Feb 10

Plant recommendations

Dahlias Rule: I learned a long time ago that the best way to stretch the blooming period of any perennial is to grow several varieties of the plant. Just about every perennial has been cultivated to produce dwarf, medium and tall heights in a rainbow of colors with early, mid and late season blooming periods.

Back in the last century, my BWF imposed a 2-dozen rule. If I find a plant that I like and I already have 24 varieties of that plant, then I have to decide which one I am giving up before I can purchase the new one. I’m not saying that I have an addiction, but there is a reason why I am not allowed to go to a garden nursery by myself.

I was on a gladiola kick for many years. They are one of the more foolproof tender bulbs to grow, come in a large variety of colors, require minimum attention during the growing season, and are easy to dig up and store.

Now I grew Glad for over ten years, always mindful of the 2-dozen rule but not tracking the total number of plants. I would place the corms in long three-foot wide rows and support the sword like leaves and flower spike with volleyball nets turned sideways and suspended a couple of feet off the ground. Then one year I did an inventory, 17 varieties and over 600 plants. That was the red flag, stoplight, time for a change, find something else to grow moment; and that something else was the Dahlia.

The thing I like best about the Dahlia is that it will continue to bloom when all of the other plants are shutting down for the season, and it does not stop until the first killing frost. Yes, annuals will also continue to bloom as long as you keep deadheading, but how many annuals produce flowers that are bigger than your “dinner plate”? One of my Dahlias, Gladiator, not to be confused with Gladiolus above, has 11-inch diameter blooms. Tell that to your marigolds.

That is another thing I like. The border Dahlia is prettier, hardier, and blooms better than most annuals. Regardless of bloom size, from golf ball to basketball; height, under a foot to taller than me; or color combinations; they are still one type of plant. That means only one growing requirement to remember.

Dahlia is also a tender bulb and has to be dug up for storage over winter, but I figured if I didn’t kill 600 Glad I should be reasonably successful with Dahlias. The only significant difference is that Glad corms are coated with a bulb dust and stored in a open containers while Dahlias tubers are covered with peat moss and stored in a closed (not air tight) container. You want to keep the corms dry to prevent rotting, the reason for the open container; and the tubers somewhere between wet and dry, let’s say humid. Stored in an air tight container they will rot. Stored loose in an open container they will dry out. Either way, they are dead. Burying them in peat keeps them in their happy place.

I can report that I am under the 2-dozen cap and only have 19 variety of Dahlia, less than 100 plants; but can you believe it, the nurseries are already promoting selections for 2012. Talk about enabling. 

I teach several gardening courses in the spring and provide a lot of hand-outs. One is a seed sowing table for zone 6a; listing information like indoor/outdoor sowing dates, planting depth, spacing and some comments. One of the questions that I can take to the bank is a plant recommendation.

I think the better question is; are there any plants that I don’t recommend growing. I cannot visit a garden center and not make a purchase. My lack of willpower and inability to walk away is so bad that I have a spouse imposed a two-dozen rule. It is like a gardening salary cap. No more than 24 varieties of any one plant; buy a new iris, one of the old irises has to go. I am talking 24 of each; (calla, dahlia, hosta, lily, peony …), fortunately, she doesn’t walk around the yard taking count.

So rather than offering recommendations, I suggest a process; buy what you know, buy what you like, and experiment with one different plant every year. Adopting the process increases confidence and probability of success.

Know – When you buy a plant that you know and recognize you already have some knowledge about its growing conditions and maintenance requirements. I cannot tell you how often I killed plants that I had limited knowledge about by; choosing the wrong location or performing inadequate site preparation. I could have read the printed growing directions provided with the plant, but guys don’t read labels.

Like – When you buy something you like, you have an emotional connection. Chances are that you will invest the time to learn more about the plant and adopt a care and maintenance program to ensure its success.

Experiment – As your gardening knowledge increases a metamorphosis occurs. All of those activities augmenting the soil, pulling weeds before they went to seed, edging the lawn and mulching has reduced maintenance hours; providing you with the time to take on a challenge. So become adventurous and try something just for the heck of it.

You never know; for many years I thought the oriental lily was beyond my gardening capabilities, and then about ten years ago I gave one a try. Now, I am growing them under the two-dozen rule.

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