Episode 18 – Moon Gardens, Small Spaces, Cut Flowers, and Puffer Fish® Hydrangea

Ground Breaking Banter - Rick

  • As an Apollo age boy who distinctly remembers watching the moon landing in 1969, it’s fun to see the resurgence in interest on all things moon. That includes  moon gardens: Google Trends says the term will peak in 2023. Moon gardens contain plants with white flowers and/or silvery foliage that lend a magical, glowing effect at night.
  • The nationwide housing shortage and rising interest rates are making many would-be buyers instead invest in their existing home, improving their indoor and outdoor spaces as they look ahead to several years at the same address. On the garden industry side, we’re seeing growing demand for small space design, vertical gardening, and container gardening. Vertical design, green walls, arbors, and fencing are just some of the ways this trend is growing. Take, for example, the Proven Winners Color Choice Shrub landscape shrub of the year PURPLE PILLAR® rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus). If you thought you didn’t have enough space to grow a big rose of Sharon, Purple Pillar is perfect for you. A very fastigiate selection, Purple Pillar® rose of Sharon brings the durable, easy growth of the genus to narrow spaces. 
  • Boomers like yours truly have become what they call “Super Agers”: living longer and remaining active. Things like exercise equipment, housing, gardening methods, and accessible opportunities for those “north of 60” will adapt in order for this segment of the population to thrive.
  • Brands who tug at the nostalgic heart-strings of “Down-Agers” (those younger than boomers) will win their business. Retro metal lawn chairs, pagoda umbrellas, statuary, tropical plants, cottage gardens and use of traditional favorites like lilacs or sowing seeds for cut flowers will be enjoyed by all ages.
  • Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons may have made Grease a smash hit, but gardeners are putting Greece on the map with Mediterranean-style gardens. Corinthian home decor, statuary and boxwood hedges. Classic Greek gardens are designed to stand up to the elements. Stone walls, archways, and a pale-colored backdrop are typical features of a Greek garden. Add some statuary and terracotta hues, arches and use some symmetry to create an effect. Olive trees are the IT plant in Europe right now. And how appropriate! With serious drought threatening many olive groves in Spain, olives have been in the news.  Key plants are hardy, water-wise succulents, boxwood, and roses. Grow bulbs such as agapanthus and alliums. And don’t forget herbs. Where gardeners need to be drought conscious, Mediterranean-style gardens are seeing a surge in popularity. If you don’t live in a dry climate, there are still plenty of ideas to gather from Mediterranean-style gardens and sun loving herbs are an important living element!
  • Abundant gardens. Less about “curb appeal” and more about the usefulness of plants. Enjoying the ornamental beauty of edible plants and mixing them in with their other trees and shrubs in the landscape.
  • Flower farming. Many gardeners are experimenting with growing cut flower gardens at home. Even if you only have a small spot in your yard, planting some zinnias, gomphrena, cosmos and daisies is possible for cut and come again fresh flowers in a vase for your indoor living space.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture first published the plant hardiness zone map in 1960. It is based on the average annual minimum temperature of any given spot. Each zone marks a 10°F band, from – 60°F in zone 1 to 70°F in zone 13. Since the map was last updated in 2012, nearly half the country is at least half a zone warmer. Researchers believe the lines will continue to march northward. This is referred to as “climate velocity” and it will affect the kind of plants we can put in the ground here in the Midwest/North. Plants previously deemed “not hardy” will used in landscapes north of where they are accustomed and the “growing season” will expand.
  • Climate change will continue to cause an evolution in how we define a “yard.” Years of the iconic broad expansive lawns complete with clothes line poles and laundry swaying in the breeze and swing sets are in some parts of the country being replaced by something more sustainable. In Los Angeles County, you can get paid cash to tear out your lawn. In Colorado. community ordinances prohibit turf in common areas, medians, curbside landscape and front yards. Backyard turf is restricted to 45% of the area, or 500 square feet, whichever is smaller.

In summary, there is a post pandemic recognition that “gardening helps me feel hopeful and positive.” Homeowners are maximizing and personalizing their outdoor space. Informal cozy outdoor spaces for casual conversation. As many learned in 2020, gardening and the time you spend in an outdoor space that you have created, relieves stress and makes us feel more positive.

Why: I thought that the best way to kick off the new year was to talk about what’s probably our most-anticipated new variety that will be hitting garden center shelves for the first time this spring, and that’s Puffer Fish panicle hydrangea. Panicle hydrangeas are kind of our specialty here at Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs, and for us to bring a new one into the fold, that variety has to do something pretty special – and indeed, Puffer Fish hydrangea does. It’s a small to medium sized panicle hydrangea, reaching just 3-5’ tall and wide, so it’s a marvelously useful size. But, of course, it’s its flowers that make it truly special – they are large, loose mophead blooms that absolutely cover the plant, practically obscuring the foliage. They have a unique round shape that does indeed resemble a puffer fish. As the flowers mature through summer, a little tuft of fresh florets forms at the tip of the inflorescence, like a little squirt of water from a fish. This sounds like an odd minor detail, but it makes quite an impression over the whole plant.

There’s something else that’s original about Puffer Fish hydrangea, and that’s that it’s white flowers stay that way – they don’t age to pink like most other panicle hydrangeas. Depending on your point of view, that could be a good thing or maybe not so desirable. However, lots of professional landscapers love this feature, as they needn’t worry about how that late season color impacts other colors in the landscape. It also makes it perfect for white gardens or moon gardens, like we discussed earlier in today’s episode. Like all Proven Winners ColorChoice panicle hydrangeas, it has sturdy stems so the flowers won’t flop over in summer, and deep green foliage that resists disease. It’s a very, very handsome hydrangea and definitely the one to look out for this spring.

Who: Puffer Fish panicle hydrangea comes to us from Dr. Tom Ranney of North Carolina State University. Dr. Ranney is one of the most talented and innovative woody plant breeders working today, as well as one of the most prolific. He and his team develop and evaluate new varieties outside Asheville at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station. When Dr. Ranney first saw how different and unique Puffer Fish was compared to other panicle hydrangeas, he knew he had something unique on his hands.

How to grow: Panicle hydrangeas are so beautiful and showy that it may be hard to believe they are also, hands down, one of the easiest flowering shrubs you can plant in your landscape. First off, they are quite hardy – down to USDA zone 3 – and pretty heat tolerant, too, up to USDA zone 8 (though ‘Limelight’ hydrangea has proven itself heat tolerant in USDA zone 9 over its 20 years on the market, we are still collecting data on the performance of our other panicle hydrangeas in very hot climates like that). But, suffice it to say, panicle hydrangeas can be grown almost anywhere. In cold climates (say, USDA zones 3-6), they can take full sun. In hot climates (USDA zone 7 and warmer), part shade is best, with morning sun and afternoon shade being ideal.

Like most hydrangeas, panicle hydrangeas are shallow-rooted, so benefit from regular watering and a good 2-3”/5-7cm layer of shredded bark mulch. They are the most drought tolerant of all hydrangeas once they are established – not that that’s saying all that much, of course – but even then, you’ll find maintaining that layer of mulch makes for a much happier plant.

If we’re talking about hydrangeas, questions about pruning invariably follow. Panicle hydrangeas bloom on new wood, so can and should be pruned in spring. The best course of action is to cut the main branches back by about one-third their total height and to remove any thin, spindly side branches at that time. This ensures the growth for the season comes from the thicker, stronger buds lower on the plant while also building a sturdy base. If you are nervous about pruning, just wait until the new growth begins to emerge – then you’ll be able to see exactly where those buds are and make your cuts accordingly.

At pruning time, you can apply a granular (not liquid) rose fertilizer. It’s not strictly necessary, but this one application each year will help it achieve lush foliage and abundant flowers. Finally, and with apologies to all the other gardeners out there who struggle with deer, no panicle hydrangeas are deer resistant, so if you want to attempt it, this is definitely one to protect all summer long. 

Puffer Fish hydrangea is going to be one of the most in-demand new varieties at garden centers this season, so if this one is on your spring planting list, shop early! Find a local garden center that sells Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs here

Gardening Mail Bag

Do you have a garden question for us? We’d be glad to help! E-mail us, or click the “contact” tab above. 

Pam writes: We just bought a new house and there is a beautiful Japanese dwarf red maple that has grown quite a lot.  Can this be pruned to contain the growth? Specifically, can I prune some small branches off the top?

Yes, you definitely can, and skillful pruning of Japanese maples can make the difference between one that’s just pretty and one that’s absolutely spectacular. However, you should approach pruning your Japanese maple like you’re pruning a tree, not a shrub. This means that you should generally cut off entire branches, or side branches, rather than merely shortening them. Simply cutting branches back can make the plant develop an awkward habit that detracts from its natural elegance. Focus on removing smaller branches off the main branches to create a strong structure. Both Rick and I recommend that you do this job in late winter, before the plant starts to leaf out, so you have a good idea of how your pruning cuts will impact the overall structure. Here’s a nice guide from the University of California on pruning Japanese maples that should be helpful. 

Izhar asks: Hey there , I am gardening in Ann Arbor Michigan which viburnum it’s evergreen for me? Thank you for the show, I’m following you podcast and  YouTube enjoy them both. 💜

Many thanks for your kind words, Izhar! Ann Arbor, Michigan is in USDA zone 6. And while there are a few evergreen viburnums you can grow there, unfortunately the showiest ones are not suited to such cold climates as yours. But let’s focus on the ones you can grow, including our top pick, leatherleaf viburnum, aka Viburnum rhytidophyllum. This large, shade tolerant, evergreen viburnum brings a lot of texture to the garden with its rugose (aka deeply ribbed) foliage, unique branching, and white spring flowers. It’s also very deer resistant! Second option is what’s known as a lantanaphyllum viburnum, V. x rhytidophylloides. It’s actually a hybrid between the aforementioned leatherleaf viburnum and a lantana viburnum. Its flowers are bigger than those on the leatherleaf, and if you plant two different varieties, you’ll get really nice berries as well. 

Dixie says: The other day, I saw on Facebook an idea to plant a pine cone in a bowl and little pine trees will sprout from it. Some people in the comments say that it won’t work and I’m wondering if it’s worth trying.

Great question – I saw this making the rounds as well, and the comments were indeed a mixed bag of discouragement and encouragement. So, what gives? Well, I think it comes to down to the pinecone itself. If you pick up a pinecone from the ground, it is unlikely to contain any seeds. Generally, they only fall off the tree once the seeds have dispersed, and any seed that is still hanging around in there is likely to be eaten by a bird or squirrel. So, instead, pick a pinecone off a living tree – it should be brown, not green, and hard, but with the scales still closed or mostly closed. Second, the species of pine you pick the pinecone from makes a difference. The seed of some pines needs cold or even heat treatment to germinate, some need no treatment at all. Unfortunately, there’s no one simple place I can send you to to find out which species needs which treatment, so the best solution is to try cones from a couple of different trees. Ultimately, to answer your question, it is definitely worth trying – just don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work!

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