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Saturday, June 29, 2019

Creating a Rock Garden that Rocks!


A rock garden by design is a small plot (usually on a slope or man-made hill) designed to emphasize a variety of rocks, stones, and plants.  Rock gardens can be made to blend into the landscape or they can be a great focal point area. Rocks are naturally beautiful, and with the right planning, your rock garden will look good year-round.

Why hostas are THE best plants for rock gardens

Simply, hostas have all the necessary elements of a great rock garden plant:

  • They are perennials in Zones 3 – 9. There's no need to replace them year after year.
  • They are well known to be tough plants that can be grown in many different environments and soils.
  • They are easy to maintain.
  • Their leaf structure. Hostas are known for their beautiful leaves that are available in many shapes which include narrow, lance-shaped, heart-shaped, rounded, apple-shaped and those cute mouse ear shapes. The leaf textures range from thin to thick and corrugated or rugose.
  • They come in many sizes.  Hostas are categorized in sizes from very large, to large, to medium to the mini and small hostas.  The later will not outgrow their space quickly.
  • They come in many colors including blues, greens, yellows, golds and variegated colors.
  • Once established hostas are practically drought tolerant.
  • Some hostas are also sun tolerant and slug resistant.
  • Their clump-forming habit will quickly smother out weeds.

First, some Rock Garden basics

About the Soil

Generally, the soil should drain well but not too fast.

For a rock garden in a sunny spot, before planting, mix small rocks, a layer of sand and a layer of topsoil with some peat moss and you will have the best soil you can get for your rock garden. 

For a rock garden in a shadier spot, a richer soil mix like compost is recommended since most shade-loving plants prefer a moisture retentive mixture.

Staging the Rocks

The rocks will complement the delicacy of the plants and flowers within it. The trick is to use a variety of textures and scale. This is where it may be helpful to map out your plan on paper.

  • Start with the large rocks. Random groups look more natural than straight lines and rows. Use a combination of upright rocks, rounded rocks, and hard-edged rocks. You can also stack them for some extra height.
  • The rocks can be placed so that the same rock can shadow a shade-loving plant on the northern side, and give plenty of southern light to the plants on the other side.
  • Rocks should be tilted backward with the layers of rock running the same way.
  • Bury the large rocks up to a third of their depth and firm into place. You don't want your final project heaving up from the winter's freezes and thaws.
  • Leave large pockets to add smaller rocks, stones or plants.

Next Steps

  • Now incorporate smaller stones or rocks leaving small pockets for the plants.
  • Add the soil between the rocks and into pockets.

Step back. Does it look natural?

The more natural your rock garden looks at this point, the more attractive it will be after it's planted.

Let it settle

Once you're happy with the basic structure, it is advisable to leave the rock garden to settle in for a few weeks. You may need to adjust more soil after some settlement. Better to do that before planting.

Now for the Fun Part! The Plants!

As a rule, for bigger rocks, bigger plants are needed. For smaller rocks, smaller plants are needed. Flowers should accent the rocks, but not hide them.

Here at Sunset Hosta Farm, we grow and sell a number of hostas that are suitable for rock gardens. Here are some hostas that we recommend for rock gardens in part shade.

Praying Hands

Mature Size: Small   Height: 16” Width up to 30”

Praying Hands is the 2011 Hosta of the Year and one of the most unique hostas ever. This upright 16” tall two-foot-wide clump lives up to its name lifting its leaves up in prayer. The clumps are topped with 18” spikes of light lavender flowers. It has a creamy narrow yellow border. In late spring it will attract hummingbirds. A unique and very popular hosta.

Rain Forest Sunrise

Mature Size: Small   Height: 10” Width up to 35”

This sport of H 'Maui Buttercups' emerges with light green leaves that quickly develop dark green margins. The leaves are cupped and puckered with great substance. It was awarded the 2013 Hosta of the Year for good reason. Pictures don’t do this hosta justice.


Saint Elmo's Fire

Mature Size: Small   Height: 10” Width up to 30”

A sport of H 'Sea Fire', Saint Elmo's Fire is a true beauty that is noted for its showy yellow leaves. As the season progresses, the leaves turn light green with pretty white margins. A very attractive bi-colored foliage display. It's a stunner!


Mature Size: Small   Height: 11” Width up to 24”

Teaspoon is an excellent choice to show off in front of a shady garden. The leaves are medium green, slightly corrugated and form a dense mound of cupped, upward-facing foliage. Pale lavender flowers show up in summer. A very pretty small green hosta that is sun tolerant.

Amber Tiara

Mature Size: Small   Height: 12” Width up to 20”

Amber Tiara has thick chartreuse oval-shaped leaves with a blunt tip. It forms an attractive dense mound. The flowers are light purple on 22” scapes in late summer. Give this Tiara more sun for its best color.

Mini and Small Sun Tolerant Hostas

These hostas can take more sun than their shade-loving cousins, up to four to six hours of morning sun with afternoon shade. They will also work well in a shady spot.


Mature Size: Small   Height: 9” Width up to 24”

Friends grow into a small mound of rippled gold foliage. The tips of the leaves are slightly twisted. The leaves will brighten to yellow by mid-summer. It's a reliable, fast grower. Displays lavender to white throats in late summer. Looks great in groups and in the front of a hosta bed. Small and very cute.


Hush Puppie

Mature Size: Mini   Height: 7” Width up to 15”

Hush Puppie is the perfect border or edging plant because of its vigorous growth rate and smaller size. It has cute twisted dark green leaves with white creamy edges. It blooms purple in early summer. Great for fairie gardens, rock gardens, and troughs and especially cute when planted en masse.

Blue Mouse Ears

Mature Size: Mini   Height: 8” Width up to 19”

2008 Hosta of the Year for good reason! The medium blue/green mouse ear-shaped leaves are nothing short of adorable! Outstanding lavender to white lily-like flowers atop graceful stalks in summer. Great for rock gardens, fairy gardens, and borders. Very popular and a must-have for any hosta garden.

Green Mouse Ears

Mature Size: Mini   Height: 8” Width up to 19”

Green Mouse Ears is a cute little sport of 'Blue Mouse Ears'. Green Mouse Ears forms a mound of medium to dark green cupped leaves of good substance. Pale purple flowers rise above the upright leaves in the summer. Also slug resistant. Very cute!

Mighty Mouse

Mature Size: Mini   Height: 8” Width up to 19”

A sport of H 'Blue Mouse Ears', this charmer boasts thick round variegated leaves with a creamy margin. It will attract hummingbirds in late spring with its short spikes of dark lavender flowers. Cute! A must-have for any mouse-ear collector.

Other suitable plants for your rock garden

For some added color, these plants are also suitable for rock gardens. Some of these may be fast growers and may need to be divided or replaced more often than the hostas would.


Perennial Zones 3 – 9   Height 6-12”

A perennial alyssum that develops masses of cheerful flowers that look terrific when tucked between rocks and boulders.

Creeping Phlox aka Phlox Subulata or Moss Pink

Perennial Zones 3 – 9   Height 6-12”

A mat-forming perennial with pink blooms. Spreads to two feet. You can shear the foliage back after it blooms.

Ice Plant

Perennial Zones 5 – 9   Height 3”

This perennial will stay short but can spread to three or four feet. It will bloom most of the summer and fall. The leaves morph into darker colors as the temperature drops.

Lamium aka Deadnettle

Perennial Zones 2 – 9   Height 6-8”

A member of the mint family, Lamium has square stems, toothed leaves, and a spreading habit. The foliage can be mottled, frosted or otherwise marked.


Perennial Zones 3 – 11   Height 3-6”
Any type of low-growing sedum looks great in rock gardens, Crassulaceae and Hens and Chicks to name a few. 

Angelina has brilliant chartreuse needle-like foliage that forms a quick-growing ground cover. Excellent year-round coverage. The foliage turns orange in northern climates.

Dragon's Blood is evergreen except in the coldest areas. Its green leaves with red margins turn a brilliant red with cool autumn temperatures. Its deep red flowers contrast with the green leaves in warmer weather. It needs part to full sun.


Perennial Zones 3 - 7   Height 6"  Width 1'

Snow-in-the-Summer blooms white in July.  It's a great ground cover.

Other Design Tips

Allow the leaves of your plants to cascade over a corner of the rock then plant a smaller plant in front of the rock. This gives you the classic three groupings without using three plants.

Planting three hostas one foot apart in a triangle with a large rock in the middle also gives a nice effect.

Mulching Your Rock Garden

Bark mulches can look out of place in a rock garden. Use small stone for mulch, matching the same color as the larger rocks to blend in.

Care for your Rock Garden

  • Weed frequently at first until the rocks and plants establish themselves in the soil.
  • Water occasionally and deeply.
  • Prune plants that have spread beyond their limits.
  • Move plants that appear unhappy.
  • In the fall, rake out fallen  leaves and cover any weather sensitive plants


It's not a surprise that mini and small hostas are becoming the number one plant for rock gardens. You'll be hard-pressed to find another perennial as rugged and carefree as a hosta.



Love hostas or know someone who does?
Visit our website for great hostas at an affordable price.


Slugs and Hostas


Hostas are one of the most maintenance-free perennials you can grow.  But they do have one nemesis -- Slugs!  They love hostas and can be a problem over the entire season if the slug problem is left unresolved.


The Damage Slugs Do to Hostas

Slug damage to hostas appears as multiple holes chewed through the hosta leaves. The most damage will be done to varieties with thinner leaves or hostas that are variegated.

Your first line of defense is knowing about slugs.

Besides being darn ugly and slimy, slugs look like snails without the shells. They love to prey on hosta leaves causing holes in their leaves. If not battled early, they can ruin the look of the hostas for a season.

Why are slugs drawn to hostas?

Simply they like the same environment that hostas do; moist areas, preferably with plenty of decomposing organic matter.

When are slugs active?

They come out when it's cool and dark; the wetter the ground stays, the more the slugs populate it. They can also be spotted on cool, cloudy days.


Now the good part ...
How to get rid of them!

Chemical Products

There are many chemical products on the market that will kill slugs including Sluggo or Ortho Slug and Snail Killer.  I have found that they do work.

Non-Chemical Approaches

If you want a non-chemical way of getting rid of the little buggers, here are some suggestions that work well.

Change Their Environment

You want to make it less inviting for those slug families. There are several ways you can do this. 

  • They love the moist ground, so replace the old mulch that no longer drains well to a fresh mulch which will dry out faster. This will make it less hospitable to slugs. 
  • Slugs are soft-bellied creatures. To make it more difficult for the slug to travel hosta to hosta, you can put a rough-edged material like lava rocks around the hosta that they don't want to crawl over. Any coarse material like crushed eggshells will do. 
  • Place an Epsom Salt ring around the hosta. Slugs won't go near that.   Epsom salt is also a good source of magnesium for hostas.
  • Copper Strips. These are adhesive strips that form a barrier around pots or raised beds. When the slimy slug tries to cross the barrier, it is deterred with a small electric shock. 


  • Coffee grounds are also hard for slugs to crawl over and the caffeine is deadly to them. An added benefit is that coffee grounds are a good source of nitrogen, calcium, and magnesium. 

If you are already “overrun” by the slugs or had a late start in getting to them, here's the best way I've found to limit their numbers.

Trap Them

  • Place wood pieces in the area you have found slugs. Turn the boards over during the heat of the day and you'll find them resting there. Dunk them in a mixture of one part bleach to nine parts water or vinegar to kill them. 
  • Take a roll of newspaper and put a rubber band around it. Soak it in a pail of water for a few hours. Take the rubber band off and lay the newspaper in the slug area. They will crawl between the pages of the paper. Roll it up and dispose of the slugs. 

This one we've all heard about

Beer Traps

Take a shallow container and bury it in the ground next to your hosta. Fill with beer. The slug will fall into the trap and drown. Not an unpleasant way to go, I guess, and it does work for a few slugs or maybe at the beginning of the season. I wouldn't rely on this method for a large area of hostas.

Here's one you may not have thought of.



Birds eat slugs, so having many birdhouses around your hosta garden will attract birds to eat them. Some birds that will feast on slugs, beetles, and mosquitoes are Cardinals, Bluebirds, Orioles, and Sparrows.

My favorite way to limit your slug population:

Buy Slug Tolerant Hostas!

What makes a hosta more slug tolerant than others is the leaf substance of the hosta. The thicker and heavier the leaves, the less appeal they are to slugs and snails.

Here at Sunset Hosta Farm, we sell a good variety of slug-resistant hostas.  Click on this link to see our selection.  Click here.

Whether you buy slug-resistant hostas or use the above tips for the ones you have, your hostas will thank you by looking great throughout the season.

Where to go next!


Love hostas or know someone who does?
Visit our website for great hostas at an affordable price!

This post may contain Amazon affiliate links and as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases without costing you a penny extra.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Best Sunflowers for the Birds

When I have the time to sit back and enjoy what I've created in my garden, one of my favorite things to do is enjoy the sights and sounds of the birds. Growing sunflowers is one of the best ways I have found to draw the feathery visitors in.

Which birds do sunflowers attract?


A variety of birds can be attracted to a garden by growing sunflowers. These include Cardinals, Chickadees, Titmice, House Finches, Grosbeaks, Nuthatches, Goldfinches, Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Pine Siskins, to name a few.

Why are sunflower seeds nutritious for birds?

Sunflower seeds are rich in protein, vitamin B-complex, Vitamin E, folic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, and Zinc.

Not every sunflower type is the best food source for birds. Ornamental sunflowers, although they come in a wide variety of colors and sizes, produce edible seeds, but they're very small.
If you're looking for sunflower varieties to harvest for nutritional edible seeds for both birds and humans, here are some great choices.


Taller Edible Choices

Mammoth Russian

A favorite of bird lovers for years; single head.Height: 12 to 15 feet

Flower Head Size: 15” Thin shelled, plump, meaty seeds.

Mammoth Gray Stripe

Long blooming sunflower from summer to fall; single head.

Height: 8-12 feet

Flower Head Size: 10-12”

GiganteusBlooms early to late summer; single head, generous seeds.Height: 10 feet

Flower Head Size: 12”

Kong HybridForms a massive wall of foliage. Rapid grower; branching.Height: 8-15 feet

Flower Head Size: 10”

Note: Pinch at 5 feet tall to create a tall, dense hedge.

SunzillaOne of the tallest sunflowers. Very productive with large yellow blooms.

Height: 12 - 16 feet

Flower Head Size: 18-24”

Hopi Black DyeAn old heirloom. Seeds are used by Native Americans for dyeing wool and baskets. 

 Generally single-headed, but is occasionally multi-headed with varying size heads.

Height: 7-11 feet

Flower Head Size: 5 - 13” Seeds are purple to black

And if you need to update your bird feeders to fit the size of sunflower seeds, here are some great ideas:

And if you are just starting to grow sunflowers for the birds, you can start by purchasing seed to get the birds used to an area.


Shorter, Easy-to-Reach Edible Cultivars

The shorter varieties have larger, plumper seeds that were bred for snack use.

Super Snack Mix Hybrid

Height: 5 – 6 feet

Flower Head Size: 10”; single head

Seeds: Huge seeds which are easy to crack open.

Royal Hybrid

Traditional type variety with larger seeds.Height: 7 Feet

Flower Head Size: 8”

Seeds: High seed productivity, grey striped.

Sowing Your Sunflower Seeds

When to Sow

It's a good idea to sow sunflower seeds as early as your weather will allow. The taller varieties need 100+ days from seed to harvest and the shorter varieties need at least 75 days. 

For a longer harvesting season, succession sow several batches of sunflowers over a five to six-week period or sow them indoors earlier as described below.

Sowing the SeedsDirect Sowing into the garden

Sow sunflower seeds in a half-inch deep furrow, 6” apart then cover them with 1/2” to 1" of soil, depending on the seed size. Thin to 2 feet apart when the first true leaves appear. The temperature of the soil should be +70 degrees for good germination.

Since sunflowers have a long taproot, it is advisable to loosen the soil up to one and a half to two feet in depth. Adding compost and manure to the sowing area will promote vigorous growth and meatier seeds.

The soil needs to be well-drained. Soil with poor drainage can stunt a sunflower's growth.

Large Trays for Sunflower Sowing

Indoor Sowing

Sow indoors to get a jump on the season 2-3 weeks before your last expected frost date. Keep moist under strong lights until planting out when all danger of frost has passed. Transplant carefully.

Winter Sowing

If you haven't given winter sowing a try, you will find that winter sowing sunflowers is very easy. See our full winter sowing article by clicking here.

Caring for your Sunflowers as they grow


Full sun. Optimally at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. They LOVE the heat.


Sunflowers benefit from periodic deep waterings. They can withstand hot, dry weather. When the heads first appear, do not overwater since the heads may deform.


2” for water retention.

Wind Protection

Shelter from high winds that can bend and break young stems.


Stake the sunflowers every 12" with soft ties or these great stakes.


When the second set of leaves appear, fertilize the plants with a slow-release fertilizer 8” deep into the soil. Sunflowers are heavy feeders, so a second application mid-season may be necessary.


Protecting the Sunflower Seed Heads

Of course, you can leave your sunflowers in place and naturally feed the birds through the season. If you want to be able to harvest and save some seeds for later feedings or sowings, though, you will need to protect the developing seed heads by wrapping them in cheesecloth, netting or tying paper bags around the stems. 

Allow three weeks to a month drying time before picking them.

When to Harvest

You'll know when it's time to harvest your sunflower seeds when you see the backs of the blooms are brown and the sunflowers are dying back. The seeds should appear plump and somewhat loose at this stage. 

Cut the stalk about one foot below the flower head. Hang the sunflower heads upside down in a dry place until the seeds are completely ripe and dry.

Drying Sunflower Seeds for Later Use

Rinse the seeds, dry thoroughly in a single layer and store in an airtight container.


Growing sunflowers is a great way to not only add beauty to your garden, but to attract some great birds!  Start growing some today!


Where to go next!

This post may contain Amazon affiliate links and as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases without costing you anything extra.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Feeding Bread to Wild Birds


Generally, bread is not safe to feed birds on a regular basis, and the general category of “bread” for this article includes any bread-like product including buns, bagels, crackers, chips, etc.  

A consistent diet of bread is NOT a healthy food to feed wild birds, although some bread can be altered to be more nutritious for them. It's first important to understand just why bread can be harmful to birds.

Why is a consistent diet of bread not safe?

In a nutshell, bread is primarily a carbohydrate, and as such is basically junk food for birds. It certainly will fill a bird's stomach making them feel full at the time, but it does not provide much in the way of badly-needed nutrition. 

A steady diet of bread can cause the bird to develop health problems including malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies, and obesity. Birds need fats and lipids for energy and to develop their muscles and feathers, which bread just doesn't supply.

Which breads are best for birds?

Generally, if the bread is healthy for humans, it can be healthy for birds, but always in moderation. Whole grain or multi-grained breads (especially ones light on preservatives) are more healthy.

How to make bread more nutritious.

The best way to feed bread to birds is to add a few ingredients to the bread that will add some much-needed nutrition that bread lacks. You can spread some nutritious ingredients right onto the bread or hang it up nearby.

Some popular ideas include:
  • Peanut Butter (or any nut butter.) Blue Jays, woodpeckers, and nuthatches love the peanut butter.
  • Apple or grape jelly or marmalades. Orioles and warblers will find this most appetizing.

Once you add one of the two, it will be much easier to then spread on some extra nutritional toppings:

  • Birdseed mix, black oil sunflower seeds.
  • Raisins, cranberries or small bits of dried fruits.
  • Thin orange or apple slices.
  • Look at the ingredients contained in suet packs and you'll see many more options.

What Bread and Bread Toppings NEVER to feed wild birds, even on occasion.

Any human sandwich leftovers containing processed lunch meats, which contain too much salt and other chemicals, any sugar-free or low sugar spreads, soft cheeses, bacon. 

And, of course, bread that sits outdoors for a while before discovered by birds can become moldy and if ingested can actually poison and kill birds.


What time of year are breads more dangerous to birds?

Scraps of bread should always be restricted in spring and early summer. This is the time when parent birds are feeding their nestlings. These young birds need nutrition, not filler. 

On the other side of the season, as winter approaches, birds need extra nutrition to survive what could be a harsh winter.


The best time to feed bread to your birds.

The best time of year to occasionally put bread out for the birds is after the young birds have fledged (grown enough that their wings are developed enough to take flight) and there is more of an abundance of food items to choose from. 

Again, always adding some nutritious toppings to any bread offering is ideal.


So there's no need to stop feeding bread to wild birds as long as it is in moderation with nutritious ingredients added. A little know-how will go a long way in helping your feathery visitors stay healthy and build strength for whatever the next winter will bring.


Love hostas or know someone who does?
Visit our website for great hostas at an affordable price.

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