Time to Feed the Birds!

A bluebird fluffs up against the cold

An array of bird feeders keep the birds fed all winter!

An array of bird feeders
keep the birds fed all winter!

This post written in December of 2010 is just as relevant now as it was back then. I only wish we had some beautiful snow on the ground for the holidays! Oh well – there’s still time! We DO have the birds, though and they are hungry!

Keep your feeders and bird baths full!

It’s Saturday morning – time to light the gas fire, re-fill the bird feeders on the deck, grab a cup of coffee and sit down in the sunroom to enjoy the birds as they happily feast on sunflower seeds, thistle seed, and suet!

Wintertime is bird feeding time!

Living in the woods like we do means lots of different bird species visit our feeders. Over the years, we have accumulated many types of bird feeders and they get filled with a variety of different food choices. One thing we have found is that it’s important to choose good quality bird seed that is fresh and free of filler seed that the birds won’t eat. This filler is often composed of weed seeds that get kicked out of the feeder and into your garden!

A hairy woodpecker enjoys peanuts from a peanut feeder.

A hairy woodpecker enjoys peanuts from a
feeder at my sister’s house in Vermont.

Chickadees, tufted titmice, cardinals, and both the white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatches love the black oil sunflower seeds and the mixed seed filled with sunflower, cracked corn, and other nutritious seeds. The house finches, purple finches, and goldfinches flock to the thistle seed feeders and our suet feeders attract the nuthatches, chickadees, and wrens, as well as four different species of woodpeckers; downy, hairy, red bellied, and even pileated woodpeckers. “Woodpecker Woods” – that’s what we call our place! I think the woodpeckers, the wrens, and the little red-breasted nuthatches are my favorites!

A little wren enjoys the suet.

A little wren enjoys the suet.

We also have several platform feeders for the ground feeding birds such as juncos, mourning doves, blue jays, and sparrows. The jays can be bullies at times and scare some of the smaller birds away but for the most part, they are pretty civil! The squirrels and opossums also like the platform feeders – well, the squirrels actually like all the feeders much to our chagrin. They try their best to empty every one as quickly as they can! The possums mostly nose around for bits of suet that have dropped and tasty morsels on the platform feeders. I guess they need food in the winter too and, well, I must admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for these bird feeder marauders having done field research on both possums and squirrels during my graduate and post-graduate studies! I’m such a softie!

This silly possum was nosing around for some stale bread that we put out for the birds.

This silly possum found some stale
bread we put out for the birds.

Trying to discourage squirrels from raiding your feeders can be quite a challenge. We’ve had mixed success by hanging candy canes off some of our feeders. The squirrels really don’t like the smell of the peppermint. Some people mix cayenne pepper in with their seed. There are also “squirrel proof” feeders but I’ve found that these guys are so clever and dexterous that they can often find a way to get into a lot of them! We have found one that works pretty well, though.

Gray squirrel drinks

A gray squirrel takes a drink

Another thing we have discovered is that providing a big tub of fresh water is really important. It’s often hard for birds to find a source of unfrozen water in the winter and this really helps them out! We keep ours free of ice with a simple bird bath de-icer. It is amazing how much the birds use it. We literally have flocks of bluebirds and cedar waxwings congregating around the water trough all through the winter. Even the squirrels and possums come up for a drink!

A flock of bluebirds enjoys a drink at the water trough!

A little red-breasted nuthatch pecks at a suet cake

A little red-breasted nuthatch
pecks at a suet cake

Once you begin feeding the birds, remember to keep your feeders full throughout the winter as the birds will come to depend on this source of food! Here are some simple recipes for some tasty treats for your birds this winter. You could also consider planting some seed, fruit, and berry producing trees, shrubs, and perennials throughout your landscape. These will not only provide a natural source of food for the birds, but will also give them some great “hiding places”.

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

   Enjoy this beautiful holiday season!

Holly berries covered with a light hoar frost

It’s holiday decorating time! Such a fun time of the year to get the house and porches all spruced up for the season! Holly, mistletoe, and …

Wait! Where are my holly berries? This is a question we often get in the fall and early winter. Many people plant holly trees and bushes so that they can cut berry laden boughs for beautiful holiday arrangements both indoors and out. But sometimes they are disappointed when the colorful berries fail to appear.

We are having a problem with having any berries on our holly shrub. What are we missing?”

Ilex opaca 'Merry Christmas' is aptly named with its reliable profusion of red berries in fall and winter.

Ilex opaca ‘Merry Christmas’

The trouble is, hollies are dioecious plants, meaning the male and female flowers are produced on separate plants. The male holly produces pollen bearing staminate flowers and the female plant produces pistillate flowers which, if pollinated, will normally develop berries.

If you only have a female holly and there is no male in the area, you will never* get berries because there is no pollen to pollinate the female flowers. If you only have a male holly, you won’t get berries either – for obvious reasons. This is true of both the evergreen hollies and the deciduous hollies.

*There are a few hollies (parthenocarpic species) that can produce berries without pollination but this is not the norm. Ilex cornuta ‘Burfordii’ is one holly that does not require pollination for fruit set.

If your hollies aren’t producing berries, the first thing to do is to check to make sure that you have both a male and female holly plant. It is best if these hollies are of the same species so that they will flower at the same time. This helps ensure good pollination which should result in a reliable berry crop. If you have NEVER had berries on your hollies, this could be the reason.

Male flowers of Ilex verticillata showing bright yellow pollen

Male flowers of Ilex verticillata showing bright yellow pollen.

The plant label should identify whether the plant is a male or female. Male hollies often (but not always) have male-type names like ‘Southern Gentlemen’, ‘Jim Dandy’, ‘Jersey Knight’, ‘China Boy’ …

If you don’t have a label, examining the flowers is a good way to determine whether a holly is male or female. The small, inconspicuous holly flowers appear in the spring.

  • The flowers of male hollies have four (or more) stamens topped with bright yellow pollen. The male flowers are normally borne in clusters (cymes).
  • Female flowers of Ilex 'Blue Princess'.

    Female flowers of Ilex ‘Blue Princess’.

    Female hollies usually produce solitary flowers. These flowers have a green “berry-like” structure in the center. The stigma which receives the pollen is found at the top of this structure. Bees and other insect pollinators carry pollen from the male flowers to the stigma. If the flower is pollinated, a full-sized green berry quickly develops – if not, the flower dies and falls off without producing a berry.

One male holly can serve as a pollinator for multiple female plants. The male should be planted within a few hundred yards of the females. Bees are the main pollinators and will carry the pollen to the female flowers.

What if you have had holly berries in the past but not this year?

Since holly berries were produced in previous seasons, this would indicate that there are both male and female plants present in your landscape. The lack of berry production in one season could be the result of some environmental or weather related issue that affected the pollination of the flowers in the spring.

  • Late frosts or freezes can damage or kill the flowers and result in loss of the berry crop for that season.
  • Misty, rainy, or cold weather in the spring at the time of flowering can inhibit or limit pollination because bees are not as active in these conditions. If weather like this persists, it can affect pollination and result in a reduced berry crop.
  • Summer drought can cause berries to shrivel and drop off.
Bright red berries of Ilex verticillata in early fall before the leaves drop.

Bright red berries of Ilex verticillata in early fall before the leaves drop.

Healthy hollies will reward you with a beautiful crop of berries as long as the conditions above are met. Be sure to feed them with a quality organic fertilizer like Espoma Holly-tone in the spring and fall. Water them deeply during dry periods in the summer and even in winter if the ground isn’t frozen and it has been dry.

Until next time –

      Happy Gardening!


Ilex verticillata in the snow.  Beautiful!

Ilex verticillata ‘Sparkleberry’ in the snow. Beautiful!

Unripe figs grow along a branch

Figs – I’ve never tried growing them but we get numerous calls and e-mail questions about them from people that do. They seem to be quite popular little fruits to grow. Apparently if your only exposure to figs has been Fig Newtons or dried figs, you have been missing out on a real treat by never trying fresh figs.

Fig trees are often found around old homes in the south where they were widely planted.

Fig trees are often found around
old homes in the south where they
were widely planted.

Figs have been grown since ancient times and are actually one of the oldest cultivated crops. They are very easy to grow and relatively disease and pest free. I’m guessing that these attributes plus the bonus of delicious, sweet fruit are the main attractions for growing them.

Most of the fig questions we get are from people who are growing them in colder areas and are wondering either how to protect them over the winter or how to deal with winter dieback in the spring.

The common fig (Ficus carica) is a semi-tropical plant that is winter hardy without protection only as far north as Zone 8. Many varieties can be grown in colder areas if they are provided with winter protection or if they are grown in pots and brought inside during the winter. ‘Brown Turkey’, ‘Hardy Chicago’, and ‘Celeste’ are a few of the most cold hardy cultivars and these normally do well in Zone 6 and 7 if they are planted in a sheltered location and provided with some type of winter protection once the leaves drop in the fall.

This fig tree growing in the Shenandoah Valley produces fruit in most years without protection because of its sheltered location.

This fig tree growing in the
Shenandoah Valley bears fruit
most years without protection because
of its sheltered location.

Fig trees grow and produce best when they are provided with lots of sun and moist but well-drained soil. Feed them with a good organic fertilizer like Espoma Holly-tone in the spring and fall. Although they are fairly drought tolerant, they should be watered during dry periods in the summer. They really aren’t too fussy. The main thing is to plant them in a protected spot in colder regions.

In general, a southern or western exposure is best. A really good sheltered location would be along a south facing wall because this not only provides a windbreak but it can absorb heat during the day (especially a brick wall) and radiate it back at night protecting the plants from temperature extremes.

Here’s something else to think about when contemplating a good planting spot for figs and other plants that are prone to winter damage:

In winter, a southern exposure usually becomes shaded by 3 o’clock in the afternoon. This shade causes the air temperature to decrease gradually through the afternoon and evening.

In contrast, an area with a southwestern exposure normally receives no afternoon shade and therefore, when the sun sets, the temperature drop is radical and fast. In this situation, winter injury of plants is more likely to occur (especially with evergreens).

These figs will turn soft and brownish when ripe

These figs will turn soft and
brownish purple when ripe

When they are planted outside in Zones 6 and 7, they need to be protected in some way during the winter. One of the best ways to do this is to surround the tree with black roofing paper and carefully pack straw or oak leaves inside around the branches and stems. Use stakes to hold the cylinder of roofing paper in place. The black roofing paper will not only provide a wind screen, but it also absorbs heat from the sun and keeps the fig warmer in the winter. You can also create an enclosure with wire fencing surrounded with burlap but this won’t absorb heat the way the roofing paper does. It may be necessary to tip back some of the branches to make the tree easier to cover and if the fig is very wide, you can carefully draw the branches together with twine before making your enclosure.

The other option for growing figs in areas where they are not winter hardy is to grow them outside in a pot during the summer and move them inside for the winter. In this case, you might want to choose one of the dwarf varieties like ‘Petite Negri’, although ‘Brown Turkey’ and ‘Celeste’ also do well in containers and they normally stay under 10′ tall. Plus, they can always be pruned to keep them at a manageable height.

Always prune to an outward facing bud

Always prune to an outward facing bud

Ideally, figs should be pruned in the late winter when they are dormant. Thinning out the center of the tree to allow more light penetration is important. Remove dead, damaged and diseased branches, crossing branches, weak branches, and those that are growing straight up (water sprouts) on the main branches first then, if necessary, cut back the remaining branches to a height that will allow easy harvest of the fruit.

In colder areas, dieback in the winter is very common and once they break into growth, you may find that more pruning is needed to remove this dead wood. Damaged branches should be pruned back to healthy tissue. You can identify healthy tissue because it will bleed some white sap and the tissue under the bark will be green. Cut the branch just above an outward facing bud.

Ripe figs will be soft and will droop on the branches

Ripe figs will be soft and will
droop on the branches

Figs generally produce fruit on both old wood (an early summer crop) and new wood (a late summer crop). It is important to avoid any major summer pruning as this will limit your late summer fig crop. In colder climates, the early crop may be lost if buds freeze over the winter.

Well, there is your short course on growing figs. It might be a fun project to try next spring. Figs are one of the quickest bearing fruit trees, often producing fruit the very first year after planting.

As for figgy pudding, I’ve had traditional English figgy pudding once. It has a unique flavor to say the least!

Not saying I didn’t enjoy it but I prefer pumpkin pie!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

Acer griseum has attractive foliage and interesting bark

Recently, we’ve been talking about transplanting some of our trees and shrubs. I’m not talking about digging them and replanting them in OUR yard but digging them, potting them up, and eventually planting them next summer at my mom’s in Vermont and at my son’s new home in Maine.

This Hosta 'Green Pie Crust' has beautiful fall color. We will definitely divide and share some of these!

Hosta ‘Green Pie Crust’ has
striking fall color. We will definitely
divide and share some of these!

We have some special trees and shrubs at our house and we were thinking it would be nice to share them. Gardeners do this all the time with friends and family or if they are moving to a new home and want to take some of their special plants with them.

In many cases, this isn’t too difficult to do – especially with perennials. Depending on the species, perennials can simply be dug and moved to their new location. Some of course have special timing requirements; for instance peonies should only be moved in the fall after they are dormant and hosta are best dug and moved in the spring. If you can’t get them in the ground right away – no problem, just pot them up. Most perennials will hold for months until the time is convenient for planting.

Certain perennials like daylilies can be dug, divided, and kept as bare root plants in cold storage for quite a while without harm.

Things get a little trickier when it comes to moving trees and shrubs. Generally, trees and shrubs should be transplanted when they are dormant. This could mean late fall, winter, or early spring. Obviously digging cannot happen when the ground is frozen; but plants should also not be dug when the ground is soggy. Digging plants in wet soil can increase the damage to the small roots that are so important for water and nutrient absorption.

We will root prune this young holly in a few weeks and dig it and pot it up in the spring.

We will root prune this young holly
in a few weeks then dig it and
pot it up in the spring.

Most deciduous trees and shrubs can be moved in the fall or spring but evergreens should be moved in the late winter or spring if possible. This is because evergreens lose water through their leaves during the winter and since many of the small water absorbing roots are removed or damaged when a tree or shrub is dug, the remaining root system may not be able to absorb enough water to replace the water that is lost. This can result in excessive winter damage.

Moving trees and shrubs when they are young and small increases the likelihood of success. The older they are, the more extensive their root system and the larger the root ball has to be.

The size of the root ball is determined by the spread of a shrub or the diameter of the trunk at chest height for trees.

  • For shrubs, you should have a minimum of 6″ of root ball for each 12″ in spread. If you can handle a larger root ball, even better.
  • For trees, you should have a minimum of 12″ of root ball for every 1″ in trunk diameter. Trees with a trunk greater than 2″ in diameter will require a huge root ball and will be very difficult to dig and move without professional help.

Here are a few tips for digging trees and shrubs.

Root Pruning

When you are moving an established tree or shrub, you will increase your chance of a successful transplant if you root prune in the spring or fall prior to digging. We will be doing this for the little trees we are planning to dig next spring. Root pruning encourages the formation of new feeder roots and reduces transplant shock when the plant is eventually dug and replanted. Root pruning should only be done when the tree or shrub is dormant; after the leaves of deciduous trees have dropped in the fall or before bud break in the spring.

There are two methods of root pruning – spading and trenching.

This young maple seedling should transplant well

This young maple seedling
should transplant well

Spading is the simplest method and is sufficient for small/young trees and shrubs. It involves using a sharp spade to cut straight down through the soil about 12″ deep around the entire tree or shrub. This should be done a few inches closer to the trunk than the size of the root ball you will eventually dig. This slices through the roots and stimulates the growth of new feeder roots. Be sure that the spade you use is sharp so it makes a clean cut.

Trenching involves more work but is the better method to use when you plan to move larger, more established trees and shrubs. With this method, you basically dig a 12″ – 14″ deep, 6″ – 8″ wide trench around the tree of shrub. The outer edge of the trench will define the outer edge of the root ball. After the trench is completed, backfill the trench with a mixture of the native soil and some good quality compost. Feeder roots will develop and grow into this loose soil. It may take a while to get good root production throughout the trench so you may want to do this a year in advance of moving the tree.

After root pruning (regardless of which method you use), water the tree or shrub well, apply a good organic fertilizer like Espoma Plant-tone or Holly-tone,  and mulch with 3″ of a good quality organic mulch. Be sure to provide water as needed until the plant is dug.

Paperbark maple gets its name from the interesting exfoliating bark.

Paperbark maple gets its name from
the interesting exfoliating bark.

The trees we will be digging are still pretty small so we will just root prune using the spading method. They haven’t dropped their leaves yet so we will need to wait a few weeks before we do this.

Acer griseum (paperbark maple) is one of the trees we are going to transplant. This tree was given to us by a very good friend and there are two nice seedlings that have come up under the tree. Acer griseum is a very attractive small maple that grows to about 20′ – 30′ tall. It has beautiful exfoliating bark that is cinnamon colored and smooth underneath.

Beautiful fall color!

Beautiful fall color!

The leaves are three lobed with a delicate texture and the fall foliage is spectacular turning the tree into a flaming red color in most years. It is one of the last of all the maples to color up in the fall and is a really cool tree to have!

Another one that we want to share is one of the purple-leaved smoketrees, Cotinus coggygria. There are several purple-leaved cultivars and I’m not sure which one this is but it has beautiful foliage color from spring through fall.

The color has now begun to fade but last week this Cotinus foliage was beautiful

The color is now fading but last week
this Cotinus foliage was beautiful

The oval leaves are purple through the summer and turn a nice burnt orange in the fall.

We noticed that a few of the lower branches have self-layered creating several small plants that we will be able to dig up in the spring.

A few small hollies that are the perfect size for transplanting have come up here and there in our woods. We will be digging a few of these as well!

It will be cool to share a few of our favorite trees with our family – luckily they are hardy up there.


Think about sharing some of your own special plants. They are the perfect gift from one gardener to another!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

Woolly Bear

Personally, I haven’t seen very many woolly bears this fall but a lot of people visiting the nursery lately have and they say that these fat, furry caterpillars are mostly black this year. “What does that mean about the coming winter?”, they often ask. It’s hard for people to remember how this little tale goes.

So, in honor of Halloween and the imminent end of Daylight Savings, I thought I’d re-post my woolly bear story.

Here you go – from September 2010 …

Can woolly bears really predict the weather?

Do woolly bears really predict the weather?

They’re beginning to cross the road in front of my car as I drive to work in the morning – everyday I see more of them. It has gotten me thinking about these beloved fuzzy caterpillars that children of ALL ages find irresistible. You have to admit – they really are pretty cute!

Most of us have heard the story about how woolly bears can predict the severity of the coming winter by the pattern of the orange and black stripes on their fuzzy bodies . . .
but is there any truth in the tale? And how does the story go – does a wide orange band mean a harder winter or is it a narrow orange band and lots of black that predicts the hard winter? I, for one, can never remember!

Well here’s the scoop straight from the Old Farmer’s Almanac:

The longer the middle orange band on the woolly bear, the milder and shorter the winter will be. Conversely, the shorter the orange band, hence the more black on the woolly bear, the longer and harsher the winter will be.

This woolly bear would predict a short, mild winter. Boy was he off on his prediction!

This woolly bear would predict a short, mild
winter. Boy was he off on his prediction!

Now, is there any scientific evidence to back this bit of folklore? In a word – no!

Well, I mean not really. The lengths of the orange and black bands are really a function of the age of the caterpillar. Woolly bears are the larval stage of the Isabella Tiger Moth, a not-very-impressive moth that you might see fluttering around your porch lights at night during the summer. The woolly bear caterpillars molt (shed their skin) several times as they grow and each time they do, the orange band gets longer and the black ends get shorter. So if you see a woolly bear that is mostly orange, that just means it’s older and more mature!

So much for their prediction of the winter of 2009-2010! Our woolly  bears were way off last year!

So much for their prediction of
the winter of 2009-2010! Our woolly
bears were way off last year!

But here’s some food for thought … what if you have a long, mild fall? The woolly bears will stay active longer and keep growing and molting. The orange band will become wider and wider! Hmmmm, does a mild fall predict a mild winter? And what if winter comes early? A shorter fall season will mean that the woolly bears are younger/haven’t molted as often before they seek shelter for the winter, resulting in a relatively narrow orange band and more black on their fuzzy bodies. Is a harsh winter on the way?

The woolly bears I found around the nursery last year were an epic failure as far as predicting our winter – most had a lot of orange and very little black! A mild winter? Not by a long shot! We had one of the hardest, snowiest winters on record in the Shenandoah Valley!

I wonder if they’ll do any better this year. I haven’t seen any close enough yet to see their color pattern – have you?

Happy Halloween everybody!

Native dogwoods have beautiful fall color

The trees are donning their brilliant fall colors, the fields of corn and soybeans are being harvested, the last tomatoes and beans are being picked from the garden – fall is here!

pruning with hand shearsThese beautiful, crisp, cool days of autumn are when we begin to put our gardens to bed for the season. This has many gardeners venturing out with shears in hand to primp and prune and otherwise tidy up in the garden.
While it is a great idea to cut back some of your herbaceous perennials in the fall, you should keep your pruning shears and loppers away from your trees and shrubs for a while yet.

Why? Because pruning stimulates regrowth. Plants respond to pruning with a burst of new growth; the more severe the pruning, the heavier the regrowth. If this growth occurs during the warm days of fall, the tender new shoots that develop will not have time to harden before the winter cold sets in and they become prone to winter damage.

A majestic oak silhouetted against the winter sky

A majestic oak silhouetted
against the winter sky

In general, woody plants should be pruned when they are dormant. This usually means in late fall, winter, or early spring.

How do you know when trees and shrubs are dormant?

It’s easy enough to tell when deciduous trees and shrubs are dormant because they lose their leaves but it’s not as clear cut with evergreens since they keep their leaves through the winter. Luckily, evergreen trees and shrubs normally enter dormancy in the late fall around the same time as deciduous plants.

Not all pruning is done during the dormant period

Pruning quince at the wrong time leads to loss of bloom

Pruning flowering quince at the wrong
time leads to loss of the bloom

Though trees and shrubs can always be pruned when they are dormant, there are good reasons to delay pruning of some species. This is especially true when it comes to the spring flowering trees and shrubs. If you prune these during the dormant period, you will be removing many if not all of the flower buds and this will obviously impact the spring bloom!

Many gardeners are tempted to prune their trees and shrubs in the fall as part of their fall clean-up chores – to tidy up scraggly looking or overgrown plants. Before you cut (even if they are dormant), it is important to think about when they flower and the age of the wood that produces the flowers.

Spring blooming shrubs like rhododendron should be pruned after flowering

Spring blooming shrubs like
rhododendron should be pruned
right after they finish flowering

Generally, trees and shrubs that flower in the spring form their flower buds in the previous season, usually in the late summer or early fall. These plants flower on “old wood” or growth that was produced the summer before. Because the flower buds are already set on the branches, you should try to avoid pruning them in the fall, winter, or spring. Shrubs like azalea, rhododendron, lilac, some hydrangea, forsythia, viburnum, and trees like dogwood, redbud, and crabapple fall into this category.

The best time to prune these spring bloomers is right after they finish blooming. Pruning at this time can range from simple deadheading of spent blooms to heading back branches and thinning to reshape or reduce the size of the plant. Here are some tips for pruning spring blooming shrubs.

American holly tree after severe pruning

American holly after severe pruning

The exception to this rule is if you want to do any heavy pruning. Severe pruning, including rejuvenation pruning where you might cut a shrub down to 12″ to 24″ or lower, should be done when the plant is dormant – usually in March. Obviously you must sacrifice the bloom for that season and possibly the following season as well but in most cases, you will be rewarded with a beautiful “new” shrub. Not all shrubs can be pruned hard like this so be sure to do some research before you start chopping!

Summer flowering trees and shrubs form flower buds on the new growth that is produced in the spring and summer. These are normally pruned in the spring before growth begins. However in colder regions, we often recommend that you delay pruning until the threat of very cold weather is past. This sometimes means pruning after growth has begun but don’t worry, it won’t hurt the plant.

Summer pruning

Summer is a good time to prune certain trees and shrubs if you don’t want to encourage a lot of new growth. As I mentioned earlier, pruning stimulates growth, especially when it is done in the spring. Pruning in summer has a dwarfing effect because growth is slower at this time.

This Kieffer pear was pruned in winter. This resulted in vigorous water sprout growth.

This Kieffer pear was pruned in winter.
This resulted in vigorous water sprout
growth in the spring.

For instance, summer is a great time to prune water sprouts – those vigorous stems that grow straight up parallel to the main stem. Pruning them out in the summer can reduce the number of water sprouts that will develop the following season.

Summer is also a good time to prune trees that are heavy bleeders like maple, birch, and dogwood. It is best to avoid pruning these trees just before and during active growth in the spring because they have a heavy sap flow at this time.

A good pruning book will give you recommendations on the timing and techniques for pruning specific trees and shrubs. A handbook like this is a valuable addition to your gardening library.

For more pruning tips, visit our website.

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

Hydrangea macrophylla is blue when grown in acidic soil

Recently, several questions related to pruning different trees and shrubs have come to my inbox or have been posted to our Discussion Board. One of these questions was regarding Endless Summer hydrangea.

I have 7 Endless Summer Hydrangeas that did not bloom at all this year. In previous years, I had tons of blooms, so I did something wrong when I pruned them. I can’t remember what time of year it was the last time I pruned them, but I have not touched them at all this year. They are lush and green and growing, but no flowers. When should I prune them to ensure flowers next spring and summer? I live in Southern NH, about 50 miles north of Boston.”

Lacecaps are beautiful in summer as long as the flower buds survive the winter.

Lacecaps are beautiful as long as
the flower buds survive the winter.

Hydrangea macrophylla, which includes the mophead and lacecap hydrangeas, normally blooms on “old wood”; that is, growth that was produced in the previous season. At the northern edge of their hardiness range, the flower buds of these hydrangeas, which are formed in August and September, are sometimes damaged or killed during severe winters. This means few or no blooms the following season. This happened to my lacecaps this year. In addition, if these shrubs are pruned at the wrong time (in the fall or spring), all those flower buds will be removed and oops – again, no flowers!

The Endless Summer Series is a unique group of Hydrangea macrophylla that blooms on both old wood and new wood. How cool is that? They are also hardier than lacecaps and other mopheads, surviving and blooming even as far north as Zone 4!

Endless Summer flowers are pink in less acidic soils

Endless Summer flowers are pink
in soils that have a higher pH.

If the flower buds that are produced in the fall are killed during a severe winter, no problem! These Endless Summer hydrangeas will still bloom later in the summer, since they readily produce flower buds on the current season’s growth. Because of this trait, they normally flower reliably every year regardless of winter severity.

Then what is happening with these seven Endless Summer hydrangeas?
Why didn’t they bloom?

That’s a good question but I suspect that it is not an issue of improper pruning. Regardless of how you prune these shrubs (unless you keep whacking back the new growth all summer), you should still get at least some summer blooms as long as they are healthy, get enough sun, and are fed and watered properly.

Beautiful, healthy green growth but no flowers.

Beautiful, healthy green growth
but no flowers.

The problem here is more likely to be related to nutrition. Since these shrubs have lush leafy growth, it seems that they are healthy and growing well – perhaps too well. If a flowering plant receives too much nitrogen, it will grow like gangbusters and “forget about” producing flowers. This is what you want for your grass – not your flowering plants.

In fact, this is sometimes what happens when flowering trees and shrubs are planted in the lawn rather than in designated flowerbeds. Your lawn is fertilized with a high nitrogen fertilizer so it grows lush and green but guess what? If your flowering plants are growing in the lawn, they are getting the same high nitrogen food. What’s their response? Grow lots of foliage and no flowers! The nutrient responsible for flower bud production is phosphorus, an element that has recently been removed from most lawn fertilizers.

I have no idea if this is the situation for these particular Endless Summer hydrangeas, but regardless of where they are growing, these shrubs may just need a shot of phosphorus in order to initiate flower bud production. A bloom booster fertilizer or Espoma Triple Super Phosphate (0-45-0) might do the trick. I suggested that she feed them with a good quality organic fertilizer such as Espoma Holly-tone plus an application of Super Phosphate according to the label directions. Hopefully, this will help and her Endless Summer hydrangeas will bloom next season.

So what about pruning?

How and when DO you prune Endless Summer hydrangeas?
The best time to do any structural pruning is just after they finish their initial bloom in early summer.

Dead stems should be cut back to live wood with healthy buds.

Dead stems should be cut back to
live green wood with healthy buds.

In the spring once the new leaves have fully expanded, any branch tips that were killed over the winter should be pruned back to live wood. In more northern areas, this may mean more extensive pruning and the loss of the early bloom.

When the first blooms fade, do any necessary pruning to reshape or reduce their size or just deadhead the flowers. This pruning will stimulate new growth and the formation of flower buds for the summer rebloom. Deadhead the flowers throughout the summer to encourage the production of additional blooms. You can even cut flowering stems for indoor arrangements and this will stimulate the production of more flowers!

All pruning of Hydrangea macrophylla, including the Endless Summer varieties,  should be completed by the end of July because after that, in August and September, the flower buds for the next season’s early bloom will be forming.

Until next time – Happy Gardening!


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