Species Tulips Thrive in Tough Spots

Tulipa bakeri 'Lilac Wonder'(photo from Brent and Becky's Bulbs, Gloucester, VA)

Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’(photo from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, Gloucester, VA)

T. 'Peppermint Stick' (photo from Brent and Becky's Bulbd, Gloucester, VA)

T. ‘Peppermint Stick’ (photo from Brent and Becky’s Bulbd, Gloucester, VA)

T.clusiana 'Cynthia' (photo from Brent and Becky's Bulb in Gloucester, VA)

T. clusiana ‘Cynthia’ (photo from Brent and Becky’s Bulb in Gloucester, VA)



Species tulips (mini-tulips) are tough! In the wild they grow in the winter environs and dry soils of Central Asia, the Middle East, and China (USDA hardiness zones 3-7). In gardens they prosper for many years in full to partial sun and in average soil with good drainage.

Over the centuries mini-tulips have been improved. Color choices include red, bright yellow, orangey-red, pink, orchid, white, and bi-colors. Bloom times vary from early thru late spring.

Mini-tulips partner well with low-growing varieties of stonecrops (Sedum), which also thrive in subpar soils and hot, dry sites. Avoid planting in poorly drained or soggy soils. Voles may become a serious pest.

Plant mini-tulips at the same time you’re sowing other spring-blooming bulbs from October thru December when average day temperatures are in low 4oºF range and the ground is not frozen. Bury them just 4-5 inches deep. No fertilizer or soil amending is needed.

To maximize their potential to naturalize, do not trim foliage after flowering ends; allow foliage to die back on its own.  New bulblets (offsets) and new bulb should develop underground. Mini-tulips suffer in southern U.S. zones if winter soil temps stay too warm to initiate flowers; plants also may germinate weakly and not bloom.

They’re small… so bunch a handful in pockets in flower borders, in rock gardens, along fences or walks. Tuck some around the base of late leafing deciduous trees.

Mr. Brent Heath, Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, VA, provided the following info:

T. sylvestris – stoloniferous, naturalizes in light shade, yellow, sweet fragrant outwardly facing flowers.

T. clusiana  var. chrysantha –high desert mountain type from Iran to northern India is perfect for rock gardens; varieties ‘Lady Jane’ and ‘Cynthia’.

T. whatalei – orange cup-shape flowers in light shade (South) to full sun (North).

T. bakeri – ‘Lilac Wonder’ and ‘Honky Tonk’(soft yellow-pink hybrid) prefer full sun.

T. linifolia – dark red flowers and narrow edged leaves; ideal for sunny rock garden.

Tips On Crape Myrtles In Fall And Winter

Poor Pruning of Crape Myrtles

Poor Pruning of Crape Myrtles

"Crape Murder" In Early February

“Crape Murder” In Early February










Hardy cultivars of crape myrtles are best left alone in the fall. Light pruning to remove a broken branch or the seed capsules is ok, but major pruning should wait until early spring.  ”Crape murder” is a common practice in the Southeast U.S. and is not recommended any time or place. It involves lopping down tree and shrub crape myrtles to 5-6 feet height. The reason often cited by professional landscapers is that retail merchants want customers to see their signage.

The severe 2013-14 winter caught many landscape companies pruning in January and February. The aftermath was that many crape myrtles died to the ground. Fortunately, most did sucker back up and flower in summer (about 4-6 weeks later than normal). Plants had to be pruned to redevelop their branching habit.

If you must dig one up to transplant, wait until mid-March or later. Fall planting can be risky. Crape myrtles are cheap to replace or to start over. Often a fall or winter transplanted crape myrtle starts off weak, particularly if the previous winter weather has been severe.

Andrew Bunting, plant curator at the Scott Arboretum (campus of Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, PA) lists these cultivars that came through the winter 2013-4 with virtually no damage:

fauriei ‘Fantasy’
fauriei ‘Townhouse’
indica ‘Carolina Beauty’
indica ‘Pink Velour’

In northeastern cities such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore, crape myrtles are rated as hardy perennials and not woody shrubs or trees. Following a severe winter, expect some to dieback to the ground. Some  of the hardiest forms originate from the U.S. National Arboretum. If you desire to trial only 3 or 4 cultivars, ‘Natchez’ and ‘Muskogee’ (tree forms) and ‘Acoma’ and ‘Osage’ (shrub forms) are most reliable.

Chanticleer Garden – A Garden For Ideas


Fall Scene at Chanticleer

Fall Scene at Chanticleer

Tropicals In Terrace Gardens

Tropicals In Terrace Gardens









Chanticleer Garden is an estate and botanical gardens, that bills itself as a “pleasure garden”. Chanticleer is “a garden for ideas”. The property is located at 786 Church Road in Wayne Pennsylvania, approximately 30 minutes of Philadelphia. Chanticleer celebrated its 100 year centennial in 2013 as the Rosengarten estate and 20th year as a public garden. The entrance gate is crested with carved stone roosters (chanticleers in French). The house and grounds have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1984.

Chanticleer is a destination garden to enjoy, learn, and relax. Gather lots of ideas to take home to your property. The garden has evolved greatly since the death of the owner in 1990. As the home of the Rosengartens, Chanticleer is green and beautiful with impressive trees and lawns. Most of the floral and garden development you see today has occurred since 1990, designed by Chanticleer staff and consultants.

Seven horticulturists are assigned to the seven areas of the garden; they design, plant, and maintain their garden area. The Teacup Garden and Chanticleer Terraces feature seasonal plants and bold-textured tropical and subtropical plants. The latter areas change greatly from year to year. In the fall non-hardy plants are dug up and overwintered in greenhouses and basements.

The Tennis Court, Ruin, Gravel Garden, and Pond Garden focus on hardy perennials. The Tennis Court is a floral and foliar delight. The Ruin is a folly, built on the foundation of Adolph Rosengarten, Jr.’s home. It is meant to look as if the house fell into disrepair. The Gravel Garden is hot and dry, a touch of the Mediterranean in Pennsylvania. The Pond area is nothing short of a floral masterpiece.

Asian Woods and Bell’s Woodland are shady areas that feature native plants of eastern Asia and eastern North America. The cut flower and vegetable gardens produce flowers for arrangements and food for the restaurant and staff tables. Surplus goes to a local shelter.

Chanticleer gardeners will answer your questions about our 5,000+ plants. Plant lists and photographs are posted in on-site handmade mailboxes. The information is also available online.

The Chanticleer Foundation owns 47 acres, 35 of which are now open to the public. The main walking path is just under a mile long. Relax, read, sketch, converse, meditate. Picnic tables, benches and Adirondack chairs are spotted around the property for leisure and to catch views of plants and wildlife.

Chanticleer is open Wednesday through Sunday, April through October, from 10 a.m.to 5 p.m. Admission fee: $10 (2014). Plan a minimum 2-3 hour visit.

Woodland Respite

Woodland Respite

Dragon Eye – Actually Four Different Pines

Pinus wallichiana 'Zebrina' at Richmond Botanical Gardens in VA

Pinus wallichiana ‘Zebrina’ at Richmond Botanical Gardens in VA

Pinus densiflora 'Oculis Draconis' at Richmnod Botanical Gardens

Pinus densiflora ‘Oculis Draconis’ at Richmnod Botanical Gardens








In U.S. nursery catalogs, at least four gold striped needle pines are designated “Dragon’s Eye Pine”. They are Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora ‘Oculus Draconis’), Japanese black pine (P. thunbergi ‘Oculus Draconis’), Variegated Korean pine (P. koraiensis ‘Oculus Draconis’) and Variegated Himalayan pine (P. wallichiana ‘Zebrina’) (USDA hardiness zones 4 to 7). Three of four, designated ‘Oculis Draconis’, are ones that fit into most small to medium sized gardens.

All four Dragon’s eye pines grow tree form, 25 to 35 feet high and 15 to 20 feet wide. All starts off slowly, growing only 6-8 inches per year. Within 3-4 years growth rate doubles to 12 to 16 inches annually.  Variegated Himalayan pine grows tallest, 40 to 45 foot tree tall with longer internode lengths between branches. All grow in a well-drained, slightly acidic soil in full sun to partial shade.

The striped needle variegation is present year-round and becomes more intense as summer rolls to fall. The variegation persists through the winter season and actually gets better as the specimen ages. The Japanese red bark form exhibits scaly fissured bark is lovely, ranging in color from gray to rich rusty orange. This is a graceful tree when mature, with an irregular branching habit and tilted trunk. It stands out planted among deep-green conifers or in front of a dark green background. Utilize primarily as a specimen tree in a prominent landscape area such as near a patio or deck.

An unusual and elegant ornament for the winter landscape, the dragon’s eye pine has 3-5 inch long green needles stiff needles with prominent yellow and green bands. Branching open up in later years, and tree become irregular in form. Its bright colored needles become a 4-season asset in the landscape. As red pine ages it develops a nice reddish-orange exfoliating bark on the trunk and main branches.

Dragon-eyed pines are available from on-line specialty nurseries.

Information credit: Michael Balogh, Mountain Meadows Nursery near Asheville, NC assisted in the preparation of this write-up.

Trees And Shrubs That Grow In Poorly Drained Soils

Surface Knees of Bald Cypress Tree at Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA

Surface Knees of Bald Cypress Tree at Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA

If a section of your landscape is poorly drained, there are a number of trees and shrubs that will adapt over time to short periods of wet or soggy soils. Plant roots must survive in low oxygen soils. Your choices of plants are not lengthy; few landscape plants will not tolerate root suffocation for even brief intervals of time.

On landscaping sites with poor drainage, start with trees and shrubs that native to wet bottomland areas. They make the best candidates. When planting tolerant trees and shrub species, plants must have a period of time to adapt to the flooded, low oxygen soils. They are likely shallow-rooted and require staking for initial support. Over time, plants will develop physiological and anatomical features to tolerate poor drainage. For example, bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) develops “knees” on the ground surface to capture air.

Plant scientists at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC recommend starting with small plants that have been grown on poorly drained sites. It also helps to create raised beds, swales, grassed waterways, and drainage lines that can divert excess water away from planting sites. The following list is not complete, but does include some great plants. Many are excellent choices for inclusion in rain garden sites.

Tree List:

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Silver maple (Acer saccharinum)

Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)

River birch (Betula nigra)

Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)

Green ash (Fraxinus pensylvanica)

Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginana)

Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)

Blackgum, tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica)

Swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor)

Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)

Willow oak (Quercus phellos)

London plantree (Platanus x acerfolia)

Willows (Salix spp.) -tree and shrub forms

Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)

Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis)

American Linden (Tilia americana)

Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

American elm (Ulmus americana)

Shrub List:
Summersweet, sweet pepper bush (Clethra alnifolia)

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea)

Common witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
Possumhaw (Ilex decidua)

Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata)

Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria)

Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica)

Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)

Dappled willow (Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki’)

American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)

Snowberry (Symphoricarpos alba)

Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus)

Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum)

Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago)

Better Choices Than Leyland Cypress For Privacy Screen

Cryptomeria Privacy Screen near Chattanooga TN

For homeowners in a rush to establish a tall green privacy screen from the neighbor(s), perhaps a 12-foot tall green fence may be your better option. Among the choices of evergreens to plant, Leyland cypress (x Cupressocyperus leylandii) is fastest growing, but is plagued by any of three serious disease problems. An established leyland cypress planted 12 feet apart completely occupies its place and stands 12 plus feet tall within 10 years if adequately fertilized and irrigated.

Foliage disease problems usually do not infect leyland cypress until 10-12 years after planting. No disease cure-alls (fungicides) are presently available. Pruning off diseased branches on tall ladders is the best cure-all which can be a highly expensive and a dangerous chore for diyers to take on.

In northerly zones (USDA hardiness zone 6 and 7), Japanese cryptomeria (Cryptomeria japonica) and ‘Green Giant’ arborvitae (Thuja plicata x T. standishii) may be the evergreen privacy screen that you’re looking for. Within 1-2 years after planting, their growth rate is moderate, 16-20 inches annually. They may not be as vigorous like leyland cypress, but without the disease threat that may destroy a privacy screen within 20 years. Two-year established arborvitaes and cryptomerias exhibit better drought resistance than Leyland cypresses.

An occasional pest of all three evergreen species are bagworms which can devour new soft spring foliage. Inspect evergreens in late winter and treat with any of a number of pesticides  previously listed in my ”bagworms” blog. The winter foliage of all three usually bronzes off, but quickly recovers (greens-up) in the early days of spring.


‘Gyokuryu’ Japanese Cedar -Privacy Screen For Small Gardens

Photo credit: Dr. Susan Hamilton, University of Tennessee

Photo credit: Dr. Susan Hamilton, University of Tennessee

Gyokuryu Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica ‘Gyokuryu’) is a dense, broadly pyramidal evergreen shrub (USDA hardiness zones 5-8). It has short stiff needles that tend to be a slightly darker green than other cryptomeria cultivars. Gyokuryu holds its dark green color through most winters in zone 7 and further south. Expect winter bronzing when Gyokuryu is planted on high windy sites. Branches are pliable and release heavy snow to prevent limb breakage.

Spring/summer growth rate is moderate. Gyokuryu starts out as a short ball-shaped shrub, flattened on top. After 3 to 4 years it develops a dominant upright leader and takes on a pyramidal form. Gyokuryu grows 15 to 20 feet high and 5 to 7 feet wide in 20-25 years. Growth rate ranges from 6 to 9 inches per year. Over the years it becomes a handsome stand alone specimen plant, or you can group several together as a hedge or privacy screen.

Cryptomerias are planted in full sun and in an average well-drained, moderately acidic pH soil. One to three year old plants benefit from mulching. Disease and pest problems are minimal when plants are properly sited and not overcrowded. It is best to plant them 5-6 feet apart and allow them to gradually to fill in on their own. Two year established plants exhibit better than average drought tolerance. Supplemental irrigation during prolonged dry spells over 3 or more weeks is recommended for total optimum growth.

Deer generally stay away from cryptomerias. Feed in late winter and repeat in late spring with water soluble fertilizer (Miracle Gro™, Jacks™, or equivalent); or a granular fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or equivalent. Hollytone™ is a reliable evergreen plant fertilizer.

Carolina Buckthorn Attractive Native Shrub/Tree

Rhamnus carolinana (Photo from Southeastern Flora website)

Rhamnus carolinana (Photo from Southeastern Flora website)

Many native plant enthusiasts consider the Carolina Buckthorn, aka Indian cherry (Rhamnus caroliniana), one of our most underutilized native shrubs or small trees. It suffers with a bad common name as it has no thorns or spines. This open, slender branched shrub grows 12 to 15 feet high and 10 to 15 feet wide. (USDA hardiness zones 5-9).

Bright green leaves remain on long into autumn before eventually turning a blah yellow-green color. In southern areas much of the yellowed foliage holds through most of the winter. Spring flowers, mostly inconspicuous, are followed by 1/3 inch diameter green berries (drupes).

High point for this shrub is its brightly colored red fruits starting in late summer and eventually ripen to black in late September into October. Birds and other wildlife will devour the edible black fruits in the fall and early winter. Main trunk(s) and branches flaunt a smooth gray bark.

Carolina Buckthorn should be grown in full sun on well-drained soil, acidic or alkaline. Specimens reaching 25-30 feet can be found on moist woodland sites. It will tolerate moderate dry spells.

Buckthorns are rarely troubled by insect pests, but individual plants may be severely setback by a crown rust and by leaf spot diseases. Carolina buckthorn is easily trained into a small tree suited for planting under power lines. Training a young shrub into a small tree is not difficult. Plant several to form a hedge or thicket to shelter wildlife and provide them a feeding station.

Bee Bee Tree (Tetradium) Rarely Seen In U.S. Landscapes

Beebee Tree (Tetradium daniellii) at Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, NY

Beebee Tree (Tetradium daniellii) at Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, NY

Smooth Gray Trunk of Beebee Tree

Smooth Gray Trunk of Beebee Tree










Native to Korea and southwestern China, bee bee tree (Tetradium daniellii) is a deciduous tree with a spreading umbrella-shaped habit and rounded canopy (USDA hardiness zones 4-8). It was formerly named Evodia daniellii.

Bee bee tree typically grows to 25-30 feet tall and wide. In July-August small white flowers (sometimes tinged with yellow or pink) are flattened clusters (corymbs) up to 6 inches wide. Flowers are highly fragrant and quite showy.   Summer blooming bee bee tree flowers when few other trees do so and is frequented by honey bees and many other pollinators

Flowers give way to reddish-purple seed pods that split apart when ripe. Each pod contains 2 shiny, buckshot-like, black seeds. Pods are highly ornamental and remain on the tree from late August to November. The red to black fruits are eagerly consumed by birds.

Lush opposite, pinnately compound leaves resemble ash (Fraxinus spp.). Individual leaves may be 18 inches long, comprised of 7-11 leaflets, each 2-5 inch long glossy dark green leaflets. Autumn leaf color is lacking; leaves typically fall when green to yellowish-green. Trunk bark is light gray and very smooth.

Bee bee tree thrives in moist, reasonably fertile, well-drained, mildly acidic soil. Plant it in full sun where it grows best, but it does tolerate  moderate light shade. A newly planted tree grows rapidly and would make an ideal small lawn tree sited near a deck or patio. It is pest and disease trouble-free and grows rapidly in its early years.

Current availability of bee bee tree is from on-line specialty nurseries only.

The Last Mowing Of The Year

Beautiful Manicured lawn At Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA

Well Manicured Lawn At Longwood Gardens’ Amphitheater in Kennett Square, PA

Within many garden circles, conventional wisdom says that you should mow lawns very close heading into winter. Mowing height should be adjusted by seasonal and current weather conditions. Mowing height also sets the shoot to root ratio of specific grass species. In cooler northern areas bluegrass and tall fescue are the lawn grasses of choice. In the mid-South (called the “transition zone”) tall fescues and warm season bermudagrass and zoysia are favored.

Cutting height changes with the season. During a hot dry summer mowing height should be raised an additional 1/2  to 1 inch from the spring cut. Just an increase  of 1/8 inch inputs more light to individual grass plants and deeper rooting depth. The result: your lawn becomes more drought tolerant.

Turf scientists at the University of Tennessee recommend raising the cutting height for the last three fall mowings. This increases cold tolerance within the grass crown. Winter weather can be brutal on your lawn. Dr. Tom Samples, Extension Turfgrass Specialist recommends starting a month ahead to gain insulation value. In most areas this means the last 3 mowings of the year.

Recommended fall cutting height by species:

Bluegrass   2 inches

Tall fescue (wide blade types like K-31)   2 to 3 1/2 inches

Tall fescue (fine leaf cultivars)   2 -3 inches

Zoysia   1-2 inches

Common bermudagrass   1-2 inches