HISTORY: After may years of experimentation, Japanese horticulturist, Dr. Toichi Itoh, successfully created seven peony hybrids from a tree peony in 1948, which were known to became the first Itoh peonies. Itoh Peony are derived from a cross breeding between herbaceous and tree peonies, forming a stronger, longer blooming variety over its predecessors. Similar to tree peonies, members of this cultivar have large, long lasting blooms and strong stems that do not require staking. The deeply lobed dark green foliage on a 3-4 foot high by wide plant lasts all summer and into fall, making an attractive addition to the garden. Itoh peonies are also known to be more disease resistant and are not preferred by deer.
GROWING AND MAINTAINING: Itoh peonies prefer to be placed in full sun to partial shade in a rich, well-drained soil. Feed in spring with a low nitrogen fertilizer to promote blooms. Fertilization is not recommended in late summer to fall when the plant is going into dormancy. Once blooms have completed in late spring, Itoh peony can be deadheaded by removing spent flower stalks, leaving its attractive foliage to remain for the rest of the growing season. In autumn, once the foliage turns brown, cut back plants to about 4-6 inches up from the soil level. It is recommended to mulch around the plant to insulate the roots from freezing temperatures. Once spring comes around, your peony will emerge for another growing season. Itoh peony can also be divided in autumn as you would herbaceous peonies.
I discovered this wonderful peony a few years back and have enjoyed its beautiful, sturdy, and disease resistant blooms in the garden. You may find them to be a nice addition as well!
Ornamental Pear trees have been recently under attack from a hard to treat fungus known as Trellis rust. Originally from Europe, Trellis rust or European Pear Rust is caused by the rust fungus Gymnosporangium sabinae. The disease may present a serious health threat to members of the Pyrus species, including both ornamental and fruit pear types. Ornamental Pear trees have been popular trees planted for decades noted for their fast growth rate, tolerance of urban conditions, fairly compact shape and white blooms that appear in early spring. Unfortunately, hundreds of trees have been noted dying in Rockville Center and the disease has been spreading to the Nassau and Suffolk County areas of Long Island. The fungus has spread from the mid-western states to upstate New York and Connecticut over the past several years and seems to be getting progressively worse. According to horticulturists, part of the problem is that the trees have been over-planted, resulting in a rapid spreading of the disease.
Symptoms to look out for are yellow-orange leaf spots (see photograph), which develop into spores in late summer. The spores can be spread to other host plants by wind or to the roots if the trees are close enough together. The secondary host during the winter months is juniper, allowing the fungus to survive when the pear trees drop their leaves; hence, continuing the cycle in the spring.
If you spot damage on your tree, remove and destroy the infected leaves to prevent spores from spreading. If caught early enough, systemic and spray fungicides can be applied to inhibit the spread of the disease. Best preventive measures are to be alert in monitoring your trees, and when in doubt, call a tree professional.
Alocasia, also known as The Elephant Ear, is a large tropical looking plant displaying large, deep green arrow-shaped leaves, resembling the ears of an elephant. Planted as a tuber, the magnificent foliage of the plant can reach up to 9 feet (3 meters) in height with leaf spans up to three feet long! Alocasia are warm climate plants, cold hardy in USDA hardiness zones 7 through 11, depending on the species. They are commonly grown as annuals in colder climates and make wonderful focal points in the garden, serving nicely as accent pieces, especially when grown in containers.
Growing Elephant Ear plants is simple with very little maintenance necessary. Most of these plants prefer rich, moist soil and can be grown in full sun, but they generally prefer partial shade. The tubers can be placed directly outdoors once there is no threat of frost or freezing temperatures, which occurs around mid-April here in my zone 7a garden. Plant the tubers about 2 to 3 inches deep, blunt end down in a rich, organic potting soil. I use a large container (at least 16-20 inches in diameter) and plant just one plant. It will take several weeks for the first foliage to appear, but once the roots are established, the plant will rapidly grow throughout the summer months.
Your Elephant Ear plant will continue to grow to its maximum size, which will occur around July or August. It is recommended to keep your plants well-watered and to feed them once a month with an organic slow release fertilizer (such as bone meal) to maintain their vigor. As the plant matures and older foliage fades, simply remove any undesirable stalks at the base and new shoots will form. Planting around the perimeter of your large planter will add additional interest. In this planter I used a combination of Sweet Potato Vine and Morning Glory surrounding the large leaves of the Alocasia.
Elephant ears cannot survive winter outdoors. When autumn arrives, along with freezing temperatures, the plants must be dug up and stored indoors. After the first frost, cut the foliage back to about a couple of inches and carefully dig up the plants. Allow the tubers to dry out for about a day or two and then store them in peat moss or shavings in a cool, dark area such as in a garage or basement to overwinter. Repeat planting the following year!
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What is “winter bronzing”? While approaching the end of winter, some of your favorite evergreens may appear to take on a bronze appearance. You may be wondering. “Is this normal or is my plant dying?” Changing foliage color is a normal phenomena that affects some evergreens near the end of winter while seasons are transitioning. Freezing temperatures, followed by a warming trend, longer hours of sunlight, then more cold can trigger foliage to discolor. The color change is a reaction to low temperatures, winds and sunlight, causing mild desiccation of the needles or leaves, allowing the underlying colors to show through. This dulling of green foliage is more pronounced on plants that receive more sunlight. The result is commonly known as “winter bronzing”. The longer the ground is frozen and the more water that is evaporated from the plant than it can take in, the more pronounced the foliage will appear to turn from green to brown, bronze, or even orange or purple. This process is similar to why deciduous leaves change color in the fall. While the tree is going dormant for the winter months, chlorophyll production subsides and the true underlying colors of the leaves are revealed.
When can I expect my trees to look more normal? Once the temperatures rise and new growth is stimulated, the foliage will turn back to a more vibrant green. Broken or dead branches are different in that they are completely dried out and brown. Those branches should be pruned off the tree in late winter/early springtime to prevent any further damage. Any falling or divided tree leads can be arbor tied to secure them and encourage upright growth. Split branches can also be arbor tied together, and if caught in time the cambium growing layer of the tree can mend. In the photograph above, the center upright Western Arborvitae are displaying signs of bronzing with no evidence of any completely browned or broken branches, both indications of a normal and healthy tree.
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This past summer, I re-designed a raised planting bed that was constructed out of an old railroad tie retaining wall that was decaying and crumbling over time. I had the opportunity of watching the crew at work, so I figured I would share the installation process with you. There is a correct method of installing the wall to ensure that it is going to be functional and permanent. I used the Nicolock Firma Wall System Toffee/Onyx stone for this particular project, but if you are using another material, such as natural stone, the process is similar.
First, the original railroad tie wall had to be demolished and removed, while the soil around the perimeter area had to be excavated. It is important to dig down the equivalent of one course of block (eight inches in this case) and use a leveling device to obtain an even base. Add a recycled concrete layer under where the wall stone is going, approximately two-three inches at a time, and use a tamper to compact it. (If starting from scratch, it is recommended to use the recycled concrete as a base under the entire area where the topsoil is going and also use a layer of fill in between the topsoil and base to ensure proper drainage.) Select your wall blocks and lay them out across the base. Continue laying the stone block by block until the entire perimeter is created. Measure and make cuts with a masonry saw to complete any angles needed to fit the pieces together at the corners. This first step in construction takes the longest and is most crucial in determining the success of the rest of your project.
Continue with the second course. Select your wall system blocks and stack them in a staggered pattern on top of the base course so that the seams are overlapping. Dry-fit each blockfirst so that the vertical joints are staggered as seen above. This creates a stronger and more stable wall.. Remove the block and apply a layer of mortar on the first course. Add the next course and tamp the block into place with a mallet, and repeat.
Continue building courses. At the third level, insert a drain pipe, while leaving an exit point for the drainpipe at one end of the wall. This will ensure proper drainage once your wall is complete. Continue the process while carefully aligning the block in a staggered pattern and mortar the layers until the desired height is obtained. Note that the final and top layer is the wall capping, a more decorative layer that prevents moisture from running down into the open cracks of the lower layers and which adds the aesthetically pleasing finishing touch! Mortar the wall cap in place as you did for the other courses.
Depending on the size of the wall, a project like this can take anywhere from a couple of days to a week or more, but it is worth the while to take your time and have good results. Once your wall is constructed, bring in new organic topsoil and plantings to complete the project.
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After many years of hybridizing and the production of more cold hardy varieties, Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) can be successfully grown here in the Northeast. These showy trees are a personal favorite of mine due to their beautiful long lasting blooms that start at the end of the summer and last well into Fall, a bloom period of approximately 120 days! Just as other flowering trees and shrubs are reaching the end of their bloom cycle the stately Crape Myrtle ‘Lagerstroemia indica’ starts its spectacular show. I often use these beautiful trees as an eye catching element in my designs as they serve nicely as an anchor plant in a foundation planting or as a focal point in an island bed or backyard garden.
There are many varieties of this beautiful tree ranging in size from ‘Pocomoke’ and ’Chickasaw’, which are dwarf varieties, topping off at approximately 5 feet to ‘Natchez’ (White),‘Tuscarora’ (Coral Pink),‘Muskogee’ (Lavender) and ‘Catawba’ (Purple) ranging at a height between 12-20 feet. A personal favorite of mine is Crape Myrtle ’Sioux’, a medium variety that ranges in height to approximately 12-15 feet. The medium-pink flowers of the ‘Sioux’ Crape Myrtle begin late in July and last well into October and are an elegant display not to be missed. Three other varieties of Lagerstroemia worth mentioning are ‘Tonto’ and ‘Dynamite’, both known for their vibrant red flowers and medium height of 12-15 feet and ‘Zuni’ (Purple) at a smaller 8-9 feet in stature.
HARDINESS AND GROWING CONDITIONS: Lagerstroemia are a hardy to zones 7-9 and are “deer resistant”, meaning that deer will most likely avoid them in their diet. They grow best in full sunlight in a well-drained soil with a pH of 5.0-6.5. These trees require little to no pruning but can be pruned to maintain a more compact shape or to remove any dead branches that may result from a harsh winter. If you are going to prune wait until late winter or early spring after the last frost. The plants are dormant in winter and any flowering occurs on new growth so pruning will encourage new flower producing branches. Remove any dead branches, suckers growing from the base or weak twiggy branches and allow strong leader branches to keep the framework of the tree.
TRANSPLANTING: If you are planning on transplanting your Crape Myrtle tree the best time to transplant in the northeast is in mid April or mid September through mid October. Roots need time to become established before the summer heat or winter cold set in. Dig a hole slightly wider than the root ball and make sure the tree sits at the height of the surface or slightly above. Apply a layer of mulch around the tree to protect the roots and keep well watered until established. Crape Myrtle are somewhat sensitive to cold so there may be some branch die back in the first season until the plant becomes well established.
Depending on the preference of the grower Crape Myrtle can be planted as either a multi-trunk or singular-trunk form and can be displayed as either a shrub or tree in the landscape. An important note worth mentioning is that Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia) are among the last plants to push out their new growth so if they appear to be dead at the end of winter going into spring just give them some time to come into their glory. Since they are later to push out their leaves they do benefit from an early spring feeding of a high phosphorus-lower nitrogen 5-10-5 formula to promote good foliage growth and an abundance of blooms in July-August. Crape Myrtles are not susceptible to insects or disease but as in any landscape planting they should be monitored and properly maintained to keep them in good health.
If you are looking for a long blooming, deer resistant, low maintenance tree to add color to your garden then Crape Myrtle may be the tree for you. I for one would highly recommend this beautiful plant as a welcome addition to any formal or informal landscape.
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Have the temperatures been rising and are you yearning to go out into the garden? Spring is here and it is a time to start planning and prepping the garden for a successful start to the planting season. There are some recommended maintenance tips for getting your garden underway. Here is a list of common gardening tasks to be performed in late winter/early spring. (I recently posted this article on my other blog A Guide to Northeastern Gardening, but felt it was also fitting for here.)
True or False? Any dead material remaining from last year should be removed from your garden now. True. It is best practice to remove dead material from the garden in fall to prevent possible pests and disease in your garden. If you have left annuals or perhaps perennials for winter interest, now is the time to tend to them, along with any weeds that might have survived the winter. Pull out any dead remaining annuals and prune perennials back to the ground to encourage new growth. If cold temperatures are still to be expected, push mulch up around the crown of the plants to protect them from temperature fluctuations.
True or False? New mulching should be applied now before the ground thaws.False. Mulch acts as an insulator and applying mulch before thawing would actually inhibit warming as temperatures rise. Allow the soil to warm, then apply two to four inches of natural pine mulch. When applying, keep mulch several inches away from tree and shrub trunks to prevent oxygen loss and rotting. Mulch benefits plants by reducing water evaporation, preventing weeds, adding organic matter to the soil and also acts as a buffer, preventing drastic changes in soil temperatures.
True or False? Nitrogen based lawn fertilizer can only be applied after April 1st. True. According to the EPA, the prohibition on application of fertilizer between December 1st and April 1st applies to products that contain nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), or potassium (K). If a product does not contain any of these nutrients, it could be applied during the winter months without violating this law. Explanation: If the ground is frozen, there is a greater danger of runoff and possible contamination of groundwater. Fertilizers applied when the ground is thawed and porous are absorbed and utilized by plant material and go through a natural filtration process before reaching the aquifer system. Please note that there are a variety of organic, natural fertilizers on the market that are more environmentally friendly. Success rate depends on brand and application.
True or False? Spring flowering trees and shrubs should be pruned in late winter/early spring. False. General rule of thumb is to prune flowering plants AFTER they flower. Early spring flowering trees and shrubs including rhododendron, azalea, forthysia, magnolia, plum, Eastern Redbud and cherry form their buds from the season before and should be not be pruned until after flowering. Pruning them now will remove flower buds that have already formed, resulting in a loss of blooms.
True or False? Summer blooming shrubs such as Spirea and Buddleia should be pruned in spring. True. Mid and late summer flowering shrubs such as Spirea and Buddleia (butterfly bush) prefer a spring pruning to promote fullness and blooms. Prune Spirea slightly for shaping. If the plant is overgrown to the point it is unsightly, it can be pruned more drastically to rejuvenate it now in spring. Buddleia benefits from an early spring pruning and should be pruned all the way back in late winter/early spring to promote fuller plants and better blooms in late summer. This practice is best performed once you see signs of life on your plants.
True or False? The best time to prune evergreens is in early spring. True. Evergreens can be pruned anytime when there is no threat of extreme temperature changes that would cause undue stress; however, the best time is either in early spring before they push out new growth, or afterwards once new candles form. When pruning evergreens that form candles, such as white pine, it is best to cut candles in half to keep the plant more compact.
True or False? Liriope and grasses should be cut back and divided now in spring. True. Liriope and ornamental grasses can be cold sensitive. Exposing the crown of the plant could be the reason for snow and cold damage. It is best to leave liriope and grasses alone in fall and to prune them back in early spring to allow for new growth. Spring is also the time to divide and move other perennials that have become overgrown. It is recommended that most perennials be divided every four years for best bloom. Dig up and divide with a sharp clean spade just as new growth appears, replant and add a sprinkle of slow release plant food in with the soil to help root promotion. Water in thoroughly.
True or False? Knock Out Roses should be pruned back in early spring. True. Wait until your roses are sprouting new shoots and showing some signs of life. Then, prune off dead wood or overgrown branches back about one third the size of the plant to promote strong growth and blooms. Be careful to watch while pruning so that you achieve a nice rounded shape for your plant. Early spring is also a good time to apply an organic slow release rose fertilizer mixed in with the soil at the base of the plant to ensure a successful start to the growing season. I would also recommend a regular watering schedule from the base of the plant, since roses do not fair well with constant water on their foliage.
True or False? Summer blooming bulbs should be planted in late spring. True. While spring blooming bulbs such as crocus, hyacinths, tulips and daffodils are planted in fall, late summer blooming bulbs such as Dahlia, Canna and Gladiolus are planted in spring. Amend the soil with compost or manure to insure them a good start and plant in a well-drained area to prevent rotting. Generally, bulbs are planted at a depth of three times their diameter, and specific instructions are usually supplied on the packaging. Once planted, water your bulbs thoroughly and be sure they get watered regularly. Applying bone meal will give your bulbs energy during the growing season, but do not mix in too closely to the roots.
Will the unpredictable weather we have been having across most of the U.S. and other areas harm my garden? I have been getting asked this question quite a bit over the past couple of years. Generally, plants are pretty resilient. Buds that are forming on the trees early are sparked by the warmer temperatures in daytime but slowed down by the colder nighttime temperatures, which tends to balance out their progress. If there is severe cold for a prolonged period of time, buds could freeze and get damaged, but the tree produces enough buds to still have a bloom. More sensitive plants like old fashioned hydrangea ‘Nikko Blue’ that bloom on old wood are more susceptible to cold and time will tell. If there is die back on your plant, prune out the dead wood and apply a dose of a high phosphorus fertilizer. It could help to boost larger blooms from any undamaged buds. Hydrangea varieties that bloom on new wood, such as ‘Endless Summer’ and ‘Pee Gee’ should winter alright.
Some of my evergreens are a bronze color. Should I be concerned?Winter bronzing is normal on evergreens near the end of winter while temperatures are cold. Once the temperatures rise and new growth is stimulated, the foliage will turn back to a more vibrant green. Broken or dead branches are different in that they are completely dried out and brown. Those branches should be pruned off the tree in late winter/early springtime to prevent any further damage. Any falling or divided tree leads can be arbor tied to secure them and encourage upright growth. Split branches can also be arbor tied together, and if caught in time the cambium growing layer of the tree can mend. In the photograph above, the center upright Western Arborvitae are displaying bronzing and there are no signs of broken branches. As you can see the trees are healthy.
Have you heard about my new book,Landscape Design Combinations? My first bookA Guide to Northeastern Gardening covers recommended plants for zones 3-9 with topics including butterfly gardening, deer resistant plants, shade gardening, perennials, trees and shrubs, evergreens, general maintenance tips and more.
Landscape Design Combinations is a continuation of the previous publication, with greater emphasis on design, including numerous numbered and labeled photographs of successful landscape plans. Topics include elements of landscape design, designing for the seasons, how to build a natural stone patio or walkway, simple container combinations and garden styles throughout the centuries.
Both A Guide to Northeastern Gardening and Landscape Design Combinations were written to provide you with the tools needed to help you to create a successful garden. Click on the links below for more information and previews. I hope to inspire you!
The seasons have been shifting in the northeast, leaving many homeowners in much dismay when it comes to winter garden maintenance. Winter storms can hit late winter into early spring, causing more distress to plantings once they have experienced warmer than normal temperatures. As we await another winter storm, there are some precautions you can take to ensure the vitality of your landscape plants and protect them from possible damage.
SNOW WEIGHTED TREE BRANCHES: Most evergreen trees and shrubs can handlesnow build-up on their branches, but in the instance of a heavy snow, the branches may become weighted down. Certain Arborvitae are susceptible to the weight of snow pulling down on them and may have already experienced sagging branches. Further damage can easily be avoided by wrapping the branches together with arbor tie. The cloth tie cannot be seen from the outside, will prevent future damage from another snow, and the tree will look unscathed.
BROKEN OR DAMAGED TREE BRANCHES: Before an approaching storm, try to walk outside and inspect trees and shrubs on your property for any broken or damaged branches. If you do spot a damaged branch, tie the two split halves together by wrapping them tightly together with arbor tie. Start by wrapping the two halves tightly together and continue wrapping above and below the crack for extra support. If caught in time, the cambium (or growing layer) of the plant will repair itself and fuse the two parts of the damaged branch together. I have personally saved split branches on holly, azalea and arborvitae using this technique and the plants have recovered beautifully. Identifying these issues now and tending to them prior to the snow can mean the survival of your plant.
SNOW REMOVAL: While it is tempting to go outside and start removing snow from weighted branches it is also a good time to exercise caution. Under the snow-covered branches could also be a frozen layer of ice. Any manipulating of the frozen branches could result in easy breakage and permanent damage to your tree. A helpful tip is to very carefully dig snow from around trapped branches and allow them to spring back up on their own. Never shake branches with ice. It is best to let nature take its course and allow thawing to occur. The branches will gradually regain their shape as the ice melts preventing any harm to your landscaping.
SPRING BULBS AND SNOW: Just as your spring bulbs are emerging, a late winter snow storm in March can cause much distress and uncertainty. Besides having to tend with the snow, there is some reassuring news! While mulch protects dormant bulbs from cold, once they start blooming, a covering of snow will act as an insulator. The snow will help to hold in the natural warmth from the soil and provide protection. Once the snow is gone, you can continue to enjoy your bulbs!
As mentioned previously, plants are very resilient, and with a little care can bounce back and recover nicely after a major snow. With a March snow on the way, warmer days may not look promising at the moment, but Spring is right around the corner!
I am very excited to be officially announcing the launching of my second book, Landscape Design Combinations! Fifty something years ago, I developed a passion for all things green and started digging in the soil by the age of five. In the 1980’s, I entered the field of education and after sixteen years, with the encouragement of friends, started up a landscape design business in 1996. I took up an interest in blog writing and photography in 2010, and after retiring from 32 years of teaching in 2013, I decided to put all my experiences into a published work. I had quickly realized that writing and publishing a book was not an easy task, but persisted in accomplishing what I had started. By 2015, I published my first book A Guide to Northeastern Gardening.
The thought of starting the process all over again was the furthest thing from my mind, but to my own astonishment, the desire to write within me grew even stronger. There was still so much I wanted to share. As I started to write, the words came easily, and a second book started to materialize. Now, two years later, I have completed Landscape Design Combinations, which takes the first book a step further by going much deeper into the design process, while offering numerous landscape designs with labeled photographs and descriptions. One can say that it completes what I had started. I am now thrilled to be able to share my love of gardening and design with you through a second book.
What does this book have to offer? Landscape Design Combinations is a comprehensive guide to help you plan your outdoor space. If you have ever felt overwhelmed by “what to plant where” in your garden, or have spent months, or even years, not knowing where to begin, Landscape Design Combinations will help to facilitate the process. The first two chapters deal with the basic principles of landscape design and color coordination. You will get ideas for the desired function of your space and discover your own personal sense of garden style and color preference. Throughout the book, each chapter builds upon the one before it, discussing foliage combinations, then types of and proper placement of evergreens, followed by flowering shrubs and finally, perennials.
Numbered and labeled photographs are supplied throughout the book with information on each plant, such as common or scientific name, plant descriptions and cold hardiness. Once plant usage and placement is covered, the remaining chapters discuss hardscape, with directions on how to build a simple stone walkway or patio, along with more information on garden styles. Each chapter will incorporate plants discussed earlier and create designs starting from simple perennial combinations to full landscape designs.
Discussion of evergreens and flowering plants will focus on placement and interest provided, while perennial combinations will include bloom time for each plant discussed. As each chapter progress, more detailed design plan layouts will be provided as a guide to assist you in planning your space. In the later chapters, topics covered include designing for seasonal interest, container combinations and hardscaping, with easy to follow designs. The book ends with “Garden Inspiration”, which discusses garden styles throughout the centuries and how various design elements have developed over the years. Finally, a glossary is included with definitions of design terms used throughout the book.
About the Book:Landscape Design Combinations provides the necessary tools to help you easily plan your garden, while offering a multitude of design plans with labeled photographs and detailed descriptions. Topics such as landscape design principles, color in design, the use of foliage, designing with deciduous and evergreen plants, planter combinations and landscape planning are discussed. Additional topics include designing with hardscape with “quick and easy” landscape designs and garden styles throughout history, with colorful illustrations. The information presented is applicable to both novice or professional gardener alike, and is all based on Lee Miller’s personal experience as a landscape designer for over twenty years. Lee Miller is also the author of “A Guide to Northeastern Gardening: Journeys of a Garden Designer”, initially published in 2015.
About the Author: Lee Miller is a professional landscape/garden designer involved in the horticultural industry since 1996. Having started a gardening blog in 2010, she is the author of over 200 articles on general gardening, landscape design principles, gardening tips, planting, pruning, garden maintenance, feature plants and more. In addition, Lee Miller has donated her time as a contributing writer for the American Heart Association Gardening Blog, as well as Gardening Know How, and has been involved as a presenter at local gardening clubs.
To Preview Landscape Design Combinations, simply click on the link or icon below. I hope to inspire you!