Friday, January 22, 2010

Ferns in Your Garden

I recommend adding ferns in your shade garden. Ferns offer very fine textured foliage. Plant'em in clumps of three or more. Select the proper fern by your garden site, e.g whether it is likely dry or moist soils. Some grow surprisingly well in full sun, but most prefer partial to full shade. Don't buy a collection of different ferns for planting in one garden place. Instead, select them by their light and soil moisture needs.

Here are four species which are easy to grow:
  • Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)
  • Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora)
  • Lady fern (Athryium felix-femina)

All four are not finicky, demonstrate good drought tolerance and grow in soil with little to no additional soil prep. Ideally, you should them in a richly composted garden soil along with adequate moisture over long dry spells. A weak fertilizer solution monthly from April to August will get all off to a good start in the first year.

Northern maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum) - (pictured)- prefers well-drained, highly composted soils and supplemental moisture during long summer dry spells. Keep soil near pH 7.0 (neutral) by occcasional liming every few years if soil pH drops.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Better Winter Blooming Witchhazels on the Way

Chinese witchhazel (Hamamelis mollis) are a mid-winter garden delight. Depending on the cultivar, small yellow, orange or red flowers open in early February. Flowers survive many cold nights unharmed over several weeks.

Most of the Hamamelis x intermedia hybrid types hold onto their leaves during the winter in the southeast. The popular cultivar 'Arnold Promise' is one of the worst offenders for winter leaf retention.

Chinese witchazels retain (don't drop) their dried leaves through most of the winter, essentially hiding most of the tiny flowers beneath them. Autumn weather plays an important factor. If fall temperature drops are gradual, leaves will drop. A warm fall followed by a quick cold snap will stick leaves to branches all winter long. Often, this is what occurs in the southeastern U.S. (garden hardiness zones 6b - 8a).

1-15-10 Conversation with Brian Upchurch at Highland Creek Nursery in Fletcher, NC
Brian recommends planting Chinese witchhazel cultivars which tend to shed all foliage before flowering starts. His favorites are 'Wisley Supreme' (bright yellow blooms), 'Robert' (orange) and 'Twilight' (red). He adds that all three do not suffer from powdery mildew foliar disease as Arnold Promise does over the summer months. He adds that the cultivar 'Westerstead' is a better choice than Arnold Promise in the hybrid witchhazels.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Winter Flowering Bulbs

Photo: Galanthus naturalized in woodlands (courtesy of Brent and Becky's Bulbs)

These bulbs are the early birds. Give them a week of warm weather in the 50's, nights slightly above freezing, and little to no snow cover. A beautiful flowering patch of winter aconite (Eranthis), snowdrops (Galanthus), glory of the snow (Chionodoxa), or early crocus appears in January and February in USDA zone 6 and 7.
These "special" bulbs naturalize and come back every year. Bulbs are planted in the fall and are purchased from bulb emporiums on-line or through mail order nursery catalogues. Two personal favorites for purchasing bulbs are Brent and Becky's Bulbs in Gloucester, VA and van Bourgondien's Bulbs in Dix Hills, NY.

Dec. 21, 2009 conversation with Brent Heath: he identified additional early flowering gems in the winter garden in zone 6: The earliest daffodil is Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation' with golden yellow opening in mid-to late January in zone 7. Flowers last and last in the cold winter weather. Many species crocus bloom in February and March. Crocus ancyrensis 'Golden Bunch' opens with small tangerine yellow blossoms, one of the earliest to bloom in the winter season. Other early bird crocus species are C. imperati and C. tommasinianus.
Muscari armeniacum 'Christmas Pearl' bears 4-6 inch double blue flowers beginning in late February.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Disease-free Apple Varieties--Judge for Yourself

Weekly spraying of home apple orchards for the dreaded apple scab is a total downer. Over the past half century have come the first scab-free immune apple varieties: Prima, Priscilla, and Sir Prize. However, Prima and Priscilla will never win any taste awards.

All 3 varieties are very susceptible to other apple disease maladies as cedar-apple rust, powdery mildew and fire blight. All are rated as dessert quality, possessing a short shelf life after picking.

Currently, the Penn State Extension website lists Freedom, Enterprise, Liberty, Novomac, Pristine, Redfree and Sundance with good resistance to 3 of the 4 major diseases.

Select 2 -3 varieties as apple trees require cross-pollination. Purchase them on a dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstock, properly prune them annually, and you'll be harvesting fruit from trees in 3 years.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Pruning An Old Nandina

Nandina (Nandina domestica) is often mis-pruned. By shearing or topping nandina foliage, blooms and resulting berries are lost (see photo). The plant eventually becomes leggy and thin.
Sharply prune back about a third of the taller stems at the base of the shrub in March before spring growth begins. Stagger the cuts 3 to 6 inches above the soil. Within a few months new shoots begin to grow out near the soil line, eventually filling in around the shrub base. The regrowth gives the nandina a fresh appearance.

Why My Tree Or Shrub Doesn't Bloom

Frustrated by a fruit tree or ornamental tree that does not bloom? There are 5 primary causes:
  1. Lack of sunlight - insufficient light reduces flower bud development
  2. Fertility - too much nitrogen fed to plants can over-stimulate vegetative growth, either delaying or preventing flower bud development
  3. Winter injury or chilling tender flower buds in one or more spring frost
  4. Pruning at the wrong time of year, essentially removing all flowering wood
  5. Alternative (biennial) flowering when a plant bears too much fruit and will not initiate new flower bud for the next year
All these factors are inter-related. While bad pruning practices may reduce flower bud numbers, good timely pruning practices increase blooming. Usually, an unpruned tree or shrub does not bloom heavily. A shrub or tree with an open branch canopy in full sun will flower reliably every year.
Prune spring flowering shrubs and trees immediately after flowering. These plants set flower buds on woody growth produced in the summer. Summer-flowering plants set their flower buds on spring wood in the same year when they bloom. They can be pruned in late summer or wait until late winter and early spring.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Big Begonias

The Benary 'Big Begonia' series are a hit, "begonias on steroids", some gardeners may say. Individual flowers are twice that of other bedding begonias. Colors are vivid with three cultivars currently available . 'Big Rose Bronze Leaf' is my personal favorite. (pictured)
Begonias grow best in well drained, humus-rich garden soil. Provide tender -loving care for the first 4 weeks in the spring, and plants will bloom non-stop through a long hot, dry summers into the first hard frost autumn.

Plant the Big begonias in full sun or partial sun (a minimum of 5 hours of sun recommended). Disease and insect pests are rarely an issue for these tough, non-stop flowering annuals. Do not plant begonias in the same garden spot more than 3 consecutive years to avoid buildup of soil pathogens.

Angelonia in the Summer Garden

Tired of marigolds and petunias? Angelonias (A. angustifolia) are superior summer garden annuals. Angelonias require very little care. They possess superior heat and drought tolerance.
I prefer the Serena series (seed produced type) because local greenhouse growers produce and sell them more cheaply. Vegetative (cutting) type angelonias grow taller, are heavy bloomers, and are more pricey at garden centers.

Varieties of 'Serena' angelonia come in white, pink lavender, lavender, and purple flowers. Plant them after the danger of spring frosts in your gardening area is low. After planting, follow-up with a few early waterings. Then, sit back and enjoy angelonas in constant bloom from late spring to the first hard frost of autumn.

Serena angelonias grow 12-15 inches in height and 14-16 inches in spread in my zone 6-b garden.

photo: pentas (front) and 'Lavender Pink Serena' angelonia (rear)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Root Injury to Container Plants

The 4 most common reasons why gardeners lose outdoor container plants during the winters are:
1. Sub-freezing temps
2. Soil freezing for long periods
3. Waterlogged roots
4. Dessication from dry winter winds

Roots are not as cold hardy as above-ground shoots, trunks, branches, etc. Evergreen plants become more challenged when the soil media is frozen. Their leaves demand more water and nutrients that the roots are not able to supply from the frozen ground.

Root injury for most woody tree species begins at 22°F. This is soil that has little water in it. Keep in mind that water freezes at 32°F. So, one tip is to keep container plants watered, but not waterlogged. Most plants are injured when soil temps hit 16°F over a 24-hour period.

Pots must provide adequate drainage. Planting in a soil-less media containing high percentages of an organic component such as peat moss and/or compost, plus a gritty substance as coarse sand, tiny pea gravel or perlite for aeration and drainage. The pot should include bottom holes to weep out excess moisture.

Evergreens naturally shed most rain and snow like an umbrella and supplemental watering is critical for these plant compared to deciduous plants. Irrigate containers at least twice monthly, assuming that natural rain and snowfall will supply the rest.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Coral Bark Maple Blazes in the Winter Landscape

Sango kaku Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Sango kaku') has light green summer foliage on a fairly upright branches. In the fall, foliage turns yellow-gold with some light tints of red, otherwise a very ordinary tree. It's in the fall and winter seasons when this 20-25 foot ornate maple excels. The green branches and twigs turn bright coral red, aglow in the winter sun. Sango kaku makes a beautiful addition to any landscape in USDA zones 6-7.

Sango kaku prefers 1/2 day of sun, preferably in the morning and early afternoon hours. New spring growth is thin and rank, the tree needing pruning annually to maintain a good tree form. A colder than normal winter often results in twig dieback, requiring minor cleanup pruning cuts in the spring.

'Beni kawa' is another Japanese maple with exquisite salmon colored bark beginning in late fall-winter. It appears to possess better cold and heat tolerance. Tree height is alot smaller, perhaps only 10-12 feet tall at maturity. Growth on Beni kawa is not as spindly and less prone to winter twig dieback. Beni kawa leafs out 2 weeks later than Sango kaku, avoiding spring freeze injury.