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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Our annual gardens are where the hottest of trends get to shine every year. Many years we have our favorites from seasons past holding over to grace our gardens once again, but the temporary nature of annuals has us excited to try new things each year to capitalize on new trends without any risk!
Our favorite annuals for this year bring the best of color, flair, and enthusiasm to our gardens, and with thrilling plants and flowers like these, how could you not be excited about summer and spending some time in your own yard? Every year it seems like our annuals are bigger, better and more spectacular – and 2019 is no exception. These are our top picks for the most popular and successful annuals this year, ready to be brought home to dazzle your backyard and containers:
Canary Wings Begonia: Begonias are an essential staple in the American garden, but the Canary Wings Begonia brings a uniquely colorful twist to set it apart from the rest. These shade-lovers are a phenomenal way to bring stylish blooms to those darker parts of your yard that might otherwise go uncelebrated, especially with the Canary Wings variation. With this brilliant new variety, you can enjoy golden-chartreuse foliage decorated with pops of crimson flowers, that will truly brighten your shady spots from spring through summer. Plant alone or with other shade lovers in a garden or container for a design that is not only on-trend this summer, but confidently commands attention in your garden design.
Simply chose a location with shade or morning sun and provide well-draining soil to get your begonia off to a great start. For such a complex flower, the Canary Wing Begonia is actually simple to take care of as long as you put in the initial effort to give it the light and drainage it needs.
Sunfinity Sunflowers: There’s something traditional and charming about sunflowers that’s hard to improve upon in the garden – except maybe extending their growing and blooming season so that you have the chance to enjoy their cheerful bright yellow flowers for longer. Sunfinity Sunflowers take the winning formula of our favorite sunflowers and give them to us with a newly improved and extended blooming time in our garden! A charming presence in the backyard and an excellent choice to cut and enjoy indoors, these blooms are a simple joy that doesn’t quit.
Instead of a single flower that’s gone too soon on other sunflowers, enjoy over 100 blooms per plant all summer. These flowers have it all and are extremely low maintenance, so you can just plant them and forget about them – although that will be hard to do with their blooms exploding with enthusiasm all season long. Fit for both containers and gardens, there’s always a way to bring these sunny flowers home to cheer up any garden style and design.
“Tattoo” Series Vinca: This new vinca variation brings the artistry of your garden design to life, with vibrant and intense flowers with stunning petals that look as if they’ve each been hand painted. With new colors, like Black Cherry, Black Coral, and Tangerine, offering top-notch color saturation and style in every bloom, you can take your backyard design from charming to professional with the addition of just one popular Tattoo Vinca variety.
Everything that modern gardens look for, the Tattoo Vinca bring intensity, color, and ease of care to your backyard. Simply pick a location with good sun exposure for the brightest and most vibrant results with a healthy plant that is ready to keep working to impress all season.
Superbells Doublette: The Love Swept Doublette series brings a hint of romance to your yard with cascading calibrachoa blooms in blushing shades of pink with lacy white trim. We’ve come to trust Superbells varieties to bring the best blooms for the longest in our gardens for years now, and we’re very excited about this popular new color that we can add to our annual repertoire.
Wonderful for containers, these stunning flowers will spill out for a cascading effect of delicate but bountiful blooms that require little to no encouragement and minimal maintenance to absolutely thrive in your backyard. Plant by themselves in a container as they often grow so successfully that they overtake any other container mates. Thankfully, their beautiful pink and white tones on dainty flowers contrasted against emerald foliage is all the statement that you need for a single container – giving you all the lush garden style you want for this year.
Salvia Skyscrapers: This beautiful bloom offers a uniquely vertical bloom that adds intrigue, contrast, and something strikingly artistic to your garden design this year. Three colors have been introduced in 2019 to offer beautiful blooms in shades of Dark Purple, Pink, and Orange – each prettier than the last and ready to pair with your current backyard style. With flowers towering like a skyscraper far above their foliage you’ll love the unique look and shape of these flowers that draw the eye to them.
Not only stylish, these flowers are also proven to be quite drought and pest resistant, with easy maintenance to make keeping their blooms around a dream. Blooming from late spring all the way through fall, they are practically tailor-made for our Iowa summer season. Try them as a vertical thriller in your containers or as a background element in your landscaping and add intrigue to your garden design this year.
New annuals are exciting ways to keep your garden up to date on all the newest trends. In addition to following hot styles like color trends (we love the focus on chartreuse and coral that we’re seeing this year), picking up some of the newest and hottest annuals on the market is not only a treat for you with the latest developments in ease of gardening, but a style refresher that makes your garden fashionable and up-to-date.
It’s because of, not in spite of, their short-lived nature that we love annuals as much as we do. Not only do we plant these transient blooms knowing that they will only be with our gardens for a short season or two, but their limited lifespan is part of what enables them to put on the spectacular displays of color we crave. Caring for your annuals properly is the best way to ensure that these plants can shine throughout their short lifetimes, improving the appearance of your garden and giving you that fresh summer vibrancy you’re looking for.
Plan Before You Plant: All the basics you need to know about your annuals are actually printed right on the label. Look to the plant’s packaging when it comes to information on sun exposure, soil type, and water requirements. Use this information to plant your annuals in a place where they will have all the necessary resources to shine. Most annuals prefer 6 hours or more of sun and generous watering schedules, but there are still plenty of exceptions. When you pair the right location, care, and plants together, you’ll have the right recipe for gorgeous blooms that won’t demand as much time for maintenance.
Planting Your Annuals: Start your annuals off right with soil that will support all their growing needs through the season. The right foundation makes all the difference, and with the right nutrients and structure, your annuals can bloom with more enthusiasm and less intervention all season. Better soil is the key to better color and longer-lived flowers all summer.
The easiest fix for your garden is to make sure that you have plenty of organic matter and structure. Rust-colored soils are likely in need of an organic matter boost, while darker soils already have tons of rich nutrients. If you need to boost the organic content of your garden, just mix in compost or worm castings. Heavy clay soils will also benefit from added sand, compost or worm castings to provide better aeration of the soil. If you are planting annuals in containers, use a high quality potting soil, do not use soil from your garden beds. For those that want to get technical with their gardens, test kits are readily available to check the soil pH to match your garden to your plant’s needs.
Planting annuals is very straightforward. Plan out your planting area so that your plants are spaced evenly and have room for their explosive growth pattern. If you are planting bedding plants in your garden, typical spacing is 6” to 12” depending on the growth pattern of plants and varieties. Planning out your garden or container will also give you the chance to change your design once you see the elements together, rather than after you’ve planted. Once you know where your annuals are going, gently remove them from their containers, loosen their roots with your hands, and plant them in place.
Watering and Fertilizing Annuals: If you’ve given your annuals a great start with the right soil nutrients, they won’t need nearly as much fertilizer for the rest of the year. They’ll benefit from being consistently fed a variety of nutrients rather than relying on a quick supply of their key growing ingredients in chemical fertilizers. During the initial planting we also recommend adding Osmocote or another slow release fertilizer to your soil. A slow release fertilizer will help to keep your annuals looking their best all season long. If you’ve planted in a container with less soil to support your plants, or notice your annuals lagging during their growing season, a quick dose of water-soluble fertilizer, such as Miracle Gro, is usually all the help they need to keep looking fabulous.
Since your annuals are tropical plants designed for a single short growing season, they keep their roots close to the surface of the soil. Since they’re so close to the hot sun, they’ll need to be watered every 1-2 days to keep them hydrated enough to fuel top-level performance. The best watering system is something low-profile that focuses on getting the water to the soil where it is needed, instead of sprinkling over the flowers, which can sometimes ruin their petals.
Maintaining Your Annuals: Your annuals grow fast and keeping up with them is the best thing that you can do to keep them looking great every day. The most important maintenance that you can do is keeping up with your deadheading. As soon as you see a bloom starting to wither and die, pinch it right off the plant. Not only does this remove ugly spent blooms for a cleaner aesthetic, but it prevents your annual from spending energy on spent flowers by going into seed. Preventing your plants from seeding will have them blooming for longer – so consistent deadheading will help to extend your annuals’ beauty.
Overwintering Annuals: Despite what’s implied by their name, you might be able to keep some of your annuals for two or three years. While these tender plants don’t stand a chance against our Iowa winters, many annuals can make it to next spring in the comfort of your heated home.
Annuals that can be overwintered well include flowers like geraniums and begonias. Tropical flowering plants like mandevillas and hibiscus also make good candidates. Not every annual is created equal when it comes to overwintering – some are known to take to it very well while others don’t have much energy left in them after an exhausting season. Before committing the time, effort, and space to overwintering your plant, ask one of our garden experts if it’s a good fit to keep for another season.
Annuals are sensitive and need to be eased into indoor life, or the shock might put an end to your plan to keep your plant around. First, dig them up and re-pot them into large containers full of fresh (from the bag, so it’s guaranteed sterile) and nutrient-rich soil. Keep your repotted plant in a sunny spot and gradually introduce them to being inside over a few weeks as they acclimate. Try bringing them in for a few hours or overnight first before you try keeping them indoors for longer stretches, eventually moving them inside for the season.
By the time the spring temperatures melt away the winter, you can slowly reintroduce your annual to the outdoors before planting them again.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
2018’s landscaping trends are all about lifestyle and enjoying more time outside with friends and family. When we finally do get some extra time to spend outside, most of us don’t want to spend it maintaining picky plants, laboring away at watering and weeding. The Low-Maintenance Planting trend is all about freeing up more time to actually enjoy our backyard lifestyle.
“Native plants give us a sense of where we are in that great land of ours. I want to look at Texas like Texas and Vermont like Vermont.” – Lady Bird Johnson
Let Go of the Lawn:
Where does most of your yard maintenance time go? Chances are you’ve spent too many hours mowing, watering, and fertilizing to keep a beautiful lawn. At some points in our lives, we might need a lawn. Young kids can certainly demand a very different use of your backyard space. Once you can, though, exchange maintenance work for time to relax in your yard. Ditch the lawn and opt for a low maintenance landscape filled with beds of native plants.
Native plants are a gardener’s dream. They’ve evolved perfectly for standard rainfalls, so in an average season, you might not need to water your plants at all. They have also had the chance to develop natural resistance against local pests and diseases, as well as being the most attractive to local pollinators. Native plants require less pesticides, less fertilizer, and less watering than tropicals or hybrid perennials. They drastically decrease the labor needed to maintain your backyard, stay healthy, and bring an assortment of helpful and beautiful pollinators to boost the health and appeal of the rest of your yard.
Natural Wood Mulch:
Wood mulch is also an important part of a low maintenance garden. It is easy to install, aesthetically pleasing, cost effective, and brings all of these benefits with it:
Watering Help: Mulch will help to prevent soil evaporation, keeping water at the roots of your plants. Not only does this dramatically cut the excess time put into watering your plants, it also keeps them healthier between waterings.
Weed Cotrol: Mulch will smother weeds, only allowing the plants you want to grow to flourish. With less work, your plants will look better and cleaner than ever.
Biodiversity: Usually overlooked, healthy yards have a host of resident predators that keep pests under control. Mulch will give ladybugs, ground beetles, and other tiny mercenaries, ideal spots to hide so they can keep your plants healthy for you.
We recommend using a natural, double shredded, undyed mulch, such as Cedar or Hardwood. Dyed mulch is usually very “chippy” and does not stay in place well or provide much water buffering. You can find both hardwood and cedar mulch at Ted Lare Garden Center for your projects at home.
The most popular application of native planting here in Iowa are prairie installations. As you drive down the interstate or highway, you will find many prairie restorations that limit the amount of maintenance for the Iowa DOT. This same prairie restoration is perfect for larger home properties, as it only needs mowing a few times annually and provides color and texture throughout the year.
On a smaller scale, native prairie flowers and grasses can still be used for an awesome display of color, all while keeping maintenance low. By planting these native grasses and perennial flowers in groups of 3-7 plants, you can create high-contrast plantings with dramatic effects. The texture of native grass also provides a cool effect in the winter landscape, providing texture and form for tufts of snow to land.
Both wild and elegant, they’re designed to take care of themselves. Using some native and low-maintenance plants, grow your own little natural ecosystem and actually enjoy sitting back and relaxing outdoors in the rugged, natural beauty of your own home. For a list of native prairie plants that grow in your Iowa County, check out this inclusive list of prairie plants from the University of Iowa. We also offer a nice selection of prairie grasses and prairie flowers at Ted Lare Garden Center. Come visit us for ideas and inspiration for your garden.
Ted Lare Design Build specializes in Des Moines Landscaping Design and Installation.
We cover a wide range of Central Iowa. We have installed landscapes for many years in all areas of the Des Moines metro, including West Des Moines, Des Moines, Waukee, Clive, Urbandale, Johnston, Ankeny, Altoona, Indianola, and Norwalk.