Tags Posts tagged with "Dahlias"


By Kyrnan Harvey

Successful perennial plantings present landscaping solutions that endure for a few years at a minimum: right plant, right place. Yarrows, peonies, echinaceas, catmint, sages and grasses of all kinds are dependable year-in, year-out, with no worries that the deer will compromise the peak of their performance with unpredictable browsing.

But what about annuals? What possibilities are there for long seasons of color that deliver a strong return on our efforts, and that the deer will dependably leave alone? Here’s a few that my wife and I have successfully grown in our East Setauket garden, which happens to be Grand Central Station for deer. These plants supply many weeks of color and character and carry the garden from July through October, and they too can be counted on as year-in, year-out solutions. These here all require plenty of sun, so if you haven’t got enough, maybe it’s time to call an arborist and remove some Norway maples, Ailanthus (tree of heaven) or black locust.

Snapdragons flower in early summer. They are charming in a vase and there are some great colors out there. They self-seed for us and occasionally overwinter. We like the taller ones; the deer don’t.

Nor do they touch cosmos or zinnias. The former are charming daisies, the embodiment of simplicity in the garden; the latter have the colors that remind me of vintage psychedelic rock posters. Buy them at the garden center or start seeds in April. We prefer the tall zinnia seed strain, Giant. Dead-head spent flowers, especially the zinnias.

We love lantana. Readily available, we have certain varieties in certain colors that we look out for. The Bandana series is upright and not trailing. They are actually perennial, woody shrubs, native in the tropics and thus not hardy. Vibrantly colored, heat and drought tolerant, aromatic, they attract hummingbirds and butterflies. 

We started years ago supplementing clients’ sunny beds with them, and we’d cut them back to about a foot in early November; dig them up and squeeze them into as small an azalea pot (broader than deep) as possible; water them in just once; leave them a day or two outside; and leave them alone to be dormant in a cold (but not freezing) garage or basement. We try to place them where there is a window, just a tiny bit of light, let them get good and dry, and water only every three or four weeks. We move them outside in May, they start growing, and by late May they are planted out again. They get larger from year to year, but we still pot them up, not without questioning our sanity, and are rewarded with lantanas a yard high and wide — a splendid filler after spring and early summer perennials are finished.

One might expect zaftig dahlias to be irresistible to deer, but astonishingly they are unmolested. My wife has become the in-house dahlia enthusiast at Bosky Garden Design, adding each year to her collection of favorites. And there are indeed so many gorgeous varieties. The best cut flowers, you can grow them just for that, or they are easily incorporated in mixed planting schemes, color combination possibilities are endless. We overwinter them, again in a cold basement, bare of soil, wrapped first in newspaper and placed in those 5-cent plastic bags with peat moss.

We love the shock of red of scarlet sage, if used wisely (i.e., segregated), but salvias of all kinds are avoided by deer. Salvia greggii is sold as an annual, but some varieties will be perennial given favorable conditions. This is a plant to look for; there is a wide range of colors, some hardier than others.

Cleome will self-seed prolifically, not until late May. Sparkler is a great seed strain that is tall and that repels deer for sure.

Last, and certainly not least, we have Verbena bonariensis, a short-lived perennial, technically, that succumbs to temperatures below 10 degrees but that self-seeds more abundantly than even cleome. For us it is a tall matrix plant that intermingles everywhere in the garden. Loved by butterflies, loathed by deer, it epitomizes and unifies the naturalistic planting style.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com.

All photos by Kyrnan Harvey

Calla lilies feature trumpet-shaped flowers in pink, red, yellow and white.

By Ellen Barcel

In general, from the gardener’s point of view, there are two types of bulbs (tubers, rhizomes, etc.) — those that are planted in fall and are perennials, tolerating or even needing cold weather to survive and thrive (tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, etc.) and those that are planted in the spring and usually are not hardy.

This second set needs to be lifted in the fall (or treated as an annual) since it won’t survive Long Island’s cold winters. And yes, there are some exceptions. For example, there are some hardy gladioli, but most glads are tender.

Generally, when planting glads, dahlias, etc., you will get beautiful flowers the first year if you buy quality bulbs since the bulbs are producing flowers based on what the grower did to them the previous year — how much water, fertilizer, pest control, etc.

If you are going to keep these tender bulbs going in future years, you must treat them well this growing season. This includes sufficient water, fertilizer and pest control. Then they will be ready to go dormant and be lifted in the fall and stored away for the following spring planting.

In general, the tender bulbs bloom in the summer. So, when you select them, know that you’ll have to wait a while for the flowers. Also, remember that although most gardeners plant these as bulbs/tubers they are flowering plants and in general (although not all the time) produce seeds from these flowers. And yes, in general, you can save the seeds and grow them next year with varying degrees of success.

Always follow package directions for planting bulbs, corms and tubers, but rules of thumb include:

• Orient bulbs so you plant them top up.

• Add compost to the soil.

• Water in the beginning and during times of drought but don’t overwater as some bulbs will rot in soggy soil.

• Add fertilizer if you plan to lift the bulbs in the fall and keep them growing in future years.

• Stake the plant if very tall.

• The depth of planting is determined by the size of the bulb — tiny bulbs go just under the soil level, bulbs as big as glads could be planted eight inches deep.

• Plant in a sunny location for best flowering (except caladium).

• Use mulch to help keep down weeds and hold moisture in the soil if you have very sandy soil.

Caladiums are a great addition to the often all-too-green shade garden.


Caladium is a tropical plant, also grown for its large, but extremely colorful leaves. Caladium do well in shade, making them an ideal plant to bring color into this area of your yard. A native of South America, there are currently over 1,000 named cultivars. They grow best in a soil pH of 6 to 6.5 and can reach a height of three feet tall in just one season.


Gladioli are in the iris family. Because of their unique shape, they are sometimes known as sword lilies. They bloom from the bottom up. To keep the plant looking tidy, remove spent flowers. Since these can be very tall plants, put them toward the back of the bed, with shorter plants in front of them. Glads make great cut flowers, blooming in general in August. Planting can be staggered so that you extend the blooming season. They come in virtually every color of the rainbow.


Dahlias are native to Mexico. They’re known for their colorful, showy flowers. The tuberous perennial is related to sunflowers, daisies, mums and zinnias. Dahlias range in height from dwarf to those tall enough to need staking. Flower shapes are varied as well from single and double to pompom, cactus and even orchid shaped. Dahlias are generally pest free, except, like hostas, they can attract slugs and snails. Be prepared to use whatever controls you are most comfortable with (I just pick then off at night). They grow best in a soil pH of slightly acidic to neutral, meaning you may need to add lime to your soil. The American Dahlia Society can be reached at www.dahlia.org; the Long Island Dahlia Society is at www.longislanddahlia.org.

Elephant ears

Elephant ears may be grown in pots if your garden is limited in size.

Elephant ears (Colocasia esculenta) can be grown in full sun but prefer light shade. They are enormous plants easily reaching five or six feet in height with enormous, heart-shaped leaves. I’ve seen a row of them used to block out road sights. They add a tropical look to any garden they inhabit. They are grown primarily for their enormous leaves, which come in a variety of shades of green and black (actually dark purple).


Calla lilies

Calla lilies are natives of South Africa. They bloom midsummer through frost. Like glads and dahlias, they do best in full sun to only light shade. And, despite their name, they are not lilies at all.

Peruvian daffodils

Peruvian daffodils (Hymenocallis festalis), also known as spider flowers, are a South American fragrant wildflower. It’s only hardy in zones 8 to 10, so like the others above either must be treated as an annual or lifted in the fall. A soil pH of mildly acidic, through neutral to mildly alkaline is ideal. Peruvian daffodils are not true daffodils but in the amaryllis family. Propagate them by offsets. Divide every five or so years, depending on what the bed looks like, in winter before new growth starts. If growing them in a container, bring it into an unheated garage in the fall.


Other summer flowering bulbs include cannas (with their enormous red flowers), tuberous begonias and crocosmia. Lilies and daylilies are hardy perennials in our area and can be planted whenever you find them in the nursery. More on them in the future.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.