There's so much that changes in the MG landscape throughout the year...we thought a plant trial and garden blog was the best way to start sharing "what's new" and "what's happening with all those new varieties" with you! Visit often for updates on how trial plants are performing in the gardens and to see photos throughout the season as we grow and change!

Welcome to the Midwest Groundcovers Landscape Blog

Welcome to the Midwest Groundcovers Landscape Blog
Astilbe 'Vision in Red' with Hosta 'Patriot' and Carex 'Ice Dance'

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Power of Color!

By Christa Orum-Keller
A couple of entries ago, we talked about color. The way in which color can be used as a unifying element in planting design. While color can be an 'easy' way to unify your design work, it requires attention and a deliberate focus. That can be tricky when working with plants. You can't pull out the color wheel and put the bloom colors side by side to choose your plant combinations. Them there's also that element of timing - do they bloom together? And how do they look as they approach and fade from peak bloom?

I recall a visit to Sissinghurst Gardens some years ago. It was amazing and something of note, to see how carefully the planting designers had chosen and paired bloom colors in perennials, annuals, bulbs, shrubs and foliage. It stopped me in my tracks! Not sure if these combinations will do quite that for you, but have a look at some successful combinations in our gardens this week. Beginning to notice color hue, intensity, saturation, changes as blooms fade and all the subtle qualities of color is a start to a more refined and inspirational planting design.

Vibrant, vivid purple blue, bright, energetic, excellent pairing Geranium Jolly Bee & Stachys Hummelo

Contrasting blue and yellow, primary colors, medium vibrancy

Phlox 'Blue Paradise', Salvia 'Wesuwe' & Amsonia hubrichtii

Yellow and pale lavendar, calming colors, pale hue - an improvement would be to eliminate the blue Veronica

Coreopsis 'Sienna Sunset' & Veronica 'Purpleicious'

Pair the next two plants for a vibrant, energizing coupling of pink on pink

Achillea 'Pink Grapefruit'

The Dark stemmed Echinacea is 'Pica Bella'

A monochromatic relationship, lavendar, pink, purplish pink, all in the family - plus the unifying element of flower shape and form

Achillea trials on Perennal Island
From top to bottom:
'Wonderful Wampee'
'Apricot Delight'
'Pink Grapefruit'

Shades of yellow into green, side by side on the color wheel, calming and refined

Alchemilla mollis & Hosta 'August Moon'

Yellow foliage and red flowers - complimentary and with an equal vibrance, calmed by the deep green of the rose foliage

Scarlet Flower Carpet Rose with Sedum Angelina

An interesting exercise in the relationsip between pink and red. Red is often a challenge, especially in plants - is it red red, blue red, pink red or purple red? This photo illustrates the power of a color backdrop.

Echinacea & Red Flower Carpet Rose

Pairing of orange foliage with orange flowers - the entire planting is offset with the Salvia's blue, great complimentary contrast, medium intensity of color pulls the entire composition together

Echinacea Orange Meadowbrite & Heuchera Caramel

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Perennial Pest Problems

It's that time of year; its hot, its muggy, and while we are sweaty and uncomfortable, the insect world is thriving. I am back this week for my second installment to talk about some very common issues now and in the next couple of weeks that might be plaguing your garden. First and foremost, I would like to introduce you the concept of degree days and what are called indicator plants. Degree days can be figured out in a number of ways, but I'll describe the most commonly used method which is called base 50. Degree days are the cumulative sum of the average temperatures in a given day minus 50. On a day like today, it is about 90 for our high and lets just say 70 for our low. The average of that is 80; subtract 50 and you have 30 DDB50 for that day. Each day is added to the prior and the cumulative number is the number of degree days you have at any given time. This is extremely useful information as it can be used to directly correlate phenological activity of 'indicator plants' to insect emergence. An example of an indicator plant is catalpa sp. - it begins to bloom right around 500-600 DDB50 which is when euonymus scale is active. This is what we use in the nursery industry to determine what to spray and when. We see a specific plant blooming or at another stage and know that coorelates with a certain insects feeding time or stage in their life cycle. Below I will describe a number of pest issues and what plants you can look out for to determine if its the ideal time to treat that particular pest.

Two spotted spider mite - this is one of the industries biggest pest. Along with aphids, more money goes into treating these little guys than any other single insect (actually its not an insect, its a mite). There are a variety of mites out there, but two-spotted spider mite is one of the most common and most damaging of them all. They are very small, about the size of a pencil tip, and can be found on the underside of leaves. They love both annuals and perennials alike and thrive in hot, dry weather. In a matter of days, a small population can explode into 1000s causing massive defoliation. The picture to the left displays some webbing, a tall-tale sign that they are present in extremely high numbers, if it gets to this point, you are better to just prune out the infected material. The individual mites suck the juices out of individual leaf cells causing small speckles all over the leaf, something we refer to as stipuling. It is unlikley they will kill any woody plant, but they could easily take out an annual such as geraniums or impatiens. For outside crops, look for this insect around the time Spiraea 'vanhoutii' is done blooming (late May) through August. A simple oil or insecticidal soap will take care of small populations and plants with large populations should be discarded.

Euonymus scale - this very tiy critter can cause massive damage to both upright and low growing euonymus species. It is what we call an armored scale (has a hard covering) which makes it impervious to chemical control. However, right around the time you see Catalpa blooming, new eggs hatch and vulnerable 'crawlers' emerge. Crawlers are the immature stage of this insect and can be killed with oils, soaps, or insecticides. You can tell you have this problem if you are seeing die back, yellow spotting, or a general lack of growth on your euonymus. Look at the older growth and you might find small, white, elongated things stuck all over it. That is the scale under its covering sucking the sap from the stem. If left unchecked, this pest can kill a large shrub in one or two years. It tends to reproduce in extremley high numbers and the small 'crawlers' can blow onto other euonymus crops. Its importnat to look for this pest at the right time and when you see small, yellowish dots accompanying the larger white scale, its time to treat them.

Viburnum borer - each year I get more and more calls about this particular pest. Viburnum borer is a clear-wing wasp that is present right around this time (500-700 DDB50). The adult has yellow and black stripes, does not sting and actually does no damage to plants as an adult. However, when its ready in late June, it lays its eggs at the base of certain viburnum and in about 2-3 weeks, the eggs hatch and the small larvae begin tunneling into the trunk of the plant. Inside, they chew out a large piece of the xylem limiting nutrition and water uptake causing a portion of the plant to die off. If this problem persists, the plant will most likely die in 1 to 2 growing seasons. There is little you can do to prevent this problem, but buying a pest free, quality product to begin with is your best bet. this insect is attracted to stressed and dying specimens, so keeping a healthy viburnum will ensure that this problem will not happen to you. If you have viburnum that are not flushing out in the spring, check at the base around the soil level for a soft spot in the trunk - it will most likely be the pupating borer inside and at that point, the plant should be discarded and replaced.

Black Vine Weevil - the final insect I want to touch on is black vine weevil, a small (about the size of a penny) black beetle-like insect that chews notches in the edges of your leaves. It only feeds at night and will hide in and around leaf debris or large soil clots during the day. If you look closely at the picture, you can see how it has a long, squarish snout - this is important due to the fact that when it feeds, the damage is the same general shape as their mouth parts - squarish and always on the leaf edges. In general there is very little damage that the adults can do and what is done is generally aesthetic. However, in mid-summer an adult female will lay up to 250 eggs in the soil creating a number of grub-like larvae that chew on plant roots. If you have enough larvae present, they can kill a small plant through the fall and into the spring. Look for notched feeding on the edges of plants such as euonymus, clethra, ittea, rosa sp, and other relativley soft leaved deciduous specimens (they also love taxus). If you see feeding, purchase a general insecticide that is labeled for beetles and spray the leaves at dusk. This will ensure the adults are killed and are not able to reproduce and cause an even bigger problem.

I could go on for pages and pages on the many insects that we encounter in the nursery and in our gardens at home. These are a few that are present this time of year and can cause some significant problems. Utilizing degree day information from a local extension office (http://ipm.illinois.edu/degreedays/) can help determine when to look for things and the best time to treat particular problems. The vast majority of insects are absolutley harmless and an essential part of the delicate balance of life, so dont assume that anything and everything is doing harm; most will do more good than anything. Buying a high quality product from a trusted source is always step one in keeping plants healthy and keeping them watered and fertilized will help keep any harmful critters at bay. I hope you enjoyed learning a little about insects and diseases, I sure had a good time talking about them; enjoy the rest of your summer!!!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Natives Now!

By Christa Orum-Keller

There's never been a better time for Native Plants!

Midwest has long been a proponent of using native plants, some might say we have been so before our time, but if ever there were a time for using native plants, it is now.

A few reasons to plant natives:
  • Native plants are preferred by the Sustainable Sites Initiative
  • Native plants are preferred by many city, county, state and federal institutions
  • They can help reduce maintenance costs, particuarly in relation to mowing and turf chemical costs
  • Most species offer disease resistance
  • Native plants can help reduce runoff
  • Deep roots on so many species make them more drought resistant
  • Native plants are a resonsible ecological landscaping alternative
  • Most native plants are winter hardy, durable and long lived
The American Beauties Native Plant program offers an easy way to help the public, landscape designers and contractors use native plants - in all native plantings, or in combined plantings. They have an excellent website http://www.abnativeplants.com/ and attractive containers and labels. And the American Beauties Native Plant program partners with the National Wildlife Foundation (NWF). The American Beauties program is promoted by the NWF. By using American Beauties Native Plants, you can help your customers obtain their NWF Wildlife Habitat Certification. Learn more here: http://www.nwf.org/gardenforwildlife/certify.cfm?campaignid=

But most of all - Native Plants are BEAUTIFUL!!!

We are approaching the height of color and interest for many of our prairie species. In fact, here are just a few of our American Beauties Native Plants which are blooming in our St. Charles trial gardens right now.

Geum triflorum
Prairie Smoke
Full sun

Small statured, under-used, graceful little plant. Beautiful in flower and a peculiar little surprise which explains its name after flowering.

Eryngium yuccifolium
Rattlesnake Master
Full Sun

Wonderful toothed edged blue green foliage, later in summer, whiteish blue round spikey flowers - amazing!

Penstemon digitalis
Foxglove Beardtongue
Full Sun to part shade

Clouds of striking spikes of flowers right now!

Echinacea pallida
Pale Purple Coneflower
Full Sun

Pastel, gentle petals fall away from seedhead and float romantically with its prairie partners.

Amorpha canescens
Lead Plant
Full Sun

Delicate blue green foliage will make a perfect backdrop as soon as the blue/purple flowers open.

Silphium terebinthinaceum
Prairie Dock
3' foliage with 6-8' flowers
Full Sun

King of the prairie if there ever was one - broad, rough leaves create an impressive broad texture and backdrop for delicate folaige and flowers. Wonderful when paired with the fine texture of Sporobolus.

Silphium laciniatum
Compass Plant
3' foliage with 6-8' flowers
Full Sun

If you're lost, you can easily find the foliage of Compass Plant and you'll find your way!

Heliopsis helianthoides
False Sunflower
Full Sun to partial shade

The perfect happy yellow!

Tradescantia ohiensis

Full sun to part shade

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rain, rain go away!!!

Greetings everyone. My name is Nate Jackson and I am the horticulture and propagation manager here at Midwest Groundcovers. What the heck is that you ask? Basically I am in charge of plant health, soil, water, fertility, and propagating new plants (reproduction through cuttings). Its quite a handful but I can't think of a more enjoyable position to be in. While Kevin is out 'tying the knot' he asked me to fill in and share some disease issues we see in the nursery and that you might be experiencing at home. I think it is a very pertinent topic for the type of year we have been having here in northern IL and I hope it helps you understand the nature of various plant diseases a little better.

As I'm sure most of you who live in the Chicagoland area are aware, we have had an abundance of rain this year. While rain is important to keep gardens thriving, it also promotes one of plants biggest enemies - foliar disease. When talking about foliar problems, there are two main types of issues that you run into; one is fungus and the other is bacteria. It is important to know what you are dealing with because the cure for each is different (for concrete diagnosis, you should take your sample to your local arboretum or contact your local university extension office). However, the way they grow and develop is very similar. To make it very simple - fungus or bacteria are all around us; in the air, soil, leaves, etc. Like any living organism, they need nutrients to thrive and unfortunate for plant lovers, many of those nutrients are found in the foliage of our favorite trees or shrubs. The majority of the pathogens need moisture to develop as well; hence the problem with continuous rains. The spore or pathogen lands on the leaf, begins feeding and is helped along with a little water and before you know it, leaf spot is present. Once the problem has developed, the rain adds to the outbreak by literally splashing spores or bacteria around, spreading them to other leaves making a small problem a very big one rather quickly. Below is a picture of a very common fungal pathogen that I'm sure anyone with roses in their garden has seen- rose black spot.

Most of these diseases are simply cosmetic and will not kill the plant unless they get very out of hand, something that rarely happens on good cultivars planted in most personal gardens. However, continued infection and defoliation will lead to a much smaller plant and hinder its overall growth and development; and frankly, who wants a plant without leaves! So what is the solution you ask. Its not simple, especially if you already have bad infections, but here are a few guidelines to help keep things clean and beautiful, even when we have this much rain.

1) Start with a good plant - buying disease free plants and cultivars that are disease resistant is the number one thing you can do to keep a healthy garden. Simply googling disease free roses, for example, will give you a plethora of options that are resistant (not immune) to certain foliar diseases. There are few things that are completely resistant to pathogens, but resistant varieties offer a good starting point.

2) Begin spraying early - if you decide it is in your best interest to use chemicals to control disease, make sure you start early. Once disease develops, it's difficult to completely kill. Start spraying as soon as buds break and spray on a 14-21 day schedule on things that you have seen major problems with in past years. Thoroughly covering all your foliage is important and following all labeled directions will ensure personal and plant safety. Look for general fungicides in your local garden center or box store and read the label carefully to see what it treats - only spray things that it is labeled for.

3) Try not to overhead water - as I mentioned earlier, one of the biggest proponents to disease development is free flowing water. You can add to the problem by watering over your infected foliage, spreading spores and disease. Watering from the base of your plants and keeping foliage as dry as possible will help curtail any disease development and spread.

4) Do some cleaning in the Fall - The vast majority of foliar diseases can easily overwinter in the soil, on canes, and on dead, fallen leaves. This is where they start in the spring and is the main reason you see the same problem from year to year. Making sure to clean up all leaf debris around diseased plants is the number one most effective thing you can do to ensure disease does not pop back up next year. As soon as the plant defoliates, clean as much material as you can to ensure a good start for the next year.

With all of this rain we have had, it is very difficult to keep disease in check. However, if you follow those simple guidelines, it will help with future development and hopefully will stem the spread as well. There are thousands and thousands of different types of pathogens that effect plants, but the vast majority will only cause aesthetic damage. If you can stay away from chemical applications and just prevent the problem by buying a quality product and keeping things clean, it will not only make less work for you, but will help out mother nature as well. I hope this helps one or two of you out there and I'll be back next week to talk about some common creepy crawlers that may be causing you problems. Happy gardening!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

June is for the Gardens

Hello again,
This is Kevin again back for another go. I'll be off the blog for the next two weeks as I am off to get married. In the meantime, Christa and Nate will be supplying the information posted here. Christa wrote the last blog and I have to thank her for that. With wedding plans going on, I didn't have the time to do the blog. She filled in admirably. Nate Jackson is our Horticulture and Propagation manager and he'll have some great information for you as well. I feel like I'm leaving it in great hands!

So yes, this is the final post submitted by the single version of Kevin McGowen. Hopefully in married life, I can offer up the same kind of information and pictures that you have grown accustomed to. At this time, there are 665 of you reading this blog a month, and Midwest Groundcovers appreciates each and every one of your time. I hope you continue to enjoy this as the year goes on and I'm sure that the next two weeks will be filled with excellent information! Okay, back to the old format. Here come the plants.
Weigela Ghost
This is very similar to the old cultivar 'Red Prince'. The difference being the foliage takes on a spooky white overlay. Foliage then looks almost yellowish. Right now, these are blooming wonderfully in the landscape. Another great introduction from Proven Winners.

Iris siberica 'Blue Butterfly'
This one can go under the "Love it or hate it" moniker. The extra pronounced white falls cover some of the intricate patterns on the petals, but I think it still looks great. It is definitely unique and possible better used for a plant collector than an everyday landscape. What do you think?
Oenothera 'Cold Crick'
This is a plant that I saw in the North Creek Nurseries catalog, and had to try. The flowers are remarkably bright. They shine like a beacon from our perennial island to our building. The flowers themselves are small compared to the Oenothera macrocarpa that we currently sell, but the flower count far exceeds the macrocarpa. Would the bright lights of 'Cold Crick' summon you?

A quick step away from specific plants to show you the gardens here. The Salvia comparison garden is gleaming right now. If plants could smile, these plants would be showing their teeth. Pictured here is 'May Night' on the left and 'Wesuwe' on the right. They have very similar colors, but 'Wesuwe' is a little shorter.

Gillenia trifoliata
I'm sure I've talked about this plant in the past, and every year I watch it bloom, I think to myself, "How big of a mistake did I make?" Many people at the company loved this plant, but I saw no market for it, so I kept it from making our product line. It may deserve a retry. Or, I may deserve a retry.

Acinos alpinus
This was given to me as Apios alpinus, but I haven't been able to find anything about the plant from Google based on this name. The other Apios I've been able to find resemble this plant slightly, but not completely. If you look at this and know right away what we have, please let me know. I'm stumped! It makes a 6" high groundcover, with mint like flowers. This is the first full season with it in the garden, and it seems to be controlled. I just really want to know for sure what the nomenclature is. Thanks in advance if you know.
Aruncus 'Misty Lace'
I just love Aruncus, and especially the dwarf types. My first experience with Aruncus aethusifolius left me wanting more. Then this plant came along. It was the perfect match for me. A shade plant that stands no taller than two feet with nice white flowers and beautiful red stems. This could be a winner in the long term once liner prices go down. It would be a much more sustainable option than Astilbes.

Thanks for reading again. I will be looking forward to writing again once I return. In the mean time, enjoy what Christa and Nate have to offer. It should be fun reading! Until next time, have a great day!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Focus on Design

Welcome to June! What a glorious month for Midwestern gardens.

If you're a regular MG blog follower, you're familiar with Kevin McGowen as blog writer. Sitting in today is Christa Orum-Keller. My first formal education in our industry is as a landscape architect, so we thought it might be of interest for our readers, in addition to hearing about plant specifics, to discuss plants from the design angle.

Let's start with some design basics. Consider form, color and texture. If we disregard how we place plants with divergent forms, color or texture we create conflicting priorities in how our eye perceives the garden picture. Careful use of form, color and texture - using enough repetition, but not too much, creates that heavenly experience when viewing a planting. The "aaaaaah" or wow to your eyes, heart and soul. And isn't that what we want when we're designing gardens and landscapes? Even on a commercial setting, one might think that extra personal impact isn't necessary, but think what it would do in terms of your reputation and word of mouth advertising if your commercial clients said something like, "I don't know what it is they do, but their work is special - I can't recommend them highly enough." Good planting design can generate you that kind of superior PR.

Repetition of color can be easy if you pay attention and do a bit of research. Start by taking extra time evaluating what works when you see a planting you think looks great. Have a look at our Piet Oudolf garden - photos taken today:

Blue upon blue upon blue. Waves of repeated varying hues of blue and bluish purple. Repetition of similarly sized groupings. When Roy Diblik suggested placing multiple Salvia varieties beside each other within one planting, our first response was to ask why that was necessary. A Salvia is a Salvia right - and one is just as good as the other - why would you ever plant two nearly similar plants side by side? But we listened and we tried his suggestion and were amazed with the results. When you see them planted in a group, intermingling, slightly different bloom times, repetition of form and broad color with slight differences in hue, it is stunning. Try it!

The most beautiful part of the last Piet garden photo is the customers picking up plants in our yard!

RIBES GREEN MOUND - NEW AGAIN -----There are two specific plants to focus on today. First an old friend, Ribes alpinum 'Green Mound'. Now some of you may have stopped using this shrub in the last several years due to poor landscape performance - namely weak growth and significant foliar disease. We have had discussion about these challenges from customer feedback as well as through observation of plants in the nursery and in various plantings at Midwest. But we recalled older plantings of Ribes 'Green Mound' which had beautiful habits and didn't defoliate. Global warming couldn't have caught up with us that quickly, so we did a little investigation and put our thinking caps on. What we found was this. When Green Mound was extremely popular, ten or more years ago, we could not keep up with production and had to buy in liners from various nursery sources. We went back to old existing plantings and found robust, well shaped tidy shrubs with good foliage. Ribes is in the rose family, so of course, with a moist spring such as this, we find some slight foliage spotting, but not defoliation and overall a pleasing presentation. We suspect that the plants we bought in were something other than the real Green Mound, so we set to work. Our senior propagator, Alfredo Castillo, is diligently propagating from the plantings we have of the true species to bring back the original and real Ribes alpinum 'Green Mound' so we can make it available to you. It may take a few years, but it will be worth the wait.

Green Mound makes an outstanding backdrop in the garden. A lovely medium green. The slight disease on this mature, and true to cultivar name planting, doesn't impact its presentation. Its form is fantastic, even, round, and a perfect height about 3.5-4 feet at maturity with medium-fine even texture. Excellent in the perennial border or when blended with shrub plantings as you see here.

BAPTISIA - A PERFECT GARDEN PARTNER ----- Baptisia species. Members of the pea family, you'll see Baptisia blooming right now in the landscape. In the Piet Oudolf garden they represent some of the blue hues in his repetative waves. Baptisia australis is one of our native species and one of the parents of Chicagoland Grows' introduction Midnite PrairiebluesTM seen below.

Baptisia strike me as a perfect plant for today's frugal gardeners. Many Midwestern gardeners wish to grow Delphinium, Digitalis or Lupines, but even the most durable of these species have a challenging time living and performing well year after year in the Midwest. These days people are concerned with durability and sustainability when it comes to planting design. Facing our current financial challenges, customers are also looking to get more for their garden dollar.

Baptisia are beautiful, extremely durable, colorful and offer the tall, magestic panicles of English garden friends such as those mentioned above. They have deep taproots which make them highly drought resistant. Thus, it's important to site them properly. Once planted and established, you cannot move a Baptisia. The habit and stature of a mature plant mimics that of a shrub, while the foliage does completely die back over the winter.

Where will you plant your next Baptisia? And which one will it be?

Chicagoland Grows introduction Baptisia Midnite PrairiebluesTM (above)

Chicagoland Grows introduction Baptisia Twilite PrairiebluesTM (above)

NEW BRICK WALKS AT MIDWEST ---A great improvement to notice when you visit our gardens is the newly re-installed brick paths around the offices. We would like to recognize our installation experts at County Wide Landscapes who swiftly completed the beautiful work. And we thank Unilock for their great partnership and commitment to excellent products. You will see both the traditional Hollandstone on the majority of the walks and on two of our walks we're trying the new permeable paver Eco-PrioraTM which installed looks great. Stop to look below your feet next time you're here.