Who says Burning Bush is only great in the fall?

Euonymus alatus, or Burning Bush, is planted for its incredible fall color. It positively glows, bright red against a backdrop of already naked deciduous trees and the last few hanging leaves of autumn. The stems are flattened and interesting, which is why it’s sometimes called Winged Euonymus. It’s less acclaimed during the spring and summer months, overplanted in some areas and over-sheared to look blocky and underwhelming. Many gardening sites describe it as unattractive except in fall(1), but it doesn’t have to be.  Look!:


This planting is in a commercial parking lot and is about 6 years old.  The cultivar (I don’t know what it is, probably a varietal of ‘Compactus’) is about 3-4′ tall and wide this year, and it’s one of the softer-leaved Euonymus as opposed to the waxier-leaved species.

In the first picture, you can see how its light green to yellow foliage is bright where the leaves receive the most sun.  Plants that receive less light are a darker green.

The second picture shows this light chartreuse of the uppermost leaves – those that get bright light all day from their southern exposure.  Notice also how well this color contrasts with the dark red to burgundy foliage of the Crimson King maple in the background.  (In a perfect world, those two trees would switch position, with the CK maple next to the Euonymus and the green-leaved maple behind it for alternating color palettes and maximum contrast).

In the bottom panel, you can see the open habit of the Euonymus, how the branches arch out and away from the plant’s center.  Note another nice contrast: the light green foliage with the dark brown stem structure.  The berries are just setting, and they’ll turn to bright red Christmas lights of interest this winter.

It’s not always easy to do hedges and grouped plantings well, and this one is quite nice, especially for a commercial landscape.  I’m always happy to see something besides Laurel, Rhododendron and Oregon Grape.

(1) Most of the Euonymus alatus that I see looking rough has insect, disease and/or irrigation problems.  These plants benefit from a regular water supply, especially when they are young. They aren’t plant-it-and-forget-it shrubs, but they’re close.

Blue Orchard Mason Bees: they’re the BOMB.

Get it?


Citizen Scientists: Entomology Specimen Curation

“Through Calbug, any volunteer with Internet access can help read and transcribe hand-written field notes accompanying a million insect specimens, many dating back more than 100 years.”

If I do this, can I put UC Berkeley on my CV?  No?  Still – it’s science, from the comfort of your bunny slippers and Aeron chair.

Below are specimens I photographed from Taiwan National University’s collection.  You can read the labels, but many of them are in German.  Good times.

(Link discovery via pterostichini blog)


Spring Annuals: Why won’t my flowers GROW?

Have you ever bought a 6-pack or a few small pots of bedding plants, brought them home and planted them, then had them just sit there like a bump on a log?  No new green growth, no new buds, just….a still life in your garden.

I’ve had it happen with begonias, impatiens, lobelia, marigolds, mums, and even bacopa.  They don’t die or brown or wilt, they just fail to thrive.

“Oh hi!  We’re still here!  Still tiny!  Nothing to see, move along!”

You might overwater them in frustration, feed them, sing to them.  Nothing doing.  You had visions of lush hanging baskets or a carpet of color, and so you wait.  And wait.

Why does this happen?  Plant growth regulators.

Growers produce a crop to be ready at a certain time and look a certain way.  Spring bedding plants should be healthy and vigorous, but compact.  No one wants leggy delphiniums at the start of the season.  So growth regulators (PGRs) are applied during production to keep plants from getting too large or too leggy.  Applying PGRs is an art form: too much and you smoke the crop, too little and the plants aren’t the size you want (or the size the big-box store specified they wanted).  The wrong PGR: no flowers at all, or nothing but flowers and little foliage, or Easter lilies that are 4-inches tall.  It’s easy to miss the mark.

In an effort to time shipments and keep the plants saleable for as long as possible, PGRs might be liberally applied, and it takes some plants a long while to metabolize them and start growing again.  It can takes weeks or even months.

If you buy from a good independent garden center, this probably won’t happen very often. One thing you can do is to watch brands and the name of the grower on the plant label: buy enough plants and you’ll learn quickly who has a handle on PGRs and who has a too-heavy hand.  Some growers don’t use them at all, and they’re more common on annual plants than on perennials.  When they’re used correctly though, you won’t even notice.

You’re probably not a brown thumb.  There’s no magic involved.  It’s just PGRs.

Spiral of Life art installation

2012 Bloom Calendar Gets Underway


  • Witchhazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’)
    The red-flowered witchhazel blooms first, and it must have gotten started last week because the small tree I came across this morning was in full, rusty burgundy splendor.  The flowers have a nice light scent which is unfortunately absent when it’s raining sideways.  Oh, Oregon.
  • Burmese Mahonia (Mahonia lomariifolia)
    Haven’t seen it yet, but I know it’s going or will be in the next few days.  Excellent early nectar and pollen source for ambitious honeybees who sneak out to investigate on warm days in January and February.


  • Crocus
  • Hellebores
  • Hazelnuts and the various Corylus spp. cannot be far behind
  • Cherry buds are thinking about waking up; buds are probably physiologically active (it’s alive!) but not outwardly swelling yet

A nasty discovery

Deformed leaves, epinasty, on tomato

A friend discovered these deformed leaves on a tomato we’d planted in her garden just a month earlier. It had been blooming and doing fine, until one day, it wasn’t. It was also covered with webbing, and many of the leaves were chlorotic – bright chartreuse with darker green spots and veins. We talked for awhile and I learned that a landscaping service came in weekly to care for the lawn and clean up. Looking around, I realized the field of Vinca and Ivy that normally grew next to her house was gone. It didn’t look mowed; the plants were just…gone. Aha! Herbicide.

The deformed leaves in the picture are a sign of herbicide injury, particularly of growth regulators. Epinasty occurs when one portion of the plant’s tissue grows faster than another, or continues to grow while the other portion ceases. Leaves and stems can twist and elongate and club. In this scenario, it looked like 2,4-D damage. Once the plants were stressed from the injury, spider mites got the advantage – the source of the fine webbing.

The appropriate people were called and admonished, the plants were replaced, and all was well in the world. But it reminded me: the problem with plants isn’t always right there on the plant. Sometimes it’s in the bed adjacent, or coming from the house next door, or visiting from the woods nearby (deer, I’m looking at you).


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: