Troublemaker Plants

Growing Zone 5-8

Rebecca Finneran is a garden expert, and even she was seduced by the rose campion.
Finneran, a senior horticulture educator with the Michigan State University Extension, planted the perennial, known for its gray foliage and magenta blooms, in her home garden.

But it had a mind of its own.
“I loved that plant. And I suddenly realized that it was coming up down the hill in the woods from my garden,” she says. “And I would faithfully go down there and dig it up and bring it back. And then I looked out one day and, holy mackerel, there’s hundreds of them.”
While the rose campion isn’t technically classified as invasive in Michigan, it’s a plant that can quickly spread, popping up in unwanted places or pushing out other native species. It’s a reminder to gardeners to be responsible for what they plant, Finneran says. That means, for example, avoiding true invasives, monitoring energetic spreaders or non-disease-resistant varieties, and managing plants that can be water hogs or fire risks.
“I think gardeners need to better observe what their plants do,” she says.
So while it might be love at first sight at the garden center, research whatever you plant to make sure you aren’t introducing a problem like one of the varieties of bamboo that have proven to be invasive in the United States. One of Finneran’s most important garden tools is her phone, which she uses to research cultivars before she buys them to see if they are plants not to plant. What should you be on the lookout for? Here are four categories to help you know:

  1. Invasives
    For homeowners, super-spreaders like rose campion can be a pain, but invasives are a whole other level of headache. When plants like bush honeysuckle or Mexican petunia escape your garden and intrude on the natural landscape, they displace native species, threaten the ecosystem, affect fire patterns and even change the biochemistry of the soil, says Deah Lieurance, a member of the faculty at the University of Florida and chair of the Florida Invasive Species Council. Florida spends $45 million a year trying to clear conservation areas of invasive species, most of which have been introduced through horticulture, Lieurance says.
    How do you know if a plant is invasive? County extension agents and master gardener programs have information, and many states have invasive plant councils that assess risks, says Lieurance. Some states, like Massachusetts, maintain a list of banned plants.
    Last year, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture instituted a ban on nurseries and stores selling Bradford (or Callery) pear trees, loved by homeowners and builders for their fast growth and showy flowers. But the trees spread and crowd out other species, grow spurs that make walking through brush difficult, have long taproots that complicate removal and self-destruct after 15 or 20 years, says Theresa Culley, who heads the biological sciences department at the University of Cincinnati and works with Ohio’s Invasive Plants Council.
    Not all non-native plants are invasive: It’s OK to grow something that doesn’t grow naturally in your area as long as it doesn’t pose a threat, Culley says. But do the research to find out which ones are safe.
  2. Water hogs
    Depending on where you live or what drought conditions may be in effect, water may be scarce or expensive. It’s therefore strategic to look for plants that require little water or to group water-lovers like astilbe and ligularia in one area of your garden so heavy watering is limited to one spot, says Finneran, who writes about water-smart gardens for Michigan State. Here, too, it pays to research a plant to learn about its native habitat. For example, the red maple is popular with homeowners, but it’s also known as swamp maple, which says a lot about its water needs.
    “In my world, we’re constantly diagnosing plant problems that we create ourselves because we have one uniform irrigation practice,” Finneran says. “We’re irrigating the plants that hate to be irrigated along with the plants that love to be irrigated.”
    Also, consider where you place container plants. A container tomato will need more water if it sits in a heat-absorbing location like an exposed deck or a stone patio.
    Look for plants that fit your conditions and what you can manage, Finneran suggests. “It’s really hard for the beginning gardener because the beginning gardener looks at a magazine and they go, ‘Oh, I want that.’ You just can’t have it all. It’s like buying clothes that don’t fit you.”
  3. Disease spreaders
    Gardeners tend to design by shape or color, but Finneran advises that you factor in disease resistance or you risk having a weak cultivar that spreads a pathogen like powdery mildew throughout your flower bed.
    “One of my favorite plants is tall phlox,” she says. “They’re fragrant, they’re colorful, but oh my gosh, some of them are really resistant to powdery mildew, and some of them are terrible.” Her solution? Removing susceptible cultivars from her flower beds and replacing them with varieties that are disease resistant.
    “Keep in mind that the more disease you allow to be in the garden, the more disease you’ll have,” she says.
  4. Fire risks
    This winter’s Marshall fire near Boulder, Colorado, which destroyed over 1,000 homes, is a tragic reminder of the increased risk of wildfires, says Christopher Jones, who’s responsible for agriculture and natural resources extension programs at the University of Arizona. The latest strategy for fire safety is to prevent wildfire embers from igniting materials — including plants — around a house, he says.
    “Now they say no plants within zero to 5 feet of the structure, and we’re recommending that you use containers, things you can move out of the way in case of a fire,” he says.
    Jones offers presentations on how to be fire wise, and several western state extension services distribute an ember awareness checklist. While no plant species is totally fireproof, deciduous plants tend to be the most fire resistant because the leaves have a high moisture content, he says. That’s opposed to plants that have mechanisms to retain moisture — including conifers, junipers and pines, and arborvitae. “They have needles or scales so they can hold that moisture,” he says. “That’s done because of the oils and resins that are in those needles. The presence of [those oils] just allows them to really burn hot.”
    Aromatic plants are dangerous, Jones says, since it’s the oils that make them smell so good. Rosemary is one example. “Great, easy plant for us to grow around here,” Jones says, “but if it catches on fire, it’s going to burn very hot.”
    Even a fire-wise plant can become a problem if it isn’t kept trimmed and free of detritus. “You want to keep them well maintained rather than allowing a lot of dead material to build up around them,” Jones says.
    Fire risk is yet another reason to avoid invasive plants, Jones says. Buffel grass and red brome, for instance, are range grasses that were introduced into the West and have contributed to wildfires, he says.
    For more information on how to protect yourself and your property, check with your extension service or fire department

National Garden Club History

History and Mission of National Garden Clubs

  • National Garden Club
  • Florida Federation of Garden Clubs
  • Deep South Region
  • Deltona Garden Club

National Garden Clubs, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) organization that aims to promote the love of gardening, floral design, and civic and environmental responsibility and we help coordinate the interests and activities of state and local garden clubs in the U.S. and abroad.

The First Garden Club

The first garden club meeting in the United States took place in Athens, Georgia in 1891.  It occurred during a time when women were seeking knowledge about a variety of subjects in study clubs of those with like interests.  They felt they needed more knowledge, as they had not had the benefit of a formal higher education.  

The topic of gardening was a logical choice for women in Athens, as it was the site of the University of Georgia with its botanical garden.  This garden had a collection of thousands of rare plants.  With the failure of the botanical garden, many residents had an interest in exchanging plants among themselves. 

The idea to have a garden club came from Dr. Edwin Dorset Newton, an Athens physician who had a keen interest in horticulture. Twelve women met in the home of Mrs. Edwin King Lumpkin on a January day in 1891 to form the Ladies’ Garden Club of Athens. The primary purpose was to study plants with each member studying a particular variety. These members dedicated themselves to the study of horticulture and the exchange of plants and ideas for the betterment of their community. Members were encouraged “to carry out experiments with different vegetables, flowers, seeds and so forth to find out which varieties were best.” The first flower show grew from the exhibitions of their flowers and vegetables.

Garden Lingo

If you need a quick reference or intro to gardening terms, here’s a basic list.

ANNUALS

Varieties that complete their life cycle in one year or less, requiring sowing every year. Annual flower varieties often bloom profusely and over a long period of time.

BIENNIALS

Varieties, both flowers and vegetables, that complete their life cycle in two years, usually just showing only leaf growth the first year, and flowers the next.

BABY GREENS

Young, leafy vegetables or herbs that are harvested at 2″–4″ tall.

BOLTING

The condition of premature flowering in edible crops, often making the plant unpalatable.

BURPLESS CUCUMBERS

Cucumbers that do not produce, or produce very little of a chemical called cucurbitacin, which produces a slight bitter flavor mainly concentrated in the skin and causes minor indigestion in some people.

COLD CLIMATES

Botanical Interests defines cold climates as those that experience freezing temperatures; generally, USDA zones 9 and cooler.

COLD FRAME

A four-sided frame placed on the ground or in a garden bed that has a clear top. By design, it increases temperatures over the ambient temperature and is used for growing seedlings for transplant or for food crops, extending the harvest season.

COMPANION PLANTING

Planting different plants together that benefit one another. For example, sowing a plant that attracts pollinators next to a plant that requires pollination.

COMPOST

Organic matter often made from decomposed/broken down plant material. Compost can be used to replenish soil nutrients and introduce soil biology to a growing area or simply to reduce landfill waste.

COVER CROP

Fast growing plants, usually grains, legumes, or grasses that are utilized for one or more of their soil-enhancing qualities. These crops are usually worked into the soil or removed before they produce seed.

CROP

A plant that is cultivated for harvest, like cutting flowers or vegetables.

CULTIVARS

A species that was selected or bred by humans for a particular feature. Cultivars carry a specific name in addition to the scientific name and/or common name, e.g. ‘Brandywine’.

DAYS TO EMERGE

Number of days, on average, that it will take a seedling to emerge from the soil or medium in favorable conditions.

DAYS TO HARVEST

Number of days from sowing (or transplant) to harvest.

DEADHEADING

Cutting spent flowers off a plant, encouraging the plant to bloom again; extending the bloom period.

DETERMINATE

Describes tomatoes that stop growing when fruit begins forming from the topmost flower bud, making them more compact at around 3’–4′. Most of the crop ripens within a couple weeks time, making these a great choice for canning.

DIRECT SOW

Sow seeds directly in their permanent growing space.

DISEASE RESISTANCE

Exhibiting less susceptibility or an immunity against specific diseases as compared to other varieties.

DISEASE TOLERANCE

Better ability to thrive with the stress of infection as compared to other varieties.

DROUGHT TOLERANT

Ability to survive or thrive in low water conditions. Also known as “water-wise.”

ETIOLATION

Characterized by lanky, weak, pale plant growth, resulting from low or no-light conditions.

FAIRLY DROUGHT TOLERANT

Ability to survive or thrive in low water conditions, but to a lesser extent than “drought tolerant” plants.

FROST TOLERANT CROPS

Crops that tolerate some cool weather and even frost, although the amount of tolerance varies between crops and even varieties.

FROST SENSITIVE CROPS

Crops that are not frost tolerant and will die as a result of exposure to freezing temperatures.

FRUIT

A seed capsule that emerges from a flower, such as a tomato or melon.

FULL SUN

Six or more hours of sunlight.

GERMINATION

The moment when a seed begins to grow.

GMO

Stands for Genetically Modified Organism. Commonly means genetically engineered, indicating that the variety was manipulated at the gene level in a laboratory.

GYNOECIOUS

A plant with only pollen-accepting flowers. A pollinator plant with pollen-producing flowers is required for fruit production. These varieties are generally very productive and fast to mature.

HARDENING OFF

The 7 to 10-day process of acclimating plants started indoors to outdoor conditions.

HARDINESS

The degree to which a plant can withstand cold temperatures. Botanical Interests uses “hardiness” to also indicate the lifespan of a plant, e.g. annual, biennial, or perennial.

HEAT TOLERANCE

The ability to resist heat-triggered issues like poor pollination, bitterness, premature flowering, and lack of fruit-set.

HEIRLOOM

Botanical Interests considers open-pollinated varieties over 50 years old to be heirloom.

HYBRID

Modern F1 (filial 1) type hybrid. Two specific parent varieties are bred to achieve a first generation hybrid offspring. F1 hybrids are not open-pollinated. Traditionally, “hybrid” indicates any variety that had been made by cross-pollinating, even if that was completed by hand or an insect.

INDETERMINATE

Describes tomato varieties that continue to grow and produce tomatoes all season until first frost: therefore, you can find tomatoes at all stages on the plant at one time. Also called “pole” tomatoes because supports are helpful in guiding plants that can easily reach 6′ or more.

LATIN NAME/SCIENTIFIC NAME

The two or more part name that is unique to a specific species. Scientific names are consistent in any language, whereas a species may have several common names that may even vary by region.

MEDIUM

For horticultural purposes, a medium is the material plants grow in.

MICROGREEN

Young, leafy vegetables or herbs that are harvested just above the soil line when the plants have their first pair of leaves, called cotyledons, and possibly the just-developing true leaves.

MILD CLIMATES

Botanical Interests defines mild climates as those without freezing temperatures; generally, USDA zones 10 and warmer. By using microclimates and protections some cooler USDA zones can also use mild climate sowing instructions.

MONOECIOUS

The attribute of a plant producing both pollen-producing and pollen-receiving parts.

NATIVE

Botanical Interests identifies varieties that are native to the U.S. as “native”.

ORGANIC SEED

Describes seeds grown on certified organic property, following strict USDA guidelines regarding soil quality, pest and weed control, and the use of additives like fertilizers.

OPEN POLLINATED

Varieties that produce seeds that are “true”, growing into nearly identical plants as the plant they were harvested from (if they are not cross pollinated). Unless a Botanical Interest variety is identified as a hybrid, it is open pollinated.

PART SUN/PART SHADE

3 to 6 hours of sunlight.

PARTHENOCARPIC

The attribute of a variety producing fruit without fertilization. Cultivars produce seedless fruits when flowers are unpollinated, making them ideal for greenhouse production where pollinators may be excluded. When pollinated, these types produce seeded fruit.

PERENNIALS

Varieties that live for two or more years.

PHOTOPERIODISM/DAY LENGTH RESPONSE

Refers to a reaction some organisms have to the length of day or night. In plants this reaction is usually flowering.

POLLINATION

The fertilization of a flower by wind, insect, birds, etc. where the male pollen reaches the female stigma, resulting in a seed, sometimes surrounded by an edible fruit like a pepper.

POLLINATOR

An organism that transfers pollen.

ROW COVERS

Fabric that is used to either exclude pests or raise temperatures of the area beneath it. “Remay” is a type of poly-spun row cover material commonly used in farm and garden settings and it comes in several different thicknesses. Row covers may or may not have hoops under it to create a “low tunnel”.

SCARIFICATION

The process of breaking through a hard outer covering of a seed to allow moisture to penetrate.

SELF-SOW

To drop viable seeds to the ground. In some varieties, often annuals, if seeds are allowed to drop, those seeds will germinate, perpetuating the variety. The subsequent seedlings are often referred to as “volunteers”.

SEMI-DETERMINATE

Growth type of tomatoes that falls between determinate and indeterminate types. They produce a main crop that ripens within a couple weeks, but also continue to produce up until frost.

SPROUT

Germinated seeds that are not grown in medium but instead rinsed in water and drained several times a day.

STRATIFICATION

The process of subjecting seed to a moist and cold treatment to break dormancy, which occurs naturally when seed is sown outdoors in the fall and experiences a winter period.

SUCCESSIVE SOWING

Sowing at least once more after the initial sowing, which extends the harvest. Three ways to successive sow: 1. Staggering sowings of the same crop 2. Sowing two varieties of the same crop with different maturing dates 3. Replacing one finished crop with a different crop.

TENDER PERENNIAL

A perennial that is not cold hardy in all zones. For Botanical Interests purposes, perennials hardy in only USDA zones 7 and higher are called tender perennials.

THINNING

The act of reducing extra seedlings so that remaining plants are spaced properly.

TRANSPLANTING

Transferring a plant to a different growing space.

UNTREATED SEED

Seed that does not have a chemical treatment such as fungicide applied to it.

USDA HARDINESS ZONE

The historical, average, lowest winter temperature in specific geographic US areas. Perennials are rated using the USDA zone system, indicating the coldest temperature and USDA zone in which they can survive. “Deltona is in USDA ZONE 9b”

VARIETY

A species that has naturally formed a unique characteristic, for example from cabbage (Brassica oleracea) came kale (Brassica oleracea var. viridis) and kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea var. gongylodes) which both adapted unique, characteristics that differ from cabbage and so the variety (“var.”) name was added to the species name.

VERNALIZATION

A cold treatment, such as found in cold winter conditions, that induces flowering in some varieties.

VOLUNTEER

A plant that emerges from being self-sown or sown by an animal rather than by the gardener.

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