Archive for Winter 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.

Bad News about Slug Bait and Winter Garden Care Tips

Slugs at NE Portland Landscape Design in a Day

Slugs on a Honeydew Melon Date

Winter is just around the corner here in Portland.   Here are 5 timely tips to help you care for your landscape right now.

Slugs Last chance to knock out slugs! Control your slug population now in late fall.  They lay thousands of eggs that will hatch in spring.  I’ve got bad news about using the so called pet safe slug baits. New science says it kills your earthworms and can sicken your pets and other animals.  Control your slugs with beer traps or even better an instant coffee spray.  Yup coffee! Fill a spray bottle with strong instant coffee or any coffee except de-caf.  Spray the leaves of plants they prefer and any slugs or snails you see.

I grow lots of winter greens here in NW Portland so I’ve been out there spraying down the leaves of my beautiful Dinosaur Kale plants to protect them now.  Spraying coffee once a week in fall and early winter makes a big difference in the spring hatch of slugs.   Read more about why slug bait harms worms.

Coffee bag

Its the caffeine that kills slugs or snails. Instant coffee works well.

Mulch.  If you only do one thing to improve your soil and care for your plants, mulching is the biggie.  Schedule your winter mulch application for the last week of November to mid-December or hire someone to blow in your mulch.  Companies such as Bark Blowers will blow in mulch including the newer “living” mulch products that I prefer.  One company that provides mulch inoculated with beneficial bacteria is Natures Needs, a product called  Recology Compost.  McFarlane Bark, Mt Scott Fuel and Grimms Fuel supply basic mulch products.   Did you mulch just 2 inches deep?  Great!  Now go and unbury the crowns of your plants so they don’t die from rot during our wet winter. Burying plants with mulch might be a good practice in Vermont or Montana but not here.

Iron gate design with snow

Landscape Design in a Day client’s custom gate.

Protect your plants from winter temperatures

The best cold protection for plants in the winter isn’t something that naturally occurs to most people.  Over watering and over fertilizing done in summer can cause plants to not go dormant.  When cold weather comes, they are not prepared.  Read more: Protecting Plants from Winter Cold Starts in Summer 

Pruning knowledge  There are many plants that should not be cut back in the fall and winter.  There are many perennials and grasses that can be cut back to create a more attractive winter landscape. This is a case by case basis which drives new gardeners crazy. Consider consulting with your garden designer who can teach you what to do to your plants and when.  It feels good when you know what to do.

Protect your pottery  The best winter protection for your pottery is proper drainage and location.  Make sure water drains through the pots hole and doesn’t back up.  If water sits in the bottom and it freezes, good bye pot.  I have had Vietnamese high fired pottery outside and intact for over 15 years.  I always put drainage material in the bottom of the pot and a piece of flagstone under the pot or I use those little pottery feet.

If I have expensive pots where they will get east winter wind, the kind of wind that freezes rain to ice on the power line, I would move them into a protected area for winter right now. I hate to even think about that kind of weather but we get our share here in Portland Oregon, especially in January.   Its hard to pay attention to the weather report, and besides who wants to move heavy pots around when its icy cold out?  Not me.

Entry Presence with Winter Red Foliage for Portland Landcapes

Winter Color Sizzle Plant

‘Sizzling Pink’ Chinese Loropetalum is the focal point plant for a Willamette Heights  Landscape Design in a Day client’s entry.

Entry Presence with Winter Red Foliage for Portland Landscapes

Exciting Winter Color Shrub

As a Portland landscape designer I have many clients who want exciting winter color in their landscapes.  When new clients fill in their landscape preference survey they often circle the option for burgundy foliage and add little hearts!   Sadly most burgundy leafed plants are not cold hardy enough here in the Pacific Northwest to look picture perfect in winter.

My Favorite

My favorite choice for dark red or eggplant purple foliage is called Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum or Red Chinese Loropetalum.  Plain Chinese Loropetalum has green foliage and white flowers.   I love the Red Chinese Loropetalum.  It  has amazing thick hot pink fringe flowers in early spring.  The spring foliage emerges burgundy red or dark to medium red pink depending on the variety.   Other varieties are dark red to an eggplant purple through the year.

Unique plant but tricky to site properly

My NW Portland landscape design clients, Dave and Rhonda loved this plant.  It provided a very attractive color echo of their eggplant front door and visually softened the adjacent concrete area. It looked good until January and then for several years the leaves burned and they didn’t grow back in until July!. The love was there but it took too long to recover for an entry focal point plant.   Their plant got sun from 6am in the winter until 1 pm.  They had good drainage and were careful and consistent with watering.  Perversely, I have seen other plants simply glowing in February in the same exact siting.  Can you tell I had a little trouble giving up on that one?  I avoid 6 am winter sun for best outcome.

lorepetalum-from-monrovia

Spring flowers (Photo courtesy of Monrovia)

So why bother with this plant?

It is the wonderful purple red foliage color, the soft arching shape of the branches and the hot colored fringe flowers in spring. Its well worth it if you love purple foliage.    If the plant gets cold east wind in winter, the leaves will burn (desiccate) and it may look terrible until May or June. Year round good looks is all about proper siting and a bit of luck.

Proven Winners variety called Loropetalum 'Jazz Hands'

Proven Winners variety called Loropetalum ‘Jazz Hands’

Twp good choices

These two old  varieties are still easy to find and are what I’m most familiar with:   ‘Sizzling Pink’, which is also called ‘Burgundy’ (cold tolerant to 15 degrees), and   ‘Pippa’s Red’ (hardy to 10 degrees).  ‘Pippa’s Red’ is not as dark a red leaf as ‘Sizzling Pink’. I’m interested in ‘Hines Purpleleaf’, ‘Zhuzhou Fuchsia’ and ‘Jazz Hands’ but wasn’t able to find them to purchase.

There are many new varieties but most were hybridized (designed) for the southern states and are not tested here in the Pacific NW.

I love to drive around Portland and see them thriving.   They saw it, bought it, and just happened to plant it in the right spot!! Whoever they are, they don’t even know its supposed to be a little tricky.  I would be willing to try it in colder areas like Gresham but only where it is 100% protected from east wind.  Even then, I’d consider it an experiment. A whole landscape of plant experiments is called gambling and is not typically the result  we want in a landscape design.  Most of my clients want a sure bet.

Dwarf Mugo Pine – Get the Right Plant!

Pinus Mugo 'Sherwoods Compact'

Textured trio of ‘Sherwoods Compact’ dwarf pine, Sempervivum (hen and chick), Arabis (rock cress)

For success in the landscape (which I define as “right plant right place”), it’s important to get the exact plant specified by your designer.

Early in my career I specified three dwarf Mugo Pine.  I wanted a uniform pin cushion shape to contrast with ornamental grasses and succulents.  I wanted the pines to stay small, and contrast with the grasses that would be two thirds bigger. This was my vision.  What happened instead was three dwarf Mugo Pine ‘Nana’ grew into three different shapes and heights!  None of them stayed small.  The fact is plants grown from seeds can be as variable as your siblings.  My brother and I have blue eyes, my sister has green eyes, I’m a redhead my brother a brunette and my sister’s a blonde.

I learned that seed grown dwarf pines are variable, only plants grown from cuttings of a named cultivar could be trusted.  I knew this in theory but the industry was deceptive in labeling.  I now knew to avoid any dwarf conifer called ‘Nana’!  That was a secret code word for seed propagated.

Pinus Mugo 'Slowmound' is another favorite trusted dwarf pine

Pinus Mugo ‘Slowmound’ is another favorite trusted dwarf pine

Then I was told that ‘Pumilo’ was a named variety and it stayed low.  I was tricked again.  The industry was also using seeds from ‘Pumilo’, not cuttings to produce a more affordable and (profitable) dwarf Mugo Pine. For many years I did not use any Mugo Pine at all, mainly because I was disgusted.

When specific size and shape uniformity are needed always select plants grown from cuttings or tissue culture.  People who work at retail nurseries are sometimes ignorant of these finer points.

These days I need dwarf evergreens, particularly pines, for my clients because they are true low maintenance.  They are low water, no pruning or candling required, they take hot full sun even next to concrete, and they look great year round.  These true dwarf pines won’t get too tall in 10  years.  So I had to find sources and growers I could trust.

The varieties I use and where I get them:

Oregon Small Trees is a private wholesale nursery/grower.  The owner, Dave Leckey and his daughter, grow all of their plant material from cuttings.  It takes many years to grow dwarf plants to a good size for the landscape.  I also specify plants grown by Iseli Nursery and another resource is Buchholz & Buchholz Nursery.  None of these resources are retail, you have to buy their plants through a plant broker or in the case of Iseli, those plants can be found at Portland Nursery, Cornell Farms and Farmington Gardens.

Notice the fine texture of this needled pine.

Notice the fine texture of this needled pine.

Pinus Mugo ‘Sherwoods Compact’ is a favorite of my clients, they love the texture of the needles.  I like Pinus Mugo ‘SlowMound’ a bit better for some designs.  It’s a darker green.  My favorite miniature Mugo Pine is called ‘Donna’s Mini’ and I’ll spend more money to get a larger tiny plant when I use ‘Donna’s Mini’.  It grows less than 1 inch a year in ideal circumstances.

 

New Shrubs Expand Designer’s Palette

Ceanothus G. 'Hearts Desire' Picture from Xera

California Lilac Ceanothus Griseus ‘Hearts Desire’   Picture from Xera Plants

I’m excited about these new plants for Portland gardens.

Many of us are familiar with California Lilac and its blue flowers.  Beloved by bees, including our endangered native bumble bees, it’s  also a host plant for Swallow Tail butterflies.  However, it has its problems in a home landscape.  Many varieties are short lived because they receive summer irrigation along with your other plantings.  They need infrequent or no summer water to be a long term plant.  Most of all keeping them a manageable size is difficult for many gardeners. Ceanothus Griseus ‘Hearts Desire’ is different.  It can handle some summer irrigation and unlike all the other varieties of ground cover type California Lilac, it grows to only 4 inches tall and grows slowly to 24 inches wide.  It is easy to tip prune so can be confined.  These new habits make it a very useful plant for smaller landscapes.  It can take a lot of dry so we can plant it in the xeriscape dry tolerant gardens that have no irrigation or it can receive some summer irrigation.   I see this  plant as a major improvement over old varieties like ‘Anchor Bay’ or ‘Points Rey’.  Xera Plants is growing ‘Hearts Desire’ but expect other growers to jump on the plant wagon soon.  I’d use ‘Hearts Desire’ under limbed up fir trees, on SW facing banks or in “hellstrips”.  I will be trialing this new variety of California Lilac in my xeriscape garden.

Manzanita is a shrub or large tree known for its colorful bark and picturesque windswept shapes on the northern California coast. Here in Portland it’s too wet or too cold for most Manzanitas.  News flash!  Some of the California Manzanita species have been hybridized (designed by humans) into cold hardy evergreen ground covers and shrubs.  I love the leaves and the bark color and will be using these two specific varieties of Manzanita in my designs more frequently.   My favorite is ‘St. Helena’ which grows to 24 inches, and can take irrigation if it must.

Hummingbird sitting on manzanita plant

Hummingbird sitting on Manzanita plant

For success with Manzanita don’t feed the soil with compost or fertilizer at all, not even when doing initial soil preparation.  Work with the existing soil.  It needs to be watered through its first summer and then little to no irrigation is best.  This year (2015) my clients will be instructed to water it through its first winter as well since we are expecting a very dry winter but most years this would not be necessary.  Note: hummingbirds love Manzanita flowers.  Pacific Horticulture Society has an in depth article about Manzanita/Arctostaphlylos for the NW; by our revered plants man Paul Bonine.

Callistemon viridiflorus 'Xera Compact' Picture from Xera

Callistemon viridiflorus ‘Xera Compact’ Picture from Xera Plants

Callestemon or Bottle Brush is well known to Californians.  They have many varieties with hot red flowers and they  attract hummingbirds like crazy.  Their loose needles have a tropical feel to them and they can look wild or messy depending on your point of view!  While talking with Greg Shepard at Xera Plants, I got good news about the varieties of this plant that we can grow here in Portland.  A few of these make very attractive  tidy evergreen shrubs.  I’m always looking for soft textured evergreen shrubs with winter good looks that don’t get too big.  Hummingbirds are attracted to all of the Bottle Brush plants but deer are not.  Pretty great huh?

Here are 2 varieties I am most interested in for my clients:

1.  Callistemon Pityoides ‘Corvallis’.  Yes found in Corvallis, Oregon the original plant withstood 20 years of cold and everything an Oregon winter can throw at a plant.  It grows 5’ tall and 3’ wide in ten years.  It can take regular water or can be trained into drought tolerance easily.  It flowers twice in a season with soft yellow bottle brush flowers that remind people of baby ducks.  Deer usually leave it alone unless they are desperate.

2.  Callistemon viridiflorus ‘Xera Compact’ grows to 4 ½’ feet tall.  It is  VERY heavy blooming for 6 weeks.  The flowers are chartreuse and yellow brushes 3 inches long, the leaves are deep green in summer and take on hints of red in winter.