Successful Gardening,Japanese Maple & Madrone Tree

Successful Gardening winds up a 15th great year; plus questions about what to plant to replace a dieing Japanese maple; and how to propagate the native Pacific madrone tree!
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

March 25, 2007

Just some of the entries in the Ontario Horticulture Association plant and flower section of this year’s Successful Gardening. Above, Judy Zinni’s first-prize winning miniature arrangement and Jacky Shah’s Pot et Fleur, also winner of a first prize red ribbon. Below, Class 19 was for a container of five or more cacti or succulents and Julie Forbes had two entries, both of which won ribbons, first (red) on the right and second (blue) on the left. In the middle is Deborah Wisniewska-Jones first-prize-winning entry in the class for three Mammallaria species in one pot. [Deborah is the President of the Toronto Cactus and Succulent Society.] Finally, at bottom is Jacky Shah’s miniature dish garden, also a red-ribbon winner. Congratulations to all the exhibitors who participated in the various classes. Author photos.

Last weekend the 15th annual Successful Gardening show wound up at Mississauga’s Toronto International Centre, near Lester B. Pearson International Airport. As far as I can remember, I have attended each and every one. For those who do not attend this show let me tell you a bit more so you may plan to do so next year.

First, Successful Gardening is not a flower show in the same way that Canada Blooms is. It does have display gardens--not nearly as many as Canada Blooms but then the overall number there has gone down substantially recently. Successful Gardening has free seminars, demonstrations and talks on a wide range of topics throughout the four days of the run, and that includes the Sunday, on which day the Canada Blooms schedule is, for whatever reason, reduced in a major way. And then there is the largest part of the Successful Gardening show--the Marketplace. Now, Canada Blooms too has a Marketplace, but in the last two years it has shrunk substantially. This year most of the attendees at Canada Blooms noted the wider aisles, blank booth spaces and generally reduced selling area. The most common comment I received on Canada Blooms this year concerned the small number of commercial exhibitors actually sell-ing plants. I mentioned this in my March 11th article here, “There were fewer show gardens, fewer commercial exhibits (particularly a lot fewer plant sellers)….”

As those of us who have been attending flower shows for four or more decades know, folks who attend flower and garden shows expect to be able to buy plants and flowers--even if there may be little hope of some of said plants not surviving until they can be planted up to eight weeks later! Successful Gardening seemed to have more plant sellers than Canada Blooms. Certainly an awful lot of plants were seen going through the exit doors.

One of the reasons (though only one) for this is that the specialized plant societies, much more in evidence at Successful Gardening than at Canada Blooms, like to sell small plants, but the rates charged these societies for space at Canada Blooms have become exorbitant for non-profits vs. the free space offered by Paul Newdick, owner of Successful Gardening.

Paul’s show also had features that most show visitors enjoyed, including the Rainforest, the kid’s “Make-it and Take-it” garden sponsored by the Brampton Horticultural Society and the Ontario Horticultural Association’s (OHA) Plant and Flower Competition. I’ve actually left the best feature to the last--the OHA competition is in many ways as good as or better than the Garden Club of Toronto’s Decorative flower arranging and horticultural competition area. Now, the one at Successful Gardening is not as well staged, but the plants are of great calibre, and I would think that even more space should be allotted to this feature in another year. I think that most show-goers will forego the better staging at Canada Blooms vs. the wider variety of plants and flowers and perhaps even the generally smaller floral arrangements at Successful Gardening.

Finally, at Successful Gardening, attendees get a free admission to one of the largest home shows in the area--the International Home & Garden Show in adjoining buildings, all for the price of one admission!

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Joanne Moe, from right here on Vancouver Island, sent an interesting inquiry this week: “I have a copy of your article concerning diseases of Japanese Maples and I have a question or two. We have a 30-year old red maple in our front yard - it is the centrepiece of our yard and we love it dearly. I believe it is a Japanese Maple - very delicate, red, lacy leaves and umbrella shaped bush. We have been cutting out dead branches over the years and now we will have to remove about 40% of the tree -- all of the dead branches are on one side and it is going to destroy the symmetry and beauty of the tree. So we have decided to remove it and replace it with another one. My concern is contamination of the soil by whatever is killing the Maple. You mention "Verticillium alboatrum" as being the likely pathogen. Will this be in the soil and is it safe to plant another Maple in the same place? Are these pathogens in the soil or are they air-borne? Or does anyone even know? We have done some research into replacing it with another variety of bush but nothing seems to be suitable as to height and shape. It is in the centre of a rock/flower garden in the centre of our yard. We live in upper Lantzville and water is always in short supply but we do water it regularly during the summer months. Also, do you know if these maples are sun-loving or do they require partial shade? I have received conflicting information from a couple of local nurseries about that. It does not seem to get sunburned even though it is in the sun all day - no shade at all. I appreciate any help you can give us.”

From your description Joanne, your tree is a Japanese maple, and as I have mentioned previously in articles here, the likely cause is Verticillium alboatrum--the tell-tale indicator of which is the circle of green wood just below the bark on young mature wood that is about to die. When this is present, it is advised to dispose of such wood in garbage and neither compost nor burn the wood or foliage. I cannot say that there is agreement on the causal agent, and/or where it over-winters etc. Better to be safe than sorry though, and plant something other than a maple. Since you are on Vancouver Island there is an almost endless choice of medium-sized trees. For example, you might consider Eucryphia x intermedia and evergreen tree that blooms with white flowers in mid-summer. Some nurseries on the Island carry it, and it is almost always available at Milner Gardens and Woodland. Other suggestions would by Styrax japonica, or the newer pink-flowering cultivar S. j. ‘Pink Chimes’; and also Styrax obassia. The list goes on and on, I would start your search now, and start visiting nurseries and garden centres soon.

And incidentally, the reason you hear varying opinions on the sun/shade aspect of Japanese maples is that conditions across the country vary. For example, in Toronto in a hot summer, it is not unusual to see these trees almost totally sun-scalded, at least on the south-west side. In climates such as that they are much better planted where they are at least protected from the harsh sun in the afternoons. Here on Vancouver Island, I doubt it will ever be hot enough to scald Japanese maples, but others may be reading or thinking about the general advice for Japanese maples, and hence recommend a shaded planting location.

Here is a question from Diane Powers, possibly also from Vancouver Island: “I was just wondering if it's possible to propagate Arbutus from cuttings. My neighbour has planted a cutting and it seems to be growing. I've planted some too using root hormone. Do you think they'll grow? Thank you.”

They may well grow Diane, but it is generally conceded that the best way to propagate Pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesii) is by seed. The berries are gathered in October or November and allowed to dry. The seeds are removed around the end of the winter, and stratified (cold, but not frozen, mixed with damp peat moss in a plastic bag in your refrigerator) for about four or five weeks. They should then be planted where they are to grow (and protected from predators etc.), as they do not transplant well, and therein is the problem with the cutting procedure. Likewise, they can be produced from simple layers, wherein a young branch is taken down to ground level, and looped through the soil (including a node with a bud) with the tip emerging from the ground. You usually have to anchor the young branch into the ground with something like an old wooden clothes peg. Again, transplanting can be a problem.

If seeding, planting them in something like peat pots so they can be transplanted without root disturbance is advised.

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