Stately Liquidambars

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015 by Jenny Watts
    • Ornamental kale and cabbage make a dramatic planting in flower beds over the winter.
    • Plant pansies, snapdragons, stock, calendulas and primroses now to replace summer annuals.
    • Tulips can paint the spring garden with almost any color you choose. Plant them now to enjoy their bright flowers next April.
    • Garlic sets can be planted now for an easy crop that you can harvest next spring. Choose from hard-neck, soft-neck or Elephant garlic varieties now available.
    • Plant cover crops in the garden where summer plants have finished. Fava beans and crimson clover will grow through the winter and improve your soil for spring planting.

Stately Liquidambars

If you’ve always wanted to see the fall colors in New England, do the next best thing and plant your own deciduous tree for fall color. Now is the ideal time to shop for such trees — while their leaves are showing their brilliant fall color. Few trees can equal the foliage of the liquidambar, or sweet gum tree. From yellow and orange to burgundy and red, these trees have it all. The sweet gum is one of the most reliable trees for autumn color in our area.

The tree is named for the reddish resin that exudes from the bark known as storax. The common name ‘sweet gum’ comes from this sweet balsamic sap which, when exposed, hardens into a fragrant gum.

Fall color is not the only attractive feature of a liquidambar. Their bright green, maple-like leaves are attractive in spring and summer. In the winter, their prickly, round fruits hang down from the bare branches like little ornaments. They are a favorite for flower arranging.

Liquidambars have a narrow, upright habit of growth. They can reach 40 or 60 feet in height with a spread of 20 to 25 feet. Since they branch low to the ground, they make excellent screens. They can be planted 10 to 15 feet apart to make a tall untrimmed screen.

When planted on the west side of the house, they will offer filtered shade from the hot afternoon sun. When they are in brilliant fall color, this back lighting makes them especially handsome.

Liquidambars are easily trained as lawn, street or patio trees. During the first two or three years, leave on the lowest branches. If you want to be able to walk under the tree, prune out its lower branches when the tree begins to form a sturdy trunk. Do not cut the central leader to create a rounded head. The tree will just send up another leader to take its place, and this may spoil the tree’s appearance.

When sweet gum trees are grown from seed, they may vary in size and in fall color. If you buy them after the leaves have turned color, you can choose the one that you like best.

Several varieties have been selected for their fall color and these are reproduced by grafting. These cultivars include ‘Palo Alto’ which turns a fiery scarlet in the fall; ‘Burgundy’ which has purplish leaves that hold late into winter; and ‘Festival’ which has pink, orange and yellow leaves on the same tree.

Liquidambars need full sun for best fall color, but they will take some shade. They make nice street trees, but do not plant them under power lines since they grow so tall. And make sure to plant them well away from sidewalks and driveways as their roots will crack nearby pavement.

For best appearance, water them once a month in heavy soils, and twice a month in sandy soils through the summer. They do well in damp locations.

The sweet gum is an outstanding deciduous tree that looks at home both in woodland settings and in residential gardens.

A Heavenly Bamboo for your Garden

Saturday, June 26th, 2010 by Jenny Watts
    • Hang codling moth traps in apple trees to reduce the number of wormy apples in your harvest this year. Be sure to use a fresh pheromone (attractant).
    • Star jasmine is an evergreen vine that prefers some shade. The fragrant blossoms fill the June air with their sweet scent.
    • Earwigs are out and about and hungry. Control them with the new “Sluggo Plus”, or diatomaceous earth sprinkled around the plants, or go out after dark with a flashlight and a spray bottle of Safer’s Insecticidal Soap. One squirt will put an end to the spoiler.
    • Thin fruit trees now while fruits are still small. Thin apples to 6 inches apart and peaches to 4 inches apart. On Asian pears leave 1 fruit per spur.
    • Ladybugs are a big help with aphids in your greenhouse or garden. Release at dusk in problem areas.

Heavenly Bamboo

Heavenly Bamboo—Nandina domestica—has to be near the top of any list of desirably attractive, easy-to-care-for, mid-sized shrubs for the home garden. In spite of its name and appearance, they are not related to bamboo and share none of their negative traits.

The delicate foliage, with its bamboo-like appearance, is attractive in every season. In spring the new growth is pinkish, turning to a light green in the summer. Then when the chill of fall arrives, the leaves turn a bright red. They hold on the plant most of the winter with this colorful look. Considered a semi-evergreen shrub, it is never without leaves.

Large clusters of creamy or pinkish white blossoms appear in late spring, followed by showy red berries that hang on the plants into the winter, until the birds discover them and enjoy the tasty winter treat. In the meantime, they can be used for winter decorations.

There are many different varieties of Nandina, which is what makes it such an interesting and useful group of shrubs. The largest is the common variety, Nandina domestica. It grows to 8 feet tall and about 6 feet wide over time. It is mostly an upright shrub, useful for height in somewhat narrow spaces. But be sure to give it at least a 4-foot bed.

Another fine large Nandina is called ‘Moyer’s Red’. It has the same growth habit as common Nandina, but truly brilliant fall color.

Nandina domestica ‘Compacta’ is similar to the parent shrub, but it only grows to 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide. This makes it very useful in smaller gardens, as a low hedge, or in courtyards or entryways. Slightly smaller is a variety called ‘Gulf Stream’. The new growth is scarlet, maturing to blue-green in summer and becoming intense red in the fall.

Among the dwarf varieties is ‘Firepower’. It grows to about 2 feet tall and wide and is knows for its brilliant red foliage in the fall and winter. It produces no flowers or fruit. It is an excellent plant to add color in a shaded landscape.

Heavenly bamboos are hardy shrubs that grow well in either sun or partial shade. Once established, they need only occasional watering, so they are useful in dry shade. In many landscapes they are deer resistant.

They are particularly useful in Asian-inspired gardens. Or, for a real show, grow in glazed ceramic pots beside water gardens and fountains.

Adding its unique foliage color through four seasons, natural rugged vigor and low care needs, this is an excellent landscape shrub.

Fall Color in the Garden

Friday, October 31st, 2008 by Jenny Watts
    • Ornamental cabbage makes a dramatic planting in flower beds over the winter.
    • Crocus and daffodils announce the arrival of spring if you plant them now. Choose from a variety of colors and bi-colors available now.
    • Cover small ponds with netting or shade cloth to catch falling leaves so they don’t rot in the pond.
    • Naked lady amaryllis have lovely, fragrant pink flowers that bloom in late summer with little or no care. Plant the bulbs, available at local nurseries, now.

Fall Color in the Garden

Though many plants pass into winter rather quietly, there are a number of shrubs that end their growing season with a flash of bright colors. Reds, yellows and oranges usher out the last warm days with a cheery farewell.

Japanese barberry is an attractive, red-leaved shrub whose foliage displays a festival of colors before dropping. The leaves turn to yellow, orange and red all on the same plant. It also has bright red berries.

Burning bush is a real eye-catcher. Also known as winged Euonymus, it is a dense, green background shrub that suddenly turns bright red in the fall.

Japanese rose, Kerria japonica, is a graceful large shrub with flowers like small yellow roses in the spring and summer. In autumn, the bright green leaves turn to golden yellow before they fall.

Crape myrtle is well-known for its papery pink, purple or red flowers in the summer. It is also pretty in the fall when the leaves change to yellow, orange and red before they drop.

Heavenly bamboo, Nandina, is a good-looking shrub year-round. In the spring it puts on a lovely display of white flowers that produce berries which turn bright red in the fall. The leaves also take on a reddish hue and both berries and leaves hang on through the winter.

Spiraeas are a large family of shrubs with tiny flowers in clusters. The spring-blooming varieties, like ‘Bridal Wreath’, have long arching branches covered with delicate white flowers. In the fall they are again colorful as the dark green leaves turn to a rich red.

Snowball bush also has lovely fall foliage. This handsome bush is covered with clusters of white flowers that look like snowballs in the spring. In the fall, its leaves become flushed with rosy red before they drop.

Witch hazel is an uncommon shrub in this area, but it has several desirable features. They bloom very early, in February, with spidery red or yellow flowers that have a spicy fragrance. In fall the leaves turn golden on most varieties. ‘Diane’ shows a particularly fine red fall color.

Blueberry bushes are an ornamental and fruiting shrub that can serve a dual purpose in the landscape. Fall foliage on blueberry plants will usually be a bright orange or red color. Blueberry shrubs need acidic, moist soil and do well planted with Camellias or Azaleas as they share similar soil requirements.

One of the prettiest perennials in the fall is Hardy Plumbago, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides. It grows 8-12 inches tall, spreading to 18 inches wide with intense blue flowers in late summer and fall. Its foliage turns bright red, even while the blue blossoms persist.

Probably the most brilliant red, besides poison oak, comes from Virginia creeper and Boston ivy. These deciduous vines turn a brilliant scarlet when the weather starts to cool. Clinging to a fence, they make a spectacular backdrop to any garden.

Don’t let your garden have the fall blues. Dress it up with the bright reds and yellows of these shrubs and vines.