Growing Concerns 491: Dwarf burning bushes, moving perennials to Florida

Late Fall!

Disappointing Fall Color Might be Fixed by Transplanting that Burning Bush


Dear Janet,

Last spring we planted two dwarf burning bushes, expecting red foliage during late fall. The leaves remained green. Now they're a lime green color and beginning to fall. Could this be because it's their first year planted?


Dear G.S.,

            Leaves develop fall color in response to decreasing temperature and shorter days. Internal chemical shifts begin during cold, long nights, changing leaf color over several weeks. It could be that your burning bushes are too well protected, that they didn't feel enough cold until too late in the season to complete their change. They may have started changing so late that severe cold killed the leaves and thus stopped what is a living process.

            I've seen this effect where plants are quite near the house, under overhanging eaves that hold ground warmth around a plant overnight. The same effect can occur when the plants are under the shelter of trees that retain their own leaves late into the fall -- oaks, for instance. Such trees act like a projecting roof.

Another possibility is that your shrubs had a tough year and were not well established by fall. In that case they may not have been able to respond as they should at year-end. Give them one more chance. If they grow vigorously but still don't color well in 2003, transplant them to a more open location.


Dear Janet,

I have some perennials dug and potted with the idea of moving them to Florida with my mom. I must keep them in their pots because I'll need to move them south before the winter is really over here. If I put them in my compost bins with leaves all around them, will they survive the winter? They are presently in an unheated garage, which keeps the wind out but everything will eventually freeze.


Dear L.K.,

            Keeping them in the garage will work -- freezing doesn't kill hardy plants. Drying out can kill them, however. So check the pots in January and February. Any pot that feels much lighter is drying out and should be watered. Since watering frozen soil is difficult, you might consider topping the pots off regularly with snow or ice cubes that will melt during thaws.

            Insulated with leaves in your compost bins, the pots are less likely to dry out but might be tougher to get to in late winter.

            One other thing. Many perennials that thrive in northern areas need an  annual cold period. Deprived of that, some don't grow or bloom well. Check each plant's upper hardiness limit in a plant encyclopedia or ask your mom's gardening neighbors in Florida to learn which are worth moving.

Short reports

You're asking too much of cut evergreens... put them up at Thanksgiving and expect them to last for a month. Even when cut fresh and given clean water every day, a tree is bound to lose needles and look sad by the big day.

            Use an artificial tree for a month-long display. To create that fragrant evergreen atmosphere, hang some real boughs and renew them often.

            Your own garden can be the source of the fresh cuts.

Rattle that rosemary plant's branches...

... every time you dust. It will scent the air as you shake out the loose needles. Don't worry about that shedding, by the way, as long as the plant keeps its newest needles. It's just thinning itself out to adapt to lower indoor light. You assist in the process by shaking the branches, since by clearing the clutter you help more light reach remaining foliage.

Hungry deer stop only at physical barriers.

If deer frequent your garden, protect young plants with fencing. Don't rely on lists of "what deer like" -- protect everything precious or new. The experience at botanical gardens and arboretum is that deer will eat almost anything when hungry and seem especially drawn to new, nursery-grown transplants. It might be that heavy fertilization, common in many nurseries, imparts a telltale, attractive scent and long-lasting sweetness to the foliage.


Green thumbs up

to including long-lost gardening mentors in this season of counting one's blessings. Give them credit now when friends and family gather who will share your joy in speaking their names. Thank you, Grandma Frances, Mrs. Kissinger, Aunt Mel and Curt, for coming out to the garden with me over all these years. You still guide my fingers, my eyes and my heart.


Green thumbs down

to obsessing over spring bulbs still waiting to be planted. You bought them on impulse without specific planting plans, so of course they're still sitting in the bag on the garage shelf. If you can't find inspiration to plant them at home, why not look further afield? While a deserving friend or neighbor is away, plant the bulbs there as a spring surprise. 


Originally published 11/23/02