Spring Awakenings with Prunus cerasifera

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Prunus

Last year, I asked my brother, Sylvain, to let me know when his trees are in bloom so I could pop by to take a couple of photos.  He did so as requested then, and he just called me again this week to let me know that again his flowering plum trees are in full bloom. 

“Cathy,” he said, “It is like being in church when you stand in the middle of the trees.”  I liked hearing that comment from my brother. 

He continued, “The blooms only last a couple of days, but they are really popping open now if you want to come by again.” 

I don’t have a need to take more photos, but I surely enjoyed hearing the excitement in his voice about the trees he carefully planted a few years ago.  His annual ritual of appreciating their spring awakening is something I find pleasing, especially because he picked up the phone to share it with me.

Sylvain’s refers to his trees as flowering plums, but many know them as Cherry Plums.   In fact, the Latin name, cerasifera, is from the words cerasus (cherry tree) and ferre (to bear).  A common cultivar is the Thundercloud Plum (Prunus cerasifera ‘Thundercloud’).  It has dainty fragrant five petaled light pink flowers that appear in early spring before the plum-colored foliage fully expands, usually quickly following a temperature warm up like we just experienced. 

Last year, Sylvain’s trees bloomed around April 7th, and when I took photos of them against a clear blue sky, it was vivid and refreshing to my eyes.  This year, the blooms arrived a few weeks later.  We both were hoping for their showing during our family Easter celebration at his home five days ago, but nature and temperatures have a mind of their own. 

The Thundercloud Plums typically reach a height of 20-25 feet at maturity with a spread of 20 feet.  They enjoy full sun and can take part-shade too, but the blooms may not be as prolific in shade.  Also the leaves may turn green.   And it is important to note that while they are very showy for the flowering and darker toned plum foliage, they do have some susceptibility to insects and disease problems but so far Sylvain’s trees have experienced none.  And lastly, there are small fruits that follow the flowers which may drop so you might not want to place this specimen near an area you wish to keep free from debris. 

Ah Spring

Sylvain has his planted in a row along the edge of his property.  Some may find this a bit too much, but not us – we love the effect of a flush of the blooms.  As Sylvain said, just stand under them and have your moment.  Perhaps because it is fleeting, it is all the more enjoyable.  

Maybe I will go over to his house today to snap a couple of photos after all.  After writing this posting, I feel I can’t resist seeing them again before the blooms drop to the ground.  Plus it is a bright, sunny, warm day.  Perfect for some photos and a breath of spring air.  Enjoy your warm up this weekend too, Cathy T 

To learn more about these trees, visit UCONN’s Plant Database:  http://www.hort.uconn.edu/plants/p/prucer/prucer1.html

The Fashionable and Hot Capsicum ‘Super Chili’ Pepper

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Hot and Fashionable

Pepper Power

Last year, at the “Gardens, Gallery and Gifts” event held in Broad Brook, CT, I included an annual pepper plant in an intense purple container mixed with portulaca, variegated basil, and a dwarf canna.  It was one of the first to sell, and the person who bought it was Lisa, my older sister.  She and my other 2 sisters attended the event which included displays of my container garden designs and other artisan works by Connecticut women artists.

The pepper plant is what caught Lisa’s attention first.  She often cooks up hot and spicy meals, such as her famous jambalaya, red beans and rice, or shrimp etouffee stew.  For several years, she lived in New Orleans thus she knows how to do up these dishes up right, always starting with a roux, and making shrimp stock from scratch.  And, of course, adding a variety of very hot spices.  In the summer months, she uses my father’s fresh garden grown tomatoes.  But whether served up in season or during the winter months, we always enjoy the huge steaming portions from her large Dutch ovens at our family gatherings.  It is excellent every time.

Capsicum ‘Super Chili’ by Sara’s Superb Herbs (www.superbherbs.net) was the pepper in the container she selected that day.  Lisa planned to replace her normally dry ingredient of cayenne in her Cajun creations with the peppers as soon as they were ready.  She is the type of shopper that always wants a value driven product, and this container’s plants had their fringe benefits to suit her cooking style while offering ornamental blooms as it sat outdoors during the summer on her patio. 

The upright basil in the container, Ocimum x citriodorum ‘Pesto Perpetuo’, was another herb she likes to use, plus she said she enjoyed its variegated light green foliage edged with white creamy coloring.  This basil culinary herb grows up to 4’ high and doesn’t flower.  It can be taken indoors at the end of the summer season to continue using as needed for recipes.  And the canna rhizomes can be stored in the fall for reuse in her containers the next year.  Fashionable and hot, her purchase provided sustainability in the kitchen and beauty on the patio.

The ‘Super Chili’ pepper had long slender green fruits of about 1” long when she took the container home that afternoon in June.  As noted on the plant’s tag, you can pick some of the first few chili peppers when they are still green to encourage a longer fruiting season and heavier set.  This plant grows to 24” tall and wide and appreciates well drained, rich soil in the full sun for best growth. Lisa placed her container on the corner of her back patio.  Her backyard has a western exposure and receives lots of wind since it is situated on a big hill facing a wonderful view.  Because ‘Super Chili’ Pepper likes it hot and sunny with good air circulation, it thrived in this location.  It received full sun most of the afternoon but the shade was also appreciated from the overhang of her deck above.  

As for me, the characteristic I enjoy most about using pepper plants in container arrangements is how the peppers will ripen to brilliant colors as they mature.  Many will start off green and change to red, yellow, purple, orange, and even black!  The ‘Super Chili’ ripens to a brilliant red and grows to about 2.5” long.  Peppers don’t get bothered by pests usually.  No maintenance worries, you don’t need to check it for insects, or groundhogs that sometimes visit container gardens.  Other than warning anyone wanting to temp a bite of the raw pepper, this type of vegetable is worth including in mixed arrangements with other sun-loving annuals, perennials, and tropical plants. 

For this year’s show, I decided to place orders of a pepper that matures to a purplish black color.  It is Pepper ‘Comstock’s Purple’, a cross of the Tasmanian and Jwala peppers.  The habit is a strong and erect with the elongated purplish fruit pointing upwards toward the sky from the tips of the stems.  As the fruit grows larger, it will hang down from its weight against the dark green foliage.  Comstock’s Purple has the same heat as cayenne peppers and grows to about 24-26” tall, also appreciating full sun.  If you want to see them, come to the show in June this year where they will be available for sale.  For more on that, see www.facebook.com/gardensgallerygifts.

Lisa told me she collected the remaining branches from her pepper plant in early fall and kept them for use later.  Would you believe at Christmas time?  She put the dried branches with their bright red peppers still dangling on into vases with other evergreens.   She said it was fun to have them displayed during the winter, and again, being a frugal minded person, she was very pleased to reuse her peppers a third time for decor purposes, now indoors!  She enjoyed informing her dinner guests about how the showy vibrant red peppers in the vases are those also used in the meal providing a warm and comforting feeling so needed on cold winter nights.  

So when mixing up your container selections this season, don’t overlook hot peppers for their ornamental value and edible appeal!   Cathy T

Hemlock woolly adelgids

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Ever see one of those Sci-fi movies where the off spring of genetically superior parents are so perfect they can ward off all diseases and have amazing intellect?  Sound crazy?  Well, yah a bit when it comes to humans, but in the plant world, hybrids are created all the time in attempts to not only increase the benefits of a plant, but its resistance to problems or pests.

One such example was noted in the December 2010 issue of the “Nursery Management & Production” magazine.  Yes, I finally got around to reading my December issue in April 2011.  This article, titled, “Hemlock hybrids resist destructive pest” caught my attention because I love offering hemlocks to clients as an option for hedges or privacy borders, but it has one drawback – the woolly adelgid insect (Adelges tsugae).  Tsuga canadensis, the Eastern or Canada hemlock is susceptible to it.  So is Tsuga caroliniana (Carolina hemlock).  Both hemlocks are native to the U.S. and applicable to our CT planting zones.

Hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) is caused by female aphid-like insects that feed off the plant.  It is considered to be one of the major invasive pest threats in New England.  You can spot it on the hemlocks by a cottony material that stands out against the dark green needles.  This wool-looking sign consists of egg masses laid in early spring on the twigs.  If you don’t spot the white stuff right away, you later may notice your hemlocks turning grayish green first, than brown as they weaken from the feeding process.  Sometimes the HWA invasion can lead to the death of the tree.

However, all is not lost if you are forewarned of this potential threat.  A good professional designer or landscape installer with a conscience should advise their clients about this possibility if recommending this tree.  The maintenance required to control HWA involves spraying horticulture oil once in early spring before new growth begins, and again in the fall.  This will offer excellent control and is easy to do, but, with that said, you have to be willing to do this or at least be aware of the HWA problem so you don’t leave your hemlocks unsupervised.  If an infestation occurs and becomes really bad, the tree may need to be removed entirely.  I make sure to inform my clients of this if they aren’t already aware of HWA. 

In the plant world, bad scenarios like this don’t always happen though.  I have seen many plantings of hemlocks that have never experienced the woolly adelgid problem at all.  It is kind of curious to me, but then again not.  When hemlocks are grown in the right place and have a healthy start, chances is minimized for problems.  Plants in a weak state are larger targets for insects.  And with new hybrids on the horizon, homeowners will have new choices if they don’t want to risk HWA.  But we are going to have to wait.

After reading the aforementioned article, I contacted Sue Bentz, a horticulturist of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, to inquire a bit more about their process.  She indicated their hemlock hybrid trails are still in the testing phases.  The test hybrids are being cloned for out-planting trails to evaluate hardiness, landscape merit and whole plant susceptibility to HWA.  They hope to establish the first field trail this year.  The evaluation process may take several years.  Sue continued to explain, the hybrids between T. chinensis and T. caroliniana (and other Asian species and T. chinensis) are showing greater resistance to HWA than the susceptible species. 

Until these resistant hybrids are available on the market, please don’t be afraid to purchase T. canadensis.  It is a wonderful option for our CT planting zones in shady areas.  It is useful in the landscape as a larger hedge plant or one to block an unsightly view.  Its wispy, soft needles allow the branches to interconnect creating a nice green fence, plus the plant stays full to the ground level so there is no bare spot below.  It also grows on both alkaline and acidic soils.  And T. caroliniana (Carolina hemlock) is also beautiful, an upright tree with short and pendulous branches.  It looks very similar to T. canadensis but its needles go around the stem and it has larger cones.   Besides the HWA concern, the only other consideration is to not plant them in exposed locations. Both do not care for strong winds. 

To learn more about New England pest threats, check out this website:  http://www.ProNewEngland.org. Cathy T

Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’

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Blue Star

A handy juniper to use in the landscape is Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’.  I’m not sure if the squamata species name means it “squats” low to the ground, but that is kind of what the habit is like for this juniper.  It has a mound habit and sits (or squats) low to the ground.  Reaching about a height of one to three feet and spread of two to four feet, it doesn’t get too large with its slow growth rate.  It has a nice soft silvery-blue needle color that is useful to pair up as a partner with other soft colors like pink blooms on other shrubs in the landscape nearby.

‘Blue Star’ prefers full sun.  It also can take some drought once established, thus it is a good low-maintenance candidate.  Additionally, in my opinion, it isn’t ugly like some other types of junipers that have more of a low-creeping habit.  Many of my clients have said “yuck” to the itchy, sprawling junipers, and tend to agree with the look of ‘Blue Star’ being more on the handsome side due to its mounded fluffy form.  The needles are awl-shaped.  I remember asking my professor years ago when we studied these types of plants what that word meant.  He responded, “like a boat.”  Awl means the needles tapers to a slender stiff point.  If you look up close, you will notice this on ‘Blue Star’.

This shrub can also tolerate a range of soils, from clay to the more well-drained, and can take urban conditions, like for beds situated near driveways.  It doesn’t get serious pest problems.  However, it prefers acid soils, so if your soil is alkaline, it may yellow a bit in your landscape, but I haven’t seen this problem on ‘Blue Stars’ as of yet in any of the residences I’ve visited to date. 

However, I have seen another problem on other junipers called cedar-apple rust.  The best description I can give this problem, is when you see it on junipers, it looks like orange snot globbed on a branch.  In the spring or early summer, this (snotty) swelling will appear on the upper surface of the needles, in the shape of a blob ball.  During warm and rainy weather, it swells up and grows jelly looking things called “horns” which look like a mistake by a not-so-nice passerby spitting on it.  Oh gross!  But it is actually a gall.  A yucky looking gall for sure.

How does happen this on junipers?  Well, if you have never heard of or seen cedar-apple rust, you either have no junipers in your landscape or you are well-informed about the causal agent and where it comes from.  This disease is caused by a fungus that infects apple trees first.  The wind will carry spores from apples leaves and infect the juniper in the summer.  This begins a ping-pong game by this fungus between the juniper and the apple tree.  It does not travel from one juniper to the other, but will bounce back to the apple tree a spring later.  Then in August, the spores return to the juniper.  You have to wonder how nature, or why nature chose to do this routine for its growing cycle? It is rather odd.  Perhaps the texture of the juniper’s needles just worked for this organism to grow and reproduce, I’m not sure, but when you see cedar-apple rust for the first time, you want to reach for a Kleenex!

So what should you do if you witness the cedar-apple rust “orange snot” or more technically stated, galls, on your junipers?  Remove them and toss them in the garbage.  And if possible, do not plant apples trees in the same landscape area as your new junipers.  Or if you have apple trees or a farm of trees within several hundred yards, don’t use them at all to avoid this experience.  This is the advice I give my clients.  The good news is, if you have no issues with junipers, they are very easy to find in your local nurseries here in CT.  Just look down when walking through the shrub section when you browse for your plants.  You will spot this dense, compact mounded useful shrub sitting there.  I find ‘Blue Star’ very useful and continue to recommend it to my DIY landscape clients as a shrub that doesn’t overwhelm a space, is low-maintenance, and easy to plant.  Cathy T

New Kid in Town

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If you felt a bit down in the dumps yesterday about our unwelcomed snowfall, I suggest you get into your car and go visit one of your local nurseries.  Nothing will cheer you up more than walking into a greenhouse filled with colorful pansies and annual plants beginning to grow and show buds. 

Luckily for me, I had the opportunity to do this last Thursday, the day before our hopefully last snow storm of the season.  I was invited to a guided tour of the Flower Power Farm located in my hometown of East Windsor, CT.  www.flowerpowerfarm.com.

Flower Power Farm opened up in 2009.  Some of my gardening friends started to ask me if I’ve been there yet.  I did make a few trips there last summer during my hustle and bustle days of the season. I loved how well arranged the rows were set up with neat and clean tables of plants perfectly lined up.  Even though I can identify many plants from a mile away, I appreciated the efficiency of their table arrangements with clear lables at the front of every grouping of plant varieties in their greenhouses and hoop houses. 

Well, now the movement through this nursery is at warp speed.  A cement super highway, as Ben Lupien, the owner of the Flower Power Farm called it, has been poured along the perimeter of his 53 acre grounds.  As it takes you past the first set of greenhouses, you arrive upon a huge outdoor open area of tables just waiting to be stocked with plants as soon as Mother Nature allows.  Beyond this space are many more newly installed greenhouses.  You would not know they were back there when driving by their nursery.  They are located on the far end of the property.

As Ben continued to guide me through the area, he rattled off amazing statistics about their new farm.  They have expanded the area by 50%, growing in bulk so they can afford to offer good prices to their customers, and all their pots sport their new logo.  Every hanging basket has an attached plant tag by color; red tag for full sun and orange for part-sun.  And not only that, the tag lists all the plants in the hanging baskets.  They are growing thousands of plants.  “Hard to believe?”  Well, not when you enter the newest growing houses in the back.

As we walked in, I had to gasp a bit.  Each was fully loaded with plants in pots just waiting to hit the sales floors.  Ben quickly picked up one of the hottest new petunias on the market, a black variety called ‘Black Velvet’.  This is the world’s only black petunia and a must have this year.  It is early flowering, tightly branched and has a mounding habit.  It will be popular, along with Petunia ‘Phantom’ and ‘Pinstripe’ – both also new with back flowers and stripes of color down the petals’ centers (yellow on Phantom and Rose purple on Pinstripe).  His instincts are on target.  I ordered the same variety this winter for my container offerings.

Suddenly, Ben’s cell phone rings for the fourth time.  “Sorry,” he apologized.  I replied with, “Not at all – that is a good thing.” 

It is apparent Ben is a busy young person with lots of ambition.  I thought to myself, “If you are going to dream, you might as well dream big.”  And, Ben, along with his wife, Barb, is doing just that.  However, this new kid in town isn’t just dreaming.  He is going for it. 

The personal aspect that makes this new nursery/growing business all the more exciting to me is that Ben selected this area of East Windsor to pursue his dreams and ventures.  I grew up right down the road from his business location.  It feels good to see a business growing in a product I enjoy so much – plants – right here in my hometown. I was able to share with Ben my history of living on a one-hundred acre farm with a river behind it, and mentioned this land is for sale at the moment. 

The Flower Power Farm has expanded its selection of trees and shrubs this year too.  They have some fruit trees ready for the grow-your-own people out there, and a great selection of shrubs for the landscape.   And they also relocated their entry area with a nice building offering a small selection of products like Osmocote, gardening gloves and watering cans.  I took a photo of watering cans in the shape of pigs sporting this year’s hottest new color, honeysuckle pink!  Planting containers are displayed near this area, all graced with new paver walkways and small beds showcasing some of their shrub offerings.

It is nice to have local choices for gardening.  And I would like to point out that plants are products that we grow right here in the U.S.  When we buy from our local nursery owners, we are not only supporting our “local” economy but supporting our country.  There aren’t any labels stating plants are ‘made in China’ in this nursery, or any other reputable nearby nursery in our hometowns. 

If you are a local to East Windsor, such as me, I encourage you to visit the newly expanded Flower Power Farm – and the other nurseries in our towns.  The owners and their staff work hard to bring us the pleasures of colorful plants to add to our gardens and landscapes.  And they beautify our towns with their community projects and help their local garden clubs.  Don’t miss out on your chance to see their offerings and wake up your spring senses at the same time!  Cathy T of Cathy T’s Landscape Designs (www.cathytesta.com).