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The Best Japanese Maples for Landscapes

Japanese maples in the Palmatum Group bear hand-shaped leaves with 5 to 7 (or occasionally 9) pointed lobes.
Japanese maples are a whole field (or forest) of horticulture in themselves. Encompassing thousands of cultivars, this enchanting tribe of small trees is the stuff of which lifelong horticultural obsessions are made.

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Bald Cypress for the Landscape

Bald cypress “knees” are an interesting characteristic of mature specimens planted in moist soils.
Even if you’ve never been to the Southeast U.S., you’re probably familiar with one of its signature plant communities: the bald cypress swamp. Nothing looks more “Deep South” than a flooded grove of buttress-trunked Taxodium distichum draped with Spanish moss. It might surprise you then to learn that bald cypress makes an excellent (and hardy) subject for all sorts of […]

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Grape Hyacinths: Small Scented Wonders of Spring

Muscari armeniacum is the luscious grape hyacinth that naturally spreads in the garden.
No group of plants does “adorable” and “blue” better than grape hyacinths. Most gardeners know these captivating little bulbs by way of Muscari armeniacum and its allies, whose elfin spires of chubby blue flowers do indeed resemble tiny bunches of grapes. But there’s another, equally delightful side to the Muscari tribe, with numerous species that are not at all grape-like in bloom. […]

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Organic Plant Protection with Improved Horticultural Oils


Oil-based insecticides have come a long way in the last few decades.  Lighter and more versatile than the “dormant oils” of yesteryear, today’s horticultural oils can be used at most times of the year and are effective against a wide variety of insects.  They’re also among the most benign pesticides, decomposing within a few days of application and causing minimal harm to beneficial insects and other untargeted organisms.  Accordingly, many brands of horticultural […]

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The Best Hardy Camellias for the Landscape


Camellias have been known to trigger acute plant envy in Northern U.S. gardeners.  If only those voluptuous blooms came on hardier shrubs that could withstand sub-zero temperatures.
As a matter of fact, in some cases they do.  Although most camellias trace their origins to mild subtropical and maritime areas of East Asia, a few hail from chillier regions.  These cold-hardy camellias have contributed their genes to the development of new varieties that are as […]

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Landscape Shrubs that Tolerate Salt

Pink Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’)
Salt can be a winter lifesaver for cars and pedestrians.  It can also be murder on the garden, sometimes literally.  Most de-icing salt contains sodium, which is toxic to many plant species.  Even when used sparingly, it can find its way onto the leaves and roots of nearby plants, disfiguring or killing them.
One of the best ways to prevent salt damage to your garden is to use plant […]

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Growing Winter Onions and Shallots


Fall and winter – when most of the vegetable garden is slumbering – is a great time to get a jump on next year’s onion, scallion, and shallot crop.  Most members of the onion tribe (known botanically as Allium) are hardy perennials and biennials that tolerate winters in most areas of the U.S.  Garlic (as discussed elsewhere on this site) is one well-known and often-grown example – but winter onions and shallots are […]

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Sustainable "Imperfect" Turf Options


The “perfect lawn” – that oft-celebrated but all-too-rarely achieved carpet of unblemished turf grass – is a seductive concept.  It’s also impossible to grow in most areas of the United States without major inputs of pesticides, fertilizer, water, and labor (as well as cash).  This is not to mention the significant secondary costs that come with chemically supported lawns, such as damage to beneficial soil microbes and the neighboring environment.  What’s good for […]

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Top 10 Tough Fast-Growing Shade Trees

Red maples are very fast growing and spectacular in fall.
What makes a fast-growing shade tree exceptional? First, it must be strong-wooded and long lived. Second, it must be attractive, providing desirable seasonal characteristics to make your yard look great. Those that are native, disease resistant, and well-adapted to a given region are also optimal. Finally, they should have minimal messy fruits to reduce the hassle of seasonal clean up.

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Surprise Lilies for Summer and Fall

The rosy blooms of Lycoris incarnata almost look candy striped. (photo courtesy of Jim Murrain)
Commonly known as “magic lily,” plants in the genus Lycoris are, in fact, much more closely related to amaryllis than to their namesake. But they do bring plenty of magic to the landscape when they open their large funnel-shaped flowers on tall naked stems in mid- to late summer. Several are winter-hardy to boot, creating all sorts of delicious possibilities […]

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