Top 10 Perennials for the Northeast

Planting

Perennials are a great choice for any garden or landscape, especially here in the Northeast. As their name implies, they come back year after year, with little fuss required from you apart from the initial planting and occasional weeding and watering. Perennials are usually the first glimpse we see of spring, providing a hint of green in the snow, and they provide necessary nectar, seeds, and nesting materials for insects and birds, as well as pollen required for other plants to bloom. Perennials get the whole thing started!

By planning to include perennials in your garden and landscaping, you can create nice, changing color displays by planting a variety with staggered blooming times and durations. There are many varieties of perennials available so you can select plants best suited for your landscaping needs; there are types of perennials that are drought-resistant; some that repel deer, annoying insects, or other animals that would munch on your garden; and some that do better in shade vs. full sun, for example.

Our favorite choices for our northeastern climate are:

#1 Catmint—Walkers Low or Six Hills Giant

This easy to grow perennial is a favorite among many gardeners. It’s heat tolerant, pest and disease resistant. It features lovely, long blooming lavender-colored flowers, and is aromatic. Its gentle color blends nicely with bold colors and likes full sun. Popular varieties include:

  • Walker’s Low: Usually grows about two-and-a-half feet tall to three feet wide.
  • Six Hills Giant: This variety also grows about two-and-a-half feet tall to four feet wide, so this will take up a bit of room in your garden; careful planning is required.

#2 Daylily

Daylilies like several hours of preferably morning sun, and seem to thrive on something close to neglect. However, it’s best to remove the seedpods once they start to bloom to help next year’s batch. While some blooms only last for a day or two, most lilies grow in large batches, so blooms may be staggered for a month or so. There are thousands of varieties of lilies available, such as:

  • Stella d’oro: These beautiful, compact golden flowers are popular with gardeners across the United States. They only grow about a foot high, and are great for growing in a mass or along a border. They will bloom continuously throughout the summer.
  • Happy Returns: This variety of lily is similar to Stella d’oro, except the color is a brighter yellow where Stella is more of a gold tone. This plant does well in poor soil, and is very hearty. This plant will spread, so it’s best used where it has room to grow.
  • Big Time Happy: This plant boasts larger, four-inch ruffled blooms in a light canary yellow color. This variety does well in more urban areas, in poor soil, and near pavement that might have had salt runoff in the winter — perfect for New England!

#3 Variegated Iris

This classic bearded iris features fragrant blooms that are attractive to many pollinators. It comes in colors of purple, yellow, and white. The plant grows two to three-feet high, and blooms in late spring to early summer. Wildlife such as deer and rabbits don’t seem to eat this plant, and it’s also resistant to most diseases. It’s best grown in full sun to part shade, in well-draining soil. Because they grow so well, it’s best to divide them every two years or so to keep them healthy.

#4 Blue False Indigo

Years ago, indigo was an expensive dye made from tropical plants. This plant, as its name implies, is a “false indigo”, and was used as a substitute to make the dye as this plant was commonly found in the Midwest of the United States. The bushy plant produces blue, pea-like flowers and grows best in full to partial sun. It tends to grow in big bushes about four feet wide, so it would be best in a space where it has room to grow.

#5 Tickseed—Moonbeam

These lovely bright yellow flowers are easy to grow, even in poor soil, and resemble daisies. They grow compact plants, and bloom all summer long. They attract birds and pollinators, and are deer resistant. They can get about a foot- to a foot-and-a-half tall and wide, so they won’t take up much room in your garden or border, and they make a nice cut flower.

#6 Stonecrop—’Autumn Joy’

This late blooming plant has bright pink flowers which appear in August and turn goldish copper by November. They grow to two-feet wide and tall, and are best planted in the spring, after the threat of a frost has passed and before the full heat of summer has begun. It likes full sun and sandy, well-drained soil. The flower heads can be left for the winter interest, and serve as food for the birds, to be cut back in the spring.

#7 Dwarf Black Eyed Susan

These bright yellow flowers with brown centers are popular with gardeners. They are a prolific grower, and extremely easy to grow. They prefer full sun/partial shade, and well-drained soil. They are drought-, disease, deer-, and rabbit-resistant, and are a great, low maintenance plant. They are wonderful in cut flower arrangements. To keep the plants healthy and promote further blooms, its best to deadhead the flower once the bloom has passed.

#8 Shasta Daisy—Becky or Snowcap

A classic! Pure white flower petals surround a yellow center. These begin to flower in early summer and will continue to bloom all summer long if you keep up with deadheading them, and they attract bees and butterflies. They mix well with all other plants to add a nice pop of white to any garden or landscape. They will need to be divided every two years or so to keep the plants healthy.

  • The Snowcap daisy is a dwarf plant, growing about a foot to 15 inches high, and spreading about a foot wide. It loves full sun and dry, well-drained soil.
  • The Becky daisy is similar in appearance to the Snowcap daisy, but is not a dwarf plant and grows to three- to four-feet height and three-feet wide.

#9 Hay-Scented Fern

This perennial grows quickly and provides great ground cover. They grow in shade to part shade, and get about two-feet tall and three-feet wide. They are deer- and rabbit-resistant, and are easy to grow. These attractive ferns have bright green leaves in the summer that turn yellowish in the fall, and give off a scent that will remind you of fresh-cut hay.

#10 Gayfeather—Kobold

This is a tall, showy, wand-like pink/purple flower. This compact flower grows tall out of grassy clumps that get to about two-feet high, and one-foot wide. It prefers full sun and moderate watering. The blooms attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies, and will provide bird food once the blooms die off in the cold weather. This plant will add a nice vertical interest to your garden.

These are just a small sampling of plants that are available to add to your garden. We’d love to help you come up with a plan to meet all of your gardening goals. Contact us to discuss your ideas or give us a call at 603.707.0630 to discuss your next project, and be sure to visit our Garden Center. We’ve got new plants coming in weekly, a wide selection of pottery, landscape aggregates, and annuals—all available for delivery! Come visit us Monday – Saturday: 8:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M. Closed Sunday. Or give us a call at 603.677.9100 if you have any questions or are looking for something special.

Deer-Resistant Plants for the Lakes Region

Landscape Maintenance

There aren’t any completely deer-proof plants. Deer eat almost anything when food is scarce, or their population is high. Like humans, deer have food preferences, even when they have many options to choose from. Depending on deer pressure, here is a selection of plants that we have found to be more and less susceptible to deer browse.

HIGHLY SUSCEPTIBLE TO DEER BROWSE

Deer love to graze on many types of groundcovers, especially the tender new growth in the spring. If you have deer on your property, we recommend avoiding the following plants as they are more prone to deer browsing and can be severely damaged:

  • Hosta
  • Arborvitae
  • Petunias
  • Euonymus
  • Some Rhododendrons
  • Evergreen Azaleas

Deer seem to prefer plants which have been fertilized over those which have not.

LESS SUSCEPTIBLE TO DEER BROWSE

Deer tend to avoid fragrant plants with strong scents or highly aromatic flowers, and plants which have leathery, fuzzy, hairy, or prickly foliage. In our experience, the following plants are rarely damaged by deer:

  • Spiraea
  • Potentilla
  • Nepeta (Catmint)
  • Achillea (Yarrow)
  • Salvia
  • Pachysandra
  • Perennial Grasses & Ferns
  • Daffodils
  • Leucothoe
  • Pieris (Andromeda)
  • Iris
  • Lambs Ear
  • Dusty Miller
  • Lavender
  • Allium (Ornamental Onion)
  • River Birch

GARDENING WITH DEER-RESISTANT PLANTS

While gardening can be challenging in areas with high deer pressure, there are a wide variety of plants with beautiful flowers and fragrant foliage that are less susceptible to deer browse also attract bees and butterflies.

Deer are especially hungry in the spring, so consider filling your spring garden with deer-resistant plants or aromatic perennial herbs. Even resistant plants are more vulnerable in the first few weeks after planting; to eliminate temptation consider a strong-smelling deer repellant or plan for additional fencing or barriers for protection.

If you’re experiencing problems with unwanted deer on your property or are looking to plan ahead before it becomes a problem, we recommend talking with our experienced staff. We’ll help you select the right plants for your landscape, plan for additional protection such as the use of fencing or recommend deer repellant products which are available at our Garden Center.

The Benefits of Native Plants

Landscape Design

Pictured: Blue Flag Iris, Hay Scented Fern Sod, and Birch.

Native plants occur naturally in this area. They are adapted to our climate and range of soils and also provide food for our native wildlife. They are low-maintenance, require fewer fertilizers and pesticides, and are not considered invasive.

We have chosen these natives for their multi-season beauty and interest, wildlife value and their adaptability to a variety of garden conditions found in the Lakes Region of NH. Other than irrigation in the first year or two, and annual weeding, once established these plants require little else to thrive in our landscapes. Here are our top picks for native plants:

Best shade perennial: Foamflower – Tiarella cordifolia. Foamflower is a beautiful semi-evergreen ground-cover that has pink and white flowers in spring. Fairly deer resistant – not a deer’s first choice – it is perfect for growing in shady areas underneath trees. In rich soil, foamflower can spread annually a few feet in each direction, but it is never invasive. Choose spreading varieties such as ‘Oakleaf’ or ‘Running Tapestry’ if you are looking for a ground-cover effect.

Most fragrant shrub: Sweet Pepperbush – Clethra alnifolia. This medium sized shrub attracts butterflies and grows in forested wetlands, lakeshores or on stream banks in full – part shade or full sun. Although late to leaf out in spring, they have abundant, extremely fragrant, candle-like flower spikes which usually bloom in July-August. Choose Clethra alnifolia ‘Compacta’ for a compact and heavier branched shrub with white flowers or ‘Ruby Spice’ for deep pink flowers. Clethra spreads by rhizomes so give this plant extra space in the garden.

Most adaptable flowering shrub or small tree: Serviceberry – Amelanchier spp. Some species, such as Amelanchier canadensis are native to low woods and swamps, while others such as Amelanchier laevis ‘Spring Flurry’ are adapted to high and dry exposed areas. Serviceberry is a beautiful, multi stemmed, shrub or small tree that grows in full sun or in the understory of larger trees. White flowers cover the tree in April, and they are a bird’s favorite in June as they like to feed on the pink and purple edible berries. The fall foliage can be orange, red and/or yellow, especially when grown in the sun. Two of our favorite Amelanchier’s are ‘Robin Hill’ and ‘Autumn Brilliance.’

Best edible plant: Highbush Blueberry/Lowbush Blueberry – Vaccinium corymbosum/Vaccinium angustifolium. Blueberry is an essential Northern garden plant because of its delicious berries, fiery fall foliage, and depending on the species, ability to grow just about anywhere with some sun.  The blueberry is a great plant to place along an eroding shoreline. Our choice for the best Highbush blueberry is ‘Patriot’. It grows 3 – 4′ tall and produces early season fruit.  For heavier berry production, plant two different varieties near each other.

Most adaptable large tree: Red Maple – Acer rubrum. Native to swamps, forests, fields, and river and wetland edges. For small spaces choose the improved native ‘Bowhall’ red maple, which is a great shade tree where space is limited.  Its maximum height is 40 – 60′ tall and only 10 – 15′ wide, and has a gorgeous yellow to red fall color. ‘Redpointe’ has a great pyramidal form and is a good choice for street plantings.

Best Winter Berries: Winterberry – Ilex verticillata. Known for its heavy crop of red berries in the fall and winter, winterberry is a great plant to add color and interest to the winter landscape. The berries are useful for incorporating into fall and winter planters and arrangements. This medium sized shrub attracts birds and is great for wetland applications since it likes moist, acidic soil. ‘Berry Heavy’ is a prolific female red berry producer which needs a male pollinator, such as ‘Mr. Poppins’ to produce the attractive red berries.

Best Ground Cover: Hay Scented Fern – Dennstaedtia punctilobula. A tough ground cover with a soft, light green texture that does well in sun or full shade. Aggressive, creeps very quickly and is great for locations where you need to cover large areas quickly with something deer resistant, attractive and undemanding. They add fabulous texture to woodlands and landscape plantings.

Best plant for poor soils: Sweet Fern – Comptonia peregrina. Sweet fern is a native shrub with a unique scent. It is a great plant to control erosion and it grows in the poorest, dry soil. If you are interested in attracting birds and butterflies this is a must have plant.

Other great native plants to consider are Blue Flag Iris, Witch Hazel, Red Osier Dogwood, Viburnum, White Birch and Sugar Maples. To learn more about native plants or help in selecting the right plant for the right location stop by Stephens Landscaping Garden Center at 63 Whittier Highway, Moultonborough, NH, and follow us on Facebook and Instagram!

 

Spring Pruning Techniques & The Best Time To Prune Which Plants

Landscape Maintenance

Pruning can be intimidating based on the decision of when to prune, how much to prune, and the proper types of cuts to make. Proper pruning is important and provides these important benefits.

  • To maintain plant vigor.
  • Create and preserve a good branch or plant structure
  • Increase flower or fruit production on fruit trees.
  • Improve overall health and air flow.
  • Keeping the plant size to the space in which it is planted.

People often find themselves pruning shrubs or trees more often because they have been planted in a location where mature size was not taken into account. The excess growth can lead to encroaching on other plants, screen windows, or spill into the lawn spaces and walkways.

A common mistake is pruning a plant purely by its appearance rather than looking at its natural growth factors: size, width, shape, growth rate, and determining the best course of action from there. If possible, it’s important to start pruning plants when they’re young as it is easier to maintain a well pruned tree. It’s important to cut back conservatively and knowledgeably, otherwise the plant often ends up worse off than if you just left it alone.

The first step to starting with good pruning practice is to select a high-quality plant from a reputable garden center who has been pruning it correctly from the early stages. This will create good branch structure and a good balance that will eventually establish well. Starting with healthy plants that have “good bones” makes a huge difference.

Some Things to Consider Before You Prune

It is a known fact that more pruning in young, vibrant shrubs and trees increases the amount of new growth. This means that if you prune too often, it can make the situation worse or even require more attention than if you had just left it alone. With older trees that have lost a lot of their vigor, a good heavy renovation prune often stimulates new growth of the tree and helps produce more branches, flowers, or fruit. Just like mowing grass weekly, when pruning a shrub or tree it is recommended that no more than 1/3 of the height be taken off per year to avoid stress on the tree or shrub.

Timing your pruning also has a lot to do with the species that you are working on. There is a spring and early summer prune which will help take off a lot of the new flushed growth and prohibits a lot of new shoots. You should be careful on fall pruning of some items as this can stimulate new flushes of growth that can be damaged by early frosts and cold freezes.

For flowering type shrubs and trees, it’s important to determine if the species will flower on the new buds from the current season or the previous season’s growth. Knowing this will help you decide when it’s best to prune and reduce cutting off the new potential flowers. We have found that if you prune in the dormant season, and take off growth with buds that would have developed in the spring, it will help the plant flower more and develop a stronger branch structure. This also helps reduce the time that the open wound is susceptible to disease before active growth starts.

There is definitely a benefit to pruning shrubs and trees for the right reasons. It’s always good to take off any dead, diseased, or dying material at any point. This will reduce the stress on the plant, reduce the wounded area from insect and disease damage, and allow the wound to heal correctly. If you put thought and consideration into what you are trying to accomplish and what outcomes you hope to have, this will drive how you do your pruning, when you do it (depending on species), and will also help you decide if you really have the right plant for the area.

Proper Pruning Tools

  • Loppers: used for larger branches up to 1” in diameter.
  • Pole Pruner: used for different size branches that are further up in the canopy of the tree that cannot be reached from the ground or ladder. These have a lopper-type cutting ability as well as a heavily toothed saw that is used for larger branches.
  • Hedge Shears: used to shape smaller shrubs with very fine or thin branches.
  • By-Pass Pruners: this type of pruner has the blades slide by side like a pair of common scissors.
  • Anvil Pruners: this is a sharp blade that pushes down on a flat, small metal surface on the pruner to cut the branch.
  • Chainsaw: used for larger branches that cannot be cut by a pole saw or other method.

It is very important that you sanitize your tools before you start pruning anything. A simple 10% bleach and 90% water solution is the easiest way. It is recommended that you do this between each type of plant and cut that is being made to reduce the chance of spreading a disease. Although it is not common to spread disease through pruning, there is some risk, and sanitizing your tools will reduce that risk greatly. It’s also a good idea to always start with your known healthy plants and then finish pruning any plants or shrubs in question.

When you start to prune your plants, you need to consider what the mature look of the plant is and make your pruning cuts accordingly. The type of cut and where it is made will have a big impact on how the wound heals, along with how the new branch structure will grow out and effect the health of the plant in the future. It is said that most species of shrubs and trees will respond to the cut similarly as long as it is done the right way.

Different Types of Pruning Cuts

There are several different types of cuts that can be made during the pruning process depending on what the condition of the plant is, what you are trying to accomplish, and the species of the plant as well:

  • Heading Cuts: this is when the new growing part of the branch is taken off, which then stimulates the lower buds to push out a vigorous flush of new growth. This method is often used when you want to create a dense type of growth like shaping a small shrub, hedge, or tree. If you are using this method only to keep the plant size down, you have the wrong plant for that location.
  • Pinching: this method is used by taking off only the new growth on the stem or branch, which then pushes out new growth from the buds below that to develop into branches. The more often this is done, the denser the branch structure will become as the plant grows. For example, we see this type of practice a lot in the growing of annual plants or fall mums that have 3-4 pinches in a 6 month period to shape and build out the density and fullness of the plant.
  • Thinning Cuts: these types of cuts are taking off more than the small new growth at the tip. It is cutting back down to the first or another lateral branch which then will put energy back into the growth of that lateral branch rather than pushing out new growth at the pruned location. This method is often used to help open up air flow inside the canopy of a tree, cut crossing branches out, and decrease the height.
  • Removal Cuts: this is one of the heavier cuts made which results in taking the branch right back to the main stem or trunk of a large tree. It can be utilized when trying to limb a tree up from the ground.

Branch Collar and Branch Bark Ridge

When making cuts during pruning, it is very important that each cut is done with the correct angle as trees and shrubs do not have the ability to heal “tissue”. Instead, they create a barrier of cells to reduce the damage of the wound. The cut angle is easy to establish once you are able to identify the key features on the branch. These features are the “branch collar” and “branch bark ridge”.

  • Branch Collar is the swollen area that is found right where the branch and trunk tissue connect at the start of growth.
  • Branch Bark Ridge is the area of the branch in which there is raised bark that the branch and stem meet at. This area is crucial to the health of a tree because the “woundwood” is located inside this area, which has cells that help form tissue to protect the tree from decay after cuts are made.

When you start to prune, the cut needs to be right above the branch collar and at the same angle as the branch bark ridge. If you cut below or your cuts are flat, this reduces the amount of woundwood and the trees ability to fully heal the wound, which then opens the tree up for decay and insects.

If you are worried about doing this process, you can always start out on a small shrub or tree in an inconspicuous location, take a photo of the area you are about to prune, and make the proper cut. Then, in a few months, return to that same shrub or tree and see how your pruned area has developed based upon your pruning technique. Start small until you are comfortable and confident in what you are doing. There are many books, online articles, and resources to refer to in making the right decisions on timing and techniques. And, as always, our experienced staff at Stephens Landscaping Professionals is here if you want your pruning expertly taken care of.