10 Tips for Spring Pruning Success

by Melinda Myers (see more tips from Melinda at

Early spring is a great time to do a bit of pruning. Knowing what to prune and when will help you achieve the best results for the health of your plants and beauty in your landscape.

·      Remove dead, damaged and rubbing stems and branches back to healthy growth. Prune just above an outward facing bud, branch or main stem and flush with the branch bark collar on trees.

·      Check plants for and remove the swollen growths of black knot on plum and cherry trees and sunken discolored cankers on the stems of trees and shrubs. Prune 6 to 9” below the canker and disinfect tools between cuts.

·      When pruning diseased material be sure to disinfect tools between cuts with a spray disinfectant or rubbing alcohol.

·      Prune summer blooming Annabelle-type hydrangeas, potentillas and spireas to encourage compact sturdy growth. Cut all the stems back halfway and half of these back to ground level.

·      Rejuvenate overgrown suckering shrubs by removing a third of the older and larger stems back to ground level. Reduce the overall height, if needed, by no more than a fourth. Repeat for the next few years.

·      Prune fruit trees and fruiting vines to increase flowering and subsequent fruiting.

·      Improve their appearance by removing faded flowers left on shrubs for winter interest. Be careful not to remove any flower buds already formed on spring flowering shrubs.

·      Wait until after spring flowering shrubs bloom to prune if you want to maximize the floral display. Consider doing more severe pruning, when needed, in late winter or early spring when it is less stressful for the plant. Force the trimmings into flower and enjoy in a bouquet indoors.

·      Make sure your tools are sharp, so the pruning cuts close quickly and use aquality bypass pruner, like the Corona® BP 6310. Through April 5, you can get it for only $29.88 + free shipping – a savings of 40% off the regular price.

Simply visit Corona’s website and use the code SAVE40MM to receive 40% off + free shipping! If you need help on how to get the 40% off + free shipping, visit for instructions.

·      Remember to keep yourself safe by wearing safety glasses and heavy-duty gloves. It’s too easy to focus on the task and end up with a stick in the eye or scratches and bruises. Consider synthetic leather gauntlet style gloves like Foxgloves extra protection gloves that protect hands and forearms from harm.

Stay safe and healthy!


Beloved Lilies


Beloved plant is toxic to house pets

The rules for calculating Easter are rather complex. Easter Day falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon that falls on or after March 21, but the “full moon” referred to is not the real moon but a theoretical moon that doesn’t quite match the one in the sky. In 1928, the British House of Commons agreed to a bill fixing the date of Easter, subject to agreement by various Christian churches. Efforts to secure that agreement, however, have been going on ever since.

The name of “Easter” is generally believed to be derived from Eostre, the pagan goddess of dawn, though recent research suggests that Eostre may not have been a goddess at all but the name of a season, and the “goddess” was only a mistranslation by the Venerable Bede in the eighth century.

Easter Island in the Pacific was discovered by the Dutch sailor Jacob Roggeveen on Easter Day 1722.

The plant that we now call an Easter Lily was discovered in 1777 in the Ryukyu Islands of Japan. Interestingly, though, the white lily is mentioned in the Bible and has been a symbol of Christianity since its beginnings. To learn more about the lily:

If you’ve been gifted with an Easter lily and you have pets, you should know that the plant is poisonous. Though the plant presents a high rate of toxicity to cats who ingest it, many pet owners are not aware of the dangers posed by it. There are no documented cases of poisoning by Easter lily in dogs, but there is a definite possibility of effects such as gastrointestinal upset or internal obstruction if your dog eats a large amount of this plant. Most cases of ingestion of the Easter lily by canines will mean mild gastrointestinal upset simply because the digestive systems of dogs are not used to processing plant material, especially in large quantities. While considered as lethal to cats, the Easter lily is not toxic to dogs but this does not mean your canine companion should have free rein to ingest this plant. The Easter lily is known to be extremely toxic to the feline species. While this flower is not documented as poisonous to dogs, ingestion of the flower in large quantities may  lead to digestive discomfort.

Read more at:


Hostas from Seeds

Note: this article first appeared in our July 2019 member newsletter

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

Many who know me, know that I’m somewhat fanatical about hostas. Okay, I’m a lot fanatical. To fuel my obsession, I recently discovered several Facebook groups dedicated to hosta gardeners – the American Hosta Society, the Science of Hosta and Hosta Auctions are just a few. It’s a great community of gardeners united around their affinity for what many consider the “friendship plant.” The groups that intrigue me the most are Hosta Seedlings and Growers of Hosta Seeds.

I’ve loved starting vegetable and annual flower seeds for years. Many flower seeds that are started in March will already have blooms in late May. I’ve not really ventured into starting perennials, but seeing some of the seedlings featured in the Facebook group, I’m hooked!

After a hosta flowers, it will often produce a seed pod – one for each bloom. Some hostas are sterile or rarely set seeds. Included in this list are the common varieties of Krossa Re- gal, Undulata, Royal Standard, and others. There are more than 8,000 registered varieties and most will produce seed. however, the vast majority of offspring will look nothing like the parent plant. The only exception is the hosta species known as Ventricosa. It reproduces through asexual embryo formation and its offspring are identical to the parent.

Many new hostas that are introduced to the market are created by intentionally crossing different varieties. Cross-pollination is done by gathering pollen from the anthers of one plant and applying it to the stigma of another. Breeders hope to combine the best traits of two plants into one. Perhaps they want to capture the rippled edge of Dancing Queen and combine it with the upright form of Silver Star to produce an upright rippled hosta. Other traits may include color, corrugation, cupping, size, growth habit, flower, a waxy or shiny leaf, and the list goes on.

Of course, there’s the old-fashioned way of cross-pollination – just letting the bees do the job. Open pollination can produce some beautiful varieties, too. The hard part is culling seedlings and determining which are worth keeping and which end up in the compost heap. Some hybridizers will grow a hosta seedling for a couple years before deciding whether they will register it or not. Hostas are notorious for not showing their full glory until maturing for a couple years.

I’ve collected several open pollinated varieties from my yard and also purchased some streaked seed crosses on- line – this is the most promising way to get streaked or variegated varieties.

Tips for Starting Seeds

  • Collect hosta seeds in the fall and store them in a cool dry place or your refrigerator. Hybridizers are currently pursuing hostas with red petioles that reach up into the leaf, as well as hostas with yellow and red flowers. They do not need stratification, so they can be planted at any time.
  • Plant about a dozen seeds per each small cup (with drain- age), or in flats filled with a sterile seed starting mix.
  • Remember to label your containers.
  • Moisten the mix and press seeds on top, then cover with black plastic – hosta seeds do not need light to germinate. The black plastic helps retain moisture and also minimize algae and pests.
  • Once they germinate, remove from darkness and cover with a clear plastic cover, then place under grow lights.
  • Do not let seedlings dry out – keep mix consistently moist, but not wet. Water from a bottom tray.
  • Once they grow to the three-leaf stage, add a week fertilizer.
  • Check out this website for much more detailed information and try your hand at hybridizing hostas!


Giantland Sunny Mouse Ears

Wisconsin hybridizer, Jeff Miller of Land of the Giants Hosta Farm in Milton, has several varieties he’s introduced to the market. Among them is Giantland Sunny Mouse Ears – the first gold variety of the popular Mouse Ears miniature hosta series. It is an unconventional pairing of ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ and ‘Abiqua Drinking Gourd’ with very thick, round chartreuse leaves.

One of his latest introductions is Giantland Garden Goddess. He named it in honor of his wife, Penny.




Container Gardens Bring New Possibilities

by Master Gardener Tammy Borden

originally printed in our Fall, 2015 newsletter


Many who know me, know my mom. We’re often seen together on some grand adventure, whether traveling half way across the state to discover a new garden center or attending one of the many local Master Gardener events. It’s no surprise to many that I get my love of gardening from her and maybe just a little of my spunk, too. For those who’ve met her, you know what I mean.

Anyone who visits her yard will recognize her green thumb at a glance. Perennial beds dot her landscape, bordering a small orchard of apple and cherry trees, as well as her gooseberry bushes from which the most delicious jam on the planet is made.

She’s become accustomed to the aches and pains that 88 years of living can bring. And when I say living, it’s to the fullest breadth and depth of the word’s meaning. She doesn’t quite have the stamina she once did. The doctors can only replace so many parts to alleviate the aging process — for her, a hip and two knees. Throw in a heart condition and weakened kidneys. Many others her age might decide it’s time to hang up the garden gloves. Instead, she’s adjusted to a new way of doing things to accommodate some of her physical limitations. Don’t get me wrong, she can still run circles around most people half her age, me included sometimes.

Her garden process begins in spring with many trips to local greenhouses and quite a bit of “shopping” from my own plants that I start from seed. From there, she hauls out the planters and pots that were put away in her shed the previous fall. Bags upon bags of potting mix start filling the containers and she lovingly arranges plants in each one – impatiens, zinnias, vines, petunias, million bells, coleus and a host of others. She then puts them in her wagon and wheels them around her yard to their new home for the summer.

Container gardening has become a new passion for her. The perennial beds shrink a little each year, replaced with more containers. And I’ve recently been “commissioned” to help her with a new project to put pavers in the center of her flower ring so she can put more containers there at varying heights. With container gardening, the chore of weeding is virtually eliminated. Weeding has become her greatest gardening challenge. It requires lots of bending, stooping and physical exertion. Watering is easier, too, and to keep her plants looking as lush as possible, she fertilizes them at least once a week.

A visitor to her garden asked how many flower pots she had. At the moment, she estimated around 25 or so. After doing an actual count, she realized she had more than twice that many, at 52.

To me, her garden looks more beautiful today than it ever has. Her eye for color and flower combinations is evident with the beautiful hanging baskets and unusual pairings she creates.

If you struggle with physical limitations, consider container gardening as an alternative. The impact can be just as great, if not greater. As the summer season comes to a close, plan now for your spring containers and don’t allow those aches and pains to hold you back.

Plan a Victorian Garden

gardens_victorian_topWe’re fortunate to live in an area with many Victorian-style homes. In Victorian times, leisure time became a bit more prevalent and gardens began to expand from simple kitchen gardens to those containing plants for beauty and fragrance. The Victorian age came to be known as one of the great eras for gardening.

The Victorians were the first to create beautiful lawns — the art of growing lovely green grass became a serious pursuit. Entertaining moved onto the lawns in the form of lovely lawn and garden parties. A broad well-tended lawn, accented with a formal garden, was a must.

Victorian gardens are more formal than the cottage garden look. Plantings need to be neat and symmetrical. Flowerbeds planted with flowering plants of the same height became a popular garden element called carpet bedding. The outline of a design or motif was filled with the same color, variety and height of plants.

Gertrude Jekyll, a famous Victorian gardener and author of books on gardening, preferred the ‘herbaceous border’. This style of border grew lower plants along the edge and continued up the ladder of height with the tallest varieties grown in the back. Her philosophy of growing was that each flower should be appreciated for its own intrinsic beauty. Mixing colors, textures and heights added dimension to the flowerbed. Anyone who reads English mysteries will recognize the term ‘herbaceous border’, as it’s usually trampled when the police are searching for clues.

Fencing was an important feature of a Victorian garden. Ornate iron fences and gates allowed a view of the yard, but also delineated where one yard stopped and another began. Picket fences were considered rustic and if used was covered in vines and meandering roses. A natural fence of shrubs was preferred to a wooden one. Shrubbery planted around foundation was done out of a sense of color and design rather than an attempt to cover the foundation.  A mixed bag of shrubs might be used to add interest. Popular shrubs to use in a Victorian garden include: Vibernums, Spirea or bridalwreath, Mock Orange, Forsythia, Quince, Boxwood, and Clove Bush. The flounce of flowering shrubs like peonies and hydrangeas were enjoyed and used by Victorians in the landscape and as a way to enhance fences.

The contemporary view often follows the Bauhaus theory of less is more, but the Victorians aspired to a different philosophy. From the gingerbread lace on the front porch to the use of ferns to adorn and create a look of tropical paradise, the theme for the day was to ornament the home, the yard, and life in general. Strategic positioning of ornaments in the yard and flowerbeds brought a sense of wealth and prestige to the homeowner. Birdbaths, sundials, obelisks, and gazing balls all found their way into the Victorian flower garden and yard. The use of empty urns to adorn the entrance to the backyard was a popular choice.

The surprise end to a walk through the garden came with a place to sit for a spell. The addition of seats and benches made the garden and yard inviting. Benches made of wood could be tucked into the backyard flowerbed for resting after pulling weeds. Stone benches continued to be popular, but urns and other embellishments added to the overall theme of opulence. A seat that offered a grand view of the entire garden and landscape was a must. Cast iron tables and chairs set in the backyard presented an opportunity for dining alfresco.

An interesting thing happened to me as I researched the information for this article: while I think I aspire to have an English garden, it turns out that I’ve actually designed a modern Victorian garden. Perhaps I’ll have to start wearing a bustle and serving tea on the lawn!

Repotting Hibiscus

Raise your hands: who put their hibiscus plant outdoors for the summer and now it’s looking pretty sick with dropping leaves all over your floor?

Leaves of hibiscus plant turning yellow

It is probably a case of too little water, but increasing your watering schedule is not going to help. A hibiscus grows quickly during the summer, and the increased root mass displaces the soil in the container. The water — as well as the fertilizer you probably applied religiously every two weeks — is traveling straight through rather than soaking in. You pour water in, see it come out through the drain holes, and naturally assume that the hibiscus has been watered and fed. Unfortunately, the soil around the roots remains dry, and the plant remains thirsty.

Knock the hibiscus out of its pot and take a look. Overcrowded roots signal that moving to a larger container is necessary. When repotting, score the root ball with a knife or pull through the roots with a hand cultivator and tease some away so that they will grow into the fresh medium. If you don’t, the roots will remain would tightly, occupying the center of the container, and you’ll have the same starved, thirsty plant — just in a larger pot.

Of course, no matter what you do, a hibiscus will probably sulk in the winter. It is a full-sun tropical plant, and the low light, short days, and low humidity that come with spending a Northern winter indoors are even more depressing for it than for us.

One further note that may fall under the horticultural truth-in-packaging principle: small potted hibiscus, frequently sold in the spring, appear to be dwarf plants covered with large flowers. Most, however, are treated with a growth retardant to keep them small. When the retardant wears off after a month or two, the 2-foot plant is on its way to becoming a 6-footer. This can be disconcerting to anyone who has not seen the same phenomenon occur in a teenage boy.