Episode 93 – Meet The Incredible Changing Plants

Ground Breaking Banter - Rick

Plants are inherently dynamic, growing and changing naturally through the season. However, the kind of changes that we’re talking about today go beyond just natural growth and the changes that happen from spring through fall. We’re talking about plants like forget-me-not that change their flower color once pollinated to signal to insects that there’s no pollen or nectar left for them. We’re talking about plants like big leaf hydrangeas, which can change their flower color based on soil pH and panicle hydrangeas, which change their flower color from white to red/pink as they age. And foliage plants that undergo all sorts of color changes, like pieris, autumn fern, rodgersia, and more.

Join us on your favorite podcast platform or at the YouTube link above to hear our whole conversation on plants that change through the season.

As we discussed at the beginning of the show, there were a lot of directions I could take this episode’s Plants on Trial. Hydrangeas, especially big leaf, mountain, or panicle hydrangeas, would all be a natural choice when talking about plants that change through the season. There are also plenty of other fabulous flower changes in the Proven Winners ColorChoice line, like Dandy Man Color Wheel rhododendron and Czechmark Trilogy weigela. We also have plants with amazing foliage color transformation, like Funshine abelia, Double Play Blue Kazoo spirea, and Midnight Sun weigela – these aren’t plants that just change due to fall, but their foliage morphs and changes starting in early spring and going through frost.

But no, I decided to flip this whole concept upside down and explore the idea through something that rarely changes: fragrance. And today’s plant on trial is Simply Scentsational calycanthus, also known as sweetshrub, Carolina allspice, and sometimes, Sweet Betsy. I was inspired to use this plant to interpret this concept because last weekend, I was standing near the one in my garden which I planted three or so years ago and the fragrance coming from it was amazingly delicious and strong. I have long known this plant was extremely fragrant from my experience with the individuals around the nursery, but this is the first time since I planted this one where the fragrance stopped me in my tracks. And it was more than worth the wait. As my husband and I stood there, it seemed like each flower had a slightly different scent: the first one smelled just like ripe pineapple, then he swore one smelled just like citrus, then apples, then bubblegum, then mango…we cut off a flower and continued to smell it over the next couple of hours and every single time, we smelled something different. It was truly wondrous and mind-boggling!

Fragrant plants are amazing but, for the most part, their fragrance is just their fragrance. It may get lighter or more intense depending on the weather or the age of the bloom, but the fragrance itself does not morph and change. Simply Scentsational calycanthus is just the opposite: you can’t pin it down to just one fragrance!

Native to from the east coast through the southeast, as far south as the Florida panhandle. USDA zones 4-9, full to part sun, 6’ tall by 4-5’ tall and wide, excellent deer resistance. Full to part sun, full sun for best fragrance, especially at colder end of hardiness range.

If you’d like to add Simply Scentsational sweetshrub – 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

What’s happening here is kind of a perfect storm of poor growth conditions that are combining to severely hinder the health of this maple tree. For one, the peeling bark on the right side of the tree in this photo indicates what’s sometimes known as “Southwest disease,” which isn’t a disease at all but a condition caused by strong southwestern exposure wherein, during winter, the sun warms up the tree and the sap starts to flow, then when the temperature plunges suddenly and sharply once the sun goes down, those cells quickly freeze and burst, leading to cracks and crevices in the bark. 

Rick also has some particular insight into this issue, as he used to live in the area, and says the soil is heavy blue clay. That can make it difficult for roots to spread well, particularly if the roots were not in a good position when the tree was planted, so he believes it is being girdled, or strangled to death by its own roots. I also think that the poor drainage here could encourage verticillium wilt, which can look very much like this, causing random branch death through the plant. 

So, overall, we don’t think this plant is salvageable. The corrections that would have to take place at the root level are so extensive (and difficult, given the clay soil) that it’s not worth it. Rather, take this as an opportunity to plant something new there, and have it planted properly so it will give you decades of enjoyment. To be on the safe side, opt for something that’s resistant to verticillium wilt – here’s a list.

a half-dead maple tree struggles in the middle of a rolling grassy landscape with a split rail fence behind it.

This is what’s sometimes known as a “dog leg” – just a random, super vigorous shoot that pops up now and then. Roses are especially prone to it, and you’ll also see it in abelias and elderberries to name a few. Why it happens, I’m not really sure – it tends to happen most in spring, and it’s just like the plant puts a ton of energy into one specific bud and as a result, it goes crazy. But the solution is easy – the dog leg can be cut out completely at the base, or cut back to within the plant body. The choice is really yours, and you may find that with roses, you just want to cut it back to within the body instead of risking scratched up arms, whereas with an abelia, you might wish to follow it back to the base. In any case, it’s normal and nothing to worry about, and there’s no particular timing to consider for removing or cutting back the shoot.


Lilacs do have a kind of mild suckering habit, but what you are seeing here is really just the plant putting on new growth to expand itself. That’s a normal way that they grow, though you wouldn’t typically see it this clearly because it would happen within the span of the plant. Since this one is leaning forward so dramatically because of the shade from the arborvitae, that new growth is really obvious. So pruning this new growth is totally up to you. Personally, I would probably leave a couple of the biggest stems and remove the rest at the base – now is a fine time to do that. If you would prefer to remove them entirely, that’s fine too – you could also leave them all or selectively prune out as many or as few as you wish. They do look a bit funny now, but as they grow, they will start to look more natural. What I would not recommend doing is cutting any of them part-way, or trimming them. This will result in broom-like growth that does not look natural.

A mature lilac shrub showing several new shoots coming from the ground.

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 Stephanie Walker of The Potter’s Bench, whose first book, How to Grow Flowers in Small Spaces, just came out in April. Stephanie is based in Queen Creek, Arizona, just outside of Phoenix, and shares with us the joys and challenges of being a flower gardener in that extreme climate. And of course, she also shares tips from her book about how to make even small spaces flower-filled havens that you’ll never want to leave – except maybe to cut a few blooms and arrange indoors!

Join us on your favorite podcast platform or at the YouTube link above to hear our whole conversation with Stephanie.

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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