to Dec 31

December in the Garden

December's Plant of the Month

Danae racemosa, commonly called Poet's Laurel, is a graceful foliage plant for floral arrangements. Poets Laurel is used for its glossy emerald green color and long-lasting vase life.


It grows well in our amended garden clay soils, though it prefers being well-drained. The foliage discolors in sun, so plant it in dappled shade.  It takes a while to get its root system in place, but then makes a dramatic, arching shrub in the garden.  The stems brown and die in late winter, so cut it freely for the winter holidays and use it indoors. New shoots will appear in Spring.






December To-Do's in the Garden

  • Keep plants and shrubs watered during dry spells.

  • Plant deciduous trees and shrubs now in their dormant season.

  • Lay cut Xmas tree branches over tender perennials to protect from cold.

  • Remember to feed the birds.

  • Prepare new beds when the soil is dry enough and let rest through the winter for spring planting.

  • Apply lime now if you need it (get a soil test. see www. Lime takes a long time to react with the soil, so winter applications help the spring garden.

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to Jan 31

November in the Garden

Floral Designer’s Plant of the Month

Chasmanthium latifolium, commonly called Sea Oats, is  one of the ornamental grasses. It adds a graceful “harvest” effect to fall arrangements. They dry easily and last all season.

Sea Oats are a useful plant in the garden too. Shamrock green foliage all summer, and their graceful seed heads add movement in fall and interest all winter.  Best of all, Sea Oats do fine in dry part-shade – a difficult place to plant. They do naturalize by seeding in.  If you cut the seed heads for your Thanksgiving floral designs, however, this won't be a problem.

Checklist for the Garden

  • November is the time of leaves! Be sure to keep them off lawns and moss gardens. Leave them on perennial beds where possible to protect as winter mulch and also provide habitat for wildlife.

  • Divide and replant crowded perennials (hostas, day lilies, etc)

  • Mulch tender plants for winter protection

  • Also mulch (1 inch thick ) over winter bulbs to help maintain consistent temperatures below ground as our Southern weather chills and then warms up.

  • Detach watering hoses from spigots and drain.

  • Plant winter bulbs – daffodils, tulips, lilies, etc – and pansies for winter color.   A favorite Southern tip is to layer .. plant early flowering bulbs deep in the soil (6”) and then layer the pansies on top. In spring the pansies will get the addition of the tulips (or daffodils) to add a new dimension of color and form.

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to Jan 31

January in the Garden

Floral Designer's Must-Have Plant of the Month

Aucuba japonica ‘Gold Dust’, commonly called Japanese Laurel, is a shrub for shade that provides foliage with yellow markings for a perfect transition from the evergreens of winter to the yellows of spring, or all year in floral designs. It lasts for weeks in water and will even root. 


Aucuba is popular in the garden for its broad, evergreen leaves. It is often used as screens or backdrop plants. It handles full shade but prefers bright light and even part sun (morning or evening) for best color, especially the variegated varieties.


Checklist for the Garden

  • Enjoy winter bloomers such as Hellebores, Rosemary, Mahonia, Daphne, and Camellia japonica. Note where you need to add some come planting season.

  • Water before a cold snap to help plants survive bitter temperatures (if it is dry).

  • Get out garden catalogs or read a book on gardening.

  • Most house plants are semi-dormant due to short days of winter so do not fertilize or over-water.

  • Emerging spring flowering bulbs such as crocus and daffodils need not worry you. The foliage contains an “antifreeze” that will protect the plants from cold. If the plant blooms, however, cut the flowers to enjoy indoors before freezing temperatures return.

  • Pansies and violas can withstand freezing weather. But if you are expecting 5-7 nights of below 30 degree F temperatures, cover your plants with newspaper, buckets or an old sheet until morning.

  • Remember the birds – suet and sunflower seeds are top choices for winter cold.

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to Feb 28

February in the Garden

Floral Designer's Plant of the Month

Flowering Trees  and Shrubs

Good candidates for forcing include:

Pussy willow
Tulip Magnolias
Mock orange
Apricot (Prunus mume)

In the Triangle, celebrate spring early by bringing branches of flowering shrubs and trees inside to force the blooms.
Cut the stems. Once you bring the branches inside, submerge and recut stem ends under water. Plunge freshly cut ends in a clean full bucket of water. Place the branch-filled bucket in a cool spot, such as a garage or porch. Allow stems to fully hydrate; it will only take a few hours.
Use the stems to create spectacular indoor arrangements. Add the cut stems, and watch buds swell and burst into bloom. Change the water weekly or whenever it's cloudy. You can also include colorful twigs from dogwoods or  willows, especially as you have to prune them now anyway. 

Checklist for the Garden

•    As weather permits, cut back liriope and ornamental grasses before new growth begins. Liriope can be cut back with a line trimmer. Use sharp shears for ornamental grasses.

•    On a sunny day, get out and prune summer blooming plants such as crepe myrtle and butterfly bush that bloom on new wood. But keep feet off the lawns and out of beds. Mucking around in mud wrecks the soil. You can wait a bit longer to cut back twig willows and dogwoods so you can continue to enjoy the show. 

•    Roses. Get roses in the ground now so they'll be established before hot weather arrives. Choose bare-root roses.

•    Veggies. Plant potatoes, onions, lettuce, spinach and peas the end of the month. 

•    Trees. Add trees to your landscape this month. 

•    Bedding plants. Set out cool-season annuals that tolerate frost: Lobelia, Pansy, Dianthus, and Snapdragon are all good options.

•    Take photos of spring flowering bulbs so you know where to plant next year.

•    Clean out old bird nests in birdhouses and clean birdbaths and feeders.

•    February is the official kick off of the spring flower show season. Make plans to attend a show in your area or travel to one of the big events such as the Philadelphia Flower Show.


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to Mar 31

March in the Garden

Floral Designer's Plant of the Month

Narcissus …common name: Daffodils or Jonquils.

The secret for using cut daffodils in arrangements is in the conditioning: the technique called “rinsing” is used in the floral industry. Daffodil sap is poisonous so you must let it drain out completely before putting daffodils in vases. Cut ends, let drip and then plunge into clean, fresh water. Repeat every 10 minutes at least 3 times, then on the last time leave overnight. Re-cutting the stems may require repeating the process.

Checklist for the Garden

  • Prune summer blooming plants such as crepe myrtle and butterfly bush that bloom on new wood.

  • There is a strong temptation to start removing winter mulches from your flower beds.... WAIT!!! Pull the mulch off gradually as the plants show signs of new growth. Winter mulch protects from sudden changes of temperature and chilling winds. Acclimatize your plants by removing the mulch over a period of days, allowing the light and air to reach the new growth slowly. It is much better to remove the mulch a little later than to remove it to early. (Last frost date for the Triangle --zone 7b --is April 9th.)

  • Roses can be pruned this month.

  • Sow seeds of summer blooming annuals indoors.

  • Prune Winter Jasmine after flowering. Cut Honeysuckle vines back to 3ft.

  • Divide Snowdrops and crocus while in leaf (after blooming is done.)

  • Plant Primroses and Pansies.

  • Pinch off tips of Sweet Pea seedlings and Chrysanthemums, when they are 4 inches tall.

  • Plant cool weather crops like lettuce, spinach, radishes and carrots.


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to Apr 30

April in the Garden

Floral Designer's Plant of the Month

Iris sibirica  commonly known as Siberian Iris

A wonderful cut flower that is so lovely it almost makes an arrangement by itself in a bud vase. Siberian iris are a very hardy iris that does well in the humid South. Itforms a clump of grass- like foliage that lasts through the growing season. The flowers come in April, massing elegantly on slender stems that rise above the foliage. They prefer average, medium to wet soil and part shade to flourish and will tolerate boggy conditions. They also tolerate our clay soils and summer droughts because the roots go so deep. Be sure to plant so the rhizomes are just on the surface.

Popular pass-along cultivars are the deep purple ‘Ceasar’s Brother’ which is still popular though it is an old, award-winning variety because few others can rival its deep, pansy-violet coloring and exceptional vigor.

Checklist for the Garden

Last frost is usually around April 9th in Raleigh.

Let spring bulb foliage die down naturally, but remove flower heads. Plant daylilies, hostas, and other plants with my bulbs, so that the fading leaves are hidden a bit when the succeeding plant begins growing.

Prune and fertilize azaleas, camellias and rhododendron after they bloom and refresh mulch.

 Deadhead pansy blooms and lightly fertilize for spring display.

While you're in the woods (or in your natural garden area), step lightly and keep an eye out for bloodroot, bleeding heart, Jack-in-the-pulpit and, if you are lucky, Trillium.

 Herbs. Plant most herbs after the frost period has passed. (Save the basil until the soil has warmed up)

Annuals. Transplant annual flowers after mid-month and direct sow seeds.

Seed Starting. During the first week or two of April, you can still start warm weather flowers and vegetables indoors, like zinnias, asters, marigolds, sage, tomatoes and peppers. If I don't get them started by then, I just wait and direct seed the flowers in late April.

Perennials. If you have tall perennials, like hollyhocks dahlias, and peonies, it's time to think of giving them a helping hand with a stake or support. Small tomato cages work for peonies.

 Divide summer perennials such as daisies, asters, hostals & phlox.

Fertilize Your Fruit and Nut Trees. Also vines and bushes, such as blackberries, grapes, raspberries and blueberries (careful! Blueberries are very shallow rooted). Figs, maybe the easiest fruit crop to grow organically, do not need fertilizing.

·Roses. Cut canes back to just above a strong new shoot when bud growth starts, on strong growing plants. For weaker growers, go easier, just remove diseased wood and pinch back on top.

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to May 31

May in the Garden

Floral Designer's Plant of the Month

Hydrangea macrophylla

Hydrangeas are wonderful this time of year: they are so beautiful, elegant and simple. They are big and even a few one can make an arrangement look full.  They also dry nicely for fall and winter designs (sprayed gold for Christmas gives you a lovely natural accent for the evergreens.)

The big flowers take a lot of water so be sure to pull the leaves off your stems so all the water goes into the bloom. 

Hydrangea does better in water. But there are times when you need to use foam for a design. You can put them in tubes, which you insert into the foam, but then you will have to pull them and fill the tubes about every day.  If they will go into the foam directly, but sure to condition them very well.

Conditioning hydrangeas from the florist will prolong their life. This method will also perk up droopy ones most of the time.
Submerge the hydrangea heads under tepid water for 2 minutes and gently shake. Cut them at a 45 degree angle – because of the thickness of the stem you may need to make two cut on opposite sides.  You will now have a end that looks like an arrow.  Take your knife and gently make a cut up the center of this arrow –  this will create more area for hydration.  Put the newly cut stems in clean water and allow to soak for an hour.

Checklist for the Garden

•Let leaves of spring flowering bulbs die back naturally, so they can manufacture enough food for next year’s blooms.

•Plant annuals for summer color. 

•Plant tender summer bulbs such as cannas, dahlias, and ginger lilies.

•Mulch beds to minimize weeds and retain soil moisture when the summer heat comes.

•Shear formal hedges.

•If needed, prune spring blooming shrubs like azaleas, camellias, Indian hawthorn, and oakleaf hydrangea after they finish flowering but before mid July.  Give them some organic fertilizer before mulching.

•Hummingbirds Are Back! Red flowers attract hummingbirds to your garden. They especially like tubular shaped blooms, like Monarda, especially the old fashioned red one. 

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to Oct 31

October in the Garden

October's Plant of the Month

A very popular plant for late season color is the fall mum, also called “Garden mums” or “Hardy mums”. Fall mums were once known as Chrysanthemums, but taxonomists have recently changed their botanical name to Dendranthema grandiflora. They are available in a wide selection of colors, flower types, shapes and sizes. 

Fall mums.jpg

Fall mums should be planted in the spring. but most are sold  at our area garden centers in October. If planted in the fall, many of these plants won’t make it through the winter here because they are near or at their flowering stage, and won't grow roots to sustain themselves through the winter. However, since they are so inexpensive, after they have served their decorative purposes for you, plop them into the ground, mulch well, and see how they do. If they make it through the winter, they will please you for years to come as low maintenance, easy to grow plants that are drought resistant and generally free of insect and disease pests.

October To-Dos in the Garden

  • October is a great month for planting in our area.
  • Plant or transplant peonies this month.
  •  Plant pansies and decorative kale now for winter color.
  • You can still seed fescue and bluegrass in early October.
  • Dig and store summer bulbs like gladioli, dahlia and caladium before frost
  • In late October, plant spring flowering bulbs like daffodil, tulip, crocus and hyacinth, but keep in mind that in our climate, many of the bulbs planted in fall will only make it through one or two seasons and  are best treated as annuals. Crocus tommasinianus or "Tommies" are said to be the best crocus for the South and the most rodent-resistant.
  • Plant lettuce, green onions, carrots, radishes, and most leafy greens inside a cold frame. If you don't have a fall vegetable garden, plant cover crops like annual rye, barley and wheat; or till in organic matter like tree leaves now.
  • Take soil samples from your plant beds and vegetable garden for testing.
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