HG: Homegrown Column January 10, 2009

Several years ago, we planted Russian sage plants close to the front of our house. As pretty as they are, the flowers make a mess in decorative gravel. The plan is to dig them up to plant in the backyard where there is no gravel. We want to replace them with something that stays green year round, tolerates full sun all day and grows well in this area. Any suggestions?
Thanks for your help. You always have great suggestions.
— Priscilla

I don’t have a lot to offer you, I’m afraid.

Most of the broad-leaved evergreens really want some shade, certainly afternoon shade.

They may “grow” in the sun here, but they never seem to thrive. They don’t die; they just make you wish they would and get it over with.

I’m going to assume that the plant you want is smaller, since Russian sage doesn’t get that big.

Boxwood would probably do OK for you. This is a neat, compact shrub that’s often sheared into a short hedge. There are really no flowers to speak of, but it has attractive shiny green foliage that may take on a yellowish, orange or brownish cast over that green in the winter.

The foliage can burn a bit over the winter, especially when the plant is fairly young, but as they mature, that tends to fade away.

Pyracantha is probably the toughest broad-leaved evergreen I can think of, but it gets pretty big.

“Yukon Belle” is the most common variety. It’s super cold hardy and takes the sun just fine. It has pretty white flowers in spring but the real show is the orange berries in the fall (you’ve probably noticed them around town).

Left to itself, it will grow to 5 or 6 feet tall with an 8-foot spread. This plant can be sheared to just about any size or shape you want so controlling that isn’t too hard, but the most memorable characteristic of the plant is that it is thorny, thorny, thorny. That’s something you’ll have to deal with each time you prune it.

One broadleaf that sort of acts as an evergreen is the Broom.

There are a number of varieties available. They bloom in early to mid-spring with sweet pea-shaped flowers in shades of bright yellow, gold and primrose yellow. The plant doesn’t have much in the way of leaves. It relies on bright green wiry stems for photosynthesis.

Those stems look pretty much the same year round.

My personal favorite is a variety called “Lydia.” It’s low and spreading. I have had one in my yard for seven years. It’s about 18 inches tall and 4 or 5 feet wide. It is completely covered for three weeks each spring with glaringly bright yellow flowers that rival forsythia any day.

This group of plants is also quite tolerant of drought and our hot, intense sun.

Other than that, you’re looking at a shrubby conifer like a juniper or mugo pine. I hope this gives you some direction.

Do you carry chocolate lilies and/or do you know where I can get them? I live in Michigan and heard these were good to get rid of those pesky moles.
— Debora

Looking them up, there are several plants that go by that name. The most common are several species of fritillaria.

These plants tend to smell bad and are just about the only thing that people up in the high country around here can plant that the deer won’t eat. I’d expect that they would have the same effect on your moles.

Fritillaria is a bulb that’s planted in the fall and blooms in the spring. There are several types out in the trade but the common one is a large plant often called crown imperial.

Check with a local garden center near you in September or October and try some of those.


All this snow has made my arborvitae droop, and they don’t seem to be “bouncing back.” Is there anything I can do?
Thanks.— Anne

It’s not uncommon for arborvitae to droop after a good snow.

Its flat two-dimensional branch sprays catch the snow, and the plant can kind of peel open with the weight.

If you can, knock any snow off immediately. That’s the easiest solution. However, if it’s been a while, there’s still something you can do to help them recover.

Go ahead and knock as much snow off as you can. If you notice that the branches are still open, use some twine to help train your arborvitae back to more of its natural state.

Start from near the middle of the plant, tie a piece of twine and wrap it in a spiral upward around the outside of the arborvitae. Tie it off at the top and just leave it wrapped for several months.

This should help train it back to more of an upright growth habit. If the snow damage is very slight, a little bit of light pruning at the tips should be all you need. 

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, online at http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).



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