Friday, April 30, 2010

New Blueberry Planting Require One Year Soil Prep

Fresh blueberries a few more weeks away from harvest

Blueberries are the easiest fruit crop to grow. Blueberries have few disease and insect problems. Birds become a significant problem as harvest time approaches, from mid-June through September. Blueberry culture is unique as the ideal soil pH range is 4.8 - 5.2. You should spend a year to lower the soil pH and raise the organic level to 3% and higher before planting blueberries.

Select a sunny location preferably with an east or northern exposure. Reduce the weed population by applying monthly applications of Round-up™ (glyphosate) herbicide over the planned blueberry site from April thru September. Have the soil in the blueberry patch analyzed. Follow the instructions on the soil test report, applying 0.2 lbs of elemental sulfur per 100 square feet for each 0.1 pH unit adjustment.

Sample calculation: you have cleared a strip of 6 feet wide by 16 feet long (approximately 100 square feet) for 3 plants. Your soil test recommends lowering the pH by 12 units (measured in tenths), so multiply .2 pounds sulfur x 12 units. The answer is 2.4 lbs of sulfur per 100 square feet. After 6 months, check the soil pH again to determine if you need add more sulfur.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Keep Your Eye on Red Buckeye

Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) is the perfect small tree for an urban landscape. This native tree/large shrub flowers young in a full or part sun location. Numerous 5- to 9- inch long flower panicles are positioned on the tips of branches as decorative red candles in late April and May here in the southern Appalachian region (zones 6 thru 8).

Flowers open just before or after the leaves begin to emerge. Flower color on individual trees may vary from dark pink to scarlet red. Most trees are at their showiest in late April and early May. Hummingbirds arrive to pollinate the 1 ½ inch tubular blooms.

Lustrous palmately compound leaves dress the branches in rich green over the spring and early summer months. Disease and insect problems prove of little consequence, except that the greenery becomes scorched and spotted by late summer. Leaves drop prematurely in September, far ahead of other landscape trees.

The Fear of Trees

Dendrophobia is the psychological fear of trees. At recent Earth Day gatherings we learn of the importance of trees in the environment. Most of us know that tree topping is bad, yet the practice continues. Large trees are butchered (not pruned) every year.

Some tree topping stems from a “lemming mentality”, that is, “I did it because my neighbor did it”. When asked if the neighbor was very intelligent, most replied that they rarely sought their advice on anything.

Other folks need to control nature and their surroundings. They love large trees, but fear the damage that fallen limbs might wreak on home and property. Property owners living in areas recently hit with terrible storm are more prone to remove large trees or heavily prune them.

Power tools in the hands of inexperienced property owners cause additional damage to large trees. It’s called "chain saw massacre", removing more than originally planned.

Finally, a local certified arborist told me: “People living in a neighborhood with topped or severely pruned trees felt cheated when their tree was properly pruned. They paid more for removing less, more time and skill involved to do it right.”

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Carolina All-Spice Sweetshrub Or Bubbybush

What's in a name? Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus) is one of our finest native shrubs. Its waxy, reddish brown flowers emit an enticing fruity fragrance. The 2" wide flowers bloom starting in late April, and sporadically June through August.

Many gardeners in the southern Appalachians (plant hardiness zone 6 -8) call it “bubbybush” or “sweet bubby”. In the 1800's, long before deodorants, women used the fragrant flower as a perfume to mask body odor. They would hide the tough, almost indestructible flowers under their dresses, in their pockets, even pin them on their clothes.

Sweet shrub is easy to grow. Plant in fertile, well-drained garden soil and in sunny to partly shaded landscape. It flowers best in full sun and stay dense and tight. The beautiful deep green leaves measure 5-6" long, ovate, and exhibit a nice yellow fall color and persist into November. The large, 'urn-shaped' fruits mature in October.

The cultivar ‘Athens’ has yellow fragrant flowers. New Asian/American hybrids from the North Carolina State University’s plant breeding program are ‘Hartledge Wine’ (red, non-fragrant flowers) and most recent introduction ‘Venus’ (creamy white, fragrant flowers).

Friday, April 16, 2010

Try 'Fireworks' Gomphrena in Your Garden

'Fireworks' gomphrena was a sensation in the University of Tennessee Gardens at both the Knoxville and Jackson locations in 2009. Gomphrena (globe amaranth) is a great summer annual that asks for very little care. It is heat, humidity and drought tolerant. Gomphrena hold up to the wind, blooming from day of planting in May (after danger of spring frost has passed) until first hard frost in autumn. No bug or disease touches them.

By fall most gomphrena cultivars grow 18 inches to 2 feet in height and 12-15 inches in width. Add another 12 inches for more the vigorous 'Fireworks'. Can't find 'Fireworks', try another cultivar favorite- 'Strawberry Fields'. Gomphrena attracts large numbers of butterflies and are great as cut and/or dried flowers.

Buy plants at local, independently-owned garden centers. Generally, "big box store" garden centers carry more common summer annuals and not gomphrenas.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Best of the Coralbells- So Far!

Photo: Heuchera villosa natural purple leaved form
The Heuchera x villosa coralbell revolution has been upon us for nearly a decade. Many new hybrid coralbells have been introduced. This southern Appalachian native coralbell exhibits exceptional heat, humidity and drought tolerance. You find hairy alumroot growing in dry shade and partially sunny areas.

This is a report card on the hairy alumroot hybrid cultivars. Listening to other gardeners and observing their performance in my garden, 'Mocha' (dark coffee colored foliage), 'Citronelle' (bright yellow) and 'Caramel’ (dark peachy yellow), have earned my highest recommendations among the colorful large foliage types.

I continue to watch 'Tiramisu', with its medium-sized, yellow with red splotched leaves. It has yet to impress me. However, gardening friends urge me to wait another year "before throwing in the trowel".

I also grow the pale green leaf, mid-summer blooming 'Autumn Bride'. A cloud of tiny white flowers hovers over the plant foliage in August. I see it used en masse as a late summer bedding plant in public gardens around the Philadelphia, PA area.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Spring Lawn Care Tips

April is time for a minor lawn renovation. All lawn chores should be completed before April 18th, here in the Southern Appalachian region (USDA zones 6a – 7a). If you are planning a major lawn renovation, hold off until September.

Following a rough winter, fertilizing is a positive first step for rapid green recovery and filling in dead spots. Steps for over-seeding small dead areas: 1) light soil tilling with a rake, 2) fertilizing, and 3) seeding.

Over the lawn, apply a crabgrass preventative and again 3 months later (early July). Timing is crucial. When yellow flowering forsythia is passed blooming, crabgrass seedlings have germinated and most preventatives don’t work. Do not apply a crabgrass preventative to recently seeded areas.

Dandelion, henbit, chickweed, wild garlic and other broadleaf weeds are sprayed on non-windy days. Choose a day when air temperatures remain above 60°F for 6 hours or more.

Chart your annual mowing height through the year: first mowing at 1 ½ inches high; after first cut at 2 ½ inches until Memorial Day; during summer at 3 inches; and after Labor Day, back to 2 ½ inches.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Eastern Tent Caterpillar (crabapple, cherry, peach)

photo credit: Dr. Frank Hale, Entomologist, University of Tennessee
The Eastern tent caterpillar is frequently the first insect that I receive calls about in the spring. Eggs overwinter on wild cherry trees and move on long silken treads to tasty landscape tree foliage nearby. Larvae and caterpillars consume lots of leafy matter over the next month.

Dirty white webs form in limb crotches beginning in late March when wild cherry leaves are developing. Larvae leave the web on warm sunny days to consume leaves of ornamental crabapple, peach and cherry. They remain in the web during cloudy or rainy weather.

Large landscape trees are damaged temporarily, and new foliage grows back rapidly. However, newly planted or young trees may lose most of their 1-2 year old foliage and have no reserves to grow new shoots.

In March and April, many different insecticides are labeled including horticultural oil, Sevin (Carbaryl), Bt (Dipel), Orthene, Malathion, and insecticidal soap. Always read the pesticide label for all precautions. For example, the label on Orthene states “may cause foliar injury to flowering crabapples”.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Awesome Ornamental Peach

Photo is an 18- year old ornamental peach tree in Columbia, Tennessee. This tree blooms with 4 different colors bright pink, pink, peppermint, white each year. The tree is full of bloom and obviously well-pruned and cared for.

It may have been a "5 in 1" grafted tree that the home gardener purchased years ago. Ornamental peach is very challenging, susceptible to numerous diseases and insect pests. I congratulate the homeowner for keeping the tree healthy all these years.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Winter Hardy Camellias

pictured: 'April Remembered'
Growing camellias in the Southern Appalachian region (USDA zone 6-a) is no longer a dream. As many as 40 cultivars of winter hardy camellias to -15 °F are now available. Flower colors range from white, many shades from pink, and red. Hardy cultivars possess big bloom size, long flowering period (fall or spring), and lustrous evergreen foliage.

Start with these outstanding cultivars. For spring blooming, plant ‘Pink Icicle’ (pink semi-double), ‘April Tryst’ (dark red anemone) and ‘April Remembered’ (pink semi-double). Dependable in the fall garden are ‘Winter’s Star’ (pale pink single) and ‘Winter’s Interlude’ (pink anemone).

The culture of camellias is similar to azaleas, rhododendrons and hollies. Plant them on the east or north side of your home or nearby large shade trees, protected from direct summer sunlight and drying winter winds.

Add generous amounts of organic compost, leaf mold or sphagnum peat to maintain an acidic soil pH. Feed shrubs every two months in spring and summer, using either water-soluble Miracle Gro™ or Schultz™ brand fertilizer.

Established shrubs are very drought tolerant after two years, needing water when rainfall is very low. Camellias enjoy relief from most pest problems that plague them further south.