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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  

6 Beautiful and Deer Resistant Perennials

A beautiful garden that returns year after year and repels hungry deer sounds like a dream, but it can be real! Create an entire deer-resistant garden using plants these creatures strongly dislike.

Of course, a hungry deer will eat just about anything. These plants repel because they are fragrant, prickly or sap-filled. Utilize them strategically in your garden to keep deer away from favorites such as garden phlox or hosta.

Bee Balm

Bee balm repels deer with its minty scent, but pollinators can’t get enough. Bee Balm blooms in violet blue, red, pink or white from July through August and grows relatively tall, 2-3 feet. Boost your Bee Balm with Espoma’s Organic Flower-tone fertilizer for big, healthy flowers. Best suited for zones 4-8.

Lavender

Besides being a garden must-have, lavender deters both mosquitoes and deer. Its fuzzy and fragrant leaves just do not appeal to deer. Most varieties flower between June and August. Lavender prefers full sun with well-drained soil. Feed with Espoma’s Plant-tone throughout the growing season. Hardy in Zones 5 through 9.

Black-eyed Susans

Named for their dark brown centers peeking out of the gold or bronze petals, black-eyed susans thrive in the sun. Because its covered in course hair, deer and rabbits stay far away from it. 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.

Yarrow

Yarrow is a vibrant yellow perennial with fuzzy foliage that deers hate. It has a lengthy flowering time from June through September. It is a relatively tall flower with an average growth height of 2.5-3 feet. Give your flowers a strong soil base to help them thrive with Espoma’s Organic Garden Soil. Best suited for Zones 3-8.

 

Foxglove

The colorful bell shaped flower with freckles on the inside is lovely addition to deer-resistant gardens. This plant earns its deer-resistant label because it’s poisonous to deer (and humans). Many foxgloves are a biennial, so flowers don’t show up until the second year in the ground. Newer hybrid varieties are perennial, though. They are self-sowers, so if you leave the stalks in, they will continue to bloom year after year. Use Espoma’s liquid Bloom! to keep the flowers coming. Grow in Zones 4-9.

 

Bleeding heart

Known as a classic cottage staple, bleeding heart has a sap that deer find disagreeable. Beautiful blooms develop quickly in late spring and will last throughout summer and foliage stays lovely into fall. It’s easy to see why their floral pendants, in shades of rose pink and white, will pack a punch. You can never go wrong with a bit of romance. Hardy in Zones 4-8.

 

 

 

 

Espoma products for Deer–resistant perennials:

 

If you’re looking for the basics, learn how to plant veggies in containers!

 

Bug OFF: Plants to Repel Mosquitoes

It is that time of year again when those tiny whining noises can be heard buzzing by your ear. Mosquitoes are back! You can keep these pests at bay by using nature’s own recipe for effective mosquito repellents.

It is a matter of comfort to keep the mosquitoes away, but it is also a matter of your family’s safety. By keeping the mosquito population around your house to a minimum, you reduce the risk of being exposed to mosquito-borne diseases.

Tell those mosquitoes to bug off by fighting them naturally. Avoid chemicals by planting a mosquito repellent garden. Read about our top choices for mosquito-repelling plants below.

Geraniums

These bright red and pink blooms have a fragrant lemon and citronella-like scent, which is delightful to humans but extremely repugnant to mosquitos. Geraniums prefer a warm, sunny, and dry climate and work in the garden or in pots. Hardy in Zones 3 through 9. Plant with Espoma’s Bio-tone Starter Plus to give plants the nutrients they need.

 

Basil

Basil is one of the handiest plants around. Add it to your favorite meal, drink or simply enjoy its wonderful smell. One of the biggest perks is that it emits a mosquito-repelling aroma without having to crush the leaves. Prevent mosquito bites by rubbing a handful of basil leaves on exposed areas of the skin. Research in the 2011 Malaria Journal found that basil was discovered to be up to 100% effective in preventing mosquito bites. Hardy in Zones 1 through 10.

 

Marigolds

Marigolds have earned the “most pungent” superlative from the plants on this list. Their smell has not only proven to be offensive to mosquitos, but also to rabbits, deer and some people. Despite the smell, their luminous orange and yellow petals brighten up your garden. They enjoy full sun and fertile soil. A major plus is that marigolds make great companion plants for tomatoes, protecting against other insects that eat the plants. Hardy in Zones 2 through 10. Fertilize with Espoma’s Bloom! liquid fertilizer for great looking marigolds.

 

 

Lavender

Add vibrant purple to your garden by planting lavender. Lavender gives off a sweet aroma that is attractive to humans, but most definitely not to mosquitoes. You can rub lavender on your skin to use as a natural mosquito repellent, too. Lavender prefers full sun with well-drained soil. Hardy in Zones 5 through 9. Feed with Espoma’s Plant-tone throughout the growing season.

Rosemary 

Rosemary, a member of the mint family, will most definitely keep the mosquitoes away. This Mediterranean favorite is one of the most aromatic herbs you can grow. Grow in full sun and water when dry. Although you don’t need to prune, you can cut back branches to help your rosemary bush stay in shape. Both fresh cuts and dry cuts are effective in repelling mosquitoes. Add rosemary to your summer fire pit so when it burns it gives off incense that is offensive to mosquitoes. You can also make rosemary into oils, add it to meals, or even make natural repellents. Hardy in Zones 6 through 9.

 

 

Espoma Products for Plants that Help Repel Mosquitoes:

Bloom! Plant Food

 

Best Plants that Produce Fall Fruit

It’s easy to help your garden thrive when there is something beautiful to look at. Spring and summer seasons make this easy to do with their gorgeous floral blooms. Did you know that Autumn can have equally as attractive plants?

Even the simplest shrubs and trees make great additions to fall gardens, bonus points if there’s fall fruit involved. We’ve rounded up the top trees and shrubs that will provide year-round enjoyment and fresh fall fruit.

6 Trees and Shrubs with Fall Fruit

  1. Mountain Ash

This deciduous tree gets its name from the blue-green pinnate leaves and white flowers that bloom in the spring. Mountain ash truly dazzles in autumn, turning into a blazing purple and red. The white flowers transition to shiny pink berries that stands bright against its foliage. And despite the name, mountain-ash (Sorbus) are very different types of plants than ash and are not attacked by emerald ash borer. Hardy in Zones 4-7 and feed regularly with Tree-Tone for strong roots and trunk.

  1. Crabapple

Crabapple trees offer beautiful hues. Varieties can include colors of burgundy, purple, red, orange, green or yellow. As the crabapple transitions into autumn, the fruit really begins to show. It transitions well into the winter, when birds will happily take care of the fruit. Hardy in zones 4-7 and feed regularly with Tree-Tone for strong roots and trunk.

  1. Beauty Berry

While you might not think twice about this shrub in the spring or summer, it shines in autumn. Its tiny pink flowers transform into brilliant ruby-violet berries that stop people in their tracks. This autumn shrub will give your garden something to talk about. Hardy in zones 5-11. Use Plant-Tone for beautiful berries.

  1. Possumhaw

This tree may be small, but it certainly is mighty. Even after the foliage falls in the autumn, the bright red berries remain, making it look like a red flowering tree. The berries on this tree aren’t large, but they last through a cold winter – unless the birds get them first. The Possumhaw is tricky – it ‘prefers’ acid soils but can ‘tolerate’ alkaline. Hardy in zones 5-8 and feed regularly with Holly-Tone for strong roots and trunk.

  1. Teton Firethorn

Stunningly bright in the autumn and winter, this show stopping shrub is the perfect edition to your garden. Vibrant orange fruit pop out from behind the foliage. The fruit thickly covers top to bottom on this plant. This shrub is tall and typically used as a hedge. Hardy in zones 6-9 and feed regularly with Holly-tone for radiant blooms and fruit.

  1. Coralberry

This low-key shrub in the spring and summer saves it’s best for autumn and winter when the small yellow flowers transform into purple-red fruit clusters. They are shade tolerant and can last well into the winter. Hardy in zones 2-7 and feed regularly with Plant-Tone for gorgeous blooms and tasty berries.

Want to know how to fertilize trees and shrubs? Let Laura from Garden Answer show you how!

tree-tone, espoma tree fertilizer, garden answer tree fertilizer

Laura from Garden Answer demonstrates how to fertilize a tree using Espoma’s Tree-tone. The slow release formula provides a long lasting nutrient reservoir to feed the entire tree, leaves, trunk, and roots.

Pollinators: Nothing to Sneeze At

Did you know that honeybees are directly responsible for pollinating one third of the food we eat?

Pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, play a big part in getting our gardens to grow. They help fertilize flowers, carrying pollen from one plant to another. In return, pollinators only ask for food — the nectar and pollen from flowers they visit.

Lately, pollinator populations are declining. Thankfully, you can still “bee” an ally for pollinators by creating habitats for them in your own garden.

A garden frequented by pollinators is both healthy and beautiful. Give pollinators what they need and you’ll watch your whole garden bloom livelier than ever.

How to Keep Your Garden Beautiful and Attract Pollinators:

Pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, play a big part in getting our gardens to grow. They help fertilize flowers, carrying pollen from one plant to another.

Location. The best way to attract pollinators is to plant flowers that appeal to them. Either add to an existing garden or designate one specifically for pollinators. Choose a sunny location and remove weeds from the plant beds.

Pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, play a big part in getting our gardens to grow. They help fertilize flowers, carrying pollen from one plant to another.

Layer. Entice pollinators with native flowering plants that bloom at different times throughout the year, provide food and habitat. Include several types of flowers that produce nectar and sticky pollen.

At the back of your garden, plant tall flowers such as coneflowers, sunflowers, black-eyed Susans and asters. Their petals provide landing platforms for pollinators. In front of the tall flowers, plant medium flowers, like catmint and yarrow. In front of those, plant shorter flowers such as verbena, or herbs that flower, like oregano.

Pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, play a big part in getting our gardens to grow. They help fertilize flowers, carrying pollen from one plant to another.

Planting. Plant tall flowers 18-20” apart, medium flowers 12” apart and short flowers 8-10” apart.

Sprinkle flowers with Plant-tone, an organic plant food that won’t harm any visitors to your garden. Or, try our new Grow! organic liquid plant food to quick-start your plants’ growth.

Now that your garden is set up to welcome pollinators, wait for the flowers to bloom!

Share pictures of your pollinator habitat with us on our Facebook page!

Container Garden Tip: Extend Summer Color

Fabulous and fun, containers filled with bright blooms are easy to maintain and thrive with the right care. They’re great additions to any patio, yards or landscape.

Before summer’s heat and dry conditions get the best of them, give them what they need. Keep containers in tip top shape with these easy tips.

Here’s how to extend the life of containers for a summer of color.

liquid fertilizer, potting soil, container gardening

Deadhead. Use pruners or shears to snip off dead or dying flowers, stems and foliage. This is called deadheading. Don’t be afraid to clip stems back a little to encourage new growth. This not only makes the plant look better, it helps encourage more blooms.

Want even less work? You can always opt for plants that do the deadheading on their own, like Million Bells.

Feed. Feed established containers with Bloom! liquid fertilizer to promote & prolong flowering. Simply flip, fill and feed. Or, sprinkle granular Plant-tone on the soil surface and gently work in.

liquid fertilizer, potting soil, container gardening

Water. Containers need to be drenched – generally every day – and make sure to get the roots. Water until it pours from the drainage holes. Be sure to empty saucers to keep roots from getting waterlogged.

Replace. If all else fails, simply replace the leggy or tired plants in your container garden with late-season bloomers, like ornamental cabbage, coneflowers or sedum.

Now that your containers are taken care of, sit back and enjoy the heat of summer!

Seed to Succeed! Seed Starting Secrets

Step aside houseplants. Not now indoor herbs. There’s a new indoor winter gardening project in town… indoor seed starting!

Find the Prime Time: When to Start Seeds Indoors

One of the biggest mistakes when starting seeds indoors is starting too soon.

Before starting seeds inside, look up the last spring frost date in your area,  then count back 4-6 weeks. That’s the best time to start seeds indoors.

This handy seed starting chart from Organic Life makes it easy to calculate when to start and transplant your seeds.potting soil, starting seeds indoors, organic seed starting mix, growing tomatoes

To Sow or No? Best Veggie Seeds to Start Indoors in Winter

Not all seeds succeed indoors! Save root crops and cold-hardy seeds for when it’s warm enough to plant directly outside. Or, you can grow two crops of broccoli and lettuce. Start seeds indoors now then sow more outside later.

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Here are the best vegetable and herb seeds to start indoors in winter.

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Celery
  • Collard greens
  • Lettuce
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Beans
  • Squash
  • Eggplant
  • Cabbage
  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Cilantro
  • Oregano
  • Sage
  • Parsley 

Seed to Succeed!

There are three secrets to starting seeds indoors: warmth, light and an organic seed starting mix that promotes root growth.

Start with Espoma’s Organic Seed Starter – a gardener’s favorite! But don’t take it from us. One of our customers, Shelia, shared that she used a lot of seed starter in her day, but “this one is just OUTSTANDING!” Her plants came up just perfect, and she “will never use anything else, ever again.”

Fill seed trays to within ¼” of the top and lightly water. Follow the instructions on the seed packets to see how deep and far apart to plant. Cover with soil, press down and label.

Place tray in a larger pan of shallow water for a minute so thewater seeps up from the bottom.

Place seeds in a warm spot between 65-75°. Try the top of the fridge!potting soil, starting seeds indoors, organic seed starting mix, growing tomatoes

Loosely cover tray with plastic wrap or the cover from your seed-starting kit. Check seeds daily for moisture. Find even more detailed instructions here.

Give seeds 12-16 hours of light daily. Supplement sunlight with grow lights if needed.

Once you see sprouts, remove the cover and move seeds to a sunny, south-facing window that is 65-75°F. Then, turn the container a little each day to prevent leaning seeds.

When leaves grow, add a bit of fertilizer such as Espoma’s Plant-tone or liquid Grow!. Both are organic fertilizers, so they are safe to use on edibles, around children and pets and they help plants grow bigger than ever before.

Once you see that first sprout peeking through the potting soil, homegrown veggies are only weeks away!

One, Two, Three – What Soil Tests Numbers Really Mean

With just a tiny bit of water, a handful of seeds and some sunshine, your garden makes its own magic.

Well, almost! Your plants get all their food from the soil, too. After a busy summer, it’s time for your soil’s checkup, so your soil can keep growing its best.

Perform a soil test to see what your soil needs. And, we’ll help you understand what those numbers mean!

Scoop, Snoop and Score Soil.

Your soil’s health is a mystery waiting to be solved. All you need to do is grab a handful of soil and examine it. Send it off to your local extension service. Or, get down and dirty, and DIY it. Here’s how to perform a soil test.

Soil tests measure the nutrients available to plants along with their pH level. Garden soil should be between 6.0-7.0 pH, while the ideal pH for grass is 6.5-7.0.

  1. Low pH? Power the Sour. You’ve got sour, also called acidic, soil with a pH level under 7. Before remedying, remember some plants like this! Raise soil pH levels by adding Espoma’s Organic Garden Lime.
  2. High pH? Treat the Sweet. Soil with a pH level over 7 is known as sweet, or alkaline, soil. To fix, add Espoma Organic Soil Acidifier.

Conclusion Confusion. Understanding Soil Test Numbers

Looking at your soil test, your head may start spinning. What do all those numbers mean? Stick with us, your teacher at Espoma’s Garden School, to learn!

  1. When to N. The “N” on your soil test stands for nitrogen, which helps leaf growth. To raise nitrogen levels, add an organic fertilizer with a higher nitrogen level. Or, use blood meal or fish meal. To lower nitrogen levels, choose a fertilizer with less nitrogen.
  2. Be the P. “P” represents phosphorus, which helps plants flower and grow fruit. Need more phosphorous? Use an organic fertilizer with a higher percentage of P. Or, add bone meal. To lower phosphorous numbers, cut back on the P on the fertilizer bag.
  3. Way of the K. “K” stands for potassium, which helps plants resist diseases and grow healthy roots. If you have too much K, use an organic fertilizer with less potassium. Likewise, if you need more, opt for an organic fertilizer with a higher number K. Or, add sulfate of potash or greensand.

Strong, healthy soil gives way to stronger, bigger and better plants. Talk about a productive day in the garden!

Don’t Stall! Start Veggie Seeds for Fall

Today’s garden is bursting full of fresh fruits and veggies! There is nothing better than picking and eating a tomato, bean or pepper fresh off the plant.

Yet – we aren’t always so lucky. With fall around the corner, we are already thinking about how to prolong that never-ending supply of delicious, homegrown produce.

Now is the time to start cool-season seeds indoors.

Reap What You Sow: Starting Cool-Season Seeds Indoors for Fall

organic gardening

  1. Get the Goodies. For fall crops, pick the hardiest and most frost tolerant seeds, so they can survive the first frost. Some of our favorites include broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, beets, carrots and spinach.
  2. Time to Prime. Find your first fall frost date. Look at the number of days to harvest on each seed packet. Use that number to count back from the first frost date, so the seeds have time to mature. Play it safe and add two weeks since plants can grow slower during short fall days.
  3. Awaken the Seeds. Fill seed starting trays within ¼” of the top with a high-quality organic seed starter, like Espoma’s Organic Seed Starter. Read each seed packet to learn how deep and far apart to plant seeds. Cover with soil, press down, label and lightly water.
  4. Store and Cover. Lightly cover the tray with plastic wrap. Keep in a sunny spot near a south-facing window.
  5. Smart Watering. Keep seeds moist by placing the tray in a pan of shallow water until the water seeps up from the bottom. Refill when empty.
  6. Break Out Sprouts. When leaves start to poke from the soil, remove plastic wrap. Feed with an organic fertilizer, like Espoma’s Plant-tone.
  7. A Home Away from Home. Two weeks before planting outside, begin hardening off seeds. Move outside for a few hours a day, increasing time outdoors daily. Also, reduce watering without letting the soil dry out.
  8. All Grown Up! Gently remove plants from see starting tray, and plant in a prepared bed. Mix-in organic starter plant food to help them adjust and grow strong, such as Espoma’s Bio-tone Starter Plus.

Crunch! You’ll be munching on homegrown produce well into fall. How amazing (and tasty!) is that?

Product

Plant-tone