Gardening Simplified Show Episode 8

On this week’s show I am crowned with the “Canna King” moniker.

EPISODE 8 – OCTOBER 29, 2022

Ground Breaking Banter

Show and tell in the studio today, as Rick brings samples of cannas he dug up from his yard. Stacey calls Rick the “Canna King!” They are not “lilies” and they are not “bulbs,” so what is the correct term for cannas? What is the correct way to refer to cannas in bare root form?  Cannas are commonly referred to as a bulb although they are not a true bulb, they multiply beneath the soil from a fattened extension of the stalk called a rhizome. Their popularity in the US dates back to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, which an estimated 1 in 4 Americans attended and saw massive plantings of blooming cannas, giving rise to their popularity in the United States. There is no hurry on digging them up; it’s perfectly okay to allow the foliage to freeze then dig up the clumps. It is, however, very important to “cure” or “dry” them before storage. Allow the soil to dry and shake off the excess – do not wash them and put into storage wet. Avoid wounding the rhizomes as you work. Store in a cool but not freezing location at around 40-50 degrees until the soil is warm enough to plant next spring.

We’ve talked a lot about how beneficial autumn leaves are in the garden, and though nutrient concentration values vary considerably, you can count on leaves to provide the the big three nutrients, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). They also provide essential micronutrients, including magnesium, calcium, iron, manganese, copper and zinc are also present. Of the three major nutrients, the most readily available in the first year from leaf waste is potassium, which plays a role in proper growth, cell wall development, and plant reproduction. Of course, people need potassium too, that’s why moms always wanted us to eat bananas – even though Stacey and Rick share a dislike of them. To this discovery, Rick riddles us: what does a banana says when you call it on the phone? The answer: “yellow!”

For weekend plants, Rick is working on “lasagna passive composting flower bed construction.” This practice gets its name from  soil amendments placed in lasagna-like layers, and it’s passive because it doesn’t involve much physical work. Here’s Rick’s strategy: Mark out with spray paint the size and shape of the bed you want to create in the existing lawn area. Instead of paint you can use a garden hose and move it around to view and reshape the border. In mid to late October as the leaves are coming off the trees, lay newspaper 3 or 4 pages thick over the top of the grassy area within the assigned border (don’t try this on a windy day, or your neighbors will be picking up trash for days!). Once the paper is laid flat on the grass, wet the paper with a garden hose to hold it in place. Next place leaves that have fallen from the trees on top of the newspaper. I prefer to run over the leaves with a lawn mower once or twice before placing them on the paper to speed decomposition. Once the leaves are liberally layered within the boundaries of your new bed, distribute soil and compost on top of the leaves to hold them in place for winter. The snow and rain can now begin to fall. Over the course of the winter the newsprint will suffocate the grass below it so you don’t have to dig it up or use a sod cutter. In spring you can till the leaves, newspaper and top dressed soil into the parent soil and dead turf to create a rich and ready flower bed for spring planting.

Stacey talks planting garlic, and recommends anyone try it, though preferably not using the stuff you get from the grocery store. It may not be suitable to growing in your climate, plus, why grow something you can easily buy when there are literally dozens of fascinating varieties out there that you can try? Planting garlic is super simple: just stick the cloves in the ground, about 2″ or so deep, water, and wait. Each clove you plant will turn into a head that will be harvested next July. The bigger the garlic clove you plant, the bigger the head it forms will be.

Why: Brandywine viburnum is beautiful when it blooms in spring, and all summer, when it has leathery, glossy leaves, but in fall? It’s positively stunning. The green berries it’s been holding on to all summer start to turn ivory, then bright pink, then blue, and each cluster of berries often shows multiple of these colors at once. Slowly, the foliage starts to turn a vivid red-burgundy, making the berries even showier.

Brandywine viburnum is native to North America, and grows over pretty much the entire eastern half of the US and Canada. I have seen its species, Viburnum nudum, also known as witherod viburnum, growing here in Michigan in wooded areas, especially along ponds or areas that flood occasionally. It’s very easy to spot in fall because its berries turn those exact some colors, though the clusters aren’t as large and lush as they are on a cultivated variety like Brandywine.

Who: Brandywine viburnum was selected by plantsman Mark Bulk in Boskoop, the Netherlands. A few years previous, a selection of Viburnum nudum came out on the market called ‘Winterthur’, after the famous garden and DuPont family estate in Delaware. It had a much tidier and more compact habit than the wild types – 6’ tall compared to 12’+ –  but it had one problem: like most viburnums, to get fruit, it needed a pollinator.

Viburnums aren’t like holly, where the male and female flowers occur on completely separate plants. Rather, viburnums require pollen from a different plant of the same species in order for fruit to form. So, there was Winterthur viburnum promising these unique, colorful berries, but no way to get them unless you happened to maybe live in an area where the species grew wild. Lots of plant breeders were looking for a Viburnum nudum that offered that same improved habit and could also serve as a pollinator. And that’s what Mark Bulk found in Brandywine – an appealing 5-6’ size and, because it is a different plant than Winterthur, can pollinate it. But, Brandywine does one better – it does not need a pollinator itself in order to get fruit. This is quite uncommon among viburnums, and it means you can still get that beautiful fruit by planting just one shrub, not two different ones like you’d need to with Winterthur.

How to grow: The most important thing to grow Brandywine successfully is moist soil. I’ve tried to grow it in my very dry, very sandy soil and it died. So, clay soils, wet areas, yards with irrigation are all fair game. As far as light goes, full to part sun is best. It will grow in deeper shade, but you’ll end up with a sparse, open habit and fewer flowers, so subsequently fewer berries. It would make a really interesting hedge, as well as a specimen or landscaping plant. As for deer resistance – they are likely to eat the flowers, which of course destroys the potential for fruit to form, but they rarely cause damage to the plant itself.

Ready to add Brandywine viburnum your landscape? Ask for this Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrub at your favorite local garden center.

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