All About Gardening and Gardening Q & A by Pernell Gerver

Bookmark this page or add it to your favorites now!
(Reload or refresh each time you visit to get the current week's columns.)

 Tell a friend about Pernell Gerver's Official Web Site 

"Reliable Roses and Hydrangeas for Western Massachusetts"

Rose, our national flower, and hydrangea, a summer-blooming shrub with showy flowers, are two plants that can be difficult to grow here in western Massachusetts. A gardener friend of mine calls roses "expensive annuals" and unfortunately he's right about many of the hybrid tea roses, especially, because of their bud union (the bulge low on the stem where it was grafted). Gardeners who visit the Cape and the Islands during summer fall in love with the big blue hydrangeas that bloom so well there and I've heard many a story of a gardener faithfully bringing home one in full bloom to here in western Massachusetts only to have it never bloom again in future years.

While all this may sound discouraging, there's hope for you rose and hydrangea lovers. There are many reliable roses and hydrangeas for western Massachusetts that both survive our winters and bloom reliably, regardless of the winter. Click on a plant name to order it from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.


One of the most reliable roses for here in western Massachusetts is shrub rose 'Carefree Wonder.' This wonderful shrub rose is an All-America Rose Selection and one of the best shrub roses to grow. It grows four feet high and three feet wide and is in bloom all summer long. As its name implies, it's a very carefree rose. Diseases and insects are not a problem. Glossy-green foliage, bright-pink, large semi-double flowers, and showy, bright-orange rose hips in fall and winter make this shrub rose the perfect choice for any garden, large or small. It grows and blooms reliably here in western Massachusetts.


Climbing miniature rose 'Jeanne Lajoie'Climbing miniature rose 'Jeanne Lajoie'Miniature roses are hardier than hybrid tea roses because they are growing on their own roots. They don't have a bud union which is the most vulnerable part of a rose bush. One of the best climbing miniature roses is 'Jeanne Lajoie.' Large clusters of clear pink, miniature blooms cover the rambling stems nearly all season, from early summer to fall. The flowers are very double with high pointed buds. It's a vigorous, well-branched mini rose that grows eight to 12 feet tall. It's great on a tall arbor or trellis. I have one planted on either side of my arbor and they meet in the middle at the top.


Blue hydrangeas are the most popular hydrangea with their large, mophead of blue flowers. The variety 'All Summer Beauty' blooms reliably here in western Massachusetts because its flowers are produced on new wood. All other blue hydrangeas bloom on old wood and their flower buds are killed over winter. Hydrangea 'All Summer Beauty' has showy, rich-blue flowers. It's a prolific bloomer, smothered in large, mophead flowers in summer. The flowers are very long lasting, providing a long season of bloom. It grows four feet high and wide.

Hydrangea 'Annabelle' is a low-growing hydrangea that bears rounded clusters of white flowers. The flowers are enormous, up to a foot wide and are very uniform. In bloom in midsummer, the flowers remain showy for three to four weeks. As they age, they change from white to chartreuse then tan. It blooms equally well in sun or shade and grows two to four feet high and wide.

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Blossom-End Rot Affects Tomato Fruit"

Q. Hi, we have two three-foot, green, and healthy-looking 'Jetstar' tomato plants loaded with good-sized tomatoes growing in large pots on the deck. However, the tomatoes are turning black and rotting on the bottom. The two that had turned red looked great until we picked them and they too were black on the bottom. We would like to know what is causing this rot and if there is anything we can do about it before we lose all the tomatoes to it. We grew plants on the deck years ago and do not remember having this problem. Any help you can offer is greatly appreciated! Thank you.

A. The problem with your tomato fruit is called blossom-end rot. It's a pretty common disorder with tomato fruit and can also occur on pepper, squash, and watermelon. It can affect vegetables planted in the ground as well as those planted in containers and, just like you, I noticed blossom-end rot on some of my tomato fruits this year from plants I'm growing in containers. It affects the first fruits the worst.

As its name implies, blossom-end rot always occurs on the blossom end of the fruit which is the bottom. It starts at the bottom, but can affect up to half the fruit. At the bottom of the fruit you'll see a circular, depressed, waterlogged spot that gets bigger and turns brown to black. The area feels leathery. Sometimes mold appears on the rotted area. The unrotted part of the fruit can be eaten.

Blossom-end rot is caused by a calcium deficiency in the developing fruit. The calcium deficiency is a result of slowed growth and injured roots caused by any (or all) of the following five factors:

1. Severe shifts in soil moisture from extremely wet to extremely dry.

2. Fast plant growth early in the growing season that is followed by a long period of dry weather.

3. Too much rain that smothers the plants' root hairs.

4. Too many soil salts.

5. Weeding or cultivating too close to the plant that results in damaged roots.

The best way to prevent blossom-end rot is to maintain even soil moisture at all times. For container-grown tomatoes, don't let the pot dry severely between waterings. Use a balanced fertilizer throughout the season, such as Electra Plant Food and Electra Bloom Food, and avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers that cause rapid green, leafy growth. Make sure the pot has good drainage to prevent the roots from being smothered. For tomatoes growing in the ground, make sure the soil is well drained. Excess soil salts is a problem, especially for plants growing in containers. When watering, provide enough water so that it drains out the bottom of the pot. This will help leach out any built-up soil salts. When weeding or cultivating near the plants, do not go deeper than one inch and stay a foot away from the plant with any cultivating tools. This will prevent damaging the plant's roots.

Click here to read more about and order Electra Plant Food and Electra Bloom Food from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.

Click here to submit gardening questions for Pernell Gerver's online Q & A column.

Click here to read previous online columns in the archives.

Pernell Gerver's Home page Pernell Gerver's Gardening Workshop Series Biographical profile - Pernell Gerver Pernell Gerver's Online Store Sign the guestbook
Mailing list Pernell Gerver's Plant of the Month Gardening questions for Pernell Gerver Professional inquiries for Pernell Gerver Contact Pernell

© Copyright Pernell Gerver, Horticultural Communication Services All rights reserved.