Nursery Notes: Using shrubs to add colour

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It is early June and the rhododendrons at the front of the house have just started to flower this past weekend. There are five large ones ranging in size from five to seven feet high. They do well in the part shade on the north side of the house. I give them the basics of one box rhodo food and a little extra water to carry them through the hottest part of the summer but that is about it. I always recommend planting them with an abundance of peat moss but I know for certain these ones are growing in regular Erickson silt. They have good drainage. Cooler spring temperatures mean they are flowering later than usual. Further, these temperatures should increase the life expectancies of their flowers.

In the nursery, a common question I am asked for just about every flowering plant is, “How long do they flower for?” There is no precise answer as it seems the weather and corresponding temperature always play a part. If you are looking for season long colour in your garden. consider the lowly potentilla, as it is the only shrub that I can think of that flowers all summer long. I doubt if I sell 20 pots a year of them; however, they are tough as nails and deer resistant, too.

Perhaps adding some great coloured foliage — trees and shrubs — to your garden will give you better inspiration. If you were looking for an outstanding addition to your yard or garden, consider the weeping purple beech tree. Small in stature but with an interesting growth habit and deep maroon leaves, this tree is awesome. Its cousin, the tri-colour beech tree, is more of an upright form. This tree has a reddish pink, creamy yellow and green in the leaf. It will grow to be a large tree at maturity, so be sure to give it lots of room, with full sun always bringing out the best in leaf colour.

Of course, there is the Japanese maple, small tree or shrub form, in green or red lace leaf. The purple leaf sand cherry almost has the same red leaf colour as the Japanese maple. These are useful as a bright hedge material or accent plant for tougher sites in the landscape. Crimson king maples offer a good-sized shade tree with maroon leaf colour. Princeton gold maples have brilliant yellow leaves and the Drummond maple offer green and white variegated leaves on basically the same size trees as their cousin the crimson king.

The sunburst honey locust trees offer a lighter shade than the maples. They are just starting to leaf out right now. It always reminds me of a tree in flower — the new leaves are so bright.

For smaller shrubs with great leaf colour, think of spireas and ninebarks. For spirea with interesting leaf colours we have the Gold Flame and Gold Mound varieties. The Gold Flame have a reddish-orange new growth, followed by pink flowers, fall colour and compact size. The Gold Mound cultivar offers simply a brighter yellow. Ninebarks come in the yellow, orangish-red and maroon leaf coloured varieties. Sizes range from small to quite large, but with a little pruning they would work well anywhere.

In purple, we offer smoke bushes and elderberries. Smoke bush is named for the plume of feather like flowers they get on the top of their foliage. They are often confused with burning bushes by their name only, as burning bushes have the great fall colour.

Lastly, I will mention the barberries for their foliage. They come in a variety of sizes from two feet tall and two feet wide to three, four and five feet high in reds, purples and yellows. They make a great addition to any landscape and would probably be voted as the best addition to the nursery trade in Canada in the past decade if such a vote was to be held.

There is always more variation to leaf colour being developed for shrubs but I haven’t adequate time or space here to discuss it all. Best come by the nursery and admire it all first hand. Hope to see you soon!

Evan and Wendy Davies own Beltane Nursery at 2915 Highway 3 in Erickson.