Four tiny maples

I can’t help myself. Despite declaring that I would stand fast, and not fall victim to a buying frenzy caused by my typical impatience waiting for spring, it has happened anyway. Still, this is only a single order, and a small one at that.

Orange Dream Japanese maple is grows slowly to ten feet and is best sited in part shade. I have the perfect spot.

Orange Dream Japanese maple is grows slowly to ten feet and is best sited in part shade. I have the perfect spot.

Four tiny Japanese maples arrived by parcel delivery this afternoon. There is not much to them, as I knew when they were ordered, and it will be years before they grow to a size substantial enough to be planted out into the garden. For now, they will be potted into small containers, then moved into larger pots after a few years. These will be grown on the sunnier patios until the time when they can be planted out, though these are smaller growing maples that could conceivably be kept in pots, which could work out nicely.

Higasayama Japanese maple is a small true with variegated foliage, but much different from other variegated maples in the garden.

Higasayama Japanese maple is a small tree with variegated foliage, but much different from other variegated maples in the garden.

As discussed in recent weeks, I was smitten by the yellow twigged Japanese maple ‘Bihou’, which is not commonly available in garden centers, but is grown by a number of mail order suppliers. Except for its yellow stems, I don’t believe that ‘Bihou’ is very exceptional, but it’s unique amongst the maples in the garden, and that is enough.

Johin Japanese is a small tree with exceptional autumn foliage.

Johin Japanese is a small tree with exceptional autumn foliage.

So, the order was begun around this maple, but a common problem in shipping by parcel is that the delivery cost for a single item is quite high, and often there is a considerable value in adding a second or third item. In this case, a fourth tree rounded out the order as I scanned the online catalog to find one treasure after another. To my thinking, I was quite restrained in only purchasing the four. There were a dozen or more maples that tempted me, but where would they go? And, what would my wife say?

With four small trees, my patience will be tested waiting for them to grow, but I have little doubt this will turn out to be a wise purchase.

A clash of variegation

Yes, there will be something flowering everyday through this winter, but no matter how wonderful, the gardener is not fully satisfied with only witch hazels (Hamamelis) and an occasional snowdrop (Galanthus) flowering for weeks through January and February. In this winter that was off to a mild beginning before snow buried the garden, there are flowering hellebores, winter jasmines, snowdrops, and winter daphnes (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’, below) that show a peek of color. But, through the long winter the gardener must have more.Winter daphne

With constant foliage that is little changed from May to January, evergreens are more treasured in winter when deciduous trees and shrubs are bare, and there are fewer flowers competing for the gardener’s attention. Certainly, there are folks who do not care for variegated foliage, and designers caution that too much can discomfort the eye. I suspect that I have overdone it in this garden, but there is no more beautiful foliage than the variegated English holly (Ilex aquifolium ‘Argenteo marginata’, below) on a gray winter afternoon. The holly would be more splendid if I had planted a male pollinator, but berries on other green leafed hollies in the garden must suffice.Variegated English holly

I have mixed feelings on two variegated forms of leucothoe in the garden. Though it grows without complaint, I have never mustered much enthusiasm for the common ‘Rainbow’ leucothoe (Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’, below). There are plants that suit the gardener’s eye, others that don’t. I have planted ‘Rainbow’ in two gardens. In the first I knew little, expected more, and was disappointed. In this garden, I don’t recall, but I suspect I planted one that had been discarded, since there is no purpose in paying good money for a plant that doesn’t please you. I will plant just about anything that is free, and so, here it is, and no matter that I am not particularly fond of it. Certainly, there are greater sorrows for the gardener to bear.   Variegated leucothoe

Though less common, and perhaps lacking in excitement by comparison, I greatly prefer the variegated Coast leucothoe (Leucothoe axillaris ‘Variegata’, below). Its foliage has greater substance, and its branches arch somewhat more gracefully than ‘Rainbow’. No doubt, I am of the minority opinion, but the Coast leucothoe is a more elegant choice. Both work superbly in light shade, though of course the Coast leucothoe is preferable.  Variegated Coast leucothoe

‘Silver Edge’ rhododendron (below) was planted early last year, and, as is routine for rhododendron growers, buds were snapped off to encourage faster growth. So, no flowers last year, but a few are expected by late spring, though buds are not yet prominent. Perhaps it will not flower this year, but it has been given a prominent spot with the superb drainage that rhododendrons require in clay soil, so I expect it will be a fine addition to the garden.
Silver Edge rhododendron
Gold Dust aucuba

There are a handful or two of Japanese aucuba (Aucuba japonica) in the garden, one green leafed, and others splashed with gold speckles or blotches. The best of these are the gold dusted types, the excellent and very common ‘Gold Dust’ (above) and several selections noted for larger and brighter speckles. ‘Picturata’ (below) does not have stable variegation, and any plant is likely to have leaves with large gold areas as well as other leaves that are speckled. The aucubas are excellent, slow growing evergreens well suited for shaded areas, and as holds true for many broadleaf evergreens without spines, aucubas must be protected from deer through the winter months or a large shrub might be eaten down to bare stems. A single spray with a repellent in November does the trick.
Picturata aucuba

The andromedas (Pieris spp.) are excellent evergreens with panicles of late winter flowers, though they are very picky about drainage and must be provided with soil that is extremely well drained. This is a challenge in clay soils, but I’ve managed to keep several alive for a few decades (though several have been lost) by keeping to the high side and avoiding areas that are obviously moist. Two with variegated foliage, ‘Little Heath’ (below) and ‘Flaming Silver’ are as tolerant of the clay as any. ‘Flaming Silver’ is a magnet for lacebugs, even in the shade where the bugs are less prone to be a bother, and I can attest that as minor a nuisance as lacebugs are, an infestation over a period of years will cost a stem here and there until the result is rather sad.
Little Heath pieris

The variegated false holly (Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’, below) is a sturdy evergreen, slow growing but not bothered by deer or other pests. I am waiting patiently for it to fill a space vacated by a long forgotten something that was dug out several years ago. At some point, if I should be around long enough, ‘Goshiki’ will also become a treasured variegated evergreen through the winter months.
Goshiki osmanthus

The garden peeking through the snow

This garden is positioned with tall maples and tulip poplars along its southwestern border, with the consequence that snow melts more slowly than on more exposed neighboring properties. While neighbors’ lawns are almost clear, only small parts of the garden are visible two weeks after the blizzard. I am encouraged, however, that thirty or more inches have melted to six or less in most areas.Vernal witch hazel in January

I could not muster the energy to struggle through waist deep drifts to view witch hazels in the week following the storm, but this afternoon as I slopped through ankle deep slush in the soggy rear garden I could smell the fragrant Vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis, above) long before I could see its flowers. Parts of the shrubby tree that flowered earliest, in late December, are beginning to fade from bloom, and I expect flowers will fade completely in another week or two.Diane witch hazel

Which, will coincide fortuitously with the hybrid witch hazels (Hamamelis x intermedia) coming into bloom. A few scattered flowers are evident on ‘Diane’ (above), and ‘Arnold Promise’ and ‘Jelena’ should not be far behind. ‘Arnold Promise’ is the most floriferous of the three, and the forsythia yellow blooms stand out more clearly than the ruddy red and orange of ‘Diane’ and ‘Jelena’.Hellebore

Several hellebores (Helleborus x hybridus, above and below) have been exposed by the melting snow, and as expected, flowers hardly faded in the period they were buried. Blooms that were fading before the snow look a bit more haggard today, but newly opened flowers show no distress, and several buds are just beginning to open.Hellebore

With typical, or perhaps slightly milder temperatures forecast for the coming weeks, there is good reason to expect hellebores and witch hazels to continue through their bloom cycle, which should extend into early March.Edgeworthia in January

The paperbushes (Edgeworthia chrysantha, above) are showing their first bit of color along the edges, and with several mild days these will progress to full bloom before the start of March. These have hardly flowered in two recent cold winters when buds were damaged, so I am greatly encouraged on this afternoon, despite chilly toes from snow and slush leaking over the top of my muck boots.

A must have

Unfortunately, no space can be found in the garden to add ‘Bihou’ Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Bihou’, below), no matter how desperately I try to determine one plant or another as expendable to make room. I suspect that many gardeners are unrestrained by logic, bound more by the beauty of the flower or foliage than by good sense, which only partially excuses that once an idiotic idea settles into my simple brain, little can be done to dissuade me otherwise. My wife is a dependable check to my lack of balance, but she often discovers a purchase when it’s sitting on the driveway, waiting to be planted. Ha, too late, again.Bihou-Japanese-Maple

A time or two (maybe three), I’ve mistakenly made plans in mid winter, with trees and shrubs bare and the appearance that there is adequate open space. Probably, I knew that the gap would quickly be filled by spring growth, but this was ignored as an inconvenience. A few times the results have been disastrous, causing hardships for neighboring plants, but often things work out better than is deserved, which further encourages poorly considered planting.

This is a garden with a notable lack of cohesion, no guiding principle except to cram as many beloved plants into the space as is possible. At last count there were twenty three cultivars of Japanese maple in the garden, and there are more than one of several favored types. There is no purpose served by making an exact count, but probably there are thirty total, and it seems quite reasonable that one more could hardly be a problem. Here, my wife’s opinion will not be considered.

A long wait for a Golden Full Moon Japanese maple of good size was rewarded by a densely branched six foot tall tree. It has now grown another few feet tall and wide.

A long wait for a Golden Full Moon Japanese maple of good size was rewarded by a densely branched six foot tall tree. It has now grown another few feet tall and wide.

I’ve obsessed over an uncommon Japanese maple in the past, several times, and each time, over days or years, I’ve finally tracked down a tree of reasonable size that was not overwhelmed from the start. Though most maples are faster growing than given credit for, I am much too impatient to settle for a tiny twig. And, this is the current dilemma beyond figuring where another tree could be planted.

Coral Bark Japanese maple

Coral Bark Japanese maples are prized for red stems, but its foliage is unremarkable by comparison to other maples.

‘Bihou’ is a yellow twigged maple, not far different from the yellow twigged dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’) except the twigs will eventually grow into thicker branches. The foliage of ‘Bihou’ is an unremarkable green, probably similar to the popular Coral Bark Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango kaku’, above), which is distinguished by the red color of young stems, but not for its foliage.

The Coral Bark maple in the garden grows vigorously, but I suppose that I prefer foliage over stem color, so it ranks low, far behind more favored maples. So, I cannot explain why I must have ‘Bihou’ except in my color blindness yellow stands out, and red not so much. And, I have never seen one in a garden. Perhaps this is reason enough.

In desperation, a stocky three foot tall Floating Cloud maple ('Ukigumo') was planted. Then, a year later a full six foot tree wasfound and planted.

In desperation, a stocky three foot tall Floating Cloud maple (‘Ukigumo’) was planted. Then, a year later a full six foot tree was found and planted. Unfortunately, the correct mix of sun and shade has not been found, so leaves tend more to green while the trees are establishing their roots.

The trouble is likely to be that a large tree is not available, and I must start with a tree only a foot or two tall. This will be more friendly to the garden budget, and could be a blessing if the tree is started in a pot on one of the patios. This will delay the decision on where the tree can be shoehorned in, and in the worst case a Japanese maple that grows only to ten feet can be transferred from one pot to another for years.

Shiny baubles to tempt the gardener

As plant catalogs clog the mailbox in mid winter, the gardener must be wary to resist temptation to foolishly purchase any shiny bauble that catches his eye. I suppose that resistance is greater when the gardener is entertained by hellebores, witch hazels, and winter jasmine flowering early in this mild winter, but on a chilly afternoon, with the garden under a melting, but still deep cover of snow, the gardener is anxious for spring that is still six weeks off.Octopus pineapple lily

Ordering just a few of the splendid new Pineapple lilies (Eucomis vandermerwei ‘Octopus’, above) and Red Hot pokers, a handful of Asiatic lilies (though I’m undecided on colors), and of course Cyclamen (to replace ones dug up by squirrels soon after they were planted a year ago) seems very conservative, and certainly is more restrained than a year ago when similar (or larger) purchases were made from five or six vendors. Purchases are facilitated by requiring only the pressing of a few buttons on a website, with address and credit card information magically appearing so that the years’ garden budget can be quickly spent with minimal effort.

Asiatic lilies

Certainly, I am more hesitant filling a cart in the garden center, though plants there are larger and actual flowers more seductive than only a photograph. But, mail order vendors understand the restlessness of winter, and it is all that I can manage to toss catalogs into the recycling without making a purchase.

Yes, there is a question of where all this will go once it arrives after the threat of hard freeze is past in mid April. A year ago, I could find no record of purchases made in January even a few weeks later, so I was delighted when one package after another arrived on the first warm spring afternoons. Somehow, a place was found for everything, though some locations are questionable and only after the first winter does the gardener discover the error of his ways.

Bishop of York dahlia

Bishop of York dahlia

Perhaps other gardeners are more reasoned than I, but I suspect not. When the garden is most desolate, the gardener is most easily seduced, imagining sunny yellow dahlia blooms framed by dark foliage, and never mind that he is unlikely to dig and store them properly in autumn. He must have another of the giant Elephant ear that was inadvertently left outdoors too long a year ago, with no consideration where it will be overwintered, which was the problem and why the other was lost.

Arborvitae fern is not a fern, but a spike moss. I'm anxious to try other spike and club mosses.

Arborvitae fern is not a fern, but a spike moss. I’m anxious to try other spike and club mosses.

For better or worse, the gardeners’ decisions are too rarely dictated by logic, and willpower is too often lacking. But, as this garden becomes more cluttered, the thought occurs that more consideration is required. I will cancel the Pineapple lily order and wait for spring deliveries to the garden center. This will save considerable expense, and it is likely that more planning will assure that all plants will have a proper place.

Ground orchid in late May

Ground orchid in late May

However, there is advantage in purchasing a few bare root plants in dormancy, which must be done early from specialty growers. I’ve recently become enamored with club and spike mosses (Arborvitae fern, Selaginella baunii), and I’ve had marvelous success planting dormant ground orchids (Bletilla, above). These will work splendidly beneath Japanese maples, and unquestionably are wise purchases. No doubt, if snow lingers much longer, other purchases will seem equally well reasoned.

After the blizzard

I’m getting too old for this. When will it be spring?

But, it’s winter, and some amount of snow is expected, even, and perhaps particularly, in a mild winter. With less frigid temperatures there is often more moisture, and when cold collides with moist, deep snow is often the result.

The short branches of this Hinoki cypress will soon shed the heavy cover of snow. If there was nothing btter to do I would reemove this snow, but there are many other priorities.

The short branches of this Hinoki cypress will soon shed the heavy cover of snow. If there was nothing better to do I would remove this snow, but there are many other priorities.

Today, the driveway has been cleared with the assistance of a recently purchased electric snowblower, a concession to nagging shoulder and back troubles. This inexpensive gadget worked marvelously, far better than I expected when I woke to two feet of snow after clearing a much smaller amount the previous evening.

This Globosa blue spruce is not likely to harmed by the deep snow convering it.

This Globosa blue spruce is not likely to harmed by the deep snow covering it.

The driveway is closely bordered by plants, with a Japanese maple and several evergreens protruding a foot or two over the asphalt, so I opted to purchase a lower powered blower to minimize damage as snow is thrown from the machine. The smaller snowblower required a bit more effort than the neighbors’ gas powered snowblowers, but snow was tossed gently (and quietly) to the borders of the drive, so there should be no damage. And, I’m not dead tired from shoveling.

But, the spruce is on the path to the Japanese maple and to the bird feeder, so what the heck.

But, the spruce is on the path to the Japanese maple and to the bird feeder, so what the heck.

After lunch I’ll head back out to survey the garden. In the middle of the storm I slogged through waist deep drifts to take a quick look around, and I was encouraged to see that little snow accumulated in branches of deciduous trees. Branches of evergreens are bent by snow, but I’m not inclined to do much for taller hollies and cypresses that will spring back as soon as the sun melts the snow.

Nandinas, boxwoods, and smaller evergreens will require a bit of effort to free branches that arch down into the deep snow. It is likely that snow will not melt sufficiently to free branches for a week, and in previous winters I’ve seen that bent branches that are not freed from snow quickly are very slow to recover. Some stray branches must eventually be pruned so they do not obstruct paths.

It does not appear there has been any damage to this snow covered weeping Japanese maple.

It does not appear there has been any damage to this snow covered weeping Japanese maple.

Snow that accumulated in the dense canopy of the weeping Japanese maple by the driveway was cleared in the midst of the storm. A gentle pat with a leaf rake resulted in most of the snow drifting to the ground. With cold temperatures, branches are brittle, so a minimum of force should be used to lessen damage. Perhaps the maples can be left alone, but I’ve seen too much damage in previous years to leave this to chance. Another large weeping maple in the rear garden will be cleaned up this afternoon, but a third that is perched at the edge of the large koi pond will be left to fend for itself. It is much too close to the pond, with treacherous access in summer, much less in thirty inches of snow.

I gently nudged snow with a leaf rake and most snow fell through the branches.

I gently nudged snow with a leaf rake and most snow fell through the branches.

I do not worry about mounds of snow that fall from the roof. My roof is far too high to do anything about it, so I accept that some damage is inevitable, though boxwoods have proven to be surprisingly resilient in the past. Snow that falls from a roof can be quite difficult to remove without inflicting further damage, so I’ll not bother with these until the snow melts, and if I must prune broken branches, so be it.

Apparently, I’ve become soft hearted in my old age. Birds (and squirrels) devoured seed put out on Friday afternoon, and now I’ve shoveled a path to the feeder so it can be refilled. In minutes, there are bluejays and cardinals, with smaller birds cleaning up the scraps that fall from the feeder. This effort was worthwhile, but I hope to do no more shoveling this winter.

A significant snow on the way?

Note – The following post is reprinted with minor revisions from March 2013. Due to temperatures hovering just below freezing, the snow forecast for this weekend is expected to be wetter, and thus heavier. A wet snow tends to cling to branches, accumulating more quickly, and increasing the urgency in removing snow from vulnerable trees and shrubs. The most pertinent recommendations in this post have been highlighted.

If there are significant snow accumulations I will add updates through the weekend and link to older posts that addressed repairs to damaged trees and shrubs. I will also be available for questions and comments (as long as the electricity doesn’t cut out).

The rear garden under snow

Long before daylight this morning several inches of snow had fallen, and the worst of the storm is still to come. When I first went outside in the dark I was alerted to the problems ahead. Limbs of the wide spreading ‘Seriyu’ Japanese maple planted just off the corner of the garage were weighed down by snow accumulating in the dense branches to block half of the opening of the garage. As I looked across the garden the reflected light off the blanket of snow showed trouble in every direction.

Boxwoods and nandinas have been flattened by the heavy, wet snow, and crapemyrtle trunks fifteen feet tall are arched to nearly touch the ground. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this before. Now, with only four or five inches of snow there are problems. What will happen with another six, or eight, or ten inches still to come?Nandina berries peaking out from the snow

With colder temperatures and light, fluffy snow there is usually nothing to worry about. The wind blows, and the snow slowly drifts to the ground. But, wet snows accumulate quickly in evergreens and densely branched plants. Once the branches are bent the real danger is that they will break, and in winter storms several years ago my garden suffered substantially due to too little action, too late. Also, branches of trees and shrubs that remain bent will often loose their rigidity if allowed to remain too long, so that when the snow is gone the branches do not spring back. Many times these will require severe pruning or other actions to repair the damage.Snow covered Mahonia bealei blooms

Here’s how I plan to spend my day (after finishing this brief update).

Before the heavier snow causes more damage I’ll go outside, armed with a leaf rake. The process is not complicated from here. A gentle nudge with the rake is all that’s needed to dislodge most of the accumulated snow. Greater force can cause more damage, and most often it isn’t necessary. If winds pick up later in the day that might help to clear additional snow, but if the heavy snow that weighs the branches is allowed to remain the breezes could cause greater injury.

I’ll work on deciduous trees like the Japanese maples and crapemyrtles first, since these are most easily damaged. Japanese maples, in particular, are soft wooded with branching that is readily damaged by snow. Weeping varieties of Japanese maples are most vulnerable with a thick canopy of branches that collect the heavy snow. Extra care should be used in clearing the snow from these maples to avoid injury.

Once the branches are nudged with the rake the snow falls to the ground, and the branch usually springs back, though not all the way. This is rarely a concern when the branches have been bent for only a few hours, and I’ll worry about that another day since there’s little that can be done today. It’s not necessary to remove every bit of snow from branches, though the snow that remains will catch more of the wet snow that is predicted for later in the morning. My first snow clearing trip around the garden will probably be one of several today.Snow on blue atlas cedar

After the deciduous trees I’ll work on evergreens next, and follow that with smaller evergreen shrubs like the boxwoods and nandinas that have more flexible branches and often spring back quickly. Several years ago evergreen southern magnolias and Leyland cypresses were severely damaged in consecutive winters. A single tall cypress in my garden was bent to a severe angle and was removed. The southern magnolias have grown back remarkably, but now their form is much more wide spreading since the broken trunks resulted in more horizontal growth. I’m afraid that this will only encourage more snow to accumulate in the branches, so these will be the first evergreens to be checked.

I have a large garden, with dozens of Japanese maples and small trees scattered over the acre and a quarter property, so this task will require constant vigilance today. What happens if I ignore the snow, and see what happens? I’ve done that before, and in prior years when substantial snow falls overnight the damage is already done before I wake up.Snow on Colorado spruce

Most often I have a casual attitude about garden chores. If I don’t pull weeds, they’ll still be there tomorrow (though they might have dropped a few thousand seeds in the meanwhile). Many garden chores can be put off, but a delay in removing snow from branches can cause irreparable damage to plants. So, I’m wrapping up my writing, grabbing my leaf rake, and heading outside. Also, while I’ve been writing it’s become light enough to see that the pace of snowfall has increased. The breeze has picked up and large clumps of snow are falling out of the tall tulip poplars and maples that border the garden.

The process of removing snow from trees and shrubs should not be vigorous exercise, and certainly is nothing compared to the labor of shoveling the driveway and walk. But, take care not to over exert, and if you are working in an area with tall trees be aware that branches could come down at any time. Avoiding damage to the plants in the garden is a much lesser concern than your personal safety, so be careful.