Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What should I use to treat mites on my citrus?

I've discovered spider mites on my satsuma orange tree. What do you recommend I treat it with? The tree is growing in a pot on my porch so I can take it indoors in winter. I don't want to use a pesticide that will ruin the fruit.

Spider mites like dry conditions. Since the satsuma is growing in a pot on your porch, it's probably not exposed to rainfall. When you water, you add water to the pot. Right? So, the leaves are seldom exposed to water. As a preventative measure in the future, spray the leaves above and beneath when you water your orange to discourage the mites.

Spraying the leaves with water, especially the undersides, may be enough to get rid of them. If not, there are two pesticides on the market that might do the trick. One is Monterey Bug Buster. The active ingredient is esfenvalerate - a synthetic pyrethroid insecticide. The other pesticide is Trounce by Safer, the makers of insecticidal soap. Trounce contains insecticidal soap and pyrethroids.

As with all pesticides, follow label instructions.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Must-Have Plants: Dianthus 'Fire Witch'

Dianthus gratianopolitanus 'Fire Witch'

Must-have plants are among the best plants for appropriate garden situations. When you need great garden plants for ground cover, naturalizing, wildflower gardens, perennial borders, butterfly gardens, hummingbird gardens, herb gardens, heritage gardens, cutting gardens, woodland gardens, shade gardens, bulb gardens, container gardens, bog gardens, water gardens, rain gardens or xeriscaping, look for the best among our must-have plants.

Name(s): Dianthus gratianopolitanus 'Fire Witch', 'Feuerhexe', Firewitch', Cheddar Pink, Border Pink

Flower Color: Magenta.

Bloom Time: Spring through summer

Foliage: Evergreen, blue-green, linear.

Height/Spread: 7 inches x 14 inches.

Climate Zones: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Sun Exposure: Full sun.

Soil Condition: Average, well-drained to dry, pH 6.6 to 8.5

Features: Drought tolerant, salt tolerant, heat tolerant, cold tolerant, deer resistant, low maintenance, fragrant.

Uses: Xeriscaping, massed planting, ground cover, coastal gardens, butterfly gardens, fragrance gardens, perennial borders.

Comments: Dianthus gratianopolitanus 'Fire Witch', a lovely clump forming plant, produces lots of showy magenta, carnation-like blooms spring through summer. Evergreen, blue-green linear foliage is attractive when the plant is not in bloom. Mature height is 7 inches, and grows 14 inches across.

Dianthus prefers well-drained soil. Do not over-water. Dianthus is heat resistant and cold tolerant, deer resistant, drought tolerant, salt tolerant, and attracts butterflies.

Dianthus is recommended for for USDA climate zones 3 to 9. Space 14 inches to 16 inches apart.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center

Houston Arboretum and Nature Center

We were visiting the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center. Behind a man at the front of the line of two - who wouldn't stop yammering to the desk attendant about Gov. Perry's policies, disparaging the South, how she could live a happier life if only she would move to the suburbs of Washington, DC and get a federal government job, thanking her for their (his) conversation - I cleared my throat, stepped up to the desk, paid $3 dollars for a trail map and asked the lady with the few words I could fit in edge-wise. "Ma’am, if we only have an hour or so to explore, what would you recommend?" She seemed relieved that I’d asked.

She also gave me a free handout, “A Brief History of the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center." It's well worth getting a copy. Contact the arboretum.

The attendant said "This is a true nature center." Were truer words ever spoken? She instructed that from the Nature Center, we should follow the Inner Loop clockwise to the North Meadow Trail, follow it to the Outer Loop, go north past the Willow Oak Pond, and turn west on the Willow Oak Trail to return to the Nature Center. Her recommendation was spot-on.

The climate of Houston, TX is very much like south Georgia, my home – sweltering and oppressive in summer. The heat and humidity motivated us to cut our visit short and get out of there as soon as possible. But walking fast generated more sweat. So we moseyed, more or less, as we generally do down South.

Houston Arboretum’s flora is also familiar. Most are native species. Except for some brush clearing, they grow in wild abandon. Perhaps this is what the attendant implied by “a true nature center.” I could say the same about a walk through the woods behind my house.

The Houston Arboretum boasts a few improvements which my woods can’t: a nature center with classrooms and displays, well-marked trails, broad paths, comfortable benches, easy access, and boardwalks over seasonally wet areas. It’s also encompasses more acreage.

Along the way from the Outer Loop to the Willow Oak Pond, I spied what appeared from a distance to be a flowering Crinum americanum, also known American crinum lily, Seven sisters, Swamp lily, Southern swamp lily, String lily. I wanted to get a closer look, but didn’t. It appeared one or two persons had ventured out to do so. I could see their trail, but I wasn’t going. The weeds were high and I was wearing shorts.

Other noted species along the way included Partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata), American basket-flower (Centaurea americana), Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), Whitemouth dayflower (Commelina erecta), Turk's cap (Malvaviscus arboreus), Pink Texas sage and Red Texas sage (Salvia greggii), Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccafolium), and Blue passionflower (Passiflora caerulea).

Meadow, Houston Arboretum
We did not explore all the trails in the Houston Arboretum, but were pleased with the beautiful meadow and Meadow Pond along the trail. They were certainly the highlights of our morning walk.

Meadow Pond with Centaurea americana and Eryngium yuccafolium

The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center presents many seasonal events for adults and children. Children's classes were being held in the visitor center the day we visited. They seemed well-attended. Houston residents should check them out. It's also a great place for walks, nature photography and bird watching.

There is no admission charge, but donations are encouraged. The Houston Arboretum is located at 4501 Woodway Drive.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Diggin' In: Landscapes Need Renovating Just Like Homes, By Kathy Van Mullekom

"Your landscape is very much like your home’s interior d├ęcor.

"It grows old, sometimes tattered and torn, and needs updating from time to time. Sometimes, plantings need to be completely torn out and totally replaced. Sometimes, old porches, patios and decks just don’t work any longer.

"Landscape design classes typically teach that a landscape lasts for 10-15 years before it needs at least a partial redo. Sometimes, it’s best to just start over from scratch and get the look you’ve always wanted and never achieved because there was never enough advance planning and an overall plan." Read more from RISMEDIA

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Is "pot liquor" good for plants?

I read at an organic gardening web site that vegetable water is really good for plants. Is that true?

This strikes me funny because vegetable water is often known as "pot liquor" or "pot likker." But I'll comment on that later.

Well, it appears the advisor is talking about water left over from boiling or steaming vegetables. If the water has cooled, it should be good. Don't pour hot water on your desirable plants. But why don't you use the vegetable water for yourself?

  • You can drink it when it has cooled enough;
  • You can mix it in your Bloody Veggie;
  • You can add it to smoothies;
  • You can use it as vegetable broth.

Where I come from, people who actually drink the vegetable water are considered desperate, and derisively called "pot lickers" or "pot likkers." But most everyone does it nowadays. Not just here.

If you have anything left after the smoothies and broths, give the rest to your plants. They should respond well.

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A large oak tree has to go.

"There is a large oak tree growing in our yard. ...We want to add a room to our house. IMO the tree has to go. But my wife loves the tree."

This reminds me of a few discussions I had with a customer a long time ago. For the sake of anonymity, I'll call him Pete. Pete, a lawyer, spent his professional career in a large city. He hired me to maintain his retirement property.

Pete had several undesirable trees around his estate, mostly misshapen black cherries (Prunus serotina) and water oaks (Quercus nigra) in various stages of decline. Those not decrepit were growing in the wrong places. But Pete insisted they were "magnificent." "Magnificent weeds," I replied. But he wouldn't allow me to remove them.

Perhaps Pete suffered from what I call the Kilmer Complex (after Joyce Kilmer). These folks think they "shall never see a poem lovely as a tree." Trees are bigger than themselves, and perhaps older, so are impressive even if diseased or growing in inconvenient places. They have no problem, however, destroying smaller undesirables. It's a matter of perspective, and an odd one at that.

What is a weed but an undesirable plant, or a plant growing in an undesirable place? It doesn't matter, really, how great or small. If it can't be transplanted elsewhere, get rid of it.

I wrote all that to say I understand your predicament. Try reasoning gently with her using my argument. If she remains rooted in her opinion, there's not much you can do about it. I guess it depends on whether she wants the additional room more than the tree, or whether you desire her more than the additional room.

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

What is eating my koi?

We recently installed a small garden pond in the back yard and stocked it with a few small koi. Now a couple of the koi are missing. A friend suggested that raccoons have been eating them. How can I tell if he is correct, and if so how can I keep the raccoons out of the pond?

Since the koi are missing, you might not have a raccoon problem, but a heron problem. Raccoons won't eat the whole fish. They'll leave some scraps behind. Herons, however, will gulp down the entire koi.

To prevent herons from doing more damage, buy a heron decoy to set in or near the pond. You might find one at a garden center that carries pond supplies, or online. Real herons will avoid your pond if they think another one is already feeding there. In the mean time, temporarily cover your pond with bird netting like you would drape over berry plants. It's not very attractive, but will prevent herons from eating all the koi until you obtain the decoy. Cover your pond soon because it doesn't take long for a hungry heron to eat all the koi.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

English Daisy (Bellis perennis): The Flower of Innocence and Healing

English Daisy (Bellis perennis)
Bellis is a genus of annuals and perennials native to Great Britain, Europe, North Africa and the Mediterranean region. Gardeners prefer Bellis perennis, also known as English Daisy, Lawn Daisy and Bruisewort.  The name Bellis perennis (pronounced BEL-liss per-EN-is) means "pretty perennial." It's aptly named.

As one name suggests, Lawn Daisy can pop up anywhere. Indeed it can, even in North America where it was introduced many years ago. Though that might seem like a bad thing to aficionados of the perfect lawn, Lawn Daisy (Bellis perennis) inspires poets to wax eloquent.

BRIGHT Flower! whose home is everywhere,
Bold in maternal Nature's care,
And all the long year through the heir
Of joy or sorrow;
Methinks that there abides in thee
Some concord with humanity,
Given to no other flower I see
The forest thorough!

-From one of William Wordsworth's poems To The Daisy

For many centuries, plants have come to symbolize various human emotions and characteristics. The study is called floriography or "the language of flowers." Snapdragon means deception. Ivy means fidelity. Violet means modesty. Rue means regret, and, incidentally, was known to be an abortifacient. Daisy means innocence. Bouquets could express feelings and messages without spoken words. Many have been worked into our expressions such as, "I rue the day...", "shrinking violet", "innocent as a daisy", "clinging vine."

You might remember Act IV from Shakespeare's Hamlet with Ophelia, King Claudius, Queen Gertrude and Laertes:

There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray,
love, remember: and there is pansies. that's for thoughts.

A document in madness, thoughts and remembrance fitted.

There's fennel for you, and columbines: there's rue
for you; and here's some for me: we may call it
herb-grace o' Sundays: O you must wear your rue with
a difference. There's a daisy: I would give you
some violets, but they withered all when my father
died: they say he made a good end,--

Using the language of flowers, Ophelia clearly expressed her thoughts.

Ophelia by Alexandre Cabanal
I won't summarize the plot. You can read Shakespeare's Hamlet yourself.

English Daisy (Bellis perennis) is also known for its medicinal properties, as the name Bruisewort indicates. It has been used effectively to alleviate pain, hasten healing of cuts, bruises and surgical wounds, and to prevent bacterial infection.

Bloom season ranges from late spring to mid fall.  Flower colors include shades of crimson to pink, and white.  Plant height varies from 6 inches to 12 inches.
English Daisy (Bellis perennis) is at home pretty much everywhere in USDA climate zones 4 through 8.  Slightly moist to well-drained loamy soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.5 is recommended. Plant in full sun to partial shade. Take care not to over-water.
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 12 inches deep, removing all traces of weeds. Composted manure and peat moss 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 inches of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space English Daisy (Bellis perennis) 6 inches to 9 inches apart. 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. Press soil around the roots. Do not cover the top of the root mass with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed.  Water gently to avoid disturbance.

Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 2 inches deep.  The mulch helps retain soil moisture, so you can water less frequently.  It also helps suppress weeds.

English Daisy (Bellis perennis) is a charming perennial ideal for borders, container gardens, herb and medicinal plant collections, English gardens, poet and Shakespeare gardens. If you're a hopeless romantic, plant some in your lawn.

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

Greetings from Jacksonville, Florida, home of WAPE - "THE BIG APE" - radio station and the Jacksonville Zoo. When I was a kid, WAPE - "The Mighty 690", was, arguably, the most popular Top 40 AM station in Savannah, Georgia. Jacksonville was also the closest big city to my hometown, and we had relatives there. Our cousins were never shy to remind us that Jacksonville, Jacksonville Beach and local scenery in Florida were superior in all respects to Savannah and Tybee. So our parents occasionally took my brother and me to see the cousins and other animals.

I remember my anticipation of excitement, adventure and dread more than any specific exhibit or events in Jacksonville, excepting Monkey Island. Monkey Island was just that - a hillock surrounded by a moat surrounded by a wall over which amusing visitors applauded simian antics. Feeding the monkeys was not forbidden back then. Some folks would bring grapes to pitch. I recall one ape in particular which, while the others were clamoring nearest clusters of visitors, would scamper alone off to the top of the hillock and wave his arms for attention. He got lots of laughs and collected most grapes.

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has grown up a lot since then, so I returned recently for the first time in about 50 years to see what was new. Almost everything was.

The Jacksonville Zoo endured hard times back in the '60s. Not wanting to close it, community leaders formed a committee to figure out a way to keep it open. The Jacksonville Zoological Society was formed and progress was made.

Today's Jacksonville Zoo is more like a botanical garden with animals. Situated on the Trout River, the park is divided into continental themes with appropriate beasts. There are The Plains of East Africa, Wild Florida, River Valley Aviary, Savanna Blooms Garden and Giraffe Overlook, Great Apes, South America and Range of The Jaguar, Gardens at Trout River Plaza, Save The Frogs and Australian Adventure, Asian Gardens and Komodo Exhibit.

Gardens at Trout River Plaza
Upon entering, you feel like you're going on safari, except you're strolling broad walks among beautifully landscaped gardens. Nevertheless, you can't wait to mosey around the next corner. Plant and animal species are well identified with signage, so visitors can appreciate what they're viewing. Jacksonville Zoo's web site has a list of major plant species with clickable links to provide more information.

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens isn't just for walking. For those who want to see the zoo the easy way or just enjoy the ride, the Zoo Train stops at the Main Camp Entrance and, strategically, the Kids' Shop. Since it's located on the Trout River, Jacksonville Zoo makes kayaks available for those who like to paddle about.

The carousel is one of my favorite rides at any park because you can master the most ferocious beasts, ride them fast and melt into ghee!
Zoos are better designed now than when I was growing up, partly for the animals' sakes, partly for the visitors'. Attractive landscaping is becoming a notable feature. I think, though, that The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is unique in its thoughtful combination of a botanical garden with the zoological park.

Following are a few more photographs of my visit:

The Rivers Of Color Garden.

Edible landscaping and raised bed displays.

A portion of the cacti and succulents collection.

Asian Garden scene

Variegated Japanese Yew (Podocarpus macrophyllus var. maki 'Argenteus')

Preening flamingos
Red frangipani (Plumeria spp.).

Elegant patterns of the West African green mamba (Dendroaspis viridis)

Lioness (Panthera leo krugeri) in the shade.

A handsome kudu

Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) resting confidently in its

North American Wood stork (Mycteria americana).

So, from here on Monkey Island, I implore you. Subscribe to my blog at, follow the goGardenNow Facebook page, and buy something from

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Please respond with recommendations for a lawn substitute

Dwarf Mondo Grass Lawn
I have questions about a lawn substitute so I can play on with my family. I would like to play ball with my kids on it. I hope I don't ever have to cut it. Please respond with recommendations.

Lawn grass is popular because it tolerates a high degree of foot traffic and can be mowed to a low height for outdoor activities. Furthermore, it covers quickly and relatively inexpensively. But it does require frequent maintenance.

Dwarf mondo grass - Ophiopogon japonicus 'Nana' - is a fine lawn substitute. It tolerates foot traffic, providing you don't regularly play team sports on it. Walking about is okay. It has a naturally low profile, so doesn't need mowing. It covers densely. It is cold hardy in your area. It is drought tolerant. Color is deep green. It thrives in partial shade to full shade, so that might be a disadvantage to you. Other disadvantages include expense of establishment - i.e. plant cost -, and it is slower to spread than lawn grasses. The plant cost would probably be offset by low maintenance cost over time.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Looks like you've got armadillos.

Something is digging holes in my yard. Here are some pictures of the holes. What do you think is doing it? How can I stop it? BTW, I live in south Georgia.

Armadillo burrow

Armadillo damage

Looks to me like you have armadillos. The deep hole looks like a burrow. The shallow dig probably resulted from an armadillo scratching around for food.

Credit: Rebecca Wallace, University of Georgia

Armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus) inhabit all of the Gulf Coast states, parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, south and central Georgia. They migrated from north or south of the border down Mexico way. They eat insects, larvae, earthworms, spiders, small reptiles and eggs. Some folks report armadillos robbing eggs from chicken houses. They damage lawns and gardens rooting for food or digging their burrows.

Armadillos may also be infected with the bacterium - Mycobacterium leprae - that causes Hansen's disease, commonly known as leprosy. I believe humans and armadillos are the only warm-blooded carriers.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that armadillos can communicate leprosy to humans, primarily through physical interaction. But since bacterium can ride on water vapor, it stands to reason that the disease could be communicated without physical contact. Por ejemplo, don't let an armadillo sneeze on you.

I'm guessing you don't want armadillos around your house. There are various methods including repelling, excluding, trapping, shooting, site modifying and eliminating the food source.

Repellents might or might not work. I've heard of scattering mothballs where they root or dig. Even if it worked, it would take a lot of mothballs to keep them out of your yard, and the smell would repel you, too.

If you have a fenced yard, a good dog might keep them away. Several years ago my dog trapped an armadillo in a roll of fencing. It was driving him crazy that he couldn't get at it. His craziness was driving me crazy, so I called off the dog and let the armadillo run.

Some people have tried fencing them out, but armadillos dig. The bottom of the fence would have to be buried sufficiently, which could prove costly.

Various humane traps are available for all sorts of animal pests. I'm not promoting any particular brand, but "have a heart" comes to mind.

So far as I know, armadillos are unprotected in all states, which means it's always armadillo hunting season. You might dispatch them with a decent pellet gun or .22 caliber rifle. But you must check your state and local ordinances before shooting them.

Shooting armadillos is complicated by the fact that they are most active from sunset to sunrise. Even if it's legal to hunt them around your property, rifle fire during the night might raise suspicion and attract a visitor from law enforcement.

Armadillos like to dig burrows under shrubs, as seen in your  photo. You could remove your shrubs, but that doesn't seem attractive.

You could remove their food sources by applying a lawn insecticide, but I don't like the idea. Broad spectrum insecticides eliminate good and bad insects alike.

One might argue that armadillos inhabit a useful niche in our eco-system since they help to keep pests in check. But then we have to balance that reality with holes in the yard and, of course, the unknown potential for leprosy.

UPDATE: Following a comment below, I posted a reply with link to a capture and release ELSEWHERE program. Here's the link to Translocation of nine-banded armadillos.

UPDATE: Here's an important quote from the Translocation of nine-banded armadillos article. "In conclusion, we recommend against translocating nuisance armadillos in most cases. First, translocated animals are unlikely to remain at their release site and will likely transfer the problem elsewhere, increase the risk of the spreading disease, and increase mortality rates because of translocated animals. Second, resident armadillos are highly dispersive and will likely quickly fill vacated territories formerly occupied by translocated animals. In addition, negative ecological impacts of additional armadillos in an area should be considered. Armadillos pose a threat to a number of native fauna, including several rare or endangered reptiles (Layne 1997), soil invertebrates (Carr 1982), marine turtles, gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus; Drennen et al. 1989), and ground-nesting birds, such as northern bobwhite (Staller et al. 2005). If shooting is not a desired or practical management option for removing nuisance armadillos within certain localities, they should be trapped and humanely euthanized. It is important to remember, however, that until there is a more permanent solution to keeping armadillos away from areas where they are unwanted, whatever removal techniques landowners choose to use will likely need to be continuously applied." (Emphases are mine.)

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Large Interactive Garden Featuring Native Plants Opens May 4
AUSTIN, TX (April 9, 2014) – Children and families will bloom outside this spring as the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center unveils its new Luci and Ian Family Garden at a public grand opening on Sunday, May 4, 2014.

The 4.5-acre Family Garden is the only native plant garden developed for families in Central Texas. It is designed to encourage hands-on, creative outdoor play, with sustainable features including giant birds’ nests, a creek, caves, and a maze.

Named after lead donors Luci Baines Johnson, daughter of President Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson, and her husband Ian Turpin, the $5 million Family Garden will double the maintained garden acreage at the 279-acre Wildflower Center that is part of The University of Texas at Austin.

“The Wildflower Center is on the cutting edge of sustainability,” says Luci Baines Johnson. “Our hope is that the Family Garden will be a place where families go to play and discover the wonder and importance of nature.”

The Luci and Ian Family Garden aims to connect children and families to the natural world by providing more than a dozen interactive and educational features made of natural materials such as Nature’s Spiral, a mosaic–inlaid limestone wall that illustrates the spiral shapes found in nature. Other features include a maze made of native shrubs, giant tree stumps for kids to climb on, giant bird nests made from native grape vines, a grotto with caves and a waterfall, a lawn designed with native turf, a creek with dinosaur footprints and water activities, and much more.

“There is nothing like this garden in Texas on many levels,” says Susan Rieff, executive director of the Wildflower Center. “The Luci and Ian Family Garden will offer children a safe environment for exploring the natural world that we hope will instill a sense of wonder and excitement.”

Designed by landscape architect and artist W. Gary Smith and architecture firm TBG Partners, the Family Garden is a model for eco-friendly landscaping as a pilot project of the national Sustainable Sites InitiativeTM(SITES) program. The Wildflower Center developed SITES in partnership with the U.S. Botanic Garden and the American Society of Landscape Architects. It is the most comprehensive national system for rating the design, construction and maintenance of sustainable landscapes.

The Luci and Ian Family Garden was made possible by more than 200 generous donors, including Lynda Johnson Robb, also daughter of President Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson, whose family funded the Robb Family Pavilion. Taken together, these donors contributed over $5 million to fund the project.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is located at 4801 La Crosse Avenue, Austin, Texas 78739. To learn more about the Family Garden, built by SpawGlass, visit,

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Monday, April 14, 2014

FAQ: Water run-off is causing an erosion issue.

I have a location that is a steep hill, that runs down towards a lake.  Water run-off is causing an erosion issue.  I am planning on purchasing 100 Ophiopogon japonicus 'Nana' - Dwarf Mondo Grass - Bare Root,  to start. I'm curious as to your opinion on this application of this grass.  Second, I want to know how quickly these would need to be planted once they arrive.

Dwarf mondo grass is a slow-growing ground cover, so it won't stabilize the soil on the hill all by itself. You could install an erosion control blanket/mat and plant through it. Still, that doesn't change the fact that dwarf mondo grows slowly.

If you decide to install a blanket/mat, to help stabilize the soil until your ground cover plant matures, it should be made of organic material (like straw). I recently saw some for sale at our local farm supply store.

Faster growing ground covers include Campsis radicans (aka Trumpet Vine, a very aggressive native plant that will climb anything in its path), Euonymus fortunei (aka Wintercreeper), Gelsemium sempervirens (aka Carolina Jessamine, another native ground cover that will climb if given the opportunity), Hypericum calycinum (aka St. John's Wort), Juniperus conferta 'Blue Pacific' and Junipers horizontalis 'Wiltonii', Liriope spicata (aka Creeping Lily Turf), Pachysandra terminalis (aka Japanese Spurge), Trachelospermum asiaticum (aka Asiatic Jasmine), Vinca major (aka Big-Leaf Periwinkle) and Vinca minor (aka Periwinkle).

Bare root plants should be planted ASAP. If you can't get to them all at once, set the plants upright in the shipping box, keep them moist, avoid exposure to sun and wind.

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Monday, April 7, 2014

How far apart should junipers be planted?

How far apart should junipers be planted?

If you are referring to the junipers sold in 3-1/2 inch pots at, understand they can all grow 4' to 6' across. However, planting distance is as much an issue of coverage speed and budget as ultimate spread. The J. conferta 'Blue Pacific' and J. horizontalis 'Wiltonii' can be planted as much as 3' apart, but because of their age and size, you might prefer to plant them as close as 18" apart so you'll see faster coverage.

I recommend the J. procumbens 'Nana' be planted about 18" apart because it is slower growing. But if you have the time and patience, the variety can be planted farther apart.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Dylan Winter and the Starling Murmurations

North Americans know the Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) as a pest. It was was introduced when the head of the "American Acclimatization Society", a wealthy drug manufacturer named Eugene Scheiffelin, released 60 birds he had imported from England in New York City's Central Park in 1890. He released 40 more the following year. Scheiffelin wanted to introduce all birds mentioned in William Shakespeare's works to America in order to help European immigrants feel comfortable in their new home.

Not surprisingly, the starlings didn't confine themselves to Central Park. They now inhabit North American in large numbers. Eugene Scheiffelin's name will live in infamy.

Beside being unattractive birds, they can be aggressive toward smaller species. Starlings often displace Purple Martins from their homes. They eat bird food intended for others. Large flocks leave quite a mess behind. Despite their reputation, starlings are wonderful at controlling insect pests. Furthermore, their flights can be amazing, especially in flocks of thousands.

Enjoy the following video: Dylan Winter and the Starling Murmurations.

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Another Pest On The Loose: The Redheaded Flea Beetle.


Yet another pest is on the loose, apparently moving southward from New England. Now it's the redheaded flea beetle (Systena frontalis). It has recently become a serious nursery pest, and if it's a problem for plant nurseries, it can become a problem for you.

The redheaded flea beetle munches on roots and leaves of woody plants, vegetables and perennials including crape myrtle, hydrangea, roses, buddleia, forsythia, blueberries, cranberries, cabbage, beans, beets, sedum, salvia, hibiscus, rudbeckia and coreopsis. After overwintering in the soil, the larvae hatch and start on the roots. Heavy infestations can completely girdle plants.

The larvae are slender and white. Adult redheaded flea beetles are about 1/16 inch long, black with reddish heads and have long antennae. As the name suggests, they jump when spooked.

Gardeners probably won't see them when they're feeding in the root zone, but will notice skeletonized leaves from feeding adults. Redheaded flea beetles seem to be more abundant in rural gardens adjacent to row crops such as soybeans and corn.

So far, there aren't any sure-fire remedies for redheaded flea beetle infestations. They might be caught with sticky traps. They feed on certain weeds, so their numbers might be reduced if gardens are kept weed-free. Researchers are working on chemical combinations they hope will do the trick. Systemic insecticides containing dinotefuran and bifenthrin seem to work well. Dinotefuran is pretty expensive.

Pesticides should be applied in mid- to late spring when larvae are most active. Always follow label instructions when applying chemical pesticides.

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Mount Hope Garden Cemetery, Bangor, ME

Mount Hope Cemetery, Bangor, ME. circa 1877

Beneath those rugged Elms, that Yew-Tree's Shade,
Where heaves the Turf in many a mould'ring Heap,
Each in his narrow Cell for ever laid,
The rude Forefathers of the Hamlet sleep.

From "Elegy Written in a Country Church-yard", Thomas Gray (1716-71)

For centuries, Christians have laid their loved ones to rest in, under and around their churches. Churchyards filled with graves remind worshipers and passersby alike of their mortal end. They help us focus every Sunday on primary issues, shooing away less important fancies of worldly pursuits.

Be that as it may, churchyards have presented problems for urban churches for lack of space. By the 1830s, cities were stuffed with mouldering heaps. The blog, Victorian Gothic, records, "In the early 1800′s, New Yorkers looked with horror upon Trinity churchyard, which had become so densely packed with bodies that its burial mounds rose several yards above street level."

The advent of the Victorian Era (1837-1901) heralded new inventions, new prosperity, social upheaval, new philosophies and new ideals. David Charles Sloane details in The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History, how the problem of overcrowded churchyards gave rise to a pleasing solution: the rural cemetery.

Mount Hope, 2nd garden cemetery in America. Bangor, ME

Rural cemeteries were laid out as landscaped garden parks providing places for memorializing, reflectiing, strolling and even sight-seeing. All of which was right convenient for city-dwellers. While it might sound a bit weird to sight-see among the dead, I think of two cemeteries here in historic Savannah, GA that draw thousands of visitors each year: Bonaventure Cemetery and Colonial Park Cemetery.

Mount Auburn Cemetery, Boston, Massachusetts was the first of its kind in the United States, followed closely by Mount Hope Cemetery, Bangor, Maine. Mount Hope's walking tour map shows how its plan nicely follows the contours of the landscape.

Mount Hope Cemetery may be home of the oldest Civil War monument in the country, Soldiers Monument, dedicated in 1864. The Second Maine Infantry Regiment served in battles at Manassas and Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Mount Hope is also the resting place of a few more notables. Hannibal Hamlin, Abraham Lincoln's first Vice-President is buried there, as well as his children, Sarah Hamlin Batchelder and Charles Hamlin. Both are said to have witnessed President Lincoln's assassination at Ford's Theater on April 14, 1865.

Al Brady, notorious gangster of the 1930s, is buried there. Brady began his life of crime in his native Indiana. He eventually made his way, along with gang members Clarence Lee Shaffer, Jr., James Dalhover, and Charles Geisking, to Bangor. Following the death of John Dillinger, Al Brady moved up to be the FBI's Public Enemy No. 1. He and his gang were on the run. Maine, with its vast forests, seemed like a good place to hide. Posing as hunters, they attempted to buy Tommy guns at Dakin's Sporting Goods. It was their odd choice of hunting weapons that gave them away. When they returned to Dakin's to check on their order, the Brady Gang, except one, was gunned down by FBI agents.  A plaque in a downtown Bangor sidewalk marks the spot.

Mount Hope was a site for the filming of the movie, Pet Sematary, based on Stephen King's novel. Presently, Stephen King is a resident of Bangor.

Ominous raven. Mount Hope Cemetery, Bangor, ME

Mount Hope is a fine place to visit any time of year. Each season blankets it with a different covering and sets the stage for another mood. Follow the links below to see Mount Hope Cemetery in May.

A scene in Mount Hope Cemetery.

Office and Visitor Center.

Memorial Fort to the Grand Army of the Republic.

Bluet covered hillside. Mount Hope Cemetery.

Lilacs in bloom.

Webber Waiting Room.

Ubiquitous Arborvitae (Tree of Life).

Peirce Memorial to the 2nd Maine Regiment.

View of the Mount.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A New Pest on the Loose: Crape Myrtle Bark Scale

There's a new garden pest on the loose. It's an insect called Crape myrtle bark scale (CMBS), and it's spreading very quickly across the southeastern U.S. Crape myrtle bark scale was first observed near Dallas, TX in 2004, and it's spreading eastward.

CMBS appears as white or grayish felt-like encrustations on the wood. At first they may be found in branch crotches or near pruning wounds, but heavy infestations are capable of covering the tree.

Since most gardeners don't spend much time inspecting crape myrtle crotches, the adult insects are usually missed until black sooty mold is discovered. Sooty mold is a black, powdery fungus that is usually associated with aphid infestations, so the real culprit may not be identified correctly.

Crape myrtle bark scale probably won't destroy our crape myrtles, but a heavy infestation and all that sooty mold sure will make them look ugly. It also stands to reason that a ton of insects sucking on the trees and sooty mildew coating the leaves can weaken them.

There are a few things you can do to combat CMBS:
  • Be aware that CMBS may target hybrid crape myrtles first. If you have hybrids, check them closely every now and then.
  • Look for black sooty mold on the bark, remembering that sooty mold may result from aphids and CMBS.
  • Washing the trunk and limbs as high as you can reach, working with a soft brush and dishwashing soap. This will help to remove female scales, eggs and the black sooty mold.
  • Though horticultural oil spray hasn't been shown to be effective, it sure can't hurt. Horticultural oil works by covering the scales and suffocating them. Spray with enough force to get the oil under loose bark and into tight crevices. Spray thoroughly.
  • Winter is a very good time to wash your trees and spray with horticultural oil because the leaves are off and it's easier to see what you're doing, and higher application rates can be used without hurting the plant.
  • Systemic insecticides applied as a soil drench are known to be effective. Be sure to read and follow all label instructions. It's best to spray during May or June. Don't expect instant results because it will take a few weeks for the chemical to spread throughout the plant.
  • If you prefer to avoid systemic insecticides, let lady beetles do the work. Lady beetles love to eat aphids and baby scales.

For more information, check out the following links:

• Texas A&M:
• The Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney (otherwise known as the “crape myrtle city”):
• LSU Ag Center:

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Question about planting ornamental grasses over a septic system

I have a septic system that I would like to plant ornamental grasses over. This is located on a slope of about 30 degrees. The soil is mostly clay. The area receives 4-5 hours of sun per day. I'm located in north Georgia. I enjoyed your article in Nov./Dec. of Georgia Gardening. Any information or resource you might provide would be appreciated.

Planting grasses over your septic system is a good idea. If septic repairs are needed, grasses will recover more quickly than shrubs.

If planting over the drain field, I suggest you plant shorter grasses because root systems tend to be commensurate with top growth. Tall grasses like Cortaderia, many Miscanthus and Panicum species have deeper roots, which you should avoid. If planting over the septic tank itself, you could theoretically plant taller Miscanthus, Panicum, Agrostis, etc., because the concrete septic lid would prevent root penetration. But septic tanks usually are not buried deeply, so tall species might not have enough soil to grow anyway.

You should also consider whether you want full coverage of the area such as a lawn substitute, or clumping grasses which tend not to grow together. If you want clumping grasses, some good ones include Festuca ovina var. glauca, Helictotrichon sempervirens, Muhlenbergia capillaris var. filipes, some dwarf cultivars of Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Little Honey', 'Burgundy Bunny', 'Little Bunny', Carex hachijoensis (syn. Carex morrowii). You could also use grass-like plants such as Liriope muscari 'Aztec', Liriope muscari 'Variegata', L. muscari 'Densiflora'

If you want creeping grasses, some good ones include Carex pensylvanica, Festuca rubraHakonechloa macra, or grass-like plants such as Liriope muscari 'Royal Purple', Liriope spicata, Ophiopogon japonicus.

I've not provided an exhaustive list.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

The 79th Annual Savannah Tour of Homes and Gardens

The 79th Annual Savannah Tour of Homes and Gardens is just around the corner. Beginning March 27, the Tour will open doors to some of Savannah's loveliest residences for four fabulous days when the gardens are expected to be in full flower. Come and enjoy Savannah's Historic Landmarks.

Each day presents a new tour and special events. On Thursday, a self-guided walking tour explores the Southeast Historic Landmark District including Calhoun and Whitefield Squares. You'll be surrounded by 200 years of history, intricate wrought-iron, wide sidewalks and well-groomed tree lawns. Ornate mansions, row houses and simple duplexes nestle together, their architectural styles including Romanesque, Victorian and Italianate.

Friday's walking tour meanders through the Northeast Historic Landmark District including Washington, Warren and Columbia Squares. Here you'll find some of Savannah's earliest homes dating from the 18th century. Spared by fires that devastated other parts of Savannah, smaller homes constructed of wood and Savannah Gray brick present a cozy, charming atmosphere.

On Saturday, you'll explore the Southwest Historic Landmark District surrounding Madison, Monterey and Chatham Squares. This area dates from the 19th century Cotton era. Wide, oak-canopied streets, row houses and magnificent Forsyth Park make the day very special. Small shops filled with unique designs provide for a lot of shopping.

Sunday's tour includes the Ardsley Park - Chatham Crescent District. Developed around 1910, the district is one of the first automobile subdivisions in America. Broad, shaded avenues, circular and crescent-shaped parks, a grand mall and eclectic architectural styles characterize the district.

All four days are packed with special events including seminars on gardening, historic preservation, antiques and design. Lunch will be served in some of Savannah's most famous restaurants, or catered by our best chefs.

Take time for Sunday worship in one of Savannah's grand downtown churches. I recommend Christ Church Anglican, founded in 1733 with the establishment of the Georgia colony, now meeting at The Independent Presbyterian Church (IPC), or worship in the Presbyterian style with the congregation of IPC. Schedules are arranged so you can worship with both!

Christ Church Anglican also presents Compline - Saying Good Night to God (Gregorian Chant by Candle Light) at IPC from 9:00pm to 9:30pm. Compline is in the Christian monastic tradition, the last service of the day, invoking God's peace and protection for the night. Compline at Christ Church Anglican is customarily held on Sunday nights, but will also be presented on Friday night, March 28, so tour guests may enjoy this very special service.

For ticket information, visit The Savannah Tour of Homes and Gardens web site.

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