Tuesday, November 29, 2011

FAQ: Will daylilies bloom in partial shade?

Q. We are considering purchasing daylilies for mass planting in our yard.  However, we have areas that only get 2 to 3 hours of direct sun each day. Would the 2 to 3 hours of full sun give the plant enough light to fully bloom?

A. If the shade is not deep, you should get sufficient bloom. However, the plants may not be as dense, compact, floriferous as in full sun. The more sun the better, but daylilies will perform under less than ideal conditions.

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Where The Autumn Fern Grows

Dryopteris erythrosora

Oh, what a glory doth the world put on
These peerless, perfect autumn days
There is a beautiful spirit of gladness everywhere.
The wooded waysides are luminous with brightly painted leaves;
The forest-trees with royal grace have donned
Their gorgeous autumn tapestries;
And even the rocks and fences are broidered
With ferns, sumachs and brilliantly tinted ivies.
But so exquisitely blended are the lights and shades
The golds, scarlets and purples, that no sense is wearied;
For God Himself hath painted the landscape
-Helen Keller, Autumn

Autumn Fern is one of the most colorful. Other common names include Japanese Shield Fern and Japanese Red Shield Fern. Its botanical name is Dryopteris erythrosora (pronounced dry-OPP-ter-iss ehr-ith-roh-SOR-ra), meaning "oak fern - red sori." The names refer to its habitat among broadleaf evergreen trees and the color of the spore-producing structures under the fronds. Obviously, the fern is native to Japan, but also to China and Korea.

Autumn fern's colors begin in spring when the garnet-red croziers (fiddleheads) begin to emerge. As the fresh young fronds unfurl, their colors change to bronze and finally mature to dark green. Oddly, Autumn ferns are more attractive in spring than autumn, yet the spring colors are reminiscent of fall.

Autumn fern normally grows in loose clumps 18 to 24 inches tall with an equal spread. It prefers partial to full shade in moist, well-drained soil high in organic matter with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.5. It is hardy from USDA climate zones 5 into 9.

Little soil preparation is needed before planting. Moist, well-drained soil high in organic matter shouldn't need tilling, especially if in a woodland setting. If the soil requires amendment to increase the level of organic matter, some tilling might be required. Remove all traces of weeds. Collect a soil sample and take it to the nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis. Follow the instructions provided.

When planting, water the plants in their pots, then allow the pots to drain. Remove the plants from their pots and place in the planting holes at the same depth they grew previously. Water again. Finally, apply a layer of organic mulch to conserve moisture and discourage weeds.

Gardeners troubled by deer and rabbits will be glad to know that this fern is critter resistant. Similarly, autumn fern is insect and disease resistant.

Autumn fern is ideal as a ground cover for shade gardens and woodland walks, fern collections, and Asian plant collections. Suitable companion plants include Astilbe, Chrysogonum, Galium, Hosta, Heuchera, Hyacinthoides, Sanguinaria, Scilla, Selaginella, and ferns with similar requirements.

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Friday, November 25, 2011

The Stately Royal Fern

Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis)
Who does not know
That those famed caves, on Arran's western shore,
Were King's Coves called, because they shelter gave
To Scotland's bravest King in hour of need
And when we see how richly they are fringed
With royal fern, might not we almost think
This stately fern delighted still to grow
'Midst scenes once honoured by so great a prince
 -David Landsborough, Arran: A Poem

Royal ferns (Osmunda regalis - pronounced os-MUN-duh re-GAY-liss) are so named because individuals can grow to be rather large. Some specimens have been recorded up to 5 feet tall and 5 feet across. You can't miss them in the garden. Sterile fronds sprout as slender croziers in spring, yellowish green in color and lightly tinged with terra-cotta. Mature fronds are bright green. The leaves are deciduous, turning pleasing yellow in fall before becoming brown. When back-lit by the sun, the yellow fronds are distinct and beautiful.

Many gardeners struggle with wet soils. Filling in the low spots is often considered to be remedy, but the water is simply redirected somewhere else sometimes causing another problem. I recommend leaving the wet areas alone and populating them with suitable plants. The royal fern is such a plant. Because they thrive in wet soil, royal ferns are ideal in rain gardens and bog gardens, beside streams and ponds. They'll even live in standing water. Tramping outdoors, they are often found in light shade, but royal ferns can certainly tolerate full sun.

Orchid growers are familiar with royal ferns, though they may not realize it, for the dried rhizomes of royal ferns have been used as potting medium for their epiphytes. Other materials are now more often used.

Widely distributed, royal ferns can be found growing in many parts of the world. It's no surprise, then, that they are hardy in a wide range of climate zones. In North America, these perennials are hardy from USDA hardiness zone 3 to 10.

Though they can become large, mature royal ferns can be as small as 24 inches tall and as wide. Much depends upon the moisture level.

Not much soil preparation is needed. Tilling wet soil would be a futile exercise, anyway. A soil sample should be taken to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis. Follow the instructions. Recommended soil pH is 6.0 to 7.8.

Plant bare-root ferns in mid- to late spring or fall. Container-grown ferns may be planted any time of year. Space them 24 to 48 inches apart.

Very little to no maintenance is needed. Fertilizer should not be necessary. Brown fronds may be removed in winter. Soil moisture should be maintained.

Suitable companion plants may include red maple, pond cypress, dawn redwood, myrtle-leaf holly, inkberry holly, baccharis, coastal leucothoe, elephant ear, cinnamon fern, netted chain fern, yellow water iris, jewel weed, horsetail and acorus.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

FAQ: Is it okay to mulch with...?

Q.  I want to mulch around my flowerbed with the leaves from my yard but I was told by someone that oak and pecan leaves are bad for your garden. Some chemical in them. Is that true? Can I not use them? If I can, what is the best way to use them to add organic matter to my flower beds?

A. Yes, you may rake the leaves directly into the flowerbed around your garden. Oak and pecan leaves contain tannin, an acidic compound very common in plants. Tannin is what makes strong tea astringent. It's also the active ingredient in oak bark traditionally used for tanning leather. Tannin is found in some form in practically every plant family.  While oak and pecan leaves may acidify the soil, the pH can be easily adjusted. If you take a soil sample to the nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis, you'll receive instructions on how to adjust it.

For best results, I suggest you compost your leaves before applying them to your flowerbed.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

All-America Selections Announces 2012 Winners

All-America Selections has announced the winners for 2012. Seeds should be available at your favorite seed retailer in Spring.

Ornamental Pepper ‘Black Olive’ (Capsicum annuum) is the AAS Flower Award Winner that has shown superior heat tolerance. Striking purple foliage shows nicely with the fiery red edible peppers.

Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Pink’ (Salvia coccinea) is the AAS Bedding Plant Award Winner. Lovely pink flowers appear earlier than other pink salvias, and last longer. It attracts hummingbirds, too.

Pepper ‘Cayennetta’ F1 (Capsicum annuum) is a AAS Vegetable Award Winner. The plant is compact, bears heavily, and is easy to grow. Peppers are 3 inches to 4 inches long and exceptionally flavorful.

Watermelon ‘Faerie’ F1 (Citrullus lanatus) is another AAS Vegetable Award Winner. The skin is yellow, yet the meat is a traditional red. Home gardeners will love the novel coloring and the compact habit. Fruits are about 7 inches x 8 inches and weighs 4 to 6 pounds.

Learn more at the All-America Selections website.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Cinnamon Fern: A Beautiful Solution

Rambling through moist woodlands of Eastern North America, you're likely to come upon Cinnamon ferns. Why they are so named is not known precisely. The botanical name, Osmunda cinnamomea (pronounced os-MUN-duh sin-uh-MOH-mee-uh), means "fragrant, resembles cinnamon."

The Fern Bulletin, July 1907 reported, "Mrs. A. P. Taylor of Thomasville, Ga., writes that Osmunda cinnamonea glandulosa is decidedly aromatic. If bruised early in the day it is of a spicy fragrance. Mrs. Taylor suggests that this may be the origin of the name cinnamon fern, but the evidence appears to be against this." Mrs. Taylor guessed, but not well enough, apparently. The Missouri Botanical Garden website states that "the common name of this plant is in reference to the cinnamon colored fibers found near the frond bases." Though I highly respect MOBOT, that seems a bit obscure. My conjecture is that the name was derived from the tall, slender, cinnamon-colored spore-bearing fronds that appear in spring. They look like cinnamon sticks to me, and are very obvious. On the other hand, taxonomists have never been shy about referencing obscure or potentially embarrassing characteristics of plants when naming them. I suppose, though, that the only way to know for sure is to find a written record left by the naming taxonomist, or minutes of an ad hoc committee on naming this thing.

Cinnamon fern has also been known by other botanical names including Osmunda bipinnata, Osmunda cinnamomea var. cinnamomea, Osmunda imbricata, Osmundastrum cinnamomeum and Anemia bipinnata. I only mention them in passing; you needn't remember.

Cinnamon fern grows from 30 inches to 60 inches high, and as wide as it is tall. Light green fronds emerge as "fiddleheads" in spring, unfurling into a splendid display. Foliage is deciduous, turning light yellow in fall before browning. The cinnamon-colored spikes are very attractive.

The native range of Cinnamon fern is widespread. You can find it growing from the Gulf Coast counties of Texas to Southern Florida, and northward into Canada. That's from USDA Zones 2 to 10.

As I wrote earlier, you'll find it in moist woodlands. Wet to moist woodland soils may be sandy, loamy or clayey, and usually acidic because of the tannin in decomposing leaves. This fern, however, will tolerate slightly alkaline soil. Cinnamon fern thrives in light shade or partial shade, but will tolerate dense shade, too. Gardeners with sites like that often consider them to be problem areas. If you have such a site, you're actually in luck because Cinnamon fern is your solution plant, and what a beautiful solution it is.

Cinnamon fern requires little or no maintenance, and has no significant insect or disease problems. Deer and rabbits shouldn't eat it, though there's no telling what a really hungry deer will munch.

About the fiddleheads: these are probably not your edible types. That would be Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). Very many ferns are more or less toxic. I suppose that's what makes them unpalatable to deer and rabbits, which seem to have good sense about such things.

Before you purchase plants, get your planting site ready. Take a soil sample to your nearby Cooperative Extension Office for testing. Make soil adjustments as prescribed. Wet woodland soils shouldn't need to be cultivated. You'd get bogged down if you tried. Moisture will incorporate soil amendments into the planting area very effectively.

Plant spacing will depend on how large they may grow, and whether you want them to grow together. Planting 24 inches to 30 inches apart should be good enough.

If you purchase bare root crowns, keep them in a cool, dark area of a basement or a refrigerator.  Not wet, slightly damp.

If you purchase your ferns in pots, water the plants in the pots, then drain.  Dig planting holes into the soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Place the ferns into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls.  If planting bare root plants, the crowns should be just above the soil surface. Don't bury them. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1 inch deep. Fertilizer probably won't be needed, but ferns tend to benefit from occasional feeding with diluted fish emulsion.

Shade gardeners and those who like to landscape with native plants should find Cinnamon fern to be very useful. Cinnamon fern is perfect for rain gardens, bog gardens, stream banks, shady ditches and, of course, moist woodlands.

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FAQ: What's going on with my persimmon tree?

Q. I have a Japanese persimmon tree with two different kinds of leaves. One part of the tree has longer, narrower leaves. Another part has fatter leaves. The part with the narrow leaves doesn't bear fruit. What's going on with my persimmon tree?

A. I'm often asked questions such as this, mostly about common fruit trees like apples, peaches and pears. Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) scions are often grafted onto American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) seedling rootstocks. It sounds to me like the rootstock of your tree sprouted and grew, perhaps even overtaking your Japanese persimmon. The American persimmon is the one with the narrower leaves.

You should remove the rootstock sprout, but it will surely sprout again - maybe even producing more sprouts next time. The larger the rootstock sprout has become the more new sprouts it will produce. If the rootstock sprout is as thick as your arm, you've got trouble. You'll have to stay on top of the situation and remove the new sprouts as soon as they appear.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

FAQ: What garden tasks should I do in November?

Among the most frequently asked questions, "When is the best time to...", is near the top of the list. Here are a few gardening tasks for November organized by region.

Northeast States: Frost is possible. (How about that recent snow storm!) Plant and transplant broadleaf and evergreen trees and shrubs, perennials and ground covers, spring-flowering bulbs until the ground is frozen. Pot up spring bulbs for forcing; keep them in an unheated room or cold-frame for the required time according to species. Finish pruning tasks. The recent heavy snow demonstrated that earlier pruning of weak or susceptible tree limbs could help one avoid later trouble. Fertilize trees and shrubs after they become dormant. Fertilize the lawn with a low-nitrogen fertilizer after frost to encourage root development. Continue to irrigate shrubs and trees until ground freezes. Continue garden cleanup. Compost debris. Apply protective mulch in the garden and around plants to prevent cold damage. Feed house plants. Check house plants regularly for disease and insects; treat as necessary. Clean, lubricate and store hand tools for winter. Prepare gas-powered implements for winter storage. Clean bird baths and install electric heating elements, if appropriate. Clean bird feeders and refill.

Mid-Atlantic States: Same regimen as for Northeast States.

Mid-South States: Same regimen as for Northeast States. Continue lawn maintenance. Plant winter-blooming annuals, if you haven't already.

Lower South and Gulf States: Early frost is possible. Plant winter-blooming annuals, if you haven't already. Continue planting cool-season vegetables. Pinch back any annuals that appear leggy. Continue planting or transplanting trees, shrubs, ground covers, roses, spring and summer blooming perennials, spring blooming bulbs. Lightly prune trees and shrubs, but do not prune spring-blooming trees and shrubs. Remove or prune trees and branches that may be susceptible to storm damage. Continue lawn maintenance. Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Continue to irrigate shrubs and trees as long as weather is above freezing. Wrap your exposed sprinklers in protective foam to prevent damage to pipes and valves. Feed house plants, and inspect them for insects and disease. Clean, lubricate and store hand tools for winter. Prepare gas-powered tools for winter storage. Clean bird baths, bird feeders, and refill.

Plains and Rocky Mountain States: Follow the same regimen as for Northeast States.

Pacific Southwest and Desert States: Frost is possible. Follow regimen for Lower South and Gulf States.

Pacific Northwest States: Frost is possible. Plant and transplant broadleaf and evergreen trees and shrubs, perennials and ground covers. Divide perennials and transplant.  Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Pot up spring-flowering bulbs for forcing. Plant cool-season vegetables. Continue fall cleanup. Compost debris. Fertilize trees and shrubs when dormant. Feed house plants; inspect them for scale and disease.  Clean bird baths, bird feeders, and refill.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

FAQ: My red maple leaves are yellow. Was I sold the wrong tree?

Q. I bought a red maple at a local garden center last spring. The leaves are turning yellow in autumn. Was I sold the wrong kind of tree? What kind of maple do you think I purchased?

A. Though it's possible for plants to be mislabeled, you probably purchased a red maple (Acer rubrum). The leaf color in trees grown from seed can vary from yellow to red, including splotches.

Despite what you might have read, red maples aren't called so because of the leaf color in fall, but because the flowers and seed structures are red. If you want to be sure of having red foliage in fall, purchase a cultivar like 'October Glory' that will produce it, or buy a seed-grown tree in fall while the red leaves are on it.

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Birmingham Botanical Gardens

November chill and damp weather seem like enough to keep one indoors, but such a day suits me. There's little I like better than to shuffle through fallen leaves in autumn. Sounds seem muffled. Colors are bolder in contrast. Woodlands reveal their secrets when not draped by summer's verdure. Last Thanksgiving season I found a perfect day for exploring the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

The Birmingham Botanical Gardens is a living museum of plants - Alabama's largest. Over 10,000 specimens are displayed in 25 theme gardens throughout its 67.5 acres. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens is also home to the largest public horticulture library in the U.S. Gardens are maintained and open to the public every day of the year, and admission is free. It's no small feat, but a healthy partnership between the City of Birmingham and Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens makes it possible.

Late November is not a time for visiting rose gardens, azalea collections and floral displays. But it was ideal for enjoying features often hidden or overlooked.

One can't visit the Birmingham Botanical Gardens without encountering art, from graceful fountains to whimsical sculptures. Landscape design is no less an art form, and it is thoughtfully exhibited everywhere from formal vistas to tranquil scenes and pathways.

Birmingham, Alabama is a southern city of Appalachia. It's fitting that the Southern Living Garden is located in the Gardens. The Southern Living Garden is often featured in the publications of the Southern Progress Corporation. You'll also find garden features such as a rustic, covered well to remind you that you're in the foothills. A tool shed, familiar to every gardener, becomes a garden feature in the company of magnificent crape myrtles, cool-season annuals, espaliered fruits and iron furnishings.

Vegetable gardening is near and dear to agrarian hearts. The cool-season vegetable garden effectively displays the kinds and colors of crops that extend the edible harvest.

The Japanese Garden is a favorite destination of visitors to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Within it are so many delights that the Torii is literally a gateway to gardener's heaven.

Water seems like an essential part of any Japanese garden, but it isn't necessarily. The stone garden, also known as karesansui, is an example of the art form that gives the appearance of water and terrain to carefully raked pebbles. The flaming red foliage of a Japanese maple contrasts well with subdued shades. Crimson leaves fallen into brooklets shimmer like koi in sparkling water. Black bamboo intrigues. A red bridge reflected in water beckons twice from afar. Scattered fans of yellow ginkgo blanket the grass.

The Conservatory at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens is a welcome place to come in from the cold. Tropical displays, exotic flowers like Plumeria, and the succulent cacti collection will whisk your imagination to warmer climates and tempt you to shed your coat.

For those in the southeast who like to keep up with the newest tried and true plants, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens is not to be missed for it is an official All-America Selections Display Garden. Here you'll have an opportunity to view AAS winners up-close. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens is the only All-America Selections Display Garden in Alabama.

Like any great garden, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens come alive with new pleasures as the seasons turn. If you're fortunate enough to live nearby, you should visit often.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

FAQ: Is there a vine to climb my wall without damaging the stucco?

Ficus pumila on a brick wall

Q. Can you please recommend me a small-leafed ivy that will grow in full shade in zone 10, and not be considered to have an invasive root system?  I would like something to climb the north facing wall of my South Florida house without doing penetrating damage to the stucco. I need it to climb by itself without a trellis.

A. That's a tough question. Vines climb by two means: clinging and twining. Twining vines wrap around something. You don't want a trellis, so there won't be anything to wrap around. Clinging vines produce growths that allow the plants to attach to the walls somehow.

Parthenocissus (Boston Ivy and Virginia Creeper) have little discs at the ends of modified roots that look like suction cups. They are very difficult to remove from a wall once attached (if you ever decide to remove the vine).

Hedera (English ivy and such) produces little roots that find cracks and crannies in the wall and worm their ways into them. This can cause damage, too.

Ficus pumila (Creeping fig) grows the same way, but I have seen it grow heavy and fall off of a wall during a storm without doing damage to stucco, so that might be a possibility for you.

My wife insisted on planting a Campsis (Trumpet creeper) against a wall. It also attaches by little roots, but I've been able to pull juvenile vines off without damaging the wall, but they were still juvenile. There may be some tropical vines about which I'm unfamiliar that would work.

Trachelospermum asiaticum (Asiatic jasmine) is usually grown as a ground cover, but I've had some escape and try to climb the brick north-face wall of my house. I've been able to pull the juvenile vines off with ease, but they don't really grow thickly enough to achieve the look you desire.

In short, try Ficus pumila. It's not perfect, but may be your best bet. You might have to get it started by erecting a short, temporary trellis.

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