One Tough Rose

'Morden Snowbeauty' after the first winter

‘Morden Snowbeauty’ after the first winter

Both the rose and I are back after a brutal winter. Three days ago, we actually had two inches of new snow! Fortunately, the snow vanished within forty-eight hours, but snow in mid-April is indicative of the worst winter I can remember in the past thirty-five years.

This rose is the ‘Morden Snowbeauty’ I planted last June. In spite of its Zone 2 rating, I was apprehensive about its survival under mounds and mounds of snow with less than one year in the ground. Although it still looks a bit weedy, notice all those firm leaf buds ready to expand as the weather improves. As I mentioned in my articles on the Snowbeauty last year, own-root roses from mail-order sources look deceptively like twigs the first couple of years, but they catch up with potted roses by year three.

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Plant Viruses

Roses aren’t the only plants that suffer from viruses. Here are two photos from the Wisconsin Pest Bulletin showing viruses that were found on nursery stock in Wisconsin. Both photos show examples of Tobacco Rattle Virus. The virus on the Dicentra (Bleeding Heart) is typical of the jagged, lightning bolt form that viruses often assume on leaves. The same virus on the Epimedium rubrum (Bishop’s Hat) has a more mottled appearance, and might be confused with insect damage. Viruses can’t be cured, so a virus-infected plant is a doomed plant. Remember to always purchase plants from a reputable supplier.
Tobacco Rattle Virus on Dicentra, Liz Meils DATCPTobacco Rattle Virus on Epimedium, Annette Phibbs DATCP

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Physocarpus ‘Diabolo’ in the Fall

Physocarpus opulifolius 'Diabolo' fall color

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’ fall color

If you are not familiar with Diabolo’s magnificent fall color, here’s a photo to show why this shrub is such an asset in the landscape. The leaves turn an eye-catching scarlet and pair beautifully with purple asters and pale grasses.

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Plant of the Month: Malus sargentii ‘Tina’

Malus sargentii 'Tina' image courtesy of the Morton Arboretum

Malus sargentii ‘Tina’ image courtesy of the
Morton Arboretum

Tina is the shortest crabapple and also the one that’s lowest maintenance. Highly resistant to apple scab, fireblight, rust, and powdery mildew, Tina is also litter free. The deep red crabapples are just the right size for even the smallest birds. When I grew this tree, the crabapples rarely lasted into October.

The flower buds are deep pink–almost red–opening to pure white with yellow anthers. The flowers have a classic appleblossom fragrance. Unlike Malus sargentiiMalus sargentii ‘Tina’ blooms every year. The leaves are medium green, turning to gold in the fall. Tina even provides winter interest through its unusual horizontal branching pattern.

Tina was introduced from seed trials by William McReynolds of Hooks Nursery, a well-known commercial nursery in Lake Zurich, Illinois. It is hardy in Zones 4-8. Tina is top-grafted onto 3-foot high (91 cm) standard Malus rootstock, producing an ultimate height of approximately 6 feet (183 cm). Mature width is typically 6′-7′ (183-213 cm). The branching habit becomes more picturesque with age.

Although root suckers and water sprouts can be pruned out at any time of year (use a spray disinfectant on secateurs between cuts to minimize potential for fireblight infection), shaping the tree is best done in late winter or early spring while the tree is still dormant. Pruning for shape, if required, can be performed every 2-3 years. Don’t remove more than 25% of the branches when shaping. Numerous internet photos of Tina crabapples show immature trees with skinny trunks. Be assured that the trunk expands appropriately with age, just like any other crabapple.

Crabapples, in general, are not fussy about soil. If you can grow perennials without amending the soil, you can successfully grow crabapples. One inch of water per week is adequate for an established Tina, although roots need to be kept regularly moist the first year of planting.

Tinas don’t require fertilization once established. If you decide to fertilize, wait until the plant has been established for one full growing season. The following year, apply a low nitrogen fertilizer in the spring, such as 5-10-10. (Low nitrogen discourages the appearance of fireblight.) If suckers from the rootstock become prolific, consider purchasing Sucker-Stopper RTU and follow the directions on the package for application.

Healthy Tinas are rarely bothered by insect pests, except for the occasional Japanese beetle. Squish any beetles between gloved fingers before their numbers multiply.

Malus sargentii ‘Tina’ is one of the more expensive crabapples due to the time and effort required in top-grafting and pruning before the plant is ready for sale. However, the cost is recouped in the lack of maintenance expense. The branching structure is critical to Tina’s attractiveness, so don’t buy a plant via the internet. This is a tree you need to see in person before making a selection.

Tinas are useful as specimen trees, in shrub borders, anchoring herbaceous borders, or as front door sentinels. Lower growing perennials can be underplanted, although its best to stay 12″ (30 cm) away from the trunk when planting and to choose perennials that won’t require division, in order not to disturb the roots once the tree has settled in.

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Another Reason to Grow Petunias

Petunias are one of the favorite nectar sources of hummingbird moths–in this case, a White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata). According to local news sources, my geographic area experienced a “population explosion” of the White-lined Sphinx Moth this year. I can’t imagine why, but I’m delighted.

White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata)

White-lined Sphinx Moth
(Hyles lineata)

This enchanting creature made its appearance late Friday afternoon. Thankfully, my camera was close by, although I should have set it to “sports” mode, since these moths are faster than any running athlete. After taking numerous photos (the one you see is the only one that wasn’t blurred by rapid movement), I sat down to watch for 45 minutes as he harvested every single flower in both pots. It was the next best thing to being visited by a hummingbird; the moth even arches its body when feeding, just like a hummingbird. (Click on the photo for a nice close-up.)

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Harbor Flowers

Dockside Ice Cream shares a deck with Dockside Dawgs

Dockside Ice Cream shares a deck with
Dockside Dawgs

One of the jewels of Waukegan, Illinois is its charming Lake Michigan harbor area–not because the area is fancy, but because it isn’t fancy. It’s just the sort of rustic marine enclave you’d find in New England:  a small, tree-shaded park with picnic tables and outdoor grills, gray clapboard eateries–housing Dockside Dawgs and Dockside Ice Cream–across the square from The Salmon, where you can find deli sandwiches, fishing bait and other necessities for your day on the lake. On the south end of the harbor is the Waukegan Yacht Club, along with its outdoor venues for holiday barbecues and live music. Adding to this cozy spot for relaxing by the waterfront are the tubs, planters and beds of flowers everywhere.

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Plant of the Month: Trailing Petunias

Original Wave Petunias

Original Wave Petunias

Whether you call them trailing petunias or groundcover petunias, these plants make a major impact for very little money–always a valuable attribute for annuals. The two major U.S. trade styles are Wave™ petunias, developed by Ball Horticultural, and Supertunias®, a Proven Winners® introduction. Also available are the Plush petunias and Ramblin petunias, from Syngenta Flowers, and Suntory’s Surfinia® petunias. All of the petunias are extremely aggressive growers, although the Supertunias are said to be slightly less competitive with other plants, making them perhaps better candidates for mixed container plantings. If you want your trailing petunias to co-exist with other plant material in containers, pair them with equally aggressive annuals:  Potato Vine (Solanum jasminoides), Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoea batatas), Bacopa, or Proven Winner’s Superbena® verbena. If in doubt, look for the words “vegetative growth” or “spreading” in any descriptive material on the potential container plant partner.

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