27 February 2014

Attract Wildlife in Your Garden and Yard

Attracting wildlife to a back or front yard requires patience plus a willingness to share, according to Clark Shilling of Owasso.

Clark and Connie Shilling gave a presentation at the 2014 Horticulture Industries Conference last month, showing the audience photos of the wildlife-friendly plants they have added to their 1.5-acre yard.

“We bought our property 11-years ago,” said Clark. “We went to the Tulsa Audubon Society Tour (www.tulsaaudubon.org) to see what was growing in local native plant gardens. While we were there, we bought the book “Bringing Nature Home” and that was our turning point.”

Since attending that tour the Shillings have planted more and more natives. He said Connie’s flower beds are in the front yard, a lawn is in the back yard for their grandchildren, and they fenced an acre in the back for wildlife viewing.
OK native peach tree

He said native fruits and nuts are good choices for feeding wildlife but that pecans, persimmon and black walnuts can take 5 to 20 years to reach full production.

“You have to have a good spot with plenty of sun,” Shilling said. “Natives can take quite a while to produce fruit or nuts. If you want to get a quick start with attracting wildlife, plant plums. Sand plums bear fast, are self-fertile and multiply into thickets.”

Native plants have smaller fruits than improved garden cultivars. They can be grown for human consumption but it will take more plants.

Shilling said, “We have 5 Muscadine grapes from Ison’s Nursery and Vineyards (www.isons.com (800) 733-0324). The Ison’s Black Muscadine variety is self-fertile and one plant is enough for eating, even though the birds get some of them.”

Most fruit trees are not self-fertile so you have to put in male and female plants. Others require at least two varieties in order to produce fruit or nuts.

Pawpaw flower
 Pawpaw trees are native understory trees that will scald if they are in the sun all day. At least two varieties have to be planted in order to have fruit.

KY State University developed improved varieties that are available from Blossom Nursery in Eureka Springs AR (http://blossomnursery.com and Nolin River Nursery in KY (www.nolinnursery.com).

“My favorite native flower to grow is Wine Cup (Callirhoe involucrata),” said Shilling. “It has a deep tap root and can take full sun and drought and still have magenta flowers every year. It never fails.”

Native to TX, OK and KS, Wine Cup, also called Purple Poppy Mallow, is a trailing perennial with magenta, cup-shaped flowers. They are easy to grow and prefer well-drained  soil. Seeds are available at: Easy Wildflowers www.easywildflowers.com and container-grown plants are available from MO Wildflowers (www.mowildflowers.net).

If you can find native plants locally at events and nurseries, they will be established in pots. When buying bare-root plants through mail order sources, they tend to be smaller, meaning they usually take an extra year to produce.

Some other plants that the Shillings grow for wildlife include: Chokeberry (Aronia), American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), and Sand Plums (varieties - Guthrie, Rainbow, Chisholm and Caddo Chief).
Sand plum Chickasaw Plum var. Guthrie (Prunus augustifolia) plants are available from Mail Order Natives (www.mailordernatives.com and (850) 973-0585). Sand plum shrubs also grow from cuttings taken in the wild.

Shilling said there is no need to fertilize native plants since they are well-adapted but he applies 10-20-10 fertilizer when the plants begin to green up in the early spring in order to encourage growth of new plantings.

Shilling’s Oct 20th talk will be for Rogers County Master Gardeners (www.mgaroco.com). He said he will add Elderberries to that presentation since they grow so well, form colonies and feed birds.
“Landscaping for Wildlife” by Jeremy Garrett, online $7 used. Written for OK and the Southern Great Plains gardeners.

“Bringing Nature Home” by Douglas Tallamy. $11 online.

25 February 2014

Lemon Bergamot is Monarda citriodora and Lemon Bee Balm

Lemon Bergamot was featured on a native plant site as being terrific for pollinators, including bees and butterflies. The seed supplier that was featuring the herb did not have their online store up and ready.

Not only is Lemon Bee Balm gorgeous in flower it has many benefits to man and beast. For humans, the usual recommendation is drinking tea made of the leaves, though some people eat the leaves, too. All bees benefit from a planting but bumble bees in particular prefer its flowers.

To grow: Plant the seeds indoors now and transplant outside when all danger of frost has passed. When they reach half-height, about 1-foot tall, be sure they have enough moisture to continue growing to full size which is 2 plus feet tall.

This Monarda is an American native so its water needs are low. It can take part shade and dry soil, sand, rock, clay - whatever you have except wet or boggy soil. Although it is an annual, it can form clumps or become aggressive in good soil. Like all Monarda, it can be bothered with powdery mildew.

The genus name Monarda was given to the plants by Linnaeus in honor a doctor/botanist, Nicolas Monardes of Spain who never saw this American native in its home country.
Lemon Bee Balm Mondarda citriodora

When looking for Lemon Bergamot, Monarda citriodora, seeds to plant in the shed while anxiously awaiting spring, the only place I could find them in stock was Sand Mountain Herbs.

I'm never sure how to judge the number of seeds that each provider puts into an envelope. You can see in the photo below the volume of Monarda seeds in the pack which cost $2 plus shipping.
This was my first order with the company and it arrived yesterday. Now that I've looked at their website more closely I have some concerns about the seeds so I'll have to do a germination check before planting.
The website copyright goes to 2011 and the most recent newsletter on it is 2006, the video clip is 2007.. . makes me wonder how old the seeds are.

As my receipt, they sent a copy of the email they received from PayPal. The seeds were in plastic bags in brown wrappers. Also, the mailing envelope was hand addressed, including the return address - like a seed swap rather than a company. And, if you need planting tips or information about the plants mature size or spacing, etc. forget about it. Nothing.

If the germination rate is good and we can feed bees in another spot in the back acres, I'll be happy despite today's concerns.

23 February 2014

Seed Germination - sprout them in damp paper towel to check viability

There is an easy method I use to check left over seeds from last year (and older) and you can use the same method to get a jump-start on seeds you will plant in this year's garden,

Seeds in several layers of damp paper towel
Last year when Conrad Farms in  Bixby went out of business, I bought several packs of  going-out-of-business sale seeds. 

They were a great deal but that is only true if the seeds sprout and grow into vegetables and the seed packs had no year stamped on them.

One of the seeds I bought was Salsify Mammoth Sandwich Island (Tragopogon porrifolius). They even look tough to germinate with their hard, thick, seed coat. When planted directly into the ground on April 1, they would normally take 3-weeks with constant moisture to sprout and come up.

Since they were seeds from an unknown year and have a reputation for being reluctant, pre-starting seemed like the best option.

Place a sheet of paper towel on a flat surface and moisten it. Sprinkle seeds on top and fold the paper towel over them. If they are seeds that need dark to germinate, cover with more paper toweling or fold over the one you started with. 
Salsify sprouting

Salsify seeds are planted 1-half inch deep and need dark so I put an extra folded paper towel on top of the first one. 

In the ground these seeds are said to germinate at the rate of 50% and then only after 3-weeks and longer.

But, on the counter under damp paper towel, it took only one week
for them to sprout.
Salsify seed coat and sprouts
It is too early to plant these sprouted seeds and they cannot be planted into containers because hey are a root crop with a carrot like root about a foot long and dislike being transplanted. So, these germination check sprouts and the paper towels went directly into the worm compost bin where they will be enjoyed by the red wrigglers.

If Salsify interests you, Seed Savers Exchange is one of the many online seed companies that has the seeds. 100 for $3.

The seeds are ground-planted in the spring, two weeks before the last average frost date so I will sprout another set of seeds late-March. In hot climates the plants need afternoon shade and consistent moisture. In the fall after the first frost they are dug and used in soups and stews. 

Salsify is also called Vegetable Oyster I tasted one of the sprouts and oyster is not how I would describe the flavor. The vegetable Salsify is a close relative of one of the many plants that are commonly called Goatsbeard.

Since coming to the US from Europe several Tragopogon varieties have been discovered growing as weeds.
T. dubius or western salsify, T. pratensis or meadow salsify and the Oyster type T. porrifolius.

Mother Nature hybridized two new ones: T. miscellus and T. mirus.

Many instructions for pre-starting seeds suggest putting the damp towel/coffee filter of seeds into a plastic bag to germinate them but I've never added that step.

I use a similar method for growing tiny seeds but the seeds are not covered with paper because they need light to germinate. I put the paper on damp vermiculite and put the seeds on top. They germinate and root into the vermiculite, making them easy to plant into containers where they will grow on.

20 February 2014

Sorrel Varieties for Garden and Table

If you ask a flower gardener about Sorrel they will describe lavender or pink-flowering, shamrock-like plants growing in their woodland gardens.

Ask a vegetable gardener about Sorrel, though, and you will hear about a reliable perennial vegetable used to flavor salads, soup, sauces, seafood, and egg dishes such as spinach-sorrel quiche.

A few gardeners call sorrel a weed that but they are usually  thinking of a different red sorrel, commonly called sheep’s sorrel or sour weed.

Part of the problem is the confusion about identification. There are 200 dock and sorrel genus members including annual, biennial and perennial herbs, so it is easy to blame one or two for all the problems.

The leaves of sorrels cultivated for cooking have a lemony-citrus flavor like kiwi fruit, that is loved by chefs. The leaves vary in shape and color based on variety, but they are all loose-leaf greens that tolerate more heat than spinach making them an ideal addition to the herb or vegetable garden.

Sorrel plants are difficult to find. Walton Farms had them at the Muskogee Farmers Market a few years ago. Southwood Garden Center in Tulsa said they have had them in past years in one-gallon containers in the perennial, ornamental section but probably will not this spring.

The seeds are started in March and there are a few varieties to choose from. To avoid the weedy herb types look for Rumex sanguineus, Rumex acetosa, Red-veined sorrel, and French sorrel. When the seeds appear in catalogs they may be placed among the herbs, in “specialty greens”, or “gourmet greens”.

Sorrel plants are not fussy about soil or location. They can take low-fertility and light or part-shade. They do better with regular water. Our Red-veined plants are at the front edge of the herb bed along a stone walkway where we can enjoy their beautiful leaves in the spring.

The young, small, tender leaves are the ones prized for eating and seeds are often planted for micro green crops. The older leaves tend to be tough. If you prefer your plants to not re-seed, remove the flowers. That will also help keep the plant producing fresh greens.

The seeds can be sown three times a year or started indoors now for early spring planting into the garden. The plants should be replaced every few years. You can let your existing plants go to seed or buy new varieties to plant each time.

When we have mild winters, Red-veined sorrel remains pretty until January. Of course, it can be covered with a cloche to extend the growing season. Generally the tap root is cold-hardy in zones 6 to 8 with a few exceptions in colder climates.

Common (English) sorrel, Blonde de Lyon, or Sorrel de Belleville, Rumex acetosa, has narrow, arrow-shaped leaves. Victory Seeds (www.victoryseeds.com) sells this variety 900 seeds for $2 and its catalog says each plant grows two-feet tall and wide. Common sorrel is native to northern climates, is cold-hardy to zone 4 but prefers full-sun there (55-days).
Red-veined sorrel or dock
Red-veined dock/sorrel, Bloody sorrel, Bloody dock or Rumex sanguineus grows into an 18-by-18-inch rosette of bright green leaves veined in purple or dark red. The leaves are ready to pick 55 days after seeds are planted.  Park Seed (www.parkseed.com) 400 seeds $3.

French sorrel, buckler-leafed, Mammoth Lyon, or Rumex scutatus, has wide-base shield-shaped 18-inch leaves, ready-to pick in 60 days. This variety is lower in oxalic-acid and therefore is considered “refined” by Territorial Seed (www.territorialseed.com).

If you decide to plant garden Sorrel, you will be in the company of the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Germans who ate it. The nutritional value is in its abundance of potassium, vitamins C and A. Pests include Dock beetle.

18 February 2014

Photo Contest - High Country Gardens - entries due May 31

Have good photos? You can win stuff at High Country Gardens' contest if yours is selected.

The categories:
Best Flower Close-Up, Best Flower Grouping, Best Landscape, People Enjoying Gardens, Critters in the Garden (birds, cats, dogs, etc.), Insects in the Garden, Winter Interest and Spring-Blooming Bulbs.

Rules include -You may enter up to five photos.
 Images should be high resolution--greater than 500kb at 300 dpi in .jpg format.
To pass through our spam filters, the photo files should be less than 10mb in size.
All photos submitted before midnight Mountain Time on May 31st, 2014 will be eligible to win $50 High Country Gardens gift certificate.
One gift certificate valued at $100 will be awarded to the first place winner, as decided by popular vote.
Voting will held June 7-30, 2013.
Grand Prize winner will be announced on or before July 15, 2014.
Prizes have no cash value and can only be used to purchase products from High Country Gardens, either via our website or over the phone.

All the info is on the HCG website (link above) and
here's the submission link http://www.formstack.com/forms/?1663804-RUIGrgfkZO-v3

16 February 2014

Euro Style Container Gardening

In Switzerland, the country is trending toward more high rise living and as a result more patio/balcony gardening. So says Erwin Meier-Honegger in the nursery industry magazine "Green Profit".

Dove color planter
from Pure Modern
Meier-Honegger said that large containers for balconies are designed not only to hold plenty of flowers, herbs or vegetables but to establish privacy barriers for residents. He also cited their lower maintenance when compared with having several smaller containers around - good point!

He says terracotta pots are dead and colorful planters are in, though most of his customers at his garden center, Ernst Meier Garden Center, tend to buy containers in dove and anthracite colors.

For indoors, Meier-Honegger's customers are more interested in the color and design of the planter than the plants within. Customers want style, something special in the planter in which any old plant will do.

And, dear to my heart, his savvy shoppers are buying insect hotels for beneficial insects, and, paying $2,000 for the luxury models. Concern for beneficial insects is a worldwide issue among thinking gardeners.

In the US, Frank Boendermaker reports that high-end, lightweight Capi Lux line of containers is selling well both here and in Europe. I saw them in an OKC nursery a couple of weeks ago.
The shapes and colors are sophisticated - black, grey, dove, white. They are all made of lightweight fiberglass, magnesium or a combination.
Again, terracotta is over.
Pastel colors are in.
Look for Capi planters in Costco this spring.
Scheurich Wave Globe line

Scheurich's Keith Turbett also says that muted colors are in. His selection includes beige, copper and silver colors with textured, matte and glossy surfaces will be popular.

Plastic containers continue to be the favorites because the designs and colors are improving from the days of black only or just green and black options. Plus, gardeners prefer their lightness - ease of transport home and movement around the patio.

So, the story from Europe is out with terracotta and in with plastic, fiberglass and magnesium.

15 February 2014

Hellebore Festival in VA

Pine Knott Hellebore Farms is opening the growing season with a Hellebore Festival. It will be Fridays and Saturdays from the end of Feb. and into March.

If you click on the link above, you'll get all the information about the festival plus tips on succeeding with them.

In our NE OK area, the summer heat and humidity are too brutal for these lovelies but if you are lucky enough to have the right weather they are evergreen all winter and provide flowers when nothing else is pretty.

Pine Knott tips -

Evergreen varieties include - Helleborus x hybridus, true H. orientalis, H. niger, H. x nigercors, H. x ericsmithii, and H. foetidus

Evergreen in warm climates -  H. argutifolius, H. lividus (tender), H. x sternii

Deciduous in most gardens - H. multifidus, H. purpurascens, H. viridis, H. odorus, H. atrorubens, H. dumetorum, H. cyclophyllus  H. torquatus and H. croaticus, H. thibetanus.

In their garden H. purpurascens and some strains of H. multifidus begin going dormant in August or September. 

Since buds are formed in summer, stress such as withholding food and water can reduce blooms in winter. 

When the nights begin to cool off a bit, in late August or early September, H. x hybridus plants begin to put on new leaves and seem to experience a growth spurt.

Pine Knott recommends cutting off flowers after seeds  have ripened, and  cutting back the old  leaves of the evergreen species just before the flowers appear in winter to better appreciate the beautiful blooms.  

Click over to their site for more.

13 February 2014

Plants Adapted/Evolved to Cope with Cold

As gardeners observe their heat and cold zones shift, they wonder how plants and animals can possibly adapt to all the changes that have happened to climate over time. Locally, the USDA hardiness zone (http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov) moved from 6 to 7 and gardeners around the country report similar trends.

In school, we learned about the era of dinosaurs, the ice age, and, now the gradual replacement of tropical forest to dry Savannah is occurring. Birds lay eggs earlier in the year and plants are starting their spring cycles days sooner than in the past.

Henry David Thoreau recorded detailed lists of the precise blooming and leafing of several hundred flowers trees, and shrubs from 1852 to 1861. Those plants are responding to spring two-weeks earlier now (http://nyti.ms/1cV6zvv) as a result of climate change in general and due to the urban heat island created by the greater Boston population.

Tree of Life Image: www.techrivet.com
At the other end of the spectrum, researchers are studying how plants evolved to withstand winter weather. The evolutionary tree of 32,000 flowering plants they created illustrates adaptation to freezing temperatures based on leaf and stem data. 

What they found is that plants invented mechanisms and characteristics to help them thrive as they spread over the globe. We take these changes for granted. They include dying back to the roots during cold months and returning in spring – we call those plants herbaceous perennials. And the plants knew to make the adaptation even before the freezing weather arrived in their growing zone.

The researchers said that unlike animals, plants cannot relocate when the temperatures change, nor can they generate their own heat. Ice is their other challenge.

"Think about the air bubbles you see suspended in the ice cubes," said co-author Amy Zanne of the George Washington University. "If enough of these air bubbles come together as water thaws they can block the flow of water from the roots to the leaves and kill the plant."

In Moscow Idaho, a team of plant researchers including University of Idaho biologist David Tank, assembled the largest dated evolutionary tree that shows the order in which flowering plants evolved seasonal leaf-shedding.

The question scientists have been trying to answer is how woody plants like maple trees moved from their original, wet, tropical environments into cold climates.

Jeremy Beaulieu at the National Institute for Mathematical & Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) at the University of TN is examining fossil evidence and has found that the flowering plants that first lived in warm, tropical parts of the world learned to cope as they moved to temperatures as cold as 15 below C. Beaulieu posted a 40-minute presentation at http://bit.ly/1fRhaaM explaining his work in language gardeners can easily understand.

Researchers identified the three coping mechanisms plants developed: 1) They dropped their leaves to shut down the water pathways between roots and leaves (hickory and oak); 2) Devised thinner water pathways to reduce the risk of killing air bubbles (birch and poplar), and 3) avoided the cold weather by dying to the ground, preserving their future survival/life in seeds, roots, bulbs and corms.

The scientists built two sets of data: 1) a database of 49,064 species listing whether each species maintains a stem above ground loses its leaves and changes the width of the water-carrying pathway; and 2) whether the plant was ever exposed to freezing. (Look up your climate at www.ncdc.noaa.gov.)

The researchers developed an evolutionary tree of 32,223 plant species. It is the most comprehensive view of flowering plant evolutionary history to date and is available as an interactive graphic at http://www.onezoom.org.

Their future research will focus on how plants adapt to drought and heat.
Resources -
Plants adapt to freezing weather http://bit.ly/1fHKnoVl
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center http://www.nescent.org/
Tree of Life - Khan Academy video http://bit.ly/1g2iWV8
Climate change http://1.usa.gov/1c41fBT and http://1.usa.gov/1nazxIO

Interactive site Climate Change http://ccafs.cgiar.org/bigfacts2014/#

12 February 2014

Melia azedarach is Chinaberry Tree, Texas Umbrella Tree, White Cedar, Persian Lilac, Chinaball

Judy Holly
Melia azedarach is another one of those good ideas that went astray along the way. Chinaberry and four other species are from Asia and north Australia. They are all from the Mahogany plant family of trees and shrubs.  In her Examiner dot com article, Judy Holly said, "Chinaberry trees grow in alkaline soils and survive dry and hot climates so they have been a popular tree in the southwest for many years and are suitable for Las Vegas conditions." And, they are a pretty shaped tree with mildly poisonous fruits. (Who eats these things besides songbirds?) Not harmful to birds who eat the berries until they fall down drunk. In CA it's a hilarious sight for commuters to see the birds drunk along the waysides. The fruits have also been a walking hazard, like pepper trees and other trees that drop hard seed pods.
TX Invasives
 The same poison is in the leaves and an extract has been used as an insecticide. Melia azedarach trees are weak-limbed like other fast growing trees; and, they produce suckers when trimmed. It's grown for timber, the appearance of which can be mistaken for teak.  The trees were introduced to the US in the early 1800s as an ornamental, particularly in SC and GA. It traveled westward, north and south from there. Now it is on invasive species lists from VA to OK -wherever it is warm enough for it to naturalize. However, nurseries sell the trees, the seeds are available, and of course, they love to replant themselves (naturalize) all over. AND, around plant discussion groups, it is still being recommended as a good street tree. Texas Invasives said, "The most effective chemical controls are cut-stump and basal bark applications of triclopyr herbicides. Cut trees left untreated will grow back with several branches emanating from a single stump. Removal of seedlings must include the entire root system."  

10 February 2014

Big Data and One Zoom's Tree of Life

One Zoom says, "Big data" is a growing issue in Science and Industry. Modern computing has enabled large amounts of data to be captured and stored and has revolutionised many branches of science. These advances, however, lead to challenges, such as how to explore and visualise large data sets. The very first blue-skies idea that could have been identified with OneZoom was that of a mind map so vast that it could contain all human knowledge."
At their website, http://www.onezoom.org, they introduce the topic, "This website allows you to explore the tree of life in a completely new way: it's like a map, everything is on one page, all you have to do is zoom in and out. OneZoom also provides free, open source, data visualisation tools for science and education, currently focusing on the tree of life. You can create visualisations of your own data as well as explore ones we have made."

The menu on the right of that main page is how you enter into the data.
It looks like this -

Watch this tutorial video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=LZ3n3mV4uVc
                            Choose your tree or video
Plants: 31128 species
Tetrapods: 22821 species
Mammals: 5020 species
Birds: 9993 species
Amphibians: 5713 species

Once you choose a category, keep clicking on the picture for finer and finer grained information.

Always one to give thanks on my blog, "James Rosindell devised the OneZoom concept and developed the software. He received regular advice and support from Luke Harmon who co-author of the OneZoom manuscript. Yan Wong has provided advice, software for data collection and helped at events. Laura Nunes helped at events and wrote labels for the bird tree. Duncan Gillies assisted James Rosindell in the supervision and recruitment of Kai Zhong who is now a full time software developer for OneZoom."

08 February 2014

Backyard Wetland - It's a Bog, A Quaking Bog, A Swamp, A Fen, A Marsh!

The University of Illinois Extension Service posted a cool article about how to use those last-to-dry spots in the yard.

Called Coles County Yard and Garden, the author wrote, " A bog tends to be waterlogged soil without any standing water (and therefore not a mosquito magnet).

A Quaking Bog is a floating mat of thickly woven mosses, rushes, and shrubs that forms across the surface of shallow ponds and may shimmy or shake when walked on.

A fen is an area of waterlogged soil that tends to be peaty and is fed by upwelling water. The difference between a bog and a fen is the water source and the acidity of the site. Bogs tend to be acidic; fens are more alkaline. Water flows into bogs solely through rainwater and run-off, while fens are also fed by groundwater.

A marsh has standing water – either temporary or permanent – and hosts vegetation such as cattails.

A swamp is a wetland area with trees.

Wetlands are one of the richest biological habitats on Earth. Unfortunately, for centuries we humans have viewed them as a physical constraint and have drained them for use by the ever-growing population.

The eradication of wetlands is a global phenomenon, primarily for agriculture. In addition, people mine bogs for peat for fuel and a soil conditioner. Recently, environmentalists recognize bogs for their role in regulating the global climate.

Bogs are unique communities that can be destroyed in a matter of days, but require hundreds of years to form naturally."

Click over to the link above for tips on building a bog.

Here are a few recommended bog/marsh plants
Plants for acidic bogs - There are many colorful varieties of Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia) which can live up to 50 years, hardy Sundews (Drosera), and Venus Flytrap (Dionaea).
For non-acidic bogs - Astilbe, Bamboo, Lady's Slipper Orchid, Day Lily, Siberian Iris, Creeping jenny, Rush, Royal Fern, Phlox, May apple, Solomon's Seal, Primrose, Great Bulrush, Golden Rod, Periwinkle, Trillium.

More plant ideas at http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/special/spaces/designing-bog-gardens.html

Also, at the bottom of the Coles County Yard and Garden newsetter page, there is a link to their other articles - lots to explore there.

06 February 2014

Pachysandra or Spurge for shade You Can Grow That!

Pachysandra is a semi-evergreen ground cover that is native to the eastern US from PA to LA and is cold hardy to zone 5. It is an ideal choice for shady areas in the garden where a slow growing ground cover would be ideal. Its common names include Allegheny-spurge and Mountain Spurge.

P. procumbens
Since Pachysandra procumbens thrives in well-drained, acidic soil, the perfect spot is under trees and shrubs where falling leaves make the soil acidic and the trees absorb most of the available moisture. This little native groundcover is a member of the same plant family as boxwood.

There are no insects or diseases that cause problems. It can be planted in masses in order to control erosion on sloping, shady banks. Another great place for Pachysandra procumbens is under shade trees where grass is difficult to grow due to lack of sunlight.

The hybrid varieties are equally easy to grow and care for. Eco Treasure has more markings on the leaves than other varieties. Forest Green looks just like the native one but is marketed as having unique qualities. Pixie looks like the native variety but grows only 4 inches tall instead of the 6 to 10 inch height of the native plant.

Each leaf is 2 to 3 inches wide with mottled coloring and the leaves become more mottled and lighter in color in the fall and winter. Pachysandra procumbens and its hybrids have pink-white, scented flowers in April. The flowers last about two weeks and then the leaves emerge.

After the initial plants become established, you can propagate them by taking leaf cuttings in the spring though root divisions become viable plants more quickly.

Each mature rhizome has several joints. Make a complete cut at the joint, leaving some roots with the parent plant. Plant each 2 to 4 inch piece in a container of moist potting soil. If you can take several cuttings, they can be potted into a flat and covered with one-half-inch of soil. Take the root or joint cuttings in the early spring when the plants are still dormant. The cuttings will set roots and can be planted within months.

To encourage the plants to become full, you can pinch back the growing tips for a few years. Since these are slow-growing plants, it can take three years to fill a bed when the young plants are spaced 18-inches apart as recommended. Water regularly, especially in the first year.

Also, if you remove any fallen leaves around the plants by hand or with a rake, the rhizomes will be able to grow better. Do not rake with any roughness or the mature and new stems will be harmed.

A light application of fertilizer in the spring will speed growth.

Sources for Allegheny spurge include:  Boyd Nursery http://pachysandra.net and North Creek Nurseries www.northcreeknurseries.com. One more link to a reliable Pachysandra procumbens information source: University of Arkansas.

Japanese Pachysandra, Pachysandra terminalis, gave Pachysandra a bad name in the past. It grows faster, can be invasive and becomes diseased when stressed.

The diseases of P. terminalis include leaf blight, stem canker and scale. The leaves will become yellow if they get too much sunlight.

P. terminalis blooms a little earlier than the native varieties, with white flowers on 1 or 2 inch spikes.

Japanese Pachysandra hybrid varieties are available in garden centers. Green Carpet has waxy, dark green leaves and is a tidy plant that does not trail as much as its relatives.
P terminalis Green Sheen
Green Sheen has shiny, dark green leaves that have the appearance of being polished. This variety looks good in sun or shade and tolerates heat better than some. Silver Edge or Variegata has glossy leaves but also has a white marginal mottling. It is the slowest growing of the P. terminalis selections.

04 February 2014

Bryophyllum tubiflorum - Kalanchoe delagoensis - Mother of Millions or Chandelier plant

Bryophyllum tubiflorum has many names not the least of which is invasive but more commonly it is called Mother of Thousands or Mother of Millions. They are native to Madagascar but have traveled the world as houseplants and green house pets. Chandelier Plant is common because it is prolific in its reproduction habits.

Plantlets grow along the edges of these interesting succulents that we grow as houseplants. In zones 9-12 it can be grown outside and at Delange there are photos of it outside in the garden. Just follow the link to see them.

To propagate them you don't have to do anything because the tiny plantlets fall off and start new plants in whatever is nearby, including other plants' pots, their own saucers, etc.

One of ours has round/oval leaves and another one has long stems that go on and on until we cut off pieces and put them into pots or pitch them out.

The ones we potted are now blooming out in the garden shed, providing a cheerful bit of color on these incredibly cold days.

Noosa's Native Plants in Australia has it on the most invasive weeds list and says to rip out every seedling and replace them with Carpobrotus glaucescens, Scavola calendulaceae, Chrysocephalum, and Dianella caerulea.  (By the way the site is fun to browse if you have time to click on the link and look around.)

02 February 2014

New Pennisetum grasses for our gardens from Selecta

The Selecta grasses assortment is said to be the best assortment of Pennisetum worldwide. They are all cold hardy in zones 9-10 so would either be annuals or container plants in most of the U.S. They are gorgeous colors with dramatic flower plumes.

Pennisetum Cherry Sparkler
Pennisetum Fireworks

New this year is  Pennisetum setaceum Cherry Sparkler from Ronald Strasko (Bred in the US).

Pennisetum Sky Rocket
 Bred in the UK, Sky Rocket is variegated greens. The flowers are smoke pink.
Pennisetum setaceum Red Fountain Grass