Bring yours home today!
Hydrangeas have long frustrated Michigan gardeners due to their sometimes confusing diversity. Specifically, one showy but temperamental species has caused many folks to swear off the genus entirely, and that is a shame considering all the great cultivars in other hydrangea species that are available today. In an attempt to ‘lift the veil’ on the mysterious clan that is the genus hydrangea, here goes:
The bad actor: the Big-leaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla cvs) These are what many folks conjure up when they think of ‘hydrangea’: big, round inflorescences of ecstatically blue flowers. Sadly, due to climate, soil type, and the species’ biology this ideal is hard to come by in most of Michigan. Our winters tend to fry the old growth (including the following summer’s flower buds) unless extensive measures are taken to protect the plant’s tissues. Newer introductions try to get around this by flowering on old and new wood, but the new wood flowers appear rather later in the season than most people would like. Lastly, our soil pH makes a true-blue hydrangea coloration an uphill battle. Big-leaf Hydrangea are pH sensitive — in acidic soil with available aluminum ions, they bloom blue. In alkaline soils, such as in much of Washtenaw County, they bloom pink. Heavy feeders to begin with, Big-leaf Hydrangeas must have a steady stream of acidifying aluminum sulfate fertilizer to have any hope of blooming blue around here. This all adds up to heartbreak for a lot of folks hoping to grow a true-blue hydragea, but not willing or able to provide the rigorous maintenance required by the species. It is worth noting that Big-leaf hydrangeas come in lace-cap flowering and exclusively pink forms, but these cultivars all still possess the same stringent requirements as the blue fellas. Hardy variegated-leaf cultivars are at least effective as a foliage plant, and they may even flower sporadically, depending on the preceding winter.
The classic: Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens cvs) If folks think of another type of hydrangea at all, they think of the ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea that grew in their Grandmother’s garden. Stout, reliable, and unswervingly white, this hydrangea is about as simple as you can hope to get. A moderate size mound of pale-greenish-turning-white flowers is perfectly situated for shady situations. This species likes its moisture, and will engage in “hydrangea calisthenics” if they are in a overly dry or sunny situation. That is to say, they do slow-motion jumping jacks with their wilting and recovering leaves. Since they bloom reliably on new growth, this species circumvents the winter-kill issue that plagues the Big-leaf hydrangea. Newer introductions of this species include ‘White Dome’ (lacecap flowers), ‘Incrediball’ (larger inflorescences), ‘Invicibelle Spirit’ and ‘Bella Anna’ (pink-blooming forms). Smooth hydrangea: reliable for the shade.
The sun-lover: Panicle Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata cvs) These plants tend to be larger, woodier and more robust than the other members of the genus. They bloom on new wood, and have upward-pointing grape-cluster shaped panicles of flowers. Most cultivars bloom mid-summer, starting white and blushing pink as the season progresses. Adaptable to moderate shade, this species flowers best in full sun. Different cultivars provide a range of eventual sizes from medium-sized shrubs to small trees. Likewise, the timing of the blooms varies from mid-June into September based on the individual varieties, so with a suite of cultivars (e.g. ‘Quickfire’ (early), ‘Pinky-Winky’ (mid), and ‘Tardiva’ (late)) one can have three months of continuous blooms in southeast Michigan. This versatility and ruggedness makes the Panicle Hydrangea cultivars some of our very favorites.
The autumn rebound: Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia cvs) No, they don’t really bloom in the fall, but what other hydrangea species offers a nice fall leaf color? Reliably burgundy, the oak-leaf-shaped foliage makes for an elegant finish to the shade garden’s season. Oakleafs have similar growing requirements to Smooth hydrangeas, but have a mid-summer grape-cluster shaped inflorescence rather than a round flower arrangement. The stems provide a hint of winter interest at maturity, showing off some shaggy strips of tawny-to-cinnamon colored exfoliating bark. Wintertime is also a dangerous time for this species, too, but not because of hardiness. Of all the hydrangeas we sell, the Oakleafs are by far the most susceptible to deer and rabbit browse. Caveat emptor! Oakleaf hydrangea cultivars range in size from the dwarf ‘PeeWee’ and ‘Sike’s Dwarf’ varieties to the massive ‘Alice’ introduction. ‘Snow Queen’ is the industry standard for both eventual size and flowering performance.
The vine: Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris) The oddball of the group, this dear plant is a reliable-if-slow-growing vine that climbs rough shaded surfaces. The vine grows slowly, attaching to rough surfaces such as stone, brick, mortar, or bark by small root-like holdfasts. It does best in semi-shaded to shaded locations, and blooms midsummer with white, lacecap arrangements of dainty flowers held away from the surface it is climbing. The spent flower arrangements are even effective in early winter as catchments for the first dollops of snow. There are now even variegated-leaf cultivars such as ‘Mirranda’ available, however we hasten to add the variegation may make them grow even slower than the species! Likewise, there are ‘Hydrangea Vines’ that are actually Schizophragma hydrangoides, that express similar characteristics and habits to the ‘true’ climbing hydrangea, with the added thrill of pinkish flowers and dissected leaves.
I hope this rekindles someone’s interest in the genus Hydrangea. In this case, one ‘bad hydrangea’ shouldn’t spoil the bunch!
For those of us contending with small plant-nibbling pests (the six-legged kind), Fraleighs has sourced a number of beneficial insect predators in a very easy to use package: the Ladybug & Lacewing Garden Power Pack ™. Simply pop open their container late in the evening to release our hungry hordes upon the unsuspecting pest population. These beneficials may prove quite effective against pests including Viburnum Leaf Beetle larvae and sundry aphids, whiteflies, and mealybugs. In stock at the nursery — stop by Fraleighs and call up your cavalry today!
…don’t miss out — come see us this weekend!
2015 — Mid-May is here, and its time to start monitoring your viburnums:
May 2014: Yesterday I had a sample come across my desk (not on Fraleighs stock) that proved to be Viburnum Leaf Beetle in Washtenaw County:
This does nothing to make me happy, as this is yet another new damaging invasive pest that targets our native plants, in this case many native Viburnum species including Arrow-wood Viburnum (V. dentatum) and American Cranberry Viburnum (V. trilobum, aka V. opulus var. americana). My strong advice is for all Viburnum owners to monitor their shrubs carefully for the characteristic feeding patterns, and treat as necessary if evidence of the pest’s presence is found.
Here is a good article from Michigan State University Extension, describing the pest’s life cycle with more photos:
Here’s a link to less-toxic VLB control alternatives:
If anyone needs further advice regarding this pest, please contact me at (734) 426 5067 x14
–Dan Sparks-Jackson, Nursery Manager
UPDATE 5/25/2014: I had the opportunity to do a quick walk through UofM’s Nichols Arboretum this morning, and found large amounts of skeletonization on the naturalized and planted Viburnum trilobum & Viburnum dentatum populations.
UPDATE 6/1/2014: A sample came in last week from the west side of Ann Arbor. That’s the progressively bad news. The better news is another trip to Nichols Arboretum this morning showed that while the V. dentatum and V. trilobum are ravaged, the native Viburnum lentago (Nannyberry) was unscathed, at least thus far. Now if only I can find some available from my growers…
Remember, Fraleighs recommends an application of HollyTone fertilizer twice annually to maintain and enhance your gardens and landscapes. Halloween and April Fool’s Day are the approximate dates we set to help folks to remember to feed their plants. HollyTone is a great organic low-analysis (4-3-4) acidifying fertilizer well suited to our alkaline soil types. The HollyTone formulation also contains beneficial organisms — helper microbes — that complement and enhance healthy root systems. Perennials, shrubs, ornamental grasses, evergreens, and trees can all benefit from a twice-annual application. Stop by today — our staff would be glad to help you calculate how much you need, explain the simple application process, or arrange for our crews to make the application for you.
Beginning in 2012, Espoma tweaked the formulation of HollyTone. The product is now an even better soil acidifier with 5% instead of 2% Sulfur. That’s great for most of us contending with high soil pH. Most ornamental plants prefer a neutral-to-moderately-acidic soil, and HollyTone is now an even better way to mildly acidify gardens. Likewise, their new production method is providing a more ‘crumbly’ texture to their fertilizer, and this means less dust and hence a little less of HollyTone’s characteristic organic ‘aroma’.
Click here to learn more about the product.
‘April showers’ may mean ‘May flowers’, but ‘March in Michigan’ just means ‘Anticipation of April’ for our nursery staff! We eagerly await our first shipments of plant material, and are gearing up for another great season working with our customers. We will post official hours of operation in Early April as dictated by the weather; but before then, don’t hesitate to contact us by phone or email to inquire after specific plants you are looking for, or to schedule a consultation at the nursery to discuss your project!
Our landscaping crews are already out working on clients’ early spring maintenance projects. Get a jump on your landscape this season by contacting Doug Fraleigh (734.426.5067 x12) to schedule your pruning, mulching, bed-edging, garden clean-out, or new bed creation projects. Doug is also setting design appointments and scheduling installation projects in the upcoming months. Now is a great opportunity to get a handle on how your garden grows for the rest of the year — don’t wait for *all* the snow to melt — CALL TODAY!
Spring 2015 will mark the end of Dan Sparks-Jackson’s tenure as Nursery Manager at Fraleighs Landscape Nursery. We wish him the best of luck in his new endeavors. Dan wanted to take the opportunity to share the following message with Fraleighs’ customers and clientele whom he has worked with over the years:
“Accepting a position as a Sales Representative at a local wholesale horticultural supply company was one of the most difficult decisions of my career. The decision was not difficult because of any attribute of my new job — it promises to be a rewarding opportunity with many new challenges — but rather because of the roots that I have established at Fraleighs over the past seventeen years. The folks I have worked with and the customer relationships that have developed have become an integral part of my life. It is my hope that some aspects of those relationships will continue to grow even after I have left Fraleighs. I am also pleased to have the opportunity to work with customers one more time this spring season, and look forward to introducing you to the dedicated colleagues I have been privileged to work with — you are in good hands moving forward. I am very grateful for the wonderful work experience I have had over the years at Fraleighs. In years future, perhaps you will find some of element of beauty or humor in your landscape that we had discussed. If you do, I hope you think kindly of the heavyset, big-hat-wearing, pony-tailed nurseryman who suggested it!”
Dan will be on staff most Saturdays this spring, and is eager to help customers find ‘the right plant for the right place’ one more time, as well as introduce you to his coworkers.
Fraleighs Gift Certificates are an easy choice for those ‘difficult to buy for’ folks on your list. Our gift certificates can be used in a number of ways: Your gift can be used to buy plants from the retail nursery with the help of our expert staff, used for an on-site landscape consultation, or applied towards our professionally installed design services. Fraleighs Gift Certificates are issued on artfully hand-stamped card stock, and never expire.