Garden Talk: April 21, 2011

From NGA Editors

Self-Reliant Roses

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The rose may be the queen of flowers, but many of the roses grown in gardens today will only look regal when given a toxic regimen of pesticides to ward off disease and insects, along with lots of water and fertilizer. That was the dilemma that curator Peter Kukielski faced at one of the country most famous public rose gardens, the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden in Bronx, NY.

When the garden was renovated in 2007, he began growing some of the garden's more than 3700 roses without fungicides and pesticides for insect and disease control, evaluating them to see which of the repeat-blooming roses flourished when grown in a more environmentally-sustainable manner. And he is testing them under particularly trying conditions. Unlike most home garden settings, the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden is a monoculture, where it's easy for insects and diseases to move from plant to plant. So the roses that do well under those conditions are likely to be easy-care choices in most home landscapes.

The New York Botanical Garden has posted a list of the 115 top performers in the rose garden in 2010, along with their ratings, with 10 as the top score. Those receiving a score of 9.0 or higher last year included Double Knockout®, Pink Double Knockout®, Peach Drift®, Kosmos, Darlow's Enigma, and, with the highest rating at 9.25, Easter Basket™.

To see the ratings for all 115 roses, go to: New York Botanical Garden.

Here Comes the Sun

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Annual sunflowers are among the most gratifying plants to grow. Simply stick a few seeds in the ground after the soil has warmed up, and before you know it, the plants are up and racing skyward to grace the garden with their large, bright, cheerful flower heads.

This season sees some fun new additions to the sunflower crowd. Adding some "white heat" to the garden is 'Coconut Ice' from W. Atlee Burpee. The outer petals of this single-headed, 5-6 foot tall plant start out a rich, creamy vanilla, gradually changing to white as they mature. Set off by a large, coconut brown center, the 4-8 inch blossoms are real showstoppers.

Also from the folks at Burpee is the smile-provoking 'Frilly'. This multiple-headed plant produces a crowd of 6 inch flower heads with unique, ragged, narrow ray petals accented with a ruff of curved, inverted secondary petals around the brown center. A long and prolific bloomer, it's a great choice if you want armloads of flowers for indoor arrangements.

Give both these sunflowers a spot with well-drained soil and plenty of sun, sow the seeds when the soil has warmed after your last frost date, then stand back as they reach for the sky!

For more about 'Coconut Ice' and 'Frilly', go to: W. Atlee Burpee.

Get Help Solving Plant Problems

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What's wrong with my plant? Is this plant a weed? What insect is this? Are these questions you've asked yourself but been unsure how to answer? The folks at the University of Minnesota Extension Service have come up with a great online resource for puzzled gardeners.

To use their handy problem-solving diagnostic tool, you start by choosing a plant category -- say, vegetables. You then pick a crop -- we'll choose tomatoes -- which brings you to a menu of symptoms. If you select "holes fruits," you arrive at five possibilities, with pictures and information that let you zero in on the correct cause of your problem. For many of the entries -- tomato hornworm, for example -- you can then go to more detailed information, including suggestions for controls. Other broad diagnostic categories include fruit; turf; deciduous trees, shrubs, and vines; evergreen trees and shrubs; and annuals and perennials.

With the weed identification tool, selecting first the plant type and then its growth habit leads you to photos of weeds to choose from. Click on the image for more information on its life cycle and control. The insect identification tool works in similar fashion and includes both outdoor garden pests and insects found indoors.

While the information in necessarily oriented toward garden troubles common in Minnesota, there is much in this well-designed and easy to use system that will be of value to gardeners in many other parts of the country.

To access these helpful diagnostic modules, go to: U of M Gardening Information.

A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Broccoli

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Former President George H. W. Bush famously remarked, "I do not like broccoli." Perhaps he'd have liked it more if he ate it sprinkled with sugar. While a spoonful of sugar might help the broccoli go down, it turns out it may also help the broccoli itself become more nutritious.

Researchers in China discovered that addling sugar (as surcrose) at low concentrations to the water used to irrigate broccoli sprouts significantly increased the levels of Vitamin C, sulphoraphane, and anthocyanin, the naturally occurring compounds that account for much of the health-promoting properties of broccoli. The researchers concluded that "These results indicate that sucrose treatment could improve the nutritional value of broccoli, and the sprouts growing under adequate concentration of sucrose could benefit our diet by producing more health-promoting compounds."

To read more about this research, go to Science Direct.

 
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