29 October 2011

Recommended trees

Yesterday at the annual Oklahoma Urban Forestry Conference, several trees were recommended that we commonly forget about or do not know about.

Here is a selection of recommendations with links to more information. Every one of these has beautiful features whether it is catkins, flowers, fall color, or bark. If you are considering planting something unique, check these out!

Acer saccharum, Fall Fiesta Sugar Maple  Information

Acer truncatum, Purple Blow Maple, Shantung Maple Information

Aesculus, Buckeye. Look for A. Glaba, Bottlebrush Buckeye  Information

Asimina triloba, Pawpaw hybrids   Information on several hybrids

Castanea mollissima, Chinese Chestnut Information

Carpinus betalus, Hornbean Information

Chionanthus retusus, Chinese Fringe tree, American Fringe tree. Information here

Corylus avellana, European Filbert, Harry Lauder's walking stick Information

Cotinus obovatus, Smoke Tree Information

Magnolia, yellow lantern  or butterflies Information

Prunus mexicana, Mexican plum  Information

Pterocarya stenoptera, Chinese Wingnut. Information

Rhus typhina, Staghorn Sumac Information

Rhamnaceae Rhamnus caroliniana, Carolina buckthorn  Information

Tilia tomentosa, Linden tree Information
Ziziphus jujuba for xeriscape sites. Pest and disease free. Information here

27 October 2011

Plant Trees in the Fall

Your home is your castle. Surround it with beauty!
Ornamental trees, shrubs and perennials planted in the fall have the entire winter to grow roots and settle in before their spring growth above ground. And shopping for trees now will give homeowners an opportunity to see the plant’s autumn leaf color. Maple trees are hard to resist in the fall.

Many trees are on sale at a discount right now, and it is important to check their roots before bringing them home. A simple inspection will reveal if they became dry too many times over the years they grew in the can or if they have been in the container for too long.

Slip the root ball out of the container. The roots should be visible. But if the roots are growing in a circle around the outside of the root ball, you will have to do a little extra work to untangle them before planting. If the roots are larger than your finger, they should be pruned before planting.

Tree selection begins before the trip to the nursery. Consider the reason you want extra trees and where you want to place them. Only small trees can be planted near buildings.

Avoid putting large trees near security lights, street lights, power lines, water lines and septic systems. As the trees mature they will block lights and interfere with utilities. Avoid planting trees where the lawn sprinkler will keep the ground saturated.

Determine ahead of time how the tree will be watered. In the absence of a built in irrigation system, pull the hose out to its full length and plant the tree no farther away.

Low places in the landscape present a special problem since most trees want good drainage. Trees that can withstand poor drainage and wet roots, include black gum, bald cypress, honey locust and sweet gum (get the fruitless type to avoid the mess).

A tree that makes deep shade will not sustain the types of grass that grow in open sunny areas. Trees with no surface roots that produce only dappled shade, such as the slow-growing Kentucky coffee tree, allow other plants to grow beneath them.

If you would like a tree with winter visual beauty, try an evergreen such as an Austrian pine or a winter-flowering tree such as wych-hazel. Hawthorns, hollies and other trees that produce winter berries bring birds to your landscape.

To fill a large area with deep shade, look for a sycamore. Both the American sycamore and the London Plane tree will grow up to 100 feet tall. The beauty of their winter bark is an added attraction.

Oak trees are a good choice for their durability and beauty. They are drought tolerant; provide shade for families, and food for wildlife.

The planting hole for an ornamental tree should be the same depth as the soil in the container but three to five times as big around. Tree roots grow more horizontally than vertically.

Fill the hole with water and let it drain while you remove the grass and rocks and crumble the soil back into the hole. Newly planted trees do not need any fertilizer or soil amendments.

Do not plant the root ball just as it grew in the container. Take the tree from the container and tease out the roots, running water from a hose on them if necessary. Some gardeners soak and remove all of the container soil, gently untangle the roots, and then spread the roots in the planting hole.

Fill the planting hole with the original soil, water the loose dirt and build a water-holding berm around the outside edge. Mulch the top of the soil with commercial mulch, mushroom compost or homemade compost.

Deciduous Trees for Oklahoma fact sheet - OK State Extension Service
Oklahoma Proven selections - trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, collectors choice
Tree selections for driveway, street, close to homes - Urban Tree Foundation

26 October 2011

In our garden October 26, 2011

A little basil plant growing in between some rocks in a path.

All the larger plants were harvested today, pulled up by their roots.

We are washing all the succulents to take them either into the house or the lighted shed for the winter. At the beginning of the summer I stuck a cutting into a pot and put it outside between 2 larger pots and forgot about it. And it grew into a decent size plant.
Then, today as I was relocating it, I noticed that a single leaf fell onto the soil, took root and made a tiny new plant. Notice the 3 little leaves emerging on the left side.
Swallowtail caterpillar on Rue

The swallowtail caterpillars continue to grow and grow. Yesterday I found one as large as my pinkie finger sunbathing on a rock so I just transported the rock under a rue where it would be less visible to birds.

 A beautiful fungus (polyvore) is growing at the base of this well-chomped Rue and African Daisy. Above these plants is a large planter filled with water for birds and butterflies.
When we refill the container, it waters the soil below, keeping it fairly moist. Hence the fungus.

Be sure to browse the entire CalPhotos library!

22 October 2011

Visitor’s Guide to American Gardens by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Do you visit gardens when you travel in the U.S. and Canada? Do you take destination garden trips?

We do! And, I know many other people who do.

Whenever we plan a trip we go online and look for nearby gardens, butterfly houses arboretums and notable parks. This much needed, up to date, book from Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp will become well-worn in our house.

Not only is the basic information provided on a state-by-state basis but a smart phone icon is available on some pages to provide more on-site tips.
(We don't have smart phones so the Internet will have to continue to be our guide for the additional info.)

So to use the guide, go to the state you'll be visiting, then to the city and its gardens. You'll find the address, phone, website, hours and whether or not there is an entry fee.

A line of icons tell you whether or not there is food, a children's garden, historic identification, annual events, hiking trails, gift shop wheelchair access, etc.

The garden description tells you the size of the garden, its specialized features, and, well, everything you want to know.

This calendar year we have visited 8 or 10 public gardens around the country and they are all in Sharp's book and reflect our experience of being there.

Get a copy for yourself and one for a friend or family member.

Cool Springs Press, 336 pages, $15 online and $20  from the publisher.

PS - 6.1.12 - We have used this book over and over again for travel planning and have found some real jewels!

20 October 2011

Plant Spring Flowering Bulbs Now

Spring almost requires that gardeners have a few blooming bulbs in front door flower beds, in outdoor pots and on windowsills.
Now that cooler weather and soil are settling in, it is a perfect time to get started on bulb projects. In our area we can plant garlic, allium, tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, fritillaria, crocus, squill, snowdrops and others, as late as December and January, as long as the ground is not frozen by then.
The prettiest displays are planted in groups rather than in rows. To plant an entire bed, the bulbs can be tossed and planted where they land so there will be clusters of flowers with spaces in between.

Plant bulbs twice their length. For example a 1.5-inch tall bulb is planted in a 3-inch deep hole. Plant Oriental and Asiatic lilies 3-times their depth because they root along the stems. Madonna lily is planted with the top of the bulb at the top of the hole.
Be sure that the fat end of the bulb is actually sitting on soil. A planting hole dug with a trowel or shovel can have an empty place at the bottom. Water can accumulate there and rot the bulb over the winter.
Interplant bulbs with biennials, perennials or creeping plants that will cover the fading stems after the flowers fade in the late spring.
Plant bulbs practically touching when you plant layers of them in pots or tubs. Put a few inches of soil in the bottom of the container and top with bulbs. Add 2-inches of soil and more bulbs. If you want the entire pot to bloom at once plant all one bulb type.

A six-inch pot will hold 6 tulips and 3 hyacinths. Some gardeners plant pansies or grass seed on the top of the pot to hold the soil and add to the spring display.
Plant bulbs you plan to move in plastic trays or crates buried in the ground. If moles and voles are a problem, plant bulbs in plastic berry baskets, wrap each bulb in plastic mesh or surround the bed with gravel. Entire pots can be sunk into the ground. Moth balls help keep the squirrels away for a few weeks. Scattered pine cones will keep cats out of the beds and pots.
Bulbs planted this year do not need fertilizer. Try to remember to fertilize them in the spring.
Gladiolus bloom later than daffodils and tulips but are planted at around the same time. Tall varieties may need support if they are in a windy spot so put stakes in place as you plant. Their cut-flower blooming season can be extended if you plant them in groups a few weeks apart.

Bulbs should be weeded by hand since hoes and cultivators can damage them.
If you plan to force bulbs such as hyacinths and daffodils in the house, add a piece of horticultural (not barbeque) charcoal to the water to keep the water sweet. The charcoal will help prevent gnats and bulb rot.

Garlic planted now can be tucked in any flower or vegetable bed where the soil can be kept evenly moist. Buy planting garlic rather than the treated grocery store garlic. Plant the largest cloves to get the largest heads next summer.

Shade-loving Spanish bluebells grow to a foot tall with an abundance of blue flowers in the spring. Plant bulbs 3-inches deep. They will return for years if they are kept dry enough over the summer.

Snowdrops, Leucojum aestivum, grow 15-inches tall with a white, bell-shaped flower. A favorite in southern gardens, they can survive clay and shade as well as sand and sun.

15 October 2011

Spiny Oak Slug, Euclea delphinii, is the Saddleback caterpillar of a limacodid moth, the Spiny Oak Slug Moth

This flat, green spiky caterpillar was on the Laurel shrub that I was watering today. Strange orange spikes, eh?

Spiny Oak Slugs come in many other colors, including pink.

Their bodies are usually green but may also be yellow, orange, or red.

They have spines with black-tipped bristles that I had to use a bright light and a magnifying glass to see them.

It eats sycamore, willow, ash, oak, hackberry, chestnut, as well as many other trees and smaller woody plants.

Saturniid moths include royal or regal moths and the giant silk moths.  The caterpillar can't be missed! They move around  move like slugs, gliding on their prolegs and suckers.
Read more at this link for the University of KY College of Agriculture.

The adult moth that it grows into is pretty gnarly looking.
  Spiny Oak Slug Moth Bug Guide

Spiny Oak Slug Moth What's That Bug

Beautiful but strange and furry.

Bugs In the News has another interesting piece about them.

Frost Protek Frost Cover for container plants

Frost Protek (link here) sent me a cool new product to look at.

It's a plant cover with a draw string to keep it in place.

from their site, "Frost Protek™ Plant Cover protects plants against damage due to light frost. The cover protects 4°F to 6°F below freezing (to about 26°F or -3.0° C)."

Light and UV can penetrate the fabric so they say it can be left on plants for 3 or 4 weeks. What a great season extender for fall and spring.

Prices vary based on size and range from $11 to $21 at their site. The shopping link is here. Sizes include shrubs, trees, flat sheets, hanging baskets, etc.

It's a cool idea to have a drawstring since when the weather is changing the wind always brings it in and takes it out.

I've used clothes line clips and rocks to hold sheets in place plenty of times - this will be quite a bit more efficient. It doesn't always work when the wind is strong and certainly isn't light and UV porous.

12 October 2011

Perennial Mexican Bush Sage is Salvia leucantha

If we lived in Eastern Mexico or Central America where there is no frost, Mexican bush sage, salvia leucantha, would stay green all year and grow into a woody shrub.

In our zone seven climate, its summertime 2- to 4-foot tall growth and long flower clusters make it well worth growing anyway.

A member of the mint family, Mexican sage has the characteristic square stems and scented leaves, though this one has leaves shaped like a willow. Sometimes it is called Velvet Sage for the white, wooly texture on the stems and the bottom of the leaves.

The white flowers extend from purple or lavender calyces in 6 to 10 inch long clusters. In fact, mostly what you see as rays of abundant flowers are actually calyces.

Some hybrids, including midnight, all purple and purple velvet have purple flowers and calyces. The pink variety, Santa Barbara grows only 2 feet tall and could be placed in front of the taller varieties to create an effortless fall flower bed.

The rays of calyces and flowers can be used in cut flower arrangements and the calyces can be dried for fall decorating.

Said to prefer full sun, in our heat, Mexican sage can grow beautifully in part shade, as long as it gets six hours of sun. Otherwise it can become tall and skimpy, reaching for sunlight. Another way to keep the bush full is to prune it around June. The flowers should be removed after they fade.

Keeping sage wet will cause it to suffer but keeping it dry for weeks at a time will also prevent it from doing its best.

Group Mexican sage with other moderate-moisture need plants such as thyme, butterfly bush, rosemary and other salvias.

It is pest, deer and disease resistant.

Bush sage can also be grown in a patio pot. The butterflies and hummingbirds will seek out the flowers in the fall no matter where it blooms.

The flowers that fill the plant from late-August to first frost will make you wonder how to keep it in the garden for next fall.

Sharon Owen, owner of Moonshadow Herb Farm in Muskogee, said that while you can take cuttings of Mexican bush sage for next year, an easier propagation method is to take root cuttings and grow new plants from emerging shoots in the spring.

To grow salvia leucantha from seed, start seeds indoors six to eight weeks before last spring frost date. Keep the soil around 70 degrees and allow two weeks for seedlings to sprout. Harvest seeds from this year’s plant. When the calyx starts to become papery, prune it into an envelope, catching the seeds as they fall.

Perennial salvia can also be rooted at the soil level. Bend an outer branch down and remove the leaves and branching where it will touch the ground. Cover the bare branch with soil to help it root over the winter. I usually cover the soil with a few layers of newspaper topped with a rock to hold it all in place.

Another way to help a zone eight to 10 plant survive the winter is to mulch the roots. After the first frost, put a wire cage around the plant and fill the cage with pine needles or loose straw. Avoid using leaves because they pack when they get wet, preventing air circulation.

Do not prune Mexican sage shrub until new growth emerges in the spring. This year’s branches and leaves will provide some additional winter protection.

• Mountain Valley Growers has all purple, www.mountainvalleygrowers.com.
• Plant Delights has the midnight variety www.plantdelights.com.
• Proven Winners has pink Santa Barbara Mexican bush sage, www.provenwinners.com.
• Sooner Plant Farm has dwarf Mexican bush sage Santa Barbara that grows 12 inches tall, www.soonerplantfarm. com.

Win a concrete garden project - Timber Press

Timber Press is holding a drawing. You give them your email address for promotions and you are entered in a contest to win a complete project. The winner receives
- $25 gift certificate to Home Depot
-  a set of foam rubber molds
- a copy of the book, "Concrete Garden Projects"

Here's the link to sign up http://www.timberpress.com/concrete

09 October 2011

Giant Swallowtail Butterflies

This afternoon an adult giant swallowtail butterfly (Papilio cresphontes) was all over the lantana flowers. They are so shy it is difficult to snap photos of them. Then it flitted rapidly which is usually a sign of eggs.

 I checked the Rue and Moon Carrot plants carefully and counted 22 newly hatched caterpillars/larvae.

Here's the life cycle in photos - some taken last year and some this year

Single eggs are deposited on a leaf

Indiviual eggs on leaves

Newly hatched larvae

A few days later, they have the same appearance but are larger

Then, they take on their characteristic bird droppings appearance.

This butterfly is the largest one. Its other common name is Orange Dog because they decimate citrus trees - not killing the trees but damaging crops. Northeast OK used to be just barely in their range but their range has grown significantly.

05 October 2011

Why grow heirloom beans?

Timber Press
 Heirloom vegetables are more popular with chefs and gardeners every year. Heirlooms are touted by seed sellers, produce vendors and chefs as being superior to the new hybrid varieties.

Hybridized plants are crosses of two varieties. The seeds they produce will not grow into plants that are identical to the parents you had in your garden. By definition, heirloom varieties are open-pollinated.

One reason to grow heirloom varieties is that they taste better. Saving the seed from the best heirlooms in this year’s garden, and replanting them year after year is one way gardeners stay connected to their heritage. Plus, you can save the seed of the most disease and insect resistant plants.

There are thousands of bean varieties that can easily be grown in our zone 7 climate. The beauty of beans is that they need less supplemental nitrogen and water than most vegetables. The plants take nitrogen from the air and collect it in the roots, improving the soil in which they are grown.

Bean vines are grown on a trellis and bush beans are shrubby plants that need no support structure. If vining beans are grown close together they can cross-pollinate and create a new variety.

To grow beans to be used as dried beans over the winter, allow the seeds to mature and dry in the pods on the vine. Then, pull out the whole plant and put it in the shade to dry out for 2 weeks, bringing them inside or covering them if it rains. Store the beans in a paper bag after shelling.

Steve Sando started growing heirloom beans because he was tired of the same old beans available in plastic bags at the grocery store. He grew his hobby into an internationally successful company called Rancho Gordo (www.ranchogordo.com). At the website you can subscribe to their blog and newsletter, or you can friend them on Facebook to receive healthy bean recipes.

Sando maintains that freshly grown beans that have been dried less than 2 years are far superior food than the ones we usually eat. He started small, growing beans and saving seeds to plant the next year. Now, Rancho Gordo has boutique growers in CA and in Mexico.

In his newest book, “The Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Book” Sando explains why we should eat heirloom beans, which ones to grow, and how to grow them.

A few favorite bean varieties –
Cranberry Beans – Cargamanto Colombiano cooks to a velvety texture with a thick, rich pot liquor. Tongues of Fire and Horto are varieties of cranberry beans.
-Seeds available from www.seedsavers.org and www.ranchogordo.com.

Yellow Eye Beans have a russet potato texture and are popular as baked beans. They are white with a yellow splotch around the eye.
-These are bush beans, available from www.victoryseeds.com.

Fall Bush Bean from Eastern KY is light yellow with red streaks. Eaten as a shell bean or dried rather than as a green bean.
-Seeds available from the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center at www.heirlooms.org.

Royalty Purple Pod beans turn green when cooked. Sando recommends Ayocote Morado.
-Seeds available from www.ranchogordo.com and www.sandhillpreservation.com.

Cherokee Trail of Tears pole beans grow purple-striped pods with shiny black beans.
-Available from www.heirloomseeds.com.

New Mexico Bolitas are pinkish-beige rounded beans grown by traditional Hispanics of northern New Mexico in irrigated plots. Early maturity and high yield pole bean.
-Available from www.nativeseeds.org.

“The Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Book”, by Steve Sando, is the story of Sando’s bean adventure and a catalog of beans sold by Rancho Gordo. Published 2011, 9-by-7 paperback, 180-pages, $20 list price at www.timberpress.com and $8 to 15 online.

For OK gardeners there is a helpful online conversation at http://tinyurl.com/3dgwjmz.

04 October 2011

Autumn is for Asters

Perennial asters (Asteraceae) are the star of the autumn garden. In fact aster is the Latin word for star.
There are 180 to 250 species of aster annuals, biennials, perennials, and sub-shrubs.  
 These members of the Sunflower and Chrysanthemum plant family are also called Michaelmas daisy, starwort, and frost flower.

New England asters are easy to grow. You may notice that their flowers close at night.

This one is our native Smooth Aster
Symphyotrichum leave var. laeve.

This Aster tataricus grows 6 feet tall and multiplies every year.

If you like to see Monarch butterflies in the fall as they migrate, plant tataricus!

Most asters used for cut flowers are hybrids of two North American natives:
Aster novi-belgii (New York aster) and Aster novae-angliae (New England aster).

The shorter, shrubby aster varieties barely spread and make a tidy front of the border display.

Because there are so many varieties, their names are used interchangeably. Check catalogs, online sellers and tags for height and growing preferences.

02 October 2011

Blooming in our garden on Oct 2 2011

I just returned from a 10 day trip to New Mexico where the drought and fires are as bad as they were in OK.

Residents complained about a summer during which they could not be outside.

They said the summer was unpleasant and hot, their gardens failed, the fruit didn't make and the flowers were dwarf compared to other years.The newspapers said that one apple orchard had not one apple; another was burned out. Plus, the smoke from fires was around for months.

So, when I arrived home today and saw the result of cooler temperatures and rain after our record breaking heat and drought, I felt so much better.

Late this afternoon I went out and took a few photos of what is flowering in our yard, ate a few figs right off the plant, and filled the bird baths.
This isn't everything that is blooming but hopefully it will raise your spirits, too, to see that some lovely things survived to provide pollen for moths, butterflies and skippers, in spite of the worst Mother Nature has ever handed out in one summer.

The upside of going through the worst summer on record? Next gardening season has to be better.