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How to Prune Spring-Flowering Shrubs

Unless you are removing dead or dying stems, it is best to prune spring-flowering shrubs just after they bloom.

When we think of pruning shrubs, we probably think of late fall and early winter as the ideal time, but this is not always the case. For many spring-flowering shrubs, late spring is the best time to prune because pruning must happen shortly after flowering. Prune off-season, in fall or spring, and you will remove the following year’s flower show! In my own garden, I have many spring-flowering shrubs that need late spring or early summer pruning, so I have learned to time my pruning carefully.

As a rule, most spring-flowering shrubs must be pruned just after or shortly after flowering because this is the time when they set new buds for next spring’s show. Prune them later in summer, and you will end up trimming off next year’s flower buds. For this reason, I have highlighted just a few spring-flowering shrubs and tips for pruning them.

My favorite pruning tools are simple. For large stems, I use a sharp pruning saw or heavy-duty loppers. Bypass pruners (secateurs) are used to manage smaller branches or for deadheading.

Pruning English or Cherry Laurel

The spring flowers of evergreen cherry laurel shrubs are very showy and fragrant, which is why it is important to prune them at the right time.

The plant that immediately comes to my mind that requires at least two prunings a year is the English Laurel, (Prunus laurocerasus, USDA Hardiness Zones 6-8, 10-18 feet), a hedge that my neighbors have. It is an evergreen and fast-growing shrub with dark glossy green leaves and has spikes of creamy white fragrant flowers in late spring. The scent is sweet and powerful, and the shrubs look very attractive in bloom.

My neighbors always give it a heavy pruning after it blooms and then another pruning later in the summer. They also selectively prune to keep the favorite hedge shrubs open and airy, which helps prevent disease problems. Theirs is certainly a taller variety that would take over the house without being pruned twice yearly.

Pruning Azaleas and Rhododendrons

Most often gardeners prune off old azalea and rhododendron blooms after they flower in addition to removing the occasional errant branch.

Rhododendrons and azaleas (Rhododendron species and hybrids, variable hardiness and sizes) will both bloom on second-year wood, so they benefit from spring pruning just after they have flowered. Any later and you risk accidentally removing next year’s blooms. Often the process for both is referred to as ‘deadheading’ because the old flower is removed.  Once the flower has faded, it can be removed. Not only does this look nicer, but it allows the plant can expend energy for new growth instead of seed production.

Deadheading a large rhododendron plant can be quite time-consuming, but it is well worth the time. The plant will physically look better without faded flowers and it saves the plant energy. Some care is required when removing the old blooms. If you look carefully, each has a tender stem that can be snapped off just below the bloom. This is where care is required because it is important to just remove everything above the stem–nothing below because all of the new growth will emerge below the stem.

Generally, rhododendrons and azaleas do not require more intensive pruning unless it is needed for space considerations or plant shaping. If pruning is required, do it immediately after flowering so the plant has adequate time to produce new growth for next year’s flowers.

Pruning Lilacs

The common lilac (Syringa vulgaris, Zones 3-8, 8-20 feet) is another plant that usually requires spring pruning. Once the plant has bloomed, cut off the spent blossoms. To do this, make the cuts back to the first or second pair of leaves on the stem.

If the shrub needs some major pruning, do it immediately after flowering because these lilacs bloom on wood from the previous year. On established plants, cut out a few of the oldest stems yearly and this will encourage new growth. It is also important to remove dead or dying stems, as needed, to keep the shrubs looking their best.

Pruning Tree Peonies

Tree peonies rarely need extensive pruning, but a little yearly deadheading and shaping will keep them performing their best.

The tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa, Zones 4-8, 3-5 feet) in my garden have finished their flowering season, so it is time to cut off the old flowers to keep the plant from producing seed. I do this with hesitation because the brown, starry seedpods open to show bright red or black seeds, which can be quite attractive. But, the seeds also take needed energy away from the plant. To have the best of both worlds, I sometimes leave some pods on to look nice. In general, shrubby tree peonies do not need to be pruned extensively, unless it is to remove a stray or dead branch. These architectural slow growers are usually happy just remaining as they are.

Pruning Camellias

My Japanese camellias (Camellia japonica, Zones 7-9, 7-12 feet) put on their greatest show in late winter or spring, but they will also bloom intermittently. Generally do not need pruning except to improve the appearance of the plant or for space considerations. I also remove the old flowers after they are spent to keep the shrubs looking nice and clean. When I do decide to prune, I do it immediately after flowering.

I have found that most spring-flowering shrubs are fairly forgiving with regard to pruning if you are sure to prune them after they flower and no later. If mistakes are made, the plant will survive. Severe pruning may eliminate, or decrease flowering for the next year, but the plant will carry on. Remember that gardening should be enjoyable, so don’t stress too much about potential pruning mistakes. Common sense is a good trait!

Beautiful Buckeye Trees for Yard and Garden

The flowers of Aesculus x carnea may be pink or red, depending on the variety.

Probably known to many, the state tree of Ohio is the Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra, 20-50 feet, USDA Hardiness Zones 3-7), a large tree native across eastern North America. Another common name is horse chestnut, a name that refers to its round, inedible, husked nuts with a mahogany sheen. In general, Aesculus trees are striking flowering specimens that come in a wide range of sizes and forms. In the Portland, Oregon area, mature specimen trees are most often seen in an arboretum or park setting. I also see them in older gardens with large lots suitable for big trees.

Species are variable, so it is important for homeowners to know about them before choosing a garden variety for the yard. Some are relatively small, while others are large and would overwhelm many garden spaces. When these trees come into flower, they put on a show that is spectacular. The flowers are largely bee-pollinated, but hummingbirds, moths, and even butterflies will also visit them. Exceptions are noted.

Five Beautiful Buckeyes

California buckeye is noted for its drought tolerance and large candles of summer flowers.

California buckeye (Aesculus californica, Zones 7-8) is a spring-or-summer-blooming California native favored for low-water gardens. The multi-stemmed tree only grows to 20 by 20 feet and has many large, palm-shaped leaves with multiple leaflets. The glory of this tree is its large spikes of cream-colored, fragrant flowers. They rise from the branches like candles from a candelabra. One important note is that the flowers feed native moths and bees, but non-native honeybees are another story. Apparently, the flowers produce a toxin that negatively impacts the growth and development of honeybees, so refrain from growing it, if you live near beehives.

A tough nature is a good reason to grow this buckeye. It is native to the Sierra Nevada foothills where it grows along dry slopes. In the wild, it naturally drops its leaves in mid- to late-summer to ward off severe late-summer drought. In a garden setting, the leaves will remain until fall with moderate irrigation.  The California Buckeye creates an attractive winter silhouette with its silvery trunk and stark branches.

Common horse chestnut is a popular European landscape tree that has escaped in some northern areas of the US.

Common horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum, Zones 4-7) and is native to Europe. It is a very large, single-trunked tree that can reach 60 by 40 feet and bears large, ivory flower spikes in late spring that are pollinated by bees. Be aware that not only is its billowing crown massive, but the roots can also be very dense and tend to break up paved surfaces, so don’t plant it near a sidewalk, driveway, or in a typical city lot. The cultivar ‘Baumannii’ has large white flower panicles and does not set seed. This non-invasive variety is the preferred choice for US gardens.

Ohio buckeye has variable spring flowers that feed bees.

Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra, Zones 4-8) is a mid-sized (50-60 feet), single-trunked tree that is widespread across eastern North American.  Its spiked clusters of spring flowers may be in shades of pale green, yellow, or ivory with touches of red or pink. Hummingbirds and a wide range of bees pollinate the flowers. The green, palmately compound leaves turn shades of yellow or red in the fall. A variety for reliably red fall color is Early Glow™ Ohio buckeye. It is also disease-resistant and produces little fruit, which reduces fall mess.

The hummingbird-pollinated scarlet buckeye is the smallest (and arguably) prettiest of all.

The southeastern native scarlet buckeye (Aesculus pavia, Zones 4-8) is a spectacular, small (12-15 feet), multi-stemmed tree with loose spikes of tubular scarlet flowers adapted for hummingbird pollination. The huge flower spikes look impressive for three weeks or more in spring. Through summer, the tree’s large, green, palmately compound leaves are textural and pretty. When summers are dry, the foliage may drop as early as the first week of September. The stark branches and gray bark of the tree look pleasing through winter.

‘Briottii’ is electrified by bright, showy pink spikes of early summer flowers.

The red horse chestnut (Aesculus x carnea ‘Briotii’, Zones 5-8) is a cross between the European common horse chestnut and the American scarlet buckeye. It is a real show-stopper in full bloom with large, beefy flower spikes of deep pink or red. These appear in early summer and can reach up to 10 inches long. It is a relatively compact tree that should not reach more than 30 or 40 feet at maturity, so homeowners with modest-sized yards can consider growing it. An open lawn will show off its features best. Grow it now only for the flowers and the large leaves but for the winter bark as well.

If there is an arboretum or a large park near you, check out their list of trees to see if Aesculus specimens are listed. That way, you may be fortunate enough to see a couple in full bloom before potentially choosing one for your own yard.

[Click here to learn everything that you need to know about how to plant a new tree.]

Early Glow™ Ohio buckeye has reliably red fall color, unlike some other species that lack fall color.

 

 

Magnificent Magnolias for Majestic Spring Flowers

Saucer magnolia is one of the most popular magnolias grown and blooms beautifully in early- to mid-spring,

I will always remember the early spring day in the 1960s when I exited the freeway into a wooded neighborhood and first saw saucer magnolia saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana, 20-25 feet, USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9, a cross between M. denudata x M. liliiflora) in full bloom. It was a spectacular introduction to the genus Magnolia.

Since that day, my interest in magnolias has not diminished and actually continues to grow each spring. In my own garden, I have several and would have more if it were not for space limitations. I regularly visit our local arboretum, the Hoyt Arboretum of Portland, Oregon, in the spring to see the Magnolia collection. There are also several area private gardens with extensive plantings of Magnolias, and I am a regular visitor.

About Magnolias

Saucer magnolias are large, long-lived trees that develop elegant branching with age.

Generally, magnolias are not small trees. Most of them will reach at least 25 feet and many have broad branches. Roger Gossler, of Gossler Farms Nursery in Springfield, Oregon, has an extensive display garden of magnolias, and he told me that he has consistently asked the hybridizers to please breed magnolias that are smaller because many of today’s customers are looking for trees in the 10-15-foot range. (The classic varieties in the Girls magnolia group, bred at the National Arboretum, have many smaller trees with fantastic blooms, but several are no longer on the market, and there is always a need for great new varieties for smaller gardens.)

Magnolia ‘Ann’ is a National Arboretum intro in the Girls series that reaches 10-12 feet tall.

For choosing the best Magnolias for your particular area, check varieties that local garden centers are offering. I also think that one of the best tests for specific varieties is to see what other gardeners are growing where you live. Be sure that they are reliably hardy where you live and not susceptible to early cold snaps in your area, which are known to sometimes freeze the spring buds and flowers.

Most Magnolia’s will grow in a full sun location but many also benefit from some protection from the hot afternoon sun. They like organic-rich and well-drained soil. The addition of Black Gold Garden Compost Blend would be ideal at planting time, and a yearly top-dressing is also beneficial. Magnolia roots tend to be fleshy so transplant them carefully while being sure to lightly tease apart any dense, pot-bound roots.

My Favorite Magnolias

Star magnolias are some of the first flowering trees to bloom with their starry pink or white flowers that appear before the leaves.

There are so many different varieties of Magnolias, and I am only able to list a very small number of them here. As I mentioned earlier, check to see what your neighbors are growing or local garden centers are carrying. It’s a great way to ensure that the trees you plant will grow well in your garden.

Yulan magnolias are fragrant and goblet-shaped.

One of the earliest blooming magnolias, which I have in my garden, is star magnolia (Magnolia stellata, 15-20 feet, USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8). This is one of the smaller growing types, my plant is probably 20 years old and perhaps 10 feet tall. The fragrant white flowers are small, 3 inches across, and appear on the stems before the leaves. The plant is a profuse bloomer and is covered with flowers in late winter.

Another that I have in my garden is Yulan magnolia (M. denudata, 30-40 feet, Zones 6-9), which has fragrant, ivory, goblet-shaped flowers that are 4-6 inches across and open before the leaves appear. Often a few flowers will appear during the summer. A bonus with this tree is that in late summer, red cone-like fruits appear and from a distance look as though the tree is in bloom.

‘Elizabeth’ has unique, pale yellow flowers.

Yellow is a rather elusive color in magnolias and ‘Elizabeth’ (15-30 feet, Zones 5-9) has set the standard since it was introduced and patented by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in 1977. It has light yellow, fragrant flowers that are 6-7 inches across and often appear before the leaves. Another yellow is M. ‘Butterflies’ which is similar but has smaller, (3-4 inch) flowers.

I would be remiss without mentioning the one that, when in bloom, attracts the most attention in my garden. Magnolia ‘Black Tulip’ (15-20 feet, Zones 5-9) has one of the darkest blooms of all the hybrids. As the name indicates, tulip-shaped flowers that are very dark purple-red appear on stems before the leaves. This makes a spectacular display.

Here I am offering just the tip of the iceberg of available Magnolia selections. I have only mentioned some of those that bloom in early spring, but there are plenty of other varieties that bloom in summer, such as southern magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) and Virginia magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), so don’t stop with spring!

‘Black Tulip’ is a unique hybrid with very dark, tulip-shaped flowers.

Getting Phalaenopsis and Oncidium to Rebloom

Moth orchids, or Phalaenopsis, are the most commonly sold orchids and easiest to grow.

I think that most of us have walked into a grocery store or the houseplant section of a garden center and seen colorful displays of colorful blooming orchid plants. With their unique and beautiful flowers, it can be difficult not to buy one. Once purchased, it is easy to get hooked on these them because they are easy-care and their flowers can last for weeks, sometimes even months. But, getting them to bloom year after year can take a little more know-how. And, if you are not willing to try on your own, offer your plants to orchid-growing friends.

The Story of Nancy, the ‘Orchid Lady’

If you have lots of plant friends, you can always find someone willing to take an unwanted orchid.

Some indoor gardeners are ‘buy and toss’ types when it comes to orchids. My wife was one of these gardeners. She would buy an orchid plant for our entryway, nurture its blooms, and then throw it out when the flower stems stopped. Each year, I was amazed at the length of time the plant stayed in bloom. When one flower faded, another would soon appear and bloom for many weeks. After a plant had performed so well, it seems a shame to just throw it away because the flowers were gone.

Luckily for us, one day our friend Nancy Klein was visiting, and she noticed one of our flowerless orchid plants headed for the compost pile. I mentioned to Nancy how sad I felt throwing them out, and she offered to take it to see if she could get it to re-bloom. “Yes!” I replied, “of course, you can take it, and let me know if you have success.”

Well, Nancy had success with that plant and many more over the years. She has become our orchid recycle person, and her home is rarely without at least one orchid blooming. We are not the only household that she rescues orchids from, and she has gained a reputation as the ‘orchid lady.’

Nancy’s Five Growing Tips for Phalaenopsis and Oncidium

Smaller-flowered Oncidium is the second most commonly sold orchid available.

The two most commonly sold orchids are moth orchids (Phalaenopsis hybrids) and dancing lady orchids (Oncidium hybrids). Of the two, Phalaenopsis is the easiest to grow and rebloom.  I recently talked with Nancy about her orchid success, and here are some of her tips for getting orchids to thrive and rebloom. She has had much better success with getting Phaelenopsis to rebloom as compared to Oncidium, but she still has some success with Oncidium. It can just take a little more work.

1. Provide Bright, Indirect Light: Nancy does have a sunroom in her house, which has proven to be ideal for growing orchids. She said that she notices that people often put a blooming orchid in a dark corner and orchids need plenty of light to survive and bloom.

2. Trim Off Old Blooms: When someone brings her a Phalaenopsis that is through blooming, Nancy trims off the flower stem to the lowest node or bud below where the last flower was. A new flower stem will appear from this node and a new blooming stem will often appear in about three months.

Each time Nancy waters her orchids, she includes diluted fertilizer formulated for orchids.

3. Plant Orchids in the Right Mix: Nancy uses medium-sized orchid bark as a growing medium, which is best suited for growing moth and dancing lady orchids. (If you grow ground, or terrestrial, orchids, plant them in finer Black Gold Orchid Mix). She repots her orchids every 3-4 years with new orchid bark. She keeps her potted plants in a tray with pea gravel and a small amount of water over the pea gravel to give the plants added humidity.

4. Water Properly. Nancy is lucky. She has low-mineral tap water for irrigating orchids, but most homeowners have hard, mineral-rich tap water which can damage and even kill sensitive orchids. If you have hard water, then watering orchids with distilled water is a better option. Water plants about once a week. She cautions that many people water too often, so once-weekly water is sufficient if you can maintain the humidity around your orchids. Each time she waters, she adds diluted orchid fertilizer.

4. Read About New Orchids and Their Care: Getting the Oncidium to bloom on a regular basis has been a challenge and they have not been nearly as reliable as the annual-blooming Phaelenopsis. This is partly due to the Oncidium genus being very diverse in nature as its habitat can be found from the tropics to areas of high elevation with growing conditions being obviously quite different. Nancy recommends checking the label for specific information. (Click here for The American Orchid Society’s helpful page on Oncidium care, and click here for their definitive page on Phalaenopsis care.)

You will know that it’s time to upgrade an orchid when the fleshy roots fill the pot. Provide it with a slightly larger, well-drained pot, gently release the roots and place them in new bark. Then water thoroughly.

5. Give Orchid Care a Try: After your orchid plant has finished blooming, instead of throwing it away, try holding it over and see if you can get a rebloom. For starters, I would suggest the Phalaenopsis. It can be a bit of a challenge, but the reward is great when you have new blooms coming from your plant and knowing that you were successful.

Winter Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden

Winter Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden

Here we are in January at the start of the New Year. Now is always an exciting time in the garden to be thinking of what new plants to add, what plants to remove or move, what container gardens to create, and what new garden art to add. A garden is ever-changing and never stays quite the same even though we, as gardeners, might not have made any changes. Nature makes its own decisions. When I look at pictures of my garden during the cold winter months, sometimes I am astonished at the differences that I see each year. Visualizing my gardens in years past also helps me determine what needs to be done–from now through to spring–to make them flourish.

Feed Wild Birds

One of the first garden tasks that I recommend is to feed the birds. So many of their natural habitats have been destroyed. I believe that we as gardeners can offer them a haven that is safe and supplied with food and water. More and more gardeners are also buying more plants that provide a natural source of food and shelter for not only birds but insects as well. (Click here to learn more about feeding birds naturally.) Many garden centers now create displays of wildlife plants, so their customers can be informed and plant landscapes specimens for wildlife. Still, without such plants, well-stocked bird feeders can provide nourishment for the birds and pleasure to the gardener. (Have your bird ID book on hand and mark off the different types for winter fun.)

Control Slugs Early

Removing slug eggs early can help save lots of plant damage and frustration.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, where I garden, we have, thus far, had a very mild winter. In my own garden, we have yet to have a real killing frost. If the weather continues like this it will probably mean that we’ll have a proliferation of slugs in the spring. To reduce slug populations, check your garden for slug eggs. Look under any boards, nursery containers, and other debris and destroy the small, round, translucent eggs on sight. It is much easier to control them now rather than waiting until the growing season.

Grow Primroses Indoors and Outdoors

Polyanthus primroses come in virtually all colors of the rainbow!

Colorful displays of English primrose (Primula Polyanthus group, USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9) are in many garden centers now and can give a feeling of spring with their vibrant colors and fragrance. These primroses are available in almost every color and sometimes blends of different colors. Most garden centers will have plants in bloom, and I suggest selecting those covered in flower buds because they will remain in bloom longer. English primroses also make excellent outdoor potted plants that provide early spring color to an entryway. I always like to have several primrose pots around our entryway, which will remain in flower well into the spring, especially in a protected area. I plant them in humus-rich Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix. While English primroses are technically perennials, many gardeners treat them as early-season annuals, but this is a waste. They are very hardy and can be planted in the ground for long-term enjoyment.

Plant Winter-Blooming Shrubs

Camellia ‘Yuletide’ has small, bright red flowers that bloom early.

Perhaps you have noticed an area in your garden where some winter color would be welcome. If our weather stays mild, January can be a good month to plant winter-blooming shrubs. Some good examples are winter witch hazels (Hamamelis x intermedia, mollis, and vernalis hybrids, Zones 5-8) and sasanqua camellia (Camellia sasanqua, Zones 7-9), which perform well in our Pacific Northwest climate as well as other parts of the country.  Witch hazels are large shrubs to small deciduous trees with flowers that have many narrow, crumpled petals that appear before the leaves. Flowers are fragrant and most varieties also exhibit beautiful fall leaf color. Sasanqua camellia generally has smaller flowers than the more familiar Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica), but it usually blooms earlier, from late fall to early winter. One of the most popular varieties is ‘Yuletide’ because of the bright red flowers with yellow anthers; the plants are often in bloom during the Christmas season. These camellias make excellent container plants, and I would suggest using Black Gold Natural & Organic Ultra Coir in which to plant them. When planting in the garden, these shrubs like full to partial sunlight and highly organic soil. (Click here for planting instructions.) Amending it with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend or peat moss is a good idea. (Click here to learn about more winter-blooming shrubs.)

Buy Seeds Early

Seeds are hot! Be sure to buy yours early this year.

Vegetable gardening and starting plants from seed have become very popular, so it is wise to purchase your seeds from seed catalogs and online seed sellers as early as possible. You don’t want to miss out on being able to get all of the seeds that you want. (Click here to learn how to grow plants from seed.)

With the continuing restrictions due to COVID-19, it can be a challenge to visit other gardens. This places limits on us seeing what plants are blooming in other gardens, but I’ve found that just walking around local neighborhoods can be an inspiration. My garden has been my ‘go-to’ place for some calmness in life and having some color makes it all even better.

Small Evergreen Conifers for Winter Gardening

 

Kohout’s Ice Breaker Korean fir has beautiful silvery and blue-green foliage that stands out in winter gardens.

I grow “miniature” or “dwarf” plants with caution*. Living and gardening in the Pacific Northwest, I have found that plants seem to grow larger than many of the plant tags indicate. I have had many experiences where plants get larger than the literature states and many gardening friends tell me that they have had the same experience. Perhaps it is our generally mild weather, rich soils, and regular rain that make for some nearly ideal growing conditions. (Sometimes, I tell myself that the plant does not know what the tag says!) So, growing guidelines can be helpful, and lists of truly tiny plants, in this case, evergreen conifers, useful.

Miniature and Dwarf Conifers Defined

Fortunately, the American Conifer Society has established size categories for conifers that attempt to address the continuous growth of supposed miniatures. While it is not perfect, it is a step in the right direction. The four categories are based on approximate growth per year and include:

  1. Miniature conifers: less than 1 inch
  2. Dwarf conifers: 1-6 inches
  3. Intermediate conifers: 6-12 inches
  4. Large conifers: more than 12 inches.

Of course, the region, climate, and culture will also play a factor in growth. Sometimes home gardeners have the opinion that a dwarf conifer will grow to ten-year dimensions and then stop growing. This is NOT always the case. Woody plants, including dwarf conifers, will continue to grow for the life of the plant–some more than others.

The Best Miniature and Dwarf Evergreens

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Hage’ is a truly tiny specimen plant that grows well in containers or rock gardens.

Recently, I visited the gardens of several different friends that grow small evergreens, and here are some truly slow growers that are recommended by the experts. (In my garden, I do not have many dwarf or miniature evergreens. Some that I have had, grew more than I had expected, and I gave them away.)

Miniature Korean fir (Abies koreanaKohout’s Ice Breaker’, Zones 5-8) offers brilliant silver and blue-green foliage throughout the year. This grows in a globose or rounded habit. The foliage has curled needles that show off the silvery-white undersides. Growth is 1-3 inches per year which makes this ideal for small gardens or rockeries. It was awarded the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society, and in 2014 it was the American Conifer Society’s Conifer of the Year.

Dwarf Columnar Common Juniper (Juniperus communis ‘Compressa’, Zones 4-9) is a narrow, upright, evergreen shrub with foliage that is tightly packed with blue-green needles that are prickly to the touch. The foliage tends to turn to a copper-bronze shade in the winter. It can reach 1-5 feet after ten years and is another Award of Garden Merit winner.

Juniperus communis ‘Compressa’ has a neat, upright habit.

Miniature Hinoki False Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Hage’, Zones 5-9) is a compact pyramidal selection of Hinoki cypress. This foliage also turns bronze-ish in the winter in cold climates. After ten years, it might be about 16 inches tall.

Dwarf Black Spruce (Picea mariana ‘Nana’, Zones 2-8) has needles that are silver-blue-gray and very small that grow from thin branches that stay distinctive throughout their growth. As it grows, it develops a dense round habit, and in ten years it might reach 18 inches tall.

Dwarf Mugo Pine (Pinus mugo ‘Jakobsen’, Zones 2-8) is a clump-forming mugo pine with somewhat irregular branching. Specimens can look almost like bonsai. The needles are very dark green and held tightly together. It can reach 1-4.5 feet after ten years.

Dwarf Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani ‘Hedgehog’, Zones 6-9) has very dark green foliage and forms a dense mound. The needles are prickly and can give the impression of a hedgehog. Expect it to reach 1-4.5 feet after ten years.

Whipcord is a stylish evergreen for small spaces.

Dwarf Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata ‘Whipcord’, Zones 5-8) is one that I have in my garden, and I love it. I actually have two plants, and both are in matching urn-shaped containers. A description I once read about it said that it, “looks like a firework of stringy foliage”. That is a good description because the green branchlets radiate in all directions. It is low and mounding. After ten years it can reach 1-5 feet.

The selection of small growing evergreens is vast, so it is easy to begin to start collecting them. For those with small-space gardens or a deck, patio, or balcony, many of these make ideal potted plants that look good all year long.

*Writer’s Note: For the past few years, I have been fascinated with the genus Ginkgo. My garden property could certainly not contain a standard Ginkgo which could reach 50 feet or more. Several years ago, I bought Ginkgo biloba ‘Marieken’ as I had been told that it was a dwarf form. It is a beautiful plant with soft green leaves that have ruffled edges and turn brilliant golden yellow in the fall. After about five years, it has a width span of about 6 feet and that is not what I would call ‘dwarf’.

The Hippest Roses with Colorful Hips

Rose hips can really add bright color to the fall and early winter landscape.

Generally, when gardeners purchase roses, they think of flower color, fragrance, disease resistance, and the overall beauty of the plant. Whether a rose has hips is usually not a high priority. But, if our gardens can have blooming roses all summer, why not end the season with the added bonus of colorful hips in fall? Songbirds and other wildlife love them, and they are beautiful. Some can even be dried to flavor delicious herbal tea.

What Are Rose Hips?

 

Here ripe rose hips have been seeded and are ready for drying for tea-making.

Rose hips are simply ripened rose fruits. They are often brightly colored and appear most abundantly in the fall at the end of the bloom cycle. They are usually red or orange but can also be bright yellow and even reddish-black.

Rose hips have been used for centuries for folk medicine and tea. In fact, they are still in use today–largely because they are tart and very high in vitamin C. Check out the health section of your local grocery store, and you will probably find rosehip teas, soaps, and lotions. Their high concentration of vitamin C has even helped nations during the toughest times. During World War II in England, the public was encouraged to harvest rose hips. Vitamin C was in short supply due to limitations on importation of fruits, such as citrus, so hips were gathered and processed into a syrup that could be used at home and was even made available in stores.

Unfortunately, for most gardeners, modern roses are not known for their hips. With current rose breeding methods, a rose with hips has not been a priority. For marketing purposes, long stems, improved flowering, and disease resistance have been more important. That’s why many heirloom and species (non-hybrid) roses will often provide the most impressive display of hips. I will focus more on heirloom roses, and a couple of newer varieties, because species roses are usually once-blooming and tend to have more rampant growth habits that are often more difficult to control, thus making them unsuitable for most gardens due to space considerations.

Roses With Beautiful Hips

Here are some roses that are known for hips and would fit into most gardens. All are commercially available.

Redleaf rose has very sweet flowers, dark foliage, and bright hips. (Hip image by Mike Darcy)

European Redleaf Rose (Rosa glauca, USDA Hardiness Zone 2-8): In my own garden, I have one species rose, Rosa glauca. While it does grow quite large (5 to 7 feet), I keep it pruned to a manageable size. Rosa glauca is a particular favorite of mine because I like the foliage, which is purplish-red with grayish-silver overtones that make it quite an attractive shrub, even when not in flower.  It blooms once a season in spring, and the flowers are single pink with white centers and lots of yellow stamens. Even though it is a one-time bloomer, the bloom season extends over about a six-week period. Clusters of very colorful red hips occur in the fall.

‘Hansa’ has very large, edible hips in fall.

Japanese Beach Rose (Rosa rugosa, Zones 2-7): Here is a rugged, tough rose that is easy to grow. I like ‘Alba‘, which becomes covered with single white flowers in late spring and early summer. Another good selection is the double-pink ‘Hansa’, which is very fragrant and blooms through most of the summer and is a fairly compact grower (4 to 5 feet) suitable for smaller gardens. These roses are known for their large, juicy, crabapple-sized hips that turn shades of red and orange in fall.  The mature hips are also edible and can be dried to flavor herbal tea or used to make tart jam

Dortmund has crimson and white flowers and orange hips.

Dortmund Climbing Rose (Rosa ‘Dortmund’, Zones 5-9): A climbing rose with very prolific orange-red hips in fall is ‘Dortmund’, which was first introduced in 1955. The single-red flowers appear in copious clusters that bloom over a long period of time. Its dark green, glossy foliage is disease resistant. It is a fast and tall grower, reaching 8 to 11 feet, so give it plenty of support and train it well.

WesterlandClimbing Rose (Rosa Westerland, Zones 5-10): Lots of large, fragrant, double roses of peachy orange cover this repeat bloomer from late spring through the season. The foliage is glossy green and quite disease resistant and the hips are round and bright orange. ‘Westerland’ is a 1999 introduction with elongated canes of 6 feet or more. Sometimes it is called a shrub, but it is too long and leggy (that would be a large shrub!).

Lots of small Pink Meidiland roses give way to lots of little red hips.

Pink Meidiland Shrub Rose (Rosa Pink Meidiland, Zones 4-9) is a 4-to-5-foot shrub rose that has many small, bright pink flowers with white centers. It blooms in flushes throughout the season. Its orange-red fall hips are small, but they are numerous. Another comparable Meidiland rose that is a bit more common in commerce and has improved pink flowers, excellent fragrance, and lots of hips is Magic Meidiland, but I prefer the delicate blooms of the original pink.

If you are considering getting a rose or roses that will produce hips in the fall, I would suggest doing some research for your specific region. Check with rose-growing neighbors as well as a local garden center or a public rose garden, if your city has one. I think it is best to actually see the plant and this time of year; the hips should be visible now. This way you know you are getting exactly what you want.

Rose hips are high in vitamin C, and many are used dry to flavor herbal tea.

For tips on how to grow and plant roses, please reach the following garden blogs: A to Z of Natural & Organic Rose Care and What Light and Soil are best for Roses?

Favorite Shade-Loving Flowering Shrubs and Perennials for Fall

Reblooming hydrangeas, yellow waxbells, and fuchsias are three reliable bloomers that flower into fall.

We’ve had a long hot and dry summer here in the Pacific Northwest, so those plants that relish the sun and take drought have performed beautifully. In turn, shade lovers, that thrive in cool, moist environments have needed extra care. In my garden, we have a mix of areas with blazing afternoon sun, almost total shade, and both sun and shade. I have banked on a large selection of shade plants to provide color in the form of foliage as well as flowers in my full and partially shady areas, and as summer wanes, I count on certain fall bloomers to keep my shade gardens looking sharp.

Reblooming Hydrangeas

Let’s Dance® Rhythmic Blue®is an excellent reblooming hydrangea. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Reblooming hydrangeas are the first group of plants that come to mind for late-summer and fall color in the shade garden. While many will tolerant some sun, I think they look their best, and the flowers last much longer if the plants are grown in afternoon shade. Bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla, Zones 6-9) and mountain hydrangea (Hydrangea serrata, Zones 5-9) are some of the best adapted to shade, and rebloomers flower the most reliably into fall. One excellent selection to try is the large-panicled Let’s Dance® Rhythmic Blue® reblooming hydrangea, which reaches 4 feet by 4 feet and produces big violet-blue (or pink in more alkaline soils) flower clusters well from midsummer to fall. Another is the very compact 3-foot Tuff Stuff Ah-Ha®  reblooming mountain hydrangea with its lacy pale-blue flowers. It grows well in-ground or in well-drained containers filled with a quality mix, like Natural & Organic Black Gold Flower & Vegetable Soil.

Good water is essential. If the plants become stressed for moisture, often the flowers will turn crisp, especially when in the hot sun. Despite our tough summer, hydrangeas have thrived when given adequate moisture and some protection from the sun. When I walk around my neighborhood, I see gorgeous hydrangea flowers on those plants that have been given the right care. This is where a good mulch will also help keep the plants hydrated and happy. Black Gold Garden Compost Blend is an ideal water-holding soil amendment as well as mulch.

Fuchsias

The flowers of ‘DebRon’s Smokey Blue’ are large and deep fuchsia and purple. (Image by Mike Darcy)

Another popular and well-known flower for partial shade is fuchsia (Fuchsia hybrids, Zones 9-11). ‘DebRon’s Smokey Blue‘, with its dark rose and purple flowers, is a personal favorite. Mine have been blooming all summer and will continue well into the fall. We have fuchsia plants in containers on our deck that are covered with flowers and have many buds yet to open. While the flowering will not be as prolific as it is now, they should continue to bloom until frost. Some fuchsias have the addition of colorful variegated foliage, so the plants can be colorful even without flowers. With their brightly colored flowers and foliage, fuchsias provide quite a show in the autumn shade garden.

Hardy fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica, 6-10 feet, Zones 6-9) is an Argentinian shrub that blooms from summer to fall with many small, red and pink, pendulous flowers that feed migrating hummingbirds. While many of the hardy fuchsias will grow in the sun, I’ve found that they perform better without the hot afternoon summer sun. It is wise to place hardy fuchsia near the home or protective stone walls to provide it extra winter protection.

Palm-Leaf Begonia

The amazing palm-leaf begonia produces white and yellow flowers into fall and has spectacular leaves. Bring it indoors before the first frost of the season. (Image by Dedarot)

A new plant for me this year is palm leaf begonia (Begonia luxurians, Zones 9-11). The leaves are very tropical looking, and it has been in bloom during the past month with clusters of white and yellow flowers. I have my plant in a container with Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix. It’s in an area where it only gets filtered sunlight because of overhead trees. It was about 12 inches tall when I bought it in early June and has now grown to 4 feet. Technically a perennial, it would be treated as a summer annual here or could be brought indoors as a house plant in a sunroom or greenhouse. It would not survive our winters outdoors.

Yellow Wax Bells

My yellow wax bells are just coming into bloom.

Yellow wax bells (Kirengeshoma palmata, Zones 5-8) is a perennial in the hydrangea family that is native to eastern Asia. It is quite a mouthful to say in Latin as well as to remember. While the common name, yellow wax bells, is much easier to remember and say, it is not well known and would be hard to find in most garden centers under that name. I rarely see it in local gardens, and I don’t know why. It grows beautifully for me. A plant was gifted to me many years ago. I have it in a shady location, and it thrives.

The plant itself is about 4 ft tall and wide and is coming into bloom now. Its waxy yellow flowers are very pretty and look attractive against its large, bold, palm-shaped leaves. It likes shade and moisture and is winter hardy. I mulch it regularly with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend.

This is just a sampling of plants that give late summer color to shaded gardens. To add to the list, I have written about fall anemones (click here to read), dahlias, some other favorite fall-flower picks (click here to read). Check out your local garden center, and you may be surprised at the large selection of blooming plants that are still available.

Late-Summer Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden

Late-Summer Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden

Sometimes this time of year is referred to as the “dog days of summer”; however, I do not think of it in these terms. Yes, it is hot, many garden flowers are flagging, and there are garden tasks to do, but August is also a month when there is much for us to enjoy in the garden. As I sit on my deck this August morning, I am surrounded by colorful pots of salvia, begonias, lobelia, heliotrope, abutilon, fuchsias, and even a Doris Day floribunda rose bush. But, to enjoy the late-summer garden, it needs daily care.

Groom Tired Flowers

Flagging petunias will appreciate a mid- to late-summer haircut to keep them pretty into fall.

One of my early morning tasks is to remove old flowers and perform some general grooming to keep all my garden plants looking as good as possible. I carry a pair of sharp pruners and snip off any out-of-line branches, poor-looking foliage, or dying flowers. It takes little effort and keeps the garden looking its best. (For more detail, read Teri Keith’s recent article about pruning and deadheading garden perennials and annuals in midsummer.)

Cut Flowers for Bouquets

Cut bouquets of your favorite, long-lasting cut flowers in the garden.

Dahlias are just coming into their prime blooming season and should continue to flower until about the middle of October.  Yesterday, as I was walking my dog, a neighbor was cutting dahlias and gave me a beautiful bouquet. On hot days, dahlia foliage and flowers can quickly wilt in the summer sun, and a top dressing of Black Gold Garden Compost Blend can help alleviate this issue by helping to retain moisture. Cut dahlia flowers early in the day when they look their best and keep them picked to prolong their blooming season. (Click here to read our recent garden article detailing Jessie Keith’s favorite summer cut flowers.)

Feed Container Gardens

Now is the time to fertilize and give containers extra water.

By the time August arrives, many plants in containers that have grown throughout the summer will have root systems that have begun to fill the container. Once roots fill a container, they will begin to circle the wall of the pot resulting in a pot-bound planting. This root mass will quickly become dry, and the plants will wilt from lack of water. I have found that some containers may need watering twice a day if it is hot and especially if there are drying winds. Don’t expect rain to supply the needed moisture as the foliage can be so thick that the water does not penetrate the soil. Water each container at the base of the plants until the water runs out of the bottom of the pot into the saucer or reservoir. August is also a good time to give plants in containers fresh all-purpose fertilizer because many of the original nutrients have leached out.

Prepare the Vegetable Garden for Fall

Late summer is the time to plant cool-season crops, like lettuce.

Some early-season vegetables may be on the decline. Remove them to make space for a fall vegetable garden. Add fresh amendments before planting fall vegetables. Black Gold Natural & Organic Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix is a great vegetable garden amendment that is OMRI Listed for organic gardening and contains mycorrhizae to encourage better growth, naturally.

It depends on the specific area you live in, but here in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, we plant peas can good herbs for the fall garden as well as beets, carrots, chard, lettuce, and kale as well as other brassicas. Now is the perfect time to purchase seeds and get your fall vegetables growing.

“Edit” Your Garden for Fall

Iris and daylilies can be divided in late summer as you “edit” your garden.

August is a good month to think about some garden editing. In my own garden, I occasionally plant plants in the wrong place, or perhaps they have grown larger than I had expected. When moving them to new locations, I make sure to remember where spring bulbs are planted, or I move the bulbs as needed. I also consider the surrounding area and how it might have changed in terms of light and wind. As trees and shrubs grow or are pruned, they may be casting shade on plants that need the sun or providing more sun to an area that was once shady.

If your garden has bearded or Siberian iris, late August is an ideal time to divide them. Often, beds of bearded iris decline in bloom because they are too crowded, while clumps of Siberian iris can quickly become too dense. Diving both about every three years will ensure that they bloom beautifully each spring and don’t overgrow an area.

Give Roses a Boost

Now’s the time to prune off damaged branches, old blooms, and feed your roses for the fall.

Keep roses picked and cut the stems long on hybrid-tea types for the vase. New growth will appear, and the new flowers of fall will be more at eye level where their scent can be best enjoyed. Fertilize roses one last time before spring.

In these troubling times, our gardens, whether large or small, can offer us a hiatus from some of the negative forces around us.  Even a small area on a deck, balcony, or patio can give us some respite from the world in which we live. Enjoy your plants, and realize that they don’t know what is going on around them. Give them water and nurture them, and they will provide you with much pleasure.

The Best Container Plants for July Heat

The Best Container Plants for July Heat

It is July, and there are so many plants in bloom on my deck that it is like a bonanza of color. It is so relaxing to sit there and be surrounded by containers that are bursting with flowers and watching the hummingbirds aggressively guard their territory.  There are also honeybees and bumblebees, as well as an occasional dragonfly.

In my containers, there are some plants that I always seem to repeat every year because they perform so well, and I don’t want to be without them. My deck receives quite a bit of sun throughout the day, including hot afternoon sun. That means the plants need to tolerate some hot conditions, and I have learned throughout the years which plants perform best.

Bonfire Begonia

Begonia Bonfire® is an outstanding nonstop bloomer. (Image care of Anthony Tesselaar Plants)

While we often think of begonias as being shade-loving plants, Begonia Bonfire® has been an excellent summer-blooming plant for our sunny deck. The summerlong flowers of bright orange fit the name, Bonfire®. Hummingbirds like them, and it has a trailing habit that makes it excellent for hanging baskets and tall containers. I have planted three of these begonias in the center of a pot with white Bacopa (Snowstorm® Snow Globe® Bacopa is a good choice) around the edge. The two make a nice combination.

Two Sweet Salvias

Proven Winners Rockin’® Fuchsia Salvia is a nonstop summer bloomer loved by hummingbirds. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Two salvias from the Proven Winners® brand are on my deck this summer, and they are both outstanding. Rockin’® Fuchsia Salvia (Zones 9-11) is a compact grower (24 to 36 inches) that is excellent for containers. The flowers themselves are dark fuchsia and supported by stems of lighter fuchsia. At the base of each flower is a persistent, beak-like calyx that is dark fuchsia, so when each flower fades and falls, the stems and calyces continue to provide color. The other salvia is Rockin’® Blue Suede Shoes (Zones 9-11), and, as the name implies, it has blue flowers. The stems and calyces on this are very dark, almost black. Hummingbirds seem to like both salvias equally.

Suncredible Sunflower

You can’t go wrong with the 2- to 4-foot Suncredible® Yellow Sunflower. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Another Proven Winners® plant on my deck that is new to me, is the annual Suncredible® Yellow Sunflower, which reaches just 2 to 4 feet. I first saw this in a trial garden last summer and knew that the following year it would be in my garden. It is a new type of sunflower that is very compact, everblooming, sterile, and loves the heat. The plants were in bloom when I bought them in May and have never stopped flowering. Sunflowers offer a bright spot of color, and each plant is covered in blooms.

Candy Corn Plant

Candy corn plant has unusual tubular flowers that are visited by hummingbirds. (Image by Mike Darcy)

If ever there was a bold container plant that was a prolific bloomer, hummingbird magnet, and heat-lover it would be candy corn plant (Cuphea micropetala, Zones 8-11). While not reliably winter hardy here, mine came through our mild winter. Earlier this season, it was scraggly, and a grower friend told me to cut it back halfway, which I did. Usually, they reach up to 3 feet or more, but the result has been a beautiful looking, very compact plant. Because I cut it back so far, it was late to bloom, but it is beautiful now. Its small tubular flowers are orange with yellow tips and held on stems that are almost like spikes. Flowering continues all summer.

Cleopatra Canna

Canna ‘Cleopatra’ is spectacular leaves with purple markings that look great even when there are no flowers. (Image by Mike Darcy)

Cannas are primarily known for their foliage and flowers, but my Canna ‘Cleopatra’ (Zones 8-11) has outstanding leaves–no flowers required. The large leaves have dark maroon markings that appear at random. Some leaves might have maroon stripes, while others might be half maroon. The red and yellow summer flowers are also impressive, and their coloring is as random as the leaves. I like the standard 4- to 6-foot variety in big pots, but gardeners that prefer more compact plants can buy dwarf Canna ‘Cleopatra’, which reaches just 3 feet.

Big Container Bananas

Red banana is a very large container plant that needs an equally large container, but what a show! (Image by Mike Darcy)

I would be remiss without mentioning my three potted red leaf bananas (Musa ensete ‘Maurelii’ (syn. Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’). These are in large pots because they grow so fast and get so big in just one season. They are not winter hardy, so each must be newly planted in spring. This year’s specimens were about three feet tall, and by the end of the summer they will be 8-10 ft tall. The large tropical leaves are tinged with red and have dark red leafstalks. It is an outstanding foliage plant. The large leaves can be shredded by the wind, so keep it in a wind-sheltered area.

Other gardeners certainly have their own lists of the best container plants for July heat, but these are my favorites for our summers in the Pacific Northwest. I enjoy sharing mine with neighborhood gardeners and learning what they are growing as well. Just walking around the neighborhood and looking at hot, sunny garden spots tells me what plants are performing. My list also grows. It is always fun to try something new, and this year the salvias and sunflower were my choices.

Enjoy the height of summer!