Friday, February 27, 2009

Butterfly Bush

Ugh. What a week. Mother Nature continuously mocked us. "Oh, you want some spring weather? Well, here’s a 45 degree day. What, what’s that? You have a problem with no sun and torrential downpours? Fine! I’m going to take all that water and freeze it!!! Now it’s 20 degrees again. How do you like crunchy, muddy grass? Ha!” 

You get the point. 

Tonight I looked up some info on butterfly bushes. We have two toward the back of the lot, each holding up their corner of fence and garage. My friend trimmed them both way back shortly after we moved in last spring. The bushes sprang back over the season, producing pretty, pale purple spear-like flowers. The bees and a handful of butterflies enjoyed the plants.

From what I gather through browsing, the butterfly bush (Buddleia) actually came from China where it’s referred to as “summer lilac.” It blooms from midsummer through September. Each March, the plant should be drastically trimmed back to about 12" above the ground. Any dead branches can be removed, along with branches shooting out at odd angles or tangling with others. Deadheading throughout the season will promote new blooms. I read on one site that butterfly bushes do not drop their old blooms. I’ll have to watch for that this season.

Sometime mid-season last year, our two butterfly bushes began to wither a bit. Since the plants are supposed to be fairly drought resistant, I think the odd behavior was a result of pests. I found this recipe for a simple soap spray to apply to the undersides of the leaves:
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp dish soap
  • 1 quart water
The creator of this mix sites the only drawback being extreme sun plus oil and water droplets causes sunburn on the leaves. She recommends spraying in later afternoon or twilight. Oh, and watch out for the bees and ladybugs! Those are the good guys.

Finally, here’s a bonus of tonight’s homework. I found a fellow Michigan gardener! I would like to hunt down and explore more gardening blogs this weekend, hopefully selecting a few to follow on a regular basis. I’m so new to this hobby, any type of guidance would be a plus. 

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dappled Willow

Today I had some time to sit down with the Month by Month Gardening in Michigan book I mentioned a few posts ago. I studied the February sections (yes I know it’s the 22nd of the month) on bulbs, herbs & vegetables, perennials, roses, shrubs, and ornamental grasses.

I found deciduous shrubs can be pruned back after mid-month. The sap is still safely nestled down near the roots of the plant. Hoorah! I get to play outside in the garden. Well, when it warms up again I’ll do so. The plant that will be receiving my early pruning efforts will be our dappled willow (Hakura Nishiki).

A neighbor to the monster sedum mentioned earlier, this plant started out as a pretty, modest-sized resident of the alley bed. It exploded over the summer, growing very large at a swift rate. It swallowed two tulips and a hosta. (Don’t fret, the tulips retreated back into the ground and I saved/relocated the hosta.) 

Apparently, this is a trait of the species. In fact, some sites recommend trimming the plant back more than once. The National Gardening Association suggests: 

This plant can be pruned back in the spring to remove winter damage and to encourage branching and bushiness from the base. You may also need to prune periodically during the season to keep it that small. To avoid a sheared effect, trim individual older branches off near the base to thin the plant, and then trim longer tips off individually by reaching deeper inside the shrub.

Many gardeners seem to agree with this. In fact, the severity of the first pruning is often described as “vigorous” and “thorough.” Not only does it keep the shrub at a manageable size, but the best dapple-like pattern appears on new growth. The dappled willow can be trimmed back to 12" or 1/3 of the branch can be removed.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Is it spring yet?

I forgot to post this picture I snapped earlier this week. The plants seemed as excited as I did about the bout of warm weather. Too bad it snowed all day and another 8 inches are predicted to arrive by morning.

Bearded Iris

My favorite color, next to black, is purple. This must be why I find the irises on this lot absolutely beautiful. When we purchased the house, the irises in the front needed to be thinned. Some of the friends who helped us to move in are seasoned gardeners. They spotted the crowded plants in the front bed and relocated some to the backyard. The relocated irises did not bloom that summer, but OH BOY did the front ones bloom. I told my better half I suspected the flowers of feasting on neighborhood children.

Continuing with my research on spring cleanup, I found the irises should have been trimmed back in the Fall. Whoops. Throughout summer, spent flower stalks should be trimmed back to the plants base. Seed pods should be immediately snipped off. It allows energy to be spent more efficiently, focusing effort on the healthy parts of the plant.  Then when the first killing frost arrives, the sword-like leaves can be trimmed back until they are 4-6 inches long. This prevents pests and disease from wintering over. Most iris foliage are trimmed in a fan-like shape. I read this technique is not necessarily only for decorative reasons. The leaves at the center of the plant are often raised higher out of the ground. Buzzing leaves straight across risks trimming them to close.

So, what am I to do this spring? After Googling various arrangements of “iris,” “prune,” and “spring,” and browsing through quite a few sites reminding me I should have pruned my irises in the fall, I finally found this advice at (wait for it)
Bearded Iris of all types tend to carry some green leaves through the winter. Carefully pull off any dead leaves in spring and dispose of them, since they can harbour the dreaded Iris borer.
Great. Not only did I forget to trim back my poor irises, but I indirectly created a safe haven for their mortal enemy... possibly even their “nemesis.” When the snow disappears, I’ll remove and trash any of the brown leaves, asking for forgiveness as I do so. I hope the irises will forgive me and again grace our lot with those beautiful blooms.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


While I’m awaiting spring to arrive, I thought I’d start doing some homework on garden cleanup. I purchased a great book last year, Month by Month Gardening in Michigan. This weekend will allow me more time to browse through it, but I do know it doesn’t go into detail beyond basic plant categories. Therefore, I'm going to look up some individual plants to see how I should be catering to them in a month or so.

I remember this as being the only type of succulent we have on our lot. Out of all the different types of sedum, I believe our plants are Autumn Joy. There are several around, but the largest by far grows in the back alley bed. This guy grew enormous last year with beautiful color arriving in late summer or early fall. I read Sedum prefer well drained soil, so this full sun bed more than likely kept the moisture level down and the plant happy.

As far as spring cleanup, most sites recommend using pruners to trim old stems and flowers back to the ground. Be careful not to prune the new growth. Mulch around the plant, but avoid placing mulch right up to the stems or else rot may occur. Since Sedum likes well drained soil,  rocks are suggested as a mulch option for this type of plant.

Let’s return to the enormous, beautiful Sedum from last year. By early fall, a hard rain would soak the flower heads and cause the plant stems to droop. The thin stems grew so long they couldn’t support the water weight. The Yardener site suggests trimming stems by about 1/3rd in early summer (late May or early June) before the flowers form to avoid this problem in the fall. I’m definitely going to give the technique a try.

I was wondering last year if the monster in the alley bed would have to be divided this spring. It seems sedum tell you they need to be divided when the center of the plant no longer has stems growing from it. I’ll keep an eye on the plants this spring and will address the “how to” when/if  necessary.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Midwinter Thaw

Last week we had a thaw in the middle of our frigid, Michigan winter. Temperatures reached a high of 55 degrees. The majority of the snow melted from our little city lot. Of course I had to peek in the various beds around our yard to see if anything was stirring. Sure enough, near our garage, some of the bulbs I’d planted last fall were beginning to send up shoots. It’s the first time I’ve planted bulbs, having just acquired the home last spring, so I was pretty geeked.

However, being a Michigan native, I know we will be blasted at least once more by Mother Nature before our true spring season begins. Worried about the new shoots being damaged, I asked a few friends if there was anything I could do. Some suggested covering the anxious bulbs with leaves I hadn’t managed to rake up at the end of last fall. Others believed a new blanket of snow and the proximity of the bulbs to the garage would protect the new shoots. 

I thought I’d try the leaves, but the weather had other plans. By the morning I had a break in my schedule, another blanket of snow covered the back yard and beds. Ah well, I guess it’ll be the snow, garage and finger-crossing then.