Pruning Panicled Hydrangeas And A Cure For Floppy Branches
Yes…the snowflakes are still here! Sighhhhhh
Hydrangea paniculata, often referred to as PeeGee(P.G.) Hydrangea, is a favorite shrub amongst home gardeners and professional landscapers. The name PeeGee or P.G. comes from the first cultivar commonly used- Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’. Varieties like ‘Tardiva’, ‘Limelight’, ‘Little Lime’, and ‘Strawberry Sundae’ are some of the more well known varieties. For those of you who may be less familiar with this shrub it is the more woody hydrangea with lime-green and creamy-white panicle shaped flowers that, under the right weather conditions, often turns a rosy blush in the fall.
Hydrangea paniculata is a godsend in the Midwest for hydrangea lovers due to its ability to withstand the intense humid heat of our summers without wilting everyday. They also will bloom on first year canes unlike many of the macrophylla, ball-head types which often will not bloom reliably for us central and northern gardeners. Hard winters don’t generally effect the blooms on Hydrangea paniculata. If you are a client of mine you probably have a couple of these hydrangeas on your property as I rely pretty heavily on their beauty, hardiness, and reliability in a border.
These may be woody shrubs or tree forms growing anywhere from 3 feet to upwards of 10 feet. They start blooming around mid-summer opening with a lime green panicle that tends to become more creamy as the summer goes on. Most of these turn a nice blush as fall approaches and many new cultivars are being produced like ‘Quickfire’ and ‘Firelight’that turn deeper rose or reddish hues earlier in the season.
There is one issue that seems to arise with these seemingly perfect flowering shrubs. Sometimes they simply seem to grow to large! ‘Little Lamb’ being the first one that comes to mind. There is NOTHING little about it. The tag usually says it grows 4-6 feet tall and calls it a “compact” form when in reality it usually grows 6-8 feet tall. Gardeners then tend to try to prune these harder than the plant would like and it responds a in an ornery manner by growing back just as much as you pruned off, but now instead of the strong woody branches it developed while maturing over the years to support its large flowers, it has the more tender growth of the current season. These soft first year canes are unable to hold up the huge flowers and consequently flop in an rather unattractive manner.
Here is the rule: The harder you prune a Hydrangea paniculata the more new, soft growth you will get shooting out that year with a smaller number of blooms that are very large in size and very hard for the new shoots to hold up. The less you prune off of them the less new growth you will get that year with a greater number of blooms that are smaller in size and supported by an older, woody framework of branches. Personally I prefer a well supported bush with a lot of flowers even if they are a little smaller.
In order to have a nice looking shrub that can support its flower panicles without flopping you have two options. One is to make sure the shrub is in a location where it can be free to grow to the mature size it desires. This may mean that you must relocate your hydrangea if it is outgrowing its spot every year. You should give it a light, shaping prune each year where you take off between 6-12 inches on all sides and round it into a nice shaped framework. Late fall or early spring is the best time to do this.
Below is a picture of ‘Little Lime’ after I pruned 6-8 inches off of it just yesterday.
The other option for stubborn gardeners, such as myself who insist on having these hydrangeas in a location that is too small for their natural size, is to use a trick to keep them under control. But just a fair warning- this requires a bit of tough love! The ‘Little Lime’ hydrangea in the picture above is in fact in a very tight spot and I must keep it on a very tight leash.
So… the trick is to prune twice in one season, once early and once later in the spring. Yes…I did just say that. Pruning in late spring has always been a huge no-no when it comes to hydrangeas, but not in this case. You prune them hard in late fall or early spring taking off 12-24 inches. You want to prune to about 6 inches below what you consider the ideal size to be when it is blooming. Here are the before and after pictures of the one on the front of my house with a hard pruning I did today.
You allow the hydrangea to flush out for the spring until about June here in the Midwest, and then prune it again. I generally take 6-8inches of new growth off at this time. In the picture below the ‘Little Lime’ Hydrangea is on the right side of the photo and shows how it should look when it is ready to receive this second pruning.
Your shrub may look a little sad for about 2 weeks and then it will recover and flush again but not as much as it did in the spring. It will develop flower buds and bloom just fine, though the flowering will be delayed by 2-3 weeks.
Just in case you can’t quite bring yourself to believe me I did an experiment where I pruned the upper part of one of my bushes twice as mentioned, and the lower part just the one time in early spring. I then took a picture of that shrub in the fall. You can see below what the results were. I actually pruned the top after there were already some small flower buds present, so quite late(too late really) in June, and it still flowered! This picture was taken towards the end of September so I had fresh new flowers coming on in the fall. Ideally I would not want my blooming delayed quite this much so I don’t recommend doing the second pruning any later then the first week of June.
This discovery actually came about as a result of deer grazing on one of my client’s gardens. The deer-grazed hydrangeas actually came back looking better than ever, though now they were covered in bird netting to break the eating habits the deer had developed. It is probably one of the only instances where deer damage let to a positive outcome.
There are quite a few perennials that also respond well to a late spring pruning to keep them a little bushier and less likely to flop over. Phlox, Agastache, and Sedum are a few examples. You may have noticed that occasionally when a sedum like ‘Autumn Joy’ gets munched on by rabbits it actually ends up being shorter, bushier, and holds itself up better, so long as the damage is not severe and continuous. I love lessons nature sometimes reveals to us- don’t be afraid to experiment a little!
A Christmas Stroll Through German Village
Each year in December I look forward to a jaunt up to German Village, the “Old South End” of Columbus. Visiting German Village is like stepping back into the late 1800’s with its untarnished historic buildings and streets. These are made up of what at the time were considered modest homes and businesses built by working-class people. These people were primarily German refugees who were offered tracts of land here for having supported the Colonial cause during the American Revolution.
My eyes and camera lens have a default setting called Garden Geek Filter so you will have to venture to the village yourself or to other websites for a more well-rounded viewpoint! More history about this unique neighborhood and its restoration can be found by clicking on this link to German Village.
I love the simple beauty of this little home:
Walking along the narrow, uneven, brick streets and sidewalks flanked by cottages and larger dwellings meant to be homes above and businesses below, one can easily use their imagination to transport themselves back to a more simple and quiet time. Each building shows the unique craftsmanship of its builder with no two looking alike.
As if I didn’t already love German Village enough, I was thrilled to learn of a strong passion for gardening both past and present. The builders of these 19th century homes and businesses were of a hardy, self-sustaining stock who incorporated space in their home lots for small garden plots in which to grow vegetables for their families and for the market. The present time residents seem to have an equal passion for gardening, though geared more toward the aesthetic.
I had the pleasure of giving a gardening talk about Gardening Through The Seasons to the local gardening club and what a pleasure it was!! I think this may have been the funnest and friendliest mix of gardeners I have ever encountered and I look forward to meeting them again in the future. Be sure to check their site for fun events scheduled to take place in German Village throughout the year and to see beautiful pictures of village gardens in-season by clicking on this link: German Village Garten Club
I love the clean, modern, and somewhat linear influence seen in some of the landscape designs below:
Someone has done a lovely job of tying this vine up. I’m really not sure what it is but, it pleasing how it has been presented. I will have to go back in the spring to see what leaves it has.
The raised miniature conifer garden below has actually been lovingly installed between the sidewalk and the street. It was a brave move that apparently has come at a cost:
My family has fairly strong ties to German ancestry through both of my great-grand mothers and I can attest that, at least in our lineage that seems to often lead one to be fairly passionate about decorating for Christmas. I can not say for certain whether a German influence on the present day residents of German Village is the reason for their ability to transform the village into something magical and beautiful each Christmas season but, I find it satisfying to surmise that this is indeed the case.
A Perfect Year for Roses
In southeastern Ohio this season we have enjoyed perfect growing conditions for roses and the displays have been divine. We had a cooler than normal spring with perfectly timed rains allowing our roses to hold their blooms for a long time. We also enjoyed low humidity which inhibited typical diseases like Powdery Mildew and Black Spot from setting in.
Since moving 8 years ago from Nantucket Island, where at every turn there is a rose covered cottage or a walk to the beach takes you past a bluff covered in fragrant beach roses, it has been my desire to share and encourage a love for rambling and climbing roses. Many of my new Midwestern gardening friends are more accustomed to the ho-hum ‘Knockout’ roses introduced by the landscape industry for their ability to look mediocre in all conditions(which is supposed to be a good trait), or they are daunted by the difficult reputation of the T-roses we often see in those beautiful David Austin Rose advertisements. Not being one to settle for mediocrity when I can possibly help it, here are some beautiful roses that can tolerate both our harsh winters and our very hot, humid summers. The roses I have included in this post are fairly disease resistant varieties and I plan to have many of them available to sell next spring.
“Climbing New Dawn’ and ‘Dorothy Perkins’ on Nantucket:
This is Rosa ‘Aloha’. Here it is growing in an Ohio garden as a 4′-5′ shrub rose. It can also be grown as a shorter climbing rose reaching around 8ft. This is a repeat bloomer so deadhead back to a leaflet that has at least 5 healthy leaves as soon as the cluster has passed to encourage the next set of flower buds.
Below is the ‘Constant Gardener’. It is a very subtle, repeat-blooming, shrub rose. I must say it gets lost in all of the action I have going on in the garden in which I have it planted so I suggest giving it a quiet corner of its own where one can appreciate its delicate color and flower structure.
Here is a rose that often brings tears to my eyes as it reminds me so much of the Nantucket cottages that are literally covered from door step to roof top because of its beautiful rambling habit and where it is often enveloped by the soft morning fog with the sleepy fog horn sounding in the background. Her name is ‘Dorothy Perkins’. This rose can be susceptible to powdery mildew in humid conditions but this is easily controlled by a light spray of a horticultural oil and water solution.
Growing on my home in Chandlersville Ohio
This next rose, ‘Alchemist’, is truly a diva! She has taken me by complete surprise with her looks as I took a chance ordering some bare-root stock having never grown her before. Wow! This is one vigorous, glorious rose but she has an evil side that wields some of the most viscous and stubborn thorns I have ever encountered. As long as you keep her tied to her support and don’t let her venture too far you are safe but, once you let her roam free beware! She will exact a painful price when reigning her back in. I was literally in tears and screaming the day I had to tame her and confine her to the domain of her pergola.
‘Alchemist’ has an overabundance of buds that burst into the most luscious, blushed apricot blooms aging to a rich cream color. The kind of cream you get from a happy grass fed jersey cow. All of this talk of roses and cream has me craving a pot of Lady Grey tea and scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam.
Below is a simple beauty, Rosa rugosa ‘Hansa’. Rugosa roses are beach roses so they are very hardy, disease resistant even to Rose Rosette disease, and quite vigorous. This is a very shrubby and thorny plant so put in a spot where it can just fill out naturally without over taking its neighbors. ‘Hansa’ has a more refined appearance than the true beach rose, growing a bit more upright rather than spreading horizontally as the beach roses do, and it has a nice double flower. My favorite aspect of beach roses is there soft, but delicious fragrance that fills the air when the sun hits the blooms. I usually will grab a bloom and bring it in the truck with me to enjoy on my way to work or en route to my next garden to tend. I have ‘Hansa’ planted in a garden at a nearby nursing home and when I am there checking on things I love being able to share a bloom from this rose if a resident happens to be outside sitting in the sun.
End of Summer Favorite
I started this blog to write about growing my favorite plants and flowers, but I would be hard pressed to decide whether I enjoy them more for their beauty, or for the sheer joy and gratitude I get from harvesting and cooking with some of these plants. I just couldn’t resist sharing this end of summer favorite recipe with you.
Sadly, I was unable to get my own vegetable garden in this year even after starting all of the seeds for it, but that did not stop me from fully appreciating the wonderful produce offered at various farmer’s markets in my area. The end of summer and beginning of fall is I think my favorite time of year to visit markets. The flavors of the tomatoes seem to deepen and the fresh, crisp apples are starting to fill the stands.
This week I stopped at the Curly Girl Farm Stand and loaded up!
Fortunately we finally got a couple of rainy days here and while working on some garden plans I got to make my favorite late season dish, Ratatouille, with all the goodies I bought. This dish is perfect if you have other chores to do because you basically put everything in the oven and leave it.
My ratatouille comes out different every time I make it. I am a very imperfect cook and I rarely follow one recipe, but rather some combination of many I have read. So, you wont find any exacting instructions or specific measurements in most of my cooking. Typically the dish is made with varying amounts of tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onions, garlic, herbs, and anything else that sounds good.
I prefer the easiest possible method of preparing this dish which is to coarsely chop the vegetables and roast them in the oven. I put them on an edged cookie sheet or in a dish with copious amounts of olive oil and some coarse salt and pepper.
I like to roast the onions and tomatoes together because they take about the same amount of time which is maybe around 2 hours at 375 degrees, or until they are getting browned and caramelized and the juices are starting to disappear.
Next I combine all the roasted vegetables in a heavy oven proof pot, add about 2 cups of water, sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of coarse brown cane sugar, drizzle in about 2 tablespoons of Balsamic vinegar, add salt and pepper to taste and return it to a cooler oven of 325 degrees for about another 45-60.
I like the outcome to be like a chunky, rich, and concentrated preserve. In my dreams it would accompany a freshly caught, lightly breaded filet of Canadian Small Mouth bass fried in browned butter but, it can accompany any roasted or grilled meat.
The way I eat it most often however, is spread very thickly on a chunky, toasted piece of Country or Italian bread with some shaved Parmesan and chopped fresh basil on top and of course a nice glass of Pinot Noir!
A Little Review of Our Blooms This Season at Mission Oaks Gardens
I am lucky enough to get to spend some of my time working and volunteering at Mission Oaks Gardens in my home town of Zanesville, Ohio. This 5 acre botanical garden is a local treasure and open to the public everyday. If you haven’t gotten a chance to come visit, here is just a little of what you are missing:
This gorgeous, rare cup and saucer Magnolia named ‘Joe McDaniels’ was gifted to the original owner of the gardens years ago by a friend of the breeder.
I think Magnolia ‘Big Dude’ below is my favorite. The immense size of the flowers, often exceeding 12 inches in diameter, remind of me of the prehistoric nature of the magnolia and its need to have large tough flower parts to survive pollination in a time when large beetles were the pollinators instead of some of the delicate species of insects that exist today.
Magnolia ‘Butterflies’ never fails to cheer me up with the sheer mass of creamy yellow flowers that seem to fill the sky.
Here is ‘Coral Lake’ in beautiful muted tones on a cloudy day.
And here it is transformed on a bright, sunny, spring day!
I love these little ‘Autumn Maple’ irises both because of the warm spring color they offer and because they bloom just as heavily a second time in October.
Strolling through the gardens in spring is like walking through a real life fairy garden. There are over 100 different species of Rhododendron and Azaleas throughout the gardens with more being planted everyday!
May is the month that the Perennial Garden begins to make itself known.
Who can resist the Itoh Peony ‘Bartzella’.
Evening light is making its way out of the garden lighting up the white flower masses of the Fringe Tree in the distance and Baptisias ‘Australis’ and ‘Screamin Yellow’ are making a last statement before dark.
Baptisia ‘Screamin Yellow’ the next morning.
Echinacea ‘Solar Flare’ has surprised me with its hardiness these past couple years and has come back stronger each season.Unfortunately one can not say that about many of the new varieties of echinacea these days.
Echinacea ‘Hot Papaya’ is best up close and personal.
Monarda ‘Raspberry Wine’ is my favorite beebalm. It does so well in shade and is just a gorgeous, eccentric looking flower.
For you chartreuse lovers out there variegated Comfrey is a must have!
I love all the different foliage and textures that came together in this corner of the garden. The purple heart shaped leaves of Katsura, the delicate leaflets of Wild Senna, the red shade dwelling Spygellia, a little Mukdenia, and the bright orange flowers of Milkweed tuberosa.
The Oriental lilies over near our volunteer building have really outdone themselves this year.
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Strawberry Sunday’ has finally earned my respect. I think it may have the prettiest and most delicate flower form of all the paniculatas.
The lovely Dahlia ‘Elise’ is just beginning to bloom.
The less showy but very sweet little Dahlia ‘Gala’ is blending nicely with some variegated coleus here.
Last but not least for the mid-season highlights is my favorite angle of the perennial garden at the moment.
The new Hydrangea paniculata ‘Passionate’ that frames the above picture on the left side has astounded me with the massive size of its flowers. They are well over a foot long!! Unfortunately the deer ate most of the blooms off of this tree so we can;’t get the full effect that his new variety has to offer but wow, just wow! I will be sure to cover this with netting next year so we get to see what it really has to offer. This lovely tree was planted by the Nashport, OH Girl Scouts troop when they came to the gardens to learn and obtain their Tree Badge. Thanks girls!!
Stay tuned for highlights from the second half of the season!