Summer Beauty in the Shade

Thursday, August 1st, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • Fountains create the sound of moving water that is restful and cooling on the patio or in the garden. It also masks unwanted sounds.
    • Feed annual blooming plants and hanging baskets every two weeks for prolific bloom. Keep dead flowers pinched off.
    • Remove suckers on rose bushes. These vigorous canes emerge from below the bud union and should be cut off as far down as possible.
    • Cut back leggy annuals by half and feed to encourage a longer bloom season.
    • Impatiens will give you instant color in shady areas and continue blooming right through the fall.

Summer Beauty in the Shade

The big, round, pink flower clusters of the well-known hydrangea have decorated summer gardens in California for decades. These long-blooming bushes are ideal for shady areas of the garden, as they bloom for most of the summer.
From their home along the rivers of China and Japan, hydrangeas were brought to Europe by plant collectors in the 1800s and now are popular in many parts of the world.

The name Hydrangea gives us a clue to the main needs of this plant. It comes from the Greek word Hydro, meaning water, indicating its need for plenty of water in the summertime. Hydrangeas prefer moist, humus-rich soil with good drainage. So when planting, add peat moss and compost to the soil.

Hydrangeas cannot tolerate hot sun. It will burn their leaves quickly. Plant them where they receive only early morning sun. The north side of a building is usually a good location. They need regular watering and should not be allowed to dry out. Plants wilt if they get too dry but will recover soon with a thorough watering.

Pink hydrangeas can be made to turn blue by making the soil more acid. This is done by working aluminum sulfate into the soil around the plants in March. Flowers may turn blue naturally here where the soils are acidic under conifers. It you want to keep the flowers pink, apply lime around the plants in the springtime.

Hydrangeas are deciduous shrubs which lose their leaves in the winter. They can be pruned when dormant by removing spent flowers down to a healthy pair of buds. This should be done in spring when they first start to show new growth.  

There are many kinds of hydrangeas besides the common one. The lace-cap hydrangea has flower heads that are made up of a cluster of small flowers surrounded by a ring of large ones. They may be white, pink or blue and add a dramatic touch to the shade garden. Some have variegated leaves which add color in shady areas.

There are several new cultivars including ‘Endless Summer,’ ‘All Summer Beauty,’ and ‘Glowing Embers.’ They add some variety to the sizes and colors of standard hydrangeas.

Hydrangeas grow quite large on the coast, but usually stay under five feet here. They give us some of our best summer color. Good companion plants include hostas, astilbe, columbines and bleeding hearts. Planted with pink, lavender or white impatiens around their base, they will bring life and color to your yard all summer.

Hydrangea paniculata is the most cold-hardy hydrangea. It is a big shrub growing 8-10 feet tall. Large creamy-white flowers, which are borne in 6- to 12-inch tall flower spikes, are produced in mid-summer. They take more sun than the regular hydrangeas, but like protection from the hot sun in our climate.

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Vanilla Strawberry’ blooms continuously for many weeks, with flowers that change color as they mature. They begin creamy white but turn pink two weeks later and then become strawberry red or even burgundy, retaining that shade for about 3–4 weeks. They are spectacular in fresh and dried arrangements.

Light up your garden with some of these summer beauties.

Hardy Ferns for the Landscape

Thursday, June 20th, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • The “Wave” petunias make wonderful hanging baskets for full sun. They come in purple, bright pink, reddish-purple and pale “misty lilac.” They can also be used for a colorful summer ground cover.
    • Cage or stake tomatoes while still small so that you can train them as they grow.
    • Cover cherry trees with bird netting to protect your crop.
    • Ladybugs are a big help with aphids in your greenhouse or garden. Release at dusk in problem areas.
    • Roses bloom all summer with their abundant flowers in so many different colors. Choose some now when you can see their lovely flowers.

Hardy Ferns for the Landscape

“Nature made ferns for pure leaves.” So said Thoreau, and indeed, the variety and beauty of ferns is almost endless. Their many shades of green and even bronzy-red leaves make them interesting at any season.

Ferns are relatively easy to grow. They are long-lived and generally pest-free. Some ferns are evergreen the year round, while others turn brown with the frost and come back to life the next spring with a great burst of growth.

Ferns need protection from hot sun and moisture through the dry weather. Most ferns will live in heavy shade where few other plants are successful. Generally speaking, deer avoid ferns, so they are good plants for the forest garden.

Ferns are practically essential for the shade garden. Their graceful, arching fronds add texture to the landscape. Large ferns, like giant chain fern, can be used along fences or walls to break up the flat surfaces. Lower growing ferns can be used in front of sparse shrubs.

Most ferns grow in deep or light shade and are at home in woodland areas. They like moist soil and mulch to keep the soil soft. Use them with hostas, astilbe, foxglove, Bethlehem sage, and impatiens for a lush look.

Some ferns will take more sun than others. Deer fern, sword fern, and chain fern can stand a half day of sun if the soil is moist.

There are many hardy ferns that grow well in this area. Some of the native ferns are the familiar sword fern (Polystichum munitum), the giant chain fern (Woodwardia fimbriata), five-finger fern (Adiantum pedatum) and deer tongue fern (Blechnum spicant).

Sword ferns grow from two to four feet tall depending on soil conditions. They are evergreen and make a good foundation planting or naturalize easily under trees. Giant chain ferns are the largest growing ferns in this area, reaching six feet tall. They grow tallest in cool, wet places, and are very attractive against a shaded wall.

Five-finger ferns come up in the spring with delicate fronds on dark, wiry stems. The fronds make a finger-like pattern atop 12 to 18 inch stems. They die back in the winter but are very hardy. Deer tongue ferns grow one to three feet tall with narrow, glossy green fronds. They have a symmetrical, formal appearance.

There are several other ferns that do well here. Japanese Painted fern (Athyrium nip. ‘Pictum’) blends wine-red and silver markings on its graceful fronds. Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) has reddish new fronds which turn a deep green as they mature.

Japanese Tassel fern (Polystichum polyblepharum) is a shiny leaf fern that adds an elegant look to shaded gardens. It is particularly beautiful when new fronds emerge stiffly, then droop backwards to form a tassel. It grows to 2 feet tall and wide.

Soft Shield fern (Polystichum setiferum ‘Proliferum’) is a hardy European native that does well here. It has distinctly cut leaflets that give a frilly effect to the fronds for a lush, rich appearance. They grow 2-3 feet tall and 2 feet wide.

Create lush shady landscapes with a variety of ferns and other perennials.

Lovely Japanese Maples

Saturday, May 25th, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • Asparagus plants should be fed with good, rich compost when you have finished cutting spears. Keep the bed mulched and weed-free all summer, and the soil moist.
    • Colorful Gerberas, or Transvaal Daisies, with their large, daisy flowers are a standout in containers. Water them infrequently and give them plenty of sun for flowers all summer.
    • 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.
    • Tomatoes are the most popular summer vegetable. Choose from the many varieties available now so you can enjoy delicious home-grown flavor.
    • When you plant your vegetable garden, why not grow a little extra to donate to the food bank this summer.

Lovely Japanese Maples

Japanese maples are beautiful in every season, from the new growth emerging in spring to the wonderful leaf textures through the summer to the bright fall colors and finally the artistic arrangement of their bare branches in winter.

While most small trees are grown for their fleeting flowers, Japanese maples are grown for the beauty of their leaves, which come in a great variety of shapes and colors. For hundreds of years, the feudal lords of Japan bred and selected trees to find ever more beautiful specimens. Today there are hundreds of cultivars of both Japanese and Western origin.

The leaves of the most familiar cultivars look like stars because they are divided into five to seven sharply pointed lobes. On some trees, the lobes are further divided giving the leaves a lovely feathery or lacy appearance.

Leaf colors range from yellow-green to dark green, and from bright red to deep blood red. There are also trees with variegated leaves that are green outlined with white or gold. Red-leaved trees are the most prized. In an otherwise green landscape, a red Japanese maple makes a stunning accent.

Japanese maples are divided into groups based on the shape of their leaves. But generally speaking, they grow either as trees or shrubs.

‘Bloodgood’ is a vigorous lawn tree with deep, dark red leaves that hold their color well. It grows to 15 feet tall and wide, turns bright red in the fall, and is a dependable, sturdy tree.

‘Sango kaku’ is a popular tree for its bright coral red bark in the winter, pale yellow-green leaves in spring and apricot and gold fall color. It can grow to 20 feet in the landscape or be kept at 8 feet in a container.

Many of the smaller mounding types have finely dissected leaves. Typically they grow to 6 feet in the landscape, or 4 feet in a container. ‘Garnet’ is fast-growing with a rich red-orange color that develops best with some sun. ‘Inaba shidare’ is a more upright grower with a cascading form. The deep purple-red leaves retain their color better than others in the hot summer months. Fall color is a brilliant crimson red. ‘Tamukeyama’ has a lovely weeping habit and deep purplish-red leaves in the summer. It does well in hot situations. ‘Viridis’ has green, finely dissected leaves that will burn in hot sun. The golden fall leaves are touched with crimson.

Japanese maples thrive in moist but well-drained, slightly acid soil in sun or part shade. The red-leaved cultivars need ample sunlight to develop their best color. Shade from afternoon sun and protection from drying winds will keep the leaves looking their best. Occasional watering, once a week in dry periods, and a light fertilizing in the spring will keep them healthy and beautiful.

Good under oaks, as background for ferns and azaleas, or as a small tree for patios and entryways, Japanese maples are beautiful landscape trees.