Plant of the Month: Asiatic Hybrid Lilies

Pink Asiatic Hybrid Lily

Pink Asiatic Hybrid Lily

In between early summer and high summer, among the best perennials to join June-blooming roses are the Asiatic hybrid lilies. Stately and strong, they provide a welcome linear accent in the garden. The multitude of colors and patterns makes it almost impossible not to find a suitable selection to enhance any color scheme or garden plan. Upward facing, outward facing or down facing, the petals are typically smooth-edged and may be recurved. For greatest visual impact, plant in groups of at least three.

Typical Asiatic hybrids are not fragrant, although the new Longiflorum-Asiatic Hybrids (LA Hybrids) are fragrant, because they are crosses with the Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum). Colors are limited due to the recent introduction. LAs bloom at the same time as Asiatic hybrids, but the foliage emerges earlier so they are not as suitable for areas that experience late frosts in the spring. The LAs are available from B&D Lilies in the United States and from Dutch growers in Europe.

Planting Asiatics

Reputable online bulb sources begin shipping in October, and the bulbs should be planted as soon as they arrive. Use similar timing of cool fall weather if purchasing bulbs locally. Plant at three times the depth of the bulb and 12″ (30 cm) apart. Lilies require moist but well-draining soil. Plant Asiatics in full sun to avoid leaning stems. Site them for plenty of air circulation to minimize problems with Botrytis Blight. The following season after planting, begin an annual fertilization program with a product specifically designed for bulbs, fertilizing one month before and one month after bloom.

Insect Pests

Lily leaf beetle larvae photo courtesy of Wisconsin Pest Bulletin

Lily leaf beetle larvae photo courtesy of Wisconsin Pest Bulletin

In Canada, on the East Coast, and increasingly in other parts of the U.S., the Red Lily Beetle can be a problem. Wisconsin reported its first infestation this month. The beetle overwinters in the soil and emerges in spring to eat leaves, stems and buds. Easily identified, the beetle is 1/4″-3/8″ (6-9 mm) long, with a solid red body and long antennae; however, it’s the larval stage at which pest management is most effective. The photo at right is provided for assistance in identifying the larvae.

Control the beetle using spray drenches of neem oil to the point of runoff so that the product drips onto the soil below the plant. This is most likely to be effective on early larvae rather than adults. Repeat every 5-7 days where larvae are evident. Adult beetles can be handpicked and may also be repelled by neem oil. Keep in mind that the beetle is active from April through September, so you’ll need to be vigilant all summer if the beetle is present.


The main fungal problem for Asiatics is Fusarium oxysporum wilt, a root rot that infests overly moist soil. An excellent article from the University of Illinois on Fusarium oxysporum appears here. If fusarium does enter the soil, lilies will need to be moved to a new, fusarium-free location or else the soil will need to be replaced. In 1994, the Journal of the American Society of Horticultural Science published findings of two Dutch researchers on those Asiatic Hybrid Lilies most resistant to fusarium. The full article (PDF) and disease ratings can be read here; the lower the number, the more fusarium-resistant the lily. Among the top performers were Connecticut King (dark yellow), Prominence (orange) and Yellow Blaze (speckled yellow).

Always purchase bulbs from a reputable source, such as B&D Lilies or John Scheeper, among others, in the U.S. These companies can answer your questions on disease resistance, suitability for your planting plans and their own performance experience with bulbs in the field.

Transplanting and Dividing 

At some point you may find that your lilies need more space or would look more attractive as part of an alternate grouping. Or maybe your lilies aren’t putting out as many blooms anymore. Whether transplanting or dividing, wait until cool fall weather after the lily leaves have turned yellow to begin your project.

Begin by cutting back the stems to 5″-6″ (13-15 cm) above the soil line. Place your spading fork 4″-6″ (10-15 cm) away from the outermost stem and dig down to 12″ (30 cm) below the soil line. Maintaining the same distances, fork around the plant in a circle until you can lift the plant out. Gently brush away all excess soil from the bulb. If transplanting, simply move the bulb(s) to your newly forked location, replanting at the appropriate depth and covering with soil.

If dividing, follow the same procedure as for transplanting, but divide the bulb into smaller clumps either by hand or with a sharp, sterile knife. Replant your divided bulbs using the same guidelines as planting fresh bulbs. If desired, use a light mulch to top dress the bulbs if soil tends to dry out rapidly.

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Review of Jack’s Classic Petunia FeED Fertilizer

Jack's Classic Petunia FeED

Jack’s Classic Petunia FeED

Earlier this summer, while replenishing my fertilizer supplies at a local nursery, I came upon Jack’s Classic Petunia FeED. Made by the reliable JR Peters Inc, long known for its excellent assortment of indoor plant fertilizers, the clever name suggests petunia nutrients including chelated (ED) iron (Fe). The full label informs you that not only does the product contain chelated iron, it also contains an assortment of micronutrients, including chelated manganese, zinc and copper. Chelated minerals are more expensive to produce, but they are more readily available to the plant.

The guaranteed analysis of macronutrients is 20-6-22 (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium). A 20% nitrogen number for flowering plants is unusually high:  nitrogen is what produces healthy green leaves. Potassium provides strong, healthy roots, and a 22% value is the highest I’ve ever seen for applying to annuals. The phosphorus, which encourages flowering, is on the low side, but by no means inadequate. The manufacturer claims that the low phosphorus keeps the plant fuller. The product description also touts the fertilizer’s particular usefulness for hanging baskets and containers that are watered often. There’s probably some merit in the second claim, since nitrogen flushes through soil rapidly.

Still, I was skeptical. All those micronutrients in the product suggest that petunias prefer acidic soil, whereas my experience growing petunias is that they are quite comfortable in a neutral to alkaline soil. In the end, I decided to give my petunias a treat and try the product.

Last year I grew Original Wave petunias in containers and was thrilled with their performance. This year, simply due to the color combination I wanted, I selected Easy Wave petunias. I’m finding there’s a larger difference between the two than I imagined. So far (third week in July), the Easy Waves have shown much thicker stems, breaking more easily in strong winds. They also don’t seem to be cascading as much. I did shear them back by a third two weeks ago, and now they’re finally beginning to trail over the pot rims.

When the plants were still small, I began applying the Petunia FeED at the rate of one tablespoon per gallon of water every ten days. The plants became full fairly quickly, and the leaves remained vivid green and healthy. During this time, we had a fair amount of rain so it was an excellent test for the product’s claims. Then, by the beginning of July, the plants began to look weedy and unkempt. It was at that time I decided to shear back the plants, stop using Petunia FeED and switch over to another Peters formula–ostensibly for African violets–of 12-36-14 to give more encouragement to the flowers. That approach seems to be working well.

Consequently, my recommendation for petunias when using this product would be as follows:  assuming you have your petunias planted by the third week in May, wait two weeks before applying fertilizer. Apply the Petunia FeED, wait seven days, apply more Petunia FeED, wait ten days then change over to a high phosphorus fertilizer. It’s also a good idea to have a low ratio, extended release fertilizer mixed into the container soil awaiting root growth.

Fortunately, given the high cost of Petunia FeED, it has other unexpectedly valuable uses. Due to its high nitrogen, low phosphorus content it is excellent for herbs. My basil plants are producing numerous deep green leaves without wanting to run to flower (thanks to the low phosphorus), and I’ve had several harvests so far.

Black Prince Heirloom Tomato

Black Prince Heirloom Tomato

The other application for which Petunia FeED is especially effective is on my tomato plant. Take a look at those perfect green tomato leaves in the photo to the right. I’ve never had such healthy looking tomato leaves. In addition to planting the tomato with a pair of Jobe’s Tomato Spikes, every three weeks I’ve been adding a gallon of water with Petunia FeED, since one of the secrets to growing tomatoes is producing strong leaves. It is leaves that manufacture food for a plant, after which the plant moves food to what are known as the “sinks”, or the heaviest food users–young new leaves, flowers and fruits. So the more productive the lower leaves in manufacturing food, the more productive the flowers and fruit.

In summary, I recommend Petunia FeED on a limited basis for trailing petunias and on a low maintenance basis for herbs, tomatoes and peppers. I could also envision using it as a quick pick-me-up for acid-loving perennials or small shrubs.

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Tomato Hornworm Parent?

Sphinx Moth

Sphinx Moth

Before you are able to appreciate that glamorous butterfly or majestic moth, there is a voracious caterpillar (larva) that needs copious amounts of food before it can molt into maturity. As a gardener, it’s important to be able to identify insect visitors to know whether to be on guard rather than simply admire.

A few days ago, this rather large sphinx moth was positioned on one of the deck posts right behind my trailing petunias. Being nocturnal, she decided to stay all day, so I had plenty of photographic opportunities, but no real macro photographic ability without disturbing her. Sometime after 9:00 p.m. that night she flew off.

After studying numerous photographs and references, I still can’t decide whether she is a Carolina Sphinx Moth (Manduca sexta) or a Wave Sphinx Moth (Ceratomia undulosa). There seems to be a wavy pattern in her design, but then many Carolina Sphinxes claim a similar distinction. Her proximity to the petunias suggests that she could well be a Carolina, which, like the White-Lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata) featured in a post last year, feeds on petunia nectar. Adult Wave Sphinxes tend not to feed at all.

Tomato Hornworm Photo Courtesy of Colorado State University Extension

Tomato Hornworm Photo Courtesy of Colorado State University Extension

Why is this important? Well, the Carolina Sphinx Moth is parent to the Tomato Hornworm, that large, knobby green caterpillar that can wreak havoc on a tomato plant. The Wave Sphinx caterpillar prefers lilac and ash leaves.

I don’t mind sacrificing some lilac leaves in a good cause; I have plenty to spare. All of this year’s growth has already occurred, and a healthy supply of nutrients has been stored up for next year. An attack on my ash tree is less welcome, given the continuing threat from the Emerald Ash Borer; but, again, the tree is looking surprisingly healthy after last year’s EAB treatment.

Where I draw the line is my tomato plant. I’m growing one lone heirloom tomato this year, and so far it’s doing beautifully; but it is my only tomato, and I’m not willing to share with a hungry caterpillar. Just to be safe, I’ll be monitoring the underside of leaves for pearly colored eggs and be ready to handpick any horny green caterpillars. Another few weeks of attention and I should be enjoying my first ripe tomato.

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Crab Tree Farm


Entry to Crab Tree Farm

Entry to Crab Tree Farm

Light years ago, when I was a young girl, I learned to play tennis just up the road from Crab Tree Farm. Gazing out the car window, on the way to my lessons, the farm had a storybook quality–like a Tasha Tudor illustration come to life.  So I was thrilled when The Garden Conservancy announced that one of the gardens available for viewing on Open Days this year was Crab Tree Farm. At last I would discover what lay beyond the roadside buildings and fields.

The day of the tour dawned bright and warm, with the unusual, but not uncommon, situation that the Lake Michigan shore was fog-bound. This happens typically in early summer when the substantially warmer land temperature confronts the still-cool-from-winter temperature of the lake water. Since Crab Tree is the last remaining Illinois farm located on Lake Michigan, the main living quarters, the forest glades and paths and some of the garden areas closest to the lake were shrouded in mist for visitor’s day. Rather than detracting from the experience, the heavily wooded acres near Lake Michigan assumed an ephemeral quality, almost becoming an enchanted forest, as you’ll see from the photos.

The farm is over 100 years old, and excellent historical information on Crab Tree exists elsewhere on the web (, so I won’t belabor the details here. The current farm structures date from the early 1900s; and animals still share the land:  geese, sheep and cattle graze in the meadows closest to the road. It’s all very bucolic.

Astrantia major

Astrantia major

An open field to the rear of the farmland was set aside for parking. It was also the demarcation point where sunny fields turned to shady forest and lawns. Very little of the property is devoted to traditional herbaceous gardens. There is a large potager, complete with clipped boxwood, and an outer border of Rosa rubrifoliaGeranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’Salvia ‘May Night’Heuchera, and a surprising, but welcome, planting of the old-fashioned pale pink Astrantia major. One of the previous owners installed a formal parterre rose garden at the front of the main house, taking advantage of a western exposure. There is also a separate walled garden that is mostly lawn, ferns and more clipped boxwood. Personally, I would have preferred to see the walled garden planted out in double herbaceous or mixed borders as a white garden to offset so much of the shady surroundings and to offer the opportunity for an evening garden.

There are also some especially fine individual plantings on the grounds. A large, graceful old Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulata) is situated on the southeast corner of the main house, and a lush climbing Hydrangea petiolaris scrambles up the side and over the roof of one of the entry garages.

Classic Carriage Lamp

Classic Carriage Lamp

In addition to the farm buildings and the living quarters, there are assorted distinct buildings on the property, several of which were brought in by the current owners. These include a reproduction hermitage and one of the original log cabins from the local area. The primary residence is a jewel, designed by noted architect David Adler. Notice the elegant, traditional shutters on all the buildings which appear to be painted in one of those sophisticated Farrow & Ball English blue-green colors. Additional attention to architectural detail can be seen in the correctly sized old carriage lamps throughout. Perhaps the most unusual building is the massive, classically designed indoor tennis court, with glass ceiling and live vines growing up the interior walls.

Mr. John Bryan and Guests

Mr. John Bryan and Guests

The owners, Neville and John Bryan, were on hand to graciously greet guests, provide useful historical information and shuttle lucky visitors in small, motorized vehicles around the extensive property. Although I was not fortunate enough to meet and speak with Mrs. Bryan, I was able to connect with Mr. John Bryan and his guests-in-transit during a conducted tour of the log cabin, all of whom kindly consented to be photographed for this blog. The Bryans are clearly dedicated stewards of this magnificent living piece of history.

The slide shows are grouped by content, such as buildings, paths and special features. They may be preceded by a few comments on noteworthy elements. Clicking on any of the individual photos will open each slideshow. (If any of the slides appears dark, try pressing the arrow button back then forward again to bring up the correct lighting or start the slideshow again from the darkened photo.) Enjoy.

I Farm Buildings, Caretaker Buildings and Animals

II Glades and Paths

Notice the stunning Angelica ssp Heracleum maximum on the path down to the beach. Water plants have been liberally planted on either side of the footbridge. Crossing the rope bridge was quite an experience.

III Separate Structures

These include caretaker buildings as well as follys. The mantel in the hermitage is from a 14th c. altar.

IV Gardens and Plants

The potager, the rose garden and the walled garden. Very effective use of borrowed scenery in the potager.

V Statues and Ornaments

Throughout the property, statuary and ornaments are used to enhance, delight, surprise, or direct a view. The charming lion’s head fountain is tucked into a corner of the walled garden.

VI Residence

Notice how effectively a simple corner planting in the gravel driveway softens the approach to the house.

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A Surprise Visitor

Spicebush Swallowtail

Spicebush Swallowtail

The earliest butterflies of the season are typically brown- or black-winged–such as the Mourning Cloak or Red Admiral–since their darker colors absorb sunlight, keeping them warm on those cool but sunny spring days. Although the Spicebush Swallowtail (Popilio troilus) is part of that dark colored group, its arrival during the last weekend of May was totally unexpected. My county doesn’t have the acidic soil necessary to support the Spicebush Swallowtail’s favorite host plants, Spicebush (Lindera bezoin) and the Sassafras tree (Sassafras albidum). She was probably blown in from a neighboring county. Continue reading

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Plant of the Month: Centaurea montana ‘Amethyst Dream’


Centaura montana ‘Amethyst Dream’

For northern gardeners, the spring garden relies heavily on flowering shrubs, bulbs and shade perennials. So it’s a joy to find an early blooming, sun-loving perennial. Centaurea montana ‘Amethyst Dream’  (Mountain Bluet or Perennial Bachelor’s Button) begins blooming at the same time as Allium ‘Globemaster’ and shares the allium’s striking amethyst color; but while the ‘Globemaster’  is comprised of a tight ball of starry florets, Centaurea ‘Amethyst Dream’ has an open, lacy appearance that perfectly offsets the allium’s roundness. Continue reading

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One Tough Rose

'Morden Snowbeauty' after the first winter

‘Morden Snowbeauty’ after the first winter

Both the rose and I are back after a brutal winter. Three days ago, we actually had two inches of new snow! Fortunately, the snow vanished within forty-eight hours, but snow in mid-April is indicative of the worst winter I can remember in the past thirty-five years.

This rose is the ‘Morden Snowbeauty’ I planted last June. In spite of its Zone 2 rating, I was apprehensive about its survival under mounds and mounds of snow with less than one year in the ground. Although it still looks a bit weedy, notice all those firm leaf buds ready to expand as the weather improves. As I mentioned in my articles on the Snowbeauty last year, own-root roses from mail-order sources look deceptively like twigs the first couple of years, but they catch up with potted roses by year three.

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