Saturday, January 30, 2016

Mid-winter Delight

I've posted several times about how much I enjoy Edgeworthia Chrysantha, also called Chinese paper bush. In the summer, it has attractive green foliage, but it's in the fall after it drops its leaves that it really puts on a show. It develops white clusters of bell-like buds that decorate the bare stems throughout the fall and winter. In mid-winter, usually early February, little yellow blooms appear at the bottom of the bells.

Our Edgeworthia is planted in a bed near the entrance to the garage. Today when I walked by it, I could hear buzzing, and when I stopped for a closer look, I saw numerous bees buzzing around it. At first, I couldn't understand why. Then I noticed the most wonderful fragrance and a hint of yellow underneath the white bells. The Edgeworthia had begun to bloom. I had heard it was suppose to be fragrant, but I had never detected any scent in the several years we've had it. In fact, I've read that winter-blooming plants generally have a strong fragrance to attract the few winter pollinators available. Maybe I was simply not near the plant at the right moment of the day (have you noticed that plants often more fragrant at some times than others?). In any case, I had forgotten it was suppose to be fragrant.

These bees, probably  from some backyard beekeeper's hive, must have left their hive to expel waste on this springlike day and happily came across an unexpected treat--the tiny yellow flowers of the Edgeworthia, just beginning to open. There were a lot of bees but none of them wanted to be still long enough for me to snap a picture. It took me quite awhile to get this picture of even one bee. I didn't mind the wait, however. What better thing could there be to do on a warm winter day than stand in the sunshine beside a fragrant plant and watch bees foraging? January doesn't get any better than this.

The flowers on the Edgeworthia are striking, but barely visible, as they emerge from the downward-facing white buds that form the bells. When the flowers are fully open, the bell will have a hint of yellow border as they protrude slightly. 

As you can see from this picture of the underside of the bell (I am holding the stem up to give a better view of the flowers), there are many more buds yet to open. When fully bloomed out, the bottom of the bell will be completely yellow, even though you won't be able to see much of it. With the warm weather forecasted to continue for a few days, I'm hoping all these flowers will entice the bees back for a return visit. 

Later yesterday, I noticed that the bees were also taking the opportunity to check out pansies nearby, but I am sure it was the fragrance of the Edgeworthia that lured this group of bees into our garden. Isn't it remarkable how unexpected occurrences converge--a warm, sunny winter day, the opening of flower blooms, a group of honey bees--to lift the human spirit. Don't despair. Spring will be here soon.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Pruning Clematis

A great deal of confusion exists over pruning clematis: how, when, and even whether to prune them at all.

Clematis are usually talked about as belonging to one of three pruning groups. Group 1 (sometimes called group A) typically bloom in early spring on old (last season's) growth, and they require little or no pruning. If you decide you need to prune, the best time is immediately after flowering. (You are probably thinking, "Why would I prune if I don't have to?" More on this later.) Pruning soon after flowering will give the plant the maximum amount of time to regrow stems that will form the buds for next season. The evergreen Clematis armandii belongs to group 1.

Clematis armandii 

Group 2 (group B) clematis bloom in late spring or early-summer, bearing large and sometimes double flowers. They are the trickiest group for pruning because they bloom, to some extent, on both old and new growth. As a rule, blooms form on new growth that sprouts from last year's stems, as well as new stem growth from the current year, so it is desirable to preserve as much of the old growth as possible. Many in this group have a heavy bloom in late spring followed by a second, usually lighter, bloom in summer. A light trimming immediately following the first bloom flush may increase the number of flowers in the second flush. Generally, last year's stems are the ones that produce the largest flowers and double blooms, so your second flush of blooms, which appear on the current year's stems, might look quite different from the first flush. 'Nelly Moser' is an example of Group 2 clematis.

Clematis 'Nelly Moser'

Group 3 (or group C) are mid-to-late summer blooming and they bloom entirely on new season growth. One of the more familiar clematis in this group is 'Jackmanii', a very vigorous growing and heavily-flowering variety. Because clematis in this group bloom on new growth, they perform better with a heavy cutback at the end of the winter, perhaps leaving only 6-12 inches of healthy stem. Lack of pruning for this group can result in leggy-looking plants that have the flowers clustered only at the top of the plant.

Clematis 'Jackmanii'

In addition to maximizing bloom, there are other reasons to consider pruning.  If your plants are young, as some of mine are, you might choose to prune to encourage more branching and a better overall shape as they mature. Or, if you have neglected pruning in the past, you might prune because you want to reduce the size of the plant, or because you need to free it from a nearby plant to which it has attached itself, or because there is no other way to untie the knot that the stem has become (yes, we've all been there!). So where (that is, how far back on the stem) you prune your clematis will depend on why you are pruning it. Locate a pair of healthy buds and make the pruning cut directly above them.

There is a lot of information available on the internet about how to prune clematis and some of it is contradictory, but the bottom line is that you should not be afraid to prune. Clematis grow so quickly that by next year, they will have forgiven any mistakes you might make this year. But if you are still afraid to prune, take this year to observe how your plants grow, both when they bloom and where the blooms appear (old vs. new stems), and make notes for pruning time next year.

As for me, I'll find a warm day in late February or early March and prune all our clematis. We don't have any Group 1 plants (unfortunate--I really like that evergreen 'Armandii') but I know I have a least one Group 3, which I plan to cut nearly to the ground. The others are Group 2's (I think) so I will do a light pruning on these, except for the two that I planted last year. These two need a heavier pruning to encourage branching. 

One final word of caution: watch your plants carefully once the weather warms up so that you can train the the fast-growing stems where you want them to grow. Otherwise, overnight (or so it seems), they'll tie themselves into that knot we talked about earlier. There is nothing more delicate than a clematis vine twined around itself, and it is almost impossible not to damage the stem in your attempt to unwind it. So keep a close check on it until you see that it is growing where you want it to grow.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Clematis: To Prune or not to Prune

Last spring I planted several new clematis. They didn't bloom a lot last year but I have high hopes for them this year. While in the garden last week, I noticed that one of them still has some of last summer's green leaves. It also has s lot of buds. I'll have to admit that my interest in clematis is fairly new and I'm far from an expert. So I'm not sure if clematis carry these leaf buds through the winter, as many plants do with their flower buds, or if this is another anomaly of this very warm fall we've had.

In any case, it made me think about pruning. Pruning clematis can be tricky. Depending on the type of clematis, pruning correctly may mean cutting the plant nearly to the ground, lightly pruning, or no pruning. This is why it is important that you know what kind of clematis you have. If you know the name, you can easily look up pruning instructions on the internet. If you don't know the name of your clematis, you might have noticed something on the plant tag that referred to "pruning group" and this will also tell you when/how to prune.

Like hydrangea, proper pruning of clematis depends on whether the variety you have blooms on old wood, new wood, or both. Improper pruning is not going to kill your plant, but it might sacrifice some of your blooms. And, although there are a few varieties that have attractive foliage, for most of us, bloom is the reason we grow clematis. 

In my next post, I'll share some guidance on how to prune your clematis, even if you are not sure what kind it is.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Help from the cat--or not!

Yesterday, Jack came inside and informed me that Zoey, the neighbor's cat, had deposited a vole on our walkway. For those of you lucky enough to be unfamiliar with voles, they are mouse-like critters that love to eat your favorite plants, especially hosta. A couple years ago, I mail-ordered an expensive hosta. It came as a single crown. A few days after planting it, I went out to check on it and there was only a round hole where my prized hosta had been. Apparently, a vole had pulled the entire crown into its tunnel. Usually they tend to eat the plant under the soil level so that your first indication that they are there is when the plant falls over. Since moving to this area, I've put them in the top spot on my garden enemy list.

So I celebrated when Jack told me there was one less vole in our garden. But, having been fooled before in identifying a vole, I went out for a look. I'm sad to say it was a shrew, rather than a vole. 
Here is a picture of the victim. It looks much like a vole, but its pointed snout is the give-away. Voles have a rounder snout.

Although I have no fondness for any rodent (including squirrels and chipmunks), I could have co-existed peacefully with this little guy in our garden. Shrews eat mostly insects, and, while they might eat both the beneficial insects  as well as those that aren't, they don't directly do damage to plants. So I was a little saddened by Zoey's gift.

But on a happier note, the victim was deposited beside a Knockout rose, on which I noticed a bud that was not turned to mush by the recent cold weather. 
With a few days of warm weather in the forecast, maybe it will have a chance to open. A rose bloom in mid-January. Who would have thought it!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

An Unplanned Adventure

On Monday, my younger grandson, Jared, and his Webelo Scouting group took advantage of the day off from school to take a 3-mile hike on the trail along the north side of Wolf River through Shelby Farms. Monday was a workday for my son and his wife, so Jared and his older brother, Sam, were spending the day with me. Since we were taking Jared to the hiking site, Sam, (motivated by a new Fitbit step counter) and I decided we would take the hike, too.

Although it was a cold day with a strong wind, once we got on the trail the trees sheltered us so that the hiking temperature was quite pleasant. Sam and I let the scout group pace us (the leader pointed out the difference between a hike and a stroll), but we let them get far enough ahead that our conversation did not provide a distraction. 

At the halfway point, the scouts stopped to eat the healthful lunch they had packed. Sam and I started the return trip while the scouts ate, so we had some extra time to stop along the way to talk about things we saw. Sam borrowed my cellphone to take some pictures of the things that interested him, like this tree branch arching across the trail.

Crossing one of the nice concrete bridges on the trail, Sam spotted this wooden structure and we theorized a bit on what it might have been. Maybe a support left from an older bridge? 

This "on the trail" time yielded an unexpected benefit for me, real conversation with my grandson. The world seemed to slow down while we were on the trail. We talked about some mushrooms we saw on a log, debated about the identity of a thorny, evergreen vine, and examined the curious bark of a tall sycamore tree. For awhile my sports enthusiast grandson was all about nature. Nice!