Plant of the Week: Anna's Magic Ball® Thuja

Maybe it's the holidays, but Jane's Plant of the Week has a special place in my heart because its name reminds me of family.

My husband Joe grew up in a big Italian family. And like many big families, a grandparent played an active role in helping to raise their grandchildren. Joe's maternal grandmother was a constant presence in their lives and he has lots of wonderful stories about her. Her name was Anna, but they all called her Nunu. A little over twenty years ago she was able to meet and hold our first born child...who we named Anna after her. I just think it's a beautiful old-fashioned name - it's special to us, and it always makes me happy to hear it.

Like the plant of the week, Anna (or Nunu) tiny, but strong and she made a huge impact on a lot of lives. So as the holidays approach, here's to family and the plants that remind us of them!

- Natalie

If you can see it over the snow, it's perfect!

Sometimes you just need a little evergreen meatball. Here you go - but this one is a bright golden color rather than the green you may have expected.

Anna's Magic Ball® Thuja occidentalis is a delightful little plant that's ideal for edging borders or incorporating into patio planters. The only challenge may be seeing it above a heavy snowfall: it gets just 15" tall. Snow won't be a problem for it, though, as it's hardy into USDA Zone 3.

Anna's Magic Ball® Thuja
Anna's Magic Ball® is a useful landscape plant; there always seems to be a need for evergreens that stay small.

That bright color is a fun and often unexpected addition to landscapes. I'm generally pretty suspicious of yellow foliage, especially on evergreens. It can be garish or look anemic. But this little plant has a nice, fresh color that is quite healthy and appealing.

The only issue with it, as with other T. occidentalis, is that deer like it. But since it's so small it will often escape their notice or can be sprayed with repellent pretty easily.

Consider all of what T. occidentalis has to offer: it's adaptable, including a resistance to juglone so you can plant it near a black walnut. It will tolerate clay soil, wet soil, air pollution - lots of tough situations that other plants don't like. And while Anna's Magic Ball® is a tiny little thing, T. occidentalis comes in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors so you can find the one that's right for you.

Here's a 30-second video describing Anna's Magic Ball; share it with your readers so they can become familiar with this new little plant

And if you would like some inspiration on how to use it in the landscape, check out this Garden Answer video.

Plant of the Week is written by Jane Beggs-Joles.

Plant of the Week: Mirror, mirror...

This week Jane is bringing you a sneak peek of a fun new shrub that will come to garden centers in 2020, Wax Wings™ Coprosma. Also called mirror bush, you can see why. Its waxy, thick foliage shines like little colorful mirrors and each variety is so vivid!

I wish we could grow it in Michigan, but this is a southern plant for sure. So for you Texans, Floridians and the rest of you who don't see a speck of snow, ever, this plant's for you.

I fact, if you're a garden writer from zone 9 or warmer, shoot me a line and this summer (when it's safe to ship it) I'll send you a sample to try out in your own garden!

Now, on to Jane's Plant of the Week:

It's officially the holiday season.

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and there's no denying that the holiday season is here. For many people this time of the year means shopping, decorating, and lots of baking. We seem to collectively cram two months worth of calories into the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's. I don't go in for shopping and decorating, but admit to the baking part.

In colder climates, this time of the year also means the beginning of tropical vacation advertising. When there's a dip in the temperature you can count on the Jamaican tourist board to run ads showing their warm, sunny beaches and rum cocktails.

I can't go on a beach vacation right now, but maybe I'll spring for a tropical plant to help me through the winter. These Coprosma would work for that. They certainly are bright and cheerful. Some of our customers in colder climates have had success overwintering inside with other non-hardy plants like Sicilian Sunshine® Laurus and Jazz Hands® Loropetalum. I think that any of them would make the perfect hostess gift for a holiday party. Really, who needs another plate of cookies?

Winter means evergreens, but not all evergreens are meant for the North Country.

We're very excited to have some warm climate evergreens to offer, come 2020: Wax Wings™ Coprosma. These were bred in New Zealand to have nice dense habits and glossy, vivid colors.

This one's for warm climates, it should be planted in USDA Zones 9-11 and it will grow 1-2.5' tall and 3' wide. They will grow in full sun or partial shade.

Wax Wings™ Coprosma come in three colors:

Wax Wings™ Gold has gold leaves with a green center. There may also be some orange color in there from time to time.

Wax Wings™ Gold Coprosma

Wax Wings™ Lime is yellow and green with a red margin. In summer and fall, it will be darker, with more red and bronze.
Wax Wings™ Lime Coprosma

Wax Wings™ Orange is a sport of 'Pina Colada' with better color and a more compact habit as well as improved sun scorch resistance.

Wax Wings™ Orange Coprosma
Plant of the Week is written by Jane Beggs-Joles.

Note from Natalie: Although this shrub doesn't like the cold, it's still a pretty tough character. The shiny foliage of Coprosma is tough enough to withstand wind and salt, so it's a great plant for those of you who live along a coastline. Easy-care Coprosma is also well suited for use as a filler plant or a low-fuss border.

A Thanksgiving Buffet for the Birds

As Thanksgiving approaches, I thought that instead of writing about all the ways we can feast on birds, this week I'd write about all the ways we can provide feasts for the birds.

As I fill my bird feeders and realize I've begun the cycle of refilling all winter long, I start to think about additional ways to create a friendly habitat for our outdoor feathered friends. And of course what fits the bill perfectly? Shrubs! Berry-producing shrubs create a naturally occurring food source and with good planning, they can feed the birds from mid-summer, well into the winter.

Low Scape Mound™ Aronia 
The bird buffet starts in late summer with the delightful Aronia shrub. Proven Winners® ColorChoice® (PWCC) Low Scape Mound Aronia is a dwarf variety, and even though it's the 2019 PW National Landscape Shrub of the Year, it will also perform beautifully in your home garden. It's adaptable to wet or dry soils and it's only about 1-2' tall so it can be planted alongside your house as a sweet little border that is virtually maintenance-free. White spring flowers give way to dark purple summer berries. Commonly called a chokeberry for its astringency, the fruit is praised for its antioxidant qualities, but pick them quickly if you want a harvest for yourself, the birds love them!
Sunjoy Todo™ Berberis

Berberis is another spring flowering shrub that gives way to summer berries. I know, barberry is shunned for its invasive tendencies, but there is a non-invasive choice. PWCC Sunjoy Todo™ Berberis is a much more manageable variety with a semi-dwarf, mounded habit and the deep purple-maroon foliage that really sets barberry apart. Showy bright orange-yellow spring flowers will give way to summer berries, but university testing has shown that this hybrid variety produces no seed.

All That Glows® Viburnum
Sambucus and Viburnum will also produce fruit in late summer; remember to plant two different varieties because these plants typically need a pollinator to fruit.

Pearl Glam®  Callicarpa
Pearl Glam®Callicarpa is definitely a rock star when it comes to beautyberry plants. It sets purple fall fruit but the show really starts in spring, with its dark purple foliage, then late summer brings white flowers that yield spectacular violet-purple berries by the hundreds. Pearl Glam® beautyberry is a vigorous plant with an upright habit that makes it a space-saver compared to more conventional varieties, too.

For winter foraging and a colorful seasonal show, you can't beat winterberry holly. Ilex Verticillata normally grows to heights of 6-8'
Little Goblin® Orange  Ilex Vert
but for tighter spaces, there are smaller varieties like Little Goblin® Orange winterberry holly. This little ball of color lights up the darkest season with dozens of extra-large, bright orange-red berries and is just 3-4' tall and wide. In order to get fruit, you will need to plant Little Goblin® Guy winterberry holly as a pollinator. Birds do eat the fruit of winterberry holly, but usually not until it has been softened by cold for several weeks. This means that you can usually enjoy the berry display until at least mid-January.

Proud Berry® Symphoricarpos
Another late-winter bird food favorite is SymphoricarposProud Berry® coralberry will fill your landscape with gorgeous, big, pink berries that are guaranteed to turn heads. Bell-shaped summer flowers develop into large dark pink berries in fall, the color intensifying with cold weather. As pretty as it is, this native plant is also amazingly hardy and deer-resistant. Symphoricarpos is a mouthful, but not for humans as the berries are not edible. However, the birds will enjoy them as they soften mid-to-late winter.

Finally, when you're thinking about the creatures that survive outside even in the coldest conditions, think about the perimeter of your yard. These often unused spaces can be landscaped to create shelter for local wildlife. Take those neglected edges of your property and plant some groupings of specimens with wildlife appeal. A mix of tall and short evergreens and deciduous plants will not only provide you with a beautiful, ever-changing display of varied textures and colors, but it will also create micro-habitat for local wildlife.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and we'll see you next week!

- Natalie 

Plant of the Week: All That Glitters®, All That Glows® Viburnum

This week Jane muses on all sorts of things that make autumn in Michigan...well...autumn in Michigan!

From deer hunters to non-migratory birds feasting on fall berries, most of us here up North aren't too put off by a little cold weather. Sure, it's an attitude shift, we aren't likely to see warm temperatures again for at least 5 months. If you're a gardener in the North you start using terms like "hard frost" and "winter interest". So we unpack our sweaters, fill up our feeders and prepare our property to survive the oncoming months of ice and snow.

In a world where many are experiencing devastating hurricanes and firestorms, even when it's difficult to navigate, we are blessed to have a predictable weather pattern that we can be prepared to endure. In the meantime, we pray for the safety of those who are impacted by the catastrophic fires in California and continue to hold out hope for containment.

- Natalie 

Opening day.

I know that readership will be down a bit today because it's the opening day of rifle season for deer hunters here in Michigan. I expect it's so in many other states, too.

Lots of people who don't hunt are happy about opening day, too. Sure, it's a big economic boost to many regions, but it's also the thought of thinning out the state's deer herd that appeals to many drivers and gardeners. Every year there are around 50,000 car-deer crashes in the state of Michigan. The number of gardens damaged by deer is uncounted, but I'm willing to bet that it's even higher.

Most of us can't thin out our local herd, so we have to plant strategically if we're in an area with heavy deer pressure. While there is no such thing as a deer-proof plant, Viburnum in general and Viburnum dentatum, in particular, are considered to be reliably resistant to deer browsing. A really good reference for checking the relative deer resistance of plants is the one at Rutgers University.

Meanwhile, stay safe whether you're hunting this week or simply driving your car. Your local songbirds might need a safety talk too; those tasty Viburnum berries we provide them can be just as dangerous as the local pub's happy hour.

All That Glitters, All That Glows

All That Glitters® Viburnum
All That Glitters® and All That Glows® Viburnum dentatum are hard to tell apart. That's kind of the point.

V. dentatum needs a pollinator in order to produce fruit. But if you're using the plant as a mass planting or hedge you probably want them to look similar. *These two plants blend very nicely so you can have the berries you want with a uniform planting.

All That Glows® Viburnum
All That Glitters® viburnum grows 4-5' tall and wide while All That Glows® viburnum gets 4-6' tall and wide. Both have extremely glossy foliage that really catches the eye. They are very handsome plants.

Durable V. dentatum is a real workhorse in the landscape and will tolerate most conditions. It is hardy to USDA Zone 4 and will grow in sun or partial shade. White spring flowers produce blue fruit in fall.

Plant of the Week is written by Jane Beggs-Joles.

*Note from Natalie: All That Glitters® and All That Glows® Viburnum dentatum will pollinate each other, so make sure you plant some of each variety if you would like your plants to set fruit.

Plant of the Week: Gatsby Gal® Oakleaf Hydrangea

Jane's Plant of the Week is about one of the four our hydrangeas in the Proven Winners® ColorChoice® Gatsby series of oakleaf hydrangea. Perfect timing as oakleaf is arguably the best hydrangea for fall foliage.

You generally don't need to prune this hydrangea, but in case you still want to do some selective pruning, there's a great resource available on the Proven Winners® website about when, and how, to prune hydrangeas. Check it out here. You can read the article online or download a printable PDF.

Enjoy! - Natalie 

Gatsby Gal hydrangea
Great Gatsby!

I love oakleaf hydrangeas.

Sure, they have nice flowers like other hydrangeas do. But for me the real show is the foliage. And this isn't just "Oh, isn't that pretty" foliage.

No, Hydrangea quercifolia leaves are more substantial stuff. They're kind of like those really awesome boots that you know you want to buy. They aren't fancy delicate party shoes, but you know they're going to look great. You'll get plenty of compliments on them, too. Did I mention that they're more comfortable than those sparkly high heels?

Oakleaf hydrangea foliage has the same ruggedly handsome look as a great pair of boots, and just like a pair of boots is best appreciated in the fall.

Gatsby Gal® H. quercifolia is a compact (5-6') selection that's a good choice for smaller gardens. 

Compact doesn't mean dwarf; be sure that any H. quercifolia has enough room or you won't be able to really appreciate it. I think that oakleaf hydrangeas are at their best when they are left to develop the interesting architecture that is needed to show off those large flowers and substantial foliage. Please, please don't try and prune it into a meatball. I've seen it done, and it wasn't pretty.

Like other H. quercifolia, it will grow in full sun or partial shade and is hardy to USDA Zone 5. It flowers on old wood, so be careful not to prune those flower buds off this fall. The blooms are not affected by soil pH, but will transition from white to pink during the growing season.

Plant of the Week is written by Jane Beggs-Joles.

Want to absorb a little extra content about Gatsby Gal® hydrangeas? Check out this video from Laura at Garden Answer - she plants some and you can really see how nice they look from container to ground. 

Plant of the Week: Red Rover® Cornus

Fall color

Fall is doing its thing - we're right about to peak color in most of Michigan. There's good fall color in much of the rest of the country, too. Check out this interactive map showing a county-by-county foliage rating. This is the weekend to go for a walk in the woods!

It's also when people ask why leaves change color. Here's a good explanation to share with them.

Red Rover, Red Rover send Cornus on over!

Got a soggy place in the landscape? Want to make the birds and butterflies happy? And you would like a little eye-candy for yourself, too? 

You can either hire a good-looking person in waders to hold a birdfeeder or you can try Red Rover® Cornus obliqua.

Red Rover® is a compact selection of our native silky dogwood. It's also known as a swamp dogwood, which should clue you in as to how much it likes wet sites.

The white spring flowers are popular with pollinators, and birds like the blue fruit in fall. Red Rover is a compact, colorful, valuable native species. 

Clean green foliage contrasts nicely with white flowers in the spring and red foliage with blue fall fruit adds autumn interest. Burgundy stems in winter top off its 4-season appeal.

The species can get up to 12' tall, but Red Rover® is a more manageable 4-5'. It will grow in full sun or partial shade and is hardy to USDA Zone 4.

Plant of the Week is written by Jane Beggs-Joles.

Plant of the Week: Gem Box® or Strongbox®

Sadly, boxwood blight is working its way across the United States. Last March, Nursery Management magazine wrote an informative article about the disease with a determination that it has been positively identified in over 25 states. Just this month the blight fungus had been positively identified on boxwoods at an Indiana store owned by a national home and garden chain. While the chain has pulled the plants from the shelves of all its stores, they cannot guarantee some have not already made it to homeowner gardens.

Maybe its time to start looking for a boxwood alternative? Well, you're in luck. Jane has some good options for you in her Plant of the Week - enjoy!

Boxwood alternatives: Gem Box® or Strongbox®?

Gem Box® Ilex glabra
We know that boxwood is facing some challenges due to the spread of boxwood blight, so we wanted to offer another option for a small, shear-able evergreen.

Gem Box® Ilex glabra 
delivers, and then some. 
I. glabra (inkberry holly) is native to North America which makes it appealing to people who are trying to work more with native species. Its dark-green foliage develops attractive red tips during the spring flush. Gem Box has tight compact branching that continues to the ground so the plant doesn't look bare-legged like older varieties can.
Strongbox® Ilex glabra

Strongbox® Ilex glabra does pretty much what Gem Box does, but has larger leaves. Some of you may prefer one, some the other, and maybe you'll decide to grow both! 

Both varieties will grow 2-3' tall and wide and grow in full sun to partial shade. They are hardy to USDA Zone 5 and will adapt to many types of soil, with the exception of alkaline soil.

Plant of the Week is written by Jane Beggs-Joles.

Note from Natalie - if you live in zone 7 or warmer, also consider Juke Box® Pyracomeles. It's a ProvenWinners® ColorChoice® exclusive with shiny, dark green leaves and a full, round habit. It's thornless, and unlike inkberry holly, it doesn't flower. It's also a little more petite than the inkberry holly. This is a  brand new evergreen variety that will be available to consumers this spring - ask for it at your local garden center.

Until next week! - Natalie