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Tag Archive: Russell Stafford

  1. Vining Vegetables for Vertical Gardening

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    Vining Vegetables for Vertical Gardening

    Don’t have as much space for growing vegetables? Then maybe it’s time to go the way of Jack with his beanstalk. Numerous veggies are vines perfectly suited for training up a trellis, thereby taking advantage of upright, aerial space. Vertical veggies also hold their fruits clear of the ground, reducing their susceptibility to rot. Three-dimensional gardening offers multiple advantages.

    There are a couple of common trellis types. Crosswise bamboo trellises fitted with trellis netting is an easy way to go. Twine strung between sturdy stakes or posts provides an excellent trellis for most vertical vegetables. Run a horizontal length of twine along one side of the plant row, then loop it back on the other side to secure the stems. Add a new tier of twine every 8 to 12 inches or so to keep pace with the vines. Alternatively, you can secure your climbers with twist ties or snippets of string. Some veggies help by self-attaching with “grasping” structures such as tendrils.

    Orient the trellis rows north to south, so both sides get similar amounts of sun. If the soil needs more organic matter, till in a couple of inches of Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic compost or Garden Manure Blend before constructing the trellis and sowing seed.

    I featured three climbing veggies – Malabar spinach, scarlet runner beans, and purple pole beans – in last month’s “Easy, Attractive Vegetables for Any Garden”. Now we’ll go further.

    Pole Beans

    These pole beans have each been given a pole to climb.

    String or snap beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) are undoubtedly the aerial champions of the veggie tribe. The ever-popular snap (or string) bean comes in a variety of twining forms, including the purple-fruited varieties profiled in last month’s article. All are wonderful for threading through a twine trellis, or for growing up a teepee of tall stakes.  They include:

    Broad romano beans are surprisingly tender. (Image by Jessie Keith)
    • Standard-issue green beans. Heirloom favorites ‘Blue Lake’ and ‘Kentucky Wonder’ both are available as climbers (many gardeners favor them over the bushy versions because they are more productive). More recent introductions include ‘Fortex’, featuring long slender pods that ripen relatively early, and somewhat shorter-podded ‘Malibu’.
    • Speckled beans. The tan, purple-streaked pods of the heat-tolerant variety ‘Rattlesnake’ are borne most prolifically in areas with long growing seasons, making it a great choice for Mid-Atlantic and Southeast gardens. Speckled varieties for cooler climates include ‘Cascade Giant’, a prolific producer of large beans that are similar in coloration to ‘Rattlesnake’.
    • Flat, Romano beans. Among the best romano varieties for cooler climates is ‘Northeaster’, with tender 7-inch beans that ripen some 55 days after sowing. For a later, longer harvest, try ‘Helda’, which produces tasty 9-inch pods for much of the summer.
    • Yellow wax beans. The 5-inch pods of ‘Grandma Nellies Yellow Mushroom’ have a wonderful rich complex flavor that really does have hints of chantarelle. Many of the best wax pole beans are also golden romano types. These include ‘Goldmarie’ and the Italian heirloom ‘Marvel of Venice’, which also has pinkish-purple flowers.
    • Shelling beans. Grown for their colorful and flavorful seeds that are shucked from the pods late in the season, these varieties are sometimes also excellent as snap beans. One such variety is the heirloom ‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’, whose tasty pods yield shiny black seeds if left on the vine. Another excellent multi-purpose American Indian heirloom variety is the white-seeded ‘Hidatsa Shield Figure’, named for the seeds’ oblong tan markings.
    Yellow wax beans have a milder bean flavor.

    Lima beans or butter beans (Phaseolus lunatus) are grown for their broad, flattened, buttery seeds, lima beans are a much more diverse tribe than the frozen food section of your local supermarket might lead you to believe. The heirloom ‘Willow Leaf’ bears small, meltingly succulent, greenish-white limas, borne on disease-resistant vines furnished with distinctive narrow foliage.  A favorite of Thomas Jefferson, ‘Sieva’ also produces small whitish scrumptious limas, but on high-climbing vines with broad leaves. Some Phaseolus lunatus varieties are brightly colored, as is the case with the heirloom ‘Christmas’. It yields large, white, heavily red-splotched limas on tall disease- and heat-resistant vines.

    Yardlong beans like ‘Red Noodle’ produce for longer than average beans and thrive in heat!

    Yardlong beans (Vigna unguiculata) are East Asian legumes grown for their remarkably long slender beans that ripen all summer on tall, vigorous, exceptionally heat-tolerant vines. Look for ‘Chinese Red Noodle’, with deep red, 18-inch beans; ‘Chinese Mosaic’, with pale purple pods; and ‘Taiwan Black’, which produces 40-inch-long fruits studded with black seeds.

    Other Vigna unguiculata varieties are grown expressly for their seeds, commonly called cowpeas, rather than their pods. Many of these varieties also grow as vines, including ‘Whippoorwill White’, ‘Blue Goose’, and another Thomas Jefferson favorite, ‘California Blackeye’. All varieties of the species do best in areas with hot summers and long growing seasons.

    Peas

    These tall golden snowpeas are perfect for upright growing. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Many shelling, snap, or snow pea (Pisum sativus) varieties produce long stems furnished with clasping tendrils to hold them upright. They grow best in spring, fall, or areas with cooler summers, so keep this in mind before planting them. The tallest varieties such as ‘Tall Telephone Pole’ will top out at 6 feet or more. Some peas grow as low bushy plants, so be sure to check before purchasing. (Click here to learn more about growing peas.)

    Tomatoes

    Vining indeterminate tomatoes are easily drained up a trellis.

    Tomatoes (Solanum lysopersicum) are often described as growing “on the vine”, and many of them do exhibit clambering, vine-like growth. Yet relatively few gardeners treat them that way. To trellis your tomatoes, start with an “indeterminate” variety – the term for types that keep lengthening their stems rather than growing to a certain height and stopping. Train the plant’s main stem up a sturdy twine trellis as described above, pinching out any side suckers that appear. Rampant varieties such as ‘Yellow Oxheart’, ‘Black Cherry’, and ‘Climbing Triple Crop’ will ascend to 10 feet or more. You can also allow your tomato vines to double back down the trellis once they’ve reached the top. Avoid determinate varieties, which will resolutely not climb. (Click here to learn more about growing cherry tomatoes.)

    Cucumbers

    Strong trellis netting will easily support trained cucumber vines.

    Cukes (Curcumis sativus) are natural-born climbers, equipped with curlicue tendrils that cling to whatever structure they’re scaling. Consequently, they’re a natural choice for training up a sturdy trellis or fence. Less weighty types such as pickling cukes are often the best choice. A few varieties such as ‘Japanese Climbing’ have been bred expressly to grow as vines. Of course, you’ll want to avoid bush cucumbers, which are bred not to climb. The small-fruited, heat-tolerant Beit-Alpha type cucumbers are also recommended. The easy, crisp, and delicious ‘Diva‘ is a good one to start with. (Click here to learn more about growing cucumbers.)

    Melons

    Melons are easily trained vertically, but their heavy fruits need to be trussed and supported.

    Cantaloupes (Curcumis melo), watermelons (Citrullus lanatus), and many other melons have vining habits and work well as climbers. The average cantaloupe or small-fruited watermelon (such as ‘Sugar Baby’) will require something much sturdier than a stake-and-twine trellis. Four-by-four posts and heavy-gauge wire are more like it. (Click here to learn more about growing melons.)

    Gourds

    Gourds can be grown on a trellis or makeshift pergola.

    Bottle and swan gourds (Lagenaria siceraria), luffa (Luffa aegyptiaca), and a number of other gourd species grow on rampant vines that benefit from the support of a sturdy trellis or other structure. With their fanciful shapes and colors, gourds are a kick to grow, and kids of all ages love them. Favorites include ‘Bird House‘, ‘Big Apple’, ‘Bushel Basket’, and Luffa for homegrown skincare.

    Happy climbing!

  2. Climbing Roses for Garden Romance

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    For garden romance, nothing surpasses a climbing rose cascading over an arbor, its arching canes laden with a torrent of voluptuous blooms.

    Sadly, many climbing rose varieties do not live up to this promise. They are – after all – roses, which are rightfully notorious for their susceptibility to pests and diseases. Arching canes dripping with roses aren’t nearly as romantic when they’re also dripping with fungal spores and sawfly larvae.

    On the other hand, a few climbing roses (including those profiled below) literally and figuratively rise above the frailties that dog so many of their kin. Give them ample sun and fertile, moist, humus-rich soil, and they’ll give you years of virtually problem-free beauty (and romance). You’ll also want to give them a yearly pruning, removing old woody canes at the base in early spring or after flowering (for non-repeaters).

    Resilient, Reliable Climbing Roses

    A John Cabot rose climbing an arbor in a back yard garden.

    ‘John Cabot’ – 8- to 10-foot canes produce quantities of large, deep pink, double roses in late spring. Stiff and upright in growth, this wickedly thorny cultivar works best when bound to a somewhat out-of-the-way structure such as a trellis. As with many of the hardiest, most disease-resistant roses for American gardens, ‘John Cabot’ is a hybrid of the bomb-proof species Rosa kordesii.  It’s also one of several hardy, rugged, and beautiful climbers developed in Canada as part of the Explorers Series of roses. Temperatures of minus 20 F (USDA Hardiness Zone 4) are no problem for this cultivar.

    ‘William Baffin’ – Another outstanding Explorer Series rose with Rosa kordesii genes, this tireless bloomer produces a late-spring-to-frost succession of large, strawberry-pink, semi-double roses with prominent yellow stamens. The arching, 8- to 10-foot, glossy-leaved canes are good for training to a structure, but ‘William Baffin’ also works well as a large freestanding shrub. This exceptionally hardy Explorer rose overwinters with no protection to USDA Zone 3.

    Pink roses climbing on white fence embody old-fashioned garden beauty.

    Awakening’ – The ubiquitous climbing rose ‘New Dawn’ gave rise to this superior sport. The large, fragrant, soft-pink blooms are fully double, to the point of being “quartered” in old-rose style. They’re borne almost continually from late spring to frost on towering, 10- to 14-foot canes. Lush, glossy, disease-resistant foliage and USDA Zone 5 hardiness add further to its value.

    Dortmund’ – The relatively flexible canes of ‘Dortmund’ are ideal for training horizontally along a fence or wall, where they make quite the show when bedecked with bright red, white-eyed, single blooms.  Flowering peaks in late spring and early summer, but regular deadheading will encourage additional rounds of bloom later in the season. Showy orange rose hips follow the flowers if they’re not removed.  Another Kordesii hybrid (but not an Explorer), ‘Dortmund’ is exceptionally hardy, to USDA Zone 4.

    ‘Climbing Pinkie’ – Speaking of flexible roses, this Polyantha hybrid will weave through a trellis, trail down an embankment, or do any number of other useful things that are beyond the capabilities of stiffer cultivars. It’s also virtually thornless, which means you can fearlessly move in close to enjoy its fragrant clusters of small double pink roses. Flowering peaks in late spring with little or no repeat, and hardiness is moderate (USDA Zone 6).

    A ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ is beautifully trained against a home. (Image thanks to Jackson & Perkins)

    ‘Royal Sunset’ – Disease-resistant climbers also come in classic hybrid-tea style, with pointed buds opening to rounded, fully double, fragrant blooms. Introduced in 1960, when hybrid teas were all the rage, ‘Royal Sunset’ bears masses of apricot-pink roses in late spring on tall, 8- to 14-foot canes. Lesser flushes of bloom repeat later in the season. Like most hybrid teas, ‘Royal Sunset’ has only moderate winter-hardiness, to USDA Zone 6.

    ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ – If you really want to dial up the romance, plant ‘Zephirine Drouhin’, a nineteenth-century heirloom variety with intensely fragrant double pink roses from spring until frost. Nearly thornless, it makes the perfect subject for a bench-side bower or other intimate garden feature. Although not quite as hardy and pest resistant as the Kordesii hybrids, ‘Zepherine’ is still remarkably adaptable, tolerating semi-shade and wintering well into USDA Zone 5.

    Yellow and red climbing roses mingle together along a stone wall.

    Spring is a great time to plant the climbing rose of your dreams. Just dig an ample planting hole (3 feet wide or more), amend the backfill with Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost, water every few rainless days while your rose establishes, and let the romance begin. (Click here to learn more about how to properly plant shrubs.)

  3. Favorite Fragrant Early Spring Flowering Shrubs

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    Some shrubs produce flowers that do more than draw the eye; they also delight us with their delicious scent. The most obvious examples are hybrid tea roses and common lilac (Syringa vulgaris), which owe a good deal of their renown to the legendary bouquet of their blooms. Yet many other shrubs offer equally alluring fragrance, often at seasons when lilac and rose are at a lull.  Here’s a seasonal summary of a few of the best.

    Asian Witch Hazels

    The orange-red Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ is a reliable late-winter bloomer.

    Asian witch hazels (Hamamelis x intermedia and H. mollis) – The ribbon-like yellow, orange, or red petals of these large shrubs unfurl on mild days in late winter (this year, they started blooming in mid-January here in balmy Rhode Island). Plant Asian witch hazels to the south of paths, doorways, and other winter viewpoints, where their gossamer petals will glow against the slanting rays of the winter sun, and where mild southern breezes will waft the flowers’ lemony scent to passersby. Witch hazels offer a bright encore in fall, their leaves assuming sunset tones that distantly echo the hues of their winter flowers. Hardy from USDA Zones 5b to 9, they succeed in full to partial sun and in just about any soil that’s not soggy or parched.

    Winter Honeysuckle

    Winter honeysuckle blooms are delicate, white, and highly fragrant.

    Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) – A welcome sight and scent in the late winter garden, this East Asian native perfumes the air with small, white, funneled blooms that open on mild days from January to early April. A deciduous, 6-foot shrub in the colder sectors of its zone 5 to 9 hardiness range, it behaves – or rather misbehaves – as a moderately to highly invasive 8- to 12-foot evergreen in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. It’s thus best reserved for northern U.S. gardens. Its hybrid Lonicera × purpusii (including ‘Winter Beauty’) does much the same thing. All forms of winter honeysuckle favor full to partial sun and well-drained, average to fertile soil.

    February Daphne

    The flowers of February daphne bloom before the branches leaf out.

    February daphne (Daphne mezereum) – Intensely fragrant mauve-pink flowers crowd the naked, erect branches of this sparse, 3- to 4-foot shrub in late winter and early spring – a bit later than its common name would suggest. White-flowered cultivars are also available. Poisonous red fruits follow the flowers, and sometimes give rise to volunteer seedlings. A long-time garden favorite in its native Eurasia as well as in the U.S. and Canada (where it’s hardy from zones 4 to 7), it does best with plenty of elbow room, humusy well-drained soil, and full to partial sun. Give it a late-spring top-dressing of Fafard® Premium Topsoil to keep its roots cool, healthy, and happy.

    Spring-Flowering Viburnums

    The classic Korean spice viburnum has clusters of powerfully sweet-scented spring flowers.

    Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii) – The searching clove-like fragrance of Korean spice viburnum’s tubular, pinkish-white blooms is a welcome and warming presence in the mid-spring garden. The domed flower clusters typically open around the first of May in USDA Zones 5 and 6. Korean spice’s hybrid Judd viburnum (Viburnum x juddii) offers similar flowers and grayer, less aphid-prone leaves, in a similar, 6- to 8-foot package. The flowers of fragrant snowball (Viburnum x carlcephalum), another carlesii hybrid, are waxier and of heavier substance, and occur in larger, denser, almost spherical clusters. For tighter spaces there’s Viburnum carlesii ‘Compactum’, which matures at about 3 feet. Most forms and hybrids of Korean spice viburnum prosper in full sun from zones 5 to 8, and turn smoky burgundy tones in fall. Fragrant snowball is slightly less hardy, to zone 6.

    Korean Abelia

    Korean abelia can be purchased at specialty nurseries and blooms in mid to late spring.

    Korean abelia (Abelia mosanensis, aka Zabelia tyaihyonii) — An unassuming shrub most of the year, Korean abelia grabs sensory center stage in mid-spring when it envelops its branches in funnel-shaped pink flowers. The swarms of beguilingly spicy blooms draw every butterfly (and human) within sniffing distance.  The flowers also attract hummingbirds, desipite the fact that these birds have little to no sense of smell. This 4- to 6-foot shrub makes a great choice for full sun and average to fertile soil in zones 5 to 9.

    Caucasian Daphne

    Caucasian daphne is an evergreen shrub and late-spring bloomer.

    Caucasian daphne (Daphne x transatlantica) — Late spring is also when this little love begins its lengthy bloom season. Wafting a complex and seductive fragrance containing hints of clove and vanilla, the glistening white flowers flush first in May and June, repeating the performance multiple times throughout summer and early fall. No other shrub in the 3-foot range can surpass it for flower power and scent. The variegated cultivar ‘Summer Ice’ compliments the blooms with white-edged leaves. All forms of Caucasian daphne are ideally suited for planting near paths and patios and other areas where their flowers and scent can cast their spell. Full to part sun and humus-rich, well-drained soil is ideal, as is a niche protected from harsh winter wind and crushing snow loads. Plants are hardy from zone 5 to 8.

    Summersweet

    The pink-flowered Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’ flowers in early to mid-summer.

    Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) joins the fragrance fest in early summer. Its candles of fuzzy white or pink flowers carry a distinctive (and irresistible) scent with root beer undertones. The finely toothed, insect- (and deer-) resistant leaves of this rock-hardy eastern North American native are a lustrous dark green, turning brilliant butter-yellow in fall. Compact cultivars of summersweet (such as ‘Hummingbird’ and ‘Sixteen Candles’) make splendid shrubby ground covers for sun or shade, suckering to eventually cover considerable territory. Full-size, 6- foot varieties such as pink-flowered ‘Ruby Spice’ are among the premier shrubs for the summer garden. All forms do best in moist, humus-rich soil in zones 4 to 8.

    Swamp Azalea

    Swamp azalea grows well in average to moist garden soils with a more acid pH.

    Swamp azalea (Rhododendron viscosum) is another summer-blooming native shrub with a wonderful scent (which hints at cloves rather than root beer). It, too, loves moist soil, making it an obvious garden companion for summersweet. Also well worth planting within its zone 5 to 8 hardiness range are several swamp azalea hybrids such as pale-yellow-flowered ‘Lemon Drop’.

    Glory-Bower

    The late-summer flowers of glory-bower are attractive and emit a fine scent.

    Glory-bower (Clerodendrom trichotomum) — For late-season fragrance there’s this large suckering shrub (which reaches arboreal stature in warmer parts of its zone 6 to 9 hardiness range). The starry pale pink flowers begin in August and continue for many weeks, eventually giving way to blue-black berries nested within showy maroon calyces. This rather rambunctious East Asian native is not for small spaces or for locations where it might invade nearby natural areas (especially in the southern portions of its zone 6 to 9 hardiness range). It tolerates some shade, but prefers full sun.

  4. How to Plant and Site Trees and Shrubs

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    The key to successful gardening is to go (and grow) with what you’ve got. If your garden has acid soil and lots of shade, go with acid- and shade-loving plants. If sunny, dry, alkaline conditions dominate, then plan and plant accordingly. This also holds true for the garden’s aesthetic. For example, more “naturalistic” settings (such as a woodland edge) call for more informal, nature-evoking plantings. Beautiful and bountiful things happen when a garden is in harmony with its surroundings.

    Understand Your Garden’s Site

    Light, soil, space, garden-style, and other parameters must be considered before planting a new tree or shrub.

    It’s especially important to keep this in mind when choosing – and planting – the trees and shrubs that will form the framework of your garden.  Choose the right plants and get them off to a good start, and good things are almost sure to follow.

    It all comes back to knowing the site’s conditions. What are the pH, nutrient-holding capacity, and other characteristics of your soil? If in doubt, you can get a definitive answer by sending soil samples to your state’s horticultural extension service (click here for a nationwide list of extension services). What is the site’s exposure to sun, wind, and water (e.g., rain and runoff)? How and when do you use your yard? Now, during the dormant season, it is a great time to assess these factors. Then, based on your site’s particulars and your preferences, compile lists of trees and shrubs that are a good fit.

    Planting Trees and Shrubs

    A suitably broad planting hole should be around three times as wide as the plant’s root ball.

    When you get around to planting, the same precepts remain. Trying to force an ill-chosen plant into an incompatible site is a losing prospect. If the tree or shrub is a good fit, all it needs is a good root system and a suitably broad planting hole, backfilled (to the proper depth) with unamended or lightly amended soil for best establishment. Of course, planting at the proper season and providing regular post-planting care (especially watering) are also essential.

    Sizing Up the Planting Hole

    Adding a light application of soil amendment, such as Fafard Premium Topsoil, will give the soil extra organic matter.

    Planting width requires a “suitably broad” planting hole is at least three times as wide as the plant’s root ball, although twice as wide will do in a pinch. The texture of the excavated and refilled soil differs significantly from that of the surrounding undisturbed soil; consequently, it also differs significantly in other properties such as moistness and aeration. Adding a light application of soil amendment, such as Fafard Premium Topsoil, will give the soil additional organic matter for increased water-holding ability to help the establishing plant. This is of greatest importance in poor or sandy soils. If your soil is of good to average quality, this step is not needed. A wide planting hole gives the roots a relatively homogeneous environment in which to extend and establish. By the time they’ve reached the edge of the former planting hole, they’ll be more up to the job of worming their way into the undisturbed soil. Additionally, the refilled soil will settle over time to a texture closer to that of the surrounding soil, thereby easing the roots’ transition.

    The planting hole should be no deeper than the root ball.

    Planting depth – unlike width – can be overdone. In fact, the planting hole should be no deeper than the root ball. Most of a tree’s or shrub’s feeder roots are within a few inches of the surface. A deeper hole serves only to loosen the texture of the soil below the root ball, increasing the likelihood that it will settle and pull the roots down with it. Plants generally do not thrive in air-starved sinkholes.

    Work soil in around the plant and press it down to remove any unwanted air pockets.

    Shallower planting may be required in heavy clay soil. Planting holes in such soils are subject to the bathtub effect, with water percolating through the relatively coarse refill soil and pooling at the bottom of the hole. Here, dig an extra-wide hole that’s significantly shallower than the root ball, sloping the base of the hole toward its edges. Mix the excess backfill with Fafard® Premium Topsoil, and mound this over the exposed root ball after planting.

    Sizing Up the Tree or Shrub

    Make sure plant roots have not become pot-bound. If they have, work them apart to help them grow into the soil.

    Potted trees and shrubs with vigorous, relatively undisturbed roots make the best planting material. Avoid pot-bound plants whose roots have long ago filled or grown beyond their containers. Before buying a containerized plant, try to knock it out of the container to check the root system. If the root ball remains stubbornly wedged in its container even when you apply force to remove it, it’s a risky prospect. Ideally, the roots should not circle the soil ball, and abundant white feeder roots should be evident at its edge. You can plant container-grown trees and shrubs just about any time the ground is workable, but be sure to keep the root ball from drying out after planting. Most potting soils are peat-moss based, making them coarser and more drought-sensitive than the surrounding soil. They also resist re-moistening once completely dry. Newly planted container-grown plants may need watering several times a week during summer droughts.

    Unlike container-grown plants, B&B plants are often grown in heavy clay, which cracks and resists water when dry.

    Bare-root and balled-and-burlapped (B&B) trees and shrubs lose much of their root systems when harvested at the nursery. They thus require more kid-glove treatment. Plant them either in early spring or in late summer/early fall to give their roots ample time to regrow before summer heat or winter cold arrive. Be sure that their roots do not dry out before planting. Unlike container-grown plants, B&B plants are often grown in heavy clay, which cracks and resists water when dry.

    Be careful to plant bare-root and B&B shrubs and trees at the proper depth. For bare-root plants, partially refill the planting hole with a volcano-shaped cone of soil, spreading the roots atop the cone before backfilling. The plant’s trunk/root junction (also known as the “root flare”) should be just at or slightly above the soil surface. Stems of B&B trees and shrubs are often partly buried in their root ball; if so, remove some of the soil to expose the root flare. Also, be sure to minimize disturbance to B&B root balls as you plant, and remember to unswaddle the burlap (or wire caging) from the top and sides of the root ball before refilling the hole. Either cut and discard the unwanted wrap or pull it back and bury it at the bottom of the hole.

    A two- to three-inch mulch layer will hold in soil moisture and protect against weeds.

    Add a good mulch layer to buffer newly planted trees and shrubs from drought, heat, and cold, apply an inch of Fafard® organic compost and a couple of inches of bark mulch to the planting area. They’ll appreciate the extra pampering, and you’ll appreciate the results!

  5. How to Map and Plan a New Garden

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    The cusp of the New Year is not prime gardening season in much of the United States. But, it’s often an excellent time to map and design a new garden or planting border, even in areas that experience real winter. All that is required are bare ground, a relatively mild day, and a few common household items.

    Start by considering the garden’s location, size, shape, and desired plants and their growing needs. Roughly sketch out your basic plans. At this stage, don’t worry about precision or specifics. The finer details will be worked out later.

    Setting the Garden Perimeter

    A 50- to 100-foot tape measure with a tip that you can stake in place is extra-useful.

    Once you have sketched basic garden perimeter designs on paper, grab a couple of tape measures and a notepad and pen (or smartphone) and head out to the new garden site. A 50- to 100-foot tape measure with a tip that you can stake in place is extra-useful. If necessary, also bring a garden hose to mark portions of the prospective border’s perimeter that aren’t already defined by paths, walls, and the like. Place stakes along any hose-defined edges so that you’ll have something to refer to after you return the hose to its winter quarters.

    Curved garden edges have a freer feel but are more difficult to edge and map. Rectilinear bed edges look more formal and are easier to edge and map. (Image from Residential Landscape Architecture)

    A border with at least one long, straight edge is a cinch to map. At regular intervals (5 feet usually works well), measure the perpendicular distance from the straight edge to the opposite side of the border. Also, measure the distances to any extant plants and features that will remain as part of the new garden. Transcribe the data to graph paper and – voila! – you have an accurate map of your soon-to-be-border.

    A border with curving edges is somewhat trickier to map. In this case, extend the tape along the approximate “equator” of the border, and measure the perpendicular distances from the tape to both edges at regular intervals. Compared to the straight-sided border, a few more dots and a bit more freehand sketching are required to translate these measurements to graph paper.

    Mapping the Garden

    After taking measurements, put your design to paper.

    A landscape design template is an especially handy implement for the drawing and mapping stage. You can purchase one (as well as graph paper) from most art- and drafting-supply stores, as well as online. It also helps if you have an image of your home’s footprint and yard to sketch upon and include for perspective. This will also help ensure that your garden is placed within your yard’s boundaries.

    Plant renderings can be illustrated in many different ways. Have fun. Be creative.
    (Image from Residential Landscape Architecture)

    To map the border’s location relative to the house, measure the length of the nearest side of the house, and the distances from its corners to the ends of the border. Using graph paper and a ruler, compass, or landscape design template, lightly sketch a curve representing the distance from the one corner of the house to one end of the border. Repeat for the distance from the other corner of the house. The intersection of these curves pinpoints the end of the border. This technique also works if you’d like to map the border’s relationship to other landscape features such as property lines.

    Choosing Plants for the Garden

    Choose colorful, attractive plants that meet the site’s requirements and your aesthetic goals.

    Next comes the really fun part – choosing plants. Given the border’s conditions and surroundings, what would grow and look well there? Compile a list of candidate garden plants that would provide a pleasing mix of flowers, foliage, shapes, sizes, and textures. When you’re happy with your list, start to play around on paper, beginning with the major “keystone” perennials, shrubs, or trees that will form the backbone of the new planting. A composition of rhythmically spaced “keystone” specimens – interspersed with clumps of smaller companion plants – generally works well. Lightly pencil-in a circle for each plant, spacing the circles according to plant size and vigor. Use a complete circle to represent individual specimen plants (often trees or shrubs), and fused circles (omitting their inner portions) to depict clumps.

    Once the soil warms, start cutting and de-sodding your beds.

    Once you have a good handle on the design of your new border, you can start planning how to execute it. It’s never too early to start sourcing and ordering plants (especially rarities that are likely to sell out early). You also need to consider how you’re going to prepare the border site. Is the site currently occupied by grass or by other plants that will need removing? Now’s the time to formulate a strategy.

    Perhaps you’ll decide to rent a sod cutter come spring to remove turf from the site. Or maybe sheet composting is the way you’d like to go. Solarization – blanketing the site with heavy plastic to fry the existing vegetation as well as the weed seeds that lurk in the soil – is another excellent approach that works particularly well if you plan to hold off on planting until fall. A soil test might also be in order, whenever as the ground is workable (most state extension offices offer soil testing at a reasonable price). Finally, what’s your mulch of choice going to be? Now’s the time to find a source.

    Whatever strategy you choose, you’ll likely need compost and soil amendments to improve the soil. If so, you’ve come to the right place! Fafard offers a bevy of such products, including Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend and Fafard Premium Topsoil.

    Happy planning – and planting – in 2020!

  6. Garden Journaling: How To Plan Your Dream Garden

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    A journal is one of the best tools for achieving the garden of your dreams. Your recorded observations of what’s happening today will give you a clearer vision of what to do tomorrow – and many years beyond.

    Starting Your Garden Journal

    A note pad, smartphone, and/or computer are all you need to build your journal. Use them to record the dates and details of significant garden happenings, such as the following (with photos, if desired):

    • Flowering and leaf-out times for key garden plants;
    • Impactful weather events such as freezes and storms;
    • Disease and pest outbreaks;
    • Sowing and planting (including what was planted and where);
    • Important maintenance activities such as mulching, shrub and tree pruning, harvesting, and major weeding;
    • Garden amendment, fertilization, and other soil preparation strategies;
    • What succeeded and what performed poorly.

    Do a weekly journaling stroll around your garden. When you see something that delights or concerns you or otherwise grabs your attention, take a note or a photograph (or both). Is the perennial border up to something particularly spectacular this week? Are sawfly larvae skeletonizing the swamp hibiscus? Does the rhododendron by the front entry need to be replaced? Make a note (with the date!), along with any associated thoughts that might come to mind.

    Garden Journaling Methods

    A note pad and/or Smartphone are all you need to build your journal.

    Traditionalists will opt for hand-written journals, but Smartphones make especially good journaling tools, especially for photos. Not only are photos automatically dated, but you can also add text to them and store them by subject. Smartphones are also good for note-taking, via apps such as Google Keep (which can link notes to photos). Then you can organize printed photos and other physical records (such as receipts and empty seed packets) in a binder with plastic pocket sleeves.

    If you are one for the computer and a stickler for the details, consider creating spreadsheets to track trends in seed germination, harvests, flowering dates, pest appearance, and so forth. In time, you can create charts showing the ebbs and flows of your garden. These can be very informative.

    Winter Garden Journaling

    Winter is the time to organize any notes, photographs, and data from the past year that are still at loose ends. It’s also the time to record seed-starting data.

    Gardening and journaling continue through winter. There are bulbs to force, catalogs to peruse, seeds to order and plant, house plants to enjoy and maintain, and any number of other winter gardening activities to complete and chronicle. It’s also the time to reflect on gardening seasons past and future. What were the garden’s highlights and successes this year? Where did it fall short? What are your visions and overall goals for next year, and beyond? Get it all down on paper (or microchip).

    Finally, winter is the time to organize any notes, photographs, and data from the past year that are still at loose ends. For example, a spreadsheet of the year’s planting data – including plant/seed source and sowing/planting information – will be essential when you get around to ordering and planting next year’s seeds and plants. You can move a copy of the spreadsheet to your smartphone, to join the rest of your journal information. A well-stocked, well-organized garden journal from the previous year is just what you need to get rocking in the upcoming year.

    Garden Journaling for Design

    Garden design must be planned and continuously recorded for the best success.

    Journals are essential for the dynamics of garden design. Your journal will make the greatest impact have these essential planning and design materials on hand:

    • Documentation of the garden site’s layout and characteristics, including maps/plans, soil test results, sun and wind exposures, grades, and extant plantings;
    • Garden design ideas and plans, including drawings and plant lists;
    • An “encyclopedia” of information of special interest to you and your garden, comprising entries on plants, materials, gardening techniques, and other relevant subjects (be sure to include a file on Fafard’s outstanding lineup of potting soils and soil amendments!);
    • Short-term and long-term garden calendars, specifying the sequence of yearly gardening activities, and the long-term (e.g., 5-year) plans for maintaining or renovating the garden and for implementing designs.

    Combine these elements with the detailed observations of your journal, and you’ll have all the ingredients to make your dream garden a reality.

  7. Growing Tropical Fruits Indoors

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    Dwarf Cavendish bananas and calamondins and 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 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 sunroom 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 Cavendish’ (Musa ‘Extra Dwarf Cavendish’). 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 Cavendish’

    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!
  8. Good Garden Bittersweet and Bad

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    Both the bad and good bittersweet seeds are spread by birds, such as this red-breasted nuthatch.

    When it comes to garden plants gone wrong, few have gone wronger than oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus).  Introduced from East Asia to Western horticulture in the early eighteenth century, this twining vine was widely planted for its ornamental clusters of yellow pea-sized fruits that open in fall to reveal brilliant-red interiors.  Now it’s widely reviled for its ability to seed itself everywhere by way of those showy, bird-attracting fruits.  Left unchecked, these seedlings can rapidly morph into tree-consuming monsters, smothering everything in their 60-foot reach.  Visit just about any garden or woodland in the eastern U.S. and there they are, lurking in the undergrowth or clambering into the canopy.

    Good and Bad Bittersweet

    The native bittersweet has clusters of darker fruits at the stem tips.

    This black sheep of the Celastrus tribe has also sullied our attractive and relatively well-behaved native species, Celastrus scandens.  The showy orange fruits of American bittersweet are darker in hue than those of its Asian relative, and they appear in elongated bunches at the stem tips rather than in small clusters in the leaf axils.  It grows more sedately than Celastrus orbiculatus, self-sows less enthusiastically, and coexists more harmoniously.  Ironically, its more restrained growth also puts it at a competitive disadvantage in natural areas, where it is often smothered by its mayhem-making relative.  The most apropos response to the rampages of oriental bittersweet is to grow MORE of our native bittersweet – not less.

    The invasive Asian bittersweet has berries that appear in branch.

    You can create a refuge for American bittersweet by giving it a sizeable pergola or other structure for its 20- to 30-foot stems to twine around and through.  Full sun to light shade and lean or average, well-drained soil are ideal (amend heavy or sandy soils by digging in a couple of inches of Fafard Manure Blend or Premium Natural and Organic Compost).  American bittersweet also functions well as a shrubby ground cover for a slope, stone wall, or woodland edge.  Plants flower and fruit on the current season’s growth, so pruning is best done in late winter and early spring, before bud-break.

    Bittersweet Varieties

    Most bittersweet plants bear only male or female flowers, with one of each typically required for fruiting to occur.  One male plant (e.g., ‘Indian Brave’) will pollenize as many 10 females (such as ‘Indian Maiden’ and ‘Diana’).  Two recently introduced cultivars – ‘Autumn Revolution’ and ‘Sweet Tangerine’ – are self-fruitful, requiring no companion.  You can also purchase or grow unsexed seedlings.  If so, plant several to increase the chances that at least one is a female.  You can remove any superfluous males after they reach flowering size.

    Celastrus orbiculatus looks very pretty trained along a strong pergola or trellis.

    Harvest the inedible fruits for holiday decorations after their husks begin to split open in late fall.  They make a dramatic addition to a Thanksgiving centerpiece or a Christmas wreath.  You’ll also feel considerable satisfaction and pride knowing that they come from our beleaguered and deserving native bittersweet, rather than from its roguish, woodland-consuming cousin.   To double down on your sense of satisfaction, leave some fruits so that the robins, mockingbirds, flickers, yellow-rumped warblers, ruffed grouse, and other native birds can share in the delight – and distribute the seed.

  9. Chaste Tree For Bees, Butterflies, and Summer Blooms

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    Think of chaste tree (Vitex agnuscastus) as an equally showy but less invasive alternative to the ubiquitous butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii).  A shrub or small tree that behaves as a dieback perennial in the coldest fringes of its USDA Hardiness Zones 5b to 9 hardiness range, it bears candelabras of lavender-blue flowers from summer into fall, enticing bees, butterflies, the occasional hummingbird, and other winged visitors.  Attractive, five-fingered, gray-green leaves make a nice textural compliment to the steepled blooms.  Adding to chaste tree’s allure is the pleasantly pungent fragrance of all its parts (as might be expected of a member of the mint family).

    Chaste Tree Hardiness and Habit

    Chaste tree literally grows as a flowering tree in warmer zones. (Image by Cilias)

    Chaste tree has long been grown in warmer regions of the U.S., where it typically forms a multi-stemmed, 15- to 20-foot tree.  But it’s arguably an even better fit for gardens in USDA Zones 5 and 6, where it usually remains much more compact thanks to winter dieback.  Like butterfly bush, in these colder regions, it resprouts from the base in late spring, mushrooming into a rounded, 3- to 6-foot shrub that flowers on new growth.  Furthermore, unlike butterfly bush, it doesn’t seed itself prolifically after flowering (although self-sowing can be a problem in the Southwest and California).

    Chaste Tree Growing Needs

    Another point in chaste tree’s favor is its toughness.  It takes readily to just about any sunny, not-too-soggy site; tolerates drought and salt; and rarely requires special treatment. In heavy clay soil it may benefit from the addition of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost for increased organic matter and drainage. Yet, despite its many merits, chaste tree has received relatively little attention from gardeners, perhaps because of the scarcity of cultivars selected for growth habit, flower color, and other traits.

    Chaste Tree Varieties

    Vitex agnus-castus ‘Pink Pinnacle’ has lovely pink flower spires.

    All this is changing.  A number of recently introduced cultivars mature as small to medium shrubs rather than as bushy mini-trees, broadening its versatility in Southern gardens.  Additionally, these recent introductions come in a range of colors including pink, white, and various shades of blue.  Wherever you garden, the possibilities for chaste tree are greater than ever – including as a summer-blooming centerpiece for containers.

    Among the smallest of the new cultivars is ‘Blue Puffball’, which forms a dense, 4-foot mound covered with deep sky-blue spires.  It makes an obvious choice for containers and perennial borders, perhaps in place of Caryopteris.  As with all forms of chaste tree, flowering continues from summer to fall if spent blooms are regularly deadheaded.  The somewhat larger ‘Blue Diddley’ offers spikes of the typical lavender-blue on densely borne stems that top out at 6 feet or so.  Larger still, ‘Delta Blues’ produces spires of rich purple-blue flowers on 8- to 10-foot plants set with elegant, relatively narrow-fingered leaves.

    Larger chaste tree varieties require a large, sunny area to reach their full potential.

    Compact chaste trees of another color include ‘Pink Pinnacle’, prized for its abundant mid-pink spires on compact, mounded, 4- to 6-foot plants.  Paler in color and larger in growth, ‘Blushing Spires’ bears shell-pink blooms and matures at 10 to 12 feet tall and wide.  Compact white cultivars – such as the 8-foot-tall ‘Dale White’ – are especially rare (grab one if you see one!).

    Of course, as mentioned earlier, in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 and 6 full-size cultivars such as white ‘Silver Spire’, deep lilac-blue ‘Shoal Creek’, and sapphire-blue ‘Le Comte’ behave as small to medium shrubs due to winterkill.  In milder regions, they can be treated as small trees or maintained as shrubs via an annual hard pruning in early spring.

    Other Vitex Species

    The flowers of Vitex negundo are less showy. (Image by Magnus Mansk)

    Another excellent summer-bloomer for Zones 5 to 9 is chaste tree’s hardier and more obscure relative, Chinese chaste tree (V. negundo).  Although less showy in flower, it surpasses chaste tree in its lacy, deeply incised foliage, which in varieties such as heterophylla rivals that of a fine Japanese maple.  Hybrids between Vitex negundo and other Vitex species (as well as between chaste tree and its kin) are in the works, so stay tuned!  Many more summer-blooming treasures for your garden (and containers) are yet to come from the Vitex tribe.

  10. Hurricane Resistant Trees

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    This allée of bald cypresses shows that these strong, wetland trees also perform beautifully as street trees.

    If you live in hurricane country –which encompasses just about any place in the U.S. within 100 miles of the Atlantic seaboard – the wrong tree in the wrong place can pose a major threat to life and property.  This is something to keep in mind when you plan and plant your garden.

    Hurricane-Resistant Tree Features

    Of course, stronger hurricanes cause greater damage, all else being equal.  But the potential impact of even a major hurricane can be tempered if you plant strong-rooted, wind-resistant trees in favorable positions.

    Whatever trees you choose, they’ll be more hurricane-resistant if their roots have ample room.  A tree’s root system typically spreads well beyond its canopy.  Give it less, and it will be relatively weakly anchored and poorly nourished.  A 30-foot-wide tree in a 15-foot-wide planting area is asking to become hurricane fodder. 

    This elm fell prematurely after a hurricane largely because it was poorly anchored in a small streetside tree lawn.

    Soil depth also matters.  If your soil is on the sandy or heavy side, your trees are likely to have relatively shallow roots.  A yearly 1-inch mulch of Fafard® Premium Topsoil will help their roots grow denser and deeper.  Be sure to mulch the whole root zone, if possible.

    A tree’s crown size also influences its susceptibility to hurricane damage.  Shorter trees afford the wind less leverage.  Tree species and varieties of small to moderate size (15 to 30 feet) are not only less likely to topple, they also cause less damage if they do.  This may seem self-evident, but it doesn’t prevent thousands of homeowners from planting large trees in potentially disastrous proximity to buildings, driveways, and other targets.  Our advice: don’t.

    Trees of all sizes benefit from companions.  Groups of similarly sized trees – spaced at the width of their mature crowns – are relatively hurricane-resistant compared to singletons.  Likewise, large trees – where appropriate – call for an underplanting of smaller, shade-tolerant trees and shrubs.  In addition to being ecologically apropos, this planted understory will at least partially survive even a catastrophic hurricane.

    A further factor to consider is the direction of the strongest hurricane winds – typically from the southeast or northeast.  Niches sheltered from these winds (for example, to the west of a building) will suffer relatively light damage.  Conversely, fully exposed sites are especially inappropriate for hurricane-susceptible trees.

    Hurricane-Resistant Trees

    Having chosen a good site for your tree, you’ll probably want to choose a relatively hurricane-resistant species.  Studies of hurricane damage show that some tree species – including the following eastern U.S. natives – stand up particularly well to wind.  Even better, some of these species come in compact forms that offer even greater hurricane resistance.

    Strong-wooded musclewood trees are small to medium-sized, have unusual bark, and will withstand high winds and harsh weather.

    American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana): 25 to 40 feet tall; full to part sun; USDA Cold Hardiness Zones 3 to 9.  This compact tree has smooth, fluted bark and exceptional fall color. It grows in the understory in the wild, but in cultivation, it is at its best in full sun and moist, fertile, friable soil.  It is also known as blue beech and musclewood.

    Everyone loves the beauty of dogwoods in spring, but these trees are also surprisingly resilient to hurricane weather.

    Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida): 20 feet; full to part sun; Zones 5 to 8.  This common flowering tree offers white flowers in mid-spring, attractive scaly gray bark, and burgundy fall color.  The many varieties of this old-time favorite include the pink-bloomed ‘Cherokee Brave’ and floriferous ‘Cloud 9’.

    If you don’t mind the prickly foliage, American hollies are great native, evergreen trees that will stand up to the worst stormy weather.

    American holly (Ilex opaca):  30 to 40 feet; full sun to light shade; Zones 5 to 9.  This tall, conical holly has spiny evergreen leaves and red berries on female plants, when a male pollenizer is present. Notable compact varieties include the yellow-fruited ‘Helen Mitchell’, variegated ‘Steward’s Silver Crown’ (female), and large-berried ‘Satyr Hill’.

    Large, bowl-shaped summer blooms and evergreen foliage are two of the most notable features of southern magnolia, but storm resistance is another.

    Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora):  20 to 50 feet; full to partial sun; Zones 6 (for the hardiest cultivars) to 9.  Broad lustrous evergreen leaves with fuzzy undersides and large waxy flowers in summer make this an exceptional landscape tree.  Look for ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’, a compact, hardy form that matures at 25 to 30 feet and handles Zone 6 winters.

    The native hop hornbeam is a woodland tree that also makes a good landscape tree for hurricane-prone areas.

    Hop hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana):  30 to 50 feet; full to partial sun; Zones 5 to 9.  Reaching 25 to 40 feet when mature, this shaggy-barked understory native forms a dense oval-crowned specimen when planted in full sun.  It has good gold fall color. It is also known as “ironwood”, for its strong densely grained trunk.

    Many oaks make excellent storm-resistant additions to open lawns and landscapes. The key is making sure they have enough ground to fully develop supportive root systems.

    Shumard red oak (Quercus shumardii):  40 to 70 feet; sun; Zones 5 to 9.  This handsome, deciduous U.S. native oak has pointy-lobed leaves that color wine-red in late fall or early winter.  Its close relative, maple-leaved oak (Quercus acerifolia), features a compact habit and five-lobed, maple-like leaves.  Shingle oak (Quercus imbricaria) is another good choice, offering relatively slow, compact growth (to 50 to 70 feet), shiny unlobed leaves, burgundy fall color, and Zone 4 to 8 hardiness.

    Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum):  40 to 70 feet; sun to light shade; Zones 5 to 11. A strong constitution helps support this tree in high winds. It is a striking deciduous conifer with a conical habit and feathery foliage that goes burnt-orange in fall.  (Read our recent bald cypress article for a description of more compact cultivars.)

While we have made every effort to ensure the information on this website is reliable, Sun Gro Horticulture is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. All information in this site is provided “as is”, with no guarantee of completeness, accuracy, timeliness or of the results obtained from the use of this information.

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