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What's up North - Charlie Nardozz

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Grow Shrub-Like Perennials for a Big Impact

Sometimes, you want a flowering plant that can fill a large space in summer and then disappear in winter. The space may be under an eave where snow and ice damage a woody shrub. Maybe the space is close to a deck, patio, or walkway where you want the coziness of a plant nearby in summer but want to be able to shovel snow there in winter. Maybe it's a space that's loaded with spring flowering bulbs that disappear come early summer and you want something large to take their place.

The answer is shrub-like perennials. There are some perennials that can grow 3+ feet tall and wide in one season. They provide color, flowers, interest in sun or shade, and dieback to the ground each fall. We grow Amsonia and Baptisia under our eaves for this reason. No matter how much snow buries them in winter, they pop out of the ground in spring and fill in the area near our deck each summer. Here are some other good choices for shrub-like perennials.

For a sunny spot, nothing beats the hardy hibiscus. This is a relative of the subtropical, woody hibiscus, but it's an herbaceous perennial. It emerges late and slowly from the ground in spring, but once it gets warm, the plant explodes with growth. By mid to late summer, it's flowering and continues into fall with 7-inch diameter colorful, show-stopping blooms. The plants grow up 4 feet tall and wide to quickly fill an area. The Summerific® series of hardy hibiscus are particularly striking. They're hardy to zone 4, flower well in full sun, and produce abundant flowers. I like the bi-color flowering types, such as .' It has white flowers from top to bottom on the plant with a dark red eye. 'Edge of Night' is unique for its jet-black foliage that contrasts nicely with the pink flowers with darker-colored edging. 'Lilac Crush' has lavender blue flowers with a red eye. It's a more upright perennial and nicely planted together to make a low, temporary hedge.

Another large, sun-loving perennial is goat's beard or Aruncus hybrid. Chantilly Lace grows in full sun or part shade to 4 feet tall and wide. It's a zone 4 hardy tall perennial for the back of a border, along a tall wall, house, or structure, or in a sunny nook to fill the space. Chantilly Lace has lacy, cream-colored flowers and is more drought tolerant than astilbe.

For shade, I like large perennials with showy leaves. There are hundreds of hosta varieties available to grow, and some of the best grow huge. 'Wu-La-La' has blue-green leaves edged with apple-green. 'Coast to Coast' features striking golden, puckered leaves on 3-foot-tall, wide plants. The color is even more intense in the morning.

For a truly striking, part-shade-loving, shrub-like perennial, consider 'Sun King' Spinard, Aralia cordata. This plant is a showstopper with its large, bright yellow leaves in part sun and deeper chartreuse-colored foliage in the shade. The small white flowers it produces in fall give way to black, inedible berries, adding another layer of interest to the plant. It thrives in well-drained, moist soil, making it a unique and eye-catching addition to your garden.

Using Containers For a Splash of Color

Many gardeners love to grow flowers in containers on a deck, balcony or patio. It's a great way to have color, and a touch of summer, close at hand. But there are other places to use containers in your landscape.
Using containers in the garden to add color to a shady spot, to a “difficult to grow anything” spot under a tree or as an accent to other flowers and edibles is a simple way to add some pop to your landscape. With new, attractive containers made from durable polyurethane, it's easy to care for these pots as well. These containers look like a decorative clay or metal pot, but are light weight, easy to move, UV resistant and long lastings. Plus, the pots can be moved throughout the growing season, refreshed with new plants when needed and protected from heavy rains, hail and winds.
Let's look at three places to use these pots in the garden.
If you have a shady spot under a tree or a dark area in your yard, think about growing plants that have colorful foliage and flowers to brighten the location. Containers under a tree thrive without competition from plant roots in the soil. Coleus 'Rediculous'® features deep, burgundy red leaves on a large, 2- to 3- foot tall plant. It's perfect as your thriller shade plant. Add some 'Sweet Caroline Medusa' sweet potato vines with their contrasting chartreuse foliage, mounding habit and heat tolerance and some Licorise 'Splash' plants with their silver foliage, mounding habit and drought tolerance to make a colorful shade container without any blooms. Of course, if you want to mix and match flowering, shade loving annuals, such as begonias, impatiens and torenia, they will just add to the show.
In full sun your plant options increase in a container. Try unique annuals such as 'Prince Tut' papyrus grass. It only reaches 2+ feet tall in a pot so doesn't distract attention from other plants in the garden. It's a fast grower and even looks nice along a pond's edge. For some color in that container, try angelonia. Angelface Wedgewood Blue is heat and drought tolerant and has a grape-scented foliage. Mix in other heat and drought tolerant flowers, such as Superbena®'Raspberry', and you'll have a trailer with large, red flowers, too.
Since many containers can be placed in gardens close to the house, why not mix in a few edibles as well. In a sunny garden try, 'Amzel' Basil®. This is the first downey mildew resistant Genovese basil available and it doesn't set seeds so continues to produce large leaves after blossoms have formed. Tempting Tomatoes® 'Goodhearted' dwarf tomato is perfect for containers. It only grows 1 foot tall, but produces red, heart-shaped cherry tomatoes all summer making it perfect for summer salads. I've grown it paired with nasturtiums for an edible flower treat. There's even a yellow fruited version named Tempting Tomatoes® 'Patio Sunshine' that produces golden cherry tomatoes on a similar, dwarf sized plant.

Long Season Pollinator Plants

Many gardeners love helping pollinators. But growing a pollinator garden isn't practical in every location. For small space gardeners, the solution is to work pollinator plants into existing gardens and select varieties that stay compact and are easy to manage. Before I talk about compact pollinator plants, though, let's consider other factors that help you create a bee, butterfly, and insect-friendly habitat in your yard.

Pollinators need shelter, nesting spots and water along with pollen and nectar from flowers. Have a water source, such as a bird bath, in your yard. Create a small, seldom mowed, mini meadow area on the edge of your property where wild plants and grasses can grow and pollinators can hide. Leave a snag tree and fallen logs as nesting sites for some pollinators. Many native pollinators are solitary and live in the ground, including your lawn. Mow high and avoid using pesticides to protect these important native bees.

For plants, have pollinator friendly plants blooming from spring through fall. You don't have to remove existing plants, just supplement with compact, pollinator friendly ones.

In spring, start with early flowering bulbs, such as scilla and winter aconites, followed by spring perennials. 'Pink Diamonds' (1) is a pink flowered bleeding heart (Dicentra) with attractive, cut leaves on a compact, 16 inch tall. Our hellebores are always popular with bees. 'Honeymoon® Irish Luck' (2) is a striking, single-petaled variety with green and yellow coloring. Plant hellebores where they're shaded in the afternoon. 'Mini Gallery Blue Bicolor' (3) is a blue-colored lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus) that grows best in light, slightly acidic soils. It has early flowering, bi-colored blue and white blooms and only grows 16 inches tall. And don't forget shrubs. 'Low Scape Mound®' (4) Aronia melanocarpa is a native, two-foot-tall, heat- and drought-tolerant variety with attractive black berries and great fall foliage color.

Come summer the plant palette expands. 'Midnight Masquerade' penstemon (5) features deep purple leaves with purple flowers on drought and salt-tolerant plants. This tall, clumping perennial doesn't spread quickly. In summer, sunflowers are loaded with bees, so why not grow a compact, perennial selection? 'Tuscan Sun' heliopsis (6) is a hardy to zone 3 nativar. It grows only 2- to 3 feet tall, blooms long, and is disease- and drought-tolerant. Of course, everyone is familiar with growing milkweed for Monarch butterflies. But other pollinators like it, too. Swamp milkweed is a good selection that spreads less aggressively than common milkweed. 'Ice Ballet' Swamp milkweed (7) (Asclepias incarnata) grows 3- to 4-feet tall with attractive white flowers and thrives in full sun or part shade. For a small shrub, try potentilla. 'Happy Face® Pink Paradise' (8) has unusual pink-colored, semi-double blooms that last most of the summer. This compact potentilla grows in part sun and is drought and salt-tolerant.

Finish the season with some pollinator favorites that will help these insects overwinter. Solidago 'Dansolitlem' Little Lemon' (9) is a dwarf goldenrod growing only 18 inches tall with lemon colored blooms. Cut back the first blooms after flowering to stimulate a second bloom. Nothing brightens up a landscape like black eyed Susan. 'Mega Millions®' Rudbeckia fulgida (10) is disease resistant, heat tolerant and keeps cranking out flowers from late summer through fall. 'Rockin Round®Superstar' (11) sedum is an upright selection with dark purple foliage and rosy pink flowers on a tough, compact plant that withstands drought, heat and salt.

After the bloom season ends, leave the dead stems and foliage in fall for overwintering sites for pollinators and clean up the gardens in spring.


Plant Selections

When buying plants for your landscape, you certainly should look for ones that match your hardiness zone, sun, soil and space in your yard. There are also other filters you can use when selecting plants. Selecting perennials, trees and shrubs that flower during the “quiet” times in your gardens, plants that attract pollinators, butterflies and birds and ones that have an intense fragrance can add beauty and pleasure to your landscape.

During my garden coaching sessions, gardeners often say they have plenty of color in their garden from spring to summer but need color in late summer. A good choice is 'Bit of Honey' False Sunflower, Heliopsis helianthoides. This perennial has bright, yellow sunflower-like blooms on plants that stand 2- to 3 feet tall. 'Bit of Honey' is unique for its variegated foliage. Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus) is another late bloomer. Pollypetite® Rose of Sharon

Hibiscus sp. is a dwarf form of this large shrub that only grows 3- to 4- feet tall. It has lavender-pink flowers and is nearly seedless so no baby plants will pop up all over your landscape.

Fragrance is one of those added bonuses in a garden. When planting fragrant plants, place them near a deck, patio, porch or a window where you can enjoy the scent. Our neighbors have a row of summer sweet shrubs next to their porch with a rich scent. Vanilla Spice® Summersweet, Clethra alnifolia perfumes the air when sitting outdoors with its large, white blooms. Even butterflies can't resist the scent and it blooms in mid-summer.  Of course, lilacs are well known for their beauty and fragrance. Scentara® Double Blue Lilac is a Syringa x hyacinthiflora lilac. With “hyacinth” in its name you know it has a heady fragrance. This variety features double blue flowers, with a rich scent on a tough plant. The flowers are perfect for cutting and bringing indoors.

If you're looking to add native flowers to your landscape to attract and support pollinators, butterflies and birds, there are lots of choices for a Northern gardener. Many gardeners know the native bee balm, Monarda is a bee magnet. But many fear it will spread and take over the garden. Enter 'Pardon My Cerise,' Monarda didyma. This red flowering bee balm only stands 10-14 inch tall and fits perfectly in a small space. It stays compact and has mildew-resistant foliage. For bird-attracting shrubs, nothing beats the native viburnums. The berries are essential for migrating and overwintering birds. All That Glitters® Arrowwood Viburnum,

Viburnum dentatum var. deamii feature bright, blue berries with glossy green foliage that deer avoid. Glitters & Glows® Arrowwood Viburnum, Viburnum dentatum var. deamii are two plants in one pot so you're sure to get good pollination for berry production.



Site Issues in the Northern Garden

Knowing the amount of sun and shade you have in your garden is critical to selecting the right plants for the right place. But there are other factors in the northern garden that will influence your plant's health.

One of the fastest ways to kill a plant is to plant the wrong plant in a site with heavy clay soil and poor soil water drainage. I know this from my experience, having tried three different varieties of trees in a spot on our property until I found the right one that could cope with the clay. Before planting a tree or shrub, check the water drainage of your soil. Dig a hole 1 foot wide and deep and fill it with water. Let it drain. Then, fill it up again. Measure the depth of the water, wait 15 minutes, and measure it again to see how much water has drained. Multiply the difference by 4 to calculate how fast the water drains in an hour. Good soil water drainage should be around 2 to 3 inches an hour. If the water drains 1 inch or less per hour, this site is poor for most trees and shrubs except wet soil-adapted plants such as willows. If it drains 4 inches or more an hour, then it's best to grow drought-tolerant plants or amend the soil heavily with organic matter to help hold the water. A solution for poorly drained sites is to build a raised bed on the site and amend the soil with compost.

Another factor is wind. As the climate changes, I've noticed more severe storms in all seasons usually accompanied by heavy winds. Some plants are tough enough to withstand high winds, but young shrubs, trees and soft wooded plants, such as willows, pines and poplars, can be damaged severely by wind. Observe where the prevailing winds come from in your yard. Consider planting a windscreen of native evergreens, such as juniper, spruce, and fir trees, or deciduous trees, such as hawthorn, oak and maple, in those areas to withstand the wind. This will also create a microclimate on the leeward side of those plantings to grow perennials that often flop in the wind such as peonies and hollyhocks. You can also plant wind-tolerant perennials, such as 'Perfect Profusion' perennial salvia - Salvia nemorosa, Prairie Winds® Brush Strokes little bluestem - Schizachyrium scoparium ornamental grass, and 'New Hampshire Purple' hardy geranium, bloody cranesbill Geranium sanguineum in the windy spots. 

Finally, consider sight lines. In the North, we spend lots of time looking at our garden from indoors during cold, rainy springs and falls. When planting, especially blooming spring and fall flowers, choose locations to enjoy them from the comfort of your home. Also, when growing fragrant shrubs, such as Vanilla Spice® summersweet - Clethra alnifolia, and flowers, such as Oriental lilies, place them close to a window where the scent can perfume the home.


North Region Garden Tips

- With freezing and thawing temperatures, watch for any heaving of recently planted herbaceous perennial flowers. Gently sink them back into their hole and mulch with wood chips to prevent it from happening again.

- Take inventory of seed starting and gardening supplies, such as pots, stakes, garden ties and markers, and stock up now before the spring rush.

- Check overwintering dahlia and canna lily bulbs indoors. If the bulbs are shriveled, mist with water. If the bulbs are rotting, let them dry out. Then repack them for storage.

- During a warm spell over 40F on a calm day, reapply sprays of anti-desiccants to tender, broadleaf evergreens, such as Pieris and Kalmia, to prevent the leaves from drying out.


Light in the Northern Garden

During these days of shortened sunlight, it's a good time to think about light in your garden. One of the challenges we face, especially in small yards, is lack of sufficient light to grow our favorite flowers, shrubs and trees. The shade maybe from a neighbor's house or building, from our own buildings or from trees and shrubs that have grown large over the years.

Shade is caused by obstacles, but also due to the position of the sun in the sky. A full sun garden in May or June may be part shade come August and September because the sun is lower in the sky and gets blocked by even low buildings and trees.

It's also good to understand there are different types of shade and different plants adapted to these conditions.

Full sun is usually considered 6 to 8 hours of direct light a day. Part sun is when your plants get only 3 to 4 hours of direct sun. The timing is important because morning sun is generally gentler on plants than the harsh, afternoon sun. Many flowers and shrubs thrive in part sun.

Dappled shade is what's found under lacy leafed, deciduous trees such as honey locust and tall, cut leaf Japanese maples. The dappled light filters through the foliage allowing flowers, such as azalea, lamium, hellebores, brunnera, and pieris, to grow.

Medium shade is when the light may shine directly on plants for only an hour or two, early or late in the day when it's at an angle. This can occur on the North side of a building or under large deciduous trees with no limbs lower than 20 feet off the ground. Hostas and ferns are two good examples of plants that grow in medium shade.

Finally, deep shade is what's under low lying evergreen trees, such as hemlock and spruce. Moss and mulch are best under this type of shade.

Depending on the variety of plants you're growing and how they're cared for, some shade lovers may be able to grow in sunnier locations in the North. That's because the sun isn't as harsh as in Southern climes. For example, yellow and gold leafed hostas, such as 'Etched Glass' and 'Autumn Frost', can tolerate part sun without leaf burn better than blue, white or green leafed versions. It's best if they're exposed to only morning light and important the soil is kept evenly moist.


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