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 goGardenNow.com, 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.

knodel.adult_red-headed_flea_beetle.png

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: http://bit.ly/MBlyAJ
• The Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney (otherwise known as the “crape myrtle city”): http://bit.ly/1bmJW4f
• LSU Ag Center: http://bit.ly/1fAdLtT

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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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Saturday, February 15, 2014

How can I keep my potted tulip plant alive?

I received a potted fragrant tulip plant for Valentines Day. I want to keep it alive and healthy for as long as possible. Any tips?

The flowers will open, fade and the petals fall off. Flowers will last about 1 to 1-1/2 weeks if the buds were tight when you received the tulips. Once the flowers fall, the leaves will continue green for awhile, but won't be particularly attractive. They will last longer if you water sparingly. If you want to plant them in the garden, put them in a dry place. Frankly, tulips are best treated as annuals.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Must-Have Plants: Lilium 'Stargazer'



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): Lilium 'Stargazer'.

Division: Oriental hybrid.

Flower Color: Deep pink and white.

Bloom Time: Summer.

Foliage: Deciduous.

Height/Spread: 36 inches x 15 inches.

Climate Zones: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.

Sun Exposure: Full sun.

Soil Condition: Organic, well-drained, pH 6.1 to 7.8.

Planting Depth: 2-1/2 times the height of the bulb.

Features: Flowers, good for cutting.

Uses: Bulb gardens, mixed borders, cutting gardens.

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Must-Have Plants: Dahlia 'Ace Summer Sunset'



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: Dahlia 'Ace Summer Sunset'.

Flower Color: Salmon and pink.

Flower Type: Dinnerplate.

Bloom Time: Summer to fall.

Foliage: Semi-evergreen, green.

Height/Spread: 36+ inches x 24 inches.

Climate Zones: Hardy in zones 8, 9, 10, 11.

Sun Exposure: Full sun.

Soil Condition: Organic, pH 6.1 to 7.8.

Planting Depth: 4 inches x 24 inches apart.

Features: Flowers, bold foliage.

Uses: Container gardens, bulb gardens, mixed borders.

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens, Florida


The Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens is very young, as arboreta go. But it occupies an area that has a long history.Timucuan people had inhabited the territory since perhaps 1100 AD. Spanish explorers arrived to the south in 1513, founding St. Augustine, Florida and spreading everywhere. In 1564, French Huguenots under Jean Ribault established a short-lived settlement at nearby Fort Caroline until the Spanish wiped them out. Confederate and Yankee troops encamped just across the St. John's River at Yellow Bluff from 1862 until the war's end.

Humphreys Gold Mining Company operated mines in this area of Jacksonville from 1944 to 1961 in search of titanium and other useful minerals. Sometime in the early 1970s, the City of Jacksonville, Florida sought to build a waste-water treatment facility on the site, but the EPA required a buffer, probably to prevent accidental pollution of the St. John's River. The city was forced to purchase extra property which remained undeveloped and mostly unused, except for illegal activities like, uh...dumping. Then in 2004, a group of concerned citizens envisioned its use as an arboretum. A lease agreement was worked out with the city, and arboretum development began in 2008. The rest is history.

When Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens opened, a paved parking area and three walking trails had been established. Trails, benches, board walks, and picnic tables were built by volunteers. Brush clearing is still taking place. Plantings are young.

Camellia sasanqua 'Sparkling Burgundy'

Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens is an urban woodland consisting of 120 acres. It seems remote, but one must remember the site was heavily disturbed. What visitors see now is a healing scar, as trail walks show.

Lake Ray, Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens

The .3 mile Lake Loop, one of the first established, features 2-acre Lake Ray, formerly a borrow pit. A borrow pit is a hole that remains when soil is moved to be used elsewhere. Actually, "borrow pit" is a misnomer because the soil is never ever returned. The water in Lake Ray comes from underground sources, direct rainfall and runoff. Water quality is actually pretty good. Most of the new plantings are in this area. The Lake Loop is reasonably picturesque.

A ravine to the south of Lake Ray, spring-fed and beautiful, was also a borrow pit. Two trails, Upper Ravine and Lower Ravine, allow visitors to explore it. Cabbage palms and longleaf pines inhabit the upper ravine; red maples (Acer rubrum), yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipfera), oaks (Quercus spp.), beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), ferns and sedges inhabit the lower.
American Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana
Snoop around in the ravine at the base of the ridge. You'll find yourself in a baygall. Water from runoff and springs collects there, and so do all kinds of interesting plants like bays. These won't be your typical bays like the leaves in your pantry or wreaths on your head, but their fragrances are reminiscent. You'll find sweet bay (Magnolia virginiana), swamp bay (Persea palustris), maybe its besieged relative red bay (Persea borbonia), and loblolly bay (Gordonia lasianthus). Other fragrant species will include sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera), Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) and native azaleas (Rhododendron spp.) Beneath them, you'll find lots of ferns.

Jones Creek, Jacksonville Arboretum
Jones Creek, a charming freshwater attraction, begins in a subdivision near Regency Square Mall a few miles south, descends northward to the St. John's River through Jacksonville Arboretum. Creatures that should fascinate any child live in and around it including crayfish, possums, raccoons, salamanders and snakes. Barred owls often survey the scene below.

The Cascades
Jones Creek is accessible via the Aralia Trail, so called because native Devil's Walking Sticks (Aralia spinosa) grow near it. A sign pointing along a short trail spur to The Cascades piques the interest. Keep in mind this is Florida, so don't expect much of a cascade. It isn't. Though the babble and brook are inviting, don't drink the water. Upstream is not pristine.

The .5 mile Live Oak Trail loops through woodland just north of the Lake Loop. The National Champion Loblolly Bay tree lives there. Many of the oaks (Quercus virginiana) are over 100 years old. But a century is not old in these parts.

The Live Oak Trail provides access to the 1 mile Rosemary Ridge Trail. It crosses different native communities including a xeric hammock, rosemary and oak scrub, depression and wetland marshes.

A xeric hammock is like a dry island. The arboretum's xeric hammock is dry because it is sandy. Plant species include palmettos, drought-resistant shrubs such as sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboretum), fetterbushes (Lyonia spp.), scrubby oaks (Quercus spp.), and Reindeer moss (Cladonia rangiferina). Christmas lichen (Cryptothecia rubrocincta) is one of the more colorful appearing as a red and green plaster on the sides of trees.

Depression marsh, Jacksonville Arboretum
The Rosemary Ridge trail also skirts a depression marsh. Depression marshes begin as sinkholes where limestone strata has separated, and clay and sand have slid in. The clay forms a bowl which holds water. The amount of water in a depression marsh varies by season. Grasses dominate during dry season. Aquatic species dominate during wet season. Furthermore, the species grow in concentric rings around the marsh, responding to the amount of available water. Those requiring most water are found in the center. An educational sign posted at this depression marsh indicates the presence of red root (Lachnanthes caroliniana), a pioneer species that colonizes rapidly after human disturbance. That disturbance may have been the result of mining activity. Redroot is yet another indicator that the landscape is a healing scar.

Rosemary Ridge is not named for a lady or the familiar kitchen herb, but for another native genus, Conradina. Though called False Rosemary, it's actually related to Rosmarinus officinalis of culinary fame. It's interesting to note that Conradina, named for botanist, Solomon White Conrad (1779-1831) is usually seen growing almost alone among other plants. That's because Conradina releases chemical compounds called terpenes (think "turpentine") into the soil that inhibit the growth of competing species. Standoffishness has its advantages!

For the record, there is another similar-looking plant called Florida Rosemary (Cerotina ericoides) that's found growing in sandy regions across the southeastern U.S. Inspect it, sniff it, wonder about it, but don't bother trying to cook with it. Florida Rosemary will do you no good.

The Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens has a lot of potential. If you're visiting Jacksonville, FL, stop by. You'll enjoy it. There's no admission charge, but consider supporting it. You can help by becoming a member, donating money and/or volunteer labor.

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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Alternatives To Rock Salt For Spreading On Ice And Snow? Sand And Kitty Litter.


We've had unusually cold weather here in Georgia. I even had ice on my walk and driveway last week. I was afraid to scatter rock salt because I heard salt might damage my garden. Can you suggest any alternatives?

Spread sand or kitty litter. Neither will melt ice or snow, but they do provide rough surfaces for traction. Neither will harm your garden.

If you decide to use sand, purchase the kind that's used in children's sandboxes. It's coarser.

Kitty litter might be a better alternative. It's more readily available. Avoid clay-based kitty litter. It can get slippery when the ice melts. You can buy eco-safe kitty litter at most grocery and pet stores. It weighs much less than sand, so is easier to haul about. Kitty litter can deliver.

A friend of mine, who shall be known only as S.W. because he probably wishes to remain anonymous as an unsung hero, lives in Atlanta. He was stuck in traffic for many hours during Winter Storm Leon. The area was slick as a skating rink. Many roads were impassable. S.W. might have been delayed longer, but he stopped at a grocery store and bought all the eco-safe kitty litter he could. He got back on the road, scattered litter before him, returned to his car and drove forward, stopped, scattered more kitty litter and drove forward again. He was soon leading a long, slow parade of desperate commuters out of the icy mess.

Not surprisingly, all of S's followers ended up at his house. He treated them to refreshments until he got tired of them lingering.

The kernel of this story was related to me by a second party who demands to remain anonymous. I can't verify everything.

My advice to you is to keep kitty litter in your car and garage all winter long, and don't forget refreshments.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Silky Thread Grass: Fiber Most Slender

Silky Thread Grass (Stipa tenuissima syn. Nassella tenuissima)


No longer are grasses simply used in lawns as outdoor carpeting. Ornamental grasses have become increasingly popular in recent years for providing structure, movement, color and texture in the garden. Furthermore, ornamental grasses improve wildlife habitat by providing food and shelter.

Most ornamental grasses are species that have been recognized in their native environment as having ornamental potential. Few are "new and improved" by breeding for desirable characteristics. Silky Thread Grass (Stipa tenuissima syn. Nassella tenuissima) is a fine example.

Also known as Mexican Feather Grass, Mexican Needle Grass and Pony Tails, Stipa tenuissima is native to the Southwestern United States and Mexico. Its name, pronounced "STEE-pa" or "STY-pa" and "ten-yoo-ISS-ee-muh", means "fiber most slender."

It is a beauty. Maturing at 24 inches to 36 inches height, the graceful arching leaves and soft, billowing flowers are very lovely when stirred by a breeze. Its common names, Silky Thread Grass and Pony Tails really do describe it well.

Stipa tenuissima thrives in full sun and average, well-drained soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8. It is hardy in USDA climate zones 7 to 10. Plants spaced 18 inches apart will grow together as a soft, fluffy ground cover.

Though Silky Thread Grass is considered to be low-maintenance, that doesn't mean NO maintenance. It does need occasional attention to keep it looking tidy. Here's why. Stipa self-sows freely, which is fine it you want more of it, but not so good if you don't. Deadhead the fluffy flowers if you want to avoid volunteer plants next season.

Stipa tenuissima is also called Mexican Needle Grass for good reason. The fine filaments may irritate sensitive skin. Don't get it in your eyes, nose or mouth. If you have dogs or cats that like to munch on grass, be aware that it may be difficult to dislodge if ingested by pets.

Otherwise, Silky Thread Grass is a fine ornamental grass for xeriscaping, low borders, edging, containers, ground cover and accents. It is certainly one of the most beautiful.

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FAQ: Can you suggest some shade-loving perennials?

Our new home is situated on a wooded lot. We need to do some landscaping. Can you suggest some shade-loving perennials? Our climate zone is 7.

If you want ground cover perennials for shade that will tolerate some foot traffic, consider Bugle Weed (Ajuga spp.), Sedge (Carex spp.), Kenilworth Ivy (Cymbalaria aequitriloba), Kew Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei 'Kewensis'), Variegated Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea 'Variegata'), Lily Turf (Liriope spp), Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus).

If you simply want shade-loving perennials, consider Japanese Marlberry (Ardisia japonica), Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior), Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum), Lily Of The Valley (Convallaria majalis), ferns, Lenten Rose (Helleborus spp.), Coral Bells (Heuchera spp.), hostas, Meehan's Mint (Meehania cordata), Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis spp.), Allegheny Spurge (Pachysandra procumbens), Japanese Spurge (Pachysandra terminalis), Spike Moss (Selaginella uncinata or other species).

Shade-loving vines include Ivy (Hedera spp.), Creeping Wire Vine (Muehlenbeckia axillaris), Asiatic Jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum), and Vincas (V. major or V. minor).

These are only a few choices available to you.


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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Woodlawn - Black House, Ellsworth, ME

Woodlawn - Black House, Ellsworth, ME
The Woodlawn - Black House Estate near Ellsworth, its museum, gardens and park provide an enticing glimpse into the history of Maine. Bequeathed to the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations in 1928, it has since been continuously maintained for public enjoyment. I visited Woodlawn in May, 2013. Follow me to see what grows behind its garden wall.

Maine is rich in natural resources, among which are timber, fisheries, minerals and water. Combined, these contribute to its scenic beauty. Yet, the first attempts to populate the area were based upon perceived agricultural potential. Maine possesses little of it. The early attempts failed.

Men like John Black, however, recognized the great potential for timber production. They grew wealthy and influential developing it. Even today, timber covers about 90% of the state.

John Black (1781-1856), born in London, England, began to distinguish himself in his late teens as a talented entrepreneur. His patriotic service during the War of 1812 gained him more admiration. Black is now recognized for "helping launch Maine's lumbering industry."

Black House was built between 1824 and 1827 in the Federal style with elements of the Greek Revival style. It's a handsome mansion of Philadelphia red brick containing furnishings and ephemera from as early as the 17th century.

Formal garden. Woodlawn - Black House, Ellsworth, ME

The formal garden behind the home is hedged with fragrant lilacs and furnished with sculpture. Simple arches allow entrance. Plantings include popular perennials such as daylilies (Hemerocallis), hostas, Bearded Iris (Iris germanica), Variegated Bishop's Weed (Aegopodium podagraria 'Variegatum'), Lamb's Ear (Stachys byzantina), Cheddar Pinks (Dianthus gratianopolitanus) and Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla mollis).

Fiddlehead ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris), Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis), more hostas, and Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) graced planting beds near the carriage house and sleigh barn. There is a cutting garden behind the sleigh barn. Our doggy companion was more interested in Woodlawn's dog house. By the way, you'll want to see Woodlawn's collection of carriages and sleighs.

The community garden is a newer development which provides plots for local gardeners who lack space enough to grow their own fruits and vegetables. I enjoyed a brief but delightful visit with local ladies tending their gardens. They were quick to advise me what hardware store I might visit to experience a bit of old-time Maine. My son commented they must not be real Mainers since they were so quick to share information.

It interested me that seaweed was a primary fertilizing mulch in the community garden. Not surprising, though, since Ellsworth is near the Maine coast.

More was in bloom beyond the gardens. Apple blossoms shed their petals upon the fresh, green grass. Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) and Sweet Violets (Viola odorata) sprouted in the lawn.

Bluets (Houstonia caerulea)
Woodlawn is home to one of Maine’s finest championship-sized croquet courts. Some gentlemen were sharpening their skills for the upcoming fifth annual Maine/New Hampshire State Croquet Tournament, held June 20-24.

Trails around Woodlawn allow visitors to round out their exercise with some hiking. Kiosks give directions. Farm artifacts provide interest and good excuses to pause occasionally.

As in much of New England, stone walls define Woodlawn's boundaries. There are about a mile and a half of them. They bear testimony to Woodlawn's origin as a gentleman's farm. Even gentlemen were sometimes exposed to the back-breaking labor of clearing land of rocks for planting.

Stone wall, Woodlawn - Black House, Ellsworth, ME
The grounds at Woodlawn are open from dawn to dusk year around with no admission charge. Admission is charged for house tours. Regular season for visiting the Black House runs from May to October. Christmas at Woodlawn runs from December 1 to 23.

Take your picnic basket when the weather warms. I suggest you go to Rooster Brother for fresh bread, cheese, and whatever else you might find to make a good picnic. After your picnic, stop by Mortons Moo for ice cream. (FYI, I have no connection to Rooster Brother or Mortons Moo, and gain nothing by recommending them. I like them very much. That's all.)

As I write this, Maine is covered up with snow. Take note of moose crossing signs. Moose may not be far off the road. If you visit Woodlawn in winter, take your snowshoes. You might find snowshoes and other winter apparel behind the big boot at L. L. Bean. (I don't have any relationship with L. L. Bean, either. I simply like their stuff.)

For more about Maine's history and the Black House, be sure to read Woodlawn - An Estate Of History.

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My forced paperwhite narcissus are getting too tall and flopping over. What can I do to keep them looking nice?


My forced paperwhite narcissus are getting too tall and flopping over. What can I do to keep them looking nice?

You must be growing them in a bowl. I suggest you form a wire coat hanger into a support structure: a vertical rod with a circular loop at the top. Bend the loop so it is perpendicular (horizontal) to the rod. Spray paint it green. When paint is dry, stick foliage through the loop, press the rod into the soil. But that's not the best solution.

Next year, plant the bulbs in a bowl that will allow a 12 inch tall clear glass cylinder or pillar hurricane lamp chimney to enclose it. The glass pillar will allow light to reach the foliage, allow you to observe the growing plants, and keep the foliage and flowers upright.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Spring Cinquefoil (Potentilla neumanniana): Is it 'sink' or is it 'sank'?


Potentilla neumanniana 'Nana' - Spring cinquefoil

Spring cinquefoil (pronounced "sink-foil", or "sank-foil" if you prefer French), might be barely noticed if not in bloom and trodden underfoot. Its relative, the rose, has inspired volumes of poetry. But, so far as I know, cinquefoil has inspired only two poems and one piece of music.

One poem is Mysteries by Jack Sanders in which he wondered:

 The bigger question does remain:
How you pronounce that funny name?
Does it ‘sink’ or does it ‘sank’
As it wanders up the bank?


The other is The Cinquefoil (An Impotent Rose), a parody of Edna Saint Vincent Millay by Sinfull, nom de plume of Terri Turrell.

The music is Little Flowers Op.205 No.5 Cinquefoil by Cornelius Gurlitt (1820-1901). Perhaps you remember it from your days as a young piano student.



There are over 300 species of cinquefoil. My subject is Potentilla neumanniana 'Nana', also known as Potentilla tabernaemontani, Potentilla verna or Potentilla crantzii. 

Potentilla was named by Heinrich Gottlieb Ludwig Reichenbach (January 8, 1793 - March 17, 1879), a German botanist and ornithologist. Potentilla refers to powerful medicinal properties possessed by members of the genus, as noted in Sauer's Herbal and Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Neumanniana was given probably to honor either Henri Fran├žois Joseph Neumann (1899-1858), or Louis Neumann (1827-1903). Both were botanists and horticulturists at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. I'm guessing the elder was honored. 'Nana' differentiates the dwarf form from the common species.

Spring cinquefoil is native to North America and Greenland, known to thrive from the northernmost regions of eastern Canada to Massachusetts and Connecticut. It is reliably hardy to USDA climate zone 8, yet it has been successfully grown as far south as zone 10.

Upon seeing it for the first time, you might mistake it for Appalachian Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia fragaroides), or another of the Waldsteinia species. They have strawberry-like leaves and yellow flowers. To add to the confusion, spring cinquefoil is also commonly called "barren strawberry." But Walsteinias are identified by three leaflets. Potentillas have five, thus the name "cinquefoil."

Dwarf spring cinquefoil grows about 6 inches high and spreads to 12 inches. Fragrant foliage is evergreen. Loads of bright yellow flowers appear in spring, making quite a show.

Plant it in average, well-drained loamy soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8. The site should be exposed to full sun or partial shade. Space young plants 12 inches to 15 inches apart. Take care not to overwater.

Dwarf spring cinquefoil is a marvelous ground cover for alpine and rock gardens, especially in bulb gardens where you need something to hide old bulb foliage and crowns. Grow it in container gardens as an underplanting. Tuck cinquefoil in stone walls and between stepping stones.

Potentilla neumanniana 'Nana' spreads readily, making a fine lawn grass substitute, even in areas that receive a little foot traffic. You can trim spring cinquefoil with your lawn mower. Set your mower at a high position.

Need something to plant on that slope? No matter how you pronounce it, you'll love your spring cinquefoil as it wanders up the bank.

Return to Potentilla at goGardenNow.com.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Is it too late to force narcissus for Christmas bloom?

I would like to force bowls of paperwhite narcissus for Christmas gifts. If I start them now, will they bloom in time for Christmas?

Once placed in bowls and watered, it usually takes about 3 weeks for paperwhites to bloom. If you start them today, they might be in bloom by New Year's Day. But that doesn't mean they won't be appreciated if given as Christmas gifts. Your gift recipients will have the pleasure of watching them come into full flower.

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Is it too late to plant fall bulbs?


Is it too late to plant fall bulbs?

That depends on where you live. If your soil is frozen, you are too late. If your soil is not frozen, you still have time to plant fall bulbs. But you probably won't find much of a selection this late in the year. If you do find the varieties you want, they may not be in good condition. Before you purchase, press each and every bulb for firmness. Don't buy if they're not firm all over. For best selection, begin planning your fall bulb purchases in July. I realize mid-summer seems early, but some garden stores like mine offer substantial discounts on early orders. Many varieties begin shipping as early as the end of August.

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