Friday, March 15, 2019

Shrub Blog Series - Part Six - Specimen Plants

Amongst your ground covers, borders, etc., you will undoubtedly want a solo planting that stands out. Specimen plants are your centerpieces; they are showy, bold, striking, and colorful. There are a large variety of trees which will serve the purpose of a focal point nicely, and there are a number of extraordinary flowering plants which will do the same. Narrowing down our top picks was quite difficult as there are so many great options. Ultimately you should decide based on your landscape vision and the amount of desired maintenance.

1. Shaina Japanese Maple – Enjoy autumn in three seasons with the Shaina Japanese Maple! New leaves are red from conception, maturing to a deeper maroon-red in the growing months. In the autumn, they turn vibrant red once more. They boast dense branching patterns which are stunning in winter, slowly reaching 8 to 10 feet in height and 6 to 8 feet in width. They do require regular watering on a weekly basis; more often in summer heat. They should not be planted in full sun and do well in slightly acidic but well-drained soil. If pruning is required, it should be done so during the winter months when the plant is dormant.

2. Kousa Dogwood – There are many varieties of dogwood that will present as a beautiful focal piece. We would like to note one of our favorites, Lustgarten Weeping Chinese Dogwood. It is a smaller variety only reaching about 10 feet tall and 5 feet wide, but is characterized by its upright “weeping” habit. The cascading branches boast clusters of snowy white flowers lasting for several weeks starting in late spring. In the fall, it features a multitude of striking crimson berries. Green foliage remains from spring through summer, turning vibrant red in the fall. Peeling gray bark gives interesting dimension in the winter months. The soil must be rich and acidic but evenly moist. A bit more delicate than other plantings, a sheltered location and mulching at the base will ensure growth success.

3. Magnolia “Jane” – There are over 100 species of magnolia plants ranging from shrubs to trees. We love the “Jane” variety. The blossoms are a reddish-purple with white interior and are uniquely cup-shaped in their form. These flowers open later in the spring which ensures they avoid frost damage. The dark green leathery leaves offer a sharp contrast to the blooms making this a standout specimen planting. Autumn foliage is typically golden in color. This species grows up to 10 to 15 feet high and 8 to 12 feet wide, preferring full morning sun and partially shaded afternoons. Make sure the soil stays rich and moist but well-drained.

4. Hydrangea – There are about 75 varieties of Hydrangea ranging in color, size, floral shape, and leaf type. Many of them will work well for a specimen planting. One of our favorite varieties is the “All Summer Beauty” Hydrangea. It is a moderate growing shrub reaching about 3 to 5 feet tall and wide and requires a fair amount of maintenance. (But it’s worth it!) Wide green leaves provide a thick backdrop for ball-shaped clusters of blue or pink flowers. Per their namesake, they are summer bloomers. The color of the blossoms will depend on the pH of the soil. Neutral soil will produce pink flowers where acidic soil will produce rich blue blooms. Regular watering is required and a fertilizer ought to be applied in the spring. Prune after flowering to ensure appearance and continued growth. Unlike many other species of Hydrangea, the leaves will turn bright yellow before dropping in the fall. They also have an interesting branching pattern which will collect snow in the winter.

5. Rhododendron – We spoke about Rhododendron previously as a potential foundation planting. With over 1,024 species and even more hybrids, it’s a versatile plant for your landscape and would certainly be a wonderful contender in almost all categories. As a specimen plant, we love the hybrid “P.J.M. Elite Star.” It boasts magnificent lilac-pink blooms forming clusters on dark green, glossy foliage. The flowers have a very delicate appearance with feathery stamen protruding at the centers. The foliage turns red-purple in the fall and winter, making it an excellent four-season addition to your landscape. It grows in a rounded shape reached 4 to 5 feet tall and 3 to 5 feet wide. Water regularly and fertilize after it blooms. Plant in a place where the afternoon sun will not affect it too harshly.

6. Roses – How could we not talk about roses as a centerpiece? There are over three hundred species and thousands of cultivars; definitely talk to a nursery about your options however, as many roses are not suited to our drastically varied climate. One of our recommendations is the Canadian Explorer “John Cabot” Climbing Rose. The double blooms of up to 40 petals, situated amidst medium green glossy foliage, range from red to fuschia in color, flowering continuously throughout the spring and summer, and occasionally even in the fall. They grow 8 to 12 feet tall by 5 to 6 feet wide with the higher numbers dependent on a trellis or other structure to climb. Otherwise this variety can also be grown as a shrub. Regular maintenance is always required of roses, which includes watering, fertilizing, and pruning.

7. Nanking Cherry – Who doesn’t love the ethereal appearance of white cherry blossoms cascading on a spring breeze like fluffy snowflakes? The Nanking cherry is an ornamental deciduous shrub. The interesting thing about this shrub is that the flowers appear before the leaves. Nanking cherry looks unique in your spring landscape with pinkish white blooms swaying on red-brown exfoliating bark. It also produces red cherries which happen to be edible! Spring and summer foliage is a dark green color with serrated leaves that are soft to the touch. It grows up to 6 to 8 feet high and wide, and prefers looser moist soils. Fall foliage is golden, and the intricate branches accented by peeling bark look extraordinary in the winter time.

We have one more article in our shrub series which will cover specialty plantings. We’ll see you next time for part seven!

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