In This Chapter
* Understanding how plants are named
* Examining flowering plants
* Checking out trees, vines, and shrubs
* Managing your lawn
No matter what your main gardening interest - be it growing vegetables, making your yard colorful with flowers, picking out just the right tree, or aspiring to have the most gorgeous roses on the block - chances are that you care most about the plants. Sure, gardening can also involve landscaping and lawn care (see the chapters in Part III of this book), or being able to grow your own food (Part IV), or just having a great excuse to play in the dirt (Part V), but for most people, the plants make everything worthwhile.
Of course, keeping your plants alive and making them look their best involves a lot of preparation. This book contains information on caring for your garden plants throughout, but you should especially read through the first few chapters if you really want your plants to grow, thrive, and look their absolute best.
Okay, yeah, I know, you already know you need to plan and prepare your soil to get your garden going, but you really just want to read about plants right now, right? In that case, the rest of this chapter is devoted to the most basic explanations of the kinds of plants you may encounter in the world of gardening. Later chapters in this book go into much more detail about the various types of plants, trees, bushes, and vines, but here I help you get a sense of how plants are similar and different - the first step in turning a brown thumb green. First, though, I explain a bit about names.
Playing the Name Game
What's in a name? For gardeners, plenty. Gardening is a blend of horticulture and botany, common names and high science, and the names can get a bit confusing. Whether you're looking at plant anatomy or simply want to know what to call a plant, understanding a bit about naming can help you wade through the aisles, ask better questions, and treat your plants right.
"Hello, my name is ...": Getting used to plant nomenclature
Whenever you're talking about plants, knowing how they're named can help you avoid getting tangled up in the Latin. Generally, when looking for plants and flowers, you encounter two types of names - botanical and common. Read on for some info on how the naming system works, and then carpe diem - pluck the day!
The botanical name is the proper or scientific name of a plant. It consists of two parts: the genus name and the species name. The species name is kind of like your own first name (except it comes last in a plant's botanical name). The genus name is similar to your family name (except in botanical names, it comes first). For example, in the plant name Hosta undulata, Hosta is the genus name, and undulata is the species name. Hosta describes an entire genus of famous, mostly shade-loving plants named hostas, and undulata describes the type of hosta it is - a hosta with an undulating leaf shape.
Sometimes the botanical name has a third name, right after the species name, known as the variety. A variety is a member of the same plant species but looks different enough to warrant its own name, such as Rosa gallica var. officinalis.
Still another botanical name that sometimes comes up is the cultivar, or cultivated variety. Cultivars are usually named by the people who developed or discovered them, and they're often maintained through cuttings, line-bred seed propagation, or tissue culture. In other words, they're cultivated (humans grow, improve, and develop them). An example is Lychnis coronaria 'Angel's Blush.'
A hybrid plant is the result of the cross-pollination between two genetically different plants, usually of the same species but different varieties. This combination can happen because of cultivation, or it can occur naturally through bee pollination between two different plants.
Botanical names are more common with some types of plants than others. For instance, you frequently run into them with herbaceous plants, trees, and shrubs but much less so with roses, annuals, and vegetables. You can find botanical names on the labels and in many garden references.
Common names are what you're most likely to encounter when shopping for plants to put in your garden, and they're what you mostly encounter in this book. You can find these names prominently displayed on seed packets or on seedling trays of plants that are for sale. They're kind of like botanical nicknames that gardeners use to describe a certain type of plant without going into a great amount of detail. For example, the Hosta undulata fits into the genus Hosta, so most gardeners merely refer to these plants under the common name of hostas. And you may know that Hemerocallis is actually the genus name for the common daylily, but chances are that most gardeners you encounter just call them daylilies.
Anatomy 101: Naming plant parts
Beyond recognizing the names of plants, knowing the various parts of plants is also useful. Figure 1-1 shows a nice, healthy perennial plant with the basic parts displayed. You probably already know most of them, but keep these parts in mind, because you need to know them to understand some of the things I discuss in the rest of this book! In the figure, the taproot is the main root of the plant; the stolon, or runner, is a horizontal stem that spreads through the ground to help some perennials propagate.
When you know the parts of plants and the difference between all the plant names you run into, you may be ready to get the lowdown on the types of plants out there!
Bringing in Beauty with Flowers (and Foliage)
Flowers are often the first thing that comes to mind when people think of gardening and the first thing people plan to grow when they want to beautify their surroundings. Flowers are marvelous because they come in a huge variety of sizes, colors, and shapes (see Figure 1-2), and no matter where you live, at least one kind of flowering plant can grow there. Even the volcanic crater of Haleakala, on the island of Maui, is home to a flowering plant: the rare silver sword.
Flowers are more than merely the beautiful display they put on, however. If you know the different types of flowers out there, you can take full advantage of displaying them in your own garden. Read on for info on annuals and perennials, as well as a bit on bulbs and roses.
You may already know what annuals are without realizing that you know! These beauties are the flowers, arrayed in flats and pots, for sale every spring down at the garden center - everything from geraniums to impatiens to marigolds. You bring them home and plunk 'em in the ground, and they get right to work, delivering pretty much continuous color all summer long. When fall comes, they start to slow down (some may even go to seed); cold weather eventually causes them to wither and die. Game over. (That is, unless you live in a frost-free climate; in this case, your "annuals" become perennials. See the upcoming section titled "Perennial plants" for more information.)
For the brief time annuals are growing and pumping out flowers, you get a lot of bang for your buck. A great deal of selection and breeding refinements over the years have made these plants totally reliable. They're hard to kill. Indeed, some of them keep blooming their cheery heads off even when you neglect them.
More sophisticated gardeners have been known to sneer at good old annuals. They're boring. They're too perky. They're "plastic plants." These folks may or may not have a point, but hey, annuals are hard to beat if you want a colorful garden.
In the end, the main drawback of annuals is economic. You have to buy new ones every spring. If you're planting a wide area, running out to buy more year in and year out can get expensive. Time may also be an issue for you - you may grow sick and tired of getting down on your hands and knees and replanting. (If you're getting to that point, consider planting perennials - see the section later in the chapter!)
You can use annuals
If the info you want on annuals isn't in the upcoming sections, you can get an in-depth look in Chapter 6.
Caring for and feeding annuals
Luckily, taking proper care of annuals is not rocket science. For the most part, annuals are easygoing, because they're bred to be quite tough and durable. Many can withstand some neglect and still be productive - not that I recommend ignoring them!
Without a doubt, water is an annual's number one need. All that lusty growth and continuous flowering requires fuel. A thirsty plant can't sustain the show for long. Regular, deep soakings are best because they reliably supply water to the roots, which leads to a stress-free life of consistent growth and bud and bloom production. (Note that a drying-out plant favors its roots and, to a lesser extent, its leaves, in a bid for survival, automatically jettisoning its water-hogging buds and petals.) See Chapter 4 for more info on watering.
You can't deny that regular doses of plant food significantly boost your annuals (make sure you apply it according to directions). The leaves become healthier and greener, and you end up with more buds and flowers. Chapter 4 contains information on fertilizer as well.
The rather unromantic term of deadheading simply refers to the practice of pinching or cutting off spent flowers. Your annuals look nicer when you do this, of course, but removing the flowers also serves another purpose: It thwarts the plant from the energy-intensive process of producing seeds, and the plant responds by diverting its energy back into making more flowers.
If you shop earlier in spring (before the garden center has been picked clean, I mean) or go to a place with a big selection, you see lots of choices. If you find certain types too boring or common, look around for alternatives - one big trend these days is familiar annuals in new colors, even bicolors. Get creative! Have some fun! Here are some popular annuals:
Collinsia: An easily grown and graceful plant that looks similar to a blue snapdragon
Eustoma: A plant with very long lasting, silk-like flowers
Feverfew: An annual covered with double, mostly white chrysanthemum-like flowers
Annual foxglove: A plant with charming, nodding flowers on a tall spike, adding a dramatic vertical element to any garden
Honesty (money plant): An annual grown for its translucent quarter-shaped seed pods that make it choice for dried arrangements
Larkspur: A plant that's easy to grow by directly sowing the seeds in your garden in the early spring
Nemophila: A plant with sky-blue cup flowers on compact mounded plants
Nierembergia: A ground-hugging plant covered with purple cup-shaped flowers Stock: An annual with heavenly fragrance and flowers from white to pink to purple
Torenia: A flower that looks like an open-faced snapdragon on compact plants, in shades of blue, pink and white.
Raising annuals from seed
Of course you can raise annuals from seed! Some are simpler to grow than others. Annuals with very small seeds like snapdragons and begonias are a bit more of a challenge because you need to start them indoors in a bright windowsill or under fluorescent lights.
Just buy the seed packets in late winter and sow them in flats or pots (particular directions are always on the back of the packets). Raise the seedlings indoors until spring weather comes and the soil warms up and all danger of frost is past; then move the plants outside.
Some annuals are so fast-growing that you can sprinkle their seeds on good soil in late spring, right outside, and they'll quickly sprout and grow. This group includes popular ones like zinnias, marigolds, and nasturtiums. This process may require you to do some thinning at some point, but otherwise, it's dead easy. Again, consult the back of the seed packet for details. One advantage to this tack is that you can grow some more unconventional or rare annuals. It certainly makes for a more interesting garden!
Beholding a one-time show
The very definition of an annual - a plant that goes from seed to flowering to death in one season, completing its entire life cycle in short order - states that annuals are a one-time show. When it's over, it's over. (Except when it's not; if you garden in a mild climate, many annuals merely slow down for the winter but survive.)
If you garden in a cold climate, you can try digging up some favorites or bringing potted annuals inside. Keep them in a nonfreezing place, out of direct sunlight, and let them rest. Cut back all spent growth. Start reviving them with water and plant food when spring returns.
However, if despite your best efforts, your wintered-over annuals don't return to their former glory the following spring, accept their fate, pull them out, and replace them with new ones.
For many gardeners, going from growing annuals to exploring perennials seems to be a natural progression. But remember that you don't have to choose! You can grow both and, indeed, your garden is likely to be the better for the diversity.
So, what, exactly are perennials? They're long-lived herbaceous (non-woody) plants - flowers and herbs, mainly. How long they last depends on the plant and the conditions in your garden. But these plants certainly last longer than annuals.
A typical perennial emerges in the spring, grows and often produces flowers and seeds as the seasons progress from spring to summer to fall, and then slows down or dies back in winter. But the plant doesn't actually die; it just rests. The following spring, your perennial returns in glory to repeat the cycle.
Unlike annuals, you don't have to replant perennials every year. Once should be enough - well, if you choose wisely and take good care of your perennials, you ought to get many good years out of them.
Eventually, though, some perennials run out of steam. Their growth gets crowded and they don't seem to flower as well. At this time, you can dig them out and replace them, or you can divide them (perhaps discarding the tired-out center, or mother plant) and replant well-rooted bits for a fresh new start. Chapter 7 can give you tips on division.
Here are some of the many uses of perennials:
For the nitty-gritty details on perennials, check out Chapter 7. If you just want the basics, read on.
Caring for and feeding perennials
The water needs of perennials vary. Some are moisture-lovers, others are drought-tolerant, and many are somewhere in the middle. Do your homework when choosing plants, not just on what they prefer but on which ones are suitable to the growing conditions in your yard and climate (otherwise, you'll be jumping through hoops trying to please them). Chapter 2 can help you get a grip on how to plan your garden.
Excerpted from Gardening Basics For Dummies by Steven A. Frowine Copyright © 2007 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Excerpted by permission.
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