Episode 83 – Spring things: what you need to know now in the garden

Ground Breaking Banter - Rick

Spring is here, whether the weather is cooperating or not. As such, we take the opportunity to share a  bunch of different tips about what you can do in spring – as well as what’s better saved until fall. Tune in at the YouTube link above or on your favorite podcast platform to hear the whole conversation. And here’s this week’s Lim-A-Rick:

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Why: Forsythia gets all the attention in spring, but there are plenty of other flowering shrubs that are stellar at this time of year that deserve some attention too. And if you see a deutzia planting in full bloom, you’ll fall in love – that’s what happened to me many years ago visiting Chanticleer in Wayne, Pennsylvania, when they had a hillside all planted with ‘Nikko’ deutzia and it was in full bloom. Yuki Snowflake deutzia is an improved version of that classic variety with bigger, longer-lasting flowers and excellent fall color. What makes deutzia so magical, especially when planted en masse, is its flowers: they are bell-shaped and borne in clusters so they create this kind of dreamy effect where they are a light cloud over the green foliage. Both Nikko deutzia and Yuki Snowflake deutzia flowers are white, which also makes them the perfect foil for whatever you have going on in spring. Whether you have bright colored new foliage like you might on a spirea, or the hot colors of quince and forsythia or the cool colors of lilacs, it will bring flower power that only heightens the effect of everything else in your landscape, never competing with it.

I’m featuring Yuki Snowflake deutzia in this episode because we’re talking about growing degree days, and its bloom time, like that of pretty much all spring-blooming shrubs, is determined entirely by accumulated warmth, which GDD measure. This means you could see it bloom very early in some years, and much later in others. It also means that the year that you purchase it, it will bloom much earlier than it will once it is in your landscape, and that’s true of most shrubs that you’d purchase in garden centers. So don’t base your expectations of when something is going to flower on what it was doing when you bought it: any plant at garden centers would have spent winter in a more protected environment, usually in a Quonset hut, and then brought into warmth early so it could be sold in bloom. This basically simulates the same growing degree days that a plant would experience outdoors. Even plants that bloom later in the season, like hydrangeas, will bloom earlier – maybe not in spring shopping season, but certainly a good couple of weeks earlier, maybe even more, than they would outside. So, whether growing degree days are natural from the weather or enforced by a grower, they impact plants the same.

Yuki Snowflake deutzia is also an extremely easy to grow shrub. Hardy down to USDA zone 5 and heat tolerant through USDA zone 8. It flowers best in full sun – six or more hours of bright sun each day – though it will do well in part sun, especially in warmer climates. It’s not at all finicky about soil, provided it is well-drained, and is drought tolerant once established. It reaches 1-2’ tall and wide so makes a fantastic edging plant, ground cover, or, as I first saw it, planted on a hillside for stabilization. It pairs beautifully with bulbs, perennials, or other shrubs, as you can see from the photos.

Yuki Snowflake deutzia came to us from Dr. Tom Ranney at NCSU.

If you’d like to add Yuki Snowflake deutzia – 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

The best time to apply a pre-emergent for crabgrass is when the soil reaches 50-55°F. That’s hard to measure, especially since a soil thermometer is not exactly standard equipment for most homeowners (except Rick, of course!). Fortunately, you can use growing degree days to determine the best time in your area – these are typically tracked by your state’s land grant university. For Michigan, you can find that here; if you’re in a different state, simply search the name of your land grant university plus the words “growing degree days 2024.” 

Spill pots like this can be a fun addition to a landscape, but it’s hard to generalize on their construction since it really depends on the container you’re using and where you are placing it. Fortunately, Pinterest has tons of inspiration, and by looking carefully at the many products that people have posted, you should be able to work out something that’s perfect for your situation. It can be as simple as placing the pot on the ground and using potting mix to create a “spill” that you plant in, or something much more complex using sturdy wire mesh and landscape fabric. As for plants, pretty much anything that grows in a hanging basket (“spillers”) should work well, and Rick particularly likes Supertunia Mini Vista Indigo petunia for spill pots because it’s a great spiller, and its color suggests water. 

What a great question, Mary! I learned a lot researching this, and the answer surprised me. If listeners are not familiar with butterfly houses, they’re small wooden houses, like a bird house, but with small vertical slits in them for butterflies to take shelter during cold weather or storms. They are not used for overwintering, as few butterflies overwinter as adults in cold climates. While they can be very cute and attractive, there isn’t a lot of evidence that butterflies actually use them. So, you might think, there’s no harm in having one if you like them, right? I thought the same thing, but was surprised to find out that that’s not necessarily the case. A graduate student at the University of Kentucky did a study on butterfly houses placed near pollinator gardens on campus. When he looked inside them, he discovered that in almost all of them, European paper wasps had taken up residence. As the name suggests, European paper wasps are an invasive pest and are the number one predator of monarch butterfly caterpillars. So by placing what appears to be ideal habitat for an arch nemesis of butterflies, you could be increasing predation. 

European paper wasps aren’t the type that make those large, lantern-shaped nests. Rather, they make small, free-standing nests of perhaps a couple dozen cells. If you have a butterfly house that can be opened, you could place one and check it frequently for any wasp homes. If they are present, you can knock them out – as long as the adult isn’t present, there’s no risk, as there are only harmless eggs or larvae inside the nest. But most butterfly houses don’t open like bird houses do, so that’s a consideration. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to make your garden hospitable for butterflies – you can find some great tips here

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

Our guest today is Mike Connor, an arborist and beekeeper. Mike is perhaps not your typical arborist — his motto is, “I’m a tree physician, not a mortician.” In addition to being passionate about tree health, he’s also passionate about honeybees and native bees, and it turns out, trees and bees are intimately connected. After all, no other type of plant can boast literally tens of thousands of flowers all at once to sustain bees! Mike shares the best trees to plant for bee health (and beauty in your landscape), along with a bunch of other fascinating facts. Please join us at the YouTube link above for the whole conversation. Learn more about Mike and book his services as an arborist if you are in West Michigan at his website