Shrub breeders are working to develop new hydrangeas. You would think that having about 1,000 species of the pretty shrub would be enough, not for these guys. They are always looking for a bigger, smaller, more floriferous, stronger, hardier, etc. plant to tempt gardeners to plant more hydrangeas. Of course, they are also working on almost all the other flowers, trees or shrubs at the same time.

Both Bailey’s and Proven Winners shrub breeders are looking for smaller, more compact hydrangeas that will fit in a smaller space or even be able to be grown in a large pot. This is really good news for people with smaller yards as Annabelle for instance can almost hide a small house. They are also breeding hydrangeas with stronger stems and selecting for more buds on a stem. This way, if the frost gets the top buds, there will be more buds lower so your shrub will still bloom that year. They are also breeding for a redder bloom. Apparently, Endless Summer’s Summer Crush was a bestseller last year.

Gail Brown Hudson, a horticulturist from the University of Minnesota says she doesn’t need any more hydrangeas in her yard. She is afraid of “hydrangea overkill.” That is too many of them in one yard. She suggests you give a large one a starring role in your yard. “Make it a focal point to draw the eye down a gravel path perhaps, then use other plants as supporting actors.” She trims her lilacs up 3 feet and plants hostas around them. This trick would work well for other shrubs or tall plants that have ugly “bare legs;” Phlox comes to mind.

If you are starting seeds now or soon and have had a problem with damping off, you probably skipped a step in hygiene before you planted your seeds. Damping off is a fungal disease caused most commonly by Rhizoyconia, Pythium or fusarium. (I don’t expect you to attempt to say those names or even remember them, just be aware of them.) Start by disinfecting any planter by soaking them for a half hour in a 10-to-1 solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water (a good glug of bleach will work, too). Use only an unopened bag of seed starter mix for a planting medium. If you have an opened bag, dump it in the area of the flower garden that looks the worst in the summer. The medium can become contaminated if it has been left open since last spring. Then don’t overwater! Keep the medium damp, not wet. If you see an area of seedlings looking droopy, check first to see if they are dry. If they are wet or damp, you may be seeing damping off. You can attempt to save the healthy seedlings by digging out the sick ones but usually, you will need to dump the whole mess and start over.

Don’t start seeds too early. Tomatoes should be started in late March. You don’t want tomato plants that are 2 feet tall. Think of the hole you will need to dig to bury a plant that tall. Look at the back of the seed packet. It will tell you how long before fruiting. That is the time from when you put the plant in the garden, not the length of time from seed to ripe tomatoes. Seed companies are sneaky that way. You really need to read the fine print.

Hang in there. The daffodils will be here before you know it. It can’t come too soon after this stinking year.


Bev Johnson is a Master Gardener with the University of Minnesota Extension. Her column appears in the Weekend Edition.

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