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EVERGREEN VERONICAS (HEBE)

PROVIDE GREAT SUMMER GARDEN COLOR

Hebe plantOf all the evergreen plants that flower during the summer the Hebes (Veronica) are possibly the most over-looked. Attractive foliage, showy flowers and a long flowering season combine to make these plants a 'must' for just about any garden.

In the past couple of years we have added half a dozen new varieties, to our garden, that are just outstanding. Among my favorites are the new ones with attractive variegated leaves. With the mild winter, a couple of the varieties flowered all winter, which is very unusual and may never happen again.

The flowering season of some varieties extends from early summer until the first frost in fall, providing the spent flowers are pinched-off on a regular basis. Growing habit, leaf sizes and foliage color varies by variety. However, most of the evergreen varieties are rather low, bushy shrubs growing only one to three feet in height.

Hebes have almost unlimited uses in the sunny garden. They are ideal for edging, low borders, use in rockeries, container plantings, in masses or individually for spot color throughout the garden.

These plants are easy to grow. In fact, they seem to thrive in the climatic and soil conditions of the Pacific Northwest. (And, if you live along the coast, you will find this plant a 'must' in your garden.) The only trouble I have ever encountered with them here has resulted from not hardening them for winter; hence the plants have experienced winter freeze damage. This can usually be overcome by simply with-holding some water from them in late summer, from about August 15th, so the new growth has a chance to harden before the first heavy fall frost.

PLANTING SOIL

Be certain to plant them in well drained soil. They will not survive in clay or heavy, wet soils.

LOCATION

The best place to plant them is in full sun. However, they will also grow quite well in part sun and shade. In fact, they will even grow in shade, but they do not flower well, and the plants tend to get too leggy.

SOIL PREPARATION

First and foremost, provide good drainage for them. The addition of a little processed manure or compost will add the organic humus they need. Also, add a little Vermiculite or fresh-water sand to aid in better drainage.

PLANTING

Since most plants are grown in containers, you can plant them at anytime throughout the year. Set them in the soil at the same depth as they were in the container. It is best not to mulch the soil around them, during the growing season. However, if you want to use a little bark, straw of sawdust around them for winter protection that is alright, providing it is pulled away during the spring, summer and fall growing season.

PRUNING

One of the most important factors to consider in the care of the various varieties is that of pruning or shearing. Some varieties may become rather leggy if they are not pruned yearly. The best time to prune and shape them is in March, April or May.

The most important pinching is done after the flowers have finished. Pinch off only the old flowers, because the new flowers appear at the tips of the new growth. And, if you pinch off too much of the tip growth, you will be pinching/pruning off the growth where the new flowers would appear. So the plants will cease flowering until the following year.

FEEDING

Hebes are not heavy feeders. Feeding once every year or two with a 'Rhododendron or Evergreen' type fertilizer will be beneficial in maintaining good foliage color and better bloom. The best time to apply the fertilizer is in late winter.

VARIETIES

Here are just a few of my favorites:

AUTUMN GLORY - Attractive lavender-blue flower clusters appear as early as June and flowering will continue into the fall months if the spent flowers are kept picked. I have had them still blooming at Thanksgiving time, in my garden. Needs pruning to keep it bushy and compact. Eventual height, is up to 2 to 3 feet. This one has been around for several years.

BUXIFOLIA - Another of the popular old-timers. Small leaves, provide a nice texture in the garden. Small clusters of white flowers in mid-summer. This one may grow up to three feet or more, but is much more attractive if kept at about 2 to 3 feet. Makes an excellent substitute for boxwood.

NEWER ONES:

I have seen 'Tricolor' and 'Variegata' in one northwest garden for the past three years, and they are great multi-colored varieties, both with purple flowers. As the name implies 'Tricolor' has foliage that is whitish, green and rose.

'Wiri-Charm' is the one I mentioned that bloomed all winter in my garden, this past year. The flowers are fuchsia colored. The plant is only supposed to grow 12 to 16 inches, but mine is already about 24 inches tall. My wife and I think it's outstanding!

Paula, is red; Maria is blue; Pinnochio is a compact variegated variety, Nanna is red; Prince is purple and Charming white is of course white.

Some of these varieties may be difficult to find at nurseries, because they are so new to us. (They are European varieties and are now being grown here.)

Growers say the smaller leafed varieties are hardier plants. So if you are at a higher elevation or in a colder climatic zone, then west of the Cascades, those are the ones you may want to try growing.

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