Episode 33 – Perennial Favorites: literally and figuratively!

Ground Breaking Banter - Rick

In this podcast episode titled “Favorite Perennials,” we won’t be able to cover everything, but let’s see where our banter takes us!

As herbaceous plants emerge from the ground, gardeners are excitedly adding new varieties to their collections. Perennials are a common denominator for gardeners because they are collectible and shareable.

There are many appealing options to choose from, such as crocosmia for hummingbirds, ferns for dense shade, and an echinacea explosion of varieties and colors. A towering backdrop of native eupatorium (Joe Pye weed) and the sunny smile of helianthus and heliopsis in summer. The calming effect of Sweet Romance® Lavandula angustifolia, the early spring gift of hellebores in bloom, and the 24-hour life of a single daylily blossom. From endless varieties of heuchera and hosta to dinner plate blooms of hibiscus that are Summerific! The rich color of iris to the flamboyant red hot pokers, aromatic bee balm to the catnip smell of nepeta, ‘Cat’s Pajamas’ ‘Cat’s Meow’. From floriferous phlox to spotted Pulmonaria, phenomenal peonies, and salvia to sedum… Hosta la vista baby!

Each perennial has its own character, like Russian sage, named after Russian general V.A. Perovsky. Perovskia atriplicifolia has foliage so pungent it is said to smell like the boots of marching Russian soldiers. ‘Denim ‘n Lace’ Perovskia atriplicifolia, bergenia, also known as pigsqueak, and Amazing Daisies® ‘Banana Cream’ Leucanthemum are other unique examples.

Gaura’s butterfly flowers dance on their long stems, and ornamental grasses sway in the summer breeze. The fall-blooming Fall in Love™ ‘Sweetly’ Japanese anemone does its waltz on tall stems in September. The color blue can be found in ‘Storm Cloud’ Amsonia (Blue Star). Stacey and Rick both love the dramatic reliable impact of Decadence Baptisia, also known as false indigo.

Rick shares another “Lim-A-Rick,” this one about perennials:

Chop dig, divide with shovels and sabres

The yearly blooms the fruits of our labors

Just do the perennial dance

Bend over and split your plants

It’s going to entertain your neighbors

Of course, sharing is one of the best parts of gardening, and many perennials respond well to dividing. Divide in spring and fall, but aim to do most of your divisions in the fall (warm soil) except for fall bloomers and ornamental grasses. Dividing peonies or iris? Get them done in August/September to avoid issues with freeze-thaw cycles. Lastly, it’s best to avoid watering over the top of your perennials when possible. Remember, soil preparation and choosing the right plant for the right place are key to success.

Why: By definition, shrubs are woody plants – if you cut into a stem, you’ll find concentric rings like you’d find in a tree stump, and the grown each year comes back on the same branches that persist above ground all winter. But some plants, even though they are technically shrubs, are thought of more like perennials. This can be due to size, or looks, or behavior – like in the case of butterfly bush, which, though a woody plant, often dies back to the ground in colder parts of its hardiness range, growing again from the roots like a herbaceous perennial. That’s why I picked Lo & Behold ‘Pink Micro Chip’ butterfly bush as today’s plant on trial. It is the most perennial-like of all of the Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs, and in fact, you wouldn’t be blamed if you were to mistake it for a salvia or other popular perennial that sports spiky pink flowers. Unlike most perennials, however, Lo & Behold ‘Pink Micro Chip’ butterfly bush blooms all summer, no deadheading required. Fun fact: it’s also one of our longest plant names, and it’s the one our designer Shannon picks when she needs to test whether there’s enough room for a very long plant name on our plant tags. 

Who: Most of the Lo & Behold series, including ‘Pink Micro Chip’, came to us from Dr. Dennis Werner, professor emeritus from North Carolina State University. His breeding goals were extreme compactness and non-invasiveness, both of which Lo & Behold ‘Pink Micro Chip’ butterfly bush exhibits. In fact, it’s likely the smallest butterfly bush on the market, making it perfect for mixing in to flower gardens, as well as landscaping. 

How to grow: Sun is the name of the game when it comes to butterfly bushes, and even if you live in the warmer end of its hardiness range – USDA zone 9 – it will need at least six hours of bright sun each day to bloom well. Like other butterfly bushes, it also demands good drainage and will suffer if the soil is wet or soggy, even for brief periods. If you have clay soil, plant butterfly bush a bit higher than soil level, rather than even with it, to encourage water to drain away. Even an extremely tiny variety like Lo & Behold ‘Pink Micro Chip’ benefits from pruning each year, which helps keep it neat and compact as well as flowering all over the plant instead of just at the tip. We recommend spring pruning in colder climates, but those of you in hot areas can prune once it has gone dormant in fall/winter or in spring, as you prefer. Fortunately, in either case, you needn’t deadhead, or remove spent flowers, to keep the plant flowering all summer. And the more it flowers, the more butterflies you’ll get to see!

If you’d like to add Lo & Behold ‘Pink Micro Chip’ butterfly bush – or any of the 320+ Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs – to your garden or landscape, you’ll find a list of local retailers here

Gardening Mail Bag - Stacey

Ornamental grasses are fantastic, easy-care garden plants, but even their most ardent fans have to confess that spring isn’t their best season. It’s typical to leave ornamental grasses in place for autumn and winter interest, and then cut them back in spring. Though they are all brown and dry-looking, they are not dead! Just go ahead and give them their annual haircut now, which will allow sunlight and air to the new growth, which will be emerging soon. Don’t wait too long into spring to cut back your ornamental grasses, as once the new growth does begin to emerge, you can’t cut away the old growth without cutting into the new growth, which isn’t typically harmful to the plant but will result in flat, blunt ends of the grass leaves instead of graceful points. Also, be patient: many ornamental grasses are what’s known as warm season grasses, and won’t emerge until the weather is quite warm. It’s easy to lose faith with these, because they’ll still be showing few signs of life while everything around them explodes, but your patience will be rewarded when the warmer, longer days start to stack up, soon coaxing them into lush, vigorous growth.


Similar to Pat’s question on grasses, above, heuchera are another plant that are not at their best in early spring. Sometimes, their foliage persists, but sometimes, it gets rotted away, nibbled by mice or rabbits, or just disappears, leaving behind a funny, tall stem that you’re not sure what to do with. But the answer is just to maybe put down some mulch around the plants and wait. Soon, fresh, colorful new growth will emerge from the center of those stalks, and before long, all the foliage will be back, completely obscuring them. If you are seeing the opposite issue on your heuchera – ugly old leaves still clinging to the stem – go ahead and cut those back now. 

For my part, the answer is a definitive no. Weed fabric presents a lot of issues, and is especially problematic for plants that require good drainage, like lilacs, butterfly bush, and panicle hydrangeas. Weed fabric – also known as landscape fabric, weed barrier, or geotextile – minimizes evaporation of moisture from the soil surface, keeping too much water around the roots, which can harm plants that need good drainage. It also allows carbon dioxide to accumulate to potentially toxic levels in the soil, starving the plants of oxygen. All that and it’s not even particularly good at keeping down weeds! Plus, these effects are greatly exacerbated when the weed barrier is coupled with rock, which further holds in water and gas. We recommend nothing but a 2-3″ layer of an organic (natural material that breaks down) mulch, especially on plants that require good drainage.

If you already have weed barrier and rock in the area where you want to plant your lilac, no worries – just rake away the rock, cut away the landscape fabric for a good 18-24″ around the plant’s spot. I would then go ahead and put down an organic mulch around the plant itself, but you can move the rock back to the edge of that mulch circle to help it blend more seamlessly with the rest of your bed. 

For more information, we have an article on not using weed fabric here

Do you have a question for us? We’re happy to help! E-mail us or use the contact tab above.

Branching News - Rick

  • A poll conducted on behalf of allergy medication Flonase found people consider allergy symptoms to be the most frustrating part of springtime (54%), compared to spring cleaning (44%), mosquitoes (41%), and even filing taxes (38%). A survey of 2,000 U.S. adults with allergies discovered other favorite things people would be willing to part with for a year to be rid of their allergy symptoms, including cake (39%), chocolate (39%), video games (39%), coffee (38%) and social media (36%).

    Bird strikes – no, not robins picketing for better work conditions, but birds running into windows – continue to add to the increasing pressures facing bird populations, including habitat loss, climate change, and hunting by cats. In fact, nearly three billion birds have disappeared from the United States and Canada since 1970. Making windows more visible to birds by placing predator-shaped black decals is one way to help. However, this recent study found that decals are only effective if placed on the outside of the window
  • The Moose is loose! We’ve got two stories on hungry Moose visitations today. We know the deer do a lot of damage in spring after a long winter and are hungry….think about the damage a moose can do! 
  • So this moose walks into a medical building…while that could be a setup to a bad joke, it actually happened in Anchorage, Alaska.
    A young moose trudging through the snow looking for a meal spotted green houseplants in the lobby of a medical building in the Providence Alaska Health Park and decided to drop in for a dose of greenery. The ingenious — or lucky — moose triggered the sensors on the automatic doors to the building that houses the hospital’s cancer center and other medical offices. The moose was too preoccupied eating the office plants to notice the stir he was causing. Security officers formed a semicircle to corral the moose and shoo it out the door. One officer even grabbed a piece of the plant the moose had been eating and tried to lure it out. “Finally, I think it had enough of everybody watching him, watching him eat,” Hughes said. The moose vacated the building but hung around in the building’s semicircular drive for a bit before heading to the other side of the building to bed down for an afternoon nap.
  • Meanwhile, south of town Anchorage, Barbara Nickels of Soldotna always leaves the door cracked when she lets her dog Jesse out, closing it when he comes back in. But this time? Jesse brought a friend into her atrium. A big friend… a MOOSE! Much to Barb’s shock, the moose was happily munching on all her houseplants with Jesse just sitting down beside the big fella. Cops, a lot of noise, and a few broken plant pots later, the moose was safely out of the house. 
  • A new book, What a Bee Knows: Exploring the Thoughts, Memories and Personalities of Bees, draws from author Stephen Buchmann’s research and dozens of other studies to paint a remarkable picture of bee behavior and psychology. It argues that bees can demonstrate sophisticated emotions resembling optimism, frustration, playfulness and fear, traits more commonly associated with mammals. Experiments have shown bees can experience PTSD-like symptoms, recognize different human faces, process long-term memories while sleeping, and maybe even dream.

  • Emergency preservation work has been carried out on one of the few trees remaining from an ancient Scottish forest.The Capon Tree, near Jedburgh, is believed to be about 1,000 years old. The collapse of one of its surviving limbs has led to further props and supports being added. The Capon tree is one of the few survivors of the ancient Jedforest which covered a large area of the southern borderlands.
    In recent decades it has become an integral part of Jedburgh’s annual summer festival. But the ancient English oak is close to dying with only one limb now showing any life. “It is a tree of national importance and there are a lot of visitors who go out to visit the Capon Tree when in Jedburgh.” It is believed that much of the historic Jedforest was cut down for ships during attacks by the Spanish Armada in the late 16th century.
    By that time the Capon tree itself was already a landmark where local men would gather before mounting cross-border raids into Northumberland.