Archive for 1999

The Christmas Tree

Icon Written by Geoff on December 1, 1999 – 9:26 am

For many, the selection of a Christmas Tree has been a family tradition. In our household, it is not unusual for the selection process to take most of the day, require traveling hundreds of miles, and involving the whole family. Our dog Madison even likes to tag along. We have had just about every type of tree imaginable, firs, pines, spruces and even a hemlock. The one common denominator they all had was, they had to be big and full. One year, when we were living in an upstairs apartment, the tree we bought would not fit up the stairs and we had to pull it up with a rope through the front window. One year we learned the hard way how quickly a hemlock will shed it’s needles and had to go out and buy a second tree. 

Christmas Trees date back to Roman times. Martin Luther, in the 10th century, is credited with being the first to decorate a tree indoors. Hessian troops introduced the Christmas Tree into the United States during the Revolutionary War. President Pierce introduced the Christmas Tree into the White House in 1856 and the first National Tree was lighted in 1923. Now, every state has their own tree and lighting ceremonies. Probably the most noteworthy tree lighting is the one at Rockefeller Center. 

Now adays, artificial trees have become very popular. Some people go this route as a way of protecting the environment. But since they are a petroleum based product that consumes vast amounts of non-renewable natural resources to produce, this reason has little merit. Also, remember, plastic trees have only a life span of six years in the home but will last for centuries in the landfill. Paul Bowles in his fine article Christmas Tree Care states, “Personally, I think the driving motivation behind folks buying artificial trees instead of live cut trees is the specter of the dreaded needle drop.” Remember then, when making your choice, do you want to help the environment or fill a landfill with useless trash? For our family, the only choice is between a living cut tree or living tree. 

A word of caution in choosing between a cut and living tree, a living tree is definitely not for everyone. They require careful planning and a lot more work than a cut tree. According to the National Christmas Tree council, to use a living tree successfully, you need to observe the following points:

  • The adaptability of the species to your yard should be considered. Many species are shipped outside their natural area and may not be adaptable to other areas.
  • The tree should be stored in an unheated, sheltered area such as a garage or porch, out of the wind and sun. Do not expose the tree to freezing temperatures at any time.
  • The tree will need adequate water. The root ball or soil should be kept slightly damp but not flooded. Wrap the root ball of a balled tree in plastic or place in a tub while it is in the house.
  • Once inside, the tree should be placed in a cool area out of direct light. Please remember though, that since this is a living plant, it still needs some light to survive.
  • Live trees may be decorated, but with care. If lights are used, they must not give off any heat.
  • Do not remove the tree directly from a warm house out into freezing temperatures. Instead, move to a sheltered area first for several days.
  • If the ground is unfrozen, the tree may be replanted. The spot to be dug may be mulched to prevent freezing. Plant as soon as possible.
  • Do not remove the burlap and strapping (unless it is plastic). This keeps the root ball solid and secure. In the instance of a plastic cover, cut the cord and roll down the plastic at least half way prior to planting. Tap the tree container of a potted tree and remove prior to planting. Do not attempt to remove soil from the root system. Earth removed from the original hole should be back filled around the root ball. Mulch heavily over the top of the planted root ball to prevent it from freezing. Water only as needed: a flooded tree may not survive.
  • Stake the trees to prevent wind tipping or damage during the first growing season.

Our family prefers the cut living tree that is biodegradable and easily recyclable. In our area in zone 5 in Southwestern Lower Michigan, we have just seen too many trees that did not survive the harsh Winters. With care and proper selection, a living cut tree can last a very long time. The type of tree you select has an important bearing on how long it will last. Some trees are much more prone to dropping their needles than others. This is why the Hemlocks are seldom sold as cut Christmas Trees. True Firs (as opposed to Douglas Firs) hold their needles the best and are the most fragrant, followed by Red-Cedar’s and Juniper’s. Douglas Firs, Spruces, and Pines vary in needle retention based on quality, how long it was cut before placing in water, and temperature. Some trees are even painted to help them hold their needles and color. You can avoid this by buying locally cut trees or better yet cutting your own. 

Christmas Trees are grown in all 50 states. The Southeast is best known for their Fraser Firs, the West and Southwest for the stately Douglas Fir, Engelman Spruces, and Lodgepole Pines, and the North and East for the fine Eastern Spruces and White Pines. Most Christmas Trees today are grown on large plantations, in fact, over one million acres are planted in evergreens. Two thousand trees are planted per acre with 34-36 million trees being produced annually. California, Oregon, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina produce most of the trees. This is why most trees have to be cut weeks ahead of time and shipped long distances. 

The best-selling trees are the Scotch Pine, Douglas Fir, Noble Fir, Fraser Fir, Balsam Fir, Virginia Fir, and White Pine. Most of these can be found on any retail or cut your own lot farm. A nation wide listing of many of these locations can be found at Christmas Tree USA The University of Georgia provides a good description of most trees at Bugwood USA

Whether you select an artificial tree, living cut tree, or a living tree, by all means, try to make selecting the tree a family event, take your time, and enjoy the experience. As we mentioned last year, do not be afraid to experiment with different species of trees, after all Cherry and Hawthorne trees were once very popular indoor holiday trees. We have even seen Weeping Figs and Norfolk Island Pines used as Christmas Trees.

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It’s Autumn in Our Garden

Icon Written by Geoff on November 1, 1999 – 9:10 am

A year ago today, in November 1998 Yard Talk, we talked about how Fall usually finds most plants well past their prime, but there are always a few that put on a show for us here in zone 5, in Southwest Lower Michigan. With our last frost free date being October 15th there is always plenty of time for those late blooming perennials. 

Well, not this year, Mother Nature played a cruel trick on us and we had the first of many frosts on September 19th. Fortunately, we took our own advice on Container Gardening and put a few plants into containers. It is a good thing too, as our gardens are truly bleak. 

So, instead of telling you about what is performing well in our Autumn Garden, we decided to take a different tack and talk about those plants that really out performed all others this year. These are the ones we can honestly say you should try in your garden. 

A. Eupatorium fistulosum- “Spotted Joe-Pye Weed” 
A large billowy plant we just cannot say enough good things about. Its foliage and flowers not only put on quite a show it also attracts flocks of butterflies and bees. 

B. Echinacea pupurea- “White Swan” 
A white flowering form of our native Purple Coneflower that we had about given up on until we moved it into our Shady Garden. Now it puts on a show of its own with masses of white flowers all season long. People are always asking what it is. 

C. Phlox paniculata- “David” 
A white blooming mildew resistant garden phlox which started blooming for us in June and just kept on blooming. 

D. Phlox paniculata- “Nora Leigh” 
A variegated garden phlox recommended to us for its foliage. We were told not to expect to much from the flowers. While the foliage is outstanding we think the flowers are outstanding. 

E. Rudbeckia laciniata- “Herbstonne” 
Herbstonnes along with Joe-Pye Weeds are show stoppers of our Sunny Garden. Non-stop masses of bright yellow flowers held high. People are constantly asking about this plant. 

F. Solidago rugosa- “Fireworks” 
This stunning compact goldenrod puts on a brief but exciting display in early Fall. 

Some new additions to our garden that while too young to really show their stuff show great promise are: 

A. Chrysanthemum- “Mrs Clarkson” 
This creamy yellow pom-pom flowering hardy mum all but glows in the dark. Very vigorous bloomer and long lasting. 

B. Phlox paniculata- “Delta Snow” 
Another white garden phlox with huge flower heads. 

C. Sedum- “Frosty Morn” 
A variegated plant with mint green leaves with a large creamy band that really stands out on those dark Fall days. 

D. Vernonia noveboacensis- “New York Ironweed” 
Intense purple blooms held high on 7-10 foot plants.

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Fall Container Gardening

Icon Written by Geoff on October 1, 1999 – 4:59 pm

Well, here it is fall again in the gardens. It just seems like yesterday we were all sitting around the kitchen table watching the spring rains washing away the last traces of winter’s snow. Their are just so many tasks we still must do before winter shows itself again. Flowers to be dried, nuts and berries to be harvested, roses to be winterized, and tender plants to be potted and brought in. We have been using more containers in the garden the last few seasons. Container gardening allows you to grow plants in places where in-ground gardening is not practical or possible, such as patios, terraces, balconies, decks, porches and rooftops. Since container gardens are portable, you can simply move the containers to a frost free location. We usually manage to bring in a few spiders, crickets, toads and an occasional chipmunk. 

Gardening in containers is ideal for people with limited garden space or a lack of time for gardening. Containers provide splashes of color throughout the yard and can be planted with mixtures of flowers, herbs and vegetables. Need some color for that evening patio party? Simply move in the container plants. A little more rearranging and you have a bright cheery nook for the morning brunch. Stack them on blocks, bury them in the ground, hide them away in the permanent plants, their use is only limited by your imagination. 

Gardening in Containers is an exciting option for those who:

  • Have small spaces for gardening.
  • Want colorful accents to place around the home or apartment.
  • Cannot comfortably kneel or bend.
  • Have limited mobility.
  • For busy gardeners, cooks, plant lovers.

Thanks to containers, just about anyone can have a garden. Even apartment dwellers without a garden plot nurture miniature flower beds in window boxes safely secured to sills and ledges. Container-grown succulents and small trees are also likely to be moved from here to there, filling gaps as the season progresses. In island beds, a single antique urn becomes an eye catching centerpiece; smaller pots and recycled containers, on the other hand, look best displayed in groups, near the base of an outdoor staircase. 

These days, the choice of containers is limited only by a gardener’s imagination. Graniteware basins, food-storage tins, shoes, baseball caps, and a host of other flea-market finds look no less charming than a costly hand blown glass container. We still like the old time hand thrown clay pots for our garden, they seem to have a charm of their own. No matter what your container choice is, all pots must have good drainage. Without it, roots rot and plants die. 

Do not use garden soil for containers! Even the best garden soil is not the right choice for container growing. They will not provide adequate drainage and contain disease organisms, bacteria, and weed seeds. Garden soils also compact into heavy masses, preventing root respiration and fertilizer absorption. Your mix should be light and airy. It should retain moisture and nutrients and be quick to drain. To reduce root rot problems, use the same mix throughout the pot. While you can mix your own, we would suggest using a commercial mix such as Redi-Earth or Jiffy Mix. Unless you use large amounts or enjoy working with different soils it is just easier and more economical to purchase a mix. A good list of soil recipes, soil blends or potting soil recipes can also be found at the Backyard Gardener’s site at 

Plants in containers need frequent watering. They may require several waterings a day during very hot weather. Soil in containers dries out much more rapidly than soil in the garden. The best way to decide when to water is to check every day by inserting your fingers into the top few inches of soil. Clay or terra cotta containers dry out faster than plastic containers, with baseball caps and sneakers somewhere between. Moisture retenders can be added to the soil that grab and hold large amounts of water molecules and then slowly release it. They greatly increase the moisture retention of the soil without clogging it up. They are available under a range of brand names, such as “Water Grabber.” In very dry locations you can put one container inside another larger container and pack the space between with gravel, dry peat, or perlite to slow loss through the sides of the pot. 

Container plant roots cannot grow deeper or spread out in search of food. You must compensate for their smaller root area by feeding them more frequently. Use a well-balanced fertilizer such as “Miracle Gro,” or “Rapid Gro.” Organic gardeners will have fine results with a combination of manure tea or fish emulsion and liquid kelp. Be sure that whatever fertilizer you use, it is well-balanced and contains not only nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, but essential trace elements as well. Shepherd’s Seeds has a wonderful informative web page on container gardening at that we recommend going to. 

We always dread having to bring in all the house plants and other container grown plants, there just never seems to be enough room. Of course, it does not help that not only have the numbers increased through the years but, our collection now includes a few trees. Then again, as we look out over late winters’ landscape, dull and grey, it is good to have some green things around.

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The Soil in My Garden

Icon Written by Geoff on September 1, 1999 – 9:05 am

Last September we discussed “New Garden Site Preparation” and how we always start in late summer to prepare next season’s new bed sites. Good soil is the basis on which all successful gardens are built so, we like to look at our soil every fall. This is a slower time of year for us and we can take the time to work with the soil, make amendments as required, and get it ready for next season. Top quality soil is dark in color, active in microorganisms, plant nutrients, organic matter, and a pH close to 6.5. 

The first step is to have your soil tested. Soil test kits are available from most nurseries and mail order catalogs. Private companies also do soil testing, they provide detailed reports and recommendations but, may be expensive. Actually, your local Extension Agent is probably your best source for home garden soil testing. Whatever source you use, make sure they include testing minor or trace elements. You need to know the strength and weaknesses of the soil you are starting with. 

There are sixteen nutrients that are essential for the growth and reproduction of plants, thirteen of these essential elements are found in inorganic and organic fertilizers and are often divided into three groups. The primary nutrients include the elements nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. The secondary nutrients include sulfur, calcium, and magnesium. The third group of essential elements is called micronutrients as they are required by the plant in small amounts. These nutrients include iron, manganese, boron, zinc, copper, molybdenum, and chlorine. Once you have your soils test results back, you can correct any deficiencies through the application and through blending of soil amendments. 

Any addition to the soil that improves its physical or chemical condition, is considered a soil amendment. Many types of amendments are available to the gardener to change pH and nutrient levels. The correct soil pH is essential for optimum plant growth. Dolomitic limestone adds calcium and magnesium as it increases pH, making the soil more alkaline. Wood ashes raises soil pH, but you must apply twice as much ash as limestone for the same effect. Sulfur is used to acidify garden soil. 

The amount of amendment to add depends on the current and desired pH. Peat moss can also be used to effect the pH of the soil although, harder to use as their effect varies by type and where mined: 

  • Sphagnum moss peat 3.0 to 4.0
  • Hypnum moss peat 5.0 to 7.0
  • Reed-sedge peat 4.0 to 7.5
  • Decomposed peat 5.0 to 7.5

Peat Moss Frequently Asked Questions by the Canadian Peat Moss Association at is a good source for further information. 

Other amendments are added specifically to improve soil nutrient levels. Green sand and granite meal are sources of potassium. Granite meal is finely ground granite rock that releases its potassium slowly. Green sand is relatively low in potassium, which is readily dissolved. Additional nutritional amendments that can be purchased for garden use include cottonseed meal, kelp meal, leather meal, and worm castings, as well as an array of synthetic fertilizers. Other agricultural byproducts such as peanut shells, tobacco stems, rice hulls, corn cobs and other fibrous agricultural byproducts are sometimes available for soil additives or mulching. 

Some amendments will improve the soils’ quality and texture. The composition of soil consists of four parts: mineral matter, organic matter, water, and air. The relative amounts of mineral and organic matter determine the physical properties of soil. Soil texture is influenced by the amounts of three groups of soil particles. The three soil separates are sand, silt, and clay. Texture is how the soil feels. Soil texture describes the mixture of sand, silt and clay particles for a given soil. A coarse soil has a large amount of sand, silt soil has the texture of flour, and loam soil has nearly equal amounts of sand, silt, and clay. Sand particles can be seen by the naked eye. A microscope must be used to see silt particles. An electron microscope is needed to see clay particles. By changing the percentages of sand, silt, and clay we can alter the texture and thus, the moisture retention abilities of the soil. 

The regular addition of manures, compost, cover crops, and other organic matter can raise the soil nutrient and structure level. Soil structure refers to the arrangement of sand, silt, and clay particles. Organic matter is often referred to as the glue that holds everything together. When using animal manures, it is recommended to let it compost for at least six months before using. Even if you are going to compost manure with yard waste, it still needs to sit. Desirable soil quality does not come about with a single or even several additions of organic material but, requires a serious, long term program. 

The use of compost is a way to improve soil structure. Correct composting can result in a valuable nutrient and humus source for any garden. The basis of the process is the microbial decomposition of mixed, raw, organic materials into humus. For more information on composting go to the Compost Resource Page athttp://www.oldgrowth.Org/compost/ This site is intended to serve as a hub of information for anyone interested in composting. 

As you can see, there are many options available to you once you have had your soil tested. Whatever amendments you end up using, it is important to work them in deeply, at least six to eight inches. You need to blend them well as not only do they breakdown better but, a plant’s root system will develop better in a well-mixed medium. We prefer the fall because the amendment has a better opportunity to decompose and be available in the Spring for the plants’ use.

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Non-Selective Herbicides in the Yard and Garden

Icon Written by Geoff on August 1, 1999 – 6:11 pm

We spend a large amount of time and effort removing plants that are simply not where we want them. Those plants that we admire growing in the wild as wild flowers become Weeds when found in our lawns and gardens. Why then should we weed? We weed because: 

  • Weeds grow very fast and compete with desirable plants for moisture and nutrients.
  • Weeds steal sunlight from less competitive plants.
  • Such plants as poison ivy and stinging nettles cause physical discomfort.
  • Some weeds have thorns and prickers.
  • Native plants cannot compete with foreign invaders such as Purple Loosestrife.
  • Weeds can host diseases and pests that can damage desirable plants.

We can remove unwanted plants by mechanical, cultural, or with a chemical herbicide. While we prefer the first two methods whenever practical, we recognize the value of herbicides as an alternate garden tool. This is particularly true in non-selective herbicides composed of isopropylamine salt of glyphosate. These herbicides, when used as directed, pose little or no threat to our health or to the environment as they react only on the amino acids found in the plant world. Glyphosates immediately breakdown on contact with the soil into harmless elements. They are also safe to use around wildlife. The glyphosate herbicide Roundup is the weed killer most zoos use in sensitive animal areas While we would not want to bathe or drink with this herbicide it is an extremely safe gardening tool. 

The most common glyphosate herbicide available to the home gardener is Roundup manufactured by the Solaris Group of the Monsanto Company. We will use Roundup’s name generically throughout Yard Talk while recognizing there are many other excellent glyphosate herbicides on the market. Roundup is a non-selective, systemic herbicide used to kill all types of weeds and grasses. When you spray Roundup on a weed, it’s absorbed throughout the plant, where it prevents the plant from making its own food. Once in the soil, Roundup breaks down into natural materials and will not move in the ground to affect nearby, untreated plants. Children and pets may enter the treated areas after Roundup has dried. Roundup can be applied as often as necessary. 

Roundup makes it easy to create new gardens, particularly in grassy areas. Simply mark out the desired garden contours, spray the area with Roundup, mulch with your favorite medium, wait 24 hours, and plant your flowers, shrubs, or trees. The dead sod will decompose adding nutrients to the soil. This is much easier than mechanical cultivation and raking up the debris. 

Home lawns can become thin and unsightly because of insects, diseases, severe summer stress, or old age. Sometimes, cultural practices such as, mowing, fertilizing, watering, aerating, and weed control just are not enough to give the lawns that needed look. This can be particularly true in older lawns that have not been seeded in years. Lawns can be upgraded by simply spraying the old turf with a non-selective herbicide and seeding over the dead grass with a newer grass variety or blends. 

Lawn mowers and string trimmers can damage trees by injuring the bark. This damage can provide an opening for insect and disease entry. Also, the damage may interfere with the plants’ ability to take on water and nutrients, this can stunt and sometimes kill the tree. You can protect your trees and shrubs by spraying a non-selective herbicide around the tree and then apply a mulch. 

A non-selective herbicide, such as Roundup, is then merely another tool for the gardener to use. Like the chainsaw, hoe, and hand trowel, it must be used safely and responsibly. When mechanical and cultural methods prove ineffective or inefficient, a non-selective herbicide may be the answer. It is a key element in no till gardening. Read the manufacturer’s directions carefully and follow them, as in most cases, more is not necessarily better. We would encourage you to also read the manufacturer’s MSDS sheets. If in doubt, seek the advice of a lawn and garden professional.

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An Old Rose for Our Gardens

Icon Written by Geoff on July 1, 1999 – 7:44 pm

Last month we discussed the Modern Roses, the Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, Grandifloras, and the English Rose. This month we look at the historical roses of the Old World. Old Roses, generally considered to be those bred before 1867, have become increasingly popular in the last few years. Our intent is to give you a brief look at the various varieties of Old Roses as a landscape plant. Many excellent books have been written on the lore of the Old World Rose. There is also a wealth of information available on the Internet such as The Old Rose at We suggest taking the time to study the history and beauty of the Old Rose.

  • Gallica Rose – A usually short stocky shrub rose, blooms are in shades of red, open flowering, with the stamens exposed, and held on upright stems. Alba Rose – These are large vigorous growing plants with clusters of white to pink medium size fragrant flowers.
  • Centifolia Rose – This four to five foot large leafy shrub rose carries medium size white to rosy-red flowers on nodding canes.
  • Centifolia Mossy Rose – A rose considered the sport of the Centifolia Rose that bear on their stems’ green to reddish-brown growths that resemble moss.
  • Damask Rose – A rose with large upright arching canes holding large few-clustered white to deep pink blooms.
  • Canina Rose – This rose is a healthy, hardy tall growing plant with single pink or white flowers produce coral-red hips.
  • Foetida Rose – A big arching rose, best know for its shades of yellow blooms.
  • Boursault Rose – Boursaults are large pink and red flowering, often climbing, and usually show excellent fall color.
  • Agathe Rose – A small flowering compact leafy shrub rose, blooming in shades of pink.
  • Hemispherica Rose – A somewhat difficult rose to grow, known for its yellow flowers which are sometimes double.
  • Setigera Rose – Tough, hardy climbing rose which produced many early American climbers.
  • Turbinata Rose – Very small group of roses known for their large foliage and intense rose-pink blooms.
  • Rubigirosa Rose – This rose is best known for it’s open leafy apple scented foliage, blossoms are single pink to white with orange red hips.
  • Wichurainana Rose – A rambling climbing rose generally flowering in clusters of single white to red blooms.
  • Sepervirens Rose – Another climbing variety, flowers are usually carried in large clusters.
  • Multifloria Rose – Large rambling hardy plant with small single fragrant blooms.
  • Damask Perpetual Rose – This was one of the earliest re-bloomers with double flowers born on medium size canes, very vigorous and fragrant.
  • Pimpinellifolia Rose – A medium size rose with small flowers blooming in a wide range of colors, very hardy.
  • China Rose – This continuous blooming rose is best known for its deep red colors, an open bushy shrub rose that can be hard to grow in colder areas.
  • Bourban Rose – This is the rose that most often comes to mind when thinking of Old Roses, Large fragrant flowers, a re-bloomer that is very hardy.
  • Hybrid Perpetual Rose – Another hardy re-blooming rose with large flat flowers in a wide range of colors born on arching canes.
  • Tea Rose – Named for the scent of their open blossoms they are only marginally hardy and are best known for the crosses they have made.
  • Pernetiana Rose – A glossy leaved marginally hardy rose best known for its blooms in shades of yellows.
  • Rugosa Rose – Another glossy green leafed shrub rose which is extremely vigorous, often grown for its bright red hips.
  • Noisette Rose – A rose known for large clusters of medium size flowers born on long leafy canes, sometimes climbing.
  • Polyantha Rose – A very fragrant shrub rose with smallish blooms in shades of white born in clusters.

We are sure we have probably overlooked some Old Roses as they have been around a long time. We would suggest looking at Yesterday’s Roses at, White Rabbit Roses at, and The Roseraie at Bayfield at for further cultural and historic information. They also contain some very good pictures. I hope that our brief discussion will want you at least to look at the various varieties of Old Roses available to the home gardener.

A Rose for My Garden

Icon Written by Geoff on June 1, 1999 – 7:51 pm

This month’s Yard Talk is on a subject we have been trying to avoid, Rose Gardening. We have been avoiding this subject not because of any dislike for roses, as we have many in our gardens, but because it is such a bold topic. We probably receive more questions on roses than any other plant. The number one question we receive is, “What variety of rose should we grow in our gardens?” Closely followed by, “How does the various varieties differ?” Trying to answer these is really kind of mind boggling, but here goes knowing we will leave out some. 

Roses are generally broken down into two groups Modern Roses and Old Roses. Old Roses are those that existed before 1867 when the first Hybrid Tea “La France” was bred, and Modern after this event. Old Roses are usually once blooming, disease resistant, and require less maintenance than Modern Roses. The following are some Old Roses:

  • Gallica Roses
  • Alba Roses
  • Damask Roses
  • Centifolia Roses
  • Tea Roses
  • Damask Perpetual Roses
  • Noisette Roses
  • Hybrid China Roses
  • Hybrid Perpetual Roses
  • Rugosa Roses
  • Mossy Remontant Roses
  • Polyantha Roses
  • Pernetiana Roses
  • Old Hybrid Tea Roses
  • Hemispherica Roses
  • Setigera Roses
  • Pimpinellifolia Roses
  • Sempervirens Roses
  • Bourban Roses
  • Boursault Roses
  • China Roses
  • Agathe Roses
  • Foetida Roses
  • Multiflora Roses
  • Turbinata Roses
  • Rubiginosa Roses
  • Wichuraiana Roses

For additional information on many of these Old Roses we recommend visiting Yesterday’s Roses at

Hybrid Tea Roses were the first Modern Roses and easily the most popular today. As a group, they have high pointed flower buds, are excellent repeat bloomers, and have one flower per stem. They come in a variety of clear and blended colors that are excellent for cutting. This is the rose most often found in the Floral Shops and what usually comes to mind when roses are mentioned. They are also the hardest of the Modern roses to grow, subject to many garden pests and diseases, and are only hardy to Zone 5 with protection. 

The next Modern Rose to find their way into the garden was the Floribundas, a cross between the Hybrid Tea Rose and the Polyanthas Rose. Floribundas are a hardy, bushy rose, which usually produces clusters of flowers. The blooms are clear or blended colors like the Hybrid Tea although generally smaller in size. They are at their best when planted in mass. Although they are more hardy then the Hybrid Teas they still require protection in Zone 5

The Grandiflora Rose is a cross between Floribundas and Hybrid Tea Roses. They are more hardy then either of their parents, much taller, with the flowers being much larger, and born in clusters. Like their parents, the blooms are available in a wide range of clear and blended colors. Their hardiness makes them the best suited for the novice gardener, particularly in the northern regions. 

The newest of the Modern roses is the English Rose. These are often referred to as the “David Austin Roses” after the English hybridizer who first bred them in 1969. He has tried to combine the form of the Old Rose with their many petalled cupped shaped blooms with the continuous flowering of the Modern Rose. He also wanted to introduce a wider range of colors, while maintaining the fragrance of the Old Rose. The English Rose is a very hardy rose and not as prone to as many pests or diseases as the other Modern Roses, we have seen it growing above Zone 4

As you can see the varieties of roses available is mind boggling and we have not even touched on climbing, miniatures, or tree roses. The Old Roses and the David Austin Roses are really popular now. Of course how can one beat the beauty of the Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, and the Grandiflora Roses? There are even roses now available which will tolerate the shade garden, for more on this visit Donna’s Roses in Shade at What are our favorite roses? My wife likes the Hybrid Teas, particularly Candy Stripe and Flaming Peace while I like the Floribundas such as Pure Poetry and Impatiens. Whatever variety you choose, you are selecting not only something beautiful but something of historical significance .

Broadleaf Weed Control in Lawns

Icon Written by Geoff on May 1, 1999 – 5:56 pm

Brad Pedersen in Weed Control in Lawns and Other Turf says “Weeds are simple plants out of place.” We have often observed plants being cultivated in one section of the country while in other parts valiant efforts are being made to eradicate it. One man’s weed is another man’s orchid. So it is with weeds in the well-groomed Eurasian lawns. Weeds are easy to see because of their different texture and color. Some weeds, like dandelions and henbit, even put on a Spring floral show for us. 

The first step in controlling weeds in the lawn is to identify what types are present. There are many books, pamphlets, and even web sites such as Rutger University’s Weed Image Collection at to help you identify most lawn weeds. Another good source is your local County Extension Agent. Lawn weeds fall into two types, Grass Weeds such as crab grass and quack grass, and Broadleaf Weeds such as dandelions and plantain. Grass weeds are usually best treated with a preemergent herbicide while broadleaf weeds respond best to postemergent while cultural control can be used effectively on both. In this issue of Yard talk, we will be discussing broadleaf weed control. 

Broadleaf weeds occur naturally in all soils, their seeds can be viable for over 50 years and each plant produces thousands of these seeds. Everything we do in the lawn has the potential for introducing weeds. Broadleaf weeds can be annual or perennial and are extremely hardy. There are three types of controls available to the homeowner, postemergent herbicides, cultural control, or a combination of both. 

The preferred method of control is cultural. A dense, healthy, and vigorous growing turf are your best defense. Weed invasions only happen when there is an underlying turf problem such as when knotweed takes over when the lawn soil becomes compacted. Weeds can often be controlled by simple changing our maintenance practices such as: 

  • Mow at a minimum height of three inches.
  • Do not mow in hot dry weather.
  • Water one to three times a week.
  • Water to a depth of six inches- at least one inch of water a week.
  • Maintain the lawn’s proper pH.
  • Apply an adequate balanced fertilizer.
  • Aerate your lawn at least every three years.
  • Remove any thatch build up.
  • Thin overhanging trees and shrubs.
  • Regularly topseed any developing thin spots.

It is much easier to properly maintain a lawn than it is to try to get rid of broadleaf weeds. 

Postemergent herbicides are also used to control actively growing broadleaf weeds. Broadleaf herbicides available to the homeowner contain 2,4-D, Mecoprop, Dicamba, or a combination of the three. To be effective postemergent herbicides must be: 

  • Applied when the weeds are growing vigorously.
  • Not applied during dry conditions.
  • Applied when the temperature is between 60*F and 85*F.
  • Reapplied if it rains within 24 hours of application.
  • Applied in the early Fall or Summer.

In addition you do not want to: 

  • Water within 48 hours of application.
  • Mow within 24 hours of treatment.
  • Apply to newly sodded lawns.
  • Mow lawns within three days of application.

Above all else, you want to make sure you understand and follow the directions on the herbicide of your choice. If you are not sure of what you are doing, hire a professional. 

While we consider cultural control the best method, we realize herbicide application or a combination may be necessary. Use herbicides sparingly or even consider spot treatment of problem areas. The University of Delaware has an excellent pamphlet called Your Lawn’s 25 Worst Weed Enemies that can be viewed at that can help you match specific weeds with the best treatment. Again, if in doubt, ask a professional for help. 

The best choice is to keep those lawns healthy, dense, and vigorously growing so you do not have to worry about weeds. All the other choices involve a whole lot more work.

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Pruning of Ornamental Shrubs

Icon Written by Geoff on April 1, 1999 – 5:33 pm

Most homeowners have a sizable investment in the shrubs around their yard and gardens. While we my spend untold hours taking care of our home and gardens, shrubs often get lost in the shuffle. Just like our homes, shrubs take a certain amount of maintenance to keep them attractive and healthy. One of the most important ways we can protect our investment is through regular pruning. The reason for pruning may be broken down into the following groups, training the plant, maintaining the shrub’s health, improving the quality of flowers, fruit, and foliage, and restricting it’s growth. 

We begin training the shrub when we first plant it with the removal of any diseased, damaged, or crossing branches. As the shrub grows, we will continue to remove such growth while trying to maintain the plant’s natural shape. You always want to maintain this natural shape unless you are trying to achieve a special effect such as with hedges, topiaries, cordons, or an espaliers. 

To maintain a plant’s health and vigor, you must regularly remove any diseased, dying, or dead wood. Unsound wood is a sure entry point for insects and diseases. Therefore, you want to make sure you cut back to sound heathy growth, preferably with a sterile blade, when pruning. Thinning out the shrub will also improve the penetration of light and air resulting in a more uniform, vigorous foliage growth. Many shrubs, such as lilacs, benefit from the regular removal of old limbs. 

Pruning will also improve the quality of flowering. When we remove some of the plants woody growth it, then can divert more energy into the production of larger, though possibly less, flowers. Since most shrubs bloom off new or one year old growth, timely pruning will increase the production of flower bearing limbs. 

Sometimes we need just to prune shrubs to keep them under control. While we should always select shrubs suitable for the space limitations sometimes, situations change. We must also keep shrubs off walks, doorways, and drives for safety considerations. Damage to the home can quickly happen if shrubs are allowed to contact siding, electrical wires, or roofing. Security is another factor we must consider when pruning. 

January through early April is the best time to prune shrubs in our location, zone 5, in Southwestern Lower Michigan. With the leaves off the deciduous shrubs, you can better see into the plant’s structure. Pruning at this time also allows you to remove any winter damage. Healing occurs more quickly in the Spring, with less chance for disease. One time you want to avoid pruning is in late summer or early fall as this does not give any new growth time to harden off before winter. 

We generally prune our shrubs two or three times a year depending on the location and growing conditions. You do not want to put off pruning as it is much easier and better for the plant when done regularly. Anyone can do a good job pruning with some common sense and a little practice. If necessary, you can always hire an arborist, these usually can be found in the telephone book under Tree Services. The National Arborist Association at also maintains a current member listing of trained professionals. To find one in your area, simply go to their site and enter your zip code. The important point to remember in pruning is to do it regularly.

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Grassland Gardening

Icon Written by Geoff on March 1, 1999 – 5:11 pm

We have been talking the last few months about taking the time during the slower winter months to plan our spring gardens. Our focus has been on annuals, perennial’s, seeds, and shrubs for the garden. This month we look at another green area, the vast wasteland we call “The Lawn.” 

Our views on grasslands are largely influenced by the European Formal Gardens with their vast panoramas of manicured lawns. We spend untold time and money on cultivating, planting, fertilizing, and maintaining these short grass lawns. We even mow our roadside’s and parklands short like our lawns. Much of what we do is driven not by necessity but, because of what we think we must do so to conform to our community standards of appearance and behavior. 

In our subdivision, every Saturday morning we each get out our mower and start cutting away. If one of us was to miss this ritual mowing, it would be assumed that we were sick and most likely the other neighbors would pitch in and get the job done. Many times, I must confess, we have cut our lawn when it really did not need it. This behavior is even stronger in the rural/suburban areas where vast amounts of acreage are mowed. Take a drive in the country sometime and look at the large lawns. 

Fortunately, this obsession with manicured lawns and short grasses is shifting. Tall grass lawns are becoming more and more acceptable. Mowing the roadsides also seems to be falling out of fashion. We see more of “The Lawn” being converted to tall grass prairies or wild flower gardens (see May 1997 Yard Talk) which has a positive effect on the natural environment. You will be amazed at the increased number of birds, butterflies, and animals you will see just by not mowing parts or all of your lawn. 

Tallgrass lawns such as these are referred to as Eurasian Lawns as they are made up of grass species native to the European Continent. While they do produce an abundance of wildlife, it is nothing like what can be found in our native prairie grasses or eastern meadows. 

Some of the advantages to the homeowner in reducing or eliminating mowing are:

  • Time saved in not having to mow.
  • Reduced noise and air pollution.
  • Money saved on equipment purchases or lawn service.
  • Increased plant and animal variety.
  • No need to use costly chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides.

Maybe the results will not be earthshaking but, just possibly, a few more birds and butterflies will find their way into your neighborhood. You can say, at least in some small way, you helped promote bio-diversity. After all, while those manicured lawns look neat and tidy they are also very sterile. Why not this season take the plunge, think different, and start your own Tallgrass Prairie?

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