Category Archives: Garden Tips

Hydrangeas: True Blue or Tickled Pink?

There are very few plants that you, the gardener, can actually choose the color you want them to be in your garden. Hydrangeas happen to be one of them. With some simple amendments to your soil, you can choose between making the blooms blue or pink. And while it doesn’t happen overnight, the magical blooms are well worth the wait!

The most important thing that influences the color of hydrangeas is soil pH—that’s the level of soil acidity. That means you may want to start with a soil test. You can either get a soil test kit from your favorite garden center or you can send your soil to your local cooperative extension office.

In general, more acidity makes hydrangeas turn blue, less acidity (or more alkaline soil) promotes pink—that is, unless we’re talking about white hydrangeas, which alas, are limited to white.

Take a look at our pH color guide to get closer to the color you prefer.

Hydrangea Color Preference

DEEP BLUE PURPLE
-PINK
DEEP
PINK
4.5 5 5.5 6 6.5 6.8 7

 

Okay, so how do you actually change soil pH?

To lower pH and turn hydrangeas blue, we recommend adding Espoma Soil Acidifier to the soil. It’s safe, long-lasting, and approved for organic gardening. Use 2 1/2 cups around the plant’s drip line every sixty days, until you reach the desired shade of blue.
Prefer pink? Then use Espoma Garden Lime. Sprinkle about 2½ to 5 lbs. per 100 sq. ft. in the Spring or the Fall. 

5 Colorful Tips

  • Consider container gardening for hydrangeas as an easier way to control soil pH. Some of the newer varieties of hydrangeas feature huge flowers on compact plants which are ideal for containers.
  • Feeding hydrangeas well results in healthier plants with more saturated color.Espoma Holly-tone is an excellent choice for blue hydrangeas since it contains sulfur to lower pH. Espoma Plant-tone is ideal for feeding pink hydrangeas since it does not contain the additional sulfur.
  • Water hydrangeas steadily, especially in the hottest part of the summer to keep them from wilting. Mulch to keep roots cool and conserve moisture.
  • Hydrangea color can be affected by lime leaching out of concrete walkways or patios nearby, making blue a real challenge. Keep this in mind when considering where to plant.
  • A word of caution: not all plants like acidic soil. Be careful about what’s growing near your hydrangeas. Not sure which plants like acidic soil? Click here to see a list of Acid Loving Plants.

 

June Gardening Tips

Adapted from The Farmer’s Almanac

Divide late-summer or autumn-flowering perennials. If necessary, go after phlox and artemisia with a sharp spade or even an ax. If delphiniums need to be divided, remove and replant the new little plants growing around the outside of the clump. Discard the hard old heart.

Trim climbing roses and attach securely to fences or trellises. Continue fertilization of your rosebushes; liquid fertilizers can be added every 2 weeks. Scatter crushed eggshells in a thick ring around roses to deter slugs.

Continue reading June Gardening Tips

Alternatives to Garden Impatiens

Via the Floriculture Specialists of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County

Since garden impatiens, Impatiens walleriana, have been severely impacted by a new downy mildew disease (and will likely continue to be impacted in future years), growers, landscapers, and homeowners are seeking

alternatives to this ubiquitous garden plant. Impatiens have been a reliable garden plant for many years due to their color choice, growth habit, price point, and shade tolerance. While it might seem challenging to find plants that will be a suitable replacement, there are many great plant selections that are viable substitutions. The tables below list some options for shade tolerant plants, along with information on crop time and garden size. Don’t focus on the negative… use this opportunity to grow and promote different and exciting plants!

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−It’s important to remember and to communicate that New Guinea impatiens are NOT susceptible to impatiens downy mildew.

−It is sometimes assumed by some that New Guinea impatiens is a sun plant. Yes, New Guinea impatiens perform better than garden impatiens in the sun, but New Guinea impatiens generally perform equally as well or better in the shade.

−Also consider hardy plants such as ajuga, heuchera, lamium, lysimachia, as well as various grass and grass-like plants.

−Don’t plant shade plants in the sun! For sunny sites recommend annual vinca, angelonia, petunia, geranium, marigold, zinnia, celosia, pentas, gazania, portulaca, and so on!

“What happened to my impatiens?”

The summer of 2012 will be known as the end of impatiens on Long Island — at mildew-300Bleast for a few years at best. As the airborne disease of “Downy Mildew” passed over our gardens, it decimated Long Island’s impatiens within a couple weeks. As homeowners stood in bewilderment as their beautiful gardens were diminished, they tried to find out what happened. Some blamed their spouses for watering too much or too little, some blamed their lawn maintenance service for “blowing the leaves” right off their flowers, some blamed their house sitters and swore never to go on vacation again, and some didn’t know who to blame. It was no one’s fault. It was just mother nature exercising her right to throw in these diseases once in awhile to keep us on our toes. Maybe we were getting too comfortable with the ease of impatiens. Well, that’s no longer the case. As this airborne disease has hit Long Island in 2012, it is time to find alternatives.

Your garden for 2013 will be even more beautiful with new varieties of other old time favorites that are very reliable, as well as magnificent. There are many choices of New Guinea Impatiens that are completely not affected by Downy Mildew. They can be planted in the same areas where you once planted your impatiens. And don’t think that you need only flowers to add color to your garden, the development of Coleus varieties has resulted in spectacular foliage that brings your garden to life. Another favorite of mine is begonias as they do wonderfully in sun or shade. They are very low maintenance and keep blooming until a hard frost — much longer than the regular impatiens. If you have lots of sun, the vinca flower has a petal formation that is practically identical to the impatiens, but can withstand much more drought. No need for overwatering Vincas.

As gardeners, we may have experienced a setback in our garden designs for 2012. But as gardeners, we know that our gardens are never stagnant. They are always ever-changing and growing — like we all should be. We are not discouraged by this disease. But more importantly, we hope that our customers and all gardeners are not discouraged. At Albert H. Schmitt Family Farms, we were known for having the best selection of impatiens on Long Island. Now, we will now be known for having the best alternative choices for impatiens on Long Island. We are excited for Spring 2013 as we plan our greenhouse planting schedule. Our customers will be pleasantly surprised of what awaits them beyond impatiens.

Click here: http://ccesuffolk.org/assets/Floriculture/DM-HomeGarden-Sept2012.pdf

Click here to read more on impatiens from Jessica Damiano at Newsday  (must subscribe to Newsday to be able to view full online article)

Another Impatiens Article by Jessica Damiano for Newsday (must subscribe to Newsday to be able to view full online article)

When to Prune Crepe Myrtle

Best Crepe Myrtle Pruning Time: When To Prune Crepe Myrtle

Though pruning a crepe myrtle tree is not necessary to the health of the plant, many people do like to prune crepe myrtle trees in order to neaten the look of the tree or to encourage new growth. After these people have decided to prune the crepe myrtle trees in their yard, their next question is normally “When to prune crepe myrtle trees?”

This question on crepe myrtle pruning time has a different answer depending on why you wish to prune a crepe myrtle tree. Most likely you are either pruning for general maintenance or to try to coax a second bloom out of the tree in one year.

Crepe Myrtle Pruning Time For General Maintenance
If you are just looking to perform general maintenance on your tree, the ideal crepe myrtle pruning time is either in the late winter or early spring when the tree is in its dormancy. This is the best time to prune if you are reshaping the tree, removing deep or weak branches, trying to encourage new growth or size maintenance.

Crepe Myrtle Pruning Time For Second Bloom
Like many plants, a crepe myrtle tree can be encouraged to put forth a second round of blossoms through a practice called deadheading. When to prune the crepe myrtle tree in this case is shortly after the tree’s first round of blossoms have faded. Prune the blossoms off.

This practice should not be done too late in the year as it may cause the tree to delay going into dormancy which in turn could kill it over the winter. It is not advisably to try this after the beginning of August. If the first round of blossoms is not finished by the beginning of August, you would probably not be able to get a second round of blooms before the winter comes anyway.

When to prune crepe myrtle is something that every crepe myrtle owner should know if they plan on taking the time to prune a crepe myrtle tree. Choosing the appropriate crepe myrtle pruning time will ensure that the tree stays healthy and beautiful for many years to come.

How to Prune Hydrangeas

AfterPruningSm-300x249One of the most frequently asked questions, “How do I prune my hydrangeas?” The problem is that the big-leaf hydrangeas, Hydrangea macrophylla, form their flower buds in the previous summer, so if you cut them short they don’t bloom very much the following summer. Most of the popular blue mop-head and blue, pink or white lace-cap hydrangeas form flowers on old growth.

Not all hydrangeas bloom on second year growth, however, and this adds to the confusion. The very hardy Pee Gee hydrangea, Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’, blooms on new growth as does the white-flowering ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea. There are also several varieties that bloom on both new and old growth, such as ‘Penny Mac’, ‘All Summer Beauty’, and Endless Summer.

Before addressing how to prune these shrubs, let’s talk about why you should prune them. Unfortunately, many people want to make them smaller, which is the worst reason to prune a plant. Unless you’re growing a shrub or tree in a bonsai dish, you’re doomed to lose.

In general, plants should be pruned to improve appearance not control size. I repeat that because it’s important: Hydrangeas should be pruned to improve appearance, not control size. The mature hydrangea is a shrub that cannot be made smaller. If you cut a big leaf hydrangea down one year it will replace that growth the following season. If you want to keep them small, replace your larger growing variety with one that is genetically programmed to stay short…a few varieties are suggested later in this article.

Many lacecap hydrangeas bloom on second year growth, so they should be pruned in the same way as the mopheads. Download the pdf sheet at the end of this article for pruning instructions with illustrations.

The big leaf hydrangeas, lace-caps and mop-heads, should be pruned as follows:

1. Prune in the spring when the plant has begun breaking dormancy. At this time of year you can see which canes are living and which are dead.

2. Begin by removing all dead canes, cutting them down to the ground. This is best accomplished by sitting next to the plant so you’ll not be tempted to leave ugly, six inch tall stumps because you can’t reach to cut them further.

3. Once all dead canes are removed, evaluate what is left. If still you have many living stems, and some of them are over three years old, remove a third of those oldest canes, again cutting them at ground level. This will stimulate new growth. If the plant is not congested with a number of older stems, skip this step and go onto #4.

4. Neaten the plant by clipping off any old flowers that remain. Cut remaining canes back by working from the top down, stopping and making the cut just above the first or second pair of buds you come to. Using this top down method, some canes will be cut very little or not at all, while some will have living buds only near the base of the plant so you’ll be removing quite a bit of that stem.

5. Next, step back and look at the plant. If there is one stem that is a great deal taller than the rest, clip it to be in scale with the rest if you prefer how that would look. If there are any curvy, weak looking branches that trail on the ground, remove those.

6. Keep in mind that any green buds you remove have the potential to develop flowers later in the summer. Do you want a neater plant or more flowers? Remember that you could always cut those flowers for bouquets thus tidying the plant later in the season.

7. Prune Endless Summer and other big leaf hydrangeas that bloom on new growth in the same way. These plants bloom on new and old wood, so cutting them short results in fewer flowers.

8. Want to keep them small? Give it up. Plant ‘Mathilda Gutges’, my personal favorite hydrangea, or ‘Hortensis Compacta’, or the very short ‘Pia’ and ‘Pink Elf’.

‘Mathilda Gutges’ hydrangeas, here on the right, stay under four feet high, making it a good plant for foundation plantings and perennial gardens. The ‘Ami Pasquier’ hydrangea shown on the left grows over five feet high, so should be planted where it can get tall.

Pruning Hydrangeas That Bloom on New Growth

There are many ways to prune ‘Pee Gee’ hydrangeas. Some encourage them to become small trees by removing deadwood and annually removing a third of the smaller lateral branches from the ground up. By taking off these twigs and leaving the larger, upright stems, you encourage the plant to grow taller and take on the shape of a multi-stemmed small tree. After removing the deadwood and those lower stems, cut out any crossed branches or those that are growing into the center of the plant rather than away from the middle. Do this in the late winter or spring.

Pee Gee hydrangeas can also be cut down to between six inches or three feet tall every year. This tends to encourage thick growth on the top, however, and the new stems that result will be pulled down by the weight of the flowers. In general, it might be best to plant Pee Gee hydrangeas where they can get large. If you want a white flowering plant that stays small, consider the small oak leaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Pee Wee’.

Annabelle hydrangeas can also be cut short, but again, the newer growth will be weaker and the stems will bend with the weight of the flowers. I recommend pruning these as you would the mopheads.