Archive for the ‘Trees and Shrubs’ Category

Jennie writes: I think I have finally found a place at our home for a sumac.  My farmer husband, working hard to keep our ditchbanks and drain tiles free of tree and shrub roots, does not appreciate “brush” as I do, so I needed to find a place where its suckering tendencies can be kept in check. In fact, a place where it is not likely to thrive but to struggle somewhat. Then I should be able to restrain its rapid growth as we have in the native row along the Extension parking lot, by severe pruning.  The photo shows why I want it.  The straight species’ fall colors tend to bright and deep reds, which would not show up against our barns, and they do not have such long, graceful “fronds” of such soft texture.  I do not want the yellow-leaved ‘Tiger Eye’ cultivar but the natural cutleaf mutation of staghorn that I understand was first found in Vermont. Along a barn-red machine shed the thick brown furry antler-like twigs won’t show up much in winter but the blazing yellow-green-orange fall color will, and in that hard clay, with a concrete foundation on one side and mowed tall fescue on the other, its rhizomes will be limited. Some summer day my granddaughters and I will make a cool, tart drink from the red seedheads as native Americans did.


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We are pleased to announce a new feature  that will be appearing on a regular basis as a series of photo essays.  Our new correspondent is a long time MG as well as being an accomplished photographer.  These two traits have been combined to give an interesting new perspective on what we routinely take for granted around our exhibition gardens.

“When most gardeners have cut their plants and stored their tools for winter,

the master gardener sees things differently”

The knowledge of the MG plus the keen eye of a photographer have focused in on some of the overlooked aspects of the unique plants we have.  Even common weeds take on a new face and have a beauty all of their own when viewed through the eyes of a MG!

When we photograph plants and flowers, the natural tendency is to want to capture as much of the scene as possible – often with a loss of detail.  The trained photographer has learned to block out the extraneous and concentate on capturing the unusual or striking feature of a subject that will tell a story.  Jennie,  Sue and I have all shot the gardens at various stages, but our focus was mainly on just recording a specimen as a whole  or a landscape vista.

To make my point, just consider how much more detail becomes apparent when a photo is cropped and all other extraneous detail is removed.  You have to look no further than the header photos Sue features in the blog.

You can do this in the field by careful composition,  planning and sharp focusing on the subject to minimize distracting backgrounds.

We hope you will enjoy this new take on the plants we have and that you might want to copy some of the same techniques in your own garden photography.

Unlike our Mystery Plant and What’s that Plant series – the correspondent will remain the mystery.  See if you can name the plants!

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Hamamelis virginiana

Flower of the American Witch Hazel

What shrub is blooming at this time of year?  It is Hamamelis virginiana or American witch hazel.   Blooming in October and November after the yellow Autumn leaves begin to drop, it is one of the last shrubs to flower.  The fragrant yellow flower petals look like crumpled shredded ribbon. Seed capsules take one year to mature and are expelled explosively from the capsule in the fall.  This is a deciduous multi-stemmed shrub or small tree that is an eastern North American native which normally grows 15-20’ tall but can reach 30’.  It grows in full sun to part shade at the edge of woodlands and prefers moist soil.   Pruning needs are minimal, normally to keep the shape, and if needed should be done early spring. This shrub is very adaptable to the home landscape.  Native Americans and early European settlers used the forked branch as a divining or witching rod to find underground sources of water.  The extract of leaves, twigs, and bark is use in astringent lotions.

  Go Native!

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Strangely enough, fall seems to be taking its sweet time in coming to our exhibition garden.  While most of the areas maples, sumacs and oaks are in full fall color, there are still a few of our deciduous plants that have yet to turn.  Jennie snapped a few photos  of some of these specimens and challenges you all to identify the plants and their location within the garden.

Fall Plant Quiz.

“these three native shrubs in the demo garden October 8, all have black fruits (reportedly edible but not tasty) and bright fall leaf colors.  They are not all located in the native shrub row.  Can you name them?”

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I had a few photos left over from our last W & L session, so I thought it would be fun to make a compilation and see if you can identify them.  They are all from plants growing within the exhibition garden and this should be a snap for you older hands…or maybe not.

Jennie will be the authoritative source for the correct answers, which will be in MG form of botanical and common name…and species or variety if known.  You can make this as hard or as easy as you like. Print out the sheet and write in your answers for a self quiz.  If you like, keep the completed form as a reference.  To make it a little more interesting, there is a “trick” entry.  See if you can spot it.








Sue is posting another direct link to the University of Minnesota Yard & Garden newsletter in the Gardening Resources section.  This extension site has a couple of interesting features we hope you will enjoy and use on a regular basis to identify some of the things around your garden.  I would like to thank fellow MG Sharon Diefenthaler for telling me about this site.  The “What’s this plant”, “What’s this bug” features are very popular with her students when they are quizzed on what they found in the greenhouse that day.

Please post your answers as a comment…if you want to play and impress everyone with your plant knowledge.

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It isn’t easy keeping a garden going in mid summer.  With no measurable rain to speak of, my  plants and lawns  really took a beating this year.  The only time I broke out the hose, was to do some deep watering on an as needed basis. But my garden was far from being on life support.   Plants do have a natural way of coping with these adverse conditions if you let them.  There is a surprising amount of moisture in the morning dew during mid to late summer, and the plants will tap this resource to stay alive.  I believe in deep mulching in order to conserve soil moisture and this has enabled me to keep a garden on a sand hill.

Drought stressed lawn on sandy ground leach bed

I have lived in some very arid areas and didn’t grow up with the tradition of a season long  green  lawn and bountiful annuals.  My landscapes in California were always drought resistant shrubs and shade trees.   The color came from borders of hardy gazanias, portulacas, vincas and other sun loving plants.  I am not suggesting xeriscape unless you want to do a variation of a southwest garden…but a little commonsense and an understanding of plant physiology will get you through these trying dry spells.

  •  TURF GRASS:   This is probably the most visible area of drought stress. You should ask yourself just how important it is to maintain that spring green, or you can become accepting of the summer stress and live with a brown lawn. The grass is not dead, but merely in a survival dormancy mode until the cooler temperatures and the regular rainfall pattern resumes.

Drought stressed lawn

Grasses need about 3/4 of an inch of water every three weeks to stay alive while dormant. You should try to avoid any heavy traffic over it while in this fragile state, or you will kill the grass.  Dr. Dean Krauskopf recommends applying the water ration in one application.  He cautions against random light sprinklings, as this will just cause the grass to break dormancy.  Unless you are prepared to water heavily from then on, the grass will be damaged if not killed.  Of course it helps to have planted the tall fescue type of grass and to have the mower set to at least 3″ high when coming into summer…and maintaining a good soil fertility.

  • VEGGIE GARDEN:  Here your method of growing will have the most effect on how you conserve moisture.  I have had a lot of success growing veggies in straw or a compost/straw mix for a variety of reasons.  I would recommend growing your veggies in some form of a heavily mulched bed, using a drip system for watering rather than overhead watering from a hose.  Not only will you avoid a lot of pathogen problems, but you will promote better root development by this method…and it will save you time and money by using less water.

Straw mulch and drip system

Tomato with mulch

Also pay attention to the particular growth stage of your plants.  For example, sweet corn that is in the ear filling (reproductive) stage will require extra water than when in the vegetative or leaf mode…if you want to harvest full juicy ears. The same applies for your root veggies, squashes and melons.

  • TOMATOES:   By far the most popular of our warm season vegetables, even these sun lovers can take a sudden turn for the worse in extremely hot weather. Tomatoes require daily watering if they are to be productive.  With a hose this should be in mid morning, taking care to avoid splashing wet soil onto the plants.

Tomato with blossom end rot

But be prepared for an interruption of fruit production when the average daytime temperatures are over 90 deg and the nighttime ones are over 70 deg. These plants will go into survival mode and do not set fruit as they attempt to control their sugar output.  Plant physiology once again is trying to weather the dry spell.

This is also true of the other solanaceous family relatives, the eggplant, pepper and potatoes…and even the distant relative, our showy petunia. Tomatoes need regular watering if they are already producing fruit to facilitate calcium uptake and avoid the common blossom end rot.  Take care not to overwater if the plants are coming out of drought stress, as you will leach out valuable nutrients including the all important calcium.  You can read more about this in some of MSUE’s vegetable tip sheets…just follow the resources links found in the blog index.

  • ANNUALS, POTS, HANGING BASKETS:   These are obviously the most vulnerable to heat stress.  Annual beds should be mulched to conserve moisture and watered frequently.  Pots and hanging baskets should be temporarily relocated to a less sunny position, preferably away from drying winds.  They should be watered at least twice daily if the containers are small.

Repotted drought damaged potted petunias

Also your choice of potting soil will play a big part in the overall well being of your container plants.  I gently try to repot or renew some of the light potting mix the nurseries use to grow the plant, with compost.  This medium  has superior water retention properties over its peat based cousins, as well as a good shot of valuable nutrients. I would not recommend using any foliar fertilizer during periods of extreme drought stress to avoid burning the foliage.  With pots I have found it better to use a quality pelletized fertilizer at planting to promote good root development, which will help the plant survive the summer heat.  Frequent applications of high nitrogen formulations will result in excessive leaf growth and impressive flowers, but at the cost of  increased watering during hot spells.

  • TREES AND SHRUBS:   Generally these will weather long dry spells as their root systems are larger and usually more developed.  This makes them able to more easily access the subsurface moisture that the more shallow rooted smaller plants cannot. The exceptions are of course, fresh transplants and young stock, which will require at least twice weekly watering or as needed during a prolonged dry spell.

Dehydrated evergreen

Drought stressed pine needles

Arborvitae with drought stress

Conifers, particularly arborvitae,  are susceptible to tip burn and browning in hot dry spells.  In this area, this is becoming quite prevalent as we are now in our second year of drought-like conditions.  Often these trees went into winter dormancy without adequate hydration and suffered some winter desiccation damage.  What you are seeing now is often the result of this cumulative drought damage.  It is very important to ensure these trees are well watered before going into winter dormancy.


As you can see much of this is just plain commonsense.  But it is often good to understand what makes your garden grow to avoid any of these problems. There is a wealth of information available online from reputable university extension sources to help you diagnose almost any problem in the garden.

Our blog has links to some from MSUE and a favorite Cornell site for veggie problems.  And of course you can always come and visit our office demo garden and see how we cope with an extremely dry spot year long, without sacrificing the variety of plantings of perennials or shrubs.

Frank Deutsch

Master Gardener 2010

Photographs courtesy of Jennie Stanger, except patio pot (mine) and blossom end rot tomato (MSUE)

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Sweetspire, or Itea Virginica "Little Henry" with Spring flowers

Are you a fan of “Burning Bush” Euonymus? Two years ago I planted a different shrub called Itea Virginica “Little Henry”. I also planted a variety called “Henry’s Garnet”. These deciduous shrubs have beautiful white flowers in the spring, green leaves in the summer, and gorgeous, deep burgundy color in the fall. They are very easy to grow and I recommend them instead of “Burning Bush” because of the beautiful flowers in the spring. Fall is a great time to plant woody ornamentals, so I hope you will try Itea Virginica in your yard.

Beautiful Fall Color of "Little Henry"

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Well, mourning is over and it’s time to move forward. Our once shady yard is now nearly full sun, thanks to the emerald ash borers that killed six mature ash trees in our yard. We have been gradually working at getting them down, but the last two years we’ve so enjoyed easily observing the hummingbirds, finches, chickadees, waxwings and other birds’ behaviors as they perched, courted, fought over territory and scouted for predators from the dead branches. We finally decided they had to come down and spent this weekend working at it. Since we enjoy watching the hummers so much, we’ve decided to leave the trunks and use them as structures for flowering vines. I’m really thinking about trumpet vine or wisteria, but am nervous about their thug-like natures. (One good thing – the trunks are not near the house or shed.) I’d also like to find something that would cover the trunks and bloom in the next two years. Our soil is sandy and with a neutral pH, maybe a tick or two into slightly alkaline. What would some of our more experienced MGs advise?

emerald ash borer damage

I'm seeing the potential...


...or at least trying to.

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