Search Result For: pear

  1. Homemade Caramel Apple & Pear Fig Honey Butter Recipes

    apple butter on wood background. toning. selective focus

    Caramel apple butter is a delicious holiday treat!

    Tart, spicy, fragrant fruit butters are great winter treats that can be canned and shared as holiday gifts. Apples and winter pears are in season, so there are no better fruits for making dessert-quality spreads perfect for spreading on buttery toast, dipping with salty pretzels, or dolloping onto spice cookies. If you have your own apple and pear trees, even better! [Click here to learn how to grow your own winter pears!}

    These butters are simple to make but require some patience. The key to their deliciousness is perfect caramelization and thickness, so be sure they are perfectly cooked before canning! As pre-preparation, be sure to have sterile canning jars on hand. Well-cooked spreads such as these are perfect for those just learning to can at home (canning instructions are below). Place a pretty label on the jar, top it with a bow, and bring a few jars to your next holiday party!

    Caramel Apple Butter

    Tart apples are rounded by the milky sweetness of caramel. Sweet/tart sauce apples like ‘Gravenstein’, ‘Jonathan’, ‘Cortland’ and ‘McIntosh’ make excellent butter. A touch of salt is crucial for flavor. Can this yummy spread for holiday gift giving or personal enjoyment. It’s decadent stuff!

    Ingredients

    • 3 lbs. apples (about 9 medium apples) – peeled, cored and roughly chopped
    • ½ cup water
    • ¾ cups light brown sugar
    • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
    • ½ teaspoon allspice
    • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 15 caramels

    Directions

    1. Add the apples and ½ cup of water to a large, sturdy sauce pan. Cover and simmer until the apples are soft but intact (15–20 minutes).
    2. Allow the apples to cool, and then strain them in a colander to remove any excess liquid.
    3. Transfer the apples into a food processor and puree them until smooth.
    4. Place the apple puree back in the pot and set the stove to medium-low heat. Reduce the heat to low if it starts to bubble.
    5. Add the sugar, caramels, and salt, then simmer, stirring occasionally.
    6. After 3–4 hours the butter should be thick and caramel-colored.
    7. Use the dab test to check if the butter is ready. Dab a bit onto a plate; if no residual liquid oozes from the edge, and the butter remains mounded, it’s ready.
    8. Add the spices  and stir. Keep the butter on low heat until you’re ready to can it.

    This recipe makes around four 4-oz. jars of butter that can be canned or stored in airtight containers for freezing or refrigeration.

    Apple Butter Sm

    Caramel Apple Butter Ingredients

     

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    Start by peeling and roughly chopping the apples

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    Cook the apples are soft but intact (15–20 minutes).

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    Puree the softened apples and then return them to the pot.

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    Add the caramels, brown sugar, and salt, and cook the butter down on low heat for 2-3 hours.

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    Do the dab test. The butter on the right is fully caramelized and ready. The butter on the left is still watery and underdone.

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    Can and label your finished butter using the instructions below.

    Pear Fig Honey Butter

    This decadent fruit butter tastes great on morning toast or dolloped between crisp butter cookies.

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    Honey, Fig, Pear Butter ingredients

    Ingredients

    • 9 soft Bosc or Comice pears – peeled, cored and chopped
    • 1/2 cup raw, wildflower honey
    • 1 cup chopped dried figs
    • the juice of one lemon
    • Pinch of salt to taste

    Directions

    1. Puree pears and figs in a food processor until smooth.
    2. Place the puree in a sturdy, large pot and set the stove to medium-low heat. (Reduce to low if it starts to bubble).
    3. Add the honey and salt, and mix until blended.
    4. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the butter becomes reduced by half. This should take around 2-3 hours (sometimes more).
    5. The finished butter should be fully caramelized, thickened and ready to can.

    This recipe makes around four 4-oz. jars of butter. Enjoy!

    Canning Instructions

    Materials:

    Canning Pot with Jar Rack
    Four 4-oz or two 8-oz jars for canning
    Canning Jar Lifter
    Canning Lids and Screw Bands (new)
    Labels and Permanent Marker
    Ladle
    Wide-mouthed Jar Funnel

    Steps:

    1. Wash your hands and work space before starting.
    1. Sterilize jars by filling a large pot with water to a depth that will cover them. Submerge the jars, screw bands, and lids into the hot water. Bring the water to a rolling boil, and boil for 10 minutes. Remove the hot jars with clean tongs while gently pouring the hot water out before removal. Place the jars upside down on a clean towel. Only touch the jar exteriors (Keep the canning pot with hot lids simmering.)
    1. Using a clean ladle and wide-mouthed funnel, fill the jars with hot, prepared fruit butter. Fill until there is an inch of head space at the top of the jar. Wipe messy jar rims with a clean cloth.
    1. Remove the sterilized lids and screw bands from the hot water and place them on the jars–being sure not to touch the inner lids. Make sure the lids are firmly down and screw bands lightly tightened. Manufacturer’s instructions may vary so follow those on the box.
    1. Place the jars on the jar rack and lower them into the pot of hot canning water, if you have no rack lower the jars in with a canning jar lifter being sure to keep jars from touching. Cover the canning pot and keep at a low boil for 10 minutes.
    1. Remove the jars from the pot and place them on towels to cool. Fully tighten the screw bands. Once cool, dry the outsides thoroughly and apply labels. Include the butter type and date.
    1. After jars have set for 12 hours, check for success.  If the lids are tight, air free and cannot be pressed down, they’re fine. If they pop down, they are improperly sealed, but don’t throw them away. You can either put them in the refrigerator for immediate use or try to re-cap them using steps 4 through 6. As a general rule, canned food is best used in the first year. Store your butters in a cool dry place.

     

  2. Growing Winter Pears

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    ‘Bosc’ is a very old variety with French/Belgian origins.

    Many of the finest pears (Pyrus communis) for growing and eating are harvested to perfection in the winter months. The fruits of the best become juicy, even buttery when fully ripe. Soon they will be showing up at orchard stands and farmers markets for fresh eating and cooking, but the trees are just as easily grown at home if you have the time and space to commit. In just a few years, a good sized tree will begin producing fruits.

    Like most popular tree fruits, such as cherries, apples, peaches and plums, pears are members of the rose family (Rosaceae). They originate from to Eurasia where their fruits have been gathered and cultivated since pre-history times. In fact, they are one of the oldest grown fruits with an estimated 3000-year-old cultivation history. Currently, 3000 cultivated varieties exist—offering fruits of different colors, sizes, flavors and textures, but only a handful are common in cultivation.

    Popular pear varieties are prized for good growth and quality fruit production suited for commercial distribution. And, many are winter pears, producing their best crops from late fall through to midwinter, depending on where they are grown. These popular pears have familiar names, such as ‘Bosc’, ‘Seckle’ and ‘Comice’ (aka. ‘Doyenné du Comice’), to name a few; these and other top winter varieties are easily purchased from quality nursery vendors. The characteristics that make them special are embodied by their fruit.

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    A mix of winter pears

    Bosc is a very old pear variety with French/Belgian origins that was first grown in the US in the early nineteenth century. Also called ‘Buerré Bosc’, its teardrop-shaped russet-brown fruit develops a very buttery texture along with juicy sweetness and heady pear fragrance when ripe. The fruits are popularly grown in the Pacific Northwest were they are harvested from mid fall through to early spring. The trees are known to be very productive.

    The firm-fleshed ‘Concorde’ is shaped like a ‘Bosc’ but has green skin and distinctly sweet flesh that resists browning. Its firmer flesh makes it perfect for baking and poaching. A popular pear produced from fall to mid-winter, it is a newer hybrid cross of two classic pear varieties, ‘Conference’ and ‘Comice’. The disease-resistant trees are recommended for growers wishing to grow organically.

    The classic ‘Comice’ pear is an old French variety known for its sweet, melting flavor and texture when ripe. This stout, fleshy pear has green skin flushed with red and its white flesh is very soft and juicy when ripe. It is best reserved for fresh eating and first becomes available in early fall, though it is also considered a favorite holiday pear. The fireblight resistant trees are productive and bear fruit very late in the season.

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    Winter pears are the latest to produce fruit. (photo care of the USDA, ARS)

    A very old variety that originates from Germany, ‘Forelle’ has very sweet fruit with soft, juicy flesh and green fruit with distinctive red speckling (“Forelle” means “trout” and refers to the speckling). The fruits are produced in quantity by the vigorous trees and are great for fresh eating.

    A juicy eating pear with soft flesh and beautiful reddish skin, ‘Magness’ is an American variety developed in the 1960s. The trees are very disease resistant and productive.

    Pear trees may be grafted on dwarf root stock to keep trees smaller in stature, but typically pears trees are moderately sized, upright, pyramidal, deciduous trees that are hardy and native to temperate regions. Unlike some other fruit trees, they are often very long lived. The trees produce white blossoms in spring. Varieties may bloom in early-, late- or mid-season. It is essential to know when yours will bloom because most pears require a pollinizer (another tree for fruit pollination) to produce fruit. The fragrant, white, five-petaled are attractive to bees. Fruits are ready to eat 90 to 200 days after pollination, depending on the type. Fruit may be produced from midsummer to early winter, depending on the variety.

    Natural and Organic

    Before planting a pear tree, amend with compost and add a little extra for top dressing.

    Pears grow fruit best in full sun and require good to average soil with ample drainage. Newly planted trees benefit from soil amendment at planting and the application of mulch around their base. We recommend amending and top dressing with Fafard Compost Blend. When choosing a variety, be sure to choose a disease and pest resistant variety, as many are sensitive to ailments, particularly fireblight.

    The holidays are the best time to enjoy winter pears, whether fresh or cooked. USA Pears has the best collection of pear recipes to be found. For the holiday season, I recommend checking out their Bread Stuffing with Pears, Bacon and Caramelized Onions, Almond Pear Tart (gluten free), Pear and Arugula Pesto Stuffed Chicken, or Mache, Pear, and Wild Mushroom Salad.

    Fall or spring are the best time to plant pear trees. Choosing winter varieties will ensure that you will have something sweet to look forward to in the later months of the season when the harvest is waning and holidays are just around the corner.

  3. Indoor Bromeliads for Big, Bold Color

    Aechmea ‘Blue Rain’ has brilliant, long-lasting flowers. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    If you love tropical plants with bold, colorful foliage and vibrant flowers, you will adore bromeliads.  If you are fascinated by air plants that grow and flourish with no soil and almost no care, you will also be drawn to bromeliads.  In fact, the group is so large and diverse that it offers plants to suit just about every taste and situation.

    About Bromeliads

    Bromeliad leaves form a central cup that holds water.

    Pineapple (Ananas comosus) is the best-known plant in the bromeliad family.  Other popular members of this clan include vase plants (Guzmania spp.), urn plants, (Aechmea spp.), neoregelia (Neoregelia spp.), and air plants (Tillandsia spp.). What do they have in common?  These members of the bromeliad family are native to tropical rain forests, and many are epiphytes (plants that live in trees and absorb water and nutrients through their leaves).  The best-known of these can be successfully grown indoors in containers or terrariums.

    The single-most defining feature of bromeliads is their prominent rosette of leaves.  These leaves can be thick, like those of neoregelia, or slender and airy, like air plant foliage.  In many species the overlapping leaves of the rosette form a cup or “tank” that collects and holds water to keep plants hydrated.

    Bromeliad flowers often have clusters of showy bracts that surround the small true flowers. The blooms appear on stalks that rise from the central rosette.  Most bromeliads mature slowly and flower only once, though the flowers may be long-lasting.  Afterwards the plants eventually die, but not before producing “pups” or offshoots that can be detached from the mother plant and replanted.

    Bromeliads For Pots

    The following bromeliads are container grown, and pack a punch when grown in warm indoor and outdoor conditions:

    Indoor pineapples produce small fruits.

    Pineapples

    Pineapple plants are shallow-rooted terrestrial bromeliads.  If you live in USDA plant hardiness zones 10-11, grow them in your garden.  Elsewhere, they make excellent indoor specimens.  Though house-bound pineapple fruits are likely to be smaller and less tasty than those grown commercially, the arching foliage and reddish flowers make the plants worth growing.  At maturity (which can take two or three years), pineapples may reach 3-feet tall and wide, with long, stiff, gray-green foliage. Edible fruits appears after the flowers fade, and can be harvested when the skin is uniformly golden yellow. If you are looking for a showier plant, try the variegated ornamental pineapple (Ananas comosus ‘Variegatus’), which has brilliant pink blooms and striped green, pink, and ivory leaves.

    Pineapples produce “pups”, like other bromeliads, which can be cut and rooted. Gardeners can also grow their own pineapples by successfully by rooting the crown from a ripe fruit purchased at the grocery store. This is a fun project for the kids. Start by cutting off the leafy top of a fresh pineapple, leaving 1/2 inch of flesh below the leaves. Remove any lower leaves at the base of the crown. Nestle it in a pot of Fafard Professional Potting Mix, making sure the base is covered. Place it near a sunny window, and keep it lightly moist. In a few weeks, roots will develop and your plant will start growing!

    Neoregelia Hybrids

    The “cup” of mature neoregelia product small, three-petaled flowers.

    Beautiful neoregelia are available in many hybrid forms. Most feature long, upwardly curved leaves that may sport stripes, bands, spots, freckles or blotches in an array of colors from near-black to shades of yellow, red, pink, purple, maroon, and white.  Sizes vary, but a medium-sized variety may be about 1/2-feet tall and up to 2-feet across.

    In the wild, most neoregelia species are epiphytic, but in home cultivation the plants are perfectly happy potted in light potting mix, such as Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Soil mixed with small orchid bark. Make sure the pot is shallow and wide. Keep the soil lightly moist, and make sure that their inner cup always contains a little water. Distilled water is best. Three-petaled flowers of violet will bloom from the cup when plants are mature.

    Scarlet Star

    Scarlet star has smooth green leaves and showy red blooms.

    The popular scarlet star (Guzmania lingulata) hails from Central and South America, but is widely grown.  Like neoregelia, it is an adaptable epiphyte suited to container culture.  It pays to consider guzmania’s space requirements, because mature plants rise between 1 to 2 feet, with an equal spread.  Individual leaves can be 1 1/2-feet long and may feature darker green bands, depending on variety.

    Though the leaves are impressive, it’s the showy flower spikes of large red or pink bracts that have made the plant a horticultural celebrity.  A closer look reveals that the long-lasting bracts harbor a central array of small white flowers.  Since scarlet star thrives in relatively low light, indoor gardeners can save the brightest spots for other plants.

     Silver Vase Plant

    Silver vase plant has bold foliage and brilliant blooms. (Image by Paul & Aline Burland)

    Depending on species or variety, aechmea’s stiff, broad leaves may be erect, rising in a vase-shape, or arching.  Either way, the foliage can be blushed, banded or variegated in contrasting colors.  Species with erect foliage include Aechmea fasciata or silver vase plant.  There are also lots of stellar hybrids, including the popular Aechmea ‘Blue Rain’, which produces spectacular purple and red blooms.

    As with other bromeliads, the small true flowers are completely upstaged by the bright-colored bracts that rise above the basal rosette.  Those numerous bracts may be yellow, pink, pink-purple, red or bi-colored.

    Growing Potted Bromeliads

    Ootted neoregelia shine in a winter conservatory.

    Growing bromeliads indoors is simple.  Container-grown plants need a free-draining mixture of equal parts quality potting soil, like Fafard® Natural & Organic Potting Soil, and commercial orchid bark (small chunks).  Most bromeliads like bright, filtered light, so place them close to a sunny window but away from direct rays.  Water both the soil lightly and by filling the central rosette with water. Distilled water or collected rainwater is best for irrigating bromeliads because tap water can cause mineral build up on the leaves. Provide extra humidity by misting periodically or setting the containers on trays of pebbles and water. Feed plants twice monthly with a water-soluble fertilizer for bromeliads (17-8-22).

    Once flowers have bloomed and the stalks are no longer attractive, cut them off. When pups appear, wait until they are about half the size of the mother plant before detaching and repotting them.

    Air Plants

    Air plants that come in all shapes and sizes.

    Tillandsias are sometimes sold under the name, “air plants”, an acknowledgement of their epiphytic nature.  There are approximately 650 Tillandsia species and many more varieties available for air-plant lovers. These come in all shapes and sizes. Most are grown for their impressive foliage, but many like the pink quill plant (Tillandsia cyanea), also sport spectacular blooms.

    The most widely sold air plant species is the sky plant (Tillandsia ionantha), a breeders’ favorite available in numerous varieties.  This relative of Spanish moss needs no soil and can be mounted on just about any kind of support.  Sometimes several plants are bundled together into a ball and hung like an ornament.

    At only a few inches in diameter, with delicate foliage, the sky plant works well as a decorative accent in small spaces.  Young specimens bear slender green leaves, but as the plants mature, their color begins changing.  By bloom time, the foliage will have changed to a vivid red/pink.  The flower shoots have blue-purple bracts surrounding white or yellow blossoms.

    Growing Air Plants

    Pink quill plant is one of the best-flowering air plants.

    Most tillandsias have aerial roots or root structures designed to cling to trees. These roots absorb some moisture and nutrients, but they will not grow into soil and will rot if planted in potting mix. They are best mounted onto a wooden structure and placed in a humid spot with filtered sunlight. Planting them in pebble-lined terrariums will help increase humidity if you add a 1/2-inch layer of water to the pebbles weekly.

    Since most of the moisture is absorbed through the leaves, a thorough misting with distilled water two or three times a week is recommended. Add water-soluble bromeliad fertilizer to the mist once or twice a month for best growth. Once monthly give them a more intensive watering. Soak the whole air plant in room-temperature distilled or rain water for 20-30 minutes. Gently shake them off after soaking.

    Like other bromeliads, air plants will produce “pups” after the blooms fade. Simply cut these away from the dying parent plant and re-mount.

    A good online source for bromeliads is Sunshine Bromeliads. These wonderful tropical plants can be raised indoors and successfully summered outdoors.  If you decide to give your tropical plants a summer vacation, position them in light shade to prevent leaf burn and be sure to return them to the house when night temperatures begin to hover in the fifties.

  4. Growing Tropical Fruits Indoors

    Dwarf calamondins are super tropical fruits for indoor growing.

    Growing tropical fruits in Toledo (or Toronto or Trenton) may seem like the stuff of fantasy. It’s perfectly doable, though, thanks to the numerous dwarf tropical fruit trees that take well to containers and flower and fruit at a young age. A warm sunny outdoor location in summer, an equally sunny indoor niche in winter, a suitable watering and fertilizing regime, and a well-drained growing medium (such as Fafard Professional Potting Mix) will keep them happy and fruitful.

    Indoor Citrus

    The genus Citrus is particularly well endowed with container-friendly plants. Kumquats (Citrus japonica, aka Fortunella) are a stellar example. Visit your local supermarket during the winter holiday season, and you’re likely to find the orange-yellow, tart, bite-sized fruits of the popular kumquat variety ‘Nagami’. A number of other, lesser-known kumquats are well worth eating (and growing). The cultivar ‘Meiwa’ bears round, orange, 1¼ -inch fruits that are comparatively sweet and seed-free. Large, thin-skinned, orange kumquats deck the branches of another relatively sweet-flavored variety, ‘Fukushu’. In contrast, ‘Hong Kong’ produces numerous showy, scarlet, ¾-inch fruits with large seeds and scanty pulp. They’re great for ornament but not as good for eating.

    Kumquat ‘Nagami’

    Ripening in early winter, kumquat fruits typically remain on the branches until spring, providing decoration and snack possibilities well beyond the holidays. Small, starry white flowers perfume the air in late spring and early summer, and the lustrous, verdant, evergreen leaves are handsome year-round.

    Calamondin (Citrus mitis) is what happened when a kumquat hybridized with a mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata). The result is a compact, repeat-blooming evergreen shrub that carries fragrant white flowers and small, chubby, tasty “oranges” throughout much of the year, with production peaking in winter. The fruits can be eaten fresh and make excellent preserves. Splashy cream-yellow markings adorn the leaves and immature fruit of the calamondin ‘Variegata’.

    Meyer lemon (Citrus limon ‘Meyer’) is yet another citrus with admirable qualities. A small evergreen tree that can be easily maintained at 3 feet tall in a container, it produces several flushes of flowers and fruits throughout the year, peaking in winter and early spring. The 2- to 3-inch lemons have thin, golden-yellow rinds and relatively sweet, juicy, flavorful flesh that goes well in salads, stews, and preserves.  They also make a zingy snack.

    Among the other edible citrus for containers are Key lime (Citrus aurantifolia), myrtle leaf orange (Citrus myrtifolia), and Rangpur lime (Citrus limon ‘Otaheite’). The takeaway (particularly if you have lots of container-gardening space) is that you don’t have to live in the tropics to enjoy a year-long harvest of lemons, oranges, and kumquats.

    Growing Citrus

    Citrus prefer ample sunlight, medium to high humidity, 40° to 60° F minimum temperatures, and moderate watering and feeding from spring to fall (with lower amounts in winter).

    Prune off unwanted growth immediately after the fruiting season, in early spring.  Common indoor pests can be a problem. Watch for mealybugs, scale, whiteflies, and other common Citrus pests, particularly on stressed or over-fertilized plants. Cleaning plants up with a insecticidal soap before bringing them back indoors in fall can help ward off these pests.

    Indoor Guava

    Pineapple guava flowers (Image by C T Johansson)

    Guavas are another group of tropical New World evergreens renowned for their aromatic flowers and fruits, and several can be grown beautifully indoors.

    Native to uplands of central South America, pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana, aka Acca sellowiana) works wonderfully as a container plant. Lustrous, leathery, silver-backed leaves clothe the upright, gray-barked stems of this handsome small tree. Sweet-scented, pale purple flowers with starbursts of maroon stamens open in late spring and early summer, followed by waxy, blue-green, egg-shaped fruits that cast an intoxicating fragrance as they mature in fall. Their pineapple-flavored fruits (with undertones of mint and apple) are at their best for only a few days after they fully ripen.

    Pineapple guava plants require cool winter conditions (40° to 50° F minimum) and at least one cross-pollenizing companion plant for maximum flowering and fruiting. As with all the guavas described here, they appreciate a monthly application of organic fertilizer in spring and summer. Plants can be kept at 4 to 6 feet by removing overgrown stems in late summer.

    Dwarf guava (Image by Logee’s)

    Common guava (Psidium guajava) also takes readily to container culture, fruiting reliably and repeatedly in warm, humid, sunny conditions (60 degrees Fahrenheit minimum). For home growing, choose the true dwarf guava (Psidium guajava var. nana). The fragrant white flowers with bottlebrush stamens recur throughout the year, giving way to pale green-skinned fruits that have delicious, musky-scented, deep pink flesh when ripe.

    A vicious weed in many tropical regions outside its native Brazil, strawberry guava (Psidium cattleianum) is an exemplary container plant for colder latitudes, provided it’s spared from temperatures below 50° F. Small, spherical, red-skinned fruits with tangy, pale flesh appear in late summer and continue through winter in favorable locations. The fruits are preceded by fuzzy, white, sweet-scented flowers.  The variety lucidum (commonly known as lemon guava) has yellow-skinned, relatively tart flavored fruits. A small tree in the wild, Psidium cattleianum grows much more compactly in containers, typically topping out at 4 or 5 feet.

    Other Indoor Tropical Fruits

    Avocado ‘Day’ (Image by Logee’s)

    There’s a lot to explore in container-friendly tropical fruit trees beyond citrus and guavas, including loquat (Eriobotrya japonica), dwarf mango ( Mangifera ‘Pickering’), star fruit (Averrhoa carambola), and the ‘Tainung’ papaya (Carica papaya ‘Tainung’ ), which will begin fruiting on 2-foot plants. Many dwarf common-fig cultivars (Ficus carica), such as the super tiny ‘Petite Negra’ that starts fruiting on 12-inch plants, also grow well in a warm winter sun room or conservatory. There are even mangoes, such as the golden mango ‘Nam Doc Mai’, that will grow well in large indoor pots.

    Another favorite that’s easy to grow is the dwarf banana ‘Extra Dwarf Cavendesh’ (Musa ‘Extra Dwarf Cavendesh’). Once they reach 3-feet high, they will produce small trusses of delicious bananas year round, if given high light, regular water, and warmth.

    Banana ‘Extra Dwarf Cavendesh’

    Then there are avocados (Persea americana). Many home growers will opt to start their own trees from pits, but this will result in large trees unfit for indoor growing. Instead, choose a dwarf tree such as the avocado ‘Day’. This compact selection and will produce small avocados from July to September. Bring them indoors in a brightly lit location through winter.

    These fruits are best purchased as plants, but most are not readily available at your neighborhood nursery. To find them search for a specialty online plant source, such as Logee’s Plants for Home and Garden. Good online nurseries such as this offer a wide selection of compact tropical plants ideal for indoor container culture.

    Potting Indoor Tropical Fruits

    Most of these small trees sold in 4- to 6-inch pots, so plants are small at purchase time. Plant them in a slightly larger pot using Fafard Professional Potting Mix, and provide them with good light. Pots should have drainage holes and bottom saucers. Try to maintain even moisture and high humidity, and feed them with a tropical fruit tree fertilizer, as directed.

    When the plants begin to outgrow their pots, upgrade them as needed for ample root growth. Those that are fruiting size, usually 4 to 5 feet, require relatively large pots.

    Pot your tropical fruits now, and in a year or two, you will be harvesting your own home-grown tastes of the tropics.

    Even mangoes come in dwarf forms!

     

  5. DIY Outdoor Holiday Containers

    It’s amazing what a few winter branches can do for an empty container.

    When flower-filled summer containers die back at the end of the season, don’t put those empty pots away. Convert your vacant outdoor planters into beautiful showpieces for the holidays. Take pruned evergreen and berried branches, dry grass plumes, and dry hydrangea flowers to make festive DIY outdoor holiday containers that will remain attractive well into winter.

    Gathering Holiday Container Materials

    Winter branches and dried flowers can be purchased, but it’s more cost effective if you have these materials in your own landscape or garden. Pine, fir, or spruce branches are perfect for that touch of greenery. Holly and winter berry branches will add color and substance as will red twig dogwood or curly willow branches. If you have ornamental grasses with dried seed heads or hydrangeas with dried flower heads, these add substance to outdoor winter containers, especially if given a little glitz with metallic spray paint. Finally, pine cones, magnolia seed heads or sweet gum balls make an excellent addition, so use them if you have them.

    Directions

    Materials needed for holiday containers

    Creating these containers is no different than putting together a large winter bouquet, but instead of a vase, you use a planter with potting mix. Long branches make bolder showpieces with bigger impact, so start with branches that are at least 2-3 feet in length, and trim them as needed.

    Your container composition will depend on the materials you have on hand, but this is the formula I use for one large container.

    • A large planter filled with potting mix
    • 6-8 large evergreen branches
    • One large berried holly or winter berry branch
    • 10 dried hydrangea and grass plumes
    • 5 red twig dogwood branches (curly willow or other spray painted bare branches would work)
    • Pine cones
    • Gold or silver spray paint for the hydrangea plumes
    • Pruners

    Make sure your pot is filled with potting mix to support the branches. Place the pot in its final location before arranging; this will allow you to consider appearance and size as you craft the piece. If your container will be placed against a wall, set the showiest branches along the front.

    Start by adding the greenery—placing the tallest branches towards the middle. Trim additional branches to place along the periphery. Next, add the colorful ornamental branches concentrically around the container. Set the berried branch in the center, and follow up by placing the dried hydrangea flowers along the edges. Add the grass plumes around the composition, and center one tall plume behind the berries. Nestle pine cones along the base and in the greenery or bare branches.

    1. Start by adding the greenery

    2. Add the ornamental branches

    3. Add your berried branch in the center

    4. Add your holly branches

    5. Add the hydrangea around the base

    6. Place the grass plumes along the center and sides

    6. Nestle in the the pine cones, and you are done!

    Create Your Own Container Design

    These containers should reflect your personal style and home, so get creative and design your own. There are lots of things you can do to make them bigger, bolder, or more glittery. Adding stark but colorful branches in the center of your container and surrounding them with greenery and pine cones creates a bold, attractive look. For added glitz, spiral some lights around each arrangement, embellish with a few glittery outdoor ornaments, or add a bright, colorful bow. It’s up to you!

    These impressive home containers are decorated with evergreens, southern magnolia leaves, broomseed plumes, curly willow, and red twig dogwood.

  6. Hazelnuts for Edible Landscaping

    A bowl of freshly harvested hazelnuts.

    Clusters of autumn hazelnuts look like brown caps surrounded by green, lacy husks. The sweet nuts are a pleasure to pick for drying, roasting, and winter eating, and the attractive trees and shrubs look beautiful in the landscape.

    Hazelnut Basics

    Golden hazelnut catkins appear in early spring.

    Hazelnuts (Corylus spp.) are trees and shrubs that originate from temperate regions across the globe. There are approximately 16 species, but only a few are commonly cultivated. Some varieties are largely ornamental while others are bred exclusively for nut production.

    Female hazelnut flowers are small and reddish.

    Hazelnuts bloom in early spring and their nuts mature by fall. They must be planted in groups of two or more for cross pollination. All are monoecious, meaning a single plant produces separate male and female flowers that are pollinated by wind. The drooping golden male catkins release copious pollen that is caught by the wind to pollinate clusters of small, reddish female flowers. More plantings ensure better cross pollination and fruit production. (Click here for a list of good hazelnuts for pollinizing.)

    Hazelnut Pests and Diseases

    Eastern Filbert Blight—This is the main disease that American hazelnut growers must battle. This deadly systemic fungal disease attacks European hazelnuts and will kill an otherwise healthy tree or shrub in just one or two years.

    Eastern Filbert Blight cankers on a corkscrew hazel.

    It is very easy to identify. Twigs become evenly lined with raised cankers, which look as if a woodpecker pecked along the branches. Diseased branches quickly die, and eventually whole plants will succumb. The best way to beat this blight is to plant resistant hazelnut varieties and species.

    Thankfully, Oregon State University has a hazelnut breeding program geared towards developing Eastern Filbert Blight resistant hazelnuts. American growers interested in growing hazelnuts for fruit should rely on their blight-resistant list when choosing good varieties to grow.

    Kernel Mold—These include several molds that cause rot in the developing nuts of European hazelnuts. The best course of action is to harvest nuts quickly, keep them dry, and choose resistant varieties.

    Filbert Bud Mite—This pest attacks hazelnut flowers in spring—destroying developing nuts. Spraying with an OMRI Listed miticide during flowering time will stop their damage. Some hazelnut varieties are also resistant to this pest.

    More hazelnut pests and diseases exist. Click here for an Oregon State University Hazelnut IPM Guide.

    Types of Hazelnuts

    Common hazelnut trees remain small and manageable.

    Most cultivated hazelnuts for edible landscaping originate from Europe and North America. Common hazelnuts (Corylus avellana) are European shrubs or small trees (10-24 feet) that boast lots of exceptional cultivated varieties for home gardeners. Some are ornamental, but most are bred for nut culture. The best-known is the shrubby corkscrew hazel (Corylus avellana  var. contorta), which has striking curly branches that look lovely in landscapes and cut flower arrangements. Sadly, this exceptional landscape shrub is blight sensitive. Resistant varieties for nuts include the high-yielding ‘Wepster’ and the vigorous ‘Dorris’, which also bears high yields of very flavorful nuts. Common hazelnut hybrids for nuts, such as ‘Eta’ and ‘Delta’, are also recommended.

    Purple-leaf filberts have attractive deep purple foliage.

    The European filbert (Corylus maxima) bears very large nuts. The shrubs or trees (12-33 feet) look great in home landscapes, and there are lots of varieties for ornamental and edible landscaping. The shrubby, purple-leaved ‘Purpurea’ (15 feet) is one of the prettiest. Homeowners interested in more substantial hazelnut trees should grow Turkish hazelnuts (Corylus colurna). The beautiful, large pyramidal trees (40-80 feet) are perfect for home landscapes and produce smaller, sweet nuts in early fall. These blight-sensitive species should be grown in more temperate regions of the American Southwest where Eastern Filbert Blight is not a problem.

    The beaked hazelnut has long, beaked husks.

    The two common North American hazelnut species are both immune to Eastern Filbert Blight. The beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta) is a large mounding shrub to small tree (8-10 feet) naturally existing in forest margins and thickets across the northern US and Canada. It develops brilliant yellow and deep red fall leaf color and tasty fall nuts that are obscured by a beaked papery husk. Over time, beaked hazelnuts may sucker to form thickets, so pruning and thinning is required to keep plants looking tidy. California is home to the western beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta var. californica), which has broader leaves and increased drought tolerance.

    American hazelnuts have small, sweet nuts.

    The American hazelnut (Corylus americana) is an eastern shrub (8-12 feet), which forms mounded thickets that become covered with clusters of small, sweet nuts. These wilder shrubs naturally inhabit upland forests and meadows but require more extensive pruning and maintenance, but they develop equally beautiful gold and red fall color.

    Burnt Ridge Nursery and Stark Brothers are good sources for purchasing hazelnuts.

    Growing Hazelnuts

    Full sun is required for best nut production. Well-drained soils with average fertility and a neutral to slightly alkaline pH are preferred. Plant new trees in spring. Make the hole twice as large as the root ball, and amend the fill dirt with Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost before planting. Keep newly planted trees well irrigated for the first month of growth. Water again in the first season during dry spells. It may take two to five years before hazelnuts begin to produce nuts, depending on size at planting time and type.

    Apply a mulch tree ring around the base of trees to protect them from mower damage, but refrain from mounding mulch around the trunk. Fertilize established trees in spring with food formulated for fruit and nut trees. (Learn more about fertilizing hazelnuts here.)

    Once your plants are productive, you will have lots of fall hazelnuts for baking and eating. You might even want to leave a few for foraging  wildlife.

  7. Spring Bulb Design: Beautiful Pairings

    Tulips, daffodils and smaller bulbs pair well as long as their heights and bloom times are complementary. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Spring-blooming bulbs are one of gardening’s cheapest and easiest thrills.  Not only do they provide loads of flowers at a minimum of cost, they also make splendid partners for other spring-blooming perennials and bulbs.  Here are some beautiful partnerships to consider as you plan (and plant) for spring.

    The Earliest Spring Bulbs

    Snowdrops and winter aconite make great early spring partners in the garden. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) and winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) are clump-forming woodlanders that burst into bloom during the first mild days of the year, often before the last patches of snow have melted.  The strappy leaves and white, green-blotched flowers of snowdrops grow from small, daffodil-like bulbs that repel rodents.  The nobbly underground tubers of winter aconites are also pest-resistant, while their sunny-yellow buttercup blooms attract bees.  Purchased Eranthis tubers are often hopelessly desiccated, so it pays to shop around for a reliable source.  A more sure-fire way of establishing winter aconites is to scatter freshly collected seed in early summer.

    February Gold daffodils are surrounded by small blue Siberian squill and glory-od-the-snow. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Siberian squill (Scilla siberica), glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa spp.), and early daffodils (Narcissus spp.).  Lavish drifts of small blue flowers carpet the ground under spreading branches laden with purple-pink, waterlily blooms.  Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?  Although individually small, Siberian squill and glory of the snow self-sow into large, carefree colonies that flower in tandem with Magnolia × soulangiana and early daffodils such as ‘February Gold’, forming a classic early-spring garden scene.  These little bulbs also partner splendidly with the white flowers of star magnolia (Magnolia kobus var. stellata) and the yellow blooms of early daffodils (including ‘Little Gem’).  They’re at their best in full to partial sun and humus-rich soil.

    Tommy crocus naturalize to create blankets of color that complements early blooming shrubs.

    Tommy crocuses (Crocus tommasinianus), Arnold Promise witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’), and hellebores (Helleborus spp.).  Most crocuses are squirrel fodder.  One notable exception is the Tommy crocus, which not only persists in the garden, but naturally spreads via self-sowing.  It’s also one of the earliest crocuses, opening its silver-blue flowers in late winter, at the same time that the spidery yellow petals of Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ unfurl.  These early-blooming crocus flourish in light shade and humus-rich soil, and glow most brightly when backlit by sun.  ‘Arnold’ grows to 10 to 15 feet tall and wide, so give it room!

    Early to Late Spring Bulbs

    Narcissus ‘Stratosphere’ looks great planted alongside Camassia and grape hyacinth. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Grape hyacinths (Muscari spp.), daffodils (Narcissus spp.), and camass (Camassia spp.).  The chubby, sky-blue, steepled flowers of grape hyacinths are the perfect foil for the cheerful, dancing blooms of daffodils.  This pest-free, sun-loving combo hits its stride in April with the midseason daffodils (such as ‘Minnow’ and ‘Fortissimo’), and continues into May as the Jonquilla hybrids and other late daffs make their entrance.  To keep the blue-and-yellow theme going through mid-May, add some camassias (such as Camassia cusickii or Camassia leichtlinii).

    Tulips and daffodils are one of the best bulb combinations if you choose varieties that bloom together.

    Tulips (Tulipa spp.) and daffodils (Narcissus spp.) are perfect for pairing, as long as the cultivars chosen bloom at the same time (good bulb catalogs will indicate bloom times).  Tulips are anything but pest-free, attracting bulb-eating rodents and bud-munching deer.  One of the best ways of limiting the carnage is to densely interplant them with daffodils, which most pests actively dislike.  Of course, the primary reason for combining the two is that they make such beautiful music together.  Starting in very early spring with the early daffodils and “species tulips”, and continuing until the late double-flowered tulips and Jonquilla hybrids bow out in May, they offer any number of enchanting combinations for sunny sites.

    Spring Bulb Containers

    Pansies are a great compliment to tulip containers. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Another way to protect and combine tulips is to grow them in pots, which can be mixed and matched with containers of other spring-bloomers, such as pansies and small daffodils.  Plant the bulbs an inch or two below the surface in Fafard Ultra Outdoor Potting Mix in late fall or early winter.  When sub-30 temperatures arrive, move the pots to a protected location (such as an attached garage) where temperatures stay mostly between 30 and 50 degrees.  Water lightly whenever the soil appears dry.  For added protection from rodents, place the pots in a critter-proof crate or cover them with hardware cloth (or something equally chew-proof).  Move them to an unprotected location in late winter when low temperatures are no longer dipping into the low 20s.  Once they’ve re-adapted to the outdoors, combine them with other spring-bloomers in a larger container for a custom-designed display.

    Bulb Care and Planting

    Extra-deep planting sometimes works as a tulip-protection strategy.  Rather than the usual 4- or 5-inches deep, plant the bulbs with their tops 8 or more inches below the surface.  Better yet, dig a 10-inch-deep trench, place the bulbs, bury them under a couple inches of soil, and install a barrier of hardware cloth before backfilling.  Mulch the area with leaves or pine needles to mask the freshly disturbed soil from inquisitive squirrels.  It’s a lot of work, but if it allows you to grow and combine tulips such as ‘Queen of the Night’ and ‘Blue Heron’ with impunity, it may be worth it.

    A bit of dreaming and bulb-planting in fall can result in glorious garden displays for many springs to come!

    Tulipa tarda and Muscari latifolium bloom together in beautiful harmony. (Image by Jessie Keith)

     

  8. Native American Roses for Wildscaping

    The pasture rose is one of several native roses suitable for wildscaping.

    What is a Native American rose?  Is it the beach rose (Rosa rugosa) that grows vigorously on the sand dunes of northeastern America,

    Wild roses have pretty fall hips (R. woodsii)

    or the wreath rose (Rosa multiflora) that rampages all over the eastern half of the United States?  Could it be the Cherokee rose (Rosa laevigata), which grows freely in Georgia? The answer is none of the above.  All are prolific, tough species roses, but none are native to North America.

    True native roses, which are both beautiful and useful for wild and not-so-wild landscapes, are a bit harder to find at local nurseries, but they are worth seeking out. They look great in wild landscapes, offering delicate fragrant flowers and colorful hips. Bees and wildlife love them!

    Native American Roses

    Over 20 rose species are native to various parts of North America, but some are rarer than others.  Most bloom only once a year and bear single, pollinator-friendly single flowers in white, pink, or rose.  When the petals fade, native roses develop nutritious scarlet hips that are a treat for birds and animals, not to mention the humans who sometimes forage for them.  Some natives are armed to the teeth with lots of sharp prickles, making them perfect for boundary or privacy hedges.  Species like Rosa blanda, which feature relatively smooth stems, can hold their own in more “civilized” situations.

    The following native roses have the widest North American geographic distribution, making them good candidates for wild gardens.

    Rosa carolina

    Pasture or Carolina Rose (Rosa carolina): Sometimes called the “pasture rose”, fragrant Rosa carolina roams much farther than the boundaries of its namesake state, surviving in dry open meadows and along forest edges.  It is native to the eastern half of North America and succeeds especially well in the southeastern United States.  The prickly plants grow 3-feet tall and wide with pink flowers that bloom in May to June , depending on the location.  As with many species roses, petal color fades to near-white as the blooms age.  The crisp green foliage turns beautiful shades of orange-red in the fall. Though quite shade tolerant, this disease-susceptible rose flowers and performs best in full sun.

    Rosa virginiana

    Virginia Rose (Rosa virginiana): Rosa virginiana is a taller shrub rose (5- to 7-feet tall and 3-feet wide) that is less geographically widespread than Rosa carolina. It sports single, fragrant blooms that may be pink, yellow, or rose-purple and flower from June to August.  It requires full to partial sun and is tolerant to a wide range of soil types, from moist soils to dry. Leaves turn fire orange-red in fall alongside deep red hips.

    Rosa blanda (by Cillas)

    Prairie Rose (Rosa blanda): This sweet thornless rose bears several evocative nicknames, including “prairie rose”, “Hudson’s Bay rose” or “Labrador rose”, for its favored locales.  Cold-hardy and tough, it is native across northeastern North America where it survives in open, dry, sunny prairies and open woods.  Its nearly thornless stems and mounded habit make it a good candidate for use in “wild” planting schemes.  Flower color varies from dark pink to white and blooming may occur from June to August.  It only reaches 4-feet tall and wide, but it tends to spread, so it needs elbow room.  Native plant lovers can rejoice in the fact that the relatively smooth stems make necessary pruning easier.

    Rosa woodsii (Image by Doug Waylett)

    Wood’s Rose (Rosa woodsii): This is one of the better natives for colorful flowers and hips. Pink-flowered Wood’s rose is a westerner by inclination, found in growing wild in the western half of the United States and much of Canada.  It also goes by the name “mountain rose” because it succeeds in challenging high-altitude conditions.  Small, medium-pink flowers appear annually from May to July on upright shrubs adorned with blue-green foliage and a bumper crop of prickles.  Growing up to 5-feet tall, Wood’s rose is extremely cold tolerant.  In addition to the flowers, the shrubs produce loads of bright, teardrop-shaped hips and have fiery fall leaf color.

    Rosa palustris

    Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris): If your wild garden is damp, Rosa palustris may be right for you.  Native to the eastern half of North America, swamp rose is a large shrub (8-12-feet tall) that likes to be sited at the water’s edge, where it can commune with moisture-loving sedges, iris and other, similarly inclined plants.  It will tolerate some shade but it blooms and performs best in full sun. The late spring blooms are lightly scented and may be deep rose pink or pale pink.  The prickles are hooked, which makes pruning a challenge.

    Rosa setigera (Image by Cillas)

    Climbing Prairie Rose (Rosa setigera): This spring-blooming climbing rose offers blooms that range from deep magenta to white. Sometimes known as the “bramble-leafed”, it sends out long, flexible shoots that enable it to scramble up to 15 feet, making it useful as a substitute for non-native climbing roses.  If trained on an arch or trellis and provided full sun and good draining soil, climbing prairie rose can be a show-stopper.  The fragrant pink blooms appear in clusters that develop into showy red hips in fall. Wise gardeners remove the root suckers that inevitable sprout at the base, enabling the plant to shoot skyward without producing a thicket underneath.

    Landscaping with Wild Roses

    Remember that wild landscapes and gardens can be “wild” without looking completely unruly. They are created using native species and emphasize biodiversity, habitat creation, sustainability, and beauty. Plant placement can be naturalistic while also be civilized and pleasing to the eye.

    To use native roses most effectively, provide enough space.  Many, but not all varieties grow tall and relatively wide, with a tendency to form dense thickets if left to their own devices.  They look great planted alongside bold native Adam’s needle (Yucca filamentosa), breezy native bunch grasses like Shenandoah switch grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’), and native purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea).

    Species roses have gotten by on their own for millennia, but they will respond with more flowers and hips if given a good start with a quality soil amendment like Fafard® Premium Topsoil, alfalfa meal natural fertilizer, and regular of water. All bloom and perform better if given open air and full sun. Prune seasonally to keep plants tidy and to promote good airflow, which will dissuade fungal diseases.

    Native roses are not available in big-box stores or even most garden centers.  The best way to locate specific species is to seek out mail order nurseries that specialize in species roses. High Country Roses is one such source.

    Rosa rugosa is a common garden rose found on North American beaches, but they are not native! (Image by Jessie Keith)

     

     

     

  9. Pruning Hydrangeas

    Prune mophead bigleaf hydrangeas in summer just after blooming.

     

    Timing and method are essential when it comes to pruning hydrangeas, and they differ depending on the species being pruned. If done improperly, you may prune off next year’s flower buds or cause your shrubs undue stress. On the other hand, making the right cuts at the right time will help keep them looking great and flowering to perfection.

    Good Pruning Technique

    The right techniques and tools are key to good pruning. Here are the basics.

    The Best Pruning Tools

    Choose sharp loppers, hand pruners, and hand saws for easy pruning.

    For small branch cuts (up to 1 cm thickness), choose a quality set of sharp bypass pruners (avoid anvil pruners, which dull quickly). Bypass pruners are easy to sharpen and long lasting, if you choose a high-performing brand (I like Felcos). For larger branches (up to 4.5 cm thickness), choose sharp bypass loppers. More powerful pruning tools may be needed for large panicle hydrangeas that become tree-like. For larger cuts, opt for a small, sharp pull-stroke pruning saw to cut through tough branches in no time!

    How to Prune

    Making the right cuts to branches will facilitate good plant health. Cuts to small branches should be made 2/3 cm from the adjacent stem. Make them at 45-degree angles. Larger branches should be cut flush to the trunk collar. The collar is the ripple of bark that will slowly and protectively grow over the cut. Cuts made above the collar will not heal properly, leaving plants vulnerable to pests and disease.

    How Much to Prune

    Make 45-degree-angle cuts 2/3 cm from the adjacent stem. Don’t damage lower buds!

    Prune to the desired height, but beware of over pruning. Refrain from pruning over 1/3 of the top growth, especially in smaller shrubs with well-branched woody top growth. Some species, such as smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), are clump forming with stems that can be harshly pruned back, if the clumps are well established and have become overgrown. Others, like panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata), can become tree like and require more selective pruning.

    When to Prune

    Hydrangea pruning time is species specific. Follow the following guide for the top four garden hydrangeas.

    Pruning Bigleaf Hydrangeas

    Mopheads have a rounder more formal growth habit.

    Latin Name: Hydrangea macrophylla

    Best Time to Prune: These hydrangeas bloom on second-year wood, so the best time to prune is in midsummer, just after they bloom. If you prune in later summer or fall, you will cut off next year’s flower heads. Deadwood is common, especially in spring. Dead or dying stems can be removed at any time of year. Old blooms can also be removed at any time, as long as you just remove the flowers and not the buds that have developed below them.

    Pruning bigleaf hydrangea in fall will remove next year’s flower buds causing irregular flowering the following year.

    How to Prune: These hydrangeas can grow too large or develop ungainly stems that have grown too high. Shape plants by cutting wayward or old stems to the ground. Stems can also be trimmed to a desired height, depending on the density of the overall shrub. Refrain from shearing bigleaf hydrangeas if you want to maintain a more naturalistic, appealing appearance.

    Comments: Bigleaf hydrangeas can have either lacecap (Hydrangea macrophylla var. normalis) or mophead flower clusters. Lacecaps have a looser more naturalistic horizontal growth habit and should be pruned less formally. Mopheads tend to have a rounder habit better suited to uniform pruning. In northern zones above USDA Hardiness Zone 6, these shrubs may die to the ground, so they will never flower. Protecting the crowns with Fafard Premium Natural and Organic Compost and straw can help protect their flowering stems from winter cold.

    Lacecaps have a more naturalistic habit and require selective pruning.

    Pruning Oakleaf Hydrangeas

    Standard oakleaf hydrangea are tall, broad shrubs.

    Latin Name: Hydrangea quercifolia

    Best Time to Prune: Oakleaf hydrangeas also bloom on second-year wood and should be pruned just after blooming in midsummer. Once shrubs have leafed out in spring, identify and remove any dead wood from the previous year.

    How to Prune: Some compact oakleaf hydrangeas have rounder, tidier habits but most reach 8-feet in height and develop a broad, naturalistic habit. Remove overgrown or crossing branches. If they overgrow an area, shrubs can be hard-pruned back by half in midsummer. Just be sure to leave plenty of green leafy branches for strong growth, and keep newly pruned shrubs irrigated through dry summer days to encourage new growth and bud set.

    Comments: The pretty flower panicles of oakleaf hydrangea dry nicely and look good in winter gardens. Remove the old blooms in late winter to keep shrubs looking fresh in spring.

    Keep the dry flowerheads of oakleaf hydrangea on plants for winter interest.

    Pruning Panicle Hydrangeas

    Panicle hydrangeas are hardy and best pruned in late winter or early spring.

    Latin Name: Hydrangea paniculata

    Best Time to Prune: These tall, hardy hydrangeas bloom on new wood, so the best time to prune is in late winter or early spring. Remove ungainly or crossing branches and dead wood at this time. Refrain from summer pruning, and avoid removing more than 1/3 of the top growth at pruning time.

    How to Prune: Panicle hydrangeas are variable shrubs that tend to be tall (8-15 feet) and bushy or tree-like, but some cultivars are compact for small-space gardens. Selectively prune bushy varieties, cutting tall branches to the trunk or base of the plant. Cut the large branches of tree-like varieties to the trunk, making sure cuts are flush to the collar.

    Comments: These shrubs revive quickly from pruning. Tree-form plants may develop suckers from the base of the trunk. Keep these pruned off to maintain a single trunk. The dry blooms of panicle hydrangea also look good through winter but should be removed in spring.

     

    Pruning Smooth Hydrangea

    Large-headed smooth hydrangeas, like Incrediball™, should be pruned to 1/3 height in late winter. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

    Latin Name: Hydrangea arborescens

    Best Time to Prune: These easy-to-grow hydrangeas also bloom on new wood and are best pruned in late winter or early spring. They respond well to harsh pruning and can even be pruned to the ground if they outgrow a space. By late spring, they will have grown back with vigor. Refrain from summer pruning.

    How to Prune: Pruned these bushy shrubs uniformly to keep their habit rounded. Large-headed varieties, like Incrediball™, are top heavy and appreciate regular pruning to 1/3 height to keep stems shorter and sturdier. Refrain from pruning large-headed varieties to the ground.

    Comments: The bushy dry flower heads look great in winter but should be removed by spring. These hydrangea root very easily from cuttings. Take any pruned branches, dip them in rooting hormone, stick them in the ground, and keep them evenly moist. They will root in no time!

  10. 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.