Now that the snow is finally melting here in Central Iowa, the extent of damage to shrubs from rabbits is woefully apparent. Snow cover was deep for so long that bunnies fed on almost any plant that protruded from the white stuff.
Two forms of rabbit damage show up on this viburnum. Smaller shoots have been nipped with an angular cut. The larger branch has been stripped of its bark.
It’s discouraging to look at receding snowbanks and see glaring white stems of shrubs stripped of their bark. Often, the shoots near the ground are fine because they were protected under the snow.
It’s too late to protect these shrubs now. But they can be salvaged with a little pruning. If stem tips are gnawed, cut the remaining stem just above a bud. A new shoot will emerge from that bud. If the bark of larger stems is damaged, the amount of pruning needed depends on the extent of the damage. The rule of thumb that I use is, if the bark is stripped more than half way around the stem, remove that shoot. If damage extends only 1/4 (or less) of the way around the stem, it will probably continue to grow fine without any care.
I usually opt for removing damaged stems. Shrubs with multiple shoots resprout readily from the base and grow back fuller and lusher than ever. It’s a great opportunity to rejuvenate old, overgrown shrubs. Make cuts 6 to 12 inches above the ground. If you make the cuts higher, the shrub will develop tufts of new growth at stem tips and be relatively bare at the base.
Wire caging protected this barberry from rabbits.
One technique that I’ve used to protect shrubs from rabbits is to place homemade tomato cages around smaller shrubs. They’re cylinders made of rabbit fencing. The lower wires are close together, preventing rabbits from getting in. Wider wire spacing at the top allows easy access for tomato harvest in summer. Normally this trick not only solves the problem of where to store cages over winter, bit it also prevents rabbit damage to the shrub it encircles. However, deep snow this year let the rabbits wiggle through the wider wires. Next year I’ll be more vigilant and spray rabbit repellent in addition to fencing off favorite plants.
Strangler Fig in Costa Rica
Whenever my family and I travel, we always try to find a retreat where we can view plants and animals in their native habitats. This year, we decided to check out one of the wettest and one of the driest climates on the planet. First, we traveled to Carate, Costa Rica where we hiked through the jungle terrain of the Corcovado National Park. Located in the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, this national park can receive almost 13 feet of rain per year. Besides the monkeys, scarlet macaws, and anteaters, we were able to view wild begonias, coconut palms, strangler figs and hundreds of other species. In Costa Rica’s warm, humid climate, there’s barely a crack or crevice that doesn’t have some type of plant life taking root. Check it out here.
Joshua Tree in California and me
On the other end of the eco-spectrum, we just returned from hiking the desert landscape of Joshua Tree National Park in southern California. Stradling the Colorado and Mojave deserts, the park only receives about 3 inches of rain per year. It gets its name from the iconic, tree-like Yucca brevifolia that dominate the landscape. The plants were given the name Joshua Tree, by early Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave and thought the upward reaching branches reminded them of a Biblical story where Joshua reaches his arms up in prayer. For a desert plant, Joshua trees grow relatively quickly, often 3 inches per year. The foliage is spear-like and can be painful if you inadvertently walk into one as I did several times. Unlike Corcovado, the plant species at Joshua Tree were a lot more limited, but no less dramatic. Besides the Joshua Trees, you will also find creosote bush, ocotillo and cholla cactus. For more information check here.
Veronica is one of the most versatile plants of the garden. Low-growing selections are wonderful spring-blooming gardeners and mid-sized varieties are great for adding splashes of blue to the summer garden.
There’s a fairly large number of veronicas to choose from, so I was delighted yesterday when I received an e-mail notice that the Chicago Botanic Garden did a 10-year study on veronica cultivars and picked the best.
Among the standouts were ‘Blue Reflection’, a lovely groundcover type; pink-flowering ‘Mrs. Holt’; and charming lavender-purple ‘Baby Doll’.
If you’re interested in the whole report, download it here.
With temperatures here in Des Moines forecast for the mid-40s this weekend for the first time in more than 3 months, we’re daring to think that spring may finally be on its way. It will take several more weeks for all the snow to melt away, but in the meantime I can plan and dream about what I’ll plant in the yard this year. We’ve recently come out with two new books that will help.
Both of these books feature plant-by-number plans for gardens that are sure to appeal to those who like a template to follow. Each plan lists how many plants of each type are needed, shows where to plant them in relation to the other plants, and has a picture of the gorgeous results you can get by following the plan. If you can follow a recipe, you can plant these gardens! If you’re more inclined to venture into uncharted territory, you’ll find lots of inspiring plant combinations and ideas to incorporate into your own plans.
Both of these 224-page books are published by Wiley Publishing and retail for $19.95. They are available at major bookstores or you can purchase them online at Wiley Publishing or at Amazon.com. Here’s a link to details on Beds & Borders. And here are the details on Container Gardening.