Tag Archive | Shrubs

Make Your Own Gin

Tired of the same old fruits and vegetables? Looking for a new challenge? Maybe you could try making your own gin. The plant you need is the common juniper, Juniperus communis. Although the drink is a Dutch invention — the word ‘gin’ is a corruption of the Dutch name for juniper — the British embraced it with great enthusiasm in the eighteenth century and turned it into a major business.

Juniperus_communis_conesAlthough common juniper is a single species, this shrubby evergreen varies widely in its growing patterns, from a ground cover to a tree that tops 36 feet. The growing needs of the cultivars are equally various, but almost all of them are tough customers that will adapt to a wide range of soils and climate zones.

Various parts of the pungently aromatic plants have long been used medicinally and are mentioned in countless legends, primarily as aids for warding off evil spirits. But it is the plant’s berries that provide an essential ingredient in gin (as well as providing flavoring for marinades and sauces).

Juniperus_communis_Haweswater

Juniper with both ripe and unripe berries

Male and female flowers are borne on separate plants, so you must have both if you want berries. The 1/4-inch fruit take two years to ripen, turning from green to bluish purple. Both the immature and mature berries may appear on the plant simultaneously, so take care when you gather your harvest.

Junipers grow easily as long as the soil they are in is well drained. While at their best in dry, sunny spots, they will tolerate light shade. Nobody’s perfect, though, and junipers are favorite prey for a number of pests and diseases. Before you buy one that catches your fancy, ask the nursery about its ability to fight off these afflictions.

Harvesting juniper berries: Juniper berries should be harvested when they have ripened to a handsome, dark purple-blue. Ripe and unripe berries may be on the plant at the same time, but harvest only the ripe ones. Before you add the berries to your soups or stews, air-dry them until they shrivel and turn black.

Advertisements

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.

hawthorne-tree-866513_960_720

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.

1024px-Fothergilla_major_JPG

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).

21860829963_4329c15234_b

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

Pruning Rule Breakers

rhododendron-245633_960_720Rhododendrons, unlike most shrubs, have no painless window for pruning. They start forming the buds for next year’s flowers before this year’s have even opened, and by the time bloom season is done, those buds are well advanced.

It’s difficult emotionally to cut off any of next year’s flowers, but if you continually avoid pruning, you may be even more devastated. In fact, you could end up having to cut the rhododendrons to the ground and start all over again.

Pruning rhododendrons requires imagination as well as sharp sheers. Dr. Richard Lighty, the director of the Mount Cuba Center for the Study of Piedmont Flora in Greenville, Delaware, advises that you try to visualize what the shrub should look like. Reach your goal by critically selecting strong outer branches that, when pruned back, will expose smaller inner branches in the right position to fill in. Once exposed to light, these inner branches will begin to grow.Rhododendron-pruning-outline-diagram1

As the flowers fade, trim no more than 15 to 20 inches off the strong branches. Where should you prune? Where the strong branch is near the tip of an inner branch that has a whorl of glossy leaves surrounding the buds, your signal that the inner branch is healthy. If the shrubs are still too big, reprune in two years.

To make sure the plant has stored enough food that it can easily handle pruning, fertilize in late fall the year before you intend to prune. If you fertilize after pruning, it will put out long, leggy growth.

Although it is better to stay on top of your regular pruning chores, rhododendrons can be cut down to 12 to 15 inches from the ground if necessary. The plants have buds at their base that will generally send up new shoots. But, as I learned, there won’t be any flowers for two to three years.

Shearing is not Pruning

This time of year, we’re preparing for winter and many folks are doing some Fall pruning. Do you say you’re grabbing your shears

Ficus benjamina (formally sheared)

Ficus benjamina (formally sheared)

or your pruners? There is a difference between pruning and shearing.

Pruning means cutting off a part of a living plant, and covers everything from snipping a twig to reaching deep inside a tree canopy and sawing off a major branch. Shearing is a particular kind of pruning, one in which only branch tips are cut, and they are cut as a group rather than individually.

The goal of shearing is to force lots of small outer branches while creating a smooth outline. The result — if it is successful — is that the sheared plant loses it’s natural identity and becomes a formal shape.

Creating a box hedge topiary by hand

Creating a box hedge topiary by hand

The most common example of the technique is the flat-faced wall of a sheared hedge, but people also shear plants into mounds, pyramids, graduated balls on sticks, or (in a few extreme cases) things like chess pieces and leaping dogs.

Shearing at the simple hedge level seems as thought it should be easy; just hold the shears at the proper angle and clip away. In fact, it takes patience, practice — and strong arms — to see where you need to cut and then do the cutting properly.

Electric hedge trimmers promise to relieve you of much of the work, and they do make it go faster. But they are heavier than hand shears, their speed increases the chance of mistakes, and they have a regrettable tendency to tear everything they touch instead of cutting cleanly.

Fire in the Fields

Sumac lighting up a hill in Wisconsin's autumn

Sumac lighting up a hill in Wisconsin’s autumn

It happens every autumn. Huge sweeps of straggly, undistinguished shrubs that grew unnoticed in unkempt fields are suddenly, gloriously, ornamental. The long almost palmlike fronds of leaves shine bright red with hints of yellow and orange. The branches spread like candelabra holding up huge crimson fruit clusters that keep glowing long after leafdrop, when all the world is gray. No wonder gardeners think about bringing sumac in from the wild.

Staghorn sumac in the summer before changing color

Staghorn sumac in the summer before changing color

Sumac grows everywhere, all the way from zone 2 to zone 9. It grows in dry soil, poor soil, moist soil, near-bog, bright sun, and part shade. It spreads by seed and by underground runners that can travel 20 feet or more in search of a good spot to make a new clump of sumac. But if there is also a lawn anywhere nearby, there will be adequate local control as long as you keep mowing.

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) is the most common roadside attraction. It’s fuller and more readily clump-forming than staghorn sumac (R. typhina), named for the velvety down that covers every branch. Smooth sumac tops out at about 8 to 10 feet, staghorn at 12 to 16 feet.

Fragrant sumac makes a beautiful garden addition

Fragrant sumac makes a beautiful garden addition

Fragrant sumac (R. aromatica) is shorter, at 3 to 4 feet, and bushier, more like a garden plant. If you decide to bring sumac into your garden or prairie, no matter which type you choose you will need both male and female plants if you want fruits. Sumacs are available through nurseries that specialize in native plants, and some large garden centers will order them for you if you ask.

Note: it’s always a good idea to check whether a plant is considered an invasive species in your state before transplanting from an area where the plant is growing wild. In Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources provides a free guide to invasive species here:  DNR INVASIVE SPECIES GUIDE

 

Lilac Woes

Did you plant a lilac bush and have lovely flowers the first year and nothing since then? Or maybe you’re not getting the flowers that you used to get from your established lilacs?

According to Jack Alexander, the chief plant propagator at the lilac-magnificent Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University, newly planted or transplanted lilacs tend to have transplant sulks. Most spring-flowering shrubs, lilacs included, form flower buds the previous year. That initial display you see when you buy new shrubs was set when the lilac was still comfortably at home in the nursery. When it was moved, the disturbance set it back. Give it a bit more time, and whatever you do, don’t move it again!

flower-356176_960_720Common lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) and the French hybrids based on them are especially sensitive in this regard. If you’re the type who likes to move the furniture around, try planting ‘Miss Kim’ (a cultivar of S. patula). She’s a bit less fussy about an occasional relocation.

‘Miss Kim’ is easy to find at nurseries, as are a good number of S. vulgaris varieties and cultivars. But for the widest selection of colors, fragrance, and bloom times, mail order is the way to go.

Pruning

Lilacs have to grow for a few years before they start flowering. After that, they bloom in spring on year-old wood, the stems that grew from the older branches during the previous summer.

Pruning consists mainly of removing elderly trunks and clipping off seed heads within reach. But if you want to cut back young growth, the proper time is right after flowering. It should be done as soon as possible, and no later than three weeks after petal fall.

Still not getting Flowers?

If you are not pruning too late or cutting off all of the new growth, the problem may be too much fertilizer, which could push vegetative growth at the expense of flowers. Or, maybe the problem is a lack of light. Lilacs need plenty of sun to flower well, and shade is the most common culprit when mature bushes fail to bloom.

Remember, too, that if you go through a summer of little or no rain, the plant will be unable to set buds for next year so you can expect little or no flowering the year after a drought.