Magnolias bring drama to any garden, whether you’re growing a classic evergreen type or a spring beauty like star magnolia. The signature fragrant flowers can stop traffic and will make you want to tuck magnolias into every corner of your yard. Magnolias are as versatile as they are beautiful, making it easy to find one that suits your growing conditions. Discover the range of magnolia magnificence, starting with the timeless Southern magnolia, above, offered as a dwarf form. This variety is ‘Saint Mary’ Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), growing 20 to 25 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 7-9.
A non-native, invasive plant, garlic mustard grows in sun or shade, dry soil or wet. Its roots produce a chemical that inhibits other plants from growing. Thanks to these adaptations, it quickly colonizes areas. In many regions it’s displacing native forest plants, and in backyard gardens, it can quickly take over planting beds. Garlic mustard is a biennial, producing a small rosette of toothed, kidney shape leaves in Year 1, followed by a tall stem topped with flowers in Year 2. Remove (pull up stems and roots) and destroy any garlic mustard that appears on your property, putting it out with the trash.
Some clematis flowers release a sweet perfume that can scent an entire yard. ‘Sweet Summer Love’ is that kind of plant. This clematis blossoms all summer long, and each bloom is filled with sweet floral fragrance. On hot humid days, the scent hangs in the air. Blossoms open a cranberry hue and shift to purple as they age. Best of all, ‘Sweet Summer Love’ won’t invade your garden with unwanted seedlings (like its cousin, sweet autumn clematis). Vines grow 10 to 15 feet tall and 6 to 10 feet wide—a great choice for an entry arch or pergola over a patio. Hardy in Zones 4-9.
One reason many gardeners grow clematis is because they crave blue and purple colors in planting beds. Brother Stefan clematis delivers beautiful blue blooms—all summer long. It flowers on old and new growth, creating a plant that’s blanketed in blue hues. This gorgeous vine is named for Stefan Franczak, a Jesuit monk and noted horticulturist in Poland who developed many excellent clematis varieties. In early spring when buds swell, cut stems back to 3 feet high. Vines grow 5 to 7 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide—a great choice for an entry arch or pergola over a patio. Hardy in Zones 4-9.
You may not think of a chipmunk as a pest, but when it starts digging under shrubs or patios, your view may change. Chipmunks actually cause the costliest damage to established landscapes, unseating retaining walls, destabilizing walkways and even killing mature roses or shrubs (by digging directly under the trunk). Once chipmunks dig tunnels, other critters arrive to set up housekeeping in those tunnels, including voles, shrews and snakes. Chipmunks visit gardens with bird feeders and other ready sources of food or water. An outdoor cat or dog can help keep these critters at bay, as can garlic oil pegs you toss into tunnels or various repellents you sprinkle onto flower beds or near tunnel openings.
Few plants symbolize fragrance like roses. This group of plants features shrubs, climbers, miniatures—and all sorts of other wonderful types. Flower color runs the gamut, including white, deep burgundy (almost black), lemon yellow and a host of other hues. New rose introductions like the Easy Elegance collection feature disease-resistant leaves with strong winter hardiness (Zones 5-9). Kiss Me (Rosa ‘BAIsme’) unfurls richly petaled blooms reminiscent of old English garden roses—and redolent with fragrance. Other roses packed with perfume? A few that have stood the test of time include ‘Autumn Damask’ (Zones 5-9), ‘Madame Isaac Pereire’ (Zones 6-9), ‘Double Delight’ (Zones 3-9), ‘Mister Lincoln (Zones 5-9) and ‘Roseraie de l’Hay’ (Zones 3-9).
Spring peas are one of nature’s delicacies—a true tonic after winter. St. Patrick’s Day is a traditional pea planting day in warmer regions, but you really want to wait until soil temperatures are in the 45-degree range. A clue for the right pea planting time in your region is dandelions, daffodils and forsythia. When these spring favorites start to flower, it’s time to plant peas. Plant too early, and pea seeds will likely rot in cold soil before they germinate. Plant too late, and vines will only have a short bearing window. For garden planting, soil should be moist but crumbly (think chocolate cake). If it’s too wet, seeds may rot before sprouting.
Welcome butterflies and a host of other pollinators (including bees) by planting butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). Despite the name, this native plant doesn’t behave like a weed, taking over a garden. Plants are slow to emerge in spring, appearing long after other plants. It’s a good idea to mark its spot to avoid disturbing it. Removing spent blooms keeps the flower show going, but stop in early fall to let seeds form. Seed pods make a nice addition to fall wreaths or arrangements. This is a host plant for monarch butterflies, feeding both caterpillars and adult butterflies. Grows 2 to 3 feet tall by 1 to 2 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 4-9.
Also known as oxalis, this is a versatile weed that grows in sun or shade, moist or dry soil. It’s a clover look-alike, with heart shape leaves and yellow flowers. Blooms fade to form upright seed pods that explode when ripe, flinging seeds away from the mother plant. It also roots from stem pieces. It’s happy to grow in lawns, planting beds, gravel drives or vegetable garden paths. Oxalis is a common weed in nursery pots, so be sure to check before adding plants to your landscape. The best way to beat it in the lawn is to mow high and fertilize to grow a healthy, thick lawn. In planting beds, carefully hand-pull or spray with herbicide.
Christmas cactus are succulents, not cacti. They need warm temperatures and bright light; after their holiday flowers fade, reduce the amount of water you give them. You can enjoy your potted Christmas cacti as a houseplant or move it outdoors in the spring, after all danger of frost has passed. Give it bright light, but not direct sun, and in some parts of the country, as the daylight hours naturally lengthen and then shorten again, new buds will form. Some gardeners may need to put their Christmas cacti into a completely dark location for 12 hours a day, for several weeks, in temperatures from about 50 to 55 degrees F., to stimulate new buds.
A native plant, trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) is a fast-growing beauty that scales an arch or pergola in a season. It’s famous for trumpet blooms that unfurl in bold orange shades, although you can also find varieties with yellow or red flowers. Blooms are a magnet for hummingbirds and other pollinators. Trumpet vine stems can wander underground, invading planting beds and disrupting patios. It’s best planted not too close to buildings, but makes a perfect choice for training on a yard or garden entry arch or pergola. Prune vines hard in early spring. Plants grow 20 to 30 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 4 to 9. Use caution planting trumpet vine in Zone 6 or warmer, where mild winters allow rampant (some say invasive) growth.
A classic native wildflower, purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) brings a steady stream of color to gardens all summer long. It’s a hearty plant, withstanding full sun, drought and poor soil of all sorts (clay, rocky, shallow). Plant breeders have worked to improve this flower powerhouse by expanding blossom color and form. The result? You can find (no longer purple) coneflower plants in a rainbow of shades, including red, gold, white, orange and pink. This variety is PowWow Wildberry, which unfurls vivid rose-purple blooms. Coneflowers are deer- and rabbit-resistant. Purple coneflower grows 24 to 60 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide. Some newer varieties grow shorter. Hardy in Zones 3-8. Good vase companions for purple coneflower: Oriental or Asiatic lily, Russian sage, catmint, hosta and gas plant.
Hops offers a nice ornamental form that works well in the garden on a pergola or strong, well-anchored arch. The flower, known as a cone, forms in late summer. This is the part you harvest to make beer. ‘Cascade’ hops (Humulus lupulus ‘Cascade’) is a disease-resistant vine that ripens cones used to make American pale ales. Pick cones in late summer, dry them in a warm, dark place, and freeze in airtight bags until you’re ready to brew your own craft ale. Undemanding hops vines are easy to grow. After vines die to the ground with frost, prune to ground level and wait for new growth to appear in spring. Vines can grow to 25 feet high in one season and up to 6 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 4-8.
Greenhouse-grown hydrangeas often hold their blooms for weeks indoors. Don't let your potted hydrangea completely dry out, and keep it in a cool, bright room, out of direct sun. After the last frost in spring, move your hydrangea outdoors to a shady spot for a week or two. Then gradually give it some morning sun, to help ease its transition. Finally, plant it in a location that gets morning sun (unless you have a variety that's labeled with different sun or shade requirements). Hydrangeas should be kept watered and mulched as the weather warms up. it may take them a year or two to start blooming again at the normal time of year. Gardeners in cold winter regions sometimes lose their flower buds to late cold snaps.
Over 4,000 different types of aphids exist and attack plants. If their numbers are low, they might be unsightly, but won’t actually harm plants. It’s when populations boom that their feeding damages plants, causing leaves to curl or flower buds to fail to open. As aphids feed, they release a sticky honeydew, enriched with plant sugars. These sugars grow mold, attract ants and create another layer of problems. Ants will actually guard aphids to protect them from predators so the ants can harvest the honeydew. When you spot a cluster of aphids, remove them with a spray of water from the hose, or kill them with insecticidal soap or a sprinkle of diatomaceous earth. Birds and predatory insects eat them, including ladybugs and lacewings. Avoid using pesticides in your garden and let these natural controls help take care of aphids for you.
Also known as wild morning glory, bindweed is bad news. Hedge bindweed spreads by seed and creeping underground stems; field bindweed spreads by weeds and roots, which grow up to 30 feet deep. These plants open flowers that look like morning glory, which is why many gardeners let them grow. They’ll grow along the ground like a ground cover, but if there’s a support nearby, like a rose, fence or tree, the vines twine and climb. Since these plants are tough to eradicate, it’s important not to let any get a foothold in your yard. Pull them as soon as you see them, and continue pulling each time they emerge. It will take possibly years for the roots to exhaust, but you can eventually beat them this way. For quicker kill, apply an herbicide that kills the root. It may still take more than one treatment, but you will kill these persistent plants.