Sunday, August 7, 2011

Help Wanted Inquire within

I have a few design/plant weirdness issues I need a little help with. Actually, I may need a lot! Please feel free to throw in your opinion.

 Issue 1 - My hydrangeas are driving me crazy!

I have three pink Endless Summer hydrangeas in my front garden. They're supposed to be blue, but even with an acidic fertilizer, they're pink. I find their refusal to conform humorous, but their color isn't the issue.  They simply don't bloom much. As in, hardly at all. When they do bloom, the flowers are either small or they quickly burn in the morning sun.  Situated in an east facing site with quick access to a hose, they receive morning sun and afternoon shade. I tend to be a bit of a tough-love gardener, but these hydrangeas are cossetted drama queens and their every whim is catered to. Their dramatics begin every morning in mid-summer with limp, nodding blossoms and wilted leaves. By the afternoon, they're revived and refreshed, ready to repeat their performance tomorrow. My patience has worn thin, to say the least.

The Endless Summer hydrangeas grow between an enormous clematis and a gigantic American Cranberry bush, Viburnum triloba. Variegated dwarf abelia grow in front. The hydrangea closest to the clematis is the largest, while the other two are smaller and smallest.
Problem 1 - Hydrangeas are barely blooming.

Problem 2 - They are a bit squished.

Problem 3 - I need the sun to rise in the north.

I was planning on moving the second hydrangea over a bit after I took out the littlest one so there isn't a big gap between them and the viburnum.

Here are my potential solutions:

Solution to Problem 2 -  Move the smallest hydrangeas into the back garden.

Solutions to Problems 1 and 3 - Nada Nuthin' Zilch

I think the strange little flower in the back is blooming out of sheer obligation.

  The few flowers that do exist are often hidden in the foliage. It's a constant game of hide and seek but I'm tired of playing.

Meanwhile, the abelia are fabulous!

If I move the littlest hydrangea, it would be going here:

I refuse to water the loosestrife. Drought is the only thing that slows it down!

This is a weird little spot between the fence and a huge crepe myrtle. It's full of thornless blackberry canes that the birds strip bare the minute a berry appears and an invasion of white gooseneck loostrife.

The patch of blackberries is large enough that I can pull up a few canes without depriving the birds. As for the loosestrife, I have so much of it, unless I want it to be the only plant in my garden, I NEED to pull it up. This spot is moist-ish and mostly shady. I just hope the hydrangea blooms back here.

Meanwhile, I still haven't solved Problems 1 and 3.

Issue 2 - My dwarf barberries are boring!

Several years ago I planted beautiful dwarf weigela under the viburnum, which at the time, was much smaller. They were wonderful for a while and then died of blight, or some other strange plant disease. I replaced them with three small dwarf barberries. I decided that any plant that could grow in a highway median could survive under the viburnum. They don't get enough sun to turn their leaves purple, but they're so boring I don't care. I just want them to go away. Or at least go somewhere else in the garden where they'll look better.

Can you think of a groundcover that can grow in partial shade, will fill in a 7 ft wide by 2 ft tall by 4 ft deep area and thrive in average clay loam in zone 7?

All hail the boring barberries!

'Miss Kim' lilacs grow next to the viburnum. Rainbow leucothoe grow in front of the lilacs but the leucothoe closest to the viburnum was rescued from under the lilac which had grown over it and it still resembles a mutant space alien, despite some heavy pruning.

What should I do?


  1. I have another problem with my barberry - all its new growth gets eaten by rabbits. I covered it with a bird net now. Ugly, but helps. First, it was planted in shade and turned green. I replanted it and now, its burgundy. It certainly needs sun
    As for the Endless Summer H., I'm happy with mine. It has morning sun, acidic soil and a lot of space. It's all covered by blooms. Sometimes, it gets dry and needs some additional watering. Otherwise, it's OK. You might be right about some crowdedness. Do your plants grow close to the foundation (it looks like they do)? Could there be some cement leakage into soil? I also noticed that some plants of the same variety grow differently in the same conditions. I think we buy plants already unequal from nurseries/garden centers. Some are originally strong and others are weak.
    Good luck with your garden issues!

  2. Tatyana - The hydrangeas grow right in front of a concrete foundation. Does anyone know how that affects plants? I'm hoping that giving them more space will help solve the problems.

  3. How do you feel about purple heart (setcresea)? It would give you the purple color instead of the barberries, and it can tolerate full sun or some shade, and is extremely drought tolerant. It is one of the plants that is thriving in my Zone 7 garden in our brutal TX summer. Great groundcover. Just a thought. It does go dormant in winter, but comes back faithfully every year. As far as the Endless Summers, I think yours look GREAT compared to mine. It's all relative, I guess. Do you ever prune them? I think Endless Summers are supposed to bloom on old and new growth, but most hydrangeas only bloom old growth, so maybe if you pruned them that would stop blooms for a year. Just thinking out loud???? They are water hogs!! Is this space large enough for an Oakleaf Hydrangea? They are SO MUCH better, in my opinion. Mine have not even flinched at the ridiculously hot temps we've been having, never even wilting. In contrast, my Endless Summer looks like death. Sorry no advice on the color. I just go with whatever color my soil allows a/k/a alkaline = pink. It is what it is, and I'm not willing to go through heroic efforts to change the pH. Looking forward to what other advice you get on the Endless Summer and Barberry.

  4. I can't help with the groundcover because I am in a different zone, but the hydrangea, maybe. The wilting could be due to heat stress, not lack of watering, and might pass when the weather breaks. Also, it seems that the viburnum is an issue affecting the growth - probably the biggest hydrangea is outside the rootzone of the viburnum. There is not much you can do about that, unfortunately.

  5. Those are some complicated problems. They each deserve their own post. Gooseneck loosestrife is invasive in much of the United States, so I would try to eradicate it.

    As for the hydrangeas, I've never had luck with the everblooming ones, but it is really hot here, and I chalked that up to be the reason. Maybe there is another. I tend to like H. arborescens cultivars because they are easier to grow and do so well. Good luck.~~Dee

  6. I'm surprised at the hydrangeas because the plants look to be quite healthy, although on the small side. A change of location is my usual remedy in these situations. Hopefully when you move the plants you'll see some growth and flowers. As for a ground cover have you considered Epimedium? It likes shade, grows about a foot tall and spreads. Red tinged leaves in spring and fall as well as small spring flowers. By the way, I just saw your new pages. Loved seeing photos and the stories of your dogs.

  7. My hydrangeas are also hibernating. Am not going to move them...too much work. Just waiting for the correct amount of sunlight to hit them.

  8. Toni - I just Googled setcresea because I had never heard of it before but recognized it once I saw the pix. That is definitely going on the list of pssibilities.
    I've never pruned the hydrangeas except to cut off obviously deadwood but I may have to give it a try. The space is too small for an oakleaf hydrangea, unfortunately. Those are definitely tough shrubs!

    Masha - You're exactly right about the hydrangeas duking it out with the viburnum. The biggest hydra. is the farthest from the virburnums roots. I think heat stress is a factor, too, since we've had a really hot summer.

    Dee - I think I'm going to take your suggestion about making the problem with loosestrife its own post. Its become like a gorgeous Ghengis Khan in my garden and I'm constantly pulling it out. I just wish it weren't so pretty. It would make getting rid of it easier!

    Marguerite - I have lots of empimediums in a dry shady spot under a river birch in my back garden. They are such a cool plant! Unfortunately, this spot is a bit too sunny for them. I'm glad you liked the pages! :o)

  9. I LOVE these design challenges, and hearing that others struggle with plant performance and plant combos too!

    My suggestions: the barberries must go. A groundcover for part shade: Yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simpliccissima) It's a mouthful and no one has ever heard of it, but my 3 little plants spread beautifully, flower gorgeously, have clean green foliage and rich tapestry fall color. Lazy S has it. Here's my post on it:

    With hydrangeas, usually nice foliage and few blooms means too much nitrogen. You may be over-fertilizing in an attempt to get blue color?

    My gooseneck loosestrife is pretty --- in big containers. I won't put it in the ground! They do make nice arching container plants.

  10. Rosie - moving my hydrangea will definitely be a workout, but I think it's going to be worth it. I'll just make sure there's a bottle of wine waiting for me in the fridge!

    Laurrie - I left a comment on your post!! Lazy S is my go-to source for almost everything. They are the BEST! I remember reading that you kept your loosestrife in pots. Smart!! It's too pretty to get rid of completely so that may be what I need to do. As for the hydras - I may have overfertilized. I'm guilty of that sometimes!

  11. Looks like you have gotten some good ideas on some of your problems. The cement would definitely cause your hydrangeas to go pink. I have two Endless Summers and they are little and haven't bloomed much at all...there were a few blooms in the spring (old wood). Look to last summer for what could have caused fewer buds to form. I would move at least one of them out of that cramped space.
    If you want to replace those macrophylla with quercifolia, there is a small one...Pee Wee...four feet max height....nice size. I agree with Laurrie about fertilizing...even if you don't fertilize the garden you fertilize the lawn? The roots don't know who the nutrients are for.
    I love the Abelia, which one is it? I have some and they could use a bit more sun, blooms are sparse.
    If you remove the Barberries (which I would) I would think about Ajuga as a groundcover. It can take full sun (though the plant labels say part sun/shade) The Ajuga I had in Virginia was in full sun and did quite well. As a matter of fact the same Ajuga was planted here in SC in the shade and it totally disappeared. Anyhow, there is a variety called Burgundy Glow that is pink/burgundy/white/green foliage and the little purple spikes in the spring. I bought a flat of them at and they have lots of other groundcovers to choose from.
    The loosestrife is a thug...get it out if you are able!

  12. Oh, I'm having similar issues with my Endless Summers! Actually right now they're also suffering from a fungus but that's another story. Mine are also facing east, and I cannot get them to go from pink to blue. Even the ones in containers won't stay blue, and I would think it would be easier to manipulate soil in a pot than in the ground. I have heard that concrete/foundation minerals can affect the soil, and that could be why yours won't turn blue. (But again, what about the ones I have in pots?) You & I are in the same zone--it's been a weird year for hydrangeas. They were fine the last couple of years, but this year mine have been really bratty. Let us know what you decide to do!

  13. TS-- a follow up:
    I saw your comment on my post about yellowroot, and I am glad you are thinking of putting them where the barberries are. I'll look forward to your posts on how they do for you... no one else I know grows them, and I have them in exactly the wrong spot (west sun, raised drainage, and they did crisp a lot when temps hit 100 with no rain). I really want to see how others do. I just dug up a half dozen runners and gave them to a friend and she is putting them in a shade garden, so I'll get to see how they grow for her. I'm hoping yours will thrive!

  14. I have a few I planted last year that are not doing well where they are. It is a learning experience. First, I will try improving the soil and ensure they get enough water. If that does not work, I will move them. Good luck!

  15. Jennifer@threedogsinagarden
    TS, You certainly have lots of advice here to choose from. Do you know what strikes me about the viburnum/barberry combination? The weird scale difference! The barberries look like runts next to that grand viburnum. And the short barberries don't hide the big feet of the large shrub. I think you need something a bit more medium scale in front of the viburnum, so there is not such a huge scale difference (One suggestion might be a 'creeping' yew because it would add interest in winter. You could prune it back if it got too wide/big). Then, maybe keep the barberries as a ground cover on the outside edge (you may have to extend the bed a few inches). I'd mix in a few of the new and interesting heuchera with the barberry (maybe dolce 'black currant'). Hope this helps.


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