How to Choose the Best Time to Plant Perennials


When we get this question here in the Midwest, we tend to answer generally, “It’s most appropriate to plant perennials in spring and fall.” Spring and fall usually mean more rainfall and moderate temperatures in our region, both of which are beneficial for plant establishment. However, when to plant really depends on what you are planting.

Season of Bloom

If a plant normally blooms in spring or early summer, it will most likely benefit from late summer to fall planting. Tucking these guys into beds before winter dormancy gives them an opportunity to root in and become more established before expending their energy in bloom come spring. If your posies bloom in late summer or fall, a spring planting will do just fine.

Size at Planting

Larger-sized plants, when referring to root mass, overwinter more safely than little guys who can get pushed up and out by the freeze-thaw cycle. If you’re planting quart-sized or smaller plants in fall, check on them periodically to ensure their root masses are still firmly in contact with the soil bed. If they heave, they can dry out quickly and become a winter casualty.

Day Length Requirements

Many plants require specific day lengths to trigger their bloom time, which is why you have plants that bloom at different times of the year, and why we discussed planting based upon season of bloom above. But day length, or photoperiod, affects more than flowering.

Some plants need longer periods of daylight to stimulate any growth. Take hostas for example. Most hostas require long day lengths to promote root and leaf development. If you plant hostas from mid-July through fall, they may not put on any significant new growth. If you plant small, very young hostas at that time of year, they may not bulk up or set roots in time to reliably survive the winter.

Is there a best time of year to plant that fits all perennials? Not really, but taking the above recommendations under consideration and following up with proper watering and maintenance will take the trickiness out of establishment and get your landscape in and growing.

Gardens for the Soul

Part of what we get to do as landscape architects is to create places – places to relax, places to play, even places to work. We know that how we do our jobs makes a difference, we know the right integration of nature into our built environments can change everything and we know that bringing people in closer contact with nature can bring them closer to the divine.

As far back as the 5th or 6th century BC, religious scholars wrote of the essence of beauty and creation and that’s what we read from Genesis in the Holy Bible today. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…Then God said 'Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.' And it was so. Then God said, 'Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky'..."    And so, we were inextricably linked to nature.

According to Judeo/Christian teachings, we are created to harmonize with nature so it should come as no surprise that we find serenity in places of natural beauty. We feel differently when we experience significant places of natural wonders we feel changed. For many, this is experienced as ‘the spirit moving within’ and is both a natural phenomenon and a spiritual awakening. It is our soul becoming re-connected with its origin where spirit and earth mix, where God and humankind meet.

"God created humankind so that humankind might cultivate the earthly and thereby create the heavenly" (Meditations with Hildegaard of Bingen, p.88).

Every day, we take every chance we get to connect people with nature for the simple fact we know it makes a difference. Whether it is a corporate campus or healing garden at a hospital, we know a sensitively-designed landscape has the power to make people happy, less stressed and more relaxed. But once in a while we get to connect them to something more. Over the years, I have designed nearly a dozen dedicated prayer gardens where we strive to “create the heavenly”.

Creating a space that can help people feel a connection to the divine is truly one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my professional life, for if I have helped one individual cultivate the garden of the human soul, I will have done my job. Such is my earthly goal and my divine mission.

Dave Ciaccio

Photos: St. Francis Prayer Garden, Omaha, NE

It's a Pretty Big Deal

Cerner Corp, with a little help from Mayor James and Governor Nixon, held a ceremonial groundbreaking yesterday for what is going to be the single largest economic development project in Missouri's history. At 4.7 million square feet of space, it's going to be bigger than the Sprint Campus. Sixteen phases and 16 buildings. Estimated at $4.5 Billion. That's big. For the full story, check out the Kansas City Business Journal's take on it.

Our landscape architects have been working with Cerner and Gould Evans on the landscape design for the first phase for a couple of months now and we'll share more images as the project progresses.


Making Healthier Communities Through Green Infrastructure

Yep. That's pretty much what we do, and the EPA has just come out with their own guide to help communities make that happen. For years, we've been managing stormwater a little differently around the region. We've also worked with the EPA in Lincoln, NE, Des Moines, IA and Madison, WI (through Greening America's Capitals) to envision the potential of green solutions for those cities and it's good to see that same commitment to using green solutions spreading around the country.

Check out the EPA's guidebook at:

Wildlife Proofing Your Fall Landscape

You likely spent the spring trying to ensure that your tulips, hostas, and other ornamental plantings were browsed to the ground by to those pesky hoofed creatures called white-tailed deer.  A hungry deer will eat about anything, consuming about 4 pounds or more of vegetation in a day. 

Now that it’s fall, your landscape should be safe from deer, right?  Unfortunately, fall brings with it the deer mating season, referred to as “rutting season”.  At this time, the male deer (bucks) are looking to clean the velvet off of their antlers and mark territory.  So what better way to do this than to select one of those nice new 1-2 inch caliper (up to 4 inches) trees you planted in the spring.  A little rubbing generally won’t hurt the tree, but a lot could mean the end to your tree, especially if they girdle it by removing a ring of bark from around the whole tree.  Rubbing usually occurs from 1 to 4 feet above the ground.  Deer can also damage trees by thrashing their antlers in the lower branches and breaking them.  While this can be unsightly, it is generally easier to deal with than the bark rubbing.

 You’ve seen the deer and the damage they’re doing so what do you do now?  Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do that will save your landscape.  First to address tree damage, trim the loose bark where it is not tightly connected to the trunk.  If tree limbs have been broken, prune branches to a strong side shoot or main branch.  Steel posts (light gauge steel 4 to 6 feet long) can readily be used to protect individual trees from any further damage.  Be sure to set the flared base of the post about 1 foot away and in line with the trunk to minimize root damage when driving it into the ground.  Temporary fencing can also be used to provide a barrier.  If necessary, trees can be wrapped with plastic trunk wraps, but be sure to monitor tree growth to prevent the tree from being cinched by the wrap when it out grows it.

Deer can significantly damage young trees so it is important to take steps to protect them from rutting bucks and to correctively prune damaged trees.  If you have damaged trees, pay attention to these trees the following year as they may be revisited and further damaged.

Reinventing The Wheel. Really.

When it comes to the bicycle, there have been some pretty significant upgrades since the 19th Century - carbon fiber, electronic shifting...rubber tires -  but nothing like this. The SENSEable City Laboratory at MIT (no surprise there) may have just reinvented the wheel.

The Copenhagen Wheel replaces standard back wheels and turns your bike into something like a hybrid electric car. With a motor, rechargeable battery and Bluetooth wireless connections, the new wheel gives your pedaling a boost of 3x to 10x for up to 30 miles at speeds up to 20 mph and recharges on the downhills. And it's all programmable with your smart phone.

Assaf Biderman, Associate Director of the laboratory and co-inventor of the Copenhagen Wheel, has licensed the wheel and founded Superpedestrian, Inc. to produce it, so look for the first production models to hit the streets in late 2014. It could just be the future of urban transportation.

You can check them out at or see CBS' piece from yesterday here:

Pot Colors Make a Difference in Overall Plant Vigor

Photo Courtesy of: GrowerTalks Magazine

Photo Courtesy of: GrowerTalks Magazine

Did you know that plants care about the color of pots they are grown in? It’s true. Grower trials have shown that plants grown in white plastic pots don’t grow as vigorously as those grown in black plastic pots. Whether annuals, perennials or shrubs; all plants show a preference for a black (or black lined) pot.

Why would this be, you ask? The answer is in the amount of light allowed to penetrate the walls of the pot. White pots allow more light in, which “prunes” the roots. Roots don’t like to grow in sunlight; they prefer to burrow into nice, rich soil instead.

Light transmitting through the perimeter of white pots effectively reduces the volume of growing media available to the plant’s roots. This results in stunted growth compared to plants grown in the same size black pot.

So, when you go to the greenhouse, look for black or black-lined pots and choose those plants. That way you’re almost guaranteed a sturdier root stock that will out-perform white potted plants in bouncing back from transplant shock.

Want more information? Check out the details at GrowerTalks Magazine

School Gardens Increase Kids' Physical Activity - Even at Home

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

Back to school time has arrived, and many of the schools in our metropolitan areas are planning their learning gardens. School gardens teach children how to tend gardens, about proper nutrition and not surprisingly, increase physical activity, according to a recent Cornell University study.

The two-year research project looked at 12 New York elementary schools and found that children who are in garden themed hands-on learning curricula were more physically active at school and, what’s more exciting, were substantially less sedentary at home than their counterparts.

With nearly one in three American children overweight or obese, school gardens are a simple, low-cost way to increase physical activity among children, says Nancy Wells, professor of design and environmental analysis in Cornell's College of Human Ecology.

"This is the first true experiment to measure the effects of school gardens on children's physical activity, and we found a significant increase," Wells said. "It is notable that in our intervention, kids were only spending an hour or two per week in the gardens, yet there was a significant difference in physical activity. The findings suggest that if schools embraced gardens further and integrated them into lesson plans, there might be an even greater effect."

Summer in the City - Cooler, Thanks to Trees

Bryant Park, New York. Photo courtesy ASLA. 

Bryant Park, New York. Photo courtesy ASLA. 

As the summer heats up, and we take to the shade, it's great to think what trees really do for our urban areas.

Cornelius B. Murphy, Jr., a senior fellow for environmental and sustainable systems at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, had this to say about what urban trees do in a recent Huffington Post article: 

  • A single mature tree can absorb as much as 48 lbs. of CO2 per year and release enough oxygen to support two human beings.
  • A well-placed mature tree can reduce annual air conditioning costs by 2% to 10%.
  • The Center for Urban Forest Research has estimated that a property with trees is valued 5% to 15% higher than a comparable lot with no trees.
  • Planting urban trees is one of the least expensive ways to reduce urban air pollution and decrease health problems and related costs. A study conducted in New York City in 1994 estimated that the trees in New York City removed 2,007 tons of air pollutants with an estimated benefit to society of $9.5 million.

"It's clear that our quality of life is enhanced by our urban forests, and that planting a single tree in an urban setting will yield a significant return on the investment," Cornelius says. "Greening our cities and expanding our urban forests will clearly improve our quality of life."

Source: Landscape Insider 

Are Your Rudbeckia Looking Spotty?

This time of year some Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia sp.) plants may turn up a bit spotty. Have you noticed any of this at nurseries or in your landscapes? These leaf spots are often caused by a fungus named Septoria rudbeckiae. The leaf spots enlarge to 1/8 to 1/4 inch in diameter and are black in color. In severe infections, the leaf spots can cover most of the leaf surface.

Another pathogen, Pseudomonas, is a bacterial leaf spot that can look very similar to Septoria. To determine which pathogen you are seeing, the plant can be submitted to a diagnostic clinic like those provided by state university extension offices for testing.

Septoria can be avoided by providing conditions where the plant's leaves are able to dry out between waterings. Avoid overhead irrigation during cloudy weather or during the early morning or late day when the leaves are likely to remain wet for long periods of time.  Instead, water Rudbeckia in the mid-morning to early afternoon when sunlight and air circulation are more conducive to evaporation.

Source: Perennial Pulse, Ball Publishing