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Episode 81 – Can’t-Miss Plants at the Garden Center this Year

Ground Breaking Banter - Rick

For some of us, shopping at the garden center is a joy of exploration and discovery. For others, though, it can be fraught with fear and analysis paralysis. Whichever category you consider yourself in, you may find our list of this year’s “can’t miss” plants helpful as you think about what to grow this year. Before we get to the lists, though, Rick has a thematic Lim-A-Rick to share:

I want a plant more than alive

And not to just simply survive

I need some plants that can’t miss

That gift me horticultural bliss

Instead of a dramatic nose dive. 

Give me hardiness with style

That will stick around awhile

But with growth that is scant

It’s going to face plant

Right into my compost pile

Annual section

Truffula Pink Gomphrena

Rockin Playin the Blues, Fuchsia, Rockin Deep Purple, Rockin Blue Suede Shoes Salvia

Verbena Meteor Shower

Canna Lily ‘Toucan’ series
Coleus ColorBlaze series 

Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’

Whirlwind Scaevola  

Annual Graceful Grasses (not just for containers) 

Supertunias including Bubble Gum,  SUPERTUNIA® BERMUDA BEACH Improved  SUPERTUNIA HOOPLA™ VIVID ORCHID  and some Mini Vista Supertunias

Suncredible Yellow Sunflower

Lemon Coral Sedum

Nursery section 

Landscape Roses ‘At Last’ and ‘Oso Easy’ series Roses

Rose Rise Up Lilac Days

Reminiscent Rose

Fothergilla intermedia ‘Legend of the Fall’
Tuff Stuff Top Fun Reblooming Mountain Hydrangea
Let’s Dance Sky View Reblooming Hydrangea

Buddleia Miss Molly Miss Violet Miss Pearl 

Buddleia Pugster

Spirea Double Play Doozie or Double Play Candy Corn

Clematis Sweet Summer Love

Black Hat Rhododendron

Calycanthus Aphrodite 

Vinho Verde Weigela

Perennial section

Prairie Winds Lemon Squeeze Fountain Grass Pennisetum

Amsonia Storm Cloud

Allium Serendipity 

Ornamental Grass Switch Grass ‘Prairie Winds ‘Niagra Falls’
Sun King Aralia

Cat’s Meow and Cat’s Pajama Nepeta

Rock N’ Round Sedum or Rock N’ Low Yellow Brick Road Sedum

Summerific Hibiscus

Decadence Baptisia

‘Tuscan Sun’ Perennial Sunflower Heliopsis helianthoides

Rainbow Rhythm ‘Siloam Peony Display’ Daylily

Impulse at Checkout

A packet of Hyacinth Bean Seeds

Why: there’s no question, this is my personal can’t miss shrub of our entire line and this season is going to be its very first availability at retail. So first, let me tell you why I love El Niño chitalpa. I love bold, unexpected plants and I think this one fits that bill perfectly. It’s an intergeneric hybrid – two different genera (the plural of genius) combined. Those two genera are catalpa, the same as the beautiful catalpa trees that we have here in Michigan (also known as cigar trees or bean trees) and chilopsis, a Southwest native known as desert willow. That might not be a plant a lot of our listeners are familiar with, but if you go to Arizona, Texas, etc., you’ll certainly see it. El Niño chitalpa combines the amazing, rather orchid-like flowers of the desert willow with the broad, bold foliage of catalpa. The plant creates big clusters of these large pink flowers in summer and they are gorgeous – but what’s really special about them in my opinion is the fragrance. It’s a combination of vanilla and ripe melon and it really has to be experienced to be believed. It’s not one of those fragrances that you really have to get your nose in there to smell, either – it’s one of those glorious ones that waft over the air, and since they bloom in summer, it’s even more amazing to smell them on that warm breeze. El Niño blooms all summer long, here in Michigan that’s typically about mid-June through mid-late August, so it’s a really nice long bloom season.

El Niño chitalpa is a big, tall plant: it reaches 10-15’ tall and 4-6’ wide. So while it’s tall, it’s still pretty space-saving because it’s not taking up a bunch of ground space, and what it does take up, I feel it more than earns with its fab flower display. And I love that it gets so tall, because that means when it blooms, you’re looking up into its big, unique ruffled pink trumpet shaped flowers. It’s kind of an Alice in Wonderland type feeling.

So, as you can probably tell, I LOVE this plant. And it gets better! It’s extremely drought tolerant and appears to be very deer resistant (which is to say that they haven’t eaten it in my yard, a very good sign, especially since it was new in my garden last year and newer plants, even those that are generally deer resistant, are more likely to be eaten than established ones). The two parent species of El Niño combine to contribute some interesting qualities in terms of its weather tolerance. The catalpa makes it hardier than a chilopsis would be on its own, and we consider it hardy to USDA zone 6. It may even be hardy to USDA zone 5 with protection. We have found that in very severe winters, it may die back to the ground, but it still recovers and flowers fine by summer. And if you do live in these colder areas and it’s dying back, that will help control the height somewhat as well. Not surprisingly, it is a full sun plant, though you may have success in light shade.

El Niño chitalpa comes to us from the one and only Dr. Tom Ranney at NCSU.

If you’d like to add  El Niño desert orchid – 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

Looks like Mother Nature is doing a little decorating on your behalf! What is growing on your tree is lichen, a distinct organism that results from a symbiotic relationship between two different fungi and an algae. As is the case typically for both fungi and algae, lichens generally need humidity and moisture to grow (though you certainly will find them growing on rocks in the desert as well), so in environments typified by moist conditions, lichens are likely to be present. These lichens present no harm whatsoever to your tree – it’s merely a structure for them to grow on. In fact, trying to remove them would harm the tree, whereas leaving them alone is benign. Enjoy the extra splash of color and texture!
Branches of a Venus dogwood covered in bright yellow harmless lichen. A Venus dogwood tree covered in harmless yellow lichen.

There are many different diseases that these purple spots could be a sign of: botrytis, black spot, canker, just to name a few. But as scary as those sound, it’s not a huge cause for concern. We recommend that you prune this rose below the damaged portions inasmuch as is possible, and discard them – don’t compost. That should still leave plenty of the plant to grow, and as long as it grows vigorously and stays healthy this season, it should be able to easily outpace any disease. You will want to dip your pruners in or wipe them down with a pure, undiluted disenfectant like Lysol when you are done. It’s hard to say why this is showing up now without being able to identify it to a specific disease, but it’s likely that whatever it is actually started developing last season. 

A dormant, bare rose next to a blue house. Thorny stems on a dormant rose. Small red bud emerge on a thorny rose stem.

Normally, when you are transplanting a shrub or perennial, we recommend that you do it when it is still dormant. However, in your case, I’d go ahead and let the plant bloom, then move it. Even though the roots may seem very dense and impenetrable, it will hopefully not be too difficult to dig up – the roots should be relatively shallow. Since there will inevitably be some root loss just from the act of digging it up, we also recommend that you prune it back by about a third so that the plant is not trying to support the same amount of top growth with reduced root growth. With TLC and time, it should recover just fine – pearlbush are quite durable plants.

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 Quilen Blackwell and Hannah Bonham-Blackwell of Chicago Eco House. Join us on your favorite podcast platform or at the YouTube link above to hear the story of how this husband and wife team founded Chicago Eco House to alleviate poverty, violence, and drug use in their Englewood neighborhood and provide job training to local residents in flower farming and floral design and arranging. 

To learn more about Chicago Eco House and its mission, visit their website, and if you are interested in their products – flowers, flower arrangements, and merchandise – check out their Southside Blooms site

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