Gardening Tips

  1. The Methley Plum, One of Nature's Best

    In the world of Plums, there are hundreds if not thousands of varieties worldwide that are available for the home gardener. All have their own distinct characteristics - but none so distinguished as the Methley Plum. This variety has it all; it is widely adapted throughout the U.S. from zone 4 to 9, offers heavy production on a naturally small tree with medium to large rich flavored red-fleshed fruit and is self-fruitful!

    The Methley plum actually has a very interesting history in that it is believed to be a Hybrid between an American Plum variety (Prunus cerasifera) and the Japanese Plum (Prunus salicina). This happened unintentionally as a select seedling in South Africa around the turn of the 20th century.

    How it found its way back to the States is anyone’s guess, but the impact that Methley has had on plum growing in the United States is undeniable.

    Like other Japanese x American hybrid Plums, the Methley is adapted to a wide range of climates and weather conditions. It is reported to grow well in zone 4-5 throughout the east coast and upper midwest, 5 to 7 throughout the midwest and along the coastal regions of zones 8-9. It is adapted to the extreme cold, moist coastal regions and produces well in regions with less than 250 hours of chill. The Methley Plum has proven to be one of nature’s best plum creations.

    Along with being a highly adaptable variety, the Methley’s growth habit make it a first choice for the home gardener. A naturally low-growing tree with a wide spreading canopy makes size control of the Methley a breeze. Keeping the tree to a height below 10 feet requires very simple pruning - mostly to keep the canopy open for good air circulation and light penetration along with keeping the width in check.

    The spring bloom is also a real treat as the Methley is a profuse bloomer with fragrant blossoms. This adds to the plant's value in the landscape when used as a medium size accent plant. Plant the tree along with other early blossoming varieties like Santa Rosa and Shiro to improve production on all.

    The dependable harvest of delicious red/purple skinned fruit with dark red flesh is an absolute treat. Methley is tops for fresh eating with a unique and rich sweet plum flavor. Methley Plum is also renowned for wonderful jellies and preserves created with its wonderful fruit. With the abundant fruit set that the Methley produces, there will be plenty fruit to work with.

    In this world of hybrids and new and improved, here is a variety that nature took total control of and produced one of the best all-round fruits for us to enjoy; the Methley Plum.

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  2. 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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  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. 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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  5. 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.

    Clementine

    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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  6. Tips for the New Gardener

    Photo by Yutaka Seki on Foter.com / 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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  7. 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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  8. Understanding Container Citrus Tree Fertilization

    Understanding fertilizing your container Citrus should begin with some words of caution. Fertilizing should never be administered as a medicine to cure a poorly performing plant. This means that a properly fertilize plant should never need fertilizing to cure poor performance.

    For example, plants grown in the nursery receive consistent care, which includes proper feeding. When one receives a new plant, typical symptoms that might arise from the adjustment to a new location - such as yellowing leaf, leaf wilt and leaf drop - rarely have anything to do with the plant’s nutrition. Most often these symptoms are the result of changes in the plants environment such as lower light, exposure to an excessively dry environment or over watering. All care should be given to providing the best location for your citrus plant and developing watering habits with attention to keeping your Citrus plant on the dry side.

    Only after you have found a spot with consistent light and understand how to water without over watering does the need for a consistent fertilizing program come into play.

    If you receive your plant in the fall, odds are that it has been fed at the nursery to support hardiness going into the winter. There should be no need for another application until later in the winter.

    A properly fertilized young container Citrus is one that has applications of organic fertilizer applied quarterly beginning in late winter. As the tree grows into larger containers the feeding becomes more frequent. Citrus likes an acidic soil, so it is preferable to use an acid based fertilizers.

    Acid fertilizers are fertilizers traditionally recommended for Azaleas, Camelias and Rhododendrons.

    An acid soil mix consisting of Bark, Peat Moss, and Coir are always recommended for Citrus container planting.                                                                                                                             

    Acid Fertilizer helps to maintain the pH of your soil at a level suitable for citrus. This is of concern if you know your waters pH is 7 or above. Your water purveyor will provide your water’s pH, and a simple soil test kit can tell you your soil’s pH. It is recommended that organic fertilizers be applied by following the recommendations on the bag for your fertilizer.

    To adjust the pH of soil, an application of Soil Sulfur or regular additions of Cottonseed Meal can help to maintain a healthy pH between 5.8 and 6.0.

    High Nitrogen fertilizers quite often affect the health of the soil and the growth of the tree by disturbing the soil biology. They are not recommended for container growing of citrus.

    All container Citrus plants should be mulched. Mulching has the same effect in a container that it does in the ground. It works to keep roots cool in hot weather, cuts down on evaporation, increases the time between watering, keeps weeds down and in time will provide a nutrient source as it breaks down into organic matter.

    Applying organic fertilizers to mulched container Citrus can pose a challenge as the fertilizer will rest and cake on top of your mulch. Make sure to distribute your fertilizer evenly around the surface in the pot and water in thoroughly until the fertilizer works down into your mulch.

    Maintaining the mulch layer inside your container will also help to maintain the microbiology inside. Try not to disturb the mulch - but do add fresh mulch to the surface yearly or as needed. Try to maintain a 2-inch layer inside of the container.

    Raising Citrus in a container is like raising fish in a fish tank. The chemistry in the container-grown Citrus plant depends on you providing the food that supports the biology in the soil that feeds the plants root system and in turn keeps your tree healthy.

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  9. When Planting, Take Your Lead From Nature

    The kids are gone, and you don’t need as much lawn as you used to?  Consider using some native grasses and a simple gravel path to create such an incredible retreat and focal point in your yard.

    What to plant - that is the “perennial” question from many of our customers. 

    With so many options available these days - and a never-ending list of new plants being introduced by nurseries not only from the US, but from other countries as well - it’s a challenge to know what will grow in your yard.

    Trends for planting right now? Plant natives and pollinators to help attract beneficial insects to your yard, and help maintain better health for the bees. It makes good sense to use plants that work in your yard, offering you a good supply of flowers (and pollen) from early in the season until late in the year - and if you live in warmer areas - to offer a source of pollen year-round. 

    Maybe you can’t control the way others handle chemical use and adding pollinators, but you can make a difference in your own yard. Cut back on your chemical use especially when it is not needed, or use only as a preventative. There is a better approach using safer alternatives or home remedies that can help solve some simple problems with insects or disease in your own yard. 

    Using a grouping of native Birch clumps create a cool and shaded micro-climate beneath so you can include some of your favorite shade loving plants.

    Get familiar with native trees, shrubs, roses, vines, and perennials that grow naturally in your area. The native range for plants changes by region and by the climate in a region. Nature Hills offers many natives, all you need to do is find out the natives where you live.

    Not only can you ask your local extension office or garden clubs, but you can ask a neighbor or plant lover who might be a good source for what plants perform well in your immediate area.

    When you are out doing your daily routine or errands, pay attention to what is growing well in your local area and utilize those plants for the bones of your landscape. What looks healthy and offers color at a time of the year that your yard is lacking color?

    Look at how nature arranges plants in undisturbed areas. Watch how those areas change with the seasons offering color, texture, or fruits and berries for attracting wildlife to that area. There is a reason a plant grows where it does in nature. Hot, dry, south facing-sites create a very different microclimate than the north-facing slopes that will have cool soils with plants that will need more moisture. Check out your own yard and see what areas are sunny and dry. Use plants that you are seeing doing well in your area for those hot, dry sites.

    Look at how landscapes are being planted for new construction projects. What trends are you seeing that you like? There is no reason you can’t borrow those design ideas for your own yard. 

    Native plants are plants that reside in undisturbed sites and have a relationship with the plants and animals in the area over thousands of years. Native plants include selections that some call “nativars” or selections (cultivars) of the native plants that have superior characteristics. Larger flowers, shorter plants, more fruit, better fall color and a whole lot more! All reasons for bringing a new form of the native plant to market.

    With a backdrop of natural grown Green Giant Arborvitae shown above, and the introduction of color makes for an incredible and interesting landscape.  Check out the use of cut tree limbs formed into a natural trellis for flowering vines or even climbing veggies.

    Remember when introducing new plants to your yard to look at the site where the plant will be installed. Make sure the plant will get the right amount of sun or shade, and the type of soil in that location will best support healthy establishment and growth. 

    You can plant native trees in your town or city and they will thrive and live forever, right? Not necessarily. Planting an oak tree in a sidewalk area in a downtown concrete jungle is most likely not going to mimic where that oak tree would grow natively.

    It is so important to look at where certain healthy plants are growing because there is a reason it is doing well in that location. 

    Be aware of the plants around you, and how they are being used where you live. Watch for interesting design ideas that you too can borrow for your own landscape. Incorporate native and “nativars” and pollinators in your yard. Learn to watch and appreciate the plants in your environment and the wildlife they attract - and most of all…enjoy!

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  10. Winter Landscape: Brown Is a Color Too …

    Most of us think of the winter landscape in many parts of the country as bleak or boring and just brown. Keep in mind that brown is a color too … and so many different shades of brown that can be accented by many other colors in the landscape for some beautiful results.

    One of the most obvious dormant winter plants are the native and ornamental grasses. The grasses turn brown in many parts of the country for the winter months. Grasses are wildly popular and continue to grow in popularity mainly because of the whole new dimension they add to the dormant winter landscapes. The dramatic fall colors that precede the dormant winter color of grasses vary and can be wildly showy with reds, purples, oranges and many shades of brown.

    Native and ornamental grass selections have become a staple in most all residential and commercial landscapes. They offer interesting substance in the winter landscape not only with color, but movement. The attractive seed heads and feathery dried flowers wave in the wind and look amazing when lit with some landscape lighting during the growing season and when dormant too.

    Mixing broadleaved evergreens - like boxwood and hollies - works well in combination with all grasses. Backdrops of pines, fir and spruce really set off the beauty of dormant grasses. Using grasses with Japanese Yews, Distylium, or some of the many different Junipers create some nice harmony in your plantings.

    Let’s think about how Hydrangeas add to the dormant landscape. The newer Hydrangeas are shorter, offer more flowering and many colors, but turn brown when dormant. Those dried, dormant flower heads make very bold statements in the landscape and they last forever. Dried Hydrangea blooms are incredibly useful for decoration, and they catch and sculpt the snow beautifully in the landscape.

    What about those perennial borders? Don’t be in such a hurry to cut all those beautiful seed heads offering many different shades of brown. Coneflowers and Blackeyed Susan offer not only attractive seed heads, but are nature’s bird feeders. Those perennial borders with all their brown and dormant mounds of leaves and stems are home to many beneficial insects and offer some winter protection for birds and other wildlife as well.

    Some plants like the Russian Arborvitae (Microbiota) go dormant in the fall by transforming the soft green and fluffy ground cover to a beautiful brown color. Now think about a beautiful green evergreen ground cover used in a more natural setting that morphs into the color of a cedar sided home blending into the landscape like no other plant. It’s brilliant and looks amazing.

    Probably our favorite plants that turn brown during the dormant months must be the family of Oak trees. Oak trees are strong, long lived, and many have amazing character. There are many new introductions that have improved forms and hybrid vigor. 

    Now, we can hear you saying … “Oak trees grow so slow” … au contraire! Young transplanted Oak trees may take a year or a bit more to re-establish in your yard, but once they get past that break in period, Oak trees grow quite rapidly. They soon become a favorite in everyone’s yards.

    The other interesting thing about many Oak trees is young trees many times hold their leaves into spring. Holding their brown foliage offers interest, screening, and beautiful backdrops to other plants in your landscape. Even as these beautiful trees get larger, they many times hold the bottom third of their foliage in winter. It does add some interest to your winter landscape, and is something to take note of. Check out this young Oak (left) with its leaves holding tight in early winter. 

    We are just talking “browns” today … but just imagine what the fruit of a holly, crabapple, Viburnum or Hawthorn can do to your winter landscape! 

    Look around the landscapes in your area and see which plants provide some winter interest near you. Send us a picture if you cannot identify a favorite plant kicking up the interest in the landscape near you, and let’s see if we can help you find out what plant you are liking these days. 

    Your homework is to look for year-round interest, cover and food for birds and beneficial insects, and diversity of plants and trees - all things that keep your landscape the envy of the neighborhood. Now is a great time to find the plants that will increase the aesthetics of yard and home. 

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