Partial shade trees

Deciduous trees are well-known for providing shade, while growing and thriving in the sun they serve to shield us from. Some varieties of deciduous trees fare much better growing in the shade provided by these monstrous hardwood shade trees. Shade-loving deciduous trees are ideal for north-facing sites that only get a few hours of morning or afternoon sun, or for planting as an understory tree in a woodland area.

River Birch 
Native to temperate America, river birch, Betula nigra, grows almost exclusively along river banks in the wild, and is suitable for wet sites in cultivation. It can grow up to 80 feet tall and grows nearly 3 feet per year. It grows in either sun or shade and is tolerant of a variety of soil types. River birch has a pyramidal shape when young and grows into more of an oval as it ages. It is necessary to remove the lower branches to allow for foot or vehicle traffic beneath it.

American Hornbeam
A slow-growing deciduous tree, American hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana, eventually reaches about 20 to 30 feet high and wide. In shady sites, it takes an open form, growing more dense in full sun. The orange or yellow spring-blooming flowers are small and inconspicuous. Fall leaf color is showy in shades of red, orange and yellow. American hornbeam’s smooth, fluted, gray bark provides interest during winter.

Eastern Redbud
Found throughout the eastern Unites States, south of the Great Lakes Region, eastern redbud, Cercis canadensis, rapidly grows to about 20 to 30 feet high in a rounded vase shape. It is relatively short-lived, beginning to decline at about 30 years old. Purplish-pink to fuchsia flowers cover it in spring, opening before the leaves emerge. Eastern redbud is tolerant of partially shady sites. Although somewhat notable, yellow fall color is also somewhat unreliable.

Japanese Maple
With many varieties in mature heights ranging from 6 to 50 feet high, Japanese maple, Acer palmatum, is also slow-growing, putting on only 10 to 15 feet of new growth over 15 years. It is best planted in dappled shade, as too much shade can cause its highly desirable, purplish-red leaves to turn green. Although it is sensitive to drought conditions, it requires good drainage and will not tolerate water standing around its roots. Japanese maple is susceptible to breakage in high winds. The leaves emerge early in the season and may require protection from late spring frosts.

If you have a partial shady location in your urban yard or garden, try planting one of these shade-tolerant deciduous trees.

Blooming Shrubs for Partial Shade

For the shady part of the shrub border, plant shrubs that either thrive in or tolerate shade. This will produce a shrub border that is equally attractive from every angle. Even the shrubs planted on the side that gets the smallest amount of sunlight will grow thick and lush, because you planted it with shrubs that grow best in shady spots.

Oakleaf Hydrangea: Growing well even in dry shade, oakleaf hydrangea,Hydrangea quercifolia, is a woody, shrub-like hydrangea growing 6 to 8 feet high. The leaves are large – up to 8 inches long and 6 inches wide – and their deep lobes resemble oak leaves. The cinnamon-colored bark on the stems gets more attractive as it starts to peel off. The large clusters of white flowers can be up to 12 inches long and 4 inches across. They bloom in late May and early June.

Bottlebrush Buckeye: A multi-stemmed shrub, bottlebrush buckeye, Aesculus parviflora, grows about 9 to 12 feet high and about 15 feet wide. The flowers bloom in June and July and greatly resemble cleaning brushes commonly used to scrub bottles. The white, tubular-shaped flowers grow in panicles on upright spikes, opening from the bottom up. The prefer to grow in rich, moist soil in partial to full shade. Bottlebrush buckeye is intolerant of dry soil, especially when young before its roots system is well-established. It is hardy through USDA zone 5.

Dwarf Witch Alder: Flowering in early spring before it leafs out, dwarf witch alder, Fothergilla gardenii, has dark green, leathery leaves that resemble those of witch hazel. In autumn the leaves put on a spectacular display of reds, purples, yellows and oranges. Dwarf witch alder produces fragrant, creamed-colored, bottlebrush-shaped flowers in April and early May. It slowly grows to a height of 2 to 3 feet and takes a compact, mounded shape. Witch alder will grow equally well in sun or shade. A taller variety, commonly called mountain witch alder, F. major, grows 10 feet tall or larger.

Leatherleaf Viburnum: An imposing presence in the shady shrub border, leatherleaf viburnum, Viburnum rhytidophyllum, reaches 15 feet high and equally as wide. True to its name, it has thick, leathery but wrinkled, evergreen leaves that are up to 7 inches long and 2 inches wide. The white flowers bloom in May and are borne in small clusters made up of tiny blossoms. Give them a lot of water when they are getting established, but ensure their soil is well-drained.

How to prune apple trees

Newly planted apple trees need regular, yearly pruning so they develop into a tree which will produce the largest crops of fruit. They are pruned so that the maximum amount of sunlight reaches the greatest number of branches. Prune them in late winter, before the buds open. Pruning during winter encourages the vigorous growth of stems and leaves the following season at the expense of fruit production, so it is important not to prune too heavily.

Step 1: Unbranched tree seedlings are called “whips.” Cut the unbranched whip of your apple tree seedling when planting. Make the cut, called “heading off,” directly above a bud about 24 to 40 inches above ground level, depending on how high or low you want the lowermost branches to be.

Step 2: The following spring, prune the one-year-old apple tree by selecting 3 to 4 branches to become the first layer of whorled scaffold branches. Make them evenly spaced around the trunk in the general area of the heading off cut you made when you planted the tree the previous spring. Remove all other branches. Pinch out all flower buds during this growing season, to encourage strong vegetative growth.

Step 3: Head off the central leader in the tree’s second year, about 24 to 30 inches above the first whorl of branches. Remove all of the side branches between the heading cut and the lower whorl of branches. Allow 3 to 4 scaffold branches to grow at the site of the upper cut, evenly spaced around the trunk, and remove all others. Cut back the branches in the lower whorl by a third of their previous season’s growth. Remove all flower buds in early spring.

Step 4: Prune your apple tree in its third year in your yard in the same manner as you pruned it in its second year (see the previous step). Cut back the central leader at a point 24 to 30 inches above the second whorl of branches. Select 3 to 4 branches near this heading off cut and remove all other branches between this top cut and the second set of whorls (directly beneath the cut). Remove all branches between the first and second set of whorls. Cut off about a third of the previous season’s growth on the whorled branches. Remove flower buds in early spring.

Step 5: Prune your apple tree in its fourth year in your yard following the procedure for pruning in its third year, as outlined in the previous step ( see Step 4).

Step 6: Beginning in your apple tree’s fifth year, prune off water spouts and thin the fruit on the oldest whorls. Remove developing fruit from the central leader and from the topmost whorls of branches to prevent the limbs from bending.

Apple Tree Pruning Tips: Beginning in the tree’s first year and continuing through it’s fourth year, spread the crotches of the branches to increase the angle that they are growing at from the main trunk. Use toothpicks, clothespins or pieces of lumber to hold the branches in place. An angle of greater than 45 degrees is ideal. This will make the branch stronger, as branches growing off the main trunk at small angles tend to break under the weight of ripening fruit.

Remove water spouts, along with broken, diseased or dead branches any time of year.

Apple trees should be pruned into a “central leader” that produces a Christmas tree shape. This ensures that adequate sunlight reaches the maximum number of branches, and will increase fruit production.

Never remove more than a quarter of the tree’s leaves when pruning during the growing season.

Hardy Rhododendrons for Northern Climates

Most varieties of rhododendron are not winter hardy in northern climates, but several varieties being tested at the Landscape Arboretum of the University of Minnesota are showing promise for successful growing in higher latitudes.

Azaleas, a deciduous variety of rhododendron, are somewhat hardier, and are the variety of choice for northern growers. Rhododendrons and azaleas are both considered subsets of the rhododendron genus.

Despite cold winter temperatures, rhododendrons thrive planted on the east side of buildings. This protects them from hot summer temperatures or winter sun scald, which occurs when the bark of trees or shrubs is suddenly cast into a shadow when air temperatures are below freezing. The sudden cold after the warmth of the bright winter sun heating up the bark on the tree is what causes the damage.

Plant rhododendrons in soil that is very well-drained and slightly acidic, the same type of soil in which evergreens grow well. Rhododendrons make good companion plants for evergreen shrubs and ground covers.

Amend the soil by adding peat moss, compost and well-rotted manure. This will improve the soil’s fertility and moisture holding abilities. The acidic peat moss will also help lower the pH of the garden bed. You can also add sulfur or ferrus sulfate to lower the pH to an optimum level of 4.0 to 5.5 on the pH scale.

Apply a thick mulch to hold in moisture and prevent the growth of weeds. Rhododendrons are shallow-rooted, and their roots can be harmed by cultivation. They are also thirsty and will benefit from a water-retaining mulch. Water them well during dry summer weather.

Korean Rhododendron (Rhododendron mucronulatum) – Native to Korea, China and Japan, this hardy, deciduous variety blooms in early May with magenta colored flowers. The flowers appear before the leaves. A pink cultivar, called “Cornell Pink” is as hardy as the magenta-flowered variety.

Rhododendron P.J.M. – A cross between Rhododendron carolinianumand Rhododendron dauricum, P.J.M. is an evergreen rhododendron with small leaves and lavender pink flowers. Hardy to -35 degrees Fahrenheit, it prefers sandy soil. This is a promising group of hardy hybrid rhododendrons and is currently being tested at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

Mollis Azaleas Series – With flower buds hardy to -25 degrees Fahrenheit, the mollis series of hybrid rhododendrons (Rhododendron X kosteranum) bloom in late May in shades of red, orange and yellow. They grow about 6 to 8 feet high and wide at maturity.

Rododendron Pinkshell Azalea – Extremely hardy, Pinkshell azalea (Rhododendron vaseyi) has flower buds hardy to -35 to -40 degrees. Its delicate, pale pink flowers bloom before the leaves unfurl. It grows into a shrub with an open form, fitting well into natural gardens.

Northern Lights Azalea Series – A series of F1 hybrids, Northern Lights azaleas are a cross between Rhododendron X kosteranum and Rhododendron prinophyllum. Released commercially in 1978, the flowers are both prolific bloomers and extremely fragrant. Named cultivars–all featuring “Lights” as part of their name–are available with flowers in rose, pink, white, salmon, orchid, golden yellow and white with a golden upper petal. Developed and released by the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, the flower buds of Northern Lights azaleas are hardy to -30 to -45 degrees.

Don’t forgo planting these spring-blooming beauties if you live in the far north. There are plenty of varieties of hardy rhododendrons to choose from. And don’t forget about azaleas, their deciduous cousins.

Before ending this article I’d like to mention that I am going to start talking about home improvement and home services such as plumbing, hot water, pool renovations and designs and much more. I’m excited to expand my blog into these areas.

Spring-Blooming Woodland Flowers for Shade

Although trees rule the forest, a host of herbaceous and flowering plants thrive in the gentle, dappled shade and moist, rich soil on the forest floor. They are perfect to use in a natural woodland garden or a shady spot in your yard.

Many of these spring-blooming, shade-loving, woodland perennial flowers bloom for a longer period of time than spring bulbs or flowering trees. Some varieties bloom for weeks or months, adding their quiet beauty to that of the short-lived spring bulbs and flowering trees.

Bloodroot: Native to North American forests, bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) grows best in partially to fully shaded woodlands with moist, acidic soil, as long as it is well-drained. Bloodroot is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 3 through 9.

A member of the poppy family, bloodroot blooms in late March and April. It grows a single, 8-inch wide basal leaf with the flower growing on a separate stalk. Its single, white flowers with yellow centers each last only one or two days.

Bloodroot is so-named because its roots exude a red juice when they are cut or broken. Its namesake roots have long been used to produce red, pink and orange dyes. Native Americans used it to treat fever, rheumatism, ulcers and skin infections.

Lenten Rose: The Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) forms a bush-like perennial plant. Beginning in late March and continuing through April into May, it produces delicate flowers that resemble single roses in shades of creamy white, pink, red, or deep purple.

Lenten rose prefers partial shade and fertile, moist, well-drained soil. It will grow and perform best when protected from harsh winter winds. Although it is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9, it does best when provided with a protective winter mulch.

Unlike most perennials, Lenten rose rarely needs digging up and dividing. It will happily grow and bloom every spring in the same spot for up to 20 years.

New York Fern: A woodland fern growing to a height of 2 feet, New York fern (Thelpteris novaboracensis) grows a tight mass of upright fronds. The yellow-green blades taper gradually at each end and are deeply pinnatified with up to 32 blunt segments.

This variety of fern grows well in moist soil that is rich in humus, in either sun or shade. New York fern spreads with a long, creeping rhizome root. It can become aggressive when grown under ideal conditions. Deciduous in cold northern areas and evergreen in warm southern areas, New York fern is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 8.

Wild Columbine: Also called American columbine or dancing fairies, wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) grows 2 feet tall in dry, shaded woodland areas or rocky open slopes. It is hardy in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 8.

The flowers have pink outer petals, which lay flat. Yellow, bell-shaped, centers protrude above the flat, pink, outer petals. The 1- to 2-inch flowers hang down in a nodding fashion. They bloom from April through July.

Although considered medicinally unsafe today, Native Americans used wild columbine to treat a variety of maladies, including headaches and fevers. Added to a lotion, wild columbine was applied topically to calm skin rashes and inflammation from poison ivy.

Tips for growing tomato plants

One of the most widely grown and popular vegetables, tomatoes (Solanum lycoperiscum) are planted each spring by gardeners everywhere. Some gardeners fastidiously prepare the garden bed prior to planting and others simply dig a hole and plop in the tomato plant. Because they are such vigorous plants, tomatoes have a tendency to grow and produce an acceptable crop even without elaborate cultivation methods. However, you can increase the yield of your tomatoes by following a few simple tips.

Plant When Your Soil is Thoroughly Warm
Wait until the soil is thoroughly warmed up before planting out your tomato transplants. Soil that still retains its winter chill will set them back. They will stop growing and just sit there. When the soil eventually does warm up, they will be slow to start growing again. Ensure the soil is warmed up to at least at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit before transplanting tomatoes into your garden.

Check out this site for more ideas on when the best times to plant are.

Mulch the Soil
Many diseases that affect tomatoes are known as “soil-borne” diseases, which simply means that they live in the soil. Drops of water falling on the soil can splash these disease organisms onto the lower leaves of the tomato plants, thereby infecting them. A mulch placed around tomato plants prevents soil from splashing up onto the leaves and reduces the possibility of these diseases taking hold.

Studies have shown that a red mulch can increase the vigor and productivity of tomato plants. Non-toxic, reusable red mulch that lasts for several seasons is available from catalog and nursery companies.

Prune Out Suckers
Tomatoes are branching vines and produce clusters of fruit on these branches. However,  vigorously growing, non-fruiting “suckers” spring up from the crotch between the main stem and a side branch. These suckers should be removed; they sap energy from the plant and reduce the number of tomatoes that it produces. You can tell a sucker is a sucker by its vertical, upright growth habit. Fruiting, lateral side branches grow more horizontally off the main stem.

Feed Them Well
Feed your tomato plants properly and they will reward you with pounds and pounds of fruit. Give them granulated, all-purpose fertilizer, like 10-10-10, when you transplant them, following the label instructions. Feed them again with a low-nitrogen fertilizer, such as 0-15-10, every four to six weeks until late summer. The high levels of phosphorus and potassium will encourage flowers and fruit to form and develop.

Spray the foliage of your tomatoes every two to three weeks with a water soluble fertilizer to give them a boost. This will encourage them to grow more leaves and strong stems.

Use half-decomposed compost as a mulch around the base of your tomato plants. It will give them an extra dose of nourishment as it slowly breaks down throughout the growing season.

The ABC has a great resource on tomato gardening:

Water Often and Thoroughly
Tomato plants require a lot of water, and they will wilt if their soil is allowed to dry out too much. Give them the equivalent of 1 1/2 to 2 inches of rainfall per week. When you water them, use a soaker hose or drip irrigation that applies the water at soil level. This will keep the foliage dry and help reduce the possibility of fungal diseases taking hold. To further help stave off fungi, plant your tomatoes far enough apart so that air can circulate around them on all sides. Plant them at least 24 inches apart in humid areas.

Harvest Ripe Fruit Promptly
When your tomato plants start to bear fruit, check them daily and pick the ripe ones. The plants will then put their energy into producing more fruit and ripening the immature fruits already developed.

Pinch the Terminal Growing Tip in Early Autumn
About four to six weeks before the average date of your first fall frost, pinch the growing tip of your tomato plants. This way, it will put all of its energy into ripening the green fruits already on the plant and no energy into growing new flowers or leaves.

Best of  luck growing your tomatoes. Leave a comment if you have any questions or just want to share your tomato-growing success stories.