Divas of December: Winter Blooming Plants

By the time December rolls around, many gardeners are already starting to feel a void now that their gardens have gone to sleep.  Luckily, there is a dazzling array of winter flowering plants that are available at this time of year – each guaranteed to wake up indoor landscapes and lift the spirits of any furloughed gardener.


From garden centers to big box stores to grocery stores — winter blooming plants seem to be everywhere in December.  But not all offerings are equal.  Since most winter flowers have been brought into bloom under tropical conditions closer to their native habitats, plants that didn’t receive the best of care along the way won’t last as long as those that were treated more protectively.

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A Summer-Long Punch of Color: Growing Annuals in the Garden

A bed of mixed annuals including tender perennials, summer bulbs, seed grown flowers and colorful grasses.

A bed of mixed annuals including tender perennials, summer bulbs, seed grown flowers and colorful grasses.

Annuals have certainly come a long way since the humble red geraniums and simple zinnias of the past.  These days, nurseries are overflowing with mounds of colorful and exotic flowers of every size and shape.

So whether you’re looking to create a lavish window box, add a little curb appeal to your front walk, or  just fill in a few gaps between your shrubs and perennials, an infusion of annuals may be just what your garden needs to get it from now to wow!

Technically, “annuals” are plants which complete their life cycles (grow, flower, set seed, and die) within one year or growing season. They include flowers, vegetables, herbs, ground covers, and vines. Plants labeled “tender perennials” are best treated as annuals in our hardiness zone, as they will likely not survive our winters and, therefore, will not return the next year as true perennials will.

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Ready, Set, Plant! Tips for getting your garden off to a great start

Stacks of lush spring plants are hard for just about any gardener to resist!  Before buying, don’t forget to read plant labels and make sure conditions in your garden and the plant’s cultural requirements are a match. (Photo by Joe Scarlata)

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Pest Alert: What You Need to Know About the Emerald Ash Borer

Emerald Ash Borer adult (Photo State of NJ Department of Agriculture)

The exotic emerald ash borer (EAB) has been killing ash trees across North America. Native to China, eastern Russia, Japan, and Korea, it was first discovered near Detroit in 2002 and has since spread to 25 states, including New Jersey.

Ash in New Jersey Facts

• Forests contain 24.7 million ash trees

• 24% of all forested land contains ash

• Ash is found in forests throughout the state, but concentrated in northern New Jersey

• Ash has been commonly planted as a street and landscape tree throughout the state Continue Reading →

Jumpstarting Spring: Starting Seeds Indoors

After enduring months of bleak outdoor landscapes, the long ramp up to spring can be tough on gardeners — leaving us itching to get our hands in the dirt and just plant something. Inhospitable as the outdoors may still be for tender plants, there is a tried and true antidote for gardeners’ particular brand of spring fever: sowing seeds indoors.

Annuals get a great head start on flowering when they begin life indoors. Pictured above are ‘Profusion’ zinnia, which are very easy to grow from seed–even for beginners.  (Photo by Elena Kyuchukova)

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Garden Wars:  Dealing with Deer


IMG_0681When it comes to garden pests, deer have long been Public Enemy No.1 here in central Jersey. Their unrelenting browsing disfigures trees, reduces shrubs to nubs, and obliterates our lovingly-tended beds and borders. With deer populations soaring and native habitats shrinking, deer have become a source of constant frustration for many gardeners.

So what’s a Garden State gardener to do about this gnawing problem? Continue Reading →

Falling into Place: Fall Tasks to Get Your Garden Ready for Winter


Photo by Betty Scarlatta

Another gardening season has come to a close, but there are still a few things left to do before it’s time to hang up your trugs and trowels till spring.  And while it may be tempting to just call it quits, getting around to some of these tasks now will make your gardening life easier in the spring –when your list of garden to-do’s will be even longer than it is at this time of year. So grab a sweatshirt, pull on your warm hat – -and get on out there! Continue Reading →

Bugs Rule: Insects you actually WANT in your garden

What better way to experience the wonder of bugs than to get out into nature and experience them for yourself?

What better way to discover the intriguing world of bugs than to head out there and experience them for yourself? (Photo by Betty Scarlata)

Now’s a great time to celebrate all the flying, hopping, swimming, creeping, crawling, and utterly fascinating insects that share our world…

What’s the buzz? If you are among those who think bugs are as at best annoyances and at worst things to be eradicated from your yard, you may be surprised to learn that insects of all sorts play a huge role in our world.  In fact, there are more types of insects on our planet than any other kind of animal!  And while a small percentage are considered harmful to humans or property, the vast majority of insects are highly beneficial to people, gardens and the environment at large. Continue Reading →

Turf war: Is your once-lush lawn looking a little “ruffed” up by the dog days of summer?

Some grass greening guidance to toughen your turf for the long haul…


Doggone it! Late summer heat and drought can be tough on turf. (Photo by Margaret Montplaisir)

As summer blazes toward its scorching conclusion, lawns tend to suffer under the twin stressors of high temperatures and either too much or too little rain. Common signs of heat and water stress are: brown patches, weeds, and an over-all brown and brittle appearance.

Wake me up when it’s over
Once temperatures get into the 80s and stay there, lawns can begin to struggle, and may even go dormant if they don’t get enough water.  Luckily, lawns usually wake up again once watering or rainfall resumes—unless there’s been a period of prolonged drought. Under those circumstances, it can take more than a single rainfall or a few passes with the sprinkler to bring grass out of dormancy and back to green. Continue Reading →

The Beauty of Bees: Why you should be glad your yard is always so full of bees

bee on dahlia

Photo by Maureen Amter

When working in your garden, do you ever stop to notice bees settling on your flowers? Totally absorbed in the activity, they light atop flowers and vegetables alike. Reaching into the nectar area of each blossom, they emerge with colorful yellow pollen grains attached to their fuzzy hind legs.

Small as they may seem, bees are a “keystone species,” and have a big impact in the natural order of things, with lots of other animal species depending on them for life. Continue Reading →