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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Prunus padus, Styrax, Laburnum, Davidia, Ribes, Larix, Chamaecyparis, Picea, Tsuga, Cedrus, Fagus, Betula, Flowering trees, Pinus, Ericaceae (Heath family), Conifers

Are there any lists of shrubs/small trees that are best viewed from below, such as Styrax or Halesia?


While there are no lists of shrubs/small trees best viewed from below, there is a list of trees with weeping habits in The Pacific Northwest Gardener's Book of Lists (Ray and Jan McNeilan, 1997). Many genera of conifers - Cedrus (cedar), Chamaecyparis (cypress), Larix (larch), Picea (spruce), Pinus (pine), and Tsuga (hemlock) - have weeping forms, often indicated by a variety name 'Pendula' or 'Pendulum'. There are weeping birches (Betula), beeches (Fagus), and cherries (Prunus), too.

You are correct about Styrax and Halesia. Additionally, I ran across a few individual species that may be of interest to you as I researched this question:
--Davidia involucrata
--Laburnum anagyroides
--flowering currants, Ribes spp.
--flowering cherry trees, particularly Prunus padus
--various plants in the Ericaceae family have bell-shaped flowers that hang on the underside of the stem.

I would add that any tree which has a naturally graceful branching pattern and/or delicately shaped foliage (such as Japanese maples) would be pleasant to view from below, as well as from other angles.

Date 2018-08-23
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Sawflies, Ribes, Disease-resistant plants, Master gardeners, Fruit--Diseases and pests

We moved into a new house which has a large currant or gooseberry bush. Now that it has leafed out there are numerous caterpillars eating the leaves. I know they are not tent caterpillars, but I cannot identify them. They are whitish-green with yellow bands across the top and bottom, with many black dots or bumps. The head and first six legs are black. It would be nice to learn more about them.


I cannot make a conclusive pest identification remotely, but there is a possibility these caterpillars are currant sawfly, or imported currantworm. Here is some information about this pest from Colorado State University Extension.

If this pest is the culprit, the book, The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control edited by Barbara Ellis (Rodale Press, 1996) recommends using Pyrethrin spray, spraying into the center of the bush. Bees are severely affected by this pesticide, so follow the guidelines shown on this University of California, Davis Integrated Pest Management page. Also see this guide to reducing bee poisoning from pesticides.

For a definitive pest identification, you may want to bring a sample of the pest and its damage to a Master Gardener Clinic. Using the following link, you can locate a Master Gardener Clinic in your part of Washington State.

Date 2018-07-20
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Ribes, Planting

I received a gift today, a shrub/plant named Ribes sanguineum 'Inverness White,' and different neighbors have different ideas of where to plant it.

I only have a little shade in my garden. Will it take full sun, or does it need partial shade? How tall and wide will it get?


In my experience, Ribes sanguineum does best in partly sunny (or partly shady) sites, and does not need much water once established. The plant you have is Ribes sanguineum var. glutinosum 'Inverness White.' This cultivated variety is described by California Flora Nursery as 6 feet tall and wide, but plant size will vary with garden conditions.

University of California Berkeley Botanical Garden's spring 1999 newsletter features flowering currant selections, including the one you have:
"Ribes sanguineum var. glutinosum 'Inverness White' is a proven fast grower with wonderful white flower clusters. As the flowers fade they develop a rosy cast, giving a bicolored effect. The typical form of this variety has pale pink flowers. Roger Raiche found this one on Inverness Ridge in Marin County, and it has since made its way around the state to various gardens, both public and private. This plant was featured, with other new introductions, at a national meeting of the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta [...]"

Date 2017-08-15
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Ribes, Fruit--Diseases and pests

We purchased a gooseberry last year. It got powdery mildew and lost its leaves. This spring it came back with lush leaf growth and has not had the mildew, but it has brown spots that just developed. Some leaves are turning completely brown. Any suggestions? On the east coast in NY we had huge prolific berried bushes that didn't seem to have any of the problems we are having here in Snohomish County.


Powdery mildew is certainly a known problem for gooseberries here, but there are other diseases that show up as spotting on the leaves. The Royal Horticultural Society describes mildew on gooseberries. Cornell University's Department of Horticulture has a guide to currants and gooseberries which describes several other problems affecting the leaves of these plants.

We can't diagnose the problem remotely, but compare your plant's symptoms with this information about anthracnose from Washington State University's HortSense website:
"Anthracnose is a fungal disease affecting the leaves of currants and gooseberries. Leaves show small, round or irregularly-shaped spots on the upper or lower surfaces. The spots are usually dark brown in color and may develop tiny, gray fungal structures in the centers. Severely affected leaves may turn yellow and drop prematurely. The leaf loss can weaken plants and reduce yields. Currant fruit may also show spotting. On fruit, the spots are tiny and resemble flyspecks. Severely infected berries crack open and drop. The fungus is spread from infected to healthy leaves by splashing water and overwinters in fallen leaves. Disease development is favored by wet spring weather.
Avoid overhead watering.
Rake fallen leaves from beneath plants. Destroy or discard (do not compost) diseased plant materials. Cultivation to bury diseased leaves may also be effective.
Space plantings and prune to provide good air circulation and reduce humidity."

It would be worth having a your local county extension agent test the affected foliage before you attempt to treat the problem.

Just as an aside, gooseberries do well in areas that have good winter chilling and humid summers, which sounds more like parts of the East Coast than our winter wet/summer dry Northwest. The website of California Rare Fruit Growers describes the native ranges of gooseberries:
"Gooseberries are derived mostly from two species: the European gooseberry (Ribes grossularia), native to the Caucasus Mountains and North Africa; and the American gooseberry (R. hirtellum), native to northeastern and north-central United States and adjacent parts of Canada. So-called European cultivars are pure species, but virtually all so-call American cultivars also have European genes.

Date 2018-07-12
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Ribes, Harvesting time, Fruit ripening

I have picked my red currants. Some berries on the bunches are still green. Is it possible to ripen them in the house?


Most sources say that you should pick entire strigs (the name for the bunches of fruit) when they are fully ripe. I don't think the green currants will ripen successfully indoors. However, currants which are to be used for making preserves may be picked slightly before full ripeness (but not when green), according to an article on fruit harvesting, published by the University of Idaho Extension:

"Currants may be harvested two or three times, but all of the fruit from a particular cultivar is usually harvested at one time. Wait until all of the berries on the bush are ripe. Berries at the tops of the fruit clusters ripen before those at the tips. Harvest the fruit after it softens and is fully ripe, but before it begins to shrivel. [...] Pick the fruit by pinching off the fruit clusters (called strigs) where they attach to the stem. Particularly with red and white currants, do not strip the berries from the clusters."

University of Illinois Extension has similar recommendations:
"Currant: For eating out-of-hand, currants should be dead ripe and picked just before eating. For making jam and jelly, however, pick them when they are firm but not fully ripe. Pectin content is high at this stage. Currants have a naturally high pectin content and thus are excellent choices for jelly- and jam-making. To harvest currants, twist the cluster off of the branch first, then strip the berries from the cluster. Don't attempt to pick the berries one-by-one."

Date 2018-08-15
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Trees--Diseases and pests, Ribes

Our flowering currant has rust disease. It flowers beautifully but looks hideous for most of the summer and fall until its leaves drop. We're debating whether to remove it, though we love the reddish blooms. Is it affecting other plants in neighboring gardens (for instance, our neighbor's Heuchera which has rust)? Are there varieties of currant that are rust-resistant?


Your currant (Ribes sanguineum) is probably infected with white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola), which also affects some edible currants. As the name of the fungal infection suggests, this is a disease that passes back and forth between its hosts--currants (which aren't killed by it) and white pine or Pinus strobus (which is seriously harmed by it). Don't feel guilty about the neighbor's Heuchera rust, which is caused by a different fungus specific to that plant, Puccinia heucherae. However, if there are white pines within 1,000 feet, the disease could kill them.

The link above mentions that Ribes sanguineum is very susceptible to the disease. Several varieties of edible red currant are rated as virtually immune ('Viking' and 'Red Dutch'), but these are not the type of currant grown for their highly ornamental flowers. I could not find any information about resistant flowering currants, but if there are pines in your neighborhood which have the fungal infection, the rust may continue to be a concern for any future currants you plant.

You may find this blog post by a Seattle gardener of interest.

Date 2017-05-25
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