Pacific Northwest

July, 2008
Regional Report

Favorite or New Plant

Japanese Barberry
I'm always on the prowl for foliage that acts as a counterpoint to flowers, or even replaces them. At the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, I found a striking combination -- two cultivars of the Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), a mound-shaped, spiny shrub with small leaves and bright red berries.

The foliage of 'Rosy Glow', a deep, intense burgundy mottled with pink, makes a perfect backdrop for the radiant gold leaves of 'Aurea'. This wonderful color contrast lasts all season long.

These two barberries can set each other off nicely in low shrub borders or massed in groups. Both are spreading and compact in habit. Japanese barberry is widely adapted but is most at home in full sun and in soil that is on the dry side.

Clever Gardening Technique

Pinching Plants
Pinching is the removal of the terminal bud (the growing tip) of a stem. This starts a hormonal process that forces the development of lateral (side) branches. New growth soon springs from lower nodes, or leaf axils, creating new branches and making the plant dense and bushy. You can pinch any perennial or annual plant that naturally branches or that bears flower heads at the tops of leafy stems, as well as vines and shrubs that bloom on new growth. Bee balm (Mondarda didyma), 'Silver King' artemisia, 'Moonbeam' coreopsis, Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), and zinnias are just a few of the many good candidates.

Plants that form a basal rosette of leaves, such as coral bells (Heuchera sanguinea) and columbine (Aquilegia) are not suitable for pinching. Neither are those with a single, tall flowering stem, such as hollyhock (Alcea rosea) or delphinium, unless you don't mind sacrificing the natural spire for a lower-growing, branched, but more floriferous display.

To pinch your plants, squeeze the tip of the stem and the topmost pair of leaves between your thumbnail and forefinger, removing the plant parts. If you're pinching a multistemmed plant, nip off the tip of every stem so they all mature at the same rate. Pinch early in the season when plants are about one-third their mature height. For even denser growth, pinch again when plants reach about one-half to two-thirds of their mature height.

Pinching delays flowering, but not as much as you might expect. If a plant is pinched early in the season, long before flower buds begin to form, it usually blooms at the same time as one left unpinched, or within a week of it. With practice, though, you can use pinching to actually manipulate bloom time.

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