Episode 52 – Reach out and touch somebody’s plants

Ground Breaking Banter - Rick

Some plants are just plain touchable. Chenille plant (Acalypha hispida) is a great example of one such plant: it gets its common name from the exotic flowers that look like strands of chenille yarn. Chenille is a fuzzy cotton yarn that has pile protruding around the surface of the yarn. It looks exactly like what its name means in French: a caterpillar! It’s soft! Other descriptive common names for this South Pacific native include foxtails, monkey tail and red-hot cat’s tail.  Because it is only hardy to zone 10, it is usually grown as a seasonal annual for its unusual tassel-like flowers. You may see it suggested as a houseplant, but it needs very bright light and high humidity to thrive. 

That brings us to the word of the day: thigmomorphogenesis. This is the response plants have to mechanical sensation or touch by altering their growth patterns. In the wild, these patterns can happen via wind, raindrops, and rubbing by passing animals or other plant growth. In gardens, of course, humans (and our pets) are the main culprits. If you’ve ever touched Mimosa pudica or “sensitive plant” you know this.

We can’t begin to “touch” on  all of the examples, but some favorites include: moss, lamb’s ear, scented geraniums, maidenhair fern, asparagus fern, agastache (for the aroma on your fingers), ornamental grasses and their flowers, a lush, soft lawn beneath your feet, pigsqueak (aka bergenia), snapdragon (make them talk), paper bark maple, beech tree, herbs in general, succulents in general, and Cerveza ‘n Lime plectranthus. That last one is very pretty, and stacks and layers like a “Farrah Fawcett hairdo.” Send us a note on your favorite!

Of course, there are plants you don’t want to touch. Giant hogweed, poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac leap to mind first. For Rick, that list also includes hyacinth bulbs. Most people will react to the irritating calcium oxalate crystals they contain. 

Plants like prickly pear cactus, juniper, and sumac can be annoying but the one that makes both Rick and Stacey crazy is stinging nettle.
Stinging nettles are covered with countless tiny hollow hairs called trichomes. When something brushes against these hairs, their very fragile silica tips break off, and the remainder of the hair can then act like a needle. It pierces the skin, and releases a histimine cocktail of venom from the base of the hair, and it’s these that cause the sting. Dead nettle (Lamium and Lamiastrum)  aren’t remotely related to stinging nettle, so no worries if you have those in your yard. 

What is the difference between nettle and dead-nettle? The familiar stinging hairs of the stinging nettle are not found on dead-nettle. The plants have totally different flowering. For some dead-nettle is considered a weed due to its rapid reproduction by runners. In the garden, they can quickly take over and suppress other plants. Often used in hanging basket arrangements to trail over the side. It colonises even in shady, unfavourable places, for example, under bushes and hedges. Nettles are used as a medicinal herb and in the kitchen.

Why: You know how you can’t resist kind of bouncing your hand on the flower of a big, full, mophead hydrangea bloom? Today’s plant on trial, Little Lime Punch hydrangea, is like that, but in a hardy, fool proof panicle hydrangea. The blooms are just absolutely packed full of florets that create a nearly impenetrable coat of flowers. The stems are really sturdy too, so they can readily take all that bouncing and touching.

Little Lime Punch is not your average panicle hydrangea, in several ways. There is that flower density and stem strength, but also, its blooms age to a mélange of colors like no other. Because the plant continues to put out fresh flowers through the season, you end up with white, green, pink, and red flowers on the plant all at once. It’s also a tidy, neat variety that reaches just 3-5′ tall and wide. It is as easy to grow as other panicle hydrangeas, but there are a few things you should keep in mind as you watch it become a part of your landscape or garden:

  • This is a plant that requires a bit more of your patience than most other panicle hydrangeas, but your patience will be rewarded. It takes a little longer after planting to bloom, and it takes some time for it to get established enough to really show its best flower color. This is common for very dwarf plants like Little Lime Punch (3-5’ tall and wide) but not common for panicle hydrangeas. But Little Lime Punch’s thick leaves, strong stems, and dense flowers simply take more of the plant’s energy to develop.
  • The multi-color effect develops because the flowers emerge at different times. You might not see this effect develop until the plant is established as well.
  • Generally speaking, it takes three full seasons for a plant to get established before it performs well.

Who: Little Lime Punch hydrangea was developed right here in West Michigan by the Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs breeding team. 

How to grow: In cooler climates, panicle hydrangeas can take full sun. The warmer the climate, the more shade they will need, especially during the hottest part of the day. In warmer areas, you may find that the red color doesn’t become as vivid, but it depends on the night time temperatures. Plants cannot synthesize their pigments as effectively when it’s very hot at night, so you may find that the color your plant can take on varies based on the conditions of that particular summer. Panicle hydrangeas should be mulched for best performance, and for best color development, they should not be allowed to dry out during their bloom time. They can be pruned in early spring if desired. 


If you’d like to add Little Lime Punch hydrangea – 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

Thanks, Kate! The earliest blooming panicle hydrangeas are those in the Quick Fire series, often by the 4th of July here in Michigan. Incrediball and Invincibelle smooth hydrangeas are also usually starting to bloom by early July. Though the bloom times of all hydrangeas do vary a bit based on climate, opening earlier in warmer climates and later in cooler areas, I don’t think that any hydrangeas will be in bloom as early as May in St. Louis. Rather, I think what you are seeing are viburnums, and specifically, snowball viburnums, aka snowball bush. Though they are not botanically related to hydrangeas, they do look similar. For example, viburnum flowers can be mophead or lacecap, and their sterile florets look similar to hydrangea sterile florets. Plus, their foliage is arranged opposite like hydrangeas. Here’s a nice look at these spring-blooming viburnums; hopefully you have room for them in your yard as well as hydrangeas!

Some plants “harden off” enough later in the season and become unappealing to rabbits, but that’s not going to be the case with impatiens, which remain succulent and soft all season long. So yes, hot pepper spray – often called hot pepper wax -is an effective deterrent. It’s not smelly like deer repellents are but is effective on rabbits and small rodents like chipmunks. You may find recipes for making your own online, but we do recommend sticking with a specially formulated product because it will contain wax that helps it stick to and persist on the plant for longer lasting control.

The key to preventing browning of boxwood after trimming is water. When you trim a boxwood, you’ve opened up quite a lot of surface area, all of which will start to give off water vapor. If that water is not replaced, the foliage will brown as a result. So after you trim, give your plants a good watering and continue to do so over the ensuing weeks. You can safely trim your boxwoods into mid-summer, but don’t do it beyond that. It can push new growth which will not have time to properly harden off before winter’s cold zaps it. 

Do you have a question for us? We’re happy to help! E-mail us or use the contact tab above. Due to high volume, we may not get to your question, so if you need an answer quickly, please reach out via the Proven Winners website.

Branching News - Rick

  • If there is anyone that can handle water,  its the Dutch. But this year is seriously testing them with a much-wetter-than-normal spring and summer. In fact, in July, it rained nearly every day!  This has its affect on bulb suppliers saying the season so far has been rough. Look for the possibility that there may be some shortages and undersized bulbs this year due to the weather. It may seem like all that moisture would lead to beautiful, lush growth, but it’s the opposite: the Central Asian steppes where most bulbs grow wild are very hot and dry in the summer, so that’s what bulbs are adapted for. This is also why tulips planted in perennial gardens and flower beds often do not return, or “perennialize.” Join Rick on a bike ride through the tulip fields on his trip to the Netherlands last spring!
  • Two in three Americans (67%) said they could live on sandwiches alone for a full week, according to new research. What makes the perfect sandwich? According to a survey of 2,000 Americans, it consists of tomato (54%), cheddar cheese (39%) and Black Forest ham (39%). NO BALONEY!  The top five fruits and vegetables they indicated they prefer in sandwiches include: tomato (54%), onion (54%), cucumber (51%), lettuce (47%), and pickles (46%).
  • So here’s a story that’s developing: a popular way to make chlorophyll prints is to expose an existing image onto a leaf, treating the leaf itself like photographic paper. Once a leaf has been exposed, it must be developed. The two-step process begins with an eight-minute boiling alcohol bath to remove the chlorophyll from the leaf. Finally an iodine bath exposes the starch granules hidden beneath the leaf’s surface. These granules are organized according to whatever a person used to control how sunlight fell on the leaf.
  • Even before the havoc of this spring’s storms, San Francisco already had one of the sparsest tree canopies of any major U.S. city—and it’s shrinking. Trees have not been planted to keep up with the rate of the removal, leading to a continuous decline of greenery. The Department of Public Works assumes an annual 4% street tree mortality rate. A natural tension arises between the push not to remove any street trees—especially given the incredible shrinking canopy—and the need to make sure people and property remain safe from trees that could be dangerous planted in the right-of-way. The number of tree-related claims reveals growing agitation about the city’s urban canopy—already one of the sparsest in the country—and numbers point to what could become a worsening situation.
  • ROMULUS, MI — Police in one Michigan town had anything but an ordinary day when a woman called them to report she discovered an alligator on the back porch of her Romulus home. A Romulus woman calls the police station and is calmly speaking to the sergeant,” police wrote in a Facebook post. Police said they heard laughter in the background before the woman said, “There is a crocodile or an alligator on my back patio.” Despite the woman’s claim, police said the sergeant taking the call was skeptical. “Can you send a picture of it?” he asked. The woman complied, prompting the likely-bewildered sergeant to exclaim, “Well, I’ll be!” While alligators don’t live in the Michigan wild, they are surprisingly spotted in the state every year. Alligators can live up to 50 years, that is why there is a high chance that they will see you later.
  • And with the start of the football season upon us this story: a Las Vegas home for sale. Fifty years and nearly 2,000 collegiate football helmets later, the priceless collection has outgrown his 6,000-square-foot abode. Unless you negotiate a deal with a buyer, any items that belong to you and aren’t attached to or otherwise part of the house go with you when you sell. Plan to take your furniture, art hanging on the walls, small throw rugs, hanging plants, beds, curtains, etc. with you when you move. Exterior items, like patio umbrellas, should be taken with you. But if something is too big or bulky, you can ask the buyer’s realtor if they’re interested in keeping that item. If you plan to take something that would normally be left behind, such as your prized rose bushes or a light fixture that is a family heirloom, make sure you put that in writing at the start of the selling process and tell your agent to relay that information so buyers are aware.
Pink rose of Sharon flowers bloom on a plant with variegated foliage.

Episode 92 – Weeding by Example

Ah, weeds – maybe the #1 thing that discourages people from gardening. But weeds are interesting and become a lot easier to manage when you apply some basic IPM principles. Featured shrub: Sugar Tip rose of Sharon.

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