Beet – Plant care guides

Beets come in a glistening array of colors, from garnet red to red-and-white striped to deep gold to creamy white, but the real hidden treasure is that the entire beet, from its robust and flavorful root to its buttery green top, is sweet and delicious.

About This Plant

Beets’ original ancestors were leafy plants, without bulbous roots, that grew in the moderate climates of the Mediterranean region. Like their cousin, Swiss chard, beet greens are packed with nutrition. However, it’s the roots for which beets are best known.

Site Selection

Select a site with full sun and well-drained soil. Prepare the garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost.

Planting Instructions

For sweet, tender beets grow the plants in cool, moist weather. In the north, plant beets throughout the spring and in mid- to late summer. Start planting 30 days before your last spring frost date and continue with successive plantings at 3- to 4-week intervals into July, depending on how hot your summer is. In the south, plant beets in the fall and early spring. Beet roots are ready to harvest in 45 to 65 days; greens can be harvested as soon as they are large enough to eat.

Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep (1 to 1 1/2 inches deep in hot weather), 1 inch apart. In dry climates, plant in a well-soaked, 6- to 8-inch-wide furrow about 3 inches deep. Cover seeds with 1/2 to 3/4- inches of soil. For greens only, sow seeds 1/2 inch apart in all directions.

Care

Thin seedlings to stand 1-1/2 to 2 inches apart 10 to 14 days after emergence. A month later thin plants to about 4 inches apart. Eat thinnings for greens. (No thinning is necessary if growing for greens only.) Contact your local county extension office for controls of common beet pests, such as leaf miners and leafhoppers.

Bee Balm Plant care guides

Bee balm flowers are brilliant additions to late-summer herb gardens and flower borders. Butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and other nectar-seeking creatures covet the tubular flowers on the plant’s rounded flower heads, and the leaves and flowers can also be made into tea. Other common names include horsemint, wild bergamot, and Oswego tea.

About This Plant

Bee balm flower colors include pink, red, and white; new double-flowered forms are also available. The plant blooms from early to late summer and grows 2 to 4 feet tall, depending on the variety. Some bee balm species tolerate wet soil and will thrive along a waterway or in a bog garden. Bee balm is susceptible to powdery mildew disease, so select resistant varieties. Under favorable growing conditions the plant can become invasive.

Special Features

• Easy care/low maintenance
• Multiplies readily
• Attracts hummingbirds
• Attracts butterflies
• Tolerates wet soil
• Site Selection

Select a site with full sun to light shade and rich, well-drained soil. Some species tolerate wet soils, while others are adaptable to a wide range of soil moisture levels.

Planting Instructions

Plant in spring or fall, spacing plants 1 to 2 feet apart. Prepare garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the plant’s container. Carefully remove the plant from its pot and place it in the hole so the top of the rootball is level with the soil surface. Carefully fill in around the rootball and firm the soil gently. Water thoroughly.

Care

Apply a thin layer of compost each spring, followed by a 2-inch layer of mulch to retain moisture and control weeds. Water plants during the summer if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week. Remove spent flowers to keep plants looking tidy. After the first killing frost, cut stems back to an inch or two above soil line. Divide plants in spring every few years or when you notice the center of the plant dying out.

Beautyberry – Plant care guides

Beautyberry is a deciduous shrub noted for its brightly colored, tightly clustered berries that remain on the bush into winter. Other common names are American beautyberry and American mulberry.

About This Plant

Fast-growing deciduous shrubs, beautyberries grow 4 to 8 feet tall and wide. Plant them in a natural woodland setting under tall shade trees or as an informal hedge along the perimeter of a property. Beautyberries have small, lavender-pink, lilac-like flowers in spring, followed by vivid purple or white berries in fall. The berries attract birds, as well as provide winter color. Although the berries are edible, they aren’t the most desired food of birds and often hang on the bush into late winter. The foliage turns an attractive yellow in fall.

Special Features

• Four-season interest
• Site Selection

Select a site with light shade and very well-drained soil.

Planting Instructions

Plant in spring or fall, spacing plants 4 to 6 feet apart. Dig a hole only as deep as the rootball and two to three times as wide. If your soil is in very poor condition, amend the soil you’ve removed from the hole with a small amount of compost. Otherwise don’t amend it at all. Carefully remove the plant from the container and set it in the hole. Fill the hole half full with soil, then water it well to settle the soil and eliminate air pockets. Let the water drain, then fill the remainder of hole with soil and water thoroughly.

Care

Beautyberries prefer at least an inch of rain (or equivalent watering) each week, although they can endure short periods of drought. Beautyberry generally doesn’t need pruning; the shrub has an open form, and branches naturally hang down when weighted with berries. Beautyberry generally has few pest problems.

Bearded-Iris – Plant care guides

With their swordlike leaves and showy flowers, bearded iris are an eye-catching addition to any garden. They’re easy to plant, require minimum care, and readily multiply. Dwarf varieties make attractive edging.

About This Plant

Bearded iris are available in a wide variety of flower colors, including pink, blue, red, yellow, and purple. They bloom in early summer, with some varieties reblooming later in the summer. They grow from 8 inches to 4 feet tall, depending on variety. The flowers are lovely in bouquets, and the foliage remains attractive even after flowers have faded. Unfortunately, the plants are susceptible to borers, so check the rhizomes (fleshy roots) yearly for holes, discarding any infested ones.

Special Features

• Easy care/low maintenance
• Multiplies readily
• Fragrant
• Good for cut flowers
• Site Selection

Select a site with full sun and well-drained soil.

Care

Apply a thin layer of compost around the base of plants each spring, leaving the rhizome (fleshy root) exposed. As flowers fade, cut back the flower stalks to the base of the plant. To encourage a second bloom on reblooming varieties, promptly remove faded flowers and maintain consistent watering throughout the summer. In autumn, trim away dead foliage and prune back healthy leaves to a height of 4 to 5 inches. Once the soil has frozen, apply a layer of mulch to help prevent roots from heaving out of the soil during alternate freezing and thawing. If heaving occurs, don’t try to force plants back into the soil. Instead, cover rhizomes and exposed roots with soil. Divide bearded iris every 4 to 5 years, preferably in late summer. Each division should have one or two leaf fans. Older rhizomes that have few white feeding roots should be discarded.

Planting Instructions

Plant bearded iris in mid summer to early fall, spacing plants 1 to 2 feet apart, depending on variety. Excellent soil drainage is a must. Prepare garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost. If planting a rhizome (fleshy root), dig a shallow hole 10 inches in diameter and 4 inches deep. Make a ridge of soil down the middle and place the rhizome on the ridge, spreading roots down both sides. Fill the hole with soil, and firm it gently. In clay soil, the top of the rhizome should be exposed. In sandy soil, rhizomes can be buried with a thin layer of soil. If planting container-grown plants, set the plant so the rhizome is at the soil surface. Water thoroughly.

Bean – Plant care guides

Easy-to-grow beans are a favorite of home gardeners. High in protein, they are a staple in many cuisines. There are thousands of varieties to choose from, many of which have colorful seeds, and colorful names: Jacob’s Cattle, Painted Pony, Vermont Appaloosa, for example.

About This Plant

All beans, except cool-weather fava beans, are sensitive to frost and cold soil temperatures. Plant your main crop when the soil is warm and all danger of frost is past. Rotate the location of your bean crops from year to year to discourage disease. Snap beans (sometimes called string beans, although plant breeders have developed varieties without the tough string) are eaten whole, pod and all, when seeds inside are undeveloped or very small. Shell beans are eaten fresh after they are removed from the pod. Dried beans are harvested when the pods dry out, and they require extended cooking.

Site Selection

Select a site with full sun and well-drained soil. Prepare the garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost.

Planting Instructions

Plant bush beans for an early harvest. Plant seeds 2 to 4 inches apart and 1 to 1-1/2 inches deep. Plant extra seeds, then thin plants to the spacing recommended on the seed packet. Pole (climbing) beans are slower to mature, but they have a longer harvest period. Set up trellises or tepees before planting. Plant seeds 2 to 4 inches apart and 1 to 1-1/2 inches deep.

Harvesting

Snap beans: Pods should be firm and crisp at harvest; the seeds inside should be undeveloped or very small. Hold stem with one hand and pod with the other to avoid pulling off branches that will produce later pickings. Pick all pods to keep plants productive.

Shell beans: Pick these varieties when the pods change color and the beans inside are fully formed but not dried out. Seeds should be plump, firm, and young. Quality declines if you leave them on the plant too long. They can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days before cooking if necessary.

Dried beans: Let the pods get as dry as possible in the garden. Before cold weather hits or when plants have turned brown and lost most of their leaves, pick all the dry pods (or pull the plants up if more drying time is needed) and store. When thoroughly dry, the pods will split readily, making seeds easy to remove. Store dry beans in tight-lidded jars or cans in a dry, cool place.

Care

Mulch bean plants to help retain moisture. Water plants during the summer if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week. Contact your local county extension office for controls of common bean pests, such as Mexican bean beetles and Japanese beetles.

Basil – Plant care guides

If you do any Italian cooking at all, you’ll want to include basil in the herb garden. Basil can’t be planted until after the last frost date, but in the heat of summer it will produce abundantly.

About This Plant

There are several types of basil to choose from. The most common is bush or sweet basil, a compact plant growing to 18 inches or so during the season. Purple basil adds a splendid burgundy color to the garden. It can be used like common basil, though it’s a little less sweet. The purple leaves create a beautiful color when steeped in white vinegar. Recently rediscovered by many cooks, lemon basil adds a lemony basil fragrance to both the garden and the kitchen. Thai basil adds a licorice flavor and tastes great in Asian cooking. Basil is a heat-loving annual herb.

Site Selection

• Plant in full sun in moist, well-drained soil.

Planting Instructions

Start seeds indoors six weeks before the last frost date or seed directly in the garden (about 1/4 inch deep) after the last frost date when soil is warm. Set transplants or thin seedlings to stand at least 10 to 12 inches apart; more room (16 to 24 inches apart) will encourage low, bushy plants to develop.

Care

Pinch off the center shoot of the basil plant after it has grown for 6 weeks to force side growth and prevent early flowering. If flower stalks do develop, cut them off. Mulch is recommended in hot areas since basil likes a steady moisture supply. Basil is generally pest-free. Early cold weather can ruin a maturing crop, so be sure to harvest if temperatures are expected to dip below 40 degrees F.

Harvesting

Basil is at its most pungent when fresh. The best time to harvest is just as the plant starts to bud, well before flowers bloom. Snip leaves or branches at this time and pinch off flower buds to keep the plant productive. You also can cut the entire plant about 6 to 8 inches above ground, leaving at least one node with two young shoots intact. The plant should produce a second but smaller harvest several weeks later.

Since the leaves lose some of their flavor when dried, freezing is the best method for winter storage. To quick-freeze basil, dry whole sprigs and pack them in plastic bags with the air pressed out. To dry basil, pinch off the leaves at the stem and dry them in a shady, well-ventilated area. Check in 3 or 4 days, and if they are not totally dry, finish drying in the oven, otherwise the leaves may turn brown or black. Use the lowest heat possible with the door slightly open, turn leaves for even drying, and check frequently.

Astilbe – Plant care guides

Astilbe produces an attractive mound of glossy, fernlike foliage topped with delicate plumes of colorful flowers. Another common name is false goat’s beard.

About This Plant

Astilbe does best in regions with cool, moist summers. The large plumes of frothy flowers arrive in late spring or early summer to brighten shade gardens. Flower colors include pink, red, lavender, and white. The plant grows between 6 inches and 5 feet tall, depending on the variety. Use in woodland gardens and along waterways with other shade-loving perennials, such as hostas and ferns.

Special Features

• Easy care/low maintenance Tolerates wet soil
• Site Selection

Select a site with light to full shade and moist, humus-rich soil. Astilbes may tolerate full sun as long as soil remains consistently moist.

Planting Instructions

Plant in spring or fall, spacing plants 1 to 3 feet apart, depending on the variety. Prepare the garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the pot the plant is in. Carefully remove the plant from its container and place it in the hole so the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface. Carefully fill in around the root ball and firm the soil gently. Water thoroughly. If planting bare-root plants, dig a hole twice as wide as your plants and 4 to 6 inches deep. Position the fibrous roots in the hole so that the crown is 1 to 2 inches below ground level. Cover with soil and press firmly.

Care

Apply a thin layer of compost each spring, followed by a 2-inch layer of mulch to retain moisture and control weeds. Water plants during the summer if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week. Astilbes multiply rapidly. Divide plants every 3 to 4 years as new growth begins in the spring, lifting plants and dividing them into clumps.

Aster – Plant care guides

Aster’s brilliant flowers brighten the fall garden when little else is blooming. Indeed, “aster,” the Latin word for “star,” aptly describes the starry flower heads. Another common name is Michaelmas daisy.

About This Plant

Aster thrives in areas with cool, moist summers. It produces blue, white, or pink flowers in the late summer or fall. Plant height ranges from 8 inches to 8 feet, depending on variety. Tall varieties make good back-of-the-border plants and are also attractive planted in naturalized meadows. Aster is susceptible to powdery mildew and rust diseases, so choose disease-resistant varieties.

• Special Features
• Attracts butterflies
• Site Selection

Select a site with full sun to light shade and well-drained soil.

Planting Instructions

Plant in spring, spacing plants 1 to 3 feet apart, depending on the variety. Prepare garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the pot the plant is in. Carefully remove the plant from its container and place it in the hole so the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface. Carefully fill in around the root ball and firm the soil gently. Water thoroughly.

Care

Apply a thin layer of compost each spring, followed by a 2-inch layer of mulch to retain moisture and control weeds. Pinch young shoots back to encourage bushiness. Water plants during the summer if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week. Stake tall varieties to keep them upright. After the first killing frost, cut stems back to an inch or two above soil line. Divide plants every three to four years as new growth begins in the spring, lifting plants and dividing them into clumps containing three to five shoots.

Asparagus – Plant care guides

A classic spring treat, asparagus is a perennial that will produce tender spears every spring for many years.

About This Plant

Asparagus is grown from 1-year-old plants or “crowns,” which are planted in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Asparagus plants take three growing seasons to reach full production, although light harvesting can begin in the second year. Once established, an asparagus planting will provide abundant harvests for fifteen to twenty-five years. Allow ten to twenty plants per person (15 to 30 feet of row).

Site Selection

Select a well-drained site in at least part sun; full sun is not necessary. Asparagus will thrive in slightly acid soil (pH of about 6.5), but will tolerate alkaline conditions up to 9.0.

Planting Instructions

Eliminate all weeds by repeated tilling. Loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost. Prepare the bed by digging trenches 4 feet apart. The trenches should be 12 inches wide and 6 to 12 inches deep. Soak the crowns briefly in lukewarm water before planting. Draw a hoe along each side of the prepared trench to form a mound in the center running the length of the trench. Set the crowns 18 inches apart on the mounds in the trench, draping the roots over the sides. Cover the crowns with a mix of one part compost to three parts topsoil, burying the crowns 2 inches deep. Water the bed thoroughly. After about a month, once shoots have appeared, carefully add more soil to the trench.

Care

First year: Weed the beds frequently, taking care not to disturb roots. Periodically add more topsoil/compost around the emerging shoots until the trench is filled. Then spread a 4- to 8-inch layer of mulch, such as hay or leaves, around the base of the plants. Water regularly. Do not harvest any spears the first year. Cut down dead foliage in late fall and side-dress with compost.

Second year: Cultivate lightly by hand until the new spears are several inches tall. Keep the bed thickly mulched. Side-dress with compost in the spring and early fall. Cut down dead ferns in late fall. You may harvest very lightly the second year.

Third year and beyond: Maintain as for the second year, and begin harvesting.

Harvesting

Plants started from crowns can be harvested lightly in the spring of the second year. Begin harvesting in earnest the third year. Harvest only those spears that are thicker than a pencil. Cut off the spears at or just above ground level when they are 6 to 8 inches tall.

Apricot – Plant care guides

Apricots are beautiful to look at and wonderful to eat, especially when harvested fresh off the tree. The trees can also be lovely centerpieces in a yard, with their abundant spring blossoms and attractive foliage.

About This Plant

Apricots can be a challenge to grow in cold regions because the trees bloom early and the flowers are often killed by late frosts. If you garden in the north, choose late-blooming varieties. Although most apricots are self-fertile, fruit set is better when planted with one or two other varieties nearby. Trees will start bearing in the third or fourth season. Expect 3 to 4 bushels of fruit from a standard-size tree, 1 to 2 from a dwarf variety.

Site Selection

Choose a site in full sun. Northern growers should put trees on the north side of a building so trees warm up as late as possible in the spring. Apricot trees do well in a wide range of well-drained soils.

Planting Instructions

Plant new trees in early spring; fall planting in mild areas can be successful if trees are dormant. Buy dormant, bare-root, 1-year-old trees, if possible.

Set bare-root trees atop a small mound of soil in the center of the planting hole, and spread the roots down and away without unduly bending them. Identify original planting depth by finding color change from dark to light as you move down the trunk towards the roots. If the tree is grafted, position the inside of the curve of the graft union away from the afternoon sun.

For container-grown trees, remove the plant from its pot and eliminate circling roots by laying the root ball on its side and cutting through the roots with shears. Don

Care

Where apricots are easily grown, train to an open center. For colder areas use a modified central leader. Prune bearing trees annually to encourage new fruiting spurs. When fruits are 1 inch in diameter, thin to 3 to 4 fruits per cluster to increase the size of remaining apricots and prevent over bearing one year, little the next. Apricots are subject to a number of different disease and insect pests, depending on region. Contact your cooperative extension office for information on managing pests in your area.

Harvesting

Harvesting peaks in July in mild areas and in August in colder ones. The picking season is short. Pick when fruits are fully colored and skin gives slightly when pressed.