Saturday, February 1, 2014

Plan B

It suddenly dawned on me today that Mother Nature and I don't agree on shrubbery. After moving in ten years ago, I promptly removed the inkberry hollies (ilex glabra) that had been planted by the builder and she's been seeking revenge ever since.


I replaced the hollies with rhododendrons, which were killed in an ice storm.  'Endless Summer' hydrangeas followed the rhodies, only to be fried by reflected heat. In spring 2012, I replaced the hydrangeas with deep purple loropetalums, convinced I had finally found the perfect shrub. I had grown them when we lived in South Carolina and was eager to have their dramatic foliage brighten up my boring beige house.

But what I didn't factor in when I purchased them was the wind tunnel created when the massive planet sized American cranberry bush (viburnum trilobum) on the corner of the house dropped its leaves in the fall. Oops!


Spring 2013
Protected by the wind buffering abilities of the house and porch, this shrub survived the winter fairly unscathed.


This shrub was next to the viburnum had to be cut back to about 8 inches tall. Most of the plant had died from wind damage.


Fall 2013
My stumpy little loropetalum bounced back and doubled in size.


I love the deep purple foliage.


The Green Blob of Awesomeness

I knew the only way to protect Stumpy from wind damage again was to put up a barrier. I hastily erected this before a sudden cold snap out of garden stakes and special landscaping fabric designed to protect plants from frost. The fabric was much larger than I thought and fairly uncooperative. But despite its appearance, it's very effective.


I weighed down the green fabric with rocks and it's currently full of snow. The viburnum needs its water sprouts pruned off but that will have to wait a few more weeks. This picture was taken Jan. 31, 2014. The loropetalums still have a few leaves, which I'm hoping is a good sign. The viburnum is planted about 10 feet too close to the house.

So, if the Green Blob of Awesomeness is protecting my loropetalums, why am I writing this post? Because our cold snap turned into a stretch that became the coldest January in 100 years. When the temps dropped into the single digits and then fell below zero, I started to think I might need a backup plan. Hardy only to zone 7, our increasingly warm winters had fooled me into thinking they would be fine in my zone 7A garden. Planted in front of a window covered in reflective heat film that keeps our house cooler in the summer, this weird little heat island is its own unique microclimate. I thought that would protect them from any unusually cold weather. It never once occurred to me how cold our winter would become.


Regardless of the places I've lived, people I've met, or choices I've made, I always come back to several unfailing truths: trust your gut, never confuse collective wisdom with mass stupidity, and always have a backup plan. It's quite possible my loropetalums won't survive this winter. It's time for Plan B.

After a visit to the Shrubmaster, he had several suggestions. My favorites were panicle hydrangeas (hydrangea paniculata) and weigela. Neither are evergreen, but that doesn't bother me. My garden features winter disinterest so these will fit right in. 


Of all the panicle hydrangeas I researched, I liked 'Pinky Winky' the best, although the name is ridiculous.

PROS: It's a tough shrub that can take the reflected heat off the big bay window and the pink flowers will look great against my boring white/beige house. They're fast growers.
CONS: It grows to 6 ft tall instead of the much preferred 4 feet. I'm not sure how adaptable they are to being pruned.


'Wine and Roses' weigela florida

I was hesitant to consider weigela because I had several of the dwarf cultivars die of a weird fungal disease once. But these are hardy to zone 4 and are reputed to be tough shrubs.

PROS: They attract hummingbirds, have purple foliage, and are easily pruned.
CONS: They're a bit gaudy and look like big dead spiders in the winter.

What would you do? All advice and suggestions are welcome! The spot where the loropetalums are growing faces east, receiving full morning sun and reflected heat plus bright afternoon shade. The soil is slightly moist but competes with a massive viburnum. Dwarf 'Mardi Gras' abelia grow in front of the loropetalums.

64 comments:

  1. You have the best quotes! "Collective wisdom" vs. "mass stupidity" is one I will ponder as needed in the future.

    Those are some gaudy pinks but you are going for something bright in that spot. I like the hydrangeas with the green foliage between the blooms.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The "collective wisdom vs mass stupidity" is a home grown Tammy-ism, learned the hard way, which is how I learn most things. I really wish someone would develop a 4 ft tall cotinus (smoke bush). But I appreciated the Shrubmaster's suggestion of the weigela because he knows I like round, robust shrubs full of flowers. The Pepto pink flowers might be just what that dull spot needs.

      Delete
  2. Like Shirley, I prefer the Hydrangea as a replacement for the Loropetalums if they croak. The Weigela in flower is gaudy, and boring when not in flower, even if it has dark foliage. I have two, and they do look like big dead spiders in winter.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think I'm going to use the hydrangea as Plan B and the weigela as Plan C. Hopefully, the loro's will pull through but I'm a bit worried about Stumpy.

      Delete
  3. Hi Tammy, gardening is so much try an error, isn't it? But if we accept this, then it can be truly a fun and exciting challenge to hunt for just the right plant for a difficult spot. I can't recommend any plants for your zone, since I have no experience whatsoever with it, but out of the two shrubs you are considering I have a clear preference: The panicle hydrangea 'Pinky Winky'. I think, it is a much more beautiful, elegant, and graceful plant than the weigela. On top of that when these hydrangeas bloom they are show stoppers. I also like that it has bigger leaves than the weigela and I simply love big impressive blooms. Of course, that is a fairly subjective choice :-)! Curious to see what you will go for at the end! Have a nice weekend!
    Christina

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Too bad there isn't a panicle hydrangea with purplish leaves. That would be awesome! I saw a picture of a purple leaved mophead hydrangea but it wanted a moist, shady spot and was a bit of a diva. I wish the weigela had bigger leaves. But I keep thinking about how bold it would look against my beige siding. I don't think I'll be able to make a final decision until I see the two shrubs side by side so I can compare them.

      Delete
  4. Hi Tammy, well my advice is first of all to give the Loropetalum a good chance to recover from the winter, you never know, it might come through without any problems at all. I have one growing in a container but the lowest temperature we have had here in London was -7 (19.4F) last winter, so not really comparable. My Loropetalum is evergreen over here and flowering all winter.

    While you are having the coldest winter in 100 years, over here we are having the wettest winter in more than 100 years, since records began. There are many people who hasn’t been able to access their house for more than a month except for by boat! Fortunately here in London we are protected by a flood barrier, so all we get is very wet gardens – soaking wet gardens.

    As for Pinky Winky – I agree about the name, but also agree about the plant, I have it in my garden and I love it, a worthy replacement although I think I love Loropetalum more. The chances of getting a ‘100 years winter’ next year is probably slim, I think if it was me and the Loropetalum died I would have replaced it with another one exactly the same :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's such a smart perspective. If the bigger shrub lives, then maybe I should just buy another loro and erect a better wind screen next fall. I'm hoping it doesn't hit -2 for another 100 years! At that point, the loro and I will be long gone! It's too bad some of that rain can't land in the American west. They're having a 100 year drought. :(

      Delete
  5. When it comes to hardiness zones, I think they are reliable for perennials that die down in winter. However, as far as shrubs are concerned they are not as reliable, especially if there is a snow cover as you seem to have this year. Branches can be exposed to much colder temperatures. My own garden is supposed to be zone 5. I would say it is zone 6 for perennials and zone 4 for shrubs.
    'Wine and Roses' weigela florida looks good to me. What about a couple of hydrangeas in the back with a weigela in front. You would extend the blooming season.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would love to have hydrangeas in the back but the spots that are shady enough are too dry and the moist spots are too sunny. It's interesting that you have different levels of hardiness in your garden. I'd never thought about that but it's probably true for most of us. the more I look at that flashy weigela, the more I like it. :o)

      Delete
  6. Your gut is making some good Plan B choices for you, but I hope the loropetalums will also survive and thrive. As you see some leaves, I'm betting on survival.




    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think the bigger one will live, but I'm worried about Stumpy. But those leaves are a sign of hope, even if there are only a few of them. But the little one held its leaves last year, too, and then dropped them all and tried to die. I think it was just putting on its game face. :o)

      Delete
  7. Now you have me wondering if the gale force winds that sweep through my side yard account for the difficulties I've had with the Loropetalum I've tried there - I may need my own Plan B! Of your Plan B selections, I like the hydrangea best!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Loro's like to be sheltered, which I never knew until I saw what the wind did to Stumpy. I do like how elegant the hydrangea is and how large the flowers are. I also worry about the weigela trying to smother the little abelias in the front. With the hydrangeas, I could limb them up just enough to give the abelias some breathing room. No easy choices here!

      Delete
  8. I think if your green blob of awesomeness works then it rocks. And hey, it doesn't look half as bad as the long row of translucent plastic that someone up the road coated their hedge in...oh awesome!

    Jen

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The piece of fabric in the blob is huge! I didn't realize how big it was until I was trying to make my screen. I had visualized a perfectly symmetrical V to direct the wind around the shrub. But I needed about 8 extra arms to help me manage the fabric so I just left it as is. What's cool is how effective it is. The wind hits the fabric and stops. Even if Stumpy doesn't make it, I have a lot less wind blowing across the front of my window.

      Delete
  9. Love your wisdom! And I am thinking after you mentioned your endless summers hydrangeas not working..you are the 3rd person by the way that i have heard that from...that I should have gone with a different variety or as you said trusted my gut. I love the wine and rose weigela...have them in my front to add softness to my sidewalk and have really enjoyed them. I can not get over your temps though we are getting blasted every 3 days or so with snow and freezing temps....winter is sure making up for lost time around these parts! Let us know what you decide! And stay warm! Nicole xoxo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Endless Summer's actually grew really well, but they received so much reflected heat that they spent all morning wilting and all afternoon recovering. They also barely bloomed and required tons of water. The more I look at those bright weigela's, the more I think that's what I need instead of more green. If they can take a Chicago winter, they'll laugh at whatever northern VA can dish out. This week I'm going to email you a cookie recipe I think you'll love. :o)

      Delete
  10. I love your home-grown Tammy-isms, Tammy. Stupid weather always messes things up, doesn't it? I think your plan is a good one. My 'Pinky Winky' is fine with pruning so I don't think you'll have a problem keeping them the size you want. Here's hoping a n early spring is on the way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would love an early spring! I once had a bunch of former students tell me a bunch of the little saying they remembered from my class. It was pretty hysterical. I had no idea they paid that much attention. The more I think about this shrub dilemma, the more I realize the Pinky Winky is a better fit, although the flash of the weigela is tempting, too. It's a bit like choosing the sedan over the sports car.

      Delete
  11. What would I do - you ask me? Well I would sit out the cold winter days reading Germaine Greer's 'White Beech' http://www.amazon.co.uk/White-Beech-Rainforest-Germaine-Greer/dp/1408846713/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1391330711&sr=1-1&keywords=germain+greer and find out how she saved her native rainforest. Then I would do some research on indigenous plants for your region, going back before colonisation and I would plant what nature intended. Nature knows best.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had no idea she had another book out! I added this to my rarely empty Amazon cart. It isn't released until summer here. Unfortunately, if I let nature take over, I'll probably end up with an invasive species in that spot. :( But I do think Mother Nature is giving me a hint that I may be ignoring.

      Delete
  12. I love my Paniculata's. I have a couple Pinky Winky's and love them, but you're right they are going to get bigger then you want, but so is the Weigela. I do like Weigela, although they are the last shrub to leaf out here but the Hydrangea are definitely what I like best and blooms are way longer then the Weigela also.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It occurred to me this morning that maybe I'm missing the forest for the trees. It's possible the best choice is to simply remove both shrubs, even if they survive, and replace them with a paniculata that I never have to worry about or construct wind screens for. Now I just need to find someone who wants a loropetalum. More shrubbery thoughts to think...

      Delete
  13. Pinky Winky has been on my list forever, so if you plant it I will get to see how it does! My suggestions for Plan B when you take out the potentially problematic loropetalum: expand your options. Fothergilla is a completely trouble free shrub that has done wonders for me, stays about 5 feet and is glorious in fall. Or a knockout rose, can't go wrong there. Ogon spirea if you want a more fine textured ball of beautiful foliage and pretty white flowers. A big amsonia will give you that fine wave-in-the-breeze foliage too, and is totally trouble free, with nice winter interest if you leave the tan foliage. All of those could handle wind tunnels and sub zero temps. If you want dark foliage, a ninebark is indestructible in all conditions and can be pruned if you think it gets too big. It's a little rangy for a foundation shrub though. So many choices!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thought about a ninebark but think it would struggle with the reflected heat. But you're right about the loro's: they need to go.

      Delete
  14. My garden too, suffers from 'winter disinterest' as I do too. I would rather have oodles of summer interest for when I am living outside in it, rather than spectacular berries, when I am tucked up by the fire. I love the Hydrangea Paniculatas ,I don't know "Pinky windy' but I do have a slack handful of 'Limelight', which have been really slow to take off . the chances of me having to prune them back are slim to say the least! have you thought about a David Austin English rose ? Very hardy and just gorgeous.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. After the blackspot plague I battled last year, I'm going to wait to add any more roses to the garden until I know I've conquered that fungal beast. Even my David Austin's suffered badly in our humid climate.

      Delete
  15. Well I was about to bounce in with an opinion then and decided that there are SO many factors to take into consideration that I dare not!!! Having said that I do love Pinky Winky!!!!
    I laughed out loud at your opening re planning revenge....brill that! I also smiled at your green shrouded ghost looking shrub! Good luck with your choices, the weather is getting weird everywhere now so I don't think any of us can predict what the next few years will bring, we've just had the wettest January....I'm amazed my plants haven't rotted or drowned.xxx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mother Nature has a sick sense of humor, that's for sure. She's one twisted lady. I think I need to consider something that's not a shrub.

      Delete
  16. I love the Wiegela florida as much of a drama queen as it appears to be! And the Pinky Winky....well, I guess I could pretend I didn't know its real name and get it anyway. Everybody seems to know about it and have success with it. i've been looking into another hydrangea called hydrangea serrata blue billow....does anybody know anything about it? Supposed to be super hardy and gorgeous for meandering shade borders. It was discovered growing on the wooded slope of a Korean mountain (which explains the hardiness..) The fall foliage goes burgundy and I'm a sucker for that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think hydrangea serrata will survive in this spot, unfortunately. I think I need to look at non-shrub options. Maybe I'll just stick silk tulips in that spot. ;)

      Delete
  17. Hydrangea, every time - I've always found wiegela to be a rather untidy plant when not in flower, whereas hydrangea paniculata plants are ratehr elegant and can be pruned hard back within 2" of th e old wood each year to keep it within bounds. You'd get fewer flowers that way but they would be larger... Good luck with whatever you decide!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree that the h.paniculata is an elegant shrub. 'Pinky Winky' is very tempting, although I may have to rename it.

      Delete
  18. Anything called 'Pinkie Winkie' is out of the question. Are you growing a garden or a kiddie park? I live in zone 5 and have a Weigela, cultivar unknown. It is tough as nails. I tried to kill it through neglect but it failed to take the hint, then I decided I liked it. Mine has green leaves, so it is not so gaudy, but the flowers are really outstanding. Maybe you could find a green-leaved variety?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I laughed out loud at this comment! 'Pinky Winky' is just such a hideous name! I Googled green leaved weigelas and am considering it. I've decided a purple leaved shrub isn't the answer, anyway.

      Delete
  19. I would also see if the loropetalums survive...then perhaps not as big a bush as the hydrangea as a replacement unless you really want that big of a shrub. And if you want purple leaves I would choose the weigela...isn't it fun making choices!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think the big loro will survive but I'm pretty sure Stumpy is toast. :(

      Delete
  20. It never hurts to have a backup plan although you never know the loropetalum may come through for you. "Pinky Winky" is a silly name, but is not a name you are likely to forget. Its name won't matter most of the time so I would not let that effect your choice. I have a number of weigela. They never die on me, but they do get a lot of winter damage and need to be pruned hard each spring. I'm north of you, so maybe winter damage won't be an issue for you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm starting to consider just sticking a giant perennial or ornamental grass in that spot. Maybe a shrub isn't the answer I think it is.

      Delete
  21. I would plant ilex glabra. (Just kidding!) I do hope your loropetalums survive. Are these a dwarf variety? I planted a loropetalum, and it has grown to about ten feet tall and wide, way too large for its space. I have cut it back but am considering taking it out altogether. I do like Pinky Winky, but the weigela may be tougher.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The loro's get to about 4 ft or so. I can't remember the cultivar name. It's Cherry something or other. Maybe I just need to go to the garden center and ask for a "big green bush" like the local landscapers do. I'm guaranteed to come home with something unkillable.

      Delete
  22. I like both of your ideas. The only thing about the Hydrangeas is that they suck water. I love 'em, don't get me wrong. But when we had our drought year in 2012, my Hydrangeas had to be watered at least every other day. I do hope your Loropetalums will survive, though. Maybe the warmth of the house will pull them through.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember you struggling with that last summer and I spend enough on water, anyway, that adding a water sucking shrub might not be such a great idea. Back to the drawing board...

      Delete
  23. "Never confuse collective wisdom with mass stupidity".....love these words.....I'm keeping my fingers (and toes) crossed that you finally find the right shrub for your problem area soon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think the best shrub for this spot isn't a shrub at all....! I'm starting to think a big flowy ornamental grass might be the solution.

      Delete
  24. Oh goodness--
    I feel like I am in a constant state of Plan B or even C with my garden.
    This winter has really slowed things down.
    In South Texas, we don't have snow but before you know it we will have HEAT in the 100's.

    Enjoyed visiting and I am a new follower,
    Laura
    White Spray Paint blog

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi! Welcome to my blog! We're not nearly as hot as you are but we do get into the 100's for a few days every summer. Ack!

      Delete
  25. I am a seasoned hydrangea-killer and my Weigelas are currently turning brown and crispy in this incredibly dry summer, so I have no opinion! But I do like the phrase 'winter disinterest' and may steal it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Take 'winter disinterest' and run with it! I think both shrubs would work well but I think a giant pennisetum alopecuroides 'Foxtrot' would work better. It's a beauty and gives me the robust flowyness I'm looking for without the wind tunnel/reflected heat problems to worry about.

      Delete
  26. And now you know why there were inkberry hollies there! ;) I've killed my loropetalums. Tried a weigela - had one, killed it. And hydrangeas seem to leaf out so late in the winter, I'm not sure I would want them so close to the house. Unless you absolutely want a shrub there, maybe you could try something that dies down to the ground then springs back every year - like daylilies or hostas or something to that effect. Then the winter wind wouldn't bother them!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is exactly what I'm doing!! After a big brainstorming session with a friend, I decided to put in big clumps of fountain grass. I've had too many problems with shrubs in that spot. I need to try something else. The loro's are free to a good home!

      Delete
  27. I've seen Weigela Wine and Roses as a hedge and it is quite smart. Laurries's ninebark recommendation is a very good one- my ninebarks are very tough plants. I don't know the Loro... but have you aired it out at all? Instead of giving it the heave-ho maybe find another place in the garden.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't have a single spot to put the loropetalum, unfortunately. I worry about how the ninebark would handle the reflected heat. I wish this problem were easier to solve!

      Delete
  28. I see you've decided on fountain grass. Good choice. Although I am going to bet that your lorapetulum survives. Is this really the coldest January in 100 years? Go figure. I too have been surprised by this winter and am fairly certain my beloved abutilons (hardy to zone 7b in the ground, but mine are in pots) are history. I scratched the bark and it didn't look promising.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, my horticulturalist friends shot me down on the fountain grass. Boom! Back to the drawing board. They advised that it would look like a big green blob with a dead center in a few years. Plus, it might cover the tops of the abelias and I don't want anything to damage them. They're both trying to get me to put an evergreen in that spot but I can't find one I like that works with the conditions I'm dealing with.

      Delete
  29. This might be a big departure from what you're thinking, and I don't even know if you can grow them in your area, but what about Turk's Cap? Would get large enough, and the red blooms would pop against your house, but deciduous, so might not be what you're looking for. Your reflective heat might be different from Texas reflective heat, but I can never imagine a hydrangea able to take that condition. Blooms are gorgeous, though. Loropetalums can be finicky around here, but I know they can take severe pruning, even down to sticks, and bounce back amazingly well. Severe cold could certainly be a problem. How large do the abelias in front of them get? If abelias do well, could you plant a larger variety abelia in this spot, 'Edward Goucher,' 'Canyon Creek,' 'Frances Mason'? Or move these abelias back and plant something shorter in front of them? I wish I could help. Not even sure why I chimed in because I am so unfamiliar with your area and a lot of the plants you mention in your garden.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did consider just sticking in another abelia but was determined to find something else that would compliment instead of mimic the surrounding foliage. Turks Cap isn't hardy here. It's sold as a little annual. After considering more options, I'm going to plant fothergilla 'Mt Airy'. I don't think that grows in TX. Your climate might be too hot. It's a very tough native shrub that should thrive in that spot.

      Delete
  30. Weigela..weigela...it looks beautiful. Hydrangea can change color if the ph of your soil changes. Also, hummers need food :--).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Both shrubs are beautiful but I'm not going to choose either of them. Instead, I'm going to use the southeastern native fothergilla. It's beautiful and tough.

      Delete
  31. I'm going to agree with Laurrie that Fothergilla might be a good choice for you. I have one in a similar setting (morning sun, afternoon shade foundating) that has been trouble-free for a couple of years.

    If you're looking for an unusual evergreen, you could try Aucuba japonica. I have one and absolutely love it. It's withstood -2 Fahrenheit here this winter without much obvious winter damage and without any protection. I do have it in a somewhat shadier spot than what you've described, but I still think it might be a good choice. I do think it will eventually get large (8-10 feet high maybe?) but I've read that it is amenable to pruning and it does seem to grow very slowly so I don't think it would need much care to be kept at whatever size you like.

    A couple other options to consider - oakleaf hydrangea. There are miniature ones that would probably stay the size you want. It's a native (I believe) to Virginia and, while not evergreen, it does hold onto its leaves in winter. I've had some fungal problems with mine, but it seems to have recovered without any spraying (just by picking off infected leaves).

    If it makes you feel better, I added three inkberry hollies to my foundation and, while they can handle the cold without too many problems, at least one of them seems to be dying with blackened stems etc. So they're not foolproof either. (At least not for a fool like me!) :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fothergilla is the winner! After puzzling over this all week with the Shrubmaster, 'Mt Airy' is the plant of choice. I grew it when I lived in SC and am excited to have found a spot for it in this garden, too. It's what I should have planted all along.

      Delete
  32. Tammy, if I'm not late to advise, so.. Your winter is unusual for your climate but it is usual for mine! I grow panicle hydrangea , I think the variety 'Grandiflora' is more hardy and resistant to wind, all you need is to prune it in spring (not in fall!). I have Pinky-Winky and Lime-Light varieties ---they are good if the snow level in higher than the bushes.
    Weigela is not hardy as they said. Mine was killed by little frost.

    ReplyDelete
  33. I had inkberry hollies in one of my former yards for years. I enjoyed them and never had a problem with them. They were growing in just the type of spot your inkberries were growing in. I vote for the hydrangea.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for visiting my blog! Feel free to comment on the posts or photos.