Ants on peonies

We’re seeing ants again on peony buds again this year. It happens every spring. They show up as soon as the buds get some size to them. They’ll stick around all the way through flowering.

Ants and peonies just seem to go together.  Many long time gardeners believe you must encourage the ants because you can’t have good peony flowers without them.  We now know that is an old wives tale.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are gardeners who fret and worry about the ants so much that they try to destroy every ant on their peonies. They think the ants are hurting the peonies and inhibiting flowering. That belief is just as much an old wives tale.


You'll find ants on peonies all day, every day this time of year.
You’ll find ants on peonies all day, every day this time of year.

In fact, ants on peonies are pretty much neutral — neither good nor bad. They are there only to feed on the sugary surface coating that is secreted by the buds. And that causes no damage.

Peony ants are so well behaved they won’t even try to get into your house so there is no need to worry about that either.

Sometimes an ant or two will ride into the house on cut flower stems. To avoid that, cut the flowers just before they open and knock off any ants you find.

Gardening has enough challenges without having to worry about ants on peonies. So cross that one off your list.




The tuberoses have been blooming in the garden for a week or so.

When they first started blooming, I actually smelled them before I saw them, which is not surprising since tuberoses are one of the most fragrant flowers you can grow.  They produce so much fragrance that farmers plant fields of them that they sell to perfume makers. The sweet scent is most noticeable in the evening.

Tuberoses don’t tolerate cold temperatures so you have to wait until the soil warms up.  Because it took so long for the soil to get warm this season, I planted mine around the beginning of June.

They require very little care and don’t mind being neglected for a while.

These tuberose flowers measure about one and a half inches across.
These tuberose flowers measure about one and a half inches across.

The grassy-looking leaves on tuberoses are not particularly eye-catching so, you can’t count on the foliage to make a dramatic impact in the landscape. It’s all about the flowers and their aroma. They make excellent cut flowers too.

You can save tuberoses by digging the tubers up before frost. Keep them warm in storage –above 50 degrees F — and dry over winter.

By digging and saving your tuberoses each year, you can quickly build up a large number of tubers to use each year in your garden.


Remove seed stalks from spring flowering bulbs

Our daffodils, tulips and hyacinths are done blooming for the season. That doesn’t mean that we can forget about them. There’s still some work left to be done that will greatly improve our chances for flowers next year.

Right now the plants are beginning  to form seed pods at the end of the flower stalks — where the old flower is attached. This is normally what happens when the plants are left to fend for themselves.

Small pruning snips work great for removing seed stalks.
Small pruning snips work great for removing seed stalks.

The problem with seed pods is they take too much energy to grow and we don’t need seeds to grow tulips, hyacinths or daffodils. To conserve that wasted energy, we need to remove those flower stalks as soon as possible after the flowers have faded.

I try to cut the flower stalks as close to the base of the plant as I can being careful not to cut off the leaves. Plants need their leaves to produce energy for growth, reproduction and other plant functions.

Since I don’t plant as many bulbs now as I did in past years, this job for me is not as demanding as it used to be. This year I only have a few hundred stalks to cut.


Flowers attract hummingbirds

Bees and butterflies are fun to watch but, I think hummingbirds are the most fascinating visitors to a garden. No matter how many times you see them, they never fail to surprise and amaze.

Hummingbirds use a huge huge amount of energy in relation to their size.  Sugars found in flower nectar is source of this energy. Everyday they eat their body weight in nectar so they are constantly on the lookout for nectar-producing flowers.

You can encourage hummingbirds to visit your yard by planting the flowers they’re looking for.

They prefer red and orange tubular flowers but will feed on most brightly-colored flowers with nectar. There’s plenty of flowers that meet these requirements.

Hummingbirds like tubular flowers such as petunias and nicotiana.
Hummingbirds like tubular flowers such as petunias and nicotiana.

Here’s a partial list to consider: monarda, red salvia, agastache, honeysuckle vine, fushia, verbena, phlox, butterfly bush, daylily, trumpet creeper, cypress vine, coral bells, heirloom petunias, penstemnon, morning glory, bugle weed, red-hot poker, and many others.

Like people, hummingbirds also need protein and fats in their diet. They get those nutrients by eating gnats, mosquitoes and other small insects. So, having an area of wild plants — weeds — nearby will provide space for these small insects to grow.

Finally, hummingbirds need trees and shrubs to provide a place for them to nest and to escape from predators.

If you look around, you’ll probably see that most of the things hummingbirds need are already in your neighborhood.

Planting the right kind of flowers is the best way to get hummingbirds to hang out in your backyard.


Cool weather keeps spring-flowers bulbs blooming

Many gardeners have been enjoying the cool spring this year — especially those who spent days and days last fall planting spring-flowering bulbs.

In years past, I planted as many as 20 thousand tulips, daffodils, and hyacinth bulbs in one fall season. For many years I considered 10 thousand bulbs to be a light planting year. It took my helper and me several weeks to get those flower bulbs into the ground before winter arrived.

Then, I would wait until spring to see the results of all of that work. Most of the time spring progressed normally and the bulbs put on a show that lasted for weeks. Every once-in-a-while a week of summer-like weather would occur in early spring. All of the bulbs would shoot up out of the ground, bloom, and die-back all within about a week’s time. How disappointing those springs were — one week of spring-flowering for six weeks of hard work in the fall.

Cool spring temperatures keep bulbs flowering much longer.
Cool spring temperatures keep bulbs flowering much longer.


This year we’re having a nice, slow start to spring. Our bulbs are slowly opening and their flowers look like they will stay fresh for sometime.

Spring bulbs are the best reason to hope for a cool spring.


Saving your Easter Lily to plant in your landscape

Thousands of Easter Lilies are flowering in homes all around our area. Most of them get tossed out after they are done blooming.

A small percentage of people plan to keep their plant hoping to have it bloom next Easter. “That ain’t gonna happen”, as one famous pawnbroker on TV likes to say. There is an art and science to getting Easter Lilies to bloom exactly on Easter weekend. And that is way beyond the skill of nearly all gardeners.

You can however, save your lily and have it bloom in your garden next summer. All you need to do is keep it in good shape for the next six weeks or so.

The most common problem you are likely to see is water-logged roots. This happens when the foil pot wrapper is left on the pot. Since water has nowhere to drain, it collects in the foil and pot, drowning the roots. So, pour out any extra water from the foil wrapper or take off the wrapper completely.

After flowering, plant your Easter Lily outside.
After flowering, plant your Easter Lily outside.

Keep the plant in a cool, bright spot in your house so that the leaves can do their thing with photosynthesis.

In mid-May or after the last frost, plant the lily into a flower bed in full sun. Water and fertilize it along with the rest of your plants.

Then, next summer and each summer after that, your lily will bloom and become a permanent part of your landscape.



Saving Cannas

The cannas had a nice long growing season but the hard frost brought that to an abrupt end.  Now, a gardener has to make a decision – do you dig and store them, or let them freeze and buy new ones next year?

Since I have such a hard time throwing out plants, I always dig them and find room for them somewhere.

It’s easy enough to save them for planting next spring.  First cut the tops off, I like to leave a couple of inches of stem attached to the roots.  Then dig the rhizome clumps out with a garden fork.  Set them in a garage or some place away from freezing temperatures and let them dry.

Move the clumps — soil and all — to a spot where they won’t freeze.  They should keep until spring.  Some gardeners like to crate-up and pack cannas in dried peat moss.  That allows more efficient use of storage space, especially if you have a lot of rhizomes to deal with.

To save just a few Cannas, store them with the garden soil left on.

I usually let potted cannas stay right in their pots over winter.  It takes up more space but takes less time than removing them from the pot.

There are reality TV shows about hoarding things and animals;  do you think they’ll ever do one about hoarding plants?  Maybe the Michigan Film Office will be interested in that idea.



Saving Some Bugleweed

Not long ago I stopped by a neighbor’s house to see how her remodeling project was going; she’s putting the house up for sale.  She asked me about a row of plants growing on the north side of the house.  Her plan is to remove the flowerbed and plant the area into grass.

Years ago, a previous resident planted a row of Ajuga — sometimes called Bugleweed.  The foliage on these plants is a beautiful bronze color.  I’m not sure of the variety, it’s probably ‘Bronze Beauty’.

Ajuga multiplies by sending out runners (stolons).

The plants are doing quite well in the shady area.   Ajuga has a tendency to spread but these are behaving themselves and staying put in the garden bed.

Ajuga makes a great ground cover growing best in rich moist soil, which describes the growing conditions of this bed of Bugleweed.  They will adapt to drier and less fertile areas if they have to.

In mid-spring, blue flowers appear on Bronze Beauty.  Other varieties produce purple or white flowers.

The owner says these plants have to go.  Normally, I’d wait until spring to move them but, since I have no choice, I’ll have to dig them within the next few days.

With some snow cover this winter, they should over-winter just fine.




Bee Balm

While walking past a clump of Monarda the other day, I noticed the plants were humming with insects.  Even though the flowers were past peak blooming, all sorts of bees were buzzing around.

About half the blooms are left on this stand of Monarda and there are still plenty of bees visiting it.

I took a minute or so to look at the insects and counted at least a half dozen different species of the bee family. There were honeybees, paper wasps and some kind of bumblebee; those were easy to spot. Looking closer I could see other species of smaller bees that I was not able to identify.  It’s no wonder Monarda is called Bee Balm.  Butterflies and hummingbirds like Monarda too.

Bee Balm is a native plant that has found a place in the garden.  Normally, in the wild, it grows in damp areas.  In the garden, it grows fine in a flowerbed; you just need to give it a little extra water during dry spells. If you have a wet area that gives you problems, Monarda is a good solution.

Even though Monarda is a perennial, it is best to wait until spring before dividing and moving a clump to your garden. Fall planted Monarda will often winterkill.  I have grown it from seed; it is fairly easy to start and is a cheap way to get a lot of plants.

It grows to a height of three or four feet, has red, pink or purple flowers depending on the variety, and takes care of itself once it is established.

Monarda is also used as an herb.  In the herb garden, it is known by its other two names Bergamot and Oswego Tea.

Planting Monarda is an easy way to add color to your garden while helping our local honeybees and other pollinators.



The Lilacs have really been putting in a show this spring.  They started blooming quite a bit later because of the cool temperatures.  The flowers have been looking fresh longer too.

Lilacs have been flowering profusely this spring.

Some of the early varieties have started to fade, but the later varieties are still looking fine.  A big bouquet of Lilacs can really brighten up a room.  Also,  cutting flower stems is just about the best kind of pruning you can do for your Lilac bush.  Cut off as many stems as you need; you won’t hurt the plant.

Keep your flowers fresh by stripping off the leaves from the stem.  Also crush the base of the stems before placing them into water.  A pair of pliers works well for small stems; use a small hammer for larger stems.

It’s a very good idea to snip off all of the old flowers once your Lilac has finished blooming. Removing all the faded flowers will help stimulate the plant to produce even more flowers next year.  The old flowers never fall off, they end up forming brown panicles that makes the shrub look a bit messy.  So, that is another good reason to remove them.

Don’t worry if you are not able to get to snipping off the flowers, your Lilac will still do just fine without any attention.  That is another reason why Lilacs have been so popular since colonial times.

There is also a discussion on crushing Lilac stems here.