The hydrangea lookalike: Chinese snowball viburnum

Viburnum macrocephalum 3

Chinese snowball viburnum in full bloom on April 12, 2015 in Greenville, SC.

Viburnum macrocephalum 2

Closeup of Chinese snowball viburnum cyme, which is comprised of sterile florets.

For bodacious blooms at this time of year, look no further than Chinese snowball viburnum. Many visitors either ask “What is it?” or “What kind of hydrangea is it?” It’s a semievergreen viburnum. Sure the cymes look like hydrangea blooms, but that’s the only similarity. Chinese snowball viburnum is a tough, durable, drought-tolerant shrub that performs best in full sun. It can grow 12-15 ft. high, but can be cut back to knee height to encourage the production of new flowers.

Chinese snowball viburnum makes a terrific accent plant, but it’s also a shrub that makes everything around it look even better.

B. Polomski 2015 (c)

Recycling Easter lilies

If you saved your poinsettias with plans of coercing them into bloom for next Christmas, then you’re probably going to save your Easter lilies. But for those of you who compost your holiday plants, you may want to make an exception with Easter lilies. They can be recycled by replanting them in the landscape. Unlike tender poinsettias which can be killed by temperatures below 50 degrees F, Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum var. eximium) are hardy, garden-worthy bulbs that can be grown outdoors year-round,

Right now, continue to enjoy their pure white fragrant flowers indoors. They should be resting near a window that receives bright, indirect sunlight. Keep the potting medium moist. Water the plant thoroughly when the soil surface feels dry, but avoid overwatering. If the pot is wrapped in decorative foil, be careful not to let the plant sit in trapped, standing water. Remove the plant from decorative pots or covers and water until it seeps out of the pot’s drain holes. Repeat this several times. Allow the plant to drain for a few minutes before putting it back into its decorative cover.

When a mature flower starts to fade and wither, cut it off to keep the plant looking attractive.

After the last flower of your Easter lily has withered and has been cut away, plant it in the garden. Follow these simple steps:

  1. Prepare a well-drained garden bed in a sunny location amended with organic matter such as compost. Good drainage is the key for success with lilies. To ensure adequate drainage, create a raised garden bed by moving soil to the top a few inches higher than the surrounding soil level. Also, adjust the soil pH to 6.5 to 7.0.
  2. Plant the potted Easter lily bulbs 12 to 18 inches apart. Water them in immediately after planting.
  3. Lilies like their “feet in the shade and their heads in the sun.” Mulch with a 2-inch layer of compost, pine straw, or shredded leaves. This helps conserve moisture in between waterings, suppresses weed growth, keeps the soil cool, and provides nutrients as it decays.

Easter lily in bloom on June 22, 2014 in Easley, SC.

As the leaves and stems of the original plants begin to turn brown and die back, cut them back just above a healthy leaf on the stem. Wait until the leaves and stems have turned brown before removing them. New growth will soon emerge.

In the fall when the lily stalks have matured and turned yellow, you can cut them back to soil level. When they are completely dry, the stalks can be pulled out easily.

During the winter months, maintain a generous layer of mulch. Carefully remove the mulch in the spring to allow new shoots to come up. Fertilize with a complete fast-release fertilizer such as 8-8-8 when the new shoots emerge and monthly until flowering. Conversely, a slow-release fertilizer can be applied just once during the growing season when new shoots emerge in the spring. Apply the fertilizer to the soil around each plant about 2 inches from the stem and water it in.

Easter lilies, which were forced to flower under controlled greenhouse conditions on Easter, a holiday that can fall on any Sunday from March 22 to April 25, will flower naturally in late May and June and will reach a height of 3 feet or more.

Although your recycled Easter lilies will not bloom on time, you can still enjoy their elegant flowers and take credit for their spectacular display.

Bob Polomski (c) 2015

Armitage “Diggin’ It” at Brookgreen Gardens

I was so fortunate to serve as the opening act for Dr. Armitage. With both of my talks–“Learn to avoid these top 10 landscape mistakes” and “Have you checked your trees recently? Learn how to inspect your trees to keep them and you safe”–I had the good fortune of speaking to a large audience. Dr. A., on the other hand, was treated to a packed, standing room only audience. As expected, he delivered two solid presentations: “Tales From The Gardens: Who in the World is Nellie Stevens?” and “Color – People Never Get Tired Of It”. Dr. A. made us laugh and made us think. He’s such an incredible storyteller who weaves his passion and enthusiasm for plants and people into a thought-provoking, side-splitting presentation.

Over the years I’ve attended a number of Armitage talks, sometimes I’d be in an audience of growers, and at other times I’d be alongside Master Gardeners and consumers. Back then and now–he always brings his A-game to the delight of us all.

“Diggin’ It” at Brookgreen Gardens on March 21

Friends, I have the distinct honor and pleasure of being the opening act for Dr. Allan Armitage. For me, it’s like opening up for The Rolling Stones, U2, and Bruce Springsteen!

I am honored and shocked by this wonderful opportunity. I’ve seen him speak a number of times and even interviewed him on the radio. Now I have the chance to share the microphone with him. I hope you can make it to this event.

From the Brookgreen Gardens web site (

Just as Spring Arrives Brookgreen Hosts Garden Festival ‘Diggin It’                      Saturday, March 21

Diggin’ It, our annual garden festival, offers a full day of expert and entertaining gardening advice. This year, Dr. Allan Armitage will be a featured speaker. Engaging as well as knowledgeable, he has lectured worldwide and will offer a morning and afternoon program. Dr. Armitage is professor emeritus at the University of Georgia and a prolific author. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Medal of Honor from the Garden Club of America and the National Educator Award from the American Horticultural Society.
We are pleased to welcome Dr. Robert Polomski back to Brookgreen Gardens for two lectures we are sure will interest you. As a horticulturist and arborist, Dr. Polomski has educated commercial and consumer audiences for more than two decades on a wide range of topics in a variety of media that includes radio broadcasts and television appearances. He has published his research in scientific journals and authored regional gardening books.

Diggin’ It Programs in the Wall Lowcountry Center Auditorium

Dr. Robert Polomski
10 a.m. – 11a.m.
– Learn to avoid these top 10 landscape mistakes.
An attractive landscape can add beauty and value to your home. Avoid costly mistakes and unnecessary effort to create a landscape that’s easy on the eyes and easy to manage. Learn about these “Top 10 Landscape Mistakes” so you can create a healthy, attractive landscape that looks good and saves you money.

Dr. Allan Armitage
11:15 am – 12:15 pm

Tales From The Gardens: Who in the World is Nellie Stevens?
Where do plants come from? How does our garden grow? Why is yarrow called woundwort? How do the spots of lungwort affect medical research? How did unmarried men let available girls know their marital status? These are stories your mother never told you, and they may include plants you are not familiar with, but they are fun to hear.

Dr. Robert Polomski
12:45 p.m. – 1:45 p.m
. – Have you checked your trees recently? Learn how to inspect your trees to keep them and you safe.
Trees provide numerous benefits to our homes and communities, but they may become liabilities when they fall or break apart. Some tree failures are unpredictable and cannot be prevented, but others can be avoided with a simple tree inspection. Many potential failures can be corrected before they cause damage or injury. Bob Polomski will address seven common structural tree defects that often result in failures, such as uprooting and trunk and branch breaks.

Dr. Allan Armitage
2 p.m. – 3 p.m
. – Color – People Never Get Tired Of It
Dr. Armitage will present his recommendations on color in the garden, showing off the latest and greatest annuals that will take the heat of a southern summer and still look great in the fall.

In between lectures, the Brookgreen Horticulture staff and volunteers will be on hand to offer activities and tips on how to become a better home gardener.

Representatives from local organizations will have informational tables throughout the day outside the Lowcountry Center. All the programs, speakers, and exhibits are free with gardens admission.

Amazing Silent Auction Opportunities
Diggin’ It Silent Auction offers rare opportunities for avid gardeners to participate in exclusive tours, excursions, and experiences full of valuable horticulture ideas and advice. All auction proceeds help support the gardens throughout the year.

Private Evening Tour with Vice-President of Horticulture for up to 5 people [1 bidding opportunity]
Enjoy an exclusive after-hours tour (2 hours in length) with our Vice President of Horticulture and Conservation, Sara Millar. Sara will guide you and your guests through the Gardens while sharing one-on-one horticultural and historical insights. She will share valuable information and tips on a range of gardening topics, including plant selection and care, garden design, and the intensive maintenance program the Horticulture Department implements to create the beautiful gardens on property.

Brookgreen Gardens Plant Collection Talk and Tour for up to 5 people [1 bidding opportunity]
Enjoy an exclusive tour (2 hours in length) with our Curator of Plant Collections, Christy Anouilh. Christy will guide you and your guests through the Gardens and identify special plants in our collection. She will highlight plant care and culture, nomenclature, and discuss the significance of plants at Brookgreen Gardens.

Landscape Design for Your Yard [1 bidding opportunity]
Opportunity for a consult with our Manager of Horticulture, Katherine Rowe, to be followed by a landscape design for identified areas of your yard. Katherine’s background is in landscape architecture and horticulture and she’d love to combine the two for your landscape. The package will include a one hour consult at your home, a hand-drawn design for one selected area in your yard, a general work plan, and a recommended plant list.

Horticulturist for a Day [4 bidding opportunities]
We’d love to host you for a behind-the-scenes garden experience with the Horticulture department. This will include an opportunity in the greenhouse to propagate plants for the Gardens (and to take home!) and to plant a specific spot in the garden for the season, in addition to other garden opportunities. Lunch with staff and a Brookgreen T-shirt are included.

Horticulture Consultation for Your Landscape [4 bidding opportunities]
Enjoy a one-hour consult with a Brookgreen horticulturist at your home. We’ll offer suggestions for any problem areas, ideas for plants and landscape enhancement, and recommendations for your yard. We love to travel, but this is for local residents only (zip codes 29576, 29575, 29588, 29577, 29585).

Exclusive Early Bird Shopping for Spring Plant Sale [5 bidding opportunities]
Here is an exclusive opportunity to enjoy the prima plant selection before the crowd arrives. Bring your spouse, partner, or best gardening buddy with you for two hours the day before the sale to purchase the plants at the top of your list. Horticulture staff will be on hand to answer your questions and give you personalized attention.

Diggin’ It Spring Garden Festival is sponsored in part by



Snowfall in Spring? Must be annual trampweed

Annual trampweed (Facelis retusa), is a winter annual, common throughout South Carolina, especially in dry sandy
fields, roadsides, lawns, pastures, and waste places.   This winter annual is a member of thefacelisretus aster family which is an introduced South American weed that’s common in lawns and roadsides.  This weed is a poor competitor, but it will thrive in the most inhospitable environments: dry, infertile, sunny, environments.  When the preferred turfgrass is
absent or growing poorly (this spring dry spell has slowed down the growth of a number of grasses), expect this weed to thrive and reproduce.

Obviously, the best way of controlling this wintfacelisretusaer annual is to improve the health of the lawn with proper fertilization (based on soil test results), proper mowing height and frequency of mowing, etc. A healthy lawn will out compete this annual weed for light, water, and nutrients.

For information on Annual Trampweed, see HGIC 2319 (

“51 of the hottest of the hot plants” from Garden Design magazine

In the early Spring 2015 issue of Garden DesignI was immediately drawn to Jenny Andrews’ article: “51 hottest of the hot plants.” Ms. Andrews compiled the suggestions of 12 garden pros and organized them into 7 categories. I perused the article and considered my own favorites for the Southeast.

In the “Sturdy & Stylish” category, I was attracted to the reddish-brown, chocolate-scented flowers of chocolate cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus), a tender tuberous-rooted perennial from Mexico (USDA Zones 7-11). ‘Chocamocha’ is a burgundy-flowered selection that is considered to be more floriferous and more compact than the species.

The multicolored IntRose01 Calypso rose (Rosa ‘IntRose01’ Sweet Spot™ Calypso) whose flowers sport shades of pinkish-red, yellow with dark pink centers. This two-foot tall beauty is reported to bloom from spring to fall (I would expect a floral rest in the heat of mid-summer in our region). (The number 1 plant in this category is Blonde Ambition blue grama grass [Bouteloua gracilis]With the two side-by-side photos of IntRos01 Calypso rose and Blonde Ambition, I was not attracted to the blue grama grass, despite its native southwestern heritage and interesting yellow-gold seedheads).

The “Shady Characters” that I’d like to include in my garden are variegated Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’ Camouflage™) and the Japanese camellia from Nuccio’s Nurseries in Altadena, California, Camellia japonica ‘Nuccio’s Bella Rossa’.

For “Bountiful Blooms”, I love the old-fashioned flowering quince, Chaenomeles speciosa Double Take™ series (USDA cold hardiness zones 5-8). Developed by NC State professor, Tom Ranney, Ph.D. et al., their early spring (February to April) camellia-like flowers borne on branches that have few to no thorns are guaranteed to give you “spring fever”: Scarlet Storm (scarlet), Orange Storm, and Pink Storm (hot pink).

The herbaceous perennial foxglove hybrid, Ruby Glow, which is an intergeneric hybrid—a cross between Digitalis and the Mediterranean shrub Isoplexis (a.k.a. Digiplexis), is part of the Foxlight Series from Darwin Perennials, a division of Ball Horticultural Co., which includes Plum Gold and Rose Ivory. I’d like to see how Ruby Glow and its mates stack up against other foxglove hybrids, such as Berry Canary and Illumination Flame.

For “Fun Foliage” I’m attracted to Godzilla Japanese painted fern (Athyrium ‘Godzilla’), a 3 ft. tall by 6.5 ft. wide gargantuan fern that—according to Tony Avent—is a probably cross between Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum) and lady fern (Athyriuim filix-femina). For its sheer size and red, silver, and green foliar highlights, it’s a must-have fern for the shade garden.

In “Sun Lovers,” I was immediately drawn to the blue leaves of whale’s tongue agave (Agave ovatifolia). Blue is my favorite garden color, and this blue-leaved succulent that’s native to Mexico in the words of Tony Avent: “Has proven to be one of the best agaves for cold, wet climates, for outperforming almost all other species.”

In “Little Lovelies” I’m fond of Pink Icing™ blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), a new variety of BrazelBerries® blueberry from Fall Creek Farm & Nursery in Oregon. Here’s another blueberry that should be included in the edible landscape. It joins Fall Creek’s other blueberries, Peach Sorbet™ and Jelly Bean™.

In the “Uncommon Cravings” category, Madi-II Chinese dogwood leapt from the page. Introduced in 2014 by Brotzman’s Nursery in Ohio and discovered as a chance seedling, Madi-II’ Cornus kousa var. chinensis ‘Madi-II’ Mandarin Jewel™) bears white floral bracts in late Spring, typical of kousa dogwoods. However, it differs with the production of pumpkin-orange drupes—not red–that persist against a backdrop of yellow-orange fall color.

To see the entire list of 51 plants, see the article (p. 80-95) by Jenny Andrews in the Early Spring 2015 issue of Garden Design.

Structural pruning improves the longterm stability and health of trees

ice on contorted willow

A corkscrew willow with flexible limbs that easily accommodate the ice without snapping.

Punxsutawney Phil was right: six more weeks of winter. Just when I was putting the finishing touches on a blog entry regarding winter annual weeds, the henbit, chickweed and wild garlic quietly disappeared beneath a blanket of ice yesterday.

The shrubs and trees weren’t so lucky. Some of them looked like reluctant contortionists bent into painful shapes. Those whose branches refused to bend simply broke beneath the weight of the ice.

Unlike snow, which can be brushed off without damaging the limbs, ice requires a hands-off approach. Be patient and do nothing; allow the ice to melt naturally.

For trees the best defense against storms is a strong, weather-resistant crown and trunk. This can only be achieved with structural pruning for the first 15 to 20 years of a tree’s life. That’s right: 15 to 20 years. Like raising a child to adulthood, a young tree must be structurally pruned to develop a pyramidal form with a dominant central leader. Smaller branches must be distributed vertically and horizontally around it. Codominant stems of equal diameter must be removed or subordinated (pruned to supress their growth and eventually removed) because they are often poorly attached as evidenced by the included bark; they split apart like wishbones during ice-and windstorms.


A contorted loblolly pine (sadly, the contortion is due to ice accumulation and not genetics).

Structural pruning develops a framework of well-spaced, strongly attached limbs. These biomechanically sound trees reach middle-age and are less likely to burden you with costly tree failures.

Ideally, structural pruning begins in the nursery and continues in your landscape. Individual branches should be spaced around the trunk and not clustered together at one point. Single branches create strong attachments with the trunk: as the branch and trunk grow radially (produce annual growth rings), wood from the branch and trunk overlap. Over time the branch looks like a threaded dowel that was screwed into the trunk.

Oftentimes you’ll see a swollen area at the base of limb: this branch collar results from the overlapping of branch and trunk tissues, which indicates a strongly attached branch.Most importantly, the collar houses a natural protective region called the branch protection zone. This unique zone of cells, which develops at the base of the branch and extends into the trunk, resists the invasion of decay-causing organisms into the trunk when the branch dies or is removed—providing that the branch was removed just outside of the collar. Remember this: the branch protection zone develops on individual branches that are less than one-half the diameter of the parent stem which are also less likely to break-away from the parent stem.

Finally, you need to know that pruning creates wounds. The openings created by the removal of branches seal more rapidly on small diameter branches than large ones. So, if you experience empowerment and gratification from sawing through large, hefty branches, consider pruning dead trees.

Despite the woodchuck’s dire forecast, I trust that our winter will be interspersed with brief warm spells. During the next spate of warm temperatures, go outside and examine your living investments. Think about structurally pruning your dormant trees to improve their strength, health, and longevity.

© 2015 Bob Polomski