I’m continually amazed at what plants will do to survive. Recently, while thinning out some overgrown red-twig dogwood, I came across this branch. The canes of red twig dogwood are fairly soft when they form and the bush grows essentially as a thicket, with branches on top of each other and sometimes criss-crossing each other, or as in this case, just making a nice U-turn to go around each other. We should all be so flexible.
Archive for the ‘Shrubs’ Category
A second part of our recent spruce-up was the removal of some old alpine currant shrubs that were dying. The shrubs formed a hedge around an area below our back deck, an area that I use mostly for storage of garden equipment. Not wanting to leave this exposed, I planted it this past weekend with nine plants of hedge cotoneaster (Cotoneaster lucidus), a plant that will grow about 4 feet wide and up to 8 feet tall. We’ll probably keep ours around 5 to 6 feet tall by shaving the tops. The cotoneaster should be an improvement over alpine currant for two reasons. First, it is less prone to disease and general keeling over. Second, has a blue berry that birds love, so it should be more attractive to wildlife. It also has a pretty reddish fall color. Right now, my hedge looks skimpy, but the photo at left is what it should look like in a year or two.
In clothing and home decor, I avoid white due to my unfortunate tendency to spill coffee. But in the garden, judicious use of white is striking and it often gives a focal point to the garden. Recently, I’ve been enjoying several white patches. In back, these lilies (Lilium ‘Casa Blanca’), which I bought at the MSHS booth at the St. Paul Home and Patio Show this winter, just started blooming. They are later blooming than other lilies, which may be because the spot in which I’ve planted them is too shady. I will move them this fall into a sunnier spot and remember to stake them next year. These are tall and striking, a real eye-catcher in an otherwise green part of the garden.
Near the lily is this new Annabelle hydrangea bush I planted this spring. Here’s a case of putting the right plant in the right place. Ever since it was planted in this somewhat shady spot, it has looked healthy and happy, and for the past few weeks, it’s been putting out bunches of white blooms. Annabelle is an old-fashioned hydrangea and will get 5 feet tall and wide. It makes a lovely hedge and is a reliable bloomer as far north as USDA Zone 3.
Finally, in the front-door garden, I have white sweet alysum. I’ve had poor luck with alysum in the past, but this year’s relatively cool conditions have been perfect for it. The white color contrasts well with the deep purple of these Wave petunias and the sunny yellow of the coreopsis planted near it.
Some gardeners choose to isolate white in one part of the garden and this can be beautiful, especially at night. If you’d like to try a white garden, check out this article on principles of designing with white.
I could have titled this post “I pushed the zone and the zone pushed back.” Last spring, filled with thoughts of permanently warm and wimpy winters, I planted a butterfly bush (Buddleia ‘Nanho Purple’). It was supposed to grow up to 6 feet tall and be covered with long clusters of purple blooms from August through September. (This image is from the Missouri Botanical Garden.) The bush seemed to do well, growing to about 3 feet in height with several nice blooms last fall. Butterfly bush is generally a Zone 5 and south plant and grows very large in some climates. Alas, Minnesota is still Zone 4, as this past winter proved. I’ve been watching the bush’s corpse in hopes of seeing some signs of life. None so far; none expected.
This incident drives home advice I heard from a horticulturist about planting for climate change. “Push the zone, if you want,” she said, “but don’t plant anything you can’t afford to lose.”
It also reminds me how grateful northern gardeners should be for the research that has been conducted over the years at places like the University of Minnesota and North Dakota State University. Research has expanded the growing options for gardeners in the north with everything from new magnolias to a wide range of shrubs to better apples. Plant breeding is a long, arduous and often frustrating process. Last summer, I had a chance to visit Harold Pellett (left), a retired U of M researcher and director of the Landscape Plant Development Center in Mound. Pellett, who during his 30-year career at the U helped develop 25 new varieties of shrubs including the Lights series of azaleas, founded the center to continue his work creating plants for the North. The center has already introduced a new ninebark, Center Glow™ ninebark, and a new non-climbing clematis, Center Star™ clematis. Pellett and his fellow researchers, who are based in Oregon, Russia, and lots of places in between, are working on several new varieties of woody plants, including a hardier butterfly bush.
“Will it be hardy enough to be reliable in Minnesota?” I asked him last summer. Pellett gave me one of those gentle, knowing looks that seemed to say, dream on, sister. “More like Iowa,” he said.
Around town, the magnolias look lovely and many gardens have the hardy pink azaleas in bloom as well. At my house, it’s still all about the bulbs. In the front, four types of tulips are blooming in close formation. In back, the grape hyacinth (Muscari) are blooming near some daffodils. (Though, I have to admit, the daffodils were very poorly placed (by me) and look too much like soldiers in a row, and not enough like a circle of friends. Clusters, not lines with bulbs.)
Three of my neighbors have azaleas in full bloom. Mine are dragging behind, which has been the pattern for several years. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong, but it’s something, because my bushes are scraggly looking and bloom two weeks after everyone else’s plants. The exposure is identical (southeast, protected, near the house) so that is not it. Anyone know what could be the problem? These are the hardy Northern Lights azaleas (botanically they are Rhododendrons) and they were bred for this climate. Well, mine should be blooming by next week, and–judging by the amount of sneezing I’ve been doing lately–the lilacs should be in bloom next week as well.
Well, Mother Nature pulled an April Fool’s Day joke on Minnesota gardeners yesterday with several inches of slushy snow. While the pergola in my backyard, coated in snow, looks as lovely as it did in November, the novelty has worn off. I’m ready for spring.
However, inside the house, we have blooms. The red twig dogwood that I brought in for forcing back in February has broken out in dozens of small white flowers. The blooms appear smaller in size than those on the shrub in summer, but it’s been enlightening and enjoyable to watch them emerge from their tiny green pods, to bigger white pods, to full-blown flowers. Forcing branches seems like a great way for eager gardeners to pull an April Fool’s Day joke on Mother Nature.
I don’t know why, but I am always surprised when some new gardening endeavor actually turns out. About a month ago, I decided to try to force some red-twig dogwood branches. I followed the instructions for making a sugar water/bleach concoction to give the branches food and, presumably, protection from bacteria. The branches went into the cool, not too light basement. A couple of weeks ago, I went down there to add some more liquid and check things out. There were definite signs of leaf buds.
Today, I checked them again and, lo and behold, the branches had tiny leaves and some little knobby growths that look like they might be blossoms. Rock-and-Roll Gardener advised me that I would probably only get leaves, but we’ll see what happens. Per the instructions, I have moved the branches up to a sunnier locale in the kitchen. With any luck, we’ll have something blooming in time for our early Easter.
Back in December, I blogged about how wonderful red-twig dogwoods are for providing winter color. In answer to my question about whether to coppice my dogwoods, a reader suggested taking out one-third of the branches each winter and putting the cut branches in water to encourage bloom.
It’s been so cold recently that I haven’t felt like roaming around the yard with a pruner, but Saturday was a pleasant day, so I went out and cut some branches from my rangiest dogwood. I followed the procedure for forcing branches that is outlined at the Purdue University web site. Forcing basically means bringing the branches inside and coaxing them into thinking it’s spring so they will bloom.
Purdue recommends putting the branches in a tall container and using a preservative liquid. The branches are essentially bathed in the liquid, which apparently keeps them healthy and makes them bloom more. I had one nice tall vase to use, but all my other vases have disappeared, so I had to put some of the shorter branches in a martini shaker. (The last time anyone had a martini around here, Reagan was president.) The preservative is a mixture of lemon-lime soda (pop to you Minnesotans), water and a touch of chlorine bleach. The branches will now sit in a slightly dark, cool corner of the basement for a few weeks. If it works, I should have flowers sometime between Easter and April Fool’s Day.