Friday, March 30, 2012

Viburnum "Shasta"

Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum 'Shasta' (aka "Doublefile Viburnum")
Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Friday, March 23, 2012


Japanese Kerria (Kerria japonica)

There are some plants (okay, a lot of plants) that I consider "must haves" in the garden and this is one of them. Kerria, also known as the "Yellow Rose of Texas" or the "Easter Rose" is simply a wonderful shrub, easy to grow, and it has never failed me. In fact, a few weeks ago when it started to bloom, I wondered if it would meet the same fate as the Yoshino Cherries and the Alabama Snow Wreath - the week-long temperatures of 80+ degrees did them in and their blooms only lasted a few days. A sad disappointment, but the Kerria stood its ground and it is still beautiful. It blooms for a long time and is always blooming at Easter time.

This is a woodland-type shrub and does well with some shade. I've always been partial to shrubs that have cascading fountains of blooms. Kerria sends out long branches loaded with bright yellow pom poms, growing anywhere from 4 to 10 feet in height and spread. The bright green stems remain green throughout the winter. It will sucker and you can dig these up and plant elsewhere or share with friends. I rarely see this shrub in commercial nurseries but it is easily found in local plant sales.

"Plenifora" is the most common variety and I think it is the most beautiful. It has lush double flowers. "Picta" is a variegated variety and there is a single variety that isn't near as profuse or showy as the double. 

Plant it in a semi-shaded location with good soil. Once established it is drought tolerant. After blooming, cut back the oldest stems to the ground to encourage new growth. This is a wonderful heirloom shrub that I highly recommend.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

March Bloom Day

I have not participated in Gardener's Bloom Day since I don't know when. Usually when I think of it, it is too late but I'm actually on the ball this time. As most of the country seems to be fast-forwarding toward summer, thoughts of 2007 keep creeping into my mind. That was the year we had an early spring and a devastating late freeze. I'm hoping the same fate is not lurking around the corner this year.

I actually feel like I was cheated out of a winter this year! I do enjoy winter - it gives me a chance to unwind and do things inside (like baking, catching up on movies, etc.) that I otherwise feel guilty doing when it is nice outside. Michael tells me I need to get over this but I just can't help it. I can't stand being inside when I could be accomplishing outside.

The bright side of this early spring is that I'm getting much accomplished so maybe I won't be overwhelmed later.

Gardener's Bloom Day is the 15th of each month and garden bloggers across the nation post photos of what is blooming in their gardens. To get in on the action, visit the May Dreams Gardens blog.

Carolina Jessamine announces that spring is here even if the calendar doesn't agree. Note the increasing dilapidating fence. My goal this year was to replace it but I proscrastinate (plus have you priced fencing lately?)
There are many camellias blooming at the moment but I think "Taylor's Perfection" is the prettiest.
Another camellia (unidentified) with Alabama Snow Wreath (Neviusia alabamensis) in the background
Azalea "Coral Bells"
Hellebores and Camellia "Sawada's Dream"
Add caption
Helleborus foetidus  (Bear Claw Hellebore)
Jacob's Ladder "Stairway to Heaven" (polemonium reptans)

Pansies and Candytuft

Vinca major

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Pruning hydrangeas

I get a lot of questions about pruning hydrangeas. It can be a confusing topic because some hydrangeas are pruned differently from others. The process was baffling to me the first years I grew them but it turned out I did the right thing - I didn't prune them at all.

Ask yourself this - why do you want to prune your hydrangea? The only good reason for pruning is to control their size. If you have one that is getting too big for its britches or just getting in the way, then prune. However, there are certain rules to know.

First things first - do not prune at all until the hydrangea is at least 3 years old.

Hydrangea macrophylla - the mophead types - are the most popular and the most commonly grown hydrangeas. They bloom on old wood and new growth coming from old wood which means you should not be pruning them this time of year! If you cut them back now, you will be reducing your blooms. You can thin them out. To do this, take a look at the bare twigs and look for the oldest canes - they are easy to spot - they will be thick and have a gnarled appearance. Cut these canes completely down to the ground. The remaining canes should be left alone. If you are pruning a large macrophylla to reduce its size, then you can cut back the remaining canes to your desired height. Just keep in mind that you may not have as many blooms this year as you normally would.

An exception to this rule are the "Endless Summer" hydrangeas. They have the distinction of blooming on both old wood and new wood. They can be pruned without the danger of losing flowers.

This is Hydrangea "Ayesha". It is about 4 feet tall and, as you can see, new leaves are forming at the tips of the canes. This hydrangea does not need any pruning at this time. I'm happy with the size of it so I won't be touching it with the pruning shears.

This hydrangea "Madame Emile Moliere" also doesn't need pruning although it is covered with dry flower heads. The flower heads can be removed - just cut them off at the base of the bloom.
The same hydrangea with the flower heads removed.
The only hydrangeas that can be pruned back to the ground this time of year is Hydrangea arborescens and Hydrangea paniculata (aka PeeGee hydrangea).  The most popular one is "Annabelle". Unlike hydrangea macrophylla, these bloom on new wood. Therefore you can cut them way down to the ground and not worry about sacrificing flowers.

Hydrangea arborescens "Annabelle" before pruning

Hydrangea arborescens "Annabelle" after pruning
That leaves Hydrangea quercifolia, the Oakleaf hydrangeas. I've never pruned mine except to remove dead branches. If you need to prune to control size, they should be cut back late in the summer after they have bloomed.

If you'd like to hear more about growing, selecting, pruning and propagating hydrangeas, I will be doing a program at the Florence Lauderdale Public Library on Thursday, March 15th at 11:30. 

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The forsythia is blooming - time to prune

The saying goes that when the forsythia blooms, it is time to prune roses. Actually this is the time to prune many things (even before forsythia blooms). Here are a few things I always prune this time of year:

Ornamental grasses are very attractive during the winter months but before the new growth begins, it is best to cut them back all the way to the ground or you will have the old dead blades mixed with the newer ones and that is not pretty.
Set your lawnmower at its highest level and mow down liriope (monkey grass). You can also use the weedeater for this task.
Other plants to prune now (or the coming month) include:

Butterfly Bush - the entire shrub can be cut back within a foot or two from the ground.
Nandina - Cut about 1/3 of the oldest canes down to the ground. Leave the remaining canes.
Evergreen shrubs (including hollies) - prune right before new growth begins and danger of hard freezes are over.
Roses  (I'll post on this later)

(Prune only if needed!) - Summer blooming shrubs like Spirea, Rose of Sharon, PeeGee and Annabelle hydrangea (don't prune your mophead hydrangeas!)

Do NOT prune any early spring flowering shrubs or you won't have blooms this year. This includes:


Mock Orange
Sweet Shrub
Flowering Almond
Hydrangeas (Mophead (only remove dead canes or older canes. The exceptions are PeeGee and Annabelle hydranges which bloom on new wood)

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy