Episode 80 – Garden Tools: Is Your Shed Properly Stocked?

Ground Breaking Banter - Rick

Whether you’re a carpenter, cook, or costumer, you know the right tool makes a big difference in your ability to do the job. It’s no different with gardening, but unfortunately, the temptation to purchase cheap tools is too much to resist. In this episode, we make the case for investing in better tools that last longer and do the job better rather. Join us on on your favorite podcast platform or at the YouTube link above to hear about our must-haves for every homeowner and gardener, as well as some of our favorites. 

In honor of the tool theme, Rick penned this dangerous tool-inspired Lim-A-Rick:
This old tool is a family heir-loom
Its sharp blades my hedges groom
But if I’m not cautious
I’m going to be nauseous
When they take me to the emergency room

Each time you prune you take a chance
An appendage you could lance
Treat tools with great respect
If they’re used incorrect
You’re gonna split your plants

(Also, Rick mentions an upside down sprayer in this episode – here’s the link to it).

Why? ‘Aphrodite’ sweetshrub is one of our most unique flowering shrubs, and definitely one that is popular with the plant geek set. It’s a hybrid between our North American native sweetshrub, Calycanthus floridus, and Sinocalycanthus chinesnsis, the Asian species. It fits into the theme of today’s show on tools because this a plant that, if you are going to prune it, your regular hand pruners aren’t going to cut it (literally and metaphorically!) – you’re going to need a loppers. This is a BIG shrub – perfect for turning a spot into your yard into an oasis of low maintenance beauty, but it’s going to need some space. It reaches 5-10’ tall and wide, but if you have the space for it, it’s 5-10’ of pure beauty.

It’s not just the plant itself that’s big – everything about it is also big. Huge, glossy leaves emerge in spring and then the flowers start to appear. If you are familiar with our beautiful native sweetshrub, the flower color is that same neat red-maroon color, but the flowers are much larger and more open than our native one. If you can envision a magnolia or maybe a water lily but the flowers are deep red, that’s what it looks like.

With a name like sweetshrub, you are perhaps wondering what’s so sweet about it, and the answer to that is the fragrance. Our native sweetshrub, like our variety Simply Scentsational, has one of the most delicious fragrances of any plant that I’ve ever smelled, but that doesn’t occur consistently in ‘Aphrodite’. The fragrance is more subtle, and highly subjective. It’s most pronounced when the flowers are on the older side, and later in the day. And the fragrance isn’t the same as that sweet bubblegum/strawberry scent that people use to label the native version – it’s still sweet but also a bit heady. To me, the flowers smell like an overripe apple on the ground on a sunny autumn day. The flowers start in late spring and while there is one main bloom in that early summer time frame, here in Michigan, the flowers continue to appear throughout the summer. They make an excellent cut flower!

Aphrodite calycanthus came to us from the one and only Dr. Tom Ranney at North Carolina State University. It continues the work of Richard Hartlage, who, as a graduate student at NCSU, made the cross that became the predecessor to Aphrodite, Hartlage Wine.

Aphrodite calycanthus is hardy from USDA zone 5 through USDA zone 9. In those warmer areas, expect that it will fully reach that 10’ mark; in colder areas, it can get some winter die back – not enough to cause serious damage but enough to keep it on the smaller side. We recommend full sun, especially in those cooler areas, but it can take some shade. In too much shade, it will flower far less, and the foliage will end up even bigger. It has average water needs and very good deer resistance.

If you’d like to add Ginger 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

There’s a furry culprit behind what you are seeing – squirrels! They do this on all sorts of trees at this time of year, not just evergreens, so you might also see branchlets from deciduous trees as well. There are a couple of reasons: one, the sap is flowing abundantly in the plants right now, which is full of sugars to tide them over after a lean winter. Two, they also love the tender, flavorful buds starting to develop with the onset of spring – especially on spruce trees like yours (and in fact, spruce tree tips are delicious to humans as well!). Finally, they are busy collecting material for their nests, also known as dreys. Whether they drop these branchlets inadvertently as they collect or they are just super choosy about which ones are good enough to make it into the nest construction, we can’t say, but there’s a lot of fall out from the process. Rick and I also theorize it may just be out of boredom. Whichever reason – or combination of reasons – is causing it, you needn’t worry it will harm the tree. Just consider it a little natural pruning!

The ground is covered with branchlets of the two spruce trees in the background that squirrels have chewed off the plants in early spring. Dozens of spruce tree branchlets, detached from the tree above them, cover the ground.

Great question, Jim! Panicle hydrangeas are unique among all hydrangeas in that they create areas of whorled growth, where instead of two leaves directly opposite one another, there are three leaves joined in a kind of circle. This can make pruning difficult, because it means that if you cut above one of these whorls, three branches are going to emerge instead of just two. And, as Jim points out, if you cut below, you would keep cutting your plant shorter and shorter, which you may not want. So our advice is that you go ahead and prune above a whorl if you need to, then when the new growth comes out this spring, cut off two of the branches and leave only one growing in the direction that you prefer. This is a technique that we often use here in our trial gardens, as you can see in the photos below. And yes, we will definitely try to make a video of this in the coming weeks if we can find a suitable plant!
The bare stems of panicle hydrangeas that have been properly pruned in an autumn landscape. The bare stems of panicle hydrangeas that have been properly pruned in an autumn landscape. The bare stems of panicle hydrangeas that have been properly pruned in an autumn landscape.

Glad to hear it, Randy! If you are using fresh potting mix that you’ve just purchased from the garden center, you do not need to fertilize these hydrangeas this season. That’s because fertilizer has already been added to the potting mix, and that’s the reason why the majority of potting mixes are branded with a fertilizer company. Without the fertilizer added, potting mixes are actually quite low in nutrients. So for shrubs, all the nutrition needs are easily met in that dose, though if you are growing annuals or vegetables, you’re probably going to want to apply liquid fertilizer through the season to encourage production. 

If you are re-using potting mix (which I do), I recommend incorporating a handful of a granular fertilizer (like Espoma Rose Tone) into the top few inches of the soil. 

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

In this episode, we’re joined by Adam Moseley of WinGen plants, a plant breeding organization in Texas that continues the breeding of Proven Winners Supertunias, as well as other new annuals for the Proven Winners line of annuals. Join us on your favorite podcast platform or at the YouTube link above to learn about what makes Supertunias different than other petunias, and how they were – and continue to be – developed. Plus, Adam shares his tips for growing Supertunias anywhere, but especially some tips for success in south Texas, where he is based. 

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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