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Episode 61 – Autumn leaves abound. Here’s how to use them to your advantage.

Ground Breaking Banter - Rick

Autumn leaves: they're beautiful when they are on the trees, whether green or in all their fall finery. They're a pain when they fall on the lawn. And they're as beneficial as all get-out, a free, abundant soil amendment/mulch. In fact, leaves are so valuable that Rick has been known to drive around neighborhoods on trash collection nights, stocking up on bags of leaves to put through his chipper/shredder and incorporate through the garden. Listen on your favorite podcast platform, or tune in on YouTube above, to hear his adventures and misadventures with leaves.

Why? Because while Tiny Wine ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) is smaller than typical ninebarks – 3-5’ tall and wide rather than the more typical 6-8’ – what’s really small about it is its leaves. They are about half the size of regular ninebark leaves, which does two things: one, they give Tiny Wine ninebark a unique, highly textured look and two, those tiny leaves mean there’s virtually nothing to clean up when it drops its leaves in fall.

Tiny Wine ninebark boasts the appealing red-purple foliage that’s typical of dark-leaf ninebarks, and a distinct upright habit of fine, upright branches, which further accentuates the textural effect of the small leaves. It’s a selection of the North American native physocarpus, which gets its common name “ninebark” from its peeling bark which reveals multiple layers. Whether there are nine layers or not, your mileage may vary, but who doesn’t love a good poetic common name?

Generally speaking, plants with colorful foliage all season don’t usually take on good fall color, but Tiny Wine ninebark is an exception. In autumn, its red-purple foliage turns bright red, looking almost lit from within. In spring, it is covered in round clusters of white flowers with pink pollen. And while that may not sound like much, it makes a substantial impact on the overall look of the blooms, which you tend to perceive as pink.

Who: Tiny Wine ninebark was developed right here in West Michigan as part of our ninebark breeding program. Ninebarks are an interesting plant – they kind of came out of nowhere about twenty years ago with the introduction the first dark-leafed variety, ‘Diabolo’ (not Diablo, like many people mistakenly think). And while our plain green native physocarpus is very vigorous and disease resistant, once those first dark leafed varieties hit the market, it was clear they were magnets for powdery mildew, especially if they were planted in less than full sun, and/or spaced closely to their neighbors or a structure. That’s why we have made powdery mildew resistance the focus of our ninebark breeding program here, trialing them in the greenhouse, field, and in a low-lying swampy spot in our trial garden. Though it does appear that all dark and gold leafed ninebarks have some degree of susceptibility if planted in shady spots or areas with poor air circulation and frequent wetting from irrigation systems, we work to make sure Proven Winners ninebark varieties are as resistant and vigorous as possible. 

How to Grow: Ninebarks are full sun plants – that’s how you’ll get the best foliage color, the most flowers, and the least amount of powdery mildew. They are quite drought tolerant once they are established, but if they become very stressed, they also become more susceptible to powdery mildew. Pruning ninebarks is a topic that confuses many, and my stance is that they are best left unpruned. Pruning messes with their naturally graceful habit, causing witches broom-type branching where many branches are clustered closely together. It’s best to plant according to the full mature height and width so you don’t need to prune except for perhaps an occasional rejuvenation when they are 8-10 years old or so. If you do want to prune ninebark, they bloom on old wood, so should only be pruned after they flower. The seedpods can be quite attractive, so bear in mind that pruning will remove them.

Finally, one last word of advice: if your ninebark gets powdery mildew, do your best to clean up the fallen foliage in autumn. The spores overwinter on that fallen foliage, and can readily reinfect the plant the following spring if conditions are right, so taking the time to clean them out and discard them goes a long way toward a healthier, happier plant.

If you’d like to add Tiny Wine ninebark – 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

We don’t have a definitive answer for you on this one, but we do have several thoughts. First, the bulbs in the garage may not have gotten enough cold treatment to bloom; it’s also possible that they didn’t get enough water and they dried out. As for the plants that were outdoors, one possibility is that they were perhaps brought indoors too early. Bulbs need 10-15 weeks of chilling to bloom when forced, with larger bulbs needing more time and smaller ones needing less. The plastic vs. metal wouldn’t make any difference – the trick is to plant firmly, water well after planting, provide sufficient cooling, and warm them slowly. Finally, if you store the bulbs at all or force in a fridge, never store any fruit in the same area – the ethylene gas they emit will kill the developing flower bud.

We love a good mystery fungus!  What you have here is some sort of coral fungus, and it’s not a cause for concern at all. Mulch is not only great for plant health, but it also encourages the growth of all sorts of fungus, which thrives on the cellulose in the wood fibers, helping to break the mulch down and make its nutrients enrich the soil. It’s true that plants are susceptible to a number of fungal diseases, but that doesn’t mean that any fungus in the garden is bad, and these lovely coral fungus are no exception. They won’t harm the plants, they just live on the wood in the mulch and once conditions are no longer right for them to develop and grow, they will disappear and may reappear down the line when a new layer of mulch repeats those same favorable conditions. If mystery fungi do bother you, go ahead and kick the fungus over – it will soon dry out and die.

A large tan coral fungus has emerged through mulch in a landscape. Clumps of beige fungus emerge in an area covered in shredded bark mulch which has been dyed red. A group of five closely spaced coral fungus fruiting bodies have emerged in a mulched landscape bed.

It’s true that trying to overwinter most plants in containers may need occasional water, but bulbs are a totally different story – especially bulbs from the Southern hemisphere, like the rain lily (Zephyranthes sp.) you mention. Those need to stay very dry over winter – maybe not completely, but certainly little to no water, maybe just a trickle halfway through the winter. The best way to try to figure out how to treat such a plant over winter is to research where it is native and then research what the winter/dormant season is like in those areas. As close as you can replicate that, the happier your plant will be. 

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

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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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