Category Archives: Plants

Hydrangea

Hydrangeas are probably the most utilized and functional flowering shrub in Michigan.  There are many species, varieties in each species, and uses of this great plant.   Grown for their large flowerheads, with Hydrangea macrophylla being by far the most widely grown with over 600 named cultivars.  The six most common species used in Michigan landscapes include:

Hydrangea anomala – Climbing Hydrangea

Although slow to start, after a season or two to become established, climbing hydrangea gains considerable steam and becomes rather assertive, often putting on a foot or more of growth in a single season.  With root-like holdfasts and semi-twining habit, it will cling to either trees, bricks or fencing. (30-50′ tall)

Hydrangea arborescens – Smooth Hydrangea

This Hydrangea is a small- to medium sized deciduous shrub that is native to the eastern United States.  This shrub flowers on new wood……meaning you can prune back in late Fall or early Spring without fear of losing flower buds.

Annabelle Hydrangea - White round flower heads are erect.  2001 PA Gold Medal Award Winner.  Rarely to never fed on by Japanese beetles (3-6′ tall and wide)

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Incrediball Hydrangea  (A Proven Winners ColorChoice Plant) – Huge round flowers up to 12″ accross open green, then change to white before turning green again.  Sturdy stems hold the flowers upright. (4-5′ tall and wide)

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Invincibelle Spirit (A Proven Winners ColorChoice Plant) – The round pink ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea!  Dark pink buds open to hot pink flowers which mature to soft pink before turning green.  (3-4′ tall and wide)

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White Dome – A white lacecap flower (4′-6′ tall and wide)

Hydrangea macrophylla – Bigleaf Hydrangea

This Hydrangea is a small- to medium sized deciduous shrub that is native to China and Japan.  This shrub flowers on old wood……meaning you should only prune them when necessary immediately after flowering or you will lose flower buds.  This species’ flower color is highly affected by soil pH.  It is not the pH itself that changes the color, but the availability of aluminum ions.  Aluminum is more available in acid soils, so the flowers turn blue.  In alkaline soil, the aluminum is tied up and flowers will be pink.

Cityline Series (A Proven Winners ColorChoice Plant) – There are currently six cultivars in this series ranging from pinks and reds to blues and purples depending on pH.  These are very compact and disease resistant plants. (1-3′ tall and wide)

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Let’s Dance Series  (A Proven Winners ColorChoice Plant) – Even after a harsh winter these varities were selected for their exceptionally vibrant flower color and excellent hardiness.  (2-3′ tall and wide)

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Forever & Ever Series  (The Forever & Ever Brand) – Explode with color from late spring to early fall and are almost foolproof selections for even the novice gardener. Their ability to weather wintry conditions and still produce blooms each year means your garden will be gorgeous.

Endless Summer Collection - Includes “The Original”, Blushing Bride, Twist-n-Shout, and BloomStruck.  Endless Summer® Hydrangeas offer everything you are looking for in perennial flowering shrubs: beautiful full blooms, multiple hydrangea colors, low-maintenance care and versatility in planting and hydrangea arrangements. With the collection’s unique re-blooming quality, these hydrangeas will fill your garden with incredible blooms all summer long! (3-6′ tall and wide dependant on cultivar)

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Hydrangea paniculata – Hardy Hydrangea

This Hydrangea is a large size deciduous shrub that thrive throughout North America.  They are quite cold hardy, and also tolerate full sun, heat and drought better than bigleaf hydrangeas.  This species also flowers on new wood and has cone-shaped blooms.

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Limelight - Lime green flowers mature to pink and burgundy in fall.  (6-8′ tall and wide)

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Little Lamb – Compact variety whose tightly packed white florets dance above the foliage like little lambs. (4-6′ tall and wide)

Little Lime  (A Proven Winners ColorChoice Plant) – Dwarf form of the poplar ‘Limelight’ hydrangea, it has the same wonderful flowers in a smaller package (3-5′ tall and wide)

Pinky Winky (A Proven Winners ColorChoice Plant) – White flowers turn pink as they mature.  The panicles continue to grown and produce new white florets, resulting in a huge, bi-colored flower. (6-8′ tall and wide)

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Quick Fire (A Proven Winners ColorChoice Plant) – White flowers mature to pink.  Blooms about a month earlier than other varities, so you can enjoy several months of hydrangea flowers.

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Hydrangea quercifolia – Oakleaf Hydrangea

This Hydrangea is a large sized deciduous shrub that is native to the Southeastern United State, in woodland habitats from North Carolina west to Tennessee, and south to Florida and Louisiana.

Munchkin - Compact form and dense habit with white flowers. (3′ tall x 5′ wide)

Ruby Slippers – A lovely plant whose white summer flowers quickly turn pale pink, then deepen to rose.  (3′ tall x 5′ wide)

Snow Queen - Flowers become rose-pink in fall and leaves turn deep red-bronze.  Tan-brown exfoliating bark is attractive in winter. (6-8′ tall and wide)

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Hydrangea serrata – Mountain Hydrangea

This Hydrangea is a small- to medium sized deciduous shrub that is native to Korea and Japan.  This shrub flowers on old wood and the Soil pH affects the flower color in the same manner as it does with H. macrophylla. 

Tuff Stuff (A Proven Winners ColorChoice Plant) – A reblooming plant with reddish-pink lacecap flowers in early summer until frost. (2-3′ tall and wide)

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I personally love all hydrangeas, but careful selection should be made when choosing the right plant for the right location.  Hardiness, size and cultivation are the biggest factors.  Even though a certain color might be your desire, if a plant cannot perform at its best in a certain location than that certain color did you no good.  With the last two winters being very difficult here in Michigan, most macrophylla Hydrangea have not faired well.  Consider the other four shrub type species instead.

A Look Back – MNLA/MSU/APLD-MI Annual Landscape Design Tour 2014

by Steven D. Thoms, APLD, CLP, CGIP

What a crazy year 2014 was! It has gone from my worst year in business (2011) to my best year in business in three short years.  Talk about pent up demand!  The one thing bad about a prosperous year is that I wasn’t able to write like I was planning.

August 20, 2014 was the annual Michigan Nursery & Landscape Association (MNLA), Michigan State University (MSU) and Association of Professional Landscape Designers Michigan Chapter (APLD-MI) Landscape Design Tour. This past year’s tour took us to the Saginaw Valley area of Michigan.  And, it did not disappoint!  The tour included seven private home landscapes, a tour of Blue Thumb Distributing facilities, a bonus stop at the Dahlia Hill and ending up at Dow Gardens for a dinner reception.  This year’s event was sponsored by Michigan Horticulture Industries Worker’s Compensation Fund, Blue Thumb Distributing, Inc., and Unilock.

As difficult as it might seem to break away from work to attend tours and/or education events, it is much needed. Socializing with fellow landscapers and getting inspired by beautiful gardens definitely help me make it over the hump for the season.

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Our first stop was a less glorious landscape just on the outskirts of Saginaw Township, but was very educational. This site was not about what you saw but about planning and preparation of some difficult conditions.  This residence had bad drainage issues.  The designer talked about the permeable pavers, drainage around the pool and foundation of house, and all that was needed to make this property functional.  Sometimes as designers we want to avoid problems like this because it is not visual, but we do need to remember that our work needs to be functional as well.

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It always fascinates me to hear how people change their mind.  Our next stop was a koi/specimen plant lover’s dream.  The large house right next door to our first stop was sprinkled with specimen plants from Larix decidus ‘Pendula Prostrate Form’ to Ginkgo biloba ‘Pendula’ to everything in between.  But the real showcase of this landscape was the water features in the backyard.  The original backyard included a small pondless waterfall.  The client did NOT want fish or the upkeep of a pond.  After receiving a koi as a gift, the client did a 180 degree turn.  They wanted a koi pond and water gardener’s dream.

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This bog with its grandeur Lotus plants helps keep the main pond area clear.  This lower pond was five feet deep with minimal plants and rocks.  It housed the two dozen large exotic koi that the client had to grown to love like family.  She even had a tank in her basement to transition new fish into the pond and to also use as a hospital when a fish got sick.  Her favorite fish was black and yellow colored with the longest lashes.  It ate food out of her hand.

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From the sounds of it, I believe it was everyone’s favorite stop.

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Our next stop was definitely a plant collector’s garden.

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It included many great plants and a very intense water filtration system. The homeowners designed, installed and maintained their landscape themselves.  It had won several awards.

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We then stopped and had lunch at one of the tour’s sponsors, Blue Thumb Distributing. I was excited for this stop because they had just purchased a company that I had used on many jobs, Aqua Bella Designs.  It was great to see all their products, many in functional displays and to also hear about their business procedures.

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The next site was a charming historical home in Bay City. It was interesting hearing from the landscape architect on the whole landscape procedure of designing and satisfying the historical committee on this 100+ year old house.

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Our next three locations included tranquil water features, quaint gardens and lovely plant combinations.

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Our bonus site was Dahlia Hill in Midland. This highest point in Midland was started by artist Charles Breed, financially supported by private companies and foundations, and maintained by over fifty volunteers.

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The terraces were created by the use of 300 tons of Bay de noc Limestone from the upper peninsula.

With over 250 varieites in the 3,000 dahlia plants in this open-to-the public garden, it is a sight to see. To learn more, please visit http://www.dahliahill.org.

IMG_3130aThe evening ended with great food, drink and company at the restored barn at the wonderful 110 acre Dow Gardens in Midland.

Crazy Weather and Our Plants

So how much small talk have your heard in the last several months that included?: “Long Winter”, “Crazy Weather”, “Cannot wait until spring”, You Think Winter is Finally Done?”, etc.  Here at Thoms Bros. we officially started our season on April 7, a week later than usual.  In the last two weeks we have seen temperatures into the 70’s and on tax day 2014, we officially did it!  We broke a 150 year record for snowfall in a season.

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So April 15 was another day our crews could not work in the field.  Whether it is snow or rain, we assume we will not be able to work six days a week in April.  That just goes with the territory.  But it just proves the old saying, “If you don’t like the weather in Michigan than just wait a minute.”  With Tuesday’s high of 32F we are now expecting seasonable temps for the weekend and above normal temps for early next week.

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What will this past winter and the crazy weather do to our plants?  With some plants the damage is quite obvious right now.

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Winter burn can be seen on many types of boxwood.  These boxwoods were especially susceptible since they were out in the open and had road salt sprayed on them.  Also, some boxwood are hardier than others.

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Winter damage can also be noticed on other evergreens throughout the landscape including yews/taxus.

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This is Cephalotaxus harringtonia fastigiata.  It is rated for zones 6 through 9.  Even though we are in zone 6 on average, this past winter was at least a zone 5 for us.  I would not normally plant zone 6 plants, but I received two free from the APLD Conference.  You can see the bottom is still green and the top was green like this at the end of February.  We started losing some of our snow cover in March and the top got exposed resulting in the yellowing.  We will see how it recovers.

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Obviously evergreen damage is quite visible this early in the spring, but how about our deciduous plants and perennials.  This Carpet Rose in a grouping of 8 has very little green in the stems.  I would assume you will never notice the winter damage in later summer, but cutting back the brown stems right to the ground will need to be done here very soon.  Usually most stems in roses will stay green throughout the winter, but this was not a “usual” winter.

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On April 12, many locations in Metro Detroit received heavy hail.  Hail will not usually do any damage to plants.

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The next day on April 13, a storm that produced shear winds went through the area.  Many large, older evergreens can be seen on their sides. 

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This 200+ year old oak had severe heartwood rot and the cambium (outer, growing part of the trunk) was the only thing keeping this majestic tree upright.

Now that we are FINALLY done with winter (I think), let’s hope most of our plants recover and we can enjoy a beautiful spring and summer.

What’s Wrong with My Spruce Trees?

For about 10 years, spruce trees have had a tough time in Michigan due to pest, diseases, over-planting and weather.  Diseases with spruce are nothing new.  Cytospora Canker is manifested by the dying of the lower branches accompanied by dropping of the needles.  The disease is very destructive on the blue spruce.  But a recent survey in southern Michigan by Dr. Dennis Fullbright (MSU Department of Plant, Soil, and Microbial Science) has discovered that this disease is not as prevalent as in the past.  A new disease, Phomopsis Blight, has shown its ugly head on one of Southeast Michigan’s favorite conifer (i.e. Christmas tree or evergreen tree).  This disease as described in an article in the magazine The Michigan Landscape works much faster than the Cytospora Canker.

So what can we do to stop or prevent this disease?  The future does not look very bright for infected plants.  Fungicide and pruning can help, but dead branches will not grow again.  If you do not catch the disease soon enough, much of the lower branches of the plant will be gone.  Bad news if the plant is used for privacy.  A fungicide, Cleary 3336, can be used to prevent the disease.  But this needs to be applied several times while the shoots of the plant are growing the spring.  This could be a very expensive endeavor.

As with the Elm Dutch Disease epidemic in Detroit in the 50’s and most recently the Emerald Ash Borer, diversification is key to slowing down insect and disease issues in our landscape.  Colorado Blue Spruces have been planted heavy in the last 30 or so years.  They are loved for their color, availability in the market and tolerant of our heavy soils here in Southeast Michigan.  We should consider using and actually make it a point to plant other types of conifers.  Please check out this extension handout by MSU.  As a landscape contractor and designer, I will do my best in educating my clients on other choices.

This tree Colorado Spruce (Picea pungens) is in a row with four other Colorado’s and one Norway Spruce.  The plant declined extremely rapidly this year and before I knew it lost a big gap of needles in the lower third of the plant.  I have been treating all of the plants with herbicides and will deep root fertilize them this Fall, but will eventually replace at least this plant with another species of conifer.  These trees provide privacy for my backyard and block road noise from the entrance of the subdivision.