Thinking outside the Knockout

Roses are red, violets are blue; Knockouts are nice, but others are too!

I’ll stop there before I make you cringe any further with my lame attempt at poetry.

You see them just about everywhere now…the ubiquitous red Knockout rose. And for good reason. They are disease resistant, hardy, and bloom prolifically from spring through early fall. And they come in multiple colors (red, pink, white, yellow, to name a few), and single or double blooms. And I don’t mean to “knock” on the Knockouts, but as with any popular plant, I always advocate for the use of a variety of cultivars. And there are still many great shrub roses out there with the same carefree nature as the Knockouts. Case in point, I just planted this beauty last week, in a wine barrel.

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This rose is a compact, dwarf variety called Suntory Sunrosa™ Red. It stays on the small side, not getting much bigger than 1 foot tall by 2 feet wide. The blooms are smaller than the Knockouts but color is a true red and the flowers have a Carnation appearance to them. Additionally, they are super disease resistant and easy to grow, requiring less pruning than the Knockouts to maintain a nice shape and size. And like the Knockouts, this rose also comes in yellow and pink!

Another series of shrub rose I’m fond of is the Oso Easy™ collection from Proven Winners. These roses come in a wider array of colors/flower shapes and growth habit than the Knockouts, but with the same easygoing nature.

And lastly, another favorite of mine is the Carefree™ Wonder Rose. This shrub rose boasts large, double pink (and lightly fragrant!) blooms on a disease resistant plant that gets a little bigger than the first two roses I mentioned.

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My bad poetry aside, hopefully I gave you some ideas and inspiration to try some new roses in you garden this fall and next spring!

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Yellows and oranges and reds, oh my!

Ah, October. Without a doubt my favorite time of the year, when the mornings are cool and crisp but not yet cold…perfect for apple picking in the Shenandoah Valley, passing through rustic small towns, sipping hot cider. And, of course, getting some fall planting done, with a mind towards fall color in the garden, one last “hurrah” from nature before many shrubs and trees go to sleep for the winter.

I’ve put together a little slideshow featuring my top picks for plants that will light up the garden in shades of yellow, orange, and red. They are all native to the eastern U.S. and are easy to grow, and most of them are beneficial for wildlife as well. As long as temperatures stay above freezing, you can continue to plant.

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After a brief “paws”, garden work resumes

I have a legitimate excuse this time for the long gap between updates. My wife and I recently brought this cute little guy home:

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So, as I’m sure you can imagine, the last two weeks have been spent getting him settled in. Mostly a lot of “no, don’t eat that” or “oh, I see you have to go potty right now.” It’s all good though, he’s very sweet and a lot of fun to have around!

But this has meant that work in the garden has been proceeding at a slower pace. Weeds got a little out of control while we were tending to little Orsillo. But, I managed to plant several different native perennials (Coneflower, Black Eyed Susans, and Yarrow) next to the deck, and as you can see, there is still a ton of space to fill in.

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I’m going for a meadow/prairie look here, so I’ll likely add some ornamental grasses (like Schyzachyrium (Little Blue Stem) or Panicum (Switch Grass) as well as Monarda (Bee Balm) and Liatris (Gayfeather). All of these plants will benefit wildlife, in addition to (hopefully) choking out the Bermuda grass that constantly tries to creep in and take over everything.

Not far from this spot, the Arborvitae and Red Twig dogwoods I planted along the back of the house are looking great!

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The dogwoods are beginning to flower; the blooms themselves are not particularly showy, but that’s just fine, because the berries are the real prize later in the summer. By late fall, the stems of the dogwoods are a bright red and will contrast nicely with the green of the Thuja I planted between them.

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In the edible garden, we’ve been enjoying a steady flow of green beans, zucchini, and okra, with tomatoes just now starting to come in, and peppers, eggplant, cantaloupe and watermelon soon to follow. You can find pics of the vegetable garden and much more up on my Instagram page.

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A word about pruning crape myrtles

It never ceases to amaze me how many people buy crape myrtles without giving a thought to how big they’ll get in a short amount of time. I say this because I all-too-frequently am seeing crape myrtles being cut back way too hard in late winter and early spring, even by landscapers who ought to know better.

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Hacking back crape myrtles to 3’ stumps not only results in the loss of blooms for the the next two, possibly three seasons, but produces new growth that is weaker and less cold hardy than the older wood that was cut away. Not to mention the unsightly “knobs” that form around where the trunk is repeatedly cut year after year.

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If you’re finding that you have to prune back your crape myrtle that severely, then you’ve probably picked the wrong plant for that spot. But if you really don’t want to go without a crape myrtle, there are a growing number of new dwarf cultivars that stay smaller, many of them small shrubs rather than medium sized trees. These new cultivars include:

But in any case, it’s still a good idea to know how to properly prune crape myrtles. Ideally, you want to only remove broken branches, and branches that are crossing/rubbing up against each other, or facing inwards towards the center of the plant.

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When finished, the crape myrtle should appear thinned out while still maintaining it’s natural shape and structure:

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Hey winter, take a hike! I’ve got planting to do

It’s been a long couple of weeks, waiting for old man winter to pack his bags and hit the road. Up until the last few days, mornings have been frigid with highs at or just below the freezing mark. Having learned a long time ago to temper my itch to start planting, I didn’t have to worry about any damage from our recent late frosts. In fact, I took advantage of the mild afternoons to get a lot of prep work done, in anticipation of spring finally arriving for real:

And after finishing up some hoeing and weeding the other day, I found one of the neighbor’s chickens roaming our back yard, pecking at bugs, seemingly unbothered by my presence.

Neighbors buff orpington on bug patrol in our yard

A video posted by Rudie V (@the_garden_dude) on Apr 16, 2016 at 3:24pm PDT

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The best of spring blooms: Asian magnolias

Few flowering trees are as magnificent in early spring as the Asian magnolias! Flowers emerge long before the leaves (anywhere from mid-February to late March depending on the weather), and many of them are quite fragrant. Most of the Asian species of Magnolias are large, upright shrubs or small trees, usually staying below 20’ at maturity (with the exception of Saucer magnolia, M. soulangiana, which eventually becomes a full sized shade tree). In return for their beautiful spring show, they do have some requirements to pay attention to when choosing one to plant in your yard or garden. They are very prone to flowering during an early spell of warm weather, only to be zapped by frost a few days later, though there are several hybrid cultivars that flower a little later in spring, thus generally avoiding damaging frosts. These are known as the “Little Girl” hybrids (look for cultivars with the names ‘Ann’, ‘Jane’, ‘Betty’, ‘Judy’, or ‘Susan’).  Magnolias do not like to be crowded up against other plants, performing much better in an open space with good air circulation in full sun. It’s also important to keep new plantings well watered the first year while they get established. Without further ado, here is a small sampling of Asian magnolias!

IMG_0482Magnolia acuminata ‘Butterflies’

 

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Magnolia x ‘Jane’

 

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Magnolia denudata

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Azaleas blooming, apple tree grafting

Took this shot today at work of one of our Exbury hybrid azaleas in full bloom. In addition to those stunning blooms, the fragrance is heavenly! Exbury azaleas are hybrids of several native deciduous azaleas that grow in the shady understory of the coastal plain and Piedmont of the Southeast.

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This past weekend, one of Richmond’s local cideries hosted a workshop on how to graft apple trees. Grafting is the technique of taking the scion wood (top half) of a tree that produces the fruit you want, and attaching it to the root stock of a tree that is cold hardy/heat tolerant/disease resistant. All apple trees have to be propagated this way, since they do not breed true to type from seed.

Anyway, we were given two varieties for the scion wood (old heirlooms, Albemarle Black and Golden Pearmead) to graft onto the root stock of the dependable Red Delicious. It took me some time to get the angle of the cut just right, as the thin layer of tissue on both pieces of stem have to line up very closely, with maximum contact giving you the best chance of the graft “taking.” Two cuts on my finger and what seemed like fifteen attempts later, I had two apple seedlings with successful grafts. Both are now planted in the back yard, with a homemade fence around them to keep the deer and other critters away.

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The trees are still many years away from bearing, but that’s a small price to pay for having apples to pick within a stone’s throw of the back door!

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