Category Archives: Trees

Beautyberry Bushes–Did They Survive The Winter?


Last year, I wrote about buying three Purple Pearls Beautyberry Bushes (Callicarpa x NCCX1) at the Morton Arboretum Plant Sale.  I had seen them the fall before in the parking lot there and thought they were just stunning with all those amazing, unusual purple berries (see Purple Beautyberry Bush).  I had to plant them in my yard!

Beautyberry Bush

For a first year plant, they looked fine last fall and I was looking forward to even healthier, bigger shrubs this year.  Like many of us around the country, this was a tough winter and of course I worried about what would survive and what wouldn’t.  So as everything awakened from winter, I was mostly happy to see things leafing out and looking healthy.

But not the Beautyberry Bushes.  By late April, they looked like nothing more than 3 dead sticks when everything else was already leafing out.


But, it just didn’t seem like they were dead.  The branches had some spring to them and if I scraped a small piece of bark it seemed fleshly underneath.


But they really looked dead.  I was worried, but not ready to yank them out yet.

One of the great services that the Morton Arboretum provides is a free plant clinic where you can call or bring in a specimen and they can try to help you.  I finally got around to calling and spoke with the nicest women who happened to have them in her yard too.  She said hers looked just like mine and that they tend to leaf out a lot later than most shrubs.  The also regrow mostly from the base.  so I should be patient.

It had been a couple of days since I had looked at them, so now I was curious.  Lo and behold, little sprouts of green had just emerged!



They were alive!  Even now, 3 weeks later they are still way behind many of the other shrubs, but I can be patient.  At least they survived!





An Amazing Spring For The Flowering Trees

This spring, despite (or maybe in spite of) the poor weather the trees exploded in color like I have never seen before.

flowering crab


flowering crabtree







flowering crabtree


flowering crabtree

How were your flowering trees this year?  I need to replace the maple tree we lost last year (So Long Beautiful Maple Tree) so I’m thinking a magnolia is in order.  I’m so inspired by all the spring color this year.

Sadly, while all these trees are blooming so many ash trees are succumbing to the Emerald Ash Borer (Emerald Ash Borer:Part 1, Part 2)


Spring in Virginia

We had the chance to go to Virginia last weekend to make one last visit to two colleges before the May 1 deadline requires my twins to make a decision as to their plans next year.   Aside from the great admitted student tours, it was a real treat to leap ahead a couple of weeks into full blown spring.  We’ve had a few nice days here and there in Chicago and some spring flowers are starting to bloom, but not anywhere near peak yet.

All the trees were in full bloom!  Pink and white everywhere.



This one was puzzling since it was white and pink??


The bees were out already hard at work!


Brightly colored tulips and daffodils were everywhere. (Even the yews looked healthy and green, unlike many of mine.)


What beautiful splashes of color!


Crepe Myrtles are everywhere.  They bloom in the summer, but their bark is also so interesting I thought I’d add them to the post.  We can’t grow them here, but back in NJ my favorite plant in my garden was a dwarf crepe myrtlette.  I hated leaving it behind when we moved.


Now that I’m back home, I’ll get to see the second round of spring come alive very soon.  Our Redbud, Crabtree and Judd Viburnum are just starting to bud and the daffodils just bloomed in the last couple of days.  Spring is here!

So Long Beautiful Maple Tree

One of the major casualties in my garden this year was an 18 year old branched Freeman Maple that was one of the anchors of the backyard.

Multi stemmed Freeman Maple Autumn Blaze

When we moved in about 20 years ago, along the side property line was a row of very scraggly Siberian Elms that were nearing the end of their life spans and dangerously dropping large branches in every wind storm.  We decided to remove those and put in a specimen tree.  The maple provided great shade and was surrounded by a hosta and fern garden.


Last winter/spring, we had a couple of things happen on that side of the yard that likely contributed to the demise of this beautiful tree.  First was the unusually cold winter we had.  There were a lot of garden casualties reported in the Chicago blogging world and I had a few also, including some yews and grasses.


But, the maple looked fine as spring came, sending out buds, leaves and seeds.

Multi stemmed Freeman Maple Autumn Blaze


Multi stemmed Freeman Maple Autumn Blaze

It was also so established that it really should have survived just fine and no other maples in the area looked as though they were struggling.

Then in early April, in preparation for the house next door being torn down for new construction, all the trees were removed leaving a barren and swampy lot for weeks.  It was really a mess.

stephi gardens

Because of the heavy equipment, the poor soil was compressed further and the natural neighborhood water drainage was disturbed.  Then came the spring rains on top of already saturated soil.

stephi gardens

stephi gardens

The Mallard Ducks don’t mind the situation at all. Neither did the breeding toads who hummed loudly all spring.

Stephi Gardens

Unfortunately for our tree, it was right next to the property line and probably suffered the consequences of root damage.  So adding together the stress of the winter and the stress of the standing water, it led to the death of the tree by mid summer.  It never put out any more leaves and just looked frozen in time.

Multi stemmed Freeman Maple Autumn Blaze

We finally had to have it taken down, and now need to decide what to do in the area.   The hostas and ferns were a bit sunburned by the new situation, but they’ll be fine.  We’re reluctant to replace it yet, not knowing what the new neighbors might plan for their landscaping.  So in the meantime, we’re in a bit of a holding pattern trying to make the best of it.

The good news is that as part of the construction, they have fixed and enhanced the drainage in the area, so further flooding shouldn’t be an issue going forward, and should actually be markedly improved.  Maybe I won’t be needing to be wearing my rain boots to trudge around the yard so often anymore (see “My New Rain Boots“)

We have worked so hard to protect our ash tree (Attack of the Emerald Ash Borer: Part 1 and Part 2).  Who would have thought the maple would be the one to die first???

So much has changed for us with the construction next store.  Some we’ve prepared for, some will be a work in progress.  It’ll be a while until it’s all sorted out. I’ll be writing about some of it in the weeks ahead.  Have you had events in your yard that completely change the landscaping?

Multi stemmed Freeman Maple Autumn Blaze

I’ll miss the great fall color!


Curled Leaves on the Bushes

Earlier in the spring, I began to notice that many, but not all, of my bushes in the front yard (Dwarf Korean Lilacs,  Judd Viburnum, Boxwoods, Burning Bushes, Annabelle Hydrangea) were looking a bit unhealthy. Their leaves were oddly curling and looking dry, even though we’d had plenty of rain. The worst was one of the Burning Bushes and large sections of the lilacs.

Annabelle Hydrangea


Burning Bush


Dwarf Korean Lilac

Not knowing what to do, I called my tree and shrub caretaker to come and take a look. He diagnosed it as mealy bugs and mites, although I had trouble seeing what he saw.  Looking into it some more, it seems it could have also been related to any number of other pests, or even incorrect watering or fertilizing.  No matter the reason, it was clear from the symptoms that something was literally sucking the life out of the leaves and they needed to be treated or the shrubs could die. He recommended spraying with a pesticide/fungicide combo to cover all the bases. I don’t usually like spraying nonspecifically, but whatever the problem was it was affecting a number of specimen shrubs in my front yard that were already stressed from the harsh winter.  I had already lost one large burning bush to mites a couple of years back and I didn’t want to chance losing all these bushes this year, so went ahead with the sprays.

Just recently, I finally started to finally see some new healthy growth on the shrubs and no further damage.  Some of the curled leaves uncurled, others remained curled, but stayed green and didn’t appear to be any further damaged.  Crisis averted for this year.

annabelle hydrangea

Burning Bush


dwarf korean lilac

Have you ever seen anything like this?  Any suggestions as to the cause?

A View of the June Garden-Front yard

Yesterday, the backyard, now on to the front yard…

This is the area of biggest change.  In preparation for new construction, all the trees next door were taken down in early April.  We knew this was likely at some point (see Problem Areas) and had tried to plan ahead.  This garden contains arborvitae, annabelle hydrangeas, hostas and some annuals.  It went from almost full shade to full sun.  So far so good.  

Stephi Gardens

Under an Autumn Blaze Maple, we have some burning bushes, hostas, and daylilies.   

Stephi Gardens

Also some Columbines that have travelled from the backyard.

Stephi Gardens

This was another problem area where nothing seemed to grow under a mature maple.  I was happy to see the hostas I planted last year came back nicely.  When I split some more, I’ll add them to continue to fill in the space.  We are a little worried about the health of this parkway maple. It’s pretty old and showing a lot of signs of being unhealthy.  But it’s still standing, for now.

Stephi Gardens

On the other side of the driveway, a few years ago a rather large maple fell down in a wind storm.  We replaced it with this Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor) that has finally seemed to take off after it’s brush with cicadas its second year.   Underneath are more densi yews, Russian Sage, daylilies and a burning bush.

Stephi Gardens

Back up to the house, there’s an awful lot of green since the Korean Lilac and Judd Viburnum have finished blooming.  The yews are a bit overgrown and the Rhododendron in the corner a bit spindly.  This may become the next area to fix up.

Stephi Gardens

The yews took a bit of a beating this winter and will look fine after a trim.  The boxwoods and hostas are new last year and make a nice addition to the area (although the one hosta looks a little big for the space).  A little sprucing up and mulch and this area will be good to go.
Stephi Gardens

That’s most of the garden spaces that I write about and toil in.  Hopefully this summer will bring perfect garden weather.


A View of the June Garden-Backyard

I took a tour of my yard today to see how everything was looking. Other than a little late, most things were looking quite healthy. It seems I’m often focussed on the “little picture”, so it was nice to just step back and look at the “big picture”.

Starting in the back…

Hostas, sedum, peonies, windflowers, astilbe, heuchera, hydrangea, spurge and a River Birch fill this part shade bed that borders the patio. 

Stephi Gardens

Stephi Gardens

Off the back of the patio is the Purple Ash that looks quite healthy this year after it’s treatment for Emerald Ash Borer last year  (Attack of the Emerald Ash Borer: Part 1 and Part 2).   I recently split and transplanted some hostas,  ferns and sedum underneath it to make it look more like a garden rather than a dirt pile   I also added 3 Purple Beautyberry Bushes in the corner to join some raggedy looking Red Twig Dogwoods.  This also where my 2 new raised vegetable beds are located.   

Stephi Gardens

Finally, my Siberian Irises are blooming.  Only 2 blooms, but better than nothing!

Siberian Iris

The back of the house is planted with Miss Kim lilacs, a Blackhaw viburnum, a Redbud, densi yews, an assortment of creeping sedums, creeping thyme, Russian sage, a few other perennial specimens,  hostas, daylilies and petunias.  

Stephi Gardens

Johnson Blue Geranium

Johnson Blue Geranium

Tangerine Avens–my best guess is that it is Geum “Totally Tangerine”.


The side yard is undergoing some transition as the house next door is undergoing construction.  What used to be sun/part shade, is now full sun.  Along here are  ferns, hostas, phlox, bee balm, wisteria, knock-out roses, daylilies, weigeila and honeysuckle.  There is also a 15 yr old multi-stemmed Freeman’s Maple just outside the shot, but I’ll leave that for another day.  But here’s a hint, it’s June and it’s casting almost no shadow…

Stephi Gardens

Wisteria is starting to bloom.


 All around the yard are these Columbines.  They just pop up unexpectedly and provide some pretty spring colors.  They’re a spreading plant that I don’t mind having out of place.  These all came from a gift of one plant soon after we moved in.  


Tomorrow… Continuing around to the front yard…

Assessing Winter’s Damage

While most of the garden has burst forth finally, quite a few things have been mighty slow, while others have obviously not survived the winter.  From what I’ve been hearing, everyone has suffered some loss in the garden from the long, cold, snowy winter.   In comparison to some, I think I’ve fared pretty well since I didn’t lose any major specimens.  Mostly I’ve had to just be patient as everything slowly unfolds this year.

The trees and shrubs look pretty healthy, except for some winter burn on the yews.  Unfortunately, these dead spots will not recover and will need to be pruned out as soon as new growth can be seen.  Depending on how bad the damage is, it may look odd for a while until the shrub fills in.  Yews are one of the faster growing evergreens, so if I’m lucky it may fill in within one growing season.


This yew below suffered the most damage.  That’s because it’s placed much too close to the dryer vent, which pumped out damaging warm air onto it all winter.  Not much I can do about that but prune off the dead branches and hope it isn’t too ugly after.

Yew; Winter Burn





Some of the other shrubs, like the Ninebark and Weigela, have a fair amount of dead wood this year.  That’s easy enough to prune out after the new growth has emerged.  Don’t be in too much of a rush to prune, especially this year when things have leafed out so late.  Otherwise, you may be trimming out slow growth, rather than dead wood.




Three fountain grasses and a lavender plant also succumbed to the winter.   I watched them for a while and saw no signs of life, except some weeds that were moving in.  In this location, I’ve had trouble with the grasses in prior years, so this is a good time to remove them and try something different

Stephi Gardens

Stephi Gardens


Lavender (surrounded by Dead Man’s fingers)















This lavender is barely showing signs of life.  But, it’s better than nothing.






Earlier this spring, I thought the potted Hens and Chicks had survived their winter outdoors.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. A couple weeks later, they are pretty much dried up and dead.  The red coloring faked me into thinking it was alive, but it was basically just freeze-dried!  This was the first time I left them in the pot outdoors instead of in the unheated porch.  Next year, back in the porch.  The ones that had been planted around some landscaping rocks also didn’t survive.   They were fairly established, so I’m disappointed they didn’t survive.  The rest of the sedums and succulents are just fine.

Hens and Chicks

How did your plants do this winter?


It’s a Great Day to be Red!

Today’s post is a tribute to my son’s high school cross country team who will be traveling to the IL state meet tomorrow with the goal of coming home #1!  As everything around town has been turning from summer green to fall red, it brings to mind that this could very well be the year that it will be “RED” hoisting the championship trophy.
As a send-off to the boys, here are some of the beautiful red colors we’ve been seeing lately.

maple leaf


Fall leaves




Sargent Crab Tree




Norway Maple








Burning Bush





No matter what happens this weekend, just like this geranium still strongly blooming late into fall, these boys are tenacious and aren’t going away anytime soon.  Good Luck!

Michigan Tamaracks in Fall

You can find the beautiful and interesting Tamarack tree (Larix laricina) in Michigan. They are also known as the Eastern Larch. The Tamarack tree is a member of the pine family, and looks like most pine trees, except with one important difference; it loses its needles every fall making it a “deciduous conifer.” It thrives in the wet soil of bogs, swamps and lake edges. In the fall, the Tamaracks provide yet one more glowing color to the fall landscape, and they were just beginning to change this past week in northwestern Michigan.








photos by Peggy