Perennial Care

  1. Russian Sage, Salvia, and Veronica: How to Tell Them Apart


    Little Spire Russian Sage Little Spire Russian Sage

    Russian sage, veronica, and salvia can appear to be very similar at first glance, but there are so many nuanced differences that will make one better for your space compared to the others. Flowers can be a key indicator in this situation. Salvia and Veronica have similar coloring, which can range from dark purple to rose pink to white. Russian Sage, on the other hand, always has purple flowers. Russian sage also has more airy blooms, instead of the more dense flowers of the other two plants.  The flower spikes of the salvia bloom profusely through the summer with larger flowers than Veronica. Salvia has lipped and lobed petals create a "landing zone" for pollinators - making it one of the top stops for pollinating insects. Veronica blooms mature from the bottom up, sometimes resulting in the tips of the blooms appearing green while the lower flowers are blooming.  

    East Friesland Salvia

    East Friesland Salvia

    Bloom times and regions are another factor in identifying these plants. Salvia blooms June through September, and has the potential to re-bloom. Russian sage follows about a month behind from July through October. Veronica usually blooms in early summer and lasts until autumn. Salvia and veronica thrive in zones 3-8, while Russian sage is suited to zones 4-8. The foliage and branching habits of these three plants can also help tell them apart. Both Russian sage and salvia are in the mint family. With square stems and opposite blue-green leaves, it's easy to see that they are related in some fashion. Russian sage differentiates itself with foliage that is more fern-like than the salvia leaves, which are more round with slight serrations. Veronica, in contrast, belongs to the plantain family and has round stems with bright green, glossy leaves. The leaves of veronica do not produce a noticeable minty aroma when crushed as they do with salvia and Russian sage as well. 

    Royal Candles Veronica Royal Candles Veronica

    The size of these plants can be a determining factor as well. Veronica tends to be a little smaller in stature than the rest, ranging from 8 to 15 inches tall depending on variety. Salvia will range from 12 to 24 inches tall. Russian sage is a shrub that can get much taller, reaching heights of 3-5 feet in many cases. While these three plants have similar flowers that can often be misidentified, it should be clear now that there are some easy to spot key differences between them. If you would like to see and learn more about the salvia, veronica, and Russian sage plants, follow the links to see the many different varieties available.

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  2. A Pre-Planned Perennial Garden for Shade

    Shade Garden Blog Pic
    Sometimes, you just don't know what to plant in your yard. There's so many options, and you just don't know where to start! For a good perennial bed, you need seasonal interest, height differences, and textural changes. Sounds overwhelming, right?
    Not to fear, here's an easy garden recipe for you using unique combinations of perennials you may not have considered. This pre-planned garden is best planted in part to full shade, and is ready to dazzle all year. You will have best results with this combination of plants if you are in zones 4 through 8.

    Sweet WoodruffSweet Woodruff - Galium odoratum 'Sweet Woodruff'
    Only reaching 6-12 inches tall, sweet woodruff makes the perfect groundcover for this planting. Green foliage doesn't detract from any other plants, and instead provides an ideal foundation for any plants. Sweet woodruff spreads quickly, so don't be afraid to pull it up when it gets into an area you don't want it to grow. In the late spring, small sprigs of white flowers appear and bring a mildly sweet fragrance with them.

    Ghost LamiumGhost Lamium - Lamium maculatum 'Ghost'
    This plant is an incredible groundcover plant that reaches a little higher than sweet woodruff. Reaching no higher than 12 inches, Ghost lamium provides you with a pop of purple against pale foliage in the spring. Spreading up to 24 inches when fully mature, Ghost lamium will cover the ground at a moderate pace, while still providing a great foundation for the rest of the plants. You'll also be pleased with the hardiness of this groundcover, as it will thrive in almost any given environment.

    Cevennensis LungwortCevennensis Lungwort - Pulmonaria longifolia 'Cevennensis'
    Don't be put off by the name of this plant; Cevennensis lungwort is a beautiful addition to this planting. It's long and narrow leaves have white polka-dots on them, adding a bit of playful whimsy to this garden. In the spring, Cevennensis lungwort blooms with beautiful dark purple flowers. Reaching a maximum height of 2 feet tall, and spreading slowly to approximately 3 feet wide, Cevennensis lungwort adds some interesting foliage and flowers into the mix in this garden recipe.

    Sum and Substance HostaSum and Substance Hosta - Hosta 'Sum and Substance'
    With it's large golden green leaves, Sum and Substance hosta provides a lovely backdrop to other plants planted in front of it. Come summer, enjoy tall spikes of purple flowers, to carry the purple and green theme through the season. Reaching up to 3 feet tall and spreading to over 5 feet wide, adding this plant to your garden adds an impressive summer show.

    Henry’s Garnet Virginia SweetspireHenry’s Garnet Virginia Sweetspire - Itea virginica 'Henry's Garnet'
    To finish this planting, we include Henry's Garnet Virginia sweetspire. This plant reaches 5 feet tall at maturity, allowing you to enjoy the appearance of the shrub without interference from other plants. Blooming with fragrant white flowers in the summer, this shrub truly shines in the fall. When all your other plants are finished with their displays, Henry's Garnet Virginia sweetspire turns bright red that pops against the rest of the foliage. As a low-maintenance shrub, this is the perfect backdrop to the other plants included in this planting.

    While it may seem that there are so many plants to choose from for your landscape, having a simple recipe card to build from certainly helps. Each of these plants will thrive in the shade, making it perfect for that spot in your landscape where you haven't been able to get anything else to grow.

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  3. Planting Asters to Attract Butterflies

    Butterflies And Asters

    In the fall, gardens are full of both asters and butterflies.  There are lots of the white cabbage-type butterflies that have been around since early spring, monarchs preparing for their long journey south, yellow sulphurs doing their swirling dance in the air and scads of tiny brownish-orange butterflies whose names I don't even know.  About once a day a red admiral or two pops through, flying quickly and never stopping anywhere very long. The butterflies land on the few flowerheads left on the butterfly bushes, then move on to the hundreds of small, daisy-like blossoms adorning the various asters.  The colorful flyers seem especially partial to the taller aster varieties...maybe because those statuesque plants are closer to the sky?  The lower growing asters, like those of the Woods series (Woods Blue, Woods Pink, etc.), also see their fair share of butterflies, skippers and pollinating insects.

    Many asters have a tendency to self seed, which is a good thing.  It's easy enough to grub out or transplant the surplus seedlings in the spring and summer, and having an every-increasing supply of these beautiful plants is a blessing in the fall. There will come a day, not long from now, when the asters fade and the butterflies are suddenly gone, and the growing season will begin to draw to a close.  Thinking of that time coming soon makes both plants and insects seem even more beautiful right now.

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  4. Planting Perennials

    Assorted Perennials

    Planting perennials requires extra care than planting annuals does. This is due to the nature of the plants themselves. Most flowering perennials will generally not bloom their first season, due to the necessity of strengthening the root system for the coming winter. When planting, many factors must be taking into consideration to ensure long plant life. The first factor to take into consideration is the location. Some perennials can withstand colder winters than others.

    To check which plants can survive in each region, you can look at the plant hardiness zone map. Sunlight and soil conditions must also be taken into consideration. Obtain this information before planting perennials in any location of the garden.

    Perennial Garden

    When planting perennials that are not yet mature, i.e. still in seed form, there are several options. Most nurseries will sell only plants that are already mature, but some gardeners prefer to mature the plants themselves. This can be done by initially growing the plant indoors in a pot or flat. When the plant has grown strong enough, usually six to eight weeks later, it should be transplanted to the final growing site in the garden. Another way is to plant the seed in late June in a shady nursery bed. Mulch should be applied to the plant in the fall to protect it through the long winter. In early spring, it should be transplanted to its final location.

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