No Fuss Roses – REALLY!

Photo Courtesy of Kerry Ann Mendez

I used to consider growing roses a form of self-punishment. It was a tedious, never-ending job that more often than not, ended in disaster.   Thankfully there are stunning roses now available that don’t need pampering.  These game-changers require less water, fertilizer and pesticides – plus some are even ‘self-cleaning’ (no deadheading required). And if the thorns are a ‘thorn in your side’, there are thornless varieties.

As a garden writer and passionate gardener, I’ve trialed many roses. Praise-worthy contenders are held to high standards by this no-fuss gardener. Not surprisingly, I primarily evaluate roses grown on their own roots (not grafted) and hardy to at least Zone 5, if not colder.

Below are a few favorites:

‘At Last’  I was spellbound by this 30”-36”, fragrant, sunset orange rose with deep green, shiny leaves.  And I wasn’t the only one. Last year the garden center where I work sold out of this winner by mid-summer!

Photo Courtesy of Kerry Ann Mendez

Knock Out Roses  Knockout roses have become highly popular, given their superior performance requiring little input.  There are many cultivars to choose from. My personal favorites are Double Knock Out (red), Pink Double Knock Out and Peachy Knock Out – one of 2018 winners of the American Rose Trials for Sustainability (A.R.T.S).

Courtesy of Star® Roses and Plants

Earth-Kind Roses  Roses earning the Earth-Kind award do well in a variety of soils plus they require minimum fertilizer, pesticides and water. These trials for sustainable roses began at the Texas AgriLife Extension Service but are now operational in 27 states. ‘Carefree Beauty’ is one of these exceptional performers. To discover others, click here.

Photo Courtesy of Kerry Ann Mendez



No matter how praiseworthy a rose is, if it is not sited in the right location, all bets are off. Roses like full sun (six or more hours, preferable mostly afternoon sun in hardiness zones 6 or colder). They also do best in well drained, organically enriched soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0.  Treat roses to Rose-tone, a slow-release organic fertilizer in spring and then 6 weeks later to boost the bloomathon.  Japanese beetles and rose sawfly (caterpillar-like larvae) can sometimes pester roses, even superstars mentioned above. Handpicking, as well as organic products containing Neem oil or Spinosad, will solve the problem.  The time to prune shrub roses is in late winter or early spring. Prune back canes by 1/3 to half their height.

About the author: As an award-winning garden designer, author and lecturer, Kerry Ann Mendez focuses on time-saving gardening techniques, workhorse plants and sustainable practices.  She has been on HGTV and in numerous magazines including Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Garden Gate and Better Homes & Gardens.  Kerry Ann was awarded the 2014 Gold Medal from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society for her horticultural accomplishments.  She has published four popular gardening books, her most recent being, The Budget-Wise Gardener (February 2018). In 2016 Kerry Ann introduced National Gardening Webinars that are attended by thousands.  For more about Kerry Ann visit www.pyours.com  

100 Reasons to Fall in Love with Peonies

Peonies have been a garden favorite for hundreds of years. The gorgeous flowers are delicate with silky petals and an irresistible fragrance. Imagine cutting a bouquet to grace your dinner table or to share with a special friend. Peonies are easy to grow and can live to be over 100 years old.

Three types of Peonies

There are three main types of peonies. Tree peonies, Itoh peonies and herbaceous peonies. In this Garden Answer video, Laura plants herbaceous peonies. They are small shrubs that grow to be about two to three feet tall and wide. They die back all the way to the ground in winter but reemerge in spring. They’ll grow happily in zones 3 to 7.

Flower Form and Fragrance

Herbaceous peonies are available as early, mid- and late season bloomers. By planting some from each category you can have peony flowers for months on end. They also have six different flower forms ranging from a single row of petals to exceedingly full ones called bombs. The fragrance level varies too, from a light perfume to an intoxicating mix of roses and lemon. Peony ‘Festiva Maxima’ and ‘Duchesse de Nemours’ are among the most fragrant.

Planting Herbaceous Peonies

Select a spot where peonies will get full sun and moist well-drained soil. Good air circulation is a must to prevent powdery mildew. Dig a hole wider than the nursery pot and mix in a handful of Bio-tone Starter Plus to help the plants get established. It’s also a good time to install a plant support to help hold the heavy blooms upright. Garden Answer uses a Grow Through Grid. They are very easy to use and highly effective.

Continuing Care

After the beautiful flowers have dropped their petals, it’s a good idea to dead head them. Cut off the flower and stem far enough down that it is covered by the foliage, a foot or so. When all of the flowers are spent, fertilize with Espoma’s organic Plant-tone. This will give them the energy they need to recuperate from blooming and keep a healthy root system. Peonies don’t need to be divided. In fact, they dislike being moved. However, you should cut the foliage down to the ground before winter.

Bare Root Peonies

It is also possible to buy what is called a bare root peony. That means that the plant hasn’t been potted in soil. It’s a thick bunch of roots that may have pinkish, new shoots. Bare root peonies are generally planted in the fall about 6 weeks before the frost. Select the best site, as described above and plant them so the top of the roots are one to two inches below the ground surface. If you plant them too deep, they may not emerge. It’s a good idea to add a handful of Bio-tone Starter Plus to the planting hole to help establish a healthy foundation.

Summer flowering plants for later

5 Reasons to Start A Cutting Garden

Hello Sunshine – Plants that Love the Sun

Espoma Products for Peonies

Give Perennials Some Love and More Leg Room

Perennial plants are relatively care-free additions to the garden. They come up every year growing bigger and better. But, believe it or not, they can actually get too big. The new shoots and roots get crowded, the stems in the center can die off or the foliage may turn yellow. They’ll produce fewer and smaller flowers. These are all signs that your perennials need to be divided.

Dividing your perennials has benefits that go beyond plant health. With all of your new divisions you can increase their footprint in the bed they’re in or plant them out to enliven other perennial borders. Sharing them with friends and neighbors is always appreciated. Maybe they’ll share with you.  Who doesn’t love free plants?

When to Divide Perennials

A general rule of thumb is that perennials should be divided about every three or four years. Like all rules, there are exceptions. Some very vigorous growers like gooseneck loosestrife may need to be divided every year or two. Others, like peonies don’t like to be disturbed at all. When to divide is a frequently asked question. Spring flowering perennials are best divided in the fall and fall blooming plants should be divided in the spring. Naturally, there are exceptions. Many people in cold climates do all of their dividing in the spring because plants don’t have a chance to reestablish themselves before freezing weather hits in the autumn.

Rules are made to be broken, given enough TLC before, during and after dividing, you can do it whenever it best suits you as long as the ground is not frozen. The advantages of spring and fall division is that weather conditions are usually cool and wet. This reduces the chances of your plants becoming stressed and dehydrated during the process.

How to Divide Perennials

Prep Perennials

Water the perennials you intend to divide the day before you’ll actually divide them. This makes it easier to get them apart and helps guard against the roots drying out. It’s also a good idea to prepare the new bed they’ll be going into so that the plants’ roots spend the least amount of time above ground. This is also the best time to incorporate Espoma’s Bio-tone Starter Plus into the soil. It will help the plants grow bigger, healthier roots and also helps them to establish more quickly.

Divide the Plants

Grab some gloves and a spade and let’s start dividing. Use the spade to cut a ring all the way around the plant to be divided and then pry it up. Depending on the size of the plant or the root depth, you may need to use a trench shovel. Holding the root ball over a wheelbarrow, gently loosen the soil around the roots. Using a plant knife, an old kitchen knife or spade, divide the root ball the best you can leaving as many roots as possible intact. If there a lot of top growth on the plant, cut it back to about 6 inches so it is in balance with the disturbed root system.

Relocate

Place the divided sections in their new locations and the divided plant back where it came from. Back fill with soil, making sure the top of the root ball is at the same level it was previously. Water deeply. And, continue watering well every few days for the first couple of weeks, then you can taper off. Your plant might look a little sad and droopy at first. Don’t worry, it will need a couple of weeks to recover and then everything will be fine. After your plants have established themselves feed with Espoma’s Organic Plant-Tone.

Want more perennials? Check out these powerhouse perennials that work overtime…so you don’t.

Espoma Products for Dividing Perennials

Awesome Astilbe

Astilbes are the drama queens of the shade garden.  You cannot help but admire these ‘no-fuss’ divas for their beauty and grace. Flowers can be delicate and frothy or stiff and compact.  Blooms range in color from red, burgundy, white, purple, rosy-purple, peach and various shades of pink. The handsome, fern-like foliage is a delightful contrast to heftier leaves like those of Hosta and Rodgersia. Leaves can be shiny, matted or coarse.  I like to insert additional zing to the garden by incorporating Astilbe with foliage that is bronze or burgundy tinged (‘Delft Lace’, ‘Fanal’, ‘Maggie Daley’), chocolate (‘Chocolate Shogun’), chartreuse rimmed in red (‘Amber Moon’) or chameleon-like (‘Color Flash’) – the leaves start out brilliant green and then morph to burgundy-purple before closing the season in blazing orange, red and yellow.

Photo Courtesy of Kerry Ann Mendez


Even though Astilbe is typically known as a shade perennial, it tolerates full sun, as long as there is enough moisture.  Those in the chinensis species are best suited for drier conditions.  These beauties also make wonderful container plants. Hardy in Zones 4 to 9 (many references claim Zone 3), pollinator-friendly Astilbe provides four seasons of appeal (leave the dried flower stalks up for winter interest) with little effort on your part!

Astilbes flower for three to four weeks but by mixing early, mid and late season cultivars, you can enjoy glorious blooms from mid-June until mid-August. These deer and rabbit resistant workhorses range in height from only around 8” (‘Lilliput’) to spectacular back of the border giants that can reach 4’ (‘Purple Candles’, ‘Mighty Pip’).  Astilbe ‘Pumila’ makes a terrific, weed-smothering ground cover with low, overlapping leaves and late season, lilac-pink flowers that top out at 10”.

Photo courtesy of Kerry Ann Mendez


Astilbe does best in organically enriched, moisture retentive soil.  You can achieve this by simply amending soil – or mulching – with compost, aged manures or similar materials.  Further boost the floral display by fertilizing with Plant-tone, a slow release, organic fertilizer. Astilbe prefers an acidic soil (pH in the high 5’s or low 6’s).  Check soil pH by taking a sample to your local extension office or use a do-it-yourself-kit such as Rapitest. To lower pH apply Espoma’s organic Soil Acidifier (elemental sulfur).

About the author: As an award-winning garden designer, author and lecturer, Kerry Ann Mendez focuses on time-saving gardening techniques, workhorse plants and sustainable practices.  She has been on HGTV and in numerous magazines including Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Garden Gate and Better Homes & Gardens.  Kerry Ann was awarded the 2014 Gold Medal from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society for her horticultural accomplishments.  She has published four popular gardening books, her most recent being, The Budget-Wise Gardener (February 2018). In 2016 Kerry Ann introduced National Gardening Webinars that are attended by thousands.  For more about Kerry Ann visit www.pyours.com  

Plant Some Pansies to Celebrate Spring’s Arrival

Pansies and violas look delicate but are in fact, tough as nails. They liven up our gardens and decorative pots in early spring and late fall, unfazed by cold weather or even snow. The first and last flowers of the year are the most precious and their “faces” shine even on the grayest days. Treat yourself to these little sunshines.

All pansies are violas but not all violas are pansies. Think of the smaller flowered varieties like the good old Jonny Jump Up as violas and the larger flowered varieties as pansies. Some violas are perennial, but they are mostly used as cool season annuals. Whichever you choose, they’ll provide seasonal color for weeks, and even months on end!

Today’s violets are descended from a European wildflower. In the Victorian language of flowers they were used to convey feelings of love and admiration or “I’m thinking of you.” Sentiments not openly shared in that time. The pansy was also the symbol adopted by the Free Thinkers Society, as the word pansy is from the French verb pensée, meaning to think. Wouldn’t you like to send a secret message to someone special?

Another charm of this family of flowers is that they are edible. In the simplest form, you could float one small flower on top of a cocktail. Decorate cakes and salads with their fresh blooms, add them to herb butters or suspend them in honey or jellies. Just one petal of the larger flowered pansies looks heavenly when garnishing appetizers. They even go with grilled meat. When consuming, it’s always best to use your own organically grown flowers and give them a quick rinse before eating.

Both pansies and violas can be planted in the ground, accentuating the edge of borders or growing up together with your spring bulbs. They are marvelous in containers too. An early season container combination could include a closely planted base of violas with pussy willow branches stuck into the soil between them for height. In the autumn, look for the orange and black varieties for a Halloween theme.

When assembling your container, make sure to use good quality organic potting soil like Espoma’s Organic Potting Mix and feed your container plants once a month with a Espoma’s Bloom! Liquid Fertilizer. This foundation will ensure that your plants have everything they need to thrive and bloom and be safe to eat. If you’re planting your violas in garden beds give them a feeding of Plant-tone, an organic, slow release fertilizer.

Violas and pansies will grow in sun or part shade but will do best with about 5-6 hours of light per day. Pansies will bloom longer if they get late afternoon shade. They don’t really like the heat. They both do best in moist but well-drained soil. In general violas tolerate both cold and heat better than pansies. Deadheading spent flowers is well worth your time and will keep plants flowering longer.

Espoma products for pansies and Violas

Espoma Organic Potting Soil MixBloom! Plant Food

 

Perlite vs. Vermiculite

Perlite or Vermiculite? How do you choose which one to use?

For Drainage and Aeration: Choose perlite
For Water Retention: Choose vermiculite

In this video, Laura from Garden Answer breaks down when to use which.

Perlite

  • Great for or Seed Starting or blending a custom potting mix
  • Helps loosen heavy soils and prevents compaction
  • White granular particles contain about 6% water
  • Neutral pH
  • Holds nutrients and 3-4 times it’s weight in water
  • Clean, odorless, sterile and non-toxic
  • Will not rot or mold
  • Lightweight substitute for sand
  • Can float to the top of potted plants due to its light weight

Vermiculite

  • Great for or Seed Starting or blending a custom potting mix
  • Helps loosen heavy soils and prevents compaction
  • Retains moisture and plant nutrients
  • Mixes well with soil
  • Clean, sterile, odorless, non-toxic

Spring Flowers Melt the Winter Blues

Spring has sprung and it’s time to get outside and plant up some early spring containers. A trip to the local garden center will surely inspire you. Plant big pots of brightly colored bulbs and annuals to liven up entryways, patios and balconies. Laura from Garden Answer shows you just how easy it is to do.

Laura fills her containers with tulips and violas, true harbingers of spring. Alternatively, you could also use daffodils and other cold hardy annuals like Iceland poppies or nemesia. In cold climates, it’s important to select plans that are hardy enough to withstand a cold snap.

These early spring containers will flower for a month or so, bridging the gap from early spring to the frost free date. When it’s time to plant summer containers, replant the tulips out into the garden where they’ll bloom again next spring. The violas may also be moved to a lightly shaded area of the garden.

Four Easy Steps to Early Spring Containers

  1. Prep Containers. Fill containers three quarters full with good, quality potting soil like Espoma’s Potting Mix and prepare to plant bulbs at the depth they were in the nursery pot.
  2. Add Nutrients. Add Bulb-tone fertilizer to the soil, following package directions.
  3. Get ready to plant. Gently remove the plants from their pots and loosen roots. Add plants.
  4. Finish it up. Back fill containers with more potting soil and water deeply.

Enjoy flowers for even longer by choosing tulips or daffodils that are not yet in full bloom. When finished blooming, just remove the flower stem. The leaves will still provide a vertical accent and the bulbs need the foliage to replenish themselves.

Taking time to deadhead the violas will extend their bloom time. If temperatures are cool, you may only need to water containers once a week.

Check out these videos from Garden Answer about tulips and early spring planting.

Plant Your Window Boxes Like Garden Answer

How to Care For Your Tulips After They’ve Bloomed

 

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5 Flowers for Halloween

With Halloween just around the corner, it’s time to start decorating. While some enjoy   spooky and scary décor, others delight in the whimsical side of Halloween. Planting orange plants will provide some living décor for a Happy, and not so scary, Halloween!

 

These plants provide an instant festive flare and grow well in containers on your porch, deck or patio. Place them alongside pumpkins and other décor. You can bring some of these inside, to add to your own haunted house! Try a few of these for a fun, floral twist this Halloween:

5 Orange Plants for Halloween

Photo courtesy of Proven Winners

Bracteantha

These beautiful flowers will elevate your space with their pumpkin orange petals and bright yellow centers. While they are an annual, they work well for the fall season without having to commit all year long. Plant them in full sun to watch these foot-tall stems steal the show. Use Espoma’s Organic Flower-tone when planting to keep the vibrancy of these flowers through the Halloween holiday.

Marigolds

The bold color and wonderful scent set marigolds apart. Known for sparking strong emotions in people, this flower works well for the occasion. Since they are easy-to-grow and require full sun, you will see marigolds all season long. Plus, they start to bloom in the spring and will continue through the end of autumn – they are worth the work. They are hardy and will grow in zones 2-11.

Goldenrod

While this is not exactly the bright orange Halloween suggests, goldenrod is still one of the most visually stunning plants to put in your yard. It is debated often whether it is a weed or a wildflower, so if you are on the fence about it, plant it in a container or a garden bed to contain where it will go. It grows well in full sun and just about anywhere.

Dahlias

As a fan favorite, your neighbors will be checking out your garden every chance they get! This might be the easiest bloom to grow on the list. They are a flowering bulb, so in the spring or early summer (once the ground stops freezing) sprinkle a little Espoma Organic Bulb-tone and water them in. They are available in all shapes and sizes. Be sure to pick out your favorite orange varieties to make a stunning fall appeal. In zones 8-10 simply plant and forget them (though you won’t forget the flowers!).  In cooler zones grow them as annuals or dig them up in the fall and store dry indoors.  You can divide them and replant the following spring.  Be sure to use some Bio-tone Starter Plus when planting!

Helenium

Sometimes known as sneezeweed, this vibrant orange bloom will not affect allergy sufferers. It will however, brighten up your space and attract all kinds of pollinators. They come in shades of orange, yellow, dark red and golden brown with a prominent center and stiff skirt-like petals. Plant them in full sun with a well-draining soil. Helenium grows well in zones 3-9.

 

Want to add more fall flair to your yard? Laura from Garden Answer shows us how to create a fall container. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRLpppMogWk

 

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7 Flowers for a Sun-Kissed July Bouquet

Summertime brings plenty of sunshine, relaxing days outdoors, fresh veggies ready for harvest farmers markets — and best of all, fresh flowers from your garden. The season’s hot weather makes it perfect for enjoying outdoor blooms and snipping a few off to create your own sun-kissed bouquet. Check out the below varieties that will add a big burst of color from late summer into fall.

Sunflowers

Nothing says summer quite like a bright and cheery sunflower. Choose dwarf varieties which typically have smaller blooms and reach about 1 foot in height. They are perfect for small space gardening and children love planting these bright flowers. Grow in full sun or partial shade in Zones 1-10. Start sunflowers indoors in Espoma’s seed starting mix for extra flower power.

Dahlias

A classic favorite, dahlias dazzle with blooms from mid-July until September. Available in a variety of sizes, colors and designs, it’s hard to plant just one. These dazzling beauties will add style to your garden anywhere you plant them. While they are technically a tuber, you plant them the same way you would plant a bulb. Dahlias are winter hardy in zones 8-11, but gardeners in zones 2-7 can plant them in the spring.

Zinnias

Find zinnias in a variety of bright and beautiful colors. These heat-tolerant plants bloom quickly from mid-summer until frost and are easy to grow. The more you cut your zinnias, the more flowers the plants will produce. While these flowers are deer resistant, they are monarch butterfly favorites. Grow in full sun in Zones 1-10.

 

Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas embody everything we love about gardening. They have billowy texture, come in bright colors and are easy to care for. With their larger-than-life blooms and immense foliage, they can be planted anywhere from container to flower bed. Check with your local garden center to find the best hydrangea variety for your zone.

Lavender

Perfectly purple lavender is a garden must-have. Their flowering period covers the summer months of June to August. As a bonus, their scent is known to deter pesky mosquitoes. Use lavender in a bouquet just on its own or as filler with other summer blooms. Best suited for zones 5-8.

Roses

Roses are the most classic flower to include in a garden. They’re prolific bloomers, fragrant and colorful. They are hardy in zones 4-9 and with the right care, can come back to thrive year after year. Feed your roses monthly with Espoma’s Organic Rose-tone to ensure proper growth.

 

Gerbera Daisies

With a bright and cheery demeanor, gerbera daisies have quite a bit of flair. They will have single, double or even multiple petals, which can add some texture and contrast to your garden. They will withstand the summer heat with their sturdy stems and big blooms. Feed regularly with Flower-tone to give their stems a boost.

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Best Wildflowers for your Wedding Bouquet

Whether your wedding colors are blush and bashful or burgundy and navy, cut wildflowers from your own garden will go with almost any color pallet.

Did you know growing these bouquets of pastel-hued flowers or fiery reds and yellows can be done right in your own backyard? The important thing is to be creative, maximize your growing abilities and time your blooms with your big day.

5 Wildflowers for Wedding Bouquets

Sunflowers

Choose hybrid, pollenless varieties of sunflowers for bouquets and centerpieces. Varieties that are single-stem will produce one beautiful stem per seed or plant in a short amount of time. Choose from a variety of shapes and colors. Golden yellow sunflowers with dark-centers are classic, but ones with green centers or lemon-hued flowers make for unique looking bouquets. Grow in full sun or part shade in Zones 1-10. Feed blooms with Espoma’s Bio-Starter Plus when you plant for extra flower power.

Zinnias

Find zinnias in a variety of bright and beautiful colors. These plants bloom from mid-summer until frost and are one of the easiest wildflowers to grow. Plus, the more you cut zinnias, the more flowers the plants will produce. While these flowers are deer resistant, they are monarch butterfly favorites. Grow in full sun in Zones 1-10.

Cosmos

A popular cut flower, cosmos will add a pop of color to any bouquet. Their pink, crimson, white or chocolate flowers last until frost and are attractive to both butterflies and hummingbirds. Flowering non-stop, two to three inch blossoms grow on fern-like stems. Feed throughout the growing season with Flower-tone to get fantastic blooms. Grow in full sun in Zones 1-10.

Daisies

With their white rays and yellow centers, daisies brighten up any bouquet. They grow 1-3 feet tall and will not take up too much space in a garden or bouquet. Feed regularly with Bloom! liquid plant food for vibrant whites and beautiful fragrance. Grow in full sun in Zones 3-8.

Black-eyed Susan

Named for their dark brown centers peeking out of the gold or bronze petals, black-eyed susans thrive in the sun. These daisy-like blooms are perfect for a late summer or fall bouquet. They tend to grow to about 2 feet tall and handle high heat and drought conditions well. Grow in full sun in zones 3-9.

Directions

It’s time to make the cut once your wildflowers are in bloom.

Cut stems in early morning or late evening to prevent wilting from the harsh sun and heat. Strip any foliage  that will be placed directly in the water. Leave foliage near top of the stems for added interested and filler in your bouquet.

Thinking bulbs might be a better fit for your wedding bouquet? Find out how Garden Answer gets beautiful blooms.

https://youtu.be/qMDXnGYJUlc

Espoma Products for DIY Bouquets

Bloom! Plant Food