Episode 76 – The When and Where of Growing from Seed

Ground Breaking Banter - Rick

When spring fevers sets in, the temptation to start seeds indoors can become overwhelming. And while there’s usually little harm done if you get overenthusiastic about sowing, if you really want to get your seedlings off to the best start, growing everything indoors is not usually the best solution. Many things, especially lettuce and many flowers, are best sown directly in the garden instead of indoors, and what you do start indoors will genuinely benefit from a good indoor grow light (and those have become better and much more affordable in recent years). Join us at the YouTube link above or at your favorite podcast platform for more seed-starting tips and information – and here’s this week’s Lim-A-Rick: Today I planted some seed “Please grow” to them I plead I’ve got dirt and water on my floors Growing something meant for outdoors and results are not guaranteed. Soon maybe they will sprout I’ll nurture day in, day out In the mess they offer me hope and help me with winter to cope Even if they just peter out. I studied their germination estimator but I’m more of a terminator The packet portrait is very nice In itself it was worth the price I’ll put the picture on my refrigerator.

Why? Clematis are much-loved for their flowers, and for good reason – they’re large, colorful, and super-showy. But I, and many other gardeners, find equal delight in the unique seed pods of the clematis. They look like a lot of different things: fireworks, puffballs, pinwheels, something from a Dr. Seuss book (especially the Truffala trees), and if you are a certain age and fandom, Tribbles from the classic Star Trek episode. But they are delightful, and bring a lot of interest and whimsy to your plant even after the flowers fade. They start out a beautiful, lustrous, silky white and green, but as the season progresses, they begin to dry and become even puffier, turning into fine brown stalks with fluffy white feathers up and down each one. Personally, I think they are so beautiful and interesting that they earn their right to be used in flower arrangements, both fresh and dried.

                                       A fresh seed head of a clematis, showing its silky fluff and unique round shape.               Clematis seed heads in winter fluff out and get a bit unruly but are still attractive.

While nearly all clematis do develop these unique seed heads, we’re focusing specifically on Still Waters clematis today not because its seed heads are out of the ordinary – they’re just as fabulous as any other – but because it really is one of the most beautiful, ethereal colors. Not quite blue, not quite lavender, each large flowers has an interesting icy-violet color that you really don’t see in many other plants. It’s very easy to pair with other colors, I think, but my absolute favorite pairing I have ever seen is it planted in a Black Lace elderberry – the combination of that dark foliage and the icy color of the Still Waters clematis flower is amazing! As such, it would pair beautifully with any dark-foliaged shrub, tree, or perennial, and is a useful plant for preventing the dreaded “black hole” look in the landscape. I love to grow clematis without any support except a nearby shrub and let them wind and wend their way through, peppering it with flowers. It’s also a great way to spruce up a plain hedge!

Still Waters clematis was developed in the Netherlands by world-renown clematis expert Wim Snoeijer. It is hardy from USDA zones 4-9, 4-7′ tall (long) and 3-5’ wide – full to part sun for top, shade for the roots.

If you’d like to add Still Waters clematis– 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

My general recommendation for choosing containers for shrubs is to stay pretty close to the container size of the plant that you purchase – it’s not a great idea to go into a container that is much, much larger, as that leaves a lot of soil around the roots holding water with nothing to take it up, and this can lead to root rot, especially on sensitive species like lilacs and panicle hydrangeas. I recommend choosing a container that’s 2-6″ wider in diameter than the pot size you purchase – here’s what we recommend for Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs:
1 gallon nursery pot – 10-12″ diameter decorative pot
2 gallon nursery pot – 12-14″ diameter decorative pot
3 gallon nursery pot – 14-16″ diameter decorative pot
5+ gallon nursery pot – min. 18″ diameter decorative pot

You needn’t stick to these guidelines rigorously, but I wouldn’t recommend going too much more than the next size up from the high end of the range. And generally speaking, we recommend using containers that are equally tall as wide for shrubs.

I believe we have addressed viburnum leaf beetle, an invasive pest that is very destructive to viburnums of all types but especially North American native species, before.  However, I’m really glad Anh asked this question now, because it’s the perfect time to address one of the best, non-toxic control methods: scouting for the eggs. Before the adult beetles die, they lay their eggs in distinctive lines on the younger (and young-ish) twigs of the viburnums. The female beetles excavate a pit, lay an egg, and then plug it with the sawdust, which creates a very noticeable bumpy line. Winter is the perfect time to carefully examine your plant for these eggs – here’s what they look like – and to cut out any portions that show signs of egg-laying. Removing the eggs means no beetles to damage your plant, and no need for chemical controls! While pruning out any egg-ridden stems will remove some flower buds, the trade-off is worth it. 

Using the dormant season to scout for and remove eggs is also effective, non-toxic control for tent caterpillars, spongy moth caterpillars, and spotted lanternfly. – although all of these should be scraped off with a putty knife or similar tool rather than pruned out.

We often sing the praises of ornamental grasses on the show, but, as with most things in life, they do have a drawback, and that certainly manifests itself if and when it’s time to remove them. The dense, fibrous root systems that make ornamental grasses so drought tolerant and weather resistant also make digging them out – even if it’s just to divide them – a massive chore. One important tip to help is to make sure your tool is very, very sharp – here’s a how-to. Since you are working in a small space, I’d consider switching to a mattock or pick-axe instead of a shovel – you won’t need to use leverage as you would on a shovel handle that way. My second tip would be to give yourself plenty of time to do the job. It’s going to be hard work, so don’t feel like you need to spend an entire Saturday working on it. Just work til you get tired, go do something else, then chip away at it a little more. Eventually, you will get it out, and as long as the crown is removed, it doesn’t matter if roots remain – the plant will not come back. 


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

On this episode, we interview Ben Wright from Proven Winners leafjoy houseplants. Join us at the YouTube link above or on your favorite podcast platform to learn how leafjoy houseplants are grown differently from other houseplants, how plant breeding is resolving the shortcomings of some popular species of houseplants, and of course, what Ben’s favorites are. 

A greenhouse full of colorful tropical plants with the roof vents open to show a blue sky.
A hydrangea in a low decorative container covered in pink and purple mophead flowers.

Episode 96 – Garden Regrets

Regrets? We’ve had a few, and maybe you have too, which is why we’re dedicating this episode to the things we wish we had – and hadn’t – done in the garden. Featured shrub: Let’s Dance Arriba reblooming hydrangea.

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