Everyday Gardeners

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Japanese beetle attack

Japanese beetles feeding on Knock Out rose

Japanese beetles feeding on Knock Out rose

Every morning for the past week and a half, my day has started by making the rounds of the garden in search of Japanese beetles. These voracious pests prefer the roses in my garden, but I’ve also found them on raspberries, hydrangeas, asparagus, and hibiscus. And I’ve seen evidence of their feeding on chokeberries and cannas, too. They can feed on more than 300 species of plants, so they may choose others in your yard. At other locations I’ve seen extensive leaf feeding on grapes, golden rain trees, and  lindens. Most feeding injury occurs on plants in full sun. Damage can quickly mount up because as the beetles feed, they give off a pheromone that attracts other beetles to the site. That’s why you’ll often find clusters of them feeding as on the Knock Out rose pictured above.

Damage to foliage is characterized by leaf skeletonization. The beetles eat the “good stuff” and leave the tough veins behind. Lower on the same rose plant I found the skeletonized leaves pictured below.

Leaf skeletonization from Japanese beetle feeding on rose

Leaf skeletonization from Japanese beetle feeding on rose

Rather than allowing the beetles free reign of the yard, I fight back with a bucket of soapy water. The beetles have the curious habit of dropping off their feeding site when disturbed before flying away. This trait makes it fairly easy to hold a small bucket with several inches of soapy water (I use liquid dish detergent) under the flower or foliage being devoured, and with a light brush of the hand, sweep the beetles into the bucket where they meet a quick demise.

In the grand scheme of things, collecting Japanese beetles every morning during their month-long feeding cycle may not put a noticeable dent in the population (unless you can convince enough of your neighbors to join the attack), but it feels better to be doing something to thwart their actions than to give in to their appetites. And I have to think that eliminating hundreds of hungry beetles at least does a little good. If nothing else, I get the satisfaction of seeing a bucket full of dead beetles!

A morning's harvest of Japanese beetles

A morning's harvest of Japanese beetles

For a list of plants that Japanese beetles tend to avoid, and more control tips, read our online story about Japanese beetle control.

Hungry for Hydrangeas?

Has the hydrangea become America’s favorite flower? I’m starting to wonder if it’s knocked roses right off the throne.

Growing hydrangeas is one of the most common topics in Garden Doctor, our free question-and-answer service.

And I’ve been seeing more and more dried hydrangea flowers in crafting projects (especially at Christmas; I saw one tree decorated with gorgeous dried hydrangea blooms), and there are more new, innovative hydrangea varieties released every year. Two standouts this year are ‘Bombshell’, which only gets 3-4 feet tall and wide, and ‘Little Lime’, a dwarf version of the incredibly popular ‘Limelight’.

It seems like I’m also seeing some garden centers cutting back on roses and adding more hydrangeas to their lineups.

And, hydrangeas don’t have thorns — making them so much easier to work around in the garden.

So what do you think? Are you hungry for more information/pictures/projects with hydrangeas from Better Homes and Gardens?

Don’t Forget Flowering Shrubs

Hibiscus syriacus 'Blue Chiffon'When we think about planting flowers in the garden, most gardeners gravitate toward annuals (the ones you plant every year) and perennials (the ones that come back on their own). But there’s another group of great plants that are often overlooked: flowering shrubs.

And that’s a shame, because there are many wonderful, easy-care shrubs that have attractive blooms. Take rose of Sharon, for example. The variety Blue Chiffon is shown here; it offers 3.5-inch-wide flowers from July to September here in Iowa. The shrub itself can get 12 feet tall, but you can keep it smaller by cutting it back in early spring. Its size makes it a good backdrop plant or even a delightful flowering hedge or spring/summer privacy.

Do a little research and you can find a plethora of flowering shrubs for just about any season, in sun or shade. Smaller varieties, such as caryopteris and dwarf weigela, are compact enough you can even plant them in among your low-growing perennials.

Here’s a quick calendar-type list of some of the flowering shrubs I use in my landscape to show how you can enjoy spring-to-fall color in your own yard.


Beautybush (Kolkwitzia)


Lilac (Syringa)



Mock orange (Philadelphus)

Hydrangea (Endless Summer types)

Mountain laurel (Kalmia)


Butterfly bush (Buddleja)

Hydrangea (Endless Summer types)

Hydrangea (oakleaf types)

Hydrangea (paniculata types)

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus)

Summersweet (Clethra)


Butterfly bush (Buddleja)


Hydrangea (Endless Summer types)

Hydrangea (paniculata types)

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus)


Butterfly bush (Buddleja)

Hydrangea (paniculata types)

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus)

Witch hazel (Hamamelis)

One Hot Hydrangea

Hydrangea 'Little Honey'Hydrangeas are some of the most popular garden plants around — and for good reason. Most have gorgeous blooms and there’s a wealth of varieties, so you can find one for sun or shade, even in the North!

One of the most intriguing varieties is a golden-leafed oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey’).

This little beauty has a lot going for it:

  • The bright chartreuse foliage looks awesome all spring and summer.
  • The leaves have incredible rosy-red fall color.
  • It blooms with white flower clusters for weeks in summer.
  • It’s a named selection of a North American native plant.
  • It has a dwarf habit (for oakleaf hydrangeas), growing only 4 feet tall and wide.
  • It loves a shaded or partially shaded spot.

This is a young specimen in the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden. It’s just the second year it’s in the ground so it still looks a bit runty, but the golden foliage really lights up the corner it’s tucked into!

Heavenly Hydrangeas

StreamAssetContentOrigIt looks like hydrangeas are going to be hot again this year! I’ve been getting a lot of feedback from readers about hydrangeas, we’ve been getting lots of questions about them in our Garden Doctor application, and we even have a brand-new downloadable booklet online on growing and caring for the plants.

If you have hydrangeas, here’s some information that’s handy to have now:

  • If you buy a florist hydrangea and would like to plant it outdoors, harden it off first by leaving it in a shady spot for a couple of hours a day. Then a few days later, leave it out for a few more hours. A few days after that, the plant will have toughened up and shouldn’t be too badly shocked when you plant it outside.
  • If you have the blue- or pink-flowering mophead or lacecap hydrangeas, don’t prune them now. They’ve already made this year’s flowers, so cutting them back could mean sacrificing the 2010 floral display. (The exception to this is reblooming hydrangeas like Endless Summer; they made some of their flowers last year, but will also make a lot more flowers on new stems this year.)
  • If you’re thinking about purchasing a hydrangea, be sure you select the right type for your conditions. The easiest way to have a terrible hydrangea experience is to pick the wrong variety for your spot.

Looking for more info? Check out our Plant Encyclopedia, hydrangea slideshow, and be sure to check out the new issue of Garden Ideas and Outdoor Living magazine, where my colleague Luke Miller produced a fun piece on hydrangeas that highlights some of the amazing variety this group of plants offers.

Winter and Your Hydrangeas

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.

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