Episode 16 – Sounds to Listen to in the Garden, North Pole® Arborvitae

Ground Breaking Banter

Stacey and Rick discuss garden sounds. Do you hear what I hear? A song, a song high above the trees, With a voice as big as the sea, With a voice as big as the sea. This iconic Christmas song was released in the fall of 1962 during the Cuban Missile crisis as a plea for peace. It was popularized the following year when in October of 1963 Bing Crosby released a single of the song and sang it on a Bob Hope Christmas special.

The garden has so much more than just sight..smell…and taste….there is sound! A discussion takes place about sounds in the garden.

  • Paths: stones, decking, mulch, stones under foot.
  • Seed pods when they dry like Baptisia.
  • Water features have a calming cooling effect
  • Birds, bees, hummingbirds.
  • A weather vane
    Creaking garden gate
  • Windchimes
  • Silence your phone but keep it in your pocket for photos
  • Wind through plants like Oak trees, ornamental grasses or bamboo.
  • Music via wifi from outdoor speakers designed for outdoor use
  • Sounds when the weather is hot. On bitterly cold winter mornings, the world is breathtakingly quiet. In hot air sound travels faster. It is said that sound travels faster in warm air, it travels farther in cold weather. Rick shares he loves the sound of a hot humid summer day like the cicadas sounding off in the trees or the buzz of hummingbird wings.
  • Stacey and Rick agree that the sound of leaf blowers is highly annoying. Many communities have placed restrictions on leaf blower use.

Why: Well, today being Christmas Eve, the why on this one should be pretty obvious just from the name, North Pole arborvitae. But besides that, arborvitae is an excellent plant to talk about at the holidays because it’s a go-to plant for any last minute festive touches you want to put on gifts or the holiday table. It has an abundance of very pretty, very soft evergreen foliage, and it’s easy to snip off a few sprigs without making it noticeable. It lays nice and flat on a table or gift box, and is easy to nestle in among other flowers or foliage in arrangement. Plus, arborvitae foliage has the most delicious fruity scent when its cut or bruised, bringing a true holiday mood to the home.

North Pole arborvitae is very hardy (down to USDA zone 3) and perfect for winter, but its name actually comes from its habit: it is very narrow and dense, reaching around 10’+ tall but just 3-5’ wide. So it makes a very distinctive appearance in the landscape, whether used as a space-saving hedge or very eye-catching specimen. It is one the narrowest arborvitaes available that still provides coverage and grows at a reasonably good rate.

Who: North Pole arborvitae was selected by the late Art Boe of Faribault, Minnesota. Now, you want to talk about an interesting person, that was Dr. Boe. He earned his PhD in plant sciences from Utah State University and worked as a plant science researcher in Brazil and Portugal, before returning to the US and working as professor in Idaho and North Dakota. He settled in Faribault, Minnesota, just south of the Twin Cities, and fulfilled his dream of opening a garden center. This is where he devoted himself to developing interesting new plants, and how he came to contribute North Pole arborvitae to the Proven Winners collection. He noticed that it was much narrower, and more dense, than other columnar arborvitae, and that even in Minnesota, it stayed nice and green in winter instead of bronzing or otherwise discoloring. Art Boe passed away in 2021 at the age of 88, but of course, leaves behind a legacy in the plants he created and those he sold at his garden center.

How to grow: North Pole is a selection of our native Eastern arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis. This species is very versatile and easy to grow, tolerating sun or shade and pretty much any soil provided it is well-drained. Very dry conditions should generally be avoided, though if the spot offers some shade, it may do okay. Arborvitae cannot tolerate wet soils and respond very negatively in such situations, so avoid spots that are naturally soggy, and if planting an arborvitae in your yard, do not add any kind of compost or top soil to the hole. Arborvitae are naturally shallow-rooted, so a good 2-3” layer of shredded bark mulch is highly recommended –not just at planting time, but maintained all year-round for the life of the plant as well.

North Pole naturally grows as a neat, narrow column, and does not need any pruning. If you want to cut a few snips out for holiday decorating, you can certainly do that, but nothing else is necessary. In short, it’s an easy to grow, very beautiful native evergreen with just one drawback…deer. They LOVE arborvitae. That same fruity fragrance I mentioned earlier? That’s what draws them in, and the fact that it’s evergreen just means it’s a delicious year-round food source. So if you have deer, Eastern arborvitae like North Pole are a no-go. Not only will they severely damage it, if they keep coming back, the plant will never have a chance to recover and will be permanently disfigured.

Sound like a shrub that would be at home in your yard? Add North Pole arborvitae to your spring planting list, and start looking forward to more colorful winters to come!

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. 

Frauke writes: I have a question regarding pruning a weeping redbud tree. It is about 8 years old and it has never been pruned as far as I know and the branches were touching the ground this summer. I am part of a gardening group that takes care of the plantings around our clubhouse and would like to prune the two major inside lower branches at the trunk plus limb up the outer branches, preferably without killing the tree. A close-up photo of these branches is attached (see below). I would appreciate your advice! Thank you.

This tree can definitely be pruned to take on more of the shape that you wish. If you are unsure how much is safe to take off at once, stick with the one-third guideline: remove no more than one-third of a tree or shrub in a pruning session. There are, of course, lots of exceptions to this, but it’s a good guideline to keep handy for these types of situations. We recommend pruning this plant in late winter, when the branches are still bare and it’s easy to see which branches you want to remove and what impact they will have. Normally, if you were to prune a redbud, the recommendation would be after it blooms, but in this case, since you are removing entire branches, that’s not really an issue. One last word of advice: it is a personal decision, but Rick and Stacey both advise against the “bowl cut” approach, where the weeping branches are trimmed to the same height. Weeping-form trees look more elegant and natural with the branches left alone, provided traffic and mowing needs allow. 

A leafless weeping redbud in winter.

Ann is looking for some suggestions to add to her amazing sounding new orchard in USDA zone 6A: We are going to create a home fruit tree orchard with dwarf/semi-dwarf trees, this spring. We have selected Flavortop nectarines, Tilton apricots, and Santa Rosa plums, all of which are self-pollinating.  We are trying to select a pear tree as well.  What would you suggest?  Any other suggestions for starting a home orchard is very welcome! 

What a fun project! Stacey’s first piece of advice is to opt for varieties and fruits that you are unlikely to find in the grocery store or farmer’s market. Sure, it’s fun to have your own Honeycrisp or Pink Lady apples, but since you can already get great fruit of both of those in stores, why not grow something that is a little more unusual? For the pear, Stacey recommends an Asian pear. Also known as Nashi pears, they are round like apples, but are much crisper and sweeter, and are very easy to grow, self-fruitful and no spraying required for a good crop. Though they can be found in stores, particularly Asian markets, they are typically very expensive, so having your own supply is a nice luxury!

We answered a question from Leigh Ann a few weeks ago about fungal problems with her plants, and she followed up: You kind of nailed it on the head with the issue being older plants. The trouble is, one if my trouble plants are some phlox that came from my grandma’s garden and I really don’t want to part with those. They get the powdery mildew really bad. Is a copper fungicide something I could consider with those? 

No, replacing your grandmother’s plants isn’t exactly an option! So, yes, you can use a fungicide, but you will need to be very vigilant with it, starting as soon as the plant begins to leaf out in spring and reapplying frequently as the leaves expand through spring. The tricky thing with fungicides is that they are primarily preventative, not curative, so they need to be used in spring when those fungal spores start flying, thanks to all the rain that usually comes in spring. 

Winter would be a great time to do some research on the various formulations out there and decide which one works best for you and how often you will need to apply it for best results.

Because this is such a special plant to you, I would suggest you consider propagating it so you can get another one established somewhere else in your yard and see if it fares better. 

Branching News

  • Flavors and spices that evoke feelings of holiday nostalgia and comfort the most are cinnamon (58%), pumpkin (54%), peppermint (52%), cocoa (47%) and nutmeg (39%) What? No eggnog? No Aunt Bethany jello salad? No Fruitcake?.
  • The bears are not only raiding your backyard bird feeder. A Florida man shared video of the moment his dinner was ruined by a hungry black bear that stole the Chick-fil-A delivery order from his front door. The bag contained 30 nuggets and a large order of fries. He didn’t want the salad, though. Rick says it’s because there was no “branch dressing.”
  • Holiday Words of the Day
    • Graupel. Granular snow pellets sometimes also referred to as soft hail. The word appears to have begun being used in the 1870s, when meteorologists of that time decided that there was a need to distinguish between different kinds of hail.
    • Yuleshard. As another word for the festive period and someone who leaves a lot of work still to be done on Christmas Eve night.
      Doniferous. If you’re doniferous then you’re carrying a present.
    • Scurryfunge. Came to mean “hastily tidy the house” before guests arrive.
  • The Grinch came early for an Arizona driver who tried to pass off an inflatable figure of the Dr. Seuss character as a passenger so he could drive in the HOV lane. 
  • Three camels escape a nativity scene after outsmarting not-so-wise men. The camels escaped during a live reenactment of the Bethlehem story at the Bridgeman Baptist Community church in Brisbane Australia. 
  • Some of the most cherished traditions include decorating the Christmas tree (43%), seeing friends and family (40%), decorating the home (29%), watching classic holiday movies (26%) and eating holiday meals (25%).

    More than a third (35%) said their fondest memories of the season occurred between the ages of 6 and 10 — an indicator of the golden era for holiday magic.

  • Conducted by OnePoll the TOP 10 RECURRING GIFTS TO GIVE OR RECEIVE

    1. Candy/chocolate 47%
    2. Something homemade 44%
    3. A gift card/money 46%
    4. Makeup products 37%
    5. Books 34%
    6. Self-care items 33%
    7. A toothbrush 32%
    8. Skin products 31%
    9. Underwear 30%
    10. Pajamas 30%
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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