Once upon a time there was a hydrangea called Pinky Winky.
Every summer she grew in stature and grace. The woman who planted her near the deck admired how the flowers started white and then went through many subtle variations of pink as they opened and matured to a deep rose. She even left the brown flowers stay until spring – for winter interest she said – when Pinky dropped her other leaves and went to sleep.
The nearby pine tree watched all of this, the woman constantly at the door, on the deck, her loving attention. “That woman is far too fond of flowers.” He thought. “All she ever did for me is pull the poison ivy and creeping Charlie that want to smother me. But then, without asking me, she planted some other vine to grow up my trunk, one whose leaves look a lot like Pinky’s. It’s true she also made a flowerbed around me. And I do get extra water when she thinks they are dry. But none of that’s for me. I’m just a backdrop, staging. Neglected.
I tried for flowers to make her happy but all I can do is these heavy brown things that the squirrels like. I see her throw them into the woods when she mows the lawn. That’s how much she cares for me. She cares far too much for these little, bright, short-lived things. I will have to remind her of the beauty of power.”
It wasn’t something that he could do on his own, he had to harness the power of a snow storm, too. A wimpy one, there was no wind, but the heavy snow and sleet gave him what he needed. When he felt one of his lower branches breaking under the weight, he took direct aim at Pinky. As a bonus, he tried for the small rose in front, but the woman had protected it with a metal cage. Now a twisted metal cage.
“That’ll teach them. Pinky may have beauty but I have the power to destroy. A ha, ha, ha, ha, hah!” He roared.
The new daylilies “Daring Deception” go much better with the Heuchera “Caramel” than I envisioned but the hydrangeas “Let’s Dance, Moonlight” clash a bit. I thought I needed to add something; something neutral like a white would be the safe choice, but then I thought about small-flowered, warm-pink rose that needs to be moved and wondered what would happen if I just added more pink.
As I was mulling over the alternatives, a rescue plant, a geranium gift from Applefield Farms that they said needed some extra TLC started blossoming the way that it should and I realized it was the same color, if slightly less intense than the rose.
Hey, I can try this out with an annual, I thought.
I think I like it; and the next check will be after the daylilies are over; will that color just look out of place?
A trip to Weston Nurseries for some rhododendrons for the rhodie walk through the woods — a multi-year project, and I found room for just one more thing; this beauty.
I have it sitting in the pot near rose Graham Thomas until the yellow rose opens. Graham may be too much of a gentleman for these flaming colors. Most of the pictures that I see show this hydrangea to be a darker pink; maybe it will change as it matures but I was promised that the throats stay yellow-green for contrast.
I was also told that it was dwarfed but Monrovia shows it as a 6′ plant. Other sources say “compact plant”, so I hope they are right. I have room; I just don’t need more shade.
I’m adding a couple of bonus photos, pictures of rose “City of York” from my guest room window for a friend who isn’t on Facebook.
July is when I realized that I was insane. Or at least that my decision to keep up with the weeds in the rose bed without mulching must have been made in a moment of insanity. My father told me that roses did better with bare soil but now I remember that he said that when he was fully retired and could tend to his roses (and the weeds) every day.
To mulch or not to mulch is a serious question. Here in the North, mulch has a number of negatives, especially the typical bark or wood chips that are so widely used. These mulches can:
Raise the acidity levels, and most New England soils tend to be a bit too acidic already.
Tie up nutrients as they decompose, at least right where they touch the soil.
Keep soil cool, and I’m always running around in the spring with a soil thermometer, willing the soil to heat up! Heat up!
Prevent repeated applications of composts, manure and other soil amendments, throughout the season.
Bring their own fungal diseases or weed seeds.
Create considerable expense.
So why mulch, I asked? And with that long list, you might also. Well, here’s my story from this summer, with the plants I raise.
Tomatoes: I don’t have enough space to rotate, and that’s fallen out of favor as people learn more about micro-organisms that live in the soil and have a symbiotic relationshp with specific plants. However, other diseases overwinter in the soil and get transferred to the plants when water splashes them onto the leaves, so mulch can minimize that. See my post on Mainely Mulch. I was very disappointed that it wasn’t free of crop seeds as advertised, but the truth is that even the heirloom varieties that are vulnerable to soil borne diseases are looking good for late July.
Dahlias: I’m a novice with these. Told not to put them into the ground until the soil warmed, I planted them out in a new bed with soil purchased from a local farmer and thought that the sun warming bare soil would be a good thing. But when I asked some questions about plants that were wilting and failing to thrive, See pictures in Dahlia Problems. I was told that it was probably verticillium or fusarium wilt, the same soil borne problems that tomatos have! Further, because of questions from a gardening freind in Arizona, I learned that dahlias have shallow root systems that don’t like too much heat. Southerners who want to try to grow them should apply a thick layer of mulch to keep the soil cool. It’s all relative, I guess. But I can report that after a thick layer of mulch in July, all of the plants in the dahlia bed, even the healthy ones, perked up and started growing faster. (No, it didn’t save the plants that were already sick.)
Hydrangeas: This spring, I planted a couple of small “Let’s Dance Moonlight” hydrangeas (picture above) that I’ve been growing in pots into a bed that’s not realy finished. I wanted to continue to reshape the area and add amendments and other plantings before I mulched. The hydrangeas were doing very well except that they would wilt badly in the heat of mid-summer sun. I was wondering if I had to sacrifice their lovely blossoms for this season, to let them develop deeper root systems. But first I thought I’d try mulching them. Since this section of my post is talking about why I do mulch, you know what happened; they thrived.
Roses: Yes, personally, I’m sad to say that I can’t keep up with the weeds without mulch. Even with mulch, I have to weed. Lots of vining or plants with runners (strawberries, e.g.) don’t need bare soil to settle in. And mulch should never be applied right against the stem of a plant, which creates opportunities for weeds. Especially with roses; they do much better if there is plenty of air circulation around the bud union. That means no mulch but also, no weeds.
So I hope this has offered some advice that you can adapt to your own plantings. I do have a regular feeding schedule of balanced, slow release fertilizers for roses and other mulched plants to compensate for the little bit of nutrients that may be tied up in the decomposition process of the mulch. And I amend the soil in flower beds to lower their acidity every spring and fall. I’m trying to get competent with a soil test kit to make that more accurate. If you understand the needs of your plants and compensate for the down side, mulch can:
Help with weed control
Keep soil borne diseases from spreading to new plants
Sister was gifted with a small, potted hydrangea. Thinking she had nothing to lose, she stuck it in a bed in front of her house and has been trying to figure out whether she should keep it, ever since. Unknown variety but it looks like it blooms only on old wood, which is iffy in MA. But it has had some good years. This year the plant was bigger and beautiful but didn’t bloom. Providing it with a winter cover of remay has been discussed, if there’s any hope that it might bloom next year. And as we were looking for signs, we wondered what the side buds were for? Inquiring minds.