Episode 3 – Harvest Moon, Bioluminescent Mushrooms, and Smokebush

Ground Breaking Banter

  • It’s time for the Harvest Moon and autumnal equinox (remember – fall is for planting!). Around the fall equinox, the full moon rises around sunset for several nights in a row, which traditionally provided farmers and us backyard gardeners with just enough extra light for them to finish their work in the evening before the killing frosts of fall set in. We’ll take the extra light to work in our gardens and plant shrubs after work!
  • A listener shares with us that yes, fall is a great time for planting, but one of the reasons is “experimental” gardeners can get a good look and concept of how the plant will look in their landscape as opposed to a spring bought plant that needs time to grow.
  • We know it’s fall when the orange and black box elder bugs start congregating on the south sides of our homes.
  • Rick talks of how he is a fan of sweetspire, aka Itea virginica, for fall color. Look for Proven Winners ColorChoice varieties Little Henry, Fizzy Mizzy, and Scentlandia.
  • Rick introduces the “Word of the Day”:  pe·dun·cle fun to say! Peduncle in botany (noun) is the stalk bearing a flower or fruit, or the main stalk of an inflorescence. Stacey takes it to the next level with an explanation of the reason why the “ped” root is so common in botany is because it’s Latin for “stalk” so in addition to peduncle, you also have pedicel, and the always fun-to-say species, peduncularis, pedunculosus, and pedunculata.
  • Stacey and Rick talk about bioluminescent mushrooms, specifically Jack O’ Lantern mushrooms and Stacey helps teach Rick and our listeners how to pronounce the botanical name Omphalotus olearius (even though Rick gets it right the first time).
  • Rick has an Art Prize exhibit on shoreline erosion and a discussion takes place on the importance of marram grass holding the dunes. Stacey shares that marram grass has a botanical name Ammophila, which literally translates to “sand lover!”

Inspired by a listener request to identify a plant he’d seen on a trip to Massachussetts – which turned out to be smokebush – today’s Plant on Trial is The Velvet Fog smokebush.

Known botanically as Cotinus coggygria, smokebush is best known as a summer-flowering shrub with smoke-like puffs in July. It’s actually the seedheads that make the “smoke,”  – the flowers are quite small and not very showy. Because of this dramatic display, few people consider it a shrub with fall interest, but the foliage on most turns a fantastic, almost kaleidoscopic, array of red, orange, and yellow at once. 

The Velvet Fog was developed by Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs’ very own Tim Wood, right here in West Michigan. His goals were to create a smokebush with a lush, full habit, more colorful flowers, and plenty of them. He accomplished that with the abundant pink blooms of The Velvet Fog, which he describes as having “more smoke than a KISS concert.”

The Velvet Fog smokebush is super easy to grow, and is suitable for just about any sunny or partly sunny spot. While it can be selectively pruned to shape in late winter, it’s best to generally avoid pruning or cutting it back, making it a truly low maintenance shrub. It’s also deer resistant!

Look for The Velvet Fog smokebush in the distinctive white Proven Winners ColorChoice container at your favorite garden center.


Gardening Mail Bag

Philip, one of our listeners here in West Michigan, wrote:
I have an apple tree I purchased from arbor foundation back in the early 80’s Very large, greenish yellow apples are very hard and keep well in the root cellar…Is there a way for me to identify the variety… The tree is old and I would like to get new one (s). Also how easy/hard is it to sprout the seeds?

A quick internet search reveals that there are thousands – some sources say 7,500, others say as many as 30,000 – different types of apples worldwide. Around 2,500 are grown in the US, with around 100 being commercially important. So, all this to say, there are a LOT of apples out there, and identifying yours could be tricky. We did find this pretty amazing list of apple cultivars on Wikipedia that might be helpful, or, as we advised on the show, perhaps visit one of the many apple orchards here in West Michigan with a few of your apples in hand and see if one of the farmers knows. 

Fortunately, we can provide more concrete advice on propagating your apple tree to ensure you can continue to grow it in the future. You could germinate the seeds if you’d like, but you are unlikely to end up with a plant that is exactly like its parent plant. To ensure consistency, it’s best to graft a cutting of your apple onto an apple (or crabapple) rootstock. Grafting unites two totally different plants into one new one, and while it does take some skill to get it right, it’s ultimately a pretty straightforward process – here’s an excellent tutorial on how to do graft apples and other fruit trees. You could even germinate the seeds of your apple, let them grow a year or two, and then use that as the understock of your graft. Do note, however, that apple seeds need a cold period in order to germinate, so now would be an ideal time for planning that – you can find lots of great information on growing apples from seed here

Cam from Kentucky asks: Can you cut back a butterfly bush? Not deadhead, actually cut it back. If so, when?

Yes, you can absolutely cut back butterfly bush and in fact, you should. If you don’t aggressively prune butterfly bushes – even the dwarf types like Lo & Behold – they flower less, the flowers that do appear are smaller, and the plant develops an open, weedy habit. We always recommend that you cut your butterfly bush back in early spring, just as the new growth begins to emerge. This makes it easy to see exactly where to make your cuts, because you see where the growth actually is on the plant. You should plan to cut your butterfly bush back to the lowest bud on each branch, which means you’ll likely be cutting it back by half, possibly even three-quarters. It sounds extreme, but it really does provide the best results. It’s also permissible to deadhead butterfly bushes, but this is quite fussy and time consuming work, and most newer varieties don’t require it. If you dislike the look of the spent flowers on the plant, it’s fine to give it a light trim, but save the heavy pruning for spring.

Sara from Indiana wonders: Our rose of Sharon bushes are done blooming. Now it looks like big buds on the branches. Are these more blossoms? Next year’s blossoms? New leaves?

Every year, we hear from gardeners who wonder what the heck is going on with their rose of Sharon, because after the flowers drop, the resulting seed heads do look a lot like the buds. But they are, in fact, the seeds, indicating the flower has done its job. If you aren’t sure, you can always snip off the top and if it reveals seeds (they look a bit like an okra pod, to which rose of Sharon is related) and not colorful petals, it’s a seedpod. There’s no need to remove them – they’ll dry up and fall off later, and don’t impact the look of the plant the following season. 

If you’ve got a question, we’d love to hear from you! Email us, or just fill out the form at the “Contact Us” tab above.

Branching News

“…the most valuable of all arts will be the art of deriving a comfortable subsistence from the smallest area of soil.”
– Abraham Lincoln

At the end of the segment, Stacey mentioned a fascinating read for gardeners and history lovers alike – Founding Gardeners, by Andrea Wulff