Frequently Asked Questions

That’s what I thought when I was first asked us to grow 2-gallon Daylilies. My opinion was they’re wild things that bloom orange along the roadside for a couple weeks: who needs them! But to keep the customer happy I located some starter plants: five variations of orange.

We grew a crop and sold them in spite of their shortcomings: only 3 weeks bloom, weak foliage, a tendency to rot and marginal hardiness (which we couldn’t understand): catalogs listed Daylilies as hardy to -30° F; our normal low is about 0 yet we were losing plants to the winter. I thought, If gardeners are willing to buy these despite their flaws, what would the potential be if they had better traits? But a Daylily is just a Daylily, right?

I got a reference book and read an incredible fact: “There are over 35,000 (2024 UPDATE: This number has now soared over 100,000) officially registered cultivars of Daylilies.” If that’s so they can’t all be short season plants in variations of orange: there has to be something better. I also read that a popular hybridizer lived across the state line. I made an appointment. I pulled into Dr. Darrel Apps’ place on a July morning and knew right away I’d found something better. Shoehorned into an oversized back yard were 8,000 cultivars with more color and size choices than a Nike® outlet. Stocked from breeders worldwide they ranged in height from 1’6’, flowers 1”-10” across and rainbow colors. I’d ooh and ahh over one and Dr. Apps would say, “It’s pretty in the morning but the flower breaks down in afternoon heat.” On another “Spectacular bloomer but its foliage is a mite magnet.” “Good plant but only flowers two weeks.” “Nice, but a southern variety that won’t make it through winter.” So it went for 3 hours of sensory overload.

I was astonished at the diversity and impressed with his knowledge. In evaluating a Daylily he appraises 140 aspects. In frustration I asked “How can my customers know which are best? All they want is a fast plant, pretty flowers, clean foliage, hardiness, pest resistance and a long bloom. Give me a list of the ones with these qualities.”

He busted out laughing, “You’re not asking for much, are you?! There’s no such list: what you want is the near-perfect plant: you’d only find a handful.” I asked “Okay. But what about that handful?” “Well,” he said “(if there are any), the only way to find them is through an assessment program. Establish a standard for each attribute you want. Kick out a cultivar if it fails in any category. Whatever is left is what you’re after.”

We entered into agreement: he’d do the testing then we’d go into production on any plants that passed the test. We set up criteria for the standards.

  1. FAST - Gardeners want impact. Let’s eliminate any variety that doesn’t triple its fans each year.
  2. PRETTY - Advancements show broader leaves, stronger flowers, higher bud counts. Leave out any one that doesn’t reflect modern qualities.
  3. CLEAN - Gardeners want durable plants that stay fresh-looking into late season. Cut ones showing significant foliar deterioration by mid-summer.
  4. HARDY - Most current hybridization is done in warm regions resulting in poor hardiness. We need extra hardy stock. If it can’t take at least -20° F, get rid of it.
  5. PEST RESISTANT – No Daylily is 100% resistant but some are bad boys that go out looking for trouble. Cut out any one inclined toward problems.
  6. LONG BLOOMING - The average Daylily is wimpy, blooming for 21 days here. Eliminate any one not blooming at least twice that (42 days).

Dr. Apps recorded data on the 8,000 cultivars at his facility. By season’s end we were left with 40 that met our demands. No longer would a Daylily be just a Daylily.

We went about choosing a name for the program and someone said “I’m convinced these Daylilies are so good that if there was a contest of the world’s Daylilies, these would take the trophies.” Trophytaker® was born.

The approved varieties turned out to be rare and pricey. Our objective was to grow a crème-de-la-crème plant to blooming maturity in a 2g pot for a value price that would WOW gardeners at about $15 retail. That’s not easy to do when a bare root starter costs more than my kids’ designer jeans. So we had to increase them on our own.Through sources we purchased 20 of each cultivar at (ouch) $50-150 per fan. By year two, our 20 expanded to 60. The following year to 180, then 540, and so on. At the end of year five we’d built up enough to feel comfortable selling a few.

Today, we’ve sold over a million Trophytaker® Daylilies. There’s a good reason: they’re better! I can’t name another non-political, logic-based, scientific, assessment system.

Trophytaker® has name recognition and by 1996 had already ranked seventh in a national survey of familiar Daylily names. Trophytakers® were recently featured on the NBC® national morning program The Today Show®.

Years ago, as the brand began to grow in sales and variety, we made the decision to cap the selection at 50 different cultivars. Now when we add a new daylily to the mix, we remove one that has either lost favor with gardeners or has not performed as we expected. It’s easy to see now that for most of the U.S. landscape, Trophytaker® represents the 50 best daylilies in the world.

Do a comparison for yourself. You’ll come to the same conclusion as I did: a Daylily is not just a Daylily: not anymore!

We have licensed other growers around North America to sell Trophytaker® Daylilies in the past. If BlewLabel®, or TrueBlew™, or any of our brands is not available in your area, and you are a grower interested in offering our brands, plesae contact us to get the conversation started.

No. We frequently get inquiries from individuals wishing to invest. We’ve chosen to stay family owned and operated. Going public would generate massive amounts of cash to feed new growth, however we are of a mind to grow at a controlled pace to maintain quality control. We also the need to retain the ability to adapt quickly. Change, when needed most, comes too slowly in a publicly traded environment. Three generations of our family are fully involved, controlling the voting stock.

Always. We continuously introduce new plants. We annually bring in samples of new plants from hybridizers and companies around the globe. We have a capacity to evaluate around 100 new varieties each year. Our sister affiliates can evaluate an additional 3-400. Although nearly all these plants come to us with promises of “new and improved”, well, you’ve been there and done that, and so have we. We may find that 25-75 of them are worthy of pursuit (have merit, have viable commercial potential, and don’t require a doctorate degree in biological physics to grow them).

Our people use wit and ambition and we reward them accordingly with wages in a different league from minimum wage. And they earn it. In addition to their hourly pay (or sometimes weekly salary), they get opportunities to participate in numerous bonus systems. Many produce 25-40% above their regular earnings in bonuses. Their standard of living outpaces the county averages. Come check out our parking lot. It may not be filled with Mercedes and Bentleys: neither will you find any junk.

Now hear this. Pinching and cutting cause more problems than they fix.

One thing we forget is that, in nature, plants manage to survive without our infinite wisdom and assistance. Fact is, we’re really not that important! Much of the maintenance we do on plants is therefore to please ourselves more than the plants. What I’m saying is that if you’re unsure of what to do, do nothing, for plants can take care of themselves. They might not be the epitome of tidiness, but they’ll survive. Following are some recommendations that fulfill the desires to tidy up and / or perhaps increase blooming, hopefully without affecting the plants in a negative way.

When I use the word “pinch”, feel free to interchange that with “clip”, “shear”, “trim” or otherwise “whack the devil out of”. I often even use a lawn mower set at a high wheel setting to knock off spent dead foliage in the winter. And don’t be in such a hurry! When cutting back in the off-season (for which I mean “winter”), this trimming should never be done until the plants are fully dormant and the tops are dead or mostly so. Some plants do retain a greenish crown or tuft at the base: thing to do with these in winter is cut off everything except the green parts.

Finally, this list contains some plants that have the potential to get aggressive in certain cultural conditions. I don’t know your conditions, so I don’t stand in political correctness judgment of these plants. If a plant needs to be held in check it can be done so by physical barriers, digging out areas you don’t want, using chemical means as a form of edging, or just planting them in containers where spreading may be prevented.

Some perennials really need nothing done to them, winter or summer, or both. If you wish to tidy them up in the winter by removing what little foliage that hangs around, feel free to do so, but at no point during the winter do you want to cut off tissue that is still alive. Whenever live tissue is present, that means the plant is still manufacturing nutrients for itself and is not yet 100% dormant.

For plant-specific care instructions, please refer to our products page for more information.

Now hear this. Pinching and cutting cause more problems than they fix.

One thing we forget is that, in nature, plants manage to survive without our infinite wisdom and assistance. Fact is, we’re really not that important! Much of the maintenance we do on plants is therefore to please ourselves more than the plants. What I’m saying is that if you’re unsure of what to do, do nothing, for plants can take care of themselves. They might not be the epitome of tidiness, but they’ll survive. Following are some recommendations that fulfill the desires to tidy up and / or perhaps increase blooming, hopefully without affecting the plants in a negative way.

Some plants really need nothing done to them, winter or summer, or both. If you wish to tidy them up in the winter by removing any rogue branches, feel free to do so, but take heed that some spring bloomers hold their buds on the growth they make during the late summer and fall; if you cut that off, you may also be removing potential flowers.

For plant-specific care instructions, please refer to our products page for more information.

Butterflies are cold-blooded animals becoming quite active at temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. During cool evenings and cloudy or rainy weather they roost on the underside of leaves, in woodpiles or other warm areas.

Their wings are large in proportion to body size so Butterflies are vulnerable to strong winds. For this reason they generally restrict themselves to sunny, quiet, sheltered areas. Shrub borders and climbing vines on structures make good windbreak habitats.

Butterflies frequent the edges of water puddles where concentrated sodium and minerals serve as nutritional liquid refreshment.

Butterflies are drawn to flowers possessing strong fragrance, tubular shape and bright colors. They extract nectar from these plants.

Last, but definitely not least, keep in mind that butterflies have many natural predators such as birds, spiders, wasps, mantids, and flies. When placing a butterfly garden, do what you can to plan accordingly to keep these predators away from your plants.

For tender plants like Cannas, Calls, Dahlias, and other tender bulbs, you can take some not-so-challenging steps to preserve them and get perennial enjoyment from such plants. Wait till fall and after a couple hard freezes so that the tops have browned completely, then whack them off just above the ground.

Using a shovel, pop the bulb out of the ground. By shaking, rolling, cutting and/or washing, get 99% of the soil off.

If there are any aged or shriveled looking parts, cut them off and discard them. Dip or wash the bulbs in a solution of 9 parts water to 1 part household bleach*. (Do not rinse after this but do pat dry).

Place in a cardboard box, both nesting and covering the bulb with loosely crumpled newspaper. Keep in a cool, dark, but not freezing place between 40°and 60°F. A 55°F basement or garage is ideal.

Check them a couple times over the winter. If bulbs appear to be shriveling from dryness, drop them in cool water for a couple minutes, pat dry and return them to storage. If there is any sign of mold, repeat the bleach solution, then pat dry and re-store.

At frost free date (usually mid-April to mid-May, depending on your area), plant the bulbs setting their highest point a couple inches below the surface. Adding compost and a slow release fertilizer to the backfill soil will help them grow bigger, faster and better.


Comment: Some people choose to take their chances and leave them in the ground. In areas where ground does not freeze deep or for extended periods of time, tender bulbs may overwinter on their own. If you’re on the borderline weather-wise, you can increase the likelihood of survivability by covering over the area with a couple inches of fresh mulch as winter approaches.

Others look at it differently. These type plants give a huge value of large, long season colorful display for a not-exorbitant amount of money, so some people treat them as annuals and replace them each spring. Naturally, this is entirely up to you, your budget, your time and lifestyle.


*As with all substances, handle with care and respect, taking all precautions as to safety.

Your Crash Course in Fertilization - What We Rrecommend

Introduction - Please take this commentary with a grain of salt. Your corner of the world may have soils or conditions that work better with unique amendments or different techniques for optimum plant nutrition and health. And raising plants is not an exact science. It is an endeavor intertwined with science, tradition, superstition and nowadays, even non-science emotion-based political correctness. We urge you to consult a successful garden person in your locale. Many garden centers have experienced experts on-site and will freely provide you with good information in exchange for your patronage.

For the most part we recommend common complete or general fertilizers (as we define them below), along with very simple ways of applying them. We find these methods to work well for us in everyday use and as a minimum applicat ion. We define common complete or general fertilizers as fertilizers with the following attributes:

  • Dry, not-readily-soluble, granular fertilizer. These are manufactured in pellet form, with particles larger than coarse sand but smaller than peas. They are meant to be applied in their dry form, and are activated by irrigation or rainfall.
  • Containing a balanced (or not largely unbalanced) ratio of the three major nutrient elements: Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorus. Examples of these are 7-7-7, 10-10-10, 7-12-5, 3-2-2 and so on. The numbers represent the percentage of each nutrient, regardless of volume. Any of them can get you where you want to be; it’s just that the amount you use will vary with the formulation: in other words you’d need to use double the volume of a 10-10-10 as you would a 20-20-20.

As to the amounts to use, ask a local professional or follow the recommendations on the container.

Sometimes we may recommend acidifying fertilizers. These are formulations that may or may not be balanced, but nonetheless yield an acidic pH. Certain plants prefer acid conditions. On the other hand, certain plants benefit from the opposite of acid, that is “basic” or “alkaline” soils (although this is not usually the case). In these situations we recommend applications of both fertilizers, plus lime (limestone).

Where And When To Apply Fertilizer

Introduction - Most fertilizers contain a certain amount of salts. These salts are not like table salt as we know it, but the minerals containing the fertilizers often have salt-like compounds attached to them. These are natural things. Salts can be culprits of root or leaf “burns”. At times of the year when plants are actively growing, thereby rendering roots and leaves in a tender stage, these salts can do damage if left on tender foliage or applied too heavily or released too quickly. On the other hand, during times of plant dormancy, salts may have little to no effect on plant parts. Eventually, salts are washed through the soil or broken down by the soil into harmless elements.

Planting Hole Application - Sometimes you are advised to put fertilizer in the planting hole. This is only a good idea if you are going to mix it with the planting hole soil and the back-fill soil. You don’t want large concentrated quantities of fertilizer in direct contact with roots.

Surface Application - In other cases you are directed to apply fertilizer to the soil surface. Although not as fast working as when mixed in the soil, surface applications are somewhat safer in terms of potential burning, as the fertilizer must first dissolve then move its way downward by means of irrigation or rainfall; all in all, a safe and gradual process. When doing surface application you want to distribute the granules; not drop them in a pile. For example, with a new plant I’d scatter the granules from 1-6” out from and around the perimeter of the soil ball region. With an established plant I’d scatter them from the center of the plant, out to the drip edge of its branches.

“When” Determines “How” - When plants are dormant, you can scatter granules over, down and through a plant’s canopy without worry. However, when plants are actively growing you must either scatter the granules under the plant’s canopy, or wash or brush the granules off the tender foliage so they won’t (burn) damage it. Ideal times for fertilizer applications are the end of winter. This allows two to four weeks for the soil to absorb and plants to “charge up” with the nutrients. Then once spring bursts forth, so do your plants.

Mulch Interactions - True mulches (like fresh wood chips) are un-composted. These will suck up nutrients in their composting process, thereby “tying up” your fertilizer for quite a while before releasing it to the soil and plants. Therefore, to beat this scenario, whenever you intend on applying both mulch and fertilizer in close time proximity of one another, put the fertilizer down first. And if you’ve got an extra few seconds, scratch in it with a rake to get it started downward. Then apply the mulch over top. Your nutrients will work in a timely fashion and your mulch will do its job longer.

Classifications of Fertilizers

Organic vs. Inorganic Fertilizers - As a rule, inorganic fertilizers are quicker acting and shorter lived than organic ones. The reason for this is that organic compounds must first be broken down into inorganic components (by time and biological processes) in order for the chemicals to be utilized by the plant. Because organics work slower, you will often see them sold as “non-burning” because their activity is snail’s pace. Both types have their place.

“Compost” is a form of organic fertilizer, albeit usually low in nutrient value. Composts seem to provide benefits more in terms of improved water holding capacity, lessening soil compaction and other positive biological enhancements.

Organic “tinctures” or “teas” are short lived, garden-friendly, but of low nutrient value. Mulches made from living t issues (wood chips, pine needles, leaves, etc.) eventually break down and turn into compost. The larger the particle, the longer it takes to decompose.

Neither composts, teas nor mulches are very effective at adding lasting substantial nutrients to soils. They are desirable and functional in accomplishing positive things for soils but are not substitutes for real nutrient charging.

Liquid Fertilizers - Also, liquid fertilizers (aka Miracle Grow hose-on type products) are much quicker acting than granular formulations. They are usually the shortest lived of all because they are already dissolved, plus they must be applied in very low concentrations so as not to cause burning. These are very effective for getting quick results; just don’t expect them to hang around very long: two to three weeks of activity is usually optimistic. (Some new-tech liquids will eventually change this but they are not widely available yet). Liquids do get you quick results.

Tweaking It

Second Applications - For heavy feeding plants, a second application of fertilizer may be beneficial in creating maximum growth, deep foliage coloring and heavy flower production throughout the balance of the season.

When To Stop - When fall approaches, the general opinion is that you want the nitrogen component to be used up. The theory is that nitrogen is the main ingredient encouraging active growth. Active growth is desired in the first two-thirds of the season, but when approaching fall’s frost and freeze, tender growth as well as flower buds on fall bud-setters (Azaleas and macrophylla Hydrangeas are examples) can be severely damaged or killed. We want these growing tips and buds to be slowing down and “hardening off” at that point in the season. That means we shouldn’t be applying fertilizers with significant levels of nitrogen past early to mid summer, and these we want to be quick-acting fertilizers; not slow-releasers that will dump a heavy charge late in the season. (Note this recommendation does not carry over to turfgrass, that benefits from fall nitrogen applications.)


For plant-specific fertilizer needs, please refer to our products page for more information.

We used to propagate all our own “starter plants” (transplants, plugs, liners, seedlings). Much has changed. Sometimes we were unable to keep up with demand so we began purchasing starters. Second, the explosion of new varieties fuels the marketplace. To get access, we turn to the propagation nurseries that get hold of them first. Finally, much of the best new plant material is being patented. A patented plant cannot be propagated by anyone except a propagator specially licensed to propagate it. In order for the patent holder to monitor the royalty money associated with a patent, they generally don’t license production nurseries like us: they license strict “propagation nurseries”. So if we want these new plants we must buy the starter from the licensed propagator, paying them two fees: one for the plant and a second one for the royalty. Only then are we legally entitled to grow the plant to maturity.

We use our production facilities as well as our home gardens (that real-world view). Here we can see both how they will grow in our production setting and how they will perform for the average gardener. Beyond that, we also work with (and travel to) many different trial facilities around the country. On an annual basis, our product development team travels to 10-12 different gardens stretched out coast-to-coast.

It should be noted, though, that if we see a plant in, say, Illinois or California, we will often trial it again on the East coast to ensure gardening success. (however, if it’s growing poorly in California, or as we like to call it “Magical Fantasy Land for Plants”, it’s probably not going to grow well anywhere).

For a number of reasons, no. First, it’s not our niche. We’re like a manufacturer with facilities spread over hundreds of acres. We have no assemblage of product where you can look quickly at one of everything, making comparisons and inquiries. There are no personnel dedicated to giving tours or fielding discussions over the myriad of features of each variety.

We make our living by loading thousands of plants on trailers, daily, based on appointments set in motion months in advance. You can’t walk into the Green Giant factory and buy a can of peas: the same principle applies here. As a final point, we don’t sell retail because we have no wish to compete with our network of dealers: those are the garden centers, farm markets and landscape centers.

To find a dealer near you, please visit our dealer locator page.

Yes. Many techniques and materials we employ are of organic or natural origin. Where necessary, we use scientific tools, too. In certain situations, on a commercial scale, chemicals remedies are our only believable options. We follow university-proven recommendations and environmental regulations governing plants in a recovery phase. The expenditures for plant remedies evolved no differently than that of human health care; prices have gone through the roof. Today’s growers don’t throw money at plants for fun. Administering pills, sprays, dips, drenches or injections are time consuming and terribly expensive. We consider each situation case by case, and take such action if and when it is necessary.

In recent years, strives have been made in using beneficial biological controls for the care of our products. Though these are not an end-all solution for plant health, they are a safe and effective part of our pest and disease management.

Understanding How Plants Are Defined

As we always emphasize, we’re trying hard to provide you with some basic education. In this case it’s as to some of the common ways plants are defined. We are not trying to teach a university course. The information is placed here as a service, not as a dartboard. Those who want to argue the finer points can take their darts (and their condemnations) elsewhere.

Leaf Holding Tendencies

One type of plant description is that of a plant’s leaf holding tendencies in winter. This is commonly broken down into three categories that I’ll try to define:

  • Evergreen - An evergreen retains most of its leaves over the winter. That is not to say they do not shed: most do, but they hold on to at least the current year’s new leaves.

  • Semi-Evergreen - These hold on a portion of their leaves, usually hovering in the 20-40% range (as a wild estimate). To toss a monkey wrench into it, semi evergreens placed into a warmer region can act almost like evergreens, or sited in colder regions can act almost deciduous, and still remain perfectly healthy and viable.

  • Deciduous - Deciduous plants lose (drop) 90-100% of their leaves in winter.

Wood Longevity

Another description depicts the long range viability of a plant’s above-ground woody parts. We break these into:

  • Shrub - Shrubs have long lived woody tops. This wood remains viable and fruitful for three or more (usually way more) years.
  • Sub-Shrub - Sub shrubs are those in-between types that don’t die back completely but grow wood that, because of its cellular structure or lesser degree of hardiness, is short-lived. Sub shrubs tend to be hardy in their roots and the thickest parts of their lower stems and crowns. Examples of these are Caryopteris, Buddleia, Lavender, Perovskia and so on.
  • Perennial - These have tops that are herbaceous, soft and non-woody. Their tops die back completely in winter to the roots or crowns. (By the way, a biennial acts like a perennial but only lives a couple years.) For added confusion, we tend to use loose interpretations, classifying certain plants that are woody but not shrubby (trumpet vine, clematis, etc.), as perennials instead of shrubs. Technically, they are perennials because they live for years, but they also carry woody tops. Now I’m confusing myself.

Overall Plant Longevity

How long a plant lives is easily divided into three distinct types:

  • Annual - An annual is a non-hardy plant that lives for one season only. However this classification is somewhat related to climate. Some annuals can be placed into warm environments where they act like perennials, sometimes living for years.
  • Biennial - This is a hardy plant that generally only lives two years. They tend to concentrate on growth development their first year, then concentrate on flowering and seeding the second (final) year. The most widely used biennial in the U.S. is the Pansy. Other examples would be cabbage, spinach and so on.
  • Perennial - The perennial is a plant that lives three years or more. We think of perennials as only herbaceous plants like daffodils and bleeding hearts, but technically, an oak tree is also a perennial. The variation in longevity of perennials is wide. Cytisus, Gaillardia and Scabiosa generally live for about five years. Oaks and Peonies can live three hundred years.

Leaf Type

A further description of plants depicts the types of leaves they have:

  • Broadleaf - Broadleaf plants include most deciduous shrubs, Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Hollies, Lilacs, most perennials and so on.
  • Narrowleaf - Narrowleaf plants include most conifers (Pine, Spruce, Juniper, Cypress, etc.) and grass like plants such as corn, turf, Miscanthus, and so on.

The chemistry workings of narrowleaf and broadleaf plants work differently. That explains why, for example, you can apply a herbicide for dandelion (a broadleaf) and spray it right over the top of turf (a narrowleaf) without damaging a single blade of grass.

And if I’m confusing you, don’t feel bad: I’m confusing myself. Send us your questions and we’ll try to clear the matter up.

Tough question. I do know the way most people water is not enough at a time and too often. Shallow, frequent bursts of watering encourage stress-susceptible surface roots and discourage deep rooting. Deep rooting is what’s needed to weather the inevitable extremes. When you need to water, water deeply, then allow the roots a several-day opportunity to reach for it. Here’s what I’m inclined to do:

  • For shrubs and established beds apply ¾ to 1" every five to seven days.
  • For turf, shoot for ½ to ¾" every four to seven days.
  • Roses like water, however they don’t like their foliage wet for hours in succession. Water by soaker hoses, drip lines or any source where water can be directed to the roots (versus spraying tops).

Our water comes from wells. What does not go to plants and surface recharge is runoff into a series of canals and retention ponds. Here the water is aerated, filtered, and then finally passed through a municipal-grade UV treatment machine. The result is clean recycled water that can be back-fed into our irrigation system to supplement our well water. At full capacity, we can store around 5.5 million gallons of water. During cooler parts of the year, we can operate for weeks on end without using any well-water.

Prior to putting it to use, each trailer we buy gets quite a bit of time and investment in retrofitting to our needs. We build and install special shelves, cages and load-locking mechanisms to preclude stacking, and to keep our products safe and secure. Many of our local deliveries are made on removable rolling carts that are specifically designed to carry our plant material, ensuring they arrive at the store in the same condition as when they left our farm.

This facility presently ships to thirty-two states on the eastern side of the U.S. Naturally, the Mid Atlantic and New England regions account for the highest concentration; however, we are regularly delivering trucks into the upper Midwest and as far south as Texas and Florida.

As of this writing our peak-shipping workforce is around 115 employees. About ten are administrative, five are department managers and fifteen assistant or field supervisors. The balance, obviously, is labor for order processing, loading, materials processing, construction, pruning and spacing, potting, propagation and all the other duties it takes to run an agricultural business.

New plantings are the most critical because their roots are not interfaced with the surrounding soil. Saturate the bed within an hour of installation. Re-saturate within 48 hours. Then soak with 1 to 2” every 4-5 days. Do this for three weeks, then back off to a strict schedule of 1” every five days until season’s end.

One of the top questions we get is “How do I change the color of my Hydrangea blooms?” Not all Hydrangeas can be color-manipulated. For example, white Hydrangeas cannot be manipulated to pink or blue. Only those varieties containing color pigments can be changed. Color is dependent upon the pH of the soil solution in and around the plant. (pH is pronounced like the letters). By altering pH, we affect the color pigments and alter bloom color.

What is "pH" and what's it do?

pH expresses the level of soil acidity or alkalinity as measured on a scale of zero to 14. A pH of 7 is neutral; neither acidic nor alkaline. Numbers below 7 indicate increasingly acidic conditions. Numbers above 7 designate progressively more alkaline situations. pH does not change what elements are in a soil, rather, it affects the availability of those elements to plants. In other words, while an element may be present in a soil, that doesn’t mean it’s being absorbed. The absorption of elements is determined by how much of the element is there, and if the pH is at a point on the scale to make the element available. Picture the pH scale as a house with many locked rooms. Each room contains a specific element that your plant might or might not need. Now, in another part of the house hang various combinations of keys on the wall. To open the rooms containing the elements you need, you must obtain the correct combination set of keys. In the case of Hydrangea color, the right combination of keys are obtained by getting the soil chemistry to a specific point on the pH scale.

What are these elements and what are their importances?

They are the chemical elements in the soil: nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, iron, aluminum, boron, magnesium, calcium and so on. These elements interact with plants, “feed” plants, and support plant processes. Aluminum is the key element concerning Hydrangea color control. Color depends first and foremost on the availability of aluminum in the soil. Aluminum (when available at acidic pH readings) reacts with the pigments in the plant, turning flower sepals blue. Aluminum ions are increasingly available for plant absorption as the pH becomes more acidic. Blue tones can be obtained at a potent acid level. That level is attained by acidifying your soil to get it to a pH between 5.5 and 4.5. Inversely, deep pinks are obtained by approaching more neutral levels (the 6.0-6.5 pH range).

How can I acidify my soil and get blue tones?

For to-be-planted beds, deeply rotivate 1-2 pounds of aluminum sulphate per each Hydrangea plant to be installed. For established beds, spread aluminum sulphate over the root areas. Apply 1-2 pounds of aluminum sulphate per bush, twice: once in November then repeat in March. Stay towards the 1 pound rate for light sandy soils; favor the 2 pound rate for heavy clay soils. These rates should drop the pH by about 1.5 points. In other words it will lower a pH from 6.5 to a pH of 5.0. Once you have attained the desired pH (and bloom color), does it need to be maintained? That depends on the soils in your area as well as any amendments brought into your site. Soils in the east and northwest United States tend to be naturally acidic, made so by frequent rains washing natural acids from the atmosphere. Soils in the drier mid-west and southwest tend to be alkaline. But that won’t apply to each locale and certainly not to each site. Some localized regions have deposits of calcium rock, giving their soils an alkalinity. And concrete foundat ions and walks are made primarily of limestone that can leach into your soil. So, watch your plants. If they seem to be losing blue tone, then you’ll need to restock the soil with aluminum. You can do this by making an annual surface application as described above. A side note: fertilizers high in ammonium and potassium slightly enhance blue tones in Hydrangea.

How can I increase alkalinity and get pink tones?

For to-be-planted beds, deeply rotivate 1 lb. of ground limestone per each Hydrangea plant to be installed. For established beds, spread ground limestone over the root areas once in November and again in March. As a general guide, apply 1 lb. per bush at each application. Should any chlorosis occur (because iron starvation can happen around a neutral pH), additions of iron will be needed. If this happens, mix 1 ounce of iron sulphate in a gallon of water and water it in around each plant. Note: high phosphorus fertilizers slightly enhance pink tones in Hydrangea.

How long does it take for changes to occur?

It isn’t instantaneous. These elements are long lasting and slow-moving in the soil. Neither limestone nor aluminum are highly soluble so lots of watering and time are essential to move the material into the soil. Exhausting the elements stored in the soil solution as well as in a Hydrangea’s plant system, and re-charging those systems with different elements, may take months. In other words, what you do this year will have a strong effect upon what you’ll see happen next year.

How can I determine pH?

Most garden centers and agricultural supply stores carry home kits for testing of pH. They are easy, quick, inexpensive and relatively accurate. Do two or three tests in the area of concern, then use an average. For blue tones, you want to achieve (over time) an ideal pH of 4.5-5.5. For pink tones, do your applications until you reach a pH of 6.0-6.5.

As a final note, think safety All the compounds mentioned here are intended for soil feeding, not foliar feeding, so always wash leaves following application if you should get the aluminum, calcium or iron dusts on them. And while aluminum is one of nature’s most common elements it can also be a poison. It is not something our bodies need a lot of so don’t use it around edibles.

Books are written on rose pruning. I contend it shouldn’t be so complicated. Having grown hundreds of thousands of roses, my results prove it. I’ve found there are only three variations on pruning roses. Want mystique? Buy a book. Want easy? Read this.

In my opinion, the following apply to all roses:

  • Cut your roses to harvest blooms and tidy up the plant. Most modern roses are repeat bloomers so whether you cut or you don’t, you’ll still get blossoms.
  • It’s good to prune roses back hard in late winter. It doesn’t harm them: it helps them. Rose wood has a short life. They thrive on rejuvenation. Even climbers with wood that stays viable for years eventually decline and are “re-born” by giving them a brutal cut.
  • I don’t get hung up on bud-counting or slicing angles. For me, these “trade secrets” amount to little more than silly, hair-splitting nonsense designed to increase the aura of mystery. And as for wound dressings, I never found them beneficial so I don’t bother.
  • As to timing the pre-spring pruning, leaves drop between late fall and early winter. That’s a sign that active top-growth has ceased and carbohydrates have transmuted their storage back into stems and roots. From this date till break of spring, the timing is appropriate for pruning. Do it in December, January or February: makes no difference as long as it’s after leaf drop and prior to bud break in spring.
  • It goes without saying, any dead wood should be removed. Diseases lie in wait on dried leaves and old branches so you want to get rid of those potential trouble makers. Once you’re done pruning, rake the debris and discard them.

So, let’s get past the baloney and see how simple this is.

Simply this. Your pruning technique depends on the habit of your rose, and that’s one of only three possibilities:

  1. Caned
  2. Shrubby
  3. Climbing

Caned Types

Tea roses (Exhibition or Cutting roses) make long-stemmed individual blooms like what you’d see at the florist. They grow upright, 4-7’. Grandifloras are nearly identical but cluster-blooming. Floribundas (Little Landscaping roses), fall into this pruning group, too. Their flowers are similar to the teas but clustered like the grands and grow about twothirds the size of the others, usually 3-4’.

All caned roses are treated alike in regards to pre-spring pruning. Whack the whole plant back to 12-15” above the base. Use shears, loppers, clippers: whatever works. Next, visually select out 3-5 of the fattest, freshest looking canes to retain. Ideally these should be away from the center of the plant and away from one another, making for maximum air and sun and minimal crowding. Cut all the other canes off completely, to the base. Then remove all the side branches from your 3-5 selected canes. You should be left with 3-5 lone separated canes about 12-15” high. Now that wasn’t so difficult, was it?

Shrubby Types

Shrub roses (aka Shrub & Hedge roses) grow dense and twiggy. They branch heavily and grow 4-6’ tall. Blooms are clustered, smaller and unsophisticated in form. (I predict hybridizers will breed magnificent blooms into shrub roses, at which time we’ll get the best of both worlds: beauty with simplified maintenance.)

Groundcovers roses are shrubs roses, too, only lower and spreading. Rugosas (Seaside & Cottage roses) are similar to shrubs in that they are shrubby-caned and many-branched.

Trimming shrub roses is totally optional. You can trim or not, very hard or just a little, any time except during fall. Use shears, electric trimmers, chain saws, whatever works. Don’t fuss over the canes. Just whack the whole bush into a shape that pleases you. You won’t hurt it! Whether you trim or not, once every 3-5 years they’ll need a rejuvenat ion cut: take them back almost to their base. They’ll come back fast and bloom like crazy.

Climbing Types

Known as Ramblers or Arbor, Trellis & Pillar roses, these are simply tall caned roses (typically 8-15’ when let go) with sprawling stems and relatively long-lived wood. They’re naturals for training and attaching to structures.

A general guide is to do minimal pruning for three years, then a severe pruning the fourth. You don’t have to keep track of it: just watch how the plant is doing. If it seems to decline, the next winter will be the time for a hard pruning. Most years, just cut out the dead wood and do a little thinning so branches don’t crowd one another. Then for the hard prune year, go in and seriously remove the oldest looking main stems and do severe thinning. You can even thin out annually if you want to but it’s not really necessary.

Finally, I hope this helps simplify what I always considered a pompous, blown-out-of-proportion, purposely-over-complicated process. Gardening should be fun science, not rocket science.

Now go out and enjoy your easy roses.

It’s a relative term. Invasive where? A variety invasive in Florida could be the cutest plant in Pennsylvania. And many plants native to some part of the U.S. grow invasively in some states but not in others. So, I say it depends on what and where. Generalizing is an exercise of prejudice. Let’s look at the individuals, the facts and the details, and leave the generalizing to the conspiracy-theory school. Surely, if a certain plant gets placed on a state or federal “no-grow” list, we abide by the laws.

We are for native plants. We are also for non-natives that perform responsibly in our part of the world. Some fanatics would like to legislate what we can and cannot plant. They are for strictly native plants. We have a problem with that concept. Limiting ourselves to non-natives is equivalent to saying only a certain kind of person should be allowed to live in this community. If we Americans had to eliminate non-natives we’d have to get rid of cats, dogs, tomatoes, potatoes, Hondas, Toyotas, and most of us! Let’s face it. We are citizens of a world community. Each nation has lots of good citizens and a few bad ones. As far as we’re concerned all people and plants that mind their manners are welcome here. I will add one more thing. There are natives that are pretty and natives that are pretty darned boring. If it isn’t appealing, people don’t want it in their yards. We don’t grow plants based on biased agendas: we grow plants that good people treasure and value, and leave the political schemes to others.

This region of NJ is one of contrast. Along coastal regions they are a zone 7b and we see zone 8 plants growing in isolated locales like Cape May. In the Pineland bog areas one can find cold pockets where frost in June and August is not unusual. Our Bridgeton facilities are 25 miles inland and west of the Delaware Bay, 45 miles east of the Atlantic and 60 miles north of Cape May. Although older maps show us as zone 7a, we are really a 6b. While most winters go to zero F, we can experience -15 to -20 degrees.

Wow, what a question! When you own a business like this you are required to be: a plumber, an electrician, a building contractor, an architect, a botanist, a biologist, a physicist, a psychiatrist, an artist, a typist, a writer, an accountant, a chemist, a mechanic, an engineer, a regulator, a designer and a communicator, just to name a few. I admit to doing only a few, and a couple of those, not very proficiently. That’s why I guess you could say that the biggest problem is finding enough of the right people. Can we attract a person . . .

  • who can get out of bed in the morning, and be depended upon to be prepared?
  • who is willing to work his or her way up to Vice President as opposed to starting out as one?
  • who isn’t going to be devastated without the latest $500 cell phone with all the gadgets?
  • who can put up with awful weather conditions?
  • who can tolerate the incredible pace, as well as the occasional tedium?
  • who can set an example for others?
  • who, when he or she doesn’t understand, says so?
  • who can listen? . . . who is reasonable? . . . who is fair? . . . who is honest?
  • who does not have to be de-trained from bad habits or previous misdirection?
  • who is not an extremist filled with anger and hatred? . . . who gets along with others?

Seldom does anyone have all these qualities. However, to be successful, one must have at least some of them. Yes, I would say that the biggest problem / challenge / limitation of any business is its ability to get and keep the right people.

At last count we have had employees from up to five continents and thirteen different nations. They come from all walks of life, education, races, and religions. The biggest single group is from the state of Jalisco, Mexico. Some people frown upon immigrants. We embrace them. Immigration is the history and the strength of America. America was established because of it and continues to prosper because of it.

We are members of the New Jersey Nursery & Landscape Association as well as AmericanHort (formerly the ANLA/OFA). We also have a sister company: BlewLine Nursery, a field producer of starter plants.

In addition to enhancements and conditioners such as fertilizer, limestone, gypsum and micro-nutrients, we blend four structural elements. They are:

  • Peat Moss: We select a superior class of peat from Canada. Peat is an organic growing media, ideal for production of most plants. This peat has some inherent disease-fighting qualities.
  • Bark: This is aged ground pine bark fines. This aids in drainage, keeping the soil surface fairly dry and weed/disease free.
  • Sand: This custom harvested, local sand serves two purposes. It acts as a ballast, adding stability to the container growing system. Second, research shows soil mixes containing a specific percentage of natural local minerals (like this one) promote a quicker, better interface when planting into native soils. In lay terms, your plant will establish itself quicker because of this special mineral in our mix.
  • Rice Hulls: These are used to aid in stabilizing the media blend and also have some water-holding qualities (similar to perlite). Also, they will not grab available nitrogen, making them a nearly-chemically neutral additive.

If planting from container-grown stock (which ours is), anytime is good. Decades ago, most plants were grown in the ground (what we call field-grown). There was no way to avoid cutting off some roots during the digging process. So, the only appropriate time to plant was in the spring, allowing a full season to overcome the shock of root elimination. All that changed with the evolution of container-growing. Container grown plants can be installed without any disturbance or loss of root system.

The ideal mulches are life based; that is, from living tissue (as opposed to rock or plastic) such as: wood chips, bark, root choppings, pine needles, grain straws, shredded leaves, and so on. Mulch forms an insulation blanket to conserve moisture, protect roots from summer’s heat and winter’s cold. Mulch also helps suppress weeds. Aside of good watering, mulching is the single most important thing you can do to assure garden success. Recommended depth is 2 to 4” on new plantings. Over time, mulch decomposes so refresh it annually by top dressing with another inch or so. There is such an array of products available, even in colors (that some think are ugly). To each his own, I guess. One of the most dramatic looking is the dyed black. A very deep, rich look.

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