Winter Protection For Boxwood

Detroit-Garden-Works.jpgBoxwood is one of the most versatile and robust growing evergreens available for planting in my zone. There are a number of great cultivars.  Green Velvet matures at 3′ by 3′, and keeps its great color all winter. Green Mountain is virtually identical to Green Velvet, but grows to 4′ tall by 3′ wide. Buxus microphylla koreana, pictured above, is hardy in this full south sun location, and can grow to 5′ by 5′.  The winter color is a dull orangy bronze. Winter Gem boxwood is incredibly hardy, and grows slowly to about 4′ by 4′. The leaves are smaller, and narrower than Green Velvet.

DSC_4001There are lots of other hybrids available.  Vardar Valley is an outstanding hardy cultivar of buxus sempervirens. It matures at 1′ to 2′.  The leaves have a distinctive blue green color.  As it is a slow growing variety, it is not routinely offered for sale at local nurseries.  Most of the boxwood sold in my area is grown in regions where the season is long enough to permit 2 flushes of growth per season.  This means nursery can get a salable product faster.  Boxwood is graded by width-not by height.  A boxwood takes about 7 years to grow to an 18″-24″ size.  This makes them relatively expensive to buy, compared to other ornamental shrubs that grow quickly.

MG 2013 (29)Boxwood is indeed a versatile shrub. They make great hedges, as their growth is uniform, and they are very tolerant of pruning.  That tolerance makes them an ideal subject for living sculpture. Boxwood pruned into spheres, squares, cones and cylinders are striking and delightful.  The large boxwood in this landscape will be kept pruned in spheres.  The small boxwood will be allowed to grow together, and will be pruned flat. This garden will have a much different look in a few years. All of these boxwood are Winter Gem.  The fine textured foliage makes them ideal for pruning into a formal, strictly geometric shape.   DSC_1801Boxwood are quite friendly to other plants.  Provided care is taken in the selection of a cultivar for a specific site, they will stay in bounds. These boxwood rectangles are a beautiful foil for the clipped espaliered crab apples. If the face is pruned on a very slight angle out from top to the bottom, they will stay green all the way to the ground. A boxwood which is hard pruned into a specific shape will stay green on the interior.

boxwood-green-velvet.jpgBoxwood makes a fine tall ground cover under a tree.  They are quite shade tolerant. A small landscape such as this is all the more interesting for a change of level.  These boxwood are a welcome visual intermediary between the ground plane, and a linden which has grown to substantial size. That they are shade tolerant means they can be sited in lots of places.  Naturally grown boxwood make a lovely backdrop for ferns, hostas and shade tolerant perennials.  A boxwood provides a green backdrop for the earliest of perennials to appear in the spring.  The small textured foliage makes them a great companion for the bigger textured hellebores, and European ginger.

Aug 31 2013 (20)A boxwood would go so far to oblige a gardener who wishes to grow them in containers.  They do need large enough containers so there is room to grow.  The root ball of a decent sized and well grown boxwood might be larger in diameter that its leafy component.  Boxwood in containers need special attention to proper watering. They need to be well watered prior to freezing weather.  They will rely on water stored in the stems and leaves to survive they winter, as the water in the container cannot be absorbed when it is frozen.  Boxwood in ground has much more widespread moisture available to its roots, especially given how long it takes for the ground to freeze to any significant depth.  A boxwood confined to a pot needs regular water.

boxwood-hedge.jpgPruning boxwood takes more than a good eye.  A great job invariably involved the setting of level lines.  Relatively level boxwood has a forlorn and unfinished look.  This boxwood has been pruned level with the horizon, even though the driveway drops down to the street.  The boxwood at the bottom of this drive is quite a bit taller than those plants at the top.  Level boxwood has a serene and solid look to it.

August 12 2013 (11)Boxwood can help provide structure to a garden.  This densely growing shrub provides a simple and strong contrast to the garden elements.  This pruning is loosely formal, and softens the stone wall behind them.

Aug 31 2013 (18)I have written about boxwood plenty of times before – I do like them.  It was painful to see how many boxwood in my area were severely damaged or killed outright by our last winter.  Some were crushed by the huge snow loads.  Others in more exposed locations were damaged by the extreme cold.  That cold, in conjunction with sun and wind burned the leaves. Leaves that were completely dessicated, died. It took the coming of the spring weather to see how terrible the damage truly was.  Some of the boxwood at the shop died outright.  The damaged portions will take years to recover.

July 5, 2012 035If you have ever hung a boxwood wreath on a shaded door for the winter, or used cut boxwood in winter pots, you know those stems will dry out, but stay green until the temperatures moderate.  Like many evergreens, by the time a boxwood shows signs of stress, it is too late to remedy the problem.  Now that fall is approaching, I would urge anyone with boxwood in my zone to spray them with an antidessicant.  An antidessicant is a waxy coating with will slow the evaporation of water from the leaves in the winter.

boxwood-spheres.jpgI have heard talk that this winter looks like it may be a very cold winter.  Something like last winter.  Though boxwood is hardy in this zone, extreme cold, sun, and drying winds can damage them.  Though a boxwood may grow out of winter burn, that look is unsightly come spring.  If your boxwood are 15 years old, it will be very expensive to replace dead plants with new plants of the size you already own.  Last winter was dramatic evidence that winter protection for boxwood is a good idea.  photo (43)I recommend Vapor Gard.  It is widely used as an agricultural antidessicant. The main ingredient is pinolene, a natural polymer made from pine pitch.  It can significantly reduce winter burn.  You can buy it, dilute it 1 part to 20 parts of water, and spray it on your boxwood. If you have lots of boxwood, your tree care company can spray this for you.  It is best done on a dry day, before the weather drops regularly into the low forties.  The polymer coating will protect those leaves over the winter, and help them retain moisture.  Vapor Gard is a natural and non toxic spray widely used on crops, including cherries.  It is an easy way to protect your investment. Do read the label-it is not appropriate for every and any plant. I plan to spray all of my boxwood with it soon; one application will protect them the entire winter. The boxwood pictured above from this past spring-heartbreaking.   Interested further?   http://www.cdms.net/LDat/ld06L002.pdf

A Favorite Client

harriet.jpgIt isn’t hard to identify the favorite clients.  The work you do for them-they appreciate it. They are not afraid to ask you to detail every step you went through to arrive at a recommendation. Once you provide all of the details, they respond, kindly. They think over everything you say, carefully. Better, yet, they are interested, and committed.  They are clear about what they like, and polite about what they don’t like. They are willing to weather any storm.  They can be persuaded.  But they know their own mind and life, and are not afraid to stand up for that. I don’t often visit this client, for whom I did a landscape for her new house some three years ago. We had cause to meet recently-a few new issues needed solving.  Her opening topic-a leaf that had fallen from her katsura espaliers.  That heart shape leaf falling on an under planting of boxwood-a cause for celebration. That randomly falling heart shaped leaf was the first topic of her day.  The beauty of nature was number one.  All else was a distant second.   How like her, to feel this way, and show it to me.  We spent a few moments, in celebration.

DSC_4381Celebration energizes and organizes all sorts of  expression.  The landscape is, in its most basic form, about defining spaces, directing traffic, and nurturing a love of nature.  As much as a home is a three dimensional representation of the story of the life of a family, the landscape is a story about how that home interacts with nature.  That relationship with nature is about a lot of things – materials impervious to weather, and the plants.  The shapes of spaces, and their dimensions. Color, and dimension.  Depth.  Places to be. What grows and lives in the landscape parallels a life some describe as a life well worth living.

DSC_4402This landscape just three years old.  It is starting to is take root, and become part and parcel of this property.     It will take a few more years to see what the landscape screens, what it frames, what it features, how it thrives,  and how it enriches this household. A mature landscape will take a good many years to achieve, but the early signs are good.  Establishing the landscape has been a battle.  Very heavy clay soil close to the water’s edge means the soil is usually saturated. We have had casualties.  But the peonies have taken hold, as have the climbing roses and the clematis.  Once a garden built on clay soil is established, it it long lived.

DSC_4378This favorite client took my recommendations about pots and benches, steps, porch stone-this was just the beginning..  This year she had a mind to change her color scheme for her containers. Lots of color, please.  Container design can take a last minute cue.

DSC_4366A meadow garden near the water was too tall, and too green.  Some of the beds got a subtle punch of color from the addition of mid height annual plants.  We planted a few low growing shrub roses-just to see if they would take to the placement. Any successful garden depends upon the willingness to experiment, and evolve. Tinkering is is the hallmark of every inventor.  Among that big group of inventors – gardeners.

DSC_4363My client’s property is overrun with rabbits.  Rabbits that treat her gardens like a lunch buffet.  Her sculpture collection of minks, foxes and dogs that inhabit the landscape are a personal signature. She may never defeat the rabbits, but her landscape is endowed with with her hope, interest and commitment. She is a favorite client, yes. The relationship is a regular pleasure, and routinely full of surprises.  She thinks about her landscape in a way that I never could.  It is hers.  I so appreciate that she thinks about every issue, personally.

DSC_4361water’s edge garden

DSC_4355bright colored containers

DSC_4398saturated color

DSC_4359a view of the garden

DSC_4347I have never seen streptocarpella thrive quite like this. Bravo, Harriet.

Sunday Opinion: Aging Trees

A good client has lost 6 very big and very old trees in the terrible storms we have had this season. The damage to her landscape is considerable.  The remaining old trees in the same proximity look lonely, and off center. She is asking me what to do.  I haven’t answered her yet, but she will most likely need to start over. Just yesterday we had a storm, wind driven and rain laden, blow through such that Detroit Edison counts it as their 10th worst storm on record.  Luckily my neighborhood was spared.  At the shop, a giant limb of a willow sheared off, and landed on our neighbor’s roof.  Lots of people lost their power in the greater Detroit area. The big winds and the big rain took down trees in a wide range of communities.  Big trees.  As in, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.  Miraculously, no person was injured.

Big storms are the plague of the weak and the big old trees. A sapling can gracefully bend under the duress of a straight line wind.  No harm done. Old trees whose wood is stiff with age do not bend-they break. The canopy of a big tree is like a a giant sail. A wind that is too strong can stress that trunk beyond reason. For certain, large caliper trees that are snapped off above the ground, or uprooted in the height of a storm are victims of the unpredictable direction and incredible strength of that force we call nature. If you have ever seen a big tree uprooted or snapped off you understand the meaning of the word “force”.

Other trees in poor condition go over or shed big limbs without much in the way of protest. A lack of health, or a lack of regular maintenance makes them a target for the effects of severe weather.  There are a lot of limbs on the ground now.  The pruning that violent nature does is extreme. No judicious or clean cuts. I suppose storm pruning is effective.  Any limb that is weak, or growing at an unsustainable angle gets a haircut in a matter of seconds. There is no time for a second opinion.

Our trees are our biggest plants. Old trees are up there, dealing with the brunt of the weather. All kinds of issues challenge their health.  As they age, they need care.  Maples in the tree lawn develop girdling roots.  Sun loving deciduous trees in too much shade grow towards the light.  Lots of our evergreens are being threatened by needle cast disease. I could go on and on about the illnesses of trees, but that is not my point.  Trees need a gardener in charge to look after them, routinely-unless being at the mercy of nature is a place you don’t mind being.

My city does no pruning or maintenance on the street trees. I would guess this is a budget issue.  So the three trees in the tree lawn on my corner lot that they finally took down this spring – I had to make a case that not to take them down would expose people to serious danger.  They finally agreed. They were all maples, more than 2/3rds dead, suffering from girdling roots and seriously weakened by fungus.  The maples were a poor choice to begin with. Their roots need room.  They are much too large growing to restrict to the space in an urban tree lawn.  Years of neglect made them a disaster waiting to happen. One giant limb at a just about horizontal angle arcing over my street featured a home trunk entirely rotted on the interior. That tree worried me to no end.  I am glad it is gone now, before it collapsed under its own weight.  In my next life I would like to be in charge of street tree plantings.  Not that I have an agenda proud of the history of street trees in my urban community.  I just have a big love for trees, and want to see them take hold and thrive.  Old trees ask for some care.  Loosing one – grievous. Certain neighborhoods in Royal Oak have incredibly gorgeous and substantial London Plane trees, thriving.  These trees have been looked after all along the way.

An landscape asks for a regular hand.  An aging landscape asks for a better than regular hand.  There is no substitute for regular care.  This is not to say that regular care will insure you will never have storm related damage to your trees.  But it will provide them a fighting chance.

As for my dead maples, I have had the stumps ground down 24 inches. I had to transplant all of the hosta planted around them like skirts.  I raked and seeded each 6′ diameter circle of bare dirt.  Now it’s time to think about how I will replant that tree lawn.  All living plants have a life span. Long and short.  Expected, and unexpected. Looking after a property also means starting over.

A Watery Grave

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I am sure you remember the astonishingly cold and lengthy winter past.  The fallout from that winter was severe.  So many plants damaged, or killed outright.  Trying to catch up to the repair and replacement, given that it was well into April before anyone could work the ground, has been a daunting task. That cold winter has proved to be a gift that is still giving.  Our summer has been remarkably, uncharacteristically, unsettlingly cool.  I have no complaints about the fact that Buck and I were able to have dinner outdoors every day in July.  The temperatures come 7:30 pm were neither cold nor hot-just perfectly comfortable.  But for 2 hots days, and a short spell with no rain, the summer has been a dream come true for people and landscapes alike.  The last week we have had driving rains and downright cold temperatures.  The seasonal plants are not so happy with this turn of events.

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The seasonal flowers in containers have been remarkably good, although undersized for this time of year.  Tropical/seasonal/annual plants love the heat-as in hot.  What is too uncomfortably warm a temperature for me is much to the liking of most tropical plants that are native to much warmer climates than ours.  The boxes on the roof at Detroit Garden Works need to be planted with plants that luxuriate in high temperatures. It is a hot and windy spot, up there. My choice of a focal plant this year-Ruellia Britoniana, commonly known as Mexican petunia.  “When grown under hot sunny conditions the foliage assumes a metallic bluish cast that creates the perfect backdrop for the the scores of vibrant blue flowers that appear with the onslaught of hot summer weather. The blossoms are trumpet shaped and about 1.5-2 in (3.8-5.1 cm) in diameter and are borne at the tips of the stems. Varieties with white, pink, and many shades of blue are available, as are dwarf versions that form clumps that are about 8-12 in (20.3-25.4 cm) in height. Mexican petunia is very showy when in full bloom due to the clouds of admiring butterflies that swarm about the plants.”  The aforementioned is taken word for word from the floridata website. I had in my mind’s eye a hedge of ruellia 3′ tall and loaded with purple flowers-luxuriating in the heat.

angelonia.jpgI asked George at Telly’s Greenhouse if he had ruellia in 4″ pots.  He did, although the plants were small.  He wanted me to leave them in his greenhouse-his hot house-for 3 weeks.  They would grow faster for him in his hothouse than they would on my chilly roof. I was sure we would eventually get hot weather, so I delayed planting the roof until the beginning of July.   I under planted the ruellia with several colors of angelonia. “Angelonia is an exceptional summer bedding plant that can be relied upon for dependable garden performance through the hottest summer weather”-this quote from Dan Gill. For a little contrast in color and texture, a dwarf sweet potato vine every so often, to trail.   My roof garden is a perfect location for plants that thrives in high heat. As for the heat, I am still waiting.

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Those cool temperatures in midsummer?  I do believe we have our past winter to thank for that.  Days upon days of weather in the single digits or below zero made for a record breaking ice cover on the great lakes.  Over 90% of the Great Lakes were ice covered. Friends that ice fish told me that the ice was 3′ thick on Lake Huron this past winter.  Ice that thick did not melt so quickly, given our very chilly spring.  If someone told me today that Lake Michigan still had chunks of ice floating around, I would believe it.  How has that affected our summer?  The prevailing winds blowing over frozen or near freezing lakes has made for a relatively cold summer. This week, the rains just kept coming. My ruellia and angelonia look good, just small.  How have I protected my tropical plants that like high heat and hate waterlogged soil?

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The proper watering of tropical/season/annual plants in ground and in containers is key to their success.  In the heat of July, I water my containers every other day. I water my begonias only once a week in July-if that.  Their fleshy stems store a lot of water.  One bit too much water from my hose, and they will rot. The heat of July means water is evaporating out of the soil in the pots at a rapid rate.  It takes a lot of attention and some skill to water just enough to keep the moisture level even.  Not too much, not too little.  Plants that are greatly wanting for water shed leaves, and shut down.  Rescue water may revive a desperately thirsty plant, but the stress of going without can take a toll. Plants that get watered on a schedule without regard to the weather will eventually protest, and falter. Too much water is just as bad as too little. I see watering on containers now at a rate proper with 90 degree days, though many of our days have barely hit 70.

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Linden trees suffering from lack of water in the heat of the summer-their interior leaves will turn yellow, and drop.  A tree suffering from lack of water will shed interior leaves.  The leaves at the ends of the branches are actively engaged in photosynthesis.  Precious water reserves will be reserved for those leaves performing vital functions for the health of the tree.  A linden tree which is over watered will send signals.  The leaves-all of the leaves-wilt, and eventually yellow. Leaf drop will be considerable. This silver cascade dusty miller has been over watered.  The interior leaves are yellowing.

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Container plantings that are not doing well right now can largely be attributed to over water.  When the temperatures are cool, and the overnight temperatures downright cold, water less.  Maybe a lot less. Maybe not at all. The usual watering routine does not apply in a season like this.  I always put my finger in the dirt down to my knuckle before I water.  If the soil sticks to my finger, I don’t water. If the knuckle test says don’t water for 10 days, I don’t water for 10 days.  If the soil slides off my finger, I water.  Past this general rule, great watering becomes an art. A great diagnostician/gardener is an artist at heart.  If one plant in a container seems dry, I water one plant.  If it is 95 degrees, and I need water to soak a container, I may fill that container with water 3 times before moving on. When in doubt, I pass on the water.

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Many factors influence the performance of plants. Placing the plant in the right place comes first. Light and water are crucial secondary elements.  In shade, in cool temperatures, and in rainy weather I water tropical plants less.  My hardy ferns and European ginger love all the rain we have been getting.  My landscape is thriving, happy with all of the unexpected water from the sky. They have so much more potential for drainage than a plant in a pot.

rain-damage.jpgIf your annual plants have leaves that are pale or yellow green, if they look peaked, fungus marked, black and mushy, or otherwise headed to a watery grave, shut off the hose. Keep that hose in neutral in cold and rainy weather.