Monthly Archives: January 2017

  1. Spirea 101: Discover the Basics of the Spirea Flowering Shrub

    Hedge of Renaissance Spirea Hedge of Renaissance Spirea

     A super popular smaller flowering shrub in which we have seen an explosion of new selections over the years because of their versatility. There has been much hybridization and many cultivars released because of the great and varied sizes, color and multi-seasonal interest. Nature Hills basically sells two different types of Spirea, the smaller selections that re-bloom, and the larger growers that bloom early and are done for the year. Spirea are hardy and easy to grow. Some of the older cultivars have been around since the early 1900's and are still being grown today.

    Bridal Wreath SpireaBridal Wreath Spirea

    Let's start with the larger growing selections that all sport white flowers and a mass of blooms in May or early June depending upon where they are grown. If you are anywhere in the upper Midwest, you will probably have seen the old fashioned Bridal Wreath Spirea (Spiraea x Vanhouttei) that typically blooms at the end of May or around Memorial Day. Due to this bloom time, many cemeteries have planted hedges of them that have remained for decades. White clusters of flowers are neatly arranged all along the stems from the tips all the way down into the plant. It literally looks like there was a wild snowstorm and the plant was flocked with fresh, white snow. Since they bloom that one shot on last year's stems, once the bloom is done, that is the time to prune them. They can be cut all the way down to the ground if they get too large to allow the new young stems to grow from the ground up on stems that will flower next year. If you prune them in summer or fall, you will cut off all the flowers before they open. The Bridal Wreath gets to be about an 8' tall and 6-8' wide with a fountain like appearance.

    Grefsheim Spirea FullGrefsheim Spirea Full
    The selection called Renaissance stay slightly smaller getting 6-7' tall and 5-6' and very free flowering. Those two selections are outstanding hedges left untrimmed and lacy and natural. Then there is a finer textured and smaller growing spring blooming Spirea called Grefsheim. Although Grefsheim is a different species, it rocks. Smaller leaves and gorgeous and very dainty white flowers all along the stem completely covering the plant with blooms. Grefsheim used in mass plantings, foundation plants or again as an untrimmed hedge easily maintained in that 3-4' size. Last, one more like all the above is called Snowmound. Snowmound again blooms all along the entire stem from tip way into the center of the plant and again in late May or early June. Prune immediately after the flowers are done so you will have the same success with flowering next spring. This selection is a bit coarser and make a rounded 5' plant great for and untrimmed hedge.
    Froebelii Spirea Landscape Froebelii Spirea Landscape
    The other group of Spirea include several different species and some hybrids but many cultivars. Flowers are borne in mostly flat topped clusters and are typically 3' or so. The flowers are born on the tips of each stem. The plants are very forgiving and ask very little sun, a haircut occasionally, and some additional moisture during periods of drought. This group of Spirea stays smaller ranging from 15' high and wide to 3-4' high and wide. There is a wide array of leaf color with some emerging in beautiful oranges and reds to bright yellow and some green. The flower colors range from white to pink to red and everything in-between. The beauty of this group of Spirea is once that first round of flowers begins to fade,  trim off the spent flowers and stand back and wait for the next round of bloom. The birds and bees will love the flowers and so will you as they are a great cut flower too.
    Dakota Goldcharm Spirea
    Dakota Goldcharm Spirea
    Small and very manageable plants are very colorful from the minute they start to leaf out, flower, great summer foliage colors, and the let's not forget the myriad of color they go through in the fall to finish the show. Spirea make great foundation plants because of their smaller size. They work well in mass plantings for big open areas or embankment plantings. They are great edging or front of the shrub border plants. Companion plants for this group of smaller Spirea plants include Viburnum Carlesii, Weigela Sonic Bloom or Wine and Roses make great backdrops. Many shrub roses and perennials work well as companion plants with Spireas. Groundcovers and groundcover Junipers also work well as companion plants for this group.   The form and colors vary greatly and so does the list of Spirea that we sell.
    Here are some of the Spirea varieties offered at Nature Hills:  
    Anthony Waterer                         
    * Dakota Goldcharm                       
    * Double Play Big Bang                   
    * Flaming Mound                             
    * Froebelii                                          
    * Goldflame                                        
    * Japanese White                              
    * Magic Carpet                                  
    * Snow Storm                                     
    * Birchleaf Tor    
    Read more »
  2. 9 Plants for Early Spring Color

    87-12739443078Swj   After a long, dreary winter, everyone is ready to start seeing flowers begin blooming in the spring. Enjoy these nine plants that will bring you fantastic spring color early in the season.

    Eastern RedbudEastern Redbud  

    Redbud - Cercis canadensis
    One of the most famous spring bloomers, redbuds are one of the earliest spring blooming tree species. Renowned for their delicate flowers that bloom before the leaves emerge, redbuds are one of the first plants to indicate the start of spring. Often found as multi-stemmed understory trees, redbuds can be managed into a single-stem or a large shrub.

    Notable characteristics:
    * 20-30' tall, 15-20' spread
    * Flowers in March and April
    * USDA zones 4-9
    * Best in full or partial sun  

    Varieties to consider:
    Lavender Twist Weeping Redbud - 10' in all directions, weeping form, purplish-pink flowers
    Pink Heartbreaker Redbud - 10' in all directions, dense canopy, pink flowers
    Royal White Redbud - 20-30' in all directions, white flowers

    Snowbelle Mock OrangeSnowbelle Mock Orange

    Mock Orange - Philadelphus spp.  
    Considered to be one of the most winter hardy plants, mock orange blooms with beautiful, fragrant white flowers in early spring. Enjoy the sweet scent and watch as pollinators flock to your yard. An incredibly low-maintenance plant, enjoy mock orange as it blooms year after year every spring.  

    Notable characteristics:
    * Large, fragrant white flowers in April
    * Green foliage
    * Yellow fall color
    * USDA zones 4-9
    * Best in full sun  

    Varieties to consider:
    Miniature Snowflake - more petite (1-3' spread, 2-5' tall)
    Snowbelle - Double flowers, 3-4' in all directions
    Bouquet Blanc - high quantity of double flowers, 5-7' tall, 3-4' spread

    May Day Tree May Day Tree

    May Day Tree - Prunus padus 'European Bird Cherry'
    Large white flower panicles emerge in late April-early May, near May Day. The fruits are small black fruits, adored by many birds. Enjoy the multi-stem quality of this tree, and the beautiful white spring flowers.  

    Notable characteristics:
    * 15 - 20' in all directions
    * White flowers become small black fruits
    * Yellow to red fall color
    * USDA zone 3-7

    Jane Magnolia Jane Magnolia

    Magnolia - Magnolia spp.
    Renowned for its large floral display, magnolia trees are the stars of the spring blooming period. Following the floral display, shiny green leaves emerge and become yellow in the fall. The large buds of the flowers persist all winter, providing some interesting texture during the winter.  

    Notable characteristics:
    * Large flowers in early spring
    * USDA Zone depends on the variety
    * Shiny green foliage in the summer
    * Size varies based on variety  

    Varieties to consider:
    Butterflies - Yellow flowers, zone 4-9
    Little Gem - White flowers, zone 7-9
    * Jane - Pink flowers, zone 3-9 

    Kousa Dogwood Kousa Dogwood

    Flowering Dogwood Tree - Cornus florida
    This plant's spring beauty is found in the delicate four-petaled flowers that unfurl in early April. It provides some interest every other season too, from brilliant green foliage in the summer, to red fall color, to unique gray twigs in the winter. But the show-stopping flowers are the real stars of this spring bloomer!  

    Notable characteristics:
    * Large flowers in the early spring
    * USDA zones 4-9
    * Size varies based on variety  

    Varieties to consider:
    Satomi Dogwood - pink flowers, bird-friendly berries, dark red fall color
    Milky Way Dogwood - white flowers, bird-friendly berries, bright red fall color
    Kousa Dogwood - white flowers, edible berries, unique branching structure

    Hot Shot Girard Azalea Hot Shot Girard Azalea

    Azalea - Azalea spp.
    One of the most brilliant spring bloomers, azaleas are covered in flowers in the early spring, followed by green leaves in the summer into the fall. Beloved by many pollinators, having an azalea in the yard will help dispel those winter blues early in the season.  

    Notable Characteristics:
    * Variety of colors to choose from
    * USDA zones vary based on variety
    * Adaptable
    *Can be evergreen in some zones  

    Varieties to consider:
    Autumn Coral Encore® Azalea Tree - Tree form, pink flowers, rebloomer
    Ashley Marie Girard Azalea - rose pink flowers, abundant blooms
    Hot Shot Girard Azalea - scarlet-orange flowers, more compact form 

    Fothergilla Mount Airy Fothergilla Mount Airy

    Mount Airy Fothergilla - Fothergilla major 'Mount Airy'
    If fragrant white flowers are what you're looking for, Mount Airy Fothergilla is the plant you need. In the early spring, this shrub is covered in flowers smelling like honey and vanilla. After the profuse blooms fade, gray-green foliage is revealed, turning red, yellow and purple in the fall.  

    Notable characteristics:
    * Fragrant white spring flowers
    * USDA zone 5-10
    * Brilliant fall colors

    Brunnera Jack Frost Brunnera Jack Frost

    Brunnera - Brunnera macrophylla
    Favored for its beautiful leaves, brunnera also has beautiful blooms in the spring. Delicate blue flowers erupt above the green and silver leaves and persist for a few weeks before receding. Enjoy the small flowers and the beautiful foliage of this plant from the spring into the summer.  

    Notable Characteristics:
    * Small blue flowers in the spring
    * USDA zones 3-9 (species dependent)
    * Green and white variegated foliage
    * Deer resistant  

    Varieties to consider:
    Jack Frost Brunnera - Green margins, white centers on leaves
    Emerald Mist Brunnera - Silver edging on the leaves
    Brunnera ‘Variegata’ - White band with green centers on the leaves 

    Dianthus Coconut Punch Dianthus Coconut Punch

    Dianthus - Dianthus spp.
    For a perennial of a smaller stature, consider using dianthus in your garden. Spicy, fragrant flowers erupt in the spring and persist all summer long. Dead-heading this plant results in a longer bloom period, and the foliage is considered to semi-evergreen, depending on what USDA zone you are in.  

    Notable characteristics:
    * Wide variety of flower colors
    * Spicy fragrant flowers
    * Semi-evergreen
    * USDA zones 3-9, depending on species  

    Varieties to consider:
    Coconut Punch Dianthus - Burgundy flowers with white markings
    Fire Star Dianthus - Brilliant red flowers
    Fire and Ice Dianthus - Bright pink with lighter petal margins  

    Each of these plants will help you chase away those winter blues with their bright flowers in the early spring. Consider using them in spaces to surprise your neighborhood and yourself when they come into bloom and watch them usher in the glorious springtime season! 

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  3. Pruning Holly Plants: How to for Hedges, Foundation or Screening

    Holly Hedge

    Nature Hills offers many evergreen selections of Holly in many forms and sizes. Our nurseries grow many types because they are so desirable in the landscape. Beautiful pointed, serrate, and oak leaf types of foliage that stays on the plant year-round. These elegant plants can be used for screening and sheared formal hedges with bonus of that cheerful fruit. Most of these plants have sharp pointed leaves that can be sharp so be careful.Holly used as hedges are very popular as small sheared formal hedges, or large sheared formal hedges (always keeping the tops of the hedge narrower than the bottoms).  Also as informal hedges and screening plants. Let's briefly discuss planning and planting a hedge for your yard.  Planning your hedge starts with how many plants you are going to need.  The number of plants is determined by the mature size of the plants you are using for your hedge.  Let's say you are using a Castle Wall Holly variety that gets to be about 6' tall or more, and spreads about 3-4' wide.  You first must decide how quickly you want your new hedge to be a solid screen.  If you planted your new plants 3 feet apart, it may take several years for the plants to touch each other.   You may decide you will not take the time to wait for the hedge to become a solid screen.

    Holly Thorns

    Also, consider how the bottoms of the hedge will mesh together as an older hedge as well.  If you plant your Castle Wall Holly plant every 3' on center (which means they can spread 1 ½ feet on each side of the center of the plant before each plant will touch the one next to it), it will make a nice hedge in a fairly short period.  Remember that these plants will be wider as they continue to grow and develop and they will start to touch each other.  As a hedge (formal sheared hedges or informal, untrimmed hedges) you do want these plants to touch each other.  They will grow together with the plant on either side of them, and that is good and no reason to prevent that from happening. We have seen people trim the plants back into individuals that do not touch and that is not the goal here.  Allow the plants to touch and you will see that what happens is the hedges really make three two sided and a top.  That is the desired outcome.  The plants that do touch will not have foliage where they grow together but it is not needed, it is needed on both sides and the top so once you get past that, you will see what it is supposed to look like. The first year or two, very little pruning will be required, only snipping off any tips that our out of the range of the rest of the plants.  You do want them to get established quickly so minimal pruning is required but let the plants produce lots of new leaves as they are making new food and it will establish the plants sooner than if you sheared them back at the start.

    Whenever you do shear these plants into hedges it is very important to be sure the bottom of the plants are left wider than the tops. proper-pruning By always making sure the bottoms of the plants are trimmed wider, the plants do not get shaded out, and the plants will always have leaves to the ground and the plants will always look best.  This is not only true for a Holly hedge, but for all hedging plants whether they are deciduous or evergreen plants.  Pruning should start with hedging materials almost as soon as you plant them.

    Carissa Holly Hedge

    Some of these larger growers include Nellie Stevens, Castle Spire, Sky Pencil, Sky Pointer, Acadiana, Oakland and Oakleaf.  Large, robust growing, classy backdrop to a shrub or perennial border, or outstanding screening or hedge plants.  Sky Pencil and Sky Pointer are tall and super skinny and have a unique look to them.  These varieties are excellent hedges that need little if any pruning unless you want to maintain them at a specific height.  The other great thing you can do with these varieties is to shear them as single specimen plants into a nice pyramidal, Christmas tree shape, great for decorating during the holiday season. Pruning should be done on evergreen Holly plants in early summer simply because the new growth that happens after you prune will allow enough time for that new grow to harden off before winter.  The technique for pruning depends upon how the plants are being used, formal hedging, foundation, or screening.  Hedge pruning is described above, keeping the bottoms wider than the tops.  The rounded, dwarf selectins should also be pruned in early summer for the same reason, and to maintain the rounded habit either sheared more formally or informally.

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  4. Ash Trees in the Urban Landscape

    Common Ash Tree Common Ash Tree

    Why is it that Ash trees became so popular to plant anyway? Green, Black and White Ash are native over a large portion of the US and Canada. Many nurseries have some incredible selections from the native species that are seedless, have great fall color, and beautiful upright and rounded forms. Municipalities, homeowners, and Landscape Architects began noticing the beautiful seedless selections that were coming on the market. They began being used on most all the projects not only because of their varied forms and fall color, but because of their adaptability of different soil types, and hardiness. If you have ever seen an Autumn Purple Ash in fall color, you know just how unbelievably and intensely gorgeous they can be. Too much of a good thing maybe? You would think we would have learned from our past mistakes by lining so many streets and urban plantings of American Elm only to see the demise of such a stately tree from Dutch Elm Disease that has wiped out so many trees. Thus, plant hybridizers and nurseries have developed so many different new Elm selections that are Dutch Elm Disease resistant and we are now able to grow many different cultivars once again. 

    Damage Caused By Emerald Ash BorersDamage Caused By Emerald Ash Borers

    The same thing has happened with the way we were using (or I should say overusing) Ash trees in the landscape. Who would have guessed that we would import a bug that bores into the trunks of all the different kinds of Ash trees and eventually kills them all? What no one really expected is that borers typically only affect trees that are stressed or not healthy, but the difference with this bug is that it wildly attacked every single healthy Ash in its path. Movement was slow and eventually we figured out the movement of dead Ash firewood was being transported to many campgrounds and people moving infected wood to their cabins and summer homes in heavily wooded areas that contained many native Ash trees. Many years later, we have yet to introduce a resistant Ash tree to the market. The bug continues to spread slowly and in all directions taking out all Ash in its path. What is the answer? Diversity is the key when it comes to all urban landscapes. A healthy urban forest includes many different kinds (many different Genus) smartly planted without a monoculture of any one kind of tree. Planting many kinds of trees alternating with different Genus is the key. Should I treat the Ash I have in my yard? Treatment is available and if you have a very important specimen in your yard, you may want to consider having it treated. What many are finding out in areas that are infected, they are spending their money on replacing those Ash trees instead of treatment.

    Look at how far the Emerald Ash Borer has moved across the US. Scary. Look at how far the Emerald Ash Borer has moved across the US. Scary.  So, what are some trees that are taking the place of Ash? What should I plant in my yard? There is not one single tree that is taking the place of Ash for the exact reason mentioned earlier; diversity within the landscape. Nature Hills sells trees across the entire U.S., so specific trees that do best in your area will automatically come up for your hardiness zone to best assist you with your selection. It is not a good idea to line your driveway or lot with all the same kind of tree. Strategically planted deciduous trees (trees that lose their leaves) on the southwest side of your home will produce shade from the hot afternoon sun. In the winter months, those trees lose their leaves and allow the sun to warm your home in the afternoon. Some trees that might be used to replace Ash in the landscape or street trees keeping in mind a tree similar in size include the following:

    Maples (Norway types, Red maple types, Sugar Maple types, Silver Maples, and many hybrid types), Buckeye, River Birch, Catalpa, Hackberry, Yellowwood, Ginkgo, Honeylocust, Kentucky Coffeetree, Tulip tree, Ironwood, London Plane tree, Poplar, Oak varieties, Black Locust, Sassafras, Linden (especially American Sentry), and Elm (many Dutch Elm Disease resistant varieties available).

    There might be some smaller trees that you should consider using in place of an Ash:

    Lilacs (tree form), Mountainash (not an Ash, but does need a cool moist soil), Callery Pear, Flowering cherry, Flowering plum, Crabapples (many excellent and clean growers), Magnolia, Hawthorn, or Beech selections.

    However you choose to handle your existing Ash trees in your yard (treat or remove) if your Ash trees do become infected, just be sure to select trees that are hardy for your area, will work in the soil type you are planting them into, and one that has some interest. Keep a mixed urban landscape by including plants that are not in your neighborhood or overplanted in your area. For specific help, please let us know if we can assist you with selection for your area.

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  5. Broadleaf Evergreens are All the Rage

    BoxwoodsBoxwood is such an interesting plant because their shiny green leaves stay on the plant year-round even in areas that have snow and cold. There are different forms both spreading and upright. Boxwood in the colder climates may need some protection from the drying winter winds (on the west and north exposures) in some areas. Some of these newer selections are outstanding for areas into hardiness zones 5 and some even into zone 4. They are wildly popular especially into the colder climates to introduce some winter interest into the landscape. They make incredible sheared and formal hedges and the upright forms make perfect pyramidal specimens. Boxwood can also be used less formally and look great without shearing, but allowed to grow more naturally.



    There are other plants too that fall into the same category as Boxwood that are all included under Broadleaf Evergreen plants that have leaves but hold them all year round and don't fall off in the fall. There are a couple of groundcovers included in this category as well. Pachysandra holds that beautiful glossy green foliage all winter long. Interesting as the snow sculpts a large sweeping bed under the shade of low branched trees like the Flowering Dogwoods and various Redbud selections. Vinca Bowles is another fine textured broadleaf evergreen again used in the shade of low branched ornamentals and shaded understory of the edge of the woods. Striking deep green leaves are beautiful all year round.

    Vinca Bowles Vinca Bowles

    Let's not forget about the Genus Ilex, or the broadleaf evergreen Holly plants. Here again, different forms both spreading and upright and some dwarf ones too. Dark shiny green leaves are pointed and the branches are used for winter and holiday decorations. The flowers are not big or showy, but the red fruits are amazingly ornamental and almost look artificial. Some of the deciduous species of Ilex will drop their leaves but can still produce that incredibly showy fruit. The broadleaf evergreen selections can be used as hedges, foundations plants, in the understory of larger trees and large scale shrubs, and most any place you might find boxwoods.


    One more group of plants we cannot get by without mentioning is Rhododendron. The Genus Rhododendron includes all the Azaleas as well. The Rhododendrons are all broadleaf evergreens holding their shiny foliage all winter long just like the Boxwood, Pachysandra, Vinca Bowles, and Ilex mentioned above. Rhododendron selections are almost endless and new ones are introduced all the time. The shiny green leaved plants sit there quietly all summer, fall, and winter long but come springtime look out as the Rhododendron flowers are so profuse and the color spectrum so diverse it almost makes you wonder if the flowers are artificial or not. Here again, you can use these plants just like you would Boxwood with the bonus of incredible flower displays, and interesting purplish winter color.


    Remember broadleaf evergreens offer year-round interest because they don't lose their leaves, contrast nicely in the winter landscape, and offer cover for songbirds and other animals when so many other plants are naked for the winter. Diversity in the landscape is important when you are selecting trees but shrubs too. Don't forget to check out this incredible category of plants from Nature Hills.

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