1. How to Prune Hydrangeas

    It is important to know what kind of Hydrangea you have before you do any pruning. The reason it is important to know so that you are not cutting off any flower buds, really the reason for growing Hydrangeas!

    It is probably easiest to break down the types of Hydrangeas and suggest pruning for each of the different types. Each group of Hydrangea includes some of the selections available from Nature Hills. 

    Hardy, Panicle type Hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata selections)

    These are woody type, hardy Hydrangeas that love the sun and are very forgiving needing little care.  You can’t change the color of this group to blue, but they offer quite the show opening white, and age to pink or red before turning brown in fall and winter.

    Pruning for Hydrangea paniculata shrub form and tree form should be done in early spring before new growth begins to grow. The best pruning method is to shorten up the length of last year’s stems by about 1/3 (which will remove the old dried flower from last year too). Leave the pruned shrub as an informal, irregular and somewhat rounded form. The same thing for the Tree Form plants too leaving a rounded outline on the stick. No more pruning is needed after the early spring prune. A simple, easy and certainly rewarding group of Hydrangeas that every landscape should include. 

    Some of the selections of Hydrangea paniculata selections include:  Fire Light, Fire and Ice, Diamond Rouge, Quick Fire, Little Lamb, Phantom, Vanilla Strawberry, Pinky Winky, Limelight, Strawberry Sundae, Little Quick Fire, Bobo, Little Lime, Silver Dollar, and Zinfin Doll.  

    Oakleaf Hydrangeas

    These woody Hydrangeas produce flower buds on last year’s stems so DO NOT SPRING PRUNE THIS GROUP!  Oakleaf Hydrangeas will not flower if you spring prune the tips of the branches.  Light pruning to shorten branches as soon as they are done blooming can be done.  You can also remove the largest, fattest branches right down to the ground to allow new shoots to grow from the ground keeping the plant blooming wildly on those new shoots. Here are some selections that Nature Hills grows:  Gatsby Gal, Gatsby Pink, and Ellen Huff.

    Smooth Hydrangeas

    Smooth Hydrangeas, or Hydrangea arborescens type are super hardy and easy to care for.  You should prune these Hydrangeas by cutting all of the stems right down to the ground early spring each year before they start to grow.  Smooth Hydrangeas make incredible new flowers on shoots that come from the ground each year.  Some gardeners like to leave a foot or so of last years stems to help support the new shoots as they begin to grow but that is up to you.  Super easy, non-invasive shrubs that you simply cut off each spring and sit back and enjoy the show.  Many of the newer selections are reblooming.

    Here are some selections of Hydrangea arborescens that Nature Hills grows and sells:  Annabelle, Invincibelle Spirit and all the Invincibelle Spirit series, Incrediball, Smooth or Snowhill (H. arborescens ‘Grandiflora’), Ryan Gainey, Invincibelle Wee White, Invincibelle Ruby, Samantha, Incrediball Blush, and Invincibelle Limetta.

    Bigleaf Hydrangea

    Bigleaf Hydrangeas are the ones that mostly have pink and blue or lavender colored blooms.  Many of the selections in this huge group of Hydrangeas bloom on last years stems so DO NOT PRUNE IN FALL, WINTER OR SPRING, just wait until they bloom.  Pruning for Bigleaf Hydrangeas is best done right after they bloom.  In colder areas, there may be some winter damage so wait until the plants just start to grow and remove the dead tips and the old flower heads and let the live portion of the stems in place.

    Here is a list of Hydrangea macrophylla types (including Hydrangea serrata selections that are treated the same) in which you can change the flower color in acid soils:  Endless summer, Grateful Red, Big Daddy, Twist and Shout, Blushing Bride, Grateful Red, Cherry Explosion, Edgy Hearts, Nantucket Blue, Next Generation Pistachio, Nikko Blue, Endless Summer Bloomstruck, Edgy Hearts, Cityline Vienna, Tilt-A-Swirl, Cityline Mars, Tuff Stuff, Tiny Tuff Stuff, Tuff Stuff Red Mountain, Tilt-A-Swirl, Let’s Dance Starlight, Everlasting Garnet, Everlasting Noblesse, Everlasting Revolution, Everlasting Jade, Wedding Gown, Let's Dance Starlight & Moonlight, Tuff Stuff Mountain, Tuff Stuff Red Mountain, Abracadabra, LA Dreamin, Cityline Paris, Vienna, Venice & Rio, Everlasting Jade, Everlasting Garnet, Everlasting Ocean, Abracadabra Star, Everlasting Harmony, and Miss Saori. 

    Nature Hills selections of Hydrangeas continues to evolve always adding new selections with more flowers, smaller plants, and reblooming capabilities – all the things that keep bringing Hydrangeas into the limelight. Check out our selections and buy yours now so you too can upgrade your landscape! 

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  2. How to Prune Hydrangea Paniculata Tree Form

    Nature Hills sells several different single stem tree form Hydrangea paniculata types. They are all hardy and easy to grow, but each spring it is best if you spend ten minutes pruning them before they start to grow.

    It is best to remove about 1/3 of the length of each of the stems leaving a somewhat irregular “ball on a stick.” Pruning should be done before the new growth starts each spring.

    The photo shows a young plant that is only a couple of years in the ground and how it should look once you are done pruning it.

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  3. Pruning Woody Hydrangea Paniculata Type Shrubs

    Now is the time to prune your woody, sun-loving panicle type Hydrangeas (like Limelight, Quickfire, Diamond Rouge Little Lamb, Pinky Winky, Fire Light, Little Lime, Strawberry Sundae, Vanilla Strawberry and any other species in this group).

    The best rule of thumb is to cut back these woody plants by reducing about 1/3 of the length of last year’s growth, removing the brown flower heads that remain on the plant. 

    Leave the overall shape somewhat rounded and the stems somewhat irregular for a more natural form as the new growth emerges.

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  4. Time to Trim Ornamental Grasses

    Ornamental grasses start to grow as the weather warms. 

    You have enjoyed the movement of the dormant tan and brown leaves all winter long, but now it is time to get rid of last year’s leaves as the new growth begins at the roots. You can tie the old leaves together and then take your shears and trim off the stems down to about six inches or so 

    Warm season grasses take much longer before you will see new growth, and cool season grasses will start showing signs of new blades of grass emerging as soon as the weather warms.

    Just like your lawn, early spring is a great time to cut off the old dry brown blades of grass to make room for all new green growth from the roots.

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  5. Early Spring Pruning Tips For Best Flowering

    Spring has sprung in the more southern areas and from the coasts, and will be working its way north.

    Upon your first spin around your yard in spring you will tend to take your pruning shears with you. There are many plants that will appreciate some necessary pruning, and there are some plants that you should not prune at this time of the year.

    Let’s cover some plants that are best NOT pruned in early spring. Basically, any early spring flowering shrub or tree should not be pruned because you will be removing the flower display – really the whole reason to grow those plants.

    Azaleas and Rhododendrons are a prime example of a plant that should not be pruned now. All of the flower buds are in the tips of each of the branches just waiting for the temperature to warm enough to get those buds moving. Many of the varieties and selections under the Rhododendron umbrella form the flower buds last summer where they remain dormant and hidden away until the spring temperatures allow this Genus of plants to bust out with incredible flower displays. Pruning is best done right after the flowers begin to fade. Many people don’t thing pruning Azaleas and Rhododendrons is necessary, but they do respond beautifully to pruning to maintain good uniformity and more compact plants. Even the reblooming and everblooming Rhododendrons are best pruned after the first spring bloom.

    Flowering Quince is another early spring blooming shrub that should not be pruned now. There are many new selections of Quince that have been introduced in the more recent years. Flowering Quince has beautiful orange, red, salmon, pink, white and many of the new ones are very double. With Quince too, the best time to prune all varieties is right after they flower so sit back and enjoy the flowers before you do any pruning on any of them too. 

    Forsythia is another shrub that is an early spring blooming shrub that can have flowers for almost a month before the leaves even emerge! There has been a lot of new selections that have been introduced that stay smaller and produce flowers all along the stems. Forsythia branches can be cut and forced indoors in a vase of water. As soon as the flowers fade, that is the best time to prune Forsythia. Maybe you have an older overgrown forsythia shrub? As soon as the flowers are done blooming you can cut all of the stem to the ground without sacrificing any bloom for next year too. If it is not that overgrown you can just remove the oldest stems out to the ground and leave the thinner, younger stems to allow the plant to keep its more natural form.

    Lilacs (both tree form and shrub form) is another broad group encompassing many different species, hybrids and cultivars. Nature Hills offers early blooming, mid-season, and even Canadian selections that bloom very late spring. With all Lilacs, do not trim them now. Lilac plants make their flowers in the growth that follows after the blooms are done. So, with each Lilac, wait until the flowers are done blooming - and then prune. With lilac shrubs, renewal pruning by removing the oldest stems out to the ground leaving the younger stems in place. For re-blooming varieties it is best to also renewal prune them right after the first set of flowers for super results.

    Weigela shrubs have had a lot of breeding done for smaller size, amazing leaf color and lots of bloom. Although Weigela are very floriferous, the best flowers are born on last year’s stems. It is important to let the late spring blooms come before you do pruning on them. After the flowers finish, then you can prune any stems that need shortening or some of the older stems can be removed right down to the ground. The beauty of most selections of Weigela is they bloom heavily in late spring, and again later in summer.

    It is best to make a note on the best time to prune some of your favorite flowering shrubs so that you are not sacrificing the blooms. Next time, we can tackle that huge number of Hydrangea types to help you see the best bloom.

    An early happy spring from your friends at Nature Hills!



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  6. Keep Bird Feeders Clean During Winter

    Perhaps you’re not in an area that gets snow, but rain and other elements can cause your bird seed to need some attention.

    Wet birdseed can spoil quickly. Bird feeders need to be cleaned to prevent any disease from spreading. Check to see if the seed you offer is dry and make sure the trays have the hulls cleaned off. Add fresh seed if needed. ⠀

    The best approach is to spray diluted bleach and water solution on the feeder, let it dry, and then refill. Keep your feathered friends happy and healthy with fresh seed and water! 

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  7. Plant Shade-Loving Perennials in Lieu of Grass

    Do you have trouble growing grass? Some trees cast a lot of shade and can make it difficult to grow grass beneath.

    Instead of fighting the shade and trying to keep an attractive lawn beneath, why not eliminate the turf area and include some of your favorite shade loving perennials?

    As you can see in the photo, we eliminated grass and included some Ferns and Brunnera. Then with the available colors and sizes of Hosta varieties, you can create an interesting Hosta glade underneath your trees. A 2-3” layer of shredded mulch around the plants will finish the look and keep the weeds down. The mulch will also help to retain moisture.

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  8. The Era of the Mandarin

    Marketing has played a huge role in bringing to the forefront one of the most wonderful categories of fruit, the Mandarin. With the introduction of bagged Clementine Mandarins under various brands beginning in the mid-2000's, the Mandarin has quickly become recognized for what it is: the world’s finest fruit.

    The Mandarin has been recognized for its superior qualities in China since the 3rd century AD. Its introduction into the United States would not occur until the 1840's when the Italian consul brought one to New Orleans, La. from Italy. From this point, it was introduced to the southern coastal states, Florida and finally to California.

     The Mandarin, sometimes mistakenly called a Tangerine (which is a marketing name for one Mandarin variety), represents a category of mostly small, seedless, easy-to-peel, wonderfully flavored fruit. Mandarins have a distinct flavor all their own; it is a Mandarin flavor, which is not an orange. In many varieties, the acidity of the Mandarin is masked by the intense sweetness of the fruit mixed with the rich Mandarin flavor. It almost seems like a sub-acid fruit. 

    In the late 1800’s, Mandarin names like the ‘Willow Leaf’, the ‘King’ and the ‘Oneco’ were introduced into the U.S. The #1 variety of Mandarin for the next 100 years - the ‘Owari’ Satsuma - arrived around 1876.

    Owari Satsuma

    The Owari proved the most adaptable of all Mandarin varieties and remains that today. It is the most cold-hardy of all mandarins, tolerating temperatures in the mid- to low-20s. It was immediately identified as being more resistant to disease problems common to other Citrus varieties.

    Today, Owari remains the most popular variety of Mandarin planted in the home-garden. Seedless, easy to peel, most often the first to ripen, the Owari is hard to beat when you add its cold hardiness and let’s not forget the great flavor!

    But in the last 20 years, many new Mandarin varieties have been introduced or have been rediscovered. These newer selections have tremendous qualities that make them standouts as superior fruits, aside from just being Mandarins.


    The Clementine is a stand out as the primary variety used for the popular bagged Mandarins introduced the early 2000’s. There are many varieties of Clementine's that ripen at different times allowing commercial growers the opportunity to harvest over a longer period. For the home garden, the Algerian Clementine is seedless, easy to peel and harvests between October and January. Right off the tree, the Clementine is a very fine flavored fruit.

    More mandarins

    Then comes the powerhouses of this Mandarin Era, newer selections, fast becoming popular based only on their exceptional flavor. Varieties such as:

    • Kishu Seedless Mandarin: a bite-size fruit that peels with ease, ripens in November, and has a wonderfully sweet, juicy flavor will keep you eating them like candy.
    • Pixie Mandarin: ripens early to mid-January, the flavor of the Pixie Mandarin cannot be overstated. The long harvest period is amazing, beginning in January one can be picking wonderful flavored Pixie’s into June - if they last that long. It’s upright growth habit make it a perfect choice for planting in tight spaces, espalier or container planting.
    • Gold Nugget Mandarin: this variety leads the pack in flavor, and extended harvest! In many taste tests  it has proven to be one of the highest rated of all the Mandarin varieties. Coming ripe in mid-February, it is not uncommon to be picking fruit as late as September. Upright in growth habit makes it a great choice for containers, tight plantings, and espaliers. 
    • Page Tangelo: although technically a Tangelo, the Page Mandarin is a Minneola Tangelo crossed with a Clementine Mandarin. The Page needs a mention because of its outstandingly rich flavor. Ripening in December the Page has dependable crops of medium size, is an easy to peel, deep orange fruit. If the Mandarin has a unique flavor of citrus, the Page Mandarin is quite possibly the most unique of all.

    There it is, some varieties to think about for planting in your home garden. The Era of the Mandarin is on. Don’t miss out on another crop of delightful Mandarins to enjoy in your garden.

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  9. Tips for the New Gardener

    Photo by Yutaka Seki on / CC BY

    No doubt about it, gardening is hot. People are discovering again why gardening is so gratifying. There is no denying the workplace is a busy and competitive environment, so it is nice to change gears when you get home. Many are re-discovering that gardening is extremely therapeutic - you can get outside, put your phone on the counter, check on your plants, and maybe give them a drink. 

    If you have never gardened before, watch out … you just might catch the bug.

    A garden does not have to be a huge, rectangular plot of vegetables way out in the back corner of your yard. Today’s gardens are in pots, raised beds, mixed in with annuals, perennials and even within your landscape. Plants in an “edible landscape” - why not? 

    Before you get started, check how much sun exposure there is in the area that you would like to grow flowers, herbs, or vegetables. The amount of sun will dictate the plants that can be grown successfully. Start small and keep it simple. 

    Do you cook? Start with a simple herb pot on your patio or outside the front or back door of your home or apartment. Include Rosemary, Thyme, Basil, and Parsley, which are all sun-loving plants. Bigger pot? Add a sun-loving Begonia or some Nasturtiums for some color. Gardening tip? Mulch a container plant to help to maintain better moisture.

    If you start with a container garden, make sure you pick a large, wide pot. The bigger volume of soil will prevent your plants from drying out too frequently, and allow them to get larger. 

    Maybe you are thinking about growing a few items to use other than herbs. Tomato plants love full sun and can easily be incorporated into an existing shrub border or perennial garden. Plant and stake the tomato plants or grow them on towers in the background of your favorite flowering plants. Tomato plants can be included in most locations with sun, but should only be planted in the same spot every third year or so.

    The key is to plant only what you have time to care for. Maybe it is easier to just buy a few cucumbers or squash from your local farmers market and not waste a lot of space in your yard on items that you don’t use. Utilize vertical space for things that you can. Plant pole beans on a tower or homemade tripod. Pole beans produce beans for an extended time.

    Raised beds offer a great way to add compost and other organic matter, increase drainage and can be placed in sunny areas. You will be shocked as to how much you can grow utilizing all the space. Plant radishes, lettuces and greens, and some green onions for an early crop. Then when harvested, plant some beans or eggplant or other warm season crops where you harvested early crops.

    Some vegetables like lettuces, Swiss chard, kale, and parsley are all wildly ornamental and perfect for adding to the annual and perennial gardens. How about adding rhubarb to your perennial border? Beautiful. Have you seen Asparagus plants after you are done harvesting? They make an incredible soft and mellow green backdrop to your favorite perennials or annual flowers.

    Do you have the bug yet? Who says that you need to have all that grass to mow? Expand your gardening skills and add a few more raised beds for flowers and food crops. Plant bigger crops in the ground to allow them to be most productive.

    All plants love great soil. Rich, well drained soils mixed with compost and other organic materials will make your life a lot easier. Add water regularly as needed to prevent stress on your plants. Mulch over the roots is appreciated by all plants, whether in pots or in the ground. 

    Gardening is for everyone. Start small. Keep it simple. Even if you only grow a tray of microgreens, an herb pot on the patio, or an entire edible landscape … gardening is healthy and a great lifetime sport.

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  10. The Power of the Sour Cherry

    The Cherry traces its history as far back as 3300 BCE. Both the Sweet and the Sour Cherry have been a highly desired part of the human diet for thousands of years. Recently, the Sour Cherry has been fading in popularity in the home garden. But with the attention to healthy eating and growing your own, the Sour Cherry is due for a renaissance.

    Sour Cherry varieties are some of the most adaptable of all cherry types. Growing well in zones 4-9 and newer varieties – like the Romeo and Juliet - are showing promise in zone 3-4. The Nanking Cherry has proven a good choice for zone 2. With this wide range of adaptability and the fruits seemingly unlimited uses, the Sour Cherry stands out as a first consideration for today’s home garden.

    The versatile Sour cherry can be cooked, juiced, dried, frozen, eaten fresh or even distilled as the liquors Kirsch and Ratafia. They are included in any number of different preparations including baked goods, pies, preserves, main and side dishes or even for medicinal uses.

    For example, the sour cherry is paired as a main dish with meat in Persian cuisine or used in the preparation of Sour Cherry Saffron Rice (Polow), a wonderful flavored side dish suited for royalty. The most popular variety for this is the red-fleshed English Morello cherry (shown left), though the North Star cherry with its dark red flesh would surly be a good consideration as well. 

    The fresh Sour Cherry pies of Michigan and Wisconsin are always in demand during cherry season. The popular Montmorency Cherry is always in demand for those pies.  

    The tremendous health value of Sour Cherries has been realized as far back as 3000 BCE. Only today are we able to define what that really means. In more recent studies, the term “super fruit” has become associated with the Sour Cherry. This is due to the high antioxidant values the Sour Cherry possesses. It has been shown in studies to have high anti-inflammatory benefits, improve memory, lower the risk of heart disease and colon cancer, and has even been cited as contributing to a good night’s sleep. 

    For centuries, the Sour Cherry has been used as a cough suppressant, prized for its sedative, expectorant, drying and cough control qualities. This is mostly the effect from grindings of the bark.    

    Sour Cherry trees are ideally suited to the modern landscape. A full size sweet cherry is often too big and needs pruning to fit into today’s smaller landscapes. The more popular sweet cherry varieties like Bing require a pollinizer, which means another tree. Sour Cherries are all self-fruitful, requiring no extra tree. In addition, the Sour Cherry is a natural dwarf and is often referred to as a bush Cherry because of its low growing canopy. Sour cherries can easily be maintained to below 8 feet with just a little summer pruning.

    Their value as an edible ornamental shrub is tremendous: Prolific blooms in the spring followed by bright ornamental fruit, and a wonderful vase shaped dormant structure. This can readily be achieved with the early season fruiting of the Early Richmond variety of Sour Cherry, long a favorite of American and English gardeners.

    The resurgence of the Sour Cherry’s role in the home garden is here. The facts are in: the Sour Cherry complements our good health and is a beautiful addition to our modern landscape. 

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