Episode 8 – The Canna King, Growing Garlic, and Brandywine Viburnum

Ground Breaking Banter

Show and tell in the studio today, as Rick brings samples of cannas he dug up from his yard. Stacey calls Rick the “Canna King!” They are not “lilies” and they are not “bulbs,” so what is the correct term for cannas? What is the correct way to refer to cannas in bare root form?  Cannas are commonly referred to as a bulb although they are not a true bulb, they multiply beneath the soil from a fattened extension of the stalk called a rhizome. Their popularity in the US dates back to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, which an estimated 1 in 4 Americans attended and saw massive plantings of blooming cannas, giving rise to their popularity in the United States. There is no hurry on digging them up; it’s perfectly okay to allow the foliage to freeze then dig up the clumps. It is, however, very important to “cure” or “dry” them before storage. Allow the soil to dry and shake off the excess – do not wash them and put into storage wet. Avoid wounding the rhizomes as you work. Store in a cool but not freezing location at around 40-50 degrees until the soil is warm enough to plant next spring.

We’ve talked a lot about how beneficial autumn leaves are in the garden, and though nutrient concentration values vary considerably, you can count on leaves to provide the the big three nutrients, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). They also provide essential micronutrients, including magnesium, calcium, iron, manganese, copper and zinc are also present. Of the three major nutrients, the most readily available in the first year from leaf waste is potassium, which plays a role in proper growth, cell wall development, and plant reproduction. Of course, people need potassium too, that’s why moms always wanted us to eat bananas – even though Stacey and Rick share a dislike of them. To this discovery, Rick riddles us: what does a banana says when you call it on the phone? The answer: “yellow!”

For weekend plants, Rick is working on “lasagna passive composting flower bed construction.” This practice gets its name from  soil amendments placed in lasagna-like layers, and it’s passive because it doesn’t involve much physical work. Here’s Rick’s strategy: Mark out with spray paint the size and shape of the bed you want to create in the existing lawn area. Instead of paint you can use a garden hose and move it around to view and reshape the border. In mid to late October as the leaves are coming off the trees, lay newspaper 3 or 4 pages thick over the top of the grassy area within the assigned border (don’t try this on a windy day, or your neighbors will be picking up trash for days!). Once the paper is laid flat on the grass, wet the paper with a garden hose to hold it in place. Next place leaves that have fallen from the trees on top of the newspaper. I prefer to run over the leaves with a lawn mower once or twice before placing them on the paper to speed decomposition. Once the leaves are liberally layered within the boundaries of your new bed, distribute soil and compost on top of the leaves to hold them in place for winter. The snow and rain can now begin to fall. Over the course of the winter the newsprint will suffocate the grass below it so you don’t have to dig it up or use a sod cutter. In spring you can till the leaves, newspaper and top dressed soil into the parent soil and dead turf to create a rich and ready flower bed for spring planting.

Stacey talks planting garlic, and recommends anyone try it, though preferably not using the stuff you get from the grocery store. It may not be suitable to growing in your climate, plus, why grow something you can easily buy when there are literally dozens of fascinating varieties out there that you can try? Planting garlic is super simple: just stick the cloves in the ground, about 2″ or so deep, water, and wait. Each clove you plant will turn into a head that will be harvested next July. The bigger the garlic clove you plant, the bigger the head it forms will be.

Why: Brandywine viburnum is beautiful when it blooms in spring, and all summer, when it has leathery, glossy leaves, but in fall? It’s positively stunning. The green berries it’s been holding on to all summer start to turn ivory, then bright pink, then blue, and each cluster of berries often shows multiple of these colors at once. Slowly, the foliage starts to turn a vivid red-burgundy, making the berries even showier.

Brandywine viburnum is native to North America, and grows over pretty much the entire eastern half of the US and Canada. I have seen its species, Viburnum nudum, also known as witherod viburnum, growing here in Michigan in wooded areas, especially along ponds or areas that flood occasionally. It’s very easy to spot in fall because its berries turn those exact some colors, though the clusters aren’t as large and lush as they are on a cultivated variety like Brandywine.

Who: Brandywine viburnum was selected by plantsman Mark Bulk in Boskoop, the Netherlands. A few years previous, a selection of Viburnum nudum came out on the market called ‘Winterthur’, after the famous garden and DuPont family estate in Delaware. It had a much tidier and more compact habit than the wild types – 6’ tall compared to 12’+ –  but it had one problem: like most viburnums, to get fruit, it needed a pollinator.

Viburnums aren’t like holly, where the male and female flowers occur on completely separate plants. Rather, viburnums require pollen from a different plant of the same species in order for fruit to form. So, there was Winterthur viburnum promising these unique, colorful berries, but no way to get them unless you happened to maybe live in an area where the species grew wild. Lots of plant breeders were looking for a Viburnum nudum that offered that same improved habit and could also serve as a pollinator. And that’s what Mark Bulk found in Brandywine – an appealing 5-6’ size and, because it is a different plant than Winterthur, can pollinate it. But, Brandywine does one better – it does not need a pollinator itself in order to get fruit. This is quite uncommon among viburnums, and it means you can still get that beautiful fruit by planting just one shrub, not two different ones like you’d need to with Winterthur.

How to grow: The most important thing to grow Brandywine successfully is moist soil. I’ve tried to grow it in my very dry, very sandy soil and it died. So, clay soils, wet areas, yards with irrigation are all fair game. As far as light goes, full to part sun is best. It will grow in deeper shade, but you’ll end up with a sparse, open habit and fewer flowers, so subsequently fewer berries. It would make a really interesting hedge, as well as a specimen or landscaping plant. As for deer resistance – they are likely to eat the flowers, which of course destroys the potential for fruit to form, but they rarely cause damage to the plant itself.

Ready to add Brandywine viburnum your landscape? Ask for this Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrub at your favorite local garden center.

Gardening Mail Bag

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Pat writes: I am starting a new garden with just all allium bulbs. Cleared all the weeds out the past couple days. I have six different varieties, do I need to put some type of fertilizer in the hole along with some kind of compost? My soil here in Jenison is very sandy, rocky, but over the years I also have added some compost to the garden.  It’s very hot in this garden and does dry out quickly.

Great news for Pat: the conditions there are already absolutely perfect for all sorts of bulbs, including alliums! Fall-planted bulbs like daffodils, tulips, and yes indeed, allium, thrive in areas where they are dry and hot all summer, which prevents the bulbs from rotting. So your bed is pretty much good to go. Fertilizer is optional – Rick says he fertilizes at planting time and again in spring, Stacey doesn’t fertilize. So it’s your call. But it is no longer recommended that you add bone meal to the hole when planting – not only do plants not need more phosphorous than the soil already contains in most residential landscapes, it can encourage animals to dig around your newly planted bulbs. 

Therese asks:  I have a large yard and I want to plant a screening hedge for privacy.  Deer frequent this area.  I live in zone 6a and the soil conditions can range from wet to dry.  I was thinking about planting several ninebarks in this area. Would this be a wise choice?  If not what would you recommend? 

We feel your pain, Therese! Unfortunately, I would not recommend ninebark – while deer don’t destroy it, they do often eat it in my yard, particularly when it is about to flower, so it gets mowed down a lot. Not really what you want in a privacy hedge! If you are looking for an evergreen, juniper is, hands down, the best choice. It is highly deer resistant and you can select from several space-saving varieties, like ‘Skyrocket’ or ‘Spartan’. You could also consider a hedge of pines or spruces, which are deer resistant but take up much more space than the narrower junipers. If you don’t mind a deciduous plant, we suggest a good old-fashioned bridal wreath spirea, any number of viburnums, or you could even consider lilac. 

Mark wonders: How can I remove a yucca plant? I’ve been digging at this plant since I moved into my home 4 years ago. I thought I had won last year by hand excavating all the roots, but late this summer, a little sprout has emerged. 

This is a tough one, as yucca can be very, very persistent. Rick recommended digging out at much as you can and spraying any remaining root with brush killer. Even if you are open to using pesticides (or alternatives, like horticultural vinegar), they simply don’t penetrate the thick, fibrous leaves of the yucca, so roots are your only option for chemical control. Stacey recommends persistence – every time you see a shoot, chase it down and dig it out. Eventually, it will get exhausted and stop growing. One last word of advice: if you have other yuccas in your yard, or your neighbors do, be sure to cut off the seedpods (maybe even the whole flower stalk) before they start to turn brown, as yucca can spread aggressively by seed. 


Branching News

We kick off the segment with a word of the dsay, so, if you dare, enter….. the “zone of abscission”! Don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds: abscission means the act of cutting off, and it describes naturally occurring phenomenon which involves the separation of fruits, flowers or even leaves from plants at specialized separation layers. The zone of abscission is the point where the leaf drops off from the plant.


We review an interesting poll/survey: 2,000 homeowners looked at how they make their home feel new again and found that most homeowners want to update their home’s appearance (69%), with 63% agreeing their home could use an overhaul. For many, a home update would include creating more open space (31%), finding ways to let more natural sunlight in (30%) or changing the shape/size of their windows (29%). As they look to the future, respondents would love to update their homes with bonus features like a porch, patio or deck (24%), sliding glass doors that open to the outdoors (22%) or a garden (22%), but for now, they may stick to the most DIY-friendly task: adding a new coat of paint or wallpaper.

Are squirrels making your front porch pumpkins look even scarier than you intended? We review an article that suggests some management techniques. Among them: commercial repellants, pet hair, hot pepper or Tabasco sauce (both of which can stain the pumpkin and your porch), white distilled vinegar, eucalyptus oil (dab the gourd with a cotton ball soaked in the oil mixed with water), spray lacquer, hair spray, an owl statue (owls are natural predators of squirrels and will (maybe) frighten them away), or a motion detector that, when  triggered, will make a sudden noise will frighten off the animal. If, however, you do find that critters have done a number on your Jack o’lanterns though, you can fix it – Rick suggests a pumpkin patch!


Prince William is planning to move forward with his father King Charles III’s plans to construct a sustainable “garden city” with 2,500 homes in southeastern England. The plan to build the sustainable eco village stretching across 320 acres of farmland in Kent, England, was previously heralded by King Charles III when he was the duke of Cornwall, a title that transferred to Prince William when his father ascended the throne in September. 
However, local environmentalists have repeatedly pushed back against the project, arguing that it would wreak havoc on the fragile ecosystem in the region. They said the project would threaten several species, including protected bats, lizards, butterflies and wild orchids.