Saturday, March 12, 2022

Vine Recommendations For Privacy Fencing On Chain Link Fences

 Do you have a chain link fence but would like to have greater privacy? A vine might fill the bill. To grow on chain link, the vine should have a twining habit. For reliable privacy, the it should be evergreen. These are among the best choices, and they're all native. One caveat, though. Make sure you plant them only on your fence!

Carolina Jessamine – Gelsemium sempervirens. (Pictured above) It’s native from Virginia to Texas and southward. Because it’s evergreen, it provides a dense privacy screen year around. Carolina Jessamine is cold-hardy in USDA climate zones 7 through 9. It flowers best in full sun, but will grow in full sun or shade in well-drained soil with average to poor fertility. Recommended soil pH covers a wide range: from 5.5 to 8.5. Plants are drought tolerant when established, and deer resistant. Flowers are fragrant.


 Crossvine – Bignonia capriolata. This one’s a vigorous vine that’s native to the southeastern United States. It climbs by tendrils which cling to anything for support. It thrives in many different soil types, but prefers rich, organic, well-drained soil. While it grows in sun or shade, more flowers are produced if grown in full sun. Crossvine is cold-hardy to USDA climate zone 6a.


Trumpet Honeysuckle – Lonicera sempervirens. Here’s another vine that’s native to the eastern United States. Red, yellow or coral colored, trumpet-shaped flowers are produced intermittently on evergreen vines from spring to fall. It thrives in acidic soil in USDA climate zones 5 to 10.

All three of these vines flower prolifically, grow quickly, fill in densely, and require very little maintenance. 

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Thursday, March 10, 2022




Beware of Winter Storm Quinlan

According to, “more than 150 million people will face some type of impacts from the storm east of the Mississippi River, but the Northeast, which received accumulating snow on Wednesday on the heels of record-challenging warmth on Monday, is likely to take the brunt of the impacts as the storm rapidly strengthens into a bomb cyclone along the Eastern Seaboard.” The storm is named Quinlan.”

It’s that “record-challenging warmth” before the storm that concerns us most. Warm weather induces new growth on winter-dormant plants. When followed the freezing temperatures, the new growth – leaves, flowers and all – are damaged or destroyed. Not only that, but previously dormant plants lose some of their winter hardiness, so Quinlan can be particularly devastating.

I’ve been receiving calls from gardeners, particularly in the south where warm weather persists today, but where below-freezing temps are forecast for the weekend. From citrus trees, blueberry bushes to annuals and azaleas, they wonder how to treat them.

Frost on leaves

Here are my suggestions.

Some spring-planted annuals should be cold-hardy enough. Snapdragons and pansies, for example, should be safe enough without protection. Petunias, begonias and the like will need attention. Flowering trees and shrubs will also require some care.

Container gardens may be moved into a garage, sun room or basement. If they’re too large to move inside, or too dirty, position them near a south or west-facing wall. Brick walls are the best, but any will do, nor matter the direction it faces. Radiant heat will moderate the temperature around them.

Whether container-grown or established outdoors, sensitive plants can be covered with fabric. Old sheets will work. Blankets might be too heavy and cause damage.

Do not use plastic sheeting or tarps. Beside providing too little thermal protection, plastic in contact with foliage will allow moisture to condense on the inner surface and the leaves to freeze to the material. Furthermore, solar heat can build up during the day and cook your plants.

If safety precautions are taken, letting a fire pit or barbecue grill smolder all night can raise the temperature around it just enough to protect your patio plants. Propane patio heaters can do the trick. Even light bulbs strategically placed and left on all night can help. Never leave open flames unattended.

Sometimes frost doors more damage than the surrounding cold air. Outdoor fans left running can keep the air circulating and prevent frost from settling on your plants.

These are the most common strategies that homeowners can take to help their plants survive cold nights. If you try any of them, be sure to let us know how they work for you under your circumstances. Your observations can help other gardeners cope in the future.

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Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Grow Thyme Indoors Year-round


Image by Justyna Kunkel from Pixabay

You can grow thyme indoors year-round. But, why thyme? I’m glad you asked.

  • It’s compact;
  • It’s delicious;
  • Its health benefits.

Thyme is a relatively low-growing herb. According to the Journal of Medicine and Life, “The genus Thymus, member of the Lamiaceae family, contains about 400 species of perennial aromatic, evergreen or semi-evergreen herbaceous plants with many subspecies, varieties, subvarieties and forms.” The vast majority can be container-grown. Some grow only a few inches high, so you shouldn’t have to worry about whether you have enough indoor growing space.

Thyme has a distinctive flavor with many nuances. Simply Recipes, notes that thyme “has a delightful flavor balance that dances between earthy and minty, minty and citrus-laced, savory but also sweet, and slightly woodsy but also flowery, with traces of lavender or a toned-down rosemary.” To help distinguish one flavorful variety from another, many are so-named. For example, you’ll find Lime Thyme, Mint Thyme, Caraway Thyme, and Coconut Thyme, to name a few. So, thyme lends itself to a host of dishes.

Thyme is good for you. An excellent article in Healthline indicates that thyme has numerous health benefits including:

  • fighting acne
  • lowering blood pressure
  • helping to alleviate cough
  • boosting immunity
  • disinfecting
  • repelling pests
  • aromatherapy
  • boosting mood
  • culinary uses
  • preventing bacterial infections
  • helping to treat yeast infections
  • possibly helping against certain types of cancer

The article in Journal of Medicine and Life presents more technical details of some antibacterial properties.

There are distinct advantages of growing thyme indoors:

  • Weather is never a consideration;
  • Limited outdoor growing space is no longer a problem;
  • It’s always handy.

Even though thyme is cold-hardy into USDA Climate Zone 5, one advantage of growing it indoors is that YOU don’t have to go out into inclement weather to fetch a sprig or two for your recipe. If you live in a colder region, you can grow it indoors regardless of weather extremes.

If you have limited growing space because of your living situation, you can grow thyme in your kitchen window. In fact, that might be the handiest place, for you can snip fresh leaves and use them in dishes while you are cooking.

For more about growing thyme, check out this earlier blog article, Thyme It Is APrecious Thing.

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Friday, January 21, 2022

Make money with ivy!

 Flower basket with ivy

5 ways to make a little extra cash

Life is a drag when you’re stuck indoors. Maybe it’s freezing outside and you’d rather not be in it. Or, perhaps you’re avoiding exposure to viruses. If you love working with plants, you can do it while sequestered or hibernating. With a little imagination, you can make some money on the side, too.

Potted ivy, for example, presents lots of possibilities. Here are 5 things you can do for fun and profit.

  1. Make topiaries for sale or rent. Most ivy varieties are ideal topiary subjects. Topiary frames are readily available. The simplest are heart-shaped or circular wreaths. Buy them online or make them yourself. Ivy vines can be trained against them and grown until they’ve filled out and ready to sell. Thankfully, ivy doesn’t take too long to grow. Sell them at local farmer’s markets, craft shows, to florists or online. 
  2. Create planters for indoors or out. Ivy is gorgeous when cascading over the sides of hanging baskets and window planters. Ready-made gardens like these can be very popular with people who want people who have limited time or energy to create their own. Instant gratification satisfies.
  3. Dress ivies in 3-1/2 inch pots with colorful fabrics. Sell them to wedding planners for table decorations or wedding favors.
  4. Stuff little pots of ivy in vintage wall pockets. These will enhance any decor. The ivy adds value to these simple decorative objects. Market them to craft shops and antique stores.
  5. Take cuttings, root and sell them. If you have several ivy plants, you’ll eventually need to prune them. The cuttings can be sold rooted or unrooted on internet marketplace platforms. Because they’re small, the cuttings are easily shipped to buyers just about anywhere.

With a little ingenuity, you can turn your interest in plants to a profitable side gig for a little extra cash.

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Thursday, January 13, 2022

When To Prune Deciduous Shrubs


Pruning clippers

One very important part of gardening is knowing when to prune your plants.  Pruning at the right time will result in healthy ones. Pruning at the wrong time may result in their being unhealthy, unattractive and unproductive.

Since there are so many types of plants to consider, we’ll focus in this article on deciduous shrubs. 

The best time to prune depends upon their growth habit, bloom season, and condition. 

Spring-flowering species such as forsythia, Japanese quince and lilac bloom on buds produced the previous season. Early pruning will remove many of those buds and reduce the flowery display that we anticipate so anxiously. 

Since overgrown shrubs might need a lot of pruning, the best time to work on them is late winter or early spring before growth begins. The precise months will vary depending on your climate zone. Extensive pruning will certainly reduce the number of blooms produced for the next couple of years, but the shrubs will be better off in the long run.

You should wait to prune healthy spring-flowering shrubs until just after flowering. This will allow you to enjoy the spring flowers while allowing plenty of time for growth and new buds to set for next year’s display.

Summer-flowering species such as dwarf crape myrtle, spirea, and butterfly bush bloom on new growth.  Prune them in late winter or early spring.  They should bloom that year. 

If you’re growing certain shrubs for their attractive bark, colorful foliage or fruit, prune them in late winter or early spring before growth commences. 

Avoid pruning deciduous shrubs in late summer.  August or September pruning might encourage a late growth spurt.  The tender, new growth likely won’t harden enough before cold weather arrives and will be vulnerable to frost damage. 

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Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Plant Flowers

I thought I'd share this. Received it in an email from Tom Woods. It's a wonderful idea!


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Monday, January 3, 2022

Why is this called "Ice Plant"?


Ice Plant
Delosperma cooperi aka Ice Plant

Q. Why is this called "Ice Plant"?

A. Delosperma cooperi is commonly known as Hardy Ice Plant. It's cold hardy into USDA Climate Zone 5. But its cold-hardiness is not the reason for the reference to ice. If you look closely at the slender foliage in the photograph above, you'll notice the glistening white surfaces. Upon examining with a magnifying lens, you'd see structures called epidermal bladder cells. These are what give Delosperma that ice-like glaze. 

Incidentally, Hardy Ice Plant is also known as Mesembryanthemum cooperi. Mesembryanthemum is a genus that grows well in dry, salty, sandy environments. It thrives in South Africa, the Mediterranean region, parts of North and South America. Travelers along the Pacific Coast Highway 1 will see it often.

Ice Plant doesn't have to grow in sandy soil, but gardeners who have it, or who live in dry coastal areas will appreciate its abilities. It's an amazing little plant. To deal with heat, Ice Plant closes little pores (stomata) under its leaves to retain moisture. If it isn't getting enough salt, it takes up airborne saline through its foliage to retain moisture. 

Mesembryanthemum leaves, flowers and seeds are edible. On top of that, the plant has medicinal qualities. It has been used to treat various ailments including liver, kidney and pneumonia. It is also used externally for skin treatment.

Hardy Ice Plant serves well as a ground cover in rock gardens, coastal and container gardens, succulent and cactus gardens, medicinal gardens, and xeriscapes. You should find a place for it in your garden.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Invaders To Be Banned In South Carolina

No hate scrabble

Hate has no home here?

The State of South Carolina has officially banned the trafficking of certain foreign types within its borders. Some were formerly imported by none other than U.S. government agencies.

The federal government of the United States has a long history of introducing or promoting alien species in our country. Others were conveyed by private sponsors. Many are now despised, having brought infectious diseases, displaced natives, contributed to environmental and economic hardship, or become nuisances, at best.

In 1876, kudzu was brought to the United States Centennial celebration in Philadelphia by representatives from Japan. Was it a nefarious plan? We might never know, but the federal government began to promote it through the USDA and the Civilian Conservation Corps. Kudzu now covers vast areas of landscape and is known as “the invasive vine that ate the South.”

A list of hated species could be extensive. 

The Callery pear is one of latest to be identified and will be banned by officials in South Carolina. At least one other state – Ohio – has done so, and others will likely follow.

Callery pear is native to southeast Asia and Japan. An “improved” variety – Bradford – was introduced by the USDA in 1963. It was attractive, grew quickly, believed to be fruitless, and widely promoted for residential and commercial landscape planting. Since then, it has proven to be structurally weak, covers itself in stinky white flowers, and – surprise, surprise, surprise – bears loads of fruit when pollinated by other pears. Of course, the seeds are sown widely by wildlife, and Callery pear has overtaken the American landscape. “It has all the characteristics of a noxious weed,” said David Coyle, Clemson University’s assistant professor of Forest Health and Invasive Species.

Consequently, Callery pear has been added to the State Plant Pest List. Once place on the list, trafficking of such plants are banned immediately. But since several varieties of Callery pear are currently sold in the state, officials decided to phase out the trees over the course of a few years to mitigate adverse effects upon industry. As of October 1, 2024, however, the ban will go into full effect.

Clemson Extension has instituted a Bradford Pear Bounty program which seeks to educate consumers, convince them to plant better trees, and get rid of the pear trees in their landscapes. But since the public will often choose not to comply with government edicts, the State of South Carolina will ban their sale.

At the same time as Callery pear was included, three species of Elaeagnus were added to the plant pest list. For an extensive list of plants banned in South Carolina, check out the State Plant Pest List.

If you do not live in South Carolina, you should refer to the plant pest list in your own state. I’m sure yours has one. You’ll probably find a few species that you should avoid, as well.

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Saturday, November 6, 2021

Echinacea And Natural Immunity


Echinacea flower

For some reasons during the pandemic crisis du jour, the advantage of natural immunity seems largely ignored, or worse. That’s tragic. In our household, however, do what we can to build our immunity. In our view, we are responsible for our own health to the extent that we are able.

I start most days with a few squirts of liquid Echinacea (E. angustifolia, and E. purpurea) extract from fresh herbs. Echinacea (aka Coneflower) is native to eastern and central North America, and has been used for generations to improve health.

Here are a few snippets gleaned from

“Native Americans have used it for centuries to treat various ailments.

“Today, it’s best known as an over-the-counter herbal remedy for the common cold or flu. However, it’s also used to treat pain, inflammation, migraines and other health issues.

“Both the plant’s upper parts and roots are used in tablets, tinctures, extracts and teas.

“Echinacea plants contain an impressive variety of active compounds, such as caffeic acid, alkamides, phenolic acids, rosmarinic acid, polyacetylenes and many more.

“In addition, studies have linked echinacea and their compounds to many health benefits, such as reduced inflammation, improved immunity and lower blood sugar levels.“

MedicalNewsToday says, “Echinacea plants contain a complex mix of active substances. Some of these compounds may have antimicrobial and antiviral properties, while others may support the immune system in other ways.

“Like many other plants, all types of Echinacea contain phenols. Phenols control the activity of a range of enzymes and cell receptors.

“They protect the plants from infections and ultraviolet radiation damage, and they may have beneficial antioxidant properties.”

But MNT includes the caveat, “Few scientific findings support the use of Echinacea in any treatment.” On the other hand, apparently some scientific findings DO support the use of Echinacea, we’re just not informed of them.

Being a native American plant, you’d expect Echinacea to be relatively easy to grow. So it is. A few years ago, I spotted a white variety of Echinacea purpurea thriving in the median strip of a street in Blacksburg, VA. If it’ll flourish there, it will probably grow in your garden.

For tips on planting and care, go to

Also, check out Echinacea at


Echinacea and butterfly


Saturday, August 14, 2021

Teach Your Kids To Multiply And Divide

 Dividing plant

More plants from seeds, cuttings and divisions.

There’s a lot of fun stuff for kids to learn from gardening including multiplying and dividing.

No! I’m not talking about memorizing flash cards. I’m talking about growing new plants from seeds, rooting cuttings and dividing plant clumps.

Kids like to see things happening. If results are too long in coming, little people lose interest. (So do big people nowadays.) Choose seeds that germinate quickly, cuttings that root readily, and clumps that are easy for little fingers to work with.

Of course, it’s back-to-school time, so, unless you’re planting a fall garden, there won’t be too many weeks left to grow things outdoors. Best to plan for indoor activities, and make your plans to suit the seasons.

Fall and Winter Projects

Rooting plants in window

For fall and winter projects, root stem cuttings. This would be a good time to salvage some of those leggy coleus from your garden beds and planters. Indoor plants such as Pothos (Devil’s Ivy), Plectranthus (Swedish Ivy) and Dracaena are also easy to root from cuttings.

You’ll need

  • plants for cuttings
  • garden clippers
  • water
  • glass jars


  1. Select top-most stems.
  2. Clip just below the node where the 4th or 5th leaf is attached. Roots will emerge from the nodes, not from the internode.
  3. Strip the leaves from the lower 2 nodes.
  4. Place the cut ends in jars of water.
  5. Arrange the jars where they’ll receive bright, indirect sunlight.
  6. Roots should begin to emerge within a week or two.

Daylily divisions

Another quick project is to divide perennial plant clumps. Likely candidates include daylilies, liriope, and mondo. They’re certainly among the easiest to divide.

You’ll need

  • plants for dividing
  • garden clippers
  • water
  • clean pots
  • light, peat-based potting soil


  1. Wash excess soil from the clump of roots.
  2. Select individual sprigs with several roots attached.
  3. Gently separate the sprigs from the clump until eventually the entire clump has been separated.
  4. Replant the individual sprigs in pots with potting soil.
  5. Water well.
  6. Drain water from the pots.
  7. Arrange the pots where they’ll receive bright light

Prepare spring-blooming bulbs for forcing.

Hyacinth bulb in water

This is about as easy as it gets. Most can be forced to bloom indoors, but hyacinths, narcissus – not paperwhites – and tulips are among the most popular. Flower bulbs must be chilled for several weeks – 12 to 16 – to replicate winter weather exposure. Just enclose them in a paper bag or box and pop them in the refrigerator. They must NOT be refrigerated in the presence of ripening fruit, however. Ethylene gas released by the fruit will “kill” the bulbs so they won’t sprout at all. When sufficient time has passed, your pre-chilled bulbs will be ready to plant in bulb bowls for lovely winter displays. Glass bowls specially designed for hyacinths are readily available.

Timing is important when chilling bulbs for forcing, especially if you intend to give them as Christmas gifts. Buy them as soon as they hit the market in fall, then get them in the fridge.

Amaryllis bulbs – aka Hippeastrum – are the easiest of all. They require no chilling whatsoever. Just plant them in bulb bowls and watch them grow.

Paperwhite narcissus do not require much chilling. Bulbs planted in bowls only need about 2 to 4 weeks at 50 degrees F. before moving to a warmer location.

Spring Projects

Tomato seedlings

In addition to the projects named before, p
lant some seeds indoors and watch them germinate.

You’ll need

  • Seeds – sunflower, bean, pea, cucumber, melon and tomato seeds are among the easiest to start
  • Small peat pots or pellets
  • Seed starting tray
  • Water
  • Bright light source

Peat pots may be pre-filled, or not. If not, you’ll need a light grade of high-quality peat-based potting soil for filling.

Plant 1 to 2 seeds per pot, usually no deeper than the first digit of your finger. Best check the seed packet for specific recommendations. If you’re using pellets, you must moisten them first.

Place the pots in a leak-proof tray. Water lightly. Place near a bright light source. A window sill or grow-light will be ideal. Maintain slight moisture in the pots. When the seeds have germinated, the pots or pellets can be planted directly in the outdoor garden as the weather warms.

Just the beginning

 These suggestions are just the beginning. There are so many gardening projects you can include in your home-school curriculum. It’d be impossible to name them all. They’re limited only by your creativity, which is probably boundless. Right?

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Thursday, August 5, 2021

How To Grow Ivy (Hedera spp.) Indoors

Ivy is one of the most adaptable plants that can be grown indoors. For some plant enthusiasts, indoors might be the best place for it.

A matter of perspective

Let’s face it. Ivy can be a wonderful ground cover, or the bane of one’s existence. It depends on perspective. When I refer to Ivy, I’m speaking of the Hedera species. These include Algerian Ivy (H. algeriensis, aka H. canariensis), Persian Ivy (H. colchica), English Ivy (H. helix), Irish Ivy (H. hibernica), Nepal Ivy (H. nepalensis), Russian ivy (H. pastuchovii), and Japanese ivy (H. rhombea). Of these, the first three species are most readily available. Within the species, there are several varieties each.

What’s good about it?

Ivy is known for glossy green foliage, few maintenance requirements, drought tolerance, climate adaptability, deer resistance, pest resistance and ground cover potential. It’s hard to kill. Ivy does what a ground cover is supposed to do; it covers ground. For those reasons, English Ivy was brought from Europe by early settlers. Though it’s ubiquitous, it’s not native to these shores.

What’s not good about it?

That Hedera is such a tough plant – i.e. it’s hard to kill – along with its ground cover potential can make it undesirable. But let’s get this straight; English ivy does not kill trees. It is not parasitic. However, the sheer weight of ivy in a tree that is dead or dying can certainly bring it down.

Enjoy ivy indoors

If you want to enjoy the best of ivy’s attributes and avoid its liabilities, grow it indoors as a houseplant. It’s not difficult to do if you meet its basic needs.

  • Bright light. Hedera species need plenty of light, though not necessarily full sun. Windows facing any direction will work, though you might want to draw your plants away from direct sun. Not that ivy can’t take it outdoors, but plants grown indoors tend to lose some of their ability to withstand harsh sunlight. If grown in too little light, plants tend to get “leggy.”
  • Appropriate moisture. Ivy does not like wet soil. If soil is constantly wet, your plants will rot. Allow your plants to dry between watering. The pot should provide excellent drainage.
  • Fertilizer. Use a slow-release or water-soluble fertilizer once per month during the growing season, e.g. spring through summer. Follow label instructions.
  • Good hygiene. Remove dust from foliage with occasional wiping or brief showers. This will also help prevent any pests that might come along. If grown outdoors, occasional rains will wash dust and insects from the leaves. When grown indoors, you’ll have to do the part.

There are very many varieties among the Hedera species. Characteristics include variegation, fancy leaves, and even slower growth rates. Check for some of them. You can also inquire of the American Ivy Society for some of the more unusual varieties.

Indoor ivies are very decorative as topiaries or trailing from containers. The smaller, fancy-leaf varieties such as H. helix ‘Ivalace’ are best for topiaries. Growing ivy indoors can become a very rewarding hobby for those of us who just can’t get enough of plants.

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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Ooops! They did it again.


Clemson News, published by the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences; Public Service and Agriculture announced “South Carolina will become only the second state in the United States to ban the nursery sale of Bradford pear trees and any other pear trees grown on the commonly used Pyrus calleryana rootstock.” This does not mean that it will be illegal to own them, but the authorities would be thrilled if you would destroy any in your landscape.


“It has all the characteristics of a noxious weed,” said David Coyle, assistant professor of Forest Health and Invasive Species at Clemson.

“Bradford pears were once touted as sterile, but it turns out that if pollen from any other Pyrus species gets into Bradford pear flowers, the trees can make viable seeds. Those seeds are then eaten by birds and other animals and spread across the Southeastern landscape, contributing directly to one of the worst invasive plant species in the region — the Callery pear.”

It’s about time. I’ve never liked them anyway. The angles at which the limbs grow upward make them prone to splitting, and the flowers stink. None of the other Callery varieties promoted for their improvements over the ‘Bradford’ have been any better. Though its usefulness is short-lived, 'Bradford' is a curse that keeps on giving. So, yes, it’s time for them to go. Past time, in fact.

But, wait. There’s something else you should know. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, The New York Times, and even Lady Bird Johnson promoted 'Bradford' pear. It was released for commercial use by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in January 1960 and distributed to nurseries from New York to California. Think about that when you’re driving through the countryside and seeing them dominating the landscape.

The USDA duly noted, “The Bradford will not, under most conditions, fruit when planted—

  • More than 200 feet from pear trees of any kind.
  • Next to other Bradfords, the common pear (Pyrus communis), or the Hansen pear {P. sp. Hansen).

“The tree will fruit, however, when planted within 200 feet of other selections of the Callery pear tree or such rarely used minor species as the Manchurian pear {P. sp. Manchurian) or the Forostovsky pear.”

Did anyone consider that pollination vectors such as wind and insects can travel farther than 200 feet, and that thousands of homeowners and landscapers would line their driveways and streets with them?

Should we be surprised? This is the government agency that promoted Kudzu as a “wonder plant” for erosion control and even for shade, and Bahia grass for pastures and lawns. Then 'Bradford' was touted. Ooops! They did it again.

Has the USDA benefited agriculture? Sure it has, but it’s difficult for me to remember any particular instance when I see ‘Bradford’ et al, Kudzu vines and Bahia grass infesting the country.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Make Your Garden A Learning Place

Schooling in home and garden

A recent finding, Homeschooling on the Rise During COVID-19 Pandemic, published by the United States Census Bureau, shows that homeschooling has surged in the wake of the crisis du jour“The global COVID-19 pandemic has sparked new interest in homeschooling and the appeal of alternative school arrangements has suddenly exploded.” 

From 1999 to 2012 the rate of homeschooling remained steady at about 3.3%. That changed significantly in 2020. In spring of 2020, "5.4% of U.S. households with school-aged children reported homeschooling."

"By fall, 11.1% of households with school-age children reported homeschooling (Sept. 30-Oct. 12).” That represented “true homeschooling rather than virtual learning through a public or private school.”

Even with many school districts resuming in-class learning, many more parents are not sending their children back, electing instead to continue homeschooling. Reasons might include health, safety, transparency in education, philosophical and theological differences, quality of learning. They are now free to explore the many resources available to them. Some can be found in the garden, even if confined to a patio or balcony.

What courses can be found there? Well, I count botany, biology, zoology, horticulture, chemistry, meteorology, geology, food science, math, history, economy, art and design, music, reading, writing and journaling, religion, social and technical skills, to name a few. I bet that an entire garden-centered curriculum could be developed that integrates all of those disciplines. My recent blog post, Take Your Kids On Nature Walks, touched on this. Classes can be indoors or out, casual or structured, but always mindful. Inquisitive parents and students can delve deeper into any of them. The various disciplines can be easily adapted to any age or competency level, and students can advance based upon their mastery of the subjects. No child need be left behind.

Where to begin

If you’ve never homeschooled before, beginning can be a real challenge. Break it down into manageable tasks. 

A quick DuckDuckGo search revealed the following resources:

This article, of course, is not exhaustive, nor is it meant to be. But the surge in homeschooling is a welcome sign that the educational status quo is not cast in stone. Better education is possible. Whether you are a parent, grandparent, other relative or concerned friend, I encourage you to explore the possibilities, join and be a part of the movement.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Dress Your Landscape In Blue With Juniperus horizontalis 'Wiltonii'

Juniperus horizontalis 'Wiltonii'

If you want to dress your garden in a carpet of light blue-gray, ‘Blue Rug’ juniper (aka Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’) is the ground cover you need.

This very low-growing mat is native to North America from Alaska, through Canada, to New York. But, surprisingly, it also thrives in the Deep South. The very short evergreen foliage sometimes displays a purplish hue in winter. ‘Blue Rug’ juniper grows about 6 inches in height and spreads to around 60 inches.

Juniperus horizontalis can be grown anywhere in USDA Climate Zones 3 through 10, provided that it’s exposed to full sun and planted in well-drained soil. Average garden soil with pH ranging from 5.1 to 6.0 is best.

Like many other junipers, ‘Blue Rug’ juniper is drought tolerant, deer resistant, and salt-tolerant. So, it’s ideal for xeriscaping, ground cover, and because it spreads so far, it’s a fine choice for erosion control in large areas.

Prepare the planting bed for Juniperus horizontalis by cultivating at least 14" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil, but it may not be necessary. Or, incorporate 5-10-15 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Plant this juniper up to 6 feet apart, at most. Much closer if you want quicker coverage, and budget allows. 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 only 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 ‘Wiltonii’ juniper with other plants having similar cultural requirements. As the plants mature, fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between watering.

Besides its many other attributes – drought-resistance, deer resistance, pest resistance and soft blue-gray color – it never needs mowing!

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Dwarf Japanese Garden Juniper - For The Landscape Or Bonsai

 Japanese Garden Juniper

Beneath the low canopy of Dwarf Japanese Garden juniper, one often finds twisted branches reminiscent of an old, windswept tree. It’s a living sculpture. For that reason, Dwarf Japanese Garden juniper (aka Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’) is a perennial favorite for bonsai and garden enthusiasts. Whether potted or established in the landscape, it evokes a sense of mystery.

This shrubby ground cover, native to Japan, grows about 8 inches tall and spreads slowly to form a dense mat. The very short evergreen foliage is deep blue-green during warm months, and displays a purplish hue in winter. Dwarf Japanese Garden juniper grows 8 inches to 12 inches in height and spreads to 36 inches.

Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’ can be grown anywhere in USDA Climate Zones 4 through 9, provided that it’s exposed to full sun and planted in well-drained soil. Average garden soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.5 is best.

Dwarf Japanese Garden juniper is drought tolerant, deer resistant, and salt-tolerant. So, it’s ideal for xeriscaping, ground cover, and erosion control in small areas. And, of course, it’s a favorite subject for bonsai and Japanese garden themes. Even beginning bonsai hobbyists will find it to be easy to train for its natural shape lends itself well to the art.

Prepare the planting bed for Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’ by cultivating at least 14" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil, but it may not be necessary. Or, incorporate 5-10-15 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Plant this juniper 6 feet apart, at most. Closer if you want quicker coverage, and budget allows. 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 only 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 Dwarf Japanese Garden juniper with other plants having similar cultural requirements. As the plants mature, fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between watering.

Gardeners wishing to try their hand at growing bonsai can click on this link for search results at

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Tuesday, July 13, 2021

'Blue Pacific' Juniper - A Coastal Beauty

Rocky coast


ON some rude fragment of the rocky shore,

Where on the fractured cliff the billows break,

Musing, my solitary seat I take,

And listen to the deep and solemn roar.


O'er the dark waves the winds tempestuous howl;

The screaming sea-bird quits the troubled sea:

But the wild gloomy scene has charms for me,

And suits the mournful temper of my soul…

- Charlotte Smith, ‘XII. Written on the Sea Shore’, Elegiac Sonnets.

No matter where it’s planted, ‘Blue Pacific’Juniper evokes the feeling of the seashore. It’s native to the seacoasts of Japan. ‘Blue Pacific’ is an improved variety of Juniperus conferta (pronounced “jew-NIP-er-us KON-fer-tuh”) also known as Shore Juniper. It’s height is shorter and the foliage color is richer.

The evergreen foliage of this low-growing beauty is blue-green and needle-like. ‘Blue Pacific’ grows 6 inches to 18 inches in height and spreads 36 inches to 48 inches.

Shore juniper can be grown anywhere in USDA Climate Zones 4 through 9, provided that it’s exposed to full sun and planted in well-drained to dry soil. Soil can be average to poor with pH ranging from 5.1 to 7.8. Sandy soil is just fine.

As you might expect from a plant that’s native to coastal regions, ‘Blue Pacific’ juniper is drought tolerant, deer resistant, and salt-tolerant. So, it’s ideal for xeriscaping, ground cover, and erosion control, especially in coastal gardens.

Prepare the planting bed for Shore juniper by cultivating at least 14" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil, but it may not be necessary. ‘Blue Pacific’ does well in poor soil. Nevertheless, incorporate 5-10-15 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Plant this juniper approximately 36” apart. Closer if you want quicker coverage, and budget allows. 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 ‘Blue Pacific’ juniper with other plants having similar cultural requirements. As the plants mature, fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between watering.

'Blue Pacific' juniper will undoubtedly become one of your favorite ground cover solutions for your coastal garden, or any other difficult site with dry, sandy soil.

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The Happiness of Siberian Iris


Iris sibirica 'Caesar's Brother'

I have had more than half a century of such happiness. A great deal of worry and sorrow, too, but never a worry or a sorrow that was not offset by a purple iris, a lark, a bluebird, or a dewy morning glory. 

- Mary McLeod Bethune

Any fresh iris can elicit such happiness, but ‘Caesar’s Brother’ seems to capture all those qualities in one fabulous flock of flowers.

It’s a variety of Siberian iris – aka Iris sibirica, pronounced EYE-ris sy-BEER-ah-kuh– that’s native from Europe to Central Asia. It grows in perennial clumps with long, herbaceous, grassy leaves up to 48” height, and tall flower stems. Flowers of other varieties may be of white, pale yellow, light blue, purple, and pink shades.

Siberian iris thrives best in rich, moist, loamy soil with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.5. It needs full sun exposure. It’s hardy from USDA climate zones 4 to 9. Flowers appear mid-season.

Before planting, take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office. For a small fee, they can run a lab test and tell you what your soil may need.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 10" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 14" deep. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil. If you choose to use synthetic fertilizer, incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 3 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 8" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Plant Siberian iris 18" to 24" apart. If purchased in pots, dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Water the plants in their pots. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. 

If planting bare roots, cover them just to the top of the root mass. Do not allow the roots to dry before and when planting.

Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 3" deep. The mulch helps retain soil moisture, so you can water less frequently. It also helps suppress weeds. Irrigate when necessary, remembering that Siberian iris prefers moist soil. That said, though, Siberian iris can tolerate brief periods of drought.

You should know that Siberian iris, though very beautiful, is toxic if ingested. Perhaps for that reason, the plants are pest resistant.

Siberian iris is marvelous in the perennial border. Since it’s native to marshy grasslands, it’ll do well in wildflower meadows with moist soil. Gardeners love them in bog gardens, beside streams and ponds, and other water features. Keep in mind, though, that Siberian iris does not like to be submerged for long. 

Considering the attractive flowers, stately bearing, and their few requirements, it stands to reason that you should consider Siberian iris for your garden.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Vertical Gardening In Used Shipping Containers


Vegetable and Specialty Crop News published recently an article by Clint Thompson, Vertical Farming: Auburn Using Shipping Containers to Provide Produce. 

"The Auburn University College of Agriculture is using vertical farming to provide certain produce for its students year-round. Auburn students are helping to grow food for Auburn students.

"This unique way of farming doesn’t involve a field or a greenhouse but a shipping container. The same container used on tractor-trailer trucks uses LED lights to provide the necessary light energy for the crops to grow. There are no windows. Scientists also control the water and nutrient supply, so the plants receive just enough but not too much.

"The result is a quicker and more sustainable way to grow produce." Read more here.

It makes sense. The shipping container allows gardeners/farmers/scientists to create a controlled growing  environment. The vagaries of weather are avoided. It's not unlike growing in a greenhouse, but without sunlight. 

It got me started thinking about how some home gardeners could start such a project of their own. The one at Auburn University is relatively well-funded, so an imaginative home gardener would have to adapt the "vertical farm" to their own situation and budget. For example, used shipping containers are readily available online. Basic, well-used containers in 20' and 40' lengths cost about the same. The vertical structures inside could be made of shipping pallets suspended with chains, lined with plastic sheeting and filled with soil. Water could be supplied with drip irrigation, and recycled through catch basins beneath.

It's an idea that an enterprising gardener might want to pursue.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Celebrate July 4 – The Beginning of Freedom in the USA

Image by Wynn Pointaux from Pixabay

Independence Day – July 4 – celebrates the spark that marked the beginning of freedom for millions. Human history, for all its accomplishments, is also scarred with oppression. Slavery was about as common as any other institution. Not until the 18th century did a large enough groundswell of enlightenment and moral indignation even begin to put an end to it.

The freedom-loving patriots of yesteryear were no strangers to hardship. Compared to today, they had to do everything the hard way. We should appreciate them more if we explore a bit of their lives and times during the Independence Day weekend. So, gather your children, family and friends. Turn off your cell phones and other electronic devices. Here are some activities that we can do together.

Do colonial crafts

Crafts today are what most of us do for pleasure in our spare time. In those days, craft works were more often for utility or survival. Here are a few ideas gathered from around the internet for things to do that’ll give an idea of what it was like in the olden days.

Plant an herb garden

Growing herbs at home needn’t be a big deal. A few herbs in pots, planters or window boxes will do.

Make soap

Cleanliness is next to godliness, it’s said. Better still, include some herbs in the mix. Find out what it was like to make your own soap and use it.

Make paper

You could start from scratch using wood, but don’t go to that much trouble if you don’t want to. Learn how to make paper at home. Making our own paper would prevent us from wasting so much of it.

Make a quill pen

If you can’t find a large enough feather, run over to Hobby Lobby before Sunday for a package of white craft feathers. Here's a video on how to make a feather quill pen.

Brew herb tea

American Patriots turned against drinking imported Camellia sinensis tea in the mid-18th century, for obvious reasons. So they turned toward herbal teas. If you have some herbs like mint, chamomile, bergamot or hibiscus in your garden, brew a pot of sober beverage. Here's how to make herbal tea.

Cook a meal using colonial recipes

The precisely descriptive recipes of today were hardly known before the Fannie Farmer Cookbook was published in 1896. Most recipes simply named the ingredients, and measurements were figured in pinches, dollops or hands-full. But some have been modernized. These Colonial Recipes sound delicious!

Play old-fashioned games

Marbles, jackstraws, horseshoes or leapfrog, anyone?

Go on a nature walk

I just published a blog article on the topic. Take your kids on nature walks. Check it out.

Read a story about colonists or Revolutionary events.

Stories about children are especially interesting to young people. Liberty's Children: Stories of Eleven Revolutionary War Children, Johnny Tremain, Stories of Colonial Children and Boys and Girls of Colonial Days should be on your reading list. The last three can be found at (You’ll have to turn your electronic device back on for that.)

Gather with family members to reminisce.

Before there were books, lessons were taught orally. Telling family stories and tales of past experiences help to bind us together with mutual understanding.

Enjoy a patriotic concert

How I’ve loved those summer evenings picnicking near the bandstand and listening to patriotic music. A quick internet search will probably display several venues in your area.

So, with a little inspiration in mind and love of liberty in your heart, go celebrate our great nation's independence this weekend.

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