Posts Tagged Oakleaf Hydrangea

Year’s End Walkabout

I spent an hour or so yesterday morning walking around our five acres with my camera to record the state of things as this year draws to a close. The weather here in central North Carolina has been alarmingly warm and we are struggling with moderate drought. However, a bit of rain fell the previous day, and gloom persisted yesterday as rain fell to our south. Winter, the forecasters say, will return on the second day of the new year, shocking plants, animals, and humans alike, I imagine.

Winter vegetable garden beds with row covers tucked beside them.

The warm spell has been a gift to our winter vegetable garden. In past years, I have kept them tented all winter beneath row covers to protect them from freezing temperatures. Severe cold will turn the greens and broccoli to mush, but beneath row covers, lows into the mid-20s for a few hours do the veggies no lasting harm. This latest warm spell has been so prolonged that I’ve been able to remove the row covers to give the veggies access to full sun. I even gave them all a dose of fish emulsion/seaweed mix this week. Winter fertilizing is not something I am usually able to manage, because I don’t want to expose them to prolonged cold.

Beauteous Emerald Crown broccoli

We harvested several heads of broccoli — I’m trying Emerald Crown this year — which we will be enjoying with tonight’s dinner. Broccoli doesn’t do well here as a spring crop anymore. The days warm up too quickly. But winter’s chill sweetens them as they grow beneath their row covers.  The row covers also protect them from cabbage moth caterpillar damage without the need for any pest control substances.

The greens are all doing great. I’m averaging one salad a week by picking individual leaves. Beet greens provide a bit of zip to the mix of lettuces and spinach. The warm spell accelerated the growth in this bed visibly. I may get two salads out of it next week.

Winter-blooming flowers — all but one non-native — are opening. Pink blooms of one flowering apricot were scenting the air yesterday. Today, the other one also began blooming. I look forward to the perfume from these flowers every year.

A stink bug — alive and well at the end of December!

January jasmine, which has no fragrance, is also beginning to open its bright yellow flowers that are often mistaken for forsythia. When I leaned in to photograph this flower, I was surprised to find it occupied.

Today, I noticed that my non-native Persian ironwood is beginning to bloom. This tree is in the witch hazel family, and the flowers are not showy, but I have observed honey bees visiting them.

My native witch hazel ‘Amethyst‘ has already begun to bloom. Typically, it waits until middle-to-late January. This shrub insists on holding on to its leaves, but it’s still quite lovely in bloom — and its fresh scent never fails to lift my spirits.

Most of the berry-producing shrubs in our yard have long been picked clean, but the red berries of native deciduous holly and the deep purple berries of native greenbriar vines were still visible when I walked around yesterday.

A few shrubs are still holding on to their autumn-colored leaves, including my  native oakleaf hydrangeas. I grow the smaller form, ‘Pee Wee,’ and I recently added a full-sized one, cultivar ‘Alice.’

Dried seed heads of cardinal flower and goldenrod also caught my eye, as did an ever-increasing abundance of bald cypress knees emerging from the muck where three trees I planted three decades ago have now attained heights between 40-50 feet.

Bared tree branches reveal their complex beauty during this leafless season. I was especially enthralled yesterday by a young winged elm. Its corky extrusions along its trunk and every branch made its silhouette quite striking.

Even during this time of moderate drought, the new channel that cuts through what was for 25 years dry, flat floodplain merrily chuckles its way toward a growing wetland pond, home to at least two dozen ducks. I have accepted the fact that this part of the floodplain is now a wetland. And, I must admit, the permanent streamlet that now traverses that area adds an air of tranquility to the landscape.

Never have I been more grateful for my lifelong passion for gardening and the natural world. I am certain the dirt perpetually beneath my fingernails is largely responsible for the retention of my sanity during these challenging times. I know that you, my readers, understand this. Here’s to a new year filled with fruits, vegetables, flowers, pollinators, and ever-dirty fingernails.

Happy New Year!







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Native Shrubs for your Piedmont Landscape

Pinxterbloom Azalea

Pinxterbloom Azalea

With a little planning and minimal effort, one of the fastest ways to enhance your home landscape is through the addition of shrubs. Most folks in the southeastern Piedmont are in shrub ruts, thanks to the overuse of the same few bushes by landscapers of new subdivisions and commercial buildings. A few of those overused shrubs — like Wax Myrtle — are native plants, and so provide food and shelter for wildlife without the invasive tendencies that many non-natives exhibit. But boxwoods, grape hollies (Mahonias), and evergreen azaleas are not native. And the invasive tendencies of Mahonias in our native wetlands is an increasing concern to ecologists.

Golden autumn leaves of spicebush

Golden autumn leaves of spicebush

Today I encourage you to think beyond standardized Piedmont shrubbery. It’s time to consider adding some of our many gorgeous native shrubs to your home landscape. There’s a native shrub for any growing conditions you may have. Some can attain the size of small trees, such as a mature Bladdernut. But others remain just a few feet tall without the need for pruning, including some deciduous azalea and blueberry species.

Ilex verticillata berries ornament a still-green shrub.

Ilex verticillata berries ornament a still-green shrub.

The advice I offered in my previous post about tree planting applies equally to shrubs. Understand the site where you want to add your shrubs. Is it at the top of a sunny hill? Shaded by larger trees or buildings? In a low spot where rainwater collects? Clay soil? Sandy loam?

When you know the answers to those questions, if the area in question is not already a mulched bed, take the time to create a bed. Break up the soil, work in compost or other organic material to create a moist, loamy planting site. When you add the shrubs, be sure to gently stretch out any roots that might be winding around the interior of the pot. Be sure the level of the dirt in your bed matches where the dirt in the pot touched the base of the stem.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Aurora' newly planted, watered, and mulched.

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Aurora’ newly planted, watered, and mulched.


Water in your new addition, then mulch the bed with an inch or two of organic mulch — leaves, wood chips, bark — any of those will do nicely. As with new trees, your new shrubs will need a bit of pampering for their first year of growth. If your area goes into drought, water your newbies. Don’t worry about fertilizer. Native shrubs in a well-prepared planting site don’t need it and don’t really want it.

If you’ve read much of my blog, you’ve read about a number of native shrub options worthy of any Piedmont landscape. Here are a few for your consideration.

For Colorful Drama: Deciduous Azaleas

A spring-blooming hybrid deciduous azalea

A spring-blooming hybrid deciduous azalea

The southeastern US is home to spectacular native deciduous azaleas, and I’ve described all the ones I grow in this blog. If you search on deciduous azalea, you’ll find the relevant entries. The one here is probably mostly Rhododendron austrinum, but it was listed as a hybrid in the catalog. Talk about making an impact in the spring landscape! Not only are its numerous flowers impossible to miss, their fragrance is equally impressive, and utterly heavenly. The spring-blooming deciduous azaleas mostly do so before their leaves emerge, thereby increasing their visual impact. The summer bloomers, like Plumleaf Azalea, bloom after leaves appear, but the visual impact still stops visitors in their tracks.

Plumleaf azalea

Plumleaf azalea

Not all deciduous azaleas are fragrant, colors range from pure white to pale yellow to deep gold to rich pinks, oranges, and deep crimsons. Sizes and site requirements vary too. Truly, there is a native azalea ideally suited for almost any growing condition.

Because they drop their leaves in fall (after a spectacular fall leaf color display), deer mostly ignore these shrubs in the landscape. Every once in a while, one will bite off a flower bud in winter or grab a mouthful of summer leaves as it walks past, but deer don’t seem to want to devour this shrub, as they will with Virginia Sweetspire, for example. The deciduous azalea native to my area is Pinxterbloom Azalea (see top photo). I have a ten-foot-tall-and-wide specimen growing on the slope to my floodplain that has always been completely unprotected. The deer eat nearby plants, but ignore the giant Pinxterbloom Azalea.

In my yard, even small, newly planted deciduous azaleas usually begin blooming within the first three years, most sooner than that. Try them; you will not be disappointed.

For Four-Season Interest: Hydrangeas

Oak Leaf Hydrangea "Pewee"

Oakleaf Hydrangea “Pee Wee”

If you’ve got dry shade, Oakleaf Hydrangea is for you. Yes, you’ll need to water it for the first year during dry spells until it’s settled in, but that’s about it. Late spring clusters of white flowers eventually dry on the shrub, making lovely additions to dried flower arrangements. Leaves are bright green in summer and turn scarlet in autumn, remaining on the stems well into late fall. Winter bark is a deep rich brown that contrasts beautifully with snow.  In neighborhoods plagued by deer, the leaves of these shrubs will be eaten. In my yard, I find that if I spray the leaves with one of the repellant mixtures you can buy at any landscape supply store, the deer don’t touch them. In my yard, if I spray in early spring when the leaves are just emerging and again in autumn, I deter most of the nibbling. These are the times when the deer are hungriest in my area. The spray I apply smells horrible (garlic and pepper, I think), but when it dries, I can’t smell it — but the deer still can.

For Lingering Berries: Deciduous Hollies

Ilex decidua after leaf fall

Ilex decidua after leaf fall

That photo was taken in late winter. The bright red berries of our native deciduous hollies are the food of last resort with my local birds. Eventually, usually at the tail end of a cold winter, a flock of Cedar Waxwings will descend on these shrubs that I’ve added to my floodplain and strip them clean. I love these shrubs because the persistent crimson berries really pop in a winter landscape, especially because the branches drop their leaves well before that season. Ilex decidua and I. verticillata have been favorites of horticulturalists for a while. Many spectacular cultivars are available reaching various sizes. They’re native to floodplains, but happily tolerate higher ground in a well-prepared bed.

Note that all hollies are dioecious, meaning male and female flowers develop on separate plants. Females produce the lovely berries, as long as a male of the same species is close by. I usually group two or three females where I want them to be seen, and then tuck in a male plant nearby but more in the background — close enough to provide cross pollination, but far enough away to prevent its lack of berries from detracting from the visual impact of these shrubs in the winter landscape.

The List of Options is Long and Varied

This post is growing lengthy, so I’m going to close with a few more suggestions and links to where I’ve described these shrubs before.

October fast approaches. Now is the optimal time to plant native trees and shrubs. Almost every local nursery has a sale this time of year, and so do most public gardens, including the North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, NC. Members-only night is this Friday. If you live in this area, I hope I’ll see you there!

Itea virginica 'Henry's Garnet'

Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet’

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Currently blooming trees and shrubs



The first heat wave of our not-yet-officially-summer season is well underway, alas. And the thunderstorms that doused many neighborhoods near me missed my house. Entirely. As in, no rain. At all.

Wonder Spouse and I are doling out water carefully to the vegetables and a few tender transplants, but otherwise, all we can do is hunker down in the shade and pray for rain.

So far, the veggies are doing great, and I’ll provide updates soon. But today I wanted to share with my fellow piedmonters a few of the shrubs and trees that you can grow to continue your spring bloom period in your landscape well into summer.

First up is that lovely flower known to all southerners — Southern Magnolia. Technically, it’s native to more southern parts of the US, but it thrives here.

My 50-foot specimen has been blooming for several weeks, and continues to perfume the heavy near-summer air every morning as the Yellow-billed Cuckoo tries to call the rain with its “kowp-kowp-kowp” call. The fragrance is especially intoxicating in the evening as fireflies flicker among the trees and Eastern Whip-poor-wills call repeatedly from a clearing on the other side of our creek.

On the floodplain, the Poinsettia Tree (also called Fever Tree) is displaying its flower-like, showy bracts.

From a distance, the pale bracts are not as obvious, but I wanted you to see how well it has grown.

From a distance, the pale bracts are not as obvious, but I wanted you to see how well it has grown.

The showy bracts are evident when the tree is viewed more closely:

This tree is native to SC, but technically not in NC. I've sited mine well, and it has responded accordingly.

This tree is native to SC, but technically not in NC. I’ve sited mine well, and it has responded accordingly.

My native Oakleaf Hydrangeas are almost in full flower now. I grow “Peewee,” which is supposed to remain no taller than four feet. I’m not sure mine know that.

The leaves of this hydrangea really do resemble oak leaves, and their fall garnet color makes this shrub gorgeous year-round.

The leaves of this hydrangea really do resemble oak leaves, and their fall garnet color makes this shrub gorgeous year-round.

Flower clusters on the Oakleaf Hydrangeas are about the size of a volley ball.

So pretty, and they dry beautifully to a soft tan color that looks lovely in autumn dried flower arrangements.

So pretty, and they dry beautifully to a soft tan color that looks lovely in autumn dried flower arrangements.

A non-native shrub that is favored by bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds is my pink abelia. I’ve forgotten the variety name, but this shrub blooms for at least six weeks. The flowers are fragrant, especially first thing in the morning.

This non-native shrub withstands any kind of pruning --or none at all.

This non-native abelia withstands any kind of pruning –or none at all.

The heat has made my non-native Chindo viburnums bloom faster than I like, but they’re still putting out flowers. I have two specimens growing side by side. These non-native, evergreen shrubs (really small trees) are at least 15 feet tall, probably more like 20 feet. Their flower clusters routinely attract an astonishing diversity of pollinators, and the shiny evergreen leaves look handsome year round.

To get the entire shrubs in the photo, I had to step pretty far away from them.

To get the entire shrubs in the photo, I had to step pretty far away from them.

Chindo viburnum flower cluster

Chindo viburnum flower cluster

The native Sourwoods (Oxydendrum arboreum) are just starting to open their graceful flower clusters. This four-season understory native should be part of every piedmonter’s landscape.

Sourwood flowers are beloved by bees -- another reason to include this native in your yard.

Sourwood flowers are beloved by bees — another reason to include this native in your yard.

A native that is just finishing its bloom period is Elderberry. You can see this shrubby tree growing in almost any wet spot in the landscape. Mine line the creek that borders our property, providing food for wildlife.

Elderberry bloom

Elderberry bloom

Cotinus x 'Grace'

Cotinus x ‘Grace’

The Smoketree (Cotinus x ‘Grace’) in my yard is a cross between a European species and a North American native, and now that it’s grown to a height of about 25 feet, it takes my breath away every year. It does look a bit like smoke, doesn’t it — or pink cotton candy perhaps? Technically, those are not the flowers. The flower clusters are relatively inconspicuous. Its the seed clusters that steal the show with this tree.

It really is pink, and if planted as an understory tree, where it remains shaded, Grace's leaves remain a deep purple-green all summer -- a lovely contrast to the pink seed heads that often persist for as long as a month.

It really is pink, and if planted as an understory tree, where it remains shaded, Grace’s leaves remain a deep purple-green all summer — a lovely contrast to the pink seed heads that often persist for as long as a month.

Those are not all the woody plants currently blooming in my yard, but it’s a fair sample. I’ll share more another time.

In my part of the southeastern piedmont, there’s really no reason you can’t have blooming plants in your landscape year-round. Every piedmonter with a yard should take advantage of this fortunate fact to enhance their landscapes with perpetual color and fragrance.



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