Plants That Make A Good Hedge

A hedge is a living wall made from neatly aligned plants.  Hedges can be functional, serving as security, sound, and privacy barriers to separate properties and shield against street traffic. Sometimes hedges can be used as windbreaks in gusty locations and even as a living snow fence to reduce snowdrifts. They may also serve a decorative function showing beautiful seasonal flowers.  No matter how you look at it, hedges are a benefit to the homeowner. However, be prepared for maintenance, routine pruning and trimming to keep hedges at the correct height and shape. Read our article and choose the type of plant that best suits your needs; these top hedge picks make your choice easy.

green hedges

Best Evergreen Hedges

Evergreens are easy, fast growers that provide green screen elegance all year long. Tall, thick, and dense evergreen shrubs provide a sense of solitude and all-season privacy. They make a beautiful backdrop for flowering plants in Spring and add Winter interest when everything else is leafless and dormant. Here is our list of the best evergreen hedges.

English Boxwood is perhaps the oldest known ornamental plant in western gardens. Boxwood parterres and hedges can be seen in many of the great gardens of Europe and America.

Holly makes the perfect plant for hedging in the garden. Its spiny foliage quickly grows into an impenetrable mass that makes an excellent intruder deterrent.  Japanese Holly and Inkberry Holly are ideal for short hedges.

  • Ilex
  • USDA Growing Zone: 5 – 9
  • Sun Exposure: Partial Shade to Full Sun
  • Related: The American Holly

Junipers are coniferous plants that are members of the cypress family.  Junipers are among the most popular conifers to be cultivated as ornamentals for gardens. These cultivars have been selected and bred to produce a wide range of forms, and colors. Junipers are also a deer-resistant hedge.

  • Juniperus communis
  • USDA Growing Zone: 4 – 11
  • Sun Exposure: Partial Shade to Full Sun

Arborvitaes are a very popular hedge variety for privacy due to their dense evergreen foliage and hardiness. With a narrow, pyramid shape arborvitae make a natural choice for windbreaks.

  • Thuja
  • USDA Growing Zone: 3 – 8
  • Sun Exposure: Partial Shade to Full Sun

Best Deciduous Hedges

Deciduous hedge shrubs look great while in bloom but make for less-than-ideal privacy screens in Winter. These hedges provide opportunities for wonderful seasonal color changes. Listed below are several lovely varieties that boast flowers, fruit, and other interesting characteristics. Here is our pick of the best deciduous hedges.

Privet hedge sets the standard in the USA and is perfect for neat and formal landscape styles. Planted close and grown tall, privet quickly forms a lush, living barrier that’s a great way to trim your property. Privet can be easily trimmed into smooth curves or sharp designs.

  • Ligustrum
  • USDA Growing Zone: 5 – 8
  • Sun Exposure: Partial to Full Sun

Spireas are among the easiest flowering shrubs to grow. Plant sizes vary by species and cultivar. Spirea shrubs are deciduous shrubs that can be divided into two categories: spring blooming and summer blooming.

  • Spiraea
  • USDA Growing Zone: 4 – 8
  • Sun Exposure: Light Shade to Full Sun

Hydrangea has flower heads that are large, colorful, and striking in appearance. They are great for privacy hedges and the blooms look spectacular throughout the summertime.

Forsythia: Forsythia is the earliest blooming shrub at springtime and is used primarily for its showy brilliant yellow blooms. Forsythia is very hardy, fast-growing, and makes a good screening for borders and living fence. Border Forsythia or Forsythia x intermedia is a common cultivar.

  • Forsythia
  • USDA Growing Zone: 5 – 8
  • Sun Exposure: Full Sun
  • Related: Forsythia Facts

Lilacs produce delicate, fragrant blooms yet they serve as excellent sound barriers and windbreaks. Their dense foliage makes them an attractive choice for an informal hedge. Medium-sized lilacs such as dwarf Korean lilac make the best hedges.

  • Syringa
  • USDA Growing Zone: 3 – 7
  • Sun Exposure: Full Sun





Poinsettia, A Vibrant Holiday Plant

Poinsettias are as symbolic of Christmas as pumpkins are of Halloween.

The poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, is a commercially important plant species of the diverse spurge family Euphorbiaceae. The species is indigenous to Mexico and was first brought to the United States in the 1820s. Also known as the Christmas Flower, it is particularly well known for its red and green foliage. The poinsettia is a tropical species of Euphorbia. In frost-free regions it is grown as a garden shrub, attaining a height of 12 feet high and 8 feet wide. However, in our colder climate, the poinsettia needs to be maintained as a spectacular potted plant.

Poinsettias, a vibrant holiday plant, are popular Christmas decorations in homes, churches, and offices. They are as much a part of the holiday season as evergreen trees. These plants are available in large numbers from hardware, drug, and grocery stores across the United States. December 12 is National Poinsettia Day to honor Joel R Poinsett and Paul Ecke Jr. who were both instrumental in developing the poinsettia industry. Today, this plant is the world’s most economically important potted plant with over 100 cultivated varieties of poinsettia.

With proper light and temperature, poinsettias accumulate the anthocyanin pigments that give them their color.

A Flower without petals

What most people mistake as flower petals are in fact specialized leaves called bracts.
The flowers of the poinsettia are unassuming and do not attract pollinators. They are grouped within small yellow structures found in the center of each leaf bunch and are called cyathia. Flowers of this type are unique and are typical of the Spurge family.

poinsettia flower parts

What Makes Poinsettias Bracts Turn Red?

It is actually the plant’s specialized leaves called bracts that provide its color through a process called photoperiodism. What this really means its that, poinsettias develop vegetative growth when the photoperiod is long and flowers when the photoperiod is shorter. So a Poinsettia is what is called a short day photoperiod plant, which means that it naturally flowers when the nights become longer than the days.

In order for a poinsettia to change color, it needs 11 hours and 40 minutes, let’s just say twelve hours of darkness for at least five consecutive days. That tells the plant cells in the bracts to develop their vibrant red pigment. In commercial production, many growers use a black cloth to adjust light levels to either produce earlier crops or make the entire crop more uniform. After the color change process has taken place, poinsettias need at least six hours of indirect sunlight per day to maintain their brightest color.

Creating New Varieties of Poinsettia

Active breeding of poinsettia began in the 1950s to develop cultivars that would retain their leaves and bracts for a longer time. These breeding programs focused on stronger stems, leaf retention as well as early blooming and flower color variation. The height of this plant is also critical to sales. With the use of chemical growth retardants, the size of poinsettias can be controlled to produce 9 to 36-inch plants.

Many Plant breeders continue to tinker with poinsettias and modern technology has spawned some interesting mutations, with the use of gamma and X-ray radiation. Their efforts have translated into more color selections and better quality plants for consumers. Bract colors range from red to white, pink to burgundy, there is even an orange variety.

There are over one hundred different varieties of poinsettia.  Here is a popular double ruffle winter rose that has been available for about ten years now.


Quick Poinsettia Facts

  • Ideal temperatures are 65 to 75° F
  • Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not poisonous
  • If you want to care for them hydroponically, an ebb-and-flow system works best
  • When first introduced to the U.S. most botanists dismissed it as a weed
  • Studies estimate that 80% of poinsettia sales are made by women

Five Best Christmas Trees You Can Grow in Containers

As everyone knows, Christmas does not feel like Christmas unless you have a festive tree for the holidays.  Most people fuss over such an important decision by inspecting each tree on the lot; spending time looking for the fullest, most perfectly shaped, most beautiful tree that Mother Nature can supply. Read on to find the five best Christmas tree species you can grow in containers. Enjoy them for the holiday season then plant them outdoors to enjoy for a lifetime. NBC channel 4 news even the 77 foot tall Norway Spruce now at Rockefeller Center started out as a 4-foot tall container tree on someone’s coffee table.

There are approximately 25-30 million real Christmas trees sold every year in the United States.  Almost all of these come from Christmas Tree plantations. It can take anywhere from 7 to 15 years to grow a tree to a typical height of 6 feet. These cut trees are eventually cut and sold and in a few short weeks end up in a landfill eventually producing methane when they decompose or are incinerated. Many cities collect, chip and mulch Christmas trees which is considered more environmentally friendly. Check with your local recycling center.

There are two types of potted trees, those grown directly in containers and those dug up and transferred to containers. With container-grown trees, their roots are stronger and healthier. You should bring your potted tree indoors as late as possible, the weekend before Christmas is best. Remember to water your tree regularly so it does not dry out and avoid placing your tree too close to a heat source which will cause excessive needle drop.

Instead, the Plant King has compiled a list of trees that can be grown in containers, decorated with seasonal ornaments while being enjoyed year after year.  Let us show you how to pick the best Christmas tree this holiday season while reducing our burden on landfills. Eventually, these trees will need transplanting so we included information on height at maturity, growth rates, light requirements, and growing zones.

Balsam Fir, (Abies balsamea)

balsam fir branch

The Balsam Fir has needles are ¾ to 1½ inch in length that last a very long time. This tree has a dark-green appearance and retains its pleasing fragrance throughout the Holiday season.  Their attractive needles have two colors on top and bottom, adding shades of silver to their dark green appearance.

Height: The balsam fir grows to a height of 45–75′ at maturity.

Growth Rate: This tree grows at a slow rate of less than 12″ per year.

Light Requirements: Full sun and partial shade are best for this tree.

Growing Zones: 3 – 5

Douglas Fir, (Pseudotsuga menziesii)

Douglas Fir

Douglas fir trees have soft needles that are approximately 1 to 1 ½ inch in length. The needles are dark green in color and radiate in all directions around the branch. When crushed, these needles have a wonderfully sweet fragrance. Douglas fir is one of the top Christmas tree species in the United States.

Mature Size: The Douglas fir grows to a height of 40–70′ at maturity.

Growth Rate: This tree grows at a medium rate with increases of 12–24″ per year.

Light Requirements: Full sun and partial shade are best for this tree.

Growing Zones: 4 – 6

Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens)

Colorado Blue Spruce

Colorado Blue Spruce has needles between 1 to 1 ½ inch in length. Blue spruce trees are popular as a Christmas tree due to its symmetrical appearance and attractive blue foliage. This species has an excellent natural shape and requires little pruning to attain its form. Another positive is that needle retention is among the best for the spruces. Its popularity as an ornamental leads many individuals to use blue spruce as a living Christmas tree to later be planted outdoors.

Mature Size: The Colorado blue spruce grows to a height of 50–75’at maturity.

Growth Rate: This tree grows at a slow to medium rate of 12″ to 24″ per year.

Light Requirements: Full sun is the ideal condition for this tree.

Growing Zones: 2 – 7

Fraser Fir (Abies fraseri)

Fraser Fir

The most popular Christmas tree species in the country these days. The Fraser fir branches turn slightly upward giving it a beautiful form. Their soft needles are dark blue-green in color and have a pleasant scent. The tree has good needle retention. Fraser firs are known for staying fresh and fragrant throughout the season.

Mature Size: The Douglas fir grows to a height of 40–70′ at maturity.

Growth Rate: This tree grows at a medium rate of 13–24″ per year.

Light Requirements: Full sun and partial shade are best for this tree.

Growing Zones: 4 – 7

Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)

Eastern White Pine

The tallest pine in the northeast United States. White pines have soft, flexible needles that are between 2½ – 5 inches long. White pines have good needle retention but have less aroma than other trees on our list. They have flexible limbs that are not recommended for heavy Christmas ornaments.

Mature Size: The eastern white pine grows to a height of 50–80 feet.

Growth Rate: This tree grows at a fast rate of more than 24″ per year.

Light Requirements: Full sun and partial shade are best for this tree.

Growing Zones: 3 – 8


Growing Parsley in Containers

Parsley is a hardy plant, easy to grow, and has amazingly great flavor. Garden parsley, Petroselinum crispum, is a species of flowering plant in the family Apiaceae and is widely cultivated as an herb and a vegetable. It grows as a biennial, in the first year, it forms a rosette of leaves, with numerous leaflets and a taproot for energy storage. In the second year, it grows a flowering stem with fewer leaves topped with yellow flower umbels. Learn how to grow parsley in containers, it’s fun and easy, not to mention all you will have all that parsley for your recipes.


Parsley types to grow: Curly Leaf Parsley (Petroselinum crispum neapolitanum)  is used mainly for garnishing and in salads. This type of parsley has thicker ruffled leaves, a bright green color, and a muted flavor that gets more bitter over time.

Flat Leaf Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) has a stronger and sweeter flavor than any other type of parsley and it makes an excellent choice for cooking. Italian flat-leaf parsley adds a fresh flavor to any dish. Use it in soups, stews, and salads. This variety grows taller and lanky and requires a wider pot to grow into. Additionally, the flat-leaf parsley is more heat tolerant than other varieties.

Growing parsley from seed: You can purchase established plants from a local nursery, but you’ll get more plants for less money if you start with parsley seeds. Check out our article on starting seeds indoors.  Parsley seeds are notorious for their low and slow germination rate that can take up to 6 weeks to germinate so plant as early as possible. We usually wait until the plants are about five inches tall, and then those plants are transplanted into containers and grown outside or on a sunny window sill. The advantage of growing parsley in containers is that you can move the plant to a new location to optimize its growing requirements.

Choosing a pot and growing requirements: For growing parsley choose a rather large pot, 10 to 12 inches deep and wide. The container must have drainage holes. You can grow as many as 4 plants in this size container. Parsley grows best in moist, well-drained potting soil. You can also add aged compost to the container to supplement nutrients. Parsley in containers should reach 12 to 18 inches in height. It grows best between 72–86 °F and requires full sun. Remember that parsley in containers requires constant watering throughout the season. One container is plenty for an average family.

Harvesting Parsley in Containers: Harvest parsley leaves when needed in your favorite recipes. You can start harvesting parsley about three months after planting. Wait until the stems and leaves have matured. Cut the entire stem carefully from the base as parsley stems are also edible and tasty. Work from the outside of the plant and let the inner portion continue to grow.  Think of parsley as a continual harvest crop but do not over pick your parsley, give it some time to grow back. Pick the dead and faded leaves from time to time to keep your plant in shape and looking good. If flower stalks develop remove them to promote green foliage growth.





Annual, Biennial, or Perennial Plants. What is the difference?

daisy flowers in a book

Horticulture and botany, like any science, has its own terminology. Whether you’re an inexperienced newbie trying to unravel gardening instructions or a professional, here are some horticultural terms decoded.  Let’s begin with annual, biennial and perennial plants- what’s the difference? At The Plant King Blog, we always have new posts so check regularly for additional gardening terms, that you’ve always wanted to learn.

Annuals: Plants that complete their entire life cycle from seed to flower to seed again within a single growing season. Marigolds, zinnias, and impatiens are typical examples of annual flowering plants that gardeners plant every year to add vibrant color to their gardens. These plants produce beautiful flowers that bloom profusely during the entire season.  All roots, stems, and leaves of annuals die back each season and it is only the dormant seed that begins the next generation.  If gardeners are planting annuals there are two options for next season: either buy a new flat of annuals each springtime or direct sowing of seeds in order to see those colorful creations again.

Biennials: Plants that require two years to complete their life cycle. The first year biennial will produce leafy growth but second-year plants produce flowers. Typical examples of biennials include Black-eyed Susan, California poppy,
Canterbury Bells, Hollyhock and Sweet William. Non-flowering in their first year can be frustrating to gardeners growing ornamental flowers. However, you can get around their two-year cycle by starting seeds in the summer instead of the spring.

There are delicious vegetables that are biennials too.  Some examples of these biennials include onions, cabbage, carrots and herbs such as parsley.  Typically biennial vegetables are usually eaten in about a few weeks after planting. We do not eat second-year plants because they develop wood parts, but if you continue to allow them to grow they will develop flowers and seeds. 

Perennials: Perennials are flowers or plants that can live for more than two growing seasons.  Perennials form a wide assortment of plant groups from ferns to the highly diverse flowering plants like orchids, grasses, and herbs such as hops and lavender. The term is used extensively to distinguish plants with little or no woody growth from trees and shrubs, which are considered perennials.  Woody perennials consist of trees such as pine, maple and apple trees as well as shrubs. Herbaceous personals die back at season’s end but regrow the following year. Plants of this type include daffodils, alfalfa, red clover, and lemon balm.





Growing Crabapple Trees

There are several reasons to consider planting a crabapple tree this season. Their ability to help pollinate other apple trees, their tasty fruit can be used to make jellies, preserves, and cider, as well as their amazing blooms,  make a beautiful addition to your yard or orchard.  If you are interested in planting a crabapple tree and learning about its many uses then read on.

The history of apples is tangled, gnarly and otherwise difficult to understand. It has taken scientists with their knowledge of DNA and archeologists decades to unravel the origins of this fruit.  The cultivated sweet apple, Malus domestica, was domesticated from Malus sieversii, a wild apple that thrived in the Tian Shan mountains in Central Asia. Apple cultivation expanded along the Silk Road trade routes linking both Europe and Asia.  On its migration to Europe, these apple trees further hybridized with other wild apple species to develop the European crabapple, Malus sylvestris.  From there crabapples expanded into many different varieties from ornamentals to pollinators.  So as you can see, it was a tangled mess of cross-pollination and human intervention over many centuries that gave us these trees as we know them today.

The English generally used the fruit from crabapple trees to make hard cider. In fact, the word crab comes from the old English crabbe, meaning bitter or sharp tasting.  Eventually, the colonist brought crabapples to settlements in America. Starting as early as 1623, colonists brought seeds from Europe to plant crabapple trees. As in England, the orchards planted in America were used primarily for making hard cider, as the fermentation process sterilized cider through the addition of alcohol. This made the cider safer to drink than the water in early America.

Crabapples are deciduous, their leaves are simple and arranged alternately. Their fruits are small usually between 1/4″ to 2″.

Growing Your Own Crabapple Tree

Most temperate climates from USDA planting zones 4 to 10 will support the growth of crabapples. These trees vary from a large shrub-like plant, 6 to 8 feet, to a medium tree, 15 to 35 feet tall. They prefer to inhabit relatively open areas with lots of sun exposure and good air circulation. Crabapple trees do not have a particular soil preference. They do best in moist, well-drained and slightly acidic soils. The site for planting should be prepared a year ahead so that early spring plantings can be made into weed-free locations. For the best success, the hole for planting needs to be approximately two feet larger in radius than the seedling’s root system.   If the tree was grafted to a rootstock then the graft must remain above ground.

Ornamental Crabapples Make A Lovely Addition To Your Garden

Adam’s Crabapple Marilee Crabapple
Cardinal Crabapple Pink Princess
Ivory Spear Crabapple  Prairie Rose Crabapple
Lollipop Crabapple Royal Beauty Crabapple
Louisa Crabapple Show Time Crabapple
The fragrant, five-petaled, white, pink, carmine or purplish flowers appear early in showy groups, some cultivars producing semi-double (6–10 petals) or double (more than 10 petals) per blossom.

Can You Eat Crabapples?

Absolutely! They’re perfectly edible.  The difference between edible crabapples and ornamental crabapples is the size of the fruit. Edible varieties have fruit that are about two inches in diameter or less. These varieties are excellent for making cider or jellies, whereas ornamentals have tiny fruit or no fruit at all and have not been bred for flavor. If you are going to eat your crabapples, plant a variety with large fruit to get the largest yield from your tree.

Crabapple fruits are high in pectin. Pectin is a natural fiber found in plant cell walls and is most concentrated in the fruit skin. It is water-soluble and binds with sugar and fruit acid to form a gel. So what does all this mean? It means that to make crabapple jelly all you need is fruit, sugar, and spices. Additionally, crabapple fruits are a good source of malic and tartaric acid which gives the fruit its sour flavor and may have some medicinal benefits.  With so many different varieties of crabapples and their unique flavors, I can’t think of a single reason for not having a few crabapples in the yard.

Crabapples As Pollinators of Sweeter and Larger Apple Varieties

Some crabapples can be used for cross-pollination if they flower at the same time as the larger, sweeter commercial apple varieties.  Almost all apple trees require pollen from another compatible apple variety to set fruit, we call this cross-pollenation. This is because the majority of apple trees are what we call self-incompatible, that is they need another variety called a pollenizer to make fertilization happen. It just so happens that crabapple tree pollen will pollinate most larger and sweeter commercial apple varieties provided that they blossom at the same time. However, there are a few triploid ornamental crab apple varieties with sterile pollen or little to no pollen. So if you are buying new trees, check to see whether the trees you are purchasing have viable pollen for cross-pollination.

So think of a crabapple tree as some type of universal apple pollenizer. Crabapples are so effective at pollinating other apple varieties that growers can add them to their orchards to promote fruit set. When you are planting apple trees in a new garden, plant a crabapple within 50 feet of your other apple trees to ensure good pollination.  In fact, just a few cut branches of crab apples in bloom in a bucket of water in the middle of an apple orchard is enough to promote pollination.  It turns out these trees are magnets for the honey bee. The bees visit the crabapple blossoms and then visit the apple blossoms as they open on the sweeter and larger apple trees, thus improving fruit set.

Good Crabapple pollinizers for domestic apples. 

Chestnut Crab Blooms early to midseason
Crimson Gold Blooms midseason to late
Frettingham Crab Blooms mid to late
Indian Summer Blooms same time as Red Delicious
Manchurian Blooms early to midseason
Mt. Blanc™ Blooms late
Mt. Evereste™ Blooms early to midseason
Simpson 10-35 Crab Blooms mid to late
Snowdrift Blooms midseason to late






Hot Composting with a GEOBIN

There are many different methods of composting and there are many different commercially available composters that help you to get that work done.  In this post, we review the GEOBIN composting system for its ease of setup, functionality and overall success at making compost.  If you are new to gardening and want to learn more about composting or you are looking for different alternatives to compost, then read on.


composting with GEOBIN

Last year, here at the Plant King Blog, we purchased our first GEOBIN system from Amazon for $34.99.  We were so pleased with the success of making compost that we bought a second one this year. It is one of the least expensive and largest capacity composting bins on the market today. The GEOBIN backyard compost system is easy to set up and is ideal for all skill levels. Use the finished compost around flowers and garden plants to amend your soil with rich recycled nutrients. Here are some GEOBIN statistics:

  • Large capacity—expandable up to 4 feet across
  • Easy to assemble with closure keys
  • Made from 50% recycled plastic content
  • Easy to store and reassemble
  • Excellent slotted ventilation 
Geobin composting system
The GEOBIN comes ready to use out of the box. Remove that wrapper and insert the keys. Follow the instructions, it’s that easy.

Backyard Composting Basics: The term “hot composting” refers to a method in which microbial activity within the compost pile is at its optimum level.  The end result is that you end up with finished compost in a much shorter period of time. So what exactly is compost?  Compost is simply decomposed organic matter that is rich in nutrients. Composting is an aerobic process so it requires oxygen. Additionally, nitrogen, carbon, moisture along with beneficial microorganisms are needed as well. Remember making your own compost helps the environment and benefits good insects, soil bacteria and other microorganisms.  The GEOBIN is perfect for hot composting.

Compost Pile Size: The size of your compost bin or pile is very important when it comes to hot composting. The GEOBIN is about 4 feet wide and 3 feet tall.  These dimensions happen to be ideal is for hot composting.  Smaller piles will not generate sufficient heat and larger piles become unmanageable. The composting system should be placed in full sun, less sun will slow down the process.

A working geobin
A GEOBIN in action, fill it up, watch it work.

How do you start a compost pile? The idea behind hot composting is to get the pile to heat up as fast as possible. For this to occur, we need a large amount of organic matter, with the correct carbon to nitrogen ratio, right from the start. This carbon to nitrogen ratio enhances microbial activity and ramps up the composting process.  If you are interested in composting then you will need to collect organic material from the table below.  Add the materials to the GEOBIN, mix well, add water.  If you have older compost mix, it is already teeming with microorganisms and will serve as an activator, add it to the new pile.

Carbon-Rich Materials Nitrogen-Rich Materials
Straw Grass clippings
Shredded paper Fresh cut weeds
Corn Stalks Vegetable and fruit scraps
Fall leaves Deadheading
Twigs Coffee grounds

Compost Happens: The optimal temperature for microbial activity is 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature, microbes break down organic matter and reproduce at high rates. This temperature range is also hot enough to kill most weed seeds and harmful bacteria in the pile. The composting process also requires water.  The contents of your compost pile should feel like a wrung-out sponge.

Happiness is well-made compost. Thank you, GEOBIN.

If you are having problems with your compost pile, don’t give up hope.  For a compost pile that does not heat up, try the following:

  • the pile is too small
  • not enough air
  • not enough nitrogen
  • the pile is too wet or too dry

Good luck composting, if you have any questions or comments please post them below.

Happy Gardening, from The Plant King.




Fruitless Sweetgum Tree Facts

American sweetgums are deciduous trees prized for their star-shaped leaves that turn a brilliant mix of fall colors. Sweetgums are native to the southeastern United States. It is classified according to its Latin name Liquidambar styraciflua and it belongs to the Altingiaceae family. From many perspectives, the American sweetgum is a good tree for the urban landscape. It grows fast in acidic loamy soil and has few insect or disease issues. American sweetgum trees are best grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 9.  However, the one major flaw of this tree species is that it produces large amounts of fruit or seedpods.  These spiky seedpods litter lawns which ultimately makes the tree much less desirable for any landscaping.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a fruitless sweetgum tree, that is to have everything except the spiky mess.  Sometimes a plant may grow that differs substantially than others in a population. We call this genetic mutation a “sport” and if that mutation happens to be desirable then we can make many exact copies of it through propagation techniques. So, Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Rotundiloba,’ is a sterile, non-fruiting cultivar of the American sweetgum that does not produce the famous spiky seed pods. A cultivar is a plant selected from the wild or intentionally bred that differs from the typical member of the species it was selected from or bred.  If you are interested in planting a fruitless sweetgum tree then this article is for you.

sweetgum tree leaves
The fruitless American Sweetgum tree, Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Rotundiloba’ with its characteristic lobed leaves.  This cultivar is sterile and does not produce seedpods.

A problem with growing ‘Rotundiloba’ has been its lack of symmetry. Instead of having the cookie-cutter appearance, the fruitless sweet gum has a more free form habit, especially with lateral branches. In formal plantings, let’s say like at mall parking lots, where exact size duplicates are needed, this has caused some disappointment.

fruitless sweetgum tree form
Fruitless Sweetgum trees require corrective pruning especially with lateral branches as seen here. Mature trees reach 50 feet in height.

As always, a tree this rare is not likely to be found at a large discount nursery, instead, it is more likely found in select plant nurseries or from mail-order tree nurseries. Below is a list of other cultivars that are considered nearly fruitless and may be considered as options to the sterile ‘Rotundiloba’.

Liquidambar syraciflua Cultivars Fruit Production
‘Ward’ Nearly Fruitless
‘Slender Silhouette’ Nearly Fruitless
‘Worplesdon’ Nearly Fruitless


Bottom Line:  If you are planting a sweetgum tree then most likely you interested in it as a specimen tree.  The main drawback of using a native tree is the large amounts of fruit or seedpods that it produces and the extra cleanup work that it entails.  The alternative is the sterile ‘Rotundiloba’ cultivar.  Just be prepared for some additional pruning early in the tree’s development and losses due to cold temperatures in Northern latitudes.

native american sweetgum tree distribution
Native American Sweetgum tree distribution

For additional information regarding Sweet-gumfs_list2can be found here.

Propagating Azaleas Using Softwood Cuttings

In our previous post, we discussed the care of azaleas.  In this post, The Plant King tells you how to propagate azaleas using softwood cuttings.  Why use cuttings?  In simple terms, we are making a duplicate or exact copy of a plant.  We may like the flower color, or plant height or another characteristic that intrigues us.  We make exact duplicates or clones of plants by using softwood cuttings.  If we were to plant from seed, then there is no telling what mother nature would give us, smaller flowers or other variations that are not interesting. It is, for this reason, that plant nurseries and home gardeners use cuttings instead of seeds.  They know exactly what plant they are producing for a particular and fickle market of buyers.

Azaleas are easy-care flowering shrubs that reward gardeners with massive blooms.  They’re a must-have in your garden. Azaleas are closely related to Rhododendron, in fact, they are in the same genus. There are literally thousands of azalea varieties and cultivated hybrids available. They come in many flower colors, including red, pink, yellow and white. Though most plants flower for about two weeks in April and May, there are also summer-blooming varieties that add color and grace to any garden later in the season.  Keep reading to find out more about propagating azaleas using softwood cuttings.  After all, who doesn’t want more azaleas?


Let’s get Started: Azaleas and other ornamental shrubs in the home landscape can be propagated by softwood cuttings. In most cases, plant propagation is dictated by the calendar.  Softwood cuttings are taken in June and July and sometimes into early August from the current season’s growth. Cutting material should be flexible but mature enough to snap when sharply bent.

Here’s what you’ll need for propagating azaleas using softwood cuttings:

  1. With pruning shears remove 3″ to 5″ of new growth.  I usually add the cuttings to a plastic bag with a wet paper towel inside to prevent excess water loss from newly cut stems. Choose only healthy plants with no insect damage, no leaf discoloration, or disease.
  2. Bring the cuttings back to your garden bench and cut them again at the base with a sharp knife just below the point where one or two leaves are attached to the stem (node).  This clean cut will have much less tissue damage and will increase success rates so it is worth the extra time.
  3. Remove the leaves from the lower half of each cutting and scrape the bark from one side of the stem. This wound will help to induce root production.  Wet the lower portion of the cutting with water then roll the end of the cutting in rooting hormone. Tap off any surplus material. Softwood cuttings root more successfully when a rooting hormone is used.
  4. Stick the lower end of the cutting where the leaves were removed about 2″ into the rooting medium. Firm the medium around the stem to make the cutting stay in place.
  5. Mist with water regularly and cover with a clear or white plastic bag. The bag prevents excess water loss and will again increase success rates.  Place in a location with bright but indirect light. Rooting should take approximately 6 to 8 weeks.

Things to keep in mind when choosing plant material:

  • plants must be healthy pest and disease-free
  • younger plants work better than older plants
  • lateral shoots work better than terminal shoots
  • take cuttings in the early morning when plants are well hydrated
  • if not planting immediately refrigerate cuttings


Rooting Medium: There are many options for rooting medium. It must not only retain moisture but also drain well and provide physical support.  For our example of propagating azaleas from softwood cuttings, we find it best to work with masonry sand or potting mix.

  • peat – partially decayed vegetation or organic matter
  • vermiculite – a mineral used in soilless growing systems
  • perlite – a form of amorphous volcanic glass that looks like styrofoam
  • masonry sand – all-purpose sand used for masonry work
  • potting mix – most potting soils are made of peat, vermiculite, and bark

It will take several years for a rooted cutting to become a nice size plant. That is definitely delayed satisfaction.  Still, many gardeners find rooting cuttings and growing the young plants to be fun and rewarding.

Growing Microgreens, A Starter Guide

Microgreens are easy and fun to grow. They are great for garnishing sandwiches and adding to salads. Most microgreens are fast growers that have a quick turnaround to harvest time. The majority of vegetable varieties grown as microgreens are ready for harvest in about 10 to 14 days.  Nutritional studies have found that microgreens pack a nutritional punch.  They are higher in vitamin C, E, and K than mature plants. However, if grown under incorrect conditions microgreens can be the source of foodborne bacterial infections.  So if you are interested in growing microgreens, our starter guide is helpful reading.

red cabbage microgreens

What Are Microgreens? Plants go through several developmental stages.  For our discussion let’s call these stages: sprout → microgreen → baby →  mature plant.  Spouts grow for about 3-5 days and usually, we eat the whole plant.  Sprouts require a high moisture environment with no soil or media.  Microgreens have grown for about 10-14 days and harvested by clipping just above the soil. These plants have cotyledons and may also have true leaves. As the name implies, baby plants, have further developed with 14 -30 days of growth and look more or less like the adult form. At this stage, plants have true leaves and there is more distance between each plant. A more detailed diagram listing the stages of seed germination is listed below.

Stages in seed germination: A-seed coat, B- radicle, C- primary root, D- secondary root, E- cotyledon, F – plumule, G- leaf, H- taproot Source: WikiCommons, Aslyntodd.

Choice of Seeds: There are dozens of crops that can be grown as microgreens.  If you are just getting started to begin growing with the easiest varieties or with a professionally premixed selection of microgreens. As you gain confidence, then diversify your selection. It’s important to understand upfront that microgreens require more seeds than let’s say growing a row of garden vegetables. Additionally, seeds should be sanitized prior to use to reduce fungi and bacteria. When purchasing seeds, it is most economical to purchase in bulk. An excellent source for obtaining microgreen seeds is Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Below is our microgreens list.

Easiest Intermediate Hardest
Arugula Anise Amaranth
Bok Choy/Pak Choi Celery Leaf Basil
Broccoli Coriander Beets
Buckwheat Dill Chard
Cabbage Fennel Chives
Cauliflower Fenugreek Cilantro
Chia Leek Cress
Chinese Mustard Peas  
Endive Spinach  
Kale Sorrel  
Red Clover    

basic salad mix

How To Grow Microgreens: You will be needing some basic supplies, those being seeds, a growing tray, and growing medium.  To start seeds indoors, another obvious requirement is light which can be as simple as a bright window or a more controlled setting using a greenhouse and supplemental grow lights.  Heat mats may also be necessary to help with germination and temperature control. 


Microgreens can be grown in soil or they can be grown hydroponically.  With soil-based systems, seeds are densely sown directly on the soil surface. Harvesting requires the microgreens to then be harvested by cutting. The microgreens will not regrow and the soil is not reusable and should be composted.  With their short crop cycles and minimum to no fertility requirements, microgreens are an excellent crop for hydroponic culture. Hydroponic based systems use fiber mats wet with water for the length of the growth cycle. Reusing mats also asks for root and seed diseases that can affect the next crop and should not be used again.

Are Microgreens Safe?  The short answer is it depends on several factors.  First is seed sanitization.  For maximum safety, it is recommended that you disinfect the outside of your seeds and your sprouting container prior to sprouting using 3% hydrogen peroxide.  If you see white fuze growing on roots, do not be alarmed these are naturally occurring root hairs.  If you observe or more importantly smell any sign of declining freshness, it is time to toss your microgreen lot; clean and disinfect your trays before starting a new crop.

Pros For Microgreens:

  • growing microgreens is fast and easy
  • some studies show higher nutritional value than mature plants
  • little setup costs

Cons For Microgreens:

  • a fragile product with high moisture content
  • eating raw microgreens may cause bacterial infections from E. coli and Salmonella among others
  • microgreens have a short shelf life

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