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Tag Archive: Russell Stafford

  1. The Best Japanese Maples for Landscapes

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    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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  2. Bald Cypress for the Landscape

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    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 garden situations in regions as cold as USDA Hardiness Zone (minus 10 to minus 20 F).
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  3. Grape Hyacinths: Small Scented Wonders of Spring

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    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. Botanists often split these non-grapey species into their own genera, but in the gardening world, the entire bunch are still known as Muscari.
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  4. Late-Winter Garden Cleanup in Six Steps

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    Cleaning your garden tools is one more way you can prepare for the garden season.


    A bit of garden housekeeping in February and March can literally help clear the way for the floral exuberance of April and May. With that in mind, here are some spring cleaning projects for late winter, on days when the Polar Vortex isn’t visiting.
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  5. Organic Plant Protection with Improved Horticultural Oils

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    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 oils are OMRI LISTED for organic gardening.

    New and Improved Horticultural Oils

    These oils are a great remedy for soft-bodied arthropods, such as aphids.


    Most new-wave horticultural oils derive from petroleum, although an increasing number are vegetable-oil-based.  In all cases, they’ve undergone several rounds of processing to remove impurities, such as sulfur that can damage leaves and other soft plant tissues.  Their relatively high purity (92 percent or greater) and low viscosity allows them to go places – such as directly on foliage – that are largely off limits for old-school “dormant oil sprays.”
    Almost all horticultural oils work not by poisoning pests but by mechanically coating and smothering them.  Consequently, they’re an excellent remedy for infestations of slow-moving, soft-bodied arthropods, such as aphids, mites, and whiteflies.  They also control a number of plant diseases, including powdery mildew and aphid-transmitted viruses.
    Neem oil departs from the norm by disrupting insects’ feeding and development via several biologically active compounds.  Virtually non-toxic to humans and other mammals, it’s effective against a relatively wide range of pests, including some that are resistant to other horticultural oils.

    Horticultural Oil Conditions

    Many older hort oils were best applied in late winter or early spring.


    Horticultural oils come with a few provisos.  First, they lose their effectiveness in rain, drought, cold (sub-40 degrees F), heat (90-degrees-plus), or high humidity.  Additionally, even highly refined horticultural oils can sometimes cause minor damage to flowers and tender new plant growth.  Horticultural oils are also said to be mildly toxic to a number of plant species including ferns, Japanese maples (Acer palmatum), and smoke trees (Cotinus spp.),  although this may not apply to the highly purified oils currently in use.

    When to Use Horticultural Oils

    Many new hort oils can be applied at almost any time of the year.


    Of course, horticultural oils are effective and ecologically friendly only when they’re properly used on visible pests at vulnerable points in their life cycles.  A thorough, targeted coating of oil at the right time will put a serious dent in a susceptible pest infestation.  Conversely, indiscriminate spraying will likely do more harm to beneficials and foliage than to pests.  It’s always good horticultural practice to know your enemy and to read the label.

    Late Winter

    The horticultural oil season begins in late winter, as temperatures moderate and overwintering pests begin to shake their slumber.  Hemlock woolly adelgids (pest info here), euonymus scale (pest info here), and spruce spider mites (pest info here) are among the insects and mites to look for and treat at this time.

    Spring

    Mid to late spring is a good time to spray “crawler” stages of armored scales (pest info here).  Weekly applications of neem oil will help contain lily leaf beetles (pest info here).

    Spring to Fall

    Use horticultural oils from mid-spring to fall to control the likes of aphids, lacebugs (pest info here), spider mites (pest info here), powdery mildew (pest info here), and sawfly larvae such as “rose slugs” (pest info here).  Mild days in late fall are a good time to spray scales, mites, and other pests that survived early spring treatment.

    Oils for Indoor Plants

    Indoor plant pests are also fair game, whatever the season.  Your spider-mite-infested weeping fig and all your other insect-plagued houseplants will welcome a quick visit to the back porch for a spritz of death-dealing horticultural oil.  Or you can give your plants (and their insect pests) a bath by inverting them into a bucket filled with highly diluted horticultural oil.  Outside or in, horticultural oils are an environmentally friendly solution to a host of insect problems.

  6. The Best Hardy Camellias for the Landscape

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    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 happy in Newport, Rhode Island as they are in Newport News, Virginia.

    Hardy Camellia Origins

    The hardiest spring-blooming camellias can even take snow flurries.


    Many of these winter-ready camellias owe their toughness to arguably the hardiest species in the genus, Camellia oleifera.  Widely cultivated in China for its seed oil, it occurs in the wild as far north as Shaanxi Province, where winter temperatures resemble those in south-coastal New England and the upper Mid-Atlantic.  In American gardens, it’s grown chiefly for its fragrant, white, 2- to 3-inch-flowers, borne in fall on large, shrubby plants furnished with oval, evergreen leaves that taper at the tips.  The handsome gray-brown bark makes an eye-catching winter feature.
    Camellia oleifera proved its hardiness in a series of bitterly cold winters that clobbered the eastern U.S. in the late 1970s.  Of hundreds of decades-old camellias at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., only a dozen or so survived – including several selections and hybrids of this rugged species. Subsequently, horticulturists have used Camellia oleifera to produce a number of comely cultivars that flourish into USDA Zone 6 (0 to minus 10 degrees F minimum temperatures).  Most of them produce pink or white, 3-inch-wide, single to double flowers in early to mid-fall (the earlier the better, so as to escape damage from Arctic spells).

    Recent introductions of Camellia japonica (shown) from Korea and northern Japan are very hardy. (Image by PumpkinSky)


    Camellia oleifera and its progeny are not the only hardy camellias on the block, however.  Recent introductions of Camellia japonica from Korea and northern Japan are also blessed with USDA Zone 6 hardiness.  Handsome year-round, they typically form dense 6- to 12-foot shrubs with lustrous, leathery, evergreen leaves and early-spring flushes of rich-red, 2- to 3-inch-wide flowers accented with yellow stamens.
    Thanks to these two species, gardeners in Zone 6 can now do the formerly unthinkable: enjoy a fall and spring garden display of showy camellias.

    Fall-Blooming Hardy Camellias

    The flowers of Camellia ‘Snow Flurry’ appear in mid to late autumn.

    Camellia ‘Autumn Spirit’

    Combining the showy flowers of the cold-tender Camellia sasanqua with the Zone 6 hardiness of Camellia oleifera, this highly prized hybrid bears zingy, double rose-pink flowers in early to mid-autumn, well before freezing weather threatens.  They’re lovely planted in combination with Colchicum ‘Waterlily’.  The dense, 8-foot plants have relatively small, dark green leaves.

    Camellia ‘Snow Flurry’

    Two of the hardiest white-flowered camellias (‘Plain Jane’ and ‘Frost Princess’) teamed up to produce this beautiful, tough-as-nails cultivar.  Frilly white pompons appear in early to mid-autumn on a fast-growing shrub that takes well to early spring pruning and winters reliably through Zone 6.  Combine it with Anemone japonica ‘Whirlwind’ and Ilex glabra ‘Ivory Queen’ for a fall symphony in white.

    Camellia ‘Survivor’

    Single white flowers open in mid-fall on vigorous 10- to 20-foot plants.  A hybrid of Camellia oleifera, it lives up to its name by consistently showing superior hardiness in cold-winter climates (to USDA Zone 6).

    Camellia ‘Winter’s Star’

    Named for the shape of its single, lavender-pink flowers, ‘Winter’s Star’ actually commences bloom in October, well before the onset of winter weather in Zone 6 (where it’s perfectly hardy).  It forms an open, conical, 10- to 12-foot shrub.

    Spring-Blooming Hardy Camellias

    The flowers of Camellia japonica ‘Bloomfield’ appear in late winter to early spring.

    Camellia japonica ‘April Remembered’

    No cold-climate camellia produces anything more luscious than the 5-inch-wide, semi-double, creamy-pink flowers of this remarkably hardy 1996 introduction from Camellia Forest Nursery.  It rapidly forms a vigorous, 6- to 10-foot shrub with large rich-green leaves.  If you garden in USDA Zone 6 but want bodacious Southern belle camellias, ‘April Remembered’ is the place to start.  And yes – it does bloom during the first warm days of April, or sometimes March.

    Camellia japonica ‘Bloomfield’

    Brilliant red flowers, lush foliage, and a large, dense, rounded habit make for one of best all-around camellias for Zone 6 gardens.  The single, 3-inch-wide blooms occur in flushes during mild spells in late winter and early spring.  The original plant – grown from Korean seed at Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia – is more than 12 feet tall and 6 feet wide.

    Camellia japonica ‘Korean Fire’

    Smoldering-red, six-petaled, 2-inch-wide flowers repeat from late winter through early spring, weather permitting.  Perhaps the hardiest camellia variety introduced to date, ‘Korean Fire’ is well worth trying in favorable microclimates into USDA Zone 5.  Plants grow to 10 feet tall and 6 feet wide.

    Growing Camellias

    All camellias grow best in acid, friable, humus-rich soil, with protection from north winds and strong sunlight. If you garden in sandy or heavy soil, give your camellia an extra-wide planting hole (at least 3 times wider than the root ball), and amend the backfill with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost.  Spring planting and a yearly application of an inch or two of compost are also advisable, whatever the soil.

  7. Landscape Shrubs that Tolerate Salt

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    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 species that can handle some sodium.  The five shrubs described below are a great place to start. They’re perfect for framing and sheltering gardens in salt-exposed sites, such as roadsides and seashores.

    Chokeberries (Aronia spp.)

    Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia, image by Abrahami)


    Brilliant foliage in fall, attractive clusters of white flowers in spring, and adaptability to a wide range of soil conditions are among the many merits of these handsome, disease-resistant shrubs from wetlands and uplands of central and eastern North America.  Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) doubles down on the fall color by covering itself with bright red berry-like fruits that persist into winter.  Happiest in moist soil, it slowly expands into suckering, 8- to 10-foot-tall clumps that are at their most luxuriant in full sun.  Its abundantly fruiting cultivar ‘Brilliantissima’ is particularly showy.  Smaller in size and less flashy in fruit, black chokeberry (Aronia  melanocarpa)  typically forms a thicketing, 3- to 5-foot shrub with glossy, rich-green leaves and edible black fruits.   Varieties of this exceptionally drought-tolerant shrub include the compact growers, ‘Autumn Magic’ and ‘Iroquois Beauty’, as well as ‘Viking’, which is cultivated for its relatively large, tasty fruit that’s excellent for juices, preserves, and baked goods.  The fruits of all chokeberries are favorites of birds.  Aronia arbutifolia is hardy to USDA Hardiness Zone 4; A. melanocarpa to Zone 3.

    Sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia)

    The suckering, upright, 3- to 8-foot-tall stems of this eastern North American native are lined with lustrous, serrated, dark green leaves and topped in midsummer with fuzzy steeples of white or pinkish, root-beer-scented flowers.  The leaves turn bright yellow in fall, and the persistent, peppercorn-like fruits make a pleasant winter garden feature.  Sweet pepperbush comes in numerous varieties, including low-growing ‘Hummingbird’, pink-flowered ‘Ruby Spice’, and late-summer-blooming ‘September Beauty’.  All forms do best in moist soil and full to partial sun in USDA Zones 5 to 8.

    Inkberry (Ilex glabra)

    Female Inkberry (Ilex glabra, Image by David Stang)


    Its leathery, salt-tolerant, evergreen leaves and rounded habit would recommend inkberry for eastern North American gardens, even if it weren’t native to much of the region.  Most varieties become leggy 6- to 8-footers with age, so you might want to opt for a compact, densely leaved cultivar such as the 4-foot-tall ‘Shamrock’.  Female inkberries produce small, black, relatively inconspicuous fruits in fall, although white-fruited ‘Ivory Queen’ is a notable exception.  All cultivars are hardy in USDA Zones 5 through 8.

    Bayberry (Morella pensylvanica)

    Female Bayberry (Morella pensylvanica, Image by Jessie Keith)


    Recently redubbed Morella pensylvanica, bayberry will no doubt continue to be known to gardeners under its former botanical name, Myrica pensylvanica.  A signature species of salt-sprayed coasts from the Maritimes to the Carolinas, it’s literally a natural for salt-tolerant plantings in the eastern U.S. (and an excellent choice for other locations in USDA Zones 3 to 7).  All of its parts – from the leathery, deciduous or semi-evergreen leaves to the waxy berries (on female plants) – possess a silver-gray cast and a pleasingly pungent fragrance, made famous by the candles that bear its essence and its name.  Mockingbirds, yellow-rumped warblers, and other songbirds feed on the fruits in winter.

    Lilac (Syringa spp.)

    Common lilac (Syringa vulgaris, image by Jessie Keith)


    Almost all Syringa species boast moderate to high salt tolerance, reflecting their origins in arid regions of Asia and eastern Europe.  Although best known in the form of the ever-popular common lilac (Syringa vulgaris), the genus includes numerous other garden-worthy species and hybrids, many of which are relatively scarce in gardens.  Among the best of these for hedging and screening are littleleaf lilac (Syringa pubescens ssp. microphylla ‘Superba’), well worth growing for its aromatic, pale pink flowers that appear in late spring and summer on dense, dainty-leaved, 6-to 8-foot plants; cutleaf lilac (Syringa protolaciniata), distinguished by its deeply lobed leaves, compact arching habit, and pale lilac-purple spring flowers; and Chinese lilac (Syringa × chinensis), which in its best forms (such as ‘Lilac Sunday’) weights its stems with armloads of pale purple flowers in mid-spring, a few days before common lilac hits its stride.  Any of the above would make an excellent screen or hedge in a sunny site in USDA Zones 5 to 8.
    Whatever their salt-tolerance, all your plants will do better if you take measures to build their soil and to reduce their exposure to sodium.  Apply an inch or two of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost or several inches of shredded leaves in fall or spring to boost and maintain the levels of sodium-neutralizing organic matter in your soil.  In addition to its many other benefits, mulch also lessens surface evaporation, thereby increasing soil moisture and lowering salt concentrations.
    You can reduce the amount of incoming salt by screening planting areas with structures and salt-tolerant plants, by grading the soil to divert salt-laden surface water, and by using sodium-free de-icers, such as magnesium chloride, on your driveway and paths.  The right plants and the right care can go a long way toward making your garden safe from salt.

  8. Growing Winter Onions and Shallots

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    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 also ideal winter-growing crops for USDA Hardiness Zones 6 through 9 (in zones 4 and 5 they need winter protection).
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  9. Sustainable "Imperfect" Turf Options

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    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 that velvety green carpet is often not good for other forms of life.
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  10. Surprise Lilies for Summer and Fall

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    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 for gardens in USDA Hardiness Zone 5 and warmer. With their showy amaryllis-like flowers and their tolerance of bitter winters and partial shade, these bulbs from East Asia make marvelous (and miraculous) subjects for cold-climate gardens.
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