Sunday, September 3, 2017

Going Bananas!!

     We have had a LOT of rain here in Charleston, nothing like Texas thankfully, and please keep them in your thoughts and prayers after Hurricane Harvey. This August was probably one of the wettest that I can remember, or at least seemed that way. While most people don't necessarily like it, I do and the plants certainly do. My citrus are doing well, the camellias look great and the flower bud set is amazing. You know what else is loving all the moisture? The Bananas.

      This picture does not do them justice as to their size, they are easily 13-14 feet tall.
Bananas, (Musa spp.) are an edible fruit – botanically a berry and are often mistaken for trees or palms - they are actually herbs. The banana is a perennial plant that replaces itself. Bananas do not grow from a seed but from a bulb or corm, and it takes 9 to 12 months from sowing a banana bulb, or corm, to harvesting the fruit. The trunk is actually a "false stem" or pseudostem. 
     Banana plants grow best with 12 hours of direct, bright sunlight each day. They can still grow with less (more slowly), but they will stretch to find more, kind of like this one.

This was actually from, what I thought, was a useless piece of a root and stem. I had tossed it into a pseudo compost pile in between my greenhouse and shed. It rooted and is stretching well above the roof line under a Bradford pear and Pecan tree. The leaves are extremely longer than usual, because of the stretching. 
     Banana plants require a huge amount of water, but still need to be in soil that is well draining because they are susceptible to root rot. They prefer slightly acidic pH and are not very salt tolerant, even though they are associated with a tropical growing condition. As with any other plant, any balanced fertilizer, where the NPK numbers are close to even, will work, but banana plants need to be supplemented with additional potassium and magnesium for best growth and fruiting. Some of the best banana fertilizer I have found is Banana Fuel  Keep in mind that when temperatures are warm and bananas are in their active growth stages, they are heavy feeders, so feed lightly, but often, maybe every 4-5 weeks. 
     Bananas flourish under uniformly warm to hot conditions. Shoot growth is best between 78 to 82 degrees and fruit growth at 84 to 86 degrees. Plant growth slows below 60 degrees and stops at 50. So you can imagine that these plants do better in zones 9 and higher. However, some will work in a zone 8 and there even a few dwarfs that will produce fruit in a container. If you attempt to grow some in a cooler climate, chill damage and freeze damage may occur at or below 32 degrees. Symptoms of freeze damage include a water-soaked appearance to all of the above ground parts of the plant as well as browning and death of leaves, and fruit. Temperatures below 28 degrees may kill plants to the ground. However, new growth usually sprouts from the underground rhizome with the return of warm weather. If you do suffer damage to your plant, do not cut the dead leaves off, especially if some of the trunk is still green, they will act as an insulation against the next cold spell. Wait until Spring, then cut off all of the dead leaves and the trunk as far down as it seems mushy. This gives the plant a little head start to coming back. 

     Banana fruit must be transported over long distances from the tropics to world markets. To obtain maximum shelf life, harvest comes before the fruit is mature. The fruit requires careful handling, rapid transport to ports, cooling, and refrigerated shipping. The goal is to prevent the bananas from producing their natural ripening agent, ethylene. So, if you think about it, the fruit you get at the store, is not really ripe, per se. On arrival, bananas are held at about 63 degrees and treated with a low concentration of ethylene to get them ripe enough to sell. Thinking about trying to grow some yourself yet?
     While in no danger of outright extinction, the most common edible banana cultivar the Cavendish could become nonviable for large-scale cultivation in the next 10–20 years. Its predecessor 'Gros Michel', discovered in the 1820s, suffered this fate. Like almost all bananas, Cavendish lacks genetic diversity, which makes it vulnerable to diseases, threatening both commercial cultivation and small-scale farming. With that being said, for the hobby grower, the diseases are not extremely common, but it is good to at least know about them.
    Panama disease (Fusarium wilt). Panama disease is of worldwide importance and is caused by the soil borne fungus Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense. On mature plants symptoms include progressive yellowing and eventual death from older to younger leaves, so that only the youngest emerging leaf may remain; this is not to be confused with the natural decline of older leaves. The disease will also cause brown and black discoloration and slimy appearance of the stem (it may give off a bad odor as well); and death of the plant. 
     Pests, again, are not extremely common for the dooryard grower, but it could eventually happen. The Banana borer or weevil (Cosmopolites sordidus) and the Sugar cane weevil (Metamasius hemipterus) act very similar.  They lay eggs at the base of the plant and the larvae bore into the pseudostems and rhizome causing extensive damage. Young plants may be killed by extensive tunneling and mature plants may weaken and topple with a subsequent reduction in yield. 
     Humans can damage the plant too. You will want to maintain a grass-free area 2 to 5 ft or more away from the plant. Never hit it with lawn mowing equipment and never use a weed eater near the banana. Mechanical damage of the plant will result in the weakening of it, and if severe enough can cause the banana to decline or die.
     The fruit bunches are generally harvested when the fingers, as they are called, are plump but before they begin to turn yellow. However, bananas may be picked at different times for different purposes. In general, bananas for fresh consumption in the home landscape may be picked when they have reached or have nearly reached the normal size for your particular variety. Usually, this is when the edges of the fruit have smoothed out and the sides of the fruit have swelled. Homeowners may want to harvest fruit 7 to 14 days prior to ripening on the plant. Hang the fruit in a shady, cool place to ripen, this allows development of better flavor than if allowed to ripen on the plant. Bananas may also be cooked and consumed when still green or when very ripe as is done with plantains.
     I mentioned the different growing zones that they do well in. I am in Zone 8 and if we have a normal winter, (defining normal as, only a few cold nights) I can get fruit on my Ice Cream Banana.
Don't believe it, check it out

Grown In North Charleston, SC 2012

There are many, many cultivars and varieties out on the market, I encourage you to at least try one or more. If nothing else they will make a very tropical looking annual. If you want to try growing them in a container to protect them during the winter, look for Dwarf Cavendish, Dwarf Chinese, or Lady's Fingers. 
     As a closing shot, bananas are healthy for you and I strongly encourage you to eat some, but, did you know bananas are radioactive? 
Yes, bananas are radioactive, but so are you. This comes from the fact that they contain relatively high amounts of potassium.  Specifically, they contain Potassium-40, which is a radioactive isotope of potassium. And, Yes, you will certainly die from radiation poisoning if you are able to eat 10,000,000 bananas at once. You may also witness chronic radiation poisoning symptoms if you eat 274 bananas a day for seven years.
     That is a LOT of bananas!
     As you may know, Spiderman got his superpowers because he was bitten by a radioactive spider. If I give my friend here (I call her Japonica) a huge amount of bananas, she is a banana spider after all, then have her bite me, do you suppose.....?

     I hope you enjoyed going bananas with me, there is so much more to teach on this subject, I just couldn't fit it all in with this one article. If you have any questions about this, or any of my other articles, please feel free to comment below or send me an e-mail:
Also, don't forget to follow me as The Citrus Guy on Facebook.
Happy Growing!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Please Help My Citrus Tree!!

     We live in some amazing times!
As many of you know, I have a love/hate relationship with electronics, when they work they are fantastic. When they don't they are the biggest pain since aphids were discovered. Updates all the time, new models come out before the last ones even got broken in, the list goes on.
     However, they have made communication much easier! As The Citrus Guy, I literally get questions and comments from around the world. People send me pictures of their trees, sometimes because of a problem, sometimes just to show me what they are doing. I love them all. I truly enjoy helping folks with their issues and seeing what and how others grow their citrus.
     Today, I thought I would spend a little time, showing some of the interesting things that I deal with on a regular basis. I will not mention any names, nor places, but I will show you, and tell you, what you are looking at. So if you see something that looks familiar, it might be yours, or, if you have this problem and didn't know it, now you do. Sometimes things I get are very interesting and I really need to put my thinking cap on. The first one fits that category.
It is an ongoing situation, hopefully it will come out okay.
This person thought they may have had gummosis on their Meyer Lemon. Gummosis is the exuding of an amber colored sap oozing from small cracks in the infected bark. They read on the internet to cut it out and cut off the bark.

This is what they had done to the tree before they contacted me.
I wish they had contacted me first. After I got all of the details of what was going on, it looks like it was only a Copper Deficiency. With a copper deficiency twigs can develop blister-like pockets of clear gum at the nodes. As the twigs mature, a reddish brown or amber colored ooze may occur in the outer portion of the wood. Severely affected twigs commonly die back from the tip with new growth appearing as multiple buds. The jury is still out as to whether this tree will survive.
     Which brings me to another point of this article, spread the word! If you know somebody that has, or if you have some citrus trees yourself, and have some kind of problem, drop me a line. Pass my e-mail address around,, send them to my BLOG, my WEBSITE, or my FACEBOOK PAGE, I am happy to help and it might save a tree.
     The next one is a situation I had only dealt with one other time prior. Half the grapefruit tree was dying, apparently for no reason. It was fairly well established, being fed and watered properly, but still continued to decline. After I recommended cutting the dead branches off and look for some kind of borer or insect issues, they sent this picture.

     Now I knew what was wrong. Sooty Canker. It is also called branch wilt or limb wilt. It causes cankers, wilting and dieback in tree branches. Leaves on the affected branches are often small, wilt and die during the summer. Brownish, moist areas appear on the limbs during the first stages of the disease, then the bark in these areas crack or peels away revealing black masses of fungal spores. Massive pruning, fungicides and lots of finger crossing is about all you can do at this stage. Again, the jury is still out on this case.
     This next one had me stumped for a while. It was a Pomelo that the bark was literally being eaten off of the tree. I thought maybe deer at first, but this was in a very small courtyard and there was absolutely no way a deer could get in. Then insects were my next prime suspect, but it was very extensive, and there were teeth marks.

     Yes, rats ended up being the culprit. If there is not much food or water around for them they will revert to eating the bark off of trees. I have seen them do it to hibiscus trees.
     Some of the issues I deal with are quite common, which makes it easy for me. As you may or may not know, the majority of citrus trees are grafted. The scion (top yummy part) and the rootstock (root section, not usually yummy) are the players in this game. The tree is bought, taken home and grows. Sometimes, due to neglect, wicked bad weather, or disease issues, the scion dies. The rootstock on the other hand continues on. So, I will get the question of, "My (insert citrus name here) at one time produced wonderful delicious fruit." A couple of years ago I (insert scion killing entity here), but it came back and now the fruit is nasty, bitter, and full of seeds. What is wrong?

Enter exhibit A- Poncirus trifoliata. The first clue is usually the leaves. Common citrus trees are one piece, maybe with a large petiole (the lower portion of the leaf). The Poncirus is trifoliate, three "leaves". This is a better example.

     So if the leaves from your tree that have come back look different, you may have a rootstock growing. When this happens, you have three choices:
1) Allow the rootstock to grow-it will produce fruit, but it may taste like you are being poisoned. I promise you are not.
2) Learn to graft- find a friend that has a really tasty tree and get a small piece from them.
3) Dig it up, toss it and start over. Actually, if you are close to North Charleston, SC, call me, I can use it.
     As the final issue for today, if this becomes popular I may do a sequel, I present the misidentified disease.
     Citrus Greening is a VERY nasty disease that effects citrus. It is literally killing thousands of trees all around the world and there is no cure for it. So, understandably, when folks see something going on that does not look right, human nature fears the worst. I can not even begin to tell you how many times I get an e-mail, phone call, or even at a lecture, a frantic client that thinks they have that greening disease, my tree is going to die, what can I do?!
     Luckily, I have yet to come across anybody that has had, thought a couple of times I had, but the tests came back negative. Greening disease mimics some nutritional deficiencies, so it is hard to tell sometimes. If the leaves are a mirror image of itself by folding it down the midrib, its nutritional.
But, like I said, human nature fears the worst, and more times than not, this is what I am looking at.

     See the gnarly looking leaves that have a tunnel like line running through it? This is citrus leafminor. Citrus leafminors are the larvae of small, silvery-white moth that flies around at night. Adult females lay single eggs on the undersides of the new flush of growth. The eggs hatch in just 4 or 5 days. The larvae then burrow their way through the epidermis layers of the leaves creating tunnels that appear as white trails running throughout the leaves. This feeding activity causes the leaves to curl and become misshapen. Older citrus trees typically tolerate the feeding damage without reduced crop yield or plant growth. Young trees sometimes suffer stunted growth but rarely die from their injuries. Luckily it is just a cosmetic damage. Other than netting, the best way to at least slow down this pest is with Neem oil. If you can't find any locally, you can get it online here Neem Oil. You spray it on the undersides of the new flush of growth, she doesn't like mature leaves, and the moth will not lay her eggs on the oily surface. Do not spray any horticultural oil if the temperature is above 75 degrees, it will cook the leaves.
     So there it is, some of the more interesting issues that pertain to growing citrus from around the world. I was really glad to have been able to help all these people, and the many others that I did not mention here.
Keep the pictures, issues, and problems coming folks!
I will be glad to help, if you are having an issue, surely somebody else is too!
     If there is enough interest, I will do a sequel. There are many more interesting, and maybe not so interesting things that I have seen that I can share.
Don't forget to follow me on Facebook or go to my growing Instagram page and check out some of the pictures from my yard.
I look forward to answering any questions pertaining to this, or any of my other articles.
Happy Growing!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

MORE Bad Weeds!!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin        
Here We Go Again!
     As if Chamberbitter was not bad enough, there is ANOTHER bad weed popping up all over the place. It is probably right under your nose, or over your head, depending on how far along it has gotten. 
                                                  Have you seen this plant/leaf?
                                       If spotted, remove immediately!!
Photo by Darren Sheriff

It is not armed, but can be dangerous to your yard.
This plant is Sapium sebiferum, also know as the Chinese Tallow Tree, or Popcorn Tree. Why do they have to ruin the reputation of a good food by associating it with a bad plant!?!?
You can also find it still listed as Triadica sebifera, but the Sapium sebiferum is the proper name.
     The Popcorn tree is native to China and Japan where it has been cultivated for its useful seeds and as an ornamental for more than a thousand years. It is said that Benjamin Franklin introduced it into the United States in 1776 for use of its waxy tallow in soaps and candles.
It is a deciduous tree (loses its leaves) that may reach 60 feet in height. The bark is a light gray. It has heart-shaped leaves with a pointed tip. 

Photo by Darren Sheriff
Slender, drooping spikes up to 8 inches long appear from April to June. 

Photo Courtesy of Mississippi State University

In Fall the leaves turn brilliant shades of scarlet, orange, yellow and maroon.
     Popcorn Trees can invade a variety of habitats ranging from swampy to saline waters, and from full sun to shade situations. It is often found growing along roadsides, coastal areas, and streams. Larger specimens can produce up to 100,000 seeds that may be eaten and dispersed by birds, facilitating the spread. Native species are crowded out once the Chinese Tallow becomes established. The leaves and fruit are toxic to cattle and cause nausea and vomiting in humans.

     It tolerates almost any soil and can grow 5 feet tall in its first year. They are considered moderately drought tolerant. However, It was planted as a street tree in California where it apparently has not yet become invasive, perhaps because of insufficient rainfall.
      Why have they become so invasive, first off, being that they are a native of Eastern Asia, which is the same latitudes as the Southeastern U.S. they love the growing conditions here, but primarily because of the seeds that are readily eaten and dispersed by birds. The seeds also float and can be carried easily by rivers, streams, and storm water runoff to new destinations and virtually all of them will germinate somewhere. 
The seeds are in a fruit that are 3 lobed, brown capsules, 1/2 inch in diameter, when mature the outer part splits revealing 3 white waxy seeds that resemble popcorn, hence its common name. 

Photo Courtesy of

They mature in late Summer to early Fall.
     If all of this is not bad enough, The leaves produce allelopathic chemicals that will change soil content and therefore making the area uninhabitable to native species.
It has gotten so bad that, the State of Florida lists the Popcorn Tree or Chinese Tallow as a noxious weed and prohibits its introduction, movement or release.
     To kill these things, cut the tree down and immediately paint the stump with a triclopyr herbicide such as Brush-B-Gon, Garlon, Pathfinder, Chopper or something like Roundup Poison Ivy Plus Tough Brush Killer. Make sure you follow the label directions or get a certified professional to apply these. Results also can be obtained by spraying the bark in a 6 inch wide band all around the base of the trunk with one of the triclopyr herbicides. I don't usually suggest such harsh treatment because of the danger it can pose to the homeowner and the landscape, BUT, tests of simply cutting down the trees resulted in extensive root and stump sprouting. Before applying any herbicide, read the label!! I can not emphasize this enough. 
This is nasty tree. Yes, it has pretty Fall foliage and can be used for some good shade. Tree species recommended that are similar in size to Chinese Tallow include Maples (Acer spp.) and Crape Myrtles (Lagerstroemia spp.). Might I also suggest to use an Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), or a Red Mulberry (Morus rubra) instead. Even though it is considered a messy tree, at least the Red Mulberry will give you something good to eat!
If you have any questions regarding this or any of my other articles, please don't hesitate to drop me a line to
Happy Growing!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Bad Weed

NO, not THAT one!!
What is a weed?
     A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Well, I really wish that somebody would find the virtue of the plant I want to discuss today!
I have actually been asked a half dozen times in the past couple of weeks, what IS this thing!?
It seems to really be bad this year.
The plant?
Phyllanthus urinaria a.k.a Chamberbitter

     This weed is a real pain to get rid of, everyone gripes about it, there is even another common name for it....Gripeweed. They resemble Mimosa trees, which is also an invasive weed in some places.
Chamberbitter is a warm-season, annual, broadleaf weed that emerges from warm soils beginning in early summer. I am assuming that, because of the fairly warm winter last year, we are experiencing a bumper crop this year.
     It has an upright growth habit and a very well defined taproot. Being more of a tropical plant that loves hot weather and can tolerate drought conditions, it is very at home in the southern landscape. It is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family and has the sticky, milky sap like many of the different Spurge weeds that we deal with here in the south.
What makes this thing hard to deal with?
     First it is a very tough plant that grows fast, is drought tolerant, produces seed in just a few weeks and it produces an abundant amount of them. The seeds, which are found in the green, warty-like fruit attached to the underside of the branch explode, they throw seed in many directions away from the plant thus allowing it to spread over a larger area.

     Look at those little bombs, just waiting to spread themselves.
The control of Chamberbitter is through a combination of mechanical, cultural, and chemical methods.
     Mechanical is usually the easiest. Pull them by hand and do not allow them to go to seed. As soon as you see them emerging, pull them up. They will pull out easily if the soil is wet but tend to break off if the soil is too dry. Do not put these in your compost bin, it will probably not get hot enough to destroy the seeds. Burn them or throw them in the trash.
     Some of the cultural methods of eradication involve putting down two to three inches of mulch in the spring to cover seeds from the previous season. Chamberbitter seeds require light to germinate, so this is fairly effective. In your lawn, if you keep it healthy, mow regularly at the proper height, and feed it correctly, there should not be much problem there.
      Chemical control involves the use of herbicides. Both pre-emergent and post-emergent may needed if you are over run with this weed.
     In the case of a pre-emergent, timing is the most important thing. It is too late now, early August, but next spring when the soil temperatures start to rise, remember these seeds need very warm soil to germinate, you can order Bayer Advanced 704050 from Amazon if you can not find it locally.
Glyphosate (Roundup Weed and Grass Killer) will kill it but you have to be careful to keep the chemical off nearby foliage. You can paint it on with a paintbrush, wear gloves and brush it on the leaves. In a lawn, broadleaf weedkiller (Ortho Weed B Gon Weed Killer) applied twice, seven days apart, is also effective. Just be absolutely sure that you read and follow the directions on any chemical, it is the law!
     Hopefully, you do not have much, or any, for that matter, of this nasty weed in your landscape. Prevention is the best action, just keep an eye out for it, and try not to introduce it if at all possible.
     If you are not sure if a plant you are looking at is a weed or a wanted plant, just remember this quote by that famous Author, Unknown.....When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant.
     As always, if you have any questions concerning this, or any of my other articles, please feel free to ask. Also, don't forget to follow me on FACEBOOK
Happy Growing!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Water you talking about!?

     I have discussed this issue in the past, yet, there is still a LOT of bad information floating around the internet. I peruse the web frequently looking for people that maybe having issues that I can be of assistance with, and I find lots of misinformation, or just plain old ignorance. I am NOT saying I know ALL of the answers, show me somebody that says they do, and I will show you a liar. Most of gardening is common sense, and yes there is no such thing as a stupid question, but sometimes the things I read????.......WOW!
     Today, I would like to discuss a common problem, every living being requires this substance and there are lots of variables to how much one needs.

     Many of the websites and articles that I read have a sentence in there that drives me crazy! I usually bring it up in every lecture that I do. It goes something like this, “This plant needs one inch of water per week” or something similar to that.
WHY, does that sentence bother me so much?
Let me run a couple of scenarios by you.
     You have your favorite plant, it doesn't matter what it is for this example, it has a growing hints tag or you have read that it requires one inch of water per week. Okay, that is fine. What if this plant is in a very sandy soil? Water drains exceptionally well in sand, because it has little to no water holding capabilities. That one inch of water will be gone in hours, the plant is now not going to have access to any water 3-4 days later.
     Let's reverse the scene. The plant is in a very heavy peat based or clay soil. Peat and clay hold water very well. That one inch of water may still be around in a week. Then you water again. It continues to build up until the plant literally drowns. More on that in a minute.
So you need to be aware of the type of soil it is in.
What if you are growing things in pots? That opens a whole new set of questions and problems.

       A terracotta or clay pot is very pretty. They are nice and heavy and help to stabilize the plant, especially if you are in a windy area. That clay or terracotta will actually work against you as it wicks the water away from the soil. So here again, one inch of water will be gone in a shorter period of time than one week. Plastic pots tend to retain the water better. You guessed it, one inch of water per week might be too much.
     Everybody knows that drainage is important when you are container growing. Pots should have holes in it, well how many holes?

 Do you think that both of these would drain the same? Both are plastic, one just looks like terracotta. Let me throw one more monkey wrench into it. If either of these were sitting on concrete and the hole(s) were to become clogged, what kind of drainage would they have? The following would work better sitting on a hard surface.

Notice the holes along the sides? There are some in the bottom also.
     There are numerous other things that need to be taken into consideration when it comes to how much water a plant needs. The type of plant is a big one. A Cactus will need MUCH less water than a Philodendron. I know, the Cactus label probably does not read one inch of water per week. I have actually met somebody that watered theirs every other day, their thinking's a plant and they need water. It eventually succumbed to root rot.  Then, there was the case of a woman that literally...I can't make this stuff up...watered her large Cactus one tablespoon of water every 6 months and wondered why it was looking poorly. Two true story extremes, but you see the point here.
      Size of the pot is another good example. Which do you think would need to be watered more often, a plant in a four inch pot or something the size of a trash can?
     How about the weather? Do you think a week of cloudy, overcast, cool weather will need to be watered more or less than one in 95 degrees, with a cloudless sky, and windy?
     So, as you can see, there are many more variables associated with watering than the typical, easy sentence of 1 inch per week.
     Hopefully this has given you some idea of why you need to know your plants needs and the situation it is trying to be grown in.
     What is that you say?
How do you know if you are over-water or under-watering?
EXCELLENT question!
The plant will tell you, if you know what to look for.
     Sometimes when plants start to show symptoms of stress, i.e. wilting, the first reaction is to water, but sometimes over-watering can be just as detrimental to a plant's health as under-watering and will show the same response. Symptoms of both over and under-watering can look very similar. Leaves turn brown and wilt. Often times, when this happens to under-watered plants, those dead leaves will be dry and crispy. While with over-watering, those leaves may still be soft and limp.
Here is a little test: Does this wilted plant need water, or has it been over-watered?

Tough to tell huh?
     When the soil stays wet for too long the roots die off and when the roots die off the plant can’t take up water and if the plant can’t take up water IT WILTS!
     With under-watering the plant tries to conserve what little water it has by keeping the stalk green and the roots moist, but the leaves will wilt and eventually dry up.
Both over and under-watering can lead to other things, such as stunted growth, and lack of fruit or flowers.
Many people like to use a water meter on their plants. If you are not familiar with these, it is usually a probe that you stick in the soil and it will tell you whether you need to water or not.
I am not a big fan of them because the ones I have had were not very reliable. I tried a test once with one, I stuck it into a pot of extremely dry soil, I know it was very dry because it fell out in one piece, was very light and had been sitting in a back corner of my greenhouse for several months without being watered. The meter said it was fine, do not water.
     You actually have a reliable water meter with you right now. Scientifically it is called “the index finger”. Stick that scientific device into the soil, about 1-2 inches....if it feels dry, water...if it is damp, don't and check again tomorrow. Pretty cool huh?!
     For potted plants there is another method. Water the plant very well, make sure there is water coming out of the drainage holes. Side note, make sure the water is going through the soil and not just running down in between the soil and the side of the pot. Then, lift the pot up. Get that weight in your head. After a couple of days, lift the pot again. If it feels much lighter than the other day, water, if it still feels heavy, check again in a couple of days.
I have been known to use both methods. I will stick my finger in a pot, then lift it. I very seldom have a water issue problem.
Hopefully, this has shed some light on the subject of watering. If you MUST err one way or the other, do so on the under-watering side. Many plants are much more drought tolerant than we think and will recover from too little water. There are not many that will come back from a dip into the deep end of a pool, unable to swim, with no life preserver!
Happy Growing!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Tis' Hunting Season

     I always look forward to the end of June and early July. Yes, it is hot as Hades here in Charleston, but it is also the start of hunting season. I don't need a gun, bow and arrow, or any other kind of weapon. My prey actually stands there and waits for me to come get it. I don't even have to worry about a messy cleanup after I find my target. No, it is not an animal I am hunting, it is Camellia Scion rooting season!
     Every year for the past 4 or 5 years, I have gone on an expedition in search of Camellias that I do not currently have in my collection, which is currently at 226. I know of a place that is prime hunting grounds and has hundreds of Camellias, some being planted as far back as the 1950's, possibly earlier.
It is a quite place and I love visiting it every year.
Want to see it?

Doesn't that look peaceful?
     Believe it or not, you are actually looking at some Camellias. I know what you are thinking, Camellias are shrubs, not trees.

Actually, as evidenced by this picture, they are small trees. Many of these have been planted for many, many years. 
     So, every year I trek into these peaceful surroundings, get my prey and bring it home to be processed. Yes, this type of hunting you have to process what you hunt too, it is just much neater.
     The trophies will look like this.

     You will want to take cuttings that are about 6-8 inches long, from healthy looking plants. The stem should be about 80% hardened off. Basically you can bend it, but it does not snap and has just starting turning brown. Tip cuttings are best, with buds at the base of most of the leaves. As you cut them, make SURE you write the name of the Camellia on the back of one of the leaves. A black sharpie permanent marker works best. You will NEVER be able to know which one is what, until they flower, if you don't mark them. Even then, it may not be as easy to ID as you think. If you carry them in a large Ziploc bag, with a few drops of water in there, it will keep the cuttings fresher. You will also want to do this in the morning, but is not an absolute necessity.
     So, you got your prey home. Ideally, you will already have the potting medium and propagation area ready. Pots, tags, water, soil, and pruners/scissors are all handy to have. After I get the cuttings home, I fill a bucket with a fungicide solution and let them soak, while I am prepping the others. 
     I start by having a small pot full of rooting medium which consists of 50% mesh pine bark mulch and 50% perlite. You can also use a 75% pine bark and 25% course builders sand. I then poke a hole in the center and place a label/tag in the pot so I know what it is. Trust me, even if you only stick ONE Camellia, you will forget what it is. Then I take one of the cuttings and make a 3-4 inch cutting of it, basically in half, so I now have two. Take all of the leaves off, except the top two, cut those two in half. Your cutting should now look like this.

Next, you will want to shave a small part of the bark off at the bottom, and cut the bottom at a slight angle.

This will allow more surface to be exposed and for the roots to come out.  Root hormone would be the next step. I prefer RootGel by Dyna-Grow, which you can find by clicking on the link at Amazon.

I prefer the gel over powder and even liquid, because it sticks to the cutting better than the liquid and does not have any drying properties of powder. Stick the cutting in the small hole you made, pack it in and water.
     The final product will look like this.

Now what?
Put the cuttings in a very high humidity environment. Keep the rooting bed in a shaded, wind protected area with good light intensity. Here is what I use. 

I keep the lights on a timer, they burn on and off for about 16 hours. The only moisture is the little bit that I put in when I watered the cutting in. Then, if they do happen to look a little dry, I will give it a few mists of water. You can also do this outdoors, I just prefer indoors because it is easier to control light and humidity and temperature.
     Under ideal, perfect conditions, rooting should take place in 1-1/2 to 2 months for most cultivars. Some may take longer, especially if your temperature is way above, or below, 70 degrees. See why I like doing mine inside?  A rooted cutting should start to bloom in one to two years, dependent upon the particular cultivar, and how good your horticultural practices are. 
     Does this seem like a lot of work? Yes, to some degree. However, the reasons you would want to do something like this are:
1) It is a heck of a lot cheaper to start your own plants than to buy them.
2) If you have a good source, you can find many more cultivars than are usually on the market.
3) The satisfaction of just doing it!
Besides, there is ALWAYS room for one more plant! Just look

See that spot over there by the green garden hose? LOTS of room! LOL     
     I hope you decide to try this very easy way to propagate Camellias. Even if you don't want to have a huge collection, but have a favorite one, you can multiply that one.....or sell them!!
I am always up for some Camellia cutting swapping, just touch base with me and we will see what we can work out. 
     As always, if you have any questions about this, or any of my other articles, please feel free to e-mail me at And don't forget to follow me on Facebook  

Happy Growing!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Give Them The Bird!

My mother and I chat pretty much every Sunday, she lives in Raleigh, I am in North Charleston. We talk about a little bit of everything, politics, weather, family, work and of course, plants. Today, she was telling me how the little birdies were trying to get a drink from her frozen birdbath. Which transitioned into, you (me) should write a blog on trees and plants that attract birds.
Well, ask and you shall receive!
I have documented in previous articles about fall being the best time to plant trees and shrubs. So, pardon the pun, let's kill two birds with one stone. Plant something at the best time of year, thinking about our feathered friends!
This will certainly be a short list, especially considering the vast amount of possible plants and trees, different growing zones, time of the year you want to attract the birds, and not to mention the types of birds available in your area.
Being it is December after all, let's focus on how to attract birds to your winter garden.
The first being obvious,
Illex spp. (Hollies)
This winter classic is practically a necessity for bird lovers. Its beautiful green foliage supplies winter protection for our feathered friends and its bright berries are nourishing. The fruit form in the fall and persist through the winter, or until they are gobbled up. Keep in mind that it is the female bush that produces the berries. Ask your garden center which is which. Different species range from small bushes to 60-foot trees. Just to name a few birds that this will attract include: Robins, bluebirds, waxwings, as well as many others.

American Goldfinch on a Holly bush

Callicarpa americana (American Beautyberry)
Beautyberry is a real showstopper in autumn. The fall fruit lasts well into winter, or until the birds devour the last bunches of bright purple berries. American beautyberry is a fast growing native perennial shrub; growing five to eight feet tall and almost as wide with drooping branches. It is an  important food source for many birds, such as bobwhite quail, robins, cardinals, finches, mockingbirds, thrashers and many other animals.

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

Pyracantha coccinea (Firethorn)
Cherished for its spectacular fall and winter display of scarlet, and other color fruits, with the ability to withstand dry and droughty conditions, this plant typically grows into a tangled mound up to 10 ft tall and 12 ft wide. 
Firethorn is very fast growing and cultivars and hybrids are available that may be considerably more compact, however, they all have thorns, which to the birds is a great hiding place. A few birds attracted to this plant are Cedar waxwings, cardinals, and blue jays.

A Blackbird enjoying some Pyracantha Berries

Malus spp. (Crabapples)
Crabapples bloom in early to mid-spring, producing masses of pink, red, or white flowers, depending on the variety. Many types also produce small, red or yellow edible fruits that remain on the branches into fall and winter, providing food for wildlife, and the branch structures on many varieties provide interesting forms. This is a great tree to plant if you want any of the following in your yard, Robins, bluebirds, thrushes, catbirds, cardinals, waxwings, Pine Grosbeaks, and finches.

Soon to be lunch for some hungry birds

Quercus alba (White Oak)
White Oak grows from Maine to Minnesota southward to Florida and Texas. It is a large, stately tree that grows up to over 100 feet tall, and 38 to 50 inches in diameter. It flowers in the spring at about the same time leaves appear. Acorn maturity is reached approximately 120 days after pollination. This tree provides food for Woodpeckers, Bluejays, Wild Turkeys, grouse, and Wood Ducks.

White Oak with a nice crop of acorns

Juniperus virginiana (Eastern Red Cedar)
Eastern Red Cedar is a pioneer species, which means that it is one of the first trees to repopulate cleared, eroded, or otherwise damaged land. It is unusually long-lived with the potential to live over 900 years. It is an attractive cone-shaped tree, usually growing 50 to 90 feet tall. It has fleshy, pale blue, berry-like cones that are produced on female trees only. Even though they are not the first choice, when nothing else is around, these are the best thing going for everything from Eastern Bluebirds, waxwings, grosbeaks to wild turkeys, sharp-tailed grouse, and robins.

Cedar Waxwing in, of all things, a Cedar tree.

I will end this post with a plant that many consider a nuisance, though it is very important to many bird species.
Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia Creeper)
A woody, deciduous vine, Virginia Creeper can be a high-climbing or trailing plant, anywhere from 3-40 ft in length. The flowers are small and greenish, produced in inconspicuous clusters in late spring, and mature in late summer or early fall into small hard purplish-black berries. These berries contain toxic amounts of oxalic acid and have been known to cause kidney damage and death to humans, the berries are not toxic to birds. Some of the feathery ones that rely on this plant include chickadees, nuthatches, mockingbirds, finches, flycatchers, tanagers, swallows, vireos, warblers, woodpeckers, and thrushes.

A buffet of Virginia Creeper berries, ready to be eaten

I hope this gives you some ideas of what to plant, should you want to attract more birds to your yard.
Not only are these creatures entertaining, they are useful for pest insect control and are the key in seed propagation for many native and non-native plants. Which could be good or bad, depending on the plant!
If you have any questions, comments or complaints about this or any of my other articles, please feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line to
Happy Growing!