Screening Trees and Large Shrubs

ejr2005(Eastern MA)October 3, 2006

I'm new to this forum - have been lost in the remodeling forums for a while, and now onto the fun stuff.

We have a 1/3 acre house lot in Metrowest Boston. Our neighbor behind us has a lot of trees planted at the back of the yard, but we're worried that at some point the house will be sold and replaced possibly by a McMansion.

We want to start planting some screening trees. We have some sun in the back (south and southwest). On our yard there are also a maple and a couple of oaks. There is not a whole lot of sun near the lot line. Of course that may change if a new owner wants to cut down all the trees on their side. We have a lot of moss in the yard. The soil is on the acidic side. The soils seems to be not too dry or too wet. Right now the yard is totally overgrown - lots of what I think are light purple asters. We haven't seen deer, but have rabbits, cats and an occasional ground hog and wild turkey.

We're thinking of planting about several evergreens and some flowering trees or larger shrubs. We're talking about Pinus strobus 'Fastigiata' and hemlocks. I know we're taking a chance with the hemlock disease. We have hemlock borders on the sides of the property and they are still fine. Would love to know if there are better alternatives. We're trying to stay native as much as possible.

For the flowering trees/shrubs we're looking into Viburnum (carlesii, burkwoodii, dentatum, plicatum t.), Enkianthus campanulatus, Cornus kousa, witch hazel, winterberry, serviceberry, Leucothoe, Fothergilla, Red Bud, and Japanese Maple.

Although I've done some gardening, I'm pretty new to trees and shrubs. We're also pretty broke after the remodel. I'd rather have a larger list to choose from so if we find some decent plants on sale we'll be ready.

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arbo_retum(z5 ,WinchstrMA)

you are smart to have given all the info you did- it makes it much easier to provide useful(hopefully!) advice.
when thinking about screening, I suggest to people that they think about the HEIGHT that they need a plant mass to have- to effectively block what they want to block. If your property and your neighbor's are pretty much at the same level, and your viewing place is primarily on the first floor, then you may want the screening plant mass to be 15' and below, as opposed to the 30-40'high mass created by a mature maple or oak etc.

Of the plants you have listed, I highly recommend kousa dogwoods, jap maples, conifers and the viburnum family (it is enormous) but I partic'ly recomm the Shasta viburnum;
vib.plicatum tomentosum Shasta, which has large leaves, beautiful layered branches and overall habit, lovely and significant flowers and berries., and which makes a significant screening mass, topping out at 10' maybe. The Viburnum Onondaga is another terrific vib. with maroon tinged leaves and flowers and nice habit/shape.

there are so many wonderful conifers. no reason to limit yourself to hemlock(though they are the cheapest and fastest-growing bang for your buck).also, if you alrdy have hemlock hedges, you might appreciate diversifying in the other border, and also protecting yourself from the possibility of some pest or disease wiping out ALL of your single-plant borders. stroll through mahoneys or weston nurseries' conifers plantings. think of introducing different colors of evergreen foliage: blue, yellow, rich greens- to liven up your around and look for plantings that appeal to you, learn what they are and add to your possibilities.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2006 at 11:15PM
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ejr2005(Eastern MA)

Thanks Mindy - you're right next door. Thanks especially for the Viburnum tips - there are so many to choose from, its hard to tell this time of year, and all my books are in some box somewhere!

I'm particularly concerned about the evergreens. We wanted to get some things in the ground this fall - especially with the sales. That might be being "penny wise and pound folish" though. The folks I'm working with have recommended the pines and hemlocks, but I worried about the pines being too tall and losing lower branches and the hemlocks as you stated. Are there any evergreens that you would particularly recommend that don't get too tall, keep lower branches, and are okay in woodland edge shade? As for height, I was thinking we'd want to screen the whole house - maybe 25'? Maybe you're right and we'd just need 15'.

I'll definitely start visiting more nurseries and see what they have. I went to one and found it difficult to tell now - but I was looking at mostly deciduous. Evergreens should be better! Mahoneys and Russells here I come. Don't know where Weston Nurseries is yet, but I'll find it.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2006 at 9:56AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Hi ejr,

I added a Viburnum mariesii to the yard for a screen in spring 2005. The mariesii is almost the same as the Shasta, only maybe a little larger eventually. The Shasta is a nice variety, but a little more compact. They both have the horizontal branch pattern and dense screening. So if you see one and not the other on sale. I think there are a couple more cultivars of it, that may also be more compact. Sorry, don't remember the names. By the way, ego45 screen name on the NE forum, has a gorgeous specimen of a Viburnum mariesii that he has shown a photo of on the forums. YOu might ask him to post it again for you.

It grew well for us this year with all the rain we had. I really am enjoying it. They are known to do better with more moisture than some. I keep my eye on it as my yard is average moisture. Last summer, with the drought during July/Aug, the leaves wilted on me long before anything else in the yard was effected. But quickly recovered with a good watering. This year, no problems. I also have a 1/4 acre lot, just a little smaller than yours. If you are trying to screen on the Southern/So. Western side of your lot, keep in mind if you put evergreens there, you will be shading your house/property even in the winter. With fuel costs so high, all the sun you can get on your house in the winter the better. Also, if you want to plant something requiring sun, such as roses or vegetables, you may eventually end up with a backyard full of shade, just to keep in mind.

One way to go, might be to keep the evergreens in short sizes on the west/south side of the property. Maybe 8ft?, but maybe in layers with something decidious to screen the higher dimensions. That way it won't grow tall enough to shade the house, but still screen your view.

I wish I had some specific names for you, sorry. I do recommend Weston Nurseries in Hopkinton though. They are about 45 minutes from Winchester but they have a very knowledgeable staff. You can make an appointment to have someone walk you around their extensive nursery and make suggestions and show you material. Right now they are probably having some pallet sales, as they do every year and later in the fall, they may go to 50% off. They are a little more expensive, but normally have quality, healthy stock and good service. What they have left at this time of year is luck of the draw though. They usually have a good amount though.

Natives could be Ilex glabra, or Rhododendrons or other broadleaf evergreens. If you don't find what you want, or the prices are still high there, another nursery to try would be Broken Arrow in CT if you are up for a ride. I have shopped there in the spring, but not the fall, so call ahead and find out what they have left. The reason I suggest them, is in general, they seem to me to have as good a quality of material and healthy, at less cost than Weston. Plus they are more likely to stock natives than Weston in my experience.

Another place to consider, is Garden In the Woods in Framingham, if you are looking for native shrubs and trees. I have seen some great material there in the spring for quite a bit less than other places. You can also call them and see what they have now. They can be very helpful there too. Not sure when they stop selling in the fall.

There are a few good books at the library if you want to see photos and growing information. I linked one that just came out in 2002. The author is William Cullina, who is behind the scenes over at Garden in the Woods.

Have you also asked over on the Natives Forum?

Hope that helps some. :-)

Here is a link that might be useful: Native trees, shrubs + vines by William Cullina

    Bookmark   October 5, 2006 at 7:18PM
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If you aren't opposed to dealing with prickly leaves, the evergreen Ilex species and hybrids might be worth considering, too. The ones largely hybridized from English holly probably aren't good choices for you, but the cultivars of American Holly might work. Check out the evergreen ones and make sure to pay attention to hardiness limits when you do so.

For myself, while hemlock is my favorite conifer I wouldn't plant it because I wouldn't want to deal with the hemlock wooly adelgid (an alien sap sucking insect that has been killing hemlocks right & left). I also warn you against planting Viburnum opulus or V. trilobum (European & American Highbush Cranberry). There's an alien leaf beetle in New York and northern New England that is spreading south and just strips those viburnums. It avoids the ones with stiff, leathery leaves (like V. carlesii), so if your heart is set on Viburnums go with thick leaved ones.

Pinus strobus will get quite large in time. If there aren't any apples (or crabapples) within a mile or so, you might consider red cedar (Juniperus virginiana). We're at the northern edge of its range, but it will grow in an area that isn't "too shady". There are also arborvitaes (Thuja spp.) that might work for you. I'm not especially fond of them, but they don't get really wide and they don't usually get really tall, either.

I agree with the suggestion that you plant a mixture, rather than just one kind of tree. That's a kind of insurance against pests doing serious damage.

I've only been to Weston once (it's a bit of a drive for me), but I was impressed!

    Bookmark   October 5, 2006 at 8:13PM
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ejr2005(Eastern MA)

Thanks everyone for your responses. I did finally find my stash of gardening books and the Cullina book was among them. Nice book prairiemoon!

I also got out to Weston Nurseries. I had someone from there out to the house. I had come up with a list of plants for our borders from this forum, a little past experience, books, etc. I tenatively placed them on our plan. She's looking at them early next week. It looks like Weston still has many of the plants we picked in stock, and they are giving us 40% off. There is a guarantee - if the plants don't make it over the next year, they will replace (including planting) them. We will have to pay the extra 40%. That seemed fair to us.

Anyway, I'd love to get your responses to our list so far. We also haven't really thought about what looks good with what, so any ideas are welcome. We ultimately decided that although screening is important, we don't want lots of extra shade in the backyard. So we're trying to keep the plants under 30'ish and without a lot of evergreen trees. We're going for a more natural looking woodland border which attracts birds, smells good, and has great fall color.

So here's the list -

First the plants for the shadier border:
- Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Autumn Brilliance'
- Carpinus caroliniana
- Taxus x media 'Hicksii' or 'Vertical Selections'
- Ilex pedunculosa (Longstalk holly)
- Viburnum rhytidophyllum (Leatherleaf)
- Hameanelis virginiana
- Cornus alba 'Argenteo-marginata'('Elegantissima')
- Enkianthus campanulatus
- Calycanthus floridus 'Edith Wilder' or 'Michael Lindsey'(Sweetshrub)
- Aesculus parviflora or Viburnum plicatum var tomentosum 'Mariesii'
- Clethra alnifolia
- Kalmia latifolia
- Leucothoe fontanesiana

Next the plants for the partial shade border:
- Acer japonicum 'Vitifolium'
- Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Gracillis'
- Rhododendrum maximum
- Hamamelis x intermedia 'Pallida'
- Ilex verticillata 'Afterglow' or 'Sparkleberry'
- Acer japonicum 'Filicifolium'('Aconitifolium')
- Fothergilla Major
- Viburnum carlesii (or 'Juddii' or x 'Summer Hill')
- Viburnum plicatum var tomentosum 'Mariesii'

We'll also fill in with other Rhododendrums (possibly 'Nova Zembia', PJM, 'Victoria's Consort','Roseum Elegans', and azaleas) and possibly hydrangeas.

As small stand alone trees we're looking at Cornua kousa and Acer palmatum.

Any experience, advice is greatly appreciated.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2006 at 5:11PM
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runktrun(z7a MA)

I think your plant lists are wonderful with the exception of Longstalk holly...that Dirr raves about. My eight year old is so butt ugly and of course I assumed it was due to my neglect so I brought over not one but two tree guys that both conquered the Longstalk at Arnold Arboretum has the beauty of maturity (I would guess 25yrs does any one know?) and until maturity you will have one butt ugly holly. There are sooooooooo many beautiful ilex (don't know your zone) I would suggest a second look at the holly family. kt

    Bookmark   November 12, 2006 at 5:33PM
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You selected very nice shrubs to fulfill your border(s), but....IMO, some shrubs will be not well suited into 1/3 acres property at maturity.
Take for example Aesculus parviflora (Bottlebrush buckeye).
Unless restricted (pruning and removing suckers), 12-15' high x 20-25'+width is what you may expect in 10-12 years.
This one is about 12x18' and heavily pruned every other year

Cornus kousa depending on cultivar could be quite large, as well.

Rhododendron maximum? Forget about it.
It's a huge shrub, eventually 20x25 or wider.
Here is a picture of Rh. catawabiense which is just a tad smaller than Rh. maximum

BTW, the shrub/tree on a right side of the rhododendron is ...Hydrangea paniculata 'Grandiflora', well known PG hydrangea.

Viburnum plicatum 'Shasta' will definitely grow to 10x12', Mariesii will be even larger. Here is a Shasta,

What I'm trying to say is that you have to be ready that some of your large shrubs eventually will 'eat' the smaller ones and you should be prepared to either transplant them later or somehow restrict the growth of the large ones.

One more thing, you said, 'We'll also fill in with other Rhododendrums (possibly 'Nova Zembia', PJM, 'Victoria's Consort','Roseum Elegans', and azaleas)...'
If I'd be buying from Weston Nurseries I wouldn't go for the such common and widely available names.
WN have one of the best, if not the best selection of Rh/Azaleas on East coast and I'm sure you could find reasonably similar, but not so common substitutes for the same money.
For example, instead of NZ you could buy 'Volcano'. Instead of PJM, buy PJM Elite or Northern Starburst, substitute Roseum Elegance for Scintillation etc, etc, etc

All just a suggestions and in no way I want to calm down your excitement. I'd be thrilled too to work on a new border from scratches.
Good luck.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2006 at 8:57PM
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ejr2005(Eastern MA)

Just the feedback I was looking for. Thanks runktrun and ego45.

The Longstalk Holly did seem a little too good to be true. I actually have it behind the Hameanelis virginiana and Carpinus caroliniana so it won't be too obvious until winter. I was looking for something that grows to about 20' tall and evergreen that can take a lot of shade and provide good screening. Its located in the middle of the back border which is where we'll want the most screening. Unfortunately I tend to dislike the Ilexes with thorns - too Christmas-y for me. I also don't want to have to baby plants. I'm in Zone 5. We're pretty protected but I would think it has to be pretty cold hardy. If anyone knows any hardy evergreen ones that get about 20' high I'd love to know.

Ego45 - I'm totally naive when it comes to size, so I really appreciated your heads up. I did specifically ask the designer from Weston to check sizing. I was particularly worried about the Bottlebrush Buckeye. I've seen it at old mansions and it was gorgeous though huge. Yours is wonderful. I'm not sure we're up for heavy pruning every other year though. It was going to go into an open corner at the top of a hill, but maybe not. The next choice was the Doublefile Viburnum (maybe the larger 'Mariesii' here and the smaller 'Shasta' on the sunnier border where we have a space about 9 1/2' high and pretty wide that we want to fill.

The Rhod. max was going to go in the other corner. Your catabiense is gorgeous - I was looking at that too. That does look huge - I thought it only grew 6-10' high and wide and was thinking that wasn't high enough.

I've always had the problem of things being too small rather that too large. I was also thinking that some things would do better than others, the lack of a lot of sun might keep them smaller, and I might overplant now when they are small but lose some along the way. I started life as a biologist - though of animals not plants. We had a house in the Berkshires that I started gardening at and I would just put a plant in and see what happened. Of course they were mostly perennials and a whole lot less expensive to be experimenting with!

Thanks also for your thoughts on Rhododendrums. As a newby I did go with the common ones. The designer suggested using Azaleas instead - don't know which ones, and don't even know the differences. I'll try to look up the ones you suggested. These may be better to wait on - not essential to screening, and I can maybe see them in person in the spring. In some cases we'll want evergreen, in other cases its not necessary. I think we will want later blooming ones so we'll have more color in the late spring and early summer.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2006 at 1:04PM
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All those pictures I posted are of mature specimens which are at least 20 y.old or older and as you could see they are planted in pretty open spaces as a solitary plants to give them room to grow unrestricted and use their potential to the full extend.
Keep in mind, if planted in a border, especially in shade to part-shade aspect they never will look so lush and full as in the pictures above. Also you should consider such thing as a habit and rate of growth at the different stages of shrub's life.
For example, Aesculus will take 2 to 3 years to settle in a ground and probably will not do too much in a terms of growth in such years, but in a next 4-5 years it will almost double in size every year, then it will slow down top growth and start producing numerous suckers from the base. Contrary to that, Mariesii will be a steady grower from the day one. Nice and full (at planting time) rhododendron could become open and leggy just in a 2-3 growing seasons if grown in a considerable shade and if issue is not addressed on a yearly basis at the young age (first 5 years). I could go on and on and on, but the whole point is that 2-3 smallER plants will give you more flexibility than the 1 large one.
By planting potentially large shrubs you should make a provisions for their eventual size and thus leave a lot of empty space next to them, so your ultimate goal of creating screen will be not attained for at least 4-5+ years at least.
Of course, you could fill the current voids by other smaller shrubs, but shrubs are not perennials and moving them after 3-4-5 years in a ground sometimes could be challenging if not outright impossible.
And beside that, where you are going to plant them then?
I'd suggest to prepare a plan B for that case.

Re: common vs uncommon Rh/Az.
I probably didn't make myself clear.
All the names you mentioned are fine plants and I see nothing wrong with them, except that they are VERY common and could be bought from the big box stores for less money than at WN.
Therefore, if you are redy to pay WN prices, select something different than you could see in everyone's landscapes or on a parking lots.
The names that I mentioned are neither easier or harder to grow nor they are clearly superior to your choices, they are just simply LESS common, and I used them just as an example, not as an endorsement.
BTW, Rh.catawabiense(specie) is superior over Rh.maximum(specie), IMO.

One more thing, you may also consider Sambucus for your part-shade portion of the screen. Fast growing large (up to 10-12') shrub and could be even cut to the ground in a spring if will be too big for the space.
Sambucus 'Sutherland Gold'

    Bookmark   November 13, 2006 at 5:05PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Hi ejr,

Looks like you are getting great input, which I am happy to see, since I am still working on the same project and it seems we both have the same goals. I am also trying to end up with 'a woodland border that has great fall color and attracts birds'. We started on our project two years ago, having to rip out 130 feet of overgrown shrubs and volunteer saplings. We added some shrubs last spring and will be adding more for awhile here and there. Our neighbors to the north of our property planted 4 spruce trees which are over 20ft now, so we don't lack for evergreen and I prefer them on the north side of a property, so that works out. I still want to add some smaller evergreen shrubs for winter interest and screening, but will try to keep them low and place them where they will create the least additional shade.

I have an Amelanchier we added 5 years ago and it has grown quickly. The only thing that disappoints me about it, is that the spring flowers barely last 10days if that, and the same with the fall foliage. No sooner is it turning color [shades of orange] than they are dropping. They also got hit by the winter moth infestation in our neighborhood last year from all the maples around it and fruit production was down. The year before though, there was a lot of fruit and in the space of a week the birds stripped the tree of fruit. There were so many birds in the trees, that it was comical. [g]

We also added a Clethra 'Hummingbird' and that has been a very nice neat small shrub so far. It is growing nicely in an area that gets morning sun for a few hours and shade the remainder of the day. I found the fragrance barely noticeable this year. I am hoping next year will be better, it is still small. Fall color was a very bright yellow. I would like to add a Ruby Spice but not sure I will have the room.

We added Vibrunum carlesii and it was VERY fragrant and a very different spicy fragrance too. You could smell it 15 feet away and even the non gardeners in the house asked what that shrub was. So we went back and bought another It colors up a very dark burgundy. Hard to describe the color, but it is a nice foil for the brighter fall colors.

Viburnum mariesii has been one of my favorites. It is small, but it is already assuming the horizontal pattern which I find very attractive. So far the flowering has been minimal, and no fruit. The fall color is really pretty. A medium maroon with tones of Red/orange.

We bought an Oakleaf Hydrangea having read cultural information that indicated it was hardy here in zone 6. It was planted in 2005 and made it through the winter, but died back to the ground and it didn't flower last year at all. It did however come back strong and grew to 3ft over the summer and filled out nicely. This fall the color is spectacular, a very deep burgundy with some bright red undertones and the leaves have been pristine. I have been told that it will often not bloom the first year, so I am keeping my fingers crossed for bloom next year. I got it at NEWFS for $25. which is the usual price for most of their shrubs. I am planning on going back in the spring for some native decidious azaleas, which some are fragrant as well. BTW, their material has been some of the healthiest I have found.

Endless Summer hydrangea on the other hand, bloomed all season from the minute I planted it.

We also added a Rutgers hybrid Cornus tree. I think it was called 'Constellation'. I saw it in bloom at the Arnold Arboretum a few years ago and just loved it. It is a more upright and narrow form and they are supposed to be more resistant to the diseases that Corunus florida can get. It did bloom a little last year, although it is still quite small. The leaves have turned a pretty orangey red this fall. It really gets very little sun, maybe an hour in the morning and then another hour late in the afternoon. Still too early to say how it will work out as far as bloom. It is said to have less fruit production than other Cornus.

Another small tree you might want to consider is a Cornus alternifolia. There is a variegated form that is gorgeous. I think it also fruits and has fall color. It is a small tree with that horizontal pattern but alternating branches that are attractive.

Phew! That was a long Sorry about that, but I was hoping my very recent experiences with a few of the shrubs on your list might be of use. I am linking to the UConn database which I have found very helpful in finding information on shurbs/trees. :-)

Here is a link that might be useful: University of Connecticut Plant Database Search

    Bookmark   November 14, 2006 at 7:49AM
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I *love* longstalk holly! Mine are about 5 years old and still fairly small, forming a loose hedge. The foliage is clean, evergreen and thornless, the berries are colorful ... what's not to like?

I admit, however, that my standards are probably considerably lower than Katy's.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2006 at 7:45AM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

The thing I really didn't like about longstalk holly when I finally saw it in person outside of Philadelphia was the fall/winrer leaf color. I was seriously considering it for a loose hedge to replace the white pines, but not with that icky yellow green color.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2006 at 8:14AM
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runktrun(z7a MA)

I must admit during it's first five years I loved my longstalk holly as much as any parent with a truly ugly baby. But now that it has grown into a longstalk-lanky-adolescent it pains me to look at it so I try not to at all costs (wouldn't be surprised to discover it developed a bad case of acne). However your post gave me pause for thought and I must tell you now that Mad Gal has pointed out the icky yellow green color I think it is even uglier than the last time I was insane enough to cast a glance in its direction. I would like to propose the best way to resolve this debate would be to (after the holidays) have a beauty contest for all plant categories and no I do not mean photo contest we would need to submit more than one view of our proposed beauty. I would wager that the homely longstalk will not only never be crowned a real beauty in its classification but will go without nomination!!! kt...who is always refered to as "correct katy" by those who know her well.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2006 at 9:44AM
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arbo_retum(z5 ,WinchstrMA)

ejr, so sorry not to respond; i've been mucho busy at work.

i didn't have time to read everyone's posts but one caveat to mention; just because ego45 says something will get to a huge height and width, it's not necessarily so for YOU. george, ego, lives in a warmer clime than here AND he is particularly gifted with growing skills. we have a lot the size of yours and we grow a number of the plants he says may get too big for you( we crowd them AND some things just don't get the size they might elsewhere in the ideal growing conditions, or just because they're unhappy for some reason.... do come see.
seems like you have some great advice. update us on where you are now, and i will respond next wk.


    Bookmark   November 18, 2006 at 12:04PM
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I wouldn't recommend Rhododendron maximum on aesthetic grounds. Others may disagree, but while I adore the rhodies, I think that one is singularly ugly. It blooms in July, which means its flowers are almost completely hidden by the new foliage, the flowers are somewhat small and a not especially appealing very pale pink (white as they age), and the leaf color is a drab olive, with old leaves turning an ugly yellow-green and hanging on for a while before dropping off. It's utterly nondescript, and ultimately huge. It will certainly survive your winters, but so will many others far more beautiful.


Many of the old chestnut hybrid rhododendron cultivars that have been around for a century or more (aka "the ironclads" - Roseum elegans, Chinoides, Catawbiense Album, Caroline, Besse Howells, Blue Peter, Nova Zembla, Roseum superbum, English Roseum, Boule de Neige, Everestianum, Lee's Dark Purple, Mars, etc.) were bred to be showcase shrubs in estate gardens, so they are quite large at maturity (the kind of shrub that will look gorgeous on the grounds of The Breakers in Newport). They can be kept smaller through pruning, and it takes ten years or more for them to achieve that mature size, but they will do it if in the right environment and left to their own devices.

Many or most of them also have Rhododendron catawbiense as a parent or grandparent, so they handle our winters, but also have flowers shaded purple-pink in some way.

Oh, and on a separate note, if you are going to plant a female Ilex verticillata (such as Afterglow or Sparkleberry), make sure you also plant a male that will bloom at the same time as your female! If you don't you may not get the winter berries that are its hallmark, and trust me, without the berries the shrub is quite drab. (With them, it's dynamite in the winter!!!) If you go with Weston and decide to include winterberry (that's its common name), make certain to specify that you want at least one compatible male with the females. They should be able to sell you one that will work with the females they plant. You probably will only need one. It will be drab (the autumn leaves are yellow before dropping, but not notable), so you will want to put it someplace nearby where it gets enough sun to bloom, but isn't a major feature.

Oh, it's "Hamamelis virginiana". That's the native witch hazel. It blooms right about now.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2006 at 12:26PM
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I LOVE Clethra alnifolia!!! It's also called "summersweet", and boy is it!!


Also love Fothergilla gardenii. Not commonly planted, and makes a nice counterpoint to azaleas and rhodies!! It's in the witch hazel family. The blooms look like little white bottlebrushes, and have a somewhat musty, sweet aroma (sometimes described as being like honey, but I disagree). The small white pom-poms would look very nice next to a blooming azalea or rhododendron, but the best part comes in the autumn when the leaves do their thing! Scarlet, pumpkin orange, and vivid yellow - all at once!

    Bookmark   November 19, 2006 at 12:33PM
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Agree that Weston's would likely have the right male Ilex to go with the female Ilex . However, surprisingly, many garden centers do not bother with the males, let alone the right male. When I got my I. 'Sparkleberry's awhile back, I had a hard time finding the preferred male for it.

The Uconn database listed above has some good Ilex verticillata descriptions.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   November 19, 2006 at 5:28PM
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You can also keep the male Sparkleberry very small, by pruning it in winter. Mine is crowded in behind a group of females, where its lack of berries goes (almost) unnoticed.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2006 at 5:37PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Thanks so much for sharing your photos. Some very beautiful specimens there. That last one is the photo I remembered of your Viburnum that inspired me to get one. :-) Also love your Sambucus 'Sutherland Gold'. I had one for the first time last season and really enjoyed it. It didn't have the benefit of that gorgeous evergreen backdrop that you have in your photo, though. What a difference that makes. Of course, just about anything would look gorgeous in front of them. [g] I would love to know what the background trees are behind that Sambucus and what is the shrub behind the Viburnum Shasta? Thanks again, always enjoy your photos. :-)

    Bookmark   November 21, 2006 at 5:51AM
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PM2, thanks for the compliments for my 'photography skills' (haha), but most of the pictures are not from my yard, they are just impressive specimens that show the potential of this or that shrub if given a right conditions AND time.
Backdrop for sambucus is hemlocks that were planted god knows how many years ago. They do have wooly adelgid infestation, but once in a two years spray programm helps greatly to keep it in check.

York Rose,
I agree with your accessement of Rh.maximum properties and if such large plant need to be used I'd definitely prefer to use Rh.catawbiense instead.
And since you took the time to list some of the 'ironclads' names, I'd like to comment on some of them.

'Bess(i)e Howell',
relatively slow growing, 3-4' in 10years, dense mounding compact habit. Very deep red with dark burgundy blotches.
'Boule de Neige',
5-6' in 10 years, upright to mounding habit. The best white ever created by which ALL whites are judged even now.
relatively slow growing, 4-5' in 10 years, dense compact habit. Pure white with lemon-yellow blotch. Look stunning if interplanted with Bessie Howell or Vulcan (son of Rh.'Mars').
Rh. griffithianum hybrid is not commonly available in trade in nova days, but a parent to a large number of commonly available red hybrids. IMO, not well suitable in most landscapes due to open habit and size (7-10')
'Lee's Dark Purple',
relatively fast grower, 7-8'x8' in 10 years, royal purple with brown blotch. I've seen quite large 10x10+' specimans.
as name impies, it's very tall (and leggy), 10-12' in 10 years, dark pink with yellow(ish) blotches. Not widely available in US, but very common in old English estates.

and finally my favorite, 'Blue Peter',
medium to fast grower, but to keep it full you should resort to judicial pruning in a young age. With such treatment it still could be in 5' range in 10 years.
IMO, it's the most gorgeous of all ironclads and even if you are not a rhododendons afficionado you will buy it in an eye-blink at the moment you'll first see it in a bloom.
Of course, it's not a truly blue (there is not a real blue rhodies, as far as I'm concerned), but rather pale violet with dark maroon speckled blotches. However, at the dusk it does look fairly blue, though effect doesn't last long.

Sorry for taking your time to read all this.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2006 at 8:07PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

What a great idea to take photos of impressive plants for reference! I did take a photo of a front yard garden we drove past last summer that had a great perennial/grass garden. I will have to remember to be on the lookout for more examples.

I just love the look of hemlocks. What do they have to spray for the wooly adelgids, pesticide, or dormant oil?

Ego...the last thing you need to do is apologize for the length of your posts. Always informative! As a matter of fact, I have absolutely no experience with Rhododendrons and would love to add some to the yard. I just have been so tired of seeing the same types and colors. So your post was very helpful.

I am looking for something that stays full and tops off about 8ft, with large attractive leaves with that felty brown underside that doesn't curl up in the winter. Would you know of any? Doesn't Weston have some summer bloomers, or is that azaleas, I am thinking of?

    Bookmark   November 22, 2006 at 6:20AM
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"I am looking for something that stays full and tops off about 8ft, with large attractive leaves with that felty brown underside that doesn't curl up in the winter."

Based on my limited knowledge it would be not an easy task to find something that will have all above mentioned attributes. I'd ask on a Rn/Az forum and maybe people with a broader knowledge will be able to suggest something.

A lot of rhodies have a heavy felty undersides (indumentum), which is a clear indication of Rh. yakushimanum parentage.
However all yaku hybrids are extremely slow growers and usually much broader than tall. 3'x5-6' in 10 years is what you should expect from the most of them. The most impressive speciman of yaku 'Crete' I saw at the Olivers is 5x8 in...25+ years. Broad habit and slow rate of growth is the primary reason you don't see yaku rhodies too often in ordinary landscapes despite being extremely showy in all stages, from colorfull buds to transitionally fading flowers. 'Crete', 'Yaku Prince', 'Yaku Princess' and 'Ken Janek' are the most commonly available.

Baby 'Crete'.

As to 'doesn't curl up in the winter", I think this is entirely impossible because 'curling' is a natural genetic defensive mechanism all rhodies have in common. When temperature drops below certain level (different for the different types of rhodies) leaves start curling in order to create their own 'protective chambers' to reduce moisture transpiration and keep undersides of the leaves warm. In a winter, when grounds are frozen and plant can't absorb any water via roots, leaves are the only source for the moisture. Once it is gone, leaves drops dead. That is why it's so important to water well newly planted/not fully established rhodies in a fall, right before ground freezes.
For the very same reason it's also highly recommended to spray young broadleaf evergreens in their first couple of years by Wilt Pruf at about time when grounds become completely frozen.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2006 at 11:52AM
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PM2, I don't spray hemlocks myself, hired company does, but I'm pretty sure it's a dormant/horticultural oil that smothers the beasts.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2006 at 12:01PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

If your knowledge is limited, mine is nonexistent. [g] So I will definitely head over to the Rhodo/Az forum and ask again to see what the suggestions are from those with more experience. I am glad to know that finding one without the curling leaves is not going to happen, so I can just stop looking for that. Thanks for the explanation of the curling leaves and for the Wilt Pruf suggestion.

Happy to know there is hope of finding something with the felty back of the leaf though. I just love that. That is some photo of the Baby 'Crete'. Such large blossoms on such a small plant. I seem to remember seeing the yaku princess in the Weston catalog, I will have to look again.

I asked about the hemlock spraying because I am organic and wouldn't want to have to use pesticide, but a dormant oil would be acceptable. I am already thinking of hiring someone next spring to do my trees due to the winter moth problem.

Thanks ego, for all your help. :-)

    Bookmark   November 22, 2006 at 4:39PM
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One word of caution on buying rhodies - they can be carriers of the "sudden oak death" pathogen. This doesn't mean you shouldn't buy them, just be careful where you shop. Ask the nursery manager if they screen for this, and if he or she doesn't know what you're talking about, shop someplace else.

Lots of plants can carry this disease, so please don't think I'm trying to scare anyone away from rhodies.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2006 at 6:00PM
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ejr2005(Eastern MA)

prairiemoon - I just saw what I think are baby 'Cretes' at Weston - little guys with the felty brown undersides. I'll be out there Monday and will check if you're interested.

Thanks everyone for all your input. Wow!

We've been overwhelmed by in house stuff (templating for counters, twisting contractor's arm, etc.) We're still furiously making decisions on what to plant. Today we tagged a bunch of things. We're going to try to finalize plants and locations Monday and get those babies in the ground Wednesday.

I post more details as soon as I have some time. Hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving!

    Bookmark   November 22, 2006 at 8:44PM
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You probably realize this (& it's most excellent Weston is guaranteeing to replace those that don't survive), but you are planting quite late. Even here on the coast in Lynn we are now getting freezes. The ideal time to plant in the autumn is in September, which gives the roots a chance to develop while the top is slowing down and preparing for winter.

In any case, water, water, water, water, water!

Mulch, mulch, mulch, mulch, mulch!

The watering will help give the plants a bit of water in their tissues that they will need for the winter, and the mulch will help stabilize soil temperatures underneath them. That fights "heaving" which can happen when you plant late, for the soil in the planting hole will have different physical characteristics than the surrounding soil, and so as the ground freezes and thaws during the winter days the planting hole soil can get shoved up above the rest of the soil (hence "heaving"). That rips the roots of the plant out of place and sets them back very badly (or can even kill them).

Those are the two usual pieces of advice for fall planting anyway, but they will matter even more for you. Make sure to carefully note whatever advice Weston offers you and follow it well. Doing so will help ensure that they honor their guarantee. Not following the supplier's advice in such a situation can lead to the warranty becoming void. (Check to see if there are any disclaimers in the guarantee. Don't be surprised if there are.)

    Bookmark   November 22, 2006 at 11:18PM
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Another "ironclad" I should have mentioned (since it's a particular favorite of mine) is Sappho. They grow it in the botanical garden at Mt. Holyoke in Hadley, so it should be hardy enough for the metro Boston area (I suspect).

It's another that gets large over time, but the flowers are SO beautiful!

Here are two links for images of it, the first shows the shrub in bloom, the second gives an up close shot of the inflorescence:,%2Brhododendron%26ndsp%3D20%26svnum%3D10%26hl%3Den%26lr%3D,%2Brhododendron%26ndsp%3D20%26svnum%3D10%26hl%3Den%26lr%3D%26sa%3DN


    Bookmark   November 22, 2006 at 11:31PM
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The links to Sappho didn't work for me. Here are
the cleaned-up links.

It's really unusual, Y_R!

Here is a link that might be useful: york_rose's first sappho link

    Bookmark   November 23, 2006 at 9:44AM
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Sappho is extremely showy rhododendron, unfortunately it's very prone to legginess due to its fast (by rhodos standards) growing rate.
In this respect Calsap is much more desirable. Also, it's hardier than Sappho and suitable for colder end of z5.
Below is the some discussion on a subject.

Here is a link that might be useful: Calsap vs Sappho

    Bookmark   November 23, 2006 at 10:58AM
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ejr2005(Eastern MA)

Today's the day! I'm so excited - I feel like I'm adopting lots of newbies that are going to have to fight a bit to survive because its so late in the season.

Thank you everyone for all your advice. One more request -we're getting a year warranty with the plants as I said above. They also offer a second year warranty, though its expensive - about $550. We're not planning on getting it because of the cost. If anyone thinks differently, I'd appreciate your input.

They're here. I'll try to post again later.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2006 at 9:33AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

ejr..glad to hear you are already getting your new plants installed. Wow, that was fast! Hope all went well yesterday and look forward to hearing how it all went. I don't know what to tell you about the 2nd year warranty. I have never heard of that or had to consider it. Maybe someone else here can comment? I hope you are taking photos! :-)

    Bookmark   December 1, 2006 at 5:50AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Wondering if ejr is still around and might post photos of his finished project? :-)


    Bookmark   March 7, 2008 at 8:58PM
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