Thursday, December 10, 2009

Blue Star Creeper

It is unlikely that any ground cover will ever be as popular as turf grass.  It is beautiful when well-maintained, tolerates a lot of foot traffic and makes a fine surface for entertaining and sports.  Many types are available, so it's not difficult to find one for almost any climate and soil type.  What's more, turf grass is conventional and doesn't raise eyebrows.  On the other hand, turf grass requires frequent maintenance, which can become rather expensive.  Furthermore, it is not particularly interesting, so some homeowners seek alternatives.

There are a host of substitutes, and Blue Star Creeper is a good one.  It may be that the most difficult thing to know about the plant is its name.  It has been called Isotoma  (pronounced eye-SOT-oh-muh), Laurentia (law-REN-tee-uh), Lobelia (low-BEE-lee-ah) and Pratia (PRAT-ee-uh), and those are just the genera.  The species names have been as many and confusing.

The genus is native to parts of Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

Tiny green leaves form a low, dense mat that is evergreen in warmer climates or semi-evergreen in cooler ones.  Small, light blue flowers bloom from spring to fall.  Mature height is 3". Spreads to 18".  It tolerates some foot traffic, but not much.  Use it where you want a low-maintenance cover at a distance from high-traffic areas.  It's perfect around patios and between stepping stones, but bear in mind that foliage and stems that spread over the edges of hard surfaces will be crushed if mashed.

As with many ornamental plants, Blue Star Creeper can be toxic if ingested in large amounts, and may cause skin irritation in sensitive persons.

Blue Star Creeper is often used in container gardens where it forms a nice mat beneath taller plant subjects, and it makes an effective ground cover beneath small deciduous trees, landscape shrubs and other perennials.  It grows densely enough when established to smother many less aggressive weeds.

It thrives in full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 5 or 6 to 10 in fertile, well-drained, slightly moist soils with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.  Blue Star Creeper will not tolerate consistently wet soil.

Begin by taking a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office for testing.  The results will specify any soil amendments needed.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep.  Add enough soil to raise the bed at least 4" above the surrounding ground level. This will help to promote good drainage. Compost may be incorporated into the soil.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants 18" to 24" apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container.  Water the plants in the pots, then drain.  Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1" deep.

Plant Blue Star Creeper with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between watering.

It has no serious pests and few diseases.  Warm, wet soil may encourage common fungal diseases which can cause some problems if not treated, but the best way to avoid them is to plant in a proper environment as mentioned before.

If you're looking for a low-maintenance, low-profile, quickly growing ground cover with a long bloom season, consider Blue Star Creeper.

Return to Pratia at goGardenNow.com.

Lamium

If you were offered a basket of dead nettle, you might be put off by the suggestion for nettles are well-known for their stinging hairs.  I dare say there isn't one of us who hasn't run across them as children or brushed against them with our bare limbs and felt the consequences.  Nettles are synonymous with stinging.  To be nettlesome is to be very irritating.  Dead or alive, you wouldn't want them.

But wait, the name unfairly invokes distrust of a very charming genus of perennial plants, Lamium, native mostly to Europe.  The botanical name, (pronounced LAY-mee-um), which means "dead nettle", refers to the hairy surfaces of the plant which do not sting.  Thus, they are "dead."  One of the most popular ornamental species is L. maculatum (pronounced mak-you-LAY-tum), meaning "spotted."  Lamium belongs to the Mint family, Lamiaceae.

It's easy to recognize Lamium's relationship to mints.  Leaves are ovate and toothed.  The most popular varieties are variegated.  The flowers are fairly large compared to mints, usually pink in color and having two lips, and are produced repeatedly throughout the growing season.  The fragrance is not as pleasing as its tasty cousins.  Lamium grows about 12" high and spreads by runners to about 12" across.  It attracts bees and butterflies.

Lamium is suitable as a ground cover and in container gardens.  It's beautiful planted at the base of stone walls and other such structures.  Plant plenty of it for the bees and butterflies, and in your herb garden.  You'll also love it for its seasonal color; the foliage is nearly evergreen and displays a nice plum shade in winter.

Lamium thrives in partial to full shade in USDA climate zones 3 to 9 or 10 in fertile, well-drained, slightly moist soils with pH ranging from 6.1 to 8.5.  It's somewhat drought-tolerant when established.

Begin by taking a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office for testing.  The results will specify any soil amendments needed.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep.  Add enough soil to raise the bed at least 4" above the surrounding ground level. This will help to promote good drainage. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants 12" apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container.  Water the plants in the pots, then drain.  Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1" deep.

Because it likes well-drained soil, plant Lamium with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between watering.

Lamium has no serious pests or diseases, and deer don't like it.  The greatest cause of failure is planting it in an environment that is not to its liking.

Lamium does not spread as rapidly or as far as its relative, Lamiastrum.  The plant is much more compact and as beautiful.  However, if you have to cover a large area, Lamiastrum may be the better choice.  Considering its beauty, adaptability to a wide range of climates and soil conditions, Lamium should be one of the top choices for your garden.

Return to Lamium at goGardenNow.com.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Yellow Archangel


Yellow Archangel.  The name evokes a visitor from on high.  I suppose it's derived from the appearance of the flower which is yellow and appears to be winged.  Its botanical name is Lamiastrum (pronounced lay-mee-ACE-trum) galeobdolon (pronounced gay-lee-OB-doh-lon) and refers to characteristics not so lofty.  Translated, it means "resembles dead nettle and smells like a weasel."  Thus, its other common name is "dead nettle", which it shares with Lamium (pronounced LAY-mee-um).  Sometimes, in fact, Lamiastrum is included in the genus, Lamium.  Both plants belong to Lamiaceae, the Mint family.

At once, you'll recognize Lamiastrum's relationship to mints in foliage and flower.  Leaf shape is ovate and toothed, the most popular varieties being variegated.  The flower is similarly shaped but much larger than other mints.  The fragrance, however, is not so pleasing.  Lamiustrum grows up to 18" high and spreads up to 24" by runners.  It does attract bees and butterflies. 

Lamiastrum is native to much of Europe, but was introduced to North America as an ornamental plant.  Finding much to its liking, the plant has made itself at home.  Which is fine if you really like it, as I do.  The foliage is beautiful and the flowers are very attractive.  It is most effective as a ground cover, especially in light shade.  Provided that its needs are met, it requires little maintenance.  It thrives in partial to full shade in USDA climate zones 4 to 9 in well-drained soils with pH ranging from 6.1 to 8.5.  It's somewhat drought-tolerant when established.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep.  Add enough soil to raise the bed at least 4" above the surrounding ground level. This will help to promote good drainage. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants. 

Space the plants 18" to 24" apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1" deep.

Because it likes well-drained soil, plant Lamiastrum with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between watering.  Over-watering is the most frequent cause of failure.

Lamiastrum has no serious pests or diseases.  What's more, deer don't like it.  As mentioned before, the greatest cause of failure is over-watering.

Should you include Lamiastrum in your garden?  In some parts of the country such as the Pacific Northwest, it is considered invasive.  Check with your local Cooperative Extension office to determine whether it is appropriate for your area.  Lamiastrum does exactly what a good ground cover should; it covers ground beautifully.

Return to Lamiastrum at goGardenNow.com.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Ornaments On The Wing


Sitting at the window viewing the congregation about our bird feeders and bath, I was impressed once again with the beauty and cheer that songbirds bring to us, especially this time of year.  The day was rainy and cold.  Bright red cardinals caught my eye.  They are so called because the color is reminiscent of the red robes worn by Roman Catholic cardinals.  Winging among the Southern Magnolias and feasting on the sunflower seeds we provide, I thought of them as Christmas ornaments.  It seldom snows here in south Georgia, but I remember enjoying the wonderful contrast of red against white that I've seen during winter visits to the snowy north.  They are no less beautiful against the monochromatic shades of a rainy day.

Within moments, a blue jay appeared in his royal splendor.  Like kings, they tend to dominate the scene, but they are beautiful, indeed.  Other species displaying silver, black and white reminded me of tinsel.

This is the time of year when birds are on the move, migrating as cold weather approaches from their summer playgrounds to far-away places.  If you watch carefully, you may see some of the following colorful species passing through that are not often seen in your area.
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeaks - The black head and red breast patch on white distinguishes the males.   Females are heavily streaked with brown and white.  They winter in Mexico and northern South America.
  • Purple Finches - These raspberry-colored friends, about the size of sparrows, love bird feeders during winter months.
  • Rufous-Sided Towhees - You'll find them kicking up leaves and debris on the ground.  Their black heads, backs, white undersides and orangish sides are quite handsome.  They don't go far during winter, shifting only a bit southward.
  • Orioles - Northern and Baltimore, are quite striking with their bright orange bodies.  They're headed to southern Mexico and beyond.  They love fruit and jelly.
  • American Goldfinches - Their bright yellow colors fade in winter, but remain very attractive.  They spend the winter near the Gulf Coast and in Mexico.
  • Painted Buntings - These gaudy creatures tend to be shy.  I don't know why.  You may find them around feeding stations in the South.  They go to the Gulf Coast, Bahamas, Mexico and onward to Panama during our winter months.
  • Indigo Buntings - These gorgeous birds appear to be dark blue, but they are actually black.  The blue results from light diffraction on the feathers.  They're also headed to Mexico, Panama and the West Indies.  Wouldn't it be nice to go with them?
These are but a few of the many wonderful species I could mention.  If you would like a better chance of enjoying them, provide something for their journeys along the way.  Add a few more bird feeders to your station.  Stock up on bird seed, fruit and other favorite foods.  Don't forget to keep your bird baths filled and warmed.  If you experience freezing weather, heated baths will be especially welcome.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Answers To Our Community Poll Ending November 30, 2009

Our Community Poll ending November 30, 2009 at goGardenNow.com asked the question, "What do you think about organic fruits and vegetables?
  • There is no real difference between organic and non-organic produce.
  • Organic produce is fine if you can get it, but not worth any inconvenience.
  • I'd buy organic produce if it didn't cost so much.
  • I'll suffer any inconvenience and pay any price for organic produce.
29% of respondents said "there is no real difference between organic and non-organic produce."  71% of respondents said "I'd buy organic produce if it didn't cost so much."  None responded to the other two questions.  What this tells me is that most respondents think that organic produce is desirable, but not worth paying the extra price. Keep in mind that this is not a scientific survey, but only reflects the opinions of a select group.

Our current Community Poll asks the question, "Are you putting up a Christmas tree this year?"  Let us know what you think.  Go to goGardenNow.com, navigate away from the Home Page; our Customer Testimonials page is as good as any.  You'll find the Community Poll in the right hand column.  We look forward to hearing from you!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Behind A Garden Wall: The Georgia Southern Botanical Garden

Nestled near the campus of Georgia Southern University, a quiet place awaits harried students, faculty and the Statesboro community.  Passersby on busy Fair Road might not know the garden even exists, since it is mostly concealed behind native hardwoods and shrubbery.  If not for a discreet sign, one might glimpse down the modest allee and mistake it for a quaint residence.

In fact, the Georgia Southern Botanical Garden was once a farmstead near The First District Agricultural and Mechanical School, an institution established in 1906.  Mr. Dan Bland and his wife, Catharine, established their farm of more than 50 acres in 1916 shortly after their marriage.  There they lived and worked for many decades growing cotton, vegetables, hogs, chickens and cows as the school and community grew up around them.

Mr. Dan was not only a farmer, a high calling indeed, but also an avid plant enthusiast with special interest in native species.  In 1985, he willed the remaining 6.5 acres of his property including his cottage and outbuildings to the Georgia Southern College Foundation for use as a botanical garden.  It was, as Wendell Berry put it, a "gift of good land."  The garden has been undergoing constant improvement and growth since.  Many of the plants in Mr. Dan's collection, including camellias, azaleas and the allee of magnolias and hollies are an important part of the garden's landscape. 

The school underwent transformations, becoming a Teacher's College, then a liberal arts college.  In 1990, the college gained university status, and is now the third largest in Georgia.  In 2006, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching classified Georgia Southern University as a doctoral/research institution.

The GS Botanical Garden offers educational and recreational opportunities to the community as well as to university faculty and students.  Educational tours, seminars, workshops, and other special events are often conducted.  The Garden is also a popular site for social gatherings such as weddings, parties and wine-tastings.

A walking tour of the garden features landscaping with native plants, a heritage garden including old-fashioned plant varieties and cultivars, a butterfly garden, rose arbor, the allee, a woodland trail, the cottage and restored outbuildings.  Of special interest is the recently constructed water conservation area which features permeable paving, a rain garden and retention systems.  A visitor may also view many protected plant species that are part of the Garden's collection.  Art work by faculty and students enhances the landscape.

This unique botanical garden affords a wonderful perspective on gardening in the Deep South and Georgia's Coastal Plain.  When I stroll around the grounds, I think of Wendell Berry and that line in his essay, An Excellent Farmstead, "Everywhere you look you see the signs of care."  That is precisely what the Blands willed.  If you're in the area, make it a point to visit.  Hours and policies are posted on the Garden's web site.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tips for Choosing and Caring For Your Christmas Tree

'Tis the season to decorate your home for Christmas, if you're so inclined, and the Christmas tree is usually a featured item.  Here are a few tips to help you get the most from your tree.

Size is usually the first consideration when choosing a tree.  Before you begin shopping, make sure you know how much space you have available.  Measure ceiling height and width of the area where you intend to set it.  If you buy a cut tree, remember that you'll shorten the tree a few inches when you cut off a bit of the trunk end.  On the other hand, the tree stand may add a few inches.  Don't forget that an ornament on the top of the tree may add some height.  Since you pay for size, it's better to buy a tree slightly smaller than needed than to buy one too large that is need of trimming.

Several types of trees are commonly available, including cut trees, potted or balled & burlapped trees, and artificial trees.

Cut Trees

Cut trees are very popular.  You can purchase them from dealers, select and cut your own from a local grower, or harvest a native tree from the forest.

For your tree to last throughout the holiday season, it must be fresh and moist.  A dry tree can not be revived, so select a good tree in the beginning.  Here's how:
  • Pull gently on the needles. If they come off easily, forget it and look for another tree.  
  • Give the tree a good shake or bump the cut end of the trunk on the ground.  Green needles should not fall off.  Sometimes brown needles may have collected on the inner branches near the trunk.  If brown needles fall out, the tree is probably okay.
  • Make sure that the needles are green, pliable and fragrant.
  • Buy your tree early as soon as possible after they have been delivered to the dealer.  Waiting until nearer Christmas will not ensure that your tree is fresher.
  • Make sure that branches are well-placed and strong enough to support your ornaments.
  • Purchase locally grown trees, if possible.  They are often fresher because they are not shipped long distances, and buying from local growers helps to support your neighbors.
When my children were small, we often visited local pick-your-own Christmas tree farms.  Walking through manicured forests was an adventure for the kids, and we knew that our trees couldn't be any fresher.  Pick-your-own farms will usually cut the tree for you when you've made your selection, but some expect you to cut-your-own.  Check with the grower before you visit.

Use a substantial tree stand with a large water reservoir to provide stability and adequate moisture.  A 1-gallon capacity reservoir is ideal.  Stands for very large trees should have supporting legs or cross-pieces to prevent the tree from falling.

When you get your tree home, store it out of sun and wind with the end in a bucket of water if you can't set it up immediately.  Before you set it up, cut a couple of inches off the bottom to expose fresh wood.  This will enable your tree to take up water from the reservoir in the tree stand.

Avoid placing your tree near heating vents and sources of flame.  Heating vents will dry the tree.  Sources of flame may ignite your tree if it does dry out before the holiday is over.  A dry tree is a very flammable object.

Keep the reservoir filled.  Your tree should continue to draw on the water and remain fresh.  If the reservoir is allowed to dry out, the butt end of the tree will also dry and will not longer take up moisture.

Potted or Balled & Burlapped Trees

Some purchase potted or balled & burlapped trees with roots intact hoping to plant it after the holiday is over and grow it successfully in the landscape.  This may not be easy to accomplish, but here are a few tips that might help.
  • Buy a healthy specimen of a species that is known to survive in your area.  A fraser fir planted in south Georgia won't stand a chance.
  • Carry the tree by the pot or root ball.  Lifting the tree by the trunk or limbs may separate the roots from the rest of the tree.
  • Keep the tree in a cool, shaded place until brought indoors.
  • Maintain moisture in the pot or root ball until it is planted after Christmas.
  • Avoid placing your tree near heating vents and sources of flame.
  • Enjoy the tree indoors for about a week.  If kept inside any longer, the health of the tree may decline and it might not survive.
  • Dig the planting hole no deeper than the depth of the root ball.  The hole should be two or three times as wide as the root ball.
  • Remove the tree from the pot or plastic wrapping before planting.  It is not necessary to remove burlap wrapping material.  Once again, move the tree by the root ball, not the top part of the tree.

Artificial Trees

Artificial trees go in and out of style, but make your selection based upon what is right for you.  At any rate, artificial trees should be used wisely.  Avoid sources of flame.  Check all electrical wiring to make sure it is in good condition.  Artificial trees may be treated with flame retardants, but that doesn't make them flame-proof.  Toxic fumes may be emitted from smouldering material.  Electric lights should not be used on metal trees.

Tree Safety and Care

Let's not spoil Christmas with an accident.  Keep these tips in mind:
  • As mentioned before, position the tree away from heat sources.Make sure the tree is stable and not likely to fall over, even when your cat is climbing it.
  • Keep the water reservoir filled.
  • Use lights that are in good condition.  
  • Turn decorative lights off when the tree is unattended.
  • Never use candles to light your Christmas tree.
When Christmas is over, there are various eco-friendly ways you can dispose of your cut tree.  If left in the yard, out of public view, it will provide a welcome sanctuary for birds and small mammals until spring.  Christmas trees taken to your recycling center for chipping; some Christmas tree dealers even provide the service.  Gardeners sometimes used their Christmas tree branches for mulch or natural supports for tall perennials.