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by Pernell Gerver

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"No-Maintenance Plants for the Busy Gardener"

The garden and home landscape should be a source of beauty and enjoyment, not a source of constant care and maintenance. To that end, I am always searching for and adding to my garden and home landscape easy, no-maintenance plants. After all, I'd much rather spend my free time enjoying my garden and landscape than working on maintaining it. Wouldn't you? There are many easy, no-maintenance plants, including many fine shrubs and perennials, for the garden home landscape. Click on a plant name to order it from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.

Purple beautyberryPurple beautyberry is an easy, no-maintenance shrub. It has many nice attributes and one of its best is it needs no pruning. Unlike many shrubs that require regular pruning all season long to keep them looking good, purple beautyberry attains its rounded shape all by itself. The only pruning I ever do to mine is once in early spring, I trim it back to about a foot high and that's it. It grows to four feet high and wide. In mid summer, its branches bear small, lavender-pink flowers that become clusters of vibrant-purple berries. The berries almost look like little gems. They're arranged in clusters opposite one another all up and down its stems. The green foliage turns pink in autumn, then falls, leaving the berries behind. The berries cling to its branches well into winter, providing winter interest. Purple beautyberry grows well in sun to part shade.

Hydrangeas are much-loved shrubs for their large clusters of summertime flowers. One of the easiest to grow is hydrangea 'Annabelle.' Not only is it easy to grow, it is also a reliable bloomer. It bears enormous flowers, easily a foot across or more on a small plant that is only two to three feet tall. The flowers are creamy white and have a sweet fragrance - something I discovered quite by accident one day when I happened to be planting some plants nearby and smelled a sweet smell in the air. What I was planting wasn't even in bloom so I stuck my nose in the 'Annabelle' flowers to see if it was them and sure enough, it was! As the flowers fade, they change to a really beautiful chartreuse color. If picked and dried at this stage, they'll retain that color when dry. 'Annabelle' is very adaptable, growing and blooming well in sun or shade.

Ornamental grasses are easy, no-maintenance perennials that should be a part of every landscape. They add architectural beauty to the landscape and provide four seasons of interest. Their foliage and flowers turn a beautiful tan and remain attractive through winter. There are lots of different ornamental grasses from very small to very large and it really only depends on the amount of space you have. A very nice, new form of miscanthus called 'Adagio' only grows three feet high, with the flowers, and can fit into just about any landscape. It has slender, arching foliage that is topped with creamy-white flower plumes in mid to late summer.

Echinacea 'Sunrise'Coneflowers are some of the easiest perennials to grow in the garden. Insects and diseases are not a problem, they are drought tolerant, grow well in hot, sunny spots in the garden, and, probably their best attribute, they begin blooming in very early summer and continue blooming all summer long right into autumn. They attract hummingbirds and butterflies to the garden and their large flowers are very long lasting when cut. The flowers are held on tall, stiff, sturdy stems that seldom need staking and the stems can grow up to four feet high on some varieties. They are one of the best no-maintenance perennials. One of the newest coneflowers is a variety called 'Sunrise.' It's a color breakthrough in coneflowers. It bears fragrant, pale-yellow flowers on three-foot-tall stems. The large flowers have a prominent center cone that begins small and green, then grows larger and changes to gold as it matures. It blooms all summer long, from June to September and the flowers are long lasting when cut.

Daylily 'Ruby Stella'Daylily is one of the most versatile, tough, and easy perennials. It grows happily in just about any soil, can withstand periods of drought, and thrives in full sun, but does equally well in part shade. It's one of the most popular perennials because of its adaptability and wide range of flower colors. There are over 45,000 named varieties of daylily with flower colors that include white, red, purple, lavender, yellow, orange, red, burgundy, salmon, pink, and rose along with bicolors and blends. 'Ruby Stella' is a dwarf daylily with three-inch-wide, ruffled, deep-scarlet flowers with a yellow throat. It begins blooming in May and repeats bloom right to frost. It forms a compact plant just over a foot high and wide and is good for the front of the flower bed or border.

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Mummy Berries Caused by Fungus"

Q. I have 18 blueberry bushes and for the past five or six years I have had mummy berries. I sprayed them a few times with a fungicide, but I still have the problem. I do harvest a few berries, but most of the berries turn white, frizzle up and fall off. The plants are about 25 years old and for 15 or 20 years I never had a problem. I would like to know what I can do to correct this problem. Thank you.

A. Mummy berry is a plant disease caused by a fungus. Blueberry is not the only fruit affected by mummy berry. This fungus also attacks plum, peach, and cherry.

The first symptom of mummy berry on blueberry plants is flower buds that turn brown and shrivel up. Then the blueberries turn tan as they begin to ripen. Once mature, the berries are gray, appear shriveled up, and are hard. Often the berries fall off before they ripen. Leaves on affected branches have a black center. Usually the whole leaf and often the shoot tip dies.

The fungus that causes mummy berry overwinters on fruit on the ground and on infected twigs. In spring as new growth emerges, the fungal spores infect the leaves and flowers. The fungus is passed to the fruit through the flower. Blueberry plants have a natural waxy layer that covers their surfaces. This waxy surface helps ward off fungal spores, but spores that land on the plant before the waxy layer covers the new growth will develop into the disease.

Mummy berry affects blueberries sporadically, sometimes being severe one year and not occurring at all the following year. Whether or not it will affect the blueberries in any given year has a lot to do with early spring weather. A cold, wet spring is ideal conditions for the fungus to develop and spread.

Unfortunately, once you see mummy berry on the plant, it is too late to do anything this year. The best way to prevent it next year is to practice good garden sanitation. Remove all infected berries from the plant and clean up around the plant and discard all fallen berries. Remove any mulch already around the plants. Add a layer of compost and then apply a fresh layer of mulch around the bushes. A good mulch to use on blueberries is aged sawdust. The thick layer of mulch will prevent fungal spores on the ground from splashing up onto the plant when it's watered or it rains.

Neem Oil can be used to control mummy berry. It needs to be applied as soon as the plant starts leafing out in early spring and then twice again at seven to 10 day intervals.

Click here to read more about Neem Oil and order it from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.

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