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Cercis canadensis

Eastern Red Bud, or Cercis Canadensis, is a beautiful spring flowering tree. The red bud is deciduous, is native to eastern North America and is hardy from Southern Ontario to northern Florida.  It is a small, vase shaped, often multi-stemmed medium growing tree that at maturity reaches a height of 20 to 30 feet with a spread of 15 to 25 feet.    The red bud prefers moist but well-drained soil and is happy in a sunny to partial shade exposure. The red bud is a vision in pink and magenta in the spring and is unique in that its precocious (emerging before the foliage) pea-like blossoms are cauliflourous (borne directly on stems and trunk). The leaves on the red bud are heart shaped and emerge red in color changing to a light green which turn darker as the season progresses and which resolve to a bright yello w in the fall. The flowers on the red bud are edible and can be used in spring salads. In some parts of southern Appalachia, green twigs from the eastern redbud are used as seasoning for wild game such as venison and opossum. Not surprisingly, in these mountain areas, the eastern redbud is sometimes known as the spicewood tree. The tree flowers in mid-April to early May with about a two-week long display depending on the weather. The cloud of pink moves to a carpet of pink once the trees blossoms are spent and fall to the ground.  After the tree leafs out, two to three inch long, leguminous (pea) pod shaped seeds appear and mature by midsummer, falling to the ground in...

Magnolia

Magnolia x soulangeana  (saucer magnolia) The saucer magnolia is a wonderful tree to have in your landscape not only for the beautiful early blooms but for the fragrance that wafts in the fresh spring air.  In April the display of tulip shaped flowers open before the tree leafs out.  At its height of bloom the tree is a cloud of pink that can take your breath away especially after a long cold winter. Magnolia x soulangeana, initially bred by French plantsman Etienne Soulange-Bodin in 1820, is a deciduous tree with large tulip shaped, early-blooming flowers in various shades of white, pink and purple.  It is multi-stemmed and is considered a small specimen tree with a mature rounded form, a height of 20 to 30 feet and spread of 15 to 20 feet.  It is hardy in zones 5-9 and likes well drained soil, full sun and has a medium growth rate.   It is more tolerant to wind and clay soils (alkaline) than other magnolias. The tree leafs out once the blooms are spent and a light, spring-green quickly replaces the cloud of pink. The leaves in the fall are a beautiful yellow and the grey smooth bark reminds me of a beach tree. The trees seed pods look like exotic cones and  in the fall,  when open, display bright red seeds that are enjoyed by birds and squirrels alike. The magnolia sets its flower buds for the following year in the fall.  The buds are a medium size, are grey and fuzzy and persist until opening in the spring, adding interest to the winter...

Squill

I love watching spring emerge and one of my favorite early harbingers of it is Squill.  Also known as Scilla, Squill is a small blue flower of which many species, notably S. siberica, are grown in gardens for their attractive early spring flowers. Squill also has medicinal value in the treatment of, inter alia, bronchitis. It has been recognized as such since antiquity by Pythagoras and others. Although Squill is a variable plant differing greatly in size and color I’ve come across blue carpets of Squill in lawns, especially near older homes.  I started growing Squill under a tall oak tree a few years ago and it has spread from the oak along a hedge of old fashioned hydrangeas and has recently shown up in a bed of moss on the north side of the oak tree. The Squill flower with which I am familiar has a deep shade of blue that contrasts beautifully with the emerging shades of greens as spring progresses. Squill’s tiny bulbs should be planted 2 to 3 inches deep and at least 3 inches apart in well-drained soil in the fall. Consider putting Squill on your list for fall plantings this year as when next spring comes you will indeed be pleasantly...

Heuchera

Crazy ‘bout the foliage!  I love Heuchera! Heuchera, also known as Coral Bells or Alumroot, have come a long way in the past decade as their cultivars have flourished.  Not only do they have long-lasting, tiny bell-shaped flowers but their foliage is stunning.  The incredible leaf colors are breathtaking and their palette includes bright neon-lime, deep purple with a silvery sheen, purple and white, mahogany red and a peachy orange, to name just a few. Heuchera, a native plant of North America, is a genus of herbaceous perennial in the Saxifragaceae family.  They are also evergreen and are hardy in zones 4-9, depending on variety.  The leaf, though generally described as palmately lobed [arranged like fingers on a hand], can be deeply lobed, ruffled and exotically veined and is but one of many reasons to have this plant in your garden. Heuchera are very low-care, tidy, mounding plants. Light requirements range from full shade to partial shade or full sun with some varieties.  With moderate to regular water and well-amended soil this plant is sure to thrive and reward you with continued pleasure not only through the season but for years to come. I use Heuchera as edging plants in many of my beds. I mass plant them as a ground cover in a woodland setting or pair them with finer foliaged plants to help show off the many attributes that Heuchera boast.  Heuchera also do well when potted up and used as part of a seasonal arrangement. The plant size varies within the 1 ft. to 3 ft. range in both height and spread. To propagate, divide clumps...

Bee Aware

Honey Bees are in trouble.  In the last 50 years, experts say the domesticated honey bee population declined by nearly 50%. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is the phenomenon in which worker bees disappear leaving behind a queen, food and a few nurse bees. It is thought that extensive exposure to an insecticide of the neonicotinoid class is the culprit in the demise of our honey bee populations. As recently as the summer of 2013, 50,000 bumblebees died in a Wilsonville, Ore., parking lot.  It was concluded that a misapplication of a dinotefuran pesticide sprayed on linden trees to control aphids, was the cause. Now that the spotlight on pesticide use has become a topic of conversation with the EPA, Congress has stepped up their involvement to promote legislation on the issue.  Some states have bills pending that will ban all neonicotinoid pesticide use.  It is important to note that there are many factors that can affect bee health such as the afore mentioned pesticides as well as  mites, viruses and bacteria, diseases, poor nutrition, poor beekeeping practices, habitat loss, genetically modified plants, a lack of genetic diversity, and weather. In spite of all that can go wrong being aware and making educated decisions will help in correcting this downward spiraling phenomenon.  Planting for pollinators is another way to help beneficial bugs thrive by giving them a place to eat.  The following flowering specimens have buzzed with the sound of bees in my garden season after season for years on end.  Consider adding any of the following to your landscape for color, fragrance and the quintessential sound of summer, buzzing...

Witch Hazel

Hamamelis (pronounced; ham-a-may-lis), the genus for “Witch hazel”, is a tree that blooms in the fall and the winter and has three species native to North America, (H. ovalis, H. virginiana and H. vernalis), one in Japan (H. japonica) and one in China (H. mollis). The Hamamelis in New England with which we are most familiar is H. virginiana, an understory tree that flowers in the fall and is found in mixed forests that include oak, maple, birch, beech, hemlock and white pine. Hamamelis means “together with fruit”, referring to the simultaneous occurrence of flowers with the maturing fruit from the previous year. The fragrant flowers each have four crinkly, ribbon-shaped petals that bloom anywhere from October through November and then again in January through February-March, depending upon the species. Fruits are greenish, seed capsules that become woody with age and mature to light brown. Each seed capsule explodes open in the fall of the following year, hurling the 1 to 2 black seeds up to 30 feet. Witch hazel is a deciduous, large shrub or small tree that can grow up to 20′ tall. The native witch hazel has a rounded shape spreading a bit with age, whereas the Asian natives and hybrids are more vase-shaped. The leaves are 3″ to 6″, somewhat rounded, and are a downy, gray-green in the summer and a yellow to yellow-orange in the autumn. Depending on the species the flowers are yellow, yellow with a reddish base, entirely red or orange. The Chinese native, H. mollis and hybrids are said to have the strongest fragrance. Witch hazel is unfussy, fairly drought tolerant,...

Snowy Owl

One of our employees spotted a Snowy Owl on a recent evening which caused this writer, an amateur birder, to launch this blog. These magnificent Arctic birds are frequent migrants to Canada and the northern parts of the United States, Europe and Asia.  Two years ago Snowy Owls staged a massive invasion into the Lower 48; this year’s “invasion” is different in that the center of focus is the Great Lakes and the Northeast. Snowy Owls, unlike most owls, are diurnal; they hunt both day and night.  These owls are Arctic birds but will fly south when there is an increase in their numbers and food supply is scarce.  The Owls prefer to feast on Lemmings but they are opportunistic hunters and their prey may differ, especially in winter.  These Owls not only have excellent hearing but they also have excellent eyesight which gives them an edge  as they fly low over open fields in search of food. This species of owl is that of a ground nester, which builds on top of a mound or boulder in a wide-open field.  Although these birds have few predators, their keen eyesight is essential to their survival as they must be watchful in defending themselves and their offspring.  Snowy Owls usually mate for life and females lay from 3 to 11 eggs at a time depending on food availability.  The female sits on her eggs until they hatch, approximately a 30 day incubation period, while the male continues to feed her as she keeps the eggs warm and safe.  The young leave the nest about 30 days after hatching and are ...

Red Twig Dogwood

Did you know that the word “dog” in “dogwood”  has no connection with dogs?   Historically, the dogwood was found to be particularly useful in making tools because of its hardwood properties.  “Dog”  comes from the word “dag” which referred to a sharp tool, e.g. dagger.  The Latin name for dogwood is Cornus, taken from the root word meaning horn. The dogwood is a four season shrub and the red twig dogwood is chosen in particular for its bright red bark color, easily seen in the winter.  The red twig dogwood is a broadleaf, deciduous, flowering shrub that bears white berries once the flowers pass. Red twig dogwood is appreciated when planted en masse or as a transition woodland shrub in a wet area.   They do best in full sun but will tolerate partial shade.  The widely spreading root system of these shrubs make them an effective plant choice for erosion control. The color of the branches tend to fade as the shrub ages and so pruning is the best way to keep the shrub a vibrant red.  Prune up to a third of the oldest branches on the dogwood annually, it is best to prune in late winter however I have pruned in early winter and used the stems in seasonal displays for some bright color through the winter months. There are many different species of dogwood to choose from such as yellow twig, variegated many varieties of red twig, trees as well as a ground cover.  Keep this shrub in mind when thinking of winter color in your landscape and the cornus genus in mind when thinking of great...

Winterberry

Ilex verticillata, or winterberry, is quite noticeable this time of year.  It is a species of holly, “Ilex” in Latin, and is native to eastern North America.  Ilex verticillata is a deciduous shrub (it loses its leaves) and is happiest in wet areas.  Not only does its hardiness and resistance to disease and pests make it an ideal shrub for the landscape but it also creates a visual and physical impact when planted en masse.  This shrub is slow growing and will reach 8’-10′ both in width and height.  It has a rounded shape and does best in full sun. Winterberry is beautiful when planted as a background to perennials and ornamental grasses.  The small leaves turn a chartreuse green, a striking contrast to the red berries, before falling to the ground, leaving the berries to carry a visual show as the season progresses.  Winterberry, which was once used medicinally by Native Americans, attracts birds and is deer resistant. This holly, as other hollies, can be pruned in the winter, making it a perfect specimen to be used in seasonal winter arrangements.  When cutting the bush in the wild take note to leave enough of it so that it can replenish and so that  birds can feed on it.  I have found that once cut, the branches seem to hold the berries longer if they are first put in water for a few hours. Winterberry may bring you luck, as it did to me during a snow storm in January years ago, as I was visited by a flock of Blue Birds. “As the snow continued to fall the...

Grasses

I notice the grasses as I walk through my gardens, making a mental list of all that I still have to do to prepare  them for winter.  I remember that I was first drawn to switch grass, also known as Panicum virgatum, because of the sound it made when the wind would blow.  This grass is more of an upright grass, has vertical leaves and grows in columnar clumps.  I suggested this grass to a friend who planted it on a corner of her house under a window.  We have enjoyed the sound of this grass for many years as it has grown and filled its space quite nicely. As I move on in my garden I debate as to whether I will cut back my grasses or let them stay until the snow falls.  I know that, architecturally, grasses can provide winter interest but some of mine seem to flop as soon as the snow falls.  However, there are a few that seem to hold up well and so I will wait until the last moment to cut them back.  One, in particular, is a Japanese silver grass, or Maiden grass, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Little Kitten’.  This grass has an upright, arching habit and grows to be about 3′.  Little Kitten is perfect  when a shorter grass is needed to compliment a shrub or is mixed in with perennials.  Another Maiden grass I favor is ‘Gracillimus’, a 4-8′ tall specimen that is  ideal in a border with larger trees and shrubs.  A smaller version of this is ‘Graziella’, a 4-6′ specimen.  Both of these grasses have beautiful inflorescences (flowers)...

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