Tennessee Gardener Web Articles
Nan K. Chase is co-author, with DeNeice C. Guest, of Drink the Harvest: Making and Preserving Juices, Wines, Meads, Teas, and Cider. She has started collecting boxwood and ferns for her Asheville, N.C., garden.

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Green on Green
by Nan K. Chase       #Ornamentals   #Themed Gardens

This green-on-green landscape has it all: variations in height, shade and texture.


Sometimes we go overboard with color in the garden: carpets of pastel bulbs in spring, big bold patches of orange and red and purple in summer, and then washes of crimson and gold in fall.

If it’s a crime to plant loads of color, then I plead guilty. Color just feels good. Or does it?

The last few years during my morning walks around my neighborhood, I began to notice that my eyes were continually seeking out green-on-green gardens, landscapes that relied on nothing for their beauty other than year-round evergreens and perhaps a lawn area and some especially bright green summer additions.

These islands of green, especially when well maintained and planted in harmonious combinations of shape, size, texture and tone, are so calming to the eye. Winter, spring, summer, fall: A green-on-green garden looks lush and healthy, elegant on any size property.

During my walks, as season followed season, I noted that all of the most appealing green gardens had several specific components:

 

Embrace the shade by planting this classic composition: ferns, moss and hydrangeas.

Composition and Definition
The composition – the mix of plants and their placement – in any green-on-green garden usually falls into one of two categories: uniformity of color and texture for a smooth and ultra-calming feel, or a crazy quilt of contrasting shade and texture (all green, mind you) to create visual stimulation.

On a large lot, particularly one with a large house, the uniform look is undeniably regal. Wide plantings of just a few species create a stunning backdrop for a single specimen tree with a splash of color; say, a Japanese maple set amid an expanse of low pines and ferns.

Even a small yard can have a much grander feel if it contains a mix of plants that draws the eye here and there or strong contrasts, such as a closely-cropped boxwood hedge.

In any case, what I call definition is the practice of separating each plant from its neighbor with a ribbon of space, a little gap where pruning leaves just an inch of air. Plant as many different things as you like, but make sure to keep them looking sharp by defining each one.


This long view of the Virginia plantation Gunston Hall includes a sweep of lawn, billowing boxwood and well-spaced evergreen and deciduous trees – a symphony in green.


Form: Shape and Height
Remember that evergreen plants can range from just a few inches tall, in the case of mosses and sedums and ivies, to hundreds of feet high, such as the largest conifers. In between those extremes, you will find endless variety. As you shop for plants to design a green-on-green garden, be sure to note the estimated mature heights of all plants in order to create fullness and privacy without too much overlapping vegetation.

And keep in mind that some plants are naturally slender, some are low and spreading, while others grow into rounded or conical forms or may even trail over a wall or container. Don’t crowd too many of the same form together, but fit different shapes around each other for maximum depth and finesse.


A shady all-green landscape plan brings the temperature way down, no matter how hot the setting, and the slightly shaggy look makes it easy to relax underneath the boughs.


Color: Tone and Shading
So many greens! Boxwood … consider those shapely branches a standard “medium green.” But green includes so many other shades – from almost white to nearly black, yellow green, blue green, pale creamy green, light clear green, dark green that blends into purple, and on and on.

With so many greens, it’s easy to end up with a muddled look when designing a green garden. Plant only what you really like – preferably in just a few shades – until you decide how plants look together through the seasons. I like sharp contrast, like a bright mid-green hosta next to the dark leaves of rhododendron, or a blue-green hosta next to fresh green ferns.

Think of greens as a fashion statement. The medium green of boxwood is like denim: It goes with everything, from hot chartreuse green to the shadowy underside of Bosnian pine (Pinus leucodermis).


The formal garden at North Carolina’s Tryon Palace is rich with textures and shades of green – from the lightest green hydrangea blossoms, through the green of boxwood, to the darkest green undersides of bay laurel (foreground).


Texture: Mix or Match
Consider a magnolia, a holly tree or a camellia; the leaves are glossy and actually reflect a lot of light. Conifers may have a rough, shaggy texture that absorbs light. Ferns are airy and move in the slightest breeze, whereas cacti and yuccas are generally rigid and have fine tendrils or clumps of spines that throw their own delicate shadows and hold winter’s snow in sculptural patterns.

Use texture as a way to extend the green garden, since the same shade of green may actually appear in many different “looks” depending on surface texture.


This streetscape offers shades of green even in late winter, before most trees have leafed out. Various shades of evergreens are punctuated by the bright spots of color of a white pine.


Green Groupings
What to plant? Here are plant groupings that may give you some new ideas. A green-on-green landscape needs strong evergreen structure: height, width, shape, and density or openness of branch structure.

Bowwood can provide much-needed structure in a green-on-green garden. Boxwood can live hundreds of years and survive low winter temperatures.

Boxwood (Buxus spp.) or holly (Ilex spp.): What’s the difference? There are many boxwood cultivars, the same with holly. In some cases they look nearly identical and can function the same way: an evergreen backbone that can be massed and shaped any way you like, or left to grow naturally. An easy way to tell them apart is by leaf arrangement: Boxwood have opposite leaves, while holly have alternate leaves. Boxwood growth is softer; holly more stiff.

Hosta: Made for shade, hostas come in every green imaginable, with a huge variations in leaf size, shape and colors. It can be fun to bring something new into the garden and then watch it take hold.

Ferns: A large planting of ferns can brighten up a dark corner of a green-on-green garden. There is an amazing range of size, shapes and textures. Once established, they fill in quickly.

Conifers: This is a group of plants with endless interest. Look to dwarf conifers that won’t grow out of bounds; some are even small enough to grow in containers.

Cacti and friends: Are deer a problem where you live? They might leave cacti alone, and you can enjoy their phenomenal shapes unfolding all year. As wildflowers, many cactus varieties can withstand freezing temperatures as well as hot beach sand. The same goes for handsome Yucca filamentosa, which is available in both green and variegated forms.

Spineless succulent plants are also available in many shapes and colors, so mix them into the green garden here and there.

Green flowers: Many summer favorites come in green or near-green shades, including roses, gladioli (Gladiolus spp.), Chrysanthemum, daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.), hellebores (Helleborus spp.), bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis) and Hydrangea.

 

A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 26 Number 6.
Photography courtesy of Rita Randolph, Emily Jenkins Followill, Nan K. Chase, and Phillip Oliver.

 

Posted: 06/28/17   RSS | Print

 

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Tropical Plants
by Jean Starr       #Colorful   #Unusual

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The plants in this garden all serve a purpose: food and medicine for man and beast (and insects).


“Go big or stay at home.” It’s become one of my springtime battle cries. Like me, my garden is becoming mature, (perhaps overgrown?), with plants becoming more relaxed, settled in and, some may even say, sloppy. It cries out for some eye-catching eye candy, something with a stately presence.

Luckily, Midwest garden centers finally are embracing the beauty of the tropics, so big plants are not hard to find. And I’m not talking about hardy shrubbery. Elephant ears, papyrus and tiger-striped cannas beckon and find rides in my cart along with the premium annuals and promising perennials.

‘Midori Sour’ Colocasia warrants its own container, as it has so much going for it, from its mottled chartreuse/blue-green leaves to its rose-colored spot where the stem joins the leaf.

What makes a plant “tropical?” Its origin is in the tropics, consistently hot and humid places throughout the world that serve up warm nights and steamy days, much like a Midwest summer.

Two plants that give you the best tropical bang for the buck are Colocasia and Alocasia, both of which have fallen into the collective category commonly called elephant ears. Both are in the Aroid family along with callas (Zantedeschia aethiopica) and caladiums.


Give them space
Mindy Walter, lead gardener at Como Park Zoo & Conservatory uses lots of large tropicals in the summer landscape. Mindy is responsible for all of the outside spaces, including the greater Como Park area and the zoo exhibits.

“We use a lot of palms and Alocasia, which is a steady winner for us because it makes a bold statement and takes the heat,” Walter said. “We can get them started early so they’re sizeable by the time we put them outside.” Staff at the gardens also plant bird of paradise, bananas (Musa spp., Ensete spp.), gingers (Zingiber spp.), cannas and Colocasia.

Some of the easiest to grow outdoors are birds of paradise, or Strelitzia. “You don’t have to fuss with them a whole lot,” she explained. “They only need grooming every couple of weeks.” Walter uses white bird of paradise in the zoo’s screened Butterfly Exhibit.

All of the overwintered tropical plants used in the outdoor exhibits are given a head start in the greenhouse so that they’re 3-4 feet high by late March. Walter says the conservatory soil is a custom mix containing peat, rock wool, and black dirt. “It works well in the pots for drainage,” she said. “We also use Osmocote, a slow-release fertilizer.”
 

Left: A gloriosa lily brings the look of the tropics to any garden. Middle: One of the best indoor-outdoor plants, ‘Amethyst Stars’ Pseuderanthemum laxiflorum is a tender shrub that is easy to start from cuttings and is a constant bloomer. Right: Vigna caracalla is an unusual and gorgeously fragrant flower that blooms on a fast-growing vine and likes full sun.


Tropicals in every garden
Barbara Weirich, designer/founder of Lake Cliff Gardens uses tropical plants in a big way. Each spring, she goes through the painstaking process of populating her private, 5-acre garden with tropical plants, most of which are kept in a greenhouse off-site.

“I have a lot of tropicals in every garden; even in the Asian collection where I have more shade,” Weirich said. “I find that those that tolerate more shade do better inside.”

She also starts around 800 seedlings each year for use in the gardens. Two of her started-from-seed standards are castor beans (Ricinus communis) and Hibiscus.


Barbara Weirich’s Lake Cliff Garden features loads of tropicals, such as castor bean, Dracaena and Eucomis. A few zinnias add spot color.
 

Although poisonous, castor bean provides one of the fastest-growing tropical-looking plants you can grow. Will Giles calls castor bean “a fantastic instant foliage plant for the exotic garden,” in his Encyclopedia of Exotic Plants for Temperate Climates.

If asked to name just one plant she couldn’t live without, one of the first on Weirich’s long list would be ‘Mahogany Splendor’ Hibiscus (H. acetosella ‘Mahogany Splendor’). “They can be cut as short as you want to keep them,” she said. “You almost never see a bloom, but you don’t need it.”


Brazilian fireworks is the common name for Porphyrocoma pholiana, which can do double-duty as a houseplant and still put on a show.


Easy to find
Two other favorites that are easy to find at garden centers are Acalypha and coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides). Weirich likes to plant coleus beneath the banana plants. “They’re easy from seed and from cuttings. Now that there are so many types that take more sun, you can use them just about anywhere.”

With common names like copperleaf and jungle cloak, Acalypha species range from rangy to delicate. Acalypha hispida, often referred to as chenille plant, is known for its pink, cattail-like flowers that dangle from its pale green leaves. Acalypha wilkesiana ‘Tricolor’ is a colorful upright grower that can reach up to 5 feet in a summer, but can be pruned to size.

As for fueling the growth, Weirich uses various fertilizers at different intervals on the soil surface.


If you have a spot in the shade and a hankering for something besides Hosta, give Piper auratum a try.
 

Although using tropical plants in a temperate climate might seem like a new trend, it was really big in England during the Victorian Era (1837-1901). This period coincided with a time when the British empire was expanding into Africa, Asia, and India, where plant explorers were engaged in the discovery and collection of thousands of living treasures. It was the gentrified class that drove the discoveries. Business owners saw opportunities to cash in on the booming demand for plants fueled by the rising middle class and their newly-constructed communities.

In 1845, Britain repealed the glass tax, a method of taxing residents based on the number of windows built into their houses. Glass became cheaper to be manufactured and the Wardian case (devised to carry plants by ship from British colonies) was taken to the next level when glasshouses were built onto houses.

Even without a glass tax, most of us don’t have “glasshouses.” But with continuing discoveries and expanded hybridization, we can certainly acquire and grow as many tropical plants as we’d like.

 

A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Jean Starr.

 

Posted: 06/28/17   RSS | Print

 

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Bare Root Basics
by Helen Newling Lawson    

Studies have shown that hosta establish quicker when planted from bare-root than from containers.


You’ve finally tracked down that plant your local nurseries don’t carry, and at a great price to boot! But the description says, “Ships bare root.” Not sure what that means? Or are you afraid of getting a bunch of dead-looking roots that won’t grow? 

Well, there’s some good news. Since bare-root plants are already in a dormant state (the best time to plant trees, shrubs, and perennials), by using the right techniques you’ll have plants that require less recovery time, they’ll be less stressed, and will grow faster. Another bonus: bare-root plants are typically cheaper than container-grown plants. 


Here’s how it works
 

Dig your planting hole wide, not deep, and build up a “cone” of soil in the center.

1. Don’t delay! The roots will be packed to stay moist in transit, but they need to be covered with soil as soon as possible.

• Most mail-order nurseries will time your shipment for the correct planting window. In the South, the best time is late winter through early spring so the roots can establish before the plant breaks dormancy.
• Have the planting bed ready. Break up any clods and remove rocks. Have the soil analyzed and amend as needed. UGA Extension warns that amending only the backfill soil into individual planting holes can keep roots too wet. If the soil does need amendments, amend the entire bed rather than individual planting holes.


2. Prep

• Wet the roots thoroughly but don’t let them soak in water much longer than an hour or so – they can suffocate. If the roots are very dry or have black tips, don’t buy it or call to ask for a replacement. 
• Gently untangle the roots and dig your planting hole deep and wide enough to accommodate the roots. 


 

Left: Get a handle on planting depth: Use your shovel as a guide to make sure the crown is above ground. Middle: You can hold your plant in place at the correct height as you fill in the planting hole. Right: The entire top portion of the plant (crown) should be visible after planting.


3. Plant at the right height

• On plants with a woody stem, like trees, look for a color change in the bark to show where the soil covered it. Don’t plant it any deeper than that line. 
• Research from Cornell University has found planting “high” to be critical for success when planting woody plants such as Rhododendron, dogwood (Cornus spp.), as well as perennials such as Hosta, Geranium, and Astilbe. Remember to allow for soil settling.
• Place the plant on a cone of dirt in the center of your hole and fan the roots around it. Rest a shovel handle across the hole to make sure the crown is at or above the soil line. If in doubt, plant on the high side!


Fill the planting hole with water right before backfilling the soil.


4. Care

• Water deeply and apply mulch, making sure to keep it several inches out from the trunk or crown.
• Do any needed pruning or training before new growth occurs.
• Mark where you planted bare-root perennials. With no top growth until the plant breaks dormancy, you may forget they are there!

 

A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of AmericanMeadows.com and Helen Newling Lawson.


 

 

Posted: 06/28/17   RSS | Print

 

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Midsummer Checkup
by Charlotte Kidd       #Advice   #Pests   #Summer

A sustainable, healthy rose garden has perennials such as Acanthus sp. that attract pollinators and beneficial insects.


Tall, multicolored ‘Granny’s Bouquet’ zinnias flourish in the sunny border. We’ve been clipping them regularly for the table, which encourages new flowering. Heritage garden roses are into their second or third flush. Landscape roses continue strong and brighter than ever. Grape, patio and large luscious tomatoes are at peak production. Yellow and green summer squash are so prolific that neighbors walk the other way when they see you carrying yet another vegetable.

July and August also can bring out the worst in marginally healthy plants. Plants are a collection of living cells, just like us. We’re more susceptible to going downhill fast when stressed, underfed, dehydrated, injured, too hot or too cold.

Same with plants. Diseases and pests will take advantage of distressed, crowded, water-deprived, underfed or overfed, overheated, damaged or weak plants. Powdery mildew spews onto phlox and rose leaves. Aphids reproduce by the hundreds to suck juices from plump new buds and leaves.

Even healthy plants can be pest fodder. Japanese beetles devour many plants, including hibiscus, beans, zinnias and crapemyrtle.

Below is a list of tasks to keep the garden healthy and looking good through midsummer.

 

Topping off or refreshing shredded bark mulch stifles weeds and nicely defines shady beds.

Prevention
• Water generously at the roots (not in the air). Roots (not leaves) absorb water that carries nutrients.
• Give plants a pickup with compost and kelp (liquid or meal).
• Remove garden debris.
• Improve air circulation and rain penetration.
• Plant flowers and herbs with pollen and nectar that attracts beneficial insects—daisies, coreopsis, cosmos, goldenrod, dill, tansy, yarrow, fennel, Queen Anne’s lace and thyme.


Garden Tidying
• Keep paths open and weed-free. Tidy paths welcome you and visitors into the garden for leisure and enjoyment as well as work. Refresh with straw or wood chips where the soil is visible.
• Weed!
• Remove dead leaves and flowers.
• Refresh or “fluff” organic mulches. Pull mulch away from the base of perennials, shrubs and trees. Mulch pushed up against stems, branches or bark is an invitation for fungi to rot the plant and insects to invade.
• In the veggie garden, pick ripe veggies and fruits. Pull out spent beans, borer-infested summer squash, bolting lettuce and spinach and split radishes. Plant cold-weather veggies for autumn harvest.


Get Your Rogue On
“Roguing” is removing and destroying infested, badly diseased or damaged plant material. Prune and rake out diseased leaves, stems or branches. Dig out diseased roots. Bag this plant debris for disposal — put it out for trash pickup or as yard waste for community composting at high temperatures.


Remedies
Powdery mildew thrives in high humidity. Cornell University researchers have found 1 tablespoon of baking soda plus 2.5 tablespoons of Sun Spray Ultra-Fine Year Round Pesticidal Oil in 1 gallon of water to be an effective, nontoxic control of this fungal disease on roses.

The first step to removing aphids is clipping off infested plant parts, then using a strong spray of water to wash off the rest. Beneficial insects—parasitic wasps, lady bird beetles, green lace wings and syrphid flies—are top biological controls. Insecticidal soap, neem oil and supreme horticultural oil are the least toxic chemical controls.


A swarm of aphids attacks a bud.
 

For home gardens, handpicking Japanese beetles as soon as you see them is recommended over chemical controls. Shake and pick them off early in the morning when they’re sluggish. Dropping them into soapy water will kill them. Start removal when you see the first beetle. Japanese beetles produce pheromones that attract more Japanese beetles.

For black spot on roses, first, choose a rose cultivar that’s resistant to black spot. Second, provide roses with eight to 10 hours of sun and excellent air circulation. Cultural practices to control this fungus start with keeping rose foliage dry. Why? To germinate, spores must be wet for at least seven hours. Black spot fungus lives in fallen leaves and infected canes. So remove infested leaves. Rake up and discard all fallen leaves. Prune and discard infected canes. Disinfect pruner blades between cuts when clipping infected plant material. When using a fungicide spray, add a sticker spreader for better coverage.


Pace and Reward Yourself
If the garden looks too unmanageable or you feel overwhelmed, step back and breathe deeply. Once. Twice. Thrice. Okay, now which corner is most bothersome? Tackle that one space for now. Focus on it; tidy it. Then give yourself a pat on the back, a soothing foot massage and a refreshing beverage. Choose another spot the next time.

 

A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Eag1e@dreamstime.com and Zkruger@dreamstime.com.

 

Posted: 06/28/17   RSS | Print

 

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You Can’t Have Too Much of a Good Thing
by Karen Atkins       #Edibles   #Recipes   #Vegetables

Pick zucchini when it is still small for the best taste.


This is the time of year when we go from just harvesting to harvesting in earnest. You actually have to have a plan. What you can’t eat, freeze or can now, you need to give away and give away fast. Here are some great ways to make the most of your bounty.


Pan-Toasted Eggplant and Fresh Mozzarella
I found Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking in a used bookstore in Fayetteville, Ark. Years later, I learned that it was one of Martha Stewart’s favorite cookbooks. It’s the best $2 I ever spent, and this recipe is a keeper.

I adapted it to have more “gloppins,” as my husband calls the crunchy, garlicky topping. The trick is making sure you buy the best mozzarella possible. Most large grocery stores carry the good kind now. Look for mozzarella kept soft in liquid, either in a tub or in the self-serve olive bar. You won’t get any complaints though, if you can only find the ordinary mozzarella that comes packaged like a little softball.

Ingredients:
8 small (but not baby) eggplants
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
½ cup Italian-flavored bread crumbs
½ cup olive oil
¾ pound fresh buffalo-milk mozzarella, sliced ¼-inch thick.
Salt
Pepper

Directions:
1. Take each eggplant and slice in half, lengthwise. Use a short, sharp knife to cut the flesh in a crosshatch (diagonally in both directions.) Cut the flesh deeply but be very careful not to slice through the skin.

2. Lay the eggplant halves skin-side down in a large, deep skillet or sauté pan. They take up some room, so you may need to use two pans.

3. Mix garlic, breadcrumbs and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a bowl.

4. Lightly toast the mixture in a skillet, or on a cookie sheet until just browned.

5. Spoon mixture over the eggplant. Let the mixture cool, then use the back of a spoon to push it into the crevices you created by scoring it.

6. Pour the remaining oil evenly over the eggplant and into the pan.

7. Cook covered, over medium-low heat, until the eggplant is very tender when tested with a fork.

8. Top each eggplant half with a layer of sliced mozzarella and then turn the heat up to medium.

9. Cover the pan again and cook just until the cheese has melted.


Homemade tomato sauce contains six times more lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, than fresh tomatoes.


Easy, Quick Tomato Sauce
The only thing I learned to make from my Irish grandmothers was reservations. I had to figure out how to make a good, basic tomato sauce for myself. This is good on pasta, on top of grilled chicken breasts, or roasted or grilled vegetables. Serves four generously.

Ingredients:
1 cup butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced crosswise
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh garlic
¼ cup water
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled, sliced lengthwise and seeded. (We like to use ‘Roma’ tomatoes, since they are meatier and have fewer seeds, but use what you have. If you are using ‘Roma’, it will take about a dozen.)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1½ cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped

Midsummer Gardening Tips:

• Water, water, water. Vegetables need at least 2 inches of water a week. Use soaker hoses, rather than watering from overhead. This ensures water gets to the roots of plants, where it is needed most, and it reduces opportunistic fungus disease.

• Weed. Weeds steal moisture, nutrients and space from desirable plants.

• Reapply mulch, if regular weeding has resulted in loss of good cover.

• Pick zucchini and eggplant when small for a better-tasting, tender vegetable.

• Pick tomatoes frequently to encourage more production. To prevent bruising and cracking, pick tomatoes when they are mostly dark green and just beginning to turn red. Allow them to ripen off of the vine.

• Give away your harvest. Billions of pounds of food, enough to completely eliminate hunger, is thrown away each year. Visit ampleharvest.org or contact Garden Writers Association’s Plant-a-Row for the Hungry (877-492-2727) to find a local food pantry or soup kitchen.

Directions:
1. In a large pot over medium heat, melt the butter with the onion, garlic and water. Cover.

2. Cook gently for about 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent.

3. Add the tomatoes and cover partially, cooking for another 20 minutes.

4. Remove the sauce from the heat, stirring in the salt and the sugar.

5. Just before serving, toss in the fresh basil.


Zucchini Ribbon Salad
This is a refreshing, light and pretty salad. Serves four.

Ingredients:
4 small zucchini
1 6-ounce piece of Parmigiano Reggiano
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 teaspoons lemon juice
Sea salt to taste

Directions:
1. Use a potato peeler to slice the zucchini into ribbons.

2. Mix the olive oil, lemon juice and salt together.

3. Pour it over the zucchini and toss.

4. Divide it evenly among four plates.

5. Shave the cheese with the vegetable peeler, to taste, over each plate.

6. Serve after the dressing has softened the zucchini, about 15 minutes.
 

(Have too much zucchini? My friend, Dan, shreds it and freezes it in plastic bags, then makes it into bread throughout the year.)

 

A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Eag1e@dreamstime.com and Zkruger@dreamstime.com.

 

Posted: 06/27/17   RSS | Print

 

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Bridges in the Garden
by Taimi Anderson       #Design   #Hardscaping   #Misc

Bridges come in many shapes and forms, and many have a story behind them. This zig-zag arrangement of wooden planks placed at right angles supposedly discourages evil spirits from following you as you travel across the pond.


The most admired image of a garden bridge is the one at Giverny in France, immortalized in paintings by Claude Monet and photographed by scores of visitors intent on capturing Monet’s vision. Gently arching over a narrow part of the lily pond, this Japanese-style bridge has green railings and an arbor that rises above it, entwined with trailing wisteria vines. Looking across the glistening pond filled with waterlilies, the bridge creates a romantic and dreamy background in harmony with the graceful weeping willows and the green lushness of the garden.

Garden bridges can be both purposeful and enchanting. They not only provide access across a pond, a small stream, a ravine or a swale, but can also create a dramatic focal point. Bridges are a symbol of transition and passage, and are often considered a metaphor for life. Crossing a bridge and looking down into a swiftly flowing stream or still pond opens up vistas into and across the water. It also gives you a new perspective as you view the garden from such a vantage point.


Paths across water can be simple and still elegant. A few strategically placed stepping stones are all that’s needed to get people across this still stream.
 

Adding a bridge to your garden isn’t easy if you’re dealing with a wide expanse. A bridge crossing over a stream or ravine has to be of sturdy construction, with concrete footings or abutments at either end and steel or wood beams to support the bridge and its decking. For longer spans, support posts or piers are placed in the center or at intervals along the bridge. Railings provide a safety feature and can be designed in attractive patterns. But garden foot bridges can be an easier solution, and are often constructed from readily available prefabricated bridge kits. These are suitable for spanning a small water feature, a swale or a trickling rivulet.


A sturdy wooden bridge with just one railing helps visitors to the Wildlife Garden of the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants feel like a part of the garden.


Designing with a Bridge
There are many ways a bridge can be an integral part of your garden design. A picturesque wooden bridge arches gracefully over a dry stream bed in the Hoffman garden in Chapel Hill. Reminiscent of Japanese-style bridges, it is located adjacent to a small pond surrounded by irises and oakleaf hydrangeas. The white flowers of the iris and hydrangeas are reflected in the dark water of the pond, and together with the arched footbridge make a lovely focal point in the garden.

Crossing the bridge you leave the formal garden spaces near the house and enter a shady woodland of native trees and wildflowers. The bridge is a charming transition from one world into another.


Chippendale-patterned railings add a touch of elegance to a functional element. This bridge helps visitors discover all parts of the Prather garden, while adding its own design statement.
 

Bridges can also lead out of the garden into the surrounding landscape. An arched bridge with elegant Chippendale-patterned railings crosses a small stream as it leads from the Prathers’ woodland garden in across a small stream to the adjoining open space. With its well-crafted design, the bridge is not only a necessary means of getting across water, but it is also an eye-catching feature of the garden.

To see various styles of bridges, from small footbridges to handsome wooden bridges and sturdy stone bridges, you can visit the Sarah P. Duke Gardens on Duke University campus in Durham, N.C. This beautiful garden is situated along the slopes of a valley with a stream flowing at its base, so there was ample opportunity to construct bridges that lead over the stream and pond and across rivulets, gullies and ravines. With over a dozen bridge structures to explore and cross, it is a treasure trove of bridge designs, each tailor-made for its location and purpose.


A brightly colored Japanese-style bridge provides the perfect spot to view the beauty of the Teien-oike pond at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham, N.C.
 

One of them is the bright vermillion Japanese-style bridge at the Teien-oike pond. In a gentle arch it leads across the north end of the pond. On calm days a reflection of the bridge is cast on the still water, nearly completing a full circle. In the spring irises bloom along the shore nearby and weeping cherry trees are draped in delicate white and pink blossoms. From the top of the bridge the view leads across the length of the pond, as two elegant, black-necked swans glide across the water.

The small stream that flows through the gardens moves gently between boulders and grassy slopes. The graceful Iris Bridge crosses the stream in a high arch. An artistic railing of iris blossoms and leaves, designed by sculptor Jim Gallucci, echoes the irises flourishing along the rocks in the stream bed. Strips of wood across the decking boards steady your steps, and underpinnings of tubular steel members are supported by concrete footings. The bridge, surrounded by softly billowing grasses, is a charming sight as it nestles into the terrain.


Bridges are sometimes necessary to get people and vehicles across bodies of water, but they can still be beautiful. Duke stone helps this bridge blend into the architectural design of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens.
 

Farther on, the stream is crossed by a sturdy stone bridge, handsome in its design of coping and Duke stone construction. It is designed to carry not only visitors on foot but also light vehicular traffic.

In the Wildlife Garden of the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, a torrent of a mountain stream cascades over well-placed boulders. Two wooden bridges cross the stream in low arches. Sturdy laminated wood beams hold the decking boards, and a rustic rail of a red cedar logs gives a natural feel. These bridges are a fitting touch in this garden of native plants that offer sustenance to wildlife. The bridges lift you up above the rushing water and bring you close to the flourishing native shrubs and wildflowers and their blossoms and berries.


This small yet intricate stone bridge was based on a keystone design by master stonemason Brooks Burleson.
 

Beyond the Doris Duke Center Gardens, a path leads to a handsome wooden bridge that spans across a deep ravine in the Spring Woodland Garden. The bridge presents a passage from the more formal garden areas into a natural and serene woodland setting. From the heights of the bridge, you get a view into the fern valley, shaded by mature oaks, maples and pines, with drifts of wildflowers and spring-blooming trees and shrubs along the slopes.

Farther down, as the path and steps wind through the woodland, you cross another bridge of beautiful stone construction based on a keystone design by master stonemason Brooks Burleson.

In this garden and others, each bridge is an artistic expression, crafted to complement its setting both in materials and construction. Think of your bridges as giving visitors a heightened awareness as they traverse from one garden setting to another, enjoying views into spaces otherwise not accessible.


Even a concrete bridge can be a wonderful design element. The slight curve this bridge takes over the stream helps make it more than just a simple path across water.
 

Placing a footbridge into your garden, to cross a water feature or a simulated dry creek bed, creates a delightful focal point. It’s not just one to look at but to experience, and gives that special sensation of being lifted up above the mundane, as the bridge carries you from one garden realm into another.

 

 

 

Posted: 06/20/17   RSS | Print

 

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The Thrill of a Threshold
by Helen Yoest       #Design   #Hardscaping   #Misc

The garden of legendary Coach Vince Dooley in Georgia has a threshold that not only changes your perspective once you have passed under his natural arbor of a trained weeping katsura, but it also makes you want to stop within to simply enjoy being there.


New beginnings are easily born on thresholds. Whether it’s in the garden or in life, this point of transition symbolizes a new beginning. For brides, being carried across the threshold of a new home marks the start of a new phase of life. For my own wedding in 1988, my husband and I were married on the banks of the Elizabeth River in Portsmouth, Va., on a dock that served as the threshold of our new life together.

A threshold is where one moves from one space to the next – an arbor, a bridge, a gate, a break in the hedge, a set of dramatic steps leading to a level change or even a pair of columns – made of either shrubs or trees, or hardscape materials. They punctuate a space, alerting visitors they are about to experience a change in scenery.

In the garden, thresholds serve the role of guiding friends and visitors towards a gathering place. Whether it’s one or two people moving from one area to another, or a group strolling through a garden, thresholds are a cue that something different lies ahead. It is not uncommon to reach a threshold and intuitively know to stop and observe.


Asian garden design often incorporates thresholds. Slowing the walk by adding this portal makes it almost impossible to rush through the garden. This portal slows visitors, encouraging them to fully take in their surroundings.
 

I have one particular spot in my garden, Helen’s Haven, where I can count on hearing a visitor’s gasp upon seeing that particular garden for the first time. I’ve often wondered if the gardens they see are really that dramatic, or if it’s because I placed the threshold just right, creating the perfect view for maximum impact. In either case, it demonstrates the power of a threshold.

Thresholds can make a small garden feel bigger by subtly separating areas that serve different functions. They can also frame a view. Take a look around your property to see where you can take advantage of transitional spaces, and then decide what type of threshold would work best for that area.


Arbors
Any garden, large or small, has room for at least one arbor. Take a stroll around your property and look for areas you can divide and make more of the space. This is an idea known as multiplication by division — expanding the space by dividing the area into smaller sections. Magically, the garden appears larger by breaking it up into smaller, distinct areas.

Your arbor can serve as the “doorway” to a garden room by adding a low fence or hedge to create walls. Arbors also direct traffic through the garden, enticing visitors to come in. Adding paths and walls creates transitional points for different rooms.

 

Left: A simple arbor, softened by Clematis armandii, leads to a secret garden beyond. Middle: A garden gate serves as a portal from one garden area to the next. When passing through a garden gate, we naturally want to stop and pause to take in the view. Right: A wide, bold arbor, painted to match the home’s trim, visually connects the house to the garden. It also serves as a threshold to the garden beyond.


Gates
Garden gates make a major statement about who you are as a gardener. Whether created from man-made materials, plants or just an opening in a hedgerow, they are much more than utilitarian entryways. Passing through a garden gate surrounded by plants can make you feel like you’re entering a different world.

In a way, garden gates complete a garden. They serve different functions depending on whether or not they are open or closed. When open, they’re a warm welcome and invitation to the garden beyond. When closed, gates can create a feeling of privacy for those within the garden.


A level change can serve as the threshold for the garden above.


Steps and Stairs
Creating changes in elevation in an otherwise flat garden offers the eyes different spots to pause and enjoy, rather than taking in the whole flat area at a glance. If you are adding a sunken garden or any other design element that results in elevation change, you can use the excavated soil to build raised beds surrounding the newly created garden or elsewhere in the landscape.

In any case, level changes should be part of the journey, not just a way to facilitate movement from one part of the garden to another. Evaluate your needs and the contour of your land to ensure you are gardening your level best.

Once you’ve created your threshold, it’s time to make it part of the garden. Plant a trailing clematis or climbing rose on your arbor to bring it to life in the summer months. Entice people to walk through your garden gate by installing a pathway to it with stepping-stones interplanted with soft green moss. Make the few stairs leading to your sunken garden even more inviting by planting sweet-smelling herbs to satisfy the sense of smell as you enter this new part of the landscape.

 

A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 25 Number 6.
Photography courtesy of Helen Yoest.

 

Posted: 06/20/17   RSS | Print

 

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The Art and Science of Concrete
by Susan Jasan       #Design   #Hardscaping   #Misc

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remember when creating your design, that plants can also stain concrete. Holly berries make an interesting contrast here, though many times even the colored blooms of plants can create unwanted stains in concrete.


The hardscape of a landscape provides the “bones” of an overall design. Typical hardscape features are patios, pathways, stairways and various garden structures.

Concrete is often used for paved areas, and the number of options available to homeowners is only limited by one’s imagination. The bright white of new concrete is highly reflective and sometimes isn’t the first choice of a finish. Given a little bit of time, any concrete will begin to age and the bright-white tones will mute to a tan, earthen color simply through normal weathering.

It sure looks simple when the concrete truck pulls up and the mixture is poured into forms. Expert laborers work the concrete, and before you know it, there’s a new walkway or patio. Seems simple, but it requires both art and science to do it correctly and do it well.

Just as with planting your favorite new nursery plant, ground preparation is the key. This is true for the installation of any concrete material. Depending on the soil type, compaction of a sub-base may be required, as well as installation of material for subsurface drainage. The goal is to keep even soil-moisture content under your concrete. In some cases, a moisture barrier should be placed between the base material and the concrete itself to prevent moisture wicking up through the concrete to the surface.


Contrasting concrete borders can tie a site together. Here the color of the coping is repeated on the stairs. The contrast is a visual reminder for guests that there are stairs transitioning between the two levels of the backyard.
 

Equally important is temperature. The ideal temperature range for pouring concrete, and it to cure, is 50 to 85 F. Pouring concrete in higher temperatures is often necessary, but special steps must be taken to guarantee a quality finished product. The pros know!

Consider incorporating natural stone in large concrete patio areas to add definition. Here, a flagstone border is inset within the concrete of the patio. Note the joints are set on a 45-degree angle for the interior pattern of this sitting area. Simple details add the finishing touch to a project.

Concrete poured on grade should have steel reinforcing to reduce cracking as much as possible. Rebar, a steel reinforcing bar, is often used. Sometimes a welded wire mesh of 6-inch-square grids can be used. Typically the reinforcement should be at least 2 inches below the surface, but it should also be pulled up into the body of the slab during the concrete installation, not left at the ground level beneath the concrete. Your specific project will determine the amount of steel and the size required.

Forms provide the framework for the concrete pour. Usually coarse sand or limestone “screenings” will be put in place before pouring the concrete. This helps keep the concrete at a uniform depth. This base and the forms should be sprayed with water shortly before pouring the concrete. Proper moisture in the surroundings, as well as in the concrete itself, is critical for proper curing.

As the concrete is worked into place, it is important that there are no air pockets or voids in the concrete. Working the pour with a shovel, hand tamping or a mechanical vibrator is the first step. Then a screed (long board) is drawn back and forth across the forms, leveling the concrete in the form. After screeding, the surface is typically tamped using a mechanical trowel or a float to give it a smooth finish.

Next comes the finishing with a steel trowel, wood float or a broom. The broom finish is the most common. It provides a good footing when wet, has a slight textural quality and is still relatively easy to clean.

As important as the overall design of the concrete feature and its proper installation, there is one additional step that must not be overlooked: the joints. Three types of joints are used to control cracking.

First, expansion joints are placed between separate pours of concrete and at regular intervals. They are also used to join differently shaped areas of concrete: curved sections to straight sections, or between slabs – such as buildings, retaining walls, steps and posts. It’s also the simple things that are often overlooked, such as using an expansion joint between an air-conditioning pad and a structure in order to reduce any vibration transfer from the AC unit to the house.

Wood or bituminous impregnated fiberboard is often used for expansion joints, which allows the natural expansion and contraction of concrete. In areas with expansive soils, such as clay, very often the joints should also be doweled together with steel to address the vertical changes that can occur between various sections of concrete.

 

Left: Stamped concrete can mimic natural stone, but at a much lower cost than stone veneered on a concrete base. Here the concrete walkway ties together multiple areas. Remember that the rise (height of a step) outdoors should be 6 inches, with a tread of 14-15 inches. Middle: This concrete pattern mimics a cut flagstone in color, texture and form. The sealer and grout color add to the look. Right: This concrete patio ties together a cooking and serving area (foreground), a dining area (middle ground) and a fire pit in the background. The countertops, as well as the seat walls, are all poured concrete. The color works well with the stone used in the bar area as well as the tones of the patio.


The second type is actually a series of control joints. Control joints do just that: They are meant to control where cracks occur in the concrete. The reality is that concrete will crack. It’s just a matter of where and when, so using control joints helps direct the crack along the joint without adversely affecting either the soundness of the concrete or its aesthetic value. Typically, a control joint is sawn or tooled to a depth of at least one-fourth or one-third the thickness of the concrete and is completed within 12-24 hours after finishing. Construction joints are located where the casting of the concrete can be stopped and separate large areas or structures.

Left: A single step is never desirable, unless a contrasting border on the upper portion of the landing announces the transition, as shown here. Shadows between surfaces are also good visual clues before transitions.

Right: Concrete can be used to edge flowerbeds.

If you’re thinking about pouring your own concrete patio, think about the joints as you lay out the design. Locating the joints in advance will help create a visual rhythm that can add to the overall aesthetics of your finished project. If the joint pattern isn’t well thought out, it becomes haphazard and you’ll end up with poor results despite your best efforts.

Remember to periodically install “sleeves” below your concrete. These are usually schedule-40 PVC pipes or similar, that allow for installation of future lighting, irrigation or utilities under your concrete walkway, patio or driveway, without having to disturb the concrete itself.

The timing of your concrete is also important. Ideally, ready-mixed concrete should be delivered and placed within 90 minutes after cement has been added to the mixture.

Stamped concrete has become very popular in recent years and can almost be considered an art form. The combination of patterns, colors and finishes is almost endless. It also takes a trained craftsman for the best results. In some cases, resealing stamped or colored concrete is important, but be sure to use the proper sealant. Some sealers can be very slippery when wet, so be sure to ask before selecting a sealer.

No matter your choice of concrete or any of the various staining, coloring or finishes, maintenance is still important. Sealing joints can prolong the life of the joint material. There are also a variety of joint fillers: from fiber, to plastics, to cork, and more that can add a special look to your finished project.

When planning any home improvement, consider not only the installation costs, but also the long-term benefits. Always consider the long-term maintenance, or the ease of maintenance, when choosing your materials.

Reputable concrete contractors can work magic in the landscape. Hardscape features are a significant investment and can add to your property value. They are also long-lasting features and add tremendous enjoyment to outdoor living areas.

 

NOTE: Thank you to Brian Cook, owner of Ozark Patterned Concrete, for sharing his expertise, as well as his designs and patterns, for this article.

 

A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Susan Jasan.

 

Posted: 06/20/17   RSS | Print

 

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The Allure of a Gazebo
by Anne Wood Humpheries       #Misc

Evergreen clematis covers the gazebo of Gail Norwood in Chapel Hill, N.C., an exact replica of the gazebo at the Benjamin Waller house in Colonial Williamsburg.


Whether for entertaining guests, enjoying the view or finding solitude, a garden gazebo adds a focal point to the landscape that draws the eye and invites a visit. The placement of the gazebo, materials used and the selection of surrounding plants are all elements that determine the style and personality of the gazebo and help tie it in with the existing home and landscape.


Four Gazebos, Each Designed for a Specific Purpose

A Williamsburg-Inspired Garden

Taking advantage of a steep incline, this hillside gazebo offers views of a pool built into the terrace, as well as the patio below.


At Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton, Md., a golden-toned pagoda-style gazebo echoes the tones of the surrounding garden.


A rustic wood gazebo fits perfectly into the naturalistic setting, and offers a relaxing perch for viewing the tranquil beauty of the adjacent pond.

A ball-and-chain gate, grit paths, picket fences and outbuildings all combine to create a Colonial atmosphere in the garden of Gail Norwood. Paths through the woodland garden lead to the gazebo, an exact replica of the one at the Benjamin Waller House in Colonial Williamsburg. The gazebo is adorned with vines of evergreen clematis (Clematis armandii), which bloom abundantly in early March. The shade garden surrounding the gazebo is filled with hellebores (Helleborus spp.), Heuchera, Hydrangea, columbine (Aquilegia spp.), ferns, azaleas and Trillium. A moss garden shimmers in various shades of green around the gazebo, adding soft texture and inviting a visit.


A View From Above
A gazebo perched on a terraced cliff offers multi-directional views. Up top is a swimming pool set into the terraced hillside, planted with peonies (Paeonia spp.), azaleas (Rhododendron spp.), coneflowers (Echinacea spp.) and Phlox. Below is an expansive brick patio lined with crapemyrtles (Lagerstroemia indica). The gazebo is surrounded by a juniper (Juniperus spp.) ground cover and Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) twines around the base. At its foot, a waterfall planted with Sedum and grasses cascades below a rocky outcrop. Equipped with lighting and an overhead fan, the gazebo offers a shady refuge on hot summer days.


Gazebo in a Color Garden
A unique pagoda-style gazebo is an integral part of this colorful garden. Surrounded by a variety of yellow green plants such as various sedge (Carex spp.), Hosta, grasses and elephant’s ears (Colocasia and Alocasia spp.), the plantings are all tied together by hedges of golden privet (Ligustrum x vicaryi) and foster holly (Ilex x attenuata ‘Fosteri’). The golden color of the gazebo is designed to integrate with the chosen palette and offers a welcome resting spot for garden visitors.


Rustic Gazebo by a Pond
In keeping with its naturalistic setting, this gazebo is made with rustic materials and built on a raised base to add extra height and offer a broader view of the garden. A welcoming staircase is edged by a soft cascade of evergreen poet’s laurel (Danae racemosa). The rock-edged pond is planted with hellebores, ferns and trillium.


Designing Your Own Gazebo
You may have a vision of where you’d like to place your gazebo and how it should complement your home and landscape. Whether you decide to purchase a kit and build it yourself, or hire an architect for a custom design, you’ll need to consider some important questions.


Function
How will you use your gazebo? Is it meant to look pretty in the landscape, to use for entertaining or to provide a place of solitude? All these factors will help determine the size and layout of the gazebo. If you plan to have guests for dining, then the gazebo must be large enough to accommodate tables and chairs with enough room to circulate around the perimeter.

What time of day will you use the gazebo? If you’d like to have evening parties or just like the idea of having the gazebo lit up at night, then running electricity to the structure will be necessary. Removable screens may also be advantageous to keep out intruding insects.


This Asian-inspired design sits serenely by a water feature – the perfect spot for quiet contemplation.


Placement
Any new structure on your property will need to adhere to local regulations such as permits and property lines. With homes near water or wetlands, there may also be restrictions due to environmental protection areas, such as the minimum setback from the water’s edge. Most building codes also require railings on structures that are a certain height above grade.

The orientation of the gazebo is also an important factor, particularly if it has a southern exposure, both to maximize the view and to ensure comfort in all seasons. Distance from the house may also determine whether a connecting path is desirable, or whether walking across the grass is sufficient.


This rustic gazebo is the perfect design for this country setting.


Maintenance
The degree of time you wish to spend on maintenance will affect your choice of materials. If using wood, rot- and bug-resistant materials are most desirable, such as teak, ipe or cypress. Composite synthetic materials are a low-maintenance option that will not require regular painting or staining. Having a water source nearby, either from a hose or an installed spigot, may be useful for regular cleaning and upkeep.

Whatever the style of your home or the function your gazebo will serve, there are a number of options both for the structure and for the types of plants that will enhance its beauty. A gazebo is a part of the garden landscape that can be designed to truly reflect your own style and personality.

 

A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 26 Number 5.
Photography courtesy of Anne Wood Humpheries, Norman Winter, and Patrice Peltier.

 

Posted: 06/19/17   RSS | Print

 

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Make Your Garden Paths Practical, Safe, and Exciting
by Monica Brandies       #Design   #Hardscaping

Paved paths are neater and more permanent. Plants on the side should be low and far enough back so they don’t need constant pruning or make the path feel crowded.


Not so long ago a gentleman wandered through my garden and then came back to tell me that the paths were his favorite part of the garden. Paths are important because they lead the visitor to see all the best places and give the gardener open access to get to and care for the plants.

But there are mistakes to avoid so you won’t find yourself constantly pruning lest they close up. They are important for access. You may even want to keep a wide enough path for a truck to get through to bring in mulch or soil.

If you have a fence, it will save many steps if there are gates on each side of the house so people won’t have to backtrack and can access or retreat from either side.


Grass serves as a nice walkway as long as it is a practical size and attached to the rest of the lawn. Note the low plants are well spaced to avoid crowding.
 

Paths lead people around your yard with comfort and safety so they should be solid and definite. The best ones are those that flow with the natural route of traffic, curving by special plantings or leading to hidden nooks.

One gardener said he has a secret garden because as you follow his path, you can look back and won’t be able to see far, and looking forward you wonder what more you will see around the next curve. Each section you approach is a joy. This type of path is quite delightful.

You may want to take a few months to a year to see just where want a path before you pave or put down stepping stones. If you have children, they will take the most direct way from the door to the school bus no matter what other path you have. Also do not plant anything fragile behind their home plate or first base or other play areas.


Plants along the path should be low. Otherwise you have to cut away blooms along with the foliage, but at least they can be used for bouquets or cuttings.
 

And even as an adult, have you gone to some place where you had to make extra steps for no good reason? It might not matter if you only go around an area like that a few times, but it you have to go around it daily or weekly, you tend to despise it.

If possible, in your own garden, connect the paths so that you can go around the garden entirely without stepping over the same path to get the next one.

Paths should be at least three feet wide, broad enough to take a wheelbarrow through, and wider at curves and ends. Plants and structures at their sides should be low and planted far enough from the edge of the walk that you won’t have to prune constantly to keep the path open and not have it feel crowded. Even so, it is a good idea to always have garden scissors or shears in your pocket so you can snip off anything that gets in the way.


Sometimes you need to prune limbs or leaves from above. Remember that some of your visitors may be taller than you are.


In many gardens the lawn can be considered as a pathway. In that case, be sure that the area is just the right width for easy mowing and connected to the next part of the lawn. Paths can be covered with mulch, even leaves, pine needles, or grass clippings. You don’t need to buy mulch, but if you do, we discourage the use of cypress mulch because most of it is not a by-product of tree farming or the timber industries. Cypress mulch most often comes from healthy native trees being cut. You will have to add additional mulch as it disintegrates. In the meantime, it cools the soil and encourages the earthworms.

So now I use my wheelbarrow regularly and whatever it runs over gets taken out. I find the flat clippers are best for taking off the pointed leaves of the pineapples and bromeliads that extend into the path.

You also need to prune above the paths so branches or large leaves won’t touch taller visitors. The best time to do that is when you go out after a rain and the leaves are hanging the lowest.

 

A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 22 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Monica Brandies.

 

Posted: 06/19/17   RSS | Print

 

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Privacy in the Garden
by Judy Nauseef       #Design   #Hardscaping   #Misc

A woven wooden fence screens the house next door in this Michigan garden. The fence, made from saplings (sometimes called wattle), has a rustic appearance. Instructions for constructing this type of fence can be found on the Internet, where it is also possible to find craftspeople who build them. Columnar maples (Acer ssp.) are planted in front of the fence and hostas, pachysandra (P. terminalis) and other shade perennials fill the ground layer.


When we are in our gardens, there are times when we may want to separate ourselves from the world outside. Sometimes an enclosed space feels right. Whether we are in a contemplative mood or just under the weather, sitting in the garden serves as a remedy. Other more practical needs, such as sunbathing, having breakfast in a bathrobe, or simply not wanting to engage in conversation with a neighbor, call for screening.

Often we really like our neighbors, but require just enough of a barrier that implies that we enjoy having them next door, but that our yard is not perpetually open for foot traffic. Fence panels and groups of shrubs work well in this situation, rather than continuous fence or hedging. Frequently, being seen in our yards is not a problem – we just do not want to engage in conversation with the neighbor.

This elegant garden includes a quiet, serene spot under a tall white pergola. The small pool adds to the sense of serenity.

In the Midwest, I have lived in and designed gardens in neighborhoods where fences keep dogs in and children safe, but are not used for privacy. Often yards run into each other and children scamper between them. Homeowners most likely use screening for areas close to the house.


Screening from Above
Sometimes we need to screen views of our garden from above. Two story homes built close together, or taller buildings behind your home, create this situation. Options are fewer. New trees and shrubs need time to grow.

Sometimes, there is not enough space to create the living screen needed. A solid roof on an outdoor living space may be an option. Or, use the partial screening of a pergola that prevents a clear view of your space. Try an unusual accessory, such as stenciled metal work.

Fence materials include wood, composites, metal and wire. In small yards, where space is at a premium and neighboring lots are very close, a structure built for privacy may be a good choice, because trees and hedging will take up more area. Grow a vine on a trellis or pergola to soften the look. Shade structures that incorporate fabric offer a colorful alternative. Retractable shades can be hung under the top of a pergola or on the sides to partially enclose the space.


The Iowa homeowner lives on the downhill slope from the rear-facing neighbor, who could look down upon her when she sat on her patio. By city code, the height of the existing fence could not be raised. The solution was to build raised-fence panels within her garden. She plans to attach outdoor artwork to the screens to match the existing artwork in her garden. The plantings include Hosta and ferns, along with tropical plants, such as coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides) and elephant ears (Alocasia or Colocasia) in pots.


Pergolas and Fences
Built structures, such as fences and pergolas, offer wonderful opportunities for showcasing plants, particularly vines and climbing roses. In addition, it is possible to create microclimates for plants that otherwise you cannot grow due to excessive wind or sun or need some other type of buffer.

Shrubs, such as rhododendron and azalea (Rhododendron spp.), oak leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) and holly (Ilex spp.) will benefit from a siting like that. In other circumstances, a privacy screen creates a heat-catching location for plants that need that environment. Add a well-draining soil and you have created an area for an herb garden.


This shallow backyard with nearby neighbors includes a private patio with comfortable seating. A short willow hedge (Salix spp.), an ‘Ivory Silk’ Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulata), narrow leaf blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii) and a Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) provide screening.


Proper Placement
It is important to remember that hedges and fences on the north and west sides of the yard will slow the movement of the snow in a storm, since the winter winds are usually from those directions. The wind deposits snow that makes it over or through the fence or hedge creating large drifts in the yard.

If this is on a patio not used in the winter, it may not be a problem. But as the snow and ice melt in the late winter and early spring, a water problem may develop. If the snow is deposited on a driveway, you will have to shovel frequently.


A generously sized, Anamosa, Iowa,-limestone patio supports a limestone wall and pergola. The L-shaped wall creates a cozy corner for comfortable outdoor furniture. The pergola is treated wood, wrapped in cedar and not stained. The stunning stenciled-cut metalwork in the screen was designed and fabricated by Parasoleil, a company in Colorado. The plants in this Iowa garden include ‘Bruns’ Serbian spruce (Picea omorika) and ‘Medora’ juniper (Juniperous scopulorum).


Design Elements
Screening serves another purpose. Fencing, hedging, pergolas, and trellises used as garden elements give structure to a landscape design and help the homeowner design garden rooms within the landscape. A pergola may serve as a focal point in the yard, creating a view and a destination. Fences and shrubbery that provide privacy may also be used to create a sense of mystery of what is behind them, to draw visitors further into the garden. Thinking of screening as an exciting addition to the landscape helps us to develop more possibilities. Our yards have both public and private spaces. Each area should be planned so that the landscape becomes a cohesive whole.

More than one area in a landscape may call for screening. An outdoor living area directly beyond the back door offers a large space for family activities, while a smaller, more intimate space in a far corner of the yard attracts smaller groups of people. I have visited many gardens with more than one seating area, each separated from the other by structures or plantings.


The gardener with this lovely secluded patio has incorporated many unique and beautiful elements. The whimsical umbrella, and the stone art pieces draw the visitor in, if you are brave enough to step on the exquisite surface. A thick planting of shrubs and trees screen the neighbors and a garden shed.
 

When planning structures for privacy, consider how you will be using the space. Include a large enough area for your outdoor furniture to seat your family. What activities will take place there? Will children be playing in the space? If you plan to have an outdoor grill or fire pit there, think about fire hazards and check local codes for safety regulations. If you are enclosing an area of lawn, consider installing a patio surface first. Once the fence or pergola have been constructed, adding concrete or pavers is more difficult. Check that the connection and access to the house are architecturally sound and practical. Think of privacy solutions as part of the total landscape.

 

A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Judy Nauseef and Country Landscapes, Inc.

 

Posted: 06/19/17   RSS | Print

 

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The Southern Romance of Swings
by Ruth Mason McElvain       #Misc


A swing and picket fence, both painted white, contrast well with the brick home; chevron-striped cushions make it pretty and cozy.


Tap the Southern mind and I promise you, a swirl of porch-swing memories will pour out. For me, the gentle wind of a summer rain transports me back to Grandma’s veranda swing as she sat with her Burpee Seed catalog in hand and a cold Coke nearby on the porch rail … the two-note song of the back and forth swing harmonizing with rain hitting the tin roof and the far-off sound of rolling thunder. In To Kill a Mockingbird, iconic Atticus, immaculate in his linen suit, sways with Scout on the front-porch swing, teaching her about compromise on that stressful first day of school. Eli Wallach in Baby Doll preys on sultry Carrol Baker in her front-yard swing. In Deliverance, the deep-country banjo player settles on the porch swing as he duels with the city guitarist, his effortless fingers a blur on the strings, making the city guy sweat.

We can sway on the porch as fireflies flicker at dusk and enjoy the garden perfume of peonies and roses, tea olive, magnolia, gardenia, phlox and on and on. Mosquitoes are kept at bay by our personal breeze and we enjoy being outside even as the great heat rises from the earth to engulf us. We inhale the aroma of supper cooking inside, laugh with our cousins, cry alone and sleep easy on the screened-in porch swing with our pillow, quilt and favorite little mutt.
 

Swinging in the Carolinas

I don’t remember seeing a single porch swing during my 40 years in California, but my camera catches them everywhere in South Carolina. All around my town there are swings and gliders on porches, facing out to the yard or down the length of the porch; swings or tires hanging from trees; and swings in their own frame – in back, front and side yards. 

Several bed and breakfasts I’ve visited have porch swings – from Asheville to Savannah, Charleston, Highlands and Saluda. There’s a park near Greer City Hall that has an island with a white gazebo in a small lake, a fountain spraying arcs of water, and no fewer than seven swings for communal swinging, munching on a picnic lunch or just solitary contemplative motion … all delightfully Southern.
 


This craftsman-style home sports a pretty front-porch swing, which even instructs what you should do, “Relax.”

You can’t get more Southern than this white clapboard house with green shutters and a swing on the front porch.


Swing Inspiration

I love to tour my town for landscaping inspiration, and swings are no exception; as a matter of fact, noting all the swings I saw as I shopped along my own city streets inspired this article. Cruise around your favorite locale to see how fellow citizens have hung swings on their porches and incorporated swings into their landscapes. Beyond that, Internet searches of pictures of porch swings on websites such as Pinterest may give you some elegant ideas. I found a photo of a low, wide swing appointed with blue and white bedding and piled with pillows, and it has me eyeing my screened-in porch for such a possibility. Spring afternoon naps there, or reading with lunch on a tray would be delicious for both my guests and me.

The far corner of my backyard is just begging for a pergola with a table and chairs, strung lights, potted flowers and a generous swing. On my front stoop, too small for a full swing, but with an ample overhang, I’m considering installing a single chair swing. They come in the forms of cupped wicker baskets, scrolled metal or “French shabby chic” chairs with the legs removed, and more. Let your imagination, your personal taste and the style of your house guide you. When you include seating in your gardens, you warm the spaces, inviting friends and family to lounge and enjoy. It’s amazing how much more you and others will use and enjoy your garden if there are spots that encourage dining and conversation. Swings add another dimension to seating with their soothing motion, especially when there’s a cushion beckoning.
 


This house has the perfect porch for swinging.

This swing is the perfect spot to sit, visit and watch passersby.


Swings in your Landscape

Look around your yard, eye your porches and patio (or envision them if they’re not there) and find spots where you can add a swing or two. Leave your swing’s natural wood unfinished, or brighten it by painting it your favorite color. I want a swing painted aqua blue with buttery yellow and rosy pink pillows, but white always cheers me. But, no matter the color, I’m piling on the bolsters, cushions and throws.

For a swing in the yard, “floor” an area with pavers set in sand or leave a grassy footing and provide a canopy of gauzy cloth that won’t obscure the view, but will lessen the glare. Build a pretty pergola and set a swing in the dappled shade. And remember, shade cloth is magical. Have a barbeque station nearby so people can swing and visit the cook as the meat sizzles. Set out candles or tiki torches at varying heights or string fairy lights, add side tables for drinks and books, soften the edges with shrubs, vines and planted pots spilling with colorful, fragrant blooms. Hang wind chimes, feeders and birdbaths so you can watch the winged and furred traffic while you curl up to read. A weatherproof chest nearby is convenient for storing cushions and a throw to use during inclement weather or to just protect them while still being handy when the swing mood strikes.

A few hundred dollars, some design ingenuity, strong eyebolts anchored in sound timber, and you too can have a swing. Enjoy your Southern swinging heritage.
 


This pergola and swing are just right for the backyard of a large Southern home. Mint juleps and Southern belles in floating gowns are all that’s missing.


A freestanding swing with chairs nearby is the perfect spot to sit and visit.

 

This article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume XXVI Number IV.
Photography courtesy of Ruth McElvain.

 

Posted: 06/19/17   RSS | Print

 

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Growing Success
by Daniel Keeley       #Containers   #Design   #Environment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A series of staghorn ferns (Platycerium bifurcatum) creates a dramatic and unexpected statement in the office foyer and echoes the soothing green foliage outside the window. A weathered teak garden chair blends perfectly with the rustic mood of the ferns and provides seating for clients and colleagues.


I have to admit: It was only after signing up to write this article that I realized I had never really thought much about office plants before… that is, at least not the kinds of plants that live inside an office. As an exterior designer, I deal almost exclusively with outdoor spaces and, therefore, with plants that do not really fall into the category of what we commonly refer to as house or office plants. Consequently, as I began to prepare for my writing assignment, I experienced what can only be described as the beginnings of a slight panic attack. As I continued, however, I realized that good design applies just as much to indoor office plantings as it does to outdoor plantings, and many of the same principles that guide garden design are just as applicable inside an office. Whew, panic attack averted!

A trio of flapjack kalanchoe (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora) adds life to a rack of organizing bins. Their placement mimics that of the bins, yet their unique form and common terra-cotta containers stand in stark contrast to the rigid plastic tubs and stainless-steel shelves.

For me, a garden is decidedly manmade, a deliberately arranged space. After all, no matter how natural or realistic a garden is designed to be, it is, by its very nature, contrived. Furthermore, a garden (along with its plantings) is meant to activate one or more of the five senses. In other words, it sets a specific mood and engages the visitor; and so it is with indoor spaces and plantings as well. So, why should designing for the attractive and effective use of office plants be so different from doing the same thing outside in the garden? With this in mind, I decided to use my own office as a testing ground for learning more about this living form of decoration. I hope the results will stimulate and inspire you to grow your own success story by adding a little stylish green to your workspace.

As I began my design experiment, I first asked the question: “Why?” What are the reasons for having office plants in the first place? The primary answer for me is pure aesthetics… just as it is with a garden. Sure, many modern-day garden spaces have functional and aesthetic value (to provide a venue for education, outdoor dining or playing children), but their main purpose is simply to be beautiful. The same is true for the plants in our offices, and it seems perfectly logical to create an atmosphere that is visually appealing to clients and workers alike. I mean, who would not rather go to work in a space that incorporates beautiful, living plants than one that is devoid of such life? I don’t think many of us need much convincing on this point, or I hope not.

In addition to making our working environment more attractive, it turns out there are also some rather convincing scientific arguments for bringing plants into our workspaces. For starters, many indoor plants contribute to cleaner, healthier air by removing contaminants such as carbon monoxide, ammonia and even cigarette smoke. This has been shown to reduce headaches, fatigue, cold-related illness and even to lower blood pressure. Similarly, plants are known to lower stress levels and to improve our overall mood, so it is perhaps not surprising then that plants lead to increased efficiency and productivity in the workplace. Aesthetics aside, as an employer and business owner, I can tell you this was just about all the reason I needed to turn my office into a veritable jungle! It is no wonder that the indoor plant-care business is thriving, and large corporations across the world are filling their headquarters with live plants.
 

Left: The dark leaves and funky inflorescences of this Peperomia sp. look great in silhouette against a frosted window in the kitchen’s coffee station and enjoy the filtered light the window provides. The bright orange container provides an eye-catching pop of color amid the otherwise monochromatic countertop and walls. Top Right: Air plants and orchids are right at home in the office washroom, where they can be easily watered and thrive in the extra humidity. The yellow container and gnarly piece of sandblasted grapevine add color and texture to the arrangement and stand out beautifully against the sleek counter and glass sink. Bottom Right: Offering long bloom cycles with relatively low light and water demands, orchids are hard to beat for color and beauty when it comes to choosing a plant for your office or workspace.


So, how does one begin selecting particular plants for the office? Just like in the garden, there are a few technical issues to consider. These primarily include the sunlight, water and temperature requirements of the plant, as well as any fertilization or additional care it will need. Not to worry, though — these things are the easy part, as they should be clearly identified on the plant’s identification tag, and most common indoor plants are relatively low maintenance anyway. For additional advice, you can also always consult your friendly local nursery.

A towering fiddleleaf fig (Ficus lyrata) brings the outdoors to a workstation with an otherwise limited view. The simple container keeps the focus on the intriguing form of the tree’s huge, glossy leaves.

It is in the design decisions regarding your office plantings, rather than the technical requirements, where the potential for growing success truly lies, and there are several things to consider. The first, uniqueness, is the criterion I focused on the most when devising my planting scheme. I wanted office plants that would not feel or look like “office” plants and offer an unexpected, atypical beauty. I achieved this primarily by choosing plants that feature strong form and structure. In most cases, their shape alone is intriguing enough to stand out and provide interest. Color is also an important factor when choosing your plants, and while we think of most plants simply as green, the many subtle differences in shades can be used to great effect. Blooming plants, and those with white, purple or maroon leaves, are also great opportunities for creative design expressions. Finally, give careful thought to the placement of your office plants. Rather than just plopping something green down in the corner, consider how all of the aforementioned physical qualities of your plant relate to its immediate surroundings and the office as a whole. Choose plants that extend the intended mood and ambience of your work environment, either through uniformity or through contrast. Indoor plants can even relate to what is outside the office and, in fact, are a great way to blur the lines between indoors and out.

Closely related to the attributes of the specific plants you choose are the characteristics of the decorative containers that will house them. Choosing the proper container can effectively make or break your office plantings in terms of both appearance and health. For the most part, indoor plants are sold in appropriately sized growing containers, but over the long term, plants should periodically be repotted in slightly larger containers to promote healthy root growth and foliar rejuvenation. From an aesthetic standpoint, think again about those factors that drove your plant choices (uniqueness, color, texture and overall form), and let these same criteria guide your container selection. Choose containers that match the mood and statement of the plants themselves and, of course, that complement your office décor as a whole.

 

A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2012 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Stephen Ironside.

 

Posted: 06/09/17   RSS | Print

 

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Microclimates in the Landscape
by Gary Bachman Ph.D.       #Environment   #Hardscaping   #Weather

Hosta, impatiens and polka-dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) are good choices for the full-shade garden.
 

One of the most common topics of conversation between gardeners is the weather. Rain, heat, cold and drought all present challenges to maintaining a good-looking garden and landscape. Together, these environmental factors are referred to as the “climate” for a particular area or region. Since these areas can be rather large, we can call these environmental factors the macroclimate for a given area. The USDA Hardiness Zone map is a resource we use to determine growing conditions over wide areas and regions.

Within the larger macroclimates are smaller areas that have different or modified conditions. These pockets may be warmer or cooler, or wetter or drier than surrounding areas. These areas are termed “microclimates” and can be influenced by buildings, trees, bodies of water or elevation changes.

Most, if not all, residential gardens and landscapes have various microclimates. Trees, shrubs and structures influence how water, light, temperature and wind around a home affects gardens and landscapes. It is important to realize that these microclimates can, and will, change over the course of the year. The observant home gardener recognizes these microclimates and takes advantage of the conditions to successfully grow plants. Let’s take a look at some of the common microclimates found in the home garden and landscape.


These hydrangeas enjoy the morning sun in this microclimate between the homeowner’s house and garage.
 

Most home gardeners realize that the sun shines its light at different angles throughout the year. Knowing this helps gardeners determine the location of sunny and shady gardens, as well as where to plant shade trees to cool the house.

Your home, garage and other structures also influence landscape microclimates. These structures, especially southern and western walls, absorb heat from the sun throughout the day. When the sun sets, this heat energy radiates back out into the environment. It is common during the winter months to move container plants against the house when frosts and freezes are in the forecast because that radiated heat provides some protection. This is a good place to plant shrubs, fruit trees and flowering perennials that are considered marginally hardy. During the warmer summer months, these areas can be considerably warmer because the excess heat radiating from these walls can bake plants. Beds next to the house can also be drier because eaves and gutters redirect rainwater elsewhere.


This south-facing wall creates a microclimate with warmer temperatures, allowing the homeowner to grow these bananas (Musa spp.).
 

Shade is another common microclimate created by trees or structures. The amount of light a landscape bed receives can change throughout the year. When planted under deciduous trees, spring bulbs will flourish in the full sun. Once these trees leaf out, the bed can be used for plants that prefer shade, such as hostas and impatiens.

Garden art and overflowing containers add interest in this partially shaded microclimate.

The degree of shade is also important. Partial shade can be described as an area receiving between four to six hours of direct sun each day. Full-shade areas receive less than four hours of full sun, generally early in the morning or late in afternoon, based on the sun’s angle. When the tree canopy is so dense that little rainwater reaches inside the drip-line, this is called dry shade. One last thought about shade: As young trees are planted, the area of shade will expand as the tree grows. Landscape areas that have been in full sun will need to transition to full shade after several growing seasons, and the gardener needs to be aware of these long-term changes and ready to change the plantings accordingly.

 

Left: Ponds influence microclimates in the landscape and create opportunities for more native plants, such as these bald cypress (Taxodium distichum). Middle: Hardscape, such as this brick walkway, can create hot, dry conditions along the edges. Right: The plants selected for this area can tolerate the warmer and drier conditions created by the hardscape materials.


Microclimates also affect temperatures. Water features, depending on their size, can moderate temperatures, creating microclimates. Landscapes surrounding ponds can be slightly warmer in the winter and slightly cooler in the summer. Hardscaping materials and topography can influence temperature in the garden and landscape as well. Spots that are cooler than the surrounding areas are called cold traps. Cold air tends to settle in low areas of the landscape. Fences can also block the winter sun, so areas behind them will be more susceptible to frosts in the spring and fall. Not only the walls of a home, but virtually any hardscape can affect landscape temperatures. Stone, patio pavers and concrete absorb sun’s energy, heating up and therefore tending to be drier. This particularly affects planting beds alongside paths and sidewalks.

 

A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2013 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Gary Bachman Ph.D.

 

Posted: 06/09/17   RSS | Print

 

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Livin’ Large on a Small Plot
by Tom Hewitt       #Advice   #Design   #Landscaping

Small lots can pay big dividends when they’re carefully planned.


Few of us have the perfect gardens we see in magazines. This is especially true if we live on very small lots. The smaller the garden, the easier it is to clutter things up. But there are so many things you can do to keep things organized and make a small lot seem bigger.

Every project is different, but when I design or redo a small garden, I always keep in mind what I consider the “top 10” rules for freeing up and expanding space.


Think vertically:
Always be on the lookout for unused vertical space. Use walls, fences, trees, or any other vertical support for epiphytes, hanging baskets, artwork, etc. No room for herbs or flowers? Grow your favorites in a window box. Wide windowsills are often overlooked as display areas for small clay pots. This is a way that they can be viewed from inside the house as well as outside.


Keep things in scale:
If you have a fence or wall around a small garden, don’t waste valuable real estate with a hedge. It is a much better choice to attach a trellis and cover it with Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) or creeping fig (Ficus pumila). Hedges can take up 2-4 feet of space, while many evergreen vines can be trimmed to a width of a foot or less. When it comes to planting material, use petite bloomers, slow-growers, and dwarf cultivars whenever possible. Be sure to choose plants with multi-season interest.
 

Left: Always think vertically in a small garden. Top Right: Lawns on small lots should be kept as uncluttered as possible. Bottom Right: Choose small, petite bloomers for a small garden.


Keep things simple and uncluttered:
In a small garden, anything out of place becomes a distraction. It is better to have one large urn as a focal point than a dozen or so smaller objects vying for attention. Make sure smaller pieces are half-hidden by foliage so they can be “discovered” by the viewer. When using pots, stick to one material for a cohesive and uncluttered look (terra cotta is my favorite).
 

Window boxes provide a great way to grow things where space is limited.

Borrow distant vistas:
The only reason to screen something from view is if it’s unsightly. Don’t be afraid to “borrow” a neighbor’s tree or pleasing view of their house. Always carry the eye as far as possible. Selectively prune to allow a “glimpse” of something attractive in a neighboring yard. This can sometimes take the place of layering, which is difficult to do on a small lot.


Alter perspective:
One trick of mine is to place large plants in front and small ones in the distance. This is known as “exaggerating perspective.” Putting coarser-leaved plants in front and fine-textured plants farther back will accomplish the same thing and placing cool colors in the distance and hot colors in the foreground also helps. Narrowing a pathway into the distance and putting a focal point at the end is quite effective. Trompe l’oeil wall panels and mirrors can help fool the eye.


Use curves:
Curves create a sense of mystery by making the visitor wonder what lies around the next bend. But remember that curves should always have a purpose, and too many can become a distraction. It’s always nice to offer a reward of some kind at the end, like a bit of statuary or a small bench.
 

Left: An oval lawn draws the eye outward. Top Right: Furniture in a small garden should be light and airy. Bottom Right: Windowsills are perfect for showcasing small clay pots.


Keep an open lawn:
An oval patch of grass is especially effective, since it pushes the eye out in every direction. Resist the temptation to clutter up a small lawn with trees and other objects. A good rule of thumb is to keep all trees within shrub bays. It also makes a garden easier to maintain.


Keep furniture light:
It’s best to use café tables and chairs for small gardens. At least use chairs with open backs and tables with glass tops. The more they blend in with the setting, the better. Small patio benches that double as storage units are great, provided they’re kept in scale with their surroundings.


Use different elevations:
Even a subtle difference of a foot or so can make a small garden seem larger. Consider lowering one section of your garden or raising another. Small decks and raised planters also help direct attention upward and distract from the smallness of a garden.


Potted plants are a great way to reconfigure a patio.


Organize areas:
Create various “rooms” that flow into one another, by using large pots or other portable planters. This way you can change the configuration anytime you wish. Just a small table and a couple of chairs will create an instant intimate setting.

Guidelines are great, but don’t be afraid to think outside the box. One area that people often overlook is narrow side yards. By choosing the right plants and having a walkway provide a straight shot to the end, they can make attractive gardens in their own right.

 

A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 22 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Tom Hewitt.

 

Posted: 06/09/17   RSS | Print

 

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Companion Plantings in the Kitchen Garden
by Carol Chernega       #Beneficials   #Misc

Bulbs like Allium spp. may help keep moles out of your kitchen garden.


Gardeners consider a wide variety of factors when designing a landscape. We consider flower color, bloom time, plant height, and plants we just couldn’t resist when we visited the nursery. Over the years, we’ve also observed that certain plants do well under particular conditions. Some like shade, others sun. Most evergreens like acidic soil, whereas most vegetables and flowers like a neutral soil pH. So, we tend to group plants according to the conditions they like.

But we can also group plants in a different way. We can group them according to those that help each other in one way or another. This is called companion planting, and it can make your garden not only beautiful but also healthier.

Companion plants can be divided into three loose categories: Plants that repel pests, plants that attract pollinators, and those that provide shade.


Artemisia can help deter animals from your garden. Planted in pots, they can easily be moved to different areas.
 

Repelling Pests
Have you ever wondered why your grandmother grew mint near the kitchen door? It wasn’t just a convenient spot to pick mint for iced tea. Mint also keeps ants away. So planting it near the house is a smart idea.

Here are some other time-honored ways to keep pests out of your garden.

If deer are a problem in your kitchen garden, surround it with smelly plants that deer don’t like such as boxwood (Buxus spp.), herbs, and Artemisia absinthium.

Marigolds are a classic companion in the vegetable garden.

Deer will not eat poisonous plants such as daffodils (Narcissus spp.), foxglove (Digitalis spp.), Euphorbia lathyris, and hellebores (Helleborous spp.). Mix these in among your plantings, and the deer may avoid the whole area.

Have moles in your garden? Onion relatives (Allium spp.), such as garlic, chives. and onions, should help to keep them away.

Plant nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) in a circle under fruit trees to repel aphids and borers. Nasturtiums can also repel aphids from broccoli and squash.

Marigolds (Tagetes spp.) repel the bean beetle when grown among your bean crop. Their strong scent may repel other pests. French marigolds (Tagetes patula) also help control nematodes in the soil. This takes a full season to be effective, so planting them in different areas of the garden each year will help enrich the soil over a long period.

Basil (Occimum basicicum) repels flies and mosquitoes. So growing it around your patio or water feature will be beneficial. You can also grow it next to your tomato plants. This makes it easy to pick during harvest time, as basil and tomatoes are classic companions for cooking.

Most herbs repel caterpillars.

Tomatoes protect asparagus plants from the asparagus beetle, so interplanting these two crops is extremely beneficial.

Beans help to protect potatoes against the potato beetle.
 

Flowers That Attract Pollinators
Most fruits and vegetables need to be pollinated to produce crops. Attracting a variety of bees, insects, and butterflies helps in this process. The crucial aspect of this is that it is important to attract pollinators throughout the spring, summer, and autumn so that pollinating will take place at the correct time. Using plants that flower throughout the seasons will help with this process.

Planting flowers that have a long bloom time will also help. Verbena bonariensis attracts lots of insects and butterflies. It is an annual in our area, but it does re-seed, and will therefore come back each year.


Fruit trees don’t have to be confined to the orchard. Here, they provide shade for vegetables during the hot, dry summer months.
 

Plants That Provide Shade
Most vegetables and herbs like full sun, but hot afternoon sun can be intense. So, planting a low hedge such as boxwood (Buxus spp.) on the sunniest side of your garden can help protect your plants from heat.

Likewise, fruit trees in the kitchen garden provide shade for plants like lettuce and other plants that wilt in the heat. It is generally best to use dwarf varieties when you want to use fruit trees in this way, so that they don’t overwhelm the garden as they grow taller.

You can also plant short vegetables among taller ones so that the tall ones will help shade the shorter ones. For example, plant carrots among the tomatoes.

Finally, you can put taller, long-blooming perennials around the perimeter of the kitchen garden. They’ll help provide shade as well.

 

A version of this article appeared in a May/June 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Carol Chernega.
 

 

Posted: 06/09/17   RSS | Print

 

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Natural Repellant
by Sue Hughes       #Beneficials   #Insects   #Pests

Lavender will also bring that wonderful aroma to any garden. The oils that are found in the leaves of lavender are great for both relaxation and protection against mosquitoes.


It’s summer, and that means war … on mosquitos! In 2014 Bill Gates called the mosquito “The Deadliest Animal in the World.” They carry a host of debilitating and often fatal diseases. Yes, we can douse ourselves with chemicals, light some incense, or plug in the bug zapper … but rumor has it that plants can also keep mosquitos at bay. [Editor’s Note: Mosquitos are vectors of several potentially life-threatening diseases, and protecting yourself is perhaps more important now than ever before. For more information, visit wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/avoid-bug-bites.]The essential oils in some plants and flowers have been said to repel mosquitos, while you should not rely on plants alone to protect you from mosquito bites, you may want to include a few in your landscape or garden.


Lemongrass adds nice texture to the garden while doubling as an insect repelling plant.


Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus)
Citronella oil, the active ingredient in many mosquito repellents, is extracted from various species of this perennial clumping grass.

Surely a plant that contains citronella repels mosquitos, right? Yes and no: It’s the oil that does the repelling, not the plant, so rubbing the crushed leaves directly on your skin is the most effective way to use the plant as a repellent.

Lemongrass is nice addition to any landscape, and its aromatic oil is released whenever something brushes against it. It grows 2-4 feet tall, prefers full sun, and is a fast grower.
 

Despite its name, studies have shown that the mosquito plant) does little to stave off its namesake pest. But get one anyway, they smell delightful!

Mosquito planta.k.a. Citronella geranium (Pelargonium ‘Van Leenii’)
One would think that any plant with mosquito in its name would work as a repellent—but alas, no. Despite that marketers sell this citronella-scented geranium as a mosquito-repellent, one published study reported, “There was no significant difference between citrosa-treated and nontreated subjects.” (1)

So, it may not repel mosquitoes, but it does make a great container plant. It grows large and bushy with thick foliage of lacy, medium-green leaves and produces a few pink-purple blossoms during the season.

It can reach 1-2 feet tall and wide. In midsummer, prune back its woody branches to keep it nicely shaped and cut back the main central stem to promote fullness and encourage flowering.


Lavender (Lavendula spp.)
Most of us love the scent of lavender. Its oil, extracted from the plant’s tiny blue-violet flowers, works as an effective and natural mosquito repellent when applied directly on your skin. Contrary to synthetic chemical repellants, lavender oil nourishes your skin with no unpleasant side effects and studies have shown that lavender oil does repel some insects.


 

Rosemary has a wonderful scent to it that mosquito’s just hate! Add this plant to your herb garden and you also have a fantastic seasoning that you can add to many cooking dishes.


Catnip has a reputation for being invasive and, of course, attracting cats. To avoid both problems, keep a couple of catnip plants in hanging containers on your patio.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus spp.)
Rosemary does triple duty as an herb, aromatic landscape filler, and pest repellant. Herb gardeners love to use snippets of rosemary in meat, soup, and egg dishes, while its silvery green foliage and blue, pink, or white blooms make an attractive addition to a container or flowerbed.

But while we find the oil of this shrub heavenly, mosquitos find it disgusting – so do flies and cabbage moths. The oil of R. officinalis has been proven to not only repel mosquitoes, but it also kills mosquito eggs. (3)

This evergreen perennial shrub thrives in full sun and in well-drained soil, and tolerates poor, sandy, or gravelly soils.


Catnip (Nepeta spp.)
Generally associated with cat toys and snacks, a 2001 American Chemical Society study found the essential oil in catnip to be about 10 times more effective than DEET at repelling mosquitoes when applied directly on your skin. Results showed that this compound exhibits both irritant and repellent actions. While generally safe, some experience minor skin irritation when they come in direct contact with catnip oil.

But another study concluded “that catnip oil and nepetalactone isomers are significantly less effective than deet or SS220 in deterring the biting of Ae. aegypti.” (4)

Catnip thrives in full sun to partial shade in well-drained soil. To promote bushier growth, cut back the tops of catnip plants when they reach about 12 inches long.

Regardless of whether you grow these plants to keep the bugs away or just because they look good, there is promising research out there proving that plant-based repellents do work. A study published in Malaria Journal, “Plant-based insect repellents: a review of their efficacy, development and testing,” concluded: “The field of plant-based repellents is moving forward as consumers demand means of protection from arthropod bites that are safe, pleasant to use and environmentally sustainable.” (5)

One published study concluded “The various phytochemicals like Citronellal, Azadirachtin, linalool and p-Menthane- 3,8-diol obtained from citronella plant, neem, lavender and mentha plant respectively are found to responsible for the mosquito repellant activity. So this review can certainly bring awareness to public to keep away from mosquitoes in a natural way.” (2)

 

(1) Arthur, O., and J. Maciarello. “Essential oil analysis and field evaluation of the citrosa plant “Pelargonium citrosum” as a repellent against populations of Aedes mosquitoes.” Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association12.1 (1996): 69-74.

(2) Geetha, R. V., and ANITHA ROY. “Essential Oil Repellents-A short Review.” International Journal of Drug Development and Research (2014).

(3) Prajapati, Veena, A. K. Tripathi, K. K. Aggarwal, and S. P. S. Khanuja. “Insecticidal, repellent and oviposition-deterrent activity of selected essential oils against Anopheles stephensi, Aedes aegypti and Culex quinquefasciatus.” Bioresource technology 96, no. 16 (2005): 1749-1757.

(4) Chauhan, Kamlesh R., Jerome A. Klun, Mustapha Debboun, and Matthew Kramer. “Feeding deterrent effects of catnip oil components compared with two synthetic amides against Aedes aegypti.” Journal of medical entomology 42, no. 4 (2005): 643-646.

(5) Maia, Marta Ferreira, and Sarah J. Moore. “Plant-based insect repellents: a review of their efficacy, development and testing.” Malaria Journal 10, no. 1 (2011): S11.

 

A version of this article appeared in a June 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Sue Hughes and Kristin Neill.

 

Posted: 06/09/17   RSS | Print

 

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Kids’ Gardening: Memories and Dirty Hands
by Patti Marie Travioli       #Kids

It doesn’t matter how old kids are when it comes to the garden. Starting tomato seedlings indoor prompts all kinds of questions from the writer’s 4-year-old granddaughter, Lilah.
 

The most vivid memories of my childhood are those that I spent outside, especially in the summer. Besides the usual outdoor playing that kids do, going to the beach and camping, one of my favorite things to do was to harvest the vegetable garden.

My mom would ask me if I wanted to check to see if anything was ripe, and before she could finish her sentence, I was out the door, hoping to find the perfect slicing tomato or snap bean to be included in our next meal.

Our small vegetable garden was in our backyard, nestled between a half-acre of finely groomed turf and the woods. With a quick sprint across the lawn, I would soon enter this amazing world. I felt the warmth of the sun on my face and the cool dirt under my feet as I walked up and down the neatly organized rows, searching for the perfect fruit. The whole time, I was distracted by the questions in my head about the beauty and power that I felt the plants held over me. How do they do that? I couldn’t rely only on my sight or touch. I needed to smell and taste to determine if something was ready to pick. I don’t know how long I would be in the garden because I would lose track of time. I would hear my mom’s faint voice in the distance calling me to come inside.


Make Childhood Memories

When my oldest daughter was just a few months old, my parents and I took her along with us to go pick strawberries at a local U-pick farm. She sat in her baby carrier napping while we picked, moving her along the row just as we did with our small crates of berries. We crawled on our hands and knees, up and down between the strawberry rows, or sometimes straddling and bending over the row in search of the perfect strawberry. We ate our fair share of fresh, sweet, bright red strawberries, which was encouraged by the farmer. Recently, my daughter called me to see if I could help her find a U-pick farm in her state, where she could take her family. I look forward to the experience of strawberry picking and making jam with my granddaughters.

You are never too old or too young, too abled or disabled to do something in the garden. You don’t even need to know how to garden. There is something for everyone to enjoy. Getting out in the garden is the first step. You don’t even have to have a garden; there are many public and community gardens where you can participate. Gardening can be educational, therapeutic, exhilarating, exhausting, exploratory and fun.



Whether you garden indoors or out, when deciding what plants to grow, choose plants with sturdy stems or soft leaves which are easiest for kids to handle.


Approve of Dirty Hands

When you enter a garden with small children, you may want to start out showing them where they should walk. A simple walk through the garden will appeal to all of a child’s senses, followed by questions of what and why. Allow them to touch the dirt, the plants, even hold and observe an insect. Gloves can be saved for another time. Instead, teach children about hand washing after playing outside and before eating. It’s good to get your hands dirty and fingertips stained green from plants. Bees are good and aphids are not. Exploring and understanding the differences between good and bad bugs can have a permanent effect on how children react to the natural world as adults. For the majority of the time, it’s not necessary to reach for a pesticide, especially when children are in the garden.

It’s important to find a task that is age appropriate. As soon as a child can hold a watering can, give him or her the fun job of watering. When it comes to weeding, I make sure that I weed alongside of the kids. I have found that it’s best to show them how to recognize what plant you want to keep, and how the others in that area need to go. It’s not about completing each task thoroughly. It’s more about introducing the activity and enjoying the interaction.


Harvest the Fun

Harvesting is the favorite part of any food garden. Growing food not only teaches kids about gardening, it can also teach them about community. Inviting friends over for a garden snack is a really good way to encourage helpers to the garden.

Just being outdoors in the garden with you may not solicit a lot of help from teenage kids, but the experience of the surrounding natural world will engage them without any effort.
 

When deciding what plants to grow with children, start with those that appeal to the senses, followed by the types that grow rather quickly, such as beans, peas or lettuce. Plants that take longer to grow, but are good to eat in the garden, include cherry tomatoes, carrots and peas.

I love to grow sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) with kids. You can make a sunflower house out of the taller heirloom ‘Mammoth’. The sunflower heads can be collected in the fall, just as the birds start to eat them, and then harvested and saved until the following growing season. Release the seeds by rubbing two heads together. Wear gloves for this since the sunflower stem will have many dried hair-like structures that can poke little hands.

Make sure to mention houseplants or seeds that can be started indoors, when talking to kids about gardening. A tabletop grow light will prove to be a good investment and provides the light needed to grow plants during the shorter days of winter. Other tools may include magnifying glasses, and small garden tools to fit little hands. A small wagon will allow even the smallest gardener to deliver tools to the garden or a bountiful harvest to the kitchen.


School Gardens Teach Nature

School gardens have become increasingly popular, connecting children with where their food comes from, along with the educational aspect that can be incorporated in the classroom. Research is also showing the connections between nature experiences and improved behavioral health in children.

You don’t have to be a teacher to educate children about gardening. You just need be the person to get them outside and let nature do the teaching. It can be done in any type of garden or outdoor setting. Plant the seed, watch it grow, harvest the fruit and carry on the tradition. Who knows, with little effort, maybe you will prompt a child’s fondest memories.
 



Spending the day at a public greenhouse or garden can appeal to all of your senses as well as introduce children to the world of plants, especially those they may not be as familiar with as the ones they find in their own backyard.

 

A version of this article appeared in a May/June 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Patti Marie Travioli.

 

 

Posted: 06/08/17   RSS | Print

 

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Shaken or Stirred?
by Richelle Stafne and Eric Stafne       #Edibles   #Recipes   #Themed Gardens


Themed gardens remain a popular way of motivating or inspiring gardeners to design a garden with specific intent. Several years ago, I wrote an article about growing a salsa garden; a cocktail garden is similar. With the end product in mind – in this case, a cocktail – you have a plan for what you can do with your harvest. This can be a fun way to put a “spring” in your step, especially for new gardeners, those looking for creative ways to be inspired, or those who admittedly have no green thumb.

Most often, one thinks of vegetables, fruits and herbs as food products, but they can also be used in drinks. Therefore, planning your own cocktail garden will give you access to the best, freshest ingredients. In recent years, the art of making handcrafted cocktails has made a comeback. For mixologists, handcrafted cocktails use the freshest and finest ingredients possible, and where better to get fresh ingredients than from your own garden or local market? Using locally sourced food and other products is gaining in popularity. With more farmers’ markets, CSAs (community-supported agriculture), cooperatives and community gardens popping up every year, it is easier than ever to have fresh, local ingredients at your fingertips.
 

Gulf Coast Margarita

4-5 pepper slices (serrano, jalapeno, habanero, etc.), seeded – optional for desired heat
Small handful fresh cilantro
1 ounce lime juice, freshly squeezed
Juice from 2 satsuma oranges, freshly squeezed
2-3 tablespoons agave nectar
2 ounces tequila
Ice
Soda water (or margarita mix)
Salt or sugar
Jalapeno and satsuma slices

Add pepper, cilantro, lime, orange juice, agave nectar and tequila to cocktail shaker. Muddle together. Add ice and shake mixture thoroughly. Strain into salt or sugar-rimmed margarita or highball glass. Top with soda water or margarita mix. Garnish with pepper and/or orange slice.


Is there anything better after a long day of weeding, watering, pruning, mulching and harvesting than to relax in your hammock or patio chair with a fresh, homemade cocktail? Shaken or stirred, the products of this themed garden can be served with or without alcohol.

The main components of a cocktail garden will depend on your beverage preferences, but herbs, vegetables and various fruits will surely be included. One must consider the limitations of one’s growing environment and be realistic about what is and what is not possible. Some things, such as tomatoes, can be grown in most areas; however, others, such as citrus, are limited to Zone 8 and farther south.
 

 

Left: Blueberries are a healthy way to add color to cocktails. The different species of blueberries are grown in acidic soils in Zones 3-11. Middle: Kumquat (Fortunella margarita), one of the most cold-hardy members of the citrus family (Rutaceae), is restricted to Zone 8 and above. However, they can be grown in containers to extend their range. Right: Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) has a distinctive flavor reminiscent of childhood candies and adds a licorice or anise-like taste to cocktails.

Growing one’s own cocktail garden satisfies the mixologist in all of us – the freshest possible products result in the best flavors. A good way to begin is to peruse your favorite recipe book, website or bartender’s guide to gather ideas for your ingredients. Take notes on what will grow in your area or can be purchased locally. Choosing perennials or hardy trees or shrubs will ensure a continuous supply year after year. Experiment and have fun!

While you may not have a choice about where to locate your cocktail garden, planting near a deck or patio where beverages are enjoyed can create an inviting ambience for you and your guests. This will also make it easier to harvest leaves and fruits for a quick beverage. Likewise, if your garden is far removed from your home, consider creating a relaxing area to lounge with cocktails within the garden.

Once you have mixed a few of your own cocktails, why not invite a few friends over, and better yet, ask friends to bring a few fresh ingredients from their own gardens? You could even swap plant-starts and seeds so everyone can grow their own cocktail garden.
 

Red, White and Blue Mojito

8-12 fresh mint leaves
1 ounce simple syrup
3-4 blueberries
3-4 strawberries
3-4 raspberries
1 ounce lime juice, freshly squeezed
Ice, crushed
2 ounces light white rum
Soda water
Mint sprigs and/or sugarcane to garnish

Muddle mint, syrup, berries and juice in cocktail shaker. Add ice and rum. Shake well until ice reduces by one-third in size. Add more ice, stirring until shaker begins to frost. Pour into pint glass. Add splash of soda water and stir once more. Add mint and/or sugarcane garnish. Sugarcane makes a great stirrer.

For kumquat mojito, substitute berries with 3-5 halved kumquats

Simple Syrup

1 cup sugar (some prefer demerara sugar)
1 cup water

Bring sugar and water just to boil, reduce heat and stir until sugar is dissolved. Remove, bottle, cool and refrigerate. Demerara sugar may alter the color of your cocktail. Some prefer sweeter syrup, using  2 cups sugar to 1 cup water.


Tips

Fun and interesting glassware will enhance your home cocktail presentation. Some cocktails are traditionally served in specific types of glassware.

• When using whole ice cubes for cocktails, freeze appropriate herb leaves or fruit pieces in ice cube trays filled with water or juice ahead of time. Added to a cocktail, they will add flavor and visual pizazz.

• Garnish with edible flowers such as nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), cape jasmine (Gardenia jasminoides), strawberry flowers (Fragaria x ananassa or F. virginiana) and okra flowers (Abelmoschus esculentus).

• Flavor your own liquors by adding ingredients from your garden; examples include spicy vodka or tequila, mint-infused rum, and kumquat and ginger-infused vodka.

• If you are lucky enough to have chickens in your garden or farm, make haste to collect some farm-fresh eggs. Homegrown egg whites in a properly shaken Ramos gin fizz can make this classic cocktail smooth and frothy.

• Learn to muddle! Commonly made of wood, a muddler looks similar to a pestle used to mix spices or herbs in a mortar. Techniques vary, but muddling usually consists of pushing and twisting ingredients into the bottom of a cocktail glass, usually before the liquor is added, to extract fragrant and tasty oils from the leaves or skins of fruits and herbs.

• Make use of local honey for cocktails by heating 1 cup of honey and 1 cup of distilled water to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat, thicken, remove from heat, bottle, cool, cap with tight-fitting lid and refrigerate.
 

The Gardener’s Reward Bloody Mary


 

Directions:

Blend vegetables and sugar in a blender, juicer or food processer until smooth. Strain the mixture through a colander to remove solids. Transfer to pitcher. Add horseradish, juices, sauces and peppers. Stir. Add salt or salt substitute to taste. Prepare each drink separately. Fill cocktail shaker with mixture. Add vodka, tequila or gin. Shake. Pour into tall glass filled with ice. Garnish with dried oregano, pickled okra, pickles, hot peppers, celery, pickled green beans or olives to taste. A meal in itself, chock full of wholesome garden goodness!


Ingredients:

Garden-harvested veggies (be creative):
4-5 pounds ripe tomatoes to make 1 quart of juice
1 large Vidalia onion
2 cloves garlic
1 bell pepper
2-3 carrots
3 stalks celery
4 fresh hot peppers (seeded optional, depending on heat desired)
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons horseradish
⅓ cup lemon juice
⅓ cup lime juice
1½ teaspoons hot pepper sauce (or to heat preference)
Worcestershire sauce to taste
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
1½ teaspoons dried cayenne pepper or habanero (to heat preference)
1 tablespoon salt or salt substitute
1½ -2 ounces vodka, gin or tequila (optional)
1 tablespoon dried oregano (optional)
Celery stalks, cucumbers, pickled green beans and okra, etc. for garnish (optional)

 

A version of this article appeared in a May 2013 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Richelle Stafne and ©bigstockphoto.com/profile/ejwhite.

 

Posted: 06/02/17   RSS | Print

 

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Chainlink Challenge
by Steven Royer       #Design   #Misc

Bamboo attached to chainlink fencing softens the background and allows a small planted area to look fuller and more lush.


It has been said that, ‘good fences make good neighbors.’ Fences keep things from entering our spaces uninvited, but also keep many things (our pets or children) in a contained space. One of the most common types of special separators is a chainlink fence; they are sturdy, durable and long lasting. The challenge for the gardener is to make them an aesthetic part of the landscape.

A common solution has been to mask them with a hedge. Hedges can be space consuming and a great deal of work to maintain. I have seen a clever gardener use the Confederate Jasmine Vine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) by allowing it to cover a fence then pruning it to mimic a hedge using only a few inches of depth rather than two to three feet.


Even with more narrow margins, choosing the right plants can hide or soften the look along a fence by holding the attention to the colors and textures of the plants.
 

Of course, one can use a variety of plantings by giving a few feet of planting space in front of the fence to soften the harsh metal framework. Any plants that tickle the fancy of the gardener can be used; I do recommend plants of various heights and textures to give a gentler appearance; as opposed to the harsher hedge appearance. Copperleaf (Acalypha spp.) can add a wide variety of texture and color and can be relatively easily managed. Small palms like Christmas Palms (Adonidia spp.) can give some added height interest even in small stretches of fence.

Some vines can completely inundate a fence for a stunning effect. These may require regular pruning to keep them under a bit of control.

For some areas, where there is not sufficient space for deep plantings, there are some intriguing and imaginative things that can help soften or disguise the fencing. To help hide an unattractive fence there is a wonderful solution on the market, bamboo fencing. The fencing consists of 6-foot rods of bamboo wired together in 8- to 10-foot segments.

Bamboo is resilient and with minimal care can last for years. Hard wiring the bamboo to a chainlink fence is an easy task (secure the bamboo to be an inch or two above the soil to prevent moisture from prematurely rotting the fencing. This way simple plantings can look even more full with the ‘natural’ looking background.

Another ingenious way to mask a fence is with something natural that can be found commonly in Florida. When one cannot plant on the backside of a fence, Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) can be draped along the support structures and links in the fence. Over time the moss grows readily and covers the fence. In the cases of a bare spot just move a bit of the moss to the area and it will fill in.

To soften a fence and keep the openness of the links there are some plants like Wax Plants (Hoya spp.) that will cover a fence, but they will not become dense.

The goal here is to make a stark structure and make it look like it belongs to a landscape. The challenge can be approached with imagination and flair to meet any gardeners goal. The effect desired is achieved through the plants and other materials that are appreciated and available. See your fence in a new way and make it a part of your garden and not just a barrier.

 

A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 22 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Steven Royer.

 

Posted: 06/01/17   RSS | Print

 

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A Checklist for Summer Entertaining
by Susan Martin       #Decorating   #Misc   #Summer

Lightweight fiberglass urns overflowing with white petunias and romantic candlelight line a strolling path to the back patio, where an evening bridal shower is held. After the party, the plants will be moved back out to a sunnier spot in the landscape.


Your lovely, flower-filled landscape is the perfect setting for entertaining friends and family, but if you don’t have much experience in throwing a party it can be a bit daunting. Whether you’re hosting a graduation party, birthday bash or Fourth of July celebration, completing this simple checklist of tasks will help you organize and pull off the big event in style. Let’s get started!


A Few Months Before:

• Brainstorm ideas for the event, including where it will be held in case of blazing hot weather or rain, who you’ll invite and what you’ll serve.

• If you plan a big event, start recruiting volunteers now to reserve the date. Follow up again a few weeks before the party.

• Place a hold on any necessary tents, chairs and other items you plan to rent.

• Take a stroll around your garden, taking note of what will be in bloom at the time of the party. If a fragrant rose hedge will be in bloom, for instance, consider seating guests nearby.

• Develop a color scheme for your patio containers, window boxes, hanging baskets and borders. If you’re planning a graduation party, use the school colors. Pot up your containers soon after the last frost date so plants will be well established by party time. Reseed any bare patches in the lawn and apply a round of spring lawn fertilizer, so it will be ready for foot traffic in summertime.

• Repair or replace any hardscaping that is in disrepair, including pathways and retaining walls where guests will be walking or sitting.


Independence Day is one of the most popular holidays for outdoor entertaining. Make sure you have plenty of seating available for guests young and old.


A Few Weeks Before:

• Develop your guest list and send out invitations. Anything from fancy printed cards to a simple “save the date” email will do.

• Whether you plan to hire a caterer or provide your own refreshments, make a firm plan now. Using foods that are in season will ensure their availability, ease your pocketbook and be a tastier option.

• Purchase, borrow or otherwise gather tableware, serving pieces, linens, coolers, lanterns and other accessories you’ll need.

• If mosquitoes are bothersome in your garden, consider making an appointment with a mosquito control service to spray your yard a few days before the event. Citronella oil torches and candles will help, too.

• Power wash your patio or deck to have it looking like new for the party. If you have a pool, make sure it is clean and ready for guests, as well.

• Deadhead annuals and perennials now so new flowers will be blooming when guests arrive. Take one last look around the garden to see if any last minute tasks need to be done.


Cool nights call for fire pits, where guests can gather to warm their hands, sip refreshments and tell old stories.


A Few Days Before:

• Confirm your guest count with your caterer or shop now for the food and refreshments. Make ahead as many dishes as possible to lighten your load on event day.

• Set up any necessary tents, in case of rain. Chairs, tables and table linens can be set out the night before, if dry weather is in the forecast. Trash bins, coolers and extra seating can be set out now, as well.

• Take a walk around the yard and clean up any fallen debris, sharp stones or other trip hazards. This would also be a good time to pick up after the family dog. Do this the day of the event, too.

• Sweep the patio and clean off any furniture that guests may use.

• Consider temporarily moving some of your nicest potted plants into the space where you’ll be entertaining. Deadhead any spent blooms while you’re at it.

• Set out backyard games, such as bocce ball, badminton and corn hole, for entertainment.

• Prepare your fire pit and grill by refilling them with wood, charcoal or propane.

• Clean your house, in case the party needs to be moved inside, especially the kitchen and bathrooms, which are sure to see some use.


The finishing touches have been set and the hostess is looking forward to sharing an afternoon treat with a few close friends. It’s blueberry season!


On Event Day:

• Finish up any last minute food and refreshment preparation. Use the serving pieces you’ve gathered to create a gorgeous spread of sumptuous foods and icy drinks.

• Set up a self-serve refreshment station where guests can help themselves as they arrive.

Torches filled with citronella fuel help keep mosquitoes away.

• Set the table, including personal touches, such as beautiful cut flowers from your garden, handmade place cards, candles and other party decorations.

• Remember to take a few deep breaths, put on a big smile and something festive to wear. And have some fun!


Post-Party Tasks:

• Take down and return any rented tents, tables and chairs. While you’re at it, return any borrowed items to their generous owners.

• Send thank you notes to your helpful volunteers and for any gifts that were received.

• Do a thorough cleanup of your yard, patio and house. You really don’t want to find three-day old, half-empty soda cans filled with ants under the patio table.

• Return any potted containers you had repositioned temporarily for the party back to their usual place, so they’ll continue to thrive.

• Aerate and fertilize your lawn in the fall to help it recover if you had heavy foot traffic on it during the party.


Cool season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass and fescues are best aerated in the fall months. Allow at least four weeks of growing time for your lawn to fill back in before winter arrives.

 

A version of this article appeared in a May/June 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Proven Winners, Susan Martin, and SRNicholl/Dollarphotoclub.com.

 

Posted: 06/01/17   RSS | Print

 

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Bulbs Like it Hot
by Jean Starr       #Bulbs   #Flowers

Garden as though you will live forever.

William Kent, English architect, interior designer, landscape gardener, and painter, and a late-18th century pioneer in the creation of the “informal” English garden.


Rain lilies are available in pink, white, and yellow, with Zephyranthes primulina offering up a soft shade of sunshine.

 

Go ahead. Indulge your immediate gratification streak.

It’s easy, with fully grown, already blooming, scientifically combined pots jamming the aisles of your favorite garden centers. If you have the time, a full tank of gas, and a pocket full of plant funds, there is nothing you can’t find.

But, let’s say you like surprises, and don’t mind waiting a bit for the big floral payoff. If you take William Kent’s advice and garden as though you’ll live forever, you will give bulbs a shot.

In addition to Gladiolus and Dahlia, hundreds of plants fall into the category called geophytes, a catchall term for plants that grow from bulbs, rhizomes, corms, and tubers. Many are not as well-known as tulips (Tulipa spp.) or daffodils (Narcissus spp.), so you’ll have to be on the lookout when visiting your local nursery. For even more variety, order them in their dormant state from online specialists for an adventurous walk on the gardening wild side.

Here are just three of the most easily grown:


An unlabeled lily of the Nile (Agapanthus spp.) was just crowded enough in its pot to provide a wealth of blooms for several weeks.


Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus spp.)
This plant’s common name has nothing to do with its origin. Agapanthus comes from South Africa, a place on the continent that the Nile doesn’t reach. The first batch of this amaryllis relative was found near Cape Town, a settlement formed as a pit stop on a trade route by the Dutch in 1652. European tradesmen passing through, to and from Asia, took them back to their home countries, making agapanthus just one of the many treasures introduced to western gardeners around that time.

It’s worth it to look for an agapanthus that’s already potted this time of year. Find one that’s practically escaping from the pot, its thick roots ready to climb out like a toddler from its playpen. The price you pay for one in bloom takes into account the years it takes to get to arrive at blooming size. I found just such a specimen at the end of June last year and jumped for joy. It sported two blossoms when I brought it home. After a short break in late July, and with regular food and water, it kept sending up flowers well into September.

If you purchase an agapanthus bulb, start in a small pot. It could take up to three years to bloom.


Tuberoses (Polianthes spp.) now come in colors besides traditional white. ‘Pink Sapphire’ is a compact variety that is said to be just as fragrant as the original.


Tuberose (Polianthes spp.)
Agapanthus isn’t the only plant that likes a very cozy home. Scott Kunst, founder of Old House Gardens in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has grown tuberose for the past 15 years. He recommends growing the tubers in pots here in the Midwest. “A pot is warmer on a sunny day than in the ground would be.” he said.

Like any plant from a hot climate, tuberoses prefer a long, hot summer. And although they come from a hot and dry corner of Mexico, they also need a fair amount of water, especially when the bulbs are tightly planted.

Tuberoses have become one of Old House Gardens best sellers. Kunst recommends planting them in pots close together with their tips barely covered with soil. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. And here is where the patience comes in. It can take up to a month for the leaves to emerge.

“A tuberose bulb has to be a certain size before it blooms,” Kunst said. It’s especially true in the Upper Midwest, as our summers are shorter than they are in Polianthes’ native habitat. “The bulbs should be as large as a man’s thumb.”

Still, depending on our weather, the amount of sunlight, and added nutrients, it’s possible a pot of Polianthes will be engaged in a race with the first frost. It’s another good reason, Kunst said, for growing them in pots. If they haven’t bloomed and it’s getting cold, you can bring them in and enjoy their fragrant blooms on a sunny windowsill.

If you’d like to save the tubers for the following year, Kunst suggests putting pots in a basement where temperatures are in the 60s F to let them dry out. Each Polianthes tuber blooms just once and then forms offsets for the following year’s blooms.

“You probably will see one more bloom the following season from the same potting, but after that, they will get too crowded and will have to be divided and repotted,” he said. “Get a head start by placing the pot on a heat mat a few weeks before your last spring frost.”

The old-fashioned tuberoses are white and come in single or double-flowering options. Kunst said the advantage of the singles is that they don’t get as waterlogged as the doubles, an advantage when in bloom on tall stems that could benefit from staking. Look for newer varieties with pink, and even yellow flowers.
 

Rain lilies are available in pink, white, and yellow, with Zephyranthes primulina offering up a soft shade of sunshine.

Rain lilies (Zephyranthes spp.)
Tropical rain lilies are adorable in Azalea pots, or any pots that are wider than they are tall. Commonly called fairy lilies or zephyr lilies, they grow from small bulbs that like to be planted close together. The first year, they might bloom a bit sparsely, but in succeeding seasons, the bulbs will multiply, creating spots of pink or yellow when you really need it, usually around the end of July.

Because they are small, it’s easy to find room for them indoors in a cool, dark place, which is where Kunst keeps them during the winter, alongside the tuberoses.

Zephyranthesare commonly called rain lilies because they often come into bloom after it rains. They can’t seem to help themselves, even when they live the lush life in a pot on the patio and receive all the moisture they need. I was so pleasantly surprised by their sudden appearance after a summer rain. I grew both Zephyranthes primulina and Z. robusta in pots last summer. They bloomed quickly with flowers sprouting in early May, late June and again in late July. I’m expecting more this year from these members of the amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp.) family.

 

A version of this article appeared in a May/June 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Jean Starr.

 

Posted: 06/01/17   RSS | Print

 

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The Language of Plants: Yellow Leaves
by Susan Jasan       #Disease   #Irrigation   #Yellow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This tropical Pittosporum is showing signs of iron deficiency, with the yellowing leaves and the green veining.


Just as we communicate through facial expressions and the spoken and written word, plants communicate as well. When we learn a foreign language, it is to understand our neighbors, just as it is important for gardeners to understand the language of their plants. When leaves start turning yellow, that is a plant’s way of telling you that it needs your attention. This is true for treasured indoor houseplants and plants in the landscape.

The top 10 reasons for yellow leaves: Underwatering and overwatering top the list, others include temperature, lighting, soil condition, nutrients or lack thereof, pests, disease, transplant shock, and age.

Whatever the cause, remember that it may take weeks or even months for your plant to recover and return to normal growth. The reality is that if you can’t provide the proper environmental conditions for your particular plant’s needs (water, light, nutrients, and temperature) then it can’t thrive.


A Philodendron x evansii with signs of what appears to be potassium deficiency. Some of the leaves are showing a bit of tip burn on the edges and other portions of the leaves show more yellowing (necrosis) in the spaces between the main veins of the leaf. This typically presents on older leaves.

 

Hint:

I’ve learned that using rainwater, distilled water, or filtered water is best for watering houseplants. Tap water often includes chemicals (fluoride or chlorine) that can be detrimental to plants. Some plants, such as Dracaena, which generally is thought of as a pretty tough drought-tolerant plant, are actually particularly sensitive to the chemicals in tap water. And room-temperature water is best. None of us likes a cold shower or extremely hot water.

Understanding The Message
Both over- and underwatering cause yellowing leaves. Overly moist soil is often the result of well intended, but overzealous, watering. Overwatering leaves the plant’s roots saturated and unable to “breathe” because of the excessive soil moisture. In essence, you’re drowning your plants. If your plant is in a container, make sure it has drainage holes and water less frequently. If there’s a green crusty appearance to the soil surface, this is algae and it too is an additional symptom of overwatering. If the plant isn’t too far gone, you’ll probably want to repot it into new soil. Check the roots: white roots are an indicator of healthy plants; black roots that appear to be decomposing are a death knell. When repotting an overwatered plant with rotting roots, trim back those roots that are in decline leaving the healthy roots to recover.

If you feel that the cause is not enough water, the remedy is obvious. Make sure you’re watering your plants properly: wait until soil begins to dry, then drench it fully, and wait until the soil begins to dry out before watering again.

Temperature and light of course play a significant role in plant health. If your leaves appear more faded than truly yellow, this could be a sign of lack of sunlight. Plants need proper light for photosynthesis to occur – the lifeblood of any plant. For plants in containers, be sure to rotate the pots periodically so that all the foliage is exposed to sunlight.


Identifying causes of leaf damage involves a bit of detective work. Think about the environment, particularly changes in the environment: temperature, chemicals, watering, humidity, etc. This leaf on this arrowhead plant (Syngonium podophyllum) seems perfectly normal on one half, while demonstrating obvious, significant damage on the other half. It might seem odd to see only one-half of a leaf affected, but a change in the plant’s environment makes the cause obvious: The browning is a result of cold shock. The plant was only partially protected overnight from the cold temperatures. The side that was exposed to the chilling temperatures was “burned,” much like freezer burn. The protected side was unaffected.

Research the light needs of your specific plant and make sure you’re providing the right type of light. Some plants like bright, but indirect, light. Others prefer full sun, yet others thrive in low light. If your plant is getting too much or too little light it will let you know. Plants with too little light also tend to become “leggy” as they’re reaching for more light with stems becoming atypically long with the leaves growing undersized. Sometimes the leaves may even fall off.

Though seen more often in landscape plants than houseplants, a significant temperature change can leave leaf tips looking “burned.” This typically occurs in spring, when there is a late freeze after tender new growth has emerged. If this is the case, trim off the “burned” foliage and allow new growth to re-emerge.

Houseplants have preferred temperature ranges: Some like it cool, around 50-60 F, others prefer 70s and 80s. Some prefer high humidity, others not so much. Some plants will drop all their leaves as a stress response to change when moved from one location to another, only to subsequently rebound with new growth. Ficus are particularly known for this.


These yews (Taxus x media ‘Densiformis’) are showing signs of “burn” on tender new growth caused by freezing temperatures that followed a period of extreme warmth. The plant will survive and the damaged tender tips should be trimmed after the possibility of any additional freezes.
 

If yellow spots on your leaves appear along with tiny critters (be sure to check the undersides of the leaves) then you have an insect population that’s enjoying your plants a little too much. First identify the pest and then treat for that particular insect. Remember that often pests are so little they cannot be seen with the naked eye, but their damage is obvious. Typical insect infestations on houseplants are caused by one of the following: mites, aphids, mealybugs, thrips, scale, or whiteflies. Repeatedly washing the plants or applying an insecticidal or horticultural soap is one treatment is often effective as well as environmentally safe.
 

This dracaena was overwatered for some time and eventually was repotted in new soil in an effort to revive the plant. The yellowing leaves here are a natural response to transplant shock. The plant is dropping older leaves in order to conserve energy as it develops new, strong roots to support new foliage.

Nutrient deficiencies are often indicated by yellowing foliage.

Iron deficiency is very common. This causes yellowing, stunted growth and interveinal chlorosis. Have your soil tested and maintain a pH below 7.

Potassium deficiency can cause yellow leaves, sometimes the edges and tips of the leaves, sometimes it will be yellow between veins. Composted fruit and vegetables added to the soil can help provide the needed nutrients.

Nitrogen deficiency can be indicated by stunted growth, yellow edges on tips of leaves, the veins of the leaves may be yellow, and sometimes the entire leaf will be pale or yellow. Adding compost will help and adding coffee grounds to the soil is a great alternative.

Magnesium deficiency shows as interveinal chlorosis – between the veins. Treat the soil with Epsom salts or compost.

Calcium deficiency causes crinkled, mottled, or distorted leaves. Adjusting soil pH can help, though be aware that adjusting soil pH occurs slowly over time and the pH may eventually creep back up to its “natural” level.


In some cases, leaves simply just age-out, slowly yellowing over time – the plant’s natural life cycle. Probably the most dramatic example is the seasonal cycle of white pine (Pinus strobus): its older interior needles all turn brown in the fall and seemingly drop at once, usually in the spring. Many species of pines will retain their older needles for about three years, and then eventually the older interior needles of the tree will drop.

Remember our plants really do “talk” to us. We simply must understand their “leaf” language.

 

Confessions of a neglectful gardener:

After seeing a spectacular bird’s nest fern (Asplenium nidus) at a botanical garden in Milwaukee, and noting that I owned one at home, I told my sister that bird’s nest fern was a great plant and almost impossible to kill. I still stand on that statement, but a confession follows.

Note the light brown leaves at the base of this plant (left), and the light green shriveled leaves below: all signs of severe underwatering. Well, I resolved I would take “better” care of this beautiful plant and water more regularly. Well, a little too regularly and with too much water each time was the case, and the result, double damage … overwatered! The core of the plant began to turn blackish brown as it succumbed to rot (right).


Lessons Learned:

1. Remember that each plant has its own unique growing requirements that need to be met.
2. Listen to your plants early, when they first show signs of stress. Respond with moderation. This is where I failed miserably!
3. Overwatering will kill a plant faster than almost any other pest or disease – including underwatering.
4. Learn from your experience and try again.

 

A version of this article appeared in a June 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Susan Jasan.

 

Posted: 06/01/17   RSS | Print

 

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Why Use Pots When You Have a Garden?
by Sue Speichert    

So here I am. It’s spring again and the garden centers are overwhelming with selections of the newest, the best, the brightest and the tried and the true. I have plenty of room to plant perennials, shrubs, trees even, all of them things that will (hopefully) return year after year, requiring little care other than the occasional weeding and monthly fertilizer.

No matter how I try to tell myself that I should concentrate on the plants that I can grow in the ground, it’s no use; I never seem to be able to follow my own advice. I always find myself daydreaming about the plants that I can put in pots. Whenever I’m in the garden section of a store, I find myself wandering over to admire the container gardens. I stroll the aisles with all the new pots and hanging baskets. I make mental notes of the plant combinations, wondering which pots at home I can use to recreate the same look of the ones in the store. This is madness, I think. Why do I grow things in pots even though I have plenty of room to garden in the ground?


A baby buggy makes a colorful conversation piece.

You Can Grow Anything


A bold ornamental banana plant (Musa spp.) dominates this planting.

 

The first reason is probably the most obvious. I’m a garden junkie. I want one (no, make that several) of every wonderful thing I see in the garden center. That includes all the containers. Tall bananas (Musa spp.) underplanted with Supertunias™, big Brugmansia spp., lush hanging baskets of Fuschia spp. or Begonia spp., combo planters dripping with four different kinds of annuals and a few grasses that I can plant in the ground and overwinter for next year.

The second reason is sentimental. I started with pots when I was a younger novice gardener. I could grow anything I wanted, as long as it was in a container. I grew Nasturtium, Zinnia, marigolds (Tagetes spp.), all in their own pots, and then arranged the containers on the patio to make a colorful display. It was a wonderful way to learn how to garden, how to grow things and how to mix color and texture without having to dig things up and move them around in the garden.

And I suppose that brings me to the last reason why I like pots: I can change my mind. I can mix things up and rearrange them without getting stressed out that I’m going to kill something by moving it for the second (or third or fourth) time. This means, of course, that there are certain plants that go in their own pot so that I can move them around, and other plants that have to be able to withstand a certain amount of transplanting regardless of the time of year.

Tips and Tricks


This container features the “thriller, filler and spiller” arrangement.

Be sure to include various textures and colors in a mixed container.

Over the years of container gardening there are a few tips and tricks that I like to remember, ideas that help make potted plantings all the more enjoyable. These are my own personal rules to live by, giving my container world a sense of order and reason.

My first rule is to decide which is more important, the pot or the plant. I don’t like to make things overly complicated by having a really ornate planter combined with a really complicated-looking planting. I don’t want the planting and the pot to compete for attention. If the container is the center of attention, then I plant a single plant in the pot and let the container tell its story. If the plant (or plants) should be center stage, then I choose a simple pot (often terra-cotta) so that the plants can really shine.

My second personal rule is to group colors together and have different color groups in different places around the house. All the red geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) are placed at the front door. This is formal, simple and uncomplicated. Any plants in other pots near the red geraniums will be colors that coordinate with them. If I plant petunias, they’ll probably be white and dark blue-purple, to recreate a Fourth-of-July-type theme. The bolder, orange-and-blue or hot-red-and-orange combinations are reserved for other areas around the house, especially in the backyard or on the back patio.

My third personal rule is to allow myself to take out plants when they are no longer suitable for the season. Spring pansies go on the compost pile by Father’s Day, replaced by more hot-season annuals. Often I will interplant shorter-lived annuals with stalwarts that will last all year long. This allows the pot to always look full even though I have changed out some of the plants. I don’t have to suffer for three weeks while the containers make the transition from spring to summer or from summer into fall.

And I will admit that I do this so that I can keep shopping at the garden center throughout the summer. When I find something I can’t live without but don’t know where to put it, I can still bring it home. I simply tuck it into a planter, pot and all, until I find the spot that’s just right. And that, after all, is the beauty of gardening in containers.

 

A version of this article appeared in a June 2013 edition of the State-by-State Gardening eNewsletter.
Photos courtesy of Sue Speichert

 

 

Grow Plants in Pots
by DK Publishing

Whether you want to bring impact and beauty indoors or dress up your patio with flowers or productive plants, Grow Plants in Pots is packed with inspirational ideas that explore the full range of plants that can be grown in containers. With gorgeous photography, information on growing fruits and vegetables in containers, and plants organized by growing conditions and key qualities for ease of reference, Grow Plants in Pots features exciting combinations and design ideas, showing plants in situ in the home and on patios and roof terraces.

 

Posted: 06/01/17   RSS | Print

 

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The History of Lawns
by Cinthia Milner    


The tradition of neatly mown green front yard isn’t as old as you would think. The concept began 1868
in the first American suburb in Illinois, and its roots come from the Tudor era in England.

For most American homeowners (gardeners or not), the upcoming summer months signal a time of mowing and watering lawns, followed by the perennial chore of raking. It’s as American as apple pie, right? Actually, the American obsession with velvety lawns isn’t much older than the happy days of the 1950s. The story of how Americans became the land of freshly cut lawns, reaching from shore to shore, could fill books, complete with twisted and complicated plots that always end with the “green, green grass of home,” but here is it in a shortened version.

Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape designer who co-designed Central Park with his partner Calvert Vaux, is said to have defined the American lawn, but he doesn’t get credit for inventing them. Gardeners in England had incorporated lawns into their estates since the time of the Tudors, but in the English tradition, lawns were a part of the landscape — not the landscape. Used for bowling greens and long vistas, the swaths of green in Europe belonged primarily to the wealthy and were unattainable by the poor.


General Plan of Riverside · Olmsted, Vaux & Co. Landscape Architects · 1869.

Olmsted created the unified lawn, or a more democratic approach to lawns — one that provided every homeowner a quarter-acre patch of green. Commissioned to design one of the first planned suburbs in 1868, Riverside in Illinois, he stipulated that each house be set back 30 feet from the road. Also, fences or “walls” were prohibited, giving the whole development a park-like setting. Lawns continued over property lines and mowing your grass became a matter of pride, the homeowner’s contribution to keeping the neighborhood spiffy, a sentiment that’s still prevalent today.

Prior to the expansion of the suburbs, lawns were minimal in most places and practically nonexistent in the South. The typical Southern front yard was hard dirt that was swept daily. Grass was thought to harbor mosquitos, insects, rodents and snakes and was also considered a fire hazard.

But then, the suburban explosion and the 40-hour workweek changed the daily routine of homeowners and allowed more time for ornamental gardening. Three organizations are directly responsible for instilling the desire and creating the necessary resources to ensure a summer of freshly cut lawns.
 



There are plenty of ways to incorporate flowerbeds and a nice lawn into your landscape, including planting a barrier of trees and shrubs between the road and your house.



Some opt for no grass at all, using mulch and plantings instead. In some cases, it is much easier to plant shade-loving hostas under a tree canopy than to struggle with grass.

Lawn Facts

The amount of pollution emitted by a lawnmower operating for one hour is equivalent to the amount of pollution emitted by a car driven for approximately 20 miles.

Up to 60 percent of urban fresh water is used for watering lawns.

Americans spend more than $5 billion on fossil fuel-derived fertilizers for their lawns and $700 billion on pesticides, totaling 67 billion pounds of synthetic pesticides.

20 million acres of American land is planted with residential lawns.

In 1915, almost a half century after Olmsted designed Riverside, the US Department of Agriculture collaborated with the US Golf Association to find the right grass — or rather, combination of grasses — that would produce a lawn suitable for the American climate and fit the definition of “good grass.” Bermudagrass from Africa, bluegrass from Europe and a mix of fescues and bentgrass were included in the research, all of which are non-native to the United States. Within 15 years, the USDA had produced several grass combinations that would work in American climates, but not without a host of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, irrigation and, of course, the right lawnmower.

The American Garden Club was the most effective in getting the American public on board. Through contests and other forms of publicity, they convinced homeowners that it was their civic duty to maintain beautiful and healthy lawns. They defined a good lawn as “mown to a height of an inch and a half, uniformly green, neatly edged and without weeds.” By the 1950s, the American public was convinced, and the quest for the perfect lawn became a weekend pastime. Weed-free, freshly mown lawns were as much a labor of love as a civic duty.

Today, Americans are still writing the history of lawns. As we have become more aware of the environmental hazards of lawn care, the enthusiasm for the lawn is dwindling. Modern homeowners are incorporating ground covers, flowerbeds, mulch and shrubbery in place of grass. Swaths of green are getting smaller, and some traditional front yards of grass are removed completely in favor of other plants.

Grass is still the largest part of the American garden, but whether or not it keeps its favored focal point… Only time will tell.

 

A version of this article appeared in a June 2013 edition of the State-by-State Gardening eNewsletter.
Photography courtesy of Cinthia Milner.

 

Posted: 06/01/17   RSS | Print

 

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The Buzz About Backyard Bees
by Peggy Hill    

Bees are fascinating. You may remember learning about the waggle dance they do to communicate the direction and distance to great flowers, but did you know that the hive entrance guards sometimes accept bribes? That’s right — a bee from another hive will slip one of the guards a little nectar, and then that guard will tell the other guards, “Hey, this is my nephew Joey. He’s okay.” Joey will slip in, steal a little honey and make a quick getaway. And I bet you thought only humans were corruptible.

The only problem with this story is that most of the bees in the hive are women, so Joey is most likely a Josephine. In a hive of 50,000 bees, only a few hundred are males. The bees have complete control over whether the eggs will hatch into males, females or a queen. They usually choose females, because females do all the work. The males just sit around, eating and drinking more than their share. Sound familiar, ladies? In fact, one indication that bee season is over is when the females decide they don’t need the lazy males anymore. They’re tired of taking care of them, so they kick them out of the hive and leave them to die on the ground. Take note, gentlemen, you have been warned…

And if you’ve ever dreamed of being queen for a day, there are only a few days in a queen bee’s life that you could possibly enjoy. These are the days when she soars in the sky, mating with up to 20 males. For the men, it’s drop-dead sex — and I mean this literally. Mating kills the male bees, and they fall out of the ski. Dead bodies litter the ground. After that, all is drudgery for the queen, and she will probably never fly again. She’s not even allowed a bathroom break as she goes about her life’s work of laying eggs. An entourage surrounds her, tending to her every need, grooming her, feeding her, moving her from cell to cell and, most importantly, encouraging her. “That’s a fabulous egg!” “Put another one right here!” “Wonderful!” “You’re the queen of all queens!” “Lay some more!”

We became backyard beekeepers for many reasons: to harvest honey, to help pollinate the garden, to alleviate — in our own small way — colony bee collapse and to have fun. My husband Dale does most of the work. Last fall, he attended a beekeeping seminar and classes at the library and became a dedicated member of our state beekeepers’ association. Dale’s a careful planner, so all of our decisions were thoroughly researched.


The queen is a stranger to the other bees, and they would kill her if they could. It takes several days to chew through the candy plug, and by that time, they’ve accepted her as their queen.

Ten frames of wax usually hang in the hive bodies, but Dale removed several frames to make room before shaking the bees into the box.

Very early on, we had to decide whether to get a “split” or a package of bees. A split is typically something a beekeeper splits from his hive. It may contain several frames of gestating bees/brood and the house bees that take care of them, a frame of honey, a frame of pollen and a queen. If you choose this option, you will likely harvest honey during your first year of beekeeping. A package of bees is just a box of bees and a queen. It takes longer to establish this type of colony, and it will be the second year before you get any honey. As a gardener, this seemed like the difference between starting my own seed and buying a quart perennial. The allure of watching it all unfurl from the beginning was irresistible, so we went with the package.

After learning all we could about beekeeping, we ordered our supplies. The frames required some assembly, but most do-it-yourselfers will find this easy. We were ready and waiting. The bees arrived in a wire box inside of another wire box with wooden handles. We could see them frantically climbing around, on one another, and I’m certain the UPS man was happy to get the buzzing package out of his truck. Dale was out of town when the girls arrived, so I was responsible for moving the cage to the garage and spraying them with sugar water twice a day.

Putting the bees in the hive ranks high on Dale’s “most fun things I’ve ever done” list, and it was exciting to watch. He opened the door on the box and gently shook the bees out over the open hive. Some flew into a small, lively cloud, but most fell into the box. After spending several days in a cramped cage, Josephine looked around and said, “Wow, this is great, we can make this work. It’s much better than that little wire box.”


It was exciting to watch Dale open the package of bees and gently pour them into their new home.

The bees are delighted with their new home.
 

In just one week, the busy bees covered both sides of the wax base with honeycomb and began stuffing the cells with brightly colored pollen.
 

During the first week, Dale went into the hive and couldn’t find the queen, but when he saw the small, white larvae in these cells, he knew she was alive and doing her job.

Dale is a proud bee daddy. While inspecting the frames during the third week, I heard him shout, “Look, look, it’s a baby bee climbing out of its cell. Oh, look, there’s another… and another… Yeah! This is so cool.” Dale began pampering “his girls” even more. He fed them all the sugar water they could use, and when the temperature sizzled, he not only relocated the big umbrella from the deck to the bee yard, he also adjusted it twice a day to keep them shaded. 


Watching baby bees push through the papery cap and crawl out of their cell is very cool. This frame would usually be covered with worker bees eager to help the babies, but Dale shook the frame so we could see them.

Cells filled with honey ring the edges of this frame. The bees put a white cap over the honey when it’s done. Many of the cells in the center of the frame are capped brood, where the larvae are developing. Some bees have already hatched and left behind dark, empty cells.

 

Dale pulls a frame of delicious honey from the honey super.

All that pampering paid off, and our hive grew quickly. When they filled their one-story bee house, Dale added another box. Within three months, they filled three medium-sized boxes. That’s enough honey to get them through the winter, so anything else they make is ours. We were told we wouldn’t get honey the first year, but it isn’t jam that I’m spreading on my toast! In late July, Dale added a queen excluder and a honey super. The honey super is where the honey is harvested. It’s a box exactly like the other three boxes in the hive, but it’s separated from the other boxes by a queen excluder. The queen excluder is a piece of mesh that allows the worker bees to pass from the brood chambers to the honey super, but it excludes the slightly larger queen — no one wants larvae in their honey!


Every time you go into the hive, you set it back about three days, but as a new beekeeper, Dale was enthralled and couldn’t resist checking their progress.

The bees never stop. Even while Dale inspects the frame, they just keep working.

 
Bob Fanning, a past president of our state beekeepers’ association, says, “I always recommend that a new beekeeper get at least two hives to provide a reference for comparison. If one hive has problems, it is more obvious to an inexperienced beekeeper if there is a second one to compare it to, and thus a red flag that help might be needed.” Following are his estimated startup costs:

Bee suit & veil
Gloves
Smoker
Two hive tools
Two hives & related equipment
Two packages of bees
Total estimated cost of two hives

$125
$31
$40
$15
$456
$180
$847
Note: If you decide to start with one hive, it will cost approximately $522.

Phillip Garrison, president of our beekeepers association, has 110 hives. He visited our hive in July and helped me with this article. He estimated that our original population of about 4,000 has grown to a full hive of 50,000 bees. He also told us that in our area beekeepers harvest an average of 60 pounds of honey each year. His advice to anyone interested in beekeeping is to join a bee club, take classes and find a mentor. If you need help finding a bee club, your state department of agriculture can assist you.

Bees are fascinating, and they never stop working. They don’t even sleep. In fact, when Dale shakes the frame and bees fall into the hive below, they just brush themselves off and immediately start working wherever they land. Phillip says, “If only humans could work together as well as bees — there’s no telling how much we could accomplish.”


It’s fun to watch the bees buzz among the flowers and fill their pollen sacks. This little lady is enjoying the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).


 

For a few extra dollars, you can have your queen marked like the one pictured here. The color of the mark is standardized, but it changes every year so you can tell how old she is. I took this picture at a beekeepers’ picnic, where the frame was securely enclosed in a plastic cage.


From State-by-State Gardening November/December 2012.
Title photo copyright ©
istockphoto.com/abdesign all other photos courtesy of Peggy Hill.

 

Posted: 05/22/17   RSS | Print

 

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Welcoming Butterflies
by Ilene Sternberg       #Beneficials   #Insects

Whatever the size of your garden, you can add excitement and wonder by welcoming beautiful, delicate members of the Lepidoptera family to share your little plot of heaven on earth.


A fritillary butterfly in hand.2

Despite their freewheeling, frivolous demeanor, butterflies follow a deliberate and complex regimen in their day-to-day doings. Their life-cycle consists of four stages: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis) and adult (butterfly), each stage requiring specific food and environments.

The Life Cycle

Butterflies deposit eggs — singly or in clusters — in spring, summer or fall, depending on the species. A good nectar source promotes the production of large numbers of eggs. Some lay eggs on only one or a few plant species, others on many kinds, usually on those appropriate as larval food. Eggs usually hatch within a few days. Nine out of 10 eggs never become adults because predators, mainly birds, think the eggs, caterpillars and butterflies are delicious. 

Emerging caterpillars feed first on their eggshells, then the host plant. They shed their “skin” usually four or five times, growing larger with each stage (called an “instar”). Caterpillars with abundant, high-quality food mature earlier than poorly fed larvae.


A tussock moth pupating on the underside of a leaf.2

The full-sized caterpillar spends about a day forming a green or brown pupa (chrysalis) using silk produced by its glands. The chrysalis has a smooth, hard surface and is suspended by a thin fiber from a stem or twig. Some butterflies, such as skippers, pupate inside a thin covering of silk and leaves. Moths spin a “cocoon,” usually in a shell surrounded by a protective fuzzy, cottony covering.

Depending on the species and temperature, the chrysalis stage usually lasts about two weeks. During this time, they astonishingly develop into an adult. Some species go through a hibernation stage called a diapause, before the pupa splits and the butterfly emerges. During the first few hours, the butterfly’s wings expand, the skin hardens and then it is able to fly, sip nectar, mate and lay eggs, thus repeating the life cycle.

From egg-to-caterpillar-to-butterfly takes about five to six weeks. Some species have only one generation per year. Others may go through two or three generations in a season. Most live only two or three weeks, although some, such as the mourning cloak, which spends the winter as an adult, may live for 10 months or more.

Host Plants for Caterpillars


Zebra swallowtail caterpillar in its green form.1

A zebra swallowtail caterpillar in its striped form.1
Swallowtail Family (Papilionidae)
Black swallowtail: parsley family (Apiaceae family) includes wild and cultivated carrot (Daucus spp.), dill (Anethum spp.), parsley (Petroselinum spp.) and parsnip (Pastinaca spp.)
Spicebush swallowtail: Sassafras
Tiger swallowtail: aspen (Populus spp.), cherry (Prunus spp.), birch (Betula spp.)

Skipper Family (Hesperidae)
Blazing star skipper: grasses 

Snout Butterfly (Libytheidae)
Common snout butterfly: hackberry (Celtis spp.)

Brush-footed Family (Nymphalidae)
Great spangled and Idalia fritillary: violet (Viola spp.)
Buckeye: plantains (Plantago spp.), toadflax (Linaria spp.), snapdragon (Antirrhinum spp.), false loosestrife (Ludwigia spp.)
Painted lady: thistle (Onopordum, Carduus, Cirsium)
Red admiral: nettle (Urtica spp.), false nettle (Boehmeria spp.)
Viceroy and red-spotted purple: willow (Salix spp.), especially black willow (Salix nigra), pussy willow (Salix caprea), poplar (Populus spp.), plums (Prunus spp.), cherry (Prunus spp.)
Hackberry butterfly: hackberry (Celtis spp.)
Monarch: milkweeds, butterfly weed (Asclepias spp.)
Mourning cloak: willow (Salix), birch (Betula spp.), aspen (Populus spp.), maple (Acer spp.), elm (Ulmus spp.)

Sulphur Family (Pieridae)
Cabbage white butterfly: (Brassicaceae family), Brassica spp.: cauliflower, broccoli, kale, mustard, turnip, radish (Raphanus spp.)
Common (clouded) sulphur: clover (Trifolium), alfalfa (Medicago)
Dogface butterfly: leadplant (Amorpha), false indigo (Baptisia), prairie clover (Dalea)

Coppers, Blues, Harvesters, Metalmarks Families (Lycaenidae, Riodinidae)
American copper: sorrel (Rumex spp.)
Sylvan hairstreak: willow (Salix spp.)
Common hairstreak: mallow (Malvaceae spp.), rose mallow (Hibiscus spp.), marsh mallow (Althea spp.), hollyhock (Alcea spp.)
Gray hairstreak: hawthorn (Crataegus spp.)

Source: University of Minnesota, James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History.

Attracting Butterflies to Your Garden


An adult zebra swallowtail.1

Monarch being handled.2

Select a variety of nectar-producing plants in flower throughout the season, especially those that bloom in mid to late summer, when most butterflies are active. Flowers with multiple florets that produce abundant nectar are ideal. (Double flowers are bred for appearance, not nectar production.) Adults will lay their eggs on specific plants that will serve as a food source for the caterpillars that hatch.

Provide shelter. Butterflies prefer to feed and lay eggs away from gusty winds. A row of shrubs or trees provides a windbreak. Plant tall plants at the back and sides of the garden for additional protection.

Wet sand or a mud puddle nearby encourages “puddling.” Though they get their sugar from plant nectar, butterflies need other nourishment for reproduction. For that, they sip from mud puddles, ingesting salts and minerals from the soil. Puddling is mostly seen in males. They incorporate those nutrients into their sperm, which when mating, are transferred to the female. These extra salts and minerals improve the viability of the female’s eggs, increasing the couple’s chances of passing  on their genes to another generation.

Avoid using broad-spectrum pesticides. Although caterpillars will chomp on some plants, they need this to metamorphose. Eventually your garden will attract natural predators for other pests attacking your garden.

Host Plants for Adult Butterflies

A monarch on a butterfly bush (Buddleia spp.).2
Azalea (Rhododendron spp.)
Blueberry (Vaccinium spp.)
Butterfly bush (Buddleia spp.)
Lilac (Syringa spp.)
Sumac (Rhus spp.)
Coneflower (Echinacea spp.)
Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana spp.)
Impatiens (Impatiens spp.)
Marigold (Calendula spp., Tagetes spp.)
Phlox (Phlox spp.)
Sunflower (Helianthus spp.)
Verbena (Verbena spp.)
Aster (Aster spp.)

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)2
Bee balm, bergamot (Monarda spp.)
Butterfly weed (Asclepias spp.)
Chrysanthemum (Dendranthema spp.)
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.)
Blazing star (Liatris spp.)
Coreopsis (Coreopsis spp.)
Ox-eye daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum, Leucanthemum vulgare)
Ageratum (Ageratum spp.)
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Dogbane (Apocynum spp.)
Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
Ironweed (Vernonia altissima)
Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum, syn. Eupatorium purpureum)
Nettle (Urtica spp.)
Thistle (Onopordum spp., Carduus spp., Cirsium spp.)

Source: University of Minnesota, James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History.

PHOTO CREDIT:

1. Photo courtesy of © Rose Franklin, ButterflyBushes.com
2. Photo courtesy of Ilene Sternberg

From State-by-State Gardening July/August 2013.

 

Posted: 05/22/17   RSS | Print

 

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Pint Sized Pollinators
by Dodie Ulery       #Beneficials   #Insects   #Unusual

Green orchid bees on a white lotus flower (Nelumbo nucifera ‘Alba Plena’)


Honey bees in North America are disappearing at a rapid rate. It’s time to find other pollinators for our farms and gardens.

I started seeing tiny green bees about 12 years ago here in Volusia County. There would be five or six on each lotus flower. My insect book had information about dozens of smaller bee species, but not the one I was watching. My search continued to the internet. Information included thousands of species of small bees, however, I could find none like the one I photographed as living in Florida.

When I decided to write about them I sent photographs to several entomologists. I was told that these bees were not orchid bees, because they don’t live in Florida. They’re found in abundance in all other parts of the lower 48, but not Florida.

I didn’t give up. I continued searching. I finally found images on a site called bugguide.net. They evidently do live in Florida, even as far south as Ft. Myers and Fort Lauderdale. The images in this article you’re reading are of one particular type: Neotropical Green Orchid Bees, Euglossa Viridissima.

They’re very small insects, 1⁄3 cm long and stay very busy pollinating everything in sight and they’re solitary which means they do not living in hives. The female makes her nest in little hollows in trees, fence posts, walls, firewood, bee houses or enclosed cavities. Mature nests can contain up to 20 cells in each cavity.

 

Left: Homemade cedar house Middle: Bamboo bee house


I bought a bee house and since then I’ve replaced the bee houses every few years. They’ve steadily grown in numbers over the years.

The male green orchid bee is attracted by fragrant flowers and compounds produced by wood decay, fungi and decomposing materials. They present these compounds to their prospective mates, to be used for the nesting sites.

The honey bee stays close to his hive on cold days and inclement weather. The orchid bee, like the proverbial mailman, doesn’t let any bad weather stop him from his daily rounds. He even flies during freezing weather. They are more productive than honey bees and seldom sting unless they’re held tightly in someone’s hand. If they do sting in response to being mishandled, it’s like a mosquito bite, having very low venom.

When the female finds a place for her nest, she collects pollen from flowers for her young. She forms it into a ball and places the ball at the back of the chosen tube or hole and lays an egg on it. Female eggs are laid at the back of the holes and males at the front. She then collects mud and other compounds to form a cell wall and repeats the process until she reaches the opening where she caps the end with mud. After a long dormant period in the fall and winter, the male emerges first in the spring, about the time the red buckeye and redbud trees bloom. Later, when the females emerge, they mate and the process repeats itself.



The books all say that cold temperatures are needed before spring in order to break the dormancy cycles. In Florida we usually don’t reach those lower temperatures; however we’re doing something right, because I’ve had them here for many years and they continue to be sighted in South Florida in greater numbers.

You can make your own nest block or purchase one online. A 12” piece of untreated 4”x 6” lumber works great. Holes, which we’ll call tunnels, 5/16” in diameter, can be drilled in the wood on ¾ inch centers. Smaller diameter tunnels encourage higher production of male bees. Do not drill completely through the lumber. Drill them as deeply as you can without breaking through to the other side. Shallow tunnels and cavities may produce fewer females. Attach a roof to provide protection from the elements, including rain, as well as the mid-day sun in Florida. Do not use wood preservatives. This year we constructed one out of plastic wood, which is made from recycled milk bottles. Hanging the bee nesting box to face southeast and the early morning sun is advisable and at least three feet from the ground.

When I registered my bee houses on the University of Florida bee site, ufbuzz.com, I found information on drilling holes of different sizes for different bee species. Check it out!

 

A version of this article appeared in a January/February 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Dodie Ulery.

 

Posted: 05/22/17   RSS | Print

 

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Meet the “Other” Pollinators
by Paula Cochran       #Beneficials   #Insects   #Unusual

The Pennsylvania leatherwing, a soldier beetle, consumes nectar and pollinates as it travels. As a bonus, it eats insect eggs, grasshopper eggs, caterpillars, aphids, and mealybugs.


In the move toward more ecologically sound growing practices, there is no insect that has gotten more attention than the honey bee. Though the honey bee is surely worthy of all our efforts, let us not forget to focus our attention on the many other pollinators that provide an invaluable service and are also on the decline.

Three quarters of the world’s crops, including fruit, grains and nuts depend on pollination. The loss of pollinators is not only an issue concerning food sources for humans; it impacts all living things that depend on a sound ecological food source. For example, grazing animals depend on the insect population to pollinate legumes, such as alfalfa and clover. In addition, pollinators like the often dreaded mosquito not only pollinate, they also serve as a food source for fish, spiders, salamanders, lizards and frogs.

In addition to bees, flies, mosquitos, moths, wasps, beetles and butterflies, there are beneficial garden insects that not only pollinate but keep the good versus bad bug population in check.


Syrphid flies, or hover flies, can be significant pollinators. This one is perched on a wild daisy.
 

While we want our zucchini plants to flourish, in spraying or dusting an insecticide to ensure many loaves of zucchini bread, we’ve opened the door to killing not only the culprit invading our zucchini, but the beneficial bugs and insects that would have taken care of the problem naturally. Pesticides cannot discriminate bad bugs from good bugs.

In killing off today’s “foes” we inadvertently kill off tomorrow’s “friends;” friends who are essential, as without them none of the earth’s ecosystems would survive. Left to their own devices, pollinators will produce larger, more flavorful fruits and higher crop yields and weed out the good from the bad insects naturally.

So who are these other pollinators, and how can they benefit your garden?


Beetles
When beetles come to mind, most people think of the lady beetle. Yet there are more than 350,000 species of beetles, and they are responsible for pollinating 88 percent of a quarter million flowering plants globally. As pollinators, they prefer fruity and wide-open flowers like aster, sunflower, rose and butterfly weed. In addition, they feed on caterpillars, cutworms, root maggots, spiders, snails, slugs, mites and other beetles.


A clouded sulfur snacking on a marigold. Butterflies as pollinators prefer flowers that provide broad surfaces for landing.


Butterflies and Moths
Butterflies pollinate by day. Their long, curled proboscis (tongue) is like a straw perfect for dipping into flowers for nectar. They prefer flowers with a landing platform (labellum) and brightly colored blooms like zinnia, yarrow and daisies. Once they land, they gather pollen on their long and thin legs.

Moths do most of their pollinating at night. Because light-colored flowers are more visible at night, they prefer light-colored flowers like honeysuckle and primrose.


A feather-legged fly dives face first into a flower. While insects exploit flowers for food, flowers exploit insects to achieve pollination.


Flies
Flies are important pollinators. They have small tongues, so they are attracted to simple bowl-shaped flowers like dill, aster and Queen Anne’s lace. In addition, many maggots are predators, and they eat aphids, leafhoppers, scale insects, mealybugs and corn earworms.


Mosquitoes
Mosquitos are often accidental pollinators of Umbelliferae family (plants with umbrella shaped blooms), including anise, caraway, carrots, celery, coriander, cumin, dill and parsnips. They are also beneficial to plants like goldenrod, orchids and grasses. Despite their reputation as nothing but a nuisance, male mosquitos live entirely off nectar and plant fluids; females also survive on a plant-based diet and only seek blood when they are producing eggs.


A blue-wing scoliid wasp, a bumble bee and a paper wasp share a goldenrod stem. Though bees are the number-one pollinator, wasps contribute to this important activity.


Wasps
Wasps are not the most efficient pollinators due to their lack of hair, but they have very high-energy and move about frantically, thus, they get the job done. In addition, they bring caterpillars, live insects and larvae back to their nest to feed their young.


Remember the Little Guys
Since the beginning of time, plants and insects have formed a relationship that ensures pollination. But we are now faced with the dilemma that due to human decisions like disruption to native species, introduction of non-native species, modern farming practices and insecticides and herbicides, we now find ourselves in the position of having to help pollinators by making better decisions for the benefit off all living things. Luckily, creating healthy habitats for pollinators is easy to do.


Though it doesn’t look like a “traditional” bee, it is in fact a bee. This metallic sweat bee entangled in a chicory flower will leave the flower glistening with pollen.

 

A version of this article appeared in a May/June 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Paula Cochran.

 

Posted: 05/22/17   RSS | Print

 

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Surprising Pollinators
by Helen Newling Lawson       #Beneficials   #Insects   #Unusual

Bumble bees need a long season of flowers, from spring-flowering plants like this Allium through to late fall bloomers. Bonus: your garden will be beautiful longer, too!
Photo courtesy of the National Garden Bureau.


Helping pollinators is a hot gardening trend right now (dare we say there’s a “lot of buzz”?). Initiatives such as the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge are bringing attention to the need to create habitats for at-risk pollinators such as monarch butterflies and honeybees. But many other species – including some surprising ones like flies, moths, and hummingbirds – also act as pollinators, and also need our help.


Native Bees
Honeybees were actually imported from Europe almost 400 years ago. Our continent was already richly populated with nearly 4000 species of bees, all perfectly adapted to pollinate our native flora. Now that commercial honeybees are threatened by colony collapse disorder (CCD), we need to think about how we can help these native species back get back their rightful place in the natural order.


“Bug hotels” like this creative one are a fun backyard building project. (For a fun DIY project, see page 30 in this issue!)
Photo by Helen Newling Lawson.

 

Several of these bees are ideal gardening companions. In fact, they are far more effective pollinators than honeybees, who moisten the pollen they collect in order to bring back as much as possible. Without a hive to defend, solitary bees like mason bees and leafcutter bees are far less likely to sting, and are non-venomous if they do. And since they don’t make honey, they collect just enough dry pollen on their hairy bellies to feed their own young, allowing the rest to drift where it may.

 

The blueberry bee is just one of the thousands of other bees in addition to honeybees who need our help. This species and its close relative, the blue orchard bee, are effective pollinators of commercial food crops.
Photo by Jack Dykinga for the Agricultural Research Service.

Bumble Bees
Turns out, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and blueberries need a certain level of vibration in order to shake their pollen loose. Guess who has evolved to have just right amount of “buzz” to make the magic happen? That’s right – the humble bumble.

You can encourage bumble bees to buzz pollinate your crops by building them wooden nest boxes filled with bedding (xerces.org has plans online). These will replicate the abandoned rodent holes their colonies would normally seek.


Mason Bees
True to their name, female mason bees build their nests by “mortaring” mud around each egg, laid in individual chambers. They are so reliant on a particular quality of mud that at least one online retailer sells both dried mud powder and a special mud holder to help encourage these native pollinators.

At the very least, allow for an area of exposed, moist soil in your garden. A simple solution might be to leave the earth surrounding your birdbath unmulched. Each time you fill the birdbath (bees need this water, too), the overspill will create a muddy patch.

This will also benefit butterflies, who must collect minerals from mud in a behavior called “puddling” in order to mate.

Mason bees normally build these egg chambers inside a single, larger cavity, such as a hollowed tree trunk (unlike carpenter bees, they are not strong enough to drill their own holes). You can easily recreate a suitable nesting place, and the article beginning on page 30 will show you how! They fly less than 300 feet from their nests, so position them where you want them to pollinate. “Solitary” refers to how they nest and raise their young, not their personality: Mason bees are happy to have neighbors, so you can place multiple nesting sites side-by-side.


Ground-Dwelling Native Bees
Many native bees nest underground, forming complex burrows. Leave a patch of bare soil in a sunny area, and to prevent disturbing their hard work avoid tilling and other ground-disturbing activities (you’ll also limit weed seed germination this way).


Moths
Night-flying moths add more “pollination hours” to your garden. In return, they need late-opening flowers and are drawn to lighter colored and strongly sweet-scented blooms.


Agastache is great for attracting nocturnal moths like the sphinx moth.
Photo courtesy of HighCountryGardens.com.


Hummingbirds
A number of birds are also pollinators, including hummingbirds. They prefer flowers with a tubular shape, such as perennial sages (Salvia spp.) and chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus).


Flies
Helen Yoest of the non-profit Bee Better (beebetter.info) clarifies these are “not your common housefly! These are gentle bee lookalikes including syphid, overfly, midge, and flower fly. These flies go for less glamorous flowers.”


What about bats?
If you’re like me, you’ve heard that bats are also pollinators. And that’s true – but only in the southwestern U.S.

However, supporting pollinators also means eliminating pesticide sprays in your yard. So you may want to try hosting some bats for natural mosquito control. Kirk Lucius, a Forsyth County Master Gardener who has created many bat nesting sites, recommends the building plans available online at www.batcon.org.


Planting a diverse mix of plants will ensure a healthy mix of pollinator species in your garden – but be sure to eliminate pesticide sprays!
Photo by Helen Newling Lawson.


Planting for Pollinators
The key here is diversity. Some bees, such as mason bees and bumble bees, are generalists, and need many types of flowers. Others are specialists, relying on particular flowers. Some bees have short tongues and some have long, each requiring a different flower shape. It’s best to plant a wide range of flowers to help as many different species as possible.


For more information:

www.xerces.org/pollinators-southeast-region
www.nwf.org/Garden-For-Wildlife/About/Native-Plants.aspx
www.pollinator.org/PDFs/Guides/SoutheastMixedForestrx5FINAL.pdf

 

A version of this article appeared in a May 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.

 

Posted: 05/22/17   RSS | Print

 

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The Trouble With Honey Bees
by Blake Layton       #Beneficials   #Disease   #Insects

Honey bee queens are easily identified by their much longer abdomens. Queens spend their days laying eggs while being fed and tended by workers.


Honey bees hold a unique place in the insect world. They are one of only a few insects man has domesticated, and they are bred and raised as livestock throughout the world. The honey and wax they produce has been prized by humans for thousands of years and honey bees provide critical pollination for many food crops. These are valuable insects that enhance our lives. Commercial beekeepers derive their livelihood by farming this miniature livestock, and even if you do not keep bees, eat honey or use beeswax candles, many of the fruits and vegetables you eat are more readily available and less expensive because of honey bee pollination.

Honey bees are not native to North America; they were brought here by European settlers to provide honey and beeswax. As settlers moved west they carried honey bees with them, and many of these bees escaped along the way to establish feral colonies in hollow trees throughout the country. But feral honey bee colonies are not nearly as common as they once were, and neither are domestic colonies. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the number of commercial bee hives in the U.S. peaked at 5.9 million in 1947; today there are less than 2.5 million.

If you have paid attention to the news media over the past few years, you probably know honey bees are having problems. One of the most widely publicized is a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, or CCD. This problem, which causes entire colonies of bees to die suddenly and mysteriously, was first recognized in the U.S. in 2006. But CCD is just one of a series of new problems to affect U.S. honey bees over the last 30 years.

Like all livestock, honey bees are subject to a wide variety of health problems. Many of these health problems are diseases, but honey bees are also affected by parasitic mites, exposure to insecticides, other insects that invade the hive, and even other honey bees. Keeping colonies healthy and vigorous is one of the most effective proactive treatments for many of these problems, but with so many new problems this is more difficult and more costly for beekeepers to do.


Male honey bees, called drones, are larger and stockier than workers and have bigger eyes. Drones do not collect nectar and pollen or perform tasks within the hive.


Diseases
Many people are surprised to learn insects get sick, but they do, and honey bees are no exception. There are many diseases that are specific to honey bees. These include diseases caused by bacteria, fungi and viruses. Some of these diseases affect the brood, or immature stages, while others affect adult bees. Historically, the most serious brood disease is a bacterial disease known as American foulbrood. Infected larvae die in their cells and worker bees spread the disease as they routinely clean cells and feed larvae. Back in the 1960s when quarantining and destroying infected colonies was the standard method of treating American foulbrood (it still is in some states), I had to burn several of my own colonies because of this disease.

There are several other less serious, but still debilitating, brood diseases, including European foulbrood, sacbrood and chalkbrood. Nosema diseases affect adult honey bees. Nosema apis is an “old” disease that afflicts bees that are winter bound inside the hive for too long, causing dysentery and gradually weakening the colony. Nosema ceranae is a relatively new and more serious problem that can cause infected colonies to die out quickly.

Honey bees are also affected by many viruses. With the exception of N. ceranae and some of the viruses, most of the problems mentioned so far have plagued U.S. beekeepers for hundreds of years and both bees and beekeepers are somewhat used to coping with these problems. Many of the problems we are about to discuss are relatively new to the U.S. beekeeping industry, and, in some cases, the best ways of dealing with these problems are still being worked out.


Mites
During the 1980s two species of parasitic mites entered the US, causing serious problems for the beekeeping industry and destroying most of the feral honey bee colonies that had become so common through much of the country. Tracheal mites attack adult bees by crawling inside their trachea or breathing tubes and sucking blood through the tracheal wall. For humans, this would be similar to having ticks feeding on the insides of the nostrils. Varroa mites are much larger than tracheal mites and attack developing bee larvae and pupae, as well as adult bees, by sucking blood through the body wall, earning them the nickname “vampire mites.” This is debilitating enough, but varroa mites also spread a viral disease that causes adult bees to have deformed wings. Either of these mites can cause a colony to die out and beekeepers must now spend considerable money and effort to protect their colonies from these pests.

 

This frame of brood shows some of the things you will see inside a healthy honey bee hive: adult worker bees, capped brood, containing pupating worker bees (center of frame), open cells with white larvae curled in the bottom, open cells containing newly laid eggs, a band of capped honey (along the top of the frame) and capped drone brood (lower corners of the frame).


Insecticides
One of the dilemmas of beekeeping is that honey bees are needed to pollinate certain crops, yet those same crops are attacked by insect pests that sometimes have to be controlled with insecticides. Honey bees also forage on a large number of crops that do not require bee pollination, and foraging workers will fly several miles from the hive. If insecticides are applied when honey bees are foraging in a crop, large numbers of workers can be killed. Beekeepers are familiar with this problem and work to minimize the risk by carefully choosing where, and where not, to place their bee yards and by moving or confining their bees when insecticide applications are scheduled for a crop they are pollinating. Farmers can help by notifying beekeepers before applying insecticides and by scheduling applications late in the day after most bees have ceased foraging.

Although the impact of agricultural insecticides on honey bees is a controversial subject, this may be one of the few honey bee problems that has declined over the past few decades. This is because many of the older broad-spectrum insecticides that are acutely toxic to honey bees have been replaced by products that are more pest specific and less acutely toxic to bees and other non-target organisms. However, there are questions about the potential chronic effects of some of these newer insecticides on honey bees and research continues in this area. The wide-spread use of transgenic (genetically modified) crops, which produce their own internal control of certain key insect pests, has benefited honey bees by reducing the number of foliar insecticide sprays required on many crops. Transgenic crops also are not without controversy – “If these plants produce their own insecticide how does it affect honey bees?” This question must be carefully researched and answered before a transgenic crop is approved. Results of extensive and ongoing research have shown no adverse effects from the transgenic crops currently in use.


Africanized Honey Bees
African honey bees are a subspecies of honey bee that is native to Africa; “European honey bees” refers to several subspecies of honey bees that are native to Europe. There are several key behavioral differences between African honey bees and European honey bees, the most important being that they are much more aggressive and attack with less provocation and in larger numbers. This behavior has earned them the name “killer bees” because their massive attacks sometimes result in human fatalities.

In the 1950s, a few African honey bee queens escaped from a bee breeding program in Brazil and began to interbreed with commercial and feral European honey bees. These “Africanized honey bees” spread through South America, moved into Mexico, and entered the U.S. in 1990. Today, feral colonies of Africanized honey bees are established in all the Southwestern states, as well as in portions of Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida and Georgia, and they continue to slowly spread into the remainder of the Southeast. In addition to interbreeding with European honey bees, Africanized bees will also invade and take over weakened colonies of European bees.

Despite decades of interbreeding with European honey bees, Africanized honey bees still retain their aggressive behavior. Because of the increased potential for mass stinging attacks, gardeners and the general public need to be much more cautious around colonies and swarms of feral bees once Africanized bees arrive in an area. Your state’s department of agriculture and local county extension offices can provide more information about Africanized honey bees and the steps and precautions to take when suspected colonies are encountered. Commercial beekeepers can prevent apiaries from being taken over by Africanized bees by regularly re-queening with purebred queens produced in areas where Africanized bees do not occur.


A solid frame of freshly capped honey is a beautiful sight that represents thousands of “bee hours” of work.


Wax Moths and Small Hive Beetles
Honey bees also have to contend with other insects that will invade their hives and steal the fruits of their labor. Wax moths are age- old enemies that cause millions of dollars of damage to the U.S. bee industry each year by damaging combs and equipment. The moths invade the hive and lay eggs and the caterpillars tunnel through the comb, producing large amounts of silken webbing. Weakened colonies or stored combs are most likely to be attacked; healthy vigorous colonies are usually able to defend themselves against wax moths.

Small hive beetles invaded the U.S. around 1996 and have since spread throughout the country. Adults and larvae crawl over the combs feeding on honey and pollen and contaminating honey and causing it to spoil. They also feed on immature bees, and heavy infestations can cause bees to abandon a hive. As with wax moths, small weakened colonies are most susceptible, but small hive beetles sometimes invade healthy colonies and beekeepers are still working out the best way to control this pest, which now exceeds wax moths in importance.


Colony Collapse Disorder
In 2006, commercial beekeepers began to notice large numbers of hives in which most of the adult bees had suddenly disappeared, leaving the queen and immature brood to die in the hive. Dead adult bees are not found either inside or around the outside of affected hives – they are just gone. This is a serious problem with some beekeepers suffering the loss of more than half their colonies to this phenomenon. Greatest losses occur through the winter and into early spring. Beekeepers normally lose around one of every six colonies to winter mortality, but approximately one third of all honey bee colonies were lost in each of the first two winters after this new problem was recognized, and U.S. honey bees continue to suffer high mortality from this mysterious malady.

This problem is called colony collapse disorder (CCD), and the beekeeping industry is devoting large amounts of time and resources into determining the cause of CCD. So far no single agent has been identified as “the cause” and CCD is currently considered to be a syndrome caused by several contributing factors. Many potential factors have been investigated and many, such as cell phones and transgenic crops, have been largely dismissed as being involved. Some of the factors that continue to be investigated include: varroa mites; a virus disease known as Israeli acute paralysis virus; and Nosema ceranae, a relatively new disease of adult bees. Insecticides have not been exonerated as playing a role in CCD, but despite extensive research, they have not been definitively implicated either. Progress is being made, but honey bee researchers are still working frantically to understand just what causes this serious problem and how to stop it from killing U.S. honey bee colonies.

As you can see, it is not easy being a honey bee; there are so many potential problems that can affect the hive. Some are serious problems that can kill a colony quickly. Others are more minor problems that can weaken a colony and make it more susceptible to other diseases or pests, resulting in a lingering decline. This spring, when you notice a honey bee working some of the flowers in your garden, take a minute to consider and appreciate the benefits she and her sister bees provide, despite the problems they face.

 

A version of this article appeared in a February 2011 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Blake Layton.

 

Posted: 05/19/17   RSS | Print

 

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Super Size It!
by Troy B. Marden       #Design   #Ornamentals   #Unusual

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the background, Dahlia imperialis holds court over Ricinus communis, the castor bean. In October, the dahlia will produce 4-inch diameter pink or white flowers.

 


I love big plants! Whether I’m designing a large estate garden or a small courtyard, big plants with large, architectural leaves and sometimes stunning flowers always play a role. Keep in mind that the words “big” and “large” are vague terms and everything is relative. A plant that looks very large in the confined space of a walled garden may look quite small on a wide open 2- or 3-acre property. At the same time, a plant that is truly suited to a large garden may quickly overwhelm one that is less spacious, so do your research and choose wisely. Also consider that “big” may refer to the height of the plant (a particularly tall selection), the width of the plant, the size of its leaves or a combination of all three. A very wide-growing plant may be difficult to accommodate in a small space, but tall plants can be used almost anywhere, so don’t let the height of a plant scare you away! In fact, you’ll find that tall plants, even in small spaces, add a dramatic sense of layering and help to create that lush garden effect that we’re all after.

So what are my favorite super-sized plants? I’m glad you asked! Here are a few large-growing favorites that have graced my garden and the gardens of my clients for many years. Some are grown strictly for the foliage, while others also provide beautiful blooms. Some are annual, some perennial, a few are tropical and there are even some shrubs. There should be something for everyone, and I hope they whet your appetite for plants that might be outside of your normal comfort zone.
 

Arundo donax ‘Versicolor’
The green and white variegated form of the giant reed is always a showstopper in the garden. Looking like a cross between the most graceful ornamental grass and a giant bamboo, it is hardy to Zone 6, dying to the ground each winter and rocketing skyward each spring to a height of 12 to 15 feet. A much improved variety named ‘Peppermint Stick’ has cleaner white variegation that does not fade in the heat of summer, while a smaller and somewhat slower growing cultivar known as ‘Golden Chain’ has green leaves with yellow stripes and reaches a diminutive 7 feet tall instead of twice that!

 

Arundo donax ‘Variegata’ is a giant member of the grass family that can tower 12 feet above its garden neighbors.

 

Colocasia gigantea ‘Thailand Giant Strain’
Almost all of us have grown elephant ears at one point or another in our gardens, but I’d be willing to bet that few of you have grown anything as impressive as this giant from Thailand! Reaching a whopping 10 feet tall with individual leaves that can grow as large as the hood of a Volkswagen Beetle, for sheer garden bragging rights this elephant ear can’t be beat. In a mild winter, with good drainage and deep mulch, ‘Thailand Giant Strain’ has survived into Zone 6b, though Zone 7 is probably a more sure bet. Even in more confined spaces, this plant will stand head and shoulders above the rest and can easily be underplanted for layers of interest.

Dwarfing the plants around it, Colocasia gigantea ‘Thailand Giant Strain’ is one of the grandest of all garden plants with individual leaves reaching nearly 6 feet long by 5 feet wide.


Dahlia imperialis
Even the name sounds regal, and regal it is! Perennial to Zone 6b, large trunk-like stems that may reach 3 to 4 inches in diameter by late summer and autumn emerge from ground level each spring and quickly rise to heights of 8 to 10 feet or more. The large, pinnately compound leaves almost resemble an unusual palm tree or bamboo as they hover above neighboring plants. In late autumn – provided we don’t have an early frost – pink flowers appear atop the immense stems and bid farewell to the gardening season. A white-flowered form is occasionally offered by specialty mail order nurseries.
 

Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurellii’
Perhaps my personal favorite of all of the magnificent members of the banana tribe, the red Abyssinian banana is a showstopper in most any garden. Growing quickly in the hot and humid summers of the South, even a small starter plant can reach 8 feet tall or more in its first season. Green leaves are flushed ruby red and may reach gargantuan proportions up to 8 feet long by 3 feet wide in rich garden soil, though they’re usually just a bit smaller. These plants can be overwintered by cutting all of their leaves back to the trunk in autumn and then digging and storing the remainder of the plant (trunk and roots) in a frost-free garden shed or crawl space to be replanted the following spring.

A bold and daring tropical, Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurellii’ is also called red Abyssinian banana. Individual ruby red leaves may reach gargantuan proportions, nearly 8 feet long by 3 feet wide when the plant is well grown.

 

Hedychium species and hybrids
Also known as ginger lilies, these beautiful plants are hardy throughout much of the South. Some, such as Hedychium coronarium (white butterfly ginger) are even reliable into Zone 6. In my garden it dies to the ground each winter, though farther south it is evergreen. In late spring it emerges from thick, tuberous roots with the tall stems reaching anywhere from 5 to 10 feet in height, depending on the variety. The tropical-looking foliage is always a welcome foil for other garden plants. In late summer and autumn, butterfly or moth-like blooms emerge from fat buds at the top of each stem, their fragrance carried on the breeze throughout the garden. Other favorites include H. gardnerianum, H. ‘Dr. Moy’, H. ‘Tahitian Flame’ and many others.

Hedychium, or butterfly ginger, comes in a variety of sizes. Some of the most beautiful can reach heights of 8 to 10 feet by autumn when they produce exquisitely fragrant, butterfly-like flowers in colors that range from white to pink, yellow and orange. In Zone 7 and warmer, many are hardy perennials.

 

Hydrangea aspera subsp. robusta
This hydrangea is not for the faint of heart and is probably best left to the more experienced gardener, but for those of you who want a plant that is both showstopping and unusual enough to stump your gardening friends, it’s the perfect choice! Best suited to protected locations in rich, moist, well-drained soil, Hydrangea aspera subsp. robusta has large, felted, gray-green leaves that may be as long as 18 inches and 8 inches or more wide. Combine this with 12-inch-wide blue lace-cap flowers in midsummer and you have a plant that will have your friends and neighbors asking what brand of fertilizer you use!

The flowers on the “giant” hydrangea are no slackers, either! Approaching 12 inches in diameter, it is one of the largest blooms in the hydrangea family.

 

Kniphofia ‘Lola’
‘Lola’ is a giant in the world of red-hot pokers, but is still small enough to fit into nearly any garden. With an upright habit, ‘Lola’ stands 5 feet or more tall when in bloom and the individual, brilliant orange “pokers” may be as much as 18 inches long! Nothing will stop garden visitors in their tracks like a well-grown clump of ‘Lola’ in full bloom. Hardy to Zone 6b and one of the best kniphofias for the South, all it requires is good drainage in the winter and it will return to grace your summer garden with magnificent blooms for many years to come. And in case you’re wondering, the hummingbirds will wait in line and fight for their turn at the flowers!

Not all Kniphofia, or red-hot pokers, thrive in Southern gardens, but Kniphofia ‘Lola’ has proven herself for many seasons in my garden. Standing 5 feet tall in bloom with 18-inch long spires of brilliant orange-red flowers, ‘Lola’ is a hummingbird’s dream and a showstopper in the early summer garden.

 

Musa ornata ‘Red Jewel’
For those of you who are still convinced that “giant” plants don’t have a place in your garden, I present to you Musa ornata ‘Red Jewel’, a dwarf banana reaching only 5 to 6 feet tall, with slender leaves and stems that are not obtrusive in any way. In a very protected location, this plant has overwintered as far north as Zone 6b and should be reliably hardy from Zone 7 south. In late summer on mature stalks, brilliant jewel-like blossoms like the one shown here may emerge from the top of the trunk. In colder zones, this banana can easily be dug and stored in a frost-free place for winter. The perfectly perennial Japanese fiber banana, Musa basjoo, is also an excellent choice, but understand that with time it will grow extremely large, eat up a good chunk of garden space and is nearly indestructible (or removable) once it gets established.

An excellent choice for smaller gardens, Musa ornata ‘Red Jewel’, the red jewel banana is a smaller growing selection that reaches only 6 feet tall and has proven hardy to Zone 7 in protected locations.

 

Petasites japonicus ‘Giganteus’
This plant is just too good to pass up, but I will issue fair warning that it does spread – rambunctiously – by underground stolons. That said, if you have a large, open area, especially a boggy spot where nothing else will grow, here is your plant! Like something out of Jurassic Park, petasites emerges each spring and quickly unfurls humongous leaves that may reach as much as 3 feet wide on stems 3 feet tall. Its texture in the garden’s understory is second-to-none and you almost can’t help but think there must be some sort of exotic, prehistoric animal lurking under its ground-covering foliage.

For damp locations, Petasites japonicus ‘Giganteus’ makes a stunning deciduous ground cover. Site this plant carefully, as it is a rampant grower and will quickly run over smaller plants that are in its way. Where you can let it romp, it adds a prehistoric flair to the garden.


Podophyllum pleianthum
If you love the strikingly bold texture of the petasites, but prefer a plant that behaves itself, then this Chinese cousin of our native mayapple may just be the plant for you. Glossy green leaves may reach as much as 2 feet in diameter on well-established clumps (this will take a while!) and unlike our native mayapple, it stays put! It is the perfect companion for other shade-loving plants such as hostas, hellebores and many others, and only asks that you provide it with rich, well-amended, woodsy garden soil. Other beautiful and even more unusual relatives include Podophyllum hexandrum, P. ‘Kaleidoscope’ and P. ‘Spotty Dotty’, among others.

Sources:
www.plantdelights.com
www.rareflora.com
www.hydrangea.com

 

A version of this article appeared in a June 2011 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Troy B. Marden.

 

Posted: 05/09/17   RSS | Print

 

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Plants to Market
by Kathleen Hennessy       #Propagation

Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) tree seeds are sorted for size and other factors before being selected for the sowing process.


As you walk through your local garden center, have you ever wondered where the plants come from? Why are there so many of one plant and only a few of another? The process of creating enough plants for us to purchase takes a scientific approach, technical skill, and a lot of artistry.

Every home gardener wants to have the latest and greatest new plant. That’s why nurseries work with breeders around the world to find interesting new varieties. Once they find those plants, they’re tested for several years to make sure they perform well and can handle temperature extremes. After testing, the work of creating enough inventory to sell to gardeners begins.

The process of creating plant inventory is called plant propagation. Top nurseries here in the U.S. use several types of propagation methods to multiply plants creating large enough inventories of each particular plant variety.


Plants grown in seed beds are evaluated for size, uniformity, and other characteristics.


Seed Propagation
Seed propagation may be the most familiar to home gardeners. Nurseries start plants from seed, just like we would at home, only on a much larger scale. This is the most common way nurseries grow annuals and some perennials.

At Monrovia Nursery, growers start all of their Japanese maple rootstock (Acer palmatum) from seed. Total production time for these beautiful trees can take six years or more. First, seedlings are planted and transferred into bigger pots as they grow. This process takes a little longer than a year.

The next step is to graft the seedlings. “For Japanese maples, you can’t produce a cultivar from a cutting,” said Ron Kinney, conifer and tree grower manager at Monrovia. So, cuttings of preferred Japanese maple varieties are grafted on to seedling rootstock. At Monrovia’s facility, the grafting process takes about eight months. The grafted trees spend time in a greenhouse, eventually being moved outside to a container field.

Each tree spends a few years in the field, where it is maintained and shaped. The trees are transferred to bigger pots as they grow. When they reach the desired size, they are shipped out to a garden center.


Cuttings grown in a sandy mix have developed roots and are beginning to grow, ready to be transplanted to the next growing media.

 

Cuttings or tissue cultures of shrubs, trees, or perennials are placed in cells with growing media to develop roots.

Rooted Cuttings
Creating new plants from vegetative cuttings involves taking parts of an existing mature plant called the mother plant. Propagation managers’ work with inventory managers to determine the number of plants needed. Often times, they’re estimating the number of plants garden centers will need three to five years down the line.

Propagation teams cut the stems or branches from the mother plant, then the cuttings are placed in rooting hormones to boost root growth. Stems can be placed in sand or another growing medium that makes it easy for the roots to grow quickly. Once the cutting reaches a certain growth stage, it can be transferred into a pot.

Spring Meadow Nursery, based in Grand Haven, Michigan, provides starter plants, called liners, to nurseries around the country for them to grow on to retail size. “The length of the vegetative propagation process depends on the variety and the time of year,” said Stacey Hirvela, horticulture marketing specialist at Spring Meadow. “Some plants will root very quickly while others take a long time. And some plants will root quickly at one time of the year and more slowly during others.

”At Spring Meadow, the cuttings go right into soil. “The cuttings are brought into our sticking room where a crew will place them into cells or pots,” said Hirvela. “As they pot them up, the trays slide down the line and get watered, which settles the soil around the stem and starts signaling to the plant that conditions are right for root formation.”

At Bailey Nurseries’ facilities, cuttings also go into liners, but some cuttings spend time in sterilized sand. The cuttings are placed in the sandy growing medium in a greenhouse. The sand is a very porous, allowing for good drainage, yet still holds up well under the consistently misting conditions the new cuttings require.

Once optimal root growth is attained, the plants can go into a garden bed, larger liner or a container. They’ll spend time in a greenhouse, out in a container field or split both locations. Here they are watered, fertilized and trimmed to reach their best growth potential. They can also be repotted in larger containers as they grow. It can take two years or longer for the rooted cuttings to reach the size and quality needed for the plant to be sold at a garden center.


Tissue culture involves taking tiny pieces of plants for propagation. The pieces develop into the exact same plant as the one from which the cuttings were taken.


Tissue Culture
A third propagation method is called tissue culture. Stepping into the tissue culture lab at Monrovia Nurseries facility is a very futuristic experience. Every part of the lab is sterile and each technician has a very specific and intricate job. With tissue culture, new plants are created from an original plant using very small cuttings. Technicians separate tiny parts of the plant, then transfer those parts into a growing medium in a sterile container, such as a test tube or glass jar. This method allows nurseries to create several offspring from one parent plant. Each of the new plants is an exact replica of the parent plant, almost like a clone.

Nurseries use tissue culture for a number of different reasons. If enough root stock is not available, tissue culture provides an alternative for propagation. For some varieties, it can be a faster way to create more plants. Creating new plants from tissue culture also protects the availability of varieties. “If we were to have an issue in the nursery, say a particular pest or disease, that wiped out all of the root stock of one type of plant, having a stock of that plant in tissue culture means that plant would not be lost,” said Sam Huang, a craftsman at Monrovia.


‘Great Expectations’ hosta (H. ‘Great Expectations’) is propagated by tissue culture and grown in glass jars until ready to transplant into cells, or other potting media.
 

As the new plants created from tissue culture grow, they can be transferred to larger containers within the lab and eventually may become plugs – small plants placed into soil. These plugs are brought into the greenhouse to continue the growing process, and eventually are planted into containers and grown in the field.

All three nurseries ship plants to garden centers across the country, providing much of the inventory gardeners purchase. Growing plants to sell to home gardeners is not at all like producing other products. Plants are living things that are affected by weather, water, disease, and many other influences that typically wouldn’t have an impact on other types of consumer products.

Next time you’re browsing through a garden center, take a moment to appreciate the time, talent and artistry these craftsman provide to bring us each wonderful new plant.


Cuttings or tissue cultures are placed in plugs, held in trays until they reach a size where they can be planted into a pot or larger tray. Then, they are shipped to nurseries, greenhouses, or garden centers to finish off, sometimes called growing on, until they are retail ready.

 

A version of this article appeared in a May/June 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Kathleen Hennessy, Proven Winners/Colorchoice Flowering Shrubs, and Bailey Nurseries.

 

 

Posted: 05/09/17   RSS | Print

 

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Digging In
by Marie Harrison       #Advice   #Misc

Many people move to Florida every year from all sorts of places. Before long, these newcomers realize that gardening in Florida is different than it was “back home.” I was once one of these “newbies,” so I can vouch for the reality check that occurs when people attempt to garden in our sunshine state using the plants and practices that were successful in other parts of the country. Even people who have lived in Florida for years, upon reaching retirement age and finding time to garden, have little notion how to go about it. If you are searching for ways to learn more about gardening and become more involved in it, here are a few suggestions to help you get started.


Bill Hagan, president of the Tri-county Beekeepers Association in northwest Florida, explains the process of caring for beehives to a group of Okaloosa County Master Gardeners as part of their required education hours.


Master Gardener Program
The Florida Master Gardener program offers many opportunities for people to learn about gardening. Sponsored by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, master gardeners are tasked with assisting their county’s horticulture extension agent in providing research-based gardening information to the public. Prospective master gardeners go through an extensive training period by attending a series of classes taught by extension agents and other experts. In return for this training, a certain number of volunteer hours per year are required.

Florida’s master gardener program is overseen by Wendy Wilber, the state coordinator (gardening@ifas.ufl.edu). While she can certainly answer most questions related to gardening, the master gardener programs and activities are organized first by region and then by county. If you cannot find the information you need online (mastergardener.ifas.ufl.edu), or if you cannot determine who your horticulture extension agent is, consult the regional director for your area.

If you are not interested in becoming a master gardener yourself, you can still depend on your horticulture extension agent and the master gardeners in your area for answers to gardening questions. Many of them offer programs, demonstrations, plant clinics, and other activities to assist residents.


Valparaiso Garden Club installed and maintains a pollinator garden at the Heritage Museum of Northwest Florida. This garden is used extensively to teach the students and the public about pollinators and their importance.


Garden Clubs
Garden clubs offer a great way to meet other gardeners. Many of these groups are for gardeners with special interests or in specific areas. My garden club gives members access to a floral design study group and to a horticulture study group. Both of these groups meet regularly and are open to the public as part of the educational outreach of the clubs involved. In addition, a pollinator garden, plant potting parties and plant sales, field trips, youth groups, standard flower shows, and other activities offer something for almost everyone. Learning and teaching about gardening and floral design are both at the heart of garden club activities.

While many garden clubs in Florida do not belong to the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs, they are worthwhile entities and offer much to members. However, they are not organized into a larger unit, and information about them is hard to find. The Florida Federation of Garden Clubs is divided into 12 districts, each with a director. These directors can help you determine which garden clubs are in your area and put you in contact with them.


Members of the Tri-County Horticulture Studies Group visit Dragon’s Meade Daylily Farm in Panama City. This group is an outreach program of federated garden clubs in Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, and Walton Counties. The study group is open to the public and anyone interested in learning more about gardening is welcome.


Plant Societies and Specialty Garden Clubs
For people with very specific interests, a plant society might be a better choice. Many plant societies or other specialty gardening groups can be found in Florida. For instance, the Deep South District of the American Rose Society has 25 active rose societies, 13 of which are in Florida. Most of these groups meet monthly and have programs given by knowledgeable rosarians in addition to activities such as garden tours and rose shows. Their website (deepsouthdistrict.org) has a wealth of information, including an impressive photo gallery, lists of consulting rosarians and their contacts, upcoming events, and a comprehensive library with articles with information about growing roses in the Deep South. There are several specialty clubs that have an emphasis on specific plants.


The Mary Esther Community Garden offers 4-foot by 10-foot raised beds where residents can grow crops. Many community gardens offer similar opportunities for people who do not have space to garden.


Community Gardens
If you do not have room to garden in your own backyard, community gardens may offer just the solution. The website communitygarden.org/find-a-garden will help you find a community garden near you. By searching this site, I found three within 10 miles of my home. If you are interested in starting a community garden, help can be found online at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep124.


Growing for Food Banks
The Garden Writers Association encourages their readers to Plant a Row for the Hungry. Many gardeners grow more food than they can eat. Estimations indicate that well over 100 billion pounds of food are thrown away each year in the United States. At the same time, over 49 million people do not have the food they need. Through a process called gleaning, much of this waste could feed the hungry. The gleaners collect excess food from farms, gardens, fairs, grocers, farmers’ markets, restaurants, and other sources and distribute it to the people who need it. If this interests you, a toolkit to help you get started can be found at (www.usda.gov/documents/usda_gleaning_toolkit.pdf).

There are many opportunities to learn more about gardening. Visits to your local garden center will teach you much about plants that thrive in your area. Attending programs offered by garden clubs, master gardeners, plant nurseries, and specialty groups will help you get started. Trips to botanical gardens, state and national parks, as well as books and magazines are all sources of information. You need only to take advantage of the many available resources to become more involved in gardening.


Standard flower shows, given by garden clubs that are affiliated with The National Federation of Garden Clubs, take place throughout Florida. Garden club members get a chance to show off their best horticulture and floral designs, and visitors can learn much about plants that grow well in their area.

Florida Extension Administrative Districts

Northwest – Dr. Pete Vergot, 850-875-7137, pvergot@ufl.edu

Counties: Bay, Calhoon, Escambia, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Wakulla, Walton, Washington

Northeast – Dr. Eric Simonne, 352-392-1781, esimonne@ufl.edu

Counties: Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Citrus, Clay, Columbia, Dixie, Duval, Gilchrist, Hamilton, LaFayette, Levy, Madison, Nassau, Suwannee, Taylor, Union

Central – Dr. Tim Momol, 352-392-1781,tmomol@ufl.edu

Counties: Flagler, Hernando, Lake, Marion, Orange, Oceola, Putnam, Seminole, St. Johns, Sumter, Volusia

South Central – Brenda Rogers, 813-757-2195, brogers@ufl.edu

Counties: Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pasco, Polk, Pinellas, Sarasota

South – Dr. Joe Schaefer, 561-993-1280, jms@ufl.edu

Counties: Brevard, Broward, Glades, Hendry, Highlands, Indian River, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Okeechobee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie, The Seminole Tribe

District Directors for the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs

District I, Sharon Johnson, 850-293-4902, singc@mchsi.com
Counties: Santa Rosa, Escambia, Okaloosa, Walton

District II, Louise Michaels, 850-326-1257, agilemik@bellsouth.net
Counties: Holmes, Washington, Jackson, Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Liberty, Gadsden

District III, Lucilla Heinrich, 386-362-5995, Lucille.heinrich@aol.com
Counties: Franklin, Wakulla, Leon, Jefferson, Madison, Taylor, Hamilton, Suwannee, Lafayette

District IV, Carolyn H. Stevens, 904-247-8269, carolynhstevens@gmail.com
Counties: Baker, Union, Nassau, Duval, Clay, St. Johns, Putnam

District V, Louise Allen, 352-799-3160, abbila@tampabay.rr.com
Counties: Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Bradford, Alachua, Citrus, Hernando, Levy, Marion

District VI, Kathleen Terlizzo, 386-864-7460, mterlizzo@cfl.rr.com
Counties: Flagler, Volusia, Brevard

District VII, Owaissa Vanderberg, 352-241-9506, Owaissa63@gmail.com
Counties: Sumter, Lake, Orange, Osceola, Seminole

District VIII, Barbara Jacobson, 941-475-9359, Chuck7503@aol.com
Counties: Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota

District IX, Kathleen Hawryluk, 239-455-5113, kathleenhaw@hotmail.com
Counties: Polk, Hardee, DeSoto, Highlands, Charlotte, Lee, Collier

District X, Donna Berger, 772-286-4718, Bergerdx2015@gmail.com
Counties: Okeechobee, Indian River, St. Lucie, Glades, Martin, Hendry, Palm Beach

District XI, Barbara Horan, 954-698-0109, barbaraphoran@msn.com
Counties: Broward

District XII, Deborah Ann Smith, 305-964-5186, cada.smith@att.net
Counties: Dade, Monroe

Camellia japonica ‘Pleasant Memories’ in the Greater Fort Walton Beach Camellia Society’s show is one among hundreds of beautiful exhibits. Many plant societies exist in Florida where people can learn about gardening with specific plants.

Specialty Garden Organizations in Florida

• American Hibiscus Society, Venice (americanhibiscus.org)
• Florida Palm and Cycad Society, Maitland (www.plantapalm.com)
• Florida Native Plant Society, Ft. Myers (www.fnps.org)
• Florida Council of Bromeliad Societies (fcbs.org)
• American Bamboo Society, Florida Caribbean Chapter (www.tropicalbamboo.org)

Fairchild Garden in Miami houses at least three societies:
• Tropical Fern and Exotic Plant Society (www.tfeps.org)
• Tropical Flowering Tree Society (www.tfts.org)
• American Orchid Society headquartered at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Fairchild Campus, Coral Gables (aos.org)

• American Camellia Society (at least 8 chapters in Florida) (www.americancamellias.com)
• Florida Forestry Association (floridaforest.org)

 

A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 21 Number 4.
Photography courtesy of Marie Harrison.

 

Posted: 05/09/17   RSS | Print

 

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Squish the Squash Bug
by Darren Sheriff       #Insects   #Pests   #Vegetables

Mature squash bugs resemble stink bugs a little bit, but you will know it’s them when you find them on your squash and melons, some of their favorite foods.


The squash bug is common throughout the United States, and it is one of those creatures that truly has a logical name. The Anasa tristis is a true bug, and you surely want to “squash” it when seen.

Although many insects are referred to as bugs, only the insects in the order Hemiptera are true bugs. One of the characteristics of a bug is that insects of this order have piercing-and-sucking mouthparts, which work like a straw to suck plant sap.

Squash bugs are found from Canada to Central America, and are often mistaken for stink bugs. They even emit a foul odor when disturbed and squashed, just like a stink bug; however, true stink bugs are in a different bug family.

Adult squash bugs are rather big, about 5⁄8-inch long and approximately 1⁄4-inch wide. Adults have wings and are brownish black, sometimes mottled with gray or light brown, and have a flat back.

 

 

 

Here you can see the different stages of a squash bug’s life cycle, from eggs (left) to larva to adult.

 


The eggs, which are laid in the spring, are elliptical, 1⁄16-inch long, and yellowish to bronze or brick red. They will darken in color as they mature. They are usually laid in clusters of anywhere from 12 to 20 eggs on the undersides of leaves and in between leaf veins. An average female can lay up to 250 eggs.

When the young first hatch they have a light green-blue abdomen and black heads and legs. As the nymphs grow larger, they first turn light gray and then progressively brownish gray, with black legs and antennae. Usually only one generation per year is expected, except in the southern United States, where there can be two generations in one season.

As you can determine from its name, squash would be this insect’s favorite food. They prefer yellow summer squash, winter squashes such as ‘Hubbard’, and some types of pumpkins. There are a few varieties of squashes that don’t seem to show up on their menus as often. These include Royal acorn and butternut. They also seem to not be a big fan of zucchini squash.


This close up shows you the sucking part of the squash bug, which helps classify it as a true bug.

Squash bugs are very shy, and they will scamper away when approached. They like to hide in plant crowns, beneath damaged leaves or any protected spot. Early detection of adult squash bugs is very important, since once they come to town they are difficult to kill and can cause considerable damage with their feeding.

Squash bugs’ feeding on the leaves will cause spots that are initially yellow, then they turn brown and eventually black and crispy. This is from them sucking all the nutrients out of the plant and leaving it to starve. If the population of squash bugs is so bad that they destroy the plant, especially late in the season, they will turn to the fruit. As they feed on the fruit it will cause scars and sunken areas that make the fruit unmarketable and susceptible to rot.

To control squash bugs, one of the most important things to do is maintain healthy plants. Putting plants in the proper place, watering correctly and not overfertilizing are all important. Healthy plants are usually less attractive to pests and they can actually tolerate some squash bug feeding without you losing your entire crop.

Sanitation is crucial. Adult, unmated squash bugs overwinter in the shelter of dead leaves, vines or pieces of wood and will fly to vines when they start to grow in the spring. You can actually use this bit of their habit against them. Adult squash bugs can be trapped beneath shingles or cardboard placed under the plants. This leaves them susceptible in the morning. You can also disrupt the cycle by plowing over your squash garden, or by rotating your crops.


These brown spots are the first sign that squash bugs have been sucking the nutrients out of your squash leaves.
 

Prevention is your best bet, but if it comes down to using insecticides, there are several out there that are labeled specifically for squash bugs. You will want to scout them out early in the season. Early detection is important because the younger nymphs are easier to control with insecticides. Spray in the early morning hours or the late afternoon – this is the time when the beneficial insects in your garden are less likely to be harmed by the insecticide. Make sure you read the warning labels and follow them explicitly. Beware of the chemical option however, as squash bugs develop resistance to insecticides very quickly.

Within the past decade a disease has been associated with squash bugs — cucurbit yellow vine disease (CYVD). The bacterium is transmitted by the squash bug. It can inflict heavy losses to melons, pumpkins and squash. The affected plants usually exhibit stunting, yellowing and gradual decline beginning about 10 to14 days prior to harvest. The squash bug can also carry the bacterium through the winter and continue to spread it the following spring.

As you can see this “true bug” can really be a nuisance. If you find yourself in the company of it and only have a few vines to worry about, take the title of this article to heart and squish those squash bugs!

 

A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 24 Number 5.
Photography courtesy of Darren Sheriff.

 

Posted: 05/09/17   RSS | Print

 

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Ghosts In Our Landscapes
by Pamela Ruch    

Osage orange: a fruit unloved by man and (existing) beast


Maybe you have seen the warty, lumpy, softball-sized green balls along the side of a country road. They fall from the trees in October and, more often than not, are still lying there in December. Maybe you’ve run over them, their soft yellowish flesh giving way with a gentle pop to the weight of your tires. Drivers behind you might notice the pulpy imprint of your passing. Like a pie crust under a rolling pin, the splat in the road flattens and expands with each succeeding set of tires; a day or two later it is likely to have faded to nothing.

The warty balls have a pleasant smell, a little like an orange peel. Unlike most tree fruits, they are not devoured by deer — or other animals either for that matter — but left to rot where they fall. The fruits are called “monkey balls,” “hedge apples” or, more commonly, Osage oranges, also the name of the tree that bears them (Maclura pomifera).

 

The seeds of the Osage orange are encased in soft, squishy flesh.

There is a theory about why the fruit of the Osage orange tree is so universally disdained (rumor has it that even spiders run from it although this has not stood up to the rigor of scientific investigation). According to science writer Connie Barlow, who is the author of The Ghosts of Evolution: Nonsensical Fruit, Missing Partners, and Other Ecological Anachronisms, (Basic Books, 2000), Maclura pomifera is an “ecological anachronism” with a ghost for a dispersal partner. The mastodons and wooly mammoths it evolved with had mouths big enough to take in the entire pulpy ball, and, the theory goes, deposit the seed in the course of their wanderings, enabling the tree species to expand its range to wherever the beasts might roam. As it is now, the tree is, literally, on a downhill slide. Seeds are dependent on gravity, or water, to take them to lower ground.

These Kentucky coffee tree pods (tasted and rejected by squirrels) are short and flat, rather than long and plump because there is not a male tree near enough for pollination to occur.

The Kentucky coffee tree (Gymnocladus dioicus) is another ecological anachronism. Though native, it is rare in the wild and found mostly on floodplains. Long after the branches are bare of leaves, female trees sport 5-10-inch, tough, woody pods, which fall to the ground in winter to be dispersed by water, if at all. Inside the pods are rounded, hard-shelled seeds encased in a sweet sticky pulp. So tough are the seeds that they resist germination, even after months of soaking — which makes you wonder how the tree was able to persist into the present. Barlow proposes that mastodons, which became extinct about 11,000 years ago, may have been attracted to the sweet pulp, and that they ground the pods between their molars, freeing the seeds and scarifying them so that they would take in water and sprout.


The pawpaw tree is native to the eastern United States. Unlike Osage orange, animals love the tasty fruits.
 

The theory of ghostly partners extends to other species as well. Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a temperate version of the banana or mango; except that those fruits can be picked when they’re hard and green, and, yes, shippable, whereas pawpaw has a shelf life of about a minute (OK, three days).

Clonal patches of pawpaw can be found in eastern forests, but they are apt to be distant from other patches, so there’s little transfer of pollen between genetically different individuals, therefore no helpful shuffling of genes. This is not a good survival strategy. In the case of the pawpaw, the suspected missing link is the pollinator. The flowers are not built for bees, and, according to Kentucky State University, “the natural pollinators of the pawpaw — various species of flies and beetles — are not efficient or dependable.” Barlow reasons that the pawpaw flowers were once pollinated by an insect, probably a beetle, that is now extinct. If the fruit were less perishable we would have more of an incentive to assume the role of pawpaw pollinator, which would help the species to survive — at least for the human-populated present.

The list of ecological anachronisms includes honey locust and gingko and desert gourds. The “ghosts” that left them behind were imposing creatures such as the mastodon and the giant sloth, as well as obscure insects, like the beetle suspected of servicing the pawpaw. And so, the story of fleshy fruits and woody pods that rot beneath the trees that bore them is the story of the earth. It is populated by the ghosts of dispersal partners and pollinators, a few of which leave behind clues that hint at their existence. Most, in all likelihood, do not.

 

This article appeared in a December 2014 edition of the State-by-State Gardening Newsletter.
Photography courtesy of Pamela Ruch.

 

Posted: 05/09/17   RSS | Print

 

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In Defense of Spiders
by Kristi Cook       #Beneficials   #Insects   #Wildlife

This wolf spider is hiding among the grass hunting for prey and will consume hundreds of insects during its lifetime.


Spiders are perhaps some of the most feared and misunderstood inhabitants of any garden. Quickly squashed into “bug juice” without a moment’s hesitation, these beneficials rarely find safe refuge in their garden homes. Yet, despite their fearsome reputations, wise gardeners learn to appreciate these hungry monsters as they go about their daily business patrolling for pests such as mosquitos, flies, aphids, and leafhoppers. Knowing how to live side by side in harmony is a simple matter of understanding what makes them tick – or twitch.

The black and yellow argiope spider weaves the prettiest of webs, with its zigzagged pattern and lace-like webbing.

Spiders catch their prey in roughly three different ways, depending on the species. The most noticeable are the opportunistic web weavers that spin delicate curtains throughout the garden and then literally hang out until a meal arrives. Other web builders prefer unruly looking cobwebs placed in dark corners to catch their prey, while some ground dwellers create funnel-shaped webs in nooks and crannies along the ground to catch insects and small animals that have the misfortune of falling into the web’s hole.

Some species, however, forego the requisite webs, choosing instead to ambush unsuspecting prey. For instance, crab spiders like to play hide and seek by camouflaging themselves inside or even atop flowers. As soon as a fly, bee, or other insect stops for a sip of nectar, the spider attacks, instantly devouring its catch.

Others are not quite so patient. Wolf spiders and jumping spiders are two species that prefer to take a more active approach to dinner by literally hunting down prey, much like a wolf or fox. Hidden among the bushes or leaves, these spiders stalk their prey, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce. Should you happen to have a water source in your garden, you may even find fishing spiders, or what some of us call water spiders. These spiders are so eager to capture breakfast that they’ll dive down into the water to fetch it.

Regardless of how it obtains its prey, each species plays an integral role in keeping the garden’s ecosystem in balance, with aphids, mealy worms, mites, and beetles being just a few of their favorite dishes. To encourage these pest-fighting creatures to call your garden home, utilize a few basic gardening practices such as avoiding pesticides and providing safe havens. For instance, just as mulch keeps your plants cool and moist throughout the summer, it keeps the ground dwellers cool and hydrated as well. Plantings of tall flowers, shrubs, and vegetables offer the perfect place for web weavers to spin their webs. And mass plantings of colorful flowers provide the perfect hiding places for crab spiders, too.
 

Left: A mother wolf spider attaches her egg sac to her spinnerets and carries it with her until the spiderlings hatch. Upon hatching, she continues to carry her babies on her back until they are mature enough to fend for themselves. Right: This brown sac contains hundreds of spiderlings waiting to be released. Many spiderlings produce balloon-like webbing to help them float to new homes.

 

Don’t Be Scared!

Despite the commonality of arachnophobia, of the nearly 4,000 species in the U.S., only four – recluses, black widows, hobos, and yellow sac spiders – are generally considered venomous, or potentially harmful, to humans. Fortunately, these particular spiders have one more thing in common – reclusiveness. None are considered aggressive, preferring instead to escape by burrowing into their hidey-holes or scampering away, rather than wasting venom on something too large to eat. As a result, the likelihood of being bitten is quite small with the side effects of a rare bite being easily treated with little to no long-term effects.

Perhaps just as important, these arachnids are like any other beneficial during the cold winter months and need protection from the elements. Old cornstalks, plant debris, and covered ground offer some of the best places to pass the cold days of winter. It’s also a good idea to include a few piles of rocks or wood throughout your garden for those that prefer more solid surroundings during hibernation. Should you accidentally uncover a spider when it’s cold out, don’t assume it’s dead. Just carefully recover and leave that space alone until warmer weather returns.

Inviting spiders into your garden guarantees the occasional surprise encounter. To avoid accidental bites, wear gloves when reaching under rocks or crevices, inside plants, or when removing debris. It’s also a good idea to look first and reach in second. By using this approach, I’ve never had a poisonous spider stick around and try to battle it out. Usually, all I see is its tail end as it runs for cover. If, however, you think a venomous spider has bitten you, seek medical care as soon as possible to reduce the likelihood of complications.


This crab spider hid among the blackberries, waiting to ambush the next creature that landed within striking distance. The spider didn’t hesitate to consume its prey.

 

Of all the creepy crawlers lurking about my garden, my favorites are undoubtedly the spiders with their dangling legs and ferocious-looking fangs. All too often I find myself mesmerized as I put my picking basket down in favor of studying the intricacies of a glistening spider’s web or kneeling in the grass to watch a momma wolf spider carry her precious cargo around, all the while keeping each and every one of her many eyes fastened on my movements. Learning to appreciate these hungry arachnids is all about understanding their habits and taking a few minor precautions such as donning gloves and practicing awareness.

 

A version of this article appeared in an October 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Kristi Cook.

 

Posted: 05/09/17   RSS | Print

 

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Harvesting Happiness
by Laura Matthews       #Homesteading   #New Trends   #Sustainability and Self-Sufficiency

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andrew Odom in his backyard homestead.

Placing seeds in sweet soil, backyard homesteaders grow food to grow a better life. Within the trend of increased interest in vegetable gardening, there are families who intensively garden, not as a hobby, but as a way of life. In a sense, they create mini-farms.

Bubbling up in about 2007, due in part to food contamination scares, the interest in changing your yard into a garden — known as backyard homesteading — is based on a desire for an overall improved quality of life. Homesteaders grow happier lives by providing food for their own tables. This gives them access to safe and healthy foods and the freedom of self-sufficiency. Important also is the satisfaction that they are gardening sustainably. Some homesteaders raise livestock and most learn food-preservation techniques.

Noticing the pristine quality of the rich soil around his home, homesteader Andrew Odom, author of the blog Tiny Revolution, had a life-changing thought about gardening.

“I looked at the land around me and thought, ‘Here I am driving 30 minutes to buy organic at Trader Joe’s. And I thought, ‘I can do that right here,’ and we just started,” said Odom.

“We started and we thought, this is true freedom,” says Odom, “We can grow and eat whatever we want.” He says that kind of freedom is addictive, “For us, our little taste of freedom happened in the dirt.” Odom raises food with the help of his wife, Crystal. They have a daughter, Tillie.


Andrew Odom moves hay with a garden fork. Homesteaders create mini-farms near their homes.
 

“Backyard farming is an act of revolution,” says Wilson Alvarez, of Lancaster, Pa., co-owner of Homegrown Edible Landscaping company. “We are actively saying, we aren’t going to eat exactly what you want us to eat. We aren’t going to grow exactly what you want us to grow. And we’re not going to grow it in the way our grandparents did. We’re going to grow in a way that’s best for the Earth.”

Homesteaders come from all classes and from a wide range of political leanings. Common, however, is a deep concern about the health of our soil. Most homesteaders garden organically and try to create as little waste as possible. Another shared trait is the desire to care for their health through food choices.

“We chose to pay more attention to the front end of our healthcare than the back end,” says Odom expressing the preference to pay the farmer for good food rather than pay the doctor to remedy illnesses from poor nutrition.

Several terms define the same culture. Backyard homesteader, urban homesteader, backyard farmer, and neo-homesteader are all used to describe the culture. Odom and Alvarez like the term neo-homesteading. Both families raise a significant portion of their food on their property. Alvarez raises enough to feed a family of four. They like neo-homesteading because they are very much part of the modern world.


Andrew Odom holds freshly harvested eggs.
 

“We’re neo-homesteaders because while we are rooted in sustainability but aren’t removed from society,” says Odom. “We have our cell phones, Internet, and we like to go to a good rock concert or a movie as much as the next guy. We’re not survivalists at all.

“Neo-homesteading is rooted academically in the understanding that growing our food is a freedom, in being able to source our own food, and in our ability to eat healthily and free of chemicals,” adds Odom.

While neo-homesteaders have no desire to separate from mainstream America, they do enjoy the self-sufficiency that growing food affords.

“When I look out at my garden, I feel very resilient, self reliant,” says Alvarez. “Especially since all my seeds are open-pollinated — regardless of what happens and regardless of outside pressures and influences, this garden is sustainable. I can preserve this garden without any outside input.”


Onions are one of the many vegetables Andrew and Crystal grow.
 

“I express freedom by planting a seed and watching it grow,” says Odom.

A garden creates independence while conversely creating a community.

“Tomatoes growing in a yard bring people together who’d never met before. If you have a patch of grass you’re never in, no one is ever there. But if you are in your garden, your garden will be a magnet for others. Community is an important product of a garden,” says Alvarez.

For homesteaders, many things come from the soil. A happy life is the most important harvest.

“To me, it’s an investment in the overall quality of our life. It’s not a hipster movement for us. It’s a lifestyle choice,” says Odom.

 

A version of this article appeared in a September/October 2012 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Eric Prine, Theron Humphrey, and Andrew Odom.

 

Posted: 05/09/17   RSS | Print

 

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There’s an App for That!
by Kylee Baumle       #New Trends   #Tech & Gadgets   #Tools

 

In addition to books, classes and magazines, you can glean a lot of gardening knowledge from your smartphone and tablet.


Gardening is a hands-on activity. We need to (and like to) get down and dirty while practicing our craft, but after we’ve come back inside and cleaned the dirt from underneath our fingernails (toenails too, sometimes), we can continue from our chair where we left off in the garden.

Basics never change – plant a seed and watch it grow – but some of the ways we do things have. Seeking help and gaining new knowledge about our plants and how to grow them is very much a part of the digital age, as evidenced by the growing number of garden-related apps developed for use with tablets and smartphones.

When deciding which apps are worth taking up space on your smartphone’s hard drive, be sure to read users’ comments and reviews that accompany the app listings. Keep in mind that not everyone is as comfortable with technology as some, and comments may be a reflection of that.

Here are some of the gardening-related apps that are available in iTunes and Google Play:
 

Garden Time Planner

 

Garden Planning

• Gardening Tool Kit (iOS) from Applied Objects. This app, which claims to have it all, does have a lot: a database of more than 1,000 plants, month-by-month advice, idea lists, watering guide and more. $1.99.

• Garden Plan Pro (iOS) from Growing Interactive. Helps you plan and keep track of your vegetable, herb and fruit gardens with suggestions based on your location. $7.99.

• Garden Time Planner (iOS, Android) from Burpee. Vegetables and herbs are featured with all the information you need to have a successful edible garden, including links to videos, region-specific tips and task lists. Free.

 

iScape

Home Outside Palette 

Landscape Design

• Home Outside Palette (iOS, Android) from Julie Moir Messervy Design Studio. One of the best landscape design apps I’ve seen, allowing the backyard gardener to create professional-looking renderings of their own designs, which can be shared via email and social media. A desktop version is being developed. Free, plus in-app purchase options.

• iScape (iOS, Android) from iScape Apps. This is a pretty standard landscape design app that allows you to create images of your design ideas. The basic app is free, but most of the elements you’ll use in your design cost extra. Free, plus in-app purchase options.
 

Plant Reference and Field Guides

• Landscaper’s Companion (iOS) from Stevenson Software, LLC. With a database of more than 26,000 plants with about 21,000 pictures, this app boasts of being the number-one plant reference guide available. An upgrade with additional pro features is optional. $4.99 basic/additional $4.99 pro upgrade.

Plant Picks for Small Gardens, Leafsnap
 

Armitage's Greatest Perennials and Annuals


Dirr's Tree & Shrub Finder, Garden Compass
 

 

Local Pickins, Farmstand

• Plant Picks For Small Gardens (iOS, Android) from Sutro Media. More than 90 plants are featured as viable choices for small spaces with sorting by USDA Zone, flower color, drought tolerance and more. Basic gardening information plus links to videos and online nurseries are included. $2.99.

• Audubon Wildflowers (iOS, Android) from Green Mountain Digital. Get help with identification of more than 1600 North American wildflowers. Includes range maps, color photos and natural history. Just one of several Audubon apps. $4.99/$3.99.

• Leafsnap (iOS) from Columbia University, University of Maryland and Smithsonian Institution. Uses visual recognition software to help identify plants from your photos of their leaves. Free.

• Dirr’s Tree and Shrub Finder (iOS) from Timber Press. Based on Dr. Michael Dirr’s classic and popular book, The Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, this app contains information on more than 9,400 woody plants, searchable by 72 criteria. $14.99.

• Armitage’s Greatest Perennials and Annuals (iOS, Android) from Sutro Media. More than 70 genera of plants are featured, including photos and videos with growing tips and why each plant made Dr. Allan Armitage’s list of the greatest. $4.99.

• Garden Compass Plant/Disease Identifier (iOS, Android) from TeamSOA, Inc. Take a photo and submit it and you’ll get identification of plants, diseases and pests from their team of horticulture experts. Free.

• Sprout It (iOS, Android, Desktop) from Växa Design Group in partnership with Miracle-Gro. Get help with plant choices, how to grow, common problems, storage, cooking tips and more. Location based for a personalized experience. Free.


Local Farm Markets

If you don’t grow your own, and you want fresh local produce, these apps will help you locate it:

• Fresh Food Finder (iOS, Android) from Andrew Trice. Free.

• Farmstand (iOS, Android, Desktop) from Mostly Brothers. Free.

• Local Pickins (iOS, Android) from Local Pickins. Free.
 

The biggest share of gardening apps are developed for the iPhone and iPad, but Android users will find plenty to choose from. Many of the iPhone apps already have Android versions and others have indicated that they’re in the works, so keep checking Google Play for current offerings.

Both iTunes and Google Play suggest other similar apps on the same page as the one you’re looking at, so be sure to take a look at those, too. You can also search on each of those download sites using the search term “garden” or google “garden apps” to find other available apps.

 

A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Michelle Byrne Walsh.

 

Posted: 05/02/17   RSS | Print

 

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Minding Your Peas
by Kate Jerome       #Recipes   #Vegetables   #Vines

‘Sugar Ann’ snap peas are among the earliest varieties to ripen.


What’s not to like about peas? The fresh green pods are the epitome of spring. That sweet burst of flavor that explodes in your mouth gives the nod to enjoy the cool spring days, which precede the warm days ahead. Peas are the perfect accompaniment to the sparkling greens of spring, and a quick stop at early farmers markets should give you all you need for delicious spring dining.

There are so many types of peas (Pisum sativum), from garden or English peas that must be shelled, to snap and snow peas with edible pods. If you are purchasing, make sure to ask the farmer which is which, so you know exactly how to prepare them. Since peas are so versatile and can be eaten fresh or cooked, there are a myriad of recipes to take advantage of the early harvest.

 

‘Super Sprint’ snap peas can be eaten in their entirety when the peas inside are young, or left to mature to produce a shelling pea.

Pod Types
Simply shelling garden peas or snapping edible pod peas and tossing them into salads will give you a burst of spring flavor.

Lightly cooked spring peas make a delectably sweet pureed soup when mixed with sautéed onions and garlic, and of course, a touch of fresh cream (or half and half).

Peas have a texture similar to avocado, so try processing fresh peas until smooth and adding to your favorite guacamole recipe. The sweetness of the peas is perfect with creamy avocados. The lime juice will keep the avocados as bright green as the peas and give a piquancy that delights the senses.


Grow Your Own
All types of peas need similar growing conditions and they are so easy to grow that it’s a waste not to get them in the ground every year. They finish their season early, so their garden space can be filled with summer vegetables, such as green beans or cucumbers.

Some pea varieties are compact, not growing much more than 2 feet, but others can produce vines that are 4-5 feet tall. And even though the seed package may say the peas don’t need support, putting them on a trellis or fencing will make them produce better and be much easier to pick. Branches from pruned trees or shrubs stuck in the ground make a great trellis.


‘Oregon Giant’ snow peas will keep producing well into summer, long after other peas have given up.


 

Green Pea Dip Bruschetta

Green pea bruschetta will make a surprising addition to your tapas bar. Easy- to-make, green pea puree serves well as a spread or dip for vegetables.


Ingredients
1 cup shelled garden peas(or thawed frozen peas)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup fresh basil leaves (you can change the herbs to suit your taste)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions
Pulse in a food processor until almost smooth, but with some texture. Serve as a dip for fresh vegetables or spread puree on toasted slices of French bread and top with a dollop crème fraiche, crumbled cooked bacon and a garnish of frisee or pea shoots.

Plant Early
Peas can be planted out in spring, a month before the last frost, and then again in late summer for harvest in fall. The earlier the start they get, the better they will produce, since they tend to shut down as soon as the weather gets hot.

Soak the pea seeds overnight to help with germination, and sprinkle the peas with legume inoculant, if you haven’t grown peas before. If you grow peas every year, take a shovelful of soil from the old planting site to inoculate the new planting bed.

Peas thrive in average garden soil that is well drained and rich with organic matter. Best of all, they need no fertilizer. Prepare your planting bed and poke the seeds 1 inch deep in a row about 2 inches apart on both sides of a trellis. When the peas appear, tuck about 2 inches of organic mulch around the plants. As they grow, gently direct the vines onto the trellis. The plants will do the rest.

Harvest daily. Pick garden peas when the pods are plump and shiny. Pick snow peas when the peas inside are just beginning to show, and snap peas when they are plump, but not bumpy with mature peas inside. If you make it to the kitchen with any peas that aren’t eaten along the way, refrigerate immediately to stop the sugars from turning to starch. Blanch and freeze what you cannot eat in a couple of days.

Peas are beautiful when used as ornamentals, too, such as ‘Blue Pod’ peas and ‘Swiss Giant’ snow peas, which have lavender flowers.

 

Pea Shoots

Pea shoots are a delicious, healthy addition to salads and soups.
 

Leftover pea seeds from last year? Since it’s a good idea to start your outdoor pea crop with new seeds each year, use these extra pea seeds to make a delectable crop of vitamin-packed pea shoots.

First make sure the pea seeds have not been treated with a fungicide (it will say so on the seed packet). Next, soak the peas overnight in warm water.

Get a flat tray ready with 1 inch or so of sterile potting soil. A flat that annuals come in from the garden center works well, because it has drainage holes. Make sure to put a tray underneath to catch the drips.

Gently moisten the soil and sprinkle the surface with the soaked peas. They can be quite crowded, since you are not growing them to maturity. Don’t poke down into the soil and don’t cover with more soil. This will slow down germination.

Cover the flat with another flat, a roasting pan or something to keep the humidity high. Check daily. Once the seeds germinate, remove the cover and move into the light.

You can start harvesting when the shoots are 3-4 inches tall. It will take about three to four weeks to get to this size. If they get much taller, they tend to get tougher.

Snip the shoots close to the seed, gently wash and refrigerate. You may be able to get a second growth, but this is not always successful. Then, put the seed and roots into the compost bin and start again with new seeds and fresh soil.

 

A version of this article appeared in March/April 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Kate Jerome and Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

 

Posted: 05/02/17   RSS | Print

 

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Protect Yourself
by Monica Brandies       #Health and Safety   #Insects   #Pests

Verna and Robert Dickey of Brandon have this sign in the shady part of their garden.
A relative made it for them.


To reduce the number of mosquitoes by hundreds, empty any standing water so mosquito larvae will not have time to hatch into bloodsuckers. Keep goldfish in rain barrels that are not completely closed, to eat the larvae. Frogs can add a few thousand tadpoles that will also eat the larva in the summer. Both keep the water cleaner.

If you have neither of these, you can gather Spanish moss and put it in any of your containers and it will kill most of the mosquito larvae. A little crushing of the moss will open cells to release their properties in the water. The moss also adds nutrients to make the water a fertilizer solution.

You can buy and put in the water in rain barrels mosquito dunks, solid donuts of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that last for up to 30 days, or selective microbial insecticides granules that work quickly but usually need to be replaced every 7 to 14 days. Keep a large container of the granules for broadcasting. Sometimes mosquitoes even hatch in wet potting soil. In which case, that also gets a sprinkling of granules. These can be used in fishponds and birdbaths without any harm to anything except larvae and caterpillars.


Dump anything that holds water twice a week.
Birdbaths, non-chlorinated wading pools, garbage can lids, and pottery will all attract breeding mosquitoes. Be sure to empty the saucers under flower pots even if you put clean water right back in.


This mosquito is sucking blood from a human host. This species of mosquito can transmit West Nile virus.

 

Work wisely.
There will be many more mosquitoes in the shady parts of the garden than in the sunny parts. Wait for the sun to dry the rain or dew before you work in the shade. Don’t do evenings at all if possible. That is when the mosquitoes are the worst. Evenings are good for bike riding. If you move fast enough, they won’t bother you.
 

Invite nature’s help.
Feed birds or put up a bat house. Keep clean water for both. A mature bat can eat several hundred mosquitoes every night. Encourage frogs, toads, and dragonflies to take up residence by planting tall grasses and native plants around ponds and streams.


Citronella, candles or torches filled with oil offer excellent protection in smaller areas, such as on the patio while dining or entertaining.
 

Citronella: Candles or torches filled with oil offer excellent protection in smaller areas, such as on the patio while dining or entertaining. A fan on the porch is also effective. Mosquitoes don’t like windy conditions. Make the most of any breezy times we have.

It is only the females that add our blood to their diet of nectar. They lay eggs on the surface of stagnant water that hatch four to 14 days later into wriggling larvae that begin to feed on water dwelling microorganisms including fungi, bacteria, and algae. Try to get all of that water dumped on the roots of the roses before those hatch into mature mosquitoes


Wear long pants and high socks in the garden, long sleeves if you can. Before I go out I splash my homemade orange oil on my arms and around my face. It works well in the cool months, but once the rains start, I still get a few bites. I am sure I’ve had a thousand or more bites in my lifetime and they don’t bother me near as much as they did when I was a child.

To make orange oil, cover a pan full of citrus peels with water and bring it to a boil. Then sit it on simmer for one to two hours and then let it cool for several hours or overnight. Strain the liquid through a colander. It is really not oily, but more of an emulsion. Keep it in the refrigerator or freeze some for longer use.

When Florida’s citrus season has passed, you can still buy citrus from California in the summer and save the peels in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until you have enough to fill a pan ¾ full. Check my book on Citrus for more details and many more ways to use orange oil.

 

Left: The more you eat garlic; supposedly the less the mosquitoes bite you. They like blood that is sugary.

Center: Rosemary leaves appear needle-like, and are fragrant when crushed.

Right: Basil (Ocimum basilicum) will help to repel mosquitoes and can also be used to make essential oils that can be applied to the skin as repellents.


Use the plants that repel mosquitoes.
Herbs can help. There are many plants that we are not using as much as we should, especially to repel mosquitoes. One is the pinecone ginger (Zingiber zerumbet). These plants start to flower July 4,when the cones or bracts are apple green. The little flowers are almost all gone by the time the cone turns red, but most of the value of this plant is the lanolin-like liquid that comes when you squeeze the pinecones.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is one of those wonderfully fragrant herbs, and if you rub some of the leaves on your skin, this could also help repel the mosquitoes. You can put rosemary leaves in any meat, fish, or game dish, vegetables, cheese, eggs, and dry beans.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) plants, especially some of the strongest varieties such as African tree basil (O. gratissimum) and the holy basil (O. sanctum), will keep the mosquitoes away. They don’t like the scents of any type of basil. Neither do other pesky insects. Eat basil in salads and casseroles. They are also a good poultice for any bites or stings.

Mints, Cuban oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus), and beautyberry (Callicarpa spp.) leaves are also helpful. You can eat the mint and oregano.

Willow LaMonte of Herbal Delight Gardens in Valrico, Florida, often has people coming to her nursery, which is open by appointment, for talks and festivals. She says, the better your nutrition, the less the mosquitoes will bother you. They like to eat blood with lots of sugar and such. She has most of the herbs mentioned at her nursery.

 

A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 22 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Yvonne Lelong Bordelon, Monica Brandies, and Tom Butzler.

 

Posted: 05/02/17   RSS | Print

 

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The Blended Garden
by Ellen Zachos       #Edibles   #Ornamentals

What is your idea of a perfect garden? Abundant flowers and lush greenery? Ripe vegetables and plump fruits? These days, with smaller yards and longer work hours, few gardeners have the space or time to care for both a kitchen garden and a separate ornamental garden. When you plant a blended garden, you can feed both body and soul.

Here are eight plants that do double duty, combining beauty and deliciousness. You might not recognize them all as ornamental plants, but each one is as lovely as it is tasty.


 

1. Who doesn’t love blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum)? They’re sweet, delicious, and good for you because they are high in antioxidants. But did you know this shrub is also a gorgeous landscape plant? The fall foliage of blueberries is brilliant red, and it makes this a plant to grow for its looks alone. If you want to harvest the fruit, you may need to net your shrubs as the berries ripen. Birds like blueberries as much as humans do.

The fall color of blueberry is reason enough to plant this fruit-bearing shrub in the garden.

 

2. Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris ssp. vulgaris) is a traditional vegetable, but the ‘Bright Lights’ cultivars are pretty enough to grace any ornamental garden bed. Stems and midribs come in bright orange, yellow, red, or white, and contrast nicely with the green leaves. They have an upright growth habit, and look especially pretty clustered in groups of three to five plants. Find a sunny spot at the front or middle of your garden for this lovely edible.

Leaf lettuces, Swiss chard, rosemary, and peppers light up this edible container just as well as its floral counterparts

 

3. Elderberries (Sambucus nigra) have a history of use in wine, jellies, and baked goods. They are attractive, green-leaved shrubs, and look especially pretty when covered with large umbels of white flowers in spring. New cultivars, like Black Lace (S. nigra ‘Eva’) or Black Beauty (S. n. ‘Gerda’) have been bred for their finely cut, purple leaves, and are outstandingly ornamental. Try them for their dark purple foliage and pink flowers. Like other purple-fruited elderberries, the fruit of these ornamental cultivars is also edible. Red-fruited elderberries (S. racemosa) are not generally considered edible or tasty.

Elderberry flowers produce an abundance of pollen.

 

 

 


4. Most people grow beets for their tasty roots, but ‘Bull’s Blood’ beets (Beta vulgaris ‘Bull’s Blood’) offer so much more. They produce striking, deep maroon foliage (approximately 12 inches tall), which is edible, just like regular beet greens. Plant them at the front of a sunny border for their shiny, deep red leaves, then harvest and enjoy eating both the foliage and the beetroots. For extra impact, interplant them with a chartreuse-leaved ground cover like creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’).

 

 

 


‘Bull’s Blood’ beets have striking deep red foliage that makes them interesting bedding plants.

 

 

 

 

 

5. I’d grow okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) just for its looks. Its showy blooms rival those of its hibiscus cousins, but you get edible pods as a bonus. Try ‘Red Burgundy’, ‘Bowling Red’, or ‘Red Velvet’ for gorgeous bright-red stems and fruit to go along with the pretty flowers.

 

 

 

 

 


Grow okra for its tasty fruit and get lovely flowers as a bonus.

 

 

 

 

 

6. Red mustard greens (Brassica juncea ‘Red Giant’) are as pretty to look at as any ornamental annual. Plant a row at the front of your sunny border where you’ll appreciate the gorgeous foliage all season long. Add a few leaves to salads and stir fries, and let the plant keep growing up until frost. And if you let them go to seed, you’ll probably find a few volunteers in the garden next spring.

 

 

 

 

Here, ‘Giant Red’ mustard is used as an ornamental annual, growing alongside hostas and Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’.

 

 

 

 

7. Malabar spinach (Basella alba) isn’t really a spinach, but it tastes remarkably similar. Unlike spinach, it thrives in summer heat. In the United States, Malabar spinach is sold as an ornamental annual vine, but in Africa and Asia it is grown as a vegetable. Flowers are small and white or pink, followed by dark purple ornamental berries. Foliage is lush, textured, and shiny, and the vine’s thick stems quickly cover a trellis or pyramid form. The cultivar, ‘Rubra’, has showy red stems.

 

 

 

The red stems of Malabar spinach (Basella alba ‘Rubra’) contrast beautifully with its edible green leaves. This annual vine grows 15 to 20 feet in a single season.

 

 

 

 


8. You’ll see Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) on restaurant menus and in grocery stores, but rarely in garden centers. Yet this bright-yellow sunflower is perfect for the back of a sunny border. Jerusalem artichokes grow to be 4 to 8 feet tall and under ideal conditions, can spread quickly. Unlike most sunflowers, they produce a tasty tuber. After the first frost, dig up half your tubers to bring into the kitchen and use them in soups, stews, and salads.

 

 

 

Jerusalem artichokes are statuesque sunflowers, with tasty tubers just beneath the soil. Harvesting the crop every fall keeps this fast-growing perennial in bounds.

 

All of these plants are multi-taskers: lovely to look at and tasty, too. All of them make excellent choices for the blended garden.

 

A version of this article appeared in a May/June 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Patti Marie Travioli, Christina Salwitz, Patrick Byers, W. Atlee Burpee Company, and Ellen Zachos.

 

Posted: 05/01/17   RSS | Print

 

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Cactus Care
by Nick Yorlano       #Succulents   #Xeriscaping

This is a dormant Texas prickly pear.


Succulents take many forms and come in many shapes and sizes. They are also widely known for their ability to survive in less-than-ideal conditions. Cacti are a type of succulent that is distinguished from other succulents by having areoles. It may seem a little unusual to think of cacti outside of the western United States, however, there are many excellent reasons to grow perennial cacti in the Southeast. First, they are low-maintenance plants: they don’t need supplemental watering as long as they receive normal rainfall within the first 60 days of being planted during the growing season. Once established, they can survive months without a single drop of water. Secondly, most cacti are deer/rabbit resistant. Thirdly, some varieties have flowers as large as 4-6 inches wide that attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees. Lastly, there are spineless and some with non-functioning spines.

While most of us do consider cacti native to the arid Southwest, we do actually have native cacti right here – in the good old humid South.
 

Here is an example of cacti that appears to be many different species. However, they are all different forms of claret cup.

Prickly pear (Opuntia spp.) is a wide-ranging family of cacti with some very impressive winter hardy perennial forms – some have been known to survive temperatures as low as -40 F. There are numerous perennial prickly pear cultivars and mutations. Texas prickly pear (O. engelmannii. var. lindheimeri) is one of the most versatile perennial varieties in the Southeast. This cactus has a wide shrub form that can be trained to grow 4 feet high and wide.

When choosing a site in the landscape, know that they need full sun and well-drained soil – raised beds are great, but if planting inground, make sure the soil is well amended with plenty of organic matter. When planting in pots, cactus pads do better if placed on top of or barely nestled into the soil. A good potting mix for Texas prickly pear is pine fines mixed with 10 percent sand and 10 percent small gravel.

During colder weather, Texas prickly pear will dehydrate, giving them a drooping appearance. Sometimes the cactus pads can break off. The pads will root in during the spring if they are left on the ground next to the plant or replanted in another location. This dehydrating is an adaptive behavior that allows them to survive freezing temperatures.

A tree cholla growing and flowering near Nashville.

Tree cholla or cane cholla (Cylindropuntia imbricata) are exceptionally cold hardy perennial cacti well suited for USDA Zones 5-8 in the southeast, but have been known to survive even colder temperatures.

This cactus can obtain a fairly impressive size of 6-8 feet tall and up to 6 feet wide. In their native habitat, tree cholla can reach up to 10 feet tall! Planters or exceptionally well-drained areas, such as rock gardens or raised beds, are excellent places to plant cholla. If growing cholla in planters, use the same soil mixture described above for Texas prickly pear. In landscaping beds, they can adapt to various soil types as long it is well-drained area and in full sun. The most common flower color is magenta, but there are also pink, red, and white forms. Like perennial prickly pear, chollas also dehydrate themselves. They have a shriveled look through the winter months, but quickly break dormancy in the spring.

Beehive cactus (Escobaria vivipara) is a neat variety best suited for troughs or planters. This is a small plant, usually reaching 2-6 inches tall and 8-20 inches wide. There are numerous cultivars, ranging from almost all white spines to almost all black spines. They are best suited for USDA Zones 5-8, but have been known to survive much colder temperatures. When planting in a container, use a very coarse soil such as pine fines with some sand, small gravel, and plenty of organic matter. This cactus also requires full sun. To survive the winter, it will compress itself into a tight little ball.

Claret cup (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) does best in USDA Zones 5-9. Claret cup comes in numerous forms with gorgeous scarlet red flowers. They have a clumping habit and grow anywhere from 1-3, sometimes as much as 12, inches tall and 1-3 feet wide depending on the form.
 

Above: The cacti pictured are different forms of the same species of lace cactus – Echinocereus reichenbachii ssp. perbellus, E. reichenbachii ssp. baileyi.

Left: E. reichenbachii ssp. baileyi goes fully dormant for winter, but is beautiful when it's flowering!

 


Lace cactus (Echinocereus reichenbachii) Lace cactus will bloom pink, purple, and magenta. They rarely grow taller than 8-12 inches tall and 2-3 inches wide. When planting in pots use the same soil mixture recommended for the prickly pear. These cacti do very well in planters, troughs, rock gardens, and in the landscape in well-drained soil and full sun. During the winter, Echinocereus compress itself as much as 60 percent in order to survive below-freezing temperatures.

These unique succulents are perfect for modern, xeric, or unorthodox landscaping. They are versatile and available in an almost limitless array of sizes, forms, shapes, and colors.

 

A version of this article appeared in a May 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Nick Yorlano.

 

Posted: 05/01/17   RSS | Print

 

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Microorganisms
by Cindy Shapton    

When you are digging in the garden do you ever wonder about the world down under? I’m not talking about Australia but the microscopic life that lives just under our feet. An unseen communal of bacteria, fungi, nematodes and protozoa – microorganisms that may be micro-small but are macro-mighty when it comes to building healthy soil.


Resist working up soil before planting so as not to tear up long strands of fungi networks.

In case you can’t recall from biology class or maybe never really understood the whole microorganism business, here is a simple breakdown as to why these tiny guys (and gals?) are so important.


An island in your yard for trees and hardy perennials mulched with wood chips will help create the right environment for fungi to thrive and lessen any compaction problems.

Microorganisms down under work 24/7 to:

•  Decompose organic matter

•  Replenish soil nutrients

•  Make humus

•  Help roots grow

•  Get nutrients up to the plant

•  Break down herbicides and pesticides

•  Destroy “bad guys”

•  Help control diseases

And you thought soil was boring, right? Turns out there is an underground community of microbial workers that combine their natural talents to form a balanced soil food network that helps make your soil happy, healthy and productive so you can grow the best possible plants.

So, we can all agree that bacteria, fungi and nematodes are vital to healthy garden soil, but without a powerful microscope how can we be sure we have a good supply of microbes?

With some old-fashioned common sense and a few questions, I feel confident you can deduce your garden’s microbial condition by asking yourself a few questions:

1. Do you use chemical fertilizers? In plant and soil science classes I was taught that plants see no difference in organic or inorganic (Chemical) fertilizer. Well, they may not see the difference but the results are definitely different and once you start applying chemical fertilizers you have to continue because, you guessed it, created addicts.


Vegetables and annual flowers do best when the soil has a higher ratio of bacteria to fungi.


Straw mulch in the kitchen garden provides more food for the bacteria that help veggies grow.

This may sound harsh, but the truth is, when you apply chemical fertilizer you kill off mass amounts of microbes so the plants become dependent on the inorganic fertilizer and can’t do without it.

2. Is rototilling or turning soil part of your spring and fall garden ritual? This may seem like a good idea, spread some fertilizer or compost, and then work it into the soil. In reality, rototilling and hand digging or turning actually breaks up long strands of fungi and makes the soil particles so fine that there are no longer any air pockets, devastating soil structure along with microbe diversity, two very important factors of healthy soil. Along comes rain or overhead watering and the soil starts to compact, plus you have brought weed seeds into the light that now are happy to germinate.

3. After a good rain, does your garden puddle? This is one sign that your soil is compacted and doesn’t allow drainage. Compacted soil changes in structure and chokes out microbial diversity. Nematodes and protozoa become small in number or disappear, while many fragile root fungi (mycorrhizal) drown which causes an imbalance – making your plants at risk for nutrient deficiencies, disease, root rot and perhaps eventual death.

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you probably already surmised your underground friends are struggling, died an ugly death or simply vacated the premises. But no worries, you can fortify or rebuild a microbial network with a little know-how and some muscle in as little as six months.

Step one: Add organic matter and some homemade microbes in the form of compost. Compost and compost tea (use an aquarium pump to bubble tea) are teaming with microscopic life to add to or create a community of microbes doing their jobs to boost your soil’s ability and fertility to grow healthy flora by working together.

Compost will also help the soil structure by adding space for air and allowing water to drain properly. Aerating compacted soil and spreading a ½-1 inch of compost will go a long way to get the healing process started.

Raised beds are a creative fix for areas that have been compacted or where the amount of soil is impeded by rocky terrain or heavy soil that doesn’t naturally drain well.

Step two: As gardeners we know that mulch helps to keep moisture in and weeds out of our soil but it also helps to keep soil from compaction. It is also vital to our hard working microbes since they like many of us really love to eat. Applying green mulches like grass clippings, straw, alfalfa meal and comfrey around annuals and vegetables will ramp up needed food sources for bacterial microbes which are necessary for good growth and development.


Trees need mycorrhizal fungi to grow strong roots help resist diseases.
Raised beds help microorganisms thrive and are a quick fix for rocky terrain or areas that don’t drain well.

Most trees, shrubs and perennials need a soil with more fungi activity (think forest floor) so spreading a layer of brown, carbon mulch like woodchips, pine straw, and brown leaves can help create the right environment for fungi to thrive. Up to 2 inches of mulch should be plenty.

Mulch spread on top of compost works like a microbial sandwich inoculating both the soil and the mulch to amp up bacteria and fungi production. But, according to Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis, authors of Teaming with Microbes, to have an even bigger effect on plants, a nutrient cycler needs to be added on top of the mulch in the form of what they term as a “protozoa soup.” This soup is easy to make yourself by soaking fresh grass clippings, alfalfa, hay or straw in de-chlorinated water for three to four days. They recommend an aquarium air pump and air stone to keep the soup aerobic. Simply pour soup on top of mulch and get ready for some great results.

With the right environment and a little help from millions of unsung microbial heroes, you can have soil that is alive and kicking, which in turn grows strong, healthy plants, which makes you look good and just might create a little garden envy in your neck of the woods.

 

A version of this article appeared in a May 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Cindy Shapton.

 

Posted: 05/01/17   RSS | Print

 

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What Are Champion Trees?
by William “Jack” Rowe       #Trees

The sycamore Champion of Alabama (Platanus occidentalis) is almost 5 feet in diameter, 115 feet tall, with a canopy 102 feet wide.


You may hear people speak of them reverently. You might catch word of a “big tree,” an important tree, a “Champion Tree.” But trees don’t compete for titles; they grow their own crowns and are made into trophies instead of receiving them. Trees do compete though. Rooting space, water, light, pollinators, producing many seeds, and so on are the prizes trees, by their nature, seek. It’s the winners of these competitions that we humans notice and some of these winners are named Champion Trees.

In 1940, American Forests, a Washington, D.C.-based, non-profit forest conservation group, began a program called the National Register of Big Trees. The biggest trees on that list are declared Champion Trees. Every year they post a list of the national champions by species. Almost every state in the union has its own Champion Tree program from which the National Register of Big Trees draws the national champions.


At only 22 inches in diameter and 38 feet tall, you’d think this wasn’t a Champion Tree. However, for a dogwood, this tree is magnificent and very long lived in a time when dogwood anthracnose is decimating dogwood populations.
 

To be considered a “big” tree or Champion, someone has to nominate it. The nominator takes measurements and sends them to the local program coordinator. The coordinator then comes out to certify the measurements and compares the tree to other Champions by species and region. There are several reasons for this. Success for the tree is making use of its resources and reproducing. A live oak that is 70 feet tall and 4 feet in diameter requires several decades of growth to reach this size. A water oak might achieve this size in just 40 to 60 years (if it survives to that age). Other nomination considerations are the natural range and environment for that species. The southern live oak is unlikely to be long-lived and large north of USDA Zone 7, but the water oak ranges much farther north, and is more able to withstand winter and dryer weather. Go even farther north though, and the water oak becomes a short-lived runt compared to other more northerly adapted trees such as willow oaks or red oaks.


At 5 feet in diameter and 52 feet tall, this is a colossal redcedar. Older redecedars have beautiful, crenellated trunks and their thin, tight bark allows the observer to view every ripple of the underlying wood.
 

Champion status is decided by measuring three basic parts of the tree: trunk circumference, canopy width and overall height. These measurements are scored using a point system. One point for every inch of trunk circumference, one point for every foot of height and one point for every one-quarter of the average crown spread. This process sounds difficult but is actually easy. The formula for scoring a tree is: trunk circumference (in inches) + height (in feet) + one-quarter of the crown spread (in feet) = total points. If a tree’s score qualifies for Champion status the state coordinator will come to the tree and certify the measurements. Once qualified for Champion status, a tree is awarded a plaque and bragging rights on the state Champion Tree register and is automatically considered for national status by American Forests.

Anyone can participate in the program through their local Champion Tree Coordinator. Each year the list of Champions grows and changes. The locations of these trees will often surprise you, as they tend to be hidden in plain sight. Very often, these trees have histories or stories attached to them making them even more special.

 

Left: The Helen Keller Water Oak is a large and long-lasting specimen of a generally short-lived species of oak.

Right Top: Described in settlers’ diaries as the “Big ol’ Oak,” the Big Live Oak predates the signing of the Constitution and has been a meeting site for much of its existence, before colonization and after.

Right Bottom: The historic description of the scene of General Andrew Jackson in the tree graced with silvery hanging moss seems like it could be today. The Andrew Jackson Live Oak and its surroundings are protected by an elevated boardwalk and fence to prolong its life.

 

Since Champion Trees represent some of the more successful trees of their species and within their regions, they are also important as a source of improved tree stock. If a Champion Tree still displays good characteristics, i.e. strong structure, successfully coping with damage, disease resistance, beauty, etc., they become a valuable resource of genes for our future forests and landscapes. Some nurseries and states support Champion Tree seedling programs to share these particular trees with the public.

Learn more about the National Big Tree program at the American Forests website: www.americanforests.org.

 

A version of this article appeared in Alabama Gardener Volume 13 Number 7.
Photography courtesy of Brian Hendricks, William “Jack” Rowe, and Danny McWilliams.

 

Posted: 04/21/17   RSS | Print

 

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Be a Weirdo
by Steve Asbell       #Trees   #Unusual

The largest tree in this photo is a baobab, which stands out for its swollen trunk. Baobabs are native to Africa, where they are revered as sacred.


There’s something rebellious and exciting about growing unusual perennials in your garden, especially with the diverse choices we have here in Florida. Still, why stop there? Anyone can stash a few odd potted succulents on their patio, but only the most ambitious of gardeners dares to let their  freak flag fly by planting a weird tree in their yard. Here’s an introduction to some of the most peculiar species our state has to offer.

First, one weird tree that you shouldn’t plant. Northerners are familiar with Norfolk Island “pines” (Araucaria heterophylla) as houseplants and living Christmas trees, but in coastal South Florida they rise up to dizzying heights beside high-rise condos like random toilet brushes in the sky. Even if that’s the look you’re after, be advised that they’re among the first trees to get struck by lightning or fall during hurricanes.

Instead, choose a smaller tree like the flying dragon citrus (Poncirus trifoliata, Zones 6-11). If you’re willing to sacrifice the palatable fruit of normal citrus trees for something more wicked, this cold-hardy tree will stop visitors in their tracks with its twisted corkscrew branches and its long, recurved thorns. The native persimmon (Diospyros virginiana, Zones 4-9) isn’t that weird, but its cherry-sized fruits are only ready to eat when they’ve nearly rotted. One of the native persimmon’s relatives is the black sapote (Diospyros digyna, Zones 10-11), and its disgusting-looking overripe fruit tastes and feels like chocolate pudding. Jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora, Zones 9b-11) has the bizarre distinction of developing flowers and shiny black fruits on its limbs and trunks. It takes 30 years to do so, but is a great tree in the meantime.

 

Left: The pond apple’s primitive flowers bear a passing resemblance to those of its distant relatives in the Magnoliales order.

Right: Even though the jaboticaba doesn’t produce these spectacular cauliflorous fruits until it’s at least 30 years old, its manageable size and other attractive features are reason enough to plant one.

 

The custard apple family (Annonaceae) has its share of oddities. The native pawpaw (Asimina triloba, Zones 5-9) produces a custard-textured fruit with a flavor reminiscent of bananas and tropical punch. Even weirder is the pond apple (Annona glabra, Zones 10-11), which develops gnarly, buttressed trunks to help it “breathe” in swamps and relies on wild boar and alligators to disperse its seeds. Rollinia deliciosa (Zones 10b-11) is known as “snotfruit” for the phlegmy consistency and texture of the fruit’s flesh, yet it tastes like lemon merengue.

The bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla, Zones 6-9) is a deciduous temperate tree with huge, tropical-looking 12-36-inch long leaves. Clusia rosea (Zones 10b-11) goes by the name “autograph tree” because if you etch your autograph on the leathery paddle-shaped leaves, it will stay embossed until the leaf falls away. You might point and laugh at the native gumbo limbo (Bursera simaruba, Zones 9b-11) for its flaky and peeling red trunk, but it’s a great tree that should be planted more for its drought and hurricane tolerance.

Some trees may have personality, but others seem to take on a life of their own. Banyans (Ficus benghalensis, Zones 10-11) are known for sprouting in the canopy of other trees, putting down snaky roots and eventually wrapping around a host until it becomes a behemoth with numerous muscular trunks. Our native strangler figs (Ficus aurea, Zones 9-11) aren’t as destructive as the introduced banyans, but you probably won’t be inviting one into your garden any time soon. If you can’t resist that wild banyan look, choose the less invasive native shortleaf fig (Ficus citrifolia, Zones 10-11) instead.

 

Left: Strangler figs and banyans have adventitious roots that hang down and eventually become new trunks. When a tree is mature, they can take up city blocks.

Middle: The shaving brush tree’s manageable size and drought tolerance make it suitable for the home landscape. If you can’t provide the good drainage it requires, it also makes a good container plant or bonsai.

Right: The rose of Venezuela (Brownea grandiceps, zones 9b-11) isn’t a member of the Bombacaceae family, but does have explosive blooms.


Our next group of odd trees are members the Bombacaceae family and are related to hibiscus, okra, and cotton. The silk floss tree (Chorisia speciosa, Zones 10-11) and its close cousin the silk cotton tree (Bombax ceiba, Zones 10-11) both have extraterrestrial-looking prickly trunks, spectacular flower displays and seed pods that open up to reveal silky tufts of cotton. Both are often called “kapok” trees, but the true kapok (Ceiba pentandra, Zones 9b-11) is an enormous rainforest tree that produces the kapok fiber of commerce.

The Bombacaceae family has some other odd trees worth seeking out. Baobab trees (Adansonia spp.) are known for their massive swollen trunks, and the shaving brush tree’s (Pseudobombax ellipticum, Zones 9b-11) bare limbs fill with cigar-like flower buds that open to reveal a fiber-optic display of pink or white stamens.

The rainbow gum (Eucalyptus deglupta, Zones 9-11) is the only eucalyptus in the Northern Hemisphere and has rainbow-hued strips of peeling bark along its trunk. Though it has recently made its way into garden centers, be advised that it reaches well over 200 feet tall in its native habitat.

When choosing a tree, just remember that if a plant is rarely grown, there might be a reason. It could simply be new or hard to propagate, or it might just not be a good fit for most gardens. Do your research and make sure that you can accommodate the tree’s needs before you take it home.

 

A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 21 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Steve Asbell.

 

Posted: 04/20/17   RSS | Print

 

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Native Trees for the Landscape
by Scott A. Zanon       #Natives   #Trees

American Yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea or C. flava)


So what is a “native” tree? It can be any tree from a state or region. The deciduous trees considered for this article are native to North America, and once established, should grow and survive in their planted areas. Most are tough trees rarely affected by urban life and environmental issues.

Some gardeners seem highly interested and motivated to plant native trees. Native trees appear to adapt better to landscape environments compared to alternative species, and they help protect and restore biodiversity. Natives are effective for use in urban, suburban and rural developed landscapes.

Below are 15 trees to consider for your landscape or property with important notes and descriptions about each. I hope you carefully study these and consider planting a few in your property. They are durable yet functional native tree choices.

 

Serviceberry, Juneberry, Sarvisberry, Saskatoon, Shadblow, Shadbush
(Amelanchier spp.)
Zones: 4 to 9
Size: 6-30 feet tall by 4-10 feet wide; cultivars are 12 feet tall by 10 feet wide

One of the best four-season small-medium ornamental trees that is available either multi- or single-trunked. It functions well in a naturalistic setting or as a specimen. There are many species and cultivars to choose from (I prefer A. laevis, but all are wonderful).

Common Pawpaw, Custard Apple
(Asimina triloba)
Zones: 5 to 9
Size: 15-20 feet tall and wide

This is a small tree that has the largest edible fruit native to North America. The pawpaw is native to shady, rich bottom lands, where it often forms dense undergrowth (thicket) in the forest. It is a native understory tree that needs regular watering during the growing season and does not tolerate heavy, wet, alkaline soils. Fall color is a translucent yellow.


 

 

Common Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum)

 

 

Common Baldcypress
(Taxodium distichum)

Zones: 4 to 9
Size: 50-70 feet tall by 20-30 feet wide

This large, deciduous conifer is an upright, stately pyramidal tree with russet brown fall color. Use as a focal point or specimen. It is superb in exceptionally moist areas where the infamous “knees” form if roots are submerged. Versatile, it is also dry site capable. Some chlorosis may occur in high pH soils.
 

River Birch
(Betula nigra)
Zones: 4 to 9
Size: 40-60 feet tall by 40 feet wide

This large, fine-textured shade tree is also considered an ornamental because of its peeling bark (I like the cultivar ‘Heritage’). Some chlorosis problems may occur in high-pH soils. Available as a multi-trunked form of three to five trunks, this fine specimen tree is perfect for areas along streams or ponds. It does prefer moist soils.

Sugar Maple, Hard Maple, Rock Maple
(Acer saccharum)

Zones: 3 to 8
Size: 60-80 feet tall by 40 feet wide

This stately large shade tree is one of the best. It may be used as a specimen or autumn accent tree and is a landscape standout. Many cultivars are available, and its brilliant, long-lasting fall foliage is often spectacular.
 

 

 

Cucumbertree Magnolia
(Magnolia acuminata)

Zones: 4 to 8
Size: 50-70 feet tall and wide

This is an excellent large shade tree that provides great character for larger properties. It is the hardiest of the native Magnolia species. Nursery-grown cultivars have showy yellow flowers and are becoming easier to find. These make fine specimen trees for the landscape.

Cucumbertree Magnolia (Magnolia acuminata)

 

American Hornbeam, Musclewood,
Blue Beech

(Carpinus caroliniana)

Zones: 3 to 9
Size: 25 feet tall and wide

This is a small understory tree tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions. Typically found along streams and rivers, and it is good in naturalized areas as it will tolerate periodic flooding. It is also tolerant of pruning and can be used as a hedge or screen. This tree is not drought tolerant.

Black Tupelo, Black Gum, Sour Gum
(Nyssa sylvatica)

Zones: 4 to 9
Size: 30-50 feet tall by 20-30 feet wide

An excellent large shade tree mainly used as a specimen. This is one of the best and most consistent native trees for fall colors of red (and occasionally yellow), but should not be planted in alkaline soils as it prefers acidic soils. It has lustrous dark green summer foliage with consistent striking autumn color. There are a number of great cultivars available in the trade.

 

Shingle Oak, Laurel Oak (Quercus imbricaria)

 


 

Shingle Oak, Laurel Oak
(Quercus imbricaria)

Zones: 4 to 7
Size: 60 feet tall and 70 feet wide

This is a large, spreading shade tree that performs well in dry sites and features lobe-less glossy dark green oblong leaves. The leaves shine like laurel. This tree is also very cold hardy and urban tolerant. It is a good tree for street and park uses, and is an oak that is relatively easy to transplant.
 

Kentucky Coffeetree
(Gymnocladus dioicus)

Zones: 4 to 8
Size: 60-75 feet tall by 40-50 feet wide

This is a choice large tree with semi-filtered shade and a beautiful bold winter canopy. Older trees are majestic and handsome. It can get somewhat dirty with the pods and leaflets. Prune only in winter or early spring. This tree is dioecious, so the males do not fruit. It is tolerant to heat, drought and cold. Male (fruitless) cultivars available.

American Hornbeam, Ironwood
(Ostrya virginiana)

Zones: 4 to 9
Size: 25-40 feet tall by 25 feet wide

An attractive small-to-medium understory tree that is a slow grower. It does well on dry sites and once established, grows very well. It is not tolerant of salt so avoid roadside plantings. Use in naturalized areas. This tree can be difficult to find in the nursery trade, but it is worth the search.
 

Yellow Buckeye
(Aesculus octandra or A. flava)

Zones: 4 to 8
Size: 60-75 feet tall by 40 feet wide

A handsome large shade tree that is preferable to Ohio buckeye (A. glabra), because it is less susceptible to leaf scorch. It features large showy yellow flowers in April with attractive dark green palmate leaves that change to a beautiful pumpkin color in fall. Considered to be the best large buckeye tree.

Eastern Redbud
(Cercis canadensis)

Zones: 4 to 9
Size: 15-25 feet tall and wide

This is a popular, small ornamental tree with showy spring flowers. Eastern redbud is a strikingly conspicuous tree in the spring because it flowers before other tree leaves form. Best for naturalized, woodland (understory) settings. There is a plethora of superb cultivars now readily available.

 

Common Sassafras
(Sassafras albidum)

Zones: 4 to 8
Size: 30-60 feet tall by 25-40 feet wide

This attractive medium native ornamental tree has spectacular autumn color. It makes a fine specimen or it is excellent as a thicket in a naturalized setting. Found as single or multi-trunked forms. It is practically impossible to transplant, and thus must be container grown.

 

American Yellowwood
(Cladrastis kentukea or C. flava)

Zones: 4 to 8
Size: 30-50 feet tall and wide

This choice medium ornamental shade tree is excellent as a specimen or in groupings. Gray beech-like bark on its vase-shaped form coupled with a nice yellow fall color makes this an attractive choice. Flowers attract bees. Prune only in the summer, as it is a profuse bleeder.

 

Common Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)

 


A version of this article appeared in an May/June 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Scott A. Zanon.

 

Posted: 04/20/17   RSS | Print

 

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Abiotic Disorders in the Landscape
by Wayne Porter       #Trees

Circling roots can eventually girdle the trunk or other roots of this Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia). Small roots like these can be safely removed.


Plants are often subjected to stresses in the environment that are not results of insects or diseases. These stresses are referred to as “abiotic” diseases. These abiotic disorders result in the plant being less vigorous and in many cases dying. The majority of these stress situations are the result of human activities.

Abiotic problems often involve multiple factors. A plant’s response to these factors can be subtle in nature and accumulate over time making them difficult to diagnose. It can be even harder explaining to a homeowner how they harmed their plant by something they did years ago.

Typical symptoms of abiotic problems include very slow growth, poor foliage color, leaf scorching, the presence of lichen, limb dieback, or plant death. Following is a discussion of some of the more common abiotic problems that occur in the landscape


This live oak (Quercus virginiana) died because it was planted too deep.


 

Proper Tree Planting

•  Determine where the root flare is located.
•  Dig the planting hole two to three times wider than the root ball, but no deeper.
•  Gently place the tree in the planting hole with root flare at or slightly above grade.
•  Backfill planting hole with excavated soil and water to eliminate air pockets.
•  Apply 2-4 inches of organic mulch. Keep away from trunk.
•  Stake only if necessary with wide webbing. Tree must be able to move in the wind.
•  Water throughout growing season with 1 inch per week.
•  Remove stakes and ties within one year.

Planting Too Deep
One of the most common and serious problems associated with tree planting is planting too deep. Many trees and shrubs are set too deep at the time of planting, or they settle over time. A planting depth of only 1 inch too deep can cause eventual problems. It is not uncommon to see trees planted as much as 3 or more inches too deep. If a tree looks like a telephone pole going into the ground, then it is planted too deep.

Various symptoms point to excessively deep planting. New growth may develop each spring, but dieback of branch tips occurs during the stress of summer. Advanced symptoms of depth-related stress are cankers and deep cracking of the bark.

Making sure the root flare of a tree is at or slightly above grade when a tree is planted easily prevents this problem. (See tree planting sidebar)


This tree suffered damage when a string-trimmer was used to cut basal watersprouts.


Mechanical Damage
Mechanical damage leaves tree and shrubs vulnerable to disease organisms. Damage comes from vehicles, string trimmers, lawn mowers, construction equipment, garden tools, animals, or other human activities. String-trimmer injury is particularly harmful for trees and shrubs with thin bark. Repeatedly bumping into the same area of a trunk without cutting the bark can damage or kill the growing point under the bark and result in reduced growth. Creating a machine-free zone around trees and shrubs with mulch will greatly reduce mechanical injury.


Improper Mulching
Mulch is used around plants to help conserve soil moisture, moderate soil temperature, reduce weeds, and keep equipment away from plant trunks. The recommended depth is 2-3 inches for most organic mulches. Many gardeners, believing more is better create mulch “volcanoes.” When mulch is piled up against the trunks of trees and shrubs, the bark stays too wet and decay can occur and the entire plant may die. Keep mulch several inches away from the trunk to prevent this scenario.


Mulch “volcanoes” create an ideal environment for disease organisms. Keep mulch 2-3 inches away from the trunk.


Girdling Roots
A girdling root is a root that circles around the trunk or other roots at or below the soil line, gradually cutting off the flow of nutrients. Some trees, such as maples, elms, and birches, are particularly prone to their formation. Trees and shrubs that are container grown and have become pot-bound frequently develop girdling roots. It is important to spread or cut circling roots at planting time to prevent future problems.


Mechanical Root Damage
Most of the feeder roots of trees or shrubs are within the upper 6 inches of the soil. Any digging, trenching or roto-tilling within the root area of established trees or shrubs will cause harm. Damage usually occurs when establishing a new flowerbed, planting shrubs under trees, installing a sprinkler system, or paving a driveway or patio area. The degree of damage depends on the depth of the digging and the amount of ground covered. Root damage may haunt the plant months or even years later, depending on the environmental stresses that occur after the damage.


This huge live oak is showing dieback of branches due construction damage that cut feeder roots.


Construction Damage
Construction damage impacts trees and shrubs in numerous ways. There is severe root loss or injury, compacted soils, loss of leaf area, and grade changes. The impact on trees can be short term, but it usually sets the tree up for a gradual decline or death that takes several years. Anytime the soil grade is lowered or raised even a few inches, existing shrubs and trees become predisposed to various stresses. Keep construction equipment and building materials outside the drip line of trees.

Humans unknowingly inflict these abiotic stresses on trees and shrubs in the landscape. It is amazing how forgiving plants can be, considering all the pressures we humans put on them. Only further education about landscape maintenance will reduce these human-caused disorders.

 

A version of this article appeared in a January/February 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Wayne Porter and istockphoto.com/eurobanks.

 

Posted: 04/19/17   RSS | Print

 

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What? Me Worry?
by Jonathan Heaton       #Disease   #Pests   #Trees

Insects form galls on the leaves of trees and shrubs, including elm (Ulmus spp.).


As an arborist, I work with a lot of people who care deeply about their trees and shrubs. Almost once a week, I will get a call from someone who is alarmed that something new they’ve noticed on their tree might be a major problem. Sometimes it is a problem that needs help, but often it is something that looks bad, but isn’t. Here are some of the common issues that arise.


Leaf and Twig Galls
Some insects, wasps and mites use a chemical to lay eggs inside of leaves or twigs that causes a swollen area, called a gall, to form. This provides a nice place for the egg to grow into an adult. Most of the time these are not significant enough to harm the tree and no treatment is needed. However, treatment may be warranted if the majority of the leaves are heavily damaged, or if a lot of branches and twigs are dying.


Seasonal Evergreen Needle Drop
Evergreens shed their leaves, just like deciduous trees. Although deciduous tree leaves last one season, evergreen leaves, called needles, last for two to seven years, then turn yellow and fall. This can look pretty alarming, especially on white pine (Pinus strobus), but it is normal. It is still worth taking a close look because there are several fungal diseases that will cause early needle loss. Normal needle loss will have needles that are uniformly yellow, whereas diseased needles will have black spots and uneven coloration.


White pine and many other conifers normally shed needles in fall.


Dead Branches
Trees naturally shed branches, and some species are more prone to this than others. Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis), ash (Fraxinus spp.), pin oak (Quercus palustris) and birch (Betula spp.) are examples of trees that shed branches. As long as the leaves have normal color, size and density, there is no issue. Be on the lookout for several branches dying from the tip back, because this is a sign of a problem.


Moss and Lichens
Trees provide habit for many other organisms, including mosses and lichens that grow on the trunk and branches. These are not causing any harm.


These harmless holes in the trunk of an Austrian pine (Pinus nigra) have been made by a sapsucker.


Sapsucker Damage
A sapsucker is a type of woodpecker that drills lines of holes on the trunk to feed on the sap and the bugs it attracts. Most of the time a healthy tree can deal with the damage. 


Bugs
There are enough bugs in the world to keep entomologists busy for several lifetimes. Watch for damage to the plants, and become familiar with the common culprits for plant damage in your area, but realize that most bugs you see are harmless.
 

‘Harmless fungi form a condition called smooth patch on a bur oak.

Smooth Patch
This is found especially on bur oaks (Quercus macrocarpa). Fungi feed on the rough, dead outer bark of the tree leaving smooth patches. This doesn’t cause any harm to the tree.


Anthracnose and Leaf Spot
Anthracnose and leaf spot are generic terms for fungi that damage the leaves of plants. Oaks and ashes are the most common trees to see anthracnose. Look for distorted and curled leaves with black and brown dead spots. Leaves affected by anthracnose will fall from the tree in late spring to early summer. Unless the tree has lost a majority of its leaves, or is severely impacted for more than one year, treatment is not generally warranted. Treatments are available for severe cases, or where aesthetic impact is important. Most of the time, the best defense is good general care, such as water and mulch. Fertilizer if a soil test shows that it is needed.


Squirrels
Many people would disagree that squirrels, the insatiable chewers that they are, are not a serious problem. At least for the trees, they are not. Squirrels make nests out of plant material. Sometimes they will pick a tree to harvest twigs from and will chew off the tips of dozens of branches, leaving a carpet of branch tips on the ground. It is alarming, but won’t cause serious issues for the tree.


Fall Webworm
These caterpillars eat foliage from trees and build silky tents around the branches. Except in severe cases, they are not a problem for the tree and treatment is not needed. To help keep the population under control, clip out the tents and throw them in the trash.


Spittlebug
This bug feeds on plants and covers itself in a substance that looks like spit. It does not cause severe damage. If the population is becoming large enough to be a nuisance, treat them with the spray of a hose, insecticidal soap or horticulture oil.


The spittlebug covers itself with a harmless, spit-like substance, which gives the insect its name.


Carpenter Ants
I’m listing this with the caveat that they are a serious problem for your home and can be a sign of a serious problem in a tree. However, with trees, ants are not the cause of the problem. These large black ants eat wood that is already dead. Carpenter ants signal there is dead wood in the tree. Dead wood, or decay, can be a structural weakness for the tree that the ants can make worse. If the ants are present, I recommend having an arborist inspect the tree.
 

Thin-skinned trees, such as a young red maple (A. rubrum), frequently develop a crack in the bark as a result of growth.

Ash Flower Gall
These tiny eriophyid mites attack the flowers of ash trees, making them distorted and black. It is unsightly, but doesn’t cause any harm. I don’t recommend treatment for this pest, unless you absolutely cannot live with the way it looks.


Bark Cracking on Maples
Many smooth-barked trees, especially maples (Acer spp.), have vertical cracks that appear in the trunk. This is because of the way that trees grow, not any kind of weakness or problem. A situation that can look similar that is a problem is when the bark is damaged during the winter, due to rapid heating from the sun. The difference is that there will be dead wood and peeling bark in the area damaged. Wrapping the trunk of thin-barked species with fabric during the winter can prevent this.

Ultimately, I’m always happy to take these calls, because it means that people are paying close attention to their trees. I encourage you to pay attention throughout the year. If you’re in doubt about something you see, do a little research or check with a local expert to be sure. If nothing else, you will gain a greater appreciation for the many nuances and complexities of nature.

 

A version of this article appeared in a January/February 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Jonathan Heaton and Bartlett Tree Experts.

 

Posted: 04/19/17   RSS | Print

 

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The Lore of Big Old Trees
by William J. Rowe II       #Landscaping   #Trees


We’re lucky in the Southeast. We have more trees in our towns and landscapes than most other parts of the United States. It probably goes back to the time when air-conditioning wasn’t even thought of yet and comfort, let alone just breathing, during the summer was dependent on having large shade trees.

This situation does have drawbacks. Arborist bills for instance. Having someone take care of that branch 40 feet up is pricey. Then there are all those roots, the shade, and fall leaves complicating lawn maintenance. If that sounds strange to you, hang around the extension office sometime and count the calls about thin grass and surface tree roots. Dense shade also changes the species of plant life usable in the parts of a landscape under trees. Often, nursery stock, particularly from the big-box stores, hasn’t been selected for shade and tree root competition.

That said, nearly everyone wants a big old tree. New ones are fine and dandy and full of promise, but it’s the large and aged that we enjoy most. These trees give us a sense of history, anchoring our homes and towns to a place in time and memory. Large trees are also amazing providers – from actual monetary value to physical, mental, and social health. The list of benefits, mainly from mature trees, is long and well researched. If you are unaware of just how important trees are and how well documented it is, try out Dr. Kathleen L. Wolf’s wonderful collection of work at The Human Dimensions of Urban Forestry and Urban Greening: thenaturewithin.info, it’s a great place to learn more.

There are some important differences between young and old trees that any gardener needs to know. It’s impossible to overstate how easy it is to fatally damage a big tree. Another interesting thing is that a big tree won’t show you that it has begun to die for years. The problems usually show up long after the action that pushed the tree over the edge, leaving you shaking your head as you write a big check to an arborist.


Massive old tree in lot obviously filling all the space.


Trees’ lives are complicated by 4 important things
Trees strive for balance, always. The balance we’re talking about is one in which resources are balanced between growth and maintenance. Growth and health of trees depends on resources being taken up by roots (mostly water), sugar being made by leaves, and pathways through the tree’s system for it all to be moved around. Old trees, even in a good situation, generally grow slowly. The cause of the slowdown is how much more tree the trees’ systems have to maintain and defend. Large, older trees have usually occupied all of their environment that they are able to. Their roots are spread out far and wide and the canopy is extended to its maximum. Removing branches or roots, or otherwise damaging the tree’s system will result in a loss a large older tree can’t balance out. Which brings us to problem number 2.


Most of the tree is already dead.
The interior parts of a tree are mostly dead and often aren’t even functioning other than as a sort of support pole and dumping ground for compounds the tree makes that it doesn’t want near the living parts. A big beautiful tree is actually a thin layer of living tree wrapped around its mostly dead interior. That mostly dead interior is also something the tree must vigorously defend. The bark over everything is generally that first defense. Once the outer layer of the tree is opened up, whether by pruning cuts, storms, or just accidents, that interior is now open to whole realms of nature that really want a chance at that interior. Since there is no life without injury, the tree develops defense systems to handle invasion by the outside world. Which brings us to the next big fact about trees.


Healing wound in trunk.


Trees can’t heal.
Not the way we do. An arborist will often say, “Trees don’t heal, they seal.” An injury to a tree is forever. After all, the tree is mostly dead with a dressing of living tree over it. Breaking through the bark leaves only the living layers around the edges of the wound to deal with injury. Trees typically do this by walling off the wound by plugging the cells with toxic compounds and then growing over the wound from the edges. The damage remains, hopefully sealed off forever. It is extremely common for older trees to be coping with numerous wounds and hollows caused by pruning, abrasion, tears, and breaks both above and below ground. Maintaining these compartmentalized pockets take up resources, further slowing growth. The extra resources needed to handle a new problem could be the resources the tree needs to grow enough to live. Which leads us to the fourth issue.


Trees have to grow.
It’s growth or death. Every year, a new ring on the trunk, new leaves, new flowers, new fruit, new stems, new bark, new roots. To stop growing is to die. Even when trees are obviously dying, growth is taking place wherever the tree can make it happen.


Large live oak shading lawn and home.


So living with your big old tree means keeping its needs in mind. Think of it as a really wonderful older pet out in your landscape. You don’t purposely injure a pet. You wouldn’t let just anyone cut it. You wouldn’t take away things it needs to live. We often make exceptions and rearrange our lives for our dogs and cats, why not our trees?


Garden With Big Trees

Trenching in lawn near a tree.
 

First, Do No Harm
The number-one killer of trees of any age is people – usually the very people who care about them. There are two kinds of damage that nearly every gardener does to their tree. The first is mower and string trimmer damage. Constant damage to trunks and structural roots by lawn equipment create more injury for the tree to wall off and maintain. For big trees, damaging structural roots could lead to destabilization.

The second is root cutting. Removal of tree roots is particularly devastating to trees. All trees need a constant flow of water from their root system to live. Removing a root, say an inch in diameter or larger (or just cutting through one) effectively removes miles of root system from the tree. This has the effect of putting the tree into a drought, even if it’s raining. The tree is now unbalanced. It has big water demands and now no way to satisfy them. Decline begins. Also, damage to large roots can allow decay to creep in. Many a hollow tree became so because of root damage.

Once a tree is mature, big structural changes to its canopy are usually not needed or recommended except when our lives and property are threatened by the tree. Pruning of large and older trees should be limited to crown cleaning, which is the removal of dead or damaged limbs from the canopy. If you fear for the structural integrity of an older tree’s canopy, discuss cabling and bracing with an ISA certified arborist.
 

Kill Some Grass
The effort many gardeners put into growing grass under the canopies of trees is amazing. If you garden WITH your older tree, remove the competition by killing off grass and mulching. This mimics the natural environments that trees evolved in, forests. Your tree will do much better and you won’t be slaving over and spending so much on turf.

 

Big old declining tree with dead branches
 

Embrace The Shade
Too often, we try to raise plants that can’t get along with trees, especially in the shade under the canopy. Read up on woodland gardening and select shrubs and perennials and even some annuals that get on well in the understory of forests.
 

Don’t Fertilize Your Tree To Death
Fertilizer is not the answer to everything, particularly trees. For older trees the problem is giving them lots of nitrogen, which boosts stem and foliar growth. This new burst of growth can actually create demand for water that the root system may not have access to. Be sure to have your soil tested and have your tree’s condition assessed by an ISA certified arborist before spreading lots of fertilizer around. If you want to fertilize plantings around an older tree, try the trick of foliar fertilization. Use one-eighth-strength liquid fertilizer and spray it onto the foliage of the plants you want to receive the extra nutrition. This will save you time, spare the tree, and save some money on fertilizer too.

 

A version of this article appeared in an April 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of William J. Rowe II.

 

Posted: 04/19/17   RSS | Print

 

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History of the Rose
by Martin Stone, Ph.D.       #Flowers   #Roses

The simple flower shape, blush pink petals, and large clusters of flowers throughout the summer have made ‘Ballerina’ a favorite for decades.


Roses are more than prickly garden plants with exquisite flowers. They are much more than roots and leaves, stems and petals. They are the ultimate symbol of beauty, displaying perfection and romance. But beyond this, they are metaphors of society and us throughout history, as well as today.


Aristocracy and the Rose
In medieval Europe, roses in the garden were symbols of aristocracy. There were only a few elite ruling families of the day, and there were just a few elite rose families, too.

Any aristocrat of the day would tell you that peasants were not capable of appreciating beauty for its own sake. Peasants could not discern the hint of pink in the petal of a rose no more than they could discern the subtle scents of fruit and musk from wine.

After laboring in the fields all day, it is unlikely that a peasant would have had the time or energy to return home and cultivate a bed of roses. There were meals to prepare, and they did not like to get out in the night air for fear of contracting a disease.


Napoleon and Josephine’s Contribution

In the early part of the 19th century, roses and much of the world underwent a dramatic revolution. Turbulence was especially high in France where Napoleon was scrambling to the pinnacle of his government. Josephine apparently did not share her husband’s ambitions and grew weary of the pretentiousness of the courts, endless social events and her husband’s infidelities. She found refuge in Malmaison, her mansion nine miles west of Paris. From Malmaison, she devoted the remainder of her life to amassing the single largest collection of roses the world had ever seen.

In a few short years, her garden equaled her aspirations; roses grew side by side from China, Egypt, the Near East and anywhere Napoleon’s army marched. Though he was estranged from his beloved Josephine, he continued to support her garden habit by sending her living specimens. The genetically and geographically diverse roses were allowed to hybridize, and the new combinations still echo throughout our gardens to this day.


Introducing the Hybrid Tea
A second seminal event in rose history, perhaps the most important, happened a few decades after Josephine’s garden reached its zenith. In 1867, a French rose breeder crossed ‘Madame Victor Verdier’, a hybrid perpetual, with ‘Madame Bravy’, a tender tea rose. The result was the first hybrid tea aptly named ‘La France’.

The appearance of ‘La France’ began a lengthy love affair between hybrid tea roses and the gardening public. These new roses had a suite of favorable characteristics that the rising middle class loved. Their greatest attraction was cold hardiness combined with a remontant, or reblooming habit. They remain the most popular garden roses today.

 

The white petals of the Cherokee rose represent the tribal mother’s tears, and the golden center, the gold taken from their native lands when they were forced to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.

 

Native or Not?
Closer to home, roses played an important role during the Civil War. The Cherokee rose (Rosa laevigata) is a prickly-stemmed rambler that is graced with pretty, simple, single white flowers. It was commonly planted on the graves of fallen soldiers to assist families in grieving and in part to mark the site.

The Cherokee rose was long thought to be a native of the southern and eastern United States. Indeed, its range was similar to the geographical distribution of the tribe’s original location before they were forced along the Trail of Tears. But despite public opinion, it is an import from China. The mystery remains as to when it arrived, how it made the journey, and why it naturalized so rapidly.


Though the leaves show wear and tear from summer, nutritious rose hips are a great food for wildlife. This hip has already been sampled.


Black Sheep Of The Family
Though a few roses are native to North America, none have made the jump into the mainstream. Even the wildling you might encounter hiking through a field or forest is likely to be R. multiflora, a native of Japan. Introduced into this country as a durable and hardy rootstock for grafted roses, its vigor has served it well in its adopted home. Once sold as a living fence, R. multiflora is now known as an invasive plant and an outlaw in several states.


The Yellow Rose Of New York City
The “Yellow Rose of Texas” was made famous when it was compared to a beautiful woman in song. While the flowers are indeed yellow, it is not native nor is it from Texas. According to Thomas Christopher in In Search of Lost Roses, this rose is known today as ‘Harrison’s Yellow’ which originated as a chance seedling in New York City and proved to be extremely tough. The dense thorns repelled cattle and its drought and cold tolerance provided excellent survival skills. Turns out that it was the rose planted along the Oregon Trail across the west.


‘Summer Wind’ is an exceptional rose from famous rose breeder Griffith Buck. Buck roses are known for their hardiness, fragrance and beauty.


A Nation Divided
In our country today, roses are a metaphor of our divided society. Some rosarians are great fans of the hybrid teas while others are lovers of old-fashioned roses. Their philosophies are so dissimilar that we might use the red state-blue state analogies that simplify the demographics of presidential politics.

On one side of the aisle are gardeners who espouse old-fashioned roses, those roses that appeared before the first hybrid tea, ‘La France’. They seek the simpler structure of flowers and cherish the flat blooms with just a few delicately colored petals. For many admirers it is the scent of the old-fashioned flowers that is so attractive. From spicy to musky sweet, it is the fragrance that has galvanized their allegiance to these old roses.

The other side of the aisle embraces the hybrid teas. Repeat blooming is more highly prized to them than to expend a year’s flowers in one glorious blaze of color. They seek perfection in a single bud perched on a long stem. The latest garden center offering is exciting each spring and they likely will purchase a rose because it is named after a popular person. In recent years, big sellers have been ‘Dolly Parton’, ‘Reba McIntire’ and ‘Diana, Princess of Wales.’


Knock Out rose combines high disease resistance and prolific repeat blooming.
 

A miniature rose growing to a couple of feet tall, ‘Sweet Chariot’ features large, pink-purple flowers that smell like pepper. The fragrance is enhanced during the warmth of midday.


Centuries Of Cultivation
If roses in our gardens were indicative of society in the past, it remains true today. Consider the wildly popular hybrid tea rose, an amalgam of plant parts fused by humans to create a being far superior than the sum of its parts. Hybrid tea roses are composed of a rootstock and a beautiful grafted top portion.

The top of the rose produces its raison d’etre, the slender-tipped flower buds that open to reveal nature’s perfection. The buds appear in a brilliance of colors and demand our attention from across the garden or a crowded room.

Roses are beautiful garden plants, and yet, they are so much more. Though we have innocently cultivated them for centuries, they have been a barometer of social status and change. So, the next time you visit a friend’s garden or plant a rose in yours, remember, your choice has a long history of social prominence. Choose with your heart, and you may learn something about yourself, too.

 

A version of this article appeared in a May 2005 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Martin Stone, Ph.D.

 

Posted: 04/10/17   RSS | Print

 

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Sustainable Fertilization
by Kathy Fitzgerald       #Fertilizing   #Permascaping   #Soil

“Feed the soil, not the plant.” I experienced this pivotal epiphany when my husband and I attended Plant Delights Nursery’s class, “The World of Soil.” For the first time I really got it that good dirt is alive, and – this is the really important part – the more alive the dirt, the healthier the plants are in it.

Shortly thereafter I read Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis, a layman’s guide to soil science. Lowenfels and Lewis illuminated the ecosystem of living soil in a powerful way. I became a true believer.


A History of Fertilizer
Before World War I, farmers everywhere used only composted manures, kitchen and garden wastes and seaweed to amend their fields, because that’s all there was. When hostilities ceased in 1918, armaments manufacturers faced severe profit cuts. They figured out that the same ingredients used to make firearms – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium – also enhance crop performance. An aggressive marketing campaign launched the commercial fertilizer industry.

Crop yields rose dramatically, but so did pest problems and soil depletion. The new, “synthetic” plant foods came in the form of chemical salts, which had to break down in the presence of water before their nutrients became available to the plants. The salty byproducts of this reaction didn’t magically disappear from the soil, they accumulated. Exposure to salt causes soil microbiota to dehydrate and die. That’s why, once you start using synthetics, you have to keep on using them. Their mode of action essentially renders the fertilized soil sterile.


The Espoma Company’s Organic Traditions line of products includes single-element fertilizers as well as their familiar Plant-Tone, Holly-Tone and Rose-Tone, all with non-burning, low N-P-K numbers.


A Cautionary Tale
When I worked at a garden center, a customer once special-ordered 75 flats of centipede-grass plugs. Because the plugs looked a bit peaked on arrival, the owner asked another employee to sprinkle them with a little 8-0-24 fertilizer. The hapless girl spread an entire 50-pound bag on the 6 by 12 foot area. Even though we watered and watered, trying to leach the stuff out, the shock proved too much for the plugs. They all died from an extreme case of root burn.

This same death-by-fertilizer can happen in your own garden. Avoid it by learning to work with your soil instead of against it. Fertilizers labeled “organic” have dramatically lower N-P-K numbers than synthesized formulas. For example, compare Espoma’s Plant-Tone’s analysis is 5-3-3 to Osmocote’s 18-6-12. Lower numbers mean root and foliar burning are simply not possible.


Nature’s Way
In nature, fungi and bacteria consume and excrete nutrients in the soil. Protozoa, worms and arthropods consume and excrete the microbiota. Birds, reptiles, amphibians and small mammals consume and excrete the protozoa, worms and arthropods, in turn providing food for fungi and bacteria. This is the nutrient delivery system Mother Nature devised, devoid of human intervention. When you consider undisturbed habitats like forests, grasslands and rainforests, you have to admit Mother Nature knows what she’s doing.


We make a top-dress for our planting areas with generous helpings of a mixture of 1 16-ounce cup of kelp meal and 6 16-ounce cups of Holly-Tone to each 50-pound bag of Black Kow. (I opened the Holly-Tone from the bottom. Sorry.)
 

We can make our own gardens sustainable by replicating natural processes. The best way to do that is to treat your soil with annual topdressings of composted organic matter, either purchased or homemade. Incorporating compost into the soil improves drainage in heavy soils and increases moisture retention in sandy ones, but most importantly it attracts and feeds the bacteria and fungi at the base of the nutrient chain.

N-P-K Explained

The three primary elements plants need to get out of the soil around them are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). For a very simple explanation, nitrogen produces lush, green foliage; phosphorus, in the oxide form of P2O5 or phosphate, encourages blooming; and potassium, as potash or K2O, aids in growing healthy roots.

Also known as the “guaranteed analysis,” the three digits emblazoned on most fertilizer packages refer to the percentage by weight of each primary element per bag of mixture. For example, a 40-pound bag of 10-10-10 works out to 10 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphorus, 10 percent potassium and 70 percent of inert ingredients. In this particular case, the inert ingredients are 28 pounds of itty-bitty rocks.

Commercial fertilizers aren’t entirely counterproductive. Self-contained systems, like pots, benefit from their use. Most potting mixes are soilless, and therefore sterile, meaning there’s no microbiota to kill. Both houseplants and outdoor seasonal containers appreciate occasional applications of either granular or water-based nutrition. Whatever you use, always follow label directions. When it comes to fertilization, more is absolutely not better.

In my own garden, I trundle out the wheelbarrow every spring and combine 1 16-ounce cup kelp meal, 6 16-ounce cups of Holly-Tone (Plant-Tone if your soil is already acidic) and a 50-pound bag of Black Kow or other composted product. I distribute it liberally right on top of the mulch (mine is shredded leaves). Some may rake back their mulch first, but that’s too much work for me, I just go back and ruffle the mixture in with a garden claw. Either way, the idea is to get the composted material in contact with the soil.

The 2,700 square feet of planting space in my yard takes about 25 bags of Black Kow, or roughly one amended wheelbarrow load per 100 square feet. Come July, I usually toss around another dose of Plant-Tone and kelp, without the Black Kow, depending on the weather.


A New Mindset
Once you realize it’s the soil that needs feeding instead of the plants, understanding fertilizer becomes easier. By mimicking nature and limiting synthetic inputs, we become facilitators of the vital interconnectedness that living soil represents, to the better health of our plants, our planet and ourselves.

 

 

A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Jeffrey Heyden-Kaye (www.istockphoto.com/heydenkaye) and Kathy Fitgerald.

 

Posted: 04/10/17   RSS | Print

 

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Clematis 101
by Ilene Sternberg       #Flowers   #Plant Profile   #Vines

Clematis ‘Étoile Violette’


Virtually all clematis books are British. I think it’s some kind of law. According to those books, you may pronounce it “klem-a-tiss,” “kli-mah-tiss,” “klem-at-iss” or “klem-ay-tiss.” The plants are fabulous, and will respond no matter how you address them. Most Americans only spiral one up their mailbox post, but the Brits have been exploring the potential of almost 300 species and even more varieties and cultivars, using them far more imaginatively in their gardens for eons.

Clematis can reach 30 feet or be shorter than 2 feet. Flowers can be 10 inches across, or tiny stars, flat, cupped, turk’s cap-, bell-, urn- or tubular-shaped; sometimes delightfully scented, with fluffy, silky seedheads; and boast a broad spectrum of colors. In addition to greeting you while you peruse your junk mail, they can grace a container, clamber up a fence, ramble over rocks, climb trees, lace through shrubs and scamper across the ground. These buttercup relatives can also be alpine plants or little shrubs, not vines at all.

Susan Austin of Completely Clematis Specialty Nursery in Ipswich, Mass. (www.clematisnursery.com), has some pretty avant garde ideas about how to grow clematis. She uses cinnamon as a bactericide and fungicide. To battle periods of drought that can stunt growth and flower size, she recommends (in addition to deep planting, thorough watering once a week and heavy mulching) stuffing pre-moistened hydrogel (Soil-Moist or Terrasorb) into 6-inch-deep holes dug every 12 inches around each plant. Her trick is to soak the polymer beads in warm water prior to use. She says effects last as long as three years, by which time plants should be well established.


Avant-garde (C. ‘Evip033’)
 

Clematis have been customarily classified according to their pruning requirements. In Trouble-Free Clematis: The Viticellas (Garden Art Press, 1998), John Howells regroups them into 12 categories in order of their progression of bloom, dwelling more on the characteristics of the types and claiming the newer format is more useful and easily understood. Frankly, while I find attempts to systematize this mind-boggling array truly admirable, I am equally confused by both methods of organization. But, what do I know? I can’t sort socks, let alone clematis.

Clematis ‘Piilu’

Culture is more or less similar for all 12 groups. Like poppies, they should have their crowns sunk several inches below soil level when planted. Clematis fare best in good, neutral soil. Dan Long of Brushwood Nursery (www.gardenvines.com) in Athens, Ga., says, “Amend soil with organic matter and consider some bonemeal, too. Plant clematis at a 45-degree angle – actually lean it over in the hole – to promote more shoots from the base sooner.”

“Never tease the roots of C. orientalis, C. alpina, C. macropetala or other fibrous-rooted types when planting,” Austin cautions. Taunting those temperamental roots can trigger sudden death. This sensitivity also makes transplanting difficult.

Most clematis can be pruned in early spring or late winter down to the first pair of buds, but leave pruning of early blooming kinds for after flowering or you’ll lose the spring show. Unless they’re tangled, you may leave them alone altogether. Broken stems, though, can invite a fungus, Phoma clematidina, that causes a stem rot and leaf spot disease where stems unexpectedly collapse in a melodramatic faint, which mainly affects large-flowered clematis hybrids. Species clematis, their cultivars and small-flowered hybrids are much less susceptible. Cut affected stems to ground level and the plant often recovers, usually the same season. Don’t be so quick to remove “dead” clematis. Sometimes dead-looking stems have perfectly fine growth at the top, and plants often resurrect magically after having been gone for years. Clematis sometimes lose their lower leaves as the season progresses. Underplanting with shallow-rooted, noninvasive plants can provide cover for this shameless nudity.

Clematis viticellas and its cultivars are easy to grow. I can’t say enough good things about the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Gold Medal winner ‘Betty Corning’. Little lavender-blue fairy hats abound continuously from early spring until frost. Her leaves are pristine and never turn black. Stems are plentiful and sturdy. ‘Etoile Violette’ is no prima donna either; she is vigorous, floriferous and nearly indestructible. Dan Long, smitten with yellow C. tangutica ‘Lambton Park’, says, “Small-flowered clematis combined with disease-resistant roses are hot these days. People want performance in the garden without trouble or chemicals to get there.”

‘Prince Charles’ and ‘Margaret Hunt’ are two of Susan Austin’s recommendations for prodigious bloom. Beautiful Baltic cultivars are now the rage in Britain. Susan also is smitten with C. integrifolia ‘Aljonushka’, with strawberry colored blossoms.
 

 

 

 

Top Left: Clematis ‘Duchess of Edinburgh’

Bottom Left: Josephine (C. ‘Evijohill’)

Right: Clematis ‘Rooguchi’


While most clematis prefer having their heads in sun, Blue Moon (C. ‘Evirin’) and ‘Silver Moon’ show their true colors (pale lavender, almost gray) in shady settings. My latest crush is the enticing C. integrifolia x ‘Rooguchi’, bearing nonstop 2½-inch deep-purple open-bell-shaped flowers with recurved sepals, and a loose, sprawling habit. It blooms even in shade from May through September.

Three reliable, virtually infallible large-flowering types are white ‘Henryi’, purple ‘The President’ and blue ‘Ramona’.

I’m working my way through Christopher Grey-Wilson’s book Clematis: The Genus (Timber Press, 2000). According to that, I still have 661 other clematis I haven’t tried.


Clematis terniflora

 

A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Ilene Sternberg.

 

Posted: 04/10/17   RSS | Print

 

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Foodie Favorites
by Pamela Ruch       #Edibles   #Vegetables

Start hybrid broccoli and onion seeds about eight weeks before the last spring frost.


You’ve grown heirloom tomatoes. You know what it means to cook with superior ingredients. So take it to the next level. Enjoy roasted salad turnips with the slightly piquant base of the greens still attached, sweet baby broccoli tossed in garlic butter, tender mini beets, and grilled radicchio. If you can grow tomatoes, then there’s no reason you can’t grow gourmet delicacies in your backyard garden as well.
 

Or Just Harvest Them When Small

Growing gourmet vegetables can be as simple as harvesting the vegetables at a small and tender size.

Summer squash can be plucked with the flower still clinging to the baby fruit, stuffed with ricotta, rolled in egg and then breadcrumbs, and gently fried.

Beets, harvested at a tender 1-inch diameter and roasted, go beautifully with salad greens and goat cheese.

Baby greens can be planted in wide rows and cut at about 5 inches. Harvest the tender greens three, or even four times, in succession.


For an attractive and tasty salad, grow short rows of textured greens, such as lettuce, mizuna, arugula, and red mustard.

Baby broccoli
Hybrids of gai lan (Brassica oleracea var. alboglabra, aka Chinese broccoli) and traditional broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica) have the advantage of producing mini heads over a long period of time. You might encounter relatively new hybrids and cultivars as well, including broccolini (Brassica oleracea italica xalboglabra), ‘Aspabroc’, and ‘Brokali Atlantis’ and ‘Brokali Apollo’. By any name they are tender and sweet.

Grow: Plant seedlings 15 to 18 inches apart a couple of weeks before the last frost date. Harvest frequently, and be sure to plant flowers nearby to attract beneficial insects.

Eat: Simpler is better. Blanch the stems and heads for 2 minutes and then toss them in butter and garlic. A squeeze of lemon juice will amp up the flavor.


Onions
Try growing onions (Allium cepa) from seed. Cipollini and torpedo type onions, seed-grown shallots (Allium cepa var. aggregatum), and leeks (Allium ampeloprasum Leek Group) are worth the extra effort. Start them at least eight weeks before the last spring frost or buy transplants, offered online by some seed companies and specialty growers. Cipollinis and shallots are sweet and mild, and wonderful roasted. Torpedo onions are excellent raw.

Grow: Plant onion and shallot seedlings 3 to 4 inches apart in the garden, leeks at least 6 inches. Once plants are well established, weed the rows and mulch with straw. Most gardeners pull onions when the tops fall, but they can be harvested at any stage.

Eat: Melt a couple of tablespoons of butter in a skillet, add skinned onions and shallots and a teaspoon of sugar, and toss them over medium heat until they start to brown. Add some water or wine, lower the heat, and cover. Twenty minutes later remove the lid and reduce the liquid to a glaze.


Mache
Also known as corn salad, mache (Valerianella locusta) is a welcome cold-weather treat; with a little protection it will persist into spring. The flavor is mild and slightly nutty.

Grow: Sow mache seeds about 1 inch apart in late summer or early fall. It will not germinate in heat, so wait for a cool spell. If it is not up to size in fall, protect it with straw or a cold frame, and harvest in early spring.

Eat: Serve mache French-style, with beets and walnuts and a red wine vinaigrette, or use it as a salad green.


Radicchio and salad turnips are problem free in the garden.


Radicchio
The chicory clan is a varied group that includes endives and escarole. They have in common a distinctive bitterness, which some gourmands love, others, not so much. An understated chicory, radicchio (Cichorium intybus var. foliosum Radicchio Group) is mild in taste and beautiful in the garden – a real pleasure to grow and eat.

Grow: Start seeds indoors as you would broccoli, and plant seedlings about 12 inches apart a week or two before the last frost date.

Eat: Cut radicchio heads into wedges. Rinse with water, drizzle with olive oil, and roast at 400 F on one side for about 10 minutes until wilted, then turn to roast the other side. Then season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with balsamic vinegar.
 

Salad turnips
Also known as Hakurei turnips (Brassica rapa), these mini turnips are the size and color of ping-pong balls, and so sweet they can be eaten raw. They are quick to mature, and the greens are not just edible, they are truly delicious.

Grow: Sow seeds about 1 inch apart from early spring through early summer, and again in late summer. Harvest the row continuously as the turnips grow to size.

Eat: Slice thin and use raw in salads, or cut them in half, leaving about an inch of green, and roast at 400 F with an assortment of other vegetables.


Tatsoi can be grown easily in a container.


Tatsoi
You might recognize tatsoi (Brassica narinosa) as the Asian green from supermarket salad mixes. Sweet and mild, it can be cut leaf-by-leaf for salads, or harvested whole for braising. Not only is it delicious, it is packed with vitamin C and calcium.

Grow: Scatter seeds in a wide (about 8 inches) row or container, so that seeds fall about an inch apart. When plants develop their mature leaves, cut them individually, or wait and harvest whole rosettes.

Eat: Use in salads, or lightly sauté until wilted as you would spinach. Tatsoi is also excellent in soups, added at the very end.

 

A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Pamela Ruch.

 

Posted: 04/10/17   RSS | Print

 

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Extreme Makeover
by Tom Hewitt       #Themed Gardens   #Xeriscaping

In an arid garden, pay special attention to texture and form.


Whenever someone asks me about the easiest plants to grow, I always direct them to the Garden of Extremes at Mounts Botanical Garden in West Palm Beach. More often than not, they’re amazed at just how beautiful an arid garden can be.

The new Garden of Extremes at Mounts is really a makeover and expansion of the old Sun Garden. Designed by Mounts’ horticulturist Joel Crippen, it’s now four times its previous size, featuring an even wider array of plants that thrive under full sun, dryness, high winds, low fertility, and other adverse conditions.

Arid gardens don’t have to be boring, Crippen notes. Describing this one as “a desert in perpetual bloom,” he’s allowed Madagascar periwinkles (Catharanthus roseus) and Coreopsis to naturalize. No matter what time of year you visit, there is always plenty in bloom.
 

 

 


Left: Crippen spent more than a year designing and installing the garden.

Top Right: Winding pathways take you to all corners of the garden.

Bottom Right: Something is always in bloom, any time of the year.


The project wasn’t easy. Because of heavier soils in this particular area, Crippen found it necessary to make raised beds and mound soil to facilitate drainage. But this also allowed for more interesting topography, which includes a walkway and steps that ultimately lead to the garden’s highest point.

Things aren’t always as they seem. “What the viewer doesn’t consciously notice,” Crippen says, “is that the rocks in the beds are smaller than those used in the walkways, which are also two different sizes. This optical illusion tricks the senses into feeling that the space is much larger than it is.”

To elevate beds, excess soil was brought in from other areas of the garden. But since it lacked uniformity, it was amended with perlite, coarse sand, and peat moss to improve percolation. After plants were installed, white drain rock and pea gravel were used as ground cover, which further improved drainage. This also helped reflect more light, compensating for shade cast by trees on the opposite side of the walkway.


A huge mousetrap tree is one of the most popular plants in the garden.
 

Several large ponytail palms (Beaucarnea recurvata) already on site were repositioned to create a “forest effect.” Ponytail palms, Crippen notes, are not true palms. They are members of the Agavaceae family and often used as houseplants. But they make good landscape specimens in Florida gardens (Zones 9-11) if given good drainage.

Turk’s cap is one of several Caribbean cacti in the garden.

Most people think of cacti as desert dwellers, but there are actually many species native to the tropics. Crippen included several Caribbean species in the garden, and hopes to collect more. Dwarf Turk’s cap (Melocactus matanzanus) is especially showy, forming a red bristly cone from which colorful red flowers and seeds emerge.

Turk’s cap can be hard to grow, but not ladyfingers (Mammillaria elongata). Its cylindrical stems are matted with golden spines. Crippen thinks the abundance of spines on Caribbean cactus may actually help shed excess water. Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) also grows here. Endemic to Mexico, it’s rare and critically endangered in the wild.

When people think of Florida cactus, prickly pears (Opuntia spp.) come to mind. Florida boasts nine native species, and several large specimens are in the garden. Crippen hopes to include many cacti native to the Keys. Several Florida cacti remain endangered, including Simpson’s applecactus (Harrisia simpsonii), mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis baccifera), and Key tree-cactus (Pilosocereus robinii).

Kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos spp.) also draw attention when they bloom. These natives of Australia love dry, sandy soils, and usually behave as short-lived perennials in Florida. The trick is to keep them dry enough during our summers. Their orange, tuberous flowers are covered with hairs, giving them a velvety appearance.


An Australian import, kangaroo paws is a showstopper when it blooms.

One of the most popular plants in the garden is a huge mousetrap tree (Uncarina grandidieri), which sports yellow, petunia-like flowers most of the year. Even when not in bloom, it boasts beautiful form. Mousetrap tree gets its common name from its thorny fruit that forms a trap “not even a mouse can escape from.”

Other unusual plants in the garden include desert fig (Ficus petiolaris), desert orchid (Eulophia petersii), and Cape rush (Chondropetalum tectorum). Cape rush was chosen, Crippen says, “to suggest the persistent survivors of an extinct riverbed.” Other creative touches include using pools of blue-green glass to mimic a mirage, stone statuary, and huge pots in earth tones.

Crippen eventually wants to include members of almost every plant family “just to keep things interesting.” Many herbs that like it on the dry side can also be found here, including rue (Ruta graveolens), thyme (Thymus), Artemisia, rosemary (Rosmarinus), and lavender (Lavendula). Anything planted here must get by on rainfall alone, since there is no supplemental irrigation.

Crippen keeps a close eye on the garden, but says he only needs to weed about once a month. That’s another benefit of extreme gardening. In an age when time is money, arid gardens more than earn their keep.

   

A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 22 Number 2.
Photography courtesy of Tom Hewitt.    

 

Posted: 04/10/17   RSS | Print

 

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Side by Side
by Mary K. Stickley-Godinez       #Advice   #Design   #Hardscaping

This walk meanders through a narrow side yard, but all along the way visitors are presented with lush plantings and featured pots.
 

It’s a forgotten spot, a space we pass through without thought, or where we hide things like trashcans, woodpiles, or composters. And in most of them you truly want to just shut your eyes and run through it as quickly as possible. But why would you want to have any spot in your yard that is ugly or unbeautiful? Use every scrap of soil you have. Even those narrow side yards can be part of the wonderful adventure of your home landscape.

There wasn’t a lot of room for plants in this garden. But the area was perfect to display the owner’s collection of hypertufa pots.

There are so many good reasons to make these spaces part of your garden. Keep in mind – most people that visit your garden come through the side yard in order to reach the cookout. I want my guests to be welcomed with something incredible from the first steps out of their car. This is also an area where you can be incredibly creative. The smaller size means you can incorporate some really fun paving details without a lot of expense. And this is a great place to feature some really interesting plants, as they will be seen up close and personal.

The side yard is often a microclimate too. So for you plant nerds out there, this spot is usually warmer and protected from cold winds. Meaning, you can put less hardy plants in these areas. And in my book, bragging rights are everything!

And, honestly, these areas are great spots for storage. After all, the heat pump has to sit somewhere. But don’t settle for ugly. Use that creative spark lurking in your innermost soul to put together some really cool screening and plantings.

A long narrow space tends to lend itself as the spot for a walkway just because of its shape. But nothing makes a long narrow space look longer and narrower than a straight-as-an-arrow path. Instead, make the walkway meander or zigzag through the area. Then fill the undulations with interesting plantings or art to encourage visitors to slow down.

Another method to make the walk seem shorter is to make it narrower in the middle, much like an hourglass. You are walking through a more open area, and then you pass through a narrow archway or a thick planting of trees and shrubs, only to emerge back into a wider space, which, in a few more steps, leads to your backyard.


Make an ENTRANCE, something that really says, “You have arrived!”
 

However you design the walk, don’t be timid. Make the walkway an adventure, stuffed full of wonderful things to slow your step make you dawdle a bit. This is the place to impress your visitors. So give it lots of wow factor!

You may need to store wood or hide the heat pump. But use something creative like these two doors repurposed into a trellis for an annual vine.

If you have a wider area, an intimate little garden room with an entrance on each end and a wide spot in the middle can be the perfect solution. The entrances can be archways, gates, or posts. I’ve even seen an actual screen door that had to be opened to walk through. The wider spot in the middle can contain a small patio, a tiny lawn space, or a simple bench surrounded by interesting pots and planters. A caution about any garden seating, make sure if you sit in it, that there is something interesting to look at and not a blank wall of a house. The point again is to create a space where you stop and take notice rather than rush right through.

And the result of that intimate garden room? You will find this will become the spot where you linger when you need some garden therapy, a quiet evening glass of wine, or a snuggle with your partner.

So you see this space really isn’t the “no man’s land” of the garden. It is an important area that prepares visitors for the wonders of what they are about to see and experience in the rest of your garden. So make it great.

 

 

       

A version of this article appeared in an April 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Mary K. Stickley-Godinez.        

 

Posted: 04/10/17   RSS | Print

 

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Control Caterpillar Pests
by Blake Layton       #Advice   #Insects   #Pests

Large tobacco hornworms can quickly strip leaves from backyard tomato plants. Prevent heavy damage by controlling caterpillars while they are still small. This one is 3 inches long.


Caterpillars are vexing pests to many of the plants we grow in our home landscapes and vegetable gardens. There are numerous different species of pest caterpillars, most of which specialize in feeding on a particular group of plants: azalea caterpillars sometimes defoliate whole plantings of azaleas; heavy infestations of bagworms destroy arborvitae trees; tobacco hornworms strip the leaves from homegrown tomatoes; squash borers kill squash and pumpkin vines. And the list goes on.

What is the best way to control caterpillar pests and keep them from causing so much damage? The key to successful caterpillar control is to treat while they are small. Newly hatched caterpillars are much easier to kill than caterpillars that are an inch or more in length and almost ready to pupate. More importantly, by controlling the critters while they are small, you avoid most of the damage they would otherwise cause. Most caterpillar pests do about 80 percent of their feeding in their last few days as a caterpillar. Wait too late to treat an outbreak of caterpillars, and you may get revenge — but you won’t prevent most of the damage.


Squash vine borers kill squash and pumpkins by boring into the stem of the plant. Successful control requires treatment before newly hatched caterpillars bore into the plant. This one is 1 inch long.
 

The problem is that small caterpillars are tough to spot. So how do you know when it is time to treat? With some crops you have to treat preventively based on plant development or time of year. Tomatoes are a good example. Unless you treat preventively once your plants begin setting fruit, you could be disappointed at harvest. “Oh, no, this tomato has been ruined by fruitworms, so has this one, and here’s another!” Preventive treatments are also necessary to control pests such as squash vine borers and peach tree borers. Because such pests are safe from insecticide sprays once they are inside the plant, it is necessary to treat before newly hatched caterpillars have bored in — you need to have the insecticide residue on the plant before the eggs hatch so hatching caterpillars have to crawl over treated surfaces. With peach tree borer, this can be accomplished with a couple of well-timed treatments applied to the lower trunk after harvest is over, but preventing squash vine borers requires spraying plants weekly once plants begin to bloom.

Fall webworms build unsightly webs in pecan and other trees, but it is not always safe and practical to spray large trees in urban settings.

Fortunately, preventive treatment is not necessary for all caterpillar pests. In many cases, it is possible to take a more reactive approach and wait until you see early warning signs of a caterpillar infestation before spraying. Newly hatched leaf-feeding caterpillars often begin by feeding on the undersides of leaves without chewing through the clear upper epidermis. This results in small windowpane-like spots that should alert observant gardeners to potential caterpillar infestations. Watch for these windowpanes or other early feeding signs; check the undersides of the leaves to verify the presence of caterpillars, and treat if necessary. This approach works best for leaf-feeding caterpillars in vegetable crops, ornamental shrubs and annuals.

There are also situations where the “do nothing” approach may be the best plan. Hardwood trees can be attacked by a variety of different caterpillars, and heavy outbreaks may sometimes cause severe defoliation. But most home gardeners do not have the equipment to treat a 60-foot tree and, even if you hire a commercial applicator, there are still drift and liability issues to consider. Fortunately, mature hardwood trees can tolerate a single heavy defoliation without suffering serious long-term consequences. Is it really worth the time and expense to spray large shade trees for an outbreak of defoliating caterpillars? By the time the problem is noticed, it’s likely that the caterpillars are almost fully grown and nearly ready to pupate. Small, recently planted trees are a different matter. If a tree is still small enough, you can treat it safely and effectively; if you can detect and treat an infestation in time to prevent severe defoliation, it is usually worth doing so. This will keep the young tree growing and protect it from unnecessary stress.


Newly hatched caterpillars, like these cross-striped cabbageworms, often leave telltale “windowpanes” on leaves where they feed, an early sign of caterpillar infestation. This one is a quarter-inch long.
 

Bagworms only have one generation per year. Insecticide sprays must be applied while caterpillars are active, before they have pupated for the year. This one is 2 inches long.

What insecticides work best for caterpillar control? One of the most effective active ingredients available to home gardeners today is spinosad. Spinosad is sold under many different brand names, and products containing spinosad are readily available in local lawn and garden centers. Spinosad is labeled for use on most vegetable crops and ornamental plants, and some formulations are even approved for organic gardening. Primarily for caterpillar pests, spinosad also controls thrips and some leaf-feeding beetles, but it is not effective on sucking insects like stink bugs and aphids. Organic gardeners may wonder what happened to the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) products. Bt products are still available, but they are not nearly as effective as spinosad.

Pyrethroid insecticides, with active ingredients like bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, permethrin, and lambda-cyhalothrin, are also very effective on most caterpillar pests. Pyrethroids are broad-spectrum insecticides that control a wide range of insect pests, but they also have the potential to trigger outbreaks of pests such as spider mites, whiteflies or aphids. This happens because these three groups of pests tend to be less susceptible to pyrethroids than the beneficial insects that help control them. Use pyrethroids when you need to control multiple pests, but don’t count on them to control mites, whiteflies or aphids. For example, pyrethroids are a good choice for treating tomatoes for tomato fruitworms, because they work well on fruitworms and will also control stink bugs and hornworms. Spinosad is a better choice for treating arborvitae for bagworms, because it is less likely to trigger a mite outbreak.

 

A version of this article appeared in an April 2012 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Blake Layton.

 

Posted: 03/31/17   RSS | Print

 

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Springtime Tips to Spruce Up Your Lawn
by Kathleen Hennessy       #Landscaping   #Spring   #Turf Grass

Be sure your mower blade is sharp. Dull blades can give a ragged cut and leave grass blades dull and brown.


Step outside and take a deep breath. That new season smell may have you itching to get started on yard-care tasks, but the best advice is to be patient.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to lawn care to starting too early. Raking and mowing when the grass is wet can actually do more harm than good. Early in the season, when the ground is wet, the roots of your grass can easily be pulled out of the soil. So, wait until the ground dries out.

Raking is the best way to help fight the effects of winter snow cover. It reduces matting caused by snow, allowing air, sunlight and fertilizer to reach more of the plants and roots.
 

Lucky or not? Clover is a common perennial weed.

 

Dandelion is a perennial weed that is best treated in the fall with a postemergent herbicide.

Weedy Intervention
Spring is also a good time to begin the war on weeds. Different weeds require different treatments, so the first step is to determine what type of weed you are dealing with. There are two basic types of weeds. Annual weeds, such as crabgrass, sprout early in the season from seed. Perennial weeds, such as dandelions, survive season to season.

If you have a small weed problem, the best way to tackle the situation is by hand weeding. If the problem is larger in scale, chemical herbicides can help. Spring is the best time to treat annual weeds.

“Annual weeds are best controlled with herbicides called pre-emergents,” says Van Cline, senior agronomist at The Toro Company. “Pre-emergents nip the new weed seedlings at germination, preventing them from maturing.” Pre-emergent herbicides can be found in liquid or granular form, and can also be an ingredient in spring fertilizers.

Iowa State University researchers say corn gluten has proven to be an effective, natural pre-emergent herbicide.

Perennial weeds are best treated either by hand weeding or with postemergent herbicides. Fall is actually the best time to treat perennial weeds, but if you have a crop of dandelions already growing in your yard, spot treatment with a post-emergent or broadleaf herbicide will do the trick.

The best defense to control weeds is a healthy, thick lawn. Remember to mow high (3-4 inches tall) and follow other good horticulture practices.


Fertilizer
When it comes to fertilizing your lawn, experts say waiting until the fall works best. Feeding your lawn in the spring can create a lot of top growth, which may look nice, but can develop grass that is weaker and less able to handle periods of stress, such as drought or summer heat. Put fertilizing on your late-August, early September to-do list.


Don’t forget to tune-up your mower before the season starts, and make sure you have fresh gas in the tank.

Get Mowing

Once your grass gets growing, you can turn your attention to your mower. A little spring maintenance can help your machine run smoothly throughout the season.

Fresh Fuel
Be sure to use fresh gas and oil. Gas that is older than 30 days can break down, causing engine trouble.

Nothing over E10
Choose the correct formula for your machine. Most outdoor power equipment is not designed to run on fuel blends containing more than 10 percent ethanol. Using E15 may affect performance, damage the engine, and cause problems that may not be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.

Sharpen your blade
Dull blades can literally give you lawn a bad haircut, leaving the grass ragged. If you haven’t had it professionally sharpened in a while, take it to your local outdoor power equipment dealer.

Make sure to keep the mower blade sharpened for a clean cut and to reduce damage to grass.

 

 

A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2014 edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Sleven/Morguefile.com, craetive/iStockphoto, Kathleen Hennessy, The Toro Company/Toro.com

 

Posted: 03/31/17   RSS | Print

 

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Potting Sheds: A Gardener’s Haven
by Sharon Thompson       #Design   #Misc   #Tools


 

Gardening requires gear, and gear requires storage. But gardeners’ gear is often relegated to nooks and crannies in garages where it soon collides with cars and the paraphernalia of other family pursuits. We often spend half our gardening time looking for the tools of our trade.

A place to play with plants and to store stuff is the dream of many gardeners. But where to put that horticultural hideaway? What should it look like? How should it function? Following are two examples to give you inspiration for building your own potting shed.


A Useful Bench
For Millie Headrick of Lexington, S.C., a secluded spot in a side yard became the perfect place to pot and play.

Like many of us, she stowed her gardening gear in the garage, but had no designated work area. She relied on two saw horses and an old door set up in the driveway when she needed a flat work surface. At the end of the day, this “portable” table had to be dismantled and put away.



 

Tired of hauling her table and sundry potting supplies in and out of the garage, she decided to create her own work station.  “I went to Lowe’s and walked around looking for inspiration. It had to be easy for me to put together – I wasn’t interested in nailing, hammering or sawing.”

She chose 2 by 6 treated lumber in the longest length she could find – 12 feet – for the top, and cinder blocks for the foundation. “I used three boards laid next to each other for the top surface since they fit perfectly on top of the block – no carpentry skills involved.”

Tucked into a service area behind a privacy fence, the bench shares a wall with her husband’s workshop. The back of the workshop already had an extended roofline where mowers and wheelbarrows were stored, so her husband built two storage cabinets to link the spaces together. One cabinet is outfitted with shelves for short items with rectangular wire bins attached to the door to hold small tools – trowels, gloves, pruners.  The other cabinet is designed for storing long-handled tools – shovels, rakes and hoes.


Headrick’s “do-it-herself” potting bench shares a wall with her husband’s workshop. The generously proportioned bench provides ample work space and the storage cabinet keeps long-handled tools organized and accessible. The adjacent cabinet provides shelf and bin storage for smaller items.


A watering station at the end of the bench nestles in a corner made by the privacy fence and workshop wall. Outfitted with large J-hooks, the fence provides tangle-free storage for hoses. Millie uses pots to soften the functional arrangements of water connections.

Before constructing her potting bench, Millie leveled the footprint and paved the area with square, cement patio pavers, eventually expanding the adjacent floor surface with bricks. This previously unused space is now her nursery area, where sick plants are nurtured and out-of-season plants wait their turn in one of her container creations.

“My potting bench is something I threw together years ago out of desperation. Now that my husband is retired, he wants to build me the “ultimate potting bench.” If the bench was in a more visible area of the yard I would opt for something more attractive, but I’m happy with the old one. It’s not pretty, but it’s functional.”

 

Kathy and Steve Aiello turned a gazebo located in the middle of their garden into this charming and functional potting shed.

 

Inside the compact potting shed, tools, potting supplies and a work surface share space efficiently.

A Conversion Shed
Drenched in the shade of a giant oak tree, Kathy and Steve Aiello’s West Columbia, S.C., garden is an inspired arrangement of horticulture and hospitality. Brick paths wander past huge containers billowing with specimen plants, while several water features and seating areas encourage guests to linger. Located in the middle of it all is Kathy’s potting shed.

Before the shed took shape, Kathy stored a burgeoning ceramic container collection and gardening equipment in the garage, using an old table for her potting chores. Seven years ago, when she decided she needed a potting shed, Steve agreed. “I figured if her gardening stuff was somewhere else, I would have more room in my garage workshop.”

So Steve converted a gazebo which sat in the middle of their garden into a potting shed. The original 6 by 6 footprint became the foundation for a charming structure complete with a glass door, metal roof and outdoor shower.

The Aiello’s use architectural pieces and old farm implements from family tobacco farms to personalize their garden, and the potting shed is no exception.  Its push-out windows came from her grandparent’s house, as did the mule collar and metal tractor seat that decorate the back wall.

Inside, a stainless steel counter provides quick clean-up, recycled cabinets provide drawer storage and a garbage can stores potting soil. Shovels and rakes hang in the corners, while pegboard above the counter organizes hand tools.

Light filtering through an antique stained glass window, one of many in Kathy’s extensive collection, adds an artful touch. Although the shed has no sink, there’s a hose bib just outside the door that is part of an outdoor shower arrangement.

Kathy’s favorite part of the shed is its convenience. “I love having everything right at hand, plus its size is a good scale with the rest of the garden. If it was any bigger, it would be stuffed with more containers,” Kathy said.

As these gardeners discovered, with a little imagination and a bit of sweat equity, a horticultural play station is easy to create.

 

 

A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 23 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Sharon Thompson.

 

Posted: 03/31/17   RSS | Print

 

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Hey Good Lookin’
by Tom Hewitt       #Design   #Natives   #Shrubs

‘Schillings Dwarf’ is a dwarf form of yaupon holly that responds well to tight shearing.


Native shrubs are often overlooked because they’re considered nondescript, lack year-round interest, or are difficult to shape. It’s true that the majority of native shrubs look best in informal landscapes, but I’ve found several over the years that work well in formal gardens as well.

Every native shrub has its place, but those used in formal settings are held to a higher standard. To begin with, they should have attractive foliage year round, offer pretty, non-messy flowers or fruit, grow slowly, and respond well to shearing. Consider their mature size also, as you don’t want to keep hacking them back to keep them in scale.

This is especially important with shrubs used for foundation plantings, as there is great variability in the heights of many natives. In time, most shrubs get bigger than we think they will, so it’s best to use smaller cultivars when available.

Dahoon holly (Ilex cassine) eventually reaches 25 feet or so, but can be kept much shorter. Its narrow form makes it a great choice for a small tree incorporated into a foundation planting. Female trees produce bright red berries loved by birds. (Make sure you plant a male tree in the vicinity to ensure maximum fruit set.) Zones 8-10.
 

 

 

Top Left: The berries of Dahoon holly and other natives are loved by wildlife.

Bottom Left: Firebush blooms year round in southern Florida.

Right: Jamaican capers produce fragrant flowers, followed by colorful fruit.  


Dwarf yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria ‘Schilling’s Dwarf’) is just perfect for training into little 3-foot balls. It doesn’t produce red berries, but new growth has a reddish tint. It makes a nice accent or low hedging material, and even works well in large containers. Zones 8-10.

Firebush (Hamelia patens) blooms year round in southern Florida with orange-red tubular flowers loved by butterflies (especially zebra longwings) and hummingbirds. It reacts well to shearing, so it can be trained into just about any shape you want. Songbirds love its blackish berries. I have one in heavy shade, but it really prefers full sun to light shade to look and bloom its best. Zones 10-11.

Jamaican caper (Capparis cynophallophora) is one of my favorite vertical accents for the corner of a house. If left untrimmed, it can reach 20 feet, but I keep mine at 8 feet or so. April through June it produces sweet-smelling flowers loved by bees, followed by colorful seedpods. I have one in deep shade, though it prefers full sun to partial shade. Zones 10-11.

Lignum vitae (Guaiacum sanctum) can also get pretty tall, but is incredibly slow growing. Make sure you give it plenty of room to grow, so it can ultimately develop its picturesque form. Its blue flowers are followed by yellow seedpods that split to expose red seeds. Zones 10-11
 

 

 

 

Top Left: The seedpods of lignum vitae are extremely ornamental.

Bottom Left: Natives used in formal gardens should have naturally tidy shapes.

Right: Simpson’s stopper (L), Jamaican caper (C), and white indigoberry (R) make a great native combo for a formal landscape.

 


Simpson’s stopper (Myrcianthes fragrans) is one of my favorite native shrubs. In time it makes a handsome small tree, but I keep them between 4-5 feet. It has small, fragrant leaves, as well as fragrant white flowers followed by orange fruit favored by birds. I have several in deep shade, though they prefer full sun to medium shade. Smaller cultivars are on the market, including ‘Compacta’ and ‘Geode’. Zones 9-11.

Dahoon hollies are good small trees in foundation plantings.

Walter’s viburnum (Viburnum obovatum) has small dark green leaves and a naturally rounded shape. It blooms profusely in the spring, and then on and off throughout the year. Though it will perform in deep shade, it’s much happier with at least some sun. Though its size is extremely variable, I have no trouble keeping mine at 3 feet or so. There are several dwarf cultivars on the market, including ‘Reifler’s Dwarf’ and ‘Mrs. Schiller’s Delight’. It does have a tendency to produce suckers, so I simply take a spade around them every so often to remove them. Zones 8-10.

White indigoberry (Randia aculeata) is also highly variable, though I keep mine at 4 feet or so. Its stiff branches and spines at the base of its leaves can be irritating, so I use gloves when trimming it. It produces fragrant white flowers much of the year, followed by white fruit with purplish to almost black pulp. Both male and female plants flower, but only females produce fruit. It prefers full sun to light shade. Zones 9-11.

So there you have it: several native shrubs that look not only look good, but behave themselves as well. Just be careful when using them outside their natural range, as they may lose their evergreen status during winter. Although areas next to a house offer more protection, you don’t want any shrubs used in foundation plantings to drop all their leaves or get kicked back annually by freezes.

 

A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 22 Number 2.
Photography courtesy of Tom Hewitt.

 

Posted: 03/30/17   RSS | Print

 

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Poison Ivy Primer
by Ilene Sternberg       #Health and Safety   #Poisonous Plants   #Vines

Leaves can be glossy or dull, dark or pale green, and hairy or not.


Itching to get out in the garden? Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans aka Rhus radicans) includes several subspecies, and is only one of multiple sumacs, many of which are also rash-producing, and the one you’re most likely to tangle with in your own backyard. It belongs to the Anacardiaceae family along with mangoes, cashews, smoke tree (Cotinus sp.), and other desirable relatives, which, likewise, may produce severe allergic reactions.

Our North American “brand” spreads from coast to coast, from Canada through Mexico, Asia to Guatemala, Europe and Australia. Only primates are sensitive to urushiol (the plant’s toxic substance). Cats, dogs, goats, and deer are immune, but they can transfer the problem to humans via their fur.

The rash can also spread through airborne soot and ash, so never burn the plant. People inadvertently use poison ivy twigs for firewood. (Inhaling urushiol particles can cause asthma and swollen eyes.) Once the stricken victim has bathed, the rash is not contagious to others. Many people don’t exhibit symptoms with their first encounter. About 80 to 90 percent of people are susceptible to poison-ivy-induced rashes. People have gotten rashes from 20-year-old herbarium specimens and garden tools they haven’t used for years. We expect problems in spring and summer, when sap and pollen are plentiful, but in winter, dormant plants are equally dangerous.


The axiom “leaves of three” does apply to poison ivy, but the plants can have four, five or seven
leaves as well.

 

Poison ivy can take the form of a ground cover, a vine, or a shrub. It adheres to trees with hairy roots.

Identifying poison ivy

The familiar “three” leaflets can be four, five, or seven smooth-edged, lobed, or toothed, tiny or large, glossy or dull, dark or pale green, hairy or not, and can form a small deciduous plant, long vine, or huge shrub. Juveniles form ground covers and spread by runners until they find a climbable support structure (such as trees, walls, telephone poles). Mature plants can reach 100 feet with a 6-inch trunk diameter.

Once you’ve had a close encounter of the blistery kind, you’ll soon be able to recognize it in its many sinister disguises. But, even if you never set foot outdoors, handling clothing or any object that has brushed against the plant can bring the poison ivy experience to you firsthand. The oil attaches to skin and cell proteins, causing our immune systems to react. The fluid emanating from blisters is mostly white blood cells and serum produced by our bodies. Almost all body parts are vulnerable to the sticky urushiol that produces the characteristic rash. Places where skin is tender, between fingers for example, are most sensitive.


Killing the rash

Cleansing within 10 minutes of contact may arrest the initial outbreak, and this can help prevent further spread. The rash may appear within a few hours to a week or more after exposure, and most rashes disappear within three weeks or sooner. Water alone can dilute the oil.

Home remedies for poison ivy rashes abound. Success has been reported using various soaps, chlorinated water, Aloe vera, vitamin C, tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia), iodine, vinegar, sassafras leaves, plantain leaves, salicylic acid, even honey or banana peels.

Once a rash develops, aluminum acetate (Burrows solution), baking soda, colloidal or oatmeal baths, aluminum hydroxide gel, calamine, kaolin, zinc acetate, zinc carbonate, or zinc oxide applied to the skin can help, as can corticosteroids and antihistamines used both topically and internally. Menthol, benzocaine, and pramoxine sprays often can numb the itch.


Usefulness

Poison ivy can have red fall color and white berries.

Nevertheless, even “evil” poison ivy has beautiful fall color, and provides a source of cover and food for wildlife. Bees visit the flowers, deer browse the fruits and foliage, and cottontail rabbits feed on the twigs and bark. Its white berries are savory to at least 60 species of birds.
 

Killing the weed

But you probably don’t want poison ivy in your garden. Using proper personal protection (such as long sleeves and pants, gloves, and eye protection) cut vines and pull them away from trees. Dig up roots. Mow or cut young shoots until the plant dies. Supposedly environmentally friendly herbicides, such as a citrus-based weed killer, and those formulated from soap-based fatty acids can rid large garden areas of poison ivy. Non-selective herbicides with the active ingredient glyphosate, and selective herbicides containing triclopyr also can do the trick. Or enlist one of the lucky 15 percent of the populace who seem to be immune to poison ivy’s charms to weed the plants out for you.

Or rent a goat – they can eat poison ivy with no ill effects.

 

A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Joseph LaForest/bugwood.com and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

 

Posted: 03/29/17   RSS | Print

 

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Aprils Remembered
by Troy B. Marden       #Colorful   #Flowers   #Spring

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About 15 years ago, I finally learned the secret to growing great foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) in the South. Easy to start from seed in August, I plant new plants each autumn to flower the following spring.

 


As I was scanning my photo library, considering the many garden plants I could write about for this article, I came across a file of photos, all taken during the month of April – not all in the same year, but all in April – gardens ranging from Jackson, Miss., to Louisville, Ky. It reminded me just how abundant the garden is this time of year. This is the season when gardening seems effortless. Well, almost. The weeds are as high-spirited as the annuals and perennials, so diligence in their control is necessary; but still, the garden is lush and growing rapidly, and the vibrant green of spring radiates from its very heart. There is a certain pristine quality about all of the plants emerging fresh and new.

Denizens of the shade appear early to take advantage of the available light before the trees are in full, leafy dress. Native wildflowers mingle with their counterparts from across the sea. Exbury hybrid azaleas in flamboyant shades of gold and orange command attention from across the garden, while subtle ephemerals such as lords-and-ladies (Arum maculatum) catch the eye of the more astute and curious. By midsummer, their foliage will have faded, leaving behind spires of berries that will eventually ripen to sensual shades of red.
 

Left: One of the Exbury hybrid azaleas, Rhododendron ‘Gibraltar’ commands attention from across the garden with its flaming orange flowers borne in large clusters on bare stems. Middle: The white flowering form of the Japanese roof iris (Iris tectorum ‘Alba’) makes itself at home at the edge of a woodland garden with morning sun and light afternoon shade. Right: ‘Heavens to Betsy’ is a form of our native woodland geranium (Geranium maculatum), selected and named for its very large and glossy foliage that remains attractive throughout the summer. Its pink blooms are an added spring bonus.

 

On the eastern edge of a friend’s garden in Memphis, where morning sun streams in under the high limbs of the resident oaks, white Japanese roof iris (Iris tectorum ‘Alba’) unfold their silky petals – a plant whose delicate appearance belies its rather tough and vigorous nature – and Saruma henryi, a distant and unusual Japanese cousin of some of our native gingers, bears its soft yellow, though fleeting, three-petaled blooms. Rather than creeping along the ground, it forms an upright clump with its flowers appearing at the top of its stems rather than ground level.

In my garden, April means anticipating the yearly flowering of a native woodland geranium I selected and named almost 15 years ago, Geranium maculatum ‘Heavens to Betsy’. In bloom, its typically pink flowers may not stand out as anything special or unusual, but the plant was really selected for its foliage, growing to nearly double the size of typical G. maculatum and taking on a glossy, polished sheen. Long after its flowers have gone, the foliage remains beautiful and provides welcomed texture against the broad, pointed leaves of Hosta and the lacy fronds of a dozen or so species of fern. It almost reminds me of a miniature mayapple (Podophyllum).

In the sunny garden, life is stirring, too. Shrubs such as Weigela florida ‘Rubidor’ are practically throwing a temper tantrum with deep, red blooms set off by newly unfurled leaves of screaming gold, demanding your attention. Wildflowers bloom here as well, and one of which I will never tire – Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) – takes center stage now with its pale, powder blue flowers. One of the few perennials that offer good fall color, its foliage turns a luminous shade of gold in the garden.
 

Top Left: Weigela florida ‘Rubidor’ is not for the faint of heart with screaming, new gold growth playing the gaudy and great foil for its red flowers. The foliage remains bright gold throughout the summer. Bottom Left: Saruma henryiis an unusual Chinese cousin of our native wild gingers. Growing upright, rather than creeping along the ground, its soft yellow flowers appear at the top of each stem in midspring. Right: Iris ‘Flying Solo’ has quickly become a garden favorite. Known as a “median bearded” iris, its slightly smaller and fragrant flowers are borne in great profusion in mid-April.

As April comes to an end, the bearded irises begin to flower, and their show will continue well into the first weeks of May. One of the first to appear is ‘Flying Solo’, an iris known as a “median bearded” variety because of its slightly smaller flowers, borne in great profusion. Given to me by my friend Kelly Norris of Rainbow Iris Farm in Bedford, Iowa (www.rainbowfarms.net), it has grown astoundingly fast and even as a small clump, afforded me nearly three weeks of bloom its first full season in the garden. It is a winner in my book! It will be followed later by a tall bearded iris lovingly known as ‘Back Door’, a plant raised from seed by a gardener in my hometown in the 1960s who has long since passed on and who grew it by the “back door” where most visitors came and went. It was passed on to me more than 30 years ago and in 2010, I was able to locate one plant that still remained. It will flower for the first time in my garden this year.

Alongside the iris and helping carry late April’s show well into the month of May are the foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea). Many years ago, I finally learned how to grow these most successfully. Even though their seeds are tiny, they are not difficult to grow. I start them in early August in small trays, keeping them warm and evenly moist, and wait the two to three weeks it takes for them to germinate. Sow them as thinly as possible in the tray so the plants have room to grow for a few weeks after they sprout. Once plants have three to four leaves and are ¾ of an inch or so tall, I transplant them to individual 4-inch pots where they will continue growing until it is time to plant them outside in late October. By then, they should fill their pots completely with lush, green leaves and be ready to go out into the garden. They will overwinter, despite cold weather, as green mounds of leaves. Growth will begin again in late March and continue through April, with the rosettes expanding to nearly 2 feet wide before sending up their 4-to-6-foot towers of blooms near April’s end.

 

Left: Lords-and-ladies (Arum maculatum) appear in spring and their foliage lasts until late summer, followed by foot-tall spires of red-orange berries. Right: Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii), a tough native wildflower, puts on a multi-season show with pale blue spring flowers, feathery summer foliage and spectacular golden fall color.
 

April continues my love affair with the spring season. Its abundance of blooms and the exuberant growth that comes with plentiful rain renews my soul and my gardening spirit. Each day brings a new discovery, a new bloom and a renewed sense of optimism for the season ahead. I hope it does the same for you.

 

A version of this article appeared in an April 2013 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Troy B. Marden.

 

Posted: 03/29/17   RSS | Print

 

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Lighting Enhances Landscape Use and Beauty at Night
by Joe VanDerZanden       #Design   #Health and Safety   #Tech & Gadgets

Dramatic path lighting and uplights create a welcoming entryway and show off architectural details.
 

When designed and installed correctly, landscape lighting is perhaps the most dramatic enhancement the homeowner can add to the landscape. Unlike many other exterior improvements that may solve a single problem or achieve a singular goal, illuminating the landscape has multiple benefits. Adding landscape lighting not only makes your home more appealing at night, it adds security and safety while illuminating all sorts of outdoor activities long after dark.


“Wow” Factor“
For the money, landscape lighting is about the most dramatic aesthetic improvement you can make to the exterior of your home,” said Matt Diemer, Outdoor Lighting Specialist at Landscapes by Design located in Slater, Iowa. “It is just such a great finishing touch. When done right, outdoor lighting showcases all the best architectural details of the house and the landscaping which complements it.”

Nighttime curb appeal is a result of sound design principles and quality products, he said. When first meeting with clients, Diemer generally has two design priorities that he always discusses.

“First, I want to use lights to create a distinct entrance to the home,” he said. “It should be clear where a visitor should go – and it should look really welcoming and dramatic.”


Just a team player in the landscape during the day, a specimen tree along a stream becomes a major focal point at night when featured with up lighting. The stream also has underwater lighting.
 

The second design objective he tries to achieve is the creation of a focal point. “Many of my clients already have a focal point in the garden or on the house that goes unnoticed at night,” he said. Whenever possible, Diemer likes to see these features become star attractions at night. Such features might include fountains, specimen plants, statuary or even a beautiful front door.

As with many professionals, Diemer works almost exclusively with LED bulbs. The quality of light is better and bulbs last longer than incandescent or halogen. LED fixtures will cost more up front, but will eventually pay for themselves in longevity and energy savings.


A Safe and Secure Home
Whether new or old, the extent of outdoor lighting in many landscapes is a floodlight attached to the front of the house, some glaring porch sconces next to the front door and maybe a bright light post next to the driveway. This type of high-intensity lighting tends to leave areas of the property in total darkness and does little to add beauty or intrigue to the landscape.

Although a motion-activated halogen light over the garage provides certain functionality, using numerous, smaller fixtures that produce a lower intensity light will illuminate a larger portion of the property and provide greater visibility at night.


Not only does it appear dramatic, low-intensity lighting placed all around a home creates a secure environment with no dark spots.
 

Different from security is lighting that addresses safety needs in the outdoor landscape. One of the things that Diemer is always sure to address on any lighting design project is the need for safe passage through the property.

“I like to walk the landscape with the homeowner and inventory those areas that could be potential hazards at night,” Diemer said. Tricky garden paths, steps, stairs and deck areas all should be appropriately lit to prevent trips and falls. Diemer also considers other factors when it comes to safety lighting. He wants to know if the homeowners have mobility issues, young children or pets. “Safety should really come first,” Diemer urged. “The upshot is that there are so many terrific-looking fixtures available in so many styles, that safety lighting can also be quite attractive.”


Good lighting design, including strategic downlighting, can contribute to the mood and atmosphere in outdoor entertaining areas.


Practical Applications
Interior lighting designers make important design decisions based on the function of a space. It is clear that a busy family kitchen has different lighting requirements than a media room. The same principle applies to outdoor lighting.

For instance, decks and patios equipped with down-lighting fixtures will create a natural, subdued and romantic atmosphere. When designing and installing lights for outdoor entertaining spaces, Diemer thinks “less is more.” He wants to provide adequate light so guests are comfortable, but not distracted by high-intensity spotlights. “You should have just enough light to discern the salsa from the guacamole – but not much more.”

Other entertaining areas require different lighting. Outdoor cooking areas may require task lighting, similar to what is used inside the home.


With the addition of lighting, a beautiful garden can be enjoyed long after the sun goes down.


Go With a Pro
Landscape lighting can improve the appearance of the home and provide other benefits, all of which create a safe, comfortable and relaxing atmosphere. Because design choices, styles and product types are many, consulting with an experienced outdoor lighting specialist can be a tremendous advantage. As with any large-scale outdoor project, talk with a professional before considering taking a landscape lighting project on yourself.

A professional installer will have access to much higher-quality products and a greater selection. Manufactured to meet the rugged climate of the Midwest, these fixtures provide enjoyment longer than products found elsewhere.

Installation may require some disruption to your landscape. A professional installer will have the experience and equipment needed to bury wire and install fixtures causing the least amount of damage to your property. Installation also may require the services of a licensed electrician to relocate outlets or power supply.

An experienced outdoor lighting expert will be able to address your lighting needs by matching the appropriate design solution and products to your project.

There are many of types of lighting fixtures and bulbs. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Your lighting designer will be able to recommend the best fit for your project.

 

A version of this article appeared in Iowa Gardener Volume 2, Number 1.
Photography courtesy of Kichler Lighting.

 

Posted: 03/19/17   RSS | Print

 

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Hoo Gives a Hoot
by Kenny Coogan       #Beneficials   #Environment   #Wildlife

Building a nest box and placing it between 10-30 feet off the ground will invite these pint-sized predators to your garden.


Closing up my potting shed one evening, I heard an eerie, but welcomed, soft neigh originate from a cluster of oak trees in the corner of my yard. Thirty seconds later, I heard a horse-like whinny call in the opposite corner from the 40-foot-tall clumping bamboo. I was surrounded. I quickly went to see if they had moved in the nest box that the previous owners had attached to an oak tree about 15 feet off of the ground – they had not.

A few short weeks later, after the courting had subsided, I saw the two new residents: Mr. and Mrs. Screech Owl. I checked a few weeks for signs of chicks and it appeared that they were unsuccessful. Then one night a fully feathered chick popped its head out of the nest box! The next day two chicks flew the coop.

Hosting and inviting owls to your garden has many advantages. Although not seen as often as diurnal birds, when owls are spotted it is a thrill for all. Their distinct vocalizations often give their locale away, as they fly silently with their fringed feathers hunting for vermin. Having pest control working not only for free, but throughout the night unseen, is an added bonus. Owls are an environmentally safe form of pest control – no harsh chemicals needed. These nocturnal birds will coexist with your songbirds because they are active at different times, so you can still enjoy your passerines. Here we profile four distinct owl species. Any garden can accommodate these and other native raptors with a few organic changes to your landscape.



Eastern Screech Owl
Megascops asio
Call: Descending trill, tremolo or whinny
Height: 6.3-10 inches

Besides the several mature live and laurel oaks on my property providing shelter for owls, another possible attractant is my brush pile. This pile decomposes large bulky items that I do not have the time or resources to make small enough to fit in my two compost bins. While large branches create structure, small twigs, leaves and grass clippings provide nesting material for songbirds and shelter for small animals like reptiles and rodents – the latter being a popular menu item for owls. Adding a bird feeder near the brush pile will invite songbirds to recycle your yard waste into nesting material. Leaving seeds and nuts on the ground will entice rodents, which in turn entice owls.

Barn Owls
Tyto alba
Call: Long harsh scream, a few seconds long
Height: 12.5-15.5 inches

Barn owls are found throughout the world. They can take up residence in abandoned sheds, barns and silos. Designating a rustic area of the garden where pruning and maintenance are kept to a minimum will encourage these birds to move in. Reducing widespread exterior lighting such as flood lights will also help.

 

 

 



 

Barred Owl
Strix varia
Call: Eight or nine notes, described as “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?”
Height: 16–19 inches

While owls get a majority of their water from their diet, the barred owl will especially appreciate ponds, birdbaths and other water features. Barred owls are one of a few owl species that hunt aquatic animals such as snakes, fish, invertebrates and amphibians. These birds can be found naturally in wetland areas and are sometimes called swamp owls.

 

Great Horned Owl
Bubo virginianus
Call: Deep hoots: hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo
Height: 18-25 inches

Great horned owls are one of the largest species in the US and can eat prey items as large as skunks. Leave large, bare branches or snags to encourage nest sites. These roosts will also serve as lookout posts for these perch and pounce predators.

 

 

 

 

 

A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 20 Number 2.
Screech owl photo by Milo Anderson; great horned owl photo ©iStockphoto.com/JillLang; all other photos for this article by Kenny Coogan.

 

Posted: 03/19/17   RSS | Print

 

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Some Enchanted Evening
by Troy B. Marden       #Fragrant   #Flowers   #Themed Gardens   #White



After a long day at work, nothing is more relaxing to me than an evening stroll through the garden. The colors are more saturated in the sunset light than any other time of day, and after dark, the garden takes on a life of its own. In an attempt to attract nighttime pollinators, flowers often unleash intoxicating fragrances that permeate the damp, evening air. Some even open in time-lapse fashion, and I find myself mesmerized watching their petals unfurl. Many of these plants are easy to find and to grow, which makes them all the more appealing. If I had to narrow the list down to just a few of my top favorites that make my garden come to life every night, the list might look something like this:

Brugmansia, or angel’s trumpet, is a popular specimen for containers and also thrives in the ground. Its spectacular blooms are borne most profusely in late summer and autumn.


Angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia spp.):
This outstanding tropical offers bold foliage and spectacular pendant-like blossoms ranging from pure white to soft pink to pale yellow. It is an outstanding specimen for large containers but is also perfectly at home planted in the ground, where it can be underplanted with smaller companions. Planted in the garden, it is occasionally perennial in Zone 6b and will be fully hardy farther south, though it may not sprout until very late spring when the soil has warmed thoroughly. After sunset, the flowers release a powerful fragrance that attracts pollinators to the blooms.
 

‘Athens’ sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus ‘Athens’):
The yellow-flowered form of one of our most popular native shrubs, ‘Athens’ sweetshrub has soft, greenish yellow flowers with an intense fragrance that I can only liken to that of fruity bubblegum. This fragrance is most noticeable during the evening hours, and I love to plant them near a screened-in porch or patio area that is frequently used for dinner or entertaining after dark.


Calycanthus floridus ‘Athens’ is a perfect selection for the evening garden. Its fragrance permeates the air after sunset.


Moonflower (Datura inoxia):
Sometimes called moonflower because of its enormous, pure white blooms that truly glow in the dark on a moonlit night, Datura can be found growing in pastures and along roadsides under the most difficult conditions. It is just as tough in the garden, where it is unbothered by pests of any kind and opens its nighttime blooms from midsummer to frost. Note: The seeds of Datura (and of its close cousin Brugmansia) are poisonous. Plant them far away from the curious fingers and mouths of young children, as well as pets.
 

‘Tahitian Flame’ ginger lily (Hedychium ‘Tahitian Flame’):
With its architectural form and highly variegated green and white leaves, ‘Tahitian Flame’ is a welcome addition to the evening garden. Perhaps more important than its foliage is the warm, spicy fragrance that the flowers emit. While the flowers are fragrant throughout the day, the air hangs heavily with its exotic perfume after dark.

 

Left: Datura stramonium is often found growing wild in pastures and along roadsides. Its 6-inch wide, pure white flowers open at dusk and attract nighttime pollinators to the garden. Middle: Hedychium‘Tahitian Flame’ has heavily variegated green and white leaves that light up the evening garden. The intoxicating fragrance from its flowers intensifies as the sun goes down. Right: Even in winter, evening can be one of the most beautiful times in the garden. Helleborus niger ‘Josef Lemper’ has pure white blooms that shine in the moonlight on a clear winter night.


‘Josef Lemper’ Christmas rose (Helleborus niger ‘Josef Lemper’):
Summer is not the only season when I love my garden after dark. Planted near my front door, Helleborus niger ‘Josef Lemper’ shines on cold, moonlit nights in winter, and it flowers from late November through early March. Growing just 12 inches tall and about twice as wide, it is the perfect companion to hosta, ferns, heuchera and other shade lovers. Its evergreen foliage is also a welcome addition to the winter landscape.


‘Hyperion’ daylily (Hemerocallis ‘Hyperion’):
I have grown the popular ‘Hyperion’ daylily in my garden for more than 30 years — it’s one of the longest-lived perennials I know. My first plant came from my great aunt, who was an accomplished gardener. That original plant has resided in my parents’ garden for three decades and divisions from it have recently found their way into my current garden in Tennessee. Its sweetly scented, lemon yellow flowers open in late afternoon or early evening and emit their fragrance throughout the night before closing in midafternoon the following day.

 

Left: Hemerocallis ‘Hyperion’ is an old-fashioned favorite whose fragrant, lemon yellow blossoms open each evening and remain open through the following afternoon. Middle: ‘Annabelle’ smooth hydrangea is one of our most popular garden shrubs. Its large, white blooms are perfect additions to moon gardens or other areas of the landscape lit by moonlight or landscape lighting. Right: Moon vine (Ipomoea alba) opens its flowers at dusk and attracts nighttime pollinators such as sphinx moths, sometimes called “hummingbird” moths. Its flowers will remain open through midmorning the following day.


‘Annabelle’ smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’):
This most popular of garden shrubs really needs no introduction. Its huge blooms glow like white orbs after the sun goes down. On a moonlit night, I can see them in the garden from several hundred yards away as I approach my driveway and from the screened-in porch. They have an almost otherworldly appeal as they appear to float in midair.

Towering spires of creamy white blooms on the white martagon lily stand like ghostly sentries in the garden after sunset.


Four o’clock opens in late afternoon each day from early summer until frost. Their strong, sweet fragrance permeates the evening air and is carried on the slightest breeze to the farthest reaches of the yard.
 


Moon vine (Ipomoea alba):
Closely related to morning glory, moon vine opens its enormous, pure white flowers at sunset and flowers until sunrise the following day. Moon vine is a vigorous, fast-growing annual vine. Seeds can be sown directly in the garden around the first of May, and you will have your first flowers in midsummer. Moon vine can climb 15 to 20 feet in a season, so be sure to provide it with a sturdy trellis, fence post or tree trunk to climb on. The sphinx or “hummingbird” moth is its primary pollinator and can be seen drinking nectar from the enormous flowers each night.


Martagon lily (Lilium martagon var. album):
The white martagon lily towers above its neighbors and offers drama and a strong element of architecture to the evening garden. Thriving in rich, well-drained soil in part sun, this plant is sure to impress garden visitors at any time of day or night. Growing from a bulb about the size of a tennis ball, well-grown plants can have more than 50 buds per stalk and will bloom over a period of weeks in early summer.
 

Four o’clock (Mirabilis spp.):
This is another old passalong plant that I have grown since childhood. Their flowers open in late afternoon and unfurl so quickly that you can actually watch them open, if you catch them at just the right time. Their sweet fragrance perfumes the garden throughout the night, attracting moths and other pollinators to their blooms.
 

‘Missouri’ water lily (Nymphaea ‘Missouri’):
If you are fortunate enough to have a pond or water garden large enough to accommodate it, ‘Missouri’ is one of the most beautiful of all water lilies. Its pristine, white blooms are nearly the size of a dinner plate. It begins blooming in midsummer and continues each night through late fall. As a tropical water lily, it needs warm water temperatures to thrive — a perfect choice for Southern climates.


If you are fortunate enough to have a large pond or water feature and enjoy growing water lilies, one of the most spectacular is Nymphaea ‘Missouri’. Its pure white, 10-inch wide flowers open after dark and remain open until about midmorning the following day.

 

A version of this article appeared in a June 2012 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Troy B. Marden, Hugh and Carol Nourse, and Leandra Hill.

 

Posted: 03/19/17   RSS | Print

 

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Fire in the Landscape
by Kelly Bledsoe       #Design   #Misc   #Summer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An above-ground fire pit is a permanent garden element, handsome and useful whether or not there is a fire going. If topped by a wide ledge it provides a perfect perch for roasting marshmallows.

 

Earth, wind, water and fire – yes, fire in the landscape. The glow of a flickering flame invites guests to relax, and it’s a great way to create an interactive environment in your garden. Fire lures guests in and provides a connection with the garden that’s enjoyed both physically and visually. Fire adds a mesmerizing element of mystique and magic to your landscape.

A well-designed fireplace or fire pit can also provide a beautiful focal point in your yard. They have become quite popular in recent years, especially for those who do not like to limit time spent outdoors to summertime.


 

The traditional fireplace is the kind of design most people associate with fire. Most of these traditional outdoor fireplaces are pre-fabricated and come with spark-protection screens. They can be built into a wall or be free standing.


When searching for the right outdoor fireplace, there are a few things to consider. First, before beginning you should always check with your city and county building inspectors to verify established ordinances, permits and licenses.


Bowl-shaped burners are often called fire pits or fire bowls. This type of outdoor fireplace usually has an open fire design, is portable, and most come with handles and wheels. This is a less expensive option, but keep in mind it has poor ventilation, resulting in improper burning of firewood and smokier output.
 

Chimineas, originally from Mexico, are easily identifiable by their chimney, which provides great air ventilation promoting a cross draft to allow fuel to burn properly. The traditional chimineas are rounded in shape and made of clay. Modern versions vary in shape and size and may be made out of cast aluminum, cast iron or copper.

Fire baskets are the newest rage in outdoor living. Larger ones, placed strategically in the landscape or poolside, provide a romantic ambience.

 

 



Then choose the location. Fireplaces or pits should be located a safe distance from your house and other structures. It should be clear of trees and overhanging vines and branches. Start with a level surface to aid in construction, and if you plan to build your structure on an existing deck, make sure the deck can support the weight and is heatproof.

Finally, research the different options and choose the one that fits your landscape design. With those cool autumn nights upon us, take the initiative to implement the element of fire into your landscape. The hot cocoa, marshmallows, laughter and stars are all waiting for you!

 

A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 22, Number 8.
Photography courtesy of Kelly Bledsoe.

 

Posted: 03/18/17   RSS | Print

 

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Making a Moon-Moth Garden
by Dr. Charles Allen       #Flowers   #Insects   #White

Hummingbird moth on moonflower


Many people enjoy their gardens during the daylight hours and head indoors as the sun starts to set. But if you install a moon-moth garden, you’ll find yourself anticipating the approach of late afternoon and early evening when you’ll be able to watch the flowers open followed by the night insect visitors (mostly moths).

Jimson weed flower


Blossoms of the night-blooming or angled loofah

Did you know that “vespertine” refers to plants with flowers that open at night? In biology, we use the word “niche” to mean the function that an organism performs in the community, and butterflies, bees and hummingbirds fill the niche of pollinating during the daylight hours while moths take over that niche when the sun goes down. All three of these insects (bees, butterflies and moths) and hummingbirds are attracted to flowers not to pollinate them, but to gather nectar for their own food directly or, in the case of the bees, to be made into honey. The transfer of pollen from one flower to another (pollination) is a secondary spin-off of nectar gathering. With darkness, moths have a more difficult time finding their nectar sources, so those night-pollinated flowers are usually light colored – white, light yellow, etc. – and they often have a strong fragrance. There are a number of moth species that fill the niche of night pollinators but the most spectacular and noticeable are the generic group of hummingbird moths. Some of these are technically called sphinx moths or hawk moths but I call them all hummingbird moths because they look, fly and hover like hummingbirds. They also have a long proboscis similar to the long beak of a hummingbird. My first exposure to hummingbird moths was as a kid – I noticed what I called hummingbirds visiting the four o’clock (Mirabilis jalapa) flowers near our front porch; it was not until many years later when I learned about hummingbird moths that I realized those hummingbirds that I thought I saw as a kid were actually hummingbird moths.

Over the past few years, I have spent many evenings outside around my moon-moth garden and almost always I am rewarded with a visit by one or more hummingbird moths. I have also witnessed my cat trying to catch one!

As mentioned earlier, four o’clocks are good hummingbird moth-attracting flowers, no matter what their color. These flowers also seem to be the first to open as the daylight hours disappear, and have the strongest odor of my moon-moth plants.


Allen Acres Moon-Moth Garden with desert thorn apple (large white flowers) in foreground, jimson weed (right rear) and night-blooming loofah on trellis in background.  
 

Desert thorn apple or devil’s trumpet (Datura metel) is another good plant. It has very large, pure white flowers that the hummingbird moths seem to really like. Perhaps there is more nectar in large flowers. The only drawback to this plant is that it cannot sustain the production of these flowers for a long period of time. The related jimson weed, Datura stramonium, is also an attractant. The flowers are smaller but the moths will still visit these flowers as well. I have observed that the moths seem to shy away from the dark-flowered varieties of daturas. Other species of datura will also work as long as the flowers are white or very light colored.

I like to add moth-attracting flowers through the use of vines, and the best for that is moonflower (Ipomoea alba). Another vine that will attract hummingbird moths is the night-blooming or angled loofah (Luffa acutangula); it is also called ridged loofah, vegetable gourd, silk squash and vine okra. The flowers are yellow and open at night and the fruit is long and narrow and can be eaten when young. There is another species of loofah, Luffa aegyptiaca, that also has yellow flowers but they open in the morning; the fruit is short and develops the fibers early, and thus is not edible but better suited as a “sponge.”

Allen Acres’ quarter moon-shaped moon-moth garden

Hummingbird moth and its long proboscis in a four o’clock bloom

Four o’clocks, datura, moonflower and loofah are the four varieties that I have used in my moon-moth garden, but I have also observed hummingbird moths at a white spider flower (Cleome hasslerana). An interesting vine is the largeroot morning glory (Ipomoea macrorhiza), a lavender night-opening vine that is native to south Florida. This is a great hummingbird moth nectar plant but it is very picky in soil requirements; it only grows in very sandy soils.  

To enhance my moon-moth garden, I have created one planting area in the shape of a quarter moon and placed the daturas and four o’clocks in this bed. Nearby and just to the north and west of the quarter moon-shaped bed, I placed another L-shaped bed with a trellis. In this bed, I plant moonflowers and the ridged loofah. These two vines bloom later than the daturas so I have a staggered flowering period for the moths. I created other beds nearby and populate them with more daturas, four o’clocks and white spider flowers. I also have larger plants of other moth-attracting plants, including gardenia or cape jasmine (Gardenia jasminoides), almond verbena (Aloysia virgata) and night-blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum). I see lots of hummingbird moths visiting porterweed (Stachytarpheta urticifolia) just before daylight, when these flowers open, getting their share of the nectar before the bees and butterflies visit it during the daylight hours.

So plant a moon-moth garden. You’ll extend your enjoyment of your outside spaces and help provide nectar to not just the day insects, but the nighttime ones as well.

 

A version of this article appeared in a September 2011 edition of the State-by-State Gardening enewsletter.
Photography courtesy of Dr. Charles Allen.

 

Posted: 03/18/17   RSS | Print

 

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The Ecological Benefits of Bats
by Alison McCartney       #Beneficials   #Environment   #Wildlife

 

 

 

 

 

The eastern pipistrelle (Pipistrellus subflavus) can be found all over the eastern half of the United States from Canada down to Central America.

 

Bats are an incredibly diverse and ecologically beneficial group of animals. Worldwide there are nearly 1,000 bat species representing almost a quarter of all mammal species. They are the second largest order of mammals in number of species (second only to rodents), and can occupy virtually every habitat worldwide except in the most extreme desert and polar regions. There are forty-five bat species native to the United States. Nearly 40 percent of these species are threatened or endangered, and around the world, many more are declining at alarming rates. Six U.S. species are listed as endangered and 20 are considered species of special concern by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Declines have been primarily attributed in the past to human impacts such as habitat destruction, direct killing, disturbance of hibernating and maternity colonies, cave vandalism and use of pesticides and other chemical toxins. Negative human perceptions of bats can have a huge detrimental effect on their conservation. More recently, declines have been primarily attributed to a disease called white-nose syndrome. This disease was first discovered in January 2007 and has caused huge bat mortalities among hibernating cave-dwelling bats. Extensive research is currently being done to try and determine causes and possible cures for this disease.

Big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) provide the ecological benefit of consuming large quantities of agricultural pests.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding bats and bat behavior that have given this group of animals an undeserving negative reputation. One common misconception regarding bat behavior is that they are hostile or aggressive animals. Bats are not aggressive and in general, will do their best to avoid people. People are much more of a threat to bats than bats are to people. Another common misconception is that all bats carry rabies and other diseases. In actuality, less than 0.5 percent of bats have rabies. The chance of contracting rabies from bats is even further diminished if you simply never pick one up. Although the likelihood of contracting rabies from bats is very small, because rabies is a serious and fatal disease you should never pick up a bat, and you should contact your local health department if you have been bitten by a bat.

Bats are actually very beneficial. Most bats are insectivores and therefore provide the ecological benefit of acting as a natural pest control. An individual little brown bat or gray bat, for example, can consume over 1,000 mosquitoes in one hour. With increased fatalities occurring from West Nile virus, bats can be thought of as a natural source for controlling mosquito populations and therefore reducing occurrences of the virus. Bats also help to control agricultural pests. Big brown bats, for example, are predators of several agricultural pests such as June bugs, moths and beetles. Mexican free-tailed bats consume huge quantities of the corn earworm moth, which causes over $1 billion in crop damage a year.* Many farmers in the U.S. have installed bat houses on their farms to try and encourage the growth of bat populations. Large bat colonies on farms can greatly reduce insect populations and therefore reduce the need for pesticides.

Bat houses can aid in the conservation of bats by providing artificial roosts for bats whose natural habitat is declining. Hundreds to thousands of bats can occupy a single bat house. These relatively cheap houses have been found to be very successful in providing shelter for many bat species and reducing insect abundance in the immediate area. If you are interested in controlling insect populations on your property and aiding in the conservation of bats, you might consider putting up a bat house.


 

Left: Rafinesque’s big-eared bat (Corynorhinus rafinesquii) is a rare bat species found in the Southeastern United States. Right: Bat houses have been found to be very successful in providing shelter for many bat species and reducing insect abundance in the immediate area.

 

Besides being beneficial as a natural pest control, bats in the western U.S. also provide the ecological benefit of pollinating many plants. The agave plant, for example, which is used to produce tequila, is pollinated by bats. Other plants that rely on bats for pollination include bananas, peaches and cashews. There are many species of fruit bats or flying foxes in other countries that solely eat fruit and provide the benefit of seed dispersal. Through their droppings they will disperse seeds and have been known to reforest entire areas. Fruit-eating bats have played a major role in regenerating rainforests in areas that have been cleared.*

If you would like to learn more about bats or become involved in bat conservation, visit the Bat Conservation International website to find out more: www.batcon.org.

 

*editor's note: The range of these bat species is limited within the US. Research bats in your area before trying to attract a specific species.

A version of this article appeared in a February 2011 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of istockphoto.com/jollyphoto and AlisonMcCartney.

 

Posted: 03/17/17   RSS | Print

 

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Nighttime and Evening Gardens
by Alan Branhagen       #Fragrant   #Flowers   #Themed Gardens   #White

Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’
 

Many of us work all day and by the time we get home to garden or relax in the garden, dusk is upon us. In the evening, the bright colors of the day recede and disappear and the creams, silvers and whites begin to glow with the fading light. We need some time to de-stress, relax and unwind from the day and we’re usually not in the mood for some energizing red colors anyway! A garden designed for evening and the night is the perfect match for many of us.

There are other great reasons for an evening garden. Many gardeners really like the classic white and silver flowers or other whitened hues like pink, cream, sky blue and silver. These are colors of the evening garden because they show up nicely in low light — often appearing to glow. With night lighting, they can simply shine!

Most white flowers also emit intoxicating fragrances that enrich the evening garden and soothe our senses. I can think of no finer time than sitting on my back deck when the scents of the jasmine, gardenia, lilies, flowering-tobaccos and magnolias start to tickle my olfactory nerves. These flowers are not fragrant for our enjoyment but to attract pollinators, mainly moths. Yes, thank the underappreciated moths for many of our fragrant plants. Most are beneficial, and at dusk, the hummingbird-like sphinx moths enliven the garden experience with their blur of fast-beating wings.


Smooth hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens) including the cultivar ‘Annabelle’ have immense flower heads of gorgeous white in midsummer.
 

A premier evening garden should have a complete mix of plant types from evergreens and small trees to shrubs, vines, perennials, bulbs, annuals and tropicals. Using this complete pyramid of plant types ensures a beautiful space and a structured design, as well as incorporating the best evening garden players. Use an evergreen to block an unsightly view or prevailing wind, a couple (or a few) small trees or pruned-up large shrubs to create a delightful “human-scale” feel by a favorite chair or surrounding an intimate seating area. Shrubs can be used as screens and backdrops, while a mix of herbaceous perennials, bulbs and annuals can create beautiful borders, ground covers or fill containers. Tropical plants really add polish to the most exquisite of evening gardens.

‘Golden Ghost’ Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora ‘Golden Ghost’) can be really striking, especially with reflected night lighting.


Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana).
 

Evening garden evergreens are those with variegation and whitened needles that give many “blue” needles. Chalky blue varieties of blue spruce (Picea pungens ‘Koster’) or Korean pine (Pinus koraiensis ‘Silveray’), Swiss stone pine (Pinus cembra) and the variegated pines like Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora ‘Golden Ghost’) can be really striking, especially with reflected night lighting. In Zone 6, the hardy Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’) shines with polished leaves that reflect moonlight and white, intensely fragrant flowers.

Some superior small trees for the evening garden begin with the sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), whose lustrous leaves are whitened underneath and reflect light wonderfully while the small white flowers emit a lemony fragrance that can perfume an entire garden. Many of the larger panicle hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’, ‘Tardiva’, ‘Unique’ and others) can be trained up as little trees and their huge white, mid to late-summertime flowers create a spectacle to enjoy as you spend time outside at night. ‘Harvest Gold’ crabapple (Malus ‘Harvest Gold’) is also a phenomenal evening garden tree with white fragrant flowers in spring and soft yellow fruit in fall that are shockingly luminescent with night lighting.

Many of our native azaleas (Rhododendron arborescens, R. atlanticum and R. viscosum) and their hybrids excel as evening garden plants and bloom from midspring to midsummer depending on the variety. Other classic plants of the evening garden are the smooth hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens) with the cultivars ‘Annabelle’ and Incrediball™ having the most immense flower heads of gorgeous white in midsummer. Nearly everblooming roses (Rosa sp.) are also stars including the classic grandiflora rose ‘Iceberg’ but my favorite evening garden rose is the David Austin rose ‘Heritage’ with blush-pink flowers with incredible fragrance. Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) also is an underutilized shrub with new varieties like Vanilla Spice™, ‘Sweet Sixteen’ and Sugartina™ Crystalina glowing with spires of fragrant white flowers later in summer.

 

Left: Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)  Right: ‘White Lights’ azalea
 

Some favorite vines of the evening garden include annual moonvine (Ipomoea alba), white-flowering native wisterias (Wisteria frutescens) such as ‘Clara Mack’ and honeysuckles. Do not plant the sweet Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) as it is an invasive exotic, but try selections of woodbine honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenoides) like ‘Graham Thomas’ for evening fragrance.

Perennials in my evening garden are structured around various white-flowering cultivars of garden phlox (Phlox paniculata hybrids) starting with early blooming varieties like ‘Minnie Pearl’ to later varieties like ‘David’. White-flowering cultivars of daylilies (Hemerocallis ‘Gentle Shepherd’, ‘Limefrost’ and ‘Sunday Gloves’) also put on a show with some lighter yellow varieties like ‘Going Bananas’ and late-blooming ‘August Frost’. White-flowering coneflowers Echinacea purpurea also are evening favorites with ‘Fragrant Angel’ and ‘Pow Wow White’. There are many others, but these three groups provide a great sturdy backbone and all are lightly fragrant too.


Formosa lily (L. formosanum)
 

No evening garden could be without the lilies: their fragrance is unsurpassed! Try hardy varieties of Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum) and regal lilies (Lilium regale) for earliest bloom followed by Oriental hybrid lilies like ‘Casa Blanca’ and simply magnificent hybrid Orienpet lilies like ‘Silk Road’ and ‘Triumphator’ for spectacular towers of flowers. Later species lilies such as Formosa lily (L. formosanum) and Lilium speciosum will give you a whole summer of blooms.

Classic evening garden annuals begin with the Datura species whose huge white trumpets open after the sun sets, often with a waiting honeybee to gather a snack before bedtime. These flowers are a delight for anyone to watch as they unfurl right before your eyes. The flowering tobaccos (Nicotiana alata and N. sylvestris) are king of the fragrant evening annuals with white flowers that open up and emit intoxicating scents to lure the delightful sphinx moths. Four o’clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) are another evening garden beauty that don’t open until their namesake time but remain so through the night.


Gardenia jasminoides
 

And what evening garden in our Zones would be without some containers filled with tropical plants — a real gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides) exudes the most phenomenal scent of any plant and can’t be manufactured or mimicked. Jasmines (Jasminum spp.) and angel’s trumpets (Brugmansia spp.) are others with spectacular and fragrant flowers that shine for evening display.

So plan and plant an evening garden around your favorite outdoor summertime space; you will create a beautiful, relaxing and enjoyable place for you to spend your end of the day or for you to entertain in. It also allows you to savor the moderated temperatures beyond the daytime’s heat and explore a sweet range of plants that really shine at that time. These classic plants look great at any time but really are stars of the nighttime garden.

Other Stars of the Evening Garden:

Small Trees and Large Shrubs:
Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora)
Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida)
Rose-of-Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus ‘Diana’)
Ashe magnolia (Magnolia ashei)
Star magnolia (Magnolia stellate)
Mock orange (Philadelphus ‘Snow Velvet’)
Seven sons (Heptacodium miconioides)

Shrubs:
Azaleas (‘White Lights’, ‘Northern Hi-Lights’ and ‘Viscosepala’)
Flowering quince (Chaenomeles ‘Jet Trail’, ‘O-Yashima’)
Fothergilla (Fothergilla spp.)
Oakleaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia)
Lilacs (Syringa ‘Angel White’ and ‘Betsy Ross’)
Koreanspice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii)

Hardy Bulbs:
Hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis white and cream cultivars)
Daffodils (Narcissus ‘Cheerfulness’, ‘Mount Hood’, ‘Stainless’,‘Thalia’)

Annuals:
Acidanthera (Gladiolus calianthus)
Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima ‘Snow Princess’)
Euphorbia Diamond Frost®
Old-fashioned climbing petunia (P. x hybrida)

Perennials:
White bleeding hearts
(Dicentra (Lamprocapnos) spectabilis ‘Alba’)
Hardy hibiscus cultivars with white flowers
Hostas (Hosta plantaginea and others with white variegation or white flowers)
Miscanthus grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’‘Variegata’ and others)
Variegated sweetflag (Acorus calamus ‘Variegata’)
Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)

Tropicals:
Sweet or tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans)
Japanese pittosporum (P. japonicum variegated cultivars)
White mandevilla (M. x amabilis white-flowering cultivars)

 

A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2012 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Alan Branhagen.

 

Posted: 03/17/17   RSS | Print

 

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Best Bang for your Buck
by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp       #Flowers   #Propagation   #Shrubs

Above: Nigella, or love-in-a-mist, graces the spring and early summer garden with subtle shades of blue, pink or white flowers.
 

Left: Rudbeckia hirta ‘Indian Summer’


Gardeners like plants that are easy to grow and those that multiply without a lot of effort, especially if they have a lot of ground to cover.

Some perennials and annuals self-sow, casting their seeds to the wind to root some place else in the landscape. These can be transplanted to desirable locations or shared with others. Neatnik gardeners may be less enthused about self-sowing plants, so be selective about which ones you introduce to the landscape.

Some shrubs spread by suckering, sending up stems to form what’s called a colony. Winterberry holly is an example. Still others sprout new plants from branches that root where they touch the ground, a process called layering. Hydrangeas are very easy to propagate this way.
 

Here’s a sampler of plants that keep on giving:

Self-Sowing Annuals
Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) has blue, pink or white flowers and fine, ferny foliage in spring and early summer. It does best in full sun, but tolerates light shade. It gets about 12 inches tall. Nigella makes a lovely cut flower and the seeds are edible.

Chinese forget-me-not (Cynoglossum amabile) has tiny blue flowers in spring and early summer. It does best in full sun to part shade and makes a good companion for spring-blooming bulbs. If given adequate moisture, it will produce flowers off and on through summer. It can be used as a cut flower. Don’t confuse this annual with the perennials Myosotis sylvatica or Brunnera sp., which also are called forget-me-nots.

Gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia hirta) comes in lots of colors, from orange and yellow to red. This native plant does best in full sun and well-drained, average soil. Gloriosa daisy is a great cut flower. The seed heads also are a source of food for birds. Some rudbeckias are perennial or biennial.

 

 

Far Left: Purple coneflower 

Left and Above Middle: The native columbine blends nicely with ‘May Night’ salvia and a Knock out ™ Red rose in late spring.

Right: False sunflower

 


Self-Sowing Perennials
Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) readily scatters seeds throughout the garden to create new plants. This native plant does best in full sun to light shade in average, well-drained soil. It gets about 2 feet tall and is a long-lasting cut flower. The dark brown seed heads are attractive in the winter landscape and they serve as a food source for finches all year. Hummingbirds visit this plant in summer.

Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is a short-lived perennial that makes up for its fast life by sowing its seeds throughout the garden. This is another native plant that is almost evergreen, frequently holding on to its green foliage through the winter. It does best in full sun to part shade in average soil. There are several hybrids, such as the McKana series, which also self-sow a bit. Columbine is a beautiful cut flower. Hummingbirds like it, too.

False sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), sometimes called ox-eye daisy, gets up to 5 feet tall with great branching characteristics, which produce many yellow daisy-like flowers that are great for cutting. A native plant, it does best in full sun and average soil.

 

Left: ‘Winter Red’ is a cultivar of a native holly introduced by Simpson Nursery in Vincennes, Ind., in 1977. Middle: Ilex verticillata‘ Jim Dandy’ Right: ‘Brilliantissima’ is a red chokeberry that spreads by suckers to offer four seasons of interest.


Shrubs that Colonize
Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) is dioecious, which means it needs a male and female plant to produce berries. And it’s the bright red berries in winter that make this shrub worthy of a spot in the medium to large garden. This native plant does best in average soil that is a bit on the wet side in full sun to part shade. If it’s happy, the species will get up to 9 feet tall and will colonize to cover a 10-foot area. This is a deciduous holly, so it drops its leaves in fall. There are many cultivars worthy of smaller gardens, including the female ‘Winter Red’ and male ‘Southern Gentleman’, which were introduced by Robert Simpson of Simpson Nursery in Vincennes, Ind. Winterberry holly is a food source for birds in winter, but the berries are poisonous for humans. It has great fall color and small, insignificant flowers in early summer.

Chokeberry (Aronia sp.) comes in black (A. melanocarpa) and red (A. arbutifolia) and will spread by suckers or self-sowing. The native species gets about 8 feet tall and wide. It adapts to wet or dry areas in full sun to part shade. ‘Autumn Magic’, ‘Morton’ and ‘Viking’ are good black chokeberry cultivars. ‘Brilliantissima’ is a nice red one. Although these suckering shrubs produce showy berries, the fruit is at the bottom of the menu for birds. They will eat the berries only after the fruits have gone through several freezes and thaws. Chokeberry has small flowers in early summer and beautiful fall color. (Some sources might list this plant under its new botanical names: Photinia pyrifolia for the red and P. melanocarpa for the black.)
 

Layering is simple to do.


A Sampler of Shrubs to Layer:

Fothergilla sp. Lilac (Syringa sp.) Viburnum sp.
Hydrangea sp. Magnolia sp. Weigela sp.
  Smokebush (Cotinus sp.)  

Shrubs for Layering
The easiest way to propagate some shrubs is by soil layering. Here’s how:

• In spring, select a flexible branch that will bend to the ground.
• Remove all side branches from the branch.
• About 12 inches from the tip of the branch, make a slanted cut on the under side.
• Make a slight depression in the soil where the cut side of the branch touches the ground. Fill the depression with high quality potting mix or rich organic matter. The cutis where the roots will form.
• Anchor the branch to the soil with lawn staples, bent wire or a stone.
• Apply a mound of soil about 1 inch deep and 6 inches long on top of the branch at the cut area.
• The cut section of the branch should root in eight to 10 weeks. Tug gently on the branch to see if it has rooted. There also might be new growth, which is the surest sign of a well-rooted branch.
• With a spade, snips or other tool, sever the new branch between the mother shrub and the newly formed rooted portion.
• Transplant to the shrub’s new location.

 

   

A version of this article appeared in a May/June 2011 print edition of State-by-State Gardening Magazine.
Photography courtesy of Ron Capek, John Herbst, All-America Selections, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, and Bailey Nurseries. Illustration courtesy of Gardening Techniques, Alan Titchmarch.
   

 

Posted: 03/13/17   RSS | Print

 

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Here Comes the Sun
by Erika Jensen       #Bulbs   #Seeds   #Tech & Gadgets

Snapdragons are among the plants that benefit from an early start under lights.
 

If you've ever tried to grow seedlings in a south-facing window, you know why supplemental light is necessary. Tall, spindly seedlings with floppy stems and pale green leaves are a good indicator that your plants are not getting enough light. Although some gardening books and online sources say that seedlings can be grown in your windowsill, I've never had this work successfully. It could be that in some sunny southern states it actually does work, but here in the Upper Midwest, the natural light from a window just isn't enough. Even a south window will provide only a few hours of direct sunlight and a couple of hours of indirect sunlight, and that's just not enough to grow good plants.

Enter the light cart. I have mine set up in my living room, in a south-facing window where my plants will get a little outdoor light plus artificial light. I'm a thrifty gardener, and plants are expected to pay their own way around here. For this reason, I skipped the expensive light sets advertised in gardening catalogs and purchased a plastic shelving unit at Menards. Because watering is one of my biggest challenges indoors, I turned the shelving unit upside down, which provided a pan-shaped area that catches any overflow from my flats. I use regular 48-inch shop-light fixtures, plugged in to a power strip, which is plugged into a three-prong grounded outlet. Making your own light cart is so ridiculously easy. Here are a few more ways to make sure you get the best seedlings that no money can buy.
 

The writer uses an inexpensive plastic shelving unit for a light cart.

Light Basics
One of the most affordable options for lighting is also just fine for producing healthy seedlings. Forget about the expensive grow-light bulbs (the violet-tinted ones). They might be better for flowering plants such as African violets, but are not needed for seedlings that are vegetative or leafy. Fluorescent bulbs come in several options, including warm-white (a pinkish or tan color) and cool-white (bluish white color). It's a little better to use one cool-white and one warm-white lightbulb, because they provide a wider spectrum of light. Fluorescent lights come very close to duplicating natural light from the sun. Don't use incandescent lights, which are mostly red light and produce a great deal of heat in proportion to their light output.

In order to fool your plants into thinking it's spring, you'll need to leave your lights on for 14 to 16 hours daily. This duplicates the light levels that they'd get during May and June. I turn my light set on as soon as I wake up in the morning, calling out “wake up little guys,” and turn it off when I go to bed at night. If you're the forgetful type, you can purchase a timer for the lights. Nothing terrible will happen if you forget to turn them off, but the plants will appreciate a rest period while they go through important metabolic processes.

Light levels are highest close to the bulbs, so keep them just a few inches away from the plants. Fluorescent lights are cool, so little, if any, damage will occur to the plants should a leaf accidentally touch them. Your lights will function best if they are clean (dust yearly), limit the number of times you turn them off and on, and don't let the ambient room temperature go too low (keep it above 50 F).


T12, T8 and T5 Fluorescent Bulbs
It turns out that fluorescent bulbs come in a range of options, like everything else these days. T12 bulb is the older-style bulb, the kind that's been around for a long time. Although cutting edge in its day, it is being replaced by the T8 bulb. This is much more energy efficient, as well as brighter, and is easily spotted because it is skinnier than the regular T12. A T8 bulb will work in a regular light fixture and can be purchased at most hardware stores.

The T5 bulb goes one step further in efficiency. It uses about the same amount of watts per foot as the old T12 bulb, but is approximately twice as bright. The bad news is that for now, T5 requires a special fixture and is not available in longer lengths at your local hardware store. Online, find them by searching for “GE Starcoat T5 HO Fluorescent Lamps.” I’ve noticed that some seed catalogs, which also sell equipment, offer T5 bulbs as part of their grow-light set-ups.


Keep the fluorescent lights a couple of inches away from the plants. Move the lights up as the plants grow.


Watering
Over the years, watering has been one of my biggest stumbling blocks. Watering cans tend to distribute water evenly over all surfaces, including ones that shouldn’t get wet. That might not be a big deal if your light cart is in the basement on a concrete floor, but since mine's in my living room, I can't spill very much before I have a huge mess. Bottom watering is a good option, but don't let your plants sit in water for very long, or you'll have problems with root rot. The other option is to remove the flats to a sink or bathtub and water them there. Either way, it's a bit of a hassle.


Root Pruning
Professional growers sometimes talk about "air pruning" their roots. This just means that they allow some airflow underneath their flats. The roots will stop growing when they encounter the air gap. This prevents the well-known problem where roots grow out of their containers and form a mass hanging at the bottom of the plant. Ripping off these roots during the transplanting process can be hard on the plant. To create an air gap, you can support your flats using PVC rails or another building material such as wire screens.


Joe Schmitt, a professional flower grower in Madison Wis., uses a large-scale grow-light setup in his basement. He produces thousands of seedlings annually.


Rotating Flats
While you're checking and watering your plants, it's not a bad idea to rotate them. If the light from your fluorescent lightbulbs is a little uneven, you frequently end up with plants leaning in toward the center of the light fixture. By rotating the flats, you can achieve more even growth. This also gives you a chance to notice any problems and address them right away.

Of course, the best reason to start plants from seed under lights is that it’s fun. Watching young plants grow is a good way to chase your winter blues away and welcome the season.

 

A version of this article appeared in a March 2014 edition of the State-by-State Gardening eNewsletter.
Photography courtesy of Erika Jensen and Joe Schmitt.

 

Posted: 03/09/17   RSS | Print

 

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Give Your Vegetable Garden a Makeover
by Karen Atkins       #Ornamentals   #Vegetables

Left: Fence the garden in permanently. Most vegetable gardens are small enough that you need to set less than a dozen posts. Doing this once is easier than struggling with marauding rabbits and temporary fencing year after year. Middle: I compelled my children to let me relocate their play house as a focal point for a new vegetable garden. The best site for a proper vegetable garden is in full sun, as close as possible to the kitchen. Level the area for raised beds, and allow room to push a wheelbarrow when planning pathways. Right: Add accents to your garden. Here, cast iron rabbit finials add interest.

 

Plants themselves can be ornamental. Why grow regular dark green kale when you could instead grow ‘Rainbow’ kale?

 


Tomatoes don’t have to be fastened to wooden stakes in rows. Here a circular tuteur supports tomatoes “tied” by ‘Grandpa Ott’ morning glories (Ipomoea purpurea ‘Grandpa Ott’).


 

A National Gardening Association survey calculated that 25 percent of all U.S. households had vegetable gardens in 2011. Now more and more of us know what goes into and onto our food. These gardens give us so much. Is it greedy then to ask that the gardens also be pretty?

Of course not. Americans have had gorgeous vegetable gardens ever since Colonial times. A tour of the John Blair garden in Colonial Williamsburg will convince you of this, and provides many lessons. Since early Americans could not survive without homegrown produce, they invested a little more time in the beginning just setting them up properly. Where we typically banish vegetable gardens to some sunny corner of the yard, colonists put them in a prominent place, usually as close as possible to the kitchen. Rather than just tilling up a patch of dirt with no regard to slope, they completely leveled the area and built raised beds to permit proper drainage and soil cultivation. And these beds were not just simple squares thrown together with no further thought. There was a pleasing symmetry to the designs of the beds and the pathways. Ornamentals were tucked in between fruits and vegetables.


Espalier is just a fancy word for training. I’m coaxing this apple tree into a candelabra shape.
 

It was during the rush to establish Victory Gardens after World War II that we lost our way. It was admirable to want the commercially farmed and canned produce to go to the troops. But it was then, in our hurry to establish these utilitarian gardens, that we stopped requiring our vegetable gardens to also be beautiful. Now that’s a trend worth reversing.

 

A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2013 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Karen Atkins and The National Garden Bureau.

 

Posted: 03/07/17   RSS | Print

 

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Accessorizing Your Fence
by Loretta Gillespie       #Decorating   #Vines

Top: By staggering these ceramic pots, an interesting vignette was formed along a weathered board fence. These pots are pretty, even unplanted. These particular pots have been fired, so it is safe to leave them outdoors year round.

Above: A rectangular wall fountain in the shape of a sweet cherub fits perfectly on this brick wall, its jet of water spilling into a koi pond below. A moss window box filled with begonias, hosta and ‘Plum Pudding’ heuchera makes a lovely counterpoint to the fountain by echoing its shape. Companion plantings include canna and variegated ginger.

Top: A row of birdhouses with copper roofs perch along the top of a fence, giving it a symmetrical look, while providing a place for birds to nest. Left: An outdoor fireplace mantle made of brick can also be decorated just like your fence or the mantle in your home. Just treat it as if it were the same. Here, a mirror was added to create light behind the stained-glass panel. Plants, a rustic bluebird house and a vintage-style lantern were used as accessories. Right: This garden features a fence used as a backdrop for a metal trellis. Climbing vines, like this Clematis, add color where you need it


Accessorizing your fence not only adds interest, it gives the eye a contrast to the green plant material, resulting in both of them looking better.

You can use practically any type of weatherproof material, including glass, ceramic, plaster, aluminum, metal, wood, concrete or plastic. You might have something that needs painting – don’t be afraid to try something new and different like red or bright orange. You can always repaint or rearrange it!

Start by thinking of the fence as a backdrop. You will use your plants to give the area texture, but you’ll want something to make visitors say “Wow! Why didn’t I think of that?” Browse consignment stores for unusual finds to fit your garden décor or theme. Look around your garage, attic, basement or barn. Check out decorating magazines to see how decorators pull objects together. Use items that will withstand the weather, like an old picture frame or vintage shutters.

Look in your kitchen; there are lots of waterproof items that will make great garden wall vignettes. Chipped coffee cups make great little planters, as do cracked or damaged plates and bowls.

 

Left: Sometimes we have a gate even with no fence! Here a metal basket was added to the gate. A black-eyed Susan vine, has escaped from the confines of the container and scrambled all over the fence, giving it a carefree, inviting look. Middle: Hanging mirrors in a garden give the impression that you are looking through a portal into another garden. Right: Accessorizing a fence or wall doesn’t have to be complicated; something as simple as this stone bowl atop a wall gives it a lot of character.


What if you have a gate with no fence? Accessorizing it will give it a carefree, inviting look. Think baskets or metal wall pockets.

Accessorizing a fence or wall doesn’t have to be complicated; even something as simple as a stone bowl sitting on top of a wall adds character. Don’t have a bowl? Use the basin of a birdbath, instead.

We know that adding mirrors to our homes brightens up dark corners, reflecting light back into the room and giving it a feeling of depth. Hanging them outside does the same thing by giving the viewer the impression that he/she is looking through a portal into another garden.

Use climbing vines, like Clematis, to add color where you need it. This gives you several options. It isn’t necessary to attach everything to the fence itself. Stone, brick or weathered wood brings out the vibrant color of the blooms, while allowing the lines of your artwork or statuary to be shown to their best advantage.

 

Top Left: While more pricey than some other options, statuary is always a good choice. Without this dog, the view of this area would be rather monotonous and without focus. Statuary defines it. Bottom Left: By outlining the shape of the fountain with metal half-baskets in much the same way a mat emphasizes a painting, you can enhance the look of both the fountain and the baskets. Planted with begonias, these cheerful additions to a fence can bring color to eye level, making it a focal point for visitors who stroll along the flagstone path below. Right: This garden wall is covered with creeping fig, making it a living backdrop for an interesting statue.
 

While more pricey than some other options for accessorizing a wall or fence, statuary is always an excellent option. Utilizing statuary keeps a woodland or city landscape from being monotonous and without focus. Statuary defines it, giving the viewer a focal point by incorporating the surrounding landscape to create a beautiful scene.

If you love the look of a decorated wall or fence, start collecting your favorite things and have fun giving them a new purpose.

 

A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 20 Number 2.
Photography courtesy of Loretta Gillespie.

 

Posted: 03/06/17   RSS | Print

 

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Blue Ribbon Gardening
by Jessica Pierson       #Advice   #Edibles   #Misc   #Vegetables


Growing and exhibiting vegetables is an exciting way to get more than food from your vegetable patch. In addition to possibly winning a ribbon and a small amount of prize money, you’ll get the thrill of competing, the opportunity to learn about new varieties and inspiration for the future.

Typically, a county or state fair’s horticulture category includes commonly grown vegetables such as tomatoes, corn and beans. Categories such as chili peppers, leafy greens and kohlrabi may be included. Many fairs also have just-for-fun categories such as longest cucumber, garden freaks and oddest root vegetables.

Almost any gardener can participate. Few supplies are required, and you can grow in containers, raised beds or traditional gardens. The key to success lies in following the four P’s of exhibiting: Plan, Prepare, Proceed and Place.
 

To get a premium book with entry categories and rules, find your county fair online (for example, www.willcountyfair.org) and look for “Fair Book” on the home page. Winners actually win money, although not very much.

Planning
Choose your venue. Garden clubs sometimes have judged shows, but also consider the county or state fair. Most counties have a “premium book,” available online, that lists the different departments and entry categories. Vegetables are typically in the horticulture or home economics department. For example, the listing in the Will County premium book lists three bean categories: Beans, green (20); Beans, yellow (20); and Lima Beans (20). The number means 20 beans for each entry.

The premium book also lets you know the rules. The rules are very important, says James Schmidt, an Illinois State Fair judge and University of Illinois Extension staff member. “Get a show book,” he advises. “Look at the classes and see if there’s something interesting to enter.” He notes that it can be “heartbreaking” as a judge to see an excellent entry that has a mistake that could have been prevented by reading and following the rules. He also warns against assuming the premium book will be the same from venue to venue – careful reading is a must!

Once you know which vegetables you would like to grow, begin searching for suitable varieties. Hybrids are often suggested because they have some disease resistance and offer consistency among fruits. With tomatoes, for example, hybrids have been developed that offer resistance to some or all of five common diseases: verticillium, fusarium wilt, nematodes, tobacco mosaic virus and alternaria stem cankers.  Choosing ‘Big Beef VFFNTA Hybrid’, for example, would give you resistance to all five pathogens.

Another reason hybrids are encouraged is that they will produce fruits with greater uniformity and consistency than open-pollinated or heirloom varieties. Whether you generally root for the hybrid or non-hybrid team, for exhibition purposes, hybrids will give you the visual appeal sought by many judges. Look for the word “hybrid” or “F1” to denote hybrid status.

A final planning consideration is timing. If you have decided, for example, to enter the corn category and the fair is on August 1, you need to find a variety that will be at its peak color and flavor a few days before that time. Corn takes anywhere from 58 days (‘Earlivee’) to 92 days (‘BiQueen’). Taking into account Northern Illinois’ fickle spring weather and an average annual last hard frost date of April 20, a variety that can be planted in late May would be ideal, giving the crop approximately 75 days to mature. Two varieties that meet those conditions are ‘Ambrosia’ (a sweet white corn) and ‘Sugar and Gold’ (a sweet bicolor corn).



Preparing
Armed with your seeds, premium book, and dreams of summer, now consider how to best prepare your seeds and media for a blue-ribbon crop. Proper soil analysis is the first step. Learning the pH of your soil and the fertilizer requirements will help your plants more closely resemble the picture on the front of the seed package. A pH chart for vegetables can tell you what pH they need. Your soil test will also help you better understand what nutrients may be deficient in your soil. (North Carolina State University Extension has a helpful pH chart at www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/quickref/soil/pHplants.html).

Also decide whether to start your seeds indoors or wait to direct sow. Since you will need to have your vegetables ready for exhibition by a certain date, starting seeds indoors gives you a head start as well as a more controlled environment. Some varieties, such as leafy greens, root vegetables and beans, do not transplant well, however. Checking with a reliable source, such as Extension material or a trusted friend, can help you decide.


Proceeding
With a prepared seedbed, now turn your attention to planting your seeds. Sow your first crop a few days before you expect to have ideal conditions. The next crop should go in a few days after you think conditions are ideal. Plant a final crop a week after germination or transplanting has been successful. Planting in sequence will help ensure a ready crop of vegetables to choose from when it is time to show your vegetables later in the season.

During the growing season, follow a regimen of weeding, watering and watching. Be on the lookout for the following:

•  Signs of disease or pests. Identify the disease and begin a treatment program right away: Check with the University of Illinois Extensions webpage web.extension.illinois.edu/vegguide/problem_disease.cfm for identification and treatment recommendations.

•  Drastic changes in environmental conditions, such as available light, wind and precipitation. Try to provide ideal growing conditions.

•  Splashing liquids on the plant leaf during watering. Fungal diseases and leaf scorching can result from not watering at the soil level.

•  Cuts, bruises and other defects. You may need to trim off stems that rub on a developing fruit, watch for abnormal growth patterns, and keep developing fruits off of the ground when possible.

Another technique used by experienced exhibitors is to train the vegetable plant to grow in a certain way by “stopping,” disbudding or thinning the plant. Cucumbers can be stopped by taking off the terminal bud (the leaf bud at the top of the stem). This encourages the plant to produce stronger and bushier side growth. Disbudding is the process of removing lateral or side flower buds from a plant to encourage erect upward growth. Tomatoes respond well to disbudding, which can encourage better fruiting. A final technique, thinning, involves selectively removing some of the fruit or entire plants to encourage the remaining fruits or plants to grow larger.



Placing
When the big day draws near, it’s time to put your exhibition game into high gear. The most important step as you prepare your entry is to read the premium book and take your time. The premium book tells you exactly what your entry should include, from the type of display plate to size and quantity of items allowed. Knowing how many specimens and their size is important before you head out to the garden armed with your clippers.


The timing of when to pick is important as well. Varieties such as sweet corn and leafy greens do not hold well. Root vegetables and squashes are less perishable and therefore can be picked earlier. Generally, it’s best to pick just before the peak of ripeness as some ripening will occur while your product is on display.


When you go to the garden to make your selections, Schmidt offers the following advice:

•  Don’t fall for “biggest is best.” Larger vegetables can be woodier and/or less flavorful than normal-sized counterparts. A uniform exhibit is crucial to success.

•  Stick with one variety per entry. Don’t include ‘Blue Lake’, ‘Derby’ and ‘Top Crop’ bush beans in the same entry. Though it can be tempting to choose the best-looking among the three, judges want to see only one variety in an entry.

•  Choose vegetables that are nearly all the same in size, color, size and maturity.

•  Use your seed catalog or other horticultural guides to determine the fruits that are most “true to type.” The photographs in a seed catalog most often portray ideal shape, color, size and texture.

•  Use your premium book as a guide to select the best candidates. For example, if onion tops need to be 8 inches long, choose only the ones that meet that standard, even if there are more attractive ones with 6½-inch tops.

•  Don’t panic if you can’t find all perfect vegetables. Schmidt says that “there may be minor imperfections to the vegetables, but if they’ve been cleaned, washed and trimmed well, they make a good appearance.”

•  Don’t be afraid to ask fellow exhibitors and friends their opinion before you pick your vegetables. Their objectivity and experience can help you see things you might have overlooked, such as the ideal shade for an eggplant.

 

Vegetables are judged by a variety of criteria. The rutabaga (top) won its blue ribbon for being the largest one in the competition. Uniformity, color and shape are also important.


When you’ve chosen your specimens, remember to cut the stem according to the premium rules. Cut or dig carefully to prevent bruising or damaging delicate plant parts. Post-harvest produce should be kept in the refrigerator in a closed container. Some varieties do best with a dampened paper towel in the container, especially fresh herbs such as basil and cilantro. More do’s and don’ts can be found in Schmidt’s article, “Exhibiting Vegetables” at web.extension.illinois.edu/bdo/downloads/4268.pdf.

The final step is to prepare your entry. Depending on the variety, dirt can be washed off with a soft brush or cloth, or by washing gently in the sink. Wipe dry to discourage fungal growth. Wrap in newspaper or cloths for transport and place in a sturdy container such as a laundry basket or bushel basket. Pack a few extras, too, as “insurance.” Remember to fill out your entry card properly and bring the required size/color/material plate and other required props for exhibition.

Once you arrive at the fair, you are ready to set up your display. Place the required number of specimens on the plate in an attractive arrangement. Double check to make sure everything is the correct length and, as Schmidt strongly suggests, recount your specimens. He notes a common beginner mistake is usually something simple “like putting the wrong number [on the entry card]” or “not making a last counting before you step away.” Now it’s time for the judges. Schmidt says that he loves being a judge because he gets to see gardeners show off their talents and take pride in the competition. He also really enjoys interacting with the exhibitors and developing relationships with them (Hint: talk to your judges; they are people, too!) During judging, the horticulture building is usually closed for a few hours. Once the judging is over, you are welcome to take a peek for a blue, red or white ribbon bedecking your labors of love.

One more encouraging piece of advice from Schmidt is specifically for beginners. “It’s fun to see new people become interested in exhibiting at fairs and watch them grow in their skills as gardeners and exhibitors.  It’s fun to see the faces of novices when they get that blue ribbon or even better – best of show for that crop.” Remembering those 4 P’s – planning, preparing, proceeding, and placing – can carry you and your veggies all the way to the top!

    

A version of this article appeared in Chicagoland Gardening Volume 20 Number 2.
Photography courtesy of Jessica Pierson.
    

 

Posted: 03/05/17   RSS | Print

 

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Fresh Foundations
by Helen Newling Lawson       #Advice   #Design   #Ornamentals   #Shrubs

The foliage of ‘Sunshine’ ligustrum adds a vibrant accent to your landscape. In this landscape, moving it away from the perimeter of the house created a brightly lit entryway path.
Credit: Courtesy of Southern Living Plant Collection


Foundation plantings – usually evergreen shrubs – have always had a reputation for being boring. To make matters worse, many of the South’s go-to choices are now also suffering from a host of disease and insect problems.

Luckily, there are several new introductions that make fantastic, low-maintenance substitutions with similar growth habits. Some even offer a fresh twist with colorful foliage or flowers that can add some pizzazz to your plantings.
 

What’s the trouble?
If your foundation plantings are failing, one of these could be the reason why:

Boxwood blight – Caused by a fungus, this disease was first seen in the Southeast in Virginia in 2011 and had spread south to Georgia by 2013. It causes brown leaf spots and defoliation of boxwood shrubs (Buxus spp.) and can also affect Pachysandra and sweetbox (Sarcococca). It spreads by contact, so buy plants from a nursery that participates in a boxwood blight management program. There is no cure – fungicides can only be used as a preventive.

Leaf spotEntomosporium maculatum, the same fungus responsible for taking out red tip Photinia, has now claimed numerous Indian hawthorns (Rhaphiolepis spp.) as its victims. Tiny red spots on both sides of the leaves are the first sign of trouble. These can progress into large gray spots with maroon edges, then leaf drop, and eventually death of the plant when leaf drop is severe. Moisture encourages spread of this disease, so clean up diseased leaves quickly (bagging, not composting) and try to keep the upper branches dry by irrigating at the soil level.


Distylium (shown here: Blue Cascade ‘PIIDIST-II’) is a tougher, disease-resistant alternative to cherry laurels, junipers, hollies, Indian hawthorn, and boxwood.
Credit: Courtesy of GardenersConfidence.com

 

Shot hole disease – Although it may look as though an insect is munching holes in your English laurel (Prunus laurocerasus ‘Otto Luyken’) leaves, it is actually a sign of a bacterial disease. Wet leaves also enable this disease to spread, so avoid overhead watering and give your shrubs enough space to dry quickly.

Scale insects – These insects spend their adulthood attached to branches of numerous shrubs – including juniper, Euonymus, and Cleyera – feeding on their sap. If your plants are yellowing or declining, look for white, gray, or brown “bumps” lining the branches. You may also notice ants or black sooty “mold” (actually a fungus), both results of the sap secretions. Treatment depends on the species of scale and their life stage (active “crawler” or attached adult), so call your local extension office for help.

Just plain ugly – This may not hurt the plant, but it can be hard on the eyes. Eleagnus (sometimes called “ugly Agnes”) and Euonymus are two commonly planted-but-often-loathed shrubs. (Former Southern Living editor Steve Bender, writing as the “Grumpy Gardener,” described golden euonymus as “the awfulest of the awful” things you can plant in front of your house.)And sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with the shrub other than the fact that it’s just too big to serve as a foundation plant.


Shades of Pink viburnum has glossy, dark green leaves and pink flowers and is a great substitute for Indian hawthorn.
Credit: Courtesy of Greenleaf Nursery

 

Our builder installed five Loropetalum shrubs in a 10-foot-square area below our dining room window. They were a fairly new introduction at the time – our house was built 15 years ago – so maybe they didn’t realize each one would ultimately grow to at least 15 feet tall and wide, or more likely, they just didn’t care. (Since then, a number of dwarf varieties of Loropetalum have come onto the market much better suited for foundation plantings.)

I ripped out four of the five to allow one enough space. Instead of constantly pruning the one remaining, I tried to limb it up into a small tree. However, it has refused to accept its new identity, so rather than wasting time pruning, I keep cutting back sprouts from the base of the trunk. I’ve decided it’s time to part, and will replace it with an actual small tree.
 

Love the look of a tidy row of clipped shrubs but hate shearing? Micron holly maintains its low, mounded shape without pruning and is a great substitute for boxwood.
Credit: Courtesy of Greenleaf Nursery

What’s fresh?
New introductions offer many different options. Most of these recommendations have a compact, tidy growth habit, saving you the tiresome maintenance of pruning. Be sure to check the expected mature size to make sure you’re choosing an option that best fits your space and remember, “dwarf” just means smaller than the species.

Whether they burst into bloom, have a “first flush” of color on their new growth, or have a unique hue all year, most of these choices add the excitement of color to their reliable nature.

No “bad seeds.” Plants such as Ligustrum and barberry (Berberis spp.) had a well-deserved bad reputation for invasiveness. Newer varieties have been bred to be sterile, keeping them only where you want them.

Above all, each of these has exceptional resistance to disease, drought, insects, deer, or all of the above. Each offers a significant improvement over its predecessors.


Some promising new stars
Distylium – This evergreen, low-growing shrub is billed as resistant to insect, disease, and deer problems – a resistance “home run” that can replace problem-prone ‘Otto Luyken’ laurel as a reliable foundation or backbone planting, with layered branches that provide texture and require little to no pruning.

October Magic Ruby camellia (C. sasanqua ‘Green 02-003’) – Imagine a tidy evergreen hedge of glossy, deep green leaves that bursts into flower every fall with striking, fully double red flowers. Who said foundation shrubs were boring?


Eureka Gold dwarf yaupon (Ilex vomitoria ‘HOGY’) is another option for bringing bright yellow-green foliage into your plant palette. Dense, bushy plants grow 4-5 feet tall.
Credit: Courtesy of Greenleaf Nursery

 

Ligustrum sinense ‘Sunshine’ – Spread a little ‘Sunshine’ to add the trendiest color in gardening today, golden yellow, to your landscape. If you’re up on your botanical names, you know that we’re talking about privet, which comes with its own bad reputation for invasiveness, so rest assured this variety is sterile and will not reseed. (Note: In Tennessee, by law, L. sinense – including sterile cultivars – cannot be propagated, sold, offered for sale, or released within the state. – Ed.)

Moonlit Lace viburnum (Viburnum x ‘sPg-3-024’) – A cross between V. tinus and V. davidii, this shrub has glossy, textured, evergreen leaves with showy, rounded clusters of white flowers that appear in spring, making it a drought-tolerant, similarly sized replacement for Indian hawthorn. Shades of Pink (V. tinus ‘Lisa Rosa’) is another lovely choice, but can reach up to 5 feet tall if unpruned.

Mojo pittosporum (P. tobira ‘CNI Three’) has variegated, shade-tolerant foliage and a delightful springtime fragrance. Yet it’s tough enough to handle even salt spray in coastal areas.
Credit: Courtesy of Southern Living Plant Collection

Pittosporum – Another Indian hawthorn substitution. As a bonus, its small flowers bring a wonderful fragrance in spring, perfect for an entryway.

Micron holly (Ilex vomitoria ‘Gremicr’) – Want the traditional look of neatly clipped shrubs with no shearing? This slow-growing, very compact dwarf variety has a “very interesting texture” and a tidy, mounded shape.

To give your new stars their best chance to shine, take the time to plant them right.

First, amend the soil with organic matter, such as compost. If poor drainage contributed to past problems, you should definitely pay attention to this step.

Next, plan your placement. While it may look sparse (especially if you are replacing overgrown shrubs), make sure to space them to allow for their mature size. And even though they’re called foundation shrubs, don’t cram them too close to the house. They’ll look better, stay healthier, and attract fewer bugs to your home if you give them some breathing space.

Or, instead of using them to line the foundation of your house, make them the foundation of a standalone planting bed. These evergreen workhorses are a great way to add structure and backbone to any area. I recently used a curving row of ‘Sunshine’ ligustrum to add a bold sweep of unifying color through the center of my perennial bed.

Finally, take the time to dig good holes. This means wider, not deeper, than their containers. Water well when planting and during their first year to get them established. Read up on their particular care requirements to see when and how to fertilize.

 

A version of this article appeared in a March 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.

 

Posted: 03/04/17   RSS | Print

 

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A Helping Hand From the Birds and Bees
by Alan Pulley       #Birds   #Insects   #Wildlife

Baby chipping sparrows nesting in my evergreen hollies. Fledglings need food every few minutes. So when birds nest in your yard, they consume a lot of nearby insects, providing organic pest control.
 

I watched one summer day as a male northern cardinal hopped from one tomato cage to the other, each time peeking into the tomato plants as if he were looking for something. This continued for a few minutes until he finally came out from under one of the plants with his prize – a big, fat, juicy hornworm.

Those familiar with growing tomatoes know the type of damage that these worms can cause if left to run free on your tomato plants. Once the cardinal knew where the food was, he returned throughout the summer, keeping my tomato plants pest-free.

When it comes to gardening, many think of wildlife as problematic, when, in most cases, just the opposite is true. As most gardeners can attest, there is a lot that goes into managing a garden. No matter the size, there’s always something to do – like soil prepping, weeding, watering, planting – you get the idea.

With all that we do to help improve our chances for success, we’re not the only ones in control. Believe it or not, there are other busy workers out and about giving us a helping hand, and their presence could determine the success or failure of our efforts – and no one does this better than our native wildlife, especially the birds and bees.

 

 

Left: Keep flowers in and around your vegetable garden to attract more pollinators to your yard. I’ve also added a snag (dead tree) to the center of this flower garden. As it decays, it will attract insect eating woodpeckers and makes for a nice climbing feature for native vines, like virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana). Right: Leaving some areas intentionally messy, like this winter brush pile, will enhance habitat for birds and other wildlife.

Attracting birds to our gardens provides a great natural benefit beyond just watching them in the backyard. Birds are willing assistants that help maintain a natural balance between plants and pests. Most birds eat a variety of insects, including caterpillars, aphids, mosquitoes and other critters that may not be welcome in the garden. Fortunately, they go to work for us at just the right time. In order to feed their young the protein they need, birds that eat seeds and berries in the fall and winter switch to a more protein-based diet consisting of insects and other bugs in the spring and summer. Fledglings are insatiable and need food every few minutes. So when birds nest in your yard, they consume a lot of nearby insects, providing organic pest control and helping to eliminating the need for chemical insecticides. In addition, finches, sparrows and towhees consume countless quantities of weed seeds, making them useful landscapers – helping control unwanted plants. Hummingbirds, orioles and other birds that sip nectar are efficient pollinators of garden flowers. This can give flowerbeds an added color boost from extra blooms, which will in turn attract even more pollinators. Get the point?


If you live in an open area, consider adding a birdhouse made for purple martins. Purple martins consume a lot of insects and are a joy to watch.
 

For a quick start, consider adding a basic birdfeeder filled with black-oil sunflower seeds. A birdfeeder will attract a variety of birds to your backyard in no time. Pay special attention to native plants and trees that already grow in your area. Native species establish quickly and are more recognizable to birds and other wildlife. Consider adding a small water source at ground level to not only attract birds, but to invite toads as well. Toads are a great asset to the garden and, like birds, help keep the insect population under control.

A typical mason bee house attached to my garden shed. Mason bees are extremely effective pollinators.
 

Simple Mason BeeHouse Construction

•  Obtain a 4-by-4-inch piece of wood (untreated) approximately 8 inches long. On one of the sides drill holes that are 3-1/4 inches deep with a 5/16th drill bit. Do not drill all the way through the block.

•  Add a ½-inch piece of plywood on top of the 4-by-4 that overhangs a little to help provide some protection from the weather.

•  Securely place the bee house on a building, fence posts or tree. Try and place it on the south side if possible.


•  Scatter a few of these houses throughout your yard and community.

•  In late fall, move the little bee house into a shed or garage (cool dry area) for the winter months; however, be sure to put it back out in early spring prior to the larva emerging.

Over the years I have developed a greater appreciation for all the butterflies, wasps, bees, flies and other bugs that buzz around our gardens. Without them, many of the fruits and vegetables that we know and love could not reproduce. Did you know that a bumblebee hovering over a tomato flower can create a vibration that will improve pollination much more efficiently than we ever could do by shaking the plant ourselves? Nature is full of amazing pollinators.

We’ve heard and talked about the ongoing loss of the honeybee population. It is still a mystery as to why these bees are disappearing, but we are starting to tap into the use of other types of pollinators, such as our very own native bees. Native bees deserve more credit for producing the foods that we enjoy each day, and are actually more adapted to pollinate our native plants more efficiently than that of the European honeybees. One of these pollinators is the solitary bee, or mason bee (aka orchard bee).

Mason bees may not provide us with honey, but they are extremely effective pollinators, and in a one-on-one battle can outperform her honeybee cousin. Unlike social bees that live in colonies, mason bees nest alone in natural holes creating individual cells for their brood that are separated by mud dividers. They cannot drill their own holes but will often use holes created by carpenter bees or any other small hole or crevice found in nature. Mason bees build their nests in spring, when the redbuds bloom and the eggs and larva winter over and hatch the following spring. They are great pollinators to have in and around the garden. We can help attract mason bees to our own gardens by purchasing or making special housing for them to nest in. Consider adding one to your own garden.

These are just a few ways that we as gardeners can help and improve our situation for a healthier sustainable garden. Evaluate your own backyard and ask yourself what can be done to help keep a natural balance in your landscape. The benefits of plants and animals go far beyond what we could ever imagine. And believe me, I need all the help I can get!

 

A version of this article appeared in a March 2015 print version of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Alan Pulley.

 

Posted: 02/28/17   RSS | Print

 

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The Top 10 Reasons Your Tomatoes Fail
by Bob Westerfield       #Advice   #Edibles   #Fruit   #Vegetables

Heavy soils and overwatering can lead to fruit cracking as the plants pull in too much water.


If you took a survey of the millions of gardeners in America asking which vegetable is the most popular, no doubt tomatoes would either win the contest or be at the top of the list. Anyone who has ever grown a backyard tomato knows that there is no comparison to the flavor and quality of a freshly grown tomato compared to one purchased at the supermarket. While tomatoes are arguably the king of the vegetable garden, they can be challenging at times because this tropical fruit can be finicky. As one of the state vegetable specialists for the University of Georgia, I receive hundreds of questions each season regarding various vegetable issues. By far, tomato problems exceed those of any other vegetable. Whether that is because they just have more problems or because of how popular they are, they are definitely not easy to grow. Here I will outline what I see as the top 10 issues that can lead to tomato failure in the garden.

Planting too early
A frequent sight in late February after an unusual warm front – Bonnie plant trucks traveling down the road, delivering healthy transplants of tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables to garden centers throughout the South. A few warm days in February or March will send gardeners into a frenzy of buying plants and getting them into the ground. Tomatoes are tropical in nature, and planting them too early can lead to a number of problems. Tomatoes need to be planted based on soil temperatures and not necessarily air temperature. In the South, we can have air temperatures as high as 70 F, and yet the soil will remain quite cool. I prefer to let the soil warm up to a steady 60 to 65 F before I set out tomato plants. Using a soil thermometer, determine the soil temperature before purchasing your tomato transplants. Setting tomatoes out too early has no advantage, and doing so will more than likely lead to some problems. Stunting, tomato leaf curl and catfacing are some common disorders that occur when tomatoes get too cool.

Wrong soil pH
It probably goes without saying, but the pH of your soil is one of the most vital issues to be addressed. The pH directly correlates to the alkalinity or acidity of the soil and greatly affects how well your tomato will be able to absorb nutrients and grow. Typically, I see problems with a low pH more often than a high pH, but neither is conducive to proper growing. Tomatoes do best in a slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.2 to 6.8. Soil testing at least every other year is imperative to get an accurate handle on your pH level. The pH can be adjusted by adding the proper amount of agricultural lime if it is low or adding sulfur if the pH is too high. Test and adjust your pH several months before the growing season begins to give amendments enough time to affect the soil.

Strong cages or some other form of sturdy support is important to prevent heavy branches from breaking.

Too much nitrogen
I wish I had a dollar for every time someone called and said they have a 10-foot-tall tomato plant that looks great, but with no blooms. I typically respond that they must be using a liquid fertilizer and 99 percent of the time I am correct. The liquid fertilizer itself is not the problem, the high concentration of nitrogen is. While nitrogen is an essential nutrient for growing healthy tomatoes, too much of a good thing can be damaging. Nitrogen’s primary function is to encourage new green growth on a plant, and excessive amounts can “over-encourage” this. Liquid fertilizers are usually high in nitrogen and difficult to calibrate. People tend to use more than necessary, resulting in a lush green plant with no blooms, and therefore, no tomatoes. Fertilize your tomatoes at planting time and don’t fertilize again until the plants have small baby tomatoes, about the size of a dime. You can then feed the plant additional nitrogen without fear of losing the crop.

Improper support for the vine
Many folks growing tomatoes for the first time don’t realize how large they can get as the vines begin to sprawl out in every different direction. Tomatoes, even under normal conditions, can easily reach 4-6 feet tall. When they put out a heavy set of fruit, this adds additional weight to the viny branches. Adequate support in the form of a cage, trellis or some type of string system, must be provided to prevent the tomato from toppling over. Some of the tiny little cages I have seen for sale are just not adequate enough to hold up the weight of a heavy-bearing tomato plant. I prefer to use strong cages made out of hog wire with 4-inch square holes. I pin them into the ground with metal tent stakes to keep them secure. Tomatoes that are not well supported will bend over and break, which will eventually lead to the demise of the entire plant.

Improper watering
In order to produce a successful tomato crop, they must receive sufficient water. Tomatoes do best when the soil is kept evenly moist, neither too dry nor too soggy. Overhead irrigation should be avoided to help prevent potential disease problems that may occur if the foliage stays wet, as well as to avoid watering non-target areas. Hand watering at the base of the plants, soaker hoses or drip irrigation are the best methods to irrigate your plants. Depending on the type of soil you have and how much rainfall received, you may need to irrigate your tomatoes two to four times a week.

Weed competition
Any time you till the soil or dig into it to plant your vegetables, you are more than likely pulling up millions of weed seeds as well. Weeds compete for nutrients and moisture while also looking unsightly in the garden. No matter how you look at it, there is nothing good about a weed and they should be kept out of your tomato garden. Heavy competition from weeds can cause tomatoes to appear lethargic and greatly decrease their yield. Control weeds by using mulch, landscape fabric or labeled herbicides. Keeping weeds out is easier than removing them once they have emerged.
 

Warm, humid environments are the ideal place for diseases to thrive, so crops in some areas must be watched carefully.
 

Failure to control diseases
Anyone who grows tomatoes in the South will undoubtedly have to battle an array of diseases that can attack tomatoes. The list of potential diseases is a long one, but failure to pay attention can result in complete failure of the crop. Disease probably takes out more tomatoes each season than anything else. To combat diseases, begin by selecting resistant cultivars. Plant your tomatoes with adequate space around each plant to ensure optimal airflow. At the first sign of disease symptoms, pick off and remove affected foliage. Virus-ridden plants should be completely removed from the garden site. Depending on the disease, chemical controls may be necessary to help stop the spread of the problem.

Failure to control insects
Very similar to diseases, insects love the South almost as much as the people who live here. While the majority of bugs you see in the garden are probably beneficial, there are a small handful of guys that can wreak havoc in the garden. The best way to control insects is to be out in the garden regularly and on the lookout for any signs of attack. Depending on the type of insect, control can include anything from handpicking to organic or chemical options.

Poor soil drainage
Depending on where you live, you may be blessed with dark, loamy soil and no drainage problems. However, many of us have to deal with heavy clay soils that drain slowly and can hold moisture for days. Continuous excess moisture around tomato roots can lead to root rot and other potential diseases. If you are dealing with heavy soils, combat poor drainage by adding a minimum of 4 inches of good topsoil into the mix. Better yet, consider using raised beds – 6-8 inches or higher – to grow your tomatoes.


A lack of calcium in the soil or a calcium deficiency caused by uneven watering can result in blossom-end rot.
 

Lack of calcium in the soil
If you grow tomatoes, you may experience a physiological problem known as blossom-end rot. Blossom-end rot is due to a lack of calcium, either not enough in the soil or if adequate moisture is not provided, the roots aren’t able to absorb the calcium needed. This causes a black, leathery sunken spot on the blossom side of the tomato, rendering it inedible. It is a fairly common problem and worth mentioning.

There are certainly many more problems a gardener may have when growing tomatoes, but these are the most likely. The good news is that all of these can be prevented or cured to some extent, and by following the advice I have given, you should have plenty of tomatoes for your table, as well as some to give away to your friends.

 

A version of this article appeared in a March 2014 print version of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Bob Westerfield.

 

Posted: 02/28/17   RSS | Print

 

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Dahlias for Smiles, Not for Show
by Caleb Melchior       #Colorful   #Flowers   #Ornamentals

‘Kelvin Floodlight’
 

My grandfather’s neighbor grew dahlias – giant things, with huge, coarse leaves. Their stems were trussed to stout bamboo poles, held captive to protect the hope of a flower. He’d pinch out most of the flower buds, trampling them into the ground, squeezing the plant’s energy into one tremendous effort of bloom. Then the day would come when the flower finally broke open. It would hang heavy, its stem weak from bondage to the pole. He’d cut the flower from the plant and carry it off for prizes in a local show (like you would a cow or a giant turnip). I don’t grow those dahlias.

My dahlias are the blobs of color that smile in the background of paintings by Van Gogh and Monet. Their flowers are of all different sizes and shapes. Some are tiny, carried in loads of pompom bloom. A few are large, even the size of a Frisbee. Their heavy heads hang down to make a one-flower bouquet, glowing when the summer light gets low. I can cut as many as I want for bouquets, knowing that there will always be more in the garden.

‘Edinburgh’

To grow dahlias as I do, it’s important to take several things into consideration. Dahlias are tropical plants, originating in Mexico and the Central American Peninsula. While often treated as annuals in the northern U.S., dahlias are perennial geophytes that regrow from underground tubers. If you decide to grow more unusual varieties unavailable from local nurseries, it will be necessary to order tubers in early spring. Pot the tubers in rich potting mix, water them in well and grow them on for a few weeks in a cold frame or greenhouse until the nights warm and all danger of frost has passed. Otherwise, wait until it’s warm and find the stockiest plants you can at your local nursery.

Dahlias require rich soil, high in organic matter, to thrive. They need regular moisture, but are highly sensitive to overwatering early in their growth season. Later on, once summer heats up, they may require daily watering. At least six hours of direct sun per day are essential for them to thrive. Afternoon shade can help prevent the flowers of brighter varieties from fading.

Once your dahlias have settled into their various situations, they will grow primarily in leaf and plant mass for much of the summer. Smaller varieties can flower heavily throughout the summer, since they put less energy into growing. Larger varieties put their effort into growing strong stalks and massive plants throughout the summer, occasionally dropping hints of their coming autumn glory, but not doing much until the nights cool.

While some of the smaller dahlias run little risk of falling over, even when full of flowers, it is essential to incorporate supplemental support systems for the larger-flowered varieties. Different growers utilize various methods for supporting their dahlias. I have experimented with different systems of stout posts and twine for the larger varieties. However, repurposed tomato cages also yield excellent results. Stout cages are often the best option, supporting the structure of the plants without constraining their growth.

Dahlias take up space. It is essential to consider their size at maturity. Consider your selections’ eventual sizes before giving them dainty neighbors.

Collectors and dahlia aficionados have elaborate systems for categorizing dahlias. The American Dahlia Society’s classification website lists more than 40 different classifications. For most gardeners, however, the biggest differences occur in plant size and flower shape. To start, consider these five top performing varieties: ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, ‘Fireworks Mixed’, Mystic Spirit, ‘Edinburgh’ and ‘Kelvin Floodlight’.

‘Fireworks Mixed’, ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, Mystic Spirit

‘Fireworks Mixed’ is a seed strain with flowers striated in a range of citrus colors – lemon, orange, scarlet and magenta. Its flower form is single, like ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, but the plant has bright green foliage. ‘Fireworks Mixed’ was originally promoted for its ability to bloom heavily in its first year when grown from seed. It is an excellent bushy plant with abundant flowering throughout the season.

‘Bishop of Llandaff’ appeals even before its first scarlet flowers burst open. Its foliage is nearly black and finely dissected, making an excellent background for the bright flowers. Far removed from the massive blooms of the dinner-plate varieties, ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ is continually arrayed with a myriad of glowing scarlet flowers. Seedlings with similar dark foliage but variously colored flowers are often sold as ‘Bishop’s Children’.

Mystic Spirit (‘Best Bett’) is another clonal selection with dark foliage. The leaves are less finely dissected than those of ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, with strong purple tones. Its flowers are also single, with eight apricot petals. Again, they are carried in abundance on a bushy and easy to grow plant.

‘Edinburgh’ is a larger variety, growing to 4 feet high and wide, with flowers between 4-6 inches across. Unlike the three previous varieties, ‘Edinburgh’ has fully double flowers, in what is classified as the “Decorative” style. Each of its mulberry petals appears to have been dipped in white paint, giving it a striking appearance. ‘Edinburgh’ is one of the most abundantly flowering dahlias, particularly when the nights cool off in the fall.

‘Kelvin Floodlight’ will give the impression that you have gardening superpowers. It is a giant, with pale gold flowers that can reach 10-12 inches across. ‘Kelvin Floodlight’ is a little later to bloom than the smaller-flowered varieties, but will always have a few flowers once it begins. Because each of these enormous flowers requires so much energy from the plant, it rarely produces more than two or three flowers at a one time.

These five dahlias are only a few out of the vast array of dahlia cultivars available to gardeners. They might not help you win a flower show, but they will make you smile every day with their brilliant colors and fantastic blooms. If prizes are what you value, concentrate on turnips.

 

A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2014 print version of State-by-State Gardening
Photography courtesy of Caleb Melchior and Jim Kochevar.

 

Posted: 02/24/17   RSS | Print

 

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Spring Garden Cleanup Yields Happy, Healthy Plants
by Anne Larson       #Fertilizing   #Landscaping   #Spring

Many weeds can germinate under the snow during the winter, so a thorough spring weeding reduces headaches throughout the gardening season.
(Photo courtesy of Agnieszka Pastuszak - Maksim, Dreamstime.com.)


As the last significant snow of the season nears, thoughts turn toward getting your ornamental gardens ready for the year. The tasks that need to be done include:

• Raking leaves, sticks and other garden debris out of garden beds.
• Cutting back old foliage on perennials and some shrubs.
• Digging any weeds that have begun growing over the winter.
• Pruning branches on small trees and shrubs, as needed.
• Fertilizing perennials and trees and, if desired, applying a pre-emergent weed treatment.
• Mulching and freshening your beds’ edges, as needed.
• Tools you’ll need include a fan rake, pruners or shears, tarp or organic debris bags, weeder, wheelbarrow, garden or mulch rake, spade or sidewalk edger. Debris can be composted.

A good weeding, cutting back foliage and fertilization paves the way for a colorful spring and a succession of bloom throughout the garden season.
(Photo courtesy of Barbara Helgason, Dreamstime.com)

The first order of business is cutting and removing stems and stalks left behind from last year’s perennials. For most, cutting back to the base will be best. For perennials with “crowns” from which new foliage appears (e.g. Astilbe, Alchemilla, Heuchera, Geranium and Sedum), use caution. You do not want to cut into the crown. Rather, remove any winter-damaged leaves that may remain on the plants.

Ornamental grasses should be cut to 4 to 6 inches high. Siberian iris (I. siberica) is cut the same way. In both cases, watch for dead spots, which may appear in the center of the clump. That is a sign that the plant needs to be divided. Lift the plant and slice off the edges and transplant those. Discard the dead center.

Remove matted leaves, which may have accumulated in the garden over the winter. If not removed, the leaves can inhibit growth, as well as harbor insects or diseases.
 

Shrubs
Cleaning out dead limbs and leaves from shrubs is another important chore. If it is hard to get your hand into the center of the shrub to pull out leaves, a weeder can be helpful. The other important task for shrubs such as Spiraea spp., burning bush (Euonymous alata), lilac (Syringa spp.) and dogwood (Cornus stolonifera, C. sericea, C. racemosa, C. alba), is to take out old or diseased branches. This makes room for new, more productive shoots and also promotes good air circulation through the plant. This is best done when snow cover has receded but the plant is still dormant.

A good way to deal with extremely dense spirea (except weeping varieties, such as S. thumbergii) is to shear the shrub to the size of a large basketball, then gently lean on the remaining branches. The ones that snap are dead and should be raked out of the center. In the case of lilac and dogwood, remove no more than a third of larger or discolored canes each year to encourage more flowering.
 

Organic mulch, such as wood, compost or pine needles can really make your plant colors pop while retaining soil moisture, moderating soil temperature and reducing weeds.
(Photo courtesy of Oocoskun, Dreamstime.com.)

 

Fertilizers and Weeds
Once the perennials and shrubs have been trimmed back and cleaned up, provide fertilizer and nutrients to help the plants grow, and some type of weed control.

For insect control, hands-on weeding and scouting for bugs are effective. For weeds, there are several products on the market that suppress seed germination or root growth. Ask your local garden center what works best in your area. In all cases, make sure to read the labels and apply as recommended.

Apply fertilizer to encourage growth in perennials and shrubs. A fertilizer with balanced amounts of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) is typically recommended, such as 12-12-12. Natural, organic fertilizers and compost will have different ratios, such as 18-0-3 or 5-2-0.

If your beds have rock mulch, your work is done. If you use wood or other organic mulches, apply after putting down your fertilizer and weed control. If your gardens have natural edges (garden bed abutting lawn), recut the edge with a spade or sidewalk edger and remove excess dirt and grass.

A thorough spring cleanup ensures that your garden gets off to a good start when rainfall is more available. It also provides a head start controlling weeds and insects. Lastly, a clean garden allows spring-blooming bulbs to have their own show.

 

A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2013 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Agnieszka Pastuszak - Maksim, Dreamstime.com, Oocoskun, Dreamstime.com, Barbara Helgason, Dreamstime.com.

 

Posted: 02/24/17   RSS | Print

 

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