Fruiting Pears

Pyrus Bartlett-001We sell hundreds of ornamental trees on Nantucket every year.  And as much as I love selling majestic Elms, elegant Styrax and the like, I have a special place in my heart for fruit bearing trees.  There is something really exciting about being able to grow fruit for yourself.  Pear trees, in particular, seem to be very rewarding.

Pears grow well when planted in full sun in average to fertile soil that is well drained.  Like other fruit trees, they require a little care and benefit from a spray program to control certain pests.  But if well cared for, a good crop is within the reach of any home gardener.

Similar to apples, European pears require more than one variety to ensure proper pollination.  If a pollinizer is not planted within 100 feet of the desired variety, the crop is likely to be very small or non-existent.  The standard pear for flavor and texture is ‘Bartlett’.  This variety is properly pollinated by ‘Bosc’.   ‘Sekel’ another common variety, will not pollinate ‘Bartlett’, so be sure to add a third variety to your yard if you want to try ‘Sekel’ as well.

All that being said, Asian pears are self-fruitful.  So if you only have room for one fruit tree, try an Asian pear.  These are the round, brown varieties that are found year-round in the store.  They tend to be very crisp, but have less flavor than European pears.  Although less hardy than their European cousins, they should do well on Nantucket due to our mild winters.

Standard pear trees can get quite large.  Luckily, the fruit trees we sell are generally semi-dwarf.  This means that one can expect our fruit trees to mature at about 20 feet.  The smaller size makes these trees easier to spray, prune and harvest.


-Brad MacDonald

Splayed Privet Hedges

Winter is a harsh time for both people and plants. As we huddle indoors, keeping out of the snow, ice and wind our treasured plants are feeling the full brunt of the weather. Woody plants, in particular, are prone to winter damage because their trunks, branches, stems and buds hang out above ground all year. After a recent storm, I took a drive around town to survey the damage. One of the most obvious problems on that day was splayed privet hedges.

As snow blankets the ground and begins to pile up on roofs and roads, it is also collecting on our hedges.   An improperly maintained privet hedge is very likely to bow under the weight. Proper pruning is the key to avoiding this problem all together.

If you follow these tips, you should have a healthy, sturdy hedge, no matter how many snow storms we have:

  • Keep your hedge healthy: California Privet performs best in full sun, with average, well-drained soil. If a soil test indicates a lack of fertility in the soil, it is wise to apply a fertilizer at the recommended rate. Try not to use privet in shady areas. When planted in dense shade (like on the North side of a building) hedges tend to be spindly, with weak growth that is prone to drooping under the weight of snow and ice. If shaded by a large tree, consider having an arborist thin the canopy to let in more light.
  • Give your hedge the proper shape: Professionally maintained hedges will always be narrower at the top than the bottom. This shape helps distribute the weight of the snow evenly, so that top doesn’t bear the full weight, causing it to splay. During the growing season, this shape also allows the maximum amount of sun to reach the bottom of the hedge, keeping it dense all the way to the ground.
  • Whack it back: Every few years, the hedge should be rejuvenated by hard pruning during dormancy. Hedges that are constantly sheared on the same plane begin to form a thick layer of tiny twigs at the outside. This provides a surface for snow and ice to accumulate on. I have seen established hedges cut to the ground that have grown to five feet in one season. But if that scares you, consider splitting the job up into sessions during two consecutive winters.  With a pair of sharp, sturdy loppers, cut back the top and one side well below the outer layer of twigs. Don’t be afraid to cut into thick, old wood; Privet plants have hundreds of dormant buds all along their stems – these will break and quickly fill in the area that has been removed.  During the second winter, rejuvenate the remaining side.

  • Lighten the Load: If you haven’t been able to get your pruning done, there is no shame in getting out there and shaking or brushing off the snow with a broom once and a while. However, ice is best left to melt naturally;  trying to knock it off is likely to cause even more breakage.


Picea sps.

There are many challenges to living and gardening on an island. Anyone who has lived here for a few years is well aware that keeping your privacy can be one of the greater challenges of island life. Most of us would be lying if we said we have never ducked behind one of the rows at Stop and Shop in the winter to avoid an ex or a particularly chatty neighbor. Now that Stop and Shop is half the size during construction, this problem seems to be all the more frequent!

Many of our customers at the nursery are particularly concerned about their privacy at home. There are many plants that do a great job of screening out the neighbor in the form of hedges and hedgerows. But so many of these loose their leaves in the winter, or become a food source for the ever-growing herd of white-tailed deer that roam the island. So what is the private gardener, concerned with year-round privacy to do? Plant deer-resistant evergreen trees, that’s what! And what are some of our favorites? Spruces!

We highly recommend spruces to islanders concerned about screening for many reasons.

  • They are beautiful.
  • They are dependably evergreen.
  • They grow tall enough to obscure a pool area or back yard from a neighboring second story window.
  • They are deer-resistant.
  • They are adaptable, growing in a wide range of soils and exposures. Many actually prefer sandy, acidic, well-drained soils that are typical on most of the island.

We stock a variety of spruce trees, suitable for Nantucket. I highlight a few below, but there are many cultivars available and we are happy to source more obscure varieties for discerning customers.

Picea abies: Norway Spruce is native to Northern and Central Europe, but is extremely well suited to the extreme environment in the Northeast. These large trees will reach perhaps 50 or 60 feet tall and 20 or more feet wide in protected or forested areas of the island, away from the seashore. As they mature, they take on a distinctly pyramidal shape, with gracefully arching branches. Their needles are medium green and glossy.

Norway Spruce

Picea glauca: White Spruce is native to North America, and is found from Alaska to Labrador and into the Northern contiguous states. This spruce is known to grow to 60 feet tall with a spread of 10 to 20 feet. Mature specimens appear more like a spire, than the typical Christmas tree shape they bear in youth. Known to be one of the most adaptable spruces, it is naturally found at stream and lake shoes and the surrounding slopes. The needles are pale green to dusty blue. Picea glauca ‘Conica’, Dwarf Alberta Spruce, belongs to this species; as does Picea glauca ‘Echiniformis’, a dwarf form sometimes referred to as Hedgehog Spruce.

White Spruce


Picea omorika: Serbian Spruce was introduced from Serbia and Bosnia in the 1880’s. This spruce varies somewhat in habit, but is generally matures into a narrow pyramidal shape with graceful ascending branches. Size varies, but I would expect a mature tree to be 50 feet or more tall and twenty feet tall in a protected inland spot. The needles are glossy-green on the top, and glaucous on the bottom giving the tree a lovely blue cast.

Serbian Spruce


Picea orientalis: Oriental Spruce was introduced to North America in 1827 from the Caucuses in Asia Minor. These slow-growing spruces are expected to mature at 50 or 60 feet in a protected inland area. These trees are densely pyramidal in form with horizontal branches that may become pendulous with age. We LOVE these trees. Their deep green needles are stubby and blunted, almost soft to the touch.


Oriental Spruce needles


Picea pungens: Colorado Spruce is possibly one of the most common evergreen landscape trees in the suburban Northeast. It is Native to the South Western United States, from the Rockies to New Mexico. Generally known for blue forms such as , ‘Hoopsii’. This is another pyramidal tree, but recognizable by its prickly needles that more or less grow completely around the stem. Full-sized cultivars grow to approximately 60 feet in height where exposure is limited. There are, however, dwarfs in this species that are extremely compact.

Colorado Spruce


Potentilla tricuspidata

Strawberry-like evergreen foliage

Have you ever heard the saying, “Nature abhors a vacuum”?  This idea can be applied to a lot of natural phenomenon.  In the North East, Mother Nature just loves to fill up empty areas of disturbed soil with plants.  In fact, it’s very uncommon for bare earth to be found in any naturally occurring ecosystem on the island.  I often wonder why so much time and effort is spent on applying shredded bark mulch annually to cover the bare soil left in garden beds.  Truthfully, living groundcovers do the same job more effectively and for years without any additional input from the gardener.

In full flower

A great groundcover common from the Arctic all the way south to Georgia is Three-toothed Cinquefoil.  The leaves of this tough little plant are reminiscent of alpine strawberries, but are evergreen, taking on hues of red in the fall and winter months.  Clear white, buttercup-like flowers appear in late spring.  This Potentilla is classified as a woody plant, as it does have 3-6″ woody stems.

Plant Potentilla tridentata in sandy or gravelly soils with excellent drainage and little water.  It would be quite at home next to native grasses and sedges, like Carex pensylvanica (Pensylvania sedge) or Schizachyrium scoparium (Little Bluestem).  Or try planting it as a drift in a more prominent area of the garden that is not irrigated.

Fall color

Note:  This plant has recently given it’s own genus and species.  The new name is Sibbaldiopsis tridentata.  

What’s Eating you?

Spittle bug emerging

Scientists estimate that there are 10 quintillion insects on the planet.  That’s 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 individual creepy crawlies!  And, boy, do they like to eat!  From early spring to late winter, it is extremely likely that someone is dining your prized plant’s leaves, stems, or roots.

Control of insects in the garden is a hot button issue.  Often times gardeners are tempted to use strong insecticides as soon as they see a single bug.  Hell, I’ve been known to grab a spray bottle of Sevin myself from time to time.  Luckily, we’ve all gotten much more sensitive to the fact that beneficial insects are also living in and working for us in our gardens.  In order to minimize the use of poisonous chemicals and the destruction of beneficial insect populations, it’s extremely helpful to know what kind of insect is causing the damage you see.

When it comes to identifying which insect is causing the problem, there are a few ways to go about it.  The first is to research the plant where most of the damage is occurring.  Many plants are susceptible to particular buggies.  Those plants can become infested with hundreds of insects of a single type.  For example, roses are well-know to harbor aphids.  Every year at the nursery, I fully expect to see them by June, and begin to check all the roses for this pest.  I’ve researched many different ways of killing them, but I most often use an organic method that I was taught years ago.  I just put on a gardening glove and squish them!  Since most of the aphids cluster on the tips of the new growth, I can easily murder 90% of the population in one go. A second squish-a-thon a week later, and the population is at such a low level that’s it hard to notice any further damage.

The second way to determine what is eating your plant is by studying the damage itself.  My favorite “Bug Book” is  Garden Insects of North America, by Whitney Cranshaw.  This book breaks down the feeding patterns of insects into 9 categories, and gives a very extensive list with great pictures.

Keeping roses as the example, I noticed a number of holes in the leaves of some ‘New Dawn’ roses recently.  I open up my trusty Garden Insects of North America and turn to Chapter Three, “Leaf Chewers”.  Unfortunately, I have not seen the actual insect feeding on the leaves, so I can’t really settle on a specific pest yet.  I flip to another great book in my library, The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control by Barbara Ellis and Fern Marshall Bradley, to see what insects commonly cause this kind of damage on roses.  Now it becomes process of illumination.  I know it’s not Japanese Beetles, because they are large, and feed during the day – I would have seen them, and the damage would have been more serious.  I also rule out large caterpillars, because they also feed during the day, and leave behind noticeable droppings, which I should have seen clearly.

It’s likely that the damage on these leaves is some sort of sawfly larvae or rose chafer.  Most of these leaf-eaters are already done feeding for the season, and should not cause further damage.  So, in this case, I will wait until next June, and begin to pay very close attention to the leaves.  At the first sign of the pest, I will apply an appropriate insecticide.

For photos of some common insects and the damage they cause on plants, check out our pinterest page:

Find us on Pinterest

-Brad MacDonald


PeeGee Hydrangeas

Hydrangea paniculata cvs.

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’

Pee Gee Hydrangeas really come into their own on the Grey Lady this month.   These beauties bloom after the mop heads and lace caps, so just as ‘Nikko Blue’ and the first flush of ‘Endless Summer’ flowers are starting to get a little peaked, the white fluffy flowers of panicle hydrangeas become a real highlight in the garden.

Although native to East Asia, these plants are perfectly hardy here on Nantucket.  As long as they are planted in reasonably good soil with some sun, Hydrangea paniculata will perform well.  However, the best specimens are grown in full sun in good, well-drained soil.  Most cultivars will form a large shrub in excess of 10′ tall, if allowed.  Or they can be grown as small single-stemmed trees.  Unlike many other Hydrangeas, paniculatas bloom on growth from the current season.  So getting bountiful blooms is almost fool-proof.  Most cultivars will produce a pale green conical flower that matures to white and finally blushes pink in the fall.  Many of the newer cultivars like ‘Quick Fire’ and ‘Vanilla Strawberry’ will blush pink much earlier.

There are now a great number of cultivars available.  Below is a list of the most common and their attributes:

‘Grandiflora’ aka ‘Minazuki’ aka ‘Pee Gee’:   The granddaddy of them all.  This is a Japanese cultivar introduced in 1862. The flowers are mop-type.  With proper pruning and fertilization can reach 12-18″ in length and 6-12″ wide at the base!  Un-pruned plants will have much smaller flowers.  Available in tree form.

‘Lime Light’:  A favorite, this variety produces bright green  mop head flowers that mature to white, and finally blush pink in the fall.  Available in tree form.

‘Little Lamb’ aka ‘Klein Schaapje’:  Don’t let the name mislead you, this is not a dwarf plant!  The 5-6″ mop head flowers are smaller than many other cultivars, and are reminiscent of little lambs.

‘Pink Diamond’ aka ‘Interhydia’:  The large conical flowers of this cultivar are composed of both sterile and fertile showy flowers.  This makes the 12″ long x 8″ wide blooms appear lacy.  Available in tree form.

‘Tardiva’:  Once the most widely available lacy-flowered paniculata.  The flowers are 11″ or so long.  Blooms later than many cultivars.  Available in tree form.

‘Unique’:  A lovely selection, introduced in 1968.  The lacy flowers are 13″ long. This selection was a seedling of ‘Grandiflora’.  As the story goes, the seedlings were uprooted by birds.  The only plant they left behind was propagated and given it’s unique name.  Available in tree form.

There are many more cultivars widely available.  Check out our pinterest page for photos of all the panicle hydrangeas we sell.

Find us on Pinterest

Questions about pruning this type of Hydrangea???

How to Prune Hydrangea paniculata shrubs

Need a visual?  Check out our Videos!

Compact Hydrangeas

Needless to say, we love Hydrangeas here at the nursery. Mophead Hydrangeas are the quintessential Nantucket garden plant. The old standard, ‘Nikko Blue’ is a real beauty, but it can get B I G. I’ve stood next to Nikko’s that towered over me, at seven feet or so. Luckily, there are lots of compact Hydrangeas available that won’t cover your window boxes or eat the nice boxwood you have planted at your front entry.


‘Piamina’ aka ‘Pia’: A truly dwarf Hydrangea reaching only 2 to 3′ tall and wide. This selection has deep pink flowers, that stay pink, even in slightly acidic soil.

‘Cityline’ (r) series: These compact Hydrangeas are touted to remain under three feet tall. Their flowers are set against shiny green leaves in shades of pink, Blue, Purple and bicolors. We’ve stocked ‘Rio’ which is blue and ‘Paris’ which is a saturated pink.

‘Mini Penny’ tm: This sweet little re-blooming Hydrangea is named after famed Hydrangea enthusiast, Penny McHenry. ‘Mini Penny’ generally matures at three to four feet tall. Their flowers are pastel pink or blue.

‘Everlasting’ (r) series: A newer series of Hydrangeas that are known to have huge, elegant blooms that make great cut flowers and dry beautifully. We’ve had ‘Revolution’ ‘Amethyst’ and ‘Opal’, all of which come in covered with flower buds. We don’t expect these plants to get taller than five feet.

‘Glowing Embers’: This compact cultivar has lustrous leaves and deeply saturated flowers in purple or pink. They are touted to mature at 5′ tall,  but we have seen this plant larger in Nantucket landscapes.

Endless summer (r): By far the most popular Hydrangea we sell, this re-blooming Hydrangea gets five feet tall and wide. It blooms early on over-wintered wood and later on new wood. The flowers are pastel pink or blue.

Planting Containerzed Trees

Trees that are available for purchase at the nursery are grown with several production methods. The larger trees are grown in the field in tree farms, and mechanically harvested with a root ball that is burlapped and often stabilized further with a metal basket. The smaller trees that we offer are generally grown from liner plants in their plastic retail-ready containers.

There are many advantages to planting a smaller, containerized tree. Because containerized trees have their entire root system in place, there is minimal risk of transplant shock. Risk of damage during shipping and receiving is also much less, as a narrow canopy with young, supple branches is more easily handled than a large one with brittle branches. Smaller trees also have more time to acclimate to weather and soil conditions in our area before they reach mature size, giving them a leg up on mature balled and burlapped trees.

Check out our YouTube video on planting a tree grown in a container:

Boxwood Blight

Cylandrocladium pseudonaviculatum or C. buxicola 

Boxwood blight is a serious fungal infection of all plants in the genus Buxus. It is also known to infect Pachysandra. Although research is ongoing, we do know what it looks like and how it infects plants. During warm humid weather, spores of the Cylandrocladium fungus germinate on the moist leaves and stems of Boxwood. Wounds are not necessary for the fungus to enter the tissue. Brown spots with dark edges appear on the leaves, as well as blights, black cankers on stems and subsequent rapid defoliation and dieback. The disease life cycle can be completed within one week during optimum weather conditions.

Boxwood blight is not spread through airborne spores like other fungal infections. Spores are held together in sticky masses and are transferred to other plants by direct contact, use of infected tools, splashing and wind-driven rain. Fungicides are being studied that will limit the spread of the disease, but so far there is no cure. Sanitation is paramount to limit spread of boxwood blight. Disinfect tools between plants during maintenance practices, such as shearing. Remove and destroy infected plants, fallen leaves and stems. Inoculum can survive in leaf litter for at least 10 years and cause new infections.

Currently, experts recommend not introducing new boxwood to historical or significant gardens until more study is done.

Research has shown that Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’, Dwarf English Boxwood, is extremely susceptible to this blight. We have begun to limit stock of this type of boxwood. If ‘Suffruticosa’ is needed for a project we will ship it in, but require that customers take receipt of the entire shipment upon arrival.

We are taking all prudent steps to identify, contain and destroy infected plants that are found in the nursery, and will keep our customers up to date with new research as it becomes available.

Further information about Boxwood Blight can be found at and University extension sites.

Check out our Pinterest board for photos of Boxwood Blight, and other fungal infections and pests that affect Boxwood: