Archive for Spring Gardening

Tempting Red Hellebore Flowers for Winter Cheer

Popular Double Hellebore From Englands Ashwood Ashwood Garden Hybrids

Helleborus x hybridus ‘Ashwood Double BiColor Shades’ grown here in the NW by Monrovia.

Tempting Red Hellebore Flowers for Winter Cheer

Red flowered Hellebores are still the holy grail for plant geeks but they are so tough that anyone can covet these and grow them.

‘Peppermint Ice’, ‘Amethyst Gem’ and ‘Ashwood Double Bi Color Shades’ are Hellebore cultivated varieties with red to eggplant hued double flowers.  They wow us in late winter with a long vibrant flower display.

As a Portland landscape designer I like to use Hellebore in my designs.  The Helleborus x hybridus plants (which is what we are focusing on today)  can live for a hundred years, deer don’t like them, they are low water and except for a typically minor problem with aphids, and a little slug activity they are pretty pest free.  The leaves are leathery, attractive and provide interesting contrast with a range of plant material to include feathery fern fronds, ornamental grass or tiny leafed boxwood.

Helleborus x Hybridus 'Peppermint Ice'

Peppermint Ice has a darker outline around each of the petals. Its adds a lighter touch with pink red flowers.

They are shade tolerant although I  tend to use these three in strong morning sun with dappled or full afternoon shade.

Terra Nova Photo of Hellebore Amethyst Gem

Amythest Gem comes from the famous NW Garden Nursery. Double petals with a light edge gives us drama and the constrast needed to appreciate the mass of petals.

Double flowers give us more color than the singles but the singles, with only 5 to 7 petals, are also stunning and low maintenance.  ‘Ashwood Double BiColor Shades’ have a wine red petal with a darker edge which is opposite of ‘Amethyst Gem’.

Using Hellebore as a cut flower

The flowers last a long time in the landscape but not long as a cut flower because the stems wither quickly.  Most people cut the stems off and float them in a bowl.  I’ve picked them from my NW Portland garden, knowing they would only look good for a few days.  There are techniques for making them last which involve picking them at the right time based on the age of the flower and using an alcohol solution in the vase.  Follow this link  to NW Garden Nursery and read the bottom of their culture sheet.   Now that you are bringing the flowers inside please be aware that all parts of the plant are toxic.

All Hellebore flowers tend to nod down rather than face up.  This protects the flowers from cold damage (disfigurement/freezer burn) because water drips off the flower and  is not trapped inside. Nature designed this plant to flower in winter.

What about aphids?

What about aphids?  My only problem with Hellebore is aphids. Some years I don’t have any noticeable aphid activity. When I do it’s so early in the year that handy predators like lacewing and lady bug are still in sleep mode or haven’t hatched yet so I’m  on my own. Dealing with them is easy.  Use a spray bottle filled with water or 1 tsp of dish soap to 1 gallon of water and spray down your plant.  Use your hose or this great gadget called the bug blaster  which you can buy at Portland Nursery. (I’ve got to get one this year to use in my veggie garden too.) Don’t use a pesticide because most of them will harm bees even if they are not present when you spray. Aphids have soft bodies and will be damaged by the force of the water or the soapy solution will invade their bodies and disable them. You will have to knock them down with water or soapy water once or twice a week to prevent the temporary cosmetic damage.   I’ve never lost a hellebore plant to anything let alone a virus but in recent years virus has spread from plant to plant by aphids.  It is only an issue for professional growers or collectors.

Check out this bowlful of hellebore beauties

Check out this bowlful of hellebore beauties

How to care for your Hellebore

How to care for your Hellebore:  I water once or twice a week its first summer and then once a week after that.  Drip irrigation would be best rather than overhead sprinklers because drip can water deep into the soil.  Established Hellebore become quite a low water needs plant and might be content with every ten days or less.  An application of mulch around the plant once or twice a year is a good practice.  If your soil is so good that they make seedlings, be aware they won’t have the same flower as your hybridized plant. I cut the old leaves off the plant in late winter so that the flowers are not visually diminished by the previous years worn foliage.

How to kill a Hellebore

Plant it in a low spot where winter rain will rot the roots. Over water it and fertilize it heavily.

Winter Color provided by Hellebore 'Peppermint Ice'

Helleborus x Hybridus ‘Peppermint Ice’ is another Winter Gem by NW Garden Nursery. It is grown by Terra Nova so is available at local garden nurseries. Photo by Terra Nova.

Helleborus x Hybridus 'Peppermint Ice' photo by Terra Nova

Helleborus x Hybridus ‘Peppermint Ice’ has double flowers that hang down but the overall effecting your winter landscape is very colorful. The flowers last a long time.

Heuchera

Heuchera_Heucherella_Collage_1m

Plethora of Heuchera leaf color and variegation.

Heuchera_Lime_Marmalade_3m

‘Lime Marmalade’ Heuchera

Dan Himes, Portland’s own plant designer,  of  Terra Nova Nurseries took the old fashioned Coral Bell, a simple cottage garden plant that was beloved for pale spring flowers and created the dramatic colorful leaves of the modern coral bell (Heuchera).  He didn’t stop there.  Over the past 30 years he has given designers a whole new color palette to create with:  leaves of peach, orange, russet, burgundy, amethyst, chartreuse and near black.  Many of the leaves are variegated and create the most amazing patterns.  He has also created many different sizes of plants.  I can use a Heuchera in the mid border with the top of the leaves at 10 inches tall and 24 inch flowers  like ‘Lime Marmalade’ or plants a mere 5 inches tall with 10 inch flowers  like ‘Cherry Cola’.   In  recent years he has also created a diverse selection of flower colors.

'Cherry Cola' Heuchera is great at the edge of a pot.

‘Cherry Cola’  Heuchera is great at the edge of a pot.

 

The original garden coral bell bloomed in pale pink, today I can have flowers in hot brick red, coral, hot pink, near orange (no true orange yet) varying shades of yellow and even shocking chartreuse.  Some varieties are really all about the leaves and the flowers are a very quiet white or cream with stunning dramatic leaf color and variegation, but the newer varieties can have it all, bold dramatic leaves with the perfect hot flower color to accompany them.

So many choices are exciting to me but can be daunting to a typical home owner.  Twenty different varieties can stop a person in their tracks.

I’m not trying to pick a pretty plant, it would be hard to do as they are all attractive.  I always design for function and select a plant for what I want it to do.  I use ‘Blackberry Crisp’ because the leaves look good even in the winter.  They are perfect for entry pizzazz.   Some Heuchera flower for a long time in summer but have no winter interest so I use those near the patio.

'Blackberry Crisp' Heuchera

‘Blackberry Crisp’ Heuchera

There are many varieties I use for shade and some for near full sun.   I love to use the new 5 to 6 inch tall plants at the edge of containers.  These little guys look great with Spring Heather and Hens & Chicks.   Coral Bell can pull a garden together visually by repeating it along a pathway.  Their shape softens the potentially harsh lines of a modern minimalist garden plan. No matter what your style, old fashioned, naturalistic or modern  they add the dramatic color that every client wants in their landscape.

Dan’s contribution is significant.  There are many plant designers in the world and many of them worship at Dan’s feet.  I was in the Netherlands visiting a famous garden designer and plant designer named Piet O’Doff who designed the 9/11 memorial garden.  After he learned I came from Portland, Oregon he said to me, “why did you come all this way to see me when you live 15 minutes from Dan Himes”?

Heuchera softens the edges of pots beautifully.

Heuchera softens the edges of pots beautifully.

From a designers point of view Dan’s work is very exciting.  His plants give me so many choices  to create the perfect planting plan for my clients.

True confession:  to keep up with Dan Himes, I created a spreadsheet on my  favorite coral bells so I can select them for size, foliage color, flower color,  foliage height, sun exposure and more.  It’s not that easy for me either.

 

Summer Watering Tips

Lawn_Watering_RotationFirst Rule…Do No Harm.  If you are watering every day, this is harmful and as far as you can get from the ideal watering practice for your plants’ health and for growing in your design.  Plus you will be accidentally training your plants to be shallow rooted and water hogs.  One is not good for the plants and the other not good for your wallet.  If this is how you have been watering for years and you want to change, let’s talk.

Newer Plant Material:  I consider any plants that have not been through a summer to Carol_Roger_newsletterbe a first year plant.  Plants 2 or 3 years old are established plants.  I typically have clients start watering first year plants every 2 weeks in April (depending on weather conditions in the Pacific Northwest).  This can continue into mid-May most years but by the end of May new plantings should be getting watered once or twice a week.  When we start having 80 to 90 degree weather, first year plants should be watered 2 to 3 times a week maximum, not every day.  We want to manage the plants water needs with other methods besides over watering.

Don’t wait until you see signs of stress – it can be hard to get moisture back into clay soils once they dry out.  Do you see leaves wilting, scorching, crumpling, or dropping?  Here are some ways to save a stressed plant:

Dead plant water blog

Clogged irrigation emitter equals plant loss – check emitters.

(1)  In the evening, after the sun goes down, hose down the leaves, to cool them off.  Or hose them down very early in the morning (before 8 a.m.).  Never sprinkle leaves after 9 a.m. in sunny weather, this will create scorched (toasted) leaves and flowers.

(2)  Cover your plants’ leaves for 3 days or less.  Covering plants helps them conserve water loss.  When not exposed to the sun, the cells  in the leaves will close.  And when closed, the leaf cells hold in the water which prevents evaporation.  This conserves the existing water in the roots and leaves.

Binder clipsTo cover the plant take a lightweight fabric (a white or light colored sheet is ideal) and attach it to the plant during the most extreme heat.  I like to use black office clips on individual trees or shrubs.  Or use rocks to hold the fabric down if you are covering an entire bed.  Note:  This is also an excellent way to protect a plant from drought stress after transplanting.

(3)  In late summer when heat spikes up to 100 degrees you could add one additional watering per week.  Check your soil a few inches down with your hand.  If it’s still moist, watering is not the solution it’s the problem.

Established Plant Material:  Plants 2 or 3 years old are established plants.  If you have heavy clay soil you may need to water twice a week even in early summer.  Apply the water slow and for a long period of time.  If you have better draining soil, plantings may Cat watering plantonly need once a week watering.  All plants will respond to sudden change in temperature, for instance mild early summer weather interrupted by 3 days of intense heat, you will see leaf droop or slight wilting.  As soon as the intense heat retreats, the plants are fine and the leaves return to normal.  The only way you will know if they need additional watering over and above your typical practice is if you check the soil.  Remember, too much moisture and too much heat equals root rot.  Remember first rule, do no harm.

 

Hydrangea Pruning Made Simple

Spring Hydrangea Pruning

A lot of my clients have asked me to help them with pruning their hydrangeas.

Hydrangea serrata 'Preziosa'

This blog addresses mophead hydrangea pruning.  Hydrangea pruning is simple and easy once you know the rules.  There is a link to a pruning video at the end of this blog produced by Cass Turnball of Plant Amnesty to help you feel more confident.  There are 5 kinds of hydrangeas.  This blog only addresses mophead hydrangea pruning.

 

Hydrangea serrata 'Preziosa'

Why prune hydrangea at all?

Why prune hydrangea plants at all?  Like most plants, pruned hydrangea shrubs will have a better shape so they look good regardless of the flowering aspect.  Many of us buy a hydrangea and think it will be 4’ x 4’.  Over time, many varieties will grow to 7’ tall.  It is very important to plant the right plant in the right place so you don’t have to be frustrated.  There are some varieties that are going to mature at and be easily kept in the 4’ to 5’ range.  We prune to achieve that height as well as a good shape.  If you have a variety that wants to be 7 or even 8 feet tall every year even with proper pruning, the best answer is to remove the plant and buy a variety whose size works for your garden.  Old Arts and Crafts homes with 6’ high foundations are perfect for the hydrangeas that are most cheerful at 7’.  They don’t work as well for homes with a 12” foundation or a small yard.Another reason we prune is to remove stems that no longer flower.

rabbit ears 2

Nicely pruned and open plant

We prune hydrangeas in early to mid March in the Pacific NW.  We start pruning our plants when they are about 3 years old or when you see the oldest stems are developing bark.  Remove the oldest woody canes.  On a young plant this might mean removing only 1 or 2 stems.  We remove dead stems and canes and we deadhead flowers back to the first lateral buds.  I think of these buds as rabbit ears.  I love this task.  I think it’s because I’m close to the ground and my soil smells good.  I typically see 2 colors of buds at this time.  The burgundy buds are just a bump on the stems.  The tiny green buds (the rabbit ears) are such a vivid green.  It says spring to me (and no it doesn’t rain every minute even in March).  These are days when a wool sweater and a down vest are perfect for comfort.

hydrangea 1 heads banner

Joy Creek Nursery Hydrangea Garden

There is more to the story about hydrangea pruning. Occasionally there are individual plants that didn’t read the rule book.  My garden coach client Mary followed the proper pruning techniques and she lost all her flowers for the year!!  AAACK!!  Her plants are 30 plus years old.  Since that debacle Mary only deadheads her plants, again just down to the first buds and she removes old woody stems.  Her plants always flower beautifully and are the focal point of her summer garden.  I’ve never had this happen to me but I’ve heard about it often enough from other professionals to know that some plants are probably genetically different than others.  If you don’t prune at all, your plants will get big and ungainly looking.  A build up of deadwood may diminish their flowering capacity.

For a detailed lesson on pruning mop head hydrangeas, see this video.

Winter Flowers Feed Bees

bee-id-1

Saving Bees? Feed them. Plan for flowering plants from early spring until mid-fall.    Don’t use any pesticides.  Then you don’t have to try to figure out if the claim that it won’t harm bees is true or not.

Honey Bees and Heather FarmWinter flowers feed bees.    It’s easier to provide flowers for bees in our cool early springs than you might think.  What we are learning about saving bees can be made very simple.  Feed them!  Use a diverse plant palette with flowers from early spring until mid-fall. Don’t use any pesticides and then you don’t have to try to figure out what is safe and what isn’t or who to trust.

I have always found summer easy  to provide a diverse collection of flowers for all kinds of bees but early spring requires thought and planning.   My beach house landscape on the Olympic Peninsula is a great example of a very low maintenance and bee friendly garden. The plants I list in this article are from my experiences there and from my landscape design practice here in Portland, Oregon.

Erica Darleyensis Mary Helen

Erica darleyensis ‘Mary Helen’

If you’ve read any of my blogs, heather comes up a lot.  I love to use heather in my personal landscape and for clients where we can create good drainage. By the way, I had to learn how to grow it well.  The fact that many varieties of spring heather feed bees at a critical time is a huge bonus to an already great plant.  Deer don’t bother it, and it’s a glorious and tough ground cover.  Spring heather, native plants and early flowering Spanish lavender feed bees in late winter and early spring. I start out with heather varieties that flower in late January and into early spring.  These plants Erica Carnea – spring heather not summer heather  – are especially great for our native bumble bees who are out and about earlier than honey bees.  The bumble bees can protect themselves from sudden changes in temperature by nestling down in the thick foliage if they get too cold. I’d use the word cuddle but my inner 5 year old who hated the heather at our  front walk because it was buzzing with bees . . .  won’t let me!   Heather provides a lot of nectar for the bees because of the hundreds of tiny flowers on each plant. The flowers are just the right depth for different sizes of bees.   Some tube like flowers are better for hummingbirds but the heather flower (which is a tiny little tube) is just right for bees.  Here are some early flowering spring heather varieties I like:

‘Bells Extra Special’
Foliage goes to a whiskey color with flecks of orange in the cold, the flowers are a strong purple red and best of all it’s only 4 inches high.  It spreads to about 16” wide January to May.  This short compact plant is unusual among the spring heather,  most are 6 to 8 inches high.

December Red
Clean dark green foliage with Cabernet red flowers – 8” high and spreading to 18” November to April.

Adrianne Duncan
Has a strong violet purple flower and is more compact than typical,  6” high by 18” spread.  It flowers later than Bells Extra Special.  I like to put these two together for foliage contrast.

Erica darleyensis ‘Mary Helen’
Sports an interesting gold bronze foliage in winter and lots of flower power in February to April. These plants are grown locally by Highland Heathers in Canby, Oregon.   This grower supplies retail nurseries, special plant sales such as HPSO Hortlandia spring plant sale and you can buy directly if you make an appointment. You won’t find these varieties at a big box store.  The common varieties get too big for most landscape situations and then you end up hacking at them and then they are ugly and out they go.

Three things to pay attention to for success with heathers

  1. Soil prep
  2. Proper watering
  3. Yearly Pruning

A lot of my other early spring flowering plants are Pacific NW natives.  Rubus spectabilis, Salmon Berry,  has a spectacular colorful spring flower with 75 to 100 stamens which will keep bees busy for a long time.  This flower 220px-Rubus_spectabilis_1855calls the early bumble bees by the droves.  This shrub has thorns and needs a bit of room so think first and plant second.  Our Oregon grape,  Mahonia aquifolium, my evergreen huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum, and the hot pink red flowering current edge the light woods around the house and provide for the various local bees.   Some people don’t like Oregon grape because the leaves can get winter damage and have ratty looking leaves by early spring.  I say no problem, let them flower to provide for wildlife and then cut them down to the ground.  They will re leaf into glossy and good looking foliage for the rest of the year.

We know English lavender is great for bees in the summer.  Like heather, all lavender has hundreds of tiny flowers and is an abundant source for nectar.   Spanish lavender flowers much earlier than English lavender and provides for mid spring to early summer nectar. We need good drainage to be successful with with Spanish lavender but this often just means mounding up a few inches.   Don’t over water Spanish lavender.  I water mine once a month and am not sure it even needs that now that the plants are old.

Lavender at Joy Creek Nursery

Lavender at Joy Creek Nursery

lavandula winter bee

Lavandula stoechas ‘Winter Bee’

There is a newish variety called ‘Winter Bee’ grown by Blooming Nursery, a local wholesale grower. They claim it flowers 3 weeks earlier than other Spanish lavender and have named it accordingly,  Lavandula stoechas
‘Winter Bee’ PP #20,840.Up at my vacation house my Spanish lavender flowers in early April to mid summer.  I have seen flowers on them in March.  After the main flowering, I cut it back about 1/3rd and get another lovely hit of flowers in late summer into early fall. Here are three spring flowering Spanish lavender varieties I have grown: ‘Blueberry Ruffles‘, ‘Hazel, and ‘Mulberry Ruffle’s‘.  Blooming Nursery sells to many of the larger garden centers but don’t look for their plants at a box store; they won’t be there.

This unusual variety is compact and flowers earlier than most Spanish Lavender.

This unusual variety, ‘Mulberry Ruffles’, is compact and flowers earlier than most Spanish lavender.

Last of all, the best early flower for bees at our beach property isn’t what you would think of as a flower probably.  It has to be the huge old Oregon Big Leaf Maples down at the edge of the beach.  When they flower, the sound of bees is a low roar, I am not kidding.  My grandkids are a little nervous and tend to stay out of that area for a while.  Bees will earn respect if need be but otherwise I find them easy to get along with.  I do flinch when a bumble bee takes a dead run at me… and then I scold them for being bossy. There is enough room in the garden for everyone.