Summer is almost here and our perennials are blooming, attracting butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Perennials bring beauty to our gardens for years at a time. All they ask for in return is proper care! Part of that care is cutting them back minimally once a year. This process rids perennials of their old foliage to make room for new growth and flowers and will keep pollinators happy all summer long.
Removing spent blooms will keep your plants reblooming faster and heavier. Depending on your goal and the condition of the plant, the two types of pruning are heading and thinning.
Heading promotes new blooms and a fuller appearance. Pinching or cutting off dead and spent flowers and foliage gets rid of the unsightly growth while forcing the production of new stems, leaves, and flowers. For some plants, new flowers will not grow until spent flowers are removed. When the plant has multiple buds growing along the stems, cut just below spent flowers to create blooms further down the stems. If the plant has stems with singular flowers, you can cut the stem to the base of the plant. Heading annuals and perennials will produce more flowers that bloom for a longer period of time, and for perennials, this carries over to the next growing season.
Thinning greatly improves appearance and flower size, and helps prevent disease. Shape and reduce the size of overgrown and bulky plants by cutting unwanted stems to the base of the plant or where stems meet. Typically, it is good to remove up to one-third of the stems, especially in overcrowded areas where the foliage is beginning to discolor or die. If the plant is simply invading the space of surrounding plants in a bed, just cut outside stems to keep the plant in its place.
A memorial garden is a lasting way to commemorate the memory of a loved one. The flowers in the garden may be connected in some way to the person being memorialized, for instance, they may be favorites of the deceased, or they may recall the loved one’s favorite color or favorite season. If the person you are memorializing did not have a favorite flower, you can choose plants that have special meaning for you.
Sometimes it helps to actually see ideas, even if you won’t create the same memorial garden. There are so many plants in bloom to choose from.
Here are a few ideas for memorial gardens:
Butterfly Memorial Garden
A very special memorial garden, usually most appropriate for a woman or little girl, is a butterfly garden. This involves plantings of special flowers and shrubs that are known to attract butterflies.
Forget Me Not Memorial Garden
Plant a small patch of forget me not flowers, and either add a small bench where you can sit and reminisce, or add a memorial plaque. What a lovely reminder to plant in your memory garden.
If your loved one was a chef or just enjoyed cooking consider planting herbs and veggies in their honor.
If honoring a fallen soldier, plant flowers in red, white, and blue. A lovely combination of patriotic memorial garden plants is blue delphinium, red petunias, and white phlox. For color year-round, intermingle bulbs that come up at different times of the year.
Remember: Before putting any trees, shrubs, flowers, or vegetables into the ground, make sure you assess the area’s sunlight. Some plants are sun lovers and some are shade lovers. Plant accordingly. And ask questions. Our friendly and knowledgeable staff are always available to answer your questions.
Edible Flowers… not only yummy, but they also make a great arrangement too
Did you know that there are flowers that you can eat? Some flowers that are totally safe to eat may be growing in your garden now. Add some color and texture to your next meal!
Sweet and somewhat citrus taste, many people say hibiscus reminds them of cranberries. Hibiscus petals are proven to pack a punch when added fresh or dried in teas and other beverages. It can also be used as a garnish for fresh salads.
Roses’ flavors differ, depending on variety and their growing conditions. In general, they’re noted to have sweet and fruity flavors that’ll make you think of strawberries and green apples. Sources say all roses are edible, with darker colored roses having a stronger flavor, and the ways to use them seem endless. Use them in salads, desserts, spreads, jam, butter, punches, and many more.
Tart with a bit of grassy, minty undertones. Petals have a mild, friendlier flavor. Pansies are popularly used as an appetizing garnish in fresh fruit or vegetable salads, desserts, and even soups.
Petals are sweet and are known to be added to infuse flavor in tea and water. Prettify your summer salads and cold beverages by throwing in a few peony petals.
The golden yellow petal is the only part that you can safely eat from marigolds. It has a sharp, spicy, peppery, and sometimes even bitter flavor that’ll remind you of saffron. When added to soups and stews, the petals can act as natural food coloring, giving off a yellow tint.
Carnation petals taste sweet.
Unopened sunflower buds can actually be steamed and eaten as you would an artichoke. Its bright yellow petals can add a splash of color and flavor to your otherwise boring salad.
Tangy, peppery, and reminds you a bit of cauliflower. Blanch petals and add to fresh salads. Young leaves and stems are usually added to Asian dishes. The base of the flower can be extremely bitter.
Fragrant, floral, and citrus. Their signature zesty flowery flavor makes them great ingredients in fresh salads. They can also be candied or crystallized with egg whites and sugar.
Nasturtiums have been tried and tested in the kitchen scene. A common choice in cooking, the vibrantly colorful flowers are said to be sweet but slightly peppery, reminiscent of watercress. Nasturtiums can be added to fresh salads. You can fill their flowers with savory stuffing. Use their seed pods as a pocket-friendly alternative to capers. You can also add throw them fresh into sandwiches, appetizers, and cocktails.
A few things to keep in mind…
Before you whip up one incredible dish after another starring these beautiful edible blooms, here are a few helpful reminders.
- Go organic. Most commercially grown flowers are heavily sprayed with harmful pesticides.
- Keep it fresh and simple as much as possible. Cooking with edible flowers requires little to no seasoning.
- Double-check for sensitivities first (yours and your guests) before cooking or serving.
- Use edible flowers sparingly to prevent overpowering taste and more importantly digestive issues.
- Lastly, when in doubt if a flower is edible, don’t eat it. Don’t be afraid to ask or do research.
(Hanging Baskets, Containers, Landscape, Window Boxes)
All plants need water, however annual flowers need extra care. They tend to have shallow root systems and are expected to spend almost their entire lives blooming repeatedly. If they get stressed, they will either rush to set seed and not bloom again or slowly die.
A good rule for watering plants is to check the top inch of the soil: if it’s wet, no need to water. If it’s dry, time for a drink! Water during the early morning when you’ll lose less moisture due to evaporation during the day.
Beds vs. Containers
Any plant grown in a container will dry out quickly, and annuals, with their shallow roots, will need water pretty much every day. Check the top inch of soil. If it feels dry to the touch, water. You may need to water more than once a day in the extreme heat of summer. Adding Mulch, even in a container, can make an appreciable difference in water retention.
Annuals planted in flower beds may not need as much water as those in containers. It will depend on how well-drained the soil is and how much competition for water there is from other plants close by.
Specific Plant Needs
How much you’ll have to water depends on the plants you choose. Drought-tolerant annuals, such as zinnia, marigolds, and cleome, will require minimal watering; once a week will probably be fine. Others, such as snapdragons, alyssum, and impatiens need regular water, or they will suffer stress.
Your plants will be the best indicator of when to water and whether you are giving them enough to drink. When annuals don’t get enough water, they can start to look pale or dull, and they are quick to wilt. If they are wilting during the day and reviving at night, you can be certain that they need more water during the heat of the day, more mulch, or a shadier spot.
The signs of over-watering are similar to under-watering, pale leaves, and wilting. You’ll be able to determine which it is by pushing your finger into the soil and checking to see if it is soggy or bone dry. The water needs of your annuals vary with the weather and the seasons, and you should adjust accordingly.
There is nothing more magical than watching hummingbirds flutter around your deck while feeding on some beautiful flowers.
Hummingbirds are attracted to bright colors and tubular flowers, as the tubular flowers tend to hold the most nectar.
Here’s a list of some of our fluttery friends’ favorites.
- Black and blue salvia
- Cuphea/ Vermillionaire
- Trumpet vine
- Bee balm
Planting any of these favorites in the yard or in planters around your deck will make for a very inviting spot for our hummingbird friends.
It’s that time of the year when we are all making our homes look and feel like our own tropical paradise.
Here are a few hints to help keep your plants happy and healthy all summer long.
- Make sure you know lighting conditions, as some tropicals like full sun and others like more indirect lighting.
- Most plants have different watering conditions and times, so get to know your plant and water as needed and required.
- Plants need food too, using Van Wilgen’s slow-release fertilizer once a month will keep your plant happy.
- Sometimes your plants need a haircut occasionally. Keeping your plants trimmed up and free of any branches or leaves that don’t look great keep the energy going to the rest of the plant where its need to look awesome.
Just remember plants are just like you or me. They need and require everything we do.
Sun, warmth, water, food, haircuts, water, and of course love.
Fresh and quick recipes using veggies and herbs right from your garden. Experiment with different flavors and see what you can create!
Balsamic roast tomato and ricotta pasta
Toss torn lasagna sheets with balsamic roasted tomato, fresh ricotta, and basil pesto for a quick, weeknight meal!
2 1/2 cups vine-ripened cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp balsamic glaze
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups frozen fava beans
8 oz fresh ricotta or smooth ricotta
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan
16 oz fresh lasagna sheets, torn into strips
1/3 cup basil pesto
1/2 cup basil leaves
4 oz Arugula
- Preheat oven to 350º.
- Line a baking tray with baking paper. Place the tomatoes on the tray. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and half the oil. Season. Roast for 10-15 mins or until tomatoes begin to collapse.
- Meanwhile, cook the fava beans in a medium saucepan of boiling water for 2 mins or until heated through. Refresh under cold water. Peel.
- Combine the ricotta and parmesan in a small bowl. Season.
- Cook the pasta in a large saucepan of boiling water for 1-2 mins or until tender. Drain well. Return to pan. Add tomatoes, pesto, fava beans, basil, rocket, remaining oil, and half the ricotta mixture. Gently toss to combine. Divide among serving bowls. Top with the remaining ricotta mixture.
Chargrilled eggplant and zucchini salad
Juicy pomegranate seeds add a burst of freshness to this 20-minute eggplant and zucchini salad.
1 large eggplant, thinly sliced crossways
2 zucchini, thinly sliced lengthways
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
3/4 cup natural yogurt
1 tbsp tahini
1 lemon, zested, juiced
2 oz arugula
1 cup mint leaves
1/2 cup coriander leaves
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds, toasted
1 pomegranate, halved, seeds removed
- Heat a barbecue grill or chargrill on medium-high. Brush both sides of the eggplant and zucchini with oil. Season. Cook for 1-2 mins each side or until tender. Transfer to a plate. Set aside to cool.
- Toast the cumin and paprika in a saucepan over low heat, stirring, for 1 min or until fragrant. Transfer to a bowl. Stir in the yogurt, tahini, and ¼ cup (60ml) lemon juice. Season.
- Arrange the eggplant, zucchini, rocket, mint, and coriander on a large serving platter. Drizzle with the yogurt mixture. Sprinkle with walnuts, pepitas, pomegranate seeds, and lemon zest.
SPICY CUCUMBER SALAD
For fresh, crisp cucumber pleasure, this Thai salad offers crunchy morsels of raw cucumber tossed in an addictive dressing that balances the tang of lime juice and fish sauce. Sweetly aromatic sticky rice is the perfect foil for these bright flavors.
½ cup fresh lime juice
3 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp palm sugar
1 tbsp minced seeded jalapeño
3 red Thai chiles, thinly sliced
2 small garlic cloves, finely minced
3 large cucumbers
½ cup chopped cilantro leaves
½ cup coarsely chopped roasted unsalted peanuts
- To make the dressing, whisk together lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar, jalapeño, Thai chiles, and garlic in a small bowl and set aside.
- Remove most of the peel from the cucumber (leaving a few long stripes for color if you like), and quarter lengthwise. If seeds are large and tough, remove them. Slice cucumber into ¼-inch-thick pieces.
- In a large bowl, combine cucumber with cilantro. A half-hour before serving, toss with the dressing. Taste and add salt as needed. Garnish with peanuts and serve.
Garden Tomatoes with Herbed Goat Cheese and Griddled Bread
Griddled bread is delicious at room temperature, so you can enjoy it in the garden served with tomatoes just plucked from the vine!
1 one-pound loaf of country boule or sourdough bread, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
Extra virgin olive oil for brushing
1 garlic clove, cut in half
3 pounds assorted garden or heirloom tomatoes
Herb sprigs for garnish
Herbed Goat Cheese (see recipe)
Heat a griddle or heavy large iron skillet over medium heat. Brush both sides of bread and arrange slices, working in batches if necessary, in a single layer on the griddle. Cook until the bread is golden brown, about 4 minutes. Turn the bread and continue to cook until the second side is golden brown, about 4 minutes longer. Rub bread lightly with garlic.
Cut larger tomatoes into slices and cut smaller tomatoes in half. Arrange the tomatoes on a platter; sprinkle with salt and scatter with herb sprigs.
Serve the tomatoes with the Griddled Bread and the Herbed Goat Cheese.
Herbed Goat Cheese
You can use whatever combination of herbs is plentiful in your garden for this creamy spread.
MAKES ABOUT 1½ CUPS
8 ounces soft fresh goat cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup coarsely chopped mixed fresh herbs such as basil, garlic chives, tarragon, mint and thyme
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
Stir cheese, oil, and herbs to blend in a small bowl or crock. Season the cheese to taste with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. (Goat cheese spread can be made ahead. Cover and refrigerate for up to one week. Allow cheese spread to soften slightly at room temperature before serving.)
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit…. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad. When it comes to backyard gardens, there are 2 things that are a must… tomatoes and there better be basil. Here is a little Van Wisdom about choosing the type of tomato to grow for what you are making in the kitchen. Asking people what variety of tomato their favorite is is like asking what type of toothpaste you use… it’s very personal and everyone has a why. Here is a quick guide to get you on the right path.
Best Tomatoes for Sandwiches:
The best time to make a sandwich is in summer… when you can put fresh tomatoes on it. The hybrid varieties like Big Boy, Beefmaster, Celebrity, Supersteak are all your quintessential perfectly round fruit that is easy to slice and easy to put on your favorite sandwich. All of them are very similar and again choice has to do with personal experience and tradition. There are a couple of heirloom varieties that check the sandwich box too. Brandywine, German Johnson, and Mortgage Lifter are all great varieties as well. These are all going to be VERY LARGE tomatoes… like one slice from them should cover a whole roll!
Best Tomatoes for Salads:
It must be Cherry or Grape Tomatoes for salads… you will not go wrong with Black Cherry, Sun Gold, Sweet 100, Grape, or Yellow Grape tomatoes. The cherry types are small usually perfectly round fruit with thin skin that is touted as VERY sweet. Both the yellow grape and grape are just that… oval, oblong grape-shaped. The grape types have a lower water content, are considered meaty, and have a balanced flavor like their large counterparts.
Best Tomatoes for the sauce:
This is one we get asked all the time, simple…San Marzano. No. Questions. About. It! San Marzano makes such great sauce it is designated as the official Tomato for Neapolitan pizza… aka “New Haven Style”. A plum type of fruit is balanced between acidity and sweetness, is very meaty, and has discrete seed cavities that make it easy to remove the seeds. Ok well, there are other tomatoes for sauce as well… Roma is another great option with similar characteristics that make it great for sauces as well.
Remember tomatoes like it warm… make sure the soil is at least 60 degrees and nighttime temps do not go below 50 before planting. Even a couple of cool nights can affect your harvest!
Every great garden starts with great soil just like healthy soil grows healthy plants. Soil is just as much living as your plants and believe it or not they work together 24/7. When I had the opportunity to make our line of premium soils even better, I JUMPED on it! Our bagged soils and mulches are being made in Connecticut, so they are close to home which is great for freight bills and keeping money in the CT economy! These ingredients are amazing… I get asked why we do not carry soils from the green and yellow marketing machine… let me tell you, I have been to their bagging facility, and I will never carry their stuff. I think that is all you ever need to know.
Out of all our premium ingredients, the only thing we cannot get local is peat moss but we are buying compressed bulk towers so we can get 3 times as much on one truck hence reducing our carbon footprint and reducing expense at the same time. The bark is being processed and made just one minute down the road at the same place that all our bulk mulches come from, and I will say NO ONE has better-aged bark than our mulch guy. The compost is made from very aged bark and leaves and again, it is the same as what we sell in bulk, so we are very familiar with the quality and consistency. Our planting mix even has aged manure from a farm just down the road, the manure adds organic material and nutrients to get your plants started right.
Better Ingredients, better pricing and blended closer to home…. Win, Win, Win!
Van Wilgen’s Planting Mix:
Use the “purple bag” for anything you are planting in the ground. This is specially formulated for our CT soil. The Peat Moss has a water holding capacity 2 to 3 times more than our regular soil which is great for retaining moisture for your new plantings. Aged bark fines are great at conditioning your existing soil and breaking up clay soils. In addition, the bark breaks down slowly and slowly adds organic material to the soil, creating a food source for all those living organisms that are so beneficial to our soil. The compost is EXTREMELY rich in organic material and nutrients. Compost brings those benefits to your soil and adds a great food source for the organisms that are already living in your soil. Manure is another form of compost with the same benefits but brings different micronutrients to your plants.
- Peat Moss:
- Aged Bark Fines:
Van Wilgen’s Potting Mixes:
Use the “brown” or “green” bag in ANY container. Pots, window boxes, elevated gardens, hanging baskets, indoors or outdoors. This mix is excellent for pots compared to soil found in the ground because it can hold a lot more water and nutrients which is crucial because you will be watering you plants often when they are in pots. Some Van Wisdom is to use Van Wilgen’s Controlled Release Fertilizer in your containers as it will slowly feed your plants over time and subsidize with a liquid feed every couple of weeks.
The peat moss is designed to hold as much water as possible to keep water available to your plants as constantly as possible. The bark fines and the perlite are to create good drainage and provide oxygen to keep your roots happy, healthy and bright white. There is an exceptional amount of compost in these potting mixes compared to other soil mixes. The nutrients, and organic material from the compost provides an excellent jump start for your plants and long-term organic material.
- Peat Moss:
- Aged Bark Fines:
Van Wilgen’s Premium Topsoil
When people think of topsoil, they usually imagine rich almost black soil. We blended our soil to come as close to people’s vision as possible. We used native topsoil as a key ingredient because it will match your CT soil closely. Our next key ingredient is compost and A LOT of it. This is what is giving our topsoil that rich dark color and bringing all those benefits and nutrients. The peat moss is added in to lighten the mix up because the native soil and compost are heavy, this creates an amazing, fluffy, nutrient-rich topsoil that is ready to grow some great grass! The peat and compost hold water and help seeds germinate quickly. I am confident you will have great results with our topsoil… this is NOT discount, sand, and left-over junk thrown in a bag that won’t grow anything.
- Peat Moss:
- Native Topsoil
Van Wilgen’s Premium Mulches
Our mulches are made from 100% bark… not WOOD. The benefits of bark mulches span far greater than using inexpensive ground-up wood than dyed mulch. You’ve heard it, you get what you pay for, and I like to always say “you can always get a cheaper pizza…. but then you have to eat it!”
Here are the down and dirty benefits of using bark mulch over-dyed wood mulches.
- Retains more moisture
- Suppresses weeds more effectively
- Insulates roots better
- Fewer temperature swings create a more consistent soil temperature
- Adds organic material to the soil
- Creates nutrients for your soil vs. taking nutrients from the soil
- Holds color longer and freshens up with a quick rake
- Doesn’t create artillery fungus (look it up… it’s scary)
When it comes to mulching there are a couple of simple things you need to know. Mulch should be put down 3” thick the first application and 1-2” thick the following years. The most important thing is to not crowd the stems and trunks of your trees and shrubs and do NOT mulch over the crowns of your perennials. This will basically suffocate your plants, causing their decline and ultimately death. This is one of the most common reasons for plant decline. This might hurt some people’s feelings but PLEASE… NO VOLCANOES! Mulching up against the trunk of your tree is not good for it and it sends a signal to start making roots where it shouldn’t be making roots. Your tree should not look like a telephone pole stuck in the ground… you should have the “root flare” visible to keep your tree healthy and happy!
We get this question a lot this time of year. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as simple as giving you a date—it’s driven by nighttime temperatures, so staying on top of the daily weather forecast is crucial. Since Mother Nature is unpredictable, we stick to the following rules of thumb, knowing that it’s all about being flexible and keeping an eye on the forecast. Annuals fall into a couple of basic planting temperatures:
- Fuchsias, petunias, nemesia, dianthus, osteospermum daisies, sweet alyssum, snapdragons, bacopa and dusty miller are cold-tolerant early spring annuals that can handle a low nighttime temperature of 40 degrees. For those of you who want summer color in early spring, these are great options.
- Everything else requires temperatures over 50 degrees (24/7) to be safely put outside. This includes tropicals, houseplants, citrus, and figs.
Mother Nature is always in control. Our smartphones make life a lot easier these days; just look at any weather app and check the hourly tracking. If temperatures are going to drop below those listed above, cover your plants with some type of cloth … but never use plastic! Better yet, bring your plants inside at night (if possible).
Early spring is also a great time to prepare your garden for your herbs and vegetables.
- Peas, broccoli, kale, cabbage, spinach, arugula, and lettuce are great options for early spring vegetables.
- Also, most herbs handle a little bit of cold weather, with the one exception being basil.
Basil and all other vegetables need the nighttime temperatures to be no lower than 50 to 55 degrees.
Planting early doesn’t get them to grow faster. If planted in cold weather and cold soil temperatures it can cause harm to the plant.
- Causing stunted growth, decreased yield, wilt, and foliage necrosis.
The soil temperature needs to be between 55 and 65 degrees for a happy healthy plant
If you can’t dig the hole for your plant and can’t comfortably put your hand in the hole without it being cold, it’s too early!
We are always available for any questions you may have. We are happy to help!