Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sweet Fern

Comptonia peregrina

For the last few years I have conducted seminars on groundcovers and discussed Sweet Fern, Comptonia peregrina. Most gardeners are not aware of this small shrub. Propagation issues have kept it from widespread introduction to the retail nursery trade. This problem has been generally resolved (http://www.amerinursery.com/article-8091.aspx) so availability should multiply.

I discuss this boreal groundcover with others who thrive in poor infertile or rocky soils; Bearberry, (Arctostaphylos Ursa-uvi) , Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolia), Northern Bush Honeysuckle, (Diervilla lonicera) and Common juniper (Juniperus communis). Sweet Fern is a pioneer plant spreading into disturbed soil, it can fix nitrogen and is salt tolerant. Some say it can be invasive.

Found in dry pine or oak woodlands in shallow soils over bedrock. The dominant shrub layer species are Lowbush Blueberries and Northern Bush Honeysuckle with larger Juneberries, Hazelnut, Prairie Willow and Staghorn or Smooth Sumac. The canopy is made of Red and White pine or Red Maple, Pin and Red Oak. The sub-canopy can be comprised of Mountain Maple, Mountain-ash, Quaking Aspen and Paper Birch.

How can Sweet Fern be used in landscapes? Mixed with any of the aforementioned groundcovers Sweet Fern can be used in many tough growing locations.  Edges of roadways, sidewalks and drives where salt is sprayed throughout winter, Sweet Fern can be utilized with Bearberry providing varying height. As a turf replacement in any dry growing conditions. Sweet Fern foliage is fragrant adding scent to any area. Wild Rose grows with Sweet Fern in the wild. Shrub roses such as Nearly Wild would add color. Native to rocky environments Sweet Fern could be used surrounding rock clusters.

Seek out Sweet Fern, I hope knowing something of its native ecology can help you find opportunities for this shrub in your landscape.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Little Joes

Two species of tall, pink-flowered Eupatorum, Joe pye weed, grow in my area maculatum and purpurea. Spotted Joe pye weed, maculatum has flat topped flower clusters at five feet tall. Sweet Joe pye weed, purpurea has dome shaped clusters at seven feet tall. Commonly called Eupatorum in the nursery trade they are now classified as Eutrochium. 

Joe pye weed is an integral component of the modern perennial garden. I have grown this autumn flowering perennial in many gardens where it adds height and attracts many insects, especially butterflies. These upright growers provide strong structure, emerge late, they quickly grow in a continental climate. 

A mass of Little Joe
I have also added two little Joe pye weeds, Little Joe and Baby Joe.  Little Joe, Eutrochium dubium grows in similar conditions to the large species, moist fertile soils, it reaches a mature height of four feet.  E. dubium is commonly called Coastal Plain or Eastern Eutrochium, Baby Joe is another selection of dubium growing to 2-3 feet.

Best in a consistently moist site, the leaves will curl and scorch if too dry. The plants are deer and rabbit resistant. Eutrochiums tolerate alkaline to acidic soils in full sun to partial shade. Do not cut back plants in the fall, they provide excellent winter interest and forage for many birds.
Both little "Joes" are licensed, propagation is prohibited without permission.

A mass in fall color

A young Joe among Siberian Iris
Baby Joe

White flowered species now make up the genus Eupatorium. This spring I plan to purchase a couple selections of Eupatorium fortunei, they also have deep pink flower clusters. "Pink Frost' has variegated foliage. 'Pink Elegance' and 'Fine Line' are all bushy and roughly three feet tall.