Three Seasons of American Cranberry Viburnum

American Cranberry Viburnum begins its change to orange red.

Spectacular fall color is everywhere! Trees and  bushes almost become new plants when leaves change color. Fresh autumn flowers pick up where summer blooms slowly leave off. Gourds and squash such as pumpkin give new geometric shapes, textures and colors to work with in decorations.

Orange red leaves of Viburnum opulus var Americanum add fall color to this symphony. Go backwards to summer: orange red berries complement green leaves. Backwards again to spring: lacy white flowers appear all over the bush. How’s that for three season interest? Winter’s not so bad either when brown gray branches capture snow and support busy sparrows.

Viburnum opulus variation Americanum is the the most current name of this shrub. The new name may be more difficult to ask for at the nursery or garden center, so keep these other two common names in mind.

One is Viburnum trilobum because the leaf has three oval parts or lobes. The other is American cranberry – a name used to separate this Viburnum from a similar bush that grows in Europe. While it has berries that can be made into jam, this bush is not related to the cranberry plant that grows in bogs and provides us the large tart red berries we have at Thanksgiving dinner.

This Viburnum is native to the region along the Canadian/U.S. border. In Canada it grows from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. In the U.S. it grows from New York, along the Great Lakes to South Dakota and west to Oregon.

Features

Not only does it provide three season color, it soaks up water. Planted in a berm to protect the house from water that runs into the yard from neighbors’ yards it receives the moisture it needs without sitting in water.

  • Zone: Cold hardy in 2 – 7.
  • Soil:  Moist that is also well drained, not standing water.
  • Sun: Full sun to part shade.
  • Average height: 8 – 12 feet.
  • Average width: 8 – 12 feet.
  • Location: Consider the height before planting. Place it where it can grow to its full height of 8 – 12 feet otherwise prune it to a shorter size every year. It expands in width when new shoots grow out from the ground near the original bush. A branch touching the ground will take root to produce a new plant that gets larger every year.
  • Bloom: In late spring and early summer, flat white lacy flowers appear all over the bush.
  • Leaf:  Green with three lobes in summer which turn orange red in fall.

Care

Water: Considered medium, but since it is native to low wet areas, watering well during hot dry spells will keep it healthy.

Fertilize with compost once a year in the fall to feed the roots.

Prune: After it flowers.

Pests

An insect called crown borer can cause dieback of the bush. The bottom of the trunk is where they do their damage. Larvae drill under the bark and feed on the inside of the trunk. They also feed on branches and roots. This weakens and destroys it.

Keep the plant healthy. The insect is less likely to be attracted to it. Water during hot dry spells and fertilize in fall with compost.

Uses

Borders, hedges and any place that water collects temporarily. Just make sure the water drains off.

Arrange cut branches with berries in a tall vase as a background for other flowers or use alone in a container.

 

Viburnum opulus var Americanum is an enduring shrub in the yard.  It’s easy to care for when planted in a spot that meets its needs. It’s interesting in three seasons and attractive to songbirds. It’s worth planting!

 

Copyright 2018 Juli Seyfried

 

 

How to Improve Clay Soil As You Plant

The best kind of soil amendment: compost with earthworm activity.

Soil

Other than that’s what a plant grows in, I didn’t give soil much thought in my early years of gardening. Too busy touching, smelling, trimming and watering what grows above. Add a little compost on top of the soil in fall to feed the plant and done.

I discovered that if I put a little more effort into the soil when planting something new, then add compost to the soil yearly while the plant is growing, my plant thrives. Makes me feel like a successful gardener!

My yard has three to four inches of topsoil with clay below that. Plants don’t grow well in clay. It is made of compressed particles that leave no room for air or water to circulate. It does have nutrients but plant roots have trouble making their way through the compressed clay.

New rule for my yard: When digging a hole for a new plant – amend or change the soil.

Tools Needed:

  • Measuring tape
  • A large shovel or spade
  • Gloves
  • Wheelbarrow

Digging the Hole

Before you begin you need to know how deep and wide to dig the hole. Caution: math skills at work here!

How Deep

To find out how deep the hole should be, measure the height of the new plant’s root ball (the batch of dirt surrounding the roots whether round or not).  With the measuring tape begin at the top of the ball where the stem goes into the soil and continue to the bottom of the ball. That measurement tells you how deep to dig the hole.

How Wide

Dig the hole two times wider than the root ball. Measure across the root ball from side to side. Multiply that number times two.  Dig the hole that width all the way around. This will give your plant roots plenty of room to stretch out and grow.

Two times the width is a general guideline. The tag on the plant often has directions for planting depth and width. Another place to look is online. Gardening books have information too.

Now Dig

Knowing the depth and width of the hole to dig, it’s time to shovel.

First dig topsoil from the top layer of ground. Put it in a pile on the ground to one side of the hole you’re digging.

The clay from deeper in the hole goes in a pile on the other side.

This makes two separate piles of material from the hole. It’s time to mix up “new” soil in a wheelbarrow using the shovel.

Creating New Soil

Three ingredients go into the wheelbarrow one shovelful at a time:

  • Soil from the first pile.
  • Clay from the other pile.
  • Compost from your compost pile in the garden or a purchased bag.

How to mix it:

  1. Using the shovel chop the pile of clay into very small chunks, less than ½” large. Put a shovelful of that in the wheelbarrow.
  2. Add a shovelful of soil from the other pile.
  3. Add a shovelful of compost to the mix.
  4. Chop and mix this all together with the shovel until it’s loose and fine. It’s ready to use for planting.

Planting With the New Soil

Put a shovelful of the newly mixed soil in the hole and spread it out along the bottom. Set the root ball of the plant in the hole. Now fill in all around the root ball with the new soil. Press the soil gently as you add it to eliminate air pockets. Water can collect in air pockets and rot the roots. Not good!

Finish by pressing down on the top layer with your hand if it’s a small plant like a day lily. Use your foot if it’s a shrub or tree. Water thoroughly – until the water quits sinking in, puddles and runs off.

Add a layer of mulch on top to keep the soil from washing away. Mulch helps keep moisture in too. In the fall add a one inch layer of compost to feed the roots for next year’s growth.

Reward

Amending poor soil like clay when planting has long term benefits. The plant gets off to a strong start with roots that can move through the soil, take in the nutrients that are available in it and receive water that drains well. Plant the best you can once and enjoy years of beauty.

 

Copyright 2018 Juli Seyfried

3 Traits to Love in a Heuchera

Palace Purple Heuchera is a hardy variety.
Pink tinged white flowers of Palace Purple Heuchera.

Heuchera or Coral Bells as it’s commonly called has become one of my favorite plants because of three traits. The leaf comes in many colors. As the day goes on a single leaf color is highlighted by change in the sun’s position. Leaf shape varies with the hybrid. The plant is easy to grow.

When I first began to plant Heuchera there were two kinds available at the local stores.  One was small with green leaves. Its little bell shaped flowers are the coral color that gives the plant its nick name – Coral Bells. The other was large with dark purple leaves. I planted them both.

The one that has been the hardiest is called Palace Purple. One leaf can be dark green with purplish edges. Depending on the amount of sunlight a leaf may be all purple. I have been able to transplant some of its offshoots to other places in the garden. As long as it is shady it grows. Even when I think I’ve dug up the whole plant, I’ll find a part left behind that’s still growing.

Features

  • Grows best in Zones 3-8.
  • Native to western United States.
  • Height varies from from one to one and a half feet.
  • Width is generally one foot.
  • Heuchera grows from a root. The middle of the plant mounds a bit. It covers the ground effectively and blocks out weeds.  As the leaves spread out the stem touching the ground can take root and form a new plant.
  • This plant is known for its leaf shape and color.  Leaf shapes are flat to ruffled. A leaf comes in colors from green to orange to red to purple. It is often mottled. Each leaf can have two shades of color on top and a third shade on its bottom side.  The color changes slightly as the growing season continues.
  • Flowers are very small but pretty on long stems blooming in late spring to early summer. Some might bloom later. Depending on the plant the colors are pink, coral or cream.
  • Attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.
  • Cut flowers and use them much like Baby’s Breath in a bouquet.

Care

Plant in part to mostly shade in an area that is well drained. For most a drier location is preferable to a wet one.

Watering is average. However hot days will dry it out faster because of shallow roots.

Fertilize in fall with compost.

Other plants that grow well in the same location with Heuchera are Fern, Astilbe and Tiarella. Some Heucheras have been bred with Tiarellas becoming plants called Heucherella.

Problems/Pests

The main drawback: shallow roots. Root tops tend to heave in winter which means the they will come out of the ground. When the roots pop out they’re exposed to cold, dry air causing the plant to die. The remedy is to push the roots back into the ground. Add soil around them and press firmly. Try to prevent heaving by covering roots with mulch in the fall.

In winter Heuchera almost disappears. Mid-spring its colorful leaves reappear.  That’s as exciting as seeing blooming flowers.

 

Copyright 2018 Juli Seyfried

 

Knotweed’s Appeal: Variegated Leaves and Tiny Flower Orbs

Striking leaves of Knotweed/Persicaria virginiana
Tiny knots of flowers appear in late summer to early fall.

 

What’s so appealing about this Knotweed? Is it the green and cream or white leaves with pale peach to dark red splotches on top? Is it the flowers – many tiny red or dark pink orbs on a long stem that appear above the leaves? Knotweed means tall, friendly color growing throughout the bed. Easy care makes it a keeper.

Features

  • Persicaria virginiana commonly called knotweed is a herbaceous perennial found in the U.S., Japan and Korea. It thrives in Zones 4-8.
  • The leaf is oval. Green is the main color. Then it’s color on color:  cream or white splotches topped by pale peach to dark red splotches. No two leaves look alike.
  • Knotweed grows to about 24 inches tall. Its spread is one and a half to two feet wide.
  • Bloom time is late summer, early fall. Tiny flower “knots” in red or dark pink bloom on a tall stem giving it the name knotweed. The second part of the name “weed” doesn’t apply to the variety Persicaria virginiana as it is not invasive. It spreads by rhizomes – thick looking roots that grow horizontally underground. It is also self seeding as the “knots” or flowers when dry, fall off and germinate. Pets sometimes sport little pink knots in their coats after brushing up against the stems. Where will the knots land?
  • Attracts butterflies.
  • Deer and rabbit resistant.

Care

  • Full sun to part shade is required for good growth.
  • Soil is average, well drained.
  • Water needs are medium which is to say they tolerate some dry weather, but biweekly watering keeps them looking their best.
  • Maintenance is low. No cutting back. No dead heading the flowers. No significant pests or diseases. After winter the stems look like dry sticks coming out of the ground. These can be removed or crushed in place. New growth covers them up as they decompose.

Problems are Small

Sometimes knotweed winds up in places where it’s not wanted. Pulling it out is easy.

As a group they’re not dense enough to keep weeds from growing in between. If the weeds are below the height of the knotweed, they can’t be seen until closer inspection.

Another type of knotweed called Fallopia japonica is invasive in the U.S.  It chokes out native plants and should not be grown.

Uses

Naturalizing is the easiest way to enjoy them in the garden. Variegated leaves and an easy growing habit fill in a space with good color. Knotweed contrasts well with the green of nearby bushes. They can also be used in container plantings if kept well watered. Cut stems of leaves and flowers to add an unusual twist to a bouquet.

 

Copyright 2018 Juli Seyfried

Rose of Sharon – Giant Summer Bouquet

Rose of Sharon bush blooms mid to late summer.

A mid summer giant size bouquet grows right outside my dining room window.  Many fuchsia pink flowers appear on leafy green ends of each branch all around the bush.  Love Rose of Sharon this time of year for its wow factor. While planting, I was hoping for a spray of color outside the window. I more than got my wish!

Beauty

The fuchsia pink bloom is similar in shape to the rose. It begins as a rose bud look alike before opening to a layered-petal flower. Blooms are abundant. Other bloom colors available are blue, lavender, purple, red or white.

No scent for humans.  Occasionally bumble bees and butterflies alight to enjoy the flowers’ nectar. A hummingbird inspects the blooms from time to time.  But the hummingbird prefers a tubular flower and moves on. Birds rustle leaves all day pecking at insects on the multi stemmed bush.

Come winter it is a show piece for fallen snow.  Its many grey branches catch snow on the topside becoming a frosted vision. Winter resident birds don’t mind the snowy perch and rest there.

Care

This shrub is easy to care for. Planted six feet away from the back of the house, it soaks up water that comes down the slight incline of my yard. It gets all day sun. At ten feet tall it shades the back of the house from the western sunlight. In fall, after flowers fade, I prune to keep it at ten feet. Rose of Sharon can grow 12 feet tall by 10 feet wide. I think keeping it a little lower keeps it bushier. Leaves and flowers tend to be sparse near the bottom.

Originally from eastern Asia, it is cold hardy in Zones 5-8.  Rose of Sharon tolerates poor soil such as the clay found in my yard. Enrich the soil with compost once a year as that’s what it prefers. I aim to please to keep it healthy! Regular watering during dry spells keeps it happy also.

Pests

Apparently Hibiscus syriacus (its botanical name) can be a magnet for the Japanese beetle. This might affect the appearance of the bush, but not the health. There are some organic ways to control the beetle such as picking it off the bush and destroying it. Use decoy plants such as zinnias or white geraniums where you can pick the beetle off and destroy it.  Toads eat them. Attract toads by placing a broken clay pot with an opening, on the ground for a house.  Moles eat them including the larvae which develop underground.  Skunks eat them. A skunk had a run-in with my dog so I won’t recommend attracting skunks. Just be aware that they also eat the Japanese beetle.

Plant a flowering bush like the Rose of Sharon outside a window you often walk by or spend time near. It is wonderful to see the flowers in bloom or watch the birds and insects move around its branches. Nature is almost in the house!

 

Copyright 2018 Juli Seyfried

 

Hellebores Thwart a Dismal Winter Day

Hellebores
Hellebore flowers open to five petals.

What flowers in the cold? Whose leaves are green all year but are especially noticeable in late grey of winter? Well the title gave it away. Hellebores. Not a very pretty name but the name is as memorable as the flowers. The flowers are cup-shaped to start and open to five petals. Some have a prickly looking circle of stamens in the center. They almost look like the flowers you draw in kindergarten.

Hellebores are evergreen perennials that grow in Zones 4-9. Depending upon the species and which zone they’re growing in, they may bloom anywhere from December to April. They generally bloom for four to six weeks. That means no matter how ugly the weather and how anxious you are to see spring arrive, Hellebores are in bloom.

Growing Hellebores

  • Most prefer a well-drained soil rich in humus. Most prefer an alkaline soil over acid soil.
  • Location requires you to think about winter and summer. Planting under a deciduous tree (leaves fall off before winter) gives them the sun they need to bloom in winter. Once the leaves grow on the tree or bush, Hellebores are protected from the heat of the summer sun. So – winter sun, summer shade.
  • Protect from wind when choosing a location to protect the leaves from wind burn.
  • Some will self-seed and add new plants to your garden.
  • Please Note: All parts of this plant are toxic to humans and pets. We normally eat only the fruits and vegetables we grow ourselves or that are sold in stores and markets. We know not to eat the flowers, bushes and trees that we grow in our gardens – that would make us sick. However, some plants have a special warning and Hellebores have that warning. Find a place to grow these plants where a curious child or pet won’t chew on them.

Caring for Hellebores

  • Water regularly when you water other flowers in the summer.
  • Add compost around plants every fall to feed them.
  • Possible pests: slugs, aphids. Possible diseases: fungus – Botrytis. Well drained soil and good spacing between plants should help prevent these problems.

When I first began gardening, the only kind of Hellebore available was one that had green flowers and supposedly smelled bad. I didn’t plant any, even though having an early flowering plant outside of my house was tempting. Now there are hybrids in many different colors from green to cream to pink, red and purple. No bad smell.

My Hellebores are planted in an area that I can see from my back door. I enjoy their green leaves and pale-colored flowers without opening the door to the cold.

 

Copyright 2018 Juli Seyfried

Green Gardening

Branch of Purple Leaf Sand Cherry

Purple leaves are what I see when I open the back door. There are two Purple Leaf Sand Cherry bushes across the patio. They screen the neighbor’s wood privacy fence – an extra layer in the spring, summer and fall. They provide a little shade during the day. The sunlight that comes through the leaves change their colors. Some appear purple. Some are red. Others bronze, rust, and green.

Since the name of the bush begins with purple leaf, I chose that for the name of this site. I could be lofty and say that the leaf color is inspiring; there’s probably a metaphor for life. Maybe there is. But I chose it because I like the colors.

Green gardening is what I do. When we first moved here, I was partially going green. I made the change to all green when a next door neighbor came to me with a request. I had applied some weed killer on the lawn that adjoins her property. She asked if I would not do that again. She said she had some serious health problems and using weed killer was harmful to her condition. In fact, she said it was harmful for my family and even our dog. We were breathing it in, it was on our skin and clothes. She was such a great person, caring for others every where she went, including me and my family. How could I turn her down? And that’s how I began green practices.

I find it’s not hard to do.  No huge change because I was already doing those things in many ways. Forgoing toxins on the lawn was not a big deal. I am still working on reducing the dandelion population in a non-harmful way. Not harvesting leaves for my salad yet. There are cats, raccoons, possums, skunks and the occasional dog off the leash walking through my yard. This does not make dandelions appealing. What I do have are a lot of birds, bees – especially native bees, butterflies and dragonflies. Lots of cool visitors to my yard. And all because of a request by a great neighbor!

 

Copyright 2017 Juli Seyfried