Published November 15, 2012 | By Robert LaHoff
The holiday season is gradually building and soon some thought will be given to the two planters that flank either side of your front door. Dwarf Alberta Spruce, Picea glauca ‘Conica’ seems to be the pedestrian plant choice for most. A dwarf White Spruce whose ideal cultural conditions seems to be contradicted by how many use the plant. Appreciative of alluvial soils, full sun and adequate room to develop its root structure, dropping this plant into tight containers, being lax on watering and allowing only the face of the plant to be hit by sunlight only stresses the tree and leads to its ultimate demise. Ensuring the success of this plant means understanding that the plant is a water hog. Well drained soil, turning your pots a quarter turn once a week, so sunlight is evenly distributed around the plant, and having containers larger than the root ball of the tree will all lead to a healthier plant. Finally, checking your plants monthly during the growing seasons, if they survive that long, and spraying with a miticide when needed, will help combat the spider mite problem they are susceptible to. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not against planting these diminutive White Spruce in containers and wrapping them with lights as most do…. it just seems like a lot of effort and dare I say boring given the depth the plant world has to offer. There are many alternatives to these rigid pyramids, many of which have; I feel, far more style, grace and or movement.
Consider, if you will, ornamental grasses. Despite the fact that they are dormant and shouldn’t be cut back until late March, most offer a pleasing wheat color, flower heads and subtle movement throughout the winter. Virtually no maintenance is needed here until you are ready to transplant them into your garden. Japanese Kerria, Kerria japonica, is a deciduous beauty that glows in your garden in the winter. In fact, the bright green stem color, when unclothed, is by far my most favorite attribute of this deciduous beauty. Another deciduous winner that most overlook for winter interest is Lowbush Blueberry, Vaccinium angustifolium. Many blueberry types have fantastic reddish-orange stems in the winter and seem to glow in containers. Of course bold fruit and vibrant red fall color are precursors to this. Blueberry Hill Farm in Jonesboro, Maine is the only university-based wild blueberry research facility in the nation. As a youngster I visited this part of the world most summers and still find it one of the most beautiful places on earth today. The last deciduous plant to consider, for this talk, is Tatarian Dogwood, Cornus alba. The stems, in the winter, are a blood red color. All of these deciduous beauties can benefit from a carpet of balsam greens at their feet, draped over the pot, for some contrast come holiday time.
Now for a broadleaf evergreen and conifer as possible alternatives. A False-holly that has exquisite markings all year isOsmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’. ‘Goshiki’ has intense color markings! Salmon-pink new growth followed closely by yellow, cream and green make this a real showstopper. Deer resistant, tolerant of sun or shade, amenable to being pruned hard and evergreen…. what else could you ask for? How about fragrant flowers? Well, with time, small inconspicuous flowers produce an intoxicating fragrance that even Bath and Body Works picked up on a few years back with a candle scent. Finally, if a dwarf pyramid is what you must have, consider a dwarf Blue Spruce, Picea pungens ‘Sester Dwarf’. ‘Sester Dwarf’ has stunning blue needles with a growth rate similar to that of a Dwarf Alberta Spruce. Requiring little maintenance or pruning to hold
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