Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

February 2010

serviceberryLast week I gave a talk on “Trees in the Landscape” at the Des Moines Botanical Center, where I presented images of majestic oaks, maples and spruces. Not surprisingly, the trees that hit the audience’s hot button were smaller species. After all, most people have limited space to grow trees, so they’re interested in space savers.

They also like multi-season interest, which is why I was happy to tell them about serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.). What’s not to like? Pretty flowers in spring, edible berries in summer, spectacular foliage in fall, and handsome habit in winter.

Serviceberry takes full sun or part shade, making it suitable for everything from a specimen to a perimeter plant on the outskirts of a shrub border. It likes moist (but not water-logged), acidic soil and grows in a wide range of climates. Some species grow in Zones 3-7, others like warmer temperatures in Zones 5-9.

serviceberry2By the way, as the son of a funeral director, I have to point out where the common name comes from. In the old days, many rural cemeteries had to wait till the ground thawed for burials. Graveside services often coincided with either the blooming (May) or berry production (June) of the serviceberry, hence the name. Another common name, Juneberry, relates to the timing of fruit production.

Blue River clematis

Blue River clematis

We should toot our own horn every once in a while. BHG.com senior garden editor Justin Hancock has selected the must-grow new perennials for 2010.

The Great Garden Plants website has a video on three new shrubs for 2010. They mention Bloomerang reblooming lilac, which you can buy from readershopping.com.

The All-America Selections folks have a bunch of interesting plants they have singled out for recognition in 2010, including a new bell pepper ‘Cajun Belle’. See it and their other picks at the AAS website.

Our good friends from Benary Seeds stopped by our offices the other day to show off new varieties they have coming for 2010 and 2011. Lots of new begonias for you to look for at garden centers this spring. And a new sedum (which I don’t have a link to yet) that had all the plant nerds in the room sitting up and taking notice.

Botanical Seeds is offering you a chance to inspire other gardeners – and win a prize. See their website for details.


People have always told me that I have a green thumb. But last week I sprouted a green arm. Really. Actually, I fell on the ice on my way out to shovel some of the 58 inches of snow we’ve received so far this winter (yes, I have Yaktrax) and broke my right arm (that’s me being optimistic with my new green cast). It’s just one more personal challenge in what has come to feel to me like a new reality TV show called Survivor Iowa.  Never mind that I stupidly scheduled my kitchen renovation during this harshest time of year with temperatures regularly below zero—try figuring out how to make coffee one-handed with no sink—but I’ve effectively cut off half the house from my two good dogs during a severe bout of cabin fever worthy of the Arctic Circle. Add to that the foot-deep ice dams that keep forming on the south-facing eaves of my house and my half-frozen pipes and the very real fact that I cannot shovel my own snow and you get the general pathetic idea. I even had to ask Heather here at work to cut the sleeve of my Carhart so I could fit a coat over my cast. But I’m going to try to stay positive. At least my clivias are blooming.

If you’re a cold-climate gardener like I am, you’ve probably thought about how this (seemingly never-ending) winter will affect your hydrangeas.

The good news is that all the snow cover is a great insulator, and if we keep a heavy coating of snow while temperatures remain cool, and there are no late-spring frosts, you may see an amazing display from your plants. This is because the snow is protecting last year’s flower buds from the worst of the cold temperatures.

The bad news, like I mentioned last week, is that the snow has robbed deer, rabbits, and other critters of many of their usual winter foods, so they may be eating away at your plants.

If you live in a more mild climate and your winter has been unseasonably cold, you may not see your usual display if the chilly temperatures damaged the flower buds.

That is, of course, unless you grow reblooming varieties such as Endless Summer, Penny Mac, or the Let’s Dance series from Proven Winners — these varieties are famous for being able to make new flower buds for summertime blooms.

Or have summer-blooming types such as ‘Annabelle’, ‘Limelight’, etc., they may not be affected by the cold because they don’t start producing their flower buds until spring anyway.

I am a fan of tree wrap for the tree species that tend to get sun scald or frost cracks. Tree wrap is not something most homeowners use, or are even aware of. But it’s a good idea to use it, and it’s easy to find at garden centers. And cheap too.

Maples are particularly susceptible. Crabapples too. And the photo below is of a Kwanzan cherry in my yard that got a nasty frost crack last year. (I didn’t get around to wrapping it — I did better this year!)  Smooth barked species in general are more prone to damage.

Sun scald usually is an early spring phenomenon, so if you haven’t wrapped yet, go ahead and do so.  It’s those occasional warm late February and Early March days (at least in the Upper Midwest) that wake trees up a bit, only to get hit by a subsequent cold snap. It’s especially a problem next to South- and West-facing walls, with their reflected heat.

Tree wrap

chickChickens in the garden have their good points. And bad.

Our very good friends over at gardeners.com (tell them I sent you) have an ingenious online app to help you plan this year’s kitchen garden.

Lots of Master Gardener class listings showing up across the Internet. The best way to find one in your area is to put “Master Gardeners” plus your state name into your favorite search engine. Or you can call your local county extension office and ask them about classes. Extension offices usually are listed under county government.

Urban gardens are getting a foothold all over America and in many places in the rest of the world. Groups like this one are finding innovative ways to use unused city space to grow food and flowers.

Into apps? Need a little armchair gardening to take a break from the snow? Look at the Flower Garden app here.

The Jamaica Observer presents a garden travelogue in words.

Growing ginger indoors. Easy and tasty.

Rented Spaces says it doesn’t “need to go all Michael Pollan on you” about the values of growing close to home but does have some cool ideas about green things to grow in your apartment.

InventorSpot has some cool news from Ball Horticultural. Seems the folks at Ball are looking for inventors to help come up with new environmentally friendly products.

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