1. 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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  2. 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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  3. 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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  4. 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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  5. 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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  6. Snow: Natural Insulation, and its Free

    It’s only natural for us plant nerds to like to try growing things that may or may not be perfectly hardy in our yards. Or, maybe you have some rose bushes or other plants that might benefit from having some additional winter protection.

    For those of you who live in the colder regions where you get snow throughout the winter… keep this in mind when you are out moving that snow out of the way of your sidewalks and driveways.

    Snow makes the perfect insulation for your plants. Roses for instance will love having the snow piled up and covering as much of the stems as you can beneath the snow! Just be careful not to pile heavy snow on top of plants that might get crushed. 

    The rose bushes in this picture welcome the addition of piled up snow protecting the cold and wind off the canes closest to the ground. The parts that stick out an are exposed will be trimmed down anyway allowing the new growth to grow from the protected parts under the snow. 

    The snow is a great insulator for groundcovers and perennials too. Give it a whirl!

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  7. Advice For Overwintering Your Roses

    Most people cover their roses for the winter too early.  Wait until your rose plants have been exposed to several killing frosts and some good colder weather to help them go dormant BEFORE covering if winter protection is needed in your area.

    All across the midsection of the states, typically the right time is about Thanksgiving time to protect your roses.  In the more northern states still time if you have not, and as you move into the more southern areas if winter protection is needed it may be a bit early still.

    Hybrid tea, grandiflora, floribunda, and of course all the new shrub rose types can all benefit from some additional mulch added right on the plants about a foot deep.

    Wait to prune your roses until late winter or early spring so any winter damage is removed when being pruned.  And for roses that bloom on last year’s wood - they don’t get pruned until after the June bloom is done.

    Any kind of shredded mulch (bags may still be available near you), or compost works great too.  Dump the mulch right where the canes come out of the ground piling it up about a foot thick.  It will protect the canes from dying back.  The exposed parts will discolor and may die back but those parts get cut off in spring anyway, and the covered portions will remain green and viable.

    Many used to use the styrofoam rose cones and many times those plants would rot underneath the cones so if you are using them, be sure to cut the tops off the cones to allow moisture in and out during the winter months.

    A pile of mulch is such a simple way to insure winter success in areas that do get cold, and now is the time!


    Photo (left) shows a foot of mulch piled on the canes covering the crown of the plant for the winter for simple success.

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  8. Brighten Winter With Bloom Pads

    Bloom Pads from Nature Hills will make spring arrive early inside your home.  Brighten the bleak winter days with bursts of colorful flowers and super fragrance!

    Bloom Pads are spring flowering bulbs that are placed between two pieces of biodegradable paper.

    Here is how to best handle them:

    Your Bloom Pads were just delivered!  Simply put the bulbs in the vegetable drawer of your fridge.  Keep them in the pads they came in, and don’t store them with apples or fruit.  Chill them in the fridge for 12-16 weeks.  Bring them out of the fridge, planting the entire pad just under the soil surface.  Be sure to use a good potting mix, and water well.  Keep the soil moist and place the pots in a cool and sunny location until they begin to grow. Watch them burst into color.

    You can extend the indoor bloom by bringing in newly planted pots each week over several weeks for a succession of bloom.

    Hurry, time is running out.  Great gift idea for yourself or anyone on your list.

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    Bare root still good to ship until mid-June.

    Bare root plants are dormant and are shipped without any soil on the roots and no leaves on the stems. The roots are wrapped in a medium to keep them moist during shipping however. The plants will start to grow once they are planted into warm soil and catch up to the plants in your landscape before you know it. 

    Bare root plants are kept dormant in our coolers so the plants still think it is winter until they are taken out and planted. Look at a cherry tree recently planted and notice the new growth coming.  

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  10. The Cottonless Cottonwood

    What are all those fussy things floating around in the air?  They are plugging up the screens in our house.  They are plugging up your air filters. 

    The Dandelion plants are kind of done showing their fussy seed heads so it can’t be those.

    In most cases, you are seeing the seeds from Cottonwood trees.  They are those large, stately trees that you most commonly seen in the western states.

    Nature Hills sells two different kinds of Cottonwood trees that are seedless and do not produce any of the messy, fuzzy seeds that you see at this time of the year: the Siouxland Cottonwood and the Hybrid Poplar.

    Why plant a Cottonless Cottonwood tree?  They are wildly fast growing, have great form, tolerate most any kind of soils, are hardy and tougher than nails. 

    Check out Cottonless Cottonwood trees from Nature Hills.  Our tip of the day is to plant one of these seedless beauties with no mess, no volunteer seedlings, just a fast growing, tough and long lasting options for your property.

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