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How to Make Your Holiday Greenery Last

Festive evergreen boughs are the foundation of so many gorgeous holiday arrangements. They show up everywhere in your seasonal decor—from bouquets to wreaths, planters to garlands. Not only are evergreen cuttings beautiful, but their scents are hallmarks of the season. The only downside is they tend to dry out extremely fast and start dropping needles all over your floor.

So, how can you keep your beautiful natural Iowa evergreens vibrant and crisp all season?

Here are a few quick tips:

Buy them fresh. The sooner you can purchase greenery after it has been cut, the better. The longer boughs sit in the open air without water, the faster they dry out.

Choose boughs from evergreens that grow easily in Iowa. Try Eastern White Pine, Red Cedar, Balsam Fir, Common Juniper, and Yew.

Keep them outside as long as possible. The cold weather will help maintain their dormancy and keep sap moving through them as slowly as possible, helping your greenery to stay greener!

Soak cuttings in water before you create your arrangement. If you’re going to create an arrangement with fresh boughs, give them a good soak first. Cut evergreen stems like you would fresh flowers, then let them sit in a bucket of water for 24 hours so they can soak up as much water as possible. Even wreaths should be soaked. If you can, lay your wreath flat in a few inches of water overnight.

Spray greenery with an anti-desiccant. Anti-desiccant spray, also known as anti-transpirant, helps to lock moisture into needles and branches. You can pick up an anti-desiccant at our garden center. Giving your greens a good spray before you start arranging will help them retain moisture as long as possible.

Keep arrangements in water. If you’re creating an arrangement in a container, make sure the stems of the evergreens are submerged in water. Keep them in a vase or a bucket of some sort inside your planter. Check the water level daily; evergreens are thirsty things.

Mist evergreen cuttings daily. Especially indoors, evergreens will dry out much faster than outside. Give them a good spray over every day so they can soak in a little extra moisture.

Keep your finished arrangements in the shade, away from heat and direct sun. Direct sunlight will cause them to dry out faster. Being too warm, or located too close to a heat source, will also accelerate dehydration.

If you’re using lights in your arrangement, use LEDs. LED lights don’t produce heat, whereas incandescent lights get very warm and dry out your evergreen needles.

Consider adding non-traditional greenery. Rosemary, boxwood, and potted ferns can add a touch of brilliant greenery to your winter decor, and they last quite a bit longer than traditional evergreens. You could also use potted evergreen trees and shrubs in your decor, which could then be potted out into your yard in the spring.

If you’re not quite sure how to get started making an evergreen holiday arrangement, join us for one of our upcoming classes! You’ll learn from the pros how to make a variety of different Christmas-themed arrangements. You won’t believe how easy it is to create a stunning holiday arrangement for your home!

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Creating Shade

It’s no accident that many of us wistfully imagine a shady sanctuary, relaxing under the leafy boughs of a tree. The image of a perfect afternoon spent under the cool shadow of a tree has been romanticized by poets and painters for centuries. We can’t deny that there’s something nostalgic about letting our minds drift off underneath a beautiful shady tree – and what better location than from the convenient security of your own backyard?

When you think of creating your own backyard oasis, you aren’t limited to giant trees with decades of growth. There are some fantastic options that provide the shade and elegance that you want, some of which can fit into the corners of even the smallest suburban lots. Here are some of our favorites that you might have seen in your neighbors’ yards:

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Best Large Shade Trees for Iowa (over 30 ft tall and wide)

Ted’s Pick: Swamp White Oak

Tall, mature trees are destined to become landmarks in the neighborhood. Thanks to its faster rate of growth (compared to other oaks), Swamp White Oak reaches its mature height sooner, bathing everything around it in cool shade. 

Swamp White Oak is also well-suited to the landscape because of its high tolerance for urban soils. It’s tough, and yet also ruggedly handsome. The thick, straight trunk has attractive peeling, flat-ridged bark. Its leaves spend the spring and summer with dark green surfaces and white, fuzzy undersides. In the fall, the color matures into lovely shades of yellow and golden brown.

Other large shade trees to try:

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Best Medium-Sized Shade Trees (around 30 ft tall)

Ted’s Pick: Hot Wings Tartarian Maple 

It’s hard to beat a maple when it comes to fall color. What sets Hot Wings apart is the presence of red tones before the fall begins. During the summer, the branches bear clusters of bright red samaras that look almost like fruit or flowers against the brilliant green foliage. In the fall, the leaves take on a gorgeous display of red, orange, and yellow tones.

A fast-growing specimen, Hot Wings Tartarian Maple grows “out” as much as it grows tall, which gives it an attractive rounded habit at maturity. On top of offering plenty of shade and color, this maple is also very cold-hardy and has no trouble surviving a Des Moines winter.

Other medium shade trees to try:

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fiddle-leaf fig plant

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Best Compact Shade Trees for Patio Areas or Corners of Home (under 30 ft)

Ted’s Pick: Serviceberry

There’s so much to love about serviceberry trees. Not only are they wonderful choices for adding three-season interest, they produce delicious edible berries similar in color and flavor to blueberries. The Autumn Brilliance cultivar is especially beautiful, with its intense orange-red fall foliage.

In the early spring, the serviceberry blooms profusely with crisp white flowers. As spring fades into summer and the flowers are replaced with berries, you’ll notice your yard becoming a lot more popular with the local birds!

Serviceberries are medium growers, which allows them to look well-established after a few years while remaining compact.

Other compact shade trees to try:

These trees are great options for people looking to create shade in their backyard landscape. They provide a relaxing respite for you and your plants, soaking up the sun in any area where you’d rather not. Provided a little bit of space, some good soil, and simple regular upkeep, even a modest tree can be a practical addition to your backyard that gives back year after year. 

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Ten Tips for Growing Great Tomatoes

ten tips for growing great tomatoes

We’re not sure if there’s anything that tastes more like summer than a delicious, garden-fresh tomato. The supermarket can’t even touch the quality of these gems fresh from our gardens. When you bite into a sun-ripened tomato straight from the plant, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would bother buying them from a store.

Tomatoes are simple and easy to grow, but if you want that knock-out flavor without the frustration, our pros have some recommendations for how to make your plants thrive this summer. Garden success has never tasted this good.

Tip #1: Do Some Research:
There are so many delicious tomato plants to choose from, so it can be daunting to make a decision on which one(s) to include in your garden. When it comes to annuals and pretty blooms, we advocate for falling in love with your favorites and letting some creativity flow. But when it comes to the more practical tomato plant, a bit of research ahead of time is important. Ask yourself what kind of tomato crop you want — small cherry tomatoes, big beefy tomatoes or something in between, and what kind of plant you want to be growing — determinate or indeterminate.

Think seriously about your garden and what you want from it: are you willing to put in more hours of work for the tastiest of heirloom tomatoes from more challenging plants? Or would you rather spend your summer relaxing and enjoying a beautiful garden with determinate plants that mostly take care of themselves? Thankfully it’s not an all-or-nothing game, you can plant as much of however many types as you want! A bit of research is all you need to start on the right foot and avoid any summer surprises as you grow.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Tip #2: Some of Our Favorites:
Picking a tomato variety can be difficult because there are just so many good choices to pick from! To make it easier, these are some of our favorite tomatoes for all garden needs.

Roma is a great jack-of-all-trades tomato that doesn’t require much maintenance. For a simple and straightforward garden, you can’t go wrong with this one.

Beefmaster is an indeterminate variety that requires some work like pruning and staking to keep it in line, but the resulting harvest is worth the effort. Consider staking these plants, as their tomatoes are so heavy that they can bend or damage the stems!

Early Girl is another indeterminate, requiring a modest amount of maintenance. But with an early maturity, you’ll get to enjoy tomatoes sooner in the season and for longer with this plant.

Sweet Million has it all in the name, an indeterminate with millions (ok, hundreds) of tasty little tomatoes — perfect for snacking!

Green Zebra and Black Krim are heirloom tomatoes for those that are both adventurous and traditional. Heirlooms are varieties that have been passed down for decades, and these tomatoes offer unique looks for their heritage. You’ll also be impressed by their delicious taste.

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Tip #3: Start Off Right:
Whether you’re growing from seeds or buying starter plants, at some point you’ll be taking small little seedlings and planting them outside into your garden or containers. Only stocky plants, ones that aren’t lanky and floppy, should make the final cut and be planted in your garden. These are going to be the most successful at growing with the least amount of work from you.

Tip #4: Sun and Heat:
Tomatoes thrive with some warm weather and soil, so choosing a spot with maximum heat and sun exposure is the best way to get the tastiest tomatoes. We promise that with a good location, you’ll be able to taste the difference that sunshine makes.

If you have the option, the best places for many tomatoes are in big containers or raised beds, where their soil and roots are easily warmed by the sun. Pass on the traditional bed with one of these methods, and you’ll have your friends and neighbors begging for your secret when they have a taste of your tomatoes.

If you plant in a traditional bed make sure to plant your tomatoes in a different spot than the previous year.  This will help prevent disease and insect problems that can lay dormant in the soil until the following year.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Tip #5: Drainage:
Tomatoes don’t like to have wet feet, so make sure your soil drains well. If it naturally retains water, you don’t have to give up, though. Simply add some peat moss into the mix before you plant, giving them the structure, nutrients, and drainage that they crave.

These plants are heavy feeders, too, so make sure you establish a fertilizing schedule to give them the nutritional boost they need to produce delicious crops. Use an all-purpose fertilizer for the best results.

Tip #6: Planting:
Tomatoes will sprout roots wherever the soil touches the stem. Start by submerging a third of the stem when you plant — you’ll get a head start on developing a healthy root system! Just make sure you take off any leaves that will be buried so you don’t invite rot.

If your tomato plants got a little lanky while you were waiting to plant, simply plant them a little deeper than normally would. This technique transforms that lanky and floppy stem into a healthy root system, saving the plant and encouraging successful crops.

When you plant consider adding an organic fertilizer to your planting hole to give your plants an extra burst of nutrients.  You can also consider adding a handful of egg shells, which contain calcium and will help deter blossom end rot.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Tip #7: Mulching:
Mulch is a fantastic tool in the garden, as it suppresses weeds and insulates the roots of your plant keeping heat and water in. Your tomatoes will benefit from keeping more heat and moisture at their roots, which is exactly where they want it! Perhaps the best part about mulching is how much it cuts down on garden work by stifling weeds, which also leads to less competition for nutrients for your plants. Spread a natural mulch in a generous layer around your plants and reap the benefits!

There are lots of options for natural mulch that work fantastic in the garden. For your edibles, we suggest something that isn’t chemically treated. You can choose from all kinds of naturally-occurring woods and barks to find something that satisfies both your practical and design needs.

Tip #8: Proper Staking and Tying Up:
This tip is for indeterminate tomatoes primarily, because the determinate types have a bushy habit and generally take care of themselves.

When you’re tying up your more wild-growing indeterminate tomatoes, try to use something soft and flexible so that their stems aren’t broken by the ties. You can purchase ready-made ties for your garden that are designed for the task, or even use something like strips of old pantyhose to keep things tidy. Tie it loosely but secure with a knot to keep your plant in order and off of the ground.  Sturdy tomato cages can also be used to stake your tomatoes.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Tip #9: Pruning is for Suckers:
Tomato plants, especially indeterminates, send out “suckers” during the growing season. These growths don’t help you and your tomato crop very much and actually pull nutrients away from the fruit that you are trying to grow. Prune away these growths, keeping all of the nutrients and hard work that your plant is doing focused on important things, like growing fruit!

Near the end of the season, pruning can also be useful for other parts of the plant that are wasting energy. As you near the first frost of the season, start thinking about cutting your losses and discarding some tomatoes that simply won’t make it to maturity so that your plant can focus its efforts on the last few crops of the year.

Tip #10: When to and Not to Refrigerate:
The ideal temperature for ripening tomatoes is at room temperature. Place fresh produce that you plan to consume right away on the counter to get the most out of their superior, from-the-garden taste. Trying to ripen tomatoes in the fridge is likely to leave you with tomatoes that lose their fantastic flavor and could end up mealy and lacking in texture.

While you might want to refrigerate some tomatoes if they are already ripe and you won’t be eating them quite yet, you can still end up losing flavor and quality this way. Instead, think about all of the fantastic dishes that you can cook them into now that you can save for later. Things like pasta sauces or salsas will help you make the most of your garden produce.

Growing tomatoes is popular and easy, but there’s more to know than just putting your plants in the ground and watching them grow. With a couple of simple tips, you’ll have all the tools you need to have phenomenal crops all summer long, to be enjoyed by you, your friends, and your family. If only we had tips for what to do with all of your bountiful harvests!

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Best Patio Veggie Varieties

Ted Lare Best Patio Veggie Varieties

Getting in our daily serving of vegetables can be a challenge, and when your produce from the supermarket tastes less than stellar, it can be even harder. Having delicious, fresh edibles straight from the garden makes getting your daily servings a whole lot easier. With a patio garden, you’ll have all of the best garden flavors as close as possible to your kitchen— you’ll barely even need to leave the house to pick tomatoes straight from the vine! Get your fresh produce from plant to table in record time by growing your favorite flavors on the patio.

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

Container Gardening with Vegetables:
Gardening trends are always evolving and vegetable gardens are not immune to the growing understanding of the “best” way to go about growing your freshest flavors. These days, our homegrown produce isn’t limited to rows upon rows in a garden bed in the backyard. You can grow food just as delicious in containers, mixing up your gardening routine to something a little more convenient.

Container gardening has lots of advantages that make the most of their space. This growing style offers simpler upkeep, is easy to place wherever is most convenient, reduces the amount of work needed, and often even boosts the flavor of your edibles!

Best Patio Vegetables:
Patio gardening has traditionally been confined to little plants, like herbs. While herb gardens are still a valuable part of your patio garden repertoire, there’s so much more that you can do just outside your door! Container gardens are surprisingly flexible and there are lots of ways to bring beautiful and functional edible gardens to your home:

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Herbs
For edible garden beginners, home chefs, and those that like to keep things simple, herb containers are the perfect place to get started. They are low-maintenance, filled with delicious herbs that will elevate your cooking to the next level, and are adaptable to fill your balcony, patio, or windowsill with lush and fragrant foliage ready for the picking.

Each plant has its own unique set of needs, but many of the most popular herbs are happy growing in a smaller container and don’t grow to an unmanageable size. Simply ensure proper drainage, use good quality potting soil, and find a watering schedule that is right for your plants. Then, get ready to enjoy their delicious flavors in your cooking!

There are lots of herbs that pair well together in dishes and in containers for growing, as they have similar needs. We love the fragrant and lush look of rosemary, oregano, and thyme together for a Mediterranean blend, or a combination of basil, parsley, and mint for a container for more temperate homes.

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Tomatoes
These are one of the garden staples that simply can’t be forgotten when putting together your patio containers. We’re lucky that this delicious vegetable staple absolutely flourishes in containers, making it easy to care for and perfect for the patio. You’ll instantly be able to taste the difference between your homegrown tomatoes and those you pick up from the supermarket—and these lush plants dripping ruby jewels of produce for you makes for a pleasant addition to your backyard.

Determinate tomatoes are the best choice for containers because of their more compact growing habit that doesn’t require as much maintenance to keep upright. These plants ripen quickly and need only a little support from a trellis or cage. Choose from a variety of sizes for all of your snacking, salad, and sandwich needs.  

The key to impressive tomato flavor is consistent watering. Keeping the soil evenly moist, but not waterlogged, will give you produce that is the envy of your whole neighborhood. Try using self-watering containers for a stress-free way to keep your plants hydrated, or develop a schedule that has you checking your plants regularly in the mornings.

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Peppers
Given the right love and care, some peppers actually grow better in containers than they do in the garden, thanks to their need for warmer soil temperatures. Bushy plants with small, delicate—and brightly colored, ornamental-looking—fruits are perfect for container growing.

Keep your peppers in a sunny spot where they can soak up all the heat that they can. Especially important for hot peppers, a little heat is important while they are growing to bring out the spice in them! Keep your peppers well hydrated to help them make the most of the constant heat and exposure.

Don’t be shy to repot your peppers as they grow and flourish into gorgeous mature plants. With a pot that’s a little bigger than normal, you’ll have a much easier time keeping their roots well hydrated even in the hottest days of the summer. For the best, tastiest, and prettiest pepper results, fertilize with a water-soluble fertilizer every 1-2 weeks.

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Leafy Greens
There’s nothing quite as satisfying or healthy as a fresh, crisp serving of greens from the garden. Favorite leafy greens, like lettuce, spinach, and kale, are extremely popular options that really fill out a container garden. Not only will you enjoy the easy access to get them into your kitchen, but you’ll also love that their proximity to your home in containers discourages backyard critters from nibbling away at them before you have the opportunity to!

Most leafy greens are vegetables that prefer growing in the cool season, thriving in the spring and fall, but diminishing in the heat of the summer. These vegetables are perfect for grazing on and pulling a little bit to eat at a time rather than harvesting it all at once.

These greens grow with roots that are shallow and spread out, so planting them in a fitting, wide, and shallow container is ideal. This is a great way to add visual interest to your container garden, too, with a bit of a new size and dimension to enjoy. Plant lettuce, spinach, and kale with lots of sunlight so their broad leaves can soak up the rays. Plant with good quality soil and in a container with drainage, and keep them consistently moist for the lushest and tastiest results.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Bulbs
Bulbs do most of their growing work underground, so bulb edibles aren’t naturally the first option people think of with their container gardening. However, they’re actually a perfect fit for containers, which actually keep them very low maintenance and just as delicious. Onions and garlic are great container garden options as they are key ingredients in so many of our favorite dishes.

Plant garlic in the fall, with a bit of time to get established before the first fall frosts arrive. If you missed the fall planting, you can still plant in the spring, but you won’t get to experience end results that are nearly as big. Make sure that you use new, bagged soil and not recycled soil from the garden with your garlic so that you will have fewer problems with pests and disease. Place the container in a sunny part of your patio and watch it flourish with very little work from you!

While you can plant onion from scratch it’ll be much more worth your time and patience to start from sets. Plant them in a large and wide container so that you can get more harvest, and keep consistently moist.

Vegetable gardening doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task and you don’t have to commit large parts of your landscape to gardening to be able to enjoy the most delicious produce. You can have a source of tasty, fresh edibles that are good for you and your family and bring unparalleled flavor to your kitchen. With plants that grow lush, green, and often adorned with beautiful produce, you won’t even need to sacrifice aesthetic to have it all this summer.

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Designing and Planting a Veggie Garden

Designing and Planting a Veggie Garden

Recent trends have us using our outdoor spaces for both beauty and utility. What better way to take advantage of all that your home and yard have to offer than by growing your own delicious, natural, healthy flavors right outside your door? Vegetable gardens are a marriage between fashion and function.

Your family meals and dinner parties will all get an upgrade with the inclusion of a vegetable garden in your yard this year. For those starting out, we have some tips to make growing your garden as effortless as it looks. Here are some of our top Ted Lare tips for how to design your veggie garden layout and grow your own food this summer.

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How To Get Your Garden Started:
The first step is sometimes the most exciting, but can also be the most intimidating! The first steps are all about creating your vision for what your garden is going to look like. Here’s how to design your vegetable garden:

1. Mark off a plot of land that’s big enough for all of what you’d like to plant. If your space is limited, you can always put some of your garden in containers for a fun and functional garden accent.

2. Choose your edibles, focusing both on what you want to eat more of and what’s easy for a beginner to grow. We recommend choosing foods that you use lots of already so that you get to take full advantage of your garden bounty. There are lots of trendy and fun new varieties of every vegetable you can imagine, so you won’t miss out on anything cool if you only choose a few staples!

3. Check the needs of your plants. Planning is about logistics, too, so look at the frost dates of your plants to make sure they’re a good fit for Iowa, as well as checking their drainage, soil, moisture, and sun requirements. This information can help you choose where to plant, what can be planted together, and whether you need to fix your soil before planting. To garden like a pro, you can place some plants together to help each other out – like using the big leaves of your squash plants to provide some shade to your more sunburn-prone veggies! This all-natural solution can help to reduce the time you need to invest in your vegetable garden.

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

Starting Your Garden from Seed or Starter:
Most gardens are grown from scratch with seeds, or by transplanting little seedlings that already have the first few weeks of growth under their belt. For some vegetables, the difference is all down to preference. For others – like those that need warm conditions or have long growing seasons – starting with seedlings is a great way to cheat our short summers. When you use a starter, you can transplant young veggie plants in the warm summer soil once the spring season is done, without losing weeks of growing time!

You can grow your own starters in the early spring by planting your warm-weather plant seeds indoors in a seed starting kit, or simply pick up starters from the store.

Vegetable Seeds to Sow in Spring:
These are the cold-weather plants that love spring and fall, which thrive in cool temperatures and give you early tasty harvests. Sow them directly into the spot you’ve planned for them in your garden.

  • Lettuce and leafy greens
  • Radishes
  • Peas
  • Carrots
  • Beans

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Warm Weather Plants to Transplant as Starters:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Cucumber
  • Squash and zucchini

Other Easy Plants to Transplant as Starters:
Some plants simply aren’t easy to grow from seed at home, so if you want to include these easy garden vegetables you’ll need to pick up a starter from the store.

  • Basil
  • Mint
  • Rosemary
  • Oregano
  • Green onions
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Asparagus
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Challenging Plants:

Not every garden edible is created the same, and some are a little trickier to grow and might not be the best choice for your first garden if you want to avoid lots of work. These aren’t impossible to grow and are still an option for more dedicated gardeners, but their special needs and higher maintenance schedule might have first-time gardeners frustrated. Save these garden favorites for when you feel like you can take on a project.

  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Corn
  • Eggplant
  • Melons

Your very own edible garden is the perfect compliment to all of the beautiful things already going on in your backyard. Growing veggies is a delicious way to taste the best of what your property has to offer, and a fun way to be nurtured by what you nurture at home. Your new garden vegetables will forever change the way you think about produce!

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Prairie Establishment

Iowa Prairie

“Not a breath of air stirred over the free and open prairie…”
– Francis Parkman

Prairies once covered hundreds of miles in the state of Iowa. Today, less than 0.01% of the original prairies remain. Not only are they an integral part of our heritage, they play an incredibly important role in our natural environment. Without them, the Iowa that we know and love wouldn’t be the same, so restoration is key to protecting the land that we call home.

The Importance of Prairies:

Prairies are beneficial for many, many reasons, both visually and environmentally. They provide beauty in all seasons, with changing colors and textures throughout the year for aesthetic appeal, while also providing a natural habitat for nesting birds and wildlife. They also make for an excellent food source for butterflies, bees, and other pollinators, while working hard to prevent erosion, as well. Not to mention, they work perfectly for ditch planting and providing a screen in urban environments.

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How to Grow a Prairie:

With so many benefits for both you and the environment, growing your own prairie couldn’t be more appealing! Although large expansive sites are optimal for prairie restorations, you can also plant backyard prairies with just a few hundred square feet. Prairies thrive in many soil types, so your only concern should be choosing a site that gets full sun, especially in the afternoon. However, if you have a prairie remnant on or near your site, remember to contact your local county conservation office for advice on how to protect it.

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Selecting Your Prairie Seed Mix:

Once you have your site, you will need to select your prairie seed mix. There are mixes available for both wet and dry sites, and you’ll want to select one that is as diverse as possible. Try to pick one with many different species of grasses and flowers for year-round interest and to provide the best pollinator habitat. Typically, they are modeled after historical prairies with about 60% grasses and 40% flowers. To fit with your aesthetic, you can adjust this percentage, but remember to keep at least 20% grasses for a true prairie.

When choosing your prairie seed mix, it’s important to select locally-sourced seeds harvested from Iowa plants that are adapted to our ever-changing climate. Here at Ted Lare Garden Center, our horticultural experts will be happy to help you select the best mix and the correct amount for you and your plot. You can also learn more about selecting and planting seed by visiting the Tallgrass Prairie Center online.

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Planting Prairie Seed Mix:

Before you begin planting, you will need to kill off any existing vegetation. You can do so with 1-2 applications of Round-Up from April through October, but remember that spring is easier for killing any weeds than fall. If there are any trees or shrubs, you’ll want to remove those and treat with a herbicide, but if you have steep slopes and erosion problems, you can skip treatment. Once the vegetation is killed, it is best to till the soil and remove old vegetation, if possible.

With the site properly prepared, prairies can be planted in both spring and fall, but late fall and early winter are optimal, as many prairie seeds need our cold winters to break dormancy. This late seeding also rules out the need to break up the soil before planting, as freezing and thawing will naturally work the seeds into the soil.

To ensure an even application, spread your seed right after a light snowfall so you can see where the seeds have fallen. While seed injectors and mechanical seed spreaders are great for larger acreages, spreading by hand is both simple and cost-effective. To spread by hand, grab a handful of seeds and walk quickly over the area, slowly moving your fingers to release seed as you go, and repeat until the area is covered. Without snow cover, it will be difficult to tell where seeds land, but continue to cover the area as best you can.

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Maintaining Prairie Grass:

Maintaining your prairie during its first year is the most critical, as there will be a seed bank of weeds waiting to sprout that your prairie seeds will have to battle against for light and nutrients. To give them a fighting chance, mowing your prairie grass is key.

Mow your prairie seedlings down 3-4 times over the course of the first summer. Don’t fret, it won’t hurt your new seedlings, but it will actually force them to put more of their energy toward producing roots, giving you a stronger plant overall. Weeds, however, do not tolerate mowing well and will eventually stop sprouting, allowing your prairie seeds to overtake the spaces the weeds were occupying. After the first year, mowing will typically only need to be done first thing in the spring.

By about year 4, your prairie will be ready for a prescribed burn. If your area does not allow prescribed burning, you can instead use a rake to remove dead foliage after your typical spring mowing to keep thatch levels from smothering the plants. If your prairie is large, simply mowing in the spring will be enough to keep it looking good.

The only other maintenance that may be required is periodic weed control. It is important to keep an eye out for aggressive weeds, such as Canadian Thistle, which can spread quickly. Herbicides may be necessary, especially during prairie establishment.

To learn more about the mowing and maintenance schedule, be sure to check out our Prairie Establishment handout.

While it may not look like much in its first year, keep it up, and your hard work will pay off. Typically it takes about 3 years to see your prairie start to thrive, so do not panic during those first two years.  Watch as your native prairie plants burst into bloom, getting more beautiful with each passing year. With prairie establishment, you’re not only beautifying your backyard, but you’re also bringing our natural Iowa landscape back to life so we can continue to enjoy our rich heritage for years to come!

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Overwintering Tropicals in Iowa

“You can’t get too much winter in the winter”
– Robert Frost

Winter in Iowa can be a bittersweet time for most of us – while we won’t say no to a delicious cup of hot chocolate or the frozen, but stunning, winter aesthetic, it’s hard to say goodbye to our gardens and spending warm evenings outside. Once we start to feel that chill in the air, we know that our plants are getting ready for the season change. However, this doesn’t mean saying goodbye to all our plants quite yet. Bringing a few of your tropical plants inside for the winter is the perfect way to save them for next year, while allowing you to hold onto a slice of summer heaven all year.

How to Overwinter Your Tropicals:

The obvious answer to overwintering your delicate tropicals – who are much happier in a heated oasis than in our snowy Iowa prairies – is to simply bring them inside for the winter, and there are even a few different ways to do so. This makes it easy to find a method that is tailor-fit for your favorite plants, as well as your home and indoor lifestyle.

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

Overwinter as a Houseplant:

For tropicals of most shapes and sizes, bringing them indoors as a winter houseplant is a popular method to protect them. Plants like crotons, palms and philodendron will reap the benefits of your cozy indoor lifestyle, without the chilly winter weather, but you will also get to enjoy its beauty all year!

Simply repot your plant from your garden, shaking all the garden soil from the roots before moving to an indoor pot. For the best results while potted over the winter, always use fresh soil from a bag, not from your garden – this will also help to manage any pests from outside. Place your new temporary houseplant near a window to give them the sunshine they crave and water them as needed throughout the season – keeping in mind that they may need a drink more frequently in a pot than they would in your garden.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Start Fresh With Plant Cuttings:

Some of our bigger plants are simply too large to manage indoors, like hibiscus and mandevillas, but that doesn’t have to prevent us from saving them in some way. Rather than struggling with a large mother plant, trim off a few healthy growths to repot and start growing them over the winter.

Take your cutting, remove the lower leaves, dip the stem in rooting hormone and plant them in new potting soil. With the warmth of your home and a little humidity (consider misting them to really encourage successful growth), you should see your cuttings taking root and thriving over the winter season.

Let Your Plant Go Dormant:

Allowing your plants to go dormant and hibernate through the winter will let you save your favorite tropicals without all the fuss of nurturing them in your house all winter. Whether it be a canna, begonia, or banana, leave your plant outside in the cooler weather this fall for a little longer, to let it know that it is time to hibernate – though, never past freezing. Once your plant has been chilled – but not killed with frost or snow (keep and eye on the forecast) – repot it in fresh soil and place somewhere cool and dark for the season. Although your plant is hibernating, it will still need some water, so don’t forget to check the soil for dryness periodically. Once the winter passes and the weather warms, you’ll have a gorgeous tropical plant that is ready to shine in your garden again after its beauty sleep.Love what you’re reading? Sign up to our email newsletter, and get inspiration delivered straight to your inbox.

Potential Pest Issues:

Before you bring your plants indoors make sure to look them over good for any pests that might be trying to hitch a ride indoors for the winter. Common pests often include mealybugs and spider mites and you’ll want to remove or treat them before bringing them inside where they can spread to other plants.

Mealybugs are fuzzy, white bugs that grow in the branches or crevices of plants.  Check the undersides of leaves for a fine webbing or mottled tiny leaf spots – signs of a pest problem – and remove any you see with a q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol.

Spider mites can be treated by spraying your plant with organic insecticidal soap, which can also be used to treat a wide host of other potential pest problems on tropical plants, such as aphids and whiteflies.

Pictured below from left to right: Mealybugs, and spider mite damage.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Getting Adjusted:

Moving your plants from one climate to another normally causes a little bit of stress. To have healthier and more attractive plants through these transition periods, you can help them through their adjustment period from outdoors to indoors and back. Successful transitions start with happy plants. Try to get your tropicals as much sunshine as you can before you move them, and aim to keep their conditions similar to what they will experience in your home. Once you’ve moved your plant inside, keep them in as much sunshine as you can, and even consider using a sun lamp to help out, if you need additional light. Stressed plants show their dissatisfaction by wilting, browning, or dropping their leaves – making the adjustment easier is an investment in a healthy plant that looks great all year.

Once winter is over and the weather has warmed up again, it’s time to reintroduce your tropicals to your garden. For the best results, take your time to do this over a few weeks. Your plants will be spoiled with the consistency of your home climate and will need time to get used to the variability of our Iowa weather. If possible, shift them into a seasonal area, like a sunroom, or begin by taking them outside for only a few hours each day, leaving them for longer each time. Once they’ve had the chance to get used to outside temperatures and conditions, they’ll be happy left outside in the garden for the rest of the season, allowing you to enjoy them and the rest of your yard when the weather is mild.

We associate winter with freezing temperatures and the end of our garden, but it doesn’t have to be the end for all your plants. With the right overwintering, you can keep your tropicals to enjoy year after year beside all your favorite hardy garden perennials. All you need is a little know-how and extra care for your garden to continue to flourish every year, enhancing your outdoor experience with each new season, and saving a touch of greenery to get you through the frozen winter.

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Deer-Proofing Your Garden in Iowa

“Eating greens is a special treat, it makes long ears and great big feet.”
– Bambi

Few things in nature are as elegant and interesting as deer, and spotting one can often be quite exciting – except, however, when you spot them grazing on your gorgeous garden. As beautiful as they are, deer can be an incredible nuisance in our yards, as they trample through and chew our precious plants to pieces.

Why Deer Love Our Gardens:

Deer are natural grazers and love eating plants for their thirst-quenching moisture content and nutritional benefits. They particularly love to munch away in the spring with new growth looking tastiest after the long winter.
Particular plants that deer love to snack on include tulips, pansies, dogwood, and roses. They also enjoy english ivy, yew, pine, and hostas, as well as most fruits and vegetables. When many of these tasty treats are packaged nicely together in one area, like in our gardens, it only makes sense that they would keep coming back day after day.

deer watching

Deer-Proofing Your Yard:

To continue enjoying your garden beauties without worrying about deer damage, you’ll need to protect your yard against these plant predators.

Fences and Hedges:

When it comes to keeping animals out of our yards, it can be easy to convince ourselves that a fence will solve all our issues but deer are known for their expert jumping skills. While it’s true that they have been known to jump as high as 7 feet in a single bound, we’ve found from experience that deer are more likely to choose the path of least resistance, so a 6-foot fence will usually be enough.
A less obstructive solution could be to, instead, add a hedge around your yard, as a natural barrier. Boxwood is an excellent choice for a deer-repelling hedge, as it’s not only beautifully bright, but also deer-resistant, as well.

Repellants:

Much like the sprays you can buy to ward off insects, there are repellents that can be purchased to ward off deer, as well.
Scent-targeting repellents use powerful smells to confuse the deer’s sense of smell from detecting the treats they love. Typically they tend to contain quite potent smells, like fermented eggs, garlic, and soap. They may also contain natural scents from their predators.

a tall green headge with garden table and chair

Taste-targeting repellents work to change the flavor of the plants, so they aren’t as appetizing to the deer. They are usually based with spicy peppers or other unsavory flavors, so they are best used on plants you won’t be enjoying on your plate.

These sprays will usually need to be applied 1-2 times per month, depending on rainfall and are best applied early in the season before the deer have had a chance to sample your garden. We also typically recommend rotating repellents occasionally for most effective results.

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Deer-Proof Plants:

While no plants are truly deer-proof, there are plenty of plants that deer tend to avoid due to smell, taste, or even toxicity. With even a couple of these deer resistant plants in your landscape, your yard quickly becomes less appealing to these curious critters.

Deer-Proof Perennials:

  • Black-Eyed Susans – classic daisy flowers with dark eyes.
  • Bleeding Hearts – traditional, heart-shaped flowers.
  • Coreopsis – colorful, daisy-like flowers.
  • Daffodils – terrific trumpet flowers, toxic to deer.
  • Coneflowers – cone-shaped native flowers with prominent eyes.
  • Ferns – a varied family of foliage plants.
  • Irises – beautiful bearded flowers.
  • Lavender – very fragrant flower spikes with namesake color.
  • Mint – excellent edible with strong fragrance to ward off deer.
  • Monarda – pincushion flowers adored by pollinators.
  • Ornamental Grasses – beautiful, but not as appetizing as a lawn.
  • Sage – spikes of fragrant flowers.

Pictured below: Left- Monarda, Top Right- Coreopsis, Bottom Right- Bleeding Hearts

Bright orange crown imperial flowers

Deer-Proof Annuals:

  • Cleomes – spidery flower spikes.
  • Marigolds – pincushion flowers on tall stems.
  • Petunias – pretty trumpet flowers in many colors.
  • Rosemary – delicious, fragrant herb.

While we may enjoy spotting them grazing in a field out in nature, our gardens are the last place we want to find deer. With these tips and tricks for deer-proofing your yard, though, you won’t have to worry about losing another plant to these majestic mammals.

To view our selection of deer-repelling plants and products, or for more information, visit us in store today or check out our informational sheet on deer-proofing here.

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Top 10 Spring Bulbs to Plant in Iowa

“I must have flowers, always, and always.”
– Monet

As we enter the final active season in the garden, now is the time to be thinking about the very first plants that pop up in our gardens: spring-blooming bulbs. These first spring flowers always hold a special place in our thoughts, as the first sign of bright and cheerful life peeking through the snow. However, to ensure these plants will be ready for next year’s show, they need to be planted as early as September and October, so the time is now. To get you started, here are our top 10 spring bulbs for fall planting:

Daffodils:

Daffodils have come a long way since the traditional yellow and, though they are a classic, they are still one of our favorites. Double-blooming daffodils, like Rosy Cloud and Wave, provide a new look for an old-fashioned flower, while still maintaining the same deer-resistance as the old varieties that we love in the garden.

Pictured below: Daffodils

yellow daffodils

Snowdrops:

The icy white Snowdrop is the perfect spring bulb for fall planting, adding lively garden brightness to your chilly spring bed. ‘Elwesii’ is a must-have for your fall planting if you like to have early-rising flowers in your garden – and, in this case, early can sometimes mean February, as they pop up just as the snow starts to recede.

Spring Snowflakes:

Also called giant snowdrops, Spring Snowflakes are not new by any means, but they add a delicate touch to your garden in a stunning, critter-resistant package. You’ll love their dainty, dangling petals peeking out of the snow at the first sign of spring.

Pictured below: Alliums

A bunch of purple aliums in a garden

Tulips:

Tulips really speak for themselves, but the Burgundy Tulip provides a new, sleek look with unique and eye-catching color. Also, the petals are arranged in what is called a “lily shape”, making them extra-resistant to wind. Other varieties, like Princess Irene and Affaire, have beautiful multi-coloring on their petals and if deer or rabbits are a problem, there are plenty of deer-resistant tulips to choose from this year, as well!

Alliums:

Also known as ornamental onions, Alliums offer large, round balls of tiny flowers that tower over the garden on long stems. Traditionally purple, they come in many shades, like light Globemaster, dark Gladiator, and blue-hued Caeruleum. Butterflies flock to them, while deer avoid them, and you’ll love how low-maintenance they are.Love what you’re reading? Sign up to our email newsletter, and get inspiration delivered straight to your inbox.

Surprise Lilies:

These little lilies are quite the surprise for a spring garden, appearing as tall stalks of what seems like simple foliage at first, then revealing their beautiful rosy clusters of trumpet flowers later in the season. A favorite of hummingbirds, the Surprise Lily will also quickly become one of your favorite flowers, as well.

Crown Imperial:

The interesting and uniquely-shaped Crown Imperials are a great way to add bright, sunny colors, like yellow and orange, to your garden in an eye-catching way. These beautiful bell flowers gently fall underneath a tuft of leafy foliage on top of tall stalks, certainly making them a stand-out in any spring bed.

Pictured below: Crown Imperial

Bright orange crown imperial flowers

Hyacinths:

For the prettiest plumes of star-shaped flowers, Hyacinths are the choice to make for spring bulbs. You’ll love the violet Blue Jacket and the purple-pink Miss Saigon for vibrant groundcover that livens up the world after a full winter of white. Hyacinths will also fill your yard with a sweet fragrance.   

Grape Hyacinths:

Slightly different than their aforementioned cousins, the spikes of Grape Hyacinths are, instead, decorated with purple bell-shaped flowers, making it appear like a perfect bunch of grapes. They are low-maintenance and lovely, making them an excellent choice for spring.

Pictured below: Grape Hyacinths

A bunch of purple Grape Hyacinths

Crocuses:

Long-loved spring favorites, Crocuses have dazzled in the chill of early spring for many years. Their little cup-shaped flowers perfectly decorate the ground with the floral life we crave all winter, and the new Blue Moon makes them even more dazzling, with deep purple flowers adorned with streaks of white for full-spectrum beauty.

We love our spring gardens and fall is the perfect time to prepare them for the first arrival of spring. These bulbs and more are all ready to join your spring spectacular, so get them in place for your best show yet!

To see our full selection of spring bulbs or to learn more about fall planting, visit us in-store today or sign up for our Blooming Spring Bulbs class on September 22nd, 2018 at 10:00 am.

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Amazing Fall Flora for Pots

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tired from the intense heat of our Iowa summer, our gardens have seen better days, and we eagerly search for that fresh life we were surrounded by in summer. Luckily, you can still have beautiful fall flora even as the weather cools, and these are our top choices for your pots.

Pansies

These annuals are year-round spectacles of color and spring vibrance. The soft, clover-like flowers burst into bloom against a background of dark, pointed leaves in the spring and last late into the fall. As annuals, they won’t be hardy into the winter, but you can make them weather the frost with a thick layer of mulch and plenty of sun. Our favorites are the bright and simple Mimosa Yellow, and the complex and stunning Endurio Blue Yellow with Purple Wing.

Pictured below: Chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums flowers

Kale

This cool-weather-loving plant has lots to offer to your backyard aesthetic, with gorgeous, crinkle-leafed green and lacy tendrils of beautiful color that look fantastic in a pot. As delicious as other varieties may be, the fall kale we love, Red or White Peacock, is purely ornamental and is best observed with the eyes, rather than our mouths.

Mums

The ultimate fall annuals, mums – or chrysanthemums – are delightful, daisy-like flowers that are packed with colorful petals with beautiful ferny leaves that look amazing even after the blooms are spent. Though they are labeled as hardy, their breeding over the years has primed them for performance over weather tolerance. They are wonderfully easy-to-care-for, only needing sun and water to keep their blooms bright all season. Try our top choices, the Karelli Bronze and the Petit Orange for a beautiful fall spectacular.

Pictured below: Kale and Ornamental Peppers

kale and ornamental peppers in a black pot

Ornamental Peppers

While they are technically peppers that can be eaten, ornamental is the best way to describe these powerfully spicy and brightly colored vegetables. These peppers pack a punch of color – anywhere from yellow to black – to punctuate your fall garden, and only need rich soil, occasional watering, and full sun to dazzle in your pots.

Crossandras

Also known as a Firecracker Plant, Crossandras are the perfect plant to pot outside all year and bring inside when the mercury drops below freezing. They provide a luxurious, tropical aesthetic of orange-red flower spikes that will transform your space into an oasis that will have you forgetting about the weather outside. Better suited for the humidity of the jungle, these plants will need plenty of sun and water to keep them performing their best.

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Celosias

Celosias, or Cockscombs, are pretty plumes of brightly-colored flowers that bring summer colors to your fall landscape. Not only will you appreciate their unbelievable beauty, but you’ll also love the increased presence of butterflies in your yard when they are around. They are drought-tolerant and prefer full sun to keep them looking their best. For a full spectrum of stunning color, try Fresh Look RedKelos Orange, and purple Intenz.

Lemon Cypress

A beautiful, compact tree with a delicious citrus fragrance that follows it wherever it goes, the Lemon Cypress is a cool-weather-loving lovely that looks stunning in larger pots. It may prefer the cool weather, but our colder Iowa winters are a little colder than it prefers, so bringing it inside will keep their yellow-green needles happier and healthier. Make sure it still receives plenty of sun, though.

Crotons

These fabulous Variegated Crotons are full of interesting and bright foliage with plenty of personality to add to your pots. The large, glossy leaves burst with colorful variegations throughout the year. Plant them with rich, well-draining soil in full sun to partial shade and enjoy the spectacular show this low-maintenance plant provides.  Bring them inside before the temperatures dip below freezing and enjoy them as a houseplant this winter.

Pictured below: Crotons

croton plant

Other Fall Pot Favorites

Bidens are sensational, star-shaped flowers that are low-maintenance, drought-tolerant, and adored by butterflies. Our top choices are Campfire FireburstSun Drop, and Yellow Sunshine.

Mona Lavender offers spikes of lavender-hued, tubular flowers that hummingbirds love. As low-maintenance as they are, you’ll love them, too.

Coleus is a fantastic fall flora with fabulous foliage and a marvellous mounding habit. They come in many beautiful varieties, like Under the SeaCampfire, and Chocolate Covered Cherry.

Ornamental Grasses are the ultimate low-maintenance landscape addition to add texture to your life. As natives to Iowa, they are also phenomenally low-maintenance. We love the Purple Fountain Grass for its stunning color and texture.

Pictured below: Celosias

red celosia plant

Zinnias are another daisy-like flower with a terrific trailing quality that looks perfect in patio pots. They come in many vibrant colors, including the cheerful orange Magellan Orange, and are drought-tolerant enough to handle a little neglect.

When the leaves change and the air changes to that crisp, cool air the world comes alive with color and excitement. As lively as it may seem, though, the world is slowly falling into hibernation, and our gardens are a perfect example of this. With these stunning fall selections, though, you can still enjoy that burst of fresh life from summer right until winter comes.

To learn more about plants for potting in fall or to browse our selection, visit the garden center today!