New Year’s Resolution: Instead of making sourdough bread, order plants!
We have finally arrived in 2022. We are tired but still battling some form of Covid. Many of us avoid crowds to stay healthy. One activity you can do while sequestered is planning your garden for the coming year. Now is a great time to browse through that pile of gardening catalogs or go online to research new plants or old favorites.
Are you surprised that the catalogs are still coming? Postal mail is still good for some things. I spend hours reading what’s new and improved. I rediscover old plants, bushes, trees and new proven plants, but I rarely order. My chosen items seem to be on the back burner and before I know it, it’s time to start cleaning up the purple spurge and chickweed from the garden and see what survived the winter. This year will be different! I will follow up and place the order for plants or seeds.
Each year, the National Garden Bureau selects one annual, one perennial, one bulb crop, one edible and one shrub to feature. These plants are chosen because they are popular, easy to grow, widely adaptable, genetically diverse and versatile. This year’s plant list includes Peperomia, Gladiolus, Phlox and Lettuce.
Peperomia, which we already know as a houseplant, has finally arrived in the garden. They will be perfect for outdoor planters since for decades we have been growing them in pots. In the past, there were only a handful of varieties to choose from, but with their newfound popularity and ease of growth, many more varieties have come onto the market. The many types of Peperomia can range from bushy to trailing, upright or cascading, and from fleshy succulents to less so.
The bulb choice is Gladiolus; this plant is as American as apple pie. Generations of gardeners from Maine to California have planted these summer-flowering bulbs in their gardens in the spring and have been delighted by the beautiful spikes of flowers that appear months later. Buckets of long-stemmed Glads are a late-summer tradition, and they can be found at almost any county fair or farmer’s market.
Gladioli are way more exotic than you might think. Most are from Africa and other arid countries around the Mediterranean. Plant breeders didn’t start working with gladiolus until the late 1800s, but they have had great success. Today’s bulbs are much showier than those growing in the wild and the color options are simply amazing. No wonder floral designers, horticulturists and home gardeners are finding new, creative ways to bring these blooms to the fore. I plant them six inches deep and find that they rarely need staking.
Phlox is an easy-to-find wildflower that ranges from Florida and Quebec to Alaska. One of the classic American perennials, it was one of the first North American natives to come into cultivation. With vibrant flower colors and blooms that last for weeks, it’s easy to see what has captured the attention of so many gardeners throughout the centuries. Although there are wide variations within the genus, a tubular flower with five petals is common to all types. Flower color varies between white, pink, magenta, purple, and blue across the genus, with some species showing noticeable orange or red coloration. I still love my grandmothers tall magenta phlox just as much, apart from the problem of powdery mildew which comes back every year to my delight when it blooms at the end of summer.
You don’t have to wait for the weather to warm up to plant bare root deciduous plants. They can be planted in January. If you want to work outdoors now, choose a sunny, dry day to plant fruit trees, nut trees, shade trees and lots of shrubs and vines, as well as roses. After planting, remove a third to half of the top of the plant; this will help the roots establish themselves. Remember, when pruning, always maintain a natural shape and water thoroughly.
In addition to planting new plants, now is the time to move plants that need a different location. Be sure to dig a large ball of dirt, the diameter of the ball should be 8-10 inches per inch of trunk diameter. Severe pruning in our region should wait until February. Make sure the seeds and plants you order are guaranteed for a full year, not just that the plants will arrive alive. Don’t order based on price alone. If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is and a 5 foot tree for $5.59 could mean extra roots.
When given a choice, I always order from a Southern nursery. Plants grown in our region have a better chance of surviving. Catalogs can give you a wealth of information about new plants and flowers, telling you whether they prefer sun or shade, moist or dry, when to start seeds, and how long before germination.
Now let’s move on to the mixed green potion of our plant selection; the Asteraceae family is responsible for some of the best-known salads: Lettuce is a mild-tasting, leafy annual that comes in many types, textures, colors and shapes. Chicories like endive and radicchio are herbaceous perennials that punctuate savory dishes with a bitter flavor profile. Dandelion greens, the deadly enemy of spring lawns, are a surprisingly diverse culinary addition, offering unique flavor and health benefits.
Now lettuce pray for a healthy 2022.
Gayle Fisher is a Tennessee State Master Gardener, as well as an accredited National Flower Show judge. A student landscaping consultant, she served as an officer in the Tennessee District IV Federation of Garden Clubs and is a Fellow of the American Horticultural Society. She can be reached at [email protected]