Category Archives: Down and Dirty Lesson

Down and Dirty Lessons: Training a Climbing Rose to Maximize Bloom

I was out snapping pictures and while I was capturing the rain laden blooms on ‘Cpt Sam Holland’ , a climbing rose, I was reminded of a lesson I give often when talking about roses.

To get the most flowers out of a climbing rose you need to know a few things about how the plant grows.

First and foremost, climbing roses grow on what are called main canes,  these are the primary canes that grow out of the base of the plant, These canes should always remain on the plant  and never be pruned off  unless you have severe die-back or disease issues.

Growing from the main canes are many side shoots, called lateral canes, or laterals  for short, and these canes are where the flowers will come from. Due to a plant behavior called apical dominance, when these canes are left to grow vertically  only the top ( ‘apical’) buds will produce flowers.

On the other hand, if you train the main canes horizontally all of the buds will be in essence the top, or apical buds and they will all produce flowers. In this photo I took, although the flowers are currently hanging down with the weight of the rain water, the main cane has been tied to grow at almost 90 degrees from the base,that is why there are flowers all along it instead of just at the top.DSC_0029

Below is  the uncropped photo so you can see the twine that is holding the cane horizontally ( the green stake below that is holding the another cane trained below  this one).DSC_0029

If you are growing a climbing rose on a pillar or obelisk, the way to train the main canes is to wrap them in circles spiraling up the structure so as you get as much horizontal placement of the main canes  as possible, and hence more flowers.

Paul Zimmerman, one of my fav rose experts, has some great videos that explain the process as well and the links can be found by clicking here

The laterals, or side shoots, are also the ones you want to prune when you need to reduce the size of  the rose . the grow anew each year so you won’t loose flowers if you cut them back.

So, in a nutshell, to get the most out of your climbing rose, train the canes to grow at between 45 and 90 degree angles from the base of the plant .DSC_0002

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Down and Dirty Lesson : Spring Garden Design

DSC_0196Quick! Head out into the garden with a pen and paper. Make note of what is blooming, where there is color or where it is woefully lacking . We have had a long winter, are you happy with your Spring garden?

Come inside now, and sit down at the computer or with your plant catalogs if you have them.  Why now? because summer is coming, you will be  busy with BBQ’s, vacations to the beach, vegetable gardening and chilling in the hammock. By Fall  you are tired , the garden has sucked the life out of you with watering, deadheading, weeding and pest control. You will be in no mood to think of Spring planning.

Here is a short list of plants you can add for very early color. Check out websites like Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, Odyssey Bulbs, John Scheepers, Old House Gardens  to name but a few.

Order bulbs soon and you won’t have to remember a thing as most bulb sellers release their seasonal lists way ahead of the actual season  for planting purposes, as a general rule Spring bulbs  are planted in the Fall for Spring blooming ,  and the growers will ship them at correct planting time for your area. You will probably even forget you were so organized and thought ahead and will be pleasantly surprised when they arrive on your doorstop . Plants may ship at any time and you can plant them knowing the great service you are doing for next year’s winter weary soul.

Erantis or winter aconite

anemone nemerosa

Pasque flower or pusatilla  vulgaris

corydalis like the lovely ‘Beth Evans’ 

daffodils and narcissus…look for those described by bloom time for early, mid and late season,Brent and Becky’s does a great job with descriptions of bloom time based on other flowering plants

species tulips …I grow t. clusiana and t. kaufmanniana but there are many more  available . These perennialize much better than the hybrids and flower reliably year after year. Look here for more varieties

chionodoxa  That is ‘Pink Giant’ below in a teeny ink well with the blushing leaves of  Polemonium reptans’Stairway to Heaven’DSC_0166

siberian squill

gallanthus or snowdrops


lonicera fragrantissima or fragrant honeysuckle

If you can possibly add a small tree , or even a large one ,always add a magnolia…in New England look for those who flower a tad later to avoid loosing the flowers to frost. Magnolia ‘Ricki’  is a great choice and her girlfriends that join her in the party fashionably late  as well are described HERE

hamamelis or witch hazel,Click here for the  Chicago Botanic Gardens Trail info …. Oh! the choices!

a beautiful early blooming shrub ( relative of the forsythia) abeliophyllum distichum is an wonderful addition

crocus, but be careful with these if you have squirrel or chipmunk problems

hellebores  ,  SO MANY TO CHOOSE FROM!!! choose spring bloomers by reading the plant description and shop here at Plant Delights Nursery

I already ordered a few more this year.DSC_0064squill

 Won’t you be happy when your garden is carpeted in color just when you are so desperate to see it?



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Success with Hydrangeas : a Down and Dirty Lesson for the Home Gardener(who doesn’t have time to read a 500 page book)

Oh hydrangeas! why do you vex so many home gardeners , tormenting them with pictures of your voluptuous mop-head blooms and elegant lace -caps, only to stubbornly remain an awkward  green foliage plant  all season?  Well, I could write a book, and a very long one , on the various types of hydrangeas, why and when they bloom, and how to prune them etc, but I will stiffle all the science and give you the low down and dirty easy lesson on how to chose the right ones to make your garden spectacular.
First, let’s tackle the blooming issue. Older hydrangeas( pre 1998) of the macrophylla persuasion that have both mop head  and lace-cap flowers bloom ONLY on woody growth they produced in the last growing season . This is called, surprisingly , “old wood”. Plants that bloom on old wood will not bloom if you prune them in the spring as you are essentially cutting off the flowers even if you can’t see them, or if we have a very sever winter or even  a late frost after a warm up in the spring you will loose the flower buds to cold. This makes them dicey choices for specimen plants. It is nothing you did, it is just the nature of the plant.

In the late 1990′s breeding began to develop hydrangea macrophylla cultivars that bloom on old wood AND new wood, meaning growth they produce in the current year. The big bad botanical word for this is remontant . The first of these remontant , or re-blooming hydrangeas  was Endless Summer and there was a great rush to plant these  en masse . In my opinion they are duds and barely bloom at all on new wood  and I have heard many frustrated gardeners from these parts who thought they found the Holy Grail of hydrangeas express the same disappointment. Since then, the Endless Summer line has expanded and now includes a few that actually do bloom well on new wood.

In the ensuing years many other  plant breeders  have flooded the market with re-blooming hydrangeas , so now your choices are many and it can certainly be overwhelming.

My favorite so far? The third introduction of the Endless Summer line called “Twist and Shout”. This is a lace-cap with just stunningly beautiful ,deep rich color changes. It blooms all season long , and as a bonus has striking red stems. Plant one!!!!Twist and Shout Hydrangea

The other lines and names of rebloomers you should look for are

All Summer Beauty:What Endless Summer wishes it was, a true blue re-bloomer that goes all season long and is reported to do well even into upstate Maine where it is certainly cold and has a short growing season. A true victim of good vs. bad marketing in the nursery industry.

Blushing Bride- also part of the Endless Summer line, that reliably produces a bounty of white fading to blush pink mop-heads all season long.

The “Let’s Dance” series from Proven Winners- many color variations on the traditional blue or pink typical of big leaf hydrangeas, and readily available at local garden centers

Also from Proven Winners “Tuff Stuff”- This is hydrangea serrata, or Mountain hydrangea , and is  very long blooming reddish pink lace cap . It will bloom right up until frost. Tuff Stuff™ - Reblooming Mountain Hydrangea - Hydrangea serrata

The “Forever and Ever “ series, also boasts reliable re-bloomers, and has great color variety. Just be aware that a few of them are quite small (2-3 ft) and some are only hardy to zone 6. ALWAYS read the plant label!

With any of the above hydrangeas , grow in well amended soil in morning sun and afternoon shade with plenty of water.

Pannicle hydrangeas, like Hydrangea grandifora ( often grown in tree form) or hydrangea paniculata “Limelight” sport long conical blooms that appear white or chartruese and fade to mauve. They can grow in full sun and  bloom ONLY on NEW wood , so can be pruned in the spring. There are smaller versions, like “Little Lime” that will fit better in smaller spaces so you can forgo any pruning. .


'Limelight' - Hardy Hydrangea - Hydrangea paniculata

As a quick aside, you should stick to buying plants that when full grown still  fit your space. You should never  really have to prune a hydrangea other than to take off spent blooms unless you planted the wrong one to begin with. Just sayin’ ;)

Smooth hydrangeas, or Hydrangea arborescens , bloom on NEW wood and can be pruned quite drastically f you desire. The most common one is ‘Annabelle’  which is a white mop-head , but some newer introductions, such as “ Bella Anna ‘ are pink . Hydrangea arborescens Bella Anna™These are easy to care for and very hardy.

Hydrangea quercifolia, or oak leaf hydrangea is another beauty for a shadier area. This hydrangea blooms on old wood but is generally pretty reliable . The leaf color is incredible in the fall ( either red or burgandy) and my favorite is called “Snow Queen”  ( photo: White Flower Farm)Hydrangea quercifolia Snow Queen

So, to sum up and keep it easy , some rules

1. If you have an older hydrangea that does not  bloom every year , or a new one that is supposed to re-bloom and doesn’t, shovel prune that darn thing and  start over

2. Head to a decent  garden center and ask for any of the newer cultivars that RELIABLY re-bloom and that you like the flower shape and color of

3. Plant in well amended soil in morning sun/afternoon shade for hydrangea macrophylla and serrata and quercifolia, part shade to full sun for paniculata types and water well.

4.Read the plant label once, then read it again, then measure your growing space, then read plant label a third time. Plant hydrangea in a space that will accomadate it when it is full grown and then there will be no issues and questions about pruning

5. Enjoy your BLOOMING hydrangea!

This Post is the first of a new feature here called Down and Dirty Lessons for the Home Gardener. You can access any post in this category by clicking on the “Down and Dirty” link in CATEGORIES to the right. The lessons will be succint and brief outlines or directions about a plant, garden technique, or design dilemma with as few big words and confusing concepts as possible, just the least and BEST information you need to make something work. I hope you ,my  dear reader who may be suffering from information overload or  may be  confused about a garden issue , will benefit from them .If you have any topic you would like to cover PLEASE let me know!




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