Rose Care Starts With A Good Planting Site

Great Roses Start With A Good Planting Site (UT Gardens, Knoxville, TN)

Great Roses Start With A Good Planting Site (UT Gardens, Knoxville, TN)

Roses should be planted 4 feet apart on a garden site that receives 6 to 8 hours of sun. The garden soil must be well-drained and  pH between  6.0 and 6.5.  Prevent disease problems by providing good air movement between plants and not crowd them.

Spring thru mid- summer is an ideal period to plant roses to allow their roots to grow deep before winter arrives. Dig a wide planting hole  2 to 3 times that of the container root ball. Tease (gently pull apart) root ball to spread the roots  prior to setting and refilling the hole. Planting depth of the root ball should be same or  slightly less than it grew in the container. Backfill the hole with soil and water thoroughly.

Apply 2-3 inch layer of loose organic mulch to conserve soil moisture and to reduce potential weed infestations. Do not pile mulch around base of the rose trunk. Irrigate roses regularly (usually weekly) until the plant(s) become well established, usually within 4-6 months. Provide an average of one inch of water per week from natural rainfall and irrigation.

Fertilize roses with a water-soluble fertilizer monthly from early spring (March) until September 15 (and no later in USDA hardiness zones 6 and 7). Use a water soluble fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro, Nature’s Source or Rose-toneaccording to package directions. Another feeding alternative is a slow release fertilizer specifically for roses in early spring. Or apply a granular fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or equivalent in early spring and a second time in late June.

Prune the dormant rose plant in late winter to early spring. Remove all dead or damaged wood; take out weak and tangling interior branches for better air circulation. Every 2 or 3 years remove about one third of the old branches to stimulate new growth and to maintain the rose at a desired height and spread.

Spicebush – The Native Plant And The Butterfly


Bright Red Spicebush Fruits In Fall

Bright Red Spicebush Fruits In Fall

U.S. native spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is a beautiful landscape plant (USDA hardiness zones 4-9) for an open or woodland garden. Spicebush matures into a 12-15 feet tall and wide large shrub or small tree over many years.

Light green deciduous leaves, 3 to 5 inches long, are delightfully fragrant when-crushed. Leaves is the preferred food for the larvae of the Spicebush swallowtail butterfly (Papilio troilus).

This dioecious shrub contributes a great deal of pleasure: aromatic foliage, showy autumn fruits, and lemony yellow fall color. The tiny 1/5 inch wide pale yellow flowers open in early spring and go mostly unnoticed during a time when showier shrubs and trees are also blooming. Female plants are ladened with  1/2 inch diameter berries that turn from green to yellow to glossy red. Fall red ripe berries quickly disappear, devoured by numerous birds and 4-legged fauna. Fall color rating varies from one year to the next and may be brightly yellow in good years.

Spicebush thrives in moist, well-drained, acidic soil and in full to partial shade. Initial growth rate is slow and gradually picks up in succeeding years. A multi-year old spicebush will naturalize in a moist or dry woodland site.

The spicebush swallowtail butterfly is endemic to the eastern US and southern Ontario. They are among the largest butterflies in the world. Spicebush swallowtail adults (butterflies) nourish themselves on nectar filled garden flowers and lay her eggs on spicebush foliage. Eggs hatch and the brown caterpillar larvae feed on the spicebush leaves.

Fairy Wings (Epimediums) Carefree Shady Groundcovers

Epimedium perralderianum

Fairy wings, aka barrenwort (Epimedium spp.) thrive in shady spots. Fairy wings continue to be a plant collector’s dream. There are over 70 cultivars to choose and new hybrid selections coming along every year. No two cultivars are alike in flowering, foliage size and color. Species will vary from 6 to 20 inches in height and 10 to 24 inches in spread.

Fairy wings, depending on species, may be evergreen or deciduous. Seasonal leaf colors are also variable. Some begin chartreuse, turn dark green in summer, and finish in autumn shades of red. Others may develop a red or silvery tint in the summer.

Dainty flowers appear in early spring and are rarely hurt by cold morning temps. Flowering interval lasts 3, sometimes 4 weeks long and attract early arriving butterflies and hummingbirds. Deer don’t bother fairy wings.

Fairy wings grow in average soil. It may take 2-3 years for you to decide that fairy wings are for you. They start out slow. Provide them with a half day sunlight, preferably in the morning or in day-long partial shade. Feed slow-release fertilizer at planting and each spring; or feed monthly from spring to mid-August with a water-soluble plant food.

Clip back or mow over at 4-5 inch height setting in March as winter weather begins to moderate and before flowers appear. Removal of older foliage permits easier viewing of emerging flowers. Fairy wings have almost no pest or disease problems.

Fairy wings are excellent ground covers for planting under trees or fronting flower borders with the taller shade-loving perennials such as Lenten roses (Helleborus spp.), Variegated Solomon seal (Polygonatum), brunneras, astilbes, and ferns in the rear.

Thinking about starting a fairy wings collection? Start with these five:

Red barrenwort (E. × rubrum) – reddish summer semi-evergreen foliage; bicolor flowers.
E. perralderianum – yellow spring flowers; spiny-edged evergreen leaves, tinged red in the fall
Young’s barrenwort (E. × youngianum) – deciduous green spring foliage starts reddish green, green in summer, ending red in fall; pinkish white flowers.
‘Sulphureum’ barrenwort (E. × versicolor) – mottled red foliage becomes evergreen; primrose yellow flowers.
Longspur barrenwort (E. grandiflorum) – light green heart-shaped deciduous foliage; large white flowers.

Pest Alert: Japanese Maple Scale Becoming A Serious Problem

Japanese maple scale (photo by Dr. Amy Fulcher, University of Tennessee Horticulurist

Japanese maple scale (photo by Dr. Amy Fulcher, University of Tennessee Horticulurist)


Japanese maple scale is a new pest in Tennessee and surrounding states. It infests many more plant species than just Japanese maple. The insect’s small size and ability to blend in naturally with tree bark makes it challenging to detect until populations are high and it has infested large landscape and neighborhoods.

Japanese maple scale (JMS) is a small, oystershell-shaped, armored scale (photo on left). The waxy coating over the body is white, but the female, eggs and crawlers (the immature stage) are lavender in color. Scales are most commonly found on bark but can be found on leaves.

JMS life cycle isn’t completely understood. The insect overwinters on trunks and branches as a small but visible immature scale that matures in spring. Females lay about 25 eggs under their body. Eggs are estimated to develop in April and May, with egg hatch and crawler emergence likely to occur in mid-May in central Tennessee. Crawler hatch coincides with bloom of Syringa reticulata ‘Ivory Silk’ and Hydrangea quercifolia. JMS has two generations a year, a second egg hatch begins around August 1. JMS has extended crawler hatch, which causes the first and second generations to overlap.

JMS has an extremely wide host range that includes Acer, Amelanchier, Camellia, Carpinus, Cercis, Cladrastis, Cornus, Cotoneaster, Euonymus, Fraxinus, Gledistia, Ilex, Itea, Ligustrum, Magnolia, Malus, Prunus, Pyracantha, Pyrus, Salix, Stewartia, Styrax, Syringa, Tilia, Ulmus, Zelkova and others. JMS has been identified along the East Coast of the U.S., Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.

The small, white adults are difficult to see and often blend in with light-colored bark or lenticels. Focus at the base of the plant near the soil line to approximately 8 inches high. On standard-form trees, look on the trunk and scaffold branches, in particular at the branch collar. JMS is easier to see in the dormant season when foliage is not hindering the view and the waxy coating appears brighter. JMS is often hidden within the protected interior of dense plants.

The protective waxy coating over the crawlers limits the effectiveness of contact sprays. JMS is especially difficult to control in Ilex and other heavily sheared plants with a dense canopy. A contact insecticide spray must effectively penetrate the canopy to control pest.

Thorough applications of horticultural or superior oil during the dormant period in late winter have been successful. Insecticide sprays should be used to target each flush of crawlers during the spring and summer. Recommended insecticides include the insect growth regulators pyriproxyfen (Distance) or buprofezin (Talus 40SC) and the neonicotinoid clothianidin (Arena 50 WDG). Horticultural oil (at 0.5 to 1 percent) may be tank-mixed with Distance or Talus 40SC for improved control.

YoYo Winter Temperatures– Expect Flower Losses On BigleafHydrangeas

Lacecap type of Hydrangea macrophylla

Lacecap type of Hydrangea macrophylla


Hydrangea macrophylla 'All Summer Beauty'

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘All Summer Beauty’







In the Southeastern U.S. region, wildly fluctuating temperatures this winter will likely destroy or delay spring and summer blooming on bigleaf (mophead) hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) (USDA hardiness zones 6 – 9). Other hydrangea species, such as smooth hydrangea (H. arborescens), panicle hydrangea (H. paniculata), and oakleaf hydrangeas, should not be affected.

Bigleaf hydrangeas are highly sensitive to wild rollercoaster temperature changes during winter dormancy. Although modern day cultivars possess better cold hardiness, pre-formed spring flower buds are in danger. Mild temperatures push buds to swell, responding to a false spring.

All may not lost! Hardier bigleaf hydrangeas, such as the Endless Summer™ and All Summer  Beauty™ series are also in jeopardy for spring bloom losses. They may still bloom on new spring wood this summer, although flowering may be delayed by several weeks and flower heads may be small and fewer in number.

Still more troubles ahead? Bigleaf hydrangeas often respond to an early spring warm-up by breaking dormancy early and produce new shoots and leaves. Sudden spring freezes may severely damage growing buds. In severe situations several branches or whole plants may not bloom thru the summer months. On well-established shrubs, new buds will form at the base, grow out, and attempt to bloom in late summer and fall.

Getting Your Greenhouse Ready For Spring


Clean Greenhouse Environment  No! to hose nozzle on floor

Essential Clean Greenhouse Environment

Before starting new spring vegetable and flower plants, first take some time to make sure that the greenhouse is clean. Follow these three basic rules:

#1 – Repair or replace rotten or decayed wooden structural beams or posts, including benches. Be certain that water does not puddle on floors causing disease and insect breeding areas, mold, mildew and algae problems.

#2 – eliminate of over-wintering greenhouse pests, even if the area was unheated during the winter. Weeds and plant debris harbor overwintering insects, diseases, and viruses. Here is a short to do list:

  • Remove all weeds and plant debris. Aphids, spider mites, thrips and whiteflies may move onto newly planted crops from weeds.
  • Clean work areas and production surfaces first by sweeping and/or hosing down.
  • Clean up old growing medium left on benches and floors to reduce breeding areas for pests like fungus gnats, shoreflies and Western flower thrips.
  • Disinfect to kill all pathogenic organisms utilizing a number of commercial disinfectants, including hydrogen dioxide and quaternary ammonium compounds. Scrub up or dispose of previously used plastic pots and trays, tools and equipment.
  • Keep hose nozzles off floor.

#3 – Inspect all new incoming plants, even newly purchased plants and cuttings. Outside overwintering plants may have insects and scales and mites on them.

Most pre-emergent herbicides are NOT labeled for use in greenhouses; they may cause significant plant injury. Roundup® herbicide is labeled for application to greenhouse floors. Landscape fabric for weed prevention and new gravel on floors and under benches reduces weed populations. Follow the herbicide label for proper application rates and restrictions to prevent spray drift and volatility that could injure plants.

When potting up: inspect and discard plants with brown unhealthy roots; swellings on the roots (root knot nematode); abnormal leaf vein discoloration (foliar nematodes); mosaic ring spots, dark lines and rings (viruses); and chlorotic leaves (nutritional disorders).

In summary start out clean and make all efforts to stay clean.

Versatile Corona Lopper/Hand Pruners

Hand pruning mode for light cuts

Hand pruning mode for light cuts

Lopper mode for larger pruning cuts

Lopper mode for larger pruning cuts








When stepping out in my garden, a pair of hand pruners (shears) is the first tool in my pocket or belt pouch. A good pair of pruning shears is indispensable for snipping off old spent flowers and growth from perennials such as hostas, daylilies,  peonies, et al; shrubs like rhododendrons, lilacs, hydrangeas; to clear away encroaching vegetation from a path; remove dead, pest ridden, and diseased twigs or small (1-inch diameter) branches.

Over the years I’ve owned a number of pruning shears from top manufacturers. The Corona #60 hand pruner has been my “go-to” pruners, backed up by the Corona 19 inch long lopping pruners.

As stated in a previous blog, my prerequisites for a good pruning shears are:

  • Blades forged from high grade forged steel, less likely to rust and stays sharp longer
  • Comfortable hand grips, less prone to cause calluses after heavy use
  • Colorful hand grips so pruner is not easily lost in the garden
  • Trustworthy locking mechanism that, when engaged, the blades close and don’t reopen in your pocket or belt pouch. Cutting action does not lock up by a faulty locking clip
  • Stays sharp longer and cuts almost effortlessly
  • Scissor cut and not anvil type

The Corona BP7450 is a convertible pruner + lopper. The lopper is designed for making cuts up to 1 1/4 inch in diameter. This lightweight pruning shears cuts through soft green stems and  small twiggy wood effortlessly. Or convert it into a lopping shears for cutting through thicker branches up to 1 1/4 inch diameter.

This convertible pruner + lopper is mostly available on-line. Eventually, blades wear out or become rusted (if left outdoors–always a no-no for most garden tools). Most parts are available from Corona dealers and some orchard supply companies across the U.S.


Growing Zone 6 Hardy Camellias 101

Camellia 'Winter Star' (Ackerman introduction)

Fall blooming Camellia ‘Winter Star’ (Ackerman introduction)

Late winter flowering 'Pink Icicle' - another Ackerman camellia

Late winter flowering ‘Pink Icicle’ – Ackerman camellia








Drs. William L. Ackerman with the USDA (deceased) developed bred a series of interspecific crosses between C. oleifera and C. sasanqua, C. hiemalis, or C. vernalis selections. Many, not all, are identified as the Winter series because they bloom in the fall into very early winter.

Dr. Clifford Parks at the University of North Carolina (now retired) developed March-April blooming selections with mostly C. japonica bloodline. These hardy forms are rated plant hardy to zone 6. Open flower buds are susceptible to frost and freeze damage; tightly closed buds are not injured and open days later.

Grow camellias like you would rhododendrons or azaleas in direct morning sunlight or dabbled all day sun. The soil must be well-drained, compost-rich, and pH between 5.0 and 6.5. The intended site should be protected from drying winter winds.

Winter of 2013-14 was the roughest in my 8 to 9 years in growing camellias in northeast Tennessee. Several cultivars aborted 90% of flowers, particularly the March-April bloomers. All 12 camellia cultivars in my garden survived and look great as evergreen shrubs.

Subjecting them to direct winter winds and planting too late in the year are the two big mistakes. I urge gardeners to plant no later than October 1st and to lay 2-3 inches of an organic mulch around newly planted camellia as a heat blanket. Any newly planted camellia should be deeply watered in and irrigated during period of deficit. October tends to be a dry month in several mid-South and Middle Atlantic states. One year old established camellias become moderately drought tolerant and should be never overwater. Irrigate only when the summer or winter months are unusually dry. 

Prune all camellia cultivars, whether fall, winter or spring bloomers, after the final flowers have dropped in late spring.

Bergenias (Pigsqueak) Gaining More Respect

Bergenia As Ground Cover Planting in Downtown Indianapolis

Bergenia As Ground Cover Planting in Downtown Indianapolis


Heart-leaved bergenia (Bergenia cordifolia) is a clump-forming perennial indigenous to Russia (USDA hardiness zones 3-9). It has been coined the name “pig squeak” because of the noise produced by rubbing a leaf between your thumb and finger.

Bergenias are planted most effectively enmasse as a ground cover. They spread slowly by rhizomes and tends to seed-in readily. Over the years bergenia tends to naturalize in moist rich soil.

Its rosette growing habit is similar to a strawberry or an African violet plant. Round heart-shaped leaves are thick, glossy and dark green; leaves measure to 8 to 10 inches across. Plants are 12 to 15 inches high and wide in spread. Foliage often takes purplish-bronze tint over a cold winter. In the warm South foliage is evergreen but may become ratty and torn up in northerly zone 6 and colder.

Small showy pink or white flowers (depending on cultivar) emerge within or above the foliage on thick stalks up to 16 inches tall in April or May, depending where you garden.Promptly remove spent flowering stems if you do not want bergenias to multiply by seed.

Bergenia grows in average well-drained soil in part to full shade. It prefers moist, compost-rich ground. Fertilize bergenias in early spring as new growth starts. Mulching is highly beneficial as well as irrigation in dry shade. Prune off all damaged foliage by late winter before new growth and flowering begin.

This shade loving perennial excels as a ground cover in woodland gardens; utilize in dabbled sunny areas in flower beds, rock gardens, or as edging along pathways. The high gloss foliage is frequently utilized in floral arrangements. No serious insect or disease problems bother bergenias. Rabbits and deer stay away from bergenia.

Leading Cultivars:

‘Apple Blossom’ – large pale pink flowers on red stems that rise above glossy green leaves.

‘Bressingham White’ – flowers open pink but age to white; burgundy fall foliage.

‘Winterglut’ (‘Winter Glow’) – reddish-pink spring flowers; dark green summer leaves finish mottled red and orange in fall.

‘Flirt’ – a new compact hybrid form with dark green (almost black) glossy foliage; large deep pink blooms on short stems.

New Bergenia 'Flirt' from Terra Nova Nurseries

New Bergenia ‘Flirt’ from Terra Nova Nurseries

Support Tomato Plants

Trellised tomatoes

Trellised tomatoes

University research demonstrates that yields are lower for staked tomatoes. Staking tomatoes is not absolutely necessary, but harvesting tomatoes on the ground becomes more difficult. Dirt and disease blemishes on fruits laying on the ground necessitate grading, cleaning, and disposing of culls.

Most tall growing indeterminate varieties are best supported off the ground in some manner to prevent loss of fruit from rots and sunburn. Wooden stakes and caging are the most common methods of support.

Wire caging offers the highest yields. Wire cages should be a minimum of 18 inches in diameter and constructed from heavy-duty reinforcing wire that is difficult to bend. Cages wrapped with clear plastic to a height of 18 inches provide some protection from cold winds and blowing sand. Plants in cages are generally not suckered.

Traditionally, indeterminate tomato varieties are individually staked, suckers removed, and tied with cloth strips, soft cord, or twist ties weekly until they reach the top of the 6 feet tall stake. Trellising is an alternative method. Tomato plants are supported by nylon cords that runs (weaves) from stake to stake, down the row on both sides, all supported on heavy duty poles or metal stakes at several heights.

Tomato plants develop many branches (suckers) as they grow. A common practice to remove the suckers to encourage larger and earlier fruit yields. Sucker removal make tying and spraying a lot easier. Better sunlight penetration and air circulation around plants leads to less leaf spot problems.