Episode 5 – Decumbent Growth, All About Aronia, and Baby Bloomers

Ground Breaking Banter

Do you use a plant sitter when going away? Pets, yes. Houseplants, yes. Garden? Find a friend who has a garden and then make sure you’re willing to return the favor. A lot of pressure there! It’s one thing to get the mail or bring out the trash can. But care for someone else’s garden? Maybe soaker hoses are a good idea…

Do you even know your neighbors or their names? A recent study found that baby boomers are more likely to know 11 or more neighbors by name, with the second largest group young adults aged 21 to 29.

We comment on a story from the Royal Horticultural Society about the effect that Baby “Bloomers” have had on the gardening industry over the years.

Do you pull the roots apart when removing a plant from the distinctive white PW pots when planting? Or do you “leaf” them alone? Square hole or round hole? Stacey and Rick comment in our first segment. Yes, Stacey does encourage the roots by pulling them apart and yes, Rick does dig square holes!

Word of the day: decumbent – de·cum·bent /dəˈkəmbənt/ adjective: (of a plant or part of a plant) lying along the ground or along a surface, with the extremity curving upward. Stacey helps us understand the difference between decumbent and procumbent plants, including a beautiful Proven Winners ColorChoice shrub she will share with us in today’s “Plants on Trial.”

We’re talking Low Scape Mound aronia today because it’s a great example of a plant with decumbent growth. Its stems naturally grow along the ground, then its branches turn up at the ends. It’s also a great time to talk about this native flowering shrub because it gets excellent fall color: its leaves turn an array of vivid red, orange, and yellow, and they’re accompanied by a crop of purple-black berries. Those berries are edible and, in fact, full of vitamins and nutrients, but they’re also the reason why this plant is commonly known as “chokeberry:” taste one and its astringency will suck the moisture right out of your mouth. No worries, though – if you don’t want to eat the berries, birds, rabbits, and other animals will be more than happy to take them for sustenance against coming winter. 

Botanically speaking, Low Scape Mound is a selection of Aronia melanocarpa, which translates to black-fruited aronia. It’s a North American native species and grows abundantly over the entire eastern half of the US and Canada. If you were to encounter Aronia melanocarpa in the wild, you’d be seeing a rather large, open, kind of scraggly shrub. And that’s where Low Scape Mound aronia comes in: the breeder, Dr. Mark Brand from the University of Connecticut, works extensively with Aronia with the goal of refining their habits to make them more landscape friendly, and that’s important because aronia is an extremely versatile shrub with substantial benefit to wildlife. Low Scape Mound was Dr. Brand’s first dwarf aronia, and it naturally grows as a tidy mound of just 1-2’ tall and around 2’ wide.

In spring, this little mound of a plant is covered in white flower clusters, and each flower has pink pollen, giving it a kind of two-toned look. The flowers become berries, first green, then maturing to black-purple by late summer. They are quite showy and attractive. They can be harvested or left in place to support birds and other animals like oppossums. The foliage blazes in tones of red and orange for a few weeks, before dropping. It’s a really good plant for multi season interest, and it’s probably one of the most all around durable shrubs in the Proven Winners ColorChoice line. Truly, it can take anything you can throw at it: soil-wise, nothing is a problem: wet, dry, acidic, alkaline, salt. And it can grow in any range of light, but of course, flowers and fruits best – and develops the best fall color – with at least some sun each day.

As for deer resistance, though – not exactly its strong suit. Aronia are definitely not rabbit resistant, and I’ve seen rabbits take off every flower on a plant in spring. If the flowers get removed, there goes the chance at getting fruit. You’ll also see aronia on lists of plants for landowners who are managing their property specifically to get deer, and they will eat the berries. But, all that said, deer and rabbits rarely damage the plant itself – they won’t mow it down to stubs or destroy it, and because it still has nice fall color and is a durable plant, it may still be a valid choice.

It’s safe to say that Low Scape Mound aronia is a low maintenance shrub – it really shouldn’t be pruned, because if you prune it in spring, you’d be removing the flowers, and if you prune after it flowers, you’d be removing the potential for fruit to form. Plus, it’s naturally low growing so doesn’t need trimming or size management. There is a caveat, however, which is that it is a suckering plant, as are all aronia – it sets out new branches from the roots, and these can come up a foot or so from the plant. So, two solutions: use it only where it’s able to cover the ground and do its thing, for example, in parking lot beds, hillsides, or along sidewalks, or just take a nice sharp garden spade, sever the sucker from the main plant, and pull it out.

Ready to add Low Scape Mound aronia to your landscape? Ask for this Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrub at your favorite local garden center.

Gardening Mail Bag

Karen writes: I would like to plant a lilac bush, I’m in zone 6a here in Ohio. I lost a new one and don’t know what happened to it but I’d like to get a replacement in the ground as soon as I can. Should I wait until spring or plant a new lilac now?

You can safely plant anything that’s hardy to your area in fall up until about six weeks before your ground freezes. Obviously, that’s a very difficult date to predict, but in USDA zones 5 and 6, it’s typically fine to plant through at least mid-October. Lilacs can easily withstand Ohio’s cold winter temperatures, however, the biggest threat to lilacs at any time of the year is wet soil. So, if the spot where you want to put this lilac has heavy clay soil or some other condition that impedes drainage in winter, I’d suggest waiting until spring to plant. That will give the plant a chance to create a bigger root system to deal with any soil challenges that may occur during winter. 

Krista asks: I currently have a Pinky Winky hydrangea that attracts lots of bees near my front door. I am going to move it and would like to replace it with another hydrangea that does not attract bees and is not so large. What would you recommend? Thanks for your help.

This is a great question – Pinky Winky is a lacecap hydrangea, which means that its flowers have a higher proportion of small, star-like fertile florets that contain pollen and nectar and only a small proportion of the showier sterile florets (which Rick accurately describes as “landing pads.”). Because those nectar-bearing sterile florets are so abundant and accessible, pollinators of all types – including bees – love them. So discouraging bees from your front door planting is as simple as choosing a mophead hydrangea, where the sterile florets obscure the fertile ones, making them less attractive to bees. Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs offers a huge selection of mophead panicle hydrangeas, but since you also want a smaller plant, we can shorten our list of recommendations to Bobo, Fire Light Tidbit, Little Lime, Little Lime Punch, or Tiny Quick Fire hydrangeas. Stacey also mentioned Little Quick Fire hydrangea as a possibility, but then remembered it’s a lacecap as well, so may still attract bees, but it’s size certainly fits the bill.

Susy wonders: What’s the best hydrangea for shade?

Another great question! So many people think of hydrangeas as shade plants, and that’s certainly true if you live in a hot climate, but in milder areas, some sun each day is highly beneficial for the strongest stems, most abundant flowers, and the best color as well. Overall, we recommend at least four hours of sun each day for hydrangeas in zones 3-7. That said, Stacey’s number one recommendation for a shade tolerant hydrangea is oakleaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia, with big leaf hydrangea (H. macrophylla) and mountain hydrangeas (H. serrata) tied for second. 

Branching News

  1. Ever lose a pruning shears or garden gloves in the yard only to find them next season? This Iowa town lost a time capsule as its centerpiece to a 150 year anniversary celebration. The small northwest Iowa city of Sheldon planned to make the opening of a time capsule one of the centerpiece events of its 150th anniversary this weekend, but it ran into a slight problem: no one is sure where the time capsule is buried. “We’re trying to find instructions on exactly where it’s at before we just start digging,” said Sheldon Chamber of Commerce director Ashley Nordahl. “We think we know where it is, but to dig up concrete in the park when we have such a big event going on, we’re just postponing that to a little bit later in the year.”
    The time capsule was buried 50 years ago during Sheldon’s centennial celebration and over time its specific location became a bit fuzzy. Event organizers had planned to open the time capsule during a town birthday celebration Friday morning featuring birthday cake and coffee. They then planned to place new items inside the capsule and rebury it.
  2. This is the time of year we plant flower bulbs thanks in part to our friends from the Netherlands. The country is inextricably linked to the sea, dykes, and dunes. Almost a third of the Netherlands is situated below sea level, and its highest point, 323 m above sea level, can be found at the tri-border area where the Netherlands meets Belgium and Germany. So how can they too have a drought/water problem!? Water companies in the Netherlands said that a combination of drought, pollution, and the growing population is a threat to the supply of clean, potable water in the country. A shortage of drinking water could be just a few years away, the companies said according to NRC: “The water system is reaching its limits due to drought, salinity and increasing water demand due to a growing population and economy. The availability of water for the drinking water supply is under pressure. In addition, the quality of drinking water sources is deteriorating due to pollution of agriculture, industry and households. Future generations risk being saddled with a less secure supply of reliable drinking water.”
  3. Sleep tech company Emma Sleep, which is creating the “Shleep Sanctuary” experience, have launched a contest offering two people the chance to try it when it opens in summer 2023. Located near a hillside in Sussex, in a field full of the fluffy farm animals, the sleep dome will host two guests and feature a luxurious double-bed, with views of idyllic surroundings from all angles. Guests will be encouraged to count the numbered sheep before gently drifting off into a blissful slumber beneath the stars. After tucking into dinner and settling in for the night, guests will wake up to a guided yoga session before enjoying a breakfast hamper full of locally-sourced food. Rick and Stacey think a Gardening Simplified field trip may be in order!
  4. The Washington Post reports that out of over a million roads in the United States, 9,640 are named “Park,” 8,232 are named “2nd,” or “Second” – “2nd” is a more popular road name than “1st.” The most convincing explanation anyone has come up with so far is that in many towns the primary thoroughfare is “Main” street instead of “1st” street. Because those two names split the honor, so to speak, they tumble in the rankings.
    Trees, numbers, and presidents are the most popular names for streets, which is understandable.
    “Magnolia” and “Dogwood” are popular in the South, while “Maple” is popular in the North. The two “Oak” states are Oklahoma and Arkansas.
    In Michigan and Pennsylvania “Maple” is most popular while with surrounding Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio and New York claim “Park” street.