Good morning! As I write this, the sun is shining for the second day in a row – imagine that! It really has gotten warmer and a bit drier since we spoke last and a great deal better than June. But then, it really should, since Labor Day is only two weeks away. Where did the summer go? I know I say this every year along with many of you, but we wait so long for it and it just flies by. I was driving about town doing errands in the sunshine this morning and taking note of people’s gardens.

After a bit of focusing in on what I was really seeing, I thought to myself, “Well, the flowers may not be top-notch this year, but the shrubs seem to have weathered the dismal rain just fine. So I decided since Labor Day is coming and a lot of shrubs will be on sale and since their presence in many gardens helps you overlook the poor flower production, it might be good to talk about a few you might like.

Before I talk about the shrubs, though, just one note of interest. Although many flowers are not doing that well, if you look around you will see that both the tall and short snapdragons are having a banner season. Perhaps there is a lesson in that observation because the geraniums certainly aren’t happy.

These are the shrubs I recommend for various places and to solve some long-held urban legend that the only thing you can plant around your foundation are some form of boring evergreen and a few rhodies. Now don’t get me wrong, I love rhododendrons, but they are wonderful for a few weeks and then pretty boring the rest of the time.

About 25 years ago when we built our house, I had to put something for plants along a front walkway. I had little time left in the season, knew very little about shrubs or plants and had no money. I wandered in somewhere (I really don’t remember) and found these interesting little plants called euonymus. I purchased five one-gallon plants, two had white edges on green leaves, two had yellow edges and one had pink. They looked pretty forlorn in this bed that was 20 feet long, but the tag said they would get 5 feet wide.

I had always planned to put some other things in that bed with them but, quite frankly, never got around to it for several years and then it was too late. Euonymus is a zone 3 plant and lives up to that zonal reputation. It keeps its leaves through winter snow and wind and at most needs a few small branches cut in spring due to winter kill. After all this time, I couldn’t get another plant in there with a backhoe, but it creates a lovely picture by our front walkway and is now climbing and covering the garage wall. It is about 6 to 7 feet up that wall now in several places. And I can tell you from experience that the yellow-edged is far stronger than the white-edged of which there is only a bit remaining. But the pink, although surviving for about 10 years, has now disappeared.

Clever chippie outsmarts hawk

I prune the euonymus once in early spring to keep them from encroaching on the walkway and that’s it. No food, no special watering unless we have an extended drought and no work. Weeds don’t grow there and they look lovely with little white Christmas lights on them. They also provide a safe home for the chipmunks.

And the chipmunks lead me to this story.

We have this little chippie who must live under the euonymus somewhere. He spends a great deal of time helping himself to the sunflower seed in a barrel in our garage just a few feet away. When the cats wander in, he chirps and runs for the woodpile from where he taunts them quite unmercifully. I like him, he has guts and is quite clever (or she).

My grandson, Conlin, and I were in the garage playing with his cars when I heard a horrible commotion outside in the euonymus. The chipmunk was chirping but there were also sounds of banging against the outside wall. Conlin and I went out and looked at the bed and there sat a full-sized hawk on a branch only 1 foot off the ground. It appeared that the hawk had made a dive for the chipmunk who, being the clever little dude that he is, went hightailing it under the dense bushes, and the hawk got his talons stuck in the branches. The hawk disentangled himself and flew back to the trees but Conlin’s eyes were like saucers. I don’t even want to think about how the chippie felt!

The next shrub on my list would be the cotoneaster. This is a lovely shrub that gets bright shiny green leaves early in the spring and is then covered with delicate little white flowers. By the end of July, it is covered with red berries, a bonus for the birds and furry varmints. It keeps those berries most of the winter but does lose the leaves. They come in many varieties, including a ground cover version and an arching version. I find the arching version really interesting. In the picture you will see how lovely they are. But what you do not see is that the shrub, meaning the trunk and roots, lives around the corner at a 90-degree angle. This shrub is more than 20 years old and although it has had a few dead branches loped off, the plant remains quite viable.

As the plant puts out branches, wherever they touch the ground it puts down roots. Somehow these additional roots help it get through the winter. So, the only difficulty with the plant is getting all the dead leaves out in the spring. You have to pick them by hand. I had another one like this that had filled a side hill and was branching down over some ledge. It was absolutely beautiful. Someone helping in the garden became impatient with picking leaves and decided to pull the branches up so they could rake under them. It was dead the following spring. Lessons learned and they don’t come cheap. Patience can be its own reward.

Blue rug junipers are ideal for side hills to prevent erosion and along stairs that go through gardens so soil doesn’t consistently wash away in hard rains. This is another case of patience being needed. They are wonderful ground covers and once established and growing, really quite easy. However, it does take a few years for them to put out branches that intertwine to cover an area and thus create the rug. During that time, weeding is inevitable.

I have seen several examples of blue rugs being planted and then the owners, in what can only be an attempt to prevent weeding, heavily mulch around them. The branches have to hit ground to root and form more branches. What you do by mulching is slow down the spreading process a lot. So, if you can resign yourself to three or four seasons of weeding, you will be pleased with the resulting ground cover. Junipers require little except to be raked over in the spring.

One caution: new junipers are not bothered by deer because they are prickly and hard. As the junipers age (meaning when they get really beautiful), they soften up and then the deer will eat them. We had to replant a bank this spring after 25 years because the deer literally ravaged them in about two months time.

You know the sayings about growing older and wiser, well this is one of those cases. But along with age and wisdom also comes diminished energy and so I seldom recommend roses, except to those who are very determined. With the special care required as well as pruning, feeding, disease control and Japanese beetles, somehow they don’t seem worth it. I have some shrub roses that are like iron and I do like those, and the beetles are not fond of them either, which is a bonus. But I also have groundcover roses that are a cinch. They also make for a wonderful pretty carefree shrub that serves very nicely at the edge of beds by entry doors or as a focal point in the landscape. These basically need one application of time-released rose food in the spring and a good pruning. There are several different kinds out there now, but I recommend carpet roses (the ones in the pink pots at the nursery). They start blooming the end of June or a bit earlier and go until hard frost. They brighten up any corner that gets almost full sun and is well drained. They get about 18 inches high and perhaps 2 feet across but can be pruned. And, bonus, mine have been blooming right through all the rain this year. They also get along well with other flowers in the bed.

And don’t forget the old standbys like forsythia, which forms a lovely green wall between you and the neighbors and gives you that bright spring yellow. Hydrangeas will always make my list, especially now that all the new cultivars like Endless Summer are out there. They bloom on old and new wood; many bloom almost all season instead of only a month; and by all means check out the oak-leafed hydrangeas that are particularly beautiful with their big mop head flowers.

One final note, on the subject of Japanese beetles and, yes, I do know what a pain they truly are. I overheard some folks comparing the ease of use of liquid Sevin over powdered Sevin the other day in their beetle discussion. I need to remind all of you that beneficial nematodes applied in May for two seasons in a row will take care of almost all the Japanese beetles. And, yes, the Sevin will kill them as well, but it will also kill the bees, the butterflies, the ladybugs and the hummers — and cause damage to just about every living thing in your garden, both bad and good. Without the bees, you will not have a garden, so please try to find another way.

Until next time, enjoy what’s left of summer and the sunshine, make some blueberry muffins because it is almost time for apple pies, check out the holes in your landscape and make a few nursery stops to look at shrubs. And try to get out for that picnic that the rain has put off all these months — time is short.
Happy gardening.
Jody Goodwin has been gardening for more than 25 years. She lives in Turner with her husband, Ike, her two dogs and two cats. She can be reached by writing to her in care of the Sun Journal, 104 Park St., Lewiston, Maine, 04243-4400 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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