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  1. Wonderful Winter-Blooming Shrubs for the Garden

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    Winter jasmine has beautiful fragrant flowers and a pleasing cascading habit.

    January showers bring winter flowers. No – really. Plant the right shrubs, and you can have midwinter bloom whenever the weather turns mild, provided you’re in USDA Hardiness Zone 5b or warmer. Boston, Rochester, Columbus, Detroit – wherever. And, all feed early bees and other essential pollinators.

    Witch Hazels

    Witch hazels with orange- or red-tinged flowers, like ‘Aurora’, are especially colorful.

    Topping the roster of hardy winter-blooming shrubs are the witch hazels (known botanically as Hamamelis). These medium to large deciduous shrubs are to winter what roses are to summer. The gossamer, spicy-scented flowers unfurl their ribbon-like petals as early as December. (The eastern North American native Virginia Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) departs from the witch hazel norm by blooming in autumn.) Witch hazels are also attractive during the growing season, bearing broadly oval, gently scalloped leaves that turn bright yellow, red, or orange before shedding in fall.

    Plant witch hazels in full sun to light shade and humus-rich soil that’s not overly heavy or dry. Mulch with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost to get them off to an especially good start. Their semi-translucent flowers are showiest when flooded with light, so give them a position where they can be viewed against the sun.

    Brilliant fall color is another notable trait of witch hazels.

    A good place to start your winter-blooming shrub collection is with one of the many hybrids of Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis), arguably the showiest-flowered members of the witch hazel tribe. As with all Hamamelis species, the 1/2- to 1-inch-long petals of Chinese witch hazel and its hybrids are lemon yellow (with a citrusy scent to match), but sometimes stray into other colors. Among the most outstanding of this wonderful group of large shrubs are:

    Chinese witch hazels are known for their lemon-yellow flowers.

    Arnold Promise’, which opens its large sunny-yellow flowers relatively late in the witch hazel season, from late January to late March.

    Aurora’, whose orange-tinged, golden-yellow flowers are among the largest and most abundant of the lot. Like most cultivars, it flowers from early January to early March or so.

    Diane’, a coppery-red-flowered selection that also features outstanding bright orange to red fall foliage.

    Primavera’, noted for its pale moonlight-yellow flowers and its exceptional fragrance.

    Strawberries and Cream’, named for the delicious intermingling hues of its pink, yellow, and maroon flowers.

    Vernal witch hazel is a yellow-flowered Ozark native that’s smaller and denser than Chinese.

    In USDA zones 4 and 5a, where Chinese witch hazel and its hybrids are marginally hardy, consider instead the U.S. native Hamamelis vernalis, commonly known as vernal witch hazel. Somewhat smaller and denser in habit than Hamamelis mollis, this 6- to 9-foot-tall shrub typically bears orange-yellow blooms with stubby ¼- to ½-inch-long petals. The cultivar ‘Amethyst’, in contrast, offers flowers of a striking mauvy maroon that’s unlike anything else in the witch hazel tribe. Another marked departure from witch hazel norms is ‘Quasimodo’, a semi-dwarf selection that tops out at 4 to 6 feet tall. Some forms of vernal witch hazel also bloom exceptionally early, including ‘Beholden’, whose pale orange flowers debut as early as November.

    As companions to your witch hazel collection, consider the following winter-blooming shrubs.

    Winter Heath

    Winter heath is evergreen and has very lovely small pink or white blooms.

    Winter heath (Erica carnea) is a low, hummock-forming, 8-inch-tall evergreen shrub with small needle-like leaves, this European native covers itself with small flask-shaped flowers from midwinter to early spring. Cultivars include ‘Springwood Pink’, with lilac-pink blooms on vigorous spreading plants; ‘Springwood White’; and the relatively petite, rose-pink-flowered ‘Vivelli’.

    Japanese Camellia

    Brilliant red flowers and lush evergreen foliage make Japanese camellia a star in the winter garden.

    Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica) is another reliable winter bloomer. “Hardy camellia” may sound oxymoronic, but in fact some members of the tribe can withstand remarkably low temperatures. Japanese camellia is undoubtedly the hardiest of the genus, with plants of Korean origin flourishing in Zone 6 or even Zone 5. Camellia japonicaBloomfield’ features brilliant red flowers, lush evergreen foliage, a large, dense, rounded habit, and rock-solid Zone 6 hardiness. 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. Even hardier is ‘Korean Fire’, which produces smoldering-red, six-petaled, 2-inch-wide flowers. It’s well worth trying in favorable partially shaded microclimates into USDA Zone 5a.  Plants grow to 10 feet tall and 6 feet wide.

    Black Pussywillow

    Pussywillows of all types look beautiful in late winter.

    Black pussywillow (Salix gracilistyla ‘Melanostachys’) has large, mitten-like, black-purple catkins line the maroon-tinged stems of this wonderful pussywillow in late winter and early spring. It’s hardy to Zone 4. Equally arresting (and hardy) is ‘Winter Glory’ (aka Salix chaenomeloides), with even larger catkins of the typical silver-gray color. Both these shrubs grow to 10 feet tall or so, and benefit from a hard early-spring pruning every couple of years. Give them full sun and moist humus-rich soil.

    Winter Honeysuckle

    Winter honeysuckle is especially 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 blooms that open on mild days from midwinter to early spring. 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 the cultivar ‘Winter Beauty’) does much the same thing. All forms of winter honeysuckle favor full to partial sun and well-drained, average to fertile soil.

    Cornelian Cherry

    Cornelian cherry has yellow winter flowers and edible summer fruits.

    Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is a large shrub or small tree from southern Europe and western Asia covers itself with clusters of small acid-yellow flowers in late winter and early spring. The common name refers to the fleshy edible fruits that ripen red in summer. Don’t be deceived, though; this “cherry” is actually a member of the dogwood tribe. The East Asian native Cornus officinalis is similar, but also features handsome exfoliating bark and a slightly earlier bloom time. It’s also a bit less hardy, to Zone 5 rather than Zone 4. The award-winning ‘Kintoki‘ is known for its superior floral and fruit displays. Both species like full sun to light shade and do well in most soil types.

    Winter Jasmine

    Carolina jessamine can start blooming in late winter down south and continue to spring.

    Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum). The bright yellow flowers of this scrambling East Asian native resemble those of Forsythia, but open weeks earlier. Its lax green 10- to 15-foot stems are useful for trailing down a bank or wall or for training on a trellis. Flowering may occur somewhat later in the zone 5b to 6a fringes of its hardiness range. Gardeners in Zones 6b and up can grow the somewhat similar Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens). Its wonderfully scented winter-to-spring flowers, evergreen foliage, and native origins compensate for its relative winter-tenderness. In colder climes it works well as a greenhouse subject, which can be moved outside with warmer weather. Both winter jasmine and Carolina jessamine do well in most types of soil in full to partial sun.

  2. Specimen Trees and Shrubs with Elegantly Twisted Branches

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    ‘Scarlet Curls’ Contorted willow is beautiful outdoors, and its branches look fine in flower arrangements.

    Some trees are just twisted – literally. Rather than growing in the usual linear pattern, their stems crazily zig and zag, each segment veering in a different direction from the previous one. If you’re in the lumber industry, this is not a desirable characteristic. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a garden specimen that possesses an attention-grabbing character, a contorted tree might be just the ticket. Here are a few of the best such trees for North American gardens.

    Contorted beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Tortuosa’) 

    Contorted beeches are long-lived trees that will bring character to any landscape.

    A dwarf, 20-foot tree that slowly develops into a gnarled gesticulating mass of veering branches, ‘Tortuosa’ looks like something that would adorn a haunted castle, or perhaps the dooryard of a slightly demented wizard. Because of the random nature of its growth, each ‘Tortuosa’ is utterly unique, with some individuals dominated by down-sweeping, cascading growth, and others twisting into horizontal knots. Its theatrically writhing silhouette qualifies it as a vista-dominating specimen. Plants are especially arresting in winter when their jagged structure is most starkly visible. The cultivar ‘Tortuosa Purpurea’ is much the same as ‘Tortuosa’, only with maroon foliage.

    Dragon’s claw willow (Salix babylonica f. tortuosa)

    Frosted curly willow looks beautiful in winter. If you cut the stems, they will leaf out indoors and set roots in the vase.

    The corkscrew branches of this 30-foot tree weave upward to form a dense oval crown. The lance-shaped leaves repeat the branches’ undulating pattern. As with most deciduous contorted trees, it’s particularly striking in winter, when its bare framework is on full display. Look for its offspring ‘Golden Curls’ and ‘Scarlet Curls’, noted for the conspicuous yellow-chartreuse or coral-red coloration of their first-year stems. These trees also take well to being cut back to within a couple of feet of the ground each spring, a practice known as coppicing. Coppiced dragon’s claw willows produce especially contorted and colorful stems.

    Dragon mulberry (Morus alba ‘Unryu’)

    A traditional element of Ikebana cut flower arrangements, the gray zig-zag stems of this sparsely fruiting mulberry develop rapidly into a rather unruly mushroom-shaped small tree. A snarled tangle if left to its own devices, it can be strikingly picturesque if skillfully pruned. It also takes well to coppicing, which produces a bumper crop of suitable-for-cutting stems.

    Varied Directions larch (Larix ‘Varied Directions’)

    Varied Directions comes by its name honestly. (Image by Topshelver)

    Snaking rather than zigging, the relatively rapidly growing stems of ‘Varied Directions’ undulate at whimsically erratic angles. Staked specimens of this deciduous conifer form a sinuous trunk and an irregular crown that varies markedly from plant to plant, depending on the whimsy of its branches. Unstaked plants sometimes behave as impromptu groundcovers, winding their way horizontally while tossing up the occasional skyward growth. Specimens with upright or grafted trunks develop into small trees; creeping specimens spread indefinitely.

    Harry Lauder’s walking stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’)

    Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ has some of the prettiest curly branches of them all. They look beautiful when cut and brought into the home. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Arguably the most famous twisted tree, this dwarf selection of European filbert slowly forms an 8- to 10-foot rounded specimen with randomly looping branches. Plants gradually assume a weeping habit with age. The cultivar ‘Red Dragon’ has purple leaves and slightly less curvaceous branches, but is otherwise similar to ‘Contorta’.

    Flying Dragon hardy orange (Poncirus trifoliata ‘Monstrosa’)

    Even the sizable thorns of ‘Monstrosa’ are curved and contorted. (Image by David J. Stang)

    Take a Harry Lauder’s walking stick, give it flattened, green-colored stems heavily armed with hooked spines, and you’d have something along the lines of this. A hardy member of the citrus family, ‘Monstrosa’ produces showy, fragrant white flowers in early spring, which precede the small waxy three-parted leaves. Small, yellow-rinded, sour-fleshed “oranges” ripen in fall. Hardy orange lives up to its name by overwintering as far north as USDA Hardiness Zone 5b.

    Whichever twisted tree you choose, be sure to give it a good start by planting it properly. Dig the planting hole to the same depth as the root ball (or shallower in heavy clay soil), and three (or more) times as wide.  Refill the hole with the unamended soil, firm gently, and spread a layer of Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost over the planting area. Top with 2 to 3 inches of bark mulch, water well, and re-water when necessary (one or two times a week). And let the twisting begin! (Click here for more tree-planting tips.)

  3. What Are Good Dwarf Shrubs for Planter Boxes?

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    “Hi, I am desperately trying to find mini shrubs to fill in a long planter box in my backyard. I have two boxes in full sun and looking for an arrangement that looks great all year around. So, I think I need small shrubs (max 2 feet tall) mixed in with flowers, but I have no idea where to start, what looks good together. I did see Purple Pixie Weeping Loropetalum on a Home Depot website, but it seems like it would die. Any suggestions, articles, places I can look at arrangements would be greatly appreciated.” Question from Andrea of Brooklyn, New York

    Answer: There are lots of dwarf shrubs suitable for container culture that are hardy to your USDA Hardiness Zone 6 location. You are correct about the Loropetalum. It is hardy to Zone 7, so it will not tolerate the cold where you live. Here are some very compact, evergreen options that would look pretty in your containers year-round and survive in your planter boxes. All will grow best with well-drained containers filled with a top-quality mix, like Fafard® Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix.

    Compact, Hardy Shrubs for Containers

    1. Tater Tot® Arborvitae reaches 12-24 inches and has the cutest, tidiest mound of evergreen foliage.
    2. Jelly Bean® Blueberry stays small, looks like a tiny boxwood, and has the benefit of edible berries and colorful fall leaves.
    3. Lil’ Ditty® Witherod Viburnum is tiny and has clusters of white flowers in spring, attractive foliage, and fall/winter berries.
    4. Invincibelle Wee White® Smooth hydrangea reaches 12-30 inches and has big clusters of white flowers in summer.

    Compact Evergreen Perennials for Containers

    There are many evergreen perennials that you should consider. These include the herbal Berggarten sage, fragrant Sweet Romance Lavender, tidy, pink-flowered Germander, the golden, trailing Angelina sedum, and tough, evergreen Christmas Fern.

    I hope that some of these suggestions are useful.

    Happy Gardening,

    Jessie Keith, Fafard Horticulturist

  4. 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.

  5. The Best Shrubs for Container Gardens

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    There are lots of reasons to grow shrubs in containers.  You may have a small garden or no garden at all.  The only sunny spot on your property may be covered with concrete, or your soil may be so poor that even poison ivy fails to thrive.  Then again, your “garden” space may be a porch, terrace or balcony.  Perhaps you have acres of space but want distinctive potted garden accents.  Whatever the reason, container gardening is in vogue, with the selection of beautiful, small shrubs and landscape pots at an all-time high.

    Why Compact Shrubs?

    When choosing “compact” shrubs for containers make sure that they will stay compact.

    Breeders are riding the container-gardening trend, producing compact versions of many of the most popular shrubs. But, don’t assume that words like “compact”, “miniature” or “dwarf” are synonymous with a “manageable size.”  The compact version of an 8-foot shrub may still be 5 feet tall—too big for many containers.  Always check plant tags and reference sources for the mature size of any plant before purchase.

    Most small shrubs can flourish in containers that are between 18 and 24 inches wide and equally deep.  If you live in a cold-weather climate, and the containers are going to stay out all winter, avoid thin ceramic or terra cotta pots, which will crack in very cold weather.  Heavy, high-fired, glazed ceramic pots as well as metal, plastic, and resin containers won’t crack.  (Click here to learn more about the best containers to overwinter outdoors.)

    So, commit to container-grown shrubs.  Pick your favorite shrub species, and do a little research to find small varieties.  Attention to cultural requirements—sun or shade, drought-tolerant or moisture-loving—will prepare you to enter the universe of compact shrubs for containers.  The following are a few of the better shrub options for the task.

    Compact Evergreen Shrubs

    Anna’s Magic Ball® arborvitae and Oso Easy® Lemon Zest rose are perfect for containers. (Image thanks to Proven Winners®)

    For lovely rounded shape, it is hard to beat Anna’s Magic Ball arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis Anna’s Magic Ball®, USDA Hardiness Zones 3-7, 10-15 inches).  Thriving in sunny spots, the Proven Winners’ plant boasts soft, almost ferny evergreen foliage that holds its color through the winter.  At maturity, it tops out at around a foot tall and wide. Another rounded specimen, Wee Willie Korean boxwood (Buxus sinica var. insularis Wee Willie®, Zones 5-9, 2 feet tall and wide), has all the boxwood virtues—neat rounded appearance and fine green leaves, plus manageable dimensions. A pair of potted Korean boxwoods look wonderful framing an sunny or partially sunny entrance.  For something a little less formal and a little bluer, try the sun-loving Blue Star juniper (Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’, Zones 4-8, 2-3 feet tall by 3-4 feet wide).  Another sun lover, it has textural foliage of dusty blue-green.

    Cavatine andromeda (Pieris japonica ‘Cavatine’, Zones 5-8, 2-3 feet tall and wide) combines small size with a floriferous habit and evergreen nature.  The prolific spring bloomer covers itself with honey-scented bells and performs well in light shade.

    Compact Shrubs Full of Flowers

    Buddleia Lo & Behold® Blue Chip Jr. is the perfect butterfly bush for containers. (Image thanks to Proven Winners®)

    Flowering shrubs grown in containers give great garden value, and it’s easy to find old favorites in smaller sizes.  Rhododendron lovers can rejoice in Ginny Gee rhododendron(Rhododendron ‘Ginny Gee’, Zones 5-8, 1-2 feet tall and wide), a pink-and-white flowered beauty perfect for containers.  The leaves are dark green and small, and the habit is dense.  Like most rhodies, ‘Ginnie Gee’ flourishes in light shade.

    Hydrangea breeders have extended the range of offerings of this popular shrub and one of the best is Invincibelle® Wee White hydrangea(Hydrangea arborescens Invincibelle® Wee White, Zones 3-9, 1-2.5 feet tall and wide ).  This early summer bloomer pumps out pink, globe-shaped flowerheads that age to white.  Unlike older hydrangea varieties, Invincibelle® Wee White also flowers on new woods, so blooms appear throughout the growing season. Give it full sun to partial shade, good potting soil, and regular moisture.

    Simple potted boxwoods (shown with potted Boston ferns) add a formal flare to garden spaces.

    There are plenty of little butterfly bushes (Buddleia hybrids) to attract all kinds of garden pollinators, whether the shrubs are in-ground or in containers. Lo & Behold® Blue Chip Jr. butterfly bush (Buddleia Lo & Behold® Blue Chip Jr., Zones 5-9, 1.5-2.5 feet tall and wide ) features deep blue-purple flowers that bloom in mid-summer and beyond. All Junior requires is a sunny spot and don’t self-sow prolifically, like standard buddleia.

    Roses

    Compact English patio roses stay small but don’t have miniature flowers.

    Container gardeners can also cultivate wonderful rose gardens full of color and scent.  Patio roses boast all the winning qualities of their larger relatives in smaller packages. Some of the newest and best are all of the colorful, compact landscape roses in the Oso Easy ® Series. The double-pink-flowered Oso Easy® Strawberry Crush (Zones 4-9, 2-3 feet ) and yellow-double-flowered Oso Easy® Lemon Zest (Zones 4-9, 2-3 feet) are both effortlessly beautiful high performers.

    Or you could consider an English patio rose. The rose-red, repeat flowering Sophy’s Rose (Zones 5-11, 4 feet) is the largest size one would consider for a container rose. James L. Austin (Zones 5-11, 4 feet), with its large, fully double flowers of fuchsia pink, is another good choice. Those wanting a less demanding color should consider the highly fragrant, palest yellow, double rose Vanessa Bell (Zones 5-11, 3 feet).

    Colorful Leaves for Extended Interest

    Dwarf variegated aucuba looks good year-round with good care.

    Container-grown shrubs, like their in-ground relations, can be the workhorses of the garden, providing interest in multiple seasons.  The leaves of the southern favorite dwarf variegated aucuba (Aucuba japonica ‘Variegata Nana’, Zones 6-10, 4 feet tall and 2-4 feet wide) are dark green splashed with gold, lighting up the garden.  This shrub is best in a large pot placed in partial shade to full sun.

    Lil Miss Sunshine® Bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis L’il Miss Sunshine, Zones 5-9, 2-3 feet) is a stunner, sporting golden-green leaves and azure blue flowers in late summer.  Grown in full sun, this sunshiny plant will provide interest throughout the growing season.

    Bearing Fruit

    Raspberry Shortcake® stays small and performs beautifully in containers. (Image thanks to Bushel and Berry®)

    Compact fruit-bearing shrubs are also gaining momentum, and the little blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries in the Bushel and Berry® series have quite a following. One to try is Bushel and Berry® Peach Sorbet blueberry (Vaccinium Bushel and Berry® Peach Sorbet, Zones 5-10, 1.5 feet tall and 2 feet wide ). The leaves attract attention, ripening from peachy-pink to green and eventually turning red in the fall. Bell-shaped white flowers appear in spring, followed by blueberries in early summer. Supply full to partial sun, fertile acidic soil, regular water, fertilize and blueberry harvests are guaranteed.

    Raspberry lovers can rejoice in Bushel and Berry® Raspberry Shortcake® (Rubus Raspberry Shortcake®, Zones 4-9, 2-3 feet tall and wide).  Single, white, spring flowers give way to big red raspberries.  The canes are also thornless, which will please raspberry pickers.  Like most other fruiting plants, Raspberry Shortcake ® produces best in full sun.

    A Few Words About Culture

    If the plant’s roots are pot-bound, be sure to loosen them before planting.

    Success with shrubs in containers starts with the right pot.  Make sure it is three times wider than the plant’s root ball and contains drainage holes at the bottom and a saucer to catch water. When you have matched a shrub to a container, fill the container with a quality potting mix, like Fafard® Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed that feeds plants for up to 6 months. The addition of a continuous-release fertilizer will help plants grow their best.

    At planting time, make sure the plant’s roots are not pot bound and intertwined when you remove it from the container. If they are, gently loosen them. Make sure the final soil level is 2 inches below the rim of the container, and firm the soil around the new shrub, making sure there are no air pockets. The top space will allow plenty of room for water. Water thoroughly until it percolates through to the bottom of the container.  Potted plants require more water than those grown in-ground, and that often means daily watering while the plant establishes roots, as well as in dry seasons.  In general, water when the top three inches of soil feel dry to the touch.

  6. Plum Yew and Japanese Holly: Better Shrubs for Shearing

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    Some garden settings are just made for the stylized, symmetrical look of sheared shrubs. Likewise, some shrub species take especially well to being sheared into dense, geometrical shapes

    An essential ingredient of formal Japanese gardens, French parterres, English hedges, and other stylized landscape features, sheared shrubs excel at providing structure or at balancing other architectural elements (such as pillared entryways and granite walls). To fill this bill requires a special sort of shrub: one with dense, slowly expanding growth concentrated mostly at the stem tips. In contrast, many popular garden shrubs (including most roses, forsythias, spireas, and weigelas) produce vigorous, arching stems that originate from their interiors.  Shrubs with this rangier growth architecture look mutilated rather than sculpted after shearing.

    Traits of Shrubs for Shearing

    A low hedge of dwarf Japanese holly in this parterre looks like boxwood but without the pests and disease. (Image by Jasper33)

    The ideal sheared shrub also needs to tolerate heavy pruning, in case of overgrowth. This disqualifies most needle evergreens, which will not survive such treatment.

    The relative lack of shrubs suitable for shearing has led to the ubiquitous use of a few species. Yews (Taxus spp.) – the knee-jerk conifers for sheared hedges and foundation plantings – have become a garden cliché.  So, too, have their broadleaf counterpart, boxwoods (Buxus spp.). Moreover, these two traditional mainstays have increasingly fallen prey to pests: yews to deer, and boxwoods to aphids and fungal blight. As alternatives, you might want to consider two shrubs that provide a similar look to Taxus and Buxus without the deficiencies: plum yew and Japanese holly.

    Plum Yews for Shearing


    Upright plum yew can reach 10 feet but it is easy to shear to size. (Image by Daderot)

    Plum yews (Cephalotaxus spp.) comprise several species from East Asia, these deer-resistant cousins of the ubiquitous yew bring a bolder texture to the garden with their large, lustrous dark-green needles. Their many other laudable features include superior heat- and shade-tolerance. Plum yews come in many forms, from sprawling ground covers (such as Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Prostrata’) to small trees. Most cultivars – including the following – are hardy from USDA Zones 6 to 9. In some cases, their foliage may bronze with excessive winter sun or cold.

    Duke Gardens plum yew (C. harringtonia ‘Duke Gardens’). Forming a dense, broad, 5-foot-tall mound, this introduction from Duke University’s botanical garden is perfect for sculpting into hummocks or hedges. It’s also lovely as a feathery unpruned specimen.

    Upright plum yew (C. harringtonia ‘Fastigiata’). Broom-like bundles of dark-needled stems ascend in a dense, narrow 10-foot column that broadens toward the top. It’s an ideal subject for a path- or border-side hedge.

    Hedgehog plum yew (C. harringtonia ‘Hedgehog’). Essentially a scaled-down version of ‘Duke Gardens’, ‘Hedgehog’ works beautifully as a dwarf accent or hedge.

    Korean Gold plum yew (C. harringtonia ‘Korean Gold’). The foliage of this variant of ‘Fastigiata’ emerges bright yellow in spring, and holds its color year-long in areas with mild summers and moderate winters.

    Korean plum yew (C. koreana). Difficult to find but well worth the search, this large and exceptionally cold-hardy Korean native grows to a densely rounded 10 feet tall. It’s hardy to Zone 5b and stays dark green year-round.

    Japanese Hollies for Shearing

    Helleri Japanese holly forms a broad mound of finest foliage for shearing. (Image by David Stang)

    Japanese holly (Ilex crenata). The small, rounded, leathery, dark-green leaves of this fine-textured broadleaf evergreen have a distinctly boxwood look – but without the peculiar boxwood odor. Small white flowers spangle the foliage in late spring, followed (on female plants) by black berry-like fruits. Numerous cultivars of Japanese holly are available, in all shapes and sizes. Most do well in USDA hardiness zones 5b to 8.

    Beehive Japanese holly (Ilex crenata ‘Beehive’) slowly assumes a broad, dense, conical form similar to that of a traditional basket-woven bee skep.  Use this 3- to 4-footer in low hedges or as an accent plant.

    Compact Japanese holly (Ilex crenata ‘Compacta’) is also suitable as a low hedge. It earns its moniker by growing slowly into a dense 4-foot globe.  Unpruned plants can reach 6 feet with age.

    This well-clipped Japanese holly hedge looks clean and attractive.

    Helleri Japanese holly (Ilex crenata ‘Helleri’) forms a comparable broad mound but has leaves dusted with a grayish bloom. Its offspring ‘Golden Helleri’ features chartreuse foliage and a dwarfer habit.

    Cupped Japanese holly (Ilex crenata ‘Convexa’) matures relatively rapidly into a dense 6-foot mound clad with leaves that are characteristically cupped.

    Sky Pencil Japanese holly (I. crenata ‘Sky Pencil’) cannot be beat for a narrow hedge or garden exclamation point. A narrow column growing to 8 feet tall but a slender 1-foot across, it’s literally a good fit for tight spaces.

    Container Specimens

    This highly shaped Japanese holly specimen shows how much they can tolerate harsh shearing.

    Dwarf plum yews and hollies such as Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Hedgehog’ and Ilex crenata ‘Golden Helleri’ also make excellent container plants. Use a 5-gallon or larger container, and choose a coarse potting soil, such as Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix. In areas colder than USDA Zone 7, move the plants into a protected location (such as an attached garage) for the winter.

    Shearing Tips

    The perfect mix for outdoor potted evergreens

    Shear plants lightly in late spring or early summer to maintain their shape, repeating later in the growing season if necessary. Avoid shearing shrubs into shapes that are narrower at the base, causing shading and consequent thinning of lower growth. Heavier pruning – to reshape the shrub or to increase the density of sparsely branched stems – should be done in late winter or early spring, before bud-break. This is also a good time to selectively head back a few stems to allow light and air into the plant’s interior and to stimulate renewal growth.

  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. Pruning Hydrangeas

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    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 the 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 the winter cold.

    Lacecaps have a more naturalistic habit and require selective pruning.

    Pruning Oakleaf Hydrangeas

    Standard oakleaf hydrangeas 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!

  9. 3 Steps to Growing Great Roses (With No Fuss)

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    Strike it Rich® is a glorious grandiflora with exceptional disease resistance. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Got rose problems? Over 20 common pests and diseases plague roses, threatening the beauty of many a rose-filled yard and garden. But, rose growers can take heart. You can have the beauty of roses without the burden of doing constant battle with pests and diseases.  It all comes down to choosing resistant varieties and giving them the right care. Here are the three key steps to growing great roses without the fuss.

    1) Pick a winner.

    This is the most important step! Old roses are often the most fragrant and beautiful, but they are more often maintenance nightmares. Classic Hybrid Tea and Grandiflora (and other) rose varieties were bred for their voluptuous, iconic flowers, with little consideration for the plants’ overall vigor and disease resistance.  Consequently, they’re susceptible to a slew of diseases including blackspot, powdery mildew, and stem cankers.  They’re also easy marks for rose chafers, Japanese beetles, rose slugs, and a host of other insects that prey on roses.

    ‘Carefree Beauty’ is a wonderful shrub rose that will resist many common rose diseases. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    In recent years, breeders have developed and introduced new hybrids that resist diseases and pests.   Most familiar of these are a number of “landscape” roses (such as the Knockout series) noted for their tough shrubby growth and abundant, relatively small, typically scentless flowers.  Rose fanciers who are looking for something with taller stems and larger, more fragrant blooms will also find plenty of low-maintenance roses to choose from, however – including several Hybrid Tea and Grandiflora cultivars that rival anything in their class.  Notable sources – and cultivars – include:

    The German firm Kordes:  Their Grandiflora rose ‘Eliza’ produces a succession of lightly fragrant, double pink blooms on tall stems.  The repeat-blooming climber ‘Moonlight’ carries nicely scented peachy-yellow flowers.  ‘Yankee Doodle’ is a tall, vigorously growing Hybrid Tea with intensely fragrant, double, apricot-pink roses.

    Rosa PINK KNOCK OUT® is a classic, disease-free Knock Out rose planted for its strong disease resistance. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    The Explorers Hybrids from Canada:  This collection of rock-hardy roses includes the Rosa rugosa hybrid ‘Jens Munk’, which bears 2.5-inch, double, medium-pink flowers on shrubby plants.  It also includes several outstanding, repeat-blooming climbers.  ‘William Baffin’ produces several flushes of dark pink flowers beginning in late June, and ‘John Cabot’ covers itself with double, fuchsia-red flowers from early summer to fall.  Both can grow to 10 feet or more.

    The Iowa breeder Griffith Buck:  Among his many outstanding introductions are the pink-flowered Hybrid Tea ‘Earth Song’, and the shrub rose ‘Carefree Beauty’, with large pink flowers.
    Weeks Roses: Many Weeks introductions are graced with fine fragrance, good looks, and remarkable disease resistance. The introduction Strike it Rich®, bred by Tom Carruth, is a testament to their rose-breeding prowess.

    Rosa rugosa ‘Hansa’ is a tough rugosa rose that grows well in coastal gardens. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Anything of Rosa rugosa parentage: These rough and tough roses include the bright pink ‘Hansa’, dark red ‘Linda Campbell’, bright yellow ‘Topaz Jewel’, and the intensely fragrant, white-flowered ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’.

    The French rose breeder Meilland:   ‘Francis Meilland’ is a Hybrid Tea with double, silvery pink roses on tall stems.  The similarly hued double flowers of the Grandiflora ‘Mother of Pearl’ have a light, sprightly scent.  Dark red, heavy-scented, fully double flowers crown the 4- to 5-foot stems of the Hybrid Tea rose‘Traviata’.

    2) Choose the right soil and the site.

    Roses thrive in full sun and rich, healthy, humus-rich soil.  Before you plant your rose, amend the soil with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. It adds rich organic matter for increased water-holding capacity and porosity. Follow up by adding fertilizer formulated for roses. This will encourage strong growth and flowering.
    Ample air circulation helps too.  Plant your prize rose in a hole that’s at least twice as wide as its root ball, and amend the backfill and surrounding soil with compost and organic fertilizer.  Then apply a 1- to 2-inch layer of mulch to keep the roots moist and cool (and keep the soil microorganisms happy!).  Plants should be well spaced to allow air flow.

    3) Maintain!

    If you see rose rosette “witches brooms” remove your roses. There is no cure for this contagious disease. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Prune out all diseased growth in spring and throughout the growing season (dip pruners in a 10% bleach solution to reduce the chance of accidentally spreading disease from rose to rose). Be on particular lookout for the red “witches brooms” that signal the presence of rose rosette disease, a destructive disease for which there is no cure. Roses that have contracted rose rosette disease should be quickly removed from the garden.

    Thin stems in spring and summer to encourage air circulation and discourage diseases.   Tolerate modest insect damage, but treat plants with the appropriate OMRI Listed® insecticide if insects reach high levels.  Rake and remove fallen vegetation, which may harbor disease-causing fungal spores.  Apply rose fertilizer and a layer of compost each spring.  Plant “companion” perennials (such as members of the parsley and daisy families) that harbor beneficial insects.  And remember to water during dry spells!

    The right rose in the right place (with the right maintenance) will provide years of beauty with a minimum of grief.  It will also astonish your acquaintances who think that beautiful roses require lots of care for great looks.

    Rosa ‘Red Cascade’ is a rare old-fashioned miniature climbing rose that is disease resistant and prolific! (Photo by Jessie Keith)

  10. The Best Landscape Hydrangeas

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    Hydrangeas, circa 1970, were a bit of a bore, represented by a few stodgy standbys such as the Victorian, mophead-flowered PeeGee hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’). Today, however, they’re the epitome of horticultural cool, with numerous new and exciting varieties to choose from.

    Panicle Hydrangea Hybrids

    Hydrangea paniculata 'Tardiva'

    Hydrangea paniculata ‘Tardiva’

    Witness, for example, what’s happening in the world of panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata). Where once there was only ‘Grandiflora’, there now are dozens of seductive cultivars of this East Asian native, in a variety of shapes and colors. Many bear lacy, white steeples in the manner of ‘Tardiva’, an old (and – until recently—neglected) variety that is still unsurpassed for its showy blooms that peak in August and September, weeks later than most other paniculatas. Comprising both large, sterile florets and small, fertile florets, the blossoms possess an airy elegance that eludes ‘Grandiflora’ and other sterile-flowered, mophead forms. Numerous other excellent ‘Tardiva’ types – such as ‘Kyushu’ and ‘Chantilly Lace’ – have recently entered the scene. Most flower in midsummer.
    Garden Manure Blend

    Some recent cultivars come in hues and sizes that are new to the paniculata tribe. The lacy spires of ‘Pink Diamond’ and the early-summer-blooming ‘Quick Fire’ gradually evolve from white to dark pink, passing through a beguiling bicolored phase along the way. In contrast, ‘Limelight’ deepens its snowball blooms to an astonishing chartreuse-green that glows most brightly in partial shade. The dwarf cultivar ‘Little Lime’ does similar things on a smaller scale (4 to 5 feet tall rather than the typical 8 to 12). It exemplifies another welcome paniculata trend: compact cultivars that fit nicely in smaller gardens. White-flowered examples include ‘Little Lamb’ and ‘Bobo’.
    Even the stodgy old PeeGee hydrangea has undergone a makeover, with the introduction of several cultivars (including ‘Unique and ‘Webb’s’) that outdo ‘Grandiflora’ in the size and showiness of their snowball inflorescences.
    Most paniculata cultivars respond well to severe pruning in early spring, which restricts their height, increases their inflorescence size, and slightly delays their bloom. In whatever form, they’re among the hardiest and most adaptable ornamental shrubs, thriving in full to partial sun from USDA hardiness zones 3 to 8.

    Big Leaf Hydrangea Hybrids

    Hydrangea macrophylla 'Harlequin' JaKMPM

    Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Harlequin’ only performs well in USDA zones 6b to 9. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    Cold-hardiness is much more of an issue for undoubtedly the most popular hydrangea species. Prized in USDA zones 6b to 9 for its reliable summer display of showy blue, pink, or white blossoms, bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) has long been the despair of gardeners in zones 5 to 6a. There, it typically dies to the ground in winter, resulting in a disappointing summer display of lush foliage and few to no blooms. Breeders are hard at work, however, on a new generation of “re-blooming” cultivars that flower on the current year’s growth. Several have made it to market, including the much-hyped blue-flowered mophead ‘Endless Summer’.

    To date, none of these ballyhooed newcomers are consistent performers in zones 4 and 5, alas. But for gardeners in milder zones, these and other recent introductions make for a larger selection of Hydrangea macrophylla cultivars than ever before.

    Several other highly ornamental East Asian hydrangeas (such as Hydrangea serrata, H. aspera, and H. heteromalla) are increasingly available from American nurseries. All are well worth trying, where hardy.

    Smooth Hydrangea Hybrids

    Most new sooth hydrangeas have attractive globes of ivory, sterile florets.

    Two eastern North American species have also seen a significant fashion upgrade in the past few decades. Fifty years ago, smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) meant one thing: ‘Grandiflora’, commonly known as Hills of Snow. A classic pass-along plant, this suckering, 4-foot shrub formed many a backyard thicket, topped in summer by mildly ornamental, loosely structured, 6-inch globes of dull-white sterile florets.

    Today, ‘Grandiflora’ has numerous successors, most operating on a grander (and floppier) scale. Their queen mother is the ubiquitous ‘Annabelle’, whose foot-wide midsummer domes are notorious for toppling. Her several imitators, such as ‘Incrediball’, also topple, as does the recently introduced pink-flowered snowball, ‘Invincibelle Spirit’.

    Gardeners looking for a sturdier (and more charming) arborescens variety can opt for the ravishing ‘Mary Nell’, which bears showy, stylish, snow-white lacecaps on stout 4-foot stems. Another wonderful option is Hydrangea arborescens ssp. radiata, whose leaves are often lined underneath with a luminous silver-white felting that flashes in the breeze.

    Oakleaf Hydrangea Hybrids

    Hydrangea quercifolia 'Alice' JaKMPM

    Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Alice’ (photo by Jessie Keith)

    Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) is yet another eastern U.S. native that offers many more delicious possibilities than ever before, including several pink-flowered and double-flowered varieties. The best (such as ‘Snow Queen’) produce showy spires on strong flop-resistant stems furnished with bold, deeply lobed leaves that turn burgundy-red in fall.

    Full-size selections grow to 7 or more feet, but gardeners with more limited space can now choose from a bevy of excellent compact-growing cultivars including ‘Munchkin’, ‘PeeWee’, and Sikes Dwarf’. Of particular note is ‘Ruby Slippers’, a compact variety whose flowers age from the usual white to a much less typical deep pink.

    Hydrangeas grow well in a variety of partial shade and sun locations, so long as they have fertile garden soil that drains well. Amending yearly with organic amendments, such as Fafard Garden Mature Blend, and top dressing with leaf mulch will help support plants and encourage best growth.

    Hydrangea quercifolia 'Sikes' Dwarf' qg 62708

    Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Sikes’ Dwarf’

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