Growing Concerns 579: Viburnum, shipping peonies


Non-blooming shrub and heirloom peonies make gardening a family affair


Dear Janet,

I bought a Bailey Cranberry bush viburnum and planted it on May 31 on the west side of the house against a brick wall. It takes about four hours of direct midday sun. It is growing very well except no flowers or buds at this time.

Please tell me what is wrong with this plant or the gardener and save a forty-year marriage.


Dear A.A.,

Viburnum trilobum 'Bailey's Compact' blooms in late May or early June, but it shouldn't be of concern if one doesn't bloom its first year. It may have aborted its buds as a result of being transplanted. Or the garden center may have trimmed them off in late winter in potting the shrubs for sale. That would mean the flower buds, set last year on branch tips, would have been clipped off. Garden centers might not mind losing spring bloom for the sake of a healthier, neater transplant.

If it didn't have flowers, it couldn't have fruit. So set your sights on next May for bloom, and fruit to follow. Your spouse will almost certainly enjoy the show, too. The flowers are pretty, long lasting white lace caps and the fruit that starts green ripens to pink, then cherry red and hangs on into winter.

Are there other May-blooming viburnums in the area or in your yard? The best fruit set on this and most other viburnums comes when two different varieties or species bloom together. For instance, it would be good to have a doublefile viburnum (V. plicatum tomentosum) or V. trilobum 'Hahs' to cross-pollinate your 'Bailey's Compact.'


Dear Janet,

A family member wants to send me peonies that were originally in my grandmother's garden. What instructions should I give her to ship them to me this fall? If she sends them bare root, what can she do to help them survive the mail?


Dear C.,

It's just a vegetable, so pretend it's a carrot and handle it accordingly. Cut off the stems, then clean the root. If you find any soft spots or damage, cut away the bad parts as if this was a potato, then drop it in a 1:9  bleach water solution for ten or fifteen minutes.

Every part that has a pink bud -- an "eye" -- will grow. For divisions large enough to bloom in 2005 or 2006, cut pieces that each have 3 or more eyes.

Put the root in a plastic bag with some strips of barely moistened newspaper. Don't seal the bag. Just fold its top.

Put the bag into a box of crinkled newspaper so the root won't bang about in transit. In the cool fall it will make a 3 to 5 day trip easily. Plant it as soon as you get it, in a sunny spot with rich, deep, well drained, soil. Set the pink "eyes" an inch below ground level.

Short report

Petunias starting to poop out?

Clip back the stems to remove all the seed pods behind the current flowers. Stub each one back to a good, large leaf, not one of the smaller flower-stalk leaves. Remove any yellowing or dead foliage, fertilize with a water-soluble fertilizer that includes micronutrients, such as African Violet food or a formulation for acid loving plants. Then wait and watch it come back.

If your plants don't have any large leaves behind the seed pods, then cut back just half the stems, wait for new growth to start from the stubs, then cut back the others. From now on, make it a practice to clip back a few stems each week during summer, rather than waiting to do it all at once.

About those killer sunflowers:

M.C.H., an experienced gardener, says "Thanks for telling me about this. I wondered what happened to the annuals I planted under my mother's bird feeder! So, for the list you're compiling of which flowers do and don't grow with sunflower: Petunias don't. All that did well there in that sunflower hull mulch are Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus), Cosmos and Cleome."


Green thumbs up

to the hummingbird that made a surprise appearance at a Hummingbird and Butterfly Gardening class . That magic moment will stick with everyone in that group, so you've assured dozens more hummingbirds of plentiful food and safe haven for years to come!


Green thumbs down

to jumping to conclusions about who's a "good guy" or "bad guy" in the yard. Says N.P., "the skunks are back, and digging in my vegetable garden, which is so annoying. But they're also digging for iris borers, showing me which clumps have the worst trouble!"

 Originally published 8/14/04