Archive: Sep 2017

  1. Mixed Hedges for Beauty and Biodiversity

    Arrowwood is a good flowering shrub that tolerates shearing and hard pruning. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Say “hedges” to most people and they will think of an unbroken line of shrubs—most often evergreens—that hide a foundation, define a boundary, or separate lawn and garden areas.  Tidiness and uniformity are a must and pruning is a constant.

    But, there is no law that decrees that hedges should be monocultures of just one type of shrub.  These days, the old definition of “hedge” has become more inclusive, as gardeners interested in beauty and biodiversity are discovering the art of combining several shrub varieties into a mixed hedge.  Done well, this kind of planting can serve all the same functions as an old-fashioned single-species hedge, while adding a whole new dimension to the garden.

    The compact American cranberry bush is great for wildlife and low, informal hedges.

    Mixed hedges are not new.  In fact they are closely related to hedgerows, the narrow, semi-wild strips that separate traditional farm fields or roadside fences.  Most of these hedgerows occur naturally and contain a variety of native and naturalized species including brambles (berry bushes), vines, deciduous and evergreen shrubs and even small trees.  Hedgerows perform a valuable function in rural ecosystems, providing natural windbreaks while supplying food, cover and nesting places for all kinds of insects, birds and small animals.

    Locating Mixed Hedges

    Mixed hedges can do the same jobs in the more “civilized” confines of home gardens.  They are relatively easy to grow and may require less maintenance than conventional plantings of privet, hollies, or yew that require regular pruning or shearing.

    Spice Baby™ viburnum is a fragrant choice for informal hedges. (Image from Proven Winners)

    How do you start a mixed hedge?  First, think about the area where the hedge will grow, whether they line a foundation planting or delineate a property line. As with any planting, tailor your plant choices to the specific light and soil conditions in the chosen location.  Calculate the available space, and mature shrub sizes, and when you pick plants make sure you choose specimens that will not crowd each other or nearby structures at maturity.

    Large species can be pruned to keep them to a specific height and width, but if reduced maintenance is the goal, it is better to start with shrubs that are naturally “right sized” for the space they inhabit. If space is tight and maintenance time limited, seek out dwarf or miniature varieties of familiar shrubs.

    Shrubs for Mixed Hedges

    The array of shrub choices can be overwhelming, so start with a handful of complementary varieties and repeat them throughout the hedge for a unified planting with a mixture of textures and colors.  To maximize wildlife value, choose plants with desirable flowers and fruits. Aim for three or even four seasons of interest for continued landscape appeal.

    Blue Muffin arrowwood has great fall berries and leaf color. (Image from Proven Winners)

    Many shrubs in the viburnum family fit the bill, featuring showy spring flowers, attractive green foliage that colors in the fall, and glossy fruits in red, blue or black. The compact American cranberry bush (Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’, 5-6′ ) and dwarf Koreanspice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii Spice Baby, 5-6′) are two great choices that remain tidy and beautiful. Blue Muffin™ arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum Blue Muffin ®, 6-7′) is an exceptionally tough hedge-worthy selection that offers blue fall berries in addition to burgundy and orange fall leaves. All three viburnum are cold hardy and wildlife friendly.

    The variegated common elderberry is perfect for edible, informal hedging. (Image from Proven Winners)

    Many eastern native shrubs are ideal for naturalistic hedges. A bold native with good edible fruit is the variegated common elderberry (Sambucus nigra var canadensis Instant Karma®, 6-9′). It is a good choice for damp spots and sports scented summer flowers and edible elderberries to feed homeowners and wild animals.  Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), doesn’t mind light to moderate shade, and bears big summer flowerheads loved by bees, crimson or orange autumn leaves, and exfoliating bark in the winter. There are many cultivars to choose from, including the large-flowered ‘Snow Queen’, which reaches 6-8′. American filbert or hazelnut (Corylus americana, 8-12′) combines showy, dangling spring catkins with edible nuts that appear later in the season.  The toothed, oval leaves often color dramatically in fiery fall shades.

    Bluebeard is a lovely fall blooming shrub that feeds bees. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    If deer or other browsing animals are a problem, mint-family shrubs, like bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis), provide colorful violet-blue flowers for bees and butterflies and aromatic leaves that attract humans and repel critters.  Lavender (Lavendula spp), another plant avoided by deer, works well in a very low hedge, contributing yearlong fragrance, summer flowers, and evergreen foliage.

    For winter interest, mix things up with shrubs like red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), featuring white spring flowers and bright red or yellow new growth that shines in winter.  Proven Winners’ ‘Arctic Fire’ is a wonderful compact variety

    Berry Heavy winterberry can be pruned to create a more formal berried hedge. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    reaching 5′ with fire-red twigs in winter. Deciduous winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) lacks the familiar glossy leaves of its evergreen relatives, but compensates with bright red fruits on bare winter stems. Winterberry Berry Heavy® is a good (to 8′), red-berried winterberry from Proven Winners that should be planted in groups with at least one male Mr Poppins® to ensure fruiting. Shrubs can be formally pruned, and the berries provide forage for winter birds.

    Rhododendron Dandy Man® Pink is a spring-flowering evergreen for bees. (Image from Proven Winners)

    If you love evergreens, there is no need to give them up, but you may want to think outside the evergreen hedge box and include mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) or various types of rhododendrons (such as Proven Winners’ Rhododendron Dandy Man® Pink, 8′) . Both flowering evergreens are good for informal hedges and have pretty flowers that attract bees.

    Planting Hedges

    No matter what combination of shrubs you choose, start them out right by filling planting holes with a mixture of soil and rich compost, like Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost.  Plant your hedge in spring or early fall to ease climatic stress on plants and give root systems a good start.  Remember to water at planting time and regularly thereafter until hedges are well established.

    Finding the right mix of shrubs for your hedge may take a little experimentation, but the end result will be worth it—for you and the birds, butterflies and pollinating insects who stop by to check it out.

  2. Arett Open House 2017

    Come out and see Fafard and Sun Gro Horticulture at the Arett Open House held in the Atlantic City Convention Center from Sunday, September 10th to Tuesday, September 12th, 2017. Come out to see our latest products, deals, and services for 2018!

    We will be at Booths 124 and 225!

  3. Sun Gro’s PAR Vegetable Garden: 17 Years and Growing

    Sun Gro Employees and volunteers caring for our PAR garden in 2010.

    Back in 2000, the Sun Gro® Horticulture corporate office in Agawam, MA moved to a new site that included a garden. The garden was originally used for display, but eventually we transformed into the Plant a Row for the Hungry (PAR) vegetable garden. [The Plant a Row for the Hungry (PAR) program was launched in 1995 by the Association for Garden Communicators (GWA) and GWA Foundation as a public service to encourage gardeners to grow fresh produce for community food banks and soup kitchens.] The garden was expanded and upgraded in 2010 and has been yielding produce for our local food pantry ever since.

    Weed control in the Sun Gro PAR garden.

    Over the years, the Sun Gro® PAR garden volunteers/employees have planted, weeded, watered, and fertilized the garden and reaped the harvest. As the company has changed with time, so have our employees who volunteer in the garden. Plenty of longstanding staff have participated in the garden since the beginning, and there are always new employees willing to get their hands dirty to support the effort. Sometimes family members help out, too. It’s a community effort!
    Engaging Volunteers

    Westfield Technical Academy Students in 2017

    More recently, we invited outside volunteers to help keep our PAR garden productive. Our biggest help comes from the horticultural students from Westfield Technical Academy in nearby Westfield, MA. Our garden gives them hands-on training in garden prep and planting, and we are grateful for the help! They come in spring to help us get the garden prepped and sometimes they help plant. They also help at harvest time when we weigh in our crops and deliver them to the Westfield Food Pantry, also in Westfield, MA.

    A happy tomato in our 2017 PAR garden.

    Like most gardens, we have bountiful harvests some years and other years the weather and weeds get out of hand, but it’s not just about our gardening success. Our PAR garden also teaches us about working together and committing time to our local community.

    In our best harvest year we weighed in nearly 450 pounds of fresh produce, so we know our garden is making a difference! This year, we plan to do much better. Our volunteers have signed up for 2017 and are scheduled to start planting vegetables in late May. We will also be installing three raised beds (filled with Sun Gro® container mixes), with lumber donated from Lucia Lumber Co. Inc. in Agawam, MA, and fencing to keep out unwanted wildlife.

     

     

  4. New England Grows 2017

    ATTENTION: We will no longer be at New England Grows, but you can see us at the FNGLA Landscape Show 2017. Fafard and Sun Gro Horticulture will be at New England Grows 2017 held from Wednesday, November 29th to Friday December 1st at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center in Boston, MA. New England Grows offers top-notch education …

    Read the full article →

  5. Moth and Moon Garden Plants

    A hawk moth pollinates a pink evening primrose flower in the evening light. (Image by Edal Anton Lefterov)

     

    If you spend evenings relaxing on your porch or patio, then consider planting a moon garden nearby. These fragrant late-day gardens glow in the evening light, attracting luminous moths, such as luna moths and sphinx moths, which is why they are also considered “moth gardens”.

    Moth-pollinated plants have several shared floral characteristics. Their blooms stay open and become fragrant late in the day and into the night. They are pale colored, often white, to catch the last evening light and light of the moon. Finally, they are often trumpet shaped and hold lots of nectar for the many long-tongued moths that pollinate them.

    Moth or moon garden plants may be annual, perennial, or woody, and many you may already know or grow. Favorites are are easy to find at garden centers, but few may require a purchase from a specialty seed vendor and grown at home. Those that can be grown from seed should be started indoors in late winter in Black Gold Seedling mix and planted outdoors after the threat of frost has passed. (Click here to learn how to grow flowers from seed.)

    Moon Garden Annuals

    These annuals can be added to any existing garden space for nighttime charm. Some require a good bit of space while others are smaller and tidier.

    Moonflower (Ipomoea alba)

    Moonflower

    Though related to morning glories, moonflower opens in the evening, producing huge 5-6” flowers. One of the great joys of these enormous white flowers is that they open so quickly you can see it in real time. (See a real-time video of an opening moon flower here!). The blooms open in the mid evening and remain open until morning, presenting a strong, sweet fragrance. The large, vigorous, twining vines grow and flower best in full sun and require a strong fence or trellis for support. Flowering occurs from midsummer to frost.

     

    Four-O-Clocks (Mirabilis jalapa)

    ‘Limelight’ four-o-clocks

    Best known for their colorful tubular flowers of orange, white, magenta, or yellow (sometimes in tricolor combinations), four-o-clocks open in late afternoon and stay open until morning. The highly fragrant blooms are produced on bushy plants (to 3’) and attract long-tonged moths. Four-o-clocks are Peruvian natives that first became popular in Victorian times, and are still planted today. The chartreuse-leaved, magenta-flowered ‘Limelight’ is an especially pretty selection (seed source here!). All plant parts are poisonous, so plant them away from children and pets.

     

    Woodland tobacco

    Woodland Tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris)

    Plant these tall (to 3-5’), old-fashioned garden flowers along the back of a partially shaded flower bed or in full sun. Showy clusters of tubular white flowers crown the plants, emitting nighttime fragrance and glowing in the evening light. Remove old, spent flower clusters to keep plants blooming vigorously to frost. All plant parts are toxic.

     

    Angel’s Trumpet (Datura innoxia)

    Angel’s trumpet (image by Jessie Keith)

    Huge, white, trumpet-shaped flowers are the glory of this large (to 2-5’), bushy, tender perennial. Its powerfully fragrant flowers glow at night, feeding hovering long-tongued moths that get drunk on their nectar. Provide angel’s trumpet with lots of space, and be sure to plant it away from pets or children as all parts are poisonous.

     

    Night Phlox (Zaluzianskya capensis)

    Native to South Africa, night phlox produces lacy white flowers (with burgundy outer petals) in summer. The bushy, compact (to 6-12”) plants look best in containers or along border edges. Their delicious, honeyed fragrance will spice the evening air and draw all manner of moths. Try the high-performing cultivar ‘Midnight Candy’ (plant source here).

     

    Evening Stocks (Matthiola longipetala)

    Evening stocks

    Delicate, slightly showy flowers of lavender, pink, and white bedeck this old-fashioned annual when growing conditions are cool and mild, in spring or fall. Gardeners grow evening stocks for their indulgent, sweet fragrance rather than appearance. They reach about 12” in height and are best planted among showier flowers, such as spring bulbs or fall four-o-clocks. Start them from seed indoors in late winter for spring or midsummer for fall (seed source here).

    Moon Garden Perennials

    Missouri Evening Primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa)

    Missouri evening primrose

    There are many species of evening primrose with showy flowers, but many are pretty aggressive spreaders that need a lot of space, such as the beautiful, pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa). Missouri evening primrose is an exception. Its glowing yellow flowers  appear on tidy, compact plants (to 8-10”) and open in the evening, emitting a light fragrance that attracts hawk moths. Native to rocky, limestone landscapes across the Central United States, it is remarkably hardy, surviving in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-7.

     

    Adam’s needle flowers (image by Jessie Keith)

    Adam’s Needle (Yucca filamentosa)

    This bold, evergreen perennial has clusters of sword-like leaves and produces 6-8’ upright panicles of waxy ivory flowers in summer.  The fragrant, pendant, bell-shaped blooms glow in the evening, and are pollinated exclusively by a yucca moth (Tegeticula yuccasella). Plant on sunny high ground, and give the clump plenty of space to grow. ‘Golden Sword’ is a particularly lovely selection with variegated foliage of gold edged in green.

     

     

    Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa)

    Tuberose flowers

    This summer-blooming bulb produces 2-3’ upright stalks of tubular white flowers with spectacular nighttime fragrance. The waxy blooms are delicate and lovely. Tuberose is somewhat tender, surviving up to USDA Hardiness Zone 7. After flowering, it will die back, so plant it among other ornamentals with fuller foliage that will continue to look attractive into fall.

    Moon Garden Shrubs

     

    Night Flowering Jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum)

    Night flowering jasmine

    A tender shrub (to 4’) native to the West Indies, night flowering jasmine produces clusters of long, trumpet-shaped flowers of palest green, ivory, or near yellow. In colder climates, it can be planted as a potted tender perennial in summer containers or grown as a conservatory plant. The blooms produce a heady fragrance in the evening.

    Gardenias (Gardenia spp.)

    ‘Kleim’s Hardy’ gardenia (image by Jessie Keith)

    Gardenias are popular evergreen shrubs with a familiar strong, sweet fragrance. What most don’t know is that they are moth pollinated, which is why their fragrance grows stronger in the evening. Gardenias are considered one of the best southern evergreen shrubs, and the single-flowered ‘Kleim’s Hardyis an exceptional cultivar for the landscape that will reliably survive winters up to USDA Hardiness Zone 7.

    Common Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum)

    The common honeysuckle is a known moth-pollinated woody vine that is both long blooming and high performing. The impressive Proven Winners introduction ‘Scentsation’ has especially fragrant blooms produced on twining, scrambling vines that can reach 20′ or more. The flowers remain open during the day, but like all true moth-pollinated plants, they are most fragrant at night. Common honeysuckle is hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9.

    Honeysuckle ‘Scentsation’ is ideal for evening gardens, offering unmatched scent and good looks. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

  6. The Best Trees for Bees

    Redbuds are one of the best small landscape trees for feeding bees!

    Are you looking to give your local bees a much-needed boost?  Then why not give them a tree!  Plant any of the trees described below in fall or spring, and they’ll provide a banquet of nectar- and pollen-rich blooms that will have your neighborhood honeybees, bumblebees, and other hymenopterans buzzing with appreciation.  Their attractive foliage and flowers (and other features) will also win plaudits from neighboring humans.  Most trees flower for only 2 or 3 weeks, so you’ll need several different species for a spring-to-fall bee banquet.

    Large Trees for Bees

    Male red maple flowers in March. (Image by Famartin)

    Red Maple

    A native of swamps and forests throughout much of North America, red maple (Acer rubrum, 60-90′) is a veritable bee oasis in late March and early April, when little else is in bloom.  The tight clusters of small, maroon flowers are a stirring sight in the early-spring landscape, especially when displayed against a deep blue sky.  Red maple is also one of the first trees to have foliage color in fall, its three- to five-lobed leaves turning yellow or red as early as mid-September.  Numerous cultivars in a wide range of shapes, sizes, fall coloration, and climatic preferences are available from nurseries.  Although this tough, adaptable tree has few requirements, it is at its best in full sun.

    The dangling white flowers of yellowwood. (Image by Ulf Eliasson)

    Yellowwood

    A showy-flowered member of the pea family, yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea, 30-50′) is breathtaking in late spring when it drapes itself with dangling chains of fragrant white blooms.  Its decorative compound leaves turn a striking butter-yellow in fall, and its smooth, gray, beech-like bark is handsome year-round.  This Mid-Atlantic to Midwest native takes a few years to get going in the garden, eventually forming a large- to medium-sized, low-forking specimen.  Varieties with pale pink flowers are sometimes offered by specialty nurseries.  Yellowwood prefers well-drained soil and full sun, and is hardy from USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 9.

    Sourwood

    Sourwood produces sprays of white summer flowers. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum, 20-50′) is renowned in its native Southeast United States for the honey that derives from its early-summer blooms.  The frothy, cascading clusters of dainty white flowers are one of the highlights of the midseason garden.  Factor in its handsome, glossy leaves, brilliant fall color, scaly gray bark, and conspicuous winter seed capsules, and you’ve got one of the best four-season small trees for USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9.  Full sun and moist, humus-rich, acid soil suit it best.

    Lindens

    Bees of all kinds are attracted to linden flowers.

    Late spring and early summer welcome the bee-thronged, sweet-scented white flowers of the many cultivated species of linden.  European natives including littleleaf linden (Tilia tomentosa, 65-115′) and its hybrid Crimean linden (Tilia x euchlora, 40-60′) are the most commonly planted of the tribe, but many others make excellent garden subjects, including Japanese linden (Tilia japonica, 50-65′) and the shorter Kyushu linden (Tilia kiusiana, 20-30′).  The flowers of silver linden (Tilia tomentosa) are perhaps too pollinator-friendly, exuding an intoxicating nectar that literally sends bees into a drunken feeding frenzy, followed by a narcotic stupor.  All lindens are valued for their attractive, toothed, heart-shaped leaves, although aphids can sometimes be a problem producing dripping honeydew and attracting ants.  The eastern U.S. native basswood (Tilia americana, 60-120′) is suitable for spacious, naturalistic landscapes. Most Tilia are considerably hardy and suitable to temperate landscapes in the US.

    Small Trees for Bees

    Lacy serviceberry flowers (image by Kurt Stuber)

    Serviceberry

    The fleecy white flowers of serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis, 15-40′), a member of the rose family (Rosaceae), decorate woodland edges of eastern North America from early to mid-spring.  Tasty blue-black fruits follow in early summer, but they and the foliage are often marred by pests and diseases.  Consequently, this small, slight, gray-barked tree is best used in naturalistic, peripheral plantings, rather than as a landscape focal point.  Several similar Amelanchier species occur in the wild and in cultivation, these and many other rose family members have bee-loved flowers.  All serviceberries are happiest in humus-rich soil and full to partial sun in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 8.

    Bees of all sorts pollinate redbud flowers.

    Redbud

    Redbud (Cercis canadensis, 20-30′) opens its magenta, pea-flowers in mid-spring, just as flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is coming into bloom.  The broad, heart-shaped leaves unfurl soon thereafter.  A small, often multi-stemmed tree from clearings and margins of central and eastern North America, it takes readily to sunny or lightly shaded gardens in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 9.   Gardeners in the warmer parts of redbud’s hardiness range can opt for the handsome variety texensis, notable for its glossy, leathery, dark-green foliage.  Other options include weeping, variegated, white-flowered, pink-flowered, purple-leaved, and yellow-leaved varieties.

    Seven Son Tree

    Seven son tree in the landscape.

    Arresting, bee-luring sprays of fragrant white flowers are also borne by another late-blooming East Asian native, seven son tree (Heptacodium miconioides, 15-20′).  As the flower petals fade in late summer, the sepals expand and turn deep wine-red, continuing the show into late summer and early fall.  In winter, the shredding, silver-gray bark takes center stage.  This small multi-stemmed tree thrives in sun and any decent soil in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 9. This tree has a less formal habit and may appreciate some pruning and shaping if it is to be grown in a prominent place in the landscape.

    Bee Bee Tree

    Bees love the aptly named bee bee tree.

    Bee bee tree (Tetradium daniellii, 25-30′) earns its common name by covering itself with masses of fragrant white flowers that are abuzz with bees when they open in midsummer.  They give rise to showy clusters of shiny black fruits that ripen in late summer and persist into fall.  The lush, lustrous, compound leaves are remarkably pest- and disease-free.  This East Asian native grows rapidly into a low-branched, gray-barked tree that would add beauty to any garden.  It does well in full sun and most soil types in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9.

    Whichever bee tree you choose for your landscape, you’ll probably have better luck if you start with a relatively small, container-grown plant.  Larger, balled and burlapped trees may look more impressive initially, but they’re slower to establish and more susceptible to pests and diseases.  Dig the planting hole to the same depth as the root ball (or shallower in heavy clay soil), and three (or more) times as wide.  Spread a layer of Fafard Premium Natural and Organic Compost in a wide circle around the newly planted tree, top with 2 to 3 inches of bark mulch, and water well, repeating when necessary (one or two times a week).  Your new tree – and your neighborhood bees – will thank you.

     

    Most members of the rose family, such as this crab apple, have flowers that attract bees.