location, location. As a So. African native, it needs the hottest, sunniest spot available in order to assure those luscious globe‐like purplish‐blue blooms. For best results, the answer might be to crowd more roots into the unproductive pot (although there is a fine line between cozy and excessively pot‐bound), and definitely send it out into the heat‐seeking area of the yard. They may also be shy to flower if subjected to drought following flowering. Keep them moist until fall after flowers fade, which will encourage development of new flower buds. Too much shade, cold weather and lack of winter protection are also common reasons for no flowers. So if you’re in pursuit of that blue summertime fireworks blast, remember to fertilize, put their faces in the sun, keep watered, protect and then await the explosions.

Q. I bought a Brugmansia (Angel’s Trumpet) at a plant sale last year, with full awareness that it was a”tender” tropical here. How best to overwinter this potted darling?

A. First, a general thinking: No two gardeners’ potential places to stash such treasures will match in temps or humidity, so when some use a basement or garage, these may not work for others. The best spots are chosen by experimenting (and killing) many in the process. However, don’t let failure stop you. Often if you don’t have the right spot for a plant-a combination of high light but cool, 50ish degree conditions, then try forcing the plants into dormancy or semi-dormancy so as to limp along. If you have non-hardy plants you’ve tried keeping as “houseplants” inside the house, only to see them go wretched and leggy, think about letting them rest, or close to it, by watering sparingly and keeping them as cool as you can. Again: Experiment. The best Brugmansia (Angel’s Trumpet) tactic is to let it go dry and dormant in a 45ish-degree spot like a garage, etc. It can get to be quite a giant in the ground or even in very large pots (see above) and big plants are hard to store (or even get into the basement), so eventually you face the reality of having to cut it back partway to even get it into storage. Some gardeners have effectively tried cutting larger plants in half (divide for the plant sale), resting them lying down in an out-of-the-way corner, leafless and cool With any luck, those trumpets will be blaring loudly next year!

Q. Help….My garden has fallen and it can’t get up. As summer winds down into fall and the beds look like the end of a 4th of July party, what kinds of plants should I have focused on planting that provide a better floral segue into this season?

A. Falling into fall, what a great garden concept. As you mentioned, image-consciousness and gardening don’t mix, especially at the change of seasons. There is something disorienting about disarray and the loss it represents—in this case a summer has passed by and many of our must-haves are passing on to that great garden in the sky. But fall can be just as invigorating with colorful plant displays that want to take their turn on the catwalk. Fall-flowering annuals and perennials abound if you know where and what to search for. Many nurseries are well stocked with choices just awaiting credit cards. Fall bloomers also tend to blossom in seasonal jewel tones of deep purples, rusts, scarlet and gold. For fall bloomers to be hardy, you need to plant and establish them earlier in the season for best results. There are even a few autumn bulbs (colchicum, crocus, lycoris, sternbergia) you can plant for additional surprise and interest. Deciduous trees like tupelos provide instant fall color and at least one Japanese maple is a must in our region. Plant a portion of your landscape with fall blooming perennials that benefit from development over the cold weather months. Typical fall perennial color spots include chrysanthemums, autumn joy sedum, anemones, chelone, joe pye weed, helenium, helianthus, solidago and asters. Colorful shrubs (heavenly bamboos, enkianthus, barberries, oakleaf hydrangeas, clethra, cotinus coggyria, winged euonymus, etc.) and vine leafs (Virginia creeper and vitises) provide glitter and don’t forget lateblooming shrubs like caryopteris or those with colorful fruits (viburnums, beauty berry, porcelain berry, etc.) Swaying seedheads of ornamental grasses are a soothing mix not to be overlooked. A well-planned landscape can have bright colors and visual interest that “stands up” right until the first hard frost—the key word there is “planned”. Fall landscaping doesn’t have to end until the snows hit or in our case, the monsoons. Hunt down those beauties that stand at attention this time of year and start planting!