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Pot with the Experts 



Tropical Gardens in the Midwest

Living in the Midwest gives you an appreciation for the seasons. From the beautiful fresh snowfall at the holidays, the first green buds of spring, the warmth of the sun in summer and the painted colors on the trees in the fall, these variations make us savor the beauty of each season.  And with the seasons comes change, and temperature change in particular.  With the winter cold ending our growing season, creating a tropical garden in the Midwest can be difficult, but not impossible.

The main thing to remember with creating a tropical garden is the characteristics of the plants.  To create the tropical look, use plants that have large, shiny leaves, bright blooms and a mix of textures.  From thick leaves to fern-like foliage, mixing the textures will help give the garden depth.

There are three main ways to create a tropical garden in the Midwest. The first way is to choose plants that grow best in containers.  Annuals like mandevilla vine, hibiscus, canna lily, durantia, elephant ear, castor bean, angels trumpet, begonias, New Guinea impatiens and coleus.  All of these plants vary in height and textures, so combining them in different ways will fill your planters and keep your containers looking beautiful even in the summer heat.

For gardeners who prefer to use perennials and plant in the ground, there are a few tropical-looking perennials that will come back year after year, even in Chicagoland. Some of the best perennials include hardy hibiscus, red hot pokers, cardinal flowers, ferns, bamboo, cushion spurge, Japanese iris, sea holly, hostas and Solomon’s seal.  An important thing to remember with some of these perennials is that they will not start growing until after the ground warms up.  For example, hardy hibiscus do not typically start sprouting until late May or early June.  So while you see your daylilies and coneflowers are sprouting up in the garden, do not worry if you don’t see your hibiscus.  They will arrive, but in their own time.

A third way to create a tropical look, especially in shadier yards, is to use houseplants. Some houseplants that you can use include rubber plants, crotons, pothos, diffenbachias, ferns, bromeliads and palms.  What’s great about using houseplants is that you can repot them at the end of the season and bring them back indoors during the winter. One of the most important things to remember with tropical gardens, is that these plants do not tolerate cooler temperatures.  If you are planting houseplants outside, be sure to bring them in as the temperatures dip into the forties at night.



Plants with Benefits

Plants add beauty to every room and every yard that they are added to, but what many people do not know is that many of these plants have health benefits as well. The following plants are the best houseplants to add to your home to purify the air and keep your home clean.

Boston Fern: Boston ferns are great for shady spots of your yard or for hanging under a porch. They also make great houseplants and clean many air pollutants that can be found in your home.  When kept indoors, Boston ferns need to be watered and fertilized regularly.  It also helps to mist their leaves. Kimberly Queen ferns, which look similar to the Boston fern but stand more upright,  These ferns can handle dryer air that many of our homes have in the winter time.






Palm Trees: There are a wide variety of palm trees that you can use in your home to help clean the air.  From the smaller varieties, like the neanthe bella palm, to the larger Emerald Palms, these all are fairly easy to care for. Palms do well in the cooler temperatures, but do need moderate to bright light.  They typically need to be watered about once a week, but check the soil to be sure it does not need it more or less often.










Rubber Plants: Rubber plants are a great houseplant for homes without a lot of light or for darker offices. While they do not need a lot of light, they can do wonders for purifying the air.  Rubber plants do, however, need water regularly.














English Ivy: This common houseplant is another great way to clean the air in your home.  It prefers a bright room and misting its leaves on a regular basis helps keep it healthy while indoors. 









Peace Lily: Peace lilies are amazing houseplants that do not need a lot of light, but are one of the few houseplants to bloom.  Peace lilies remove many VOCs that are emitted by harsh cleaning products, making it a wonderful addition to any home or office.  


Living Privacy Walls

Part of the charm of the suburbs is having neighbors.  Neighbors, however, can also be a hindrance. Sometimes all you want is a little bit of privacy in your backyard, and one great way to do that is with living privacy walls. 

The first type of privacy wall is to plant a line of evergreen shrubs or trees.  These give you year-round privacy. While fences may need permits to install, trees do not.  But be sure to pay attention to the height, width and the surroundings of your natural fence. 

If you have power lines above where you are going to plant your fence, be sure you select a tree or shrub that will not interfere with these.  Checking the width of maturity is important as well, because this will tell you how far apart to plant your evergreens and how many you will need. While they can grow in an area with less sun, they will not grow as quickly if they were in a sunny location. 

Some of the best evergreens to use as privacy walls are arborvitae (much like the ones here at the greenhouse), cypress and juniper.  All of these range not only size and shape, but in the color  and texture of the foliage. 

If you want something that is a blooming privacy wall, you have both annual and perennial choices.  The important thing to note is that these will not be a year-round wall. However, if you really only use your outdoor living space during the summer, this won’t be a problem.

Some of the perennials you can choose from are vines like clematis, climbing hydrangea or honeysuckle that will grow up on a trellis.  Other perennials are different varieties of plants that grow to be taller, like hardy hibiscus, rudbeckia, bee balm, Joe Pye weed and hydrangeas. 

Finally, you can always go the route of perennial grasses.  Choosing a taller, fuller grass will give you privacy you may be looking for, without having to prune off dead flowers during the season.  Grasses can even be left during the winter months to add some visual interest.  They will not be green throughout the winter months, and will need to be cut back in the early spring, but they will still provide that privacy for you through the cooler months of the year.

Finally, your final choice for a privacy screening is to install a living wall.  These are typically made of wood and range in size.  They have rows for you to plant your flowers and foliage plants to create a literal wall of plants.  Some people plant herbs and succulents, keeping it basic and a useful tool to keep nearby your home.  Other people plant a mix of blooming plants and colorful foliage to add a lot of interest to your patio or deck.

Living walls can be beautiful with colors and textures that vary more than just an evergreen, but these too will not survive the winter and will need to be re-planted each year.  These will also take more care and maintenance throughout the summer, with both watering and pruning.

No matter which route you take, living walls can add a lot of texture and color to your yard and add privacy to your outdoor living space.


Introducing: Bounce Impatiens

Image from gpnmag.com

The past few years, shade gardeners have been having lots of trouble due to impatiens downy mildew. With having such a cold winter last year, we had hope that the disease had been eradicated. Unfortunately, the disease started to pop up again late last summer in the Midwest.

Luckily, horticulturists have created a variety of impatiens that is resistant to impatiens downy mildew called Bounce Impatiens. These impatiens look similar to New Guinea impatiens, but there are two key differences.

The first difference is in the name of these impatiens. Bounce impatiens get their name from their ability to "bounce back" from a missed watering or two, without losing blooms or buds.  The second difference is that Bounce impatiens have more of a traditional impatiens growth and flowering habit.  Bounce impatiens grow wide, filling up garden beds and containers as the classic impatiens would, as well as long bloom times and they are easy to grow.

Bounce impatiens come in cherry, lavender, lilac, red, violet and white. Just like impatiens, they need to be planted in part to full shade and need no deadheading.  

This summer, when looking for a pop of color for your shady spots in your garden, give Bounce Impatiens a try.