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The Origin & History Of The Christmas Tree

-christmas tree decorated ted lare garden center

The Christmas tree is one of the most celebrated icons of the holiday season. For many of us here in the United States and much of the modern world, it’s simply a given that once December rolls around, it’s time to get that tree set up and decorated! But where did it all begin? What is the origin of the Christmas tree? What does it really symbolize? And who made it so? Both the origin and the history of the Christmas tree go back farther than you might think! 

christmas greenery ted lare garden center

Pagan Roots

The practice of decorating one’s home with evergreen boughs actually predates Christianity. It began as a Pagan tradition to celebrate the Winter Solstice, which is viewed as the time that the Sun God begins to regain its strength. The Celt’s decorated temples with evergreen boughs to celebrate everlasting life, while the Vikings utilized evergreens to honor the God of Peace and Light. Egyptians honored the Sun God Ra by decorating their homes with green palm fronds, and the ancient Romans celebrated the Solstice with a feast called Saturnalia. This was in honor of Saturn (the God of Agriculture) and often included decorating the home and temple with evergreen boughs. 

The Dawn of ‘Paradise Trees’

Decorations used in celebrations like Saturnalia and the honoring of Sun Gods differ a fair bit from what we now know as the Christmas tree. However, the origin is important to note. It is believed that Christmas trees may have begun as ‘Paradise Trees,’ which represented the Garden of Eden in performances on Christmas Eve in medieval Germany. When the Clergy banned these performances, it is believed that many began bringing evergreen boughs, branches, and trees into their home to celebrate in secret. 

-holiday boughs in home ted lare garden center

It is also said that some would tie together branches in the shape of a pyramid, fastening lit candles and gingerbread ornaments to them. But, many also believe that it was Martin Luther (an influential theologian) who was taken aback by the stars shining through the fir trees on a nighttime walk through the woods, which began the tradition of placing a lit candle on an evergreen. It is said that he wanted to share the experience with his loved ones, so he cut down a fir tree to bring home with him and placed a small candle on it to represent the night sky at Christmas. Indeed, the origin of Christmas trees can be traced back to at least the early 1600s.

-bringing home christmas tree ted lare garden center

The Christmas Tree We Know Today

The origin of the modern-day Christmas tree dates back to Queen Victoria in the mid 19th century. Queen Victoria, her German husband, and children were depicted standing around a fir tree in a sketch on the front of a newspaper. Although German immigrants had brought the Christmas tree tradition to England earlier in the century, it did not catch on with the general public until the famous Monarch began celebrating Christmas in this way to honor her husband. While it took some time, the now fairly commonplace European tradition eventually made its way into homes across the pond here in America, thanks to leaders, artists, and authors like Clement Moore. He wrote ‘The Night Before Christmas,’ which amplified the image of a happy, middle-class family exchanging gifts around a Christmas tree. 

Ted Lare-Christmas Tree History-pink theme christmas tree

The rise of consumerism and the Western world’s influence eventually made the Christmas tree a relatively universal symbol of the holiday season across the globe, even being adopted by other faiths. More than 300 million Christmas trees are grown, and millions of artificial trees are now sold worldwide each year. 


The origin of the Christmas tree is undoubtedly a fascinating one! Whether you opt for a real evergreen grown on a tree farm or an artificial one this holiday season, we hope that you enjoy the deep roots of this festive tradition. If you are on the hunt for Christmas tree decor in the Des Moines metro area, stop by Ted Lare Design Build & Garden Center, we’ve got lots to choose from! 

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DIY Mason Jar Fairy Gardens and Ideas

-mason jar terrarium environment ted lare garden center

Whether you’re an adult or have kids, miniature things spark the imagination in all of us. With miniature gardening, which has picked up traction in the last few years, you can bring tiny fantastical environments to life. 

Some fairy gardens are based around decorations and creating a narrative scene, while mason jar fairy gardens actually create an isolated ecosystem that self-sustains. With a sealed jar, the moisture in the air circulates through normal environmental cycles. 

Whether you’re looking for fun crafts with the kids or if you want a meditative project for your time off on the holidays, mason jar fairy gardens are a great idea to stoke your imagination. 

-mason jar terrarium ted lare design and build

What You Need:

  • A preferred mason jar of choice Wide mouth mason jars will be easier to add things to, and the mason jar can be as big or as small as you’d like. Make sure it can seal fully for the self-sustaining effect.
  • Gravel or small rocks to promote proper drainage and prevent waterlogging. You can choose whatever rocks best suit your garden idea, whether it be natural rocks or colorful fish tank pebbles!
  • Dirt or planting soil which is suited to your plants of choice.
  • Suitable plants for high humidity, such as ferns and moss. You can also include flowers, but they will eventually decompose into the environment. 
  • A lid, whether it’s a cork topper, a metal mason jar lid, or a piece of plastic wrap with a rubber band.
  • Carbon or charcoal to purify the water as it cycles through. You can find and use activated charcoal from the pet store for this.
  • Craft supplies! Whatever ideas you have for your mason jar garden, go for it! The garden concept is entirely up to you, whether that includes figurines, decorative rocks or crystals, small lights, etc.

How to Build Your Mason Jar Fairy Garden:

  1. Start by boiling your mason jar to sanitize it and let it cool to room temperature. 
  2. Decide on your garden idea or theme and gather the necessary materials and decorations.
  3. Add rocks to the bottom of the mason jar, followed by a bit of carbon, then the soil. 
  4. Add any ground coverage and plants you would like, making sure they are stable in the soil. 
  5. Add your decorations, using glue to anchor them if necessary.
  6. Add a bit of water; the amount varies depending on how big your mason jar is. It should be enough to create humidity but not to have excess moisture sitting on the bottom.
  7. Seal the mason jar tightly so that the water doesn’t evaporate and a little ecosystem is created.
  8. Place in the sun and watch your garden ideas grow!

Garden Ideas:

Traditional Fairy Garden

Few things are cuter than little red cap mushrooms with tiny fairies and tiny wooden houses. If you love the traditional European fairy garden idea, you can buy or make miniatures to add a story and a bit of fantasy to your mason jar fairy garden. You could also add tiny garden gnomes! 

Holiday Gardens

There is no limit to creativity! If you want to put a tiny nativity scene in your mason jar fairy garden, you can do that. If you want to suspend a flying Santa sleigh from the lid, you can do that, too. For Halloween, you can make a tiny Jack-o-lantern filled with a battery-operated candle or add little ghosts to the sides of the jar. For Easter, a little bunny figurine with tiny painted rocks to look like eggs would make an adorable decoration. Whatever ideas you have, you can include them in your garden.

-tropical mason jar terarrium ted lare garden center

Organic Garden

Nature is beautiful without decorations. If you want to keep your mason jar garden organic and green, focus on adding dimension and variety to your fairy garden: ferns for height, moss for texture, and twigs for structure. This idea will make your garden suitable for all seasons and is perfect for keeping some green growth around the house during the winter!

If you need plants for your garden or aren’t sure which tropical plants will grow well in a tiny space, visit us at Ted Lare Design & Build for ideas and more!

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How to Make a Winter Porch Pot and Keep It Fresh

-holiday porch pot Ted lare design and build

It is a sad day for every gardener when fall becomes winter and growing outdoors is no longer an option. However, that doesn’t mean our porches have to be left bare, only to be decorated by snowfall and ice! 

Christmas porch pots are a great option for winter decorating and are made similarly to floral arrangements. With various cuts of evergreens and other festive sprigs, you can create a spectacular display for your porch, complete with decorations, lights, and more. Keep reading for a how-to guide on creating a porch pot, as well as three recipes for themed designs. 

How to Make a Porch Pot

To start, choose the pots that you’d like to fill. You can use tall pots on either side of your door, smaller pots down your front steps, or whatever you used during the summer. Either soil, sand, or floral foam is suitable to fill your pots and should be pre-soaked with lots of water. Once you’ve finished your porch pot and leave it outside, the water will freeze and hold all of the stems in place. 

Ted Lare-Porch pot Recipes for the Holidays-winter porch pot materials

Next, choose greenery and decorations for your porch pot based on the theme you’d like to create. There are a few recipes listed below for examples! 

Using multiple evergreen branches and sprigs is a good idea for adding dimension to your porch pot. Use clippings of cedar, pines, fir, juniper, and spruce. It’s also fun to add branches, berries, and decorations. 

When placing your sprigs and stems, you can follow the same theory as floral arranging: you’ll need thrillers, fillers, and spillers to create a well-rounded and robust arrangement. Thrillers would include decorations, large branches that make a statement, such as curly willow or tall bright sprigs. Fillers are bushy and fill in the gaps between other stems. Spillers droop over the edge of your pot to ground the arrangement and create a nice, rounded look to the overall design.

Christmas Porch Pot

This is a great opportunity to bring your interior Christmas decor outside. Match indoor and outdoor decorations so that guests get a sneak peek of what’s inside as they walk up to your door. For a classic Christmas porch pot, use evergreens, and add various natural ingredients such as holly berries and pinecones. You can also add candy canes, Christmas lights, ornaments, ribbons, or homemade decorations. Classic colors of red, white, and green work best in this arrangement style.

Winter Wonderland Porch Pot

Winter wonderland themes typically include a monochromatic design with white and silver components and blue lights to accent. For this recipe, start with birch branches and add in evergreens sprayed with white or silver paint. If you don’t want to paint the greenery, fill out the arrangement with many other white and silver accents to achieve a similar aesthetic. Use silver ribbons and ornaments, fake snow, silver-painted branches, and more! Finish it off with little blue Christmas lights for a magical wonderland porch pot! 

-rustic porch pot Ted lare design and build

Rustic Holiday Porch Pot

If you want a cozy, rustic vibe, add all your usual greenery and then choose decorations that have beige, gold, and red color schemes. Burlap, jute, and dry wheat stalks or grasses are great additions to a rustic winter porch pot. Consider adding a birdhouse, battery-operated lantern, or little statuette in the middle of the pot for a cute centerpiece. You can also decorate with dried oranges and twigs or homemade decorations from the kids. Finish off with lights, and you’ll have a cozy, welcoming arrangement!

Tips to Extend the Life of Your Porch Pot

  • Soak all of your greens in water overnight before making your arrangement. This will give the greens a good chance to soak up all the water they need and give them a good start before they are put outside. 

  • Cut your greenery stems on an angle just before placing them in arrangements. By doing this, you increase the surface area of each stem, allowing it to absorb more water. 

  • Spray with water frequently, particularly when it is sunny out. This will help the plants absorb the water and make sure an ice layer doesn’t build on the leaves. 

  • Try an anti-dessicant if spraying with water seems too overwhelming during the busy holidays; it will seal in moisture.


Visit us at Ted Lare Design & Build for premade porch pots of many varieties! Of course, we also sell supplies if you want to make your own as a festive activity with the family!

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New Spring Botanical Workshop Kits For You

woman holding succulent bare rooted ted lare design & build

Our virtual workshop kit classes went so well over the holidays that we’re keeping on with this new way of doing them, in addition to having a few people able to attend workshops in person, following all social distancing protocols. What’s even more exciting for this spring though, is that we’re recording the live stream from each virtual spring workshop event and posting them. So if a class is scheduled during a time you can’t tune in, you can still pick up your kit and watch it back when it’s convenient for you.

This also means that we’ll be able to put together more kits from past classes, and have those available as well. We haven’t worked out all the details yet for how we’re going to manage kits for past classes, but we’ll keep you posted when we nail it down. If you have any questions, you can send us a message on Facebook, or stop by one of our pop-up days in February! We’ll be open 9-5 on two Saturdays during the month, February 6 and 13. 

In the meantime, here are the exciting virtual workshops we’ve got scheduled for this spring. You can order your workshop kit online and opt for either curbside pickup, or just stop in for a visit. Then you’ll be able to tune in to Facebook Live the day of the workshop, or watch it back later when you have time. 

Succulent Trough Kit (Basic or Deluxe)

This rustic succulent trough arrangement is going to be the perfect centerpiece for your patio table this summer. The trough is classic antique-looking metal. It’s long, narrow, and low. Perfect for adding interest, but not obstructing views to friends across the table.

succulent trough workshop

The Succulent Trough Kit has everything you need to create this arrangement right at home. It contains a metal trough that measures 18” x 5″ across, 5 succulents, soil, and decorative gravel, for $60.

The Deluxe Kit includes the same items as the Basic Kit, but the trough is 24” x 4” and has 10 succulents, for $90.

Grapevine Wreath Succulent Kit (Spanish or Sheet moss)

grapevine wreath with succulents

Keep your front door well dressed through spring and summer with a beautiful seasonally appropriate wreath. The wreath suits any decor style with its classic rich brown color and natural style. Accented with moss and succulents, it creates a beautiful, welcoming wreath!

The Spanish Moss Kit includes a 12” wreath form, 5 succulents, floral adhesive, and preserved Spanish moss. Spanish moss is a silvery-greenish-gray color and has many individual strands. It’s often seen hanging from trees. 

The Green Moss kit includes a 12” wreath form, 5 succulents, floral adhesive, and preserved green sheet moss. The sheet moss is a vibrant natural green, and it has a finer texture than the Spanish moss.  

The Grapevine Wreath Succulent kits are $50. 

spring flowers at Ted Lare Garden Center

Stop By Our Pop-Up Shops

Order your virtual workshop kits online soon, as there is limited availability for these kits. And don’t forget to stop by our pop-up shops, on February 6 and 13, from 9 AM to 5 PM, and check out all the beautiful houseplants that have been delivered recently.

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Top 5 Hardy Magnolia Trees for Iowa

magnolia tree Ted lare design and build

Magnolia trees are not something that many people associate with Iowa. Most commonly, magnolia is associated with the Deep South, where they grow abundantly and perfume the air with their large, fragrant, tulip-like flowers. 

While it’s true that we can’t grow all the varieties that thrive in the warmer climates of the South, there are actually many hardy varieties that will grow and thrive right here in the heartland. There are easily 40-50 different cultivars that are suited to our local climate here in central Iowa. The range of flower colors available is actually quite broad, too, from white to yellow to a whole spectrum of pinks. 

Magnolias are an absolute show-stopper when they’re in full bloom in the spring. Often, the trees will be covered entirely in blossoms without a single leaf in sight, filling the air with their unique citrusy scent. 

There are so many varieties of magnolia available that there’s one for almost every setting, climate, and desired bloom time. There are very tall and very short varieties and some that bloom as early as March or as late as June, in so many different colors. While most of them enjoy lots of sunlight, there are even a few magnolias that will do well in a shady spot. 

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Hardy Magnolias For Iowa

One of the common historical problems with magnolia in the midwest has been that they’d often get hit with a late spring frost during critical blooming periods, and their blossoms would not be hardy enough to withstand the freezing temperatures. Luckily, there’s been lots of research and development put into magnolia breeding. Over time, many later-blooming varieties have been bred to avoid those late spring frosts we often get. 

Here are our top five hardy magnolia trees for your Iowa yard or garden.

Royal Star Magnolia is a fairly compact magnolia that can be pruned as a shrub or tree. It can grow up to a height of 20′ tall and up to 15′ wide. It features large-yet-dainty 6″ bright white double blooms that open to release their sweet fragrance in March. Royal Star performs best in a full to part sun location. This cultivar is a brilliant addition to moonlight or white-themed gardens. 

Ann Magnolia is another compact variety, maxing out at 15′ tall and 12′ wide. It features gorgeous blossoms, with petals that are dark reddish-pink on the outside and pale pink to white on the inside. They open in April and get to be 4-6″ across. Ann magnolia likes full to part sun.

Butterflies Magnolia is considered one of the finest yellow magnolias. It is a medium-sized tree reaching up to 30′ tall to 15′ wide. The blooms of Butterflies magnolia are a beautiful canary yellow with a rich lemony fragrance. They open in April and are about 4-6″ across. Butterflies magnolia likes sunlight, but it can also tolerate a fair bit of shade compared to other varieties. 

Umbrella Magnolia is a medium-sized tree growing up to 20′ tall and 15′ wide. It features very large, creamy-white flowers with huge tropical-looking leaves. It is not as fragrant as other varieties, but its blossoms are exceptionally showy. Its 6-10″ blooms burst to life in May or June. Umbrella magnolia will do well in the shade; it’s native to North America and grows commonly in the understory of the Appalachian Mountains.  

Black Tulip Magnolia is a smaller tree reaching 15′ tall and 12′ wide. It features the darkest magnolia flowers of the bunch, with deep burgundy-red blooms that open in April. Black Tulip magnolia will do best in a full sun location.

There’s nothing like the drama of a magnolia tree in bloom to celebrate the season of spring. If you’d like to consider adding a beautiful magnolia to your yard, stop by our garden center today. We can help you select the perfect variety for your yard. 

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How to Make a Driftwood Succulent Planter

succulent planter Ted lare design and build

Succulents are some of the decade’s most popular houseplants. Since these adorable plants are typically small enough to group into fun arrangements, more and more people are getting crafty to find new and unique ways to display their succulents. One of our favorite looks is the driftwood succulent planter. Whether you’ve collected some driftwood from Iowa‘s lakes and rivers or brought some home from a trip to the coast, these planters are a great way to use driftwood as part of your home decor.

The dry and weathered wood is a perfect match for succulents. It’s very similar to the dry, natural surroundings that wild succulents thrive in. With a few supplies and a handsome chunk of driftwood, you can make your own DIY driftwood succulent planter

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Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A large piece of driftwood (choose one that has gaps or grooves about ¼” in deep, or that is large enough that you can drill a hole in it to hold some soil)
  • Succulent or cactus soil 
  • Sphagnum moss
  • E6000 or floral glue
  • Assortment of succulents
  • Optional: A drill and a Forstner or spade drill bit, or a Dremel with a cutting bit


How to Create a Driftwood Succulent Planter

  1. Clean up your driftwood. If it’s dirty, rinse off any dirt or sand. If you’re worried about bugs in your driftwood, you can bake it in the oven at 250º for 2 hours. If you line a baking tray with parchment paper, it makes cleanup a lot easier when you’ve finished baking the wood. 
  2. Once your driftwood is at room temperature again, decide how you want to position it. Usually, its most stable resting position is best if you’re going to use it as a centerpiece or mantel ornament. If you want to hang it, you can choose whatever angle you like best. 
  3. If your driftwood does not have any gaps or holes deeper than ¼”, you may need to make the gaps deeper and wider or drill holes with a spade or Forstner drill bit. Don’t drill all the way through, however. The holes for soil only need to be about ¼-½” deep. 
  4. Once you’ve decided where you’re going to place your succulents, glue a thin layer of sphagnum moss into the bottom of those spots. This will help to keep the soil in, so it doesn’t wash away as soon as you water your plants.
  5. Then, fill your gaps or holes with a little bit of cactus potting soil. You don’t need much, but enough to give the succulents somewhere to develop a few roots.
  6. Clean off excess dirt on your succulents.

  1. Decide on your plant placement, but don’t put them in just yet.
  2. Once you’ve decided where you want your plants, glue some more sphagnum moss around the edges of those areas.
  3. Place one or two tiny dabs of glue on the underside of a couple of the leaves of your succulents, and press it into its new location, so the glue sticks to the sphagnum moss. 
  4. Continue gluing in each of your succulents. Remember not to cover the base in glue completely, or the plant won’t be able to put out any roots and will die fairly quickly.
  5. Once all your gaps are full of succulents, let your finished driftwood planter set overnight. 
  6. The next day, water your succulents with just a little bit of water—you may need a syringe or eye-dropper to get the water in the right place. Remember, succulents don’t need much water.

Congrats, your succulent planter is complete! When you water it in the future, you may want to set it in the sink or on a tray to make sure you catch any drips. If any of the plants die, simply pull them off and glue a new one in its place. If you’d like to hang your succulent planter, you can loop some strong twine, double-looped fishing line, or rope around the ends and hang it however you please. 

Ready to make your own DIY driftwood succulent planter? Come on down to our garden center; we’ve got everything you need to get started, including a large selection of fun and unique succulents!


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Forsythia: A Cloud of Yellow Spring Delight

forsythia Ted lare design and build

Forsythia is a classic shrub that has been around in North America for a long time. They fell out of fashion for a while, but they’re back in style for 2020! Forsythia is fairly easy to care for, as long as you give it a full sun location. They also make great foundational or screening plants, with some varieties reaching heights up to 6′ tall and wide. Besides being reliable and easy to grow, they feature some of the earliest spring color of the year—and these shrubs sure know how to put on a show! 

Before the leaves come out in the spring, the long willowy branches of forsythia burst with flowers from top to bottom, similar to Magnolia trees. The flowers are quite small, but their color and abundance are astonishing. Forsythia blossoms are the brightest yellows you’ll see. They practically glow when they’re in full bloom, and can be seen from a long way away. Forsythia branches also make a gorgeous cut flower arrangement if they’re cut and brought indoors just before they bloom. 

But, there is one common challenge and frustration that we hear from some people who have forsythia shrubs, which is that their forsythia never blooms. This is because forsythia is a bit of an odd plant. 

Technically, most forsythias are winter-hardy to zone 3, so theoretically, they should grow just fine here in Iowa. But the trick is that not all forsythia flower buds are winter-hardy to the same zone as the plant itself. Since the buds for the next year set right after it flowers, they are susceptible to winter damage. For example, Forsythia ‘Lynwood Gold’ is listed as hardy to zone 5, so it should be able to withstand temperatures down to -15º or -20º F, but the flower buds sustain severe damage in weather colder than -7º. This means, upon the arrival of spring, the shrub is left with lots of branches and leaves but will struggle to bloom. 

However, don’t lose hope on these stunning golden-yellow shrubs! Lots of work has gone into breeding forsythia varieties that have hardier buds. So, if you want that nearly fluorescent cloud of spring color in your yard, it all comes down to picking the right cultivars.

Here are a few of our favorite varieties of forsythia that should bloom heartily here in Iowa. 

Forsythia Northern Sun reaches heights up to 8′ tall. Its golden-yellow blossoms are hardy to temperatures of -20ºF. 

Forsythia Northern Gold gets up to 8′ tall as well. Its blooms are a slightly richer gold color than Northern Sun. Its flowers are also hardy to -20ºF. 

Forsythia New Hampshire Gold is slightly smaller, reaching up to 5′ tall. Its flowers are a deep yellow, and it’s hardy down to -20ºF as well. 

Meadowlark Forsythia is also a bigger variety, reaching up to 8′ tall. It’s even tougher than the rest, with buds that are winter-hardy down to -35ºF. Meadowlark is an excellent choice if you live on the prairie where the winter weather can get especially extreme.

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Forsythia is a beautiful addition to any garden. If you’re looking for a forsythia hardy enough to bloom in Iowa, visit our garden center! We’ll make sure you find a variety that will erupt with cheerful yellow blooms year after year.

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Beautiful Early Spring Flowers for Your Iowa Garden

early spring flowers Ted lare design and build

Bright, cheery flowers are certainly a welcome sight after a long dreary winter in Iowa. Sure, there are the show-stealers like tulips and daffodils, but what about tiny jewels of early spring? The dainty little blooms that bravely burst into blossom early on, standing proud in the garden—and sometimes even in the snow!

We’ve got a few all-time-favorite must-haves for our own flower gardens that herald the arrival of spring. By the way, if you find yourself wanting to get your hands on these for your garden, you can pre-order them as bulbs to plant this fall and fill your garden with early spring flowers next year!

Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) are bright yellow little charmers, each standing about 5″ tall. Don’t let their small size fool you, though; even a small clump will produce an impressive display of vibrant flowers in March when everything else is still dormant and brown. These little guys are native to dark woodlands of France and Bulgaria, which means they will perform well even in dense shade gardens. Did we mention they are rabbit, deer, and squirrel-proof?

Snow Crocus (Crocus chrysanthus) are dazzling flowers, not to be confused with the larger Dutch Crocus (usually solid in white, purple, and yellow). Instead, Snow Crocus is a bit smaller in size and blooms two weeks earlier in March. They’re available in a variety of pastel and even variegated colors! Snow Crocuses are about 5″ tall and naturalize easily into lawns because their foliage looks just like grass. 

Snow Iris (Iris reticulata) is a favorite among our staff. Many of our employees have these in their gardens, and they all agree: they are amazing! They bloom about the same time as Snow Crocus, in early March. These beauties of late winter come in colors like electric blue, royal purple, or golden yellow. They grow to be about 6″ tall, look stunning in clumps, and they will naturalize over time.

Lenten Rose (Hellebore) is a little different from the others on our list. They are not technically a bulb, though we plant them in a similar way! Lenten roses come in a wide range of solid or mixed colors ranging from white or buttery yellow to intense black or purple. Some varieties even have luscious double blooms! They grow to about 1′ tall and usually flower in mid-March, although their little flower buds can often be seen poking up even earlier. This perennial has nicely shaped leaves that hold up well throughout summer and even into early winter. Hellebores are a gardener’s joy as they’re squirrel, rabbit, and deer-resistant, and they love a good shade garden! Hellebores should be purchased and planted in spring.

We saved the best for last: Greater Snowdrop (Galanthus elwesii). Snowdrop is our absolute favorite early spring flower, but not just any snowdrop–it has to be the Elwesii Snowdrop! This plant is incredibly hardy and is the first to flower every season, usually popping up and blossoming in February. It has even been known to bloom as early as January here in Iowa! They grow to about 5″ tall and feature a graceful white bell-shaped flower. Early foraging pollinators flock to its pollen. Snowdrops are also rabbit, squirrel, and deer-resistant. This flower is one of the few plants that pop up like magic at the first sign of warmth in spring! 

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Are you ready to add some early spring flowers in Iowa to your garden? Stop by our garden center to ask about our favorites or pre-order online. Hellebores will be available as bedding plants for planting later this spring; the rest of this list should be planted in fall. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter to receive updates on what to plant each month for a full year of gorgeous color!

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How to Grow Herbs Indoors the Easy Way

indoor herbs Ted lare design and build

Growing herbs is one of the best ways to add a little more depth of flavor to your recipes. It’s nice to have herbs in the garden through the summer, but it’s even easier to use them if they’re growing on your kitchen counter! Growing herbs indoors also means you’ll have fresh herbs on-hand all year. Furthermore, if you tend to choose organic foods, indoor herb gardening lets you control the growing environment and avoid consuming herbicides and pesticides.

Growing your own herbs is also a great way to get an early start on gardening before we can really get outside and grow a vegetable garden. Basil, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and thyme are especially easy herbs to grow indoors in Iowa. Here are a few tips for beginner herb gardeners on how to grow each of them inside your home!

What Do Herbs Need?

A common belief is that all herbs come from hot places with Mediterranean-style climates, so they all need to be kept hot and dry. Many Mediterranean herbs do prefer these conditions, but not all of them, so don’t treat every herb the same! With that said, they all have a few things in common.

All herbs need these things:

Strong sunlight for a minimum of 6-8 hours per day. If you have a sunny south-facing window, that’s the perfect location. You’ll still need to supplement with a grow light during the darkest weeks of winter. Under artificial light, they’ll need 10-12 hours of light per day.

The ideal temperature for growing herbs is between 60-70ºF, so it’s best to keep them in a spot where the temperature is nice and steady, away from drafts and heating vents.

Every herb needs good drainage to prevent the development of root rot. Use high-quality potting soil, and adapt it to the preferences of each plant. Make sure your herb containers have drainage holes and place a saucer under each pot to catch any excess water.

Since herbs have their own different preferences, it’s best to let each of them grow in their own individual pot. 4″ pots are a great size to start with for most herbs.

Organic seaweed fertilizer is excellent for herbs. Seaweed fertilizer has a high nitrogen content, which encourages strong leafy growth, and is available as an organic fertilizer. During the spring and summer, herbs can be fertilized once per week. In winter, cut back to one application per month. 

All plants need good air circulation, so don’t cram your herbs too close together! Good air circulation helps your herbs grow their best and helps to prevent the spread of diseases.

Watering is a bit tricky and varies depending on the herb. Generally, you should only water once the soil at the top of the pot is dry. We’ll include more watering details for each different herb below. 



Soil Needs: Nutrient-rich, but well-drained.
Watering: Basil needs to be watered regularly; it likes evenly moist soil, but not wet roots. Don’t let basil’s soil get too dry before you water again. Basil is sensitive to both over-watering and under-watering, so do your best to keep it on schedule. Feed with organic fertilizer every 2 weeks in spring and summer.
Other Notes: Pinch off individual leaves for cooking. Pinching the top leaves from stems will encourage bushier growth. Pinch off any flowers you see right away, as the flavor of the plant may lessen once it goes to seed.



Soil Needs: Sandy and rocky soil.
Watering:  Oregano likes the soil on top to get dry between waterings, but don’t let it dry out completely. Feed with organic fertilizer every 2 weeks in spring and summer.
Other Notes: Oregano benefits from regular trimming; it encourages bushier growth, so don’t be afraid to add it to your recipes frequently. Pinch off any flowers you see as soon as possible. 



Soil Needs: Parsley isn’t too picky and will do well in any good-quality potting soil.
Watering: Parsley likes evenly moist soil, so it may need more frequent watering, like your basil. It also likes humidity, so if your house has really dry air, it’s a good idea to mist it once per day. Feed with organic fertilizer every 2 weeks in spring and summer.
Other notes: Once parsley is about 6 inches tall, you can start harvesting it. Work from the outside in, clipping the stems close to the soil. Don’t cut the tops off the whole plant, as this will stunt new growth.



Soil Needs: High-quality potting soil with good drainage in a terracotta pot.
Watering: Rosemary needs its soil to dry between waterings. To test, stick your finger in the soil to a depth of about 1″; if the soil is dry, it’s time to water. 
Other notes: Rosemary does need excellent air circulation because it can be prone to powdery mildew. Indoor rosemary plants will need regular fertilizer. Rosemary shouldn’t be harvested until branches are about 8″ tall, then you can cut off the top 2-3 inches of each stem. Then the plant will need time to recover from the trimming before you can harvest again. You may want to keep several rosemary plants at once so that you always have one that is ready for trimming.



Soil Needs: High-quality potting soil, with some extra perlite added for drainage
Watering: Thyme also needs to dry a bit between watering, so make sure the top of the soil is dry before you water.
Other notes: You can start using thyme as soon as it has a nice amount of foliage. Clipping the woodiest stems short, right down to the soil line, will encourage new growth. 

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If you’re ready to start your own kitchen herb garden, stop by our garden center for a visit. We’ve got a variety of herbs, soils, pots, fertilizers, and grow lights available to help you get started, and even countertop herb garden kits that include everything you need in one convenient package! 

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Grow Your Own Bouquets: The Best Flowers for Your Cutting Garden

lily in vase Ted lare design and build

Having a bouquet of fresh flowers on your counter, desk, or kitchen table brings positive energy and vibrant color into your home. Catching a glimpse from the corner of your eye as you pass by, or taking in a deep breath of their fresh scents will make you smile and help you relax. However, buying a fresh bouquet every week is a big expense! Cutting flowers from your garden and creating your own arrangements is affordable, rewarding, and easy to personalize. You get to pick your favorite blooms while they’re still fresh, their scents are much stronger than store-bought flowers, and you can enjoy the tactile experience of arranging them yourself. You’ll also get to update your vases whenever you want to feature the freshest blooms in your garden. Better yet, regularly harvesting your flowers for fresh-cut bouquets encourages many plants to produce even more blooms!

Plan your planting this summer so that you can have beautiful bouquets all season long from your cutting garden of Iowa annuals and perennials! You’ll be able to enjoy fresh, gorgeous arrangements in every room of the house.

Here are our top plant picks for a gorgeous cutting garden: 


Hardy Perennials

Incrediball Hydrangea is a stunner all on its own, even without other flowers around it. It has giant flowerheads loaded with tiny white blooms. The flowerheads can reach up to 12″ wide! This perfectly-named plant is an excellent hedging perennial that blooms on new wood.

Lilies are a reliable and elegant perennial choice. Both Asiatic & Oriental lilies are hardy for Iowa and available in many colors. Most lilies bloom quite profusely, and their bold blooms stand out in any bouquet.

Peonies are an early-blooming perennial favorite that are powerful on their own or in an arrangement. The large, almost dinnerplate-sized blossoms feature seemingly endless layers of petals and are available in a range of shades, including reds, pinks, whites, and even purples.

Coreopsis, also known as tickseed, is an easy-care prairie-native perennial. They bloom in bursts throughout the summer and well into the fall. Their tall blooms, in shades of yellow, orange, pink, red, and white, can add height and texture to bouquets.

Black-Eyed Susan is another native perennial prairie dweller. It’s available in a variety of shades like orange, red, yellow, and white, with single or double blooms. They bloom for months and are super easy to grow. 

Garden Phlox is a profusely blooming perennial, often producing from summer until well into the fall. Available in shades of white, pink, and purple, and some gorgeous variegated options, Phlox fills out the midlevel of a bouquet, helping the whole arrangement make a statement.

Yarrow is an incredibly easy perennial to grow. Its clusters of tiny blossoms are around all summer long and can have a similar effect to baby’s breath in a bouquet. Yarrow is available in a wide range of colors, including white, pink, red, orange, and yellow. The delicate frond-type leaves of yarrow also make an excellent greenery addition to arrangements.

Shasta Daisies are a classic cutting garden perennial. Whether you use them in bouquets, or to make daisy crowns, they’re a cutting garden must-have! They bloom all summer, and cutting the flowers will encourage more blooms. 



Dahlias have a strong personality (in the best way!) and are available in every color you can imagine—from rich, deep shades to pale pastels, and everything in between. Single or double-blossom, every dahlia is striking and makes every bouquet a joy to look at it. 

Gladiolus are easy to grow and exude drama, confidence, and stamina. If you cut gladiolus just as its first blossom is starting to open and keep their water fresh, they’ll last for weeks in a vase. They’re an excellent statement flower that adds height to a bouquet.


Annuals from Seeds

Zinnias are annuals that are nearly foolproof to grow from seed and will bloom all summer long. They’re available in almost any shade and variegation and also come in specialty varieties with unique petal shapes.  

Cosmos are also easy to grow from seed and are likely to self-seed and come back every year. Their pretty pink, white, or purple daisy-like blossoms add a delicate note to fresh-cut bouquets.

Sunflowers are a diverse family of annuals. There are small ones designed for cutting that fit perfectly into a full garden bouquet, and there are much larger ones that act as a dramatic feature for a themed arrangement. The leaves of sunflowers are great for adding greenery to your cutting bouquets.

Love in a Mist, also known as Nigella, is unique, almost strange, and yet delicate and ethereal. They’re a self-seeder and are great for multi-season arrangements. Of course, the fresh blooms are beautiful, and the delicate fennel-like leaves add elegant texture. When the growing season comes to an end, the dried seed heads look fantastic in fall or winter arrangements. 

Start planning your cutting garden now so that you can fill your home, your office, and your friends’ homes with gorgeous arrangements from spring to late fall! Pop by our garden center for some more inspiration or tips from our expert staff.