Pruning Panicled Hydrangeas And A Cure For Floppy Branches

Yes…the snowflakes are still here! Sighhhhhh

Hydrangea paniculata, often referred to as PeeGee(P.G.) Hydrangea, is a favorite shrub amongst home gardeners and professional landscapers. The name PeeGee or P.G. comes from the first cultivar commonly used- Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’. Varieties like ‘Tardiva’, ‘Limelight’, ‘Little Lime’, and ‘Strawberry Sundae’ are some of the more well known varieties. For those of you who may be less familiar with this shrub it is the more woody hydrangea with lime-green and creamy-white panicle shaped flowers that, under the right weather conditions, often turns a rosy blush in the fall.



‘Little Lime’

Hydrangea paniculata is a godsend in the Midwest for hydrangea lovers due to its ability to withstand the intense humid heat of our summers without wilting everyday. They also will bloom on first year canes unlike many of the macrophylla, ball-head types which often will not bloom reliably for us central and northern gardeners. Hard winters don’t generally effect the blooms on Hydrangea paniculata. If you are a client of mine you probably have a couple of these hydrangeas on your property as I rely pretty heavily on their beauty, hardiness, and reliability in a border.

These may be woody shrubs or tree forms growing anywhere from 3 feet to upwards of 10 feet. They start blooming around mid-summer opening with a lime green panicle that tends to become more creamy as the summer goes on. Most of these turn a nice blush as fall approaches and many new cultivars are being produced like ‘Quickfire’ and ‘Firelight’that turn deeper rose or reddish hues earlier in the season.

‘Little Quickfire’

There is one issue that seems to arise with these seemingly perfect flowering shrubs. Sometimes they simply seem to grow to large! ‘Little Lamb’ being the first one that comes to mind. There is NOTHING little about it. The tag usually says it grows 4-6 feet tall and calls it a “compact” form when in reality it usually grows 6-8 feet tall. Gardeners then tend to try to prune these harder than the plant would like and it responds a in an ornery manner by growing back just as much as you pruned off, but now instead of the strong woody branches it developed while maturing over the years to support its large flowers, it has the more tender growth of the current season. These soft first year canes are unable to hold up the huge flowers and consequently flop in an rather unattractive manner.

Here is the rule: The harder you prune a Hydrangea paniculata the more new, soft growth you will get shooting out that year with a smaller number of blooms that are very large in size and very hard for the new shoots to hold up. The less you prune off of them the less new growth you will get that year with a greater number of blooms that are smaller in size and supported by an older, woody framework of branches. Personally I prefer a well supported bush with a lot of flowers even if they are a little smaller.

In order to have a nice looking shrub that can support its flower panicles without flopping you have two options. One is to make sure the shrub is in a location where it can be free to grow to the mature size it desires. This may mean that you must relocate your hydrangea if it is outgrowing its spot every year. You should give it a light, shaping prune each year where you take off between 6-12 inches on all sides and round it into a nice shaped framework. Late fall or early spring is the best time to do this.

Below is a picture of ‘Little Lime’ after I pruned 6-8 inches off of it just yesterday.

The other option for stubborn gardeners, such as myself who insist on having these hydrangeas in a location that is too small for their natural size, is to use a trick to keep them under control. But just a fair warning- this requires a bit of tough love! The ‘Little Lime’ hydrangea in the picture above is in fact in a very tight spot and I must keep it on a very tight leash.

So… the trick is to prune twice in one season, once early and once later in the spring. Yes…I did just say that. Pruning in late spring has always been a huge no-no when it comes to hydrangeas, but not in this case. You prune them hard in late fall or early spring taking off 12-24 inches. You want to prune to about 6 inches below what you consider the ideal size to be when it is blooming. Here are the before and after pictures of the one on the front of my house with a hard pruning I did today.

You allow the hydrangea to flush out for the spring until about June here in the Midwest, and then prune it again. I generally take 6-8inches of new growth off at this time. In the picture below the ‘Little Lime’ Hydrangea is on the right side of the photo and shows how it should look when it is ready to receive this second pruning.

Your shrub may look a little sad for about 2 weeks and then it will recover and flush again but not as much as it did in the spring. It will develop flower buds and bloom just fine, though the flowering will be delayed by 2-3 weeks.

Just in case you can’t quite bring yourself to believe me I did an experiment where I pruned the upper part of one of my bushes twice as mentioned, and the lower part just the one time in early spring. I then took a picture of that shrub in the fall. You can see below what the results were. I actually pruned the top after there were already some small flower buds present, so quite late(too late really) in June, and it still flowered! This picture was taken towards the end of September so I had fresh new flowers coming on in the fall. Ideally I would not want my blooming delayed quite this much so I don’t recommend doing the second pruning any later then the first week of June.

This discovery actually came about as a result of deer grazing on one of my client’s gardens. The deer-grazed hydrangeas actually came back looking better than ever, though now they were covered in bird netting to break the eating habits the deer had developed. It is probably one of the only instances where deer damage let to a positive outcome.
There are quite a few perennials that also respond well to a late spring pruning to keep them a little bushier and less likely to flop over. Phlox, Agastache, and Sedum are a few examples. You may have noticed that occasionally when a sedum like ‘Autumn Joy’ gets munched on by rabbits it actually ends up being shorter, bushier, and holds itself up better, so long as the damage is not severe and continuous. I love lessons nature sometimes reveals to us- don’t be afraid to experiment a little!

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A Christmas Stroll Through German Village

Each year in December I look forward to a jaunt up to German Village, the “Old South End” of Columbus. Visiting German Village is like stepping back into the late 1800’s with its untarnished historic buildings and streets. These are made up of what at the time were considered modest homes and businesses built by working-class people. These people were primarily German refugees who were offered tracts of land here for having supported the Colonial cause during the American Revolution.

My eyes and camera lens have a default setting called Garden Geek Filter so you will have to venture to the village yourself or to other websites for a more well-rounded viewpoint! More history about this unique neighborhood and its restoration can be found by clicking on this link to German Village.

I love the simple beauty of this little home:

Walking along the narrow, uneven, brick streets and sidewalks flanked by cottages and larger dwellings meant to be homes above and businesses below, one can easily use their imagination to transport themselves back to a more simple and quiet time. Each building shows the unique craftsmanship of its builder with no two looking alike.

As if I didn’t already love German Village enough, I was thrilled to learn of a strong passion for gardening both past and present. The builders of these 19th century homes and businesses were of a hardy, self-sustaining stock who incorporated space in their home lots for small garden plots in which to grow vegetables for their families and for the market. The present time residents seem to have an equal passion for gardening, though geared more toward the aesthetic.

I had the pleasure of giving a gardening talk about Gardening Through The Seasons to the local gardening club and what a pleasure it was!! I think this may have been the funnest and friendliest mix of gardeners I have ever encountered and I look forward to meeting them again in the future. Be sure to check their site for fun events scheduled to take place in German Village throughout the year and to see beautiful pictures of village gardens in-season by clicking on this link: German Village Garten Club

I love the clean, modern, and somewhat linear influence seen in some of the landscape designs below:

Someone has done a lovely job of tying this vine up. I’m really not sure what it is but, it pleasing how it has been presented. I will have to go back in the spring to see what leaves it has.

The raised miniature conifer garden below has actually been lovingly installed between the sidewalk and the street. It was a brave move that apparently has come at a cost:

My family has fairly strong ties to German ancestry through both of my great-grand mothers and I can attest that, at least in our lineage that seems to often lead one to be fairly passionate about decorating for Christmas. I can not say for certain whether a German influence on the present day residents of German Village is the reason for their ability to transform the village into something magical and beautiful each Christmas season but, I find it satisfying to surmise that this is indeed the case.

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A Perfect Year for Roses

In southeastern Ohio this season we have enjoyed perfect growing conditions for roses and the displays have been divine. We had a cooler than normal spring with perfectly timed rains allowing our roses to hold their blooms for a long time. We also enjoyed low humidity which inhibited typical diseases like Powdery Mildew and Black Spot from setting in.

Since moving 8 years ago from Nantucket Island, where at every turn there is a rose covered cottage or a walk to the beach takes you past a bluff covered in fragrant beach roses, it has been my desire to share and encourage a love for rambling and climbing roses. Many of my new Midwestern gardening friends are more accustomed to the ho-hum ‘Knockout’ roses introduced by the landscape industry for their ability to look mediocre in all conditions(which is supposed to be a good trait), or they are daunted by the difficult reputation of the T-roses we often see in those beautiful David Austin Rose advertisements. Not being one to settle for mediocrity when I can possibly help it, here are some beautiful roses that can tolerate both our harsh winters and our very hot, humid summers. The roses I have included in this post are fairly disease resistant varieties and I plan to have many of them available to sell next spring.

“Climbing New Dawn’ and ‘Dorothy Perkins’ on Nantucket:

This is Rosa ‘Aloha’. Here it is growing in an Ohio garden as a 4′-5′ shrub rose. It can also be grown as a shorter climbing rose reaching around 8ft. This is a repeat bloomer so deadhead back to a leaflet that has at least 5 healthy leaves as soon as the cluster has passed to encourage the next set of flower buds.


Below is the ‘Constant Gardener’. It is a very subtle, repeat-blooming, shrub rose. I must say it gets lost in all of the action I have going on in the garden in which I have it planted so I suggest giving it a quiet corner of its own where one can appreciate its delicate color and flower structure.

Here is a rose that often brings tears to my eyes as it reminds me so much of the Nantucket cottages that are literally covered from door step to roof top because of its beautiful rambling habit and where it is often enveloped by the soft morning fog with the sleepy fog horn sounding in the background. Her name is ‘Dorothy Perkins’. This rose can be susceptible to powdery mildew in humid conditions but this is easily controlled by a light spray of a horticultural oil and water solution.
Growing on my home in Chandlersville Ohio

This next rose, ‘Alchemist’, is truly a diva! She has taken me by complete surprise with her looks as I took a chance ordering some bare-root stock having never grown her before. Wow! This is one vigorous, glorious rose but she has an evil side that wields some of the most viscous and stubborn thorns I have ever encountered. As long as you keep her tied to her support and don’t let her venture too far you are safe but, once you let her roam free beware! She will exact a painful price when reigning her back in. I was literally in tears and screaming the day I had to tame her and confine her to the domain of her pergola.

‘Alchemist’ has an overabundance of buds that burst into the most luscious, blushed apricot blooms aging to a rich cream color. The kind of cream you get from a happy grass fed jersey cow. All of this talk of roses and cream has me craving a pot of Lady Grey tea and scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam.

Below is a simple beauty, Rosa rugosa ‘Hansa’. Rugosa roses are beach roses so they are very hardy, disease resistant even to Rose Rosette disease, and quite vigorous. This is a very shrubby and thorny plant so put in a spot where it can just fill out naturally without over taking its neighbors. ‘Hansa’ has a more refined appearance than the true beach rose, growing a bit more upright rather than spreading horizontally as the beach roses do, and it has a nice double flower. My favorite aspect of beach roses is there soft, but delicious fragrance that fills the air when the sun hits the blooms. I usually will grab a bloom and bring it in the truck with me to enjoy on my way to work or en route to my next garden to tend. I have ‘Hansa’ planted in a garden at a nearby nursing home and when I am there checking on things I love being able to share a bloom from this rose if a resident happens to be outside sitting in the sun.

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End of Summer Favorite

I started this blog to write about growing my favorite plants and flowers, but I would be hard pressed to decide whether I enjoy them more for their beauty, or for the sheer joy and gratitude I get from harvesting and cooking with some of these plants. I just couldn’t resist sharing this end of summer favorite recipe with you.

Sadly, I was unable to get my own vegetable garden in this year even after starting all of the seeds for it, but that did not stop me from fully appreciating the wonderful produce offered at various farmer’s markets in my area. The end of summer and beginning of fall is I think my favorite time of year to visit markets. The flavors of the tomatoes seem to deepen and the fresh, crisp apples are starting to fill the stands.

This week I stopped at the Curly Girl Farm Stand and loaded up!

Fortunately we finally got a couple of rainy days here and while working on some garden plans I got to make my favorite late season dish, Ratatouille, with all the goodies I bought. This dish is perfect if you have other chores to do because you basically put everything in the oven and leave it.

My ratatouille comes out different every time I make it. I am a very imperfect cook and I rarely follow one recipe, but rather some combination of many I have read. So, you wont find any exacting instructions or specific measurements in most of my cooking. Typically the dish is made with varying amounts of tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onions, garlic, herbs, and anything else that sounds good.
I prefer the easiest possible method of preparing this dish which is to coarsely chop the vegetables and roast them in the oven. I put them on an edged cookie sheet or in a dish with copious amounts of olive oil and some coarse salt and pepper.


I like to roast the onions and tomatoes together because they take about the same amount of time which is maybe around 2 hours at 375 degrees, or until they are getting browned and caramelized and the juices are starting to disappear.

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Next I combine all the roasted vegetables in a heavy oven proof pot, add about 2 cups of water, sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of coarse brown cane sugar, drizzle in about 2 tablespoons of Balsamic vinegar, add salt and pepper to taste and return it to a cooler oven of 325 degrees for about another 45-60.


I like the outcome to be like a chunky, rich, and concentrated preserve. In my dreams it would accompany a freshly caught, lightly breaded filet of Canadian Small Mouth bass fried in browned butter but, it can accompany any roasted or grilled meat.

The way I eat it most often however, is spread very thickly on a chunky, toasted piece of Country or Italian bread with some shaved Parmesan and chopped fresh basil on top and of course a nice glass of Pinot Noir!


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A Little Review of Our Blooms This Season at Mission Oaks Gardens

I am lucky enough to get to spend some of my time working and volunteering at Mission Oaks Gardens in my home town of Zanesville, Ohio. This 5 acre botanical garden is a local treasure and open to the public everyday. If you haven’t gotten a chance to come visit, here is just a little of what you are missing:
This gorgeous, rare cup and saucer Magnolia named ‘Joe McDaniels’ was gifted to the original owner of the gardens years ago by a friend of the breeder.

I think Magnolia ‘Big Dude’ below is my favorite. The immense size of the flowers, often exceeding 12 inches in diameter, remind of me of the prehistoric nature of the magnolia and its need to have large tough flower parts to survive pollination in a time when large beetles were the pollinators instead of some of the delicate species of insects that exist today.
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Magnolia ‘Butterflies’ never fails to cheer me up with the sheer mass of creamy yellow flowers that seem to fill the sky.
Spring '15 008 Here is ‘Coral Lake’ in beautiful muted tones on a cloudy day.
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And here it is transformed on a bright, sunny, spring day!
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I love these little ‘Autumn Maple’ irises both because of the warm spring color they offer and because they bloom just as heavily a second time in October.
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Strolling through the gardens in spring is like walking through a real life fairy garden. There are over 100 different species of Rhododendron and Azaleas throughout the gardens with more being planted everyday!
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May is the month that the Perennial Garden begins to make itself known.
Who can resist the Itoh Peony ‘Bartzella’.
Evening light is making its way out of the garden lighting up the white flower masses of the Fringe Tree in the distance and Baptisias ‘Australis’ and ‘Screamin Yellow’ are making a last statement before dark.
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Baptisia ‘Screamin Yellow’ the next morning.
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Echinacea ‘Solar Flare’ has surprised me with its hardiness these past couple years and has come back stronger each season.Unfortunately one can not say that about many of the new varieties of echinacea these days.
Echinacea ‘Hot Papaya’ is best up close and personal.
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Monarda ‘Raspberry Wine’ is my favorite beebalm. It does so well in shade and is just a gorgeous, eccentric looking flower.
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For you chartreuse lovers out there variegated Comfrey is a must have!
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I love all the different foliage and textures that came together in this corner of the garden. The purple heart shaped leaves of Katsura, the delicate leaflets of Wild Senna, the red shade dwelling Spygellia, a little Mukdenia, and the bright orange flowers of Milkweed tuberosa.
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The Oriental lilies over near our volunteer building have really outdone themselves this year.
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Hydrangea paniculata ‘Strawberry Sunday’ has finally earned my respect. I think it may have the prettiest and most delicate flower form of all the paniculatas.
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The lovely Dahlia ‘Elise’ is just beginning to bloom.
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The less showy but very sweet little Dahlia ‘Gala’ is blending nicely with some variegated coleus here.
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Last but not least for the mid-season highlights is my favorite angle of the perennial garden at the moment.
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The new Hydrangea paniculata ‘Passionate’ that frames the above picture on the left side has astounded me with the massive size of its flowers. They are well over a foot long!! Unfortunately the deer ate most of the blooms off of this tree so we can;’t get the full effect that his new variety has to offer but wow, just wow! I will be sure to cover this with netting next year so we get to see what it really has to offer. This lovely tree was planted by the Nashport, OH Girl Scouts troop when they came to the gardens to learn and obtain their Tree Badge. Thanks girls!!

Stay tuned for highlights from the second half of the season!

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Update to Easiest Little Salad Garden Ever

Back in mid-March I posted about the easiest little salad garden I have ever started in my kitchen in recycled spinach containers. Four days after planting the seeds the lettuce was already coming up and a few days later the tomatoes and basil followed suit. By March 30th it was time to transplant the lettuce into more spacious rows in another spinach container. The tomatoes and basil were getting cozy in their original container but could handle another two weeks or so staying put.
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It is now April 15 and the lettuce is ready to go to an outside bed or container. I have not yet prepared the ground for my vegetable garden so in the mean time I am going to get a jump on things by planting this batch of lettuce in a wine barrel just outside my front door.

One of the most difficult but necessary things to try to keep up with if you like having fresh salad greens is to make sure you start new seeds every 2-3 weeks.

The tomatoes and basil are ready to be bumped up into another spinach container and spaced out or, into their own small individual containers. They will not be ready to go outside here in Ohio until at least mid-May.
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Doug Beilstein of Hostaworks will be speaking at the Muskingum Valley Park District This Week

Mission Oaks Gardens and the Muskingum Valley Master Gardeners invite the public to come this Saturday March 28th to listen to horticulturalist and hosta grower and hybridizer Doug Beilstein from 2:00-3:00 at the Park District Volunteer Building in Zanesville on the corner of McConnell and Euclid. doug_prop Doug and his wife Mardy own and operate their greenhouse business, Hostaworks, in Mansfield Ohio where they currently grow 6-7,000 seedlings. He has been a hosta hybridizer for over twenty years and was recently president of the American Hosta Society. He has spoken at many local, regional, and national conventions on hybridizing. He loves to share his knowledge about this beautiful shade addition to the garden. Doug is familiar with this part of Ohio as he attended Muskingum College.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to learn about what to look for in selection, and on displaying and caring for this beautiful shade plant. He will also offer suggestions on the use of other companion plants for your garden beds.

Seating for this Garden Speaker Program is limited to 50 people. Please register with Darlene Turner by calling 740 450-8050 ext.0
Admission is free but donations are accepted.

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Easiest Little Salad Garden Starter Ever

Wait…was all that subzero weather with constant ice and snow just a dream? It went from below zero to fifty degrees over night here in Ohio. The seeds I picked out over the winter arrived a few weeks ago safely snuggled in their padded shipping envelopes. I get so much pleasure from opening these packages, spreading them all out, and viewing all of their beautiful covers. Seed companies are really outdoing themselves these days with the amount of artistic effort they put into these little packets of hope. Sadly, they have been sitting and collecting dust in my gardening basket waiting for the weather to break.
winters '14.spring'15 191 Normally I begin starting some seeds like tomatoes, peppers, slow germinating flowers, and early crops of lettuce during the last week of February, but I wasn’t about to try to heat the leaky, 8’x 4’plexiglass structure that is my greenhouse in that kind of weather. This weekend my son and I got most of our early seeds into their respective flats and on to their cozy heating mats in the aforementioned leaky greenhouse.
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I was standing in the kitchen this afternoon regretting not having gotten an earlier start on at least my salad garden plants and thinking of my gardening friends who don’t have greenhouses when my eyes landed on an empty, plastic, baby spinach container that was sitting on top of my pile of recyclables. Duh, how easy is that? Why didn’t I think of this two weeks ago? The easiest, cheapest little salad garden starter ever. Even though I already had the salad crops started in the greenhouse I had a lot of extra seeds left over. I thought I would try this out for my friends who have asked me about getting some seeds started in their homes and also so that I can get a jump start on my season next year if we get socked with another arctic winter. Plus kids like little projects like this. Its a little easier for them to wrap their brains around than a whole greenhouse full of seedlings and easier for them to care for.

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I cut the lid off, poked a few holes in the bottom half of the container for drainage, set the bottom inside the detached lid to catch the run off and wallah! Add two inches of potting soil and you are ready to plant for a total of under $10 for seeds, soil, and a free seed starting set up.
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I let my 6 year old son plant all of the seeds since it was an easier task to finish and be satisfied with than the 500 seeds that got planted earlier in the greenhouse. We planted two half rows of different types of lettuces leaving the second half of these rows to seed for another crop in two weeks. Then we planted a row with one Sungold Cherry tomato( a few seeds are placed just below the surface and thinned after germination), two Carbon purple tomatoes, two Friariello Di Napoli peppers, and finally a full row of basil. You will want to keep the container in a sunny window and moist but not soggy until germination.

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I will continue to post my progress with this project throughout the next two months. They should be fine in this container for at least three to four weeks. Stay tuned!

Posted in Gardening Supplies, Kids in the Garden, Uncategorized, Vegetable Gardening, What I Am Doing In The Garden This Week | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

I Need Some Help Figuring Out What to Plant, Part 2

In my last post I began a multi-part discussion of low maintenance and hardy but not necessarily run-of-the-mill plants for friends and clients who need help with their landscapes. Most of my time as a garden professional has been devoted to making landscapes as beautiful and unusual as possible with less concern for how much maintenance was required. My goal in writing these posts is to provide suggestions to create attractive landscape solutions that have lower maintenance requirements. Most of these plants should not be very difficult to find in your local nurseries. Even some of the bigger chain home centers seem to have vastly expanded their selections and at hard to beat prices.

In my previous post I focused on dwarf conifers. In this post I will discuss some small evergreen shrubs that are not conifers and hardy flowering shrubs.

Boxwood…oh dear. Boxwood have provided gardeners with a beautiful and often low maintenance evergreen shrub that has been virtually indispensable. Their evergreen beauty and wonderful range of species available from the little dwarf ‘Wee Willie’ to upright and stalwart ‘Dee Runk’, make it suitable for many different design styles. Who doesn’t like it? But… then came Boxwood Blight.
Boxwood blight is a fungal infection that has been wiping out boxwood gardens in Europe since the early 1990’s. Unfortunately it has made its way to U.S. gardens primarily in the eastern states, for the time being. Here in Ohio Boxwood Blight was detected in the Lake District in March of 2012 but it is by no means rampant in the state.

My approach to planting boxwood is to continue to use it as an accent plant or for smaller foundation plantings. I suggest for the time being it is probably unwise to use boxwood to edge large formal bedding areas or in knot gardens where one could incur fairly high financial losses and frustration.

There are certain varieties that are considered more resistant to the blight than others.
Buxus ‘Vardar Valley’ is a very cold hardy and resistant variety that happens to be one of my favorites. It has a low and mounded growth habit and beautiful dark blue/green leaves. The picture below is of a very established plant that I would guess has been in the ground 20 years or more at the Missouri Botanical Gardens.
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Buxus ‘Dee Runk’ shown below is a good performing upright boxwood for use as an accent plant. It is much hardier than ‘Graham Blandy’, the variety that is sadly and usually offered as an upright form.
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‘Green Mountain’ can be trained and sheared as an upright shrub. Over time it takes on more of a Christmas Tree shape where as ‘Dee Runk’ is a thinner, taller, and truly upright form.

In this one year old garden I used Buxus ‘Green Velvet’ as a sheared, clean look to contrast with the more loose flowering perennials surrounding it.

There is a small little guy called ‘Wee Willie’ that showed up recently at my local nursery and I tried him out last fall. He came through the winter perfectly. This is a very small shrub with maximum growth of 18″ height and 18″ width and exhibiting vertical, tidy little branches. He has quite a nice formal look and perfect for evergreen effect along a border in a small garden.
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Inkberry or Ilex glabra
is an old favorite of mine. This is a wonderful native shrub that many people know as ‘that evergreen that gets bare underneath’. After 15 years of using this shrub and being satisfied, but a little frustrated with its performance over the long-term, I finally found the solution to its unattractive trait of dropping the lower leaves. Every few years, or as necessary, you hard prune this shrub down to about 18″ during the early spring before things start leafing out. It will be slow to show life but when it does you will not be disappointed.
Rejuvenated Inkberry
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Hydrangea paniculata ‘Little Lime’

I am a little obsessed with this shrub. It seems to perform well no matter where I put it except for total shade. It handles fairly wet and dry conditions. This past winter did not phase it. It can be selectively pruned back to control its size mid season and it will still look fantastic! When I say ‘selectively pruned’ I mean that some branches may shoot up taller than is desirable in a smaller garden. I just prune those branches back about halfway. The branches will leaf out again and all of the surrounding canes will just bloom and fill around the cut ones.

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Here is “Little Lime’ showing its fall colors
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Get the Drift! Drift Roses are great performers in low maintenance gardens! This is in response to some negative blogging given to the somewhat recently introduced Drift Roses. Now, if you are a rose aficionado then this is not the rose for you. They are not particularly special in form , color or their perfume. They do however blooms their little heads off for the entire season. They flush out nicely in early summer and then have a peak, lull, and then peak again pattern til hard frost. The colors that performed the best for me were ‘Pink’, ‘Sweet’, and ‘Popcorn’ with the other colors doing fairly well too. They are disease resistant but will not stand up to Rose Rosette Disease. They are hardy but they do require that the crown be somewhat protected with mulch in zone 5 or colder.

This is the Pink Drift with some ‘Concorde’ Barberry and ‘Little Lime’ Hydrangea. When you are actually standing and looking down on it it is over 3 feet in diameter and I couldn’t be happier with its performance since planting it less than a year ago.
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Below is the ‘Sweet’ Drift. As you can see it has a nice double flower and tends to be more upright than the others. The leaves and branches of ‘Sweet’ have a nice purple edging to them that is very pretty against the soft pink bloom.

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Here are some blooms on a ‘Popcorn’ Drift growing in front of my house. It was October 14 and they are fully loaded with new buds!
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Barberry is a shrub I used to despise but over the last couple of years I have developed an appreciation for a few of the less common but still easy to find varieties.

Berberis thunbergii ‘Concorde’ offers a particularly gorgeous, deep plum color. This variety maintains a much more attractive low mounding shape than the straight Berberis thunbergii that you typically see growing out of control in too many landscapes. In this picture ‘Concorde’ is the perfect accent to blend with the Pink Drift rose, ‘Little Lime’ hydrangea and other evergreens.
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Berberis thunbergii ‘Golden Pillar’ is an upright growing barberry with that ever sought after glowing lime-green color that can really set things off.spring '13 015

In this picture it has only just been planted and it still immediately reflects so much light you can not help but notice it.
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Barberry ‘Orange Rocket’ is another upright form with an eye-catching reddish orange color that will set off other hot colors in your garden.

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Hypericum or St. Johnswort
is one of my favorite filler shrubs. There are some wonderful new varieties on the market my favorite being the Ignite Series. These grow to about 3 feet wide and tall. They start blooming with little yellow flowers in June and begin making gorgeous berries in July. They do not stop blooming and making berries for the whole season. This is a really outstanding performance for a plant to pull off. Below is Hypericum Ignite Series ‘Scarlet’.
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I love how it unexpectedly blended so well with these ‘Flame’ Dahlias.
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Hypericum can be a little deceiving to over-winter. The Ignite Series is hardy to zone 4 but it will often die back to as low as 6 inches or even to the ground. In the spring it often appears to be barely alive but I usually find that if you just prune back the dead and have some patience it will be back in full force.

‘Lo and Behold’ Dwarf Butterfly Bush
is one of the hardiest, best performing, low maintenance, small shrubs I know that just doesn’t quit. It is loaded with lavender/blue flowers from mid-summer til late frost. I find that when I suggest this plant I spend a lot of time convincing clients that it does not get out of control like the more familiar and sprawling Buddleia davidii varieties that can grow to 8 feet wide and high no matter how hard you prune them. ‘Lo and Behold’ and some of the other dwarfs like ‘Purple Rain’ DO NOT get bigger that about 2 1/2 feet tall and 3 feet wide. These thrive in dry conditions full sun conditions. They can die back quite far in a zone 5 winter but just prune back to live wood and it should recover fine. Below is a picture of ‘Lo and Behold’ at the front edge of a mixed border at our Rogge Pavilion located at Ohio University Zanesville.Summer 2014 030

Spirea ‘Little Princess’ is an old stand-by. Almost everyone knows of it and really it is a bit boring. But I still love using it as a filler. It is just a nice, low-maintenance, hardy shrub that never dies and never gets out of control. You can find it at just about any nursery and it is usually very inexpensive. I love how it was used basically as a ground cover in this bed.
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I noticed this planting last winter at Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus while attending the orchid show. I love the simple but beautiful contrasts of color. River Birch with what I think is Pennistum alopecuroides, though the heads have long since blown off, and ‘Little Princess’ spirea.

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“I need some help figuring out what to plant at my house, but I don’t want to do any maintenance. Do you have any suggestions?”

This is the sort of question I get asked the most as a garden landscape professional. It is not my favorite question because it feels limiting in scope for me as a designer. The “I don’t want to do any maintenance” sentiment means that I will be fairly limited in the range of plants I can recommend, but I am always sympathetic to the need and desire of a home owner or renter to improve the appearance of a property. Many of us simply can not make time for yard work in our demanding lives. Some are perhaps dealing with rental or investment properties and low maintenance is key.

In response to the significant number of friends and clients who have come to me with this question recently I am devoting my next few posts to some of my favorite ‘low maintenance’ plants. I try to stay away from the run-of-the-mill plants and attempt to perhaps introduce some obtainable and yet somewhat unusual plants. This first post will focus on dwarf conifers since I view them as needing the least amount of maintenance and having the best staying power in the landscape. Future posts will focus on other low maintenance evergreens such as certain boxwoods, flowering shrubs, perennials, shade plats etc.

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I must first stress that there is no such thing as no maintenance. Plants are living breathing things. Many of their needs are similar to our own. They need nurturing in the beginning or they simply will never strive. They must have food, water, and air available to their roots or they can not live so some effort MUST be put into the soil. See my post: First Things First: Get Your Soil In Shape if you need some tips on how to do this. An acorn from a native oak tree may be able to take root in the Ohio clay shown below, but I guarantee a one gallon plant purchased from your local nursery or a place like LOWE’s will not!

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Plants have a preferred environment that they are adapted to live in. Some like wet conditions, some like dry conditions. Some like full sun, others prefer shade. Most plants are sold with a tag that will indicate it’s preferred growing conditions. If you do not find a detailed tag you need to do a little research to be sure you are placing them in the right location for them to thrive.

Almost all plants are going to need extra attention the first year while they get rooted into the soil. They will need regular watering until the roots have grown deep enough to stay somewhat damp in between rainfalls. Watering is a bit of an art form particularly during this rooting phase. You want to provide ample water but not too much. Most of the plants I will discuss, whether for sunny or shady locations, like to get somewhat dry in between waterings or rainfalls. You want them to dry out, but not to the point of wilting or of the leaves starting to turn pale and yellow which are both signs of stress. However, too much of a good thing can cause trouble. On occasion I have had a client call me and say: “I have been watering my new tree everyday and it is still wilting. What is wrong with it?”

If you place a plant that likes the soil to dry out a bit in an area that is persistently wet it will wilt just as if it were too dry. Here is a picture of a tree form Hydrangea paniculata ‘Fire and Ice’ that has been in soggy soil due to a leaking water feature nearby. Once a plant wilts like this from too much water it is almost impossible to save the plant. In comparison plants that wilt from becoming too dry may look terrible for a while but almost always you can nurse them back of they weren’t neglected for too long.
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Dwarf conifers
are becoming more and more a part of my designs and I highly recommend them to people wanting year-round interest in their gardens with very little care needed. Their slow growth habit, generally 1″-6″ inches a year, means they are easy to place in the landscape with little concern that they will out grow their location and no shearing is necessary.

All conifers prefer soil that has good drainage, some more than others. I don’t recommend planting them in solid clay. If you have an average soil it is a good idea to add some pine fines, which can be purchased by the bag, to the planting hole. Fertilize with Espoma Plantone which is a slow release, natural, blended fertilizer and you should be in good shape. I don’t recommend fertilizing slow growing shrubs with a hi-test fertilizer such as 10-10-10 even if you already have it sitting in your garage or gardening shed.

There are many great specimens to choose from with endless colors, shapes, and textures but I will keep the scope of this some what narrow. My goal is to suggest some things that the average person may be able to locate without too much trouble. One look at Iseli’s website, a wholesale nursery specializing in conifers and Japanese maples, will show you just how many selections are out there for the true plant hunter.

I purchased this load consisting mostly of slow growing conifers last November for an installation at a lovely little nursing home here in Zanesville, Ohio. November is not a month a lot of people think of for gardening but fall is my favorite time of year to install at least the core of a garden. Great deals can be found at this time of year. Since the plants are already in the ground as soon as the soil starts to warm in early spring they get a chance to grow their roots much deeper than if I bought and planted them during the peak gardening season and they won’t need to be constantly watered in the heat of the summer.

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Here are some of my favorite dwarf conifers

Chamaecyperis obtusa or Hinoki Cypress

This is one of my all time favorite evergreens. Chamaecyperis obtusa can grow up to 30 feet or more but there are many slower growing cultivars to choose from. They all prefer moist, fertile soil with good drainage. I have found a little shade is helpful especially with the golden selections mentioned below. These tend to scorch a bit if they are in blazing hot afternoon sun. Protection from winter wind is necessary, otherwise they are low maintenance once they are rooted in to an appropriate location.

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Chamaecyperis obtusa ‘Nana gracilis’
shown below is a very slow growing variety. Notice the very compact habit of the branches and needles. This shrub generally does not grow more that 4-6 feet. Be aware of some confusion you may encounter when shopping for this plant. If you see Chamaecyperis obtusa ‘Nana’ on the label, the word ‘Nana’ refers to the dwarf, rounded habit and you are buying a very dwarf shrub that only grows to 2-3 feet. If you see Chamaecyperis obtusa ‘Gracilis’ on the label, the word ‘Gracilis’ refers to a slender and graceful habit and you are buying a taller more narrow shrub that is more tree like and grows as tall as 15 feet. Purchasing a plant with a label that contains both ‘Gracilis’ and ‘Nana’ in the name will give you a plant that is the size and shape pictured below.

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Chamaecyperis obtusa ‘Lutea’
is a beautiful very slow growing selection with eye-catching yellow hi-lights. This is not an easy to find variety but I couldn’t resist listing it. This does best with afternoon shade.

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Chamaecyperis obtusa ‘Confucious’
is a golden selection with a more loose form and obtaining a more intermediate size of about 10 feet tall and 4-5 feet wide.
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Chamaecyperis obtusa ‘Kosteri’
has a more rounded shape than ‘Nana gracilis’

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Here is a cute little guy called Chamaecyperis obtusa ‘Butter Ball’

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Pines or Pinus

One of my favorite plants to add to a landscape lately has been the Japanese Black Pine ‘Thunderhead’ or Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’. I have to thank Tom Taylor at Old Stone House Nursery for introducing me to this shrub. It is not truly a dwarf but can be treated as one to some degree. The key to this plant is to buy one that has been encouraged to grow in a horizontal habit. These can grow to 15 feet tall or more if grown in an upright habit.

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Here is an established specimen. They do need space to wander but I love that they each take on their own form and kind of slowly creep along. Prune lightly in summer just after the candles, or new growth, have formed on the branches.

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Mugo Pine is often seen in commercial and urban landscapes due to it’s ability to live in fairly poor soils. I prefer the slower growing Pinus mugo ‘Slowmound’ or ‘Teenie’.. They are considerably smaller and grow in a nice neat mound.
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Pinus strobus ‘Nana’ is an attractive group of pines that come in various sizes and shapes. The name Pinus strobus ‘Nana’, though it sounds very specific, is in fact a loose term for Dwarf Eastern White Pine. If you buy a plant with a label that reads Pinus strobus ‘Nana’ most likely you are getting a very attractive pine that can get quite large, in the range of 5-8 feet tall and 6-10 feet wide. If you truly want to stay small go with a cultivar like Pinus strobus ‘Blue Shag’.
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Japanese White Pine or Pinus parviflora ‘Glauca’
is a medium sized tree that can actually fit into a somewhat small landscape rather easily. They do grow close to 30 feet tall and 10 feet wide but their branching is very loose and airy. They can be easily be pruned to keep them somewhat under control.
This is a picture of Pinus parviflora’Glauca Brevifolia’ I just planted in my garden last fall. It has been pruned by the growers to keep it somewhat tight and bushier than normal. Over time the branches will grow in a more horizontal and loose habit. This plant is graced with gorgeous bluish green needles and does get attractive cones.
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Close-up of Pinus parviflora
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Dwarf Blue Spruce or Picea pungens

I absolutely love the grey blue color of blue spruce and incorporate them into a landscape plan whenever I can however, one could devote an entire post to some of the issues we encounter as gardeners with certain expectations not being met with this genus. Many of the cultivars that claim to be upright do not successfully grow upright. Some of the cultivars sold as small, globe shaped plants do not stay small and globe shaped.

If you want to add the beauty of blue spruce but need to be sure it will stay relatively small the following two varieties do so fairly reliably:

Picea pungens ‘St. Mary’s Broom’

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Picea pungens ‘Waldbrunn’

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Dwarf Firs
I must confess I have not used many of the dwarf firs, but I do like Dwarf Korean Compact Fir or Abies koreana. Below is Abies koreana “Cis’
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Creeping Juniper or Juniperus horizintalis
is a plant many are familiar, maybe too familiar. It has its very useful applications as a ground cover in full sun areas with poor soil. I manly want to mention a somewhat newer member to the family called Juniperus horizontalis ‘Motherlode’. This has a gorgeous lime/yellow color and looks it’s best if it is not in scorching afternoon sun but will grow in mostly sunny to full sun locations. It supposedly grows to cover an 8 foot spread.Spring-14 016
This picture shows pots of ‘Motherlode’ having taken on a lovely fall color of pumpkin orange that I was very pleased with.Winter '13-'14 131

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