Fixing a floppy Will Fleming yaupon for Foliage Follow-Up


‘Will Fleming’ yaupon (Ilex vomitoria ‘Will Fleming’), a fastigiate cultivar of our native yaupon holly, is one of my go-to vertical accent plants. It’s a green punctuation mark, ideal for adding height to a flat bed or using in multiples as a narrow hedge to screen an ugly view. In sun or shade it’ll grow to 10 or 15 feet (I like to give mine flat-top haircuts at about 6 feet tall) but only 1 to 2 feet wide. Sometimes, however, the outer branches go a bit floppy, ruining the vertical shape.


Like this — not the look I was going for.


You might think this calls for the pruners. Stop! Put the pruners down and grab a pair of scissors and a spool of fishing line instead. Tie one end of a length of fishing line loosely around a branch, leaving room for the branch to grow. Loosely wrap the fishing line in a spiral around the body of the tree, thereby creating a neat column again. Tie it off, taking care not to tie or wrap any part of the line tightly. You don’t want to strangle your tree. A gentle touch is all that’s needed.


And voila! A columnar ‘Will Fleming’ is restored.


One more time — floppy!


And fixed!

‘Will Fleming’ yaupon is my Foliage Follow-Up featured plant this month. Please join me in posting about your lovely leaves of April for Foliage Follow-Up, a way to remind ourselves of the importance of foliage in the garden on the day after Bloom Day. Leave your link to your Foliage Follow-Up post in a comment. I really appreciate it if you’ll also include a link to this post in your own post (sharing link love!). If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Plant This: Winter Gem boxwood


Winter is when you really appreciate the evergreens in your garden, even in green-winter places like central Texas. While I rely heavily on non-shrub evergreens like agave, yucca, and sotol, I also have a soft spot for oh-so-English boxwood, specifically the cultivar ‘Winter Gem’ (Buxus sinica var. insularis ‘Winter Gem’), planted here as “gate posts” marking the four entrances to my stock-tank pond garden.

The name ‘Winter Gem’ attests to its relative cold hardiness. That’s not an issue in Austin, of course. We’re more concerned with a plant’s heat tolerance. Happily, ‘Winter Gem’ holds up exceedingly well in Texas summers too, at least in part sun and dappled shade. I’ve not tested it in full sun.


‘Winter Gem’ is fairly petite, maturing at 2 to 3 feet tall and wide, which makes it more useful as an accent or for low hedging than as a screening shrub. Forget using it as a mustache-hedge across the front of the house.


Instead, accent a loose planting of meadowy sedge or silver lamb’s ear with a clipped boxwood ball. Or add a little structure, as I did, by formally pairing boxwood balls on each side of a path entrance.


Or go all out and create a looping design with clipped boxwood in a gravel garden, as James David and Gary Peese did in their Austin garden. (I don’t know if they used ‘Winter Gem’, but one could.)

Although boxwood is often maligned as a fussy, poodle-dog sort of plant, I find ‘Winter Gem’ quite easy to maintain with a light clipping once or twice a year. Its emerald-green color looks equally nice with blue-green yuccas and yellow-green grasses, and its small leaves and tight, architectural form contrast beautifully with blowsy perennials or grasses. What’s more, deer tend to leave it alone.


Its biggest drawback may be how slowly it grows. I planted my “gate post” plants (from 1-gallon pots) five years ago, as seen in this photo. They are just now reaching the size I’d planned for; see the top two photos in this post. (For a time-machine trip back to this garden’s earliest incarnation, click here; the layout hasn’t changed, but I eventually ripped out the circular lawn and put in the pond and sunburst path.)

As for boxwood blight — from what I’ve read, a serious concern for gardeners along the East Coast — it doesn’t (yet) seem to be a problem in Texas. In researching this post I learned that ‘Winter Gem’ and other Korean box cultivars may have some natural resistance, as do mature plants. I’d definitely try to buy from a Texas grower like Greenleaf (you’ll see their tags on certain plants at Barton Springs Nursery and other independent nurseries) rather than from the big-box stores, where plants may be shipped in from regions affected by the blight.

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Plant This: Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’


Need a little summer sunshine in your garden? Plant an Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’, a small agave with golden-edged, serrated leaves with reddish teeth that grab onto sunlight and simply glow.


Stripes of pale celery, forest, and olive green run down the center of the leaves in snazzy fashion. Add in the gold along the edges, and you see why it’s called ‘Quadricolor’.


But actually you may see a fifth color in cold weather, when it may pink up around the edges. All in all, it’s a gorgeous plant.


You’ll never need to buy more than one because it’s a prodigious pupper. Baby Quads pop up regularly at the base of the mother plant, and you can either gently tug them loose or use a sharp knife to sever the roots that connect them to the mother plant. Wear gloves — this plant can bite! Let the pups harden off (sit in a shaded, warm, dry spot for a couple of days), and then you can plant them up or share with a friend. Because of the pupping, I prefer to plant ‘Quadricolor’ agave in a pot, where I can control its spread more easily. Plus a pot elevates it for close appreciation of its unique striping.

‘Quadricolor’ agave is winter hardy in Austin’s zone 8b and grows to about 1 to 1-1/2 feet tall by 1 to 2 feet wide. Sun or part sun keeps it happy. Give it excellent drainage, and water it occasionally in summer.

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.