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Long Island Gardening

By Ellen Barcel

Dear readers, Ellen Barcel passed away on Sunday, July 16. She was 72. A wonderful teacher, writer, mentor, gardener and friend, Ellen was an integral part of TBR News Media’s family and will be missed terribly. This is her last gardening column.

Garlic, Allium sativum, is in the onion genus, Allium, and is related to chives, leeks and shallots. It has been consumed for several thousand years and is a native of the area from around the Mediterranean Sea all the way to China.

Garlic’s edible blossoms, which are white or pink,
are milder than the bulb and are delicious in salads. Stock photo

Garlic is generally planted in autumn, about six to eight weeks before the expected hard frost date. Note that the average first frost is early November in Suffolk County, meaning that in general you will plant your garlic in mid to late September. Garlic is then harvested in late spring or early summer. Burpee notes that once harvested, garlic, in general, keeps for up to 10 months.

There are a number of varieties of garlic that can be grown by the home gardener. For example, Spanish Benitee is known to be mild, with long storage ability, while Killarney Red, with its strong nutty flavor grows well in wet conditions. Elephant garlic has a milder flavor with enormous bulbs that can each weigh up to a pound. Burpee’s Best Spring are suited to spring planting while Early Italian is adapted to summer heat. Italian Late matures later than other varieties and is a long keeper. It makes sense, as you do with tomatoes, to plant a number of varieties, at least initially, until you decide which flavors and other qualities you like best.

Although garlic is a flowering plant (and yes you can eat the flowers), the easiest way to grow garlic is from bulblets, but seeds are available. The flower stalks are known as scapes. To send the energy of the plant into the bulb, the part you will be eating, cut off these scapes, usually in June.

In selecting the type of garlic to plant, you may notice the terms softneck and hardneck. Softneck garlic grows best in areas with mild winters while hardneck varieties are better adapted to cold winters. Garlic doesn’t like to compete with weeds, so weeding is one regular chore you need to complete.

Garlic can be grown in most soil types but does like plenty of organic matter, so add compost and/or manure to the soil. While you do not want to overwater your garlic plants, remember that much of Long Island’s soil is very sandy and garlic does like evenly moist soil. You may need to supplement rainfall in times of summer drought.

Garlic also does best in a near neutral soil pH (7). So, test your soil, and if like most Long Island gardeners, it’s very acidic, you need to sweeten it with lime. If you are just establishing a garlic bed, look for lime that works quickly (read the package directions) as some limes can take many months to break down and be usable by plants.

Harvest your garlic when about a third of the leaves have gone brown. Once harvested, you need to cure your garlic. Lay it out in a warm, dry (but shady) place for several weeks, then store it ideally at 50 to 60 F. How long your garlic will keep depends on the variety, anywhere from four to 10 months.

The 14th annual Long Island Garlic Festival is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 16 and 17 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Garden of Eve Organic Farm, 4558 Sound Avenue, Riverhead. Held rain or shine. Expect garlic food, live music, demonstrations, workshops, Iron Chef garlic competition, garlic eating contest, vendors and more. Admission is $5 per person; children under 6 are free. For further information, go to www.gardenofevefarm.com, or call 631-722-8777.

Rose of Sharon should be pruned in late summer after it has bloomed. Stock photo

By Ellen Barcel

One of the chores necessary for the gardener is to do some pruning. While this chore is usually done in early spring, light pruning and the removal of dead wood can be done anytime. Pruning is not one of my favorite gardening jobs but can be needed. In general, put the right type of plant in the right place to start with as you plan new plantings. That way you won’t spend an inordinate amount of time keeping plants small that really want to be large.

To minimize pruning:

• If you know that the shrub is going to reach 10 feet tall at maturity, don’t plant it in front of a window — unless, of course, you don’t want to see out of the window. Plant slow-growing, dwarf plants in that situation.

• Don’t plant evergreen trees right up against the house, or any trees for that matter. They’ll grow up against the house, making for an unsightly shaped tree and you’ll spend a lot of time pruning them to keep them from taking over. Also, they’ll allow critters of all sorts to climb up them and damage your roof (yes, I know from experience). They’ll shade the house so much that the roof won’t dry out properly after a rainstorm. Large trees should be planted at the back of your property and smaller specimen trees toward the front for the best appearance.

• If you hate pruning — what gardener doesn’t — select plants that need minimal pruning such as conifers. Usually the gardener just needs to remove any dead branches (rare), really weirdly growing branches or multiple leaders in pyramidal shaped trees.

• Always research the specific plant you want to add to your garden so you know exactly what will happen with that plant in the future.

Some rules of thumb for pruning:

• Prune out any dead branches as soon as possible, especially ones that are creating a hazardous situation.

• To control the height of flowering plants, prune them back immediately after they have bloomed. In this way you won’t interrupt the flowering cycle for next year. That means don’t prune forsythia until right after it has put out its yellow flowers in April. Prune rose of Sharon later in the summer after it has bloomed. Don’t prune Hydrangea macrophylla (blue and pink flowering shrubs) until after it has bloomed since it blooms on old (last year’s) wood. Hydrangea arborescens (snowballs), however, benefit from cutting back in early spring since they bloom on new wood.

• Never take off more than one third of the growing area of a shrub (or blades of grass). Taking more can seriously compromise the health of the plant, even killing it. While some shrubs, like euonymous, or trees, like catalpa, will grow from the roots, many others will not if cut back too far.

• Always keep an eye to the overall shape of a plant. For example, if a plant has a pyramidal shape, you want to maintain that. If there are stray branches which stick out beyond the pyramidal shape or double leaders, trim them, remembering conifers generally do not resprout the way broadleaf plants do.

• Always research the specific plants you’re pruning to make sure you do it correctly. Sometimes a plant just doesn’t conform to the norm. For safety: If you have some really large branches broken off a big tree due to winter wind and storms, have a professional, an arborist, come in and deal with them. You don’t need a trip to the ER. Professionals know how to do major pruning safely.

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.

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.

A Christmas cactus blooms best when slightly root bound. Stock photo

By Ellen Barcel

With the need to complete outdoor chores and the excitement of a new gardening season, many people may be neglecting the houseplants that served them so well during the winter months. Even though some of these plants may look worse for wear, summer can be the ideal time to bring them back to their full potential. Here are some ideas for rejuvenating your houseplants.

Repotting plants into the next largest pot is always a possibility if the plant has outgrown its home. To check, slip your plant out of its pot, and if all you see are roots — no soil — the plant is definitely root bound. But be careful here, however. Progressively larger pots can easily outgrow the gardener’s ability to move them. Yes, I know from past experience.

Few houseplants are as eager to climb as a heartleaf philodendron, one of the easiest houseplants to grow. Stock photo

Many large plants, like the asparagus fern, can be divided to make a number of smaller ones instead. Sterilize a gardening knife and cut through the plant’s root system to divide it into several smaller plants. Always use a good quality and suitable potting soil for their new homes.

Another way of keeping your beautiful but large houseplant in check is by root pruning. We usually think of root pruning as something that is done to help create bonsai, the miniature ornamental Japanese trees and shrubs, but it can be done to houseplants to keep them from growing too large. Don’t be surprised if it takes a growing season for the plant to really flourish again.

Note that some houseplants do best by being slightly root bound. For example, African violets don’t really like to be transplanted. This is true of a number of plants. Another reason is that some bloom well only under slight stress. Plants that do better slightly root bound include peace lilies, spider plants, and Christmas cactus. Check out each plant in a good plant encyclopedia before tackling it.

If you’re tired of wrapping your indoor vines round and round the pot, they can easily be cut way back. You can then take the cuttings and root some in the same pot, making the plant nice and bushy. Extra cuttings can be rooted in other pots, shared with friends and relatives and even given as hostess gifts.

Plants in this category include philodendron, pothos (looks like philodendron but variegated), Swedish ivy and wandering Jew. They can also be rooted in a vase of water. Prune them back before new growth has emerged in late winter or early spring. The baby “spiders” from a spider plant can also be used to fill out the mother plant or used to start new plants.

Cactus are another popular houseplant. One of the things that easily happens to cacti is that pieces of the plant break off. These can easily be rooted again in the same pot to make a bushier plant or in separate pots. One of my most cherished retirement gifts is a Christmas cactus, rooted from a co-worker’s original plant. It’s rewarded me each year with beautiful flowers, reminding me of her thoughtfulness.

While watering your houseplants is a must over the winter (possibly in a more limited way), don’t start fertilizing until you see new growth.

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

The scarlet runner bean plant, which grows well in clay soil, produces red flowers that are ornamental as well as edible.

By Ellen Barcel

Long Island is primarily a large sandbar — something that gardeners have had to deal with by adding topsoil, compost, etc. But, what if you are one of the minority who has some clay soil? There are basically two things you need to do. One is to amend the soil for optimum plant grown. The other is to select plants that do well in heavy clay soil.

Amending clay soil

Many people assume that the best way to improve clay soil is to add sand to it. Wrong! Think about what bricks are made of — yes, clay and sand. The best way to amend clay soil is to add organic matter, like lots of compost, to it. Compost helps aerate clay soil and encourages it to drain. You can also add aged manure or straw.

Along this same line, when you mulch, use organic material since it will break down into compost. A gardening friend of mine also mentioned that clay soil is very heavy and can be very difficult to dig into. Because you need strength, you may need help.

Test the soil pH and see if it is compatible with the plants you wish to grow in that area. If it’s too acidic, then add lime. Remember that once you start changing the pH (either making it more or less acidic), it is something you must do on an annual basis.

Old-fashioned Hydrangea macrophylla will be blue in acidic soil and more purple or pink as the soil becomes more alkaline. People who buy these older pink hydrangeas and don’t add lime to their soil periodically will wind up with blue hydrangeas in a few years as the plants react to the more acidic soil.

Selecting plants

When selecting plants for clay soil, remember that you must also take into account the usual considerations: How much sunlight does the area receive? Does the area flood periodically? Does the area not drain well at all? Does the area receive a lot of salt spray? Are the plants in the area exposed to air pollution as can be found along busy roadways?

Rule of thumb — if, when you are researching plants, the source notes that those particular plants like well-drained soil, they probably will not do well in clay soil. Another observation when selecting plants: If you want plants that don’t do well in clay soil, consider planting them in containers that you fill with a good-quality potting soil.

The following are plants to consider for clay soil:

Shrubs: weigela, forsythia (blooms in early spring), flowering quince (slow growing, blooms in spring), roses (sun loving), hydrangeas (partial shade, water loving so do well if the location is slow to drain).

Veggies: shallow rooted such as lettuce, snap beans, broccoli, cabbage and scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus), which are raised primarily for their abundance of red flowers.

Annuals and herbaceous perennials: asters, black-eyed Susans, daylilies, cannas (tender bulls, plant in spring), coreopsis (deer resistant), purple coneflowers (deer resistant), perennial geraniums (deer resistant), bee balm, a.k.a monarda (attractive to butterflies), irises (plant in fall), hostas (shade loving, come in a wide variety of sizes from tiny for rock gardens to enormous and colors from green to yellow and blue leaves), ferns (ideal for shade gardens).

Grasses: Miscanthus — ornamental grasses such as fountain grass, silver grass, pampas grass, etc. Ornamental grasses do best in a sunny location.

Trees: eastern pin oak (oaks do very well on Long Island with its acidic soil), ginkgo (“fossil” tree, known to be pollution resistant, plant male trees unless you want the fruit).

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

The ‘Stella d’Oro’ daylily blooms all summer and into the fall. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

This is the final article in a three-part series.

In the past two weeks, we’ve taken a look at plants with the word “lily” in their name that aren’t true lilies and then true lilies. Now, what about daylilies?

The daylily is in the genus Hemerocallis. The flowers of some daylilies are edible and are used in Asian cooking. Hemerocallis are perennials and are grown for their gorgeous flowers, which resemble true lilies. Since, for the most part, the flower opens at sunrise and only lasts until sunset, to be replaced by another the next day, they are commonly called daylilies. In fact, the term Hemerocallis translates as “beauty for a day” from the Greek.

Daylily blooms generally last just a day. You can see the spent flowers above, along with today’s blooms and buds waiting to open.

Daylilies come in a wide variety of colors. There are bi-colors (like ‘Moussaka’ with its white and maroon flowers) and ruffled flowers (like ‘Bestseller’ with its lavender and yellow-green, frilled petals). ‘French Lingerie’ has lavender-pink petals edged in gold.

The American Hemerocallis Society was formed for the perpetuation and study of daylilies. According to the society, Hemerocallis are extremely popular because of their wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors, their drought tolerance and pest and disease resistance. There are varieties that bloom from late spring until autumn and are suited to a wide range of climates.

They are natives of Asia and, as with Easter lilies, were brought to the west around the 1930s. Since then hybridizers have worked to improve them, resulting in the large variety of colors, petal shapes and sizes. Hardiness varies depending on variety with some being extremely hardy and others quite tender. Always check the tag that comes with your plant.

There are literally thousands of daylily cultivars. I’ve read over 80,000 but can’t confirm this number. Daylilies, as their name implies, produce flowers that just last a day but will continue producing flowers for a number of weeks. Since there are so many cultivars, it would be impossible in this column to go into detail about even a few of them, but several come to mind since they are so popular.

Tiger lilies

Tiger lily (Hemerocallis fulvas) one of several lilies known collectively as tiger lilies. It is native to North America. Tiger lilies can be found growing along the roadside, hence the nickname “Ditch Lily,” as well as in cultivated gardens. They do well in moist soil, which explains why they grow well in ditches where water tends to collect. They are hardy from zones 3 through 9. Like Easter lilies, keep tiger lilies away from cats since it can cause a variety of symptoms including kidney failure.

‘Stella d’Oro’ is a compact rebloomer, comes in shades of yellow-gold and forms dense clumps, so dense that it can be used as a ground cover. They bloom practically all summer and into the fall.

H. ‘Purple d’Oro’ is a dwarf reblooming daylily that looks great planted in clusters as ‘Stella d’Oro.’ It blooms in late spring to late summer and does well in sun and part shade. It comes in shades of dark purple and yellow.

Remember, the easiest way to tell lilies from daylilies is to look at the leaves. True lilies have leaves and flowers on the same stems and the flowers last for many days. Daylilies have flowers on a separate stem and last just a single day. Daylilies, unlike true lilies, have long, slender, fibrous roots and no true bulb. Since daylilies last just for a day, they are usually not used in floral arrangements.

For further information on daylilies, go to The American Hemerocallis Society at www.daylilies.org or lidaylily.org.

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

Under ideal conditions, Asiatic lilies can grow to about six feet tall.

By Ellen Barcel

This is the second article in a three-part series.

Last week we looked at a number of plants that have the word “lily” in their names but aren’t true lilies. Now, let’s take a look at true lilies.

What botanically is a lily? According to the North American Lily Society (www.lilies.org), “The bulb is the most distinguishing characteristic. It is composed of fleshy scales without a protective outer coating. A true lily is never dormant … it must be considered and treated as a living perennial plant. … Lily flowers, though completely varied in size, shape and color, always have six tepals and six anthers.” The society also comments on the fact that lilies are very fragrant flowers and have leaves on the same stem as the flowers.

Note how the lily buds are on top of the stems filled with leaves. Photo by Ellen Barcel

There are over 100 species in the genius Lilium. Check the variety you are considering because the cultural requirements are not necessarily the same across the board. In general, lily bulbs are planted in fall since they need a cold winter to thrive. Like daffodils, if they are planted in the deep south, they need to be refrigerated first before planting.

Lilies need a fair amount of sunshine to thrive and do best in a moist but well-drained soil. They do well in an acidic soil, down as low as a pH of 5.5 but do tolerate a higher pH. Remove spent flowers but take no more than one-third of the stem since it’s filled with the leaves, which are helping the plant grow.

Always check the package tag, but in general, lilies need to be planted deeply as they grow very tall. Since once planted, lilies will return year after year, you need to periodically apply fertilizer. I prefer natural fertilizers like compost, compost tea or fish emulsion, but the choice is yours. With Long Island’s generally sandy soil, make sure you add compost when planting them.

Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum) is a scented native of the Ryukyu Islands. The white Easter lily is sold throughout the United States, usually for the holiday. Easter lilies are hardy in zones 7 to 9. As a result, you may find that your holiday plant will not survive in your garden if there is an unusually cold winter or if you have not heavily mulched the bed where they are growing over winter. Be careful with Easter lilies as they are toxic to cats.

Lilies come in a variety of colors including red, yellow, white, pink and orange. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Tiger lily (L. lancefolium also known as L. tigrinum) is one of several lilies known collectively as tiger lilies and are natives of Asia, known for their showy orange flowers. Bulblets can form along the stem at the leaf axis and can be used to propagate these plants.

Asiatic lilies (L. asiatica) tend to bloom earlier than Oriental lilies. They come in many colors and sizes ranging from just about a foot tall to about six feet tall.

Oriental lilies (L. oriental) bloom in mid to late summer and can grow quite tall, some almost eight feet tall. Flowers tend to be white, pink, red or bicolored.

Dwarf Oriental lilies are as their name implies quite small, some that can easily be grown in containers. They are hardy in zones 5 through 9, so yes, you can comfortably grow them on Long Island.

Next week we’ll take a look at daylilies.

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

Water lilies are not true lilies.

By Ellen Barcel

This is the first article in a three-part series.

There are many plants in the garden with the word “lily” in their name. But, all are not true lilies (genus Lilium). There’s calla lily, plantain lily and toad lily to name just a few as well as mountain lilies (Ixiolirion tatarcum).

But, why should the gardener be interested in what is a lily and what is not? Why do we care what botanists think? Well, for one thing, many plants that are not true lilies have different garden requirements.

Hostas, though sometimes referred to as plantain lilies, are not true lilies. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Take, for example, the plantain lily — the hosta — which prefers shade or only filtered sun. Lily of the valley too prefers shade. That’s very different from the calla lily, which requires a fair amount of sun. In addition, calla lilies are generally hardy from zone 8 to 10 or 11. Long Island is zone 7; so calla lily bulbs need to be lifted and stored over winter in our area or treated as annuals. You don’t need to lift hostas or lilies of the valley each fall since they are herbaceous perennials and hardy on Long Island.

Then there’s the question of toxicity. Easter lilies are poisonous to cats, and lily of the valley and calla lilies are considered to be highly poisonous (to people as well as pets). On the other hand, the flowers of some daylilies (Hemerocallis) are edible and used in Asian cooking.

So, yes, save those tags, label your plants and follow the directions that came with your purchase for successful “lilies” in your garden.

Some lilies are not lilies at all

I. tatarcum is usually known as the blue mountain lily, Siberian lily or lavender mountain lily. This is a small plant (12 to 15 inches high), a native of Asia, that is hardy in zones 3 to 9. Once planted (usually in fall) it will come back year after year. Its flowers come in shades of blue and violet. Because of its size and hardiness, it makes an ideal plant in the rock garden.

The fragrant, long-lasting flowers make good cut flowers as well, blooming late spring to early summer. So, consider adding some to your cutting garden. One more plus – it’s deer resistant. You need to do very little to this plant to have it come back year after year. To help it multiply, scatter the ripe seeds in other areas of the garden.

Water lilies are not true lilies either but are in the family Nymphaeaceae. Water lilies have leaves (pads) and flowers that float on or show above the water but are rooted in the soil beneath. They are divided into three types: hardy, night blooming (tropical) and day blooming (tropical). To grow water lilies you need a freshwater pond or water feature. If you select hardy ones, then you don’t need to lift the rhizomes over winter.

The toad lily works well in a shade or rock gardens.

The toad lily (genus Tricyrtis) includes a number of species including T. formosana, T. hira (hairy toad lily) and T. macrantha (yellow flowers). Toad lilies are shade-loving perennials, hardy generally from zones 4 to 8 and bloom with delicate purple, plum or lavender flowers that appear in late summer and fall. The plant is somewhat deer resistant and is propagated by division but can also be grown from seed. This is a small plant and works well in a shade garden or rock garden.

In addition to plantain lily, hostas (old name funkia) are sometimes referred to as August lily or Corfu lily. They were once classified in the family Liliaceae (due to the flowers resemblance to true lilies) but are now classified in the family Agavaceae, genus Hosta. Like the true lily, they are herbaceous perennials. They grow from underground corms or rhizomes, doing well in shade. While they are grown primarily for their leaves, they do have flowers, which are usually white or pale purple, sometimes fragrant.

Next week we’ll take a look at true lilies.

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

‘Super Elfin Cha Cha Mix’ impatiens wait to be purchased at Bloomin’ Haus in Holtsville. Photo by Heidi Sutton
Shade plant makes comeback after downy mildew blight

By Ellen Barcel

Impatiens come in many different colors including shades of red, pink, white, orange and purple.

Impatiens are beautiful plants for the shade garden. They are colorful and bloom virtually the entire growing season as the plants spread. And yes, impatiens are finally coming back to the nurseries after several years of doing battle with downy mildew.

All variety of impatiens, with the exception of New Guinea, are susceptible, including plants that have impatiens in their lineage as well as wild impatiens. Although first reported in 2004, it was in 2011 when there were widespread outbreaks and impatiens disappeared from nurseries.

Look for fluffy white spots on the underside of the impatiens leaf, a sure sign of downy mildew.

Downy mildew is a fungal-type infection that causes the plants to basically shrivel up and die. Once the plants show signs of disease, they can’t be cured. But now, wholesale nursery growers know about the problem and use a fungicide before any signs of disease appear.

Since the pathogen (spores) can remain active in the soil for many years, there are several things you as a gardener can do to make sure that your new impatiens remain healthy:

◆ Check out the new plants you are buying to make sure they appear to be disease-free (no yellow, wilting, brown curling leaves or fluffy white spots on the underside).

◆ Don’t plant your new impatiens in the same spot in the garden where you planted them in previous years. That way, if there are any spores left in the soil from previous years, you will have planted your new impatiens in a safer spot.

◆ If concerned, you could also plant your new impatiens in pots that have been thoroughly cleaned rather than in the ground.

◆ Use good-quality potting soil for containers.

◆ If you are still concerned that the new impatiens may be affected by downy mildew, plant New Guinea impatiens instead since they are highly resistant to the pathogen.

There are many different types of impatiens available.

◆ To provide color in the shade, consider planting coleus, caladium or begonias instead of impatiens.

◆ To help avoid fungal diseases in general, water the ground, not the leaves of plants. For example, use a drip irrigation system that waters the soil/roots rather than the leaves.

◆ If you use a sprinkler system, have it set to come on early in the morning. That way, the water has time to soak into the soil and the daylight sun will quickly dry the plant’s leaves.

◆ If, despite all precautions, you find that your impatiens develop downy mildew, remove the entire plant (yes, that includes the roots and any fallen leaves and flowers), bag it and dispose of in the garbage. Do not compost it — or any plant showing signs of disease. If you compost it you are just saving the pathogen for next year. No current fungicide cures already infected plants.

Other common plant diseases

Many of the above recommendations apply to all sorts of plants that are prone to fungal diseases, such as the tomato/potato blight. In that case, look for disease-resistant plants. Damping off is a bacterial disease that can appear in seedlings in damp, cool soil. Always use fresh potting soil for seedlings. Blossom end rot of tomatoes seem to appear when tomato plants have not been grown in evenly moist soil. So, while you don’t want the soil soggy, you don’t want it to repeatedly dry out either. A calcium deficiency may also play a role. Black spot is common on roses, especially older varieties. Use an appropriate spray following manufacturer’s directions. To prevent the problem in new plantings, look for disease-resistant varieties.

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


By Ellen Barcel

Lemon thyme is a very effective mosquito repellent.

Before the invention of the bug zapper and the mosquito lures, people relied on plants, such as citronella, to keep mosquitoes away. Personally, I hate bug zappers and mosquito lures not only use electricity but have to be emptied of dead bugs.

So, why not return to more natural ways of keeping mosquitoes away? Why not surround your porch, patio or deck with pots of beautiful plants that are known to repel the little buggers? Why not spread them around to keep the yard mosquito free? Many are actually plants you are growing already but need strategic placement to be the most effective. One of the interesting aspects of mosquito control is that many of the plants mosquitoes hate due to their scent are ones people just love. As a bonus, many are hardy in our area; so plant once and they return year after year.

Citronella grass

Citronella grass

Let’s start with citronella. Citronella grass (Cymbopogon nardus and C. winteriannus) is used as an herb in Asian cooking but is best known in our area as a mosquito repellent. Citronella grass forms clumps and can get quite tall, up to 6 feet tall. The plant is a perennial in U.S.D.A. zones 10 to 12 (Long Island is zone 7). So, yes, you would need to replant it each year. Make sure you give this plant sufficient water, possibly daily depending on how much rain we get. Do not confuse this with citronella-scented geraniums or other plants with a citronella scent as they have not been proven to repel mosquitoes. To be effective break off a blade of grass and rub it on your clothing.



Monarda (bee balm) is in the mint family and native to North America. It is sometimes grown for its flowers, which come in shades of pink, red and purple, but is also an insect repellent. The plant was used medicinally by Native Americans for a number of problems including as an antiseptic and as a seasoning for wild game. But, its scent is what repels mosquitoes. Crush the leaves to release the oil. Like so many flowering plants, it prefers a sunny location and well-drained soil. It does well in acidic soil, generally in the range of 6.0 to 7. If yours is substantially below that, you may need to add lime. It’s hardy in our area and reaches a height of 2 to 3 feet tall.



Marigold is another beautiful plant that repels mosquitoes. Marigolds traditionally come in shades of yellow and orange. When I was a kid, I remember the Burpee seed company having a contest for the first grower who could produce a true white marigold. And yes, the prize was awarded in 1975. ‘Snowdrift,’ ‘Snowman’ and ‘Snowball’ are three of the white cultivars. ‘French Vanilla Hybrid’ has flowers up to 3 inches across.

Marigolds (Tagetes) are in the sunflower family. While native to the Americas, they have become naturalized in many other areas of the world. African and French marigolds are cultivars of the American ones. They don’t have the best scent to humans, but, since mosquitoes hate them and they bloom late spring, summer and into fall, they are well worth planting. They come in a variety of blossom shapes and sizes. Since they bloom about six weeks after germinating, it’s best to start them indoors or buy plants from the nursery. Some gardeners who use companion planting will put marigolds among their veggies to keep insects away.



Another beautiful mosquito repellent is lavender. There are approximately four dozen species of flowering plants known as lavender, which are in the mint family — check out the square stems. While used extensively as an ornamental for its beautiful purple flowers, it is also grown for its oils, which are used in a wide variety of scented products, such as soaps, hand creams, perfumes and other cosmetics. One of the nice things about lavender is that it prefers dry, sandy soil. So, for many Long Island gardeners that’s a big plus. Like most herbs, it prefers a sunny location. Besides being a natural mosquito repellent, it can also be used in salad dressings and even baked goods. This one is a definite plus in the garden for many reasons.

Lemon-scented plants

Lemon balm

Lemon-scented plants such as lemon geraniums (Pelargonium crispum), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus), lemon thyme (Thymus vulgaris × citriodus) and lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla) are very effective as mosquito repellents as well. Other plants that seem to repel mosquitoes include artemesia, ageratum, cedars, rosemary, catnip (but it does attract cats), garlic, most mints in general, woodruff and basil.

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