Shiny New Plants for 2023

In one of the horticulture magazines I received this week, I was drawn to an article about some shiny new plants for 2023. I don’t know what it is about new plants, but I like to see the unique, unusual and up and coming each year. It is one of the great things about gardening – there are always new plants on the horizon. Like some people wait for the new models of cars, gardeners wait with anticipation for the newest varieties and forms of vegetables, flowers, grasses, trees and shrubs. I can’t afford a new car, but I can afford a few new plants.  

As I look at some of these new plants, I have to temper my enthusiasm. New isn’t always better. I have been burned by some of these shiny new plants in the past. There are some plants that are interesting, but will they grow here? Will they hold up to the rigors of the Kansas climate like true native plants do?

Natives – Always a good place to start

For obvious reasons, we promote the use of natives in the landscape – the same plants you would see growing out in the prairie are well-adapted to grow in Kansas.  If properly matched to your site, a community of native plants will thrive with little input once established.  This mixture of plants is a perfect habitat for wildlife (including pollinators) and requires less water and no pesticides over time.

Butterfly weed and Pale Purple Coneflower

With that said, is there a place for some of these new varieties in the landscape?  In my opinion, yes.  Certainly, there are some new plants that are NOT worth trying. These are usually discernible. They will wilt and/or struggle to grow in the Kansas climate. Think of a summer day with 30 mph south winds. That will make or break many of these new plants. However, a handful of new forms each year, if tested and tried, will survive the hardships of our climate.  

Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’, Schizachryrium scoparium ‘Twilight Zone’ and Aster oblongifolius ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ are a few examples of garden worthy ‘nativars’ for Kansas.  These sure forms have so much to offer in the garden. Their form, texture, color, habit, or blooms along with resilient qualities make them good choices in sunny locations. My approach to landscape design has always been to mix and match natives and varieties of natives. I like the predictability of some of these selected plants that can be combined with true natives to still create a layered, attractive and interesting combination of plants that creates habitat for wildlife. 

Twilight Zone Little Bluestem. I love that purple cast to the foliage. Photo courtesy Walters Gardens.

Yes, natives and selections

Again, not every new plants is appropriate for our garden situation, especially in Kansas. It is up to you how to determine how purely native you want your landscape to be. I take the “yes, native and ‘some others’” approach to my garden design. Sure there have been some duds regarding new plants that didn’t pan out, but others have been a success. 

To me there is value in having as diverse a landscape as possible, both native and ‘nativars’. Only by testing and trying these new plants will we be able to determine if they have the staying power in the garden. Do your research and choose wisely. I have become very selective/skeptical when it comes to new plants, but I can always find a place for a few new plants each year worth taking a chance on. Diversity attracts diversity. 

P.S.  Vegetables/edibles are in a whole other ball game when it comes to new plants and varieties.  Heirloom varieties are important because they hold the original genetic code and generally taste better.  However, newer varieties and selections are disease resistant, vigorous, and typically yield better. Another trend with vegetables is growing edibles in containers on your patio or deck. Who doesn’t like to walk onto your deck and pick a fresh tomato?

A Few Favorite Plants

It looks like winter is settling in as the forecast seems to be turning colder in the coming days. It is a perfect time to reflect on the past year in the garden. 

It has been a tough year to grow just about everything, due to the monsoon rains in spring followed by the desert dry months of summer and fall.  In spite of the high and lows, wet and dry, there are a handful of plants that stood out in the landscape – plants that flourished rather than floundered. 

Amsonia hubrichtii ‘Butterscotch’

A favorite plant of mine has been Amsonia.  I like just about all of them including, ‘Sting Theory’, ‘Storm Cloud’, ‘Blue Ice’,  Amsonia illustris and Amsonia hubrichtii.  However, I have really enjoyed the cultivar, Amsonia hubrichtii ‘Butterscotch’.  It has narrow leaves that don’t turn brown on the ends.  The pale blue flower clusters in the spring are a perfect topper to these sturdy plants.  The real show is in fall when the entire plants turns a golden orangish-brown.  The plants will get fuller over time with more and more wands of clean attractive foliage. 

Amsonia hubrishtii ‘Butterscotch’ with Aster oblongifolius ‘Raydon’s Favorite

Aster oblongifolius ‘Raydon’s Favorite’

We have carried Aster oblongifolius ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ for many years at our plant sales.  It continues to be a “favorite” of many customers and I can see why.  In the late fall, the entire plant is covered with dark lavender blooms that pollinators love.  It extends the bloom time in the garden into late October.  The plants are tidy and don’t become leggy like some of the New England asters with their dry leaves on the bottom of the stems.  It does slowly spread but can be divided, shared with your neighbor or planted somewhere else in the garden.  Drought tolerant and tough, it is a plant I have come to admire. 

Scutellaria resinosa ‘Smoky Hills’

One of Katie’s top performers in her home garden has been Scutellaria resinosa. Resinous skullcap is a compact little beauty of the short grass prairie.  The bright blue/purple flowers in summer stand out in the front of a dry sunny border.  It is drought tolerant, durable, and unique.  The neat little mounds with mouse ear grey-green leaves are charming.  It needs well-drained soil.  Plant them with Perky Sue, evening primrose or prairie zinnia.

Scutellaria resinosa Photo courtesy of Craig Freeman

Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Twilight Zone’

I have really come to appreciate grasses in the garden.  The movement and texture in the garden is nice especially through the winter. There is so much diversity and heights of grasses to mix and match in your landscape.  A beautiful little bluestem that has performed well for us has been Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Twilight Zone’.  This is not your typical little bluestem.  It displays beautiful steely-blue foliage with flower spikes of varying purple shades. It seems to be constantly changing through the seasons, slowly shifting to bright purple during autumn.  It is a taller grass that will grow 4 to 5 feet in height and reach a spread of about 2 to 3 feet.  The beautiful foliage will transition to reddish-orange in the fall.  As you know, little bluestems are favorite overwintering homes for insects and pollinators.  The seeds are winter foods for a many types of birds.

Little Bluestem Twilight Zone Photo courtesy Walters Gardens.

Diervilla lonicera x ‘Kodiak Orange’

This spring I needed some shrubs to go around the deck in my backyard.  I planted a Viburnum ‘Blue Muffin’ along with a cross-pollinators Viburnum ‘Little Joe’ to make sure they produced fruit.  There was a silky dogwood called ‘Red Rover’ along with a native bush honeysuckle Diervilla lonicera ‘Kodiak Orange’.  I have been impressed with the honeysuckle.  It never wilted compared to the viburnum and dogwood.  It developed tiny yellow honeysuckle-like flowers throughout the summer that attracted butterflies and other pollinators.  The orange-green leaves have turned yellow-orange this fall which is a bonus.  It is quite adaptable to dry soil once established.  My yard is quite shady except mid-afternoon and they thrived.  There are many non-native and invasive honeysuckles including Morrow’s honeysuckle, Tatarian honeysuckle, Amur honeysuckle, and Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.).  Although somewhat similar in appearance Diervilla are native and not invasive.  One thing I have learned about invasive honeysuckles is that they have hollow stems.  Native honeysuckles have solid stems. 

Fall color of Kodiak Orange

I hope you have been able to think back through this year and reminisce about your garden successes.  We often put so much time and effort into our gardens that we don’t step back and take in the scenery.  Also, remember that a beautiful landscape that we enjoy has ties to ecology, creating habitat and helping wildlife too.

Valley Center Public Library Pollinator Garden

Earlier this year, I created a native plant design for the Valley Center Public Library. After a group of volunteers helped get it planted, they have diligently weeded and watered it through the summer. Thankfully, they have an automatic sprinkler system. But they established the plants by hand watering, which was no small task.

Sumac next to small foot bridge over the drainage swale

Focal Points

Last week I took a field trip to check out the progress of their garden. It survived the summer and really filled in nicely. Some of the highlights were the Raydon’s Favorite aster, Twilight Zone little bluestem, American beautyberry, and switchgrass. The solar powered bubbling fountain and large butterfly bench donated by a local resident add a nice spot to sit and enjoy the garden.

Butterfly bench in the garden

Opportunities for Education

The garden is just north of the new library. It has walking paths and a small bridge over a wet area. It has a diverse selection of plants to create habitat for pollinators. We included several types of milkweed scattered throughout the garden, which will attract monarch butterflies. The adult monarchs laid eggs on the milkweed, which hatched into caterpillars, which then turned into adults. The garden stewards were able to share this lifecycle with the children and adults who visited the library.

Bubbling fountain perfect for supplying water to pollinators

It was a warm sunny day when I visited. There were dozens of pollinators working on the asters, which were in full bloom. The garden has been a tremendous success. The ladies who manage the site have done a wonderful job. They are connecting people of all ages, but particularly children, to the outside world and showing them different pollinators that can be attracted to a garden using native plants.

As the garden matures, the educational opportunities will become more numerous. These connections with nature are important formative experiences that will impact people for years to come. Keep up the good work!

It’s hard to see but this Aster ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ was covered with all sorts of pollinators.

Prairie Pond Clean Up

Volunteers are truly the heart and soul of Dyck Arboretum. Without them, we just wouldn’t be able to do what we do! That fact was never more apparent than on our prairie pond clean up day October 19, when seven intrepid volunteers fired up their chainsaws to help staff tame the mass of trees that had sprouted up around the pond. It took years for them to grow, but only a day to clear them all out.

Brad Guhr chopping freshly felled trees into logs for firewood

History of The Prairie Pond

Most people are familiar with our main pond in the center of the Arboretum. It is our most frequently visited spot and draws many people to its island to feed turtles. But our lesser known prairie pond has its own special magic. Located west of the greenhouse and north of the Prairie Window Project, this is a rain collection point where the runoff from the prairie collects. Seasonally, this pond fills quickly with spring rains and then often dries up in late summer. In February and March it is absolutely humming with frogs. They are so loud it can give me a headache working out there! Click here to for a video of their spring songs.

Why Cut Down Such Nice Trees?

It can feel a little sad to cut down trees, especially young ones with so much potential. But prairies are increasingly vulnerable to being snuffed out by tree cover. The shade of tall trees decreases the species diversity of a prairie. This is especially true when trees like willows, cottonwoods, and invasive pears and elms all sprout up tightly together. Cedars are especially problematic, with their wide, low branches and acidic needles making it difficult for anything to grow beneath it. We could see bare spots in the grass cover where we cut down these trees, and I am eager to watch native prairie species return. If we can burn this area more frequently, we should be able to prevent further woody species from taking over.

Many Hands Make Light Work

What would have taken me at least a week, volunteers accomplished in a day. With three chainsaws running, helpers to stack wood and load trucks, and other folks painting the stumps with RTU so they don’t regrow, it was an efficient team. Twelve pick up loads (!!!) of brush was hauled away, and many nice logs where cut to be used in future years in our Prairie Lights fire pits.

We are so grateful to volunteers who brought a pick up load full of tools to help us accomplish our mission!

We appreciate all the community members who make our mission possible, from the folks who greet visitors at the front desk or those that like to stay behind the scenes pulling weeds in the gardens. A public garden is a community resource, and should be treated as such.

Volunteerism keeps your favorite local gardens accessible and maintained! If you want to volunteer, be it once a week, once a month, or once a year, call or email us to get the conversation started, or visit our volunteer page to apply.

Garden Spotlight: Backyard Meadow in North Newton

At FloraKansas it’s always a pleasure to hear from members who are renovating an entire landscape in
native and adaptable plants all at once. Dramatic transformations have a wow factor about them, with the instant gratification of an “extreme makeover”. However, so many Dyck Arboretum members have been tending and transforming their gardens over several years or even several decades. This is the case with Ron Flaming’s backyard meadow.

As a Harvey County Master Gardener, Ron’s front garden is immaculate. A well-tended quarter acre of lawn is framed by several foundation beds of carefully-selected shrubs and groundcovers. A small planting of wildflowers surround a weeping understory tree at the curb. But it’s the back garden that really takes you on a native plant journey.

Several river birch trees surround a puddling water feature and a rock garden by the patio. A few hummingbird feeders round out this pollinator sheltering space. Just a step beyond the rock garden, a small bridge flanked by formal native plantings, leads you to an arbor and a winding path through a meadow planting.

At the time I visited in early June, the meadow featured mixed-grass prairie species. I was able to recognize little bluestem, side oats grama and prairie dropseed, as well as a smattering of wildflower blooms mixed in: common milkweed, penstemon, and baptisia. Several complementary non-natives like delphinium gave a
nice pop of color as well. The path curved around the back side of a rustic garden shed. Behind the shed is a rare wooded microclimate, which allows understory shrubs and woodland wildflower species to thrive.

Ron’s many-layered meadow garden gives me hope as I grapple with my own yard. Once shaded by an 80-year-old American Elm, my backyard now bakes in full sun, presenting a new challenge. But I am inspired by Ron and am reminded that it’s amazing what a gardener can accomplish over the years with a lot of persistence, creativity and grace.


The act of curating an inviting outdoor space for oneself, one’s family and for wildlife is something I’d like to draw attention to over a series of “Kansas Garden Success Stories” to share with our followers. If you are a member of the Arboretum who would like to share the story of your garden and your journey with Kansas native plants, please send me a message at arboretum@hesston.edu with the subject line, “Garden Spotlight”.

Searching for Bigfruit Primrose

I was recently invited to Liberal, Kansas to give a talk to a garden group. While I enjoyed meeting and chatting with the knowledgeable and enthusiastic gardeners of the area, the best part of the trip was the detour we took to Clark State Fishing Lake. I knew a special subspecies of primrose grows there, and I was eager to collect a bit of seed. My partner and I spent an hour or so, on a balmy 100 degree day, seed collecting.

Broomweed (Gutierrezia dracunculoides) in the foreground, Clark County Fishing Lake seen in the distance.

A Unique Oppourtunity

Because I am rarely in the southwest corner of the state, and at this time of year the seed would be plenty dry and ready to collect, this was a serendipitous moment. I went in search of Oenothera macrocarpa subspecies incana. This regionally-specific primrose grows only in southwest Kansas and parts of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles. While Oenothera macrocarpa is already a drought tolerant wonder plant, withstanding intense heat and dry weather like a champ, this subspecies may be even more adapted to drought based on its native range. Collecting and propagating seed from subspecies and species with historically small ranges allows us to offer more regionally specific plants to our western Kansas customers, and also brings greater genetic diversity to the Arboretum grounds.

According to USDA Plants Database, Oenothera macrocarpa ssp. incana has a limited range, and grows on some very hot, unforgiving terrain.

Late Summer Treasures

I was checking these Amorpha nana (dwarf false indigo) seeds for viability, before shoving them in my pocket, likely never to be found again.

While scouring the hillsides for primrose, we found lots of other familiar faces. There were seas of buffalo grass and blue grama to admire, growing happily even in a long standing drought. I even saw three different Amorpha species! Amorpha nana and Amorpha canescens were growing up in the dry hill sides, and Amorpha fruticosa was growing along the edge of the lake. I also encountered a completely new species for me, Stenosiphon linifolius. This member of the primrose family is called false gaura, and while it looks nothing like the primrose I was actually searching for, it gave me hope we were in the right place!

Fruits of Our Labor

I collected seed from a few species, but I do so carefully; never taking the entire supply of that location and trying not to disturb the plants too much. Seed collection must always be done with the health of future generations of plants in mind! I took two seed pods of Mentzelia nuda, one small pod of Asclepias hirtella, and a few tufts of Heterotheca canescens. All of these species would be new to our FloraKansas Native Plant Days, if I can successfully grow them.

The lake is surrounded by hills, which makes for scenic views. The water was very low, but there were still many birds about, and lots of turkey vultures circling above.
Bigfruit primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa) has large seed pods shaped like starfruit except with only 4 points. These are the type of pods we were searching for.

We walked the hills for an hour or so, driving to several locations around the lake to try our luck. It has been a very dry summer, so perhaps the plants had dried up? We saw lots of grassy debris built up, maybe it was hiding just under the next tuft?

It was terrifically, fantastically, abominably hot that day. Eventually the sun won out against our will to find the primrose and we left without finding it. I hope to visit again in spring, when they might be blooming. Then I could pin their location on my phone’s GPS so I might find their seeds easier in the fall.

Two people who should have worn more sunscreen and drank more water, but had a blast on the shortgrass prairie!

Shortgrass Prairie, Big Blue Sky

If you have the time, make a day trip to western Kansas and take in all that the shortgrass prairie has to offer. It is often overlooked as less scenic or showy than the tallgrass prairie, but I disagree. Its diminutive species and rocky outcroppings have a rugged charm that reminds me of old western movies. And the endless sunny skies remind me of the resilience that these plants must have to survive. If any of you readers do visit Clark County Lake, keep an eye out for the seeds of this much-sought after primrose! I would happily seed swap for it.

Plant Profile: Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus)

When one thinks of the Great Plains, trees are often the last thing to cross one’s mind. Surprisingly this region is home to a number of species that have found their way into yards and parks throughout the United States. The honey locust, American elm, black walnut and silver maple are as common in front yards as they are along streams and patches of woodlands of the plains. One of the more beautiful native trees found in this region is the Kentucky coffeetree, a member of the legume family. Kentucky coffeetree can be found along the eastern portion of Kansas. The tree derives it name from a common practice among early Kentucky homesteaders of grinding the seeds to make a coffee-like drink.

Mature Kentucky Coffeetree (Wikipedia)

Though somewhat uncommon in landscape plantings, the coffeetree offers many ornamental attributes. A large tree, it can reach 60 feet in height with a 30 foot spread. As of March 2022, the Kansas Forest Service state champion Kentucky coffeetree, located at Fort Leavenworth, currently stands at 100 feet tall. As the tree matures, the bark forms scaly ridges with curled edges. In winter the ascending branches present a picturesque silhouette against the winter sky. Written descriptions have labeled the tree “clumsy” looking after the leaves drop. While young trees can appear awkward their first few years, mature specimens develop stout trunks and main branches, reminding one of their innate toughness and durability.

In spring the tree may be slow to leaf out, but the patient observer is soon rewarded with bipinnately compound, bright green leaves with dainty, ovate leaflets that give the tree a soft, fine textured appearance throughout the growing season.

The bipinnately compound leaflets

Kentucky coffeetrees are individual male and female trees. The botanical term for plants with male and female flowers on separate individuals is dioecious, a condition also found in Ginkgo, juniper, and Osage orange. Flowers appear in May and June as graceful racemes. The male flowers are somewhat inconspicuous and green-yellow, while the female flowers are somewhat larger and pale yellow-white. Both types of flowers are quite fragrant. Each of these flowers are favorites of pollinating insects.

Creamy white flowers in the spring (Wikipedia)

Fall color is often a subdued yellow and female plants will often produce a reddish brown pod filled with incredibly hard, round, slightly flattened seeds. The hard coats allow seeds to lay dormant in the ground for long periods of time until weathering and soil bacteria wear down the tough shell, allowing germination to occur if temperature and moisture are adequate. Professional growers often soak the seed in concentrated sulfuric acid to thin the coat enough for water and gas exchange (a dangerous practice for the average home gardener). Another option is to use fine sand paper to sand down the shells so several seeds will potentially sprout. Don’t sand too much.

Bean-like pods and seeds of Kentucky coffeetree

Due to the coffeetree’s large size and the sometimes “messy” pods from the female trees, it is often not the best selection for the average yard. However, it is well-suited to large open areas, along streams and in park settings. It is not particular about soil, but best growth occurs in deep moist ground. Drought tolerant, it experiences very few problems.

In the wild, small colonies of coffeetree can be found when new trees form from the root suckers. This is usually not a problem in the landscape if the tree is mulched and regular mowing occurs around the tree. Transplanting in most successful with small plants, because the tree develops a course fibrous root system that limits the transplanting success of larger trees.

In the Arboretum’s bird watch area, a small coffeetree is planted just below the big bridge.

I like good coffee. Lucky for us that our coffee supplies for drinking are more than adequate, but one should still consider this beautiful, tough native tree for your landscape.

Great Plains Skink

Great Plains Skink (adult form) from my urban garden in Newton, KS (May 28, 2009)

Increasingly, I find enjoyment in the wildlife attracted to my native plant gardens. One species I’ve especially loved seeing has been the Great Plains Skink (Plestiodon obsoletus). For at least 13 years (since I took the above photo), I have observed this species coming and going from under my garage or deck, around the foundation of my house, and to and from my native plant gardens. The combination of these habitats appears to provide suitable cover, food, and thermoregulation for this ectothermic (cold-blooded) reptile.

Identification

The adult Great Plains Skink averages 7-9 inches in length (as large as 13″) and is the largest, most common, and most widespread (nearly throughout the entire state) of the seven skink species in Kansas.

Great Plains Skink range map from the Kansas Herpetofaunal Atlas

Coloring ranges from tan with dark brown markings to light gray or olive. The following photos show some of the variations in colors and markings for this species from juvenile to adult.

Natural History

In addition to my urban gardens, it is referenced in the book Amphibians, Reptiles, and Turtles in Kansas (Collins, Collins, and Taggart, 2010) that the Great Plains Skink commonly inhabits open, rocky hillsides with low prairie vegetation. Their diet consists of spiders and a variety of insects such as grasshoppers, crickets and beetles.

Breeding occurs in May after which pregnant females dig deep burrows under rocks and lay 5-32 (average of 12) eggs. After a 1-2 month incubation period, hatched young skinks may take several years to reach sexual maturity.

Diversity in the Home Landscape

Landscaping with native plants leads to attraction of a variety of wildlife species. This bigger picture food chain or ecosystem connection between plants and the animals they support has become one of the most interesting and satisfying incentives of incorporating as much native plant diversity into my home landscape as possible. Whether these plant-animal or predator-prey interactions attract butterflies, monarchs or birds that eat them, birds in general, large beetles, fireflies, cicada killers, preying mantids, bats, or skinks, I’m intrigued with observing every single connection and the underlying story it tells.

I’ll leave you with the following observation…from just last night. We added a red fox to the list of species that has visited our urban home landscape. It spent about an hour in a tussle with a flexible plastic downspout tube in one of our gardens. This particular shade garden is where I have most recently seen a skink in recent weeks. Was “skink-in-a-tube” the cause for this entertainment? Will I see the skink again in this area? Whatever the case, I will enjoy continued observations and looking for answers.

Is there still a skink somewhere in this photo?

Roots of Native Plants

The prairie is a unique ecosystem with great diversity of plants. This diversity is extremely important because there are so many niches within the prairie. These are created by differing rainfall averages across the expanse of the landscape from west to east, different soil types and different depths of soil for plants to grow. This adaptability and resiliency of plants is correlated in part to the root systems associated with many native plants.

Photo used by permission from Nature Education-1995 Conservation Research Institute, Heidi Natura.

Plants grow in community

For so long, we have thought that the deep roots of many of these native plants translated to their ability to withstand drought and extreme temperatures. However, more research is pointing to the fact that most of the water absorption occurs in the top two to four feet of the soil profile. As it turns out, plants grow in community with each other and each above ground layer (groundcover, seasonal theme, and structure) draws moisture from different zones within those few feet of soil. This allows them to grow harmoniously together and not in competition with each other. This is the matrix planting concept, which mimics what happens naturally within a prairie. 

Narrowleaf Coneflower in the Flint Hills

Why are deep root systems important?

What we see above ground is typically only a third of the overall plant.  Roots exist out of sight and can reach anywhere from 8 to 14 feet into the soil.  Yes, these extensive roots do absorb moisture and nutrients but they do so much more.  They play an important role in helping a plant grow, thrive and improve the environment around them.

These hidden roots also:

  • Anchor the plant in the soil as plants try to reach for sunlight
  • Store excess food for future needs underground
  • Nourish the soil by dying and regrowing new roots each year, which builds top soil 
  • Fix nitrogen in the soil (legumes)
  • Increase bio productivity, by absorbing and holding toxins and heavy metals, carbon sequestration
  • Prevent erosion – fibrous roots hold the soil and absorb more runoff (as in a rain garden)
Butterfly Milkweed

I believe that native plant roots make these prairie plants resilient in the landscape. They are adapted to our local soils, rainfall and nutrients. In the 2011 and 2012 drought years, we observed native plants blooming in the fall, even after enduring 50+ days of 100 degree temperatures. This could not have happened without a healthy, sustaining root system. 

So while we learn more about the root systems of native plants and the vital role they play within the life of a prairie, we know that bringing native plants back into our environments continues to have so many positive benefits. Let’s work at getting more native plants into our landscapes and let them flourish.

Pine Diseases Changing Landscapes Forever

The Arboretum continues to change. If you visited the Arboretum in the early years, you would have seen many different types of pine trees and other evergreens planted in groves. These pine trees initially flourished, even though they are not native to Kansas. However, over the past 20 years, the Arboretum has lost many of those original pine trees.

This is not an isolated problem. Whole shelterbelts, specimen trees and screens have been decimated by diseases exclusive to pines. What are the most common pine diseases and what can be done to control their spread? That is a question I’m often asked and there are no easy answers. I do suggest Kansas State Extension and online resources for more information.

Pine Wilt

Pine Wilt threatens to remove several pines permanently from the landscape. Discovered in Missouri in 1979, pine wilt is most serious on Scotch Pines but can infect Austrian and White Pines. Since that initial report, it has continued to move westward and has completely decimated all of the Scotch pines in the Arboretum.

Symptoms for Pine Wilt usually appear from August through December and cause the trees to wilt and die rapidly in a month or two. Trees may survive for more than one year but the result is always fatal. The needles turn from bluish-gray to yellow/brown and remain attached to the tree.

Several organisms play a role in the death of a tree. The pinewood nematode is transmitted from pine to pine by a bark beetle, the pine sawyer. Once inside the trunk, the microscopic worms feed on the blue stained fungi that live in the wood but also on the living plant cells surrounding the resin canals and water-conducting passages, essentially choking the tree. There are no highly effective management tactics. Dead pines should be promptly cut and destroyed before warm weather of spring. If this is not done, beetles can continue to emerge from the logs and infect more trees.

Austrian Pine dead from disease that will be removed this spring in the Arboretum

Other Pine Diseases

Foliar diseases such as Sphaeropsis Tip Blight (STB), Dothistroma Neddle Blight (DNB), and Brown Spot of Pines (BSoP) are caused by types of fungi that can infect both the new and old growth. Some of the species affected by these diseases include Austrian, Mugo, Scots, and Ponderosa Pines. The symptoms of STB appear on the current year’s shoots. As the new shoots emerge in the spring, they are susceptible to infection by the fungus. Any damaged area provides the spores a way into the tree. The spores are dispersed by water and require high humidity for germination and penetration of the host tissue. Both DNB and BSoP cause spotting of the needles and eventually premature defoliation. Transmission is again by water and moisture. In a year with many spring rains, the moisture can spread the spores like wildfire and many treatments are needed to keep them in check.

Treatment Options

These three foliar diseases can be treated with multiple applications of copper fungicides and Bordeaux mixtures in the spring and early summer. Treatments are costly and high pressure equipment is needed to project the spray to the top of the trees. It has been my experience that control of these diseases is difficult. Spray timing is critical, densely planted trees are highly susceptible, and infection occurs during excessive rainfall. Thinning trees and removing dead or diseased branches will prolong the life of the tree, but the best defense is to keep the trees healthy by providing adequate moisture and fertility.

Diversity is the Key

One of the key lessons we have learned from this experience is that diversity is vital to a successful landscape. Whether pine trees, deciduous tree, perennials or shrubs, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Establish a variety of plants adapted to your landscape rather than just one or two species. The truth is that you can do everything right and still lose an evergreen tree. Replant with a diverse variety of species so your whole landscape will not be open to widespread devastation again. There will be other diseases that come, but diversity will give you the edge.

Other Evergreens

New evergreen species are being trialed for adaptability in Kansas, but at this time there are not many viable alternatives other than our eastern red cedar with cultivars such as ‘Taylor’ and ‘Canaertii’. Southwestern White Pine (Pinus strobiformis), Arizona Cypress (Cupresses arizonica), Black Hills Spruce (Picea glauca var. densata) and Pinyon Pine (Pinus edulis) are also viable options. Full descriptions of these trees can be researched on the internet or you can come to the Arboretum and view them in person.

Pines like Ponderosa (Pinus ponderosa), Austrian (Pinus nigra) and Scotch (Pinus sylvestris) have been taken off the recommended tree list because they are so prone to disease. I would highly encourage you to visit the Kansas Forestry Service website at www.kansasforests.org . Once there, choose your region to view a full list of recommended trees for your area along with other informative publications.

Southwestern White Pine
Southwestern White Pine
Arizona Cypress
Arizona Cypress
Arizona Cypress
Arizona Cypress scale-like needles