Keep Deer-Damaged Hedges


Deer damaged hedge

By now, it is no longer news that deer love classic hedging evergreens such as arborvitae, hemlock, and yew. Gardeners are routinely advised to choose deer-resistant plants instead. But what if you already have the hedge, and deer have already eaten it? What if your newly purchased home grounds are ringed by 20-foot trees that look like lopsided lollipops?

If space is severely limited, you may have to cut them down and start over with something else, but if you have a strip at least 12 feet wide to devote to the area, you can build a better hedge on the bones of what you have.

After all, it’s only the lower regions that need help. Everything above 6 to 8 feet is no doubt fine, and it will only grow lovelier over time. The trick is to go for depth: plant a shorter hedge in front, and you’ll screen the naked area from view while adding textural interest, just as you do when you plant a baptisia in front of rust-prone hollyhocks.

For best results, think in three layers: hurt hedge at the back; good-size shrubs or small trees like holly, lilac, and pieris in the middle; short, full items like mugo pine, boxwood, and barberry toward the front.

The most pleasing hedges have rhythm and rest, which cannot be achieved by a hodgepodge of “one of these and one of those,” so it will pay to limit your selections and plant multiples of each. But if the deer pressure is extreme, don’t do it right away. Instead, plant a test garden of likely candidates and wait a year to see just how deer resistant they actually are. (Deer vary considerably in their tastes, and a plant that escapes unscathed in one place may well get lunched in another.) It’s frustrating not to plunge right in, but waiting is worth it when you’ll be buying — and planting — large numbers of new shrubs.


Deerproofing the Hedges

There are a number of low-tech, low-cost repellents, including human hair, soap, hot pepper, and garlic, all of which have some deterrent effect, but none of these household items are as effective as commercial spray-on products, especially the ones with bitter components, which have been formulated to be long-lasting.

These once-a-winter formulations are expensive compared to sweepings from the barber shop, but they cost a lot less than fencing or replacement trees.

Trees and Shrubs

by Sharon Morrisey, horticulture agent in Milwaukee County

Tu-BShevat-tree-planting-by-Canopy-Photos-jpgFall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs. Warm soil encourages root growth and the cool air reduces the demand for water. It is said that the planting is the most important 10 minutes of a tree’s life. Years of scientific study have produced improved techniques, so follow these instructions closely.

  1. Find the root flare first. It’s that place at the base of the trunk where it widens before going into the soil.
  2. Remove soil from the top of the root ball, if necessary, until the flare can be seen.
  3. Measure the depth of the root ball after finding the flare.
  4. Dig the hole no deeper than this, trying not to disturb the dirt at the bottom, so the tree will not settle later and become too deep. Make the hole two to four times wider than the ball and gently sloping.
  5. Cut off the container, if there is one. Cut away the wire basket if it’s a balled-and-burlapped plant.
  6. Gently roll it into the hole without holding it by the trunk. Now, cut away as much burlap as possible without letting the root ball fall apart.
  7. Fill the hole halfway with the same soil that came out of the hole. Do not amend that soil. Otherwise, the roots will stay in that soil, growing around and around, instead of moving out into the surrounding soil.
  8. Do not stomp on the soil. Instead, fill the hole with water and allow it to settle before continuing to fill the hole.
  9. Water again.
  10. Form a rim of soil around the outside edge of the hole to hold the water.
  11. Cover the rim and root ball with 2 inches of shredded bark or wood chips. Do not allow the mulch to touch the trunk or the bark will rot and kill the tree.
  12. On slopes or windy sites, use one or two stakes pounded into the undisturbed soil beyond the root ball. Loosely secure the tree trunk to the stakes using webbing with grommets made especially for this purpose. Do not use wire or rubber hose, since these will damage the bark. The tree should be able to sway back and forth because this actually strengthens the trunk.


Beyond the Blooms

by Jess Wickland

When you think of landscaping or putting together a small flower garden, many people don’t think past the flower colors and bloom times. However, there are many different aspects that plants provide that will increase interest in the garden, whether it’s seedheads, or different leaf textures, or (my favorite) fall berries and fall color. When the green foliage bursts forth in spring and gives life to the boring winter landscape, I often breathe a sigh of relief. And while flowers do provide plenty of color in the landscape and often leave me giddy with excitement over their blooms, nothing can compare to the breathtaking yellow, orange and red hues of a sugar maple tree in the fall.

Speaking of blooms, there are two shrubs that wait to hold their flowers until almost everything else has gone dormant for the season: witchhazel and seven-son flower. Witchhazel is a native shrub that grows quite large — almost 15 feet tall — and waits until October to send out its spiderlike yellow blossoms. Many times, the blooms occur as the shrub’s foliage has changed to the bright yellow color, or has dropped off already. Seven-son’s fragrant flowers blooms white in late September or early October, but perhaps the best show isn’t the blooms, it’s the pale red calyces that appear after the flowers have dropped off. This is also a fairly large shrub, growing to 15 feet tall and wide as well, and grows best in part shade conditions.


The bright red berries of the Hawthorn stand out against the frozen branches

Many shrubs get berries as well, clinging to the branches and giving the landscape splashes of color throughout the fall and winter seasons. I always enjoy watching the hawthorn berries develop and change color in late summer. The red berries aren’t often eaten by birds in summer (they’re too busy devouring the serviceberries), and persist into the winter. After a fresh snowfall, I enjoy photographing the vibrant red berries blanketed by the glittering snow. An added bonus: hawthorn trees have a variable fall color, ranging from orange to red to maroon. Another fantastic red berry is found on Ilex shrubs: holly and winterberry. While holly are a little more finicky about growing conditions (though it can be done!), winterberry are tough shrubs that wait until the rest of the landscape is dormant for their moment to shine. In fall, clusters of bright red berries cling to the upright branches. They are offset by the yellow fall color of the shrub. Both holly and winterberry look like a picture off of a Christmas card after a new snowfall.

Chasing fall color throughout the state used to be my grandparents’ favorite thing to do in October, and I think I inherited that gene from them as well. I can’t believe the different shades of red, orange and yellow that erupt as the daylight hours get shorter. I can’t wait to go outside to see what I might capture on my camera’s memory card. Perennials aren’t just for flowers anymore, either. Gillenia trifoliata, a native perennial commonly known as Indian Physic, isn’t very showy throughout the summer. The green foliage set underneath the star-shaped white flowers may cause a passerby to glance at it a second time. In autumn, however, the foliage changes to a pale orange that gives the plant a whole new look. Mukdenia rosii also changes from emerald green to dark red and even maroon, rivaling its cousin, Heuchera, in color wars.


Fothergilla blazes it’s colors during Fall

My favorite shrub for fall color is Fothergilla. While the fragrant white spikes of flowers and robust foliage (tinged just a hint in blue-green) are attractive, I haven’t met someone yet who didn’t fall in love with it in the fall. The foliage is much the same as a sugar maple, keeping us guessing as it changes from yellow to orange to red. It’s like watching a 4th of July fireworks show; many people “ooh” and “ahh” at the beauty cast by this wee shrub (the dwarf species only reaches 3 feet tall and wide).


The familiar sugar Maple leaves

As you may have guessed by how much I’ve brought it up, my favorite tree for fall color is the sugar maple. Serviceberry isn’t far behind because although the berries are long since picked off by hungry robins and cedar waxwings, the fall color still rivals the maple in terms of orange and yellow coloring. An interesting plant for fall color is the larch, or tamarack. It’s a deciduous evergreen, meaning it has needles, but sheds them each year. The golden yellow needles in fall are gorgeous, especially near the end of the day when the sunlight hits them just right.

I hope I’ve inspired you to think beyond the blooms, and try to plant a few trees, shrubs or even perennials

Growing Pine Nuts


Yummy pinyon nuts from P. edulis

Who else loves pine nuts on salads? We live in Wisconsin where we have tons of pine trees, so why not just harvest our own, right? Uh, no! Turns out that the most famous variety (pignoli) comes from the Italian stone pine, Pinus pinea, a handsome umbrella-shaped tree that is native to the Mediterranean.

Dr. Peter Del Tredici, the director of living collections at Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum, said the best bet for our cold weather climate is P. koraiensis. It is the source of those ubiquitous Chinese pine nuts, and it is a very tough character, able to withstand high winds and temperatures of 20 to 30 below. But before you go rushing out to plant a few, bear the following in mind.


Cones from P. koraiensis

Nut-bearing pine trees tend to be slow growers, and though grafted plants might bring your wait for the first nuts down from 15 or 20 years to something more like five or six, it’s going to take a good long time before you see much of a crop. When it comes, the crop will be encased in extremely hard shells. The shells will be tightly clasped in the cones, and the cones themselves will be well fixed to the upper branches of the trees, from which you must wrench them at the appropriate time. (You can’t wait for them to fall of their own accord; by that time the blue jays and squirrels will have beaten you to the nuts.)

Has Dr. Del Tredici ever harvested nuts from the well-established specimens at the arboretum? No, he said: “The cones are unbelievably sticky, for starters — just to handle them is a commitment.”

Planting the trees is a commitment, too, of space as well as time. Though our pinyon-nut bearing Southwestern native. P. edulis, can take bush form, and some P. cembra cultivars are modest in size, P. pinea is a big tree, and P. koraiensis is huge. Dr. Del Tredici saw some in China that were more than 100 feet high.

Pruning Water Sprouts

by Sharon Morrisey, Milwaukee County consumer horticulture agent

apple-watersproutsAs a general rule, pruning of woody landscape plants should not be done in midsummer. The one exception is water sprouts on fruit trees, particularly apples and crabapples. Both are in the genus Malus and have a greater tendency to produce water sprouts than most other genera. Water sprouts form in response to pruning out large, diameter branches.

hqdefaultIt has been shown that if the removal of water sprouts is delayed until late July or early August, fewer new water sprouts will form. If pruned out in early spring when all other pruning is being done, more water sprouts will be stimulated and a vicious cycle begun.

Water sprouts are branches that grow straight up from a larger-diameter branch. They grow very quickly and arise from latent buds buried deep inside the larger branch. The sprouts push through the outer layers of wood and bark.

As they grow taller and thicker, they become top heavy. Since they have no real connection of the branch, summer and winter storms can blow them over, and in the process, break the branch they are growing on. These sprouts also look awkward and out of place.

To avoid having to prune out large branches, begin developing the structure of trees when they are young so you remove only small branches.