Posts Tagged ‘shrubs’

Azaleas & Rhododendrons: What’s The Difference?

purple rhodendron

Dandy Man Purple Rhododendron. Flower buds and full bloom. Photos: Proven Winners

These evergreen flowering shrubs get lumped together and you may wonder which is which. Both are members of the same plant Genus: Rhododendron. Plant taxonomists once put Azaleas in their own plant group, but later realized they were wrong about that. Taxonomists tend to do this a lot. So, all azaleas are rhododendrons, but not all rhododendrons are azaleas.
Here are the differences between what we commonly call Azaleas and Rhododendrons:

Bloomathon lavender azalea in bloom. Note the mulch layer to keep roots cool and moist.

Bloomathon lavender azalea in bloom. Note the mulch layer to keep roots cool and moist.

Azaleas

  • Smaller, duller leaves with a rougher texture
  • Mostly deciduous (loses leaves in winter if grown outside)
  • Smaller flowers, with 5 stamens
  • Small shrub, up to 8 feet (although unlikely in Toronto climate!)
  • Often sold as an indoor flowering potted plant.
  • Can be kept in pot year round, but give it a summer outdoors, and let it stay outside in fall in the cooler weather before bringing it back inside for the winter. This will help it set flower buds. Keep in a cool, very bright location. I’ve kept azaleas in pots blooming all winter in a west-facing, cool window. Don’t let it dry out!
  • Flower colours range from the whites and purples to yellow-orange and orange

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Old Reliable: Hydrangeas

Two hydrangeas in full bloom flank an entrance .

Two hydrangeas in full bloom flanking an entrance .

We’ve had one of the strangest summers in Toronto. A cool wet spring followed by the driest July and August in decades. Those months gave us rain in the form of torrential downpours, but the problem with a hard rain is that doesn’t penetrate the soil, and much water tends to run off. Spring is a prime time to planting a tree as it gives the tree ample time to get properly established before the colder seasons. While many factors play into the overall health and prosperous life of trees, below are ones that can have a substantial impact on the survival of the tree you select to add to your property.

A couple of day-long gentle rains came as a relief in what was mostly a broiling September; however the rain wasn’t much of a consolation for the dead-looking brown sticks in the ground, aka the clump of Joe Pye Weed in my garden. (Surprisingly, my swamp milkweed fared better in the summer drought.)

Which garden plants can stand up to the feast and famine that drought and climate weirdness bring? Hydrangeas are one. My Limelight Hydrangea came through with flying colours. Hydrangeas prefer moist soil, however they are tough, once established. Mine has been in place for three years, and this summer has never looked better.

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Fall Colour: Sumac

tiger eyes sumac

If you can pick a bright, overcast day to walk around in the fall, the changing colours on deciduous trees and shrubs simply glow. Hazy, bright light, with no direct sunshine allows the colours to pop. That’s the kind of day it was when I saw this splendid ‘Tiger Eye’ Sumac. It was like a beacon, summoning me to it! One of the things I like about the colour change is that the change is gradual and progressive, so that multiple colours blend together all at once. That effect is particularly noticeable on this sumach, where the red-orange, orange and bright yellow seamlessly blend into the chartreuse green, mixing and mingling to delightful effect.

This cultivar of sumach only grows to six feet and is less likely to sucker (spread from roots) than the native version. It will grow in full sun, or take some partial shade, and is drought resistant, always a bonus. Its normal colour is a bright chartreuse, a popular colour these days, adding lightness and contrasting well with its dark bark and any surrounding darker leaves. The finely cut leaves also provide an interesting texture addition to your garden.



Plant Profile: ‘Quickfire’ Hydrangea

quickfire-hydrangea

‘Quickfire’ Hydrangea flowers, white with beginnings of gentle pink on the petals.

‘QuickFire’ Hydrangea is a fantastic, newer variety of Hydrangea paniculata that blooms about a month earlier than other familiar and well-loved varieties, like ‘Annabelle’. It also attracts pollinators like crazy. The one blooming now in my sister’s garden is humming with bees, pollinator flies, moths and butterflies. It’s definitely going on my home garden Wish List.

The somewhat flatter flower form is open and starts out white, then turns pink as it matures. The variety was bred by Mark Bulk, in the Netherlands. Spring Meadow nursery has some great info on the people behind the plants.

When we first met Mark Bulk, we knew that we had come across an exceptional plantsman. His small, but rich Boskoop nursery is a treasure trove of novelties and rare plants, especially hydrangea. Mark has a special fondness for hydrangea. He collects them from around the world and is always on the lookout for something new and better.

During a visit in early summer, we were immediately drawn to a specimen of Hydrangea paniculata that was lit up with the most intense pink flowers. “What is it?” we chimed in unison. “It’s way too early for a paniculata to be this color.”  The plant was Quick Fire®, a unique seedling of ‘Pink Diamond’ that flowers and turns pink before other paniculata cultivars even begin to bloom.

This plant is amazing.

The new varieties of shrubs available to the home gardener in 2014 is due to the work of many plant breeders all over the world. We are so lucky that our gardens benefit from their combined passion for plants.