Plant Preview

Welcome to Plant Preview, a blog dedicated to helping gardeners learn about gardening techniques and preview new plant cultivars. Read about new plants here first and hear how your "comrades in compost" are making use of new plant introductions in their gardens and landscapes. Blog author Geri Laufer is a life-long dirt gardener, degreed horticulturist, author and former County Extension Agent. Plant Preview is copyrighted by Geri Laufer.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

White Frost™ Birchleaf Spirea from Garden Debut

Growing up in Ohio, several rounded shrubs of the straight species of Birchleaf Spirea, Spirea betulifolia, grew across the back of our neighbors’ garage. Reliably every spring or early summer, fountains of white flowers (actually flat-topped cymes of tiny flowers) would coat each arching branch of this rounded native shrub. We called it “bridal wreath” and one tiny cyme was just the right size for a Barbie doll wedding bouquet.

The new White Frost™ Birchleaf Spirea from Garden Debut®  is an improvement over the species, with a lovely range of fall color including shades of purple, orange, yellow and rust. In summer, the leaves are a dark green and iridescent silver-green beneath. White Frost™ is a long-lived, deciduous shrub that grows at a moderate rate to reach a height and width of three feet. In the Rosaceae, its tiny white flowers are attractive to bees, butterflies, and birds, but this cultivar is sterile and does not set seed. 

White Frost™ Birchleaf Spirea has average water needs but a low tolerance to drought. It is adaptable, accepting a pH of 5.5 to 7.5 and /USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 8. It is also good in containers. White Frost™ Spirea is botanically known as Spirea betulifola ‘Tor’ and is vegetatively propagated by permit. Contact your independent Garden Center to locate this shrub for your garden. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Crown Jewel Gardenia does well in Acidic, Loamy Soil

Crown Jewel® Gardenia PP19896 is a low-growing, spreading to prostrate Gardenia with intensely fragrant, white, medium-sized flowers in early summer.  Bright green foliage is medium to small sized for the species.  While cold-climate gardeners must grow their gardenias in pots, in USDA Zone 7 and warmer gardenias are grown outdoors, permeating the garden with fragrance.

Providing an acidic loam is crucial for plant health and successful blooming in some plants. Gardenias, along with blueberries, fragrant native azaleas and beautiful evergreen camellias, all prefer moist, loamy, acid-rich soils with the pH ranging between 5 and 6. Amending the soil with organic soil conditioners facilitates the development of the right blend. Compost made from pine needles, oak leaves or Douglas fir sawdust, followed after planting with a mulch of pine straw, goes a long way toward this goal. Soybean meal, cottonseed meal or alfalfa as a green manure also create more acid conditions.

Another organic tip is to add powdered sulfur to the soil a few months before planting according to package directions to lower the pH, making the soil more acidic (also a good tip for Iris ensata, Japanese Iris).

Iron Chelate is an organic form of iron, and provides micronutrients  in a form available for absorption by plants. Spraying the foliage with iron chelate typically eliminates yellow, mottled choloritc  leaves  deficient in iron by supplying iron and facilitating the uptake of nitrogen. 

These wonderful woody plants are best provided with full to partial sun (a bit of afternoon shade is great) and good air circulation in a cooler, woodsy environment. Don’t plant near the reflective heat of concrete or asphalt. Protection from cold winter winds helps to prevent tip dieback at the colder regions of the plants’  range. Light applications of commercial azalea fertilizer or diluted acid-forming fertilizers are ok, but too much can burn tender roots.

In particular, Crown Jewel® Gardenia was selected from a controlled cross between the dwarf ‘Kleim’s Hardy’ and the cold-hardy, twice-blooming ‘Chuck Hayes’ by Philip Dark of Oakmont Nursery in Chathem County, North Carolina. Heavy June blooming repeats until frost. Highly perfumed Crown Jewel® Gardenia grows about 6 inches /year with the potential to reach 2 feet in height and a spread of 4 to 6 feet wide, ideal for garden beds. Dark is a member of the consortium of growers and breeders that make up Garden Debut®.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Christmas Jewel(R) Holly and the Great Backyard Bird Count

Today, Friday, February 18, 2011 begins the Great Backyard Bird Count which runs through Feb. 21. Although it is called “Backyard” participants are encouraged to count in parks, woods, farms, and campuses for minimum intervals of 15-minutes. Then post the count on the website, sponsored by Cornell and Audubon. This Video explains in detail just how to participate.    

Since it is easy to count birds while they are distracted by feeding, consider planting berried shrubs to attract birds to the garden. An adaptable broadleaf evergreen shrub perfect as a specimen plant or grown as a narrow, dense hedge, Christmas Jewel® Holly PP14477 is a beautiful Ilex pernyi hybrid hardy in USDA Zones 6-9. Fifteen year old plants are 9' tall by 6' wide with an upright, dense pyramidal shape achieved naturally without pruning. Polished dark green leaves of Christmas Jewel® are small, narrow and long with blunt spines that are not very sharp to the touch. Christmas Jewel® Holly is a lovely, low maintenance addition to the landscape.

Christmas Jewel® Holly plants are female, producing abundant, large, apple-red berries without the need of a pollinator. The berries turn red before Christmas and last until early summer or until they are eaten by wild birds. Typically, birds won’t eat Ilex berries until late in the winter season when they have been softened by alternate freezes and thaws.  

According to docstoc, holly berries have among the highest nutritive value for [British] berries with a value of 4.75, and these highly nutritious berries that are available at the right time of year.

Bird species that eat holly berries include flickers, mocking birds, thrashers, flickers, catbirds, waxwings, cardinals, blue jays, as well as mourning doves, ruffed grouse, bobwhite and wild turkeys. Deer, voles, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, hares and even bears, red foxes, raccoons and box turtles all eat holly fruit.

Some birds like robins normally eat insects and worms, but become fruit-eating birds or frugivores in late winter, and the nutritious red holly berries are available to them.

By planting Christmas Jewel® Holly or other berried shrubs in the landscape, your  bird species counts may be enhanced for the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Photo credits: Garden Debut(R) and bird photos courtesy

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Urban™ Columnar Apple Series Yields Fruit in a Square Foot!

Tasty Red™, Tangy Green™, Blushing Delight™ and Golden Treat™ Urban™ Columnar Apples yield good taste in a square foot!

Edible gardening is taking the forefront as the locally-grown food movement gains ground, and more and more gardeners are finding success harvesting their own crops. Enter Urban™ Columnar Apples by Garden Debut®, new introductions that yield great tasting apples in a tiny space. Now it’s easy to produce delicious, full-sized apples on slender, vertical trees that grow in large pots on sunny decks or balconies.

Urban™ Columnar Apple trees are loaded with fruiting spurs along the main leader, and branches are short and upright, producing straight, upright-growing, cylindrical apple trees. Plant Urban™ Columnar Apples in the ground, or transplant to larger containers coordinated with home and architecture and enjoy moving them around as desired.

Romantic apple blossoms in spring will enchant homeowners, apartment dwellers, condo owners, suburbanites and those short on space. Urban™ apple trees mature at 8 to 10 feet tall but less than two feet in diameter(!) , and are extremely healthy and disease resistant. When grown in full sun expect full-sized fruit the first year from planting, so long as there are two or more varieties for cross pollination. As trees mature, the yield of apples will increase. Be sure to maintain fertility levels for good growth and yields.

A choice of four varieties in the Urban™ Columnar Apple Series developed by Dr. Jaroslav Tupy of the Czech Republic ensure a wide selection of flavor, plus good cross-pollination and fruit set:  

Tasty Red™ is a bright red apple with a sweet, juicy flavor
Blushing Delight™ produces a blush of reddish green fruit with a slightly sweeter taste
Golden Treat™ greenish-gold apples are tart in early fall, but get sweeter the longer they are on the tree
Tangy Green™ lime green apples add a crisp, tart flavor to the series

Harvest tasty fruit within easy reach of the patio table, or host a pick-your-own on the porch and watch heads turn. Try Urban™ Columnar Apples in large tubs flanking the entrance or plant alongside a border or fence to add value. The impact of a loaded apple tree in a tiny space is irresistible.

Statistics Chart for Urban™ Columnar Apple Series:  
Tasty Red(TM) Urban Columnar Apple Malus 'UEB 3449-1'
Blushing Delight(TM) Urban Columnar Apple Malus 'UEB 3727-4'
Golden Treat(TM) Urban Columnar Apple Malus 'UEB3358-3'
Tangy Green(TM) Urban Columnar Apple Malus 'UEB 3812-2'

Plant Category:
 Deciduous flowering fruit trees
Mature Height:
 8 to 10  feet
Mature Spread:
 1 ½ to 2 feet
Mature Form:
 Extremely narrow, columnar form with multiple fruiting spurs on central leader
Growth Rate:
Sun Exposure:
 Best grown in full sun
Soil Type:
 Garden loam, amended clay, soil-less potting mixes with good fertility
Soil Moisture:
 Moist, well-drained soils
Chilling Requirement:
 800 – 1200 hours for good bud set (number of hours the temperature is below 45 degrees F. but above 32 degrees F. ) . 
Flower Color:
 Romantic pink and white apple blossoms on bare branches in early  spring
Fruit Set and Yield:
 Two varieties are required for cross-pollination and good fruit set: expect full-sized fruit from the first year
 Four varieties of Urban™ Apple Series provide a wide choice of taste and color on full-sized apples:

Tasty Red(TM) Urban Columnar Apple Malus 'UEB 3449-1'
Blushing Delight(TM) Urban Columnar Apple Malus 'UEB 3727-4'
Golden Treat(TM) Urban Columnar Apple Malus 'UEB3358-3'
Tangy Green(TM) Urban Columnar Apple Malus 'UEB 3812-2'
Summer Color:
Apple green leaf color   
Fall Color:
pH Level:
 5.5 – 7.5
4 – 9  (-30 degrees F or 23 Degrees C), well suited for most of the continental U.S.
Developed by Dr. Jaroslav Tupy, Czech Republic
When performance counts, use Garden Debut® introductions
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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bare Root, Container-Grown and Balled-and-Burlapped Woody Ornamentals

Right now in late winter is the second best time to plant woody ornamentals (the best time is in the autumn). Choose from woody plants growing in containers, field grown with balled-&-burlapped root systems, and bare-root plants.

1. Container-grown plants are the most common source for nursery stock, are widely available and provide the best success for gardeners. The potting mix in the container is filled with vigorous white roots just hitting the sides of the pot. First, loosen a wide area of soil in the new garden site, dig a hole nearly the same size as the pot (but not deeper), and pop in the rootball, firming the surrounding soil and watering in thoroughly. Nothing could be simpler!  

Occasionally, the plant has been in the container too long, and the roots may have begun to circle around inside the pot. Either tease them out and point them in divergent directions in a wider planting hole, or else eliminate circling roots by trimming off with sharp pruners. Another possible red flag to consider with containers is die-back due to the sun striking one side of the pot and baking the roots on that side due to the heat. Choose shaded containers.

The majority of my garden plants are purchased as container-grown, with the added advantage that they can be planted 12 months out of the year. Another bonus is that multiple sizes (and prices) are often available, and I can often choose an economical smaller size.

2. Balled-&-Burlapped plants, often abbreviated as B&B, are mainly larger-sized, field grown trees and shrubs that have been dug out of an in-ground nursery with a ball of soil around the roots. Great care is taken to wrap the entire sphere (typically 1 to 3 feet in diameter) in burlap and then tie it securely at the base of the trunk, ready to be transported.  Depressions are made in the sales yard for these balled plants, and they are heavily mulched and carefully watered until sales day. The great advantage of B&B plants is their larger size, providing a more mature look when planted in the landscape. 

Avoid split or cracked root balls, or root balls that have become dried-out with wilted shoots and leaves. Pick B&B plants up from the bottom of the soil balls and don’t grab the trunks to sling around. When planting, remove every bit of burlap and fasteners to give the root ball contact with the native soil. Roll it to one side, then pull off the burlap and roll it into the hole, making sure the trunk is perpendicular to the ground 
before firming the surrounding soil and watering in.

I have had good success with a lush Doublefile Viburnum, a pink Eastern Dogwood and six large, 3-inch caliper Southern Magnolias planted as B&B specimens.

3. Bare-root plants are harvested only in the winter when dormant, and all soil is washed away from the roots, leaving them “naked” or exposed. Bare-root plants have the advantage of being light in weight therefore cheaper to ship over distances, providing a wider selection of unusual varieties available from individual specialty growers. When bare-root plants are received, visually inspect for extensive, healthy white or creamy root systems, and avoid dried out roots, slimy black waterlogged roots, and plants prematurely breaking dormancy.  When planting, build up a cone in the middle of the hole and set the bare crown at or slightly above the soil level but not below (peonies are a special case). Spread the roots out in a 360 degree pattern to take advantage of the entire soil volume available. Bare-root plants typically establish more quickly because the roots can be spread out and become acclimated to the native soil.

Roses, fruit trees and vines, and perennial veggies such as asparagus, horseradish and rhubarb are most commonly sold bare-root.

No matter how you get your plants, care for them by providing a light organic mulch and watering until the roots are well established. Have you had good success with one of these? Let us 

hear from you! 

Photo credits and sincere thanks: 3 versions,; container-grown and teased out roots courtesy; balled-and-burlapped sketch,; and bare root photo  

Saturday, February 5, 2011

By-Pass Pruners and Anvil Pruners

Recently I had to face reality and acknowledge that my trusty pruners have gone missing and it was way past time for them to turn up. Since February is the prime time to prune woody stems and almost everything in the garden, I decided they were indispensable, I had to have them, and ordered a replacement pair of classic Felco #2 bypass pruners. The ‘most popular pruners in the world’ arrived the next day shiny, bright red and sharp. But that got me thinking about the different types of pruners. 
By-pass pruners are my preference; they act like scissors with the upper blade making a slicing cut past the lower and leaving behind a clean, easy-to heal cut. The lower, non-sharpened blade is also known as the “hook” or sometimes (confusingly) as the “anvil blade”.  The forged aluminum alloy handles on my pruners have a padded red plastic coating that helps to locate them when laid down amongst the greens and browns and walk off. In addition, I can get replacements for all parts of the pruners, for example the springs have popped out now and then. I use a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water to disinfect the blades now and then when making a lot of cuts.

In contrast, anvil pruners work more like a knife on a flat cutting board. The sharp upper blade cuts down onto a non-moving, non-cutting surface. For some reason, anvil pruners are often less expensive than by-pass, tempting the novice gardener to choose them instead. But if an anvil blade gets dull, it generally crushes the stem or branch being cut, leaving behind a ragged, hard-to-heal cut that becomes an entryway for fungus spores or bacteria. Anvil pruners are usually a bit more bulky and while great for cutting out dead wood, are less able to get into tight spots.
Other non-cutting design options for pruners include ergonometric designs with a lower handle that revolves to reduce the effort of cutting, redesigns that are slimmer for extended reach, left-handed pruners and pruners for smaller hands. Find the one that suits you best and put it on your Valentine’s Day wish list.
P.S. Disclaimer: I receive no remuneration of any kind from the Felco Company; in fact, they don’t even know I wrote this blog. I just like them best of the many I’ve tried in my long gardening career. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February 1, Groundhog Day and the Beginning of Spring

The days are getting longer; I’ve noticed! Sometime last week I realized the short dark days of winter are lightening up a bit and sunset is coming a little later each day. In the US and Canada, Groundhog Day is an annual, nationwide observance or celebration of (hopefully) the last few days of winter and the beginning of early spring.

February 1 is one of the great “cross quarter days” of the calendar year known as Imbloc that marks the midway point between the Winter Solstice (December 21) and the Spring Equinox (March 20). February 1st is also traditionally the feast day of St. Brigid, who began life as a Celtic goddess of creative inspiration and reproductive fertility (sowing of seeds) and ended up a Christian saint of hearth and home. In Western Europe, St. Brigid’s Day was traditionally the time to celebrate the rebirth of the land and prepare the fields for the first planting.

Combined with this, the custom of predicting future weather conditions based on animal habits dates back thousands of years. In late winter, farmers watched for hibernating animals to come out of their burrows as a signal of early spring. A superstition grew up in Western Europe: if the hedgehog saw his shadow on a bright, sunlit St. Brigid’s day he became “frightened” and returned to hibernate through six more weeks of winter.  

If St. Brigid’s day be fair and bright, Winter has another flight.
If St. Brigid’s day brings clouds and rain, winter will not come again.  

Transplanted to America, the hedgehog was changed to a groundhog, and the legend continued. As amusingly noted in Hub PagesGroundhog Day is a celebration that just about anyone can enjoy. While for many it seems strange and pointless, this once yearly occasion is actually a whole lot of fun for all involved.”  

Photo credits: thanks to and Punxatawny-Phil