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5 Popular Ornamental Grasses for Iowa

dropseed prairie ornamental grass ted lare

Ornamental grasses add unique texture and structure to landscaping. They are also low maintenance, drought-tolerant, and many of them provide year-round interest in gardens. From lower mounding types to over 6 feet tall, and ranging in colors for ice blue to deep purple to vibrant green, there is a wide variety of grasses to choose from. 

Grasses used to dominate the landscape in Iowa, with over 80% of the state being classified as tallgrass prairie, though there is much less now. This means we can grow a wide variety of beautiful grasses, some of which are beneficial for our local ecosystems. Here are 5 of our favorite ornamental grasses.

Prairie Dropseed

Prairie Dropseed is one of the smaller ornamental grasses, getting up to 2-3’ tall. It adds a light and airy feel to the garden with its finely textured leaves and stocks. The seedheads are long and feathery, and sway in the breeze. This ornamental grass doesn’t self-seed very often, so it won’t take over your yard. The foliage turns a rich copper-gold color in the fall. 

 

prairie dropseed and little bluestem ted lare

Little Blue Stem

This Iowa native perennial grass features silvery-blue leaves that turn a gorgeous dark red in the fall. It gets up to 3 feet tall and is quite easy to grow. If you don’t want it to spread in your yard, you may want to remove the seedheads. Its foliage will last through most of the winter unless crushed by lots of snow. Little Blue Stem grass does best in a full sun location. 

Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass

This popular Feather Reed grass is a hardy perennial and easy to grow. It doesn’t set seed, so you won’t have to worry about it taking over your yard. It spreads by rhizomes underground, but it’s quite slow. It gets 4-6 feet tall and features pretty feathery plumes above dark green leaves. Karl Foerster does well in part sun to full sun.

 

Karl Foerester Feather Reed Grass and switchgrass ted lare

Switchgrass

Switchgrass is another Iowa native grass that is a great structural grass. It gets up to 4-6 feet tall, and several different varieties are available. There are varieties with very dark summer foliage, or with blue-gray foliage. Some types turn a gorgeous red in the fall. Switchgrass does well in full sun or partial shade.

Ravenna Grass

This is also known as Hardy Pampas Grass. Other varieties of Pampas Grass can be invasive, so check tags carefully. This is the perfect grass for privacy screening, reaching up to 10 feet tall, and clumps can get as much as 4-6 feet wide. Ravenna grass needs full sun to thrive.

 

ravenna grass and purple flame maiden grass ted lare

Purple Flame Maiden Grass

Purple Flame Maiden Grass adds a unique color variation to your garden. In the summer it’s a grayish-green color, and in the fall it turns to a brilliant red-orange. This taller grass, getting 5-6’ tall, adds structure and contrast to your garden all summer, and all winter. It features soft mauve plumes above the foliage that seem to dance in the slightest breeze. 

There are so many ways you can incorporate ornamental grasses into landscaping. Besides being beautiful, they’re a great way to add architectural structure and texture different from shrubs and flowers. They’re also an excellent choice as a backdrop to highlight beautiful flowering plants. Grasses also provide shelter and food for a variety of birds and pollinators. 


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Ornamental grasses are the perfect low-maintenance statement plant because they really don’t require much once they’ve been planted. If you’re not sure how to incorporate grasses into your landscape, have a chat with one of our professional landscape designers. We can help you figure out the best places in your yard to plant ornamental grasses, and the best varieties to suit your style. 

 

 

 

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5 Patio Essentials When Designing Your Backyard

Designing your backyard patio is a pretty fun project, but there is a lot to consider when you get into the details. There are a few essentials to consider in your design that will make your Des Moines backyard patio into an outdoor escape you’ll never want to leave. 

 

Outdoor Kitchen & Food Prep Space 

One of the most common requests for landscape designs is to incorporate a dedicated area for grilling. Our design pros have a lot of experience, and tons of ideas for how to incorporate an outdoor kitchen space into your yard, even in small spaces. 

Ideally, your outdoor cooking area should be easily accessible from the indoor kitchen, so you can quickly pop in and out for whatever you need. A whole outdoor kitchen might be more than you want or have space for, but you’d be surprised what sort of innovative ideas our designers can come up with to create a super functional and beautiful food prep space near the grill.

 

Living & Seating Spaces

People love to congregate together! Whether it’s just family or the whole neighborhood, you’ll want to make sure you have enough space for everyone. A designer can create a layout for your landscape design that will maximize your seating options while maintaining beautiful design and highlighting the features of your yard. 

Even if you’re working with a smaller yard, a designer can help you create multiple defined outdoor spaces. A dining space with a table and chairs near the grill is a top priority, and a living room or family room space with comfortable seating is ideal for relaxing. It’s always nice to have a lounging space where you can soak up some vitamin D and watch the kids play, or even a private and secluded space where you can sit and meditate or enjoy a quiet cup of tea. 

 

Shelter From the Elements 

We usually get outside to enjoy the natural environment, but sometimes it’s nice to have a little shelter from the elements as well. A landscape designer will work with your yard and consider our climate, prevailing winds, and sun positioning to give you protection from the elements. 

Whether it’s with umbrellas, strategically planted trees for shade, a patio with a full roof, or an elegant gazebo, a designer can create shade and wind protection that blends seamlessly into the overall design of your landscape. With a little something between you and the sky, you can still enjoy your outdoor space when the weather is less than ideal. Watching the rain from a covered gazebo can be a cozy way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

 

Fire

Having a fire feature in the backyard extends the day, making your yard inviting and comfortable, even after the sun goes down. Firepits and outdoor fireplaces are available in endless styles and variations now. 

A landscape designer can show you a variety of ideas and designs that could fit in with your design style. Whether you prefer sleek and ultra-modern gas-powered firepits, a more traditional style wood-burning fire ring, or even an outdoor oven, our designers can work a fire feature into your space. 

Not into a firepit or a fireplace? Torches can give you a similar ambiance and are available in many different styles.

 

Integrated Lighting

Integrating lighting into your landscape is a subtle way to make a huge impact. A landscape designer will work in lighting that matches your style and highlights the assets and focal points of your landscape and home. 

Twinkling string lights make seating areas feel cozy and warm. Decorative overhead fixtures add an element of art to covered patio spaces and are the perfect finishing touch to really anchor a covered space. Discreet path lighting and accent lighting invite you to explore your yard after dark and highlight the best features of your home and landscape. 

Seeing the different elements of your space lit up after dark gives you a whole new perspective on your space, and a new reason to fall in love with your home! 

 

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Keeping these ideas in mind will help you design the patio space of your dreams for your family to enjoy for years to come. If you’re not quite sure how to put your design onto paper, get in touch with one of our professional landscape designers! We can help you nail down a design, and come up with a plan to make it happen.

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The Best Landscape Border Materials for the Long Haul

When you plan your landscaping, you are planning for the long term. You want everything, especially border edging, to last as long as possible—no matter what Mother Nature throws at it. Since landscaping is often one of the most significant investments you’ll make in your property, it can feel like you’ve wasted money if products break down, decay, or start to look dingy after just a few years. 

There’s a wide variety of products you can use for border edging. Here are the pros and cons of a few of the most common edging options available, and what we recommend for the longest-lasting hardscapes in Iowa

Plastic Edging

Plastic edging is a very affordable option, and it comes in a variety of colors and styles. However, plastic edging is a true case of “you get what you pay for.” Plastic edging degrades very quickly when exposed to the elements. Sun fades its color and weakens the material while snow and freezing temperatures make it even more brittle. Then it starts to crack, break, and look bad in just a few seasons. The plastic edging looks cheap, and it only gets worse with time. While plastic edging may seem like a great deal, you’ll be replacing it pretty frequently, and cleaning up all the bits and pieces from your yard can be difficult. We don’t recommend plastic edging to anyone. 

Spade Edging

A clean-cut line of spade edging looks fantastic. It’s minimalist, it’s definitely the most affordable option, and it allows strong landscaping to stand on its own without distraction. However, it is a high-maintenance approach. To keep it looking nice, it needs to be cleaned up at least once per year, and perhaps a second time depending on how crisp you want to keep the edge.  

Metal Edging

Metal edging products are very utilitarian and leave very clean lines. With that said, they’re not particularly attractive or creative, and they don’t bend well. These products are most useful in straight lines for commercial applications and utility areas of your home.

Natural Stone Border

One of the best and longest-lasting options is a natural stone border. Natural stone has a classic, timeless look, and fits into any landscape beautifully. As edging, natural stone is extremely durable, and weather and sunshine won’t drastically affect the look or texture. If you’re going with stone, avoid soft stone, like Iowa Buff, as it will discolor and degrade very quickly. Choose a dense stone that will stand up well to wear and tear over time. 

Stones that are at least 6″ wide and 2-3″ thick are the best for durability. If you have areas that see regular traffic from lawn equipment, like around pathways and patios, choose larger stones. Natural stone can be cut to custom sizes and installed end-to-end for a tighter or looser fit, depending on the look you’re going for.

Paver Stones

Paver stones are also a top option for landscape borders. These days, there are so many varieties, styles, sizes, and colors available to choose from! They’re also very durable and will last for a very long time. Similar to stone, we recommend larger and thicker pavers—at least 6 inches wide—for high-traffic areas.


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If you need help choosing and installing a landscape border, one of our landscaping pros would be happy to give you their opinion and some pricing for your home.  

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Working with a Landscape Pro- Your Questions Answered

When it’s time to consider a new landscaping project, you need to know the basics of how to work with a landscape professional. What is the consultation process? How long will it take? And how much is all of this going to cost? 

Our resident landscape expert Keegan Lare, shares his advice on what to expect when you work with our professional team here at Ted Lare.    

The First Step: The Phone Consultation  

After you call in to start a project, we organize a phone conversation with one of our designers. This typically happens within 24-48 hours of the initial call, depending on what part of the season we’re in. 

During this call, we answer any questions you may have, and we try to get a feel for the projects you’re looking for. If it seems like a solid fit for both sides, then we schedule an on-site consultation at your home or your business if it’s a commercial job. 

 

Next Steps: The On-Site Consultation

We usually meet for up to an hour to check out your residence and discuss our initial thoughts on your project. 

We charge $100 for consultations in the Des Moines Metro area, but this $100 gets credited back to you if we do the work. Depending on the complexity of the job, we may charge up to $200-500 to account for some of our design time. This will all be discussed on-site and agreed upon before we move forward. You will also receive that amount back in credit if you decide to carry out the project.

Most importantly, the on-site consultation is a time for you to ask questions, so don’t be shy!  

 

Common Questions during the Consultation 

Here are some of the questions you can expect us to discuss with you when we visit your property for the first time. 

 

What are your goals? 

In general, we like to ask homeowners what their top 3 goals are for their outdoor spaces. These goals help us focus on what is most important to you and allows us to develop a plan that meets your aspirations.

 
How do you live? 

We’ll also ask for general information about your lifestyle. For example, how big are the gatherings you expect to have on your new patio? What does a typical weekend look like for you? Do you love the sun, or prefer to hang out in the shade?

 

What are your tastes? 

Any images that show your taste in materials (patios, walls, etc.) always help us get an idea of what you like. Providing any previous plans for the property also helps us save time creating a base plan from scratch. 

 

What is your budget? 

Discussing a budget range is very helpful so that we know any limitations on the project. We’ll generally give options with different price points, as clients find it beneficial to have a few choices.  

 

Information Gathered for Design 

When at your site, we capture all the data we need to create an initial design. This includes several photos of the yard and home, critical measurements of the space, and information on accessibility, powerlines, and obstacles. 

This process can be quick or rather extensive, depending on the existing conditions of the location. New homes without a lot of previous installations are easy to measure and capture. Older homes with many existing hardscapes and plantings can take longer to document. 

Design Timeline 

We try to respond with design ideas and a preliminary budget within two weeks of the first meeting, but this time frame depends on the complexity of the project. If there are many construction elements to design and price out, it may take longer.  

 

Moving Forward 

After we provide you with an initial design, the decision is in your hands on how to move forward and set a schedule. Often there are different phases of work to choose from, such as tree removal, garden preparation, installation of hardscapes, etc. We are happy to do it all at one time or phase it in over a few years. Usually, it makes sense to do as much construction as possible in one trip to limit the cleanup expenses involved in multiple trips over several years. 

Once the project scope of work is agreed upon, we work to schedule the project in the near future.  If it is a simple planting, it may only be a few weeks before we can complete the work. If the project involves a lot of construction, it might be a few months before we can start a project. Once we start a job, we see it through to completion.  Our install crews are some of the best around and you will love working with them.


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The landscape consultation process is often that simple. For a small fee and in short order, you can have professional designers guide you towards your ideal renovation. If you have any further questions on the landscaping process, or would like to start a project, please don’t hesitate to contact Ted Lare Design & Build. We would love to hear from you!

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Beautiful Early Spring Flowers for Your Iowa Garden

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

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. 

 

Bulbs

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. 

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The 7 Best Blooming Houseplants to Brighten Any Room

We’ve still got a while to wait for spring here in Iowa, but you don’t need to wait until then to enjoy some mood-lifting flowering plants! These flowering houseplants all add color and life to any room—just what you need to get you through the home stretch of winter. Here are seven of our favorite blooming houseplants.

Anthuriums: These beauties have bright white, pink, or red flowers that look like cartoon hearts. They flower periodically throughout the year, and each bloom lasts for months at a time! When not in flower, the triangle-shaped foliage has a glossy appearance that adds timeless flair to any space. Anthuriums range in height from between 1-2′ tall and wide, but even the smaller plants can produce their beautiful, signature blooms. They like to be near a window that offers bright, filtered light. Allow your anthurium to dry out a bit between waterings.

Holiday Cacti: Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus, and Easter cactus make up the trio of Holiday cacti. These plants are all similar-yet-distinct varieties of the Schlumbergera family. Each plant develops flowers when the night length reaches a certain point, which causes them to bloom near their respective holidays. The flowers are either tubular or shaped like daisies, depending on which type you get. Holiday cacti range in color from white, red, pink, orange, and yellow. Allow these to dry out considerably between waterings.

Hoya: Many know about the colorful leaf designs these wonderful plants have, but what many people don’t know is that, in the right light, hoyas can produce very unique flowers! They have little florets that resemble shooting stars, while others form a cluster shaped like a spear. Some are sweetly fragrant, while others are just eye-candy. The color palettes range from reddish-purple to pink and white. Many hoyas flower when they reach a certain age and can flower at any time of the year. Most hoyas like their soil on the dry side with moderate to full sunlight.

Bromeliads: These plants offer some of the brightest blooms you’ll see indoors! The colors range from vivid yellow, pink, red, and orange. Their large conical flowers last for a couple of months and add some tropical attitude to your indoor spaces. Both the blooms and the leaves of bromeliads have great ornamental appeal, and some bromeliad varieties have gorgeous variegated foliage. Bromeliads enjoy moderate to full sunlight, and it’s important to let them dry down before rewatering.

Crown-of-Thorns: This plant may look a bit scary at first glance, but their bark is worse than their bite. The thorns of these plants are for show only and are completely safe for your fingers! What’s awesome about this plant are their little clusters of cheerful flowers, an intriguing contrast next to the tough-looking, spiky stems. Bloom colors come in reddish-pink or yellow, and the blooms last for quite some time. This plant may look like a desert plant, but we have found they prefer to be watered deeply and allowed to dry out. To get the best show of blooms, keep them in full sunlight.

African Violets: These vintage favorites have come a long way! African violets flower in almost any color of the rainbow, including purple, blue, red, white, and pink. You can also find African violets with single or double blooms. Some African Violets have beautiful variegated leaves, while more traditional-looking varieties have solid green foliage. They require lots of light to flower, but once flowering has started, they can bloom for months under the right conditions. Try not to allow any water to touch the leaves since it can cause unattractive blemishes. Pour water directly into the soil or water from the bottom, then allow the plant to dry out. 

Orchids: A popular favorite that comes in many colors, bloom shapes, and styles. The most common colors are white, pink, black, yellow, and red. You might spot a blue one here and there, but this color can only be achieved by dying the white orchids. Some orchids have delightful scents, like vanilla or chocolate! They usually bloom annually in winter or spring. Some people may be intimidated when it comes to growing these graceful houseplants, but they aren’t nearly as tricky to grow as they seem. Planting in an orchid bark mix is a must, and make sure to use an orchid container or clay pots since these blooming beauties are used to having lots of air circulation around their roots.

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At this time of year, it’s so nice to come home to colorful flowers and lush green foliage. Find your new favorite houseplant today at our garden center in Cumming, IA! We carry a great selection of houseplants to suit your style and brighten your day.

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How To Start Your Garden from Seeds: 2020 Iowa Seed Starting Guide

It’s still pretty chilly outside here in the Midwest, and we’re feeing a little antsy about getting back into the garden. It’s not quite time to start planting yet, but it is the perfect time to start thinking about planning your summer vegetable garden. While we have a pretty long growing season here in Des Moines at about 175 days, some things need a little longer to mature. We can get a jump on the season by starting some of our seeds indoors this spring.

Here’s our guide to starting seeds in Iowa.

What You Need to Start Seeds Indoors

Starting seeds indoors is fairly simple, but it’ll go a lot better if you have a few specific items that make the planting process easier. Here are the items you’ll need to get the best results possible when starting seeds indoors.

  • Starter soil mix
  • Starter containers
  • Plastic plant trays (with clear covers)
  • Grow lights (minimum of one 2′ light per tray of seeds, but two is even better!)
  • High-quality seeds
  • Labels
  • Seedling starter heating mat

Why Use a Grow Light?

We consider grow lights a seed starting essential because even in the brightest window, most seedlings will grow tall, leggy, and weak without supplemental grow lights. Many grow lights these days are LEDs, so they use hardly any energy, and the bulbs won’t burn out for years and years to come.

Grow lights need to be very close to the trays when plants are just sprouting, no more than 4 inches above the soil. This is to ensure the plants get enough light and don’t get too tall and spindly. As your seedlings grow, you can move the lights up, always keeping them around 3-4 inches from the tops of the plants. To make sure seedlings get enough light, keep grow lights on for 12-14 hours per day.

Using Heating Mats

Seedling starter heating mats are nice to have, but they’re not necessarily essential. You’ll have the most success with seed germination if you keep the soil temperature between 70-75°F. A heat mat makes it easy to maintain this temperature for your seedlings if the temperature in your house tends to fluctuate. 

Labels are essential, believe us! If you don’t put labels on your seedlings, the chances are that you’ll forget what you planted in each tray after a week or two. We have a few different options for planting labels that you can write the names on, or if you’ve got popsicle sticks left over from a child’s school project, you could use them.

When To Start Different Vegetables and Herbs

Many seed packets include information about when to plant the seeds indoors. Usually, they mention the number of weeks before the last frost date. Our last frost in Iowa is generally around the middle of April, so count backward from April 15 to determine when you should start planting each of your seeds indoors. 

January
January is a little too early for starting most seeds. There are a few woody herbs that are slow growers, like oreganolavenderrosemarythyme, and sage, that you can start in January if you like. 

February
Towards the end of February, you should be planting seeds for bell pepperscabbageceleryeggplantleeksonions, and tomatoes.

March
About the middle of March, you can start planting seeds for broccoliBrussels sproutscauliflowercollardscucumbers, and Swiss chard.

Towards the end of March, you can start planting seeds for cantaloupewatermelonlettucepumpkinssquashes, and sweet potatoes.

April
By mid-April, you should be able to start transplanting your seedlings outdoors, and direct seeding others into the garden.

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It might be too early to start sowing now, but it is a great time to do some research about any new vegetables and herbs you want to try this year. If you have trays and seedling containers you’re reusing this year, make sure to wash them up and rinse them with a water and bleach solution. If you already have grow lights, check to make sure the bulbs are all working. If you need to stock up or replace any equipment, visit our garden center in Des Moines! We can get you any seed starting supplies you need, as well as plenty of exciting seeds to inspire your planning. 

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The Best Colorful Trees and Shrubs for an Attractive Winter Garden

Sometimes it seems like winter in our gardens is very monotone: grey leafless trees and white snow, with a few evergreens here and there. But there are actually quite a variety of hardy trees and shrubs that can add pops of color, shape, and texture to give our gardens a beautiful aesthetic, all year long.

We’ve got plenty of ideas on how to make your garden just as beautiful in winter as it is in summer. Here are just a few of the best shrubs, trees, and grasses for winter interest in Iowa.

Trees

Trees are an excellent addition to your garden for many reasons, not just because they’re beautiful. Trees increase property values, reduce noise, clean our air, and help lower our utility costs by shading our homes. These trees offer all of these benefits while giving your landscape four-season color.

Colorado Blue Spruce features bright blue needles on gracefully drooping branches that look beautiful under the snow. It can be trained for upright growth or a spreading groundcover form. The steely blue color is striking in winter.

White Pine features long silky-smooth needles. It looks a little fuzzy from a distance, which makes it look very cozy under snow in the winter. It is a beautiful shade tree in a brilliant warm green.

Norway Spruce is a durable evergreen with a uniform cone shape. The needles mature to a rich deep green for the winter.

Trembling Aspen is a North American deciduous native. It features striking white bark, the beauty of which is revealed when it has lost its leaves. It’s brilliant white contrasts beautifully with rich blue winter skies or evergreen backdrops.

As River Birch matures, it develops richly colored peeling bark in shades of white, brown, and golden-yellow. The unique bark adds visual texture and color interest in winter.

Red Jewel Crabapple is a small ornamental crabapple. It’s spring blooms are beautiful, but it provides beautiful color all the way through the year with brilliant red fruit that hangs on all through the winter. The fruit is a spectacular pop of color, and the Cedar Waxwings arriving next spring will appreciate them as well.

Shrubs

Shrubs add texture, height variation, and depth to your yard, drawing the viewer’s eye through the landscape. They also provide shelter and safety for our important native Iowa birds and critters.

Japanese Garden Juniper is a spreading groundcover juniper. It features bluish-green foliage that turns a purplish-blue in winter.

Montgomery Blue Spruce is a mounded shrub that resembles a short, plump Christmas tree at maturity. Its silvery-blue foliage looks beautiful under snow in the winter.

Green Velvet Boxwood is a mounding broadleaf evergreen that can be pruned into any shape you like, from a clean and uniform hedge to a unique topiary shape. Its leaves maintain a brilliant green through winter, and a totally unique texture compared to other needle-type evergreens.

PJM Rhododendron is another broadleaf evergreen. The leaves turn a dark purple-red in the fall. The dark leaves really stand out against a backdrop of white snow.

Ivory Halo Dogwood forms a rounded mound and has four-season interest. It has showy variegated foliage during the growing season, creamy white flowers and berries in the spring, and eye-catching bright red branches in the winter.

Little Lime Hydrangea is a deciduous shrub, but the blossoms will dry on the stems and last all winter. The conical flower heads and branches fade to rich golden brown and add unique shapes to the garden.

Technically Forsythia is a spring-blooming shrub. But it’s so early in the year, sometimes the very first thing to bloom, that it can still feel like winter when its bright yellow flowers burst into bloom.

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Grasses

Shrubs add texture, height variation, and depth to your yard, drawing the viewer’s eye through the landscape. They also provide shelter and safety for our important native Iowa birds and critters.

Grasses add a completely different look and feel to our yards in winter. Their tall wispy fronds add structure and drama against a snowy backdrop. Their golden yellow color contrasts beautifully with evergreens and snow.

Karl Foerster Reed Grass grows in clumps and up to five feet tall and features a fine delicate texture. A row of delicate golden-tan clumps adds texture and definition in winter.

Purple Fountain Grass grows up to four feet tall and features thick bottle-brush seed heads, and rich reddish-purple color all winter long. The gracefully arching seed heads and foliage are beautiful against snow.

Northwind Switch Grass grows up to five feet tall and turns a brilliant coppery-bronze in winter. It’s rigid upright form, and brick red seed heads are strikingly beautiful.

If you’re finding your yard a little lackluster to look at this winter, come visit our garden center in the spring. Pick out some gorgeous new trees, shrubs, and grasses to fill your yard with vibrant color next year.

Please note: we are currently closed for the season. We will be open on the weekends of January 24-26, and February 7-9 and then we will officially reopen for the season on March 23, 2020. Stay informed – sign up for our newsletter. We can’t wait to see you next year!

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The Best Living Holiday Ornaments & Inspiration

Adding living plants to your holiday Christmas decor is easier than it might seem. Incorporating live plants into your holiday decor brings a sense of vibrancy and natural beauty that you just can’t get with artificial plants. We’ve put together a festive list of our favorite ways to decorate with live holiday ornaments in Iowa, and two tutorials for fun holiday decor with houseplants.

Houseplants on a Christmas Tree

We think adding houseplants to the Christmas tree gives it a unique and elegant look. Here are a few innovative ways to add some of your favorite houseplants to your tree decor. The very best part about all of these ideas is that you can keep them out well after Christmas.

Glass Ornaments

Glass ornaments with openings can act like tiny terrariums. You can find open-sided glass ornaments in a variety of sizes and styles at our garden center. You can keep them super simple, popping a single air plant or a sprig of evergreen into each one, or get more creative by crafting a miniature ecosystem.

Get the kids involved and create tiny Christmas fairy garden terrariums. Using sphagnum moss as a base, you can create a tiny holiday scene in each one. Small pieces of an evergreen branch can stand in as a tiny Christmas tree. Hanging these on your Christmas tree, or placing them around the house, adds understated elegance and simplicity to your decor.

Wire Ornaments

Simple metal or wire ornaments in classic holiday shapes, like stars or bells, are very trendy right now. Using wire, attach a grouping of air plants or succulents to one of these ornaments, and you’ve got a beautiful mid-century modern living ornament for your home.

Terra Cotta Pots & Macrame

Macrame has come back in a BIG way in the last year or two. Our favorite versions for the holidays are tiny macrame hangers for 1-2″ terra cotta pots. You can hang these on your Christmas tree for delightfully unique ornaments. If you’ve never done macrame before, don’t be intimidated. There are numerous videos online on how to make simple macrame plant hangers. Pop a tiny bit of soil and a mini succulent, “baby” spider plant, or other small plants into the terra cotta pot, and you’ve got some super cute living ornaments for your Christmas tree.

Our Favourite Live Christmas Decor

Evergreen boughs are a classic living Christmas decoration. There are so many different kinds of evergreens available, you can never go wrong with adding some branches to your holiday decor. Whether you add some to pots on the front porch, arrange them in vases on the table, draped over the mantle, or made into a wreath, evergreens always add a traditional Christmas feel to your home.

Amaryllis is a perennial favorite holiday plant. They’re elegant and simple with dramatic flower bracts, which makes them a classic central element for a Christmas centerpiece. Because their stems and leaves are tall and slender, amaryllis won’t block your view of the happy faces around the table!

Paperwhites are another classic Christmas bulb that compliments amaryllis well. They’re also tall and slim, but they feature beautiful bunches of white star-shaped flowers that complement the voluptuous, colorful blossoms of amaryllis.

We often associate floral arrangements with warmer days, but there are tons of beautiful flowers that work very well with Christmas decor. Classic red and white roses, or red and white carnations, have a decidedly Christmas-y feel when paired with greenery. Holiday floral arrangements combine nicely with sprigs of eucalyptus, ivy, or holly.

Tiny potted living evergreen trees are delightful both indoors and outdoors. You can get different varieties and place one in each room of the house, or use them to line your front walkway. It’s fun to decorate each tiny tree with a different theme. Strings of tiny fairy lights make them just as romantic as a full-sized tree.

Our absolute favorite live decor has to be our Table Top Grinch Trees. Combining living cedar greenery, a cute pot, and some adorable ornaments, these fun evergreen designs are always a bestseller. We also hold seasonal workshops in which we show you how to create your own unique Whoville tree. These stunning arrangements keep on living right into the new year if you keep them watered. Sign up for our upcoming class on December 4th to learn how to make your own. If you can’t make it to this class, we’ve got so many others coming up featuring ideas for live holiday decor, including:

Sterling Silver Snowflake Jewelry, November 30, 9-11 AM, $25-$50

Holiday Porch Pot, November 30, 12:30-2:30 PM, $20

Vintage Santa, November 30, 12:30-2:30 PM, $60

Mini Birch Evergreen Holiday Centerpiece, November 30, 3-5 PM, $25

Succulent Christmas Tree, December 2, 6-8 PM, $20

Holiday Grapevine Wreath, December 3, 6-8 PM, $39

Holiday Creation Station, December 3, 6-8 PM, $20

Holiday Angel Painting, December 3, 6-8 PM, $45

Tabletop Grinch Tree, December 4, 6-8 PM, $40

Holiday Porch Pot, December 5, 5-8 PM, $20

Garden to Glass: Holiday Part 2, December 5, 6-8 PM, $35

Holiday Porch Pot, December 7, 9-11 AM, $20

Holiday Centerpiece, December 7, 12-2 PM, $20

You can sign up for any of our workshop classes online or in person at our garden center. By the way, if you’re really set on making a Grinch Tree but can’t make it the workshop on the 4th, let us know! You can always come to the Holiday Creation Station workshop on the 3rd instead, but if we get enough interest, we may consider adding in another Grinch Tree workshop for our friends in Des Moines!