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Don Kinzler, Published July 19 2013

Growing Together: Taking time out for a midsummer triple floral treat

After our two-week investigation of the brutal homicides of our most promising young trees, I think we deserve a horticultural treat. Let’s revel in the midsummer beauty of clematis, hydrangeas, and hostas. All three are must-haves for most yards.

Clematis

The deep-purple vine you currently see blooming on home trellises is clematis (usually pronounced kle-MATT-is by most of us northerners).

It is the showiest choice of flowering vine for home yards. Many species and hybrids are available, but when we talk clematis most of us visualize the cultivar “Jackman” with its huge star-shaped royal-blue/purple blossoms. It has a nice bloom season from its midsummer flush until fall.

If you’re new to clematis, here are some guidelines:

• Potted specimens can be planted all season. One plant can eventually cover a trellis three or four feet wide. For a wider presentation, several plants can be installed 24 to 30 inches apart.

• Clematis are often located next to the house foundation, where soil may be poor. Amend the soil at planting time with peat moss, compost or sheep manure.

• Proper location is important. Clematis require at least six hours of direct sun, but they do not like hot, intense spots. East exposures are good. South and west can work with some modification.

A wise old truism says “Clematis like their heads in the sun and their feet in the shade.” A layer of shredded bark or similar mulch will keep the roots cool, shaded and moist.

• Clematis vines need support. Wood or metal trellises are fine, and chicken wire can be added if the slats are spaced far apart. Help the vines by attaching with twist ties early in the season if necessary.

Jackman clematis dies back each year to slightly above ground level. New shoots arise from below ground or from the lower portion. Cut back in spring to about 12 inches and remove the old vines.

Clematis take about three seasons to develop a husky root system capable of sending forth the lush bloom you see displayed in established plantings, so be patient.

Hydrangea

The Greek word meaning “water-loving” gives a description of the necessary care.

The past 20 wet years have resulted in lush plantings of hydrangeas, with their huge round clusters of white blossoms. They are extremely showy from midsummer onward.

The highly visible variety is usually Annabelle, with its huge ball-shaped clusters six to nine inches in diameter. The rounded shrub grows to around four feet in height and width.

Because hydrangeas like moisture, they perform well in shade or partial shade found on the north and east sides of buildings. They would rather not be located in hot, dry, windswept areas. But then again, neither would I.

A newly planted hydrangea appreciates a rich organic soil amended with peat moss or compost. Remember to provide for its water addiction.

Hydrangeas take about three years to develop sufficient structure to produce showy blossoms. Annabelle hydrangea usually grows primarily from the lower portion each spring. Leave the tops on over winter. The dried flowers and twigs are pretty in the winter landscape. Cut back to within several inches of ground level in early spring.

There are other hydrangeas available such as the blue/lavender Endless Summer variety, which I observed being sold in huge quantities this spring. Based on this, we should be able to observe their survival rate in a few years. In the meantime, I give the blue ribbon to the enormously successful white Annabelle.

Hosta

Pronounced “HAH-stuh,” there’s something for everyone here.

As a horticulture student, our herbaceous ornamentals class was being lectured on the intricacies of hosta leaf margin undulation, as exhibited by species such as Hosta sieboldiana and Hosta marginata. We students knew what was bound to come next. Wait for it, wait for it. The hand went up and a student voiced “How do they compare to Hosta la vista?” Snicker, snicker. No one can say we “hort” students from the ’70s didn’t know how to have a rollicking good time.

When choosing hosta types, a visit to the garden center will present leaf colors ranging from blue to golden. Leaf widths vary from narrow to huge oval. Some bloom elegantly and perfume the evening air heavily. Others offer primarily awesome foliage.

Check light requirements. Most hostas prefer shaded locations. Some do well in full sun, but match the proper hosta to the proper location.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com