Patriotic Plants: The Mighty Oak

July 4th is upon us – the day we celebrate the birth of our nation. Looking back to 1776, trees and the lumber they provided were a critical natural resource, providing the raw material for shipbuilding. While modes of transportation have changed in the 247 years since our independence was declared, trees are still an important symbol of our nation’s strength and identity.  

Their ongoing importance was recognized in 2004 when Congress passed legislation designating the Oak as America’s National Tree. The Oak was selected by a vote hosted by the National Arbor Day Foundation, in which Americans of all ages and from all walks of life chose the Oak over 20 other varieties of tree to be our national symbol.  

There are more than 90 species of Quercus, the Latin name for Oak, growing in the United States. They have been an important part of our national history and folklore. Did you know that the USS Constitution took its nickname “Old Ironsides” from the strength of its oak hull? 

Today, oaks are recognized as playing a crucial role in the ecosystems of our world:  

  • Oaks lead the list of trees in providing food for insects, birds and other animals.  
  • They support almost 900 caterpillar species across the US, far more than the number supported by any other genus.  
  • Birds forage longer in oaks because those caterpillars provide high value food, especially for baby birds.  
  • Animals such as squirrels and Blue Jays find acorns a rich source of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. 
  • Leaf litter provides habitat for many beneficial organisms, supporting a diversity and abundance of life. 
  • An oak’s canopy and root system are important in water filtration, helping rain percolate instead of running off, and purifying it in the process.
  • Oak trees sequester carbon.


So many reasons to celebrate our national tree on our nation’s birthday! 


Blossoming Beauty: Exploring the Enchanting Trio of Hibiscus Varieties

In tropical climates any hibiscus can go right in the ground and turn into huge trees and shrubs that bloom more or less year-round. Here in New England, we enjoy a more modest tropical display, in both size and season. But even here in Massachusetts, the world of hibiscus is fascinating and worth a deeper look.


In the Bay State it’s important to know what kind of Hibiscus you’re getting and how you can expect it to behave. For our purposes, there are three types to consider: Tropical Hibiscus, Rose of Sharon, and Perennial Hibiscus.


Tropical Hibiscus

Tropical Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) can be found in our greenhouse, or among the annuals during the warm months. This type of Hibiscus is hardy in USDA growing zones 10 and 11 (think Central Florida and further south from there). Here in zone 6, we can enjoy tropical Hibiscus outdoors through late spring and summer but they will not survive our winters and should be considered an annual plant. If you have a lot of sun in your home you could also consider it a houseplant and you can enjoy its gorgeous blossoms year-round!


There are thousands of cultivars of tropical hibiscus available today. A few notables include Red Hot Tropical Hibiscus, Chinese Lantern, Mahoe, and Fiji Island in addition to the traditional red varieties. In the Middle East and Africa, a popular drink called karkade is made from the dried flowers of red hibiscus. It can be drunk cold or hot and is said to have numerous health benefits and it is used to soothe ailments such as colds, high blood pressure, intestinal, circulatory, and skin disorders and more.


Tropical Hibiscus

Rose of Sharon Hibiscus

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) is a deciduous shrub hardy in USDA growing zones 5 through 9, good news, zone 6, we’re in! It will lose its leaves in the winter and put out new growth in spring. Very little pruning is required as these shrubs maintain an upright growth pattern.


These hardy shrubs bloom late into the season when little else is in bloom. They are low-maintenance and easy to grow and come in many forms including dwarf, columnar, upright, and tree form, and flowers can be single, double, or semi-double. You’ll find them in exciting and unexpected colors including reds, pinks, purples that are almost blue and even multicolor blooms. They are heat, drought, and salt tolerant (perfect for the Cape), deer resistant and a favorite of butterflies and hummingbirds!


Perennial Hibiscus

Perennial Hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos) is a fun one. Hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9 this hibiscus will lose all its leaves in the winter and resemble dead sticks come spring. Leave those sticks there through the winter months then, in the spring cut them all the way back, almost to the ground. Late May, early June you’ll start to see new growth come up from the ground and boy does it come up fast! Enjoy gorgeous blooms the size of your face all summer long!


Perennial Hibiscus



Attracting Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to Your Garden 

Seeing a hummingbird is always an exciting event! These tiny beautiful creatures who feast on the nectar of flowers are amazing to behold. Read on to learn more about the ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) that makes its home in Massachusetts.

Fast Facts 

  • Males have unmistakable glossy green feathers on their head and midriff and a stunning, glittering red necklace (hence the namesake).
  • These brightly colored feathers around the throat of a hummingbird are known as a gorget.  
  • Females can be distinguished from the males because they do not have a gorget.
  • Hummingbirds migrate in the spring, arriving in the Bay State in April and May.
  • The ruby-throated hummingbird the smallest breeding bird in the state of Massachusetts.
  • Is the only hummingbird species that breeds and nests in the eastern US.  
  • Hummingbirds use lichen, those crusty plantlike organisms found on tree bark, along with other fibers to form their nests and they cleverly hold it all together with spiderwebs!
  • Their wings beat 53 times per second.
  • Those fast-flapping wings burn a lot of energy so hummingbirds must eat more than their own weight in insects and nectar daily!


Hummingbird feeders.

Early Season Care for our Beautiful and Magical Friends 

  • Put feeders out in late April or early May until flowers in your garden can offer a source of food.
  • To make a nectar, dissolve one part refined white sugar into four parts boiling water and be sure to let it cool before adding it to your feeder. 
  • Red dye isn’t necessary. It is neither helpful nor harmful –  it is the color of the feeding port (usually red) that attracts the hummingbird.
  • Clean the feeder at least once a week to prevent the growth of mold and bacteria. 
  • Hummingbirds eat both nectar and insects so if you see ants on the feeder, chances are the hummingbirds will take care of them.
  • Provide a source of water for bathing – it’s another chance to observe them up close! 


Planting a Garden to Attract Hummingbirds 

Like us, hummingbirds appreciate a variety of flowers, from annuals in containers to tall perennial specimens. They especially like flowers that are tubular in shape and brightly colored. 




Consider adding some of the following to your garden:  

  • Agastache (red and orange varieties) 
  • Calibrachoa (both superbells and million bells) 
  • Cleome (spider flower – a good nectar source for hummingbirds and swallowtails butterflies) 
  • Fuchsia (a hummingbird magnet) 
  • Lantana 
  • Nasturtium 
  • Nicotiana (flowering tobacco) 
  • Petunias 
  • Salvia (especially fire cracker red) 
  • Sunflowers  
  • Zinnias (especially large size flowers)  


  • Agastache (perennial varieties such as Blue Fortune) 
  • Asclepias (milkweed) 
  • Aquilegia (columbine) 
  • Baptisia 
  • Echinacea (coneflower) 
  • Heuchera (coral bells) 
  • Hibiscus moschuetos 
  • Lamprocapnos spectabilis (bleeding heart) 
  • Lobelia cardinalis 
  • Monarda (bee balm) 
  • Nepeta (catmint) 
  • Phlox 
  • Salvia (perennial varieties such as East Friesland and Caradonna) 


  • Azalea 
  • Buddleia (butterfly bush) 
  • Chaenomeles (flowering quince) 
  • Clethra alnifolia (summersweet) 
  • Lilac 
  • Lonicera (honeysuckle vine) 
  • Rhododendron 
  • Viburnum 
  • Weigela 


Make Room for Pollinators in Your Garden

The world would be a very different place without pollinators, in fact, it would be unrecognizable. Pollinators are animals that visit flowers to drink nectar or feed off pollen and transport that pollen from place to place along their way. They not only pollinate our food crops and flower gardens but sustain our environment, supporting healthy ecosystems that clean the air, support wildlife, protect us from severe weather, and help sustain soils. Up to 90% of flowering plants around the globe rely on these animals for pollination. That is why the decline of pollinators is so alarming.  Pollinators are threatened by habitat loss, excessive and improper use of pesticides, and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Pollution and climate change also contribute to the decline. It’s up to us to do our part to nurture pollinators in our landscapes. Read on to learn about different types of pollinators and how you can support them! 



Approximately a third of the food eaten by Americans today comes from crops pollinated by bees! And some plants, like tomatoes and blueberries, though self-fertile, won’t release their pollen unless they experience the vibrations of the wings from certain bees. Planting colorful annuals around your vegetable garden will invite pollinators and increase your yield in the vegetable garden. Bees contribute to a healthy and beautiful landscape by pollinating some of our very favorite flowers. 

Bumble bees form small colonies, usually underground and feed on a wide range of plant material from spring through fall. Solitary bees do not form colonies, as their name suggests. They nest in decaying wood, in sandy areas, in the soil and under leaf litter. Solitary bees include carpenter bees, leafcutter bees, mason bees, digger and cactus bees. Support their habitats by supplying pieces of deadwood and try not to remove all the leaf litter from your yard. 




Creating a butterfly garden is fun, creative, and oh so rewarding! Plants are critical to butterflies, both as a food source and as a place to lay their eggs. When designing a butterfly garden, keep the following in mind: 


In terms of food, adult butterflies are looking for flowers from which they can drink sweet nectar (and spread pollen in their wake). These grown-ups aren’t all that particular about the flowers they choose. If it looks nice and smells nice to you, butterflies will probably like it too. They like flowers that provide a good landing platform, often those with a single row of petals. And bear in mind, some recent introductions of double-flowered versions of single flowers, are often sterile, offering no food to pollinators. 

On the other hand, caterpillars, the larval stage of butterfly development, are a lot like human toddlers. They are very picky eaters, and each species has its very own favorite food that it will eat exclusively. For example, milkweed is the exclusive host plant of Monarch butterflies. Eggs are laid on the underside of milkweed leaves and the emergent caterpillars then eat the plant’s leaves. This is their only food source. 


Wet, muddy areas provide moisture and minerals butterflies need to stay healthy. They like a shallow watering hole in the ground and will also drink from a bird bath.  Adding a stone at the edge of the bath will help to keep them from falling in. 


Butterflies need a safe place to eat and nest. Butterflies love to bask! Open areas such as flat stones provide an ideal spot for basking in the sun, as do flowers placed in full sun and protected from the wind. 

Pollinator Favorites List




Moths are not as colorful as butterflies and are recognizable by their antennae, which are feathery or saw-edged, as opposed to butterfly antennae, which have a bulbous swelling at the tip. Moths mostly work at night collecting pollen. They are attracted to strong, sweetly smelling flowers that are open late afternoon or night and usually white or pale in color. Moths are the ones pollinating your moon garden! 



Seeing beetles in your garden probably isn’t as rewarding as seeing a colorful butterfly or bird. They are not as efficient as other pollinators and can leave a mess, damaging the plant parts they eat. But believe it or not, beetles were pollinators before bees evolved on the planet! Beetles tend to be attracted to large, strong scented flowers and are the only insect responsible for pollinating our beloved magnolias! 



Flies pollinate primarily small flowers that bloom in shady, moist areas. They are important for a range of annual flowers and bulbs. 



Hummingbirds are the primary birds to play a role in pollination. They carry pollen on their beaks and feathers from stop to stop. These avian wonders are attracted to bright colored, tubular flowers. You can help these amazing creatures to find your yard by providing sugar water in a hummingbird feeder early in their migration season before their favorite flowers come into bloom. 


A ruby-throated hummingbird flying into a petunia flower.


Everyone can have a positive effect on the pollinator population by providing food, water, and shelter.  And remember, native pollinators are best supported by native plants! Plants native to New England are well adapted to our climate and soil conditions, making them low maintenance too. 


Pollinator gardens can be as small as a decorative planter on the porch, to a flowerbed, to a large vegetable garden. Pick a variety of trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals that bloom from spring through fall to provide food and habitat sources throughout the year! 


 Mother Nature is a wonder to behold. Best of luck in your endeavor to help our pollinators. They will thank you.  



National Pollinator Week 2023

June 19th – 26th

The history of National Pollinator Week, although short, is nonetheless notable. In 1997 an organization called the Pollinator Partnership was formed to increase awareness of the importance of pollinator health. In 2006 their efforts led to a resolution by the US Senate creating National Pollinator Week. The resolution stated the importance of pollinators to our food system, the economy and the overall health of the American population. From those beginnings, many national and international initiatives have taken hold, dedicated to the protection of pollinators.  

The intricate dynamics of pollination began to evolve over 140 million years ago. Since the seventeenth century, scientists in such disciplines as botany, horticulture, entomology and ecology have contributed to our understanding of the importance of biodiversity, which can only be created with a healthy pollinator ecosystem. Their work points to the need for us to make conscious decisions that will nourish, provide habitat, and protect the creatures who provide these essential pollinator services. 

National Pollinator Week is all about celebrating and protecting the diversity of ecosystems that give us a beautiful and plentiful green world. Consider that  

  • 90% of the world’s flowering plant species depend on animal pollination (bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles, ants, moths, wasps, even flies) 
  • 75% of the world’s food crops depend on pollination 


We can all contribute to the health of pollinators by creating more pollinator friendly habitats in our backyards and in our communities.  

For further information about creating a pollinator friendly garden read our article on pollinator basics!



Pruning Spring-Blooming Shrubs

The spring flowers of Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Forsythia, Lilac and Viburnum are always so welcome after a long winter season. To ensure those beautiful blooms for next year’s spring, it is important to know when and how to prune them.  

Spring flowering shrubs bloom on “old wood,” meaning growth that took place in the previous year. Another way to think of it is, the flowers you enjoyed this year were formed in the summer of last year. The window of time to do any pruning is after springtime flowering but before next year’s flower buds form. If you need to set a reminder in your calendar, a rule of thumb is to prune no later than July 4th. If you prune in late summer or fall, you will be removing next year’s flowers. It is generally recommended not to remove more than one-third of a shrub’s mass in one year. The shrub needs the remaining two-thirds leaf mass to maintain its vigor and health. 



Pruning will control size, improve shape and encourage healthy branching. To shorten a branch, follow the branch down from the tip to the leaf you want to keep. Choose an outward facing leaf as this will direct the plant to make any future growth towards the outside, rather than encouraging further congestion in the inside of the plant. Make the cut one quarter inch above the topmost leaf you wish to keep.  

To reduce the height of shrubs such as Forsythia, remove the tallest canes by cutting them out at ground level. Thin out any canes crowding the center to allow light and air to reach the interior. Remove canes growing in an unwanted or unruly direction. 

Use this method to maintain your spring bloomers as needed. Read on for particular pruning methods that may become necessary if your lilacs or forsythia become truly overgrown.



While the pruning principles above apply to a reasonably sized lilac, we often find ourselves with a shrub that is far too large. After all, don’t we want the flowers at a level where we can bury our faces into that heavenly fragrance? 

The technique of “rejuvenation pruning” will bring an unruly lilac back to a manageable size. The preferred time for rejuvenation pruning is just before bud break in early spring (late March, early April) but it can be done any time in the spring or summer. In the first year, cut one-third of the oldest, most unproductive stems down to the ground. The next year, take out another third of the old stems, again at ground level. In the third year, remove the remainder of the old stems. New productive stems will quickly replace the old wood. While it takes three years to complete, the shrub stays attractive throughout the rejuvenation period. And after three years you have a brand new shrub. Maintenance pruning in the following years will keep flowers at a height where they can be best appreciated. 




Forsythia, which is a vigorous shrub, can be cut completely to the ground if it is wildly overgrown. New shoots will form and grow into stems. In the second year, select the strongest of the new canes and prune out the weaker ones. In the third season, begin an annual maintenance pruning regimen. 


Hydrangeas in All Their Glory

Can you think of a more beloved plant in New England than the Hydrangea? Its flowers have many forms, ranging from beautiful rounded mopheads in shades from light blue to rich, almost purple blue; to showy panicles in shades of pink and white; to delicate lacecap flowers in tones of pink and blue. New varieties are expanding the range of flower color into the red spectrum. In terms of size, there are varieties ranging from 2ft to 8ft in height. Some varieties can even be grown in containers. And the climbing hydrangea is as beautiful as it is unusual. Some varieties are also available in tree form. This means there is a hydrangea for every location!


Hydrangea macrophylla “Twist n’ Shout”


There are 6 species of Hydrangea commonly grown in our area: 

  • Hydrangea macrophylla, perhaps the most familiar to us when we think of Hydrangeas 
  • Hydrangea paniculata, increasingly popular for its reliable blooming habit 
  • Hydrangea arborescens, the most shade tolerant of all Hydrangeas 
  • Hydrangea serrata, the hardiest of hydrangeas, whose elegant lacecap flowers are like jewels in the garden 
  • Hydrangea quercifolia, with its striking oak leaf shaped leaves 
  • Hydrangea petiolaris, which will climb fences and trees 


For more information about each of the 6 species of Hydrangeas, including information about when to prune, see our Hydrangea Plant Care Guide. 

Hydrangeas come into bloom just as the first flush of roses is fading. Beginning in late June and continuing into the fall, they offer a strong presence and a long season of interest in the garden. The flowers subtly change color as they mature, often remaining on the plant into and through the winter, fading to a lovely tan color. The stems of the plants remain upright through the winter, adding structure and form to the winter landscape. 


Hydrangea flowers and interest to the landscape even in winter!


We love Hydrangeas for the wonderful show of flowers they provide. However, in some years, winter conditions can affect that show. In harsh winters the dormant flower buds may be damaged, either by extreme cold or by an unusually warm period followed by a sudden return to frigid conditions. Temperatures of minus 10-15 degrees, which we experienced in early February 2023, combined with a lack of insulating snow cover, may mean a diminished show this summer. 

Plant breeders are doing wonderful things to improve the performance and increase the varieties of Hydrangeas available to us. They have a bright future. And a long past. Hydrangeas have been found in fossils from 45-60 million years ago!  

When in season, select Hydrangeas are available on our online store for pick-up and local delivery!


Shop Hydrangeas Online


Video: Planting a Raised Bed Tomato Garden

Did you know that you can enjoy tomatoes on your patio! Watch as Yvonne plants up a raised bed tomato garden in our Winchester store. For a list of some of our favorite small to medium tomato varieties that are perfect for raised beds and containers check out Uncle Mikes Guide to Tomato Patio Gardening!

Feeling inspired to grow your own food? Check out our incredible selection of homegrown veggie starter plants!

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Rhododendrons + Azaleas: A New England Favorite

Rhododendrons, the quintessential New England foundation planting, are so familiar to us we refer to them fondly as ‘Rhodies’. When we think of them, we most often think of the varieties with large evergreen leaves that have showstopping trusses of pink, lavender, or white flowers in late Spring. In addition to the classics we know and love, there are many other varieties to consider, such as those that offer flowers in soft yellow, rich purple, and even red. As well as the familiar large leaf varieties, there are lovely small leaf cultivars to consider. Rhodies can range in height from low growing 2 foot tall varieties to substantial 12 foot (or more) varieties. Smaller varieties work well in mixed borders while the larger varieties can be planted as a hedge or a single specimen, to act as a privacy screen.

A conversation about Rhodies wouldn’t be complete without mentioning their cousins, the Azaleas. Azaleas are as much a mainstay of home landscapes in our area as Rhodies. They are beloved for the color they bring in the Spring and early Summer and their easy care, low maintenance nature. There are evergreen varieties and beautiful deciduous varieties whose fragrance will fill the garden. Azaleas look great as part of a foundation planting or in a mixed border with perennials and other shrubs.

Deciding which variety of Rhodie or Azalea to choose will depend on the available space and the light conditions in your garden. Generally, azaleas prefer partial shade but they will tolerate considerable sun. The large leaved Rhodies are a better option for shady sites.

If you are wondering whether you have an Azalea or a Rhododendron, the easiest way to tell is to look at the flower and count the stamens. Azaleas have five stamens. Rhodies have 10 or more.

Rhodies and Azaleas are grown around the world. In addition to our New England gardens, they are known to provide one of the most beautiful backdrops in sports. The Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, GA is almost as famous for the billowing masses of colorful, mature Azaleas and Rhododendrons that line the course as it is for the skills of elite golfers. Just think, we can create that beautiful back drop in our own gardens!

For more information on caring for Rhododendrons and Azaleas see our care guide.