Golden Celebration rose


Plant Dreams

You’d think that after living in the same place for over 35 years and every year planting new trees and shrubs, that there would be nothing new for me to plant this year. Or, at least, no where to plant them. Well, t’ain’t so!

I’m now trying to wrap up getting anything I need in terms of plants or seeds for this growing season. Let’s see: Did I succumb to any of the enticements for new and wondrous plants mentioned online and in the slew of gardening magazines and nursery catalogues that appear almost daily in my mailbox?

Lady of Shallot rose

Lady of Shallot rose

David Austin roses, which have the pastel blooms and blowsy form of yesteryear’s roses, and the pest-resistance of present-year roses, are always a draw. But I have quite a few of them; do I have room for or need more of them? It’s cold here (or used to be), so I choose for beauty and hardiness, and, for an added attraction, fragrance. Among my favorites are Lady of Shallot, Dame Judy Dench, Golden Celebration, and LD Braithewaite. Read more


Species Matter; Varieties Matter

You say “tomayto,” I say “tomahto.” You say “filbert,” I say “hazelnut.” (“Filbert” is from St. Philibert, to whom August 22nd, is dedicated and which is the day of first ripening of hazelnuts in England.) Although hazelnuts originally referred to native American filberts, hazelnut and filbert are now equivalent.

It’s been over twenty years since I planted my first hazelnuts. Fortunately, hazels bear quickly, often within 3 or 4 years. Unfortunately, a disease called eastern filbert blight can decimate the trees, and not begin to do so for about a decade. Our native hazels (Corylus americana), having evolved with the blight, are resistant. Not so for European hazels, which are the hazelnuts of commerce.Native hazel

My first planting was of our native hazel, which I planted for beauty and for nuts. It did turn out to be an attractive, suckering shrub that lit up fall with its boldly colored leaves. The nuts themselves were less notable: small and not very good tasting.

Next I planted a few old varieties of hybrid hazels, Graham, Gellatly, and Halls Giant, followed, a few years later by Tonda di Giffoni, Lewis, and Clark. All were billed as blight resistant and did quite well. In the 1960s eastern filbert blight made its way to the Pacific Northwest, the hotbed of commercial hazelnut production in the U.S. (providing 99 percent of domestic hazelnuts), which prompted breeding of resistant varieties. Lewis and Clark are two such varieties. Two more such varieties, Santiam and Yamhill, were added to my collection 11 years ago.MY hazel plantings

Right on schedule after about ten years, black pustules of blight began to show up on branches, which start to die, then finish. But the varieties I planted were blight resistant, you say. Resistance is a matter of degree (“immune” means no disease), and the varieties I planted evidently were not sufficiently resistant. 

Blight pustules on stems

This doesn’t at all reflect poorly on breeders of these not-quite-resistant-enough hybrids. The blight fungus is capricious, changing with location and, perhaps, over time. I dug up and out all the nonproductive, diseased plants.

But I like filberts. Enter a few breeders breeding filberts right here in the northeast. One is Dr. Tom Molnar of Rutgers University, from whom I got a few selections (with nonluscious, early selection names like CR X R03P26 and CR X R11P07), which I planted back in 2014. And Jeff Zarnowski, of Z’s Nutty Ridge Nursery. And others. So now I grow Geneva (aka Gene, from Grimo Nut Nursery), Truxton, Dorris (another selection from Oregon), Raritan (a more advanced selection from Rutgers), as well as my original Rutgers plants.

I’m ready to cull again any varieties that catch blight or whose nuts are too small. For wherever plants are culled, I have potted plants of Monmouth, Hunterdon, and Somerset — all advanced Rutgers selections — waiting in the wings. 

Streamlining Processing (On a Very Small Scale)

As with fruits in general, this year was also the best ever for nuts that I grow. Even the English walnuts (Juglans regia) bore a crop this year, their first substantial crop, all from 6 walnuts I planted back in 2006. I didn’t have high hopes for walnuts because they are susceptible to anthracnose disease, late frosts, and squirrels, which could conveniently harvest the nuts from the overhead squirrel highway along the road.

And the filberts — oodles of them. Mostly, we just shell and eat them. That’s fine. But for cooking with them or concocting a delicacy such as, say, fig-hazelnut jam, shelling nuts one at a time is too slow.Basket of filberts

A quick web search turned up a couple of very elegant, home made shellers that work reasonably well. Luckily, before I delved too deeply in how I was going to fabricate one of these out of metal, I did a web search and found one available for about $30.

(These kitchen counter hazelnut sheller are manufactured in Turkey, which grows 70 percent of the world’s hazelnuts. Want another fun fact? Twenty-five percent of the world’s production goes into making Nutella and Ferrero Rocher, both hazelnut and chocolate confections made by the Luxemburger company Ferraro.)Turkish nut sheller

One problem with the sheller is that it needs adjustment for nut size, so it is recommended to do some sorting into size ranges before running nuts through the sheller. This I could make myself, easily. Basically, it is an open wooden box whose bottom has 3/8 inch square, wooden dowels spaced 5/8 inch apart, which is pretty much the size of my largest hazelnuts in the shell. The corners of the box are joined by hinges so that the sides can be moved to deform the shape. As the box deforms increasingly to a parallelogram, the distance between the dowels decreases. A pegged slat from one side of the box to n adjacent side holds the box to the desired shape and dowel spacing.

So I just adjust the box to the smallest dowel spacing needed, about 3/8 inch apart, dump on a bunch of nuts, and shake. Then I move the spacing up to about 1/2 inch, then shake again. And finally, move spacing to 5/8 inch, and . . .  well, you know.

Hazelnut size selector

I could be on my way to hazelnut butter, chopped hazelnuts sprinkled on everything, that fig-hazelnut jam, perhaps even home made Nutella. No rush. Once sufficiently dried (to 6 percent moisture, which takes a couple of weeks), hazelnuts store well in their shells for over year. Shelled and refrigerated, they keep for for about six months

Hazels, Filberts, Cobnuts; Good by any Name

Nuts are Good

Let’s talk about nuts. No, not about nutty politics, but about real nuts such as fall from trees and shrubs. (Peanuts are borne on a small, annual plant, but despite their name, are legumes, not true nuts.) Nuts are an overlooked food. For all you protein people, nuts are high in protein, and, for all you heart-healthy people, they’re high in the good kinds of fatty acids. I eat them because, unadulterated, they’re good-tasting and generally good for you.

Ripe filbert nuts

Ripe filbert nuts

Nuts are not difficult to grow, and can make attractive dual-purpose plants as both edibles and as ornamentals.

Black walnuts are especially easy. Squirrels do the planting for me; my job is to get rid of excess trees, of which there are plenty sprouting all over the place. The next job with walnuts, after gathering them up, is getting at the nutmeat. Well worth the effort, in my opinion, but that’s a story for another time.

Filbert in Variety

Filberts are easy to grow and easy to shell. Because of a disease known as eastern filbert blight, the trick in growing them here in the Northeast is selecting an appropriate variety. (“Hazelnut” is another name for filberts, as is, In Britain, “cobnut.“) Filbert blight is an indigenous disease east of the Rocky Mountains. First symptoms are elliptical black stromata along stems.

Pustules of filbert blight

Pustules of filbert blight

The disease kills individual branches, even whole plants. I first planted filberts many years ago and was told it could take 10 years for the disease to show up; disappointingly, that was true.

Susceptibility to filbert blight varies. Our native American filbert (Coryllus americana) evolved with the disease so is resistant. Unfortunately, it generally bears nuts that are very small and not very tasty. European filberts (C. avellana), the filberts of commerce, bear large, tasty nuts, but are susceptible to filbert blight. 

Decades of breeding at universities and by individual nut enthusiasts sought the holy grail: Filbert plants that bear large, tasty nuts and that fend off filbert blight. Filbert blight’s inroads into the Pacific northwest, where filberts are grown commercially spurred development of a number of blight resistant varieties at Oregon State University (OSU). I’ve tried a number of them, including Jefferson, Lewis, Clark, Santiam, Yamhill, Dorris, and Theta. Problem is that the filbert blight fungus has a nasty habit of appearing in more than one strain so that a variety resistant in one place can be susceptible elsewhere. All those OSU varieties, with the exception of Dorris and Yamhill succumbed to blight here.

Over the years, I’ve also planted other varieties. Gellatly, Halls Giant, and Tonda di Giffoni were promising, and bore large, tasty nuts for a few years before succumbing to blight. Almost ripe filbertsFive years ago, I had the opportunity to test some of the varieties from Dr. Tom Molnar’s filbert breeding program at Rutgers University; these plants are now old enough to bear. Being test plants, they have unappetizing names like CR x R11P07 and CR x RO3P26. Mmmm. I’m sure they mean something to Tom.

All of which is to say that I have a good reservoir of blight fungus floating around here as well as a number of varieties to evaluate for yield, nut quality (which, at this point, is mostly about size), and resistance to filbert blight. Drum roll . . . The winners, so far, are CR x R11P10, CR x RO3P26, CR x R06P56, Yamhill, and Graham. None of the “CR” varieties show any blight and all have good nut size. The heaviest yield is from  CR x RO3P26. 

Filbert nuts in summerYamhill always has some blight but still manages to bear nuts, small to medium-sized ones.

The last one named, Graham, is from my original planting of 20 years ago. Its suckering growth habit evokes its American filbert parentage. (European filberts hardly spread by suckers, growing instead as large bushes or medium-sized trees.) Graham always has a number of blighted branches yet always bears good crops of large, tasty nuts.

Also in the pipeline are MacDonald (from OSU), Truxton, and Geneva (also known as Gene, and from and Filberts typically bear in their third or fourth year so I won’t be waiting long before seeing if any of these varieties are keepers.

Enter: Squirrels

Filberts are delicious, and growing and cracking them is easy; the fly in the ointment is squirrels. They will strip a bush clean. Besides, or in addition to, the usual methods for thwarting squirrels — dogs, cats, guns, and traps — are other options.

Sufficiently isolated plants, if grown as single-trunked trees and trained so that no branches droop or originate lower than 6 to 8 ft. from ground level, can be protected. Either a 2 ft. cylinder or an inverted cone of sheet metal wrapped around the trunk 6 to 8 feet above ground level does the trick.

Hot pepper spray?

Harvesting the almost-ripe nuts before squirrels get to them?

I’ve found that squirrels avoid running in high grass, probably because it slows them down, and they need all the speed they can get with my dogs present. Then again, maybe they’re just hidden from me in the high grass. Still, thus far squirrels have avoided my filberts in my once-a-year mowed meadow.Filbert plants in a row


Spring Dreams

Looking out a window today, all I see is white, a thick blanket of snow covering the ground and howling winds periodically puff clouds of it swirling into the air. Still, I can feel the pull of spring. Perhaps it’s the bright sunlight. Couple that with the colorful gardening magazines and catalog strewn on the kitchen table, and how can I resist vicarious planting — by ordering plants instead.

David Austin roses, whose blooms have the look and fragrances of yesteryear (pastel colors and blowsy form), and the repeat blooming of pest-resistance of presentyear roses, are always a draw. Every year, new varieties are offered, some, I’m gad to see, that are cold-hardy to zone 4.

Rose, L. D. Braithwaite

Rose, L. D. Braithwaite

And m–m-m-m, the thought of picking fresh, ripe sweet cherries is also enticing. No, no! I ordered and planted what was allegedly a self-fertile Compact Stella cherry tree seven years ago. It wasn’t compact and it has yet to bear a cherry. I tell others that sweet cherries are a poor bet around here because of winter cold, spring frosts, and various inset and disease pests. And, after that, even if fruits do develop, birds will likely eat them. I should have been listening when I dispensed that advice.

The cherry tree has one more season to prove it’s worth. If it doesn’t, I have a replacement plant (hardy orange, Citrus trifoliata) anxiously waiting in the wings.Hardy orange

I’ve always wanted to plant a magnolia, of which there are many newer and older varieties, but where could I plant it? Now that I think of it, I did plant a magnolia last spring. It died. And a few years back, I planted a sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) purchased on an impulse at a nursery a few years ago. I remember planting it, but not what happened to it, except that it’s no longer around.

The magnolia that I really want to plant is southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora. This large evergreen gracing many homes from Virginia southward with its large, glossy, dark green leaves and it’s large, lily-white, fragrant blossoms seems to politely call for a chair in its shade, a frosty mint julep on the armrest.

Problem is that southern magnolias are not hardy here — yet. I know of a gorgeous tree about an hour south of here and two varieties — Edith Pogue and Bracken’s Brown Beauty — are hardy below zero degrees F. It hardly gets below zero here these past few winters and, with global warming . . . ?

Yes, it is hard to keep my wits about me as spring approaches, and will be increasingly so as spring edges in. “I will not buy another sweet cherry tree, I will not buy another apricot tree (even more problematic), I will not buy another magnolia (yet), . . .”

Dorris, I’d Like To Meet You

Uh oh, another new variety of filbert from the breeding program at Oregon State University. This variety, Dorris, is, like some of its recent predecessors, immune to the eastern filbert blight that has for so long made filbert growing east of the Rockies unfeasible. They’re breeding blight-resistant filbert in Oregon because the blight fungus has made its way west.

Filbert nut harvest last fall

Filbert nut harvest last fall

But eastern filbert blight is a capricious fungus, sometimes changing in a way that let’s it attack even “resistant” filberts. So I’m constantly cutting down diseased filberts and replanting “resistant” ones. One of the newest varieties, which will get a spot in the line of filberts that draws my eyes and footsteps along the edge of  meadow, is Dorris.

Good luck Dorris.

Making Trees

Some trees and shrubs coming to my garden this year are going to be home-made, that is, created by me from seeds, cuttings, or grafts. To that end, I recently collected hackberry seeds as well as scions (for grafting) of persimmon, pear, and cornelian cherry, and packed them all away in an insulated box in my garage. I will deal with them in a few weeks.

Gathering scionwood

Gathering scionwood

Collecting scionwood for grafting segue nicely with pruning. From the prunings strews about on the ground, I cut and save one-year-old stems into foot-long sections.

Propagation Mania

And the winner of my book giveaway from last week is  . . . (drum roll) . . . reader Meg Webb. Hey Megg, send me an email with your mailing information and I’ll get the book to you. Thanks to everyone else for their feedback.

I have to admit a certain addiction for propagating plants. You would think that, what with sowing cabbage and Brussels sprouts seeds for transplants last week, starting tomato transplants in early April, grafting to make new Korean mountainash and apple trees and . . . ., any appreciation for propagation would be fulfilled.
But no. The seeds within a freshly eaten kumquat; why not plant them? Some of the seeds within a just eaten hardy passionfruit (Passiflora incarnata); plant them also. Not that every seed gets planted. Just some of the more unusual ones or just a few of those that are more usual. Without any restraints, a forest of apple and pear trees would have long ago inundated me.
My mania came to the fore again yesterday as I was neatening up some houseplants. The rose geranium had grown very leggy, with three or four lanky shoots, almost leafless except near their ends,

stretched out to a very unattractive 2 foot length. All that was needed to bring the plant back to its visual glory was to cut everything back to some tufts of leaves sprouting near its base. Which I did.

But those pruned stems; could I really just toss them into the compost pile? No. “Make new plants,” whispered the devil on my left shoulder. Which I did.
All that was needed to make more of this relatively easy-to-propagate plant was to cut the pruned stems into 4 inch lengths, with each bottom cut just below a node and each top cut just above a node. Best wound healing is at nodes, so such cuts avoid dead stubs with poor healing.
All but 2 or 3 leaves were removed from the 4 inch stem segments at the ends of the stems in order to strike a balance between cutting down water loss from the as yet unrooted stem pieces and allowing for some photosynthesis to feed the stem. To grow new leaves and roots, the leafless stems segments will have to rely on their stored energy reserves. To save space, I filled a flowerpot with potting soil and poked each stem segment about two-thirds of its length deep into the soil, then watered.
A clear plastic cover over the planted pot increases humidity to further reduce transpiration of water from leaves until roots form.
Pruning shrubs, which generates a lot of stems, could be a real test of my restraint.
Shrubs are shrubs because they generally don’t have long-lived permanent trunks, like trees. Every year, new stems arise from at or near ground level. The way to prune shrubs, then, is to capitalize on this characteristic, by so-called renewal pruning, each year removing some oldest stems and excess youngest stems (suckers). Pruning is done near or at ground level. In so doing, the roots get older and older but no stem ever gets very old, and youngest stems have room to develop.
Easy enough. The wrinkle in renewal pruning is knowing when a stem has overstayed its welcome. If you know the plant, you can just look up the information — in my book, THE PRUNING BOOK, for instance, in which I group all shrubs into one of four pruning categories.
Easiest of all is to prune is the category of shrubs that includes witch hazel and tree peony. These shrubs perform well on old stems and make few suckers so no annual pruning is necessary to keep them looking prim and proper.
Lilac and forsythia are in the category of shrubs that flower on one-year-old stems originating up in the plant off older stems. So individual stems need not be cut back until they are a few years old. Each year, though, many new sprouts originate at ground level, too many. Their numbers need to be reduced enough so that those that remain have sufficient elbow room as they age to replace older stems that will be cut away.
Kerria is in the category of shrubs, along with snowberry, abelia, and rambling roses, that blossom best on one-year-old wood growing up right from ground level. Prune them by cutting away all stems 2 years old (and older, if a shrub has not been or is not being pruned annually).
The final category, counting butterfly bush and Hills-of-Snow hydrangea among its members, perform best on each season’s new, growing shoots. They’re also very easy to prune: Just cut the whole shrub down in spring. That’s a lot of stems for propagating. Still, restraint is easy with butterfly bush because the stems anyway are typically dead here by the end of winter. The roots survive, though, giving rise each spring to shoots that flower in summer.
Pruning one of my filbert bushes

My filberts present one more wrinkle in shrub pruning. Filbert can be trained as a tree or as a shrub. But consider: filberts are susceptible to a disease, filbert blight, which can eventually kill a stem. This makes a good case for renewal pruning, i.e. growing them as shrubs. On the other hand, squirrels love filbert nuts, and one way to keep them at bay is with metal squirrel guards, feasible only on filberts trained as trees.
For now, dogs, cats, traps, and high grass have kept squirrels at bay, so I’m opting for filbert shrubs. The stems are very difficult to root so today’s prunings don’t even tempt me.