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Chaste Tree, Shrub

Our Favorite Summer Flowering Shrubs

Louis Ratchford, Merrifield Plant Specialist

It’s midsummer and if you are like most people, when you think of blooming trees and shrubs you are probably thinking of crape myrtles and hydrangeas. Both of these iconic summer plants are beautiful, but there are many other summer blooming trees and shrubs to consider!  Each of these 7 gorgeous trees and shrubs make a wonderful addition to any summer garden. Now is a great time to plant any of these summer-bloomers, so come visit one of our locations to find the perfect match for your garden!

Buddleia, Butterfly Bush, Shrub

Butterfly Bush

As the name implies, this shrub is a butterfly’s best friend! Watch your Butterfly Bushes attract these pretty pollinators to your outdoor space as they bloom consistently throughout the summer with purple, blue, pink, red, white, or even yellow flowers (these ones are harder to come by). Typically, this shrub will grow 6-8 feet tall, but there are dwarf varieties available which max out at around 3 feet.

Chaste Tree, Shrub

Chaste Tree

The Chaste tree’s purple, cone-like flowers remind me of the Butterfly Bush. Similarly, it flowers consistently throughout the summertime, with nice colorful blooms lasting for many weeks. As the plant matures and grows larger in size—up to 12 feet or taller!—it acquires a multi-trunk sculpture and takes on a beautiful tree-like form.

Abelia 'Kaleidoscope', Shrub

Abelia

If you are looking for a bush that will always bring color to your garden for multiple seasons of the year, abelia is the right choice. It has long-lasting summer blooms, flowering for about 1 month. Even as colder months approach and the flowers start to fall off, it still keeps its brilliance! The parts left over from the white flowers, known as sepals, have the appearance of little red flowers— a perfect look for fall. The ‘Radiant’ and ‘Kaleidoscope’ abelias are known for their variegated foliage, which keeps your abelias looking wonderful even after the blooming season passes!

Trumpet Vine 'Morning Calm'

Morning Calm Trumpet Vine

This vining plant is a wonderful addition to any garden. Morning Calm is a unique kind of trumpet vine. It has trailing vines with orange flowers that bloom on the ends of the stems, following the vine as it trails downwards, creating a beautiful cascade of orange flowers. It takes on the personality of a grape plant with its large woody stem structure. There are also native varieties of trumpet vine available.

Rose of Sharon Hibiscus, Shrub

Hibiscus – Rose of Sharon

These easy-to-grow flowers will add a gorgeous tropical feel to your garden. There are both tropical and perennial varieties of hibiscus, and each flower consistently for at least 3 weeks. You can choose from a selection of pink, purple, yellow, blue, and white colors. Some varieties of the hibiscus are sterile, so if you are looking for a beautiful non-reproductive plant, the hibiscus is a great choice.

Hydrangea

This is an already popular plant, but for good reason! Add this colorful flower to your garden for a beautiful, timeless look. Note that there are many varieties of the hydrangea, with a more extensive list in our full hydrangea blog post.

Here are my favorite picks:

Macrophylla

The macrophylla, more commonly known as the big leaf hydrangea, falls under the endless summer series of hydrangeas, which bloom off of both new and old growth! It has coloring that is dependent on the pH level of the soil it is planted in. A more acidic soil will result in a blue flower, and a more alkaline soil will produce a pink flower. This variety is happiest in part-sun to shade.

Panicle Hydrangea, Shrub

Panicle

Depending on the cultivar, the coloring on the panicle hydrangea starts off as lime green and undergoes a transition from white, to light pink, to dark pink and finally to a beautiful maroon shade as it matures. This one is a more sun-loving hydrangea, preferring full-sun.

Oakleaf

Known for its cone-shaped flowers, the oakleaf hydrangea petals turn from white to pink as it matures. It has a nice woody structure with distinctive peeling bark and, in the fall, develops attractive red foliage.

Kodiak Orange Diervilla, Shrub

Kodiak Orange Diervilla

An exciting new addition to Merrifield Garden Center! Commonly known as the bush honeysuckle, the diervilla kodiak orange has beautiful red stems and will grow to be approximately 3-4 feet tall. It develops a bright orange foliage in the fall, is shade tolerant and adaptive to most soil types. My favorite aspect of this plant is that it is deer resistant!

And don’t forget – my favorite perennials for summer color!

If you are looking for a smaller plant for summer color, I always love the classic perennials Coneflower, Coreopsis, and Black Eyed Susan. These beautiful plants allow gardeners to add bright color to their gardens in the summer even if they do not have room for a tree or shrub.

Bigleaf Hydrangea, Shrub

Our Hydrangea Picks for Summer Blooms

If you are looking for something to brighten up your summer landscape, hydrangeas are the perfect plant! These beautiful plants bloom in bouquets of large white, pink and blue blossoms. In any garden, hydrangeas can turn a green summer landscape into a show of vibrant flowers.

Here are our hydrangea picks:

Annabelle Hydrangea, Shrub

Annabelle

‘Annabelle’ is a native hydrangea that features stunning white flower clusters up to 12 inches wide. The flowers appear in late spring to summer, often continuing into fall. Strong, straight stems hold up the huge flower heads.

Endless Summer Hydrangea, Shrub

Bigleaf

Arguably the most recognizable of all hydrangeas, bigleaf hydrangeas are in full bloom from June through July. The flowers are come in two shapes – round and softball sized (mophead),

or flat topped and delicate (lace-capped).

With many of these varieties, the blooms tend to be blue in acidic soils and pink in more alkaline soil. Gardeners can change the colors of pink and blue flowers by altering the pH of the soil, but white flowers cannot be changed by altering the soil.

Our Bigleaf Hydrangea Picks

  • ‘Nikko Blue’ – Gigantic, blue flower clusters demand attention in the summer garden
  • ‘Pistachio’ – this dazzling variety features unique lime green and hot pink flowers.
  • Repeat bloomers – these recent introductions will continue blooming throughout the summer. Our favorites are ‘Endless Summer’, ‘Blushing Bride’, ‘Twist-n-Shout’ and ‘Penny Mac’.
Climbing Hydrangea

Climbing Hydrangea

This sprawling, woody vine can reach 30-40 ft. and becomes covered in white, lace-cap flowers up to 10 inches in diameter in the late spring and early summer. It can tolerate part to full shade and climbs up any structures it is places against, or when unsupported, as a mounding, sprawling shrub.

Japanese Hydrangea Vine

Similar to the climbing hydrangea, the Japanese hydrangea vine blooms a little later in the season and has heart-shaped flowers. One of our favorites is ‘Moonlight’, with silver, blue-green leaves and fragrant, white, lace-cap flowers.

Oakleaf Hydrangea

Native to the United States, Oakleaf is named for its dark green, oak-like leaves. It produces large creamy white or pink blossoms. This hydrangea provides four season interest with deep mahogany-red leaves in the fall and exfoliating bark in winter.

Limelight Hydrangea, Shrub

Panicle Hydrangea

One of the last hydrangeas to bloom each summer, gardeners prize panicle hydrangeas for their gracefully arching branches and clusters of white flowers.

Our picks

  • ‘Pee Gee’ – This cultivar features prolific, showy blooms and can grow very large – 10-20 feet in height and width. Sometimes it can be trained into a small tree.
  • ‘Tardiva’ – This recent introduction flowers late, in August and September
  • ‘Limelight’ and ‘Little Lime’ – These compact cultivars feature unique light green blooms.
  • ‘Vanilla Strawberry’ and ‘Strawberry Sunday’ – The flowers mature to a strawberry color.

Caring for your hydrangea

Selecting the right location will make growing beautiful hydrangeas that much easier. They thrive in partial sun and moist, well-drained soil. Morning sun and afternoon shade with good air circulation is idea. Allow enough room for your hydrangeas to grow – 4 ft. by 4 ft. for compact varieties and 6 ft. by 6 ft. for larger varieties.

Cherry Tree

Our Favorite Spring Blooming Trees and Shrubs

Spring is here and we are indulging our spring fever with a lineup of our favorite spring blooming trees! Between the tried-and-true traditional favorites and new arrivals, we all have a tree we want for ourselves this season!

Cherry

‘Autumnalis’: If you just can’t get enough of cherry blossoms, try ‘Autumnalis’ in your landscape. This cultivar is known for blooming prolifically in the spring, then again sporadically in the late fall.

Yoshino Cherry: If you are looking for the best-known cherry tree in the northern Virginia region, this is your variety. Each year it turns the Washington DC Tidal Basin into a cloud of white blooms in early spring. Placing one in your yard may not draw millions of visitors from around the world as the Cherry Blossom Festival does, but that may be for the best!

Weeping Higan: The arching branches of this weeping variety can drape all the way to the ground with blooms in early spring. This popular ornamental variety produces light pink flowers.

Magnolia

As one of our most popular and iconic trees of the southeastern United States, there are many varieties of magnolia to choose from in addition to the beloved southern magnolia. Here are some of our favorites:

Saucer Magnolia: Without a doubt the most dramatic member of the magnolia family, this tree blooms in early spring with vibrant pink flowers. ‘Jane’ ‘Betty’ and ‘Ann’ are some of our favorite cultivars.

Star Magnolia: This tree unveils its magnificent star-like white blooms in early spring. In comparison with the bold structure of other magnolia blooms, the flowers of star magnolias are prized for their delicate appearance.

Sweet Bay Magnolia: This popular native variety delivers a creamy, white flower with a light lemon fragrance in early June. It is able to tolerate the clay soil in the area and is also able to handle poorly draining soil, making it a good choice for difficult landscape areas.

Pieris Japonica

This dense evergreen shrub produces drooping clusters of bell-shaped white flowers in early spring. Its foliage emerges bronze but matures to a glossy green.

Redbud

Redbud is best known for its small clusters of magenta-pink flowers that bloom in late March to early April. While this tree is widely considered a harbinger of spring, it boasts beauty during the fall as well, when its heart-shaped leaves turn a light yellow. This tree comes in both upright and weeping varieties.

Here are some of our favorite cultivars:

  • ‘Don Egolf’ is a dwarf Chinese cultivar named after Dr. Donald Egolf from the National Arboretum.
  • ‘Appalachian Red’ has brighter blossoms than other redbuds. Their neon pink are almost red. We like to say they are two shades brighter than other redbuds!
  • ‘Oklahoma’ has a darker purple blossom and a more compact, rounded form than other redbuds.
  • ‘Ruby Falls’ is a popular weeping cultivar with purple foliage.

Serviceberry

This North American native is a great year-round plant. It blooms in early spring with clusters of white flowers, then in early summer its fruit ripens to a blue color and attracts local birds. In the fall, the leaves change to a vibrant red or yellow.

Virginia Fringe Tree

Another native, Virginia fringe tree produces blooms in late spring that look the way they sound – like white fringe! The airy, fragrant blooms give the tree a unique look, unlike any other plant we name in this post.

Keeping Your Plants Hydrated and Happy This Summer

David Yost, Merrifield Plant Specialist

Summer is here! For many of us it’s time to kick back, relax and enjoy time with our families and friends. Whether you’re staying in town this summer or taking a trip, remember that your plants will need some extra care to keep them happy and well hydrated in the summer heat. We’ve got some refresher tips for you just in time for the hottest season of the year! Check out our full watering guide for year-round information.

Check Soil Before Watering

Even in the summer heat this golden rule of watering applies. This season, check your larger plants for moisture every 3 to 5 days and your smaller plants every 2 to 3 days. You’ll likely need to check your containers daily.

To test the soil, dig down into the root ball using a hand shovel to a depth of 4” to 5” and feel the soil for moisture. If the soil is moist, replace the soil and check again later. Moist soil will feel somewhat like a damp sponge. If the soil is dry, water the plant and surrounding soil thoroughly. Until the plants are well established—typically one year after planting—you will need to water more frequently and follow this process of checking the soil before watering.

Water Deeply

We recommend using a watering wand as it directs water most effectively over the roots and surrounding soil. Watering deeply encourages the plants root systems to grow down into the soil, reaching for the deeper water. And plants with deep root systems withstand drought better, making it easier on your long-term watering needs. Sprinklers, gator bags, and soaker hoses can also be effective when used properly.

Make a Watering Plan

Once you get a feel for how quickly the soil dries around your plants, you can make a plan and check them on a regular basis. Be aware that you will still need to monitor weather conditions and adjust accordingly. The best time to water is in the morning as this gives plants the opportunity to become fully hydrated before the mid-day heat arrives. Water remaining on the foliage will also dry quickly in the morning sun, reducing the spread of disease. So, mark your calendar and get outside to give your plants some refreshment before the mid-day heat arrives.

Make Plans with Your Neighbors Before Vacation

Excited to finally take that vacation you started planning last summer? Enjoy! Just remember to set up a plan with a neighbor or friend to water your plants while you are gone. Provide your phone number in case they have any questions.

Azalea 'Kaempo Pink', Shrub

Bring Out the Best in Your Azaleas and Rhododendron

David Yost, Merrifield Plant Specialist

Summer is almost here, and our beautiful azaleas and rhododendron are done or almost done blooming. This is the perfect time to prune your plants to increase fullness, promote overall health, and encourage a beautiful bloom in the upcoming year. Azaleas and rhododendron both respond well to pruning, and if done right, the plants will produce more blooms in a concentrated form next year.

For many of us, pruning back our prized shrubs can be a daunting task. Before you begin, analyze your goals and objectives for the task. Most people prune to manage the shape and size of their shrubs. Here are a few simple tips to assist you in preparing your plants for a full and beautiful bloom next year.

The best time to prune is at the end of your plants’ bloom cycle. 

Rhododendron before pruning

Rhododendron after pruning

Your azaleas and rhododendron will set their buds for next year by the end of August. To avoid cutting off next year’s blooms, trim your plant soon after the current blooms fade. For most of us, this will be now or in the next couple of weeks. I recommend completing your pruning project by the fourth of July holiday.

The correct tools make a difference.

For the sake of the plant—and your hands—you will want to make sure that you have both hand pruners and a pruning saw. Hand pruners work well for limbs under ¾ inch in diameter. If you use your hand pruners on limbs larger than that, you run the risk of ruining your pruners and mangling the branches of your plant. For the best results, switch to your pruning saw for all branches over ¾ inch in diameter. Also, before you begin pruning, clean your pruners and pruning saw with rubbing alcohol to ensure they are free of any contaminants that may harm your shrubs.

Prioritize dead branches for removal.

Before you begin shaping your plant, check it for dead branches. Unhealthy branches pose a risk to your plant’s overall health by increasing its exposure to infection and bugs. Dead branches will have no living leaves or new growth. It’s best to remove these first. Use your pruners or pruning saw to remove any dead branches, and remember to clean your pruners before moving on to complete additional pruning on your plant.

After you remove the dead branches, prune away overgrown branches to bring the plant to the size and shape you wish to achieve. Cut just above the node where branches separate with your hand pruners.

Beware of over trimming rhododendron. 

Azaleas respond well to pruning and even thrive with a major trim, provided you prune the plant before it sets its buds for next year. If your azalea is overgrown and needs a significant pruning, you can continue trimming branches as far down the plant as needed.

Rhododendron, however, prefer a light pruning rather than a heavy trimming. Remove dead blooms from your rhododendron plant, then prune lightly, using selective thinning to lightly prune the plant. If your rhododendron is overgrown, you can remove half the stems from the next older layer of the plant (below the one you just pruned). Save the second half for the following year. If your rhododendron are very overgrown, it may take a few years to prune your plants to a desirable height.

For even better blooms next year fertilize your plant after pruning.

After pruning I recommend fertilizing your plant to promote growth and increased blooms next year. You can use the Merrifield Flowering Plant Food or Holly Tone if you’re looking for an organic option.

Understand common issues and how to treat them.

When your azalea plant blooms during damp, rainy weather it may suffer from a common, but preventable, fungal infection: Ovulinia petal blight. If dead blooms remain on your azalea when you begin pruning, this fungal infection is the cause. To enable the blooms to fall off the plant before the bloom cycle ends and extend the bloom time of your plant next year, try spraying your plant with fungicide just before the bloom cycle begins next year. We recommend using Bonide Infuse.

Another common problem is caused by tiny insects called lace bugs. These critters may feed on your azaleas and rhododendron during the summer months. You’ll know if you have a lace bug problem as they suck the sap and bleach the color from your foliage causing the leaves to turn a yellowish-white color. You can also see these tiny bugs on the underside of the leaf if you flip the leaf over.

I recommend using Bayer Advanced Tree & Shrub Protect & Feed to treat these bugs if you encounter them. This product is a systemic drench control product that you put into the soil for the plant to absorb through the roots. One application will last all season. Apply this about once every three years to keep the lace bugs under control.

Celebrate Earth Day & Arbor Day

Michael Fahey, Merrifield Plant Specialist and ISA Certified Arborist

Every year we get excited about Earth Day and Arbor Day. These holidays mark two special days when the entire country comes together to celebrate and protect our natural resources. We encourage you to celebrate by embarking on a planting project with your family and friends. This year we’re celebrating a few of our favorite spring trees and shrubs that grow extremely well in our Northern Virginia area.

By planting trees and shrubs, you are cleaning the air, creating a habitat and food source for local wildlife and increase the value of your home. Not to mention, the act of planting itself is a big stress reliever! Head outside this week and plant a tree or shrub in honor of these two holidays.

Blueberries

You can have the sweet taste of blueberries right in your backyard by planting a native blueberry shrub. Blueberries are one of the biggest nutritional powerhouse fruits, providing anti-aging, cancer and disease fighting antioxidants. Luckily, these tasty shrubs prefer acidic soils, which makes them well-suited to Northern Virginia. They make a great addition to the garden as accent shrubs or even screening plants. The birds love blueberries just as much as we do. Protect your fruit by draping a large piece of bird netting over the shrub or using a large tomato cage.

Virginia Fringe Tree

Fringe trees produce panicles of airy, white, fragrant flowers that hang off its branches. This Virginia native produces beautiful blooms from late spring to early summer. To keep your Virginia fringe tree looking its best, plant it in moist, fertile, well-drained soil in part-sun to full-sun. The female versions of this tree will produce bluish-black fruits that attract birds. This tree is very easy to care for and makes a great addition to urban spaces as it tolerates some air pollution and is drought tolerant.

Serviceberry

Serviceberry is a standout native tree that provides four season interest to the garden. It produces beautiful billows of lacey white flowers against bright green foliage in the spring, tasty dark blue berries that our feathered friends enjoy in the summer, standout foliage in shades of red and orange in the fall, and silvery bark in the winter. Serviceberry is very versatile in the landscape as it is drought tolerant and happy in an array of sun conditions. Also known as Juneberry, people often use the fruit to make jams and pies.

Oaks

The oak tree family is abundant with many different species with varying heights and leaf shapes. Oaks are most beloved for their ability to provide shade in the landscape and standout color in the fall. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • White oak: Our national tree, the white oak is beautiful and majestic and feeds more wildlife than any other tree in the country.
  • Willow oaks: Its narrow leaf structure provides dappled light instead of dense shade. This fast-growing oak also thrives in wet soil.
  • Northern red oak: These oaks produce the most stunning, deep crimson fall color.
  • Bur oak: Part of the white oak family, the bur oak is pollution tolerant and has a sprawling growth habit and corky bark. This is a favorite for areas near a pond as it attracts wood ducks.
  • Saw tooth oak: This fast-growing oak has a unique leaf shape, interesting acorn and bark texture.
  • Columnar oaks: These reliable oaks are a great way to add trees to small spaces. A few of my favorites include ‘Regal Prince,’ ‘Kindred Spirit,’ and ‘Green Pillar.’

Azaleas

Azaleas are one of the most popular shrubs in our area due to their ability to produce funnel-shaped flowers in an array of vibrant colors in spring. Lucky for us, azaleas thrive in acidic soils, making them a great evergreen and flowering shrub in Northern Virginia. To keep your azaleas performing their best year-after-year, prune them once the blossoms fade, but before the new blossom buds appear. You can also thin out vigorous, over grown branches to stimulate new growth from the interior of the plants. Fertilize with Merrifield Flowering Plant Food or Holly-tone to support healthy growth and flowering for next year.

Rhododendrons

Spectacular clusters of bright, bell-shaped blooms and bright green, large, leathery leaves that remain on the shrub year-round make rhododendron a standout shrub choice in our area. Rhododendron come in a variety of bloom colors and sizes and will produce flowers for weeks. They prefer moist, well-drained, acidic soil and make great additions as foundation plants, woodland plantings or border plants in sunny to partly shady locations.

Camellias

We love camellias for their ability to provide exquisite blooms in single, double and full peony form when not much else is flowering in the garden. Plus, their glossy foliage is evergreen! These surprisingly low maintenance shrubs come in many forms and range in bloom color from soft pink to dark red to white. These beauties thrive when planted in acidic soil, making them a great choice for a mixed shrub bed, specimen plant or screening plant in Northern Virginia. Camellias are deer resistant and prefer to be protected from the hot afternoon sun.

Japanese Maples

The show stopping color a Japanese maple adds to the autumn garden is unmatched! These beautiful trees add instant grace and beauty to the landscape with their delicate leaf structures and vibrant colors that turn to shades of crimson, gold and orange in the fall. Japanese maples come in a variety of forms and leaf shapes, making them a great addition to your landscape as a specimen plant or focal point in a mixed bed.

This elegant tree provides a beautiful canopy of color that offers dappled light to understudy plantings, making it a great companion for shade perennials. Japanese maples are heavy organic feeders. Before planting, work compost or other organic matter directly into the ground. To keep your Japanese maple looking its best, plant it in well-drained, acidic, moist soil.

Kwanzan Cherry Tree

The Kwanzan cherry tree produces an abundance of stunning deep pink, layered, rose-like flowers from mid-April through May. Its new foliage emerges reddish copper in the spring, turns a dark green in the summer, and transitions to yellow, orange or bronze in the fall. Its upright, vase shaped form make it a great choice for a specimen tree or for lining a walkway, road or driveway. Plant your Kwanzan cherry tree in full sun conditions in acidic, well-drained, moist soil. The Kwanzan cherry tree does not produce any fruit, making it an excellent choice for a low-maintenance garden.

Pieris Japonica

Also known as lily-of-the-valley bush, pieris japonica is a dense evergreen shrub that produces drooping clusters of bell-shaped white flowers in early spring. Its foliage emerges orange-bronze but turns a deep, glossy green when mature. Pieris japonica makes a great foundation shrub or border plant and looks great paired with other acidic soil loving plants, such as azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias.  Plant pieris japonica in organically rich, well-drained, acidic soil in full sun to part shade conditions.

The Art of Pruning Shrubs

David Yost, Merrifield Plant Specialist

Pruning is one of the best things you can do for your shrubs. Well-pruned shrubs will grow fuller with a more attractive shape, produce more flowers, and be healthier overall. While pruning has some wonderful benefits, it’s often one of the most skipped gardening tasks. That’s likely because we’re all scared of making the cut!

You can calm this fear by going into your pruning project with a clear objective. For example, you need to determine if you’d like to:

  • Manage the size of the plant to prevent it from overgrowth
  • Increase flower production
  • Correct structural problems
  • Highlight the form

The most common reason people prune is to manage overgrowth. But, what many don’t realize is that regular pruning can prevent the overgrowth issue in the first place. Regular pruning maintains the shrub size and prevents breakage during the winter months by managing the structure. It even creates more flowers as the shrub redirects its energy into flower production rather than overgrowth.

Once you know what you want to achieve, you can determine the proper technique and place to make the cut. Common pruning techniques include:

  • Heading: Trimming long, unbranched stems by cutting above a healthy bud. This encourages lower branches to develop.
  • Renewal: Cutting back all of the stems to within an inch of the ground during dormancy. Come spring, the plants will produce new shoots from the base. Often people do this with vigorous growers, such as roses and butterfly bush, to keep them smaller, more compact and fuller with blooms.
  • Thinning: Removing selected shoots or the main stem to open up the middle of the plant to more sunlight. This helps to maintain the natural form, keeps the interior branches healthy and encourages new growth
  • Shearing: Trimming the plant around the outside to restore structure in the landscape setting.

The actual art of pruning comes in with the limb selection process. You can use your own personal judgement to select the limbs to remove to create the shape and look you’re trying to achieve. Proper pruning can turn your landscape into a work of art with all of the elements fitting together properly within the composition.

Once you’ve mastered the techniques, it’s just a matter of timing. Most people prune when it’s convenient for them, but the key is pruning when it’s best for the plant. The right timing will ensure you don’t end up chopping off all of your viburnum buds or leaving your juniper with a bald spot.

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