Wednesday, December 22, 2010

FAQ: Is it too late to plant fall bulbs?

It is too late to plant some bulbs, but not too late for most. It is too late to plant fall-blooming crocuses and colchicum. If not already planted, they might have bloomed while still in storage, used up their food reserves stored in the bulbs, and therefore be unfit to plant. However, it is not too late to plant daffodils, tulips and other spring-blooming bulbs, if they are still available. The only other consideration that might prevent you from planting now is if your ground is frozen.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Corpse Flowers and Voodoo Lilies

About 20 years ago, a gardening friend of mine, very excited and breathless, lugged a 25 gallon plastic plant container into my garden shop. The pot was full of soil and heavy. Something was trying to emerge. I don't remember exactly what he said to convince me that if I would display it my customers would get the thrill of their lives, but I conceded.

"What is it?", I asked? He pulled a wrinkled page from his pocket, spread it out on a table, and said, "It's THAT!" The picture was grainy, but the thing looked massive and strange. We placed the container in full view of the front door.

Eventually a long, thick, flesh-colored stalk mottled with dark green, black and brownish spots emerged. It looked almost human...and diseased. A big leaf unfolded. The thing was well over 6 feet tall. Very impressive!

Visitors couldn't avoid it. Most would walk around it, cautiously touch it, walk around it some more, touch it, squeeze it, and do it again. Some backed off like they were thinking, "I can't touch this!"

The plant was Amorphophallus titanum. Modest taxonomists translate "amorphophallus" to mean "without definite form." A little more accurately, the entire name means "oddly shaped phallus of enormous strength." (I blush.) It is commonly called Titan Arum or Corpse Flower.

When we think of flowers, we imagine colorful, sweet-smelling blossoms attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. Right? We think of cut flowers, corsages, bouquets and nose-gays. The Corpse Flower isn't that. Carry a bouquet of it and you smell like dead meat. The flower stinks mightily.

Fortunately, the thing did not bloom in my shop. If it had, I might have had to raze the store.

Plants such as the Corpse Flower aren't pollinated by the usual birds, butterflies and bees seeking sweet nectar. They're visited by vectors (pollinating agents) that feed on dung and carrion. What a fantastic design.

Titan Arum may be the most impressive of the Araceae family, but it grows larger than most gardeners can accommodate, and is not easy to obtain. Smaller members of the family are more appropriate for most of us. Typhonium venosum is a good choice. Its name means smoky and veined. The foliage turns very dark colored and the plant certainly looks veined. It also goes by other botanical names including Sauromatum guttatum, Sauromatum venosum, Arum venosum and Arum cornutum. Its common name is Voodoo Lily, and is native to tropical Africa and Asia.

Voodoo Lily grows 24 inches to 48 inches in height. The flower, which appears in late winter or spring, looks grotesque and bulbous with a burgundy spotted spathe and a dark spadix. Yes, it does smell, but not as mightily as the Titan Arum.

For the gardener who likes unusual plants, Voodoo Lily is perfect. It can be grown outdoors, but can also be brought indoors (for awhile) as a unique design element. Though it has a tropical appearance, it is reliably hardy in USDA climate zones 9 through 11, and can be grown into zone 6 if mulched well during winter. Plant it in partial shade to full shade in loamy soil with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.5. To determine if your soil pH is hospitable to Voodoo Lily, take a soil sample to your nearby Cooperative Extension Service office for testing.

Cultivate the soil to 12 inches deep and remove all traces of weeds. Incorporate fertilizer or soil amendments according to Extension Service recommendations. Space the plants 6 inches to 10 inches apart, and three times as deep as the corm-like rhizome is wide. Planting depth is measured to the bottom of the hole. Water well when planting, but allow the soil to dry between watering.

Voodoo Lily is certainly a curiosity, and for that reason you should grow it. It's not difficult. Gardeners who enjoy growing plants of medicinal interest should also be interested for Typhonium is used in Chinese medicine. Keep in mind, however, that self-treatment is not recommended for Typhonium can be toxic if ingested and may cause allergic reactions in sensitive persons.

A planting of Voodoo Lily will certainly intrigue your friends and give you something to proudly show.

Return to Typhonium at goGardenNow.com.

Monday, November 29, 2010

FAQ: How can I keep my neighbor's bamboo out of my yard?

Bamboo can be a very effective visual screen in the landscape, but some species can out-grow their welcome. There are two types of bamboo: those that grow in clumps, and those that spread via long rhizomes.  The later are known as 'runners.'  The runners are the ones that can cause problems, especially between neighbors.  Runners spread rapidly, so they screen quickly and economically, but they don't know when to stop.

If you choose to plant running bamboo, do your neighbor a favor and keep it contained.  If your neighbor's bamboo is invading your yard, you can block it by installing a bamboo barrier.

Begin by digging a trench around the bamboo planting.  Mechanical trenchers are available from tool rental companies, or you can hire a contractor to do it.  Depending upon the site and type of bamboo, the trench may be from 22 inches to 34 inches deep.

High-density polypropylene, 40 mil or heavier, makes an effective barrier. It is commercially available and often comes with installation instructions.  The plastic barrier should extend above the soil surface at least 2 inches.  Replace soil on both sides of the barrier, and pack it well.

When the bamboo rhizomes reach the barrier, the shoots will be deflected upward for easy removal.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Monday, November 22, 2010

FAQ: How soon after receiving them should my bare root plants be planted?

Gardeners who wish to economize may purchase certain plants bare root.  Bare root plants are simply those which have had the soil removed from the roots.  Usually, young plants are sold that way.  When they have grown to the point that their roots are strong enough to be planted in the landscape, they are lifted, the soil rinsed off, and shipped.  Because the plants are small, the purchase price is lower.  Shipping without soil minimizes weight and shipping costs.  So bare root plants can be a very good bargain.

However, bare root plants are more vulnerable, and should be treated with care. Growers wrap them in moist packing material (usually in bundles), bag in plastic, box and ship as soon as possible.

Sun, wind, sub-freezing or blistering temperatures can damage or kill the plants.  Upon receipt, the package should be moved very soon to a shady, temperate location, and opened.  If left un-opened for a day or two, darkness can yellow the foliage and excessive moisture can cause the plants to rot.

Upon opening the package, set the plants upright in the box and maintain slight moisture around the roots. They should be okay if re-planted within a couple of days.  If they can not be re-planted within 48 hours, they may be 'heeled-in' to protect them. To do so, find a place in the garden where the bundled plants can be stored.  Dig a hole about 4 times as large as the bundled roots, place the roots in it, cover them with 6 to 8 inches of soil. Water well.  Soil should be in close contact with the roots.  If moisture is maintained, the plants may be stored like this for several days.

If you don't have a place in the garden for your plants to be 'heeled-in', you can do the same in a nursery container.  Half-fill a nursery container of appropriate size with potting soil.  Place the bundled plants upright in the center of it.  Fill in around them with more potting soil.  Water well, making sure soil is in close contact with the roots.

Though they can be stored like this for awhile, the answer to the question is: 'Better sooner than later.'

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Monday, November 15, 2010

What To Do To Prepare Your Garden For The Winter

I believe you'll benefit from the following article by guest blogger, Julie Armstrong.

When you have a garden, you have to prepare it for each season. The spring planning and summer planning are normally the most straight forward. Planning your garden for winter is a bit harder for some as they are not sure what to do exactly. Below we will discuss what you can do to prepare for the winter months for your garden.

Before it gets too cold you need to harvest everything in your garden. This might be the garden vegetables that you have that are still growing. If it gets too cold, you will lose everything. Harvest it all before it is too late.

Prune anything in your garden for the winter months. This is best done in the late fall. Do not wait until spring as you will not get as much production out of things that are not properly pruned. This gets the plants ready to grow productively as soon as it is spring.

Do what you can to weed your garden. Remove anything that you do not want to be growing in the spring. If you wait too long, things will sprout up and cause problems in your garden during the spring. Getting it out now makes it much easier than waiting until things are growing more productively later.

Do what you can to work on your soil. Composting is a good practice for this since you will get healthy and productive soil. You can be making this all year long so it is always ready when you are going to plant. This will give your spring plants a huge advantage. Work on this during the winter.

You can still be growing something in your garden during the winter if you want to. You can use plastics, a green house, or even fish aquariums to help heat up the soil and make it warm enough to continue to grow fall plants even in the middle of winter. This is something to consider if you want to keep growing.

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Julie has been writing articles online for nearly 4 years now. She also publishes reviews of various consumer products. Come visit her latest websites that review Freedom Blogging Profit by Stephen Ng and Paul Walker and Google Places Unleashed, and radon gas detector.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

7206 Tokalon, Dallas, TX

7206 Tokalon is a pleasant address with attractive curb appeal near White Rock Lake in Dallas, Texas.  The quiet residential street lined with modest homes doesn't seem to hide anything extraordinary.  But the owner-designed landscape is quite remarkable.  The plant list includes nearly 100 different varieties of groundcovers, grasses, perennials, vines, shrubs and trees growing on a little over 1/2 acre lot.  That such a small landscape could include so many plants in a coherent design seems practically impossible.  But the homeowner is David Rolston, a prominent Landscape Architect in Dallas.

I met Dave and toured his garden during the 2009 Dallas Tour of Homes. The clean lines of the house and the street-side landscape, as well-conceived as they are, did not prepare me for the special place created behind the garden wall.

The 2 bedroom, 2.5 bath home was built in 1948 and honored as a Better Homes and Gardens House Of The Year.  After a house fire in 2006, it was remodeled by Architect Jim Manning to make it appear much larger with generous open spaces and an expansive view to the garden.

A small lot usually invites unwanted visual incursion from neighboring properties, but Rolston has created a private glade for family and friends to enjoy.  An imaginative collection trees and shrubs screen the outdoor living area from view without crowding available space for relaxing and entertaining.  At the same time, the screening provides lovely backdrops for an abundance of carefully selected ornamental grasses and perennials.  Even utilitarian corners are appropriately obscured, as with this bamboo screen.

In time-honored tradition, the garden is arranged into free-form rooms with water features, alcoves, and seating areas joined by paths and vistas.  A grassy stairway leads downward to a welcoming entertainment area warmed by a fire pit.

Rolston is very conservation conscious, and his design reflects it.  Not easily seen from the ground, he designed a tiny lawn in the form of a "green roof" sheltering the screened porch, providing a place for relaxation and play.  By minimizing lawn areas and substituting ground covers such as Mondo (Ophiopogon japonicus), he reduced mowing maintenance.  Taking advantage of the slope of the landscape, he created a catch basin at the end of the entertainment area to retrieve run-off and recycle it for irrigation.  The gravel drive and parking area allows rainfall to percolate downward.  He is also careful to use native ornamental plants where appropriate.

Dave is an artist at heart, as his use of beautiful objects, form, color and texture demonstrates.  Each season brings a new delight.  Autumn, for example, is resplendent with fall-blooming perennials, grasses and Japanese maples.

Too often, landscape architects wish to impose their own visions upon their clients' landscapes.  Not so with Rolston's firm.  An affable fellow, Dave makes friends easily.  Consequently, meeting his clients' needs and tastes is his goal.  As he says himself, One of the things I most enjoy is learning about what a person likes and who they are as people…then finding coherent ways to express that in the landscape

As he wishes for his clients, he wishes for himself.  Clearly, the garden at 7206 Tokalon is an expression of David Rolston's congeniality, hospitality, and love of gardening.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hunt For The Tiger Flower

Collectors of exotic plants should hunt for the Tiger Flower.  It belongs to the genus Tigridia (pronounced ty-GRID-ee-ah), which means like a tiger.  The name was derived from the Aztec, ocelo-xóchitl (roughly pronounced o-cel-o tsO-chi-tl, the tl sounding like a click somewhere between my tongue and cheek, but I can't explain it), meaning tiger flower.  The tiger in mind was certainly not the Asian tiger, and probably not the ocelot, as one might expect from the name, but the jaguar. Jaguars are spotted, and so are Tigridia flowers, usually in the center with outer colors ranging from cream and yellow to pink and red.

Tigridia includes around thirty species native to the western hemisphere from Mexico southward.  The genus was discovered by Europeans by the 18th century. Of course, earlier residents knew about the plants already.

Tigridia is a member of the Iridaceae family, along with Belamcanda, Crocosmia, Iris, Sparaxis, and such.  The sword-like foliage and the flower arrangement on the stems are obvious hints. T. pavonia (pronounced pav-ON-ee-ah) is the most readily available because it is very adaptable and showy.

T. pavonia was named for the Spanish botanist, José Antonio Pavón Jiménez of Caceras (1754-1844), who, along with Hipólito Ruiz López of Burgos (1754-1816) and French botanist Joseph Dombey (1742-1794), accompanied an expedition commissioned by Carlos III to explore Peru and Chile. It was a huge eleven-year commitment (1777-1788) for those young men to embark upon. In fact, Pavón was enlisted before he had completed his academic studies. I suppose the lure of adventure called. Following their exploration, Pavón and Ruiz published Flora Peruviana et Chilensis.

Dombey left the expedition in 1784 over disagreements with Hipólito, and took with him valuable information about Cinchona, the source of quinine treatment for malaria. In other words, it appears that he left the expedition to the mercy of mosquitos while taking the medicine with him. Ironically, Dombey's work, Péruvienne Flore, was published posthumously.

Interestingly, Tigridia may have been discovered by Europeans before the Pavón-Ruiz expedition.  The 1633 edition of John Gerard’s Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes includes a description of the ‘floure of Tygris’.  I've not been able to locate a description of it in the 1597 edition, but I haven't scanned all 1500 pages.  Apparently, Gerard (1545-1612) or one of the later contributors to the Herball thought the report about the plant to be false.

Two bulbous Plants, generally holden for feigned and adulterine. ... The second feigned picture hath been taken of the Discoverer and others of late time, to be a kind of Dragons not sure by any that have written thereof ... The root, saith my Author, is bulbous or Onion fashion, outwardly black, from which spring up long leaves, sharp pointed, narrow, and of a fresh green colour: in the middest of which leaves rise up naked or bare stalks, at the top whereof groweth a pleasant yellow floure, stained with many small red spots here and there confusedly cast abroad: and in the middest of the floure thrusteth forth a long red tongue or style, which in time groweth to be the cod or seed-vessel, crooked or wreathed, wherein is the seed. The vertues and temperature are not to be spoken of, considering that we assuredly persuade our selves that there are no such plants, but meere fictions and devices, as we terme them, to give his friend a gudgeon.

A gudgeon is a coarse fish, sometimes a pest, in Europe.  To give a gudgeon was to play a trick, so the 'floure of Tygris' was considered to be someone's attempt at a joke.  But the description of Tigridia is so spot-on that one can only surmise someone actually knew about it over 150 years before the Pavón-Ruiz expedition.

By the way, Gerard supervised the London gardens of William Cecil (1521-1598), chief advisor to Queen Elizabeth I.  William Cecil, 1st Lord Burghley, was an ancestor of William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil, present operator of the Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC.  But that's another story.

Pavón, Ruiz, Dombey and explorers before them weren't looking for pretty flowers.  They were looking for valuable plants.  Tigridia is still worth further study.

Indigenous people of South America ate the boiled bulbs and roots.  Cooked, they are said to taste like chestnuts.  Tigridia has been used medicinally to reduce fever, promote conception, and is said to be "good for the breast."  Furthermore, the plants may have had some ceremonial significance in Aztec culture.

Tigridia adds plenty of color to the garden.  You can plant Tigridia bulbs in spring directly in the ground or in containers.  Mix them amongst other perennials or annuals in free-form groupings.  The individual flowers open in the morning and close by late afternoon, so don't plan on cutting them.  However, the stems can produce flowers from spring to mid-summer, so you may enjoy a long-lasting show.

Tigridia pavonia is cold hardy in USDA climate zones 8 through 11, where they can be treated as perennials.  Space 3 inches to 6 inches apart and about 4 inches deep in full sun to partial shade in average, moist but well-drained garden soil.  Gardeners in colder climates can lift them in the fall and store them over winter in vermiculite or peat in a dry place where temperature can be maintained between 35 degrees and 40 degrees F.

Ideal pH for Tigridia ranges from 6.1 to 7.8.  Use a high quality grade of potting soil if growing in containers.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  For a nominal fee, they will send it to a lab for analysis and return a report to you.  Your soil sample report will include fertilizer recommendations based upon the results of the test.  Follow the instructions.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" deep, removing all traces of weeds.  If you prefer to skip the soil test, a fine all-around practice for spring-flowering bulbs is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Repeat the application when shoots appear, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

Tigridia not only adds color and texture to the garden, but historic and cultural interest, as well.  Gerard's Herball considered it too good to be true.  Certainly you should add the Tiger Flower to your collection.

Return to Tigridia at goGardenNow.com.

Monday, October 25, 2010

FAQ: Is it always necessary to till the soil before planting?


Q. Is it always necessary to till the soil before planting?

A. Though I recommend it as a first step, it is not always necessary. If your soil has never been worked, it is probably compacted and will need tilling. But if your garden soil is friable, tilling should not be necessary. If you are adding soil amendments such as fertilizer, compost, greensand, sulphur or pelletized lime, tilling can help to incorporate them thoroughly into the soil.

Got garden questions? Ask me.  You'll receive an expert answer quickly. Come on, ask me.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cheerful Harlequin Flowers

Cheerful Harlequin Flowers put on a colorful show in any garden.  Their star-shaped flowers in a rainbow of bright colors are produced on 12 to 18 inch long stems in mid-spring to early summer.

The genus, Sparaxis (pronounced spa-RAKS-iss), includes about fifteen species native to the Cape Province of South Africa.  The name refers to the flower bracts which appear to be torn.  Sparaxis has been known at least since the 1800s, though a new species, Sparaxis maculosa, was discovered as late as 1988.  Sparaxis is a member of the Iridaceae, along with Ixia, another South African genus.  In fact, Ixia and Sparaxis have sometimes been confused.  Among their most obvious shared characteristics are corms, sword-like foliage and the flower arrangement on the stems. S. tricolor is the most readily available, though collections of mixed species are often offered for sale.

Depending on the species, flower centers have black centers, yellow centers, or a combination of both.  The leaves are very attractive, too, adding vertical interest to the garden.  You can plant them in spring anywhere directly in the ground or in containers.  If allowed to go to seed, sparaxis germinates readily and will produce lots of new plants.  The corms produce offshoots which can be divided during dormancy and replanted for a greater show the following year.

Sparaxis adds plenty of color to the garden.  Mix the corms amongst other perennials or annuals in free-form groupings.  They're perfect for bulb gardens and rock gardens, too.  Because the cut flowers are long-lasting, you'll want plenty of them in your cutting garden.  Sparaxis is drought-tolerant, too, so those who live in drought-prone zones or must limit their water use will love them.  This is definitely one to add to your list of plants for xeriscaping.

Sparaxis is cold hardy in USDA climate zones 9 through 11, but the corms are so inexpensive that gardeners in colder zones treat them as annuals. Space 6 inches to 12 inches apart and about 1-1/2 inches to 3 inches deep in full sun to partial shade in average, well-drained garden soil.  Field studies at the Institute of Ornamental Plants and Architecture of Landscape, Agricultural University of Lublin, Poland between 2000 and 2003 reported that, in general, early planting at 1-1/2 inches depth resulted in more flower spikes with more flowers per spike.  So my advice to you is to get them in the ground as soon as the soil can be worked.

Ideal pH for sparaxis ranges from 6.1 to 7.8.  Use a high quality grade of potting soil if growing in containers.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  For a nominal fee, they will send it to a lab for analysis and return a report to you.  Your soil sample report will include fertilizer recommendations based upon the results of the test.  Follow the instructions.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" deep, removing all traces of weeds.  If you prefer to skip the soil test, a fine all-around practice for spring-flowering bulbs is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Repeat the application when shoots appear, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

When fall approaches and plants become dormant, gardeners in cooler climates can dig the corms and store them over winter.  To do so, remove dried foliage, brush soil from the corms, pack them in ground sphagnum or dry sawdust, and store them in a dark, well-ventilated area with a temperature range of 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

Planted liberally, sparaxis will make a wonderful show in your spring to summer garden. You'll be delighted with this beautiful South African native.

Return to Sparaxis at goGardenNow.com.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Night Fragrance of Exotic Tuberose

Night heightens the senses and deepens emotions.  Longings and impressions are not so arresting in the light of day.  On summer nights, when windows are opened and hearts yearn, the night fragrance of tuberose ignites passions around the world.

The botanical name is Polianthes tuberosa (pronounced polly-AN-these toober-OHS-ah).  Polianthes means "gray flower".  Tuberosa refers to the tuberous root structure.

Polianthes is in the Agavaceae family, and is believed to be native to Mexico.  You'll recognize the family resemblance in foliage and flower.  Plant size is about 24 inches.  Flower color is almost white.  Bloom season is from mid-summer to fall, depending upon the region where it is grown.

Agaves are the sources of other intoxications such as pulque, mezcal and tequila.  Aztecs called polianthes, Omixochitl (pronounced oh me' zu che' tl), meaning "bone flower", referring to the bloom color.

In Iran it is known as Gole Maryam or Jane Maryan and woven into the music of love longing.


In Hindi, it is Rajnigandha.  Though the rajnigandha story is a bit different, the desire of the heart is ever present.

Indonesians know it as bunga sedap malam.  Chinese call it WanXiangYu.  No matter the language, the translation is the same: Night Fragrance.

According to legends spread abroad, young girls from Europe to Asia were warned that smelling the perfumed air might induce romantic moods.  Rather than taking care, I expect that ladies slept next to open windows dreaming of love.


Tuberose blossoms are often mingled in wedding bouquets.  Parts of the flowers are popular ingredients in perfume.

That Polianthes is probably native to Mexico but deeply embedded in the psyche of people around the world begs the question, How did it come to pass?

Persia (Iran) and India have been allies, often of the same blood, perhaps as far back as 2000 BC.  There is strong evidence that Muslim traders traveled to Indonesia as early as the 8th century AD.  So it doesn't require a stretch to speculate trade with Mayans or Aztecs even before the Spanish Conquistadors.  Since the Iberian peninsula was home to Christians and mudejar following the Reconquest of Spain, there should be no doubt that tuberoses were carried around the world after the 15th century.  It has been a small orb after all.

Tuberoses are perfect for containers, bulb gardens, perennial borders, fragrance gardens and cutting gardens.  They thrive in USDA climate zones 8 through 10. Gardeners in colder climates may grow them in containers, protecting them over winter.  Plant outdoors in full sun to partial shade.  Rich garden soil that is well-drained and with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.8 is fine.  For container growing, use a good grade of well-drained, peat-based potting soil.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  The service usually provides collection bags.  For the most basic recommendations, you may be charged a nominal fee.  For more information such as micro-nutrient and organic content you may be charged more.  Their recommendations are well worth it.

Planting usually begins in spring, though fall planting is possible in warmest climates.  Unless you are naturalizing them in the lawn, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6 inches deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 8 inches deep.
 
Your soil sample report will include fertilizer recommendations based upon the results of the test.  A fine all-around practice for Spring-flowering bulbs is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Repeat the application when shoots appear, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

The tubers should be planted no deeper than 3 inches.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.  Recommended plant spacing is 6 inches to 12 inches.

Plant tuberose in your garden this spring, then open your windows for gentle breezes to perfume your home.

Return to Polianthes at goGardenNow.com.

Monday, October 11, 2010

FAQ: Can you suggest a juniper ground cover that will not be overcome by grasses and weeds? When should we plant?

Q.  We have a large (approximately 100 ft x 40 ft) sunny hillside  of red clay in north Georgia and would like to plant an economical, fast-spreading juniper as a ground cover that will not be overcome by wild grasses and weeds.  What would you suggest?  Should we plant now or next spring?

A.  In all honesty, there is not a ground cover juniper that can not be overcome by wild grasses and weeds.  Ground covers suppress weeds but don't eliminate them entirely. The best you can do is to kill weeds and grasses when planting, plant your ground covers in clean soil, apply 3" or 4" of mulch (measure the depth after the mulch has settled) or a pre-emergent herbicide, and maintain a weed-free environment until the junipers have matured.  If you apply a pre-emergent herbicide, it will have to be re-applied every few weeks to maintain an effective barrier.  Make sure the chemical is labeled for use with junipers.  Follow all label directions.  You must also prevent weeds from encroaching from outside the planting bed. Since you are planting on a hillside, you should use a straw mulch.  Bark or wood chips will wash down the slope.

Fall is an excellent time for planting.  Though you won't see much top-growth over winter, the roots will be establishing themselves.  This will give you a jump on spring.

Juniperus conferta 'Blue Pacific' and J. horizontalis 'Wiltonii' (also known as 'Blue Rug') are fast-growing, economical ground cover junipers.

Return to Juniperus at goGardenNow.com.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Results of Community Poll Ending 9 October, 2010

Our Community Poll just ended asked the question, What is the single biggest garden problem you've experienced this summer?
  • 50% of respondents reported abnormally hot temperatures.
  • None reported abnormally cold temperatures.
  • None reported abnormally high rainfall.
  • 22% reported abnormally low rainfall.
  • 17% reported insects or disease.
  • 11% reported having trouble finding enough time to garden.
NOAA reported that the contiguous United States experienced the fourth warmest summer on record.  In the same report, NOAA reported that 11 states experienced below normal rainfall, 11 states experienced above normal rainfall, 26 states experienced near normal rainfall.

Insects and disease can be indirectly related to weather, not only present but past.  Mild winters can result in higher insect populations.  Warm, wet summers can result in more disease.  Such wide-spread diseases as late blight complicate matters further.

It's always good to hear how other gardeners fare, even if they don't fare well.  At least we can commiserate knowing we're not alone with our troubles.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Herbal Oils Help To Preserve The Bounty Of Your Garden

What do you do when you have more herbs to harvest in your garden than you can deal with?  You can eat a lot, dry them, freeze them or make herbal oils.  Each of those present you with more options, but let's think about herbal oils.

I've tried a few, and so have you.  They might have been purchased, received as gifts, or rubbed on by your masseuse.  I can't remember a single one that wasn't delightful.  The not-so-secret secret is that you can make them yourself.  Herbal oils help to preserve the bounty of your garden, are wonderful for cooking, easy to make, attractive on the shelf, and make great gifts.

There are a gazillion-willion possible ingredients and uses for herbal oils.  I can't begin to present specific recipes and applications for you to try, so I'll stick to the basics.  For the sake of simplicity, let's make cayenne pepper oil.

You'll need a sterilized bottle and cap or stopper, dried red peppers that are small enough to fit through the bottle-neck, and oil.  As I mentioned in my article, Pesto Is The Solution..., nothing preserves the essence of fresh herbs like olive oil.  But olive oil isn't the best oil for every occasion.  In fact, lighter oils and those with less pronounced flavor tend to highlight the taste of the herbs.  For sake of economy and usefulness, start with canola oil.  It's healthy and versatile.

Here are the steps:
  • Gather a few small dried red peppers.  Six or eight will do.  If you don't have any on hand, you can purchase some from your local grocery store.  You'll find them among the spices or in the Mexican food section.
  • Sterilize your bottle.  The USDA has published guidelines on how to do that.  You can find them on page 10 of this document:  Guide 1: Principles of Home Canning.  After sterilizing, let them drain and dry. 
  • Place the peppers on a cutting board and whack them a little bit to bruise them.  I use a small meat tenderizing hammer.  Just break the skin; don't pound them to pieces.
  • Stuff the peppers in the bottle.
  • Heat the oil in a small stainless steel saucepan on low temperature until it's a little warm.
  • Pour the oil into the bottle.
  • Let the contents cool.
  • Close the bottle tightly with a lid or cork.
  • Set the bottle aside in a cool place away from light for about a week. 
  • Use it.
You may be asking, "How shall I use this pepper oil?"  The answer is that you should use it as you would for any recipe that requires some oil and hot pepper.  You can also use it for vinaigrettes with a touch of heat.

You may be asking, "How long will this oil last?"  Your homemade oil won't last as long as commercially processed herbal oils.  It should be good for a couple of months.  If you remove the peppers from the oil, it will last longer.  The reason is that the peppers, though dried, still contain a little water. If the water weren't there, your peppers would be dust or less.  Water harbors life-giving fluid for little creatures that can spoil your oil.  But if you remove the peppers from the oil, your bottle won't look so pretty.  "What to do?"  Use it or refrigerate it.  If you have trouble using a larger bottle of oil, make your herbal oils in smaller batches and store in smaller bottles.

There are many different oils to choose from.  Canola, peanut, safflower and sunflower are good choices.  Remember what I said before about lighter-tasting oils highlighting herbal flavors.

Popular herbs and spices for oil infusions include basil, bay, cayenne, chives, cilantro, dill, garlic, mint, marjoram, oregano, peppercorn, rosemary, savory, tarragon, and thyme.  For massage oils, consider eucalyptus, lavender and dried citrus peels.  Experiment with different combinations.  You'll have great fun.

Herbal oils make lovely gifts.  Attractive bottles enhance the appearance.  You can also decorate the bottles by dipping the necks in colored wax, applying descriptive labels in calligraphy, wrapping with attractive fabric, tying with ribbon or raffia.  A gift card including a suggested recipe will be appreciated.  The recipients may think their gifts are too beautiful to use, but remind them that the herbal oil won't last forever.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pesto Is The Solution To A Bumper Crop of Basil

Last fall, our friend, Donna McKenna, dropped off a couple of large plastic garbage bags filled with fresh basil plants.  Someone had given more of their bumper crop than they could use themselves.  They were pulling up the rest.  Donna used as much as she could, sold some at the local farmers' market, and still had bushels of basil. 

Even though we grow our own herbs, we were glad to get her leftovers.  But we couldn't possibly use so much basil at once, so I set about making lots of pesto.  I reasoned that it would be a better alternative than freezing or drying the raw herb.  Nothing preserves the flavor of fresh herbs like olive oil.

If you are growing basil in your garden, try my recipe for pesto with a Southern twist:
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed tightly
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (authentic Italian pesto contains pine nuts)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Equipment: A food processor or blender.  If using a blender, make sure the lid has an opening on top so ingredients can be added without removing the entire lid.

Procedure:

Put the basil and nuts in the blender, make sure the lid is secure, and give the machine a few short bursts (pulses) of power. Add the garlic and pulse a few times more.  This gets the basil chopped a little, but not too much.

Slowly pour in the olive oil in a steady stream while the blender is on.  Everything should be well mixed and chopped.  Add the grated cheese and pulse some more.  Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.  Taste the mixture.  Remember that the cheese adds a little salt.  Add more salt and pepper to taste.

This will give you about 1 cup.  Needless to say, I made a lot more than that.

I spooned the pesto into little plastic containers with lids, about 1/3 cup capacity, and put them in the freezer.  I've found that the basil tends to soak up some of the oil, even when frozen, and becomes pasty.  But stirring in a little more oil before using restores the pesto to the right consistency.  Though a year has passed, we still have some in the freezer and it tastes great.

Pesto is wonderful on toast, pasta, vegetables, chicken, veal and pork dishes, to mention a very few.  My favorite is roasted red bell pepper stuffed with feta cheese, pesto spooned over the top, and served warm.  Since we have a bumper crop of red and yellow bell peppers this year, we're eating a lot of them with pesto.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Put Your Garden To Bed And You'll Rest Better, Too.

When fall arrives, many gardeners are tempted to put off until spring what they should do today. Yield not to temptation. Necessary chores completed in a timely fashion will save time and labor, and give you a sense of satisfaction.  In other words, put your garden to bed and you'll rest better, too.

Before you begin your winter hibernation, complete these garden tasks:

Tidy up. Dead plants and garden debris provide shelter for insect pests and the four-footed varieties. Not only that, decaying plants also harbor fungi and plant diseases. But don't carry the debris street-side for trash collectors; compost it. Composting turns it into rich, organic material for next year's garden.
Most of us have childhood memories of Saturday afternoons raking up large piles of fallen foliage and jumping into them. Then the leaves were raked again and carted off to the curb. But there are better alternatives. If you insist upon a well-groomed lawn, collect the leaves and compost them. However, I prefer leaving them on the lawn and chopping them to bits with my lawnmower. A mulching attachment will reduce them to pieces small enough that they will filter into the grass, self-compost, and add to the organic content of your lawn. In fact, a mulching mower used all year long will return grass clippings to the lawn with the same result.

Prune. Pruning includes dead-heading your perennials. When bloom-time is over, many plants become unsightly. Dead-heading will improve the appearance of your garden and remove unwanted seeds. Furthermore, you will be making room for new spring growth, especially if you have interplanted with spring-blooming flower bulbs. If pruning trees or shrubs in autumn, only remove dead or dying tissue. Heavy pruning may stimulate new growth at a time when you need it least. New growth late in the year can be severely damaged by cold and compromise the health of your plants.

Fertilize. Fall fertilizing is done for different reasons than spring fertilizing. In spring, the object is to stimulate new top growth for lush foliage and abundant bloom. Fall fertilizing, however, is to stimulate root growth. Plants must have a good foundation to build upon next spring. Whether fertilizing lawn, garden, shrubs or trees, the purpose is the same. Fertilizers for fall application are formulated differently than those for spring. Nitrogen (N) content will be lower or in a slow-release form. Phosphorus (P) and potash (K) will be at relatively higher levels. When reading fertilizer formulations, know that the order is N-P-K. In addition to granular fertilizers, other organic additions may include compost and bone meal.

Plant flower bulbs. Many of us think of planting fall bulbs when we see crocuses, daffodils and tulips popping up in the spring. Too late! Fall is the time to plant those, so don't delay. It's best to plan your spring-flowering bulb purchases in July, order in August or September, and plant in September or October. But planting in October or November is still not too late. Be sure to buy high-quality bulbs in larger sizes. Larger bulbs produce more flowers sooner. Typically, discounters and big box stores carry smaller bulbs because they want to offer the lowest prices. You get what you pay for. Sometimes you don't even get what you pay for, so buy from a reputable source.

By the arrival of spring, gardeners can't wait to get into their gardens. What a disappointment to be faced with garden chores from fall still waiting. Get into your garden now while the air is clear and the temperature brisk. You'll enjoy it, feel better having done it, and your garden will be in better condition come spring.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

FAQ: When is the best time to prune muscadine vines?

I have inherited my fathers property which include his coveted muscadine vines. He could put anything in the ground and it would grow. These vines are at least 20+ years and it looks as if they need a little pruning. Dad made it to 90 years old and I don't think he could care for them the last couple of years like he use to. There are still some green leaves on them and I was wondering if this month (October) is a good time to do some pruning?  We live in south central Louisiana in case the region would need to be taken into consideration.

You could do some pruning now if you simply need to thin out some of the vines or trim them up so they don't run along the ground.  But if you need to do some radical pruning, as described in my Youtube videos, you should wait until the vines drop their leaves and become dormant.  Around here, that would be after Thanksgiving.  Don't be alarmed if the spurs (remaining stubs of the cut vines) drip water during warm spells; the will not "bleed" to death.

FAQ: How long before my saffron crocus bulbs sprout?

This is the first time I've grown saffron crocuses and was wondering how long before I can expect to see foliage poking out of the ground?

I understand that you planted them very recently. Your Crocus sativus bulbs, which sprout and bloom in fall, need to establish roots before they begin growing foliage. That may take 10 days or more, but the time is not exact because of various factors such as outdoor temperature, planting site (should be well-drained soil), planting depth, etc. I've seen fall-blooming crocuses try to grow in the box before planting, but that's not a good thing. You may get a few blooms the year in which you plant them, but you'll have a better bloom the following year.

To learn more, check out my blog article for more information on crocuses.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

False Shamrock - Of Hoods and Bells and Fairy Green

There is a bank (I love it well)
Where climbs the sorrel of the wood,
Here breathes, how frail! a puce-veined bell,
There snowy droops its crumpled hood.
With knotted roots of tinctured strings
A tender tapestry it weaves,
Whilst folding back like soft green wings
The lappets of its cloven leaves.
It is a dainty sight, I ween,
Of hoods, and bells, and fairy green ;
But when the dews of evening fall,
They mutely bless the Lord of all,
And, closing, wait the daylight's call!
Hard by, o'ershadowed by the forest trees,
Like partial snowshowers, wood anemones
Outstretched in level masses of white shade
People with magic companies the glade,
As fairy-land borne flying on the breeze
Had lighted round gnarled oaks of centuries,
While Spring repairs her roofless palaces.

    - Rev. Charles Armstrong Fox (19th century English pastor, poet, theologian)

The magical charm of wood sorrel captures the imagination even now as it did for Charles Fox, the poet of Keswick.  (You have to get down on your knees, close and personal to appreciate things like that.)  In addition to poetry, he published a few books of Keswick theology, a controversial view among Protestants, which emphasized a higher level of Christian spirituality.  His books included Victories and Safeguards, Ankle Deep, and Conquered and Kept.  A very devout man and a leader in the early days of the Keswick Convention, Rev. Fox reveled in nature and blessed its Creator.  Certainly, nature's delights are plentiful, so he had a lot to be thankful for.

Fairies and magic are often associated with wood sorrel because of its resemblance to the Irish shamrock.  Potted oxalis plants are traditionally given around St. Patrick's Day.  But wood sorrel isn't called False Shamrock for nothing, for true shamrock is actually clover (Trifolium repens or T. dubium).  Nevertheless, don't let that little bit of knowledge spoil your fun.  White clover is nowhere near as appealing as oxalis in a decorative planter or in the garden.

Wood Sorrel (aka False Shamrock) belongs to the genus, Oxalis, and is a member of the Oxalidaceae family.  Oxalis consists of about 800 species which are native worldwide.  Some are annuals; others are perennials.  Indigenous people and little boys around the world have munched on sorrels for food and fun.  The leaves may be eaten alone or added to salads.  The plants contain oxalic acid, which gives them a sour but refreshing taste.

A childhood friend of mine, who I shall call 'Andy Hitt' to protect his identity, said that wood sorrel and sheep sorrel, both containing oxalates, tasted that way because his dog, Bud, had peed on them.  As it turns out, oxalates are eliminated by urine, so now that I think of it he might not have been kidding.

Though oxalic acid can be dangerous in large amounts, oxalicacidinfo.com assures that it's highly unlikely occasionally eating sorrels would have any toxic effect.  That's good to know.

One species of False Shamrock, O. acetosella, has been eaten to sustain life during famine. Edmund Spenser, by no means a friend of the Irish, wrote in his View of the State of Ireland during a Famine, "Out of every corner of the wods and glynnis they come creeping forth upon their hands, for their legs could not bear them; they looked like anatomies of death; they spoke like ghosts crying out of their graves; they did eat the dead carrions; and if they found a plot of watercresses or shamrocks, they flocked as to a feast..."

There are several important Oxalis species grown ornamentally:  O. adenophylla, O. brasiliensis, O. deppei (syn. O. tetraphylla), O. lasiandra, O. triangularis and O. versicolor.

Hardiness varies by species.  Where they are hardy, they are excellent for bulb gardens, perennial gardens and borders, and naturalizing.  Plant oxalis tubers 12 inches to 15 inches apart and 1 inch to 1-1/2 inches deep in full sun to partial shade in average, well-drained garden soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.  Planting depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.  Oxalis can be grown in any climate in container gardens, and they may be grown indoors or out.

If planting in the garden, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  For a small fee, they will send it to a lab for analysis and return a report to you.  Your soil sample report will include recommendations for amending the soil.  If planting in containers, use a good grade of sphagnum-based potting soil.

Unless you are naturalizing them in the lawn, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" deep, removing all traces of weeds.  A good practice is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Don't let synthetic fertilizer come into direct contact with plants.

When your False Shamrocks begin to sprout and bloom, you'll agree with Rev. Fox, "It is a dainty sight, I ween, of hoods, and bells, and fairy green."

Return to Oxalis at goGardenNow.com.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Star Of Bethlehem: Flower of the Virgin's Child

"Ah me!" the lonely stranger said,
"The hope which led my footsteps on,
And light from heaven around them shed,
O'er weary wave and waste, is gone!

..."And what am I, o'er such a land
The banner of the Cross to bear?
Dear Lord, uphold me with Thy hand,
Thy strength with human weakness share!"

He ceased; for at his very feet
In mild rebuke a floweret smiled;
How thrilled his sinking heart to greet
The Star-flower of the Virgin's child!

In poetic verse, John Greenleaf Whittier told the story of a Christian missionary wearied and discouraged in his efforts to carry the Gospel to Iran.  But upon seeing a flower known as Star Of Bethlehem at his feet, he was heartened to carry on his very difficult work.

Readers during the Victorian era were very romantic in their outlook, as their art attests.  That a flower might suggest the "star in the east" to a weary evangelist and encourage him seems far-fetched to cynical moderns.  We would be more inclined to accept its botanical name, Ornithogalum (pronounced or-ni-THOG-al-um), which means "bird milk". ("Bird milk", also known as "crop milk", is supposed to allude to the color of the flowers.) But we gardeners will tend to appreciate the symbolism of the Natal Star since we are hopeless romantics.

The genus, Ornithogalum, is a member of the Hyacinthaceae family and consists of about twenty species.  Flowers are white, except for O. dubium which produces orange and yellow ones.  Different species are native to southern Europe, north Africa and South Africa. Though generally hardy in USDA climate zones 8 to 11, they are effective in container gardens in cooler regions.  Where they may be grown outdoors over winter, they are excellent for bulb gardens, perennial gardens and borders, and naturalizing.  They are superb for cutting, lasting a couple of weeks or more in flower arrangements.

Ornithogalums require little attention.  Plant them in spring in full sun to partial shade and in average, well-drained garden soil. Recommended pH is from 6.1 to 7.8.

Fragrant flowers appear in late spring to mid-summer.  After blooming the leaves will eventually turn brown. Allow the leaves to turn brown before removing them.  Early removal of foliage prevents the bulbs from storing reserves for the following year.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  For a small fee, they will send it to a lab for analysis and return a report to you.  Your soil sample report will include recommendations for amending the soil.  Follow them.

Unless you are naturalizing them in the lawn, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" deep, removing all traces of weeds.  A good practice is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Don't let synthetic fertilizer come into direct contact with plants.

Plant Ornithogalum bulbs about 3 inches deep and 6 inches apart in spring.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.

By the way, the bulbs look like little onions.  One species, O. longibracteatum, is called Pregnant Onion or False Sea Onion.  But don't let the resemblance fool you.  Though some species are edible, others contain a heart-stopping steroid called cardenolide.  Don't eat any of them.

As gardeners, we know how flowers lift our spirits.  We don't mind the work because the rewards are so great.  Plant Star Of Bethlehem bulbs and you'll be heartened when they bloom.

Return to Ornithogalum at goGardenNow.com.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Nerine - The Legendary Guernsey Lily

Far in the East, and long to us unknown,
A lily bloom'd, of colours quaint and rare ;
Not like our lilies, white, and dimly fair,
But clad like Eastern monarch on his throne.
A ship there was by stress of tempest blown,
And wreck'd on beach, all sandy, flat, and bare;—
The storm-god bated of his rage to spare
The queenly flower, foredoom'd to be our own.
The Guernsey fisher, seeking what the sea
Had stolen to aid his hungry poverty,
Starts to behold the stranger from afar,
And wonders what the gorgeous thing might be,
That like an unsphered and dejected star
Gleam'd in forlorn and mateless majesty.

-Hartley Coleridge (1796-1849, son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

Thus did Coleridge tell the story of The Guernsey Lily in poetic verse.  To substantiate it, he included a quote from Beckman's Inventions, Vol. III.

The Guernsey Lily was also a plant of interest to The Rev. William Herbert (1778-1847), botanist, poet and Anglican clergyman.  Herbert was an expert in the Amaryllidaceae family, and he recognized the Guernsey lily as a member.  Furthermore, he was well aware that Francis Masson (1741-1805) had collected specimens during his botanical exploration of the Cape of South Africa (1772-1775) for Kew Gardens.

It's quite possible that Guernsey lilies were found in Japan.  Foreign trade was far more widespread and sophisticated prior to the 18th century than we give credit for.  Or Kaempher and Thunberg, whom Beckman referenced, might have mistaken Lycoris (also in the Amaryllidaceae family) for Guernsey lilies.

Nevertheless, the tale of the ill-fated ship and the introduction of the plant to the rocky shores of Guernsey apparently caught the fancy of Herbert.  Being a scholar and poet himself, he must have known lines such as these:

Often in autumn-time when the grapes are ripening, a Nereis climbs the rocks, and under cover of the shades of night brushes the sea-water from her eyes with a leafy vine-spray, and snatches sweet clusters from the hills. Often is the vintage sprinkled by the neighbouring foam; Satyri plunge into the waters, and Panes from the mountain are fain to grasp the Sea-Nymph as she flies naked through the waves.
-Statius, Silvae 2. 2

So, Herbert named the autumn-blooming genus Nerine (pronounced ne-REE-nee), the patronym of the watery nymphs known as Nereids, daughters of Nereus, who lived with him in a silvery cavern beneath the Aegean Sea.  In Greek mythology, Nereids were patrons of seafarers, often coming to their rescue from shipwrecks.  Shipwrecked or not, sailors were always glad to see women, even if they smelled like fish.

The genus consists of about thirty species.  Colors range from white to pink and red.  They are effective in container gardens, bulb gardens and borders.  Guernsey lilies are wonderful for cutting.  (Incidentally, the island is legendary for the Guernsey cut flower industry.)  They are also superb for naturalizing. 

Nerines need very little attention.  Plant them in spring.  After blooming in fall, the leaves persist throughout the winter, and turn yellow in late spring.  The bulbs are dormant during summer.  During blooming and while foliage is present, they require moist, well-drained soil.  Drier soil is good during dormancy.  In fact, nerine tolerate summer drought quite well.  As with all bulbs, allow the leaves to turn brown before removing them.  Early removal prevents the bulbs from storing reserves for the following year.

Plant hardiness differs according to species, but generally hardy from USDA climate zones 8 to 10, requiring full sun to partial shade and soil high in organic matter.  Recommended pH is from 6.1 to 7.8.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  For a nominal fee, they will send it to a lab for analysis and return a report to you.

Unless you are naturalizing them in the lawn, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 10" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 12" deep.  Common soil amendments include sulfur for lowering pH, limestone for raising pH, sand for helping drainage, clay for slowing drainage, gypsum for breaking up caking clay and compost for enriching the soil.  Bone meal is especially good for bulbs.  Which you should use depends upon the recommendations of the lab analysis based upon your particular circumstance.

Your soil sample report will include fertilizer recommendations.  A good practice is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Don't let synthetic fertilizer come into direct contact with plants.

Plant nerine bulbs about 8 inches deep and 8 inches apart in spring.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.

After long winters, we yearn to be rescued by spring flowers.  But we often forget that when autumn-time comes we need those strange lilies that appear like stars in our gardens.  Consider planting Guernsey lilies this spring.

Return to Nerine at goGardenNow.com.

FAQ: Which mondo or other ground cover might work best?

I have two separate areas, one is 90% shade (30' x 30'), the other is 100% sun (200' x 125'); both slope, so drain well.  The soil is clay. Can you recommend which mondo (or other ground cover) might work best? At present I have "regular" lawn that needs mowing every two weeks. It seemed that dwarf mondo might be my best alternative, but the more I read up on it, it seems to work best in mostly shade, if so, again, could you recommend a "mondo" type grass that would work in full sun? I like that the dwarf mondo grows to only 3" or 4" tall.

You want to replace your lawn grass with a low-maintenance ground cover.  Dwarf mondo would work well in full sun or shade. My article, Mondo Possibilities For Your Landscape, explains more. For covering an area the size you described with dwarf mondo will require patience. Lirope spicata might be a better choice. It grows taller, about the height of regular mondo, but spreads more rapidly. You can learn more about it from my article, Liriope: A Favorite Ground Cover.


If liriope or mondo are planted in full sun, experience drought and you fail to water, the leaf tips may turn brown. Severe drought might make all the foliage roll up and/or turn brown. But I've laid bare root divisions of liriope and mondo out on hot concrete in full sun for several days, and they revived when planted and watered. However I wouldn't make abuse a regular practice.

The advantage of liriope and mondo over grass, however, is that both will grow well in shade while grass may not. Liriope spicata is cold-hardier than mondo.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lycoris - Speaking of Naked Ladies

Plants in the genus Lycoris (pronounced LY-kor-iss or ly-KOR-iss) are sometimes called Naked Ladies.  The name refers to the fact that the blooms appear in the fall not clothed in foliage.   There are, in fact, several plants that share that name.   So, as I mentioned in my blog article on Colchicum, to walk into your local garden center and ask for Naked Ladies may not only cause some confusion, but might get you in trouble.

Apparently for the same reason that Lycoris are called Naked Ladies, the genus is also named for a notorious Roman actress and mime.  Mime was very popular with the ruling classes of 1st century Rome, as were illicit affairs.  Some said she was a common prostitute, perhaps because she had once been a slave, or they were jealous.  Lycoris was her "art" name.  She was also known as Cytheris.  She must have been a delightful beauty, talented and discrete for her paramours included such notables as Publius Volumnius, Mark Antony and Cornelius Gallus.  It was Gallus, the poet, who immortalized her in verse, even after she dumped him.

It was not Gallus who wrote the sad lyrics,

Don't speak
I know just what you're saying
So please stop explaining
Don't tell me cause it hurts
Don't speak
I know what you're thinking
I don't need your reasons
Don't tell me cause it hurts

Volumnius, who appeared in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, was not given volumes to speak, either; just three lines.  It was Mark Antony who wanted everyone to lend him their ears while he did the talking.

The genus consists of a dozen or more species native from Iran to Japan and southeast Asia.  Plants are dormant during summer.  Flowering is during fall, and colors range from white to pink, red, yellow and orange.  Lycoris are effective in container gardens, bulb gardens and borders.  They are also superb for naturalizing.  Lycoris are very easy to care for.  In fact, they often pop up in lawns and around old farmsteads where they have received no attention for years.  As with all bulbs, allow the leaves to turn brown before removing them.  Early removal prevents the bulbs from storing reserves for the following year.

Plant hardiness differs according to species, but generally hardy from USDA climate zones 7 to 10, requiring full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil, preferably high in organic matter.  Recommended pH is from 6.1 to 7.5.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  For a nominal fee, they will send it to a lab for analysis and return a report to you.

Unless you are naturalizing them in the lawn, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Common soil amendments include sulfur for lowering pH, limestone for raising pH, sand for helping drainage, clay for slowing drainage, gypsum for breaking up caking clay and compost for enriching the soil.  Bone meal is especially good for bulbs.  Which you should use depends upon the recommendations of the lab analysis based upon your particular circumstance.

Your soil sample report will also include fertilizer recommendations.  A good all-around practice is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

Plant lycoris bulbs 5 to 6 inches deep and 6 to 12 inches apart in the fall.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.  Unless snow or rainfall is inadequate, irrigation should not be necessary.  Slightly moist, well-drained soil is preferred, though summer drought during the dormant period is okay.

Lycoris radiata is the source of the toxic drug, lycorine, which has been used in Chinese medicine as an expectorant (makes one cough up mucus) and emetic (makes one vomit).  It's no wonder because the body doesn't want it in there.  So, it must be noted that all parts of the plant are toxic when ingested.

It's fascinating to grow a plant that brings to mind such colorful characters.  With a couple dozen lycoris bulbs hidden in your garden, history, legend and art will spring up and delight you every autumn.

Return to Lycoris at goGardenNow.com.

Friday, September 24, 2010

About Ixia

The genus, Ixia (pronounced IKS-ee-uh), includes about fifty species. Ixia is native to the western and southern parts of South Africa.  The genus was discovered and named during the late 1700s, though Linnaeus originally classified it as Gladiolus.  It's easy to understand why he did because the similarity is strong.  Among their most obvious shared characteristics are corms, sword-like foliage and flower arrangement on the stems.  Ixia and Gladiolus are members of the Iridaceae family (Iris).

But Ixia wasn't called Gladiolus for long.  Of course, names are given to plants for good reasons.  Sometimes names are bestowed to honor a notable person or to describe some characteristics of the plant, for example.  The name, Ixia, may have seemed all too obvious to Linneaus, but now after about 240 years no one actually knows why he named it so.  It is undoubtedly a latinized form derived from some Greek word.  Could it be from ixos, referring to its sticky sap that reminded Linnaeus of bird-lime?  Bird-lime is a viscous substance that is spread on tree branches to trap delicious birds.

South African botanist Gwendoline Joyce Lewis opined that the name was derived from the Greek word, ixia, which referred to a "chameleon plant" so called for its variable flower colors.  Her theory, apparently, was that Linnaeus thought of the changeable characteristics of chameleons, so he gave the name to this new African genus because of the variable colors between its species.  (To confirm this, I can't find the actual paper she wrote, though it is often referenced in articles on Ixia.)  As it turns out, some of the plants formerly considered to be ixias have since been classified into other genera, so now, the genus is not so variable any more.

But there is one commonly called "chameleon plant" because its flowers are long like chameleon's tongues, and its seeds are sticky like chameleon's tongues.  It is a mistletoe, Loranthus.  As a matter of fact, Italians used to make bird-lime of mistletoe berries, oil and turpentine.  So, then, Linnaeus may have been thinking of bird-lime, after all, and of the mistletoes that went into it.

Is that confusing, or what?  Either way, the name doesn't pretend to describe the beauty of this showy flower.

Why should all that etymology and plant taxonomy matter to us?  Well, because we're gardeners!

Ixia, also known as African Corn Lily, produces star-shaped flowers in a rainbow of various colors on 18" long wiry stems in mid-spring.  The species hybridize easily, so new forms may appear.  The strap-live leaves are quite handsome.  You can plant them in spring anywhere in the garden or in containers.  Cut flowers are long-lasting.  Fragrance is pleasant but discrete, sort of like the vegetable flowers in your garden.  Ixia is ideal for bee and butterfly gardens.

Ixia is cold hardy in USDA climate zones 9 and 10, but the corms are so inexpensive that gardeners in colder zones treat them as annuals. Plant ixia corms 3" to 6" apart and about 6" deep in full sun to partial shade in average, well-drained garden soil.  Ideal pH ranges from 6.1 to 7.8.  Use a high quality grade of potting soil if growing in containers.  Though somewhat drought tolerant during summer months, they benefit from moist soil during the growing season. Leafy mulch is ideal.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  For a nominal fee, they will send it to a lab for analysis and return a report to you.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 12" deep.

Your soil sample report will include fertilizer recommendations based upon the results of the test.  A fine all-around practice for spring-flowering bulbs is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Repeat the application when shoots appear, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

Planted liberally, Ixia will make a wonderful show in your spring garden.  The flowers are fine for cutting and arrangements, too.  You'll be glad you tried this beautiful South African native.

Return to Ixia at goGardenNow.com.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lovin' The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden


Garland Road in Dallas, Texas is a busy thoroughfare on the east side of the city. Driving southwest from Garland toward the city center, bustling traffic doesn't allow a driver to take his eyes off the road for long. Frankly, there doesn't seem to be any reason to look around. Much of the area looks worn. But a long brick wall conceals one of the loveliest spots in the city: The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden.

In the early 1930s, Everette DeGolyer (1886-1956), a geologist who contributed significantly to the development of the oil industry, chaired a committee to find a site for an arboretum. Perhaps while he was engaged in this endeavor, he found a tract of land overlooking Dallas's White Rock Lake.

White Rock Lake was originally established as a water reservoir to serve the needs of Dallas following a severe drought around 1909. The dairy farm was flooded. The lake was completed by 1912 and immediately became popular as a recreation area. White Rock Lake Park was established in 1929. Wealthy citizens began to purchase property overlooking the scenic landscape. Everett and his wife, Nell Goodrich DeGolyer (1887-1972), purchased the property he found on the eastern shore, not for an arboretum but for a home site.

The DeGolyer home was built in 1939 in the Latin Colonial Revival style, but designed to look like it was a century older. It was a most impressive house with twenty-one thousand square feet and served by central air-conditioning and heating. They called it "Rancho Encinal" because of the many encinas (live oaks) on the grounds.

Over fifty years after DeGolyer's committee began its search, the arboretum became a reality, ironically, at "Rancho Encinal." After purchasing the estate from Southern Methodist University, the City of Dallas began work to create their long-awaited garden. A property neighboring the DeGolyer's home was bought. The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens opened to the public in 1984. The DeGolyer's home has been recently renovated to appear as it did in the 1940s, and is open for tours on weekends or during special events.

Some folks associate arboreta and botanical gardens with universities, boring sites set aside for research, visited occasionally by professors and students. But the Dallas Arboretum is not that. It's a delightful place for families, full of pleasure, art, music, glorious garden displays and the fun of learning. There is something always going on. This time of year, the Arboretum hosts The Great Pumpkin Festival. This year's festival began 18 September.

On the day we visited, hundreds of people were strolling along the paths, enjoying performances, enjoying the lawns, reading, photographing friends and family, and gazing across the vista at the Dallas skyline. It seemed that around every corner a wedding was beginning or in progress. Brides were posing everywhere in cowboy boots.  Some folks lingered quietly by water gardens colored by koi. Everywhere the laughter of children could be heard. I was impressed by the wonderful architectural features, sculptures, masses of mums and perennials, elegant walks, quiet pathways and fall landscapes. What a wonderful day it was.

Of course, research takes place, too. Plants of all sorts can be seen on display in trial gardens. Examples of xeriscaping taught visitors how to maintain a beautiful landscape with less waterXeriscaping is a concept which time has come.  But the sheer exhuberance of color and scenery demonstrates that learning can be fun and that gardening is delightful. No doubt, many who visited that day returned home inspired to start planning, planting and getting their hands dirty for the sake of beauty.

To experience this season's Great Pumpkin Festival, be sure to visit before mid-November. You can click on links above to enjoy photographs made during my visit. You'll be lovin' the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Eucomis - Tropical Pineapple Lily

Of all the tropical bulbs I know, Pineapple Lily is one of the most amusing, resembling a tousle-headed cartoon character from outer space.  Long spikes up to 24" appear in late summer to early fall, bristling with hyacinth-like flowers and topped with a crown of leafy green.  Flower colors range from light green to purple.  The common name is inspired by the plant's resemblance to the tropical fruit.

Pineapple Lily belongs to the genus Eucomis (pronounced YOU-com-iss), which name is a combination of two Greek words meaning "beautiful hair of the head".  It is a member of the Hyacinthaceae family.  Eucomis comprises about a dozen species native to South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi and Zimbabwe.  Their native habitat includes grassy savannas, forests, near rivers and swamps.  They are rarely found in arid regions.

Eucomis was introduced in 1878 by the famous James Veitch & Sons nursery near Exeter.  The Veitch nursery was one of the most important nurseries in the UK.  The family is immortalized in the names of many ornamental landscape plants.

Eucomis adds a bold, tropical appearance to the landscape.  It is very suitable for perennial borders and container gardens.  An African or tropical theme garden would be incomplete without lots of them. 

Pineapple lily is cold hardy in USDA climate zones 7b to 11. Gardeners in colder climates lift and store them over winter for planting the following spring.  Take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office before planting.  For a nominal fee, they will send it to a lab for analysis and recommendations.

Eucomis prefers full sun and average, well-drained garden soil.  Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" deep, removing all traces of weeds.  A good all-around practice for bulbs and such is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Repeat the application when growth appears, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

Plant the Eucomis bulbs about 4" deep.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.  Space the bulbs 8" to 12" apart.

Eucomis requires very little maintenance.  It is perennial, so you can leave the plants undisturbed for years.  Water regularly, but don't over-water.  If planted in a windy area, the flower stalks may require staking.  After blooming, be sure to let the leaves yellow and die before cutting them.  Leaving them alone will allow the bulbs to build up food reserves for a glorious show the next year.

Though introduced over 130 years ago, Eucomis may be a new discovery to many gardeners, and perhaps to you.  If you've not tried this novel Pineapple Lily, you should include it in your garden this coming spring.

Return to Eucomis at goGardenNow.com.