My favourite kind of plant

 I have always had a soft spot for shrubs with colorful foliage, especially the kind which tend to form bushy mounds and respond well to pruning. This is why Japanese spiraeas take pride of place in my garden. These are excellent plants for low growing formal or informal hedges, shrub borders or used as accent plants in mixed borders (middle or front range) and rock gardens. Spiraeas can be successfully grown in containers on terraces or balconies, being very resilient plants with shallow root system. I would like to mention here, that my borders are planted predominantly with woody plants – deciduous trees and shrubs or conifers (low-growing and miniature selections, suitable for growing in small gardens). Herbaceous plants make for a minor part of the planting, and are mainly used for filling up gaps between trees and shrubs.

Foliage of many colorful japanese spiraeas undergoes spectacular colour changes through the season. Shoots on some of them appear red, eventually turning green, others start of yellow turning into orange. Other selections are lime green to begin with in spring, softening to dark lemon shade as summer progresses. However, all colorful japanese spiraeas have one feature in common – the new shoots on all of them appear very bright, turning into lighter shades as midsummer approaches. When spiraeas burst into flowering, their bright pink flowers steal the show from pale and slightly tattered leaves, bringing new colours into the garden. After the spiraeas have finished flowering and have been sheared, there is a 2 to 3 week long ‘ugly duckling’ period, while dormant buds are triggered into action. A short while later new bright shoots appear (which is exactly what I mean – not only leaves but shoots and flower stalks as well) and flower repeatedly at the end of August.


`Golden Princess`

Not so profusely though, and the leaves are not as bright as they are in spring, but nevertheless quite a sight after the green period in June. Come autumn, spiraeas change their foliage colour again – even green leaved cultivars turn yellow or pink. Exact shade depends on autumn weather. In cold and wet weather foliage of spiraeas (just like any other plants) looks worse for wear, more brown than yellow. In warm and dry autumn they earn their keep with orange and red shades, as well as an occasional flower.

New foliage of spiraeas appears relatively early in spring and their bright new foliage makes a perfect contrast to the very first bulbs.

There are 3 cultivars of japanese spiraeas, which I heartily recommend and which you will be able to find in every nursery.



`Golden Princess` – grows 1 m tall and wide, however, eventual size can be easily managed with the help of pruning shears. New shoots and leaves are bright yellow in spring, softening to deep yellow later. This selection flowers abundantly, with pink flowers in flat inflorescences. By midsummer golden leaves bleach to soft green, giving way to flowers. In August they draw attention once again, with appearance of new shoots. In autumn all foliage turns light yellow.

`Goldflame` is another handsome selection. In spring its foliage appears dark orange, sometimes shaded in bronze. Thereafter, leaves soften to yellow, turning pale by midsummer (at this point it closely resembles ‘Golden Princess’). In August new pink shoots reappear turning the plant into a star attraction again. In warm dry autumn foliage turns orange, and sometimes red. Some sight to behold!


`Magic Fire`

`Magic Fire` is not exactly a very recent cultivar, however it is fairly unknown in Lithuania. Since it is relatively new, you might not be able to get hold of it easily (but keep looking, you will find it eventually). Come spring, new shoots unfurl bright red – a wonderful sight indeed! Later leaves turn lighter to dark orange and pink, eventually turning green. But the new shoots and top leaves keep their red or pink coloring at all times, so I strongly recommend – do not be afraid to prune spiraeas. The inflorescences are pinkish red. In autumn leaves turn pink with shades of yellow, or occasionally red.

© Giedra Bartas, 2016

Rejuvenating conifer hedges

picea_abies_nidiformisThujas and yews  respond well to sever cutting back. Old plants may be reduced by half, and lateral branches should be shortened by half or a third, so as to shape the hedge into a sloping form. Dead branches should be removed. The best time to rejuvenate conifers is summer, from the beginning of June to midsummer. You could also prune in the second half of summer to early winter, however, this period is less favorable. The rejuvenated plants should be looked after, fertilized, and watered in a prolonged dry spell.

Although thujas are an exceptionally die-hard genus, it is only next year that the hedge will start breaking into new growth. Thujas need a lot of sunlight, and they will turn spindly when planted in a shaded position, while yews can take some shade very well. The yew or thuja hedge can be sheared in early spring, or (and) several times during the summer. In order to keep the hedge dense, the tops and the sides of the plants should be trimmed regularly.

In regard to how well conifers take to shearing, junipers fall somewhere in between the yew or the thuja and the conifers of the pine family. While junipers do not take kindly to severe cutting back as thujas would, they respond well to regular trimming, especially Juniperus x media, Juniperus squamata or Juniper virginiana.

One should not even attempt to rejuvenate a hedge of hemlocks, spruces, firs or pines, since these conifers do not break into new growth from old wood. Therefore, it is important that hedges of these conifers should receive regular maintenance right from the beginning. A hedge should be trimmed every year, so as to avoid any die-back of branches. Best time to clip these plants is the summer (June to July), when the weather is warm and dry. Alternatively, pruning could be done in late winter or early spring, but this is less favorable time. Refrain from clipping conifers of these genuses in April and May, after the plants break dormancy, since the conifers will “bleed” too much sap and the wound will take time to heal, which will weaken the plants as a result.

One way of trimming conifers is to nip terminal shoots, leaving only lateral ones. This is an efficient way to keep the hedge in check, albeit one requiring a lot of time and patience. Alternatively, you could cut back young new shoots, which will reduce the growth rate of the hedge, ensuring its compact form and preventing any dead branches. Make sure, that there are still several lateral shoots to cover up the removed terminal shoot. This task is best performed in summer, however, it can be done any other time, provided you do not cut into old wood, and the tree does not loose too much sap. The shoots of pines have no lateral buds, therefore the cut should be made as close to side shoots as possible, so as to prevent dry stumps of cut branches sticking out.

© Giedra Bartas, 2010

My puffy bears

There is nothing else more beautiful than May in North Europe, when warm and wet weather finally arrives and all the plants sprout just in one night.  Mother nature press a magic button, and all the greenery starts to change it`s garment into the eyes. It`s the time when I always keep something in my hands – or my hoe (weeds are also growing in a cosmic speed), or my photo camera, because after a hour or two some of delightful moments may already be gone.

I hope i won`t upset perennial plant lovers, but more than flowers in May i like conifers, growing their new shoots  and replacing an “old fur”. All the conifers, even the simplest tree in the woods,  dress much brighter and softer  in spring. I love this time, when hedgehogs transform into wonderful puffy bears!

Please check some shots of my conifers. Click on a pic to make it bigger.

Sitkin? egl? Papoose Tenais Baltoji egl? Blue Planet Tikroji metasekvoja Goldrush Dygioji egl? Waldbrunn
Dygioji egl? Glauca Pendula Europinis kukmedis Repens Aurea Paprastoji egl? Nidiformis Pilkasis k?nis Compacta
Subalpinis k?nis Compacta Menturinis sk?tk?nis Paprastoji egl? Pumila Kalnin? pušis

© Giedra Bartas, 2015

Threads instead of leaves


asplenifolia2Alder buckthorn (Frangula alnus) is a rather undistinguished small tree or shrub. It is very common in our woods and fields, and normally one would not even consider planting it in the garden.  However, its ornamental form `Asplenifolia` is fit even for the most discerning gardener. It is an airy, compact shrub, 2m tall and 1,5-2 m [banner] wide shaped like a upright umbrella. Its leaves are very deeply incised, thin and irregularly threadlike. Its general appearance reminds more of a large papyrus sedge than of a buckthorn.

It is not particular about growth conditions, however, it grows best in sun or semi-shade, in fertile and moisture retentive soil. It is completely hardy, and does not require any winter cover. Its growth rate is slow and it does not need any pruning.

The crown is wider at the top, so this buckthorn cultivar can be grown together with other compact shrubs or herbaceous perennials, which would not overwhelm the plant, while at the same time providing with some ground cover. It looks very distinguished when paired with ornamental grasses and bulbs.

© Giedra Bartas, 2014

Cleaning the pond

pondMay is brimming with warm weather, sun and the promise of summer. It is also the time when nasty blankets of green filamentous algae appear on ponds. The mere sight of these algae drives into desperation owners of water features, and especially of the smaller kind.

The green algae are not all bad – they absorb quantities of water-soluble nitrates and phosphates before other aquatic plants spring into action. But they look slimy, they cling to water plant stems, they get in the way of fish, and so they need to be removed. Best way to do this is by using a garden fork or a rake – when hair-like colonies of algae get stuck between the thongs of the rake, twist it around a few times and pull the algae onto the pond edge. Be careful not to get into the water, seeing as the algae are quite heavy.

Leave them for a few hours on the edge of the pond so that all tiny creatures, such as beetles or small frogs, have time to disentangle themselves and return back into the water. Often algae contain small fish fry, so pick out the larger fish and put them back in the water. After a few hours, move algae to the compost heap, since this is an excellent fertiliser. But bear in mind – when out of the water and drying, the algae become a source of very unpleasant odor.

As soon as spring arrives and the weather warms up, green algae start appearing on all natural and artificial water features, which do not have water filters installed. This is only natural, and there is no need to despair. However, you do have a problem if algae keep growing all throughout the season. This indicates that natural balance of your pond is destroyed. Green algae also develop fast in brand new water features, which have not been stocked yet.

water lily leafWarmth, sun, pH of water, water-soluble nutrients and shortage of oxygen – these are the main causes that encourage growth of algae. To prevent green algae and to keep their growth in check, plant a lot of aquatic plants, which are natural competitors of algae for absorbing nitrates. The common reed (Phragmites australis), broadleaf (Typha latifolia) and narrow leaf bulrushes (Typha angustifolia), sweet flag (Acorus calamus), reed manna grass (Glyceria maxima), species of pond weeds (Potamogeton) and Canadian waterweed (Elodea canadensis) are choice plants for the purpose. They are much better looking than the green filamentous algae, and they also help to keep water clear. Another group of important plants are the water lilies (Nymphaea). Their lush foliage provides ponds with shade, which inhibits growth of algae. It is also known that a warm and sunny spring is conducive to growth of algae. Besides, the water lilies assimilate great quantities of nutrients.

The moving and oxygen-enriched water discourages the growth of algae, so presence of underwater springs, fountains and fish helps. But be careful when introducing fish – too many of them, and their excrements will only increase quantities of nitrates in the water. So the biological balance of the water feature is all-important. The problem might also go away, provided the gardener has a little patience to wait for a few months, refraining from using any chemicals.

A number of other plants are useful oxygenators – water weeds, spike rushes (Eleocharis), water soldiers (Stratiotes) and floating frog bits (Hydrocharis). The growth of algae is discouraged by soft water, so small water features are best filled with the rainwater.

The water always becomes clearer after the rain, which cools, softens the water and enriches it with oxygen. Special biological additives are also useful (Penac, Septic Gobbler) – they disintegrate organic substances and help to form active sedimentary mud. However, unless you eliminate the underlying causes, the algae will reappear sooner or later. Therefore biological water filters are recommended for small artificial water features where natural balance is difficult to maintain. [banner]

Preventative measures against algae in an established pond: 

* remove all fallen leaves and dead vegetation from the pond in autumn;

* do not fertilise soil around the pond;

* control numbers of fish and aquatic plants in the pond;

* remove any blankets of green algae from the water as soon as they appear.

Preventative measures against algae in a new pond:

* the prime task is to stock the pond with aquatic plants. Marginal aquatics absorb nitrates; deep-water plants assimilate nitrates and oxygenate water; and water lilies provide with surface cover.

* introduce fish only after the plants become well established. Do not overdo with the number of fish – both the common and Crucian carps need little encouragement to multiply fast.

* do not use ordinary herbicides to fight algae, they will only worsen the situation, besides, they are detrimental to aquatic fauna.

* keep small water features topped up with rain water during the hot days of summer.

* if you do not have time or willingness to fight algae, use water filters. They are important even if the pond is only to be used for keeping fish rather than plants.

Repotting marginal aquatics

There is no need to divide aquatics which are planted in the soil at the bottom of the pond, unless you need to prevent them from spreading too aggressively. Aquatic plant, grown in open-sided plastic baskets, should be lifted and repotted every year or every 2 to 3 years, depending on the size of the basket. Draw the basket with the plant out of the water and wait until the water drains. Remove an entire plant and divide into several pieces so that every portion has some healthy roots (or a piece of rhizome) and several growth buds. Fill the basket with heavy loam, and top it with a layer of gravel to prevent soil disturbance. The planting basket with wide-meshed sides should be lined with a piece of hessian or similar material.

Having planted the baskets, lower them slightly into the water and wait until the air bubbles stop surfacing. Move the baskets into their final planting position.

© Giedra Bartas, 2013

Shrubs in mixed borders

The flower borders require constant attendance from early spring to late autumn. There are bulbs to be planted and replanted, or herbaceous perennials that require dividing every 2 to 5 years. Then there is fertilizing, mulching, watering, thinning, pruning, deadheading. Besides, many herbaceous flowering plants look good only for a certain period of time, while they are in bloom. After the flowers fade, they only sit there providing with greenery or go dormant until the next season.

Ornamental shrubs are much easier to look after – they are long lived, resistant to drought and cold, and retain their shape well after their reach their full maturity, remaining ornamental throughout the season. Compact shrubs are well suited to being planted in mixed borders – they require little maintenance, they do not encroach upon neighboring plants, while providing the flower bed with good structure, height and shape. Generally, a shrub 60-120cm wide would take as much space as 3 or 7 perennial herbaceous plants.

While choosing shrubs for the borders, their ultimate size, bloom time or foliage colour are not the only criteria to consider. The growth habit of a shrub is an equally important element of design. This is one of then main rules to keep in mind when designing a planting composition.

Rounded shrubs

Shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa) is a very popular plant. There are numerous cultivars offering blooms in a variety of colours. Their flowering extends from June to September and even later. They can attain height and width of 90cm, but more commonly they are kept smaller that this. The most beautiful varieties, although somewhat rare in trade, are ‘Red Robin’, ‘Orangeade’, ‘Mango Tango’ with scarlet, orange or bicolor flowers.

Japanese spireas (Spiraea japonica) are some of the most beautiful and maintenance-free small shrubs. They are compact, easy to prune and they retain their shape well. These spireas normally grow up to 60cm tall and 80cm wide, however, more often they are trimmed to a more compact shape. ‘Little Princess’, ‘Goldflame’, ‘Shirobana’, ‘Magic Carpet’, ‘Goldmound’ are all good choices for the flower borders. They all bloom abundantly, and cultivar ‘Shirobana’ is known for its bicolor flowers. ‘Goldflame’, ‘Magic Carpet’, ‘Little Princess’ and ‘Goldmound’ display colorful young shoots and leaves, which are especially prominent in spring.

The most recently introduced weigela (Weigela) cultivars ‘Minuet’ and ‘Midnight Wine’ grow no more than 1 m tall and wide. ‘Minuet’ leaves are edged in pink, and its flowers are pink. ‘Midnight Wine’ leaves are purple, while its blooms are dark pink. It flowers in June and reblooms again in August.

Boxwoods (Buxus sempervirens) prefer semi-shaded and sheltered growing spot.

Winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus) ‘Rudy Haag’ is a fairly new plant, and therefore still rather rare in trade. It grows into a beautiful, dense, cushion-shaped plant up to 90-150cm tall.

Kalm‘s St.Johnswort (Hypericum kalmianum) grows 60cm tall and 90cm wide. The foliage is glaucous blue and its yellow blooms appear in July or August.

February daphne (Daphne mezereum) ‘Ruby Glow’ grows to 80cm high and wide. Its dark pink flowers appear in early spring.

Weeping  shrubs

Japanese kerria (Kerria japonica) ‘Pleniflora’ grows 1,2-1,5 m tall and wide. Its fully double yellow blooms appear from June to August. ‘Variegata’ is a more compact cultivar, and it flowers less, but it is valued for the white-variegated leaves.

Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergiii) is also suitable for planting in mixed borders. A number of cultivars – ‘Atropurpurea’ (1-1,2m tall), ‘Rose Glow’ (about 1m), ‘Green Carpet’ (up to 50cm), ‘Red Chief’ (1,5m) – have pendulous habit. All, apart from ‘Green Carpet’ display red or purple foliage.

Cutleaf stephanandra (Stephanandra incisa) growth habit is arching – its branches bend downwards under their weight. In autumn the shrub excibits magnificent orange red tints.

Grefsheim spirea (Spiraea x cinerea) ‘Grefsheim’ achieves 1-1,5m height with the same width. Its gracefully arching branches are weighted down with abundant white flowers in April and May.

Upright shrubs

Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) ‘Helmond Pillar’ (1,5m) and ‘Red Pillar’ (1,2m) grow into handsome, shapely columns, slightly wider at the top. Their foliage is purple. ‘Sunjoy Gold’ is also an upright shrub, but its leaves are bright yellow. Cultivar “Erecta’ exibits foliage which is green or lime green.

Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) ‘Autumn Magic’ grows 1,5m tall and 1m wide. This is a wide upright-growing shrub, with white blooms in spring, which turn by autumn into black berries. The leaves are green and glossy during the season, turning brilliant red in autumn.

Mock orange (Philadelphus) ‘Miniatiure Snowflake’ grows no higher than 1,2m tall. It blooms in June with fully double white flowers.

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) ‘Black Lace’ is a shrub or a small tree, which grows wider that it is tall. It usually attains 0,5-2m heigh. Foliage is purple and ferny. [banner]

Red-stemmed dogwood (Cornus stolonifera) ‘Flaviramea’ or ‘Arctic Fire’ are well suited to being planted in mixed borders, where they grow about 1,5m tall and wide. They are especially spectacular in winter, after the leaves have fallen, since their bright yellow or scarlet stems shine from afar.

© Giedra Bartas, 2012

Fragrant tots

During last few years the butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) has become very popular in Lithuania. Although they are not fully hardy here, and in cold and severe winters sometimes die, large fragrant inflorescences and profuse flowering compensate for all shortcomings. Butterfly bushes flower in waves, from July to late autumn, and their flower heads smell strongly of honey and are a true butterfly magnet. Unfortunately, in dry weather the flowering is over soon, so the spent, unsightly flowerheads should be removed promtly. The plant itself soon looses attractive shape, and therefore needs constant pruning and shaping. The best way to go about this is to remove all growth in autumn, leaving a small stump close to ground level and draw the soil around it. As a rule of thumb, all butterfly bushes left unpruned and unprotected for winter die down to snow level (or to soil level). A plant, coppiced to the ground level, will produce shoots and flowers a little later than usual, however, the leaves will be lusher, while the inflorescences will grow larger and more intense in color. It grows 1,5 to 2 m tall. Unpruned and unshaped butterfly bushes grow taller, more airy, and inflorescences are smaller. It is best not to use these plants in a mixed border, since for the majority of the year there will be an unsightly hole in the planting, and they also are not a good choice for flowerbeds due to their size.

However, the brand new cultivar ‚Blue Chip‘ is perfect for planting in mixed borders. It is a compact plant with a shapely crown, growing no more than 60 cm tall (40 cm in our climate). Younger plants flower for a few weeks, while mature specimen provide flower show from mid-July to frosts. Inflorescences are lavender colored and compact, just like the plant itself. The spent blooms are soon hidden by the new budleja_ruosiasi_zydet1ones, therefore there is no need for deadheading. It does not produce any seeds or a very few ones.

‚Blue Chip‘ needs to be grown in a sunny spot, fertile and free draining soil. It can be grown in rockeries, flower borders, is also suitable for planting as a part of urban landscape due to its resistance to drought. It is suitable for growing in pots, containers or baskets alongside other drought resistant plants, such as verbenas or coreopsis. Looks especially impressive when planted in groups of 10 or more plants, and hence is suitable for using in large plantings. Flowers are a true magnet for butterflies, bees and other insects. In autumn branches should be reduced leaving a compact framework. Alternatively, you can leave the growth over the winter, cutting them back in spring, as soon as plants show any signs of life.

© Giedra Bartas, 2016

How to rake the lawn

Over the years, even a well-maintained lawn produces thatch. It is made of undecomposed grass stems, blades, roots and rhizomes, which collect between the green vegetative part of the lawn and the soil. Several factors make for a faster build-up of thatch – heavy, compacted soil, inadequate soil preparation prior to seeding, excess of undecayed organic matter, grass sown too densely, incorrect fertilisation and mowing. The build-up of thatch starts when dead grass and other organic remnants accumulate faster than they decompose naturally.

A thin layer of thatch causes no particular damage, quite on the contrary – it traps moisture thus reducing the need to water the lawn. It also reduces soil temperature fluctuations. However, an excessive layer of thatch prevents water from penetrating the soil, absorbs nutrients, impedes growth of new grass, all of which affects the lawn, and it often stays yellow for a very long time in spring. If the soil is very heavy and compacted, thatch only worsens the situation – it sticks to the soil thus creating a solid layer, which is impermeable to water and air. Grass roots start to grow more shallowly, lawn becomes susceptible to traffic damage, frost, drought and riddled with diseases.

vejos_sukavimasAn excessive layer of thatch must be raked and removed every year. Special rakes or scarifiers (electric, petrol) are used for this purpose. These are compact machines, which resemble  lawnmowers, and are often wrongly referred to as aerators. Special blades rake out thatch and moss, cutting up any lumps in the process.

Rake the lawn in early spring, depending on the weather (late March to early April) before the growing season. This must be done in dry weather, since wet grass sticks to the rake tines or the scarifier blades. If grass was not mown in the autumn, now it has to be cut on the lowest setting. The scarifier blades have to be lowered so that they would remove thatch and slice the soil simultaneously. Lawns are almost never completely even, so the height of blades must be constantly monitored and adjusted. The raked out thatch is collected into a special scarifier container, so if thatch is very thick it fills up quite quickly. It might be a better idea to rake out thatch without collecting it and leave to dry for a while. Raked out and dry thatch can be easily collected with an ordinary garden rake. Collect it into bags and remove from the garden, or else you can put it on a compost heap.

Having removed the thatch, fertilise the lawn, which is best done just before the rain. If the soil is very compacted and heavy it is advisable to aerate it as well. A household scarifier costs in the area of 600 lt, and since it is used only once a year, budget-minded gardeners might consider renting scarifiers and aerators. Most companies trading in garden tools and machinery often offer them for rent.

© Giedra Bartas, 2011

Rhododendrons: sun or shade?

white rhododendronThe larger leaves the evergreen rhododendron has, the shadier location will it require. The small-leaved evergreen rhododendrons adapt well, grown in exposed locations, as long as they receive ample moisture. Deciduous rhododendrons feel comfortable growing in open, sunny positions. Although the leaves of Catawba rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense) and Rhododendron smirnowii are evergreen and large, they can take quite a lot of sun, provided they get sufficient moisture. In the wild they usually grow on the edges of moist, deciduous forests, in blazing sunshine, yet in damp soil. The native habitat of Rhododendron caucasicum is high in the Caucasus mountains, where large groves flower profusely every year in full sun. The rhododendrons of this species flourish in similar conditions in our gardens, too.

[banner] Several species of rhododendrons (Rhododendron degronianum ssp. yakushimanum, Rhododendron decorum, Rhododendron ponticum, etc.) are native to the areas, where damp and cool period is far longer than the sunny period. The plants of these species feel more comfortable planted in light shade in our climate.

 Rhododendrons, which receive sufficient light, grow stronger, set more flower buds, and are less vulnerable to winter freeze, diseases and pests. When grown in full shade, their shoots grow lanky, the leaves become sparse and they flower less. On the other hand, too much sunlight will cause their leaves to turn yellow, and numerous brown spots will appear along the veins and the edges of the leaves.

 The evergreen large-leaved rhododendrons are best planted on the north side of buildings, in a sheltered position. The areas on the east and west sides are also suitable, since these locations are shaded for a part of the day. The rhododendrons set the flower buds for the next year in summer. In our climate, this usually occurs in July or August, so plenty of water and sunlight are essential during this period.

 To provide rhododendrons with light shade, plant them adjacent to the trees and taller shrubs. Any plants with deep roots make good neighbours for rhododendrons. Large trees with surface roots will inhibit growth of rhododendrons with their shallow roots, and they will go into decline. Rhododendrons dislike being planted near any species of limes, beeches, poplars, bird cherries and maples. Crowns of these large deciduous trees are very dense, which subjects rhododendrons to an unwelcome protection from rain.

 Rhododendrons grow well alongside pines, hemlocks, fir, oaks and other deep-rooted trees. Since all rhododendron species need varying light levels, there is a variety to suit any location – sunny, semi-shaded or fully shaded. Evergreen large-leaved rhododendrons will grow well in semi-shade; deciduous varieties with small leaves will tolerate exposed sunny conditions, but prefer cool semi-shade; and deciduous rhododendrons are best planted in open sunny locations, but will adapt to growing in light shade.

© Giedra Bartas, 2011

Lawn daisies

daisy3These are annual or perennial herbaceous plants. Their leaves are arranged in rosettes. The flower heads of species daisies are 1-2 cm in diameter, while those of the cultivars are 3-8 cm wide. They flower in April and May, but if lawn is regularly mown (which prevents plants from blooming in due time) the flowering can extend throughout the summer. Lawn daisies usually set seeds, and they often self-sow. Seeds remain viable for 3-4 years.

Many garden forms of perennial daisies (Bellis perennis L.) are widely cultivated, which are most often grown as biennials. The plants are 10-30 cm tall, with small ovoid or spoon-shaped evergreen leaves. In the first year daisies grow the leaf rosette, producing flowers in the second year. They send up 15-30 cm tall flower stalks with numerous yellow-eyed flower heads in white, pink or red, and sometimes in other colours. Leaves and buds, which have been set late in the season, overwinter well and start flowering in April, weather permitting, or in May. They flower most profusely in spring or early summer, however, if summer is cool and rainy, they will keep sending up flower stalks until the autumn frosts. During a very hot spring flowers will usually be smaller, and the flowering will be over soon.

Fully double daisies sometimes mutate and self-sown plants come back as single daisies.

[banner] Garden forms of daisies are numerous, and they are classified into groups by anatomy of the flower, and by fullness of their blooms – fully double, semi-double or single. According to the size of the flower, daisies can be small-flowered (2-4 cm wide), medium-flowered (4-6 cm) or large-flowered (6 cm and more).

Lawn daisies grow quite well in open sunny locations, but feel more comfortable and flower for longer in semi-shade, especially if the weather is hot. They are not particular about the soil, but they produce larger flowers when grown in fertile free-draining soil. Daisies can be transplanted even when in flower.

In dry weather daisies require additional watering, otherwise their flowers become smaller, and fully double forms start to mutate. If you want to prevent daisies from producing seeds and to extend their flowering, remove spent flowers. If daisies are grown in the lawn, feel free to mow them. Daisies grown in the lawn do not need additional watering or feeding, since they receive sufficient moisture and fertlisers along with the grass. These flowers dislike soggy soil in late autumn. If daisies are grown in flowerbeds, and the winter is snowless, or if the snow cover has been blown away, protect plants with dry leaves and conifer branches.

Daisies are propagated from seed, by cuttings and clump division. Seeds are sown in late June or early July directly into the flowerbed, and germinate in 7-10 days. Seedlings are thinned to every 10 cm, and are usually transplanted into the flowering position in August at 20 cm intervals.

Daisies suit large and small gardens alike. They are easy to cultivate as pot plants. Containers planted with daisies can be placed near a water feature, on lawn edge, next to hedges, or they can adorn a garden bench, a table or a patio. They can be used as an early accent to decorate balconies in May. In moist and fertile places daisies can be grown as lawn replacement, eventually spreading into a flowering carpet. They associate well with hyacinths, tulips, forget-me-nots and pansies.

© Giedra Bartas, 2010

Hibiscus in northern garden

Hibiscus, or rosemallow, is a large genus which includes more than 200 species of deciduous and evergreen shrubs and trees, as well as annual and perennial herbaceous plants. Almost all of them are native to tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world (including the popular houseplant – the Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)); hence only very few of the genus can be grown outside in temperate climate. The common garden hibiscus (Hibiscus syriacus) is the most widely grown hardy species.

Hardy does not always means really hardy… Garden hibiscus may succesfully grow here for many years if winters are not very cold, and die back to the ground in a heavy winter like we had this year. Anyway new shoots grow fast and start flowering in late summer. Young plants are more frost-sensitive. Hibiscus feel good during our cool summers, they can be container-grown, moving them inside for the winter. Heavy mulching helps roots to survive the winter.

The common garden hibiscus (Hybiscus syriacus) is native to China and Western Asia. This species of hibiscus is well-loved and widely grown in Europe. These are compact shrubs of variable height up to 2-4 m. Flowers, which are smaller than those of true chinese hibiscus, come in a variety of colours – ranging from white to lilac, often bicoloured, single or double.

Garden hibiscus are widely used as landscape shrubs or small tress. They thrive in sunny, well-lit and moist locations. During hot weather, they require copious watering and feeding in order to extend their flowering from mid-July up to the first frosts. They tolerate shady position, but the flower display will be less spectacular. However in sunny position they overflower very fast.

Propagation is from seed (species), or by green and semi-woody cuttings (cultivars). Seeds are sown in early spring after the cold germination treatment.

Common hibiscus are not particular about the soil (they do need a well-drained spot though), but they strongly prefer full or half full sun, growing spindly in shaded location. They dislike strong winds. They are drought-resistant, but produce exceptional quantities of flowers, when regularly watered and fertilised. During cold spring with recurrent frosts, the young shoots of hibiscus should be protected (but mostly they sprout quite late, after the spring frosts are passed).

Winter thaws can be lethal to rosemallows, if their roots remain waterlogged for some time, therefore a thick layer of draining material should be spread at the bottom of the planting hole when planting hibiscus is clay soils.

© Giedra Bartas, 2010

Pine candling

Pine candlesCool and rainy weather chased me inside.So I decided to take up this opportunity to remind you of a very important task before it is too late. About this time of a year, most pines would have already produced long new shoots, often referred to as candles, which are smooth and soft. This is a perfect time for candling pines – pruning them to retain their compact form.

There are certain rules to pruning pines. If your purpose is to make a pine thicker, make sure you do not cut into old wood or remove any mature branches produced last year or earlier. This would only produce holes in the crown. Pines do not have any dormant buds, therefore no new branches will be produced in this place and the plant will not get any thicker. Perhaps in due time neighboring branches will disguise the hole, however, the general outline of the plant will be ruined for good. Older branches can only be removed when sick, dry or disfigured. Candling is applied only to young pine shoots.

Miniature or half miniature pines normally require no pruning. They are compact and slow growing by nature, so it doesn‘t make much sense to prune them (and often there is nothing to prune). Other pines, especially mountain pines, of which there are so many cultivars, are fair play, especially if they are planted in a wrong spot or are too large to be replanted. My alpine bed is a perfect example of a perfect plant in a wrong spot, when a few years ago I planted a few Before candlingspecies mountain pines hoping for a faster result.

So, back to candling. At the end of branches pines produce several (sometimes one) new shoots. Depending on the eventual desired size of pine, the shoots can be shortened by a third or a half. If you want the branch to grow sideways rather than lengthways, remove the dominant (central) shoot altogether, and shorten the secondary ones by a third or a half.If, however, you wish for the pine to produce a long straight branch, leave the dominant shoot and remove the secondary ones. I personally shorten all candles in the same manner – just snap them in half. This way the pines retain their rounded and pleasing form, growing thick and compact. You will not need any secators for the job, your fingers will suffice.

© Giedra Bartas, 2016

after candling

The smallest of the small – `Silverstone`

Fortune’s spindles (Euonymus fortunei) are quite popular in Lithuania, and there are plenty of these semievergreen, ground-hugging colorful shrubs in our gardens. However, one of the new introductions really makes us to lean in and have a better look – is it really a spindle, or maybe it is a moss?

`Silverstone` is a very small, dense, compact plant, growing no more than 10-15 cm tall and 20-30 cm wide. Leaves are tiny, oval, dark green, splashed with white variegation, while the new ones appear entirely white or white with some green sprinkling. Although leaves and branches give an impression of being fragile, they really are quite robust, while the shrub itself is rather sturdy.

`Silverstone` is not fussy regarding its planting site, but it would prefer semi shade and moist fertile soil, where its growth would be faster, and the leaves would be brighter shade of green. It cannot handle waterlogged soil. It is recommended to water them during drought, especially if grown in sandy soil.

[banner]This miniature spindle looks perfect in Japanese style gardens, rockeries (add some rich, moist compost before planting), at the edge of a water feature or a stream, under standard plants, at the front of mixed plantings. They are ideal for growing in containers (especially the tall ones) alone or alongside other moisture-loving bedding plants. When growing in containers in sunshine, make sure soil does not turn bone-dry, or else keep them in semi shade, to be on the safe side.

They usually overwinter under snow cover. Should winter turn out to be snowless, mulch around the shrub generously, and remember to provide some protections for the plant from scorching sun, come spring.

During dry autumn weather water plants generously a couple of times, and prepare them for winter just like all other evergreen plants. Single branches that remain visible above the snow cover may die down, just like other Fortune‘s spindles, however, this does not reflect much on overall health and appearance of the plant. Simply remove dead growth in spring.

© Giedra Bartas, 2016

`Canadice` – the pick of the bunch

From the seven grape vines varieties that I grow `Canadice` is the one, which really stands out. Firstly, it is very suitable for vertical gardening – this is a very fast-growing and completely cold-hardy vine. Secondly, the grapes are seedless. They are small, yellowish red when ripe (bright red, if autumn has been long and warm), transparent, arranged into medium sized, heart-shaped clusters. The first berries on a vine, planted on the southern side, start ripening by the end of August, with the rest folowing 2 to 3 weeks later. Their flavour is very pleasant, sweetly acidic, and tastes distinctly of wild strawberries.

Although it is commonly thought that `Canadice` is a disease-resistant variety, it is not quite true, at least not in Lithuania. Surely, given dry, hot summer and mild autumn, all vines are less susceptible to diseases. These plants suffer badly from excessive moisture. Last summer had been very wet, therefore all vines subjected to constant rain looked worse for wear, their foliage disfigured by disease, with grapes succumbing to rot (Botrytis). The same cultvars grown under some protection fared much better – healthier and larger berries, foliage free from disease. During dry autumn grape vines, cultivated both in the open and under some protection grow healthy and bountiful.

[banner]Just like all vines, `Canadice` does not handle waterlogged soil well. When planting in heavy, poorly drained spot, it is best to site the wines on a slope, ideally on the southern side of a house, fence or pergola, which would provide them with some shelter. It is worthwhile enriching poor, sandy soil with fertile compost, but generally wines are not too fussy. In eight year I never had to water the vines, even in droughts. Their roots go deep, looking for water, and need watering only in their first year. Do not go over the top fertilising them, an annual application in spring along with the rest of woody plants will suffice.

`Canadice` is cold resistant, however, young immature branches can be damaged by frost. Young plants should be given some winter protection in the first two years after planting. Cover plants with agricultural fleece and shredded bark the first year, while in the second simply mulch the roots thickly.

I prune vines, which are grown for producing grapes, twice a year. In August I shorten rampant current year‘s growth in order to encourage branches to mature and preserve nutrients which will be necessary for ripening of the grapes. I remove some of the canes, which overcrowd the plant and make it too dense for grapes to rippen properly. In late autumn, when plants have shed foliage , or in very early spring, before buds start swelling, I shorten even more canes, aiming for a two-tiered or bilateral cordon shape.

For the vines, which are grown for lush foliage,  I simply thin out shoots lightly, removing overcrowded growth, training the remaining canes to grow as horizontally as possible.

This cultivar has only one shortcoming: some of the individual flowers self-pollinate poorly, which results in a number of tiny berries, which do not grow fully and never rippen. Depending on a year, the number of such grapes in a cluster may vary.

© Giedra Bartas, 2015

Propagating japanese spiraeas

Japanese spiraeas tend to form round or sometimes oblong mounds, which are not completely tidy. If left unsheared, they can expand up to 1 m tall and wide, therefore I suggest  – be ruthless and shear them back on a regular basis. As a result their foliage will be brighter, while flowers will be larger. I personally value colorful foliage above flowers. Flowering of trees and shrubs is fleeting, while cultivars with colourful foliage often produce very few flowers, if any at all.

Having said that, golden-leaved Japanese spiraeas are breathtakingly beautiful in flower – their flower heads appear just as the spring foliage fades. The flowering continues for 10 to 20 days (depending on weather – in hot and dry weather the show is very fleeting). I remove spent flower heads promptly, before they fully finish flowering. At the same time I prune the plant into shape, since by midsummer it often becomes quite lax. Pruning is a very straightforward process – I grab a handful of branches and shear them back by 5-15 cm (yes, that much, especially in the rock garden). I go this way all around the bush.

After I shear spiraeas,  I normally end up with a barrowful of cuttings. They can be disposed of, or alternatively they can be rooted. End of June or beginning of July is ideal for propagation by semi-woody cuttings, besides japanese spiraeas root easily. For this purpose take 7-15 cm long non-flowering branches, remove their soft tops, and insert them into pots with fertile moist garden loam. Keep the pots in a shaded place (I keep them on the north side of the house under hostas). Do not forget to keep them evenly moist. I usually forget the cuttings until the autumn, however, this is not an example I suggest you follow. The success rate of this lazybones way is around 70 percent.

propagating spiraeaLike I mentioned, these are very tenacious plants. I have planted and transplanted mature spiraea bushes numerous times, moved them from one place to another at a wrong planting time, forgot to water them – but they invariably take root. The only thing that I do after transplanting spiraeas, is to shear back bushes by 2/3 rds. I simply remove all growth to within some 20 cm from the shrub centre. This way plants loose less water, and as a result they root easier. A year or three later spiraeas spring back to their normal size.

Spiraeas can be propagated by woody cuttings – in late autumn (after the leaves have fallen) or early spring, before buds break dormancy. Collect 10-15 cm long cuttings, remove their soft tops, and insert them into a pot with ordinary garden soil. Keep in the garage or cellar. The only thing important is that the room is frost-free. Insert the cuttings into the soil so that two leaf nodes were covered and compact soil around them.

I use this method to propagate spiraeas in autumn, since spring is extremely busy time in the garden. I keep the soil moist, and take care to throw some old rags on top (my garage is unheated) or move them into the cellar if hard frost is forecasted. The cuttings require no light until spring.

If only 1-5 new plants are necessary, the easiest way is to produce them by layering. In early spring, before plant breaks dormancy, choose a young flexible branch. Make a shallow trench close to the mother plant. Lay the branch into the trench, pin it down with wire or plastic pegs to keep it in place. Cover with some more soil, and compact it gently. 1 or 2 buds or bud pairs should be covered with soil, leaving the tip of the branch above the ground. Normally, there is no shortage of moisture in spring, but in summer do remember to water before the soil dries out. In autumn pull at the branch gently – if it does not give easily, this means that the branch has rooted. Cut the branch from mother plant, however, wait until spring before removing it and planting it elsewhere.

[banner] As for planting site and soil type, spiraeas are very obliging.  However, if you have a colourful spiraea cultivar, make sure you plant it in a sunny spot, where it would receive at least half a day of direct sunlight. When grown in shade foliage will not be as bright, and the plant may even revert to green. In contrast to majority yellow leaved plants, spiraeas almost never burn in strong sunlight, unless they are grown in pure sand. As for soil type… unfortunately, I do not have any experience of growing spiraeas in sandy soil, I can assure that anywhere else – be it rich compost or heavy clay – they simply thrive. I do not additionally fertilise them during the season – in spring all my trees and shrubs (apart from conifers) get their ration of slow release combined fertiliser, and that’s about it. True, I amend soil with well-rotten grass clippings (sprinkling them around plants), but I am not so generous with spiraeas. As a matter of fact, they thrive on neglect.

 © Giedra Bartas, 2015

A knee-high birch

Silver birch (Betula pendula) `Trost`s Dwarf` attains 1,5 m height and similar width only when fully mature, within several years from planting. Its growth rate is exceptionally slow. It eventually forms a shrub or a  multistemmed tree. Tiny leaves are deeply incised and remind of the foliage of Japanese acers (A. palmatum dissectum), while its thin and elegant branches arch gracefully downwards. Viewing from afar, the foliage looks rather lacelike. It is very suitable for planting in Japanese style gardens as replacement for Japanese acers because of its similar appearance and complete resistance to sun or cold. It is also well suited to growing in rockeries, provided soil is sufficiently fertile and water-retentive. It looks best when planted among stones (granite), or paired with ornamental grasses at the edge of a small waterfall or a stream. Do not plant it in the vicinity of vigorous shrubs or large scale perennials where it would soon be overwhelmed.

In autumn its foliage turns yellow. `Trost‘s Dwarf` does not require any pruning, however, if you must do this, prune it in summer, after the leaves have [banner] fully developed. When pruned in spring, the tree bleeds profusely, which might weaken the plant or kill it altogether. It is best grown in moist fertile soil, in sunhine or semi-shade.

© Giedra Bartas 2014