Charlie’s Mid August Newsletter
In our Vermont garden, I can always tell when it’s mid August. All of sudden the light levels seem to change. The days may still be long and weather muggy and hot, but something subtle has shifted. Yes, we’re heading towards fall.
But it’s also a time of abundance in our garden. We’re harvest vegetables and fruits daily as well as flowers for the table. It feels like it will never end!
One of the stars of the late summer garden is black eyed Susans or Rudbeckia. There are many varieties beyond the traditional species and I highlight them here.
We’re wrapping up blueberry and peach picking and moving into grapes and soon, Asian pears. This easy to grow fruit tree has been a consistent producer for us every since we planted it. I talk about growing Asian pears in your landscape in this newsletter.
I know many gardeners are at a loss as to what to plant in the shade. This is especially true for climbing vines. One of the best climbers that flowers in a part shady area is climbing hydrangea. I spotlight this perennial here.
Finally, it wouldn’t be August without our old friend the tomato hornworm. They love to munch on tomatoes and their relatives. I talk about looking for them and picking them off plants without freaking out.
Finally, we only have 2 spaces left on our Discover Cuba: Gardens, History and Culture Trip in March, 2019. If you’re at all interested in the tour, let us know soon. We’re only taking around 25 people to keep the tour small and intimate. We’ll be going in March when Northern gardeners can only dream of spring. It will be spring in Cuba with lots of flowers and trees blooming. Take a look at our itinerary and come join us!
Until next time I’ll be seeing you… in the garden.
- Vt Garden Journal on Vt Public Radio- This week; Russian Sage
- Ct Garden Journal on Ct Public Radio- This week; Balloon Flowers
- In the Garden (WCAX-TV CBS)- This week; Squash Bugs
- Where’s Charlie Speaking? August 24, 2018, Champlain Valley Fair, Essex, VT
Rudbeckia or Black Eyed Susan is a native American plant that’s has been transformed from a simple yellow daisy into a beautiful garden flower. That being said, with all the changes through breeding of this plant, it hasn’t forgotten its roots. Rudbeckias are still tough plants, adapted to many areas and a consistent perennial in the flower garden. In fact, they can become too consistent, self sowing babies throughout the landscape. Yes, they are easy to grow from seed or plant.
While we all know the common Black eyed Susan in wildflowers and meadows, there are other selections for the garden. ‘Henry Eilers’ rudbeckia is a prairie native with unusual curved yellow petals on plants that can grow 3 to 5 feet tall. It looks like little starbursts in the garden. ‘Goldstrum’ is a classic 3 foot tall daisy with improved flower color, shape and performance. For something stunning in the back of a flower border, try the ‘Giant’ Black Eyed Susan (R. Maxima). It stands up to 7 feet tall with large black cones in the center of yellow petaled flowers.
Rudbeckias are great late summer flowers for the beginning or novice gardener. They grow in sand or clay soils, are hardy and tough plants with few pests. Deer don’t like them and they look great in a formal garden or wildflower meadow. Rudbeckia also is a perfect choice for a pollinator or butterfly garden for the nectar the blooms provide. You can even cut the flowers for indoor arrangements.
In the garden, plant rudbeckia near ornamental grasses, asters, goldenrod, sedums, hardy hibiscus, rose of Sharon and other late summer bloomers. You can also plant them in gardens dominated by early and mid summer flowers to extend the color to that area into fall. They grow best in full sun, but I’ve seen them blooming in part shade as well.
For larger planting, sow seed. Rudbeckia germinates and grows well from seeding in meadows and wildflower areas. Another way to spread the flowers is to let the rudbeckia flowers in your garden drop seed and germinate. In spring move all the “babies” into a meadow or other area.
Although many gardeners are familiar with European pear varieties such as ‘Bartlett’ and ‘Seckel’, Asian pears still remain a mystery to most people in this country. However, they are wildly popular in China and Japan where they originated more than 3000 years. Asian pears are often given as gifts around the holidays and are highly desired. They are so special you’ll often see them individually wrapped with mesh in grocery stores. But just because they are special, doesn’t mean they are hard to grow.
We’ve grown Asian pears for 6 years in our zone 5 garden and they have been one of the most care free trees we have. They started fruiting as young trees and consistently produce each year. There are yellow and brown skinned varieties. Both are round and crisp like an apple, but sweet and juicy like a pear. Their ivory colored flesh has a complex flavor with a hint of butterscotch. We grow the varieties ‘Chojuro’ and ‘Shinseiki’, but there are many more to try around the country.
As long as you have full sun and well-drained soil, you can grow Asian pears. Even on our clay soil, we simply mounded up the planting bed for better water drainage and they have done fine. It is important to get two different varieties for pollination. They can pollinate, and be pollinated by, European pears, but having a few Asian pears is a the best way to insure good fruiting. Keep the young trees well watered. Once established they don’t need a lot of care. The biggest problem with most pears is fire blight disease. This bacterial disease looks like someone scorched the branches and leaves with a torch. It’s deadly. The best way to avoid it is to grow disease resistant varieties such as ‘Shinko’ and ‘Shin Li’.
You certainly can grow Asian pears in an orchard setting with other fruit trees. But they often don’t grow more than15 feet tall and in a narrow shape, so they make great trees for urban and small space areas as well. Plant them in a side yard, small backyard or even in the front yard to share with neighbors.
Asian pears are easy to harvest, too. Unlike European pears that are harvested before they’re fully ripen, harvest Asian pears while the fruit is ripe, yet still firm, on the tree. A taste test is the best way to know if your Asian pears are ripe. You can also give them a yank in September and is they pop right off the stem without a lot of effort, they’re ready.
One of the challenges for shade gardeners is getting some height and color in the garden. There aren’t many very tall perennial flowers that will thrive in the shade, but one vine stands out. Climbing hydrangea is a woody vine that, once established, can produce an abundance of large white flowers. And it grows in part shade.
Climbing hydrangeas are attractive plants for many reasons. They start off growing slowly with dark green leaves, and cinnamon-colored, peeling, woody bark. The bark is attractive four seasons of the
year in the garden. Once established, the growth rate picks up and the flowering begins in summer. The flat, white flowers are favorites of pollinators and insects. While the green leaved species is the most common, there are newer selections, such as ‘Miranda’, with variegated green and yellow leaves.
The key with growing climbing hydrangea is it needs sturdy supports. It’s often grown on the side of a house, barn or garage or on a trellis. It’s important to know how it grows. The small rootlets or hold fasts attach to the surface as it grows. It may also need to be tied with plant ties to keep it upright. The hold fasts can leave stains on vinyl or wooden surfaces so be careful where you grow it. It’s best to grow it on brick or cement or on a wooden trellis placed 3 feet from a wall. Climbing hydrangeas also look attractive naturalized growing up an old tree or stump.
This vine isn’t very aggressive, but can quickly become a permanent fixture in your shade garden. So, think well about the best place for it, such as on an East or North facing wall.
In My Garden: Tomato Hornworms
While there are many pests in the vegetable garden that are slimy, creepy and crawly, nothing compares with coming face to face with the tomato hornworm. This larvae of the hummingbird moth, shows up in our garden in August. Just when I’m looking closely for ripe tomato fruits on the plant, invariably, I come nose to nose with a hornworm. I swear I can hear them munching on the tomato fruits and leaves.
Hornworms can do a lot of damage in a short period of time. Look for defoliated branches near the top of plants. Then look down. You’ll often see green/black droppings on the leaves. Search around nearby and you’ll probably find a hornworm. You can also use a black light at light to find these glowing beasts.
The best control is to hand pick them and drop them into a pail of soapy water or feed them to chickens. For large plantings, you can also spray Bacillus thuriengensis (Bt) to kill them. This organic spray is the same one used for cabbage worms and tent caterpillars. If you see white lumps on its back, leave it. Those are parasitic braconid wasp larvae and are good for the garden.
Stay on top of this pest and your tomatoes will be safe. They also make great pets for kids! “Harvest” a few hornworms, have the kids feed and care for them and watch as they make their cocoon and transform into a moth. It’s fun and educational!