Category Archives: Garden Tips

Lawn Care Tips for the Dog Days of Summer

As your lawn endures the trials of Job this summer-drought, pestilence and disease-you must hold to the hope that there is a lush, green turf on the other side of this summer. Has your spring turf been reduced to an arid, brown toasty color? If not, you might want to submit your water bills for federal disaster relief. Dry, scorching heat-an absence of consistent rainfall-this is the perfect scenario for crabgrass to flourish and bluegrass to perish. What’s needed, of course, is a good, deep penetrating rain. At the time this newsletter was going to press we are down about 8+ inches in the rainfall table.

The large Japanese beetle population will mean a heavier than normal population of grubs. Knowledge is of course your best defense. Here are a couple of suggestion for coaxing your sod through the trials of summer…

Feeding: Your lawn’s nitrogen needs are at their highest in late summer. Avoid fertilizing when temps are about 85 degrees. Supplement this late summer feed (high in nitrogen) with a fall fertilizer that will concentrate on developing the root system. This will build a turf more resistant to drought and pest damage. This might be your most beneficial feeding. You can supply a fall food right into November in most areas.

Pest Control: In late summer and early fall the grub cycle begins as the larvae pupate into the common white lawn grub. At this stage of their development, these grubs are the most vulnerable. Treat infested areas with either a liquid dose or a granular treatment.

Watering: A good rule of thumb is to water in the early morning hours. Try to provide at least 1 to 1.5 inches of water through rainfall or irrigation. A deep watering once a week is more beneficial than a series of shallow watering.

Seeding: To repair damage caused by drought, pests and disease, plan on a fall seeding program. Match the grass seed varieties to the conditions. For example, if you have a rocky, sandy soil that doesn’t hold moisture well, use a drought resistant lawn mixture featuring turf-type tall fescues (TTTF). Unlike ryegrass that spread by shallow rhizomes. TTTF have long individual tap roots. They are tough, durable and make a long wearing attractive turf. Heavy clay soils might do better with a bluegrass and ryegrass mixture. Fall is an optimum time for seeding. The warm weather speeds germination while the autumn night temps start to drop. Remember to keep the seed moist until established. That might require 2-3 mistings during our “Indian Summers”. The attention you pay to your lawn now will pay big dividends in the fall, the following spring and for years to come.

Featured Houseplant: Aloe Vera

The aloe vera plant is an easy, attractive succulent that makes for a great indoor companion. Aloe vera plants are useful, too, as the juice from their leaves can be used to relieve pain from scrapes and burns when applied topically. Here’s how to grow and care for aloe vera plants in your home!

Aloe vera is a succulent plant species of the genus Aloe. The plant is stemless or very short-stemmed with thick, greenish, fleshy leaves that fan out from the plant’s central stem. The margin of the leaf is serrated with small teeth.
Before you buy an aloe, note that you’ll need a location that offers bright, indirect sunlight (or, artificial sunlight). However, the plant doesn’t appreciate sustained direct sunlight, as this tends to dry out the plant too much and turn its leaves yellow.
Keep the aloe vera plant in a pot near a kitchen window for periodic use but avoid having the sun’s rays hit it directly.
Please note: The gel from aloe vera leaves can be used topically, but should not be ingested by people or pets. It can cause unpleasant symptoms such as nausea or indigestion and may even be toxic in larger quantities.

BEFORE PLANTING
• It’s important to chose the right type of planter. A pot made from terra-cotta or a similarly porous material is recommended, as it will allow the soil to dry thoroughly between waterings and will also be heavy enough to keep the plant from tipping over. A plastic or glazed pot may also be used, though these will hold more moisture.
• When choosing a container, be sure to pick one that has at least one drainage hole in the bottom. This is key, as the hole will allow excess water to drain out.
• Select a container that’s about as wide as it is deep. If your aloe plant has a stem, choose a container that is deep enough for you to plant the entire stem under the soil.
• Aloe vera plants are succulents, so use a well-draining potting mix, such as those made for cacti and succulents. Do not use soil. A good mix should contain perlite, lava rock, coarse sand, or all three. Aloe vera plants are hardy, but a lack of proper drainage can cause rot and wilting, which is easily the most common cause of death for this plant.
• A layer of gravel, clay balls, or any other “drainage” material in the bottom of the pot is not necessary. This only takes up space that the roots could otherwise be using. A drainage hole is drainage enough!
• (Optional) To encourage your aloe to put out new roots after planting, dust the stem of the plant with a rooting hormone powder. Rooting hormone can be found at a local garden center or hardware store, or online.

HOW TO CARE FOR AN ALOE VERA PLANT
• Place in bright, indirect sunlight or artificial light. A western or southern window is ideal. Aloe that are kept in low light often grow leggy.
• Aloe vera do best in temperatures between 55 and 80°F (13 and 27°C). The temperatures of most homes and apartment are ideal.
From May to September, you can bring your plant outdoors without any problems, but do bring it back inside in the evening if nights are cold.
• Water aloe vera plants deeply, but infrequently. To discourage rot, allow the soil to dry at least 1 to 2 inches deep between waterings. Don’t let your plant sit in water.
• Water about every 3 weeks and even more sparingly during the winter. Use your finger to test dryness before watering. If the potting mix stays wet, the plants’ roots can begin to rot.
• Fertilize sparingly (no more than once a month), and only in the spring and summer with a balanced houseplant formula mixed at ½ strength.

https://www.almanac.com/plant/aloe-vera

Fighting the Blues

St. John the Baptist, the New Testament healer, lends his name to St. John’s wort, which blooms during summer near the time of the feast of St. John. This short, yellow-flowering herb, botanically known as Hypericum, has been used since ancient times to treat all nerve-related problems, including depression, a disorder of the central nervous system. The species Hypericum perforatum is said to have the greatest amount of active ingredient for medicinal purposes, but many of the perennial species have at least some.

The aboveground portions of the plant contain the essential oils from which the medicinal qualities of St. John’s wort are derived. Ground-up flowers of St. John’s wort suspended in vegetable oil are used to relieve pain from neurological disorders like tennis elbow and sciatica. When made into a tea, St. John’s wort has been known to relieve symptoms of ulcers, gout, and arthritis. But St. John’s wort is best-known for its effectiveness in the battle against depression, and because there are no recorded side effects from using St. John’s wort, it is fast becoming an alternative to prescription antidepressants.

St. John’s wort is easy to grow and is well suited for a healing or wildflower garden. Its mid-green to blue-green foliage provides an attractive backdrop for the bright yellow flowers with their prominent yellow stamens. Choose a sunny spot in the garden with moist but well-drained soil, and expect your plants to reach two to three feet in height with a spread of at least two feet. With this sunny-yellow healer gracing the garden, you’ll find it hard to keep singing the Blues!

BUG OFF! Nature’s Way

Not all insects are harmful to your garden; in fact, many are beneficial and are an important part of the ecosystem. Chemicals used to eliminate insects do not discriminate between the good bugs and the bad ones, so you can limit the damage done to beneficial insects and, at the same time, keep harmful chemicals out of the environment by practicing organic pest control.

Here are a few simple and effective ways to eliminate bugs and other pests naturally:

Handpicking: Insects can be handpicked from plants, and pests like potato bugs can easily be shaken from plants into a box. Use a butterfly net to capture white cabbageworm butterflies before they lay their eggs on your crucifers.

Traps: Slugs love to slurp beer from cans strategically placed in the garden, but don’t open the tops all the way lest the openings become two-way streets. Sticky traps hung in apple trees attract and trap apple maggot flies. Brush-on insect trap coating can be applied to small boards on stakes and used throughout the garden. Painting the boards a bright color will make them even more effective. Pheromone traps draw insects like Japanese beetles to their own hormonal scents and safely capture them in boxes away from prized roses and peonies.

Covers: Using lightweight floating covers on crops such as blueberries keeps those pesky birds, rabbits, and deer from eating you out of house and home. Of course, don’t install them until after pollination so that bees can do their job first.

Biological Pest Control: Releasing beneficial bugs into your garden to feed on bad bugs is a fine way of eliminating pests. Ladybugs love aphids, and certain wasps lay eggs on the eggs of other insects, such as cutworms and cornborers; when the wasp eggs hatch, they feed on the pest eggs. The bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is found in spray form and is used to control cabbageworms and their cousins.

Botanical Pest Control: Natural insecticides made from plants like the pyrethrum daisy (Tanacetum coccineum) are used very effectively and are a major force in the bad bug patrol. Pyrethrum, rotenone, and sabadilla are a few of these botanicals, which disperse quickly and do not leave residues.

Gardens That Heal

Planting medicinal herbs is an ancient practice. Earliest accounts date back more than 6,000 years, when the Sumerians, a now-extinct civilization, recorded herbs and their medicinal properties on clay tablets. Ancient Chinese, Greek, and Indian healers depended on herbs to prevent and correct imbalances in the body. And the Greek physician Hypocrites, whose oath has been taken by medical practitioners since early times, believed that nature itself was healing. His herbal was filled with plants such as burdock for arthritis and healthy kidney function and blessed thistle for increasing circulation and strengthening the heart and lungs. Pilgrims brought herbs with them to plant in their gardens in the New World and learned from Native Americans how to grow and use the land’s herbal bounty. Today, many people are turning to herbal remedies to avoid the sometimes harmful side effects of prescription drugs, and scientists are increasingly focusing on the natural world for cures for some of our most serious diseases.

Growing your own plants for herbal remedies such as teas and ointments makes the healing garden useful as well as beautiful, and the range of plant material available is surprisingly large. By definition, a healing herb is any plant or part of a plant that can be used to increase health and alleviate distress. Therefore, many plants we don’t traditionally call herbs, such as peonies, apples, and cabbage, are herbs in the medicinal sense because they promote healing. Healing gardens can be large enough to accommodate trees such as ginkgo, whose leaves are said to be effective in improving concentration and easing the symptoms of PMS, and willow (Salix), from whose bark aspirin is derived. Small healing gardens are best filled with perennials like catnip (Nepeta cataria), which when made into a tea relaxes and calms digestive system illnesses. The roots of coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) can be made into a tincture to speed healing of burns or diluted into a tea for help with arthritis pain and toothaches. German chamomile (Matricaria recutita), usually made into a tea, eases tension and reduces fever. The common garlic plant (Allium sativum) has been shown to be effective in reducing cholesterol, ginseng (Panax) guards against stress, and St. John’s wort (Hypericum) relieves depression and also the pain caused by neurological disorders. The list of healing plants is long and varied, and with some research, a veritable pharmacopoeia can be planted in your own backyard.

The healing power of plants is truly a marvel. As the medicinal qualities of some plants can be quite potent, we encourage you to educate yourself before experimenting with herbal remedies. Even if you never make one tea or salve from the plants in your healing garden, the simple acts of planting and working in the garden relieve the stresses of everyday life and impart a positive feeling and sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. It’s no wonder that gardening is America’s number-one hobby.

Plant a Bee-autiful Garden!

More and more gardeners are anxious to plant a bee garden. By planting a bee garden, you too can do your part to help the bees by adding to the shrinking inventory of flower-rich habitat in your area.  In return, the bees will pollinate your flowers, providing a bountiful harvest of fruits, seeds and vegetables as well as the joy of watching them up close. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind as you grow your bee garden:

RETHINK YOUR LAWN

Replace part or all of your front lawn grass with flowering plants, which provides food and habitat for honey bees, bumble bees, solitary bees, butterflies and other pollinators. 

SELECT SINGLE FLOWER TOPS FOR YOUR BEE GARDEN

…such as daisies and marigolds, rather than double flower tops such as double impatiens. Double headed flowers look showy but produce much less nectar and make it much more difficult for bees to access pollen.

SKIP THE HIGHLY HYBRIDIZED PLANTS

…which have been bred not to seed and thus produce very little pollen for bees.

PLAN FOR BLOOMS SEASON-ROUND

Plant at least three different types of flowers in your bee garden to ensure blooms through as many seasons as possible. This will provide bees and other pollinators with a constant source of food.  For example:

  • Crocus, hyacinth, borage, calendula, and wild lilac provide enticing spring blooms in a bee garden.
  • Bees feast on bee balm, cosmos, echinacea, snapdragons foxglove, and hosta in the summer.
  • For fall, zinnias, sedum, asters, witch hazel and goldenrod are late bloomers that will tempt foragers.

BUILD HOMES FOR NATIVE BEES

Leave a patch of the garden in a sunny spot uncultivated for native bees that burrow. Some native bees also need access to soil surface for nesting. For wood- and stem-nesting bees, this means piles of branches, bamboo sections, hollow reeds, or nesting blocks made out of untreated wood. Mason bees need a source of water and mud, and many kinds of bees are attracted to weedy, untended hedgerows.  You can also support our Sponsor-a-Hive program, which places solitary bee homes (and honey bee hives) in school and community gardens across the U.S.

ONLY USE NATURAL PESTICIDES AND FERTILIZERS

Avoid using herbicides or pesticides in the bee garden. They not only can be toxic to bees but also are best not introduced to children or adults that visit your garden. Ladybugs, spiders, and praying mantises will naturally keep pest populations in check.

CREATE A “BEE BATH”

Bees need a place to get fresh, clean water. Fill a shallow container of water with pebbles or twigs for the bees to land on while drinking.  Make sure to maintain the container full of fresh water to ensure that they know they can return to the same spot every day in your bee garden.

LIVE IN A HOME WITHOUT A GARDEN?

You need only a small plot of land for a bee garden—it can even be a window container or rooftop—to create an inviting oasis for bees. Every little bit can help to nurture bees and other pollinators.

https://thehoneybeeconservancy.org/plant-a-bee-garden/

Got Milkweed? Butterflies love this plant and you should too!

MILKWEED BASICS

Milkweeds (Asclepias) get their name from the sticky white sap that oozes from the leaves when they are damaged. More than 100 species of this herbaceous perennial are native to the U.S. and Canada. Many have adapted to different regions of the country and a wide range of climates and terrains, from deserts and rocky areas to marshes and open prairies. Some species grow exclusively in specific regions while others will thrive in just about any habitat.

Types:

Three species of milkweed are good all-around choices for gardens in most regions of the country: common milkweed (A. syriaca), swamp milkweed (A. incarnata), and butterfly weed (A. tuberosa). The last two are highly ornamental and available in a variety of cultivars. To help sustain monarchs and other butterflies, you should plant at least a few milkweed species that are native to your area. Download this milkweed information sheet from Monarch Joint Venture for regional recommendations.

Flower characteristics:

The petite, star-shaped flowers of milkweed are exquisitely designed for pollination. They grow in clusters of five nectar cups, each with incurved horns above the petals. When an insect lands on a flower, its feet slip between the cups and the pollen sacs attach themselves to the legs. When the insect moves to the next flower, the horns collect the pollen. Equally well designed are the large, fluff-filled seed pods that develop from the fertilized flowers. In the fall, these proficient self-sowers split open to release hundreds of seeds borne on silken parachutes.

Height:

2 to 5 feet, depending on the species

Zones:

3-9

Why it’s a must for monarchs:

Milkweed is both a food source and a host plant on which the monarch lays its eggs, depositing them on the underside of the leaves. The larvae then feed on the leaves after hatching, but cause no permanent damage to the plant. In turn, the toxic chemicals contained in the sap of milkweed plants make both the caterpillars and adult butterflies unappetizing to predators. “[During monarch migration] flight is fueled by nectaring on the flowers and is punctuated by laying eggs on milkweeds. To grow and sustain each generation, milkweed is the only food needed,” says Agrawal.

Milkweed’s highly fragrant and nectar-rich flowers are an enticement for other pollinators as well. Frequent visitors include native bees, honey bees, many other types of butterflies, and hummingbirds. Read more about the best perennials for pollinators.

GROWING MILKWEED

Where to plant:

Most milkweeds require full sun (at least 6 to 8 hours a day). Because they self-seed readily, locate your plants in a part of the garden where you can better control their rampant spread, such as at the back of the border or in a corner. A spot that’s protected from the wind will also help prevent the spread of seeds while providing a more hospitable environment for butterflies.

When to plant:

If you’re planting milkweed from seed, sow the seeds outdoors in the fall, which will give them the period of stratification (exposure to cold, moist conditions) they need to encourage spring germination and ensure a good display of flowers the following summer. If you purchase starter plants, plant them in the spring after the danger of frost has passed.

Soil:

The best soil type for milkweed often depends on its native habitat. Most varieties are extremely forgiving and will grow well in average garden soil. Swamp milkweed is an exception and requires moist, humus-rich soil.

How to plant:

To ensure successful germination of milkweed seeds, plant them in a smooth, clump-free soil bed worked to a fine consistency using a rake or rototiller. After you’ve sown the seeds, compact them into the soil (but don’t cover them) to provide good soil-to-seed contact. Keep the planting bed moist until the seedlings become established. As your plants begin to take off, thin out any plants that are spaced too closely together so they don’t compete for sun and soil nutrients.

Spacing:

To attract multitudes of monarchs to your garden, plant milkweed in groups of six or more, spacing plants or thinning seedlings to about 6 to 24 inches apart, depending on the species. Monarchs are very good at finding a milkweed plant, but the more you have in your yard, the more likely they will find it and lay their little eggs all over it. Plant as many plants as you have room for.

Propagating:

Many milkweed species can readily be grown from root or rhizome cuttings as well as by seed. Take the cuttings during the late fall or early spring when the plant is dormant and has more energy reserves. New sprouts will form from the cuttings when the weather warms and will often produce flowers the first year.

MILKWEED CARE

Like most wildflowers, milkweed is easy to grow and requires very little pampering. Most species are not seriously bothered by heat, drought, deer or other pests. And because milkweed is a native plant that tolerates poor soils, fertilization isn’t necessary.

Mulching:

You can mulch milkweed if you want to control weeds or retain moisture, but not all varieties will benefit. Swamp milkweed will appreciate your water-retention efforts, but milkweeds that prefer dry soil, such as common milkweed and butterfly weed, are usually better off with no mulch.

Pruning:

As with many flowering perennials, pruning the flowers soon after they have withered will result in new buds and may extend the blooming period for several weeks. Clipping spent flowers to stimulate new growth will also prolong the availability of nectar for monarchs and other pollinators.

Pest control:

Some plant pests such as aphids, whiteflies and milkweed bugs are immune to the toxic effects of milkweed and may feed on the leaves and seed pods, but they rarely cause significant damage. Also remove leaf litter and spent stalks in the fall to eliminate overwintering sites.

How to control spreading:

If you don’t want milkweed to take charge of your garden, remove the seed pods in the fall before they split open and release their contents or tie them closed with string. For plants with rhizomes, thin them out by hand by pulling the entire plant, including the roots, removing as much of the rhizome as possible. This will be easier to do when the plants are young and before the roots are well established.

Handling precautions:

Be aware that the toxic alkaloids in the sap of milkweed that help protect the monarchs from predators can cause eye and skin irritation and are poisonous to pets and other animals when ingested. Take the appropriate precautions and wear gloves, long sleeves, and long pants when working with these plants.

https://www.gardendesign.com/plants/milkweed.html

Houseplant of the Month: Peperomia

If you live in a small-efficiency apartment, you probably don’t have the space for a showy, sprawling monstera or a towering ficus. You need something petite that can comfortably sit on an end table or windowsill. And unless you’ve been fortunate enough to find an apartment with an abundance of natural light, you probably need something that can survive in a sliver of sun. You need a peperomia.

Peperomia Varieties

Peperomia is a compact little plant that does well with a moderate amount of light. The low-growing, bushy foliage comes in a wide range of colors and shapes. Peperomia argyreia (watermelon peperomia), for instance, has fairly large leaves and a pattern resembling watermelon rinds while Peperomia clusifolia‘s leaves have pink edges. Peperomia griseoargentea’s leaves are dark green with deep veins that create interesting texture.

How to Grow Peperomia

Plant peperomia using a houseplant potting mix in a pot with drainage holes in the bottom. This plant’s roots require a lot of oxygen, so it’s a good idea to mix perlite, sand, or even gravel in with the soil to keep it from becoming too compact over time.

Watering Schedule

Peperomias hold water in their thick succulent-like leaves and stems, so they’ll be perfectly happy if you abandon them for a few weeks of vacation. In fact, they prefer the soil to dry out in between waterings, so as a general rule you can expect to water them only every other week.

Light Requirements

Peperomias do well in moderate light to partial shade. They can tolerate low light as well, though the plant won’t be as hardy and the beautiful look of the foliage may suffer.

May Houseplant – Spathyphyllum

The Peace Lily is a favorite houseplant. In the spring, it produces long-lasting white blooms. The plant itself has glossy oval leaves with a striking point that emerge from the soil. They are tropical plants and do exceptionally well when potted indoors under the right conditions.

Of all the flowering house plants, Peace Lily care is probably the easiest. In fact, it tolerates average indoor conditions better than many house plants. It’s good for you, too. This is one of the best plants for improving air quality indoors. It has one of the top removal rates of toxins such as formaldehyde, ammonia and carbon monoxide from tainted indoor air.

Blooms usually appear in early summer and last for weeks. The pale green spathe turns white as it opens and surrounds the protruding spadix that is densely covered by its tiny, true flowers.

When flowers start to fade, cut off the flower stalks as close to the base as possible.

No blooms? Plants that fail to bloom usually aren’t getting enough sunlight. Move your plant to a brighter location, but keep it out of direct sun, which can scorch leaves. Got an older plant that refuses to bloom? If you haven’t divided it in several years, divide it in spring. This is one of the few plants I know that blooms better after dividing it.

 

Dark-green, glossy leaves are strongly veined and arch away from the plant’s base, making this an attractive foliage plant when not in bloom. Keep its leaves dust-free by wiping them with a damp cloth.

When caring for peace lily plants, remember that its leaves will indicate any problems. Brown leaf tips are likely caused by overwatering. Water thoroughly, but don’t allow the soil to get soggy. It could also be caused by direct sun. Move it to a shadier spot and be careful not to overwater. If the leaves become shriveled and dry, the humidity is too low. You can increase humidity by misting the plant or placing it on a tray of wet pebbles.

2019 Perennial Plant of the Year – Stachys ‘Hummelo’

The Perennial Plant of the Year® (PPOY) program began in 1990 to showcase a perennial that is a standout among its competitors. Perennials chosen are suitable for a wide range of growing climates, require low maintenance, have multiple-season interest, and are relatively pest/disease-free. If you are looking for an excellent perennial for your next landscape project or something reliable for your gardens, make sure to check out the Perennial Plant of the Year®

Since the Perennial Plant of the Year® was introduced in 1990, the Perennial Plant Association has received frequent inquiries about how the Perennial Plant of the Year® is selected. The selection process is quite simple – PPA members vote for the Perennial Plant of the Year® each summer. At that time, in addition to the vote, each member may also nominate up to two plants for future consideration. The Perennial Plant of the Year® committee reviews the nominated perennials (more than 400 different perennials are often nominated each year) and selects 3 or 4 perennials to be placed on the ballot.

Nominations generally need to satisfy the following criteria: 

  •  Suitability for a wide range of climatic conditions
  •  Low-maintenance requirements
  •  Relative pest- and disease-resistance
  •  Ready availability in the year of promotion
  •  Multiple seasons of ornamental interest

Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 to 8, foliage may remain evergreen in warmer climates.

Light: Full sun to part shade.
 
Soil: Well drained soil; water as necessary.
 
Uses: This colorful and compact winner makes an excellent addition to the full sun perennial border.  Terrific in combination with ornamental grasses, Echinacea purpurea, and Asclepias tuberosa (2018 Perennial Plant of the Year®).  Wiry stems make for a great cut flower as well.
 
 
Unique Qualities: Pollinators can’t resist the striking midsummer spikes of magenta flowers rising above bright green, trouble-free foliage.  ‘Hummelo’ was the highest rated Stachys in the Chicago Botanic Garden Evaluation Trials for its strong flower production, vigor, habit, quality and winter hardiness.
 
 
Maintenance: Spreads slowly by creeping rhizomes.  May benefit from division every few years.  Strong stems and seed heads add to winter interest.  Considered deer-resistant!

Rediscovering a Classic – A Variety of Hydrangeas

Certain plants have the ability to conjure up memories, emotions and feelings of special times and special places. For many the hydrangea’s fairy-tale blue clusters remind us of carefree summer days spent lazing on the Cape, where the showy blooms dress up cottage gardens. We plant hydrangeas in our own beds for the restful feelings they inspire, as well as for the beauty of their opulent midsummer blooms.

Although the most familiar, the blue hydrangea, or more properly, Hydrangea macrophylla, is just one of over a hundred known cultivars of Hydrangea. Along with Hydrangea macprophylla, other varieties that do well in our area include H. paniculata grandiflora and H. anomola petiolaris. Hydrangeas are generally easy to grow, are hardy to zone 6 or in areas of temperate winters, and require little care or maintenance.

Hydrangea macrophylla is divided into two main groups: hortensias, which feature the globular blue, pink, red and white blooms of Cape Cod fame, and lacecaps, which are distinguished by flatter clusters of sterile, papery petallike sepals. Both types can be propagated by suckered division. They are long-lived plants that are relatively trouble free.

As a group, hortensias feature thick, erect, and unbranched stems that easily reach full height in just a single season. Their glossy foliage is striking in its own right, but the plant is characterized by its showy round clusters, which range in color from blue to white to pink, the color varying with the pH level of the soil. Here in the Northeast, our acidic soil (pH range of 5.5 or lower) gives blooms a blue tone. As the soil pH neutralizes, the color of bloom graduates to white, then pink and finally to a near red shade. Adding aluminum sulfate to lower the soil pH results in blue blooms, while raising the soil pH with ground limestone produces pink/red hues. The plants prefer a sunny to partly sunny location, with moist soil that is rich in organic matter.

In recent years, lacecaps have seen a resurgence in popularity as an old-fashioned favorite. Like hortensias, they prefer a sun to part sun and rich, moist soil. The plants benefit from having the stems, that have flowered, removed while the plant is dormant. A more vigorous thinning (as opposed to pruning, or cutting back) will produce larger flower clusters.

Another old-favorite is the Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora or “pee gee” hydrangea. This fast-growing treelike shrub features a mop-head-like flower cluster in mid-to-late summer. The flowers open to white in summer, turn a pinkish hue in September and fade to tan by fall. They are outstanding as a dried flower, sometimes lasting years in dried arrangements. Because pee gee hydrangeas bloom on new wood, prune hard when the plant is dormant to produce larger flowers the next summer. An easy to grow plant, it is extremely long-lived and has been a favorite of gardeners for generations.

The climbing hydrangea, or Hydrangea anomola petiolaris is another versatile performer. Clinging to tree trunks or brick by aerial roots, it can grow to 60 feet, and once established, this plant takes off! Its fragrant white flowers nearly cover it in summer and it does well in the shade of most deciduous trees. Planted at the base of an elm or an oak, this climbing hydrangea will wind its way up the trunk and provide spectacular color all summer long.