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For blooms all season, try potentilla

Potentilla bushes blooming in the garden add a nice focal point for a bright color. John Zvirovski / The Sun

For many years I have had a love-hate relationship with potentilla shrubs. Actually, there was rarely a time that I loved this plant. I remember seeing this shrub overplanted in many areas as I grew up, and then it became a big plant for commercial plantings. Part of this disconnect, I am sure, was related to the fact that it was so common in many landscapes and it lessened my own personal attraction to its characteristics.

When I bought my first house, I recall seeing a potentilla in the yard and mentioning that it would be the first thing to go. After I moved in, it was literally the first thing I dug out and threw into the compost. Their leggy character and tumbleweed look in the wintertime just cemented that thought and feeling within my soul. There was nothing I could grasp that I thought gave it a redeeming quality.

Somewhere down the road, I came upon one that was in excellent condition and was loaded with these beautiful canary yellow flowers. I am sure I couldn’t believe my thoughts when I began to think that shrub was not half bad.

As with all plant materials I have detested in the past, when the right one comes along and shows its true flair in the landscape, I tend to change my mind. After all, this is one of very few bushes that actually will bloom non-stop from late spring through autumn. This quality alone makes it a true landscape gem. If given full sunlight, it will also remain compact in nature and become quite lush.

When I bought my second house, there was a potentilla bush under the tree in the front yard. It looked straggly and tough, and even though I wanted to dig it out and toss it to the pile, I decided not too. A few years later, after watching it suffer in the shade, I decided to move it to the back where it would get ample sunlight all day. I cut two-thirds of the top portion off and moved it to its new home. After the first year, it began to thrive, and I have truly enjoyed it in my garden ever since.

Potentilla prefer fun sunlight and rich, well-drained soils, however they can do well in clay and slightly alkaline soils also. They do not like to have their roots sitting in water for any period of time and tend to be more drought tolerant than many other shrubs. They typically grow from 2 to four 4 in height and up to 5 feet wide, depending on the variety. Their leaves are fine and dark green with three to seven leaflets each.

Originally, they bloomed mostly in shades of yellow, but as new varieties have come along, they now bloom in shades of white, pink and orange. Their flowers are about three-quarters of an inch in diameter and contain five rounded petals.

These shrubs look great as specimen plantings within the garden by themselves or in larger plantings of three to five in groups. If you have the space in the landscape, I would suggest group plantings to catch the eye from a distance.

The most common colors people plant are the ones that bloom in shades of yellow. Good selections of this color are the gold drop, goldfinger, Jackman and Klondike. Their colors are vibrant and look great by themselves or in the combination of other garden hues.

Varieties such as McKay’s white, snowbird and Abbotswood create white blooms. This shade still seems to be rare in the potentilla series within our gardens today, but have the same great qualities as the yellow selections.

Daydawn creates a nice yellow flower with pink accents in the petals, and pink beauty displays beautiful pink flowers that seem to be even more rare than the white varieties. These items make terrific specimen plants in the corners of flowerbeds or near the edges.

For warm shades, try the pale shade of apricot with sunset, the vibrant orange of tangerine or the deep orange hues of red ace. These shades are readily available in the market and perform remarkably well in the garden.

Overall, these plants are quite carefree with few pests or diseases that bother them. With some basic trimming in late winter to retain their shape, there is little else that needs to be done. They are also very hardy, being able to withstand temperatures of minus 50. There is very little autumn color if any, but their full season’s worth of blooms more than make up for that deficiency.

I know if these shrubs had any feelings, they all cringed when I use to walk by while sensing my strong disdain for them. But I think they rest much easier today as I am becoming more and more fond of them in the right places of the garden. It is still not my favorite plant, but it has a special place in my design world to utilize them for the great plants they can become. You never know when I might get the urge someday to add a second one to my collection. Stranger things have happened.

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