Tuesday, January 31, 2012


This post has absolutely nothing to do with horticulture. My oldest son sent this picture to me. I don't know where he found it. He used to work for me in my garden shop. We know what it's like to be on the receiving end.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

FAQ: Is Carolina Jessamine salt tolerant?

(Note: I'm often asked whether certain plants are salt tolerant. I intend to address the subject generally in a later blog article.) 

We are interested in purchasing some Carolina Jessamine, but have a question.  We plan to use it to climb on a pergola at our beachfront home.  The local county agricultural extension agent says that it is salt-tolerant.  What do you think?  Do you know of anyone who has grown in successfully in a beachfront environment?

I can not think of a specific beachfront property where I've seen Gelsemium sempervirens growing, but that's probably because it is so ubiquitous in S. GA. I've seen it growing in the wild all over Skidaway Island. I was on Jekyll Island recently, and saw plenty of it near the rivers and beach.

A paper, SALT TOLERANT PLANTS Recommended for Pender County Landscapes published by Cooperative Extension Service, Pender County, NC, shows Gelsemium as being moderately salt tolerant.

I could not find a similar document from your state that names Gelsemium, but if it's salt-tolerant in NC it's salt-tolerant where you live.

Return to Gelsemium at goGardenNow.com.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

USDA Unveils New Climate Zone Map

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today released the new version of its Plant Hardiness Zone Map. This is the first update since 1990. This map was jointly developed by USDA's Agricultural Research Service and Oregon State University. It is available online at www.planthardiness.ars.usda.gov.

The map is specifically designed to be internet friendly and interactive. You can click on your state and it will show a close-up with counties clearly delineated.

This new version of the map includes 13 climate zones, 2 more than the previous version. Each zone is a 10-degree Fahrenheit band, and each 10-degree band is further divided into A and B zones, differing by 5-degrees Fahrenheit.

To help develop the new map, USDA and OSU requested that horticultural and climatic experts review the zones in their geographic area, and trial versions of the new map were revised, based on their expert input.

The new climate zone designations are a result of using temperature data from a 30-year period, 1976-2005. The older 1990 map was based only on data from the 13-year period from 1974 to 1986.

More sophisticated data measurement methods factors such as changes in elevation, proximity to bodies of water, and terrain. In addition, the data was collected from more stations than before, resulting in greater accuracy and detail.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Beardtongue - More Appealing Than It Sounds

Penstemon x mexicali 'Prairie Twilight'
The name, "Beard-tongue", doesn't sound at all appealing. Monstrous, perhaps. Or a symptom of illness. Yet, among plants, the Beard-tongue is much more appealing than it sounds. The name belongs to the genus, Penstemon (pronounced PEN-stem-on) and refers to the flowers' five stamens - 4 fertile and 1 infertile. Trumpet-shaped penstemon flowers more or less resemble open mouths. The infertile stamen, protruding through the mouth, suggests the common name. This photo by Walter Siegmund appearing at Wikipedia, shows a good example.

Penstemon flower - closeup

Or is that Mick Jagger coughing up a fuzzball?

Penstemon is a large genus including over 250 species. Most are native to North America. As you can see from the PLANTS Profile map, they enjoy a very wide distribution, and may be found from alpine to desert environments. In addition to the species, very many hybrids have been developed. Many of the newer ones are derived from Mexican species. Though hardiness differs by species and hybrid, they tend to share other requirements - full sun to partial shade, well-drained soil, pH between 6.1 to 7.8.

Flower spikes, rising above the foliage, generally blossom from June through September. Species range in height from 4 inches to 72 inches. As you might expect, the shorter species tend to be more cold-hardy. Foliage is usually evergreen. I recommend them for alpine gardens, rock gardens, low perennial borders, hanging baskets and and containers.

Tall penstemons are wonderful in groupings, adding height, color and texture to mixed annual and perennial borders. They're marvelous for cut flowers. All penstemons attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

Though penstemon's have enjoyed mild popularity since the 19th century, the selection of Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red' as the 1996 Perennial Plant of the Year sent their popularity soaring. Consequently, many new varieties and hybrids have been developed.

When choosing penstemons for your perennial garden, select those which are hardy in your climate zone. The USDA climate zone map is an indispensable resource. If the ones you like are not hardy in your area, don't despair, they can be treated as annuals. If only semi-hardy, a good layer of mulch over winter may protect the crowns enough to survive.

Before planting, take a soil sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis. Follow their instructions. If amendments are recommended, incorporate them into the soil when cultivating. Cultivate to a depth of 10 inches. Remember, good drainage is essential.

You might wonder whether penstemon has any known medicinal attributes. As a matter of fact, various species do. Herbal Medicine of the American Southwest, by Charles Kane, says that penstemon has been used as a poultice for skin wounds, insect bites and rashes. HerbNET reports that penstemon has also been used to relieve toothache, stomachache, chest pains, fever and chills.

In review, penstemons are wonderful for cut flowers, and for attracting hummingbirds and butterflies. They're also fine for xeriscaping. Those with medicinal herb gardens may consider including penstemon in their collections. With so many species and hybrids available, you're sure to find several that are appropriate for your garden.

Return to Penstemon at goGardenNow.com.

Friday, January 20, 2012

AAS Anounces Three New Display Gardens

Those of you who enjoy visiting gardens, or enjoy reading about them in my Behind The Garden Wall blog series, may especially appreciate those gardens that display All America Selections Winners. All Winners are flower or vegetable plants that have been "Tested Nationally and Proven Locally®" by AAS judges who are experienced horticulturists. Once plants have been announced as Winners, they are available for purchase by gardeners nationwide. AAS Display Gardens give gardeners opportunities to see those plants up-close and personal before they purchase seeds or plants. It's a great service that All America Selections and AAS Display Gardens provide.

All America Selections announced the recent approval of three public gardens as AAS Display Gardens. They are the University of Wyoming Garden in Laramie, Wyoming; Tizer Botanic Garden and Arboretum in Jefferson City, Montana; University of Hawaii Urban Garden Center in Pearl City, Hawaii. These are the only AAS Display Gardens in their respective states. There are now 47 states with AAS Display Gardens. You who will be traveling to these states, or live there, will certainly want to include the AAS Display Gardens in your itinerary.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

FAQ: What garden tasks should I do in January?

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 January organized by region.

Northeast States: Prune dormant deciduous trees, shrubs, vines. Mow ground covers to maintain neat appearance. Remove snow from evergreens to avoid limb damage. Maintain house plants and check to make sure foliage doesn't come into contact with cold window glass and drafts. Refill bird feeders often. Browse seed catalogs and nursery web sites. Order spring flowering bulbs, onion sets, strawberries, rhubarb, asparagus for later delivery. Check bulbs and roots in cool storage; throw out rotten ones.
Mid-Atlantic States: Prune dormant deciduous trees, shrubs, vines.  Mow ground covers to maintain neat appearance. Maintain house plants and check to make sure foliage doesn't come into contact with cold window glass and drafts. Refill bird feeders often. Browse seed catalogs and nursery web sites. Order spring flowering bulbs, onion sets, strawberries, rhubarb, asparagus for later delivery. Check bulbs and roots in cool storage; throw out rotten ones. Add mulch to planting beds, if needed.

Mid-South States: Prune dormant deciduous trees, shrubs, vines.  Mow ground covers to maintain neat appearance. Begin spraying dormant oil on dormant fruit trees. Feed house plants, and inspect them for insects and disease and check to make sure foliage doesn't come into contact with cold window glass and drafts. Refill bird feeders often. Browse seed catalogs and nursery web sites. Order spring flowering bulbs, onion sets, strawberries, rhubarb, asparagus for later delivery. Check bulbs and roots in cool storage; throw out rotten ones. Add mulch to planting beds, if needed. Take soil samples to your local Cooperative Extension Service for analysis. Adjust pH, if necessary.

Lower South and Gulf States: Prune dormant deciduous trees, shrubs, vines.  Mow ground covers to maintain neat appearance.Begin spraying dormant oil on dormant fruit trees.  Continue planting and transplanting broadleaf and evergreen trees and shrubs, perennials and ground covers. Continue to irrigate shrubs and trees as long as weather is above freezing. Fertilize trees and shrubs when dormant, if you haven't done it yet. Maintain house plants and check to make sure foliage doesn't come into contact with cold window glass and drafts. Refill bird feeders often. Browse seed catalogs and nursery web sites. Order spring flowering bulbs, onion sets, strawberries, asparagus for later delivery. Add mulch to planting beds, if needed. Take soil samples to your local Cooperative Extension Service for analysis. Adjust pH, if necessary.

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

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

Pacific Northwest States: Prune dormant deciduous trees, shrubs, vines.  Mow ground covers to maintain neat appearance. Begin spraying dormant oil on dormant fruit trees. Fertilize trees and shrubs when dormant, if you haven't already. Remove snow from evergreens to avoid damage. Maintain house plants. Refill bird bath. Refill bird feeders often. Browse seed catalogs and nursery web sites. Order spring flowering bulbs, onion sets, strawberries, rhubarb, asparagus for later delivery. Check bulbs and roots in cool storage; throw out rotten ones. Add mulch to planting beds, if needed. Take soil samples to your local Cooperative Extension Service for analysis. Adjust pH, if necessary.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Centaurea - Stars In Your Garden

Centaurea montana 'Amethyst In Snow'
"What ridge of the pasturing woodlands must I traverse to summon old lifebringing Cheiron to help your wound? Or where can I find medicines, the secrets of Paieon the Healer's painassuaging art? Would that I had what they call the herb centaury, that I might bind the flower of no-pain upon your limbs, and bring you back safe and living from Haides whence none returns! What magic hymn have I, or song from the stars, that I may chant the ditty with Euian voice divine, and stay the flow of blood from your wounded side? Would I had here beside me the fountain of life, that I might pour on your limbs that painstilling water and assuage your adorable wound, to bring back even your soul to you again!" Nonnus, Dionysiaca, Book 35, line 60ff.

Raised in a family of homoeopathic physicians, I traversed Appalachian woodlands with them in search of botanical remedies. "Boys, now, boys," Pop would say with weighty pauses as he stopped us to probe herbs with his staff, "this is...." Then he'd tell us of their medicinal properties. For him and his sons, the doctors, the hikes were born of compassion for their patients.

For us grandchildren, they were adventures. I do remember hearing of centaury, Centaurium, or maybe it was Centaurea.

"Lifebringing Cheiron", mentioned by Nonnus, was a seminal figure in the ancient Western world for his mastery of medicine. Pliny the Elder wrote in his Natural History that Cheiron actually discovered botany and pharmacy. Cheiron (aka Chiron, Kheiron), however, was not a man, but a centaur - half man and half horse. A different kind of centaur, he was more intelligent and not given to drunkenness like the rest.

Cheiron was sired by Kronos (aka Saturn), a titan of mythical proportions. Kronos was romping with a nymph, Philyra, when his wife/consort Rhea showed up unexpectedly. Kronos quickly turned himself into a stallion to avoid recognition, and proudly galloped away. Philyra, pregnant and abandoned, gave birth to Cheiron. Stung by the ignominy, Philyra begged Kronos to turn her into a linden tree (Tilia spp), which he did.

Though (or perhaps because) he was half horse, Cheiron was lucky. He lived. Kronos ate most of his other sons.

Cheiron, not hobbled by his circumstances, turned out well. He became a master of the healing arts, and taught others. Consequently, we've all benefited. Asclepius, one of Cheiron's most accomplished students, traveled to Cos where he inspired Hippocrates. There Hippocrates established a medical school from whence healing knowledge was disseminated, passed down through the ages, eventually studied by my grandfather and father, and here I am telling you about it!

Cheiron has been immortalized in the names of various plants. Centaurea is one of them. There are about 40 species and subspecies of Centaurea thriving in North America, some of them naturalized from Europe. Of those, nearly half are commercially available as ornamental plants. The rest are either not desirable or heartily despised.

As you may have guessed, Centaurea was so named because of purported medicinal qualities. C. montana is sometimes use in Europe as an eyewash. The dried flowers made into tea are also said to break up mucous congestion, cleanse the kidneys and generally de-toxify the body, and act as astringent mouthwash.

You may recognize some of the common names: Bachelors Button, Basketflower, Centaury (a name mostly associated with Centaurium, which is a different genus), Cornflower, Dusty Miller, Knapweed, Mountain Bluet, Starthistle.

Hardiness varies according to species. Among the most popular are C. cineraria and C. cyanus. Not cold hardy, they are grown as annuals or tender perennials. C. montana, one of my favorites, is a hardy perennial, thriving in USDA climate zones 4 through 8. The many star-like flowers remind me of a constellation in the garden.

Centaurea prefers average, well-drained soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8. Choose a site in full sun or partial shade. Take a soil sample to your nearby Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis. Follow the recommendations.

If the soil is compacted, till to a depth of 10 inches. Add amendments, if necessary. Remove all traces of weeds. Seeds of C. cyanus may be sown in rows or gently sprinkled on the surface and lightly covered. Space container grown C. cineraria 12 inches to 18 inches apart. Space C. montana 18 inches to 24 inches apart. Water the plants in the pots, and allow to drain. Plant no deeper than they grew in the pots; in other words, don't bury them. Gently water as  you back-fill with soil. 

C. cineraria is usually grown for its foliage. C. cyanus and C. montana are grown for their flowers. All are reasonably drought-tolerant and deer-resistant. Use them for xeriscaping, butterfly gardens, cut flowers, mixed annual and perennial borders. Many gardeners like to establish theme gardens. Centaurea is perfect for heirloom plant collections and medicinal gardens.

You might be wondering what became of those characters I mentioned before. Here's a brief summary.

Asclepius knew too much, having discovered the secret to immortality. Zeus killed him with a thunderbolt to keep the secret from getting out.

Cheiron died of a poison arrow in the foot, and now resides in the heavens as the constellation Sagittarius.

The doctors are deceased, except for one who is alive and well at 95 years old.

Hippocrates died. Physicians recite his Oath.

Kronos (Saturn) is still ticking.

Philyra is still sung and danced about.

Return to Centaurea at goGardenNow.com.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Results of Community Poll ending 17 January.

Our community poll ending 17 January asked the question: "Where do you usually turn for gardening information?" Possible answers included, 1) Print media; 2) The internet. Only 2 people responded. Both answered: The internet. Well, the last month was not a good one for polling, I guess. I really want to know, though, so I've extended the time to answer by another 15 days. To answer this question, go to my BackYardFruitGuide blog.

A new Community Poll is being conducted at goGardenNow.com. It asks the question, "Do you favor All-America Selections winners for your garden?" You can participate by going to goGardenNow.com. Look for the Community Poll in the right-hand side bar. You may also participate here at goGardenNow.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

FAQ: Where are the pictures?

You only include one or two pictures of gardens when you post blog articles about gardens. Why don't you show more?

Okay, I admit that this is not a frequently asked question. You're the first to mention it, but I'm guessing that other people wonder the same thing. Actually, I do make lots of pictures available on the World Wide Web. To see them, look for links in the body of any article. A link is a word or phrase that is a different color than the rest of the text. Sometimes the word or phrase is underlined. Click on it. A new browser window should open and display the picture. Here is an example of a link to a picture.

Sometimes there are other interesting, trusted web sites with information pertinent to the article, so I'll provide links to those, too. Here is an example of a link to an interesting web site. If you're not in the habit of clicking on links within trusted web sites (like mine), get started. That's what the World Wide Web is all about.

Sometimes images are activated to function as links. For example, if you click on this link, it will take you to a single article in my blog. If  you go to the top of the page and click on my goGardenNow logo (in the rectangular block with the two yellow flowers), it will take you to my blog and display all the most recent articles I've posted. Cool, eh?

To read articles in my newest blog, click on this BackYardFruitGuide link.

Here's another great link: Return to goGardenNow.com.

FAQ: What is the best way to rid my garden of nematodes?

What is the best way to rid my garden of nematodes?

I don't know of any nematicide that is labeled for use in the home garden by the homeowner. So the simplest way would be to solarize your garden. Solarizing is best done during hot weather of summer. Before planting, remove debris from the garden. Till the soil and rake it smooth. Irrigate briefly to moisten the soil. Spread a large, clear sheet of plastic over the garden. I recommend you use heavy-duty plastic, otherwise holes may develop allowing hot air to escape. Bury the edges, then add weights around the perimeter. You may also need to distribute weights over the sheet to prevent wind from pulling the center up. Concrete blocks or buckets of sand will work fine. For good measure, you may spread a second sheet above the first, resting it on the distributed weights around the center. Bury the edges and weight around the perimeter, as before. This will create a greenhouse effect with more hot air trapped above the first sheet. Leave the plastic in place for 6 weeks or so. Remove the plastic when you're ready to plant. This method heats the soil to a depth of 6 or 8 inches sufficient to kill nematodes. This is also a good method to kill weed seeds before planting.

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Monday, January 9, 2012

Washington Irving's "Sunnyside"

Washington Irving's 'Sunnyside'
Sometimes a detour from the busy highway leads to enchantment. That's especially true in the storied Hudson River Valley where all thruways and traffic seem to be sucked into New York City, and figuring where to exit can be a startling discovery in the rear-view mirror.

After a day in Manhattan, I wanted respite. My son and daughter-in-law knew where to find it. Ducking under I-87, we slowed onto Sunnyside Lane finally coming to rest at the home of Washington Irving.

Irving (1783-1859) was one of America's earliest authors of international renown. While most writers were publishing books of practical value, Irving was penning for pleasure, while his readers enjoyed his writings at least as much. His Tales of the Alhambra has enticed travelers since 1832. Irving's Sketch Book has delighted readers with magical tales such as "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle." Those, of course, were inspired by tales of his beloved Hudson River Valley.

Near what he called the "wizard region of Sleepy Hollow", Irving purchased a small cottage known as "The Roost" overlooking the river and began adding to it in 1835. "I have had an architect there," he wrote, "and shall build a mansion upon the place this summer. My idea is to make a little nookery, somewhat in the Dutch style, quaint but unpretending.” The new architectural elements included motifs characteristic of New York Dutch and places he loved in Spain and Scotland. He named it "Sunnyside."

He described it in his book, Wolfert's Roost and Miscellanies (1855). "About five-and-twenty miles from the ancient and renowned city of Manhattan, formerly called New-Amsterdam, and vulgarly called New-York, on the eastern bank of that expansion of the Hudson, known among Dutch mariners of yore, as the Tappan Zee, being in fact the great Mediterranean Sea of the New-Netherlands, stands a little old-fashioned stone mansion, all made up of gable-ends, and as full of angles and corners as an old cocked hat. Though but of small dimensions, yet, like many small people, it is of mighty spirit, and values itself greatly on its antiquity, being one of the oldest edifices, for its size, in the whole country. It claims to be an ancient seat of empire, I may rather say an empire in itself, and like all empires, great and small, has had its grand historical epochs. In speaking of this doughty and valorous little pile, I shall call it by its usual appellation of 'The Roost.'"

Irving wrote much about its history and more about its former owners, then gleefully announced, "I have become possessor of the Roost! I have repaired and renovated it with religious care, in the genuine Dutch style, and have adorned and illustrated it with sundry reliques of the glorious days of the New Netherlands. A venerable weathercock, of portly Dutch dimensions, which once battled with the wind on the top of the Stadt-House of New Amsterdam, in the time of Peter Stuyvesant, now erects its crest on the gable end of my edifice; a gilded horse in full gallop, once the weathercock of the great Vander Heyden Palace of Albany, now glitters in the sunshine, and veers with every breeze, on the peaked turret over my portal; my sanctum sanctorum is the chamber once honored by the illustrious Diedrich, and it is from his elbow-chair, and his identical old Dutch writing-desk, that I pen this rambling epistle."

Irving landscaped the property in an appropriate rustic style. A long curving drive led downhill and passed a small pond which he called his "Little Mediterranean." There he would sit in clement weather to draw inspiration and write. A small orchard not only provided necessary fruit but enhanced the scene as it satisfied his interest in growing things. He planted climbing vines such as trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), English ivy (Hedera helix) and wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) against the edifice, which remain to this day. Visitors will also find a small gardener's cottage surrounded by flowers and vegetables.

It was and remains an enchanting place, but think it was more so in its early days. A comfortable sitting room with plenty of glass opened onto the river view. Irving, his family and guests could rest on the veranda, stroll down the gentle slope to sun on a small beach, go boating, or fish.

Unfortunately the idyll was corrupted when the railroad was constructed between "Sunnyside" and the Hudson. His quiet retreat with its unspoiled vista and fresh river breezes was often interrupted by the iron behemoth belching coal smoke. Irving was furious, of course, fuming that they'd build a railroad through heaven, if they could. The "iron horse" has been replaced by less interesting engines, and the nearby Tappan Zee Bridge conveys thousands of vehicles across the Hudson each day.

Tours of Sunnyside are conducted by docents, dressed in period clothing, who are very knowledgeable about "Sunnyside" and Washington Irving. As we got to know our guide better, we learned that she was also well-acquainted with Savannah, my hometown, and Charleston, where she once lived. It was fun to discover that affinity.

You can buy individual tickets on site. If you live in the area, check online at Historic Hudson Valley to learn about various levels of membership that will allow "affordable, close-to-home fun along the Hudson." There are grander estates waiting for you to explore, and events to experience!

Not far from "Sunnyside", you'll find the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow where Washington Irving is buried. Walk around the church and explore the cemetery. It's free. You'll find lots of other notables buried there. Take US 9 north to Tarrytown. The Old Dutch Church address is 430 North Broadway, Sleepy Hollow, NY 10591.

There is an ancient sycamore tree near Sunnyside's lane that has the distinction of being recognized jointly by The Internation Society of Arboriculture and The National Arborist Association in 1976 as a Bicentennial Tree, "having lived here during the American Revolutionary period." It's humbling to be in the presence of something so old that has weathered the winds of change. I'm reminded of another old tree within the walls of the Alhambra which Washington Irving is said to have mused to be the “only surviving witness to the wonders of that age of Al-Andalus.”

It's mysterious how serendipity works.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

FAQ: What should I use to cover my plants during cold weather?

It's forecast for the temperature to drop into the "teens" tonight. I'm afraid that some of my plants will be damaged by the cold. I can't dig them up and bring them inside. What should I cover them with?

First, let me say what you should NOT drape them with: plastic. Plastic does not allow for air or moisture exchange. That may seem like a good thing, but isn't. While plastic will trap heat, it does it too well. When the sun comes out, the air beneath the plastic will heat and your plants will cook. Not only that, moisture will condense under the plastic and likely freeze during the night. Foliage in contact with the plastic and frozen condensation will be damaged.

Though advanced materials are available on the market, you probably don't have time to find and purchase them. So cover your plants with cotton fabric. Old bed sheets will do just fine. They are relatively light weight, so shouldn't mash your plants. But if you're concerned about that, use some tall garden stakes to elevate the sheets above the plants.

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