Annuals Archives

Jessica’s Garden: Keeping Pesky Visitors at Bay

As we turn more and more soil for gardens at the farmhouse, I have been pleasantly surprised to find that we have great soil quality here.  At our old home, we had builder-grade, lackluster, red clay soil that needed attention each spring before it could be planted.  The soil at the farmhouse, while unturned for likely at least fifty years, is rich and dark and teeming with earthworms.  While it’s healthy, it’s very rocky.  Not having been tended in such a long time, or possibly ever, there are endless rocks and pebbles.  And sometimes even a few relics; a piece of old glass, a tincture bottle or a hunk of rusty metal.

photo 1 (1)Many garden veggies do not mind rocky soil in my experience, and in fact some thrive in it.  My tomatoes, peppers and squashes have never seemed to mind.  But vegetables that grow under ground, such as potatoes, carrots and beets require rock- free soil.  As part of my Mother’s Day gift this year, I asked my husband to build me two raised beds for some of these veggies.  We have lined them with a couple of layers of landscape fabric to tame our Bermuda grass, my biggest garden enemy at this point.  They are to be filled with a compost and screened soil mix to give a healthy start to the plants.

The raised beds are small.  We decided to make them 8’x4′ to save on lumber costs, as lumber comes in 8′ sections. Each box required only 6 pieces of lumber.  My husband built them about 12″ deep so the carrots would have plenty of room to grow.  The next obstacle is proofing them against those adorable and pesky woodland creatures.  While cute, they will destroy new growth in a matter of moments.

Our main vegetable garden has a substantial fence around it.  We built a 10′ high fence last year since we were unsure of the deer situation at the new house.  Which apparently has turned out to be overkill as I have yet to see a deer. Just an exorbitant number of rabbits.  The bottom 2′ of the fence is rabbit fencing, and the top 8′ is a wider gauge fence, intended to keep out deer.

I have been asked recently how I handle rabbits on the property.  At this point, fencing has been key.  I’ve found that if rabbits are your issue, a 24-30″ tall wire fence, either chicken wire or something specifically for rabbits is effective and ideal.  It’s easy to work with and install and also an affordable solution.  But there are a couple of hacks that work as well.  I have hung chunks of Irish Spring Original Scent bar soap in pieces of stockings and mate-less socks at 7-10′ intervals around a garden edge.  Cut the bar of soap into 6 pieces; you don’t need much for it to be effective.

The same method can be applied but substitute the soap with human hair. While this admittedly sounds a bit disgusting, it works.  I sometimes save the hair from when I give my husband and son their haircuts.  It can also be saved and used from emptying a hairbrush. I have heard of people even contacting their local barber and asking for the day’s clippings.  To each their own, I’ll personally be sticking with my family’s hair.

photo 2 (1)There are also a few plants that work as rabbit deterrents.  When planted around a garden perimeter, both nasturtium and marigolds will help to keep rabbits from invading a garden.  Both will encourage pollination from bees and, as an added benefit, both are also edible flowers.  Grayson and I grew both this year with our Botanical Interests seed stash we picked up in the Spring; the marigolds are already blooming nicely.  And this week, we have our first hot pepper almost ready for the picking!


Posted By: Jessica J. Crawford Behnkes Garden Blogger

by Marian Parsley, Behnke’s Annual Buyer

Gomphrena 'Pink Zazzle'

Gomphrena ‘Pink Zazzle’

There is a newgomphrena_pink-zazzle_3 fuzzy, funky Gomphrena on the block.  Gomphrena ‘Pink Zazzle’ has it all! This attention grabber has 3” bright pink blooms that range from pink to fuchsia and fade to a soft pink and eventually end up a creamy white as the flower ages. The plant has unique fuzzy foliage and stems and a well-branched mounding, trailing habit. It’s perfect for container plantings, individual pots or in the ground.  Heat and drought tolerant once established, plant them in full sun to part sun and watch them take off. One of the best attributes of ‘Pink Zazzle’ is that it can be planted in your butterfly or hummingbird garden or your cutting garden.  It blooms spring to fall and each jumbo-sized flower lasts for several weeks. It prefers bright light and moist soil. According to my research this plant may be brought indoors for the winter months in a sunny window. I purchased one of these plants this year for my garden and it has bloomed continuously since I brought it home.  Stop by and pick one up and see for yourself, you will be happy you did.

While you are here be sure to check out the other varieties of Gomphrena we offer. Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ and ‘Strawberry Fields’ are both perfect for landscapes.

Gomphrena 'Strawberry Fields'

Gomphrena ‘Strawberry Fields’



Strawberry Fields– Extraordinary strawberry red, clover-like, straw-textured blooms.  Lanky plants bloom continuously mid-summer to frost. Ideal for fresh or dried bouquets.  Great for containers or landscape plantings.




Gomphrena 'Fireworks'

Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’


‘Fireworks’ Exploding with color, this Gomphrena has hot pink blooms tipped with yellow. A real showstopper!!!  Unique ‘scaffolding’ habit. A must have for the cutting garden; cut flowers are long lasting fresh or dried in bouquets or arrangements. Excellent in mixed beds and containers.  Thrives in the heat and poor soil conditions. Grows 3-4” tall and about 1-2” wide.


Explore the World of Pansies

PansyFlickr Kazandrew2

Winter Blues got you down? Awaken your garden with bursts of color! Pansies, along with their smaller cousins Violas, make your hibernating garden come alive. Pansies are the perfect cool-season plant for containers, or tuck them in beds along with your spring bulbs. They come in nearly every color, including Blue, in case you just want to embrace your Winter Blues.

PansyFlickrFoonarIn addition to the wide color selection, and size of the flower, you also have the choice of having “faces” (contrasting color patterns) or clear colors on the petals. There’s a tradeoff between flower size and quantity of flowers. The Violas are small, but they make it up in volume, having perhaps five or ten flowers for each flower of the larger-flowered pansies.

Unlike most other flowering annuals, pansies thrive in the cool weather and die back in the summer heat. If you planted your Pansies in the fall they probably hunkered down to wait out the snow and ice of the winter, but will perk back up in the spring bigger and better than before. When they start growing again in late winter or spring, give them a “haircut” to remove the tall spindly winter growth and encourage lush, bushy plants.

When the temperature stabilizes, we recommend that you feed pansies with a fertilizer specifically designed for pansies and use on cold soil. Be sure to pinch off spent flowers to encourage more flowering and lush growth. If you did not plant in the fall, you can plant in late winter/spring, for color in containers or the garden until it’s warm enough for your summer plants.

Pansies prefer light conditions of full sun to partial shade, and will flower best in a nutrient-rich soil (that is, if you fertilize). Pansies hate to have their roots constantly wet, especially during the spring thaws, and they like to have plenty of organic matter in the soil to feed the blooms. If your soil stays soggy-wet, try growing your pansies in containers on your patio or porch. When in containers, they become a movable garden and may be moved from place to place, wherever that splash of color is needed.

pansyflickrlambjWhen the temperatures begin to soar, remove the pansies from the garden and freshen the garden up with Spring/Summer blooming Annuals that will take you from Spring to frost when it is time to plant pansies again. With so many choices, your garden need never be lonely or bare. Summer-blooming perennials tend to bloom for a long time, and you could also use them as the bones of the garden, with the pansies to give you needed color at the end of the season when the perennials go dormant for the winter.

pansy-yellowTo get the most out of Pansies and Violas: plant again in September to maximize the seasons. Pansies planted in the fall will provide you with two seasons of color, you will have plenty of blooms in the fall and then your little guys will slow down as the temperatures fall; but once the snow and cold temperatures are gone, you will be rewarded with yet another flush of color. There have been times when I have seen these cold tolerant little creatures push their heads out through the snow on warm winter day to say “hello.” Bright shining faces ready to welcome the coming of spring!

Posted By: Marian Parsley, Annuals Buyer/Manager


Now this ought be fun – the much-touted HGTV HOME Plant Selections are coming to Behnkes, and only to Behnkes in the Maryland suburbs of Washington.  In just its second season, the HGTV program is taking off, and local gardeners were happy to learn that that only independent garden centers will sell these plants.  Can’t get ’em at the Big Box stores!

I learned all this at the recent Spring Fair at our Beltsville location, where I met the local growers chosen by HGTV to provide garden centers in the region with their plants.  They’re Mike and September Dalton of Walnut Springs Nursery in nearly Howard County, shown center and left in the photo above, with Sarah Hayes, marketing manager for the HGTV Plant Collection.  Turns out the folks at Walnut Springs Nursery are old friends of the Behnke family.

Local growers like Mike and September aren’t just filling orders, though.  It’s their experiences growing prospective plants for the Collections in nearby Howard County that decides which ones will be sold around here.  It’s the growers’ choice because they know best, including which plants are unhappy here in the Humidity Belt.

If you check out the HGTV Plant website you’ll notice on the Know How! page  the wisdom of Maria Zampini, a Penn State-trained expert who grew up in the horticultural biz.  She updates that page weekly with her plant care and design tips.   Inspirations will have have gorgeous  photos to give us ideas and gotta-have-it motivation.


The Annuals Collection here on the website and it looks great!  But which of all those plants have the folks at Walnut Springs Nursery chosen for us?  I’m told (by the Beltsville annuals manager Marian Parsley) that they’ll be delivering “a nice assortment of their best-looking plants at the time of each scheduled delivery to our Beltsville store.”  In the meantime, I’m preparing my pots and waiting for the temperatures to rise and stay risen. (Assuming we actually have a spring and summer this year.   The snow yesterday  – on March 30! – seems to have sapped everyone’s patience.)

Posted by Susan Harris.

Top 10 Plants you Can’t Kill!

I can’t resist a “Top 10” list, including this one – the Top 10 Plants You Can’t Kill,  from Birds & Blooms Magazine.  I also can’t resist weighing in on their choices.  So here are the plants, with Birds and Blooms explanation of why they love each plant, and my own assessment of each plant.


1.     Coneflower.   “The coneflower is the low-maintenance star of nature-friendly gardens. It comes in many colors, and it’s easy to find one you – and the birds – will love.”

Absolutely!  As shown by the photo above from my garden, I’ve grown it, and it’s attracted the critters I want in my garden.  It’s native to, depending on the source, either our region or the Midwest.  Yes, there’s a big argument about its origins, and I tend to believe the experts who say it was brought east from the Plains by Lewis and Clark.

Now about the variety of colors it comes in, there ARE detractors, with many gardeners preferring the original, but apparently plenty of adventurous gardeners are trying the wild shapes and assortment of colors coming from breeders these days.

2.     Cosmos. “It’s easy to grow from seed. So for a couple of bucks, you’ll have a gorgeous show in a single season.”

B&B doesn’t mention it, but the foliage is also lovely.  And I’ve found it easy to grow from seed.
3.     Daylily.  “Some cultivars attract hummingbirds and butterflies. A plant that is best divided every three to five years, the daylily is perfect to share with friends.”

There’s no disputing the toughness of daylilies or their ability to withstand drought (thanks to thick bulbous roots).  I once left a delivery of daylilies sit on my back porch for a month before planting the poor things, but they survived this mistreatment just fine.

4.     Hens and Chicks.  “This low grower also works wonders in containers. Since it doesn’t have a deep root system, you can plant it somewhere fun. Try growing it in an old birdbath or shoe.”

Hens and Chicks, like all succulents, are the heroes of the hot, dry summer and my new favorite plant for containers, which typically require such frequent watering.  They DO need sun, though, and good drainage.  I grow them and have been surprised by how quickly they reproduce, giving me plenty of chicks to pass along to friends.


5.     Yarrow.  “This plant is heat- and drought-tolerant and can survive on benign neglect.”

They come in very pretty colors, but plant them where they’re supported by other plants because they can be floppers.

6.     Hosta.  The ultimate low-care shade plant, hosta comes in endless varieties and colors. It also can be easily divided-perfect for the budget-minded.”

This is another one that’s super-tough thanks to its thick and massive root structure that holds lots of moisture.  They’re easily divided with a cheap steak knife, my favorite tool for the job.  Remember that they’re loved by deer, though, and I had to abandon them in my former, deer-infested garden.  Now in my deer-free space I’m happily regrowing my old favorites and a few more.  I love the blues, the big bold yellow-and-greens, and some of the thin-leaved miniatures.

7.     Sedum.  “Hello, butterflies! If you want flying flowers in your yard, this plant is a slam dunk.”

Another succulent that’s super-drought-tolerant, Sedums may just be my favorite perennials, especially the low-growers that make great groundcovers.  Bees loooooove them.

8.     Zinnia. “You’ll save tons of money growing these from seed. Start seeds indoors, or sow outdoors about 1/4 inch deep after the threat of frost has passed.”

The magazine goes on to say there are new heat-, drought- and disease-resistant plants on the market, so that’s good news.   And I’ve noticed some terrific new colors that aren’t gold or orange, both colors that don’t go well with my other plants.  Now there are pinks, purples and whites, so I might just give Zinnias a try.

9.     Petunia. “Even if you forget to water for a few days – it happens to everyone – these plants keep going.”

Petunias have been super-popular since the introduction or the fabulous Wave types a few years back, and the introductions keep coming.  I just returned from a trade show where petunias were everywhere, with salesmen promising self-deadheading (dead blooms that fall off all by themselves), no legginess, and greater drought-tolerance.  As a fan of the Wave and other brands for years now (especially paired with sweet potato vine in pots), I’m eager to try the latest creations.  

10.  Yucca. “Both flowers and foliage come with this beauty. For a unique variety, look for the variegata cultivar. Its blue-green leaves with white edges are stunning.”

Yuccas are about as drought-tolerant as a plant can get – almost as desert-friendly as cacti.  I’ve never grown them but agree that the variegated ones are gorgeous, and make an excellent accent in the border.  If I had the space and enough sun, I’d give one a try.

Photo credits:  Cosmos,  hens and chicks,   Zinnia.  Text and remaining photos by Susan Harris.

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