I Get The Blues in The Fall Blues

This post was written by my friend Stephanie Cohen aka the Perennial Diva. Stephanie is an award winning garden writer and plant dynamo. The is the author of three books; “The Perennial Gardener's Design Primer”, "The NonStop Garden” and "Fallscaping". She lectures coast to coast, and has taught herbaceous plants and perennial design at Temple University for over 20 years. She was the founder and director of the Landscape Arboretum at Temple University, Ambler. She is a contributing editor for Fine Gardening magazine.  


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I Get The Blues in The Fall Blues


This is not an essay about depression in the fall when we know winter is on its way. I love fall and am invigorated by the wonderful weather and the array of colors in the landscape. Some gardeners think fall is the time for kales, cabbages, and pumpkins. It certainly is, but there are so many other choices to give us fall color.

When I think of fall I always think of shades of gold, yellow, bronze, orange, and reds that the trees deliver. A few perennials have that same capability. For contrast I love blue and my favorite “short” blue shrub happens to be Caryopteris.

Caryopteris
, goes by several common names, Bluebeard, Blue-mist Shrub, and Blue Spirea, and it is a small shrub that fits into a mixed or perennial border quite readily because they generally range from 2’ to a little over 3 ‘ tall. It blooms profusely in full sun, needs average garden soil that is not heavily enriched with fertilizer or it gets a case of the flopsies. This is one of my favorite low maintenance plants. It flowers late summer to early fall and puts on a show for several weeks. Do not touch when you do fall cleanup. In the spring come out and do your favorite whack and hack pruning. If you want plants a little taller don’t cut back as much. I vary from severe cut backs to leaving quite a bit of the bush every other year. It does bloom on new wood so the old part will not flower. I practice this on Vitex (Chaste Tree) and Buddleia (Butterfly Bush) to keep them vigorous. This is just my opinion on the subject. Caryopteris is hardy to zone 5 and some to zone 4.

The common color for Caryopteris is generally shades of blue. It is an aromatic deciduous shrub and flowers, leaves, and stems give off a faintly pleasant odor. It is fairly heat and drought tolerant. It has no major pests or diseases. Best of all, butterflies will enjoy them as much as you do.



Two of the tried and true cultivars that are still around are ‘Dark Knight’, with deep blue flowers, and ‘Longwood Blue’, which has lovely foliage and beautiful sky blue flowers. Selected at Longwood Gardens it has been a favorite of gardeners for a long time.

Newer cultivars are ‘Grand Bleu’ and ‘Petit Blue’ two outstanding cultivars from France. The main difference is size, as “Gran’ at 31/2’ and ‘Petit’ is 2/1/2’ both have deep blue blossoms and shiny foliage. ‘Petite’ works very well as a container plant because of its demure size. 



Now for something different. We now are switching gears to a new take on the same familiar species. It is called ‘Sunshine Blue’. ‘Worcester Gold’ is a yellow foliage form that tended to lose its intense coloration by midsummer. ‘Sunshine Blue’, an English cultivar, manages to keep its yellow foliage while producing amethyst blue flowers.  Lil' Miss Sunshine is a  new cross between Petit Blue and Sunshine Blue. This variety gives you the best of both worlds. It has the small habit of Petit Blue but with the bright yellow foliage of Sunshine Blue.

So I suggest getting the blues for a late summer fall finale. It’s fun to add to the razzle dazzle of this show stopping season

Saul Brothers on the Cutting Edge

Bobby Saul with Route 66 
While I specialize in new and improved flowering shrubs, I can appreciate a good new plant be it an annual, perennial, tree or shrub. I also appreciate the people that develop a good new plants.

Two weeks ago, I made a trip down to Atlanta to give a talk to the American Hydrangea Society. It was a talk I was suppose to give last year, but due to mechanical problems my flight was cancelled and I missed my appointment. This time around I flew into Atlanta a day early so I was certain to get there on time. That extra day gave me the opportunity to visit with Bobby and Richard Soul. 

The Saul brothers are active plant breeders and are best known for breeding new and interesting Echinacea or coneflower. During my visit I got the opportunity see some of the other new plants they've been developing. I was not disappointed in what I found. Some pretty cool stuff. 

Route 66' is hardy
Coreopsis verticillata 'Route 66' is a new threadleaf Coreopsis with blood red petals with yellow highlighted tips. The plant was developed, trailed and tested in Lucinda, Pennsylvania by Patti Bauer and has proven itself to be a hardy perennial in zone 5. This is good news. While there have been other red cultivars of Coreopsis, these plants unfortunately turned out to be annuals.     

Candlelight in bloom in October

Also of interest was Candlelight Kniphofia which to my knowledge is the only reblooming torch lily. This hardy and heat tolerant perennial blooms from May right through to October. The flowers are creamy yellow and lighten to white as they age. The flower stems can reach 24 to 30" in height. 

A new take on Snapdragon 
I was quite impressed with 'Snapdaddy' Snapdragon (Antirrhinum). This is a new snap with bright yellow flowers and attractive blue-green leaves edged with a creamy yellow margin. This annual matures at about 18"-24" making it a great plant for the garden or mixed container. They also have a pink version on the way called 'Snap happy'.

Kaleidescope Kale 
Kaleidescope Kale is another cool annual for the garden or mixed container. This cool season annual lights up the garden with it blend of pink and purple hues and frilly leaves. I have idea how it tastes, but it certainly would make for a colorful garnish.

So my trip to Atlanta was a success! I made it to my talk on time. I met a lot of very nice Hydrangea enthusiasts. And to top it off, I got to see some very cool, new plants.



In Memory of Greg Speichert - Plantsman and Friend




I am sad to say that my dear friend Greg Speichert died Thursday night in Philadelphia while attending the Independent Plant Breeders Conference at Longwood Gardens. I just got back from the conference and heard the news from Dan Heims via Facebook.  I am in shock right now as I just spoke with him Wednesday evening. I know that many of you knew Greg and would want to know the news. He was an internationally known plant expert and had many friends around the world.

I can't tell you when I first met Greg, but I can tell you it was a was a great day when I did. We talked for hours about all types of plants, plant breeding, gardening and friends that we had in common. We laughed and talked like old friends that had known each other for years. I knew that I had met someone very special. He was so genuine and honest. He was so much more than just a plantsman - even though he was one of the most knowledgeable horticulturists I had ever met. He was full of joy. He loved plants. He loved learning about plants, so much so, that it was an for him obsession. It was his life calling and he took it very seriously. It was who he was.
Let me tell you a little bit about Greg and his passion for plants:
In his youth, Greg became interested in daffodils so he joined the daffodil society. Utilizing  plant  sales, friends, auctions, and mail order he acquired every species and  daffodil cultivar available. He grew them, documented them, photographed them, studied them and took notes on them. Once he learned everything possible about daffodils he stopped, quit the daffodil society and then joined the Iris Society and began again. This is how he lived. He just continued to learn new plant groups until he knew it all and then moved on. During his ornamental grass phase he corresponded with all of the foremost experts and breeders of ornamental grasses in Germany and translated what he had learned into English. He was a pioneer in ornamental grasses, water plants and perennials. 

He was perhaps best known as a water plant expert. He and his wife Sue owned and operated a nursery that specialized water garden plants. Together they wrote the Encyclopedia of Water Garden Plants (Timber Press) and published a water gardening magazine. It is said that he introduced over 300 new hardy and tropical marginals and over 100 new native water plants to the water gardening industry.

I have never met anyone else like Greg and I doubt I ever will.

Beyond his crazy knowledge of plants, Greg was a gentle soul. Genuine, thoughtful, helpful and interested in other people. I remember him telling me about a plant hunting trip he made to China. He wanted so badly to share this experience with me that he later planned a trip to take me there. 
When I saw him this week at Longwood Gardens, he was the same enthusiastic, happy guy I had known and loved. He told me he was getting into Iris breeding. With a smile he told me all the old iris breeders were gone and that it was the perfect time to pick up where they had left off. Unfortunately for us - he too is gone. So suddenly, so unexpectedly he is gone. While I am very sad, I also feel so blessed to have seen him one last time. To have seen his smile. He was among friends, he was learning about plants, and he was happy.   


Impressions of Japan

I just got back from plant hunting in Japan. And while I am thrilled with the plants we found I'm also thrilled to be sleeping in my own bed again. Now that I've finally caught up with my email inbox and I'm mostly recovered from my jet lag, I’m ready to share some thoughts, sights and plants from Japan.

I've been to Japan a number of times and each trip has been unique and interesting in its own way, but in general terms I've come away with some consistent yet contrasting impressions. My most overwhelming impression of Japan is that it's crowded. It is packed full of people, cities, buildings, cars and triple decker highways.    

A new tower being added to the vast Tokyo Skyline 

Three dimensional car parking is quite common in Japan 
Double decker and triple decker highways

In complete contrast to this sensation, Japan can be, when out in the country side, breathtakingly beautiful in its natural and historical beauty.  The dark, Cyrptomeria covered mountains, the rich, botanically diverse flora and the scattered, plant laden temples all impart a strong, lasting impression. Once outside the cite there are delightful surprises around every corner. 

It can take a bit of time to get out of town but it's well worth it.


A wayside temple in a small mountain village

Temple statues greet me at the entrance. 
But even high in the mountains, or hours out of town, there signs that remind me that civilization is still close at hand; a cell phone tower, miles of utility lines or an endless field of misplaced Chinese Maiden grass Miscanthus sinensis

An old hilltop castle. Note the cell tower. 

 Miscanthus grass as far as the eye can see.
The diversity of plants in Japan, both in the wild and in the nurseries, makes an impression. It is exciting for to me to see common garden plants such as Styax, Weigela, Euonymus, and Japanese maple, Acer palmatum,  growing in their natural habitat. It helps me to better appreciate our own native plants even more.  It is also a rush to see the wealth of cultivated varieties found in the nurseries and garden centers.  While the nurseries are difficult to navigate (the tags use Japanese characters) they are a treasure trove for plant geeks, overflowing with hundreds of selections never (or rarely) seen in North American. Name any species of plant and you will find a variegated version (or several versions) in Japan.  

A treasure hunt for plants at a Japanese nursery 

Smilax is a Michigan native. We discovered a variegated form in Japan.
Contrasting this huge selection of plants is the typically small Japanese yard that has very little room for plants. In Japan many plants are grown and sold for gifts. Just as we might bring a bottle of wine when calling on friends, a Japanese visitor would consider it in good taste to bring a live plant (it has been my experience that plants do last longer than wine). These plants are then displayed on the patio, balcony or are clustered about the home entrance. This is how most Japanese people garden. 

Those that have homes typically have small yards. Container plants are common.
Over all, my impression of Japan is that it's quite different from America. Yet at the same time is not so different. When talking plants with a nurseryman or evaluating seedlings with plant breeder, it turns out we are very much alike in our passion for plants and nature.  I've found this to be the case no matter where I travel. 

A hearse of a different color.

The Case for Real Plants

The trouble with plants, and the great thing about plants, is that they’re living creatures.  Strangely enough people don’t often think about plants this way.  They totally miss the miracle before their eyes; that they’re respirating, growing, oxygen creating, living beings.  The down side, if we choose to see it as a down side, is  that living things are not plastic, they require care, they grow larger, they get sick, and as with all living things - they eventually die.

A Sky Mall ad for artificial plants

The Case for Real Plants and Gardening.

Growing plants can be very satisfying.  There is great satisfaction in nurturing a plant from a small seed or seedling, watching it mature into a plant that rewards us for our effort.  We get shade from trees.  We get fruit to eat.  We get the joy of seeing them make delicate, colorful, beautiful flowers as if by magic.  We are willed to breath deep and then smile when confronted with the sweet smell of a lilac or a mock orange.  What joy there is in watching monarch butterflies dance about a butterfly bush, or hummingbirds darting about a fuchsia drinking nectar!

Each day when I get home from work, I get great satisfaction from walking my garden to see what has changed, what’s in bloom, the magical appearance of fruit or fall foliage.  Each day is full of surprises and the tension that comes from a hard day's work dissipates into a feeling of relaxation and awe.  Sure it takes a bit of hard work and sweat equity to create a garden, but the best things in life require effort.  But don’t you value things more when you earn them and have a role in their creation?   



So tell me where is the joy in owning a plastic fish, a robotic dog (Remember when this was the craze in Japan?), or a plastic geranium.   I don’t get it.  But my guess is that someone reading this blog is addicted Tap-Fish, Farmville or a similar electronic game.  If so, here is a bit of free advice - I’m always grateful when someone shares the fruits of their garden, but if you play Farmville and send me a bushel of electronic corn I’ll delete you as Facebook friend, faster than the click of a mouse.  SO JUST STOP IT!  PLEASE.
Some might argue these games are a gateway drug that lead to real gardening or fish collecting, but I’m not so sure.  My wife played Tap-Fish for some time but has never moved on to a real fish tank.  Have any of you Farmville folks taken up farming yet?

So where do we go from here?  It seems quite simple to me.  The best thing we can do for a friend or a child is to give them a real, honest to goodness, living plant.  You’ll be doing them a great service.  It will get them out of their chair and away from their computer.  It will give them the change to taste a real pear or smell the sweet fragrance of a real lilac.  Until someone owns and grows a plant themselves, they’ll never understand the joy that comes from growing a plant or gardening.  Most people will find it more addicting than Farmville and a lot more satisfying.  Besides – no one will ever de-friend you for sharing a quart of real, honest to goodness raspberries.     

No More Weeding or Mulching: Ground Covering Shrubs

Typically, when we think about ground covers we tend to think about Ivy (Hedera helix), Pachysandra and Vinca and little else, but there are many good shrubs that fill this same role in the garden. Over the years, I have developed a real appreciation for low growing, spreading, ground covering shrubs. Not only are these shrubs low in stature but they're also low in maintenance. Very little if any pruning is needed to keep them looking good. They keep the weeds at bay and they eliminate the need for mulch. And out of all my gardening chores - weeding and mulching are my least favorite.  

So here are few of my favorite ground covering flowering shrubs.


Lo & Behold 'Purple Haze' Buddleia is the newest release from Dr. Denny Werner at NC state. As you can see it's quite different than Lo & Behold 'Blue Chip'. The flowers are larger, the foliage is darker, and the habit is more spreading in nature. Like 'Blue Chip', it is continuous blooming and puts on a great show in late summer and fall. I love it's texture which is unlike that of any other butterfly bush. It's not yet on the market, but should be available in limited supplies next summer. 


Little Dipper Cotoneaster is a very fine, very low growing shrub that forms a thick, dense mat. Like a good ground cover it crowds out unwanted weeds and eliminates the need for mulch. I love how its dark green foliage looks creeping over my stone edging. I know what you're thinking - you hate how Cotoneasters catches every fallen leaf in sight. Not to worry - leaves just blow right on past this dense, low growing shrub. 




Truth be told, I'm not a big fan of Euonymus fortunei, aka wintercreeper, but I do have a fondness for Gold Splash Euonymus. It has large attractive variegated leaves and its growth habit is very uniform and consistent. Most importantly this Roemer Nursery introduction does not get the leaf spotting diseases that plague other Euonymus cultivars. 



I am a big fan of Bangle, Gensita lydia 'Select'This petite, ground covering shrub is an improved selection developed by Dick Punnett the propagator at Arrowhead Alpine Nursery. It's a (nearly) leafless plant with attractive green, tread-like stems and electric yellow flowers that engulf the plant in early spring. It looks equally great planted in mass or flowing over the edge of a decorative container.    



Indigofera pseudotinctoria 'Rose Carpet' never fails to lift my spirits when its bright green foliage is adorned with bright pink flowers. This is a long blooming shrub that deserves greater use. The blooms appear in late summer and last until fall. This shrub tends to leaf out late in the spring which is typically of many shrubs in the pea family. 



Celtic Pride, Microbiota decussata 'Prides' is new selection of Siberian cypress from Prides Corner Farms. This drought tolerant evergreen has bright green, fern-like foliage which turns a russet brown in winter. Unlike the species it has a greater resistance to tip die-back disease. It is a great little, evergreen, ground covering shrub that grows well in full sun or shade.

Jelena de Belder – Her Plants Live on


The hydrangeas (Hyd. paniculata) were in full bloom when Dale and I met Jelena in the summer of 1996. We met her at Hemelrijk, her family estate near Antwerp, Belgium. As she shuttled us about the grounds in her beat up VW Rabbit, filled with pots, shovels and plants, we soon realized we were in the presence of someone special. Her every word was filled with passion.  With the pride of a mother she introduced us to the hydrangeas she and her husband had developed; ‘Pink Diamond’, ‘Unique’, The Swan, ‘Burgundy Lace’, ‘White Moth’ and her personal favorite ‘Little Lamb’. “This is a very special plant,” she told us, “Little lambs dancing about in joy. Very special.” 

On another visit, we had arrived at the peak of the witch hazel bloom. The DeBelder’s had been collecting and breeding witch hazels for over 40 years and they had hundreds of plants under evaluation scattered about the estate. The cool foggy air was saturated with the sweet smell of witch hazel blooms. Under towering beech trees (Fagus sylvatica) we walked her estate and across the last fleeting patches of melting snow. With amazement we gazed at the rich and diverse colors of those spider-like blooms; yellow of course, but also various shades of orange, red and even purple! A farmer with his Belgian draft horse, steam shooting from his nostrils, crossed our path to complete the most perfect picture. Dale and I looked at each other as if to say “Could life be more perfect?”


Our trips to Hemelrijk were always magical. Her passion for plants and her passion for life were heartfelt and contagious. If you shared this passion, Jelena was your friend. Not just a casual acquaintance, but rather, it was as if you had known her since her youthful school days in Slovenia. Once, I had the pleasure of bringing my wife Tracy to Hemelrijk. For years I had shared my stories of Jelena and her plants, but now she would live them first hand. It was a cool summer morning and Jelena, dressed in a bathrobe, greeted us, hugged Tracy and promptly handed us a basket of peas to shuck while she dressed. No need for pretense, we were among friends. Soon afterwards, Jelena took Tracy by the hand and led her through the garden, sharing her love for each plant along the path. Watching them together it was hard to believe that they had just met that very morning.



To the end, Jelena remained youthful. Almost exactly five years later, we received word that Jelena had died while swimming in the Adriatic Sea. She was 78 years young. Memories flooded back is a rush; the taste of her rose petal lemonade, sipping homemade pear wine, and the rich taste of Belgian chocolate and strong coffee shared together sitting by the fireplace after a long garden walk. I recalled my excitement at seeing the original ‘Unique’ hydrangea and the original ‘Diana’ witch hazel and standing side by side with the person that brought  these lovely plants into the yards and gardens of the world.    


I wish that I could take you to Hemelrijk, to meet Jelena, just as I had taken Tracy there. I am certain that Jelena would have made you feel special. She would have willed you to appreciate the beauty of every plant along the garden path. But I cannot. So we must be content with her legacy; the beauty and magic of her plants; a gift to gardeners everywhere. Her plants live on, and so Jelena lives on too.

Garden Center campaign to raise $1 Million for Breast Cancer Research.

Kudos to Otten Bros Garden Center of Long Lake, Minnesota  and all the other Garden Centers that have joined together to raise $1 Million for Breast Cancer Research.



Otten Bros Garden Center - Pink Night Breast Cancer fundraiser was hosted on June 24, 2010. Pink Night raised almost $8,000 for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, The Piper Breast Center at Abbott Northwestern & Susan G Komen 3-Day to sponsor our garden center manager, 

Breast cancer affects everyone. It threatens our mothers and sisters, friends and daughters, grandmothers and wives.  The National Cancer Institute estimates 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime.. People everywhere are uniting to take a stand against breast cancer through the Invincibelle® Spirit Campaign.  Together we can raise $1 million to empower the Breast Cancer Research Foundation in its mission of finding a cure within our lifetimes. 

Holding a Pink Day fundraiser is an opportunity to increase store traffic, support your community, and help raise money for a great cause. You can proudly say you are part of a nationwide campaign to raise $1 million for breast cancer research. Pink Day is also a great way to build staff morale and have some fun while getting your store name out in the community. How to get involved. 

What do you think?  



A Good Idea and a Bit of Luck


Plant breeding starts with an idea. The idea is based on experience in the garden and by asking the rhetorical question – “Wouldn’t it be great if …….?”  In the case of Annabelle Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle') the statement would be - “Wouldn’t it be great if Annabelle had pink flowers?” or “Wouldn’t it be great if Annabelle had strong stems?”

Some ideas are unique and obscure, while others are quite common within the community of gardeners and growers. I suspect that anyone that has grown Annabelle hydrangea has had these same thoughts. But to make it happen you have to act.

The next step in plant breeding process is to determine if there are any other plants (cultivars, varieties or species) that can be utilized in the breeding process to bring in the traits you’re looking to incorporate. If that other plant(s) exists, and if the chromosome number is compatible, then you go to work.

Dr. Tom Ranney and Richard Olsen at NC State each thought it would be great if Annabelle had pink flowers and the end result was Invincibelle Spirit – the world’s first pink Annabelle hydrangea. Of course it took years of hard work, but the process was greatly helped by a bit of luck; Olsen discovered the perfect breeding partner for Annabelle. While hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Olsen discovered a Hydrangea arborescens with pink, lace-cap flowers which he named Wesser Falls.'  This was the key ingredient in creating Invincibelle Spirit.

Invincibelle Spirit Hydrangea

An Annabelle hydrangea with strong stems has been on everyone’s wish list since the plant was first put into cultivation by Dr. J. C. McDaniel in 1962. The wish came true in 2009 with the introduction of Incrediball Hydrangea. The story of Incrediball begins with White Dome Hydrangea (H. arborescens ‘Dardom’). White Dome was discovered by Wout Kromhout in a batch of seedlings at Hemelrijk, the estate of Robert and Jelena de Belder in Essen, Belgium. White Dome hydrangea is a beautiful plant with large, white, lace-cap flowers and thick, sturdy stems. It was the perfect breeding partner in my quest to create an Annabelle hydrangea with strong stems.  This was my first bit of luck.

White Dome Hydrangea

The next bit of luck appeared when we grew out the seedlings from our Annabelle x White Dome cross. While there was a good many seedlings with thick strong stems and mop-head flowers, one plant stood out among all the others. This plant had flowers that were even larger than those of Annabelle. To my amazement, the flower heads that got even larger as the plant matured over the next three years.


Incrediball Hydrangea

Two new breakthrough plants and both were born with an idea and little bit of luck. 

So I’ll ask you. How would you finish the statement “Wouldn’t it be great if …….?”

PS!


I've been invited to be on "Homegrown" XM radio show with Martha Stewart Living garden editor Tony Bielaczyc. This Thursday July 22, 1:15 pm est (Sirius 112 and XM 157). Topic: Summer Flowering Shrubs. Listen in.

How did Your Hydrangeas Bloom this Year?


So how did your Hydrangeas bloom this year?

One the most common questions I get, is "Why won't my Hydrangea bloom." Of course they're talking about the beautiful species called Hydrangea macrophylla (Big Leaf Hydrangea).

.... [Not sure what type of Hydrangea you have? Click here]

This plant is extremely popular because it is the most colorful of all the species. This plant can be categorized into two main groupings: Mopheads (snowballs) and Lacecaps. The Mopheads are large round clusters of sterile flowers and the lacecaps are flat heads composed of both fertile and sterile flowers. The mopheads are the most popular because we tend to love the gaudy. The lacecaps are gaining in popularity and are considered by many, including myself, to be even more beautiful because of their delicate looking nature.

The key message here is that Hydrangea macrophylla is it sets its flower buds in the fall when night temperature fall below 60F/16C. Thus the flower buds must survive the winter if they are to mature into big beautiful flowers the following summer. [We call this blooming on old wood.] This is the crux of the problem - a hard winter, an early fall freeze, a late spring freeze, or untimely pruning will damage the flower buds and result in a loss of flowers.

So what is a person to do if they want to be successful with Hydrangea?

1) Understand how and when to prune

Big Leaf Hydrangea does not require much pruning once established, but proper pruning is critical if expect to see flowers.

The best time is in early to mid-July. Prune back any non-flower stems back to about six inches from the ground. This helps to produce short stems which keeps the next crop of flower buds close to the ground where they can be more easily protected from winter damage. It is critical that you cease pruning by the end of July. This allows time for the new flower buds to form and harden off prior to winter.

2) Shut the plants down before winter

Hydrangeas will continue to grow as long as there is ample water, fertilizer and warm weather. Later season growth is tender growth and more prone to winter injury, so useful to shut the growth down before winter comes. In late summer and fall, stop fertilizing and cut back on the water. Don't worry if the plant looks severely wilted, just provide enough water for the plant to survive. This will slow down the growth, help to induce flower bud formation and make the plant less susceptible to an early freeze.

3) Mulch and Protect

In late fall, mulch the base of your plant with six to ten inches of bark or peat moss. This will protect the buds on the short stems (the ones you pruned in July). Apply the mulch after the onset of cold weather but before the temperature falls below the teens. This mulch will be removed or spread out in the spring after the danger of frost has past.

4) Grow Varieties that Bloom on both Old Wood and New wood [rebloomers]

Within the last ten years, varieties have been developed that make buds in both the fall [typical], and during the summer [atypical]. Or putting it another way, they flower on both old and new wood. This means that even if the flower buds are injured in the winter, new buds and flower will form the next summer. This is great news for those of us who live in cold climates.

The cultivars 'Endless Summer', Let’s Dance Moonlight, Let’s Dance Starlight, and 'Forever and Ever' have the ability to bloom on old and new wood alike. These are great selections for the Midwest where it is hard to get Hydrangea to bloom. 'Endless Summer' was the first rebloomer to hit the market, while the Let's Dance series is the newest generation of rebloomers. The Let's Dance series has superior flower color, overall substance and thicker, glossier leaves. They are also less likely to die to the ground in the winter.

Now I know that many people were disappointed with the Endless Summer Hydrangeas this year.

We had a long warm spell in late winter followed by weeks of freezing weather that knocked many Hydrangeas back to the ground. As a result, the old wood buds were killed, and we lost the early-season flowers, even on the rebloomers.

Keep in mind that, even with these new varieties, you get a much better flower display if the old wood buds survive the winter. Sure, if your plants die back to the ground in the winter, you will still get flowers, but they appear later in the season and there are typically fewer flowers overall. So - it still pays to prune properly, keep the buds close to the ground and protect these buds with mulch.

- Another Tip for Rebloomers Like Endless Summer -

If your Endless Summer dies back to the ground in the winter, forcing growth will deliver more flowers and sooner. Endless Summer and other rebloomers have to put on a certain amount of new growth before they will make new buds and flower. So it pays to give these plants extra fertilizer and water to push the growth. Miracle Grow once a week after any danger of frost does the job.

For some people, rebloomers are not the best choice.

If you live in a mild climate where big leaf hydrangea blooms reliably there is no advantage in growing rebloomers. You lucky people have a wonderful array of varieties to choose from, many with superior foliage and flowers. For example - consider the new dwarf cultivars sold under the CITY LINE series. These compact plants form a neat compact plant that is covered with blooms. They also have very vivid flower colors.

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(If you live in a very cold area consider Hydrangea paniculata (Limelight, Pinky Winly, Little Lamb and Quick Fire) and Hydrangea arborescens (Invincibelle Spirit and Incrediball. There are many great new vareities and they are pretty much fail proof.)


----------------Back to Hydrangea macrophylla

Flower color - How to change Flower Color

Another interesting attribute of this plant is that its flower color may change depending on soil p.H.. It is not the p.H. itself that changes the color, but it is the availability of aluminum ions that directs the color. Aluminium has greater availability in acid soils thus the blooms turn blue in acid soils. If the soil is either basic [alkaline] or high in phosphorous, the aluminium is tied up and flowers tend to be pink. The degree of color change is dependent upon the amount of aluminum ions available and the cultivar itself. It should be noted that if you are growing in a container your soil mix you may not have much aluminum availability even at low p.H. levels. Aluminum sulfate treatments would then become necessary to get blue flowers. If you fertilize your plants be aware that you will tie up the aluminum with high levels of phosphorous.
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I can't bring everything home

Most people label me as a shrub guy because I work for a shrub nursery. But I consider myself a Plantsman. I appreciate all plants; shrubs, perennials, annuals, biennials, vines, ground covers, native and exotic. I even have an appreciation for weeds. I'm a plant nut and if I had my way I would bring back just about everything I find on my plant hunting trips. But not every plant I find is right for our nursery, thus the best I can do is snap some pictures and grow them on in my photo library and share them on my blog. Here are a few plants that I would take home to my garden if I could. I'm not going to write about each plant, however if you click on the name you will find a link that gives you more detail.  




















Snow Day Surprise - Pearlbush Reinvented

I was just walking in our test garden and was lucky enough see Snow Day Surprise Exochorda (Pearlbush) in bloom. Surprisingly, Pearlbush is not a well-known shrub. It is hardy, heat tolerant and easy to grow. It has showy, white, pearl-like buds in the spring that give it its name. An older cultivar, Exochorda x macrantha "The Bride" caused issues for many growers due to propagation difficulties and the tendency for young plants flop- especially in a container at retail.The plant is quite elegant in the garden once mature, but as a young plant on the nursery it is difficult to train into a salable plant. Enter Herman Geers, the plant Dutch breeder that developed Wine & Roses Weigela.


Herman, like other growers, was tired of trying to grow "The Bride", so he set out to develop a better Pearl Bush. Due to the smaller size of European gardens, he set out to create a smaller, more compact plant that could look good at a young age and was easy to propagate. In 1994 Herman crossed "The Bride" with Exochorda racemosa, an upright species with large flowers. For the next 10 years he evaluated his seedlings culling out all but the best-looking plants. He conducted propagation trials on his best plants and narrowed the field down to 5 with the best rooting percentages. From breeding to evaluation, the entire process took sixteen years, and out of the five best plants, he ultimately selected Snow Day Surprise. 



Snow Day Surprise starts flowering in early April or May depending upon where you live. At first the plant is covered with hundreds of pure white pearls - the buds - which last for about 3-4 weeks. The pearls then open up into large, pure white flowers which can last another 2-4 weeks. It is hardy from zone 4 to 8. The habit is more upright than "The Bride", but matures into a compact mounded plant around 3-4 feet tall and around 4 feet wide. Like Quince, (Chaenomeles), it makes a nice splash in the spring garden.


We started selling liners (young plants) this spring, so you can expect to see plants hit the retail market over the next year or so.

--- Side Note ---

People have been emailing me that their Plant Hunter emails have looked a bit funky as of late, with the text running over the pictures. I had switched to a new version of Blogger called "Blogger in Draft," as it was suppose to work better with videos. I have since changed back to the old Blogger - so I trust that this post arrives in good order. I apologize for any previous posts that were of poor quality and I hope that I have taken care of the issue. If not, please let me  know. As always - I appreciate your comments, and your continued interest in reading The Plant Hunter.